Return to Transcripts main page


Cuba Says Weapons Found On North Korean Ship Obsolete, In Need of Repair; 22 Children Die In India After Eating Free School Lunch; Many Dedicating 67 Minutes To Charity For Nelson Mandela Birthday

Aired July 17, 2013 - 16:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Tonight, anger in India after a government program designed to tackle hunger turns deadly. 22 children have died, another 20 are fighting for their lives.

Also ahead, even more weapons found hidden aboard a North Korea bound ship. We're going to have the view from Panama and from Cuba on what is a bounty.

And, as the royal baby wait continues, well even her majesty the Queen chimes in.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: I want to begin tonight with the outrage in India over the death of dozens of kids who were poisoned by a free lunch at school. Angry crowds took to the streets in Bihar State, some smashing windows of police buses, others attacking a police station with stones.

Now they are demanding answers and accountability.

Officials say the school lunch was contaminated by insecticide. 22 children died, dozens more are still in hospital, three of them fighting for their lives.

Well, an education minister speaking to CNN earlier says there were warning signs that might have averted the tragedy.


PK SHAHI, BIHAR STATE EDUCATION MINISTER: The head mistress was told by the cook that the medium of cooking was not proper and she suspected the quality of the oil, but the head mistress rebuked her and also chastised the children and forced them to consume the meal.


ANDERSON: Well, it seems the buck being passed down to those who ran the school.

CNN's Sumnima Udas just visited the hospital in India where the sickened children are being treated. And she joins us now on the phone with the details.

And what do we know at this point?

SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, I was just inside the hospital where all the children who fell ill after eating that contaminated food, that same lunch, has (inaudible) two dozen children are there, one is in a critical condition, but stabilizing, while the others, the doctors say, are out of danger.

Most of them were asleep when we got there, but I did manage to speak to 12=year-old (inaudible). He had just a tiny amount of rice and potatoes and almost immediately he started vomiting and feeling dizzy and the doctor said that most of those children when they arrived they actually showed the same symptoms. Some were even fainting, many of them with their pupils dilated as well. And he said some even had a very foul, but distinct smell in their mouths, some he attributed to possible organophosphorous poisoning. This is a insecticide commonly used by farmers, particularly to kill rodents and other insects here.

This is something that the doctors has seen before. He's dealt with these cases of organophosphorous poisoning before, but never on this scale - Becky.

ANDERSON: Sumnima, what chance do these kids stand of surviving this? Do we know at this point?

UDAS: Well, except for that one child, all the other children are in a stable condition and they're fine, actually. Some of them were talking to their parents, some of them were sleeping. But they are in a stable condition. And the one that I spoke to, he said he was feeling completely fine and there were no issues there.

Now, there is that question, of course, why some of them, of course, even died, and some of them were so ill and some of them are OK. And I asked the doctor that and he said it just depended on how much of that food they ate. Most of the children who are in that hospital right now only had a little bit before they started vomiting, whereas the other ones who perhaps died may have consumed a little bit more.

ANDERSON: All right, Sumnima, thank you for that. That's the very latest from Bihar State.

The scale of India's midday meals scheme is quite incredible. I want to give you a sense. It's the biggest food program in the world, serving 120 million kids a day in every government school in India.

Now it's been a real incentive for poor parents to get their kids into schools. Enrollment has gone up by some 20 percent. And that sort of jump isn't surprising when you consider the poverty rate in India stands at around 29 percent, nearly 30 percent.

And kids are among the most affected by this. The malnutrition rate has remained staggeringly high for years at around 42 percent, that's almost double the rate of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. And at the same time, India is seeing an economic boom.

It seems ironic, doesn't it? This is a country where GDP growth was more than 5 percent last year. And what's more, it's becoming home to more and more mega wealthy people. India now fifth in the world for number of billionaires with 61, so far as the numbers I can find out stand right now.

Well, I spoke before the show with Harsh Mander, a tireless advocate for ending hunger in India and improving food standards. He makes recommendations on these issues. India's supreme court has a special commissioner. He's also the director of the center for equity studies. And I asked what he though about India's schools meals program. This is what he said.


HARSH MANDER, DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR EQUITY STUDIES: I found consistently that the food meals program is the best. For many reasons, it's a simple support program. People don't steal from their own children and (inaudible) also tend to ground local children's -- local women's groups producing food.

So it is generally a much better program than most others.

ANDERSON: It does, though, seem quite remarkable that in a country whose economy is booming, 42 percent of kids are still malnourished. That compares to something like 28 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. So while this may be a positive step so far as getting kids into school is concerned, how do you - how do you bridge that gap between the very, very wealthy in India and the poorest of the poor. And we are talking tens of millions, aren't we, if not hundreds of millions?

MANDER: Yeah, I think that India is a great paradox and great shame is the fact that with all this economic growth and with some of the world's richest people living in India, the second (ph) child in India is malnourished. In fact, every third malnourished child in the world is Indian.

And nothing that the government has done, nothing that the economy has done, is seeming to make a difference. And I think - I think we need to understand what is causing this. And I think there are many reasons, but I think most of them there's a huge history of caste and gender inequality on the one hand. And then a number of factors like poor sanitation, poor access to drinking water, which makes even the food that a child does consume - the food doesn't get absorbed.

ANDERSON: How might this incredibly sad story change the status quo?

MANDER: If anything, this should be a wake-up call for investing far more of much greater percentage of our GDP into - into decent schooling for our children.


ANDERSON: Harsh Mander speaking to me earlier. You're watching Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson. Live from London. Tonight, 10 past 9:00, our top story, angry crowds take to the streets after the poisoning of 22 school kids. In this case, the education minister tells CNN warning signs went unheeded, but the larger issue is this - in a country with a booming economy, why aren't more than 40 percent of Indian children, one in three of the world's malnourished kids in a state of such dire poverty and the promise of a free meal is the difference between getting an education and not.

Still to come tonight, South Africans get ready for Nelson Mandela's birthday tomorrow. Find out what they are being asked to give exactly 67 minutes of their time to charity.

And we'll show the extraordinary letter from a Taliban commander addressed to schoolgirl Malala urging her to return to Pakistan.

And the latest details about some dangerous cargo uncovered on a North Korean ship.

All that coming up after this. 90 seconds away. Don't go away.


ANDERSON; Panama is asking the UN for guidance on how to handle a shock discovery of military weapons found on a North Korean ship. The country's attorney general says that the captain and crew haven't been charged yet. Earlier, though, today Cuban officials admitted the weapons were there's saying they were being sent to North Korea for repair.

Talk about a Connect the World story.

Let's bring in our team on the ground. May Lee is in the port of Manzanillo in Panama. And Patrick Oppmann joins us live from Cuba.

First, May, just the details as you know them from Panama. This is quite an extraordinary story, isn't it?

MAY LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly is, Becky. I mean, it seems every day there's a new development and for obvious reasons. You can see right behind me, that is the North Korean vessel that was seized a few days ago by Panamanian officials. Today, there has been so much activity. We've been watching them pulling out containers from the cargo hold. And what we've learned is that they've gone through one full cargo hold, but there's four more to go. So we have a lot more to go through on this ship before they're done searching the entire ship.

So at this point, we don't know what they're going to come up with. They have said that they found two more containers today of weapons and hardware, so given that they still have a few more cargo holds to go through, I'm sure they're going to be coming up with more of that weaponry that Cuba admitted to.

Cuba yesterday said that they did send North Koreans this hardware, very antiquated military weaponry, so that it could be repaired by the North Koreans. Who knows if that's accurate, but that is officially what Cuba is claiming - Becky.

ANDERSON: May, have we heard anything from the crew?

LEE: That is another mystery, Becky. You know, what we know is that when the boat was seized, they really put up a violent fight. In fact, Panamanian officials describe it almost like a riot. They really resisted arrest. And during that struggle, the captain of the ship faked a heart attack and then he took a knife to his throat and tried to commit suicide.

Now he survived. All four them are being detained. We don't know where. Apparently, we do want to question all the crew members. We don't know if they're talking. And we don't know if they said anything at this point.

ANDERSON: May Lee in Panama for you.

Patrick Oppmannis on the story in Cuba. And it's Cuba who at least admit that these weapons were theirs saying that they were being sent to North Korea for repair. That seems to be the extent of at least what I know at this point. Do you any more?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And it took several days for Cuba to come clean. But let's talk about what they say they were sending. It's some 240 metric tons of military hardware. We're talking about MiG planes - Soviet MiG planes, anti-aircraft missile systems, some nine missiles and all sorts of pieces and parts that go along with these weapons systems.

So Cuba officials are saying it's antiquated equipment, some equipment that's over 50 years old. But, you know, make no mistake, Becky, this is heavy duty weapons of war here that Cuba was hoping, they say, to send to North Korea, have it repaired, and have it brought back here to Cuba for use in what they claims are defensive measures.

ANDERSON: Our reporters on the story, which appears to be gaining ground so far as its legs are concerned. The more we get on this we will bring you here on CNN.

In Italy, a cruise ship captain accused of causing the death of 32 people has asked for a plea bargain. In the trial of this man, Francesco Schettino went underway earlier, he's charged with manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing environmental damage when the Costa Concordia ran aground last year.

Well, the court is expected to rule on his request soon. The trial begins a year-and-a-half after this cruise liner wrecked off the west coast of Italy.

If convicted on all charges, he faces a sentence of up to 25 years in jail.

Well, a schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban has received a letter from a senior member of the organization that tried to kill her. A letter to Malala Yousafzai, who won acclaim for her recent speech at the UN, comes from a Taliban commander.

Kylie Morris reports.


KYLIE MORRIS, BBC: A dear Malala letter from her Taliban attackers. Written by a senior regional commander, it was sent via email from a trusted source to this program. Intended as a response to the Pakistan schoolgirl's impassioned speech to the UN.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI, PAKISTANI ACTIVIST: On the night of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed.

MORRIS: Not only did the attack fail to silence a girl who has become a global superstar, it's cost the Taliban key support at home in Pakistan. This letter seeks to win back friends as well as keeping those they still have.

Its author is Commander Adnan Rasheed (ph), a notorious Taliban commander.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see this death cloud around me. We warn you to surrender yourself to us.

MORRIS: He was sentenced to death for his part in a plot to assassinate President Musharraf, but escaped in a mass jail break. Now, he's trying to restore the Taliban's reputation by writing letters.

He writes to Malala...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you were attacked, it was shocking for me. I wished it would never have happened.

MORRIS: Rasheed (ph) was in prison when Malala was shot at close range by Taliban fighters who boarded her school bus and asked for her by name. He repeats the Taliban claim that she was not targeted because she was going to school, but because she'd spoken out against their campaign in her home region of Swat.

He writes that the Taliban never attacked you because of going to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taliban are not against the education of any men or women or girls. Taliban believe that you're intentionally writing against them and running a smear campaign.

MORRIS: He admits fighters like him are prone to blowing up schools, but says the Pakistan army is doing it too, since both sides are in the habit of turning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Schools into hideouts and transit camps.

MORRIS: That revelation certainly fails to explain the violent campaign against teachers and school students waged across the country.

But Pakistan has a new government and the Taliban seems to want to send a message they can be reasonable.

PROFESSOR ANATOL LIEVEN, KING'S COLLEGE LONDON: Sensible members of the Taliban are rattled by some of the bad PR they've been getting by the assassination attempt against Malala. He wouldn't be saying all this unless he felt that he had some kind of case to answer in Pakistani public opinion.

MORRIS: Playing to that opinion, the commander poses a question for Malala to ponder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ask you, and be honest in your apply, if you were shot by Americans in a drone attack, would the world ever have heard updates on your medical status?

MORRIS: Then he finishes his letter with some advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pashtun culture, join any female Islamic madrasa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah.

MORRIS: It's not an invitation Malala's family will be taking up. They'd refused to comment, but say they never received their own copy.


ANDERSON: Malala Yousafzai at the UN just at the beginning of the week. Kylie Morris reporting for you.

Now Russian president Vladimir Putin says relations with the United States are more important than, quote, squabbles over Edward Snowden. His comments come after the U.S. intelligence leaker applied for temporary asylum in Russia. The president says he's warning Snowden against anything that would damage relations with the state.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services.

We warned Mr. Snowden that any action by him that could cause damage to Russian-American relations is unacceptable for us.


ANDERSON: Well, John Kerry's bid for peace talks is an interesting subject to pontificate over. Israel is angry over a new move from the European Union. The EU says it will now ban Israeli organizations in occupied territory from getting EU or European Union funding. And there's concern that that might affect new peace efforts.

Fionnuala Sweeney reports from Jerusalem.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: The news of the EU directive was met with a howl of derision in Israeli political circles. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, and I quote, "this is wrong. This is an attempt to force on Israel final borders through economic pressure rather than through the negotiations."

Israel's exports to the European Union amount to about $8.3 billion a year, about $200 million of which come from products originating in the settlements. While trade wouldn't be affected, the application of the EU directive would impact funding, cooperation, scholarships, research funds and prizes for organizations in settlements.

Palestinian legislator Hana Nashrai (ph) welcomed the banning of dealings with settlements saying it was holding Israel to account to a very minimal extent and that its reaction was, in her words, hysterical.

Should the EU decide to apply the guidelines, it would take the agreement of all 28 member countries to rescind it.

Separately, indirect negotiations between Palestinians and Israel have been taking place over the last few months through the auspices of the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who was in Jordan Wednesday, once again meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

At a news conference following that meeting, the U.S. Secretary of State said significant gaps between the two sides have been closed. And while warning against heightened expectations, said he was optimistic direct negotiations might take place.

Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN, Jerusalem.


ANDERSON: You're watching Connect the World. This is live out of London. I'm Becky Anderson for you. 23 minutes past 9:00 here. Coming up, every day another 6,000 people flee Syria. We visit a refugee camp in Jordan struggling to cope with the demand.

And what can you do in 67 minutes? We'' find out why South Africans are planning to give that exact time to volunteering for Nelson Mandela's birthday, which is Thursday. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Well, South Africans are preparing for Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday tomorrow, Thursday. The former president remains critically ill, of course, in hospital with a recurring lung infection. But this has made many all the more determined to volunteer their time for what the United Nations calls Mandela Day.

Robyn Curnow kicking off this part of the show with this report from South Africa.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are bikers, but today they paint for Nelson Mandela.

ZELDA LA GRANGE, MANDELA'S PERSONAL ASSISTANT: Whatever it is you choose as a sport, or as a club, or even people playing boca (ph) can do something for Mandela Day.

CURNOW: Mandela Day is marked by the United Nations every year on his birthday, a day meant to inspire people around the globe to give back, to serve, just like the man.

SELLO HATANG, CEO, NELSON MANDELA CENTER OF MEMORY: Nelson Mandela left us a gift. And we need to make it live on. And 18th of July represents that.

CURNOW: As the archivists look through the papers at the foundation that bears Mandela's name, there's a sense of sadness.

So much of these documents in this archive relate to his past, but he's still here now. That long walk that we talk about, that struggle...

VERNE HARRIS, MANDELA ARCHIVIST: Well, you know, he's gone. He's gone as an active participant in our public life. He's not a player anymore. And the message to us, I think as a country, is that we need to grow up.

CURNOW: A realization that as he turns 95, Mandela lies critically ill in a hospital bed where he's remained for more than a month.

His family says now is the time more than ever to live out his legacy.

ZINZI MANDELA, DAUTHER: It's very important to me as a daughter to be able to uphold my father's legacy and get involved in any way.

I this it's a beautiful gift that we can give him.

JOSINA MACHEL, DAUTHER: Having been able to share him with this country, with this continent, with the world, is really been, you know, a bit overwhelming.

CURNOW: A man shared by the world who said years ago the greatest birthday gift he could ever receive is the gift of service to others.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Madrab (ph), South Africa.


ANDERSON: Let me tell you, many are planning to volunteer 67 minutes of their time for charity for Mandela's birthday. The foundation says it matches the 67 years Mandela served his community.

Celebrities have been joining in. Bill Clinton, for example, urging everyone to follow Mandela's example on the day and do our best to, and I quote, help others with a full, happy and grateful heart.

While Richard Branson says he will be given 67 minutes to mentor a group of young entrepreneurs.

If you'd like to send a birthday message to Nelson Mandela, or say what you would do for 67 minutes, just head to our Facebook page, You can always tweet me @BeckyCNN.

The latest world news headlines, as you would expect here on CNN, are just ahead.

Plus, the UN is calling it the worst refugee crisis in Rwanda. So what can be done about the situation in Syria? I talk with Bashar al- Assad's cousin to see what he thinks.

And just ahead, (inaudible) was one of Lebanon's biggest stars on her quest for girl's education.

Britain and the world waiting for the arrival of one very special infant. We're going to have the latest on the royal baby watch right here on CNN. 90 seconds away.


ANDERSON: Welcome back, this is CONNECT THE WORLD. The top stories for you this hour.

Indian authorities are investigating the deaths of 22 children in the northern state of Bihar. They died after eating a government-funded school lunch on Tuesday, 25 other students are in hospital. The state's education minister tells CNN the food may have been contaminated by a toxic chemical that is used in pesticide.

Panama has asked the United Nations for input on how it should handle the weapons it found on a North Korean ship seized on Monday night. The country's attorney general says the captain and crew haven't been charged yet, but could face charges of threatening national security.

It is now legal for same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales. Queen Elizabeth gave her approval to the bill after the British House of Commons passed it on Tuesday. The first wedding isn't expected until the summer -- or next summer, in fact.

A German court has indicted Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Eccleston for bribery. The charge centers around a $44 million payment to a German banker whose firm was selling a stake in Formula 1. The 82-year-old Eccleston has denied wrongdoing.

And the European Union's foreign policy chief is urging Egypt to swiftly adopt a democratic, inclusive government. Catherine Ashton met separately today with the new interim leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood officials.

She did not have access to the deposed president Mohamed Morsy and is calling for his immediate release. Morsy supporters are holding new rallies against the caretaker government, as Reza Sayah reports from Cairo.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, just one day after Egypt's interim government finished putting together a new cabinet, supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsy were back on the street protesting against the cabinet by trying to march to the cabinet building. The protesters numbered several thousand.

Some of them did make it close to the cabinet building. There were minor scuffles, but no widespread violence as police managed to turn back most of the demonstrators.

The protesters' and the Muslim Brotherhood's position remains the same. They believe that this government is illegitimate. They believe the rightful leader of Egypt remains Mr. Morsy, and they want him reinstated, a scenario that seems very unlikely at this point, especially now with the formation of a new cabinet that includes mostly liberal and moderate technocrats.

Missing from this cabinet, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course, many Muslim Brotherhood leaders are either in custody or wanted on charges of inciting violence over the past couple of weeks.

In the meantime, human rights groups starting to put a lot of pressure on this interim government to investigate allegations that supporters of the ousted president have been illegally detained and even beaten and tortured in detention.

Amnesty International today with a damning report describing some detainees who claim that they were beaten by rifle butts, subject to electric shock, and made to crawl on broken glass.

It's allegations like this that have many rights activists concerned that Egypt is once again seeing the brutal tactics that were commonplace during the regime of the former president, Hosni Mubarak. It's not clear at this point if the interim government plans to investigate the allegations. Becky?


ANDERSON: Well, there have been a lot of comparisons between what we are seeing now in Egypt and the 2011 revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, but few journalists really understand the situation than our own Ben Wedeman.

He explains why the current crisis is a lot more complex. This is a multi-layered situation and reflects on his own reporting through it all. Hear what he has to say in a special report on

Syrian state television says several people were killed by a car bomb in a town close to Damascus on Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says seven people died, including women and kids.

Now, according to the United Nations, 5,000 people are dying in Syria every month. And as Nick Paton Walsh reports, that shows no sign of stopping.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here is how every day the death toll in Syria rises to 5,000 a month. Shelling near Damascus hits a home, locals rush to help. The bodies dragged out are young and motionless. Activists reported four deaths that day in that area.

Body after body. Part of an irreversible spiral into regional war that's fueled by a refugee crisis, the UN told world powers Tuesday, has not been seen since Rwanda 19 years ago.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES: There are now nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees known to UNHCR in the region. Two thirds of them have fled Syria since the beginning of this year, an average of over 6,000 people a day. We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago.

WALSH: Six thousands Syrians fleeing every day. For many, the journey is perilous here in Jordan, with shellfire nearby. But they do it because what they leave behind is worse. In Jordan, they are herded into this massive camp, which seemed to have doubled in size in months to an uncontrollable morass when we last visited.

But Iraq may already be caught up worst in this region-wide war. The UN made another deeply troubling declaration Tuesday, that Syria's war and Iraq's sectarian bloodshed are uniting into one conflict.

MARTIN KOBLER, UN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAQ: Violence in Iraq cannot be separated from the civil war in Syria. The battlefields are merging. Iraqi armed groups have an increasingly active presence in Syria.

As such, the Syrian conflict is no longer only spilling over into Iraq. Instead, the conflict has spread to Iraq as Iraqis are reportedly taking arms against each other in Syria and in Iraq.

WALSH: Suffering is acute, particularly now in the besieged areas of Homs. But in the daily exhausting stream of dizzying numbers, consider one fact: Syria's year of civil war has already killed more children than America has lost troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

IVAN SIMONOVIC, UN ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENEARL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Out of the 92,901 individuals killed, at least 6,561 were minors, 1,729 of them under 10. Children have been documented as being detained, tortured, and executed. They have also been recruited as combatants by armed opposition groups.

WALSH: Their future bleaker as Syria's spiral daily puts a resolution or even lull in the violence further away.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Beirut.


ANDERSON: Well, Nick's reporting really only going to prove why we should stick with this story for the time being tonight. Exiled members of the Syrian president's family have been meeting with global leaders seeking a peaceful end to Bashar al-Assad's rule, but the involvement of this estranged arm of the al-Assad family is angering many Syrians.

We're going to hear from Bashar al-Assad's exiled cousin in a moment. First, here's why some consider the family's participation in any solution intolerable.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Rare images of the aftermath of the 1982 assault on the Syrian city of Hama. It was a response of then President Hafez al-Assad to an Islamic rebellion led by the Muslim Brotherhood against his regime.

There are conflicting reports on how many people were killed in the conflict. Amnesty International puts the number at between 10,000 and 25,000. While a recently declassified US intelligence report says the total casualties probably number about 2,000.

The late Syrian president's brother, military general Rifaat al-Assad, has long been suspected of spearheading the 1982 assault and is called the Butcher of Hama by many. Rifaat has denied any involvement in the crackdown, accusing the regime of, quote, "misinformation" following a power struggle with his brother, which led him into exile in 1984.

From abroad, he resumed his push for the presidency in the late 1990s in opposition to current president Bashar al-Assad, the son of his brother. Rifaat remains opposed to his nephew and continues to live with his family in exile in Europe.

Having recently sold a mansion in Paris for almost $90 million, it's a life far removed from the current struggles in Syria, where he claims he has strong support. There also remains bitter opposition to the now-75- year-old, who many still believe to be a war criminal.


ANDERSON: Well, Rifaat's son, Ribal, has been in Washington and in London denouncing Bashar al-Assad and the jihadists involved in the Syrian insurgency. I spoke to Ribal a few weeks ago and began by asking about the message that he's been delivering to world leaders. Have a listen to this.


RIBAL AL-ASSAD, RIFAAT AL-ASSAD'S SON, ORGANIZATION FOR DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM IN SYRIA: It's very important for them to know that we should not be arming the rebels because first of all, we should know who are we going to be arming, and I think most of these rebels and most of the rebel-held areas are under Islamist control.

And most -- the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army is made up of Salafi groups such as Suquor al-Sham, al-Tawheed Brigade, Free - - sorry, the Syrian Marchers Brigade, the Al Nusrah. So, it is very dangerous. I think we should be all working with the international community, the United States, everyone onboard trying to seek a peaceful solution to this Syrian conflict.

ANDERSON: I'm wondering what your qualifications are at this point for getting involved in any plans for Syria's future. You are a Syrian, of course, but you are from a highly-discredited family. Your father was a government enforcer before his exile, he's widely blamed as the architect of the Hama Massacre in 1982.

I've spoken to a lot of Syrians here as part of the diaspora in the UK, and they say why would you listen to Ribal? So tell me, why should we?

ASSAD: My message, Becky, as you know, I'm exiled and I feel for all people who have been exiled and who have suffered from this regime. I have personally suffered from this regime. My father left in 1984 because he disagreed with that regime back in Damascus and because he wanted to move towards democracy in Syria, and this is what we are seeing going on today - -


ANDERSON: Despite the fact that he was an enforcer of what was an absolute situation of carnage in Hama.

ASSAD: No, this is what people -- sorry, Becky. This is what people say, but this is not the truth. There was a defense intelligence agency report that was declassified lately who said exactly that -- what exactly went on in Hama, and it's completely -- it shows actually the realities of what went on.

Anyway, I'm not here today to talk about the history of my father, I'm here today because it is very essential that we bring -- that the United States and the international community -- Britain, France, should work on a peaceful solution.

They should work on bringing all the opposition, the democratic, genuine opposition who believe in our values, universal values of human rights, a woman's right, the equalities of all people under the rule of law, regardless of sex, religion, ethnic group. It's very important.

And the Syrian people, the majority -- the peaceful majority of the Syrian people, they have to see that there's a viable alternative to the regime. Yes.

ANDERSON: You've said that you've got no aspirations to power in Syria, correct?

ASSAD: Yes, that's very correct.

ANDERSON: And your father?

ASSAD: Of course not. He said it also, openly, that he doesn't have any aspiration for power in Syria.

ANDERSON: I remember when your father left Syria, and at the time, at least, and since then, he has believed and voiced the fact that he believes that he still has support. "I left Syria," he said, "with 85 percent of the Syrian people supporting me, and its military." What if he decided that he did want to lead going forward? Would you encourage him?

ASSAD: I would encourage -- I know very well that my father has a lot of supporters in Syria, that we know for a fact. We know from contacts who have been officers with people in the Baath party, with people in the military. We know very well that the support that he has.

But it's not the matter. Today -- he has said it openly, he has said that "I do not want to be part of any government." He could, of course, play a role in -- a transitional role. Him and many other people should play that role in Syria, that have influence, actually. It's very important, we need that.


ANDERSON: Fascinating stuff, eh? You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London, this is CNN. I'm Becky Anderson. She is a pop sensation in the Arab world and an ambassador for UNICEF. My interview with Nancy Ajram up next.

Plus, one of the world's most famous couples is about to add to their family, and one photographer has gotten the jump on some royal baby pictures. Some rather unique video phone footage after this.


ANDERSON: Well, for those of you who watch this show regularly, you'll know that promoting education, particularly for girls, has been a real focus for us this year. And an increasing number of politicians and celebrities have also joined what is a growing movement.

I recently spoke to one campaigner who also happens to be one of the most influential stars in the Middle East.


ANDERSON (voice-over): She is one of the biggest stars in the Arab world. Likened to Britney Spears, the Beirut-born Nancy Ajram was discovered as a child. By the age of 12, she'd already won several awards on talent shows and, with the encouragement of her father, set off on a path to stardom.

ANDERSON (on camera): How important is your dad?

NANCY AJRAM, LEBANESE SINGER: Actually, he's the most important person to me.

ANDERSON: Are there times when you pinch yourself and think, I can't believe what I've achieved?

AJRAM: I always thought that something big is waiting for me. I always felt this way. But God gave me more than I expected.

ANDERSON: Talk to me about your upbringing.

AJRAM: It was a bit -- difficult to me to keep on studying, and at the same time, singing, going at night with my father to the concerts and his dream is to make for me a famous singer.

ANDERSON (voice-over): And famous she is. Nancy is a multi-platinum and award-winning recording artist who, at the age of 30, already has seven studio albums to her name. Among her hits, 2010 World Cup song, "Waving Flag," with K'Naan.

But the young mother of two is also a judge on "Arab Idol," and with nearly 6 million Facebook fans and more than a million Twitter followers, she's regarded as one of the most influential artists in the Middle East.

ANDERSON (on camera): How can you use that influence?

AJRAM: Being a successful woman in the Middle East, I would like to use my influence to help achieve equality between men and women, and I would like to see education for all. And I will always work towards it.

ANDERSON: Well, that's interesting, because CNN is campaigning for girls' education and empowerment this year off the back of the shooting of the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai. What is your take on that issue?

AJRAM: I think education, education, and education. Being a mother of two girls, I can't imagine the world without them being educated.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Nancy has used her stardom to become an advocate for underprivileged children and, three years ago, became UNICEF's first female ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.

ANDERSON (on camera): Your work with UNICEF, tell me, why did you get involved?

AJRAM: UNICEF was a gem for me. God had given me so much, so it was my turn to give back. And UNICEF is one of the biggest mediums to do so.

ANDERSON: If you had to write a letter to your 15-year-old self, what would it say?

AJRAM: I would tell myself keep on working as you are doing now, because a bright future is waiting for you. A very, very, very bright future is waiting for you.


ANDERSON: We'll take a very short break on CNN. After that, they say the queen waits for no one, and well, they could be right. The queen's rather tongue-in-cheek message to her unborn grandchild is up next for you.


ANDERSON: Not quite. Is it a boy or will it be a girl? Will it be tomorrow, today, the next day, or beyond? It seems like all of us waiting for the birth of Britain's new royal baby. Perhaps no one more keen than the queen herself. Here's Max Foster with more.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: As the sun comes down on the blisteringly hot day here in London, the waiting game continues. Even the queen is wishing this royal baby along. She spoke to a young girl whilst out on an official visit on Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Do you want Kate's baby to be a boy or girl?



QUEEN ELIZABETH: I would very much like it to arrive. I'm going on holiday.

FOSTER: The Duchess of Cambridge herself seems to be spending a lot of time with her mother in Bucklebury in Berkshire. We assume Prince William is with her. For Kate, this is a long wait, just waiting for nature to take its course.

Max Foster, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: Well, to say that there is interest in the pregnancy would be an understatement, wouldn't it? One renowned British photographer has already, though, gotten a behind-the-scenes look at the royal sort of goings-on, as far as the baby is concerned. It's so exclusive, in fact, that you might say she dreamed the whole thing up. I caught up with her in London earlier. Take a look at this.


ANDERSON: You seem to be somewhat ahead of the curve, because here, outside Kensington Palace, you were able to shoot a picture of William and Kate with their new baby. How did that happen?

ALISON JACKSON, PHOTOGRAPHER/FILMMAKER: I asked two excellent lookalikes to walk up the path in Kensington Gardens to the palace with their pram and little newborn baby, so we did that on Sunday, and they stood and said hello to the public outside Kensington Palace.

ANDERSON: Have you already got a lookalike for the plus one, the baby?

JACKSON: Well, I've cast about five different baby-alikes. First, I didn't know whether to cast a baby with lots of brown hair or sandy hair, or whether it was going to look like a Middleton or more a Windsor. But then, I just decided to go generic. It could be either, of either family.

So, I went bald, so I cast bald babies. So, I've cast five bald babies, and I decided to go for an older baby because they're more fun.

ANDERSON: Talk me through the images that we see of the queen.

JACKSON: Well, the queen is changing the nappy of the new baby, and obviously, she's a great-grandmother and knows exactly what to do and is showing William and Kate how to do it. The queen is also holding the little newborn baby, and naturally, it's sick, and it has -- the queen has to be cleaned.

ANDERSON: And it always surprises me to a certain extent that you are as respectful as you are about the royal family, given the work that you present. Why is that?

JACKSON: Well, I think the royal family are great, actually, and I think they do a fantastic job for Britain, so I'm very grateful they're around. But also, I'm very polite. I'm not interested in ridicule or making sort of cheap farce jokes, although one may pop out occasionally.

But I try and get under the skin of what really could they be about, this huge family that's so dominant in our minds, and yet, we know nothing about their private lives.

ANDERSON: You've been doing this for a long time. Have you ever had any reaction from the royal family to your work?

JACKSON: Well, I hope they find it amusing. But no comments from the palace.


ANDERSON: No comments. CNN has been speaking with the friends and families of the parents-to-be. Hear about the decision that first brought the couple together, about their wedding, and what parenthood holds for them. That is a real documentary, "Will & Kate Plus One," Saturday, 9:00 in the morning in London, 4:00 PM in Hong Kong here on CNN.

I'm going to leave you tonight with some wishes coming in for Nelson Mandela as we near the anti-apartheid icon's birthday. He's going to turn 95 an hour from now. So, if you're on South African time, and if you're listening, Madiba, from myself and the team here at CONNECT THE WORLD, we wish you a very, very happy birthday.


DESMOND TUTU, ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS: Never before in history was one human being so universally acknowledged in his lifetime as the embodiment of magnanimity and reconciliation as Nelson Mandela.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER US SECRETARY OF STATE: He is proof that even the most intractable problems are surmountable, that division can be overcome with dignity, and forgiveness can triumph over fear.

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: I encourage everyone around the world to pledge some of your time to do something great for Mandela Day.

DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN SPIRITUAL LEADER: I would like to express firstly my admiration about the brave man, Nelson Mandela.