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Will Sochi Be Ready For 2014 Winter Games?; President Putin To Pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky; India, U.S. Diplomatic Row; FAA, FCC Relaxing Rules On Cellphone Use On Planes; Panel Makes Sweeping Reform Recommendations For NSA

Aired December 19, 2013 - 8:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout here in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream where news and technology meet.

Now two people are found guilty of killing a British soldier on the streets of London.

Also ahead, 50 days to go until the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but preparations are being overshadowed by controversy.

And while more airlines are allowing passengers to use cellphones during the whole flight, we'll tell you why that doesn't necessarily mean you can talk.

50 days and counting, the race to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, that has begun.

But with the opening ceremonies stadium still not finished, will Russia's first Winter Games be a success?

Now the run-up to the February games has been clouded in controversy.

Now protesters around the world have called for a Sochi boycott. They are angry over Russia's anti-gay propaganda law. Now the law passed in July making it a crime to tell children there's nothing wrong with gay relationships.

Now with an estimated $50 billion price tag, the Sochi games will be the most expensive in Olympic history even more than the last two Summer Olympics held in London and Beijing combined.

And there have been a number of environmental concerns over the impact of building large stadiums in Sochi.

Now the resort city on the edge of the Black Sea is considered a pristine location.

Now CNN's Amanda Davies has just been to Sochi to see the preparations there firsthand. She joins me now live from London. And Amanda, just how ready is Russia to host the games and to handle all the scrutiny?

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: That is the big question, Kristie, isn't it? It is par for the course now ahead of these major sporting events, though we have all the stories of chaos you just have to look at South Africa and Brazil, the World Cup venues for that.

But on the whole, when it gets to the events all those stories get put to one side and we look at the -- look back on the events as great successes, maybe through rose-tinted spectacles. But you have to say that the levels of controversy have certainly been cranked up a few notches in terms of Sochi, because of those issues that you've mentioned, the issues of human rights, of budgets of readiness and the anti-gay propaganda law, which was highlighted of course on Wednesday with the U.S. decision to send Billy Jean King as part of their delegation come February.

I was in Sochi just a couple of weeks ago. And the good news for the organizers is that one big weight have been listed from their shoulders.


DAVIES: Snow has arrived in Sochi, much to the organizer's relief. It is still early days, but after months of pictures of bare rock faces and stockpiled snow, this is a very welcome sight for the organizing committee and for those internationally.

YVES DIMIER, SPORTS MANAGER, APLINE SKI SOCHI 2014: It's good to have this kind of weather, because it makes everybody more confident and relaxed, because for such an event you know that there is a lot of pressure and it's better to have the snow now than coming in January.

DAVIES: After seven years of planning and preparation, they're very much into the final stages here. Of the 10 venues both here in the mountain cluster and by the coast, they are all complete.

DIMITRI GRIGORIEV, GENERAL MANAGER, ADLER ARENA: While we can only put our feet up when the games end and the last athlete leaves the village and goes -- and arrives safely at home, but I think we are as ready as -- as ready as we can be.

DAVIES: But organizers aren't able to get too carried away. President Putin continues to crank up the pressure. When he was here earlier this month, he announced that the new year is canceled for the workers. No one is getting a day off. As he put it, a lot has been done, but it is far from perfect.

The pavements are being laid, the flower bed set, but the biggest concern has been the arena that will host the opening and closing ceremonies, the Fisht arena. It was due to be completed in august, but is now set to be ready by the end of the year. That leaves just a month for rehearsals to take place in situ before the eyes of the world descend.

Ticket sales are going well. And the torch relay continues across Russia. It has been to the north pole, up to space, to the bottom of Lake Baikal. But the international news agenda continues to be dominated by the issues of gay rights of human rights and of security. You can guarantee, though, that everybody here is doing all they can to ensure that they will all be put to one side when the games begin on February 7.


DAVIES: And Kristie, the main area of construction the last time we were there was that Fisht Stadium. And I can tell you though we had a statement from the 2014 press office just yesterday, Wednesday, which said the Fisht Olympic Stadium is in the final stages of construction. Final rehearsals will take place at the Fisht Olympic Stadium. We are confidence all our venues will be ready in time to host Russia's first ever Olympic Winter Games.

And the thing with that stadium, Kristie, it's very interesting. It wasn't on the original plans for the Winter Olympics that the organizers saw the importance of the opening and closing ceremonies. And the view that they portray to the rest of the world. They really set the tone for the few weeks of the games. So this stadium is being built simply for three hours on the first day of the games and three hours on the last day of the games. That really sums up the fact that they are trying to tick every possible box here.

And the fact that President Putin's office is having a nightly, or morning, 1:00 am phone call every day with the organizing committee points to the fact that they are determined that this will go smoothly.

LU STOUT: Yeah, and that short used stadium that you just mentioned is perhaps one of many reasons why the price tag of the Sochi games is just so steep. Amanda Davies there reporting. Thank you, Amanda.

Now, even if many world leaders won't be attending in Sochi, the city's gay residents say that they are against a boycott. They say that they want support from the Olympic community and that gay athletes who come to Sochi have nothing to fear.

Phil Black has more.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In Russia, this is an extraordinary sight, not the man dressed as a woman pretending to sing, but the mixed crowd of people cheering for him.

This is Sochi's only gay nightclub. Well, it's more gay-friendly, because all types come here, men and women, gay and straight, to enjoy the drag show and dance until dawn.

Beneath the wig, makeup and that spectacular costume is a young man named Armand (ph). He says Sochi has always been more tolerant than other Russian cities and famous for its gay culture.

During the Soviet era, when being in a gay relationship was illegal and international travel almost impossible, this sunny city by the Black Sea became the USSR's favorite getaway for gay people, the only place where members of a secret community could really be themselves.

Back in the club, locals say that tradition continues. Larry says, gay men and lesbians have been coming to Sochi since Soviet times to get together, have a good time and find love.

The people here know the atmosphere in Sochi is very different to other provincial Russian cities and that makes them lucky, even more so recently.

Gay people across Russia say there's been a surge of intolerance, discrimination and violence, and it started around the time Russia's parliament passed what's become known as the "gay propaganda law," making it illegal to tell children, gay and straight relationships are equal.

Critics say the law is discriminatory. That's why activists around the world have been debating Russia's right to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi. No one we spoke to here supports a boycott, and almost everyone wants the games to be a success for Sochi and Russia. But they still hope visiting athletes (inaudible).

This man says he'd like athletes to stand up for the gay community with a colorful protest against the propaganda law. Vilari (ph) is excited. He hopes athletes will support them publicly and come to this club.

No doubt, Olympians would be welcome here because everyone is.

Phil Black, CNN, Sochi.


LU STOUT: And leading the charge for Sochi is none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now Mr. Putin announced today that he will soon pardon the jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Mr. Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on charges of tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement. Now he is one of Russia's wealthiest men and one of the Kremlin's staunchest critics.

Now CNN's Diana Magnay has been monitoring the press conference. She joins us now live from Moscow. And Diana I mean it's incredible, after this marathon Putin press even, Putin then just launches this bombshell. I mean, why now? Why is he promising to pardon Khodorkovsky?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely Kristie. And he launched this bombshell in the corridors. I mean, it wasn't even at the official press conference it was as he was leaving surrounded by journalists. And a journalist asked him in the context of this broader amnesty, which the parliament voted on yesterday, what would happen to Mikhail Khodorkovsky? And he said he's been in jail for 10 years now. His mother is sick. We understand that there are humanitarian reasons. And he has submitted an appeal for clemency to me. And I can announce that I will be signing that clemency at some point.

So, an astonishing decision by the president. Again, it does come in the context of this broader amnesty, which was decided upon yesterday by the government, but by the duma (ph). And it was hoped that that would incorporate the two jailed activists from Pussy Riot and also the detained Greenpeace activists.

And it seems that Mr. Putin has decided that on this day, 50 days as we've been hearing before the Winter Olympics start at Sochi. He will expand his largess and also bring Mikhail Khodorkovsky into the list of people who will granted amnesty, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Is this his attempt to gain international favor ahead of the Sochi games?

MAGNAY: Well, you could certainly look at it that way. And that's what many analysts are perceiving this huge amnesty at this critical point in time. And let's not forget that Mr. Khodorkovsky is a thorn in the side of the Kremlin. And I mean just a couple of months ago, or a few weeks back on the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment he wrote a letter in which again he was very critical of the Putin-led government and saying, you know, and I'll quote to you it is because of an out of control central power that this country is not moving on in the way that it should be.

But of course a degree of magnanimity from the Russian president at this time when the eyes of the world are looking at Russia, are looking at them especially after the last few days in Ukraine where he exercised his power there. We have the Winter Olympics coming up. This is Mr. Putin's time in the sun, so to speak, so you can see why he might decide to choose this moment to grant amnesty or to grant clemency to a man who many perceived to be one of his biggest political opponents, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Diana Magnay reporting live from Moscow, thank you.

Now you're watching News Stream. And still to come, anger is mounting in India over the arrest of an Indian diplomat. And we'll go live to New Delhi and find out what is happening on the ground today.

And was it suicide or murder? We'll tell you more about the questions surrounding this British doctor's death.

And suggested changes to the way the U.S. government keeps an eye on people. We'll tell you more about the recommendations submitted to U.S. President Barack Obama.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now deadly violence in South Sudan has spread outside the capital as spheres of ethnic conflict grow in Africa's newest nation. An army spokesman says the town of Bor has been taken over by rebels amid heavy shelling. And the fighting has been spreading since the weekend.

The government says it fought off an attempted coup in the capital of Juba.

And in the town of Bentu near the border with Sudan, the United Nation says oil industry workers are taking shelter in a UN compound.

Now, the defense minister says up to 100,000 people have been displaced by the violence. Jonathan Mann has more on what's happening on the ground in South Sudan.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: South Sudan's capital city still reeling from days of violence. Hundreds of people have been killed in what the United Nations fears is fighting between rival factions. 15,000 to 20,000 more people have taken shelter at UN compounds in Juba to escape the violence.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: South Sudan's capital city still reeling from days of violence. Hundreds of people have been killed in what the United Nations fears is fighting between rival factions. 15,000 to 20,000 more people have taken shelter at UN compounds in Juba to escape the violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The soldiers go into houses, hey take out people from their home and kill them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before this, I had hope in my country and naturally now I have lost hope. And also because my people are killing themselves.

MANN: Deadly clashes broke out Sunday. The country's president Salva Kiir later accused his rival of staging a coup. That man, former vice president Riek Machar, seen here in file video, denies those claims in recent interviews. He's now wanted and on the run.

On Tuesday, a government minister urged the crowd at one of the compounds to return home, telling them the fighting was over. But a UN official says that's not the case.

JOSEPH CONTRERAS, UN ACTING SPOKESPERSON ON SOUTH SUDAN: I am not in a position to really characterize the political situation here, but the crisis is not over. It's a very, very fluid situation. So I don't think the country is out of the woods yet.

MANN: UN officials are expressing concern saying the fighting appears to be along ethnic lines. While traveling in the Philippines, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for calm.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Political differences need to be resolved by peaceful and democratic means. And those have been hard fought for. The government should respect the rule of law. And the people of South Sudan should be able to realize their full potential in peace.

MANN: But there are growing fears that Africa's newest nation could be sliding back into its violent past.

Jonathan Mann, CNN.


LU STOUT: Now tensions are running high between the United States and one of its main Asian allies over the arrest, handcuffing and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York. Now the deputy counsel general was taken into custody over charges of visa fraud. And while U.S. attorneys make the case that her treatment was justified, America's top diplomat has expressed regret over the arrest.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to talk with India's external affairs minister later today.

Now Mallika Kapur is following the reaction in India from our bureau in New Delhi. And she joins us now live. And Mallika, will these upcoming talks end this diplomatic row?

MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly seems that both sides are hoping that it will. I think it's fair to say that both sides have been hinting that they don't want this incident to spiral out of control and to lead to even frostier relationships between the two countries.

The fact that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called a senior Indian official to express his regret, that's a sign that they want to ease tensions between the two countries.

And earlier today, Salman Khurshid, India's foreign affairs minister, India's external affairs minister, he spoke to our sister channel IBN. And while he did talk tough, and he did say that when he speaks to John Kerry later on tonight he says that the U.S. will have to explain themselves, explain what was the reason behind, why they were so heavy handed in their treatment with a diplomat. And he also insisted that he will ask the U.S. to drop the case against the diplomat.

But having said all of that, he himself did say once again that he doesn't want this incident to spiral out of control. He says, you know, these things happen between friends. But the whole point of a friendship is that it survives a test like this.

So it does appear that both sides want to ease tensions between the two countries -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: And Mallika, what do we know about the housekeeper at the center of this case and her alleged treatment?

KAPUR: Well, the housekeeper, we believe, is in New York. We hear that her family was flown there a few days ago.

We don't know specifics about where she is at the moment.

About her treatment, well the alleged crime committed here by the diplomat is that she severely underpaid her nanny. The nanny was supposed to have been paid about $9.75 an hour, which is the minimum wage in New York. But the prosecutor in New York alleges that the diplomat only paid her about a third of that, about $3.31. And the prosecutor does say that this was exploitative. And this was wrong. And this is the reason why the diplomat was arrested.

But there are some new details emerging around this incident with some Indian officials hinting at a conspiracy theory over here. And they're saying that the only victim in this case is the diplomat.

LU STOUT: Mallika Kapur reporting for us live from New Delhi. Thank you.

Now you're watching News Stream. And coming up right here, a U.S. intelligence review has come up with plenty of recommendations for the NSA and for Barack Obama. But none are binding. We'll bring you the details later on the program.


LU STOUT: Live from Hong Kong you are back watching News Stream.

Now the verdict is in for U.S. government employee who took a very unorthodox approach to landing a couple of hundred days off work on top of siphoning a handsome share of taxpayer dollars. Now the judge says that what he did was unbelievably egregious. And it took both deception and poor supervision to pull it off.

Chris Lawrence has the story.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Beale walked out of court Wednesday, a man who took being lazy to legendary heights. Now he's heading to jail after swindling the government out of nearly $1 million.

SCOTT AMEY, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: How does this occur in modern-day society with managers that are trying to make ends meet and budget are tight?

LAWRENCE: Beale was a climate change specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency making $164,000 a year. But he rarely came to work, and filed thousands of dollars in fake travel claims.

His bosses didn't question his frequent absence because Beale said he was actually working for the CIA. For 10 years, EPA officials believed Beale was at CIA headquarters or on some secret mission overseas. He once claimed he had to go to Pakistan to help a fellow agent in trouble. Beale was actually here hanging out at his home in the D.C. suburbs, or hiding in plain sight at his vacation home in scenic Cape Cod.

In 2008, he didn't show up at work for six months. And apparently nobody at the EPA batted an eye.

AMEY: What do you do for the CIA? Where are you going? Who's authorized it? At some point, the managers at the EPA should have been asking for some kind of proof.

LAWRENCE: No one checked Beale's story, even he took five trips to California and billed the government $57,000, claiming those flights were for -- quote -- "personal reasons."

And now Beale will serve nearly three years in prison. He's also agreed to pay about $900,000 in restitution and forfeit half a million dollars in salary.

The EPA says it has upgraded its safeguards to do more thorough checks on its employees' travel and attendance.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.


LU STOUT: What a con artist.

Now this is News Stream. And coming up next, after a string of damaging spying revelations, is U.S. President Barack Obama considering limiting the powers of the National Security Agency?

Also, British Airways says yes to letting travelers use their mobile phones freely from gate to gate. But others are saying no.


LU STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream. And these are your world headlines.

Now Russia's president says he plans to pardon the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He's been in jail for 10 years. He was convicted on charges of tax evasion and fraud, but he's also known as an opposition party supporter. Now Mr. Putin's announcement comes amid plans for a sweeping amnesty law that could also see the release of the controversial rock band known as Pussy Riot.

Now Samantha Power and the U.S. ambassador to the UN made an unannounced visit to the Central African Republic on Thursday. She says that she is there to get a sense of the crisis in the country firsthand.

Amnesty International says it has evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed in the country.

Now the UN mission in South Sudan says oil workers are seeking protection at the UN compound of the town of Bentu. Now separately the South Sudanese army says rebel fighters have taken control of a town to the north of the capital Juba.

Now two men have been found guilty of killing British soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London in May. Now Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale hacked Rigby to death on a street in Woolwich. Rigby's family spoke outside the courthouse just a few minutes ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to thank everyone who has helped us to finally get justice for Lee and the overwhelming support that we have received. This has been the toughest time of our lives. No one should have to go through what we've been through as a family. We are satisfied that justice has been done, but unfortunately no amount of justice will bring Lee back. These people have taken him away from us forever, but his memory lives on in all of us and we will never forget him.


LU STOUT: Now the aftermath of Rigby's killing was filmed by bystanders shocking the country and the world. Atika Shubert walks us back to the case. And a warning, these pictures, they are graphic and very disturbing.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Soldier Lee Rigby walks to the Woolwish military barracks on May 22 completely unaware of the horror awaiting him. A car accelerates behind him and runs him down before he is then hacked to death with knives and a meat cleaver.

This is just one of the graphic videos the family and widow of Lee Rigby have endured during the trial of 29-year-old Michael Adebolajo and his co-accused, 22-year-old Michael Adebowale at London's old Bailey.

The two men, both British citizens, pleaded not guilty to the murder of Rigby. Adebolajo arguing that he had no choice. "I'm a soldier of Allah," he told the jury. "It is a war between Islam and those militaries that invade Muslim lands."

Lee Rigby was killed in full view of horrified onlookers.

"He knelt down next to the man," witness Amanda Bailey said of Adebolajo in a statement read in court. "He grabbed the young man's head and began hacking."

The jury saw videos of what authorities said were the two men pulling Rigby's body onto the road. And as seen here, people watched as the pair lingered at the scene still brandishing their bloodied weapons.

Authorities say it was only when armed police arrived that Adebolajo ran, but it was at the officers and armed with a meat cleaver. He was shot. Within seconds, Adebowale was also shot after police say he aimed a gun at them.

The weapon was later found not to be loaded.

Both men pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of a police officer. Adebolajo telling the court he only ran at police to draw fire, because he wanted to die while carrying out what he described as a military operation.

In closing, the defense argued that Adebolajo was not a psychopath. The killing of Lee Rigby, they argued, was a political act of war, better defined as terrorism or treason, but not murder.

Now during the trial, Adebolajo expressed admiration for al Qaeda, saying I love them. They are my brothers. He also showed no regret or remorse for the killing of Lee Rigby, saying that he hoped his death would bring about a change in British foreign policy.

The prosecution dismissed Adebolajo's argument that the killing of the young fusilier was an act of war telling the jury that under British law the attack can only be defined as murder.


LU STOUT: And that was CNN's Atika Shubert reporting.

Now, the U.S. National Security Agency is back in the spotlight today.

Now President Barack Obama has more than 40 recommendations to consider on how to change intelligence gathering. They come from a select panel put together by the White House in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden leaked controversy.

Now CNN's chief U.S. security correspondent Jim Sciutto reports.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Already battered by stinging headlines day after day over NSA spying, today the panel the president himself ordered recommends the NSA be subject to stronger accountability and transparency.

What the panel does not recommend is dismantling the program that sparked the most controversy in the U.S.: the gathering of billions of bytes of metadata of American's phone calls, something sure to upset the president's supporters on the left. Instead, the panel, made up of intelligence and legal experts, recommends congress pass legislation requiring phone companies to hold the data rather than being held by the NSA and that the NSA be limited to gathering foreign intelligence on foreign targets.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT: The message to the NSA is now coming from every branch of government from every corner of our nation, NSA you've gone too far.

SCUITTO: To help restore U.S. credibility abroad, the panel suggests sweeping reforms, including striking agreements with allies such as France and Germany on what spying among friends is acceptable and what is not.

The panel says monitoring of foreign leaders by the NSA should require approval directly from the White House.

The report follows a bruising meeting at the White House Tuesday with executives from the country's largest tech companies. Sources tell CNN's Jim Acosta, several of those executives said they flew to Washington to voice their concern on government surveillance hurting their bottom line abroad to the tune of $35 billion in lost business. But several were frustrated with the White House focus on the troubled site.

At that meeting, sources say the president said one thing he is not considering is a pardon for NSA leader Edward Snowden.


LU STOUT: Let's get more details on this right now from Jim. He joins me now live from our Washington bureau.

And Jim, overall just how strong are the recommendations?

SCIUTTO: Well, they're very strong. And they're sweeping. And they affect not just American citizens, but citizens abroad as well. The panel saying that, you know, there's been a loss of credibility and trust both inside the country and outside the country. You see that reflected, for instance, they recommend that the panel make it clear to foreign citizens that the U.S. is only going to access this data for clear national security interests. They're not going to do it because they can. They're not going to do it to steal, say, trade secrets, that kind of thing.

And also as mentioned in my piece there, they also say that if there's going to be listening to conversations, say, of Germany's Angela Merkel that that has to get top level White House presidential approval. It can't just happen with someone lower than that allowing it to happen. And the implication there, really, is that the White House is going to be -- put a lot stricter restrictions on that and pull some of that back.

So they're pretty -- they're aggressive. The trouble is it's now up to the president to decide how many of these that he wants to accept. And already the White House coming out and saying there are a few they will not accept. For instance, the panel recommends that the NSA come under civilian command. White House says it's going to keep it under military command.

LU STOUT: Now recommendations, they are strong. They are sweeping. That's likely to be welcome news to world leaders, for example like Angela Merkel. But is there concern in Washington that some of these recommendations are so strong that they would somehow slow down or impede security, intelligence gathering?

SCIUTTO: Well, you have a debate about that. Former NSA inspector general went on the record just yesterday saying, quote, "if adopted in bulk, the panels recommendations would put us back before 9/11 again." That's a pretty damning indictment.

That said, the member of the panel -- and these are not wilting flowers either. One of them, Richard Clarke, was a counterterror director under Bush. He says, and the panel said, that they found that the collection of this phone metadata was, quote, "not essential to prevent attacks." And that the administration didn't prove that they could have done this with other readily available methods, for instance, getting a court order if there's a particular communications that they want to go after.

So that's a subject of a real debate here. And you've heard that from members of congress as well.

LU STOUT: President Obama, he has the report. It's about 300 pages long, some 46 recommendations inside. When will he announce a decision based on those recommendations put forward?

SCUITTO: Well, I'm told by senior administration officials that he's going to look at it for the next month or so and that likely at the end of the January, the president will make a speech to the American public announcing his decisions and explaining really how this will go forward under greater scrutiny.

But we've already heard that they're knocking down some of these recommendations. For instance, the one about putting the NSA under civilian command. That said, I had been told by senior administration official, that there are others that they are willing to accept, one of them being having presidential approval, White House approval for the monitoring of foreign leaders' communications.

LU STOUT: All right, Jim Sciutto reporting live from Washington. Thank you very much indeed for that.

Now time now for your global weather forecast. The winter chill definitely being felt here in Hong Kong and across East Asia. Mari Ramos joins us from the world weather center with more on that -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kristie, definitely that time of year. But, you know, we're talking some near record low temperatures across many areas. Do you remember just yesterday -- day before yesterday we were talking about the snow in Vietnam. Remember, northern parts of Vietnam had about 30 centimeters of snow up in the mountains there?

Well, not snowing anymore, not even cold enough probably to support snowfall, but it's definitely quite cold across the region. The skies are generally clear. So at night that temperature drops very, very quickly.

In Hanoi, they went down to 8 degrees. They're average is 15 for their overnight low. So that's quite a difference.

And then in Hong Kong, your average is 16 for this time of year and you went down to 9. And I think overnight tonight and early into tomorrow morning you'll go down to about 9 degrees yet again.

The other thing is, it's very windy. And the wind makes it feel even colder.

Now some of you watching from other parts of the world or thinking are you kidding me? 9 degrees? What are they complaining about? This is a big deal, because in this part of the world the temperature differences are not that great from the daytime high to the overnight low. And these swings in temperature are felt by the population. In fact, in parts of Thailand, they've declared a state of emergency in some of those communities because it is so cold and people are not prepared. They're giving out blankets to people so they can stay warm in the overnight hours.

It is a significant change and something that definitely we're not accustomed to.

Even right now it's only 11 in Hanoi and 14 in Hong Kong. And it's going to get colder.

And like I said, it is quite windy as well at times. Winds close to 30 kilometers per hour in Hong Kong in the last few hours.

Why is it so cold? Well, big area of high pressure with that Siberian air coming in across this area. Because of the way the winds rotate around the high, it brings that cold air, funnels it in into parts of Southeast Asia and the coldest air have been in that region there that you see highlighted in the purple and that's where we have the biggest differences anyway.

Some 5 to 10 degrees below average for this time of year, which is significant.

So we're starting to see a little bit of a change as we head through the next few days, but I think still tonight and tomorrow we'll still be looking at temperatures that are well blow the average.

And notice how clear it is as that area of high pressure, the old front -- cold front -- is all the way down here across northern parts of Luzon. And it is quite windy, also, as we head back over into Luzon.

And even in Manila we're getting some rain that at times will be heavy overnight tonight and then also in through tomorrow.

Farther north, things are fairly quiet. In Beijing, for example, the air continues to be very still and that brings you to this, to the unhealthy conditions -- 170 right now the air quality in Beijing. So kind of get an idea, right? As soon as we get any kind of stable air mass over this area the pollution levels shoot right up. And it's cold, minus 8 there, minus 6 in Seoul. You're looking at some of the coldest air of the season.

There's a little bit of an area of low pressure here that could bring you some problems over the next couple of days.

Going back to the forecast, as we head south one more time. Bangkok, your average high is 31. You'll be close to that. In areas that were affected by the cold I think it's the overnight lows that are going to be the major concern, including here in Hanoi where 7 degrees would be your overnight low over the next couple of days. And as we head over toward Hong Kong also overnight you'll see temperatures dipping down.

Now as much as yesterday and today, but over the next couple of days it will remain cold. Seoul also will remain quite cold, well below the average for this time of year.

Oh, there's a picture from India. The fog this time of year, Kristie, gets really, really bad in this area. It's double a combination. You have the cooler temperatures and then of course all of those fossil fuels that are burned in that area, they get trapped close to the surface and it brings a lot of delays across the region. And course very unhealthy for people to breathe.

Back to you.

LU STOUT: Yeah, looks like more smog than fog there. Mari Ramos, thank you very much indeed for that.

Now coming up, we have more on the in flight phone debate in the U.S. Airlines consider relaxing the rules on mobile phone use in the cabin, but one now says it will ban passengers from making phone calls. We'll have a live report.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now in early November, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration finally eased the rules on using electronic devices on planes. Now that means you can now use your phones and tablets from gate to gate. No more having to turn off your devices during taxiing, takeoff and landing, you just have to keep it on airplane mode.

Now since the announcement, over a dozen U.S. airlines have gotten clearance for in-flight gadget use for all or most flights.

But what about international airlines? Well, British Airways is the first European airline to go the way of its American counterparts. But it could be joined by others soon. Now Europe's aviation safety agency has already approved changes similar to the FAA's.

But just because you could use your smartphone on a plane, it doesn't mean that you can talk on it. Now Delta airlines said today that they won't allow calls on their flights. More on that, Chris Lawrence joins me now from Ronald Reagan International Airport.

And Chris, why is Delta not allowing calls on flights?

LAWRENCE: They say their employees don't want it and probably the more important that their customers, the passengers don't want it. Also, other U.S. domestic carriers like JetBlue and Southwest also say no way. Their customers are telling them they don't want to hear phone calls on the planes.

Here is the FCC's dilemma. They say there is now technology available that could allow safe cellular calls onboard planes that wouldn't interfere with ground communication. So some on the FCC say, look, it's time for the government to get out of this argument. There's no reason for the ban. Let the airlines work it out with their customers.

Other say they could see what happening very soon is the airlines start to create so-called quiet zones and then charge customers more to sit there. They don't want to see that.

Delta for its part says, look, if they relax the ban we're not going to allow cell phone calls, but we would allow text messaging, email, anything that's silent -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: So, you know, Delta is just such a big player in this space. Is it influencing other airlines in the U.S. to voice their opposition to in-flight phone calls?

LAWRENCE: Well, other major airlines like United and American are taking a more wait and see approach, saying we're still gauging what our customers think about this. But, you know, remember some international carriers already offer cellphone calls. I mean, if you're flying Emirates you know from say Dubai to the U.S., you know, you can use your cellphone right up until you hit the U.S. airspace and then you have to turn it off.

And some in the telecommunications industry say on those airlines like Singapore, like Emirates that already are allowing calls, that really most calls last less than two minutes. There's never more than a few people on the phone at any one time. And a lot of people are just using it to check voicemails not so much to talk on the plane. So they say this wouldn't be as big an intrusion as some people really think.

LU STOUT: And also there in the U.S., who will ultimately decide whether phone calls will be allowed during flights. Will it be the airlines individually or the government?

LAWRENCE: It's ultimately going to be the airlines, because I think the FCC is going to look at this and say there's no real reason for us to keep this ban, that the airline should simply work this out with their customers and let the market decide. And I think what you'll see is initially, you know, airlines offering text messaging, emails, things like that.

The key is going to be if one airline allows these voice calls, what sort of response do they get from their customers, because we all have seen from baggage fees and fees for sitting in certain seats, what one airline does, if they find a way to make money off of that, you can be sure a lot of the other airlines are going to follow.

LU STOUT: All right, Chris Lawrence, joining us live from Ronald Reagan International. Thank you very much indeed for that.

Now, imagine a world where the things you see on a computer, TV or phone weren't just flat digital pictures? Now imagine instead that they were real, physical objects?

Now the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working on that, creating touch screen that can touch you. Let's see how this works.


DANIEL LEITHINGER: A lot of comments we get is like "Oh, it's like a superpower kind of thing." You know, people feel like Magneto.

Essentially it's very similar to these kind of pin toys that you might know from like, you know, museum novelty stores. In our case, the main difference is that we can control each one of these pins. And so that pin is just connected to a computer and we're able to control how it moves.

This is a Kinect by Microsoft. And it's usually used for gaming. It gives you a nice image of a scene, like a 3D image, a depth image. I move my hands over here, that's captured with a camera and send it over to the table and it appears over there.

We not only have the output of the shape on the table, but we also have a projector mounted on the ceiling that projects back so, you know, when you move your hands not only do you have the shape of the hands, but you actually also see like the color, like the texture of the hands.

It's not real pretty, because we can only push up and down, each one of these pins. So we can't push them sideways or have any other control over them at the moment. So that means we usually call this in fact 2.5D.

We can do three things with a table like this. We can have a 3D model. And we have (inaudible). And that content can also be another person, so we can (inaudible) person.

But the third thing that to us it's really important. In the future, what we hope to get is really something like say a tomb that you could have in your pocket and so as you interact with things on the phone you can actually touch them.


That was one incredible demo there.

Now you're watching News Stream. And coming up, one woman says tech tycoon Bill Gates was her Secret Santa this year. We've got the details on the gift after the break.


LU STOUT: Now one of Russia's biggest ports is helping to breath new life into the aging seaport infrastructure and also it's major implications for Russia's demands for foreign goods like beef.

Now Becky Anderson explains in the gateway.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Baltic, a body of water that is crucial to Russian trade.

(on camera): Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's cargo was transported via the ports of the now independent Baltic countries. Today, a new infrastructure project is set to reestablish Russia's position in the region.

(voice-over): About 150 kilometers west of St. Petersburg lies Ust- Luga, a brand-new port rising over the Baltic.

DMITRY YALOV, VICE GOVERNOR, LENINGRAD REGION: After the end of the Soviet era, there was a real lack in sea port infrastructure that was owned by Russia. We need to develop both specialized sea ports as well as universal sea ports, like Ust-Luga. We hope that this will be a place of the new economic and industrial growth of the northwestern part of Russia.

ANDERSON: Built from scratch, construction began in 1999. Although its development is ongoing, this port has already established itself as one of the five largest in the country. According to the Port Authority, cargo volumes have increased twofold each year since 2009, from cars to cows.


ANDERSON: Yancy Sparks has been minding these pregnant heifers for 19 days through rough seas and strong storms.

YANCY SPARKS, CATTLE SPECIALIST, STAMEY CATTLE: This shipment of cattle came from all over the United States, mostly in our hometown state, North Carolina. The whole goal is to up the Russian genetics quicker and faster. That was the reason for the shipment of the cattle here.

ANDERSON: These cattle are destined for pastures new, Russian pastures, now fed by the port of Ust-Luga. It's a government strategy fueled by an increased demand for foreign beef. Over 50,000 have entered in the past two years.

OLEG KRAVCHUK, MANAGING DIRECTOR, TRANSVENTUS (through translator): On average, we receive two to three ships a month. Ust-Luga is in a strategic location. One can go from here to the Moscow highway, bypassing St. Petersburg.

The route from the USA to Ust-Luga is four days shorter than the route through the Black Sea, which means the cost of cows and transportation is lower.

ANDERSON: A more efficient route into the Russian market. Once the cows are counted, checked, and cleared by customs, they'll be sent on their way.

Out of Russia's aging port infrastructure, Ust-Luga has emerged as the country's new Baltic hub.


LU STOUT: And finally, here's a story of a very unexpected Secret Santa. Now, I've got to stress that we haven't confirmed this, but it looks like a user on Reddit called Rachel got a present from Bill Gates. And to prove it, she says that he included this picture of himself holding her present.

So what did the world's second richest man give her? Well, he gave her a cow. Or rather he donated a cow to Heffer International, it's a charity that helps communities develop sustainable agriculture. And he gave Rachel a stuffed cow and a travel book.

Now Rachel said that she was overjoyed by the gift, but she also apologized to the Microsoft co-founder, because on her wishlist is an Apple iPad.

And that is News Stream. But the news continues at CNN. World Business Today is next.