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CONNECT THE WORLD

Pavel Dmitrichenko Sentenced; Thai Government, Protesters For Truce For Monarch's Birthday; Azerbaijan, Iran Fight Over Origins Of Polo

Aired December 3, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: And tonight, jealousy, anger at a world famous Russian institution as the lead dancer of the Bolshoi ballet is sentenced to six years in prison for masterminding that acid attack on the theater's artistic director. We'll bring you an exclusive interview with Sergei Filin, the victim of that brutal attack.

Also ahead, Syria's civil war has pushed millions outside the country. And the situation not good inside either. We speak to the head of Medecins Sans Frontieres about the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're from Mars and they're from Venus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Do women's brains really make us better multitaskers than men? Researchers say the answer is yes. We speak to the scientist behind a new report.

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

ANDERSON: Well, it's the biggest scandal to date. The world renowned Bolshoi ballet, their star dancer sentenced to six years in prison for a brutal acid attack against the theater's artistic director.

Now, a Moscow court earlier today found Pavel Dmitrichenko, along with two co-defendants guilty of burning and nearly blinding Sergei Filin by throwing sulfuric acid on his face. Now in his first interview since that verdict, we're going to hear from Filin in just a moment.

First, though, this report from Atika Shubert.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As a dancer, Sergei Filin was a star of the Bolshoi, performing with all the grace and precision expected of the world famous ballet company. But as artistic director, a Russian court heard Filin was imperious, granting plum roles in exchange for favors, including sex with aspiring ballerinas.

Then this, an acid attack that inflicted third-degree burns to his face and eyes, leaving him almost totally blind.

On Tuesday, Pavel Dmitrichenko, a former Bolshoi soloist, was convicted of organizing the attack. The motive, revenge for refusing to give Dmitrichenko's girlfriend, another Bolshoi ballerina, several key roles.

He admitted in court that he had talked to his neighbor Yuri Zarutsky about roughing up Filin, but denied instructing him to throw acid.

In court, Zaurtsky claimed the idea was his own helped by his getaway driver Andrei Lipatov.

The month long trial laid bare the seedy underworld behind the Bolshoi. But how did a national treasure go from plie and pirouettes to acid attacks?

After the fall of Communism, the Bolshoi fell into disrepair, but in 2011 it reopened with a $1 billion refurbishment. And it was lavish, with a budget of $120 million a year. But insiders tell CNN that money fueled corruption and scandal.

Anastasia Volochkova was dismissed from the Bolshoi, she says, for being too fat. She weighed 109 pounds at the time. She sued the company successfully, but refused to return. The Bolshoi, she said, had become a brothel.

ANASTASIA VOLOCHKOVA, FORMER BOLSHIOI BALLERINA: Just imagine all the girls in Russia will be sitting, watching TV and see what's going on at the Bolshoi, what's going on with the girls with this prostitution with this doing sexual things with this corruptions, with everything. Do you think she will want to bring the girl to the ballet school? I don't think so.

SHUBERT: It all came to a head in court. An emotional testimony, Filin said he had 23 different surgeries for his eyes, but has still lost at least 80 percent of his vision, unable to see his own children.

For leading the acid attack, Varutsky was given 10 years in a penal colony. His driver Lipatov, four. Dmitrichenko was sentenced to six years. But he reportedly faced the judge with a quiet smile throughout. The best revenge, perhaps, airing the Bolshoi's darkest secrets in an open court.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: There is a lot more on this story on the website, including in depth articles on the power struggles behind the curtain and hear more from the former ballerina who describes the Bolshoi as acting like a brothel. That's at CNN.com.

We'll hear from Matthew Chance who has had the first sit down interview with the victim of that brutal attack, that coming up in this show.

Right, still to come tonight, the Ukrainian government may have survived a no confidence vote, but thousands are still calling for new elections. The latest on that.

And a very different scene in Thailand where protesters also want the government to step down. We'll see why they've declared a temporary truce.

Plus, an international dispute over the origins of polo. That after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: You're watching CNN, this is Connect the World with me Becky Anderson -- excuse me.

It is eight minutes past 8:00 here in London.

Now, thousands of people are protesting into the night in Ukraine's Independence Square. They are demanding the downfall of the current government.

Earlier Tuesday -- and these are live pictures coming to us from the Ukraine -- earlier Tuesday a vote of no confidence defeated in parliament, but protesters have, as you can see, remained defiant and say they won't back down until their demand is met.

Phil Black filed this report a little earlier from Kiev.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a huge crowd. Thousands of people have been here cheering them on, calling for revolution, calling for the government to resign. You can see there is also a very large security presence.

The mood here is pretty tense. It is outside government buildings like this in recent days where the sharpest violence has taken place between security forces and protesters. The police have been pleading with the crowd over speaker systems to remain quiet and peaceful. They have done so far. And in general, they're pretty happy while calling for revolution. But they have also cheered loudest while listening to a live feed of parliamentary proceedings, and especially when it was announced that several members of the president's own ruling party have decided to defect from that party to the opposition.

Phil Black, CNN, Kiev.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, Ukrainian opposition leader and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko talked to CNN's Christiane Amanpour earlier today. He says if people want change in Ukraine, they must protest against the government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VITALI KLITSCHKO, HEAVYWEIGHT BOXER: The government is still the hope of the people to make reform, to live better with European standards of life. That is the main point. And that's why we talk to the people, if you want to live with European standards of life you have to come into the street and make peaceful demonstration against the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, CNN's world affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is following the story from the U.S. State Department in Washington joining us from there.

Just -- just how high on the U.S. radar is this story, are these protests in Kiev, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Becky, it's very high because don't forget this is a very big country. Ukraine has 45 million people right in the center of Europe. It's as big as France. So it's very, very important. And it's really right in between now the pull from Vladimir Putin in Russia to join their Customs Union and then that pull, of course as you just heard, among some -- certainly the opposition -- to move very firmly into Europe. But the president decided not to do that and hence this is where they stand right now.

The country really is divided. It's a country that the western part usually supports and feels much closer to Europe, the eastern part of the country has more sympathy for Russia. And as this develops right now with all of those people on the street, it's a dangerous situation and it's also very disturbing for the future of Ukraine, which is significant.

ANDERSON: Yeah, and we are looking at live pictures, as you and I speak. And tonight, thankfully, the crowds are quiet and things look fairly peaceful. That hasn't been the scene, of course, over the past couple of days. It's been a pretty intense and frightening affair.

What happens next, Jill?

DOUGHERTY: Boy that is the question, because you know you have -- let's say right now as everybody watches this, just very short time ago there was some reaction coming from Secretary of State Kerry who of course, as you might expect, condemned the violence. He said violence has no place in a modern European state. NATO is condemning the violence.

But that's almost in a sense the immediate thing. The -- stopping the violence. But where they go from here is really more the issue, because after all, a lot of the people who are on those streets, their anger is fueled not only about this issue of Russia or Europe, it's fueled by frustration that ever since they had revolution -- don't forget the Orange revolution in 2004, ever since then they have not been able to get it together, to progress as a western European country as they want to be and have a better life for their people. They've had political chaos and everything else -- now economic chaos. And what's going on on the streets.

So there is a lot of frustration built up and that makes it a dangerous situation.

ANDERSON: Jill Dougherty is in Washington for you tonight as the story in Kiev resonates not just there of course, but around the world. And you can see more of Christiane's interview with boxing champion turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko coming up. Amanpour 10:00p London, 11:00 pm in Berlin.

Well, back to our top story now. And the sentencing of the Bolshoi ballet's star dancer for a brutal acid attack against the theater's artistic director.

Now Sergei Filin has undergone more than 20 operations to try to save his eyesight. Most of that treatment has been in Germany. And that is where CNN's Matthew Chance spoke to hi exclusively earlier today.

Matthew joining me now.

What did he say, Matt?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, thanks very much.

Well, that's right, you joined me in Aachen, which is a city in western Germany which has a specialist eye clinic that's carried out the vast majority of those 23 or so operations that Sergei Filin has had to try and save, if not restore, what's left of his eyesight. In his right eye he's almost totally blinded. His left eye is doing a little better he told me, or the doctors say that there is about 30 percent of his vision there.

But obviously with what little sight he has he's been watching these developments in Moscow very closely, watching these sentences being handed down as well.

I asked him what his reaction was to those sentences, the guilty verdicts as well and whether he felt justice had been done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERGEI FILIN, ACID ATTACK VICTIM (through translator): I told the court that whatever the verdict may be, whichever sentence was put forward, it is something that I left to the discretion of the court. So today as the court has considered the verdict to be just, then I'm compelled to accept it.

Of course not, I cannot forgive them, that is precisely what I said in the court. I cannot forgive them, because there is no sentence nor punishment today that would enable me to recover my eyesight, the eyesight that I once had.

What will happen in the course of my future treatment nobody knows. Whatever is ahead, it will be a struggle.

CHANCE: Well, Sergei Filin saying that the doctors have told him that his dancing career is over. No sort of physical activity can he undertake at this point, because it may further damage his eyesight.

He hopes he can continue in some role as a director in the ballet, but clearly this is going to have a huge impact on his career, Becky.

ANDERSON: Was he -- I mean, you suggested that he doesn't seem satisfied, necessarily, with the sentences. He says his life has been destroyed by these men. Was he surprised, though? Because this sentence of six years is somewhat reduced from the maximum that the star dancer may have gotten.

CHANCE: Yes. It was. He didn't seem surprised by it. I think there was a sense in which he was a little disappointed. But, I mean he said -- one of the first things he said to me is it was up to the court to decide what the court what the sentence was going to be and I was going to respect that court decision all along, whatever it is. But, there was no sentence, he said, that could have, you know, been enough to account for me losing my eyesight.

I mean, this is a man who had enormous damage done to not just his eyes, but his face, other parts of his body as well, that were touched by the very strong sulfuric acid that was thrown into him back in January of this year. It's caused enormous, you know, physical problems with him. He's probably going to have to live the rest of his life with only partial vision.

And so, you know, there is no sentence, he believes, that would have, you know, vindicated that.

And so, that's where that sense of disappointment comes from.

ANDERSON: Sure.

Matthew Chance there in Aachen, Germany. We thank you.

Well, calm has returned to the streets of Bangkok, at least for now. And the government there and opposition protesters have agreed to scale down their campaigns in order to honor the king's birthday this week.

But as Paula Hancocks now reports, the reprieve may not last very long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a definite sign of improvement, at least on one street here in Bangkok. This is just outside the metropolitan police bureau. And it has been the scene of violent protests over the past couple of days, but not this Tuesday.

The police barricades have come down and the protesters, the anti- government protesters have been allowed to stream through. There you can see the reaction from both the protesters and the police. The police are applauding the protesters, showing there is no animosity between the two and showing that the situation has changed dramatically.

Now some police were overcome with emotion as the barricades, the stone slabs were being destroyed, others were sitting in the middle of the street in a conciliatory gesture to show that they have no hard feelings towards the protesters.

(voice-over): At Government House, whistles and flags replaced slingshots and tear gas as protesters were allowed into the compound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can hear the (inaudible) from the people. And you can see how the Thai people are changing. And this is it, you know, we are not going to take any more corruption for the Thai people.

HANCOCKS: A truce for now, but protest leaders insist the campaign to force the prime minister out will continue after the king's birthday on Thursday.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Bangkok.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, the Obama administration is fighting back on its signature health care reform after what has been the disastrous launch of the website two months ago.

Speaking just a short while ago, the president talked up the benefits of what's become known as Obamacare. And he said as long as he is president, it is here to stay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future. People want the financial stability of health insurance. And we're going to keep on working to fix whatever problems come up. In any startup, any launch of a project this big that has an impact on one-sixth of our economy, whatever comes up we're going to just fix it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: South Korea's intelligence service says North Korea's Kim Jong un has dismissed his powerful uncle from his post. And reports suggest that two of that uncle's closest allies have been executed.

Now so far, CNN has not been able to verify these reports. We do know that the uncle is the same man who helped steer Kim Jong un's rise to power and held a key role in his father's regime.

Egypt's interim president is expected to quickly announce, or approve, the text of a new draft constitution. Adly Mansour was handed the document today by Amr Moussa, head of the drafting committee. Mansour now has a month to scheduled a referendum. Moussa, former Arab League chief, says the constitution will protect Egypt against, and I quote, "dangerous acts of sedition."

Critics say it gives the military far too much power.

Well, the engineer of the train that derailed Sunday morning in New York has told investigators at the scene that he was in a daze before the crash. Four people died in the accident and more than 60 were injured. Investigators had earlier said that the train's speed was nearly three times the limit at the time of the crash.

Well, speed also a factor in the fatal crash that killed actor Paul Walker. Surveillance video shows how the star of the Fast and Furious movies and diver Roger Rodas slammed into a light pole near Los Angeles.

Walker's co-star Vin Diesel went to the site of the crash to greet mourners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIN DIESEL, ACTOR: Thank you. Thank you for coming down here and showing that angel up in heaven how much you appreciate him.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Live from London, this is Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson. Coming up, 21 minutes past 8:00 here, the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The president of Doctors Without Borders has just returned from the country. She's here with me in the studio tonight to tell us about the conditions that she found.

Plus, why the United Nations is considering a dispute over polo. We'll bring you the details on that after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: The United Nations is considering a dispute over the origins of the sport of polo. Well, one of the world's oldest known competitive team sports.

Now, Azerbaijan has asked to be registered as the country where the horesback game originated. But neighboring Iran claims polo was invented in ancient Persia.

Reza Sayah has more on the sport spat in Tehran for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On a polo field in Tehran, the thundering gallop of horses, the crack of the polo stick and the sound of men fighting for a win in one of the world's oldest competitive sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gets very intense.

SAYAH: But here in Iran, another intense battle is brewing off the polo field about the origins of this ancient sport. Many Iranians say polo, or chogun as they call it here, originated in ancient Persia which is present day Iran.

But just north of the border, Iran's neighbor, the Republic of Azerbaijan, says polo is their sport. Behrus Naviev (ph), and Azeri (ph) official says it was Azerbaijan that preserved and developed this game.

The clash over the origins of polo really got heated this year when the government of Azerbaijan asked the UN to officially declare polo Azerbaijan's indigenous and homegrown sport.

Many Iranians were incensed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, it's unacceptable.

SAYAH: Perhaps known more than Iranian publisher Sadegh Samii.

SADEGH SAMII, KETAB SARA PUBLISHERS: I didn't believe it. I thought they were talking utterly nonsense.

SAYAH: Who is about to release a book on the history of polo.

SAMII: It is like I register Scotch Whisky as an Iranian national. Can I do that? Of course not.

SAYAH: Samii says ancient Iranian art and literature, some dating back more than 2,000 years, are filled with references to polo.

SAMII: Polo, which we call it chogun, definitely, categorically, emphatically an Iranian game.

SAYAH: Samii, activist groups, and the Iranian government have petitioned the UN to reject Azerbaijan's request and instead declare polo and international sport.

So when and where did polo actually originate? Historians say it's hard to tell, because it probably started even before history was properly recorded. But many agree it was probably being played as far back as 2,500 years ago throughout the Persian empire.

But here's the problem, 2,500 years ago much of this entire region was the Persian empire, including present day Azerbaijan and Iran.

With polo lovers in China, India and Afghanistan also claiming the sport as their own, it's easy to see why historians say the true origins of polo may forever be in dispute.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Tehran.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: The world news headlines are just ahead as you would expect at the bottom of the hour here on CNN.

Plus, the aftermath of what has been a long and brutal siege. CNN gets a firsthand look at a town retaken by Syrian government forces.

And is one gender better at remembering names than the other? New research shows new insight into the human brain, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: This is CONNECT THE WORLD. The top stories here this hour on CNN.

The star dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet has been sentenced to six years in prison for masterminding an acid attack against the artistic director. An accomplice was sentenced to ten years, while a driver got four years. The director, Sergei Filin, was nearly blinded in that attack.

NATO has joined the US in condemning the use of, quote, "excessive force" against protesters in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of people continue to pack Kiev's Independence Square. They're demanding the downfall of the current government and say they'll not back down until that demand is met.

French forensic tests conclude that Yasser Arafat was not poisoned to death by polonium, according to French media, at least. The Palestinian leader died, you'll remember, in November of 2004 a month after falling ill after a meal. Last month, forensic experts said tests from samples taken from Arafat's personal effects were consistent with polonium poisoning.

US vice president Joe Biden is visiting Japan and China this week, where he is trying to diffuse tensions over Beijing's recent declaration of an air defense zone over disputed territory there. Anna Coren has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: US vice president Joe Biden has reaffirmed America's commitment to Japan and the Asia-Pacific region after talks with Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, here in Tokyo.

It comes following growing tensions between China and Japan after China's announcement of an air defense identification zone over disputed territory in the East China Sea. Well, Mr. Biden has urged for calm to ensure the situation doesn't escalate.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We, the United States, are deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation

COREN: China's assumed territorial expansion also angered the United States. Last week, it sent unarmed B-52 bombers over the area to show its opposition. China responded by scrambling jets.

China's economic and military rise is of concern, and Joe Biden's week-long visit through Asia is part of the US putting its stamp on the region, rebalancing its foreign policy.

BIDEN: The United States looks to our alliance with Japan as the cornerstone -- the cornerstone of stability and security in East Asia, and we are fully committed to our announced strategy of rebalancing as well in the Pacific.

COREN: Vice President Biden heads to China on Wednesday, where he will express is concern and seek clarification from President Xi Jinping over China's intentions. His final stop will be in South Korea.

Anna Coren, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: The authorities in Syria are investigating a bombing in the heart of Damascus. State media say a suicide attacker wearing a belt of explosives blew himself up today, killing at least four people. Seventeen others were wounded. Now, an opposition group says the target of the attack appeared to be a government building.

The Syrian regime wants to maintain its grip on Damascus at all costs. It's been fighting to retake several rebel strongholds on the outskirts of the capital. The army recently managed to overrun one of those suburbs. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has just seen the aftermath of that, and he's live for us tonight in Damascus. What did you find, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Becky. Yes, it's a very strategic suburb. It's called Sbeineh, which is in the south of Damascus, and it was being used by the opposition to resupply not just that area, but also several other of the outskirts that it holds around Damascus, especially in the east and in the south of the city.

So, losing this was really a strategic defeat for the opposition, a strategic victory, obviously, for the regime. But it's certainly reduced this area to rubble. Here's what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The drive through Sbeineh is tragic. Barely a house left untouched. Many have been reduced to rubble. This Damascus suburb was in the hands of the opposition for months, but a few weeks ago, government forces took it back, but the cost has been immense.

Abu Aksam was one of the government soldiers involved. "It was very difficult to get this done," he says, "but we did it, and we'll keep going until the end because we believe in our country."

This is what it looked like when the Syrian army launched its assault on Sbeineh. Using artillery --

(EXPLOSIONS)

PLEITGEN: -- tanks --

(EXPLOSIONS)

PLEITGEN: -- and other heavy weapons, the military pounded opposition fighters.

(EXPLOSIONS, GUNFIRE)

PLEITGEN: Then, Assad's troops raided the area, taking it back house by house. The rebels in Sbeineh had been surrounded by the military for weeks. Government soldiers showed us the holes opposition fighters punched into the walls to move around and some of the tunnels used to get supplies in.

PLEITGEN (on camera): This is just one of many tunnels that lead into this former rebel-controlled area, and you can see, it's very elaborate. It's got electricity here, so they would have light downstairs, and also this pulley system to bring things, like ammunition, into this area.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The writing on the wall says "No one should ever speak about this tunnel." It ends at a sniper position. The soldiers tell us they took heavy casualties from here as they were advancing.

A few houses on, Abu Aksam shows me a little workshop. He says the fighters used it to manufacture homemade weapons. "When we entered Sbeineh, we found many of these little factories," he says. "These are the warheads for mortars, and these, makeshift rockets. And these cylinders were used to make improvised bombs."

The government says Sbeineh was a vital supply line for rebel fighters in this area. Opposition leaders acknowledge that losing the town has made it very difficult for them to defend their positions in Southern Damascus.

But while the battle for Sbeineh was a strategic victory for the Syrian government, civilian life isn't likely to return to this once- thriving Damascus suburb anytime soon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And Becky, the government here, the Assad regime, has made winning back the suburbs of Damascus one of its main priorities. And certainly as you can see, they're making some advances there. But in many other places, the going is very, very slow.

In the adjacent neighborhood that I was at, the front line has been static for pretty much a whole year. It's moved forward a couple of blocks at times, it's moved back a couple of blocks at other times. And in the meantime, a lot of people on both sides have been killed: government soldiers, civilians, of course, many of them, and rebel fighters as well, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, Fred, you've been in and out of the country, now, over the last -- what? -- two, two and a half years. How has the mood on the ground in Damascus changed, if at all?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's certainly changed considerably. If you were talking to people, I'd say, around the summer, say May, June, July, people would tell you, we think that all this is going to be over at some point in time.

I remember I was here in May and people kept saying, sometime in June, something big is going to happen and this conflict is going to be over. Someone is going to force both sides into negotiations.

You don't see any of that anymore. There's no one that I've spoken to who thinks that any of this is going to end anytime soon. At the same time, of course, they also see what's going on on the ground. There's more and more shelling that's coming from rebel-controlled areas into government-controlled areas, so many people there are feeling the conflict a lot more than they were before.

And then, of course, you have a lot of these outskirts that are being besieged by the government forces where very little if any medical supplies are getting in. Of course, you have those reports of malnutrition. Both sides are blaming each other.

So right now, the mood, I can't say, is one that appears to be very hopeful. And certainly, the thing that you hear when you speak to people on the ground is that they say that they are hunkering down for this to go on for a very, very long time. Because they don't see any of the sides budging, Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. Fred, thank you for that. The Syrian civil war, then, in its 33rd month, and in that time the conflict has claimed, we're told, more than 126,000 lives. That is, at least, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 7 million more, though, have been displaced, both inside and outside the country. The UN estimates there are now some 2 million refugees spread across the Middle East, and with winter fast approaching, those who've escaped the battlefield are now at the mercy of freezing conditions and a lack of food.

Aid agencies racing to prepare for that cold, but funding for food and medical assistance is already stretched to the limit. Well, Medicins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders as it's also known, is one of the few international humanitarian organizations working inside the country. It provides emergency care in both opposition and government-controlled areas.

Well, the president of the organization is here with us tonight. Dr. Joanne Liu has just returned from Syria. You just returned from Syria, working on the ground with your colleagues in emergency situations. How did you -- just describe what you found.

JOANNE LIU, PRESIDENT, MEDICINS SANS FRONTIERES: Well, what I found was a very, I would say, apparent calm when you arrive. Then you realize that it's only an illusion, because there is bigger violence, like your colleague just described. And when it happens, then chaos happens.

And when I was there, there was every day airstrikes, and we had patients every single day coming in my emergency room being injured, either with shrapnel wounds or with burns from the bombshell.

ANDERSON: As we talk, I want to get some shots up here so our viewers can see some of the work that some of your colleagues have been doing on the ground in Syria. Is this a humanitarian crisis that is getting worse?

LIU: Well, what is worse is the fact that it's been going on for a long time and that we are seeing slowly a collapse of the health structure going on. There is insufficient aid inside Syria. There's insufficient actors to respond to the humanitarian medical need.

And the other major concern is access. The access to -- for patients to go to heath care, and then the access for aid to come in. And one of our biggest concerns is that we know that at one point, the international community has mobilized itself to get access for some specific things, like when the chemical weapon UN investigators came. And we really wonder why we're not having the same political will for humanitarian aid.

ANDERSON: Or for sealing a corridor, as it were.

LIU: Yes.

ANDERSON: I know that you've talked before about treating kids following an attack in which a barrel bomb, for example, was dropped on a school. How difficult is it for a doctor like you to cope under the sort of circumstances that you've been in when the medical facilities are extremely limited while the people are obviously in need of an enormous amount of help, like you suggest, it just isn't getting in?

LIU: The thing is, it's the fact that patients come, and they always come in not one by one, but a pack of them. And then you are easily overwhelmed. And then you know that you can go to a certain level.

And where I was working was a field hospital of 25 beds, and we were treating patients with 30 percent burns of the body. And then, for children, we've got, two of them were above 40, and then we send them to another hospital, and one of them died on the way because the burn was so extensive.

And then, the thing is, my heart as a pediatrician is saying, we cannot bomb children. This level of violence on civilians is way beyond what is acceptable.

ANDERSON: We're talking about a population of some 30 million, some 7 million affected by this. We're talking about a quarter or more of the population. But when you hear numbers of dead at around 129,000, sadly sometimes I wonder whether those figures are accurate.

When you see the sort of stuff that you've seen on the ground just in Aleppo, can you imagine the numbers of dead going higher dramatically across the winter if this continues?

LIU: Well, I will hope not for that, but it's -- I cannot predict the future. But while I was there, there was so much number of attacks that I wouldn't be surprised that the number would still be climbing up.

ANDERSON: This is a new job for you as the international head of MSF. I know your colleagues on the ground didn't know that you'd actually got that job while you were there. Was that important to you, that they just treated you as a regular doctor, getting on with the job?

LIU: I was hopping that discussion would not come up. But actually, the international staff knew who I was, but for the national staff, we thought that I wanted to work alongside them. I didn't want them to treat me differently. We have told them afterwards, but we don't want to -- I wanted to have -- to be able to help and be immersed in the context with them.

ANDERSON: And rightly so. We thank you very much, indeed, for coming in.

LIU: Thank you.

ANDERSON: Sad story, but an important one.

All right. Live from London, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Up next, Disney's leading female executive talks to CNN about the mentors who helped her rise to the top.

And there are plenty of stereotypes around about men and women. Could some of them be true? Well, we'll look at a new study of the human brain. That is before the top of the hour in the next 15 minutes. Do stay with us. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: "Fortune" magazine has named Disney executive Anne Sweeney as one of the most powerful women in business. Well, tonight on Leading Women, Sweeney tells CNN's Poppy Harlow about her rise to the top and why she encourages employees to make time for their families.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The annual "Fortune" Most Powerful Women summit, where I recently joined media powerhouse Anne Sweeney, number 18 on this year's "Fortune" list of the 50 most powerful women in business.

HARLOW (on camera): Did you have a dream job as a child?

ANNE SWEENEY, PRESIDENT, DISNEY/ABC TELEVISION GROUP: Ballerina. Ballerina.

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: What happened?

SWEENEY: I know, I know. I was sidelined.

HARLOW (voice-over): But after graduating from college and getting a master's in education from Harvard, Sweeney landed a job at the cable network Nickelodeon in 1981, working for a woman who would become a lifelong mentor.

HARLOW (on camera): I want to talk about Geraldine Laybourne and you and the impact that she had.

SWEENEY: Oh, I learned so much from her. She hired me because she saw potential. She didn't hire me because I was a fantastic administrative assistant. If anything, I was on the low end.

HARLOW (voice-over): She moved on in 1993 when media titan Rupert Murdoch recruited her as chairman and CEO of FX networks.

SWEENEY: Going to Fox and working for Rupert was like being handed a saddle and given a horse and you just -- ride. Go fast. We are firing on all cylinders.

HARLOW: She joined Disney in 1996 and says she learned a lot from her current boss, Disney chairman and CEO, Bob Iger. But there's one mentor who stands out from the rest.

SWEENEY: My mother was my first and my very best mentor, and I think the great constant in my life when it came to not only encouraging me to find out what I wanted to be or who I wanted to be or what I was interested in, but really making sure that I was keeping myself on track.

HARLOW: Vital lessons she's passed on to her two children. Her son is autistic.

HARLOW (on camera): You've been open about this, talking about it, talking about the challenges. I wonder what your advice is to other parents?

SWEENEY: Don't be the martyr, don't be the hero parent, and talk openly about it.

HARLOW (voice-over): As co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, Sweeney is the highest- ranking woman at the company and understands the needs of her more than 10,000 employees.

HARLOW (on camera): You send your employees a note right around the first day of school encouraging them to take work off and take their kids to school.

SWEENEY: I believe it is the most important thing you can do, and I want people to have a life.

HARLOW (voice-over): And with personal mottos like "Be unafraid" and "Create what's next," does Anne Sweeney have it all?

SWEENEY: I think it depends on what you're calling "all." Is it hard to work and have kids? Absolutely. And look at how many tens of millions of mothers do this in this country every single day. To me, having it all is having their love. It's that simple.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Anne Sweeney of Disney. Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, it turns out men and women really do think differently. Surprised? Well, we'll show you the proof after this.

Plus, it's the kind of thing kids dream about, but it does exist. A life-sized gingerbread house that you can actually eat.

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ANDERSON: A new study of more than a thousands human brain scans has revealed major differences in the way that men and women are wired. Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania say it's evidence of why men excel at some tasks and women at others.

Now, these are the findings for the male brain. The major neural connections are mapped out in blue. And you can see that they're mainly within the same hemisphere of the brain and as such run along from front to back.

Now, this is the female brain, and you can already see major differences there. The connections stretch between the hemispheres and are concentrated towards the front.

The researchers say this could explain the different cognitive strengths between the sexes, and for me, that's learning and performing a single task. It's memory and social skills for women.

Well, Professor Ruben Gur co-authored the brain study and joins us now, live from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The report suggests until the age of 13 that we're quite similar, in fact. But then something changes at the onset of puberty. Have we worked out what in this study?

RUBEN GUR, DIRECTOR OF BRAIN BEHAVIOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Yes. What we saw was that around the time of puberty, the connections among the different brain regions become much stronger. And in males, these connections are particular strong within the same hemisphere or half of the brain, whereas in females, the connections are stronger between the two hemispheres connecting the two halves of the brain.

ANDERSON: So, talk to me in words of one syllable, sir, because you're a professor of this sort of stuff and I'm not, I'm just a woman who's able to do, well, multitask, as I know men aren't. So, I'm just a woman sitting here with a brain that looks like this, apparently.

Let's bring it up. Let's bring up the female brain. And just walk me through why these differences matter. We're looking at a picture of the female brain now.

GUR: Yes. So, as you know, the brain is divided into two hemispheres, and each hemisphere has a different way of processing information and dealing with the world. The left hemisphere is verbal, analytic, sequential, logical, whereas the right hemisphere is more intuitive, spacial, deals with emotions more.

So, these are the two ways in which our brain processes the world. And in the female brain, those two modes of thinking are very tightly connected. There are a lot of bridges between them.

ANDERSON: So, there was a report written in one of the British newspapers today entitled "The hard-wired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are," and I quote, "better at map- reading." I don't believe they are, but every man who I've ever been in the car with believes he is. Does what you've found today -- and let's bring up that male brain -- does that make sense?

GUR: Well, first of all, it's important to emphasize that what we've found is true on average, and the difference is similar to the difference between males and females in height and weight.

As you know, males are heavier and taller on average than females, but you wouldn't get that idea if you saw Martina Navratilova standing next to Henry Kissinger. So, there are differences on average, but it doesn't mean that what is true for the average is true for every single individual.

ANDERSON: Sure. All right.

GUR: And I think that can't be emphasized enough.

ANDERSON: Let me -- let me just get --

(CROSSTALK)

GUR: But, having said that --

ANDERSON: Sorry, let me hold you there for one second. Because we went out onto the streets of London today to find out what people think are the main differences between men and women. Just have a listen to what they've said, and then you and I can talk again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're from Mars and they're from Venus.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know faces more than I do names. I don't remember names very often.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that a man can logically break down and assess a situation much easier than a woman can. She's very clouded by what she feels personally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm lazy. But sort of needs to be done urgently, it'll be done urgently. If it can be done tomorrow, I will do it tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're also looking to build nests and have children and probably the bigger humanity side of things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, I can't speak for all men, but me, I can only do one thing at a time. I can't really do this. I can't do more than one thing at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, this is so true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: And the lady standing beside him, whom I assume was his girlfriend or wife, was nodding away there. Listen, much of what you've found sort of underlined -- underscored the stereotypical sort of views about men and women, I think. Was there anything that particularly surprised you in this research?

GUR: We were surprised at the magnitude of the effect. We expected something like that to show because there were earlier studies that showed that male brains have a higher percent of white matter, which is -- is really the fibers that connect distant brain regions to each other.

But in the corpus callosum, which is a large body of nerve fibers that connect the two hemispheres, there are some reports that actually women have larger corpus callosums, so if you put that together, you could predict sort of what we found.

But with our method, we were able to look specifically at the connectome, at all the fibers that connect distant regions, and that finding revealed very clear differences between males and females --

ANDERSON: All right.

GUR: -- as we summarized earlier.

ANDERSON: Yes, I'm going to have to --

(CROSSTALK)

GUR: We all know that men and women behave differently --

ANDERSON: -- I'm going to have to stop you there, sir, because if I don't take an advertising break, we can't pay the bills. I'm joking. It's been absolutely fascinating to talk to you. I am going to have to stop you there. Thank you very much, indeed, for joining us on what is some really good research.

In tonight's Parting Shots just before we go, a new world record was broken Saturday for the largest -- world's largest gingerbread house. This tasty-looking house in Bryan, Texas, measures more than 1,110 cubic meters. To qualify for the record, the house had to be edible on the entire outside. And as the chief chef of the winning project explained, the construction wasn't easy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MENCHACA, EXECUTIVE CHEF: This past couple of weeks, we had a ton of moisture come in, and so we had to go back to the drawing board and change the recipe and pull out a lot more of the liquid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: The house is open to the public for the next two weeks, and ticket proceeds will go towards a nearby trauma center. After that, I guess, somebody eats it.

I'm Becky Anderson, that was CONNECT THE WORLD from the team here in London and at CNN Center in Atlanta.

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END