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CONNECT THE WORLD

Israeli Court Exonerates Military For Death Of American Activist; London's Olympic Park Undergoes Transformation for Paralympic Games

Aired August 28, 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 an exclusive report from inside Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the last two weeks there had been no electricity or running water in (inaudible).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: Once the stronghold of Bashar al-Assad's power, Damascus is now a war zone.

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

SWEENEY: As Syrians flee the horrors of war, we take stock of the human suffering with neighboring countries struggling to take in more refugees.

Also tonight, seven years on from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans braces for another hit as Isaac approaches. These are live pictures from the Louisiana coast.

And with just hours to go before the games begin, we take you on a tour of the Paralympic park.

First, an extraordinary look at life in a war zone. CNN has obtained accounts of what's been happening in Syria over the past few weeks from a journalist we are not naming for safety reasons. Now Yesterday we showed you part one, today part two covers fighting close to the heart of Damascus.

As you'll see, civilians are struggling just to stay alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a checkpoint on every road into Damascus. Soldiers like this one checking IDs and scrutinizing faces. And I'll admit, my heart stops a little every time we have to go through them.

This time we were especially tense, because after several weeks of hearing mortar fire and shells falling in the central Tandaman (ph) district, we've finally been able to travel into the neighborhood itself. We were the first outsiders to do so since the bombardment began. What we find is a war zone. But this isn't Homs, this isn't war torn Aleppo, this is Bashar al-Assad's seat of power: Damascus.

For the last two weeks, there's been no electricity or running water in Tandaman (ph). Many of the families fled to Daraya on the outskirts of Damascus, but now Daraya itself is under government bombardment. And those that remained, like this old man, are trapped with no choice but to try and survive amidst the rubble of their homes.

In a little corner of one of the side streets, they've even had to set up a makeshift graveyard. Funeral processions are regularly targeted so the dead are quietly brought in the early morning hours. Just that morning they dug a fresh grave.

One of the local residents agreed to show us around. The situation in many of these areas is so tense we actually can't get out of the car. We are doing most of our filming inside of the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daabul Street has government snipers on it from the Saad Ibn al Rabee mosque. There is actually a sniper stationed in the Mosque itself. And at the Umahat Al Momineen mosque there is another sniper.

Right now any moving body is a target.

All the shops were looted by the government militia. The Free Syrian Army fought back and burnt two of the government forces vehicles. Some of the looters were even wearing army uniforms. They have no shame. They don't try to hide it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From a distance, Damascus looks almost unchanged. It's only as you wind through this no-man's land that you see that peppered between apartment buildings are craters. It's like a moonscape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday they shelled this area. There were clashes between revolutionaries and the government at a checkpoint. The Free Syrian Army took control of the area so they called in aerial and mortar cover.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pro-Assad militia patrol these streets in civilian cars and very quickly. We're spotted.

Is it safe to film here? Can you go faster?

We're having to head back, because they're worried that we're being followed.

It makes you realize what kind of risk these activists take as they move in and around these areas trying to document what's going on.

It's impossible to verify how many activists have been picked up off these streets, but every activist I meet has been detained more than once.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here in Damascus, it's become the norm, every time you leave your house there is a likelihood you will be imprisoned because of the security scrutiny on the streets. Unfortunately there are informants following you everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very difficult to get female activists to talk about what exactly it is that happened after their detained by Syrian authorities in anything other than the vaguest of terms. But they admit that the specter of sexual violence looms large.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most of what is forced on us girls happens after you are taken from a checkpoint. If a girl is raped I believe her sacrifice is greater than martyrdom. Of course it haunts you, the thought of what your community will think if they find out, terrifies you. But you have to think beyond that. I think it is actually an honour to survive the worst and keep fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An hour and three more checkpoints later, we're at a vantage point where we can see the city. Back in the direction of where we'd just been, smoke was once again visible on the horizon. The shelling had begun again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Well, the UN's refugee agency reports a massive increase in the number of Syrians fleeing the violence. Here are the latest figures. Turkey is now sheltering about 78,000 Syrians. It plans to open four additional camps, expecting the number of refugees to more than double over the coming months.

Lebanon just a fraction of Turkey's size has taken in nearly 40,000 Syrians. Despite security problems of its own, Iraq is now sheltering at least 16,000 Syrians.

And nearly 45,000 Syrians have fled across the border into Jordan.

UNICEF says one camp in Jordan is getting overwhelmed by hundreds of new arrivals every day. It says about 17,000 people, half of them children, are now sheltered at the Zatari (ph) refugee camp.

Our next guest works at that camp. Cassandra Nelson is director of multimedia projects for Mercy Corps. Thanks for joining us.

First of all, what kind of state or condition are these refugees and their children when they arrive at your camp?

CASSANDRA NELSON, MERCY CORPS: You know, they're really coming in, in very bad shape. Most of them had to be smuggled out of the country. It's no longer safe to proceed to the border, so they cross by foot, often at night, coming so they can avoid getting shot at. Many of them have been shot at and come across quite traumatized. And all of them that I've met so far come only with the clothes on their back, so they're generally exhausted and they have absolutely nothing.

SWEENEY: And what awaits them when they arrive at the camp?

NELSON: You know, now -- well, the numbers have increased so much this past week. We're seeing a huge spike, over 3,000 people came in last night, which is up from about 600 people. Right now when they come in, to be honest, they're coming in to a registration area that is very filled. There are people just waiting for their opportunity to get registered and get a tent and get into the camp so they can settle. But that usually takes the better part of a day, so they spend a lot of time just under kind of an open tent trying to keep out of the sun and get a little bit of food while they wait for their chance to get registered.

SWEENEY: I mean, 3,000 people last night alone. You must be expecting those numbers to rise. And what happens when winter begins to set in, assuming this conflict hasn't been resolved in the next couple of months? What awaits them then during nighttime in the cold?

NELSON: You know, you know we are expecting the numbers to rise. They certainly have gone far over what's been anticipated to date. But now we see that the numbers are going up. As the winter season proceeds as we get into that season, the situation in some cases may actually improve a bit, because it will be cooler, although then it can get quite cold.

At this point right now most of them are living in tents. The tents are not winter tents. And they actually aren't great for the summer either, because they're not insulated and they blow down quite easily.

Right now they're looking at changing the shelter accommodations into kind of pre-fab houses, but that is taking some time to do, especially as we're trying to grapple now with so many more incoming refugees.

SWEENEY: And how long do you expect the refugees to stay there: indefinitely?

NELSON: You know, your guess is as good as mine. I've asked many people, including refugees themselves, and others working in the camps what, you know, people's estimates are. At this point no one knows. It really is very dependent on the situation inside Syria.

All the people coming across now are telling stories about how their villages have been attacked, their homes have been bombed. And they're fleeing the fighting. And so, you know, I think when the fighting settles down, some families may chose to return. It really depends on what the situation in Syria is.

SWEENEY: And Cassandra, how are the families relating to each other, some of whom presumably know each other, others who don't given the size of the numbers. But what typically happens in the mood of a refugee or a family in the days after they arrive?

NELSON: You know, many are crossing together as large families, extended families, you know, cousins and things. So they are coming across typically with people they know. And in -- again, because of the fighting, you know, entire communities are being driven across together. So they meet up with their friends there. So there is some sense of community happening inside the camps.

But the problem we're also seeing is that because of what these people have been through, and particularly the children, you know there is a tendency for kids to be quite aggressive, to play very aggressively, and that's a real concern, the psychosocial condition of these people is very fragile right now. And how they relate to each other.

Right now it sometimes can be a bit tense and more aggressive than you'd normally expect to see if they were in their normal conditions.

SWEENEY: And what facilities await them when they arrive and other activities? Or is that something that just has to evolve naturally as these camps unfortunately grow bigger and bigger over time?

NELSON: You know, when they get here they're -- I mean, right now the basic services are in place. There are tents. They get delivered hot meals every day. There is water for bathing, water for drinking. Some of the camps, the tents even about 40 percent of them actually have electricity in them. So there are basic services. They get mattresses, they get blankets.

And in terms of spaces and activities for them, there are child friendly spaces. Mercy Corps actually is building playgrounds in Zatari (ph) camp.

But we need more. You know, the numbers, again are staggering with 50 percent of the refugees being children. Right now there just isn't enough space for them to play safely. And that's been a real focus of attention in the last week.

SWEENEY: And a brief question, finally, about the host country and many host nations around Syria accepting refugees, presumably the numbers of refugees are placing a burden to a certain extent. And despite any good will on the parts of governments on those host countries too.

NELSON: You know, certainly it is. And I think one of the -- you know, one of the biggest examples of the burden that the refugee population in Jordan is putting on the host communities is in terms of water. You know, now with over 60,000 registered refugees in Jordan, they are really tapping into a very, very small water supply that really isn't enough for the Jordanian population. It's a desert country. And they have their own challenges providing water for their own citizens. So that's been a real challenge..

They're building -- digging new wells to try and increase that supply. But again the host communities are being generous, but the resources are limited.

SWEENEY: Cassandra, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Amman in Jordan. Cassandra Nelson of Mercy Corps.

You're watching Connect the World live from CNN Center. Our top story: the human toll from Syria's escalating Civil war. As more and more people flee the violence, neighboring countries are feeling the strain. And that's leading to concerns the war could have a destabilizing effect on the entire region.

Still to come tonight, the anguish of the family of peace activist Rachel Corrie seeking restitution for her death.

Gearing up for her moment in the spotlight, Mitt Romney's wife is hoping she can reenergize her husband's bid for the White House.

And the latest warnings about teenage cannabis use. All that and much more when Connect the World continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Welcome back.

Now in the last few hours, Tropical Storm Isaac has been upgraded to a hurricane as it closes in on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The storm is expected to hit New Orleans seven years after the much stronger Hurricane Katrina. Speaking earlier on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to encourage all residents of the Gulf Coast to listen to your local officials and follow their direction, including if they tell you to evacuate. We're dealing with a big storm and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area.

Now is not the time to tempt fate, now is not the time to dismiss official warnings, you need to take this seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: And coming up on the program, the very latest weather report from the region as residents brace for the worst. We'll also be looking at the political ghost of Hurricane Katrina as Republicans get ready to crown their presidential candidate. But first we're going live to the Republican Party convention. Hala Gorani is live for us from Tampa -- Hala.

Hala not seeming to be able to hear us. I'll just hang on for a second though, because I'm sure our control room is trying to make contact with her, but a no-go there for the moment.

Let's follow another story, we'll be going back to Hala later.

On Connect the World we are following the story in Israel where a court has ruled that the death of a peace activist in 2003 was an accident. Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by a military bulldozer as she protested the demolition of a Palestinian home. Her family had brought a civil case against the Israeli government. And from Haifa, Frederik Pleitgen has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This Israeli military video shows the moment after Rachel Corrie's death. The American activist killed by an army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 protesting Israel's policy here. These photos show the moments before she was killed. Now nine years after her death an Israeli court has ruled it an accident.

A decision that shocked her parents who brought a civil claim for negligence against the Israeli ministry of defense.

CRAIG CORRIE, RACHEL CORRIE'S FATHER: I guess I'm not really that surprised, but I'm pretty appalled. It's almost as if the state's attorney had written it. So they sided with the state attorney despite all of the proof, all the witnesses that not only we had, but their own witnesses I think made a strong case against them.

PLEITGEN: Rachel Corrie was trying to stop a bulldozer from knocking down Palestinian houses when she was crushed by the heavy machine. The Israeli military said its soldiers were clearing land, trying to prevent attacks on settlers and troops in the area and that soldiers had done all they could to keep people away from the site.

They said it was impossible for the bulldozer's crew to see the 23 year old in their path.

In a statement after the verdict, the state prosecutor's office also stated "Corrie's death is without a doubt a tragic accident," but it added, "as the verdict states, the driver of the bulldozer and his commander had a very limited field of vision, such that they had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie and thus are exonerated of any blame for negligence."

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: They've lost a loved one. And we can all empathize with them. But I think they're criticism of the Israeli judiciary is unfounded. Israeli judiciary is known for its independence which they fiercely guard. And the whole idea this was not a serious procedure is simply non-factual.

PLEITGEN: After her death, Rachel Corrie became an icon for the Palestinian resistance movement. And every year there's a memorial soccer game for her in Gaza.

Sami Nasrallah is the man whose house Rachel Corrie was trying to shield when she was killed.

SAMI NASRALLAH, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): When she saw the bulldozer coming toward my house she stood in front of it, defending my house with her body without a weapon or anything.

PLEITGEN: The verdict follows findings from an Israeli military investigation that cleared the bulldozer driver and all others involved of any wrongdoing.

But Rachel Corrie's parents say they will fight on, and intend to file an appeal in Israel's Supreme Court, their final legal option.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Haifa, Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: More stories in a moment, but let's go back to the Republican National Convention in Tampa where Hala Gorani is hopefully not only standing by, but able to hear me. Hala, what's coming up?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can hear you now, Fionnuala.

Well, I might have had a few issues hearing you, because it's getting a little bit louder here, of course. The Republican National Convention is officially open. And now we're hearing from speakers, we're hearing from the house band as well. We're going to have a live report for you a little bit later with more on the big marquee speeches this evening. Those are going to come from the wife of the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney Ann Romney. Her big challenge is going to be to sort of make her husband more relateable, more simpatico to some of those undecided voters.

And then we're going to hear from the rising star of the Republican Party, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as well. We'll have a preview of all of those speeches as well as what to look for or to over the next several days. In about 10 minutes time on Connect the World. Back to you for now.

SWEENEY: All right, thank you Hala.

We're going to take a short break now, but when we come back a Chinese football club could be on the verge of losing two of its star players. We'll explain all when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: You're watching Connect the World. Welcome back. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney.

A Chinese Super League side could lose two of its biggest names in a dispute over who controls the football club. Don Riddell joins me now to explain. Sounds messy.

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORREPSONDENT: Could potentially be very messy and very embarrassing for Shanghai Shenhua, Fionnuala. They only just signed Didier Drogba, who of course helped Chelsea to win the Champion's League in May. And now it seems as though they have a real problem with whether or not they can hang on to these players.

Essentially this is an issue of equity stake ownership. The club is owned by a chairman called Zhu Jun and five other Chinese state owned enterprises. And when they invested in the club five years ago Zhu Jun bought 28.5 percent stake in the club. And it's being reported from China today that it was agreed that if he pumped over $20 million into the club in the next couple of years, this was in 2007, then he would be given a 70 percent ownership stake in the club. Well, that hasn't happened. It's being reported that the transfer of shares never happened. And no one else has invested apart from him. And he's now pumped in $90 million.

So it's got to the point where he's saying, well if I only own 28.5 percent then maybe I'm only prepared to pay for 28.5 percent. And if that's what happens, given that he's the guy that's writing the checks, he's the guy that's paying the players' salaries, Drogba and Nicolas Anelka are reportedly on $300,000 a week. It might come to the point where their salaries are cut by more than two-thirds or the club just says we can't afford to keep your guys.

SWEENEY: And how do you think it's going to go?

RIDDELL: Well, who knows. Didier Drogba, as it happens, was back at Chelsea today hanging out with his former teammates. The transfer in Europe closes on Friday. So it's got some people thinking he could be making a swift return to Stanford Bridge. We'll see.

SWEENEY: All right. We have to leave it there, but thanks very much Don Riddell.

Now what is going to happen in the next day or two in London is the Paralympics of course following the Olympic games. And it's less than 24 hours from the start of that. And a lot of preparations have been going on because this time tomorrow the opening ceremony will be taking place and it's been a very busy couple of weeks at the Stratford site.

Erin McLaughlin found out how to change an Olympic Park into a Paralympic venue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is James Bulley, venues director of the Olympic Park. He gives us a sneak peek inside what is now the Paralympic Park where rings once proclaimed to the world that the Olympic games had reached London, now the Agitos, the symbol of the Paralympics.

Bulley and his team had just two short weeks to turn the park around. Most of the existing venues simply needed to be modified for Paralympic sport, some needed to be built from scratch. For example Eaton Manor, a temporary venue designed especially for wheelchair tennis.

JAMES BULLEY, VENUES DIRECTOR: The Olympic tennis competition took place at Wimbledon, of course, the grass courts. For wheelchair tennis we have the hard courts here.

Of course, one of the key things for the athletes is fully accessible areas, not just getting in and out of the venues, though ensuring you have the right ramps and accessibility, but also the changing rooms and making sure that the changing rooms are fully accessible and then the roof onto the field of play.

MCLAUGHLIN: How much work and effort goes into transforming an Olympic Park into a Paralympic Park.

BULLEY: Well, the -- what we've done over the last seven to 15 days has really been about getting the park in really great shape again, sort of tidying up all the landscaping, changing and refreshing a lot of the banners and the signage around.

Plus, we had a lot of wheelchair users here during the Olympics. And we wanted to make all of the venues in the park fully accessible. So we planned in everything really from the very start of our games.

There hasn't been a huge transition in terms of putting additional ramps or wheelchair viewing areas.

MCLAUGHLIN: A key challenge for anyone here: just getting around the place.

BULLEY: The park is about three kilometers from to south. It's quite a long way. So one of the things we thought about is how we can provide mobility services for our spectators, those who are not able to walk that far.

MCLAUGHLIN: So about 2.5 million tickets sold, or expected to be sold by the time this is all underway. 2.3 million, 2.5 million people flowing through these gates. Are you guys ready for that?

BULLEY: Absolutely. This is exactly what we had for the Olympic Games. We had a fabulous crowd coming in every day, over 2.5 million people during the Olympic Games. We're ready for that for the Paralympic Games. And we hope we bring with them, again, that real fantastic buzz and atmosphere that the park was able to generate through those crowds being here.

MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Underway very shortly those games.

Still to come on Connect the World, New Orleans hunkers down as Isaac becomes a hurricane. We are tracking its path as it brings back painful memories of devastating Katrina. The latest forecast just ahead.

New research finds using cannabis can permanently damage young people's minds. Is the study enough to change their attitudes?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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.

Tropical Storm Isaac strengthens and becomes a hurricane as it closes in on the US Gulf Coast. It's expected to hit New Orleans soon almost exactly seven years after the much-stronger Hurricane Katrina. The US president has urged residents in the path of the storm to listen to emergency officials if an evacuation becomes necessary. The latest weather forecast is coming up in just a moment.

The Syrian government says a car bomb rocked a funeral procession in a Damascus suburb today killing 12 civilians. It blames rebel fighters, and opposition activists say the funerals were being held for two government supporters.

A female suicide bomber has killed a senior Muslim leader and five others in the Russian region of Dagestan. In a separate incident in the same region, it's reported eight Russian soldiers were killed at a border post.

A court in Israel has ruled that the death of Rachel Corrie was an accident. The peace activist was crushed to death by a military bulldozer as protested the demolition of Palestinian homes in 2003.

Now, back to that storm. Jenny Harrison is tracking Hurricane Isaac as it heads towards New Orleans. She joins us now with the very latest from the International Weather Center. More a hurricane, less a storm?

JENNY HARRISON, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, definitely this one, yes, Fionnuala. It's about 200 kilometers to the southeast of New Orleans. Now, remember, New Orleans is not right there on the coast. It is inland, so of course it is not that far away at all.

The outer bands have been really having an impact in the last few hours, you can see from those pictures we were showing you. And of course, hours ahead of that, we also had some bands of heavy rain working their way through the southeast and up towards the mid-Atlantic.

But this is the forecast. Right now, we've got winds 121 kilometers an hour, gusting, of course, stronger than that. It's moving to the northwest at about 16 kilometers an hour. It could still a little bit, that forward motion, and it might even also just gain a little bit in more strength. That means, of course, some stronger winds.

But we've got it coming onshore at anytime, really, from about 8:00 evening time this Tuesday through the overnight hours into the early hours of Tuesday -- Wednesday morning. So, up to about 1:00 or 2:00 AM.

Once it comes onshore, it's going to work its way through Louisiana and look at this. It really does still hold together very well. And of course, those tropical storm-force winds extending right the way across the Gulf and really impact in particular all of these areas along the Gulf.

Now, the warnings are in place. They've been in place for several hours, now. And in the last few hours, we've also had tornado watches posted. We do have the tendency to have these tornadoes generated to the northern edge of these storms.

We're very concerned about storm surge. It could be particularly bad all the way along the Mississippi and Louisiana coast. This is the rain coming in, it's moving very slowly, this storm, and just look at this, Fionnuala. Look at these totals. This is the rain expected in the next 48 hours: over half a meter to New Orleans, 634 millimeters.

SWEENEY: We'll be watching out for that making the headlines here in the US, along with the Republican Convention. Jenny, thank you.

But staying with the hurricane, Isaac's bringing with it, of course, the ghost of Hurricane Katrina, and some critics say the handling of that catastrophic storm by the Bush administration has become a symbol for a Republican failure. John Vause revisits one of the deadliest hurricanes in US history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven years ago, August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Category 3 storm devastated parts of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, an area slightly smaller than all of the UK.

The city of New Orleans was especially hard-hit. Flooding overwhelmed the city's levees, leaving neighborhoods underwater. Thousands of residents, seeking shelter from the storm, crowded into the Superdome sports arena.

Others were left stranded in their homes -- on rooftops trying to escape the rising waters. More than 1800 people died in this storm either directly or indirectly, most in Louisiana.

Days after the hurricane, then-President George W. Bush flew over the Gulf Coast to survey the damage. But Katrina and its aftermath became one of the low points of his presidency.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

VAUSE: Mr. Bush and his FEMA director, Mike Brown, were widely criticized for the federal government's slow and seemingly disorganized response to the disaster. The storm caused more than $100 billion in damage and forced a million people from their homes.

Seven years later, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are still reeling from the effects of what's being called the single most catastrophic natural disaster in US history.

John Vause, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: And with that in mind, Republicans will be wary about the tone of their celebrations as they prepare to crown Mitt Romney as their official presidential candidate. The official roll call of delegates kicks off in around 30 minutes.

Hala Gorani is at the convention center in Tampa, Florida. How are they looking at pitching their own candidate against the backdrop of a brewing storm?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can be sure that Republican National Convention officials and Republican National Committee officials, as well, are watching those storm models, hoping that not too much attention will be taken away from this, which is meant to be a big celebration here in Tampa, Florida, to introduce or, if you like, reintroduce Mitt Romney to the American people.

Tonight, there are some important speeches just as pretty much Hurricane Isaac is making landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States and Louisiana as well. Just a few hours, really, before the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that itself, as we saw in John Vause's piece, there, created such devastation and damage.

You mentioned the roll call, and this is one of those steps that's taken throughout a convention to officially nominate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan. Right now, he is the presumptive Republican nominee.

They will ask delegates behind me, you're seeing, many of them gathered right now on the floor for their vote, and after that process is completed, you will have an official Republican candidate for the presidency, and that is Mitt Romney.

Many challenges, as I said, ahead for him. We have Ann Romney, his wife, addressing supporters here as well as the nation, and we have the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who's one of those really rising stars of the Republican Party, who's a man who doesn't usually mince his words.

He's brash, he's very physically recognizable as well, and he's going to be giving the all-important keynote speech this evening, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: All right. And it's all about "humanizing," quote-unquote, Mitt Romney, and this is something the Democrats have been challenging the Republican presumptive presidential candidate on because of what they believe to be his automaton character. But actually, it's the Republicans who realize they would have to take this up and take this on.

GORANI: Well, as John Avlon was telling me, one of our contributors, if you say -- if you admit, in fact, that you have to humanize your candidate, it means there's a problem right there, that some of the undecided voters out there, especially in swing states in America, aren't relating necessarily to Mitt Romney as a person.

Is he likeable enough? Is he seen and perceived by ordinary American voters as someone who can understand the economic pain that so many Americans are going through? This is one of his biggest challenges.

That's why Ann Romney could be an asset to him. There's a poll that was published by "USA Today" and Gallup that came out just minutes ago on Politico's website, that 42 percent of Americans polled have a favorable view of Ann Romney, which is higher than Chris Christie, for instance.

So, the numbers are looking OK for her as far as being used as a tool, as an asset in this campaign. We'll have to see a little bit later down the line whether or not she is successful, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: And finally, with all this talk about the economy being the subject of the election, with the backdrop of Hurricane Isaac, is there any talk of foreign policy at this convention at all?

GORANI: You know, not at this convention right now. Not so much, really, during the campaign. You do have talk of Iran, we saw, during Mitt Romney's tour of several countries that included Poland and Israel, talk of standing by Israel if it decides to protect itself against the Iranian threat.

But this is not a central theme at all. Even when you speak here with advisors, with sympathizers, with members of the Republican Party who want more than anything to -- to have their candidate elected, this is not a central theme.

And some of the differences between the candidates are not as big as you would expect, in fact, but there's going to be a debate, three of them in total. One of them will be more focused on foreign policy, and that will be an opportunity for American voters and also for our international viewers to see the differences between the two candidates.

SWEENEY: Indeed. Hala Gorani, reporting there from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Thank you for joining us.

Now later, CNN has extensive live coverage and analysis from Tampa, including key speeches at the convention. That's tonight, starting at midnight in London, 1:00 in Berlin, and for viewers in Asia, that would be Wednesday morning at 7:00. All of it is part of our America's Choice coverage of the 2012 US presidential election.

And you can follow developments at the convention anytime using the cnn.com live blog. Right near the top of the feed, you can watch our interview with the youngest Republican delegate. Just type in cnn.com/conventionslive for the latest on what is happening in Tampa.

And still to come after the break, we meet the Iraqi woman changing the world's architecture and the Spanish-born PR guru leading the world of marketing.

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SWEENEY: Well, for the final time this month, we bring you in-depth conversations with two inspirational leading women. Becky Anderson meets the architect changing cityscapes, Zaha Hadid, and Mercedes Erra tells us about excelling in a man's world.

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BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A trendy party on London's east side. In attendance: politicians, some members of royalty, and the staff of Zaha Hadid Architects.

In the middle of it all, standing out in her signature cape, is the party's host, Zaha Hadid. The architect looks very regal. And in fact, she'll soon be knighted by the queen, making her a dame.

ANDERSON (on camera): And if you were offered a project at Buckingham Palace, what would you do?

ZAHA HADID, ARCHITECT: Oh, I want to do a very nice interior. Or we'll do another pavilion in the garden. But I think it'd be very nice to do stunning furniture in these classical buildings, in the same way they do these great archers in Versailles.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Hadid's push for excellence has earned her jabs. She's been called a diva or a princess, titles she doesn't necessarily shy away from.

ANDERSON (on camera): How would your assistant describe you?

HADID: I'm very difficult. I'm not consistent. I don't have this hierarchy issue. I'm not interested in that at all, and I'm the boss, you have to treat me differently. They treat me like a friend, so I -- that's --

ANDERSON: Well, you've said in the past that you know you frighten people, right?

HADID: That's only because they're not used to a woman with an opinion.

PATRICK SCHUMACHER, PARTNER, ZARA HADID ARCHITECTS: There's always the demand and the expectation of an extraordinary result. Not maybe every evening, but every week, every month. So, that could be stressful for some, but it's exhilarating and energizing for others. So, it's a tough environment, but it's positive spirit.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Hadid admits her firm is highly competitive, and there are times in architecture she says when you may work several days with no sleep. That may be part of the reason why only 30 percent of her staff of 300 are women.

ANDERSON (on camera): I hope you don't mind me asking, but did you make a decision not to have kids? Work came first?

HADID: No. I -- no, I just didn't have them. I don't think that people should do things because, oh, the time has come, I must go and have a child. Or I'm turning this age, I must have a husband.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Hadid certainly follows her own rules, evident both in her life and through her work.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm Kristie Lu Stout. Mercedes Erra is a bit of a rule-bender, too. She succeeded in an industry dominated by men in France. And she's also known for her commitment to women's rights.

Erra says her lifelong ambition is to empower women. In 2005, she became one of the founding members of the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society.

MERCEDES ERRA, EURO RSCG WORLDWIDE: We have not many places we can hear the voice of women, and in this association, in this forum, you can hear. And it changed the way people speak, the women speak.

STOUT: Erra's voice is heard by many. Recently, she was on the radio show "France Culture" in a discussion on sexual harassment in the workplace.

ERRA: This is very important, that you have other -- other problems, in the school, the image of the woman in media.

STOUT: She is personally committed to the female brand. Even inside the advertising company she runs, she openly says she gives special attention to women, working to help them realize their full potential.

ERRA: Yes, absolutely. I give special attention, and my intent is always the same. You need to have woman to go out, and to need a calm voice. Because sometimes I said, OK, I can't do things I cannot do.

STOUT: She wants absolute equality, and both women and men that work for her seem to appreciate and respect how she leads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she cares for people. She's a -- she pays attention to people and she's interested not only in the professional side of you, but also the personal side of you.

STOUT: And as Erra points out, though she might be seen as a bit of a role model, women should not necessarily follow her lead.

ERRA: I can sleep small hours, and I don't think all women need to sleep three hours a day and have my energy. No. Just normal woman caring big jobs. Exactly as a man.

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SWEENEY: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we come back, scientists reveal the results of a decades-long study on cannabis use by adolescents. What did they find, and what do young people think about it?

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SWEENEY: Young people who use cannabis regularly before they turn 18 are permanently harming their brains. That's the finding by scientists who studied 1,000 young people in New Zealand for more than three decades. TVNZ's Megan Martin has this report.

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MEGAN MARTIN, TVNZ CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marijuana, dope, ganja, or bud. However you say it, there's now scientific proof that it can harm young people.

RICHIE POULTON, HEALTH RESEARCH DIRECTOR, OTAGO UNIVERSITY: The adolescent brain is particularly sensitive to the negative effects of substances like cannabis.

MARTIN: And it appears persistent use of cannabis is more harmful the younger you are. Regular users who have started by 13 recorded an IQ drop of up to eight points later in life.

POULTON: Your IQ's important for all sorts of things in life. It predicts how well you do educationally, then predicts how well you do in the job market. It also predicts how you end up health-wise.

MARTIN: The research is part of the respected Dunedin Longitudinal Study of more than 1,000 people over nearly 40 years. Scientists are confident they isolated cannabis use and that the results are accurate.

POULTON: So, we controlled for the amount of alcohol used over those same years. We also controlled for or adjusted for the amount of hard drug use.

MARTIN (on camera): Researchers here at Otago University found that cannabis users who started after they were 18 years old didn't seem to have the same drop in IQ as those who started in their early teens.

MARTIN (voice-over): Pro-cannabis campaigners say that supports their argument to legalize the drug.

ABE GRAY, VICE PRESIDENT, NORML, NZ: Hopefully the message that cannabis can be harmful for some young people if they use too much of it too early doesn't get turned around into cannabis blows your brain for everyone.

MARTIN: Either way, it's an issue for New Zealand. We're considered to be the highest cannabis users in the world.

Megan Martin, One News.

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SWEENEY: So, exactly how many people smoke cannabis? Well, it is the most widely-used illegal substance in the world, and that's according to the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime. It estimates up to 224 million people use marijuana around the globe.

The UN's World Drug Report found the highest percentage of users are in Oceana, namely New Zealand and Australia, where up to 14.6 percent of the population use cannabis. Asia had the smallest percentage of users, with up to 3.4 percent, but because of Asia's large population, that's still as many as 92 million users.

But is the report likely to change anything? CNN's Dan Rivers sat down with a group of young Londoners to get their viewpoint.

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DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, your friend has used it a lot and has had some quite serious repercussions.

DAN BENNET: Everyone I know that smokes it doesn't realize that it's messing with their head. They just -- they're not realizing. As much as you tell them, they just don't listen or anything like that. Until they realize it themselves, they won't notice it.

Like, every five out of ten of our age group will probably smoke it, and I -- they don't know what's in it. Everyone I know that smokes it says, "No, it's fine, it's just light, it's just cannabis, it's just that." But it's actually -- they don't understand what stuff is actually in it and how bad it actually is for you. It's bad for you in the long run.

RIVERS: A lot of this is because of peer pressure, is it?

SONNY BRANTON: I think people just do it because they like to do it. I think if they actually know what it's all about, they're not likely to do it.

RIVERS: Do you think there should be more warnings about the dangers of smoking cannabis?

JOSH LAVER: I just think there should be more warning about what actually it will do to people, and aim more at young people, and just get the word around. It's not good for you. It's not good at all.

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SWEENEY: Well, we want to know what you think about this. Will the warnings in the latest report change your mind about cannabis use? You can tell us why or why not at facebook.com/CNNconnect. Or tweet us @CNNconnect.

And in tonight's Parting Shots, lighting the way to the Paralympic Games. The 24-hour torch relay marking the start of the 2012 Games in London has begun. It started in a town called Stoke Mandeville, where a famous neurologist who's credited with inspiring the Games worked.

The relay will see the flame carried some 87 miles by hundreds of torch bearers traveling past some of the famous sites of London on Wednesday. It'll then arrive at the Olympic Stadium in time for the Opening Ceremony.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. That was CONNECT THE WORLD, thanks for watching. The headlines next after this short break.

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