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CONNECT THE WORLD

Malala Yousafzai Still In Critical Condition; USADA Releases Findings Of Lance Armstrong's Case; U.S. State Department Officials Offer Testimony On Benghazi Attack

Aired October 10, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


HALA GORANI, HOST: Tonight on Connect the World from the CNN Center defiance in the face of terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALALA YOUSAFZAI, ACTIVIST: Koran didn't state that girls are not allowed to go to school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: This 14-year-old girl was shot by the Taliban for wanting an education.

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

GORANI: As she fights for her life in the hospital, I ask Pakistan' U.S. ambassador whether the government there should have done more to protect her.

Also ahead, one member of Pussy Riot walks free. Tonight, we examine what this means for Russian democracy.

And reaction after Lance Armstrong's cycling team is accused of running, quote, "the most successful doping program sports has ever seen."

Pakistan's army chief describes her as an icon of courage and hope, a 14 year old girl who took on the Taliban and whose life is now under threat.

Doctors say they've removed a bullet from Malala Yousafzai's neck after she was shot on Tuesday, but the Taliban say even if she survives the attack she won't next time. Earlier I spoke to Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa. He visited Malala Yousafzai earlier today in the hospital. He told me she wasn't conscious and remains in critical condition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GEN. ASIM SALEEM BAJWA, PAKISTANI MILITARY SPOKESMAN: There were two surgeries performed, one to take out the bullet and then she developed some pressure symptoms and there was another surgery performed early this morning for decompression of brain.

And after that the panel of doctors was satisfied with the outcome of the surgery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: CNN's Reza Sayah got a chance to interview Malala back in November last year. And he's been monitoring the reaction to the attack from Islamabad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This attack on Malala Yousafzai sparked outrage throughout much of Pakistan throughout the day on Wednesday on social media, on television airwaves, in the streets Pakistanis were condemning the Taliban and speaking out in support of Malala Yousafzai. In the southern port city of Karachi a large group of women, many of them mothers, holding a prayer vigil for Malala. And condemnation and support also coming from places like the UN, Washington, the Afghan government and of course the Pakistani government.

Many here in Pakistan knew Malala. People outside the region may not know her. We had a chance to speak to her last year. And all you had to do was listen to her speak and you understood why she inspired so many. Here's a look at that interview.

So why do you risk your life to raise your voice?

YOUSAFZAI: Because I thought that my people need me and I shall raise my voice because - because if I didn't raise my voice now, so when will I raise my voice?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some people might say you're 14. You don't have any rights. You just have to listen to Mom and Dad.

YOUSAFZAI: No, I have rights. I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing, I have the right to talk, I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.

SAYAH; Well, what if you give that advice to a girl who may not be as courageous as you. And she says Malala I'm afraid. I just want to stay in my room?

YOUSAFZAI: So I'll tell her don't stay in your room, because god will ask you on the day of judgment that where were you when your people were asking, when your school fellows were asking, and when your school was asking you that I am being blown up when your people need you, you should come up, you should come and you should stand up for their rights.

SAYAH: If you were the president of this country, how would you handle the Taliban?

YOUSAFZAI: First of all, I would like to - so many schools in this country, because education is the must thing. If you don't have educated people, so the Taliban will come to your areas. But if you have educated people, they will not come.

SAYAH: Well, educated or not, the Taliban come with bombs and guns. How do you handle that? Do you still talk to them or do you call in the army? What do you do?

YOUSAFZAI: First of all, I would like to talk to them.

SAYAH: What would you say?

YOUSAFZAI: I would say that what are your demands, what do you want?

SAYAH: We want you to shut down the school is what they'd say.

YOUSAFZAI: So I tell them that don't shut our school, because school - I will.

SAYAH: You're 14, you have no idea what you're talking about. We're going to shut down your school.

YOUSAFZAI: So - give me a second. So, first of all I will show them Koran, what Koran says. Koran doesn't say that girls are not allowed to go to school.

SAYAH: A remarkable young girl who is fiercely determined and confident with a lot of admirers. At this hour, those admirers hoping and praying that she survives.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Islamabad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: A 14-year-old girl and just an example of bravery, courage and intelligence. Let's see what newspapers across the globe are saying about this. In Pakistan today considered a liberal moderate paper, this is the headline, "A Load of Bull." The editorial says "no human being, no matter who they are or where they come from, could possibly think of justifying the savage, targeted attack on a 14 year old schoolgirl. As long as we keep kidding ourselves, a Malala Yousafzai will be shot every day in every part of the country."

The headline in Britain's Independent paper "Shot By the Taliban, the 14 year old campaigner riding the school bus." It says, "the attack on a schoolgirl could expose the wider agenda of the Pakistani Taliban, which is aimed at imposing Medieval style Islam on the country."

And in Canada, the Global Mail's headline, "Teen's Love of Learning Made Her a Target of the Taliban." It says, "the roles and rights of women, especially their right to go to school, remain blood soaked issues, pitting secularists and moderates in the big cities against mostly rural traditionalists and extremist Islamic zealots."

Earlier I spoke to Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman. She was the architect of Pakistan's fire parliamentary bill for women's empowerment. I asked for her reaction to those who blame the government for not doing enough to protect what in the end was a Taliban target, and that is Malala Yousafzai. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHERRY REHMAN, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Of course there is anger and it's very legitimate anger. And I think all of us are at, you know, inflamed at this unconscionable and completely inexcusable act of terrorism. The point here is I just hear today that - and I don't know if I can confirm this, as I've said I just landed here - and I heard that her family was offered and repeatedly offered protection by the government. And certainly I heard (inaudible) government say this that they had offered her family, which was repeatedly refused, I cannot authenticate this...

GORANI: Well, that's something we're going to have to look into, because this girl was identified as a target for a long time before she was shot.

REHMAN: Of course she was.

GORANI: But here's the question now, though, I mean, you know, she's been injured now. What happens to a girl like this. She can't live in the region where she was living advocating for equal access to education for girls, the Taliban has even come back. They've come back and said we're going to kill her the second time.

REHMAN: ...her struggle, you know, symbolized and found resonance with all the little girls that had been denied an education by the Taliban or some forces of the Taliban in those areas. And I think what we're looking at is a - this has taken the protracted and long Pakistani struggle against this terrorism to a struggle I think against the mindset. What we see is a new resolves at least in the media and the Pakistani media listing all political forces also speaking out against the fact there's very little (inaudible) which we sometimes saw before.

It used to be the government and the security forces, now we're seeing as I said all of Pakistan speaking out against this. And this is a very important moment for us. It - she is important, not just a symbol of hope and resolve and courage, but for all that we have been standing for, all that we have been fighting for.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: And that was the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, of course stationed in the U.S. She was in Karachi and had just landed when she spoke to me a short time ago.

Now Malala Yousafzai was a top trending topic on Twitter today worldwide. It gives you a sense of just how much her story has touched and upset people. Egyptian blogger Bassam Sabry tweeted, "if you can, change your avatar to Malala for a day. Let the world know that the courage of a child should be honored."

Here's what the United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF had to say, "today our thoughts are with Malala Yousafzai, the inspirational 14 year old activist for girl's rights."

From Pakistani politician Imran Khan, "I will go to Peshawar this evening to see Malala Yousafzai and meet her parents. Deeply distressed by this cowardly attack on her."

And documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy says, "You can silence hundreds and even thousands of women in Pakistan, but many more will speak out - oppression never wins - ever!"

CNN is working to raise awareness of the importance of educating women and how it can change the world. Just head to iReport.com and discover how you can help spread that particular message.

Still to come tonight, new accounts of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. One senior U.S. official tells the congressional hearing today that the scale of the assault was unprecedented. We'll bring you more on that story straight ahead.

And a member of Russian punk group Pussy Riot goes free, but two of her friends remain in jail.

Also coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's me, Big Bird...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: A U.S. presidential campaign is in a flap over Big Bird.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Hello, and welcome back. You're watching CNN International. And this is Connect the World.

New details now are emerging about last month's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Libya. A senior State Department official told a U.S. House committee today that dozens of attackers launched a full-scale assault that was, quote, "unprecedented in its size and intensity." The attack killed, of course you'll remember, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

The hearing is probing allegations of serious security failings by government officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: It was a terrorist attack on a U.S. asset in Libya and it was never exposed. We pretended it didn't happen. Well guess what? The third time the terrorists came to attack us, they were even more successful, killing four Americans. I believe personally with more assets, more resources, just meeting the minimum standards, we could have and should have saved the life of Ambassador Stevens and the other people that were there.

PATRICK KENNEDY, U.S. STATE UNDER SECRETARY FOR MANAGEMENT: We regularly assess risk and resource allocation, a process involving the considered judgments of experienced professionals on the ground and in Washington using the best available information. The assault that occurred on the evening of September 17, however, was an unprecedented assault by dozens of heavily armed men. We must continue deploying our diplomats and development professionals to dangerous places like Benghazi. There is no alternative. As the secretary has said, we will not retreat. We will keep leading. And we will stay engaged everywhere in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Well, let's cross over to CNN's Arwa Damon who has been following the story. She's in Beirut now. But of course Arwa you visited the consulate just a few days after the attack. And you listen to some of the testimony on Capitol Hill today in Washington and these accusations that more should have been done, obviously more should have been done, but that security was requested from the consulate in Benghazi and somehow wasn't made available. What did you make of the testimony?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was pretty interesting to be listening to it all, Hala, especially because some of the questioning, the line of questioning that was coming up quite aggressively were a lot of questions that first came to mind when we arrived on site some three days after the attack took place. The site most certainly appeared to be very vulnerable, something of a soft target. And it also seemed, according to eyewitnesses that we were speaking to at the time, that this was some sort of pre-planned attack. One of the security guards, a Libyan security guards who was effectively the first line of defense for the consulate unarmed, armed only with a radio, was telling us that the attack came simultaneously from three different direction.

A lot of questions now as to whether or not Washington underestimated the threat that was in Libya against the U.S., against western interests. And of course what their potential and possible reaction was to the request from American security officials based on the ground in Libya for additional assets,. Clearly this was a horrific attack. It most certainly seems increasingly evident that it was pre-planned up to a certain degree. There had been numerous attacks against western interests in Benghazi, specially not to mention other attacks against the location of the consulate itself as well.

So a lot of answers being required from Washington at this point as to why they were refusing, or not willing to fulfill these requests for additional security.

Of course, the two officials from the State Department there saying that they were actually fulfilling the security requests based on the information that they had at hand, Hala.

GORANI: I think one of the issues there, Arwa, of the topics discussed as far as the State Department is concerned is, look, this was a full-scale assault, a military style assault. Unless you had a bunker mentality and you were behind layers and layers of security and blast walls, you couldn't have prevented it. That is their position.

Some on Capitol Hill, perhaps politically motivated, are saying, no, it's because you didn't prepare adequately for this, because you didn't heed the warning. I mean, can we answer this question at this stage?

DAMON: I mean, that's an incredibly difficult question to answer, Hala, but the argument that was being made on the ground by Libyans who we were speaking to and by some other individuals as well was that if at least additional security measures had been put into place, say for example blast walls, say for example additional security personnel, perhaps a full-scale assault could not have been prevented, but the consequences of it perhaps could have been prevented.

GORANI: All right. And this ongoing discussion of course will continue here in the United States. Arwa Damon is live in Beirut. Thanks very much.

And in Syria, opposition forces are struggling to keep control of some key strategic areas. On Wednesday, the government sent reinforcements to Idlib after rebels gained control of some very important towns near the Turkish border.

From Beirut, Nick Paton-Walsh has more.

NICK PATON-WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hala, amid continued violence, rebels claim their on the verge of a key success to take a strategic town.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATON-WALSH: They fought for so many towns and sometimes lost, but say this one is different. Both sides bitterly once Merat and Numan (ph) and it's on the highway from the north to Damascus, a vital artery defended then abandoned in part. Rebels claim yesterday they had most of it, but like the fate of their prisoners, it's rarely that simple.

It's the regime's substantial air power, this helicopter and later a MiG that could always bomb back a rebel force with makeshift weapons meaning in the past, celebrations have been premature.

They'll be hoping to see more scenes like these in this town: regime troops waving the white flag, pinned down out of ammunition, surrendering, they hope, to a fate better than dying in battle.

One activist filmed these pictures of a convoy of regime troops and loyalists heading north toward Merat and Numan (ph). And you can see by their numbers, how much Assad's government needs to hold on to the town.

With holding it could cut the regime's links north from Damascus, impossible to divine in this brutal, shifting battlefield.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PATON-WALSH: Hala, rebels said today to us they believe they're getting more coordinated, they believe they're changing their tactics away from trying to hold and defend territory to just surge forward towards regime forces. It remains to be seen, though, if that will change the conditions on the ground, Hala.

GORANI: Nick Paton-Walsh there in Beirut.

We're going to take a short break now, but when we come back, Lance Armstrong feels the heat, again, after a report is released that accuses him and others in engaging in the biggest doping conspiracy in the history of sport. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: You are watching Connect the World from CNN Center. Welcome back. I'm Hala Gorani.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency shows its hand in its case against Lance Armstrong. And the findings are eye-opening to say the least. The U.S. Anti-doping Agency says they have proof against Lance Armstrong beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Mark McKay joins us now with more on what the Anti-Doping Agency is saying.

Mark, nice to see you.

And first of all, they're saying they have circumstantial evidence. They're saying they have scientific evidence. They're saying they have testimony from fellow cyclists. It's 1,000 pages.

MARK MCKAY, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Of evidence that's out there, and part of a 200 page report, Hala, that came out about five hours ago.

You'll remember a couple of months ago when Lance Armstrong decided not to fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and their case against him. He agreed that he would have all seven of his Tour de France titles stripped away. He will also agreed by not fighting USADA that he would also be banned for life. So weeks we wondered, Hala, what did USADA have on Armstrong?

Well, they released their report Wednesday, damning. The U.S. Anti- Doping Agency issuing a statement that read in part, "the evidence shows beyond any doubt that the U.S. Postal Service pro-cycling team ran the most sophisticated professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen."

How did the agency come to it's findings? Through testimony involving at least 26 people, including 11 of Armstrong's former cycling teammates. There is also witnesses that saw him dope as part of his seven Tour de France titles as well. The report, as you said Hala, also includes financial statements. There's laboratory results. There are emails. The agency concluding the Lance Armstrong cheated by using performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions.

GORANI: Right. But here's the thing. I mean, he has never tested positive.

MCKAY: That's Lance Armstrong's - that's what he'll always say.

GORANI: That's what he'll always say. So now we have this report and this evidence that they say they have against him. What about him, how is he reacting to all of this?

MCKAY: We've not heard from him directly. We have heard from one of his lawyers, Tim Henman (ph) who is on the case for Lance Armstrong. He basically dismissed Wednesday's report calling it a one-sided hatchet job on Lance Armstrong and a government funded witch hunt against his client who consistently, as you said Hala, has consistently denied doping charges.

GORANI: What are they saying is the reason, then, behind this widespread conspiracy, since that's what they're calling it. What would the motivation be?

MCKAY: To win. I mean, if you had to really conclude to win...

GORANI: No, I mean, what is Team Armstrong saying is the motivation of the anti-doping agency to sort of conspire against him/

MCKAY: They've always felt that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had it out for Armstrong for better or for worse. So they find this a continuation despite all the evidence that's been placed out the Wednesday, they still find it U.S. Anti-Doping Agency against Lance Armstrong for whatever reason is out there.

GORANI: And other cyclists, then. I mean, you know, you have those who have attacked him - Greg LeMand (ph) is one of them. But do you have any cyclists who were...

MCKAY: On his side.

GORANI: On his side on this one?

MCKAY: You know, I'm sure we'll hear more and more as this story continues to unfold and we see the evidence that has come out on the part of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

It is damning. I mean, you have to see what they have. They've released it. And you have to wonder how many people will actually stand by Lance Armstrong. I can tell you what, the Lance Armstrong Foundation when this first came out a couple of months ago always standing by him for the good that he has done for cancer research throughout the world.

GORANI: Livestrong, yeah.

MCKAY: the Livestrong Foundation will certainly be behind him on this one.

GORANI: Last one, and this is having lived in France, you know, professional cycling is truly a culture of that country. And so this must be having a negative impact just overall on the sport, because then you start wondering every time if somebody who wins has used performance enhancing drugs.

MCKAY: And that's what we've seen throughout the years. We've seen - all of these cyclist who would win this Tour title then be stripped of it in years. They say it's a sport that has had the reputation, a well earned reputation unfortunately, for having doping amongst its mix. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency called the report that was released on the part of USADA, the International Cycling Union called it devastating. And they said they want to stay ahead of these drug cheats. It's easier said then done.

GORANI: All right, yes, because it's such a grueling exercise for the body. And it's just that's part of what we love about it is that a non- sort of, you know, medicated body can go through all those stages.

Much more on this intriguing story on the next World Sport as well. I believe Don Riddell...

MCKAY: Don Riddell in just over an hour.

GORANI: ...is going to be at the helm for that one.

MCKAY: We'll have all angles covered for you, Hala.

GORANI: Thank you so much Mark McKay.

Still to come on Connect the World, a member of Pussy Riot speaks of her mixed feelings after winning her appeal for freedom. What now, though, for her two band mates who are still behind bars?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's me, Big Bird.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: A big row over Big Bird causing a big problem in the U.S. presidential election. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Welcome back everyone, to our viewers across Europe and around the world. I'm Hala Gorani, here are the world headlines from CNN.

Turkey has forced a Syrian passenger plane from Moscow to land in Ankara. You're looking at live pictures from the airport in Ankara. The Turkish foreign minister says authorities are still inspecting the plane for contraband. Months ago, Turkey declared it would not allow planes carrying military cargo to Syria to use its air space. We're still waiting officially for what authorities may have found on that Airbus.

Doctors in Pakistan have removed a bullet from the neck of a 14-year- old girl who was shot on Tuesday. A military spokesman who visited Malala Yousufzai said she was unconscious and remains in a critical condition. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

A Congressional hearing is underway in Washington into last month's deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. State Department officials are responding to allegations the agency denied increased security for the consulate.

The United States anti-doping agency says cyclist Lance Armstrong was part of the most sophisticated, professional, and successful doping program the sport has ever seen. The agency released its report on the case on Wednesday. Armstrong has always denied the allegations.

A member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot is free after winning her appeal. Yekaterina Samutsevich and two other band members have been contesting the two-year sentence handed down for performing an anti-Kremlin song in a cathedral. She may be out, but her two friends remain behind bars.

CNN's Phil Black was at the court in Moscow, and he joins me now, live from the Russian capital. So, how did Yekaterina outside of the court react? Because she had many supporters there welcoming her today in Moscow.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of surprise on the part of Yekaterina Samutsevich, Hala. We spoke to her at the court, we spoke to her a short time ago, as well. She said she hadn't begun to think that something like this would've actually been possible this morning when she woke up.

She said in the prison van on the way into the court, she and the other women had been speculating about what prison labor camps they were going to be sent to once the appeal was slapped aside.

Only a few days ago, the Russian president was heard on Russian television saying that he thought a two-year sentence was thoroughly appropriate punishment for what they had done, but now, tonight, Yekaterina Samutsevich is enjoying her first night of freedom with friends and family in over seven months.

But that happiness is tempered by the fact that her two bandmates lost their appeal and must continue serving their two-year sentences.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK (voice-over): This was the moment when the three members of Pussy Riot, standing behind their lawyers, learned one of them would be free. A moment of happiness for Yekaterina Samutsevich. She'd hired a new lawyer, who tried a new argument in this appeal.

Four women were recorded performing the punk prayer in Moscow's Christ the Savior cathedral last February, but Samutsevich was not one of them. She was stopped at the door of the cathedral. So, despite her intention to pull on a balaclava and join the others, the lawyer argued Samutsevich shouldn't be punished as severely, and it worked.

Earlier, Samutsevich addressed the court, insisting that three women were still united and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina said it was their last chance to convince Russians they weren't anti-religious. Their protest was political.

Their lawyers gave a list of reasons they said proved the original trial was unfair, including the fact they had never been allowed to meet privately with their clients. But the court ruled the other women must still serve the two-year sentence.

Defense lawyer Mark Feygin said he couldn't understand why only one of them was released. This appeal drew a crowd of Pussy Riot supporters, members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and hundreds of journalists. They were all surprised when Samutsevich suddenly walked free from the court.

That's her in the blue jacket. She was overwhelmed by people, cameras, and emotions as she hugged her father.

She said she was happy to be free for the first time in more than six months, but upset the other girls weren't.

Samutsevich's lawyer, Irina Khrunova, said the same facts which won her freedom were mentioned during the original trial, but the judge didn't listen then. This day was the last time the three women would sit next to each other in a glass box. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina will now be sent to prison camps. Samutsevich must now get used to freedom and celebrity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK: So, I asked Samutsevich about regrets. She says she regrets that she didn't make it into the cathedral that day to take part in the performance, she regrets the band was only allowed to perform in the cathedral for about 30 seconds rather than getting through their whole song.

And of course, she has strong regrets -- very mixed emotions -- about the fact that her two bandmates are still prison, and she says she will now do everything she possibly can to win their freedom, Hala.

GORANI: OK, Phil Black, live in Moscow. Thanks very much.

In an exclusive interview, Yekaterina Samutsevich spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour shortly after being released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YEKATERINA SAMUTSEVICH, FREED PUSSY RIOT MEMBER (through translator): Well, I have mixed feelings. First of all, I'm -- of course, I'm very happy to be out and to be so to stay free. But I'm very upset that Nadia and Maria are still incarcerated.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, what is your message now to President Putin? Are you finished with protest? Does this end your action? Your political action?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): No, of course not, we're not finished, nor are we going to end our political protest. We do have a criticism, all of that remains in force. The situation in the country has deteriorated since our performance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Well, you can see the full interview with Yekaterina Samutsevich on "Amanpour" right after CONNECT THE WORLD. Now, let's take a closer look, though, at what the Pussy Riot case says about the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Russia. It's just one of a number of current cases involving Russians who've spoken out against the government.

James Collins is a former American ambassador to Russia, and he joins us now, live from Washington. Ambassador Collins, thanks for being with us. And you heard the news, there, of the release of one of the Pussy Riot band members. What was your reaction when you heard today?

JAMES COLLINS, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I thought it was good news for Miss Samutsevich and I think it's unfortunate that the other two are going off to prison. I think the sentence was probably not needed. But I wouldn't read too much into the difference in the treatment.

GORANI: What do you mean by that?

COLLINS: Well, I've seen great discussion about the significance of Miss Samutsevich's release and so forth. I think the court simply decided that maybe there was a case here.

I'm not sure that the political hype that goes around this case from its very first instance is really being very revealing about just what the dynamics are in Moscow.

GORANI: So, if this case isn't revealing, what should we, then -- what should we know, then, about the dynamics of what's going on in Russia in relation to the political opposition, its ability to contest Vladimir Putin and his rule. And also, freedom of speech in that country.

COLLINS: Well, I think it's very clear that there have been a number of steps by the president in Russia to curtail freedom of action and latitude for a number of people who are associated with opposition.

We have a new law on NGOs and where they can receive support and what conditions there are. We've seen curtailment of other kinds of activity on the part of NGOs. All of these things, I think, are sort of unfortunate signs that freedoms are being restricted.

GORANI: Let me ask you to react to this, too, which is interesting. A recent opinion poll found that the majority of Russians don't have much sympathy for the women. Last month, the Levada Research Center asked whether the two-year sentence given to the band was, quote, "an adequate punishment." 43 percent said the prison term was insufficient, 35 percent said it was adequate.

So, if you add those two, that's 78 percent who say adequate or insufficient, and 14 percent thought the sentence was excessive. What do you make of that?

COLLINS: Well, what I make of it first is that anybody who goes into a church in a heavily-religious country and takes part in some action that most people who follow the faith are going to see as bordering on sacrilegious, if not indecent, is not going to get much support.

One wonders what one would have -- what reaction we would have in the United States if you had had a similar incident in St. Patrick's Cathedral. So, I think there's that dimension to it.

But I think that's different from the political or the judicial dimension, where I frankly think this is not the way you handle cases of this kind. I don't see why this is a criminal case or these people are going to prison.

GORANI: James Collins, a former US ambassador to Russia, thank you very much for joining us on CNN International today.

And we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation in Russia here on CNN, and we'll bring you the latest as the remaining Pussy Riot appeals play out in court.

Coming up after the break on CONNECT THE WORLD, it's a race to discover the fastest way to cross Japan by land. Is it by car or by train? We send two CNN teams to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: It's a race that puts Japan's sterling rail reputation on the line. The finish line is the swarming, sprawling hub of Shinjuku, Tokyo's major commuter station, and the world's busiest train station. Two teams from CNN, one in a car, the other traveling by train, went to see who could get from Nagano to Shinjuku first.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the heart of Tokyo lies Shinjuku. Serving more than 3 million passengers a day, it is the world's busiest train station. And for us, it's the finish line in a race that will put Japan railway's sterling reputation to the test.

Our starting point: 232 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, the mountain town of Nagano, made famous by the 1998 Winter Olympics.

HANCOCKS (on camera): Now, we should take a full hour longer to drive from here to Tokyo than it does to take the train. But of course, there's really only one way to find out. So, we're having a race.

Junko, our producer here, will be driving to Tokyo. Myself and Yoko will be taking the train. So, car keys, tickets at the ready, set, go!

So, this is our train. Ten minutes early.

JUNKO OGURA, CNN PRODUCER: This is -- you have to choose the prefecture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh!

OGURA: Gosh.

HANCOCKS: It's really smooth. And when you consider it can go about 300 kilometers an hour, it's staggering. First time in Shinkansen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, how long have we been driving, about two minutes? And we're lost already.

OGURA: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

OGURA: But this navigation system is very bad.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): The six Japanese rail companies say they carry more than 24 million passengers every day. That's almost the equivalent of the whole of Europe and the United States combined.

It's fast. It's reliable. It's a part of the everyday.

HANCOCKS (on camera): What do the Japanese think of it?

YOKO WAKATSUKI, CNN PRODCUER: I think being proud or anything like that doesn't really apply, because it's so natural. We take it for pretty much granted.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): One hour into the journey, and while reliability and speed are on full display, so too is the comfort.

WAKATSUKI: Rice with vegetables and meat on it.

HANCOCKS (on camera): That sounds good.

WAKATSUKI: OK.

HANCOCKS: I'll take one of those.

OGURA: I have to find -- but I missed it, so then I can't -- you know it, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I knew that, we made a wrong turn.

HANCOCKS: So, rush hour, this place would be packed.

WAKATSUKI: Oh, yes.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): The commuter traffic that has made Japan's high-speed rail system particularly successful: multiple rail lines from towns to major cities are seamlessly connected.

OGURA: Don't worry, don't worry, don't worry. Nobody wants a ticket. Nobody wants a ticket.

HANCOCKS (on camera): OK, so this is it. This is where we're meeting them.

WAKATSUKI: Yay!

HANCOCKS (voice-over): We get to the finish right on time. With the Shinkansen's average annual delay just 12 seconds, it was a race won from the start.

HANCOCKS (on camera, speaking into telephone): Hello, Junko. We're here.

OGURA (speaking into telephone): Hello. Oh, yes, then you guys arrived already.

HANCOCKS: Yes, we're here. We're at the meeting place.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Junko and team never stood a chance.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: This next story is brought to you by the letter O for outrage. The latest TV ad in the US presidential election campaign has ruffled more than a few feathers. Barack Obama's campaign let fly with a commercial dripping with sarcasm, featuring the unlikely star of last week's presidential debate, "Sesame Street" character Big Bird. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When we last left Big Bird --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love Big Bird.

MOOS: Really? He had just been mentioned in the presidential debate. Since then, Big Bird has only gotten bigger, appearing on SNL.

SETH MEYER, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": How did you find out that your name had been mentioned in the debate?

BIG BIRD, "SESAME STREET": Oh, I got a million tweets.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYER: OK.

MOOS: He's the second animal to rock the presidential campaign, the first being Mitt Romney's dog on the car roof. But Big Bird has big-footed the pooch in photoshopped photos and editorial cartoons, and now he's made it into an Obama campaign commercial full of sarcasm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

ANNOUNCER: One man has the guts to speak his name.

ROMNEY: Big Bird. Big Bird. Big Bird.

BIG BIRD: It's me, Big Bird.

ANNOUNCER: Big, yellow, a menace to our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But the Republican National Committee is striking back with the Count from "Sesame Street."

THE COUNT, "SESAME STREET": The number of the day is four!

MOOS: The Republicans are keeping count of how many times President Obama mentions Big Bird versus, they say, zero mentions of Libya and zero plans to fix the economy.

(THE COUNT LAUGHS)

MOOS: The Obama campaign says its Big Bird spot was meant to run during comedy shows, though it might be hard to tell the commercial from comedy show content.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

ANNOUNCER: Mitt Romney, taking on our enemies no matter where they nest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): But Big Bird did not approve this message. His creators, Sesame Workshop, say they're nonpartisan, and they want the Obama Big Bird ad taken down.

MOOS (voice-over): Obama supporters have taken to showing up to Romney-Ryan events dressed as Big Bird.

MOOS (on camera): We're even seeing Big Bird in cereal.

MOOS (voice-over): Portrait artist Jason Mecier is known for using pills to make to make Whitney Houston's portrait, pot to make Snoop Dog's, and beef jerky to make President Obama's and Governor Romney's.

Now, NBC reports the debate inspired the artist to spend 25 hours gluing Cheerios and Froot Loops and Lucky Charms onto a canvas to create Big Bird.

Some of us are starting to OD on Big Bird as he flits from Jon Stewart to Conan. Get the kiddies out of the room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "CONAN")

BIG BIRD: What's that?

(PROP PLANE ENGINE)

(MITT ROMNEY PILOTING PLANE, LAUGHING)

(BIG BIRD SCREAMS)

(PLANE GUNS SHOOTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Bye-bye Big Birdie.

ANN-MARGARET, "BYE BYE BIRDIE" (singing): Bye-bye Birdie!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: And as we mentioned, the makers of "Sesame Street" are crying foul over the commercial and have urged the president's team to ground it immediately. A spokesperson for Team Obama says they're reviewing those concerns, but for now, the ad will air. CNN's John Defterios spoke with the CEO of Sesame Workshop at a media summit in Abu Dhabi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Have you asked as an organization for the White House to pull the ad, and what's the response been so far to that request?

MELVIN MING, CEO, SESAME WORKSHOP: We gave notice to the White House, or to the Obama campaign, that the use of our Big Bird was a violation of our ethics and not good, they did not have permission, and we didn't see how fair use was being appropriately used here -- applied here, so we requested that that ad not be run any further.

It was being considered as of last night New York time. I checked my internet this morning, I did not see it, so I hope they have adhered to it. But this practice of ours is essential and required because we cannot let our Muppets do anything that if a child saw a teacher do, the child would be disappointed.

DEFTERIOS: Why is the presidential candidate, Mr. Romney, picking on Sesame Workshop as specifically Big Bird. You only get six percent of your overall funding from the federal government. Is it necessary to single out a product that actually works? And would you be happy to let that funding go?

MING: We think the model of "Sesame Street" is a perfect example of a public and a private partnership where, initially, government funding permitted a match with private funding. And then what Sesame Workshop was able to do was to find an economic model where it could sustain its operations and therefore not be dependent on any subsidy from the government.

However, Sesame would not be successful if the government support of local broadcasting was not in place.

DEFTERIOS: This is not a new debate in America. This goes back to the Bush administration and the fight with PBS going back to 2005. Is the spirit to support public broadcasting in America gone?

MING: During the debate, there were more tweets on Big Bird than any other word mentioned. There were 17,000 tweets per minute. Now, recognizing the power of social media and not everyone is enrolled in social media, but that gives an indication of the interest.

Subsequently, with all the press and even the ads, there has been a recognition of the place of Big Bird in American society. Its value, his value, as an icon, as a teacher, particularly for children who do not vote, children who have no voice, children who may not even have satellite access, but through PBS can be exposed to and connect with "Sesame Street" and other such programs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: And there you have it, the head of Sesame Street Workshop reacting to the use of Big Bird and the mention of Big Bird in this campaign. And for full coverage of the 2012 US election, look no further than right here on CNN.

Next up, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan meet for their one and only vice presidential debate. We, of course, will be live at Centre College in the southern US state Kentucky, for a debate that focuses both on foreign and domestic policy. It's the one and only. Stay up with us and watch it live, early Friday at 1:00 AM in London and a little bit later Central European Time, right here on CNN.

I'm Hala Gorani, that was CONNECT THE WORLD, thanks for watching. The world headlines are up next after this short break.

END