08/05/2014 World News Today


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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


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