The News Matrix: Thursday 31 March 2011

Assad defies calls to lift emergency law

President Bashar al-Assad defied expectations that he would lift Syria’s emergency law, using a speech to the nation to claim that recent unrest was the result of a foreign plot. More than 60 people have been killed since protests began two weeks ago. MORE

Warsi puts foot in it on voting reform

Critics of Baroness Warsi, the Tory party chairman, have derided her for giving the BNP publicity by claiming a Yes vote in the referendum on electoral reform would boost its prospects. MORE

Councils face £10bn pothole repair bill

Local authorities need more than £10bn to get their roads back into reasonable condition, according to a report. Highways engineers say one in five local roads in England are in poor condition, with the figure for London as high as 25 per cent.

Death row man refused damages

A man who was on death row for 14 years for a murder he didn’t commit has been denied £8.75m in damages. The Supreme Court ruled that John Thompson had not demonstrated New Orleans district’s attorney office had misconducted his case.

Rebels pushed back as conflict seesaws

The advance of the Libyan rebels has been turned back by loyalist forces, with the dissident forces blaming their leadership as they were pushed back towards Benghazi. They abandoned Brega and are now trying to hold on to Ajdabiya. MORE

English charities forced to axe posts

More than half of England’s charities plan to cut staff over the next three months, and a third say they will have to limit their services. Nearly two-thirds expect to spend less over the next year.

Four of Fukushima’s reactors will be shut

After nearly three weeks battling to save the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the Japanese authorities have admitted that four of the six reactors will have to be shut down. The news came as the country’s nuclear safety agency revealed that radioactive iodine 3,555 times the safe limit had been detected in seawater about 300 metres from the plant. MORE

Co-founder damns Gates as a schemer

The school friend who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates has written a damning memoir portraying him as a ruthless schemer who tried to rip him off. In his memoir Paul Allen claims Gates bullied him out of shares worth billions. MORE

Two injured in a gang shooting

A 5-year-old girl and 35-year-old man were in a critical but stable condition last night after being caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting. Three teenagers had chased two youths to a shop in Stockwell, south London, before firing shots inside. MORE

MPs call for inquiry into tax avoidance

Labour members of the Commons Treasury select committee have called for an inquiry into tax avoidance by companies such as Vodafone, Arcadia and Barclays. Groups such as UK Uncut have put the issue on the political agenda. MORE

Loss of Mars rover breaks Nasa’s spirit

Nasa is on the verge of giving up hope that it will ever make contact again with the Mars rover Spirit after a year of silence. The space agency plans to give up the hunt if it does not find Spirit in the next month or so. The craft became stuck in a sand trap in April 2009.

Small garden bird numbers rising

Goldcrests, long-tailed tits and coal tits have bounced back from the long winter which hit numbers last year, according to the RSPB. The rise in the sighting of small garden birds during its survey in January indicates a good breeding season help turned around their fortunes.

Man, 98, charged with attempted murder

A 98-year-old Scottish resident has appeared in court charged with the attempted murder of two female police officers at his home in Scone. Sylvester Nowak appeared at Perth Sherriff Court before being sent to Murray Royal psychiatric hospital to be assessed.

Judge won’t insist Willie Nelson sings

A Texas judge said claims she offered to keep Willie Nelson out of jail on a drug charge if he sang in court were a joke that got out of hand. The judge said she would in fact allow the 77- year-old singer to plead guilty to the cannabis possession charge and pay a fine without coming to court. MORE

Chavez wins top journalism award

The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been given a prestigious award in Argentina for his services to journalism. The honour comes despite longstanding claims that the government has shut down media outlets critical of his rule.