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CONNECT THE WORLD
Surprise Meteor Shower Injures Hundreds In Russia; People Return To Homs; Nightmare Cruise Over; New Pictures Of Hugo Chavez Post Surgery
Aired February 15, 2013 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN MANN, HOST: Tonight on Connect the World, not your average school day. Chaos and panic as windows are blown in and students run for cover. A meteor from space explodes in central Russia.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.
MANN: Hundreds are hurt after the shockwave damaged buildings, all that as a giant asteroid whizzes past Earth. Tonight, someone who has actually been up in space tells us what's going on.
Also ahead, from the track to the dock, Oscar Pistorius strongly denies murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp whose TV debut is due to air this weekend.
And what these new pictures of Hugo Chavez in a hospital tell us about the Venezuelan leader's fragile health.
Thanks for joining us. We begin with a cosmic shock that nobody saw coming. First, a flying object leaving a trail of white smoke, then a boom, and a blinding flash.
A meteor exploded above Russia today sending off a shockwave that shattered windows and injured about 1,000 people, many of them hit by flying glass. It happened in the Urals region during the morning commute. Traffic came to a halt as many drivers sat stunned watching the fireball streak across the sky.
You could hear it: glass shattering in this amateur footage. Thousands of buildings were damaged, but there are no reports of any people directly hurt by a falling meteorite fragment. As if it weren't enough, though, there was another extraordinary celestial event today, though not nearly as dramatic. Less than two hours ago, a huge asteroid whizzed by Earth, the closest approach ever by an object of its size. Scientists say there's no link with today's meteor, it's just a cosmic coincidence.
Some witnesses in Russia say today's sonic boom sounded like the start of war. Sheer panic set in as people ran for cover, never guessing that a meteor was behind the deafening blast.
Phil Black has more now from Moscow.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a regular Friday morning in the Russian region of Chelyabinsk with people going about their everyday lives when without warning people across the region witnessed bright, intense, moving lights in the sky, dramatic trails of smoke. And just a few moments later, deafening booms, shockwaves that blew out windows and buildings across the region, showering people with broken glass.
The number of people injured by that falling glass has continued to rise through the day, but the vast majority of injuries are considered not serious.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos says this was a single meteor which punched into the Earth's atmosphere at incredible speed, around 30 kilometers per second. That friction is what created the burning light, the smoke, and caused this meteor to fracture across a wide area.
Russian officials are still trying to track those various fragments and determine how man, if any reached the Earth's surface.
Russian officials are urging people in the area to be calm. And a big cleanup operation is underway as they try to deal with the dramatic consequences of this event which lasted only a few short moments. Lots of broken glass, lots of rattled nerves.
Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.
MANN: Not only is that broken glass dangerous, it's also exposing people to the bitter cold. Remember, we're talking about Russia here in the dead of winter.
Let's get more on all this from Jenny Harrison at the international weather center. And can we start, first of all, with the shockwaves, that noise? I mean, what was it? Because it seems to have done more damage than the meteor actually hitting anything directly?
JENNY HARRISON, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. That is obviously what did the damage. In fact, they're of course looking for bits of any meteorite that might be found lurking on the ground. So far not heard too many reports of that. And of course, how many people have ever heard anything like this? You just would not know what on earth it was?
So this is what happens. You've got this extremely fast moving object, and comparatively as well a large object which is moving, of course, through the Earth's atmosphere. As it does that, it is creating these shockwaves one after another after another. They're building up and building up. Imagine you throw a stone in a pond you see the ripples and eventually of course they all catch up to each other and the bigger the rock you throw in and the faster, then obviously the bigger those shockwaves are, or ripples on the pond.
So that is what was generally happening as of course people were looking at that plume of smoke. So these waves are creating this sound energy. And then eventually there is so much energy, so much power that it literally shatters windows, damages parts of buildings as we saw. And remember, so many people were injured by the flying glass.
You saw the images there of this plume of smoke, then you heard the boom. And of course many, many people saw it, went to the window and the window was actually blown out.
So in terms of the sort of objects that come through the atmosphere. You've got comets made mainly of ice and rock. And then you've got the asteroids that of course we were talking about which passed by the closest point by earth over a couple of hours ago. And then you also have these meteors, which is all this space matter coming into Earth's atmosphere and that was what came down into southern Russia today, John.
MANN: It's not just space travelers who have to worry about these things. All of sudden a lot of people in Russia have no windows. It's winter there. How are they going to fare?
HARRISON: It is winter. And just to follow on, first of all, in terms of what this was. You have, remember, because again I've been asked this question quite a lot today, what's all the difference in all these terms? Well, this that came down on the ground, it starts out as a meteoroid. Then when it comes within the atmosphere it turns into a meteor. And it's all the bits that are left over on the ground, by the way, that are termed meteorites -- so just in case you were wondering about that definition.
But as you said, John, I mean, look at the day that this came down, just these clear blue skies. You can see it so very clearly. And that, of course, pretty good indication this time of year in Chelyabinsk in Russia. The temperature actually hasn't changed for the last few hours. Minus 10. Quite misty. The winds fairly light.
But look at the weather for the next few days. It's going to be clear. It's going to be cold, the average of about minus 8 over the next few days. And by night, as low as minus 18 Celsius. So bitterly cold to obviously have no windows in your home.
MANN: So, we have just been hit as a planet by one enormous space object. There's an even bigger one that has whizzed by. Tell us about that.
HARRISON: Well, still whizzing by, I think really as well, to a point. But yeah, this of course the asteroid DA20 -- let me start with the correct title Asteroid 2012DA14. We put these markers on to show -- we've been showing this video throughout the day, or for the last few hours, this is the asteroid. This line, this is the actual satellite as it continues on its trajectory alongside, of course. This was taken from Siding Springs, one of the observatories out in western Australia. And at this point from Earth this asteroid is 748,000 kilometers
Now the interesting thing with this, John, is guess what, once it sort of passed by Earth it actually hasn't done yet. It's going to continue out. It'll continue its orbit around the sun. It's not going to burn up. It's actually then going to continue on its orbit. And at some point it could come pretty close to Earth again.
Now that point is what the scientists just don't know. They don't have the equipment to track it sort of from now on. And remember they were tracking this for over a year. So, you know, as I say it hasn't really done just yet. This is it just coming through within the geosynchronous, the satellite ring, that's what you saw. That's how we saw the pictures. And as I said it's going to continue on its orbit around the sun.
MANN: Jenny Harrison at the World Weather Center. Now the spacial weather center. Thanks very much.
I mean, it sounds like science fiction, but it's all true. And it's all in fact happened before at some point when the shock of the meteor subsided, odds are someone, somewhere looked to the skies and said thank goodness this wasn't another Tunguska. Tunguska, it turns out is a very remote region of central Siberia. And it was there in 1908 that a space rock about 38 meters -- 36 meters I guess it was -- exploded eight kilometers above the ground. The blast leveled everything for more than 2,000 square kilometers. Fortunately it was mostly trees.
The video you see here was actually shot in the 1920s by an expedition that tried to locate the epicenter of the explosion. NASA estimates that the energy released was 185 times greater than the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima. Much, much larger than Friday's impact.
Now in both cases, there was no warning at all, nobody saw it coming. So is there nothing we can do to prepare for the next time or are we just sitting here waiting?
Let's bring in Edward Lu, a physicist and former astronaut who spent quite a bit of time in space dodging the debris out there. He's also part of the D612 Foundation, a group whose goal is to hunt asteroids that could hit the Earth and potentially devastate us.
Let's get to the serious stuff in a moment. I want to start with the scary moment that the people in Russia endured. They saw the light. They heard the sound, but then they had to feel something. What were those shockwaves like for the people who actually experienced them?
EDWARD LU, PHYSICIST AND FORMER ASTRONAUT: Well, it's a bit like if you've ever been to see a rocket launch, like an American space shuttle launch. You see the light first, but it takes some time before the sound gets here. And that's because the sound only travels about 300 meters a second.
MANN: OK. But what -- you're just standing there and the shockwaves come over you. I guess we should be grateful that it wasn't the bigger thing, DA14...
LU: Yeah, this was actually a really tiny asteroid. It was only about the size of a car. So -- but you can consider it a wakeup call from space if you'd like.
MANN: Well, let me ask you about that. If this was the wakeup call, and if it was DA14 that was coming towards us rather than circling benignly around us, or benevolently around us, what would we do about it? What could we do about it?
LU: For DA14, because we only discovered it a year ago, there is nothing we could have done. If that had been on an impact trajectory, there is nothing we could have done except evacuate the area and cleaned up the mess afterwards.
And at the B612 Foundation, we think we can do better than that. In fact, we know we can do better than that. We're launching a space telescope in 2018 that's going to track all these asteroids. And instead of giving us one year of notice, we're going to give us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of notice.
MANN: And then what would you do? Would you try and shoot it down? What could you do with it?
LU: No, actually you just need to give it a tiny nudge.
If you have decades of notice, the change in speed you need to give an asteroid to make it miss the Earth is absolutely tiny, something like a millimeter per second. Look down at the ground and look at an ant crawling, that's about the change in speed you need to give an asteroid, about a millimeter per second, to make it miss if you have decades of notice.
MANN: Now you're going to try and protect us from that kind of possibility, but what happens if we don't succeed, if we don't get decades of notice? What happens if an asteroid like DA14 or potentially larger actually hits the Earth?
LU: Well, then it's going to cause massive destruction. And it doesn't need to. Why would we as a species allow this to happen to our planet if we can do something about it and we can?
MANN: Edward Lu, thanks so much for talking with us.
You're watching Connect the World live from CNN Center, still to come held in custody after a cheerful first court appearance. Global track star Oscar Pistorius strongly denies killing his girlfriend. We're live in Pretoria.
The first shots of Hugo Chavez post cancer surgery. We take a look at the controversial president's health. That and more coming up.
MANN: Welcome back.
Oscar Pistorius is spending the weekend in a Pretoria prison after his first court appearance Friday. Formal charges were brought against the track star accused of killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. CNN's Robyn Curnow is live in Pretoria with us.
Robyn, prosecutors say they plan to charge him with premeditated murder. What should we read into the word premeditated?
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it just means that the charges against Oscar Pistorius are incredibly serious. I think it means it's a charge that the police feel that they are confident about, that they feel that they have him, essentially. It means that Oscar Pistorius is in some serious trouble if you were looking at it from a legal perspective.
On the other hand, he has seriously denied these murder charges. We put out a statement today via his agent.
All in all, it's been a very, very emotional day in court. I was there. Take a look at this story.
CURNOW: A journey from prison. Flanked by police to a court to face murder charges. Olympian Oscar Pistorius's tragic fall from grace has shocked South Africa. Outside the court, newspaper teller have been doing a brisk trade, headlines that point to a bloody Valentine's Day murder. Police say Pistorius shot dead his model girlfriend, that it was premeditated.
Inside Court C, overflowing with journalists and family, Pistorius broke down repeatedly, crying, his body shaking uncontrollably.
We can't show you the pictures, because the magistrate refused cameras to film the bail application.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The case has been postponed until Tuesday to give the accused to meet with the defense so that it can prepare for their case on Tuesday for bail application.
CURNOW: Until then, the star athlete and double amputee will not be training for his scheduled race in March, but instead he'll be behind bars. His agent telling CNN, though, that Oscar refutes the murder charges in the strongest possible terms and that he sends his condolences to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, the woman police say he shot.
And in a sad twist, Reeva's TV debut will be aired this weekend on South African screens, a reality show called Tropika Island of Treasure, a reminder of just how quickly life can change.
MANN: Before this week, many of us outside South Africa would never had heard the name Reeva Steenkamp. As best we can tell, she hadn't even been dating Pistorius for long, though it was a potentially powerful pairing. Even before they started seeing each other, Steenkamp was a big name in her own right. She had a law degree from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. And was also employed as the face of cosmetics giant Avon in Johannesburg.
Robyn Curnow, astonishing thing you mentioned in passing at the end of your report. She's going to be on TV now?
CURNOW: I know, I just got goosebumps as I heard myself talking there. I mean, it's quite -- it's quite an astonishing thing, yes. Here in South Africa, this reality TV show that she has recorded beforehand is airing this week. They're not pulling the show. And she's going to be making this television debut to a national audience this weekend.
And I think, you know, for many people on one hand this is a reminder of the woman, the actor, the celebrity she could have been. On the other hand, many South Africans are wondering, you know, is this -- is this respectful to show somebody alive with all her possibility when we know that she was shot down, killed just a few days ago.
So I think many South Africans, though, unfortunately will probably be tuning in to watch.
MANN: I have to ask a quick question, but what Pistorius's people have been saying, they say he didn't do it. It wasn't premeditated murder. Have they explained what they say happened?
CURNOW: No. And I think it's very crucial that there hasn't been very much explanation on what happened at all from either side. Reeva's parents have said they won't speak to the media. Oscar's lawyers have been very key and very sort of premeditated, I suppose, on the way they have described this entire scenario. That statement coming out today was very specific. The wording was very carefully chosen by his lawyer saying that, you know, he strenuously denied these murder charges. Also adding his condolences to the Steenkamp family.
You know, I think when it comes down to it, this is going to be a long, long trial. Any description outside of the courtroom and who did what, what happened, is really not helpful to anyone. So I think -- this is -- we get a really only get the bare facts once we sit in that courtroom and that's going to take weeks, maybe days, maybe months. We don't know.
But I think in terms of the actual details, Johnathan, we still left of rumors, we still left to speculation and not a lot of cold, hard facts.
MANN: Robyn Curnow, live in Pretoria, thanks very much.
Away from the courts, Pistorius is facing another battle, his big name sponsors haven't yet said if they will continue to work with him. They include Oakley, British Telecom, and Nike, which as CNN's Zain Asher reports is getting plenty of publicity it didn't sign up for.
ZAIN ASHER, CNN MONEY: Nike, sponsor behind some of the biggest names in sports now dealing with a publicity nightmare with yet another disgraced star.
OSCAR PISTORIUS, THE BLADE RUNNER: They told me that I'd never walk.
ASHER: The company's $2 million deal with Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner and amputee now hangs in the balance. This after reports Pistorius allegedly shot his girlfriend dead at his home.
JIM HAGGERTY, CRISIS MANAGEMENT EXPERT: At the beginning of any crisis, you have to say something. Very often we call it dressing up no comment as a comment.
ASHER: The sports giant now doing just that, saying Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences, but as it is a police matter Nike will not comment further at this time.
But Nike's PR migraine doesn't end there. The company now dealing with the unfortunate irony of a 2011 ad with Pistorius saying, quote, I am the bullet in the chamber.
PISTORIUS: This is my weapon.
ASHER: Scandals are nothing new for Nike. Just a month ago, Lance Armstrong also endorsed by the company, admitted to doping. When Nike ended their relationship, it accused the cyclist of misleading them for more than a decade.
And then there's Tiger Woods. Accused of a different type of cheating, extramarital affairs back in 2009 with at least nine different women.
HAGGARTY: I think in the past, Nike has been very slow to respond to a Tiger Woods situation or other situations. And that really makes the public question what their true motives are.
ASHER: But not all scandals mean an endorsement breakup. Nike washed their hands of Armstrong, but chose to keep Woods, recently offering him a generous $100 million deal over five years. And Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Michael Vick, convicted of animal cruelty in 2007, also got a second chance when Nike resigned his deal in 2011.
But for Pistorius things might be different.
HAGGARTY: It's certainly more serious, because it involves a homicide. They should at the very least suspend their relationship, I think, until an absolute determination of whether he's guilty is determined.
ASHER: Zain Asher, CNN, New York.
MANN: Live from CNN Center this is Connect the World. Coming up, Venezuela's president looks happy in these first pictures after his latest cancer surgery, but how is the outlook? We'll have the latest on Hugo Chavez's health.
MANN: You're watching Connect the World live from Atlanta. I'm Jonathan Mann.
We're seeing the first pictures of Hugo Chavez after his cancer surgery in Cuba. The two images show the Venezuelan president in hospital flanked by his two daughters. Mr. Chavez hasn't been seen in public since the surgery. That was in December. And he didn't make it back to Caracas for his presidential inauguration ceremony last month.
Chavez has been going back and forth between Venezuela and Cuba for some time now, getting treatment since he was diagnosed with Cancer in 2011.
Patrick Oppmann joins us now from Havana. Patrick, no one has seen this man or heard from him in two months. These pictures are big news.
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These pictures are proof of life, Jonathan. Many people had, in fact, given up on Hugo Chavez assuming since we hadn't seen anything of this flamboyant, outspoken leader, that perhaps he was too ill to be shown, that the disease had advanced too rapidly to show Hugo Chavez.
These photos obviously show a Hugo Chavez who is still in a hospital bed, but he's doing better than many, many people had expected. He is there with his daughters, as you had said. And then as well they're showing a newspaper that he's holding up in some of the photos, and that's the same newspaper that everyone who gets the Communist Party Daily here in Cuba received on Thursday. So we assume these photographs are just taken from the last couple of days.
And Hugo Chavez, though, it's interesting what the photos didn't show, and that's a breathing tube, Jonathan. Officials say he's had put in (inaudible) after undergoing a tracheotomy surgery. That's not been shown. But it's explaining, perhaps, why we haven't heard anything yet from Hugo Chavez, Jonathan.
OPPMANN: I want to ask you more about that. But all of this points to once again efforts to show that he is recovering. And while that may appear to be the case in these photos, we've seen this as a story for the past couple of years, in fact.
In June of 2011, Mr. Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba for what was described as a pelvic abscess, a few weeks later he said it was a cancerous tumor that was removed during the operation. Mr. Chavez returned to Cuba several more times that year for more treatment. In October 2011, though, he declared himself cancer free.
In February the following year more surgery and back to Cuba for treatment four more times after that.
By July of 2012, he had declared himself cancer free again. But since being reelected president in October, he's been back to Cuba at least twice more for treatment.
And so political and medical questions, why the tracheotomy for a man who is supposed to be getting better? And what are Venezuelans to conclude about the chances they're ever going to get their president back?
OPPMANN: You know, Venezuelan officials without saying much have had to conceded that there have been serious, serious complications when the man just doesn't appear to get that much better. There have been no timetables set for his return. They've had to admit things like he has had a respiratory illness that was a very, very serious illness following this latest surgery believed to be his fourth surgery that we know of. And that's why the tracheotomy was put in.
But of course, they always try to perhaps put a little bit of a spin on this, Jonathan. They say the tracheotomy is only temporary, but that while it is preventing him from speaking, they're denying reports that he's lost his voice and may never recover it. They say that after the tracheotomy is closed up, after the breathing tube is removed, that he will again remain -- he'll regain his ability to speak.
Of course this is a leader that is so well known for his many colorful speeches.
But coming back to your point, Jonathan, when does he return to Venezuela? When does, you know, he -- Venezuelan officials say he's leaving the country, but when do we actually see him leading the country, when does he get back home? We don't know those questions, Jonathan. We don't know the prognosis of the disease. They're saying that it's an uphill battle, but they really haven't said how steep that hill is, Jonathan.
MANN: Patrick Oppmann, live in Havana, thanks very much.
The latest world news headlines are just ahead, plus Syrians return to what's left of their homes in Homs. There's a side to the city we haven't seen much of. Our report might surprise you.
And after five days adrift at sea in dreadful conditions, the Carnival Triumph docks at Alabama. No real triumph, though. We'll hear from the ship's passengers coming up.
And he may be on one of the best runs of his basketball career, but hear why LeBron James threw away a show at immortality.
MANN: This is CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Jonathan Mann with the top stories this hour.
A bright white streak then a sonic boom. You heard it, a meteor exploding in the skies above Russia today with no advance warning. The shockwave blew out windows in buildings and left about 1,000 people hurt, most of them hit by flying glass.
Track star Oscar Pistorius remains in custody after his first court appearance in South Africa. He's accused of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in Victoria Thursday. His agent says Pistorius rejects the accusation.
Venezuelans are getting their first glimpse of their president in more than two months. Friday, the government released these pictures of Hugo Chavez lying in his hospital bed in Cuba. He went there for cancer surgery back in December.
The European Union says it will test meat from every member state as it battles the horsemeat crisis. The scandal has spread across 12 countries, now, and continues to grow. One of the first facilities to be implicated was an abattoir in Romania. The country's prime minister says the allegations are baseless.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICTOR PONTA, PRIME MINISTER OF ROMANIA: If something went wrong, we would be the first to react and to punish the companies involved. But for the time being, according to all the -- all the data that not only the Romanian authorities but the European authorities have gathered, it seems that in Romania, all the standards have been respected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MANN: The city of Homs in Syria has seen some of the worst destruction in a civil war which shows no signs of ending. Over the last 23 months, we've seen many images like this: someone's home before it was flattened by intense shelling.
But some of the video in this next report may surprise you. Frederik Pleitgen is in a city with two stories.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A game of soccer in the rubble of a civil war. After months of heavy fighting, people are returning to the Baba Amr district in Homs, slowly and cautiously.
PLEITGEN (on camera): You know, there's not many places in the world where you can feel how fierce and intense fighting was if you go there after the fact, but Baba Amr is certainly one of those places.
The government now says it's in complete control of this area, but you can clearly see just how fierce the fighting here was.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): During our visit, we couldn't find a single house left unscathed. Baba Amr was one of the first places to fall into opposition hands in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. It began with peaceful protests.
But what followed was some of the worst fighting in the ongoing conflict, including artillery shelling and air raids by government forces and fierce urban combat that cost thousands of casualties. Now, the battle is over, and some shops have reopened.
"Business is OK," he says, "but compared to when we returned two months ago, it has really improved, because more and more people are coming back."
We had a government escort with us as we toured Baba Amr, clearly making it difficult for people to speak openly with us. Regime troops have driven rebels out of many areas in Homs, but it remains a city with two faces.
Just a few blocks from the utter destruction, you would never know there had been an armed conflict. The streets are full of life in predominately Alawite areas loyal to the regime.
We got a chance to speak to the governor of Homs, a man respected even by many opponents of the government. He says he believes the turmoil here is almost over.
AHMED MUNIR MOHAMMED, GOVERNOR OF HOMS (through translator): "If the support of terrorism is stopped in the media and on the battlefield, I am convinced, God willing, Homs will go back to what it used to be within four months," he told us.
PLEITGEN: The governor said he's trying to reach out to opposition fighters not affiliated with Islamist groups, even offering an amnesty for those who surrender.
Rebels still control some places. The government estimate said about 7,000 are holed up in neighborhoods especially in the old city. The fighting continues there as fierce as ever, says one opposition activist we managed to reach on Skype.
ABU BILAL HOMSI, REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL (through translator): "There are hundreds of thousands living in tents and hundreds of thousands living under siege," he says. "There are tanks and rockets fired on a daily basis. This is what the regime and its supporters want."
PLEITGEN: For many months, Homs was the symbol and epicenter of the uprising against the Assad regime. What remains is a city divided between those who want to forget the civil war and those still entrenched fighting on.
And places like Baba Amr, that serve as a warning to both sides what might happen to other parts of Syria if the civil war isn't brought to an end.
MANN: Frederik Pleitgen has now left Syria and joins us now live from Beirut with more on his trip. Frederik, I was really struck watching that report, the Alawite area of Homs looks like a resort town. The other areas look like scorched Earth. It seemed like there were two different cities in that one place.
PLEITGEN: Yes, very much so. It really is almost like two different cities. I have to say, walking through that Baba Amr district that was totally flattened must have been one of the saddest things that I've ever done.
I can tell you that I was in Misrata in Libya during the Libyan civil war, and that was one of the worst-hit places in that war, and Baba Amr just seems so much worse. It's just an absolutely sad place.
And on the other hand, you have that contrast. I have to tell you, it really is only one checkpoint that divides that bustling area where people are out in shops from those areas that still have that utter devastation.
Of course, the Syrian government says it's taken back most of Homs, but they still have that fighting going on pretty much all the time. We spent the night in Homs and we could hear gunfire going off all the time, and there still is fighting, also, in the outskirts as well. So, even after that major military campaign, things there are still not totally quiet, Jonathan.
MANN: Now, you were working, you said in your report, under the supervision of Syrian government officials, but I'm curious about in conversations you managed to have with Syrians what they expect, both people who are trying to stay out of this fight or people who are opposed to the government and are hoping that it loses.
PLEITGEN: One of the things that we put a lot of effort to is we wanted to meet people who are opposed to the government but who are still inside Syria, and we got some very interesting insight from them.
The people that we talked to told us that they believe that there are many, many people in Syria who want the Assad government, who want Bashar al-Assad to go, but they also seem to fear what might come after Bashar al- Assad. Chaos, also Islamist elements within the opposition, of course, also fighting in the ranks of the opposition.
We keep talking about this group, Jabhat al-Nusra, which the Syrian government calls an al-Qaeda group that's operating inside Syria. So, even opposition members have told us they believe that Bashar al-Assad might have up to 30 percent support within the population even though it's probably because those people are afraid of what might come after him.
And one of the things that really, really struck us was that we did not meet a single person within the opposition, even within the Free Syrian Army, who says that they feel represented by the exile government, by the Syrian National Coalition, Jonathan.
MANN: Wow. Let's have a look at how this plays out on the ground. Let's show viewers a map of Syria, and we'll get a sense of who controls what. This map was complied by ReliefWeb, showing areas of government and rebel control. This as of mid-January.
You see the different colors. The red areas are contested areas. That's where the fighting's going on. Green are rebel-held areas. Orange areas are Syrian Army -- Syrian government areas. Yellow areas are under Kurdish control. When you look at this map, what should we conclude about who is running things in Syria and who's gaining ground?
PLEITGEN: Well, it really is a mixed bag, if you will. If you look at the north of the country, the area around Aleppo, also in the northeast, there does appear to be the case that the opposition is making a big push right now and has significant gains on the battlefield, quite frankly.
If you look at the Aleppo area, you had that hydro-electric dam that they took this past week. Also some very significant military bases and air bases as well. So, certainly they seem to be on the offensive there.
The big question is Damascus, because that's basically what it's going to be all coming down to, and there, it appears as though all the talk that we've been hearing about gains by the opposition there might have been slightly exaggerated.
The sense that we got being inside Damascus was that people there are still living quite a normal life. You do see a lot of shelling in the outskirts. You do see shelling in the suburban areas, but it appears as thought he opposition there is not as strong as many might have believed for a very long time.
It seems they're badly outgunned against the Syrian military. The Syrian military has a massive presence inside Damascus. Checkpoints are everywhere. They have heavy equipment there, as well, and they use that in the suburban areas. So, it seems as thought the gains there are not as significant as many people would think.
And then, of course, there's all the roads that are so very significant. One of the ones that we traveled was the highway from Damascus to Homs, and we didn't have any trouble at all. The whole route seemed to be under government control at this point, at least.
So, there is fighting going on around that area, but it still seems as though the government is firmly in control, and it certainly did not seem to us as though the Syrian military was anywhere near falling apart at this point in time, Jonathan.
MANN: Just one last question, something you alluded to a moment ago. What do the people inside of Syria think about the opposition outside of Syria, the Syrian National Council?
PLEITGEN: Well, that's the thing that we kept asking people, and certainly what we got as a result was that a lot of people said that they did not like the Syrian National Coalition. As I said, we didn't find anyone who actually said that they felt represented by the Syrian National Coalition.
However, there were a lot of people who did like the initiative by Moaz al-Khatib, who said that they do like the idea of negotiations even maybe while Bashar al-Assad is still in power, but most of these people want the detainees that the Syrian government is holding.
They don't acknowledge they're holding as many as people say, but people say it's about 160,000. They want those released as a precondition for negotiations, and that is certainly a very, very big issue.
Because one thing that we keep hearing from opposition activists inside Syria is that people are getting detained for no apparent reason and the conditions in those detention facilities are just absolutely awful.
So, that's something where people are pretty adamant about it. But they are for somehow ending all of this. The thing that we've gotten -- the gist that we've gotten from people is that many of them just want the violence to end.
They want the sides to talk to each other. They don't want a sectarian riff, even though it appears to be getting worse at the moment, where people who are afraid of the opposition seem to be going along one sectarian line, with the Alawites and Christians on one side. Then, of course, you have the Sunnis on the other side.
There are many, many people who don't want that, who want Syria to remain moderate and who want people to talk to each other rather than shoot at each other, Jonathan.
MANN: Frederik Pleitgen in Beirut, just returning from a nation exhausted by civil war. Thanks so much.
Live from CNN Center, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just want to get home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get home, go to bed, and rest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MANN: On dry land at last. We'll bring you four of those relieved passengers' stories coming up on CONNECT THE WORLD.
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ROXY GALLEGOS, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH PASSENGER: We've been on --
OMAR GALLEGOS, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH PASSENGER: Several cruises.
R. GALLEGOS: -- four other cruises, and we've enjoyed them all, we never had any bad experiences like this. So, I would say it's not going to stop us from cruising, but it's definitely going to be a while.
O. GALLEGOS: They were risking their lives for us, from the engineers to the people who were cleaning our rooms, because they were swimming in poop.
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MANN: Welcome back. Not everyone is as forgiving. The first lawsuit has now been filed against the Carnival corporation over the breakdown of its Triumph cruise ship. It finally docked on Thursday after five days adrift. Passenger Terry Cassie's (sic) suit describes the ship as a "floating hell."
CNN's Jim Spellman is in Galveston and joins us now. You've been meeting with the people emerging from that holiday hell. How are they looking?
JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's kind of a mixed bag. Some of the older folks -- we've talked to a couple of people in wheelchairs. They had a really tough time of it. Some people with young kids, it was tough on them, worrying about their kids and keeping them occupied.
Other people had an easier go. Then also, if you had a stateroom with a balcony exposed to outside, much easier than people lower down in the boat and on the interior.
Talking about lawsuits, definitely a mixed bag on that. Some people say no, we're ready to move on. Some people say yes, no, we're ready to sue. We're going to look for a lawyer, find a suit.
It's not really that easy to sue the cruise lines. They have a lot of fine print in the tickets that makes it difficult, but some people are going to try. I want to introduce you to Michael Cox. Michael was a passenger. He's not sure yet about suing, but what are your thoughts about that? I know a lot of people onboard were talking about potentially suing.
MICHAEL COX, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH PASSENGER: Well, I'm just happy to be home. I don't know what my family plans to do about it, but as for me, I'm just ready to get home, have some Whataburger, you know.
SPELLMAN: What did the cruise line offer you at this point?
COX: A free cruise. They comped this one. And $500 that they will send in the mail in three weeks.
SPELLMAN: And if you take the $500, basically, you're saying you're done.
COX: Basically, I'm signing my right to, if they settle in court, if Carnival settles in court, I won't get any reparations from that.
SPELLMAN: Right. So, people are going to have a decision here. When they get home, they're going to have this $500 check. If they cash it, essentially they're saying we're not going to take further action against it.
Some people are going to have to -- are going to take it, some people are not, Jonathan. But everybody we've talked about it here has really raved about the crew onboard. They have mixed feelings about the cruise line, Carnival, but they feel like the crew was amazing. Tell us about your experience with the crew.
COX: Absolutely. Our -- the guy that let us in our room and that was on our hallway, he did a fantastic job of taking care of all of us. And all of the crew, they did a fantastic job, and they were -- had smiles on their faces the entire time. And they were going through the same thing that I was and that everyone else was.
SPELLMAN: So, Jonathan, I think it's safe to say that Carnival cruise line will hope that that goodwill from the crew people extends to dry land, here, and maybe they won't get as many people going after them for more damages as they possibly could have if the crew weren't so good onboard.
COX: Yes, absolutely.
MANN: Jim Spellman, live for us. Thanks very much. It was by all accounts a pretty unpleasant experience for people expecting a relaxing cruise. Ed Payne was in Galveston when the ship finally came in.
ED PAYNE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Carnival Triumph made its way into the port of Mobile, passengers cheered and waved. Others hung signs like this one that reads, "Sweet home Alabama."
This comes after days of unsanitary conditions and power outages. Before passengers disembarked, the CEO of Carnival offered an apology.
GERRY CAHILL, CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests to that. We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed.
PAYNE: As the more than 3,000 passengers made their way off the ship, some vented their frustrations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of unhappy people on this ship. A lot of unhappy people because of the conditions and the way things just went downhill from the first day. And then, we couldn't -- we floated for over a hundred -- or somewhere around a hundred miles.
PAYNE: Others say they're just grateful to get off the cruise ship.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After being on that boat for that long and not knowing when or how we were getting back, it was just so good to finally be back.
PAYNE: Others say the experience brought out the good in people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I saw a lot more of the good behavior and a lot less of the bad behavior. So tempers would flare occasionally at things, but nothing too dramatic.
PAYNE: Despite the unpleasant experience, one man says he'd go on another cruise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would, yes. It's going to take a while. It's not going to be next week or anything.
PAYNE: I'm Ed Payne reporting.
MANN: So, as you just heard, there are passengers who aren't giving up on cruises, even after going through that kind of ordeal. Despite high- profile cases like the Triumph or last year's Costa Concordia mishap, the cruise industry is actually still going strong.
It has seen constant growth in popularity, about 8 percent a year, in fact, for the past three decades. In the US, more than 14 million people went on a cruise last year alone. Worldwide, the number exceeded 20 million passengers. More growth is predicted this year.
Coming up after a short break on CONNECT THE WORLD --
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KEN LIVINGSTONE, MAYOR OF LONDON, 2000-2008: The biggest political demonstration in 2,000 years of British history.
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MANN: Ten years ago today, millions around the world protested against military action in Iraq. We'll revisit the scenes and emotions of that day.
MANN: Welcome back, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Though we're going to connect the dots, now. Two of sports' biggest global stars playing two very different sports, but both seemingly at the top of the games right now. Don Riddell joins us now. Who are we talking about?
DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're talking about Serena Williams and Lebron James. I'm going to tell you about Serena Williams first, Jonathan, because she was very, very emotional at the Qatar Open today, and it wasn't because she was losing.
It's because she knew she was about to get back to being the world number one in women's tennis, a position she hasn't held since October of 2010. She did it the hard way. She had to come from behind against Petra Kvitova in her match to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
And she's not just the world number one again. She's now the oldest ever world number one at the age of 31, which is a phenomenal achievement. Anybody that watched her last year could have told you that since May, she's been the best player in the world. But now she has the stats sufficiently to back it up.
Meanwhile, Lebron James is heading into NBA's All-Star weekend on the third-ever hottest streak going into the mid-season break. He scored 39 points for the Miami Heat against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That's his seventh game shooting 30 points or more.
But sadly, that miss was very costly regarding an historic run he's been on. He's gone six consecutive games with a shooting percentage of 60 percent or more. That meant in that game, he dropped to 58 percent, which meant that some poor TNT courtside reporter had to break the news to him that the run was over.
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MIKE FRATELLO, TNT SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You had your 60 percent field goal percentage going until you jacked up that three-point on the shot clock. Were you aware of your -- what that meant.
LEBRON JAMES, 39 POINTS, 12 REBOUNDS, 7 ASSISTS VS. THUNDER: No, I wasn't aware. But all good things got to come to an end at some point, so it was a good run, but we got the win tonight, and that's the most important.
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RIDDELL: Absolutely right for his team. But he is playing incredible basketball. Even though he's -- he only shot 58.3 percent last night, he is just on an incredible run.
MANN: I know. It sounded like he was delivering a eulogy for his hot streak. There's no sense that it's over yet. But --
MANN: -- we're going to shift gears a little bit, talk about golf. We talk about eagles, we talk about birdies. Once in a while you might hear of an albatross.
MANN: Now we're talking kangaroos.
RIDDELL: Yes, this is incredible. I feel sorry for the golfer's at the women's Australia Open at Royal Canberra, because right now, globally, the public's imagination has not been the golf, it's been all these kangaroos.
These pictures are just incredible. This is from the first round at Royal Canberra on Thursday, and as you can see, a troop, a herd, a mob of kangaroos completely took over. That's Karrie Webb, the hall of famer, an Australian golfer who's actually won this even four times. She had to stand on the sidelines as at least 27 kangaroos just completely took over the fairway.
RIDDELL: Great stuff. Given that it's Australia, of course you'd get kangaroos on the golf course. But that many at one time?
MANN: You kind of wonder, did they open the door at the zoo?
MANN: How do you get 20 -- how do you get two dozen kangaroos in one spot on a golf course?
RIDDELL: Well, you know, this played in the open air in the countryside -- this is more their habitat than ours, Jonathan, let's be fair.
MANN: Point well-put. Don Riddell, thanks very much.
I'm Jonathan Mann. You've been watching CONNECT THE WORLD, and we leave you with tonight's Parting Shots. Ten years ago today, there was an extraordinary expression of global anger when millions around the world gathered to protest against the war in Iraq. We remember the big -- biggest, rather -- political demonstration in history, and here's some of the people behind it.
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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Big Ben tolled as the huge crowd marched to stop the countdown to war against Iraq.
WEDEMAN: A seemingly endless current of marchers.
LINDSEY GERMAN, ORGANIZER OF THE 2003 LONDON DEMONSTRATION: It was tremendous. People -- I think it's one of the few demonstrations where people really thought they could stop a war, and therefore they felt them turning out individually as opposed to reading about it in the newspaper or saying, "Oh, that's a good thing" when they watched it on television.
LIVINGTSTONE: As mayor of London, I can officially welcome you here to this city in the biggest political demonstration in 2,000 years of British history.
LIVINGSTONE: It's hard to think of any one event that has brought so many different nations' protest movements together in that way, and I think just, people aren't stupid. They could see that what George W. Bush was about wasn't human rights, it was about controlling the oil. And they didn't think that killing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East was worth it.
UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Sydney, more than 200,000 demonstrators crammed into Hyde Park before bringing the city to a standstill.
UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crowd here in New York City is quite larger than they had expected. We know right now that they are blocking off from 52nd Street all the way down to 72nd Street on 1st Avenue north of the United Nations.
LIVINGSTONE: Every faith, every age, every race. I have never seen anything that brought the diversity of British people together so much.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a million, say police, on the streets of the Eternal City.
GERMAN: America thought it was unstoppable after the collapse of the Soviet Union. What it did have was its own population, the British population, the population of all of its allies, were saying you're not doing this in our name.
We don't agree with this. We do not want this to happen, and we think that it will -- reordering the world, you shouldn't be doing it by invading and bombing and occupying other people's countries.