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CNN 10 - February 21, 2018

CNN 10

Fighting in the Syrian Capital Takes a Toll on Civilians; Venezuela hopes a Cryptocurrency Can Help its Economy; A Look at Olympic Diplomacy

Aired February 21, 2018 - 04:00 ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: Got a lot of international news to tell you about today on CNN 10. Thank you for coming along with us. I`m Carl Azuz at the CNN Center.

First report takes us to the Middle East, where the fight is getting more intense in one of the last parts of Syria that`s controlled by rebels who are fighting the government. Eastern Ghouta is a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, almost 400,000 people live there, and eastern Ghouta has been completely surrounded by Syrian government forces for more than four years. It`s supposed to be what`s called a de-escalation zone, meaning an area where civilians can live without being targeted by anyone fighting in Syria`s civil war.

But observes in the region say that shelling and a series of airstrikes by the Syrian government have killed at least 250 civilians in the past 48 hours and turn parts of eastern Ghouta to rubble. A hospital director there says the airstrikes are nothing new, that they have been going on for years, but that residents have not seen anything like the violence of recent days. So, why was eastern Ghouta targeted?

The Syrian government says rockets and mortars were launched from there on Tuesday and that they killed five civilians and injured 20 others.

Government media say the Syrian army responded with, quote, precise strikes that targeted rocket launchers and defensive positions of the armed rebels there.

The ISIS terrorist group has also played a part in Syria`s civil war but it`s lost a lot of ground in the country over the past year and Syrian government forces supported by Russia are making a major effort to take over the remaining areas that are held by rebels.

The civilians who live in eastern Ghouta say they expect the government will launch an offensive on the ground in the days ahead.

The conflict in Syria has been going on since 2011. The United Nations estimates that 400,000 people have been killed and millions have had to leave their homes or get out of the country altogether.

Next, we`re traveling to the South American nation of Venezuela, which is trying something new to help save its failing economy. Venezuela used to be the wealthiest country in Latin America, but its government has become increasingly authoritarian in recent years, taking over businesses, limiting people`s freedoms and increasing its controls over the nation`s economy. And now, that economy is in shambles.


SUBTITLE: Venezuela caught the world`s attention in 2017 with months of anti-regime protests.

In 2018, empty supermarket shelves and looting show the economy is still at a dangerous low.

Skyrocketing prices and rampant inflation of over 4,000 percent last year have devoured people`s salaries.

Venezuela`s currency, the bolivar, lost 98 percent of its value in one year.

Getting money out of the bank has become a huge struggle.

Years of government mismanagement and widespread corruption have crippled the economy.

At the end of 2017 oil production fell to one of its lowest points in nearly three decades.

That further deprived the cash-strapped country of its only major source of revenue.

President Maduro tried to control prices and raised the minimum wage to curtail the crisis.


AZUZ: And now with its currency almost completely worthless, Venezuela`s government is turning to a cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, to try to bring in revenue. It`s called the petro. It`s the first government cryptocurrency in the world. It`s hope to bring in more than $200 billion for Venezuela that`s supposed to be supported by Venezuela`s reserves of crude oil and precious metals like gold.

Some investors say the idea is innovative and that might attract investment from the Middle East, Europe and Asia. But many economists say the petro is not going to solve Venezuela`s problems of food shortages, decreasing oil production and people living the country.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says an economic war against his country that`s been waged by the U.S. and other nations is responsible for Venezuela`s problems. U.S. President Donald Trump says the Venezuelan government is a dictatorship. And America is one of several countries that want Venezuelan President Maduro to either leave or democratically reform his government.


AZUZ (voice-over): Ten-second trivia.

Which of these events was not part of the first Winter Olympics, which were held in 1924?

Curling, ice hockey, military patrol or luge?

In the events that became known as the first Winter Olympics, luge was not an event. It didn`t become part of the games until 1964.


AZUZ: In addition to the athletes, the events and the weather, a lot of attention on this year`s games has centered on North and South Korea.

There appears to have been a significant improvement in relations between the two rivals.

Some international analysts are skeptical. They think this is a calm before the storm, that trouble may be ahead with regard to North Korea after the Olympics are over. Others think the positivity is a sign of good things to come.


REPORTER: What does a flag mean to you?

For some, it`s pride. For others, symbolism. For Korean athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics, it means bringing together two countries still technically at war.

JUNG WOO LEE, EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY: Until the end of the 2017, the relationship between the two Koreas was very, very cold. Almost, war was imminent at the time, as due to circumstances. But this conflict-laden atmosphere certainly changes because of the Olympic Games.

REPORTER: Dr. Jung Woo Lee is a Korean academic currently researching the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

JUNG: It is quite difficult to say whether the mood of the dialogue maintain after the Olympic Games, but at least this is a very, very good sign for the two Korea and they also agreed to have another conversation to ease military tensions over the Korean peninsula.

REPORTER: Some hope that this could be like the Ping Pong Diplomacy that helped thaw the Cold War relations between Chin and the USA in the early `70s.

MUHAMMAD DARWISH, CNN: How do you think this compares to Ping Pong Diplomacy between the U.S. and China?

UDO MERKEL, EXPERT IN SOCIOLOGY AND THE POLITICS OF SPORT: There is something quite similar here, Ping Pong Diplomacy, in the early 1970s was meant to initiate something. Here the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are also used as a kind of spark to initiate something else. But then, there are also a lot of other issues where we don`t find any commonalities, there hadn`t been a war in the same way as the Korean war still overshadows relations between North and South Korea, and America and so on.

So, yes, there is a degree of similarity, but they`re quite different.

REPORTER: See, this isn`t the first time North and South Korea have marched together. In 1991, at the World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, the two countries competed as one for the first time. Since then, the two walked out together no fewer than seven times at different world events.

South Korean speed skater Bo-ra Lee participated in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin under the united flag. She spoke to CNN about what it was like.

BO-RA LEE, SOUTH KOREAN OLYMPIAD (translated): As we were entering together and holding the unified flag, Arirang was playing. My heart felt very full. It was very touching.

REPORTER: But while emotions were high for athletes, neither the flag nor the games have done much to progress peace talks in the past.

DARWISH: This has happened before, but it hasn`t really brought about much material change. So, you know, what`s to say that this time`s any different?

MERKEL: Well, it has happened before, but the context was slightly different. It happened before to really communicate foreign policy that usually happens behind closed doors to the people. For the last 10 years, there hasn`t really been any kind of serious politics happening between North and South Korea. And for the last two years, they haven`t even talked to each other. The purpose is totally different. It`s much more about, perhaps rekindling, this kind of flame of diplomacy.

REPORTER: For many sports fans around the world, the games are not about politics. For many living in North and South Korea, sports and politics go hand in hand.



AZUZ: A set of dentures belonging to first U.S. President George Washington is preserved in his historic home. But a lock of his hair might have recently fallen out of history.

New York`s Union College was recently reviewing its inventory and the hair fell out of an almanac dating back to 1793. Historians believe that Washington gave the book to Alexander Hamilton`s family who are friends of his and locks of hair were commonly given as gifts back then.

It was a way to show you really keratin, that you filament to do something special, even if that meant tearing your hear out. Some historians may bristle about the assumption. They may have a strand of doubt and demand the DNA test to get a lock on the facts so that no one sideburn. Either way, it`s where today`s show split ends. We hope you like our style on CNN 10.