News Wrap: In Wake of Pakistan Bombings, Calls for Better Protection
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The death toll in a double bombing on a billiards hall in Pakistan rose to 86 today. Shiites were the target, and today some people refused to bury their dead in protest, demanding the government protect them better. The twin bombings were the worst in a series of attacks yesterday that killed a total of 120 people.
In Syria, rebel fighters captured control of a major air base in the northwestern part of the country. They seized helicopters and other weapons at the Taftanaz base in Idlib province. It’s the largest military site they have taken so far.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with U.S. and Russian diplomats in a search for a political solution in Syria. He said later that prospects appear grim.
France intervened in Mali today to stem an offensive by Islamic rebels linked to al-Qaida. Within hours of arriving, the French launched airstrikes and helped government forces retake the town of Konna in the center of the West African nation. Rebels pushing down from the north had seized it this week.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said his government answered an urgent appeal from the president of its former colony.
PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through translator): Mali is being confronted with an aggression by terrorist elements coming from the north whose brutality and fanaticism the entire world is aware of. As a consequence, the French armed forces brought their support this afternoon to Malian army units to fight against these terrorist elements. This operation will last as long as necessary.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, the Malian president declared a national state of emergency. His defense ministry said Nigeria and Senegal are providing military aid as well.
The suspect in the Colorado theater shootings will stand trial, but he won’t have to enter a plea until March. Overnight, a judge ruled there is sufficient evidence to prosecute James Holmes. He allegedly killed 12 people and injured 58 others last July. Today, the judge granted a defense motion to delay Holmes’ arraignment over the objections of the prosecution and victims’ families. Defense lawyers have said he is mentally ill.
Representatives of the video game industry had their turn today meeting with Vice President Biden on ways to curb gun violence. Makers of so-called first-person shooter games, including “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” took part. There was no indication of what the vice president asked of the industry. But he said yesterday he plans to give recommendations to President Obama by Tuesday.
Influenza has officially reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed today that more than 7 percent of deaths in the country were due to flu and pneumonia last week. That’s just above the threshold for an epidemic. Nine of 10 regions had elevated flu activity, confirming the seasonal outbreak has spread earlier than usual.
California shivered today as some of the coldest weather in years hit much of the state. Early morning temperatures dipped into the 20s, and some citrus growers shrouded plants in protective covers to save them from frost. Others used fans to circulate the air. The system also dumped snow on Thursday that closed part of Interstate 5 for 17 hours. The cold was expected to last through the weekend.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller will not seek a sixth term in 2014. The veteran Democrat announced the decision today. He said he believes he could have been reelected, even though the state is trending more Republican. But, at age 75, he said he wants more time with his family.
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, D-W.V.: It is not a political decision. And it has not been easy. It’s simply this. As I approach 50 years of nonstop public service in West Virginia, I know deep within me that the end of this term in 2014 is the right time for me to recalibrate.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Rockefeller has been a strong supporter of labor, and championed health and safety issue for West Virginia’s coal miners. His retirement could complicate Democrats’ efforts to keep control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.
Wall Street kept its winning streak going today, but not by much. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 17 points to close at 13,488. The Nasdaq rose nearly four points to close at 3,125. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained a fraction of 1 percent.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.