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News Wrap: 6 U.N. Observers Arrive in Syria to Monitor Cease-Fire

April 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: An advance team of six U.N. observers arrived in Syria overnight to monitor a cease-fire that appeared to be collapsing. Activists reported the Syrian army was shelling several districts in Homs. Amateur video showed explosions, thick clouds of smoke, and buildings in flames. Reports from Homs and elsewhere told of 14 killed today.

In Istanbul, Turkey, an opposition spokesman with the Syrian Arab Tribes Council doubted the U.N. mission will stop the killing.

MAHMOOD MESLET, representative, Syrian Arab Tribes Council: I think it’s too little too late. We are like passing the one year with the United Nations and what is going in Syria. If there is a political will, it should have been done a long time ago. Six observers is not going to solve that problem in Syria.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in January, a separate monitoring mission conducted by the Arab League failed to end the conflict.

The man accused in last July’s attacks in Norway pleaded not guilty today in Oslo. Anders Behring Breivik insisted he was justified in killing 77 people.

We have a report narrated by Carl Dinnen of Independent Television News.

CARL DINNEN: Anders Behring Breivik, demented fascist or cold rational killer? Breivik smiled as he entered court this morning, then offered the waiting media some kind of salute. Mad or bad, these five judges must decide, even though Breivik’s first words were to deny their legitimacy.

ANDERS BEHRING BREIVIK, Defendant (through translator): I do not recognize the Norwegian court. You have gotten your mandate from political parties who support multiculturalism.

CARL DINNEN: But there’s no denying the horror Breivik sowed across Norway last summer. And he admits shooting terrified young activists on the island of Utoya. He admits the huge bomb in Oslo. The long and appalling indictment included the names of all of his 77 victims.

WOMAN (through translator): Ida Marie Hill, born Feb. 20, 1977. Hanne Ekroll Lovlie, born June 29, 1981. Johannes Buo, born Nov. 5, 1996.

CARL DINNEN: It took an hour and a quarter just to read out the charges. Breivik’s answer:

ANDERS BEHRING BREIVIK (through translator): I acknowledge the acts, but I do not plead guilty. And I claim that I was doing it in self-defense.

CARL DINNEN: Then an extraordinary moment: As his own propaganda video was played, the killer cried. For the survivors, Breivik’s trial and courtroom antics are a necessary evil.

VEGARD GROSLIE WENNESLAND, attack survivor: The last time I saw him in person, I saw him shoot and kill my friends. So it’s very — it’s tough, but it’s also important to get through it.

CARL DINNEN: Tomorrow, Breivik has said he wants to spend half-an-hour addressing the court, explaining his extreme and violent views on multiculturalism and the West.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The trial is expected to last 10 weeks.

Authorities in the Midwest today credited warnings for preventing mass deaths in a weekend tornado blitz. The National Weather Service issued an alert more than 24 hours in advance for only the second time ever. In all, six people were killed, all of them in Woodward, a small town in northwestern Oklahoma. A tornado struck there early Sunday after lightning apparently knocked out warning sirens. It was one of at least 120 twisters that damaged hundreds of homes in four states across the nation’s midsection.

A scandal over wasteful spending at the General Services Administration has widened into a bribery and kickbacks investigation. The agency’s inspector general confirmed it today at a House hearing. The scandal grew out of a lavish Las Vegas conference in 2010 that cost more than $800,000.

When the news broke last month, Martha Johnson resigned as GSA administrator after two years on the job.

Today, she condemned the freewheeling spending.

MARTHA JOHNSON, former GSA administrator: The Western Region’s conference and economical training event in the late 1990s had evolved into a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event that ultimately belittled federal workers.

I personally apologize to the American people. As the head of the agency, I am responsible. I deeply regret this. I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The man who organized the Las Vegas conference refused to testify. Jeffrey Neely is on — currently on leave from the GSA and could face criminal charges.

The president of Dartmouth College, Jim Yong Kim, was elected today as president of the World Bank. The bank’s executive board tapped Kim to serve a five-year term over candidates pushed by developing nations. President Obama nominated Kim last month. Kim is a doctor who pioneered treating AIDS and tuberculosis in the developing world. Previous World Bank leaders were generally political or economic figures.

Retail sales were up nearly a full point in March, as U.S. consumers stepped up their spending. On Wall Street, the news helped blue-chip stocks post a gain for the day. The Dow Jones industrial average added more than 71 points to close at 12,921. The Nasdaq fell nearly 23 points to close at 2,988. Those are some of the day’s major stories.