HARI SREENIVASAN: Syrian government forces pushed back rebellious army units around Damascus today in the face of a new diplomatic offensive by the west. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used tanks to take back suburban districts outside the capital. Activists said at least 100 people had died in three days of fighting there.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced the Syrian regime had agreed to Russian-mediated talks.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. would support a political solution.
JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: We are intensely discussing with the Russians the real deterioration on the ground in Syria and the very disturbing rise in violence there. We’re discussing with the Russians and other partners how best to use all the levers at the command of the international community and the United Nations to press the Syrian government to stop its appalling and ultimately ineffective and harmful repression.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Tomorrow, the U.N. Security Council will hold talks on a new resolution demanding an end to Syria’s crackdown on dissent. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend. In a statement today, she warned, the status quo is unsustainable.
Occupy Washington protesters were on notice today to give up campsites in two public parks. The National Park Service ordered protesters to pack their gear after allowing them to camp since October. Many of the Occupiers insisted camping was part of their right to protest.
WOMAN: This protest is an encampment. It is an occupation of a park right on K street, and sleeping is part of that. So, I’m not sure why they’re picking out one small part, saying that this is somehow not part of your First Amendment rights, but that’s what they’re trying to do.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The Park Service had been under pressure from congressional Republicans and D.C. city officials to enforce the rule against camping in federal parks.
Today, a Park Police spokesman said the issue is not about the right to demonstrate.
SGT. DAVID SCHLOSSER, U.S. Park Police: The United States Park Police and the National Park Service firmly support ongoing, long-term First Amendment activity. (OFF-MIKE) directly (OFF-MIKE) problem. And that’s what we’re trying to address.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, City Hall reopened after a Saturday melee between protesters and police. It started as a peaceful rally, before some in the crowd broke into the building.
A series of photos showed mass protesters burning an American flag, as a woman in the crowd urged them not to do so. Outside, police fired tear gas and flash grenades, and demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and metal piping at officers. More than 400 people were arrested.
On Wall Street today, stocks closed slightly lower as investors watched a European summit and waited for news on Greece and its debt reduction efforts. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than six points to close at 12,653. The Nasdaq fell more than four points to close just below 2,812.
Congress has moved a step closer to barring insider trading by lawmakers. Supporters in the Senate easily won a procedural test today. It set the stage for a final vote later this week. The bill would bar members of Congress from using non-public information for personal benefit or from tipping off others. Violators could be subject to prosecution by regulatory agencies and the Justice Department.
Severe cold and snow blanketed much of Central and Eastern Europe again today. At least 36 deaths were blamed on the frigid weather that set in last week. Temperatures plunged to around -4 degrees Fahrenheit in some places, and there were hundreds of cases of frostbite. Upwards of six feet of snow caused problems across the region, blocking roads and closing schools. Many homeowners worked today at digging snow off their rooftops to keep them from caving in.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.