PBS NewsHour

20 Killed as Islamic Extremists insurrection in Nigeria continues

Twenty people were killed in northeastern Nigeria Wednesday after Islamic extremists attacked in the country for the fourth time in three days.

Focus began to shift in the press to the role of the politicians in the 5-year-old insurgency and whether military and security forces were capable of buffering the uprisings that have seen more that 1,500 people killed thus far in 2014.

“As Nigeria bleeds all over, a more heart-rending phenomenon is the politicization of the insurgency,” The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria wrote in an editorial Wednesday, also adding that this latest open attack on the people of Nigeria “calls into question the strategy of the Nigerian security forces and their commitment to the fight.”

Gwoza district has been the focus of many headlines for Nigeria. Wednesday morning, gunmen attacked the village of Wala, killing 18 people. Tuesday, 100 young women taking final exams were abducted. Monday, a massive explosion rocked the bus station killing at least 175 people.

“We in Gwoza have suffered too many attacks, killings and destruction,” Gwoza emir Idrissa Timta said to the Associated Press. “Our people have been forced to flee, our markets no longer operate optimally, food items, goods and wares are no longer coming in … We want action from government so that lives can be saved.”

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U.S. plans to send non-lethal aid package to bolster Ukrainian military

The United States is working on a package of non-lethal aid for Ukraine that could include medical supplies and clothing, but would stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The incremental assistance would be aimed both at bolstering the Ukrainian military as it seeks to halt the advances of pro-Russian forces in the east, as well as showing symbolic U.S. support for Ukraine’s efforts. But the aid is unlikely to satisfy the Obama administration’s critics, who say what the Ukrainians really need are weapons to defend themselves.

“We ought to at least, for God’s sake, give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said over the weekend.

The administration has said it is considering aid requests from Ukraine, but is not actively considering sending weapons, ammunition or other lethal assistance.

“We are obviously evaluating requests and looking at ways that we can support the Ukrainian government,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “but our focus is on continuing to put pressure on Russia so that it understands that the international community is united when it comes to support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Speaking on this matter Tuesday, Carney sidestepped questions about whether the U.S. would supply military-style equipment like body armor that is not technically defined as lethal aid. However, U.S. officials said that type of assistance is not expected to be part of the new aid package under consideration.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before the aid package is finalized.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military launched its first action against pro-Russian forces in the east, beginning what Ukraine’s president called an “anti-terrorist operation” to try to restore authority over the restive region.

Ukraine’s central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, who it says are being stirred up by paid operatives from Russia. The forces have seized numerous government facilities in at least nine eastern cities to press their demands for broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia. Complicating the political landscape, many local security forces have switched to their side.

U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s military has so far been limited to about 300,000 ready to eat meals, which were shipped in late March. The U.S. has also authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine’s fledgling government.

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Ferry carrying 459 sinks off coast of S. Korea; Four confirmed dead

Relatives of missing people wait at a Jindo port in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The  ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying
         459 passengers, including the students and teachers traveling to Jeju island. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Relatives of missing people wait at a Jindo port in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying 459 passengers, including the students and teachers traveling to Jeju island. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

A ferry carrying 459 people sank off of South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday. At least four people are confirmed dead with 55 injured. Nearly 300 people are still missing. Most of the passengers on the boat were high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island.

The ferry sent a distress call at about 9 a.m. Wednesday. Dozens of rescue vessels and aircraft swarmed the ferry, with rescuers climbing over its sides, pulling out passengers wearing orange life jackets, The Associated Press reported. But the ship overturned completely and continued to sink and within a few hours only its bow stuck out of the water. And then that, too, disappeared.

The death toll is expected to rise dramatically as the waters in the area are around 54 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 1 1/2 hours of exposure.

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Will development overshadow Myanmar’s rich cultural history?

New political and economic freedoms in Myanmar have brought rapid changes to the city of Yangon.  The
         population of the city is expected to quadruple over the next 25 years and developers are eager to build new skyscrapers to
         accommodate the influx.  But some people are concerned that all of this new construction could threaten the city's architectural
         heritage -- and historical identity. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks/PBS NewsHour

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

GWEN IFILL: Now part two of Jeffrey Brown’s look at Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma.

After years of turmoil, the military government is moving toward political reform. But, as the country begins to open up to the outside world, there’s a new concern: how development could overshadow its architectural and archaeological past.

That’s the subject of Jeff’s report tonight, which also marks the beginning of a new series, one we call Culture at Risk. We will explore the impact of war, climate change, neglect and more on cultural artifacts around the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: The afternoon rush hour in Yangon, as workers board water taxis for the commute home.

On the streets, food vendors serve tea and noodles. Buddhist monks in their maroon robes are everywhere. And the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda, hundreds of temples, statues and stupas, remains the country’s most important shrine.

Yangon, the city once known as Rangoon, is often said to be frozen in time, the result of a military regime that kept this country largely isolated from the outside world for more than 50 years. But that’s changing now, and quickly, and a key question here is how to preserve something of the past while moving into a 21st century future.

THANT MYINT-U, Yangon Heritage Trust: There’s no urban landscape like this left anywhere in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thant Myint U, a Harvard-educated historian, is head of the Yangon Heritage Trust. As Myanmar opens up, he says, the nation’s very sense of itself, told in part through its buildings, is at stake.

THANT MYINT-U: What we have now is a physical landscape starting to change, but also this opportunity to remember this history, and to try to begin to save what we can before it’s too late.

JEFFREY BROWN: Downtown Yangon is filled with grand buildings, many from its British-ruled colonial-era, the end of the 19th century until World War II.

The huge Secretariat, for example, housed the British administration, but was also the site of the assassination of Burma’s independence hero, Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some buildings have been restored, like the Strand Hotel, where Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell stayed, and the Rowe & Co., the city’s first department store, soon to open as a bank headquarters.

THANT MYINT-U: I guess, for these 34 years, it hasn’t really received any attention.

JEFFREY BROWN: But many others, like the Balthazar, have stood in a state of neglect for decades.

THANT MYINT-U: So you have this kind of dystopian world here.


And today serve as home to squatters who live among rats and squalor.

THANT MYINT-U: And this is really a building that people shouldn’t be living in.

JEFFREY BROWN: Hundreds of buildings have already been torn down to make way for new ones, and Thant Myint-U and his colleagues are working to preserve what they can.

What started with the plight of a handful of buildings has become a larger quest for smart growth.

THANT MYINT-U: The last thing that I would want to see is a sort of sanitized tourist zone that’s good for just tourists and some rich Burmese, with five-star hotels and very expensive restaurants, so I think trying to get the economics of conservation right, seeing how we cannot just preserve the buildings, but really try to keep intact some of these communities that have been here for generations.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some of this history is very complicated. Yangon has a colonial past and a lot of people, I would think, don’t really want to remember it.

THANT MYINT-U: No one has a positive view of colonialism as colonialism, but what I try to say is that this colonial era landscape downtown is also where the Burmese people first learned to be modern. It’s where Burma’s greatest anti-colonial politicians, anti-colonial writers, others, musicians, artists, others lived and worked, and so it’s important for our history.

JEFFREY BROWN: This remains an extremely poor country, where most people live through subsistence farming. But, as the military government has relaxed its grip on the economy, investment is pouring in from Asia, as well as Europe and the U.S.

And Yangon’s population is expected to quadruple to 10 million in the next 25 years. The demand for office space and housing is exploding, and rents are already skyrocketing, especially downtown, where new buildings sit, uneasily at times, next to old.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is tearing down what was here, which was…

MOE ZAT MONE, Unique Asia Gate, Ltd: Yes, I feel a little bit sorry for an older building that has been torn down and…

JEFFREY BROWN: You feel a little sorry?

MOE ZAT MONE: Yes, but I got no choice. So, it has got to be done.

JEFFREY BROWN: Twenty-nine-year-old Moe Zat Mone oversees operations at two construction companies that operate around the country. A native of Yangon, educated in England, he’s eager to be part of change and growth in Myanmar.

MOE ZAT MONE: According to the architecture, this is what we call urban boutique.

JEFFREY BROWN: Urban boutique hotel?

He showed us a model for a new luxury hotel, planned as three stories for now, but depending on what investors want, possibly as high as 15, all part, he says, of developing a modern city.

MOE ZAT MONE: But we need more infrastructure, such as more hotels, hospitals, schools, and more service apartments for the office rental.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, are you optimistic that Yangon can be a livable city, even as it grows?

MOE ZAT MONE: Absolutely.

I think it, come in five years’ time, I think this country — I mean, this city will be able to compete with our neighbor’s country, South Asia.

JEFFREY BROWN: Come in five years’ time? Well, many are already coming, some touring in hot air balloons.

And here in Bagan, 300 miles Northwest of Yangon, that raises other questions for the future. Bagan is an archaeological wonder, capital of a former Burmese kingdom and said to contain the highest concentration of Buddhist architecture of any place in the world, several thousand pagodas, and temples in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes, some dating back more than 1,000 years.

One issue here is sheer numbers: How many tourists, and hotels and buses to accommodate them, can the site hold? Of course, if you’re a carriage driver, like Myo Han, the more tourists, the better for you and your children. His youngest is finishing high school soon, the first in the family to do so, with the hope of becoming a tour guide.

Myo Han himself was once a farmer.

MYO HAN, (through interpreter): A farmer’s life is very hard and poor. Driving a horse carriage is easier. I can make much more money.

JEFFREY BROWN: Another issue here: highly controversial restoration and rebuilding practices.

So the monastery was there?

U MYO NUNT, Department of Archaeology, Bagan: Yes, it’s monastery complex.

JEFFREY BROWN: A monastery complex?

U Myo Nunt served until recently as deputy director of the Department of Archaeology in Bagan. He explained that, as earthquakes took their toll over the years, much restoration was done piecemeal, and not by internationally recognized standards.

But these are Buddhist shrines, he points out, seen as places of places of worship.

U MYO NUNT (through interpreter): People put gold coating or lime wash on the pagodas to make them look nice, thinking that will bring them good karma.

JEFFREY BROWN: Other practices, such as the building of faux historic pagodas, this one by a former top general, also raised concerns, all of this leading UNESCO to deny Bagan World Heritage designation.

There is now internationally sanctioned work being done here. We watched an effort at one of Bagan’s oldest and most important structures, the 12th century Ananda Temple, to remove layers of white lime coatings. It’s a $22 million project being financed by the government of India, and overseen by Indian experts.

At the Ministry of Culture, as young people rehearsed traditional dances, another kind of cultural preservation, Deputy Minister Sanda Khin insisted that a new awareness had taken hold.

SANDA KHIN, Deputy Minister of Culture, Myanmar (through interpreter): Earlier generations tried to preserve their precious monuments in their own way. At the time, the study of archaeological practices wasn’t widespread, so they used their own traditional ways.

But, for the last 20 years, with the assistance of UNESCO, we have learned the proper ways of preservation that are in accordance with international norms.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, Myanmar wrestles with many challenges: longstanding ethnic tensions, an uncertain move to democracy, and a jolt into the global marketplace.

Add one more: how to manage and preserve part of its past, even while building its future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can see more photos of the stunning architecture of Bagan. That’s on Art Beat.

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