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News Wrap: French Troops Battle Remaining Islamists in Mali

February 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: A new round of fighting broke out today in Damascus, Syria, the heaviest in weeks.  Rebel fighters made a thrust toward the central part of the capital, and smoke rose over the city as government forces fought back with artillery.  They’re trying to hold the core of the city.  That’s the main stronghold for President Bashar al-Assad.

In Northern Mali, French ground troops battled Islamist rebels overnight outside the city of Gao.  It was new evidence that while the French have retaken key cities, the insurgents have not yet been routed from the countryside.  Meanwhile, French and Malian soldiers found caches of industrial-strength explosives and makeshift bomb labs.  The rebels had hidden them outside Gao.

U.S. investigators said today they are not ready to rule out that lithium ion batteries used in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners are inherently unsafe for aviation.  Instead, the National Transportation Safety Board said manufacturers need to build in better safeguards.  At the same time, the board said investigators are still weeks away from determining what caused a battery fire on a Japan Airlines Dreamliner in Boston.  In the meantime, all 50 of the planes in service remain grounded.

Budget battle cries echoed up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington today.  President Obama called yesterday for a small package of tax hikes and spending cuts to avert the sequester, much larger cuts now set for March 1.  But House Speaker John Boehner said today the president has to accept major spending reductions, just as Republicans had to agree to raise the national debt ceiling.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio.:  We got the debt limit out of the way so that we weren’t jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States government.  At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem.  I have watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years that I have been here.  I have had enough of it.  It’s time to act.

HARI SREENIVASAN: At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney it’s the Republicans who are being irresponsible by rejecting the president’s appeal out of hand.

JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman:  He put forward a proposal for avoiding that outcome while Congress continues to work on longer-term deficit reduction.  That’s the sensible thing to do.  Why make — why punish the American people because you haven’t been able to achieve your ideological objectives through other means?

HARI SREENIVASAN: In another development, the Associated Press reported the U.S. military is cutting back from two aircraft carriers to one in the Persian Gulf.  The report cited U.S. officials who said it’s a direct response to the looming across-the-board cuts.

U.S. and British regulators have fined the Royal Bank of Scotland more than $610 million dollars for manipulating a key interest rate.  The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said today that RBS made hundreds of attempts to manipulate the rate known as LIBOR.  It’s a global benchmark for rates on everything from home mortgages to credit card payments.  Two other banks, Barclays and UBS, have already been fined for their roles in the scandal.

Wall Street mostly stayed where it was today.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained seven points to close at 13,986.  The Nasdaq fell three points to close at 3,168.

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