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Christiano Ronaldo To Face Manchester United As Foe In Champion's League; Tourists Flock To Bugarach In France; Delhi Women Stand Up Against Violence; U.S. GDP Rose 3.1 Percent In Third Quarter

Aired December 20, 2012 - 16:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: And tonight on Connect the World, stark words from Syria's key ally.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We are not concerned about the fate of the Assad regime.


SWEENEY: Russia's president puts more distance between his country and Syria's embattled leader.

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

SWEENEY: As Russia's support appears to wane even further, tonight a special report from a journalist embedded with Syria's regime forces.

Also tonight, (inaudible) are fighting to defend themselves as a woman is brutally attacked in Delhi.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enjoying the sun, sipping cocktails.


SWEENEY: If Friday really is the end of the world, how would you spend your last day?

First, Russia appears more resigned than ever that his longtime ally in Syria may not survive the war. President Vladimir Putin today denied propping up Bashar al-Assad and distanced himself from the Syrian regime. But he also warned against outside military intervention saying only dialogue can end the war.


PUTIN (through translator): What is our position about? Not to retain Bashar al-Assad's regime (inaudible) price, but first people should negotiate.

We are not concerned about Bashar al-Assad's regime. We understand the circumstances there that the Assad family has been ruling for 40 years.


SWEENEY: Well, interesting comments, but the real question is how might they affect what's happening on the ground in Syria if at all. There is no end in sight to the war, and the regime appears to be digging in its heels.

We have a special report now exclusive to Channel 4 News. Alex Thomson just visited Syrian and was embedded with government forces.


ALEX THOMSON, CHANNEL 4 CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't look much, does it? But being able to film openly with the Syrian-Arab army defending Damascus as it says it is has taken Channel 4 News six months to achieve.

We were taken to the edge of Daria, a rebel stronghold, and given the military booklet on filming rules. In essence, not that different from the British army one you get in Afghanistan. They didn't want us to identify soldiers by name, face, or rank, though one officer was very keen to speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These people we are fighting are Salafis, jihadists who want sectarian warfare and to kill indiscriminately. Europe is civilized. We know and respect that. But this is part of a global movement. And some day it will be in Europe to.

THOMSON: The Syrians say it's just like the British in Afghanistan, we're fighting a war against a global jihad. Many officers seem genuinely surprised Europe isn't joining them in their struggle rather than opposing.

The Syrian government claims this is a battle about terrorism (inaudible) and says that is a battle which affects not just Syria, but all of Europe and beyond.

That's their position, but this is a regime and an army with an international reputation for killing, maiming and torturing its own population, hence the uprising.

How do they answer that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): History is the judge. Remember, the government, the people, and army help the Palestinian refugees, the Iraqis, and even the Lebanese too. History will judge us. What we are fighting now are people who kill women and children, who throw people off rooftops.

THOMSON: On the outskirts of Dariah, tanks and heavy weaponry arrives for yet another battle. We were told a sniper is firing from this minaret. In truth, I noted no incoming rounds. But these men were taking now chances.

So after more than 20 months of civil war, just what does motivate an infantry soldier in President Assad's Army. It's not often you get the chance to ask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Syrian-Arab army will win. And our strength will never be overcome, because we are fighting for the right side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are fighting against terrorism and the Zionist conspiracy that wants to take over our country. We are fighting for security and stability in our land over terrorism.

THOMSON: As the fighting built up in Dariah, incredibly a family here who have simply refused to move. The man owns a nursery and he showed us the neighboring houses, all had been trashed. We spoke to him out of hearing of the soldiers deliberately and he said the rebels wrecked these places to force people out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is my house, my village. If I go, where would I go? I'm worried about my house.

THOMSON: One determined family and determined daughter, 12 year old Hala (ph). Wasn't she scared of the bombing?

"No," she said, "I'm used to it."

You don't know whether that's heartening or depressing.

And so they stay, tending the geraniums amid the debris of war.

Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News, Damascus.


SWEENEY: Russia has blocked repeated attempts by the west to turn up the pressure on the Syrian regime. Along with China, Moscow has vetoed three UN resolutions. With Mr. Putin's comments today, can we expect any tangible shift in policy? Let's ask Mark Katz, an expert on Russia's roll in the Middle East. He's a professor at George Mason University. Thank you for joining us.

These comments, how significant are they, or how indicative are they of a change in policy by Russia?

MARK KATZ, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: I think they're highly significant. I don't see Russia changing its policy in terms of joining the west in trying to pressure us on. But I think what they signal is that Moscow, Putin himself understands that the Assad regime is not going to last. And I think Putin is signaling Assad that he can't expect Russia to save him. And maybe he's also signaling that if you're going to get out, this is now the time. We can't wait much too much longer.

SWEENEY: And in terms of Moscow's priorities, what would they be now in the region if Assad, his days are numbered?

KATZ: You know, I think that -- what they learned from Libya is that when they supported Gadhafi to the very end, then they had trouble with the new Libyan government. And I think what they understand if Assad is going to fall they may as well at least try to have decent relations with whomever is coming into power. Now of course those statements fairly belligerent, but I think that the Russians see that they were burned and also they want to have good relations with the Arab countries and the Arab public. And they know that -- that Russian support for Assad has not helped that goal.

SWEENEY: And if this isn't a shift in policy, will it make the peace envoy Brahimi's international diplomacy on Syria any easier?

KATZ: Well, you know, with all due respect to Mr. Brahimi I think he's a fine diplomat, but I don't think that those who commissioned him really expect him to accomplish much of anything. I think that many governments, what they wanted was for there to be a, you know, a UN sanctioned peace process, but didn't expect it to actually succeed. Now I think, you know, if it's going -- anything is going to happen, I think that if Assad is going, what Russia is signaling is perhaps to the Syrian defense ministry that maybe they had better take over and try to negotiate with the opposition, or at least parts of the opposition.

SWEENEY: All right, so perhaps no real impact on Lakhdar Brahimi's efforts, but if Russia is changing its tone, what impact might this have on the United Nations, particularly in the United Nations security council? And is there any likelihood that China may be going the same way?

KATZ: Well, you know I think -- I'm not a China expert. I was in Moscow earlier this year. And certainly the Russians I spoke to there have no expectation that China would necessarily stick with them. They understand that if there's going to be a new government in Syria, the Chinese will without any embarrassment work with that new government. And I think what they are afraid of is that Moscow will be the one left alone supporting Assad.

So I think that this is kind of a preemptive move on Moscow's part, because they don't expect China to do anything.

SWEENEY: And what, if anything, do you believe it might have to do with the reports yesterday that Turkey, which has often been seen as the key to solving what is taking place in Syria, had mad a proposal to Russia for an orderly, peaceful transition of power there in the post-regime era?

KATZ: The relationship with Turkey is extremely important for Russia. It has a huge trade relationship. I think that Russian-Turkish trade exceeds Russian-British trade, that there's an awful lot that they have going on together. And I think that simply Assad is simply not important enough to Moscow to risk their relationship with Turkey.

And so when it comes down to it, Russia needs to work with Turkey to please Turkey, not to please Assad.

SWEENEY: All right. So the chips may be falling. Thank you very much indeed for joining us Mark Katz with your insights.

KATZ: Thank you.

SWEENEY: And you're watching Connect the World live from London. Actually of course not London. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney at CNN Center in Atlanta. This program is usually hosted in London.

Still to come tonight, the U.S. State Department faces questions over September's deadly consulate attack in Benghazi.

The close-knit community of Newtown says good-bye to more victims of last week's shooting rampage.

And the return of a legend. Christiano Ronaldo will face his former club as Real Madrid take on Manchester United in the next stage of the Champion's League. All that and much more when Connect the World continues.


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

Two U.S. congressional committees have been meeting today following the release of a damning report into the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed in the attack in September, including ambassador Chris Stevens. On Tuesday, an independent review cited, quote, "systematic failures in the U.S. State Department." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been due to address the committees but sent her deputies instead.

Elise Labott joins me now from Washington with more.

So first of all, give us the breakdown if you will.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fionnuala, there were two hearing today: Senate foreign relations committee and House international affairs committee. And I think the State Department officials that testified, Secretary Clinton's deputies Tom Nides and Bill Burns were sufficiently contrite. I mean, there's not much more you can do when you have such a scathing report such as this citing such failures at the State Department, but eat your medicine, admit that they did wrong, that they need to do better, and they will make those recommendations that the independent panel offered.

I think that this -- particularly in the afternoon the session with the House international affairs committee was much more politicized saying that the State Department really can't even -- isn't -- shouldn't even be accounted for to be able to implement its own recommendations, because it made such failures. I think that there was a lot of grandstanding and the kind of question to speech ratio is very large.

SWEENEY: And let me ask you about Hillary Clinton specifically. I mean, she had somewhat of a low profile in the media following this attack on September 11 leading up to the election. She's been ill in the last week unable to attend these hearings, sent her deputies as we reported. Has she been exonerated, particularly as she comes to the end of her term and perhaps looks forward to 2016?

LABOTT: Well, as you know, even in an interview with CNN, Secretary Clinton told me that she took full responsibility for everything that happened in Benghazi. And again when she presented the report to congress she also said that she takes responsibility for the -- all of the employees at the State Department.

But what the panel found is that the failures lay -- should be laid at the lower, kind of assistant secretary and midlevel management level, because that's where the rubber meets the road, if you will, in terms of the security decisions that were made. And in fact, in what many instances, Secretary Clinton wasn't even made aware of some of the gaps.

SWEENEY: All right. We leave it there. Elise Labott, thanks for updating us on that from D.C.

Now here's a look at some of the other stories making news this hour. As U.S. President Barack Obama negotiated over the impending fiscal cliff today, U.S. stock and European markets closed slightly up. It's thanks to the latest economic news out of America. Third quarter GDP results were higher than expected, and U.S. house prices also are up.

From New York, Alison Kosik explains what today's results mean for beleaguered U.S. growth.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fionnuala, Wall Street got several positive reports on the U.S. economy today. One of them was on housing. Existing home sales jumped 5.9 percent in November. If this strong selling phase continues, which is expected, 2012 will likely be the strongest year for home sales since 2007. And there's a lot of good news in the fine print too, sales rose in every region of the U.S. Prices are up, too, 10 percent compared to last year. And the supply of homes on the market tumbled last month.

Now Hurricane Sandy had an effect on the numbers, but it was offset by strength in other areas so it evened out. To be clear, though, housing still isn't back to where it was before the recession. In 2005, Americans were buying about 7 million previously owned homes. Now it's 5 million.

But housing does continue to be one of the strongest areas of the U.S. economy. And we're seeing that play out in the GDP numbers as well. Gross Domestic Product grew at a 3.1 percent pace last quarter. This is the final reading for the third quarter and it's double the second quarter growth rate. Housing is a big factor behind that.

Also, Americans are spending money. In fact, consumer spending was the single biggest driver of economic growth last quarter. But it's questionable how long this will last. The fourth quarter is expected to take a hit and if we go over the fiscal cliff, the first quarter will be even worse.

But Fionnuala, for now, two clear signs that the economy is improving. Let's just hope it continues.


SWEENEY: Indeed.

Now residents of Newtown, Connecticut are attending five more funerals today. Students Allison Wyatt, Benjamin Wheeler and Catherine Hubbard, all six years old, are being laid to rest so are teachers Lauren Gabriel Russo and Anne-Marie Murphy as the town continues to bury the victims of last Friday's shooting rampage.

Principal Dawn Hochsprung will also be buried in Upstate New York.

And as the grieving continues, new details are emerging about the gunman's family. Authorities say Adam Lanza's mother was killed soon after she returned from a vacation at a resort in New Hampshire. And more has emerged about Lanza's father Peter as CNN's Mary Snow reports.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Peter Lanza's home is less than an hour away from where his son, Adam, opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But a person who knows him says he hadn't had any communication with his son in about two years, when Adam cut his father out of his life, about the time the elder Lanza remarried.

Until then, Peter Lanza, an executive with GE, seen in this LinkedIn photo, had weekly visits with Adam, according to the same source who told us Lanza hadn't lived in the Newtown house since 2001, eight years before his divorce with ex-wife Nancy was finalized. In the hours after the shooting, a reporter for "The Stamford Advocate" who was outside Peter Lanza's house, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Lanza was apparently unaware of his son's involvement in the shooting.

MAGGIE GORDON, REPORTER, STAMFORD ADVOCATE: I said, you know, we've received your that somebody at this address is connected to the shooting in Newtown and his face just went from -- you know, he'd been this very polite stranger who was making pleasantries with me, and he went from that to sort of shock and then just this horrified look and, you know, essentially declined comment, rolled up his window, and went inside his house.

SNOW: Since then, he released a statement expressing condolences for victims, families, and friends, adding, "We're in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We, too, are asking why." Peter Lanza's sister-in-law told reporters both Lanza and his ex-wife were committed to their kids' welfare.

MARSHA LANZA, LANZA FAMILY RELATIVE: They were the type of parents even when they were married as well as being separated, if the kids had a need, they would definitely fill it.

SNOW: Court documents show few hands of an acrimonious divorce and indicate a comfortable lifestyle. Irreconcilable differences were cited as the reason for the divorce finalized when Adam was 17. Alimony was set for this year at $289,000. Those documents also show Peter Lanza would pay for his son's college and graduate school, medical insurance, and provide a car for him.

Now, Peter Lanza was questioned by investigators as they searched for a motive. He said in a statement after the shooting that he had cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


SWEENEY: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World. And coming up, you couldn't have drawn it up any better, the Champion's League draw produces some high profile matchups. And we run them down for you next.


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

It is a clash of titans in the champion's league as all the biggest clubs still in the competition have been drawn together. Let's bring in Pedro Pinto from London now. So, Pedro, which matchup are you most looking forward to?

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fionnuala, I have to tell you that when Real Madrid were drawn with Manchester United I was sold. That is the highest profile game for the round of 16 in the world's top club competition as far as I'm concerned. There are other really mouth-watering clashes to look forward to like Barcelona versus AC Milan, Arsenal versus Bayern Munich, but there's no doubt right now that most people are talking about Real versus United.

It'll see Jose Mourinho and Christiano Ronaldo return to England. Of course, they both worked here. And Ronaldo will be going back to Old Trafford for the first time since he left the club he represented for six years. He left to Real Madrid for a world record transfer fee. And he's been banging in the goals for fun over there.

It's definitely a clash between two of Europe's traditional heavy weights. These clubs combine for a total of 12 European Cup victories. Former greats, Emilio Butragueno of course with Real Madrid, now the director of football over there, gave his thoughts on this mouth-water tie.


EMILIO BUTRAGUENO, REAL MADRID DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL: I think it's maybe it's an added moderation, an added factor the fact of playing in Old Trafford and at Old Trafford against Manchester United, two great organizations. So, I mean, from the players' perspective, of course, that's you know it's a challenge to play this tie. And it's going to be -- it's going to be thrilling.


PINTO: Now it will be thrilling. It will be difficult to predict as well, Fionnuala. The only thing I can tell you is there should be plenty of goals scored. In eight games between these two teams historically they've scored 31 goals. You don't need a calculator to work out that that's nearly four goals a game. Should be exciting.

SWEENEY: And exciting also perhaps as the first other matchup you mentioned Barcelona against Milan. Who do you think is the edge in that?

PINTO: Well, Barcelona of course have to go into this as favorites even though they have less Champion's League victories as far as trophies are concerned in their history. The story with Barcelona right now is that they're going through a tough, tough period considering their manager Tito Villanova is fighting cancer again. He underwent surgery on a cancerous tumor earlier on Thursday. Fortunately the operation went well and he'll now undergo about six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Hopefully he'll be back in time for that round of 16 clash, the first leg taking place in the second week of February of next he. He should be back. And Barcelona, if Lio Messi is at his best, then they should really be too strong for Milan to handle.

SWEENEY: All right, Pedro, thanks very much indeed. Much to look forward there.

And you can join Pedro in about an hour's time for World Sport.

The latest world news headlines will be just ahead. Plus, taking no chances, why these young girls in India are fighting back and training in self defense.

Also ahead, one of India's most beloved stories is now hitting the big screen.

And what would you do if it was your last day on Earth? Think quickly because if prophesies are to be believed the world is coming to an end tomorrow.


SWEENEY: Welcome back to Connect the World. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney.

One of Syria's few remaining allies is distancing itself from the regime. Russia president Vladimir Putin says his government is not concerned with keeping Bashar al-Assad in power because his fate is up to the Syrian people alone.

Residents of Newtown, Connecticut are attending five more funerals today. Students Alison Wyatt, Benjamin Wheeler and Catherine Hubbard, all six years old, are being laid to rest. So are teachers Lauren Gabriel Russo and Anne-Marie Murphy.

Lawmakers at two U.S. congressional hearings have been questioning State Department Deputies over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September. Four people were killed in that attack, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The hearings come days after a scathing report into security was released in the United States.

The United Nations security council has unanimously authorized the deployment of military forces to Mali. The African led intervention is to assist Mali's government in recapturing the northern part of the country from Islamist militants.

Young women in India are coming together in protest against the gang rape of a student in Delhi on Sunday. Mallika Kapur looks at the precautions female students are taking to combat the cities growing scourge of sexual attacks.



BHAVYA SHARMA, COLLEGE STUDENT: I'm very sure about it, Delhi is not safe for women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I look around is lecherous eyes just following me everywhere.

SHWETA PRAKASH, COLLEGE STUDENT: They'll literally rape you with their eyes, you know, Delhi men do that.

KAPUR: Students at a leading girls college in Delhi are shaken and outraged at Sunday's gang rape in the city which has left a 23 year old battling for her life.

JAYA PRAKASH, COLLEGE STUDENT: If it's that girl who was the victim that day, some day it could be me.

KAPUR: The latest sexual assault in Delhi took place in a bus, a regular mode of transport for many Delhi commuters, including these young women.

This is your typical public bus in Delhi. It's crowded, there isn't a seat to sit. There's barely any room to stand. And the ladies compartment, well, it's got some men.

Bhavya says she's been groped on a bus.

SHARMA: I came back and I cried the entire knight.

KAPUR: Like many women in Delhi, Bhavya and her friends are being more careful. They've enrolled in a self defense class.

They say learning Tae Kwan Do increases their strength and their confidence. They take other precautions too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE; I always make sure that I have friends with me when I'm going out. I carry a pepper spray with me when we chose to walk. We make sure that we hold hands so nobody can drag us into a car.

KAPUR: Delhi alone reported 572 rape cases last year and more than 600 this year.

The vice principal of this residential college says she's worried about the safety of her students, but she doesn't want her students to live in fear.

SUSHMA MOITRA, VICE PRINCIPAL: You really can't say and tell them, OK, let's go to college in burkha and come back, or go covered and come back, or don't go anywhere or don't study or stay indoors. You have to do it.

KAPUR: And you should be able to do it without fear.

The free and safe society, that's what these protesters want and what Delhi's women say they're entitled to.

Mallika Kapur, CNN, New Delhi.


SWEENEY: While the India economy is surging ahead, women continue to face many social challenges. I'm joined now from New York by Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International. Last year, Zainab traveled with CNN's Freedom Project to investigate sex trafficking in India.

Thank you very much for joining us. When you hear those statistics as we did in that report by Mallika, 572 rapes last year, more than 600 this year alone. What goes through your mind about Indian society and its treatment of women?

ZAINAB SALBI, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL : Well, Indian society like all societies is complex. So on the one hand, Indian women actually have the highest percentage of representation in the economic sectors, in the banking sectors, in leadership positions in the banking sectors and the economic sectors. Their participation in political sectors, for example, there are some states in India, quite enough states actually that requires 50 percent of women political -- to have political seats in the local government. So there is this.

On the other hand, India is also known for it's child infanticide and for its trafficking of women and children. It is estimated there are about 100 million trafficked people in India, 90 percent of which are women and children. It is estimated there are three million prostituted women in India, 40 percent of them are children.

So you have this dichotomy between well representation in economic and in high positions in politics and between really some traditional practices that are showing a lot -- actually an increased violence against women.

SWEENEY: I mean, how do you bridge that gap? I mean, the government has introduced policies, but policies, but presumably this comes from the ground up as much as anything else.

SALBI: Absolutely. I mean, you know, you mentioned the government changing the law is one aspect of it. You know, the Indian women's movement have contributed to a major extent to the larger women's movement worldwide. But at the end of the day we are talking here about individual responsibility. Unless we actually take individual responsibility for violence against women, where are we in this story, where is our brothers, our sons, our husbands, our colleagues in that story because it's actually much more closer to us than we think it is. It's not something that is happening in some other neighborhood.

In this case, it was a college middle class college student who was raped in a public bus. And the police response to it is that women should avoid going out at night and should have pepper spray with them. That is not the way to handle violence against women.

We have to take individual responsibility for that.

SWEENEY: And do you think that, you know, the women who raised these sons, who married these fathers, you know, believe endemically I'm talking throughout the country that change can start at home?

SALBI: I think -- I mean, one of the thing about violence against women is actually happens across all socioeconomic backgrounds. It happens with the poorest of the poor. It also and equally happens with the richest community. It is not a class oriented thing. That's one thing.

Women usually don't speak about violence against women when it happens to them. So we need to actually acknowledge that those who are speaking out and those who are breaking their silence are actually very, very important part of this story. They -- we need more women to speak up and we need to have a very strong support community for them.

Society is usually shunned these women who speak up and we need to do the reversal. We need to shun the ones who are raping them.

SWEENEY: Then presumably that this is a silver lining in this whole horrible business that women are speaking out and I suppose some could attribute that to social media and sharing on a wider scale. Is there anything else that can be attributed to that women have suddenly turned around and started to speak out about this?

SALBI: Well, social media is making it faster to report on any violence against women and harder to sort of close the story and hide it. But we all need to -- we need more awareness. I think media in general has a major role in raising awareness that that violence against women is actually closer to us than we ever think about.

One -- you mentioned about my interview with the brothel on a few years ago. And he basically said -- he said you all blame us, though it is your husbands and your sons and your brothers who are creating the demand. This issue of violence against women is amongst all of us. And we need to each question ourselves. Who are the people we know who are committing it? And what can we do to stop it?

And awareness, individual awareness is a very crucial part of that story.

SWEENEY: And when you give these figures of 100 million trafficked women, 3 million prostitutes 40 percent of whom are children. And we have those statistics of rape in Delhi that I mentioned earlier, how long do you think this might take to solve -- I mean, at first glance it almost seems insurmountable.

SALBI: Very good question. You know, with all the laws in the world that has in the last 40, 50 years have been imposed to actually reduce violence against women and to prohibit it and punish it and all of that, for whatever reason that violence against women has not decreased. It actually stayed in a steady rate from America to England to India it has not.

So when we talk about prevention of laws is one aspect of it, it's more awareness. I think -- I think the issue is that we all have great tolerance to violence against women. We think it's a natural thing for a husband to beat his wife or a women raped she is to blame. And this happens even in awareness in America.

And so we need to actually change that perception. We need to change the tolerance against women to a zero level of tolerance. It is not acceptable that in 2012 about to go to 2013 we actually have hundreds of thousands of women being trafficked and raped and mutilated all over the world. It is one in five women is violated in the world. And that is our own tolerance of it. And we have to stop that tolerance.

SWEENEY: Zainab Salbi, we must leave it there, but thank you very much indeed for joining us there from CNN New York.

SALBI: My pleasure. Thank you.

SWEENEY: You're watching Connect the World, still to come the author turns (inaudible). Why Salman Rushdie played a bigger role than expected in a new film based on one of his most loved novels.


SWEENEY: More than three decades ago, author Salman Rushdie penned Midnight's Children. The magical novel won the Booker Prize and is one of India's most loved stories, but only now has it been made into a film.

Becky Anderson caught up with award winning film maker Deepa Mehta to find out what challenges she faced in bringing a Rushdie epic to the big screen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the precise instant of India's arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Two baby boys switched at birth, one destined for a life of riches, the other to poverty. The tale of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize winning novel is well known. And now, 31 years after it was published, Midnight's Children has been adapted to the screen by the Canadian director Deepa Mehta.

The book is a tragedy, to all intents and purposes, but was written as a comedy. How would you describe the film?

DEEPA MEHTA, DIRECTOR: I think the film is extremely hopeful. And (inaudible) laugh about it. And he said, you know, I thought that the book was a bit of a downer, but I really do prefer the ending of the film, which is about hope. And I like that.

ANDERSON: Rushdie himself worked on the film, serving as both screenwriter and narrator.

SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTHOR: I was born in the city of Bombay once upon a time.

ANDERSON: I know that the decision to have Salman narrate this movie came quite late -- why?

MEHTA: I'm not a great fan of voice-over narrations. And I felt that if you can't do a film without a narrator, you know, then we shouldn't do it at all. I mean, there's no room for it or need for it. But by the time we came to the final cut or the edited version, I realized how sparse the dialogue was in the film, which is fine, which is the way it should be, it's a movie, you know, you show things you don't have to talk about them, but what I was missing tremendously was Salman's language.

ANDERSON: That gap may have been filled. But with a tale as epic and fantastical as Midnight's Children, which tells the history of India over three generations, edits were inevitable.

What do you say to those who are such fans of the book who may see the film and say this is an adaptation which doesn't sit with me well?

MEHTA: It's sort of wise to know that you're never going to appease to what I call the adaptation police. You know, they're all around. And of course -- but as long as the man himself loves the film, I mean, I think that that's what's important.

ANDERSON: Appeasing some sections of the Indian audience could prove more difficult. At the premiere of the film in London, Rushdie thought to distance Midnight's Children from the controversy surrounding his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. The book is deemed blasphemous by many Muslims and remains banned in India.

RUSHDIE: The problems around me have not to do with this novel, they have to do with another novel. But sometimes there's a kind of spillover. There's nothing in this story which is not discussed every day in India. There's nothing in the story which is in any way taboo, you know. This is part of the history of India. And we all know it.

ANDERSON: There were fears the film, which was shot under a different title in Sri Lanka, would not get an Indian premiere.

How important was it to you that this film was shown in India?

MEHTA: Extremely important. I mean, Midnight's Children is set in India. And Salman has said many times that it's his love letter to India.

ANDERSON: Rushdie remains a controversial figure among Muslims, including in India. And earlier this year, the author had to cancel a visit to his home country due to death threats.

Mr. Rushdie was at the red carpet event in London. Will he be at the launch in India?

MEHTA: I sure hope so. I mean, you know, it's his book. He's been a wonderful partner. And the film belongs to him just as much as it belonged to me. And of course he'll be there.

ANDERSON: Should we expect protests? Or would you expect protests if he were to be in India for the launch of this film?

MEHTA: Why think about something that hasn't happened. You can't prepare for it. Even if I said yes, I am, what am I going to do about it? So it becomes about semantics rather than reality, or becomes about a sob story, or him the victim or me the victim. Let's just celebrate the film.

ANDERSON: Becky Anderson, CNN, London.



SWEENEY: This may be your very last day on Earth. If doomsday sayers are be believed, the world is coming to an end on Friday. If you're taking the prediction seriously or just want to be on the safe side, there's only one safe place apparently when Armageddon strikes. Jim Bittermann investigates.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The only fact all who visit the peak of Bugarach (inaudible) is that it's one strange mountain, a geological oddity with its top layers of rock actually older than the ones that lie beneath. Apart from that, everyone has a different opinion, especially when it comes to the aliens, the Mayan calendar, and what will happen around here when it ends.

Some say that for years, others say tens of thousands of years, there have been aliens living in the mountain. And they are no fools. When the end of the Earth comes, it's believed, that they will want to get off this planet. And being neighborly types, it's hoped that they will take some of the people living around here with them.

It's something true believers would not want to miss. Certainly Donovan Garcia from San Diego thought it worth his while to come here. He even bought a few rocks from the mountain so the aliens can easily identify him as worth saving.

So it's like an ID card.

DONOVAN GARCIA, SAN DIEGO: Yeah, like an ID card, yeah. Yeah, like a little Martian ID card.

BITTERMANN: So you're going to be one of the lucky ones?

GARCIA: Oh, we're going to find out. Well, me -- and I've got an extra one that I'll sell for cheap.

BITTERMANN: The headache for the local officials is that they don't have any idea how many other people, believers or just curious, will try to make their way to this tiny village lost in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Already, the local guest houses are totally booked up. People are selling or giving away camp sites. And at least 100 journalists are accredited to cover the end of the earth from here.

It gives regional security officials nightmares.

ERIC FREYSSELINARD, PREFECT: The mountain, the top of the mountain with risky rocks and snow can be dangerous in winter. So we will block and forbid the access to the very top of the mountain.

BITTERMANN: Quite naturally, some in this village of not even 200 people are hoping to take advantage of the situation. The only local restaurant is setting up a tent to handle to expected overflow of doomsday tourists. But the planets destruction could curtail the owners ability to spend her profits.

NATHALIE PRIOR, RESTAURATEUR (through translator): We'll work until the evening of the 21st. And there will be our friends, family and companions and we'll organize a party.

BITTERMANN: Perhaps, but more seriously, (inaudible) probably the center of Bugarach alien studies, a small shop that caters to the hiking crowd, Patrice Etien and wife Corinne Le Blanc are happy to show visitors mysterious pictures of strange objects in the skies over the mountain.

CORINNE LE BLANC: Lots of people think I'm crazy, you know, it doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter.

BITTERMANN: While the couple doesn't necessarily buy into the end of the world scenarios, they are hoping visitors will buy their end of the world wine, complete with pictures of aliens and a note that the wine will help a purchaser better communicate with extraterrestrials.

Still, with a fourteen-and-a-half percent alcohol content, the end of the world might come early for the wine drinker.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Bugarach, France.


SWEENEY: And in tonight's parting shots, we hit the streets to find out what people in London would do with their last day on Earth.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess I would get all my friends together and I would go somewhere awesome cool, probably somewhere warm, and have a big party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suppose I'd spend a couple of hours cooking and then I sit down and watch a film with my wife and having spend some time with my son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be in Spain right now on the beach, not here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just on a nice beautiful island enjoying the sitting, sipping cocktails, that would be my ideal last day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In front of the TV and that would be -- I don't know, just wait for the Armageddon to smash us.


SWEENEY: Well, they do say the Mayans say it's the end of a cycle, not necessarily literally the end of the world. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, and that was Connect the World. Thank you for watching.