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Ireland Bookmaker Offering Odds on Location of Next Mass Bird Death. "British Medical Journal" Calls Study Linking Vaccinations to Autism an Elaborate Fraud. Egypt Security Forces On High Alert for Coptic Christmas in Wake of New Year's Church Bombing. New York City Debates Ban on Smoking in Parks. Connector of the Day Maz Jobrani. Homeless Man With Golden Voice Now Sensation.

Aired January 6, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: Tens of thousands return home to Southern Sudan after almost two decades away. They are desperate to vote in an historic referendum that could create the world's newest nation.

Coming up from Sudan, actor and activist, George Clooney, tells me why he's optimistic that people of the region can finally find peace.

Well, it's a place that few of us have visited. And when we hear about it, the stories tend to be pretty bleak, don't they.

Coming up, our correspondents across Sudan will tell us why this weekend's vote is crucial for all of us. Joining the dots for you as ever in London, I'm Becky Anderson.

Also this hour, our report finds America's worst ever environmental disaster could have been prevented, and could happen again. So, why aren't our shores any safer?

And yet more birds drop dead from the sky, this time in Sweden. Believe it or not, bookmakers think they know which country could be next.

That's the show in the next 60 minutes. We kick off in Sudan.

The outcome isn't really in doubt. It's the aftermath that's causing concerns. Sudan is days away from an election that appears certain to split Africa's largest nation in two.

Now, the South is expected to vote on Sunday to secede from the North, the referendum part of a peace deal that ended decades of civil war in 2005.

Well the government in Khartoum opposes any split and says it will honor the results.

I want to start tonight for you with Nima Elbagir, who reports that many Southern Sudanese who fled their homes long ago are now returning as independence draws near.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, KOSTI, SUDAN (voice-over): The River Nile (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Kosti on the border between North and South Sudan is the main transport hub for all the goods going up and down the river. And it's where, in a riverside camp, thousands of displaced Southern Sudanese are waiting to be taken on the last leg of their journey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice of interpreter): The situation here is really difficult. It's cold. There's very little shelter. But there is nothing in the world that is achieved without sacrifice. So we wait. We're happy to wait. A house is built one brick at a time.

ELBAGIR: Many of those waiting here have never even been to the South, born and raised in the North during the two decades of civil war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice of interpreter): I was born in the North, but I'm not scared. Once you decide, that's it. And I've decided I'm going back to my country to take part in building its future.

ELBAGIR: At its completion, the voluntary repatriation program for the South of Sudan will have been the largest organized movement of people in the continent's history. This barge, when it's fully loaded and ready to go, is designed to carry 70 passengers. Two thousand people will be crowded on these decks, all desperate to return home.

After suffering through years of war and displacement, many who left the South are rushing to pack up their lives. And scenes like this are being repeated in towns and villages across North Sudan. It's a mammoth undertaking.

WILLIAM ACHUIL, VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION COMMITTEE: We started on the 25th on November. And from the 25th of November until the 30th -- today -- we have moved to Southern Sudan more than 70 people -- 70,000 people.

So, if we have moved 70,000 people up to this point, then it means, up to the time we reach the end of month, we'll do more. It could be 100,000, 200,000 or 300,000 people. Moving them from their home is a challenge. But it is -- the heaviest challenge is the integration part of this process.

When you take them to Southern Sudan, you need to integrate them. You need to provide them with basic needs, with shelter, water, education.

ELBAGIR: And the governments of North and South Sudan will still have to determine the exact border, rights of citizenship and how to split oil money. Still, the uncertainty of the future at their final destination doesn't seem to be concerning these people.

Buses like these are leaving the capital of Khartoum on an almost daily basis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice of interpreter): With something like this, you almost can't believe it. We can't believe this day has come. So we're going home now, because we can't believe someone isn't going to take this away from us somehow.

ELBAGIR: Nima Elbagir, CNN, Kosti, Sudan.


ANDERSON: Well, international monitors and civic groups are giving some last-minute instructions to polling staff, trying to ensure that this election goes off with as few glitches as possible.

Well, two of our reporters are following the voting preparations in Sudan. I spoke a bit ago with Ben Wedeman, who's in the North. He's in Khartoum.

First, though, to David McKenzie in Juba, the Southern capital.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, JUBA, SUDAN: Well, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at this time is very simple. It's two options for Southern Sudanese. One is a crossed (ph) hand like this, which means unity, Becky. And the other is separation, which is a hand like this. And people are coming to us, talking to us saying, they want separation.

So, really, the mood in Juba is a sense that this is finally happening, that after decades of war, after signing of a peace agreement and painstaking negotiations by their leaders, that the people here might have a choice.

ANDERSON: David McKenzie in the South.

Ben Wedeman is in the North. Ben, should Southerners feel suspicious of the North at this point?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, KHARTOUM, SUDAN: Well, certainly, the mood here in Khartoum is fairly glum. It's one of resigned acceptance to the fact that this secession is probably inevitable at this point.

I mean, we saw Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, going to Juba in the South day before yesterday, and saying that he will be personally saddened if the South splits off from the rest of the country. But he will be happy if there's peace in the Sudan.

Many people here realize that at this point, it's pretty late in the day, that probably the South will vote in a great majority for secession from the rest of the Sudan.

ANDERSON: What would independence mean for the South?

MCKENZIE: Well, Becky, it means freedom to these people. I mean, I hate to put it in such simple terms, but that is really what people are telling us.

After so long of fighting effectively a bush war, the SPLA, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and the SPLM, their political offshoot, you know, the leaders are really talking about this being their moment, that from the first shot that was fired until the last ballot that is cast, that this will be the culmination - ending, obviously, in independence, hopefully, they say for them, in July.

ANDERSON: If you had to briefly explain to the world why it should care about this vote, what would you say?

WEDEMAN: Well, you have to realize, Becky, that for decades there's been a brutal war between Northern and Southern Sudan. In the South of Sudan, more than two million people were killed. This was the bloodiest war in Africa.

And somehow bringing it to an end is critical for this country, for this continent. And certainly, that may explain why at this point the government here in Khartoum is resigned to the fact that this is more or less inevitable.

Now, once the country is split up -- if it's split up, of course, because we don't know what the final vote will be -- but there are indicators that despite the hostility to a certain extent between the North and the South, that there's a big question of oil. And usually, oil is a cause of problems. But in this case, 80 percent of Sudan's oil is in the South. But all of it goes through the North.

So, both sides have a stake in trying to make this work, even though, for instance, that many in the North are very unhappy with it.

But as President Bashir said, he will be happy if there is peace in the Sudan. And for many Sudanese, both in the North and the South, the prospect of peace in indeed very important.

ANDERSON: Ben Wedeman is in Khartoum. David McKenzie is in Juba, in the South. They'll be there, of course, as the vote proceeds.

Well, he's a familiar face in unfamiliar territory. Actor and activist George Clooney is in Sudan ahead of this election. He's part of the team that have launched a satellite surveillance program there to monitor possible election violence specifically.

Well, I spoke earlier with Clooney and John Prendergast, who's the co- founder of the Enough Project, which is an initiative to end genocide. And I began by asking them to give us the sense, the mood on the ground.


GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST, ENOUGH PROJECT, JUBA, SUDAN: The first time since I've been here -- and I've been here -- this is my fourth time -- there's a real excitement here. There is a feeling that a new nation is going to be formed, and it's inevitable. And I think they're very excited about that.


JOHN PRENDERGAST, CO-FOUNDER, ENOUGH PROJECT, JUBA, SUDAN: This is a moment -- probably the most important moment in Southern Sudan's history. Fifty-five years these people have fought for independence and for freedom. Now, 48 hours from now, they're going to get their chance to vote on that.

And I think people couldn't be more excited about the prospect of an independent state.

ANDERSON: George, when we last spoke about 80 days ago, you were incredibly pessimistic as to whether this would pass off peacefully.

Are you now more optimistic at this point?

CLOONEY: We are. We'll a lot more optimistic. I don't think there was a -- there weren't very many people in the world who thought that the government of South Sudan would be able to put together the coalition of many of their past enemies in order to put this together to make it work.

Not only that, but the fact that it seems as if the North -- including Omar Bashir -- seem to feel that some of this is inevitable. And he seems to have accepted that, which means that for now -- now, that's just for now -- it looks like it's a very good chance for a peaceful transition.

Remember that there's about a six-month to a year process where this will continue to go on. And we would hope that everyone will keep cameras here and keep covering it, because that's when bad things happen.

ANDERSON: What does this mean for the people of the South?

PRENDERGAST: Well, this is a -- if they can strike the deals that are necessary on the issues that divide the people of the North and the South - - the issues related to the disputed territory of Abyei, the issues related to sharing of oil revenue -- if they can strike a deal on all these questions and have a peaceful referendum, this transition period could be the engine of growth and development for the entire sub-region of East and the Horn of Africa.

If things go badly, if they can't strike a deal on these issues, if there are problems around the referendum and its aftermath, then another war between the North and the South could consume the entire region.

So, this really is a fork in the road for a very large portion of East and the Horn of Africa, what happens over the coming days and, as George said, over the coming next six months.

ANDERSON: George, how will your Satellite Sentinel movement help monitor the movement of people in the region?

CLOONEY: The idea we had was to be one of many tools used to monitor specifically troop movements and humanitarian issues along the border where it's really disputed and where the real danger lies -- up near Abyei and places like that.

The truth is, you can't get cameras in there. The U.N. can't fly over. No one's watching that area.

And it affords the North oftentimes for plausible deniability. They can say that these were just rebel activities, when we know that rebels don't fly planes and drive tanks.

So, our job now is -- and it's just starting up, we're just starting to get the first images tonight -- is to get actual footage of tanks, or planes, or helicopters or troop movements, so that we're able to continue to keep people honest and up-to-date on what's going on over there.

ANDERSON: And George, finally and briefly, what challenges do you see the new country -- if indeed independence is the answer here -- what sort of challenges does the new country face?

CLOONEY: Just every challenge that every new country has ever faced. It faces a chance of absolute failure. It also faces the great challenge and the possibility of being one of the great successes, you know, in Africa.

And it will depend on the leadership here, and it will depend on the government. All of those things are very promising. When you know the government here, when you know President Salva Kiir, you know that there's a real possibility for that.

But it's all the challenges that we know exist in every country that has succeeded, and every country that's failed.


ANDERSON: George Clooney and John Prendergast for you in Sudan.

And do remember that crucial vote starts on Sunday. And of course, CNN will have complete coverage for you. So, stick with us for that.

Up next here on CONNECT THE WORLD, unforgettable scenes from the Gulf of Mexico last year. Now, a new report asks if history is going to repeat itself.

And the big question in the Big Apple. Who has the right to smoke? And who has the right to take that right away?

Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Five million barrels of oil, thousands of livelihoods lost and billions of dollars to clean up the mess. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill was the worst in American history. And according to the U.S. government's report, it could happen again.

I'm back with CONNECT THE WORLD for you.

The commission looking into the spill will release their full report on Tuesday. What we've learned from a chapter released today has huge implications for the entire oil industry.

It says that the spill happened, in part, because BP, Transocean and Halliburton lacked the commitment to safety that was needed. It also said U.S. government regulators lacked the power to do anything about the spill.

And perhaps most worrying of all, unless significant reforms take place, another blow-out could happen again.

Well, it was a catastrophe that no one wants to see repeated. And the search for exactly who was responsible began almost as soon as the spill started.

Samantha Hayes now takes us back through a crisis that could change how the oil industry works forever.


SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, anchored 42 miles southeast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, burst into flames on April 20th. The explosion killed 11 workers and sunk the rig, which was under lease by BP.

The Coast Guard initially estimated 1,000 barrels of oil per day were pouring into the Gulf.

REAR ADMIRAL MARY LANDRY, U.S. COAST GUARD: If we don't secure the well, yes, this could be one of the most significant oil spills in U.S. history.

HAYES: The estimate reached as high as 60,000 barrels per day. President Obama offered help and placed financial responsibility on BP.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense, to address the incident.

HAYES: BP pledged to pay for the cleanup and all legitimate claims made by those affected.

But American opinion of the oil giant soured after it spent millions on an ad addressing the spill, and after CEO Tony Hayward made some well- publicized gaffs.

TONY HAYWARD, FORMER CEO, BP: We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused to their lives. And, you know, we're -- there's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I'd like my life back.

HAYES: BP made several failed attempts to cap the spill. The company also set controlled burns, sprayed chemical dispersants and laid miles of boom to contain the crude.

Still, oil reached Louisiana's shores in May and later arrived in Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. It threatened wildlife and the livelihoods of those who worked in industries like tourism and fishing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our peak of the year. This is when we make our money. It's really scary, because -- we're very resilient people, but I don't think we'll be able to spring back from this.

HAYES: On July 15th, a containment cap stopped the flow of oil for the first time in 85 days. The well was filled in and officially declared dead in September.

BP estimates the disaster will cost the company more than $11 billion, while the Gulf economy is expected to feel its effects for years to come.

I'm Samantha Hayes reporting.


ANDERSON: All right. Well Transocean and Halliburton both say that they were acting under BP's direction of the well. Transocean, who owned the rig, says its crew were -- and I quote -- "well trained and considered to be the best in the business."

Well, Halliburton, who handled the operation to seal up the leak, says "The report acknowledges cementing an oil well is an inherently uncertain process, and things can go wrong even under optimal conditions."

So, what does BP say?

Well, they say that they stress that multiple causes involving multiple companies were to blame, and that BP is working with regulators and the industry to ensure that the lessons learned lead to improvements.

Improvements? Maybe.

But the next time something like this happens somewhere in the world, will oil companies be ready?

Well, today in the U.K., a Parliament committee said it had, quote, serious doubts that response teams could deal with a deepwater drilling disaster in British waters. That's because of the harsh weather conditions in the North Sea.

The committee said extra precautions might be needed, but not an out- right ban on deepwater drilling.

Well, our next guest says the report is a sham. John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell, joins us now from Washington.

I guess there's those out there, viewers tonight who would say, you would say that, wouldn't you -- being the former head of an oil company, John.

JOHN HOFMEISTER, FORMER PRESIDENT, SHELL OIL COMPANY: Well, I don't know that I use the word "sham." But I am questioning the conclusion that alleges the entire industry is somehow to blame, or that the entire industry requires some kind of additional oversight.

Now, the entire report hasn't been published yet, and I'm only familiar with the chapter that has been published. So, there's more to be learned, I'm sure, when we get the full reading.

But here's the real issue. On any given day, on any rig anywhere in the world, onshore, offshore, in any coalmine anywhere in the world, in any flight on any airplane anywhere in the world, there are inherent risks.

I don't know anyone in the industry that doesn't want to do everything possible to decrease the inherent risks.

But over more than 60 years in the Gulf of Mexico, with more than 40,000 wells having been drilled, this was one terrible accident...

ANDERSON: All right.

HOFMEISTER: ... that never should have happened.

ANDERSON: There are ways to be...

HOFMEISTER: So, if you're weighing -- if...

ANDERSON: Sorry, John.

HOFMEISTER: If you're weighing what -- if you're weighing what is the allegation being made by the presidential commission, suggesting the entire industry has a problem, I'd weigh all the facts. And 40,000 wells successfully drilled, one horrible accident to me does not paint a trend.

ANDERSON: All right. There are ways, of course, of decreasing risks. And that's to make sure that all companies assess those risks correctly.

And what we learned from the BP report -- certainly from the BP accident, or what was alleged -- was that those risks hadn't been anticipated correctly.

You used to run one of the biggest oil companies in the world. The sort of headlines that we've seen today are terrifying. Not only could this have been avoided, but the point is, it could happen again.

You're telling me tonight, that's entirely possible. Are you?

HOFMEISTER: Well, there is risk inherent in any hydrocarbon production on a 24-7 basis.

You hire competent people. You train those people. You put processes in place, the decision authorities -- all of the things that are necessary to make sure that every operator is safe every single day, and that you are producing this crude oil and natural gas in an environmentally sustainable way.

This to me was as horrible an accident as an airplane crash that kills everyone on board, where the pilot never intended to crash the airplane. But, in fact, it was human error.

And on this rig, I think we see every evidence of human error on the part of a number of individuals.

My issue with the presidential commission is taking the human errors and extending it across the entire industry, which has an extraordinarily reputable operating practice for safety and environmental protection.

ANDERSON: I may be wrong in reading the sense of the book that you wrote recently, but in that, as far as I could understand, you argue that the poor actions and reputations of the oil companies, combined with promises from politicians that effectively you say are false, have created what I think you would describe as an untenable framework for moving forward in addressing our energy future -- not just in the U.S., but globally.

What do you mean by that, John?

HOFMEISTER: What I mean, in most of the Western democracies, there's no plan for energy. And flavor-of-the-day politics is determining energy's future for hundreds of millions of consumers. And that's not good enough.

In addition, within the industry, there are some operators who do not measure up to the standard of high operating performance that is best practice.

I'm arguing that, in the case of oil company operators, there should be regulations that holds everyone to a very high standard, and nobody gets away with violating those standards.

I'm also arguing that when flavor-of-the-day politicians on two-year, four-year, five-year electoral cycles, depending on the country, choose what is politically popular in the moment, then the energy needs of their citizens are not being responded to. It takes a more comprehensive, coherent planning effort, which we use much better in the monetary system.

And so, my book is really arguing to create the kind of central, independent commission, like the central bank in most countries, that would govern the energy futures of countries, getting it away from the day-to- day, as I say, flavor-of-the-day political cycles.

ANDERSON: Fascinating stuff from John Hofmeister, who has been a guest on this show a number of times. I could call you a regular guest on this show at this point.

We enjoy what you bring us. And, John, we thank you for joining us tonight.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. And I'm Becky Anderson in London.

Now, what's killing the birds? The mystery of the mass deaths has gone international, hitting flocks on two continents.

And a golden voice turns into a golden opportunity for a man who used to be homeless and hungry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to come to Hollywood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I certainly would.



ANDERSON: All right. More dead birds, more unanswered questions. And now, the mystery has gone global.

In Sweden, investigators want to know what killed a large number of birds found Wednesday on the streets of Falkoping, not far from Stockholm. Autopsies show that they died of sudden, hard, external blows. But from what -- or whom?

And Arkansas still wants to know what happened to the thousands of dead blackbirds that rained down on New Year's Eve. In the center of the state, some experts say fireworks may be to blame.

But the mystery gets wider. Tennessee saw a flock of birds falling dead out of the sky. This week, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Louisiana, Kentucky and Texas. And now, Maryland is investigating a massive fish kill. Officials say cold water stress probably overwhelmed nearly two million spot fish found dead in Chesapeake Bay.

Well, one expert at the Norwegian Natural History Museum calls this global rash of wildlife deaths a freak example -- sorry, a classic example -- of freak events coinciding.

Ireland's biggest bookmaker, Paddy Power, is offering odds on the next country that might report mass bird deaths. Here's a look at their top three. The UK has been installed as the bookie's 2 to 1 favorite, with Ireland coming in second at 4 to 1. And with reports of dead jackdaws on city streets in Sweden, neighboring Finland is considered a 6 to 1 shot.

While investigators have been scratching their heads, people around the world are weighing in on this mystery. Many of you are questioning the fireworks theory. Tweedstereo says, "Birds being scared by fireworks is the lamest theory I've heard regarding these cases."

Somebody else echos that, tweeting, "Having a hard time believing thousands of blackbirds died in fright from fireworks. We've been shooting them off for years."

And from dillerdogs, "If mass bird deaths are so common, how come I've never head of them before? Fireworks? Really?" We want to hear what you've got to say. Tell us what you think @BeckyCNN.

Well, Coptic Christians in Egypt are attending Christmas mass protected by a cordon of steel. Security is tight in the churches across the country following a deadly attack on a congregation in Alexandria. We're going to have a live report for you with your headlines right ahead.


ANDERSON: A very warm welcome back at just past half past nine in London. I'm Becky Anderson for you here on CNN. Coming up, Egypt's security forces are on high alert as Coptic Christians mark their Christmas in the wake of the deadly New Year's church bombing. We're going to take you to Egypt.

Then, a tougher law, more drama. We'll also go to New York, for you, digging deeper into the ongoing bid for a smoke-free world.

And a golden opportunity for a man with a golden voice. Days ago, he was homeless and hungry. Now, Ted Williams is a singing sensation, and we have got his inspirational story for you. A fantastic one.

We're going to get to all of that in the next 30 minutes. First, let me get you a quick check of the headlines this hour here on CNN.

Just days ahead of a crucial vote in Sudan's future, actor and activist George Clooney tells CNN that there's a real excitement to the possibility for peace. A referendum on independence for southern Sudan is scheduled to start Sunday, part of a peace deal that ended a lengthy civil war.

Key findings from a report to be released by a White House commission says systemic problems are to blame for last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The report says a lack of commitment to safety at BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, and a lack of government oversight all led to the disaster. Many are calling for a significant set of reforms.

Ivory Coast internationally-recognized president tells -- president- elect, sorry -- tells CNN he expects the Economic Community of West African States to intervene in his country's power struggle. Alassane Ouattara also says that he is confident that military action to remove self- proclaimed president Laurent Gbagbo from power is on its way.

And "The British Medical Journal" says a study that linked a vaccination given to kids and autism was an elaborate fraud. It says Andrew Wakefield, who published the investigation in 1998, changed or made up the medical histories of patients used in this study. Elizabeth Cohen has more.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It was the study that scared millions of parents. In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study in "The Lancet" saying, basically, that vaccines cause autism.

What he said is that he looked at 12 children who were perfectly normal. Then, they got a vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella and, then, days later, they developed autism.

Well, there's another article out, and this one is in "The British Medical Journal." And this one says that Dr. Wakefield falsified data in order to get his results. Not that he made a mistake, but that he actually falsified the data. Brian Deer, an investigative journalist, said that he'd spent the better part of seven years looking at Dr. Wakefield's data, and he says that he made it up.

BRIAN DEER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: All the way through the paper, we see Dr. Wakefield chiseling the data, falsifying medical histories of children and, essentially, concocting a picture which was the picture that he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufactures and to create a vaccine scare.

COHEN: Now, CNN's Anderson Cooper has spoken to Andrew Wakefield, and Dr. Wakefield says he didn't make up the data and, in fact, he says that this journalist was paid by the pharmaceutical company as a hit man to say bad things about him.

ANDREW WAKEFIELD, DOCTOR, AUTHORED AUTISM STUDY: He is a hit man, he's been brought in to take me down because they are very, very concerned about the adverse reactions to vaccines that are occurring in children.

COHEN: Well, the bottom line is that nearly every pediatrician will tell you, get your child vaccinated. Yes, there are risks. Not autism, but there are other risks, but that these risks are tiny and they are far outweighed by the advantages of a vaccine. Vaccines have saved millions of children's lives.

And certainly, they say, you shouldn't worry about autism. They say the study was never true to begin with. In fact, it was a hoax. Elizabeth Cohen, CNN.


ANDERSON: Those are your headlines. We're moving on here on CONNECT THE WORLD. Christmas celebrations are taking a sober tone this year for Coptic Christians around the world. Churches across Europe and the Middle East have tightened security after a New Year's Day bombing at a Coptic church in Egypt killed 23 people.

Well, that church was among dozens in Egypt and Europe that were listed in an al Qaeda-linked website as possible targets of attack. The French foreign minister is now urging Europe to come up with a coordinated response to the threat.

It's almost midnight in Egypt, the heartland of the Coptic faith, where many Christians are attending mass to mark the beginning of Orthodox Christmas. Tens of thousands of police are on guard at churches across the country. Let's get the very latest from Ian Lee, who's on the line for you from Cairo. Ian?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, the mass is just ending in churches all around Egypt, and church officials today urged people for calm when they went into the streets. The past few days, we've seen demonstrations out on the streets of Christians frustrated with what they say was a lack of security at that church.

But tonight, church officials are urging calm and they're urging that everyone go home and celebrate Christmas with their family and not go into the street.

There have been demonstrations in Egypt, planned demonstrations by activist groups in solidarity with the Christians, both Muslims and Christians at these protests. But so far tonight, it's been quiet. There hasn't been any demonstrations that we've seen on the streets.

ANDERSON: Good to hear. Ian Lee, for you, in Cairo.

Well, we've been reporting a lot, recently, about Christians under threat in the Middle East. But it's important to note that in many countries where they are a minority, Christians do live in relative peace with their neighbors. Still, they may face significant challenges as Rima Maktabi now reports.


RIMA MAKTABI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's something unique about this Kuwaiti family coming to pray at one of the country's only Protestant churches.

"I am a Kuwaiti Christian, born in Kuwait and naturalized in 1961," says Na El (ph), who emphasizes that he has equal rights and freedoms to any Muslim Kuwaiti.

Yet, Raib's (ph) family admits there are fundamental challenges, one of which is the possibility that someday one of his children may wish to marry a Muslim. That would be crossing a religious line that would be too much for Na El (ph).

"This is totally rejected," answers Na El (ph) when I ask whether he would ever allow his daughter to marry a Muslim.

But friendship surpasses the religious divide. Ali, a Muslim Kuwaiti, is a childhood friend to Na El's (ph) son, Nadir.

ALI, MUSLIM FRIEND: Actually, he's the first one I know. It's normal, you know? Ever since I was young, he was like my best friend.

NADIR, CHRISTIAN: We don't talk about religion. We don't discuss it together.

MAKTABI (voice-over): The UAE is another Muslim country where the Christian-Jordanian Hawatmeh family has been living for more than 30 years.

EMAD HAWATMEH, JORDANIAN CHRISTIAN: It's very nice living here. We don't feel any uncomfortable things. We go to church, we have, of course, our own business. We don't have any trouble. We never feel that we are unsafe.

MAKTABI: But Koranic studies in local school curricula pose a challenge to Christians raising their children in the UAE. The church is often home to their religious roots and rituals.

FATHER NIDAL: Usually, here people can live, can have such a -- such a life. And they are happy, also. They live all together between Muslims and Christians, there is no difference.

MAKTABI (voice-over): Unlike parts of Iraq and Egypt, where violence has recently been waged against Christians, the message of tolerance is one that permeates throughout much of the Gulf.

However, for Na El Raib (ph) and the Hawatmeh family, freedom of religious practices, symbols, and celebrations is still confined to the walls of this church compound. Rima Maktabi, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Just about 40 minutes past nine in London. Next up for you, the push for a smoke-free world. We're going to head to New York tonight, where debate is raging over a bid to make it illegal to light up outdoors. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: All right. Welcome back, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Now, Spain has just started butting out. Ireland has been smoke- free since 2004. Every year, we hear of another country joining the global push to ban smoking in public places.

Well, all this week on CONNECT THE WORLD, we've been looking at this bid for a smoke-free world where it is illegal to light up and how different countries deal with the controversy of laws that pit the rights of those who do smoke against those who don't.

Tonight, we're going to take the debate to New York, for you. There are already comprehensive smoking bans in the city as you'll know if you've been, but as Richard Roth explains, there is a bid to take the laws even further.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): New York City is considering banning smoking in parks, public places, and other plazas. Still seems incredible that you can't smoke anymore in restaurants and bars. That's been in effect for years.

Now, city leaders are still concerned about secondhand smoke in places such as parks. And it seems like not everybody's happy about this proposal. The old "let's go out into the park for a smoke" is under heavy fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's BS, because secondhand smoke is like the least of our problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in free rights for everybody, and the people should be able to do as they please, regardless of whether it's hurting other people or not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should ban smoking in parks because there are children around. And so, it would be really nice if it were a smoke-free environment for everyone, for the little kids and for the grown-ups, too.

ROTH (voice-over): And the smoke still hasn't cleared from an emotion-packed New York City Council hearing on whether to ban smoking in parks. Remember "Sex in the City?" Call this "Smoke in the City."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People don't seem to want to understand that that cigarette smoke travels. And it swamps and batters our respiratory systems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is more dignity in smoking this cigarette than in the game of malice disguised as virtue being played here. The right to be intolerant ends where my civil liberties begin.

ROTH (on camera): New York City is far from being alone in moving to ban smoking in place such as city parks. San Francisco, Salt Lake City are among 470 towns with similar laws already on the books.

Now, this week, in a suburb of New York City, Great Neck, Long Island, a new law went into effect banning smoking on public sidewalks due to complaints from store owners and the public. Violators could face a $1,000 fine or 15 days in jail.

Could that happen here in New York? Well, some locals might say "Forget about it." But the New York City Council and the mayor may have something else to say. Richard Roth, CNN, New York.


ANDERSON: Richard Roth reporting for you. Well, the debate continues in New York, and also on our Facebook page. Many of you have been posting comments about the smoke-free status of your country. Let's get a few of these out for you.

Jean Claude is from Cameroon and says he prays for bans. "Here in Cameroon, people smoke everywhere, and smokers don't even respect those who don't smoke."

Tony from Nairobi in Kenya is a smoker and he writes, "Smoking is banned on the streets, as well as in clubs and restaurants. As smokers, we have no freedom."

And this from non-smoker Evy. "In the Netherlands, they don't stop smoking. They disobey all orders. Not good."

Get your voice heard, head to the Facebook page. And if you aren't -- you're not a fan, do join up. Also, you'll find we've done -- what we've done so far in the week, this special look at smoking. You'll find that at

Tomorrow night, we wrap up the week in Asia. Passive smoking is a way of life in China. Smokers are allowed to light up in public in restaurants, even in hospitals. So, how do non-smokers cope? We're going to take a look at that for you tomorrow.

Tonight, though, dismantling the Axis of Evil. For comedian cultural ambassador Maz Jobrani, it's all about poking fun of stereotypes. We're going to show you how our Connector of the Day does that while raising a smile. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Make them laugh. Maz Jobrani says that that is his mantra. The comedian is also taking aim at stereotypes. I caught up with this man on a mission and asked him to be our Connector of the Day.



ANDERSON (voice-over): Best known as part of the Axis of Evil comedy tour, the Iranian-born American Maz Jobrani knows how to crack a joke, daring to poke fun at Middle Eastern stereotypes.

MAZ JOBRANI, COMEDIAN: There's not four --


JOBRANI: There's two. But you've got to say --

MO, "THE INTERPRETER": I'm at the airport. No sign of her. Hasn't checked in yet.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Not just a comedian, you film buffs out there will recognize him from the TV and silver screen, with roles including secret service agent Mo in Sydney Pollack's thriller, "The Interpreter."

MO: Are you there?


MO: That's the flight. She's not on it. I checked every hotel in New York, every friend she's got. They don't know where she'd go, because they don't really know her.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Jobrani is currently starting in his own solo tour, "Brown and Friendly." Making audiences laugh all over the world, from the US to Canada to Europe and Australia.

JOBRANI: And my father would be like, "Son. You should be proud. You should be proud, son. We are Persian, son. You should be proud. We had an empire, we had an empire."


JOBRANI: "Two thousand years ago, we had an empire."

ANDERSON (voice-over): I caught up with the actor and comedian to find out more about the show.

JOBRANI: As a comedian, you try to adjust your material wherever you are. Even within the States, if you go from New York to Los Angeles, the material's going to have some difference. But a lot of the stuff is about you, so you get into that.

The one thing is, when we -- when I did shows in the Middle East, they would -- the promoters would say, "No sex, no religion, no politics." So, you would say, "All right, well then, what's there to talk about?"


JOBRANI: But what's funny, though -- what's funny, though, is in the States, I've done shows for television before where they said I couldn't mention certain products, because they might be sponsors of the given show that I'm going to be on.

So, quickly I understood that in the Middle East, God is god, and in the West, Tide is god. You can't offend Tide, because they might be sponsoring your event, your show.

ANDERSON (on camera): Where's your best audience.

JOBRANI: My best audience, anywhere that's cosmopolitan and has a mixed audience. I love a mixed audience. When I do DC or New York or San Francisco, Los Angeles, a lot of those places have great audiences.

And then, again, Middle East, I've had Beirut, very, very enthusiastic bunch that like to celebrate life. So, those are some of the spots.

ANDERSON: I'm assuming that Iran takes center stage at least sometimes in your comedy. What's your take on Iran at present?

JOBRANI: Well, Iran is the country of my birth and I have a lot of pride and love for Iran and Irani culture. As you know, the politics are a little out of whack these days.

Right off the bat, the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, provides a lot of fodder for material. I don't know if anyone saw the interview he did with Larry King on CNN, but he used a technique that Middle Easterners like to use. Middle Easterners don't like to answer questions, we like to answer questions with a question.

For example, if you were to say, "Hey, what's your name?" We'd say, "I don't know, what is your name?" Because we're skeptical of who you might be. And the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, is the master of that.

So, if you watch those interviews with Ahmadinejad -- I mean, with Larry King, it was very interesting, because Larry would ask him, "So, do you have a nuclear program?" He'd say, "I don't know, Larry. Do you have a nuclear program?" And then Larry would say, "Are you asking if America has a nuclear program?" He'd say, "No, I'm asking if Larry King has a nuclear program."


JOBRANI: And then -- so, it goes on and on and on. So --

ANDERSON: Keira from New York has written to us, Maz. She says, "What topic or issue do you think someone from a liberal city," say, San Francisco, "and someone from a more conservative city," I'm assuming she means Tehran, for example, "could both laugh at?"

JOBRANI: Well, Tehran -- I mean, look. First of all, there's a lot of liberal people in Tehran. If you want to talk about the more conservative people in Tehran, then -- I guess the issues that anyone could laugh at are if I do family material.

When you get political, you're going to get people from one side laughing and another side not laughing. For example, when I was doing jokes about George Bush during the Bush presidency, every comedian was doing jokes about George Bush. But there were times when there was audience members who were hardcore conservative Republicans who would get offended.

So, it depends. If you get a political, one side might not laugh at the other side. But that's where family material and self-deprecating stuff usually gets you to -- It's easier to laugh at me, a bald guy, than your politics and whatever.

ANDERSON: Listen. It's one of these questions that has to be asked. Do you think you're educating people through your comedy? Changing somebody's views? For example, in Iran.

JOBRANI: Yes, absolutely. That's one of my goals. As a matter of fact, when we did the Axis of Evil comedy tour, it came out a few years ago, it came out on Comedy Central. And what's funny is, I went online to see what people were saying about the show, and I ended up on Sean Hannity's chat room. And one guy had written another guy. He said, "I never knew these people laughed."

And if you think about it, you never see Middle Easterners laughing in American film or television. Maybe like an evil, like, "Mwahahaha, I will kill you in the name of Allah!" But never like a "ha ha ha ha." So, just that in itself, to have people realize that, oh wow, people of the Middle East do laugh. That in itself is, I think, a little bit of progress.

ANDERSON: What's next?

JOBRANI: Next, I'm actually working on a movie called "Jimmy Vestvood, Amerikan Hero," which is a movie about an Iranian private eye living in Los Angeles. It's kind of like a Middle Eastern Pink Panther. And his goal is to be an American hero, but he's not American. And the tagline is, "You don't have to be American to be an American hero."


ANDERSON: Isn't he great? Maz Jobrani for you. And looking ahead, you'll probably recognize Matt Dillon from his Hollywood hits. But the American actor is also lending a hand, like George Clooney, who talked to us earlier, to try and ease the crisis in Sudan. This is a big story.

Matt's been working alongside Refugees International. He's also Monday's Connector of the Day for you, and this is your chance to ask him your questions. Do send them to us. Remember to tell us where you're writing in from. You can do all of that at this website, That's

We've got about two or three minutes left after this very short break. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Want to get you an update on a story that a lot of you have been commenting on. It's a real heartwarmer, I make no excuses for this. If you were watching last night, you'll have seen the story about a bloke with a golden voice, an ordinary homeless man with a hidden talent. Well, as Jeanne Moos reports, that talent may just have landed him the job of his dreams. Take a look at this.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hair today, gone tomorrow. But the main thing that changed overnight wasn't Ted Williams' look, it was his life.

TED WILLIAMS, HOMELESS MAN: Who is responsible for everything --

MOOS (voice-over): No wonder he was tearfully thanking folks. The offers were pretty amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a listener call in and offer up $15,000 of her own money."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to come to Hollywood?

WILLIAMS: I certainly would.


MOOS (voice-over): All because a videographer for the "Columbus Dispatch" taped this exchange with a homeless recovering alcoholic holding a sign saying he had a God-given gift of a voice.

DORAL CHENOWETH, "COLUMBUS DISPATCH" VIDEOGRAPHER: I'm going to make you work for your dollar. Say something with that great radio voice.

WILLIAMS: When you're listening to nothing but the best of oldies, you're listening to Magic 98.9.

MOOS (voice-over): And like magic, Ted Williams was transported to the world of media interviews and network morning shows, where he choked up at the prospect of a reunion with his 92-year-old mother in New York.

WILLIAMS: She would live long enough for me to -- to see me rebound or whatever.

MOOS (voice-over): He had offers from a show called "America's Next Voice," from MTV, from "Inside Edition."

WILLIAMS: For the best in sleazy reporting --


MOOS (voice-over): Columbus radio station WNCI fielded most of the offers. For instance, a full-time job doing voice over work for the Cleveland Cavaliers and, from a company associated with them --

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Quicken Loans is actually offering to pay a mortgage on a home.


UNIDENTIFED MALE: Oh, my God, that's it. That's the best deal ever.

MOOS (voice-over): Not bad for a guy who showed reporters a tent he says he once called home.

MOOS (on camera): Because Ted knows his way around a microphone, some thought he was a phony.

HOWARD STERN, RADIO HOST, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW": Meanwhile, it's a hoax, you know. Listen to this guy's voice. He's a homeless guy. How -- why would this guy be homeless with a delivery like this?

MOOS (voice-over): Thanks to booze and cocaine, Williams admits. It didn't take long for The Smoking Gun website to publish "Meet The Felon With The Golden Voice." A round-up of his rap sheet on charges such as theft and robbery, The Smoking Gun interviewed a Columbus business man who complained about Williams being a nuisance on his property, changing clothes and cursing.

From jail cell bars to --


ANN CURRY, NBC ANCHOR, "THE TODAY SHOW": That is a man with some velvet pipes.

MOOS (voice-over): Now living a pipe dream come true.

WILLIAMS: Now batting for the Boston Red Sox, number nine, Ted Williams.

MOOS (voice-over): Did we mention he has nine kids? Jeanne Moos, CNN.

WILLIAMS: And we'll be back with more, right after these words.

MOOS (voice-over): New York.


ANDERSON: I'm Becky Anderson. That is your world connected this evening. "BackStory" is up next here on CNN, right after a very quick check of the headlines for you.

Ivory Coast internationally recognized president-elect tells CNN he expects the Economic Community of West African States to intervene in his country's power struggle. Alassane Ouattara also says that he's confident that military action to remove self-proclaimed president Laurent Gbagbo from power is on its way.