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Shadow Interim Government in Eastern Libya; Gadhafi's Uncertain Future; Modern-Day Slavery

Aired March 8, 2011 - 08:00:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: Welcome to NEWS STREAM, where news and technology meet.

I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

The sound of heavy gunfire during an aerial attack. Pro-Gadhafi forces clash with rebels in Ras Lanuf amid mixed reports that Libya's leader may be trying to broker a way out.

This 5-year-old girl toils in the dirt, making bricks to help pay her family's debt. As part of the "CNN Freedom Project," we'll take you inside India's illegal bonded labor trade.

And one man's quest for the truth. Meet the reporter making sure the poor and voiceless are heard in China.

Now, Libya has entered its fourth week of bloody conflict, but claims have emerged about an offer for Moammar Gadhafi that could prevent a fifth. Opposition figures say that he has agreed to step down if he's guaranteed safe passage out of the country, but the government vehemently denies this.

Now, CNN's Arwa Damon reports from rebel-held Benghazi on the efforts of the shadow government in eastern Libya.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As children scamper around the spoiled war (ph), opposition leaders deliver the latest military and political updates from a small window of the north Benghazi courthouse.

(on camera): Around the corner is a side door to the courthouse, the entrance to what has become the de facto decision-making nerve center. It is here where they decided to form the National Council, a shadow interim government of sorts.

(voice-over): The group faces a monumental task. Amal Bugaigis is a member of what is known as the February 17th Coalition made up of lawyers and intellectuals who are at the forefront of the uprising. And it is they who put together the council.

AMAL BUGAIGIS, FEBRUARY 17TH COALITION MEMBER: It is the legal body in front of the whole world who represent the revolution.

DAMON: Most critical at this stage, she says, is international recognition, developing a strategic plan of defense for the fighters on the front line, many of whom do not even have military experience. And they're heavily outgunned by staunch Gadhafi supporters. And how to handle Libya's natural wealth.

BUGAIGIS: The oil, because it's very important to the world and it's very important to Libya, because we cannot continue without money, but agreement with the world.

DAMON: The council itself meets, we are told, at an undisclosed location in eastern Libya. Within these walls, impromptu encounters morph into debates and arguments. Trying to govern a non-state entity with democratic ambitions is a new experience for most.

We came across a group of tribal elders here to pledge their support. Usama (ph) has just arrived with news from the front lines, brandishing what he says is the helmet of a downed pilot. He explained that he's here to reassure people that the opposition is winning the battle, that Libyan TV is stating they lost.

(on camera): So, Gadhafi's propaganda campaign though must be pretty powerful if it is able to initially even cause you to worry.

BUGAIGIS: You see, when you see this on the TV, you have some doubts, maybe something happened.

DAMON (voice-over): Amid the hallway bus (ph) we find Mohammed (ph), here to draw attention to his case.

(on camera): He was a political prisoner.

(voice-over): He was thrown behind bars numerous times since he was 12, jailed, he says, for anti-Gadhafi graffiti. He says he was tortured repeatedly. Half his body is now paralyzed.

Like many, he is euphoric at being able to freely speak his mind. But at the same time, he shares the general apprehension that Gadhafi will launch a vicious bombing campaign.

The will to win is as strong as ever. Now the National Council has to come up with a cohesive plan to move it from civil war to the creation of a new civil society.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Benghazi, Libya.


STOUT: And Arwa Damon joins us live from Benghazi.

And Arwa, the opposition says that Gadhafi is trying to strike a deal. Give us the details and the reaction.

DAMON: Yes, Kristie. And this is a very fluid situation here as well, especially in terms of information. But we did hear from opposition leaders that their intermediaries -- Gadhafi was offering to convene the people of congress. In return, he would step down. He wanted guarantees of safe passage for him and his family, guarantees that he would not be prosecuted at a later date.

This offer on every single level met with a lot of skepticism as to whether or not it was genuine. In return, the opposition said that it was countering with saying that if Gadhafi in fact did intend to live up to his side of that potential bargain, he would have to come out and say that he was no longer Libya's leader, and he would have to recognize the legitimacy and authority of this newly formed National Council.

We did, however, hear from government officials in Libya that this offer was baseless, that it did not exist. When we returned with that response to the opposition leadership here, they said that they were not surprised. They had all along believed, they said, that this was just another one of Gadhafi's tricks -- Kristie.

STOUT: Arwa Damon, joining us live from Benghazi.

Thank you for that.

Now, for three full weeks, the U.N. Security Council has monitored developments in Libya, and three members, namely the U.S., U.K. and France, are working on a possible resolution. Now, one factor that could come into play, a no-fly zone over the troubled nation. Now, that is supported by nations around the Persian Gulf.

But lying to the east are two permanent members of the Security Council who could make a no-fly zone a no-go zone. Any kind of military intervention could face criticism from Russia and China, two nations that have veto power.

Now, the situation in Libya has now unquestionably turned into all-out civil war. But will a civil war of sorts erupt over U.N. resolution plans?

Now, CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joins me live.

And Barbara, a no-fly zone requires international buy-in. So what is the likelihood it will go ahead?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's tough to say at this point, Kristie.

Here, in the United States, the Obama administration is making it very clear, that international buy-in is vital. There needs to be a U.N. resolution. It need to happen perhaps under a NATO umbrella, of NATO planes conducting any such operation.

And things are long way from that right now, because there is very little call for Western powers to really get involved in Libyan air space, on the ground in Libya. And the Obama administration knows that. So, yesterday, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, walked a very delicate line between the reality of the situation politically and trying to send a signal to Gadhafi that the U.S. and the international community still has a strong will to act.

Have a listen.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are in consultation with our international partners. A no-fly zone option is certainly one that would be discussed at NATO.

In terms of the procedures of getting there, should we want to pursue that option, I'm not going to elaborate on the paths, but only to say that it is being considered. No option has been removed from the table, but ground troops is not sort of top of the list at this point.


STARR: So, let's be very clear. No U.S. ground troops in Libya. That is not something that the U.S. administration has the stomach or interest for.

As far as a no-fly zone, keep watch on the U.N. Britain, France and the U.S. still trying to work through all of that, getting some support for the general idea of it out in the region there, in the Middle East. But it's a long way from happening, and it's not something that the Pentagon really wants to do. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for days now, has been warning it would be very tough and essentially amount to a military conflict for U.S. warplanes to try and deal with a no-fly over Libya -- Kristie.

STOUT: So a no-fly zone a long way from happening.

Barbara Starr, joining us live from the Pentagon.

Thank you.

STARR: Sure.

STOUT: Now, this week, CNN is launching our "Freedom Project." Now, we're joining the fight to end modern-day slavery. It's a horror that at least 10 million people face every day in every corner of the world. And throughout the year we'll bring you some of their voices. And through their stories, the "CNN Freedom Project" hopes to unveil the web of criminal organizations trading in human life.

Now, today, we're putting the spotlight in rural India where, in some places, entire villages are enslaved by landowners. Now, some people are working to pay off minor debts owed for generations.

Sara Sidner reports on this vicious cycle.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An army of brick makers heaving, stacking, balancing bricks and more bricks from sunup to sundown. But these laborers take home no wage. They are working off a debt.

They are bonded laborers, bound to those who gave them an advance or a loan. Human rights activists say the practice is legal and call them India's modern slaves.

"I cannot leave here unless I pay my debt." Dirgawasi (ph) tells me she has no idea when that will be.

(on camera): The workers here tell us, generally, here's how it works. The contractor shows up promising them work and giving them a little advance money. Then, they're tractored (ph) in from their far off villages to a place they've never been to, and they're told when they get here that they have to work off their loan and they will not be paid any wages. They're also told they have to live here so the supervisors can keep an eye on them.

(voice-over): It isn't just the adults who are expected to work. Dirgawasi (ph) is a mother of three. Her eldest daughter should not be this skilled at brick making. She is only 5 years old.

Her mother says she took an advance of 1,000 rupees, the equivalent of about $22. She, her husband and her daughter have been working six days a week for two months now. She says no one has told her when the loan will be paid off.

Their small allowance is barely enough to feed the family. Still, they don't dare leave. "They will beat me if I try to leave," Dirgawasi (ph) says.

We want to ask the supervisor about what seems to be a violation of Indian labor law.

(on camera): Is the supervisor -- supervisor?

(voice-over): So when a supervisor shows up asking us to leave, we take our opportunity and he agrees to speak to us.

(on camera): Are they having to pay this loan off now?

(voice-over): "Yes, they have to work and repay the loan. They keep working," he says.

(on camera): Is this legal? How is it legal?

(voice-over): "Yes, yes," he says. "We have an agreement."

(on camera): Why are children working here?

(voice-over): "Kids are working here for food. They need food. If they can't fill their stomachs, they need to work," he says, as he's pulled away. Perhaps he has said too much.

(on camera): I'm not going to pay you money.


SIDNER: Why? Why would I pay you money? Why?

(voice-over): Though he won't pay the workers a wage, he has no problem asking us to pay him for the interview. We of course refuse, and everyone goes back to making bricks. Some will stay trapped in debt.


SIDNER: Supriya Awasthi works for an international organization called free the slaves. She admits her organization's mission is ambitious.

(on camera): What's the most shocking thing that's happening here in this country?

AWASTHI: There are 27 million people around the world who are enslaving, and the maximum number of people enslaving live in India.

SIDNER (voice-over): Just down the road, in the village of Gomanpur (ph) we meet Carbon (ph). "When my father was alive, he took an 8,000 rupee loan from the landowner. Since that time, I have to work day and night for him." His father's debt, the equivalent of $175, changed his life. Carbon (ph) says, "No matter who is your family borrowed money, their debt becomes your debt."

"Even when I'm hurt or sick, they call me to work," he says. "You won't believe how many atrocities I have to bear each day." Before he was injured on the job, he says he tried to escape several times, but they found him and brought him back from as far away as Mumbai.

It's true, there are no physical signs of what this place is about. No chains, no fences, and no armed guards. But these villagers say they are all slaves just the same.

(on camera): What will happen if you just take your family and leave and go somewhere else?

(voice-over): "If I don't work for them, they will beat me and abuse my daughter," she says. "If you don't give in, they'll sell your daughter and son."

Lawti (ph) borrowed money from a landowner to treat her husband's tuberculosis.

(on camera): How much do you owe?

(voice-over): "I am an illiterate. So how would I know how much we owe and what's left to pay? I don't even know how much we had taken. It's been many years."

So she works. These villagers say they all do. There is nowhere to run to and no way to get there. None of them had any idea that Indian law outlawed this practice more than 30 years ago.

(on camera): What does freedom mean to you?

(voice-over): "The day I pay my debt, I will be free. We'll be prosperous," she says.

Now, Lawti's (ph) dream is to be able to work long enough so her children will be freed from the loan that binds her to this land and this life.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Uttar Pradesh, India.


STOUT: Shocking, isn't it? A cycle so vicious and so heartbreaking.

Now, CNN caught up with an Indian magistrate, and he says that until there are improvements in education, the nation will likely continue to fight this kind of poverty.


RANVIJAY SINGH, SUBDIVISIONAL MAGISTRATE (through translator): When, India has three things -- first of all, 100 percent education, when every parent will be empowered -- he will understand the value of his child. Nation formation, nation building -- what is my child's value? They'll begin to understand. And socioeconomic development of every state of the society.

Until India progresses in these three factors, we'll just have to continue doing these rescues, and they will just keep sending these kids to work. This is their compulsion. The most important thing for them is food.


STOUT: And tomorrow on CNN, Sara Sidner brings us another aspect to the story -- rescuing workers from debt slavery, the power of fear when work is your entire life. That's tomorrow, right here on NEWS STREAM.

And still to come this hour in our coverage of those working to end slavery, there's a new million-dollar fund to help the victims of human trafficking. It is the first of its kind. And the U.N.'s goodwill ambassador on human trafficking. The actress Mira Sorvino will be joining us live.

Now, Egyptian women, they are demanding equality for all. And activists say it is the only way for the country to move forward.

We'll bring you a live report from Cairo.

Plus, vaccination investigation. Japan probes the safety of shots that have been given to babies around the world.


STOUT: Now, Mexican authorities are investigation a deadly shootout between rival drug gangs. At least 18 people were killed Monday in this border state. Authorities closed a highway and suspended schools as the violence erupted. A bloody turf war between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas has terrorized the area, though it's unclear which gangs were involved in this latest shooting.

Now, further west, along the U.S./Mexico border, mystery surrounds a police chief's whereabouts. Now, we told you about Marisol Valles Garcia back in October, when the 20-year-old was the only person in her town to accept the job as top cop. Now, the mayor fired the young mother on Monday after she failed to turn up for work.

A U.S. immigration official tells CNN that Valles Garcia is now in the United States. Authorities in Mexico have denied reports that she is trying to seek asylum because of death threats. Several of her neighbors say it is an open secret.

Now let's turn to Egypt now.

A crowed is gathering in Cairo's Tahrir Square. That is, of course, the site of massive protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Now, organizers of the so-called Million Woman March say they are demanding equal opportunities for all Egyptians in the post-Mubarak era. Now, the event was organized on several Facebook pages. Now, one online statement says, "Egyptian women will not return to silence."

Now let's bring in our Nima Elbagir now. She joins us live from Cairo.

And Nima, what do activists want to accomplish with this march?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, women were such an intrinsic part of the uprising that bought about the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak. And yet, in the new government that's just been announced by Essam Sharaf, the new prime minister, in spite of all his talk about a representation for women in the Egyptian parliament, representation for women at the highest levels of government, there is only one female minister, and that is the minister for international development, a portfolio that's generally being seen as quite a soft one anyway.

And there's no representation for women in any of the committees that were set up post-Mubarak's fall, not the Constitutional Reform Committee, not the Referendum Committee. So women really feel like, you know, we've been here before. We have been involved in the waves of change in Egypt in the '50s and '60s, and then were pushed back into the kitchens and into the houses. But this time, we want to ensure that that doesn't happen to us again, that we continue to be present in public life -- Kristie.

STOUT: All right. Nima, thank you very much indeed. And we'll be checking in with you later as the march gets under way.

Nima Elbagir, joining us live from Cairo.

Now, Cairo's criminal court has approved an order to freeze the former Egyptian leader's assets. Corruption cases involving Hosni Mubarak have been postponed for 24 hours. Now, his lawyer lacked the proper paperwork to defend him.

Now, later on Tuesday, Egypt's supreme court could lift the lid on Mr. Mubarak's finances. His accounts and holdings are currently shielded under "secret status."

Now, still ahead on NEWS STREAM, they are widely used vaccines. But after five infant deaths, Japan is raising safety questions. We'll give you the details.


STOUT: Coming to you live from Hong Kong, you are back watching NEWS STREAM.

Now, Japan's Health Ministry has ordered doctors to stop immunizing infants with two widely used vaccines. Now, the move follows the death of five Japanese children. They had all been recently vaccinated.

As Kyung Lah explains, a safety panel is investigating whether there's any possible connection.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The calls have come all morning, parents worried about these vaccines given to nearly every child in the developed world. Japan's government ordered pediatricians like Michiko Suwa to stop giving the vaccines after the deaths of five children in the past month. The temporary suspension order came via letter.

MICHIKO SUWA, PEDIATRICIAN: They will stop vaccinating with ActHIB and Prevnar.

LAH: Prevnar, made by Pfizer, and the ActHIB vaccine made by Sanofi Pasteur. They stop bacteria that can cause meningitis, pneumonia, and other serious infections. Both are part of the vaccine routine for infants in the U.S. and Europe. Pfizer says it's distributed more than 360 million doses worldwide.

But now a safety panel has convened in Tokyo, investigating whether those two common vaccines contributed to the sudden deaths of the five children, all age 2 and younger. Suspicious, says the Health Ministry, because the majority of them died within days of each other.

(on camera): Japan's Health Ministry says all five of the children recently died shortly after getting the vaccinations. Now, three of the children did have underlying health conditions. Investigators are still looking into the patient health of one of the children. But one child had no health problems at the time she was vaccinated.

(voice-over): The pharmaceutical companies stood by the safety of their vaccines. In a statement to CNN, Pfizer says, "No causal relationship has been established between the events reported in Japan and vaccination to date. We are conducting a thorough evaluation of these cases in cooperation with the relevant regulatory health authorities."

And from Sanofi Pasteur, "No causal relationship has been established between immunization and these fatalities. We have been and will be providing all data of ActHIB and will fully collaborate with the Ministry of Health and Welfare."

Pediatricians like Dr. Suwa says while the deaths of the children should be investigated, vaccinations should not stop.

SUWA: I think that this situation is terrible. Too drastic --

LAH (on camera): It's too drastic?

SUWA: -- to stop vaccination. It's good to vaccine to prevent meningitis in children.

LAH (voice-over): Nineteen-month-old Singi Mariyama (ph) already got the vaccines months ago, a decision his mother says she's happy with. "I'd rather take the risk that comes with vaccines," she says, "than take the risk of the disease he could get by not getting vaccinated." A choice parents in Japan, at least for now, won't be able to make.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


STOUT: And further to Kyung's report, a safety panel convened in Tokyo this Tuesday evening. It is examining exactly why the children suddenly died and if the vaccines played a role in their deaths. We'll bring you any findings when we get them.

Now, this week here at CNN, we have launched the "Freedom Project" to shed light on modern-day slavery. And coming up, we'll look at the faces of human trafficking and find out more about how women and children are trapped in this nightmare every day.

And Tuesday celebrates the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. We'll check in with some of the first women to lead their countries, next.


STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

You're watching NEWS STREAM, and these are your world headlines.

While fighting continues in Libya on Tuesday, an opposition official claims that Colonel Gadhafi is trying to strike a deal that could see him step down as the country's ruler. The official says the Libyan leader wants immunity from prosecution and safe passage from the country. But a spokesman for the Gaddafi government is denying any talks that have taken place with the opposition.

Now the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Punjab Province. At least 21 people were killed and 105 wounded when a bomb went off at a gas station. A Taliban spokesman tells CNN the target was a regional office of Pakistan's top spy agency. Now that building was not damaged.

News reports in Iran say the country's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is no longer the head of a powerful clerical body. He withdrew from the running for chairman of the assembly of experts and that Ayatollah Mohammad Kani has been elected in his place. Now the change may be a boost for hardliners, since Rafsanjani is more moderate than Iran's current administration.

The corruption trial of former French president Jacques Chirac has just been postponed. Mr. Chirac is accused of embezzling public funds when he was the mayor of Paris. It's an accusation he denies.

And Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton have made their first official trip to Northern Ireland as a couple. Now aside from greeting well-wishers, the bride to be joined children for a pancake toss to raise money for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund.

Now the horrors of slavery still exist. Millions of people around the world are trapped by forced labor and sexual exploitation. Now CNN's Freedom Project is shining a light on their plight. But what exactly is human trafficking? The United Nations calls it a crime against humanity. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means for the purpose of exploiting them.

Now the UN also says traffickers take advantage of society's most vulnerable. Two out of every three victims are women are children. And the UN has just launched a new fund to help them.

Now the Oscar winning actress Mira Sorvino spoke at the event. She is a UN goodwill ambassador on human trafficking. Mira, thank you so much for joining us.

Today as I just mentioned, the UN launched a fund to fight human trafficking. It is a fund that focuses on the victims. So tell us about the impact it will make.

MIRA SORVINO, ACTRESS: Well, quite simply this fund will go directly to the groups that are helping victims, help provide them medical care, shelter, psychological counseling, rehabilitation, vocational and educational training, legal fees for their trials where they need to stand trial against their attacker, their trafficker. And without funding, these groups can only perform in a limited manner, and they can only take in so many people. And the need always exceeds the ability of these NGOs and other groups to take care of the small number -- but still larger than they can take of -- victims who are being discovered and who have gotten out of their situations. However short-lived that escape may be, because in Europe up to 50 percent of trafficking victims will be reabsorbed back into the fold by the traffickers within days of escaping because they have nowhere else to turn.

So anyone -- government, individual, a corporation can donate money to this special trust fund that aides the victims directly. It's not for a campaign, it's not for publicity, it's not for office fees, it's literally going to help people on the ground all over the world. Anyone can apply as long as they've been an NGO for over -- since 2008 in their countries. And it's unbelievably necessary. Every victim I've ever spoken to is only alive and well because of the aid that they've received, the helping hand that they had as they first got out of their situation. Even some of the NGOs actually do the rescuing. They actually go in and convince people to escape and bring them out in to safety where then they can start living their lives again.

STOUT: Can you tell us more about your work fighting human trafficking and why you felt so compelled to get involved?

SORVINO: Well, I -- as the UN ODC goodwill ambassador to combat human trafficking I've sort of chosen as my particular field that I am a victims advocate. And what I do to this end is I go around the world to wherever the UN sends me and also locally in the US and I try and interview as many people as I can on their experiences. They basically trust to me their testimonies of what has happened to them.

And I've been recording them. I've been writing it down. I've been trying to sort of collate it all into a reasonable basis from which I give my speeches and I make my advocacy points, but also from which I hope eventually publish a play which can be performed as a traditional play and hopefully raise money and awareness, but also be translated into a sort of briefer form for high school students around the world as curriculum that they can then assume the roles themselves and speak as the trafficking victims themselves and even as a trafficker. I so far interviewed one trafficker so far, but I hope to interview more. It's pretty eye opening and pretty scary.

But I feel that what I'm good at is perhaps putting a human face on this tragedy, which the numbers and the statistics are so overwhelming and yet the visible signs of these people are so hard to find. You know, people in captivity are not out there carrying placards lobbying for their own rights. So I'm trying to help them find their day in court by representing their experiences and communicating to the public how terribly, terribly monstrously sad their lives have been and how we all have a responsibility as moral human beings to help them. And to fight trafficking on every level not just helping the victims as a palliative form of care, but also attacking it at the source as ending trafficking as a crime.

STOUT: Well, Mira Sorvino, thank you so much for talking to us. And thank you for doing such important work. And I hope we get a chance to talk again, because this is a yearlong initiative on CNN, the Freedom Project. Mira Sorvino there joining us live from London.

Now we want you, our viewers, to get involved in the CNN Freedom Project by taking a stand to end slavery. All you have to do is submit a photo or a video of yourself saying I am taking a stand to end slavery. You can also hold a sign that says the same thing.

Now Shirbian Dockalonio (ph) in the Philippines decided to take a stand by sending a text message to 20 people. He also spread the word by posting a status update on his Facebook page. Now meanwhile, Shoury Atogorala (ph) in Sri Lanka used a popular board game to show support.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am taking a stand to end slavery.

STOUT: And finally Bernardus Schumer (ph) in Santiago, Chile used a simpler approach to get the world out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...a stand to end slavery.

STOUT: Now to join the fight and to end modern day slavery, submit your own I report. Just go to and click on the I Report Freedom Project Challenge.

Now we're also asking you to reach out using social media. Now first of all, there's our Facebook page, just search CNN Freedom Project. You can find out how you can get involved by uploading pictures and videos. And then there's our Twitter feed which you can follow at CNNFreedom. You can join conversations about the Freedom Project by including the hash tag endslavery in your tweets.

Like this one, it's just one of the many ways you can get involved as we continue our year long look at the issue of modern day slavery.

Now many parts of the world are marking the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Now the countries you see here in yellow are hosting events organized by UN women. That organization is dedicated to gender equality. Now the UN secretary general has praised the last century of progress made to empower women, but points out that they are still treated like second class citizens in many countries.

Now the executive director of UN women is attending events in Liberia. And journalist Seema Mathur joins us on the line from Monrovia. Seema, how is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day being marked there in Liberia.

SEEMA MATHUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well -- hi, Kristie. The UN former -- and former president of Chile, Michele Bachelet who is here to celebrate this day with as you know President Ellen Johnson's release who is the first female African president in Africa. And as you know Michele Bachelet is the first -- was elected the first president of Chile. They were here just celebrating at the Tubman Stadium with more than 3,000 people, both men and women, all celebrating, singing and dancing at this event.

And this President Shirleaf, she actually started her speech beginning with a silent prayer for the sisters and brothers in the Ivory Coast, she said, which really points to and brings to why celebrating International Women's Day is so significant here not only because you have the first female African president, but because what women have gone through. The violence in the Ivory Coast really resonates to where women have come from, the struggle that they've been through during the 14 year civil war here in Liberia, women were targeted by almost every fighting factions and raped. Then women became instrumental in a peace march here and instrumental in the peace agreement which ultimately led to the election of President Shirleaf.

STOUT: So a big picture question for you, do African women have much to celebrate as the world marks International Women's Day?

MATHUR: They do. I mean, they have a lot to celebrate in the type of progress that's made here in Liberia. About 30 percent of women are -- hold key government positions, so they do have that to celebrate. And yet, there's a long, hard road still ahead. And so many women are feeling empowered here. The poverty level is really harsh and bad with people making less than a dollar a day. So that's a big issue.

Another very big struggle here is that despite seven years post conflict, rape is still the number one reported crime here in Liberia with more than 44 percent of women saying that they have been physically -- has had some type of physical violence against them. And though things are getting better as far as stigma, there's still stigma associated with rape. So this is a big problem. And education is a bit of an issue as well, too.

So progress has been made, women feel more empowered, but there's still a long road.

STOUT: All right. Seema Mathur joining us live from Liberia. Thank you very much for that.

Now Liberia's president is one of 19 women currently running countries. Now Brazil's first ever female president, she took office in January. Now Dilma Rousseff is a former freedom fighter turned politician and she follows several women who took charge last year. Julia Gillard became prime minister of Australia in June. Her party held on to power following election in August.

Now Mari Kiviniemi, she's the prime minister of Finland. She also took office last June. Finland also has a female president.

And Laura Chinchilla was sworn in as the president of Costa Rica in May, becoming that country's first female leader.

Now, let's take you back to France. As was mentioned just a moment ago, a judge has postponed the corruption trial of former French President Jacques Chirac. Now CNN's Jim Bitterman has been following the trial. He joins us now live from Paris -- Jim.

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kristie. In fact, this is a trial everybody has been watching here, because it's the first time since World War II that head of state here has been put on trial for any kind of criminal charges. Jacques Chirac faces corruption charges that actually devolved from his time as mayor of Paris. And so there's been a lot of interest both by taxpayers' groups and citizens' groups who want to seed the ex-president in court and face the music for his abuse of what they say is his abuse of public trust and embezzlement of public funds.

Well, they didn't get what they wanted, because in fact today as the court opened up for its opening session, which Chirac was supposed to attend, the court decided that they would buy into the defense arguments that this trial should be delayed at least until a constitutional court has a chance to rule on the idea that there's been too much delay between the time that the alleged crimes actually took place and this trial.

Of course, one of the reasons for the delay is that Jacques Chirac was president of France for 12 years and had immunity from prosecution -- Kristie.

STOUT: All right. So Jacques Chirac and his legal team have bought some time. Jim Bitterman joining us live from Paris. Thank you.

Now still ahead here on NEWS STREAM, we'll be heading to China to meet an intrepid reporter giving the poor and voiceless a chance to be heard. That story is next.


STOUT: Welcome back.

Now, control, censorship, intimidation: all used by the Chinese government to limit or stop news coverage on sensitive issues. Now fears of Middle East style unrest spreading to China has sparked a big crackdown on foreign media. But what about local Chinese journalists? Stan Grant meets one reporter pushing the boundaries from within.


STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Even routine stories can turn nasty in China. Here, the death of a security guard at a Shanghai Apartment Building has sparked anger. Apartment management turned on CNN's crew, had threatened to beat us if we don't leave.

Journalists are often targeted. In recent weeks, some have been violently attacked. But it's not only foreign journalists who run the gauntlet, in the middle here is Shanghai's most recognizable TV reporter -- Xuan Kejiong isn't easily intimidated either. Cajoling, probing, for Xuan it's another chance to rattle the cage, to tell the stories of the poor and too often voiceless in a country where the media is controlled and censored.

You can really make a different.

XUAN KEJIONG, REPORTER: Some different, yes. A little difference.

GRANT: For 10 years, 34-year-old Xuan Kejiong has reported live from the streets for Shanghai TV. Always moving, working the phone, looking for that next story. He does up to five news reports a day, often working seven days a week.

Over a rare, quick lunch break, Xuan says his dedication has made him not so popular at home.

What does your wife say?

KEJIONG: Sometimes she will be very, very angry. She will throw the doll (ph) and tell me, get out. Never come back.

GRANT: But for Xuan, any sacrifice is worth it. This is not just a job, it's a passion. He proudly shows me his reporting of a huge fire at an apartment building last year. Many were killed. He was the first reporter inside the building. Xuan pushes the boundaries. This communist symbol on his desk identifies him as a party member. He's guarded about questions of government interference, but through his actions he says he's bringing change to the system.

KEJIONG: I have been a journalist for 10 years. Shanghai and China have been changed a lot. Sometimes the news can push and push the world come to change.

GRANT: Xuan Kejiong will keep pushing. Back on the streets, there's another story to tell.

We've just seen the fire brigade go by. We're now charging off to another story. This guy's work never stops.

KEJIONG: Follow the fire trucks.

Stan Grant, CNN, Shanghai.


STOUT: Now Xuan Kejiong, he posts his latest updates online at this Chinese web site. He also Tweets about the realities of the news he covers in Shanghai. Now here's a Tweet from March 7. He writes this, this is all translated from (inaudible). And he writes, "a man from Hunan, 28, drowned yesterday. Family members confirmed his history of mental illness. Long time illness leads to poverty and families often refuse to send them to hospitals. Tragic."

And February the 23, he also sent this out through (inaudible). He asks, "who is taking care of the physical, mental health of middle aged men? Now two security guards died suddenly in Yangpu District today both in their 40's or 50's, with children and parents to support."

Now our look at the global weather picture, that is straight ahead. Mari Ramos will be here to tell you about flooding in parts of the U.S. That's coming up next.


STOUT: Welcome back.

Now Charlie Sheen has officially been kicked out of his CBS family. Now Warner Brothers Television has fired Charlie Sheen from the sitcom Two And A Half Men effective immediately. Warner Brothers is a division of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. Now the sitcom was first put on hiatus in January so Sheen could go to rehab. And a letter Sheen's lawyer obtained by TMZ, Warner Brothers says this, quote, "there was ample evidence supporting Warner Brothers reasonable good faith opinion Mr. Sheen has committed felony offenses involving moral turpitude including but not limited to furnishing of cocaine to others as part of the self-destructive lifestyle he has described publicly."

Now time now for a check of your international world weather forecast as promised. Let's go to Mari Ramos. She joins us from the world weather center -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Hey Kristie, let's go ahead and look at a -- I want to start you off in Europe this time, because we're watching an area of low pressure along the eastern Mediterranean. That was the same one we've been following awhile already across the Central Med. Look at these temperatures. It's pulling in that cold air from the north. Athens, you're only at 3 degrees. Overnight, you're going to be very close to freezing, so that rain that you've had could be turning into snow. Higher elevations are already getting snow and you can see all of this moisture still kind of hanging around along this area here. I think this is going to be the area to watch.

In Turkey, heavy snowfall is expected, in areas to the south heavy rain. And this area of low pressure will be sticking around at least for another day or so.

Meanwhile, mild conditions remain here across Western Europe. So that's looking good for you.

But returning to this area here of disturbed weather, I want to show you first of all the rainfall, the moisture that's expected, very significant. Most of this here coming down in the form of snow, not just rain. But as we head further to the south here, while most of this will be rain, as we head into the higher elevations to some of these areas right here -- that little bulls eye that shows up and you can see that right there -- so definitely something we'll be watching. And look, all the way back over toward Greece, some snow in spots all the way down into southern parts of Greece. So very cold indeed.

Let's go ahead and switch gears and take you to the other side of the Atlantic and talk about the weather here across the U.S. These are all of the flood watches and flood warnings. Very heavy rain falling across these areas.

Let's go ahead and roll the video. The first one, of the flooding. And this is pictures from Connecticut. And you can see how high the water has gone across many areas. It's raining again today. Those flood warnings are still in place. It's very cold water. And another problem is the melting ice and snow.

The next piece of video shows you that. Huge ice jams that are blocking the water flow from the river. So what they do, Kristie, these ice jams just block everything and they don't allow the water to pass, so they have to break them up like you see here to allow the water to continue to prevent further flooding across these areas.

And that's not all, as we head through the day today -- if you come back over to the weather map over here -- some strong storms are expected across the southeastern U.S. including, by the way, much of Louisiana -- across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, this entire area. They have, of course, the big Mardi Gras celebration culminating today. Hopefully it will not rain on your parade.

We have pictures to show you from parades across the region. The one on the top, Trinidad in the Caribbean. New Orleans there to the right. And of course, the biggest party of all is the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Like I said, New Orleans, the possibility of some strong storms developing today. Trinidad actually expected to have some pretty nice conditions. And even though it's a little bit cloudy for you guys in Brazil today, a high temperature of 28 degrees to finalize your Carnival celebrations. But there are celebrations all over the place. Look at these pictures that we have for you right now from Venice. Isn't that beautiful? I would love to be there. I think I'm going to make an effort to maybe go next year.

Let's go ahead and check out your city by city forecast.

Take a look at this picture, Kristie, it's part of a costume of someone dressed like a giraffe at the Frankfort Stock Exchange in Germany. So these are the people that were doing the trading today, of course, to celebrate Carnival. Back to you.

STOUT: It's a great costume.

RAMOS: I like it. I like it.

STOUT: Love it. Mari, thank you so much. Take care.

Now time now to go even more over and out there. And who better to take us than Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Now the man also known as the person of the year for 2010 has some pretty tough rules about how people use his site. For example, you must be who you say you are even if you live somewhere where using your real name could get you arrested. Just ask the Chinese blogger and activist Michael Anti (ph) who we've interviewed here on NEWS STREAM who has allegedly been blocked by Facebook for using that very name, an established pseudonym.

Now Mr. Anti's contributions have the potential to inspire millions, the same probably can't be said about one of the site's latest subscribers -- Mark Zuckerberg's Hungarian sheep dog, named Beast. Think I'm being harsh? Well, his latest update, it involved a pooper scooper.

We'll wonder if Mr. Anti (ph) has taken issue on Twitter being deemed more fake than Zuckerberg's dog. He's living in a world in which man's best friend can be Facebook befriended while it is apparently a dog's life for him.

That is NEWS STREAM, but the news continues at CNN. "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY" with Nina Dos Santos, Maggie Lake and Andrew Stevens is next.