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News Wrap: Series of Explosions in Iraq Stokes Fears of Sectarian Violence

May 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street finished this Friday with its fourth straight week of gains, after new signs of hope about the economy. One was a report that found consumer confidence is higher than expected. The Dow Jones industrial average added 121 points today to close at 15,354. The Nasdaq rose more than 33 points to close at nearly 3,499. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained more than 1.5 percent.

This was the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months. At least 76 people died in a series of explosions that struck Sunni Muslim areas, stoking fears that sectarian violence will spiral out of control. The worst was in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. Ambulances sped through blood-stained streets after twin explosions ripped through a crowd of Sunni worshipers, killing more than 40. Today’s attacks followed violence that killed more than 50 Shiites earlier this week.

Two Sunni mosques were targeted in Pakistan today, as worshipers gathered for Friday prayers. Twin bombings in a village in the northwest killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 70 others. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

It was widely reported today that Russia has sent the Syrian government advanced anti-ship missiles. They’re said to be outfitted with advanced radar to make them more effective. The sale came despite U.S. pleas to Moscow to stop giving military aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But, in Russia today, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country is merely fulfilling contracts.

FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV, Russia: I don’t understand why the media are trying to make this look like a sensation. We have never hidden the fact that we are supplying Syria with arms, in line with earlier signed contracts which do not breach any international treaties or Russian law, which are some of the strictest in the world in terms of export controls.

HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had raised the issue of arms transfers to Syria during his visit in Moscow earlier this month. At the State Department today, Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said what he said then holds true today.

JENNIFER PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: And the secretary himself said this just two weeks ago. We remain concerned about any aid that is being provided to help the Syrian regime by the Russians or anyone else, including any form of missiles. That’s a concern we have expressed publicly and that the secretary and others have expressed privately as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In another development, Human Rights Watch researchers have found physical evidence of torture in Syrian government prisons. The group said one device stretched or bent victims’ arms and legs. It was found in Raqqa in eastern Syria, a city now under rebel control. The researchers also found documents showing people were detained for demonstrating or helping injured people.

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