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News Wrap: Investigators Identify Marines in Taliban Body Desecration Video

January 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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 KWAME HOLMAN: There was new fallout today from a video that appears to show U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Officials said investigators have identified and interviewed the four enlisted Marines seen on the video and they all are still in the service. And the Marine commandant, General James Amos, named a three-star general to oversee the case.

A fresh outpouring of protesters filled cities across Syria today. The opposition reported President Bashar al-Assad’s troops shot and killed at least 10 people. Up to 20,000 turned out in Idlib province. Thousands more demonstrated in the streets of Hama, and in Homs, where amateur video showed an armored vehicle in flames after allegedly being targeted by army defectors.

The government of Myanmar has released some of its most prominent political prisoners. They were among some 650 detainees who received a presidential pardon today in the Asian nation also known as Burma.

We have a report narrated by John Sparks of Independent Television News.

JOHN SPARKS: The fence is high and the walls are thick, but to the surprise of many, they opened the gates. More than 130 political prisoners walked out of Burma’s jails today, students and journalists, bloggers and ethnic leaders, received with joy, a great flower-clad embrace.

“Free all the political prisoners,” they shouted. Hundreds remain in prison, but there is cause for optimism here. The Burmese government and the generals who control it have introduced reforms, and this newly released activist seems ready to believe.

“If everyone involved in this process is honest,” said Khun Tun Oo, then I can see a chance of it actually working.

Among those released today, a former prime minister who fell out with the hard-liners, General Khin Nyunt has been under house arrest since 2005. This is Thein Sein, Burma’s newest president, reviewing the troops a few days ago. Many feared him as the next military strongman, but he has proven himself more moderate.

And here’s the evidence, the country’s best known opposition party, the National League for Democracy, reopening its headquarters. Party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues will stand in by-elections due in April.

Yet Burma is riddled with conflict. Ethnic groups like the Karen have long fought for autonomy. Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes. Yet, even here, there is progress. With these handshakes, representatives from the Karen and Burmese government agreed a cease-fire last night and a possible end to a 62-year-old conflict.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Washington, President Obama welcomed the freeing of the political prisoners. He called it a substantial step forward for democratic reform.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. now plans to send an ambassador to Myanmar, for the first time in two decades.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We will identify a candidate to serve as U.S. ambassador to represent the United States government and our broader efforts to strengthen and deepen our ties with both the people and the government.

This is a lengthy process. And it will, of course, depend on continuing progress and reform.

KWAME HOLMAN: Clinton said she will telephone opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein this weekend.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour defended himself today over pardons he granted before leaving office this week. Barbour said the vast majority of the more than 200 people had been released before being pardoned or granted other clemency. And he said it’s a tradition to pardon convicted murderers who got assigned as prison trustees at the governor’s mansion.

It’s been an unusually warm winter for much of the U.S., but the first major storm arrived overnight in the Upper Midwest. Snowfall ranged from six inches to more than a foot, making roads treacherous and accidents plentiful. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, crews shoveled out Lambeau Field for this weekend’s NFL playoff game between the Packers and the New York Giants.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, a Russian tanker loaded with fuel finally battled its way across the ice-covered Bering Sea to near Nome. Temperatures there are as low as 30 degrees below zero.

In economic news, Standard & Poor’s downgraded credit ratings for France, Austria, Spain and Italy. And J.P. Morgan Chase reported its earnings fell 23 percent at the end of last year.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 49 points to close at 12,422. The Nasdaq fell 14 points to close at 2,710. For the week, the Dow gained half-a-percent; the Nasdaq rose more than 1 percent.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.