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Slavic Spring in Russia?; Plot Uncovered to Smuggle Gadhafi's Son; Final Night of Champions League Group Stages; Bashar al-Assad Claims He Never Ordered Crackdown on Protesters; Assad's Comments Called "Not Credible"; Assad Regime's History of Violence; Expert on Syria Responds to Assad's Comments; Conservation Group Clashes With Japan's Controversial Whaling Fleet; Champions League Dream Over for Manchester United and City; Iraq After the War: A Look at the Drawdown; A Mother's Determination to Relive Son's Final Moments; Parting Shots: Images of Soldiers Headed Home

Aired December 7, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: As police swarm the streets of Russia, a president from the past says it's time to listen to the people and rerun the election. Tonight, I'll ask a former ambassador whether this is just the start of a Russian revolution.

Live from London, I'm Max Foster.

Also tonight, Syria's president denies he's responsible for the violence engulfing his country.

But why is Bashar al-Assad defending himself now?

And as Japan's whaling fleet sets sail, an activist tells me why he's preparing for battle on the high seas.

Russian police are out in force today, determined to stamp out any hint of protest against the results from Sunday's parliamentary elections. Those elections handed heavy loses to the prime minister, Vladimir Putin's, party, but still allowed them to return to power.

Almost immediately, opposition protesters claimed fraud and demanded a revote. Today, the most high profile figure yet leant his voice to the opposition.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, called for new elections over concerns about fraud.

But the prime minister himself seems undaunted and he filed paperwork today to enter the race for president next year.

A rally was planned for Central Moscow today, but what would have been the third straight day, that is. But instead of 2,000 demonstrators, dozens of police officers swarmed the rally site and prevented any groups from forming.

CNN's Phil Black was there.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was to be the third consecutive night of protests in Central Moscow, after thousands the first night, hundreds last night. Tonight, the turnout has been no one at all, apart from the hundreds of police officers you can see. These are just some of them. They have very much circled the square. They are restricting people's exit to large parts of it.

Police vehicles, convoys of them, down every side, has all been enough to stop any protesters from showing up here tonight.

Away from the noisy protests that have been taking place here, we've been asking people on the streets why they believe their countrymen have been protesting, have been vocally expressing their discontent with the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin has started to lose power a long time ago. I think when he came to power, the situation in our country was already stable, so it we are not his achievement. But when our country got to stagnation because nothing could develop, it became clear that Putin couldn't do anything. But now it's clear for anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people are tired with this monotony. People are tired of waiting for the better. They want to have a better life, like in Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: maybe they've just got tired of what is happening now. Young generations can't get a job. Experience is required everywhere. But to get experience you need to get a job. Also, I think it's the growth of prices. It's hard for parents as they need to pay for education.

BLACK: So declining numbers every night and now no turnout whatsoever. It's uncertain just how much momentum the opposition protest movement now has. Its organizers say now all their energy and their efforts are focused on organizing a mass rally in Central Moscow on Saturday and they hope tens of thousands of people are going to attend.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.


FOSTER: Well, many protesters, election monitors and even Western governments are complaining about voting irregularities and fraud on election day. Those claims appear to be supported, in part, by videos shot in polling places and now spreading like wildfire on social media.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Online, it's being dubbed a Slavic Spring, the first shoots of what could be a political awakening in Russia, fueled by uncensored images like these posted on social networks.

It's thrust outspoken bloggers to the fore. A number have been arrested for organizing unsanctioned gatherings. One posted this image from inside a police van. Fellow protesters defiant as they're driven away.

The effect, say social media experts, is two contrasting streams of election coverage -- one official, on state-controlled media, one real on the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: if the authorities would like to save their fate in the existing situation, the last thing they may be doing is preventing 53 million Russians from communicating online.

CHANCE: But in a country with such tight media control, the temptation must be overwhelming, especially with the alleged election irregularities being caught on camera and aired on social sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't arrest, you know?

CHANCE: CNN can't confirm the authenticity of the videos, but one Moscow polling station is shown to have pens in voting booths with ink that can be erased. Votes against the ruling party, it's alleged, were simply rubbed out.

This video of an elderly woman voting in Siberia went viral. She's shown confused, being helped by an election official, who marks her voting slip for the government.

Russia's president says the irregularities must be investigated, but the videos are not incontestable evidence of wrongdoing.

Many Russians appear to disagree.

ANTON NOSIK, RUSSIAN INTERNET ENTREPRENEUR: Probably, there is some breaking point at -- at some period in time when people get really fed up with the -- the crooks and the thieves and the forgery and the vote rigging and the blatant disrespect for democracy that our authorities have been exhibiting for the last decade.

CHANCE: It is still too early to know if these latest Russian protests will escalate or subside. But social media is once again showing its influence and power.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


FOSTER: That's a country heading for something of a -- a Russian spring, when presidential elections are held in March.

Well, joining me now to discuss that is former British ambassador to Russia, Andrew Wood.

Thank you so much for joining us.


FOSTER: Are these demonstrations going to subside, as Matthew was suggesting, or could they blow or continue to blow up?

WOOD: Well, I think they're part of a slow burn process which has been mounting. The -- the discontent with the prospects has been going back for some considerable time. It was exacerbated by the brusque announcement on the 24th of September there would be Putin again as president. And then it's been, I think, a surprise to people that although they expected the elections to be fixed, they weren't fixed better.

FOSTER: It's interesting, because when you look at these pictures, we are told from Russia that there have been these demonstrations, as you say, over -- over many months. But the media focuses on those demonstrations now because of the elections recently held.

But are you suggesting that they have escalated over those months to this point?

WOOD: I think the amount of discontent has escalated. And at the same time, there's been something of a chipping away at the -- at the assumption that the regime is so strong and powerful that it can do whatever it likes. And it's the combination of the two things, which makes it significant.

I wouldn't say this is the start of a big revolution. It's a further stage in an apparent deterioration.

FOSTER: And people are comparing it to the Arab Spring. Far too early to say anything like that, of course. But when you talk about discontent, you don't think this is going to be a revolution.

But when does it start looking like that?

WOOD: Well, the big -- a big difference with the Arab Spring is that the Arab countries are full of very young people. The demographics in Russia are quite different. It's an aging country and older people are less -- less likely to go in for revolution.

At the same time, the capacity for feeling insulted by the assumptions of the authorities that they can do what they like is -- is certainly there.

FOSTER: Try to put your finger on the discontent, if you could.

Is there one grain of discontent that runs through all people or are they different discontents?

WOOD: The biggest discontent is what's broadly termed under the -- the word corruption. You and I will only think about corruption, which I'm sure you do every day, you think of people with envelopes being -- passing money.

It's much more a question of abuse of power. And ordinary people can feel it in terms of the officials that rule their lives, taking rather than giving, that those who should protect them become predators. More powerful people feel it because they themselves are subject to arbitrary arrest or whatever.

FOSTER: And we've seen many times around the world how, actually, that can be acceptable when an economy is booming and everyone is sharing in the wealth.

WOOD: This is so.

FOSTER: But as things turn, they start realizing that they've been conned.

WOOD: Yes. And what the -- the -- these elections have failed to do and the presidential elections so far look steady, already, also to fail, is to provide any hint of a new strategy or a new approach which might do what President Medvedev has himself said is necessary to modernize the country.

FOSTER: Andrew Wood, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

WOOD: My pleasure.

FOSTER: You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD, live from London.

Still to come, we'll tell you about an alleged plot to smuggle one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons to one of the last places on earth any would think of looking for him.

In sport, it is the last night of the European Champions League group stage and games are underway right now. We'll bring you the very latest scores just before the final whistle.

And a mother's memorial to her soldier son -- how Nanette West (ph) came to terms with her loss and even went so far as to try to enlist in the army.

Stay with CNN.


FOSTER: You are watching CNN, the world's news leader.


Welcome back to you.

Now, heavy clashes in Northern Syria. An activist group says that at least nine people have been killed by security forces on Wednesday. This comes a day after more than 30 people were reported killed in confrontations between demonstrators and government forces and still Syria's leader denies that he's ordered the crackdown on protests against his government.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: We don't kill our people. Nobody kills. No government in the world kills its people unless it's led by radicals. And for me, as president, I became president because of all the public support. It's impossible for anyone just to take -- to give orders to kill.


ASSAD: I -- I did my best to protect the people, so you cannot feel guilty when you do your best.


FOSTER: Well, we'll have more of that remarkable interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the White House reaction, there has been some, as you can imagine, a little later on CONNECT THE WORLD.

Well, now for a look at some other stories connecting our world this hour.

An intriguing postscript to the Libyan revolution and the fate of the Gadhafi family. Mexico authorities say they've arrested four men in connection with an alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, into Mexico.

Senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joins us live with more on this fascinating story. And it's pretty murky, I guess.

But tell us what you can -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems to go back to September the 6th, according to the Mexicans, which was right when Saadi Gadhafi was fleeing Libya into Niger, to the south of Libya.

He has been in Niger since, but it does seem that -- that it's clear that he never intended to stay there, that he intended to perhaps go on to Mexico, as the Mexican authorities are saying here.

Now, his lawyer says he is under the jurisdiction of the Niger government, that he is not going to flout the international restrictions that are placed on him. He's surrendered his passport.

When I was in Niger a few months ago, the justice minister there said we've got him on high surveillance. We're not going to let him leave the country. You -- the International Criminal Court -- the -- the Interpol has him on a red watch list. So he's not going to be allowed to leave the country. So that seems to be the status quo.

And his lawyer's point is that he's not about to flee the country.

But it does seem very clear from what the Mexican authorities were saying is that they want -- that they were expecting him to turn up on their soil at some point. And, of course, the fear in Libya is the Saadi Gadhafi will flee the sort of custody that he is under in Niger right now. And a lot of Libyans want him to see -- end up back in Tripoli to be on trial. They think he knows where billions of dollars belonging to the Gadhafi regime are still hidden. And there are many Libyans -- one source I was talking to today -- who believes that Saadi Gadhafi is slowly but surely insinuating himself into the community there in Niger. And within a few months, hey, he may be trying to get out again.


We'll follow that.

Thank you very much, indeed.

Now, a New York police official says a letter bomb was sent to the chief executive of Germany's largest bank. The envelope was addressed to Joseph Ackerman at Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt in Germany. The New York official says the return address was listed as the European Central Bank to increase the chances of Ackerman opening it.

Now, the leaders of France and Germany have published a joint letter to the European Council president, calling for strict fiscal discipline in the Eurozone and the first time that the plan has been published and it comes ahead of a -- a two day summit in Brussels aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing Eurozone crisis.

Earlier, the U.S. Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, was in France, where he met with President Nicholas Sarkozy and expressed his faith in European leaders.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: A lot of confidence in what the president of France and what the minister are doing, working with Germany to try to build a stronger Europe. As I said yesterday, we're encouraged by the progress they're making, not just to put in place economic reforms across Europe, to create the conditions for stronger growth in the future, but to try to build a stronger architecture for a fiscal union and a fiscal compact and -- and as the minister said, try to make sure there's a sufficiently strong firewall in place to help support those efforts.


FOSTER: Well, Italian police have finally caught up with one of their most wanted suspects. Alleged mob boss, Michele Zagaria, was found hiding in a bunker under his home near Naples. He's believed to be in charge of a clan in the Naples mafia and was on the run for 16 years. Police say he surrendered after officers dug into the ground and broke through the bunker walls and the ceiling.

Seventy years ago today, Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, prompting the United States to officially enter World War II. To mark the anniversary, a moment of silence was held at 7:55 local time, the exact moment that the surprise attack began.

U.S. military planes also flew overhead in a -- in a formation known as missing man, paying homage to more than 8,000 sailors and marines who were killed that day.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Just minutes from eight and the final games of the Champions League group stage.

"WORLD SPORT'S" Alex Thomas will round up the scores for us from across Europe, right after this break.


FOSTER: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London.

Welcome back.

I'm Max Foster.

Now the final night of the Champions League group stage is underway right now. Two teams from one city are -- are providing the pick of the action. Man United taking on FC Basel in Switzerland, while Manchester City were at home to German giants, Bayern Munich. United know they can make it through the the knock-out stage with a draw, but City need a win and results elsewhere to go their way if they are to progress.

Now, here to bring you up to date with the latest scores from around Europe is "WORLD SPORT'S" Alex Thomas.

It's still going on, but how's it going?

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's that time of the competition where you get your calculators out and try and do all the maths and work out what's what.

Essentially, we came into this the last week of this season's Champions League group stage is with only seven of the 16 places in the knock-out stages up for grabs.

Three of those spots taken last night. And more on that in a moment. So four places remaining tonight. And there were nine clubs going for it, particularly in Manchester, where, as we said, City in Group A playing Bayern Munich. Already the group winners, Bayern Munich. City are beating them as we speak, but it's probably not going to be good enough because in the other match in that group, Napoli are beating Villareal and it means that Napoli are probably going to go through ahead of Manchester City with all their millions from their rich Middle Eastern owners, they'll be going into the Europa League, the second tier competition.

Meanwhile, their City rivals, United, are plying in Group C against Basel. And you see that Bensrica -- Benefica already guaranteed to go through from that group. Manchester United need at least a draw against Basel. And the Swiss teams, surprisingly, Max, are winning at the moment, so Manchester United winners as recently as 2008 in Moscow and runners-up last season to Barcelona. They could be crash out of this competition for the first time. They haven't got through to the knock-out stages since 2005.

FOSTER: It looks like good stuff, isn't it, so far?

THOMAS: Not very good.

FOSTER: Last night, three teams through, as well. Remind us what happened there.

THOMAS: Yes, Chelsea through, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Olympique and Marseilles just completing that bit of the jigsaw. Those four groups in action on Tuesday and the four tonight.

Chelsea is the most interesting one. So we know that they've had a lot of success since their rich Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, took charge of the club. A young Portuguese manager, Andre Villas-Boas, under huge pressure because Chelsea's results haven't been good. But they were back to vintage form with a 3-0 victory. And they actually finished top of the group in the end, despite all the soothsayers.

And Villas-Boas had a bit of a go at the media afterward.


ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS, MANAGER, CHELSEA: Nobody or anybody here would have put a bet on us finishing top, but it happened exactly that. And it's very, very ratifying for the team. I think the team were excellent. I think today is a -- it's a win of -- of human values, of team spirit, solidarity, responsibility, the strength of character, the ability to -- to take criticism, resilience and -- and this is a -- a great win for -- for Chelsea players. There is of a respect that they don't get. We've been continuously chased by -- by different kinds of people and different kinds of pressure. And -- and maybe today, we gave everybody a slap in the face.


THOMAS: Gave their critics a slap in the face, Max.


THOMAS: Not that he's paranoid or anything.

FOSTER: And now what -- the only other thing I've got here is a question saying you've got some cool video to show us. So you'd better explain that one.

THOMAS: Yes, I'm not sure we're the target audience for this bit of video, but watch anyway. You know, ski resorts so last year, Max.


THOMAS: If you want a bit of fun in the snow...

FOSTER: (INAUDIBLE) coming to, Tony was telling us (INAUDIBLE)...

THOMAS: Just take a ski through your neighborhood. In all honesty, don't try this at home. Clearly, this has been done by -- I was going to say professionals, but probably amateurs, but very skillful ones. Terrific camera work. Terrific skiing aptitude. We'll show you a lot more of that.

FOSTER: Sports. What's that?

THOMAS: As well -- well, you know, it's a very good question. They call it free-style skiing. But I'm going to tease you a bit about this video, Max, because I'm going to explain all...

FOSTER: Because you want everyone to watch the show?

THOMAS: -- in "WORLD SPORT." I'm going to go into...

FOSTER: that's very clever.


FOSTER: You're a marketing man as well as a sports man.

THOMAS: All the Champions League results, more about skiing and world golf in one loop, Donald (ph), as well.

FOSTER: Alex, thank you so much.

Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, some startling remarks by Syrian President Bashir Assad in his first in-depth interview with an American journalist since the protests began.

Japan's whaling fleet have set sail for the Antarctic. But at least one group of activists plans to get in their way.

And arriving back home, U.S. soldiers are leaving Iraq for the last time. Coming up on CONNECT THE WORLD, the pain they're leaving behind.



Time for a check of the world headlines this hour.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has added his voice to the fallout from Russia's parliamentary elections on Sunday. Gorbachev has called for a fresh vote after allegations of irregularities and fraud at the polls.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are telling the European Council president that their fiscal discipline proposal is Europe's only home. The French and German leader sent an open letter to Herman Van Rompuy saying their plan is necessary.

Authorities in New York -- authorities in New York report an apparent letter bomb attempt targeting Germany's largest bank. A police spokesman says the the letter was delivered to Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt in Germany and addressed to the CEO, Josef Ackermann.

The former governor of the US state of Illinois has been sentenced to 14 years in jail for corruption. Rob Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became president.

As the anti-government protests and violent crackdown continue in Syria, Turkey has announced tougher sanctions against Damascus, its former ally. At least nine people were reported killed in Syrian clashes on Wednesday.

Now to some remarkable comments on the violence by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In his first sit-down interview with a US journalist since the protest began, President al-Assad told ABC's Barbara Walters that he never ordered any crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: There wa no command to kill or to be brutal.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC CORRESPONDENT: People went from houses to houses. Children were arrested.

ASSAD: When?

WALTERS: I saw those pictures.

ASSAD: To be frank with you Barbara, you don't live here, how did you know all this? You have to hear to see. We don't see this. So it cannot depend on what you hear in the United States --

WALTERS: But I saw reporters --


ASSAD: You have to --

WALTERS: -- who brought back pictures.

ASSAD: Yes, but how did you verify those pictures? So, that's why we are talking about false allegations and distortion of reality.


FOSTER: Well, the US was very quick to respond. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, telling reporters the Obama administration believes President al-Assad's comments were not credible.

Earlier from Istanbul, CNN's Ivan Watson gave us his perspective on the situation in Syria.




WATSON: -- the kind of words like "delusional," "insanity." "Bashar al-Assad is a madman in complete denial of the situation in Syria."

That's what a hodge-podge of Western diplomats, certainly Syrian opposition activists, and political scientists who are longtime Syria watchers, that's what they're all saying in reaction to Bashar al-Assad's performance during which he insists no orders were ever given to carry out acts of violence against unarmed demonstrators in which --

He claimed that the army was not his army, that he didn't actually control it, and he insisted that a process of reforms and elections were on the way, and that he still enjoyed the support of most of the population inside Syria.

Certainly, this performance is not going to do well with Syrians who've seen thousands of their family members and countrymen killed since last march, more than 10,000 arrested. Even the United Nations Children's Fund has come out and criticized the Syrian government for the deaths of more than 300 children since the uprising began last March, and the allegations that some of them were subjected to torture and rape.

So, there is a definite problem here in that you have different narratives completely, here, and one where the Syrian president seems to insist that he enjoys the support of his country and denies all accusations, even coming from his former allies, that his security forces have been engaging in systematic punishment, torture, and killing of people who have risen up against their leader.


FOSTER: Well, President al-Assad's denials are challenged almost daily with images of violence visited on demonstrators by government forces distributed through the new social media of social networking sites.

Now, CNN's Atika Shubert reports that the al-Assad regime going back to Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, has a history of violence.




ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Images like these come out of Syria daily, sometimes hourly. For the past eight months, those in Syria who dare to protest against President Bashar al- Assad's regime face the wrath of his security forces.


SHUBERT: From the beginning of this uprising back in March, when the Arab world was basking in the glow of the success of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people felt brave enough to take to the streets and try their own hand at freedom.

It has not been realized. Instead, the UN says 4,000 people have been killed. Some rights groups say it is much higher, not to mention the injured, the arrested, and the refugees that have fled, the numbers are yet unknown.

Syrian officials say they are battling, quote, "armed terrorist gangs" that prey on civilians. But the regime has barred most Western journalists from the country.

The Assad name in Syrian history goes a long way back in the people's memory. Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, is infamous for his own brutal crackdown on a Sunni Muslim uprising in Hama in 1982. Tens of thousands were killed. To some observers, history is repeating itself.

From the seat of power in Damascus, Bashar unleashed his loyal security forces to quell dissent in every corner. First came Daraa, 22 people were reported killed. The city went on to suffer a two-week siege by the military. Teargas and gunfire, tanks, nothing was spared.



SHUBERT: To Jisr al-Shughour in June, to Homs in August, tanks stormed the city, leaving 80 dead.

In November alone, activists reported 400 killed. This week, more than 30 dismembered bodies were found in Homs.

ABU RAMI, DOCTOR, HOMS RESIDENT: They were shooting people and targeted buildings and innocent people. They don't differentiate between man or woman or child.


SHUBERT: As the dead increase, so has the call to go.

TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRIME MINISTER OF TURKEY (through translator): Bashar al-Assad should see the tragic end that meets leaders who declare war on their people. Oppression does not create order and a future cannot be built on the blood of the innocent.

History will remember such leaders as those who fed on blood. And you, Assad, are headed towards opening such a page.

SHUBERT: The Arab League has tried to stop the bloodshed by voting to impose economic sanctions, the only real leverage they may have left.

SHEIKH HAMMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI, PRIME MINISTER OF QATAR (through translator): If they do not abide by the decision of the League and abide by the agreement of the League and stop the killing and allow media in and release political prisoners, this will complicate matters, and we do not wish or hope for this.

SHUBERT: The threats are louder, but the death toll mounts.

Atika Shubert, CNN, London.


FOSTER: A different perspective, now, from a Middle East expert who has had long-term access to Bashar al-Assad's Syria while serving as editor of the country's first private sector English language magazine.

Andrew Tabler is also author of the book "In the Lion's Dead: Inside America's Cold War With Assad's Syria." He joins us now live from Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

Al-Assad isn't denying that violence is taking place in his country, but to address the first point, he says forces haven't been given the command, these are armed gangs. Is there any truth in that?

ANDREW TABLER, AUTHOR, "IN THE LION'S DEN": Well, I mean, no. Assad's Syria is a centralized dictatorship, its a tyrannical system. The notion that these forces would be outside of the Assad family's control is ludicrous.

There are some irregular forces called "shabbiha," which report directly to the Assad regime, which use live fire more indiscriminately, but both the army, the security services, and the shabbiha all report to the Assads, and they are all responsible for the killings thus far.

FOSTER: He says he doesn't control the forces, of course. But at the same time he says the forces haven't received any orders to kill. So, is there a conflict there?

TABLER: Yes, it doesn't make any sense. This is just a man who's in absolute denial. This goes back 11 years, this is the hallmark of Bashar al-Assad's reign, is this sort of ludicrous suspension of reality.

In the past, it was easy to cover up, but these videos that are coming out of Syria along with journalist reports and the reporting of embassies and so in and the United Nations, they speak a billion words. Literally. And it makes Assad's statements today look so far out of touch with reality that it's hard to know what to say.

FOSTER: Well, it does look out of touch with reality, because either he doesn't look in control if he's arguing correctly, or he looks very brutal if he's lying, on the other hand. So, why do you think he's given this interview? Because it doesn't look credible.

TABLER: Yes, I think it's more just something that they were trying to reframe the argument. President -- sorry, Secretary Clinton met with Burhan Ghalioun of the Syrian National Council, the opposition in exile, yesterday, and he gave an interview last week to the "Wall Street Journal," which was a very detailed and very good interview.

And I think they were desperate to come back with something. So, they decided to give this interview hoping that Assad himself could pull a rabbit out of his hat, but of course, it's very difficult in such a situation.

FOSTER: Is he a very good actor? Because he looks like he believes what he's saying.

TABLER: He is a good actor, and his act got a lot of people to engage him in the United States with the Obama administration, European governments and the Turks and the Arabs, but that's very clearly over.

Now, all of those parties are in the same room, they're looking at what's going on in Syria, and they're trying to come up with a plan about how to deal with the Assad regime. They know that it's no longer Assad stands between Syrian and chaos, but the other way around. The longer he holds on, the more bloody and sectarian this conflict is going to become.

And that's why you've seen a lot of calls for some sort of humanitarian intervention of sorts inside of Syria, but thus far, those kind of plans are sketchy at best.

FOSTER: Andrew Tabler, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from Washington.

So, what's next for Syria and it's embattled president? Well, Arab League foreign ministers are set to discuss Syria's response to demands that observers be allowed to monitor the protests. The US and France have both sent their ambassadors back to Damascus, so maybe diplomacy can succeed where protests have so far clearly failed.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we return --


PAUL WATSON, CAPTIAN, SEA SHEPHERD: It's gotten to the point these days where anybody who disagrees with anybody just simply calls them a terrorist.


FOSTER: We hear from the captain of a group sworn to fight Japanese whaling.


FOSTER: Japan's controversial whaling fleet has set sail on a mission to kill up to a thousand whales in the Antarctic. But they won't be without a fight on their hands. Clashes with the Sea Shepherd conservation group are expected.

The organization has collided with Japanese whalers for the last six years, now. I recently spoke to Captain Paul Watson, who told me this will be the most intense campaign of the groups history in Antarctica.


FOSTER (voice-over): A battle in one of the world's most unforgiving places. Animal activists on one side, Japanese whalers on the other in what's become a dangerous annual showdown know as the Whale Wars.

WATSON: I call what we do aggressive non-violence, and I adhere to the same philosophy of non-violence as Martin Luther King who said you cannot commit an act of violence against a non-sentient object.

And also, one of our supporters is the Dalai Lama, and he sent us a little statue, which is right here on the bridge, called Hayagriva, and when I asked him what it meant, he says it's the symbol for the compassion aspect of Buddha's wrath.

And I asked him what that meant, he said, "Oh, you never want to hurt anybody, but sometimes when they cannot see enlightenment, scare the hell out of them until they do."

FOSTER: Captain Paul Watson flies under a pirate flag. His battles with whalers in the southern ocean has seen ships sunk. Here, a Japanese ship collides with a Sea Shepherd vessel.

Their clashes have also resulted in charges brought against activists and criticism over Watson's tactics. The Japanese insist their whale hunts in the Antarctic are for scientific research. They also see this as foreign interference in a cultural tradition, and Japan has declared Watson a terrorist.

WATSON: According to Japan, I'm on the blue list for Interpol, which means I'm a legal terrorist. I'm not wanted for anything. I have no criminal record. But it's got to the point these days where anybody who disagrees with anybody just simply calls them a terrorist.

So, I'm actually quite proud to be on that list, because China has placed the Dalai Lama on that list, and in a world where the Dalai Lama's a terrorist, I don't mind being one.

FOSTER: Watson claims he's winning the high seas value, with the government-subsidized Japanese fleets dwindling in size year after year. Japan says it's a safety issue.

WATSON: Well, this year we were able to drive them out of the southern ocean a month and a half in advance. They took only 17 percent of their quota. So far, I think we've driven them into debt by about $200 million.

But now they're saying they're going to return because they won't surrender to Sea Shepherd. So, it's all a question of price, now.

FOSTER (on camera): So, they only come out because you're there already?

WATSON: That's what they're saying, but I think one more year, we'll be able to shut them down, because there's a limit to how much money the government of Japan's going to throw into the subsidization of this illegal practice.

FOSTER: And on the whaling issue, is there ever a case for killing a whale, do you think?

WATSON: I don't think that there's any reason for whaling to exist in the 21st century. We've been destroying whales for 300, 400 years now, and we practically wiped many of the species out.

I think that what we're dealing with here is a very, very highly intelligent, socially complex sentient creature, and I think that one day we'll be able to communicate with them using computers. They have very evolved brains, and a very complex communication system, and I just -- I look on the killing of whales as murder.

FOSTER: Japanese see it as a cultural activity, some Japanese, don't they? And you don't know anything about their culture --

WATSON: Yes --

FOSTER: That's the argument.

WATSON: The headhunting cannibalism and female circumcision, all this stuff is cultural, too. I don't support any cultural justification for causing injury or death to any sentient creature.

FOSTER (voice-over): Off the back of donations, the Sea Shepherd polices the oceans worldwide all year around. It says its mission is to save not just whales, but other marine life protected by law.

FOSTER (on camera): When will you stop taking your ships out?

WATSON: Well, we're in business, actually, to put ourselves out of business, so when the governments of the world can get together to enforce international conservation law, then I don't think there will be a need for us to do what we're doing.

We have all the laws, the treaties, and rules we need to protect the oceans, but we simply don't have the economic or political motivation on the part of governments to enforce them. So, we need enforcement.


FOSTER: We'll see what happens next year when the next fleet goes out.

Well, this just in to CNN, the Champions League dream is over for Manchester. That is United and City. United suffered a two-nil loss away to Swiss side FC Basel, condemning them to a place in the Europa League, while City overcame Germany's Bayern Munich, but Napoli's win over Villarreal.

Now, you are watching CONNECT THE WORLD, and when we come back, a mother's grief and her determination to relive her son's final moments.


NANETTE WEST, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: My first thought was just to get there. So I did that, and I got there, against everybody's odds telling me, "You don't need to be doing this. No one -- your son wouldn't want you there." Bull.


FOSTER: How one mother went to Iraq to put herself in her son's shoes, the extraordinary story, up next on CONNEC THE WORLD. Stay with us here on CNN.


FOSTER: Home at last, 170 members of the US military touched down at their home base in the state of Washington on Tuesday, returning from Iraq for the last time.

Over the past eight years, more than 1,000 soldiers have deployed from that base, and 200 didn't make it home. But now, this group has finished its last tour of duty, and the US war in Iraq officially ends this month.

All this week on CONNECT THE WORLD, we're taking an in-depth look at how US troops are preparing to go and the state of the country they're leaving behind. First up, CNN's Michael Holmes on the real horror of this war, the staggering number of casualties.


MICHALE HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The announcement, October 23, I think it was, when President Obama said that the troops would be home for the holidays, was obviously a very big moment.

Of course, it all began -- the firing, anyway -- began in 2003. That's when the first troops went across the border. It's nearly nine years later that these guys are finally coming home and that Iraq gets its country back.

The Americans will hand over the keys, so to speak, to the Iraqis. Basically, they're going to have a ceremony at Camp Victory, the big, if you like, anchor base throughout this war.

December 15 is going to be the big one of the United States. There's going to be a ceremony at the massive US embassy, there. Now, from December 18, 19, that's when you're going to see the last convoy, when the last US soldier symbolically crosses the border into Kuwait.

All of this comes after a deal done by the Bush administration, and that was an agreement to have all US troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. Then, the Obama administration, they negotiated for a while to try to get some US forces, 20,000 or so was mentioned, to stay in Iraq after 2011.

The hiccup there was that they needed to have those forces immune from prosecution by the Iraqi legal system. The Iraqis didn't agree to that, and so, that was the end of that, and everybody's out.

There are going to be a lot of US troops staying in Kuwait. There's 23,000 based there and have been based there for years now. Some US forces are going to stay as trainers. That's not going to be a lot of people. You're talking maybe a couple of hundred people.

And you've also, let's remember, got US forces in other parts of the region, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, there's call for the US having increased warship presence in the region, too, so, they want to keep that footprint there in the Middle East.


FOSTER: Well, a new dawn is breaking in Iraq, but what's happened over the last eight years will never be forgotten, especially for those who've lost loved ones.

Nanette West is just one mother who's lost a son to the war, but as Erin Cargile reports, it took a journey halfway across the globe for her to come to terms with his death.


WEST: This flag was flying over FOB Normandy when he died, and they sent it to me.

ERIN CARGILE, JOURNALIST, KXAN (voice-over): It's the first thing you see when you walk into Nanette West's home.

WEST: This is my son's room.

CARGILE: Because the last place this mother wants to put her son's pictures and mementos is in a box.

WEST: Every night, before I went to bed, I would come kiss -- him on the head. Because that's my little boy.

CARGILE: When her son, army first lieutenant Kyle West was killed on Memorial Day, 2007, trying to rescue soldiers from a downed helicopter in eastern Iraq, she thought there was only one way to understand it.

WEST: I wanted to see where he was, I wanted to see what he was doing, how he was living, how -- what they were doing over there. How he died.

CARGILE: She tried to enlist in the army, but was told she was too old, and then landed a job as a civilian contractor and was headed to Iraq 15 months after Kyle's death.

WEST: My first thought was just to get there. So, I did that, and I got there, against everybody's odds, telling me, "You don't need to be doing this, no one -- your son wouldn't want you there." Bull.

CARGILE: Nanette says fate put her right where she needed to be, in a nearby camp close to her son's unit. For two and a half years, she helped support the troops with basic necessities like food and lodging, and even hand-delivered care packages.

WEST: Even that just little piece was enough for me.

CARGILE: But this was the highlight of the trip. A ride in a Bradley, the fighting vehicle her son was riding in when he was killed by an IED.

WEST: These soldiers opened up a Bradley. We went through every piece of it, who sits where and what their job is, and I actually got firsthand knowledge of this Bradley, which put everything into place of what my son was doing when he died.

As we were riding, I could feel the adrenaline rush, and the feel that I had of the -- sensation of it, it all went together. It all clicked. And that's just something I couldn't have done if I stayed here.

CARGILE: She also got to visit the memorial soldiers built for her son and spent a few days with Kyle's unit, where she learned more about who her son was in his final days.

WEST: He soaked up everything he could from everybody to make himself a better officer, a better leader, to do a better job himself. And three or four different guys told me that same story.

CARGILE: What this mother never imagined, a journey to understand her son's death would teach her more about life.

WEST: And you have to find your own passion. You've got to find what you are here for. You've got -- and it's also about -- giving more than taking. And that is the thing that he had figured out.

CARGILE: In Round Rock, Erin Cargile, KXAN news.


FOSTER: And for our Parting Shots tonight, we leave you with images shot in Iraq just this week as US soldiers pack up for the very last time.

I'm Max Foster, thank you for being with us. The world headlines and "BACKSTORY" are up after a short break.