07/02/2012 World News Today


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This is BBC World News today with me, Tim Willcox.


The Syrian city of Homs is pounded for the 4th day in a row. Meanwhile,


Russia, which vetoed last weekend's Security Council resolution, is


treated to a hero's welcome in Damascus. The Syrian president


assured me that he is completely in support of stopping violence


wherever it comes from. Clashes in Athens - amid another


general strike as the Greek government scrambles to thrash out


even tougher austerity plans. The worst lead poisoning epidemic


in history. Nigerian children risk dying in their thousands, according


to Human Rights Watch. Also coming up: The cheerleader


responsible for the right's resurgence in France. Vive la


republic, vive la France! A repeat of the Le Pen affect but this time,


it is Marine, rather than Jean- Marie who is leading the calls.


And great expectations fulfilled as Britain and the world celebrates


the 200th anniversary of the Hello and welcome. Russia's Foreign


Minister, Sergei Lavrov, arrived in Damascus today to hero's welcome.


President Bashar al-Assad told him that he was completely committed to


the task of stopping the violence, regardless of where it came from.


180 kilometres away in the city of Homs, men, women and children were


being killed by government forces. Jim Muir reports from Beirut.


As the Russian minister was flying into Damascus looking for a


political solution, no sign of a respite for the people of Homs,


after days of pounding and hundreds of deaths. The government has


pledged to keep up its drive until what it calls the last terrorist is


finished off. Regime supporters turned out in droves to welcome


Sergei Lavrov and thank him for the veto which saved Syria from facing


a united international community. He was said to be carrying concrete


proposals although they have not been announced. In general, the


Russians want President Assad to speed up reforms he has been


preparing, but which the opposition say are too little far too late.


Both sides seemed willing to look Keane and positive. TRANSLATION:


The Syrian President assured me that he is completely in support of


stopping the violence, wherever it comes from. But the regime's


definition of stopping violence includes crushing any armed


resistance. Countries which supported the veto resolutions are


not waiting for the Russians to pull a rabbit from a hat. France


joined Britain, other European countries and the US in pulling


their ambassadors out of Damascus. The Gulf countries, led by Saudi


Arabia, did the same and expelled Syrian ambassadors. And Turkey,


Syria's powerful neighbour to the north, was scathing about the veto


and the Syrian leadership. Scots to TRANSLATION: Syria is a test of


sincerity for the world. Those turning a blind eye to what is


going on and those not reacting the way they should will suffer the


consequences, as if they were fuelling the bloodshed themselves.


The process at the United Nations was a fiasco for the civilised


world. Turkey is supporting the American


idea of throwing more support behind the Syrian opposition. Will


that mean backing fighters like these from the Free Syrian Army in


Homs? The regime cause them terrace. It has vowed to wipe them out. They


say they are trying to protect civilians against heavy odds.


TRANSLATION: We are the Free Syrian Army, the army of Assad the dock


were here in this building. They are outside checkpoints and outside


the hospital. We are here to respond and defend the local


residents from Assad's snipers. the Russians have reached agreement


with Assad behind the scenes of love they have failed to, the


result will be felt here first and foremost in Homs where people are


dying every day. To hear first-hand account of the


bombing campaign in Homs, we can speak to Abu Abdo, a Homs resident


and activist. What is the situation there tonight? Conditions here in


the neighbourhood are quite miserable with a shortage of


medical relief and supplies. We have a shortage of food, especially


essentials like bread. Most places have been bombed violently by Assad


forces which used all types of heavy weapons light tanks and


mortars and shelling by rockets. Unfortunately, as that forces


invaded the area also with tanks and all army vehicle types. They


are shooting everything and bombing houses. We have so many burned


houses, so many places that have been completely destroyed. Is the


shelling continuing 24 hours a day? The shelling by rockets it starts


at 3am in the morning. At 2pm it stopped a little bit. Then the army


got into the city with another type of shelling by tanks. They are


shooting everything and there are snipers everywhere so we cannot


pull people from the street and we cannot reach people in order to


help them. Thank you very much. Let's now go to Washington and


speak to Professor Marc Lynch, an associate professor of political


science and an international director of Middle East Studies at


George Washington University. The UN route is blocked by stalemate,


where do things go from here? think that what happened at the UN


makes it extremely difficult to envision a political transition


plan right now and I am really quite alarmed that we are going to


be seeing the growth of this kind of armed conflict, pressure to try


and on the opposition and effort by the United States and its allies,


to try and build this through the friends of Syria group, different


kinds of international pressure on Assad to step down and make an


agreement. But I have to say, right now, the prospects of such an


agreement are looking very dim. much opposition -- optimism de


place with the Russian initiative? Almost none. I think there are very


few people who find this to be a credible route right now. The


Russian veto at the United Nations was, I think, really harsh hit to


their credibility on the Syria file. I think it will be a long time


before and on trusts them or trusts their intentions. My best guess


about the Russian initiative is that they will try and find ways to


draw the opposition in a dialogue which does not go anywhere, by time,


stall, divide the international community and hopefully it will not


work. The international thinking is this is not another Libyan


situation but what to make of reports that there may be some kind


of presidential finding from the National Security Council, may be


thinking about covert the arming members of the Free Syrian Army?


Whether the United States does ARM be Free Syrian Army, I suspect we


will see more weapons flowing in as we get into an open civil war. I am


very leery of this because the fragmented nature of the Free


Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition. There is no unified


leadership. We do not know what those weapons will be going towards


and the more that it goes into an open civil war situation again, the


less chance that there will be for any kind of soft landing or


peaceful transition. I expect to see it but I find it very worrying.


Thank you. Wigan's we can speak now to Sinan


Ulgen is from the Carnegie Institute. He is a former Turkish


diplomat as well. Is turkey potentially the key player in all


of this? It already hosts the Syrian National Council. Do you


think turkey will step up and provide some sort of buffer zone


here? Certainly, Turkey is set to be a potential player here. However,


there is deep dismay in Ankara about the outcome of the UN


Security Council initiative and therefore today, as we speak, the


overriding concern of the Turkish policy makers is really the


inclusion of Syria. And a protracted civil war in that


country. Turkey is going to be the state that is going to have to deal


with the repercussions of that sort of protracted civil war and


therefore, there is serious thinking in Ankara about how to


manage the situation which will implicate Turkey in a major way.


But Turkey, which tried so hard to build up relations with Syria in


the past two years, has what, nailed its colours firmly to the


mast of regime change there? Absolutely. That is quite a radical


departure from traditional Turkish policy. In this particular instance,


despite the reproach month which happened to be in -- between


Damascus and Ankara, Damascus decided to burn bridges. It has


given support. From that perspective, it is a clear


departure from a policy which until now has made a point of not


supporting opposition in neighbouring countries. From that


perspective, Ankara is giving a strong signal to Damascus that...


Very briefly, on humanitarian grounds, what leverage


diplomatically do you think Turkey could wield? Turkey has a


geographical advantage and it is already leveraging that, in a sense


that it is providing support to the Free Syrian Army within the Turkish


territory, both logistical support but also humanitarian and medical


support. Going forwards, now that the Foreign Minister will be going


to Washington in two days time, there will be discussions about


whether the time has come to reassess this kind of support and


strengthen the type of support that both the US and Turkey has been


giving to the Free Syrian Army. Thank you for joining us.


Thousands of Greek protesters gathered outside parliament in


Athens once again today, demonstrating against austerity


measures which are set to get even tougher. As we came to her, Prime


Minister Lucas Papademos and political leaders were trying to


thrash out an agreement to free up an essential bail-out to avoid


defaulting on its debts next month. We can go to Athens and speak to


our correspondent there. What news of that plan? I have just spoken to


the Prime Minister's office who told me that the meeting between


the Prime Minister and the three coalition party leaders which had


been set to tonight has now been moved to tomorrow morning. That is


because the text on the bail-out agreement, the reforms that Greece


will undertake in order to get the bail-out funds, has not yet been


finalised. It is being finalised as we speak and it will then be handed


to the three party leaders for them to read and digest and probably


sign off on tomorrow. What we understand is that the text will


agree that the minimum wage he will be cut by 20 %, that pensions will


be cut by some extent and the 15,000 civil servants will be laid


off. Some of the reforms needed in order to secure vital international


funds. But even if there is political consensus on this, will


the Greek people accept it? They are very unlikely to because this


is a country which has been living with austerity for much of the last


two years, that feels extremely squeezed by the cuts. Unemployment


is nearing 20 %, double that for young people. It is the 5th year of


recession and Greeks feel that they cannot take any more. The


demonstration today was cut short by heavy rain but I think this wave


of unrest is set to continue. Greeks say the policy of more


austerity is stunting this country's growth and removing the


ability to grow out of recession and is worsening situation here.


But the Greek government looks like to do plough one because it is


under so much pressure from international partners to reform,


to cut here, in order to get vital rescue funds to avoid a disorderly


default. Thank you. Some 400 children have been killed


and many more at risk after the World's worst lead poisoning


epidemic in northern Nigeria. That is according to Human Rights Watch.


Based a despite warnings, dangers gold mining in the area is


expanding. Attempts to clean up villages have stalled.


This is one of the poorest parts of Nigeria but his mineral rich. Many


of the 9,000 here found they lived near gold. Like other villagers,


they worked out how to mind and process it. But they dry milling


came at a heavy price. Deadly lead dust was released as the All was


crushed. Inhaled and ingested by hundreds, it entered people's homes


and their blood. This is now the most contaminated village in the


region. 20-year-old Amina grew up there. TRANSLATION: I have six


children. Each time one died, I was so distraught. Seven children have


died here, if you include mind, that would make it 10. Lead levels


here are 60 times greater than what is considered safe. In villages


like this, 400 children have We lost an entire generation. It is


something that is clearly tragic and should never have happened. It


is something that the authorities at that time should have done more.


The mortality rate among symptomatic children has dropped


significantly in the last number of years, and the Government has had


to clean up several villages. has been some government action,


but there are 2,000 children that are in urgent need of treatment


right now. Those children cannot be treated until their homes are


cleaned up and those homes cannot be treated a Punto safer mining


practices are implemented. -- until safer money practices. Gold is


expected to bring in half a billion dollars a year, so it is clear why


it is such a draw for former subsistence farmers. They are


worried that this would be banned in North End human rights groups


are worried that this will force mining further underground. Local


scientists are saying another number of villagers are affected,


all of them facing the same problem, no readily available cash to deal


with De contamination. The race against time continues as many


children in the north face the possibility of brain damage or


worse with an unavoidable problem. Joining me now is a deputy


programme director at Human Rights Watch, and the problem here is,


families are reluctant to report this because they make much more


money from finding gold band from subsistence farming. -- a fan from


subsistence farming. It is not about blaming the families, it is


about people mining gold without putting their lives in danger.


People get more from the gold. We are calling on the Government to


ensure there are safer mining practices so that this gold can be


mined without affecting their lives. This is bringing despair and we are


calling on the Nigerian government to put cash on the table to get


these villages cleaned-up and to ensure that there are safer mining


practices. In the villages heard these clean about Thames had been


made, how successful have they been? -- where these clean-up


schemes have been made. There are some places that had been cleaned


up, but there are still many compounds that need to be cleaned


up. These are compounds where we went to one in a village a few days


ago and 10 children died in that compound. It is about getting this


done in a timely fashion. Between now and June is the time to act and


clean up the villagers, because we will have to wait for another year


for this to happen. As we keep on waiting, children are suffering and


dying and the contamination is everywhere. It is time to act now


and not wait another day. The way you described this is apocalyptic,


and epidemic, how many thousands of children are at risk year unless


something is done? We're talking several thousand at the moment. At


least 2,000 children are in urgent need of treatment and they cannot


be treated until the compounds are cleaned. They need to be cleaned up


before treatment, because if you treat the children and bring them


back to the contaminated compound, you have to start all over again.


There needs to be safer mining practices so that the miners can


mind while the children can play on the ground without fear of having


any lead in their blood. What sort of money are we talking about to


clean up the compounds? What we have heard from a government


sources and outside government, we are looking out at least 4 million


US dollars to sort this out and it is something the federal government


needs to do urgently. We are also asking for them to put in


mechanisms so that the miners can go where they are urgently needed.


The children need to be treated and that compounds need to be cleaned


up and there needs to be said for mining practices. Thank you.


10 years ago, the leader of the French far-right, Jean-Marie Le Pen,


shocked the country and the world by winning through to the second


round of the presidential election. He is now retired but on the of the


leadership of his youngest daughter, his party's fortunes have gone from


strength to strength. Less controversial and more personable,


Marine La Pen is enjoying success in the polls. We went to find out


why. A forlorn factory chimney, it once


belonged to the sugar refinery in the village. A ghostly relic of an


industrial giant that stood for 130 years. Until 2007, 79 people were


employed here, the workers, many of them still unemployed, say they


lost their jobs to European directives that would share the


sugar beet quotas with new members of the European Union. TRANSLATION:


There is an overwhelming sense of desolation, of sadness. Especially


since the politicians that control our lives will never admit to us


this that they made a mistake. local elections last year, 30 % of


the people here voted for the Front National, and that is not because


of a perceived threat to the way of life of France, this is a town with


very few emigrants. This is about jobs and unemployment. It is about


the economy. Vive la republic, vive la France! Marine La Pen, the new


modernising leader of the party has shifted the focus from its narrower


obsession with immigration towards the problems with Europe. She wants


a return to the French franc and a robust policy of protection and


took protect French jobs. -- protectionism and to protect French


jobs. It is pretty effective. at the results, that is all. Look


at the way we were 10 years ago and look at the way we are today, with


the euro, today. That is all. Last week, Marine La Pen introduced her


team on the campaign trail. includes a mother from the Ivory


Coast and a civil servant with Moroccan origins. The party, purged


of the skinheads and neo-Nazi rhetoric, is now a more palatable


choice for the Euro-sceptic. TRANSLATION: The French are voting


for Marine La Pen because they want a radical change and we are


frightened of what is happening. Many of my customers feel like that.


There is no doubt that the party is eating into President Sarkozy's


slice of the vote. Marine La Pen's success reflects the isolation of


many in towns like this, not just from the political elite in Paris,


but from Brussels and Europe at large.


He was born 200 years ago, the second child of a humble enable


Clarke in the English coastal town of Portsmouth, but Charles Dickens


was to become one of the most famous writers of the Victorian era


and perhaps the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Today,


celebrations all round the UK have marked his life and work and


reading a ceremony at Westminster Abbey.


The words of his characters are instantly recognisable. His books


have never gone out of print. Charles Dickens has become a


literary superstar. His life began in a modest terraced house close to


Portsmouth dockyard. Today, the street outside was crowded with


well-wishers at the first in a series of celebrations which traced


his career. And in the London borough of Southwark, people


followed the dickens trail to an area which caused in painful


memories. 200 years on, it is possible to find traces of the


world that inspired his writing. This is the wall of the old sea


prison. At the age of 12, his father was locked up here for a


debt and gained first-hand experience of what it was lied to


be disadvantaged. At another former home, now the museum, a royal


audience for one of those that have to bring his stories to a new


generation. His descriptions of character and state of being at


that time in England Wells part of the historical record of what it


was like back then. Charles Dickens had 10 children. In Westminster


Abbey's Poets corner, the largest gathering of his descendants joined


in an act of remembrance. As a member of the family, you have a


different view. When you see the explosion of interest in Charles


Dickens for the bicentenary, it hits the family rather hard and we


realise quite what a special person the wires. This is an extract from


one of his novels. Refines, now working on a new version of Great


Expectations, reminded us of his great storytelling ability. --


Ralph violence. Is there nobody here but you, Mr Woodcut? Charles


Dickens had asked to be buried in Kent, a place he loved as a child,


but the public demanded that he be allowed to join great literary


figures serum Westminster Abbey, Amman that would have probably had


preceded their efforts. -- a man that would have probably


appreciated. The main news, the Russian foreign


minister, Mr Lavrov, has held what he described as useful talks in


Syria. He had a meeting in Damascus with the President, Bashar Al-Assad.


Russian news agencies say that the President said that he was ready


for dialogue with all political forces. Meanwhile, Homs is being


pounded by artillery for a fourth day and arrow. We spoke to where


resident he said it began at 3am. That is it from the programme, next,


the weather, but from every one We are expecting the coldest night


of the winter so far tonight. A widespread and severe frost across


the country, so a very cold start to tomorrow morning. Not cold


everywhere, it is mild in the north and west, because there are some


pieces of Atlantic air and a weather front. We have an influence


of high pressure stretching down from Scandinavia bringing the very


low temperatures tomorrow morning. Some clout in the morning, but it


will break with sunny spells by the afternoon. Temperatures are around


1-2 degrees. A brisk wind in the east. Temperatures below freezing


in the afternoon. Across the south- west corner, some cloud at times in


parts of Somerset and Dorset, but Devon and Cornwall have a bright


afternoon. Right across much of England and Wales with sunny spells


for Wales and temperatures reaching 3 degrees. In Northern Ireland,


this is where the weather front his, some rain for Northern Ireland.


Quite heavy and different in terms of the temperatures. 5 degrees, the


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