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Explosion in Southern Beirut; U.S. Aid to Egypt; Botched Restoration Artist Cashes In; Cars Scarce in Venezuela; British Stuntman Dies After Jump; Paralympic Swimmer Banned; Prince Takes on Twitter

Aired August 15, 2013 - 12:30   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Updating our top stories for you now, as you saw at the top of the program, a large explosion shaking part of southern Beirut.

Lebanon's national news agency, NNA, now says three people are dead, 20 are wounded.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CO-ANCHOR: This is what we're seeing on Lebanese television station, the images you're looking at right now, fire and smoke and, of course, panic.

The explosion happened in a part of the city known as a stronghold for the Shiite group, Hezbollah.

HOLMES: No word of claim of responsibility at the moment. Some eyes turning to the rebels in Syria, though.

We're watching Beirut for more details. We'll pass them on as we get them.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, the crisis in Egypt could have a major impact on the U.S. Egypt gets more than a billion dollars a year in U.S. military aid, and it's strongest Arab ally in the region.

HOLMES: Yeah, though, a poll finds most Americans don't want the U.S. to get too involved in this crisis. Perhaps not surprisingly.

In the United Technologies National Journal poll, only 16 percent say the U.S. should do more to end the unrest in Egypt. Seventy-eight percent say that the U.S. should mostly stay out of it.

WHITFIELD: The crisis in Egypt puts the U.S. between a real rock and hard place diplomatically. Today President Obama warned that Egypt is on a dangerous path.

HOLMES: The president took time-out from his vacation on Martha's vineyard to condemn the violence.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.

As a result, this morning we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our bi-annual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month.

Going forward, I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government, and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S./Egyptian relationship.


HOLMES: Hussein Ibish is a columnist with "The Daily Beast" and "The National," a Middle Eastern daily, joins us now from Washington. And good to see you.


HOLMES: First of all, the U.S. doesn't have much options at this point. I mean, the money itself isn't really cash money. It's goods and U.S. contractors get the cash.

IBISH: We give them money to buy our stuff.

IBISH: And nobody's really listening to the U.S. at the moment in the region anyway. So what can they do?

IBISH: Well, in Egypt, yes, leverage is limited. And it's true, the aid is almost entirely to military. Of the aid, only a couple of hundred million is nonmilitary, and we give them money to buy our stuff. So in a sense it's a subsidy to various companies and whatnot.

But it also keeps a lifeline open to the only people in Egypt who now will return our calls who are the military. So I actually think President Obama struck a pretty good balance there between interests and values by making it clear that this sort of thing offends our values. It's -- we don't approve of the way it was done.

But at the same time, he didn't propose anything as sort of, I think, reckless as cutting off aid to Egypt, which would be bad for the U.S. economy, bad for workers and corporations and would leave us with even less leverage than we have now, which as you say is limited.

WHITFIELD: Well, how bad would it be? Hypothetically speaking, I mean, the president even said we want to sustain this relationship but -- so if the U.S. were to go that far and say we're cutting off all ties, military assistance, financially, period, what do you propose -- what do you suspect would happen?

IBISH: Well, I think there are a couple things. First of all, apart from the economic hit that American companies and workers would take because most of that money, as I say, is given to them to buy our stuff, there would also be -- it would very difficult to influence the Egyptians at all. And that money is connected directly to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, so in so far as we care about that peace treaty, that's our part of the bargain and we'd be breaking it --

WHITFIELD: Well, how influential is the U.S. being right now?

IBISH: Well, it has very little influence. And everyone has little influence in Egypt.

Egypt is not a small country. Egypt is not an isolated country. Egypt sorting things out on its own. And I think that's the way it's going to be. And I think the United States has interests to protect.

Another thing that people forget about is preferential treatment for U.S. shipping in the Suez Canal. That's worth billions of dollars every year in money to the United States as well.

So there are plenty of reasons to want to keep reasonable relations with Egypt even when we don't approve of what they do.

And let me remind you that President Morsy did all kinds of outrageous things, like giving a constitutional declaration that gave himself monarchical powers. And there were numerous massacres of civilians, both under the military government after the fall of Mubarak and under Morsy and attacks on Christians and whatnot, and nary a word was said, so let's keep this in perspective.

WHITFIELD: Hussein Ibish -

HOLMES: Yeah, thanks.

WHITFIELD: -- thanks so much.

HOLMES: Thanks, Hussein.

IBISH: You're welcome.

HOLMES: That's interesting.

Of course, the Suez Canal is a much bigger stick than the military aid that the U.S. gives and, yeah, as we say --

WHITFIELD: Yeah. Lots of goods and services, really servicing the entire world in large part through that as well.

HOLMES: Sadly, the reality is when the U.S. speaks in the Middle East now, not a whole lot of people listen. So that's just a sad reality of changing diplomatic times.

WHITFIELD: All right. Perhaps you remember this. Maybe if we show you the image you will definitely remember. Yeah, that. That botched restoration of a fresco in Spain.

HOLMES: Guess what? Now this artistic disaster is turning to good fortune for the woman responsible.

We've got that story coming up next on AROUND THE WORLD.


WHITFIELD: How about turning a mistake into real cash money?

HOLMES: I'd like to do that.

An 81-year-old woman in Spain is doing just that. Her name is Cecilia Gimenez and she is the one responsible for that, the botched so-called "restoration" of a fresco in a local church.

WHITFIELD: The fresco of Christ, unfortunately, turned into a priest now being called, "Behold the Monkey."

But guess what? That painting is turning into a real tourist attraction, and Gimenez is about to sign a very lucrative merchandising deal.

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

Erin McLaughlin is joining us from London. What's it all about Erin?


That's right. The 81-year-old artist, Cecilia Gimenez, is cashing in. It's been over a year since she unveiled that botched restoration to worldwide ridicule and laughter.

The painting was pretty disfigured, so some people thought it was funny, but Gimenez looks like is the one that's going to have the last laugh.

The painting has since become something of a tourist attraction. Over 70,000 people have been to see it in a tiny town in Spain.

And now a merchandising deal, according to Spanish media reports, Gimenez is said to ink next week. It will include cups and postcards and T-shirts. And Gimenez is expected to get 49 percent of the profits.


MCLAUGHLIN: The rest will go to charity.

WHITFIELD: That is a great deal. Wow, she scored big time.

HOLMES: Wait until you see what she does with the Mona Lisa. That'll be good.

Erin, thanks. Good to see you. Erin McLaughlin there.

WHITFIELD: Guess what? On the other side of the world, there is a shortage, another one hitting Venezuela.

HOLMES: Yeah, there's a theme going on here. We told you about the toilet paper. Now it's cars. We'll tell you what it is that has people paying more for used cars than new cars.


HOLMES: Welcome back. Get this, if you're in the market for a car in Venezuela, well, join the queue.

WHITFIELD: Yes. A long queue. They're in such short supply there, buyers of new cars have to wait for years for deliveries. So get this, a used car in Venezuela is actually more expensive than a brand spanking new one.

HOLMES: It's hard to imagine. Here's Rafael Romo to explain.


RAFAEL ROMO, SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): Take a look at this car flip in Venezuela. It's almost empty. Used car dealers aren't doing much better either. Vanessa Vasquez has been trying to buy a vehicle for weeks. She has the means to buy a new car, but has not been able to buy one.

VANESSA VASQUEZ, CAR SHOPPER (through translator): My car loan was approved two months ago. I went to two different car dealers to buy a vehicle, but they don't have any available. They said all they can do for now is put me on a waiting list.

ROMO (voice-over): Last year 130,000 cars were sold in Venezuela compared to almost half a million six years ago; 500,000 is the annual number of vehicles that would satisfy demand.

A severe shortage of cars in Venezuela has created a situation that defies logic. Used cars are more expensive than new ones. Those with cash in-hand are paying a lot more for a used car they can have right away as opposed to a new one that's nowhere to be found.

PERCY MUNOZ, CAR SHOPPER (through translator): You not only have to pay for the cost of the vehicle, but also commission to sellers. That's why the reason used vehicles are more expensive than new ones.

ROMO (voice-over): Many Venezuelans have given up simply trying to buy a car, even those who owned one in the past. Migdalia Adames says the current situation has forced her to ride the bus.

MIGDALIA ADAMES, BUS COMMUTER (through translator): I always had a car, but now with the money I make, I can't get access to a vehicle. It's impossible for me, not to mention that as a teacher I haven't seen a raise in seven years.

ROMO (voice-over): In an effort to address the problem, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro approved a law that says a used car can't be sold for more than 90 percent of the value of the same car when it's new.

PRES. NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELA (through translator): We need to end the speculation of cars affecting Venezuelans. We can't allow that a used vehicle costs twice, three or four times as much as the same new vehicle.

ROMO (voice-over): Opposition leaders say the government is not the solution, but the problem. Socialist policies that have scared away investors along with the currency exchange that makes it almost impossible to buy new cars abroad, they say, have brought both production and vehicle imports to a screeching halt.


HOLMES: And Rafael Romo joins us now to talk about this.

This is becoming a regular thing. We were talking about toilet paper shortages there.

What's going on now? Tell us about the expenses and how it all works economically.

ROMO: From the perspective of the opposition, it comes down to the same problem, control of access to foreign currency. A lot of these carmakers need auto parts that cannot be bought in Venezuela. They need dollars.

The government has a very tight control on dollars. So that discourages production. The other problem is -- and I was reading about this today -- is that they have a tight control as well on prices of cars. They're fixing the prices of cars, which means that production is going to be discouraged.

Nobody's going to want to make a car that costs less than it costs to produce. It's just a roundabout problem.

HOLMES: How messed up is the economy?

ROMO: It is bad. Inflation is 20 percent a year; last year it was 40 percent. And this is obviously not helping the situation.

HOLMES: All right.

Rafael, what next from you on shortages in Venezuela? We've done toilet paper, we've done the cars, (inaudible) what he's going to bring us next.

WHITFIELD: Thanks, Rafael.

HOLMES: All right. A world class competition going on right now and the champion is not there.

WHITFIELD: She's won the gold and has a world record, but the ruling committee says her sport is for people more disabled than she may be. Victoria Arlen's heartbreak and her fight to stay in the game.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. In the Swiss Alps we're now hearing about tragedy. We're talking about a British stuntman who has died after a wingsuit jump from a helicopter.

HOLMES: Yes, you may not know his name, but you'll remember what he did. His name is Mark Sutton. He did that James bond appearance, that stunt at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, remember, at the start of the telecast there.

WHITFIELD: Yes, well, police believe he crashed into a mountain just 20 seconds after the jump. Sutton and another jumper were videotaping the feat for an extreme sporting company.

HOLMES: Early reports say that he did have a parachute but it was for landing and he never had time to open it anyway when things went awry. An investigation is underway. Mark Sutton was just 42 years old.

WHITFIELD: Happening right now in Montreal, it's the world championship for swimming for Paralympic athletes. And one American, gold medalist, is not there.

HOLMES: In fact, she is banned from the competition. This is her, Victoria Arlen, one of the most dominating figures in her sport, world record holder, multiple medalist and paralyzed from waist down.

WHITFIELD: But she was told that she cannot take part in the world championships because of something about her disability.

HOLMES: Alex Thomas is with us here, CNN International broadcaster visiting from London, doing your time over here at HQ.

This is a very sad story. Tell us how we came to this point.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is sad because (inaudible) London 2012 12 months ago, winning a gold, setting a world record, winning three other silvers. She's only 18, got a bubbly personality, a very good looking girl.

But it said -- the International Paralympics Committee said she can't compete anymore because her disability isn't necessarily permanent. She's actually banned before London 2012, reinstated on appeal, but now five independent medical experts say because she could recover at some stage, her disability is not considered permanent.

WHITFIELD: Would her medals be in jeopardy then?

THOMAS: No, they said she's going to keep all her titles and her records. But she's obviously devastated.

On her Facebook page she said, "I'm so heartbroken, I feel numb and completely shocked; being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad."

HOLMES: That seems ridiculous. So it's got to be a permanent disability to qualify even if you are unable to walk and you're in a wheelchair. That just seems absurdly unfair. A couple senators got involved, I think.

Did that do any good?

THOMAS: It won't do any good. That letter, the open letter from two senators, but the IPC president, Phillip Craven (ph), said this could be reviewed if her impairment is shown to be permanent in the future. And of course it has happened many times before. But because she's such a famous athlete, it's caused a bit of a stir.

HOLMES: It's one thing if you're not that disabled or disabled enough at the time of the competition, but they're saying just in case she gets better at some future point.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder what kind of ripple effect there might be for other athletes. Might there be some other, whether it be Paralympians or other paralyzed athletes, who are now looking at their condition and wondering, well, if there is a glimmer of hope with my situation, does that now disqualify me from any international competition?

THOMAS: Yes, everyone's affected. It's said other people have been banned and for the same reasons. And the whole classification of different disabilities and impairments is being looked at in general.

HOLMES: That seems terribly unfair.

Alex, good to have you in town.

Alex Thomas there.

All right. Let's take a look. What are we going to do now? We're going to take a look at a break. Why don't we do that instead?

WHITFIELD: Take a look at that break.

HOLMES: Have a look at this break.



WHITFIELD: All right. Let's take a look at what's trending, shall we? Prince, The Artist Formally Known As, that Prince, now back to Prince.

HOLMES: You were telling me he was back to Prince, that's how ignorant I am. I thought he was symbol something.

WHITFIELD: He's Prince. And he can be that too, that symbol, that symbol of greatness.

Well, guess what, he is now taking a very huge step after saying not too long ago that the Internet is completely over -- his words, not mine.

HOLMES: Yes, yes, so anyway, Mr. Prince -- or can I just call you Prince? He's just taken a major step. (CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: (Inaudible) is over, he is tweeting and there is the first one. Prince's first tweet, testing, one, two.

WHITFIELD: Like an audio test.

HOLMES: In caps, he's yelling at me.

WHITFIELD: That's right. He'll soon go to lower case, maybe.

His second tweet, rather creative, maybe. Prince, Prince's second tweet. There it is.

And then he tweeted some food.

And a sort of stealthy, I think --

WHITFIELD: "Purple Haze," you know, purple. That's his thing.

HOLMES: Yes. Somebody's got to tell him.

WHITFIELD: Oh, wait, "Purple Haze," that's more (inaudible).

HOLMES: By the third tweet, he wasn't in caps. So somebody had obviously scolded him on Internet etiquette. A lot of people on Twitter, but I guess now he's joined it, the Internet isn't officially over.

WHITFIELD: That's right.

HOLMES: All right. Thanks for that, Prince.

WHITFIELD: Because he's officially now on Twitter.

HOLMES: Yes, tweeting.

WHITFIELD: It's official now.

HOLMES: Yes. All right. Pamela Brown, she tweets.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I do. But you know, it's baby steps. I remember when I first started tweeting.

HOLMES: (Inaudible) scares me. I've seen people commit Twittercide. And I don't -- I just sort of -- I do it a little.

WHITFIELD: I think I'm still kind of baby steps.

BROWN: Yes, I'm still learning.



BROWN: It's a work in progress. All right, guys. Thank y'all. Thank you; I'll take it from here. "NEWSROOM" starts right now.


BROWN: This is CNN NEWSROOM; I'm Pamela Brown filling in for Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks so much for being here with us on this Thursday.

And we begin with an eye on the markets.