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Day of Dignity Turns Deadly; The Battle for Ajdabiya; Situation at Fukushima Nuclear Plant Worsens; The Situation at Otsuchi

Aired March 25, 2011 - 16:00:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: The uprising in Syria grows and so does the crackdown. Dozens are reported killed in clashes, as the calls for change spread across the country.

Also tonight, fears grow of a leak at Japan's stricken nuclear plant.

And a little help from above -- this business's solution to keep all plants cool.

These stories and more as we connect the world.

We'll take you to hot spots across the Middle East, as more and more protesters put their own lives on the line for a chance at a better future.

First, Syria, where a so-called Day of Dignity turned deadly.


FOSTER: Demonstrators spilled out of mosques across the country after Friday prayers, demanding democratic reforms. According to witnesses, in Salamein (ph), in the south, the security forces fired on crowds who were trying to march on the town of Daraa, killing at least 15 people. A human rights activist tells CNN another nine people were killed in Daraa itself, a town that's become the rallying point for anti-government anger sweeping the country.

It's important to note that all of our video from Syria today comes from amateur sources. We can't confirm the authenticity, but it does match witness accounts.


FOSTER: In Latakia, witnesses say police used water cannon to break up demonstrations. And these massive protests reportedly took place in Banias, with crowds chanting, "Raise your voice in freedom!"

Well, the Syrian government isn't allowing our reporters into the country, so Mohammed Jamjoom is following developments for us from CNN Abu Dhabi.

It looks as though things are getting worse, things are spreading -- Mohammed.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Max. If -- if we can take away anything from today's demonstrations, it would be something that we've heard quite a lot from demonstrators and eyewitnesses and activists in the streets in Daraa and other cities in Syria, and that is they're suggesting that the barrier -- the fear barrier has been broken there, that people are no longer afraid to go out into the streets, despite the fact that they are aware that the government may crack down on them, that they may have their lives at risk or face severe injury.

This is something we've seen not just in Syria, other countries in the region that's facing popular uprise -- uprisings, as well.

In Syria today, as you mentioned before, 15 people reportedly killed. Eyewitnesses telling us when they were marching from the town of Suleiman (ph) to nearby Daraa to try to show solidarity with the demonstrators there. We also hear from activists nine people killed in Daraa.

The activists, the demonstrators, the people that we're speaking with are saying that what they heard from the government yesterday simply wasn't enough. Buthaina Shaaban came out yesterday on Syrian state television, offered more reforms, said that laws would be implemented that would address the concerns and the grievances of Syrians that are taking to the streets.

Today, we saw many more Syrians taking to the streets, not just in Daraa, but in other cities, including in Damascus, according to eyewitnesses.

Now, one update to give you, as well. According to the Syrian state news agency -- and this post just a little while ago -- they are claiming that at least 10 people were killed in Salamein in that town close to Daraa. They're claiming that they were armed gangs that attacked security forces, the security forces clashed with them because they were under attack and that's what resulted in the deaths.

That's a different story than what we've heard from the activists and the eyewitnesses, but not a surprise. Usually, when we get these types of reports in the region, in different countries where are -- where there are crackdowns going on, the government will come out and say that actually it was government forces that were attacked by armed gangs -- Max.

FOSTER: OK, Mohammed.

Thank you very much.

Well, the protests erupted across Syria today despite the government's announcement of some major reforms.

So what can we expect to happen next?

Could the government offer more olive branches or simply tighten the screws?

Let's bring in Patrick Seale. He's a journalist, a prominent expert on Syria. He's written a number of books, including "The Struggle for Syria".

Thank you so much for joining us.

Watching things unfold, how do you expect the government to -- to react from here?

PATRICK SEALE, AUTHOR, "THE STRUGGLE FOR SYRIA": Well, this is a defining moment for the young president. He needs to seize the initiative, which he hasn't done. He must either not merely announce would-be reforms, but implement them. If he -- if he did that, then at least he might check this widening protest movement.

But he hasn't done that. And so it looks as if there's a huge debate going on inside the regime, between reformists such as himself, I believe, and the headliners. And it looks as if he's losing that battle.

FOSTER: How long has he got before things escalate out of control in the streets?

SEALE: Well, once you start killing protesters, then I think you cross a -- sort of a line. And it's very difficult to retract. And he said yesterday -- or one of his aides said that they -- they had given orders not to shoot. But, in fact, they -- they have done so. They -- they've killed more people in Salamein (ph), as you said. They killed them in the -- in the southern suburbs of Damascus, in Hidan. They've killed them in Daraa, again.

So this -- this is really very difficult to -- to regain the initiative. It's such a pity because when he came to power 11 years ago, everybody had huge hopes that he would dismantle the security state which his father had established. He hasn't done so.

Of course, in his -- in his defense, one has to say that he's faced a very difficult time. If the Americans had been successful in Iraq, he was next on the neocon list. Then, of course, he had trouble in Lebanon with the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

So he's had five or six difficult years in which his security chiefs gained prominence and power.

FOSTER: He's got an opportunity, though, as I understand it, because the protesters aren't necessarily calling for regime change, they're calling for reforms. He's got an opportunity to stay in power if he does something.

SEALE: But the window of opportunity is closing.


SEALE: He has to act fast and he hasn't acted. You see, his aide yesterday announced a raft of reforms, but where are they?

Too little, too late.

FOSTER: OK, Patrick, stay there for a moment.

We're just going to look at the region a bit more widely now, because Syria's neighbor to the south has its own day -- had its own day of rage, as well, and that triggered violent street brawls today.

Protesters in Jordan clashed with government loyalists in Amman. Sticks and stones flying through the air there until police used force to break up the fight. According to Jordanian officials, 58 security officers and 62 civilians were killed -- in Ijid (ph), rather, I'm sorry, while one man died of a heart attack. Protesters say the man was beaten to death by police.

Dueling pro- and anti-government demonstrations also took place in Yemen today. Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Sanaa's University Square for what they called a Day of Departure. They want the president to resign after 32 years in power. He says he is ready to surrender authority, but only to safe hands.

What do you make -- how do you sum up what's going on in that region and with particular reference to Syria?

SEALE: Well, in reference to Syria, Syria, everybody thought, was immune, to some extent. But you see, the disturbances in Syria affect the region. Its allies, Iran, on the one hand, and Hezbollah, on the other, inevitably are weakened. The Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis, which had been the main challenge to Israeli and American hegemony, has been weakened by this.

So -- so some people might rejoice.

He's got enemies in Lebanon -- many enemies there. Saad Hariri's Sunni group, the 14th of March, they call themselves. Now, he faces enemies internally and externally. He has to act. He hasn't yet done so. He hasn't spoken. Everybody was expecting him to speak today. He hasn't done so.

So as I say, the window of opportunity is closing.

FOSTER: He needs to do something soon. But you suspect there's some arguments going on behind the scenes about what to do.

SEALE: I'm sure there are. I mean his brother, you see, is -- Komahir (ph) -- is the commander of the so-called defense companies, which is the Praetorian guard of the regime. He's the hardliner. And, obviously, there are huge disputes going on. One of his cousins, Rani Mahlouf (ph), is widely accused of -- of being too greedy, of corruption.

So he has to get rid of these relatives of his. He has to act. He has to show leadership. He has to regain the initiative. That's what everybody is hoping for.

You see, the regime is split, but the country is also split. The demonstrations by the protesters have been met by counter-demonstrations. So half the country wants him to stay. They were hoping that he is the best bet.

FOSTER: And that's a genuine large power base he's got in that country, unlike, obviously, Gadhafi in Libya, where it seems a lot smaller?

SEALE: Quite so. I mean he is quite popular still. People are still hoping. But unfortunately, he hasn't fulfilled those hopes.

FOSTER: And can I ask you, Daraa, it seems as though it's -- it's really forming a stronghold for the protest movement.

Is -- can we think of Daraa as a -- as a base in the same way as Benghazi is a base in...


FOSTER: -- in Libya?

Is it becoming a focal point?

SEALE: Well, obviously, a lot of killing went -- took place there. There are in a security zone. It's right on the border with Jordan. And relations with Jordan have not been very good. So there are lots of local grievances.

For example, they could make land sales or house sales there without permission from the security authorities. You may have to bribe somebody. That's a local grievance. It's a tribal area. And when you start killing people, in tribal custom, they want revenge.

FOSTER: OK. Patrick Seale, thank you very much for your insight today.

We very -- very much appreciate it.

Let's check on developments in Libya then, where it's been almost a week since coalition warplanes began bombing runs to enforce a U.N. mandated cease-fire. Nearly 900 sorties later, Moammar Gadhafi's air force has been severely crippled, if not destroyed and coalition planes are enforcing a no-fly zone at will.

Government targets from Tripoli to Benghazi have taken a pounding, yet not much territory has changed hands, as rebels struggle to capitalize on that air support. Gadhafi's forces still control much of the western coast and the opposition much of the east.


FOSTER: You can hear their warplanes flying over the strategic town of Ajdabiya today.

Coalition commanders say Libyan tanks were hit, but the regime is determined to reinforce its positions.


AIR VICE-MARSHAL PHIL OSBORNE, ROYAL AIR FORCE: The Tornadoes had intelligence on likely target locations from previous Rapture (ph) reconnaissance port (ph) images. And they were able to identify a group of Libyan main battle tanks with their weapons aimed north toward Ajdabiya.

Their highly accurate attack, with Brimstone missiles, hit three of the tanks, completely destroying them.


FOSTER: Well, the fact is that Ajdabiya or Ajdabiya is critical for the regime trying to advance east. It's a strategic gateway to oil fields in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. And to the opposition, it's a must win on the road to Tripoli.

Arwa Damon has this update from the front lines.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Struggling to gain ground, opposition forces are under attack, still fighting to clear the northern entrance to Ajdabiya, but unable to advance.

(on camera): The rounds seem to be landing more over there in that direction and that is because the fighters are telling us they have units going in from each side.

So basically what they say is going on is that opposition fighters keep sending off small units through the desert roads to launch attacks on this group of Gadhafi soldiers that has basically, literally, dug themselves in at the northern entrance to Ajdabiya.

(voice-over): The fighters believe that Gadhafi's unit is running out of ammunition and will be forced to surrender.

(on camera): The fighters were just telling us that last night, that unit raised a white flag. But then this morning, when the fighters advanced on them, they were shot at.

(voice-over): It's been a tough battle for this strategic city, considered a gateway to the oil fields and a critical area the opposition has to control if they intend to continue west.

But even with the no-fly zone and air strikes, the battle here has gone on for days -- opposition fighters still unable to deliver Gadhafi's forces a final blow.

Arwa Damon, CNN, outside Ajdabiya, Libya.


FOSTER: Well, coalition -- coa -- coalition commanders say elsewhere in Libya, Gadhafi's forces are entrenching themselves in populated areas. They say the best way to rout them out may be to cut off their supply lines.

Let's get more now on the fighting from Reza Sayah.

He's in Benghazi.

What's the latest you can give us from there -- Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Max, the most urgent and volatile location continues to be the strategically critical town of Ajdabiya. Certainly the British air strikes against the Libyan tanks could help the rebel forces that are trying to enter the city.

But we're getting some disturbing accounts of what Libyan forces, Gadhafi regime loyalists, are doing to civilians. A witness telling CNN today that leaving the city of Ajdabiya, he saw several bodies on the streets -- bodies no one is daring to recover. Another witness telling CNN that as he was leaving the town, he saw a regime loyalist going house-to- house, taking suspected rebel fighters, young men, taking them to who knows where?

It's these type of stories in Ajdabiya, we're hearing similar stories in the western city of Misrata, that has the opposition desperately calling for the international community to step up its effort -- Max.

FOSTER: Yes, so what are they making there about this NATO deal to take over much of the control of the mission?

SAYAH: Well, I think when you talk to people here, much like the world, they're not sure what this means, NATO leadership of this operation. But I think one thing is for certain, not only does the opposition want the operation to stay intact, they want to expand it. You talk to a lot of people, they are openly asking for weapons. Some of them are asking for troops on the ground.

We visited Friday prayers here in Benghazi. Here's what some people have to say about NATO taking on the leadership of this operation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We wish to have a bigger force. We wish France and NATO to place troops on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We want the opposition forces to move west. We want all of Libya liberated, not just the east.


SAYAH: Give us weapons, give us troops on the ground, this is what the opposition is demanding. Of course, the coalition -- NATO officials saying their mission is to just end the bloodshed and maintain the no-fly zone. It's certainly not a mission that is in accordance with what the opposition wants, Max.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens moving forward.

FOSTER: Yes. And those people you've been speaking to there in Benghazi, they've been through so much, haven't they, a relatively short conflict so far, but what a huge amount of change they've been through there.

SAYAH: Yes, there's no question about it. Life has changed for almost everybody here. And in -- who's been responsible for the fighting on this side are these rebel fighters. And what's remarkable is who they are. A few weeks ago, they were civilians, average workers, mechanics, students, activists. Today they've taken up arms and they are taking on a professional army and the Gadhafi regime.

One of those civilians who died, like many others, is viewed here in Benghazi by many as a hero.


SAYAH (voice-over): Rebel fighters in street clothes going head to head with a Libyan Army tank. The amateur video, purportedly shot last week, a dramatic glimpse of the war for Libya, pitting civilians against Gadhafi's heavily armed forces.

Despite being severely outgunned, this is what rebel fighters did last month to the regime's military barracks in what is now the opposition capital of Benghazi -- the destruction of the compound, the turning point in the fight for this key city.

To many here, Al Mehdi Zia (ph) was the hero of that fight, a 49-year- old oil company worker, husband, father of two. The best way to help the opposition, he decided, was to sacrifice his life.

His two teenage daughters say they had no idea what their father had planned. His wife, too distraught to appear on camera.

"We're not able to express how much we miss him," says Sajeda.

"We miss him a lot," says her sister Zuhur. "He was with us every moment of our lives."

(on camera): This is where Al Mehdi Zia (ph) gave his life. It's the old military barracks here in Benghazi. It's pretty much demolished today. But on February 19th, rebel fighters had surrounded it and they were facing heavy firepower.

They were trying to get inside these military barracks. They couldn't. They needed something to shift their momentum.

What Al Mehdi did was pack his car full of plastic car fuel containers in cooking gas cylinders. And witnesses say he parked his car right over there, where that SUV is, and prayed and read the Koran for about 30 minutes. And then he sped towards the main gate, where he blew himself and his car up.

(voice-over): This is a picture of Al Mehdi's best friend, Abdul Farhoud, carrying his remains after the blast.

ABDUL FARHOUD, AL MEHDI'S FRIEND: If I didn't saw his body in the car, I could not believe it.

SAYAH: He says Al Mehdi's suicide attack sent Gadhafi troops running, clearing the way for rebel fighters to overtake the barracks.

FARHOUD: He's a hero. He's a real hero.

SAYAH: For opposition forces, the taking of the barracks was a monumental victory made possible, they say, by Al Mehdi, one of hundreds of civilians who have died in the war for Libya.

For two daughters, the sudden loss of their father is heart-wrenching, but one they say they're honored to live with.

"He did something very important. We're definitely very proud of him."


SAYAH: You know, a lot of people view this uprising as a youth movement. But Al Mehdi Zia, next year, he was going to turn 50. It shows you that it's more than twentysomethings taking on the Gadhafi army. Many of those rebel fighters still fighting, Max, as we speak.

FOSTER: Reza, thank you so much for that fascinating stuff.

And let's just take a moment to show you what's happening on the TV screens right now in Libya. This is Libyan state TV, what the regime is -- is putting out. And it shows pro-government demonstrations there, support on behalf of the regime, certainly. But the level of it, we're not quite sure.

This is what Libyan state TV is showing right now, a lot support there for Colonel Gadhafi.

Now, worrying assessments out of Japan, fears of a radiation leak at Fukushima. We'll bring you the latest on the nuclear crisis.

Later in the show, as well, Maria Sharapova. She is one of the world's best known athletes and she'll be taking your questions.


FOSTER: Japan's government has been forced to admit that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant is grave. Reactor Number Three has been causing the biggest headache and may now be leaking, we understand. The plants owners have been called to account over how workers managed to become exposed to extremely high levels of radiation, as CNN's Paula Hancocks explains.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A potentially serious blow this Friday in the efforts to bring the Fukushima nuclear plant back online and away from a crisis.

Now, we've heard from Japan's nuclear and industrial safety agency that the reason there was water contamination in Reactor Three on Thursday could have been because some radioactive material seeped through the containment vessel.

Now, this containment vessel is basically the last line of defense. And it's supposed to stop any radioactive material seeping from the reactor core into the atmosphere.

Now, they're not certain of this at this point. The officials from TEPCO, the company that's in charge of this plant, say that obviously they had to evacuate all the workers on Thursday. Three of them were contaminated because they were standing in five inches of this contaminated water for up to 50 minutes. And they say that they haven't been able to allow any workers back in since.

So it's very difficult for them to see if, in fact, there is a rupture or a break and any -- anything that's allowing this radioactive material to seep into the atmosphere.

A very potentially serious blow, though, for those efforts. And Japan's prime minister spoke to the country and spoke to the world this Friday evening to say that there is still a lot of work to be done.


NAOTO KAN, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is still unpredictable and we are trying to prevent it from getting worse. We cannot allow ourselves to be optimistic. We must remain very alert and treat each new development with the utmost caution.


HANCOCKS: So too soon for optimism, certainly, according to Japan's prime minister.

But as we have seen over previous days, at the same time there is very negative news, we also have some positive news coming out from the nuclear plant. This Friday is the fact that Reactors One and Three are now being pumped with pure water as opposed to seawater. Seawater, of course, is corrosive. It could include very high levels of salt. And so that could be dumped in the reactors and could be very detrimental in the long-term.

So one spot of hope there.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Tokyo.


FOSTER: So what is it about the Number Three Reactor that has authorities so worried?

Well, the fuel there is mixed with plutonium as well as uranium, and experts say that could cause a lot more damage if there's a meltdown.

If you look at this animation, you'll see the reactor's core in yellow. There are worries it -- its containment vessel has been breached. You can see that's flashing green there. This is very bad news for those trying to stop a large scale release of radiation, but it's likely radioactive water has already started to seep through.

Along with dealing with the loss of loved ones, survivors of Japan's disaster are coming to terms with the loss of entire towns. Much of the coastal city of Otsuchi will have to be rebuilt and many are wondering if it's even worth it.

CNN's Kyung Lah has been speaking to some of the Otsuchi locals and she sent this report.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The view of the town of Otsuchi stops you in your tracks. Everywhere you look, the improbable, the unsalvageable. Much of the town of 16,000 reduced to this. First the earthquake and tsunami, then a gas explosion followed, which burned through what was left.

In the path of destruction, the city hall.

(on camera): After the earthquake, the mayor rushed out of the building and set up a command post right in front of city hall. As the tsunami was approaching, though, then he and members of his government evacuated to the second floor. The tsunami, though, came as high as that clock. It killed the mayor and more than half of this town's leaders are missing.

(voice-over): Even as they grieve for their own, city workers do what they can to help victims, the living bearing the burden of picking up what's left.

Half of the city's residents are either dead, missing or homeless. All of the town's history washed away except for sparse mementos collected from the wreckage. The government they rely on barely there, moving more slowly than nearly anywhere in the tsunami zone.

Victims left to plea for help from national leaders visiting the small town.

SHOZO AZUMA, VICE MINISTER, CABINET OFFICE: I believe that the people who are living in this where the pre -- prefecture, based on this miserable situation, that they recover (INAUDIBLE).

LAH (on camera): You believe it in your heart?

AZUMA: I believe it.

LAH (voice-over): Easier said than done, says Ayano Okubo.

"I lost everything," she says, her grandparents and her home. There's nothing left in her hometown and no one to lead the rebuilding. "Even though I like Otsuchi," she says, "I can't come back here."

You can see the survivors making the choice -- leave, or like Aychuso Susaki (ph), stay. He lost his parents, his house, his job and most of his city.

"I have a lot of friends afraid to stay in Otsuchi," he says, "but I won't leave."

A city trying to mend. The tools to get it done as broken as the terrain.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Otsuchi, Japan.


FOSTER: Now, bringing the strands together, European leaders take a step closer to resolving the Eurozone's debt crisis, but not everyone is happy. We'll explain.


FOSTER: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Max Foster in London. Coming up, European unity. Leaders come together in hopes of a solution to the region's debt crisis.

Keeping Qatar cool. We'll show you one creative idea that's being floated right above the football pitch.

She's talented, glamorous, and she's our Connector of the Day. Tennis star Maria Sharapova.

All those stories ahead in the show for you but, first, let's check the headlines this hour.

Witnesses in Syria say dozens of anti-government protesters were killed today when security forces opened fire in and around the town of Daraa. This dramatic amateur video is said to show crowds coming under attack.

Protests have turned violent in Amman in Jordan. Anti-government protesters clashing with government loyalists with rocks and sticks. The demonstrators are calling for reforms, including a less powerful monarchy.

A Canadian lieutenant general will lead NATO's missions to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. NATO hasn't formally taken control of the operation, yet, but is expected to within days.

Japanese officials are worried one of the reactors at Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant may be leaking. They think a containment vessel may have been breached at reactor number three.

The UN says nearly a million people have fled the commercial capital of Ivory Coast because of escalating violence. More than 460 people have been killed since a post-election dispute began in November.

Those are the headlines this hour.

Setting bailout terms. European leaders like the look of a permanent fund that would end the EU's debt crisis. They've managed to put its details in motion, but problems at home in many of the countries, most recently in Portugal, hemmed in the scope of their Brussels summit. Our Jim Boulden was there, and he tells us what happened.


JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was said for weeks, this European Union leaders' summit would set the stage for major reform to European economies and confirm a structure to try and end worries about the euro. Thanks to domestic concerns in several countries, ambitions were lowered before anyone arrived.

ENDA KENNY, PRIME MINISTER OF IRELAND: All in all, it was a -- a tear more meeting than the last one, shall we say, but it did bring about a conclusion in what it is up to.

BOULDEN (voice-over): On Thursday, the meeting went late into the night because Germany wanted a change to how countries contribute money to the permanent rescue fund that goes into play from 2013. Problems at home ahead of elections meant Germany wanted to put money into the $700 billion fund over five years instead of three.

Still, European leaders say signing off on this new rescue fund, and also commitments from all 27 EU countries to report back in April on economic reforms, should show markets that Europe is serious about a comprehensive response to the recent economic crisis and attack on the Euro.

JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: The overall proposals, the proposals made on the basis of the task force shared by the president of the European Council and, also, what we have put forward in the six legislative proposals.

It will reinforce in a very, very clear way the possibility of ensuring fiscal discipline in the member states. And I think this is critically important for the stability and respect, for overall confidence in our governance and also in our economy.

BOULDEN (voice-over): Leaders said Friday's brief meeting was taken up by the talks and an agreement on further economic sanctions against the Libyan regime and a new trade pact with Japan to help its economy rebuild. They've also agreed to examine all nuclear power plants in Europe.

HERMAN VAN ROMPUY, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: We, therefore, decided that the safety of nuclear plants should be urgently reviewed in the so- called stress tests. The commission will report on the stress tests to the European Council before the end of this year.

Because the danger does not stop at our borders, we encourage and support neighboring countries to do similar stress tests. A worldwide review of nuclear plants will be best, and we ask the commission to review existing EU rules for safety of nuclear installations and propose improvements if necessary.

BOULDEN (voice-over): What was not resolved, will Portugal need a bailout during its political mess? Will Ireland get what it wants, a cut in the interest rate attached to last year's bailout?

KENNY: And on the basis that the banks to assist in Ireland are not yet available, we don't have clear figures, thought it better not to pursue the Irish situation until that actually happens.

BOULDEN (on camera): At this summit, Portugal continued to insist it does not need economic aid from its fellow EU countries. The sky-high interest rates on Portuguese bonds shows the markets aren't convinced. Jim Boulden, CNN, Brussels.


FOSTER: Well, as Portugal scrambles on the political and the financial fronts, Berlin is play --- is paying close attention. That's because Germany is in the best financial shape of all the euro zone, and chancellor Angela Merkel isn't keen to shoulder the burden of bailing out the other members.

So, what does Germany want from its neighbors? Well, Fred Pleitgen is with us, now, from CNN Berlin. And Fred, as Jim was suggesting, the bond markets are pretty much factoring in a bailout, so Merkel's going to have to separate with some cash, isn't she? What's her view on Portugal?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she certainly hopes she's not going to have to put up very much cash or any cash at all for Portugal. I think the Germans very much still hope that could in some way be avoided, because a bailout would be very, very unpopular here.

And, of course, these are very interesting and very difficult times for Angela Merkel. She's got very important regional elections coming up very shortly and, certainly, a potential bailout wouldn't go down very well.

So, I think some very important things have actually been decided for Germany at this EU summit. One of those things is that a bailout for any country is, first of all, pegged to very, very stiff austerity measures that country would have to undertake and is the last resort.

So, Angela Merkel, for her part, she seems very tough on the European level to voters here at home, but at the same time, she's still not endangering the European project.

The other thing, of course, that's very -- weighing very heavily on Germans' minds was also debated at that summit of the EU, today, and that's the nuclear issue. And that's one where Angela Merkel, after the Fukushima problems, is having a lot of issues here at home, Max.

FOSTER: What do Germans think of Angela Merkel being seen as the savior when any country does need helping out? Really, the forefront of the euro.

PLEITGEN: Well, I don't think that Germans really want Germany to be the savior of any other countries. One of the things that we have to keep in mind about the Germans is that one of the reasons why the German economy is doing so well at this point in time is that, for the past couple of years, the Germans have been putting austerity measures in place.

Wages haven't been, really, been going up. They've been going down, in fact, for many people. A lot of the things, the social benefits here in this country have considerably decreased for a lot of people, and that's why the country is doing so well at this point in time.

And so, many Germans, for their part, don't see why their country should help out countries like Greece, should help out countries like Portugal, where a lot of these measures haven't been put in place, yet. So, this is something that's very difficult to sell to German voters in general, but to Angela Merkel's conservative voters particularly, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Fred, thank you very much, indeed.

You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we come back, fact or fiction? We'll tell you exactly what this is and how it might be used to cool Qatar's World Cup worries. Back soon.


FOSTER: See if you can get what -- guess what this is. It's a bit of a tricky one, so here's a hot tip. Think Qatar in the summer for the 2022 World Cup. No idea? Well, it's actually a robot cloud -- it's true -- made of carbon fiber solar panels the size of a jumbo jet, for one reason. It's filled with helium to make it float. And it's all remote-controlled, able to change position according to the path of the sun.

And now, its main selling point is lowering football pitch temperatures. Qatar in July can reach highs of 40 degrees Celsius. Could bring that down for players by around three degrees. It's an extraordinary contraption.

For more on how Qatar plans to help both players and spectators deal with the heat, "World Sport's" Kate Giles is with me, now. That's one plan, an interesting one. What else are they considering?

KATE GILES, CNN HOST, "WORLD SPORT": Yes, they've got a few plans in place. Basically, what they're promising overall is cooler conditions for both the fans and for the players, particularly, as well.

And we've seen that floating cloud, and that's, basically, to try and make sure that the sun doesn't get into the stadium, but they want to do a lot with the stadiums themselves. They're building these nine brand-new, state-of-the-art stadiums, and they're promising an awful lot of air conditioning.

Basically, what they're going to have with these stadiums is an awful lot of solar panels to create this energy to, then, blow out cool water -- sorry, cool air, of course -- and they're saying it's going to lower temperatures within the stadiums to around 27 degrees. That's a big difference because, like you said, we're talking over 40 degrees, though.

That'll be good for the players. It's also good for the spectators. What they're also planning to do is cool stadium seats and also, the spectators should expect to have cool air blown onto their feet, to their hands, and onto their neck around 18 degrees temperature, that.

So, it all sounds very cushy --

FOSTER: Sounds lovely.

GILES: It does sound all right, doesn't it? But actually, you're kind of forgetting that you've still got this sun beating down on you, whether you're cooled down by all these apparatus or not, it's still very dangerous.

FOSTER: And so many people won't be used to those temperatures, and we've learned this from previous experience, haven't we?

GILES: We have done, unfortunately. Yes, a lot of competitions are played in the peak of summer. But there have been examples of when that's gone wrong.

The 2009 Australian Open was one of those examples, where the stuff -- the players really, really suffered. They had temperatures, there, 46 degrees plus. Serena Williams was one of the players that really had a tough time. She said that she felt like she was having an out-of-body experience, like she could see herself playing.

This was -- a lot of that was to do with the fact that they refused to close the roof, even though they did have retractable roofs on those stadiums. So, perhaps a lesson to be learned, there, for Qatar, who also will have retractable roofs.

And the -- the fans out there, as well, they really suffered. Again, another lesson for Qatar, because the burns unit at Melbourne Hospital was actually overloaded with fans, there, who'd suffered these really severe burns because they'd had these courtside seats and hadn't wanted to give them up.

FOSTER: And we saw that extraordinary contraption that Qatar is considering right now. Have there been any other efforts to sort of battle nature? Can they do it?

GILES: They can do it. Obviously, it's easy to kind of control these facilities and apparatus that we build ourselves. Mother Nature is a little bit harder to control.

But we have tried. In the Beijing Olympics, there was a big attempt to do that. Basically, they used this procedure which they called "cloud seeding," which is basically because they had this very grand, very fabulous opening ceremony, which they didn't want to be ruined by any rain.

FOSTER: And it wasn't. It worked.

GILES: It wasn't. It worked. They basically shoot these -- this iodine or this dry ice --


GILES: -- up into the clouds with these rockets. It's a very expensive procedure. But it somehow prevents it from raining. I read a lot of very technical explanations about how that actually works. But they --

FOSTER: Yes. It didn't rain, that's what we need to know.

GILES: It didn't rain, exactly.

FOSTER: Kate, thank you so much for that.

We're going to talk, now, to the man behind that amazing project you saw the images of, there. He is Dr. Saud Ghani. He's the head of a mechanical and industrial engineering group at Qatar University. He's with me, now, on the line from Doha. Thank you so much for joining us.

This extraordinary machine, we're going to see some images of it. How close is it to actually going into production, and how does it work?

SAUD GHANI, QATAR UNIVERSITY (via telephone): Max, this is very -- very interesting. It's part of the Qatar University big push to support the whole country into getting the 2022 as wonderful experience for spectators --


FOSTER: So, we see it now. Tell us how it works, exactly.

GHANI: Welcome to the future. When you come to Qatar, we'll promise a very -- very good tournament.

FOSTER: It's basically just creating a shadow, right?

GHANI: Well, it's not Aladdin's flying carpet. It's more than that, a lot. One of the things that we need to consider that the platform should be far away from the open ground in order to minimize or even eliminate the strobing effect of the blades or the wash from the blades. Even the noise. You didn't or see it or hear it. It'll be at very high attitudes.

And the transformer's only a platform for that. There is more into that, which is, basically, we're shedding a big mesh around the platform to just obstruct the radiation of the sun. This is only the center, the carrier of the mechanism that we're going to deploy.

FOSTER: Is there enough time to test it properly? Because if I was in one of those stadiums, I'd be worrying about it landing on me.

GHANI: No, the work that we do is looked at by the university, as well, on the redundancy, on the control redundancy with the four motors, how safely we can bring it to ground when something happens.

Professor Roger Dixon from Loughborough University in UK is looking after the control of these motors, and they -- and again, if the form -- the objective of the four motors is to control it rather than to make it float. To make it float, that's being taken off with other means.

FOSTER: It's amazing --

GHANI: And all green, it's all green. We are -- we have got a big push from His Highness the Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa, and this is a big fan of football, himself. He was after the bid. And he -- and they will make the whole country proud --


GHANI: To make it on time.

FOSTER: Saud Ghani, good luck with the project. Can't wait to see it actually flying around. Thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

Now, she's rich, she's glamorous, and she's also devoted to her fans, not just Kate Giles. Maria Sharapova's targeting Olympic glory. She found time to tell me how she's making her world more connected.


FOSTER: Young, gifted, and empathetic. Tonight, we're profiling a woman "Forbes" magazine calls the world's highest-paid female athlete. And it's little wonder. Friday's Connector of the Day is talented and glamorous, with a legion of fans around the globe. Yet, she's also known what it's like to struggle. Let's get you connected.


FOSTER (voice-over): Seventeen years of age and a champion. It seemed that Maria Sharapova had simply burst onto the global stage after her shock win over tennis powerhouse Serena Williams at Wimbledon 2003.

But it was a goal she'd been working towards against the odds for over a decade. Spurred by her parents, who moved from Russia to the US in pursuit of a tennis scholarship when Maria was just seven.

The early struggles paid off. Since the Wimbledon championship, Sharapova has held the number one ranking four times, and has won both the US and Australian Opens.

In recent years, she's battled injury, but this stunning tennis star is never far from the spotlight. Cover girl, US goodwill ambassador, and social media queen. I asked Maria Sharapova if she ever gets overwhelmed by her fame.

MARIA SHARAPOVA, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: You have mixed feelings about it, because when you go home at the end of your -- at the end of your match or at the end of a shoot that you do, and you get in your pajamas and you go into bed and you're watching television or writing in your journal, you don't think of yourself as a star.

You have your friends and family around you, and you're cooking dinner, and you're going out for a coffee. And you're -- nothing around you seems or makes you a star, and you feel like a regular person.

But then, when I go out on the court and I'm playing in front of thousands of people, and they're out there to see me and my opponent battle it out, then it's an incredible feeling. But at the end of the day, I think fame is -- it's a very tricky word because it, obviously, means so much, and it means many people around the world know you.

And it's so great, because I'm so fortunate to have all these fans that follow me around the world and follow my matches. I never imagined that I would have so many fans, to be honest with you, that follow so many of the things I do, whether it's on the court and off the court.

I think it's so important to interact with them. That's one of the reasons why you get famous, is by your fans.

FOSTER (on camera): Social media is, obviously, very useful for that, but I know you've also launched a new website, as well. So --


FOSTER: Is that, though -- is that what you use to try to keep in touch with people whist you're sort of traveling the world.

SHARAPOVA: I launched my first website in 2008, and when I started realizing how important internet and social media was, I kind of started gathering around with my team and I said, I think it's so important to be able to incorporate all the things that the fans want to see, whether it's when they go on your Facebook, whether it's go on your website, to have it all together.

I think by relaunching my website that I just did, I think it will give my fans an easier, accessible way to know everything about me, what's going on in my life, where I am, my matches.

Some people just go on my Facebook, but in this way, they can go on my website, see my Facebook, as well, and tell them about what I'm doing. I log in on my phone, I report to them where I'm traveling from or my ideas or thoughts.

I also tell them about my shoots that I have are coming up. I give them photos. If they want to see more, they click on that, they go right away to my website.

So, interacting with my fans is so important because, like you said, I have a lot of them. I'm very thankful for that, and I really want them to -- to have that accessibility, because I think it's quite important.

FOSTER: One of the viewer questions we've had is from George, he's in Bulgaria, and he wants to know how you manage to cope with the pressure that you have on the court.

SHARAPOVA: Pressure is such an interesting thing because it's -- nerves and pressure are really part of someone's career. I think if you're really passionate about something and you really want to do well with it, nerves and the pressure of the situation, they come with that.

And I think having a good perspective always helps. On the court out there, you -- I'm very fortunate to be playing tennis and hitting a tennis ball for a living, so I keep that in mind when I'm feeling a little bit nervous. But, yes. It's part of the sport, but it makes it that much more exciting.

FOSTER: It's been a glittering career, of course, but a bang -- Jobang (ph) wants to ask, "If you had another chance to be a youth, would you still choose tennis?"

SHARAPOVA: Oh, yes. I don't regret for one second that I became a tennis player. I grew up going to a private school for some years. I do a lot of online study, so I never had the chance to get a feel for the 20 students in class type of atmosphere, but I still did my studies. My mom was very strict on that, with Russian and English, as well.

But yes, I think it's -- there's a thin line, I think, when you don't know too much about something that could have or should have happened, it's really tough to say what I would have preferred.

FOSTER: Amber on Twitter, she asks a very simple question. "Do you really need to play all that tennis to have such great legs?"


SHARAPOVA: That's a great question. Haven't gotten that question before. I -- I don't know. I'm -- I can't say I'm fully responsible for having long legs. I think a lot of it has to do with genetics, as well. So, I'm very thankful for that. But exercise does play a big part in it, as well, and running around the tennis court sure helps. Tones the muscles.


FOSTER: Answering every question, Maria Sharapova, there. Next week, a pop icon who's making a difference. Annie Lennox is a genuine global voice. The Grammy winner fights hard against HIV and AIDS in Africa. She's also a Connector of the Day.

And you can make a connection by sending us your questions. Remember to tell us where you're writing in from. Head to

Now, from thriving in sport, the next challenge we're looking at is surviving in the Arctic. One -- on one of the coldest places on Earth, scientists are gathering vital research on global warning. Our special correspondent environmentalist Philippe Cousteau is leading a CNN team as researchers look at the impacts and the global implications of climate change on the sea ice.

This extreme science is taking place over Catlin Arctic Survey ice base, which is around 1200 kilometers from the North Pole. On day three of this extreme expedition, the team has had to sit tight at their Resolute Bay base, thanks to Mother Nature's high winds.

But the delay has provided a welcome extra day of intense training. Philippe Cousteau shares what to do if a polar bear comes into sight.


PHILIPPE COUSTEAU, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): So, not wanting to waste any time, we have headed out and spend much of the day doing additional training on the ice. And in particular, we've been training for the unlikely but possible encounter we may have with a polar bear.

Now, hopefully, if you encounter a polar bear, they will either ignore or not seem interested in you. Or, in some cases, they won't even notice you. Or they may be curious but keep their distance. In both of those cases, best thing to do is just to stop, calmly look at the bear, keep your eye on the bear, and back away from the bear. Certainly don't run, and if you have any deterrents, use them.

In particular, each of us are outfitted with this. It's basically like a little flare gun with an M80 grenade on it, or an M80 firecracker on it. Now, the point of this is to create a lot of noise to frighten the bear away from you, and all you do is screw it in and fire it off.

Now, earlier, our guide, John, showed us exactly how to use this out on the ice.

JOHN HUSTON, ARCTIC GUIDE: You screw it on, there, make sure no one's standing in front of you, and then, you simply pull it back.


COUSTEAU: So, hopefully, if all goes well, we will never have to use one of these. They are fun to fire off, I have to admit, but certainly don't want to have to use them with a polar bear.


FOSTER: You certainly don't. If you're online, head to and you'll find Philippe Cousteau's eight rules of surviving the ice.

I'm Max Foster. The world headlines and "BackStory" follow this short break.