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NEWS STREAM

Russian Protesters Vow They Won't be Silenced; U.S. Drone Controversy; Newt Gingrich's Baggage; Syrian President Denies He Ordered Violence; Geithner In Europe

Aired December 7, 2011 - 08:00:00   ET

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


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

I'm Kristie Lu Stout, in Hong Kong.

And we begin in Russia, where opponents of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vow to continue protesting recent election results.

And he is a former U.S. House Speaker and the current front-runner in the Republican presidential race. We ask, does Newt Gingrich have what it takes to win the White House?

And calls for censorship of sites like Facebook are causing outrage in India.

Now, defying a fierce police crackdown and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russian opposition protesters vowed they won't be silenced. There were rival protests in the Russian capital for the second straight day on Tuesday. Anti-government demonstrators took to the streets, furious over alleged election fraud. Moscow police say they arrested at least 250 people, and among those detained, a former deputy-prime-minister-turned- opposition-leader. Thousands of pro-Kremlin demonstrators also rallied near Red Square, and some claim the opposition is being supported by Russia's enemies.

This week's protests are some of the largest that Russia has seen in years, and the very public discontent is ramping up the pressure on Mr. Putin as he makes another bid for the presidency.

Our Matthew Chance takes a closer look at what is sparking the current unrest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are unprecedented scenes on the streets of Moscow. Never before have so many protested against Russia's powerful leader or the system over which he presides.

Parliamentary elections were the spark. Vladimir Putin's ruling party was panned (ph) even amid widespread reports of ballot-rigging. Simmering anger about official corruption and economic stagnation appears to have finally boil over. And there was no denying it.

PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): Yes, we suffered losses, but they're unavoidable. They're unavoidable for any political power, especially a political power that has held the responsibility for the state of a country for some time.

CHANCE: But the timing of the results is crucial. Just last month, Putin, now prime minister, was nominated to return to the Kremlin next year. The current president, Dmitry Medvedev, will simply step aside.

Loyal supporters may have been rapturous in their applause, but many Russians feel conned that a man they voted for was merely keeping Vladimir Putin's seat warm. Even before, there were anti-Putin stirrings. Speaking at this martial arts competition in Moscow last month, he was jeered by the crowd. The Kremlin played this down, but his words are virtually drowned out by the boos and hisses.

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY, RUSSIAN YABLOKO PARTY: There is no rule of law in the country, and now the people, more and more, understand that this is not acceptable in the 21st century, to live in a country like Russia without rule of law.

CHANCE: For his part, Putin has now promised change to reshuffle his cabinet and more, but it may not be enough to address the grievances many Russians are now prepared to so publicly air.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: Now, fueling the anger in the streets, the results of last weekend's parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Putin's United Russia Party lost seats, but still has a slim majority.

Phil Black is in Moscow, and he joins us now live.

And Phil, what is happening today? Are you seeing extra security measures in place?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, the tough security measures that have been in place since the election, on the lead- up to the election, and since the counting has been taking place, they're still there. And the leadership here says that they will be here for as long as necessary.

Whether this is going to have a continued impact on any planned further protests, we'll get a good sense of that very soon, as early as tonight. Opposition leaders say they are planning now another protests in central Moscow.

It is difficult to see though how that is going to be successful given what we saw on the streets of this city last night, where hundreds of protesters, smaller than the thousands that spontaneously took to the streets following claims of unfairness in the election, it was a smaller group. But the security forces moved on them very quickly, very firmly, essentially chased them or just simply gently pushed them out of the square that they were trying to occupy at the time, arrested hundreds of them as well, including some of their key leadership.

So, the security crackdown to stop what the Kremlin calls these illegal rallies has been significant, it has been increasingly well-coordinated. And there's no reason to believe that that's going to stop anytime soon -- Kristie.

STOUT: Just what is the level of discontent inside Russia? And what have you heard from protesters and anti-corruption activists there?

BLACK: When you speak to the people who are openly voicing their discontent with the Kremlin, at the moment certainly they're all pointing to the weekend parliamentary elections where an increasing number of people here seem to believe that they were not fair, that there was some level of dishonesty involved. And when you speak to these people, one thing they often say to you is that they are just sick of being lied to. That's a quote that you hear from people quite often here on the streets.

For some, this was simply the last straw. For others, there has been longstanding discontent with the level of what they believe have been democratic freedoms here in this country. So they are marching for those reasons as well. But whatever the reasons, it all points to the Kremlin and their dissatisfaction with the people who occupy currently.

We spoke to some people on the streets of Moscow this morning, away from the passion and the noise of some of these protests. This is just what a few of them had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): 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 was not his achievement. But when our country got to stagnation because nothing could develop, it became clear that Putin couldn't do anything. And now it's clear for anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Maybe they 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: So, the results of those parliamentary elections in which Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party suffered such heavy losses are being interpreted as a broad level of discontent with the man, with the party as well. But the vocal opponents to Vladimir Putin believe that if that election had taken place fairly -- and they say it wasn't -- then those losses and that dissatisfaction would have been expressed in an even more profound way -- Kristie.

STOUT: Phil Black, joining us live from Moscow.

Thank you very much for that.

Now, the anger in Russia has caught the attention of former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain. In a message to Prime Minister Putin, the American senator, he tweeted this: "Dear Vlad, The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you."

And ordinary Russians are also speaking out on social media. Here's some of what they are saying on the microblog site Live Journal.

Now, referring to Russia's government, Vladimir writes this: "Now they are strengthening their position with the help of election fraud and by controlling mass media and state TV channels. It is scary to think about the future."

And Poltavsky weighs in, writing this: "I'll definitely go to the rally and let them know that we exist."

Now, official results from the runoff in Egypt's first stage of parliamentary elections are not expected until Thursday, but already the Muslim Brotherhood says its Freedom and Justice Party has added to its gains. And an interim Egyptian cabinet could be sworn in some time today. Most of the key positions have already been made public, with the exception of the interior minister.

And in Yemen, Agence France-Presse reports that the country's prime minister-designate is about to formally announce the country's new unity government. AFP says that announcement will come Wednesday evening.

Now, it has been a deadly two days in Afghanistan. At least 19 people, including several children, were killed today when their bus hit a roadside mine. An Afghan official says the bus was traveling from the capital of Helmand Province on a relatively short trip to Sangin District. And he says the Taliban planted the mine.

News agencies are reporting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has blamed a Pakistan-based group for Tuesday's suicide bombings. The day saw two attacks, one in Kabul, the other Mazar-e-Shari. And in all, 60 people died in the blasts. Now, the one in Kabul, it targeted a Shiite shrine as people were worshipping on the holy day of Ashura.

Looking at the latest images, as families gathered for funerals throughout the Afghan capital. And the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has confirmed one American was among the dead.

Ahead here on NEWS STREAM, mapping out Afghan insurgents, or poking its nose in Iran's back yard? What was a U.S. drone that apparently went down in Iran really up to?

France and Germany want it, but Britain is threatening to block it. The big three at loggerheads in the battle to save the euro as the clock ticks and the crisis deepens.

And disconnected. India calls on social media to support what some are calling Internet censorship. We'll look at the Net's response.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back.

Now, more details are emerging about a U.S. drone that Iran claims it brought down last week. U.S. officials have told CNN the drone was part of a CIA mission over western Afghanistan, and they say that the crash was caused by the failure of its guidance system.

Iranian media say the craft was captured relatively intact, but the U.S. disputes that. They say Iran has a pile of rubble on its hands.

Let's talk to CNN's Chris Lawrence. He joins us now live from the Pentagon -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kristie.

U.S. officials are now telling us they have satellite images of that drone, where it went down in Iran. They said all options were initially on the table to try to retrieve it, but the one to send a ground force in to try to actually get it back was quickly shot down when the White House made it clear there wouldn't be any boots on the ground in Iran.

They also considered bombing the wreckage, which is something they typically do when drones go down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, again, firing missiles and bombs into the wreckage, also ruled out.

So they say Iran now has a very damaged drone, and is now trying to figure out what to do next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): When the U.S.' newest stealth drone crashed on the wrong side of the Afghanistan/Iran border, it may have sparked a shopping spree for America's potential adversaries.

PETER SINGER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I'm guessing there were several people that tried to buy airline tickets to Tehran from Moscow and Beijing in the last couple of days.

LAWRENCE: Analyst Peter Singer says if the RQ-170 is relatively intact, the Iranians will likely give the drone to China, who can unlock its secrets and sell the completed technology back to Iran.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, RETIRED AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: The Chinese probably have one of the best technology-gathering espionage services in the world, if not the best.

LAWRENCE: Retired Air Force intelligence officer Colonel Cedric Leighton says the missing drone is faster, smarter and stealthier than commonly used drones like the Predator. On radar, the Sentinel comes across as being something other than it actually is.

LEIGHTON: They show up very briefly, if at all. They show up perhaps in something that could be disguised as, let's say, a flock of birds or something like that, or another type of aircraft.

LAWRENCE: The Sentinel flew surveillance over Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Military officials say if the drone's technology is compromised, other nations will likely devise better defenses against it.

LEIGHTON: And if they emulate us, we will find it much more difficult to go after them and to go after their air defenses, as well as the assets that they're trying to protect. In the case of Iran, that would perhaps be their nuclear weapons systems.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: So, if all this sounds farfetched considering there's nothing but fragments left, remember this: one of America's first stealth planes was shot down over Serbia in 1999. Balkan military officials say Chinese agents bought up pieces of that plane from local farmers. And when China introduced its stealth plane earlier this year, a lot of experts say it borrowed from American technology -- Kristie.

STOUT: Wow. Interesting bit of history there that we could definitely apply to this situation.

Now, what sort of mission was this drone on when it went down in Iran?

LAWRENCE: Yes. A U.S. official says this was a CIA mission run by the CIA. They said it was strictly looking for insurgents, flying on the Afghan side of the border. They so there was no mission to spy into Iran or definitely not any attempt to cross over into Iranian airspace.

But I've spoken to a couple of experts and analysts who have some doubts about that, because they say this particular drone, this Sentinel, is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses that would catch, say, a Reaper or Predator, more commonly used drones. And they question why on the Afghanistan side -- Afghanistan has no air defenses -- why you would need to use a drone of this capability to simply look for insurgents in Afghanistan.

STOUT: Chris Lawrence, joining us live from the Pentagon.

Thank you very much for that.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

STOUT: Now, in the midst of that drone dilemma, the U.S. has launched a virtual embassy for Iran. This is the English language version, but it is not targeted at Americans. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explains, the Web site is a way to communicate with Iranians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, we can use new technologies to bridge that gap and promote greater understanding between our two countries and the peoples of each country, which is why we established this virtual embassy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: Now, the Web site, it does not represent a formal diplomatic mission. The U.S. cut ties with Iran after the 1979 hostage crisis. American citizens in Iran are helped by the Swiss Embassy.

The race for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination is like a seesaw of popularity. U.S. opinion polls suggest a familiar face in Washington is back on top.

Ahead, a look at Newt Gingrich.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is calling on countries around the world to recognize gay rights as human rights. Clinton was speaking on Tuesday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Her comments underscored a new U.S. presidential directive. It orders U.S. agencies to promote and protect gay rights, and considers the treatment of gays when awarding foreign aid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: And it is not clear whether the U.S. administration plans to cut foreign aid to countries that discriminate against gay citizens.

It is four weeks before the first voting in the 2012 U.S. presidential contest, and Newt Gingrich is increasing his lead among Republican candidates. According to a new Gallup/National Daily tracking poll of Republicans likely to vote, the former House Speaker now holds a 15-point edge over Mitt Romney. Support for Gingrich is at 37 percent. At 22 percent, the former Massachusetts governor, and the rest of the Republican pack gets only single-digit support.

Now, Newt Gingrich, he was a major force in U.S. politics in the 1990s, but for the past decade he's been out of elected office. And Joe Johns shows us what he's been doing during that time and reveals some of the baggage he's still carrying from the '90s.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Newt Gingrich, and I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Newt Gingrich, launching his bid for the Republican nomination back in May, a new chapter in a very long political career.

GINGRICH: Those of us who ended up in a majority stood on these steps and signed a contract.

JOHNS: Gingrich's 1994 "Contract With America" helped his party take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades. That victory made the once obscure congressman the Speaker of the House.

As the top Republican in Congress, Gingrich battled Democratic President Bill Clinton for much of the 1990s. During Clinton's impeachment controversy, Gingrich fired away at the White House.

GINGRICH: What you have lived through for two-and-a-half-long years is the most systematic, deliberate obstruction of justice cover-up and effort to avoid the truth we have ever seen in American history.

JOHNS: What he didn't mention at the time, he was having an extramarital affair with a congressional staffer who is now his third wife. Gingrich faced ethics problems in the late 1990s, and he resigned from Congress in some disgrace. But once outside government, a comeback. From consulting, to writing books, to making movies, to TV appearances on Fox News, Gingrich was everywhere, pushing one idea after another.

Fast forward back to this year, soon after he launched his campaign. Controversial comments and moves almost knocked him out. Many of his top aides and advisers quit, and his campaign was in the red. But thanks to strong debate performances the past few months --

GINGRICH: I think the debates made a huge difference. The one we did with you made a huge difference.

JOHNS: -- and thanks to stumbles by rival candidates who saw their poll numbers rise and fall, Gingrich made a major comeback, now leading in the surveys in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the first three states to vote in the presidential primary and caucus calendar.

But past support for a health care individual mandate and for climate change legislation may give his rivals ammunition, as could his current stance on illegal immigration.

GINGRICH: I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter of a century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families and expel them.

JOHNS (on camera): Those comments may not play well with conservative voters who are very influential in choosing the Republican nominee. But even with all his baggage, with four weeks to go until the voting begins, Gingrich is surging at just the right time.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: So, the former House Speaker is on top of Republicans right now, but those polls can change very quickly. We still have 11 months to go before Americans vote for their next president.

You can keep up with everything you need to know about the race on our Web site. Just go to CNN.com/politics.

Now, still to come on NEWS STREAM, Europe's leaders may take center stage in the drama, but in the wings a memo suggests that the president of the European Commission has been plotting his own finale to Europe's storyline.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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

Now, in Russia's capital, opposition activists are vowing more protests despite the arrest of hundreds of people.

They claim fraud tainted Sunday's parliamentary elections, getting vocal support from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He is calling the elections unfair. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party lost seats, but retained a slender majority.

And Syria's president has denied ordering a bloody crackdown on protesters. Bashar al-Assad told Barbara Walters of the American network ABC that most of the people who died in the unrest were his own supporters and troops. He rejected calls for his resignation and heaped scorn on sanctions being imposed on Syria.

And a spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denies the president had a heart attack. President Zardari is currently in Dubai. Now Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani says that Mr. Zardari flew there to treat a pre-existing heart condition. The prime minister says for now Mr. Zardari will remain under observation.

Greece's caretaker government has passed next year's austerity budget. Now it's telling its citizens to brace for worse to come. It follows yet more clashes between protesters and riot police on Tuesday. And a new budget includes tax increases, spending cuts, measures required by the East (ph) to secure bailout funds.

Europe has struggled to bail out Greece and other countries and now the European Commission president is proposing tough measures to prevent another debt crisis. Now a leaked memo from Herman Van Rompuy says the E.C. could get exceptional powers to deal with bailed-out countries, even approving their austerity measures in advance.

Now countries that missed upset (ph) targets could lose voting rights a punishment. Also, the memo suggests that so-called Eurobonds remain a long-term possibility to pool Eurozone debt, and it all signals a major shift of control to Brussels.

Now the U.S. is also weighing in on the Eurozone's troubles in Paris today, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that he is confident Europe will find a way out of its debt crisis. But a lot hinges on the euro summit later this week, of course.

Now Jim Bittermann, he joins us now live from the French capital. And, Jim, what is on the agenda today?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN REPORTER: Well, basically, it's only taken place, Kristi. In fact, there was a very brief meeting about 45 minutes long at the Elysee Palace, the presidential palace here, about two hours ago. Mr. Geithner left without saying a word.

Earlier, in a breakfast meeting with the finance minister of France, Francois Baroin, he did say, however, that he was confident that the Europeans would find a way out of their economic crisis.

That's about what he said in Germany, and I think really what we're seeing is basically the United States weighing in and making sure the Europeans understand that the world is watching this summit that's going to take place tomorrow, kind of upping the stakes.

And if they needed to concentrate minds among the European leaders, they also got a second dose of that with the word yesterday that Standard and Poor's was thinking about, at least warning the nation that they might be downgrading their bond ratings, 15 of the 17 euro nations.

So, basically, I think this is something of Washington's effort to keep the pressure up on the Europeans to make sure that they do come up with something out of this conference that's supposed to take place tomorrow.

Kristi?

STOUT: All right. But, of course, France is the one taking a leadership role in the crisis, along with Germany. And what is the reaction inside France to the debt crisis and, too, what the two countries have proposed earlier this week, that new E.U. treaty?

BITTERMANN: Well, I think -- you know, it's interesting what's happening here in terms of -- on the street level, I don't think there are a lot of people that are -- seem too concerned, because, really, this doesn't directly affect them right now. It's down the line, of course, we'd have a -- could have a great deal of effect.

Among the intellectuals and the economists here and others, they do see the importance of this. And, in fact, one of the things that Mr. Sarkozy did today was he met with members of his political party, the UMP, for lunch, right after the Geithner meeting.

And one of the things he talked to them about was the close connection between France and Germany, you know, suggesting that the connections that are already in place should be even tightened further, that France should think about emulating the German economic model more than it presently does, aligning tax structures and that sort of thing.

Mr. Sarkozy made it clear several times over the last few months that he believes that what the Germans do is what the French should be doing, and they should tighten up the economy here to sort of map what's happening in Germany. That doesn't go down that well with all the members of his party. So today at the lunch I think he was trying to sell that message to many of the members of his political party.

Kristi?

STOUT: Jim Bittermann, joining us live from Paris, thank you.

Now let's take a quick look at the stock markets right now. And investors in Europe, they seem to share some of Geithner's confidence, that a solution will be found to the European debt crisis. But, at the moment, we're seeing red arrows right here.

Now, remember, we've got much more on the story ahead on "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY", at the top of the hour, including perspective on the situation from Standard and Poor's sovereign ratings chief, John Chambers.

Now fans of Manchester United in Manchester City, they rarely agree, but they have something in common this Wednesday: the desire to see their teams qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League. And we'll have the details in sport next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back. Now in an interview, aired on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies any responsibility for the violence against his country's anti-government protesters. Now he tells interviewer Barbara Walters of the U.S. network ABC that he feels no guilt. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: They are not my forces. They are - - really, they're forces, belong to the government.

WALTERS: OK, but...

(CROSSTALK)

AL-ASSAD: I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country. So they are not my forces.

WALTERS: No, but you have to give the order.

AL-ASSAD: No, no, no.

WALTERS: Not by your command?

AL-ASSAD: No, no, no. We don't have -- no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: No command to be killed -- or to kill or to be brutal there. Now the United Nations says that more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since mid-March. Now for more on this story, let's go live now to CNN's Ivan Watson. He's watching developments and getting reactions from nearby Istanbul.

And Ivan, we saw just then, a defiant Bashar al-Assad in that interview. What more did he say?

IVAN WATSON, CNN REPORTER: Well, this isn't the first interview he's given, and he does seem to be pursuing this -- either it's a strategy of denial or having real difficulty grasping reality on the ground.

And Bashar al-Assad's narrative, it contradicts sharply the reports that have been issued by international human rights organizations, by the United Nations, which has accused his regime and security forces of possible crimes against humanity and the deaths of more than 4,000 people over the course of the last half-year.

Here Bashar al-Assad said that no such orders to carry out acts of violence against opposition had been given. He went on to say that reforms were in the works, that elections would be coming down the pipeline. He claimed that the majority of the people who'd been killed had actually been supporters of his own government.

And, again, this sharply contradicts not only the accounts of the United Nations, of human rights organizations, and of neighboring governments and the Arab League itself, which has come out partially critical and have imposed sanctions against the Syrian government.

But it has also contradicted the eyewitness accounts of many people that we at CNN have spoken to over the course of the last six, seven, eight months, defected soldiers who have described in detail how they were ordered to open fire on unarmed demonstrators and commit atrocities or witnessed atrocities carried out against Syrian civilians, Kristi.

STOUT: Now al-Assad, in this interview, he flatly denies giving orders to security forces to kill or be brutal. And how have world leaders reacted to that statement?

WATSON: It was told starting (inaudible) -- in this official interview hasn't aired quite yet. But there does seem to be another contradiction here, while he denies these events that have been widely reported and documents, even though we're not allowed into Syria, events on the ground suggest that things could be moving out of his control right now.

I mean, we have a number of governments that are imposing sanctions against the Syrian regime, including the League of Arab States. We have a number of governments in the region and in the West that have been holding meetings with exiled Syrian opposition leaders as well.

There have been reports of massacres and killings taking place in the restive city of Homs that appear to have a sectarian character to them, perhaps Sunnis against Alawites. That's a very disturbing trend, and one that the Secretary-General of the Arab League spoke out against today, describing this as sectarian sedition.

So while Bashar al-Assad can claim that Al Qaida-linked groups have been committing all of this violence, as the killing goes on, this is looking more and more like it's inching towards a sectarian conflict, the likes of which we've seen in Iraq over the course of the past decade, and Lebanon in the 1980s.

STOUT: Ivan Watson reporting. Thank you.

Now time now for a sports update. And today it is all about European Champions League football. And both a review and a preview, here's Don Riddell with more.

Don?

DON RIDDELL, CNN REPORTER: Kristi, thanks very much. Twelve of the 16 teams have now been determined for the knockout stage of the Champions League. The last four will be decided later today, and Chelsea have gone some way to silencing many of their critics by not only qualifying for the next round, but by winning their group, Group E.

With the Blues struggling for form and manager Andre Villas-Boas under huge pressure, Chelsea produced a terrific display against Valencia at Stamford Bridge in London. Didier Drogba scored the club's fastest-ever Champions League goal after just three minutes, and he added a second later on after Ramires had also hit the target, a 3-nil win for Chelsea into the knockout stage for the 9th season in a row.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas: Nobody or anybody here would have put the bet on us reaching top, but they have done exactly that. And it's very, very gratifying for the team. I think the team more excellent.

I think today is a win of human values, of team spirit, solidarity, responsibility, the strength of character, ability to take criticism, resilience and this is a great win for Chelsea players. They deserve respect that they don't get. We've been continuously chased by different kinds of people and different kinds of pressure. And maybe today we gave everybody a slap in the face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIDDELL: Looking ahead to tonight, Manchester United are hoping to avoid a banana skin when they travel to Basel. Alex Ferguson's men have only failed to get out of their group once in the last 17 years, and they must avoid defeat in Switzerland if they're going to qualify this season.

By their own high standards, United sport recently has been a little patchy, drawing twice and losing one of their last four games. But their manager is in no doubt that they will qualify for the next round tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX FERGUSON, MANCHESTER UNITED MANAGER: People say we're not doing well. We're second in the league, of course, and with that stage we can be qualifying for the European Champions League the next series (ph). So I think that the fact is, of course, contend with quite few injuries this year. It's not been helpful. But very strong squad and that squad will see us through. There's no question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIDDELL: Manchester United -- Manchester City have been the standout team in the premier league this season, dominating their opposition to score to the top of the table. But their fate is out of their hands tonight.

They must beat Bayern Munich at home and hope that Napoli lose or draw against Villarreal. City know they're up against it. Their manager, Roberto Mancini, rates their chances of success at only 30 percent and knows that not many other teams will be sorry to see them knocked out.

Finally, from me, Kristi, we have some amazing skiing video for you, clips of JP Auclair doing sick tricks in your normal everyday neighborhood. This is part of an award-winning skiing movie called "All I Can."

The filmmaker's goal is to make a connection between skiing and impact on the environment where skiing takes place. That film's green message is interspersed with amazing shots like these of skiers performing incredible tricks in stunning landscapes. Looks like a great movie, Kristi.

STOUT: Incredible on this suburban landscape. That's pretty awesome stuff, or as you called it, sick, sick tricks. Don Riddell, thank you.

Now it seems that finally there will soon be some snow for the Alps. Now Mari Ramos is at the (inaudible) Center. She joins us now. And, Mari, snow, but how much?

MARI RAMOS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know what? It sounds like, oh, yeah, snow in the Alps, you're supposed to have snow in the Alps, right? But it hasn't happened. There's snow, of course, in the highest elevations but where, you know, most people like to hang out and do a little skiing, some sick skiing like Don was saying there, some sick tricks.

It's actually -- it hasn't been much. The Alps are coming out of a -- their warmest autumn on record, and they're also coming out of their driest autumn on record. So this is significant. A lot of these areas have not had anything significant as far as snow until now.

And already we're seeing some significant snowfall coming along. You can see that push of cold air coming in here across northwestern Europe, all the way down here into the central portions of the continent. So how badly needed was this?

Well, this is a picture of Monday in Val d'Isere, in France. So you can see how these ski slopes were not very nice at all. I want to show you a couple of different ones. Go ahead and go over here. Let's go ahead and look at webcams right over here. This is in the central portion of -- this is in the -- right in the city center of Chamonix. You can see nice and covered in snow here.

And you know what? I think I have -- yes, this one. This is Val d'Isere now. Can you believe it? That is the after and this is the before. Pretty amazing stuff, huh, when you think about it, how it actually looks so pretty now with all that snow coming down. Let's go ahead and move on a little bit. Let me go ahead and show you.

As far as what we're expecting, 38 cm, to answer your question, finally, Kristi, of snow expected in Chamonix and Val d'Isere, about 21 cm. And then we could see about 19 as we head back over towards Switzerland. So pretty good news here for the business, for the skiers, and of course, for the resorts that are finally getting to open.

Travelers, it's going to be a little difficult, touch-and-go situation today because of strong winds across some of these areas, and, also, of course, the snow and the rain mixing in. And then we also have a pretty strong weather system that will be approaching the U.K. and Ireland tomorrow. We could see some significant icy conditions and very strong winds across those areas as well.

We definitely need the snow a little farther to the south here and the rain, but we're not getting too much of that as of yet. Let's go ahead and switch gears just a little bit. Want to give you a quick update here on the situation in Beijing. Breathing a little easier finally. Let's go ahead and take a look at the pictures that we have from Beijing.

That was then. This picture taken on December 1st, what Beijing looked like. And look at that, Kristi. This is now. Pretty good, huh, a blue sky day finally for Beijing, situation on the weather slowly improving. But still, moderate day, better, I guess, than hazy, horrible day. And happy birthday, Kristi.

STOUT: Yes, looks a lot better today. Oh, thank you very much. Aww, you're sweet. But you forecasted it yesterday -- not my birthday -- but the situation in Beijing, you said that the skies were going to clear right (inaudible)...

(CROSSTALK)

STOUT: ... and listening to you. Mari, thank you, and take care.

RAMOS: Sure.

STOUT: Now what happens when you cross a cold Canadian winter with Twitter and a choir? Well, you get a social media song about staying warm. And we'll take a listen after the break.

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STOUT: Welcome back. Now here is a question for netizens in China. What do Internet rumors and cocaine have in common? Well, according to Chinese state media, they are, in fact, the same thing. Now China is ramping up the campaign against, quote, "unhealthy information on microblogs," by publishing editors in official media outlets. Now here's one from "Xinhua".

It says, translated, "Please Don't Let Internet Rumors Poison Our Conscience." Another one from the "People's Daily". It says this: "Online Rumors Are Narcotics, Please Resist and Stay Away." Now the article adds, "Online rumors are as addictive and damaging as gambling, porn and drugs, and netizens should have zero tolerance to uphold an orderly society."

Now India's telecommunications minister is coming under intense criticism. His name: Kapil Sibal is trending on Twitter in India because of a controversial proposal. Now he wants social media sites to screen comments before they are posted. And critics say that amounts to censorship.

Now Facebook, Twitter and Google are among the companies that say that they could not do what Sibal asks. And Facebook sent this statement to CNNiV (ph).

And it says, quote, "We recognize the government's interest in minimizing the amount of abusive content that is available online, and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue." Now Facebook also pointed out that it already has policies to flag abusive content.

Now Internet access is considered relatively unrestricted in India. As many as 100 million Indians are online. It is a growing market for Facebook and Twitter.

Now want to go over and out there with a story involving 120 singers and 140 characters. A choir in Canada sang tweets about keeping warm in winter. And a YouTube clip of their performance has everyone a-twitter, including our own Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN REPORTER: Imagine your pathetic little tweets sung by a majestic 120-member chorus.

CALGARY PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA CHORUS: Tweet tweet till you feel the heat.

TIMOTHY SHANTZ, CHORUS MASTER: We decided to ask people to tweet about how to stay warm in a Calgary winter.

MOOS (voice-over): The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus sang those tweeted tips to one of the most melodramatic pieces of music ever, "O Fortuna."

CHORUS: Try hot yoga. Or a nose hat. Or black silk long underwear.

MOOS (voice-over): Do people actually put their clothes in the dryer to warm them up before they go out?

SHANTZ: Of course.

CHORUS: Clothes in dryer! Set the timer! Hop into a warm outfit...

MOOS (voice-over): The chorus did this to promote the Canadian city of Calgary, but it's not the first time "O Fortuna" has gotten new lyrics.

COMMERCIAL: It's a big ad! For Carlton Draught! It's just so freaking huge!

MOOS (voice-over): The beer might help to wash down one of the most popular tweets sung by the Calgary chorus.

CHORUS: Gravy action on my cheese...

MOOS (voice-over): Some of the tweets require translation from the Canadian.

SHANTZ: It's a French Canadian delicacy of fries with cheese on top, and then gravy on top of that.

MOOS (voice-over): Tweeted tips on how to stay warm are nice, but someone posted, "They should do this with Kanye West or Snooki tweets. Well, Kanye West's have already been done on Jimmy Kimmel's show.

JOSH GROBAN, COMEDIAN: Can we please toast to the mother fucking douchebags -- Fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on

MOOS (voice-over): So are Snooki's tweets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love my tattoos. I'm a bad-ass bitch -- Today is sooo a cuddle day.

MOOS (voice-over): Even Sarah Palin has had her tweets performed, by William Shatner on Conan's old show.

WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: ... but consistent rain reminds us, "No rain? No rainbow!"

MOOS (voice-over): Delivered soulfully, almost any tweet will have you...

SHATNER: L-M-A-O.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos...

CHORUS: Gravy action on my cheese...

MOOS (voice-over): ... CNN...

GROBAN: French fries are the devil...

MOOS (voice-over): ... New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: And that is NEWS STREAM. But the news continues at CNN. "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY" is next.

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