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CONNECT THE WORLD

Unrest Continues to Spread Across Middle East. Saudi Government Worries It Could Be Next. "Discovery" Finishes Final Mission. What's Next for US Space Program? Connector of the Day Bear Grylls; The Battle for Libya; Interview with Libyan Opposition Leader; U.S. Hearings on "Radical Islam;" Bonded Labor in India

Aired March 9, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET

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


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The battle for Libya -- forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi launched fresh and fierce attacks on rebels in several cities as opposition fighters try to hold on.

The Libyan leader accuses the West of trying to steal his country's oil and threatens to fight back.

Also, families forced to work for months to pay off tiny loans. CNN Freedom Project shines the spotlight on bonded labor in India.

And back to earth -- NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery touches down for the very last time.

These stories and more tonight, as we connect the world.

Well, up first tonight, battles on both sides of Tripoli, as Libya's regime fights to regain ground. War planes went on the attack again in Ras Lanuf, in the rebel-held east, while pro-government forces claimed a victory in Zawiya, a city that had fallen to the opposition.

You can see the black smoke rising over Ras Lanuf, as outgunned rebels tried to fend off fresh attacks from the air and ground today. A rebel spokesman says airstrikes hit several oil installations. But the government accuses the rebels of blowing up an oil tank as they fled advancing forces. This fighting took place on the road outside Ras Lanuf, near Bin Jawad.

On the western front, state TV calls this a victory celebration in Zawiya. But news of prosecuting forces retaking the city may have been premature. The government abruptly canceled a tour for reporters, leading to speculation that rebels launched a counter-attack.

The sound of sirens pierced the air of Ras Lanuf today, as ambulances raced back from the front lines, full of wounded rebels.

Martin Geissler has the latest on the fighting and the growing casualty count.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN GEISSLER, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle for Eastern Libya is intensifying. Colonel Gadhafi's troops now making a concerted push on the oil town of Ras Lanuf, the scene of a fierce artillery battle today, mortars falling into the rebel front line and Katusha rockets firing out in return.

They look and sound spectacular, but they're old and inaccurate. The rebels can't match the government for firepower and they're suffering through inexperience, too.

The hospitals here are receiving wounded day and night. Until three weeks ago, Adnan Barney (ph) was a mechanical engineer. In the early hours of this morning, on the road outside Bin Jawad, he was a front line soldier. He took three bullets in his back and buttock and saw his friends killed beside him.

(through translator): I have no regrets," he told me. "If I'd stayed at home, we'd never be free."

The staff at the hospitals don't discriminate. This man, we were told, was a Gadhafi soldier. An ambulance brought him across rebel lines because it was his only chance of survival.

(on camera): It's an incredibly dangerous job.

LIV RAAD, INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS: It is. And we have also heard that others have been shot at and people are being arrested.

GEISSLER: What does that say about the dedication of the staff?

RAAD: It is amazing.

GEISSLER: Every day, lists of the wounded are posted on these boards outside the hospital and anxious friends and relatives come along to check. If the names are there, they're still alive.

(voice-over): If they're not, a dreadful wait for news continues.

As the fighting intensifies, so, too, the pressure on these staff. The battlefields, just a few miles away, supplying more patients every day. Tonight, oil storage tanks burn at Ras Lanuf. The rebels claim it was an airstrike but information, like everything else, is clouded by the chaos here.

Martin Geissler, ITV News, Ajdabiya, Eastern Libya.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SWEENEY: The Libyan regime is putting a bounty on the head of a top opposition figure who, incidentally, was Libya's justice minister just a few weeks ago.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil spoke to Arwa Damon in Benghazi today.

And she joins us now with details of her exclusive interview -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fionnuala.

And that bounty is 500,000 Libyan liras, which is around $400,000 for his arrest or -- and to any information that would lead to his arrest, it's for 200,000 Libyan liras.

Now, we sat down with Mustafa Abdel Jalil and asked him about the fact that the international community had not come up with any sort of a plan just yet and what that would cost this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUSTAFA ABDEL JALIL, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LIBYA, FORMER LIBYAN JUSTICE MINISTER: It has to be immediate action. The longer the situation carries on, the more blood is shed. That's the message that we want to send to the international community. They have to live up to their responsibility with regards to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON: We also asked him how long the fighters on the front lines could sustain the onslaught of aerial bombardment, especially given the fact that they're heavily outgunned.

He responded by saying that they have the will to fight until the very end.

But realistically speaking, he was reiterating the fact that they do need the international community to do something now. Based on what the opposition is telling us, they do strongly feel as if this is a scenario where the international community has to make a choice, it either has to take decisive action and somehow level the battlefield or its inaction ends up being the ultimate decision. The opposition feels as if that is the international community basically siding with Moammar Gadhafi -- Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: And, Arwa, how long do the opposition think they can hold out and what do they think is the best option that the international community could put forward?

DAMON: When we ask them specifically about how long they think they can hold out, we don't really get a direct response. We keep hearing the message that the fighters have the heart and the will to battle this until the very end, that there is no way that they would accept to be ruled by Gadhafi anymore.

When we ask them about what they want, they want a no fly zone put into place. They do feel as if this would greatly help in terms of leveling the battlefield. It would at least put a level of control on the airstrikes. It would prevent what they say are foreign mercenaries, foreign weapons from coming in and helping Gadhafi arm his military.

they do feel as if the longer this drags out, the more blood is going to be shed. And many people are telling us that that blood will be as much on the hands of the international community as it would be on the hands of Moammar Gadhafi himself -- a man so many countries have already condemned.

SWEENEY: Arwa Damon reporting live from Benghazi.

Thanks, indeed.

Now, let's get the latest from Western Libya.

Nic Robertson was on his way to Zawiya on Wednesday evening when government minders abruptly canceled their plans to give an organized tour.

Now, Nic is back in Tripoli at the moment.

He joins us now live -- Nic, what happened?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears they canceled the trip because they wanted us to come back. The oil minister was as going to speak. And given the events in Ras Lanuf, at the refinery there, and questions over the future of -- the future connects (ph) of international companies working here in Libya, they wanted to make sure journalists would be able to hear that.

That seems to be the result of that.

They put the Zawiya trip back on again, but in the middle of the night. And I think most journalists here have said, look, it's really silly to go in the middle of the night. We won't be able to see anything. If you want us to get a -- get a fair assessment of the situation there and balance what we've seen on television this evening, these pro-Gadhafi supporters in some sort of celebration on the outskirts of Zawiya with the -- with the stories and the images that we've seen from the inside of that city over the past five or six days, far better to go in daylight. It's not quite clear where it all stands at the moment. But I think that logical argument might be persuasive and we might be able to go when there's daylight and we can see what's happening there -- Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: All right, Nic Robertson reporting live from Tripoli.

Well, air power is making a big difference in Libya's civil war since only one side has it. Rebels have repeatedly asked the international community to establish a no fly zone, but so far, it's only an idea under consideration.

In an interview with a Turkish network, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi warned that his people will fight back if the world tries to intervene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): It is beneficial for the Libyan people in this case if they take those initiatives. They will be united against a new attempt for occupation and imperialistic interests and it will be clear that they are conspiring against Libya. It will be clear aggression. It will also be clear that the intentions are to control Libya's oil, choke Libya's liberty, land and people.

All of the Libyans carry weapons, so they will fight back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: Well, a short time ago, I spoke to U.S. Senator John McCain, who is a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

And I began by asking him for his reaction to those comments by the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, my response to it is even though that there's questions about Mr. Gadhafi's sanity, he's still a very wily guy. It's a pretty clever move on his part. And -- but the facts are that the pro- -- the Gadhafi -- anti-Gadhafi forces are asking and pleading for a no fly zone. They are making it, also, very clear that they do not want American troops on the ground. Those of us who support the anti-Gadhafi forces strongly and are support -- want a no fly zone are also opposed to ground troops on the ground -- in Libya.

SWEENEY: How do you believe a no fly zone will actually help oust Colonel Gadhafi?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I think it would be in response to the pleas we are hearing from the anti-Gadhafi people on the ground.

Second of all, air power, in such kind of terrain, can be very effective, not only actual damage, but effects on the morale and the cohesion of any adversary.

And third of all, I think it would help the morale of the anti-Gadhafi forces, who will see that we are trying to assist them from -- and prevent them from being massacred from the air.

And, finally, Gadhafi has already bombed some oil installations. You never know what a person of his temperament might do as far as setting other oil facilities on fire.

SWEENEY: What is your sense of where the tipping point might be in what is taking place in Libya now?

Because neither side seems to have a knockout punch. But if anybody does seem to be gaining the edge in recent days, it is Colonel Gadhafi.

MCCAIN: Well, I think there's one thing we know about warfare and that is that even a partially trained, better equipped force will usually have the advantage, particularly when you have control of the skies, as well.

So I'm very worried about the fate of these brave young people who are standing up with far less capable equipment against tanks and air power.

But, also, I think it's also clear that the Gadhafi forces have a significant morale problem. There have been continued defections.

So I agree with you, it could possibly lead to a stalemate. A stalemate leads to the massacre or deaths of -- of untold numbers of innocent civilians. So that's not an outcome we would want.

SWEENEY: A question, if I may, about your belief that the rebels should be given direct military assistance.

How does this square, or otherwise, with the Obama administration's policy of not wanting to be seen to interfere too directly, at least openly, with countries in conflict or in revolutions such as we saw in Egypt?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I think that's one of the options that we have to consider. I have not been committed to that, although I certainly think it's something we ought to seriously consider.

But right away, I think we could jam communications between the command and control in Tripoli and his forces that are further away. I think we could jam the television station. I think we could do and set up a -- a much better humanitarian relief operation and a number of other things we could do, including recognizing the pro -- provisional government which is coming into being in Benghazi.

There's a lot of steps we could take. And but getting arms to them, I think it depends on, to some degree, what the events are in the next few days.

But, clearly, right now, they are being outgunned.

SWEENEY: And in the next few days -- this has been going on for some time now.

Is the UN moving fast enough, in your opinion?

MCCAIN: No. And I think it's pretty clear that the Chinese and Russians will veto a UN Security Council resolution on imposing a fly zone or other actions. So I think we have to go to NATO, see what we can do there or even, if we absolutely must, a coalition of the willing, as much as we aren't -- that isn't a very popular phrase.

But people are being killed and massacred by their own despotic, cruel leader as we speak. We don't want these things to happen. We -- we -- we were so regretful over Srebrenica. We were regretful over Rwanda.

We have always regretted and said, gee, why didn't we act?

I think we're going to find out, after this is over, that already some terrible crimes have been perpetrated by Gadhafi and his really barbaric mercenaries and others.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SWEENEY: Senator John McCain.

And you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

After the break, critics worry about the start of U.S. hearings on homegrown terrorism. Find out why some charge they'll put Islam itself on trial.

Then, it's the end of the road for the Space Shuttle Discovery.

What is next for the space race?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Enslaved for a loan they may never repay -- a little later in the program, we'll be in rural India, where generations of families and, indeed, whole villages, are becoming entrapped in a vicious cycle of debt bondage.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

Here's a look at the other stories we're following this hour.

America has a new face to woo Beijing. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is set to be the new U.S. ambassador to China. He has to get the Senate's OK first, and then he'll replace Jon Huntsman, who's expected to try for the Oval Office.

On Wednesday, President Obama told reporters why he thinks Locke is the best person for the job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More than 100 years ago, Gary's grandfather left China on a steamboat bound for America, where he worked as a domestic servant in Washington State.

A century later, his grandson will return to China as America's top diplomat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: Well, tensions are building in Washington over a high profile hearing set to begin on Thursday. They'll be looking into the threat posed by radical Islam and just how much influence al Qaeda has on American Muslims.

Overseeing the hearings is Republican Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the powerful House Homeland Security Committee.

Here he is speaking to Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some do see you as an anti-Muslim -- Muslim bigot. And they're not happy about the fact that you are holding hearings in this room, using your tremendous power as the chairman of this committee, to hold hearings on the radicalization solely of the Muslim community in America.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Right. I have no choice. I have to hold these hearings. These hearings are absolutely essential. What I'm doing is taking the next logical step from what the administration has been saying. Eric Holder says he lies awake at night worrying about the growing radicalization of people in this country who are willing to take up arms against their government.

I believe that the leadership -- too many of the leaders in the Muslim community do not face up to that reality. And a number of -- too many cases are not cooperative and are not willing to speak out and condemn this -- this type of radicalization that's going on.

BASH: There are lots of law enforcement officials who tell us at CNN that they have very good cooperation with the Muslim community and that they have helped in many investigations.

KING: You know, I would like to know where they are. The reason I say that is, I listen to this, too, when they talk about the good community relations and how they have these meetings.

I can tell you, in New York, which is the epicenter -- we're in the eye of the storm when it comes to terrorism. There has been virtually no real cooperation coming from the Muslim-American community.

BASH: You've been called a man obsessed, obsessed with the Muslim radicalization.

Are you obsessed?

KING: No, I am very focused. I lost so many people in my district on September 11th. And within a 30-mile radius in my home probably a thousand people -- over a thousand people were murdered on September 11th. I never want to wake up the morning after another attack and say if I had only done what I should have done as Homeland Security Committee chairman this wouldn't have happened.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SWEENEY: Well, leading American Muslims have been criticizing the hearings, warning it's an unfair attack on loyal citizens and a dangerous break from a tradition of tolerance.

Nihad Awad from the Council on American-Islamic Relations says Peter King is engaging in, quote, "fear-mongering," also charging he's unfit to head the committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: CAIR and the Muslim community are natural allies in the fight against violent extremism. In fact, we are natural enemies to those who promote violent extremism.

There is no denying that except for a tiny minority, violent extremists have found no fertile ground in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: Nihad Awad, the spokesman there for the American -- for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington.

Next, it looks like a bad romance between Lady Gaga and Target. The scener -- singer has ended a marketing deal for her new album with the retail chain. Various reports saying she's upset with Target's political donations. The retail giant has come under fire in the past over reported contributions to anti-gay politicians and organizations.

Dinner and a bed -- they're like the holy grail when you've been on a flight that's taken three times longer than you expected. Just up, Caitlin Gorry. Now, she was on American Airlines Flight 1384, the four hour trip from Barbados to New York ended up taking 12 after it was rerouted three times.

Caitlin told CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" about the big schlep.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAITLIN GORRY, PASSENGER: The food thing, when we got on the flight, they said that there was food for purchase, but that it was kind of limited, so that if we wanted it, we should buy it immediately. But we had all eaten in the airport, so we didn't really feel the need to purchase the food. So we were like OK, whatever.

And then, later on, when we realized that the food was pretty much gone, that -- that was, you know...

KIRAN CHETRY, HOST: It didn't turn as the "Lord of the Flies," did it?

GORRY: No, it didn't. But, you know, people were scrounging for granola bars and whatnot that were left in their bags. So it was, you know. But it wasn't until we had done a few of the trips all over the place that it really started to get -- you know, everyone was hungry and tired and you wanted dinner and a bed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: Well, bad weather apparently was to blame.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

And after the break, forced into labor, working their entire lives to stay -- to pay small debts that are generations old. We're in India for CNN Freedom Project exposing modern-day slavery.

And fierce fighting breaks out again in Cairo's Tahrir Square. We take a look at what's behind the new violence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Between 10 and 30 million people around the world right now are living as slaves and the average price of each of those people, the group, Free the Slaves, says it's just $90.

This is our launch week of the CNN Freedom Project. It's an initiative we're bringing to you over the course of a year to help educate and motivate and to expose this trade in human life.

We know it's not a problem we can solve with our coverage alone, but we do hope to put it firmly in the spotlight.

So let's head to rural India now for a look at bonded labor. It's a form of slavery which can span entire villages. Their modern-day shackles -- small loans that they're forced to work off.

And, as Sara Sidner reports, many families are now faced with generations of debt owed by grandparents and repaid by their children.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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." Durgawati 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 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. Durgawati is a mother of three. Her eldest daughter should not be this skilled at brick making. She is only five 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," Durgawati 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money. Money.

SIDNER: Why? Why would I -- why would I pay you money, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, money. Money.

SIDNER: 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.

SUPRIYA AWASTHI, FREE THE SLAVES: They remain in slavery forever.

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 in slavery and the maximum number of people in slavery live in India.

SIDNER (voice-over): Just down the road, in the village of Dhomanpur, we meet Kharban. "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. Kharban says no matter who in 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."

Lalti 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, Lalti's 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.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SWEENEY: Well, make sure you stay tuned for more on this. Sara Sidner's report will also be featuring on "BACK STORY" tonight.

And John Vause is with us from Atlanta to tell us more -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, HOST, "BACK STORY": Thanks, Fionnuala.

We're going to take a behind the scenes look at Sara -- Sara's report there. It's one of those stories where the crew had to work quickly. They also had to keep a low profile, because they could have been chased off by the landowner. There was also concern for the people that she talked with, that they could be punished for speaking out.

That's coming up on "BACK STORY" in the next hour -- Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: All right, John Vause in Atlanta.

Well, you saw the group Free the Slaves in Sara's report. And here's how you can find out more about the group and how to help.

Go to freetheslaves.net. Other worthy charities are helping fight slavery, such as anti-slavery.org and the Indian branch of Save the Children. Just go to savethechildren.org.

Well, we know this is the type of story you might want to e-mail to somebody so that they can see it, as well. So you can find it at Facebook.com/CNNconnect.

And coming up next on CONNECT THE WORLD, we are looking at the spreading unrest rocking much of the Middle East. And international eyes are on Saudi Arabia.

Will the kingdom be next?

That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. And coming up, upheaval across the Arab world. Is Saudi Arabia next? We're in the kingdom to see for ourselves.

Then, farewell "Discovery." The oldest Shuttle is now history. So, what's next for the space race?

Plus the ultimate survivor and the youngest Briton to climb Everest is your Connector of the Day.

Well, all those stories ahead in the show for you but, first, let's get a check of the headlines this hour.

Libya's military is hitting hard at rebels in Ras Lanuf, using warplanes and heavy artillery. An opposition spokesman says air strikes hit several oil installations, but the government accuses rebels of blowing up an oil tank as they fled advancing forces.

Dozens of people have been injured in clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Witnesses say attackers have been going after pro-democracy activists with machetes, knives, Molotov cocktails and horse whips.

The Pakistani Taliban are claiming responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 37 people. The bomb went off at a funeral procession on the outskirts of Peshawar. The funeral was for the wife of an anti-Taliban militiaman.

"Discovery" rode into history today. The Space Shuttle flew home to a perfect landing in Florida and a track record of 39 flights. The entire US Shuttle program is wrapping up by the end of this year.

And it was a mostly quiet session on Wall Street as investors kept an eye on oil prices, the Dow closing flat with the NASDAQ and S&P finishing slightly lower.

As the world focus has been on Libya, demonstrations and violence have escalated across much of the Middle East and north Africa in the last few days alone. And some of these countries -- Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain -- have been struggling with protests for weeks or months.

But others, like Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates haven't seen as much unrest. In the UAE, more than 100 nationals are petitioning the president for direct elections.

In Bahrain, protests have continued this week, as demonstrators have called for the ruling family to step aside.

And in Tunisia, a court has issued a ruling today dissolving the party of the ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Well, demonstrations have also moved to Mauritania, where dozens of youth gathered in the country's square to demand political and economic reform.

Some of the most violent scenes today are coming from Egypt in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square. Witnesses say gangs armed with guns, machetes, and knives set upon pro-democracy activists in the square. More than a dozen people have been injured. Nima Elbagir has the story from Cairo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): They've been repulsing wave after wave of attacks here at the pro-democracy encampment in Tahrir Square. The last attack finished less than an hour ago. We're still hearing gunfire and shots fired into the air.

They say that this is the same MO of the thugs that were supporting the pro-Mubarak gangs. Molotov cocktails, machetes, but the activists here tell us that they will not be moved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are now dealing with an idiotic system. The old regime still has deep roots in this country. They will keep sending us thugs, thugs, thugs. But we will not give up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will defend and do more and more to protect our demonstrations and to protect our rights until every one meter in Egypt will be clean from the brutal system.

ELBAGIR: They're expecting that it's going to be a very, very long night here in Tahrir Square. Nima Elbagir for CNN in Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: And in Yemen, protesters are turning up the pressure on President Ali Abdullah Saleh. One man died after security forces cracked down on protesters outside Sanaa University on Tuesday. Mohammed Jamjoom has the full story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Pressure is mounting on Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as anti-government protests spread across Yemen. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Yemenis continued their demonstrations, not just in Sanaa. Also in the cities of Taizz, Ibb, Aden, and Hudaydah.

Also on Wednesday, a Yemeni man injured in protests that happened outside Sanaa University on Tuesday night died of his wounds. According to a medical official and eyewitnesses, Mohamed Ali Mutlak was among dozens of anti-government demonstrators wounded Tuesday when security forces fired into the air and shot teargas into a crowd of tens of thousands of protesters who had massed in front of the university.

The government blamed the violence on people who had tried to sneak weapons into a weapon-free area outside the university, and then resisted arrest. But one senior ruling party official told CNN he doesn't believe what the government is saying.

Mohammed Abulahoum added, "I condemn the acts of violence used by the police and military last night against civilian protesters outside the university. There was no need for that force. It will only escalate the tension between both sides.

Meanwhile, protesters outside Sanaa University say they will continue to demonstrate peacefully, they will continue to call for the president's ouster, and they will not be cowed by the specter of further violence against them. Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Abu Dhabi.

SWEENEY: The uprisings you've just seen are creating political anxiety throughout the region, including one of the Middle East's major players, Saudi Arabia. There is already talk of a Saudi Day of Rage online. But, as Mary Snow reports, there won't be any protests if the government has its way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what Saudi Arabia is trying to prevent. This was the scene Friday as protesters turned out in the eastern part of the country.

Demonstrations over two days were small, but they were followed with a warning by Saudi Arabia's interior minister that security forces would take measures against anyone trying to break the law and cause disorder. It comes ahead of a Day of Rage called for this Friday.

And Saudi Arabia is worried, says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who also served as an advisor to three presidents on the Middle East.

BRUCE RIEDEL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: For the Saudis, this is a new and very troubling world. Many of their oldest and closest friends, like the Tunisian president Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have been overthrown in course of less than 100 days, and they're worried. Are their other friends in trouble, and are they in trouble?

SNOW (voice-over): But there are some big differences between Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries. For one, Riedel says, the Saudis are ruthless in suppressing any sign of protest at the start. And the monarchy uses oil money to try and quell unrest.

Just last month, the Saudis announced it was giving away billions in money to social programs. It came after King Abdullah returned home after spending months abroad for medical treatment.

But Rutgers professor Toby Jones, who specializes in the Middle East, says Saudis want more political participation. He says they don't necessarily want to topple the monarchy, but send a message.

TOBY JONES, PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: This is more a reminder that Saudis have, over the last 20 years, have made the case, the urgent case that reform is necessary. And it's necessary not only to address short term economic and political problems, but also to ensure the stability and security of Saudi Arabia over the coming decades.

SNOW (voice-over): And the Saudis may not just be worrying about neighboring countries, but the US, as well.

RIEDEL: From their eyes, we threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus. Now, in fact, the Egyptian people drove over Hosni Mubarak. But from the Saudi standpoint, we didn't do enough to keep him in power, and they're worried that we're not going to do enough to keep them in power.

SNOW (on camera): Riedel adds that, while the Saudis are probably calculating that they will be OK inside the kingdom, the worry is neighboring countries, particularly Bahrain. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Flown home, "Discovery" wraps up its final voyage as the Shuttle program begins to wind down. What happens, now, to the space race? You'll hear from someone with NASA know-how, next.

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SWEENEY: "Discovery's"final chapter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NASA LAUNCH ANNOUNCER: Main gear touchdown. The nose of the shuttle being rotated down toward the flight deck. The parachute being deployed. And nose gear touchdown, and the end of a historic journey. And to the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say farewell, "Discovery."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: Ah, the US space program's oldest and most-traveled shuttle has rolled into history. After 39 missions and more than 140 million miles, "Discovery" came to a stop for good only hours ago at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney.

All told, "Discovery" has spent a total of 365 days in space, but for all the significant numbers, it is still truly about the story "Discovery" ran secret missions and carried everything from rats to the Hubble Space Telescope. CNN's John Zarrella has been watching the Shuttle history unfold from his vantage point at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NASA LAUNCH ANNOUNCER: We have main engine start.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Space Shuttle. For more than 30 years, it has been part of our vocabulary. Soon, it will be part of our history.

The winged spacecraft is unmistakable, an engineering marvel. Without it, the International Space Station could not have been built.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you come to the round handrail, pause for the solar array operations.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): The Hubble Telescope would not have been repaired. More than once. The Air Force used the Shuttle for secret missions. We'll never know exactly what.

Of course, it's no secret the Shuttle program is now coming to an end. Long overdue, some say. Time to move on, build something safer, more reliable, less expensive to fly.

ALVIN DREW, SHUTTLE "DISCOVERY" ASTRONAUT: Maybe 5, 10, 15 years from now, there's going to be a nostalgia for the Shuttle. Were we ever that audacious to go build a spacecraft to do things like that? And I think we're going to look back, and it's going to be as if it was something out of a science fiction movie.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): As each orbiter returns to Earth from its final flight, it will be readied for retirement. Engines removed, toxic gases purged, cryogenics and pyrotechnics removed. "Discovery" will be the first Shuttle to move on.

STEPHANIE STILLSON, "DISCOVERY" FLOW DIRECTOR: And so, I somewhat liken it to, now we're at a point where we're sending our kid off to college, right? We've taken care of these vehicles, we've loved them, we've put everything we have into them, and now it's time for us to let them go a little bit.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): It will take nine months to make each orbiter ready, in essence, a museum piece. "Discovery," the oldest in the fleet, 39 missions under her belt, 142 million miles flown, is headed to the Smithsonian.

STEVE LINDSEY, "DISCOVERY" COMMANDER: I hope they display it so that everybody can see what it was really like to be inside of it, what it was like to fly it, what it was like to operate it. And more importantly, all the things that it could do.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Where "Endeavor" and "Atlantis" end up hasn't been decided. Wherever it is, they will instantly become the centerpiece attractions, where people will walk up with their children and grandchildren and say, "I remember when Shuttles flew."

NASA LAUNCH ANNOUNCER: A tribute to the dedication, hard work, and pride of America's --

ZARRELLA (voice-over): John Zarrella, CNN, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: So, what happens next to the so-called space race? Well, I'm joined, now, by NASA consultant and space historian Andrew Chaikin from Arlington, Vermont. Before we get on to that, could the Space Station have been built without the Shuttle?

ANDREW CHAIKIN, SPACE HISTORIAN: No, not as it was designed. In fact, it was very much designed as a companion program to the Shuttle. The modules that comprise the Space Station were sized so that they would fit comfortably in the Shuttle's cargo bay.

And one of the things that we will miss when the Shuttle retires is the ability to have a piloted vehicle that can carry up, manipulate, and even bring back large pieces of machinery or experiment packages like that.

SWEENEY: I remember about ten years ago in the Bush administration, all the talk before 9/11 was about the space race, Star Wars, et cetera. That, obviously, disappeared off the agenda, and -- you smile, perhaps, nostalgically, I wonder. So, where does the space race stand.

CHAIKIN: Ironically.

SWEENEY: Ironically.

CHAIKIN: Nostalgically and ironically.

SWEENEY: So, where do you think the space race stands now?

CHAIKIN: Well, I think it's -- you've heard the expression "fighting the last war"? I think that any mention of a space race is a mindset that is locked in the past.

We were -- there's no doubt that we would not have made the strides in space as quickly as we did, we certainly would not have gotten to the moon by the end of the 1960s when we did, without the space race, without the competition with the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

But that -- that political imperative was gone almost as soon as the astronauts finished their first moonwalk. So, today, we're at a point where we really have to bring the technology along to where space flight can be truly an everyday part of our lives. We need to make access to low Earth orbit as routine and low-cost as possible.

It will never be truly routine. The Shuttle was never truly routine, and it took a phenomenal amount of labor to keep it flying and keep it in repair between flights.

What we need now is for some of these ingenious folks in the commercial side to come up with new vehicles that can really meet that challenge of how do you make it a routine thing -- a relatively routine thing? And at the same time, we need NASA to be doing the cutting-edge stuff that will allow us to go beyond low Earth orbit with people, something that we have not done, by the way, since 1972.

SWEENEY: And let me ask you, then, so what shape is NASA in today? Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it the case that 7,000 jobs are to be lost at the Kennedy Space Center, though, because of the Shuttle being put out of -- or being decommissioned?

CHAIKIN: Yes, NASA's in a really tough period and has been for some number of years. Not only because the Shuttle program, the decision was made back in 2004 to retire the Shuttle -- actually, they had planned to do it last year. So that, obviously, was a huge impact.

But also, the fact that the Constellation program, for various reasons which take too long to go into, was not on a successful track and, so, ended up being canceled.

And now, NASA really is at a crossroads, and I think one of the adjustments that they'll have to make in the next few years is adapting to using commercially-built vehicles.

Now, all spacecraft are built by commercial companies. But this is a whole new ballgame in the sense of, there are companies like SpaceX in California that are literally designing, building, and testing their own rockets, their own capsules. And NASA will become kind of the customer in a way that it never has before. So, that's going to be an adjustment, no doubt.

SWEENEY: It's fascinating, not least because of the enthusiasm with which you convey what you've been telling us. Sad day for you?

CHAIKIN: Well, not really. I think that the Shuttle was an incredible engineering achievement, and it's done some absolutely remarkable things.

But in some ways, I feel that the Shuttle has held us back, because we put all of our eggs in the Shuttle basket back in 1981 when it began flying, and it ate up so much of NASA's resources to fly the Shuttle, and it did not do what it had been advertised to do, which was to lower the cost of getting into space and make space flight routine. That is a much, much harder problem than anybody realized.

Now, I think we're way overdue to try and solve some of those problems. And as I say, do the cutting-edge technology that will allow us, for the first time in almost 40 years, to venture beyond low Earth orbit and explore the solar system with humans as well as those amazing robotic missions that we are continuing to have.

SWEENEY: All right, so no tears, then, in Arlington, Vermont, tonight. Thank you very much, indeed, Andrew Chaikin.

Next up, a man who goes beyond frontiers here on Earth. He is the ultimate survivor. Adventurous Connector of the Day Bear Grylls admits he still gets nervous before he heads into the unknown.

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SWENNEY: The adventurous, the brave, the men and women who go beyond borders and limitations. They're the focus of Connector of the Day all this week. And tonight, we bring you Bear Grylls, who's just launched his latest season of "Man vs. Wild" on the Discovery Channel. Let's get you connected with the world's chief scout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST (voice-over): At the age of 21, he broke his back in a parachuting accident and then, just two years later, became the youngest Briton to ever conquer Mount Everest, a climb that almost killed him when he fell down a crevasse.

But Bear Grylls is the ultimate survivor and has since gone on to lead groundbreaking expeditions around the world. Paragliding above the Himalayas, probing the Arctic North Atlantic in an inflatable boat.

BEAR GRYLLS, BRITISH ADVENTURER: The most exciting for us in the little boat is we can explore areas that nobody has ever been able to explore before.

FOSTER (voice-over): Bear's improbable journeys are often for charity, but this former special forces officer is best known as the face of the Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild" series.

Dropped into the world's most challenging places, Bear's mission is, quite simply, to survive by the unlikely and the unthinkable.

Becky Anderson asks, does he ever think, "I've had enough"?

GRYLLS: I have learned over six seasons of this show that there are an awful lot of hell holes on this planet, a lot of very difficult jungles and remote mountains and deserts, and it's very easy to find yourself a very long way from anybody or anything.

But what I have noticed is, as the seasons progress, I get stretched more and more. And I don't know whether it's I'm just getting battered more or older or whatever. But they definitely kind of -- they're hard, these shows. And I'm right in the middle of filming them at the moment. I'm at home for a few days, and I'm kind of definitely feeling nervous before we go off for the next one. But that's always part of it.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (on camera): Kelum from Sri Lanka asks, "Do you encourage your kids to become adventurers like yourself?"

GRYLLS: They don't need any encouraging, my kids. I get home and all I want to do is get in the front door and dump bags of bloody, muddy clothes and have a bit of -- nice bath and cozy bed. And all they want to do is drag me outside to catch worms and climb trees.

And half of me is going, "No, I want you guys to have normal jobs when you're older." Then, the other half of me thinks, "That's kind of brilliant," because it's also what I was like when I was a kid, and this is what kids should be doing.

ANDERSON: Do you think we're robbing kids of these sort of adventurers? Would you like to see more kids involved?

GRYLLS: Yes. One of the jobs I do is I head up all of the scouts around the world, which is 28 million young people who tend to love the outdoors. And it's a job I'm really proud of, and it's a great privilege. And all it is, really, is to encourage young people to get out there and to follow their dreams a bit and climb their mountains.

There's a whole extraordinary world out there, and you don't have to push it to the absolute extremes that "Man vs. Wild" tends to do. You can get out there just like I did when I was a young kid, climbing with my dad. Go out there, have a flask until you're halfway up a mountain, and it's heaven.

And yes, I do a lot of that with my kids, and I really try and encourage people, young people, to be able to do that.

But the young people I meet don't need encouraging. They're desperate to get out there. What they tend to lack is the opportunity, and that's really where the scouts has a great strength in providing kids with that opportunity.

ANDERSON: Keith from Shanghai says, "Are you concerned kids might try and emulate what are very dangerous things that you do?"

GRYLLS: Yes, I'm very aware that "Man vs. Wild" isn't just a textbook survival show. This is me showing what I do and what I've been trained to get out of a situation. So, I put myself in difficult places and I show what I would do.

And so, I think that's important. You've got to work within your skill levels. You can't go from cold to boiling in the wild. You need to train, and you need to build yourself up to that.

But there have been a lot of stories where I have people who've seen "Man vs. Wild" and the stories where I've saved their lives in difficult situations, where there's kids falling through the ice and knowing how to get out of there.

There was a young person the other day, I did an interview with who'd got lost in the mountains and followed some of -- loads of advice and found his way out. And that's really encouraging.

And I've spent a lot of time in these places thinking, I'm cold and wet and scared in the middle of some jungle thinking, is anyone ever going to see this. So, for me, it's really encouraging that people get it and they dig it and they get something from it. And that, ultimately, makes my job worthwhile.

ANDERSON: Diana asks, "What adventure that you have survived are you most proud of?"

GRYLLS: Probably be one we've just done that hasn't aired yet. It was in the Borneo jungles. I got bitten by a big snake. It was a really tough one for me, and we came through it, and I'm really pleased about it.

ANDERSON: How did you mange to get bitten by a snake?

GRYLLS: Well, I'd just made a nest up a tree to sleep in, because a lot of orangutans there, so I thought I'd copy the orangutans and make a nest up a tree. And I was about to settle down for the night and I saw a snake go across the top of me and, so, I reached and just caught it by the tail and I was kind of pulling it out.

And it wrapped its head around the branch to stop me pulling it and, eventually, I pulled and pulled and it just flung back and, then, whap! It got me square on the hand.

Luckily, it was a non-venomous snake, so I managed to hold onto it and then had it for supper and it was all OK, but it was kind of -- it's just never nice to be bitten by a big snake.

My kids love it, they go, "Oh, brilliant, I can't wait to see your snake bite when you get home!" And I thought that when we eventually got out of there. But that's kids for you.

ANDERSON: Joonas says, "Is there anyplace you would not dare to go?"

GRYLLS: I'm always nervous in saying these sort of places, because then the producers listen in and they go, "Right, that's there for next season." I always try to steer them to the nice places.

But no. We kind of tend to seek out the difficult places, and that sort of show is -- if you got dropped in the worst place in the world, this is what you could do to get out of it.

And we have been to some tough ones. I remember during the black swamps of Sumatra where the tsunami had hit, and it was just full of all these crocodiles that had been feeding off these 65,000 human corpses, and it was a deserted, God-forsaken, stinking, rotting place.

And you just think, this is -- this is officially not fun. And you need to get focused and kind of put a smile on it and get through. And I become very much in that zone when I'm in these places, focus on getting out of there in one piece and getting back to family.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Bear Grylls, there. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, that is your world connected. Thanks for watching. The world headlines and "BackStory" will follow this short break.

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