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News Wrap: Apple Will Pay Dividends; Romney Targets Obama in Ill.

March 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The main focus of the Republican president race today was on tomorrow’s primary in Illinois. In Springfield, Mitt Romney kept his focus on President Obama. He conceded the economy is improving, but he argued the president’s policies have prevented a much stronger comeback.

MITT ROMNEY (R): The economy always comes back after a recession, of course. There’s never been one that we didn’t recover from. The problem is, this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been by virtue of the policies of this president. Almost everything he’s done has made it harder for this economy to recover.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Romney campaign also aired a television ad in Illinois accusing Rick Santorum of being an economic lightweight.

But in Rockford, Santorum shot back that Romney’s own economic credentials leave a lot to be desired.

RICK SANTORUM (R): I heard Gov. Romney here call me an economic lightweight because I wasn’t a Wall Street financier, like he was. Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as the president of the United States? Do you think that’s the kind of experience we need?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Polls had Romney leading in Illinois, where 54 delegates will be at stake. He won the Puerto Rico primary yesterday, taking all 20 of the territory’s delegates. Romney now has more than twice the number of delegates as Santorum.

The world’s most valuable company, Apple, has announced it will pay out dividends. The tech giant has nearly $100 billion in cash on hand. It said today it will use part of that sum for a dividend of roughly $10 per share over one year. Apple shares hit an all-time high of $600 apiece last week. They closed above that level today for the first time.

The news from Apple helped Wall Street stave off a losing day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained six points to close at 13,239. The Nasdaq rose 23 points to close at 3,078.

In Syria, rebel fighters battled government security forces in an upscale district of Damascus today. It was a show of force by the opposition, after being driven out of the cities of Idlib and Homs in recent days.

We have a report from John Irvine of Independent Television News, who filed from inside Syria, near Idlib.

JOHN IRVINE: This is as close as we dared go to the city of Idlib, where the government flag now flies. It’s the latest rebel stronghold subdued by the Syrian army.

It’s their children’s future they are fighting for, they will tell you. They want for them a better life than they have known. And, yet, this is half the town it was. Thousands have already fled, fearing that Assad’s iron fist will soon be swung here, and when it is, they will be on their own.

Do people here feel forgotten by the rest of the world?

MAN: That’s right, because we have — one year from the revolution, nobody helped us, no United States, no Islam, no Arab, no one. Russia help Bashar al-Assad to killing us.

JOHN IRVINE: Many houses in this village have been emptied by sniper fire from an army base that’s home to helicopters you can just make out. They were used to spot for the artillery aimed at Homs and Idlib.

These young men escaped those battles and are now licking their wounds. All were Syrian army conscripts who defected to the rebel side and have paid a price.

Mohammed has been shot in the hand. He was injured attacking the Assad militia responsible for killing his older brother and cousin. The weapons on the wall are the paltry sum of their arsenal. So the Free Syrian army doesn’t lack the motivation to fight; it lacks the means.

MAN: Any Kalashnikov can make anything against tanks.

JOHN IRVINE: In Libya, such displays of bravado were accompanied by shooting in the air, but, in Syria, no bullets can be wasted. Theirs is a rebellion being fought on a shoestring.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A gunman in France shot and killed a rabbi and three children outside a Jewish school today. It was the latest in a series of attacks on French minorities. The school shooting happened in the southwest city of Toulouse. Police said the shooter rode up on a motorcycle and opened fire. They cordoned off the area near the school as families awaited news about those inside.

President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced the violence.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, French president (through translator): Today is a day of national tragedy because children have been killed in cold blood, because a killer came into a school, a Jewish school. This tragedy shocks the entire nation. I have asked the Education Ministry to organize a minute of silence in all schools in memory of these martyred children.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The French government also raised the national terror alert across part of Southern France. Police said one of the handguns fired in today’s attack was used in two other motorcycle killings in the same area over the past eight days. The victims in those killings were soldiers of North African and Caribbean descent.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.