From NPR News in Washington, I’m Nora Raum.
A high-ranking general has reportedly defected from the Syrian army along with 20 soldiers. Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf appeared on Al Arabiya television along with a rebel fighter. Also today, Human Rights Watch said the Syrian government is expanding its use of cluster bombs causing more civilian casualties. France says it’s using all possible means to rescue a family taken hostage in Cameroon. NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports the situation is complicated by France’s war against Islamist extremists in nearby Mali.
On a visit to Cameroon, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said everything was being done to find the French family of seven which includes four children aged five to twelve. They were kidnapped by Islamist extremists in Cameroon last month. The family, which lived in the southern capital of Yaounde, was visiting an animal park in the north of the country when Nigerian Islamists came across the border and took them. Islamists operating in the Saharan region of Africa finance themselves by trafficking, smuggling and ransoms. But if France pays the ransom for the hostages, it would be financing the same people that it’s fighting in Mali. France sent troops in January to fight Islamist extremists who've taken over the north of Mali. A total of 15 French hostages are currently held by Islamist extremist groups in North Africa.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
In about an hour, conservative Republicans meeting just outside Washington are to announce the winner of their straw poll, the person they think should be the Republican nominee in the next presidential election. Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin spoke to the group today. She had a message for the current occupant of the White House.
"Mr. President, we admit it you won, accept it. Now step away from the teleprompter and do your job."
Palin also said the Republican party must broaden its message to all citizens, even those who don’t share its ideals.
The president’s annual economic report highlights some encouraging trends in the cost of health care. NPR’s Scott Horsley reports if that continues, it could make a big difference for the federal budget.
Health care cost is one of the biggest drivers of the federal deficit. Forecasters say if those costs keep going up, in 70 years Medicare will gobble up twice as much the economy as it does today. But why do the costs don't keep spiraling on upwards? Over the last five years health care costs in general have been growing more slowly, and that’s especially true for Medicare. White House economists say the recession may account for some of the slowdown, but efforts to deliver care more efficiently may also play a role. If the slower cost growth is preserved, Medicare share of the economy would remain stable in the coming decades. The administration is not predicting that, but says it shows how efforts to control health care expenses can produce big savings over time.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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Israel formed a new government today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says an agreement among various factions was reached after weeks of deadlock. The new coalition will be sworn in Monday, two days before President Obama is to visit Israel on his first trip to that country as president.
While the world is fixated on North Korea’s nuclear program, the United Nations reports more than a quarter of the country’s children are malnourished. Lisa Schlein in Geneva reports a new UN food survey finds two thirds of North Korea’s population is going hungry.
The UN report finds millions of North Korean children are stunted from chronic malnutrition, and millions of people are in need of regular food aid. The report doesn’t deal with Pyongyang’s recent threats against South Korea or nuclear threats against the United States. But it notes humanitarian aid should be neutral and impartial, and not subject to political considerations. The United Nations says North Korea will have to import more than 500,000 tons of cereal to feed its people this year. Another UN report on the human rights situation in North Korea says food is used to control the population and make it dependent on the government.
For NPR News, I’m Lisa Schlein in Geneva.
At the UN last night, 131 nations agreed on a plan to combat violence against women and girls around the world. The non-binding agreement urges governments to strongly condemn all forms of violence and to provide women access to sexual and reproductive services. In the end only Libya refused to support the document, saying that it violates Islamic teachings.
I’m Nora Raum, NPR News in Washington.