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CONNECT THE WORLD

After 30 Years, Vindication for Mother Who Claims Dingo Took Her Child; Poland-Russia Battle to Tie; Anti-Putin Protests Flood Streets of Moscow

Aired June 12, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: And tonight on Connect the World, a stark warning to the world. Not on the edge, not on the brink, after 15 months the UN finally says Syria is in full-scale civil war.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

SWEENEY: As the violence escalates, tonight the innocent victims caught up in Syria's savagery.

Also ahead, Polish and Russian fans clash ahead of their Euro 2012 game underway right now.

And who needs fireworks when you have cows. Under the 2012 reveals what countryside seems to the Olympics opening ceremony.

Detained and beaten, tortured and maimed, used as human shields, a new UN report says children in Syria are the victims of appalling crimes. We'll get to that in just a moment, but first a top UN official now says the fighting in Syria has reached the level of full-scale civil war. Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said it's clear that the government has lost big chunks of territory and is now fighting to regain control. He's the most senior UN official to definitively use the term civil war so far.

Also today, more apparent evidence that children are paying a terrible price in this conflict. And we warn you that the images we're about to show are extremely difficult to watch. They're definitely not suitable for children. But we believe they're important to convey the extent of the horrors.

Opposition activists say this amateur video shows tiny victims of government shelling attacks in Aleppo province. They say the two babies you see later died from their wounds. CNN cannot verify these accounts since Syria won't allow our reporters into the country.

Well, a UN report says children in Syria aren't simply victims caught in the crossfire, it says they've been the targets of grave abuse. Matthew Chance has details of the report. And again, we want to warn you that some of the images you'll see over the next two-and-a-half minutes are very hard to watch. But as we say we think they're important to convey the suffering of children Syria, the most innocent victims of war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: We don't know if this video shot in April in Syria is evidence of what the UN has now concluded, that the Syrian military is using children, children as young as eight, as human shields.

The UN's annual report on children and armed conflict found that government troops were regularly using children to protect tanks and other weapons. It also found that victims were being tortured. Scarred by cigarette burns, whipped, and in one case subject to electrical shocks to the genitals. More than 1,100 children have been killed in Syria since the uprising began. The UN special representative for children reacted to the report.

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, UN SPECIAL REP FOR CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT: The line between civilian and combatants has become completely blurred. Where you attack whole communities -- the women, the children, the men, then that's going completely against humanitarian principles. And that is what is happening where the community is being attacked and terrorized.

CHANCE: The UN based its conclusions on testimony from eyewitnesses in Syria and interviews with former members of the Syrian armed forces. And the blame didn't rest solely on the Syrian government. According to the report some witnesses said armed rebels have recruited children, giving them guns and combat uniforms. Officials from the anti-government Free Syrian Army could not immediately be reached for comment.

As for the young victims of the Syrian army, there is visual evidence too.

COMMARASWAMY: The use of children as human shields where children where military buses are being taken and in the town of -- the village of Ain Larou (ph) the children said how they were put up against the windows so that the bus would not be shot at.

CHANCE: In one of the most horrific cases, eyewitnesses tell the UN dozens of children were killed at a massacre in Houla. Babies were found lifeless, wrapped in blankets. Other children could be seen during a mass funeral.

As for the reports of torture, no response yet from the Syrian government.

COMMARASWAMY: We've never seen this scale of torture or the scale -- 49 children under the age of 10 summarily executed. No, I don't think I've seen that anywhere else.

CHANCE: And with fresh attacks Tuesday and an escalation of the violence, it's clear many more of Syria's young may die.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Germany's UN ambassador says the report, quote, "clearly shows a need for the international community to act."

Peter Wittig chairs the UN security council working group on children and armed conflict. He joins us now from the United Nations.

Thank you for joining us ambassador. Have you ever seen anything like this, completely when it's -- given that this report also focused on other countries and violence against children?

PETER WITTIG, GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO UN: Well, it's certainly most shocking and appalling. But let me first say this, I commend the UN for this report. It's so crucial that we have verifiable facts in a report. We have now a basis to discuss about. And of course the facts that were reported are appalling. The fact that the Syrian security forces targeted children not older than nine years old into -- for killing, for maiming, for arbitrary detention, torture and sexual abuse, that's just unspeakable and despicable.

And also terrible the way they used children as human shields it just shows how depraved, how cruel this power struggle of the Assad regime has turned out to be.

SWEENEY: Now you say power struggle and that leads me to the comment that was made earlier on today about this being a civil war. Are you in agreement with that?

WITTIG: Well, it just shows how vicious this circle of violence has become and how urgent it is to break that circle of violence and to...

SWEENEY: Is it a civil war?

WITTIG: ...stop -- well, it's a terrible state of affairs. And it is a vicious circle of violence that we've got to break whatever you call it. And we need to break that circle and I think react now more robustly than ever, that's why we've called for an action of the security council, having Russia -- or getting Russia on board to give the Annan plan additional teeth, that's what Kofi Annan called for last week that noncompliance should not remain without consequences that's what we've got to do now.

SWEENEY: So ambassador, as we've been looking just at pictures while you've been talking to us about people allegedly being used as human shields in Syria and this is really about getting Russia on board now. How will that be possible?

WITTIG: Well, we're having contacts on all levels on the highest levels between capitals here in New York and we follow the lead of Kofi Anna who said that we have -- to have sustained international pressure on the Assad regime and that's why we are working to get an agreement on getting teeth to that Annan plan.

And once again, I repeat our suggestion that we have an independent commission of inquiry to look into those horrible facts that we have in front of us and the massacres that occurred and to ensure countability, that is what we need urgently.

SWEENEY: Sure. But if I could just focus on Russia here, because really it seems that any unanimity or consensus within the UN security council depends very much on Russia. On a day when Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, has said she is concerned about helicopter attacks, gunships being supplied by Russia to Syria and other matters, how do you realistically believe that Russia can be brought on board in the terms of a consensus within the UN security council. How is it going to happen?

WITTIG: Russia has a decisive key for a resolution of this crisis in Syria. And we need Russia on board in order to be able to exhaust all possibilities for a political solution. That's what my country and other countries are working on these days. And we hope that a serious aggravation of the situation convinces Russia that it has to come forward to wield its influence on Damascus.

SWEENEY: And a time when the international community is divided on the use or not of military action intervention in Syria, your country is against very much so. Let me ask you, do you think that there is still time for diplomacy to work?

WITTIG: Yes there is. Diplomacy at work as we speak. And we believe that all possibilities should be exhausted. I have quite frankly speaking not heard anybody in the security council voicing any preference for a military solution. So I think everybody is working hard on a political solution.

SWEENEY: And finally do you believe ambassador that that will come, that solution which crucial needs the involvement and the backing of Russia?

WITTIG: There's no alternative to that that I can see, that's why we've got to put all our energy to find that solution?

SWEENEY: Ambassador Wittig, Peter Wittig, chairing the UN security council working group on children and armed conflict. Thank you very much indeed for joining us from the United Nations.

WITTIG: Thank you.

SWEENEY: And still to come tonight, it is a case that enthralled a country for decades and even Hollywood got involved. But finally after more than 30 years vindication for a mother wrongly convicted of the murder of her baby daughter.

And Moscow sees its biggest rally since President Putin's inauguration as tens of thousands hit the streets.

And the ugly side of the beautiful game. Clashes break out between rival fans in Warsaw. A live update coming up as Poland take on Russia this hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: You are watching CNN and this is Connect the World. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney and welcome back. 32 years after losing her daughter and after serving eight years for her murder today finally Lindy Chamberlain was vindicated when an Australian coroner ruled that Lindy's original claim that a dingo took her two month old baby from her house in 1980 was the most likely cause of her disappearance.

The dingo baby case has been a matter of speculation for decade, spawning a Hollywood movie and putting Lindy in prison until new evidence overturned her conviction for murder. As Michael Holmes reports this was an emotional day in court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 32 years ago, August 17, 1980, a mom and dad take their three children to sons age six and four and their nine week old daughter Azaria camping at Ayers Rock, now known as Uluru in Australia's northern territory. And so began a sequence of events that divided a nation and a family and started a mother's 32 year fight for vindication. Late one night, Lindy Chamberlain left little Azaria in the family's tent in a bassinet just long enough to get one of her boys a late night snack. But what she saw as she returned to check on the baby was something that will change her life forever.

She says she saw her baby Azaria being carried off into the night by a dingo, a native wild dog. A week later, some of the baby's clothes blood- stained were found in the desert. Lindy Chamberlain's reaction would be repeated over and over ever since: in books, media articles, and even a Hollywood.

MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: A dingo took my baby.

HOLMES: Hundreds of people, police, native aboriginal trackers and fellow campers searched the area that night, one tracker saying he saw drag marks consistent with a dingo carrying a heavy bundle, but there was no sign of little Azaria. Although an initial coroner's inquest concluded Azaria was attacked and carried off by a dingo, the supreme court of the Northern Territory didn't buy it. There was another inquest. This time Lindy Chamberlain was accused of slashing her daughter's throat, her husband charged as an accessory after the fact.

Lindy chamberlain was later sentenced to life in prison for murder. Her husband received a suspended sentence.

Australians were divided: those who saw Lindy Chamberlain as a cold- blooded killer, and those who say the evidence just didn't stack up. But everyone had an opinion.

Four years into her sentence, just when all the appeals were exhausted, startling new evidence came to light: baby Azaria's jacket, discovered near a dingo lair. The evidence led to another inquest and the case was reopened. Chamberlain was set free, but it took many more years and a fourth inquest for the courts to finally say Lindy Chamberlain didn't murder her baby daughter.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, as she is now known, and her family appeared in the court room Tuesday as a coroner said a dingo did take Azaria into the night and offered a heartfelt apology.

ELIZABETH NORRIS, NORTH TERRITORY CORONER: Please accept my sincere sympathy on the death of your special and loved daughter and sister Azaria. I'm so sorry for your loss.

HOLMES: Chamberlain-Creighton expressed her relief that justice was finally served after more than three decades.

LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON, AZARIA'S MOTHER: It's been a long time coming, obviously, but finally got someone with common sense and the ability to research and read and come to an intelligent finding. And I wonder if that's because it was a lady.

HOLMES: Azaria would have turned 32 on Monday.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Here's a look now at some of the other stories connecting our world tonight. Spain's cost of borrowing has risen to record levels just days after EuroZone ministers agreed to bailout the country's banks. With investors initial optimism fading, the interest rate on 10-year sovereign bonds rose to its highest level since the launch of the euro. Adding to the pressure on Spain, credit rating agency Fitch announced it was downgrading 18 Spanish banks.

The Falkland Islands will hold a referendum next year on their political future. Britain and Argentina went to war over the south Atlantic islands in 1982, 30 years on tension that has escalated between the two over sovereignty over the British ruled territory. Island officials say the vote is intended to convey a strong message about their desire to stay tied to Britain.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has declared his intention to run for reelection this year. Speculation was riff over whether he would stand after his diagnosis of cancer a year ago, but he's now (inaudible).

Coming up on Connect the World, watch your back Tiger and McIlroy this 14-year-old is set to become the youngest player at the U.S. Open. More on the pint-sized putter up next. All that and much more when Connect the World returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: You're watching Connect the World live from CNN Center. Welcome back. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Tensions are high in Warsaw as Polish and Russian fans arrived to the highly charged soccer match between the two countries. Some sporadic scuffles broke out among unruly fans ahead of the Euro 2012 match. There are reports of mostly minor injuries, but no deaths.

For the latest both on and off the pitch let's bring in Pedro Pinto. He's in Warsaw for us. What's the latest on those clashes?

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fionnuala. The hours that preceded that match were really marked by several clashes between riot police, Polish fans and Russia fans as well. What happened was around three hours before kickoff, a large group of Russian supporters met up in the center of the city, about 5,000 of them. And they started walking over here to the national stadium. And somewhere along the route they were met by a group of local fans who started insulting them, started throwing various projectiles, including rocks in their direction. And that's really when the trouble kicked off.

There were several skirmishes throughout the city. What I can tell you, according to the ministry of the interior, there were 100 arrests made from both sides, both Polish and Russian fans as well. And a total of 10 people taken to hospital. We're continuing to follow the latest. That is what we know at the moment Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: And this other Group A game that took place later -- earlier in the day, how did that one turn out?

PINTO: Well, this is the second Group A game of the day, day five of Euro 2012. Let me give you a quick live update of the match that's going on behind me. It's 1-1 at the moment between the co-hosts Poland and Russia. Alan Dzagoev put Russia in the lead and then Jakub Blaszcykowski the managed to equalize. So that's how we stand.

Earlier there was a Czech Republic who beat Greece 2-1 in Wroclaw. So right now the group wide open. All teams still have a chance to qualify heading into the final round of matches. And CNN will update the final score form the national stadium here in Warsaw as soon as the final whistle goes. I guess you'll be the one updating that score. There's about eight minutes left at the moment Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: That's right. I guess we will. Thanks very much indeed Pedro, keeping an eye there on -- for us on the game taking place in that stadium behind him.

Well, while the Euro championships have the sporting focus on one side of the Atlantic, here in the United States there are three sports in the limelight this week. And Don Riddell joins me now. He starts us off on the ice.

RIDDELL: Absolutely Fionnuala. Thanks very much. A huge night in L.A. And not just because of the absolutely huge trophy that the L.A. Kings players were parading at Staples Center late last night. This was an incredible victory in the Stanley Cup. The L.A. Kings winning ice hockey's biggest trophy for the first time in their history and doing it as the eighth seed to make it into the postseason. No team has ever done that before.

They gave their fans a few nervous and anxious moments during the Stanley Cup series against the New Jersey Devils. They went into a 3-0 series lead, but then they lost the next two, but that did to be honest tee it up all rather nicely, because it meant they can celebrate in front of their own fans. They'll be having another victory parade in Thursday.

And it's great for L.A. because of course it's really known as more of a baseball town or a basketball town, but now they've got a decent hockey team. And of course David Beckham's Galaxy won the soccer, the MLS last year as well.

SWEENEY: Very good news for L.A.

Speaking of basketball, Miami Heat are expected to have done well by now. How is it looking?

RIDDELL: Well, they are going to tee off the -- or tip off I should say the first game of the NBA finals of this evening. They're playing against Oklahoma City in Oklahoma City. And this really is a dream final for the fans, the game, and the neutrals because you've got some of the game's biggest super stars playing. LeBron James of course leading the Miami Heat. He moved to Miami from Cleveland saying he was going to win multiple championships. They were disappointing in the finals last year against the Mavericks. They've got another chance to do it, but they're up against a Thunder team that has some huge stars of its own notably Kevin Durant.

And remember this is the third year in six that LeBron James made it this far in the NBA season. He would desperately hoping to get a championship ring this time around.

SWEENEY: All right.

And a final question about golf which we're speaking about a little earlier in the program. The second major tournament is about to get underway, the U.S. Open. And what is grabbing the headlines.

RIDDELL: Tiger Woods as always has got a chance, Rory McIlroy the defending champion is making headlines, but as of last night the new big sensation at the U.S. Open is this Chinese born player called Andy Zhang. He's just 14 years of age. He is set to become the youngest player ever to play in the U.S. Open.

He's not as small as he looks. He's actually 5'10 and weight 185 pounds. And his story of how he qualified really is quite incredible. He played very well to get there, but he was one of these alternatives, I think the fifth alternate, which meant the number of players had to drop out in order for him to get his chance. But he's got his chance. And everybody that's seen him play says he's absolutely brilliant. So watch out for him, he could have a good week.

SWEENEY: Golf as big in China?

RIDDELL: Golf is very big in China. I was there for Living Golf a couple of years ago and when you see these young players and how dedicated and motivated they are, you know, they are going to start producing some really great players.

And of course at the weekend we had the first ever major winner from - - we had a major winner from China in the -- one of the women's major tournaments at the weekend. I'm sorry, I'm all over Euro 2012 at the moment.

SWEENEY: I know. I know.

RIDDELL: Golf is big for China right now.

SWEENEY: All right. Thanks very much, Don Riddell. Well done.

And still to come on Connect the Word, police raid the homes of Russia's most prominent opposition figures, but will it actually help rather than hinder the opposition cause?

We meet a woman with her hands firmly on the wheel in a sport dominated by men.

And a green and pleasant land, find out how London plans for the Olympics opening ceremony are here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: A very warm welcome to our viewers across Europe and around the world. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney and these are the latest world headlines from CNN.

The UN's peacekeeping chief says the fighting in Syria has now reached the level of full-scale civil war. He's the most senior UN official to definitively use that term. Opposition activists say at least 51 people were killed across the country today.

At Euro 2012, we're in the closing minutes of Poland versus Russia. It's all tied, one-all. A win would get the Russians into the next round. In the day's earlier match, the Czech Republic scored two goals in the first six minutes, then held on to beat Greece 2-1.

Thousands have taken to the streets in Moscow to protest the Russian president Vladimir Putin. It is the first major rally since Mr. Putin was inaugurated last month. Before the rally, though, several vocal opposition members' houses were raided by police.

Spain's borrowing costs have risen to the highest level since the launch of the euro in 1999. The ten-year bond yield rose to 6.8 percent as the enthusiasm for Spain's bank bailout wore off.

Now, more on the anti-Putin protests that flooded the streets of Moscow today. It's just over a month since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency after he won a landslide victory in the country's elections. But the protesters reject his legitimacy. CNN's Phil Black has been with the crowds in Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For this big crowd, it has been a long, slow shuffle along the narrow Moscow road known as the Boulevard Ring. This is the latest protest against Vladimir Putin and his continued leadership of Russia to become regular events here in Moscow over the last six months.

And again, tens of thousands of people have taken tot he streets to show how unhappy they are with the state of democracy in this country. But this one's taking place in a slightly different context. It is the first since Vladimir Putin's inauguration as president.

And it is the first since he recently signed into law new rules which strictly control the behavior of large demonstrations like this and punish violations with very big fines. Those new laws are being interpreted by human rights activists and leaders of this opposition movement as an attempt to stifle this opposition movement from growing any larger.

And again, only yesterday, Russian police raided the homes of the most prominent members of the movement. They say they're investigating the violence which took place at the last big rally back in May, but again, it is being interpreted as an attempt to intimidate and persuade people that it's not a good idea to join these marches.

(CROWD CHANTING IN RUSSIA)

BLACK: That last rally back in May on the even of Putin's inauguration was violent. It was when a huge crowd like this came up against several strong lines of police in full riot gear. The result was clashes, hundreds of arrests, and dozens of injuries.

Today, we have seen a lot of police, though not many in full riot kit, and the behavior of the crowd has been absolutely peaceful.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: This is Vladimir Putin's third term as Russia's president and, despite the protests, he's still a popular leader. Mr. Putin won over 60 percent of the vote in May's presidential election. While there were protests and claims of election fraud in the capital, outside of the larger towns and cities, President Putin has generally strong support.

With that in mind, I spoke to Andrew Kutchins, an expert in Russian foreign and domestic policy. I asked him what these protests say about the feeling of the Russian people towards their president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREW KUTCHINS, DIRECTOR, CSIS RUSSIA AND EURASIA PROGRAM: This is the first time that Vladimir Putin has experienced in his 12 years on the national stage significant opposition.

And the numbers of the opposition or those that are dissatisfied with aspects of the current system are growing significantly, and if you look at opinion polls, while Putin remains, there's a majority of the population that supports him, it's considerably down from where it was a few months ago, let alone a year or so ago.

And it's -- he's -- Putin is playing a very careful game of brinksmanship, I think, with the opposition. One of the reasons why the numbers were down today, I think, was the passage of the new law on demonstrations, which really increased very, very significantly the levels of fines that would be given to those that were engaged in violence in public demonstrations.

So, the good news is that the demonstrations were relatively peaceful. Maybe somewhat depressing for the opposition is that the numbers are down. And perhaps most worrisome was the raids that took place on several of the opposition leaders' homes the night before.

SWEENEY: So, what can we expect from both the opposition and President Putin in the coming weeks and months? And indeed, how united is the opposition?

KUTCHINS: Well, the opposition is not so united. They're -- it ranges from those that are a more pro-Western orientation and looking for more reforms, especially through reforms that are going to reduce the levels of corruption and promote more sustainable economic growth in Russia. And it also includes others that are of a more nationalist bent that have a somewhat different agenda.

SWEENEY: So, where do you think President Putin intends taking Russia, and what is he likely to do about this opposition?

KUTCHINS: Well, in his best-case scenario, he hopes it going to go away. That's likely not going to be the case, because his -- the biggest challenge that Putin faces is maintaining economic growth.

And one of the important factors that contributed to the demonstrations and the dissatisfaction with the parliamentary elections was the fact that disposable personal incomes actually fell in 2011 for the first time.

So, Putin faces economic challenges. He's got to find different drivers of economic growth for the future, because like in most countries, Putin understands that his level of popularity fundamentally depends upon the perception of the population of prosperity and their own economic well- being. And that's going to be his biggest challenge.

In order to ensure that, he's going to have to undertake some reforms, which are going to open up society somewhat and begin to break down the system, the so-called vertical of power, this very centralized political power system that he built up over the last decade.

So, his dilemma is how hard do you push reform? And what can the results be. Now --

SWEENEY: And --

KUTCHINS: -- what he -- sorry.

SWEENEY: In terms of pushing that reform, how much does the West's opinion figure into this at all?

KUTCHINS: Not that much, frankly. What matters the most, I think, for Putin is the oil price and the revenues that come into the Russian economy from oil and gas exports and other natural commodities. If those prices go high, that relieves the pressure on him having to undertake tough reforms that are going to create winners and losers and probably further polarize the political system.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Andrew Kutchins, there. Well, as Phil said in his report, hours before the march, police raided the homes of opposition members and ordered them to report for questioning.

There's been a lot of Twitter reaction to the raids, likening it to the Great Purge Soviet leader Joseph Stalin launched in 1937. That's when countless thousands of his opponents were arrested or executed. Critics are using the Twitter hash tag #hello1937, and the Russian equivalent. Here are a few samples.

"Russia back in the old groove. Didn't take Putin long," says Stefan Basuk.

"In Russia, the government's going to execute hundreds of innocent soon," according to Sergey Klimov.

And Quinn MacDonald says, "Big Daddy Vladdy at it again."

Now, obviously, President Putin is not Stalin. But the raids are being touted by the opposition as harassment and have some worried about how the government may try to suppress opposition in the future.

An update on the Russian-Poland Euro 2012 game that's just finished now. It is a draw, Poland 1, Russia 1.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Coming up, we meet the female race car driver who is steering her way to success on the track. That's after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: In our Leading Women series, CONNECT THE WORLD has introduced you to some formidable talents. They've come from the fields of business, fashion, technology. And this week, we meet a woman making inroads on the track. Milka Duno is a Venezuelan race car driver who has the speed and the know-how to lead the pack.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a sport dominated by men, she is in a league of her own.

MILKA DUNO, RACE CAR DRIVER: I like to drive. I like to do a good job. I like to win races.

TAYLOR: With more than 100 races and 8 major wins to her credit, she is considered among the most prolific and versatile female race car drivers in the sport.

DUNO: It doesn't matter the gender, it doesn't matter if you are a woman or a man. The important thing is your determination.

TAYLOR: She fell in love with cars in her native Venezuela while taking joy rides in her parents' Chevrolet. Today, she races all over the world, and often exceeds 200 miles per hour.

TAYLOR (on camera): What did your parents say when you decided to go from naval engineering to stock cars?

DUNO: They said, "Ah! Are you crazy? After studying so much, studying so much, and now you want to drive cars?"

TAYLOR (voice-over): This former model turned race car dynamo is Milka Duno.

Miami. Playground of the chic, from the people to the cars, this US city is all about style. It's here we find Milka Duno, cruising around her adopted hometown in an exotic, Lotus sports car.

DUNO: The Latin people have a little Italian. We do everything with passion from inside. We have to feel the motion, we have -- this is why we are so explosive. We can show that we love, or hey, we don't have a fake face.

TAYLOR: Duno's love for speed began in 1998 in Venezuela after she was invited to a driving clinic.

DUNO: I didn't know anything about racing. I participated, I was the only woman, I started to win some races.

TAYLOR: She became hooked.

DUNO: I came to the United States for a racing school, and two weeks later, they called me to Formula driver. This is where I say it was in my destiny. I didn't know that I was going to be a race car driver.

TAYLOR: To see what life is like for the professional race car driver, we joined Duno at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida during a series of practice sessions as she prepares for a coming race.

Her day starts with a drivers' meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spotters, you're going to play a very important role over the next three days, because you're the people who --

TAYLOR: This is all leading up to the season opener in the ARCA Racing Series, a stock car competition with a $35,000 prize.

TAYLOR (on camera): And tell me what your day has been like so far today.

DUNO: Oh, I sat the drivers' meeting. We were working in the car. It's a new car, and we have to try everything and test everything. The engineer was making many changes. We wanted to be sure that the car was good when we go out to the track.

TAYLOR (voice-over): Duno is relatively new to stock car racing compared to other types of racing that she's done, though she is familiar with the track here. In 2007, she finished 2nd in the 24 hours at Daytona Race, the highest finish by a female driver.

Her crew chief says it all comes down to determination.

DAVID LEINER, JR., CREW CHIEF: Her competitive spirit is second to none. I don't think there's a man in this garage that's got as much competitive spirit as she does.

TAYLOR: During one of the practice sessions, Duno posted the fastest lap among the drivers, circling the 2.5 mile track in 48.3 seconds.

DUNO: It's a very complex sport. You need to have good preparation, physical preparation, you have to have good training. You have to have a concentration level. You have to study. You have -- it's not only gas and brake, like the people think. You have to study so much about the car, know about the car. And at the end, you need so many things working right to win a race.

TAYLOR: Milka Duno isn't just gutsy. She's also smart. The former naval engineer has four masters degrees, three of them earned simultaneously.

It seems Milka Duno has never met a challenge she couldn't overcome, including a career behind the wheel.

DUNO: We have a women's precedent, mechanics, race car drivers, astronauts, everything. We can do everything that we decide that we want to do.

TAYLOR: In the coming weeks, we'll see Milka Duno at the Daytona race that she's practicing for, and also give you more insight into the world of auto racing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: And for more on all the Leading Women featured in our series, including the female entrepreneurs who are pushing aside social constraints in Saudi Arabia to succeed, check out our website at cnn.com/leadingwomen.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD and, when we come back, farm animals, crickets, and rain. Find out what London has in store for the Olympic Opening Ceremony. We'll bring you all the details in a few minutes.

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SWEENEY: All this week, we've had our eye concentrated on Georgia. The former Soviet republic that sits at the crossroads of the East and West has become a new hotspot for tourism. On Monday, we took you to burgeoning Batumi, the seaside town making the most of the Black Sea boom.

And today, we look at Lazika, Georgia's new coastal hub. The only problem is, it hasn't been built yet. CNN's Diana Magnay investigates the country's cutting-edge project aimed at transforming its coastal marshland into a business paradise.

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DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're in the marshes in an area of northwest Georgia's Black Sea coast, listening to the frogs. They, they cows, and 52 different types of bird have free rein in this natural wildlife reserve.

Now, imagine if you will, this city rising up from the marshes. Lazika, a so-called instant city along the Chinese model, to be built from scratch and at lightning speed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Making Georgia the economic hub within the Caspian Sea region and the Black Sea region, as well as important Eurasian regional highlight.

MAGNAY: A new port city to facilitate trade along the Silk Route, and to provide entrepreneurs with the ideal economic and legal environment to live and do business. And the birds will have a home, too. There'll be a special section to preserve the wildlife right in the heart of the city.

VERA KOBALIA, GEORGIAN ECONOMY MINISTER: If we want to be exceptional, and if we want to create truly this hub economy, and if we truly want to create an open economy for the rest of the world to come and invest in Georgia, we have to be creative. And when you don't have natural resources, such as oil and gas, you have to be very creative. So, Lazika is being very creative.

MAGNAY: At the project's northern-most tip, a new tourist resort is nearing completion. Russians used to come here on holiday in Soviet times, but that's all vanished now. On the sea front, Giorgio Sordia is collecting rubble to build up parts of his home so he can open it up to tourists.

GIORGIO SORDIA, LOCAL RESIDENT (through translator): Here, what you see were fancy hotels. It was very beautiful here in the Soviet period, but in the 90s, when there was a war with Abkhazia, everything was destroyed and then swept away by the sea. So, these are the remnants of hotels and bars that were here, and now, everything will be rebuilt.

MAGNAY: Unemployment in Georgia hovers at around 16 percent. Lazika means jobs for the 20,000 or so living in the wider area, most of whom make ends meet through agriculture.

MAGNAY (on camera): So far, all the construction you'll see for the city of Lazika is this pier, but imagine in ten years' time a bustling port and a futuristic city housing half a million people. Well, that's what the government says it's going to look like. But it does beg the question when I look at this wasteland in front of me whether that will ever actually happen.

IVA DAVITAIA, LAZIKA PROJECT DIRECTOR: This is where the future Lazika coastline will start.

MAGNAY (voice-over): I speak to Iva Davitaia, who's in charge of getting the project off the ground.

MAGNAY (on camera): Have you got international investors who say, right, fine, we're going to give you cash?

DAVITAIA: Well, we don't have the investors who are ready to give us the cash right now, but there is quite high international interest from their side, and particularly from the former Soviet republics, from Arab countries, from Israel, and others.

MAGNAY (voice-over): Just 20 kilometers south of Lazika is Georgia's most important port, Poti. When we asked the truckers at local kiosk what they think of a second port city being built just up the coast, it provokes furious debate.

DAVID MIKAZ, TRUCK DRIVER (through translator): Here is the city of Poti. It's in ruins. So before a new one is built, it's better to restore this city.

MEDEA LOMTATIDZE, POTI KIOSK OWNER (through translator): What do I think about Lazika? That it's all good. It will be a good city, people will be employed there. What's better than that?

MAGNAY: The plans aren't really off the drawing board yet, though the government says expect to be able to move here in five years' time. For now, Lazika belongs to the cows who have some time to wallow in the mud whilst the planners engage in a bit of blue-sky thinking.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Lazika, Georgia.

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SWEENEY: And our Eye on Georgia series continues on Wednesday with a look at the country's booming arms trade. The industry is creating much- needed jobs at home, and now Georgia has set its sights on marketing its military might abroad.

The team at CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you. Facebook.com -- I should start that again. Facebook.com/CNNconnect, have your say. You can tweet us @CNNconnect. Are you following Euro 2012, for example? Who do you think will win? Get in touch. Your thoughts, please, @CNNconnect.

And we definitely want to know what you think of this story. In tonight's Parting Shots, we have details of the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, and it's a scene you might not expect to see inside a sporting arena.

Hollywood director Danny Boyle has envisioned a green and pleasant land with fields and rivers, families having picnics, and farmers working on the land. There'll be live sheep, horses, cows and goats.

The set features real grass, an oak tree, and fake clouds suspended from the roof. Around 10,000 volunteers will be involved in creating this rural British idyl.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney and that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thanks for watching. The world headlines are up next after this short break.

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