BBC news 2011-08-19

BBC News with Marion Marshall

The United States, Britain, France and Germany have demanded that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria leave office following the violent suppression of street protests against his leadership. It's the first explicit call from the US and its allies for Mr Assad to step down, although Washington had previously said Syria would be better off without him. From the American capital, here's Jonny Dymond.

Once Bashar al-Assad was cited by the US as a reformer and a possible peacemaker, but after five months of bloodshed, the relationship between Washington and Syria's president has ended. President Obama on Thursday signed an order freezing Syrian assets and cutting commercial links, and after months of hardening rhetoric, the president called on Bashar al-Assad to stand down. British, French and German leaders swiftly followed suit. But the US made it clear that it will not intervene militarily to try and topple President Assad. "It is," said Barack Obama, "up to the Syrian people to choose their own leader."

The Israeli government says it will respond with full force to attacks by gunmen in southern Israel that killed at least seven people. Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak said there had already been one air strike on the Gaza Strip. At least six Palestinians were killed. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the attacks in southern Israel as an assault on his country's sovereignty, and in a televised statement, said Israel had targeted those responsible.

"If there is someone who thinks the state of Israel will resign itself to this, he is wrong. I set a principle: when they hurt the citizens of Israel, we react immediately and mightily. The people who gave the order to murder our people and hid in Gaza are no longer amongst the living."

Prosecutors in Ivory Coast have brought the first charges against the former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was removed from power in April. Mr Gbagbo, who's under house arrest in the north of the country, is accused of theft, looting and embezzlement of public funds. His wife, Simone, faced similar charges on Tuesday and was taken into custody. About 3,000 people were killed in Ivory Coast during the months of violence that followed Mr Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat in elections last November.

Libyan rebels have taken control of an oil refinery outside the town of Zawiya. A BBC correspondent at the scene says there's no sign of any government forces at the refinery. Earlier, there were reports of Colonel Gaddafi's forces being driven out of the area in a five-hour battle on Wednesday. In Zawiya itself, the rebels appeared to be consolidating their control despite shelling and sniper fire from Colonel Gaddafi's troops.

The English Premier League football champions, Manchester United, are to sell off a significant stake in their club on the Singapore stock exchange to help pay off debts. A source says the club hopes to raise as much as $1bn.

World News from the BBC

Share prices in Europe and the United States have again fallen sharply. When European trading closed, shares were down by 4.4% in London and 5.8% in Frankfurt. European banks fared particularly badly. The main index in the US was also down by 5% at one stage, affected by the publication of poor economic data.

About 20,000 mourners have attended a memorial service for three men killed last week during the outbreak of rioting and looting in England last week. The men were hit by a car as they tried to protect shops and homes from looters in Birmingham. Sam, a family friend of one of the three men, described the feeling amongst those attending.

"...hit all of us very hard. A young man and his life just taken like that, it's so tragic. It's about paying respect for the family, and I think we all need to be very mindful of that. They need some peace now. It's not a divide about race, and it shouldn't be, but I do feel it has brought us closer together. People are looking out for each other."

The Mexican navy says it's holding five people in connection with the disappearance earlier this month of four naval personnel. Investigators said they had found items belonging to the three marines and a naval cadet in a cellar in the port city of Veracruz. Forensic experts are examining what they say could be four graves at the same property. The Mexican navy has played a growing role in President Felipe Calderon's campaign against drugs cartels.

An agency that funds scientific research in the United States says black scientists are significantly less likely to be awarded funding than their white counterparts. The National Institutes of Health said that out of every 100 funding applications it considered, 30 were granted to white applicants, compared with 20 to black applicants. The gap couldn't be explained by education or experience. It suggested small differences in access to resources and mentoring early in a scientist's career could leave black researchers at a disadvantage.

BBC news.