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Bloodshed in Baghdad; Crackdown in Syria Continues; U.S. Election 2012; NBA Season Opens On Christmas Day; Arab League Monitors Arrive in Damascus

Aired December 26, 2011 - 00:08:00   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 Iraq, where CNN has learned alarming new details about how a bomber managed to attack a security checkpoint outside Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Reports say the Syrian city of Homs is under attack. The opposition claims that the government is shelling the city.

Protests emerge in Moscow. We give Russians an open microphone to speak their minds.

Another suicide bombing has hit the Iraqi capital, and this time five people were killed and 39 were injured. Authorities say that the bomber detonated a car packed with explosives at the main entrance to Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Now, last Thursday, 20 bombing attacks across Baghdad killed nearly 70 people, raising fears widespread sectarian violence could return. And those attacks came just days after the U.S. pulled its last troops out of Iraq.

Now, let's get more on today's attacks. Arwa Damon joins me live from the Iraqi capital.

And Arwa, you have new and disturbing information on this deadly attack.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kristie. A source within the Ministry of Interior itself was telling us that they believe that the suicide car bomber came from outside of Baghdad. What this means is that he would have had to go through at least six checkpoints.

This raises a lot of questions, naturally, especially since following Thursday's attacks, Iraqi security forces were supposed to be on high alert. The checkpoints across the capital had increased. Searches were supposed to be even more stringent than they have been in the past.

So how was it that a bomber was able to drive through and reach the Ministry of Interior, a heavily fortified compound? This brings up many questions when it comes to the level of the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, how infiltrated they may be, perhaps corruption also at play here. So a lot of answers that Iraqis are going to want to hear, and they're especially going to want to know what the government and the Iraqi security forces are going to do from prevent this from happening again -- Kristie.

STOUT: Let's expand on this, and getting your thoughts about why this attack took place and why the attacker was successful. Arwa, is there a security vacuum there after the U.S. troop withdrawal, or could the political turmoil be playing a role?

DAMON: Well, the U.S. military for the last few years has actually not been directly patrolling the streets. That was part of the whole security agreement that saw them withdraw from cities and towns. So security has pretty much, on the day-to-day level, been in the hands of the Iraqi security forces.

There were, however, great concerns about a security vacuum following the U.S. troops withdrawal, quite simply because it would embolden various insurgent groups who know that the Iraqi security forces no longer have America to call on should they end up stuck in a bind. It also underscores various realities that exist here when it comes to the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and, again, whether or not they have been infiltrated.

As for the timing of it, whether or not it's tied to politics, that we're going to have to wait and see. It's going to depend on if anyone takes responsibility for this or the results of an investigation. But there is one thing that is quite clear, Kristie, and that is that politics and violence here do tend to be quite intertwined. So the political uncertainty ends up creating a vacuum, and that vacuum is often, when it comes to Iraq, filled with acts of violence.

STOUT: And how are the Iraqi people reacting to all this? How many have faith that the Iraqi security forces and their government are able to secure their country?

DAMON: There's very little faith, Kristie, and that faith is dwindling by the day. Iraqis, especially in the capital, they're angry, they're frightened, and they're incredibly frustrated. They're watching their government now appearing to crumble like a deck of cards.

There's all sorts of controversy surrounding that arrest warrant, those issued for the Sunni vice president. That is very much being viewed as a Shia-dominated government trying to take out its Sunni opponents. That is concerning many Iraqis.

The politicians here are growing increasingly polarized. And Iraqis are wondering exactly what kind of a nation it is that America left behind, because very few of them would actually call it a stable democracy like President Obama did.

STOUT: Arwa Damon, joining us live from Baghdad.

Thank you.

Now, activists say the city of Homs in Syria is under assault, with at least 18 people killed there today. Opposition groups report random shelling and heavy gunfire by government forces.

This video is said to show tanks in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amir. One witness says thousands of security personnel have swarmed the area in recent days and troops are digging trenches. CNN cannot confirm those reports.

And Arab League monitors are traveling to Syria. Now, the first group, about 50 members, is set to arrive in the coming hours, and they reportedly plan to visit Homs first, but it is unclear if they will be allowed to travel there freely.

Idlib has been another hotbed of recent violence. It lies near the Turkish border. And Hama, it's about 90 kilometers sound of Idlib. It also has seen intense fighting this year.

Now, opposition groups and political activists say more than 6,000 people have been killed since protests began in March. The Arab League mission is part of a plan to end the violence.

Mohammed Jamjoom joins us now from CNN Cairo.

Mohammed, in Homs, these reports of people killed by mortar shelling in the last few days. Are security forces escalating their battle against the protesters?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kristie, we've spoken to so many opposition activists in the flash point city of Homs, and the words that they're using are "bloodbath," "massacre." They're saying that they're coming under an increased crackdown by the Syrian regime, and they're saying that if they don't get help soon, that they're worried that a genocide can happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

Here, a tank rolls down a street in Baba Amir, a neighborhood in the flash point 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: I'm now near the field hospital. In the last two days there is a lot of injury. More than 200 injury in the last three days. They executed little children because they shout against Assad. They bombing one house, a civilian house.

JAMJOOM: In the past week, the Syrian government's bombardment has escalated. The same day a protocol was signed allowing those Arab League observers into Syria, activists say the Syrian army stormed the town of Kafr Uwaid 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 Kafr Uwaid." 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 bury 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, many people are now questioning how effective the Arab League observers' mission will be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JAMJOOM: And Kristie, there's even more disturbing news to report now. Just a short while ago we spoke to opposition activists in Syria. They're saying that the death toll just in Homs today stands at at least 21, with hundreds injured. This, the same day that Arab League observers are set to arrive to start their mission -- Kristie.

STOUT: Very unsettling. That death toll, 18, one day alone.

Let's talk more about this Arab League mission, Mohammed. There's a lot of hope, there's a lot of expectation. But what real impact will it have on the violence and ending the crackdown in Syria?

JAMJOOM: Well, Kristie, that's the key question. And one member of the Arab League team that's going in today told us earlier that, in fact, the Arab League observers that are going in plan to go to Homs tomorrow. It's unclear what neighborhoods they'll be given access to, if they'll have free rein to go to the places they want to go to.

These are all questions that have yet to be answered. But, you know, today, we're still hearing about a crackdown that's going on. The opposition activists there even posting videos online.

We can't verify these videos. They're very disturbing, but they purport to show scenes of the aftermath of the violence in Homs, they purport to show victims of the shelling that's been going on. They purport to show scenes of the shelling that's been going on, and they purport to show a lot of injured people in the hospital there in Homs.

So, from what we're hearing from activists there, they're very concerned that this brutal crackdown will continue to happen, and they're saying that if the Arab League observers don't get there, and get there fast, and don't have real access to what's going on, they're afraid this will continue. And they are afraid of an all-out genocide happening -- Kristie.

STOUT: Mohammed Jamjoom, live for us on the story.

Thank you very much for that.

Now, Syria's main opposition group says the city of Homs faces the threat of genocide. An activist says a fighting force made up of army deserters is trying to protect people there. We'll have more on the battle for Homs a bit later on the program.

Now, in Nigeria, an Islamist militant group is reportedly claiming responsibility for Sunday's deadly church bombings and is threatening more attacks in the next few days. The Christmas Day explosions killed and wounded dozens of people. One witness says mass at a church near the capital, Abuja, had just ended when, suddenly, there was a hug blast and cars lit up in flames. This is the second year in a row that churches in Nigeria have been targeted during the holiday season.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan vows those responsible will not escape justice.

Sunday's bombings targeted five cities in Nigeria. The first explosion destroyed a packed church in the city of Madala. It's on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja. And then hours later, explosions rang out in the city of Jos in central Nigeria. There were also blasts in two northern cities and in Nigeria's northeast.

Now, let's take a closer look at the Islamist militant group that has claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day carnage. The group's name, Boko Haram. It means "Western education is sinful."

It was founded in 2002. That's one year after 9/11 and has suspected links to al Qaeda.

Based in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, the group wants a strict Islamist state. It has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks, including blasts in Nigeria's police headquarters in June and a suicide bombing at U.N. headquarters in Abuja in August. It also says it carried out last year's deadly Christmas Eve church bombings in Jos.

Japan's response to its nuclear crisis, "It was filled with errors." That is the outcome from a new interim government report detailing mistakes made following the March earthquake and tsunami.

This 500-page report accuses the Japanese government of failing to follow its own manuals on how to handle a nuclear accident. It also charges that operators at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were not properly trained to deal with severe accidents.

Coming up here on NEWS STREAM, all eyes on Iowa. In just a matter of days, the U.S. state kicks off what could be a no-holds-barred campaign for the U.S. presidency.

And it's one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the U.K. But will a 24-hour tube strike derail shoppers?

And doctors are on strike in India. They're demanding better pay and opportunities. But is the walkout putting patients at risk?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back.

Now, in just eight days, the U.S. presidential race gets real. Primary season starts on January the 3rd with the Iowa caucuses. It is set to end five months later in Utah. And in August, the Republican candidate will be officially nominated at the national convention. And the Democrats will get their turn in September, and then Americans will pick their president on November the 6th.

The latest polling out of Iowa shows three candidates running neck and neck. CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser joins us now from the state's capitol, Des Moines.

And Paul, how is the race shaping up there?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It is a three-way traffic jam at the top right now, Kristie. You just mentioned that poll. Let's take a look at this.

This is from American Research Group that came out on Friday here in the U.S. and Iowa, and this is among people likely to attend those January 3rd Republican caucuses. And there you go.

Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, at 21 percent. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, at 20 percent. Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, at 19 percent. Basically a three-way tie for the top spot here in Iowa.

All the other Republican candidates who were out here campaigning, in single digits. So, with one week and one day to go until these caucuses, it's basically anybody's ballgame here.

And why are they so important? Because they're the first. Iowa holds the first contest in the long, long primary and caucus calendar. And that is why these caucuses are so important and so many people pay attention to them. It may not crown the winner of the Republican nomination, but it could weed out some of the candidates -- Kristie.

So the contest there in Iowa is anyone's to win right now, but it's interesting to see Ron Paul's name at the top of the list there. He is gaining ground. It's safe to say he's known as a fringe candidate.

If he wins Iowa, if he does, will he gain any traction the rest of the way?

STEINHAUSER: It will be a big -- not a big surprise anymore. It would have been a big surprise maybe a week or a month ago.

His poll numbers have been rising, no doubt about that. He's got a lot of energetic, enthusiastic supporters.

You mentioned fringe candidate. Yes, four years ago, when he ran, I think it was fair to say he was a fringe candidate. But now I think a lot of the issues -- his positions are now Republican Party positions. The party has moved his way in some ways.

But if he wins here, does that mean he's going to win the nomination? Maybe not. Remember, four years ago, Mike Huckabee pulled an upset. The former Arkansas governor won here in Iowa, did not win the nomination -- Kristie.

STOUT: It's funny that you mentioned Huckabee, because the former GOP presidential candidate, he has weighed in on the race. On Sunday, he said that the weather there in Iowa will influence the caucuses. If the weather is good, he says, Romney will win. If the weather is bad, victory for Ron Paul.

This story is trending on CNNPolitics.com. What do you make of this comment? Do you buy it?

STEINHAUSER: I do. And, you know, listen, Mike Huckabee knows a lot about Iowa, obviously, pulling that upset four years ago. Here's what he means.

If it's a cold, snowy night here in Iowa -- the people who are going to come out and make it to those caucuses really, really want to do it. And Ron Paul's supporters, his backers here in Iowa, very energetic, very enthusiastic. They will come out even in the bad weather. Maybe some of the backers of the candidates like Mitt Romney will not.

But right now, there's no snow here in Iowa. It will be in the mid 40s a little bit later today. Very mild right now in Iowa. We'll see if that lasts into next week.

STOUT: Paul Steinhauser, tracking the political climate there in Iowa for us.

Thank you very much, indeed.

Now, coming up next here on NEWS STREAM, despite a strike on London's underground, shoppers are still trying to make the most of Britain's Boxing Day sale. And we're live with the bargain hunters in the British capital.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Now, in the U.K., some shoppers will have to try harder to get to the stores this Boxing Day. The holiday, it kicks off post-Christmas sales and is usually one of Britain's busiest shopping days of the year. But London's underground has been hit by a strike, and that is expected to slow some of the shop-until-you-drop frenzy.

For more on the strikes and the sales, let's go live to CNN's Erin McLaughlin, who is live outside Liberty's, one of London's oldest department stores.

And Erin, just how disruptive is today's strike?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kristie.

Well, it doesn't look to be too disruptive if you believe the sales figures that have just been released by a retail spokesperson that's representing the majority of the shoppers in this -- of the retail stores in this shopping district. Those sales figures look pretty strong. He says that they are on target to meet the targets for this year.

Take a look at this video. This is taken from Selfridges earlier today when they opened their doors. Selfridges, of course, is a luxury good retail store here.

Let's watch what happened when they opened their doors.

As you can see, hundreds of shoppers stampeded through for those luxury discount bargains. We had a chance to speak to some of those shoppers, and this is what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, 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: Last year 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 better than 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. A very good value.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bargain shopping for us in South Africa. Because of the exchange rate, it makes it very affordable for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came here to find some piece of (INAUDIBLE) in our country. And the sales are huge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: So, Kristie, as you can see from scenes like that, today's tube strike looking like it's having so far a minimal impact on shopping here. We'll have to see how the rest of the day goes -- Kristie.

STOUT: Yes. And this is incredible, because before the shopping day started, there was so much fear that this transport strike would have a big dent in the industry. So it's safe to say not at all this Boxing Day, the shoppers are out in force?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I mean, we'll still have to see. I talked to one retail spokesperson who said the exact same strike happened last year on Boxing Day. Shoppers still made it out, whether by foot or by bus. There's increased bus services. About 200 more buses on the streets of London today.

He also pointed to the fact that tomorrow is also a bank holiday here in London, and the tubes will be fully operational then. So the shoppers who may have been deterred today from getting out to some of these sales may make it out tomorrow -- Kristie.

STOUT: All right. Some more opportunities to shop away.

Erin McLaughlin, live in London, outside Liberty's.

Thank you very much, indeed.

Now, coming up, walking out and marching on. Doctors in India strike, angry about their earning power.

While in Russia, frustrations over people power protesters say is being stifled. We'll give you the very latest when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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

Now, more bloodshed in Baghdad, where a suicide car bomber attacked just outside the Interior Ministry. At least five people were killed and 39 injured. The Iraqi capital has been rocked by 20 deadly bombings in the past week, beginning just days after the final U.S. troops withdrew.

A major test for Syria. An Arab League monitor should begin arriving there today. And they say the observers plan to visit the flash point city of Homs on Tuesday. Opposition groups say at least 21 people have already been killed in Homs just today. And monitors are supposed to determine whether the government is honoring its pledge to end its crackdown.

Nigeria's president is calling a string of church bombings a dastardly act. The Christmas Day attacks on churches in five cities killed or wounded dozens. The blast marked the second straight holiday season that Christian houses of worship have been bombed in the west African nation. A radical Muslim group reportedly has claimed responsibility.

In India, striking doctors are demanding higher pay, but patients who are in need of medical care say the strike is costing lives. Now Sara Sidner filed this report from New Delhi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is a tragic situation. One health official telling CNN 40 patients have died because there are simply not enough doctors to care for them. Now this is going on across the state, more than 3,000 doctors have walked out of government hospitals because they say they're on strike. They are not getting the amount of pay or the benefits they were promised by the government.

Now that negotiation with the government is still ongoing, but still no deal has been reached. And these doctors have now been out of these hospitals for several days now.

Now what they have done as they've walked out of the hospitals and left patients uncared for is, according to state rules, a violation of an agreement that they have made. So the government has in return arrested about 400 doctors. This has been going on for quite some time and there's a great concern. There's a huge gap in medical coverage there in the state of Redisan (ph), especially in the rural areas where there aren't a lot of doctors who can fill the gaps.

The government saying that it is planning to send in actually doctors from the armed forces into Redisan (ph) to try to help the patients who do not have the medical care and the specializations that they need.

At this point in time some of the hospitals are saying what they are doing is sending patients to private hospitals, but many of the patients simply cannot afford the bills that the private hospitals are going to give to them, so the government has decided that it will pay for that care as long as it is needed.

It is a very tense situation there in Radisan (ph) obviously with heath care. Many people feeling very hurt the doctors left their bedside, but also there is a lot of anger on the doctor's part saying they were promised something that they never received.

At this point in time, the big concern is the gap in health care. And the government is trying to do whatever it can to try and fill that gap.

Now we did hear from the state health department who says they actually deny that that many patients have died due to a lack of doctors. They say there's no real way to tell how many patients died, if any, because there weren't enough doctors in the hospitals. But certainly there are some families who are definitely saying that because there was no one there to care for their sick loved ones that they perished and nothing, nothing that the state can do at this point can kill their pain.

Sara Sidner, CNN, New Delhi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Protesting Vladimir Putin: Russian opposition groups say that they will take to the streets again within days following this weekends mass rally. They want a leading activist released from jail.

Now tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated in Moscow on Saturday ramping up the pressure on Prime Minister Putin. They say fraud tainted recent parliamentary elections. And they are furious about Mr. Putin's plans to run again for president.

Now this was the second mass opposition rally in Moscow in just two weeks. And the large turnout seems to reflect growing discontent with Mr. Putin's 12 year rule. Many Russians are also reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union's demise.

Now CNN set up an open microphone in the heart of Moscow and listened to what the Russian people had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening. My name is Alexandra (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Dennis Madodov (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. My name is Senia (ph). I'm from Russia. Watch my native city (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My name is Lemila (ph). And I don't remember what the life was like in the USSR. I guess it was bad. I like our life now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like that my parents have money that they can pay for me in my university. They can pay for my flat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I think it's great that young generation has an ability to earn money, get a good education, develop themselves, travel, and see the world. Russia is moving forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I think we have more opportunities now in democracy. So it's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like Russia.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not safe here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's our government. And other problems we don't have Russian in all spheres of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it changed a lot. And all the right what I have. They're not followed by the government. And they -- you don't just -- it's not real democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From my heart I must say I don't see the bright future in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Positive things are freedom and plenty of food, but still it is sad that every little thing is made in China. Our production has fallen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it was like monarchy in Russia. We had a god. We had a religion. When we had a Communism we had an idea what we've got to do. Now we don't have no religion and no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They world should know that our people is nice and kind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a good country. And come our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Now it appears even a global security firm is not safe from hackers. Now hackers are claiming that they have struck the U.S. space company Stratfor. Now just take a look at Stratfor's web site here. It says right now that it's undergoing maintenance. Now posting on the web site Pacebin (ph), hackers say they have accessed and then released confidential information belonging to thousands of the security think tank's clients. That information purportedly includes 4,000 credit card numbers and Stratfor's private client list.

It has not confirmed that the hackers are linked to the loose knit hacking movement known as Anonymous.

Now coming up next here on News Stream, as Arab League monitors head to Syria we look at the latest flash point. Homs appears to be a city under siege. Witnesses say the violence is only getting worse.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now as the year comes to a close we're going to spend the last week of 2011 looking at the images that defined it. 2011 was a year of political protest, triumph and transformation for parts of the Middle East and North Africa and dubbed the Arab Spring. Calls for reform swept from Tunisia to Yemen and continue to ring out even now.

Now this photograph, it was taken on January 30th. It shows Turkish Muslims burning an image of Hosni Mubarak then still president of Egypt. Mubarak had just ordered the Egyptian army to crack down on deadly protests against his 20 year regime. He was ousted on February 11.

Now social media proved a key tool in mobilizing protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square and across the Arab world.

Now here, anti-government protesters gathering for a day of departure demonstration in Egypt's capital on February 4. They hold a sign bearing the word Facebook.

Now dozens of Facebook pages have been set up to call for a free Egypt, many with thousands of followers.

And in Libya, after months of civil war, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was captured and died on October 20. His death gave us some of the most gruesome images of the year. And some so graphic we chose not to show them on air. But this image reflects the joy many Libyans felt at Gadhafi's death.

Now the young man held high here by NTC fighters holds what is alleged to be Gadhafi's gold plated gun, a symbol of the ousted Libyan leader's power and wealth.

Now Syria has been another flash point in the Arab Spring. And our Tim Lister take a closer look at the Syrian city of Homs and what is reportedly happening there. But first a warning, some viewers may find images in this report upsetting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM LISTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Syrian regime is tightening the noose around the rebellious city of Homs even as the Arab League arrives in Damascus. And the innocent are dying here. 16-year-old Rema al-Nahar (ph) was one of at least 25 people killed Saturday by the security forces, according to opposition activists. One told CNN many more were injured.

ABU OMAR, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: (inaudible) I saw on my own eyes more than 40 injuries.

LISTER: Another activist Abu Rami described what he called the siege of Baba Amr, a neighborhood at the heart of the resistance.

ABU RAMI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: In Baba Amr area, in particular, to the second day in a row it's under storming and attacking by a heavy guns, heavy weapons by cannons and armed vehicles. They are shooting us randomly.

LISTER: The city echoes for pleas for help, punctuated by gunfire.

RAMI: Hearing them yelling, hearing them screaming from this area, from neighborhoods are near to this -- to Baba Amr.

LISTER: CNN can't verify many of the videos posted from Homs, but activists say the Syrian free army is fighting back, even making roadside bombs to attack armored vehicles. Watch the orange bag.

OMAR: Here there is a lot of Free Syrian Army trying to defend the civilian. I can't see any terrorist in children and women.

LISTER: One activist says the Free Syrian Army is communicating with some soldiers. But the resistance is outgunned. Regime has brought tanks into the city. Many civilians have tried to flee Homs as the bombardment has intensified and a humanitarian situation is worsening rapidly.

RAMI: There are not enough medicines for casualties. There aren't enough milk for children, for baby children.

LISTER: (inaudible) anti-regime protesters returned to the streets of Homs undaunted by the massive military presence surrounding them chanting "god is great."

The Assad regime has been unable to stamp out the resistance in and around Homs, even from small girls dressed in pink.

"The bullets will not affect our determination," she exclaims. "The flag of freedom will always fly high."

But the bullets are flying too. And the battle for Homs has reached a critical moment.

Tim Lister, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: We will continue to watch the situation inside Syria, but time now for the world weather update. And first up, the forecast for east Asia. Tom Sater is at the world weather center. He joins us now -- Tom.

TOM SATER, CNN WEATHER CORREPSONDENT: Kristie, you've got some of the best weather on the planet right now in Hong Kong. 17 degrees Celsius. You're going to look at a sunny day tomorrow warming up to 22 degree Celsius.

That is not the case everywhere. We've got plenty of news to speak of. But most of China, southern China into Laos, northern Vietnam, even a good portion of Thailand looking at some sunshine. There is a massive, very strong area of high pressure that is pushing down on this region. In fact, when you have high pressure it's the weight of the atmosphere pushing down on the earth and it suppresses any cloud development. So no rainfall. Winds are light.

However, that is not the case southward. Notice the circulation clockwise coming back in and around toward the Gulf of Thailand. We've had some problems -- highly, highly unusual for this time of year to have damaging winds come in around high pressure across the south into the Gulf of Thailand here.

We've had reports of damages to residence, some businesses, restaurants mainly in coastal areas, some of the resort spots too, even a very popular resort right on the coast there of Bangkok.

But again, this is all due to that area of high pressure that's providing beautiful conditions just to the north of course in China.

And that weather in Hong Kong. You'll see that for the next couple of days. So very nice there.

Here's a picture from yesterday from Prachiap Khiri Khan. This is a strong wave, of course, through the winds. And picture, of course, taken there. They're going to see that probably for the next 24 hours. A little damaging there. A lot going on.

In the open waters, the Bay of Bengal, here we go to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center about 12 hours ago said, yep, this is tropical cyclone six. Winds right now 74 kilometers per hour with higher gusts. It is making its way toward the northwest and will turn more westerly. It looks as if in about 72 hours this system could very much post landfall very close to Chennai, maybe just south of Chennai, a highly populated area. If it holds together strong enough it can cause some problems for Bangalore. So we ought to keep an eye on that. Maximum winds near landfall close to 100 kilometers per hour, downgrade just slightly of course, but this one we'll continue to get more information on and we'll pass it on to you.

This was the bigger story in the last 24 hours, the top end of Australia. This was Tropical Cyclone Grant making landfall just east of Darwin. The territory controller said no need to evacuate. They've been watching this for days. They opened up -- many up, public shelters. For the most part they said you're going to escape this. And that's good news for residents of Darwin, because it was only -- almost to the date 37 years ago, 1974, Tropical Cyclone Tracy moved in almost devastated the entire resident of the town of Darwin. 49 fatalities and about 22 that perished at sea.

But this system means business as its been really seeing a dramatic rise in the rivers. We've seen winds around 100 to 140 kilometers per hour with the gusts. It is on landfall now, made landfall the last 24 hours. Downgraded to a tropical low.

But we're going to continue to watch this, which is over land, they typically lose their strength over land, if it gets into the Bay of Carpentaria, this could easily regenerate and become a tropical cyclone again. We'll call it Grant.

But a lot of wind and a lot of rainfall. No reports of any injuries.

Hopefully news is better, like it is in Hong Kong. Here's your city by city forecast.

And for some of you, a big travel day. If you plan to travel in Europe or you're in Europe and you need to travel call ahead, tremendous winds right now in Copenhagen, Oslo, and toward Belfast and Dublin. So there's definitely going to be some delays.

Here you go, some of your area airports in Asia. You've got Taipei just about 45, 60 minutes. A little bit more you get to some of the other areas due to some thunderstorms as well, but most locations seeing light to moderate delays.

But big story, though, of course the tropical cyclones, Kristie, and the strong winds right now in Northern Europe.

Back to you.

LU STOUT: All right. Tom Sater, thank you very much indeed.

Up next, Christmas brought a special treat for basketball fans. Now the start of the NBA season, delayed after a long labor dispute. Alex Thomas will have all the action from the opening day next.

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LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now there was a special Christmas gift for basketball fans in the United States when the NBA season started. We could join Alex Thomas for a pick of the action -- Alex.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kristie, they're just happy they got some action. It's all after a delayed tip-off due to the lock out over money. We finally saw some NBA action on Christmas Day stateside. The pick of the games seeing the defending champions, the Dallas Mavericks, up against last season's runner's up the Miami Heat.

And the Mavs wasted no time reminding Miami about it, unveiling a huge banner before the game. Maybe it fired up the Heat.

Here's Dirk Nowitzki turning the ball over in the third and LeBron James finishing off the fastbreak by setting up Dwayne Wade for the alley oop. Wade with a whopping 26 points in this one.

Miami with a huge 35 point lead. Now here's LeBron with a stunning piece of athleticism in the fourth quarter as he makes the jumper and draws the foul. King James reigned with 37 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists. The Heat eventually closing it out with a 105-94 win.

It was also a start studded matchup in L.A. where Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were hosting the Chicago Bulls. And Derrick Rose, the NBA's reigning MVP, a record 14th NBA Christmas Day appearance for Kobe who looked good despite a wrist injury. That jumper putting the Lakers up 87- 81.

The lead, though, was down to a point here in the fourth. And Luol Deng intercepts for the Bulls, gets it to Rose who weighs up his options before driving towards the basket then leaps what was almost a fade away one hander. It put the Bulls ahead. And there was less than 5 seconds on the clock.

Just time for a last ditch attempt by Bryant to steal the win, but he's blocked by Deng. The clock runs down leaving the Bulls victorious by 88-87. What a thriller.

Well, the other Los Angeles team with new signing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on board took on the Golden State Warriors and opened. Here's Andre Jordan in the third quarter with a block which lead to a break and a monster slam for Griffin. That levels that scores at 43 points apiece.

Later in the third, the Clippers ahead. Here's Caron Butler with a circus shot and he's fouled for the three point play.

Butler one of four Clippers starters to score in double figures. L.A.'s lead up to 11 by the fourth. And Chris Paul nails his third straight jumper at the shot clock buzzer. Paul finished with 20 points.

The Clippers get the win over the Warriors 105-86.

Well, international football stars playing in Englad's Premier League would at least get Christmas Day off unlike those in the NBA. But they're back in action today. Here's the seven matches scheduled, including Chelsea against Fulham which is already underway, halftime there. And it's nil-nil.

Elsewhere, the leaders Manchester City are away at West Brom. Old Tratford sees Manchester United entertaining Wigam. Remember City hold a two point lead over their local rivals.

The Arsenal match has been postponed until Tuesday because of a strike on the Underground here in London.

Dashranke's (ph) Mehela Jayawardene (ph) became the 9th batsman to reach 10,000 career runs on the first day of the second test against South African in Durban. The Tourists won the toss and were 232 for 5 a short time ago.

Earlier in Melbourne, Australia batted first against India and the home team ended the opening day on 277 for 6. Ed Cowan (ph) making a half century on his debut for the Aussie.

And top story, former captain Ricki Ponting (ph) answering his critics with the side's second high score of the day 62.

As for India, well Omesh Yarav (ph) was outstanding taking three for 96.

Much more in world sport later, but for now, that's it Kristie. Back to you.

LU STOUT: All right. Alex, thank you very much for that.

And that is News Stream. I'll be back with a check of the headlines after this short break.

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