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News Wrap: Syrian opposition forces demand Assad be excluded from new government

October 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest look at the U.S. economy raised new concerns today. The Labor Department reported employers added a net of 148,000 jobs September, well below expectations. The unemployment rate did drop a 10th of a point to 7.2 percent, as more people stopped looking for work.

Paul Solman takes a closer look at what’s behind the numbers, later in the program.

The jobs report helped Wall Street gain some ground. Stocks rose on hopes that the Federal Reserve will continue economic stimulus efforts. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 75 points to close at 15,467. The Nasdaq rose nine points to close at 3,929. The S&P 500 closed at a record high for the fourth straight session.

 A pair of human rights groups zeroed in today on attacks by unmanned U.S. drones and civilian casualties. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch focused on drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. They said the resulting civilian deaths may be tantamount to war crimes in some cases. We will explore the issue in detail right after the news summary.

Efforts to begin peace talks in the Syrian civil war have run into a roadblock. The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition laid down several conditions today. Its leader said that President Bashar al-Assad must be excluded from any new government and that hard-line Islamist rebels must be kept out of peace talks.

In turn, Secretary of State John Kerry advised caution.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: You can’t reach mutual consent if you’re not talking to anybody. There’s no mutuality; there’s no potential of consent. So, the fact is that you have to go engage in the discussion and then see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kerry said he’s still optimistic that the rebel coalition will agree to take part in talks with the Assad regime starting in late November.

The oil kingdom of Brunei will soon be under Islamic criminal law. The ruling sultan announced today that enforcement of the Sharia penal code will begin in six months. Penalties include amputations for convicted thieves and stoning for those who commit adultery. Brunei already bans the sale of alcohol and evangelism by other religions.

In Australia, firefighters made more progress today thanks to cooler temperatures and light rain. Sixty wildfires were still burning in New South Wales on the outskirts of Sydney. Officials said crews deliberately merged two massive fires, hoping to corral them before the winds and heat get worse again.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS, New South Wales Rural Fire: The latest predictions are indicating that we may have made a significant inroad into just how far these fires are likely to advance over the next 24 and 48 hours. I just don’t know how far they’re going to run yet. None of us know how far they’re going to run yet. But what we do know is that, together, we have done everything we can to limit just how far those fires run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So far, one person has died in the fires, and at least 208 homes have been destroyed.

Facebook announced today it’s working on new ways to warn users about graphic violence on its site. The social media giant issued the statement after an uproar over videos that show beheadings. Facebook banned such videos in May, but recently lifted the prohibition. About one billion people worldwide use Facebook.

Commuters in the San Francisco Bay area are getting back to normal, after a four-day rail strike ended. The Bay Area Rapid Transit system, BART, began operating again this morning. That was welcome news for thousands of people who’d been forced to find other ways to work. Relief came last night when leaders from the transit system and its unions struck a deal.

GRACE CRUNICAN, BART: This offer is more than we wanted to pay, but it’s also a new path in terms of our partnership with our workers and helps us to deliver the BART service for the future.

ANTONETTE BRYANT, Amalgamated Transit Union: We will go back to work and continue our efforts to keep the Bay Area moving. We didn’t want to strike and we’re glad to have a tentative agreement that we feel will work for all parties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The talks between BART and the unions lasted six months, and also included an earlier strike back in July.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service paid out more than $110 billion in tax credits over the past decade to people who didn’t qualify. The agency’s inspector general reported today the payments were earned income tax credits intended for the working poor. But he found one-fifth of all such payments were made in error. He blamed both dishonest tax preparers and the complexity of the tax credit.