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Dramatic Display of Grief at Kim Jong-il's Funeral; More Violence in Syria Despite Presence of Arab League Observers; Trial of Hosni Mubarak Resumes in Egypt; Argentinean President to Undergo Cancer Surgery

Aired December 28, 2011 - 16:00   ET





BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Displays of anguish in North Korea. Thousands turn out to say a last good-bye to Kim Jong-il. A synchronized salute paid homage to the Dear Leader as his youngest son led the way into an uncertain future. Tonight, we'll assess if that future could include a more open relationship with the West.

Live from London, I'm Becky Anderson this hour. Also tonight, risking death in Syria. Exclusive videos smuggled out of Homs. A clear picture of defiance during a government assault. We're going to ask the journalist who's captured these images what's really happening on the ground.

And the popularity and polarization of Vladimir Putin. After 12 years in power, why the Russian leader's aura may be fading.

That's the next hour here on CNN.

We begin this show with a dramatic display of grief on the snowy streets of Pyongyang.




ANDERSON: Sobbing, wailing, and shaking their fists, tens of thousands of North Koreans appeared overcome with emotion, some near hysterics. They turned out for the elaborate funeral procession of Kim Jong-il.

Now, the ceremony was broadcast on state TV, every stop choreographed, as you would imagine, every detail carefully scripted.

The Dear Leader's heir apparent led the three-hour procession walking somberly beside his father's hearse, seeming immune to bitter cold. Kim Jong-un is young and untested on the world stage. Many observers watching to see whether he will continue his father's iron-fisted rule or, perhaps, end up more of a figurehead.

The elaborate ceremony did give some clues about the likely inner circle of North Korea's new leadership. CNN's Paula Hancocks is covering the story for you from Seoul.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walking alongside his father's coffin, the message could not be more clear. Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader, leading the funeral procession for his father, Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader.

Key military and political leaders surround him, showing publicly, at least, Kim Jong-il's wish for a smooth succession has been granted.

The coffin, preceded by a giant portrait of a smiling Kim Jong-il, was then driven through snow-laden streets of Pyongyang. Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the street. Soldiers bowed their heads, their caps in hand.

Men and women alike wailed and beat their chests as the coffin passed them by, at one point, rushing forward to get closer to the procession.

A well-choreographed event filled with pomp and ceremony, adverse weather only adding to the occasion, the country's state-run news agency saying it reminds the North Korean people of the snowy day the leader was born.


HANCOCKS: A thunderous military salute to send off the leader who ruled his people with an iron fist for 17 years, a man who developed a regime based on a cult of personality and terror.

As Kim Jong-un watched the final military parades of the day, the question being asked around the world is, how closely will he follow in his father's footsteps?

CHUNG MIN LEE, YONSEI UNIVERSITY: He has to basically make sure that all of the key places, all of the key forces under his command will be loyal to him. Number two, he's got to provide basic economic needs to his citizens. And number three, he's got to reach out to the Chinese and to the Americans and to have much more of a stable relationship with the outside world.

So, those are very huge challenges for a young and still, yet, inexperienced leader.

HANCOCKS: The assumption is that little will change in North Korea in the short term while Kim Jong-un works to consolidate power.

HANCOCKS (on camera): But looking longer term, anything is possible, depending on which expert you speak to. From a power struggle within the elite to a provocative act to prove the new leader's strength to further negotiations with the outside world.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


ANDERSON: So, this guy here is the heir apparent, but the sister and brother-in-law of North Korea's late leader are expected to play a major role in the transition of power to Kim's youngest son. Kim Jong-il's sister, Kim Kyung Hee, that's her on the left, was a close confidant of her late brother and is said to be a powerful figure in North Korean politics.

Now, she is married to Jang Song Thaek, he's wearing the dark coat in this photograph. Jang holds a top position in the powerful Workers' Party and is seen as a regent for the younger Kim. He could balance out North Korea's hard-line military generals, and experts say, together they are expected to help Kim Jong-un take over the Communist regime.

Experts say Jong-un has the intelligence and leadership skills that make him suitable to succeed his father. Well, some do, anyway. He's reported to have a ruthless streak that analysts say he would need to rule North Korea.

Well, in just a few minutes, we're going to get some perspective on the leadership change from a former top adviser on the Koreas to US president George W. Bush. First, though, a story of hope for a homeland far away, as CNN's Casey Wian spoke with a North Korean defector who's got big dreams, now, at least, for the future.


CASEY WIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Retired pastor Chang Soon Lee fled North Korea in 1950 as his homeland was ripped in half by the Korean war. At age 15, Lee's family also was torn apart.

CHANG SOON LEE, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR: Because my dad was a minister, I saw my daddy was persecuted.

WIAN: Lee eventually emigrated to the United States, where he led a Methodist congregation, but he never forgot his homeland. He's returned half a dozen times on humanitarian missions, bringing tons of food to orphanages and building noodle factories in North Korea, where millions of people reportedly starved to death in the 1990s.

LEE: It's a kind of symbolic showing our love for them. We love you, you are all brothers and sisters.

WIAN: During his missions, North Korean authorities never allowed Lee to visit places from his childhood, which still haunts him six decades later.

WIAN (on camera): I can tell that you still have a connection, or still feel a connection.

LEE: Yes.

WIAN: What is that connection?

LEE: I want to know what happened to my dad. Whether he -- lives or died. How?

WIAN: As North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un, mourns the death of his father, Lee hopes he will work toward opening to South Korea and Western democracies.

LEE: There must be change, but we don't know, the change in words or arrow. Hopefully, the young leader is wise enough.

WIAN: Now retired at 76, Lee says South Korea and the United States also have a responsibility to promote peace.

LEE: We have to give them confidence or trust that we -- are not taking you. We support you and work together for a better world.

WIAN: And perhaps, Lee hopes, that will lead to answers about his father.

LEE: I want to know what happened to him.

WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN, Rolland Heights, California.


ANDERSON: The hopes and fears of one man for the future. Well, let's get more on North Korea's leadership transition from Victor Cha, the professor at Georgetown University and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was also a top advisor on the Koreas to US president George W. Bush.

Sir, received wisdom suggests that the young man, the heir apparent, lacks -- lacks the sort of prestige, the sort of -- the qualities that his father had, and therefore that the leadership somehow will be shared. What's your sense?

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Becky, I think that's basically right. As your piece has said, this guy is not even 30 years old, and for him to run a country --

ANDERSON: That's right.

CHA: -- and a country that's in such bad shape as North Korea, it's very hard to imagine. So, they've surrounded him with a group of regents, people from his family, people from the Party, people from the military. And the plan is to try to run this transition slowly.

But I thought -- I believe they thought they had ten years to do this, and clearly, they didn't with the sudden death of Kim Jong-il.

ANDERSON: Given what you said and what you know, then, of those who made the shaping policy in what may be this sort of shared authority going forward, how will things change, do you think, in North Korea?

CHA: Well, I think in the near term, things won't change very much at all. If anything, the ideology that will accompany this new young leader, in my estimation, is probably going to grow more hard-line rather than in the direction of reform and opening.

The problem with regimes such as this is that if you want to reform and opening when you've run the economy into the ground and there's no food to feed the people, you really need a very strong and charismatic leader to do that. A Deng Xiaoping in China or a Gorbachev in the Soviet Union.

And you don't have that in this young fellow. Maybe in the future, but you certainly don't have it in the young fellow today.

So, I think their main -- their main task is going to be to try to consolidate leadership, ensure that there are no breakaway factions, and try to run the country in a steady state.

ANDERSON: The country's economic revival surely stands as the leadership's number one challenge and priority going forward, but given, then, what you've said, what should policy from the outside world, then, be? Starting off, for example, with the US?

CHA: Well, the United States looked like it was headed in the direction of returning to the negotiation table with North Korea when all of this happened over the last week.

I think the administration's position thus far is to continue to push in that direction, but basically wait to see when the North Koreans are ready to reengage. So, I think that's where the US is right now.

For China, the other big player on the peninsula, their main concern is to ensure that this leadership transition works. They do not want to see a crumbling of the regime or a collapse of North Korea that would lead to unification and a democratic and free Korea directly on their border. That's something they don't want to see.

They'll try to make the young -- the young leader reform, but again, it's going to be kind of difficult to do given the current situation and the lack of a very strong and charismatic leader in the North.

ANDERSON: In the short-term, then, briefly, should we expect to see any sort of change?

CHA: I don't think we should expect to see any change, but I think where the action will really be will be in terms of the news reports, the intelligence that comes out in the next coming weeks and months about whether this leadership transition is going to work or not.

Because if it doesn't, it raises all sorts of questions about the stability of the country, where the nuclear weapons are, and who has control of them.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. Victor, as ever, thank you.

Well, the pomp and circumstance of Kim Jong-il's passing isn't quite over yet. The memorial service on Friday will bring North Korea's official mourning period to a close. After gun volleys, whistles, and sirens, the ceremony will end with three minutes of silence.

You're with CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, and me, Becky Anderson. Arab League observers on the ground as reports of Syrian regime bloodshed escalate. A journalist who saw the violence for himself will be talking to us live. Rare footage and a rare voice.

Also, ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak returns to court on a stretcher. The proceedings were over almost as soon as his trial resumed.

And later in the show, is his extraordinary political journey about to veer off course? We're going to take a look at the growing movement that stopped believing in Vladimir Putin.


ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, the world's news leader. Welcome back.

Even with Arab League observers on the ground in Syria, more violence, I'm afraid, has erupted there. This video appears to show monitors witnessing gunfire in the city of Homs, the epicenter of the anti- government movement, there.

I'm going to be talking live to a journalist who was in Syria and made it out in one piece. He's going to tell us what pro-democracy activists and civilians are facing. That is about 15 minutes. Do stay with us for that.

Meantime, here's a look, now, at some of the other stories connecting our world tonight.

The trial of Hosni Mubarak resumed in Cairo today, but adjourned once again after only a few hours. The ousted Egyptian president is charged with ordering the killing of protesters during an uprising earlier this year.

He has pleaded not guilty, and the trial has been on hold for months while the prosecution asked for a new judge. That request was rejected. Proceedings resume on Monday.

Argentinean president Christina Fernandez de Kirchner will undergo surgery for cancer next week. A presidential spokesman says the illness is in her thyroid gland, but has not spread. The vice president will take over her duties for the 20 days or so she's expected to be on medical leave.

China says it plans to punish dozens of top railway executives and workers for the crash last July that killed 40 people. An investigation report found that it was caused by flaws in the train's operating equipment and relaxed safety controls. Rail authorities also criticized for an inadequate emergency response.

Where's Rudolph when you need him? Forget the buffalo. The United Parcel Service could have used a red-nosed reindeer in the US state of Colorado. UPS is sweating, now, despite last week's snow storm. It's scrambling to get 50,000 delayed packages into people's hands before the new year.

UPS missed Christmas itself, saying weather before the big day was just too dangerous for drivers. One frustrated gift-giver described the chaos at a UPS service center.


MICHAEL KEARNS, UPS PACKAGE WAS DELAYED: Probably a couple hundred people in line, and the first person I talked to said that they were even waiting for over two hours, so I got back in the car and went home.

They just didn't seem to be prepared to deal with this, and didn't seem to be prepared to deal with the communications issues that have come up since then. It probably makes me think twice about shopping online a little bit too close to the end.


ANDERSON: Well, sometimes Christmas can overwhelm even those who live for this time of the year. Take a look at these.




ANDERSON: You're looking at pictures of a fight inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. It's one of Christianity's holiest sites, because many Christians believe it marks the birthplace of Jesus. Well, Wednesday's brawl broke out among rival clerics over sacred space as they cleaned the basilica.

Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD this evening, more guns, more bloodshed and, now, new controversy in Syria. You're going to hear from a journalist who saw the bullets flying for himself.

And big spenders Paris Saint-Germain snag this man. You'll recognize him as the former Chelsea coach, but wait until we tell you what they're going to have to pay him to get him. History in the making. Stay with CNN.


ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London, 22 minutes past 9:00, I'm Becky Anderson for you.

European football's new big spenders, Paris Saint-Germain, are on the verge of signing a contract with Carlo Ancelotti as their new coach. Now, the club's confirmed that the former AC Milan and Chelsea manager was in Paris on Wednesday, but have yet to make an official announcement on his hiring.

Now, the Italian who won two Champions League titles with Milan and the League and FA double with the Blues, has been out of a job since being sacked by Chelsea at the end of last season. Pedro Pinto joins us, now, to discuss what is a big move -- not just a big move, this is history in the making, isn't it? They are paying him an absolute fortune. Is he worth it?

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: He -- he is set to become the highest-earning coach in the history of French football, 500,000 euros a month, that's 6 million a season. Not bad?

ANDERSON: That's ridiculous.

PINTO: It is ridiculous. It's in line --

ANDERSON: For a man who failed at Chelsea. No, come on.

PINTO: Well, he didn't. He didn't.

ANDERSON: No, he didn't.

PINTO: That team is now -- and you're seeing now, that team is in transition. He won the FA -- FA Cup and League double the first season he was here.

But Paris Saint-Germain have always been sleeping giants in football in Europe, and their last league title came back in 1994. They've been trying and failing to win it every since.

And as you know, Paris is a bustling city in Europe. It's got so much profile, it's got so much to offer, really. But it's never had a good football team. And Qatar Investment Authority have come in, they've bought up the majority of the club, and they're spending big money.

They brought in some major players in the summer, including Javier Pastore, the Argentine international. And now, they're bringing in a man who they think can take them to the next level, bring only -- not only domestic success in France, but also European success. He's won two Champions League titles with Milan and he's a man with a lot of experience.

ANDERSON: Yes, OK. If you're watching, Ancelotti, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to say that you were no good. You're brilliant.


ANDERSON: And of course, David Beckham has been rumored at one stage to be going to the club.

PINTO: Well, the rumor is -- and it's not much of a rumor, now, because everybody seems to be talking about it, it's pretty much a done deal.

ANDERSON: Yes, all right.

PINTO: He's going.

ANDERSON: Amazing. Amazing stuff.


ANDERSON: And she loves Paris, old Victoria --

PINTO: Yes, Victoria?

ANDERSON: Mrs. Beckham, yes.

PINTO: Victoria.

ANDERSON: Let's not talk fashion --


ANDERSON: -- because you won't be any good at it. Let's stick to the sport.

PINTO: All right.



ANDERSON: LA Lakers. What's going on?

PINTO: All right. They started terribly, let's face it. They lost their first two games, and you might think no big deal. Well, it is a big deal. The last time they had lost their first three games to start a season had been 33 years ago. They avoided repeating that particular record that they would want to avoid by beating the Utah Jazz comfortably on Tuesday night.

Now, Kobe Bryant, he's had to deal with losing a few key players in the off season. Of course, one of them was Lamar Odom. He does have a teammate who's got -- OK, he's an old teammate, but he's got a new name.

Becky, you may have heard about this. That guy there you saw dunking, he used to be called Ron Artest. Now his name is Metta World Peace. He's changed his name, it's his official name, World Peace is on the back of his shirt, that's a fact, I'm not lying to you.

Kobe Bryant, though, he was the story on the night against the Utah Jazz, scored 26 points. Pau Gasol chipped in with 22, and the Lakers got a much-needed victory to finally get on the board with a win this season.

Maybe -- just maybe -- they can get on a winning run and, of course, get to the position that everyone expects them to get to, which is one of the top eight in the Western Conference.

All right, let's head out east. The Miami Heat are hot. Yes, they are. The big three, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh. You expect them to score and contribute in a big way. They did it against the Boston Celtics last night.

LeBron James doing what he does best, slamming the basketball, 26 points for him, 24 for Dwayne Wade, including this spectacular move in the lane. How about the pirouette and the scoop lay-in? Chris Bosh added 18.

But there was another great story to this game, as Boston did try to stay close. They trailed by as many as 20, but made it interesting in the end. The other story I wanted to tell you about was the rookie, Norris Cole, who scored 20 points, including 14 in the last quarter, and he helped out the big three, the Heat improving to 2 and 0 on the season, Becky.

Those are two of the stories, Ancelotti and the NBA, that we'll explore later on "World Sport."

ANDERSON: Yes. It does seem amazing that the NBA's only just started its season, doesn't it?

PINTO: Yes. Christmas Day it started.

ANDERSON: You're going to do more on that, of course, at "World Sport" --


ANDERSON: -- an hour from now. Stick with us for Pedro and his show.

Still to come on this show, this hour, CONNECT THE WORLD will show you why the phrase "nothing frightening" is stirring new controversy in Syria as the violence escalates. We've got exclusive video for you.

And we're going to take a look at Putin Power, the Russian PM is the action man antics, but is his political showmanship wearing thin?


ANDERSON: It's half past nine in London, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD from here, here on CNN. Let's get you a check of the headlines this hour.

Funeral for Kim Jong-il has happened today. A somber farewell to North Korea's Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. His son and heir apparent led a three-hour funeral procession in Pyongyang on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets to pay their respects.

The trial of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has been adjourned until Monday. After a three-month break, proceedings had just resumed on Wednesday. The ailing 83-year-old is charged with corruption and with ordering the killing of protesters.

Colombia's FARC rebels say they plan to release six hostages. No word on when the kidnap victims will be set free. Three of them have been in captivity, though, for more than 12 years. The government says it hopes the announcement from the guerrilla group is genuine.

And Italian borrowing costs have plummeted as the bond markets buy up its short-term debt. The yield on six-month bills fell to 3.25 percent, and the country raised around $14 billion in the auction earlier today.

All right. Well, tonight, the chief Arab League observer in Syria is serving -- stirring controversy as more violence, there, erupts. In the besieged city of Homs, new video appears to show the delegation witnessing heavy armed fire in the Baba Amr neighborhood.

Early on Wednesday, the League monitor told Reuters he saw, quote, "nothing frightening" on his first visit to the flashpoint city.

Pro-democracy activists called the selection of a Sudanese general to head the mission "a farce" because of his government's actions in Darfur. France said the monitor's remarks were premature.

And there's new, disturbing video that some viewers may find distressing. It appears to show a man displaying a dead child for the Arab League observers in Homs. CNN cannot, though, confirm the authenticity of this video.

Well, the Arab delegation had to postpone a visit to three other Syrian towns wracked by violence, today. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following the story from our Cairo bureau, and he joins me now, live.

Pretty disturbing stuff out of Syria today, and yet, the Arab League delegation in some hot water over the remarks that they've made. Is this a transparent visit or not?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, that's what we're trying to find out and, in fact, we've been trying to get access to the head of the mission, General Mohamed al-Dabi, since he got on the ground in Homs and in Syria. We haven't been able to get him. We're told that possibly tomorrow that he'll speak to us.

But that's the real concern, especially according to opposition activists and residents. They're wondering if this is a transparent visit. They see that this delegation is being escorted around by government minders, that's what they're telling us. They don't know if they're being shown the worst of the scenes of the crackdown that's been going on.

And also today, there was concern because Arab League monitors were supposed to go to three other cities, to Idlib, to Daraa, and to Hama. They didn't make it there. We were told that they didn't make it there, they were delayed for logistical reasons. What were those reasons? We don't know at this point. That's causing more concern.

In the city of Daraa today, there was video that emerged that purported to show Syrian security forces, a convoy of Syrian security forces, under attack by members of the Free Syria Army. These are defected military officers, there.

And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in London, claimed that four members of the Syrian security forces were killed in that attack.

So, all around, when you look and you see these videos that have been emerging, even though we can't authenticate them, it looks like there's escalation, it looks like there's more violence going on. This at a time when there are remarks attributed to the head of the mission saying that he's seen nothing frightening.

The activists, the opposition groups we speak with, they're all very concerned that this group just isn't very effective and that their credibility is really lacking at this stage. Becky?

ANDERSON: Mohammed Jamjoom covering the story, of course, from Cairo because we can't report from Syria. We are, though, joined on the line by a journalist that we can't identify for his own security, but he slipped into the city of Homs last week and managed to smuggle out the following out exclusive video of what he saw.

"Nothing frightening" is the line out the Arab League today. You talk us through what you found and what we are looking at here today.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST (via telephone): Yes, good evening. I got out a couple of days out of Homs, and it depends totally where you are in Homs. You can have totally different reality.

So, the -- neighborhoods, Baba Amr, for example, they are first neighborhoods which are basically controlled, right now, by the Free Syrian Army, defected soldiers who are armed and able to have a little bit of security for the 50,000 neighbor -- inhabitants of this neighborhood.

At the same time, you have another neighborhood called Al Khaledia and Al Bayada, for example, which is totally surrounded by the neighborhoods who are mostly loyal and where all the snipers are and high buildings and controlling the main alleys of these neighborhoods.

So, the people have -- which are mostly civilians, have to cross those streets in order to have normal lives or to get some food, and there is a time where they said between 8:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon they should not get shot by the snipers, but even during this time, the snipers are pulling the trigger.

So, basically, everybody who is after 4:00 outside on the street is going to be shot because they want to prevent them to go out to the street to demonstrate.

ANDERSON: Yes, yes, this is -- this is remarkable stuff. We've been looking at your video as you've been speaking, and some of what we're looking at, now, is empty corridors in a building where we see some of those, I presume, are protesters inside this building.

We also looked at video at the beginning of -- of our discussion of bodies on a street.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Yes, exactly. This was on the way for -- when we got smuggled into Baba Amr, where there have been these bodies unidentified, who have been kidnapped a couple of days before and tortured and then killed by the security forces, and they throw them out on the street. This kind of scenes, apparently, happening a lot of times, so that activists have been telling us.

And nobody of the activists have been, for a couple of hours, able to get close to the people and to remove them in order to get them buried, because they would get shot by the snipers who are around them.

ANDERSON: Can you just describe to me how you felt about what you saw while you were there as we look at pictures of protesters burning a flag with the president's face on it, here.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Yes, for me, I think, the people in Homs and the people -- the activists who have been demonstrating for already nine months crossed a point of no return. They are realizing that so many -- they've been through, because of their uprising, even if the regime -- if they felt with the uprising, the regime would come and kill everybody.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: So, they rather would continue to fight in order to be succeeding -- victory.

ANDERSON: And sir, the last video, here, that you've -- that you have given to us and that we are showing our viewers tonight is of a funeral for a small boy. The story there, if you will.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: The -- the funeral of the 19-year-old Malik was a guy who was crossing a checkpoint, and they let him get through, and then, after a couple of meters, they shot him in the head. This was at the outskirts of Homs.

And this funeral, where basically the whole city -- village went to the funeral, and it turns out to be a political demonstration. It was one of the moments I've been -- realizing that these kinds of killings are happening every day.

ANDERSON: Yes. Remarkable footage. We very much appreciate your time and your efforts to bring the story to us here on CNN and, therefore, for our viewers watching around the world. Thank you for that.

Homs is more than a place under siege. It's full of people, of course, trying to survive the days. We want to show you more of the human face of Syria. You can get that at the website,, you'll find a special gallery showing how Homs is standing up to death and terror.

And I've got to warn you, you may find some of the images difficult to look at when you get there, but do look. The depth and breadth of CNN as a brand there on the website.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. When we come back, he dominates Russian politics, but is his star power starting to fade? We're going to take a look at Vladimir Putin's political journey and his future in just a moment.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. Just days after one of the biggest demonstrations against his 12-year rule, Russia's prime minister now says he is ready to talk with the opposition. We're talking about Vladimir Putin, of course, who told the Kremlin press corps on Wednesday the dialogue should take place, but the protest group needed to find a common position. That was his sense, at least.

Well, thousands in Russia braved the bitter cold on Saturday, demanding a review of the disputed parliamentary elections that kept Putin's party in power. His party got more than 49 percent of the vote.

Prime Putin has undoubtedly dominated Russian political life for more than a decade, nearly two, but now his place at the top is being questioned. CNN's Phil Black takes a look back at what was a rapid rise to power and why this master of stunts may be running out of tricks.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In late 1991, the Soviet Union was breaking apart. Russians were anxious about their future, and Vladimir Putin was working for the mayor of St. Petersburg.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, FORMER ADVISER TO THE MAYOR OF ST. PETERSBURG (through translator): We all feel -- and I should say, even I sometimes do -- that if somebody will come and establish order in our country with a strong hand, then our life will be better, safer, and more comfortable.

But in reality, this comfort will go away very soon, and the strong hand will start strangling us.


BLACK: Fast-forward 20 years, and tens of thousands of people have been protesting because they believe their political rights are being strangled by the strong hand of Vladimir Putin, the former law student and KGB officer who climbed from city official to Russian president in less than a decade.

Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov is now one of Putin's harshest critics.

GARRY KASPARAOV, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: I think if anybody told us in August 90, 91 that nine years later, the country would be run by a KGB lieutenant colonel, this person would look like a laughingstock.

BLACK: Putin consolidated power, bringing stability and a talent for self-promotion. In 11 years, the world has seen him ride -- without a shirt and fully clothed. He dives. Flies. And throws.

And every year, he takes questions on national television from people across the country. This year's show went for more than four hours.

BLACK (on camera): What do you think of the way he uses television to portray himself as this tough action man?

KASPAROV: Television has made Vladimir Putin, and he believes in the magic of television.

BLACK (voice-over): But Vladimir Putin's spokesman tells me the image accurately reflects the man.

DMITRY PESKOV, PUTIN SPOKESMAN: Well, he's an extremely charismatic person. He's a tough guy, but he's a very balanced guy. He's a predictable guy. And he's a constructive guy.

BLACK: Peskov says that's why Putin can inspire such powerful loyalty, especially among some young people. Putin officially sanctions the Nashi youth organization, whose members adore and promote him.

Others have set up independent groups, like the women in Putin's Army. Here, they're wearing very little and washing Russian-made cars because Vladimir Putin likes Russian-made cars.

The young have declared their affection in ink and in song.


PESKOV: There are lots and lots, thousands and thousands of young people who simply want to see stable, predictable country.

BLACK: But young people are also numerous in the anti-Putin movement, and they're not buying into the personality cult. During his most recent Q&A show, the Russian word for "Botox" was trending on Twitter. Despite official denials, rumors persist the Russian prime minister is looking younger because he's had a little help.

PESKOV: Why should we react closely to rumors? The less you react to rumors, less they appear.

KASPAROV: He has changed. If you look at his face, you recognize that he is desperately trying to catch up with age.

BLACK: Putin's journey has been extraordinary. Once a quietly-spoken official, he has grown to dominate Russian political life with a powerful mix of strength and showmanship. But that formula is now being publicly rejected by man Russians for the first time.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.


ANDERSON: Well, my next guest describes Mr. Putin as a "complicated character," but said he -- says he's still the most popular politician in Russia. Lord Peter Truscott is the author of "Russia First," and he's here with us now in the studio.

There's no doubting his dominance over the past, what? Nearly two decades. Does he, though, do you think, still have what it takes, even though he is, perhaps, the most popular politician in Russia?

PETER TRUSCOTT, AUTHOR, "RUSSIA FIRST": Well, I think he's been shaken by recent events.


TRUSCOTT: I mean, if you go back to when he first stood as president, his opinion poll rating was about 70 percent. And it's halved. So, he will be concerned that he and his circle in the Kremlin are concerned about the way things are going.

But nevertheless, he still is the leading politician in Russia. No one else really touches him in terms of the level of his popularity.


TRUSCOTT: So, even with his current levels of public support, he will still walk the election in March.

ANDERSON: I think our viewers probably need some sort of expert analysis on what that opposition is. How much pulling power do his opponents who might stand against him actually have?

TRUSCOTT: Well, not very much. I mean, the thing is, if you try and identify a leading opposition figure, there just isn't one at the moment.

There have been one or two figures that have been involved in this protest movement, like Boris Nemstov. Others that have not taken part, like Garry Kasparov. One or two others, like Oligarch Prokhorov, who's saying that they might stand. But none of them are really on the radar screen as far as political support is concerned.

And you have the Communists, who do quite well in the latest parliamentary elections, the Duma elections. But if there's a runoff between Putin and Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader, Putin will win.

ANDERSON: Yes, he wants -- he wants the first round, of course, with over 50 percent of the vote on March the 4th.

Based, Peter, on what you know of Putin, is he looking for power, is he looking for prestige, is he looking for wealth, is it all of the above? What floats his boat?

TRUSCOTT: Well, I think he -- he thinks of himself as the good czar of Russia. He took over from Boris Yeltsin, who was virtually an alcoholic at the -- in his last years. People have had their savings wiped out by hyper inflation.

Putin delivered nine years of economic growth, and people's living standards increased. So, he sees himself as someone that the country needs. They need a strong leader, and he sees himself as that leader, and he sees himself as that leader. And he sees that there's no one else capable of doing the job, in his eyes.

So, he sees himself as sort of Peter the Great, one of the people that he admires, Peter the Great, he's Russia's sort of modern Peter the Great.

ANDERSON: Yes, all right. Different economic cycle, of course, this time. Let's see what happens. March the 4th, of course, the beginning of that presidential election. Peter, thank you.

TRUSCOTT: Thank you.

ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, 49 minutes past 9:00 in London. When we come back, breaking the mold in Saudi Arabia. Meet the soldier behind an artistic revolution in the Arab world.


ANDERSON: Well, throughout the Arab Spring in 2011, Saudi Arabia has remained relatively peaceful, but the country hasn't escaped calls for change, at least. And the loudest have come from a soldier who also happens to be an artist.

For tonight's Big Interview, I sat down with Abdulnasser Gharem, who's helping to start a cultural revolution in what is the oil-rich kingdom. Have a look at this.


ANDERSON (voice-over): The career soldier in the Saudi Arabian army who created this and became one of his country's most celebrated, if not provocative, artists.

ANDERSON (on camera): What inspired that piece?

ABDULNASSER GHAREM, ARTIST: When I was looking at things around me, there was overreacting everywhere. The Shiites, the Christian -- like an age of the Christian and Muslim -- what's the -- whites. Even in the football match between Egypt or Algeria -- wow. They want to kill each other. I said, wow. It's just football.

So, I said, why don't I do an artwork with overreacting? I will practice the overreacting in my artwork.

ANDERSON (voice-over): The ornate dome known as "Message" or "Messenger" is at once a symbol of religion and a trap which uses peace as the bait.

It made history at a Dubai auction in April, fetching more than $800,000, believed to be a record for an Arab artist. Part of the proceeds were donated to a group that encourages the development of young artists.

ANDERSON (on camera): That piece was sold at the height of the Arab Spring. How do you think what was going on geopolitically in the region affected the auction, if at all?

GHAREM: I don't know. I don't know. I think even that guy who bought it, he was overreacting. What happened in that auction was overreacting, I think.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Overreaction or not, Abdulnasser Gharem is now recognized as a pioneer of the contemporary art movement in Saudi. A movement that is less than a decade old and began with public installations like that.

GHAREM: There was no books, no television in my country, and no museums. So what I did, I said, OK, I'm going to go to the street and go to the real audience and start with a performance. I like the performance.

I just stay in the middle of the street and I wrap myself on the tree so everybody come to me, they said, "What are you doing? What's that?" So, wow, they started to think and search.

ANDERSON: And such is the artist's mission, to encourage the younger generation to think and search. A message illustrated in another key artwork, "Sirat."

GHAREM: It's a bridge. And there was raining on that day, so the people came, and one of them told them, "OK, I think the bridge is the safest place."

So, they brought their cars and their goats and these things, because they were farmers, so they go to the bridge. And suddenly, the flash just came, and it broke the bridge and took them all away.

So, I use this story, why did they believe this guy? What's that? They were like a goat or something, they just carried it. That's what's going on with us. Someone is going to stand and tell us what to do, or just follow him, without any --

ANDERSON: Gharem points to his own upbringing during Saudi Arabia's strict religious revival in the 1980s. Cinemas were banned, the sexes more segregated, women were forbidden from driving.

GHAREM: The most dangerous thing was -- me and my generation, we were in the schools, like when the English class came. There is someone, they call him "mullah" (ph), you know the mullah who is. And he would say, "Guys, this is not good to you. English is not good. Let's study something that will help you in your life."

I said, "What?"

They said, "The Holy Koran." So indeed they're getting the Holy Koran.

So, we were happy, we don't like the English. This is much easier. So, in the end, when we graduate from the college, I have nothing. We study nothing.

ANDERSON (on camera): You're self-taught, of course. You went to school the only really art lessons that you did were with two boys who would go on to be 9/11 bombers. Do you reflect on them at all and what drove them to do what they did?

GHAREM: They were with me in the same class, you can't believe it. I mean, they were one of the best boys in the class. They were -- we like them. They are good, they were good. They were -- fun and they want to do everything and they want to be -- they were friendly, so friendly.

And they were from a rich family. And I didn't believe it. They are from the same class, and we studied the same -- we have the same learning.

ANDERSON (voice-over): But such a different path.

ANDERSON (on camera): Who is Abdulnasser Gharem, the artist?

GHAREM: He's a guy who is taking care of his -- of his society. That's what I'm trying to do.

ANDERSON: Do women in Saudi Arabia inspire any of your work, out of interest?

GHAREM: All that work I'm doing, it's related to the humanity angle. You can't say this is for women or for me. So, I'm taking care when I'm picking my issues or my subjects, I concentrate that will affect the whole people, humanity.

ANDERSON: Do you use a Saudi female driver in a piece of artwork?

GHAREM: I think this is -- I'm looking for a big issue, something that will affect all of us, not only the women, or -- you know.

ANDERSON: You're a senior figure within the Saudi army, yet your art -- I think it's right in saying it's anti-establishment. It certainly challenges authority. How do you balance that contradiction?

GHAREM: It takes me eighteen years to really -- I graduate from college eighteen years ago, and I learned a lot of things from the military. I learned to be patient.

ANDERSON: Are your senior officers buying your work?

GHAREM: Yes -- well, actually, in the beginning, to be honest. In the beginning, they thought I was weird or something. "What's this? Why you are writing on the streets?"

I remember even my father, when he saw me, when I was in this plastic and the tree, and he said, "What are you doing in the plastic?" Politely, when my rank goes up after eighteen years.

Now, the big commander, most of them are apprentices, and they like what I'm doing, and they appreciate it, and they know what I'm doing, and they know the effect of the things I'm doing. So, they are with me.


ANDERSON: And they'd be right to buy his work. It's really quite fascinating. Your Big Interview tonight.

I'm Becky Anderson, that was CONNECT THE WORLD, thank you for watching. The world news headlines, as ever, and "BackStory" follow this short break, so don't go away.