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News Wrap: Syrian Dissidents Report More Than 100 Killed by Government Forces

December 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In other news Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that Kurdish authorities hand over Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi, who fled to the Kurdish North this week to escape an arrest warrant. In Syria, dissidents reported government forces killed more than 100 people in an organized massacre.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The European Central Bank threw a lifeline to hundreds of banks on the continent today. They borrowed $639 billion over three years under a program meant to ease a credit crunch. It was the Central Bank’s largest intervention since the euro came into being 13 years ago.

But the move failed to impress the markets. The Dow Jones industrial average gained just four points to close at 12,108. The Nasdaq fell 25 points to close below 2,578.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that Kurdish authorities hand over Iraq’s vice president today. Tariq al-Hashemi is the highest-ranking Sunni figure in Iraq. He fled to the Kurdish north this week to escape an arrest warrant. The Shiite-dominated government charges he ran terror squads that targeted government officials.

At a news conference in Baghdad today, Maliki rejected Hashemi’s claim that the charges are politically motivated.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi prime minister (through translator): I will not permit myself, others, or the relatives of martyrs to politicize this issue. There is only one path that will lead to the objective, and that is the path of the judiciary, nothing else. He should appear before court, either to be exonerated or to be convicted. The cause of al-Hashemi should not enter into political bargaining.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, a spokesman for the president of the Kurdish region rejected the demand.

The political fight came as U.S. troops have finished their withdrawal from Iraq. Last night, Vice President Biden called Maliki and urged him to resolve the crisis.

In Syria, dissidents reported government forces killed more than 100 people on Tuesday in an organized massacre. The activists said a village in Idlib province was surrounded and then blasted by rockets, tank shells, bombs, and gunfire. And more scenes of violence unfolded elsewhere. Amateur video showed a man hit by random sniper fire while driving his car in Homs. And pro-government gunmen patrolled neighborhoods around Damascus.

Five NATO troops, all of them Polish, were killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan today. The soldiers were in a convoy headed to a meeting in eastern Ghazni province when the bomb went off. It was the deadliest single attack ever involving Poland’s 2,600 troops in Afghanistan.

Eight U.S. Army soldiers have been charged in the apparent suicide of a fellow soldier in Afghanistan. Private Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower in October. The Army said it appeared he shot himself. The charges announced today ranged from dereliction of duty to negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter. Supporters of Chen’s family in New York’s Chinatown suggested he was bullied to the point that he took his own life.

By the many thousands, North Koreans braved heavy snow today to pay respects to the late dictator Kim Jong-il. Crowds gathered in the central square in Pyongyang. State media said more than five million people had gathered at monuments and memorials in the city since Kim’s death was reported over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the official mourning went on amid a global guessing game about North Korea’s future.

Angus Walker of Independent Television News has this report from South Korea.

ANGUS WALKER: Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator in waiting, greeting foreign envoys, paying their respects as his father lies in state.

In the dark suit just over his shoulder, Kim’s uncle, a hardened veteran of North Korea’s mysterious politics, will share power. Along the frosty frontier between North and South, relations are in the deep freeze, protests on the border, on one side of a leaflet, Gadhafi, on the other, Kim Jong-un.

Thousands are tied to balloons and aimed at the North. Which direction the reclusive regime is now heading in worries the world. On either side of this heavily fortified border, both armies are on high alert. The North Koreans have missiles and nuclear capability. And while power is shifting, the secretive state is perhaps more unpredictable than it’s ever been.

HARI SREENIVASAN: North Korea is conducting an 11-day mourning period, ending with a state funeral and a national memorial service on Dec. 28 and 29.

In the U.S. presidential race, top Republicans traded new jabs over campaign advertising. Newt Gingrich demanded that Mitt Romney call off a political action committee that’s running negative ads against Gingrich. Romney shot back that he can’t tell the PAC what to do. And he said, this is politics.

The nation’s airlines will have to make sure pilots get more rest. The Federal Aviation Administration today ordered at least ten hours of rest between being on duty, an increase of two hours. And total work periods are limited to 14 hours.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rejected criticism that cargo carriers will be exempt.

SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION RAY LAHOOD: Safety is our number-one priority, and that’s the point that — everybody in the airline industry gets this. They understand this. The CEOs understand it. And I just — I want them to understand what the rule says, and I want them to adopt it voluntarily.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Some of the existing rules dated back to the 1960s. But calls for change grew after a plane crash that killed 50 people near Buffalo, N.Y., three years ago. Investigators found the two pilots were exhausted.

The European Union’s high court ruled today that U.S. airlines will have to comply with a new law designed to limit carbon emissions. The cap-and-trade program takes effect Jan. 1. It requires that airlines flying into Europe pay compensation for the pollution they create. A trade group representing American carriers claimed the regulation was an exorbitant tax that violated national sovereignty.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.