Return to Transcripts main page


EU Votes For Central Bank Control Framework; Greeks Protest Further Austerity Measures; Car Bomb Rocks Central Beirut

Aired October 19, 2012 - 8:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. And welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet.

And we begin with a big step forward in the EuroZone as leaders reach agreement on a key banking deal.

And signs of hope for the Pakistani girl shot for standing up to the Taliban as doctors say that she is now communicating freely.

And we have an exclusive interview with the notorious internet troll, a man unmasked for the offensive content he posted online.

Now, European leaders have taken a decisive step toward shoring up the EuroZone. The 27 members of the EU struck a deal that will lead to the European Central Bank supervising banks in the 17 nations single currency bloc by 2014. Now the two day EU summit draws to a close in Brussels today.

And this supervision mechanism, it will be brought into operation next year and should be fully operational by 2014. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long cautioned against moving too quickly, so at home it's being viewed as some as a partial victory for her.

Now Fred Pleitgen is standing by in Berlin. And he joins us now. And Fred, across Europe, what is the reaction to this banking supervision deal?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think across Europe the reaction you will find is one of a fair amount of satisfaction I would say, especially in Germany and in France. Both sides essentially got what they wanted.

You'll recall, Kristie, that before the summit actually started there was some political wrangling, maybe even some infighting between the Merkel government and the government of Francois Hollande there in France with the French calling for this new supervisory mechanism to go into place as fast as possible, by the first of January 2013. Merkel, as you said, was cautioning against too much speed.

In the end what we have now is the framework for this mechanism will be in place by January 1, 2013, however it will take longer for it to actually go into effect because a lot of details, operational details especially, still have to be hammered out. In the end, both leaders said they were quite happy with this compromise.

Let's first listen in to what Angela Merkel had to say after that first day of that EuroZone summit yesterday.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): This whole discussion that we had and where in the end we came to agreement actually meant that we were not only trying to sort of bargain for additional days or months, but this was about having a solid foundation. First, I believe a framework in place, then a supervisory mechanism up and running. And once this is actually functioning, then direct recapitalization ought to be put in place. So the right sequence is important...


PLEITGEN: So that's Angela Merkel. She, of course, as you said was cautioning against moving too fast. Francois Hollande as we said was looking to get more speed. He said he was also quite happy with the results. Listen to what he had to say.


FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): There was agreement, a good agreement yesterday regarding the time table. The banks taken into account with the will to put the mechanisms in place progressively. It was a good agreement. And that's how it should be thought of.


PLEITGEN: So, Kristie, what we're going to have in Europe now is something really that's fundamentally different than something we've ever seen inside the EU as you'll have one supervisor for all 6,000 banks inside the European Union.

Now remember, the lack of supervision by the nation-state was seen as something that has brought Europe to where it is right now. Of course, will all those troubles in the EuroZone, one of the things, of course, one of the reasons why Germany is cautioning so much against fees is that it is obviously going to have to put up a lot of the money that might be needed when this single mechanism bails out European banks.

So, Germans certainly wouldn't be very happy to see their taxpayer money go to bailout banks, for instance, in Spain or in France, Kristie.

LU STOUT: This deal is seen as a step forward in banking union across the EuroZone, but is there political union in the EU, or do big differences remain, especially between Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel?

PLEITGEN: Yeah, certainly there are still big differences. We're still very far away from political union. That's also one of the things that Francois Hollande said before the summit actually began. He said this is not about fiscal union or economic union, this is right now about banking union, that's the first thing we have to take care of. Because of course there are still a lot of things that need to be done.

But one of the things that Angela Merkel keeps saying is she believes that more Europe, more European integration is necessary to come to terms with the crisis. Political union is one thing, but also you have union of economic policies, fiscal policies so that governments don't bust their budgets. Remember the Germans were calling for a so-called super commissioner who would be able to veto nation-state budgets if they are against the rules set forth by the European Union, that's something that has been pushed back, that's not even being discussed at this summit.

And so certainly there is still a lot to be done, there are still a lot of fundamental differences, especially between nations like Germany and then on the other hand nations like Spain, like Italy, and of course France as well. So there is still a lot to be hammered in summits in the Future. And there's going to be a lot of them taking place before this crisis is over, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Fred Pleitgen reporting for us. Thank you.

Now Italy is one of many European nations feeling the pain of the debt crisis. But government austerity policies aren't just impacting those struggling to make a living today. They are also taking a toll on the workers of tomorrow as Ben Wedeman found out.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The day is about to begin at the Maria Capotsi middle school in a middle class neighborhood in Rome. As usual, Principle Danielle Liberatore greets the students.

In class, all seems well: laughter, even with teachers, comes easy. But in this era of austerity the staff here is having to learn to make the most with ever fewer funds.

"The budget has really shrunk," says Principle Liberatore. "We continue to function well, I believe, using what we put aside in the past. But now we've almost run out of money."

He shows me a makeshift room built for special need students. The shades are broken, the furniture old, there's a worrying crack in the wall.

"This is a country that has lived off its intelligence, its culture," he says. "It's greatest moments of glory came from its artists and artisans. If this country loses this knowledge, we won't be able to live as we did in the past."

Without funds, the school will have to remain in one sense stuck in the past. Short of funds, it has just two very slow internet connections. There's no longer any money to pay substitute teachers, so students must be divided among other already overcrowded classes.

Austerity has taught me a harsh lesson in Italian schools. Since the beginning of the economic crisis, the public education budget has been slashed by between 15 and 20 percent. It's been five years since teachers received a raise.

The cost cutting ax should have been wielded more carefully when it comes to education, says economist Stefano Manzocchi.

STEFANO MANZOCCHI, ECONOMIST, LUISS UNIVERSITY: The point is that this has been done sometimes I think without the true design, true project of what Italy should be in five, 10 years from now. And education is a key of this design.

WEDEMAN: For fifth grade teacher Frederica Foria teaching isn't just a job. Budget cuts haven't been more deeply felt, she believes, thanks to teachers who care about their students. Austerity's teeth marks in education may not be obvious, but the pain is there.

"It's not apparent," she says, "because many things work due to the good hearts of teachers who look upon this job as a mission."

A good education ultimately does come from good teachers with good hearts. But it helps to have the money to pay for them.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


LU STOUT: And this just in to CNN, there has been an explosion in Beirut with smoke seen rising from the scene of the blast, this according to our Nick Paton-Walsh on the scene there in Beirut. No indication as to the cause of this explosion, any more details we'll bring it to you right away right here on CNN.

Now you are watching News Stream coming to you live from Hong Kong. And in Syria, survivors are digging through the rubble to find the bodies of loved ones after air strikes hit a rebel stronghold.

Also up next, charity first, politics second. U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney dine together in New York City.

And what happens when someone is forced to face the consequences of their behavior online? We'll hear from a notorious internet troll.


LU STOUT: Welcome back to CNN.

Now more on that developing story from Beirut. An explosion has been seen there. Nick Paton-Walsh joins us on the phone at the site of the explosion. And Nick, describe what you're seeing around you.

NICK PATON-WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, to point out I am en route to the blast at present, but we have seen about for the last 20 minutes over central Beirut here, I can't point out really how more central this part of town is, a thick, black plume of smoke. Now pictures of smoke on television have suggested that one of the main central squares here known as Tasine has been (inaudible) sort of explosion.

I should be absolutely clear here, there is no official word on the cause of the blast. And there is very little information coming from the scene as to what's happened.

Some media reports are suggesting that a well known western coffee chain may have been close to the scene where smoke is now blowing from, but there is very little information here at this point, Krsitie.

So no way to know if this simply a domestic act (inaudible) blast like a canister or of course the the coin perhaps something more sinister in the region. This of course as you well know is a (inaudible) at the moment, Kristie.

LU STOUT: And any information in terms of whether there are any casualties or property damage as a result of this explosion?

PATON-WALSH: Actually, I have to say at this point nobody is entirely clear exactly who has been hurt. Of course, you can imagine if a crowded area like this, a populated part of town has been hit by an explosion which we heard at least over a kilometer away inside an office with the windows closed. It must have been (inaudible) blast.

You could deduce from that there would be some casualties. But it is of course really dangerous to speculate as to the extent to that, Kristie.

But really, this (inaudible) into people in this city (inaudible) that have been developing over the past 10 months, desperate concerns amongst people simply living here, but the violence in neighboring Syria which has threatened to encompass its constantly troubled neighborhoods. And for the past few months or so may actually (inaudible here.

As I said, (inaudible) no idea exactly was the cause of this blast at this particular point, but there has been a very loud explosion in central area, which is of course holds many people in the city (inaudible) fears realized - Kristie.

LU STOUT: Indeed. Nick Paton-Walsh joining us live from Beirut. Again, an explosion has been reported, a blast in Beirut, smoke seen rising from the scene of the blast cause unknown. Any more information, we'll bring it to you right here on News Stream.

Now meanwhile in Yemen some 15 government soldiers are dead after a brazen attack on a military base. Now it happened in Abidjan province in the south. And suspected al Qaeda militants, they drove a vehicle packed with explosives onto the heavily guarded base. And then they blew it up near a crowd of troops. Now all nine attackers were killed in the gun battle that followed. And a day earlier, a U.S. drone strike in the same region killed eight suspected al Qaeda fighters.

Now UN Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, he arrived in Damascus just a short time ago. Now he is in the Syrian capital to try and negotiation a ceasefire ahead of the coming Eid ul Adha holiday. As a spokesman acknowledges, however, the hurdles are huge.

This YouTube video is said to show the aftermath of a government airstrike in Idlib province. The Syrian opposition says it happened on Thursday in a town that rebels had recently seized. At least 25 people were killed.

Now police in the UK say that they have officially begun a formal criminal investigation into alleged child abuse by BBC personality Jimmy Saville. Now allegations of abuse by the popular TV and radio host have built since his death last year. And pressure has been building on the BBC to investigate this scandal.

Now a London metropolitan police commander said in his statement this, "we are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale."

Now major signs of progress today in the condition of a Pakistani teenager whose bravery has inspired the world. Now doctors at a British hospital say that Malala Yousafzai stood up for the first time since she was shot by Taliban militants and is communicating freely.

Now let's go to Atika Shubert in London for more on this . And Atika, these are very, very positive signals from doctors about Malala's condition. What more have you heard?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's very encouraging signs. I mean, the fact that she was shot in the head and that there is apparently very limited sort of damage, especially to her brain, is very encouraging.

Basically, what has happened, doctor said is that her brain entered - entered sort of the side of her head and then came out through her jaw and her neck, and fortunately just grazed her brain. So they're still not quite sure what kind of long-term damage there is, but the very fact that she's been able to stand up and communicate very clearly by writing out sentences goes to show that it's very encouraging news.

Take a listen to what her doctor Dave Rosser told reporters earlier today.


DAVE ROSSER, MEDICAL DIR, QUEEN ELIZABETH HOSPITAL: And it's clear that she's not out of the woods yet. Having said that, she's doing very well. In fact, she was standing with some help for the first time this morning when I went in to see her. She's communicating very freely. She's writing. She has a tracheotomy tube in because her airway was swollen by the passing of the bullet, so in order to protect her airway she had a tracheotomy tube. And so she's not able to talk, although we have no reason to believe that she wouldn't be able to talk once this tube is out which may be in the next few days.


SHUBERT: And you heard there him talking about her swollen throat. One of the interesting things that doctors noted was it wasn't really the bullet that caused as much damage, so much as the shockwaves as it past through her body and out the side of her neck there. And that's what really caused the most damage - Kristie.

LU STOUT: So we're learning that Malala is writing. She is communicating freely through writing. She's also standing. She is making steady progress. How long will she receive treatment there in the UK?

SHUBERT: Well, we really don't know at this point. And they really still have to assess her for other, you know, what other kind of repercussions there are. Doctors have said they're going to do probably some reconstructive surgery, particularly at the bones at the back of her skull. That they'll need to take a look at possibly along her jaw area as well. So this is something that is certainly going to take weeks if not months. And of course they'll have to look at long-term effects, if there's any long-term brain damage. They said they still have to check for things like memory loss, which may not be so apparent now, but may become more apparent later on.

LU STOUT: As Malala stays there in the UK for treatment, the outpouring of support there, it continues with recently women's groups holding vigil for Malala, can you tell us about the local outreach and support for this girl and her cause?

SHUBERT: Yeah, there's been a huge outpouring of support. We've seen two separate women's groups holding a vigil in Victoria's Square in Birmingham, holding up signs that say I Am Malala. And this is by local women's groups that have just spontaneously wanted to show their support. And that's not counting the sort of celebrity support she's also been getting. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who has become a spokesperson for the UN on the issue of girl's education - right to an education - has started a social media campaign called I Am Malala, kicking it off with a video.

So there really has been an outpouring of support not just here in Britain, but worldwide as well.

LU STOUT: Yeah, and it's wonderful to hear the news that Malala's condition is improving. We wish her the very best. Atika Shubert reporting live from London, thank you.

Now animal rights activists in Turkey take to the streets to defend the stray dogs and cats that live there. We've got that story coming up. Stay with us.


LU STOUT: Now breaking news. Within the hour, there has been an explosion in Beirut with smoke seen rising from the scene of the blast. And there's no indication as to the cause of the explosion, no solid word yet on casualties or damage. Now we have our Nick Paton-Walsh en route to the blast site. Any more details, we'll bring it to you right away.

Now in an unusual twist, animal rights activists in Turkey are protesting to keep stray dogs and cats on the streets. Now they're fighting a proposed new law the government says will protect the strays and help get them adopted. And critics fear that it will lead to what they are calling animal concentration camps. Ivan Watson has more.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fur is flying in Turkey, demonstrators taking to the streets accompanied by their four legged friends. The march in Istanbul and more than a dozen other Turkish cities and towns all part of a passionate protest to protect animals.

MICHAEL HALFIE, PROTESTER: Are are trying to prevent a law that may be passing. It's a law that might be killing hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats.

WATSON: Protesters furious over a proposed law to govern the treatment of animals. According to Turkey's forestry ministry the purpose of draft law number 5199 is to prevent mistreatment of animals and strengthen the process of adopting strays. But one of its most controversial provisions calls for the creation of natural habitat parks like the one pictured in this government blue print.

In an email to CNN, the forestry ministry described these parks as, quote, "places where animals will be looked after, fed, and sheltered until animals are adopted."

But critics have denounced the proposed parks, calling them animal concentration camps.

DENIZ TAVSANCIL KALAFATOGLU, ANIMAL RIGHTS COMMISSION: We don't want our dogs from the streets to be collected.

WATSON: Animal rights activists fear the proposed law would lead to the round-up of street animals, fuzzy fixtures in nearly every Turkish neighborhood.

Why do you want to keep animals in the streets of Turkish cities and towns.

KALAFATOGLU: It's our culture. That's what we have seen and what we have lived with. We are living with them for centuries.

WATSON: To outsiders, it can be surprising to see how well some Turks care for the many strays that roam these streets. In Turkey's biggest city, it's not unusual to see cafes and bars adopting their own pets, a practice that extends to street vendors like Kutsnu Attach . He says he doesn't trust the government would take proper care of the canine companion he calls chief.

There's historical precedent for this popular distrust. In what's referred to as the great dog massacre of 1910, a Turkish government, determined to modernized Istanbul deported tens of thousands of streets dog out to an island here in the Marmaris Sea. Afterwards, residents of Istanbul were kept awake at night by the howls of dogs starving to death out on the island.

Today's Turkish government insists there will be no roundup of cats and dogs. If the law is passed, the government points out, it will establish jail sentences as the punishment for any physical abuse or exploitation of animals. And that is a measure critics and advocates of the proposed law both agree on.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.


LU STOUT: More now on the explosion in Beirut. Our Nick Paton-Walsh has reached the blast site. He joins us now on the phone. And Nick, describe the scene and the damage.

PATON-WALSH: Well, let me tell you first of all, Kristie, we are hearing from Lebanese state news agency NAA that they believe a car bomb, and I should clarify it's not clear there is a bomb inside a car or an explosion associated with a car, but they believe that is responsible for this blast.

We have seen at the scene here already a number of injured people being taken away by ambulances, absolute chaos here, a very angry Lebanese military trying to keep the crowd back.

The street in which the blast occurred is being sealed off. And you can see substantial charring of the buildings around, all the windows blown out. A large explosion, as I said, that we could have heard at least one, two kilometers across the city.

Now witnesses being down the street said he believes the blast began, initiated near a garage in that particular street. It's the central part of town, many political headquarters around here, many vital buildings. So obviously (inaudible) speculating what might have been the target if this was indeed a car bomb. And scenes of absolute pandemonium here. No doubt at all that we are seeing increasing numbers of injured being brought away here.

There is also sadly on the floor some, what (inaudible) some very serious injuries here as well. But Lebanese state news suffice to say that they associate the blast with a car to be responsible for this, if not actually give a specific number of dead or wounded from this blast. But I think it's pretty far clear to say it from the scenes of devastation here that there will have been deaths from this - Kristie.

LU STOUT: You're describing a scene of chaos in the aftermath of this explosion in Beirut, some serious injuries. You're reporting that a car bomb is believed to have been the cause of this explosion. And this comes at a very sensitive time of heightened tension between various factions there on opposite sides of the Syrian uprising.

Describe the background.

PATON-WALSH: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you there, Kristie. What I think you're asking is how is the conflict next door in Syria played out into Lebanon. Of course, it has really exacerbated tensions here despite the state itself and the country really hoping to sit on the sidelines of this and not be dragged in, remembering of course it's own bloody civil war during the 80s and not wanting to have the violence of its neighbor repeated next door here.

But that (inaudible) accusations that part of the fiscal elite here are funding the rebels and assisting the rebels. And of course there have been allegations more recently reiterated by the U.S. government that they believe Hezbollah, one of the more substantial political and militant factions operating inside Lebanon is giving substantial material support to Syrian regime across the border.

So of course the fears have always been the violence might spread across here. And to be honest, the very nightmare scenario people were looking at was a device like this exploding in central Beirut.

Now they say device, again injected as a caution, because we just don't know the full information here about what's happened, but it does appear that there has been a substantial explosion, quite possibly a car bomb in the very center of Beirut, Kristie.

LU STOUT: And what more can you tell us about the scene of this explosion, believed possibly to be a car bomb. Was it a well populated area? Was it a busy area?

PATON-WALSH: Yeah. This is very much the center of Beirut, downtown Beirut, close to (inaudible) Christian area of the city. We have around me major brand names, food outlets, everything you could really expect to be in a very center of a major Middle Eastern city like this. It occurred down a side street thought to be located near key political headquarters, but at this particular point all we are seeing is broken glass all over the floor.

The tension here ebbing slightly as ambulances appear to be taking away the majority of the wounded, but we are still hearing the constant sirens, the crack of glass under people's feet as they try and walk through this. And of course Lebanese military, I am sure, in their minds having dreaded the same I actually come trying to keep the crowd back, trying to ensure a sense of order as really I think the city now begins to wake up to what may be some sort of changing point in Lebanon, but a desire and bid to try and stay on the sidelines of the violence and brutality that's been happening next door - Kristie.

LU STOUT: Any idea as to what could have been targeted in this explosion?

PATON-WALSH: It really isn't clear. And I think it will be dangerous to speculate. As I said, there is a substantial political headquarters near where this particular device was, but at this point it would be dangerous to speculate what it precisely was. We are being kept away from exactly where the device was. And of course nobody knows necessarily if this was a car bomb, or whether it was intended to actually detonate at this particular point at this particular time. So very dangerous to speculate an this particular moment.

But certainly a device has gone off in the middle of Beirut. And in fact, the impact will be pale pandemonium and sheer horror that this causes amongst Beiruti civilians, amongst the Lebanese across the country that the idea the violence next door may somehow begin to catch on here in its worst manifestation yet - Kristie.

LU STOUT: You know, we're looking at live pictures just moments ago live pictures of the bomb blast scene and it's just a scene of pandemonium, a scene of chaos as many looks like civilians, not emergency officials arriving there to help people out. Describe the security presence, the emergency presence arriving there at the scene.

PATON-WALSH: There have been a number of ambulances racing away as can. I've seen one elderly man, very, very confused in what seems to be his undergarments sitting on a chair, blood coming from his chin. I've seen somebody else taken away with a neck brace on, it looked like substantial head injuries covered up by bandages. They say there have been what you refer to euphemistically as human debris on some parts of the floor, impossible to know exactly what that has emanated from.

A scene here of real chaos. They are trying to move the cordon back away from the scene of the actual blast, but at this point, Kristie, I should probably go and try and work out what's happening around us.

LU STOUT: And Nick, again, we're trying to make sense of what's happening on the ground. And looking at these live pictures coming into us. Just trying to get an understand of just how large this explosion was - OK, unfortunately we've lost our Nick Paton-Walsh there on the line. But he has arrived at the scene of this explosion on Central Beirut. He reported just scenes of chaos and serious injuries, people being brought away by ambulances, being taken to hospital. This explosion believed to have been caused by a car bomb, that not confirmed.

Number of casualties, the extent of the damage, we're still trying to ascertain this at this moment. But within the hour there has been this major explosion in central Beirut. Our Nick Paton-Walsh there on the scene. Any more details we'll bring them to you again live right here on CNN.

Now let's go to the headlines now. And we'll start with the images that you're seeing from Beirut, Lebanon where that explosion, again it rocked the city within the last hour. And the state news agency is reporting that they believe it's a car bomb. Of course we have yet to confirm that, but that's what we're hearing from the state news agency. Nick Paton-Walsh, he's been reporting a number of people seen injured there.

Now in other news EU leaders are getting back around the summit table after agreeing on Thursday to create a single banking supervisor for the whole of the EuroZone. Now the plan will give the European Central Bank overall responsibility for banking supervision. And it is expected to go into affect by year 2014.

And British doctors are treating the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban. They say that she is communicating freely and writing. And she even stood up on Friday. Now Malala Yousafzai, she is not speaking because she still has a tube in her throat. Now she is being treated in the UK after she was attacked on her way home from school.

Now Lokhdar Brahimi, the envoy to Syria from the UN and the Arab League, he has arrived in the capital Damascus and he'll be holding talks with government officials to try and bring about a ceasefire between regime forces and the rebels. Now Syria's opposition says a government air raid in Idlib province has killed at least 25 people, women and children among them. There are also reports that international broadcasts have been deliberately jammed inside Syria.

Now we will continue to monitor the situation inside Beirut, an explosion happening within the hour. You're watching News Stream. We'll be back right after this.


LU STOUT: Now breaking news, more on this explosion in central Beirut, chaos has been reported at the scene. No indication as to the cause of the explosion just yet, nothing confirmed, but the state news agency has been reporting that a car bomb is behind the blast.

You're looking at live pictures coming in from the local news agency there.

Also, no solid word yet on casualties or the extent of the damage caused by this blast in central Beirut during rush hour. Our Nick Paton- Walsh is there at the blast site. We spoke to him earlier. He reported seeing many serious injuries and many victims being taken away by officials presumably to hospital. And we will continue to monitor the situation there and the aftermath of the explosion in central Beirut.

Live pictures on your screen there of the aftermath of this explosion again believed to be a car bomb. You can see the damage there, a number of people arriving on the scene, the area being cordoned off. Earlier there was black smoke rising from the scene and - trying to make sense of the visuals, of the video as we get it in and try to get more information. Nothing known yet as to the motivation behind this. It's believed to be a car bomb.

Our Nick Paton-Walsh is there at the scene. We talked to him earlier and he described scenes of chaos and of pandemonium. You see smoke rising. You see many civilians there arriving to take a look at what's happening there. The fire engine, emergency services there at the scene trying to help the victims.

Our Nick Paton-Walsh rejoins us now. Any more information sine we last talked about the aftermath of this explosion?

Hi, Nick, it's Kristie in Hong Kong. Can you hear me? Any more information about the aftermath of this blast in Beirut?

OK, unfortunately we just lost him there. We will try to reconnect with our reporter there in Beirut, but we'll continue to follow this situation here.

And of course this comes at a time of rising tension and insecurity inside Lebanon. You have rival factions inside the country on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict taking place next door. And again this explosion taking place within the hour during rush hour in central Beirut during a very busy time. A well populated area and an explosion according to the central news agency there believed to have been caused by a car bomb.

And we're looking at the first pictures coming in, live pictures, of the extent of the damage. You can see the fire. You could see victims being carried away, some serious injuries were reported by our Nick Paton- Walsh who is there on the scene. You can see military on the scene, security officials there.

The area cordoned off, but still a number of civilians arriving there at the scene trying to make sense of the violence, trying to see what's happening there.

And just piecing together the aftermath of this major explosion in the heart of Beirut.

Again, this happening within the last hour. Any more information we'll bring it to you right here on CNN.

We'll be back right after the break.


LU STOUT: Welcome back now.

And more on our breaking news story, this massive explosion in central Beirut. Nick Paton-Walsh is there at the blast site and he joins us once again on the phone. And Nick, since last time we talked, any more information about the cause of this blast and the aftermath of this explosion?

PATON-WALSH: Ahmed , the people filming somebody over there.

LU STOUT: OK, Nick, it's Kristie in Hong Kong. We're now live. Can you hear me?

PATON-WALSH: (inaudible) thank you. We don't still know here what seems to be (inaudible)

LU STOUT: OK. We have to apologize for this choppy connection that we have, this bad connection that we have with Nick Paton-Walsh who was there at the blast site. I was able to just hear the line for him describing sniffer dogs there at the scene. Of course, emergency officials there at the scene helping with the victims, combing through just the wreckage of the aftermath of this explosion in central Beirut.

Just a quick wrap-up, this is what we know. The central news agency there is reporting that this was caused by a car bomb. CNN has not independently confirmed the cause of this blast, but you are looking at your screen at live pictures of the aftermath of this explosion. You can see it was a big one. I mean, you see wrecked cars, wrecked apartment buildings on the side. Earlier, black smoke was seen rising from the scene of the blast, a number of people arriving there. And also, Nick Paton- Walsh reporting earlier seeing some serious injuries and a number of people being taken away.

The extent of the damage, the number of casualties, the cause of the blast, the motive behind this explosion, all these are questions we still don't know the answers to at this moment. And this is also believed to be a mainly Christian area in Beirut. This is central Beirut, mainly Christian area in Beirut. This blast, this explosion took place during rush hour, a busy time.

And there earlier pictures of the black smoke rising from this explosion which took place within the hour.

And this was a scene that you could see from kilometers around, the black smoke rising.

Our Nick Paton-Walsh is there at the scene. Unfortunately we lost a connection with him, but he's picking up the details and any more video, information, especially the cause of this blast and how could be behind it, the number of casualties, a lot needs to be picked up on this story. We'll bring it to you right here on CNN.

Now you can see ambulances there also on the scene. Security officials have arrived. And this is all coming at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions there in the country, Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, so very sensitive time. And again a lot of information that we still are waiting to get to hear. And security officials are there holding people back, cordoning off the area.

And again, state news agency reporting that they believe a car bomb was behind this. A number of news agencies reporting casualties, a number of people have been hurt. We're waiting for our own reporter and our own reporting team on the ground to bring us the confirmation about the cause of the blast, about the number of casualties and the extent of the damage.

They could clearly see on these live pictures on your screen just the scene of chaos and utter destruction as a result of this explosion believed to be, according to the state news agency there, caused by a car bomb.

Extraordinary images there on your screen.

OK. We will continue to stay on this breaking news story here on CNN about this blast in Beirut. Again, according to the Lebanese state news agency as a result of a car bomb. We have yet to confirm that. Scenes of chaos and pandemonium there at the scene. Look at the sheer force of the explosion and what it's done to these cars hollowed out, blackened, crushed by the amount of explosive used in this blast. I mean, shocking scenes. And these are live - new images just coming straight to us.

A number of people arriving on the scene trying to make sense of what has happened. Emergency officials, security - and security presence is also there as they are combing through the rubble and taking any survivors away. A number of serious injuries reported at the scene, a number of victims have been taken away already.

You can see, look, apartments completely hollowed out. The homes around this scene hollowed out.

This explosion, it took place within this last hour in central Beirut, believed to be a Christian area. And it took place during rush hour, a busy time, and many people were there at the scene. Believed to be a car bomb, again according to the Lebanese state news agency.

Now we have our Nick Paton-Walsh. He rejoins us now. And Nick, any more information that you're able to comb from the scene of this explosion?

PATON-WALSH: Well, we are still seeing the security forces trying to take control of this particular area. Pandemonium still amongst locals (inaudible) central, real part of Beirut, very close out on the edge of this Christian area here (inaudible) behind this particular blast.

There is a political headquarters close to where we believe the (inaudible) detonated. But at this point, security forces are trying to create a cordon.

We do seem to see a number of casualties being brought away. I saw one woman being wheeled away on a stretcher who looked like she was significantly dazed, but more likely injured (inaudible) on one stretcher. I think the major fear is securing the area. I've seen soldiers bring in what could only have been a sniffer dog, to sniff for further devices that maybe have been left around.

At this point, of course, we are hearing from state news that the explosion did not target any political figure. And security have asked of them to stay away from the area. Now I could take from that a clear bid by security forces to just try and calm tension in the area and of course stop people from (inaudible) that there was a specific target to this blast.

Information still very sketchy at this particular point, but this really is just the most central part of this particular city. This geographically in the east, but I think more about how it embodies the commercial heart of the city here. Around me, a serious of brand names that everybody across the world would recognize. Windows blown out. Shutters across brought quickly down. And of course the crunch of glass on the people's feet.

This is the kind of place people meet for coffee, where they would meet to go shopping, where they would meet just to go for a simple walk for the surroundings. I mean, now instead of that hubbub of normal commercial life in a city, people are walking scaredly, people are walking with that crunch of glass under their feet, and of course the realization that (inaudible) very center of Beirut. They may be waking up tomorrow to a considerably different landscape, a world they tried to evade for the last few months trying to stay away from the violence that's been rocking its neighbor, Syria - Kristie.

LU STOUT: Nick, just how big is the blast site? Are you able to somehow engage the extent of the blast, just the power of the explosives that were used here?

PATON-WALSH: What I was able to see briefly from looking around the corner where the explosion detonated is the series of office blocks which look like their windows of course blown clean out. One witness who was in that particular street got closer to the site of the blast told me he believed the blast had in fact detonated inside a garage. That appeared to be where it originated from, but at this point, of course, it's very dangerous to speculate about things like that. And of course we don't actually know whether this was purposeful, or whether this was something accidental, but the target was here, or intended at a later date. And I think really the main impact, as I say, so far at the scene has been of course complete panic amongst all of Lebanon, most specifically the central part of Beirut - Kristie.

LU STOUT: And what are people around you telling you about why this happened and what could it possibly been the target of this explosion?

PATON-WALSH: There is no clear idea of what the target is. As I say, state news have been very clear that they do not believe there was a political target or any particular individual.

I am walking slightly closer towards the scene now, Kristie. I can give you a clearer idea of what we can actually see down that particular street.

There is a garage door near what seems to be the site of the explosion buckled, that's fairly standard in blasts like this that the sheer pressure the actual blast creates.

We're talking about a - what looks like about a 15 block office block split into two different levels, the lower half of which is completely charred and damaged, the upper 10 levels of which have had their windows blown out. In the actual street itself, there's a lot of glass of course shattered across the floor. Some ambulances still at this particular scene, but as I say for the last 10 to 15 minutes we haven't seen any wounded being brought out from the particular site.

So it appears now the security forces are trying to secure the area rather than dealing with the immediate aftermath of the blast. But of course that won't be any comfort for the individuals who live in this particular part of Beirut - Kristie.

LU STOUT: Of course not. I mean, what is the mood among those who live in this area in Beirut? I mean, they must be in utter shock?

PATON-WALSH: Of course there's profound shock amongst everybody. But I think there's been a realization in the back of many people's minds living in Beirut that there was always the danger that the violence across the border could spill over here, because of how imbued in Syria's violence much of Lebanese are sectarian opposition actually has been for decades. And I think the fear is that with a blast like this so close to the center of the city, the commercial heart where so many Beirutis have walked feeling entirely calm, that the fear is this may spark a reaction from other parts of Lebanon's militant groups, or it may at least remove that feeling that for the time being Lebanon had managed to avoid, managed to stay one step away from what had been happening next door in Syria, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Can we draw a line between this blast in central Beirut to the uprising that is underway in Syria? Is this the destabilizing regional violence that many had been warning about? Is this what's happening?

PATON-WALSH: It's very difficult to draw a direct connection, but Lebanon has always been on the edge of that Syrian conflict. It has always found that it's factions were accused of assisting the rebels and the regime throughout. There's been consistent accusations from the U.S. government that high levels most notably of late that Hezbollah, a key political and militant group operating inside Lebanon were assisting materially. And of course there have been allegations that they've even sent fighters across the border, denied by Hezbollah that they were assisting the Assad regime.

And on the other side, there have been allegations, denied by all sides, that other parts of the Lebanese body politic have been assisting - have been assisting the Syrian rebels.

So there always were fears that those fault lines drawn up inside Lebanese society, which as everybody knows resulted in a decade long civil war in the 80s may be reignited by what was happening across in Syria which has become increasingly sectarian as the Shia Alawi government tries to retain control over a predominantly Sunni country. And of course the rebels themselves being predominantly Sunni.

So a sectarian fault line that spreads across the Middle East has been really shaken and thoroughly awakened by what's been happening in Syria. And I believe obviously many people in Lebanon had hoped that that would stay well clear from their daily lives. But of course today with this blast in central Beirut, I'm afraid that sense of security has evaporated - Kristie.

LU STOUT: Now Nick, we're just getting reports from news wires saying at least five people have been injured as a result of this explosion, at least three seriously. Is that in line with what you've been seeing there at the scene?

PATON-WALSH: So what you're saying five people seriously injured. Forgive me, Kristie, I'm unable to hear everything you say because of the quality of the phone line understanding. But yes, that...

LU STOUT: Wire reports - yeah five injured, three seriously.

PATON-WALSH: Well, we have seen brought away from the scene, I think about that number roughly. It's hard to tell the degree of injury that people have when they're wheeled way on a stretcher having received initial medical care. And of course the force of the blast, I mean, it's difficult to explain when something goes off quite that much.

But we all in the office we were working in CNN's bureau about one to two kilometers away from the site of the blast heard a loud explosion. And of course it's impossible to tell with all the construction happening in the city quite what something like that is. But then of course the black smoke rose from the air.

And in fact, the force of the blast even shook our windows, so you imagine really if that far away you can feel the impact of an explosion, it really must have been quite some device that detonated here in central Beirut, Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right. Nick Paton-Walsh joining us live from central Beirut at the bomb site. Thank you very much indeed.

Just to quickly recap, breaking news this hour of this blast in central Beirut, a blast that took place during rush hour in a Christian neighborhood there. According to the Lebanese news agency it says that a car bomb is believed to be the cause of this explosion. The Lebanese news agency also reports five people injured, three injured seriously. CNN's Nick Paton-Walsh there at the scene earlier describing chaos, pandemonium, describing the scenes that you're seeing playing out right now on your screens of these hollowed out, blacked out cars, wrecked buildings, a major, major scenes of devastation as a result of this explosion that took place within the last hour.

And we'll have much more on this breaking news story in the hours ahead. Up next after the break, we have my colleagues Nina Dos Santos, Ali Velshi, they will continue coverage of this blast in Beirut.

You're watching CNN.