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YOUR WORLD TODAY

West Bank Police Violently Disperse Protesters; Italy Student Murder; British Teacher in Khartoum Faces 40 Lashes for Naming Class Teddy Bear 'Muhammad'

Aired November 28, 2007 - 12:00   ET

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


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Forty lashes for a British teacher working in Sudan. Did she make an innocent mistake or commit a punishable offense?
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hope and handshakes at the White House, with meetings aimed to jump-start the peace process. The trouble is brewing in the territory under the Palestinian president's control.

SESAY: A potential breakthrough in Italy. Police say they have new evidence that could tie an American college student to a bizarre sex crime.

CLANCY: And would you spend more than $16 million for this? Well, somebody would. A record-setting sale for this Faberge egg.

SESAY: It's noon in Washington, D.C., 8:00 p.m. in Khartoum, Sudan.

Hello and welcome to our report seen around the globe.

I'm Isha Sesay.

CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy.

From Perugia to Peoria, from London to Laos, wherever you are watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

SESAY: Now, we begin with a developing story out of Khartoum, Sudan, where a British teacher faces jail time and a beating, all because she picked the wrong name for a stuffed animal.

Gillian Gibbons allowed her 7-year-old students to name their class teddy bear Muhammad. Now, that's a common name in Sudan, but also the name of Islam's prophet.

A short time ago, we learned authorities have charged Gibbons with insulting Islam and inciting racial hatred. Well, CNN is trying to get reaction from Gillian Gibbons' family, from the British government, and, of course, from Sudanese officials. When we get it, we will bring it to you -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right.

As the U.S. works to build momentum for its Middle East peace effort, a powerful regional player left out of the process trying to tear it down. Today, President George W. Bush is meeting with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the White House, just a day after they agreed in public to resume negotiations.

Creating a Palestinian state is the main goal. But with that comes the hope that extremists in the region will be deprived of their own powerful rallying cry.

Iran, a country that Washington accuses of fueling extremism in the region, says this peace effort will fail. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also says Israel itself is, in his words, doomed to collapse.

Well, after those meetings, President Bush will appear in the White House Rose Garden with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Join us later on YOUR WORLD TODAY for live coverage of Mr. Bush's statement. That's about two hours from now.

SESAY: Well, as the hands clasped and cameras flash in Washington, the situation in the West Bank is tense after the second day of protests against the summit turned violent.

As Ben Wedeman reports from Hebron, police loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas are using heavy-handed tactics to silence public dissent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Gunfire cuts short a funeral as the Palestinian Authority lashes out for a second day at critics of its participation in the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference in Annapolis. More than 1,000 mourners had shown up in Hebron for the funeral of 36-year-old Hishan Baradim (ph), shot dead by police Tuesday during a protest against Annapolis.

The Palestinian Authority, nervous over the level of opposition, is having none of it. Since the conference opened, it has crushed demonstrations here in Hebron, in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus. The crackdown fuel for critics.

MAHER JAABARI, ISLAMIC LIBERATION PARTY: These demonstrations have made it very clear that the people of Palestine are not considering any of those who are meeting in Annapolis as representative of the people.

WEDEMAN: These outbursts of dissent raising the question, how firm is the grip of the authority on the territory nominally under its control?

(on camera): After two days of violent clashes between the Palestinian Authority and opponents of the Annapolis meeting, there are worries that the West Bank is going the way of Gaza.

(voice over): These are scenes the Palestinian Authority doesn't want the world to see. The authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, seems determined to silence dissent, following in the footsteps of other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. But the heavy hand and the trenching (ph) aren't winning the authority of many admirers.

"Arabs attacking Arabs is not acceptable!" shouts this woman. "God help us!"

HISHAM SHARABATI, HEBRON JOURNALIST: I believe the P.A. is losing popularity by such methods. In my view, it could have been much better to allow people for expressing their opinions.

WEDEMAN: But the Palestinian security forces' answer to those contrary opinions appears to be brute force.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Hebron, on the West Bank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, as the peace talks continue in the White House, our very own Hala Gorani is in Washington working the story, talking with participants on the sidelines. We'll have more of that. We'll bring you that perspective later this hour.

CLANCY: Another effort to try to negotiate disputed territory, a critical attempt by international mediators to find a settlement on the final status of Kosovo, now ending in a stalemate. The envoy is due to report back to the United Nations secretary-general before the 10th of December. Meantime, Kosovo's politicians threatening to declare independence. Serbia warning that it will annul any declaration of independence by the Kosovars.

SESAY: OK. We want to shift our focus now to Italy and new information that's emerged in a bizarre case grabbing headlines right around the world.

A British student found dead amid lurid tales of drug use and sex. Now prosecutors say they have evidence placing her American roommate at the scene of the crime.

Alessio Vinci has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF (voice over): Prosecutors tell CNN Amanda Knox left a bloodstain in a bathroom near where her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher, was found murdered November 2nd. In a court document obtained by CNN, the lead prosecutor says the stain was fresh and could not have been left before the murder. Knox's lawyers have no comment.

The lead prosecutor also places her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, in the house at the time of the crime. Police found a bloody footprint matching his shoes next to the victim. Sollecito's attorney rejects the evidence.

"They did not find blood on the shoe that was seized from Raffaele, and the prints are not compatible," he says. "You have to keep in mind that from research we did, about eight million Nike shoes have the same sole, so the print could have belonged to anyone else." Investigative reporter Carlo Bonini says this is a typical Italian case where investigators have forensic evidence often disputed by the experts.

CARLO BONINI, "LA REPUBBLICA": At the end of the day, you don't have definitely answered to a simple question. You have questions calling for other questions, which is great for media, which is great for the audience, but it's not so great for justice.

VINCI: In a memo, the lead prosecutor says it appeared the apartment Knox and Kercher shared was cleaned after the murder in an effort to remove evidence, saying that only one fingerprint belonging to Knox was found despite the fact she lived there. The lead prosecutor also contends that Knox and Sollecito's stories about that night are not the same. Reasons, he argues, the two suspects should remain in jail while the investigation continues.

Authorities say there are two other suspects. Rudy Hermann Guede awaits extradition from Germany where he was arrested after his DNA was found at the crime scene, and Patrick Lumumba, who was released from custody after a judge said there was not enough evidence to hold him. But he remains a suspect.

All four of them deny they killed Kercher.

A key court hearing is set for Friday, when lawyers for Knox and Sollecito will try to get their clients released from custody.

(on camera): Meanwhile, a judge rejected the request of one of the suspects for a second autopsy on the body of Meredith Kercher, finally clearing the way for her burial back in England.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Rome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: More now on our top story, an unbelievable development in the eyes of many. A schoolteacher with a teddy bear asked the class to give that teddy bear a name. The students come up with the idea "Muhammad," a common name in Sudan. But as a result, the school teacher from Britain is having some serious problems with the law.

Andrew Heavens is a journalist in Khartoum. He joins us now by phone with the very latest.

We understand now that Gillian Gibbons has been charged.

ANDREW HEAVENS, JOURNALIST: That's right, the state news agency in Sudan is reporting that she has been charged with sharing contempt of religious belief, insulting religion and inciting hatred. These are three offenses that if she gets the maximum sentence, and if she's found guilty, she would face 40 lashes or up to a year in prison, or a hefty fine.

CLANCY: Give us an idea, is the court that's involved here a substantial court reflecting Sudanese society, or are we dealing with a more local court, some kind of a much smaller jurisdiction?

HEAVENS: No, this is a mainstream part of the Sudanese judiciary, and she's going through the normal procedure as any suspect in Sudan. She'll be appearing I guess in the equivalent of a magistrate court tomorrow so that the judge can have the first look at the charges and see if there's a case to answer.

So whether this reflects the views of Sudanese, I would say that they are split. I think speaking to students from Khartoum University who said they were shocked by the order, they thought it was ridiculous that such a trivial event, such a school project to end up in court. More traditional believers may have taken offense at the use of "Muhammad" in this context, and be interested in seeing how the court progresses.

CLANCY: Now, give us an idea, is she imprisoned at this time? Does she have legal representation?

HEAVENS: She is in custody in a branch of the criminal investigation directorate. She has a lawyer appointed who's been working with her, appointed by the school. The British Embassy here is also doing everything they can to help her in a consulate way, so she will be appearing tomorrow morning in court with her lawyer from school.

CLANCY: Andrew Heavens, journalist there in Khartoum, I want to thank you for being with us and bringing us up to date on these latest developments.

As Andrew points out, more to come on this case. And we're going to be following it.

SESAY: Jim, still ahead, he kept his promise.

CLANCY: An emotional good-bye by President Pervez Musharraf as he stepped down as Pakistan's military chief. Now, "The army is my life," he says. Will this move, though, satisfy his critics?

SESAY: Also ahead, her punishment sparked global fury. Now a Saudi rape victim and her lawyer wait to hear from the government.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CLANCY: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to CNN International and YOUR WORLD TODAY.

SESAY: We're covering the news the world wants to know and giving you some perspective that goes deeper into the stories of the day.

Now, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls it a good first step. She's referring to Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's resignation as head of the army. Mr. Musharraf stepped down at an elaborate ceremony in Rawalpindi on Wednesday. He remains president, sworn in tomorrow for another five years, but the U.S. insists he must end a state of emergency ahead of next month's general elections. Jane Dodge has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANE DODGE, REPORTER, ITV NEWS (voice over): Stone-faced, his medals glinting in the sun, President Pervez Musharraf's attempts to show he's serious about democracy was broadcast live on Pakistan TV. A ceremonial baton the symbol of his military power, a small hiccup as he tried to hand it to his chosen successor, General Ashfaq Kiani. His political opponent swearing it won't be the last.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT (through translator): After being in uniform for 40 years, I am bidding it good-bye. This army is my passion. I've loved this army.

DODGE: One newspaper expressed concern Musharraf's handover of military power could prove to be his downfall.

Others though were more upbeat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This step will help end the emergency rule. Peace will prevail in the country. They will work together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Pervez Musharraf is giving up his uniform today. This good news has given people confidence. It is a good step for democracy and it will strengthen democracy.

DODGE: As the band played "Auld Lang Syne," the president bade farewell. In reality, he keeps his power under emergency rule he declared three weeks ago. Tomorrow he will be sworn in as Pakistan's civilian leader, ahead of the elections in January, but the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, just back after seven years in exile, has threatened to boycott the poll unless the state of emergency is lifted. And another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, could do the same.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: That report there from Jane Dodge.

CLANCY: Pakistan, of course, the place where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding along the border. Islamic militants there threaten coalition troops in Afghanistan. The army of Pakistan is all important, but very few people outside the country know the name or the face of its new commander.

The new army chief is probably more important than any of the country's politicians. He may, in fact, prove to be more important than President Musharraf as well.

Jonathan Mann gives us some insight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: There's something to watch for in Pakistani politics. Civilian leaders appoint a military commander, then the military commander overthrows the civilians. That's how Pervez Musharraf got his job, and he wasn't the first.

Now Musharraf has appointed General Ashfaq Kiani as his commander. So Pakistan is now waiting to see what it will get -- continuity or a coup?

The Pakistani army is by far the most powerful institution in the country. Politicians serve at its pleasure. So if Kiani really controls the military, he will have a bigger influence on Musharraf's future as civilian president than the constitution or anyone else in the country.

Washington knows it. When the deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, visited Pakistan earlier this month, he met with President Musharraf once, and reportedly three times with General Kiani.

Kiani also has links to another key figure, Benazir Bhutto. He served as deputy military secretary under Bhutto when she was prime minister, back in the '90s. When Musharraf and Bhutto began negotiations on power sharing his year, Kiani was reportedly a go- between.

Musharraf trusts his successor with important jobs. Kiani's career has been built on that. But outsiders say Kiani's loyalty depends on how much support Musharraf can hold on to from the generals and his people.

At the ceremony in Rawalpindi, Musharraf handed over the ceremonial officer stick that they like to call the baton of command. It is a tradition that bait dates back to Roman times, but it's a telling symbol of power today in Pakistan. Now General Kiani has it, a remind that the pivotal figure to watch isn't necessarily the president.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Jonathan Mann there giving us some insight.

It was a legal decision that sparked an international outcry.

CLANCY: And coming up, straight ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, a Saudi court says it will review the case of a rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes.

We'll have the latest.

SESAY: Tensions mounting and protests growing in Venezuela as the country prepares for a showdown over proposed changes to the constitution.

(NEWSBREAK) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CLANCY: Hello there and a warm welcome back to all of our viewers joining us from around the globe, including the United States.

You're with YOUR WORLD TODAY.

I'm Jim Clancy.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay.

Here are some of the top stories we are following for you.

A British school teacher in Sudan has been charged with insulting religion and inciting hatred and will face a judge tomorrow. The woman was arrested after students named a Teddy Bear Muhammad. Some see that as an insult to Islam's prophet.

CLANCY: As promised, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stepped down as army chief. Critics welcome the move but urge the Pakistani leader to end his three-week-old state of emergency. Mr. Musharraf will be sworn in tomorrow as civilian president.

SESAY: U.S. President George W. Bush is trying to build momentum for his Middle East peace effort. He's meeting with Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the White House a day after they agreed to restart long-stalled negotiations.

In the West Bank, meantime, police used force to break up protests against the peace summit for the second straight day.

CLANCY: Israeli's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, saying now that history shows just how difficult forging a peace deal could be. Saying memories of failure, in his words, weigh heavily upon us. Atika Shubert looks at how the huge challenges facing Mr. Olmert will arrive as soon as he arrives home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The handshakes are over. Now the hard work begins. For Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that means selling peace talks back home.

It's a tough sell. Even before Annapolis, thousands of Israelis attended a rally praying for peace talks to fail.

The galvanizing issue, Jerusalem. Many here fear the holy city will be divided as part of a peace deal. Olmert's coalition partners, particularly religious conservatives, are threatening to bolt. Members of his own party are criticizing him.

OTNIEL SCHNELLER, KADIMA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: They have very, very clear red (ph) limits. In Jerusalem, -- Jerusalem belongs to us. Only to us. To the Jewish nation.

SHUBERT: Other hot-button issues, whether Palestinian refugees will return to Israel. Also, the settlements. Any peace deal would require Israel to give up territory on the West Bank. And where the final borders of a Palestinian state will be. Difficult issues for a weak and unpopular leader.

YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI, SENIOR FELLOW, SHALEM CENTER: For him to try to sell a plan that will necessitate the most painful Israeli concessions is absolutely impossible.

SHUBERT: Local news plays on Israeli fears. This report shows Tel Aviv in rocket-firing range if Israel gives up settlements and makes the security wall the border. Polls have shown a majority of Israelis are willing to make concessions, but only if it guarantees an end to terror attacks. For many residents of Sderot, bombarded on a nearly daily basis by rockets from Gaza, talking peace is not an option yet.

MECHI FANDEL, SDEROT RESIDENT: We've been living in a war zone. I don't understand. After we transferred thousands of Jews out of Gaza Strip in order to make peace with the Palestinians, how Olmert can now talk about, again, more concessions. We're living in a war.

SHUBERT: The prime minister wants to see a deal by the end of next year. But while Olmert offers concessions abroad, it's not clear whether he has the political capital at home to deliver.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, our Hala Gorani is in Washington. She's been getting reaction from world leaders and digging behind the scenes. She joins us now live from D.C.

And, Hala, I understand you've been speaking with Syria's vice minister of foreign affairs. What did he say to you on the issue of the Golan Heights, that divided issue between Syria and Israel?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard from Atika there in Jerusalem that any peace deal will mean giving up territory in the West Bank. Any peace deal with Syria, as far as Syria is concerned, will involve giving up all of the Golan Heights, which was Syrian territory until the six-day war of 1967.

I spoke with Fayssal Mekdad, the vice minister of foreign affairs of Syria. He attended the Annapolis conference. Of course, as you know, until the last minute it was very questionable whether or not he would attend. It was a small delegation with the Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha. He told me he did not talk to his Israeli counterparts. That he did not of one-on-one discussions with the Americans either. That each gave a speech. And because this conference had such low expectations all around, the fact that the Syrians actually attended was considered a success.

I asked him about the very important question that will be facing Israeli and Syrian negotiators in any peace discussion. Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Will Syria, at this point, accept anything less than a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights?

FAYSSAL MEKDAD, SYRIAN VICE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Absolutely not. As the president has said, said it on different occasions, the issue of land is not negotiable. It is there. And we want the line for June 1967 border. We cannot accept anything less than that. So what we have to discuss are -- I mean the issues related to the conditions of peace, how to establish peace, how to make relations and so on and so forth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: All right. You heard it there from Fayssal Mekdad. He says basically 85 percent of the agreement has been there over the last 10 years. It's just a question of the modality of whether or not the Israelis will give up the entire Golan Heights. He's saying Syrians will not negotiate on that.

As far as future summits and conferences, Fayssal Mekdad said that his understanding is that an Annapolis-style conference is planned for Moscow in Russia, in the first quarter of 2008. And that will be hosted by the Russian Federation, of course, a member of the quartet peace initiative. And he says that Syria will definitely attend such a conference that will be modeled on what happened in Maryland, in the U.S. state of Maryland, over the last two days because it is in its best interests to do so.

Isha.

SESAY: And, Hala, Iran has come out and said that they were disappointed by Syria's attendance of this Annapolis conference. Did the vice foreign minister address that issue?

GORANI: He did. I asked him about that. We've heard reports in newspapers. We have also heard officials in Tehran speak to state-run media, saying they're surprised and sometimes, in some cases, disappointed that Syria decided to attend the conference. I asked Fayssal Mekdad about that and this is what he answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEKDAD: We are two independent, sovereign countries. We see what's good for Syria and do it. What they -- our Iranian friends see what's good for Iran and discuss it. But usually we reach agreements and put away difficulties and differences. So it is -- if it is in the interest of Syria to attend such a meeting, then it is the Syrian leadership that decides what's in the interest of the Syrian people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: You can see there -- you can see there from Fayssal Mekdad, clearly an effort to differentiate Syria from Iran. The United States, of course, accuses both countries of financing groups, terrorist groups, such as Hamas and other things. So this is perhaps a way for the official Syrian leadership to say, don't always lump us in with Iran, even though he insisted that we still have good relationships with Tehran.

Isha.

SESAY: All right. Our very own Hala Gorani there in D.C. Many thanks.

And this programming note for our viewers. Hala is going to be talking with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now the Middle East quartet's peace envoy. International viewers can see it. You can watch that interview on CNN Thursday at 05:00 GMT.

CLANCY: Well now a change of heart perhaps by Saudi Arabia in that controversial rape case. The government says the court's sentencing of a raped victim to jail and 200 lashes is at least going to be reviewed. Just a few days ago, the justice ministry had condemned the woman, saying she was an adulteress. Paula Newton has more on the case that has sparked unprecedented debate over Saudi women's rights.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): She's become known as the girl from Katif (ph), gang raped by seven men at the age of 19, sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison because at the time she was abducted she was with a man who was not a relative.

Her case has caused international outrage and, significantly, inside Saudi Arabia, a debate about justice, led by her attorney.

ABDEL RAHMAN AL-LAHEM, LAWYER FOR SAUDI RAPE VICTIM, (through translator): We want to highlight the rape crimes in Saudi Arabia and the way they are handled and sentenced in courts. This is a new era for all of us.

NEWTON: Al-Lahem had his attorney's license revoked for daring to appeal the court sentence. Now he's suing the justice ministry.

AL-LAHEM: This is the spirit that the ministry of justice is trying to suffocate. I belong to a wave of lawyers and lawmakers who want change. Times have changed.

NEWTON: The woman's lawyer went on Lebanese TV to debate the issue with a former Saudi judge who said the victim's punishment served to defend her husband's honor.

SHEIKH ABDEL MUHSIN EKEBAN, FORMER SAUDI JUDGE, (through translator): Would anyone allow someone to spoil their marital bed? This action coming from a married woman dishonors her marriage. When a woman meets up with an unrelated male in secret, what is she going to do with him? Will she be performing an act of chastity with him?

NEWTON: The victim's husband has been unusually vocal by Saudi standards in defending his wife. He intervened by phone in the televised debate to say that she had met the man to retrieve a photo he had of her.

RAPE VICTIM'S HUSBAND, (through translator): She was trying to protect her marriage. I don't know what you're talking about when you say that she admitted her guilt.

NEWTON: The court's ruling has embarrassed the Saudi government, which says it's being reviewed. Saudi foreign minister, Saud al- Faisal, says "such bad court rulings happen everywhere, even in the United States. The process is ongoing, the sentence is being reviewed through judicial process and we hope it will be changed."

One ruling overturned, maybe. But at issue here, the essence of Saudi justice. This Saudi scholar says women are still treated as possessions of men.

MAI YAMANI, SAUDI POLITICAL ANALYST: This woman in Saudi Arabia wanted the right to walk in the street, to drive a car, to vote, like all of us, like their neighbors, even in the most conservative Arab countries.

NEWTON: This case will continue to play out in the courts, but it's the debate in the court of Saudi public opinion that may drive some judicial reform in the royal kingdom.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, as Paula reported there, the case is stirring unprecedented debate in the region. Ebtihal Mubarak is a reporter from the "Arab News Daily" and I'm pleased to say joins us now live from Jeddah.

Ebtihal, is there a sense that the Saudi government feels that it's under attack and is now in some ways on the offensive in this case?

EBTIHAL MUBARAK, ARAB NEWS: We can't say the Saudi government. The two statements that we had so far are from the justice of ministry. So it's -- the issue here is the justice of ministry, really.

SESAY: How commonplace is it, in your experience, as you look at the system? Is it for all these officials to be coming out and commenting on a case of this nature? We've heard from the judiciary, we've heard from the woman's lawyer, we even heard from the Saudi foreign minister yesterday.

MUBARAK: Yes. Well, that -- never a case has been widely carried in the media as this case. (INAUDIBLE) is know as the (INAUDIBLE) case. So this is -- this is the first in the Saudi media to a case to be carried in that -- get that extensive coverage of the local -- not the local, the international media, actually. Started a huge -- sorry, started a huge debate in the Saudi society itself. And it's also the first time that the justice of ministry is underlined here, getting this all criticism as they get the condemning of the international community.

SESAY: Ebtihal, you referred to the victim in this as the girl from Katif. She's been widely referred to in that manner in the press there in Saudi Arabia. We know that she's Shia, which is minority there in Saudi Arabia. Is there any sense that sectarianism is playing a part in the way this case is being handled, as you look at it?

MUBARAK: I didn't think so. I would just like to correct the news, that some news agencies carry it, that the rapist and -- where Sunnis. And the rape victim is Shia. But that's not true. Both rapist and the girl are Shia. They come both (INAUDIBLE) and (INAUDIBLE), as majority, are almost Shia town. So if any sectorism (INAUDIBLE), it's a man/woman thing. It's not a Sudanese and Shia.

SESAY: Are you upset when you look at this case and how it's played out, from 90 to 200 lashes, six months in jail. Potentially the case is now going to be reviewed, but at least that's what we are looking at right now. Are you upset by the situation?

MUBARAK: Well, as -- of course I'm upset, as all Saudi women. We're totally shocked. And I'd just like to give the attention, you said that the girl is now accused of adultery, but that was never stated in the ministry statement. They accused her of illegal affair. The first statement said it's a (INAUDIBLE) case. The second statement said it's an illegal fair, forbidden act, but they never said the word adultery nor rape. They said, and I quote the (INAUDIBLE) from the live interview they had in LBC (ph), they said, what has happened. And he said, we all know what forbidden act the ministry was not to state that, in the statement. So they're not accusing her directly of adultery. They don't have evidence of that. In the case of Sharia, I mean if you hear -- talking here about Islamic principle in the case of a rape, someone has to confess or have four witnesses.

SESAY: All right. Ebtihal Mubarak, thank you so much for joining us this day. Thank you.

CLANCY: Interesting perspective. And we'll have to wait and see what happens when this case is reviewed. You can bet that we'll follow it. But it really does highlight the issue of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

We've got to take a short break.

Republican hopefuls getting ready to mix it up right here on CNN during tonight's U.S. presidential debate. I'll be watching.

SESAY: I suspect (ph) you will be too.

Ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, Republican soul searching. We look at the party's troubled state and how top candidates are trying to mend its beat-up image.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello, everyone.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is promising to take a tough line against those who shot at police as a wave of riots that rocked outskirts of Paris appeared to end.

CLANCY: This is more than just a police issue. It's a political one as well for the president. Let's take you now to Paris, live, right now where Jim Bittermann is standing by.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): French President Nicolas Sarkozy went straight from the airport to the hospital. In the three days he was in China on a state visit, disturbances broke out in the Paris suburbs and the president symbolically wanted to visit police and firemen who were injured, some of whom were shot while confronting rioters. But more than symbolically he wanted to make plain who was on the ground and in charge.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT, (through translator): So that things are very clear, what has happened is absolutely unacceptable. Those who shoot at civil servants will be brought to account before justice. It has a name. It is called attempted murder.

BITTERMANN: But in what's become something of the Sarkozy style during his first months of office, the French president wanted to listen to all sides, inviting the families of the two teenagers killed in a traffic accident that triggered the riot to the presidential palace to talk.

JEAN PIERRE MIGNARD, LAWYER FOR VICTIM'S FAMILIES, (through translator): It is a gesture of justice, gesture of appeasement and we want and believe in the name of all the families that peace, calm and tranquility be brought back to everyone's spirit.

BITTERMANN: Overnight, the prime minister and interior minister personally supervised the government response to the crisis. Much different from what took place in the suburban riots here in 2005 when it took the government nearly a week to address the situation seriously. Also different from two years ago, the government flooded the suburb, where the violence was taking place, with riot police. More than 1,000 last night in a town of 30,000.

As well, despite verbal differences in the neighborhood over who should be blamed for the disturbances this week, community workers cut across political lines to help the government get young people off the streets. Someone who's dealt regularly for years with the problems of those in the suburbs, like Ahmed el Kheiy, the news editor for an Beur-FM (ph) radio station, believes his listeners would not argue with President Sarkozy's short term response. It's the continuing long-term problems that raise anger.

AHMED EL KHELY, BEUR-FM RADIO: I think the political power has to take, and the president, firm action against the criminals and the delinquents that are shooting at police forces. But on the other hand, has to take strong social and economic measures for the rest of the population and the majority of the population in need of work, in need of help.

BITTERMANN: Even after a somewhat calmer night in the Paris suburbs, the French prime minister described the situation as still fragile, a description that may remain true so long as the underlying problems of the suburbs, discrimination and unemployment, remain unresolved.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: When YOUR WORLD TODAY continues . . .

CLANCY: What does the U.S. Republican Party stand for? It depends on who you ask. We'll explain right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CLANCY: Welcome back.

The U.S. presidential race heating up, but the Republican Party is facing what we might call a political identity crisis.

SESAY: John King has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY DIMATTEO, PINELLAS COUNTY GOP CHAIR: OK. So we got the double order for the tables.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Tony Dimatteo prefers to worry about the next election, not dwell on the 2006 national Republican drubbing.

DIMATTEO: We got bogged down in the war. We got it handed to us, but there was external reasons beyond our control. Hopefully the national party will remedy this.

KING: Dimatteo is the GOP chairman in Pinellas County, Florida, and thinks his state could serve as a national model.

DIMATTEO: It's a moderate Republican county. I think, in general, Florida is a moderate state.

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Listen (ph), I hope you would consider voting for me. OK.

DIMATTEO: So I think that's why people like Giuliani are doing very well, for instance, because he's, you know, generally in a lot of social issues he's considered a moderate.

KING: But one Republican's solution is another's nightmare. Richard Viguerie among the veteran activists who view Giuliani as a threat to the party's social conservative brand.

RICHARD VIGUERIE, VETERAN CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: There is a major, even massive amount of anger, frustration, unrest, feeling of betrayal. Rudy Giuliani is a major focus of this concern right now, but it's far beyond just Giuliani.

KING: The debate over Giuliani is one symptom of a broader Republican identity crisis.

GOV. MARK SANFORD, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: It takes time to damage a brand. It takes even longer to rebuild it.

KING: The president, who took office imaging a lasting Republican majority, is now unpopular, and all but ignored by the candidates looking to replace him. And the party's image is tattered. One reason, two dozen Republicans in Congress are retiring. Only 25 percent of Americans identify themselves a Republicans. And just 40 percent in a recent Pew Research Center study had a favorable view of the GOP. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford says voters no longer trust that pulling the Republican lever means less spending and lower taxes. Not the legacy Mr. Bush had hoped for.

SANFORD: He's not the only one to blame. I don't want to suggest that. In as much as the presidency, if you're the party in power, is that sort of (INAUDIBLE) head of the Republican Party, certainly some of the buck stops there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, it will be the Republican Party's presidential hopefuls who will be on the stage tonight, answering the public's questions.

CLANCY: You can watch that CNN/YouTube debate later today. CNN's Anderson Cooper is going to be the host.

SESAY: That's right. That's at 8:00 Eastern Time in the United States. For our international viewers, that's Thursday at 01:00 GMT.

That's it for this hour. I'm Isha Sesay.

CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy. Don't go away. Stay with CNN. The news continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the housing bust hits home. Whether you're trying to sell, shopping for a mortgage or just

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