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Fighting Reportedly Ended In Algerian Hostage Crisis; Lance Armstrong Confesses To Using Performance Enhancing Drugs

Aired January 17, 2013 - 16:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: We begin in breaking news in Algeria where hostage rescue attempts are reportedly over. We're getting conflicting reports on that. These are new pictures from the scene apparently showing army tanks that took part in the mission.

Algeria's official news agency says a ground assault freed hundreds of hostages including foreign nationals who had been kidnapped by Islamists at a remote gas plant. It didn't report on casualties, but we do know that some hostages were killed.

And let's get the very latest from Nima Elbagir. She's following developments for us from Mali.

Is it over or not, can you tell?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, from the beginning, Max, it's been very hard to get any kind of concrete information about this situation. But as you said, Algeria's official state news agency has said that this hostage situation has come to an end.

The U.S. State Department just before we came to air said that they had no reason to believe that it had. But we have had Mohammed Said, the Algerian communications minister, talking about it as if it had ended. He said that they had managed to kill a very important terrorist figure in the region, but he had some other news which will be very difficult for a lot of people out there watching to hear, which is that they believe that the - - the number of the killed could be in the dozens, Max. And that seemed to be backed up by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Take a listen to what he had to say.


DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: We face a very bad situation at this BP gas compound in Algeria. A number of British citizens have been taken hostage. Already we know of one who has died. The Algerian armed forces have now attacked this compound. It is a very dangerous, very uncertain, a very fluid situation. And I think we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead.


ELBAGIR: What little we do know about this, though, Max that this was a very, very brazen attack in broad daylight on a western convoy that was being guarded by Algerian security forces, multiple cars, a lot of heavy, heavy weaponry. And, you know, that is going to be something that for many of those in the international community, many of those western powers that are already looking at the situation in this region with a lot of worry, that's going to be cause for even greater concern, Max.

FOSTER: And what do we know about casualties, or what the impact was on people?

ELBAGIR: Again, Max, very, very difficult. Very early on we were hearing from the Algerian government that two were confirmed killed. One local reports were saying was a British citizen. We have no sense of how many were killed in terms of the western hostages that were being held. The Algerian press service is saying that 600 hostages were freed. But again, Max, the Algerian communications minister had said very recently that their expectation was that there could be dozens. Two, we have already have confirmed, but it looks like that death toll is set to rise.

It's really important to contextualize this within the broader region. we have the situation in Mali with France getting involved, the rest of the West African states getting involved to support Mali in its fight against its own homegrown Islamists, but what this is showing, really, is the reach of what you could call al Qaeda franchises in the region.

Dan Rivers, our senior international correspondent, has been looking into some of the history of this. Have a watch.


DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The In Amenas gas facility is the largest liquid gas project in Algeria, a huge investment in the desert, suddenly the scene of a desperate standoff. The terrorists ambushed some 20 western workers as they were en route to a local airport. A British and Algerian worker were killed. A hostage crisis at the gas plant then ensued. Algerian forces surrounding the terrorists and their hostages.

An excruciating time for this Irish family waiting to hear about the fate of Steven McFaul (ph), but relief and tears as news the Irishman was free.

DYLAN MCFAUL, SON OF FREED HOSTAGE: I just feel over the moon. I'm just really excited. I just can't for him to get home.

RIVERS: You can see just how isolated and featureless this part of Algeria is. The border is porous and unmarked. Much of southern Algeria is an empty desert. It's the perfect place for this man to hideout. Mokhtar Belmokhtar is a jihadist since he was a teenager with a reputation as a smuggler, a people trafficker and a kidnapper who has eluded capture for years.

JON MARKS, NORTH AFRICA EXPERT, CHATHAM HOUSE: Well, it's interesting. He certainly has a Teflon type personality. And he's been able to slide away. Some people indeed would say that one of the reasons he was able to do so is over the years he's done deals with the authorities involved.

RIVERS: Mokhtar Belmokhtar got his first taste for violence here in Afghanistan, joining the Mujaheddin fighting the Soviets in a jihad, or holy war. But it was here back in Algeria that he perfected his desert terror tactics. The brutal civil war saw him fighting with the infamous GIA and a later splinter group the GSPC.

After the end of the civil war in 1997, elements of the GSPC rebranded themselves as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, and continued with their campaign of hostage taking, a terrifying experience for those who survived.

ROBERT FOWLER, FORMER DIPLOMAT: There was no shelter. There were no buildings. We lay in the sand. It was cold at night and hot in the day. The food was appalling. And every moment, every single moment I thought that it would end like your colleague Daniel Pearl in a tent with a knife at my throat and you'd all be watching it on CNN.

RIVERS: The In Amenas gas field is near the border with Libya in the south of Algeria. Its remote location means getting accurate information about what's happening has been especially difficult. It is acutely embarrassing for the Algerian government which has prided itself on ensuring the lawlessness further south hasn't disrupted work at key energy installations like In Amenas. Now BP, Statoil and other oil companies will be urgently reviewing their security arrangements as violence in Mali seems to be spreading north.

Dan Rivers, CNN, London.


FOSTER: We'll be back with Nima in just a moment. It is a very fast developing story in Algeria.

We're joined now by CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruckshank. And Paul, you have information about jihadist camps, their connection to this.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. Well, U.S. officials are saying that this incursion appears to have taken place from Libya into Algeria. And we've just learned from trusted sources that Libyan authorities for some time have been aware of the presence of three jihadist training camps in the region of Libya across the border from this Algerian gas facility in a place near Sampha (ph) in southern Libya.

And now these camps, we understand, are actually connected to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind of this attack.

And in late 2011, Belmokhtar actually traveled across, according to these sources, into Libya from northern Mali to meet with a commandant of one of these camps.

So it's a plausible scenario at this stage that some of these perpetrators of this attack actually trained in southern Libya. Obviously it's very early stages in the investigation. And there are other scenarios, also, that are possible.

And what do we know about Belmokhtar?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Belmokhtar is a veteran jihadist, someone who force in Afghanistan in the early 90s who became involved with the Algerian jihadist groups finding Algerian civil war, somebody who met bin Laden in the mid-1990s in Sudan. So someone with a lot of experience in Jihadist (inaudible). He's been known as Mr. (inaudible) because he's been someone who has launched a lot of kidnappings, a lot of smuggling, been somebody very motivated by financial gain.

But in December, he announced that he was forming a new brigade, We Sign With Blood, and that if the west launched an attack in Mali against jihadists there that he would retaliate, the he would attack western interests in the region, Max.

FOSTER: So his credibility in his constituency has grown.

CRUICKSHANK: His credibility has grown. And it will grow further in jihadis circles with this attack that he's claiming responsibility for, you know, this is one of the most serious terrorist attacks involving hostages since the 2008 Mumbai bombings.

FOSTER: it is early days. Are there other considerations? Where else are you looking? If it's not him and his groups?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, right across the region stretching from North Africa into the Sahale. There's real concern that jihadist groups are rising in strength, that they've been able to take advantage of political turmoil in the region, for example, in Libya, of new weapons supplies that sort of came into play after the fall of the Gadhafi regime.

But if you look across the region, these groups are growing in strength. They're able to recruit new people into their ranks, able to establish safe havens. So they're going to be real, real challenges moving forward. The French, now, are trying to clear some of these militants out of Mali. That's going to be a real hard challenge. In Libya, the Libyan government has also got a huge challenge on its hands, because these Libyan jihadist groups have a lot of weapons. They're in basic control of many parts of the country. So many challenges lie ahead, Max.

FOSTER: Is there any connection here with al Qaeda, a term, a group that more people around the world are associated with.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Mokhtar says that he looks up to Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda. Belmokhtar himself for many years was closely linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, the North African affiliate to al Qaeda. He actually recently left the group to launch the sort of new Saharan affiliate of al Qaeda.

So from his perspective, he's part of this wider al Qaeda fold, this wider struggle to impose their agenda, Max.

FOSTER: Paul, thank you very much indeed.

Well, still to come on Connect the World, another setback for the world's most sophisticated jetliner. Now it's a global nightmare for Boeing's Dreamliner. We'll explain

Plus, Lance Armstrong is stripped of another medal as the world awaits to hear what the disgraced icon told Oprah Winfrey.

And in just 20 minutes, a special half hour of Connect the World. On the EuroZone crisis, Becky is in Athens.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I am. It's a windy night in Athens here. We'll be taking a look at what's in store for the EuroZone economy in 2013. How people here in Greece are coping and how Europe's paymaster Germany is faring.

All that, plus how do you like your snails? That's right, love them or hate them, how these slimy little suckers are helping one business overcome the challenges of the economic crisis. All that and much more when Connect the World continues.


FOSTER: You're watching Connect the World live from London. Welcome back. I'm Max Foster.

Now Boeing's reputation could be up in the air whilst all 50 of its Dreamliner planes remain on the ground. U.S. regulators have taken them out of action across the world after a series of safety scares. An investigation is underway into problems with the advanced aircraft's battery, a problem that forced an emergency landing in Japan on Wednesday.

Airlines there have the bulk of 787s in service, but the grounding order also covers commercial air carriers in India, Africa, North and South America as well as Europe and the Middle East.

Now the Dreamliner is packed with sophisticated technology. And as Jim Boulden reports, these high tech milestones come with their own challenges.


JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are the symbols of modern engineering. The Airbus A380 and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner are milestones in aviation history not design evolution, but design revolutions. Making them the most fuel efficient airliners in the sky.

This, of course, came at a price, both over budget, both three years over due. And in just the same way, these rival air frame manufacturers have mirrored each other. Airbus and Boeing are now playing leapfrog with delays and setbacks since entry into service.

First, there were problems with the Airbus A380. A midair engine explosion last year, the plane landed safely. And then cracks in the wing components.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was not a walk in the park, but we did it. We have a (inaudible) solutions. We have tested the solutions in flight. And we can say that this A380 (inaudible) issue is now behind us.

BOULDEN: And now it's Boeing which is firmly under the spotlight with its flagship Dreamliner aircraft.

KEITH HAYWARD, HEAD OF RESEARCH, ROYAL AERONAUTICAL SOCIETY: There is a chance, a relatively remote chance that there's something more systematically flawed with the Boeing electrical system. Now that in -- that would be a much more complex and much more expensive issue to resolve and certainly would lead to series delays in the program.

BOULDEN: It was two airlines in Japan that took the first step to cease operations. With aviation authorities echoing their safety concerns for the lithium ion batteries, grounding the entire Dreamliner fleet to 50.

And these are the same type of batteries that Airbus will use in the A350 XWB.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regarding the 350 electrical architecture, we don't see any reason -- at least until we get additional information to change our design.

BOULDEN: Teething problems are part and parcel of groundbreaking technology where the warning signs come early so that manufacturers can tweak after a bit of wear and tear.

HAYWARD: The 787 and the technology that it embodies is the next generation. Airbus will already be incorporating some of that technology into its new aircraft. And you can assured that the next generation of airplanes in the 2020s will have the technology that's been pioneered by the 787.

BOULDEN: No airline has said it's looking to cancel any of the more than 800 Dreamliners on order. But whether a minor fix or a major refit is needed, even without these incidents, these next generation of aircraft will take years for the manufacturers to turn a profit, if ever.

Jim Boulden, CNN, London.


FOSTER: A Pakistani cleric has called off an anti-corruption protest outside the country's parliament in Islamabad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the restoration of the rule of law march.


FOSTER: al Qadri told his supporters he had reached an agreement with Pakistan's government over the demonstrations, which attracted tens of thousands of people. He called the deal a victory for electoral reform.

Opposition activists are giving a chilling account of a new massacre in Syria. They say soldiers swept through farmlands north of Homs on Tuesday killing more than 100 civilians including women and children.

There's also new violence reported across Syria today. This amateur video is said to show the aftermath of a government airstrike in Homs. Opposition activists say at least 102 people have been killed on Thursday.

United States has recognized the government of Somalia for the first time since 1991. A new Somali administration took office in 2012 after decades without an effective central government and a multinational force has made gains against Islamist rebels.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement on Thursday.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: People and leaders of Somalia have fought and sacrificed to bring greater stability, security and peace to their nation. There is still a long way to go and many challenges to confront, but we have seen a new foundation for that better future.


FOSTER: Well, up next on Connect the World, did Lance Armstrong bear his soul to Oprah Winfrey? The man who first suspected a cycling icon might be a drugs cheat talks to me about the questions he hopes Oprah asks in the interview.


FOSTER: Only hours from now, we'll know exactly what Lance Armstrong revealed to Porah Winfrey. And there is likely to be fallout from the widely anticipated interview. Fans along with a variety of officials are waiting to discover what the disgraced cyclist about cheating. He has denied doping for years, of course.

Ahead of tonight's big reveal, another setback by Armstrong as well. The International Olympic Committee has asked him to return the bronze medal he won at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Armstrong has already been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Well, still be waiting to hear if Lance Armstrong apologizes to his accusers. In his interview with Oprah, one of the first people to go public with his suspicions was Sunday times chief sports writer David Walsh, author of the seven deadly sins about his pursuit of his disgraced cyclist.

In 2004, Armstrong successfully sued Walsh's newspaper for defamation, but Walsh didn't stop pursuing the story.

I sat down with him and asked him -- and started by asking him, at least, if he feels vindicated by the recent turn of events.


DAVID WALSH, JOURNALIST: Honestly, I never felt vindicated. And my feeling was that it was a story well worth pursuing. I believed from day one that I was right in saying that Lance Armstrong was a cheat and a doper. And when it came out that this -- when everybody else acknowledged it, at that point my feeling was this is great for the sources I had who were vilified and whose characters were taken away by the kind of Armstrong intimidatory tactics, because you know those people suffered both in terms of their business lives, in terms of their personal lives.

FOSTER: How did he manage to stay on top of this story when there was so much evidence against him?

WALSH: I think it was a story that people didn't want to tell. I wrote a book with Pierre Balastair (ph) in 2004, L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong. We wrote 23,000 words about Emma Riley (ph) his former masseuse. She gave me a six and a half hour interview. She detailed all the stuff she saw on the team. Clear evidence of doping.

Now did the world's media go to her and say, Emma would you tell us your story? They didn't, because they didn't want that story told, because Lance Armstrong was perceived as this iconic figure within the community. And his association with cancer became like a shield. And everybody was afraid to kind of, you know, to ask the questions that needed to be asked.

FOSTER: And now you've got the biggest star in the world saying she's read your book and she's going to go into an interview with him. Are you convinced that you're going to get the answers -- you know, the questions you've asked on this advert for the Sunday Times, are you convinced you're going to get the answers that you would expect to get from him?

WALSH: I think we're going to get a lot from this interview in terms of -- I think Lance Armstrong is not stupid in relation to how the media works. There is a clamor now not for defiant confession, but for a full, humble contrite...

FOSTER: Capitulation.

WALSH: Yes. A capitulation.

But, you know, if he wants to regain people's respect he's going to have to bear his soul on this and let people see how appalling a human being he was at a time when the world thought he was an icon.

FOSTER: Why is he doing this? What does he want to get out of it?

WALSH: He wants to start his life again and to try and regain some of the respect that he has lost.

FOSTER: Can he do that?

WALSH: I think he can regain some, but I don't think nobody will ever see him as an icon again, because he's lost that and lost that forever. But he can certainly become a -- you know, I think a -- you know, a functional member of society, because at the moment I imagine that it's very difficult -- it would have been very difficult over the last two months for him to exist outside of his home and outside of places where he has trusted associates, because once he went into the public, public arena, how was he going to know what people were thinking? And he would have presumed they were thinking the worst.

And many of them would have been thinking the worst, because he hadn't even admitted to offenses that were (inaudible) and obvious to everybody.


FOSTER: David Walsh there, one of the first people to report on Lance Armstrong's drug abuse.

Well, coming up, the latest world headlines. And then a special half hour with Becky live from Athens.

ANDERSON: That's right. We're going to hear from people affected by the EuroZone crisis, particularly from one man who used to be a flight attendant who is now living on just 30 percent of what he once earned.

And I'll be talking to the Greek finance minister about just how much more austerity pain he thinks the Greeks can take. That, coming up after this.


FOSTER: An update on the breaking news out of Algeria, a state news agency says hundreds of hostages have been freed in a military assault on a remove gas plant. Algerian workers and foreign nationals were ceased on Wednesday by Islamist gunman. The government minister says some hostages were killed in the raid, but we still don't have any casualty figures.

The story being followed closely in capitals around the world, including Washington. Our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence joins us now live.

There have been some statements in the last hour, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Max. The latest that we're hearing from U.S. officials is that they believe the combat, the main fighting at this complex has ended, but that some of the security forces are still doing sweeps throughout the area to try to ascertain exactly, you know, what the situation is post fighting, who is left. There is still some very disputed reports about how many hostages were killed, you know, who were they. U.S. officials say there are some indications that some American hostages escaped, others were still being held by the hostage takers.

What we know for sure, we know that an Irish man, an Irish hostage was freed. He is out. He has been speaking to the media, to reporters.

The Algerian forces say they were able to free two British hostages, a Frenchman and a Kenyan as well.

The U.S. Secretary of State has been talking about the ambiguity surrounding this since really early this morning.


HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: This incident will be resolved, we hope with a minimum loss of life. But when you deal with these relentless terrorists, life is not in any way precious to them.


LAWRENCE: So, again, the numbers have been changing, but it appears the main fighting is over, so we may be very close to getting a much better handle, Max, on the situation there at the complex.

MAX FOSTER, HOST: OK, Chris, thank you very much. Back with you as things develop, of course.

A new deployment of French troops arrives in Mali, meanwhile, to back up the army nearby as it battles Islamist rebels for control of that country. The foreign minister's agreed today to launch a special training mission for Malian troops.

Boeing CEO says his company's working around the clock to fix problems that caused the grounding of its 787 Dreamliner fleet. The US Federal Aviation Authority ordered the suspension of Dreamliner flights by US carriers after repeated problems with the plane's lithium-ion batteries.

The International Olympic Committee wants Lance Armstrong to give back the medal he won at the 2000 Olympics. He placed third in the individual time trial that year. Armstrong is said to have confessed to doping in a taped interview with Oprah Winfrey that airs in the coming hours.

Time now to join Becky in Greece.

BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: That's right, a very windy Athens for you this evening, with a special CONNECT THE WORLD half hour. As and when news dictates, of course, we will get you viewers straight back to what is happening out of Athens -- out of Algeria.

But for the next half hour, we're going to be taking stock of what's been going on in the eurozone, taking a look at what has been going on here and elsewhere across Europe over the last three years.

First up, I want to take you back 18 months. I was here in Athens during the riots and the protests here in the square outside the parliament building. That was as politicians voted on the first reforms that would bring deep, deep austerity cuts to the people. Have a look at this.



ANDERSON: Beginning to see activity -- I can feel the teargas, now, in my eyes as well.

So there you go, there's some rock throwing. What you're seeing is these guys, now, lobbing bricks, lobbing pretty much anything they can get their hands on.

Stuff like that. Just piece of -- pieces of concrete.

They're also moving them -- moving them back this way. We're going to move back this way.


ANDERSON: This is our hotel just here. Given that it's -- picking up somewhat now, we're going to go back in.


ANDERSON: We're in that same hotel broadcasting to you tonight, and as the drama unfolded, we wanted to take stock, really, of just why that anger erupted. We talked over the last 18 months to a man called Yannis Pantzos. We talked to him a number of times, and he explained how he'd been forced into retirement at the age of 48. Take a look.


YANNIS PANTZOS, GREEK PENSIONER: I'm not retired because I wanted to. I was obliged by the government to be retired because the public airline I was working had to be privatized.


ANDERSON: Well, nearly two years on, I caught up with Yannis today and I asked him how he and his family were coping.


PANTZOS: I'm trying to live. I'm not living. I'm considering every day to make new cuts in my life, to make lesser needs for me and my children. But as our government each time declares these are the last measures and the last measures, I cannot renegotiate my life in this rhythm as the measures are coming. So, each time, I'm in a no way out.

ANDERSON: who pays the bills? You've got four kids.


ANDERSON: Two youngsters and two twins in their teens. Who's paying your bills?

PANTZOS: I'm trying to pay. Now I give priorities in what is necessary to be paid, because I'm unable to pay everything. Because I have a total 70 percent of cuts in my pension.

ANDERSON: 70 percent?

PANTZOS: 70 percent.

ANDERSON: At this point, you want to work, don't you?

PANTZOS: I do want to work. But I cannot work because I'm pensioned. I feel useless for my society and for Greece, even with my diplomas and my -- all my licenses I had as a pilot.

ANDERSON: Pilot license.

PANTOZ: And as a chief cabin crew member.

ANDERSON: You speak three languages.

PANTZOS: I do speak three languages. I feel useless.

ANDERSON: When we spoke in the past, you forecast unrest, and you were right. I was here in this square. There were mass demonstrations. This fountain is a great example of the way that things were absolutely decimated during those demonstrations and the riots. Just in the corner over there, I was teargassed myself. It was a really, really violent situation.

Do you forecast a future blighted by social unrest, or do you feel that people are now resigned to this fate of austerity long term?

PANTZOS: I used to come on each demonstration here. What I see is that people are tired of demonstrating. People are tired of believing that with demonstrations, we'll change something.

ANDERSON: What do you say to the men and women who work in that parliament building there?

PANTZOS: I would like to tell them stop looking behind the windows where the police protect them and they have to go to the streets and see the real problem and see the responsibilities to who really belong.

Because the responsibilities for what in Greece is happening now is not from the poor and the pensioners and the middle class people. The responsibilities have a name, and they know the name of the responsibility. They do not want to face the name of responsibility.

ANDERSON: Do you want to see people held to account?

PANTZOS: I would like to, but first of all, I would like to see all the stolen money come back to my country. Taking people to jail is like an aspirin, like giving an aspirin to cancer.

ANDERSON: We've seen many Greeks forced to throw their weight and support behind what would have been marginal parties in the past. The Syrizas and the Golden Dawns of this world. Would they get your vote?

PANTZOS: No, they will not get my vote. I try through the crisis to be logical. I do not -- I'm not trying through the crisis to find a fake excuse for myself and vote the Golden Dawn, because many people, they have no -- way how to act in their desperation, so they voted Golden Dawn without even having the idea on what they are voting. It was a reaction vote.

ANDERSON: Have you got any sense of optimism for the future?

PANTZOS: I'm always an optimist person. And this is what handles me in real life. I believe being healthy is the richest thing in the world.


ANDERSON: Yannis Pantzos speaking to me in the square earlier on today.

Well, these rescue funds keep dripping in to Greece. The IMF has just agreed to release a further $4.3 billion from a second bailout package agreed in March last year. Now, do remember that that package from the IMF and EU amounts to about $170 billion over four years.

This latest payment had been frozen because Greece had failed to implement promised economic reforms. The IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, says she is now satisfied that the country is back on track.

Well, it should spell good news for the people of Greece, but when we talk to others on the streets today, there is a deep, deep sense that things are still tough and could get tougher. Have a listen.


PETROS VAKOULIS, PART-TIME EMPLOYEE (through translator): I believe things will get worse because we haven't found a way to create growth. Until now, we've been borrowing money to pay back loans, and we keep borrowing. At some point, we have to stop juicing.

GIANNIS TSOUVALAKIS, BANK WORKER (through translator): New measures will come in 2013, 2014, and 2015. We'll have new ones every year, unless Tsipras is elected and we have a social revolution.


ANDERSON: You're watching a CONNECT THE WORLD SPECIAL live from a very windy and wet, now, Athens in Greece. Coming up after this short break, we're going to look ahead to see what the future is for the eurozone as a whole, and I talk here to the Greek finance minister. He tells me how he plans to create jobs. That coming up after this.


ANDERSON: You're watching a CONNECT THE WORLD special live from Athens on the eurozone crisis, welcome back. Now, in the building behind me, the parliament building, Greek lawmakers are gathered tonight, and they are expected to vote on whether to investigate senior ministers over alleged tax evasion.

Now, in 2010, you may remember, Christine Lagarde handed over to Athens a list of names of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, but then allegedly, some of those names were removed. Well, many feel the government has done little to crack down on corruption while the rest of the country suffers under the burden of tough austerity measures.

This week, the IMF said that Greece has made progress, but urged the government to do even more. Well, earlier on today, I sat down with the Greek finance minister. He's fairly new to the job. He joined the administration here in July of last year. He's done very few interviews since then. I began by asking him how much pain he expects that the Greek people should expect to take going forward.


YANNIS STOURNARAS, GREEK FINANCE MINISTER: If we implement the program correctly, I'm sure that these measures included in the budgets for 2013 and 14 will be the last tough measures.

In 2012, the budget was better than -- the execution of the budget -- was better than the initial expectation. I hope -- and I very much hope -- that the same will happen in 2013. If this is so, then 70 percent of the excess compared to the target could be given to the needy, to those who are in great needs. So, if we are successful, then the measures couldn't be so tough in 2014.

ANDERSON: "If" being --


STOURNARAS: But -- but --

ANDERSON: -- the operative word here -- because you need a stable political environment for those measures to be carried out, and quite frankly, it is unclear at present whether Greece can sustain this temporary political stability at the moment. If that doesn't happen, Greece will be bankrupt and a Grexit will be on the cards.

You are an economist. Crunch the numbers for me. What is the likelihood that Greece would have to leave or be forced out of the euro area?

STOURNARAS: Very small now. The probability now is very, very small.

ANDERSON: How small?

STOURNARAS: Let me -- very small. Trivial. I will tell you why. First of all, I do not agree with you that this is a fragile political system. I think this coalition government is very strong.

I'm talking to the three leaders almost every day. They are more and more confident that this government will last. They know it is in their benefit for this government to last for the three of them. So, I don't think that there are -- that the downside risks are higher than the upside risks. We are safer.

Of course, I realize and I want to tell people that 2013 will be a very difficult year for the people. It is true. But there is -- clearly now, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

ANDERSON: I wrote a blog for in the past hour or so and promised that I would ask you one question, and it was simply this -- or perhaps it's three: who knew what, when, and how about the Lagarde list?

STOURNARAS: Well, I don't know. It's the justice that has to find out. But this -- there isn't such a large mystery. I think it's a lack of arguments from the opposition, a lack of arguments for the real problem that we face now, which is the economy, that they put so much emphasis on the Lagarde list.

Lagarde lists exist in every country in Europe. In no other country there is such a fuss that there is in Greece tonight and these days. I think the opposition uses the Lagarde list as an alibi because it lacks arguments, it lacks a proposition to make to me and to the government about how to run the economy.

ANDERSON: You are incredibly well-respected by pretty much everybody I speak to, both here in Greece and in Europe as a whole. Some of your predecessors aren't. What have you learned from the actions of some of Greece's finance ministers in the recent past?

STOURNARAS: I'm trying to learn from their mistakes. I don't look back. I'm trying to look to the future. I have described the Greek economy as the last Soviet-Union-style economy in Europe. So, we have liberalized almost every market, now, including a reasonable liberalization of the labor market. But there are still things that we are considering.

ANDERSON: And it's clear that Greece needs to foster a spirit of entrepreneurialism, and I've talked to entrepreneurs while I've been here, and they say it's so tough to get a business started. So again, I ask you, what are you doing to get the private sector more engaged and to foster this sense, this spirit of entrepreneurialism going forward?

STOURNARAS: You correctly mentioned that it's -- it was difficult to open a new business in Greece. Not any more. We have simplified procedures. We have faster-act procedures. Still, we're trying to simplify things even more.


ANDERSON: The finance minister speaking to me earlier. You're watching a special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD on the eurozone crisis. Coming up, how Europe's paymaster could be in for a rocky year ahead, and find out also why the humble snail is not to be sniffed at. We'll be putting them to the test, up next.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. It's a pretty miserable night here in Athens, but the eurozone crisis still a hot topic of conversation. We've been talking to a lot of people since we've been here over the past few days, and many of them will tell you that they blame Germany for many of the very tough austerity measures that have been, they say, forced on them in return for aid money.

Now, though, there are worrying signs about what is going on in the German economy -- excuse me. After staving off the sluggishness of its neighbors, Europe's biggest economy grew by just 0.7 percent in 2012.

Let's get you to Germany. Fred Pleitgen is standing by. Fred, what's the mood there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mood there is actually quite bleak, Becky, here in Germany. And you're absolutely right, there's a lot of people who are worrying about whether or not Chancellor Angela Merkel is going to have the capability to continue to lead the way that she has in the eurozone crisis.

As you said, many people in Greece are not very happy with some of the tough austerity measures, but by and large, it has been Germany that has been backing the eurozone bailout. Now, with the economy weakening, there are signs that German leadership might weaken as well. Have a look.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): This is the Angela Merkel the world has come to know, a strong leader in the eurozone crisis, aiding ailing countries, like Greece, with another show of support when Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, visited Berlin at the beginning of this year. But Angela Merkel has warned this year might bring the toughest test yet for German solidarity.

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): The reforms that we have decided on are starting to work. But we still need a lot of patience. The crisis is not over yet, and we still have to do more internationally to control the financial markets better.

PLEITGEN: Merkel's problem: as Germany's economy continues to feel the impact of the eurozone crisis, her ability to move ahead with big projects to save the euro could be deeply affected.

JOERG ROCHOLL, EUROPEAN SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT AND TECHNOLOGY: Economic growth may get a real hit, and this means also employment will get a real hit if there should be a major crisis coming, for example, from Italy, France, and Spain. And that might be the real threat for Germany and for Angela Merkel in particular.

PLEITGEN: So far, Germany has been an island of stability in the ailing eurozone, but economic indicators point to a tough year, and the German government has just slashed its growth forecast for 2013 to less than half a percent.

Merkel faces reelection in late September or early October, and analysts say, especially if the German labor market is weak, it could seriously compromise Merkel's ability to lead in Europe this year.

ROCHOLL: Any major move that may, for example, include a bailout of other countries will most likely not happen before September, but rather after, after the election has been done.

PLEITGEN: And her coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, are struggling, recently leading their chairman, Philipp Rosler, to come out against helping ailing eurozone countries. But analysts say voters will judge Merkel by her ability to navigate Germany through the European debt crisis.

GERO NEUGEBAUER, POLITICAL SCIENTIST: On the one side, she tells, we will overcome the crisis. On the other side, she says, the crisis still exists and so far, please elect me because I prove to be the right protector. Maybe that there are more and more doubts about this role in German politics, and that may cause defeat in the election in September.

PLEITGEN: For now, Merkel is well ahead in the polls. Her first real test will come this weekend, with a major regional election in northern Germany and a lot of momentum at stake.


ANDERSON: All right, Fred Pleitgen reporting there on the German economy. Testing times, of course, at present, for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Sometimes it would be easy when you're living here in Europe to think that nothing's going well, that it's all doom and gloom. There are, though, some real pockets of success, as I found out when we were here. One slow-moving delicacy is rapidly -- rapidly -- becoming big business.


ANDERSON: Six years ago, with Greece staring down the barrel of a severe recession, you'd have been hard-pressed to find many youngsters prepared to invest time or energy in building a future here, never mind starting an export-led business from scratch in these. Organic snails.

But that is exactly what Penny Vlachou and her sister, who were studying abroad at the time, decided to do. Organic snails?



VLACHOU: Why? Actually, everything started in 2007, when Maria, my sister, she was abroad in Brussels, and she went in a restaurant in Switzerland with some friends. She called me and she told me that she ate a plate of snails, that it cost 37 euros for 12 pieces. And --

ANDERSON: Thirty-seven-odd euros --


ANDERSON: -- for 12 snails.


ANDERSON: You're sitting here in Corinth --

VLACHOU: I was, actually, that day in my village, it was raining outside, and I said to Maria, "Come on! I will go outside in our garden, I will pick them, and I will turn them back to Switzerland."

ANDERSON: Let's go and find out exactly how you do it.

VLACHOU: Of course.

ANDERSON: Since they started, Penny and her agronomist have trained 168 families in the art of snail farming. They'll buy their breeders from Penny, they'll raise their own crop, and then they'll sell them back to Fereikos for distribution.

I'm now with Penny's sister, Maria, who runs the logistic side of this business. What's going on here?

MARIA VLACHOU, OWNER, FEREIKOS SNAIL FARM: These are the snails that derive from our snail farmers. They are selecting them right now in order to be exported. We export 70 percent of our production.

ANDERSON: And you export them like this. These are fresh. This is, what, seven kilos?

M. VLACHOU: Yes, 400, 450 snails approximately.

ANDERSON: Worth to you?

M. VLACHOU: Thirty-five euros.

ANDERSON: Where for that restaurant in Switzerland --

M. VLACHOU: Thirty-five euros, but just 12 of them.

ANDERSON: That's incredible. Just how supportive has the Greek government been in what is a real entrepreneurial enterprise?

M. VLACHOU: Oh, it's not easy to be an entrepreneur in Greece. There are always many obstacles, many difficulties. But with patience and a lot of work, hard work, we are managing to overpass all these obstacles.

ANDERSON: You're overcoming everything. Good luck.


ANDERSON: Well, the Fereikos farm may be serving up a dose of success, but as the British saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. So, joining me for some snail tasting out here on this incredibly windy balcony in Athens is Hector Botrini. I've just got a lot --



ANDERSON: Tell me, what have we got here.

BOTRINI: So, we have snails with wild herbs and Greek spices.

ANDERSON: Fantastic.


ANDERSON: Now, we've been talking about the Fereikos success, and what a great success that business is. How much would you charge in your restaurant for this?

BOTRINI: Now, we charge 17 euros --

ANDERSON: Seventy? Or Seventeen?

BOTRINI: Seventeen.

ANDERSON: One-seven.

BOTRINI: Yes, one-seven.

ANDERSON: You say now. What would you have charged in the past, and what do you want to charge in the future?

BOTRINI: So, in the past, I would charge about 25, and I hope in the future about 30.


BOTRINI: So -- because the product is fantastic.

ANDERSON: What you're telling me, then, is that things are tough at present, but you sound as if you're quite optimistic.

BOTRINI: I'm very optimistic. After two years, the first time we see the light on the tunnel.

ANDERSON: Can I taste some of these?

BOTRINI: Now, you have to take this one, right there.



BOTRINI: It's gone, now.

ANDERSON: That's not a snail.

BOTRINI: It's -- no. This is a snail.

ANDERSON: Let me taste it anyway.

BOTRINI: Sorry, it's cold.

ANDERSON: It is freezing out here --


ANDERSON: -- but listen --


ANDERSON: -- I won't -- I won't think badly of you.


BOTRINI: So, what that means, it's good price to come to this place in Greece, now. It's under the cost.


ANDERSON: There's a man who can sell -- his wares. Excuse me, while I finish my mouthful.


ANDERSON: Mmm. That is absolutely delicious, even though it is quite cold out here.

I'm Becky Anderson, that is and was CONNECT THE WORLD. Join us for the headlines after this.