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CONNECT THE WORLD

More Violence in Syria as Arab League Observers Arrive; Effectiveness of Arab League Observers in Syria Questioned; Pope Benedict Condemns Christmas Bombing in Nigeria; Suicide Car Bombing in Baghdad; South Korean Delegation Pays Respects to Kim Jong-il; Key Victory in Battle Against Mexican Drug Cartels; Prince Philip in Good Spirits After Heart Surgery; Stabbing and Underground Strike in London Mar Boxing Day Shopping; Police Investigating Second London Stabbing; Premier League Football; Defining Moments of 2011 From January Through May

Aired December 26, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET

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


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BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Syrian tanks battle anti- government protesters in the city of Homs. Dozens are dead as a team of Arab League monitors arrive in the country. Their mission is to end the violent repression, but tonight, we ask, will they be allowed to do their job?

Live from London this evening, I'm Becky Anderson. Also tonight, neck-and-neck at the top of the Premier League. Manchester United thrash Wigan to close the gap on their City rivals. And --

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ANDERSON: The kiss that stopped a nation and millions around the world. We're going to take a look back at some of the defining moments of 2011 for you.

That all coming up in the next hour. We start, though, in Syria where a peace-monitoring mission arrives amid reports of yet another brutal government crackdown. This amateur video is described as the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs where Arab League observers are set to visit Tuesday, according to a senior official.

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ANDERSON: Activists say the flashpoint city has been relentlessly attacked by government security forces for days. And now, before we show you this new video we're getting from Homs, I want to warn you it is so explicit we're going to blur it for you.

The video shows dead bodies lying in the streets. You can hear a man's voice as well as several women crying and screaming.

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ANDERSON: Well, CNN can't independently confirm videos from Syria. You know why. It's because we are not allowed to go inside the country and independently do any journalistic reporting from there. Let's get more on the situation there, now, with CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom, covering the story from our bureau in Cairo in Egypt.

These latest videos, although of course we can't independently verify them, bear witness to what can only be described as sheer horror.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Becky. The words that we're hearing most from activists in the flashpoint city of Homs today are words like "massacre," "bloodbath," "carnage."

They tell us horror stories on the ground, there, saying that everybody in that town is being targeted, especially in the Baba Amr neighborhood. We're told by activists there and opposition figures that over 30 people have been killed, hundreds wounded.

This on a day when members of an Arab League observation mission are arriving to try to help end the violence. And it's making many people there ask, what exactly will this Arab League observation mission be able to do?

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JAMJOOM (voice-over): As the Syrian government crackdown intensifies, the first of a small group of outside observers is beginning to arrive in Damascus. We have no idea if the Arab League observers will be able to get close to the scenes of violence that continue to pour out of Syria.

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JAMJOOM: Here, a tank rolls down a street in Baba Amr, a neighborhood in the flashpoint city of Homs. Activists say thousands of Syrian troops have recently surrounded it and are shelling it almost daily.

CNN can't verify many of the videos posted from Syria, but one Homs resident describes the carnage he's witnessed, explaining how everyone has become a target.

ABU OMAR, HOMS RESIDENT (via telephone): I'm now near the field hospital. In the last two days, there is a lot of injuries. More than 200 injuries in the last three days. They executed little children because they shout against Assad. They are bombing one house, a civilian house.

JAMJOOM: In the past week, the Syrian government's bombardment has escalated.

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JAMJOOM: The same day a protocol was signed allowing those Arab League observers into Syria, activists say the Syrian army stormed the town of Kafrouaid in Jabal al-Zawiya, a part of Idlib province. This video purports to show family members mourning loved ones who died in what's being called the Massacre of Kafrouaid.

Residents of Idlib have become accustomed to the violence. Many even fear to bury their dead in public cemeteries.

In this video taken in November, some buried their loved ones near a deserted road. At a hospital, one injured demonstrator lays in his bed and tells of the horrors he's seen. "I've seen wounded people taken by security forces with their oxygen masks still on," he says.

Another man describes a crackdown he experienced. "I was injured by gunfire in a protest in Jisr al-Shughour," he says. "Security forces fired on us and injured many youth, and one was killed. I went to a hospital and was treated."

With many Syrian neighborhoods deserted and besieged --

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JAMJOOM: -- many people are now questioning how effective the Arab League observers' mission will be.

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JAMJOOM: Now, members of this Arab League mission started arriving in Damascus just a few hours ago. They tell us that they will be going, starting tomorrow, to cities like Homs, to provinces like Idlib, and they're optimistic they'll be able to help.

But there's a lot of questions. What exactly is the scope of their mission? Will they be given unfettered access to these areas? If they are taken by Syrian security forces, as we're told they will be, to these neighborhoods, will they see the neighborhoods that are affected?

We just don't know at this point. But what is clear, what we're hearing more and more from activists, opposition figures, and residents in places like Homs, is they say if the Arab League mission can't do something to help stop the violence there and this brutal crackdown that's been going on, they fear a genocide will happen. Becky?

ANDERSON: Yes, Mohammed, we thank you for that. Extremely good reporting. And your questions are spot-on, of course. Our next guest is concerned that a spike in violence as part of -- sorry, the observers are in Syria as part of an agreement made between President Bashar al-Assad's government and the Arab League last week.

They'll be looking at whether Syria is upholding its commitment to the withdrawal of security forces from around cities, releasing detainees, and ending all forms of violence. But as I said, our next guest is concerned that a spike in violence as these observers arrive only goes to show that their effectiveness may be very limited.

Let's bring in, now, Andrew Tabler, an expert in -- on Syria at the Washington Institute Near East Policy, who also, perhaps -- or almost more importantly, at this point, spent eight years in Damascus as a journalist. You got kicked out by the administration for some of the writing that you did, I'm assuming, on Syrian opposition at the time.

ANDERW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: The opposition.

ANDERSON: Yes. You've raised concerns already about just how effective 150 or so monitors will or can be. Why?

TABLER: I think it's just a sheer -- a sheer numbers game in area. For example, in 1998, when the OSCE sent observers to Kosovo, there were about 2,000 observers. Kosovo is only about a tenth the size of Syria, and in Syria you have many hundred flashpoints throughout the country.

It's very -- it seems unfeasible that only 150 monitors will be able to oversee the stopping of all killing, the withdrawal of all forces, and withdrawal of all -- the release of all political prisoners. It's just -- it just simply doesn't seem to be possible with that -- given that number of a delegation.

ANDERSON: And knowing the Assad administration as you do, one assumes that you believe that they will be monitored themselves every step of the way, right?

TABLER: One hundred percent. I mean, they do this with journalists, they do this with ambassadors. They call it "in coordination with" -- and this is what's in the Arab League protocol with the Syrian government, that they are to go anyplace in the country in coordination with the regime.

But what the regime does is it escorts people around in the name of their security, make sure that they only see the government's point of view. And if there's anything like this, we're not going to get to the bottom of anything that's going on in Syria, and the mission will be a big waste.

ANDERSON: What will they get to see?

TABLER: I think what they're going to get to see are areas of Homs which the regime would like to show them. Baba Amr, which is, of course, one where there was a flashpoint today. Other areas where the regime would like them to see what the regime says is a terrorist war against them.

Of course, the only problem is that the preponderance of evidence from the videos that have been released and also journalistic accounts here and there over the last ten months show that it's actually the regime's violence against civilians that is the problem in Syria, not some sort of terrorist war.

ANDERSON: From anybody I speak to, it appears that we are now starting down the barrel of a civil war. That appears to be clear, at least. And dealing with an administration that certainly has continued support from within the country, lets' face it, and from outside, not least of course, the Iranians.

I know that US diplomats in the past have said that they've got no leverage. There's nothing they can do, effectively. You disagree with them on that, don't you? Why? Why are they wrong when they say that?

TABLER: Because it's true, Syria, given it's geographic location, plays one side off against the other, and one party usually doesn't have leverage over it. But when everyone gangs up on it, as now the United States, the EU, Turkey, and the Arab countries, it's a different matter.

When you have sanctions that are placed against Syria, including cutting off ties between Arab countries and the Central Bank of Syria and Turkey and so on. These are big trading partners. That's going to have a tremendous impact.

So, it's not true we don't have leverage. We don't have unilateral leverage, but we have multilateral leverage. And this is the chance to use --

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ANDERSON: All right -- Right. And it's clear at this point that the international community needs to be more -- exactly what does it need to do?

TABLER: Well, this is the hard part, because it's a bit of a hot potato. Intervening in Syria is difficult. They think that the regime will fight on to the last man. I think that's true. It's true that Assad has support inside the country, but it's dwindling, and he has, though a lot of weapons.

So, I think the biggest idea is -- has been put forward by Turkey, and that is the construction of a humanitarian buffer zone, or as the French have called it, a humanitarian corridor.

And lots of people are talking about this, now, but the exact workings of that are unknown because that's an -- essentially, a military operation in northerN Syria and Idlib province, and that's a big problem.

ANDERSON: Very briefly, is the appointment of the Sudanese general, Mohamed al-Dabi to head up this delegation of monitors the right decision, do you think?

TABLER: Well, it certainly has raised a lot of eyebrows. Of course, we'll have to watch his performance, but given his role of coordinating between the Sudanese government and the United Nations forces in Darfur, that's not exactly a great example of a humanitarian intervention. And I think a lot of people are raising this.

Now, what he does in Syria, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and we're watching his movements and his announcements very closely.

ANDERSON: Andrew Tabler out of the States for us this evening, a man who knows his stuff, an expert on Syria, we thank you very much, indeed, for joining us on what is our --

TABLER: Thank you.

ANDERSON: -- this evening. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London, about 12 minutes past 9:00 here.

Still to come, tensions run high in Nigeria, where a deadly string of explosions spark fear of a civil war there.

And after months of wrangling behind the scenes, the NBA season is finally underway. We're going to bring you the best of the Christmas Day clashes in our "World Sport" roundup.

This is CNN. Stay with us.

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ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN, the world's news leader. I'm Becky Anderson, welcome back.

Pope Benedict has publicly condemned the Christmas Day bombings in Nigeria. Speaking from his balcony at the Vatican, the pontiff said he was profoundly disturbed by the attacks. A number of churches in five cities, you'll remember, were rocked by the blasts, the largest explosion killing more than 30 people.

The bombings have raised fears of more turmoil in the African country. CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva has more.

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RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fear has gripped Nigerians after a string of church bombings on Christmas Day. Armed soldiers and anti-riot police have cordoned off the capital, Abuja. The first and deadliest bombing killed more than 30 worshipers in Madalla, just outside Abuja.

On Monday, Pope Benedict condemned the attacks as a, quote, "absurd gesture" and prayed for the violence to stop. A priest at the church in Madalla echoed the pope's call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all those who are engaging themselves in such havoc, please that you repent, that you stop it, for the good of our country, Nigeria.

VASSILEVA: In all, there were church bombings in five Nigerian cities, including Jos, a city on the fault line dividing the country's mostly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.

Nigeria's president condemned the bombings and vowed to bring the attackers to justice. The US offered to help, but residents are on edge.

HASSAN JOHN, JOURNALIST (via telephone): The city is a little calm today. Well, we do have a lot of apprehension and anxiety and a lot of fear, actually, because there have been threats about more bombings coming up within this season.

VASSILEVA: Nigerian officials say the extremist Muslim Boko Haram sect has claimed responsibility. Boko Haram, which demands strict Sharia law in the country, targets both Christians and Muslims it considers not sufficiently Islamic.

This is Nigeria's second Christmas holiday church bombing in a row, and there are growing fears militants could ignite a sectarian civil war in the country.

Ralitsa Vassileva reporting.

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ANDERSON: Well, a look at some of the other stories connecting our word this hour.

And in Iraq, a suicide car bomber got through six security checkpoints in Baghdad before exploding his bomb at the entrance of the country's Interior Ministry. At least five people were killed and dozens more were wounded. The blast is the latest in a string of bloody attacks following the US troop withdrawal there.

A private delegation from South Korea is in the North paying respects to the late leader Kim Jong-il. The widow of the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung is among the 18-strong group. Her late husband was a Nobel Peace Laureate for his reconciliation efforts between the countries. Pyongyang's new leader, Kim Jong-un, met the delegation. Seoul, though, is not sending an official delegation.

The Mexican Defense Ministry has announced a key victory in Mexico's battle against its deadly drug cartels. Troops arrested Felipe Cabrera Sarabia in Mexico's northwestern Sinaloa state. Cabrera is said to be a top lieutenant for this man, alleged drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Guzman is a billionaire who is wanted in Mexico and in the United States.

Britain's Prince Philip is in good spirits, we're told, following successful surgery to open up a blocked artery in his heart, but the 90- year-old royal will probably spend most of the holiday season in a hospital so the doctors can keep an eye on his progress. Despite his age, the prince is still very active. He recently toured Australia with Queen Elizabeth.

A teenager has been stabbed to death on Britain's busiest shopping street as thousands rush to take advantage of Boxing Day sales. Ten people have been arrested in connection with the incident that comes as shoppers battle a 24-hour transit strike, paralyzing London's underground train service.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin takes a look at what sort of impact that had on the post-Christmas sales.

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ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A day of merriment, celebration, and shopping was interrupted today by a tragic incident on Oxford Street, that is one of the busiest shopping streets here in London.

We understand from the Metropolitan Police that a young man in his late teens to early 20s was fatally stabbed outside of a Footlocker. Police cordoned off the area and made some arrests.

That incident, however, marring what was otherwise a busy shopping day period here in London. The retailer -- the main High Street retailers here reporting very strong preliminary sales figures. At Selfridges earlier this morning, shoppers stormed through the doors as the store opened to get a hold of some of those luxury discount goods.

We had a chance to talk to some of those shoppers who braved the sales, and this is what they had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, we were quite lucky, we came around the side entrance and kind of avoided most of the queuing, so that was quite handy. But I did see quite a bit of a crush going on right at the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was last year that we missed out on the sales, so we thought it was worth our while getting up early this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of them are going for half price.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been doing it since the 70s, so it's a family tradition, more or less, coming to the Selfridges sale. And especially the handbags. Very good value.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bargain shopping for us in South Africa, this is an exchange rate that makes it very affordable for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In our country, everything was out for us. So we came here to find some things that I can't find in our country. And the sales are huge.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Tube strike, or that strike in London's Underground, which so many Londoners rely on for transportation here, seeming to have little effect on the shopping today as shoppers took the extra bus services being offered by London or even walking into the High Street on foot today.

For those who may have been deterred by a lack of public transportation options will have another chance to get at some of those discounts tomorrow, as it's another bank holiday. The Tubes are expected to be up and offering full service.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.

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ANDERSON: And police say they are now investigating a second stabbing this evening, also on Oxford Street in London, there. They've confirmed a male has been taken to hospital for treatment.

You're with CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, live from London, I'm Becky Anderson. We're going to bring you the pick of the Boxing Day action, now, as the Premier League title race is blown wide open. Do stay with us for that.

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ANDERSON: A very warm welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London, I'm Becky Anderson, it's about 24 minutes past 9:00, and the race for top spot in the English Premier League could hardly be any closer.

Man City, or Manchester City, are still clinging on to the number one position, but their city rivals, Manchester United, are hot on their heels, fresh off the win -- a massive win -- against Wigan on Monday. Let's find out more about the Premier League action. There's more tomorrow, of course.

Pedro Pinto's with me from "World Sport" to bring us up-to-date on these results, and we'll have to start off with Man United, I guess.

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I will, because they scored five goals against Fulham the other day, Becky, and they liked that, so they decided, "Let's do it again on Boxing Day."

They did exactly that against Wigan Athletic, five-nil for the second match running. And Dimitar Berbatov was really the story. His first League start since September 24th comes on, scores a hat trick. Not a bad way to impress Sir Alex Ferguson. And I doubt he'll push Wayne Rooney for a starting spot, though.

However, still the man of the match, no doubt about it, at Old Trafford. The reason why this win was more significant for the Red Devils was because their city rivals, Manchester City, could only get a draw against their opponents on the day, and that was bad news for Roberto Mancini's side. Here are some pictures from that match at the Hawthorns between West Brom and Man City.

What does this all mean, you ask? Well, it means that not one, but two Manchester sides are at the top of the Premier League table with exactly the same points. I'll show you the table in a minute. Here are some of the scores from Boxing Day.

There's a match going on right now at Stoke versus Aston Villa. Not much going on there. Let's talk about the table. There you have it. Just a goal difference, that's what's separating Manchester City from Manchester United. Tottenham are playing on Tuesday as are Arsenal.

Among the results on Monday, I can tell you, there was disappointment for Chelsea and Liverpool, both teams drawing at home against sides you would consider to be lesser -- lesser --

ANDERSON: Yes, I was just thinking, conveniently we're not showing our viewers the goal difference, there, at the top of the league, which is actually quite significant.

PINTO: It's too many numbers.

ANDERSON: Because it's like there's --

PINTO: It's too many numbers.

ANDERSON: It's almost a game in hand for Manchester City, isn't it? Or not?

PINTO: Well, I -- right now, I really think that these two teams aren't separated by much at all. What really impressed me about Manchester United today was that they have ten first team regulars out. They had to play with Michael Carrick in the center of defense, and still really didn't --

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ANDERSON: So, if you've got Berbatov to bring on --

PINTO: -- lose step. Yes.

ANDERSON: -- I mean, who's to say, he's not a second-stringer, is he?

PINTO: Yes, he hasn't been used --

ANDERSON: And he's --

PINTO: Yes. Hasn't really been used at all this season, one of the decisions that people are now questioning from Sir Alex Ferguson. But disappointment for Chelsea, who drew at home with Fulham, for Liverpool, who drew at home with Blackburn, who've been terrible. So, a few surprising results.

ANDERSON: Yes, and you can never write Man United off. Not --

PINTO: They're my favorites going in.

ANDERSON: Absolutely.

PINTO: I've got abuse all season long --

ANDERSON: Yes.

PINTO: -- when I say that Manchester United is still a favorite, but --

ANDERSON: And you're not going to shave until they win, is that the idea?

PINTO: That has -- they're not correlated.

ANDERSON: Oh, OK.

PINTO: Those two facts are not correlated. The beard is just a post- holiday --

ANDERSON: Thing.

PINTO: -- adventure.

ANDERSON: OK.

PINTO: Adventure.

ANDERSON: Fine, OK.

PINTO: I haven't heard from the bosses yet.

ANDERSON: Right.

PINTO: But -- but --

ANDERSON: For now.

PINTO: There's time for that, I know. It's getting a bit longer than the last time I --

ANDERSON: Go on.

PINTO: But -- and you get more viewers than the last one I did. But it's coming off tomorrow.

ANDERSON: All right, OK, OK.

PINTO: Just a little bit of that.

ANDERSON: Well, you'll see him again in an hour. He'll still have the growth, but I guess by this time tomorrow, he won't, apparently.

PINTO: No.

ANDERSON: He looks great, mate. I'm --

PINTO: Well --

ANDERSON: Happy Christmas.

PINTO: I don't know about that. All right.

ANDERSON: Pedro, thank you. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. After the break, the fight for freedom in the Arab world, from Tunisia to Tahrir Square, we're going to take a look back at the defining moments of the Arab Spring. Stay with us.

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ANDERSON: A very warm welcome back, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. I'm Becky Anderson. I want to get you a look at the world news headlines at this point.

Members of an Arab League delegation have arrived in Syria to monitor the government's commitment to ending violence, there. The observers are expected to visit Homs on Tuesday, according to senior officials. There are reports of fatalities in the flashpoint city again. Activists say security forces have been attacking it for days.

Well, Pope Benedict has spoken out against a wave of explosions that tore through churches in five Nigerian cities on Sunday. The largest blast hit a Catholic church, killing over 30 people. Islamic militants claim they are responsible for the violence, raising fears of a sectarian civil war there.

In Iraq, a suicide car bomber got through six security checkpoints in Baghdad before exploding the bomb at the entrance of the country's Interior Ministry. At least five people were killed and dozens more were wounded. The blast is just the latest in a string of bloody attacks following the US troops' withdrawal there.

And the widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung is leading a private delegation from the South to North Korea. They'll pay respects to late leader Kim Jong-il. Pyongyang's new leader, Kim Jong-un, met the delegation. Seoul says it is not sending an official delegation.

I'm Becky Anderson here in London for you. Welcome back to a special half hour of CONNECT THE WORLD and a look back at some of the defining moments of 2011. I don't need to tell you that it's been a tumultuous year of international news, filled with stories that have captivated our attention.

We're going to take a look at some of those key events, now, starting with a revolution that inspired a movement and changed the course of history.

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TEXT: December, 2010.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Tunisia, political revolt started before 2011 even began.

Riots broke out in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid. That's where street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire last December.

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HOLMES: Bouazizi could only find work selling vegetables, and when a city inspector allegedly slapped him and confiscated his wares, the young man doused himself in an inflammable liquid and set himself on fire.

(CROWD CHANTING)

HOLMES: His death sparked a massive wave of protest over unemployment, alleged corruption, even higher prices of food and goods, and human rights abuses. The Tunisian leaders' days were numbered.

(CROWD SHOUTING)

(CROWD CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want Ali gone. All gone. Democracy. Only that. Ben Ali gone.

(CROWD CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And as you can see, we're -- everybody wants him out of here, wants him to resign.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Breaking news in Tunisia. State television is reporting that President Ben Ali has left the country.

JOHN ENTELIS, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: The whole Arab world was able to observe, for the very first time ever, an Arab dictator being overthrown, to having to leave the country, and we hope that a democratic transition will take place.

HOLMES: Tunisians had toppled their head of state, and 2011 would soon go down in history as the year of the Arab Spring.

TEXT: January

HOLMES: Meanwhile, the wettest spring on record in Australia brought floodwaters at the start of the new year.

ANDERSON: The Australian state of Queensland is declared a disaster zone as the worst flooding in decades. For some, the top of their cars are the only refuge. Others can only watch as even that option is swept away.

(WOMAN GASPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's another one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that is horrible.

HOLMES: Like a monster inland tsunami, the water seemed to come out of nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't -- oh, mate, don't, don't. Just let it go.

HOLMES: The size equivalent of the areas affected was like the countries of France and Germany combined.

HOLMES (on camera): You can really see the water rising, here, quite dramatically, visibly. If you come down and have a look, you can just steadily see it just sort of inching up into the road here.

HOLMES (voice-over): The same week, halfway around the world, Brazil also reeling from floodwaters and massive mudslides. Tragically, more than 800 lives wore lost.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): The deeply-soaked mountain gives way after days of torrential rains. From the air, the magnitude of the disaster becomes evident as people try to assist search and rescue crews finding dozens of victims still missing.

HOLMES: January 24, Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, the Russian capital's main international airport. It became the scene of a horrific suicide bombing.

JULIA IOFFE, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE (via telephone): There's one man who came out who said he was there at the time of the blast, whose jacket and pants are covered in blood, but he reported seeing a man with a suitcase walk into the center and he then exploded.

HOLMES: The blast claimed the lives of 36 people and injured more than 130 others. A Chechen rebel leader claimed responsibility.

ANDREW KUCHINS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Different terrorist groups had said and warned they were going to take these -- take the attacks right to the heartland of Russia which, tragically, they have.

(CROWD SHOUTING)

(CROWD CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: Ben, if you can hear me, tell me what you are seeing. I understand the situation is heating up.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): OK, I'm in Tahrir Square, which is the biggest central square in Cairo, just up the street from the Egyptian parliament. The entire square, which is huge, is packed with demonstrators who are trying to get to the parliament.

HOLMES: The spark of discontent set ablaze in Tunisia was contagious, spreading across the Arab world. A lack of opportunity, corruption, authoritarian rulers in power for decades. Arabs, especially young Arabs, had had enough. And they'd also lost their fear. Across more than a dozen countries, the slogan echoed, the people want the fall of the regime.

(GUNFIRE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It most certainly does appear as if the military is not going to be standing for any sort of breach, any sort of movement on the part of the demonstrators.

The demonstrators, although disparate, do appear to be, based on everything that they've been saying to us, equally determined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we are just asking for the same right which we asked before. A peaceful demonstration asking for our peaceful and basic rights. We need this government to come down.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news. In neighboring Libya, we are just getting word, now, from a medical source that 20 people were killed and 200 wounded when anti-government protesters came under attack by security forces in the city of Benghazi.

JAMJOOM: This is the biggest crowd we've seen of anti-government demonstrators this week. As of now, about 1500 demonstrators marching through the streets of Sanaa, demanding regime change.

HOLMES: A region in turmoil, with Egyptians on the front line.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everyone here wants to speak to us. Everyone. Everyone has an opinion, and as you can see, some people a bit later --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mubarak must go out!

ROBERTSON: -- push to get their voices out and to get themselves on camera. But despite that, it is quite relaxed and it is quite friendly.

(CROWD CHANTING)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Let me just set the scene for you right here. The Egyptian Museum is behind me. That is now kind of ground zero for the confrontation between the pro-Mubarak forces and the anti-Mubarak forces.

(CROWD SHOUTING)

COOPER (on camera): We've been hit, now, like ten times.

(CROWD SHOUTING)

GORANI: OK, I'm a little bit shaken, because I was just shoved out of the way there. This is just a completely surreal experience. OK, OK.

I'm not -- OK. I'm being told walk, walk. Don't stay. OK.

OK.

This is a little chaotic. I have someone helping me out here.

GORANI (via telephone): Then I got closer to where these rock throwers from the pro-Mubarak side were stationed. The military, by the way, the whole time just looking on, not intervening.

Then, a surreal scene, Kyra. Out of nowhere, it seems, demonstrators on camelback and horseback started charging in. At that point, there was a rush of people in the other direction.

(CROWD SHOUTING)

WEDEMAN: First, there was the Day of Rage, then the one million Egyptian march. And today is the Day of Departure or Farewell, where Egyptians say farewell to their president of 30 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at all these people. No one's going home. No one's going to go home. We're in this until the end, even if it means we're going to die, because people have died for this, and all of us are prepared to die for this.

OMAR SULEIMAN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): President Muhammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of Egypt.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Moments ago, the crowd just exploded into cheering and flag-waving and chanting the word "freedom."

(CROWD CHANTING)

DAMON: And did you ever imagine that this would be happening in Egypt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never! One month ago, I would never imagine. For me, I'm a young man, and I always believed that my generation would never make any history.

(CROWD CHANTING)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back to what is a special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD and a look back at the defining moments of 2011.

Well, the sheer horrors of Mother Nature's power filled our TV screens, remember, back in March. A nation was devastated as thousands of people died in Japan's earthquake and tsunami. Have a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(ROARING)

(GLASS BREAKING)

HOLMES (voice-over): On March 11th, a 9.0 earthquake struck about 130 kilometers east of Sendai, Japan.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The magnitude of Japan's earthquake was never anticipated.

(ROARING)

HOLMES: The worst was yet to come.

(SHOUTING)

(WATER RUSHING)

(WOMAN SHOUTING)

HOLMES: The powerful quake had triggered a massive tsunami, with waves nearly 10 meters high, traveling as fast as a jet liner. It ravaged the country's entire northeastern coast, taking the lives of more than 15,000 people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Can you see that? The wave is coming over the embankment. It has enormous power. It has passed the embankment! The sea water is coming! The sea water is coming! So fast!

You have to abandon the car! Hurry! Hurry! Leave the car!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Where is my husband?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Maybe he has gone by bicycle, I don't know!

BRIAN TODD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you step in the middle of a city that's just been hit by it, and you look all around you, and you try to even walk 15 feet, you really realize the true scope of the devastation.

You can just see endless whole blocks of nothing but rubble.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've teamed up with the Japanese military and they are going through this neighborhood to see if they can find any survivors.

We headed up to Isinomaki, which is about an hour's drive north of Sendai, and we heard that there were neighborhoods that had been completely wiped out. We came across this man who was walking back to his house, or at least what remained of his house, and I stopped him and asked him, "Where were you when the tsunami hit?"

And he pointed to his roof. This was a two-story building, and he said he clung onto the roof, he climbed out the window and clung onto the roof.

HOLMES: Of his house?

COREN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I thought Japan would disappear. I thought Japan would disappear underwater. I have no idea what I will do next or where I will go.

(WOMEN CRYING)

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We were at an evacuation center, and this was a very, very sad moment, when a father pulled up in his car, and seated in the passenger seats, reclined, was his 16-year-old son.

He had brought the body of his 16-year-old son to the middle school, so his friends could say farewell. He was trying to create that order of the funeral in Japan for his friends.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Ibashi (ph) is, I think, someone I won't ever forget. He's a retired gentleman, like so many people are up and down that coast of retirement communities. He's driving his car.

So, you were looking out your windshield --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

GUPTA: -- and you saw the water coming.

There's no way he was going to escape, and then things just started hitting his car, bang, bang, bang, bang, is what he was describing. And then, his car started to fill up with water.

Eventually, he pushed his door open, but then gets pinned back in his car. He's got these terrible wounds on his hips and his legs as a result. He survived, physically. And I think that that was part of what he wanted to tell us, that he was alive.

But just to talk to him for a few minutes. I mean, he's a haunted man. He lost everything. Everything that he owns in life, he showed us. It was sitting next to his hospital bed.

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And then, on top of natural disaster, a manmade one. Looming nuclear crisis.

GRANT (on camera): I mean, you talk about a triple whammy. An earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear crisis. That is extraordinary. That's unprecedented.

LAH: My thought about the nuclear emergency was that it felt very far away, very frankly. We were buried in the tsunami zone.

COREN: And then suddenly something changed. The nuclear story became a lot bigger, and we all started taking much more notice of it, probably because they hadn't been able to contain it.

And suddenly, that became the story, and CNN decided to act very quickly. One minute, we were doing live shots, and the next minute, we were told everyone had to evacuate.

GUPTA: I think that at the end of all this, that the people inside that plant, those workers who've exposed themselves to radiation to save a country, and in their own minds and in many people's minds, to save a lot of people around the world form high doses of radiation, are incredible heroes.

I mean, I -- they know the deal. They know when they put on those suits that really do very little to protect them, when they know and they see those high radiation readings that they are sacrificing their bodies. They may become very ill, they may die because of that.

And you get new definitions for the word "heroes" every day when you cover stories like this, but I think this is the latest one, for sure.

GRANT: There was a fear that if anyone was inside that 20-kilometer zone, they could die. We drove up to the 20-kilometer zone expecting to be turned away, but we actually found that the radiation levels being measured there were not as high as they were in some other parts 20, 30 kilometers away from the exclusion zone.

It was an extraordinary experience for me to walk through there as a reporter and to see the homes abandoned, to see the animals that had been left there to fend for themselves, to see the damaged homes, to see the tin roofs just flapping in the breeze. It was an eerie place, and it's a place I don't think people are ever going to live in again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back. You join us as we take a look back at the defining moments of 2011. Millions of people around the world mark the day that England's future king married Catherine Middleton. It's certainly been a year to remember.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You're watching the royal wedding on CNN. Millions of people here and across the globe waiting and watching for the moment when Prince William and Kate Middleton walk down the aisle.

ANDERSON: The excitement is absolutely palpable. Let's walk around and find out where some of these people are from. Where are you from, guys?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES: Boston!

ANDERSON: Boston?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

ANDERSON: What are you looking forward to most?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, the kiss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes!

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On royal wedding day, many of us woke earlier, put on paint on party hats, and anything else remotely festive and patriotic, and readied our lungs to scream and shout.

This was Wills' and Kate's day, and tens of thousands wanted to be there. A huge crowd worthy of U2 or the Stones were spread across Hyde Park or lined the barricades along the Mall. They stood eight to ten deep outside Westminster Abby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a once in a lifetime thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the British thing to do. Come down here to celebrate everything that's good about being British.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the biggest event of the year. Biggest event of my lifetime.

COOPER: We see, now, Prince William and his brother, Prince Harry. For the first time, you get a glimpse of the red uniform that Prince William is wearing.

(CROWD CHEERING)

COOPER: David Beckham is here, and Victoria Beckham, arriving.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And there's Elton -- Sir Elton John.

(TRUMPETS)

(CHURCH BELLS RING)

RIVERS: A first glimpse of the bride, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.

(CROWD CHEERING)

(CHURCH BELLS RINGING)

MORGAN: The mystery of the dress is over. We were right, it's Burton. Beautiful dress.

COOPER: Ladies and gentlemen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

(CROWD CHEERING)

RIVERS: The newlyweds came out to cheers and brief exchange. She to him, "Are you happy?"

"Yes," he said. "Are you?"

"Yes."

And so, out into the world they ventured in an open State Landau. A mounted guard provided escort. Down the mall they came, a mass of well- wishers swarming towards the palace gates, only held back by the policemen.

They'd have to wait a while, but everyone knew it was part of the ritual. The balcony appearance.

(CROWD CHEERS)

RIVERS: Although the royals don't like performing on demand, a kiss was expected.

(CROWD CHEERS)

RIVERS: A minute or so later, the groom whispered, "One more kiss?"

(CROWD CHEERS)

TEXT: May

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We're awaiting the president. President Barack Obama expected to make a statement at any moment.

HOLMES (voice-over): It was a quiet Sunday evening, the first of May. But then came word there'd be a statement from the president. And shortly before midnight, there was.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

(CROWD CHEERING)

(CROWD SINGING "GOD BLESS AMERICA")

HOLMES: It was big news that brought back some painful memories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost a lot of guys that day, of course, so the department lost 343 guys. But (inaudible) we lost all five of our companies, every member, 33 guys. So, it's a happy moment right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great day for the nation. And you know what? It's good to see the spirit back almost ten years later. And we're going to continue that fight. It's not over.

CROWD (chanting): USA! USA! USA!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good riddance. He's -- he's definitely been terrorizing the whole world. A lot of people have been living in fear, a lot of people have lost their lives because of Osama bin Laden.

COOPER: For almost ten years, now, the question has been asked, angrily, and then with growing frustration over the years with waning hope, where is Osama bin Laden?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a raid literally years in the making. Almost nine years after the September 11th attack --

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: There was a big meeting at the White House between President Obama and some of his top national security officials. That's when it got laid out by CIA director Leon Panetta.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: It began with four US military helicopters and two dozen commandos arriving overhead. When some of the Navy SEALs landed on the ground, the assault team stormed the compound.

Back at the White House, the president's national security team was anxiously watching video from the site.

JOHN BRENNAN, US COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: The minutes passed like days, and the president was very concerned about the security of our personnel.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: This shows the aftermath inside the compound. One woman died in the firefight. The SEALs shot and killed the two brothers and bin Laden's son. And with a shot to the chest and one to the head, the SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.

OBAMA: Justice has been done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Step up, Mr. Kahn.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Instead of a glittery financial conference in Europe, Dominique Strauss-Kahn entered an old New York City criminal courtroom facing sexual assault charges, looking haggard after more than a day in police custody.

One of the world's most powerful financial titans had spent the night in a prison cell after authorities did a forensic examination of him, looking for scratch marks and physical evidence following a hotel maid's shocking allegations.

HOLMES: Known as DSK in the media, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund and the man behind multibillion-dollar bailouts of countries, was arrested in May. A maid at a New York hotel accused him of sexual assault. Prosecutors argued that bail should not be granted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The defendant has additional motivation to flee.

HOLMES: Within a week of his arrest, Strauss-Kahn resigned his post at the IMF. The case collapsed in August due to questions about the alleged victim's credibility. Strauss-Kahn would later describe the liaison with his accuser as "inappropriate" but claimed it did not involve violence, constraint, or aggression.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Indeed, defining moments of 2011. I'm Becky Anderson, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Take a -- looking back at the defining moments of the year. Thanks for watching, the world headlines and "BACKSTORY" up next after this short break. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END