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CONNECT THE WORLD

Protests in Nigeria; Interview with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Report from Inside Syria; Ahmadinejad Abroad; FIFA Handed Out; Mitt Romney Slipping in Polls

Aired January 9, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: It's Africa's biggest oil producer, so why are Nigerians taking desperate measures just to survive?

Live from London, I'm Becky Anderson.

Also tonight, as the Republican race for the White House moves to the U.S. state of New Hampshire, I'll ask veteran correspondent Dan Rather who he's picking to take on Obama.

And Lionel Messi scores yet another hat trick. But this time it's not on the pitch.

First up tonight, anger over soaring fuel prices leads to a paralyzing nationwide strike in Nigeria. Africa's most populous nation hit with mass protests today. Police in some areas fired tear gas and, reportedly, even bullets, to break up the demonstrations. Some reports say as many as five people were shot to death.

Nigeria's largest city in the north, Kano, is under curfew tonight, an effort by authorities there to restore order.

Well, protesters are serious that the government ended a fuel subsidy on January the 1st, causing fuel prices there to more than double overnight.

Vladimir Duthiers joins us now from Lagos with an update -- Vladimir, the story?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as I said, Becky, Nigerians are extremely upset, angry, in fact, over the ending of the fuel subsidies by President Goodluck Jonathan and his government, which ended on January 1st. The price of a liter of petrol over the last couple of weeks has more than doubled to approximately, now, 86 cents per liter.

So for typical Nigerians living on less than $2 a day, that doubling for the price of petrol is a real hardship that some are finding very, very difficult to bear.

We went to some of the protests today. There were thousands of people out. All the shops were closed. Businessmen -- basically, businesses have ground to a halt today. People are saying that they're going to keep doing this over the next couple of days.

We went to one of the protests. Thousands showed up. We spoke to some people there and this is what they had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUTHIERS: What is the price -- how does the rising price of fuel affect you?

Do you drive a motorcycle?

Do you drive a car?

Basically, it affects to me because the price of food has really gone up astronomically and transportation, as well. So I don't drive, actually, at the moment, but I take transport and I eat off from the public market as far as so. I mean it's really gone up so high. And it's really biting, to be honest with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: you know, it's besides logic. I'll give you an example. I pay my driver 50,000 niara a month. We did not (INAUDIBLE). It's not the average cost for paying drivers. He traveled to Ibadan last week, 800 naira. Coming back, he paid 1,800 naira.

When is he going to expect -- he's going to expect more money. He's going to expect it from me. If my income is not increased, I can't pay him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DUTHIERS: Yes, so, Becky, you can see, people are fired up in the streets today. We even spoke to one person who said that many of their neighbors in the neighborhood where we were visiting can barely afford to even eat one single meal because of the doubling of the price of petrol.

So, again, people are concerned, people are angry. They vow to keep protesting over the next couple of days, weeks, even, if it takes that long for President Jonathan to -- to hear their concerns. And a lot of people we spoke to also said that they in a -- in a way can understand what the president's is trying to do. The president is saying that he needs to end these fuel subsidies so that he can revamp, revitalize the Nigerian economy to pump some money into the -- the very fragile infrastructure here. But a lot of people are saying this is not the right time to do that now.

The president is also facing, you know, problems in the northeastern part of the country with the attacks by Boko Haram on Christian churches, which have happened practically every day since December 25th.

And so people are just saying this is just too much at the moment for them to bear and they're angry and they vow to keep fighting and keep taking to the streets until President Jonathan listens to them -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Vladimir Duthiers with the story out of Nigeria this evening.

And, Vladimir, thank you for that.

As well as taking to the streets, Nigerians have been venting their anger online, many of you getting in touch with us on our Facebook page.

MaryAnne, for example, is furious. She writes: "The Nigerian government is corrupt and has milked the economy dry. The cost of living is very high and the income level of the majority of Nigerians is at its lowest."

Well, do you agree with MaryAnne?

Head to Facebook.com/CNNconnect and tell us how you feel.

CNN iReporters also sharing their stories. Hadissa (ph), who has recently taken part in protests, sent in these photos from Abuja. She writes: "The fuel hike will affect not only transport, but the price of food, of clothing, construction costs, while salaries, of course, still remain the same."

Well, Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the government also in the firing line.

Have a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLAS IBEKWE: I am against the removal of fuel subsidies, because that is the -- trusting is -- the government is not leading by example. If you are asking Nigerians to tighten their belts and to go through some austerity measures, you should lead. I mean leadership is always by example.

The government is unwilling to fight the corrupt few who are reaping a lot of money and which they have also come out to claim that this is all about corruption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: OK, we've got the finance minister on the line for you.

Before I do that, we want to get some context for this anger over the government's removal of this fuel subsidy.

Nigeria, do remember, is Africa's biggest oil producer and the eighth largest oil exporter in the world. Now, oil accounts for 90 percent of the country's exports and more than four fifths of the government's revenue. Nigeria produces nearly two-and-a-half million barrels of crude a day and yet, ironically, it relies on imports to meet its domestic fuel needs. Seventy percent of Nigeria's refined gasoline comes from places as far away as Venezuela and the United States. And that is because Nigeria's own refineries are ineffective and in a state of disrepair after years of mismanagement and neglect.

Well, the government itself says the money saved from ending the fuel subsidy will help badly needed infrastructure problems building the stuff that's needed. Many Nigerians simply don't trust the government and fear the money will end up in the wrong pockets.

Let's talk about all of this with Nigeria's finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

She joins us on the line from Abuja the government.

We've heard the government say it would be economic suicide to give in. But in the past, subsidies have been reinstated in the face of protests.

Will your president cave in at this point?

Is he going to compromise with these protesters?

NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA, NIGERIAN FINANCE MINISTER: I think we -- we -- this is a -- a decision that, you know, we -- we -- the president and the vice president and the vice president we'll need to -- to -- to make. At this point in time, we are focusing on how do we get the benefits from the savings of these oil subsidies so that we can improve all these conditions that Nigerians are angry about.

ANDERSON: Right. Well, the...

OKONJO-IWEALA: I tell you, we totally understand the anger that Nigerians have and the upset. And I think it goes beyond subsidies. Like you said, Nigerians have -- there's an issue of trust between the government and the people which has gone on over years.

And so this is like an outlet for all the issues of how do we fight waste, how do we fight corruption?

ANDERSON: So...

OKONJO-IWEALA: And that's totally understood.

ANDERSON: I -- I think we go so far...

OKONJO-IWEALA: But we cannot let...

ANDERSON: No, let me just stop you there...

OKONJO-IWEALA: -- the mistakes of the past...

ANDERSON: -- I think we go...

OKONJO-IWEALA: -- define the future. We must move forward.

ANDERSON: We'd go so far as to say there is this sort of all pervasive mistrust, to not just the president and the government, but what many Nigerians see as a corrupt cabal of politicians and businessmen and women.

What do you do about that?

OKONJO-IWEALA: Well, what -- what needs to be done about that is, first, you have to stop any sort of rate -- rate seeking (ph), you know, corruption. And this is what the phase-out is also trying to do. Then you have to go after those, investigate and get those who may have participated in this. And the government, the president, yesterday in a broadcast, committed to go after corrupt -- fight corruption and show by example that he's going to do that.

In addition, we are also going to look at government waste and inefficiency. And we've already started to do that. It's not even that we are going to. and this is totally understood, that we have to tighten up the way the government works and improve governance.

But I think it's very important to see that these resources, you know, are going to be used to focus on areas of inclusion, including people who have been left out.

So this is the program that will support women from dying. We have a very high maternal mortality rate and assets and services are just limited. It's unconscionable that we should let our women die in childbirth when we have the answer to that.

And this money is going to -- the money going to child -- maternal mortality will save twelve million lives.

ANDERSON: Right.

OKONJO-IWEALA: It's unconscionable that we can't help our children...

ANDERSON: OK...

OKONJO-IWEALA: -- and young people get jobs.

ANDERSON: I hear what you are saying...

OKONJO-IWEALA: It should be...

ANDERSON: I hear what you are saying.

OKONJO-IWEALA: -- (INAUDIBLE) 270,000 jobs a year.

ANDERSON: Let me just stop you there. I hear what you're saying. But many people watching this program tonight, including many of those in Nigeria, don't believe you when you say this money will go to the right places.

How can you convince people tonight that the $8 billion that will be saved from these subsidies, for example, will go to the right causes, to that which you've just talked about and to the infrastructure of a -- of an industry which should be -- which should make Nigeria one of the richest countries in the world?

OKONJO-IWEALA: Well, let me say this. Remember that Nigeria has 167 million people. It's a large country. It's not one of those small oil producing countries. And there has been disinvestment in infrastructure over the years.

We need about $70 million a year to restore infrastructure. This is not the mistake of one government. It has been happening over the years. And we have to focus on that.

How will they know?

The only way they can know is by us doing it. And so what I'm saying is for the infrastructure, the specific roads to be repaired, the railway lines to be rehabilitated will be stated. The amount of money being saved for this benefit or subsidy will be...

ANDERSON: All right.

OKONJO-IWEALA: -- published each month, each month, for every Nigerian to see. And where it is going will be published in the newspapers so that people can go and see, are they really building -- putting this money into birth attendants for women?

Are they really creating these jobs?

Are they repairing such and such a road?

Is work going on on this railway?

This will be a very transparent, specific plan. There is also going to be an oversight board of very trusted and credible Nigerian (INAUDIBLE) will oversee this. They don't have to take the word of (INAUDIBLE).

ANDERSON: All right. And with that...

OKONJO-IWEALA: They themselves can monitor what's going on.

ANDERSON: And with that, we're going to have to leave it there.

We do appreciate your time this evening, the finance minister from Nigeria on the line for you here on CNN on CONNECT THE WORLD.

Thank you for that.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London.

Still to come, brazen attacks in demonstrators -- on demonstrations in Syria even as Arab League monitors look on. We're going to get a live update from Damascus, where CNN now has a reporter inside Syria for the first time in months.

Save yourself or save others -- the financial crisis film that asks viewers what decision they would make.

And she may be a duchess, but she ages just like the rest of us. We mark Kate's big birthday with a look back at her royal journey.

That's all coming up on CNN.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Welcome back.

Syria's state news agency says President Bashir Assad will give a speech tomorrow on the country's internal matters. He's under increasing pressure to end the deadly crackdown on protesters. But so far nothing, not even an Arab League observer mission, has stopped the violence.

Well, this video posted on YouTube appears to show anti-government demonstrators coming under fire in Homs earlier today in the presence of League observers.

Syria is now allowing some foreign journalists to report from inside the country, including CNN's Nic Robertson.

And his equipment, though, was confiscated upon arrival, so he joins us now by phone from Damascus -- the scene there, Nic, this evening.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, we're not allowed to have any live broadcast equipment in the country. We can have our cameras. We've been able to travel around the capital. We're not allay -- allowed - - been given permission to go places like Homs, where those -- that video appeared to show observers with opposition anti-government supporters with gunshots ringing out. We weren't able to go there. We haven't be able to go there.

But the Arab League monitors here are caught in the middle of an increasingly polarized society, the pro-government faction, the anti- government faction. The Arab League monitors are trusted by neither side.

The pro-government supporters see them as stooges for regime change, the anti-government sides see them as weak and ineffective and unable to have a -- Syria fulfill its requirement to the Arab League, and that is to remove the tanks and armed forces from the streets.

At an anti-government protest today, we saw a young man, 32 years old. His father told us he had been shot by government security forces the night before. We saw him being buried. People there showed us wounds, gunshot wounds that they said they had received at the hands of government security forces, that they'd been unable to leave that area to get proper treatment. Indeed, some of the wounds that we saw looked quite infected.

And at the same time, that was just a couple of miles outside the capital. In the center of the capital, pro-government rallies there clearly very heavily sponsored and organized by the government, huge speakers, a huge PA system, much more of a carnival atmosphere compared to the anti-government rally, where people were angry, they were frightened, they were scared about their safety and security.

But what is clear is nobody is bringing these two sides together, not the government, not the Arab League and certainly it -- it appears at the moment as if the collision course of both sides is still set. The government, however, does seem to maintain a degree of control over the capital, parts of the rest of the country and in some areas, it almost looks like situation normal.

But again, we're not allowed to leave the capital right now -- Becky.

ANDERSON: CNN's Nic Robertson there. The first time in the country, of course, for a very long time for a very, very few foreign journalists.

Getting a picture from Nic out of Damascus this evening.

Let's get you a look at some of the other stories connecting our world tonight.

And Iran has convicted a former U.S. Marine of spying for the United States and sentenced him to death. Amir Hekmati Amir Hekmati was arrested in August while visiting relatives in Iran and accused of espionage. Both the states and Hekmati's family deny that he is a spy.

Well, the sentence was announced on the same day that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, began a four nation tour of Latin America. He arrived today in Venezuela and also plans to visit Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.

Now, that trip comes just as the United Nations nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran has started enriching uranium at a new, underground site.

Earlier today, CNN's Christiane Amanpour weighed in on all of these developments out of Iran, beginning with that U.S. Marine accused of spying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This announcement by a hard- line newspaper, for instance, of the sentencing of an Iranian-American, again, the U.S. is trying to confirm it. But what this is, is sort of like a tit for tat. The U.S. accused Iran of trying to assassinate its Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and now here's Iran's response to it.

At the same time, Iran now saying that it's starting enrichment to 20 percent at this Fordo underground nuclear plant near Qom. Well, Iran has actually been doing enrichment to 20 percent since the whole medical reactor deal fell apart more than a year ago.

The fact that it's underground poses problems because the United States knows that I can't really do anything about it.

So what you've got is a real ratcheting up of defiance, of pressure from both sides now. And people are very, very concerned that this is going nowhere good.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ANDERSON: CNN's Christiane Amanpour reporting for you.

Well, a Polish military prosecutor is alive, but severely injured after he shot himself in the head following a news conference. Now, that prosecutor has been defending his team's behavior during an investigation into the 2010 plane crash that killed the Polish president. He told reporters he needed a break. A moment later, they heard this.

(GUNSHOTS)

ANDERSON: Doctors say he has a skull injury but is expected to survive.

Well, former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, is defending his leadership. Speaking through video link from Dubai to supporters on Sunday, he said Pakistan has to decide whether it needs change, or, quote, "the same faces." Well, in an exclusive interview, he told CNN that while he may also be an old political leader, he succeeded where others failed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, FORMER PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: I am one of the old. But the difference is the other olds have not performed. They have failed the country. They have been tried -- tried (INAUDIBLE) over, every time failed.

I have tried -- been tried once for 10 years and I succeeded. There's a lot of difference. So anyone has to talk with logic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, Musharraf has avowed to return to Pakistan and run for office despite authorities there threatening to arrest him if he does, though.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London.

Up next, we are off to find out who the best footballer on the planet is.

Could Lionel Messi win the prestigious award for a third straight year?

Well, Pedro Pinto is there and he's going to tell us all about it, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: A very warm welcome back.

Twenty-four minutes past nine here in London.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

I'm Becky Anderson.

Now, the FIFA Ballon D'Or Awards were handed out in Zurich on Monday night.

Our own Pedro Pinto attended the ceremony and joins us live from Switzerland.

Don't keep us in suspense.

Did Mr. Lionel Messi make it three in a row?

PEDRO PINTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did. It's a hat trick. It was another magical night for Messi as he beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi to take home the FIFA Ballon D'Or yet again, Becky.

I can tell you that he got 48 percent of the votes. Ronaldo with 22; cvii with nine. Another unforgettable night for the Argentine legend, I think we can call him that now, after the amount of awards he's won with his team and individually, as well.

The stars are rolling out here in Zurich at the Congress House. Just a few minutes ago, I had a chance to catch up with Messi and he told me what the latest award meant to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIONEL MESSI, SOCCER PLAYER (through translator): This is one is just as special as the other two I have won. Team trophies are more important to me, but this is still a great prize to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PINTO: There was a total of eight prizes handed out here at the Congress House. I'll mention another two. The FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Award went to Homare Sawa, who led Japan to the FIFA World Cup in 2011 and also Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach, got the FIFA Coach of the Year after winning a total of five trophies in 2011.

A night filled with emotion, a night filled with glory for Barcelona, as they were definitely the big winners on this night, Becky. And it's all about Messi once again.

Can he make it four years in a row?

ANDERSON: Wow!

PINTO: No one has ever done that. A year from now, we'll find out.

ANDERSON: Remarkable.

And an award to you for not getting run over while you spoke to us. There's lots of activity there behind you.

Well done.

Truth.

Amazing stuff.

Here in England, racism and football, I'm afraid, are -- are once again joined at the hip. And once again, it is Liverpool here at the center of it.

Joining me now to discuss the latest is Don Riddell.

We would much rather, of course, be talking about Lionel Messi and the greatest footballers ever.

But this is a story we've been doing on CNN CCW here on CONNECT THE WORLD for some weeks now.

We wish it would go away, but it's not going away.

DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

ANDERSON: This is racism in British football.

RIDDELL: Well, absolutely. And -- and two stories, really, over the weekend. I mean just today, we've -- well, over the weekend, we had a man charged with racially abusing the former Liverpool striker, Stan Collymore, on Twitter. That was reported to the police. They have now charged the man.

And then, of course, over the weekend, we had a Liverpool fan, who has since been released on bail, but he was questioned by police over the weekend for allegedly racially abusing an Oldham player at Enfield on Friday night during a -- an FA Cup match.

Now, this is -- it's just awful, as you say. It has to be said that English football really has made great strides with regards to tackling racism from the terraces, because you remember what it was like when we were growing up here. It was absolutely terrible in the '70s and '80s.

It -- it's great to be able to say that, by and large, that doesn't happen anymore. But occasionally it does happen. It hits the headlines when it does. And because it's Liverpool, it's really hit the headlines. You've got a Liverpool fan bailed as a result of this. An investigation is continuing.

But remember, it was Liverpool's own player, Luis Suarez, who was banned for eight games for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra earlier in the season.

Now, Liverpool were absolutely defiant in their defense of their player. You may recall that when he was originally banned, they all came out wearing Suarez t-shirts, including the Liverpool manager. And then when the report was published by the Football Association, it was revealed that, yes, he really had racially abused Evra and he really was guilty and he's now serving an eight game ban.

And just weeks later, you've got Liverpool fans allegedly racially abusing visiting players. So...

ANDERSON: You make a really good point when you say when we grew up in the '70s and '80s, it -- it was -- I don't know, some of the stuff that you heard on the terraces and -- and some of the stuff that some of these footballers had to put up with was just appalling.

Things are so much better now. So the FA are right, though, aren't they, to be picking up on these -- let's call them, you know, the -- the exceptions that prove the rule?

RIDDELL: Well -- well, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean if -- you only eradicate this, in the experience that we've seen in this country, through zero tolerance. That's how you do it. And, of course it starts with the behavior of the players on the pitch. So -- and let's be honest, footballers aren't very nice to each other on the pitch. And we've got so many more cameras and microphones now and it's all picked up.

And I you go to games, you can still hear players swearing at each other and not being very nice to each other.

That seems to still be acceptable. But racially abusing another player is absolutely unacceptable. And they are clamping down on it.

ANDERSON: Well, "WORLD SPORT," of course, coming up in about an hour's time with Don.

We're going to show you how Arsenal did against that Leeds United, I think that that -- that Thierry Henry...

RIDDELL: He's on the pitch at the moment but still playing, yes.

ANDERSON: Is he?

RIDDELL: Yes.

ANDERSON: I don't believe he's back. The second daisy (ph), of course, with the Gooners, as we call them here, with Arsenal. We're looking forward to that.

Thank you very much, indeed.

An hour from now, "WORLD SPORT" with -- "WORLD SPORT" with Don Riddell.

Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD here, taking the plunge. With 200 days to go until the starting gun, find out why cabinet ministers swapped Downing Street for London's Olympic Park.

And then the frontrunner in the Republican race for president slips in the polls ahead of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. We're going to take a look at Mitt Romney's effort to stay on top.

Plus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN SPACEY AS SAM ROGERS, "MARGIN CALL": Wait a minute. What am I looking at?

PAUL BETTANY AS WILL EMERSON, "MARGIN CALL": This figure here.

SPACEY AS ROGERS: Whoa, is that -- ?

BETTANY AS EMERSON: It gets ugly in a hurry.

SPACEY AS ROGERS: Is that figure right?

PENN BADGLEY AS SETH BREGMAN, "MARGIN CALL": Looks pretty right to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: A unique perspective on the decisions that led to the financial crisis. We're going to speak to the director of "Margin Call," who also happens to be the son of a banker. That's coming up next half hour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: At just after half past nine in London, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN. Let's get you a check of the world news headlines at this point.

Nigerians virtually shut down the country today as a general strike began over fuel prices. Police in some areas fired tear gas and reportedly even bullets to break up the demonstrations. Some reports say several protesters were killed.

Syrian state-run media report that President Bashar al-Assad will address the nation on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of Syrians poured onto the streets of Damascus on Monday for funerals and anti-government demonstrations. Opposition activists say 23 people were killed around the country.

A court in Iran has sentenced former US marine Amir Mirza Hekmati to death. He is convicted of spying for the CIA. The US government denies these allegations. Hekmati's family says the verdict was the result of a process that was, quote, "neither transparent nor fair."

At least 12 people were killed when two car bombs exploded in Baghdad. Shias were the apparent targets. They've been coming under attack recently in the run-up to the Arbaeen, one of the holiest days on the Shiite calendar.

And US Republican presidential candidates are making their final pitches to voters in the US state of New Hampshire. That state holds its primary on Tuesday, the second contest in what is the Republican race.

With less than 24 hours to go before voting begins, the field in New Hampshire is still taking shape. In a poll released today, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is on top, but his lead is slipping.

Congressman Ron Paul is gaining steam, and so is former US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, who skipped last week's Iowa caucuses entirely to focus on New Hampshire.

As CNN's Dan Lothian now reports, the two states are very different, and this is still anyone's race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the Republican presidential hopefuls, New Hampshire is the second stop on the road to the White House.

But unlike the first stop in Iowa, Independent voters, who make up about 40 percent of the electorate, are in the driver's seat. And most come to the table with strong partisan views, according to the University of New Hampshire's Andrew Smith.

ANDREW SMITH, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: Some of them are Democrats, some of them are true Independents. Most of them are really Republicans.

LOTHIAN: But Elizabeth Ossoff from New Hampshire's Institute of Politics says don't call them renegades.

ELIZABETH OSSOFF, NEW HAMPSHIRE'S INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: I wouldn't call them renegades as much as I would call them fiercely independent in the sense that they're going to make up their own minds.

LOTHIAN: What happened in Iowa, or what the pundits predict, doesn't necessarily sell in New Hampshire. Voters here relish the vetting process. Large town hall meetings are a kind of appetizer to the real meal, that up- close encounter on Main Street.

But New Hampshire radio host Paul Westcott says some of his listeners feel like some contenders have tuned them out.

PAUL WESTCOTT, HOST, WGIR RADIO: The candidates, they came, and some of them have spent a lot of time here.

LOTHIAN: Like Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and early on, Rick Santorum. But --

WESTCOTT: It just didn't happen as much, and the candidates kind of stayed away.

LOTHIAN: Their daily planners were packed with a lot of debates, visits to Iowa, and national media interviews. In an election cycle where Republicans are having a difficult time rallying behind one candidate, some Independent voters here are still scratching their heads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the Republican field, I'm not too impressed.

LOTHIAN: Mitt Romney, the former governor from neighboring Massachusetts, has consistently maintained a lead over his closest opponents, a clear front-runner in the Granite State. But Smith says it's not a warm embrace.

SMITH: Romney, well, we may not like you too much, but you're probably the guy with the best chance. So, I think that's the kind of dynamic that's going on as well.

LOTHIAN: Former senator Rick Santorum is getting a second look after his near victory in Iowa. And Newt Gingrich is attacking the front-runner who cost him his fortunes in Iowa.

OSSOFF: I think it's dangerous to make predictions in New Hampshire. I really do. And I think you have to wait until the last possible minute.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, it may be dangerous to make predictions, but that's exactly what we're going to do. We're also going to dig a little deeper into who these candidates are and what voters are hoping to hear from them in the last few hours before voting begins.

I've got something for you, now. Veteran journalist Dan Rather is in Manchester, New Hampshire, covering the primary, joining us now, live. It's an absolute delight to have you with us tonight, sir. It's fair to say you've covered more than a couple of these. So, how's this primary stacking up?

DAN RATHER, HOST, "DAN RATHER REPORTS": Well, first thing to know about New Hampshire is it's almost totally unpredictable. That's number one. Number two, it has a history of really liking to surprise the pundits, the pollsters, the experts.

We're in the last 24 hours of this particular campaign which, as you pointed out, is a long march to get the Republican nomination, and while Governor Mitt Romney from nearby Massachusetts has consistently shown a lead in the polls, he and his staff have to be concerned if not alarmed in the last couple of days, because his lead has been shrinking.

So, the overview here is as follows. The Republicans have a great chance to capture the American presidency in 2012. President Obama starts out as an -- at least a bit of an underdog because of unemployment figures and some problems with his administration.

But the Republicans are having a great deal of trouble deciding on whom they want to oppose the president. It's not over. Romney, he has the lead, it's his to lose. But he can lose it, and I do caution that one should be prepared for a surprise in New Hampshire.

For example, Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, has been coming up visibly in the last few days, so stand by for a surprise out of New Hampshire.

ANDERSON: Dan, people -- well, there are people who refer to the voters in New Hampshire as renegades. Would you call them renegades? What makes them special? What makes them important in New Hampshire?

RATHER: No, no. No. They're definitely not renegades. You -- New Hampshire has a justifiable reputation of being independent with a capital "I." But they're not renegades, not really mavericks.

This is all part of the dance of democracy American-style. And there is a very large percentage of people who are truly independent, which is to say, sometimes they vote Republican, sometimes they vote Democratic, sometimes they vote for a third party.

But certainly not renegades by any dictionary or other definition of that word. Doesn't apply. Independent and proudly so. A very large percentage of the electorate here, that fits. But not renegade.

ANDERSON: So, New Hampshire is important. We've seen Iowa as a caucus. This is the first primary in the series as these presidential hopefuls move towards 2012. If I -- if you were a betting man, which I'm sure you're not, but if you were a betting man, who would be opposing President Obama in November of this year?

RATHER: Well, you're right, I'm a betting man. If I were, I would certainly would not bet the rent money on anybody. But as of right now, it's clearly Mitt -- it's clearly Mitt Romney.

What Romney cannot afford to do -- gets pretty into American politics -- but what he can't afford to do is come out of New Hampshire winning by only a small amount. And then, since he's run against himself, he's been a favorite for so long. If his lead gets as thin as turnip soup, then you're going to hear people say, "Well, yes, he won in New Hampshire, but not nearly much."

But if you're going to Lansbrook, or whatever the big betting thing in London is, you will find that Mitt Romney is the odds-on favorite. He is the candidate that the Obama White House expects to be facing in the number -- in November. If that's -- if you're a betting person, that's the way to bet it, but I repeat, I certainly would not bet any money you need on it, because this situation is far too volatile.

ANDERSON: Right, and this is a long, exhausting process. We are some months away from the election at this point. Let's talk again as we move through the process. It's been an absolute pleasure to have you tonight. Dan Rather, of course, you will know that face, that voice, and that name. Thank you, sir.

New Hampshire is the next stop in America's Choice 2012, of course. Join CNN for coverage on Tuesday. We're going to have the results and analysis live from the second test in 2012 US elections, beginning Tuesday night, midnight in London, 1:00 AM Wednesday in Central Europe, right here on CNN.

This is CONNECT THE WORLD. Still to come --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPACEY AS ROGERS: And aren't we doing what you're thinking of doing?

SIMON BAKER AS JARED COHEN, "MARGIN CALL": Sell it all. Today.

SPACEY AS ROGERS: You're selling something that you know has no value.

JEREMY IRONS AS JOHN TULD, "MARGIN CALL": So that we --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Inside the mind of a banker. The financial crisis film that asks what decision would you make? Our Big Interview is with the director of that movie, JC Chandor, and that is up next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAKER AS COHEN: Look at this people, wandering around with absolutely no idea --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Well, the leaders of France and Germany say they are making progress on their eurozone rescue plan. That's good to hear, isn't it? Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have been meeting in Berlin. They say they are close to agreeing a new treaty that will help prevent another debt crisis by punishing countries who break eurozone budget rules.

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ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): First of all, it is heartening that the negotiations on the fiscal pact are progressing well. There is a good chance that we will already be able to sign the debt breaks and everything that goes with them as soon as now, in January. March at the latest.

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ANDERSON: Well, the banking sector, of course, had been under scrutiny ever since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in late 2008. Politicians and the public have been demanding answers and ofttimes, retribution.

Well, in tonight's Big Interview, film director JC Chandor offers an insight into bankers and the decisions that they face. As CNN's Matthew Chance found, it's a perspective that asks us to consider our own choices.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IRONS AS TULD: What have I told you since the first day you stepped into my office? There are three ways to make a living in this business. Be first, be smarter, or cheat. Now, I don't cheat. And although I like to think we have some pretty smart people in this building, it sure is a hell of a lot easier to just be first.

BAKER AS COHEN: Sell it all. Today.

IRONS AS TULD: Is that even possible, Sam?

SPACEY AS ROGERS: Yes, but at what cost?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the question that pervades "Margin Call," the low-budget thriller on the high-stakes game of investment banking.

CHANCE (on camera): Now, the film is based on or inspired by a true story. One of the main characters is the -- obviously.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANCE: But one of the main characters, for instance, is John Tuld?

JC CHANDOR, WRITER/DIRECTOR, "MARGIN CALL": Yes.

CHANCE: Very similar to Richard Fuld, the head of Lehman Brothers when it collapsed. To what extent is this a dramatization of the collapse of Lehman?

CHANDOR: It's not, in my view. That was sort of -- frankly, I kind of admitted at this point it was probably a mistake to name that character that. It was just as much John Thain as the CEO of Merrill Lynch. So it was Dick Fuld and John Thain sort of combined, which is John Tuld.

The short answer to the question is, in my mind, this is a combination of many different banks. But personally, I always felt that this bank is still in business today, so that it isn't actually really a straight-up Lehman story. It's -- it's more of a story about a bank that still exists because of these actions.

CHANCE (voice-over): It's the first feature film written and directed by JC Chandor, himself the son of an investment banker.

CHANDOR: I personally thought I had a point of view on this subject that would potentially give a more nuanced or human view of the story, and potentially be able to tell a deeper truth about it because of that.

My father had worked in this industry for almost 40 years, so I'd grown up in communities of bankers. And I -- I had gotten wrapped up in the story myself, to a certain extent, and had sort of gotten in over my head on a piece of real estate that I luckily got out alive on.

CHANCE: Chandor, like so many people around the world, had been given a loan to invest in property with few questions asked. He got out before the collapse on the advice of a former banker. His advantage was information. So, too, the characters in "Margin Call."

SPACEY AS ROGERS: You're selling something that you know has no value.

CHANDOR: In Tuld's mind, he believes that this is -- may the strongest survive, and he feels that they have this inside information, this piece of new information, that they are going to act on. And so that selfishness is a pure tenet of what these guys do. Without proper regulation, that can run amok.

CHANCE (on camera): Now, blame is a topic that comes up in the movie. A question of who or what may have been responsible for this crisis. What answer do you come up with?

CHANDOR: I personally didn't ever want the film to exactly blame any one person. I think when you have systemic or potential systemic collapse of the world financial system, we all to a certain extent have a little blame, at least in the United States.

A good percentage of the population got wrapped up in a far smaller kind of -- smaller way than these characters did, but we all are living beyond our means a little bit here.

DEMI MOORE AS SARAH ROBERTSON, "MARGIN CALL": We're going down. And you damn well know it'll be together.

BAKER AS COHEN: I'm not sure that I do know that.

CHANDOR: In this film, though, we obviously pinpoint ourselves right in on these characters and I think the fact that everyone with plausible deniability is able to sort of push the blame onto someone else.

That in itself is part of the reason why we are here, is because no one individual ever felt that they were responsible for their own actions.

CHANCE: Doesn't that approach, though, kind of underplay the extent to which criminality played a role in this? I mean, people were selling securities that they knew were going to fail and then betting against them.

CHANDOR: Part of the -- part of the issue that I felt, personally, was that over the last 15 to 20 years, the regulatory system, certainly in the United States, had been pushed so far down the line that the characters in this film, no one is actually breaking any law or even any regulation. So, it's buyer beware. These were not individuals that they were selling to.

So, one of the most frustrating things, I think, is that there has not been arrests made around the world. And the reason that is is because nothing these characters were doing was against any laws.

SPACEY AS ROGERS: The ground is shifting below our feet. Remember this day, boys.

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ANDERSON: Remember this. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we come back, with 200 days to go until the London Olympics begin, cabinet ministers here get together in an unconventional spot.

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ANDERSON: All right. Well, there are now only 200 days to go until the eyes of the world will turn to London for the 2012 Olympic Games. To mark that countdown, the prime minister and his most senior ministers ditched their office for their first meeting of the year somewhere else. CNN's Dan Rivers reports.

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DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: A very warm welcome to the Olympic Park and happy new year.

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It wasn't the most conventional place to hold a cabinet meeting, but the British prime minister's decision to bring all his ministers to the Olympic Park for their first gathering of 2012 tells you all you need to know about government priorities in this Olympic year.

A vast swathe of previously derelict land in East London has been transformed for London 2012. Six of the eight venues already have so- called legacy operators that will run them after the Games finish.

The Aquatic Center is one, hosting British diving champions who are making the most of the chance to practice in this extraordinary setting in front of an extraordinary audience.

CAMERON: Where we're standing now is going to be taken over by a leisure company, used for local people, and they're expecting 800,000 people to use these pools every year. Those are massive legacy.

RIVERS: London's mayor even dared to go to the top of the highest springboard to watch British hopefuls take the plunge.

TOM DALEY, BRITISH DIVER: I went up with Boris, and yes, he was -- he looked very scared, and he kept saying, "I don't know how you do it. I do not know how you do it."

RIVERS (on camera): It may be 200 days until the start of the Olympics, but some of these venues will be used as soon as next month for world championship and qualifying events. But elsewhere in the Olympic Park, there is still a lot of work left to do.

LORD COE, CHAIRMAN, LONDON ORGANIZING COMMITTEE: Don't run away with the idea we could stage an Olympic event here. We couldn't. We've still got a mountain of work, all the integrated systems, the technology. We've got rooms here to fit out and make sure that it works entirely.

But when you've got with 200 days to go something that pretty much looks like a swimming pool, you're in good shape.

RIVERS (voice-over): Ready for the 15,000 athletes from 200 countries to descend on this Olympic Park, which has progressed rapidly from an urban wasteland into a state-of-the-art complex.

Dan Rivers, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Good stuff. Well, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are ambassadors of the London 2012 Olympics. They've also got the queen's Diamond Jubilee to look forward to this year, as well.

Before all of that, the young royal couple celebrating a milestone birthday. Tomorrow's Kate's 30th. Our Parting Shots takes a look back at what is -- or was a duchess in the making.

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ANDERSON: A very happy birthday from us. I'm Becky Anderson. That was CONNECT THE WORLD, thanks for watching. The world news headlines and "BackStory" up here on CNN after this short break. Don't go away.

END