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News Wrap: Syrian Soldiers, Troops Target Protests in Daraa

April 25, 2011 at 5:17 PM EDT
In other news Monday, Syrian soldiers and tanks stormed the southern city of Daraa, in an effort to crack down on anti-government protesters. Human rights activists reported at least 18 killed. Meanwhile, NATO airstrikes over Libya destroyed part of Moammar Gadhafi's Tripoli compound.
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 HARI SREENIVASAN: A crackdown on anti-government uprisings in Syria escalated today when soldiers and tanks stormed the southern city of Daraa. Witnesses said the soldiers fired indiscriminately on civilians, while tanks blocked the roads. Human rights activists reported at least 18 people were killed. Meanwhile, people trying to cross the border into Jordan were forced to turn back.

NATO airstrikes flattened part of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli overnight. A Libyan government spokesman said Gadhafi was unhurt, but the attack did kill three people and injured 45 others. We have a report from Geraint Vincent of Independent Television News.

GERAINT VINCENT: This was an airstrike at the very heart of the Gadhafi regime. In the dictator’s compound in Tripoli, NATO bombs were targeted at what it described as a communications headquarters, an ammunition store and an ammunition bunker. The compound is parts military-based, parts presidential palace. The building in which Gadhafi received the delegation of African leaders seeking to broker a peace deal earlier this month was one of those damaged in the attack, which regime spokesman say was a clear attempt on their leader’s life.

This is only the second time that Gadhafi’s compound has been hit since the NATO bombing campaign began. It may not have been an assassination attempt, but it is more evidence that the point of the NATO effort is moving, from simply protecting civilians to destroying the colonel’s command-and-control system.

Pictures posted on the Internet by rebel fighters in Misrata suggest the regime is continuing with its own bombardment. Despite assurances that government troops have been withdrawn, the city, it appears, is still being heavily shelled. At least 50 have been killed in Misrata this weekend alone.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also today, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi announced Italy will take part in NATO bombing raids over Libya. Previously, Italy had stayed away from direct involvement because of Libya’s status as a former Italian colony.

In Afghanistan, Taliban militants tunneled their way into Kandahar’s main prison and helped at least 480 inmates escape. Most of the prisoners were Taliban fighters, including 100 commanders. They got out through a 1,000-foot- long tunnel the Taliban had been digging for months from the outside. It marked the second major jailbreak at the facility.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai admitted the Taliban had pulled off the daring jail break.

WAHEED OMAR, Afghan Presidential Spokesman: Our first reaction is that this is a blow. It is something that shouldn’t have happened. And now that it has happened, we’re looking into finding out as to what exactly happened and what is being done to compensate for the disaster that happened in the prison.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The incident comes on the heels of a deadly weekend for NATO forces. Roadside bombs killed three NATO service members in the south. A fourth soldier died in a helicopter crash in the east. There was no immediate word on their nationalities.

A civil rights group in Nigeria has reported at least 500 people died in religious riots after the presidential election. The government has not yet released an official death toll, on fears it will lead to more fighting. The count was highest in the town of Zonkwa, where more than 300 people died. Killings also took place in nearby Kafanchan and Kaduna, the state capital. The violence erupted after incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, defeated his Muslim opponent.

Japan launched a massive search today for the bodies of 12,000 people still missing from last month’s earthquake and tsunami. Nearly 25,000 Japanese soldiers methodically searched the rubble, seas, and coastal flats of the northeast. By evening, only 38 bodies had been found. The two-day operation is the largest military search since the disasters. As a result of the quake, Toyota announced its production has plummeted by nearly 63 percent, and it won’t return to normal until the end of the year.

In U.S. economic news, there were some signs of life in the battered new home industry. The Commerce Department reported new home sales rose 11 percent last month, after three straight months of decline. Stocks on Wall Street were mixed today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 26 points to close below 12480. The Nasdaq rose five points to close above 2825.

Mourners in India paid tribute to the Hindu guru Sathya Sai Baba today. He died after a month-long hospitalization for various ailments. Thousands of people lined up for one last glimpse of him at his ashram in southern India. Hundreds of thousands are expected to visit over the next two days. Sai Baba’s spiritual centers are in more than 126 countries, and his charitable trust is estimated to be worth nearly $9 billion. Sai Baba was 84 years old.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.