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News Wrap: Assad Faces New Challeges as Anti-Government Protests Swell in Syria

December 30, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: An outpouring of anti-government protesters filled cities across Syria today. It marked a new challenge to President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition reported as many as 250,000 people turned out in both Idlib and Hama, and there were many thousands more in Homs, Duma and Daraa. Protesters said troops gunned down at least 22 people.

We have a report narrated by Andy Davies of Independent Television News.

ANDY DAVIES: Homs, in the northwest of Syria this morning, some are now calling this the martyr city, given the numbers killed here in recent months.

In front of the camera reads the message, “This is the Friday for marching towards the squares of freedom.” And so they did, gathering in their thousands in the city’s main square, significantly, for the first time in months.

In towns across Syria, the opposition movement rallied its support base following Friday prayers. Hundreds of thousands reportedly took to the streets, emboldened, perhaps, by the recent arrival of yellow-vested Arab League monitors in the country, this intended as a statement to those observers: Regime violence will not quell this uprising.

This footage was apparently recorded today in Duma. It’s just six miles from the center of the capital, Damascus. It’s not clear what caused this particular explosion, but opposition activists alleged Syrian security forces had thrown nail bombs into the crowd.

There was violence documented also in the city of Hama. Five were shot dead here today, alleged one activist. A fortnight ago, the United Nations estimated that more than 5,000 had been killed by Syrian security forces since the uprising began.

One influential campaign group says it’s now more than 6,000. It’s a figure disputed by the government, and again today by its media. This reporter claims he’s tracked down a number of people who were supposedly killed by security forces.

State-run TV was broadcasting today live from the center of Damascus and other cities. They were showing rallies in support of al-Assad’s regime.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Pakistan, at least nine people were killed when a car bomb exploded in the city of Quetta outside the home of a local politician. Pakistani television showed video of victims being rushed to a nearby hospital. More than 20 people were wounded there.

Spain has imposed new austerity measures, including a temporary tax hike to raise almost $8 billion. The two-year increase would affect the wealthy. The newly elected center-right government also announced more than $11 billion in spending cuts today. These are all part of efforts to rein in the country’s growing debt.

Wall Street stumbled on the last trading day of the year, with nothing to give the market much of a boost. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69 points, to close at 12,217. The Nasdaq fell eight points to close at 2,605. For the year, the Dow gained 5 percent – 5.5 percent and the Nasdaq fell nearly 2 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 finished the year down less than a tenth of a point.

Two NASA satellites are set to start orbiting the moon over New Year’s weekend. The probes were launched in September as part of the GRAIL mission, for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory. Each satellite is about the size of a washing machine. They’re to fly in tandem to map the moon’s gravitational field. That data could reveal the moon’s interior and how it formed.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.