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This is BBC World News Today with me, Philippa Thomas.
A dramatic development in the battle for a Syrian city sees tunnels dug
under historic sites to stage a huge explosion.
As the massive bomb blast rips through the Syrian city of Aleppo -
a hotel and several other buildings are flattened.
Nigeria's missing schoolgirls - the president says their abduction could
mark a turning point in the fight against Islamic extremism.
Also coming up: With most of the votes in, the ANC appears to have
won a decisive victory in South Africa's general election. I am
Zeinab Badawi at the results centre in Pretoria. With 83% of electoral
districts declared, the ANC has 63% of the vote. I will be talking to
the justice minister. Are electrical devices making birds
lose their way? We find out why they've been ruffling the feathers
of migratory birds. Hello and welcome. Another dramatic
episode in Syria's bloody civil war after yesterday's mass retreat of
rebel fighters from the city of Homs. Today rebels set off a large
explosion in the northern city of Aleppo which has destroyed a hotel
and several other buildings. A group called the Islamic Front has claimed
responsibility for the attack. The blast in the city's government-held
area struck the Carlton hotel in the Old City, next to Aleppo's medieval
citadel. Opposition activists said that Government troops were based
there and that a number had been killed. Mike Wooldridge reports.
The massive blast sending a huge column of debris and dust into the
air. The Carlton Hotel in Aleppo's Old City, which was being used as a
base by Government forces, destroyed. And other buildings
damaged. The rebel Islamic Front was responsible for the blast. The
British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the
violence, said fighters had placed explosives in a tunnel underneath
the hotel. The rebel offensive in 2012 in Aleppo, left the Carlton and
other nearby hotels on the front line of the conflict. Next to the
city's medieval citadel, this was an area much frequented by tourists
before the war. After the expulsion, soldiers searching for any
survivors. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that there
were wounded as well as dead among the troops who had been occupying
the building. Today's huge blast, a blow to the Assad regime in the
North, as here in the central city of Homs, Government troops are
regaining control, after a cease-fire by the rebels.
With me is Edgard Jallad, the TV News Editor for BBC Arabic. You were
just telling the you have got a hold of some video that shows the
preparations for this attack. Yes. It should the lead up to the
operation and is about 20 minutes of video footage. It includes an
interview with a man who is one of the leaders of this Islamic Front
group. He was describing the work that led up to this explosion. He
said that the work took two and a half months of working day and
night. We can see them pulling out the
rubble from underneath the building. He said there were 40 tonnes of
explosives planted underneath. He also said that the tunnel is 75
metres long. It led to this checkpoint or base used by the
regular army. He promised that you should expect us to appear in
Damascus, perhaps at the presidential palace, to arrest the
president. Apart from the damage that has been
done, this is a propaganda coup? Bexactly. It is a new tactic. We
have not witnessed anything like this before. It is an operation
which shows that the rebels are following different tactics and
imposing new rules on the Government. It is not limited to the
surface, but now we need to consider underground activity.
We were talking about the retreat of rebel fighters from the city of is.
You could say, the rebels appear to have scored a significant coup, but
that would be to simplify too much, wouldn't it?
Yes. These are different groups in different conditions. Yesterday, it
was portrayed as a victory for the Government. But these rebels left
this area to fight in another area. So, they are leaving but to go and
fight elsewhere. This was announced even by the Syrian Council leaders.
They said: Do not think these rebels are going home, they are going to
fight. So, these are two different things.
Good to talk to you. Thank you. There's been an earthquake in
Mexico. The epicentre of the 6.8 magnitude quake was on the pacific
coast. The nearest town was Tecpan which is just north of Acapulco. The
tremor was felt in Mexico City, several hundred kilometres away. A
number of office buildings were temporarily evacuated, but so far
there have been no reports of any serious damage or injuries in the
Mexican capital. The Nigerian President, Goodluck
Jonathan, has said terrorism is the greatest threat facing his country.
The president has been talking to the BBC - claiming that with
international help, he'll be able to bring terrorism to an end and find
the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by Islamist
militants. Our world affairs editor John Simpson reports from the
capital Abuja. Gradually, and even now with a
surprising degree of slowness, the Nigerian authorities are starting to
deal with a crime that has shocked the world. At Chibok, the missing
girls' relatives are still in shock but at least the Government is
making an effort. In the capital, Abuja, one of the
daily protest gatherings is taking place. Quietly, peacefully but with
real determination, the organisers of the Bring Back Our Girls movement
are keeping up the pressure. It's the sustained advocacy and
effort by everybody around the world, the way everyone has said
that this is not acceptable - ignoring an abduction of over 200
girls - I think, that is primarily the pressure making the Nigerian
Government rethink the fact they ignored this issue initially.
In fact, until just a few days ago, no real effort seemed to be being
made at all. It was only earlier this week that a reward was offered
for information about the girls' whereabouts. Now though, the whole
situation seems to be changing. Today should have been a memorable
one for Nigeria. At this hotel in Abuja, the World Economic Forum is
taking place. Instead, everyone even here was thinking about the missing
girls. The forum started with a minute's silence for them. Has
President Goodluck Jonathan been too preoccupied with economics to pay
sufficient attention to the crime? When he spoke to the BBC, he showed
he was clearly taking the problem a lot more seriously.
I believe with the assistance and investment we are making now, we are
able to bring terror to an end in Nigeria.
For days now, relatives of the missing girls have been revisiting
the school they were taken from. If so many girls hadn't been kidnapped,
maybe it would not have stirred up this worldwide response.
Pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine have said they plan to push
ahead with votes on independence this weekend. The Russian President,
Vladimir Putin, yesterday called for the vote to be postponed. But one
separatist leader has said the rebels are sticking to their plans
because they represent the will of pro-Russian Ukrainians. The
Government in Kiev meanwhile says any such poll will be illegal. On
the streets here in Donetsk, the regional capital, there are already
unofficial advertisements for the referendum. It is being portrayed as
a vote to save the region from fascism. At a packed news conference
in the city, the separatist rebels appeared before the world's media to
make their crucial announcement. And it was that all the leaders at the
self-declared people to Donetsk that the referendum should go ahead as
planned. They have decided to ignore President Putin's call for a delay
in the boat. By holding this referendum on Sunday, the fear is
that this will exacerbate tensions and potentially lead to a full-blown
civil war in Ukraine. I asked the man responsible for organising the
referendum what he thought would happen now. He denied that a vote in
favour of independence for this region would lead to civil war.
Because, he said, there was already a civil War in Eastern Ukraine.
Government forces have deployed in large numbers in this region. To try
to push the pro-Russian separatists out of their strongholds. This
operation may well intensify now he for the rebels can hold their fault
to break away from Ukraine, potentially becoming part of Russia.
Meanwhile in Russia President Vladimir Putin has overseen military
exercises including the test launch of several ballistic missiles. Mr
Putin said the exercises simulated a retaliatory nuclear strike in
response to an enemy attack, and that Russia's nuclear defence
capabilities remained on constant alert. He said the military drills
were planned in November, making no mention of tensions over Ukraine.
Joining me from Brussels is an analyst at the European Policy
Centre. Thank you for joining us. It had been thought that President
Putin was executing a masterly strategy, stirring up tensions in
Eastern Ukraine, to strike back against the pro-Westerners in Kiev.
But how do you think the situation looks today?
Nothing much will really change. It is very difficult to guess President
Putin's calculations and thoughts, but in practice not much has
changed. On the ground in Ukraine, what has changed is the position of
the member States of the European Union. As a result of President
Putin's speech. This change and apparent U-turn has eased Drescher
on Russia. Russia looked like a constructive actor and one that does
not control the separatist forces. And we also see negotiations in
Brussels with member States talking about changing the legal framework
regarding sanctions. They have included the possibility to add
companies, but only from Crimea and not Russia. Part of these changes
are due to the speech given by President Putin yesterday.
Could the rebels be a spontaneous local or regional uprising, as they
have always claimed? They are clearly involved in local
grievances in that part of Ukraine, so that plays a major role in this.
We have seen evidence that Russian agents at present there and at
organising themselves. This is not difficult to believe, just months
ago we had one region of Ukraine having its own separatists,
spontaneously. They were supported by Russia.
Briefly, how much of this is just an economic story? The impact of
sanctions hitting those close to President Putin?
Sanctions to play a role in the calculation is being made in the
Kremlin. Again, in practice, nothing much has changed and President Putin
knows that. He knows that the situation on the ground will not
change if he gives a speech saying he does not want the referendum to
take place. It changes the position of the EU member States. And maybe
it changes the position of the United dates. President -- United
States. President Putin... Thank you for joining us. One of the
world's biggest banks, Barclays, has announced that it's cutting 19,000
jobs worldwide over the next three years. The biggest cutbacks are in
the investment banking division. Barclays will also set up a so
called "bad bank" where it will park some of its riskiest investments,
including some commodities and emerging markets products.
Venezuelan security forces have broken up four protest camps in the
capital Caracas and rounded up hundreds of student activists in an
early morning raid. The students set up the tented camps more than a
month ago as part of protests against President Nicolas Maduro.
The authorities said they'd seized drugs and weapons and accused the
students of using the camps to stage violent protests in other parts of
the city, but one of the student leaders denied this. Oscar
Pistorius' defence team continued to present a picture of a man who was
heartbroken after he killed his girlfriend in what he says was a
tragic accident. On day 28 of the murder trial, the defence called a
social worker and probation officer who visited Pistorius in a police
cell a day after he fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp, to testify. The
social worker said she observed an emotionally devastated Pistorius.
South Africa's governing African National Congress has taken a
commanding lead in the country's national elections. With more than
two thirds of the votes counted, the ANC has 63%, giving them a strong
mandate to try to tackle South Africa's many economic challenges.
Zeinab Badawi reports from the National Results Centre in Pretoria.
Thank you. Well just a few minutes ago you can't see him, but president
Jacob Zuma arrived at the result sceptre. So quite a lot of people
around here. -- results centre. 83% of districts have declared. So you
can say with confidence that the picture is going to remain by and
large as it is. Were still waiting for the two most populist provinces
in South Africa to declare. One has Johannesburg and Pretoria there. So
the big us -- figures could adjust. I'm joined by the justice minister
in the ANC Government. 63%. You could say respectable, but it is
lower than the last election and the election before that. You're seeing
your vote diminish? No, if you take into account under the presidency of
Nelson Mandela we had 62%. So it is not diminishing. If you look at the
actual numbers of people who have voted for the ANC you realise that
the number is even larger than in the previous elections. I don't want
to get too pointy heady about it. 62% is right in 1994, but the
political landscape was different, because the Zulu vote went to the
Freedom Party and that has changed. Having said that, the last three
elections after that, you're seeing your vote diminish. That would
suggest that you're doing something wrong? No f you look at 2009, even
the percentage was about 65%, but in actual numbers of people in 2009
there were a million more people who voted for the ANC than in other
previous election. In real numbers the ANC is growing. If you look at
the membership and supporters when Mandela was president, we had
150,000 members. Now we have 1.2 million South Africans who are
card-carrying members. What about the economic freedom fighters in
Johannesburg, they're eroding your vote. You have got just over 50% so
far in the count. That is the reflection of our democracy. We
don't have a system of winner takes all. Our system is based on
proportional representation and those members are former members of
the ANC who for one reason or the other have left the ANC. Jobs, a big
thing in your fifth term, will that be it? Indeed. Our vision national
development plan, the topic in town is jobs, fighting unemployment,
fighting poverty and fighting in quality in our country. So that we
grow this economy to create the jobs that we require. Thank you. There
you have an idea of what a fifth term of an ANC going is going to
focus on. Back to you. Thank you. There's a new weapon in the war
against Colombia's rebels and drug traffickers. The authorities there
have begun deploying British-made combat hovercraft in one of the most
troubled provinces to deal with country's rebel insurgency. Even
though talks have taken place between the Colombian government and
the main rebel group, the FARC, about ending rebel involvement in
the drugs trade, there's no ceasefire in place and the fighting
goes on. Frank Gardner has been to the remote Amazon settlement of
Puerto Leguizamo, with the Colombian navy as it tries to tackle the
traffickers. Deep in the jungle of Columbia there is something new on
the river. They're fast, heavily armed and can reach places ordinary
boats can't get to. These British-built hover craft have been
been brought from Southampton and the Columbian navy hopes it will
give them an advantage in chasing drug smugglers and insurgents in the
heart of the world's cocaine industry. We watched them practice a
river-borne assault. They are operating where the Jungles is --
where the jungle is held by the FARC movement. Both sides have committed
human rights abuses. TRANSLATION: They will change the whole dynamics
of war with FARC. Until now, we have only been able to operate for half
of the year. From October to January we can't move, because the river
levels drop so far, our boats hit the rocks. But these hover craft
don't need high water and we can cut off the rebel supply lines. Peace
talks are under way, but there is no deal. We should expect as we have
seen in the past that some crimes and some criminal gangs might pop
up, may appear in some areas, trying to keep the kind of business. The
new hover craft are unlike will I to stop that happening. But they may
just hasten the end of Latin America's longest-running
insurgency. Radio stations could be causing migratory birds such as
robins to lose their way - that's according to a new study. Low
frequency waves produced by equipment such as AM radio signals
apparently interfere with the animals' internal compass.
Scientists believe the effects are strongest when the birds fly over
urban areas. And the report says the birds are forced to switch to their
backup navigational systems, using the sun and stars instead. Joining
me from Essen in Germany is Professor Henrik Mouritsen. He's the
lead researcher from the University of Oldenburg. Thank you for joining
us, tell us more about your discovery. What are the worst
culprits from the birds' point of view? Well basically it is radio
frequency noise in a frequency... I think you're breaking up a bit. We
will continue. Those... Comes... Basically... I think we are going to
have to leave that. I'm so sorry to leave you there. But we are having
problems with the line. So we will just move on and leave you wondering
about the Robins and they're migration. - and their migration.
The space scientist Colin Pillinger - who's best known for leading a
mission to try to land a British spacecraft on Mars - has died at the
age of 70. He began his career with NASA, before becoming the driving
force behind the Beagle 2 mission. The Royal Astronomical Society said
he wasn't afraid to challenge the establishment and get things done.
Our Science Editor David Shukman looks back now at his life. With his
trade mark whiskers and a sharp eye for publicity, Colin Pillinger was
no ordinary scientist. Who else would wheel a replica of his space
craft in a shopping trolley. To say I was part of a mission that went to
Mars and even if it found life on Mars, that would be even more
phenomenal. Against all the odds, using humour and determination,
Colin Pillinger raised the money for the mission. He started his career
studying moon rocks. The launch was flawless, but harder would be
achieving a landing on Mars. The tiny craft was named Beagle Two
after the ship that carried Charles Darwin. The risks were high, but it
was about British daring. We are only the country that would send a
man to climb the highest mountain in a tweed suit. So I have all the
confidence. Alex James of Blur, one of many stars enthused by Colin
Pillinger. I joined him on a visit to the radio telescope. He was a
very passionate man. He listened to a degree, but he was keen to get his
point of view across as well. And with that came a certain I would say
glint in his eye. Sadly, the mission to Mars failed. You could see the
agony on Colin Pillinger's face. But his technology live on in other
space craft. He will be remembered as a pioneer and as someone who
brought home the excitement of space exploration. The life of Colin
Pillinger. Now some extraordinary images from a television show in
Jordan. Nothing out of the ordinary it seeps, just two -- seem, just two
guests debating. The presenter tried to moderate with little success.
They're talking about the crisis in Syria and they have a difference of
opinion and ended up picking up huge parts of set, before having to be
torn apart by staff. I am glad to say guests here do tend to be more
restrained and our sets are more rigid. Now our main news: A huge
bomb has destroyed a hotel in Aleppo that was being used as a base by
Government forces. Thank you for being us with here on Word News
Today. It was a wet day across much of the
country. The showery rain continues tonight. By dawn another crop