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Day One Of Oscar Pistorius Trial; Russian Troops Continue Occupation of Crimea; At Least 10 Dead As Attackers Descend On Chinese Subway Station

Aired March 3, 2014 - 8:30   ET



PAULINE CHIOU, HOST: Let's get the very latest now from senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He's live outside the courtroom in Pretoria.

So Nic, as we've been hearing for the past four or five hours, this neighbor Michelle Burger has been going back and forth with the defense attorney. He's been pushing her very hard to clarify certain parts of her testimony. What exactly is the defense trying to do with this witness?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is trying to -- it appears as if he's trying to create some kind of doubt about what she is saying by questioning what her husband said in terms of the number of shots, had exchanges about the -- about the translation from Afrikaans not being adequate.

She is a -- or began at least as a nervous witness. Certainly there are a lot of people who would look at this, look at the defense attorney there Barry Roux, look how tough he's being with this witness and be very glad they're not standing in her shoes right now. She came forward for the prosecution to say that she heard a woman screaming, a man shouting -- not quite clear what he was shooting "woo, woo, woo" she said. That he heard a woman screaming again in such a fashion that it was coming to a crescendo that she believed that something horrible was about to happen and then she described the gunshots.

The defense attorney appears as if he is trying to introduce some doubt in what she has said, some questions about whether she has recollected this correctly, whether she has discussed with her husband.

And those -- that accusation that we just heard there -- you're adapting, you're speculating, you are closing the gaps. That doesn't get - - that's only barely a step away itself from accusing her of being completely inaccurate. So it does also give the impression he's trying to rattle her as well.

She certainly came in as a nervous witness here, Pauline.

CHIOU: Well, Nic, we should also explain to our viewers why we're not seeing her. For the very first time we do have cameras in the court room here in South Africa, but the judge has decided not to put certain people on camera, namely witnesses who do not wish to be on camera, and also Oscar Pistorius if he does, indeed, testify.

Another element to the opening day of this trial is the defense attorney's strategy of casting doubt on the testimony, it wasn't just the number of shots and the scream, but he was also casting doubt on her version of saying that she heard a man's voice as well as a woman's voice, because she said she heard the shots, she heard petrified screams from a woman and also a man's voice asking for help.

She has acknowledged that her house is about 170 meters away from the former home of Oscar Pistorius, so what exactly is the defense attorney trying to do in terms of -- of asking her about the voices. Is he trying to infer that perhaps it was the same person screaming?

ROBERTSON: It's not quite clear what point he's getting at, because another point that was raised was that after the shots were fired, Oscar Pistorius wanted to get into the bathroom when he realized that Reeva Steenkamp wasn't in the bed, that he couldn't kick the door down with his prosthetic legs, that he then took a cricket bat to the door to smash the door down.

The inference the defense attorney seeming to apply there that that would have been noisy as well. And the neighbor saying that she didn't hear these sounds of the cricket bat. So is he trying to introduce the fact that she isn't quite properly hearing everything that went on and therefore this is testimony that might, at some point, have to be discounted because it can't be remember correctly. She may not have heard it correctly. She might have misinterpreted the bits that she did hear. So that seems to be the direction he's going in.

What was interesting earlier on was when the defense attorney spoke about some of the things that he would be bringing up later in the trial to defense Oscar Pistorius. One of them say -- one of the points that he made that was that there was no evidence that there have been an argument. And there was no proof, no evidence that there had been an argument between Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp that night and no witnesses to support that. So that is something he has been very clear about even before this witness took the stand.

The other point that he made, and perhaps this is relevant because Oscar Pistorius has said when he shot through the door he thought Reeva Seenkamp was asleep in bed. We now know that the defense attorney says Pistorius talked to Steenkamp in bed shortly before all this incident began, therefore implying he thought that's where she was -- Pauline.

CHIOU: All right. And this is just the first day and the first witness of dozens. And we're only about six hours into this trial.

Nic Robertson live there in Pretoria outside the courthouse, thank you.

Now let's go to our other big story this hour in the Ukraine, where the situation in Crimea is escalating rapidly. Ukraine's new leaders have accused Russia of declaring war. A senior U.S. official tells CNN, Russian forces are now in complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula.

Ukraine's government has mobilized its troops in response. Moscow says it's just trying to protect ethnic Russians in that region.

Our Diana Mangay is following the fast moving developments in Crimea. And she joins us now live from the city of Simferapol.

Diana, the last time we saw you it was fairly quiet. What is the situation now?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still quiet in Simferapol, but it is a very mysterious place. You have these soldiers who keep appearing and disappearing. Yesterday they were outside the parliament building. Now that seems to be unguarded. You had some very sort of -- a lot of people doing pro-Russian demonstrations yesterday and over the weekend. That felt kind of staged as though it was there for our cameras and they were very well rehearsed about what they would say and what they wouldn't.

Today, there has been a pro-Ukrainian rally in another part of the city far away, though, from the center because the people who are holding the rally were scared to be close the these sort of pro-Russian demonstrations. And on the military side we know from a Ukrainian military source that now 10 naval and military bases have been surrounded by what we believe to be Russian troops. Of course they're not wearing any kind of military insignia. Also that there have been attacks on boarder posts along Crimea's eastern side and that at one border post there are reports of armored vehicles on the Russian side amassing.

So it would appear as though the Russians -- there are already these troops on the ground and that they are getting ready to send quite a lot more in, Pauline.

CHIOU: Diana, this area where you are, the majority is ethnically Russian, but it is quite a diverse group as well. It's known to be more of a pro-Russian area, but privately what are people saying there?

MAGNAY: Well, it's very mixed. It's very difficult to say that. You're right that it is predominately ethnic Russian. 57 percent ethnic Russians, around 25 percent ethnic Ukrainians and 12 percent ethnic Tartars.

Now the Tartars were persecuted under Stalin. They've only recently returned to their indigenous homeland. And they hate the Russians and are very scared by the presence of the Russian military here on their streets and a prospect of essentially an annexation by Russia.

And also there are many Russians amongst the ethnic Russians who aren't very happy about this military presence here. And most people as you speak to say they do want to remain a part of Ukraine.

And I was looking at a very interesting survey actually conducted just before the ouster of President Yanukovych by the Kiev International Institute for Sociology. And it said that even in Crimea 44 percent -- only 44 percent those asked wanted to be a apart of Russia. So not even the majority here want to align themselves wholeheartedly with Russia. For the entire of Ukraine that figure was down to just 26 percent.

So that does give you an indication, even though this area is majority ethnic Russian, even though on the streets here in these demonstrations you see people shouting Putin, Putin and celebrating the Berkut, this riot police unit which was disbanded last week and which was so feared by the protesters on the Maidan, they do not speak for the entirety of this region -- Pauline.

CHIOU: All right, thank you for putting the nuances and the cultural influences into context for us. Diana Magnay there live in Crimea.

Well, remember Russian handed Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Ukraine's acting prime minister says Kiev will not give Crimea away. In comments reported by Interfax News Agency he says Russia has no grounds for the use of military force.

Russia's foreign minister is accusing Ukraine's new leaders of violating human rights. Sergey Lavrov says radicals, those are his words, control some Ukrainian towns.

Now he spoke with his Chinese counterpart on the phone and says the two nations have in his words coinciding viewpoints on the situation.

Meanwhile, seven of the world's industrialized powers are offering financial assistance to Ukraine. The G7 has also suspended their preparations for the G8 summit which is set to be hosted by Russia in June.

Well, NATO held emergency meetings on Ukraine on Sunday. The NATO secretary-general says Russia's actions in Ukraine violate the principles of the United Nations charter as well as international law. CNN's Erin McLaughlin joins us now live from Brussels for more on the NATO response.

Erin, what's coming out of there from Brussels?


Well, this morning the EU foreign ministers holding an extraordinary meeting here in Brussels that is underway. Some of the ministers upon arrival saying that they are not optimistic that a resolution to the situation will be reached in the coming hours let alone the coming days.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt saying that any sort of political solution will need to be based on a withdrawal of Russian forces as well as Russia would need to take away any sort of threat of invasion of Ukraine. Take a listen to what he had to say.


CARL BILDT, SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not very optimistic if you talk about the next few hours. I think the Russians are still impressed of -- some in Russia still impressed by their military might. But I think after awhile they will see the limitations. Military might is not the way to make friends in Europe, not to make friends in the world. And I think in some point in time, they will start to see that.

I don't think it will happened today, I don't think it will happen tomorrow or perhaps even the day after tomorrow, but it will happen.


CHIOU: On the agenda for the ministers here today, ways in which the EU can apply pressure on Russia. We also understand that it is possible that sanctions could be a part of that debate.

We also expect the European Union to join what has been a growing course -- chorus, rather, of condemnation across Europe about what's happening in Russia yesterday. As you mentioned, the NATO secretary- general convened a meeting -- two meetings actually in Brussels in which he talked for over seven hours with ministers. He had this to say following that meeting on behalf of 28 NATO ambassadors. Take a listen.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: NATO allies have agreed a statement, which sets out our position. We condemn Russia's military escalation in Crimea. We express our grave concern regarding the authorization by the Russian parliament of the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine.


CHIOU: Now that was followed by another statement by the G7 explaining that they would suspend any preparatory activities ahead of the G8 summit, which is scheduled for Sochi, Russia in June. And then today Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general calling on Russia not to do anything that might escalate tensions, a message he'll no doubt be giving to the Russian foreign minister in person when he meets with him later today -- Pauline.

CHIOU: There's a huge flurry of activity among the leaders there internationally, even though leaders there acknowledge they're not optimistic today.

Erin, thank you very much. Erin McLaughlin there live from Brussels.

Well, Critics of Mr. Putin's actions in Crimea are pointing to an opinion piece written by the Russian President himself. It was published in The New York Times in September when the U.S. was considering a military strike on Syria.

Mr. Putin warned Washington against acting without authorization from the UN secretary council. He wrote, "it is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States."

Mr. Putin went on to argue for diplomacy saying, "we must stop using the language of force."

Well, China's Xinhua news agency says three more suspects have been captured after this weekend's attack in Kunming. A vigil has been held for the 29 people killed the city's train station. David McKenzie has more.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The bloody aftermath of a horrific attack, bodies scattered across Kunming station in southwest China. The suspects wielded long knives and machetes as they struck.

Authorities describe it as a coordinated attack. They say 10 attackers came, mostly dressed in black, perhaps including one woman, and started hacking and stabbing people indiscriminately.

"I saw four people die right here," says Hu Jirong (ph). "It was such a terrible sight. One person was lying face down with a knife still stuck in their back."

She says hundreds, many of them wounded, fled for their lives.

"They came running towards here trying to find a place to hide," say Ohsong Chung (ph). "We let them all in so they could stay safe."

Chung (ph) says they've washed away the blood now and they're trying to move on.

But his 3-year-old son Ju Yu (ph) witnessed the terror and he can't sleep. The emotional wounds have cut too deep. The physical wounds are still being counted.

This ward is overflowing with victims from this attack, many of them - - in fact, most of them that I've seen have wounds directly to the head. It's clear that these attackers were aiming to kill.

So 58-year-old street vendor Dong Wenchiang (ph) is lucky, he was taking a train to visit his sick mother. His wife is still in shock.

"We never could have imagined this happening," she says.

Dong (ph) slips in and out of consciousness, bits of blade still stuck in his skull.

His daughter hopes he will make it through surgery OK. But mostly, she's angry.

"I just feel those people are horrible," she says. "And I hate them.:

Like many here, she's searching for answers as Kunming takes stock of its loss.

David McKenzie, CNN, Kunming, China.


CHIOU: And we have just gotten word that day one of the Oscar Pistorius trial has ended. There were opening statements and the first witness took the stand, that was Michelle Burger. She was a neighbor of Oscar Pistorius and she spent the past five hours or so in a contentious discussion with the defense attorney about what she heard that night about year ago.

We'll be right back after this break.


CHIOU: The opening day of the Oscar Pistorius trial has just ended. And while the case is about Pistorius, the issue of personal safety in South Africa is sure to play a part in the proceedings.

Robyn Curnow explains why, but before we begin we do have a warning, this story begins with graphic images that have been blurred out.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A crime scene cordoned off, a man stabbed to death as a community looks on. About 45 people are murdered in South Africa every day, according to police statistics. Many others are hijacked in their cars or attacked at home.

South Africans are also aware that the country's high crime rate will be as much in focus in the upcoming court proceedings as Oscar Pistorius.

Johann Burger is a former policeman who now works as a crime researcher at the Institute of Security Studies.

JOHANN BURGER, INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES: I'm also afraid. You know, I've got a whole procedure that I go through every every evening to make certain that as far as is possible for me.

I have all my security systems in place.

I'm not going to say you know what else I do, but the fact is I am aware of the situation in this country. And I think it would be completely irresponsible not to take appropriate action.

CURNOW: Pistorius shot his own nine millimeter just like this one, pumping four hollow point bullets, according to sources familiar with an investigation through a locked bathroom door hitting his girlfriend inside.

Pistorius' defense is that he was scared of an intruder and so took appropriate action, unaware that Reeva was behind the door.

However, Barry Pieters who is a competitive target shooter says South Africa's gun laws are tight and clear about safety and self-defense.

BARRY PIETERS, COMPETITIVE TARGET SHOOTER: You have to be under serious -- under a serious life threatening situation. There's no ways that you can just -- you know, think that you're being attacked and then fire a weapon at somebody.

CURNOW: As for the ballistics, while it's not illegal to own hollow point bullets as Pieters demonstrates, compared to other bullets on the market they are destructive on impact.

PIETERS: You see the little serrations on the side, which when on impact those little serrations will open up like that and besides there are mushroom that it will form. It will form almost like a little fan. Remember now it's also spinning. So you can imagine the amount of damage that can do to you.

CURNOW: Pistorius says in court documents he felt especially vulnerable because he didn't have his prosthetics on.

In 2008, in the room he would eventually share with Reeva Steenkamp that night, Pistorius showed CNN where his legs were amputated as a child.

OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: It's about midway. I mean, if you had to put it about there, it would be about halfway down.

CURNOW: It's this disability, and the high crime rate, that'll no doubt be used in court as a reason for Pistorius' alleged fear and paranoia about an intruder in the night.

Meanwhile, the state will continue to argue that he knew who was behind the closed door and that he deliberately shot Reeva Steenkamp dead.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Pretoria.


CHIOU: And News Stream will be back after this short break.


CHIOU: The stars were out in force for the Oscars. And they even managed to break records online. Mikaela Pereira has all the highlights from the Oscars.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR: And the Oscar goes to...

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a night full of inspirational speeches.

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, ACTOR: When you got God, you got a friend and that friend is you.

PEREIRA: The magnetic Matthew McConaughey winning best actor and his co-star, Jared Leto, best supporting actor, with their transformational roles in "Dallas Buyers Club".

JARED LETO, ACTOR: To those of you who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love, tonight I stand here in front with the world with you and for you. Thank you so much.

PEREIRA: Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o named best supporting actress for her powerful performance.

LUPITA NYONG'O, ACTRESS: When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid.

PEREIRA: And a light-hearted Cate Blanchett took home best actress for her work in "Blue Jasmine".

CATE BLANCHETT, ACTRESS: Sit down, you're too old to be standing, having fun with some of her fellow nominees.

Julia hashtag (AUDIO GAP). You know what I mean?

PEREIRA: The evening's biggest honor awarded to the film based on a true story, "12 Years a Slave."

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: We all get to stand up here tonight because of one man who brought us all together to tell his story, and that is the indomitable Mr. Steve McQueen.

The honor making history. McQueen is the first black director to win best motion picture.

STEVE MCQUEEN, FILM DIRECTOR: I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery.

PEREIRA: It was also a night of wild star antics.

A-listers shaking and shimmying to Pharrell's performance of "Despicable Me, Two's Happy."

Host Ellen DeGeneres snapping this celebrity selfie, gaining millions of retweets and even crashing Twitter servers.


PEREIRA: The seasoned comedian even handing out pizza.

DEGENERES: Kerry Washington is pregnant, she needs some.

PEREIRA: The over three-hour was packed with all-star singers, Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath my Wings." And Pink's rendition of "Over the Rainbow." All receiving standing ovation.

But it was the surprise appearance by legendary actor Sidney Poitier that really lifted the crowd.

SIDNEY POITIER, ACTOR: Please keep up the tremendous work.


CHIOU: And that was Michaela Pereira reporting on Oscar night.

Now before we go let's recap our two top stories. First, Ukraine and Russia are in a standoff over the strategic stronghold of Crimea. Ukraine's acting prime minister says Russia has no grounds for the use of force. He previously accused Moscow of declaring war and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his forces.

Ukraine border security says armed gunmen are attacking border posts in eastern Crimea. Gunmen are also said to be blocking ten Ukrainian military and naval bases, but CNN's correspondent in the regional capital Simferapol, Diana Magna she's there, says the streets are relatively quiet right now.

Western nations are worried about the situation, however. British foreign secretary William Hague is currently in Kiev. And the U.s. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected there on Tuesday.

G7 nations are also offering some economic support for cash strapped Ukraine.

And then our other big story in South Africa, the first day of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial has just come to a close. The trial was late in starting, but it would seem quickly made up for lost time. Both a defense and prosecution made their opening statements. Pistorius pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, including to the most serious charge of premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. She died in his home a year ago on Valentine's Day.

Now much of this first day was taken up by the testimony of the prosecutions first witness. Neighbor Michelle Burger testified that she heard blood curdling screams on the night Steenkamp was killed. She says that those screams were petrified.

The court is due back in session tomorrow. It's expected to last at least three weeks.

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