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YOUR WORLD TODAY

New Outbreaks of Violence in Iraq After Sadr City Attacks; Radioactive Element Found in Body of Ex-Spy; Vladimir Putin Denies Kremlin Involvement in Poisoning

Aired November 24, 2006 - 12:00   ET

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


RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Death by radiation. A former Russian spy added to the list of Kremlin critics who have been silenced. From his death bed, Alexander Litvinenko blames Moscow.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: One after one, the coffins come in the aftermath of Iraq's deadliest day since the U.S.- led invasion.

VASSILEVA: A reminder of troubles past. A notorious Protestant militant storms the northern Ireland assembly. Later, police diffuse explosive devices.

MANN: And battle of the apes. It's South African versus Cameroon in a custody fight over gorillas stolen as babies. Do they belong in the zoo or out in the wild?

It is 8:00 p.m. in Moscow, 5:00 p.m. in Belfast.

Hello and welcome to our report broadcast around the globe.

I'm Jonathan Mann.

VASSILEVA: And I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

From Africa to the Middle East, wherever you are watching us, this YOUR WORLD TODAY.

MANN: Thanks for joining us.

We begin in Baghdad, where sectarian tensions are boiling over after Thursday's devastating attack on Shia Muslims. Shia gunmen have attacked mosques and set homes ablaze in a Sunni neighborhood, and now U.S. and Iraqi troops are entering Sadr City, where more than 200 Shiites were killed a day earlier.

We bring in Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

Arwa, what's going on in Sadr City?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jonathan, the details are just coming in but, what we do know from the main spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr's political group is that Iraqi forces, backed by the U.S. military, entered Sadr City from two locations, from the eastern and northeastern portions of the city. They are conducting some sort of military operation, some sort of raid. According to Al Forat TV station -- that is the main Shia TV station here in Iraq -- coalition aircraft and helicopters are firing on residential buildings.

Now, we have contacted the U.S. military. They are unable to confirm any of these reports, have said that they're looking into this incident. But this does come, as you just mentioned, just a day after one of the deadliest attacks in that area where at least 200 Iraqis lost their lives.

And what we heard on Al Forat TV station -- again, that TV station -- was condemnation of this raid, questioning why it would come the day after such a deadly attack. Sure to inflame already rising anger amongst the residents of Sadr City.

Again, they have borne the brunt of many military raids in that area happening over the last few weeks. Oftentimes, they are Iraqi special forces, backed by their coalition advisers, most of the time targeting kidnapping cells. And most of the time after these operations, we do hear from the residents of Sadr City, stories of how destructive these are to their day-to-day lives -- Jonathan.

MANN: And so, just to make this clear to people, yesterday these terrible attacks, where today U.S. and Iraqi forces are themselves involved.

DAMON: Exactly. And that same exact area of Sadr City where we saw yesterday's violence, today we are seeing a military operation. Details on it very fuzzy right now, but yesterday's attacks really sparked a new cycle of sectarian violence here.

We have also seen over the last few hours a number of Sunni mosques attacked, some with rocket-propelled grenades. Others burnt to the ground. We saw over the last 24 hours, a series of mortar attacks against Sunni neighborhoods.

This is all despite a government-imposed curfew whose intention was meant to curb these retaliatory attacks meant to bring down the levels of violence. And all of this as the victims from yesterday's attacks are still being buried.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice over): Like Iraq's immeasurable grief, the funeral procession seemed endless. Hundreds of mourners packed the streets of Sadr City, escorting over 200 coffins. Victims of the bloodiest attacks since the war started in 2003.

The dead were casualties of at least five car bombs that exploded on Thursday in the Shia slum of Sadr City, a Mehdi militia stronghold loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Addressing crowds in Sadr City after Friday prayers, a deputy of al-Sadr raised both the political and military stakes ahead of a scheduled meeting between the U.S. president and Iraqi prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If the prime minister goes ahead and meets with the criminal Bush in Amman, we will suspend our membership in the Iraq government. All the people know we have enough power to react and to respond, but for the sake of Iraqi unity and for the interests of the Iraqi people, we will follow our leaders.

DAMON: Now the prime minister finds himself in a precarious situation. Nouri al-Maliki largely owes his job to the support of Sadr's bloc, but he cannot afford to alienate the United States.

The political turmoil and violence comes at the end of a week with increasingly brazen attacks against government institutions and a surge in sectarian bloodshed. On the empty streets of Baghdad, a city under lockdown in an effort to control the violence, one resident summed up the chaos.

"At the end of the day we are all losers," Hassan said. "This is our home, our country."

Most U.S. and Iraqi officials will not say Iraq is in a civil war. But many Iraqis look at the growing numbers of bodies filling morgues, the ethnic cleansing in neighborhoods, and the escalating violence, and say the civil war started long ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: The Iraqi prime minister's next move, whether or not he bows down to those requests from Muqtada al-Sadr or if he goes ahead with his meeting with U.S. President Bush, are really going to highlight who the powerbrokers here are.

Meanwhile, the prime minister still has to deal with the violence that has just erupted. In fact, just now, we are getting more reports of more attacks against Sunni residents -- Jonathan.

MANN: Arwa Damon, in Baghdad.

Thanks very much.

VASSILEVA: Well, as his life slipped away, a former Russian spy left a message for President Putin: "You may succeed in silencing me, but that silence comes at a price."

MANN: This is an extraordinary story. It seems like drama, it seems like cinema, but this is unfolding right now.

Russia's president has his own message to the world. He is defying accusations that the Kremlin had anything to do with the death of the spy defector who has been killed in London.

VASSILEVA: And all this coming as doctors say they now know how Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned.

MANN: We have reports from both London and Moscow.

We start with Jim Boulden in London -- Jim.

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We may not know who yet, but we do know what. British health authorities told us a few hours ago that the former Russian spy was, indeed, exposed to a heavy dose of radiation. They think it was polonium 210.

This is a natural-causing (ph), also industrial-made radiation. And they now say he was exposed to this very likely at a sushi restaurant on November 1st here in London. And now they are trying to find out if anybody he came in contact, whether authorities here where he died yesterday at this hospital, or another hospital in London, or any other location, was also exposed to this radiation.

We heard earlier today from Professor Robert Cox. He's an expert in radiation. This is what he said about this extraordinary case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROBERT COX, BRITISH HEALTH PROTECTION AGENCY: At around 6:00 p.m. yesterday, HPA at its radiation protection division received information via the police that a large quantity of alpha radiation probably from a substance called Polonium 210 -- which I'll say something about a little later on -- so this large quantity of alpha radiation had been detected in the urine of Mr. Litvinenko. The links between Mr. Litvinenko's symptoms and this alpha radiation exposure is a matter for the police, and I cannot comment further on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOULDEN: Now, earlier today, friends and family of the former Russian spy who died yesterday came out here and they said that they very firmly believe that he had been killed by enemies in the Kremlin.

This man was an extraordinary man. He had been an agent for the KGB and the FSB, then defected here and wrote several books. And he said he was exposing the corruption of the Putin government, and that's why he was targeted.

He himself wrote a letter that was given to us today just a few days ago, and he blames President Putin for all of this and for the death of other people. But, of course, now that the radiation has been confirmed, this is no longer just a criminal matter for the British police. The British Foreign Office has said that they have contacted Moscow and that they are taking this as a "very serious matter" -- Jonathan.

MANN: Jim Boulden in London.

Thanks very much -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Well, Jon, Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the former spy's death as a tragedy, denying that the Kremlin had a hand in it.

Let's go now live to Ryan Chilcote in Moscow for more reaction.

So we just heard Jim reporting that the British government is considering this to be a very serious matter. What is the reaction from Moscow?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Russian president spent the day in Helsinki, Finland. He was there to attend the EU-Russia summit.

About three hours ago, there was a press conference there. One of the very first questions he was asked was for his reaction to Mr. Litvinenko's poisoning and his death. Here's what the Russian president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): A death of a man is always a tragedy. And I deplore this and I would extend my condolences to the family of Mr. Litvinenko.

But as far as I understand in the medical statement of British physicians, it doesn't say that this was a result of violence, or this is not a violent death. So there is no ground for speculations of this kind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHILCOTE: There you hear the Russian president brushing aside those allegations that the Kremlin might be behind the poisoning of Mr. Litvinenko. A very interesting shift we've seen here in Moscow since the beginning of the day, when Russian officials were saying they weren't going to respond directly to these allegations because they were so absurd and that it was impossible, as they put it, to respond to nonsense.

That position, however, appears to have changed. In a very unorthodox move, Russia's spy agency just granted us an interview. During that interview, not only did the spokesman for the Russian spy agency say that they had nothing to do with Mr. Litvinenko's poisoning or his death, but they explained why that would be, in their opinion, absurd, starting out by saying that in their mind, Mr. Litvinenko -- and I'm now using the spokesman's words -- was "a nobody," that there are a lot of Russian traitors out there that are of much greater significance to the Russian spy agency that are walking freely, that no one has ever touched. So why would they bother with Mr. Litvinenko?

He also went on to say that Russia would never do something like this at a time of such important and good relations between Russia and the U.K.

And finally, he said Russia is not the Soviet Union. He said the climate and -- has completely changed inside of Russia's secret services, and Russia simply doesn't carry out any political assassinations anymore. In fact, he said Russia hasn't carried out a political assassination since 1959, when the Soviet Union assassinated a Ukrainian nationalist in Germany -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Ryan Chilcote, live in Moscow.

Thank you very much.

Well, prominent critics of the Kremlin have not fared well recently. Later this hour, we'll take a closer look at what some are calling a very disturbing trend -- Jonathan.

MANN: Still ahead, chaos erupts in Belfast when a parliamentary killer disrupts (INAUDIBLE) talks in parliament.

VASSILEVA: Just ahead, we will assess how the incident could throw the peace process in northern Ireland off track.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VASSILEVA: Welcome back to CNN International.

MANN: You are watching YOUR WORLD TODAY, where we bring CNN's viewers around the globe the most important international stories of the day.

Our top stories this hour, chaos in Iraq. Shiite militiamen taking out their frustration on U.S. forces and Sunni neighbors after the single worst sectarian attack of the war.

And a Putin critic silenced. A former KGB agent accuses the Russian president of murder before his death at a hospital in London.

VASSILEVA: Now to northern Ireland, where a bomb threat forced the evacuation of the parliamentary building. Police say a known Protestant extremist threw a live device at a security staff at the entrance of the building Stormont. That happened just as politicians gathered to talk about re-establishing self rule. And in the aftermath, police diffused at least six explosive devices.

Paula Newton is following the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep going back! Come on!

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As if politics in northern Ireland aren't explosive enough, a determined paramilitary killer burst into the parliamentary buildings and lobbed a smoking bag at security as he tried to break his way in. What followed was chaos, as authorities tried to restrain and subdue notorious loyalist Michael Stone, who just refuses to give up.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Stormont was evacuated and critical political brokering stopped. It was a confusing scene as Stone struggled outside with police. A red graffiti slur singling out the IRA emblazoned on the historic building.

The attack interrupted what was already a turbulent day inside the parliament, as the Democratic Unionists and the Catholic-backed Sinn Fein tried to hash out a power-sharing agreement that has already had too many stops and starts to count. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our problems is facing a most important crisis. I pray god that it will make the right choice in this hour of crisis.

NEWTON: British prime minister Tony Blair pleaded for all sides to show calm and conciliation.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's precisely what should make us more resolute in consigning that type of activity to the past and making sure that democratically-elected politicians are able to exercise their democratically-given power.

NEWTON: The ploy by a determined extremist could not have come at a worst time. Michael Stone is a symbol of struggles past here, boldly murdering three mourners at an IRA funeral in a gunning grenade attack in 1988 and released 12 years later. His freedom, a concession for the Good Friday peace accord.

And now here he is, arrested, struggling with police. The very image of defiance.

"No surrender," he bellows, echoing the worst nightmares of many people here in northern Ireland.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: Strange day at Stormont.

Heading for a showdown. All signs pointing to a clash between the most powerful political forces in Lebanon next week.

VASSILEVA: The growing tension tops our check of other stories making news around the world at this hour.

After they briefly took to the streets to protest, Hezbollah supporters dispersed on orders from Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah. In the wake of the assassination of lawmaker Pierre Gemayel, Hezbollah says it's put on hold for now its campaign against the western-backed government. Hezbollah is seeking, though, more political clout.

MANN: Thousands of Rwandans chanted anti-French songs and burned French flags protesting a French judge's order that President Paul Kagame there face a U.N. court. Kagame's indictment relates to the 1994 plane crash that killed the country's Hutu president and sparked the Rwandan genocide.

VASSILEVA: As the death toll from Israeli strikes in Gaza rises, Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh says militant factions have agreed to halt rocket fire only if Israel reciprocates by stopping its offensives in Gaza and the West Bank. Rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian militants killed an Israeli in Sderot on Tuesday.

MANN: Time now for a check on U.S. business.

VASSILEVA: Where the official start of the U.S. holiday shopping season is stealing all the attention from Wall Street.

(BUSINESS REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes, but first, a check on stories making headlines in the United States.

We want to update you on a story that is developing out of Miami at this hour. Live pictures now from our affiliate there, WFOR. Police say an armed man was seen walking into the building that houses "The Miami Herald" newspaper.

According to the newspaper's Web site, the man apparently had a handgun when he walked into the sixth floor newsroom of the Spanish- language newspaper "El Nuevo." He then demanded to see the executive editor.

It is not clear where the man is right now. The sixth floor has been evacuated, as you can see from these pictures. Police are still searching the building.

New and troubling developments out of Iraq today. A spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr says U.S. and Iraq forces, backed by helicopters, swept into Sadr City, a Shiite militia stronghold. The U.S. military says it is checking reports that there was an exchange of fire between troops and militia members.

This comes amid a new round of sectarian violence following yesterday's bloodbath in Sadr City targeting Shiites. It was the worst single attack in Iraq since the war began, and Sunnis are being blamed. Today, there were revenge attacks, including the burning of Sunni mosques.

The Associated Press also reports that six Sunni worshipers were burned alive. We are still working to confirm that report.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is now challenging a top Sunni leader to take steps to stop the violence. Meanwhile, al-Sadr's followers are threatening to boycott the government if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets with President Bush next week.

Stay with CNN for the very latest from Iraq.

The FBI is now offering a reward in the search for two young brothers missing in Minnesota. There has been no sign of the boys since they disappeared from the Red Lake Indian Reservation on Wednesday. They are 2 and 4 years old.

Today, the FBI posted a $20,000 reward for information that leads to their safe return. Right now, authorities say they have little to go on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL MCCABE, FBI: We do not know any more information than we knew yesterday. We don't know if there's foul play or whether the children just wandered off into the woods.

There's no evidence at this time that leads us -- that there's foul play. We just want to make sure that we are not being narrowed- minded and that we are pursuing that angle, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Police and volunteers have been scouring the area where the boys were last seen. They're using horses, bloodhounds and four- wheelers to search the woods and the wetlands.

Long lines, big business. The holiday shopping season is here.

The day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Look out. It's called Black Friday because it is traditionally the day when retailers' profits go from red to black. Many stores opened early, offering deep discounts to shoppers.

Let's get check of weather now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: Cash for Caucasians. Do I have your attention? Yes, it is a college scholarship that has everybody talking. And then that's exactly the point.

Kyra Phillips and T.J. Holmes have that and all of the day's news at the top of the hour when "NEWSROOM" continues.

YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.

I'm Tony Harris.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VASSILEVA: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

In Iraq, there are reports that Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops are conducting a military operation in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. The Associated Press is reporting residents of Sadr City say a U.S. helicopter opened fire after Shiite militiamen attacked the aircraft. These raids come one day after a series of bombing attacks in Sadr City killed more than 200 people. There are new reports of revenge attacks on three Sunni mosques across Baghdad.

Medical examiners say they have found large amounts of a radioactive substance in the Alexander Litvinenko's body. The former Russian spy died Thursday night in a London hospital. Litvinenko was a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, and especially its role in the Chechen conflict. British health officials also say that levels of radiation have been found in a London sushi bar where Litvinenko ate just before he became sick.

President Putin was in Helsinki for a meeting with the European Union when news came of Litvinenko's death. He offered condolences to the family, but says his government had nothing to do with the death of the former spy.

Well, his story reads like a conspiracy from a cold war thriller. Full of mystery, intrigue and a dying accusation. We focus now on the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Jonathan Mann has more on that -- Jon.

MANN: Ralitsa, it does sound like a novel, and the most important point we have to make today on behalf of the Russian president is that he says it is not true. The Kremlin says the accusation that it's responsible is nonsense, but family and friends say that Litvinenko was targeted for death by his former bosses in Moscow. His murder adds another name to a growing list of Kremlin critics who have come under one kind of attack or another.

These are some of the faces. Many are from the media. More an a dozen journalists, for example, have been killed since Mr. Putin came to power back in the year 2000. Some of the other victims were much more powerful than that. They were among Russia's richest men. Many of the oil magnates and media tycoons are now in jail or in exile. Russia has also been accused of having a hand in the politics of its neighbors.

Speaking out against the government in Russia can be costly. Some examples now of those who have been silenced or sidelined in recent years. The first and most famous is journalist Anna Politkovsknaya. She was a fierce critic of the Kremlin and of Russia's war in Chechnya. She was killed at her apartment in October. Russian Central Bank deputy director Andrei Kozlov. He was gunned down near a Moscow football stadium one month earlier, back in September. Kozlov He was a supporter of further economic reform.

Then Mikhail Khordorkovsky, the former head of oil giant, Yukos, he is actually in prison. He was prosecuted. He was not physically harmed. He was once one of Russia's richest men with an interest in politics as well, an opponent of President Putin's. Last year he was sentenced to nine years behind bars for fraud and tax evasion.

Boris Berezovsky is elsewhere, out of the country entirely. He was often called Russia's first billionaire. He is in exile. He won a seat in the Russian Duma, fell out of favor and fled Russia. He was later charged with fraud and money laundering. Berezovsky now lives in France and in Britain, and has actually changed his name.

And then, Victor Yushchenko, a slightly different case. He is now the Ukranian president. Many accuse Moscow of being his poisoning during his 2004 election campaign. His face, you may recall, literally changed. It was darkened and pockmarked by the poison. Among those accusing the Kremlin of responsibility, the man who is now dead, the journalist Litvinenko.

For a closer look at Litvinenko's death and the danger of speaking out against those in power, we go now to Alexander Konanykhin. He says he, too, has been target for the Kremlin. He's a businessman who has now left Russia, fearing for his own life. Let me ask you, first of all, about the case we are now learning about. A man has died of apparently radiation poisoning in a London hospital. Do you see the Kremlin's hand there?

ALEX KONANYKHIN, AUTHOR, "DEFIANCE": Well, radiation poisoning pretty much out-rules a domestic dispute theory. He was not a businessman. So we could outrule a theory that he was murdered as a result of some kind of a business dispute. He was known for one thing and one thing only. He was one of the harshest critics of the Russian government. Specifically, he was the one who was a KGB colonel who -- or FSB colonel, as KGB is now known, who stated that it was known to him that it was actually former KGB who blew up buildings in Moscow in order to assure Putin's rise to power.

MANN: Now that itself is an astonishing accusation, that the Russian government conspired to kill hundreds of its own citizens in order to go to war. He made that accusation. But the Russian government says he's not important enough a man. His allegations were nonsensical, and it's not someone they would even want to kill, if they were in the business of killing people, which they insist they are not.

KONANYKHIN: I'm not sure of the Russian government sincere of that, because yes, there are indeed quite a few of other defectors, but those defectors caused some harm on the institution on the KGB. What was different about the case of Colonel Litvinenko is that he attacked personally President Putin. His rise to power. It was very personal. And it was from inside the FSB, or formerly KGB, the organization from which President Putin himself rose to the power.

MANN: Now, President Putin says it's nonsense. The Russian government is denying it. People who believe that there was official involvement, will they ever find out? Is this the kind of case to join others as a mystery, as a rumor, as an allegation that's never ultimately resolved?

KONANYKHIN: Well, who knows about the future and how evidentiary part is going to play out? It just -- many people in Russia and abroad got a message loud and clear. Not even in London you can be safe from the Russian government. That's what many people believe. And my own case, I've been targeted by the KGB since 1992. It showed to the Russian public who read about my case from hundreds of articles written about that, that you cannot be safe, even in the United States.

MANN: What did they do to you?

KONANYKHIN: Well, in 1992, when I was the owner and the president of the largest commercial bank in Russia, I was kidnapped in Hungary, in Budapest on my business trip by the KGB, and simultaneously with the kidnapping in Hungary, they seized by force my banks, my brokerage network and all of my organizations in Moscow. Fortunately, I managed to escape alive, and I fled to the United States.

MANN: But there are all kinds of terrible criminal acts carried out by criminals in Russia. It's a war zone there between armed gangs and mafia organizations. Could you, could Litvinenko both have been the victims of something that had nothing to do with the government?

KONANYKHIN: Well, as I mentioned earlier, Litvinenko was not a businessman, so it's highly unlikely that some criminal groups would be targeting him for extortion. They could be targeting me for extortion in 1992, but I knew personally the people that conducted all the kidnapping. So it wasn't a mystery for me who kidnapped me in 1992. And later, in 1995, the FBI approached me here in the United States and informed me that we discovered that contract placed on my life here in the United States. And they strongly advised me not to reveal my whereabouts to the Russian government, which was acting in conjunction to the assassination attempt.

MANN: Amazing story. It is hard to believe that it's true, but once again, there is a man lying dead in London on this day and we are all still waiting for the word on who took his life. The book is called "Defiance." Alexander Konanykhin, thank you so much for talking with us. Ralitsa back to you.

VASSILEVA: Thank you, Jon. And of course we will continue to cover the latest on Litvinenko's death in the coming hours.

To another story now representatives of Russia and the European Union had their eyes on the skies in Friday. At a meeting in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plan to do away with the irksome fees that airlines must now pay to transit Siberian airspace. Russia also used the occasion to reveal that it was shipping a new advanced surface to air missile system to Iran. That announcement may have been meant as a message to NATO, which is about to consider a controversial U.S. proposal to extend a Star Wars anti- missile system across Europe. Robin Oakley explains.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An oil rig blazes after a terrorist assault. A plane dives to extinguish the fire. Air-sea rescue teams pluck victims from the sea. Scenes from the next James Bond movie? No, this was "Exercise Galinigrad" (ph). A joint NATO- Russia rescue exercise maneuver.

In an age of global terrorism, such cooperative projects are increasing. But will they continue if NATO goes ahead with a latest plan being suggested for an Europe-wide missile defense system? The U.S. has for sometime been fashioning a missile shield, dubbed son of Star Wars, which would shoot out of the sky any nuclear armed missiles bound for America. Now, after a 10,000-page feasibility study, NATO's chief wants Europe to have similar protection. JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: I think, personally, that in the times we are living in, missile defense should have a more prominent place on the NATO agenda. And I hope that the summit will address this.

OAKLEY: America's ambassador, too, arouses expectations.

VICTORIA MULAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: This new study is about whether it might be feasible to deploy missile defenses to protect populations and territory on this side of the Atlantic. We have determined that it is feasible. So I think heads will take note of that.

OAKLEY: But Russia was angered by the initial U.S. plans which involve radar stations on the continent like Menwithill (ph) complex in Britain.

SERGEI IVANOV, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER (Oakley translating): "We wouldn't want anybody to get the impression this is something we fear. But this will require changes in our plan for military construction."

The failure of efforts to hold back nuclear proliferation in North Korea, and suspicions about Iran, have sparked the new European interest in a missile shield. But that won't ease Russia's concern despite NATO and America's efforts.

MULAND: We have also had intense consultations with the Russians about what might be involved about the actual hardware. About the fact that what we envision in no way, shape, or form threatens their deterrent capability. This is designed to handle a very small number of missiles from a different location.

OAKLEY: But one factor might hold things up.

SCHEFFER: It is, of course, very, very expensive, indeed. But the question is, what price do you want to pay as an ally when it concerns protecting your people?

OAKLEY (on camera): An European missile shield is clearly moving up the agenda. Experts say it can be done. The question is whether those European nations who've been reluctant to fund bug enough defense budgets to meet theirs and NATO's current needs will stump up the money to pay for it.

Robin Oakley, CNN, at NATO headquarters, Brussels.

MANN: And now for something completely different. Four baby gorillas at the center of a custody battle in Africa.

VASSILEVA: Just ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, we'll explain why South Africa and Cameroon are battling over these primates and what animal conservationists have to say. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MANN: Welcome back to CNN International.

VASSILEVA: Seen live in more than 200 countries across the globe. This is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

MANN: Now, if you don't know my in-laws, I could tell you that gorillas are among our closest living animal relatives.

VASSILEVA: Some have shown off their abilities to paint or learn sign language. Doing incredible things, but whoever thought that they could actually become globetrotters?

MANN: Four young gorillas have gone halfway across the world and now their journey will likely end where they were born. Alphonso Van Marsh has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lazy days at South Africa's National Zoological Gardens are numbered for these baby gorillas. Abby, Izon, Tinnu and Anoyan (ph), illegally smuggled out of western Africa four years ago, may soon be heading home. Good news for the baby apes but not for zoo visitors who have made the animals their favorites.

GERHARD VON GRUENEWALDT, NATL. ZOO, SOUTH AFRICA: People have an affinity for them because they're realizing they're our close relatives in nature.

VAN MARSH: The "Tiaping Four," as they're called, were confiscated from the Tiaping Zoo in Malaysia, where they ended up after being captured in Cameroon then shipped to Malaysia via Nigeria and South Africa -- a clear violation of international laws designed to protect endangered species.

The Tiaping Zoo's director told CNN he accepted the animals in good faith after being duped by forged permits. Faced with the facts, the Malaysian government in 2004 transferred the gorillas to South Africa's recently upgraded gorilla enclosure.

Today, the gorillas are a big tourist draw and some animal rights groups say they're better off in South Africa than in Cameroon where they might again become prey for poachers. Cameroon cried foul. Suggesting South Africa had zoo ticket sales, not primate conservation in mind. In a protest letter to Malaysian authorities, Cameroon's environment minister wrote that South Africa's National Zoo isn't the only zoo equipped for the rehabilitation of these animals. Other animal rights groups agreed.

NEIL GREENWOOD, INTL. FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE: There's probably no better result for these animals than to go back into an either completely wild or semi-release situation back in the country of origin.

VAN MARSH: Malaysian officials recently bowed to international pressure, granting the Limba (ph) wildlife center in Cameroon custody of the "Tiaping Four." The primates are expected to head home in December.

(on camera): Despite these gorillas' immense value at virtually any zoo around the world, how these four gorillas were first brought into this global drama is more likely a matter of local business. Animal rights activists say that the parents of these four gorillas were likely hunted and eaten as bush meat. As this zoo poster shows in some African cultures, gorilla meat is considered a delicacy.

VAN MARSH (voice-over): In a way, the "Tiaping Four" are lucky. The poachers who captured them realized, perhaps, because of the gorillas' size, they were worth more to international animal smugglers than to the local butcher.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Pretoria, South Africa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: Sad for the parents. Happy ending, I guess, finally.

VASSILEVA: As long as they're in a zoo and they can't be poached.

Well, coming up, hemispheric house calls. What that means, we'll explain.

MANN: Well, when the U.S. invaded Grenada, a lot of people were surprised that there were American medical students going there going to school, but there's another Caribbean island where future U.S. doctors are now learning their trade. It is every bit as controversial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VASSILEVA: Welcome back. Now we'll take you to Cuba, which has been a persona non grata in the eyes of the United States since 1962. Indeed, Americans are not allowed to travel to the island nation.

MANN: But peoples' ambitions and opportunity have transcended international politics.

VASSILEVA: That's right. As Morgan Neill discovered, some U.S. medical students have gone there to get their education.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, it comes as no surprise to find students from Mexico, Chile, Colombia or Guatemala.

But a closer look at the students relaxing between classes reveals an unexpected detail: the U.S. flag stitched to one young man's coat. That's because this med student is from Chicago. Michael Woods says he was drawn to Cuba by the school's commitment to serving underprivileged communities.

MICHAEL WOODS, MEDICAL STUDENT: For me, it was really coming back and serving the people. Like me, I was one that didn't have insurance. My credit is terrible just by my medical bills.

NEILL: Michael is one of some 100 Americans here. Despite the tight restrictions Washington places on U.S. citizens traveling to the island, they're here on full scholarships, paid by Cuba. Because of the high costs and tough admission standards of U.S. medical schools, scholarship study in Cuba is a godsend for many of these Americans.

AKIRA JACKSON, MEDICAL STUDENT: It offers an opportunity for people, as far as Americans, to see the world. We can watch CNN at home. We can listen to the radio at home, but to see it here is a totally different thing so it is like a mix of students from everywhere to where if you didn't know something about this country or that other country, you are learning it here.

NEILL: In some ways, medical school here is the same as anywhere: long hours studying and learning about the human body. But these graduates will have, perhaps, a greater focus on how to work without modern conveniences.

KEREESE GAYLE, MEDICAL STUDENT: We'll also know how to diagnose without the use of machines, just using our hands, using our eyes, using our ears.

NEILL: Studying in Cuba isn't easy. For one thing, all the classes are in Spanish and they have to get used to the spartan conditions and austere diet.

JACKSON: You basically have what you need. That's it. You basically have what you need, your beans, rice, you have your various forms of pork.

NEILL: But the biggest hurdle is yet to come. The first whole class of Americans won't graduate until next year. Then they'll have to pass U.S. licensing exams before they can practice at home. That's when they'll find out if six years of study in Fidel Castro's Cuba adds up to a medical career in the United States.

Morgan Neill, CNN, Havana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: It is a whole different kind of medicine -- low tech, hands on.

VASSILEVA: Yes, not using machines or just trying to figure out things by listening to the patient's symptoms.

Well, that is it for this hour. I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

MANN: I'm Jonathan Mann. This is CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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