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tv   Focus on Europe  PBS  April 13, 2015 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT

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damien: hello and a very warm welcome to "focus on europe," great you could join us. i'm damien mcguinness. and on today's programme -- the french villagers who are helping after the germanwings crash, where the ukrainian revolutionaries have been fighting for freedom, and the british homeowners whose houses cost a pound. europeans are trying to come to terms with last week's terrible air crash in the alps. people all over the continent were shocked when a german aircraft, on its way back to germany from barcelona, crashed in france, killing all on board.
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the crash itself was bad enough. but the shock was even greater when investigators said they believed the plane's co-pilot had flown the aircraft into the mountain on purpose. desperate for answers, grieving relatives have been in the nearby french alpine village seyne-les-alpes, where local people are doing their very best to provide whatever help they can. reporter: it's a nightmare, just a few kilometres from their house. marc lusetti and natacha fulchiron live right at the foot of the tête de l'estrop, the peak below which so many people lost their lives. >> it's hard to believe all of this has happened here. it took a while for it to sink in.
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reporter: on march 24, just before 11:00 a.m., germanwings flight 9525 crashed into the massif in the french alps. 150 people died, many germans among them. the couple offered their help immediately after the disaster, providing accommodation for relatives of the victims. natacha works as a psychologist at a children's home in the village. she tells us that may be why she wasn't afraid of the situation or of being near people hit by such a tragedy. >> these people were using an enormous amount of energy dealing with the stress. first i brought them something to eat and drink. then i tried to identify their mental state. that's what i do as a psychologist. everyone reacts differently to traumatic experiences. you have to watch their reactions very closely, and above all help them find words to formulate their feelings, and just be there for them.
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reporter: magalie navelle has an idea of what the victims' families are going through. she's the village undertaker. after the crash, she immediately offered her professional services. she was shaken by what the rescuers told her. >> the morning of the next day i learned they didn't need my services because there were no bodies to be embalmed, only fragments. reporter: it was a shock not only for the relatives, but also for seyne-les-alpes. within hours, it became the site of a tragedy. everywhere there were closed-off roads, police and rescue workers. journalists laid siege to the small mountain village. but the people here all pitched in, sometimes with unconventional means, using shopping trolleys to transport water to rescue workers.
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bistro owner gilles ripert has been on the go from 6:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. he's exhausted, but says people here stick together. >> we opened on tuesday evening in emergency mode. now we've been serving about 200 meals a day. normally we serve about 40 to 50 meals a day. reporter: the victims' relatives are being strictly shielded from publicity during these days of mourning. at a memorial church service, we meet a german who's lived in the region for 15 years. nikki weiss has never stopped since the day of the crash. nikki: nobody knew whether relatives would be arriving on tuesday evening or wednesday morning, or when -- so it was good there was someone who could
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communicate with them, even though the red cross took care of the rest. reporter: she has been touched by how much mutual trust there has been between the french and the germans. nikki: some people phone me and ask me, one after another, to translate for them and explain things. reporter: it will take a long time to deal with the pain in seynes-les alpes. natacha fulchiron and marc lusetti know that, but in the past few days they, too, say they've sensed a deep solidarity that goes beyond borders.
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damien: next to our special series, in which we profile europe's most interesting squares, the piazzas and plazas which tell us something special about europe. and today we're looking at the maidan, in the ukrainian capital of kiev. it was here that protests erupted just over a year ago calling for closer integration with the eu. since then ukraine has seen a change of government and watched the east of the country descend into conflict. but for many ukrainians maidan remains a reminder of what they are fighting for. reporter: thousands of people cross it every day. it's the heart of the ukrainian capital kyiv, independence square. people often call it just the maidan, "the square." maksym balenko has been coming here for more than a year. he's actually from the provinces, but since the beginning of the revolution in late 2013, the maidan has been his home.
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for months there were demonstrations on the maidan against the autocratic regime of the pro-russian president viktor yanukovych. months of protests for democratic reform. since then, the maidan has symbolised that revolution. maksym balenko and his friends were there from the very start. the square has changed his life. >> i now have a definite aim in life. i've understood that my opinion bears weight. i'm worth something. i can change something! reporter: nowadays many of the demonstrators of old crossing the square are soldiers fighting in eastern ukraine against the pro-russian separatists. it's at the heart of the ukrainian capital and it's now also a part of the front in a way. maksym and his friends are converting a house here into a
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hostel for soldiers passing through. >> it's symbolic. it's an extension of the protests on the maidan. reporter: this war is a major effort for the whole of ukraine. without the thousands of volunteers, it's said, the government troops wouldn't have a chance. after 45 days, the soldiers come back from the east. many stop off here, and can spend the night for free. >> we're the first to offer them help when they come to kyiv -- with a warm shower. many want to wash their clothes. we give them civilian clothing if we have it. reporter: the one-time revolutionaries are now hostel staff. the nine friends are renovating more and more rooms, as long as their building supplies last. >> even back during the protests on the maidan, the most
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important thing was being able to organise yourself. we all played a part and we all understood where our place is in this country. >> for ukrainians, the maidan is more than just the central square in the capital kyiv. it symbolises the revolution of dignity, as it's called here -- the revolution that took place more than a year ago. and it's the central meeting place every day. reporter: and it has other attractions, costumed comic-book figures who let you take their pictures for a tip. pictures on display -- photographs of the revolution. they're a reminder of the months of struggle for democracy in icy winter temperatures.
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the first of 100 victims died nearby, in front of the national library. sergiy olifer was in the library from the very beginning. he and some colleagues set up an infirmary for the wounded there. surgery was performed on book tables. >> i hope it brings us some change for the better. reporter: that's what they all hope here on the maidan, and in the entire war-torn country. damien: here in germany a row has broken out between traditional gun clubs and unesco, the cultural arm of the un. the clubs date back to the middle ages, but at times
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they've been controversial. in the 1930's some had close links to the nazis, and enthusiastically excluded jews from joining. today there are thousands of shooting clubs throughout germany and some are still controversial jeopardising chances that unesco will grant the tradition cultural heritage status not by excluding jews but by snubbing muslims. reporter: local gun clubs are a german tradition that goes back centuries. many towns and villages have them. most of the members of the shooting fraternity in hackenbroich in the rhineland, are catholics. even its slogan refers to religion. "faith, morality, homeland" it says. >> the charter of the club stipulates that members have to be of the christian faith and accept and conform to fundamental christian values and principles. reporter: that means a muslim or atheist wouldn't have a chance.
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>> formally, that's not possible. that's right. reporter: because gun clubs and shooting fraternities are rooted in tradition and target shooting is a skill, the european union petitioned to have the organizations listed as intangible heritage in unesco's world cultural heritage program. but unesco sent the application back, citing clauses in some clubs' charters that exclude religious diversity. anthropologists say these are no longer appropriate today. >> traditions aren't things like putting granny's coffee pot in a glass cabinet only to never touch or move it. traditions are living and must be actively experienced within the context of society. reporter: unesco's disagreement with the shooting clubs was triggered by a case from sönnern in westfalia.
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a turkish-german, mithat gedik, was named king of the marksmen'' festival in the summer of 2014. but because he was a muslim, his club was threatened with expulsion from the fraternitie'' national organization. the conflict has escalated to the point where neither gedik, nor his shooting fraternity, nor unesco want to give an interview on the issue. the gedik case has tarnished the image of the shooting clubs. more and more say they plan to become more diverse and open in future. the marksmen in buschhoven, near bonn, amended their charter a few years ago. they're no longer a fraternity. now they call themselves a sports shooting club. atheists and muslims can join -- religion is no longer important -- but that's not the case with the national association. >> i'll be perfectly honest with you -- these people have a screw loose. that's all there is to it. anyone who says things like that are really strange.
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reporter: the debate about traditional and modern clubs has got the people in buschhoven all wound up. they don't want any club in their village to exclude muslims. >> there are plenty of people who think that's bad and say, "we don't want to have anything to do with them." reporter: and at the fraternity in hackenbroich in the rhineland, they're also coming round to the idea that muslim neighbors should be able to join the club, too. >> he plays cards and dice with us. why shouldn't he be able to join the club and wear the uniform? >> we're talking about people and not religions or personal attitudes. reporter: now the national association wants to reconsider its position as well. damien: a venerable tradition or outdated prejudice? let me know what you think about that or any of our stories by
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getting in touch on twitter, or by sending me an email via our website. but now to the netherlands, where for decades us tanks were sent to be repaired. it's alleged that people working on the vehicles came into contact with a paint chemical now known to cause cancer. hundreds of workers say their health has been ruined and they're accusing the dutch authorities of a hush-up. reporter: henk coort worked as head mechanic at brunssum military base for more than 20 years. he was always proud of his work. >> here, in number 12 and over there -- in both garages, i did lots of work. they were my favorite places to work. seeing them so empty now cuts me to the bone. back then there was so much going on here, it was fantastic.
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reporter: henk shows us photographs taken in the 1990's. he and his colleauges were repairing us army tanks, most coming directly from the gulf war. they repainted them, gave them complete mechanical overhauls and changed the filters. the dutch defense ministry took over the contract for the job from the americans. >> it all started with the tanks that came from the first gulf war. i had joint inflammation, trouble with my nails and i was tired. they were all weird things that weren't right. and after working there for awhile, all my hair fell out. reporter: today, henk is seriously ill. five years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. his fingernails have disappeared. when he goes to bed, he has to put on plastic gloves to prevent injury to his fingers. he's sure his illness was caused by his job. he took photos the last time he was on the base -- two years
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ago. his workplaces were marked with warning signs. henk suspects hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, is what's making him ill. it's a highly toxic heavy metal used in rust-preventing paints, including on tanks. >> chromium 6 is a specific chromium compound and is known to cause cancer in humans. they've known for quite a long time that inhaling hexavalent chromium compounds can cause lung cancer. reporter: and other types of cancer as well. chromium 6 paints are still used today, however, including in aviation. now in the netherlands, sensitive documents have surfaced apparently showing that measurements taken 15 years ago already indicated that levels of the substance at henk's workplace were dangerously high. henk's lawyer, who's now representing dozens of clients like henk, says the dutch defence ministry is to blame.
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>> the concentrations found there were life threatening. and people told me no protective measures were taken. that means the defence ministry knew the work was very dangerous for 14 years, but they did nothing. reporter: the ministry isn't commenting at the moment. the garages have been closed. and the ministry has approved ex-gratia payments ranging from 3,000 to 15,000 euros, though it has not admitted liability. tony lammers has copies of the documents. he shows us that the concentrations are much higher than safe legal limits. >> this is the brunssum site. and you can see it right here. the chromium 6 values are 823
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milligrams per kilo on the office side. that's far, far, far too high! reporter: tony is also seriously ill. his immune system has stopped working. he says his body is raging with inflammation. sometimes, the pain is unbearable. his drugs fill an entire cabinet shelf -- powerful painkillers are among them. >> i'm not angry, just boundlessly disappointed that some people can do this to others. i was like a little wooden puppet to them, a number, we were nothing more than that. reporter: the public pressure unleashed by the people who've become ill is having an effect. the dutch defence ministry has commissioned a group of experts to investigate if compensation should be paid. henk says he'll keep fighting as long as he can. damien: and finally to britain,
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which is suffering from a housing crisis. for years now property prices have been rising but ordinary wages haven't, meaning that many people can't afford a suitable home. with an election approaching and the campaign now officially underway politicians from both sides are pledging to build more houses. but the irony is that in many city centres, buildings are standing empty. now one town, stoke-on-trent, has come up with a solution, give away those empty houses for a pound each. reporter: this could hardly be described as prime real estate. in fact, the portland street area of stoke-on-trent is poor and rundown. few people would chose to live here, you might think. not so. theresa and lawrence poxton are among a number of recent arrivals in the neighbourhood.
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they are delighted to be here, despite the rubbish. and even though the local pub closed years ago. though a few shops would be nice. >> shops yes, pub no. i am not much of a drinker. but shops, yeah. >> it is wonderful. it is great. we are really enjoying it. reporter: they have been the proud owners of number 21 denbigh street for a year and a half now. we first met them back then. they were excited about the prospect of having their own home. it cost them just one pound, plus a commitment to pay off up to 30,000 pounds worth of renovation work. >> a lot of mortgage companies turn you down, it's a no straight away basically because of the age. the age thing. so this has come as a real big bonus for us. we are just so happy. reporter: zainul pirmohamed came up with the one-pound purchase scheme. she works for the city council.
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the municipality bought 35 houses from a regeneration agency, and offered them to residents of stoke who would agree to live in them and do them up. >> in the next two to three years this area will become just like any other terraced street, a self-functioning, happy, healthy place where people just get about their own business and feel safe to come out of their homes and actally live happy healthy lives. reporter: the neighbourhood fell into disrepair over the past two decades or so, prostitution, drugs, petty crime, fly tipping became serious problems. the new scheme is a vote of confidence in the city and its people, to restore life and and a sense of community to the area. rachel roberts was elated to be allocated one of the houses. her greatgrandparents had lived in the neighbourhood, and her greataunt still did. the house was a sobering sight, but she was not deterred by the decay. on the contrary, she was keen to
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move in and create a new home. and she was also encouraged by zainul pirmohamed. >> it means quite a lot, because obviously my family history is in this area. and it is great to finally be moving away from the parents and begin to have a bit of independence at home as well as in everyday life. so it is a really exciting time. in the next few years it is going to be really exciting. reporter: the transformation over the past year and a half is astounding. the bathroom is entirely new. new owner-occupiers have ten years to pay back the costs.
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rachel roberts is active in the local community, and has set up a facebook group about the portland street area. >> it just needs elements of trust built up between old residents and the council. once they start see things improving, i think that will add extra positivity to the whole experience. reporter: some longtime residents have mixed feelings about the recent changes. on the one hand, the newcomers are receiving lots of help, while they did not. on the other, things are looking up. life is returning. the desolation may be coming to an end.>> we used to have everyg here. not just a shop, we had three, four shops. chip shops, post boxes, everything was on the estate, a church. now we've got nothing at all. reporter: lawrence poxton shows us some of the industrial ruins. stoke-on-trent was once rich, the centre of the british pottery industry. then pottery production moved to china. the town fell on hard times. but things are looking up again. the population is growing.
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the poxtons are happy to be here. they see the redevelopment scheme as pioneering. >> without a shadow of a doubt they should start doing it in other areas. instead of constantly knocking houses down and selling the land off to developers and then building houses people can't afford. reporter: nights in the neighbourhood are mostly peaceful these days. crime is down. community commitment is up. rachel roberts, the other new arrivals and the locals can sleep tight. damien: well that's all for today. thanks very much for watching. do feel free to get in touch with any comments. tweet me and i'll tweet you right back. or drop me an email. always great to hear from you. but for now it's goodbye from me and all the team here, and look forward to seeing you next time. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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hello there and welcome to "newsline." it's tuesday april 14th. i'm catherine kobayashi in tokyo. people in nigeria are coming together the mark nor than one year since 200 female students were kidnapped by the islamic extremist group boko haram. they gathered on monday to demonstrate in the nigeriian capital. many put tape on their mouths as a show of

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