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Russian Foreign Minister Visits Syria; Growing Regional Polarization Over the Crisis in Syria; Interview with Lord David Owen; Alberto Contador Denies Doping Charge; Concerns About Gas Shortage During European Cold Snap; Flooding in Bulgaria and Cold Across Europe; Greece Under Pressure; Interview With Bollywood Crossover Star Tena Desae

Aired February 7, 2012 - 16:00:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: Tonight on CONNECT THE WORLD, thousands line the streets of Damascus. Russia's foreign minister gets a hero's welcome as he arrives for talks in Syria.

In the city of Homs, more homes are turned to piles of rubble, as the bombardment continues and the violence rages on.

ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CONNECT THE WORLD.

FOSTER: As more countries recall their ambassadors in protest, we'll hear from a former British foreign secretary, who says military intervention shouldn't be ruled out.

Also tonight, Italy introduces emergency measures, as Europe's big freeze puts pressure on gas supplies.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like some of this?

I believe it's called alucaparata (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, if I can't pronounce it. I don't want to eat it.


FOSTER: The best of Hollywood and Bollywood combined -- we speak to one of the stars of a new film premiering in London tonight.

First tonight, new promises from Syria to end the violence, even as the death toll across the country adds nearly two dozen more names.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visited Damascus on Tuesday, meeting with Bashar al-Assad. He says the Syrian president is fully committed to stopping the bloodshed and welcomes an expanded Arab League observer mission.

Lavrov was greeted like a hero in the Syrian capital, payback, perhaps, for Russia's veto of a U.N. resolution that it said amounted to regime change.

An entirely different scene in Homs, Syria's third largest city under siege. Residents and activists say the regime is intensifying a brutal crackdown there, calling it a bloodbath.

We have two live reports on the crisis for you.

CNN's Phil Black is covering Russia's diplomatic mission from Moscow, while Arwa Damon is monitoring the siege of Homs from Beirut for us -- Phil, let's start with you, though.

We've heard promises before from Bashar al-Assad, haven't we?

I mean I just -- what is different this time?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is a bit hazy, Max. But for Russia, after blocking all efforts to pressure Syria in the Security Council, this was its chance to show that it can still influence its ally and show that there is a viable alternative in finding a solution to this conflict.

So as you say, Sergei Lavrov traveled to Damascus today and received that incredibly warm welcome from thousands of Syrians, thanking Russia for their two vetoes in the Security Council. Foreign Minister Lavrov met with President Assad for a number of hours. He emerged declaring the meeting to be a success and that he believed that Assad was very much on side and committed to finding a solution.

Here's a little bit of what Lavrov said after emerging from that meeting.


SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Syria's president has assured us that he fully supports ceasing of all violence, wherever it comes from. With that in mind, Syria has informed the Arab League that it is interested in its observer mission to continue and their team expanded in order for them to be in all hot spots and register any violations of the concept of ceasing of all violence.


BLACK: So Mr. Lavrov says that Assad also committed to a referendum on a new constitution and he very much wants to begin the process of opening a dialogue with members of the opposition.

As I say, it is a bit hazy. It did not stop the violence in Syria today. There is no reason to believe that it will do so any time soon. But with a stalemate in the Security Council, these Russian efforts are the closest thing to a Syrian peace plan. And at the moment, they hinge on a vague promise from Syria's president to begin talking to an opposition movement that has no longer any respect for his authority -- Max.

FOSTER: Phil in Moscow, thank you very much, indeed, for that.

Well, Syrian state TV covered the cheering crowds greeting the Russian foreign minister, but it didn't show the government crackdown underway in Homs.

Let's bring in Arwa Damon in Beirut for more on that part of the story.

What have you managed to -- to work out about that -- Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, as every day drags on, the desperation that we're hearing from residents of the flashpoint city of Homs, and other parts of the country that are effectively under siege, as well, only grows more dire. People continue to describe horrific scenes of non-stop bombardment. And a lot of them telling us that what we're seeing that is being uploaded to YouTube is merely a fraction of what is actually taking place.

One activist was telling me about how, in many parts of Homs, quite simply, because all communications were shut off and because the areas were effectively under siege, what was actually taking place there, well, those images just were not able to get out. Medical supplies, very, very in short supply, as well as food in some parts of this city, as well.

The activists and residents there are so incredibly frustrated, angry and disgusted with Russia, with China, but, also with the international community as a whole, for its failure to unite when it comes to Syria and for certain other nations' failure to somehow bring Russia and China into the fold so that they could, hypothetically speaking, at the end of the day, exert sufficient pressure on the Syrian regime to basically stop the violence.

Activists are saying that a bloodbath is taking place in the eyes of the world. People now know what is happening inside Syria and that they're still failing to act. And the more you talk to them, Max, the more you hear their voices just shaking with emotion, imploring the world to do action, saying that they've quite simply had enough -- Max.

FOSTER: Arwa, thank you very much, indeed, for that.

Well, more and more countries are now protesting against the crackdown through diplomatic channels. The United States began the week by closing its embassy in Damascus and now France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have joined Britain and Belgium in recalling their ambassadors to Syria. The Gulf Cooperation Council is doing the same. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iman, Qatar and Kuwait are also expelling Syria's ambassadors from their respective countries.

Now, all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are Sunni-led monarchies. Syria is a Sunni majority country, but its regime is dominated by an offshoot of Shia Islam.

As CNN's Ivan Watson reports, that divide helps explain the growing regional polarization over this crisis.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a deadly barrage -- mortar shells rain on the opposition stronghold city of Homs, where activists say hundreds of civilians have been slaughtered in the last few days.

Meanwhile, less than 100 miles away, in the Syrian capital, Russia's top diplomatic gets a hero's welcome. Moscow is stepping up support for embattled Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, even as Gulf states and Western governments, led by the U.S., have either closed their embassies or temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Damascus.

(on camera): The bloody internal struggle over the future of Syria is increasingly taking on a wider regional dimension. The battle lines are being drawn between governments that support and oppose the Assad regime.

(voice-over): Turkey, Syria's most powerful neighbor, accuses Assad of massacring his own citizens.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We will start a new initiative at this point, with those countries that will be on the side of the Syrian people and not with the Syrian regime.

WATSON: Analysts warn the escalating Syrian crisis threatens to polarize an already turbulent Middle East.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: The increasing divide we're seeing in the Middle East is a sectarian one.

WATSON: With Turkey in the anti-Assad camp, other majority Sunni Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other wealthy Gulf Arab states. Assad's allies including the Shiite-led government in Iraq, the Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah, and, of course, Iran.

SADJADPOUR: The collapse of the Syrian regime would be a huge blow to the Iranian regime, because Syria has been their only consistent ally since the 1979 revolution. And Syria allows Iran to continue to offer support to Hezbollah.

WATSON: While Iran is believed to be giving Damascus financial and military support, Turkey has been hosting Syrian opposition groups and activists, like former Syrian ambassador, Bassem Imadi.

BASSEM IMADI, FORMER SYRIAN AMBASSADOR: The situation in Syria has to be solved, and quickly. If not, the whole problem will spill over to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan and perhaps Turkey.

WATSON: In the midst of this growing geopolitical struggle, Damascus appears to have lost the support of one key Middle Eastern player, the Palestinian movement, Hamas. Its leader recently abandoned his long-time home in Damascus, a signal, many analysts say, of the Syrian government's growing domestic and international isolation.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.


FOSTER: While the international community keeps chasing diplomatic resolution, more and more Syrians are coming to believe that force is the only way to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. Today, a major opposition group joined the Free Syrian Army in asking businessmen across the Arab world to help finance Syrian rebels, acknowledging that they are outgunned.

Earlier I spoke with former British foreign secretary, Lord David Owen, about the possibility of military intervention in Syria and whether diplomacy still has a chance.


LORD DAVID OWEN, FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY: I don't think we should exclude going back to the U.N. We had to go back to the U.N. repeatedly in order to get the resolution for the Libyan no-fly zone. So I don't rule out U.N. activity at the end of the day and I hope it will be possible, perhaps, to persuade the Chinese that this is not the right way to proceed and thereby make it easier for the Russians to come back into a dialogue along the lines of the Arab League's resolution.

FOSTER: Is the Libyan model the correct model, roughly speaking, for Syria?

OWEN: No, I don't think it is. Military intervention is a real last resort in Syria. And yet, you know, we have to remember, we didn't get authorization from the U.N., which I think is very, very important, until Benghazi was more or less 24 hours away from being taken by Gadhafi's forces.

So we have to wait and see. On the military front, for the moment, the main thing to do is to work to get a proper vote in the U.N. Security Council. That means nine votes and no vetoes. And to mobilize more and more pressure and to try and involve Turkey. I think Turkey is already involved, but in a lead role, I'd like to see Turkey involved.

FOSTER: Have you got any sympathy for the Chinese and Russians when they point to what happened in Libya as an example of what can go wrong with this sort of intervention?

Because they signed up to one thing, but it just went too far with Libya and they don't -- they said at the time, they're not going to do this again.

OWEN: Well, I...

FOSTER: So just we sort of messed up last time around.

OWEN: No. I think this is, to be frank, a distortion of what happened. It took us many, many more months because we were ca -- corralled and curtailed by the Libyan resolution. But, you know, this containment is part of the price you pay for going to the United Nations, particularly where, as in this case, one of the veto powers, Russia, has longstanding interests. They have been involved in Syria for over 40 years. And they're not going to be pushed out of a position of involvement and in -- in their case, so their interests are protected.

So these negotiations are inevitable. There's been a lot of rather over the top language, in my view. The fact of life is we have to live with the veto powers. And sometimes Russia has to live with issues which they don't particularly like.

But I don't rule it out that they will come back into some helpful resolution, which at the moment, doesn't even need to mention military involvement. We're not reached that military threshold. I hope we don't. It will only be if a whole city or a whole group of individuals are threatened, as, for example, happened to the Kurds in 1991, when we had to intervene and have the two no-fly zones in Iraq.

FOSTER: So there is a point at which we do have to intervene, but we're not there yet?

OWEN: I personally would never say never to using force when you are confronted by a grotesque use of force by, at the moment, the Syrian government. But I believe you need negotiations. If you can avoid civil war spreading throughout the whole country, we should do everything in our power to do it. And I think we need negotiations as the prime objective, but hold in reserve a situation in which none of us could foresee. There must come a moment when the sheer brutality, the sheer assault on human rights, is such that we would feel bound to intervene.


FOSTER: Lord Owen there.

Now, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London.

Still to come, a demonstration of desperation -- what caused this man to set himself alight outside Cairo's parliament building?

And as Greek workers take to the streets in anger, how the country's cuts are leaving schoolchildren out in the cold.

All that and much more still ahead when we connect the world.


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

Welcome back to you.

Now, Italy is taking emergency measures to conserve fuel, as bitter cold refuses to loosen its grip on Europe. There are concerns Russia won't be able to keep up with the spike in demand for its gas as the country copes with its own freezing temperatures.

But the energy spokeswoman for the EU Commission says Russia isn't the only supplier countries can turn to.


MARLENE HOLZNER, EUROPEAN COMMISSION ENERGY SPOKESWOMAN: And what we have seen is that the European market, the gas markets, so far as that they will, in all the countries where we have seen that, you know, they needed more gas than they could actually get from Russia, they have switched to other suppliers. Like Italy gets now gas from Nigeria. We have seen that Poland has bought the gas from Germany. And this is exactly that -- what we want to see.


FOSTER: But we'll hear more from Marlene Holzner and we'll have the latest forecast coming up for you in about 15 minutes, as well.

Here's a look at some other stories connecting our world tonight.

A political crisis is unfolding in the Maldives. The president has resigned and his deputy has been sworn in as the island nation's new leader. It follows a mutiny by some police officers who have joined a revolt. Five hundred opposition protesters rallied outside army headquarters. They're loyal to a former dictator whose 30 year rule ended in 2008 and are calling for Islam to play a greater role in the running of the country.

CNN has captured a moment of sheer desperation in Egypt. A frustrated -- or frustrated with being out of work due to the country's post- revolution economic mess, the man doused himself with petrol before setting himself on fire outside Cairo's parliament. He was among a group of unemployed laborers who have been protesting outside the building for weeks now. Bystanders put out the flames and the man's burns were minor.

The travel plans of thousands of air passengers flying to and from France are in disarray. French aviation workers are on strike until Thursday. Union members, including pilots and flight attendants, called the four day work stoppage to protest against a draft law that they say will limit their right to strike. Air France is advising its passengers to postpone flights until Friday, at the very earliest.

There are multiple contests in the Republican race for the White House on Tuesday. Colorado and Minnesota are holding caucuses and there's a non- binding primary in Missouri. The workings of these contests are rather complex in terms of delegates, but analysts say they're important for momentum and bragging rights.

CNN will have results and analysis from Tuesday's Republican contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri for you. Our viewers in Europe, Latin America and North America can see that live, Tuesday night, starting at 7:00 Eastern. That's midnight in London. Viewers in Asia can see it Wednesday at 9:00 in the morning.

It's all part of our America's Choice coverage for the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

February 7, 1812, the dawn of Dickens. Now, today, Prince Charles visited the author's grave at London's Westminster Abbey as part of worldwide celebrations that mark 200 years since his birth. Charles Dickens wrote "Great Expectations," "A Christmas Carol" and "Oliver Twist," among others. His work has inspired countless films and TV shows. There was even a Google Doodle today in his honor.

Now, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

When we come back, one day after being stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title for doping, Alberto Contador speaks out for the very first time.

And the rising demand for fuel as Europe struggles to stay warm -- what countries are doing to make sure people have heat, at least.

Do stay with us.


FOSTER: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London.

Welcome back.

I'm Max Foster.

Now, former 2010 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is speaking out for the first time since being hit with a two year doping ban.

At a news conference in his home town, the Spaniard said he cannot understand the reason for the ban and vowed to carry on his career. Contador admitted that he had lived through torment and he totally disagreed with the decision.

For more on this, let's bring in "WORLD SPORTS'" Patrick Snell from CNN Center.

So not guilty, as far as he's concerned.


Yes, I've just been sifting through the translation and listening to the Spanish. You just pick up the sense the mood of Contador. And what really does come across to me is his mood of defiance, his range of emotions really going, Max, from upset and deep hurt and what his family has been through, as well, his wife, his -- his inner circle, everyone, his whole entourage, to anger, to the fact that he has been put through this ordeal, which, in his mind, clearly is unnecessary. He believes he's innocent and he's vowing to keep on fighting and to clear his name. He believes that there are -- there are just causes for all of this.

Just to recap, that he had tested positive for clenbuterol. That was during 2010 Tour de France. He was later stripped of his title. He is a three time Tour de France winner in total. But he will not now compete in this year's Tour de France nor the Olympic Games.

But either way, as I said, Contador with a big mood of defiance.


ALBERTO CONTADOR, BANNED FOR 2 YEARS BY CAS (through translator): It's been especially hard for my family. The suffering to my wife, as well, in fact, to all of my inner circle, who have heard me accused of something that goes against all my values. I completely disagree with the outcome of this whole investigation. I can't even begin to understand the sanctions I've been hit with. Throughout all these months, I've been doing everything humanly possible to prove my innocence. I even took a polygraph test, stuck in a chair, answering questions for five hours.


SNELL: There you go, Max. Alberto Contador talking, big press conference this day in Spain -- back to you.

FOSTER: His ban, then, will end in six months, right?

So what's happening?

Can he pick up from that?

I guess, he can train in the meantime.

SNELL: He can, yes. The ban backdated to January of last year. It's a 24 month ban, a two year ban. And, yes, he'll be up -- eligible for competition later on this year, in August, as I say, after this year's Tour de France. But at age 29, let's make it clear, his best days, in terms of peak form and fitness, are probably behind him, as a top cyclist. But I would believe he can come back. I would imagine he is trying his very best to maintain his fitness levels and he will be eligible to continue his career.

Right now, Max, he says he will continue his career as best he can.

FOSTER: He seems pretty determined. And some determined partiers in New York. You can understand why, I guess, though.

SNELL: Yes. Those New York Giants back in town, back in front of their adoring fans. This is Manhattan -- Manhattan earlier on Tuesday. Now, we're just going to see that as Eli Manning and his teammates came back into town, thousands lining the streets. Some of them were there from something like 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., just waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite players.

And this is good to see. This is what players look forward to, I think. You've got the euphoria of actually winning on the night, Sunday, as it was, in Indianapolis. The Giants, just to remind you, beating the Patriots and winning the Super Bowl title for a fourth time.

But they've got to look forward to this so much. This is the homecoming, the triumphant homecoming, as well, through the streets of Manhattan. It's what it's all about for these victorious players.

Eli Manning, by the way, celebrating the fact that he now has two Super Bowl titles, two MVP awards, as well, most valuable player. And he's a giant of a man in every sense of the word.

And they're basking in this, because this one, your career is done. It's what you look back on, it's what you reflect on. And also, these celebrations are going to continue.

And then the players, hopefully, from their point of view, will get the chance for a short break. And we've charged the batteries ahead of the season with what we're doing later this calendar year -- Max.

FOSTER: A good omen.

Patrick, thank you very much, indeed.

Still to come right here on CONNECT THE WORLD, Europe's relentless cold and concerns that the demand for heating fuel won't be met.

Plus, how a treaty signed 20 years ago today may have set Europe up for a fall.

And the retirement plan that doesn't go quite as planned. Such is the promise of the best exotic Marigold Hotel. We'll check in with one of the film's head-turning stars.


FOSTER: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN. Time, now, for a check of the world headlines for you.

Russia says it delivered a message to Syria today, and it was heard. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited Damascus to meet with Bashar al- Assad. He says the Syrian president is fully committed to ending the bloodshed.

That pledge didn't stop the regime from intensifying its siege, though, at Homs, Syria's third-largest city. Activists say 13 more people were killed there today, and 10 others killed elsewhere across the country.

There's no break in sight to Europe's bitter cold. In Bosnia, the army used helicopters to get help to people in areas that had been cut off by snow and avalanches. Hundreds of people have died across the region.

While Greece's government held bailout talks, protesters observing a general strike marched outside Parliament. Strikers fear another rescue package will come with a condition of more painful cuts.

Italy is holding emergency talks on how to maintain gas supplies to homes during Europe's prolonged cold snap. Many schools are still closed, and thousands of homes are without electricity or heat. Thirty people have died. Italy's government activated a plan to reduce supplies to industrial clients and switch to oil-fired power plants.

Italy imports most of its energy, and there are concerns Russia could limit its supply. It's a concern that is worrying many European countries, as several rely heavily on Russia's natural gas.

Take a look at this map. Those red lines are gas -- gas pipelines from Russia that help heat millions of homes across Europe. A quarter of all the continent's natural gas comes from Russia, and the frigid temperatures are severely restricting exports. On Monday, Russia exported around 76 million cubic meters to Italy, 17 percent less than normal.

It's been -- now, while I was speaking to Marlene Holzner. She is the European Commission's energy spokeswoman. She says Russia wants to make sure it has enough gas for its domestic market before sending it abroad.


MARLENE HOLZNER, ENERGY SPOKESWOMAN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: It is not a political situation, it's due to cold weather. And what we have seen is that the European market, the gas market so far has worked very well in all the countries where we have seen that they needed more gas than they could actually get from Russia, they have switched to other suppliers.

Like Italy gets, now, gas from Algeria. We have seen Poland has bought their gas from Germany. And this is exactly what we want to see is that we have a European market where gas companies buy gas from other markets, and they can in this way make up for any loss or any interruption, whatever the cause is.

FOSTER: As you say, there haven't been any major breakages of supply just yet. But it's not all under control, because there is a shortage of supply, and you can see it in the market. The prices are escalating rapidly. So, there is a bit of a crisis in the market, because if that price continues to rise, people can't afford the gas, even if it's available.

HOLZNER: Well, we will certainly not have the situation going on for months, and I think this is precisely a sign that the market is working, because that concerns us less than if you do economics. If you have a higher demand, then the prices go up.

And then, if we talk about the 2009 --


FOSTER: Yes, I understand that --

HOLZNER: -- that was a real crisis. Ukraine --

FOSTER: -- but people might need the gas. People need the gas, they can't afford it. It's not very -- it's not the correct thing to say, the price goes up, it's how markets work. There are people that can't afford it as a result of the price going up. That's how it works.

HOLZNER: That -- that is a different discussion on whether member states for consumers that cannot afford subsidize gas. That's a situation, a discussion, that needs to be taken on, on a member state level. And we have 27 member states, and they must decide whether they want to help a certain type of consumer. That's not something that we are at the moment looking at.

What I'm saying is, is we had in 2009 a situation where we had the crisis because of disruption in Ukraine and Russia, and for two weeks, in Bulgaria, homes were cold. Why was there a problem? Because we had not the market itself couldn't regulate. It was not physically possible to get the gas, which was there in Western Europe, to Bulgaria, because the pipelines were not there.

In this situation we are here, yes, it is not pleasant for us consumers if we pay more. But the situation is that the homes are not cold, that we have enough gas, and that all the countries are supplied with the gas, which is already on the market.


FOSTER: Well, as if bitter cold weren't bad enough, flooding is a growing threat, now, in some areas as the snow melts. Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado is at the World Weather Center with more on that. You better bring us the bad news, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right, we do have bad news to report. As you mentioned, flooding is now turning out to be a big problem. We talked about this yesterday, Max.

Some areas have picked up more than 190 millimeters of rainfall in a five-hour period. And the area that we're talking about right now, in Bulgaria. We're talking about the town of Biser.

And they're dealing with flooding anywhere you're seeing in red, and this is because a nearby river called the Maritsa River actually burst its banks. This dam broke, and now we're seeing flooding through areas over towards the west as well as over towards the east.

Now, let me show you some amazing video of how bad the situation is. And we do know reportedly six people have died after this wave of water just really came through the region. And again, this is what happens when you get days and days of heavy rainfall.

And now, you're looking at video of officials going in there and trying to help residents. Look how damaged some of those homes are. And that really gives you an idea of how bad that flooding situation was across that region.

Now, as I take you back over, we've been talking about the flooding, and we're also talking about the cold. Look at the temperatures out there. Minus 10 degrees in Warsaw, minus 22 in Kiev, minus 24 in Moscow. It is going to stay cold through the end of the week.

And London, you're cold, there, as well, when you add in the wind chill, it feels about 10 degrees cooler than the temperature I just showed you.

Now, as I said, we are dealing with the flooding, there. We're still going to squeeze out more rain as well as snow. This is going to last through Thursday, along with that cold spell around.

And I want to point out to you, it's not just the residents we're dealing with. Of course, we're very worried about that. But we have some video coming in from Serbia, and it's showing you that the critters, the animals, they're also in danger of actually becoming victims of the cold weather.

This is what you're looking at, a lion and some cubs and, of course, a black swan. So, everybody needs to be cautious out there, Max. That's the important story there, because the bitter cold is going to stick around, more rain, as well as snow.

And Max, we haven't even thought about what's going to happen when that snow starts to melt. That's going to mean more flooding problems. That's just heavy rainfall, that video you saw coming out of Bulgaria.

FOSTER: OK, Jennifer, thank you very much. I know you'll keep across it for us.

DELGADO: Very active.

FOSTER: Now, up next, as thousands of Greeks take to the streets to protest their austerity, how some are pointing the figure of blame at Germany.


FOSTER: Under pressure from outsiders to avoid a default, under pressure from its people to avoid more austerity, the dilemma facing Greece's leaders was laid bare today, as thousands of workers downed tools to take part in a 24-hour strike.

While the government was the focus of much of the crowd's anger, some protesters set fire to German flags, furious over the cuts being imposed on Greece.

No profession has been spared. From taxi drivers to teachers, workers across Greece are feeling the strain, and Linda Labropoulou reports, the effects of the austerity measures are likely to be felt for many years to come.


ELINDA LABROPOULOU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Responding to a call by their unions, protesters gathered in Athens to vent their anger against the new austerity measures a new bailout package would bring.

Cutbacks put in place since Greece's first bailout package has cost severe shortages in school supplies and is undermining education, some teachers said outside Parliament today.

EVANGELOS LAKOVIDIS, TEACHER: In my school, their problem is very difficult. We don't have electricity in the classroom, one. Second, very difficult with the heating. The pupils, it's very difficult to follow the schoolteacher because they don't have gas for the heating. It's with the clothes inside of the classroom, and very difficult to think, to write.

LABROPOULOU: The teachers are also feeling the squeeze in their pockets.

MARIANNA NIKOLAIDOU, TEACHER: In the last two years, our salary has been cut about 25 percent, almost, on average, yes. And the worst thing is that in the future, we see much more cuts coming, and our work is been more difficult, our salaries cut down, and this is -- it's not going to be better.

DIONYSSIS MATAFIAS, TEACHER: Nowadays, schools are closing, they're laying off the teachers. You can't find a job at a public school at the moment. Salaries are going down all the time. Taxes are going up. Everything is going up, and we don't -- we can't live. You can't live like that. The measures are killing the Greek people.

LABROPOULOU (on camera): As last-minute details on the bailout are being ironed out that will bring more austerity to Greece, the education ministry is introducing food coupons in schools after reports that a number of students have been fainting in classrooms from malnutrition.

Elinda Labropoulou, CNN, Athens.


FOSTER: Well, despite the hardships, many Greeks want to stay in the eurozone and, officially, Europe's leaders say that's where they should remain. But with Greece's political parties struggling to agree the terms of a second bailout, some have begun to speculate over whether a eurozone without Greece could survive.

Speaking to a Dutch newspaper, European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes said, "When one member leaves, it doesn't mean 'man overboard.' They always said if a country is let go or asks to get out, then the whole edifice will collapse, but that is simply not true."

How different things could have been if Europe's leaders had kept to a set of rules agreed 20 years ago today. The Maastricht Treaty created the European Union and led to the introduction of the euro. But as CNN's Jim Boulden reports, its failings may have set the stage for Europe's biggest crisis since World War II.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you vote for me, I'm a practical person.

JIM BOULDEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's February 1992. Governor Bill Clinton is campaigning for the US presidency, the Soviet Union has officially ceased to exist.

And in a little-known Dutch town, European leaders are taking a major step towards political and economic union.

Maastricht was to open a new era of European unity and economic discipline and pave the way for the single currency. That meant some new rules. The so-called Maastricht criteria.

Inflation was not to be more than 1.5 percent above the average of Europe's strongest economies. Government deficits could not exceed 3 percent of GDP. And debt-to-GDP was to be capped at 60 percent.

BOUILDEN (on camera): I'm proof enough that much has changed since 1992. This was my reporter's pass to the conference. But match those criteria to the current figures, and it's clear Maastricht has not aged well at all.

By 2010, all but two of the original signatories, Denmark and Luxemburg, have exceeded the deficit limit, and only Denmark and Luxemburg are still within the 60 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. So, Maastricht, it seems, wasn't strict enough.

PETER SUTHERLAND, FORMER EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER: It was clear in setting the parameters for deficit management and debt, but it didn't contain oversight. It didn't contain the necessary mechanisms for looking at national budgets in advance. It didn't provide for surveillance, and it didn't provide for sanctions.

BOULDEN: Peter Sutherland, a former European Commissioner, says Maastricht was flawed, and Greece is proof of that.

Back in 1999, his former colleague and the architect of Maastricht, Jacques Delors, was a lot less concerned.

JACQUES DELORS, FORMER PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The prediction is Greece is -- will be able to join in two or three years.

BOULDEN: Two years later, with inflation at 4 percent, Greece joined the eurozone.

JEAN-CLAUDE TRICHET, FORMER PRESIDENT, ECB: The market, we are making no difference between good behavior and bad behavior. Greece and Germany were borrowing at the same interest rates.

BOULDEN: Jean-Claude Trichet calls it benign neglect. The eurozone was booming, and the Maastricht criteria were the last thing on people's minds.

NORMAN LAMONT, FORMER UK FINANCE MINISTER: When the euro was set up, a lot of people said, well, it's very good, you have a currency without a government. That's a plus point, not a minus point. But actually, it's turned out to be a minus point, because no one is in charge.

BOULDEN: Hindsight and Maastricht are hostile bedfellows. In 20 years, we've gone from entry strategies to talk of exit strategies, from three pillars to three bailouts.

The treaty and the currency it created were part of a post-war dream of European unity. Twenty years on, there's still talk of the war, but not of victory.

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): The world is watching Europe and Germany. They are watching to see if we are ready in the worst crisis in Europe since the end of the second World War to take responsibility.

BOULDEN: Jim Boulden, CNN, London.


FOSTER: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Still to come --




DESAE AS SUNAINA: That was a gin and tonic.

DENCH AS EVELYN: I know that now.


FOSTER: A film where nothing goes as expected for a group of British retirees. That's next.


FOSTER: In recent years, we've seen Hollywood increasingly scout for stars in Bollywood, and it's probably not a bad tactic, given that India boasts a potential audience of more than a billion people.

Now, in tonight's Big Interview, we meet the country's latest crossover star, Tena Desae. The glamorous actress sat down with Erin McLaughlin ahead of tonight's London premier of her debut British film, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." It's a story about what can happen when something sounds too good to be true.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL": Come and spend your autumn years in an Indian palace with the sophistication of an English country manor, tucked away on the outskirts of Udaipur --

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Checking in with some of the most familiar faces in British film.


MAGGIE SMITH AS MURIEL, "THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL": Where's your PG Tips? It's a bran source, 31 packets of chocolate Hobnobs.

MCLAUGHLIN: From Maggie Smith to Dame Judi Dench, and the eternally dry Bill Nighy.

BILL NIGHY AS DOUGLAS, "THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL": Would you like some of this? I believe it's called Aloo Ka Paratha.

SMITH AS MURIEL: No, if I can't pronounce it, I don't want to eat it.

MCLAUGHLIN: It is the film where English veterans meet the new stars of India.

DEV PATEL AS SONNY, "THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL": Welcome to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

MCLAUGHLIN: Most notably, Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame, and Bollywood's latest it girl, model turned actor Tena Desae.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): So, this is your first British film, and you're already starring alongside the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Was that at all intimidating?

TENA DESAE, MODEL/ACTRESS: I was very excited when I found out about the cast, and I thought I would be nervous when I would meet them, but they were all just so wonderfully excited themselves about being in India.

When I saw Judi Dench, the first time, I thought she was going to be like this really powerful. But she's so small and huggable, and she just went on about how attracted she was to the place and how beautiful it was.

I thought I'd be nervous, but they were just such relaxed people that I ended up just having a really good time.

MCLAUGHLIN: Who surprised you most on set?

DESAE: Bill Nighy.


DESAE: Because he's just such a rock star. There was once that I went and I asked him for a photographed and he posed for me like that, and I didn't know he's such a cool person in real life. And he's great fun to talk to.

You don't even realize that these guys are above 60 years or 50 years, whatever, because they're just -- they're so young at heart and they're so energetic and everything, so to see them at that age so charged and motivated is surprising, yes.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" traces the paths of seven strangers who decide to make an Indian resort their retirement home.

PATEL AS SONNY: I have a dream, Mamidi (ph). To create a home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.

MCLAUGHLIN: But it doesn't quite live up to expectations.

PATEL AS SONNY: This man is dead.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Do you think this film will appeal to an Indian audience?

DESAE: Yes, I do think so. I'll tell you why. Because it shows India from a foreigner's point of view, where they're coming in and they're experiencing India for the first time.

But it's also -- they accept India after a point, after the initial culture shock, they fall in love with the place and they stay back, which is why everyone will like it. Because if it had been this thing of, "Oh, my God," bu this is what India is like. It's noisy and it's crowded and it's colorful, and then you go back, and there's some resistance that happens.

MCLAUGHLIN: Now, there's a line in the film that is, "India, like life, is what you bring to it." What do you think that means?

DESAE: I think there's just so much diversity, because there are so many cultures there. Every state has its own language and traditions and ceremonies and all of that. So, there are so many different ways of -- if you resist that, then it's -- you're not going to be able to --

I think this is more from a foreign point of view, because I'm trying to understand it from your point of view, because for us, it's just the way it is. So, I think what it's trying to say is that if you resist it, then you won't be able to enjoy yourself here. So, if you just give into it and understand things the way they are and let yourself be a part of it, then your experience will be enriched.

PENELOPE WILTON AS JEAN, "THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL": How can you bear this country? What do you see that I don't?

NIGHY AS DOUGLAS: The light, colors, smiles, all life is here.

WILTON AS JEAN: Do you think we'll be all right?

NIGHY AS DOUGLAS: It's going to be extraordinary.

MCLAUGHLIN: What do you hope that audiences that see this film will take away from it?

DESAE: I like the message that comes in the end, where everyone goes back with the feeling of hope, of never giving up, whatever your age. And there's a line that's also in the promo that's very India, really, which is "In India, we believe that everything will be all right in the end, so if it's not all right, then it's not yet the end." And I really like that line.

So, it's just a feel-good movie, so you go home at the end, and you go home feeling good about whatever you have and to accept whatever is going on in your life and it will get better. So that's -- that's the message, I think.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): And certainly things have been getting better and better for this glamorous business graduate. Since her big break on a modeling reality TV show in 2007, she's appeared in more than 90 commercials.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Can you walk down a street in Mumbai?

DESAE: I know I look different onscreen, I know I look different in person, because when I meet people, sometimes they're like, "Oh, my God, that was you? You look so different?" So, I know for sure I look different. But I think you have to be a really big star in India, and I'm still young and I'm still new.

MCLAUGHLIN: So, you have a degree in business.


MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any chance you could end up in the financial world?

DESAE: I want to work in a bank, definitely. Hopefully, my acting career will go well. But if it doesn't, I go to a bank. If it does, then even at the age of 40, I will still go to a bank, but I have to work in a bank, because I'm really fond of taxation and accounts and investments and all of that. So I will do it. At some point, I will, yes.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Unlike the other characters in the film, retirement for Tena Desae is a long way off.

PATEL AS SONNY: Who knows how many days you have left?


FOSTER: Tena Desae talking to Erin about "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," which releases in British cinemas on February the 24th.

Now, tomorrow night, my Big Interview with the man who's planning to free fall from the edge of space.


FELIZ BAUMGARTNER, BASE JUMPER: Well, I am scared, because you go up to 120,000 feet, which is a really hostile environment, and no matter how much you have prepared yourself, you never know how it turns out until you do it for real.


FOSTER: Probably a healthy attitude. Now, the countdown is on for daredevil extraordinaire Felix Baumgartner, who is preparing to make the highest jump ever made by man. Find out about the risks he faces and how he plans to survive, right here on CONNECT THE WORLD tomorrow.

Tonight's Parting Shots is from the United States. At first glance, it looks like a giant wave crashing through the row of high-rise buildings, but it's actually fog, spectacularly rising off the Gulf of Mexico, and it was captures as it filtered through the tower box in Panama City in Florida. Unbelievable image, that.

I'm Max Foster. That was CONNECT THE WORLD, thank you for watching. The world headlines and "BackStory" are up next after a short break.