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Russian Presidential Vote; Iran's Nuclear Program; Japanese Prime Minister Speaks About Progress One Year After Earthquake; Wukan, China Holds Elections; Syrian Army Shelling Continues, Expands; Obama and Israeli P.M. Netanyahu to Meet

Aired March 5, 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 Russia, where an emotional night for Vladimir Putin has given way to a busy morning for European election monitors. We'll look into allegations of vote-rigging.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two men, a van full of (INAUDIBLE), and got me away from the immediate danger area.


STOUT: How one journalist escaped from the horrors of Homs. Journalists Paul Conroy tells CNN what it was like to flee the shelling in Syria.

And rebuilding Japan one year after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. We hear from the nation's prime minister and the volunteers helping to reenergize the country.

Now, Vladimir Putin appears to be headed for a landslide victory, but one day after Russia's presidential election allegations of fraud are tarnishing the vote. The European election watchdog says conditions were skewed in favor of Putin.


TONINO PICULA, ORG. FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE: The biggest problem with this election is that there was no real competition. It was not a level playing field and abused executive power, as well as the inappropriate use of administrative resources, and ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt. The broadcast media was clearly biased in favor of Putin (ph) today and did not provide fair coverage of the candidates.


STOUT: Early results suggest Mr. Putin had one almost two-thirds of the vote. He appeared emotional in Moscow on Sunday after claiming victory in front of a huge crowd in one of the city's main squares. And here is some of that victory speech.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): We are appealing to all people to unite for our people, for our motherland. And we will win. We have won! Glory to victory to Russia! Glory to Russia!


STOUT: Now, later on Sunday, Vladimir Putin held a teleconference from his campaign headquarters in which he said his tears were caused by the cold wind in Moscow.

Tens of thousands are expected to protest the results in the coming hours.

And CNN's Phil Black has been following all the developments in Moscow. He joins us live now.

And Phil, international observers say that there were some "serious problems" with this vote. Give us the details.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kristie, the observers from various European organizations have been quite damning, really. They say the whole point of an election is to ensure that the ultimate result is uncertain. But in this case, they say the ultimate winner was never in doubt, and the reason they say is that it just simply wasn't a fair competition, it wasn't a level playing field.

They believe that there were undue restrictions on just who could register as a candidate in the first place. And then, ultimately, during the campaign the resources and institutes of state from the local level, all the way up, lined up very firmly behind one candidate, the prime minister, Vladimir Putin.

They say the most striking example of that was clearly on state-controlled television. All the big networks here are state controlled. They say he got far more air time than anyone else and the coverage was far more favorable.

They say the vote itself, from what they observed, was largely fine, but they report what they describe as procedural irregularities. In about one- third of the polling stations that they monitor, they don't really describe what the issue was, except that it was to do with the counting, specifically.

Now, from the opposition groups and other independent groups, from the other candidates in this contest, they all report very specifically a long list of violations that they believe took place. They claim thousands of instances of things like ballot-stuffing and what they describe as carousel voting, which is simply people are literally bused around between multiple polling stations to vote multiple times. They say employers, both private and state, in a number of cases applied pressure to their employees to vote a certain way.

So they believe very firmly that there was widespread fraud, and that ultimately explains why Vladimir Putin polled as strongly as he did in this election -- Kristie.

STOUT: And to speak out against this widespread fraud, protests against Vladimir Putin are being planned for today. How many are expected to turn out?

BLACK: That's the big question, really. Everything I've just described up until this point has, to a very significant degree, been predictable and known.

We knew that Putin would win. We knew that certainly the opposition groups, they expected to see examples of cheating. And it was always very likely that international observers would say this whole process doesn't quite come up to scratch. But now the big question is just how the Russian public respond to everything they've seen over the last 24 hours to these claims of cheating, to Vladimir Putin's seemingly very strong showing.

Remember, it was claims of cheating in the parliamentary election back in December that launched the big protest movement that we've seen over the last few months. It has so changed the nature of politics in this country. So now we must wait and see whether or not the Russian people are prepared to respond as spontaneously as they did on that occasion.

Will the resentment, the anger towards Putin and the established government be just as great? Will it be increased as a result of everything we've seen over the last day or so, or will the people simply react to the knowledge that Putin is coming back, adjust to that, and simply get on with their lives and lose some momentum through this protest movement. We're going to get a very good sense of that in just a few hours, when this protest is due to kick off -- Kristie.

STOUT: Yes, the people's reaction there. We'll wait and see.

Phil Black reporting.

Thank you, Phil.

Now, the Russian government went to great pains to show it could achieve transparency in this election. It spent almost half a billion dollars installing 200,000 cameras at polling stations across the country.

World Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty takes us inside one voting site.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Come over here to the ballot box. And this is something new this year. It's a transparent, see- through ballot box so that you can actually see the bulletins. There's no question of what is in there.

Another innovation this year is cameras, two of them in this voting place which are monitoring live. And people can actually go online, see what is happening.


STOUT: And that was a glimpse inside just four of Russia's voting centers. Images from 90,000 polling stations across the country were streamed live on the Web, but opposition activists say it failed to stop fraud.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due at the White House in less than three hours. His meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama will likely be dominated by one subject: Iran's nuclear program. The discussion comes a day after Mr. Obama addressed an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice, but both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolve diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.


STOUT: Iran is also front and center in Austria. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog is meeting there. The IAEA recently reported that Tehran has stepped up uranium enrichment.

Now let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance.

Matthew, Iran's nuclear program is set to dominate the agenda there, but how will the agency address the issue this week?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be very difficult. You're right, it will dominate the agenda, although there are other issues being discussed as well, particularly North Korea, the situation in Japan, and Syria as well. But the big gorilla in the room, if you like, is this confidential report that was compiled by the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, sometime a few weeks ago. It was leaked last week, and that will be what they'll be talking about.

It raises all sorts of questions about the potential, possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program that have not been addressed by Iran. What some Western diplomats are pushing for is for a resolution to be tabled here and to be passed that would censure Iran -- the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog -- even more than it's been censured.

But we've been told by IAEA diplomats that that's unlikely to happen, that there doesn't seem to be appetite amongst many countries, particularly Russia and China, for further criticism of Iran at this point until further opportunity for diplomacy has been given. And so it's in that sort of atmosphere of deadlock that these talks in Washington be taking place between the U.S. and Israeli leaders.

STOUT: So no resolution likely this week.

Tell us more about what was in this leaked report about Iran's nuclear capability. Can it assemble a nuclear weapon?

CHANCE: At this point, the report doesn't indicate that. But it details all sorts of questions and problems that the Iranians need to address in order to put itself in line with international resolutions. It talks about the lack of access that U.N. inspectors have had to various suspected nuclear sites and actual nuclear sites as well.

They repeatedly tried to go to one military installation at Parchin, where it's believed that work was carried out on an atomic bomb detonator component. They refused to do that.

There's also concerns that the Iranians have apparently dramatically increased their uranium enrichment activities, tripling their monthly output. For instance, of uranium that they enriched to 20 percent, that gives them lots of nuclear material potentially they could convert into weapons-grade material if they chose to do that.

There's also concern expressed in the report that there's been no progress made on a kind of structured path towards resolving all these issues diplomatically with Iran. So, again, very much a report that describes the deadlock that exists at the moment between Iran and the international community.

STOUT: All right.

Matthew Chance, joining us live from Vienna.

Thank you very much, indeed, for that.

Now, ahead here on NEWS STREAM, activists say the Syrian government is behind these gun attacks in the country's northeast. We'll hear from one man who managed to escape the intense fighting in Homs.

And then, we begin our coverage of "Rebuilding Japan" to mark one year since the deadly earthquake and tsunami. Young volunteers have flocked to the damaged areas, while Japan's prime minister is calling for more support.

And 22-year-oild Rory McIlroy is now the number 1 golfer in the world after winning the Honda Classic in Florida. We've got the details coming up right here on CNN.


STOUT: Japan is preparing to mark the first anniversary of its worst crisis since World War II. Last March, a magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a huge tsunami that swept across the northeast of the country. It brought on a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant that's ranked on par with Chernobyl and could take 40 years to be brought under control. At least 20,000 people were killed or listed as missing, and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced from their homes after entire towns were destroyed.

Now Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says lessons have been learned from the disaster, and he says those lessons are being shared with the international community to improve nuclear safety. He spoke to Kyung Lah about the progress Japan has made over the past year.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are meeting on the even of the one-year anniversary of Japan's disaster. Are you satisfied with the status of the country? And where do you see this country going?

YOSHIHIKO NODA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The Japanese people are united in working with the government to put all our might towards working on the reconstruction. As a result, the broken supply chain that was of concern has completely recovered. The debris cleanup, the building of temporary houses, and daily support for the disaster victims, we have been making steady progress on all those issues.

I would like to accelerate the reconstruction and, by doing so, energize Japan as well.

LAH: There was a scathing report very recently from the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation that Japan hid its most alarming assessments not just from its citizens, but from its allies like the United States. Your government is now in charge. What assurance do you have -- or do you have any -- that Japan has fundamentally changed so if another disaster strikes this country, that your allies around the world should have faith in this leadership?

NODA (through translator): There will be many lessons learned, as well as remorse, from the nuclear power plant accident. In order to never repeat the same accident again, we would like to listen to any kind of advice and suggestions, and would like to improve based on those suggestions.

Specifically, what I can say now is that it is very important to share the information we have with the people outside and inside Japan in an appropriate manner and timing. Sharing the lessons and remorse of this nuclear accident with the international community will contribute to the overall safety in nuclear energy, as well as international cooperation.


STOUT: The Japanese prime minister there.

Now, many areas of northeastern Japan remain deserted after they were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami, but rising numbers of young people are now volunteering to help rebuild communities, as Kyung Lah now reports.


LAH (voice-over): Daybreak at the dock: culturing oysters and nurturing scallops, as families have done for generations in Ogatsu, Japan. But the student learning here today is not this fisherman's son or schooled in the trade.

(on camera): Nothing related to fishing.

(voice-over): "Nothing at all," says Takashi Tachibana (ph). Tachibana (ph) studied political science and ran his own small business in Tokyo, a cushy full-time job and a life in the city he gave up to move to the tsunami-devastated town of Ogatsu.

(on camera): Did you fundamentally change after the disaster?

(voice-over): "I think so," he says. "I now act not just with my head, but with my heart."

His heart was moved, he explains, by last year's destructive tsunami and the suffering of a ravaged region. And it's not just him. These people in their 20s and 30s are part of a reverse migration and renewed volunteerism among the young who are returning to the rural communities.

"I'm Japanese, too," says 27-year-old Ayumi Tashima (ph). She's in Ogatsu, volunteering on the weekend. She doesn't know anyone here, but just wants to help.

(on camera): A year after the disaster, the town of Ogatsu looks like the tsunami and the earthquake struck just yesterday. Seventy-five percent of the population left here, seeing no reason to rebuild, no economic future for this place. The people left behind say without young people coming in, this town will die.

(voice-over): Hiromitsu Ito (ph) is a third-generation Ogatsu fisherman.

(on camera): What happens to Ogatsu if you don't have this interface with these young people coming in?

(voice-over): "Even before the quake, our town was losing people and disappearing," he says. "Our fishing industry would die out if they didn't come here."

But a few volunteers fishing on the weekends won't save a town, says Tachibana (ph), who admits rebuilding a depleted town is an uphill climb. What's different about this reverse migration, he believes, is that they're taking city smarts and reforming rural ways. Tachibana (ph) connects Ogatsu's fishermen to Tokyo's buyers, cutting out the expensive middleman distributor. Bigger profits return to the fishermen and to Ogatsu.

The young here say they're not saving a town, the town is also saving them. "I think 2012 will be a turning point in history for young people," says Tachibana (ph). We were raised to believe in mass consumption and improving the economy. Maybe there's more to life than that.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Ogatsu, Japan.


STOUT: Now, the earthquake and tsunami last March hit household names like Sony, Sharp and Panasonic hard, but it's not all doom and gloom for Japan's electronics industry.


ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet 35- year-old Yoshikazu Tanaka, Japan's youngest-ever self-made billionaire, the second youngest in the world, in fact, behind Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.


STOUT: Tomorrow, here on NEWS STREAM, our focus on "Rebuilding Japan" continues as we look at the new wave of Japanese social media and gaming companies.

Now, still to come here on NEWS STREAM, Rory McIlroy rises to the top of the world's golf rankings, and he had to hold off the hungry Tiger Woods to do it.

Stay with us.


STOUT: A peek through the fog here in Hong Kong. And that is Hong Kong outside, though you could hardly make out Victoria Harbor. Wow.

You're back watching NEWS STREAM.

It's time now for a sports update. And there was a roaring finish between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the PGA Tour event on Sunday.

Alex Thomas is in London with more on the story -- Alex.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, Kristie, he was hailed as a golfing superstar in the making from a young age, and Rory McIlroy rewrote the sports record books last year with victory at the U.S. Open. Now the 22-year-old is officially the best player in the world after winning the Honda Classic in Florida. And intriguingly, Tiger Woods was the Northern Irishman's closest challenger in the final round. The former world number 1 rediscovered his form of old, especially on the greens, slamming home a long eagle putt here at the par 5 third whole.

Woods started the day nine strokes behind McIlroy. The overnight leader had 11 under par. But when Tiger drained this birdie at the penultimate hole, he was eight under and loving every minute of it.

And at the last, Woods' approach shot was spot on yet again. He knocked it close enough, but a realistic eagle opportunity and the prospect of his lowest score for nearly three years.

Moments later, Tiger sinks the five-foot putt to finish the tournament at 10 under par after a final round of 62, just one stroke off the course record. And only McIlroy seemed undaunted at the sight of Woods' name on the leaderboard, rolling in a birdie there at the 13th to go 12 under par.

The young man did show some nerves over the closing holes, but his short game was superb, especially from the bunkers, as you can see here at the 17th. McIlroy top in the scrambling stats this week and comfortably made a par at the last hole to remain 12 under par, a two-stroke victory in the end, his third on the PGA tour. And, of course, top spot in the ranks. Only Tiger Woods has been a younger world number 1.


RORY MCILROY, NEW NUMBER 1 WORLD GOLD RANKINGS: It meant a lot to go out there and produce the golf that I needed to do to get the job done. And, you know, it was always a dream of mine to become the world number 1, or the best player in the world, or whatever you want to call it. But, you know, I didn't know that I would be able to get here this quickly.


THOMAS: See, when you're world number 1, you get to sit on a nice comfy chair, instead of a press conference table.

Now, Roberto di Matteo will take charge of Chelsea for their FA Cup match at Birmingham City on Tuesday night after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked. The 34-year-old Portuguese coach left the football club on Sunday after a meeting with owner Roman Abramovich. Villas-Boas actually had only been in charge for 257 days and has left Chelsea 5th in England's Premier League and struggling to qualify for next season's champions league.

Villas-Boas was in charge for just 40 games. He won exactly half of them, with 10 draws and 10 losses. His winning percentage is the worst by a Blues manager since Glenn Hoddle won 34 percent of his games from 1993 to '96.

Although Chelsea are effectively out of the Premier League title race, Villas-Boas has guided them to the latter stages of two knockout tournaments, the Blues in the 5th round of the FA Cup. And they've gone one stage further than, say, Manchester City and Manchester United in the Champions League, although Chelsea do trail Napoli 3-1 ahead of the second leg of their round of 16 match.

Much more on that Villas-Boas sacking and all the other sporting, including some NBA action in "WORLD SPORT" in just over three-and-a-half-hour's time.

Kristie, for now, back to you in Hong Kong.

STOUT: All right, Alex. Thank you.

And coming up next here on NEWS STREAM, Syrians struggle to find a safe haven from government forces, while aid workers wait to be allowed into the hardest hit areas.

And grassroots democracy takes hold in this small Chinese village. We head to the town of Wukan, where a landmark election could herald a new wave of people power.


STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

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

Now, the European election watchdog is calling for an investigation into Russia's presidential election. It says the process was skewed in favor of Vladimir Putin and that procedural irregularities were recorded in almost one-third of polling stations. Mr. Putin declaring victory on Sunday with what appears to be about two-thirds of the vote. He says he wanted an open and honest fight.

Iran's nuclear program will be the hot topic when U.S. president Barack Obama meets with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu later today. On Sunday, Mr. Obama told America's biggest pro-Israel lobby group that he prefers diplomacy, but can't rule out using force to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Now officials in the Republic of Congo say at least 200 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded in Sunday's explosion at an ammunition depot. It happened in the capital city of Brazzaville. It blew out windows 5 kilometers away. Officials say it started with a fire that set off a store of tank shells.

Now North Korean Leader Kim Jong un has visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Now troops are ordered to be on highest alert as he made the rounds on Sunday. It is his first reported visit since the young leader took control of North Korea last December.

Now activists say the Syrian government has launched a fresh wave of attacks across the country this Monday. They say five people have been killed in Aleppo, Daraa, and Idlib, and neighborhoods have been stormed in Homs and the Damascus suburbs.

This footage appears to show intense gunfire in northeastern Syria, although we can't verify it's authenticity. Now the government continues to blame terrorists for the violence.

And this video apparently shows the Free Syrian Army retreating from the heavily shelled town of Hastan. They say they withdrew for tactical reasons to protect civilians.

Now opposition groups say 62 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, that includes 17 in the city of Homs where the Red Cross is still trying to enter the besieged area of Baba Amr. Although they say they have delivered aid to adjacent neighborhoods. Let's talk to Nic Robertson who is Beirut Lebanon. And Nic, first more on the situation in Homs. There have been these reports of reprisal killings, executions there, what have you heard?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, more shelling today of several neighborhoods in Homs. The International Committee for the Red Cross still hasn't been able to get into Baba Amr, but activists say that there have been executions, summary executions of civilians there over the weekend. A number of accounts and a number of videos coming out. 17 people killed in -- were seen dead in videos that were released early Sunday that appeared to show people that have been summarily executed by Syrian forces, that's what the activists say.

Late on Sunday, a report of another six people from -- many of them from the same family in Baba Amr neighborhood also killed, again according to activists. We cannot independently verify this, but according to activists they were killed by Syrian forces in Baba Amr.

The Red Cross who have been trying to get into the Baba Amr neighborhood to hand out medical and humanitarian supplies and get an assessment of exactly what's happening there to the 4,000 civilians who are believed to remain there have been able to get into some of the areas close to Baba Amr and hand out much needed aid to people who they say have fled Baba Amr in the past -- in the past few weeks, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, but they still can't access Baba Amr itself. Now I understand that Lebanon is watching the violence very closely as well its own borders. Is Lebanon bracing for the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees?

ROBERTSON: There is concern here. There's concern about the numbers of people that may come across and the country's ability to help cope with them. At the moment, there's heavy snows on the mountains between Syria and Lebanon. Over the weekend, however, the UNHCR, United Nations humanitarian organization, said that they believe perhaps as many as 2,000 people have fled across into Lebanon from Syria. Many of them believed have been coming from the city of Homs and the town of Al Kusia (ph).

It's not clear, though, according to the UNHCR, how many of these people intend to remain here in Lebanon, how many may have crossed back into Syria already. But since April last year, the UNHCR says they've registered 11,000 people that have crossed into Lebanon and they say right now they believe about 7,000 of those Syrians that have crossed in here still remain in country and they are assisting them with humanitarian assistance.

But these latest 2,000, approximately 2,000. It's still a working number. The UNHCR trying to figure out what -- where these people are precisely what they're needs are. And of course for the government here a greater concern that if more cities come under heavy shell fire, that if more civilians are forced to flee other neighborhoods then many of them will come here to Lebanon because it's the closest and safest place for them where they can count on medical treatment and humanitarian help.

So it is a concern about the numbers that may come in the future.

Right now, a relatively small number, but a worrying trend this weekend perhaps because of the violence in Homs, perhaps because their neighborhood of Baba Amr fell, people feeling that perhaps they cannot be safe in their neighborhoods and that's why they pulled out of some of those places right now, Kristie.

LU STOUT: And Nic, the Free Syrian Army after withdrawing from Baba Amr and Rastan, what's next? Is the rebel army regrouping? Is it changing its tactics?

ROBERTSON: Well it certainly seems to be making some sort of reassessment of its position. And it became evident over those 27 days of intense shelling on Baba Amr that the Free Syrian Army, whatever their will and their about desire to fight until the end, that they could not outmatch the Syrian forces so they were forced to withdraw.

After Baba Amr fell, there was an increase in shelling on the town of Rastan about 15 minutes drive away to the north. Over the weekend on Friday there was shelling of an outdoor protest. Many children were killed and other people wounded and injured in that particular shelling of a large gathering, symptomatic of what have been seen in Baba Amr on Sunday. There were five children killed in Rastan, very graphic images there of wounded children being carried into the hospital bloodied, covered in dust from the shelling on Sunday. And now the Free Syrian Army saying a tactical withdrawal to save civilian casualties.

But at the same time they are saying that they are now going to regroup and go on the offensive. And overnight in Damascus they say that they attacked with three rocket propelled grenades the feared air force intelligence building in Damascus, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Nic Robertson watching the story for us. Thank you very much indeed, Nic.

And as the Red Cross continues its efforts to get back humanitarian aid into Baba Amr, let's look at the satellite image of the area. Now Human Rights Watch says the red circles here represent buildings that had been destroyed or damaged in the rocket fire. And the yellow circles you see on the map here, they show the impact craters in open areas like fields and roads. Now the human rights group it shows, quote, the extent of the brutality unleashed on the neighborhood.

Now last week, several wounded Syrians and foreign journalists, they managed to escape from that area of Homs. And one of them was the British photojournalist Paul Conroy who is now recovering in a London hospital. And I spoke to Nima Elbagir about his dramatic journey out of Baba Amr.


PAUL CONROY, PHOTOJOURNALIST: They said get ready to go. I was ready (INAUDIBLE). I had no shoes. I had to borrow a pair of shoes and trousers. And literally it happened very fast and the Free Syrian Army pulled up in about five vehicles. The doctors shot me up with whatever they -- anything. I just said put anything in, because I knew it was going to be a painful experience. Carried -- dragged us out of the house, threw me in the front of a pick-up. They got us in. The other guys into pick- ups. At this time they were still -- there were still a few mortar rounds landing -- just doing the normal stuff.

And we started the trip through Homs, but it was really striking because I went in and it was a street. Went from the field hospital into the (INAUDIBLE) an actual street there and came out it was like rubble. You know, most of the buildings were gone. It was just -- I went in, come out it was like -- in the five days I've been in there, they have been reduced.

They decided to drop me down the tunnel first. We were in a group. So they just tied a rope around me. It's a five meter drop. And I got hold of the rail and they just lowered me into the tunnel.

They threw me on the bike. But the driver who has to bend his head over the headlights, put me on the bike, flatten me down and then they put this young lad on the back who was about 10. He had all the flesh blown off his legs. He was still conscious. And put him on the backs. There were three of us on the motorbike -- flat and we just drove off into the night in this tunnel and was pulled out the other side and they pulled the boy out where they had two pulled up stretchers and the boy they just picked up and walked (INAUDIBLE). But two guys put me on a stretcher for the last 500 meters whatever. And they were very -- there was no noise. At that point it was silent, because you get near the exit of the tunnel and they said the army outside the city, an army are waiting.

This is the guy who got me into Homs had now got me out. It's got a great feeling, two great big Free Syrian Army soldiers who were new just got me off the roll (ph), said you're safe, took me with them. Another couple of the (INAUDIBLE) threw me in a van, followed dead and sick guys and got me away from -- the immediate danger area.

After I got out, about 20 minutes I got out, the Syrian Army had entered the tunnel, opened fire, killed a lot of people in the tunnel, a lot of people trying to use it and so the tunnel was blown. You know, a lot of people died down there.

Edith, William had never made the tunnel trip. So I got news that Edith and William were back in Baba Amr, which was so depressing. I got told Javier (ph) had been shot in the tunnel. I'm still not sure if that's fact.

The escape from where I was to Lebanon is something that's kind of -- I'll just put it across as a series of motorbike rides, car journeys, semi- attacks, a few battlefields. I got to within a kilometer of the city of (INAUDIBLE). I was put on another motorbike and got on the bike. I kind of didn't know where I was at this point. I knew I was close. They just put me on a bike and took me eventually got offered another house, walked in, there was three guys sitting watching tele and they were laying there with machine guns. And they just dropped me in there and I was like, hm.

And I thought well I better ask. I said, we're in Syria or Lebanon? And they went Lebanon. And I was, you know, whew. And they were just laughing at me. And I was just like, wow. I mean Lebanon is (INAUDIBLE).

I just kind of sat down had a toke of my real cigarette. And, yeah, was overjoyed that I was out. That's the first time that I felt I could actually allow myself to celebrate. You know, I made it out. But I couldn't be delighted because nobody else was there with me. I was on my own.


LU STOUT: And that was photojournalist Paul Conroy on his harrowing journey out of Homs, Syria.

Now turning our attention now to China and thousands of the Communist Party's top delegates they have descended on Beijing to attend the annual national people's congress. The meeting, it convenes every year to pass virtually every measure, resolution and law put forward by the Communist Party. Now the party is due for a reshuffle this fall. And Chinese premier Wen Jiabao opened the last session before that transition with a focus on economic growth.


WEN JIABAO, CHINESE PREMIER (through translator): We are keenly aware that China still faces many difficulties and challenges in economic and social developments. Internationally, their road to global economic recovery will be torturous. The global financial crisis is still evolving and some countries will find it hard to ease the sovereign debt crisis any time soon.


LU STOUT: The 10 day meeting will also tackle a number of other issues, including ethnic unrest in Tibetan areas, social stability, and Chinese political clout overseas.

Now not all decisions involving government are being made in Beijing. Now one small village in southern China is getting its first taste of democracy with elections held over the weekend. Wukan first grabbed world headlines when it became involved in violent protests over corruption. And as Stan Grant reports on a day the defied history.


STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Xua Junwan (ph) sees herself in her father -- what he started and died for. The dutiful daughter aims to finish.

"I'm running for election because the villagers want me to," she says. "But I also think of my father. I want to do something for him."

Xua (ph) like thousands of others in her village of Wukan is taking a step towards what she hopes is a new future. It's election day here, a day promised and now delivered. It's been a hard road.

Wukan captured world attention with violent protests. Locals accused officials of stealing their land and selling it to developers. For weeks, the village was in lock down. Then the Communist Party blinked, offering a deal to end the protest and the villagers elect their own representatives.

"This is a fairer election than what we had before," this lady says. "That's why we come out. We have to vote. This is the only way."

Well there are two things here. One, that people are able to line up and freely cast their ballot, the other that I'm able to stand here and tell you about it. The media is free to cover this event. Some are already talking about the Wukan effect -- more freedom throughout China.

But critics say this is all for show, that the party retains a tight grip.

What's the problem?

An American embassy official arrived unannounced for a firsthand look. His was an uncomfortable presence. He left within minutes.

For some villagers, the election still does not solve the core issue of land seizures. They're still wary of the power of officials.

"We want our land back. Things haven't changed much. Without news coverage, our struggle would have died a long time ago."

Xua Junwan (ph) lost her father to the struggle. Xue Junbal (ph) was a protest leader, arrested, he died in custody. Police say he had a heart illness. His family claims he was beaten to death.

Months later, his body is being returned, but the family waits for answers. And they fear for Xua Junwan (ph).

"My grandmother and my uncle oppose me running. They worry about the affect it will have on our family," she says. "And I can't change their mind."

Xua Junwan (ph) sees herself as the face of a new, more democratic China. But these are small steps.

Elsewhere in the country, unrest is mounting. Gaps between rich and poor are widening and the party often crushes dissent.

Here, though, in a small corner of China on this day the flag stands for the people not just the party. And a daughter whose father's death is not in vain.

Stan Grant, CNN, Wukan, China.


LU STOUT: And we have a quick update on Xua's (ph) plight. Now she has decided to withdraw from the run-off ballot after a tearful plea from her grandmother. Her family feared that she would meet her father's fate.

Now next here on NEWS STREAM, now social media is providing some protection from pirates. We'll explain after the break.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now the waters off the coast of Somalia are considered the most dangerous in the world. Now this map from the international chamber of commerce, it shows pirate attacks reported last year. And according to the international maritime bureau there were more than 200, nearly 30 ships were hijacked off the Horn of Africa and one NGO says the cost of piracy in 2011 totaled some $7 billion. And now some analysts are turning to social media for help.

Diego Laje joins me now for more on this story. And Diego, tell me more about the role technology plays in sea piracy.

DIEGO LAJE, CNN EN ESPANOL: Yeah, they're always quite particular because pirate go online and check what boats have. So they find out, they do their homework so they know which boats are coming their way, what they have, what's the potential revenue they can obtain from these boats. That's point number one.

Point number two, once those boats are hijacked that information becomes official. I want to show you the IMO Twitter feed. This goes on the Twitter feed and this is like the bible of whatever is going on at sea. With this on the feed, then another war of sorts starts. Why? Because on the one hand, the IMO reports, on the other hand pirates and other organizations are reporting. People on land -- remember, this is a business, lots of people are looking, seeing. Somalia has one of the best mobile, and cheapest mobile networks on the world. Young people tweeting like you and I, right? Well, they tweet because they see a boat, they see something going on.

So experts are gathering that information. They put it together to build another different picture and a different thing in what's going on in Somalia from the social networks.

I want to show you another image that looks like a big, big mess of course. This is something an expert put together to link all these tweets to the organizations, to the weapons, to the technology, to the access to sat phones to the access to all these different elements that come together and link it.

But there's one big question, how do you know which Twitter stream is right and which one is wrong, right? Well, to answer this question we spoke to a specialist and I really would like you to hear how she evaluates and builds stuff like this.


JESSICA LINCOLN, INTELLIGENCE EXPERT, RUBICON RESOLUTION: First thing we look at their corroboration data, so you don't just take one source and hold that as the truth essentially, you take that and try and balance it against other documents.

And secondly, you need to question who is writing this so you can understand who is writing it, know who they are, understand their agenda, you can understand where they're coming from in terms of judging that piece of information, source of data.

And thirdly, if you can't (INAUDIBLE), if you can't corroborate it and you can't understand who is writing it you have to be honest about it and say you have a source of information you can't verify it, but you know it's potentially all been addressed to somebody, it contains some kind of information or intelligence picture.


LAJE: So this is the basic concept of how it works, right. Three steps to validate the content online they're getting and try and build a better map of what's going on.

LU STOUT: So incredible use of technology to monitor and to catch the pirates -- radar, GPS, now online monitoring, even social media monitoring.

Diego Lahe, thank you very much indeed for that.

You are watching NEWS STREAM. Coming next, battening down the hatches. Australians prepare for more wet weather, flooding large areas of the southeast. We'll have the forecast after the break.


LU STOUT: All right. Welcome back to NEWS STREAM. Let's go to Australia next where evacuations continue in New South Wales due to the floods.

For the very latest now with Mari Ramos. She joins us from the World Weather Center -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this continues to be a race against time across parts of New South Wales, Kristie, because of the amount of rain that has fallen over the last few week. Now, it's dry now, but I wanted to show you some of the pictures that we have from those areas. It's dry now because it stopped raining in many cases. But it is a race against the clock to try to shore up areas.

Now the next area that authorities are watching is Wagga Wagga. They're saying that the river there is expected to crest at 10.8 meters on Tuesday morning. So they only literally have hours to go. They're saying that many of these areas will probably be affected severely by the rising flood waters, the rivers are above capacity in many cases. I mean, authorities are asking people if you are under evacuation area, try to go stay with friends or family that have homes in higher ground and try to move your furniture like those people are doing there to maybe the second story of a building or things like that. And they say if you have to leave, take your essentials -- only your essentials with you.

Over 1,000 people have been evacuated already.

Now when you think about how widespread how flooding is not only in New South Wales, but also as we head into Queensland now, we're starting to see some significant rainfall totals. Look at this over here as we head into Queensland.

Now, in some cases they've had a months worth of rain in just a period of two days. So we're starting to see a potential for flooding across these areas as well. That area of low pressure, this right there if it's starting, starting to move away. This has been a concern over the last couple of days because of the amount of rain it brought into Brisbane. And we're expecting that to continue moving away from this area. However, some scattered rain showers still a possibility.

Notice New South Wales and Victoria. You guys finally begin to dry out for the most part. It's only going to be along the coast. And any amount of rain that falls here really could be a problem.

I want to talk to you very quickly about the situation near South Africa. We continue to see this tropical cyclone right here starting to move away. Durbin, South Africa had a month's worth of rain in just a period of 24 hours. You're not entirely out of the woods yet when it comes to the storm. It looks like it may be a little looped around. And we could still see it influencing this area in the next few days. We'll watch it.

Last but not least, let's go to take a look at Hong Kong, Kristie. I want to show you, you already know. What it looks out your window. You know what, fog of course continues to be a concern across not just Hong Kong, but many parts of China there. We're going to be monitoring that there. The temperatures have risen across Hong Kong, Kristie. And as we take it back to you there, careful driving home tonight. A lot of flight delays, of course, but at least it's a lot warmer, right? It's not cold any more.

LU STOUT: It's a lot warmer, yeah. I was complaining about the heat earlier today, but you know I just love this. Not every day we get to say live from Hong Kong and see just a little bit of neon lit Hong Kong just through the clouds there. Very dramatic view there.

Mari Ramos, thank you, take care.

That is NEWS STREAM, but the news continues at CNN. World Business Today is next.