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Blast Rocks Southern Beirut; Egypt Reeling from Mass Carnage; Employee Fired for Tweeting Weed Request; Gay Rights in Russia

Aired August 15, 2013 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks everyone for watching. AROUND THE WORLD starts right now.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Suzanne Malveaux.

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

First, we're getting word in just in the last few minutes, literally -- look at pictures -- coming from southern Beirut, Lebanon. Southern Beirut is a stronghold of Hezbollah, if you like. We don't know much about this explosion yet other than it has just happened. Bodies have been seen according to some reports from witnesses being quote on Arab media. You can see there a large fire burning as well.

There have, Fred, this again -- you don't want to jump too far ahead here, but Hezbollah in the complicated patchwork that is the Middle East has been involved in the civil war in Syria fighting on the government's side.

The rebels said a month or two ago that if that involvement continued, they would strike Hezbollah on their turf. Again, we don't know the cause of this at the moment, but a large explosion fire there.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And still unclear who's responsible, what the reason behind it. Again, you mentioned this neighborhood, this suburb of Beirut, is a stronghold of Hezbollah. And you can see this taking place.

Clearly a lot of people around whether they're all trying to assist in any kind of rescues, or whether this just happened to be a busy -- a very busy portion of this community.

We've seen that there have been ambulances on the ground there trying to respond. And you can see right there an awful lot of people who have come out to either assist or try to get some clarity as to what's taking place.

HOLMES: And Mohammed Jamjoom is based in Beirut for us. He joins us now on the line.

Again, not wanting to jump too far ahead; all we know is this an explosion and there are casualties, but it is a complicated political situation, not just in that part of the country but that part of the city. Fill us in on what you know, Mohammed.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael, we've gotten reports from Hezbollah media office that just about a half an hour ago there was a large blast in a southern suburb of Beirut. This is a stronghold for the militant Shiite group, Hezbollah.

Now the spokesman I was talking to said that they believe there could be several casualties. They don't have a casualty count just yet. Elmanar (ph) TV, which is the television outlet for Hezbollah, has said there are at least nine wounded, two possibly critically.

The pictures that we've seen on television so far show a very dramatic scene. It looks like there was a lot of devastation. Huge plumes of smoke. Many cars there set ablaze. Now nobody has yet claimed responsibility for this attack, but there was a similar attack in early July in the same neighborhood.

And the consensus opinion that's really starting to emerge at this hour here in Beirut is that this was an attack directed at Hezbollah because of their involvement in the Syrian civil war. It's a very complicated story here how the Syrian civil war is affecting Lebanon.

Lebanon is a tiny country that neighbors Syria. The sectarian lines in this country mirror the sectarian lines in Syria. So it's a country that's really polarized as far as who supports President Bashar Assad and who is against him.

And because Hezbollah has sent in thousands of fighters to Syria to support President Assad, many Sunni groups have become upset at Hezbollah and many people feel Hezbollah has become a target in this country because of their helping the Syrian regime in the Syrian civil war.

As I said, nobody has yet claimed responsibility. But the neighborhood where this happened is a very heavily guarded neighborhood. It's a Hezbollah stronghold. There's fierce security there at all times, especially now, especially after the attack that happened in July.

So even though nobody has yet said they've done this, many people here wonder if possibly Sunni militants could have been behind it, if possibly Free Syrian Army brigades could have been behind it. There are many questions yet to be answered.

The biggest question right now, were there any people killed in this attack, how bad is the devastation. And clearly just from the scenes that we're seeing on television here, there is rising anger in that neighborhood. In one of the live scenes I saw moments ago there was a man that that had a rifle, shot it into the air. It looks like the mob was getting particularly angry because this happened.

So a lot of worry in Lebanon right now about this, if this will cause greater fallout.

You have to remember one more thing, Michael, this is a country that experienced its own brutal civil war for 15 years between the years of 1975 to 1990, it's very fragile, it's very fractious. When things like this happen here, many people worry that this could be a return to the dark days when violence really ruled this country in a way that many people thought it never could.

HOLMES: One hopes that does not happen again. Mohammad Jamjoom in Beirut, thanks very much.

We're monitoring this obviously a huge explosion. And the thing in Lebanon too with its own sectarian divides and more than one, multiple sectarian divides in Lebanon, peace there really is a veneer. It's the sort of place when it's peaceful, it's beautiful and lovely.

But it's a veneer that can crack at any time and often does.

What Mohammed's mentioning there about the Hezbollah fighters who actually literally physically fought in Syria on the side of President Bashar al Assad, there were elements of the rebel forces who didn't just make a veiled threat, they said if you keep this up, we will strike at you on your turf.

We don't know the cause of this one at the moment, but obviously eyes are going to be pointing in that direction.

WHITFIELD: Yes, what if there's a connection or not, but again, this is the second similar kind of explosion taking place there in the same neighborhood there in Southern Beirut. We'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile all of this taking place while Egypt is reeling from its bloodiest day since the 2011 revolution. And it is a crucial U.S. ally that is now commenting by way of its leader. We're talking about President Obama now responding.

HOLMES: Yes. The day after all that violence, I mean, we can say relative calm because it is a very tense place at the moment, the day after the carnage, the chaos and gunfire.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): The U.S. facing a real dilemma over how to respond to the crisis in Egypt. Just a short time ago President Obama said Egypt is on a dangerous path.


HOLMES: Yes, he said the U.S. is canceling joint military exercises scheduled next month. Those exercises take place every two years and were due to start next month. He also called for an end to the bloodshed.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And to the Egyptian people, let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. We call on the Egyptian authorities to respect the universal rights of the people. We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we've seen by protesters, including on churches. We believe the state of emergency should be lifted, that a process of national reconciliation should begin.


HOLMES: Now the crisis in Egypt being compared to a hornet's nest, the U.S. trying not to stir it up too much because the U.S. not popular in that neck of the woods on either side of this conflict. The challenges are daunting.

WHITFIELD: In fact, Egypt gets about $1.3 billion of U.S. taxpayer military aid each year, and it is the strongest Arab ally in the region.

HOLMES: Yes, Wolf Blitzer joining us now from Washington to talk about the Obama administration's diplomatic dilemma. The U.S. has of course tiptoed around calling this a coup, this overthrow. Now we see the escalation in violence. What the president said, at the end of the day really when it comes to those listening overseas, not much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Well, the U.S. can speak to the Egyptians at very high levels. And they've been trying to do exactly that over the past several weeks. It really hasn't made much of a dent apparently.

What Chuck Hagel, the Defense Secretary, has been saying to the leader of the Egyptian military general al-Sisi, urging calm, well, clearly the Egyptian military wanted to go in yesterday and crush those demonstrators, those who supported the ousted President Mohammed Morsy.

But at the same time there was some brutal violence on the streets. So there's limited U.S. options right now. The president did not end U.S. military aid to Egypt, certainly did not go that far.

He didn't say it was a coup. He said, yes, there was military intervention that removed Mohammed Morsy, but he wasn't exactly all that democratic, the president suggested, he was taking steps that would avoid the inclusiveness, the full democracy that the U.S. wanted.

He did go ahead and cancel next month's scheduled joint exercises, which sends a message to the Egyptian military, those exercises supposed to go forward, as you know, every two years. And it does send a message, but certainly the president's trying to walk some sort of middle ground, not going too far but also expressing deep U.S. concern.

HOLMES: I suppose when you look at the subtext here, Wolf, that U.S. military aid, it isn't a check. It's mainly military hardware and it's U.S. contractors who get the actual dollars. And it also doesn't compare much when you look at Egypt gets from other Gulf states, other Arab nations.

The U.S. gets blamed by both sides and it really has a much reduced influence in the region anyway.

Is all of that fair, Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, certainly you make a good point because since Morsy was removed, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, they've really come forward and announced billions, maybe $10 billion or $15 billion worth of aid to Egypt.

They like getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt. They never liked getting rid of President Mubarak. They thought the U.S. at the time went too far in making that point. So the U.S., the $1.3 billion in military aid is relatively modest, compared to what the Egyptians are going to get from some of these other Arab countries.

Having said that, the money does go purchase F-16s for the Egyptian air force, Abrams battle tanks for the army, other sophisticated equipment the Egyptians get from the United States for free for all practical purposes and these are state-of-the-art, high-technology weapons which the Egyptian military likes.

And let's not forget, most of those top Egyptian generals, including General al-Sisi, they spent a lot of time in the United States other over the years training in the United States. So the one institution in Egypt which has been most closely aligned with the U.S. over the years is the Egyptian military.

BLITZER: All right. Well, clearly the U.S. aid is just kind of a drop in the bucket compared to what what Saudi Arabia and the UAE are delivering and perhaps particularly in this conflict as we see it right now, Wolf and Michael, the use of jets really is irrelevant.

HOLMES: But also I think -- and wolf can speak to that too -- there's a political aspect of this, isn't there, that there's going to be a bunch of contractors who wouldn't be happy if that went away. So yes, it's an important point to make.

Wolf, it's good to see you. Thanks so much.

BLITZER: Thank you. WHITFIELD: And officer, as we mentioned, the streets of Cairo are relatively calm today, comparatively. And that it's partly because of that state of emergency now in effect. The government says it will stay in place for a month; it bans people from gathering without permission and allows police to jail them indefinitely

HOLMES: The battle today has only just got rid of similar laws. The Egyptian Health Ministry says meanwhile at least 525 people were killed in the violence yesterday. More than 3,700 wounded. Those numbers could rise.

In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood estimates are much higher than that. They put on display -- there you can see about 100 bodies wrapped in blood-stained sheets at a mosque. They say those bodies have not yet been counted by authorities. WHITFIELD: And they say the protests will continue despite the bloodshed. One senior member of the Islamist group says nothing will stop their, quote, "glorious revolution."

So streets around Cairo are littered with debris from the violence and chaos. And this all started when the Egyptian security forces stormed two camps occupied by supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsy.

HOLMES: Yes, Frederik Pleitgen has gotten to Cairo, joins us now.

And, Fred, I know you've been out and about, you took some of those photographs at the mosque there of some of those bodies. Give us a sense of where you were and what you're seeing.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Michael. You're absolutely right. The mosque is actually right behind me. It's right over there. It's called the Imam (ph) Mosque. And you're right, I was inside that mosque earlier today. And it is one of those places where a lot of those bodies were brought to.

Now, members of the Muslim Brotherhood told us that as many as 500 bodies were inside that mosque earlier today. When we were arriving we still saw well over 100, and a lot of them were charred, the cloths were all blood-stained. And there were a lot of people in there grieving.

You could just tell that the tension in there was building as the time went by. So clearly those people there were grieving, but they were also very, very angry.

The sense that you get here on the streets of Cairo right now is that, yes, they are a little more quiet obviously than they were yesterday, but it seems as though the Muslim Brotherhood was in a state of, I would say chaos and disarray, obviously after those camps were taken away by the military, after the military moved in with that crackdown.

But now it seems as though they're regrouping. Just a couple minutes ago you had a demonstration right in front of that mosque. There's still some of that going on.

If we pan over there, there's a crowd gathering over there right now. They're actually carrying a body. If we stay on that you can see the crowd is carrying one of the bodies away out of that mosque right now. That's something we've been seeing quite a lot of is people going into the mosque, finding their loved ones and taking them away. It's going on constantly here.

And you can feel these people regrouping. They're very, very angry. There was a demonstration of about 3,000 of them a little earlier today right here. So far we haven't seen the military move in here.

I saw one military vehicle actually go through this area. It was immediately pelted with rocks. And the members of the military were firing in the air to clear the street. So as you can see a lot of tension. And of course also, Michael, a lot of grief here in this part of Cairo, which is of course a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the people here of course are supporters of Mohammed Morsy. Michael.

HOLMES: Great sense of apprehension where you are, Fred. Thanks so much, Fred Pleitgen there on the streets of Cairo.

WHITFIELD: So the crisis in Egypt puts the U.S. between a rock and a hard place.

HOLMES: Ahead, we're going to be talking with "Daily Beast" columnist Hussain Ebbish (ph) about the dilemma the U.S. faces in Egypt.

WHITFIELD: And meantime here in the U.S., the markets are shaky. So far today the Dow dropped 200 points in early trading, now standing at 15,150. We'll of course keep a close watch on your money throughout the day.

HOLMES: Meanwhile, here is more of what we're working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD. Some career advice for you: if you're going to solicit drugs on Twitter, don't do it while you're at work.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. But apparently that didn't stop one mechanic or at least a "once" mechanic in Canada.

And then remember this image? Who could forget one amateur's attempt to save a fresco of Christ.

HOLMES: Yeah, guess what? Her mistake has become a moneymaker.

WHITFIELD: For her, right?

HOLMES: For her, yes.


HOLMES: Here's one way to make your job go up in smoke.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. Have you heard about this one, folks? An aspiring mechanic in the Toronto suburbs was so bored at work that he decided to go online and tweet a little bit and tweet about his need for weed.

HOLMES: Yeah, let's bring in Paula Newton to explain how a tweet, especially a really, really dumb one, can get you fired.

Tell us what happened.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You might be thinking, how do we come up with this stuff? But no, it all happened.

So we're not going to name him. We're calling him the aspiring mechanic, which is what he called himself on Twitter, all right?

So he tweets. He's at you call Mr. Lube, car maintenance franchise in Canada. He tweets, "Any dealers in Vaughan" -- which is just outside of Toronto -- "want to make a 20sac chop?" That's two grams of marijuana for somebody who doesn't know.

"Come" -- he even gives the address, so efficient -- "come to Keele/Langstaff Mr. Lube, need a spliff or two to help me last this open to close."

Absolutely. So what happens in the Twitter-verse. Well, the York regional police, basically one of the regional police forces outside Toronto re-tweets it and adds, "Awesome, can we come, too?"

So you can picture the guy at work starting to panic, can't you? And he starts to say, "Hey, I was just kidding. Come on. Don't you guys have something better to do with your time?"

Well, no, the police decided this was serious enough that they called his employer, and sure enough, one of the last tweets from this gentleman is, "Just got the call of termination."

HOLMES: Oh, no.

NEWTON: And I have to say that, before that, Mr. Lube actually tweeted back to police and said, "Thank you to the York regional police for your help and great work. This matter has been handled."

HOLMES: Does he get charged with anything?

NEWTON: He doesn't. And you know what? This under many different jurisdictions it's quote/unquote a "crime," but obviously they don't have a lot of time.

This was a public service message from police. I can tell you I get these tweets. They have them all the time. This was a specific incident, but I'm here to tell you. You know, my time as a security correspondent and the stuff I still follow, I'm in court looking at things police retrieve from Twitter, from Facebook, from your cell phone.

Look, you know, it's not just the police tracking this. It's criminals that are tracking this. It's everyone that's tracking this.

Buddy, you should have just gone back to work and worked on the Ford, as boring as that was.

WHITFIELD: And keep some of your thoughts to yourself, hello?

NEWTON: Once in a while because it kind of spiraled out of control at that point. I thought, how nice Mr. Lube, they re-tweet the police, thanks for coming out.

HOLMES: They should have charged him with stupid is what they should have charged his with.

All right, thanks, Paula. Good to see you. Paula Newton in town, normally up north of the border for us.

All right.

WHITFIELD: All right. We've got lots more straight ahead, AROUND THE WORLD.

Russia's new anti-gay laws, more and more you're seeing signs like this.

HOLMES: Now a Russian author is telling us she's getting out of the country, she says, to save her own children.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Gay rights supporters around the world are asking Olympic athletes of the same sex to hold hands when they're in Russia for the games next year, not as a show of affection, but instead as a sign of protest against that country's controversial new anti-gay laws.

WHITFIELD: So under those rules, no one is allowed to support gay rights or provide minors information about homosexual relationships.

But discrimination against gay people is nothing new in Russia. Listen to what a prominent Russian television anchor had to say on a broadcast last year.


DMITRY KISELEV, RUSSIAN TV ANCHOR (via translator): I believe it is not enough to impose fines on gays for engaging in the propaganda of homosexuality of adolescents. If they die of car accidents, they need to be burned for unsuitable to anyone's life.


HOLMES: Yeah, he said that. Dmitry Kiselev insists though he was simply supporting medical guidelines designed to prevent HIV-positive men from donating blood or organs.

Many people say his comments are reflective of the increasingly dangerous atmosphere that does exist for gay people in Russia right now.

WHITFIELD: Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist, and author of the best seller, "The Man Without a Face -- The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin."

She's also a lesbian, and these new rules were so frightening to her she, her girlfriend and their three children fled Russia for the U.S.

Masha is joining us now live via Skype from Cape Cod. So, Masha, anti-gay policies are nothing new in Russia, but what is it about these most recent laws that frightened you so much that you decided you and the family need to relocate?

MASHA GESSEN, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: It was something very specific.

When the head of the parliamentary committee on the family said that they're going to create a legal mechanism for removing children from same-sex families, we realized it was time to get out.

HOLMES: And so you actually said, and correct me if I'm wrong, the atmosphere in Russia at the moment reminds you of Nazi Germany. That's a very strong comparison. How so?

GESSEN: Absolutely. Putin is trying to mobilize his shrinking constituency against people who are different, against the "other."

And his logic goes like this, if people are protesting his regime, then they're protesting Russia. If they're protesting Russia, then they're enemies. If they're enemies, they're outsiders, they're foreigners.

He links these protesters to the U.S. State Department, he paints them as other. And the quintessential other that they have identified are gay and lesbian people. And that's why we have become target number one.

We're not going to be the only target of this campaign, but we just happen to be the first target.

And the clip you just heard is a perfect example of the kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that they're using to show people on the one hand that gays and lesbians are not human, and on the other hand that we pose a danger to the fabric of Russian society.

And that sort of thing is now on television, day in and day out. And that's another reason I feel like I need to take my kids out of Russia because they go to school and the other kids at the school have been watching this stuff. So it's like they go to war every day even if they're going to a couple of the best schools in Moscow.

WHITFIELD: You started a very public protest campaign last year. Were you not afraid that the attention from that would endanger you and your family as well?

GESSEN: Things have really changed in the last year and a half. And that's something when I look back on launching the Pink Triangle Campaign, I really have to think about that.

Because, yes, I felt that by drawing attention to myself and my family I was doing the best I could to protect us. And I still think that coming out and being public is the best protection we have. No one has ever escaped attack by being quiet and by trying to slip under the radar.

But I certainly had no idea it was going to become this dangerous, that things were going to change so much that I was going to start to feel myself like I am a person with a pink triangle rather than a journalist or anything else.

HOLMES: It's a very worrying situation. Masha, thanks so much. Masha Gessen, there, journalist and author of "The Man Without a Face -- The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin." Appreciate your time.

GESSEN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: On to the violence in Egypt, it could have a significant impact on the economy right here in the U.S.

HOLMES: Yeah, we'll tell you how, next on AROUND THE WORLD.