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Nine Months of Violence in Syria; Funeral for Kim Jong-il Set for Wednesday; Al Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Baghdad Attacks; Britain's Prince Philip Discharged from Hospital; Drew Brees Breaks NFL Single-Season Passing Record

Aired December 27, 2011 - 16:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Protesters in the Syrian city of Homs beg for help from Arab League monitors as they begin their tour of the battle- scarred country.

Live from London this hour, I'm Becky Anderson. Also tonight, escape from North Korea. A man who says he spent his childhood in a concentration camp with a message for the rest of the world.

And scarred by the Gadhafis, torched and traumatized, the woman who endured brutal treatment in Libya gets a second chance at life.

That coming up in the next hour here on CNN.

We begin, though, in Syria this evening, its first real chance to show the world what's been happening in a nine-month deadly crackdown, and many Syrians are desperate to tell their stories.

Now, Arab League observers began a fact-finding message on Tuesday in Homs, the city at the heart of the pro-democracy uprising. Video posted on YouTube appears to show observers crowded by residents who are frantic for help in stopping the bloodshed.

The monitors are supposed to determine whether the government is abiding by a pledge to end its crackdown. Going by opposition reports, at least, that certainly doesn't seem to be the case. Activists say 33 people were killed across the country today, at least 13 or them in Homs.

Tens of thousands took to the streets today in Homs, but activists say they met a violent push back by security forces. Syria won't allow foreign reporters, as you know, to cover the unrest, so our Mohammed Jamjoom is covering events for you tonight from Cairo.

What did the Arab League observers accomplish, if anything, today, Mohammed?



JAMJOOM: -- we spoke --


JAMJOOM: -- accomplishment, just the fact that they actually got to Homs. They said that --


JAMJOOM: -- city, but then they were given --


JAMJOOM: -- fettered access, they were allowed free rein in that city to meet with whomever they wanted to meet with.

Now, we did see videos emerge of these observers. These are amateur videos, purport to show the observers walking through the streets. One purports to show the head of the mission being, basically, greeted by residents, there, showing him remnants of weapons that they say were used against protesters there.

There's also another video that purports to show the members of this delegation as they're being confronted by residents, there. Residents confronting somebody who appears to be a government minder, and they're telling the members of the delegation that they need to go to other parts of the city to see the harder-hit areas. And while this is going on, at some point, you hear what sounds like gunfire in the distance.

Now, emboldened by the presence of these observers today in Homs, tens of thousands of people came out in the neighborhood of Khalidiah. They were chanting that they needed international protection, and they were also calling for an end to the regime in Syria.

Even though the Arab League observers that we speak with are happy that they're there, and they're saying that they have access to go wherever they want, more and more residents and activists that we're speaking with are really concerned that they're not being given the free rein that they should be, that they're not able to go to as many places as they need to go to really get a sense of what's going on there. Becky?

ANDERSON: How long are they going to be on the ground? Do we know at this point?

JAMJOOM: We don't. We know that some members of the delegation that were in Homs today went back to Damascus, and other members decided to stay overnight in Homs. But we haven't been able to find out if they actually were able to verify any of the accounts of violence that we heard that happened later in the day.

We spoke to activists that said that there were crackdowns going on in at least two parts of the city, where thousands of demonstrators had gathered, that many people were shot, that teargas was dispersed. This is according to the opposition groups and the residents that we spoke with.

We weren't able to verify that with the Arab League. The Arab League, again, they maintain that they are doing their mission, that they're going to be able to do what they set out to do, but we don't know how long, precisely, they will be in Homs.

And again, this is a small delegation. Today we were told 12 people were there. We said -- we were also told 50 to 100 observers altogether will be in the country at some point. So, that's not a lot of people for the various -- for the different cities in Syria to go to.

And again, it just really begs the question by the activists that we're speaking with, will this mission be enough to really count in -- to counter and try to put an end to the crackdown that's been going on there for months. Becky?

ANDERSON: Yes, Mohammed, thank you for that. Mohammed Jamjoom reporting out of Cairo, for you, this evening. We're going to talk to a member of the opposition in a couple of minutes.

First, though, Syria's uprising, of course, began in Daraa in the south, but quickly spread to Homs, which is the country's third-largest city. Homs now considered the epicenter of the pro-democracy movement. It's located near the Lebanese border, you see here, about 160 kilometers north of the capital, Damascus.

Now, the government crackdown has been especially fierce in the Baba Amr neighborhood. Some areas are said to resemble a war zone.

Let's take a look just at how the violence in Homs has unfolded over the past nine months or so, because it's been, let me tell you, that long. Most of it's come to us via YouTube. We do you remind you, of course, we can't independently confirm the videos you're about to see from Syria.

This one, though, purports to be one of the first anti-government demonstrations in Homs back in April. By May, let me remind you, the pictures turn violent as security forces and tanks moved into the city. This one claims to capture the shooting of a demonstrator.

Now, despite the crackdown, protesters have remained defiant in the city. It's also seen the worst of the violence, which has claimed some 5,000 lives across the country.

December, the standoff escalating further after Syrian officials gave protesters a 72-hour ultimatum to end their demonstrations or face bombardment.

Well, since then, we've seen some of the most disturbing pictures yet, including this one which, we warn you, is so explicit that we've had to blur the images. It shows dead bodies lying in the streets and was posted on YouTube just days ago.

We got an update on the crackdown a short time ago from a resident of Homs. For his own safety, we are only identifying him as a medical student. I spoke to him by phone, asking him first where he lives and what he sees and hears happening around him today. This is what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): I live in the middle of Homs city in a neighborhood that is near to Khalidiah neighborhood where today it's the same violence that's being used against civilians here.

There are -- 14 people who were killed today by the security forces. There are more than 10 people who were injured. All of these actions happened and they Arab delegation is in Homs.

ANDERSON: Have you seen any sign of that delegation in Homs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, actually, we tried so hard to contact with one of these members or two others, but unfortunately, there is no responding from them. They're going to one area in Homs or two areas, but we need from them to come to our area, our neighborhood, and see what's going on. But we didn't make -- we didn't make any connection with them.

After that, we're trying to go to the center of the city and staying there until the -- until the Arab observers came to us. But where -- we are trying to go, we sent by the security forces that are stationed in the center of the city and started shooting us by tear bombs.

After that, there are used machine guns and bullets directly to us, with many people laying, wounded or killed.

ANDERSON: Would you say that the violence is getting worse, at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's going worse than before, and we are afraid that after the Arab delegation does leave Homs, we are afraid from more violence, more oppression against civilians here.

ANDERSON: I think it's clear that one of the things that differentiates what's going on in Syria from Libya, from Egypt, and elsewhere, is that there does remain support for the Assad administration, both within Syria and outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there are some people supporting the -- the regime, here. I don't -- I don't mind with that. But we need to see how much people are supporting the regime and how much people are opposing it.


ANDERSON: All right, well, that was our Homs resident speaking to me earlier on. Many opposition activists have absolutely no faith in this Arab League mission, saying President Bashar al-Assad is a master of deception. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach, willing to give it a chance.

Let's get the thoughts, now, of Georges Jabboure Netto, who's a member of the opposition Syrian National Council based in the US. You heard what our resident of Homs described tonight. He has no faith in this Arab League delegation, do you?

GEORGES JABBOURE NETTO, SYRIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL: Well, us in the essence, we in the Syrian National Council are supportive of the Arab League initiative, including the observers' mission.

But again, we have major concerns whether this mission is going to be left to operate independently in a very transparent way in order to really achieve an degree of effectiveness. So, we seriously have concerns about that.

ANDERSON: Yes, your organization has actually gone so far as to call this a "whitewash" in no uncertain terms, saying that the delegates are being held prisoners by the Syrian system. Would you go so far as to say that today?

NETTO: I think we have good reasons to believe that. They've been held in their hotels while tens of people are being killed in Homs two hours away from Damascus.

And prior to their visit that you reported upon, we have some reports from the grounds that cadavers were being transported out of hospitals, that prisoners were moved out of -- from central prisons into army garrisons in order to show this sterilized image.

And at the same time, we're confident that the maps that they're being drawn are not going to take them to the deep areas where really the devastation occurred.


NETTO: This is a city that has been under siege for over a week and bombarded by artillery shells with houses literally destroyed on the residence, and I would have serious doubts that they will show them that.

ANDERSON: Let's move forward, shall we? A couple of questions to you. Firstly, do you accept that the government and the army still does retain support from within and outside the country, and how big a problem is that?

NETTO: That is -- that is a realistic problem for us to deal with, but I can tell you, the majority of these quote-unquote "supporters" would not be supporting if it was not for the fear, for the spread of false information about this unknown factor that if this governmental dictator goes away tomorrow, that fundamentalism will take ground.

ANDERSON: All right.

NETTO: And that's as far as possible from reality. Syria is a country --


NETTO: -- with thousands of fear of harmony among religions, and we have no reason to believe that.

ANDERSON: All right, given -- given that, do you accept that there is no, then, coherent opposition and, without that, it's got to be said that the international community is struggling to rally around any one body.

NETTO: I think the -- body that I represent, the Syrian National Council, is the body that is becoming legitimately recognized by many, although not officially to the degree that we would like, but we're hoping soon many Western and Arab countries will come to this realization.

We are looked upon as representing the entire spectrum and gamut -- political gamut, ethnic gamut, religious gamut -- of the beautiful Syrian color society.

ANDERSON: All right, we're going to have it there. We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us on what has been another deadly day in the city of Homs, today, in Syria.

Before we move on, tonight, I want you to listen to this.


TEXT: JANUARY 10, 2009

ASMA AL-ASSAD, FIRST LADY OF SYRIA: This is a conflict that has been going on for too long, and we have a choice. We can either sit by and we can sit and watch our TV screens and watch the atrocities and see some really horrific images, or we can get up and do something about it.

And I don't believe that we are not able. I believe that each and every one of us, regardless if we are men or women, young or old, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, it doesn't matter. If we believe in the future of humanity, if we believe in -- for the sake of -- for the sake of our children, we need to stand up and make sure that this stops.


ANDERSON: Two years ago, the Syrian president's wife talked to CNN about how she would not tolerate an oppressive and violent regime, except in this instance, Asma al-Assad was talking about the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Well, I wonder whether she finds the videos coming out of Homs as hard to stomach as the rest of us. Just a thought for you this evening.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. Still to come, escape from North Korea. Meet a man who spent his childhood in what he calls a concentration camp and what he's doing now to spread the word.


ANDERSON: Welcome back, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, the world's news leader. I'm Becky Anderson.

Now, funeral services for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il are set for Wednesday. Not many details have been released, but the ceremony will likely center around the dictator's son and designated successor Kim Jong- un. It will be followed by a national memorial service on Thursday.

Well, the country is such a closed society, of course, that much of what we know comes from defectors who sometimes emerge from the country with harrowing tales of deprivation and torture. CNN's Paula Hancocks met one of them in Seoul.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kang Chol-hwan was sent to a North Korean concentration camp at the age of nine. His crime, his grandfather fell out of favor with the elite. He doesn't know why.

His entire family minus his mother was sent to the Yodok camp. He survived there for ten years before being released, managing to defect with a friend in 1992.

He tells me, "It was like Hitler's Auschwitz concentration camp, not as large, and there is a difference in the way people are killed. Hitler gassed people. Kim Jong-il sucked the life out of people through starvation and forced labor." He says in some ways, people may have died in more misery.

Kang says he saw inmates die of malnutrition or exhaustion every single day. He himself almost died three times. His young age did not exempt him from hard labor. Public executions, according to Kang, were frequent.

He says, "Usually, they fired three bullets each in the head, chest, and legs. But they would sometimes use machine guns, firing dozens of rounds in the head to destroy the body. They would also hang people, then stone the bodies until they were crushed. I witnessed these kinds of scenes dozens of times."

He remembers his family being forced to eat mice, insects, and grass to stay alive. He says prisoners were often beaten or tortured.

After writing a book about his experiences, Kang was invited to meet former US president George W. Bush. He told him the US needs to focus on giving food aid in return for abolishing prison camps, rather than focusing exclusively on the nuclear issue.

North Korea does not admit to the existence of these concentration camps, but Amnesty International released these satellite images earlier this year, which it says shows the size and location of the camps in remote, mountainous regions of North Korea.

Comparing them to satellite images from ten years ago and recent testimony from former inmates, the human rights group says these camps appear to have significantly increased in size. Amnesty believes they have been in operation since the 1950s.

HANCOCKS (on camera): Kang says he often thinks of those who were in the camp at the same time as him, wondering if they're still there or even if they are still alive. He describes that time as a living hell, made only slightly more bearable now knowing that Kim Jong-il is dead, but of course, the question is, will Kim Jong-un continue this deadly legacy?

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


ANDERSON: And the funeral, of course, tomorrow. Stay with CNN for that. We'll look at some of the other stories connecting our world tonight.

And al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for last week's deadly string of attacks in Baghdad. The explosions hit the capital's mostly Shiite neighborhoods, killing 69 people and injuring more than 200.

In a website posting, the group said it was to show support for imprisoned Sunnis and retaliate for captives who were executed. Iraq's leadership is dominated by Shiite Muslims.

A US State Department spokesman says there is no final decision yet on whether Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh will be allowed to come to the country for medical treatment. Earlier, a White House official told CNN that Saleh would be allowed in.

Sources say there has been considerable debate over the issue. Mr. Saleh, of course, injured in a bomb attack on his presidential palace several months ago. He's been widely criticized for the violent crackdown that Yemen has endured.

Britain's Prince Philip has been released from hospital following a successful surgery to open a blocked artery in his heart. He was admitted Friday after complaining of chest pains. The 90-year-old prince now joins Queen Elizabeth and other royals at Sandringham, where they traditionally spend the Christmas holiday.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, 22 minutes past 9:00 in London. Still to come, the record pass is on. We're going to take a look at a sporting moment that has just entered the history books.

Then, a woman nearly tortured to death by Moammar Gadhafi's family. An outpouring of support from CNN viewers just may have saved her life. A special half hour on how she's doing, coming up.


ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. I'm Becky Anderson, welcome back.

Now, speed, accuracy, and power. This man has combined all three to touch down in the history books. You're watching the moment the New Orleans Saints' quarterback, Drew Brees, broke a 27-year-old record for the most passing yards in a single season of the NFL.

Now, the pass from Monday night's clash against Atlanta pushed Brees's tally to 5087 yards, a feat he's managed to accomplish in just 15 games, and the season isn't over yet.

I'm joined by Pedro Pinto. Good, talk us through what is the most extraordinary record, I've got to say. This used to be my team when I lived in the States. I'm very excited about this.


ANDERSON: Well, absolutely.

PINTO: I didn't know that.

ANDERSON: How big a deal is this, though?

PINTO: This is a huge deal.


PINTO: You're talking about the former holder of this record being Dan Marino, a legend --


PINTO: -- of the game. He set that record back in 1984. We're both too young to remember that, right?


PINTO: But anyway, this stood for so many years, and you've had so many premier quarterbacks since then. I mean, I'm talking about quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, like Tom Brady, and none of them were able to reach this accolade.

What this man has done, especially playing for a team that isn't considered to be a -- a regular title contender --


PINTO: -- is phenomenal. What's curious, Becky, is that he is from a small market, but New Orleans isn't really one of the big cities in the NFL. So, his approach to the record kind of went under the radar if you weren't following the NFL week in and week out.

ANDERSON: For those who don't watch it, very briefly, for those who don't know too much about NFL, to have scored that many yards in so few games in what is a really physical game is something that I think is quite remarkable.

PINTO: His completion ratio percentage is also incredible. We're talking about a guy who completes over 70 percent of his passes, and it's not like he's doing it with a lot of time.


PINTO: He's got, basically, seven-foot monsters chasing him every time he has the ball, right?

ANDERSON: By the aggressive pace of the game.

PINTO: Exactly, which is -- which makes it so impressive. And when he did it yesterday, I was actually following the countdown to the game, they were talking about, is he going to do it, is he not going to do it?

There could be another two quarterbacks who make it past the 5,000 yard mark this year, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is the favorite for the MVP award, even with Brees beating this record, because the Green Bay Packers, his team --


PINTO: -- has a 14 and 1 record, which is the best in the league, obviously. They were undefeated for a long time. It's curious that even with this record and this season, Brees might not get the MVP. It just shows how high the standard in the league is right now.

ANDERSON: It sure is.


ANDERSON: Good stuff. And Pedro, back with you with that and more --

PINTO: A lot more.

ANDERSON: Premier League action --


ANDERSON: -- tonight in an hour. "World Sport," stick with us for that, coming up.

Tortured by the Gadhafis. A woman who looked after the Libyan leader's grandchildren nearly died at the hand of his family. We want to take you back to that story and show you just how she is doing. That is up next in a very special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN. Let's get you a check of the world news headlines at this point.

Syrian opposition activists say at least 39 people were killed across the country today, despite the arrival of an Arab League team that's supposed to be monitoring the government's promise to end its deadly crackdown.

A US State Department spokesman says no final decision has been reached over Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's request to visit. The White House says he might be allowed in, but only for medical treatment. Mr. Saleh was injured in a June bomb attack.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is claiming responsibility for attacks last week that left almost 70 people dead and some 200 wounded. In an internet message on an al Qaeda website, the group vowed to protect the country's Sunni population.

And a funeral for Kim Jong-il is set for Wednesday. North Korea's leader died December 17th at the age of 69. His son, Kim Jong-un is expected to be featured prominently at the funeral. He's been deemed the Great Successor by the ruling party.

And for tonight, that is it for CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson, thank you for watching. A CNN Freedom Project special, "Scarred by the Gadhafis" starts right now.