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CONNECT THE WORLD

Members of Congress Meet with Chinese President; Chinese Censor Their Own President; Lebanon Hariri Announcement; Tunisia Protests and Gunfire

Aired January 20, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: "Don't interfere, as we are no threat" -- China denies it's pursuing an arms race.

While the Chinese president sought to reassure his U.S. audience that Beijing is not a military threat, there was also a warning -- don't interfere with us over Tibet or Taiwan.

Also tonight...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAAD HARIRI, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER: Brothers and sisters...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: -- Lebanon's prime minister says he'll stand again, defying his critics.

The search -- the grim search for mudslide survivors in Brazil. Hundreds more could be dead.

Bolivia's campaign to legalizing coca leaves has the U.S. fearing a setback in the war on drugs.

And he's the king of the court and answering your questions. Shaquille O'Neal is your Connector of the Day.

That's CNN in the next 60 minutes.

Well, first up tonight, China's president is wrapping up a state visit to Washington with a simple message -- Beijing is pursuing peace and development and its economic and military rise is nothing to fear. Hu Jintao spoke to business leaders at a luncheon a few hours ago. And he says China and the U.S. share broad common interests, urging closer cooperation on economic and security issues. And he also suggested the United States should stay out of China's, quote, "core affairs."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HU JINTAO, PRESIDENT, CHINA (through translator): A review of the history of our relations tells us that China-US relations will enjoy smooth and steady growth when the two countries handle well issues involving each other's major interests. Otherwise, our relations will suffer constant trouble or even tension.

Taiwan -- Tibet related issues concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and they represent China's core issues. We do not engage in an arms race and pose a military threat to any country. China will never seek hegemony or pursue an expansionist policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, earlier, President Hu faced a much tougher audience when he met with leaders on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers took the opportunity to raise some strong concerns about China's policies.

Well, our senior U.S. Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joins us with the details -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Becky. The Chinese president actually had a pair of meetings here on Capitol Hill. Obviously, very rare for members of Congress to get an audience with somebody like that and somebody who represents a country that is -- that is, to be blunt, politically really tough for -- for members of Congress and is really a politically lightning -- a political lightning rod, the issue of China, because of what it has meant for U.S. lawmakers when it comes to American jobs and the issue of trade imbalance, the issue of currency manipulation.

All of those questions were issues that, I am told by lawmakers, that they brought up in this pair of meetings.

Now, Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, actually -- and it was a little bit awkward, perhaps, because he came out and had a photo-op for the press after -- a couple of days after telling a -- a local reporter that he believes that -- that Hu Jintao is a dictator.

He quickly tried to take that back, but he still used the word. They told us, Becky, there was no questions at this meeting. I tried to ask anyway about the fact that he called Hu Jintao a dictator and I got, it's safe to say, not -- nothing but -- but death glares in response.

But beyond that, talking to members of Congress, senators who were in that meeting, particularly, with Senator Reid, what I was told is that they certainly pressed the issue of North Korea, they pressed the issue of human rights, they pressed these economic issues.

They didn't get very much new in response.

Listen to Senator John McCain, who was at that meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think the message that -- that we clearly heard was we were concerned about the imbalances of trade and human rights, North Korea and, in my case, the South China Sea and the freedom of -- of the seas.

But the major issues, obviously, were the trade imbalance, human rights and -- and North Korea were the major issues.

BASH: But you didn't get much of a sense that he was moved on any of those or -- or that you -- you -- in the short-term, got anywhere on those issues?

MCCAIN: I think the meetings can play a role in helping improve our regular -- not only improving our relations, but also understanding the depth of commitment here in the United States on these issues. We'll see worthwhile it has any appreciable affect or not. I don't see how it could do any harm.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: And, Becky, I heard that from a lot of lawmakers coming out of these two meetings with the Chinese president, saying that, look, you know, maybe we didn't get very far now, but for him to understand what he's up against and how much we -- not just the executive branch, not just the president, but the U.S. Congress, cares about these issues, how important they are to American constituents, it's -- just in terms of building relationships, which is obviously so important, and diplomacy, they believe that that would help.

One -- one more issue I wanted to tell you about and that is that on the House side, the former House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, now the House Democratic leader, told us she was the one who really pressed the human rights issue. And several Democratic lawmakers who were in that meeting came out and said that they were not satisfied with the Chinese president's answer on that.

ANDERSON: All right. From Washington tonight, Dana Bash.

We thank you for that.

Well, over the past few days -- and we've heard a lot of broad platitudes from the U.S. and Chinese presidents, but few specific pledges. Here's a checklist, then, on what both sides wanted and what they really got.

Mr. Obama pressed China to allow the value of its currency to rise, saying it's artificially low and it hurts U.S. exports. He got no such guarantee.

But the U.S. did secure $45 billion in business deals, Beijing approving new contracts for U.S. companies to export their goods to China. Now, those contracts are expected, eventually, to create 235,000 American jobs.

Well, President Obama wanted China to take a much tougher line on North Korea's nuclear program. He didn't get that.

But Mr. Hu, for the first time, did express concern over Pyongyang's uranium enrichment facilities.

Well, President Hu wanted less U.S. interference in China's dealings with Taiwan and American arms sales to Taiwan curtailed. No sign of that happening.

Finally, the U.S. failed to convince China to improve its human rights record, although, in a rare remark, Mr. Hu did acknowledge, quote, "a lot still needs to be done in that regard."

Well, we heard President Hu make that remark. People in China didn't.

Stan Grant tells us how censors there were standing at the ready, as television networks broadcast news of Mr. Hu's trip.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Human rights is always a very sensitive topic here in China. And once again, that is proving to be the case with President Hu's visit to the United States. President Barack Obama raised it, saying that the universal rights of all human beings need to be respected. President Hu says China is making progress on the issue, but, at the same time, China continues to imprison Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and there have been protests outside the White House highlighting China's human rights record.

Well, none of those stories, none of those messages are getting through here. Whenever CNN tries to broadcast anything about human rights, even mentions the words "human rights," we are blacked out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAIME FLORCRUZ, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: And the human rights issue remains a very sensitive topic here in China.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRANT: We've been able to discuss the economy. We've been able to discuss the tensions between China and the United States. We cannot mention human rights or our signal goes to black.

This is a regular occurrence in China. It happens around any topical issue. But right now, sensitivities are particularly high.

Stan Grant, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, sensitive or not, President Hu's statements are like those of any world leader, they're only words until put into action, of course.

Our next guest says he doesn't equate new rhetoric with new realities in China, but says, quote, "At least new rhetoric is better than nothing."

Kenneth Lieberthal was national security adviser on China issues for former U.S. president, Bill Clinton.

He's now director of the China Center at the Brookings Center.

What should we -- and let's start with this -- read into the fact that the Chinese were left in the dark over human rights rhetoric from President Hu?

KENNETH LIEBERTHAL, FORMER U.S. ADVISER ON CHINA: Well, as your reporter indicated, the Chinese are always extremely sensitive about any discussion of human rights in China. And this is not the first time they have censored their own national leaders on it. It highlights that what Hu said was to play abroad, not to play to the Chinese domestic audience.

I think the reality is Chinese citizens know very well what the human rights abuses are in China. They know very well that their leaders need to pay more attention to them.

But the leaders are obviously too cautious in talking about that issue publicly and letting the Chinese people hear them do so directly. That's a shame, but that's their reality.

ANDERSON: All right, you heard the Chinese president assure U.S. business leaders that China will not engage in an arms race with the United States, pose a military threat to any other country or pursue expansionism.

Do you buy that?

LIEBERTHAL: Well, I think when he says we won't engage in an arms race, what he means is we will simply assess what military capabilities we need given American military capabilities in the region and Japanese and South Korean and other military capabilities in the region and we'll build what we need to cope with that.

He doesn't consider that an arms race. He's considered -- he considers that prudent management of China's investment of resources on the military side.

How others see that can well be different. Therefore, I think it's especially important that the U.S. and China pursue the opportunity that Secretary Gates raised when he was in Beijing a week ago, and that is to have a sustained, pragmatic, in-depth, serious dialogue between our militaries at the highest levels...

ANDERSON: Yes.

LIEBERTHAL: -- and also at middle and lower ranking officer levels.

ANDERSON: All right, I want to take a look, for our viewers, at how the militaries of the two nations actually stack up. Bear with me here.

The United States spends a great deal more money on its military than China, nearly seven times as much. As a percentage of GDP, the numbers are about equal. But China's spending is rising much faster. China has a lot more active personnel -- if you can see all the numbers that will come up on your screen -- than the United States, but the U.S. has a much larger nuclear stockpile than China.

So when we talk about whether China is seeking or not to dominate in the military sphere -- I think those numbers for our viewers are important -- President Hu can -- qualified what he said on the military side, by also saying that his government remains committed to -- and I quote -- "building a modern socialist country." And he says, certainly, that he rejects foreign interference regarding Taiwan or Tibet.

Again, your thoughts?

LIEBERTHAL: Well, first of all, on the military side, there is no serious military man in China or in the United States who thinks that China has any prayer of dominating the U.S. militarily in the coming three or four decades.

The issue is whether China can increasingly make it difficult for the U.S. to have the kind of unfettered military capabilities in the Western Pacific that we've enjoyed for decades. That's really the question. It isn't a matter of dominance.

On the Taiwan issue and the Tibet issue, President Hu made very clear he certainly does not welcome U.S. interference in those issues.

At the same time, I think we are able to have and we do have serious discussions with the Chinese on how to manage those issues in the real world. If we were to stop Taiwan arms sales right now, it would be China's worst nightmare, because it would almost guarantee that the DPP would win the next election in Taiwan, which is the last thing the Chinese want.

So we need -- we do and we need to continue quietly to have much more serious and realistic discussions with China. The public rhetoric is a di -- is a different matter.

ANDERSON: So you buy this -- "don't fear us, we are no threat," yes or no?

You buy that line, do you, from the Chinese today?

LIEBERTHAL: No, of course I don't buy it. But I do think that President Hu's fundamental message is one that we also hear on the Washington side, which is to say this relationship is extremely important. We have a lot of overlapping or -- or parallel interests. We have areas where we disagree very strongly. We've got to manage those latter areas so we don't let them destroy the entire relationship.

There's too much at stake to do otherwise.

ANDERSON: Your expert on the subject tonight.

We thank you very much, indeed, from Washington.

LIEBERTHAL: My pleasure.

ANDERSON: Well, Hu now heads to President Barack Obama's hometown of Chicago. Stay with CNN for all the details on his visit, of course.

Well, coming up, protests and gunfire in Tunisia -- the new cabinet meets for the first time as defiant demonstrators make their voices heard. Their demands, up next.

And he may be the oldest player in the NBA, but he's still one of the most feared. We're going to put your questions to a giant on the basketball court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: And a warm welcome back.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN.

I'm Becky Anderson.

Saad Hariri says he's ready to stand again as prime minister of Lebanon despite objections from the militant group, Hezbollah. In his televised speech to the nation, the caretaker prime minister said that he had worked hard to protect his country from unrest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARIRI (through translator): I don't feel during these hours that we are in front of a closed wall. It is the opposite of that. I feel that national responsibility means that it is my duty -- it is my duty to find a gap in this wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, Lebanon's unity government collapsed last week when ministers loyal to Hezbollah quit. Mr. Hariri's speech came just hours after Turkey and Qatar gave up on efforts to broker a new government. Saudi Arabia threw in the towel on Wednesday.

Tunisia's new interim cabinet met today in the shadow of dramatic protests in the streets, demonstrators gathering outside the headquarters of the former ruling party. They are furious that the interim government includes ministers associated with the ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

China Ben Wedeman filed this report a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The beginning of the nightly curfew is just an hour-and-a-half away. There was a very small group of hard core demonstrators here in the main square of Tunisia. But now they're going home.

But it was a day of very steady and large demonstrations. The biggest was outside the headquarters of the RCD, the former ruling party. There, we watched as workers ripped off and threw down the lettering from a old party headquarters all the way down to the ground, people cheering and clapping.

During that time, they also -- the crowd also heard that the Central Committee of the party had dissolved. There was cheering, but people are still not satisfied. They want all the former members of the old party to go out of the government, to leave. And it appears that until their demands are completely met, these demonstrations will continue.

We've already seen ministers resigning from that government. It's a government that may not have much longer to live.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Tunis.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ANDERSON: U.S. federal agents have carried out one of the largest single day operations against alleged mafia members in FBI history. The sweep targeted at least five organized crime families. More than 100 suspected mobsters were arrested across New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. They face charges including murder, extortion and narcotics.

Here's U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Now, today's arrests mark an important and encouraging step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra's operations. But the reality is that our battle against organized crime enterprises is far from over. This is an ongoing effort and it must and will remain a tough priority for all of us in law enforcement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: In Iraq, dozens of Shiite pilgrims have been killed in twin bomb attacks in Karbala in -- which is south of Baghdad. It's the latest of several terrorist attacks across the country this week. The attack comes as tens of thousands of pilgrims are making their way to Karbala for Arba'een, a religious festival.

Well ahead, flooding and mudslides equal disaster in Brazil. We're going to go there live for an update on search and rescue efforts. And we ask, can the nation prevent future tragedies before it hosts the World Cup and the Olympics?

And later, we'll take you to Ukraine to witness the power of a punch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: "Well, hope is the last thing you lose" -- those words from one survivor of Brazil's worst ever natural disaster. But recovery from devastating floods and mudslides will not be easy. The death toll has climbed to 765. And today, Brazilian officials began evacuating thousands more people from at risk areas.

Shasta Darlington joins me from Teresopolis in Brazil -- Shasta.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Becky.

Although the rain has at least temporarily subsided and the levels that the rivers are beginning to -- to ebb, there's still so much work left. And what people here, residents, rescue workers, family members say is that it's far from over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Another day, more bodies. The death toll in Brazil keeps rising. More than 700 people were killed when violent floods and mudslides ripped through hillside towns northeast of Rio de Janeiro, making it the worst natural disaster in the country's history.

(on camera): This is the landscape that the rescue workers are having to deal with. As you can see, the rivers still fill up quickly with rain. They have to dig through this mud. They've got some sniffer dogs out here.

But what they're looking for are bodies. There are still dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, according to people who live here and the rescue workers.

(voice-over): Marcio's (ph) house was completely flattened. "I found my mom," he said. "She's alive, but in the hospital. My dad didn't survive."

We made the trip up river into Teresopolis in a helicopter provided by Brazil's armed forces.

(on camera): Now the reason that the helicopter has given us this ride is because they tell us they want us to show the world the reality of the destruction that has occurred here. They suspect there are many more deaths and they want the world to see what's going on.

(voice-over): They look for survivors. The day we visited, they found some 200 people cut off from the rest of the city. They also found more dead.

Major Carlos Falcon coordinates rescue operations in Teresopolis.

(on camera): There are going to be a lot more bodies?

MAJ. CARLOS FALCON, MILITARY POLICE: Yes. Unfortunately, I think -- I think, in my evaluation, I think there may be five times what we found until now.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): The homeless -- thousands of them -- end up in shelters like this one. Elizabeci (ph) says her nephew died. So did five neighbors.

"We heard people shouting, 'Help! Help!' Even children," she said. "When it got light out, all we could see were corpses." "Now," she says, "it's time to start rebuilding."

But back in the rubble, rain continues to drench workers and anxious neighbors.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DARLINGTON: Now, Becky, despite all of these tragic stories, we still are getting news of some survivors. Just today, one of these helicopter crews found a group of four people because they'd written "SOS" in the mud. They saw that sign and they went down and they picked them up -- Becky.

ANDERSON: All right. Those are stories amongst, sadly, so many bad.

Shasta Darlington reporting for you from Brazil there.

Shasta, thank you for that.

So many of the dead perished in those devastating mudslides. But if you live in Brazil or you know Brazil, you'll know that mudslides are nothing new, sadly.

Take a look at the what's happened just over the past year or so.

A year ago this month, mudslides on the southeast coast killed about 75 people. Some who died were guests at an upscale island resort that was washed away.

Well, last April, mudslides in Rio killed more than 200 people. Torrential rains sent mud smashing through hillside homes in the city's slums.

Well, that tragedy and the latest show the dangerous of Rio's shantytowns -- poorly built houses built on flood prone ground.

Well, this is happening as Brazil, of course, prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

So a big question -- can Brazil deal with -- fix this problem and -- and prevent future disasters in the lead-up to these global events?

Well, for some answers, we're bringing you Makhtar Diop tonight.

He's the World Bank's Brazilian director.

And he's joining me now from Brasilia.

And, sir, we -- we thank you for joining us.

You've leant -- or the bank has lent nearly half a billion dollars to Brazil.

For what?

MAKHTAR DIOP, BRAZIL DIRECTOR, WORLD BANK: We've -- thank you very much.

It's a -- it's a human tragedy. It's 750 people -- 753 people dying. It's something that affects everybody in Brazil. And we have (INAUDIBLE) colleagues who are stuck in -- near Freeborg (ph) and just came back.

We are lending the $485 million to the first (INAUDIBLE) government of Rio de Janeiro to respond to this crisis, but more importantly to buy -- to be at a long-term ready and assistant to this type of event to, over the future, save a lot of lives.

What we are trying to do is to help them developing a housing policy in the Rio area so that people can move from the risky area...

ANDERSON: All right...

DIOP: -- to move to other areas which are well prepared and which -- and to connect those people, also, to working areas where they can why be moved to -- to -- far from Rio de Janeiro city and the risk area and continue working and continue...

ANDERSON: That's a...

DIOP: -- and continue getting...

ANDERSON: And that's a big job...

DIOP: -- getting (INAUDIBLE).

ANDERSON: That's a big job.

What are the conditions of this loan, sir?

DIOP: It is the usual conditions that we are having for countries like Brazil, which are -- loans which -- which (INAUDIBLE) why they couldn't get on the market. So it's very good financially for the state of Rio and which are so easily the type of loan. This is a general budget support. It means that they can use it with a lot of flexibility.

But most importantly is that we are also helping in the immediate future the state of Rio to get equipment from -- for monitoring for radios for early warning systems so we should have them in the future to be able to re--- to respond...

ANDERSON: All right...

DIOP: -- much faster.

ANDERSON: -- because this is, of course...

DIOP: Since we...

ANDERSON: -- nothing new.

What has the Brazilian government said to you that ensures you that the money will be well spent?

DIOP: We got a total commitment of Governor Cabral (ph) and his team. There was (INAUDIBLE). They (INAUDIBLE). And they -- we have a lot of -- of commitments from them in using this money -- this money for these type of events.

But I want to -- to say that in addition to the work we are doing in the state of Rio, we are engaging, also, the federal government in developing a nationwide policy in terms of protection for -- to -- against these type of disasters.

I also sent recently the World Bank contacted governors from other states to offer help to prepare mitigation plans, a preparedness plan for these type of events...

ANDERSON: All right...

DIOP: -- which can also occur in the places in Brazil.

So it's a joint effort from the federal government for the state of Rio but also now a movement which is a nationwide movement to try to respond to these type of events.

ANDERSON: And very briefly, sir, the big question that we posed tonight was can Brazil fix this problem and prevent future disasters in the lead-up to what are enormous global events, that being the World Cup and the Olympics?

Your thoughts.

DIOP: I think that Brazil can do a lot to reduce these -- these -- these kind of events. And -- and I think, for us, it is the most important is what -- is to help saving these lives. And in the near future, a lot can be done in that context. So by joining, by having a concerted effort from the federal government, for the state government and to be able to put a coalition around that. And we believe that today the commitment of President Dilma, who called us and met us for more than 40 minutes to discuss that is a...

ANDERSON: All right...

DIOP: -- a real sign that the authorities want to take it very, very seriously...

ANDERSON: (INAUDIBLE).

DIOP: -- and want to (INAUDIBLE) the situation.

ANDERSON: And with that, we're going to leave it there.

We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from Brasilia tonight.

Still to come here on CNN, Bolivia's bid to bring coca leaves to the world -- the Andean nation is campaigning to lift a 50-year-old ban on the plant, which the Bolivian president describes as sacred.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: At just after half past nine in London, you are back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson, here. Coming up, we'll look at movement in Latin America to gain worldwide acceptance of Coca. Why Bolivia and others say it shouldn't be a banned drug.

And then, our week-long focus on Ukraine. We'll meet a man who's using his background in boxing to help fight corruption.

And later, professional basketball, singing, acting, and even conducting. Is there anything Shaquille O'Neal can't do? Well, the NBA legend will be taking your questions as your Connector of the Day, your part of the show.

Let's, before all of that, get you a quick look at the headlines this hour, here on CNN.

Hu Jintao has reassured business leaders in Washington about China's relationship with the United States. The Chinese president said his country had no interest in an arms race and said both countries could benefit from an expanded trade relationship. However, Mr. Hu did warn the US to respect China's stance on Taiwan and Tibet.

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister says he will seek another term as premier. The announcement came during a live, televised address. Saad Hariri is facing strong opposition from Hezbollah, ministers loyal to that group, who stepped down last week, causing the government to collapse.

Tunisia's interim cabinet has convened for the first time as demonstrators keep up daily protest, demanding anyone left in the old government should be thrown out. Under that pressure, cabinet members are severing ties with the past. The former ruling party's leadership committee has been dissolved.

And US federal agents targeting organized crime have taken more than 100 suspects into custody. They made the arrests in a string of early- morning raids in New York and other nearby states. The charges include arson, extortion, racketeering, and murder. Some of those date back as far as 1981.

Well, finally, US stocks have finished lower for the second straight day. Earnings from the tech sector failing to live up to expectations.

News just coming into CNN. The shakeup of the -- at the top of the internet giant Google. CEO Eric Schmidt is stepping down. He's going to be replaced by co-founder Larry Page, who will take over on April the 4th. That's a big story. We're going to bring you more details on it as they become available.

Chewed and brewed for centuries in Bolivia, the coca leaf is used daily by millions of people across the Andes. But this herb of the Incas, considered sacred within Bolivia's indigenous cultures, has been on the United Nations' band list for 50 years.

According to the Bolivian president, it's high time that ruling changed. A former coca grower himself, Evo Morales, has stepped up his country's campaign to have the international ban lifted, saying "the leaf is not a drug."

( BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVO MORALES, PRESIDENT OF BOLIVIA (through translator): We're not asking for the decriminalization of the coca leaf but, rather, respect for the traditional use of the coca leaf. The traditional use of coca leaf cannot be penalized, it cannot be punished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, it's the Bolivian leader's latest bid to legitimize and expand coca production. In August last year, he hit the streets of La Paz to hand out a new fizzy drink cheekily called "Coca Colla" to rival its more famous US cousin.

But Bolivia's coca push is vehemently opposed by the United States, which argues ending the ban would undermine the war on drugs. Now, here is the issue.

According to scientists, coca leaf in its natural form is a harmless and mild stimulant, comparable to co -- to coffee. It's commonly used to help suppress hunger, fatigue, pain, and altitude sickness.

But it's also the base ingredient for cocaine which, according to the United Nations, is used by up to 19 million people worldwide.

Well, Bolivia has been urging leaders around the world not to block its campaign to have the UN ban on coca leaf lifted. The country's foreign minister has even flown to Europe to garner support. Here's what he had to say a little earlier in London.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CHOOUEHUANICA, FOREIGN MINISTER OF BOLIVIA (through translator): Some countries want to object to this campaign because there is a lack of information and knowledge about the issue.

They think that this is going to increase the number of coca fields. They think we are trying to decriminalize cocaine. They relate chewing coca with the drug. This is just a misunderstanding. This is why we are on this European tour, because there is a lack of information about the issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: The United States has officially opposed Bolivia's petition, so where does this leave the coca leaf debate? I'm joined here in London by Beatriz Souviron, the Bolivian ambassador to the UK, and from Washington for you this evening, John Walters, who was the US drug czar between 2001 and 2009. We welcome you both to the show.

Very briefly, just how important is the coca leaf culturally to the people of Bolivia?

BEATRIZ SOUVIRON, BOLIVIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UK: It's a millinery (ph) use for the indigenous people from my country. They chew the coca, it's used in ceremonies, social gatherings, and so on. It can be proved that it's an ancient use, because within -- even in the Abipon customs, you can see some features with the coca leaf.

ANDERSON: All right. John, refine the alkaloids in coca and you get cocaine, right?

JOHN WALTERS, FORMER US DRUG CZAR: Yes.

ANDERSON: And that's the problem, is it?

WALTERS: And I think there's -- well, it's not just the problem. Look, I think there's some misunderstanding that may be even fomented by Evo Morales, here. Not only do you have the international conventions, but you have pol -- US policy have carefully protected traditional use, chewing leaves and other traditional uses, in both Bolivia and Peru. That's not an issue, that's a red herring.

The fact is, there are vastly more production of coca, and it's producing cocaine. It's almost doubled in Bolivia in the last ten years. The increase is accelerating, and it's producing 200 metric tons of cocaine that's flooding into the southern cone of South America and into Europe.

It doesn't usually come to the United States because it's poor quality cocaine. But the fact is, if people were chewing all these leaves, we wouldn't be having this interview.

ANDERSON: Beatriz, how do you prevent the leaf getting into the wrong hands, then? Because, evidently, it is, isn't it?

SOUVIRON: We are -- we have internal policies to fight cocaine and drug trafficking within the country. We have statistics that we can show that the fight against drug produce and drug trafficking has been improved in the last year.

ANDERSON: But John said it's not working.

SOUVIRON: I think it's working. In 20 -- in 1990, there were around 16,000 hectares of coca leaf produced. And it has been decreased to 13,000 hectares last year. Bolivia has the commitment with the international community to decrease the hectares, 5,000 hectares per year. In 2010, we have reduced 8,000 hectares.

ANDERSON: All right, John. You heard what the Bolivian ambassador said. Are you still concerned?

WALTERS: With all due respect, that's not even close to what's going on there. There are 35,000 hectares of cocaine -- or coca beans produced at minimum, about 200 metric tons of cocaine equivalent.

The Bolivian government has been so uncooperative, and the United States government works with countries that are in difficult situations, does everything it can to help them when they're even trying to cooperate.

The Bolivian government, both when I was in office and now, subsequently, during the Obama administration, has been so uncooperative, so unwilling to pursue enforcement, that they have been de-certified, an unusual step for the United States government, to bar them from receiving aid, which they won't use effectively.

So, the Bolivian government under Evo Morales has had a terrible record. It's destructive to Bolivia and the people of Bolivia and the criminal elements created there, and it's very destructive to the rest of South America and to Europe, where this is being shipped.

ANDERSON: Be --

WALTERS: So, I wish the story was better. There's opportunities here, but this is willful bad behavior.

ANDERSON: Beatriz?

SOUVIRON: I think, with all due respect, of course, that there is some incongruity within the data you are managing and what we have as official data in the government of Bolivia. I think it's not a matter of cooperation. We have been struggling to fight drug trafficking in the country.

ANDERSON: You admit to that, do you?

SOUVIRON: No, we have been fighting that for years and years. And, of course, Bolivia isn't -- we didn't invent cocaine. It's not a Bolivian invention, at least. I think cocaine trafficking in the world is harming even the traditional use of coca within my country.

And when the indigenous people have their rights in order to keep the cultural behaviors ongoing. It's a traditional use. So, I think the data we are managing is quite different in this case and I think that the fight against drug trafficking have improved in the last years. Why? Because we are working with the consensus and participation of the community.

ANDERSON: All right, we're going to have to leave it there, guys, because I am going to have to take a very short break coming up, but we thank you both. John, we heard your words, and Beatriz, for joining us this evening.

Bolivia's push to legitimize coca production comes as the United States puts millions of dollars, of course, toward eradicating the crops. In neighboring Colombia, Rafael Romo meets one of the many farmers who have been convinced to rip up their coca plants.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): Jorge Elias Benjumea proudly inspects his plantain field. He's not only happy his crops are doing well, but also, for the first time in years, what he's growing is legal.

JORGE ELIAS BENJUMEA, COLOMBIAN FARMER (through translator): Everything is different, now. More peaceful. I go to bed at night with no worries.

ROMO (voice-over): Benjumea says he used to grow coca, the plant from which cocaine is produced. He used to make $2800 a month growing coca. Now he makes about $840 with plantains, but he doesn't have to deal with guerrillas or drug traffickers anymore. His peace of mind and the safety of his family, he says, are priceless.

BENJUMEA (through translator): Coca is a plant that can make you a lot of money, but also gives you a lot of headaches.

ROMO (voice-over): Benjumea is part of a new wave of Colombian farmers growing alternative crops in a region known as "La Macarena."

ROMO (on camera): This region was known for decades as the stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerrilla commonly known as FARC. La Macarena used to be not only a major recruiting and training center for new guerrillas, but also a production point of coca and a key transit route for illegal arms groups.

ROMO (voice-over): In an area known as Albania, farmers got together to grow and process sugar cane. Not far from there, another group is venturing into fish farming with government help.

SERGIO JARAMILLO, COLOMBIAN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: So, you need to stabilize those drug-producing areas. That's what we're doing here. And there's no better investment for prosperity in a country like Colombia than supporting that integrated approach of security and social development.

ROMO (voice-over): US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited several communities developing alternative crops as part of a three-day visit to Colombia.

GIL KERLIKOWSKE, US DRUG CZAR: We have to continue to be supportive of Colombia in a whole host of ways. The other is that none of this was possible without safety and security first.

ROMO (voice-over): The US has provided more than $7 billion in aid in the last ten years to help Colombia fight drug trafficking. According to US government figures, cocaine production in the South American country fell from 700 metric tons in 2001 to 270 in 2009, a 61 percent decrease.

Farmers in La Macarena say it's hard to make ends meet with alternative crops. But this is a sacrifice many are willing to make for their children so that they grow up free from guerrillas and drug traffickers. Rafael Romo, CNN, La Macarena, Colombia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Up next, Vitali Klitschko has made a name for himself in the boxing ring, but the heavyweight can also pack some serious political punch. His fight to knock out corruption, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: From Bahrain to Japan to Malaysia, CNN's special monthly i- List program looks at the countries inventing, innovating, and bringing change to our world. And this week, the focus is on Ukraine and how the Eastern European nation is breaking out onto the world stage. We've been investigating that.

Today, we're bringing some political muscle to the show. Time to meet a man who's using his background in boxing to help fight corruption. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hamburg, October 2010. Ukraine's Vitali Klitschko versus USA's Shannon Briggs.

VITALI KLITSCHKO, HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: I don't see some fighter who can take out me or my brother. We have a lot of experience, we are strong, and if we are healthy, nobody can beat us.

MAGNAY (voice-over): Klitschko retains his world heavyweight champion title. Briggs is hospitalized.

KLITSCHKO: In every way, in life, in boxing, you have to show your skills. You have to defend yourself. You have to defend your mind. And not physically. You use your strong mentality. You use your brain skills to defend your position.

MAGNAY (voice-over): April 2010. Klitschko launches a new political party to fight corruption. It's called the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform.

KLITSCHKO: Corruption is the biggest problem for us. And that's why it's a goal for me to make the same standards, political standards, economic standards, European standards here in Ukraine.

MAGNAY (voice-over): Since August 2003, the Klitschko brothers foundation has worked to promote healthy lifestyles for children through sport.

(MAN SHOUTING IN UKRANIAN)

(CROWD CHEERING)

KLITSCHKO: We try to give the younger generation the opportunity to develop themselves in sport. We try to use the power, what has worked to change the world, and bringing change to the people for problems we have in our society.

MAGNAY (voice-over): Vitali's younger brother Vladimir is also a world heavyweight boxing champion.

KLITSCHKO: My brother is not just a brother, he's my close friend. We understand each other, we help each other, and maybe that's why we have -- we're lucky and successful in sport.

But sometimes, we have problems to decide. Who will we fight against that day? My brother, "No, no!" Me, "Vladimir, I am the older one, you have to. He say, "No. Many times I listen to my older brother, but this time I am so sorry."

And we make a competition is sport, also. We never fight each other, but we play each other table tennis, chess. Life without brother would be so boring, and that's why I am thankful for my parents, I have my brother, Vladimir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: And tomorrow's i-List from Ukraine bares all. Meet the women of Ukraine's topless protest movement who are using an unorthodox method to make politicians sit up and listen.

And you can follow our week-long look inside Ukraine on the Facebook page or our website, cnn.com/connect or facebook.com/CNNconnect.

Coming up tonight, a celebrity you just can't miss. You really can't miss this one. Shaquille O'Neal is one of the tallest people in the world and a basketball superstar to boot. He is your Connector of the Day tonight. Shaq sits down with me and answers your questions. Your part of the show, that's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: He is a superstar on the basketball court, and on television and movie screens across the globe. Your Connector of the Day, Shaquille O'Neal is one of the world's most visible athletes, not to mention, one of the tallest. Shaq answers your questions, tonight, and tells us about a most unusual way he surprised fans in Boston, home of his current NBA team, the Boston Celtics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON (voice-over): He's got a physique that's as impressive as his resume. And for Shaquille O'Neal, there seems to be no end in sight. The basketball legend has been playing in the NBA since 1992, and last year became the oldest active player in the league.

After starting off with the Orlando Magic, Shaq has gone on to lead teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. Most recently, he signed with the Boston Celtics.

The all-star has racked up more than 20 awards over the course of his career, and he's tried his hand at everything from singing to acting to, most recently, conducting.

(MUSIC - "We Are the Champions")

ANDERSON (voice-over): And as the face of numerous products, Shaq recently surprised Boston fans with an impromptu contest celebrating, of all things, one of the world's favorite cookies.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, BASKETBALL STAR: You know with the Oreos, if you twist them, pull it apart, you get the white thing -- you take that side right there, and then, you dunk it in the milk. And then, bam. We figured that things like these will bring families and friends closer together. I know at the house with me and my kids and my girlfriend, we just like to have little Oreo games.

ANDERSON (on camera): Were people surprised to see you? How did they react?

O'NEAL: They react like they always react, very friendly, like they're kind of surprised to see me. I've kind of been all over. Been to London a couple of times, almost got arrested by one of the bobbies. But other than that, I'm all over the place.

ANDERSON: All right, here's a good one for you. Got some questions from the viewers. Juri asks, "Can you still do a 360-degree dunk?"

O'NEAL: Tell him I can do a 359, but not a 360.

ANDERSON: You're getting old, mate.

O'NEAL: Yes, I know.

ANDERSON: All right, Jenna says, "You are the coolest man in the world." She says, "Do you have a favorite team?" I remember when you with the Orlando Magic. You were absolutely amazing. Who have you enjoyed playing for most?

O'NEAL: I don't really have a favorite. They all have been very fun and enjoyable. I think it'd be unfair with me still playing to say which team was my favorite.

ANDERSON: Keira asks, this is a good question, "If you could do a one-on-one with Wilt Chamberlain, who would win?"

O'NEAL: Me.

(LAUGHTER)

O'NEAL: I kind of studied his game and mastered his game, and I think he would have not wanted to face a guy like me.

ANDERSON: What about Charles Barkley? I remember watching him when he was with the Suns. He's a good player, isn't he?

O'NEAL: Yes, Charles is a great player, a hall of fame player, a good friend of mine. We always have some tough battles. Got into a little scuffle one time. He hit me with a ball, I swung, I missed, he flipped me. Then we went in the back, had some Oreos, twist, lick, dunked it, had a great time.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about the movies. Bruce has written to us. He says, "You're such a media favorite. Any more cameos in the future?"

O'NEAL: Yes, I have some movies coming up this summer, and then, a movie with Adam Sandler last summer. I don't know when it's coming out. And I've got a lot of movies in the works.

ANDERSON: Do you enjoy it?

O'NEAL: Yes, it's fun. It's an opportunity for me to show my funny side. And it's always been fun.

ANDERSON: Faizain from Pakistan has written. He says, "After retiring from the NBA, will you still play basketball?"

O'NEAL: Well, I have a court near my house, so I'll probably play with the guys, play with Collin and Perry and Mike and Jerome and those guys. Collin, by the way, is one of the worst players ever. But we'll make him good. But he's terrible, he's awful. But he lives in the house with me, and we like to play ball a lot, me and Collin.

ANDERSON: Well, I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear that on CNN International. Marina from Boston has asked, "Are you enjoying playing for Boston as much as we're enjoying watching?"

O'NEAL: Yes, it's a fun town. The town has been very, very hospitable to me, and it's a great arena, great energy in the crowd, and I'm glad I made this choice.

ANDERSON: Are you guys in the Celtics as good as the best there ever was for that team?

O'NEAL: No, I think we're similar to the other teams that they had. Back in the day, they had four or five legitimate hall of famers on the court at once, and I think at times we have the same thing.

ANDERSON: And Andrew Barto asks, "Do you think that you are the most dominant center in the history of basketball?" I think I'm going to know the answer to this.

O'NEAL: I would say yes, and I would say I know that I am.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: A man of few words, but good ones, but good ones. Next week -- that's Shaquille O'Neal, of course. Next week, I will talk to a woman who revolutionized TV sitcoms more than two decades ago. Roseanne Barr's self-titled show portrayed working class families with a unique combination of humor, sarcasm, and affection. But it wasn't always easy sledding. Roseanne's going to talk about her career and answer your questions up next.

Do remember to send questions into us for your Connectors of the Day. Tell us where you're writing from, cnn.com/connect is where you can do all of that from.

Now, premier week on "Piers Morgan Tonight" continues on Friday with the man everybody is talking about. Ricky Gervais in his first TV interview since what was a very controversial appearance on the Golden Globes at the weekend. He tells Piers what really happened behind the scenes.

Now, some are saying his jokes weren't so much funny as just plain nasty. Well, Gervais sat down with Piers to talk about the flap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICKY GERVAIS, ENTERTAINER: They hired me for a job, and if they didn't want me, they shouldn't have hired me.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Someone asked me, "What do you think, as a fellow Brit on TV in America, what do think of what happened with Ricky?" I said, "Well, it's a bit like inviting a hammerhead shark to dinner, and then, when he eats all the guests, you start complaining. I mean, you've got to know what you're going to get."

GERVAIS: Well, that's one thing. But also, as I say, I don't think I did anything wrong. I honestly -- those were jibes at these people, and I'm sure they've got a sense of humor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, you can see the interview with Ricky Gervais in full tomorrow night on CNN. "Piers Morgan Tonight" airs one hour before CONNECT THE WORLD.

Time for tonight's Parting Shots for you, just time. Check out these pictures of a new development in London. Now, at first you might think they're just an ordinary block of apartments, but let me tell you, you're looking at One Hyde Park in the super-swanky area of Knightsbridge.

These apartments by the Candy brothers are set to become the most expensive in the world. Now, the cheapest will set you back $10 million. For a luxury suite, expect to shell out, get this, $223 million.

Thankfully, you do get some quite cool things for your money. A shared cinema, a wine cellar, a golf simulator, and a panic room, apparently, should you need it. Given what you've spent, all are included.

And at the other end of the property spectrum, a hotel in Spain which is plain rubbish. Yes, quite literally. It's been made entirely of waste found at dumps, beaches, and flea markets, created in protests over the world's dirty oceans.

I'm going to be right back with a quick check of the headlines right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ANDERSON: That's the latest from the world of news, the news headlines. And from the team here in London, it's a very good evening. "BackStory" with Mr. Michael Holmes starts right now.

END