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NEWS STREAM

Cyprus Reaches Bailout Deal with EU; Free Syrian Army Leader Recovers From Assassination Attempt; Secretary of State John Kerry Makes Surprise Afghanistan Visit; Early Spring Storm Blankets American Midwest In Snow; South Korea Trains Cyber Army

Aired March 25, 2013 - 08:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULINE CHIOU, HOST: I'm Pauling Chiou in Hong Kong. And welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet.

Safe at last, or so it seems, Cyprus reaches a last minute deal with international lenders to stave off bankruptcy.

Plus, a bomb targets the head of Syria's rebel army, but who is behind the attack?

And it's her husband's first overseas trip as president, but people are talking about China's very visible first lady.

Negotiations went down to the wire, but it looks like Cyrpus will get its bailout. The tiny island nation has agreed to break up its swollen banking sector in order to get its hands on the $13 billion rescue package. EuroZone finance ministers thrashed out the deal into the early hours of Monday morning.

It means bank customers will less than $130,000 in their accounts are protected. Customers who have more than that are not, but it's unclear how much they stand to lose.

Well, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades says the deal is in the best interests of the Cyprus people and the EU as a whole. Despite that, European commission vice president Olli Rehn warns of tough times ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLLI REHN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION VICE PRESIDENT: It's clear that the depth of the financial crisis in Cyprus means that the near future will be very difficult for the country and of its people, for its people. The commission will do everything possible to alleviate the social consequences of this economic shock and help to protect the most vulnerable people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: It's all down to the country's banking sector. Total deposits, around $91 billion, are about four times the size of the entire economy. And Cypriots have enjoyed easy access to credit. This graph shows the amount banks lend as a percentage of GDP.

Take a look at Germany, 126 percent. France, 134 percent. And then Cyprus, 330 percent of the entire nation's GDP lent out by banks as credit. So you can see why Cyprus got into trouble eventually.

Well, news of today's deal will mean relief in some quarters and dismay in others. Jim Boulden is following all of this from the Cypriot capital of Nicosia and he joins us live now.

Jim, this deal is just the framework. So when does it all go into effect?

JIM BOULDEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, over the next few weeks it looks like it'll go into effect. They need to work on the details, they need to implement some of the program initiatives. They need to wind down the second largest bank -- Cypriot Popular Bank. They're going split that into a good bank and a bad bank, you can't do that overnight.

But the deal needed to be in place today, Pauline, because the European Central Bank it would cut off funding, emergency lending, as of midnight tonight. So the framework is there. And that's enough to keep (inaudible) whether they will open tomorrow as planned.

But as you were just saying about Olli Rehn, you know, this is going to take years. And the foreign minister has recently done an interview on CNN. And Ioannis Kasoulides said we will rebuild again. In a few years time, we will have an economy that responds to the needs of the people. A few years time, he said.

So it's going to be a tough couple of years, because the banking sector, along with tourism, is a main driver of the economy here. And of course that offshore banking center is in tatters, Pauline.

CHIOU: So, slow road ahead.

Let's talk about the Russians, Jim, because many wealthy Russians have their money in Cyprus. What are they saying? And are they the ones who will mostly have take the loss in their deposits with this 30 or 35 percent haircut?

BOULDEN: Yes, absolutely. The wealthy Russians who have put money not only in the banks here as an offshore, but many of them have bought property here, a number of them come here for holidays. And that's exactly why the president didn't want to, in the first place, a week ago, didn't want to have all the burden fall on those who have more than $130,000 in the bank account. He didn't want to have what's called capital flight. So he was afraid that he went after that money only, that it would push the Russians and the British, who invest here, away. Of course, that didn't work.

So, the question now will be do the currency controls that have been put into place by parliament, will that be enough to keep people to keep their money here. We just won't know that until we see how this plays out in the next couple of days.

CHIOU: And this is just the beginning. But we do expect austerity later on down the road. What kinds of austerity measures are you hearing about?

BOULDEN: Well, actually because they're going to get this 10 billion euro bailout from the European Union, they can use that to help restructure the economy. They can use that for welfare payments and things. And you heard Ollie Rehn say they will look at the most vulnerable.

But what we probably will see is higher unemployment. We're going to see one of the banks disappear, so you'll see jobs go with that. You would wonder -- you want to make sure that people realize that this country is open for business in this very important summer season so that the hotels and the resorts don't have that kind of trouble. So we're going to have to see how that plays out the next couple of months to see if the tourists continue to come to this country.

I talked to one man who said that his takings over the last year have fallen dramatically in his store here in Nicosia. And he didn't see a way out for years to come.

CHIOU: So everyone is prepared to at least wait and try to be patient, because it is going to be a slog -- long -- slow, long road ahead.

All right, Jim, thank you very much. Jim Boulden there with the latest on this deal that was struck.

Well, I want to take you to Pakistan now. Former President Pervez Musharraf returned on Sunday after five years of self imposed exile. He was greeted by hundreds of supporters at the airport and he said he's back to save his country and plans on leading his party in May elections. But he's likely to face a rough road ahead, and here's why. General Pervez Musharraf was Pakistan's army chief when he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. He later appointed himself as president. And during his time in office, he was an ally in the U.S. war on terror and targeted the Taliban, which still remains active inside the country.

Militants accused him of pushing a U.S. agenda. And many Pakistani people blamed his policies for causing food shortages, power cuts, and skyrocketing inflation.

Musharraf resigned in 2008. And then he went into exile in London and also Dubai. But in 2010, he launched a new political party called the All Pakistan Muslim League.

Let's get the latest now from Saima Mohsin who is live in Karachi.

Saima, why has Musharraf decided to come back now?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, his supporters, Pauline, will say that this is the best time for him to come back. It's seven weeks to the general election in Pakistan, which will choose all the members of parliament and eventually the prime minister of the country. He, of course, previously was favored as a president. He came into power in a bloodless coup as a dictator. Can he, though, get that political clout, that political backing at the ballot box to actually enter parliament, leave alone try and be a key political player?

So, he thinks this is the right time for him to come back to the country. He said he would come back when an interim setup would be in place, and that's exactly what's happening right now. In fact, that -- let me show you the papers here -- is what's taking center stage, not General Musharraf's return.

The interim prime minister Mir Hazar Khoso is the one being named here. Another one, no pictures of General Musharraf's triumphant return. Certainly not even the numbers that he was expecting turned out or hoping for and that's what this paper points out here.

He is sadly now the man that once had the pulling power to speak to world superpowers at the drop of a phone call, confined to the city news pages here in the city of Karachi where he landed yesterday -- Pauline.

CHIOU: So, Saima, that begs the question, exactly what kind of political support does he have? Does he even have a chance to make a dent in these elections? And what exactly does he want to accomplish?

MOHSIN: Well, that's really the big question. Does he have the political clout to get 172 seats in parliament to even make it a government? Well, frankly, no. He doesn't even have that many candidates standing in the election. He is very much looking like a one-man band in Pakistan right now. But he says that he's got plenty of time to gear up to the elections, seven weeks. He thinks that he can come from the bank and pull out right into the front for May 11.

He says that he is in talks today. We've been speaking to his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. They've been telling CNN that they're in talks today with various political parties and political factions talking about joining forces with them. But when I spoke to the MQM, one of the leading parties in the city of Karachi, one that formed a coalition with him when he was a military dictator and president in Pakistan several years ago, they told us frankly that they're not ready to fully commit or say that they're going to make any kinds of agreements or alliances with General Musharraf.

When he landed, Pauline, just want to tell you this, he said that he was saddened to find the country in the state he has discovered it in compared with what he left it in. And that is his main motto. He's saying Pakistan first, that's his campaign motto. And secondly, that he wants to bring back the economic prosperity that the country enjoyed when he was here, that's the laurels he's resting on.

CHIOU: And he only has seven weeks to convince the people to do that.

All right, Saima Mohsin, thank you very much. Saima is live in Karachi with the update on Pervez Musharraf's return to Pakistan.

Well, coming up next on News Stream. Tour of duty after visiting Iraq, new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes an unannounced stopover in Afghanistan.

An assassination attempt on a rebel leader in Syria highlights the shifting and very tenuous alliances within the opposition.

And what exactly killed Boris Berezovsky? An autopsy later today into the death of the exiled Russian businessman should reveal his cause of death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: You are looking at a video rundown of all the stories in the show today. We have already told you about the bailout deal to save Cyprus's finances. Well, later we'll bring you a special report on the Great Barrier Reef.

But now, let's turn to the Middle East. Fresh off a stop in Iraq, a U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has touched down in Kabul. It's his first trip in Afghanistan in his new role. The visit comes amid new tension between Washington and Kabul after Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban. Well, Kerry's previously unannounced visit also underscores the lingering security issues in Afghanistan.

And as we mentioned, Kerry stopped in Baghdad a little bit earlier. He met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and urged him to stop allowing Iran to use their air space for shipments to Syria. Our Nick Paton Walsh has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's first visit to Iraq really should have been about rebuilding the country's dwindling influence in a country where it has invested so much blood and treasury. But still it was overshadowed by events next door in Syria. First, U.S. officials clear that they believe Iraq is not doing enough to stop overflights from Iran to Syria of weapons and fighters intended to assist the Assad regime in its civil war there. John Kerry said he had, quote, a very spirited discussion with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on that, but was asked for further information. So not quite exactly the concession he wanted there.

But also during this visit, news broke of the resignation of opposition leader Mouwaz al-Khatib, something which Mr. Kerry described as being inevitable, said that they'd already begun working with Ghassan Hitto who is effectively the leader now of the transitional government, begun working with him and said this is all part of what he referred to as a continuum in leadership and the opposition was bigger than one man. But clearly putting a brave face there on a man who the U.S. has put quite a lot of investment into and an opposition which seems to be crumbling around them just as the U.S. begins to pick up its efforts to supply further aid.

But above all, this visit to Iraq, which should have been focusing on the country's own troubles overshadowed by the civil war next door.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: And back to Afghanistan. As the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan gets closer, the burden on local Afghan police increases. As Anna Coren shows us, the job gets riskier every day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the base of the snow- capped Mahita (ph) Mountains is one of four gateways leading into Kabul. Thousands of people travel along this busy road every day from the Pakistani border all the way to the heart of Afghanistan's capital.

For the police officers manning the checkpoints, this is a dangerous job.

"Our enemies are cowards," says Commander Hakimi (ph). "They won't fight face to face. Instead, they send in suicide bombers. But we're not afraid."

Afghan police have increasingly become the target of car bombs and suicide attacks, a popular tactic amongst the Taliban and insurgents. In the past 12 months, 1,800 officers were killed and 3,000 wounded, according to Afghan officials. But new recruit Hamoula Shazada (ph), who earns $210 a month, says that's the risk when putting on the uniform.

"If a suicide bomber blows us up, then that is our fats," explains the 23-year-old. "We are here to serve our country. And if we die, it's for Afghanistan."

Some policemen don't just know the risks, they make the ultimate sacrifice.

Earlier this month in eastern Afghanistan, 29 year old Mourad Khan (ph) searched a man strapped with explosives. Without hesitating, the officer who had just become a father, yelled out to everyone around him to run and then hugged the suicide bomber to limit the blast.

"When I heard my son was dead, I was in so much pain. But when I found out what he'd done, sacrificing his life for others, I was so proud of my brave eldest son."

For so many years, war ravaged Afghanistan has been reliant on U.S. and international forces for security. But Afghan police are now taking the lead. In recent weeks, they've arrested more than a dozen would-be suicide bombers in Kabul and uncovered a truck bomb packed with eight tons of TNT, enough to flatten everything within a 2 kilometer radius.

While these checkpoints are vital, they're unfortunately not fool- proof. Without X-ray equipment, these officers can't inspect the cargo of every single truck, which means dangerous goods can slip into the capital.

(on camera): Considering the risks these officers take every single day, they say they could do their job a lot more effectively if they had modern weapons and equipment. And while they hope the U.S. and international forces leave some of their weaponry behind after they pull out in 2014, that is highly unlikely.

"We are committed and capable of securing our country, but we do need what every other police force has around the world, then there will be no problem defeating the enemy."

Anna Coren, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOATPE)

CHIOU: An exiled Russian oligarch found dead in his bathroom. Coming up, we look at the death of outspoken Putin critic Boris Berezovsky.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: It sounds familiar, the unexplained death of an exiled Russian in the UK. Tycoon Boris Berezovsky was found dead at his home over the weekend. British police say they don't know how he died, but the rumor mill is in overdrive with speculation ranging from a possible suicide to something sinister. Berezovsky was a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. British police say they have found no signs a third party was involved in his death and an autopsy is due to begin within the hour.

At one point, Berezovsky was considered a Kremlin king maker. He helpde to bring Vladimir Putin to power. Phil Black has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People who knew Boris Berzovsky in the 1990s described him as frantically energetic, driven and ambitious, not your average mathematician. He became one of the country's hated oligarchs, that small number of ruthless businessmen who quickly built enormous personal wealth, snapping up state resources cheaply as Russia chaotically embraced capitalism. He also charmed, pested, and lobbied his way into the Kremlin becoming an influential political player.

And as President Boris Yeltsin's health declined, Berezovsky was said to have played a role in helping to install Vladimir Putin as his successor.

This was Berezovsky speaking to CNN in January 2000 just days after Putin took over.

BORIS BEREZOVSKY: I think that Putin will continue the way which President Yeltsin established in Russia.

BLACK: He was wrong, Putin quickly cut all the pushy oligarchs out of Russian politics. Six months later, Berezovsky told CNN Vladimir Putin was creating a dictatorship. That year, Berezovsky was investigated for corporate crimes, which he denied, and he fled Russia never to return.

Berezovsky's death after 12 years in exile has not softened many Russians' opinion of him.

This woman says, "he betrayed Russia and wrecked many things for the country during its hardest times."

Damian Kudriavtsev used to work with Berezovsky and remained a family friend. He was one of the first to learn of his death.

DAMIAN KUDRIAVTSEV, FRIEND: Selfish, but positive. He was very difficult, but a good friend. He tried to be good friend and good man. Sometimes he didn't succeed.

BLACK: Despite those flaws and failures, Kudriavtsev says he's proud to have witnessed Berezovsky's effort to change Russia.

KUDRIAVTSEV: No, business wasn't important to him. He related to the money, to the business as the resources to make changes.

BLACK: Kudriatsev says his friend was unhappy and he was in financial trouble, but he wouldn't have harmed himself. And he says Boris Berezovsky had always hoped to someday return to Russia.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: It seems that only mother nature stands between Tiger Woods and the world number one ranking. Amanda Davies has much more from London. Hello, Amanda.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Yes, Tiger's attempt to return to that top spot resumes later on Monday after the final round of the Arnold Palmer invitational in Orlando was abandoned due to heavy storms.

Woods will return to the number one spot if he wins the event. He began his final round on Sunday with a two shot lead and a birdie at the second, which was his final hole of the day. We'll see him go out on Monday three shots ahead of Keegan Bradley, Ken Duke, Rickie Fowler and John Huh.

The weather is due to be a little bit better than this on Monday after tree branches are brought down, a power cut occurred as well on Sunday in Bay Hill with heavy rain and high winds.

Well, there is no shortage of drama in the second Formula One race of the season. And the Red Bull team principle Christian Horner has said Sebastian Vettel's decision to ignore team orders at the Malaysian Grand Prix was not acceptable. The defending world champion took victory over his teammate Mark Webber in pretty controversial circumstances.

Webber was leading from Vettel wtih 14 laps to go, emerging from his final pit stop just ahead of his teammate. The drivers had been told to hold their positions and save their engines with the team more than happy to preserve a one, two finish. But Vettel had other ideas. He carried on racing, at some points wheel to wheel. And he went on to overtake Webber and then take his 27th race victory.

The Australian was understandably furious, refusing to acknowledge Vettel's win. The German did afterwards apologize. But it's fair to say that their relationship is somewhat strained as the teams head off for a three week break before the next race in China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEBASTIAN VETTEL, MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX WINNER: I think if there's something to say we need to talk internally, but for sure I think we both enjoyed that. Of course, I'm standing in the middle now, so I enjoyed it probably a little bit more, but yeah I think we have plenty of time to talk about it.

MARK WEBBER, MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX RUNNERUP: I won a race as well, but in the end the team made a decision which we always say before the start of the race it's probably us going to be -- we look out for the ties, get a cut at the end, and in the end said made his own decisions today and we'll have protection as usual and that's the way it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you were surprised when he came past you.

WEBBER: Yeah. Well, I turned my engine down and started cruising on the tires and then the fight was on. So anyway, we know he's a great peddler, but I was disappointed with the outcome of today's race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIES: One of the more unhappy scenes at the top of the podium you'll ever see.

Now it's 26 and counting for the Miami Heat after victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday, so they'll extend their winning streak once again. And again they came from behind to do it, winning 109-77.

The Heat were without Dwayne Wade for this one. He was out with a bruised knee. And they were 11 points down in the first quarter, but not for long. LeBron James here combining with Norris Cole, Miami's back-up point guard. Cole added 15 points and 6 assists on the night.

Charlotte has 16 wins to their name this season, but it didn't take long for the Heat to take control. And here in the third quarter, Mike Miller going behind the back. LeBron finishing with a double pump reverse jam.

The Heat were up 24 here in the fourth. This time LeBron with the assist for Chris "the Birdman" Anderson. He had 10 assists on the night. And he recorded 32 points as well on the way to the Heat's 26th victory, that's another step closer to that record of the Laker's team from 1971-72 when they won 33 straight.

Monday sees the start of a four game road trip for Miami. It starts in Orlando.

So this is a really interesting week for Heat fans, four games that could well make or break this streak, Pauline.

CHIOU: Yeah, they are on a role. Let's see if they can break the record.

All right, thanks so much Amanda.

Well, coming up next, China's new president is on his first overseas tour, but it's who's with him that has the nation buzzing. We've got the details on China's new first lady coming up.

Also, a rebel leader is targeted in Syria, but just who is behind the assassination attempt? Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: Hello, I'm Pauline Chiou in Hong Kong. And you're watching News Stream. These are your world headlines.

Cyprus has reached a deal with EuroZone finance minister to secure a $13 billion bailout package. The plan calls for breaking up one leading bank and restructuring another. And it guarantees the protection of deposits of under $130,000. Euro group officials pledge to help protect the most vulnerable in Cyprus.

And European stock markets are trading higher on the back of that deal out of Cyprus. Without it, the tiny island nation would have faced a bankruptcy and an undignified exit from the EuroZone. But for now, at least, those fears have been allayed. As you see this relief rally going on.

Well, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, his first visit to the country as America's top diplomat. Later, he'll head to the presidential palace for talks with Aghan president Hamid Karzai. Kerry has just been in Iraq where he pressed leaders to take steps to stop Iranian planes from delivering arms to Syria's government.

A legal blow for Hong Kong's tens of thousands of foreign maids. The territory's highest court has rejected the final appeal of two Filipina domestic workers who are seeking permanent residency. Their lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that they were entitled to the same rights as other foreign workers who can apply for residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years.

A Syrian rebel army chief is recovering at a hospital in Turkey today after he was injured in an attack in eastern Syria on Sunday. A spokesman says an explosion targeted Riad al-Asaad's car in an apparent assassination attempt, but it is not at all clear right now by whom.

For the very latest on this, Mohammed Jamjoom joins me live from Beirut.

Mohammed, what do we know so far about how this attack happened and who might be behind it?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pauline, what we know right now is that Colonel Riad al-Asaad, he's the head of the Rebel Free Syrian Army, was visiting the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor when this blast targeted his vehicle, and that's according to Louay Almokdad who is the spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army now. He told us that the colonel has been transferred to Turkey, that he's being treated in a hospital there, and that his condition is stable.

But there have been a lot of contradictory reports about the extent of Riad al-Asaad's injuries. Some suggesting that he may have even lost a leg in this blast or had a leg amputated as a result of this blast. Nonetheless, what we've been told by Louay Almokdad is that his foot was injured, that he is being treated, that he is in stable condition.

Interesting, this is coming just four days after Riad al-Asaad made headlines by posting a video on YouTube in which he slammed the opposition Syrian National Coalition, that's the main opposition group. And he also praised the al Nusra Front, those are those Islamist militant fighters that the U.S. have linked to al Qaeda that are fighting alongside the Rebel Free Syrian army soldiers in that civil war that's been raging for so long -- Pauline.

CHIOU: Well, Mohammed, the opposition has seen a few setbacks recently with al-Asaad being targeted and also you mentioned the national coalition, the leader of the main opposition group just stepped down. So can the opposition as a whole present some sort of a united front?

JAMJOOM: Well, Pauline, this is a critical time for the opposition. You know, this week you have an Arab League summit that's starting in Doha, Qatar. That's going to start tomorrow. In fact, the Arab League has invited the Syrian National Coalition there. According to the National Coalition, they have had Syria's seat, which used to be in possession of Bashar al-Assad, that's been transferred to the Syrian National Coalition. Now that's a symbolic blow to the al-Assad regime. A symbolic blow, not really anything practical as regards to what's going on on the ground in Syria.

But what it looks like right now, it looks like the opposition is in complete disarray, because what happened yesterday, Mouaz al-Khatib who has lead the Syrian National Coalition since its inception in November, well he issued a statement via his Facebook page that he is resigning, a statement that expressed a lot of frustration not just with world powers whom he accused of not doing enough to allow the Syrian rebels and the Syrian people to defend themselves against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, but also seeming to express frustration with the limitations that he encountered within the institution of the Syrian National Coalition itself.

Nonetheless, just hours later, the Syrian National Coalition spokesperson told CNN that they were rejecting Mouaz al-Khatib's resignation, that nothing would be decided on this matter until the next general meeting.

Today, you have Mouaz al-Khatib issuing another statement saying that he will be delivering a speech for the Syrian people on behalf of the Syrian people in Doha on Tuesday or Wednesday. So it really looks like the leadership of the National Coalition of the opposition is in disarray at a time when world powers that have been behind the opposition really want to see a united front. It's critical for them to see a united front, for the opposition to continue to get the kind of support that it's getting.

But that doesn't look like what's being presented by the opposition right now -- Pauline.

CHIOU: Yeah, they're making a couple of different 180 degree turns.

All right, Mohammed, thank you very much for the update there. Mohammed Jamjoom joining us from Lebanon.

Well, turning now to the Central African Republic. Wire agencies are reporting the country has been suspended from all African Union activities one day after rebels seized the capital of Banui. Today, the leader of the rebel's Seleka Alliance, Michel Djotodia declared himself the country's new president. A spokesman says President Francois Bozize fled the country and headed for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Witnesses report rioting and looting and the killing of at least seven civilians. South Africa, whose troops are there to bolster weak government forces, says 13 of its soldiers were killed in fighting over the weekend.

The latest unrest began in December when Seleka rebels based up north launched an offensive against the government. A written statement released by the rebels say, quote, "the Central African Republic has just opened a new page in its history."

Well, the country is no stranger to political strife. After winning independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic endured 30 years of mostly military rule and several coups, including the one that brought this man, Francois Bozize to power in 2003. The unrest has helped undermine the nation's economy and made its 5.1 million citizens some of the poorest people in the world.

But the region has considerable agricultural and mineral resources, including gold and diamonds. And one analyst tells CNN there is suspicion that rebels are being backed by foreigners hungry to take advantage of those resources. But the rebels accuse Bozize on reneging on a peace deal.

The new Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Africa this week on his first official overseas trip. Xi has spent the last two days in Tanzania where he made a speech hoping to quell concerns over China's interests in gaining access to Africa's raw materials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

XI JINPING, PRESIDENT OF CHINA (through translator): Africa belongs to the African people. In developing relations with Africa, all countries should respect Africa's dignity and independence. With growth in its own economic and overall strength, China will continue to offer as always necessary assistance to Africa with no political strings attached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: For years now, China has been building infrastructure like roads and hospitals in Africa in exchange for natural resources. Chinese state media say that Chinese-African trade totaled $200 billion last year. In Darussalam, Xi signed a series of agreements with his Tanzanian counterpart. And Xi heads to South Africa tomorrow to attend a meeting of BRICs countries.

Now, traveling with Xi on this trip is China's new first lady, but most Chinese aren't accustomed to seeing their president's wife on the global stage. But as Monita Rajpal reports, Peng Liyuan is a well known name in her own right. And China is excited about her new role.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MONITA RAJPAL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you've just been put in charge of more than a billion people, image is everything. And whilst there was no shortage of ceremony to mark Chinese president Xi Jinping's international debut in Moscow, that's not what was grabbing attention back home. Enter Peng Liyuan, China's first lady in more than one way. Graceful, elegant and fashion forward, Mrs. Peng is defying the trend of her predecessors and taking a central role on the international stage.

And China is loving it. If the words of one official are anything to go by, the nation finally feels it has a first lady who is presentable to the outside world. And as suggested by this trip to a Russian boarding school, it is PR gold for China's new leadership, giving them the chance to present a softer image for the country as it charges ahead with trade talks in Russia and Africa.

After all, a strong image certainly hasn't hurt the Obamas. U.S. first lady Michelle is always on hand to help out her husband's reputation, but is more importantly a positive role model for American women in her own right.

And who doesn't want a bit of Samcam Glam (ph) every now and then. The British prime minister's wife is not just a style icon, but a successful businesswoman. And it looks as though Peng Liyuan is beginning to turn the heads of China's growing ranks of female consumers too.

Here in Hong Kong and China, it is fair to say fashion tends to be big, bright and bold. So Mrs. Peng's more demure look has been something of a welcome change. Outfits similar to the one she touched down in Moscow have been a bit hit with online fashion stores like this one Taobao. The banner here reads, "miss out and you'll weep."

Peng Liyuan has come a long way from her days as an 80s folk singer. But whilst some may have raised eyebrows when this video first emerged, it's not remembering she holds a master's degree in music and is, believe it or not, a major general in the People's Liberation Army.

All in all, Mrs. Peng seems to be exactly the sort of superwoman the world's next super power is crying out for.

Peng is also known for her charity work, being appointed an ambassador for the fight against tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS for the World Health Organization. That will be of added significance as the couple continues their foreign trip in Africa.

There's a saying in China, "women hold up half the sky." In Peng Liyuan, it seems China's leaders have finally found a woman they can hold up to the world.

Monita Rajpal, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: Coming up next, South Korea steps up its cyber defenses after a massive hack attack last week. Next on News Stream, we'll take you to the place where a generation of cyber warriors is being trained.

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CHIOU: In South Korea, investigators are still looking into who hacked and knocked out major computer systems last week. According to the Yonhap News Agency, police have no traced some of those malicious codes to IP addresses in the U.S. and in Europe. Last week, hackers essentially knocked out the computer networks of major banks and several TV stations causing widespread panic in South Korea. Today, the banks announced they have increased online security.

Well, the military has also stepped up its cyber defense. Matthew Chance meets a future South Korean soldier who is being trained for cyber warfare.

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MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Its TV networks were forced offline by malicious code. The virus meant banks couldn't trade. For a few hours, South Koreans tasted cyber war. Now more than ever, it says, it needs cyber warriors to fight it.

Look, they even call it a war room, but in fact this is just a class at the Korea university where South Korea says it's raising a cyber army. And these are its soldiers.

Now we've been told that we can't really show the faces of the students sitting here, they're doing a course in cyber warfare and code breaking and in psychology, because many of them will go onto work for the South Korean military on the front lines of the battle for cyberspace.

All right, well one of the trainees here has agreed to speak to us on condition that we don't identify her except by her cyber name, which is Christine. Christine, thanks very much for talking to us.

Why have you decided to become a cyber warrior?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you know, security is not just a problem in here. There were cyber terrorists in Korea happening, so that made me to want to fight for my country.

CHANCE: It got 3,000...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, they have 3,000 cyber warriors.

CHANCE: North Korea, the main enemy here, is believed to have a formidable cyber army itself, according to the professor training the south's cyber force.

PROFESSOR LEE SANG-JIN, KOREA UNIVERSITY (through translator): North Korea has been regularly attacking South Korean cyber space and even paralyzed it in 2009 and 2011, including the attacks on banking systems and other industries, we believe that the economic loss in South Korea cyberspace could be hundreds of millions of dollars.

CHANCE: Do you feel that you are a soldier, that you are fighting a war?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not yet. I am still a university student, but I always have my (inaudible) protecting my country in my sights, but after I graduate and become a real soldier, then I will feel like a real soldier then.

CHANCE: Fighting the war many South Koreans feel they can no longer afford to lose.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Seoul.

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CHIOU: The United States and South Korea have agreed on a new military pact for dealing with North Korean provocation. The so-called combined counter provocation plan has been in the works since 2010, but its signing coincides with renewed aggression from Pyongyang. The pact takes effect immediately.

Well, last week we told you how the push for gun reform in the U.S. has stalled. There are plans for petitions this week. And anti-gun groups will call on lawmakers to pass reforms. A $12 million ad blitz is already getting that message out. And Athena Jones has more.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in the second amendment and I'll fight to protect it. But with rights come responsibilities.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mayors against illegal guns led by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, is pouring $12 million into ads like these to push Congress to act on guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Closing loopholes will stop criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns.

JONES: Here's the mayor on NBC's "Meet the Press."

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: There are an awful lot of people that think that this is one of the great issues of our times. We have to stop the violence.

JONES: The ad will air in 13 states starting this week to pressure Democratic and Republican senators home for spring recess to support comprehensive background checks. The Senate will debate a bill that includes those background checks next month. BLOOMBERG: We're trying to do everything we can to impress upon the senators that this is what the survivors want. This is what the public wants.

The National Rifle Association is running its own ad campaign against expanded background checks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So when gun owners hear "universal background checks," we know it means, universal registration.

JONES: An NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre also on NBC promised to continue the battle against regulations he says won't work.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The whole thing universal checks is a dishonest premise. There's not a bill on the hill that provides a universal check. Criminals aren't going to be checked. They're not going to do this. The shooters in Tucson, in Aurora, in Newtown, they are not going to be checked.

JONES: The Obama administration supports universal background checks. Appearing with Bloomberg last week, vice president Biden urged Congress to show courage and confront the gun rights lobby.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, folks. We have a responsibility to act. The loudest voices have to be from those silenced voices, close to 3,000 since Newtown, gunned down in American streets, homes and neighborhoods.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, the White House.

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CHIOU: As man's reach spreads, so too does the destruction we cause. Coming up, CNN goes green and we head beneath the waves where over fishing, climate change and pollution are damaging ecosystems across the planet.

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CHIOU: It is spring in the northern hemisphere, but it sure doesn't feel that way in some areas. Meteorologist Samantha Moore is live at the world weather center with the latest on the snowy scenario. So, Samantha, where are we feeling the chill?

SAMANTHA MOORE, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'll tell you what, across the eastern half of the United States. We just have a big trough of low pressure in the jet stream and that has ushered in some very cold air and some snowy conditions here. Take a look at the gateway arch here in St. Louis where you almost can't even see it due to the fog and the snow that was coming down. Impressive snowfall amounts being reported in this morning all across the region. And a lot of travel woes due to the fact that this snow just came down so hard and so heavily. And of course that caused a lot of problems out on the roadways.

Also, Orlando seeing some incredible storms on the southern end of this system. Look at these trees came crashing down. Hardwood trees, palm trees, 86 mile per hour winds recorded at Orlando International Airport. Many traffic lights, hundreds of traffic lights reported out, so that also added to the problems with folks trying to get away from this storm and get home. But, boy, what a mess there.

And as we take a look at some of the numbers coming out of this system, it is pretty astounding. Since back in 1892, they haven't had this much snow, daily snow, in March in St. Louis. They ended up with 32 centimeters on the ground, even more than that in Springfield, Illinois and in Valdosta, Georgia, 122 millimeters of rain, some very heavy rain out of the severe thunderstorms that moved through the southern part of this system.

So the southern part of this system is still moving off to the east into the northeast. We have that area of low pressure bringing in more snow across the middle Atlantic, still some more snow in the Ohio Valley and into the Appalachian Mountains as we head through the early part of Tuesday.

You can see that low spinning around here. This is a satellite. And the radar picture showing that we are still seeing heavy snow and it should accumulate like this as we head into the next 48 hours, some 23 centimeters in Indianapolis and we could end up seeing up to several centimeters in the Washington, D.C. area. So that's going to cause some problems here as far as the airports go. Getting in and out of D.C. and Balitmore, we could see 45 minute to 60 minute delays.

And this isn't the only place we have seen severe weather. Take a look at the holes in this roof in China, in southeastern China. These are hail stone holes. These hailstones were the size of chicken eggs if you can imagine how much would that hurt to be hit by these. A lot of reports of some crop damage as well as these strong storms moved on through. And it looks like the pattern is going to stay unsettled here as well, Pauline, as we head into Tuesday.

So just heads up, keep an eye to the sky.

CHIOU: Yeah. And wear your hardhat if you're walking around that area. My goodness.

MOORE: No kidding.

CHIOU: OK.

MOORE: Be prepared.

CHIOU: Thanks so much. Yeah, thanks for the update, Samantha.

Well, all this week, CNN's special Going Green series is taking you on a journey beneath our oceans. We'll follow CNN's special correspondent Philippe Cousteau as he explores the Great Barrier Reef with a team of scientists. They're documenting the impact of climate change in areas fully protected, rarely seen, and difficult to get to. Here's the start of his exploration.

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PHILIPPE COUSTEAU, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: We're taking off over Australia's port of Gladstone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up here on your left hand side, you'll see the coal terminal.

COUSTEAU: It's hard to believe that in just a half hour, the brackish water surrounding one of the world's largest coal terminals will turn turquoise as we close in on the Great Barrier Reef. I'm headed to a dive site made famous by my grandfather several decades ago, but today it's a reef that's quickly disappearing.

OVE HOEGH-GULDBERG, HEAD SCIENTIST, CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY: We had a paper published by -- from Science done at the Australian History and Sciences that shows that half of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef has disappeared over the last 27 years. That's a momentous change. And if we continue on that pathway, the Great Barrier Reef will largely not have coral on it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. How are you?

COUSTEAU: I've been invited to spend a week with the researchers of the Catlin Seaview Survey.

RICHARD VEVERS, PROJECT DIRECTOR, CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY: There's amazing scientific work being done, but it's being read by about two sort of hundred people rather than the world. And we need to bridge this gap between scientific awareness and public understanding.

COUSTEAU: They're determined to complete the first comprehensive study of the Great Barrier Reef before it's too late. And that means starting early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we go earlier than high tide, we're going to have (inaudible) current.

COUSTEAU: At my first morning briefing with the team, project director Richard Vevers is clear about what the focus should be.

VEVERS: Like, (inaudible) put all our efforts into getting One Tree Island (inaudible).

COUSTEAU: One Tree Island, 20 kilometers away from our base at the Heron Island Research Station, it was named by early sailors for a notable piece of vegetation easily seen above the horizon. Today, it's known for life under the water.

And One Tree is like the Holy Grail around here in terms of opportunity to dive and see what's happening?

VEVERS: It's...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a pink zone, so...

VEVERS: It's a pink zone, so it's really important for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you can't get there unless you have a permit.

COUSTEAU: Is that the highest level of protection here at the Great Barrier Reef, a pink zone?

VEVERS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So there's no fishing. The only thing you can do is boat You can't go diving, snorkeling, just have a look at...

COUSTEAU: And even with that you need a permit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need a permit.

VEVERS: So only researchers can go in there.

COUSTEAU: So this reef would then conceivably be the most pristine, healthiest, beautiful...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely stunning.

COUSTEAU: So One Tree, that's the goal.

VEVERS: Yes.

COUSTEAU: I'll be praying to the weather gods for One Tree, then.

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CHIOU: All this week, we will bring you more of these incredible reports. The entire program called Going Green: Oceans airs on Friday. You can go to CNN.com/goinggreen to find all the showtimes and more information.

And that is News Stream, but the news continues right here at CNN. World Business Today is coming up next.

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