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Syrian Opposition Leader Will Only Meet In Arab Country; Egyptian Prosecutors Looking Into Possible Overthrow Attempt; Australia Crushes Sri Lanka In Boxing Day Test Match; Central African Republic's Civilians In Health Crisis; U.S. Congressional Leaders Meet For Fiscal Cliff Talks

Aired December 28, 2012 - 08:00:00   ET


JIM CLANCY, HOST: I'm Jim Clancy at CNN Center sitting in once again for the one and only Kristie Lu Stout. Welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet.

We begin with the crisis in Syria 20 months into this conflict. Russia now inviting the opposition to attend diplomatic talks. Could that help end the war?

Also ahead a fiscal cliff hangar: can the U.S. president reach a breakthrough in Washington?

And signed into law, the Kremlin bans Americans from adopting Russian children.

A story that is still taking shape this hour, Russia has invited a Syrian opposition leader to attend talks either in Moscow or on some neutral ground. It's also urging the Syrian government to follow its lead and reach out to the government's rivals. The move appears to be a significant shift for Moscow which historically has backed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad. His participation in future government has been one of the major sticking points in previous international talks both for the opposition and for many foreign powers.

Now the man spearheading international efforts to end the crisis is going to Moscow Saturday. UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has held talks with both the government and the opposition in Damascus this week. Nick Paton-Walsh joins us live from Beirut in neighboring Lebanon with the latest.

Nick, how key is Russia in all of this? A concerted effort, yes, but is it too little too late?

NICK PATON-WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, don't be under an illusion here, Jim, this is not a Cold War power at play here, this is simply Russia acting as erstwhile, you might say, key ally to Damascus.

Let me give you some breaking news, we have heard from Mouaz al- Khatib, the political head of the Syrian opposition who said that he would not attend talks in Moscow, but would attend talks in an Arab state with a clear agenda. He also said he was clear he wanted to hear some kind of apology from Mr. Lavrov, namely Russia, for what he referred to as disregard for the loss of Syrian lives in the past.

So these talks are still a possibility, but there's an awful lot of disparity between different positions. The Russians clear this is about a transitional government linked to a document signed back in June in Geneva, trying to pave a way out of this 20 month long war, whereas the Egyptian government standing alongside Mr. Lavrov in Moscow said they thought it had the basically lead to Mr. Assad's ouster. Let's hear what they had to say.


SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We express our readiness to the meeting with the Syrian coalition president Mouaz al-Khatib. We are ready for that. And as we understand, they don't reject it either.

MOHAMED KAMEL AMR, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Our position is obvious, it is very clear, we believe that the current Syrian leadership will find it very difficult to find its place in the future power structure.


PATON-WALSH: What's key here is that for so long Russia has been Damascus's staunch military ally. Now they are openly advocating talks with the opposition, trying to push the Syrian government into that. After weeks of making, frankly, negative noises about the prospect of the Assad regime, what's key here is exactly how much can Mr. Khatib, the opposition leader, go along with this plan?

To rebels, Russia is in many ways the devil, the source of military firepower for the people they're fighting, the bombs dropping on their head daily. It's going to be hard for Mr. Khatib to enter into this too wholeheartedly, but he has to be seen to be willing to have some sort of negotiation if he wants to be the statesman that can drag Syria's opposition through this, Jim.

CLANCY: Nick, any time we've got diplomacy at work, it's always against the back drop of the conflict itself. The rebels have made gains on the ground. We've seen that. But who really has the momentum here? The government still has a lot of firepower.

PATON-WALSH: That's true. I think there's no doubt in the past months momentum is decisively with the rebels. We're talking about a completely different field here. We're talking about the same diplomatic plan, this Geneva document for a transitional government, but things have massively changed since then. The north of the country, much of it not really under the control of the government. The capital itself, its suburbs, besieged by the rebels.

Yes, the Assad regime has a lot of firepower, but definitely the momentum against them here. Moscow, their staunch ally as I said, making it clear they perhaps think their days are numbered.

And all of this, really, is going to be playing upon the psyche of those close to President Bashar-Assad. They've had 20 months now of feeling perhaps increasingly compressed into their strongholds in Damascus. And now the tectonic plates under them diplomatically are shifting.

Whatever comes of this diplomatic process, which many doubt severely can bring a peaceful negotiated end to this settlement, it will certainly shake those around Bashar al-Assad and perhaps maybe put the final nail in the coffin on those who seek to defect or those who seek to change side at this late stage and perhaps bring that final unsettling which could cause the fall of Bashar al-Assad -- Jim.

CLANCY: Nick Paton-Walsh with us live there from Beirut with the update that the rebels are saying perhaps not in Moscow, but perhaps somewhere they will sit down with the Russians. Important developments, Nick, as always thank you.

Well, the talking may eventually stop the fighting, but on the front lines of this war there's no respite in sight. Let's take a couple of minutes. Let's remember how we got to this point. And consider the enormous challenges facing diplomats hoping to end the conflict.


CLANCY: The civil war in Syria has been grinding on for 21 months, more than 40,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the anti- Assad uprising began. That was in March of 2011, the tally according to opposition activists.

More than a half million refugees have spilled in nearby countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. The UN believes that number could double to more than a million in the coming year.

Rebels control large parts of the north and the east. The rebels also control sections of major cities. This map of Damascus was, rebels say, taken from Syrian elite troops. It shows just how much of the city loyalists think they've lost.

MAJ. GEN. ABDUL AZIZ JASSIM AL-SHALLAL, FRM. CHIEF OF MILITARY POLICE (through translator): I announce my defection from the regime and I'm joining the people's revolution because the Syrian military has strayed from its core mission in protecting the homeland to become nothing but an armed gang that kill and destroy the cities and the villages.

CLANCY: The regime has suffered defections, too, including just this week the chief of the military police. But Mr. Assad's grip on the military remains strong.

Syria's opposition factions created a new umbrella organization in November. And it's been recognized by the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, and several Gulf Arab nations. In recent days international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been seeking momentum for talks between the government and the opposition. But in Syria today nothing is more difficult than diplomacy.


CLANCY: Egyptian state media report an investigation has been launched into claims that several individuals conspired to overthrow the new government of President Mohamed Morsi. EG News says the general prosecutor is pursuing a probe into allegations made against figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei and Amir Moussa of the opposition National Salvation Front.

Former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik told CNN Friday he rejects any and all accusations of treason. He issued a warning to the Morsi government to tread carefully in the lead-up to potentially divisive elections.

You're watching News Stream. And coming up right here on the edge, President Barack Obama is going to be holding last minute fiscal cliff talks at the White House.

Also, the dark in Spain. We're going to talk with those reeling from the economic crisis there.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin signs a new law changing the fates of many Russian orphans.


CLANCY: Americans, and indeed investors all around the world are going to be watching developments at the White House a little bit later today. President Barack Obama had to cut short a family vacation. He was in Hawaii. He called on congressional leaders for emergency talks.

Now they're trying to stop the U.S. from going over the so-called fiscal cliff. If the White House has a plan, it is certainly being quiet about the details. Only a handful will actually attend that closed door meeting in the Oval Office.

Now these are the key players: the president of course and his deputy Joe Biden, they'll be there; fellow Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are also going to be in attendance, two important figures of course, because it involves the congress. Speaker John Boehner, the Republican along with Mitch McConnell are going to be there representing their party and a hardline view against any rise in taxes, even for those in the upper 1 percent.

Now for the latest from Washington, let's bring in our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar. Brianna, realistically these talks -- what is the reaction? Do people have much confidence in this?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Increasingly, I will tell you, Jim, Americans are having less confidence that we come to an agreement on the fiscal cliff. And I have to say maybe there's something to that, because I've been talking to sources this morning and there's increasing pessimism as there has been for days about the fact that we may very well go over the fiscal cliff.

Technically speaking, there is enough time to deal with this and come to a deal, but it's unclear -- it really seems that the political will isn't there to get this done before the New Year when the cliff sets in.

Now I will tell you I think the expectation is that if we do go over the cliff it is resolved in the days -- the first days there of the new year. We'll see the markets open on January 2. If there isn't a framework, if there isn't a deal in the works very much pinned down if not voted on you would expect markets to react very poorly, consumer confidence, public opinion all taking a hit, and so that is expected to put a lot of pressure on Congress to act if we do over the cliff.

But at this point today we're awaiting this meeting several hours ahead still at the White House between these top congressional leaders and the president and the vice president. What's going to come of this meeting? We don't know. Republicans would like to hear some specifics from President Obama. They want to hear some plans for him, because we don't know what exactly the senate, which is expected to vote next, or move next, is going to be voting on at all. Details there still have not been worked out, Jim.

CLANCY: Well, you know, all of this seems to come down almost to a word game, Brianna, where many Republicans are saying let it go over the cliff and then what we'll vote on is a tax reduction for many of the Americans instead of a tax hike for the upper 1 percent. We just leave them out of the deal. And we don't have to cast a ballot for higher taxes.

KEILAR: That's right, because either way taxes are going up. And they will go up for all Americans come the New Year. But here's the cushion that it would allow Republicans so that ultimately when they do vote it's just to reinstate some tax cuts and it's not to vote to increase taxes on anyone even though there will be some increases because they're not acting.

It gives them a bit of a buffer in a practical sense that even though we go over the cliff on the first, a lot of -- most Americans are not going to see that affect in their paycheck until late January or early February. But it's also something, Jim, that you don't really want to mess around with, because we're not just talking about tax cuts, we're talking about unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans that are set to expire at the end of the year. And without action they will sort of -- they will not have those benefits.

So there are some very real repercussions and as well if we go over the cliff in a longer we're off the cliff and there is no resolution it could affect things like tax filing -- filing your taxes, there could be a delay in that. And a lot of Americans file early before the April tax day. And they rely on those tax returns that they get in January, February, March, April.

CLANCY: All right. What a mess it is. And it's another one of those times where it went with the job, another weekend ruin for White House correspondents. This is going to be high drama until we get through this. Thank you.

All right, Americans and their economy certainly face the risk of another recession. But millions in Europe, well they've already got one. Spain in particular is hard hit and the young people in Spain. Throughout the year, CNN's Al Goodman has heard from people who are barely, barely getting by. Now as 2012 draws to a close, we asked him to revisit some of those who are suffering the most.


AL GOODMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jose Antonio Melgar was laid off nearly five years ago around the time Spain's construction boom went bust. His unemployment benefits have run out. This corner of Madrid provides just about his only income.

JOSE ANTONIO MELGAR, UNEMPLOYED CONSTRUCTION WORKER (through translator): Sometimes I have to leave here, because I'm depressed. My spirits are so low.

GOODMAN: In December, he finally got a job that lasted four days, guarding a factory being dismantled.

MELGAR (through translator): They pay me well with lodging and meals. They gave me 100 euros a day.

GOODMAN: Now he's decorated his jobless sign with the holiday spirit despite a drop in his earnings at this corner.

MELGAR (through translator): Many of my clients, as I call them, have ended up like me without a job.

GOODMAN: Simone is a Brazilian immigrant who works part-time in homes cleaning or caring for the elderly. She's lived six years in Madrid without a residency card. And doesn't want her face shown.

But she's been outspoken about thousands of illegal immigrants largely excluded from Spain's public health care system, a threat to her own recovery from breast cancer.

SIMONE, BRAZILIAN IMMIGRANT (through translator): I talk with my husband and children who say, "momma, be calm there will be a solution." Well, I can only hope for one.

GOODMAN: Simone had surgery before her public health card expired last May. Since then, she's hunted for cracks in the system to get seen by doctors. In November, she got a break, a Spanish family sponsored her residency application.

SIMONE (through translator): My hope now is my working papers. Without them, the hospital won't see me.

GOODMAN: She might get residency early next year. And after that, a new health card.

Many others are not so optimistic. We met Valentine Garcia last June at a Red Cross distribution center in a Madrid suburb. He lost his job as a waiter nearly three years ago.

VALENTINE GARCIA, UNEMPLOYED WAITER (through translator): I am willing to work at any hour. I have experience in working any shift. I am not asking much.

GOODMAN: We talked to him again in October.

GARCIA (through translator): I don't know. I think it's gotten worse. You go around and see more stores, restaurants and businesses closed.

GOODMAN: And in December, he was still without a job.

Just three people caught up in the vast crisis in Spain where the jobless rate tops 25 percent.

Spaniards and immigrants alike may take comfort they made it through 2012, but 2013, experts say, could be even worse.

Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


CLANCY: Coming up right here on News Stream, Russian orphans have been cut off from homes in the United States with a stroke of a pen. We'll have more on the political fight that has children and hopeful parents caught right in the middle.


CLANCY: Hundreds of families in the United States are waking up to some heartbreaking news out of Russia today. They will no longer be able to adopt children from the country because of a new law.

A short time ago the Kremlin confirmed President Vladimir Putin put pen to paper signing the hugely controversial legislation which becomes official from New Year's Day. The measure is viewed by many as retaliation for an American law that punishes Russians who are accused of human rights abuses.

Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance spent many years in Moscow covering Russian politics and the orphan story for that matter. He's following developments now from CNN London.

Matthew, what is the real reason for this new law?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it really is as you just mentioned political retribution. In fact, the Kremlin have made no bones about this. They were deeply stunned by this act that was signed into law by President Obama earlier this year. The U.S. Magnitsky Act it's called, which aims to punish Russian officials who were associated with the death in custody in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawer, who uncovered an enormous tax fraud in Russia. He reported it to the authorities there and was arrested himself and he died in custody as I say in 2009.

It caused a lot of strain in relations between Russia and the United States at the time. The U.S. passed this law sanctioning Russian officials associated with it, preventing them from traveling to the United States, freezing their assets in the United States as well.

And for months now, really Jim, the Russians in the Kremlin and other circles have been looking for an appropriate response. They came up with this law as a result of that. There are lots of U.S. families that look to Russia as a way of adopting children. Hundreds of them at any given time are in Russia undergoing the very, you know, difficult, legal processes to adopt a Russian child. All that ends now. And this is, I think, entirely as an act of retaliation for the U.S. Magnitsky Act.

CLANCY: You know, Matthew, you have covered this story, seen all sides here, the parents, the adoptees, the orphans, who really loses here, everyone?

CHANCE: Yeah, I think so. I think that's the nature of a situation where children become political pawns in this way. The Kremlin has already issued a figure on this saying that there are 52 children at the moment who are in the process of adopting -- being adopted by U.S. parents in Russia. Those 52 children will now not be able to go to those parents in the United States. And that's pretty bad, because remember it's a very complex emotional process, adopting a child in Russia, and many of these children will have over the months of this process been slowly getting to know, getting accustomed to the parents from the United States who wanted to adopt them. That all now comes to an end. And what Russia hopes, or what it says it hopes, is that these children will now be picked up by Russian families and adopted in their home country.

CLANCY: All right. Matthew Chance with some perspective on a touching story that we continue to follow today. Thank you.

Well, the U.S. continues to deal with severe weather. Many people just digging out from the last storm. Tom Sater is at the World Weather Center. And Tom, bad news on the way?

TOM SATER, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Not a storm that -- with the magnitude that we had with the last one, but any additional snowfall is just going to be weight on power lines, on tree limbs, that could down. Thousands without power, many still digging out, but the storm system that brought us the unprecedented tornado outbreak with the fatalities in the south, the record snowfall from parts of Arkansas all the way to New England is now lifted into the eastern prairies of Canada. But it really dropped a lot of snow, too, for parts of eastern Canada.

In fact, this is what we had. In fact, we'll go back even into Thursday. And you can see the totals I mean approaching 40 centimeters. It was coming down the north, too. In fact, in Montreal, they closed the international airport for a brief time yesterday. In Toronto, they were having snowfall rates at 3 centimeters an hour.

Well, now we're watching cloud cover filter into the D.C. area. I want to point out New York. In fact, let's go there with a live picture. In fact, let's take a look at, you know, Central Park.

Notice you can see the grass. It will be covered by a few centimeters anyway. Now, again, this is going to be more of a nuisance snow for them. Expecting well over a million people in Times Square for the dropping of the ball. They've put up with much more snowfall in the past on New Years Eve, so I think this is just going to add to the chill more than anything.

But travel disruptions are going to be found. Here comes the next one. Once one moves out, the next one moves in. This one right now already where we had record snowfall for Christmas in Little Rock, you know, the most snow in 86 years. Well, it's freezing rain on top of the heavy snow. Parts of Arkansas, Missouri, into Kentucky and southern Illinois. And the snowfall will be found in D.C.

So a little bit further to the south again enough maybe to cause some flight disruptions, delays, into Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. So we're looking at this general area, but not near as strong as the last system, just going to cause more problems.

And it moves in, it moves out quickly. That's good news. 48 hours later we're looking at clearing and hopefully temperatures will, you know, rebound a little bit to get some melting going on. So interstate travel will be -- will be, you know, well in the next couple of days.

Now across Asia, let's take a look. We've got not only one system, but two. Both of these going to drop some rainfall first in parts of the Korean peninsula, Japan too. Two waves of snowfall.

But I want to get into the Philippines first, because this is what we had as far as Wukong dropping again staggering amounts of rainfall mainly in the central and western (inaudible), staying away from Mendenau. The system now is well off towards the east, making its ways, maybe brushing the coast a little bit with rainfall in Vietnam. The Philippines drying out. But the video shows us how bad it was.

We have now a death toll that has risen to 11. Two are still missing. 13,000 people are in 33 evacuation centers. Officials there say, well, it was a minimal damage. It's hard to tell that to, of course, 13,000 that are, you know, getting their food and their shelter from somewhere else. But now we're going to watch this, Jim, as it moves into parts of Malaysia in the days ahead where 1,000 there have been affected by recent rainfall in the last week as well.

CLANCY: All right. From the U.S. to right around the world, Tom, thank you for getting us updated on the weather scene.

Well, coming up, a country in turmoil. Rebels advancing, civilians displaced, or fleeing. The unrest continues in the Central African Republic where the president is now appealing for international help. We'll have the latest.


CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy at CNN Center. You're watching News Stream. And these are our world headlines this hour.

Russia has invited Syria's opposition leaders for talks. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urging the Syrian government to take similar diplomatic steps to try to end the civil war. Moscow has traditionally backed President Bashar al-Assad, but his future role has been a sticking point in peace proposals put forward by the international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are going to be facing each other at the White House a little bit later today. They're holding an emergency meeting over the so-called fiscal cliff. Republicans and Democrats have just four days to come up with a deal before billions of dollars in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts kick in.

The U.S. general who led coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf War has passed away. Norman Schwarzkopf directed the air assault and ground war that drove Saddam Hussein's troops out of Kuwait. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Schwarzkopf will be remembered as a brilliant strategist and an inspiring leader. President Obama says the nation has lost an American original. Schwarzkopf was 78 years of age.

The victim of that gang rape in New Delhi is said to be fighting for her life at a Singapore hospital. The facility's chief executive officer says the 23 year old woman suffered a significant brain injury. And in his words is struggling against the odds. She was beaten and raped on a city bus on December 16.

Let's turn to a country we don't often cover, that is the Central African Republic. It is right now embroiled in a major revolt. The U.S. embassy in the capital city of Bangui has suspended operations due to what it says is the deteriorating security situation in the region.

Now Thursday, this man, President Francois Bozize called upon the U.S. and France to send in the troops, send help to defend his government. But France has replied it's not going to intervene in the internal affairs of another country.

A coalition of rebel forces has launched attacks on several cities. They have been successful rolling over retreating government troops. While there have been no new attacks reported since Wednesday, many still fear the rebels' next target will almost certainly be the capital of Bangui.

Now the Central African Republic gained independence from France back in 1960. It's experienced political strife throughout the decades since. It endured several coups and regional conflicts between powerful rebel groups. The region has considerable agricultural and mineral resources, but decades of instability and corruption, especially, have undermined its economy. Its citizens are some of the poorest in the world. The per capita earnings there just about $800 a year.

Now many of these civilians are being severely impacted by the current unrest in the country. They are feeling it all the way to the capital. Sylvain Groulx is the head of the mission at Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders, in the Central African Republic. He joins us now live from Bangui via Skype.

Great to have you with us. Firsthand look, how is it for the population in the capital and beyond?

SYLVAIN GROULX, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Well, for the moment the population here in the capital, they're really under very much a lot of pressure. They are seeing that they -- this rebel advance has been moving very steadily over the past three weeks and so they're afraid. There's a bit of tension in the city.

CLANCY: MSF has never shirked away from these kinds of conflict zones. You have people -- because a lot of the people in some of these towns that we're talking about being overrun by the rebels have now fled to the bush. You have doctors, nurses, medical help out there in field hospitals across the country, correct?

GROULX: That's right. Wherever Medecins San Frontieres has been working, we've been able to maintain the health posts and the hospitals for the population with our doctors and our nurses. The problem comes in areas where we're not working right now. The first thing that happens is when there is conflict in those zones, when they hear the first gunshot, the administration pleas either preemptively or at the first sound, and essentially what happens is if you don't have nurses or doctors within those hospitals.

And the same thing for the population. The population flees out in the surrounding areas, mostly close to their crops and fields. And where they don't have any shelter, they're -- they're under the sun all day. At night, it's very, very cold. They don't have proper sipping, drinking water. They have a limited amount of food that they've been able to flee with. And their health deteriorates quite rapidly. And if you don't have doctors and nurses to take care of them it's quite a major health problem, especially when in the end you consider that this country under the most peaceful times has some of the worst health indicators in the world.

CLANCY: You know, the U.S. embassy pulling out some of the unnecessary staff, dependents things like that, I mean, MSF has to be thinking, you know, about the welfare of its own people. Just how unstable is this? I mean, I'm sure you're watching it hour by hour.

GROULX: Well, we are, obviously, but we are also in contact with all the belligerents. And they assure us of our security at this point in time. And as long as they're able to ensure the security of our personnel, we will continue to work to support the population whether it's on the government side or on the rebel side.

CLANCY: You know, the people in the Central African Republic have endured one regime after another that has been embroiled in all kinds of different problems. People vying for power. MSF doesn't get involved in the politics at all. But aren't the people there just exhausted from this process and from what has been now months of turmoil in their country?

GROULX: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the population has been going through these over the last 20 years. It has been very, very difficult for them. And their coping mechanism is basically to flee at the first instance of violence, even if there are rumors, or as I said the first sound of fighting.

And it is extremely difficult for this population. This is a very, very, very poor country, neglected, with very limited infrastructure. And the population is always the one that suffers the most under these kind of circumstances.

CLANCY: What do you see about the presence of the international community there? There is aid, refugee aid, internally displaced people aid that goes in there. But, as we noted at the outset here, Central African Republic in the middle -- right below Sudan, this is a country that has been neglected for so long.

Sylvain, what do you see -- you know, for this population in terms of international aid, is there a presence? We seem to have lost our connection with Sylvain Groulx coming from Bangui, but he laid out perspective there of people even on the news in order to protect their families they flee from their towns, villages, or cities into the bush. That poses all kinds of other problems. Already, their health is in very poor state in this country. There is no medical care system, if you will, for these people. 5 million civilians living in the Central African Republic. Today they are in a rather dire situation. And it's with the help of people like Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders, that many of them are going to have some hope.

And MSF, as we just heard there from Sylvain Groulx, hopes to remain there. Trying to talk to all sides to negotiate their presence as a neutral party just trying to provide medical aid as the situation is still incredibly unstable, uncertain.

Well, still ahead right here on News Stream, from the auto industry to the opera stage, two leading women who have reached the peaks of their careers, but they still have dreams for the future. Find out what those dreams are next.


CLANCY: It's coming, resolution time. The New Year is when many of us sit down, we try to map out a plan for the coming year. And our Leading Women, General Motors executive Grace Lieblein and opera star Sumi Jo are also looking forward to the next big challenge. Felicia Taylor profiles Lieblein, while Kristie Lu Stout takes us back stage with Sumi Jo.


FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN CORREPSONDENT: Before her recent promotion to vice president of GM's global purchasing and supply chain, Grace Lieblein was president and managing director of GM Brazil, a position that was far from routine.

GRACE LIEBLEIN, VP, GM GLOBAL PURCHASING & SUPPLY CHAIN: You know, you can be in a plant one day and a dealership another day and meeting with the government in Brasilia the next day. And it's never boring, that's for sure.

TAYLOR: Add to that holding meetings, overseeing new launches, and being the overall face of GM in the country. And, the auto executive decided to learn Portuguese.

Today, she's practicing a speech that she has to make.

LIEBLEIN: I'm in Brazil and Portuguese is the language here. I mean, if you're going to be in that country you need to learn the language.

TAYLOR: This clear focus is in part what's enabled Lieblein to succeed. The daughter of a Cuban father and Nicaraguan mother also credits the mentors that she's had along the way.

Have you been mentored by more men or women along the way?

LIEBLEIN: More men, only because there have not been that many women who were senior to me. One example, though was when I got promoted to executive right after our daughter was born. There was another woman -- one other woman who was executive in engineering at the time. You know, she talked to me about what she does for day care and it was wonderful. I said, you know, I need to do this for other women, because it really was impactful for me.

TAYLOR: Today, the woman who started her career in an auto plant has made it to the top of her industry, preparing to begin a new challenge at GM world headquarters in Detroit.

Does it ever bother you that somebody would say, wow, she has it all, I mean, as a woman?

LIEBLEIN: Not really. I mean, the thing that would -- I'll say offend me -- is that if somebody thought that I didn't earn it. I feel that I've earned where I'm at.

I'm very fortunate to have a wonderful husband. And I'm really -- I mean, I love my life. I'm really happy with my life both professionally and personally.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout. After more than two decades on the world stage, famed Korean opera singer Sumi Jo has figured out exactly what her audience wants from the elaborate gowns she wears to the songs she sings.

SUMI JO, OPERA SINGER: I think in Japan lots of people still want to hear the classical music. But in Korea, they want also see the staging and the, you know, the customs and the way the artist presents. When I'm in London or in New York I concentrate only for my voice.

LU STOUT: Does all of this make her a quintessential opera diva?

JO: You know, even as diva, you have to be diva on the stage and that's (inaudible) so crucial. Every day life obviously I don't go to the super market like this.

LU STOUT: The diva has come to her native Seoul, Korea for a concert performance. And she does not disappoint.

Over the years, Jo has gained recognition for her superb high notes and her performances in Italian operas Rigoletto and Lucia di Lammermoor. Jo's career highlights also include appearances on stage at the host of musical luminaries Andrea Bocelli and legendary tenor Placido Domingo to name a few.

JO: A lot of sharing my stage with different people.

LU STOUT: She also has high hopes for her country.

JO: I think I would be more happy when I see the Korea with the nicest (inaudible). We are still divided. (inaudible) they have to be one -- one Korea. And the one beautiful day I want to sing for united Korea. That's going to be the most beautiful moment of my life.



CLANCY: Well, as Kristie Lu told us, it was -- Kristie Lu Stout told us, it's the high notes.

Well, still ahead, the Eurovision song contest has some high notes, some big numbers and big costumes, but it comes at a big cost. We're going to tell you why that could be bad news for the singing competition this year.


CLANCY: Welcome back. You are with News Stream. And I want to share some news that's just coming into us here at CNN. Nelson Mandela's granddaughter has told CNN exclusively that the former South African leader is right now very alert, sitting up after he had to spend Christmas in the hospital. Mandela is now back at home, at least his Johannesburg home. He's also said to be aware of all the rumors about his health, but his granddaughter says he still wakes up every morning and reads the newspaper.

Australia's cricket squad made quite a statement in their Boxing Day test match. Here's Amanda Davies with more details -- Amanda.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, yeah, great reading the newspaper for Australia's cricketers. Not so for Sri Lanka, Jim. A really bad game of cricket was held Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene described his side's performance in the second test against Australia. They lost in Melbourne by an innings and 201 runs to give Australia the series win with a match to spare.

The hosts resumed a three on four 40 for eight and reached a total of 460 all out. So a first innings lead of 304 for them. Sri Lanka returned to the crease missing their first inning top scorer (inaudible). He had broken his hand. And there wasn't exactly much of a battle. They were bowled out for just 103.

So for what it's worth, the third and final test in Sydney on January 3.

Some sailing news for you and Wild Oats 11 took victory in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race in record time. The yacht crossed the line in the prestigious race 17 minutes faster than the previous best time it had set back in 2005.

Wild Oats 11 was the favorite going into the 628 nautical mile race was looking to reclaim the trophy that was won by Ragamuffin Loyal last year. The record looked like it was slipping out of its grasp as conditions lightened going up the Dowent (ph) River. But Wild Oats employed a bigger main sail to keep the momentum going and crossed the finish line at Hobarts Constitution Dock in a time of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 second.

As the yacht (inaudible) victory in the Blue Water Classic has one short of the record seven wins.

The Oklahoma City Thunder produced a thrilling late win against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, winning their first game in three 111-105. Before the game, Thunder forward Kevin Durant picked up the trophy for November's western conference player of the month. And he's put in a performance worthy of that trophy, leading all scorers with 40 points here with the emphatic slam in the third quarter.

But the Mavericks lead for most of the game. Dirk Nowitzki with the three-pointer to give the Mavs a 70-61 lead. 11 points was their biggest margin. It was an advantage of eight, though, heading into the final quarter after a Dominic Jones hit this three-pointer at the buzzer.

But with two minutes left to play, Durant with the ball again. And a nice jump hook to give the Thunder the lead by one. But with just 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation the Mavericks hits this three-pointer off one foot barely behind the line there and the Mavs and the Thunder tied going into overtime.

Durant was shut out pretty much in overtime. It was a teammate, point guard, Russell Westbrook, who took over. Scoring eight points in the final five minutes. And finishing with 16 on the night as the Thunder beat Dallas 111-105.

That's it from me for now, Jim, pretty much a whistle stop tour, but I'll be back with a full round up in about three hours time in World Sport. I hope you can join me then.

CLANCY: OK, Amanda, wouldn't miss it for the world. Thank you.

You know, the Eurovision song contest is absolutely one of the world's best loved music events. But now it looks like Europe's financial crisis is going to be taking a toll on the competition. Isha Suarez has more.


ISHA SUAREZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: Cheesy music, kitsch customs, and national stereotypes for 58 years the Eurovision song contest has united Europeans in a celebration of music and at times laughter.

But as countries stuggle to meet budget targets, frills and frippery are starting to take a back seat. Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, and Bosnia Herzegovina say they're pulling out of the competition in Sweden, because they can't afford to win. The Czech Republic and Greece are also reported to want out.

PADDY O'CONNELL, FORMER EUROVISION COMMENTATOR: It costs to perform and it costs to stage it. And what do you get back? Bluntly, you get a bunch of hoopla and a few pom poms. It can be very uplifting when the times are good. Greece won it in 2005, but is it appropriate for the Greeks to pump billions, or millions in to send an act this year? I think austerity is one reason. But I think also the tone is another. Is it right to be celebrating in spandex when your people are out on the streets?

SUAREZ: Looking at some of the country's economic score cards, it's hardly surprising. Greece is aware that taking part could be an issue, especially as its economy is expected to drop beyond nil point to minus 4.5 percent next year. Portugal meanwhile is expected to shrink 1.8 percent. And Poland and Slovakia have decided to spend their money on other projects, that's despite projecting positive growth for 2013.

It reportedly costs around $160,000 to take part. And if you win, some country's spend big to host a lavish event. For some national broadcasters, this is reason enough to pull out.

O'CONNELL: The cost of staging has been mounting in recent years. Russia put on the Beijing of song. It was like the Chinese Olympics. Azerbaijan last year pumped half their national output in gas to the stage in competing to show off to Europe look what we're like from the east, a former Soviet Republic.

SUAREZ: There's a lesson to be learned from previous Eurovision winners. In budgets and customs, less is often more.

Lisa Suarez, CNN, London.


CLANCY: All right, well, got this in from Instagram. They released a new list of the most popular locations of 2012. And I don't know about you, but it surprised me. California is home to six of the top 10 sites, including Disneyland park in Anaheim and picturesque Santa Monica Pier. But none of those six from California made the top two. New York's tourist mecca Times Square, that came in third on the list. There was less love, if you will, for the City of Light, the Eiffel Tower in Paris placed only eighth, kind of surprising.

So, all right, where are the top two spots? Get this, they're in Thailand, Bangkok's main international airport is the most popular Instagram location of 2012 with more than 100,000 photos. It's on the left there. And then in second place, that's a high end shopping mall I assume in Bangkok.

You shouldn't be too shocked, really, Bangkok is a social media magnet. One recent survey says it has more Facebook users than any other city in the world. It seems like they like Instagram a lot, too, although I can think of a thousand beautiful places in Thailand. Those two aren't on my list.

Well, that's it for News Stream. World Business Today is straight ahead. Stay with CNN.