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Two Terror Suspects Arrested in Belgium; NYPD Readies for 1 Million in Times Square; Millions under Flood Warnings in U.S.; Bill Cosby Charged with Sexual Assault; Top North Korean Official Killed in Car Crash; Popular Putin: From Calendars to T-Shirts. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 30, 2015 - 10:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: OK. So this is the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center. And we start

with the approaching New Year's Eve celebrations and efforts to keep revelers safe from attacks.

Those of you who'll be attending big public parties will notice increased security in many cities, particularly in Europe, where the terror threat

looms large.

To talk more about that, CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, joins me now from Brussels.

And you've got new information for us on a number of fronts. Hi, there, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, hi, there, Robyn. This Grand Place here in the center of Brussels is one of the

places that two terror attackers, who were arrested here just a couple of days ago, were planning to attack a number of other locations were also in

their sights -- army barracks, police barracks.

I met a while ago with the head of Belgium's assessment center that determines the threat level here. He told me that while they've decided to

maintain the current threat level here at 3, not raising it to 4 as it was shortly after the Paris attack, that they now -- they have decided to raise

the awareness and threat level for the police and army from level 2 to level 3.

That is based on their -- on information that they've received. The threat level here is certainly under scrutiny. A lot of police and a lot of army

and soldiers out on the streets around here. You see them patrolling through every few minutes.

This -- the head of this center in Belgium for assessing the threat level told me, and has been seven years in this job, that what he sees right now,

that this emergence of ISIS with its threat around the globe, it's the first time there's been a global threat of this type. This is what he



BELGIAN COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICER: It's the first time since long that we are confronted with a movement who has impact all around the world. You

saw terrorist attacks everywhere in the world: in Australia; in the U.S.; Canada; Europe, of course; Northern Africa; Arabic countries; Asian

countries; Russia. So I think it's a phenomenon.


ROBERTSON: So he also told me that the two men that were arrested early this week, they're currently investigating their connections to ISIS.

Were they simply sort of, you know, motivated by what they -- by ISIS propaganda?

Or have they been directed by the group?

Certainly this is the man right now who's in charge of watching the threat level here, assessing the information, determining what level of

celebrations Belgium, Brussels can actually go ahead with tomorrow night-- Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed. And of course still not deterring the tourists behind you. But also, there's some new information about the Bataclan attack as

it again links to Belgium.

ROBERTSON: Sure. I mean you have a lot of tourists here. I was talking to a young man here, a Belgian man a few minutes ago.

He said, look, what can we do?

We shouldn't be afraid by these terror threats and terror situation. He said --


ROBERTSON: -- there are police and army everywhere. But he says everyone now knows the possibility of an attack here or in Paris or in London is

very real.

And we do have more information about that Paris attack and its connections here to Belgium. A cell phone was found outside the Bataclan theater,

where all those people were gunned down by the gunman as they were watching a band play.

That cell phone, retrieved and recovered, had 25 text messages that were sent in the 24 hours prior to the attack, the last one being sent just

minutes before the attack, saying we are ready or we're about to start.

That cell phone was sending those text messages to a phone here in Belgium, which gives a clear indication that in the 24 hours running up to that

attack in Paris, there was a level of coordination with some person using that phone, that the messages were being sent to here in Belgium -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Deeply concerning there for the authorities. Nic Robertson, as always, thanks so much.

Well, concerns are not just in Europe. New York City's police commissioner has a message to anyone heading to Times Square on New Year's Eve: "Don't

worry, the police will keep you safe."

Thousands of officers will patrol in and around Times Square, ready to head off any trouble.

Well, CNN's Miguel Marquez is at Times Square, watching preparations for the big night.

I mean, this is going to be a massive operation, isn't it?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It always is and this year bigger than ever, given what's happened in San Bernardino and Paris and what security

officials are now dealing with.

Officials here quick to say that there's no credible threat but they're acting like it is.

This is the place. This is the crossroads of the world, Times Square. The ball will drop right down there. More than a million people will pile in

here. This will soon be transformed into the most secure streets in the world.

Police say they're going to rely on everything -- 6,000 police officers just here in Times Square. Tens of thousands of police officers across the

entire city to protect venues everywhere.

What used to be just a good time are now considered soft targets after Paris and San Bernardino. Bomb-sniffing dogs is really one of the big

first lines of defense here. Chemical and nuclear detectors, as well, will be on hand. Some of them very small. Personal detectors that the officers

will be able to use on their belts essentially.

Cameras by the thousands will be in operation so they can watch people. The mayor saying that there is a special response force as well. Some 500

of them that will be able to respond to as many as a dozen or more incidents at one time if it comes to that. Sparing no expense and taking

everything seriously.

Though saying there's no credible threat here and they believe that they have this city covered from the air, from the ground, from the underground,

from the subways here, even the water around the city. They say there will be a complete seen and unseen security cordon around the entire city of New

York -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. It's going to be a big night on all levels. Thanks so much, Miguel there, in Times Square.

Well, security might be high but CNN of course will be covering all the celebrations, the parties, including fireworks like the ones you see here

last year from Chicago.

We'll mark the New Year as it happens around the globe. And make sure -- do tune in to our coverage starting at 1:00 am Thursday in London, 2:00 am

in Central Europe and as we build up to the ball dropping at Times Square in New York.

But of course, we'll also be watching a developing story here in the U.S.: 16 million Americans living in 13 U.S. states are under flood warnings

right now. Homes are being swept away along with lives and livelihoods. We'll have a live report from the flood zone coming up.

And some may find it hard to believe but soon Americans will be seeing a lot more of Donald Trump. Stay with us.




Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow.

Now an unbelievable but very real weather anomaly happening right now at the North Pole, of all places. The temperature is expected to rise above

freezing there. Reportedly, this is the second time it's ever happened.

But this time it's very different. A slight thaw is coming during winter, of course, and during the darkest time of the year. El Nino weather

phenomenon is partly the reason for that.

Right now, more than 60 million Americans are under flood warnings. The pictures you see here give an idea of the size and scope of the disaster in

the U.S. and scenes like this are playing out across the region.

Terrified people being rescued from their cars, from their homes. Alina Machado joins us now from one of hardest hit areas in Pacific, Missouri.

Hi, there, Alina. You're in one of the real danger zones. These are historical levels of water that are raising.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Robyn. Hundreds of people have left this town because of these floodwaters.

I'm going to move out of the way so you can get a better sense of what we're seeing here. The water here at this river continues to rise. And we

know that so far at least 400 homes and businesses have flooded and relief could still be days away.


MACHADO (voice-over): Missouri bracing for historic, dangerous flooding. Dozens of counties facing a severe threat as the Mississippi, Missouri and

Meramec Rivers approach record levels.

JAY NIXON, MISSOURI GOVERNOR: Now that the rain has moved out, the threat has changed. But it is not by any means over.

MACHADO (voice-over): The deadly floodwaters claiming more than a dozen lives. Many fear this is just the beginning as swollen rivers rise and

crest in the next 48 hours.

NIXON: You're talking about almost 10 more vertical feet of moving water. So the power we're talking about, as well as the volume, is extremely


MACHADO (voice-over): The governor declaring a state of emergency and activating the National Guard as officials predict river levels could

exceed the great flood of 1993, that claimed nearly 50 lives and damaged or destroyed some 50,000 homes, the most devastating in modern U.S. history.

In the town of West Alton near St. Louis, the mayor urging his 500 residents to evacuate after water levels overtopped the levee.

ST. LOUIS MAYOR: This is your notice that this is serious. So you need to get final preparations and go.

MACHADO (voice-over): Parts of Union, Missouri underwater with homes, cars, restaurants completely submerged. And in Bourbon, one photographer

even capturing video of this cabin floating away. Authorities urging drivers to stay off inundated roadways, fearing they'll get stuck and swept


NIXON: The vast majority of deaths we've had -- and I can't stress this enough -- is people driving into water and especially driving into water at


MACHADO (voice-over): It's a race against time as residents and volunteers sandbag their homes and prepare to --


-- evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am worried. I just don't know what to do.


CURNOW: We're going to interrupt our coverage and take you straight to CNN USA. Bill Cosby, we understand, has been charged with sexual assault

charges and we're going to listen in to this press conference to get more details.




CURNOW: This is CNN, you're watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. And of course we've been coverage the charges against American

comedian Bill Cosby. We'll continue to bring you up to date on that story in the coming hours.

But in the meantime, I just want to update you on some other news that's making headlines.

Donald Trump's campaign for U.S. president is entering a new phase and it will be a high profile one, that's for sure.

Starting Monday, Trump says he plans to spend at least $2 million a week on television advertisements. Let's bring in CNN politics managing editor

Steven Sloan for a taste of what to expect.

I mean, those people who thought they couldn't possibly get more of Trump are clearly very wrong.

STEVEN SLOAN, CNN POLITICS MANAGING EDITOR: Yes. Just what everyone wanted -- more Donald Trump. So, yes, this is -- this is a big decision

here really to flood airwaves in the early states, in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, with big ad money to really try to make sure that he can

still dominate the race going into the primary season.

CURNOW: OK. And with that in mind, Trump is also going personal, as he has throughout his campaign, and very much focusing not just on Hillary

Clinton but Bill Clinton, too. And the Clintons are sort of responding.

SLOAN: Yes. She is kind of responding, you know but largely through her campaign. You've seen Donald Trump come out himself and say these things.

Hillary Clinton last week at -- in an interview with "The Des Moines Register" said, you know, some of Trump's comments reflected he has a

penchant for sexism.

Since then, the war of words has continued but Clinton's campaign has responded instead of her responding directly herself. Last night, CNN

asked her about some of Trump's most recent comments and she didn't really respond. And so she's kind of -- seems to trying to be ignoring what's


CURNOW: Yes, but I don't think she can for very long. At some point, she is going to have to respond to the Donald, isn't she?

Steven, thanks so much.

SLOAN: It's hard. Yes, thank you.

CURNOW: Well, North Korea says its top liaison with South Korea has been killed in a car accident. He had been described as one of Kim Jong-un's

most trusted aides. But this isn't the first crash that's killed someone in his position. CNN's Alexandra Field reports the pattern is raising



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A top North Korean official, Kim Yang Gon, is killed in a car wreck, according to state news

reports. But there are no more details on his death, not even a mention of where the accident happened. This has experts on the region pointing to a


ANDREI LANKOV, PROFESSOR: If you look at the North Korean history --


LANKOV: -- with Seoul we can see that a surprisingly large number of their high-level North Korean officials have died in car crashes. There is a

probability that at least some of these cases were indeed bona fide car crashes. It's possible. But the frequency of such incidents in

essentially a carless society is a bit surprising.

FIELD (voice-over): 1976: Vice Premier Nam Il is killed in a car crash; 2010, the head of the organizational department, Ri Je-gang; 2003, Kim Yong

Sun, head of the United Front Department, a post later filled by Kim Yang Gon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of these fatal traffic accidents affecting senior officials used to happen on the way to or from a party organized by Kim


Now, we're seeing the same pattern developing under Kim Jong-un. I think this will be very interesting and it will be very interesting to see if

this accident indeed happened on Kim Yang Gon's way to an end of the party or to his way from a end of the -- an end-of-the-year party.

FIELD (voice-over): Kim oversaw relations with South Korea playing a key role in crisis talks in August, helping to defuse tensions across the


FIELD: Is there any reason to believe that this man would be targeted, executed?

LANKOV: Well, we have seen that pretty much three-quarters of the top North Korean elite of the last years of Kim Jong-il rule, they disappeared.

They were executed officially; they disappeared without any traces, without any explanations.

So there is nothing surprising about it.

FIELD (voice-over): North Korea is one of the most closed societies in the world. CNN cannot independently confirm any reports of executions, but

South Korean government officials say 15 high level North Korean officials have been executed in 2015. They say the number climbs to 70 since Kim

Jong-un came to power in 2011.

It includes Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Sung-taek, denounced by state media as "despicable human scum," the same agency heaping nothing but praise on

Kim Yang Gon, calling him "a loyal warrior for former leaders," one of the closest and trustworthiest confidants of the current leader -- Alexandra

Field, CNN, Seoul.


CURNOW: Alexandra for that report.

Well, yesterday we showed you the 2016 Vladimir Putin calendar, showing the many sides of the Russian president. And it's selling like hotcakes in


But just in case you didn't get enough, just wait -- there is more. CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, discovered the calendar

is a popular part of an overall merchandising of President Putin. Take a look at this.



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For fans of Vladimir Putin, there's no shortage of stuff with the Russian

president's image all over it.

These Putin T-shirts have been around for a while. But they're still popular New Year's gifts.

CHANCE: All right, so this is the most popular one. It's a Sami Popularni (ph) T-shirt --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That look nice on, whatever.


So (Speaking Russian).

How well do these T-shirts sell?

(Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They sell really well. Many tourists buy them but our compatriots buy them as well. They love Putin.

CHANCE (voice-over): Despite a deep economic crisis and international isolation over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, Putin's ratings are doing

well, too.

CHANCE: So what about spending the entire year with President Putin?

Well, that's what this 2016 Putin calendar is promising, with every month revealing a carefully chosen image of the Russian leader.

This one has him in Siberia with a horse in the forest.

Here, he's smelling a flower.

And this third one over here, he's working out in the gym.

But photographs aren't all you get with this calendar. You get Putin's words of wisdom, too.

CHANCE (voice-over): Some are characteristically hard-line, like this one for the month of October.

"No one will succeed in gaining military superiority over Russia," Putin says.

Others hint at a softer side.

"Dogs and I have very warm feelings for one another," says the Russian leader for November.

One group of Putin supporters has put together an entire book of Putin's best-known remarks and one-liners, publishing a limited edition which is

set to go on sale next year.

The book's called "Words Changing the World." And its publishers say it makes the perfect holiday gift for patriotic Russians.

And if reading Putin isn't enough, you can now smell him, too --


CHANCE (voice-over): -- with a new men's fragrance that's just hit the shops here in Russia.

CHANCE: All right, well, here it is. It's called Leaders Number One.

But make no mistake, with the profile of Vladimir Putin on the side and the words inspired by Vladimir Putin, it's pretty clear which leader they're

referring to.

Now the advertising bump says that it smells of citrus fruits and pine needles. A mixture of hard and soft, just like the President Putin


So I suppose I should give it a try, shouldn't I?

Let's have a smell.



CHANCE: I'm impartial on it. But I can see how it wouldn't to be everybody's tastes.

CHANCE (voice-over): Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


CURNOW: As always, goes the extra mile in his reporting, doesn't he?

Well, also, today's edition of IDESK has been brought to you by the letter A and B and, well, all of them really. NASA has released what it's calling

the space alphabet. Now it's a set of 26 photos of the Earth taken from space, showing each letter hiding on the planet's surface.

For example, take a look. There's the letter I. Comes from the Andaman Islands off the coast of Myanmar.

Or how about this D created by a tiny island in Canada's Hudson Bay.

For an E, the space agency went all the way to the South Pacific, where, with some imagination, a swirling bloom of plankton creates the lower case


The S takes us to the skies over the Atlantic, where a weather system created this cloud pattern.

And finally, this beautiful letter K comes from Canada's Arctic north, where glaciers have carved the intricate pattern.

Spelled out from space but brought to you right here from the CNN Center. That was the IDESK. I'll be back in just over an hour with more on the

charges against American comedian Bill Cosby and, of course, also the terror threat in Belgium. Thanks for watching.