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News Wrap: 1,000 People Die in Severe Flooding in Philippines

December 19, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A merger that would have created the country’s largest cell phone carrier is canceled. AT&T announced late today it is dropping a bid to buy T-Mobile USA For $39 billion. The Justice Department had sued to block the deal as anti-competitive.

The announcement came after the stock market closed with another round of losses. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 100 points to close at 11,766. The Nasdaq fell 32 points to close at 2,523.

Nearly 1,000 people have died in severe flooding in the Philippines, and as many as 800 more are missing. The flooding hit late Friday night after a tropical storm dumped 12 hours of heavy rain on Mindanao in the south. Cities were under a state of emergency and rescue teams were still searching for survivors and victims today. Some of the recovered bodies were buried in mass graves after funeral homes filled up.

Troops in Egypt opened fire on protesters in a fourth day of violence. Fourteen people have died since the trouble erupted on Friday, but a top general defended the use of force today, and he charged there’s a plot to topple the state.

David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times outlined the struggle in a Skype interview from Cairo.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK, The New York Times: The civilian activists are agitating for an end to military rule. And the military council has indicated over time that it would like to carve out for itself a permanent role in Egyptian politics and probably protection from civilian scrutiny of its budget as well.

And, so, we’re seeing the negotiations over how much power the military is really willing to give up playing out in the streets as kind of a preliminary skirmish to what’s going to happen when we have a duly elected parliament.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That full interview is available online at our website.

The Syrian government has signed a deal to accept Arab observers, part of an effort to stop mounting bloodshed. Officials from Syria and the Arab League took part in a ceremony today in Cairo, Egypt that lets observers in for one month, with the option of extending that stay.

In Damascus, the Syrian foreign minister insisted the regime is serious and not just stalling for time.

WALID AL-MOALLEM, Syrian foreign minister (through translator): We would not have signed the protocol unless our amendments on it had been adopted, no matter what the circumstances were. But after applying those amendments, and since we are seeking a political solution to this crisis as soon as possible, along with their partnership, I can now say that the signing of the protocol is the beginning of cooperation between us and the Arab League.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The announcement came on a day when activists said up to 70 soldiers were gunned down by government troops as they tried to desert near the Turkish border. At least 30 other people died in attacks elsewhere. It continued a wave of street violence that churned over the weekend. Protest leaders said at least 21 people were killed on Sunday as troops and rebels fought each other in northwestern Syria.

Hopes have dimmed for 39 workers missing in icy seas after an oil rig disaster off Eastern Russia. It happened Sunday in the Sea of Okhotsk. A drilling platform was being towed during a fierce storm when a wave caused it to capsize. Fourteen survivors and 10 bodies were plucked from the water. There were unconfirmed reports of life rafts being spotted in the water today.

The leading Republican presidential hopefuls were back on the road today, with just over two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Mitt Romney won the endorsement of a top Republican from neighboring Illinois, Sen. Mark Kirk. The Des Moines Register endorsed Romney on Sunday. And Newt Gingrich, who’s been leading in recent polls, campaigned in Iowa, where he has been criticizing the power of federal judges.

The president of Florida A&M University will keep his job while the school probes the hazing death of a marching band member. The university’s board today rejected a call by the state’s governor to suspend President James Ammons. There has been criticism that he didn’t do enough to prevent hazing.

The victim, 26-year-old Robert Champion, died last month after a severe beating. The state medical examiner has ruled it a homicide.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.