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Vote on Changes in Syrian Constitution; Syrian Refugees Fleeing to Jordan; Afghanistan Suicide Attack; Colombian Rebel Group FARC Announces End To Civilian Kidnappings; "The Artist" Wins Big At Oscars

Aired February 27, 2012 - 08:00:00   ET

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


PAULINE CHIOU, HOST: Welcome to NEWS STREAM, where news and technology meet.

I'm Pauline Chiou in Hong Kong.

We begin in Syria. There's no change in Homs, where a siege of the city continues. But will a referendum bring real change to the country's constitution?

Speaking out in support of North Korean defectors in China who could face a deadly homecoming if they're sent back to North Korea.

And --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If George Valentin could speak, he'd say, (SPEAKING FRENCH). I love you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: Audible joy for a silent film as "The Artist" wins big at the Oscars.

We begin in Syria, where the bloody crackdown is continuing as Syrians await the results of a vote on a new constitution. Activists say four people have been killed in Homs so far today, following 55 deaths across the country on Sunday.

This footage appears to show tanks firing into the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs on Saturday, though CNN cannot independently verify these YouTube images. Here, a fire rages in a shop in Homs after an apparent shelling attack. The Syrian government blames armed terrorists.

Amid the violence, protesters marched in Hama to blast Sunday's constitutional referendum. The government says it will lead to a multi- party system, but several Western governments are dismissing this vote. British Foreign Secretary William Hague says it fooled nobody. He and his European counterparts are meeting in Brussels, where fresh sanctions on Syria have just been announced.

Rima Maktabi is live in Abu Dhabi to explain what all of this will mean.

Rima, we're still waiting for results from yesterday's voting on the changing to the constitution, but does the public actually believe these are real changes?

RIMA MAKTABI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pauline, it depends who you ask. If you ask the opposition and the international community, they will tell you it's laughable, it's a farce, it's taking place where the government cannot even handle dissent and opposition and has a bloody crackdown on the opposition. But if you ask the Syrian government, you will hear President Bashar al-Assad, as he was voting yesterday, saying that it's all a conspiracy against Syria and a negative media campaign and he's going ahead with the reforms.

This constitution is -- on paper it looks good. It's supposed to bring about parliamentary elections in 90 days, and then probably a new government. But it keeps very large powers in the hands of the president and can keep Bashar al-Assad in his office until 2028 -- Pauline.

CHIOU: So it looks good on paper, but the European foreign ministers don't seem to believe it, and they have issued new sanctions, as we mentioned, on top of existing ones.

What kinds of sanctions are these, and will these new rounds actually stop the violence from the Assad regime?

MAKTABI: I've spoken, Pauline, to many officials, Arab and European officials, and they tell me that they do not believe the promises of Bashar al-Assad. Now, as we know, the new sanctions by the EU may include Assad's freezing on assets of the Central Bank, the Syrian Central Bank, and another blacklist of seven people close to Bashar al-Assad. But irrelevant of what the sanctions are, Pauline, it's been 11 months of violence, and there were other sanctions in the past months, but it seems they affected everybody except the Assad regime.

Definitely, the money in and out of the country is difficult now. The business dealings are difficult and the situation is tough on the ground. But the Assad regime is still in place and the military crackdown is continuing.

CHIOU: We've seen almost a year of violence now. Give us an update on the latest violence that we've seen today.

MAKTABI: Well, CNN spoke to an activist in Homs today, and he said the latest is seven people killed today, 40 wounded, and some others killed across the country.

Let's remember the big picture, Pauline. We're talking about the bloodiest Arab Spring over the past year in Syria. This is the highest death toll that we've seen.

We cannot even know the final number of people killed. Activists are saying up to 9,000 people have been killed.

And even journalists, foreign journalists like Marie Colvin and others, have stayed in Homs. No one can get them out of the country or help injured people in or out of the country. It's a very difficult situation. And despite all of that, the government says it's a conspiracy.

CHIOU: Rima, thank you very much for the latest update there in Syria.

Rima Maktabi, reporting live from Abu Dhabi.

One particularly powerful video has been posted online from inside Syria. It contains graphic content that you might find distressing. And as we've mentioned, we cannot confirm its authenticity, but it appears to show shots being fired at an anti-government rally in a Damascus suburb.

As gunfire rained down, the crowd runs from the scene. Here, some of the protesters tried to pull a casualty to safety before escaping from that area.

As the bloodshed continues, an increasing number of Syrians are fleeing to neighboring countries, including Jordan, which has taken in around 80,000 refugees since the uprising began a year ago.

As Ben Wedeman reports, Jordan is feeling the pressure to accommodate them all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Jordanian teacher leads a group of children in a variation of "Simon Says." The children are recent arrivals from Syria. The game, a way to bring a touch of normalcy back to lives shattered by the Assad regime's mounting crackdown on rebellious towns and villages.

The Jordanian charity the Noor Al Hussein Foundation is working with UNICEF to provide refugees with basic services and health care, and they ask us not to show the children's faces to protect their relatives still in Syria.

MARIA CALIVIS, UNICEF: These families arrive. They have abandoned homes, they have abandoned -- they've seen lots of violence around them. So they often arrive quite traumatized.

WEDEMAN: Most of these children come from the town of Daraa in southern Syria, where the revolt against the regime began.

(on camera): The number of children at this facility has almost tripled since the middle of February, an indication that more people are coming over the border to the relative safety of Jordan.

(voice-over): Thirty-nine-year-old Imad (ph) from Daraa lives with his wife and two small children in a bare, unheated apartment in the Jordanian town of Rumfa (ph). The rent is paid by an Islamic charity which occasionally provides them with food packages.

Imad's (ph) wife, Umhamza (ph), says the children are restless and bored. Our visit and my reading glasses did provide some much-needed diversion, but they, like her, miss life back in Syria.

"Before, we were living among our relatives and friends," she recalls. "We had everything we needed. Here, everything has changed."

Imad (ph) worries Jordan isn't prepared to cope with a possible flood of people fleeing the bloodshed just across the border. "Here, they don't recognize us as refugees, they recognize us as guests," he says. "They'll welcome a guest or two for a day or two, but they won't welcome families, and there are 75,000 refugees in Jordan. Are we all guests?"

Jordan is making preparations. Outside the town of Mafraq, a small refugee camp is under construction. We met the Jordanian interior minister here by chance, but he refused to talk or even appear on camera. In this country that has taken in millions of refugees from historic Palestine and more recently Iraq, the prospect of another wave from Syria has the government worried.

At another house in Rumfa (ph), we met a Syrian army sergeant who recently deserted. The Jordanian authorities usually put Syrian deserters who seek refuge in army bases, but this man, who identifies himself with the initials "M.H.," claimed to be a civilian when he entered Jordan. But he didn't leave his hatred for the regime at the border.

"Four or five days ago, my cousin, a soldier, was tortured, then executed with a shot to the back of his head because they found out he had wanted to defect," he says. "They killed him because he just wanted to preserve his dignity."

Just a few minutes' drive away, the border with Syria is deceptively calm and quiet, not revealing the fury and passion of an uprising that is spilling over into Jordan.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rumfa (ph), northern Jordan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: Turning now to Afghanistan, where the Taliban say they are responsible for a suicide blast that killed nine people. It happened earlier today in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan.

A local police chief says a car packed with explosives ran into the gates of Jalalabad airport, and this was the smoldering aftermath of the attack. Part of the airport is used as a NATO base. The Taliban say the attack was revenge for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. air base a week ago.

Well, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is following the latest developments from Kabul, and he joins us live.

Nick, we've seen several incidents in the past week that are apparently in retaliation for the Quran burnings. Is this expected to escalate even more?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the fear. And I think today, the Taliban claiming responsibility for this attack wasn't a surprise. They tried to suggest it was in vengeance somehow for this Quran, which may be the case, but also it's possible they just planned this attack a long time ago and chose the political opportunity of suggesting it was related to the Quran.

Yes, we have seen these violent protests. We have seen instances in which Afghan men in army uniform have turned their weapons upon the ISAF soldiers they're working with. Four are dead now in a shooting in the Interior Ministry and one in a base in the east as well, really causing people to have deep concern here. I think we might be seeing some sort of combination of insurgent violence, popular protests, and fury at this burning of a Quran by mistake by the Americans somehow escalating.

We're now into the -- I think it's the seventh straight day of violence purportedly related to this Quranic burning. So deep concerns here at this point as to when this could potentially stop.

CHIOU: Now, the U.S. is trying to transition security over to the Afghans within the next two years. And because of these incidents, are you seeing a lack of trust between U.S. and Afghan forces?

WALSH: Well, that's been eroded for some time, really, over the years and months, as these regular incidents -- terrifyingly regular, in fact -- as I say, Afghan men in army uniform turning their weapons on the ISAF soldiers training them or working alongside them. That trust has been slowly eroded, but the last few instances, particularly the shooting at the Interior Ministry in what should have been one of the most secure areas, is really doing damage to that trust.

Another instance today in which the Taliban claim they've managed to poison and kill five Americans on a base near the Pakistani border. It turned out not to be true, but what was true is they found chlorine bleach in the coffee and the fruit in a dining facility there. Not sure how it got there, but that, again, will do a little bit of damage to the trust people need in ISAF, in the Afghans who work with them.

So as we see this really tight timetable for a NATO drawdown here, handing over to Afghan security forces really beginning to escalate here, at the same time we're seeing the potential that the trust they have with the Afghans they're working with is being slowly eroded by these instances, really putting into doubt many key planks of the NATO strategy here.

CHIOU: And Nick, the U.S. government has already apologized for the Quran burning, saying it was not intentional. What has the Karzai government said in response?

WALSH: Well, Karzai was a little slow, some say, in coming forward and appealing for calm, but he did, quite strongly, I think, on about the third day or so appeal for calm amongst the Afghan people. He has now, it's fair to say, on several occasions asked for restraint, asked people, for example, at Friday prayers last week to not come out on the streets after that, for there to be less violence. But he's in a difficult bind here, because there is great Afghan popular anger at this admitted burning of a Quran by the Americans.

He has to represent that somehow, whilst also realizing that his government is deeply dependent on NATO infrastructure, finances and political backing, in many ways, to continue to exist here. So he's in a difficult position, but at this particular point there are U.S. officials questioning more broadly the Afghan security infrastructure, how they cooperate, the level of trust between them. And that really could have a very negative impact in the months ahead.

CHIOU: Nick, thank you very much.

Nick Paton Walsh there, reporting on the escalating tensions that we're seeing within Afghanistan.

Well, coming up on NEWS STREAM, they say silence is golden, and a silent film took top honors at this year's Academy Awards. We have your Oscar night highlights.

Plus, she's still in charge down under, but can Julia Gillard heal her party's rifts?

And the dangers of defecting. South Koreans call on Seoul to protect people caught trying to escape from the north.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: The theater was packed with Hollywood's biggest personalities, but this year's Oscars belonged to the film industry's quiet achiever.

Silent film "The Artist" dominated at the 84th Academy Awards. It took home five statues, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

The show was broadcast live in more than 225 countries around the world. It has come a long way since the inaugural ceremony back in 1929, which was just a dinner for 270 people at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Well, Billy Crystal was at the helm of this year's show. It's the ninth time the actor and comedian has hosted the Academy Awards.

CNN's Kareen Wynter takes a look at the night's memorable moments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILLY CRYSTAL, HOST: You didn't think I wasn't going to do this, did you?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of course not. This year's Oscars marked the return of Billy Crystal.

"SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" can tell you the nine-time host launched the show with a star-studded film montage featuring a visit from Tom Cruise, a smooch from George Clooney, and a little help from Justin Bieber.

JUSTIN BIEBER, ACTOR: I'm here to get you the 18 to 24 demographic.

WYNTER: And after Billy's song and dance, it was time to hand out the statues.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: -- "The Artist."

WYNTER: The night's big winner was "The Artist." The silent film earned five Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Christopher Plummer.

WYNTER: Supporting acting nods went to the Beginners' Christopher Plummer and The Help's Octavia Spencer.

Cue the waterworks.

OCTAVIA SPENCER, ACTRESS: Thank you, Academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room.

WYNTER: Some would say the hottest guys in the room were up for Best Actor --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Jean Dujardin.

WYNTER: -- which eventually went to French star Jean Dujardin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady."

WYNTER: Meryl Streep proved she is still one of Hollywood's iron ladies, earning honors for Best Actress.

MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: I could hear half of America going, "Oh, no."

WYNTER: But in the middle of all the accolades, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" can tell you half of America may have been thinking, where's Sacha Baron Cohen? The controversial actor went rogue on the red carpet while in full character as "The Dictator." But aside from a pre-taped interview, Cohen was nowhere to be seen during the show.

But Crystal was, and he reminded audiences why this remains Hollywood's biggest night.

CRYSTAL: The movies have always been there for us.

WYNTER: Kareen Wynter, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: It was also a special night for this man, Asghar Farhadi. His movie, "A Separation," won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's the first Iranian film to win an Academy Award. Farhadi dedicated his win to the Iranian people.

You're watching NEWS STREAM. Just ahead on the show, red-faced after losing a face-off. We'll have the very latest on the battle for the top job down under.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: Here's a lovely harbor shot of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor on this Monday night there with the skyline of Hong Kong.

A political face-off in Australia has ended with a red face for Kevin Rudd. Australia's Labor Party has voted overwhelmingly to keep Julia Gillard as party leader and prime minister last week. Now, last week, Kevin Rudd resigned as foreign minister so he could run for the party leadership.

From Australia's Network Ten, Hugh Riminton has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUGH RIMINTON, REPORTER, NETWORK TEN (voice-over): For a second time again, surrounded by a loving family, Kevin Rudd has had to concede defeat to Julia Gillard.

KEVIN RUDD, AUSTRALIAN FMR. FOREIGN MINISTER: I congratulate Julia on her strong win today.

RIMINTON: The prime minister emerged from the leadership ballot today as she predicted. It wasn't even close.

CHRIS HARRIS, AUSTRALIAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: The ballot has now taken place. Julia Gillard has won the ballot 71 votes to 31.

RIMINTON: The ballot box might as well have been a coffin. The result was so emphatic, Kevin Rudd was left a full 40 votes adrift.

JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: This issue, the leadership question, is now determined.

RUDD: I accept fully the verdict of the caucus, and I dedicate myself to working fully for her reelection as the prime minister of Australia.

RIMINTON: His barnstorming public campaign since quitting as foreign minister last week counted for nothing. All the promise and history, the glory days of 2007, now never to return. The worst defeat by a Labor leadership contender in 45 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) today's vote?

RUDD: Absolutely. We must.

RIMINTON: This time, no tears from one K. Rudd. The recognition not just the lodge (ph), but his globetrotting life as foreign minister are now gone.

RUDD: I will continue as the federal member for Griffith.

RIMINTON: His mood, at least in public, is for making peace.

RUDD: I bear no grudges. I bear no one any malice. And if I've done wrong to anyone in what I've said or in what I've done, to them I apologize.

RIMINTON: The prime minister says she accepts Kevin Rudd's promise he won't try again.

Tony Abbott is less convinced.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: It's not so much a new start for this prime minister, but merely a stay of execution.

RIMINTON: Julia Gillard, he says, is more isolated than ever.

ABBOTT: One-third of our parliamentary colleagues and fully one-quarter of her cabinet don't have confidence in this prime minister.

RIMINTON (on camera): Julia Gillard, however, claims to have been strengthened by this experience. Her first promise for all the pain it's caused her, there will be no turning back on the carbon tax.

GILLARD: How can anyone seriously doubt my commitment to this policy? I got it done.

RIMINTON (voice-over): The polls might say voters have turned their face from her, but she's not going to get all ladylike to try to win them back. She's toughening up, she says, dedicating herself to winning next year's election.

GILLARD: I intend to be a very forceful advocate of the government's policies (INAUDIBLE). Any other questions? Thanks very much.

RIMINTON: But in the last hour, another bombshell. The ultimate faceless man, assistant treasurer, Mark Arbib, is quitting parliament.

MARK ARBIB, OUTGOING AUSTRALIAN MINISTER: It was a difficult decision, but it is the right decision, a decision I hope will play a part in helping the party to rebuild after the ballot, helping the party to heal.

RIMINTON: He helped organize the numbers when Kevin Rudd got the leadership before switching two years ago to back Julia Gillard. He says that decision saved the party from certain defeat. But now he's leaving. As a senator, it won't affect the knife edge parliamentary numbers.

However great her triumph today, winning the vote where it really counts is still a heck of an ask (ph) for Julia Gillard.

Hugh Riminton, Ten News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: Today marks the start of an operation called "Key Resolve," which is a joint military drill that the U.S. and South Korea conduct every year. North Korea has long viewed the operation as a provocation. Over the weekend, its leader, Kim Jong-un, visited military units in the southwest.

Now, back in 2010, one of those units launched an attack on a South Korean island, resulting in four deaths. During his visit, state media reports that Kim Jong-un ordered his troops to conduct a powerful retaliatory strike at the enemy if it encroaches into North Korean territory.

As Kim Jong-un pledges to protect the country's borders, many North Koreans have been caught trying to cross them, and dozens are now facing repatriation in China. They were seeking a new life, but as Paula Hancocks reports, it may have been a deadly decision.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pok Sin-yung (ph) is on a hunger strike and sleeping outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. A South Korean politician, she's protesting China's decision to repatriate more than 30 North Korean defectors. She says, "The world should not allow this to happen. According to the U.N. Human Rights Convention, refugees have the freedom to move and settle down where they want, as long as they're accepted there."

Defectors who have made it to South Korea are joining in this protest. Li Aye-ran (ph) escaped carrying rat poison, which she says she was prepared to drink if sent back to North Korea. She tells me, "Kim Jong-un just took over the leadership, and to make his position stable he's proclaimed that he'll kill all three generations of a defective family," a claim backed up by other defectors and North Korean observers.

Won Il was repatriated twice when he was caught trying to escape. He was sent to a labor camp, where he says he saw many people die of hunger and exhaustion.

WON IL, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (through translator): Captured defectors face a slow death. There's a place called "Flower Garden," where about 2,000 defectors are buried like dogs. The flowers are so red there because of their blood.

HANCOCKS (on camera): These protests have become almost daily over the past week, and it's this kind of public pressure that's encouraging the South Korean government to step up its diplomatic efforts to try and stop these repatriations.

(voice-over): President Lee Myung-bak says he is trying to resolve the issue with China.

LEE MYUNG-BAK, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If they are not criminals, it's fair for China to deal with the defector issue based on international norms.

HANCOCKS: China's government so far has not been swayed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): China has always dealt with the related issues pragmatically based on domestic and international laws and humanitarian principles. This is consistent with the interest of all sides involved.

HANCOCKS: More than 20,000 defectors have settled in South Korea, but for the dozens currently held in China, their dreams of escaping the hardships of North Korea are practically over.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: Still to come on NEWS STREAM, Nelson Mandela's health comes under the spotlight after his release from a hospital in South Africa.

Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: Welcome back. I'm Pauline Chiou in Hong Kong.

You're watching NEWS STREAM, and these are your world headlines.

"The Artist" took top honors at the Academy Awards on Sunday night, taking the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and also Best Actor. And Meryl Streep was named Best Actress for her performance in The Iron Lady. It is her third Academy Award.

The Taliban say they're behind a suicide car bombing at Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan. Police say nine people were killed when a car loaded with explosives smashed into the airport's front gates near the a NATO base. The Taliban say it was to avenge the burning of the Muslim holy book the Koran at a U.S. airbase last week.

Australia's Labor Party lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to keep Julia Gillard as party leader and prime minister. She took 70 percent of the vote in a challenge from her predecessor Kevin Rudd. He resigned last week as foreign minister to run for the party leadership. Rudd now says he fully supports the prime minister.

Yemen's new president will be inaugurated on Monday officially ending Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33 year rule. Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was Saleh's vice president and became acting president in November. Saleh is backing his successor. He said he's handing over the banner of revolution to safe hands.

Well, this is a day that many people thought might not come, it caps a process that started back in March. Nearly six weeks after protests began Saleh offered to step down by the end of the year. Opposition groups rejected that proposal. And one month later, he tentatively accepted a plan to resign in return for immunity, but he refused to actually sign the agreement on several different occasions.

Saleh survived an assassination attempt in June. He went to Saudi Arabia for treatment. And finally in November he signed a deal to transfer his executive powers to then president -- then vice president Hadi. He was allowed to keep his title of president for 90 days.

In other news now, Colombia's FARC rebels say they will free all of their remaining government hostages. The group has also promised to stop kidnapping civilians for money. But many uncertainties still remain. Senior Latin American affairs editor Rafael Romo joins us live from CNN Center. And he's following these developments.

Rafael, what lead to this promise by FARC?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the last few years, Pauline, the tactics of the FARC even among the most leftist sectors of the Colombian political spectrum have been denounced, mainly because for the last 20 years they have kidnapped thousands of people and keeping them for many, many years in the jungle. Some of these 10 soldiers and police officers that they still hold have been in captivity for more than 14 years.

And to understand the significance of this announcement it is important to mention that at one point the FARC in Colombia were responsible for most of the world's kidnappings. At this point, there is estimated that they still have about 100 civilians in captivity and the 10 soldiers and police officers that we mentioned before.

But it is significant that they say that they will no longer kidnap civilians for ransom. At the same time, they didn't say what's going to happen to tactics like extortion recent for which they have been denounced a terrorist organization by governments like the United States and many European nations, Pauline.

CHIOU: So Rafael this is obviously a very significant development, but the Colombian government says this promise by FARC is not enough to actually start up peace talks. So what else is needed to move forward?

ROMO: Well, earlier this month they attacked a police station in southern Colombia. And then there was a consecutive attack only the day after. So what the government is saying to the FARC is if you are that serious about negotiations for peace, the first thing you have to do is renounce violence which at this point the FARC is not doing. They have said that they are keeping other means of achieving their political goals open and they don't specify exactly what they mean. But one can assume that extortion is still very well within the picture.

And yeah you're absolutely right, President Juan Manuel Santos said it is an important and necessary step, referring to the announcement, but it's still not enough to take us in the right direction, Pauline.

CHIOU: So as you mentioned, still a lot of uncertainties there, even though this promise was made.

All right. Rafael Romo, our senior Latin American affairs editor at CNN Center, thank you very much.

ROMO: Thank you.

CHIOU: Well, two men have been arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin. That news was released today, although the arrests were actually made in early January.

This announcement comes ahead of presidential elections this weekend that Putin is widely expected to win. But as Phil Black reports, anti- corruption groups say they'll be scrutinizing the results.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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, GOLO (through translator): Russian elections have been falsified for a long time. We believe that what happened on December 5 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, 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 fairytales."

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: We don't feel 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 Prokhorov. 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 fairytale.

Why are you here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, 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: Vladimir Putin has his own ideas of fighting fraud -- web cameras, 300,000 are being installed in more than 90,000 polling stations at an estimated coast of $1 billion. Putin says it promises transparency, others believe it's a gimmick.

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

BLACK: The electoral monitoring groups say there's less need for Putin supporters to cheat in this election. 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: Just ahead on NEWS STREAM, when east meets west. The NBA's all-star game is arguably the sport's biggest spectacle. And this year, the contest came down to the wire. We'll tell you who has bragging rights coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is said to be in good health after being released from the hospital following an abdominal procedure. The 93-year-old has suffered several bouts of bad health in recent years. Robyn Curnow has more on his condition.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the most recent film of Mandela looking confused, bewildered as an official explains to him how to vote in last year's local elections.

Those close to him like his wife Greca Machal, who is seen helping him here, say that Madiba, as he is known in South Africa, has found the indignities of old age difficult to endure.

GRECA MACHAL, NELSON MANDELA'S WIFE: Madiba is a very proud person. He's even vain. So when he realized that he can't walk as, you know, tall and firm as he used to be he doesn't like it.

CURNOW: She also says his memory is not what it used to be and that's it's difficult watching him age.

MACHAL: To see him aging is something also which pains you. It's like he is saying -- you understand him, you know that it has to happen, but it (INAUDIBLE) -- I mean, that spirit and the sparkle, you see that it's somehow it's fading.

CURNOW: To watch Mandela sparkle fade even more difficult because he was always so physically robust and energetic.

But Mandela has had a number of health scares over the years. He's had surgeries on his prostate, on his eyes, on his knees. He's had tuberculosis. Last year he had pneumonia.

This time, a family members tells CNN he's had a hernia operation. The government calls it a diagnostic laparascopy which in layman's terms is keyhole surgery.

His body, slim, tall, and strong survived the brutalities of apartheid prison and the physical rigors of leading one of the world's greatest democratic transitions. But now it seems the undeniable march of time is taking its toll.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Johannesburg, South Africa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks is releasing millions of emails from the intelligence firm STRATFOR. As you can see here, it's calling this latest dump the global intelligence files. STRATFOR provides independent analysis of international affairs for corporate and government clients. WikiLeaks claims the emails will reveal what it calls STRATFOR's web of informers and payoff structure. It has not said how it exactly got the files.

Well, hackers known as Anonymous claimed credit for the STRATFOR breach. This Twitter account is one of several affiliated with the group. It praises it as a, quote, amazing partnership between Anonymous and WikiLeaks.

STRATFOR has acknowledged a hack attack at the end of 2011. The breach disclosed personal information of its customers and also its subscribers. On its Facebook page STRATFOR denounces WikiLeaks. It calls the email release deplorable, unfortunate, and illegal. STRATFOR says it rejects the attempt to silence and intimidate the company.

Well, one of the keys to sporting success is peaking at the right time. And it's something that golfer Rory McIlroy narrowly failed to do over the weekend. Let's go to Alex Thomas in London for more on that and the rest of sport. Hey, Alex.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Pauline.

At just 22 years of age, Rory McIlroy is not only betting to win the WGC matchplay championship, he was trying to become one of the sports youngest ever world number ones. However, he was thwarted on both counts by American Ryder Cup player Hunter Mahan after a stunning display to beat Lee Westwood in the semifinals McIlroy admitted he had nothing left in the tank for the final. A double boogie at the seventh leaving Mahan two up.

And McIlroy was four down by the 11th. The U.S. Open champion chipping in for an eagle to cut the deficit. He's come back stalling at 15 when Mahan putted close enough for a birdie after McIlroy had driven onto the green at the par four. So it meant that Mahan was two up with two to play.

McIlroy facing this long birdie attempt at the 17 that comes up short. Mahan is left with a relatively straight forward couple of putts to seal what was a 2 and 1 victory in his second WGC title. McIlroy remains second in the world rankings behind England's Luke Donald.

Now one of the highlights of the NBA season, the all-star game, which took place in Orlando, Florida on Sunday night. This mid-season event pits the best players from the Eastern Conference against their counterparts from the west. So while the Oscars were taking place on the other side of the States, this was basketball's glitzy star-studded night.

Picking up the action in the first quarter, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls to the Heat's LeBron James. He finishes with the windmill jam. James with 36 points on the night.

Now the Clippers Chris Paul for the West throws it off the backboard to Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant who slams it home as the West take an 88-69 lead at half-time.

Onto the third, Durant comes up with the steal, passes to Lakers star Kobe Bryant who finishes with a slam to pass Michael Jordan's record for all-star scoring.

The East had closed the gap to six by this point in the fourth when the Knicks Carmelo Anthony misses, but James gets the rebound and hits the tough 3-pointer.

And it's only a one point game with less than 40 seconds on the clock when Blake Griffin finally delivers the thumping put-back slam after Russell Westbrook misses the lay-up. 22 points and 8 boards for Griffin. Although, Miami's Dwayne Wade still had a chance to tie the score in the final second, misses, and the West win it 152-149. Durant is the MVP with 36 pionts and 7 rebounds.

One of the unwritten rules of these games is no rough stuff, but Kobe Bryant still managed to end up with a broken nose. The incident look innocuous, but a medical scan later revealed the fracture. He'll be reassessed on Monday back in Los Angeles before an announcement on whether or not he can carry on playing for the Lakers, or how long he'll be out for.

Now the pros make it look easy, but for most of us slam dunks seem almost impossible. In fact, there's a real science behind it. And our colleagues at Turner Sports who broadcast the all-star games are so curious about the force of a slam dunk that they called in the experts. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: In the past, slam dunks were about creativity, athleticism, showmanship. In 2012, it will be about force.

DANIEL NOVY, GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT, MIT MEDIA LAB: It was a longstanding goal that Turner wanted to be able to measure the force of a slam dunk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be interesting to see how hard the ball would go through the net, just how much force is put behind it by the player.

MICHAEL BOVE, GROUP HEAD, MIT MEDIA LAB: We at the Media Laboratory have an interest in, among other things, instrumenting the world and measuring information about the world and making it visible. And in this particular case the question was how could we measure the amount of energy in a dunk.

NOVY: Design specification that we got was it needed to be quick, it needed to be easy, it couldn't change the rim, it couldn't change the action of the net it all. It was very important that the player couldn't hang on the rim and change the force setting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thought that we had was perhaps the net itself could relay the amount of stretch based on the energy and the ball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that there's going to be fabric and people have been using it for many, many years to do stretch sensors with it.

BOVE: This is the material I found. And it's elastic. And you can see it's electrically conducted. And it has a resistance, but when it stretches the resistance changes. And so if we put this inside the cord that makes up the basketball net and we make two electrical connections to the net, the net we can measure the resistance, ultimately measure the energy behind the dunk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what we have here is the issue with the net. This net has been rigged so that it can detect how hard the ball goes through it. And we're going to try and see what (INAUDIBLE) we can do with that information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So instead of Newton's of force, it's going to be Dwight Howards of force?

NOVY: Slam force Gs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 480, that's what I wanted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: High score.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's our record now.

NOVY: I think they're going to like it. I think it gives them one more thing to sort of add into the soup of what makes a good dunk. Now you've got physics on top of it, actual real science.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a very easy result. Boom it's higher. Boom it's lower. You immediately you know, its' a no-brainer.

NOVY: Those guys are going to start competing pretty soon. As soon as they see those stats coming up, they're going to start competing with each other.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

THOMAS: How you measure the force of a slam dunk? That's all the sports for now, Pauline, back to you.

CHIOU: They always make it look so easy. All right, thank you very much Alex.

Well, coming up on NEWS STREAM, it's called the connective car, a vehicle that integrates your smartphone into the driving experience. We'll tell you all about Ford's new Focus on technology right ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: Some of the world's top phone manufacturers are showing off at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Whether it's Samsung's new larger Galaxy Note, Sony's latest smartphones, or even Nokia's 41 megapixel camera phone we'll have complete coverage this week of all the best gadgets on show at the mobile world congress.

But gadget companies aren't the only ones displaying their latest innovations at the show, Ford is also there. Jim Boulden caught up with the carmaker's chairman to find out why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course here at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona no surprise you've got hardware makers, you've got operating systems, you've got app developers. But this year, also, Ford Motor Car has come to the Mobile World Conference to unveil one of its new cars and its new technology to connect the automobile to your life.

What is Ford doing at what most people think of as a mobile phone conference?

BILL FORD, CHAIRMAN, FORCE MOTOR COMPANY: Well, first of all, our industries are really converging. I mean, today we announced we're putting Sync, which is our program we have with Microsoft on voice recognition and bringing all of your digital life into the car, we announced we're bringing that to Europe.

BOULDEN: And the idea is for a car like this to be connected -- connected to your life, connected to your phone, connected to your house. Is that what you love talking about?

FORD: But yeah, in the short-term yes. I mean, you know, a car like this you can really seamlessly bring in you know your smartphone into the vehicle and then anything that you would do you know on a tablet or a phone you can now do from your car, but you do it hands on the wheel and voice activated. So we don't want driver distraction.

BOULDEN: Well, that was going to be my question, aren't you just putting more things into the driver's mind instead of thinking about driving?

FORD: Well, actually we're actually taking that away from them because today often drivers are looking down and we know that they're playing with their cell phone and texting and we want them to stop all that, we want them to be looking at the road and we want to have their, you know, their hands on the wheel. And so with our technology is allowing them to do that knowing that they want to also be connected.

BOULDEN: Now give me an example -- in the future I heard some wild things about my car knowing I didn't use my coffee pot in the morning and that it will suggest how I get to a coffee shop.

FORD: Well, I mean that actually that's the easy thing. We can do that for you right now. With this new technology you can ask your car where are the coffee shops and then take me to it. A little bit longer, though, we introduced a concept vehicle here called the Evos which uses cloud computing. And once you have that, it's almost limitless. I mean, that car, the Evos, it can turn off your lights in your car, it can -- it knows your calendar, but it can also check your health. It can do a blood sugar reading, a blood pressure reading. I mean it's really -- it's quite remarkable how much you can do once you connect to the cloud.

BOULDEN: So tell me how my car of the future, my Ford of the future will know my calendar and know if I have a meeting canceled and then I can drive the long way to work?

FORD: Yeah, it'll do all of that because -- because it will be connected to the cloud. And, you know, all the -- all the data that you have in your daily life will be available to you in your car.

BOULDEN: Not everybody is comfortable with the idea of this information in the cloud. And security is still a very big issue.

FORD: Of course, and that's one of the issues that we're going to have to work out as we go along. And that's why we're actually here to talk to the mobile providers, because they're already facing many of those security issues. And you're right. I mean, I think for now what we're working with is opt in. You can opt in with how much you're comfortable with, because -- let me give you a real world example, your car will know where you are at any moment. And that's great for safety reason, particularly as you start to get into vehicle to vehicle communication and vehicle to infrastructure communication.

But the downside of that, potentially is, somebody knows where you are at every second. And so those are the kind of issues that we're going to have to work through as we develop all these technologies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: And that is Jim Boulden reporting there.

Well, it's one of the top stories on our website. And it's Hollywood's highlight for the year, but for Twitter users it looks like the Oscars weren't worth talking about. Now social TV tracker Blue Fin Lab pulled off the thankless job of counting all the comments on social media about the Oscars, all 3.5 million of them. That does sound like a lot, doesn't it? But it isn't even close to being the biggest event this month. American Football's Super Bowl generated 12 million tweets. Music's Grammy Awards generated 13 million tweets. So it looks like after all these years Oscar lost a little bit of its luster.

Well, that is NEWS STREAM, but the news continues at CNN. "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY" is coming up next.

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