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Syrian Assassin Paid to Kill; Xi Jinping Visits U.S.; The Lin Effect; Catalyst Foundation Builds Playground For Local Vietnamese Community; Deadly Fire At Honduras Prison, At Least 250 Inmates Dead; Iran Announces Nuclear Development

Aired February 15, 2012 - 08:00:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: Welcome to NEWS STREAM, where news and technology meet.

I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And we begin in Syria, where a thick plume of smoke hangs over the besieged city of Homs.

Iran shows off to the world the country's first domestically produced nuclear fuel rods being inserted into a reactor.

And the fairytale story of Jeremy Lin continues as the NBA's newest star hits the game winner for the Knicks.

Heavy fire is still bombarding Homs in Syria. The city is blanketed in smoke after an oil pipeline explosion. Opposition groups say government warplanes blew up the pipeline, but state TV blames terrorist groups for the attack.

And the intense shelling of Homs seen in these YouTube images shows no signs of slowing down. While we can't verify the online video, the pictures and the witness accounts continue to paint a picture of an unfolding humanitarian disaster.

Now, here, you can see people. They're lining up in desperation. They're said to be waiting for bread.

And further south, in Daraa, bullets rain down as a child runs along a street before being rescued. Activists say 49 people died on Tuesday and five people have been killed so far today.

Let's take a look at live pictures out of Syria, and we'll bring up the skyline of Homs. We will continue to watch these pictures. You can see the gray dark smoke hanging over the city. We'll continue to watch that skyline for you and we will bring you back there if there are any major new developments there.

Now, Syria's state news agency has announced that the government's promised referendum on a new constitution will be held on February the 26th. It says the charter promises a new era for Syria which would include freedom as a sacred right and a new system of multi-party democracy based on Islamic law.

Diplomats at the United Nations, they are preparing to discuss a draft resolution calling on Syria to end attacks on civilians. The General Assembly could vote on the document later today, but it would be non- binding.

Now, only U.N. Security Council votes are binding, but China and Russia, they blocked a resolution on Syria earlier this month. And today, China called for dialogue and an immediate end to the violence, but said wrong moves by the Security Council could cause more bloodshed.

And France has announced an emergency relief fund of more than $1 million for those organizations wishing to help the Syrian people. France will join other nations at the first Friends of Syria meeting. That's happening in Tunisia next week.

Armed resistance to government forces continues to grow both in Homs and across the country. And CNN's Arwa Damon has crossed into Syria and found a groups of opposition activists giving medical treatment to a man who describes himself as a paid assassin of the government. He had been caught in an ambush. And we are not disclosing Arwa's location for her safety.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sa'er is a paid killer. These men would like to see him dead, but instead they are tending to his wounds. Sa'er agreed to be filmed by CNN as he received treatment from opposition activists. He asked that we obscure his identity enough so that the government can't recognize him, but he wants friends to know that it's him and that he's a changed man.

His captors keep Sa'er blindfolded so he can't identify them in the future. "I can't untie your eyes because I am afraid of you," Monia (ph) says, his gun close by. "Why are you doing this? Why are you killing us?" he asks.

Sa'er says he worked he worked in a Ministry of Interior prison and was wounded when the minibus he was traveling in came under fire. He doesn't know by whom. His story is chilling.

"We would go out with the officers from the prisons," he says. "For each mission, we would get 25,000 lira, never less than 20,000." That's $400 to $500, more than most Syrians make a month.

"They gave us guns with scopes, and you see the body as if you're looking at yourself in the mirror," Sa'er tells Monia (ph). He could see the protesters were unarmed, but he fired anyway, claiming it was kill or be killed for not carrying out orders.

Sa'er admits he killed 60 to 70 people. Once, he says, he slit a man's throat.

"Two policemen had captured another man," he recalls. "A major put a gun to my head and said, 'Slaughter him.' He said, 'I am going to count to 10.' He cocked the gun, fired into the air, and put it to my head again. I slaughtered him."

Sa'er claims the regime turned him and others into monsters who would have killed their own fathers, promising them wealth if they helped fight terrorists. Now he says he thinks differently.

"These guys I am with, I used to see them in a different light," he admits. "But since I have been with them, I have seen only good."

He seems ready to give up the names of others involved in kidnapping opposition members. "A lot of men from this area have been kidnapped by government supporters for money," Monia (ph) says. There's no way to confirm Sa'er's story or be sure he hasn't been coerced, but now he is a bargaining chip. His captors intend to trade him for some of those abducted. He may have killed their friends and comrades, but they vow to treat him well.

Arwa Damon, CNN, reporting from inside Syria.


STOUT: And as the violence unfolds, there is some evidence that government forces are using civilians as human shields to protect their vehicles.

Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Beirut with that story.

And Nick, tell us more of exactly how are civilians being used here as human shields?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There have been frequent claims of this kind of abuse, actually reiterated at the United Nations on Monday, where it was clear they consider there to be credible evidence of war crimes. But it's rare that you actually get to see tangible evidence like the video you're about to see that we can examine which appears to show civilians being used to protect a Syrian armored unit.


WALSH (voice-over): At first, they chant for Syrian President Bashar al- Assad, looking like a pro-government rally. But then, this YouTube video shot on Sunday, apparently around Damascus, turns much more sinister. They stand still, pushed into line, looking anxiously around.

The troops behind them aren't their allies, but their captors. There have been reports the army was using detained civilians as human shields to prevent opposition militants shooting at them. And now a video, the authenticity of which we can't confirm, seems to show that. Slowly, they crouch then kneel.

A child's voice behind the camera muttering, "Oh, mom. Will they shoot them? Look. Look."

As soldiers advance down the road, they then lie flat.

It's unclear what followed in one of the more disturbing videos to emerge from a crackdown felt hardest here in the city of Homs. The shelling devastating lives; blood bags running low. The U.N. rights commissioner said Monday there was credible evidence of war crimes in Syria, abuses and charges that perhaps will make more soldiers like these defect.

This YouTube video purporting to be shot north of the opposition stronghold of Idlib. Their resolve, strong, but so far, also is that of the well- equipped army they face.


WALSH: Now, this is really key when it comes to the psyche of an army like the Syrian military. Really, the fear of potential prosecution in the future over war crimes can make the more loyal steal (ph) themselves to fight on towards victory, or it can make potential defectors like the soldiers you've just seen perhaps jump over the fence.

At this point, I should point out there are comparatively low numbers of Syrian defectors, we understand, perhaps because many soldiers don't fight in the areas where they're actually from, but that could change -- Kristie.

STOUT: A very chilling story there.

And amidst all this, Bashar al-Assad, he has set a date for a vote on a new constitution and a new multi-party democracy. How is the opposition reacting to that announcement?

WALSH: One activist I spoke to in Homs just laughed. He said the whole thing was ridiculous, basically. It's a complete waste of their time and they never believe anything he says.

I think it's fair to understand where they come from with that. We're talking about a vote on a new constitution in 11 days' time, when Bashar al-Assad's forces are still shelling the people presumably who might vote against this particular reform.

This draft constitution does potentially remove the Ba'ath Party as being the major force of government, the permissible (ph) party in the country, and allow a pluralistic democracy where you could have other parties, if they're licensed by the government. And that's a pretty important caveat.

But frankly, this vote that's coming up, previous votes have seen majorities of 97 percent in favor of Bashar al-Assad. Ridiculous to suggest, I think, with the army being forced against opposition strongholds, this could be anything like a genuine expression of people's will inside Syria. But it certainly is a sign, perhaps, that either Bashar al-Assad is playing this as a PR trick to buy himself more time, or maybe within his inner coterie there's a feeling he needs to do something, make some kind of concession. Perhaps it's even a sign of weakness -- Kristie.

STOUT: It sounds like it's too little, too late.

Nick Paton Walsh reporting.

Thank you.

Now, to Honduras, where a deadly situation is unfolding at one of the country's prisons. At least 272 people have been killed in a fire at a prison in central Honduras. The blaze is now under control, but authorities fear the number of fatalities will rise.

More than half of the prison was damaged by the fire. The prison holds 851 inmates.

Now, the cause of the blaze is still unknown, but the Honduras prison commissioner says authorities are investigating whether a short circuit sparked the fire or if a prisoner may have set a mattress on fire.

And we'll bring you more details on this story as we get them.

Coming up next here on NEWS STREAM, the "Freedom Project" brings you dreams of a brighter future, the first real playground these refugee children in Vietnam have ever seen.

Building a relationship. China's future leader meets the president of the United States.

And the legend grows. Another amazing game for the New York Knicks and Jeremy Lin.

Stay with us.


STOUT: Welcome back.

Now, the future relationship between two global superpowers is in the spotlight as the man likely to be China's next president visits the U.S. Xi Jinping sat down with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday. The delicate issues of trade and human rights were raised in a meeting that went on for 90 minutes, which was longer than planned.

Mr. Xi is meeting congressional leaders and giving a major policy address on Wednesday before heading to the Midwestern state of Iowa.

With a look now at how Xi Jinping's U.S. trip is playing out in China, I'm joined by CNN's Stan Grant in Beijing.

And Stan, what has been the reaction inside China to Mr. Xi's U.S. visit?

STAN GRANT, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kristie, this was really a chance for Xi Jinping to try on the presidential suit, if you like, and for people here in China to see whether he fits it. You know?

It was very much presented here as a presidential-style visit. If you look at the coverage in the newspapers, here is someone being very much portrayed as a leader -- photographs of him eyeballing President Barack Obama. Very much the talk of this as a mutually cooperative relationship focusing Xi Jinping's comments that they need to build trust into this relationship.

Largely glossing over, though, a lot of the strains in the relationship between the United States and China, and not going into a lot of detail about some of those thornier issues that were raised behind closed doors. You touched on a few of them there -- China's human rights record, the fact that Barack Obama wants China to play a little more fairly when it comes to the trade arena, and also the question of China's attitude to Syria and that veto against the United Nations' action in Syria.

So the tense issues between the pair not getting a lot of coverage. A lot of it really focusing on the atmospherics.

You know, a lot of analysts are saying, Kristie, that this is not just a chance for Xi Jinping to strut the world stage, for the Americans to get a look at him, but also for the Chinese to get a look at him, that he's very much speaking to a domestic audience here, an audience that is concerned about slowdowns in the economy and also this widening gap between rich and poor. How he's able to navigate that during his leadership, when that eventually happens, and also how he's able to juggle the relationship with the U.S., of course, is going to be the defining issues of his eventual presidency -- Kristie.

STOUT: Now, this week is Mr. Xi's chance to meet the American people, and also to, as you mentioned just now, establish himself as a world leader in the eyes of Chinese back home. The world's cameras are all on him. And what more can you tell us about what Xi Jinping is like as a leader? What is his personality like and what is his leadership style?

GRANT: He's been forged within the Communist Party. This is someone who is called a (INAUDIBLE) part of this new generation of leaders whose fathers went before them.

You know, his father was a revolutionary fighter, a revolutionary hero who served as a vice premier under Mao. Of course, he was expelled, also, from the party by Chairman Mao. He was later rehabilitated and then placed in charge of Guangdong during the early period of the economic reforms in China. So his father had a really searing experience through the party.

You listen to a lot of analysts, they say that Xi Jinping was very much formed by his father's experiences, that he was scarred a little by the treatment that his father received at various times in the party. And at one stage, was seen as being redder than red to try to burnish his own communist credentials.

There's not a lot that we know about what attitudes he will take. We don't know a lot about the personal side of his life. He is married to a famous folk singer here in China, but not a lot really known about him.

You speak to a lot of analysts here, they say, well, we're not really sure about what line he is ultimately going to take. One thing we can say though is that he's going to inherit a different country than the one that Hu Jintao has presided over for the past 10 years, who has been fortunate to see ongoing economic growth here.

As I mentioned before, the economy is starting to slow. The United States has already said that it's going to become a lot more vigorous in this region, putting more troops into the region, establishing its alliances, really cementing those alliances with other countries around China.

China is concerned that could mean an effort at containing its rise. So that relationship between China and the United States is going to be absolutely crucial. This is a chance for the U.S. to get a look at him, also for the people here to see whether he measures up in the leadership stakes -- Kristie.

STOUT: Stan Grant, joining us live in Beijing.

Thank you.

Now, Xi Jinping's next stop is Iowa, and he heads there later on Wednesday. It is a state he first visited as an agricultural official back in 1985.

And CNN's Ted Rowlands reports he will be meeting up with some old friends.



TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cynthia and Dick Maeglin were thrilled when they found at that Xi Jinping is coming back to their small town.

MAEGLIN: I went upstairs and looked in my photo albums and found these pictures.

ROWLANDS: There he is, the likely next leader of China, standing in the Maeglins' kitchen back in 1985. He didn't speak much English, but that didn't matter.

DICK MAEGLIN, MUSCATINE, IOWA, HOST: You use a smile and a twinkle and offer a piece of cake. And it's not all that complicated.

ROWLANDS: Xi, who met with President Obama on Tuesday, wants to see the Maeglins again, along with about 17 others he met on his trip 27 years ago.

GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: Yes. Well, he had the itinerary from his visit.

ROWLANDS: Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was serving his first stint as governor when Xi came in '85. The two met again last fall in Beijing, and Branstad says the Chinese leader said he wanted to come back.

BRANSTAD: He was so pleased with the warm and friendly welcome he received, and he really considers Iowans his old friend.

ROWLANDS: Experts say for years, Xi was known mostly for his famous wife, a Chinese singer. While his lineage runs deep in the Communist Party, he represents a new generation of leaders.

Former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman believes Xi could be good for American business.

JON HUNTSMAN, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: He's gone out of his way in recent years to bone up on economics and trade, knowing full well that these are the issues that are going to determine whether or not the United States and China are able to get through the years to come.

ROWLANDS: China has been blamed for the loss of thousands of American jobs, some of them here, but China buys soybeans, pork, farm machinery and other products from Iowa. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, the state enjoyed a 1,200 percent increase in exports to China.

Governor Branstad wants to expand that relationship and thinks Xi will help.

BRANSTAD: Personal relationships are really important to the Chinese people, and having this kind of relationship with the next leader of China I think is very helpful to the state of Iowa.

ROWLANDS: In Muscatine, preparations are being made for Xi's arrival. People here are excited, including the Maeglins, who say they are honored that the man standing in their kitchen 27 years ago wants to come back.

D. MAEGLIN: Just for a little time. Spend an hour, hour and a half in the room with, as he says, his old friends. That's significant. That's significant if he weren't the president.


STOUT: So the town of Muscatine, Iowa, it will be in the spotlight for a few hours. It has a population of just under 23,000 people. And back in the 1900s, it was known as the pearl button capital of the world.

But it was corn that brought Xi to Muscatine back in 1985. And here you can see a local newspaper article about his visit.

Iowa's governor says Xi's latest visit is the biggest thing since Pope John Paul II visited in 1979, but the Holy Father was not the town's first high- profile guest. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev stopped by in 1959.

Coming up next here on NEWS STREAM, the incredible story of Jeremy Lin continues, as the Asian-American NBA star hits the game-winning shot for the Knicks.


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

And as far as sporting fairytales go, this one, it just keeps getting better.

Jeremy Lin had another unbelievable night on the basketball court on Tuesday, and he called it a miracle from God. And here is the divine moment.

It was 87-87, with less than 10 seconds to play. Lin gets the ball and shoots, and that shot sealed the Knicks' victory over the Toronto Raptors. The New York Knicks have now won six straight games. Lin scored 27 points in Tuesday's win.

Now, Jeremy Lin is one very humble man. He spoke at a news conference after last night's game, and he was quick to deflect attention away from himself.


JEREMY KNICKS, PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: Everyone's smiling, there's a new energy. Everyone's just excited.

And, like, that's the thing. It's not because of me. It's because we're coming together as a team.


STOUT: And despite Jeremy Lin's modest words, much of the hype is certainly about him. The Toronto Raptors, they had a rare sellout on a Tuesday night. A capacity crowd packed the Air Canada Centre.

And the fans, they were impressed with what they saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We haven't had, like, maybe an Asian guy play so well for. And I kind of feel proud of him. I guess I can say that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's going to be something that people need to watch out for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far, from what I'm seeing, yes, he's pretty good. So, I mean, the crowd came out to support him and you can see why. He's a good player, and the Cinderella story is true about him.


STOUT: Now, Lin's parents are from Taiwan, and people there were equally excited. These are fans watching the game in Taipei. Now, sports bars and clubs were all packed for the occasion.

It was also a special moment for Lin's family. His aunt and other relatives tuned in from Taiwan.

China has an enormous base of basketball fans. The NBA there is extremely popular. As Eunice Yoon reports, Jeremy Lin is feeling even more passion for the sport.


EUNICE YOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With his unbelievable performance on the court, Jeremy Lin has become an American sensation. And the "Linsanity" over the New York Knicks guard is starting to spread halfway around the world, to China.

The Taiwanese-American 23-year-old from California is winning over fans here in a country where there are as many basketball buffs as there are Americans in the world.

BROOK LARMER, AUTHOR, "OPERATION YAO MING": China has a very, I think, wide and inclusive sense of national identity. And it embraces even a Chinese-American born of Taiwanese parents in Palo Alto who is a devout Christian.

YOON: Lin Shuhao, as he's known here, has already garnered more than a million followers on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. His jerseys are selling fast on the popular e-commerce site Taobao.

And the Harvard graduate's tongue-in-cheek video on how to get into the Ivy League school has been viewed half a million times on the Chinese Internet poking fun at Asian stereotypes --

LIN: Step one, get glasses.

YOON: -- while capturing the imagination of a nation obsessed with education and success.

"He proves that Asians can succeed in basketball," says this fan.

(on camera): But Lin's success here isn't a slam-dunk. Lin didn't grow up in China and he didn't rise through the ranks of the nation's sports system like his mentor, Yao Ming.

LARMER: Yao was promoted from day one as this national icon who represented the nation, who was standing tall in the world to show that China itself could stand tall. On the other hand, I think that Jeremy Lin will eventually grown on Chinese.

YOON (voice-over): "He gives players like me a lot of confidence," this fan says. "He's not too tall, just like us."

When Yao retired from the Houston Rockets last year, the NBA feared the game here could lose momentum. Now they're hoping the 6'3" player who the media have called a supernova can one day fill Yao's shoes.

"This might just be a burst of talent," he says, "but I hope he keeps playing like this for a long time."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lin puts it up! Bam! Jeremy Lin from downtown!

YOON: A feeling that is mutual among the "Linsane" back in the U.S.

Eunice Yoon, CNN, Beijing.


STOUT: Now, still to come here on NEWS STREAM, volunteers in Vietnam put some fun back into childhood for a group of desperately poor children and help protect them from the threat of human trafficking.

And Iran hails major developments in its controversial nuclear program. We'll get the international reaction.

Stay with us.


LU STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream and these are your world headlines.

Now EuroZone finance ministers say Greece's latest austerity plan does not go far enough. They have called off a planned meeting today that Athens had hoped would pave the way for a massive bailout. Now the president of the Eurogroup Jean-Claude Juncker says a conference call will be held in place of today's meeting.

Smoke is covering the besieged city of Homs in Syria after an oil pipeline exploded. Activists say government war planes blew up the pipeline and Syria's government blames terrorists for the attack. Military forces have also reportedly launched an assault on the city of Hamaa. And residents are said to be completely cut off from the outside world.

Iran's official news agency reports the first Iranian built nuclear fuel rod has been installed into a research reactor. State TV aired live images of the event which Iran hailed as a major advance for the country.

Now let's return now to Honduras where a fire at one of the country's prisons has killed at least 272 inmates. Now our senior Latin American affairs editor Rafael Romo is covering the story from CNN Center and he joins us now. And Rafael, why is the death toll so high?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened, Kristie, is that this particular prison in the town of Comayagua in central Honduras was extremely over populated. It was built for only 400 prisoners. Authorities say that there were close to 981. The fire started shortly after midnight. And authorities believe it might have been started by an inmate who set a mattress on fire.

Now officially, authorities are telling us that so far 272 inmates had been confirmed dead, however a local media in Honduras are saying that as many as 350 may have died in the blaze.

We were looking just a few moments ago at live pictures from our CNN affiliate televicentro (ph), you can see family members who just rushed to the prison are trying to find out whether their relatives are among the dead. The prison officials were slowly gathering information. It's just a chaotic scene out side the prison. And as you can imagine, many, many people who are living the anxiety of not really knowing what happened to their loved ones, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, the death toll very fluid. It may rise. Many people asking, begging for answers.

The prison, I understand, it held over 800 inmates, so did many escape during this fire?

ROMO: We were hearing testimonies of prisoners who in their desperation knocked down walls. One said that he was able to escape to the roof, but had injuries on his hand and arms. And they paint a picture of desperation with prisoners in five wings affected by the fire and just trying to escape as fast as they could. But as you can imagine, under the conditions of over population in that particular prison it was just impossible for many of them to escape and that's the reason why the death toll is so high, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Rafael Romo, thank you.

Now this week, the CNN Freedom Project is showing you a dedicated group of volunteers is making a difference in Vietnam. The Catalyst Foundation works in the country's southern corner. The town of Rach Gia is just 22 kilometers away from Cambodia. A community of Cambodian refugees has made a home there in two rubbish dumps. Now everything they have comes from the trash. The three generations have lived in this extreme poverty. And the children have become easy prey for human traffickers.

But education is helping to protect them from this threat. Natalie Allen shows us that is not the only way the school is improving their lives.


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you're a child who lives on a dump, this is your playground. Despite filthy conditions, the ground covered with garbage, the children being children just want to play.

CAROLINE NGUYEN TICARRO-PARKER, CATALYST FOUNDATION: The kids would all come here and climb up this little pole and bounce on the bags and call it a playground.

ALLEN: Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker came to Vietname as a volunteer from the U.S. and discovered this community of Cambodian refugees. She noticed whatever the kids played with, ate, or wore often came from the trash.

TICARRO-PARKER: They came with matching flip-flops. And they were like -- really! They never had a matching pair of flip-flops before.

ALLEN: Today, they have matching shoes, clean uniforms, and a school. Caroline raised enough money from her volunteer work to create Catalyst School so these children are the first in generations of families from the dump to get an education. The fight is not only against illiteracy and poverty, these children face constant danger of being sold or kidnapped into the slave trade. Trafficking of young children for the sex industry is rampant in Vietnam and just across the border in Cambodia.

So Catalyst goes beyond teaching in a class room by holding community meetings to teach parents too. They give them basic parenting skills and the cold, hard truth about what will happen to their children if they sell them. And it's not just their daughters who are at risk, their sons are vulnerable too.

I've come to Vietnam with an adventure philanthropy groups called Road Monkey. We've already biked for a week in the country, that's the adventure part. Now we're in the Mekong Delta to build support, the philanthropy part. In just a few days we'll transform this empty plot of sand next to the school into the first real playground the children of the dump have ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm in a little more of my element here. Biking was tough for me. Give me power tools, I'm good to go.

ALLEN: Architects Marty and John designed the playground, the rest of our group built it with help from the local community like this Vietnamese mother. She has her own story to tell. She fell prey to traffickers who made big promises and the school wound up paying to get her daughter back. Now she's volunteering her time, her way of paying back the school.

We worked through the delta downpours, frequent power outages, and a language barrier.

So there's no word for teeter-totter in Vietnam.


ALLEN: The adventure group's founder, Paul von Zielbauer speaks the language, so that helps. He's traveled in Vietnam for years.

PAUL VON ZIELBAUCER, FOUNDER, ROAD MONKEY: Seeing my group engaged with the local people and cultures is one of my favorite parts of doing this. It's why I do this.

ALLEN: It's rewarding for the local community too. One little boy showed his appreciation in a note.

TICARRO-PARKER: And I'm very happy that you're here and that we'll all work hard together.

ALLEN: And after four days and nights the playground was ready.

From all over town all of the children, Cambodians and Vietnamese, come together to play. To see their smiles and joy, you might not know they live here. Winning hearts one girl and boy at a time. Even after dark, the children stayed to play on their playground.


LU STOUT: Some very happy scenes there.

Let's bring in Natalie now from CNN Center. And Natalie, how did you feel watching the children on the playground that you helped to build?

ALLEN: You know, Kristie. I don't think I've ever heard screams of joy like I did the moment they took over the playground -- emphasis on take over. It was a wonderful feeling. You saw them on the teeter-totter. They didn't realize you were supposed to face each other, but I guess that doesn't matter. They also didn't know how to make a swing go. We had to teach them. But it didn't take long for them to figure out.

LU STOUT: Yeah, but they had a lot of fun nonetheless.

Now you also showed us this woman in green. And she was working to pay off debt after selling her daughter not just once, but twice. And earlier this week, you told us about a father who offered you his baby. So Natalie, I've got to ask, is the Catalyst Foundation's program for parents really working?

ALLEN: Yes, they are. But these are the cold realities of that desperation. And that mom, she actually sold her daughter twice. And I want to be clear that the school doesn't pay the brothels they get the brothels to relieve the debt. They help the parents with money to travel to go get the girls. So they did that twice for this woman's daughter. But you what, Kristie, she left again. And she told the school that she was sorry, but she caught up in the sex trade at that point and that's where she stayed.

But, the successes do outweigh the losses. The Catalyst Foundation says that in 2006 before the school opened, more than 37 girls from the dump were sold to traffickers by their parents. In 2011 only 4 were sold. So Kristie, it's definitely making a difference.

LU STOUT: That's right, one girl at a time.

And Natalie, I'd like to bring up this woman who you wrote about in your blog. And here she is pictured here with most of her family. And they all live at the dump. Can you tell us more about them?

ALLEN: I will. That is Yu (ph). And you saw here on the teeter- totter, by the way. She was the one screaming with joy. She's still in school. She even takes vocational training with her brother at the school. And all of the school aged children, she has nine siblings. They all live in one shack on a dump. They all are at Catalyst School now. So that is a success.

And education has made the difference, according to Catalyst. When they started, there was 99 percent illiteracy from the people in those dumps. None of the parents knew how to read and write. The children have never been to school. They are now down to 40 percent illiteracy. And the kids are teaching their parents how to read.

LU STOUT: Natalie, this is a wonderful story. Fantastic reporting. Thank you. Natalie Allen joining us live from CNN Center there.

And you can see Natalie's blog and more of these pictures online, just visit And you will also find a link to the Catalyst Foundation.

Well, coming up next here on News Stream, Iran's nuclear ambitions ratchet up regional tensions. We'll go live to Islamabad for reaction to a scientific advance being trumpeted by Tehran.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

And to Iran now and further developments in the country's controversial nuclear program which is sure to raise tensions with Israel and the United States. And for the latest, I'm joined now live by CNN's Reza Sayah who is monitoring the situation from Islamabad.

And Reza, a nuclear announcement from Iran, tell us more. Give us the details.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kristie, we're watching Iranian state TV right now, waiting for President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who is scheduled to address a ceremony in Tehran. We've already seen the head of Iran's nuclear program make several announcements at the ceremony. You can be sure, and there's some live pictures of the Natan (ph) facility, you can be sure that Iran is going to use this day, use these announcements to send the message to the west that they are pressing forward with what they call a peaceful nuclear program, that they are not deterred by these economic sanctions by pressure and the threats of war from the west and Israel.

It's important to point out that these announcements coming today are not surprises, are not shockers to anyone who has monitored Iran's nuclear program. Iran had months ago made announcements for these plans. They've announced them to the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watch dog. In fact, many of these steps that have bee completed in Iran were done under the watch of the IAEA.

Briefly, let's tell you some of the announcements. Iran has announced that they've installed homemade nuclear fuel rods in a cancer research facility in Tehran. They've also announced that they plan to make new yellow cake next year, that's the material that's needed to enrich uranium. They've also announced that they are starting the controversial (INAUDIBLE) enriching uranium at 20 percent at this underground facility outside the city of (INAUDIBLE).

Now even though much of the world was aware that these plans were going to be happening, look for the next 24 hours for the information to ratchet up the finger pointing, to ratchet up on one hand you're going to have Iran hyping these announcements up as an indication that they're peaceful nuclear program is making significant progress. On the other hand, and it's already happening, expect leaders in Israel and Washington to point to today's events as a reason why that the world should be wary about Iran getting closer to the capability of making nuclear bombs -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: A very worrying development.

Reza Sayah on the story for us. Thank you very much indeed.

Now Israel's frustration with Iran is already running high. It accuses Iran of being behind a series of recent bomb attacks in Thailand, India, and Georgia. Now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Iran is the leading terror in the world.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Iran is the threat to the stability of the world. They are targeting innocent diplomats. The international community has to denounce the Iranian actions and to indicate red lines concerning the Iranian aggression. This kind of aggression, if it isn't stopped, will spread to many other countries.


LU STOUT: Now meanwhile, Malaysian police, they have arrested an Iranian man in connection with Tuesday's bomb attacks in Bangkok. Now earlier on Wednesday, Thai authorities charged two Iranians for their suspected involvement in the attacks. Five people were injured in the explosions, including one of the alleged bombers. Now Iran has denied Israel's accusations that it was behind the attacks.

And still ahead here on News Stream, we have your world weather forecast and the latest on the cold snap in Romania where hundreds of villages have been cut off by snow.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

And time now for the world weather forecast. And the latest on that massive cyclone that we've been seeing just hovering about Madagascar. Mari Ramos joins us now from the world weather center with that and more -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Hey Kristie, yeah, we're going to talk a lot about the snow in just a moment and show you that video one more time, but first a quick update on this tropical cyclone near Madagascar. Here's some of the pictures of what Tropical Cyclone Giovanna left behind as it moved across Madagascar. You can see the flooding. There are reports of some trees down, power that was out for quite awhile. And some of the areas across the east where they were hardest hit. Not a lot of information coming out of those areas, but the threat for flooding and mudslides continues as the storm still moves away.

And you can see that center of circulation already back out here into the Mozambique Channel. We're expecting the storm actually to intensify yet again now in the very warm waters here. The rain is affecting still Madagascar and Mozambique. This is the fourth tropical cyclone this year so far, since January to now that has affected this very same area.

Most of the rain right now still staying on this side of the channel, but the threat for rain and more flooding, unfortunately, continues also as we head over into mainland Africa and to Mozambique. So we'll be watching that very carefully.

Another area that has had some significant flooding has been across the Philippines in the south. We have another area of low pressure, a tropical wave that's moving through here. That's going to bring you, again, the threat for flooding and mudslides in some of those areas, particularly in the southern Philippines. So watch out for that.

And the story across the north is still not only the cold, Kristie, but the snow. More snow on the way across parts of Japan. They have been literally buried in snowfall here. Pretty similar to what's happening across portions of eastern Europe with the frigid temperatures and the long lasting cold.

This picture that you see here behind me, absolutely beautiful, right? Except that we're talking about North Africa, about 100 kilometers south, south of the coast line here. So we are really dealing with some significant weather events here and plenty, plenty of snow.

Look at Europe, more snow yet to come.

Let me show you a picture, some video that we have from Romania. It's really amazing what you see here. They are literally digging out over three, three-and-a-half meters of snowfall across these areas. This is very significant, because we are still expecting additional snowfall. And I want to show you one piece of video right here, look, this is a tunnel that was dug to be able to reach -- wait for it, here it comes -- the home, the front door of the house. And you can see how high the snow is actually piled up in those areas.

So, this begs the question, right, what's going to happen in spring?

Come back over to the weather map. Let's talk about that very quickly. Well, the first thing is, is it going to flood? Well, it depends on how much snow has fallen. In course, in this case we're talking about extreme amounts of snow.

How quickly is it going to warm up? We still don't know that yet, but that could be a big factor on how much flooding we actually get from all of this. Is the ground frozen, because if it is the water can't penetrate the ground and then will run off quicker into the rivers and streams.

Are we going to have more rain? If we get a lot of rainfall coming up in the spring the flooding could be quite severe over these areas. And remember the ice jams we were talking about? If that happens, that could also overflow or help the rivers overflow a bit quicker. So this is going to be the next thing to worry about in those areas.

Back to you.

LU STOUT: Yeah, and here's hoping the extreme cold won't bring about another disaster. Mari Ramos there, thank you.

Now it is an unlikely location for a protest against a politician, but demonstrators at the Westminster dog show in New York say that they are angry with the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but not about his politics.

Jeanne Moos reports.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Inside Madisan Square Garden think of them as the hoity-toity 1 percent -- show dogs getting groomed for Westminster, America's most prestigious dog show. And outside the Garden, the 99 percent, the rabble, doggy protesters.

So how do you feel about Mitt?

They may turn their backs on the press, but a Dogs Against Romney protest outside Westminster was a treat we in the media couldn't resist.

Do you have a problem riding on the roof?

It's that old story again about the time back in 1983 when Mitt Romney took his family on vacation with his Irish Setter Seamus in a dog carrier tied to the car roof.

He made a wind shield for the dog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh did he really, made a wind shield for the dog?

MOOS: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your dog is your family member. I mean, I don't think he would have taken one of his children and put them on the roof. But maybe he would have, who knows?

MOOS: Socky the Pug came to the protest in a backpack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like riding on a human roof right there.

MOOS: But the human roof rack says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't go 65 miles an hour down the highway.

MOOS: For 12 hours.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself.

MOOS: Comedians won't let go of the story. On SNL...


MOOS: A Romney impersonator threatened his dog when he wouldn't stop barking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to go back on that roof?

MOOS: One of President Obama's advisers tweeted out this photo with the caption, "how loving owners transport their dogs." Protesters keep dogging Romney with stuffed animals fastened to their roofs. In Littleton, Colorado, this car actually got pulled over by police.

Police say a motorist called 911 to say that she saw the door...


LU STOUT: Now let's go live to Iran where the president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is speaking on a nuclear development. Let's listen in right now.