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Charity Helps Syrian Children Without Shoes; Pussy Riot Members Released From Prison; Interview with South Sudanese Rebel Leader Riek Machar; Palestinian Prisoner Freed; Uganda's Anti-Gay Law; Aid to Uganda; Art of Movement: Master Clown; Pope of Many Firsts; Spain's El Gordo Winners Announced; Parting Shots: Festive Spirit

Aired December 23, 2013 - 15:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Tonight, edging to the brink of civil war: the U.S. is poised to send in marines into South Sudan as the government there plans a major offensive to retake strategic oil towns. I ask the man leading the rebellion where the world's youngest country is heading next.

Also ahead...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd say you killed him. It interest 10 people with the guns.


FOSTER: Grieving the loss of her son, how Syria's civil war has forever changed the lives of a family here in the UK.

And from a humble Jesuit priest in Buenos Aires to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, we trace the journey of Pope Francis as he prepares to deliver his first Christmas mass.

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

FOSTER: Fighting in South Sudan has entered its second week with rebel forces taking control of key oil regions in the north of the country. The South Sudanese army says it's ready to take back rebel held towns. Hundreds have died and thousands have been left homeless. The United Nations secretary-general have spoken today about the need to build up the mission's capacity to help in South Sudan.

For more on this I'm joined by Fred Pleitgen at the UN in New York.

So is this the point, Fred, at which the international community gets involved?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: Well, the international community is certainly already involved, Max, in the part of the UN, but there is of course talk of the international community getting even more involved.

Right now the UN is still taking the lead on all of this, because what's happened there in South Sudan is that many of these people that you mentioned just a second ago, these many displaced people -- and there are estimates that it's as many as 60,000, many of them have fled into UN compounds. And the problem with those UN compounds is that they're not guarded very well, because the UN simply doesn't have enough personnel on the ground.

Now it is believed that the UN secretary-general will ask the security council to significantly beef up that mission by as many as 5,000 additional troops to get more security on the ground. Today at his press statement, Ban Ki-moon says that the UN will not shy away from its responsibility in South Sudan. Let's listen in to what he had to say here in New York.

FOSTER: Fred, as soon as we can get it.

In terms of any -- taking sides in what some people already see as a civil war, where will the UN stand, where will the U.S. stand? Who are they supporting, or will they show any support at all.

PLEITGEN: Yeah, certainly the UN and the U.S. are the two big players. We have to recall that the U.S. of course was very vocal in trying to get South Sudan to become a state in the first place.

Right now they are not taking any sides at all. The U.S. has sent a top diplomatic envoy to South Sudan to speak to the government there. He says that the government is willing to talk to the main rebel factions to try and bring about some sort of peace deal.

At the same time, we've just heard, the U.S. is poised to move personnel in there in case it needs to protect its assets there on the ground, of course, especially the U.S. embassy there.

The UN, for its part, Ban Ki-moon also in that press conference earlier today called on both sides to fulfill their commitment and to bring about some sort of agreement there that could lead to a truce, because in effect what's happening there in South Sudan is that you have a standoff between two top politicians, between the president and between the former vice president that's slowly, or not so slowly, leading to ethnic conflict in a place that's been riddled by ethnic conflict in the past.

So it's something where the international community is saying we need to come to terms with this as fast as possible before it spirals out of control, Max.

FOSTER: Fred, thank you very much, indeed.

Let's not forget that South Sudan is the world's newest country. It broke off from Sudan in just 2011 after decades of bitter fighting.

And trouble continued after independence. Just two years after succession, in July this year the president, Salva Kiir, sacked his entire cabinet. This was seen as a power struggle between Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar. This Machar, who is now leading the rebels against the government.

Violence began on December 15 when the president accused Machar of attempting a coup.

The fighting has spread from the capital Juba in the south to the oil-rich states of the north, which the rebels say they now have control over.

The conflict has taken on an ethnic dimension as well with President Kiir's majority Dinka group and Machar's Nuer minority taking up arms.

Now earlier I spoke on the phone to former vice president and leader of the rebels Riek Machar who is currently in hiding in South Sudan. I began by asking him if he had indeed started a coup against the government.


RIEK MACHAR, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH SUDAN: We had no reason to plan a coup, because what we were requesting was democratization of the SPLF, so there was no coup. It was a sheer lie, fabrication by President Salva Kiir Mayardit.

FOSTER: But you are now trying to take control of the country.

MACHAR: Well, I'm only trying that -- Salva Kiir has started this (inaudible) fabricating a coup, murdering people in Juba. What chance do I have? We want to settle the conflict, but I am for peace.

FOSTER: But you are fighting. And your rebels are fighting against the government troops. So, that's not peace.

MACHAR: There is an uprising in South Sudan as you well know. The people are uprising. It is because of the security forces that are stamping don on the popular feeling of people. The people of South Sudan are products with what Salva Kiir has been doing all this time.

FOSTER: Is this a civil war, would you say?

MACHAR: We don't want a civil war. This is an uprising. This is not a civil war.

FOSTER: There are reports of summary executions by some of the people working for you, or being lead by you. Is there any truth in that?

MACHAR: I haven't heard of that. I know that it's fighting. In fighting people die. Yes, this we know. We cannot execute our people. If we have soldiers that have been captured in battle, we will just disarm them.

FOSTER: Mr. Kiir has said he wants to have talks with you without preconditions. Are you willing to do that?

MACHAR: Oh, yes. I'm happy to have talks. The dialogue can start as soon as Presidnet Kiir releases the political detainees, the SPLM leaders, because these are the only people who can diloague. The army releases them then the dialogue can start soon. And hopefully we will get a peaceful settlement.

FOSTER: What is the ultimate settlement that you want?

MACHAR: A peaceful settlement is always ready on the table, we are not dictating terms.

FOSTER: If you do seize power, you won't be supported by the international community, will you? So it's a dangerous strategy.

MACHAR: Hopefully the dialogue will arrive to a peaceful settlement. We have no intention of taking power through military means.

FOSTER: Have you got foreign support of any kind?

MACHAR: I have the support of my people. I have support of the people of South Sudan. That is what I need.


FOSTER: Still to come tonight, out of prison and speaking out, we speak to one of the members of the Russian rock band Pussy Riot about her release.

Also, this video was supposed to be funny, but it instead cost a young American living abroad his freedom for a year.

And the tweet heard around the world, the PR exec whose offensive comment cost her her job. That and much more when Connect the World continues.


FOSTER: You're watching CNN, this is Connect the World with me, Max Foster. Welcome back to you.

Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47 has died at the age of 94. The former soldier designed the rifle when he was in his twenties. Over 100 million of them have been sold worldwide.

He was born in 1919, just two years after the Bolshevick revolution. Just before World War II, he'd joined the Red Army and was assigned to a tank regiment where he showed his knack for weapons by designing and improving various devices used in tank warfare. He suffered a serious combat injury in 1941, but after recovering Kalashnikov began work on the weapons that would eventually come to bear his name.

By 2004, the Kalashnikov, also known as the AK-47, would become so widely used that one report estimated that one-fifth of the fire arms on Earth were based on the Russian design.

Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot say their release from prison earlier today was a publicity stunt.

Maria Alyokina and Nazadha Tolokonnikova were serving two year jail terms for their part in a performance that criticized Vladimir Putin. They say the government only released them to look good before the Winter Olympics next year.

Diana Magnay is in the region of Siberia where one of the women was released.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Almost two years inside a penal colony where she said the women were treated like cattle face slavery her name from President Putin's prison system.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her fellow activist Maria Alyokina are both free, but they're still defiant. I asked Nadazhda why she thought she'd been released now.

NADEZHDA TOLOKONNIKOVA, PUSSY RIOT (through translator): Putin understands his Olympics can be boycotted. He doesn't want this PR project of his to fail, because a lot of money has been stolen from the budget, which could have been used for better purposes. He needs some sort of political relief.

Among those in prison are people who are not forgotten by the world. And I'm very grateful to the world for not forgetting them. That's why it was possible for Putin to release people me, Alyokina and Khodorkovsky, because we did not have a long time left to serve.

MAGNAY: But how do you feel now seeing your husband? Have you seen your little girl again, yet? How did freedom feel?

TOLOKONNIKOVA (through translator): I feel the need to work for our country and for my family and our daughter. I've been waiting for this freedom for so long and I want to use this experience that I gained in prison.

MAGNAY: And Khodorkovsky said in his press conference that he wanted to be involved actively in trying to help prisoners, bring attention to the penal system, the same kind of thing as you now say you want to do. Can you imagine joining forces with Khodorkovsky? Is that something you might do?

TOLOKONNIKOVA (through translator): No doubt I'd be happy to do that. It would be a very productive relationship.

MAGNAY: And what about a boycott of the Olympics, of the Sochi Olympics. Is it something you think people should do on ethical reasons?

TOLOKONNIKOVA (through translator): The political situation is sad at the moment, really sad. And the political regime in Russia is leading the country to a collapse. So of course if the western countries would show the strong political ethical position, they will need to boycott the games.

MAGNAY: And of course many leaders already have, despite the flow of high profile prisoners from Russia's jails.

Diana Mangnay, CNN, Kovnayesk (ph), Siberia.


FOSTER: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is on his way back from North Korea. He told reporters he enjoyed training North Korean basketball players for an upcoming exhibition game next month, but he says he didn't get to meet with the country's reclusive leader Kim Jong un.

Meanwhile, the betting company Patty Power says it has decided to withdraw its name as sponsor of the event, because of the worldwide scrutiny and condemnation of the North Korean regime. But the company also says it will meet its contractual obligations to Rodman and his team.

And American jailed in the United Arab Emirates since April for playing a role in making this YouTube clip has been given a one year prison sentence. Authorities say Shazanne Cassim's parody video about Dubai teenagers poses a threat to national security.

CNN's Sara Sidner has more on the case.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everyone from the family to A-list Hollywood comedian Will Ferrell to the governor of Minnesota have been pushing to get a resolution to this UAE case that's got a lot of people scratching their heads.

In Abu Dhabi'S federal supreme court, there were some tears among family members and a sense of relief mixed with confusion as a judge in the UAE federal supreme court sentenced American Shezanne Cassim and his friends to prison time and a fine.

Now Cassim and two other foreign nationals were sentenced to one year in prison and a 10,000 dirham fine, which is roughly $2,700.

The two UAE nationals arrested were told to pay half that, and they were sentenced to eight months in prison.

Now, they've all already served nearly nine months in prison awaiting a verdict. And the families are hoping that the sentence will include time served, but that was not made clear during the hearing.

The men were sentenced under the UAE's cybercrime laws having to do with defaming the UAE's image abroad for an amateur film that they put together and posted on YouTube that was supposed to be a funny parody about life in the Dubai suburb. Clearly, UAE authorities didn't find the video amusing and the judge convicted the men for it.

Now, Cassim's family members in Minnesota are beside themselves because they were hoping that he would be freed after the verdict and be home by Christmas. That is not likely to happen now.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


FOSTER: A former PR executive who tweeted an offensive comment about AIDs in Africa has apologized. Justine Sacco says her words were needless and careless. They've ultimately cost her her job. Pamela Brown has the details.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Social media is calling it the tweet heard around the world. "Going to Africa, hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding, I'm white.

Now three days after P.R. exec Justine Sacco sent out that tweet, she is out of a job and apologizing. On Sunday, Sacco issued this statement saying, "Words cannot express how sorry I am and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet, for being insensitive to this crisis and to the millions of people living with this virus, I am ashamed." Sacco was ahead of P.R. for IAC, the media company owned by Barry Diller, that operates Web sites like The Daily Beast, College Humor, and But on Saturday, the company said Sacco is no longer a good match, firing her. The now former P.R. exec found herself the target of a social media mob on Friday, sending out that tweet right before logging offline while on her 12-hour flight from London to her native South Africa.

JOE CONCHA, COLUMNIST, MEDIAITE: Not only is this a publicist's worst nightmare. It's any public figure's worst nightmare, to send out a tweet. It's kind of like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. You can't take it back.

BROWN: Her Twitter page immediately filled with hateful comments, the #HasJustineLandedYet trending worldwide.

One guy following the hashtag even awaiting her arrival at the Capetown airport. A trial by Twitter as many are calling it. According to her LinkedIn page, Sacco was also formally a publicist for the WWE.

On her now disabled Twitter page, she has a cache of questionable now deleted tweets like, "I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night" and "I can't be fired for things I say while intoxicated, right?" Leaving many to wonder how could a P.R. expert not know how to manage her own social media?

CONCHA: I don't think people like Justine realize the immediacy of Twitter, one tweet, one statement is all it takes in the world of Twitter, in the world of social media to cost somebody their career.

BROWN: Pamela Brown, CNN, New York.


FOSTER: Live from London, this is Connect the World.

Coming up, how the lives of gays and lesbians in Uganda could be about to change dramatically. All it will take is the president's signature.

Also, a mother's inconsolable grief. She says her son was murdered after volunteering as a doctor in Syria. (inaudible) speaks to us about her son Abbas after a short break.


FOSTER: The relentless bombing of Syria's largest city could put an upcoming peace conference in jeopardy. The opposition Syrian National Council says it will not attend Geneva II next month unless the attacks on Aleppo stop.

Activists say government airstrikes have killed nearly 500 people since December 15. They say the regime is dropping barrel bombs, explosives packed with nails and shrapnel, to maximize the carnage.

The government says it's targeting terrorists, but medics are reporting many civilian casualties, including women and children.

British doctor Abbas Khan went to Aleppo last year to help treat wounded civilians. He returned home yesterday in a coffin.

The orthopedic surgeon was arrested in November of 2012 entering Syria without a visa. Authorities had said they would free him this month. But just days before his expected release, they said he'd committed suicide in his jail cell. Khan's family believes he was murdered.

I spoke with his grieving mother today and began by asking her to share the last conversation she had with her son.


FATIMA KHAN, MOTHER OF ABBAS KHAN: He was very happy. And you know it was after in the morning time, about 4:00, because his turn used to come on that time. And he said mommy, I'm very happy. And, you know, I received your (inaudible) and the Snicker chocolate.

FOSTER: The snacks you used to send him.

KHAN: Yeah. And a Snicker, he used to love Snicker chocolate. And he says, mommy I'm looking forward. And he says, soon it will be over. Within 10 days, you'll be (inaudible) and we'll go home.

FOSTER: He said he was happy because his impression from the foreign ministry was that he was going home.

KHAN: That's right. That's right, yes.

FOSTER: So he was as you know your son. I mean, he was happy considering the circumstances.

KHAN: Very happy, since he was transferred to civil prison he was very happy.

FOSTER: No sense that he was in any way suicidal.

KHAN: No. Not at all. (inaudible) five people used to beat him together every day. And, you know, he begged for antibiotic because there was a fracture in his feet and it was infected. They say, no, we won't give you antibiotic. Look my shoes is from England. Take it. This if 50 pound shoes. Take it and give me antibiotic.

FOSTER: They say suicide, the authorities there, what do you think happened?

KHAN: I (inaudible) told them. I say you killed him. It was 10 people with the guns and standing with me and he says, sorry that your son is no more. I said, no, why you brought him from civil prison to here?

FOSTER: How were you told?

KHAN: They phoned me from ministry that come we'll take you to your son. And I was very happy. I was back -- I took bag full of chocolates and distribute to everybody in their hand, those animals, they were eating chocolates. And they took me there. They offered me tea. I said, no, I don't want tea. And they say, sorry your son is no more.

FOSTER: You had no idea.

KHAN: No. I say, what? And I picked up my bag and I was walking out. They say his body is here, do you want to see?

And they say that all the foam is coming in from his mouth. I say, I don't want to see my son ead.

FOSTER: The leading figure in the UK, David Cameron, has written you a letter.

KHAN: What for? On my son's dead body? What am I going to do with this letter? You don't help people that don't write letter on somebody's dead body.

FOSTER: What do you want to come out of your son's death? Is there anything that you want to come out of it?

KHAN: Never be a humanitarian aid worker.


FOSTER: That was Fatima Khan, mother of the British doctor who went to Syria to treat the wounded, but ended dead in a Syrian jail.

It's a heartbreaking story. And a reminder of the great risks that volunteer medics and other aid workers are taking every day to help the Syrian people. Millions of Syrians themselves have fled the country to escape the war, many seeking shelter in Lebanon.

Conditions of these refugees are extremely harsh, especially as winter sets in. CNN's Arwa Damon met one woman who started a grass roots campaign to help ease the suffering of thousands of little children.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was the image of the Syrian refugee children with no shoes in the bitter winter cold and mud that Hala Qiblawi, a designer and mother of three, couldn't get out of her mind for the last year. So she decided to do something about it, just as Lebanon was hit with a heavy storm.

HALA HABIB QIBLAWI, BOOTS FOR SYRIA KIDS: Everybody is angry at the government, everybody is angry at the silence of everyone. Everbody, everybody was thinking of the refugees. And seeing that anger and I myself worried and angry, I launched it.

DAMON: It worked. Hala, a Lebanese of Palestinian decent, raised her target of 2000 winter boots in the first 24 hours, ending up with thousands more and counting.

Amid the eagerly awaiting crowd were swarmed by a group of friends.

9-year-old Amina proud of her skill.

(on camera): She's going to show me how she can write her name in English.

(voice-over): But her neighbor Suzanne, 5, is pretty quiet. The older children tell us Suzanne's (ph) father was killed by a sniper, one brother in jail and another wounded.

We go to see where Suzanne lives.

(on camera): The girls were just saying that it wasn't too long ago that the mud was so deep here it was up to their knees. And that was right around when Lebanon was going through one of its coldest spells in history.

Her sister show us the cardboard they shoved into the makeshift ceiling to absorb the rainwater. Outour, 13, worked the fields in the summer. Without a father, it's her burden to help make ends meet. And, yes, they miss him desperately.

As we chat, their mother arrives, weary, her heart so broken she seems numb to it all.

"My eldest, her husband died recently too. They had three kids," she tells us.

But on this day, as Hala says one of her friends described it, perhaps something of a Cinderella moment for the children.

QIBLAWI: It's true. And the seeing the happiness on the children's faces, the dignity. They were all so proud and so dignified.

DAMON: Organizing the distribution is a non-profit, SAWA for Syria, founded by 25-year-old Rouba Mhaissen, a Lebanese-Syrian PhD candidate who two years ago was in London, came back for a visit and couldn't leave.

ROUBA MHAISSEN, SAWA FOR SYRIA: The number of refugees has reached the ceiling of 2 million refugees in Lebanon with a complete chaos and NGOs, a complete lack of institutional coordination. So (inaudible) organizations like us and many other initiatives are taking the lead to try and do something.

But still, the need is very, very huge.

DAMON: SAWA for Syria distributes aid and helps manage the camps scattered haphazardly throughout Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, relying on volunteers to get the work done and the kindness of strangers across the globe.

For Hala, the support she got for her small project was overwheliming.

QIBLAWI: It's like really seeing -- realizing that there is still humanity, you know, on Earth, especially in this part of the world.

DAMON: A little bit of help in a world that continues to be only too cruel to these children.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Beqaa Valley, Lebanon.


FOSTER: All of us can help make a difference in the lives of these refugees. And you can start by visiting our website for a full list of organizations providing aid.

Latest world news headlines just ahead. Plus, a controversial step in Uganda. Human rights activists condemn what could be a massive blow for equality.

And we trace back the rise of Pope Francis I as he prepares to lead Catholic ceremonies marking Christmas.


FOSTER, HOST: This is CONNECT THE WORLD. The top stories this hour. US special envoy to South Sudan has said the president of the country, Salva Kiir, is ready to hold talks -- peace talks to end violence there. This calls as the conflict enters its second week. The rebel leader and former vice president of South Sudan, Riek Machar, told CNN that he is also ready to enter into talks as long as political prisoners are released.

The inventor of the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has died at the age of 94. The former soldier designed the rifle when he was in his 20s. More than 100 million of them have been sold worldwide.

Two members of Russia's Pussy Riot performance group are now freed. They were released from prison two months early as part of a sweeping amnesty measure passed by Russian lawmakers. They were sentenced to two years behind bars for an illegal protest at a Russian cathedral.

One of the most high-profile Palestinian prisoners in Israel has just been released from prison. Samer Issawi is considered a hero by Palestinians for his record-breaking 266-day hunger strike. Let's get more now from Ian Lee, who's in Jerusalem. Ian?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, Samer received a hero's welcome when he returned to his hometown in a suburb of East Jerusalem. Hundreds of people were out to greet him. They were throwing candy in the air, waving flags with his picture on it.

This happened despite Israel saying that they wouldn't tolerate any sort of celebrations upon his release. When this celebration was taking police, there were riot police in the distance, dozens of them, but they let the celebration take place without engaging any of those in there.

Samer shot to prominence during his hunger strike, as you mentioned. He has been in and out of jail, essentially, since 2002, during the Second Intifada. But it was really -- he was released in 2011, part of the Gilad Shalit deal, that was the Israeli soldier who was released from Gaza. Over a thousand Palestinian prisoners were released during that, including Samer.

But he was re-arrested in 2012 when he tried -- when he entered the West Bank. The Israelis said that this violated his parole. Shortly after, he went on a hunger strike, and almost nine months without eating any food, only getting nutrition through an IV.

And part of the deal to stop his hunger strike was that he would be released at the end of the year, and this is what we're witnessing now. Or that's what we witnessed today, Max.

FOSTER: And of course, just one of the prisoners -- Palestinian prisoners still in the custody of Israel.

LEE: Well, that's right. Rights groups put roughly about 5,000 Palestinians still in prison, including over 100 children. These prisoners complain, especially now, it's very cold in the area in Jerusalem and Israel and the West Bank, and they complain that they're not getting adequate blankets to keep warm.

There's also complaints that they're not able to see their loved ones, as well as some are complaining they're not getting the proper medical attention that they need. I need to add, though, that this is coming from the Palestinian prisoners themselves. These are the things that they're saying that they aren't getting.

But yet, he was -- Samer was a high-profile prisoner, and he brought the world's attention on the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

FOSTER: And do you think this release or releases like this an indication that the ongoing peace talks are going well?

LEE: Well, the real release, what we're looking for, is on the 29th, and that's when we're expecting more prisoners to be released ad part of the peace talks, as part of this sort of agreement that they have going on.

The EU and the International community has warned, as we've seen in the past, announcements of settlement constructions, when we see these prisoners released to sort of appease the domestic -- the politics here in Israel, we're waiting to see if another announcement is made. But on the 29th there will be more prisoners released as this peace process continues.

FOSTER: Ian Lee in Jerusalem, thank you.

Uganda's president is preparing to consider what could be a massive blow for the country's gay community. A new bill has already been pushed through parliament, it calls for a maximum possible sentence of life in prison for certain gay acts. It just needs the president's approval, now, to become law. Jim Clancy explains.


JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Uganda, being gay could soon result in imprisonment for life. The country's parliament passed the anti-homosexuality bill, which toughens penalties for certain homosexual acts, sparking fear among the gay community and causing some to flee the country.

The bill proposes a 14-year prison term for first offenders and life in prison for serial offenders, sex with minors, and acts where one is infected with HIV. But it also punishes anyone who promotes, funds, or sponsors homosexuality with seven years behind bars. One member of parliament says it's about preserving Uganda's culture.

DAVID BAHATI, UGANDAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: I want to thank the speaker of parliament for the courage and providing leadership to defend the children of Uganda and the cause for humanity, to protect our marriages, to defend our culture, and to defend the future of our children.

CLANCY: Parliament has been under pressure to pass this bill from many evangelical churches. It was first introduced back in 2009. That bill called for the death penalty.

The bill has faced much criticism, especially in the West. Last year, Germany cut off aid to Uganda, citing this bill as a major concern. One Ugandan gay activist says that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community will continue to fight for equal rights.

PEPE ONZIEMA, LGBT RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Whether you pass the bill or not, we are not going to -- it's not going to change us from being LGBT, it's not going to change us from being gay, it's not going to stop us from speaking out. It's not going to stop us from showing our faces.

So, we come out here today to show you that we are still here. We are resilient, and we are challenging the spirit of this bill.

CLANCY: The Ugandan president now has to sign this bill before it can go into effect. Uganda is one of 36 African nations where homosexuality is illegal.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Atlanta.


FOSTER: Amnesty International has told CNN it's extremely disappointed that lawmakers have pushed through the bill, but Uganda's minister for ethics and integrity defended it a short time ago here on CNN.


SIMON LOKODO, UGANDAN MINISTER FOR ETHICS AND INTEGRITY (via telephone): This particular bill, according to Ugandans, has come at the right time. It will be right because we applaud moral values and principles as a sovereign nation. The act of homosexuality or lesbianism is strange to our culture.


FOSTER: A short time ago, I also spoke to Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha. He said he's worried evangelical groups will influence the president's decision.


FRANK MUGISHA, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I don't think it will become law because I still have hope in the government. I still think that the president will not sign into law a bill that is very controversial.

I think the president will take time, study this legislation, like he has said in the past, that he will not sign any law that discriminates people. He'll not sign any law that contradicts with our own constitution. And I don't think he will sign a law that has a lot of implications on Uganda and international scene.

But what my fear is, him being drive by these extreme Christian evangelicals here in Uganda with all their propaganda. With the masses, politicians are politicians. Sometimes they want to go with the masses.

FOSTER: The international repercussions do seem as though they could be quite severe for the government, because Denmark is just one country suggesting that rather than giving the government aid, they will bypass the government, and other countries may well choose to follow that route, because even President Obama has spoken out against these draconian laws, as many people see them.

So do you think if the law does go though then the government could be scoring an own goal, because it's going to lose a lot of vital aid money?

MUGISHA: Well, there's a lot of chances that when the law passes, there are many countries that will not be able to give money to Uganda because of their own laws in their countries whereby they cannot continue supporting a country that has draconian and these matter laws.

And also leaving that aside, I know there are so many tourists, airline companies, and other multinational companies that will not want to do their business in Uganda, again, because some of them are run by people who have businesses with connected LGBT companies.

FOSTER: You talked about extreme views really pushing this agenda. What do you think overall the view is, actually, amongst the public in Uganda? Are they -- do they want tougher laws against homosexuality or are they generally accepting of it if it's done in private?

MUGISHA: Ugandans are very nice people in general. But the challenge we have is we have got extreme Christian fundamentalists in this country who have got a driven agenda, spread a lot of hatred. And this hatred has been indoctrinated into Ugandans, who think homosexuality is evil, it is bad.

So for Ugandans, they are all the way supporting the legislation based on the ignorance and the indoctrination that are put in their minds by the anti-gay groups.


FOSTER: Well, that was Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha speaking to me a little earlier on.

Uganda receives a significant amount of humanitarian and economic development aid from around the world. In 2011, the country received more than $1.5 billion in assistance. That's more than 8 percent of Uganda's entire annual GDP.

The biggest single donors include the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Leaders of some donor countries have already questioned the future of aid to Uganda, including the United Kingdom and Denmark.

What do you think about this story? The team at CNN's CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you, so to have your say, and you can tweet me @MaxFosterCNN, your thought please, @MaxFosterCNN.

Live from London, you are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Coming up, the life of a master clown. How one man has revolutionized an art form.

And papal popularity. As the pope prepares to deliver his first Christmas message, we look at how he's helped change the image of the Vatican.


FOSTER: Pushing the limits of physical theater, Slava Polunin is a master clown with a revolutionary use of expression. Nick Glass headed to Paris to meet the legendary Russian and see what inspires his unique Art of Movement.


NICK GLASS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a cold November morning, Slava Polunin takes to his bed boat to saunter down the river at his home outside Paris. It seems an entirely natural mode of transport for a clown.

SLAVA POLUNIN, CLOWN (through translator): A clown inspires people to live. As Fellini said, a true clown makes a washerwoman wash, a drunkard drink, and a painter paint.

GLASS: Slava Polunin is the world's supreme clown. He revolutionized the art form, moving it out of the circus and onto the stage, becoming a household name in his native Russia as he did so. Slava's Snowshow has won an Olivier Award and toured over 50 countries.

BRADFORD WEST, CLOWN, SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW: When I saw Slava's Snowshow, I decided to be a clown. My image of clown was just in a circus --


WEST: And then when I saw this show and I saw people moving on a stage so expressively and so economically as well, I knew that I'd found my sort of form of art that I'd been looking for.

GLASS: Slava started clowning as a child in the Soviet Union after seeing Charlie Chaplin in "The Kid" in 1921. Later, on state television in the 1970s, he used his wordless clowning to mock the authorities without falling foul of draconian censorship.

POLUNIN (through translator): At the beginning of my career, it was like I was in a childhood phase of clowning. My clowning was full of movement. I moves as if I were a child, when you were full of so much energy that you think you could jump to the sky.

Today, my perception of clowning is that you should be able to move just one centimeter and make the audience react as if you moved an entire mountain.

GLASS: Slava became a minimalist, bringing back poetry into clowning, somehow lost in the cruder buffoonery of the circus. Today, his home is a dreamlike, surreal world, feeding both his imagination and his performances.

POLUNIN (through translator): In order to learn now to move like a clown, I imitate the way children, madmen, drunkards, and animals move. I do so because these movements are not bound by intellect.

In order to learn how to move my body, I had to study all systems of the world. For example, butoh dance, a contemporary Japanese dance of death. I studied rock 'n' roll to learn how energy captivates us. I mastered tango as well, the most passionate dance in the world.

I studied the various poses of Disney cartoon characters as they create the most comprehensive system of how to transition from one pose to the next. Our body is an excellent instrument, like a piano or a violin, if you use it well.

GLASS: Modifications are needed when Slava's Snowshow is on tour. American audiences expect more pace. Spanish, more passion. French, more poetry. Yet movement, fast, slow, lyrical, or frenzied, remains the universal language.

POLUNIN (through translator): For me as a person, moving without any words would be the perfect concept of a human being. A clown returns people to the joy of movement. Even if my legs stopped moving, I would still roll myself onstage in a wheelchair and perform just using my arms and continue to inspire.


FOSTER: Coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A glimpse of some of our iReporters' best snaps over the festive period.

And the First Noel for the new pope. What to expect when the pontiff delivers his Christmas message.



POPE FRANCIS (through translator): I can read over there, written in big letters, "The poor cannot wait." That's beautiful.


FOSTER: Addressing the crowds in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis certainly liked what he saw yesterday. In his typical off-the-cuff manner, the pope focused his attention on a banner, which read "The poor cannot wait," and called on people around the world to do all they could to help the homeless during the festive period.

Tomorrow, the pope will celebrate mass in St. Peter's Basilica before delivering his first Christmas message the very next day. With his humble approach, the pope has certainly proved popular since his inauguration in March, even being named as "Time" Magazine's Person of the Year. Becky has been taking a closer look at this man of many firsts.



BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Francis's journey to the papacy goes back to 1969 when he was ordained as a Jesuit priest in Argentina, where he was born. He became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and, ultimately, pope. His hallmark was service and humility. Three years later, in 2001, Pope John Paul II appointed him a cardinal.


ANDERSON: And after more than a decade, on March the 13th, 2013, he was elected to lead the world's estimated 1.2 billion Catholics and installed as pope six days later.

THEODORE MCCARRICK, CARDINAL, FORMER ARCHBISHIP OF WASHINGTON, DC: And this is the greatest of the man, I think, that he is, that he knows who he is, he knows what his responsibility is.

ANDERSON: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the former archbishop of Washington, DC, a church insider who says that Francis is handling his job well.

MCCARRICK: He doesn't question because he knows he's going to carry with Jesus. And he knows that people are out there, and his job is to help them.

ANDERSON: Becoming pope was only one of many significant firsts for the new pontiff.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: He is the first pope from Latin America, the first pope from outside Europe in 1300 years. And, of course, he is the first pope to utter the word "gay."

CHRISTOPHER BELLITTO, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, KEEN UNIVERSITY: So we have the first Jesuit pope. It seems kind of strange that a pope would be a Jesuit because the Jesuits take a vow to do what the pope tells them.

ANDERSON: But even more stunning to many was the name he chose. Ritta Ferrone is a lifelong Catholic and a writer for the US Catholic magazine "Commonweal."

RITTA FERRONE, "COMMONWEAL" MAGAZINE: First pope to be named after Francis of Assisi. So, Francis of Assisi was a rebel. Francis of Assisi was somebody who was deeply committed to the poor and to prayer and to a kind of radical vision of living out Christianity. This is the first pope to take that name, and it's not an accident.

ALLEN: And it is, perhaps, after Jesus and Peter and maybe Mary the most iconic name in the Catholic imagination. Because it used to be believed that no pope could take the name Francis because there was only one Francis.

And the fact that this pope did it told me two things about the man right away. One, that this was going to be a maverick pope, a guy who was not going to be shackled by convention. And two, it told me that this was going to be a very Franciscan pope in the literal sense of the word, meaning somebody who before all else was going to embrace Lady Poverty, the lover of St. Francis.


FOSTER: Well, Christmas has come earlier for winners of Spain's Christmas lottery, who were announced on Sunday. Top prize in the $3 billion lottery is nick-named "El Gordo," "the Fat One," but as Al Goodman reports from Madrid, the Fat One was a little thinner this year.



AL GOODMAN, CNN MADRID BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Ringing in the holiday cheer with some help from El Gordo, or the Fat One, top prize in Spain's annual Christmas lottery. These working class neighborhoods in Southern Madrid were big winners.

Raimunda Perez paid $55 for two tickets now worth just over a million. It was a joint buy, typical in Spain, to be split among nine retired married couples, lifelong friends. "I have two children, and I'll help them with my share," she says. "They're both working, thank God."

But many aren't. Spain's jobless rate is over 25 percent, so for the first time, big winners like Raimunda in the lottery must pay 20 percent in taxes on winnings to help ease the deficit. "What the tax office doesn't keep, we'll take it," she says. "What can I say?"

GOODMAN (on camera): The Christmas lottery pays about $3 billion in prize money, most of it in smaller amounts. But the attention is always on El Gordo, which struck here and around ten other places across Spain.

GOODMAN (voice-over): The historic lottery, complete with school children singing out the winning numbers, spreads the joy far and wide.


GOODMAN: It's not one big winner-takes-all, but thousands of winners, like this hotel worker visiting Madrid from his native Canary Islands, where he bought a ticket at a gas station. He'd won part of the second-biggest prize.

"You think the only people who win are on TV," he says, "but never yourself. I'll be paying off the most urgent bills with this."

GOODMAN (on camera): Spain's economic crisis has dampened enthusiasm for the Christmas lottery, but still, lottery officials say, Spaniards are spending an average of $68 per person for lottery tickets like this.

GOODMAN (voice-over): Call it Spanish solidarity: if you don't win, the next guy will, and maybe it'll be your turn next year.

Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


FOSTER: Tonight's Parting Shots, let's take a look at some of our photos, the photos that reporters have captured during this festive season for us. Robert Ondrovic took this photo of a home in Queens, New York, elaborate decorated by retired firefighter Kevin Lynch.

Mike Matney says his yard is always full of pigs and gnomes. It's a running joke within the family, he says. "You never know when a pig is going to show up in a suitcase when we go on a trip."

Misael photographed the Christmas spirit of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He says the photo portrays "the joy of our people."

Marlo Cueto photographed an annual lights and sound show in the Philippines. This year's show is dedicated to the victims of the recent typhoon.

London, like many cities, gets its fair share of Christmas decorations. Tomas Burian took this shot in Covent Garden just down the road. He says Christmas time is the best time of the year. To see more images like this and post your own, just head to

That is CONNECT THE WORLD for you. Thank you so much for watching.