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Afghan Violence; Troubling Week in Afghanistan; "War of Perception"; Plot to Kill Putin; Observers Prepare to Monitor Russian Election; S&P Downgrades Greece Rating; Condemned Iranian Film Wins Best Foreign Film; Big Interview: Iranian Filmmaker Marjane Satrapi; Parting Shots of Sacha Baron Cohen's Red Carpet Stunt

Aired February 27, 2012 - 16:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Welcome back. Just after half past nine in London. I'm Becky Anderson, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Let's get you a check of the world news headlines.

An opposition group says the death toll in Syria this Monday is now 138. Meanwhile, the Red Cross says aid workers have finally arrived in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs. They're trying to evacuate the wounded. The opposition stronghold has been devastated by more than three weeks of shelling.

For the seventh straight day, a deadly display of outrage in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber struck in a military airfield in Jalalabad, killing nine. The Taliban says it's in deliberate retaliation for the Koran burnings at a US air base last week.

Lawmakers in Germany have voted to approve the latest bailout package to keep Greece from defaulting on its debts. Many lawmakers are getting an earful from German taxpayers wondering when the costly bailouts will end.

Shots rang out at a high school in the US state of Ohio earlier today just as the school day was getting started. Five students were wounded, one later died. Police have arrested a suspect. A handgun was found and turned over to federal authorities.

I want to get you the very latest on the violence in Afghanistan today and how that might be impacting long-term in the NATO mission there. Nick Paton Walsh is in the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban, Nick, claiming today's suicide blast was to revenge the burning of the Korans. What do we know of the details of that attack?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It left nine people dead, six of them civilian Afghans. Some ISAF personnel were lightly injured but went straight back work, but the key thing to remember about it, Becky, is they're claiming responsibility as you say, saying it was avenging this burning of a Koran.

Now, the fear is in the months ahead as the fighting picks up, they could consistently frame the conventional violence of the insurgency as being potentially avenging this one American unintentional mistake, which could potentially harness or ferment unrest amongst Afghans, also angry at this American blunder. Becky?

ANDERSON: Let's remember the 2014 withdrawal hinging -- US withdrawal, NATO withdrawal -- hinging on very close mentoring and training of army and police. What is your sense of relations between civilians and the military on the ground at this point?

WALSH: They couldn't really have had a rougher week. We've had seven days of uninterrupted violence linked to this Koran burning, during which four Americans have been shot dead by men in Afghan army uniform, two of them in what should have been the securest part of Afghanistan's own Interior Ministry.

We had another instance today in which the Taliban claimed to have poisoned five Americans on a base near Pakistan's border. That turned out to be untrue, but NATO did have to accept there was some contamination in the food there, in the coffee and the fruits. They don't know how, but the fear is, maybe there was some kind of tampering.

Instances like this all go to erode the trust that NATO and American soldiers can feel towards the Afghans who, maybe, work at a dining facility or who serve alongside them on the battlefield.


WALSH: That trust is key to the handover transition. Without it, if it begins to erode, the exit strategy really begins to crumble, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, we're going to talk more about that in a moment. Nick, thank you for that, Nick Paton Walsh for you in Kabul.

The violent uproar highlighting very real challenges NATO faces as it prepares to withdraw troops by the end of 2014. A look back, now, at a troubling week in Afghanistan.


ANDERSON (voice-over): It was images like these that ignited a storm of controversy and protest in Afghanistan, the burning of Korans at Bagram Air Force Base.


ANDERSON: Protests quickly turning deadly, forcing an apology from NATO.

JOHN ALLEN, GENERAL, ISAF COMMANDER: This was unintentional. There was no intention by any member of ISAF to defame the faith of Islam or to desecrate the precious religious materials of this faith.

ANDERSON: The demonstrations continued across the country. Five people were killed and dozens injured as the news spread.

On February the 23rd, two days after the protests began, President Obama apologized, calling the incident an error. But the violence continued. Two American troops were killed that same day, Afghan president Hamid Karzai's plea for calm doing nothing to stop the anger.

On Saturday, two American military officers were killed inside the Afghan Interior Ministry. The Taliban claimed responsibility, calling retaliation for the burning of the Korans. And on Sunday, seven more American troops were injured in a grenade attack on their base.


ANDERSON: Well, Mr. Obama's apology over the incident has drawn the ire of his would-be Republican opponents, Newt Gingrich calling it an outrage, Rick Santorum said it shows weakness.

Well, our next guest doesn't agree and says the conflict in Afghanistan has become a war of perception. I asked former US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley what he meant by that.


PJ CROWLEY, FORMER SPOKESMAN, US STATE DEPARTMENT: The candidates for president, I think their perspective is dated. If this was the Cold War, then I would understand that kind of logic. But we're in a very different world and a very different kind of struggle.

It is about the attitudes and perceptions of the critical populations around the world of which one is the Islamic world, and the Koran-burning has cut to the heart of a challenge of convincing people the United States and the West are not at war with Islam and did not mean any demonstration of disrespect.

And so, the apology, I think, fit into that to try to not only maintain the progress that has been made in terms of gradually shifting attitudes between the West and the broader Islamic world.

ANDERSON: There's no doubt that both sides need to make an effort to reduce tensions at this point. Is Karzai's government, though, do you think, interested in trying to manage the politics of the US withdrawal and a long-term relationship going forward?

CROWLEY: I actually think they are interested in managing the situation. However, Karzai starts this challenge from a position of very little political capital.

So, they're clearly struggling to figure out how to find that fine line where understanding the attitudes and the unrest and the protest that has occurred within their country, but doing enough as to maintain the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan.

And that's really what's at risk here, is that you do have tensions already in the relationship. Now you add this level of mistrust, not only the American act on the one hand, but now Afghan security forces turning their weapons against US soldiers.

So, I definitely think that on both sides, we cannot take public opinion in Afghanistan, in the United States, in the West for granted. This will do damage.

ANDERSON: How damaging has this Koran-burning period, as it were, in Afghanistan been to any peace talks with the Taliban going forward?

CROWLEY: Well, I clearly think that that has been the short-term victim here. There was discussions that had been going on between the United States and the Taliban that hopefully would lead to a formal and direct negotiation between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

I think that has been swept away for a period of time. Clearly in this environment and clearly the fact that the Taliban is so aggressively trying to exploit this situation, it will definitely set back peace talks for a period of time.

ANDERSON: You say that the US needs a different military approach at this point. Is there any appetite for any sort of military approach in Afghanistan these days?

CROWLEY: I think you have to go forward and then work back. The long-term strategy, which does exist within the Obama administration, is to shift from what it calls a counter-insurgency strategy to a counter- terrorism strategy.

Reduce the level of forces and those residual forces that do remain continue to focus on the terrorism threat that exists somewhat within Afghanistan, even more compellingly across the border in Pakistan, to keep the pressure on those extremist groups that have attacked the West and the United States in the past.

That is now potentially in jeopardy, and I think that rather than continuing on the current path, which projects a shift in strategy in 2014, we need to be more aggressive, speed up the clock and make this transition more quickly.

Reduce the level of military force, reduce the friction that does exist between foreign forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan population, and see that sacrifice in the short term in order to sustain this relationship over the long term.


ANDERSON: PJ Crowley speaking to me about the troubling times for the US-Afghanistan relationship.

All right. Assassination plot or publicity ploy? We're going to tell you about an alleged plan to kill Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Putin and its revelation just before the election. That's up next.


ANDERSON: The Russian presidential campaign took an intriguing turn today with the revelation that two men have been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill former president and current presidential candidate Vladimir Putin.

Now, security sources say the men had been dispatched by Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov. Some observers commented on the coincidence of the plot being discovered so close to election day, but a spokesman for Prime Minister Putin calls such intimations "blasphemous."

With the election less than a week away, thousands of observers are preparing to monitor the vote. They are hoping to make sure that Sunday's election will not be a repeat of the December vote, which led to widespread allegations of fraud and mass demonstrations on the streets. Our man in Moscow, Phil Black, reports.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the 5th of December last year, Russians voted for a new parliament. It was a day that changed the country.

As polling stations closed, dozens of videos like this were shared on the internet. They claim to show widespread cheating in favor of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. In this video, a man says he saw a woman trying to stuff a ballot with these extra votes.

Lilia Shibanova is the head of GOLOS, which is Russian for "voice." It's an independent election monitoring organization.

LILIA SHIBANOVA, GOLOS ASSOCIATION (through translator): Russian elections have been falsified for a long time. We believe that what happened on December 5th was the worst we have ever seen.

BLACK: Across the country, there were claims of ballot stuffing, people voting at multiple polling stations, and officials changing votes and numbers. It all inspired this.


BLACK: Unprecedented anger at Vladimir Putin's regime. One of the protesters' demands was the sacking of Vladimir Churov, the head of Russia's electoral commission. He still has his job, and he's responsible for organizing the presidential vote.

"I laugh a lot when I hear claims of cheating," Churov says here. "They're just fairy tales."

ALEXEI NAVALNY, LEADING OPPOSITION FIGURE (through translator): We have zero trust in what Churov and Putin say.

BLACK: Alexei Navalny has become the leading figure of the opposition protest movement. He started as a blogger and anti-corruption activist. Now, he's helping to mobilize and train tens of thousands of volunteer election observers.

NAVALNY (through translator): We don't think Putin will be a legitimate president. But it's our goal to make it more difficult for them to falsify results. We have to do everything we can.

BLACK: This is a training seminar for volunteer monitors, organized by the campaign of candidate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Parties, candidates, and independent groups are all allowed to deploy observers. For the first time, most of them are coordinating their efforts to achieve the widest possible coverage. These volunteers don't think electoral fraud is a fairy tale.

BLACK (on camera): Why are you here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I need to -- I think I need to do something for my country today, for democracy in this country.

BLACK: Do you believe you can make a difference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, yes. Without it, I wouldn't be here.

BLACK (voice-over): Vladimir Putin has his own idea for fighting fraud: web cameras. 300,000 are being installed in more than 90,000 polling stations at an estimated cost of $1 billion. Putin says it promises transparency. Others believe it's a gimmick.

NAVALNY (through translator): Election officials can just go into another room, change the numbers and go back into the polling station. It's obviously for everyone. That's why these measures are simply laughable.


BLACK (on camera): The electoral monitoring groups say there's less need for Putin supporters to treat him to selection. His public support is so strong, he will win. But they believe Putin's guaranteed return to the Kremlin may inspire some electoral officials to massage the numbers because they could fear the consequences of delivering a less than comfortable victory.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.


ANDERSON: And do join me Sunday for live coverage of the Russian presidential election. We'll take an in-depth look at the results as they come in and gauge voter reaction from social media analysis to implications for global business and more. Jill Dougherty and Phil Black will be live in Moscow. That's Saturday -- sorry, Sunday night, starting at 5:00 in London, 6:00 PM in Berlin.

Just some news to bring you up to date on, just coming into CNN Center. As expected, the S&P agency has downgraded Greece's debt to what they called "Selective Default," a move pre-announced. All its consequences have pretty much been anticipated, planned for, and addressed by the relevant stakeholders here.

But just to make sure that you're bang up to date with what's going on in that -- in the business world, S&P downgrading Greece to "Selective Default." Who would have imagined that some three years ago?

Well, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. When we come back --


MARJANE SATRAPI, WRITER/DIRECTOR: That is a separation in the world is between the idiot people and the rest of the world. And the idiots are international.


ANDERSON: Marjane Satrapi talks about what she sees as the real problems in the world. My Big Interview with the outspoken Iranian filmmaker up next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He is a good, decent person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Then why do you want a divorce?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He won't leave with me.


ANDERSON: The film condemned by the Islamic Republic of Iran applauded at the Academy Awards. Iranian drama "A Separation" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film on Sunday night. Director Asghar Farhadi dedicated the award to the people of Iran, describing it as a victory for a culture that has been hidden under the "heavy dust of politics."

Well, "A Separation" is the first Iranian film to win an Academy Award, but Farhadi is not the first Iranian filmmaker to grace the red carpet in Hollywood. In tonight's Big Interview, I sit down with one of his more outspoken predecessors.

It's been five years since Marjane Satrapi received an Oscar nod -- or nomination, at least -- for "Persepolis." But even today, her film is creating a stir. In Tunisia, the movie is at the center of a legal drama over a scene portraying God, which is offensive to Muslims.

It's a debate Satrapi won't get into, but as you're going to find out, she's still got plenty to say.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Collecting the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, it was the first of what would become a string of awards for writer Marjane Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud for "Persepolis," an animated film that draws on Satrapi's own experiences growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL (through translator): Down with the Shah!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Marji!

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL (through translator -- softly): Down with the Shah. Down with the Shah.

ANDERSON: The precocious child is now a strong-willed adult who left Iran in 1994 and has rarely been back.

SATRAPI: I don't think that I have ever been rebellious. The thing is that I don't believe in people -- what people tell me. I have to accept it in my own brain first. I don't listen to anyone, never. So, when I hear something, then I say to myself, is that good for me or not? And then, I decide. And if it's not good, then I don't accept it. But that's not rebellion. It's just using your brain, I guess.

ANDERSON: And initially, Satrapi wasn't so sure adapting her graphic novel into a film was such a good idea.

SATRAPI: I made everything not to make it. I said, I will make a 2D animation in black and white. Hand-drawn like the studio should be in the center of Paris, no way I will go to the suburbs. I want Catherine Deneuve, I want this, I want that.

And then the guy, he said -- he came two months later, and he said, "It's OK."

ANDERSON: "Persepolis," of course, was so successful, it was nominated for an Academy Award.

SATRAPI: Oscar, I think, is the worst experience of one's person, really. First of all, they stress you out for one week. They give you this DVD, what you should say, what you should do, how many seconds you should talk, you should not thank your grandmother and your cousin and everyone, you can only thank your wife and your children. It's a whole thing.

And then, you arrive at the Oscars and there was suddenly all the photographers, they were on us, and I was like, "Wow, my God!"

But then, I thought that actually they were not completely on me. It was a little bit on the side. And it was John Travolta next to me, so I didn't even get one photo at the Oscars because of John Travolta. He just destroyed my Oscar day.

And then, I had these high-heeled shoes in I was uncomfortable in, I had this dress I was uncomfortable in, the food was not good. It was -- I mean, at the end, if you win, maybe you forget about this week of suffering. But if you don't win, then you only remembering the suffering.

ANDERSON: Despite the lack of an Oscar and photograph, Satrapi has become a strong Iranian voice, and in 2009, she used it, presenting documents to the European Parliament, which claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not won the Iranian election.

ANDERSON (on camera): Did you think twice about doing that?

SATRAPI: No. I went very close to politics, and politics is something that completely disgusts me of life, because to make politics, any kind of politics, you have to embrace an ideology, and from the second you embrace an ideology, you have to make compromises, and from the second you make compromises, you become cynical.

So, it brought me too close to the politics and I saw it and I don't want to do it.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Now, rather than talk politics, Satrapi concentrates her efforts on art that gives the world a different perspective on Iran. "Persepolis" was just the beginning.

SATRAPI: This clash of the culture, East and the West, us and them, Muslim and Christian, does not exist. You have about between 20 and -- 12 and 20 percent, actually, of jerks in the world. Fanatics. That makes actually, if you take the middle is 16 percent. The 16 percent, they are Communists about the extreme right or fascist fanatics in Iran.

You have the 16 percent of idiot people everywhere. So this is it. If that is -- the separation in the world is between the idiot people and the rest of the world. And the idiots are international.

ANDERSON: Satrapi continued to strip down the West's view of Iran with her second film, "Chicken With Plums," a love story inspired by one of her ancestors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Since no violin would ever play again, Nasser Ali decided to die.

He thought of various ways to put an end to his days.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No. No. No.

SATRAPI: It's my mother's uncle, but he died in 58, and I'm born 12 years after, so I didn't know him. And the guy was really good-looking, very, very handsome. And I'm very impressed and attracted by the beauty and the aesthetic, really, is some -- if my mother's uncle, he was ugly, probably I would never make this story, to be honest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You were so shattered that your heart turned into stone. So, he decided to die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Again?


ANDERSON (on camera): In what ways are you distinctly Iranian?

SATRAPI: In my way to receive people in my house.

ANDERSON: In what ways are you distinctly French?

SATRAPI: In the way that I am all the time complaining and I'm never happy.

ANDERSON: I know that there a lot of leaders that you don't think much of. Which ones do you admire?

SATRAPI: Leaders? None of them.

ANDERSON: The veil. It is a symbol of freedom or oppression for you?

SATRAPI: For me, it's a symbol of oppression, but I never judge people that wear it, because some people, if they believe, I'm not the one to tell them what to do.

ANDERSON: Is the cup half full or half empty?

SATRAPI: Oh, half full. Always.

ANDERSON: What keeps you awake at night?

SATRAPI: I'm awake at night without nothing. I can never sleep before 4:00.

ANDERSON: Greatest decision that you've ever made?

SATRAPI: To come to France.

ANDERSON: Worst decision?

SATRAPI: To get married the first time I got married.

ANDERSON: What would you like your epitaph to say?

SATRAPI: From life, I wanted eternity. I only could be disappointed.


ANDERSON: What a fantastic woman. Coming up right after the break after this show, we're going to speak with the Iranian actress, Leila Hatani, star of the film "A Separation," which won that Oscar for Best Foreign Film. That is on "BackStory" in five minutes from now.

Well, from statues to stunts, tonight's Parting Shots features on Oscars moment organizers probably aren't so proud of. On Friday night, we played a message from one disgruntled guest whose invite, apparently, had been revoked.

Well, come Sunday, though, organizers allowed Sacha Baron Cohen to attend in character from his new movie. Well, he got an urn bearing the image of deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and he tipped the contents over e-host Ryan Seacrest during a live interview. Cohen was then removed from the red carpet.

I'm Becky Anderson, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you for watching. The world headlines and "BackStory" are up right after this short break. Don't go away.