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Nigella Lawson Disappointed, Not Surprised By Assistants' Acquittal; Mikhail Khodorkovsky Free; Paddy Power Sponsors Dennis Rodman North Korea Trip; Police Blitz In Salvador, Brazil Ahead of World Cup

Aired December 20, 2013 - 15:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Tonight, out of Russia and with not much love. Mikhail Khodorkovsky walks out of prison after a pardon by the Russian president. His son Pavel tells me he is heading to see his father as we speak.

Also ahead...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While there's certainly been a state of very happy shock...


ANDERSON: After a terrifying night at the London theater, we ask what's being done to protect the public.



UNIDENTIIFED MALE: There's absolutely no likelihood that it's ever going to get any lighter.


ANDERSON: One veteran photographer who escaped the violence in Syria tells me why even pictures like this aren't enough to make the world care.

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

ANDERSON: He was once Russia' richest man, now he is just glad to be free. After more than 10 years in prison, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is now in Germany. In a statement, he said he'd asked Russia's President Vladimir Putin to pardon him and that the issue of any admission of guilt was not raised.

He went on to thank those who had supported his case.

During Mr. Putin's first term Khodorkovsky used his oil wealth to back an opposition party. He was arrested and jailed in 2003 amid an investigation into his company Yukos.

Well, two years later a court convicted him on charges of tax evasion and fraud. A court convicted Khodorkovsky a second time in 2010 for oil theft and money laundering.

Well, one of the factors in Khodorkovsky's release was his mother's health, although it's now emerged that she may not be well enough to travel to Germany. Khodorkovsky's son Pavel says he is yet to speak to his father at length. I spoke to him a couple of hours ago, but he is now on his way to see him.

This is what we discussed when I spoke to him.


PAVEL KHODORKOVSKY, MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY'S SON: Well, it's certainly been a state of very happy shock, if I could put those two together. I didn't know what was going to happen. The last time we spoke, I have no idea when and how my father is going to be released, if at all. And early this morning I found out not only that he was already released from jail, but on his way to Germany.

I actually spoke to him already on the phone. It was very brief, only a couple of minutes. But he's doing well, sounds certainly very good and very happy. And my family is on the way to see him tonight.

ANDERSON: Tell me, are there any conditions as far as you know attached to his release in any way?

KHODORKOVSKY: Not as far as I know. But keep in mind I haven't actually been able to speak with my father at length. So I will learn more once we actually see each other. But as far as I know today, no, this has been -- the approval of his petition and that's it.

ANDERSON: How do you read how the Russian authorities have acted in all of this?

KHODORKOVSKY: Well, if you look at the past couple of weeks and the events that have unraveled in the past couple of weeks, I think it's clear that the Russian government wants to improve its image and wants to restate itself in a public sphere as a positive mover.

So I think that's what's happening. This is a sort of behind the scenes decisions that have resulted in amnesty and now in the petition being approved for my father.

ANDERSON: What is Germany's role in his release, if any?

KHODORKOVSKY: I honestly don't know much. Of course, we have -- you know, we have seen the same information today, all of us coming from the German news outlets. And of course my father has gone straight from Russia to Germany.

I would imagine that their involvement has been very positive, but I just don't know enough to tell you.

ANDERSON: Is he seeking political asylum, do you know at this point, in Germany?

KHODORKOVSKY: I don't know. And I don't think so.


ANDERSON: Pavel Khodorkovsky speaking to me just a couple of hours ago. He's on his way to see his dad now.

Putin's announcement came a day after Russian lawmakers backed in what is a new amnesty law. It marks the anniversary of Russia's post-Communist constitution and could affect thousands of prisoners. They include members of the punk band Pussy Riot, two of whom are serving two year jail terms for their part in a performance that was critical of Putin.

It could also benefit 30 people arrested after a Greenpeace protest, you'll remember that an offshore oil platform in the Arctic. They've since been charged with hooliganism.

Russia's record on human rights is of course in the spotlight as his country prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

So why now and what does the release mean for Russia?

Diana Magnay is in Moscow.

This must be the -- this must be the talk of the town, surely. What's the assessment in Moscow for what's going on here?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: Well, I think that the sense you get from people here is real surprise that this could have happened and that President Putin after these 10 years has released the guy who is essentially his kind of archnemesis.

But let's think about it and put it in context. In actual fact, Khodorkovsky was due to come out next year in any case. Mr. Putin is showing great magnanimity here, but he hasn't really let him off a huge amount, nor has he if those two jailed activists from Pussy Riot are let out, they have served almost their two year terms so far. They had a few more months.

So really, you know, he's not giving a lot and he's looking very good out of it.

Why is he doing this now? Well, if you look at Khodorkovsky's release we're hearing that Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who is the German foreign minister, was very, very closely personally involved in orchestrating that release. Both the German chancellor and Khodorkovsky in a statement on his website have thanked him for his personal participation.

And it looks as though he has been putting a lot of pressure for years on the Russian president to try and release Khodorkovsky.

So this has been in the works for a long time. And Mr. Putin chose to say now in quite a strangely orchestrated moment just after, on the sidelines, of his annual press conference to announce clemency.

You know, everything here is very well stage managed. And it's no coincidence that it's 50 days before Sochi, Beck.

ANDERSON: No, sure. Exactly, listen Di. I know that you're normally stationed in Berlin for us, so you know the sort of ramifications of the German political situation perhaps better than others.

So two questions to you, why would the Germans be. So intricately involved in this move. And as somebody sitting in Russia at present do you get the sense that this is a weaker Putin or an extremely strong Putin who sees no competition these days?

MAGNAY: Well, Germany and Russia do enjoy close relations. I mean, Mrs. Merkel speaks Russian. They are -- you know, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, he has negotiated -- he was one of the architects of reunification. He knows how to deal with Russia. And they probably have closer ties than any other EU country to Russia. And of course they have long criticized the -- what they see as the sort of political captivity of Mr. Khodorkovsky and the -- it is no surprise that they were campaigning, as other countries have been, to try to persuade Mr. Putin to release him.

But I think the fact that they enjoy close ties is relevant here.

As for Mr. Putin, if you speak to analysts. And if you look at his record this year, I would say that he is in a position of real strength. Look at the foreign policy coups that he's achieved recently. You have -- he has Edward Snowden here. He's the U.S. most wanted fugitive. And Mr. Putin has him sitting happily on his soil.

His coup in Syria, really, where he was the one who orchestrated Syria getting rid of its stockpile of chemical weapons.

And recently in Ukraine. It could be seen as though Mr. Putin has won a coup over the EU there.

So he's in a position of strength. He has Sochi coming up. It will be a great success, he hopes. He's thrown a lot of money at it.

This is a moment where he says, OK, Khodorkovsky is done 10 years why not let him out? He is no threat to me. He can't challenge me any more. And why not just send him to Germany where he's not even in my sphere of influence.

ANDERSON: Fascinating.

Diana, thank you. Diana Magnay is in Moscow for you this evening.

Well, still to come tonight, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson speaks out after a verdict in the trial she says was overshadowed by a, quote, ridiculous sideshow. We're going to tell you the fate of her two former aides charged with fraud.

Plus, Dennis Rodman says his visit to North Korea is just about basketball. But who is footing the bill for his trip? More on Rodman's unlikely sponsor.

Also, unimaginable suffering in Aleppo. The Syrian regime has been pounding the city with air attacks. And these are no ordinary bombs.


ANDERSON: You're at CNN. This is Connect the World. 12 minutes past 8:00 out of London. I'm Becky Anderson for you.

U.S. President Barack Obama admits it has been a year of ups and downs. And if you look at the polls there is, well, quite a lot of downs, hasn't there? But he use used his final press conference of 2013 to focus on some of those high points, including his administration's handling of the economy.

And although, Mr. Obama agreed that more needed to be done, he said 2014 could be a breakthrough year for the United States. Have a listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we head into next year with an economy that's stronger than it was when we started the year, more Americans are finding work and experiencing the (inaudible) of a paycheck. Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.


ANDERSON: Well, the president also fielded questions from reporters on some of the more controversial topics, including the botched rollout of his signature healthcare plan and the NSA spying scandal. Oh, has it been a long year for him.

For more on this, let's cross to Brian Stelter, CNN's senior media analyst.

He must be looking forward to the festive break, I'm sure.

Brian, one reporter asked him if 2013 had been the worst year of his presidency. What was his reply?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA ANALYST: You know, he acknowledged that the rollout of Obamacare was so fraught and that it was his -- it seemed like his biggest regret of the year.

You know, I think with -- his relationships with the press, with the news media, were very fraught this year as well. It was probably the worst year that he had in terms of press relations. And one of the reporters asked him what his New Year's resolution was. He says it would be to be nicer to the news media, to the White House press corps in 2014.

ANDERSON: Is that going to help his -- the managing of his message, do you think? Because ultimately, what, he's got a couple of years left now.

What does -- you know, what has a U.S. president done in the past to sort of, you know, manage a legacy in their last couple of years? I mean, is this man going to go down as a great or an uh uh.

STELTER: Well, you know, you've got to look at the wide variety of data points that we've seen in the last few weeks and the last few months, polling data, economic data. You can make a very strong case that there is a recovery happening, that there is a rebound happening both with the president as well as for the country, that's why he spoke about American possibly having a breakthrough year in 2014.

I've got to tell you, that's when I turned up the volume on this press conference. When he said he believed that 2014 could be a breakthrough year for the country, haven't heard that kind of language in awhile from the president.

You could also make a very strong case, though, that this president is in a very hard position with disapproval numbers and this economy is still in a very tough position.

You know, it's one of the things you could argue it either way. And that's why the next three years will be so crucial for him.

ANDERSON: Brian, did he explain why he thought 2014 would be a breakthrough year? Afterall, we are six years in from what has been a horrible time post-2008. One assumes that, you know, we should be getting into a fairly decent position so far as the economy is concerned.

What did he say?

STELTER: Well, he's able to point to the economic indicators that came out today about third quarter growth being stronger than expected. You know, as soon as those numbers came out this morning, folks in the media thought, I bet the president is going to come out and give a press conference today, because he had those great numbers, those great economic numbers to boost him.

Of course, new CNN polling data out today says that, you know, he's ending the year worse than he's ever been in his five years as president.

So that's what I mean by those contradictory numbers. You can make the case either way for what this year has been like for this president.

ANDERSON: Fascinating.

All right, I'm looking at those numbers as we speak.

Brian, always a pleasure. Thank you.

Well, the furor is growing over the arrest and subsequent strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York. Protesters ransacked a Dominos Pizza store near Mumbai on Friday. Angry demonstrators like this one have been - - demonstrations have been happening in several Indian cities.

American prosecutors accuse deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade of lying on visa forms and failing to pay her housekeeper the U.S. minimum wage. Well, the incident caused a full scale diplomatic row with New Delhi demanding an apology.

India's foreign minister spoke to CNN a little earlier and said the charges against our diplomat should be withdrawn.


SALMAN KHURSHID, INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it's important that we understand that this is a valuable relationship to both sides with a huge amount of investment both public and private into this relationship. And I don't think the world wants a relationship like this to deteriorate at all.

If we think the charges are unwarranted, unjustified, then how will we say you can carry on. I mean, the charges have to be withdrawn.


ANDERSON: Well, this continues to be one of the hottest stories on the CNN website. One opinion piece by a long-term observer of U.S.-Indian relations has already gotten a couple of thousand comments. Read why he says India is overreacting to the situation. You can have your say, of course,

The United Nations is reporting a deadly attack on one of its bases on South Sudan. Fighting has raged in the world's newest nation for four days. And -- or four days now. And forcing hundreds of civilians to take shelter at the UN compound in the capital.

The clashes erupted after a reported coup attempt in Juba.

South Sudan's president Salva Kiir blames forces loyal to his former vice president for starting the violence.

Uganda's parliament has approved strict new anti-gay legislation. The measure is a step back from a 2009 proposal that called for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. But gays could face life in prison in the country for engaging in sexual relations.

The bill must still get presidential approval. Several world leaders have condemned the anti-gay efforts in the country in recent years, including U.S. President Barack Obama.

The security threat in Australia earlier today put the New South Wales parliament building in lockdown. A man had parked a car outside believed to be filled with flammable liquid. He was reportedly threatening to harm himself or even ignite the car. Police stormed in an arrested the man after a very tense two hour standoff.

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson says she is, and I quote, disappointed but not surprised about today's verdict in the case of her two former aides who were charged with fraud. Erin McLaughlin has more on the trial that has gripped the United Kindgom.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a trial turned real life soap opera played out in a London courtroom. The star witnesses, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson accused of habitual drug use. And her multimillionaire ex-husband Charles Saatchi accused of intimate terrorism. The actual defendants, their former personal assistants Elizabetta and Francesca Grillo.

The prosecution alleged the sisters fraudulently abused Saatchi company credit cards to fund a million dollar lifestyle. The defense claims Nigella Lawson allowed the Grillos to spend what they wanted, to hide her drug habit from Saatchi.

NEIL SEAN, ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: I think that the celebrities really need to return to the days of Downton Abbey where the staff were not friends.

MCLAUGHLIN: Lawson admitted to only having done cocaine during two separate life phases. "I did not have a drug problem," she said. "I had a life problem."

She certainly had problems with Saatchi who she cast as a brilliant, but brutal man. Details of the breakdown of their marriage were divulged in court, including the now infamous argument outside a trendy London restaurant in June.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's Nigella Lawson.

MCLAUGHLIN: Tabloid photos show Saatchi's hand around her neck, another shows his hand pinching her nose.

Lawson testified the argument was over her desire to have grandchildren. And she said Saatchi spread false rumors he had been examining her for cocaine. When Saatchi was asked in court if the argument was about drugs, he said no.

Following the verdict, Nigella Lawson released a statement: "I'm disappointed, but unsurprised. Over the three week trial the jury was faced with a ridiculous sideshow of false allegations about drug use.

The prosecution had to prove not only that what the Grillo sisters did was dishonest, but that they knew what they did was dishonest. And in the end the defense argument that the Grillo sisters never tried to hide any of their personal transactions and that Nigella Lawson was aware of their expenses was enough to create reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: The former NBA star Dennis Rodman is on another trip to North Korea. And even those the U.S. government says it got nothing to do with sending him there, Rodman seems to have plenty of support. His trip is being sponsored by a bookmaker. Dan Simon explains.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With his rocky image and bizarre behavior, Dennis Rodman might be the last person most advertisers want representing their brands.

RODMAN: This is ground breaking things and Paddy Power is the main source of doing this.

SIMON: But the former NBA player has a big backer in a company called Paddy Power, an Irish online betting company that has doing some betting of its own by sponsoring Rodman's trips to North Korea and an exhibition basketball game there next month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For Paddy Power, this is hugely exciting. This is, you know, this is going to be a great event. It is potentially an historic occasion.

SIMON: Also, an occasion for the company to face sharp criticism from human rights activists. They and others question why any company would want to be associate with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Un who just had his uncle executed and has refused to release American Kenneth Bae.

But we are talking about a gambling site, not a company like Coca-Cola or IBM. So, in this case there may be little pr risk.

BOB CUSACK, MANAGING EDITOR, THE HILL: I think it makes a lot of sense. It is good publicity for them. It is obviously a controversial trip. It is a headache for the United States government. But they want to get some attention to their gambling site. And every time he goes to North Korea, it gets a lot of publicity. So in many ways it is a good fit for the company to do it.

SIMON: The company refused to say how much it is spending on Rodman but Paddy Power seem to court controversy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

SIMON: In 2008, it offered odds on whether President Obama would finish his first term which many interpreted the odds of an assassination. The bet eventually got pulled from the site. Paddy Powers also offered adds on the first to species to be driven to extinction by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And it is already taking bets on who will be the next Pope after Francis.

By its own admission, Paddy Power has had a difficult year financially. Whether Dennis Rodman can help its bottom line isn't known.

RODMAN: I'm just going over to do a basketball game.

SIMON: But combining a controversial athlete with a controversial company, they make perfect business sense. No matter what you think of Dennis Rodman's trip or antics.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


ANDERSON: Let me tell you, North Korea always gets a lot of traction digitally at One of the stories that has been resonating concerns a rather ominous fax. Yes, you heard it a fax. The message from the North Koreans to South Korea threatens to, quote, "strike mercilessly without notice" after protests there against Pyongyang this week. And you can find that on the website.

All right, live from London this is Connect the World. Coming up, safety is in the spotlight of London's theater land after what was a frightening scene collapse last night. We're going to have more on that investigation coming up.

And we look at efforts to get violence in Brazil under control before fans descend there for next year's World Cup. That up next.


ANDERSON: People across Brazil are taking part in security blitzes ahead of the World Cup in 2014 next year, of course. One city that's been getting a lot of attention is Salvador, which is known as the murder capital of the country. It's also due to host a match between two of international football's biggest teams.

Shasta Darlington reports.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Crispy acataze (ph) fritters served up by smiling baijanas (ph) in traditional dress, capoeira performers twisting through the air in mock fights. Some of the many sites awaiting visitors to Salvador, a World Cup city along Brazil's northeastern coast.

Unfortunately so is this, a police blitz on buses coming to and from a nearby slum. Male passengers are separated and searched for arms and drugs. Then women's handbags are checked. At the end, a brief explanation.

"We're trying to prevent robberies of buses," he says. "Thank you. And we apologize for the inconvenience."

A popular tourist destination with pretty beaches, colonial architecture and a raucus carnival, it also has a somewhat darker side. In recent years, a surge in violent crime has turned Salvador into the murder capital of Brazil raising reds flags as the city gears up for the World Cup just six months away.

The stadium has been ready for months. They played the Confederation's Cup here. But people tell us there's still a lot of work to do in Salvador.

Crime is the main concern.

"People don't feel safe," says this man, "mostly because of drugs."

"The government is worried," says another woman. "But I think with the steps they're taking, we'll see good results."

When there's transportation. Construction on an urban train system began more than a decade ago, but still isn't operating.

Salvador's new mayor says he's hoping to have it at least partially running in time for the football extravaganza.

"I think the balance is going to be positive," he says. "The World Cup is going to allow people to see another Brazil they haven't seen."

He says crime is finally starting to decline thanks to government crackdowns and it's concentrated in the slums.

"Will these problems affect tourists?" He says. "Do they happen in places that tourists go to? No."

At least that's the hope for the thousands of fans who will want to follow their teams up close during the World Cup starting with the very first match in Salvador between Spain and Holland.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Salvador, Brazil.


ANDERSON: Well, did you know that this week it has been 150 years since rules governing football as we know it came into affect? You can see our story about the father of the modern-day game at our Connect the World blog. That is

Well, the latest world news headlines are just ahead, as you would expect at the bottom of the hour here on CNN.

And to keep visiting London theaters, that is the message from officials after a dramatic incident literally brought the roof down at the Apollo theater Thursday night.

Also, a veteran war photojournalist says he has no plans to return to Syria. And it's probably not for the reasons that you think.

And classical music meets heavy metal in the Trans Siberian Orchestra. This is amazing. (inaudible) is coming up. Do stay with us for that.


ANDERSON: This is CONNECT THE WORLD, the top stories this hour. And Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in Germany planning his next step. He was pardoned today after spending a decade in jail in Russia for tax evasion and fraud. In a statement, he said he'd asked Russia's president Vladimir Putin pardon him, and that the issue of any admission of guilt was not raised.

US president Barack Obama answered questions on the economy, his health care law, NSA spying, and Edward Snowden during his final scheduled news conference of the year. He lauded America's economic successes and said the nation is well-positioned heading into 2014.

India is brushing aside US efforts to diffuse diplomatic tensions between the two countries after the arrest of an Indian diplomat. Prosecutors claim that she liked on visa forms and underpaid her housekeeper. Well, India's foreign minister spoke to CNN a little earlier and said the charges against her should be withdrawn.

A London jury has acquitted two sisters of defrauding celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi. Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were personal assistants for the couple. Prosecutors had accused them of unauthorized charges on Saatchi's company credit card.

Investigators in London are trying to figure out what caused the roof to collapse in what is a century-old theater in the heart of London. Nearly 80 people were injured, 7 of them seriously when part of the ceiling caved in during a performance on Thursday night.

Now, only two, thankfully, remain hospitalized, but both are in stable condition. CNN's Nic Robertson has been following the story and has this update.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, as you can see, it's almost a normal Friday night here on Shaftesbury Avenue. Busy as usual, with the exception that the Apollo Theater is still closed.

The Westminster City Council, the council here, has said that the building is structurally safe, otherwise I don't think we'd be seeing people walk past it here.

The police have said that this wasn't a criminal action that the ceiling collapsed there. And we now know from the ambulance service here that a total of nine people were seriously injured, but we understand that two of those remain injured, remain being treated in hospital tonight.

But this is business as usual here. We've been talking to theater- goers here, and really they see what has happened at the Apollo last night as an unfortunate accident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a horrible accident, but unfortunately, things happen.

ROBERTSON: What are you going to see tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to see "Les Mis." Very excited.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we were quite confident, then, that that sort of thing was just a one-off, and it couldn't happen again. In fact, a close friend of mine jokingly suggested that we both wear tin hats and even buy hard hats from a builder's shop, but we didn't go that far.

ROBERTSON: But that question remains, Becky, what did happen, what did cause the ceiling to collapse? And it does seem that the theater will remain closed for a few more days at least.

The police are saying for people that left behind possessions when they fled out of the theater last night, it could be several more days before they're able to get back inside, reclaim their possessions. That's because the investigation is going on. The debris, the site there, is part of that investigation.

So, perhaps a few more days before we get those kind of answers, Becky.


ANDERSON: All right. Well, it was opened in 1901, the Apollo relatively young compared to some of London's other main theaters. If you've been, you'll recognize this area. You can see the Thames, there, to the right-hand side. Here are some others in the West End. All of these are at least 200 years old.

And at 440 years old, the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane is by far the very oldest in the city. The original Drury Lane theater building was constructed in 1663 and has been rebuilt three times since then, most recently, I believe, in 1812.

Well, the Royal Theater Haymarket, originally built in 1720, was moved to a different location on the same street in 1821.

The famous Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, that dates back to 1732. It is currently on its second rebuild and it's a fantastic one, it's got to be said.

After two fires in the 19th century in the Aldephi Theatre first opened in 1806. Like Drury Lane, it's been rebuilt three times, the current building dating back to the 1930s.

So, back to the Apollo. Will last night's incident have a knock-on effect, do you think, to the industry as a whole? That was a question that we were asking ourselves as a team earlier on, so we spoke to Mark White here on set just before the show. He's the chairman of the Theater Safety Committee, and I began by asking him how safe London's theaters actually are given their age. Have a listen to this.


MARK WHITE, CHAIRMAIN, THEATER SAFETY COMMISSION: Actually, it's a very highly-regulated industry. We have many laws we have to comply with, and we have many experts who come in and provide inspection and testing of the various elements.

So, plaster ceilings are simply one of those, and we have -- to get a license each year, there are a raft of these certificates which have to be completed.

ANDERSON: But this, I understand, is a self-regulatory environment. In the past, the local councils here in London mandated that theaters were inspected every year, I think I'm right in saying. That doesn't happen anymore, so --


ANDERSON: -- it's up to you guys in the theater industry to regulate yourselves and inspect yourselves, right? Which --

WHITE: Well, sort of.

ANDERSON: -- might worry people.

WHITE: Absolutely. Sort of, in the sense that it isn't -- we don't do the inspections in house. We bring in experts in the field who are acceptable to the local authorities.

ANDERSON: So, with the Apollo, for example, last time it was inspected was when? Do you know?

WHITE: We're not sure. We're pretty sure it's up-to-date with its inspection regime.

ANDERSON: Which means what? It was in --

WHITE: In that --

ANDERSON: -- the last --

WHITE: -- instance, probably 12 months.

ANDERSON: What do you think happened?

WHITE: We have -- all we know is, a fairly large chunk of the plasterwork fell from the ceiling into the stalls and collected the balcony on the way through.

ANDERSON: There was a one-pound charge on the theater tickets for the show at the Apollo, as far as I understand, that was going towards the restoration of the building.

WHITE: That's right.

ANDERSON: Where does that money go?

WHITE: Well, the money goes into providing improvements, not only restoration. In other words, you need to improve -- replace toilets, bars, carpets, seats, all those things that wear out.

ANDERSON: If I, though, suggested that the message from that could be or might be that there were structural improvements that were needed, would I be close to the mark?

WHITE: The structural improvements -- no, not necessarily. Because it is inspected so regularly. Indeed, you'd know about it if there are some structural improvements required.

ANDERSON: This isn't great marketing for the London theaters, of course, but as a Londoner myself, I hope that people continue to attend the theaters. It's an incredibly busy time. What's your message?

WHITE: Well, the message is, our theaters are safe. They are regularly inspected. We had seats for over 2 million people in the West End last year. We've got 47 theaters. They are highly-inspected, highly- regulated.


ANDERSON: Were you at the Apollo last night, and do you feel safe in London's theaters? What do you think of the words of our last guest? The team at CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you on that and any story, of course. We're fascinated to hear from you., have your say. And you can, as ever, you know this, tweet me @BeckyCNN, that's @BeckyCNN. We're on Instagram, Becky and CNN is how you search us there. You can watch my daily preview of this show.

You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Becky Anderson, live from London, 39 minutes past 8:00. Still to come, imagine digging through rubble with your bare hands trying to find loved ones buried beneath. This is no earthquake. It is the aftermath of airstrikes in Aleppo.

Plus, I speak to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra as they get ready to kick off their European tour. Believe me, it is quite something.


ANDERSON: The UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi -- special envoy to Syria, of course -- has finally released the guest list for an upcoming peace conference on Syria, and there is one glaring omission: Iran.

Brahimi met with US and Russian officials in Geneva today. He says the United States is reluctant to have Iran take part in that conference, which is actually scheduled to begin on January the 22nd. But he says even if Syria's powerful ally is not at the table, he'll continue to get their input through other channels. Interesting.

Well, the world talks peace as war rages on. Some of the fiercest attacks in recent days have come in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. Doctors Without Borders estimates nearly 200 people have been killed in airstrikes there in the past couple of days. As Arwa Damon tells us, the bombs are designed to inflict maximum carnage. I've got to warn you, her report contains very disturbing images.



ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "My sister! My sister!" the child cries out. "My sister is gone!" She is pulled out of the rubble alive.


DAMON: "Come, my sister, come!" He reaches out to her, pain and shock etched across their young faces.


DAMON: This is the town of Hayan in Aleppo province, rebel-held and paying the price. Gut-wrenching shrieks of agony from the stunned survivors. And once again, Syria's tragedy is told in videos uploaded to YouTube by opposition activists.

The carnage in Hayan said to be the aftermath of a barrel bomb, gallon drums filled with explosives and shrapnel, shoved out of helicopters, leveling entire buildings. In the last week, the regime has rained these indiscriminate crude yet lethal weapons on the province of Aleppo.


DAMON: Hospitals, understaffed and ill-equipped, helpless to save many of the wounded. Thick, suffocating dust from the first bomb. Young and old, shocked and dazed. But out here, there is no time to recover, nowhere to hide. Debris rains down on the camera lens. Shouts for an ambulance.


DAMON: "Are you OK? Get up!" a child's voice asks. In another attack, a child stumbles as he tries to carry another through the haze. We don't know what happened to them next. The population, both terrified yet numb to the violence. And the deep, suffocating pain of a fate they cannot control.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.


ANDERSON: Well, that is an image that is absolutely horrifying, isn't it? But can images like that make a difference, as they have in the past, in helping to end a war? To convince rival factions and their foreign backers that enough is enough?

Well, think about how many pictures of suffering we've seen since that war began nearly three years ago. The UN estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed, and yet the fighting there continues.

Well, our next guest says Syrian is forgotten by the international community. Paul Conroy is a veteran war photojournalist. He was injured in an attack in Homs last year, the same attack that killed his colleague, "The Sunday Times" reporter Marie Covin. He has written a book called "Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment," and he joins us now in the studio.

And I want to refer back, Paul, after we look to the cover of the book there, to the picture that we've just seen in Arwa's report, because it's images like that that you would have taken in the past that you know resonated around the world. And yet, I know you're going to tell me, that it's hardly worth the effort these days.

PAUL CONROY, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Yes, well, exactly. I was at an intelligence conference last week, and somebody came up and said, "Would you go back to Syria?" And it just dawned on me, I felt, what photograph could I take that I could bring out and show to the world that would make the slightest difference? Now --


CONROY: -- and that was quite a defining moment. It was like, I can't think of one.

ANDERSON: Yes, and it's interesting, because you and I, just before we started, were talking about the last time you were in Syria and you had such an awful experience, it was two years ago. Things have changed so dramatically.

To a certain extent, we need more not less information out of there, but it's fascinating to hear you say that, as somebody's who's been around for so long, it's a war we, like you say, is forgotten.

I want to show our viewers some of the footage of you when you were stuck inside Syria and coming under constant shelling. So, I want to take you back to the days when you still believed in being able to make a difference. Have a look at this, viewers, and then we'll chat.



CONROY: We took about ten direct hits onto Homs today, or part of Homs.


CONROY: Even possibly more than ten direct hits. It's -- there's absolutely no likelihood that it's ever going to get any lighter.


ANDERSON: Tell me where you were and what was going on.

CONROY: That's after we'd been hit in the house -- in the building where Marie was, sadly -- we lost one of our great colleagues, Marie Colvin. We were taken from the house, treated by the medics. And that was when we were -- we were put in a building just so we could -- they put us in the safest place possible so we'd survive. And they said, "We need you to get out to tell this story."

So, they put us in the safest building, if not -- which in reality, was marginally safer than the building next-door.

ANDERSON: This was when the theater -- theater of war, of course, was quite different because the opposition was an opposition.

CONROY: It really was -- yes, it was an opposition. Of course, now, nearly two years on, I think the world's indifference has been one of the major problems.

If the world had acted in the early stages and the, as in Kurdistan with the no-fly zones, and some form of intervention where there was -- we said, look, you can't do this, I think what we're left with now is a United Nations that has been proved to be weak, an international community that has turned its back on Syria. And the results, now, are what we're seeing.

ANDERSON: I have to say, it's pretty depressing talking to you tonight, and I want to get another sort of clip of what was a dramatic moment, when you escaped from Syria into Lebanon. And much of it's depressing. Let's keep talking. Have a look at this.


CONROY: I'm on the last leg of my escape from Syria, just crossing into Lebanon. I'm on a motorbike one more time. And I think we've just crossed a boulder field, and I have a big hole in my left leg and some shrapnel in my thigh, and it's quite unpleasant.


ANDERSON: Do you remember that moment?

CONROY: Yes, I certainly -- yes. I was really conscious that this was my last -- the last push. And then I remembered, oh my God, I've got a flip camera in my pocket, so while I'm hanging onto the bike with one hand --

ANDERSON: Always a photographer, right?


CONROY: That's right. I thought, oh, I'll film this. And I just thought that was -- catching that was really, to me --

ANDERSON: What really strikes me, and you and I have been talking now for a couple of years -- what really strikes me is that when I see footage like that, the hair stands up on my arms, and I realize what you have, and to certain extent, I've done, in the past in the theater of war, in war zones, is that you don't do this, you don't put yourself in this position unless you think you can make a difference.

CONROY: Absolutely.

ANDERSON: And I know that Marie Colvin was absolutely determined about this. One of the best --

CONROY: She was awesome, yes.

ANDERSON: -- when it came to, not taking risks, but really making sure she was where she should be in order to tell the story. Now, leaders around the world need to know that when people like you begin to think it isn't worth it anymore --


ANDERSON: -- in somewhere like Syria, now that's a pretty, pretty sickening situation.

CONROY: That is -- I think, you know, Becky, it's -- we always have hope. We always hope we can do something. And I look at it now, and I see the Geneva coming up, I see this kind of smoke and mirrors chemical weapons issue.

Because while people are looking and the world has sold balm on itself, saying, oh, we're getting to the chemical weapons, and I'm speaking to people on the ground, and they're saying the airstrikes have doubled in intensity. The artillery bombardments are heavier. Assad forces moving on the ground freer and more easy.

So, we're kind of looking at the situation where we've opened a dialogue now with the regime that is slower to the town people. And now we've opened that dialogue, that's more or less paved the way for him to keep doing what he's doing for the next two years.

And I think that is in the grossest abdication of moral responsibility that I've ever seen. And for me to feel that bad, and you, and others, I think -- I really do think that says a lot.

ANDERSON: Sickening. Thank you, sir.

Coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, we are going to take you behind the scenes of one of the most spectacular New Year's Eve parties planned for this year. That's going to be in Berlin for you.

And we're going to show you some of the best photos taken in the field by the CNN team around the world. Paul will be watching and we'll be voting on these, see what you think, see if they're any good. That coming up after this.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You looking for Elliot?

ANDERSON (voice-over): CNN Preview got an access, all-areas backstage pass for the current Lost Christmas Eve spectacular. Production and tour director Elliot Saltzman gives us a guided tour.

ELLIOT SALTZMAN, PRODUCTION AND TOUR DIRECTOR: This whole stage, everything you see, is all custom for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. So it's all new stuff, nobody's ever seen it before. Daniel, can you show them what these arms do?

Not everybody can sit right up close in the front, so what we want to do with this show is make sure that everybody has that amazing experience. So what we've done is, those robotic arms go up and they rotate -- they can do 270 degrees, and they will go out at least 50 feet out into the audience, up and down.

There'll be some guitar players up there, there'll be some singers, there'll be some different interactions. There'll be -- being raised and lifted through at least 500 laser beams. So it looks pretty spectacular.


SALTZMAN: So now what we're doing is we're showing a really behind- the-scenes. This is where a lot of our control goes for the movement of the stage. We've got dimmers, we've got servos, we've got our CO2 tanks, which help us with the cryo and the fog and everything.

And basically, some of our crew guys live down here during the whole show. They run everything from underneath here. We have lipstick cameras, so they can see what's going on stage, and they have video monitors. Because obviously, it's important to be able to know what's going on, just in case there's something wrong. Come on, now, the stages is yours.

ANDERSON: In total, 80 performers and 340 production and technical crew make up the entire Trans-Siberian traveling rock circus, founded by Paul O'Neill.


ANDERSON: The set-up and rigging process is so slick that within two and a half hours, every laser beam, pyro, and cryo smoke special effect can be in place, ready for showtime.


SALTZMAN: Well, we're almost ready for showtime now. We've got about five minutes before the show starts, and that's when the excitement starts going. Obviously, our opening of the show is spectacular. We do everything, the lasers the pyro, the truss movements, everything. It gets everybody really into the show, and we don't let them down from there on.


ANDERSON: The Trans-Siberian Orchestra will tour Europe throughout January, calling at the UK, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, and the Czech Republic before winding up in Switzerland.


ANDERSON: How fab is that? Well, tonight's Parting Shots, just time for that before we go. I'm going to share some photos captured by various teams on the ground around the world, show you what takes place behind the camera for our staff.

Amir Daftari capturing a Hindu holy man at a temple. This image from Ivan Watson's team capturing the pandemonium at the Giant Panda breeding center in Chengdu. CNN's Brent Swails capturing Nelson Mandela's flag- draped coffin on a gun carriage during his funeral procession.

And finally, I love this shot, CNN's Miguel Castro showing local kids jumping off a diving board in the sea in San Andreas, a coral island among the Colombian islands in the Caribbean. So let's leave you with those shots, is where you can find them. I'm Becky Anderson, good-night.