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News Wrap: Egyptian Forces Raid Human Rights Groups Critical of Military Rule

December 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: There was some hopeful news for the economy today. The four-week average of new jobless claims fell to the lowest since mid-2008. And home sales in November were the best in a year-and-a-half.

The two reports helped the mood on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 135 points to close at 12,287. The Nasdaq rose more than 23 points to close at 2,613.

In Egypt, police and soldiers stormed 17 offices of pro-democracy and human rights groups that have criticized military rule. Witnesses reported security forces interrogated employees and seized files and computers. At least three of the targeted offices belonged to groups based in the U.S.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called for a halt to the raids.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department spokeswoman: This action is inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation we have had over many years.

Suffice it to say we don’t think that this action is justified, and we want to see the harassment end, and we want to see the property returned.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Nuland said the U.S. ambassador in Cairo has spoken to Egyptian officials about the situation and insisted on immediate action.

The U.S. has finalized the sale of $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. The announcement today involves 84 new planes and upgrades to 70 more. It’s part of a larger ten-year agreement. Word of the fighter deal followed threats by Iran to disrupt oil traffic from the Persian Gulf if the West embargoes Iranian oil.

Thousands of Syrians rallied in cities across the country today and government forces answered with lethal fire. The protest and killing played out on day three of an Arab League observer mission.

We have a report narrated by Louise Beale of Independent Television News.

LOUISE BEALE: Demonstrators in the city of Duma, they chant support for their fellow protesters in other Syrian cities like Idlib and Homs.

Waiting at the end of the street is a barricade of security forces, and it’s not long before gunfire begins.


LOUISE BEALE: Afterwards, a soldier picks up spent bullets to cover his tracks.

Elsewhere in the city, this footage shows a man being detained by security forces. Those who posted this video on YouTube claimed after he was put in the van, he was shot, but we’ve been unable to independently verify that.

Arab League observers are in Syria for a second day. They were due to arrive in Duma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, but local people say security forces didn’t let them in. Yesterday, the monitors were pictured in Homs filming evidence on cameras. They were seen with tanks, which are meant to be banned from the streets.

Now questions are being raised about their effectiveness. Amnesty International has criticized their choice of leader, Sudan’s General Dabi, seen here on the left in the baseball cap. Amnesty say he was responsible for the atrocities in Darfur.

In the northern city of Idlib today, there was a large demonstration, bigger than any seen in recent days. The monitors were expected here. And the people are determined to show them what’s really going on. In Daraa, they awaited a visit, too, but the clashes continued. Women who came out onto the street to protest were confronted by security forces, and one was arrested.

Meanwhile, a soldier aims his gun at a boy. The protesters are getting increasingly frustrated. They don’t think the monitors are being given proper access to assess what’s going on in Syria, and the death toll keeps rising.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Syrian opposition claimed at least 26 people were killed nationwide today.

Kim Jong-un was officially declared North Korea’s new supreme leader today. The announcement came at a massive public memorial service for his late father, Kim Jong-il, who died of a heart attack nearly two weeks ago. Huge crowds turned out in Pyongyang’s main square for the ceremonies. Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s, looked on from a nearby balcony, along with top party and military officials.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.