Return to Transcripts main page


Syria's Al-Assad Joins Instagram; Oil Spill Blackens Thai Beaches; Chinese Desperate to Beat Heat; FaceBook Blamed for Teen's Suicide; Russian Anti-LGBT Laws Worry Olympians; Egyptian Police to "Put an End to" Pro-Morsy Protests

Aired July 31, 2013 - 12:00   ET


ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR: More than 100,000 people have been killed since civil war broke out in Syria but the president is all smiles. Check out his new Instagram account.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Black-sand beaches are not meant to be that way. This is crude oil. The latest on the oil spill in Thailand. That's coming up.

COREN: The Olympics are heading to Russia but there's criticism over how the country is handling the invitations. How a recently passed law targets gays and lesbians and is causing quite an uproar.

Well, welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Anna Coren, sitting in for Suzanne Malveaux.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

Well, happening right now in Egypt, we're hearing the government has made an announcement. We're trying to figure out exactly what it means. What happened was, it was done on television and it said that the police and security forces will begin taking, quote, "all necessary measures" to put an end to the demonstrations in Cairo that support the president, who, of course, was ousted in a coup earlier this month.

COREN: Well, whether that means negotiations or something more forceful remains to be seen. Supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsy has been gathering, marching and demanding his reinstatement since he was forced from office. Well, protester and police have occasionally fought in the streets. About 100 people have reportedly been killed.

HOLMES: Yes, we're keeping an eye on that and getting some clarification. We'll bring it to you when we do.

Let's go to Syria, meanwhile. A prosperous place at times, filled with smiling children, happy crowds cheering their president. Well, that's the impression you'd get if you only looked at one particular social media site.

COREN: It's a brand new Instagram account newly created by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Well, take a look at this idealic world presented in pictures.

HOLMES: Yes, President al-Assad high fiving his admirers, the president's wife hugging children, helping old people. It's got all of it. The two of them out eating, drinking, laughing. You won't see one sign of a country being torn apart by two years of civil war. One that has killed 100,000 people.

COREN: No rebels, no explosions, no snipers, no death. Well, in Syria's official Instagram world, everything is just perfect.

HOLMES: Yes, let's go to Beirut now. That's where our Nick Paton Walsh is today.

Nick, let's be fair, I don't suppose you're going to expect a photo gallery of war created by the president's office, but this is a rather rose-colored lens, isn't it?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean it's exactly what you would come to expect from a regime that is trying to project strength and been doing a quite convincing job on the battlefield of saying that its troops, to some degree in the ascendance (ph) certainly around Homs, on the border area recently.

But these pictures, they give some telltale signs. They're not really a real-time feed. Both the president and his wife, Asma al-Assad, seem to change clothes during one particular day's posting. Of course, as you say, they show them hugging old ladies, talking to school children, the Syrian version of the scouts. There's one picture I saw in which, in fact, the president is visiting an injured person in hospital. So, a slight sign of a civil war there.

But this really is about also, I think, putting Asma al-Assad back on display again. Before the civil war began, when the regime was busy trying to rehabilitate itself with the west. She was a key figure they'd like to wheel out. This, of course, the case again. She grew up in west London, Akton (ph), studied French literature, computer science, worked briefly in investment banking. In fact, reports that her friends there called her Emma. Very much a westernized figure. And, obviously, staying by her man, very much the first lady in constant support, particularly in these pictures too. It's about showing them calm and showing them in control. And, of course, importantly, able to circulate around the Syrian people at any given time despite Damascus often being peppered with the sound of artillery.

COREN: Nick, you mentioned Syria's first lady. She did that interview with "Vogue" a while ago. And there was quite a bit of backlash. What's been the reaction to these photos?

WALSH: Well, this was a relatively new account. We've seen the number of followers leap from 1,200 to 4,000 when I just checked it a few moment ago. The comments not particularly censored. Some saying, "God win this war for us, Bashar al-Assad." Another one slightly less complimentary saying, "keep swallowing this propaganda you imbecile." So clearly the debate, the divisive brutal nature of the war playing out in the comment feed there as well. But as I say, this really is just about projecting normalcy and also showing that despite the fact that the regime is - sorry, the rebels themselves are experiencing the division and stalemate on the battlefield, President Bashar al-Assad wants to show his allies, his backers, but certainly on social media, life proceeds as normal as though there wasn't really much of a war going on.

HOLMES: All right, Nick, thanks so much. Nick Paton Walsh there live from Beirut. And, of course, the president also has a FaceBook page, a Twitter account coming from his office as well. It's all about that portrayal, as Nick said, of normalcy.

COREN: Very one sided indeed.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed.

COREN: Well, turning now to a new twist in the drama surrounding NSA leaker Edward Snowden. His father sells "The Washington Post," the FBI wanted to fly him to Moscow to convince his son to come back to the United States.

HOLMES: But Lon Snowden says he backed out of that deal after the FBI refused to guarantee that he could actually talk with his son. Lon Snowden told "The Post" this, quote, "I said, wait a minute, folks, I'm not going to sit on the tarmac to be an emotional tool for you," unquote.

COREN: Well, Snowden's father also told CNN he wants his son to stay in Russia until he's sure he can get a fair trial in the U.S.


LON SNOWDEN, EDWARD SNOWDEN's FATHER: We have attempted to work with the Justice Department and the people who are conducting this investigation and I have - I have lost faith in their interest in insuring that he is given a fair trial. I think the focus is -

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Why have you lost faith?

SNOWDEN: To bring him back and prosecute him to the fullest. You know, the focus is not justice.


HOLMES: Snowden remains, of course, stuck in that transit area of Moscow's airport waiting to hear on several asylum requests. The former NSA contractor did reveal that the government had secretly collected millions of Americans' phone records, along with information from U.S. companies about the online activity of people overseas.

COREN: Well, Snowden has been charged with espionage here in the United States.

HOLMES: Well, how much time should an Army private spend in prison for the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history? The sentencing phase of Private Bradley Manning's court-martial got underway today at Fort Meade in Maryland.

COREN: About 24 hours ago, a judge acquitted Manning of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. Well, she found him guilty of 20 other charges, including violations of the Espionage Act.

HOLMES: Manning avoided a sentence of life behind bars, but really the prison time remaining on those charges could add up to 136 years. And if that was instituted, that is a life sentence, obviously.

COREN: Well, let's now turn our attention to a major oil spill off the coast of Thailand, which has turned white beaches black.

HOLMES: Yes, a beautiful part of the world. An underwater pipeline spewing crude oil, threatening tourism, also the fishing industry. Andrew Stevens has the story for us.


ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clean-up crews are working around the clock at one of Thailand's most important tourist destinations, to clean an estimated 50,000 liters of oil which leaked from a pipeline on Saturday. This is the main impact zone, a small beach about one kilometer long on the island of Koh Samet. Not one of the main beaches, but an important one nonetheless.

Beside me are vats and drums of oil which has already been collected from the sea. Officials say it should be able to be cleaned up by Saturday at the latest. The fear is, though, that if this cannot be contained quickly, it will have an adverse impact on tourism, which remains so important to this country's economy.

Andrew Stevens, CNN, Koh Samet, Thailand.


HOLMES: Yes, well people in China, they're finding some rather creative ways to deal with what is a scorching heat wave that's going on. It hasn't let up for weeks.

COREN: Well, check out this footage. So many locals went swimming in this artificial wave pool at a tourists resort. And as you can see, the tourists could hardly move. I don't think I'd want to be in there.

HOLMES: Good heavens. Yes, it's amazing. Look at them all.

Chad Myers, how hot has it been? It's been - it's only been the hottest in, what, 100-something years?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it has. And you know what, I can't figure out how that wave pool just doesn't turn out to be 98.6, right? The water is just going to go right up with all the body temperatures that are floating around in that thing.

It has been hot. Normal temperature between 86 and about 90 degrees in Shanghai. They've been way over that. And they have topped 95 degrees for 25 times in the month of July. Count (INAUDIBLE) there was 31 days. And today, there's another day, it was 104. Tomorrow it will be slightly under 100. But there have been nine, now nine straight days in Shanghai over 100 degrees.

Last time it was even close to this was 1934. You have to understand the population density of what happened in '34 compared to where we are now 80 years later. And this is the hottest temperatures they've seen all time. They've been collecting records if 140 years. Shanghai a cool 94 today, as he says tongue and check, because it just goes back up again for the weekend. Probably over 103 again for the weekend in Shanghai. No relief in sight.

COREN: That is certainly (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: Yes. Those pictures, just amazing.


HOLMES: Chad, I think you could lose the kids there and never find them again.


COREN: You know, apparently, journalists have been cooking meat on pavement -

HOLMES: Yes, pork chops.

COREN: As opposed to an egg -- frying an egg --

HOLMES: Yes. Yes.

COREN: On the pavement to show how hot it is.

HOLMES: Unbelievable, isn't it?


HOLMES: Gosh. All right, moving on.

Coming up, FaceBook being blamed for a teen suicide in Italy. The girl's parents are taking action against the website.

COREN: But do they have a case? Well, they're story is next.

Then the Olympics heading to Russia, but there's criticism over how the country is handling the invitations.

HOLMES: How a recently passed law targets gays and lesbians directly, causing quite an uproar in that part of the world.

COREN: And, oh baby, it's a newborn weighing in at a whopping 13 and a half pounds.

HOLMES: Oh, my goodness me. Natural birth apparently too. We'll talk to the doctor who delivered that German baby girl, bouncing baby girl. Wow, that - COREN: I don't know how much bouncing is going on.

HOLMES: That would have hurt. I'm sorry.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Online bullying has pushed several teenagers to commit suicide in the past few months. You may remember some of them. Well, this latest story is out of Italy.

COREN: A 14-year-old girl killed herself after her ex-boyfriend posted abusive messages on FaceBook. Well, her family says they asked the website to remove the pages but it never happened.

HOLMES: Yes. Now they're thinking about taking legal action. Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman with this tragic tale.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was like so many girls her age, her identity, her pictures, her thoughts, her life splashed across FaceBook. But when a video of 14- year-old Carolina Picchio allegedly showed up on FaceBook in which she appeared to be drunk and disoriented at a party, the social network became a social nightmare. An ex-boyfriend and his friends posted a steady barrage of abusive, offensive messages aimed at Carolina.

"He was insulting her, mistreating her," recalls her sister Talita. "We naturally spoke about it with her, but she told us not to worry."

Talita and some of Carolina's friends say they reported the nasty messages to Facebook hoping they'd be removed, but nothing happened.

In the prosperous northern Italian town of Novara, what started online spilled into Carolina's daily life, at school and among her friends. Unbeknownst to her family, it was all becoming too much for her to handle.

WEDEMAN (on camera): Sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning on the 5th of January of this year, Carolina jumped out of her bedroom window and landed head first on the concrete below.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): She left a final letter addressed to her tormentors, which her mother, Cristina, read to us.

"Are you happy now," asked Carolina. "Have you hurt me enough? Have you had enough revenge?"

Novara prosecutor Francesco Saluzzo is looking into the possibility of throwing the book at Facebook for failing to remove offensive content that may have led to Carolina's suicide.

"In the case of Carolina," he says, "it appears some of her friends, some of her relatives asked for the removal of this strong content and it wasn't removed and this played a role in her decision to commit suicide."

In response to a request for comment on this story, Facebook provided CNN with a statement. "We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Carolina Picchio and our hearts go out to her family and friends. Harassment has no place on Facebook and we actively encourage teens and parents to report incidents of bullying using the links located throughout this site. We remove content reported to us that violates our statement of rights and responsibilities and we escalate reports of harassment and bullying to law enforcement where appropriate."

Carolina's mother feels the time has come for Facebook to confront the reality of online bullying.

"My battle," she says, "is to make the social networks responsible so that there are protection for minors. We can't allow for more Carolinas or other mothers who must cry and be deprived of the lives of their daughters."

Carolina's uncle has posted a video on YouTube dedicated to her, Carolina's death now a rallying point in Italy in the fight against online bullying.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Novara, Northern Italy.


HOLMES: What a terrible story.

Let's talk a little bit now about what Facebook is or isn't doing in response to Carolina Picchio's suicide.

Obviously, for her family, it's not nearly enough.

COREN: We heard the statement from Facebook in Ben Wedeman's report, saying harassment has no place on the social network.

But let's bring in Samuel Burke in London. He covers technology and social media for CNN.

Samuel, what action has Facebook taken?

SAMUEL BURKE CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anna, I think one of the most troubling parts about this story is that statement, which you just emphasized.

Again, it says that -- Facebook says that people should reach out to them, teens and parents, but that's exactly what Carolina's family said they did.

Now Facebook prides itself on the system that they have in place for people to report abuse.

Right here on any story you can see there's a report button on every single message or story that you see on Facebook. And Facebook has actually worked with universities like Yale and Berkeley to put a system in place in addressing these type of reports. Sometimes they send people a short script that tells them talking points about how to address somebody who's said something offensive to you. They even allow you to bring in a third party at times to -- maybe parent or a teacher.

But I think the real question here is -- because there have been other cases where these reports have slipped through the cracks at Facebook, so I think that's the question here in Carolina's case.

Did Facebook receive those reports that her family and friends said they sent in and did it happen to fall through the cracks in this case?

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

COREN: A tragic story.

HOLMES: Samuel, thanks so much. Yeah, what a horrible story.

All right, now the Olympics, of course, the Winter Olympics, heading to Russia, but there is criticism over how the country is handling the invitation.

COREN: How a recently passed law that targets gays and lesbians is causing quite an uproar.


HOLMES: There is much outrage and confusion about Russia's new anti- gay laws and they are anti-gay

This legislation bars anyone from promoting gay relationships and that includes providing children with any kind of information about homosexuality.

COREN: One of the laws co-sponsors say the bans will stay in place during next year's Olympics in Russia.

But Phil Black has learned that may not be the case.


PHIL BLACK , CNN CORRESPONDENT: Russia's so-called anti-gay propaganda law came into effect this month, targeting the promotion among children of what it calls non-traditional sexual relationships.

Basically, it bans public discussion of gay relationships or gay rights anywhere there's a chance a child could overhear or witness it.

It's triggered a lot of international concern with activists everywhere saying it promotes intolerance and discrimination.

And there's a lot of concern because the country is getting ready to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

While the International Olympic Committee insists there will be no discrimination against athletes or visitors during the games, a local politician in St. Petersburg is contradicting that.

Vitaly Milonov played a big role implementing an earlier local version of the law in his city. He says, if the national legislation exists, it must be enforced regardless of who is breaking it or whether or not there happens to be an international sporting event going on at the time.

Ultimately, though, he's just a local politician and it's not his call. Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally overseeing preparations for these games and desperately wants them considered an international success.

It's unlikely the Russian government will risk that by allowing this law to be enforced during that time.

However, that's unlikely appease international concern about the law's existence. And that's why activists around the world are calling for a boycott of the games and other Russian product.

Back to you, Michael, Anna.


HOLMES: Phil Black, reporting there.

COREN: Well, an 11-year-old girl says her family tried to force her to get married and she responded with a video plea that went viral.

HOLMES: Yeah, there are some doubts about her story, or parts of it, but she's definitely putting attention on the issue of child brides in Yemen.

She's a remarkable young lady. Wait until you meet her, after the break.


HOLMES: All right, happening right now in Egypt, the government making an announcement, we're trying to figure out exactly what it means.

The announcement was on television. It said this, that police and security forces will begin taking, quote, "all necessary measures" to put an end to the pro-Morsy demonstrations in Cairo.

Of course, Mohamed Morsy was ousted in a coup earlier this month.

COREN: Well, whether that means negotiations or something more forceful remains to be seen.

Supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsy have been gathering, marching and demanding his reinstatement since he was forced from office.

HOLMES: Yeah, protesters and police have fought in the streets at times. Shots have been fired. About a hundred people reported killed.

We're keeping an eye on developments there. It could be a worrying development.

Meanwhile, changes at the San Francisco International Airport nearly a month after the deadly crash of that Asiana Airlines jet.

COREN: International flights landing on one of the parallel runways can no longer touch down side-by-side with another place.

In the past, any two planes could approach the adjacent runways at the same time if the weather was clear.

HOLMES: Yeah, the FAA ordered the rules for the manual flying skills of some foreign pilots. Apparently, domestic flights can still land side-by side at SFO.

President Obama's approval rating stuck in the mid-40s, that's according to a composite of the latest national surveys.

COREN: The CNN Poll of Polls is an average of seven surveys conducted in the past two weeks.

It shows a split over the president's job rating. Forty-six percent approve of the way that he's handling his job while 47 percent disapprove of his performance.

HOLMES: Yeah, his approval numbers have been in the mid- to high-40s in the poll of polls dating back to March.

Well, we are seeing a bit of a worrying trend in Afghanistan, as if there weren't enough already, a sharp increase in the number of civilians killed and wounded just since the beginning of this year.

COREN: A new U.N. report says casualties among civilians has jumped by 23 percent in the first half of 2013.

The report blames most of the casualties on anti-government groups, namely, the Taliban.

HOLMES: And it says the reason is an increase in the use of improvised explosive devices, IEDs, roadside bombs, also suicide vests.

COREN: Secretary of State John Kerry is now heading to Pakistan, one day after the U.S. hosted the first direct Middle East peace talks in three years.