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Syria Pushes Back Against Allegations Of Chemical Weapons Use; Iran Extends Voting Hours For Presidential Elections; Turkish Prime Minister Speaks With Party Leaders In Ankara

Aired June 14, 2013 - 08:00:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. And welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet.

Now the Syrian government hits back at the U.S. and denies claims that it used chemical weapons.

Iranians go to the polls to choose a president to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And the end of the road for one of the world's iconic power couples. Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng are getting a divorce.

Now the Syrian government is hitting back at allegations that it has used chemical weapons on its own people, saying such claims are, quote, "full of lies."

And on Thursday, the White House said that Damascus has crossed what it considers a red line. As a result, Washington announced that it will increase military support for Syrian opposition fights. And Damascus says the assessment is based on fabricated information.

But Britain says it agrees with the U.S. Foreign Minister William Hague says the Assad regime has used sarin gas. And France made that same announcement earlier this month.

But Russia says it is not convinced. Now Moscow has repeatedly warned against what it calls a repeat of the Iraq scenario. Now Russia is an ally of the Assad regime.

Now we will take you live to Damascus in just a moment, but first let's explore the options on the table for Washington. We'll bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. And Barbara, exactly how will the U.S. now support the rebels?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kristie, the White House is being very deliberate in not telling us. The -- yesterday, the announcement from the White House that they believe, yes, they can make the finding Assad's regime has used chemical weapons against its people on eight occasions with about 150 Syrians killed as a result of those attacks, 93,000 overall, according to the UN as a result of the civil war.

So the chemical weapons finding the White House says changes the president's calculations. They will now boost their military support for the rebels.

How do they do that? Probably, but not yet being said, the most likely near-term option is arming the rebels -- ammunition, light arms, machine guns, rifles, that sort of thing.

But many people, of course, will tell you that simply will not be enough to change the calculation on the ground, that it will require much more involvement. And there's a big push for a no-fly zone. But no indication the White House will go for it.

LU STOUT: And Barbara, there's also the concern about the al Nusra Front. I mean, many rebel fighters have -- are militants with al Qaeda sympathies. What can be done to make sure that the weapons from the U.S. don't get into their hands?

STARR: Well, that's one of the key questions about how much do you do in arming the rebels, of course. You know, the calculation is that you have to go beyond the machine guns and the rifles, you have to go to anti- tank weapons, shoulder fired anti-air weapons to stop Assad's helicopters and planes. But once you start putting that in the hands of some of these groups, especially the shoulder fired missiles, then you get into the calculation are you willing to risk letting those weapons get into the hands of al Qaeda or the al Nusra Front or even the Iranian or Hezbollah militias operating inside of Syria right now.

They have plenty of their own weapons, but certainly they're going to want to get their hands on what the rebels would have.

So once you get into the more advanced weaponry, that's the problem, can you really control where it goes?

LU STOUT: Yeah. And Barbara, the gamechanger in all this, of course, is that proof of chemical weapons being used in Syria, the allegation from the U.S. And that's being questioned by the Russians, among others. I mean, how confident are U.S. intelligence officials in this assessment?

STARR: Well, I don't think it's any surprise to anybody the Russians of course I think you'd agree would question the U.S. finding. But, you know, for the last many months, the U.S., the British, the French, the United Nations all have been looking at this evidence coming out of Syria, much of it medical samples from people who have been injured or killed by these weapons, looking at the chain of custody. And they do feel now that they have the solid evidence that sarin was used in at least some of these eight instances and that they can make the case with great confidence that the regime did use chemical weapons, multiple occasions, limited use, but it certainly does appear now that the president's red line has been crossed.

LU STOUT: All right, Barbara Starr joining us live from the Pentagon, thank you very much indeed for that.

Now the Syrian government has previously said it does not have chemical weapons and would not use them on its own people if it did. Now Frederik Pleitgen joins us now live from Damascus. And Fred, we know that the Syrian government is hitting back hard at those allegations from the U.S.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they certainly are. They came out with a statement just a couple of minutes ago. It was on Syrian state televisoin, an urgent banner that flashed up there. And as you said, they condemned these allegations. They said that they were wrong, that they were, quote, "fabricated." And they also accused the United States of, quote, "double standards" in fighting terrorism. Of course, by the Syrian government's accounts the rebels that they're fighting in Syria are all Islamist extremists that they call terrorists. And so therefore they've been claiming for a very long time that they are fighting the people that, for instance, the United States was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, that's their take on the situation.

But, as you said, the Syrian government for a very long time has been saying it did not use, and has never used, chemical weapons on the battlefield, never even acknowledged that it has chemical weapons stockpiles. And certainly when we went out into Damascus earlier today and spoke to government supporters, they (inaudible) you heard there disbelief and defiance. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have had this war for two- and-a-half years, and we have managed very well. What are they going to do? Airstrikes on military areas? They can do that. But we Syrians have proven we can manage and we are patient. And we will win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): America is inventing stories about chemical weapons. Syrian government never used chemical weapons. The rebel have used them, not the government. So they are inventing stories, because our army is winning.


PLEITGEN: And as you heard from that gentleman there who are saying that all this is happening because the government forces are on the offensive, that of course is very much true. We have seen in the past, I would say, a week or so, the Syrian government forces, also backed by Hezbollah fighters (inaudible) opposition, take back a lot of territory in central and northern Syrian.

There are, of course, Kristie, a lot of people who believe that the next target of the government forces will be Aleppo. And so therefore the Syrian government is, of course, very concerned that if America gets more involved here in the Syrian conflict that all the gains it's taken could be squelched very quickly, Kristie.

LU STOUT: You know, government forces there in Syria on the offensive in a very big way across the country. But now with the U.S. planning to arm the rebels, what will happen on the battlefield? Could it tip the balance in a significant way?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's a very good question. And it certainly would depend on what sort of aid the rebels would receive from the United States. Certainly, something on the scale of a no-fly zone, that of course as we all know also encompasses things like taking out Assad's air defense, taking out large parts of the air force as well, that certainly would at least have a short and medium-term affect on the battlefield.

Small weapons deliveries, not many people believe it would make much of a difference, because one of the things that certainly there is no lack of on the battlefield in northern Syria is things like rifles, RPGs, as well as mortars. So certainly probably that wouldn't make too much of a difference.

One of the things that of course rebels have been looking for, and the United States has been very reluctant to provide, are advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. That's certainly something that might be under discussion that could make a difference. How big that difference is at this point in time especially with the rebels on the retreat the way they are and the amount of time it would probably take to get those things in there, that's anybody's guess at this point in time.

But certainly it would have an affect on the battlefield. How big is very hard to say.

But right now, it really seems as though the forces of Bashar al- Assad's military in conjunction with Hezbollah, are really making very big progress. And that is something that will be very difficult to stop in the short-term, Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right, Frederik Pleitgen joining us live with the very latest from inside Syria. Thank you, Fred.

Now the United Nations says nearly 93,000 Syrians have been killed since this conflict began back in 2011. And the pace has increased dramatically since then. The average number of documented killings has climbed from around 1,000 a month in the summer of 2011 to an average of 5,000 a month since July 2012. And the UN says nearly 27,000 people have been killed since December alone.

Now Turkey's prime minister seems determined to show the world that he still has a solid base of support in the country. Now two pro-government rallies are set to take place this weekend.

On Thursday, Mr. Erdogan met with leaders of the anti-government protests that are happening in central Istanbul's Gezi Park. Now those demonstrations continue despite the prime minister's warning that he is running out of patience.

Now the situation in Istanbul so far remains calm today.

But police in the capital Ankara have used tear gas against protesters as Erdogan meets members of his ruling AK Party there.

Now let's go live to Karl Penhaul who is monitoring developments from Istanbul. And he joins us now live.

And Karl, first, the political update. What is the outcome of Erdogan's meeting with the protesters? And what should we expect from his upcoming party meeting?

KARK PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right, we're right int he middle of Gezi Park now, which has been the epicenter of these protests for almost two weeks now. And you'll see that stage behind us, Kristie. And in just the next few moments, literally, we're expecting representatives of the myriad groups that have been here protesting in Taksim Square and in Gezi Park to take that stage and explain what they talked about with Prime Minister Erdogan in Ankara last night and into the early hours of this morning.

What we do know so far from that meeting is that the prime minister has reiterated his offer. He said well we can hold a referendum on the future of Gezi Park whether we turn it into a commercial shopping mall or not, but he said but first before I can do that I've got to allow the courts to decide whether that is legal or not.

And so leaders of the protest are going to inform supporters now of what went on at that meeting. And then everybody will break up into smaller groups, go and discuss their attitudes toward that offer and decide whether that is enough for them to lift camp and go home.

Now we've been monitoring, of course, a lot of the early chatter on Twitter and on Facebook. And basically from what we can ascertain from many of these groups, that offer of a referendum if the courts allow it is not going to be enough, because as we know this protest has got much wider than just the trees here in Gezi Park.

Some protesters at one end of the scale are calling for the prime minister himself to step down, others are calling for the governors of four of Turkey's major cities to resign. And they're also calling for the freeing of all those detained during these protests. And we understand that those number about 1,000 people.

And so the government offer so far stops well short of what the protesters are now demanding. But we've got to see what happens here in the next few minutes. And then in those forums over the next few hours about what the protesters decide and how they're going to move forward from this, Kristie.

LU STOUT: So the protesters, you are gauging that they are planning to stay, but what about the police? Because if we look at the scene behind you, it's relatively calm. Of course, we're still awaiting the protest leaders to make that statement on the stage behind you. We see crowds, we see banners, but are you seeing security vehicles still on standby? What's the security presence there like?

PENHAUL: Security forces have been on standby. They've been on standby constantly here. What we did notice from last night is that not only is there a significant presence of riot police in Taksim Square, but also on the side streets. There are no buses of riot police parked down those side streets. And that's where the different shifts of riot police are taking a rest before they move into the square. But certainly a lot more riot police on standby in the surrounding streets.

And of course not only have we had this offer from prime minister Erdogan about the possible referendum, but we've also had the threat of the use of force. He's reiterated earlier statements that his patience is running out, that he believes that Taksim Square is being turned into a trash heap. And he's saying, you know, now is time to get out of the square, if not my patience is running out and I will send in security forces to clean up.

Now if that happens, once again the stage will be set for confrontation, but as I say, there may be still a little wiggle room here. The protesters have got to talk amongst themselves. We still see the government making those overtures to them. And so there still may be a little time for talk. But if not, then it seems that the solution, the outcome to this will be decided on the streets rather than around some kind of negotiating table, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, will there be another overture to the protesters or more defiant talk ahead?

Now Karl, we understand that we are waiting for the Turkish prime minister to give a statement within moments. And once we do so, we'll do it right here. We'll bring it to you live on CNN. Karl Penhaul joining us live from Istanbul, thank you so much for setting the scene for us there.

You're watching News Stream. And coming up next, Iran's supreme leader urges people to get out and vote in the country's presidential election.

And U.S. lawmakers are asking whether intelligence leader, a leaker rather, Edward Snowden, will defect to China and what secrets he could take with him.

And the media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, files for divorce from his third wife. Stay with us.


LU STOUT: Now voting hours in Iran's presidential election are being extended, though it is not clear by how long. The interior ministry says that the extra time is needed to accommodate high voter turnout.

Now voters are choosing a successor to outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And there are six presidential candidates, all were approved by Iran's non-elected guardian council. It's overseen by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who cast the first ballot early on Friday.

Now some 50 million Iranians are eligible to vote, but whether they do so, that's another matter.

Now some may still be haunted by the violent government crackdown on the protests that followed the 2009 reelection of Ahmadinejad. And for some perspective, let's bring in chief international correspondent Christiana Amanpour.

Christiane, thank you so much for joining us here on News Stream. The polling stations are indeed open in Iran. Four years after the Green Movement, what are you hearing about the mood inside the country?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, I was there during that election and it was really extraordinary, as you know. People widely viewed the reelection of Ahmadinejad as a fraudulent count and therefore they came into the street and for days there was a sense amongst the people that maybe they could change the result, maybe the reformers would be installed as the leaders. But that didn't happen.

The regime along with the Revolutionary Guard and their shock troops known as the Basige (ph) brutally suppressed the outpouring four years ago and imprisoned many people. There were many people who were killed as well.

And this time around, they have done everything possible to make sure that that scenario does not repeat itself. So they have chosen very carefully the candidates who they deemed -- they would allow to run. They even banned one of the most high profile leaders in Iran, a former president, and a former founding member of the revolution Hashemi Rafsanjani. You remember, they banned him from running. He was going to run under the reformist mantle.

They've allowed conservatives who are hardliners and viewed to reliably tow the Ayatollah's line.

And so now the question is who will win, will it be one of the hardliners? Will it be Saeed Jalili, who is the current nuclear negotiator? Will it be Ghalibaf who is the current mayor of Tehran. Or will it be Ali Akbar Velayati who is a former foreign minister and a key aid to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Now, I've heard from various members of the reformist camp, that is the Hassan Rowhani camp. He is one candidate who now reformists have sort of gelled behind, that they feel that he's having a last minute surge.

But again we'll wait to see what happens. It looks like nothing that the supreme leader wants to happen -- in other words, what he wants will happen. And we'll see how that turns out.

LU STOUT: That's right, because all the candidates were approved by Iran's guardian council. As you said, momentum building around Hassan Rowhani. But you also mentioned the top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. He is there in the running. You've interviewed him. What's your take on him as a possible president?

AMANPOUR: Well, I have interviewed him several times as nuclear negotiator. And here's the thing, he's quite hardline. He is as you've seen in his election campaigning, he's been talking about no surrender. All the sort of rhetoric is built as a major sort of confrontation between Iran and the west and that any sign of compromise would be seen as a capitulation to the enemy, that's how they -- that's how they, you know, declare what they're doing.

But I think that's what's interesting is that he's a hard negotiator. It's -- he doesn't seem to have a great rapport with the members of the P5+1, that is the U.S. and European allies who are in these nuclear negotiations. And we'll wait to see what happens.

What we do know, and I think this is important, is that for many, many years now there have been many Iranian politicians who have wanted to move beyond this current state of stalemate and confrontation with the U.S. and with the west and in the United States as well. We've seen various offers of talks.

But of course they have never gone anywhere. There's such a huge wall of mistrust between Iran and the U.S. for the last 34 years, that there's never been any real opportunity to break this wall of mistrust and move forward.

So, whoever wins, we're likely to see a similar confrontation carry on on the nuclear issue. And that's for sure.

Of course, Iranians want somebody who can fix their dire economist straits. And those are a result of terrible mismanagement by the Iranian government over the last three decades as well as terrible sanctions that have been imposed because of the nuclear program.

LU STOUT: So you expect between U.S.-Iran relations whoever wins this election, that confrontation between U.S. and Iran will continue irregardless of a new face replacing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that would not bring about a reset in relations between the U.S. and Iran?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's kind of a Cold War that's existed between the U.S. and Iran since 1979. And nothing has really shifted that. There have been little moments when perhaps there looked like there was some light at the end of the tunnel and something might move. You know, somebody like President Rafsanjani, former President Rafsanjani told me that if he had been elected -- and this was actually back in 2005 when Ahmadinejad beat him -- if he had been elected he would have, you know, maintained Iran's nuclear rights and maintained the program, but he would have done all that he could, he said, to make sure that it was transparent and that the west didn't think that they were building nuclear weapons.

He also said he wanted to close the U.S. file, in other words, restore relations with the United States, but based on mutual interest, mutual benefit and not based on just capitulating and surrendering.

I think what the west has got wrong about Iran is they think that they can put sanctions on and keep ratcheting up these sanctions and keep trying to isolate Iran and that Iran will cry uncle and surrender. That's clearly not going to happen. It hasn't happened over the last, you know, 34 years. It hasn't happened throughout the life of Iran's nuclear program.

So there must be a different way to deal with this that can achieve something before it goes to conflict.

And of course all of this is happening within the framework of Israel and the United States maybe one day deciding that this is only going to be dealt with by military strikes on Iran.

So it's a very tense and dangerous situation.

LU STOUT: Well, Christiane, thank you as always for giving us your insight and the big picture into what's happening today. The presidential election inside Iran. Christiane Amanpour there, thank you.

Now you are watching News Stream. And still ahead on the program. The gaming industries big expo, it has just wrapped up, but what fell flat? We'll bring you E3's more disappointing displays. Stick around for that.


LU STOUT: Coming to you live from Hong Kong, you are back watching News Stream.

Now the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is speaking to members of his political party about the protests and the tension in his country right now there at the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Decelopment Party in Ankara. Let's listen in.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Sadly, as a result of the intense (inaudible) of the country they didn't have the attention -- and that they didn't get the attention they deserved, therefore, I would like to share both with you and with those who -- with the dear members of our nation who might be watching us on screens, I would like to repeat these figures, stress these figures once again.

In the first quarter of the year, Turkish economy grew 3 percent, and four terms national income has been reached $805 billion. With 3 percent growth rate, we now -- Turkey is now the country which has the largest -- the biggest growth rate in Europe.

In the European Union parliament, what happens in the European Union parliament was not for nothing. We have to think carefully about these things. They couldn't accept that there's difficulty of (inaudible). And we must open the gates for them. We must help them to be able to accept what happens. French economy, Spanish economy (inaudible) 0.1 percent was the (inaudible) Holland's economy. The largest growth rate is of the (inaudible) in Europe and that's only 1.3 percent.

And minus 0.2 is the medium growth rate in the European Union in 27 countries the figure is 0.1. And it's a minus figure, minus 0.1 percent is the 27 European countries medium. It's 0.09 is Japan's, 0.06 is USA's growth rate.

In this -- in such picture, our country maintained its strength with 3 percent growth rate and proved confirmed its strong and stable position in economic world.

These pleasing -- I hope these growth rates will be beneficial and will be good for our country. This is my wish from my god. And I express my gratitude to all those who contributed into this.

My esteemed friends, May has been a really bright month in our economic history. In just one single month, something rare, very rare happened. Several consecutive important economic developments took place. $46 billion in May in investment of an airport was for $6 billion airport was contracted, opened to bids. And a nuclear centers first steps have been taken.

And again in May, the third Bosphorus bridge was started to be built.

And in Istanbul, demonstrative interest rates 0.4 -- 4.6 to 7 percent was the rates -- interest rates which was the smallest ever.

And central bank's reserves were $135 billion, which was the highest ever figure.

And again...

LU STOUT: All right, live pictures there from Ankara, the capital of Turkey. We were just listening to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking to his party. In the backdrop, you have growing tensions in his country, street protests between anti-government protesters and clashing with riot police in Istanbul and Ankara. And yet you heard him there, he's touting the economic performance of Turkey, touting the investments in infrastructure and touting the economic growth rate being the highest in Europe.

Now we are still awaiting for him to make any word about the talks he had on Thursday night with the Gezi Park protest leaders. Once he addresses that, once he addresses the tensions in his country, we'll bring those comments to you right here on CNN.

Now you're watching News Stream. And the American man who leaked information about the U.S. government spy programs is -- again, he's believed to be hiding somewhere in Hong Kong.

Up next on News Stream, we'll look at why Washington is very concerned that Edward Snowden my defect.


LU STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream. And these are your world headlines.

Now the U.S. says it will boost the scope and scale of support for Syria's rebels saying it has seen proof that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against them. Britain backs the U.s.'s findings and has called for a strong international response. However, Russia says that the evidence provided by Washington is unconvincing. And Syria says the claims are full of lies.

Now people in Iran are voting for a new president. There are six candidates running to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has been in the office for the past eight years. Now State TV says turnout has been so high that voting hours will be extended.

Now there are signs that the Turkish government and protesters are seeking to end the political crisis sparked by plans to develop and Istanbul Park. Now the prime minister met some of the protest leaders earlier today. And the government is now indicating it may let the courts decide the future of Gezi Park. Right now, Erdogan is addressing members of his party and touting recent economic developments.

Now the United States is feeling international blowback over its National Security Agency's secret gathering of electronic data from foreigners. And details of the PRISM program were recently leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Now the leaks include revelations that the PRISM program mines private user data from American internet companies. Now that could go against the constitution in Germany where internet privacy is a highly sensitive issue.

And now Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel tells CNN she intends to discuss PRISM with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits Berlin next week.

Now leaker Edward Snowden is still beleived to be holed up somewhere here in Hong Kong after fleeing his homeland. And so far, he does not face any formal charges in the United States. But as CNN's Brian Todd now reports, the government is clearly worried that Snowden can still do more damage to U.S. interests.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Top U.S. officials are no openly worried, will Edward Snowden defect?

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) MICHIGAN: Does he have a relationship with a foreign government? And is there more to this story?

Clearly there is -- we're going to make sure that there's a thorough scrub of what he has -- what his China connections are.

TODD: A former senior NSA official and a former CIA officer told me the Chinese government has likely at least made contact with Edward Snowden. One analyst says over the past few days, it's looked more and more like someone is shaping Snowden's behavior, possibly the Guardian newspaper, maybe the Chinese.

So what kind of information does he have? To hear him brag about it to the Guardian, besides the NSA's telephone surveillance and internet monitoring programs...

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: I had access to, you know, the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station. We have what their missions are, and so forth.

TODD: Senior U.S. officials say they doubt Snowden really has all that information. Snowden has said his intent was not to harm the U.S., but former CIA officer Robert Baer says there's no doubt he's being closely watched.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: You and I cannot hide in Hong Kong. It's impossible. Chinese intelligence has that place riddled with sources, people, cooperative police, the rest of it. It's impossible to hide in Hong Kong.

TODD: Baer says because of that, there's little chance the CIA could capture Snowden through some secret rendition or other method, even if they wanted to.

Snowden told a Hong Kong newspaper that the U.S. government has been hacking into computers in China for years. If Snowden were to defect, what would the Chinese want most from him?

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: What the Chinese don't have is they don't have the knowledge of where we've been successful, whose phone has been hacked, whose computer has been hacked, they don't know that. And so if he can tell them places, specific places that have been hacked, they can go and close off the source.

TODD: We called and emailed the Chinese embassy in Washington asking if their government has made contact with Snowden, and if he wanted asylum, would they grant it? They didn't respond.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


LU STOUT: And one of the big mysteries in this case is exactly how Edward Snowden managed to steal so much classified information from the National Security Agency. Well, the Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. officials have determined that he used an ordinary thumb drive, or USB, possibly like this one, to smuggle the documents out of the NSA facility in Hawaii.

And the L.A. Times also says investigators now know how many documents Snowden downloaded and the server he took them from.

But the portable data storage devices are meant to be barred inside the spy agency where Snowden was working as a contractor.

Now Experts say that Snowden's position as a systems administrator may have given him access to other equipment, essentially allowing him to download information onto a USB.

Now, let's turn our attention back to Turkey. And demonstrators are defying the prime minister even after he warned that he is running out of patience. So far, the situation in Istanbul has remained calm. And our partner network CNN Turk says police have released 46 demonstrators from detention.

Now remember, the unrest in Turkey started two weeks ago as a protest to save Gezi Park from development. And after a heavy-handed police response, demonstrations spread across the country.

And the crowds gathering now are broadly criticizing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's policies. Some protesters say he must resign.

Mr. Erdogan and his moderate Islamist party swept into power more than a decade ago. He is now in his third term. Mr. Erdogan has overseen a decade of unprecedented economic growth in Turkey. You heard him bring up those figures in a speech to party members just a short time ago. And his political reforms have brought Turkey more in line with the European Union and closer to the west.

But the prime minister is simultaneously popular and polarizing. Many secular Turks who voted against the government feel the AKP party does not tolerate dissent or diversity. And critics say Mr. Erdogan has grown authoritarian and arrogant.

Now in recent speeches, he has shown defiance. His supporters plan to hold rallies this weekend in Ankara and Istanbul.

Now Karl Penhaul spoke to some Erdogan supporters.


PENHAUL: To play cards, time, too, to chat about the day's events. Their conversation for the last two weeks, outrage at the sometimes violent protests in Taksim Square.

"Throwing stones at others or throwing Molotov cocktails at cars or vandalizing homes, that's all wrong," he says.

Ahmed Golar (ph), a chef's assistant and his friends, are solidly behind Prime Minister Erdogan. Yashar Karoja (ph) has run this tea shop for the last 25 years. He says he's a card carrying member of the ruling party.

"There are many different groups out there working to destabilize the Turkish economy, the government and Prime Minister Erdogan. The park is a huge mess," he says.

He suspects foreign agents may be stirring up the protests and believes the protesters are getting paid to camp out. He offers no evidence for either claim.

Most of his customers don't have any patience for the protests.

"Normal citizens would never throw Molotov cocktails," he says.

Tayyip Erdogan was reelcted for a second term in 2007 with almost 50 percent of the vote. The scale of his support was on display when he returned to Turkey last week after a trip abroad. He's called on supporters to stage counter demonstrations this weekend against the anti- government protests.

In the middle class area of Istanbul where Mr. Erdogan grew up, neighbors describe his government as honest. They reject protesters' allegations that he wants to mix religion and politics.

Under his rule, the economy has grown three-fold. Many ordinary people like storekeepr Semia Patcha (ph) say they're feeling the benefits.

"Thank god the economy has gotten much better, and hopefully it will continue growing for the next 10 years," she says.

Right now, though, most Turks may not be thinking about the economy over the next decade, but are more focused on politics and protests over the next few days.

Karl Penhaul, CNN, Istanbul.


LU STOUT: Now let's go back to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking to members of his political party about the protests in his country right now. They are at the headquarters of the ruling party in Ankara. Let's listen in.

ERDOGAN (through translator): ...about these over two weeks' time in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and some other large cities anger and hatred were pumped into cities, cities were smashed and burned down by vandals. And while all this was happening, some people kept showing only the front of the stage.

First of all, let's open the -- let me (inaudible) the international media, we are aware of this type of media, our political history was spent with struggling against this sort of media. Those who try to attack us through this, they just kept missing in the past when they targeted us, to hit us. And today it's happened again. They missed it. They try to shoot us, but they missed it.

In the same way, I address to the international media, they may not know Turkey well, they may not know Turkey very well, how our party came to this day and how the AK Party grew by struggling against such denigrating campaigns. They may not know about all that, but we will never bear with what they are doing.

They know how they are giving support and who they are giving support to. This has been revealed by (inaudible). It's all in the open.

Turkey is not like the country they used to know. This is not a country anymore that will be shaken with three fake information -- lying information. They can go to banana republics, they can give such information there. But they cannot take in my country they cannot do such operations in my country.

Turkey is a country that is shining like a sun in the region. No efforts will be able to cover this sun with mud.

I am addressing those who watch me before their screens and those who love my country. Whichever country's parliament. Yesterday, the European Union parliament took a decision about us, can those who love the country prove such decision, can say yes to such decision that was taken about our country? We immediately said we do not recognize this decision, we refuse decision and we did refuse it.

Which right allows you to take such a decision, which I (inaudible) position you can take such decisions about Turkey. If you are sincere about these things, what happened in Greece, we have seen how people were dragged, grabbed and dragged on the floor and detained and so-on.

Take a decision about it. Take a decision about the United Kingdom. More than 50 people have been detained and (inaudible) dragged on the ground. Take a decision about what happened about G-8 in the UK.

What about Germany? What does German police do civilians those killed my eight citizens in Germany. First of all, you should find the commitors, the suspects of those -- commitors of those crimes.


ERDOGAN: In the same way, Wall Street, the incidents of Wall Street. Why don't you talk about these? Why don't you write about these issues? And why don't you give warnings about such issues? And then they turn and recommend (inaudible) Turkey or the calm to Turkey.

We have been showing calm. And we keep doing it.

Those who are against the growing Turkey, because they think this is against their interests, they will lose their credit. We will not.

My esteemed siblings, the world is governed, run by people, by nations. Us as governors, we are temporary. The national will, the nation's will, is important. Therefore, our main relationship is with other nations, same goes for Middle East and same goes for the whole world. This is what we are fighting for.

In the whole world, now they are attacking our police, as you know. Police -- what does police do when they face any single action that is not legal? They intervene. Is it not the case in Europe, in USA, everywhere. They use certain methods in order to disperse unlawful demonstrators. There are tens of examples of United States of America. There are much heavier examples in Russian Federation. They immediately take you away. They don't even use tear gas in Russia, Russian Federation.

In European Union, there are tens of examples. And European Union regulation allows security forces their legitimate right to use tear gas in the European Union regulations. All the advanced countries, those with advanced democracy has this. And despite the fact that they don't have such burning down and smashing places in demonstrations, they still use these methods. And you cannot touch public things in those countries if -- once you do, you pay the cost immediately.

But when it comes to Turkey, the double standard approach immediately comes. And they try to denigrate Turkey. Turkey is the sun. And the sun cannot be covered with mud. Their efforts are going to be useless.

In Taksim, what is happened, my esteemed nation can see very well what goes on behind the curtain in Taksim. Who stands where in Taksim, both we know very well and my nation knows very well. We make note of all these one by one.

Behind the curtain, against the police, against the civilians and against the public figures there is a heavy violence exists. Behind the curtains, certain media institutions, certain people in social media...

LU STOUT: OK, just a moment ago we were listening to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan just defending the actions of the Turkish police. He was also very critical of news media reports and the ongoing tension in his country. The Turkish prime minister speaking to members of his party, party headquarters.

And earlier, he said that the protesters are hand in hand with illegal organizations and terrorists. And his comments just now he said, quote, Turkey is a country shining like a sun in the region, a sun you cannot cover with mud.

We'll continue to monitor the words there of the Turkish prime minister.

Now let's give you the latest on your global weather forecast, especially the situation happening in the U.S. state of Colorado with the blazes raging across that state. Mari Ramos joins us now with the very latest on that -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kristie, we wanted to just quickly update you on the weather situation there. Think it's slightly better conditions on these deadly fires that continue to burn across parts of Colorado. This is in the Black Forest.

And, you know, when you see pictures like this, it's always so scary. The fire has been spreading very quickly. As we move through the next 24 hours, it actually even into the weekend across these areas, we'll start to see a little bit of an improvement as far as the weather is concerned.

This is now considered the worst fire in Colorado history, 600 homes destroyed, more than 39,000 homes already evacuated with the fear that that fire could continue to spread. As we head into the weekend, the forecast is for scattered showers. You'd think, well that's good, right, but it comes with lightning and it comes with wind and not really enough rainfall to make a dent in the weather in this area. So we'll continue to monitor what happens there.

You can see all that moisture now trailing back into the central plains.

We've had pretty nasty weather, also, across the east coast of the U.S. Look at this picture, I wanted to show you, because it's also one of those very eerie kind of images. This is the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C. of course. And look at those dark, dark clouds behind it. There were over -- this is amazing -- over 700 storm reports across this area, the central, the mid-Atlantic U.S. and back over into the southeast. Some tornado warnings as well across this area. And at least one death in the U.S. state of Virginia where a tree fell over a father and a son. The little boy was the one killed.

So this is just another example of this very nasty weather that we're suffering here across the U.S. NOAA today came out with its list of billion dollar disasters for 2012. And there were 11 disasters that cost over $1 billion in the U.S. And we're going to have more on those numbers a little bit later here on CNN and I'll definitely have that for you guys at the iDesk in the next couple of hours.

Let's go ahead and move on and talk a little bit about the weather across Europe. I just want to mention that we are going to see that crest near Hamburg as we head into the weekend in the north and near Serbia in the south along the Danube. So still a lot of that nasty weather across that area as well.

Back to you.

LU STOUT: Yeah, very destructive weather systems across the globe. Thank you for keeping everything just -- giving us the update on it all. Mari Ramos there, thank you.

And all this week, CNN, we're also putting a spotlight on comic book superheroes. And while you often hear about Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman, the world of comics is not without its fair share of super heroines. And still as Neil Curry reports, their roles are often overlooked.


NEIL CURRY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Super heroine movies are few and far between. And the most prominent among them, Super Girl and Cat Woman have been closer to box office kryponite than a soar away success.

KRISTY GUEVARA-FLANAGAN, DOCUMENTARY-MAKER: They always talk about the trinity -- Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and you still haven't seen a Wonder Woman movie, ever. And she's been around almost as long as Superman.

Wonder Woman is still unique, because she is this female hero that isn't a sidekick that saves the day, ultimately, and isn't saved herself. And we just don't have enough other female heroes like that out there.

CURRY: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan's mission for justice led her to produce a documentary on the sparsity of the super heroine.

GUEVERA-FLANAGAN: There were other women featured in comics. There were some female superheroes, but it wasn't until Wonder Woman that there was a really iconic character to capture people's imaginations. And she is one of the few to survive for almost 70 years now.

CURRY: Wonder Woman gained a new super power in the 1970s, the ability to reach a global TV audience with Linda Carter's hit show.

LINDA CARTER, ACTOR: They did not think that a woman could carry a show. And, well, we proved them wrong. And made a lot of money for the network, a lot of money.

GUEVARA-FLANAGAN: I don't think women literally need to hold up a bridge, but there's ways in our lives in which women are heroes all the time and we need to recognize that and maybe even broaden what it means to be a hero.

CURRY: For people who prefer to confine their heroics to the weekends, the comic convention, once a bastion of boyhood fantasies, is now taking on a new look.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they originally started making characters, they were trying to appeal to the more male dominated fanbase, whereas it's expanded a lot since then and it hasn't quite caught up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people see a woman and saying, oh she's going to go feminist on me, or oh, she's going to be all whiny and like preachy and things. And I think that's quite a bad stereotype.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one seems to get women quite right. They'll always either betray them as like completely evil or really ditzy.

CURRY: Indian film director Chaka Kapur (ph) feels he's got it right in his mission to create a new super heroine for India.

SHARAD DEVARAJAN, CEO, GRAPHIC INDIA: We were fortunate enough to collaborate with him on a character called Devi, which means goddess in Indian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The goddess of light.

DEVARAJAN: We wanted to create a character which was a female hero set in a ficticious city called Setapour (ph), which is like our Gotham City. And it's a futuristic Asian city in some ways. And this young girl essentially is now imbued with a cosmic force that takes her over.

CURRY: Initial screenings of the character in a Mumbai comic store produced a positive reaction from female viewers.

DEVARAJAN: You're going to get a sneak peak of Devi.

I'm curious to what you think of it, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have been chosen to defy the darkness, to bear the divine light.

DEVARAJAN: So, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's maybe like really cool, because it's maybe it's the first super woman that we have.

DEVARAJAN: Yeah. Do you think India needs some really strong?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do. And the things that's going on with women in our country right now, it's quite bad to see it. So maybe it will enlighten us with the women in the school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Awesome. No, I love it. I love it, because I love the idea of a woman super hero.

I'm so sick of these Cinderella stories where the woman is waiting for this male superhero to come rescue her. It's about time we had a woman superhero.

STAN LEE, COMIC BOOK CREATOR: I predict you will see pretty much as many super heroines and superheroes as time goes by.

CURRY: In the meantime, girls are left to put their own spin on the few traditional super heroines.

While viewers of an appropriate age can turn to a new breed of super heroine in the weeks ahead as the sequel to the hit movie Kickass brings the return of Hit Girl to cinemas around the world.



CURRY: Neil Curry, CNN.


LU STOUT: And that is News Stream, but the news continues at CNN. World Business Today is next.