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U.S. Soldier to Face Charges in Afghan Massacre; U.S. Mission in Afghanistan; French Intelligence Services Tracked Toulouse Gunman for Years; George Zimmerman's Past; South Korean Police Forces Train For Upcoming Nuclear Security Summit

Aired March 23, 2012 - 08:00:00   ET

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


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

I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And we begin with legal fallout from the killings of Afghan civilians. A U.S. soldier accused in the massacre is set to be charged today.

Sanctions are placed on Syria's first lady and other family members as the EU tries to stop up pressure on Syria's rulers in any way possible.

And would this make you feel safe? South Korean security puts on a show as the nation prepares to host world leaders for a nuclear summit.

Now, the American soldier accused of a massacre in Afghanistan is expected to be charged today. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales faces 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder. He was accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians earlier this month, so it's unclear at this stage why he faces 17 counts of murder. Bales is being held in a military prison in the United States.

Six people were wounded in the attacks. An Afghan official says two of them how now been released from the hospital.

Sara Sidner is following developments from Kabul. She joins us now live.

Sara, the ver latest there from Afghanistan, as well as the reaction there to the charges?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There has been absolutely no reaction from any officials here in Afghanistan at this point in time. And also, we have to mention that the formal charges have not yet been released.

This is information that was leaked, information that is not actually official yet. So we are waiting for the formal charges, to read through them and see exactly what they say, but at this time we do know that we're expecting 17 murder charges and six attempted murder and assault charges.

And you just mentioned the six people who were wounded. Some of them -- five of them are being cared for at the coalition medical facilities. We know that a couple of people have been released. We also know that that includes a child, at least one child who was wounded by a bullet.

And we know that they've all survived, which does beg the question, if there are 17 murder charges, and Afghan officials say there are 16 people dead and six people injured, the injured all survived, we're wondering where that one other person came from and when that actual murder happened, if it was during (ph) the Panjwaii district, and the numbers have just come to light now, or if it was something from a different time. So that is why we need to wait for the formal charges to be sure as to exactly what the case is when it comes to the Army staff sergeant -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yes, a question mark over that apparent discrepancy there.

Now, we understand, according to a U.S. official, that the trial will take place in the United States. It will likely not start anytime soon, despite the desire of many people there in Afghanistan for swift justice.

Sara, will we see a further fraying of relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan?

SIDNER: They seem to have calmed down, to be perfectly honest. We were at a ceremony yesterday where President Karzai spoke to soldiers who had just graduated. And he talked to them about the process, this transition. And instead of saying we want the NATO troops out right this minute, he said that, eventually, we will take the burden off of the foreign troops and we will be the ones in control of this country. And he used 2014 as the date.

And as you know, last week he talked a lot about the fact that he wanted this transition to happen faster, he wanted it to happen in 2013, he wanted all of the NATO troops out of the villages and remote areas and back to the main bases. It seems that things are softening a bit now -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Sara Sidner, live from Kabul for us.

Thank you very much for that.

Now, the shootings have re-ignited the debate over whether American troops should withdraw from Afghanistan ahead of a planned 2014 pullout. But as Chris Lawrence reports, the U.S. military is warning against any hasty decisions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the end of summer, 68,000 American troops will still be fighting in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials say it's too early to tell how quickly they'll come home, but the top U.S. commander has revealed he'd like to keep most, if not all of them, in the fight next year.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: What is your opinion at this particular juncture?

GENERAL JOHN ALLEN, ISAF COMMANDER: My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013, sir.

MCCAIN: Like 68,000?

ALLEN: Sixty-eight thousand is a good going in number, sir, but I owe the president some analysis on that.

LAWRENCE: General John Allen clearly wasn't comfortable giving specific numbers before having a strategic conversation with the White House, but Senator John McCain pushed Allen to give his opinion.

In a statement to CNN, a Pentagon spokesman said, "There is absolutely no daylight between General Allen and the commander-in-chief about the need to assess the state of the insurgency in the fall before making any decisions about future force levels."

Senators also questioned military leaders on the possible transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar. Some Republicans have accused the Obama administration of cutting a deal with terrorists.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: I am really offended that there would be some conversation about releasing five of the meanest, nastiest killers in the world to the Taliban as a show of good faith.

LAWRENCE: The five detainees would be swapped for a captured Westerner and open the way for peace talks with the Taliban, but a U.S. official confirms that transfer is on hold temporarily until the defense secretary receives certain assurances detainees won't be able to leave Qatar.

JAMES MILLER, UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: We are in absolute agreement that these assurances might be in place before anything can go forward.

LAWRENCE (on camera): And I'm told by a senior official that it is likely that a deal will be worked out once they iron out those differences, but the big debate could come in the fall to see if General Allen does get to take those 68,000 troops into the next fighting season in 2013.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: In France, now that the police standoff with murder suspect Mohammed Mera is over, many are asking why the alleged killer wasn't stopped sooner, despite being under surveillance by French intelligence services for several years. Authorities say Mera died when police shot him in the head as he jumped from a window in this apartment block, guns blazing, during a police raid on Thursday. That brought an end to a more than 30-hour standoff in France's southwestern city of Toulouse.

And we're learning more about Mera all the time. A French prosecutor says Mera claimed to have trained with al Qaeda and also spent time in Afghanistan. Now, France's interior minister says Mera was a member of a banned group that recruited fighters for Afghanistan, and U.S. officials say he was on the U.S. no-fly list. But more chillingly, we have learned that he once held a 15-year-old boy in his apartment and forced him to watch videos of al Qaeda beheadings.

Now, with some of the apparent warning signs, some are wondering why Mera wasn't caught before he allegedly carried out three attacks that killed seven people.

Diana Magnay joins us now live from Toulouse.

And Diana, the suspect, he was followed for several years by France's Secret Service. So why wasn't he stopped sooner?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question that everybody is asking. He was known to have a very sort of violent psychological profile as a minor. He had been arrested on numerous occasions for violent crimes.

He had a brother who was also known to be a radical Islamist who had already been in for questioning with France's intelligence services about trying to smuggle radical Islamist fighters into Iraq through Syria. So, you know, it does beg the question, why, if he was under surveillance, could he have been able to get away with what he did? And certainly, could they not have stopped him ahead of the shooting in the Jewish school?

Well, here's what the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, had to say about that a little earlier to RTL Radio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCOIS FILLON, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The fact of belonging to a (INAUDIBLE) organization is not in itself a crime. We must not mix religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know very well the links that unite both of them.

No, there were no elements that allowed us to arrest Mohammed Mera. Once again, we do not have the right to arrest someone on no charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MAGNAY: But of course now there is a huge amount of sort of pressure on everyone who's in this election campaign, really, to make some statements about what they're going to do about security to reassure the French people that this kind of thing won't happen again. And that's why we saw from the French president yesterday new calls to try and punish people who are caught looking at Web sites that encourage terrorist activities. You're probably going to see more and more people being drawn to the far right as the election campaign goes on, as security has always been one of their main calls, alongside sort of quite hard-line anti-immigration policies -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: So how does this translate into the race for the presidency in France? How has the status of the men running for the office of president changed since the aftermath of what happened in Toulouse?

MAGNAY: Well, the French presidential election is always a sort of two- stage race. And interestingly, in the latest opinion polls from the broadcaster BFM, Mr. Sarkozy, in the first race, had made some gains, that more people basically expected that he might win than had done before. But in the second round, it's the main contender, Francois Hollande.

But as I said, it's probably the far right party, Marine Le Pen, who's currently in third place, who may gain out of all of this. Interestingly, a taxi driver said to us yesterday, you know, "I wasn't sure how to vote. Now, because of security concerns, I will definitely vote for the National Front." So, you know, that's the way it's kind of going to play out.

Interestingly, also, Kristie, there are three people still in custody -- Mohammed Mera's brother, the mother, and his girlfriend. And they've just been -- it's just been announced that they'll be detained for a bit longer.

Now, they, given the fact that Mohammed is dead, can no longer provide information, they may well be able to give the police information about what other kind of affiliates he had acting with him, if he did have any, where he got his weapons from, what links he had to Afghanistan and Pakistan. All these kinds of information that are going to be crucial for the investigation as it goes on -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yes, as well as a clear picture of his motive, perhaps.

Diana Magnay, joining us live from Toulouse.

Thank you.

You're watching NEWS STREAM, live from Hong Kong. And coming up, stepping up the pressure on Syria's leaders. The EU slaps fresh sanctions on the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

A mostly two-horse race that is too close to call. Hong Kong's elections have been anything but predictable.

And thanks for the job application. Now give us your Facebook login, what some employers are requesting from job applicants.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Now, more bloodshed in Syria, as protesters vow to take today's demonstrations to the capital, Damascus. Opposition activists say at least 15 people have been killed in violence today, following 90 deaths from clashes across the country on Thursday.

Amateur video posted on YouTube shows what appears to be a Syrian helicopter firing at targets on the ground. It is not clear where the images were taped. And in Idlib province, opposition groups say 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on a bus carrying women and children.

Now, the European Union is imposing sanctions on Syria's first lady, as well as Bashar al-Assad's mother, sister and sister-in-law. The European Union today froze Asma al-Assad's EU assets and banned her and the other relatives from traveling to the European Union.

Now, Mrs. al-Assad, she was born and raised in London. Her father is a well-known cardiologist. Her mother, a diplomat.

A former investment banker herself, she married President Bashar al-Assad in 2000. Then she was a darling of the Western world. Now she's accused of shopping amid a massacre.

Now, leaked e-mails, they appear to show the first lady -- she was shopping online for jewelry and furniture in Paris and London as her husband's government carried out its violent crackdown. On February the 3rd, the day opposition activists reported the deaths of 200 people in Homs, Syria's first lady apparently e-mailed a friend asking whether she should reserve a pair of shoes, but not just any shoes. These shoes.

Let's bring it up for you, a crystal-covered pair of pumps from Christian Louboutin. And the cost, about $6,500.

Now, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, will head to both Moscow and Beijing over the weekend for talks on Syria.

Mohammed Jamjoom is following developments from CNN Abu Dhabi, and he joins us now.

Mohammed, sanctions have been imposed on Asma al-Assad, as well as other members of the president's family. The details you heard just then, they make for a riveting story, but what will impact with the sanctions have on the crisis?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Kristie, it is fascinating to see that the EU is slapping sanctions, freezing the assets of Asma al-Assad, of Bashar al-Assad's mother, sister and sister-in-law. This is trying to make a point.

And we've seen other bodies -- we've seen the EU impose sanctions before on al-Assad's regime. We've seen the U.S. and the Arab League and Japan and Turkey, but they haven't had much of an impact.

These sanctions were imposed on the al-Assad regime because -- to try to make an effort to make it more difficult for al-Assad to finance attacks on his own people. And yet, every time there's been another round of sanctions, whether it's the banning of oil sales from Syria to the EU, or other rounds of sanctions, it just hasn't made an impact.

Today we've heard from the Syrian Human Rights Observatory that at least 15 people have been killed, that at least two children have been killed, that there is fighting going on across Syria, that the crackdown continues. It's now been over a year.

The U.N. reports over 8,000 people have been killed. So even though, yes, this is compelling, and it seems like a strong step to take against Asma al-Assad and the relatives of Bashar al-Assad, and the inner circle of Bashar al-Assad, will it have an impact? And most people just really don't believe that it will make Bashar al-Assad or his regime stop in this crackdown, this violent, bloody crackdown that's been going on for so many months -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yes. It mostly just sends a message to the very top.

Mohammed, Kofi Annan, he is set to visit both Russia and China to discuss Syria. On the diplomatic front, are we seeing Beijing and Moscow moving closer on side with the rest of the international community?

JAMJOOM: There are indications that might be happening. What was significant this week was that there was this U.N. Security Council presidential statement in which everybody voted for in order to support Kofi Annan -- he's the special envoy from the U.N. and the Arab League on Syria right now -- for this peace plan that he's trying to implement.

They're trying to put pressure for the Syrians to accept this peace plan. They want to see it done.

Why is it significant? Because in the past, Russia and China have not voted along the lines of the other members of the U.N. Security Council in order to put pressure on Syria to stop the crackdown.

Now, while this presidential statement does not carry the weight of a draft resolution, it is something where there is unity, where these countries are speaking with one voice right now. And that's why people are wondering if Russia and China are actually now, finally, falling in step with the rest of the countries on the Security Council to really try to put pressure on the Syrians to stop the crackdown that's been going on -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Mohammed Jamjoom reporting.

Thank you.

Coming up next here on NEWS STREAM, Hong Kong braces for Election Day protests. It caps a campaign season that has gone completely off script with allegations of adultery and criminal ties. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Well, you're looking at the central district of Hong Kong on this glittering evening.

Many multinational corporations have their Asian headquarters there. Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial centers. And this weekend, a 1,200-member election committee votes for Hong Kong's next top official.

Now, three men are running, but it's really a two-horse race, and it's going down to the wire. That is not usually the case in Hong Kong politics. As Anna Coren tells us, this year has not followed the typical script.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What would normally be a dull and predictable election campaign has recently transformed into a source of intrigue, uncertainty and major embarrassment. A few months ago, China made it perfectly clear who it wanted as Hong Kong's next chief executive, but scandal, adultery and allegations of connections to organized crime have turned the foolproof system of no surprises on its head.

WILLY LAM, CHINA COMMENTATOR: They have been using mudslinging tactics, smear campaigns, dirty tricks, methods to smear each other. So I think the end result is that most people in Hong Kong realize that they should have a real election in which everybody (INAUDIBLE) just the privileged members of the electoral college will have a say.

COREN: On Sunday, 1,200 members of Hong Kong's Election Committee made up predominately of Beijing-backed business and political elites will vote on a new chief executive to replace the outgoing Donald Tsang. It will come down to two main candidates, 59-year-old Henry Tang, who is favored by the tycoon and business community, this week publicly endorsed by the city's richest man, billionaire Li Ka-shing; and his rival, 58-year-old CY Leung, who's more popular with the public because of his social views on helping the poor in a city that has one of the largest wealth gaps in the world.

But both candidates have skeletons in the closet. Tang, a former finance minister, was seen as Beijing's favored candidate until his campaign was engulfed in scandal. He admitted to having extramarital affairs and constructing an illegal basement in one of his luxury homes seen here, which he then blamed on his wife.

Leung is widely believed to be a member of the underground Communist Party in Hong Kong. The former cabinet member is accused of a conflict of interest while in government, and his campaign allegedly had ties to a member of the Triad (ph), who run the city's organized crime, allegations he denies.

Analysts describe them as two rotten apples.

LAM: So, Beijing is worried that -- well, either one becoming chief executive will not bring about stability, because there will be -- there could be demonstrations on the streets.

COREN: The people of Hong Kong have already been taking to the streets to voice their disgust and disappointment. Beijing has also weighed in publicly on the controversy. Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters at the National People's Congress last week that he believed voters would elect a leader who enjoys the support of the people.

(on camera): Public opinion polls here in Hong Kong show that CY Leung has a convincing lead over Henry Tang, who was originally Beijing's man. But scandals and protests have forced China to switch sides, and it's now pressuring members of the committee to change their votes. The only problem is that some members are now saying they refuse to tow the party line.

Now, if neither candidate gets an outright majority, a new election will be called, and that would be a major embarrassment for Beijing.

LAM: This is the scenario that Beijing is trying very hard to prevent, because it means that Beijing will lose face, Beijing will have lost control of the situation in Hong Kong.

COREN (voice-over): And control isn't something China gives up easily. It's offered universal suffrage to Hong Kong in 2017. However, after this, many are now wondering if Beijing will actually deliver on that promise.

Anna Coren, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Now, remember, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty back in 1997. Their relationship is described as one country, two systems.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region. It retains a high level of autonomy. It has its own currency, operates under a different set of laws in the mainland.

But Beijing has control of foreign relations and defense matters. And, as you heard Anna mention, it has promised universal suffrage to Hong Kong in five years.

Now, right now, Hong Kong's seven million residents do not get to vote for the chief executive, but Hong Kong University holds a simulated poll for anyone over the age of 18. Now, here is an example of the paper ballot they use.

Now, people were also supposed to have the option of voting online, but organizers say the site was hacked. It's unclear who may have targeted the system.

Voting has been extended until Saturday afternoon, and the results will then be reported to members of the Election Committee in hopes that the people's opinion will be considered.

Now, still to come here on NEWS STREAM, the Republican race to see who will face President Obama in the fall heads to the Deep South, to Louisiana.

And we'll ask how far an employer can go when it comes to checking job applicants' Facebook accounts, as in logging in and checking everything.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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

A U.S. Army soldier suspected of a shooting rampage in Afghanistan will today be charged with 17 counts of murder. That's what a senior U.S. official is telling CNN. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is also expected to face other charges, including six counts of assault and attempted murder.

The European Union has imposed fresh sanctions on the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and three other relatives. Asma al-Assad will be banned from traveling to EU nations and her assets will also be frozen.

Opposition groups are urging mass demonstrations today under the banner we are coming to Damascus.

Now France's prime minister is defending police and intelligence services who are coming under criticism over their investigation of murder suspect Mohammad Merah. Merah was killed in a police raid on Thursday. Police say he carried out a killing rampage that took the lives of seven people. Authorities say he had been under surveillance by French intelligence services for years prompting critics to question why he was not captured sooner.

A coroners report has found that cocaine use and heart disease contributed to the accidental drowning death of singer Whitney Houston. Toxicology reports also found other drugs including marijuana and a muscle relaxant in her system. The coroner has ruled our trauma and foul play.

Now turning to the U.S. state of Florida now where the chief of police in the city of Sanford says he is stepping down temporarily. And the growing national uproar over how police reacted to the death of an unarmed black teenager.

Now Trayvon Martin, he was shot last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

And this was a scene in Sanford on Thursday night. Thousands of people turned out, many from out of state, to protest his death.

Now George Zimmerman says he shot the 17-year-old in self defense.

Now George Zimmerman's parents say their son did not target the teenager because of his race. And they say that as a Hispanic, their son is from an ethnic minority himself. Now Brian Todd spoke to Zimmerman's neighbors to learn more about the man and his views.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George Hall looks at the local newspaper and still can't believe it, his former across the street neighbor, George Zimmerman, is a front page headline.

GEORGE HALL, FRM. NEIGHBOR OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This thing about George, it just floors me. I mean, I'm shocked. I didn't realize it was him at first, you know. I would have never guessed it.

TODD: On this street in Manassas, Virginia, George and Kay Hall lived across from Zimmerman and his family for about two decades until the Zimmerman's moved after George graduated from high school.

George Hall, a retired Presbyterian minister, describes Zimmerman and his older brother as friendly, dependable neighbors, part of a tightly knit family who had their maternal grandmother living with them.

What was his demeanor like as a young man in the neighborhood?

HALL: He was always polite. Both of them were always polite, they were always thoughtful.

TODD: Helping groceries, Hall says, helping them retrieve their dog.

According to the Halls and state officials, Zimmerman's parents worked in local government: his father Robert as a magistrate, his mother Gladys as a clerk for the Prince William County court. The pastor of All Saints Catholic Church says George Zimmerman was an altar boy here.

George Zimmerman graduated from Osbourn High School in 2001. We were told no member of the faculty could talk to us about him. In the yearbook there's not a lot of information about him. It does say that he was in the future business leaders of American in his junior and senior years.

And in a section entitled planning for their future, a quote from George Zimmerman, "I'm going to Florida to work with my godfather who just bought a $1 million business. But George Zimmerman's career plans seemed to have changed.

A couple years back, he came to you and asked you for a recommendation.

HALL: Yes. Because he wanted to go to the police academy and become a police officer.

TODD: What'd you right on the recommendation?

HALL: Yes, very positive one. I mean, I have nothing but the strongest positive feelings for the whole family including the boys.

TODD: I asked Kay Hall about a key implication in the Trayvon Martin shooting and Zimmerman's involvement.

Is he a racist from what you know of him?

KAY HALL, FRM. GEORGE ZIMMERMAN NEIGHBOR: Not from what I know of, because basically they were among minority themselves. You know, 20 years ago they were Hispanic before there were a lot of Hispanics around. And they -- we had blacks in the neighborhood, Hispanics, Hungarian, there was no discrimination that I ever noticed or saw.

TODD: George Hall says if there can be no case made against George Zimmerman he hopes authorities in Florida will help Zimmerman through all this. Hall says if there is a case against him, he hopes Zimmerman will be put in jail for his own protection.

Brian Todd, CNN, Manassas, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Turning now to U.S. presidential politics and the Republican race for the party's presidential nomination heads to the deep south state of Louisiana on Saturday. Frontrunner Mitt Romney hopes to build on the momentum of his victory in a contest up north earlier in the week, but the south has been mostly hostile territory for him so far.

Now for a preview of that and more I'm joined now by CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser who joins us now live from CNN Washington.

And Paul, if you don't mind, we've got to start with the Etch a Sketch drama. It just continues to go on. Controversial comments made by Rick Santorum this time. Tell us about it.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yeah, can you believe that we're talking about a presidential campaign here in the United States and it's all about an Etch a Sketch, which if you're not familiar with it, back in the day it was a device, a toy where you could sketch something and then shake it up and it would all disappear.

Now why does that matter? Because, well, Mitt Romney -- one of his top advisers -- used that comment. And you can see right here Gingrich and Santorum both the rival candidates -- making fun of Romney over this. Romney's top adviser said that basically when it comes to the general election if we win the nomination we could do like an Etch a Sketch and start all over again.

Why is that a big deal, because well of course Gingrich and Santorum call Mitt Romney a flip flopper on the issues and so do Democrats. So that's why this became such a big, big deal.

Take a listen to what Rick Santorum, though, said Thursday in a speech in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who is just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch a Sketch candidate for the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: So there you, Rick Santorum on Thursday, you know, making fun again on the Etch a Sketch attacking Romney, but boy did it sound there like he was actually saying, well if Romney is the nominee, the Etch a Sketch candidate we should vote for Obama instead. And that's -- wow that's tough language for Republicans, almost like heresy you could say.

Here's what Newt Gingrich said in reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no doubt in mind that in the choice of Governor Romney or Barack Obama we would have no choice. I mean, Barack Obama's reelection will be a disaster for the United States. And we have an obligation..

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: Now, you know, Newt Gingrich there is no fan of Mitt Romney, but there he is taking Romney's side. And Romney himself put out a statement as well saying the same thing -- Republican, not Obama.

So the controversy started, of course, with Mitt Romney's campaign. Now it looks like it's moved over to Rick Santorum's campaign, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, it's incredible, isn't it? If you're going to talk about the Etch a Sketch on the campaign trail you've got to choose your words very carefully.

Now let's talk about Mitt Romney next. And he got a positive review from Jeb Bush earlier in the week and more recently the Tea Party favorite the Senator Jim DeMint. Away from his rivals on the campaign trail, is the GOP starting to really rally around Romney as the eventual nominee?

STEINHAUSER: Yeah, you're really seeing that, especially since Wednesday when Mitt Romney won in Illinois. And he won pretty big in that state's primary. As you mentioned Jeb Bush -- listen endorsements, we say, are not that big a deal, but this one was. Jeb Bush, a very big deal, a former governor of Florida, somebody a lot of Republicans wanted to run in his own right for the nomination.

And now as you just mentioned, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, very conservative, and you can see almost a king maker among the Tea Party types. Not a formal endorsement on Thursday, but pretty much saying, you know, that Romney should be the nominee and that it's time to coalesce. So you're seeing a lot of that in the last couple of days, Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right, Louisiana, it hosts the next primary. What should we expect?

STEINHAUSER: Southern state, much more conservative than what we just saw in Illinois the other day. This is a state Rick Santorum needs to win, no doubt about it. If he can't win here, he's not going to win the nomination. He needs to win Louisiana, and then he needs to try to knock of Mitt Romney in one of the more moderate states that votes in April. It's still a very long shot for him.

As for Newt Gingrich, here you go, Louisian another southern state. He didn't win in Alabama and Tennessee a week-and-a-half ago, but he didn't drop out. If he doesn't win in Louisiana, does he drop out for Mitt Romney? He's not expected to win in Louisiana. If he does, wow, that really, really hurts the other two candidates and makes him look like the eventual nominee that he probably is, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Paul Steinhauser, enjoy the race this weekend. We'll chat with you next week. Take care.

Now in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, meanwhile, an answer to mysterious noises heard in the night. Mari Ramos joins us now from the world weather center -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORROSPONDENT: Oh, I don't know, I think conspiracy theorists are still not going to buy this answer, Kristie. It's a really interesting situation. I want to tell you the story of noises heard by people in the U.S. state of Wisconsin late at night, almost like a rumbling sound, maybe even a howling. People don't know what it is. They started reporting it throughout this particular city Clintonville, Wisconsin. And finally there may be an answer.

One of the interesting things, before we look at the Google Earth, let me show you something else. There were city officials were saying this mystery noise, could it be underground pipes? Maybe it's the sewer system. Maybe it's some sort of secret military experiment that's going on. Or maybe there some mining going on around and that's what's happening. Maybe it's an underground river.

Well, none of these things seem to be the answer to the mystery noise.

And then they said, well, it has to do with this very warm winter we've had. The rocks are expanding and they said, no. It can't be that either.

So finally they started looking a little bit more at geology and a geophysicist from the U.S. Geological Survey said, yes, indeed there was an earthquake in this area. The epicenter near Clintonville, Wisconsin.

And I want to zoom out and show you a little bit more about this region here, because it's way up here near Lake Michigan. People there not necessarily buying it. Let's hear what they have to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It appears that at least the mystery is solved. I don't think that the work is done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This doesn't happen here. I -- something is wrong. And something is amiss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't worry me at all. We're not going to fall in the ocean. We're not going to fall into Lake Michigan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAMOS: No, that's not going to happen. But you don't see a dot where this quake actually happened, because they said it was so small that they never really heard of people actually feeling an earthquake that small. There's other quakes that are popping up over here as head across the southern U.S. that are in that 1.5 range where they say that earthquake here in Wisconsin happened.

There's plenty of them as we head to the west coast of the U.S. Look at California. These tiny little quakes that happen here all the time, including one in the last hour or so. People normally don't feel this. The explanation why they felt it. They said because the rocks are so old they can transmit that energy much, much better in the northern plains there near Wisconsin where this happened. And they said that made a sound in the rocks. They say it's like an explosion of TNT -- about 100 pounds of TNT going off all at once. Yes, if that happened you'd hear it.

So there may be an explanation after all to this mystery noise.

One thing that's not a mystery, the weather. Let's go ahead and take a quick look over here at a tropical cyclone in the making. There's a low possibility here in the South China Sea -- where are we -- there's the Philippines right over here, Hong Kong to the north. There's Vietnam right there. This is where this tropical cyclone in the making is starting to happen.

It brought you heavy rains across the Philippines. Much better weekend in store now as that storm moves away. This tropical wave could bring you some rain, beneficial rain, across southeastern parts of Vietnam and into Cambodia. A lot of fires burning in this area. So the rain will be a good thing if it does actually happen.

Other areas that we're monitoring for some activity as far as well up here as we head into northeastern China through the Korean peninsula by the way, strengthening storm happening here. We'll bring you some -- probably some windy, nasty weather for you across Japan over the weekend. Some snow lingering even as we head into Saturday. But that's of course for the highest elevations. They've had so much snow there already.

Whatever you do, hope you don't hear any strange noises at night. And if you do, tell us.

Back to you.

LU STOUT: Mari Ramos, thank you.

Now you're watching News Stream live from Hong Kong. And coming up next, South Korean security forces are put through their paces as the country prepares to host 50 heads of state at the nuclear security summit in Seoul this weekend. That story just ahead.

(COMMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now North Korea has announced plans to launch what it says is a satellite next month. But that has provoked alarm with some countries, notably South Korea, saying the launch is actually a cover to test missile technology. Now Pyongyang says the rocket carrying the Earth observation satellite will fall back to Earth in this area off the South Korean coast. And in the second stage in this area much farther south near the Philippines.

Now despite that planned route, Japan to the east of the Korean peninsula said today that it will prepare a missile defense system ahead of the launch.

Now scores of world leaders will descend on the South Korean capital for a nuclear security summit this weekend. Talks in Seoul are expected to center on safe guarding nuclear material and preventing nuclear terrorism.

But as Paula Hancocks reports, keeping the leaders safe is a major concern as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A team of special South Korean commandos (inaudible) from military helicopters and approach an airport runway. A passenger plane has been hijacked, dozens of hostages are on board. If not a real scenario, the South Korean authorities want the world to know they are ready for any eventuality during the upcoming nuclear security summit.

When you're inviting more than 50 heads of state to a city that your northern neighbor has threatened to engulf in a sea of flames, you're not likely to take any chances.

More than 50,000 security personnel will be involved, keeping VIPs safe as well as keeping protesters at bay.

Police and military have held around half a dozen drills in just the past few weeks. Although it is tricky to see how some skills, no mater how impressive, would be that useful on the streets of Seoul.

The promotional video for the summit doesn't beat around the bush, showing one of the world's nuclear threats lies just 50 kilometers, or 30 miles north of Seoul.

LEE MYUNG-BAK, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Nuclear terrorism has now become the most lethal risk, threatening the survival of humanity. Confronted with North Korea, we are not free from the threat of nuclear terrorism either.

HANCOCKS: South Korea's police chief, Cho Hyung-Oh, says that given the current situation with North Korea there's no way to predict if they will carry out an attack. And yet North Korea, with its clear nuclear ambitions and Iran's nuclear program, are not on the official agenda of the summit.

Neither country attended the first summit held in Washington two years ago. And neither will attend the Seoul summit. But both countries will inevitably be discussed on the sidelines during countless bilateral meetings.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Now Samsung is embroiled in legal action with Apple over both company's smartphones and tablets. And one Samsung designer appears to be taking it rather personally. In an interview with Reuters, Lee Miohyouk, he spoke out against Apple's accusations that Samsung had copied the iPhone and iPad saying, quote, "I've made thousands of sketches and hundreds of prototype products. Does that mean I was putting on a mock show for so long pretending to be designing?" Now Lee added that it was a matter of dignity and that his products are entirely original.

Now you might think that what you might do in your own time is your own business, but not so according to some employers in the United States who are asking potential employees for their Facebook passwords. That has sparked a debate about what is public and what is private. Mary Snow reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Imagine being on a job interview and an employer asking you for your Facebook log-in and password. That's what Robert Collins says happened to him at the Maryland Department of Corrections. After taking a leave of absence, he says he had to go through another vetting process in 2010 and was stunned when his employer asked for his Facebook password.

Collins says he complied because he feared for his job.

ROBERT COLLINS, JOB APPLICANT: So what exactly are doing? What are you looking for?

Well, I'm looking through your messages and through your wall and through your pictures and through your posts to make sure that, you know, that you're not flashing gang signs or involved in any illegal activity.

I was just mortified. I just thought that that just crossed the line.

SNOW: Collins has since left that job, but his complaint to the ACLU prompted change. Maryland's Department of Corrections new policy states candidates will not be asked to share their log-in and/or password information. But job applicants to Maryland's Corrections Department are asked to log-in to Facebook voluntarily as an interviewer looks over their shoulder.

The department argues that kind of screening is useful for public safety and law enforcement jobs. CNN legal contributor Paul Callan

Is this legal?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: As shocking as it is that employers would ask you for this very, very personal thing, a Facebook password. In most states it's absolutely legal.

SNOW: It's unclear just how many employers are asking job applicants for passwords. It's Facebook's policy to prohibit anyone from soliciting the log-in information or accessing an account belonging to someone else. But lawmakers in Maryland are considering a bill to make it illegal for an employer to ask for passwords.

In a right to privacy in the workplace act is on the table in Illinois after a state lawmaker received complaints from constituents.

LASHAWN FORD, ILLINOIS STATE LAWMAKER: You have individuals that are afraid to speak and say that employers are asking for their password and their user name for fear of losing their job or for fear of not being hired.

SNOW: Now there's word of a potential bill on a federal level. Democratic Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal says he's deeply troubled by reports of employers asking for log-in information onto social media sites. And he's drafting a bill that would ban it.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Coming up, with golf's first major fast approaching, Tiger is getting into his stride and finding form.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now Russian football authorities are close to finding out the identity of the man who caused the latest racism scandal there. Pedro Pinto is here with that story and the rest of the sports headlines -- Pedro.

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kristie, this past weekend in a Russian league match between Lokomotiv Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala a football fan threw a banana onto the pitch aimed at black player Christopher Samba. Since then, both clubs and the Russian Football Union have tried to identify the culprit. And now they say they're close to doing so.

In a joint statement from Lokomotiv and Anzhi, they announced that they are close to finding out who is the culprit after looking at the video footage of the incident. They will now try to track him down with a view to punishing him.

This was the latest in a series of cases where supporters have abused black players by throwing bananas onto the pitch in Russia. Recently, former Brazilian international Roberto Carlos was a victim of such an action.

The Masters is two weeks away. And Tiger Woods showed on Thursday that despite concerns around his fitness, he should be 100 percent in this year's first gold major. With Arnold Palmer keeping an eye on the invitational tournament that bears his name, one of golf's modern masters was proving the twinge he felt in his back during Wednesday's pro-am was a distant memory.

Tiger rolling in a birdie at the 15th to go to two under. And his opening round could have got even better at the following hole. Woods sinking a 20 footer in a round of 69 less than a week after pulling out of the Cadillac championship with an Achilles problem.

Shot of the day went to Ryan Moore who used a five iron to take dead aim at the par 3 seventh. And look at this, it's got the distance and the direction, speeds along, slams against the flag stick and drops in for a hole in one.

There are two leaders after the first round. One of them is this gentleman right here, South Korea's Charlie Wie. He had an opening score of 66, which included this excellent approach shot to the final hole. He would roll that in to finish six under par. That's the score to beat so far.

In the NBA it was far from a pleasant homecoming for Chris Paul on Thursday. The all-star point guard went back to New Orleans for the first time since leaving the city to join the L.A. Clippers. Paul was outscored by the man who replaced him, Jarrett Jack. 17 points for him as he helped the Hornets take the lead late in the game.

Blake Griffin lead the Clippers in scoring. And he was on the end of some physical play here from Jason Smith, a deliberate shove on the L.A. superstar. Smith was ejected after being called for a flagrant 2 foul.

Now even without him, New Orleans still managed to hold on to the win. Randy Foye could have tied it late for L.A., but he couldn't get the 3- pointer to fall. The Hornets win surprisingly over the Clippers 97-90.

Tim Tebow isn't a New York Jets player just yet. Due to a contractual issue, the quarterback who was traded from the Denver Broncos earlier this week will not officially become a member of the team until Saturday. He arrived in New York on Thursday, but was unable to sign with the Jets since he still had some paperwork to take care of back in Denver. After that is all sorted out, he'll finally be unveiled. And Tebow mania can officially start in the Big Apple.

Kristie, I'm sure New York can't to see Tebow. And they can't wait to go crazy about him.

LU STOUT: Yeah, crazy for different reasons. Pedro Pinto, thank you very much indeed. Have a great weekend.

And finally, here is our attempt at a paper airplane. Got to admit it didn't fare too well on its maiden voyage. And that gives it something in common with this paper airplane, thought to be the world's largest. At 13 meters long, it's about 50 times bigger than mine and needed a helicopter for launch.

The 360 kilogram plane, it took to the skies over the Arizona desert for its maiden voyage at an altitude of 4,000 feet. But the flight was short-lived. After leveling out for six seconds and hitting speeds just shy of 160 kilometers an hour, it plummeted back to earth.

And that is News Stream. But the news continues at CNN. World Business Today is next.

END