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WORLD REPORT: Fighting Continues in Benghazi; Fukushima Plant Regains Partial Power

Aired March 19, 2011 - 05:30   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: Good day to you. I'm Richard Quest at CNN in London. This is WORLD REPORT.

And it is a busy morning, afternoon, depending on where you are in the world. But our two stories that we are following closely as we cover this breaking news here at CNN are fast-moving developments in Libya, and of course, updating you with Japan.

CNN journalists saw a fighter jet fall out of the sky in flames on Saturday in the city of Benghazi, which is Libya's second largest city and the center of the opposition. They also report explosions and tank movements in the area.

These latest events come just seven or eight hours after the Libyan government told CNN it was observing a U.N.-ordered ceasefire. We do not know if the opposition or government forces own either the tanks or the downed plane.

But as our Arwa Damon told us a short while ago, it's believed that the plane was being used by the opposition forces. Arwa is now on the line from Benghazi.

Good afternoon, Arwa. The latest situation, please?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, it does seem as if the beginnings of the fight for Benghazi are definitely well under way. We a short while ago heard a sustained barrage of artillery fire. There's a steady stream of vehicles leaving Benghazi, people trying to get as far away from the fighting as they possibly can, seeking safety, firmly believing that Gadhafi forces, if they do find them, are going to massacre them.

I just spoke with a car full of people who are fleeing, three women and a man, and they had one question. They looked at us and they said, What is this? We are at the mercy of a man who is a lunatic. He is insane. He's going to kill all of us. Where is the no-fly zone? Where is France? Where are all of these international countries that pledged to protect us?

One of the young women in the car telling us that they actually live in the southern part of the city, remembering it does appear as if Gadhafi's forces are trying to breach Benghazi from the southern part of the city. She said that the building they lived in came under small arms fire, she believes from Gadhafi's military elements. And that is when that family decided to flee.

Richard, these are, of course, very disturbing, disturbing developments. Benghazi is the stronghold -- the opposition stronghold that is the seat of its interim government. It is really the heart of where this uprising against Gadhafi began, Richard.

QUEST: So as best you can, describe for us where these forces, or where the attack is coming from in relation to, if you like, the city itself.

DAMON: Well, the attack appears to be coming in from the southern portion of the city. That is where members of our team saw Gadhafi's tanks rolling in. They also saw firing into the city. It is also where we saw, and now we are hearing, that additional mortar rounds, artillery rounds, are landing on that area. It is also where we had advanced to the point we were able to see large plumes of dark smoke on the outskirts, the southern outskirts of the city, a number of opposition fighters we're talking to also saying that that appears to be where Gadhafi's forces are trying to breach.

The southern portion of the city is right on the road that would lead from Ajdabiya, where Gadhafi forces were fighting in the last 24 hours, towards Benghazi. And that is where, all along, it was believed that they would try to begin their breach of Benghazi.

Many of the opposition fighters here are telling us that it appears as if Gadhafi is mocking the international community, daring them to take action against him. On the one hand, we hear from the Libyan government that there is no assault, no attack on Benghazi. Yet what we saw for ourselves, what we're hearing from witnesses that we have been talking to is, of course, painting an entirely different picture, people very fearful that if this international help does not come immediately, it is simply going to be a bloodbath, Richard.

QUEST: Arwa Damon, who is in Benghazi.

We go straight to Tripoli, where our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joins me. You just heard Arwa say there that people in Benghazi saying that, effectively, Gadhafi is mocking the international community as it -- that, I suppose, putting it crudely and bluntly, they're talking in Paris while they're shelling in Benghazi.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think, certainly, if the situation is viewed from Paris right now, it must be viewed or will likely be viewed with some trepidation. What -- what the international community and the U.N. resolution calls for is for an air intervention to protect the civilian population and to enforce a no-fly zone.

The opposition have put a jet fighter up over Benghazi today. It's not clear who shot it down. Did the opposition shoot it down themselves, or was it forces loyal to Gadhafi's government here shooting it down?

But it will be for heads of government, or foreign ministers of government, considering how to enforce its no-fly zone, a reminder that, certainly, the air defenses in Libya and the anti-aircraft types of weapons, be them heavy anti-aircraft guns or surface-to-air missiles, are aplenty in the country. Again, it's not clear who shot down the opposition fighter jet. Was it mistakenly shot down by them, or was it shot down by government forces?

(INAUDIBLE) show that the stakes here in Libya, that -- are high for the international community. That fighter jet pilot bailing out over Benghazi -- could that be in 8 or 24 hours' time a British pilot bailing out? Could it be a French pilot? These will be the concerns, obviously, of government officials as they meet in Paris because Libya clearly has sufficient weapons pointed in the sky that can hit aircraft, that present a danger right now to any NATO or international forces that would come and enforce the U.N. resolution.

So I think the situation on the ground today is going to eliminate for the international community some of the dangers that they are facing here, not only that, but the claims and the counterclaims of who is responsible for what, the Libyan government here, of course, again telling us that they're calling for international monitors to come here. China, Turkey, Germany and Malta are the nations they want represented. But they say the door is open to anyone to come and see, even from observers such as ourselves and Arwa Damon. Arwa, who's very close to the situation there, we here, who are hearing the political rhetoric.

As you said before this morning, it's very hard to square this round hole that we're looking at right now. And for international monitors, again, it will be a very, very tough (INAUDIBLE) Richard.

QUEST: Nic, briefly, the -- anybody looking at this from outside might be tempted to say, unless the international community gets its act together, then U.N. resolution 1973 borders on moot in terms of the -- the opposition will have been put down before they even get themselves started.

ROBERTSON: Well, there are some people that could even go one step further and say that threatening Moammar Gadhafi with the imposition of a potential no-fly zone and (INAUDIBLE) sanctions over the past three weeks, never mind the final passing of the resolution, has stiffened his resolve to impose facts on the ground before the international community can get its act together.

I mean, my impression, from talking to government officials over the past three weeks since we've been here, is that the threat of a no-fly zone has accelerated their military effort because I was told that they couldn't stand back and wait and see what was happening, what was going to happen, what decision the international community was going to take.

Certainly, all the reports that we're getting that the Libyan army is on the outskirts of Benghazi -- if all of those appear to be as true as they appear to be in the reports and certainly Arwa's eyewitness accounts, then it's going to make it look as if not only was the talk of the resolution accelerating the government's hand here, but the actual passing of the resolution has even accelerated their hand further to create facts on the ground.

So it almost goes beyond being moot. It almost goes to the point, some analysts might conclude, that it's actually accelerated events on the ground here, Richard.

QUEST: Nic Robertson, who is in Tripoli for us today. Nic, we'll be back with you very shortly.

We'll take a momentary break as we re-gather and come back and tell you what's been happening in Japan, of course, as they continue to deal with the stricken reactor. More on that and Libya around the world, around the clock.


QUEST: As we continue our coverage of the events in Libya, world leaders are meeting in Paris to try to work through the difficult task of coordinating efforts to enforce that no-fly zone over Libya and to set, if you like, the ground rules between themselves over the political and military difficulties that they are going to face.

Shashank Joshi is an associate fellow at the U.K.'s Royal United Services Institute. We shouldn't underestimate these difficulties, should we.

SHASHANK JOSHI, ASSOC. FELLOW, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: Not at all. You have for the first time in a long time the Americans saying, We would like to be on the side. We'll help you out with support facilities, refueling aircraft. But they don't want to use their offensive air power first. They would like the French and the British to do it. And the French and the British, in turn, would like to see the UAE and Qatar take up some of that slack.

QUEST: President Obama yesterday specifically said that the U.S. role in this was leadership, and that is -- for regions he didn't want to see destabilized. So how can that be? If they want leadership, why -- how can they then want the Europeans to take the lead?

JOSHI: Well, on this particular issue, they absolutely don't want leadership. It's clear the signs coming out of America are that they feel they've been pulled into this by the Europeans, much as in Kosovo in '99. They feel this is not their battle. They didn't see vital strategic interests at stake.


QUEST: -- the president specifically says yesterday, when he addresses -- he says, you know, The region -- we cannot afford to see the region destabilize. We must continue to fight for the values that we hold dear. So he is putting forward American ideals and values.

JOSHI: He certainly is. But if you had not had the Arab League resolution of support for a no-fly zone, if you didn't have the UAE step up and Qatar step up and say, We will participate, it's clear the United States would not have thrown its weight behind that historic resolution two days ago. QUEST: But now -- now the resolution has been passed, everybody is in this boat together.

JOSHI: Yes, although they will be keen to limit their exposure --

QUEST: Right.

JOSHI: -- to the toxic effects that will follow if anything goes wrong.

QUEST: Right. So we know there's no ground forces.

JOSHI: Absolutely not. And there's no appetite for any.

QUEST: Right. And yet, as we're hearing from Arwa Damon, the attack, or an attack against Benghazi is under way.

JOSHI: Absolutely.

QUEST: So the fig leaf of ceasefire from the deputy foreign minister --

JOSHI: Has completely crumbled.

QUEST: -- has been shown -- if fig leafs can crumble, but yes, I take your point. So what happens now?

JOSHI: Well, the great difficulty is if these forces are now on the edge or inside urban areas --

QUEST: Which is what -- which is what Arwa is suggesting.

JOSHI: What we're suggesting, yes. We -- we -- it is not as easy to hit them, even with the most precise and advanced weaponry. So you may need special forces on the ground targeting airplanes to make them avoid any hint of civilian casualties.

QUEST: Is it your understanding that you could have special forces, or would that would come under 1973?

JOSHI: No, no, 1973 does not allow a foreign occupation force. Special forces can't occupy a country.

QUEST: Right. Right.

JOSHI: They've been used in Afghanistan, in Kosovo. They will be used again. The issue is, though, all Gadhafi has to do is put a tank or artillery piece next to a hospital, a school. What happens then?

QUEST: So what do you think happens? How does this play out, if you like, in the hours ahead? Because after Paris today, is it likely that they can cobble together agreement that would have -- and I use the phrase advisedly -- allied coalition forces, if you like, in the air today? JOSHI: Today or tomorrow. But I think their credibility is now at stake. Gadhafi has shown himself to be unwilling to respect a ceasefire, if there ever was any, and he's now making a mockery of this coalition meeting in Paris today, unless they act very shortly. So if you don't see agreement, I think you will see coordinated simply French and British action by itself occurring very, very soon.

QUEST: All right. Many thanks indeed. We'll be talking to you more about this as we get more developments. Many thanks.

Now new unrest in the Arab world beyond Libya. I'll tell you about that after the break.


QUEST: Japan is now reporting levels of radiation in some of the country's milk and spinach that exceed permissible levels. And the news comes while a diesel generator is powering a cooling system for reactor 5 and 6 of Japan's crippled nuclear power plant. Workers have drilled holes in the ceiling of the nuclear reactors to release explosive hydrogen gas and steam.

Other developments -- Friday, Japan raised the nuclear crisis level. However, the IAEA says the situation did not actually worsen, despite that action.

The strategy is to try to keep spraying water until electricity can be flowing to restart the reactor's own cooling water pumps. The engineers say they hope to have electricity flowing to some of the reactors by the end of Saturday, and the rest by Sunday night.

CNN's Anna Coren is following the developments. She is with us now from Tokyo.

It is clearly a still very serious, grave crisis, but is there a feeling there that things have taken a turn for the better?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Richard, I think it's fair to say that there's a feeling that things have stabilized, and I think that is certainly encouraging. We know that the government has come out today and said that reactors 1, 2 and 3 have stabilized. They are happy, I guess you could say, with the water levels in those cooling tanks, and that is where those spent nuclear rods are, and they are the concern. So they need to be covered in water. Otherwise, they are emitting this radioactive material. So water levels are satisfactory, I guess you could say.

But one official has come out and said that, Of course, we know that the situation is unpredictable. You mentioned a little earlier that holes have been drilled in the ceilings of reactors 5 and 6. We also know that power is going to both those reactors because of a backup generator that was repaired.

They were hoping to get the power lines connected to reactor 2. It has so far reached the substation. That is the reports that we are receiving. It has yet to get to reactor 2. But if that does happen, it will be able to supply power to both reactors 1 and 2, and then, hopefully, later on, reactors 3 and 4. If that power is restored, then they'll be able to get the pumps going.

And as you say, that water, going into those pools. At the moment, the water is coming from outside, from on the ground. Those forces, those military, the police, the fire department -- they are outside in these fire trucks 15 in total of the trucks being used to spray water.

And then, of course, there is that super-pumper that we mentioned a little earlier, and that is directly sucking water out of the ocean and then spraying it via a 22-meter extended arm off one of these tankers directly into reactor 3. That reactor is still the number one priority. They need to keep that cool. That, of course, is where the hydrogen fire occurred. That is where that explosion took place. So they just need to continue cooling the situation from outside but also from within -- Richard.

QUEST: And this report on milk and spinach that is contaminated -- what are you hearing about that?

COREN: The chief cabinet secretary, Edano -- he came out this afternoon, addressed the media, saying that they have found higher levels of radiation in milk and spinach. And of course, that always sets off alarm bells when people hear that. He said that as far as milk, the source of that was some 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Spinach -- that was a little bit further out.

But before we get carried away and become quite alarmed about the situation, we should note that you would have to drink a year's worth of milk for it to be the equivalent of undergoing a CT scan. That's how much radiation that you would take in. So that is what we know at the moment. The government has launched a thorough investigation because they want to know if other foods have been affected, where the sources are, and if so, that needs to be banned.

Let's have a listen to what the cabinet minister, Edano, had to say a little earlier.


YUKIO EDANO, JAPANESE CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translator): In Fukushima prefecture, the milk that is produced and spinach that is grown in Ibaraki prefecture, the samples of these food products recorded radiation level that is over the limit stipulated in food safety law.


COREN; Now, the chief cabinet secretary -- he said that he cannot confirm whether those higher radiation levels were coming from the nuclear power plant. And he said there certainly was a high possibility -- Richard.

QUEST: Anna Coren, who is in Tokyo this evening. Not everyone in Japan is so sure that officials are telling them the truth. And that, of course, breeds suspicion and fear. Our senior international correspondent, Stan Grant, explains rumors and distrust are taking a deep psychological toll on the Japanese people.


STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A stricken nuclear plant, talk of meltdown, radiation leaking, fire and explosions -- no wonder people are scared. Terumi Tanaka survived the atomic bomb of Nagasaki. He knows about nuclear fear and suspects people here are not getting the truth.

The company is hiding information, he says. They're not telling the truth. He says radioactive substances are spewing out of the plant, but they're not coming clean about the dangers.

Some U.S. officials have even questioned the Japanese government's radiation readings. Each new crisis has officials here scrambling for answers, reassurances day after day that no one is at risk.

YUKIO EDANO, JAPANESE CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY (through translator): The radiation measurement has not been serious, serious enough as to have health effects. Although some readings are high, but these values are not the ones that pose direct human threat today. But this all depends on other conditions, environmental monitoring conditions.

GRANT: To critics, the official response is often too little and too late. But beyond the mistrust is often misinformation. Dan Pulanski (ph) specializes in weapons of mass destruction and knows about radiation. He says science and fact get lost in panic, "radiophobia."

DAN PULANSKI, RADIATION EXPERT: What radiophobia is, is people hear that word radiation, and immediately think of the worst case scenario, that they're going to, you know --

GRANT (on camera): We're all going to die.

PULANSKI: We're all going to die. We're all going to turn into Toxic Avenger and start mutating.

GRANT (voice-over): Fact, Fukushima is no Chernobyl. Not yet, anyway. In the Soviet reactor, workers died within weeks. In the final phase of that disaster, radiation hit levels of 6,000 millisieverts an hour. Fukushima Daiichi's peak has been 400 millisieverts per hour, and that's at the red-hot center of the plant itself. Nuclear industry figures show you need more than double that before you get radiation sickness. Even for the heroic workers, prolonged exposure, says Dan Pulanski, could make them sick, but not kill.

(on camera): Sounds scary, 400. Is it?

PULANSKI: No, it's not. It sounds scary, but it's not.

GRANT (voice-over): And here's another thing. Radiation levels peak and drop within minutes, and depend on the distance from the hot zone.

(on camera): Imagine this intersection is the perimeter of the Daiichi nuclear plant. I'm standing here at one of the reactor sites, I get a high radiation reading. But crossing to the other side, to the front gates, say 30, 40 meters away, and according to the official readings, it could be significantly lower.

(voice-over): But that all depends on the quality of information, information people simply often don't trust in the face of crisis, fact, whispers, and fear screams (ph). Stan Grant, CNN, Tokyo.


QUEST: Whether it is in Japan or in Libya, because the news never stops, neither do we. This is CNN.