HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. and Russia neared an agreement today that aims to reduce hostilities in Syria. Word of the progress came after an hours-long meeting in Geneva between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Kerry said the deal, if completed, will make the possibility of a lasting truce more likely. But he conceded there was more work to be done.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: In the next days, our experts will be meeting here in Geneva to conclude the few remaining technical issues and to move forward in order to take the steps necessary to build the confidence to overcome the deep mistrust that does exist on all sides.
HARI SREENIVASAN: An earlier cessation of hostilities failed after numerous regime and rebel violations.
Meanwhile, in Syria, one of the war’s longest stand-offs drew closer to ending. Hundreds of residents and fighters were allowed to evacuate the Damascus suburb of Daraya, which has been under government siege since 2012. Secretary Kerry accused the Syrian army of forcing them to surrender.
A suicide truck bombing in Southeast Turkey killed at least 11 police officers today. Another 78 people were wounded. It happened at a checkpoint just steps from a police station near the Syrian border. Kurdish militants claimed responsibility. It’s the latest in a string of attacks targeting the country’s police and military.
The Philippine government has agreed to an indefinite cease-fire with communist rebels. It’s aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, a conflict that’s killed at least 40,000 people since the 1960s. The deal was the culmination of peace talks in Oslo, Norway. It includes a timetable for discussions about political, economic and constitutional reforms.
A government representative hailed the agreement.
JESUS DUREZA, Presidential Peace Advisor, Philippines: This is an historic and unprecedented event. Many of us have been here doing this before, but I think we’re looking at a very opportune opportunity that we can finish off what we have started a long time ago.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Representatives from both sides agreed to return to Oslo in October for further negotiations.
France’s top administrative court overturned a controversial ban on the so-called burkini in one resort town today. The body-covering swimsuit worn by Muslim women has sparked a fierce debate in France.
Martin Geissler of Independent Television News has our report from Paris.
MARTIN GEISSLER: These were the pictures that divided France and shocked the world beyond, a Muslim woman forced by a group of armed policemen to remove her clothing on a public beach.
The burkini was banned by more than a dozen French towns for being overtly religious. The law had wide public support, but activists from one town took it to the highest court in Paris today. Judges ruled it should be suspended.
PATRICE SPINOSI, Human Rights Lawyer: It’s against the civil freedom of religion, and now the decision of the Conseil d’Etat is final.
MARTIN GEISSLER: As absurd as this all may seem, it’s important to remember the context. France has suffered a series of terror attacks over recent months, and the country feels embattled and angry.
NICOLAS SARKOZY, Former President, France (through translator): I support without any hesitation the mayors who have banned the burkini to preserve public order. I ask for a law forbidding it on the entire territory of the republic.
MARTIN GEISSLER: There was little sign of stress at the manmade beach on the banks of the sand today, Parisians enjoying some late summer sunshine, no burkinis to be seen. But that didn’t stop the debate.
“We have been victims of terror in this country,” he says, “and the burkini is a clear symbol of Islam. That’s why it offends people.”
WOMAN: We live in a free country, so they do what they want. If they want to wear something like this, it’s not…
MAN: It’s no problem.
MARTIN GEISSLER: These are extreme times in France, and many here believe they require extreme measures. But the republic’s great founding values, freedom, equality and brotherhood, are being tested now like never before.
As this country debates the best way forward, it’s being forced to ask some difficult questions of itself.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The human rights lawyer fighting the ban said that while today’s ruling applied to only one town, it should set a legal precedent throughout the country.
Back in this country, the Food and Drug Administration wants all U.S. blood banks to start screening for the Zika virus. That requirement had previously been limited to areas with active Zika transmission like Puerto Rico and parts of Florida. Last month, the FDA ordered facilities in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to stop taking blood donations until Zika screening could begin.
Republican Donald Trump’s campaign is taking fresh heat over its new CEO, Steve Bannon. The Guardian reported Bannon registered to vote in the swing state of Florida using the address of a vacant home, a move that would violate election laws. A Trump spokesman insisted he’s moved elsewhere in Florida.
Meanwhile, various news outlets revealed Bannon was charged with domestic violence in 1996. He allegedly grabbed his then-wife’s neck and wrist. The case was dismissed when she didn’t testify.
We will have more on the campaign later in the program.
The federal government will give Amtrak a nearly $2.5 billion loan, the largest in the history of the Transportation Department. It will be used for improvements on the busy Northeast Corridor, which goes from D.C., through New York, to Boston. Amtrak will buy new trains, upgrade tracks, and improve platforms.
President Obama created the world’s largest marine protected area today. The Marine National Monument is located off the coast of his native Hawaii. It will now quadruple in size, to span nearly 600,000 square miles. The sanctuary will protect more than 7,000 different species, including sea turtles and whales.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained why the president felt it was time to act.
JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: There is a role for Congress to play in terms of setting aside certain territory, lands and waters in the United States for future preservation. But we haven’t seen a lot of congressional activity of any sort really over the last few years. And it has turned the president’s attention to more robust use of executive action.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Hawaii’s National Marine Monument was originally created a decade ago, under President George W. Bush.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the case for raising U.S. interest rates has gotten stronger in recent months. She spoke at an international gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But Yellen gave no indication of when the Fed might raise rates.
That led to choppy trading on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 53 points to close above 18396. The Nasdaq rose six. The S&P 500 fell three. For the week, all three indexes lost a fraction of a percent.
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