this is bbc world news, i'm james reynolds. our top stories: the un says parts of idlib province in syria are almost deserted as nearly 250,000 people flee from a government offensive. russia puts into service strategic missiles it claims can travel 27 times the speed of sound. as chile's president gives in to one of the key demands of anti—government protesters. we have a special report on how months of unrest have changed what was once one of latin america's most stable nations. and as new year celebrations fast approach, how parisians are seeing the dangers of drink driving close—up. hello and welcome to bbc news.
the united nations estimates that nearly 250,000 people have fled syria's idlib province in the past three weeks. the government and russian forces are intensifying their attacks on what is the rebels‘ last stronghold. the un says the maarat al—numan region in southern idlib is now almost empty — as the bbc‘s tim allman reports. before the war, more than 50,000 people lived and worked and thrived here, but now it looks more like a ghost town. the streets almost empty, the houses deserted. convoys of cars and vans and lorries snaking out of this town and others like it as the people of idlib flee for their lives. from the end of april until the end of august, we had more than 400,000 people displaced at that time. so the latest displacement figures
comes on top of that, so what we have is one crisis compounding another. these are desperate times, people taking what they can, what few possessions they are able to carry with them. many have fled north, heading to refugee camps like this one near the border with turkey. it's safer here, but these people have lost everything. each and every day is a struggle. translation: a lot of bombs targeted us and we didn't know where to go. we were searching for a car to take us away from the bombardment. we got out in the cold and rainy weather. we came here and they told us they would help us. now we're living in tents. we can't keep living like this. syrian government forces, backed by russia, have been bombarding idlib, trying to win back control from the rebels — the last pockets of resistance in a war that's been raging for nearly nine years.
these refugees desperate for peace and the chance to return home. tim allman, bbc news. russia says it has put into service the first batch of new strategic missiles that — it claims — can penetrate any existing or future missile shields. the avangard is what's known as a hypersonic glide vehicle which can steer an unpredictable course, making detection much harder. it's the latest move in what appears to be an escalating missile race with the united states. bill hayton reports. somewhere on the southern fringes of russia, close to the border with kazakhstan, a new era in missile technology begins. this was a test launch last year of russia's new avangard weapon. it's fired into space atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. it can then glide over the atmosphere, dodging defences, until it reaches its target.
translation: we have a unique situation in our recent history. other countries are having to catch—up with russia. no other country has hypersonic weapons — not to mention hypersonic weapons of intercontinental range. in truth, there are many such weapons — all intercontinental ballistic missiles travel many times faster than the speed of sound — but the russian military hopes its new system can give it an edge in a new arms race. a race that's putting pressure on the international arms control system built up over the past a0 years. in october, china displayed its own new hypersonic glide vehicle at a military parade in beijing. the us wants chinese missiles included in a new intermediate range treaty, but it's not clear whether any government is willing to agree to new controls at the moment. bill hayton, bbc news. professor melanie marlowe is from the us centre for strategic
and international studies. i asked her whether russia's president vladmir putin was correct when he said that the advance put russia in a class of its own. in a sense he is. the united states and other countries have been very far behind in this technology. we've been focused on counterterrorism in the last two decades. and china, as your introduction noted, as well as russia, have been developing this kind of technology. so it is something the united states have started to make some advances on. we are currently investing in hypersonic strike but we are not as far along as the russians apparently are. if the us feels compelled to respond, are we now, on the cusp of 2020, on the cusp of a new arms race? i don't know that it's an arms race but if it is an arms race, as i mentioned before, it's been a one—sided one as the united states has not been focusing on this. there are problems with this. we need to keep it in perspective, whether it's mach 27, as putin said today, or mach 20, that can do a lot of damage
and we need to be ready for that. but the concern is that these weapons are highly manoeuvrable, that they're very difficult to track and target and if one of these came towards us, what would the response be? there would be very little time for decision—making and would the united states respond in a nuclear or a conventional way? how does this innovation change the balance of power among nuclear—ca pable states, in particular with china in the same region is russia? this is a difficult problem to solve. of course, the united states and britain, we have allies in that region and we need to make sure that they're protected. and in my view, the threat really is regional that we need to be concerned about what is going on over there, not as concerned about a strike on the american homeland, but we need to make sure that our capabilities are strong. is the balance of power altered? it is in the sense that china or russia could easily attack one of our forward bases
or an aircraft carrier, do a significant amount of damage and it would take a while for the united states to be able to respond. so as i mentioned before, it's notjust the offensive strike that we need to be concerned about, but the defence as well. will there be pressure in the united states for the american government to respond? we saw that in the earlier space race in the ‘60s and ‘70s. sure. when one side did something, the other side said, right, we have to do something, at least to show our population that we're not sleeping. yes, and i think that's a bit of what putin has been doing today. he is happy to brag and have some bragging rights on this and i hope that pushes the united states and our allies and partners in the direction of taking this threat seriously. the national defence strategy from 2018 recognises that we are back in great power competition, that we need to take the threats from russia and china, hypersonic and otherwise, seriously. our service chiefs, all of them, have been making suggestions and pushes towards developing more hypersonic technology as well as ways to respond to them —
being more flexible and mobile and maybe looking at, should we have so many aircraft carriers or should we have other kind of platforms from which we can launch our missiles? firefighters in australia are bracing themselves for more extreme heat as they continue to tackle uncontrolled bushfires. temperatures above a0 degrees celsius are expected in the coming days in several states including new south wales, south australia and victoria. deadly bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares in five australian states since september. courtney bembridge reports. almost 3,000 firefighters have been working around the clock since the bushfire crisis started in september. many of them are volunteers who've given up their christmas break to try to contain the fires and to save homes.
sporadic rain over parts of eastern australia has done little to help extinguish the flames but firefighters have taken advantage of cooler temperatures in recent days to try and contain fire fronts. but the cool change won't last long. this is the forecast for monday, temperatures building up to 38 celsius or higher across most of the country. so that's going to elevate fire dangers, and we know the winds are going to start turning around to the west and the north—west, which is why so much work has been going on over this last week while conditions are more mild. the crucial work involves strengthening containment lines to stop the fire spreading and controlled back—burning of dry grass, which acts as a fire fuel. that's seen as a last resort — an indication of how desperate the situation is getting. in new south wales, there are more than 100 fires burning, the largest to the west of sydney. fires are also burning across south australia. in parts of the state, temperatures rose above a0 degrees celsius, marking the start of a new wave of heat in the continent's south.
over the past two weeks, hundreds of people in south australia have needed medical attention for heat—related illnesses. look out for the signs and symptoms that are generally associated with dehydration, and they include headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and, ultimately, potentially, collapse. authorities in new south wales are also worried about protecting water infrastructure, which could be damaged or contaminated by ash, including the warragamba dam, which supplies the majority of sydney's water — a city home to 5 million residents. what that means, when it does rain again, what sort of run—off will there be? what sort of siltation will there be? ash soil, all of that stuff getting into the waterways. the situation is also affecting tourism. visitors to a famous rock formation in the blue mountains took photographs in front of the sign after the real thing was obscured by smoke. i've always wanted to see the blue mountains so it's such a shame that, when we came,
it looks like this. a bit disappointed. we came into sydney and the first couple of days, there was a lot of smoke and smoke haze. it made us cough a little bit, especially at night. trade is way, way down. i'm doing about a third of what i would normally do at this time of year. i think that's the same for everyone. this is usually the busiest time of year for australia's tourism industry. and despite the hot conditions and smoke in sydney, more thani million people are expected to attend the famous fireworks display for new year's eve. courtney bembridge, bbc news. in india, protests are continuing over the country's new citizenship law, which grants amnesty to illegal migrants from three countries, excluding muslims. since the law was passed, more than 20 people have died in clashes. most of them were from the northern state of uttar pradesh, from where our correspondent yogita limaye reports. in kanpur, a policeman appears to fire a gun at protesters who were throwing stones.
gunfire in muzaffarnagar, those demonstrating are beaten, even an older man. in meerut, police break cctv cameras mounted on shops in a muslim locality. nearly a week since clashes broke out in the state of uttar pradesh over india's new citizenship law, videos have been emerging that raise serious questions about police behaviour against muslim protesters. shouting gunshot 19 have died in the state, all civilians. most had bullet injuries, like mohammed mohsin. his mother says he wasn't part of the protests, but had gone out to buy fodder when he was shot in the chest. the 28—year—old was the father of this baby. "we want justice. the police killed my son," she told me.
"who will care for his children now?" police say they didn't open fire. they claim some among the protesters had guns. but that's not all security forces are being accused of. i went to one of the homes allegedly vandalised by the police in the dead of the night. in room after room, hardly anything left unbroken. there was jewellery in this box and cash in the tin. it was all stolen, i'm told. "there were many policemen and some people in plain clothes. they told us to go from here and that our house would soon become theirs," she says. "so what if i am a muslim? don't i have a right to live in india?"
in every locality, we were told of homes that had been ransacked. many here see the police action, and the law, as part of the ruling party's hindu nationalist agenda. the government insist indian muslims won't be affected by the new citizenship rules, and it's blamed protesters for the violence. translation: there were 50,000 people on the streets throwing stones, shooting, setting things on fire. the police had to respond. and to catch miscreants, they had to go inside people's homes. things break sometimes in a scuffle. what they've witnessed over the past two weeks has left many from the muslim community here worried about what kind of future they're facing in india. the government is trying to allay fears about the new citizenship law, but even before that's implemented, the handling of the protests has already had a tangible impact on the ground.
religious polarisation has deepened. many areas of the state are now a tinderbox of fear and anger. yogita limaye, bbc news, uttar pradesh. stay with us on bbc news. still to come: why drink driving risks more than merely blurred vision — on the streets of paris. the most ambitious financial and political change ever attempted has got under way with the introduction of the euro. tomorrow in holland, we're going to use money we picked up in belgium today. and then we'll be in france and again, it will be the same money. it's just got to be the way to go.
george harrison, the former beatle, is recovering in hospital after being stabbed at his oxfordshire home. a 33—year—old man from liverpool is being interviewed by police on suspicion of attempted murder. i think it was good. reporter: it was just good? no, fantastic. that's better. big ben bongs this is bbc news, the latest headlines: the un says parts of idlib province in syria are almost deserted, where nearly a quarter of a million people have fled from a government offensive. russia puts into service strategic missiles which it claims can travel 27 times the speed of sound.
britain has been accused of crimes against humanity for refusing to allow people to return to a tiny indian ocean archipelago, the chagos islands. many were expelled decades ago to make way for a military base. earlier this year the united nation's highest court ruled against the uk. the government of mauritius, which claims the islands, says it is considering legal action against british officials at the international criminal court. 0ur africa correspondent andrew harding reports from mauritius. they are just a few splinters of land deep in the indian ocean. but the checo islands are now the focus ofan angry the checo islands are now the focus of an angry and escalating tug—of—war. —— chagos. it is half a century since the people who lived in these homes were expelled from the archipelago by britain. earlier this year the international court of justice in the hague ruled britain was acting illegally, but it must immediately surrender ownership of the islands to mauritius, allowing
the islands to mauritius, allowing the exiled population to go home. but britain said and still says no. in mauritius today, anger and frustration are growing. elderly chagossians forced from their homes so chagossians forced from their homes so long ago told me britain's strategy is clear and cruel. translation: there is not many of us left, the ones who were born on the island, and i believe the british are actually waiting for us to die so are actually waiting for us to die so there will be no want to claim the islands. so you think that is a deliberate british strategy, to wait until your generation, those born on the chagos islands, our dad? yeah, that's what they're doing. britain denies that. it says it needs the islands for security purposes. small groups of chagossians have been allowed home for brief visits. that is where this footage comes from. but the mauritian government now
argues britain's refusal to surrender the islands and allow the population to return for good amounts to a crime against humanity. i think it would be one of the worst crimes against humanity, by letting people to in fact die, and there is then no claim from the chagossians. will you be pursuing that at the international court? well, it is a violation of the basic principles of human rights. this dispute has dragged on for decades, but britain is now increasingly isolated. this tug of war between mauritius and written is about national sovereignty, about international law, about the uk's global reputation. but it is also a much simpler tale, about a group of elderly chagossians who know time is running out. at a cemetery in
mauritius, chagossians visited the graves of relatives. 0ne headstone sums up the mood of many. "i'm scared i will die before i see my homeland". chile's president, sebastian pinera, has set a referendum for the 26th of april to decide whether or not the country's constitution should be changed. he's agreed to the vote after more than two months of anti—government protests, which have taken their toll on the economy, and chile's reputation as one of latin america's most stable nations. and a warning — this report from the bbc‘s cecilia barria contains distressing images. sirens wail. weeks of violence have scarred santiago. the main square is called ground zero, the metro system is burnt, and the human cost of this crisis is clear. translation: we can't go out on the streets, so i come home crying. i live a block away from the main square and see the destruction at night. it's dark, there's no lights. it's terrible.
graffiti is used to express anger. people feel the police are targeting them but many, like this young man, are scared to show their face and speak out. translation: they grabbed me and squeezed my testicles. i was punched in the face and kicked. they beat me with the — i don't know if it was a gun handle. i was beaten by many members of the police. this is the home of daniel. hola, daniel. hola. he's one more than 100 protesters who have been blinded by security forces. he's telling me hejoined the protests a week ago. he believes he was targeted by security forces and he was hit by a tear gas canister. right now, he cannot work
and he has lost his eye. translation: we looked away and covered our eyes so we would not get shot. then i stood up and i looked towards the policeman and i felt it hit me. he shot right at my eye. they no longer shoot to warn you, but to hurt you. the financial cost is also taking a toll. the unrest has already cost businesses more than $1.5 billion. many have closed and those who have escaped the looting are struggling. carlos is the third generation of his family to run this shop. it has been open since 1935 and has survived hard times before, but he thinks it may be hard to continue. translation: economically, things are terrible.
it's just like a war. at this point, i have a lot of staff working for me, but i think it will be too complicated for me to keep them. while the authorities try to return the country back to normal, it's clear chile has changed, and there may be no turning back. cecilia barria, bbc news, santiago, chile. with the new year fast approaching, drivers in france are being given some unusual road safety lessons. more than three quarters of french people will drink alcohol on new year's eve, but less than half will have thought about how they're going to get home. so campaigners have come up with a novel way of raising awareness of the dangers of drink—driving. russell trott reports. ‘tis the season to be jolly. and, for new year's celebrations, there's nowhere quite like paris. what isn't so much fun is how to get home afterwards.
in france, it's estimated that around 87% of the population will have a drink on new year's eve, with many revellers drink—driving and putting themselves, and often family and friends' lives at risk. and, as this simulation course shows, driving while intoxicated is not easy. speaks french. "when i wear the glasses," says basil, "i think i'm on the road when i'm, in fact, nowhere near it." drivers are shown how it feels to be behind the wheel after drinking alcohol, and how it affects not only co—ordination but, crucially, reaction times. translation: when you look at someone doing the route, you really get the impression that they're drunk because they have difficulty grasping things, making movements, moving around on the road. it's really the effect of alcohol. with the aid of the goggles, campaigners say they want drivers to see that drinking
and driving simply don't mix. russell trott, bbc news. finally, we spoke earlier about what russia was doing with its hypersonic missiles. i want to show you know what america is doing. meet nasa's latest generation of martian rover which was unveiled on friday before its seven—month maiden voyage to the red planet scheduled forjuly. fueled by a mini nuclear reactor, the car—sized rover will search for traces of martian microbes in an area thought to have once contained rivers and a lake some three and half billion years ago. fitted with 23 cameras, lasers for chemical analysis, equipment to listen to martian winds, articulated arms and a drill, the rover will collect samples to be brought back to earth in later missions. it will cruise the surface for an estimated two years, becoming the fifth american—made probe on mars.
you can reach me on twitter. i'm @jamesbbcnews. hello there. saturday morning is getting off to a mild but rather cloudy and murky start in many parts of the uk. it's going to stay mild throughout the weekend. in fact, by sunday, some spots could get up to 1a or 15 degrees. it should slowly turn a little brighter as well but there will always be some rain at times towards the north—west. this is the earlier satellite picture. and what we've had is a moist south—westerly flow across the british isles bringing a lot of cloud, some mist, some murk, some drizzle, and the thicker cloud up to the north—west associated with this waving frontal system here, which will continue to feed rain into parts of northern ireland and scotland through the day ahead. so this is how saturday's weather shapes up. across england and wales, yes, a lot of cloud, mist and murk to start. the odd spot of drizzle, but it should be basically a dry day. and i'm hopeful that cloud will break up to some extent — particularly across parts of north wales, and merseyside and parts of north—east
england as well. rain will feed into parts of northern ireland. some particularly heavy rain across western scotland. but for the north—east of scotland, with some shelter from the mountains, well, here, a fighting chance of seeing some brightness. and for the moray coast, we could see temperatures up to 13 degrees. but generally speaking, 10, 11 or 12 — that is above where we should be at this time of year. now, during saturday night, it stays wet — at least for a time — across the west and the north of scotland. further south, northern ireland, england and wales, predominantly cloudy, but an increasing chance of seeing some breaks in that cloud by the end of the night. it is going to be another mild night as well — temperatures typically between 7 and 10 degrees. and some really mild air is heading our way for sunday. this plume of orange here on the chart is particularly heading towards the north—west of the country, and that is where we will see the highest of the temperatures. but at the same time, i'm hopeful we will start to tap into this drier air to the south, which should allow us to break the cloud up a little bit and give us a bit more brightness. sunday, still lots of cloud around but you can see some holes appearing in that cloud.
there is a chance of some spells of sunshine across england and wales, also northern ireland and southern and eastern scotland. a bit of rain to the far north—west, where it also stays breezy. but look at the temperatures. the north coast of northern ireland, the north—east coast of scotland, 1a or 15 degrees. it will turn a little bit cooler as we head into the start of next week and, indeed, the final couple of days of 2019, particularly in northern areas. those temperatures back down into single digits, closer to where they should be at this time of year. and further south, after a very mild monday, it will turn a little bit cooler as we get on into tuesday. and then during tuesday night, if you are out celebrating on new year's eve, it should stay mostly dry. it will be fairly chilly and there could be some patchy fog.
this is bbc news. the headlines: the united nations says nearly 250,000 people have been forced from their homes this month because of fierce fighting in idlib province in syria. the town of maarat al—numan is reported to be all but deserted and the main highway heading north has been packed with vehicles. russia says it has put into service the first batch of new strategic missiles that — it claims — can penetrate any existing or future missile shields. the avangard is what's known as a hypersonic glide vehicle which can steer an unpredictable course, making detection much harder. australia is bracing itself for another heatwave that could escalate conditions for bushfires across the country. temperatures of over a0 degrees celsius are expected in several states. there are more than 100 fires burning, with the largest to the west of sydney.