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YOUR WORLD TODAY

Shuttle Launch Scheduled for This Afternoon; Israel Presses for Kidnapped Soldier's Release; World Cup Semifinals; British Muslim Poll Showing Unease; New Beijing to Tibet Rail Route; International Belly Dancing Competition

Aired July 4, 2006 - 12:00   ET

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


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Scheduled for liftoff in spite of warnings. Will the Discovery crew be watching America's Fourth of July fireworks from space later today?
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Patriotism is also riding high in Germany as they prepare to take on rival Italy in the World Cup semifinals.

GORANI: And an epic rail journey across China into the mighty Himalayas. We'll take you along on the controversial ride.

CLANCY: Plus, they're really shaking things up in Egypt. We're going to tell you who took home the crown in, well, this version of the World Cup.

I'm Jim Clancy.

This is YOUR WORLD TODAY, broadcast live around the globe.

GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani.

From Cape Canaveral to Lhasa, Tibet, we're covering it all for you.

Stay with us.

CLANCY: A majestic mission to space, but nagging concerns about the safety, the age of the spacecraft, even the weather. Despite the obstacles, the space shuttle Discovery is counting to a U.S. Independence Day liftoff scheduled for 18:38 hours Greenwich Meantime. That's a little more than two-and-a-half hours from right now.

Our man with the right stuff, John Zarrella, he's at Kennedy Space Center and he has the latest for us.

Hi, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim.

And hopefully NASA gets a little lucky today and has the right stuff going on its side. The weather, of course, the only issue that could possibly interfere this afternoon.

A beautiful day here at the Kennedy Space Center. There's a breeze blowing. There's a little bit of cloud cover. That's a problem.

There's a low pressure system out in the Gulf of -- out in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Bahamas. As you see, the space shuttle Discovery sitting there on the launch pad. It's moving towards the west, but the Air Force meteorologists think that there's going to be a dry slot, a little bit of a break in the cloud cover here now, and when the weather from that low starts to impact the area, at which time they'll be able to get the vehicle off.

There you see live pictures inside the shuttle Discovery. The crew getting seated. They are preparing now the final couple of hours before liftoff.

They'll be closing the hatch there at about 1:38 this afternoon. So -- about 12:38. Not too much longer now they'll be getting ready to close that hatch up there on the shuttle Discovery.

So, earlier today, about an hour and a half ago or so, the astronauts left the operations and checkout building where they had suited up to make the journey out to the Kennedy Space Center. It's about a seven-mile ride out to the launch pad.

There, again, you see the astronauts there as they were suiting up this morning after having their breakfast. And they were, of course, all smiles today. This being the third attempt at liftoff.

And again, there, that's the astronauts heading out. The commander, Steve Lindsey, along with pilot Mark Kelly, the first two out waving flags and heading into that silver astrovan as they make their way out again. About seven miles to the launch pad.

And now, again, the live -- the pictures there as they're suiting up and boarding the shuttle Discovery. Again, hatch closeout coming not too much longer from now. And then the final phases as we prepare for liftoff.

Now, of course you mentioned the aging shuttle vehicle. The shuttle program going to be phased out by 2010. A lot -- a lot to go yet in the program. They've got a lot of work to do.

NASA's administrator talking about how busy they're going to be in the next four years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Certainly, we do not want to extend the retirement date back for the shuttle. I need an orderly program planning and budgeting process to bring the program to a close. So we're doing the right thing.

You say it's different than it was in the past. Yes, it is. I have three orbiters fresh out of depot maintenance. Not only are they ready to go, they're more than ready to go.

The stand-down for a year since Discovery was, again, to deal with the foam. We truly believe we have that in hand. This flight will be -- allow us to resume the assembly work on the space station. And as you point out, the next 16, 17 flights are going to allow us to complete the job. We think we have it well in hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Now the only issue here at the Kennedy Space Center right now, very small issue, would be the weather, if it impacts this afternoon's launch -- Jim.

CLANCY: Americans at one point took this program for granted, these launches for granted, John. They don't do that anymore.

But for international viewers, you've been there many times. Can you describe for them the sense that this is a -- you actually get a physical sense when you're standing there watching this -- this rocket go up, just the pounding on your chest of the sound waves.

ZARRELLA: Yes, it's something you never get tired of, even after 50 or 60 launches, or whatever the number that I've been to over the years. And you see that rocket lift off, the shuttle lift off, and then you feel that sound wave reverberating across the lagoon from that launch pad, about five miles away from us.

Suddenly, it reaches you here, and the earth just shakes underneath you. And car alarms start going off. It really is a sensation that never, ever gets old -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right. And thousands of people will be down there, along with John Zarrella. They'll be a little bit further away, but like John Zarrella, they'll be looking on.

John, as always, thank you.

ZARRELLA: My pleasure.

CLANCY: Hala, it is a tremendous thing to see that, but it's also a little expensive.

GORANI: It is expensive. NASA's budget is more than $16 billion. And some feel that the cost has skyrocketed, so to speak, a bit too much.

CLANCY: Others think it is absolutely worth it.

We're asking you our inbox question today, which is, Hala?

GORANI: Is space exploration worth the cost? We want to hear from you.

CLANCY: E-mail us your inbox answers to YWT@CNN.com.

GORANI: From Florida, let's take you to the Middle East and to that standoff in Gaza. Israel is keeping on with what it says is a military mission with just one goal, to win the unconditional release of a soldier kidnapped nine days ago.

Our Paula Hancocks has been monitoring developments in the heart of it in Gaza City.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sun rises on another tense day. Israeli soldiers wait on the Gaza border as a deadline from Palestinian militants comes and goes.

Their demand for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners was not met. They now say case of an abducted Israeli soldier is closed.

The Palestinian prime minister says he is still willing to negotiate.

ISMAIL HANIYEH, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Since the first moment this issue has come up, the Palestinian government has called and still calls for the necessity of keeping the Israeli soldier alive and to treat him well. The government is making efforts with the Palestinian, Arab and regional sides in order to put an end to this issue in the most appropriate way.

HANCOCKS: The fate of Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier, remains unknown, but Israel says it is work under the assumption he is still alive.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This is a long war. It requires lots of patience, sometimes endless restraint. We have to know to clench our teeth and to deal a decisive blow. We will do all of these and win and return Gilad Shalit.

HANCOCKS: Other Israeli politicians are more blunt. One saying the heavens will fall on Hamas if the soldier is harmed.

Missiles fell on Gaza for the seventh night running. This time Israel's air force destroyed a building Islamic University says housed its student council. Israel says it was used for terror purposes.

In northern Gaza one man was killed and at least three more injured. The Israeli defense forces say they were planting bombs.

(on camera): The Israeli military says it's not targeting Palestinian civilians, just specific buildings like this one here at the Islamic University. But all the action that Israel carries out in Gaza is making no difference to public support for the Palestinian militants' demands for the release of prisoners.

(voice-over): Israeli forces are also operating in the West Bank. One Palestinian militant died during clashes. Israel also shut down charity organizations it says are funded by Hamas.

Gaza is bracing for another night of airstrikes. And Palestinian gunmen prepare for an Israeli assault as this tense crisis drags on.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Gaza City. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: Now, in an effort to get their captive back, Israel's military operations have taken direct aim at Gaza's infrastructure, including the power grid which was essentially destroyed. And that means, of course, some of the many 1.4 million Palestinians living there are left completely without electricity.

Switzerland, which hosts conferences on the Geneva Conventions of war, says Israel has crossed the line on humanitarian law. They say Israel's strategy here, hitting infrastructure, targets, forms the basis for collective punishment on the Palestinian people.

Moreover, this power plant insured by U.S. taxpayers to the tune of $50 billion, the foreign ministry said a number of actions by the Israeli defense force in their offensive against the Gaza Strip have violated the principle of proportionality.

GORANI: Just one big thing on the minds of millions of Europeans this day is the first of two World Cup semifinals is just hours away from kickoff.

Becky Anderson is live in Berlin. She's been talking to fans on the streets of that capital city.

Becky, we have U.S. viewers in this hour of YOUR WORLD TODAY. Explain to them and to the world why there is so much passion for this game at this final stage.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because Europeans absolutely love their football, Hala. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows. It's not just Europeans, of course.

It's a game that is huge all over the world. Let me give you some sense of the occasion here.

It's crunch time in the World Cup. We've got the first of the two semifinals, Germany versus Italy, taking off in about three hours from now. And this is the deal.

Just behind me is what is known as one of the fans end. It's the fan mile here in Berlin. Now, the game is actually dormant, but there will be nearly a million people behind me tonight watching this game on big screens.

They, in fact, had to extend what they have known as the fan mile to the fan mile and a quarter because there are such a volume of people wanting to watch this game. Obviously, these are people who haven't been able to get tickets to go to see the match.

It kicks off, as I said, in about three hours' time, and Germany has never beaten Italy in a World Cup match. Previous four encounters, Italy has won two, and they have drawn two as well.

In the 1970 semifinal, one of the best matches ever, Italy winning 4-3. That was in Mexico. And, indeed, there's a Mexican ref for tonight. Let's see whether that's good news or bad news for the Germans tonight.

Dortmund -- well, there are 65,000 people in the stadium tonight, another 140,000 people in Dortmund watching the match. The fans are pouring into that city as we speak. And this is what some of them had to say -- Hala.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I think it will be a tough game, but I hope the Germans will pay for their arrogance. I hope Italy wins 3-1, Totti, Gilardino and Del Piero score.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It will be a 0-0. Italy will win on penalties. Let me show you. Let me show you, Buffon on penalties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Germans definitely will make it without Frings ecause we have a good young talent in the team. Kehl and Borowski have already proven that they can play well, so I think we will beat the Italians 2-1.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: German midfielder Torsten Frings won't be playing. He's been banned for FIFA for laying a punch on an Argentinean player in the quarter finals. But in turn, the back -- the great back Alessandro Nesta won't be playing for the Italians. At this stage the odds are that the Germans are going to win. Odds on favorites that 5- 4, the Italians, and 2-1 -- Hala.

GORANI: All right.

Becky Anderson live in Berlin -- Jim.

CLANCY: Two of Iran's allies are encouraging Tehran to respond and respond quickly to that package of international incentives it's been offered that are designed to end the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Russia and China, both vote-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, and they have opposed sanctions in the past. Iran has until the 12th of July to respond to the incentives offer or face action by the United Nations Security Council.

GORANI: Just ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, two nations, two railroads, and two very different stories.

CLANCY: Spain mourning the victims of a subway crash in an accident that could have been avoided.

GORANI: But China celebrates the opening of a rail link to the remote Tibetan capital. A fantastic voyage to the roof of the world coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CLANCY: Welcome back, everyone. This is YOUR WORLD TODAY, where we bring our viewers around the globe up to speed on the most important international stories of the day.

With no clear winner after a preliminary counts and claims of millions of missing votes, Mexicans are still anxiously awaiting an official count of the ballots in Sunday's presidential election. The poll is one the U.S. in particular watching closely, and not just because the two nations are neighbors. The outcome could determine whether Mexico becomes the latest Latin American country to move to the left.

Harris Whitbeck has more on the political cliffhanger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after the elections in Mexico, and both main candidates proclaimed themselves the winner. The Federal Electoral Institute says it will begin a formal count district by district on Wednesday.

Preliminary figures give conservative candidate Felipe Calderon a slight lead over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. A nervous population awaits a resolution.

"We're going from bad to worse," this voter said. "We don't know who won, and whether we want it or not, they will end up telling us who our next president will be."

This woman said she felt deceived because she still doesn't know the election results.

At the Electoral Institute, the five experts responsible for the vote count said their methodical process will take some time, but that it will be trustworthy. Election commissioners say the race is so tight they have to be extra careful in processing the results.

"We've never had a situation like this before," he said. "Our preliminary results do not give us a clear winner."

The high turnout may be evidence of Mexicans' faith in the democrat process, but this election poses new challenges for Mexico's young democracy.

(on camera): Not only is Mexico entered uncharted waters with a disputed election, but whoever becomes this country's next leader will have no majority in Congress and will have to acknowledge that two- thirds of Mexicans voted for other candidates.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Mexico City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Taking you now to Spain, a nation in mourning this day. It has just learned that a deadly train derailment probably could have been avoided. Forty-one people died and dozens were injured as the train left the tracks in a tunnel under the Mediterranean city of Valencia.

Aneesh Raman joins us now live from Valencia, Spain, with the latest on what we know on the circumstances surrounding that accident -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hala, good afternoon.

We're standing -- it's a little loud right now -- just outside the main cathedral in Valencia. This is where a memorial service will begin in just under an hour.

A press conference earlier today from authorities. The headline being, "This Should Not Have Happened."

The driver of the train, they say, was driving twice the regulated speed as he made that turn out of Jesus Station (ph) in downtown Valencia. That, they say, is definitively, it seems, what caused this crash. They do not know at the moment why the train was traveling at twice the speed, and they say they will perform an autopsy on the driver's body to find out if there are any clues there.

Meantime, as you say, this is a country and this is a city in mourning, in shock. Earlier today, five minutes of silence were observed in Valencia and west of us in the capital of Madrid. And in about an hour, this memorial service will get under way.

In attendance will be members of the Spanish royal member, along with Spain's prime minister. But the people here are just literally in shock.

Earlier, I was out at the main funeral home in Valencia. One by one, families were exiting, having paid their last respects to relatives inside. The mood were incredibly somber. And just a few minutes earlier I was over at the Jesus Station (ph). There a vigil has been set up to commemorate those that have died -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Aneesh Raman, thanks for that live report from Valencia.

CLANCY: The security front in Iraq. He had 19 bodyguards to protect him, he still got kidnapped.

GORANI: We'll tell you about that abduction in Iraq next.

CLANCY: Also, in the latest in a series of murder investigations that involve U.S. troops in Iraq, this one involves rape as well.

And...

GORANI: Yak meet for lunch? And don't forget your oxygen mask all aboard the Beijing-Tibet express for an exhilarating ride on a new but also controversial Chinese railway.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta. More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in a few minutes.

First, though, let's check on stories making headlines here in the U.S.

Airborne on the Fourth of July, never been done before for a space shuttle. But just over two hours from now the space shuttle Discovery is due to lift off from Kennedy Space Center. NASA officials are keeping a close eye on the weather.

Here to set the stage, CNN's John Zarrella.

John, hello.

ZARRELLA: Hi Daryn.

And you can see right now the closeout crew there. They're just about ready. They've got the hatch closed. They're actually a little bit ahead of schedule, about 10 minutes or so.

That doesn't mean they can leave early, though. Still looking at a 2:38 p.m. launch coming up.

The weather, yes, it's still an issue, but right now everything is green, and that's good. The weather forecasters here believe that the cloud cover that they have right now will clear enough that they'll be able to get off the ground on time.

The only other issue, which is borderline, is a crosswind component that's blowing from east to west. Of course, the landing strip here is a north-south landing strip. And should there be an emergency return to the landing site, we're talking about a giant glider coming back to Earth. And they don't want any crosswinds to affect that.

Now, it's never been attempted before and no one wants to see that, but again, the crosswinds have to be taken into consideration. Again, now we see that they're closing it up there, the hatch. Earlier today the astronauts were all smiles as they suited up over in the operations and checkout building.

Then they boarded the bus to head out to launch pad 39-B. And they've spent about the last hour or so, Daryn, getting ready and making the final preparations for a liftoff here, hopefully Fourth of July liftoff in just a couple of hours -- Daryn.

KAGAN: It will be making some history.

John Zarrella, in Florida, thank you.

On to other news today, while we keep up that picture of that live feed from NASA.

We tell you now that war and peace, service and sacrifice all themes as President Bush celebrated the fourth at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In a speech, the president thanked the soldiers for their role in bringing freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq. And he reiterated the U.S. will not retreat in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to make you this promise. I'm not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 troops who have died in Iraq to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Mr. Bush had lunch with the troops. Dessert was a birthday cake. He turns bill 60 on Thursday.

And that is also the night that you can see President Bush and Mrs. Bush on "LARRY KING LIVE." That's this Thursday, 9:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.

Let's talk about the weather, because a lot of folks might be thinking about that today. Jacqui Jeras has her eye on that.

Hi, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Daryn.

(WEATHER REPORT)

Be sure to stay with CNN and "LIVE FROM" for special coverage of today's launch of the space shuttle Discovery. It begins at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 Pacific.

YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.

I'm Daryn Kagan. You have a great holiday, and I will see you tomorrow morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CLANCY: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Jim Clancy.

GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani here are some of the top stories we're following for you. And the astronauts are onboard and the countdown continues. You see picture there, now the space shuttle "Discovery" is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida just about two hours from now. NASA officials have given the green light despite a tiny crack in the shuttle's insulating foam that was found. Weather conditions have delayed the launch twice already. We'll keep an eye out for that.

CLANCY: In Spain officials say the underground commuter train that derailed in Valencia was traveling at twice its speed limit; 41 people were killed in that wreck on Monday. Spain paused for five minutes of silence commemorating the victims. The government declared three days of mourning.

GORANI: Israel is keeping the military heat on Gaza as it presses for the unconditional release of a soldier kidnapped nine days ago. Israel let a deadline pass early Tuesday. Palestinians militants holding the Israeli solider had demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for him, and the Palestinian prime minister has called on the abductors once against to do no harm to the soldier and give negotiations another chance -- Jim.

CLANCY: Just shy of one year ago, British Muslim carried out suicide bombings in the London underground and aboard the bus. Now as Matthew Chance reports from London a new poll reveals that the feelings that caused that the attack remain very much alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He fought and died for his country. Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi was killed in Afghanistan, only the latest British casualty there, but the first British Muslim soldier to die fighting the Taliban. He was just 24. His brother spoke to journalists about his loss.

ZEESHAN HASHMI, JABRON HASHMI'S BROTHER: I'm extremely proud of what he has done, because I personally believe and he felt the same way that we personally, sort of, being Muslim British Pakistanis we were in a position to make a difference and to build bridges between different communities and different ideologies.

CHANCE: But those sentiments come amid increasing divided loyalties among Corporal Hashmi's 1.6 million fellow British Muslims. A year since the London bombings, new statistics compiled in a Times/ITV poll reveal their unsettling views. According to the survey, 13 percent of British Muslims see the London bombers as martyrs, a worrying seven percent believe suicide attacks in Britain can be justified, another two percent said they'd be proud if a family member joined al Qaeda.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: You cannot defeat this extremism through whatever a government does. You can only defeat it if there are people inside the community who are going to stand up.

CHANCE: And the grim picture corresponds with increased police activity. Officials say anti-terrorism officer have been gathering more intelligence, enabling them to widen their investigations.

PETER CLARKE, LONDON ANTI-TERRORISM BRANCH: We've charged 41 people since last summer with terrorism offenses in the United Kingdom. That's unprecedented. There are now some 60 people awaiting trials on terrorist charges in the U.K. That too is unprecedented. The level of the investigation is not abating, if anything it's getting more intense.

CHANCE: And stoking national fears of more terrorists in Britain's midst.

(on camera): It clearly is a dangerous segment of British Muslim society that supports acts of terrorism, rooting them out is rightly a priority. What the latest statistics show is that the vast majority of this community are law-abiding, loyal subjects, proud to be British and Muslim, too.

(voice-over): Fifty-six percent of those Muslim's polled said the British government is not doing enough to fight extremism in their community, 50 percent said British intelligence have the right to infiltrate their organizations, and 35 percent said they'd be proud if a family member joined not al Qaeda, but the police.

But activists are concerned police tactics unfairly target the Muslim community, driving them to embrace extremism.

DR. MOHAMMED BARI, MUSLIM LEADER: We've got serious perception of the immunity that police have got wrong in their intelligence, and that's why you see high-profile arrests only to be -- saying they are released without any charged. So this gives the perception in the community that the community probably is targeted.

CHANCE: And that perception may threaten the gains of the past year, despite the arrests and the flowing intelligence, Britain could still prove at risk.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: Well, China is on a mission to try to weld its populace modern east with its rural and isolated west.

GORANI: And a very visible and expensive symbol of that effort is a new railway line between Beijing and Lhasa in Tibet.

CLANCY: Straight ahead, here on YOUR WORLD TODAY, a travel log of the first journey between those two very different places.

GORANI: And triumph over adversity. An Iraq war veterans turns athlete after sustaining combat wounds that could have killed him. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Welcome back. YOUR WORLD TODAY seen live in more than 200 countries across the globe. This is CNN International. All right, we invite you now to accompany us on a fantastic journey, a trip no one had experienced before. It's a new rail route across China. It took Dan Rivers two days to make the ride of 4,000 kilometers, that's 2,400 from Beijing to the Tibetan capital. He reports on his extraordinary odyssey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A high-tech "all aboard" on huge computer display for the first Beijing to Tibet express. China's dream of offering a passenger train service from Beijing to one of the most provinces has finally been realized after 40 years.

(on camera): Well, this will be one of the great epic train journeys in the world. I'm about to board the very first Beijing to Lhasa express. We're going to travel 4,000 kilometers across China, about two and a half thousand miles and we're going to climb almost 17,000 feet, about five and a half thousand meters. It promises to be quite a ride.

(voice-over): It might have been commissioned by communists, but the high-tech rail cars were built by a Canadian company. Because the train traveling so high, the carriages are filled with extra oxygen to minimize altitude sickness. And if that doesn't work, there's always warm American beer served with flat screen DVD entertainment or propaganda, depending on your view.

There's no doubt this is an engineering feat of staggering proportions costing $4.2 billion involving 100,000 workers in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. But critics say the line has already scarred this virgin landscape irreparably and could change Tibetan culture forever.

I'd be kind if a described the cabins as cozy, but many passengers pass the 48-hour journey without even a bed.

Lee Nan (ph) is perhaps the oldest man on board. The 82-year-old says he's been looking forward to this journey from the start. The communists planned the project more than 40 years ago, but not everyone is so upbeat. Zuksi Suran (ph) is a recently graduated Tibetan student. He's worried Tibetan culture will be further diluted by a large influx of Han Chinese to Tibet who'll be able to get to the remote mountain province far quicker and cheaper than ever before.

I watch the awesome scenery slide past. As we ascend the air gets thinner and staff advise us on using oxygen mask.

(on camera): We're now on the highest stretch of railway track anywhere in the world. My altimeter has gone over 5,070 meters, more than 16,000 feet and even in this oxygen-enriched carriage I'm short of breath. I can only imagine how the people who built this railway were suffering.

(INAUDIBLE) lake glides past, hundreds of yaks graze in the pasture. At lunch I get a chance to taste yak meat. As we near Lhasa, the track is guarded by military police, alone but on guard just in case. It has been a spectacular journey and represents a spectacular change for Tibet, allowing access like never before.

(on camera): For the first time ever, rail passengers are arriving here in Lhasa from Beijing. Next year it's estimated 4,000 people a day will arrive into this once remote mountain province.

Huffing and puffing a bit, Dan's made it into Lhasa proper. We talked to him a short time ago while it was still daylight there and asked him how they felt after reaching their high-altitude destination.

Dan River, CNN, Lhasa, Tibet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: Huffing and puffing a bit, Dan's made it into Lhasa proper. We talked to him just a short time ago while it was still daylight there, and began by asking him how he and the rest of the passengers really felt after reaching their high altitude designation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS: We were all incredibly out of breath when we picked up our bags and walked to the waiting coaches and naturally I'm still out of breath now. You know, climbing stairs and things here is really hard work, you know. You really feel the altitude. You feel your heart racing, so it is a very big adjustment to make.

CLANCY: What does this railway really mean for change? We heard there a young man who is fearful it could dilute the culture of Tibet. At the same time, other people have hopes, don't they?

RIVERS: Yes, I mean, absolutely. I think a lot of Tibetans are broadly hopeful about this railway. I mean, a lot of people at the end of the day, they want the economy here to grow. They want to make a good living. They want to make some money, and there's no doubt that this railway is going to make trade easier it's going reduce the cost of the products in the shops because they don't have to be brought in by a long road journey and it's going to enable them to get out of Tibet easily and get back in again so that there may be people leaving Tibet for jobs and so on in Beijing. So, there may be a bit of migration in both ways, Han Chinese coming in to work and Tibetans going out to seek work as well.

But that is what the critics are worried about. This is -- was anyway, one of the most remote places on earth cut off really from the outside world, for all intense purposes. And suddenly it's this high- speed link into a city of 14 million people, the capital of China. There's bound to be a change here and the worry is that it'll dilute this unique culture here. That there will be international firms opening up, international hotels, you know, all the Western brands will start to arrive in force as the number of tourists increase.

CLANCY: Dan, China is growing more confident that the economy and the railway, perhaps, it is possible, is going to raise their stature, raise their competitiveness, if you will, with the most popular single figure in Tibet, the Dalai Lama. Talks between China and the Dalai Lama broke down. What does all of this mean?

RIVERS: Well, they spoke to us today, the chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region spoke to us today about the Dalai Lama. He was really critical about the Dalai Lama. He didn't mince his words, he said that the Dalai Lama had using tactics to internationalize the issue of Tibetan independence and that the Dalai Lama must recognize that Tibet is a part of China, and there's no argument about that.

And he calls -- he said that he'd been using tactics of deceit, he's been engaged in separatist activities. Those are some pretty fierce words there. It doesn't sound like there's any reproach (ph) in between the two sides. The Dalai Lama has offered to come back to the Potala Palace, behind me, his former residence, and to take up residence and retire effectively and has promised not to cause any trouble. But I don't think the Chinese authorities are interested in the least.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: All right, Dan Rivers reporting from the top of the world. Thank you for being with us, Dan. Great story.

GORANI: All right, and so many levels to that story, economic, political, you name it. A lot more to come here on YOUR WORLD TODAY.

CLANCY: The story of a wounded U.S. soldier who found new freedom in the confines of his wheelchair.

GORANI: And as NASA gets closer to go-time with today's shuttle's lunch, we'll take a look at your thoughts on the cost of space travel.

CLANCY: Plus, a World Cup with a different kind of moves, the belly dancing battle straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: We have a control room view of some of the fireworks. Well, she's 230 years old, but as nations go, she's still considered a youngster.

CLANCY: That's certainly right, from east to west, north to south, the United States of America marking its birth as a nation with fireworks, picnics, and a lot more.

GORANI: In the capital the Nation Archives celebrated the Declaration of Independence with a special reading of the document.

CLANCY: And around the country, the U.S. Immigration Service is hosting citizenship ceremonies. These are always good, some 18,000 new Americans today -- Hala.

GORANI: Right here in Atlanta some 55,000 thousand strapped on their running shoes for the annual Peach Tree Road Race, billed as the biggest 10 kilometer run in the world.

CLANCY: Well, not to forget the really big events. At Coney Island in New York City, participants, shown here, weighing in for Nathan's Annual International Hot Dog eating contest.

GORANI: The winner is whoever can wolf down, and wolf down is the only suitable term, the most sausages in a bun in 12 minutes.

CLANCY: That's pretty disgusting, but it's interesting as well. For most Americans there's going to be plenty of hot dogs and fireworks, but all that comes later. GORANI: But in the true spirit of independence, Chicago started its celebrations a day early. Most of the U.S. send off their fireworks, of course, a bit later tonight when the sun goes down.

CLANCY: We're actually glad they did. We now have some pictures that we can show you of fireworks this year. Well, it was the U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt who once said freedom can't be bestowed, it must be achieved.

GORANI: Well, in the spirit of Independence Day, CNN's Jonathan Freed has the story of one veteran who fights the odds every day to win back a more personal brand of freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN FREED, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brian Anderson will tell you he's a speed freak.

BRIAN ANDERSON, IRAQ VETERAN TRIPLE AMPUTEE: It's off-road, too.

FREED: The 25-year-old army specialist lost both legs and his left arm while serving in Iraq when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive bomb. Some say what's remarkable about Brian is not just how well he's recovered physically and emotionally, but how quickly. The incident only happened last October.

ANDERSON: I'm looking at my hand, and this hand was gone and I looked up and saw my legs were gone and I was just like, wow.

FREED: Just five months later, others were saying wow as they watched Brian skiing and rock climbing at a veteran's event in Colorado.

ANDERSON: It was really cool to see all those, you know, veterans, you know, how their spirit, you know, and attitudes are. It's just unbelievable.

FREED: That experience prompted Brian to say yes to an invitation to the National Veteran's Wheelchair games being held this week in Alaska. We caught up with him as he was getting ready to make the trip.

ANDERSON: I could care less if I come in dead last, you know, as long as we have fun and you know, and meet some cool people.

FREED: But he admits it's not always easy to stay motivated.

ANDERSON: It bothers me a little bit, but you what, you have two options, roll over and die or get up and do what you need to do and...

FREED (on camera): Does this chair let you express your true personality?

ANDERSON: Yes. You know, get the independence of not having people to push you around and it's fast.

FREED (voice-over): Brian is one of only four triple amputees to survive combat wounds in Iraq, something he reflects on regularly.

ANDERSON: There's nothing really to explain about. I'm here, I'm alive. I still have my family and my friends. That's the most important thing.

FREED: Despite his sacrifice, Brian says that people still serving overseas are the real heroes.

Jonathan Freed, CNN, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: Great story.

GORANI: Absolutely. Now, lift-off for the shuttle "Discovery" is planned for just a short time for now, and we've made it the subject of our "Inbox" today.

CLANCY: We asked this question, is space exploration worth the cost?

GORANI: All right. Harry -- it's billions of dollars, of course. Harry in the U.S. state of Maine doesn't think so, writing, "With people on earth starving, each launch could feed thousands of dying children. It seems wasteful when this planet isn't' safe for our people."

CLANCY: But this from Virginia, Jonathan writes, "The tragedy is how the American public has forgotten our heritage of exploration. We shouldn't be couch potatoes, but rather continue to explore."

GORANI: Now Jason in Canada agrees and feels, "The sheer volume of scientific invention that comes from the U.S.' NASA program makes it well worth the cost."

CLANCY: A lot of different views there. NASA officials hoping a small crack in the shuttle's insulation isn't going to cause the orbiter to shimmy and shake today.

GORANI: Right, but in a competition in Egypt what a transition, shaking is exactly what judges want to see. Kevin Flowers explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN FLOWERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it the other World Cup. The World Cup of belly dancing. Dozens of international contestants showing off their shakes, spins, and gravity-defying moving not attempted by mere mortals. All trying to win the Golden Crown in Egypt's International Belly Dancing Competition. Twelve hundred belly dancers, all shapes and sizes in Cairo to shake their bellies.

Belly dancing is one of the Egypt's biggest cultural exports and growing worldwide. You won't see any Egyptian women shimmying here. This battle of the bellies is for foreigners only. Egypt's most famous dancer says the explanation is simple. DINA, EGYPTIAN BELLY DANCER: Belly dancing is our dance and when we compete with foreigner we win. This is not fair.

FLOWERS: A rare chance for non-Egyptians to strut their snuff in the birthplace of belly dancing.

FRANCESCA RUSSO, AMERICAN BELLY DANCER: I'm exciting. I'm in Egypt. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

FLOWERS: American Francesca Russo started dancing for therapy after a knee operation. Five years later she is teaching and competing.

(on camera): How did it go?

RUSSO: Oh my god, I think it went OK. The judges looked tough.

FLOWERS: And belly dancing is big business. Dozens of merchants come to this festival every year selling the latest in belly dancing apparel and accessories. In fact, outfits like these can range in price from $100 to thousands.

(voice-over): But the dancers are not judged on their costumes. Judges here look at technique, musical understanding, stage presence and overall presentation. In the end, not all bellies are created equal. So this night it wasn't the amazing displays of abdominal discipline that captured the judges' imagination, it was the graceful twists and turns of American dancer, Bozenka, winning her the Golden Crown. Then, if that wasn't enough, Egyptian dancer Nancy and her equestrian friend stole the night, not by competing but by performing and showing the rest of the world why Egypt remains the home of belly dancing.

Kevin Flowers, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: That's it for us.

CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy.

GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani, stay with CNN.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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