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March 25th, 2011
04:30 PM ET

Libyans flee fighting in Ajdabiya, end up in harshness of desert

Arwa Damon
CNN

Ajdabiya, Libya (CNN) - Outside the Libyan city of Ajdabiya, tents have sprouted in the rolling desert, where the sands blow and farmers grow figs and grapes.

In the city, a fierce fight rages for control between the Libyan opposition and forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi, whose tanks lob shells to push their foes back.

At night, coalition planes roar overhead, pounding Gadhafi's positions. Early Friday, British jets pounded Libyan armored vehicles. But they have not been able to stop the battle on the ground, and residents are escaping to safer ground.

"I couldn't even begin to describe to you the horror that I have seen," one man said. "Leaving Ajdabiya, we saw dead bodies in the street. No one would ever dare go to recover them."

He fled his hometown with his six children this week. One of his sons, maybe about 10, cradles his head as his father talks. He cries quietly.

Other children gather around. When an oil tanker barrels down the road, they freeze and then scatter in fear.

The people here have nothing: no change of clothes, not even water. They sleep on thin sheets of plastic and think they will keep themselves warm at night with firewood in a tin box that is only 1 foot in diameter.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Arwa Damon
March 25th, 2011
02:30 PM ET

NATO considers broader role in Libya

Paula Newton
CNN

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) - As NATO prepares to take over the Libya mission, alliance officials said Friday they are considering a broader role that goes beyond enforcement of a no-fly zone.

After days of acrimonious discussion, NATO officials hailed their decision to take command as swift and historic and vowed a "seamless" transition of leadership from the United States to NATO, which could happen as early as Sunday.

"In the course of a single week NATO allies have launched both the arms embargo and the no-fly zone operations," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. "This is a clear demonstration of the allies commitment to fulfill their obligations under the U.N. mandate and to show their resolve to do what it takes to protect the people of Libya."

But whether NATO will assume the role of protecting civilians on the ground - as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution - remains at issue. The operational heart of the mission could hinge on if and when to intervene with airstrikes when civilians appear to be at risk.

A decision on what NATO officials are calling "no-fly plus" could come as early as Sunday after a meeting of NATO ambassadors.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Paula Newton
March 25th, 2011
01:45 PM ET

Japan reactor core may be leaking radioactive material, official says

CNN Wire Staff

Tokyo (CNN) - Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.

Contaminated water likely seeped through the containment vessel protecting the reactor's core, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Three employees working near the No. 3 reactor Thursday stepped into water that had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for a nuclear plant, Nishiyama said. An analysis of the contamination suggests "some sort of leakage" from the reactor core, signaling a possible break of the containment vessel that houses the core, he said.

The workers have been hospitalized and work inside the reactor building has been halted, according to the agency.

Work inside two other reactor buildings also had to stop and workers had to be pulled back Friday after the discovery of high levels of radiation in water at those locations, a Tokyo Electric Power Company official said Saturday. Water is still being pumped into the containment vessels, the utility official said.

Nuclear power experts cautioned against reading too much into the newest development, saying the workers exposed to radioactive water might not suffer injuries any more serious than a sunburn.

Moreover, evidence of radioactivity in the water around the plant is not necessarily surprising given the amount of water sprayed onto and pumped into the reactors, said Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts institute of Technology.

"I am not particularly alarmed," he said.

The reactor thought to be leaking contaminated water is the same one cited in the dramatic evacuation last week of a small crew of workers who had stayed behind after the plant's owner pulled most employees from the area. The workers were pulled back March 16 after white smoke began billowing from the reactor and radiation levels spiked.

At the time, the Japanese nuclear safety agency said it suspected damage to No. 3's containment vessel, but a government spokesman the next day said there had been no indication of a "major breach of containment."

That reactor is of particular concern, experts have said, because it is the only one at the plant to use a combination of uranium and plutonium fuel, called MOX, that is considered to be more dangerous than the pure uranium fuel used in other reactors.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow
March 25th, 2011
09:30 AM ET
March 25th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #795 'Pain by numbers'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: Like Don McLean once sang, “bad news on the doorstep.”

Dear Mr. President,

My eyes nearly popped from my skull when I saw this new report from the Federal Reserve Bank about how the accumulated wealth of American families dropped by 23 percent from 2007 to 2009. Wow! Is it just me, or does that seem like a Six-Flags-Wacky-Roller-Coaster plunge into the abyss? I realize that our economy is in trouble, but even for a cynical, skeptical reporter that is a pretty whopping nosedive to comprehend.

Related on CNNMoney.com: Household wealth down 23% in 2 years, according to Fed

The funny thing is, for some time I have been saying to family and friends that appearances are deceiving, and that they shouldn’t necessarily be fooled just because neighbors still have nice cars and wear decent clothing. But I had no idea how right I was. (Which is a nice change from being, as my wife often reminds me, more wrong than I even imagine.)

What I suspected, and what turns out to be true according to this report, is that many people have been cannibalizing their savings, running up their debt, and essentially trying really hard to live as if the economy is not beating them senseless. They are putting on a good show while backstage the theater is on fire.
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March 25th, 2011
12:14 AM ET
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12:09 AM ET
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12:06 AM ET
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