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News Wrap: Obama Presses European Leaders Over Financial Reforms

May 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In other news Thursday, President Obama pressed European leaders to take action on their currency system amidst financial and political upheaval across the continent. Also, a federal appeals court in Boston declared that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against gay married couples.
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KWAME HOLMAN: A federal appeals court today declared, the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against gay married couples. A three-judge panel in Boston found the 1996 law unconstitutionally bars same-sex couples from federal benefits granted to heterosexuals. 

The court didn’t address the law’s definition of marriage as restricted to one man and woman. The case is almost certainly bound for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans in the U.S. House fell short today on a bill that would ban abortions based on gender. The bill carried prison terms of up to five years for doctors. Supporters said some immigrant groups have come to this country a tradition of targeting female fetuses for abortion. Opponents argued the government shouldn’t intrude into such private matters.

There were new warnings today about Europe’s currency system, as continuing debt troubles roiled nation after nation. The rising concerns also rippled across the Atlantic.

From the violence-filled streets of Madrid to the poster-riddled streets of Dublin, evidence of Europe’s economic distress was in plain sight. The urgency was underlined by President Obama in a videoconference late Wednesday with European leaders.

Spokesman Jay Carney said today, he pressed them to take action now.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: Europe should take an approach that balances the near-term need to help the economy grow in Europe and help it create jobs, with the medium- and longer-term need to implement reforms that help European nations get their fiscal houses in order.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Ireland today, voters were trying to do just that, deciding whether to ratify the European Union’s new fiscal treaty. Saying yes would hold debt-ridden countries to tight spending limits. And yes-votes were expected to carry, spurred by Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

ENDA KENNY, Irish Prime Minister: And let’s send that signal out from this country, not only to the European Union, but in a — to the entire world, that this small country knows exactly where it is heading, and that’s in the right direction.

KWAME HOLMAN: But no-voters were just as vocal.

GERRY ADAMS, Leader, Sinn Fein: Austerity doesn’t work. We are the proof of that. And this treaty will perpetuate and institutionalize austerity.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Spain, miners staged new protests, some that turned violent, against austerity cuts in their industry. The clashes came as the E.U. urged Spain to figure out how to shore up its banking sector and bring down soaring borrowing costs.

And the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, warned the euro currency system is unsustainable, and European leaders must clarify the future.

MARIO DRAGHI, President, European Central Bank: How is the euro going to be, to look like in a certain number of years from now? What is the union vision that we — that you have a certain number of years from now? And I think the sooner this has been specified, the better it is.

KWAME HOLMAN: The sun may set on the euro soon in Greece. The deeply indebted nation holds new elections on June 17, and could abandon a financial bailout and leave the euro altogether.

The news from Europe did little to help the mood on Wall Street. And a new report suggested U.S. economic growth in the first quarter U.S. was slower than first estimated. In response, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 26 points to close at 12393. The Nasdaq fell 10 points to close at 2827.

In Syria, the government today blamed rebel gunmen for the massacre in Houla last weekend. It said as many as 800 rebel fighters attacked security checkpoints, then slaughtered more than 100 civilians. The U.S. called that claim a blatant lie.

And in Denmark, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the need for strong action is growing, but Russia, in particular, is standing in the way.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: The Russians keep telling us they want to do everything they can to avoid a civil war, because they believe that the violence would be catastrophic. I think they are, in effect, propping up the regime at a time when we should be working on a political transition.

KWAME HOLMAN: Also today, Western officials confirmed that a Russian cargo ship loaded with weapons for the Syrian government docked at a Syrian port over the weekend.

Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng urged the U.S. to try harder today on protecting human rights in China. The blind activist sparked a diplomatic confrontation when he escaped house arrest in China last month and briefly took refuge at the U.S. Embassy. He was allowed to leave China two weeks ago to study in New York, where he held a news conference today.

CHEN GUANGCHENG, Chinese Dissident (through translator): What I’m most concerned about is also the most important question, is the state of law in China. It’s still very much being trampled on. And, more specifically, after I left my home in Shandong, the local authorities there have been having — retaliating against my family in a frenzied way.

KWAME HOLMAN: Chen says he hopes China’s central government will keep a promise to investigate the local authorities who imprisoned him.

The first privately built spacecraft to reach the International Space Station ended its historic mission today. The unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule parachuted across the Pacific Ocean sky to a splashdown point 500 miles off Mexico’s Baja California. It had spent nine days in space.

NASA plans to rely on private firms like SpaceX for routine orbital flights, now that the space shuttles have been retired.

Twenty-six East Coast bus companies are out of business for now for multiple safety violations. The U.S. Transportation Department ordered them to shut down after a year-long investigation. It followed a series of crashes on Interstate 95 that killed 17 people last year. The affected bus lines carried 1,800 passengers a day. 

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.