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News Wrap: Thousands of Syrians Rally in Defiance at End of Ramadan

August 30, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. consumers got a serious case of nerves this month. The business research group Conference Board reported today that consumer confidence dropped to the lowest since April of 2009. It cited stock market swings and the Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. debt rating.

The news sent Wall Street down at first, but the market rebounded later. The Dow Jones industrial average finished with a gain of more than 20 points to close near 11,560. The Nasdaq rose 14 points to close at 2,576.

Thousands of people rallied across Syria today in a show of defiance as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan came to an end. Activists said security forces shot and killed at least seven people, including a 13-year-old boy. Amateur video showed crowds filling the streets of several cities. They carried pictures of loved ones killed in the crackdown, and chanted anti-government slogans. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on top Syrian officials.

The rebels in Libya are now threatening to launch an all-out attack on Sirte, the place that gave rise to Moammar Gadhafi. At the same time, there were new reports of negotiations over the fate of the city, 250 miles east of Tripoli.

We have a report from James Mates of Independent Television News.

JAMES MATES: Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte was always going to be the last to fall to the rebels, the one place where support for Gadhafi and his clan wasn’t extracted exclusively through the barrel of a gun.

It’s also the one place where the rebel army, still fighting their way towards the outskirts of the town from both east and west, cannot rely on a local population to rise in their support once the attack begins.

No wonder, then, that they have given the town until the end of the Muslim festival of Eid on Saturday to surrender before ordering an assault. The interim leader of the new Libya spelled out his terms today.

“By Saturday,” he said, “we will decide this matter militarily. We do not wish to do so, but we will wait no longer.”

The defense of Sirte is being led by Gadhafi’s son Mutassim, as others in the family flee across the border to Algeria, among them, his wife, Safia, son Hannibal, and daughter Aisha, who’s reported today to have given birth to a daughter herself. Aisha was last seen trying to rally support for the failing regime in April on a balcony in the heart of the Gadhafi compound in Tripoli.

Today, in the very spot where she stood, newly liberated Libyans dance and celebrate. The former Gadhafi compound here is now Tripoli’s number-one tourist attraction. Thousands come every day to shout their hatred of Gadhafi and all who were associated with him. No wonder the family want to be as far away from this place as possible. They know what fate would await them, a fate that has already caught up with Khamis Gadhafi, reputedly the most ruthless of the whole family.

Rebel commanders say he was killed as he led his troops in a fighting retreat from the south of Tripoli on Saturday.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also today, a top rebel official said his forces have a good idea where Moammar Gadhafi himself is hiding. He said, “We don’t have any doubt that we will catch him.”

In Afghanistan, a roadside bombing killed an unidentified NATO soldier today. And the casualty count for all of August made it the deadliest month for U.S. forces there. In all, 66 Americans have been killed, nearly half of them in the downing of a helicopter by the Taliban. So far this year, nearly 300 Americans have died in the Afghan war.

Today, President Obama recognized the sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq as he addressed the American Legion convention in Minneapolis.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now they lay at rest in quiet corners of America, but they live on in the families who loved them and in the nation that is safer because of their service. And, today, we pay humble tribute to the more than 6,200 Americans in uniform who have given their lives in this hard decade of war. We honor them all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. military has begun withdrawing 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year. Another 23,000 will leave by the summer of 2012.

Two top U.S. law enforcement officials resigned today after a furor over gunrunning in the Southwest. The U.S. attorney in Arizona and the acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stepped down. It stems from a law enforcement operation, Fast and Furious, aimed at major gun traffickers along the Southwest border. A congressional probe found that the ATF lost track of roughly 2,000 guns and some wound up in the hands of criminals.

Japan has a new prime minister, its sixth in five years. The Japanese Parliament elected Yoshihiko Noda to be the country’s new premier today. He inherits a faltering economy and recovery efforts from the tsunami and nuclear disasters. The previous prime minister, Naoto Kan, resigned amid widespread criticism of his administration and fracturing within the ruling party.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.