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Connect the World Special: The Syrian Conflict

Aired August 27, 2012 - 16:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: And tonight on Connect the World, from celebrations to carnage, an exclusive and extraordinary account of life in one Syrian suburb before it was overrun by government troops.

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

SWEENEY: Tonight, during a special half hour on the Syrian conflict, we bring you an undercover report from the besieged city of Daraya, a site of another alleged massacre.

Also ahead, after lashing southern Florida, Tropical Storm Isaac now threatens New Orleans seven years after Hurricane Katrina hit.

And the search for a lion on the loose in rural England comes to an end after a massive police hunt.

We begin with a special half hour on Syria's civil war. You'll see exclusive stories and some extraordinary undercover reporting.

First, though, Jim Clancy will investigate reports of a massacre in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, then Nick Paton-Walsh follows rebels right into an ambush in Aleppo. Mohammed Jamjoom is in Beirut to tell us about the rebels revenge. They say they've shot down an army helicopter. And also Nic Robertson has a look at regional sectarian tensions from Cairo. Richard Roth is following efforts to break a diplomatic stalemate on Syria at the United Nations.

But let's start with reports of one of the bloodiest massacres in Syria since this conflict began. Activists say more than 300 bodies have now been discovered in Dariah. Jim Clancy looks at conflicting accounts of what happened. And we warn you his report has some very disturbing images.


JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Syrian tanks and troops moved into the neighborhoods of Daraya, a suburb of the capital Damascus. It had been a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army, a symbol of defiance against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. As the smoke cleared, two very different versions of events emerged, one from activists posting video on YouTube and sending email reports of alleged massacres by the so- called ghost militia aligned with the government.

In a location said to be near the Suleiman (ph) mosque in Daraya video posted online purported to show the bodies of as many as 150 men, women, and children the narrator said had been massacred.

It appeared some of the victims had been placed here after being killed, although others were sprawling in the floor as if they may have breathed their last in this spot. Activists secretly videotaped television crews escorted into the area by army troops. The TV crews could be seen conducting interviews and videotaping the damage.


CLANCY: Private television station Al Duniya sent a reporter into the streets to document events. She directed viewers to gruesome scenes of bodies left in the streets and people killed while driving. Every time we get into a region where the terrorists were present, she tells her viewers, we discover what these terrorists know best: killings, massacres, and all in the name of freedom.

While reporting of the pro-Assad television station suggested the killings were the work of the Free Syrian Army, her interviews didn't seem to make a solid case. In a graveyard she finds dead bodies strewn on the ground and a wounded survivor.


CLANCY: The reporter asks, "who shot you?"

The old woman replies, "I don't know. I don't know where my husband is. He works for state security. I just know I got shot," she told her.

Before she's taken away she says she's grateful for the security forces coming to help her.

The reporter finds other survivors like two children whose dead mother lay nearby. Again, these eyewitnesses didn't know who was doing the shooting.

Activists who posted this video to YouTube say it shows victims of the crackdown. CNN can't verify any of the details, but clearly both sides are saying a major military operation seeks to crush the opposition or quell the unrest.

Daraya was the scene of some of the first peaceful protests that were attacked by security forces. Over the last 17 months, President Bashar al- Assad has used relentless force to end the crisis even as the opposition has grown more militant, more violent, and more determined.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Beirut.


SWEENEY: The apparently blood bath, Daraya was a much different scene. CNN has obtained an extraordinary attack of life there. A journalist we aren't naming for safety reasons visited the town in the weeks leading up to the government offensive. This exclusive report has some graphic video that may not be appropriate for all viewers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Downtown Daraya, here every night during Ramadan the townspeople came together after nightly prayers in celebration.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): Outpourings of happiness. By the grace of God this will continue. So we can prove to the world our revolution continues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I traveled to Daraya on the outskirts of Damascus, because I've heard that nearly two months after forcing our Syrian authorities, the town was declaring itself Free Syria. For the safety of those who helped me get into Syria, I've promised not to reveal my identity.

After forcing out Syrian government forces nearly two months ago, anti-regime activists had been spending their days rebuilding the town. It was a sight I'd never seen before in Syria. The activists eagerly told me that they were in the next stage of their revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): Daraya is liberated. The revolution has won. We wanted to return normal life to Daraya and rebuild what the regime destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): Ready? Ready?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And for the first time in the Free Syrian Army based out in the gardens and fields on the outskirts of town, even agreed to allow us to film them carrying out exercises in broad daylight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): Everyday we carry out training exercises. We train and train. So that when the Syrian army comes we are ready as a force and for the battle to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): As far as the security situation in the Damascus suburbs goes, the Free Syrian Army is in complete control of the whole of the suburbs. The Syrian security and armed forces are concentrated in Damascus proper. That's where they are trying to focus.

With the grace of God, we are close to the end of our journey to take the capital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Syrian government forces were on the move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): The planes are shelling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And after breaking the fast on the last day of Ramadan, we began to hear mortars fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): They're shelling us in Daraya.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was relentless.

The activists told us we had to leave Daraya or risk being trapped. After our departure, they continued to send us these pictures of the onslaught.

Even as the hospital became overrun with casualties, the Syrian government switched off electricity and running water.

I listened to the clips they sent us as they narrated unfolding massacre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitles): A martyr of Daraya.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Struggling to keep their voices steady, leaving the few doctors that remain to stumble in the dark.

In 72 hours, activists said 100 men, women, and children were killed and more than 300 wounded. And that toll continues to rise.

At first, we were told they tried to bury the dead, but even funeral processions weren't safe from the shelling. And the bodies had to be abandoned. After five days of bombardment, the town was eventually overrun by Syrian government forces. And I lost touch with the activists trapped inside. One of the last messages they did manage to send read simply, "Daraya is now cursed."


SWEENEY: Well Fawaz Gerges joins us now from London. He's a professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics. Thank you for joining us.

At many points over the last 18 months during this conflict in Syria we've talked about a potential tipping point. Can you put into context what we believed to have happened in Daraya in the perspective of the last 18 months?

FAWAZ GERGES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, I think if we have learned one lesson in the last 16, 17 months is that neither side has the capacity to deliver a knockout. One of the major lessons that we have learned in the last few weeks in particular is that there is a qualitative escalation of violence in Syria, this is no more a limited civil war, this is all-out war.

Just in the months you were talking about Daraya, just in August we're talking about between 3,000 and 4,000 Syrians have been killed, tens of thousands of refugees.

What the Assad authorities are trying to do is to try to deliver a knockout. Remember, greater Damascus is a pivotal, a pivotal theater for the Syrian regime. And what the Assad regime is trying to do in the last few weeks is not only to clear Damascus itself, but crater Damascus, because Daraya as you well know, as your reporters have made it very clear, was a major base of the armed wing of the opposition. And what the government, what the Assad regime is trying to do is to punish the social base of the rebels and to say, look, if you support the rebels, there will be a high price.

And the casualties we have seen in Daraya is a testament, speaks volumes about the inability of the armed rebels to take on the Syrian regime, because despite all the setbacks that the Syrian government has suffered in the last 16, 17 months it remains a potent and lethal force. The Assad security and military power remains intact and the fighting in the last few weeks show very clearly while it's very strained, very over extended, it has tremendous killing potential and killing capabilities as well.

SWEENEY: Fawaz Gerges, we'll leave it there for the moment, because you'll be joining us after the break. Connect the World continues in just a minute.


SWEENEY: You're watching a Connect the World special on the crisis in Syria. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney.

Well, today rebels say they shot down a helicopter over a suburb of Damascus. It's the first time opposition fighters have managed to bring down a government aircraft. Our correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom joins me now from Beirut with more.

Presumably they are saying this is in retaliation for what happened in Daraya.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right Fionnuala. As the day began, we heard reports from activists in Syria that -- in Jobar (ph), which is a suburb of Damascus, that a regime helicopter that had been flying over this city, opposition activists saying shooting at residents there, that it was brought down.

Now there is amateur video, we cannot independently verify this video, but there is amateur video that has posted online that purports to show this specific helicopter at the moment that it is hit by rebel Free Syrian Army Forces, it bursts into flames. And then you see it start to go down. It is very dramatic video.

Now rebel Free Syrian Army members and opposition activists told us today that this was specifically in retaliation for the massacre that they say happened in Daraya the past several days.

In Daraya, more details started to emerge. On Saturday we heard from opposition activists that at least 200 bodies had been found. Many amateur videos posted online purporting to show very grisly scenes, mass burial sites, dozens of bodies wrapped in blankets there in the streets, opposition activists saying that the regime and that the Shabiha, the pro- regime militias entered that town the last few days trying to drive out rebel Free Syrian Army members, but that they also went house to house summarily executing people there. By Sunday, we had heard that another 45 bodies had been found in Daraya, bringing the total dead there to at least 245.

Now this is a very different narrative, though, we have to point out, that we've been hearing from the Syrian government. Syrian state television showing scenes throughout yesterday and today purporting to show Syrian security forces in Daraya saying that the Syrian security forces cleared the area of terrorists and helped the residents there who were crying out for help.

But we must ad today another very bloody day. We've heard today from opposition activists that at least 224 people have been killed throughout Syria and that at least 140 of them killed in and around Damascus -- Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Mohammed Jamjoom reporting live from Beirut.

Well, that helicopter attack is said to have bolstered moral and opposition ranks. At the moment, rebel troops are severely fragmented and in some cases the lack of cohesion is proving as deadly as the government forces they're fighting as Nick Paton-Walsh found out.


NICK PATON-WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is what it's like to be with Syrian rebels around Aleppo, hunted from above by merciless government jets. That fly-by followed with relief they survived and one commander's anger that they must fight alone.

"Maybe the outside world pities us," he says, "but until now, we don't see any help. We need a no-fly zone and weapons and just a battalion of us can finish this."

Even though they say two-thirds of Aleppo supports them, they switch off headlights for the journey into a city that President Bashar al-Assad knows he must hold if he's to cling to power. They are young and cheered along. They have the will, but not the unified way ahead.

The rebel's we're traveling with have stopped to radio ahead to the unit in the next town to be sure that when they arrive they don't open fire at one. And a real example about how patchy coordination and communication can be (inaudible).


PATON-WALSH: We drive down a main road that locals tell them is safe in pitch black in case jets fly above. But ahead, Assad's forces lie in wait, opening fire with machine guns and grenades.

As we're moving down the word in towards Aleppo, our lights off, we took incoming fire, even had an RPG shot at us. And now everyone is staying very low and trying to work out what the next best move is, keeping all the lights off.

We couldn't even risk the tiny lights our camera makes when filming until we'd made it to some trees nearby.

They say there's been wounded, perhaps dead in the front rebel vehicles. They're trying to bring them back, but the major fear now is a jet has been circling overhead for the past 15-20 minutes. It keeps swooping low.

Their intense fear of not knowing if the bomber above can see them.

Later that day, state TV seems to headline this incident as a failed attack on an army checkpoint. The rebels must wish they were that organized. They lost two men and had many injured.

They later learn local rebels knew there was a military base on that road, but the information just never got to this unit.

The many think the rebels would eventually be victorious, because they know the areas they're fighting in better than the Assad forces, but tonight we witnessed on just a very local level how a lack of cooperation can be fatal. And you have to ask, really, what that means to the rebels' strategy nationwide.


PATON-WALSH: Questions when for now there are mostly prayers, that somehow this rebellion pulls together fast enough to bring the killing to an end.

Nick Paton-Walsh, CNN, Aleppo, Syria.


SWEENEY: You're watching a special edition of Connect the World. And when we come back, has the international community abandoned Syria? Live analysis from the UN and Cairo after the break.


SWEENEY: Well, you're watching our Connect the World special on the crisis in Syria. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney.

Now an uneasy stalemate has developed within the international community. As long as Russia and China have al-Assad's back, the west is powerless to act. Let's cross now to CNN senior UN correspondent Richard Roth.

The impasse seems to be fairly firmly rooted there at the United Nations. Is there any sign at all that the new envoy Lakhdar Brahimi when he begins his work on September 1 will be able to break the deadlock?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's summer here in New York, Fionnuala, come on. I mean, this United Nations, at least here at headquarters, completely sidelined, especially because of those big power divisions.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the man to succeed Kofi Annan who you mentioned will brief the security council, or at least appear behind closed doors a few days before he officials takes the job on Wednesday afternoon.

I think his comments on Friday when he met secretary general Ban Ki- moon sums it up. He says he's honored, he's flattered, and he's scared in assuming this post. The hope is that the fighting would eventually subside and then the two sides, or all these sides might need an interlocutor (ph) or a mediator such as the experienced Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

As for other options on the table, the French like to talk tough, it seems, or raising the possibility of a no-fly zone a la Libya to impose that over a portion of Syria, but there doesn't appear to be the appetite at the Pentagon or elsewhere. One western ambassador on the security council says that's not in the cards here. And when I asked him about the end game he said the end game is not playing out here either.

There is going to be a ministers meeting, or some of the minister represented by the 15 countries on the security council on Syria Thursday afternoon. Turkey's foreign minister will be here. That country neighbors Syria now has an estimated 80,000 refugees soon, according to the State Department, to have 100,000 refugees. They're eager for some type of international action.

But so far, with the divisions between China, Russia, and the western powers here it's not going to happen here -- Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: I think Lakhdar Brahimi has been quoted as saying that it was really incumbent upon him to take this job even if it is at a certain extent mission impossible.

Not wanting to put you on the spot, but do you see any room for maneuver at all there at the security council between the big powers as to how he might be able to wedge a way through?

ROTH: I don't see it happening. And regarding what I said earlier, there used to be an urgent security council meeting after a mass killing or a massacre in Houla and elsewhere, but now after this latest massacre seems that no meeting or really no hard discussion on that subject at all.

SWEENEY: Richard Roth at the United Nations. Thank you.

Well, the deep sectarian divisions within Syria have added fuel to the fire, turning this conflict into a proxy war for the region. Nic Robertson is in Cairo for us. You've reported extensively from the region. I mean, how do you see this playing out in terms of the deepening sectarian divisions?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the divisions only really seem set to get deeper, because President Assad is not showing any indications of moving at the moment. And certainly if you look at the recent diplomatic shuffles that he's had, it's been mostly with senior Iranian diplomats who come to Damascus to meet with him. And as a clear interest from Iran to support his leadership so that they can sort of keep that connection, if you will, with their proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Whereas you find in places like Cairo where I am now, in Saudi Arabia where I was last week, in the Gulf states United Arab Emirates, Qatar, places like that there's a deep rooted support for the Sunnis of Syria.

So you can see how the regional players here are factoring in. People are emotionally behind, if you will, the Sunnis in the region are emotionally behind the Sunnis, the majority behind the rebellion in Syria right now. And they're going to support, they're going to support financially, they're going to support by sending people, young fighters maybe, doctors maybe, and you're going to see more political support for the rebel position. So that's how it's playing out.

And as long as Assad remains immovable in his position, which he does, this sectarian conflict deepens and people worry -- I talked to one former Syrian official who said the country is committing suicide, that once this sectarian -- once these sectarian divisions are exacerbated it's very hard to put them back in the box, if you will, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Nic Robertson, thank you for that from Cairo there.

Now let's get a final word from our Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges. Fawaz, do you think that these regional talks that we've had that Mohammed Morsi might be involved in that might involve Iran taking a different tack to the west to try to resolve this conflict or yield any concrete results?

GERGES: Well, we have to wait and see. But I would argue the odds are against a political settlement. I think let just in power points, I think what we need to really let our viewers know is that both camps, the government and the opposition, view this conflict as existential, they don't view it as a political conflict. You have a rough balance of power on the ground, neither side really can deliver a knockout. On the other hand, Syria has become a battleground, a war by proxy for regional players. You have Iran on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the other hand. You also have international rivalry between the United States and Russia over Syria.

So what you do have now is a complex struggle far from being the beginning of the end. I would argue this conflict is a long, drawn out conflict. No one, no one knows how long it will take. And no one knows what the cost will be on Syria and its neighbors as well.

And the reality is that -- please...

SWEENEY: How do you account for the inability of the Syrian government with all its weaponry, increasing weaponry it seems, to deliver a knockout punch?

GERGES: Well, for a variety of reasons. I mean I think the opposition has become more potent, more effective, more skilled. Remember, there's a great deal of support coming to the opposition from Turkey, from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar. The United States of America and the western powers are providing intelligence, logistical support, communication trying to develop a command and control structure for the opposition.

More importantly, remember, there is a war by other means waged against the Assad regime. Remember, don't forget, the economic and financial war that really has exacted a heavy toll on the Syrian government. Plus, the Syrian troops, about 50,000, 60,000 are strained, overextended. It's all-out war. It's not greater Damascus. It's Homs, it's Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, Idlib. And this is why you have a rough balance of power, and that's why I believe no one can deliver a knockout, and this is why a prolonged conflict.

The nonsense about Assad's days really are numbered basically have -- not only have proven to be wrong, the big question for me is why the Assad regime has proven to be much more resilient than the received wisdom has it so far in the last 16 months.

SWEENEY: All right. Well, that is a question, unfortunately, we'll have to leave for another day, but thank you very much, Fawaz Gerges for joining us --

GERGES: Pleasure.

SWEENEY: -- from CNN in London. And tomorrow, we'll bring you a compelling report from neighboring Lebanon on how even children are taking to arms under the shadows of sectarian conflict. We'll have lots more coming up after the break in CONNECT THE WORLD. Stay with us.


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

Syrian rebels say they shot down an army helicopter in the suburbs of Damascus. This amateur video appears to show the moment of the attack. Activists say at least 157 people were killed across the country today.

The Taliban are blamed for beheading 17 people who were attending a party in Afghanistan's Helmand province. Meanwhile, in the same region, authorities say 10 Afghan soldiers were killed when members of their own unit opened fire on them.

Tropical Storm Isaac is hastening directly toward the US south coast. The storm is strengthening and is likely to become a hurricane before making landfall. We'll take you live to New Orleans in just a moment.

A third oil holding tank has gone up in flames at Venezuela's largest oil refinery. The new fire comes after an explosion killed at least 48 people at the site on Saturday. The president of Venezuela has promised a full investigation into the fires

Well, those are your headlines. Here's a look now at some of the other stories connecting our world tonight.

Three US Marines have received non-judicial punishments for desecrating the bodies of dead Taliban fighters and filming the actions. The images, which included a marine urinating on dead bodies, became public in January.

The marines pled guilty to violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The actions took place during a counter insurgency operation in Helmand province in July, 2011.

In South Africa, striking miners at the Lonmin platinum site are said to be threatening colleagues who are trying to return to work. About 2,000 miners continue demonstrations at the site where police fatally shot 34 people earlier this month.

Lonmin says only about 13 percent of its employees showed up for work today. Some miners who tried to get to the site reported being threatened with violence by the group of protesters.

South Korean technology giant Samsung lost more than $12 million -- billion, I should say -- $12 billion in market value on Monday. It was the first chance for investors to react to a ruling by a Californian judge that Samsung infringed on Apple patents.

Now, Samsung is hoping to regain some of its massive 7.5 percent price losses when the Korean Exchange reopens in the next few hours.

And coming up, we'll get the latest from the Republican National Convention here in the United States where presidential candidate Mitt Romney is hoping to define himself as a leader.


SWEENEY: More now on Tropical Storm Isaac. It is currently on track to hit the city of New Orleans as the seventh anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina approaches. Let's get the latest from CNN's Brian Todd, who's in New Orleans. How do things stand there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fionnuala, city officials and state officials are confident that this city is going to withstand this storm much better than it did Hurricane Katrina seven years ago. And the structure you're seeing behind me is one of the reasons why.

This is the 17th Street Canal levee and pumping station. This was not here seven years ago when Katrina occurred, and there was a critical breach of the levee system right here, where water from here poured into the city.

This has since been upgraded. This is one of several levees, pumping stations, and floodgates that have been upgraded since Hurricane Katrina seven years go. The Army Corps of Engineers in the United States has spent about $11 billion out of the $14 billion that was allocated after Katrina to improve the levee system here.

They have spent $11 billion of that. They are confident that this and other systems around here can withstand, can hold the waters back for this event and even hurricanes that are much stronger. And yes, they say it can withstand a Hurricane Katrina-sized event, which this is supposed to not be when it comes ashore.

How is it going to work? Well, normally, Lake Pontchartrain behind me is about one foot above sea level. When it gets to about five feet above sea level during a storm, these pumping stations get triggered, and how they work is, they pump water out of the city of New Orleans, out of the canal behind me there toward New Orleans, they pump it out this way, toward the lake and into the lake.

And the lake is so big that it can just withstand and hold and absorb all that water that gets pumped out of the city. So, at five feet above sea level is when these things start to get triggered, and this storm is expected to maybe bring the sea level maybe between five and eight feet above sea level during this storm, Fionnuala.

But they are confident, city officials are, that they will not incur the kind of flooding with this event that they did during Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.

SWEENEY: At last, a real test for New Orleans. Thank you very much. Brian Todd, there, in New Orleans.

Well, the US Republican Party's national convention was blown off schedule by Tropical Storm Isaac, but the threat has now pretty well passed in Tampa, Florida, and the meeting has been officially opened, even though most day one events were canceled.

The convention will name Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president. For the very latest from CNN's Hala Gorani, who's at the convention in Tampa, Florida. Hala, how much of a question is there about how they continue to pitch the convention against the backdrop of this brewing storm that's making its way to New Orleans?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when I speak to convention officials, they tell me, look, we're not going to speculate about what might happen.

But I asked one of the people on the communications team here at the Republican National Convention, look, if Isaac, the tropical storm, hits Louisiana as a hurricane and causes destruction and human suffering, aren't you going to have a huge problem in terms of celebration on television on the one hand and Americans suffering on the other?

And they refused to get drawn into that and said, look, we'll deal with it if and when this sort of thing happens.

The big, now, challenge for Mitt Romney and Republicans is to reintroduce this presidential candidate to America and make sure that he manages somehow to overcome one of his biggest weaknesses.

And that's that he is not seen by some Americans, necessarily, as relatable, as somebody who understands the common person's sort of pain, economic pain, that this country is going through. So, this is something that he's going to have to deal with.

He's also going to have to manage some of the expectations that women have from a presidential candidate. He is polling way behind Barack Obama with women as well as minorities, including African Americans.

Where he is strongest and where the Republicans want to redirect the debate is on the economy. He's seen in several recent polls as being a candidate that Americans trust more on the handling of the economy.

But I wanted to play to you a quick portion of an interview I did with the Tea Party representative, Amy Kremer. The Tea Party, of course, is this ultra-conservative, ultra-fiscally conservative group that has managed to color some of the debate over the last several years politically in this country.

I asked her first and foremost if she was happy with Paul Ryan as a vice presidential pick. Listen to what she said.


AMY KREMER, CHAIRWOMAN, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Yes. And he is -- he understands that we're in serious financial trouble and that it's going to take some bold steps to get us out of it. It's not going to be easy, but it has to be done. Who would ever thing that the United States of America would be on the verge of bankruptcy, and Paul Ryan gets it.

GORANI: What do you say to people who say, here are Tea Party representatives who are on Capitol Hill, and yesterday during the debt ceiling crisis are so intransigent, so unwilling to make a compromise, that they are bringing this country to the verge of paralysis just for political gain. What do you say to that?

KREMER: Well, I think it's just totally bogus because on one hand, the media wants to write the narrative that we're dead. On the other hand, they're trying to say that we're bringing us to this cliff, and it's simply not true.

The bottom line is at the end of the day, we have to rein in this spending. It's pretty simple. When American families and businesses across the country are having to live within their means and balance their budget, why shouldn't Washington?


GORANI: Well, you're talking about the national debt. In fact, here the Republican convention has a US national debt counter above the seating areas where the delegates will be gathering, and so they really want the United States right now to focus on this essential message for the Republican Party, which is the economy and handling the debt and creating jobs.

They certainly have several challenges on their hands, and that is one of them. Fionnuala, back to you.

SWEENEY: All right, Hala. And of course, the convention resumes tomorrow at 2:00 PM Eastern time. We'll be following you then. Thank you.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, and when we come back, a safari across the wilderness of Essex in Southern England. A safari in Southern England? Are you confused? Well, so were many local residents when they apparently spotted a lion, and that sparked a big cat hunt. A gripping story, when we come back.


SWEENEY: Hello, welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. New Zealand's prime minister John Key is leading a chorus of praise for golf's newest teenage sensation. Fifteen-year-old Kiwi Lydia Ko made history on Sunday by winning a professional tournament in Canada. Don Riddell is here to tell us more about her achievements. Fifteen years of age.

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and she didn't just win it, she actually destroyed the field. She finished with a score of 13 under par, which beat the field by three clear shots. And it was just incredible to watch.

And remember, this girl is 15, and when you saw her being presented with the trophy at the end, she really did look like a very young schoolgirl. But she beat a tremendous field here, Fionnuala. The world number one Yani Tseng was in the field, and she just looked absolutely unflappable.

On the back nine, usually where the pressure's really on, she made five birdies in just six holes, and as I say, romped to victory by three strokes. She's had a great year already, but this makes her the youngest- ever winner on the LPGA Tour.


LYDIA KO, LPGA CANADIAN OPEN CHAMPION: Well, I was pretty happy out there, and I tried to smile the whole round, and I guess it worked. And people back at home said I'm the only one that smiles, and I try to smile when I make a bogey, too.


RIDDELL: The world's top amateur, Fionnuala. Earlier this month, she won the US Amateur Championship, which is great for her. She's in no hurry to turn professional, but it is rather costly. If she'd been a professional, she'd have won $300,000 on Sunday.

SWEENEY: Oh, that's some pocket money.

RIDDELL: But she doesn't get a cent. Just gets the trophy.

SWEENEY: Oh, well, maybe -- maybe she prefers college first.


SWEENEY: Here's something with one of the tennis majors that's just got underway, of course, the US Open. We usually associate it with Wimbledon when we talk about the rain, but it's affected New York.

RIDDELL: Yes, it doesn't affect it as badly, but they have had rain on the first day at Flushing Meadows today. Play was held up by a couple of hours, but I'm pleased to say they are back in action now.

We have earlier today seen the defending champion Samantha Stosur in action, and she would've been pleased to get a win, because she's had a pretty miserable year since she won her first major here a year ago. But as you can see, she got the job done very quickly today against Petra Martic, 6-1, 6-1. That match took just 51 minutes.

Andy Murray is hoping that he can win his first major in the next couple of weeks. He is on court as we speak. He is two sets up against Alex Bogomolov, Jr., who was an American and he is now a Russian.

Roger Federer will be taking to the court later today. Federer is looking for a record 6th US Open title, a record 18th Major title. He's the top seed, and he's in tremendous form. He's four years since he won this tournament, Fionnuala, but he's had a fabulous year, and I wouldn't put it past him to do it again here.

SWEENEY: Yes, well, let's see. And you'll have more on this, of course, in "World Sport."

RIDDELL: "World Sport."

SWEENEY: And Lydia Ko?

RIDDELL: More on Lydia Ko. She's, for me, the story of the day, and we'll be featuring her on "World Sport," we'll be on air with that, Fionn, in 40 minutes' time.

SWEENEY: All right, Don, thank you.

RIDDELL: All right.

SWEENEY: Now, those of you who might have been suffering from post- Olympic blues can start cheering again, because the Paralympics begin in London on Wednesday, and they look set to be better than ever. One athlete going for gold in front of her home crowd is Shelly Woods. Becky Anderson has more.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First across the line in front of a home crowd in an Olympic year. Shelly Woods' convincing victory in the 2012 London Marathon has put her firmly among the favorites for gold in the Paralympics.

ANDERSON (on camera): What does a win like that do for your confidence as we count down to the Paralympics?

SHELLY WOODS, BRITISH PARALYMPIAN: It's definitely a confidence boost, because London Marathon, it's a big event, it was a great field, and I think it means I was the best girl on the day, really. I don't think it definitely means that I'm going to win gold in the Paralympics in the summer.

It's definitely a good start to 2012, and I'm -- I'll keep training hard and do my best and hopefully, it will come good this summer.

ANDERSON: Do your best in one event. It's not your only event, though, is it?

WOODS: No. I'm planning to race three events, potentially, in London, the 1500, the 5,000, and the marathon.


WOODS: I don't know. Maybe I'm mad. But no, they're my most competitive events and it's just what I do.

ANDERSON (voice-over): But not what the British wheelchair racer had expected to be doing as a child.

ANDERSON (on camera): You were confined to a wheelchair, I know, after falling out of a tree when you were 11 years old. What do you remember of life before that?

WOODS: Before that, I was just an active youngster. I was -- I had just finished primary school, was about to go to secondary school. And it's a life-changing thing, I now have to use a wheelchair.

But at the same time, I was -- I was upset, but it could have been worse, and life goes on. I still had the rest of my life in front of me. And if someone had said to me when I was 10, 11, that when you're 26, you'd be racing in the London Paralympics, I -- in a racing chair, I would've thought that they were silly. So, sometimes it's -- life throws some unexpected things.

ANDERSON: When did you decide you wanted to be an athlete?

WOODS: I started racing when I was 15. I started to get good when I was about 18, and I think it was about then when I had a real taste for it. I entered my first marathon in 2005, which was at the London marathon, actually, and I finished second, and I went under two hours, which is a good time for your first marathon. And it just gave me the bug for it.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Woods has since won two London Marathons, holds the 1500 meter world record, and also claimed a silver and a somewhat controversial bronze medal at the Beijing Games.

ANDERSON (on camera): You were involved in a mass pileup, of course, in Beijing, the 5,000 meters. Take me back to that day.

WOODS: Yes, well, it was my first Paralympic final in any race, and to win the silver, and then the crash, I avoided the crash, just stayed up, and then they decided to rerun the race and I got a bronze in the rerun.

There's a lot of controversy in sport sometimes, and sometimes it's not fair. But there's nothing I could do about it. That was the decision that was made, and it was either race or don't race, and obviously I wanted to race, because that's what I was there for.

It was great to win the bronze knowing that everybody had no excuses and everyone was standing. But at the same time, I was gutted that -- it was quite an emotional roller coaster.

Well, you've got a medal, and then I actually had the medal in my bag, and then before they told me that they were rerunning it, they let me go out on the podium, get it. I think that was the hardest thing. I could've -- it would've been a bit easier if they'd have just not given us the medals and said we're going to rerun, so --

ANDERSON: What's the dream for London 2012?

WOODS: My dream for London 2012 is to just have a great Games and enjoy it. My ambition in my athletics career, my racing career, is to try and win a medal, a gold medal, at some point in my career. Whether that's London, I don't know, but I'm definitely going to give it my best shot.


SWEENEY: And those Games begin on Wednesday. In tonight's Parting Shots, armed police, wildlife experts, two helicopters, and a host of reporters descended on a village in Essex, England today. Why? Because they were all looking for a lion.

Locals had reported sightings of a very big cat roaming the streets, so we sent CNN's fearless Dan Rivers to the scene.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lion in Essex? Must have escaped from a zoo. But none was reported missing. The police sealed off roads, armed officers on patrol. Holiday- maker Denise Martin claims she spotted it first.

DENISE MARTIN, WITNESS: Having a closer look, it looked like a lion. I then got the binoculars and saw a lion. I said to my husband, "What do you make of that?" And he said, "That's a lion." He says, "I don't believe it, it's a lion." So, we went outside to get a better view and we were convinced what we saw.

RIVERS: Susan Wright took photos of the animal.

SUE WRIGHT, WITNESS: We took her binoculars as well, and it was definitely a lioness in the field.

RIVERS: Self-proclaimed cat catchers Robert and Tony Anderson think it's a cracking good tale, but they're skeptical.

ROBERT ANDERSON, WITNESS: Didn't bring my chair, but I think the whip will do.

TONY ANDERSON, WITNESS: We've got the net in the car.

R. ANDERSON: Just saying, that's all.

T. ANDERSON: Just in case it really does exist.

RIVERS (on camera): The police may have been led on a wild goose chase or, in this case, a wild lion chase, but some locals here are insisting there is a lion in St. Osyth. The problem is, knowing whether it's just the product of having had one too many in the pub.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, they wouldn't send the police out on a fool's errand, and so, yes, it could be some truth behind it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a hoax. A good hoax.

RIVERS: The police have now called off the search, saying they think it's just a large domestic cat. For now, the savannahs of Essex seem to be safe.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Essex, England.


SWEENEY: And long may they stay that way. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, that was CONNECT THE WORLD, thank you for watching. The world headlines are up next after this short break.