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CONNECT THE WORLD

Interview with Sepp Blatter; Interview with Piara Powar; Interview with Ai Weiwei; Contagion & Recession; Interview with Manoj Ladwa; Syrian Uprising Escalating to Armed Conflict; Background on Syrian Military Deserters Threatening Attack; Syrian National Council Organizing United Diplomatic Front; Freedom Project: Rapper Common Fights Child Slavery in Haiti; Eye on Azerbaijan: Winners of 2011 Eurovision Song Contest Turn Spotlight on Azerbaijan; Parting Shots: Swimming With Great White Sharks Cage-Free

Aired November 16, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEPP BLATTER, FIFA PRESIDENT: There is no racism. There is maybe one of the players who would feel that he have a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But, also, the one who is affected by that, he should say it's a game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZANE VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: In an exclusive interview, the president of FIFA tells CNN players concerned about racism in football should shake hands and move on.

Live from London, hi.

I'm Zane Verjee.

Also tonight, a turning point in a deadly conflict -- opposition fighters in Syria make their boldest move yet.

And a rap superstar exposing the dark side of a broken land -- inside the world of domestic servant children in Haiti.

It's one of the most popular football leagues in the world, with dedicated fans from Asia to Africa. But right now, the reputation the the Premier League is under threat.

One player has been charged with racism on the pitch and England's captain is being investigated by the police over similar allegations.

Yet, in an exclusive interview with CNN, the head of football's governing body, Sepp Blatter, denies that the game is riddled with racism. He even suggested that verbal abuse should be forgotten with a hands -- handshake.

Don Riddell joins me now -- Don, some pretty controversial comments, some would say mind-boggling.

How much damage it's going to cause?

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this is hugely damaging for FIFA and for Sepp Blatter for a number of reasons.

First of all, Zane, Mr. Blatter woke up this morning with the intention of giving a series of interviews in which he was going to outline his plans to really give FIFA a facelift. They've been accused of corruption many times in the past and he is really trying to restore FIFA's credibility.

Whatever that message was today has been completely lost. But worse for Blatter and for FIFA is the fact that he's once again being seen to be out of touch. He's 75 years old. He's got many critics, many of whom say he's completely out of touch. And for those critics, he really has given them a lot of ammunition today.

I think it's worth listening to the sort that he gave to Pedro Pinto earlier today.

This is exactly what Mr. Blatter had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

PEDRO PINTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think there is racism on the pitch?

BLATTER: I would deny it. There is no racism. There is maybe one of the players who would feel that he have a word of a gesture which is not the correct one. But, also, the one who is affected by that, he should say it's a game. We are in a game and at the end of the game we shake hands, this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination. I think all the -- the whole world is aware of the effort we are making against discrimination and racism. And on the field of play, sometimes you'll say something on the field which is not very correct. But then, at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIDDELL: Zane, these comments really have provoked an absolute storm on social media in particular. Mr. Blatter, within the last couple of hours, has felt the need to re-clarify his position. So on the FIFA Web site about an hour or so ago, we got this new statement from Mr. Blatter, who said: "My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express that as football players during a match, you have, quote, battles, with your opponents. And sometimes things are done which are wrong. But normally, at the end of the match, you apologize to your opponent if you have a confrontation during the match, you shake hands. And when the game is over, it is over.

Having said that, I want to stress again that I do not want to diminish the dimension of the problem of racism in society and in sport. I am committed to fighting this plague and kicking it out of football.

VERJEE: And the timing of all of this, don, I mean, these controversial comments come on the same day that the FA has charged a player with alleged racist comments.

RIDDELL: Well, this is -- this is one of the reasons why it's just so astonishing. For the last month, the Football Association and the Met Police in London have been investigating two allegations of racism on the pitch during Premier League games. And just hours after Mr. Blatter's comments, the Football Association charged Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan striker for Liverpool, with making racist comments during a game against Manchester United's Patrice Evra. And, of course, John Terry remains under investigation by the FA and the police in London for comments he's alleged to have made against QPR's Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road.

So, you know, whatever Mr. Blatter says, clearly, there are things going on, and, clearly with what the FA have done with Suarez today, it seems that there is a case to answer.

VERJEE: And what he said had triggered a major firestorm on social media, on Twitter, on Facebook.

What is -- what are some of the things people are saying?

RIDDELL: Well, that's been an awful lot of reaction. I'm going to bring that in for you in a moment, Zane.

But, actually, earlier this evening, I spoke to the chief executive of the Premier League on this very subject.

This was his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD SCUDAMORE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, PREMIER LEAGUE: It's up to him, you know, to say what he says. What is true is the game is working very hard at eradicating it. I've talked about that already. In England, I think we've led the way. The idea that racism, you know, racism exists in the world. Racism certainly still exists in -- in football. You know, in, albeit, you know, reduced, albeit, you know, there are -- you know, there are still issues. Of course there are. And we're not complacent about that.

But I think it's a bit of a stretch to say, you know, it doesn't exist, because it does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIDDELL: Well, footballers have taken to Twitter to voice their outrage over Blatter's comments.

The former England captain, Rio Ferdinand, messaged our very own Pedro Pinto to ask if it was true. He also Tweeted: "Tell me I have just read Sepp Blatter's comments on racism in football wrong. If not, then I am astonished. I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism. It seems it was just on mute for a while."

Well, the former Premier League player, Robbie Savage, said: "Is Sepp Blatter for real? This guy needs to go. Blatter out -- simple."

Blatter out has also become a trading hash tag -- Zane.

VERJEE: Don Riddell, thank you.

Well, you know, it's not the first time that Sepp Blatter's mouth has gotten him into trouble. In December of last year, he was forced to apologize after suggesting that gay fans should have no sexual activity during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

And earlier that year, after John Terry had been stripped off the England captaincy over an alleged affair, Sepp Blatter joked that his behavior would have been applauded in some Latin countries.

And in 2004, he was criticized after suggesting that female players should wear tighter shorts to boost the popularity of women's football.

So how much damage will Sepp Blatter's comments cause to the fight against racism in football?

I'm joined now from Manchester in England by Piara Powar, who is the executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe network.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Your reaction to Sepp Blatter's comments?

PIARA POWAR, FOOTBALL AGAINST RACISM IN EUROPE: Well, Zane, I -- I think we echo everything that's been said by -- by players, by commentators, that these really are, at the very worst, these -- these are ridiculous comments, really. I mean how the leader of world football can - - can say the things that he has today, firstly, to deny when we have two very high profile incidents here in the U.K., firstly, to deny that unfueled (ph) racism is the problem and then to suggest a ridiculous, demeaning way of resolving the issue through shaking hands afterward and -- and I -- I think that it's unfortunate, because as FIFA have said in their statement, that they have been working to do something about this very global problem.

But these comments certainly do sweep the carpet from underneath their efforts.

VERJEE: There are two high profile cases.

But how widespread is racism on the football pitch in Europe?

POWAR: Well, these -- these two cases, I think, a very interesting in the sense that this is the first insight we've had of some of the things that we know have gone on in the past. And it's quite shocking to see a game that -- that is globally viewed across the world, as you said in your introduction, and to see that the athletes, these guys who are paid hundreds of thousands of -- of dollars every week, are indulging in the sort of abuse that -- that is alleged here.

So in that sense...

VERJEE: But is it happening...

POWAR: -- it's a very interesting insight.

VERJEE: -- is it happening in every match or is it happening in some matches?

I mean give us a sense of just how -- how often it's happening, even though we're focused on these two high profile cases.

POWAR: Well, I think if you talk to -- to former blatt players, they will say that in the past, this is the sort of thing that happened from their own teammates. This was commonplace. It perhaps happened in every game.

Now, we know that it's less common, that it happens, perhaps, to a player once a season or -- or perhaps once every three or four years.

So I wouldn't say that this is every day in the U.K. and -- and in other big, diverse European countries like Germany and France. But outside of those countries, if you take some of the high profile incidents in Russia, for example, we know that it is a -- is a big, big issue.

VERJEE: There have been calls for Sepp Blatter to go. There have been many in the past. And he's really been a survivor.

Do you think that this incident, these comments about racism on the pitch could be the straw that breaks the camel's back?

POWAR: I -- I -- I think it's difficult to say. But what I would say is that it's important that FIFA, as an organization, re-orientates itself. The work that FIDA -- FIFA does in this area is not about Sepp Blatter. The global movement that we have to tackle discrimination is not about Sepp Blatter.

So there still needs to be a distancing. There needs to be an absolutely clarification of the real values that FIFA stands for. And they certainly weren't reflected in these comments today.

VERJEE: Piara Powar, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe network.

Thank you so much.

Stay with us here on CONNECT THE WORLD.

In just a moment, a united front in the fight against Islamic militant group, Al Shabab. The presidents of Kenya, Somalia and Uganda vow to keep up their military operations and restore security to their countries.

Then, a turning point in Syria, as opposition forces launch one of their most ambitious attacks to date on the military.

Stay with us here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: I'm Zane Verjee in London.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

Let's take a look at some of the other stories making headlines tonight.

Chinese dissident artists, Ai Weiwei, has spoken out for the first time since he paid a $1.3 million bond. Ai tells CNN the money came from 30,000 contributors. He's trying to fight tax evasion charges and hopes that the payment will allow his case to be reviewed.

The outspoken artist was freed earlier this year after being held for 81 days without being charged. He called in from Beijing today and spoke to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AI WEIWEI, ARTIST & ACTIVIST: I'm calling from a park which I do exercise in the afternoon.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Are you seeing police around you?

Do they follow you to the park?

WEIWEI: They are following me, but they will not get in close, because if I see them, I will even go directly to them and film them.

So they -- I think they feel very embarrassed somehow, because, you know, they should do everything in public.

They should have opened up public discussions. They should have shown what evidence they have to, you know, to -- to educate the public.

But with such a big event, no newspapers in China openly discuss this. I mean, my name cannot be -- even be mentioned on the Internet. And everybody, even the police, come to a full interrogation. They are quite shy about this.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Authorities say Ai's company owes $2.3 million in back taxes.

The presidents of Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have vowed to fight the Al Shabab terrorist network. The leaders met in Nairobi on Wednesday and they pledged to bring stability and security to Somalia. Kenyan troops entered the country after a spate of kidnappings on foreign nationals blamed on the militants, but so far, there has been little direct conflict.

A human rights group is accusing Azerbaijan of suppressing dissidents and silencing opponents in the press. Amnesty International issued a report today saying criticism of the state is punished in all sectors of society there.

Azerbaijan rejects the report, citing progress toward democratic reforms. But Amnesty International says the world has been duped by these claims of progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN DALHUISEN, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: The rosy image of making progress toward being a progressive, democratic society has been accepted, endorsed and internalized by an international community more interested in -- in energy security and petro dollars. And they've accepted this line, which is fundamentally at odds with the truth of what's happening in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Police have arrested a man in connection with a shooting incident at the White House last week. The Secret Service says one of the bullets broke a window, while the other rounds struck the outside of the building. Oscar Ramiro Ortega Hernandez was picked up at a hotel in Western Pennsylvania.

And the U.S. secretary of State got rather a, well, a special aloha on her trip to Hawaii. Take a look at this video, OK. It took a pretty hilarious turn when a man wearing, oh, just a loincloth and carrying a flaming torch ran past Hillary Clinton. She was posing in a photo-op with Donald Tsang. And then that was the reaction when the man went by.

Tsang is Hong Kong's chief executive and he seemed just as amused by the jogger as the secretary of State.

Coming up here on CONNECT THE WORLD, why investor fears are spreading beyond Italy and Spain to countries like Austria and the Netherlands.

Then, some call it evidence of a new era in the Syrian conflict -- how some government opponents are losing patience with peaceful protest and they're picking up arms.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY RAI/QUINNALE)

MARIO MONTI, PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY: I pledge to be faithful to the republic and to observe the constitution and law and to carry out my duties with sole interest to the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Taking the reins -- Mario Monti is sworn in as Italy's new prime minister. He has a huge job on his hands, hauling the country out of the debt crisis that brought down Silvio Berlusconi. Mr. Monti announced that he would also serve as finance minister, at least temporarily.

Welcome back to CONNECT THE WORLD.

I'm Zane Verjee.

Italy's cost of borrowing is still hovering around the danger zone level of 7 percent. The European Central Bank is shopping, buying up the Italian debt investors are shunning.

Now, that's helping to ease the volatile yield price just a little bit. But investors' fears are spreading. Poor countries are now on the firing line, as yields rise across the board.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the U.S. And sovereign debt crisis rumbles on and completes its second year in passing, one of the things that's most obvious about this crisis is its ability to move from some countries within the Eurozone that are perceived as being more financially weak to even stronger nations within the monetary bloc.

Now, if we take, for instance, Italy, we know that the cost of borrowing over the next 10 years to come, so the yields on its 10-Year bonds, have surpassed 7 percent, that crucial danger point, at least twice over the course of the last two weeks.

But the same trend is being felt on other countries, like, for instance, the Netherlands, albeit its bond yields are much, much lower. But they have been surpassing the highest level we've seen in about a month, reaching about 2.44 percent.

Another country that has suffered the same fate of late is Austria. Its bond yields admittedly round about half of the cost of Italy's borrowing, but you can see, it's still at 3.65 percent and rising.

And as we know, other countries across the Eurozone, like, for instance, France and Spain, with much larger debt paths, are also seeing their bond yields soar, as well.

If we move along and talk about why this is the case, well, two or three things become obvious. On the one hand, it is the perceived creditworthiness of these countries and also fears, not just of contagion, but also of a recession, as well.

Take, for instance, the AAA rated countries across the European Union. There's nine of them across the region, as you can see, the ones denominated in red. But about six of them are within the Eurozone itself.

What's really striking here is the difference that some of these countries have to pay to borrow money. For instance, while countries like Italy are suffering record borrowing costs, countries like France and Germany are actually enjoying the lowest borrowing costs that they've had in many, many years.

If you factor in the difference between 1.8 percent and take a look at Italy's borrowing costs of 7 percent plus of late, well, that really gives you an idea of the cost of contagion across the Eurozone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: The European Central Bank's role in solving the crisis is a big bone of contention. A French government spokeswoman says the ECB has to take the necessary measures to ensure financial stability in Europe.

Germany is against the bank being used as a lender of last resort and instead is focusing on efforts to change European treaties to deal with the crisis.

Just listen to what Chancellor Angela Merkel says after meeting with the Irish prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We also talked about a treaty change, that we have more power to change, more power for the European institutions to watch over adhering to the Stability and Growth Pact. I made clear that Germany sees a necessity here to show the markets and the world that the euro stands together and must be defended, but also that we are willing to give up a part of national sovereignty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Leaders outside Europe are getting really frustrated with all of this squabbling.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who's in Australia, says Europe will be in trouble until it comes up with a concrete plan.

And no one can seem to agree on what that is. And the markets think that the crisis is now spreading to the core of the Eurozone.

Joining me now in the studio is Manoj Ladwa.

He is a senior trader at ETX Capital.

Thanks for being with us.

MANOJ LADWA, SENIOR TRADER, ETX CAPITAL: Thank you.

VERJEE: So how serious is the danger of contagion here now?

LADWA: Well, it's extremely serious. We're seeing that contagion effect. It has been going on for a little while now. But where one would have thought that with the measures taken with regards to Greece, a new prime minister there, a new prime minister coming into effect into -- in Italy, as well, you would have thought that that contagion effect would have been contained, but it hasn't been.

We're seeing 10 year yields for Italian bonds back at that 7 percent level. If they stay above 7 percent, it's likely that Italy will turn around to the EU and look for a bailout.

But then it's also the other countries within the Eurozone -- Spain, France, Belgium -- they're all experiencing higher bond yields. And if that problem continues, then it's likely that they'll be up for a bailout and there's not enough money in the pot.

VERJEE: Is the problem here political leadership when it comes down to the bottom line, that investors just don't have confidence in the leaders out there...

LADWA: Well...

VERJEE: -- and -- and the handling of the crisis?

LADWA: -- absolutely. I think the -- the political leaders have been way too slow in dealing with these issues and they should have -- have dealt with the -- the problem of sovereign debt a lot sooner. And I -- I think with regards to the Eurozone, it's the -- they're also constrained about the -- the treaties which were in place when -- when the Eurozone was set up and they're -- they're fairly limited. And they need to -- to look at restructuring -- restructuring the Eurozone and doing it fairly rapidly.

VERJEE: A lot of the attention today was focused on France. Just explain exactly what the situation is there and how serious the implications can be.

LADWA: Well, the -- the French government, and especially the French banks, has a large amount of debt on its books, the likes of Greece and Italy as well. And as the -- the -- the price of these bonds drop and the yields increase, as well, then that's having a -- a negative impact on these -- these banks. And if the banking sector in France suffers, then it could be that France is up for a -- a credit rating downgrade, which further worsens the situation.

VERJEE: So what should the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, do?

So does she just tell the ECB to -- to go ahead and -- and print more money, quantitative easing?

But then you've got concerns of inflation.

LADWA: Well, absolutely. But then they probably shouldn't have raised interest rates earlier on this year. They need to bring interest rates back down to zero. And it's likely that the -- that the ECB will have to break with -- with the rules and conventions and go down the route of quantitative easing and -- and stem this -- this crisis that we're seeing.

VERJEE: Thank you so much.

Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital.

Thanks.

Still to come on CNN, it began as a peaceful protest movement. But as the months drag on, the Syrian uprising could slide into full scale armed conflict. We're going to tell you about one of the most daring raids to date by Syrian Army defectors.

Then, almost two years on from a devastating earthquake, the CNN Freedom Project looks at a disturbing issue now surfacing in Haiti.

And later in the show, if you've seen the movie, "Jaws," well try not to be wowed by this. We're going to take a look at what it's like to dive with a great white out of a cage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN, the world's news leader.

Let's get a check of the headlines this hour.

The president of football's governor body, Sepp Blatter, has denied that racism is rife in the game and suggested that verbal abuse on the pitch should be forgotten with a handshake.

It comes on the same day that England's Football Association charged Liverpool player, Luis Suarez, with making racist remarks.

Mario Monti has been sworn in as prime minister of Italy. Now, he's going to try to end the debt crisis that forced his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, out of office. He says he'll present plans to lawmakers on Thursday.

Lucas Papademos easily won the support of Greece's parliament in a confidence vote Wednesday. Now, his job just gets harder. The country's prime minister has to implement the bitterly contested budget cuts.

A man has been arrested in connection with a shooting incident at the White House. Two bullets were found by a window and outside of the building last week. Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez was picked up by Pennsylvania state police.

A daring attack by Syrian army defectors could be the clearest sign yet that what began as a peaceful uprising is now escalating into armed conflict. A group calling itself the Free Syrian Army says it's attacked the headquarters of air force intelligence near Damascus Wednesday.

It says the military branch is responsible for many crimes against they Syrian people and promises more attacks against security targets are to come.

Syria's also under greater pressure from the international community, but the Arab League is now giving the regime one last chance to end its deadly crackdown. It says Syria has three more days to implement a peace deal or it could face economic sanctions.

More now on today's attack by Syrian army defectors. Their high- profile target really raises the stakes in this uprising. So, the question is, is this a turning point? Ivan Watson's following all the developments from Istanbul in Turkey.

Ivan, is it that crucial turning point?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It may be a little too early to say that, and we have to preface this that these claims about an attack on a branch of Syrian intelligence of their internal security department in the Damascus neighborhood of Harasta, we can't independently confirm them.

They Syrian Free Army officers that we've been talking to claim that that attack began late last night and that it involved basically moles inside the branch office who defected and attacked their colleagues, and they were assisted by defectors on the outside, as well.

The Free Syrian Army is one of the groups, it's the most prominent group of army defectors that have declared war, essentially, against the regime of Bashar al Assad. Some of them have fled across the border here to Turkey, and a couple weeks ago, I spoke with one of their members. Take a listen to an excerpt from that interview, Zain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: You want foreign governments to send weapons to the Free Syrian Army inside Syria?

AYHAM KURDI, CAPTAIN, FORMER MEMBER SYRIAN AIR DEFENSE (through translator): We do have some sources from inside the army, but the supplies remain small to face the government.

If the defectors are provided with weapons to carry out its operations, for example, you cannot blame a butcher for killing a sheep or a carpenter for cutting wood. It's the same thing for an army. You cannot have them work without weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: It's very hard, again, Zain, for us to be able to confirm some of the claims of responsibility for various attacks that the Free Syrian Army has made in the past against Syrian security forces.

What is clear is that every day, practically, Syrian state media reports burials or the deaths of some of their security forces in towns and cities across the country, and they always blame these attacks on what they say are armed terrorist groups. Zain?

VERJEE: Ivan, there is growing international pressure, now, on Syria, particularly coming from the Arab League. They had an important meeting today. What happened?

WATSON: Well, they had foreign ministers meeting in Morocco. This is just days after the Arab League suspended Syria's membership in that association, in that alliance. And that's striking because Syria considers itself a bastion of Arab nationalism, now ejected by its own members.

Now, the Arab League had floated a proposal to try to send some 500 observers into -- Arab observers -- into Syria to try to protect civilian lives.

And we hear from a high level official at the Arab League that that proposal has been approved. They're going to give Syria three days, basically, to comply with that. In the past, Syria has dragged its feet on an Arab League-initiated negotiated settlement with the Syrian opposition, which prompted the suspension in the first place.

Protesters in Damascus today, Zain, they're already showing their opposition. These are pro-regime demonstrators who hurled stones and fruit and vegetables at the embassy of Morocco. Damaged windows in the embassy of the United Arab Emirates.

We've seen a string of bomb attacks against government embassies, against those governments that have been critical of the regime of Bashar al Assad in recent weeks. This isn't going to win Bashar al Assad any more friends throughout the Arab world, these latest mob attacks, Zain.

VERJEE: CNN's Ivan Watson reporting from Istanbul in Turkey.

The Free Syrian Army is warning the regime that it is capable of striking them, quote, "at any place, any time." Hala Gorani gives us some background on the band of military deserters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These seven military officers are believed to be original members of the Free Syrian Army announcing their defection in a video posted on YouTube in July.

Now in exile in Turkey, the group's leaders say they're directing a guerrilla war effort against the Assad regime.

They Syrian regime acknowledges an increasing number of deadly attacks on its soldiers, like this bombing of a Syrian army tank near Daraa in recent days.

On Wednesday, the rebel group claimed responsibility for an attack on a military intelligence base in Harasta outside Damascus, saying more than 20 of its soldiers, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, targeted the security complex.

The group also claims to have carried out recent operations in a number of cities, including Hama, Homs, Daraa, and Idlib.

Keep in mind, Syria has restricted reporters' access into the country, so CNN cannot independently confirm the group's claim.

Colonel Riad al-Asaad, a 30-year veteran of the Syrian Air Force, claims to lead a force of some 10,000, a number impossible to verify, comprised of mainly low-ranking soldiers hidden in many Syrian cities.

But these opposition fighters are believed to have little firepower, planting bombs and carrying out hidden attacks. And they're a small force in comparison to Syria's military, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

The group has a Facebook page, which calls on other soldiers to join them. They say their aim is to bring down the Assad regime, fight the Syrian army, and work with the Syrian people for freedom.

Hala Gorani, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: While one opposition wing takes up arms, another is organizing a united diplomat front against the al-Assad regime. The Syrian National Council is a coalition of opposition groups, and it's based in Turkey.

Tonight, we're joined by Ausama Monajed, a member of the council and a special adviser to its leader. We also have our frequent contributor, Fawaz Gerges, the director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics.

Ausama, let's start with you. Syria's not Libya. Do you think you can pull off the same?

AUSAMA MONAJED, SYRIAN OPPOSITION MEMBER: Well, we're not asking for international military intervention here. What we are asking for are international observers.

We are -- there are precedents in history where international observers were sent to protect the lives of civilians. What we are seeing, atrocities committed against civilians, and we need to put an end to this.

VERJEE: Even with the opposition coming together like this, with the greater international pressure, now, on Syria with sanctions and condemnation, Fawaz, do you think Bashar al-Assad still has some very crucial cards that he can still play?

FAWAZ GERGES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST CENTRE, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: You know, Zain, there are two dynamics here. There is the external dynamic and the internal dynamic.

Externally, Syria is isolated, has never been as isolated now. The Arab League, Turkey, one of its major allies, the United States, Western Europe, Syria has now Russia and, to a lesser extent, China, India to a lesser extent. So, the reality is the noose is tightening around the regime's neck externally.

Internally, and this is really the point, we know very little what's happening inside Syria itself. We don't know how consolidated the regime itself.

We know certain things, that this is a fight to the bitter end. We know that the regime is much more consolidated than some of us would like to believe. And we also know, now, that a potent armed insurgency is emerging.

That is what we're witnessing, as you said, about Libya, we're witnessing the militarization, the beginning of the militarization in Syria.

My take on it, this was likely play into the regime's hands. I hope you disagree with me, because the regime has been saying, "Look, this is all about armed gangs and thugs and militants and al Qaeda," and the militarization of this particular uprising might provide the Syrian regime with ammunition.

VERJEE: Well, al-Assad has a very powerful military machine, still, and what are your thoughts on how you're going to deal with that and what's -- the point that Fawaz is bringing up?

MONAJED: Well, certainly, the Syrian army is the largest -- 16th largest army in the world. But here's the point. The Syrian regime has been eager to push this whole revolution or uprising towards either sectarianism or violence.

What we are witnessing now are defected soldiers, and we have to differentiate, actually, between defected soldiers and protesters who are not even carrying stones or knives.

Defected soldiers are not accepting volunteers or transcripts in their ranks, but they are protecting the civilian neighborhoods and creating evacuation passages for certain neighborhoods and towns and villages who are under attack.

And the protesters remain peaceful by and large. And that's a key element in this revolution, because we don't want to go into the line of Libya.

VERJEE: Fawaz?

GERGES: My fear is that you'll see in the next few days and next few weeks, you're going to see escalation on huge scales. The Syrian regime will strike with an iron fist. It's not just it has a potent military machine. No doubts about it.

It's not really 50,000. You're talking about 200,000 special operation forces. The regime has mobilizing its forces. And the big question, really, it's not just about the military machine. I honestly don't understand why the major urban centers in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Latakia, have not joined the protesters yet.

So, it's not just about having a military machine. Obviously, the regime has a sizable critical social base of support. And that's why the regime is not as -- is determined to really fight it to the bitter end.

VERJEE: Well, Ausama, explain that.

MONAJED: Of course.

VERJEE: Why is that those other urban centers aren't jumping in?

MONAJED: Because they choose -- in Aleppo and in Damascus, this is the middle class and upper middle class of the society. They wouldn't go and protest in the street.

They would see their roles supporting the Syrian revolution by making donations, creating networks, communicating between inside and outside.

We have more than 55,000 -- detainees, now, who are supporting their families, social living expenses, the education and medical supplies. All these come from the business -- Sunni businessmen in Damascus and Aleppo. And they've been contributing a lot.

VERJEE: Right.

MONAJED: But we do not expect to see --

VERJEE: OK.

MONAJED: -- mass numbers of Damascans in the streets like what we've seen in Cairo.

VERJEE: OK. The Arab League -- a lot of the focus on them right now, becoming very tough. Does it matter to Syria whether they get kicked out temporarily or not?

GERGES: It really does, Zain. This is -- it could be a game changer. Remember, Zain, Syria prides itself on being what? The beating heart of Arab nationalism. A powerhouse of common action.

Here you have the Arab League, the family, the formal family of the Arab states, and the question is really -- you asked about international -- I mean, the international dynamic.

The question, the big question to my mind, to what extent will the isolation of Syria in the Arab world, in the region and the international community, play into the internal dynamics, provide motivation for the opposition, and also for the security forces?

The big point is the following, this is my final point on this. I think Syria could easily descend into a prolonged conflict. We're seeing the beginning that this is the beginning of the end. Both sides are going for broke, that's what we're seeing.

VERJEE: And they still have the Russians backing them so far.

MONAJED: That's the point behind the Arab League. We need the Arab League --

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: Real quick.

MONAJED: -- to be on the same page --

VERJEE: We have -- we --

MONAJED: -- because all eyes are on Russia and China --

VERJEE: Right, OK --

MONAJED: -- and they would not move quickly unless the Arab League are all on the same page with this, as well as Turkey.

VERJEE: Ausama Monajed, the member of the Syrian National Council, Fawaz Gerges, the director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. Never enough time, but always a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Just ahead here on CONNECT THE WORLD, giving a voice to Haiti's most silent victims. We follow the American rap artist Common in his fight to end child domestic servitude. Our CNN Freedom Project continues right after this. Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: It's been almost two years since Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake killing more than 300,000 people. But even today, the toll continues to rise. An outbreak of cholera that followed the quake is still claiming lives, and almost 600,000 people are still living in temporary settlements.

Welcome back, I'm Zain Verjee, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

The quake's destruction and the poverty left in its wake have only exacerbated a hidden horror in Haiti, that's child slavery. Tonight, as part of CNN's Freedom Project, we're bring you the rap artist who is fronting a campaign to fight domestic servitude in Haiti.

What you're watching is the new music video for "Sweet," that's the latest song from Grammy award-winning artist Common. He filmed this clip in Haiti while he was working on a new CNN documentary called "Common Dreams."

Monita Rajpal asked the controversial start what inspired him to highlight the plight of some of Haiti's most silent victims known as the restaveks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COMMON, HIP HOP ARTIST/ACTOR (rapping): The law lives among us, the young --

MONITA RAJPAL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's the rapper who created a storm in May after an invitation to perform at the White House. Critics spoke out against some of his lyrics about politics and the law.

COMMON (rapping): -- and shorties know to keep learning. Lessons in our life are like stripes that we're earning.

RAJPAL: But Common's lyrics have also won him critical acclaim. Most recently, he was nominated for a Grammy award for the album "Universal Mind Control."

COMMON (rapping): Body moving, going grooving, styling --

RAJPAL: His universal stardom, further enhanced by roles in films including rom-com "Just Wright" opposite Queen Latifah.

PAULA PATTON AS MORGAN ALEXANDER, "JUST WRIGHT": A girl doesn't just become the wife of a franchise player by accident.

ANNOUNCER: The Nets' luck couldn't get any worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, this is Svedna (ph), one of the girls that we typically see on the market.

RAJPAL: Now, Common is using his star power to help children whose lives he says couldn't get any worse.

COMMON: I just felt like I was entering another world, another place that I never experienced.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you can see how small little place this space is.

RAJPAL: In his latest documentary, Common reveals the plight of the restaveks, an estimated 300,000 children working as domestic servants in Haiti. The United Nations considers this deeply-rooted practice a form of modern-day slavery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- her back, you can just see her, and she has to carry, like many other children, gallons and gallons and buckets of water on their heads back and forth to get to the house so that the house that she lives in can have water, too, for daily living.

RAJPAL (on camera): Tell me about what it was like when you stepped off the plane and you landed in Port-au-Prince and -- what did you see? How did you feel?

COMMON: I really had to adjust my mind, because the poverty that I saw in Haiti and Port-au-Prince was poverty that exceeded any poverty I'd ever seen.

RAJPAL: And the hardest thing, I would assume, to see is also when you see young children, little kids who are growing up and seeing such devastation around them. And I'm curious, what does that do to you and your mindset?

COMMON: Well, when you see little children experiencing what they're experiencing in Haiti, the poverty, the struggle, the destruction that they have to live in. It just -- you just feel compassionate, you feel like, what can I do to contribute, to help these young people and help the people in general in Haiti?

And then, it makes you also think about what can you do to help people as you come back home? You just realize that man, there's so much that you can do to help another person.

RAJPAL: While you were filming this documentary, what -- what stuck out at you most, do you think? What story really tugged at your heart?

COMMON: More than a story, it was just seeing little kids who didn't have clothes. Seeing people who lived in tents that were -- I mean -- it's just living conditions that you wouldn't -- you wouldn't picture any human being having to live in.

It was just things that -- that we can take for granted or just think is natural that human being didn't have access to. That's what struck me the most.

RAJPAL: And do you feel that there is also a sense of helplessness? When you go there, do you actually feel that you -- what can I actually do?

COMMON: I didn't feel helpless, because I knew that I would be able to contribute in some shape, form, or fashion.

(MUSIC - "SWEET," BY COMMON)

COMMON: I knew when we did the video for "Sweet," it was paying homage and respect to Haiti in many ways, even though the song is not about Haiti. It just was like, I'm still giving respect to Haiti. So, even just raising awareness is something that you can do, talking about it, tweeting about it. It's all important.

RAJPAL: What did you learn while you were there?

COMMON: I learned that the people of Haiti are a very strong people. Very -- determined and they have perseverance that I -- that's really incredible, to be honest.

And it's just -- you just -- you see that the world needs so much help, but you also see a people that really are willing to overcome, and willing to endure, and willing to prevail through it. And that's what I learned most, that the people of Haiti are very strong people.

RAJPAL: And then, what does that do for you as an artist? What kind of inspiration do you take away with that, or from that?

COMMON: You get inspired. You get inspired to do good in the world. You get inspired to make music that's profound and powerful.

I -- it's like -- I was finishing up my album, "The Dream of the Believer," and it's like, this album is inspiring people to dream and to believe and to go do good in the world. And that's what my trip to Haiti did for me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Monita Rajpal talking to Common. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we come back, we hit the old city of Baku, where the stage is set to hold the biggest song contest in the world.

(MUSIC - "RUNNING SCARED," BY ELL AND NIKKI)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: Welcome back to CONNECT THE WORLD. All this week, we're keeping our eye focused on Azerbaijan. It's situated on the banks of the Caspian Sea. Its capital, Baku, is more than 5,000 years old, and is a scientific, industrial and cultural hub.

Next year, this bustling city's going to be taking center stage for a contest that will have millions of people tuning in from around the world. CNN's Jim Clancy takes the mic. Well, sort of.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC - "RUNNING SCARED," BY ELL AND NIKKI)

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In May, Nikki and Ell, two young people from Azerbaijan, took their singing careers to the top, and Azerbaijan rode ride along with them.

JUDIT RAKERS, HOST, EUROVISION 2011: The winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 is Azerbaijan.

(CROWD CHEERS)

CLANCY: Six months later, Nikki is recording in London while Ell is back in Baku, still excited.

CLANCY (on camera): The two of you on stage was magic. That's why you won.

ELDAR "ELL" GASIMOV, WINNER, EUROVISION 2011: Yes. We just -- people believed in our relationship. People believed in real love. I think because -- we won because that evening, this day, 14th of May, people needed that song.

CLANCY (voice-over): If they didn't need it, they surely wanted it. The victory was celebrated and then some in the streets of Baku. Azerbaijan's star was rising. An estimated 125 million viewers were gazing intently toward this small nation on the Caspian Sea.

For Azerbaijan, it means the honor and the spotlight of hosting next year's Eurovision Song Contest.

ADIL KERIMLI, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, EUROVISION BAKU 2012: Really, it's a big success in terms of introducing Azerbaijan, its rich culture, history, its music to Europe and to the rest of the world.

CLANCY: Organizers are ready to begin construction of a new Baku Crystal Hall that could seat 25,000 spectators. Key, they say, enthusiastic public support. The mayor of Baku's old city sees this as a chance to show the many facets of Azerbaijan to the world.

MIKAYIL JABBAROV, MAYOR, BAKU OLD TOWN: My hope is that they will take away the impression that it's not any single thing that Azerbaijan can be proud of. That it's a combination of the way people think. It's a combination of our history, architecture, cultural diversity.

CLANCY: What kind of song will Azerbaijan enter in 2012? Ell hopes it bridges his country's traditions and the wider world.

GASIMOV: That's why I want to bring something new in, fresh air. I mean, the pop -- European pop music, just to make it, lip it, near to Europe, to the West.

CLANCY: Unlike some here, Ell doesn't think a traditional presentation of Azerbaijani folk music is a good fit for the Eurovision contest.

CLANCY (on camera): Just bring a little bit of Europe to Azerbaijan - -

GASIMOV: Yes.

CLANCY: -- as you bring a little bit of Azerbaijan --

GASIMOV: To Europe.

CLANCY: To Europe.

GASIMOV: Yes.

CLANCY: Is that about it?

GASIMOV: Yes. I'm waiting for you guys. Welcome to Azerbaijan.

CLANCY (voice-over): The rest of the country is waiting for you, too.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Baku.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: For our Parting Shots tonight, forget skydiving or bungee jumping, this is a hobby, well, it's not for the fainthearted, let's just say that.

Check this out. It's swimming with Great White sharks cage-free. This actually was sent in by one of our more daring iReporters, taken in the Pacific near Isla Guadalupe in Mexico. He is 72 years old, a banker by trade, and this is his 15th dive with them.

But don't worry. He says that these sharks are actually quite shy, and he wasn't afraid for one single minute. Yes, they do look pretty shy, don't they? I don't think so.

I'm Zain Verjee, thanks for watching. The world headlines and "BackStory" will follow this short break. This is CNN.

END