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THE SITUATION ROOM

Koran Burning Protest Turns Deadly; Violence Spreads Across Middle East; Gadhafi Regime Rejects Cease-fire; What Makes Libya Different; Arguing About the Jobless Rate; Hope Fades in Search for Missing in Japan

Aired April 1, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, a protest in Afghanistan unleashes an attack on a United Nations building, and at least a dozen people are dead. Is an American pastor in Florida who burned the Koran to blame?

Also, outgunned Libyan rebels, now talking about a cease-fire with Moammar Gadhafi. This hour the terms and a new response from the Gadhafi regime.

And new explosions of anger and violence in the Middle East and North Africa. We are following the unrest on this day of prayer and whether another country might plunge into a war like Libya's.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with bullets, chaos and bloodshed in Afghanistan. President Obama strongly condemning the attack on a United Nations building there. Today's deadly assault has a tie to anti-Islamic anger here in the United States. It happened during a protest of a reported Koran burning by a Florida pastor.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

Chris, lots of folks are watching this. Let's not forget the United States still has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and that was the initial reason why so many had urged this Florida pastor not to do it. In this case the attackers used guns and even knives to attack these U.N. workers, and when it was all said and done, 12 are dead and more than two dozen were injured.

Let's take you back and tell you how this happened. Last September this Florida pastor, Terry Jones, threatened to burn a Koran, but it was initially cancelled after the Pope, President Obama, even the Defense secretary all urged him not to. Well, about two weeks ago on this small church's web site it threatened to put the Koran on trial and in a subsequent post said that the Koran itself had been found guilty of causing rape, murder and terrorism, and a copy of the Koran was burned inside the building. Well, my Pentagon sources tell me that this news first hit in Pakistan, almost immediately. It caused some demonstrations there, and then the Taliban released a statement just a few days ago basically saying, "look, this is proof that the U.S. is against Islam." That set off today's protest in which thousands marched across Afghanistan. At one of these in Mazare Sharif, the afghan police tried to break it up, firing shots in the air, but they were overwhelmed. The protesters stormed this building and that's when the U.N. workers were killed, Wolf.

BLITZER: What has this pastor said about it today?

LAWRENCE: You know, Wolf, in an e-mail he said he's not backing down much. In the e-mail it says, "This attack shows we must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they use to promote their terrorist activities."

Now, on the other hand, President Obama himself condemned the attack. The secretary-general of the United Nations called it cowardly, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan says this goes against both Islamic and Afghan values. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence, for that.

The political turmoil plaguing Libya is exploding across the Middle East.

In Syria, witnesses say at least seven people were killed. Dozens more injured when government troops fired on protesters. Demonstrating after Friday prayers.

In Egypt, a rally being dubbed Friday to save the revolution, protesters returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square claiming Islamist groups are beginning to hijack their movement.

In Yemen, a number of people were reportedly injured during a huge day of pro and anti-government demonstrations. At one point a witness says rock-throwing broke out between the dueling sides.

In Amman, Jordan, as many as 1,000 officers have been deployed to ward off potential clashes between government loyalists and opposition members.

Here's CNN's Stan Grant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The real concern here is that the loyalist groups will keep walking forward, and that's where they will meet the groups that have been protesting against the government that's where the real fear of violence lies. We look just over here, you will see the line of police who are marching with the protesters. It's their job to try to keep the two groups apart.

Right now we're probably seeing more police than protesters. As you can see here, another line of police, this time in full riot gear. If you look over the heads of this line here you can see more protesters. Now, these are the anti-government protesters. They have been calling for an end to the - to the regime. They are calling for reform.

We're seeing the loyalists marching before from the mosque. They continued up the hill, and once again it is the job of the police here to try to keep these two groups apart and avoid a repeat of the violence that we saw just last month.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Stan Grant reporting for us.

Let's get more now on the tensions boiling over throughout the regions. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is in Abu Dhabi and CNN's Ivan Watson is in Cairo.

Mohammed, let me start with you. In Yemen we're seeing demonstrators from both sides if they get violent it could be a civil war over there.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. This has been a real concern for Yemeni citizens and Yemeni officials. As we've seen more and more people, military commanders, government officials, even ambassadors defect from the ranks of Ali Abdullah Saleh and joined the youth revolutionary movement over there in Yemen.

There are concerns that there's so much tension in the streets there and there are so many tens of thousands of people that gathered that are either pro Saleh or anti-Saleh that this could lead to a civil war.

There are also various factions of the military in the streets, not just in Sanaa but in other cities across Yemen. This is a very fractious society, a very tribal society already beset with so much internal strife. People are concerned that one little incident, that there's more tension between protesters there or between varying factions of the military, that that really could make the country descend into utter chaos. Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by, Mohammed. I want to go to Ivan in Cairo.

All of a sudden huge crowds once again developing in Tahrir Square, Ivan, where you are. What's going on?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a group of activists, mostly from the youth movement, that was really behind those 18 historic days in Tahrir Square that helped topple a dictator, and they are trying to re-inject some new energy into their movement and try to prove themselves to be relevant again, many of them arguing that they have been marginalized in the time since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

Also to voice their displeasure with some of the decisions that have been taken by the ruling military council here. They are pushing to have the emergency law that's been in place for decades here, military rule effectively lifted.

They want more of Mubarak's former close aides and officials prosecuted, and they are calling for a proposed law which would ban the type of protests that led to the revolution in the first place and make it a criminal offense. They want that proposed law scrapped.

So that's why we had this gathering here of thousands of activists. They are also trying to show that they are relevant when the much more organized and much more disciplined Islamist groups have really taken a leading role in the political dialogue here.

They are trying to again show that they are an important force that needs to be reckoned with and consulted as the military council makes its decisions on future elections and other developments in the - in the future Egyptian constitution, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mohammed, I get the sense that all of these uprisings starting but three months ago in Tunisia and then Egypt, Libya and now Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, that it's only just the beginning, that this is going to go on for a while, but you're out in the region and what's your sense?

JAMJOOM: Well, Wolf, that's what we seem to be seeing here. You know, we talked to so many of the activists and the members of the opposition in these countries, and they say that really what's happened is the barrier of fear that used to exist in these countries, the fear from these authoritarian regimes, that's been broken, and they say these activists, these protesters say they are willing to keep coming out into the streets even though they risk being faced with violence by authorities.

I mean, we saw today, according to eyewitnesses, at least seven people killed in Syria after clashes with security forces. We know that there were protests even in Iraq today, protests in Oman. We hear in the past few weeks there's been sporadic protests in Saudi Arabia.

It's growing, even in Bahrain, even though that movement over there, the government thought that they had really quashed that, those activists that are in Bahrain are saying that they're going to continue to put pressure on the government to try to get reforms.

So what we're seeing here now is just extraordinary. It's unprecedented. People, citizens that used to live in fear of the rulers of their countries say they are going to continue to come out into the streets. They are going to continue to demonstrate no matter what risk they may face, Wolf?

BLITZER: Ivan, I know that you have an update on that Egyptian- American who has been in custody in Syria. What's the latest?

WATSON: Mohammed Radwan, according to his cousin, called from the Egyptian embassy in Damascus. He had been released by Syrian authorities after being detained for nearly a week after being paraded on Syrian state TV and described as a spy. He has been released back to Egyptian custody, and he has indicated that he would like to get back to Cairo as fast as possible.

And on another point, Wolf, following on what Mohammed just said, if there is any evidence of how much this protest movement is bleeding across borders in the Arab world, take a look at this flag here. This is the Libyan opposition flag, OK, and used by the rebels against Gadhafi in Libya.

I picked this up in Tahrir Square where the Egyptian protesters often wave it. It's for sale. The shopkeepers down there are selling them to tourists, and it's a sign of solidarity from Egyptian demonstrators for the rebels who have been battling against Gadhafi for weeks now across the border in Libya.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson in Cairo for us. Mohammed Jamjoom in Abu Dhabi. Guys, thanks very much for your good reporting

Raging battles in Libya today and a surprising round of talks, at least about a cease-fire. Opposition leaders laying out some conditions for a truce with Moammar Gadhafi's forces, including an end to the siege in Misrata and freedom of expression for the Libyan people. The rebels still say their ultimate goal is regime change.

We've just received a response from the Gadhafi regime. Let's go to Tripoli. CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us.

Nic, what's the response from the Libyan regime?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the government spokesman here, Wolf, called the conditions of the cease- fire silly. He said that it would be impossible to implement. They weren't serious. Essentially the government here appears to be rejecting out of hand this cease-fire that's been requested or called for by the opposition.

The spokesman here said that the government remains ready to talk with the - with anybody in the international community, in particular, the western powers, those behind NATO, Europe, the United States, France, Britain, ready to talk to any of those, he said who are serious about peace, but he completely dismissed any possibility it appeared that the government would try and follow up on what we're hearing from the opposition. This conditions-based cease-fire, Wolf.

The government here appears continued with its intent to push itself eastward. In fact, I just spoke with a source close to government and he said that what the government views here is that they are not trying to retake towns, merely go in and detain these people, that they continue to call terrorists, so they seem set on continuing - continuing this fight, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, there are a lot of rumors circulating out there, as you well know, a lot of conspiracy theories out there, Nic. One suggestion that Gadhafi himself might step down and hand over power to maybe one of his sons, maybe to another person. I don't know if there's anything to any of these rumor, but what are you hearing?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I think there certainly is something to this notion that Gadhafi will one day leave aside, and this is something that we've heard from a number of people over a number of weeks, the idea and this notion and concept is still alive and that there is still a space for diplomacy I'm hearing despite what we're hearing from the government spokesman, hearing it from other sources.

The idea was essentially this, that Gadhafi, his regime in their eyes clears up the problem here in Libya. That is, it brings and restores calm to the country and to the war, and then he'd be ready to fade into the background essentially meeting the terms of regime change.

Now, these two ideas, fading into the background and regime change, there's a lot of diplomacy that needs to be done, legwork that needs to be done to bring these two notions together, and the problem is at the moment there - that legwork doesn't seem to be under way. Perhaps people are beginning to open up channels, perhaps people are beginning to think about that more seriously. So the space exists but whether or not these two sides can bridge the space and fill the sort of who trusts who and the technicalities and trust to make this happen, Wolf, that's really unclear that that's really a work in process at the moment.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us as he has been for these days and weeks in Tripoli, thank you.

There are signs of paranoia right now amongst some of those rebel forces in Libya. We're going to the front lines for a special report. That's coming up after this.

And we'll also tell you why President Obama may be glad he was caught off guard today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's stay in Libya. Right now the rebels are fighting to keep their spirits up after new setbacks against Moammar Gadhafi's forces. Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman is on the front lines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're on the western edge of Ajdabiya where we're seeing an attempt to impose some sort of order near the front lines. Today, journalists are not being allowed beyond this barrier. Not only journalists but opposition fighters as well. According to these orders issued by what's called the Libyan National Army's First Infantry Division, fighters should not move forward without orders from their superior officers but there's also increasing paranoia.

Earlier, we watched as a man the fighters said was an African mercenary, was caught, surrounded, and then taken away in a pickup truck. There's no indication whatsoever that he is, in fact, a mercenary. Also, worries about the possibility of infiltration by pro-Gadhafi loyalists into this part of the country. We watched as cars are being stopped, identities checked. The cars are also being searched. The worry is that these pro-Gadhafi loyalists are going to conduct some sort of guerilla war in eastern Libya.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Ajdabiya.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Ben is joining us now live from -- he's back in -- in Benghazi. Ben, is it my impression or are they getting themselves a little bit better organized on this day as opposed to previous days, the Libyan rebels?

WEDEMAN: Well, that was the impression I got today but I have to tell you, Wolf, I've had that impression before and was disappointed. In fact, the old habits of chaos quickly came back. So, it's hard to say.

But what we are hearing from people in Benghazi is that they've now sent to the front lines soldiers from the old Libyan Army who have defected to the rebels, organized into units, equipped with long-range ground surface-to-surface missiles that are probably the heaviest weaponry yet to be used by the rebels against Libyan force -- the pro- Gadhafi forces in the eastern part of the country.

Whether this is going to translate into a dramatic change on the ground, in terms of the balance of power, it's hard to say. But, I think there is a growing realization that the current system of fighting, of organizing military units, isn't working and not only are they not gaining ground, they could be losing ground yet again. So, it does appear, at least today, that there is an attempt to organize the ranks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Did you see any evidence of NATO coalition air strikes today?

WEDEMAN: I did not. Now, we made one last trip to the outskirts of Ajdabiya, where I was told by somebody who'd just come back that the rebel forces had advanced into the -- sort of the edges of Brega, and then pulled out because there were coalition air strikes in and around Brega. So, this is anecdotal evidence.

We didn't see it on our own but it does appear that there were some air strikes in eastern Libya today but nothing compared to the initial round of air strikes which, of course, we can see the evidence quite clearly all around this town. Dozens of burnt out tanks and tank carriers and armored personnel carriers that were hit in the first days of the air campaigns. Wolf? BLITZER: Because a lot of -- it -- it -- is it just because of the weather or is -- is it your sense, and it's hard to determine this, but a lot of us have thought that since NATO took full command there would be a reduction as opposed to the United States. Some are suggesting it's largely because the weather was inappropriate to send some of those flights in. But, how's the weather been?

WEDEMAN: Well, the weather -- the day before yesterday there was a very intense sandstorm but since then the weather has been good. I mean, today, it was slightly drizzly, partly cloudy. Don't mean to give you a weather report but, certainly, they -- there -- I didn't see any impediment to air operations. It does appear that there may be a somewhat different approach to this situation by the NATO command as opposed to when the U.S. was directing the air operations.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what a lot of people suspect. All right. Thanks very much for that. Ben Wedeman on the front lines for us watching this war unfold.

They were bound and ordered shot. Ahead, four renowned journalists, sharing for the first time their chilling experience being held captive by the Gadhafi regime. And, targeting smokers and those who are overweight. Details of a controversial plan to pay Medicaid costs in Arizona.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New gunfire and explosions erupting in the Ivory Coast's largest city. Lisa Sylvester is here. She is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, forces loyal to the country's internationally recognized president have now taken control of state run television in what could be the final stages of a deadly political battle for power. The residence of the self-declared president was also attacked. He's refusing to cede power after a disputed November election. His whereabouts are now unknown.

One child is dead and several others injured after a school bus crash in Mississippi. The bus was carrying elementary and high school students down a foggy stretch of road when it collided with a tractor- trailer loaded with gravel. Both vehicles overturned. An investigation is now underway.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is proposing a controversial way to help pay growing Medicaid costs. Impose a fee on smokers, diabetics, and obese people receiving the state aid. The plan, which could take effect in October, includes fines for childless adults who smoke as well as people with diabetes or weight problems if they don't get into shape.

And, the country's last island prison is closing today after 135 years, known as the prison without walls. Inmates of Washington State's McNeil Prison quickly learned that attempting to escape by swimming the surrounding Puget Sound could be fatal. Among its most infamous prisoners, convicted mass murderer Charles Manson though, at the time he, I guess, was a little known car thief when he was there.

BLITZER: But he's not a little known car theft guy right now.

SYLVESTER: Yes. Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Lisa. Misrata still very much a battleground, ground zero some suggest, in Libya's civil war. Refugees are fleeing the fighting but they have nowhere to run. We're going to get a firsthand account of what's happening on the ground. Stand by for that.

And, in Japan, tens of thousands of people are coming to grips with just ugly reality. The bodies of their loved ones probably will never be found.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Libya's third largest city, Misrata, surrounded by Moammar Gadhafi's fighters. The regime just rejected the conditions of a cease-fire offered by the opposition.

NATO-led air strikes to enforce the no fly zone had been on hold for a couple of days due to bad weather.

Jim Zogby is the author of the important book "Arab Voices: What They are Saying to Us and Why it Matters." He's also the founder and president of the Arab American Institute here in Washington.

Jim, thanks very much for coming in.

JAMES ZOGBY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, ARAB-AMERICAN INSTITUTE: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. doing the right thing in Libya right now?

ZOGBY: Well, I don't know. This is actually going to be one of those situations where the outcome is going to determine whether it was the right thing or not.

There's a lot of questions, and people both on the right and the left are asking those questions. And I think the president made a case on the humanitarian side, and certainly Moammar Gadhafi helps make the case. I mean, the speech he gave was outrageous, but there are legitimate questions. Who are the opposition?

BLITZER: Who are they?

ZOGBY: We don't know, and I don't think we will know. We know that they are not armed enough and there's not enough of them, and they may not represent the majority force in the country. We just don't know, and these questions are the questions that one would hope get asked and answered before the president presented a case for imminent crisis. I think we'll see this one play out.

BLITZER: So you're with those like Robert Gates who doesn't want the U.S. to arm the rebels?

ZOGBY: I'm on the Gates side of this argument for sure, and I think that there are legitimate concerns that have been raised. I mean, the case made by the Newt Gingrich -- the Newt Gingrichs, or the John McCains, that we should have done more early on, and whatever, if we didn't get an Arab League resolution, if we didn't get a U.N. resolution, people are still operating as if we're the white knight on the charger, and they forget that George Bush shot the horse. We're in trouble in that region, and I think the president was right to be cautious. But, still, questions remain about what's the goal, what are the costs, what are the consequences, what are the terms of engagement and what's the outcome?

BLITZER: Is it hypocritical for the U.S. to be engaged militarily, let's say, in Libya, but not in some of the other countries like Bahrain or Yemen?

ZOGBY: Well, Ivory Coast. I mean, there are crises everywhere in the world. He made a case for the imminence of this, but there's imminent crises elsewhere.

BLITZER: Do you think Gadhafi was going to slaughter tens of thousands of fellow Libyans in Benghazi?

ZOGBY: We don't know. And I guess the president wasn't willing to wait and find out. But I think real questions can be asked, was this an imminent crisis? We just don't know that.

BLITZER: It's pretty breathtaking to see over these last three months how this whole North Africa, Middle East region has exploded. As someone like yourself, who has watched this for a long time, did you anticipate these kinds of revolutions?

ZOGBY: You know, not only did I not anticipate it, but I think the people in the square didn't anticipate it. I think they were as surprised as when anyone after the first day and the second day, it kept getting larger and larger. And the folks that I've talked to found themselves empowered -- increasingly empowered as the days went on.

My book, I wouldn't take back a word of it. It tells the story of what Arab are thinking and what their attitudes are, but there's no way from those attitudes to find the predictor that this would have exploded, that it would have spread. I will say one thing. Tunisia was clearly important, but it was Cairo that actually set the stage.

BLITZER: Because when you think Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak gone, now maybe Gadhafi, what about in Syria? What's happening in Syria with Bashar al-Assad?

ZOGBY: Well, you know, let me just say something. I think it was the Mubarak one that was the big one. Egypt is Broadway. It's like, you know, when it comes --

BLITZER: It's the largest of all the Arab countries.

ZOGBY: Yes. And when it happens there, it happens everywhere.

I think that there are different regimes with different degrees of legitimacy, and therefore different degrees of support. And Assad has a base of support.

You know, when we poll across the Arab world, in many countries we ask the question, give us a leader not from your own country who you respect. He comes out in the top three in about five of the eight or nine countries --

BLITZER: In Syria, or throughout the Arab world?

ZOGBY: Throughout the Arab world. And the point is that there is a Ba'ath Arab nationalism.

He may be the last one of those around, but he undercuts it in some quarters by his alliance with Iran. But there still is this sense among some in the Arab world, and certainly many in Syria, both that he protect minorities, in particular Christians, but he also is the -- carrying the banner of Arab nationalism. They may be wrong, but nevertheless that's an attitude. He's got a base of support, and I don't think that he's as vulnerable as Ben Ali was, who didn't have that kind of support.

BLITZER: From the U.S. perspective, talk a little bit about the implications for the United States right now about this whole unrest throughout the Middle East.

ZOGBY: I'm not selling books, but Arab voices matter. We have to start listening to what people are saying, paying attention. I was asked a question by a reporter during the growing crisis in Egypt. The question was, "If we dump Mubarak, would our favorable ratings go up?"

I said you've got it wrong. We're not unpopular in Egypt because we supported Mubarak. He was unpopular because he supported us on Iraq, he supported us on the Gaza situation. He became a weigh station on the road to rendition.

People knew about that stuff and were resentful, and that created problems of legitimacy for his government, as it has for other governments in the region. So I think we have to start listening to Arab voices and understand they are paying attention to what we do and how we treat them.

BLITZER: Jim Zogby, he's the author of "Arab Voices."

Thanks very much for coming in.

ZOGBY: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Journalists captured by the Gadhafi regime, they tell us what they saw and how they felt when they were being held and threatened with death.

And the president is welcoming a significant drop in the jobless rate. Is it enough though to get Democrats and Republicans to see eye to eye? Gloria Borger is standing by to tell us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the last few months there has been a dramatic drop in the unemployment rate. It fell to 8.8 percent in March. That's the lowest level in two years, a full percentage point less than it was only in November.

The economy gained 216,000 jobs last month. At that rate, experts say it would still take another three-and-a-half years for the jobs market to completely rebound to where it was before the recession.

President Obama insists that jobs creation is still very high on his radar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there's a lot going on in the world right now, and so the news has been captured by the images of the Middle East and what's happening, the tragedy to our friends in Japan. And I'm focused on those issues, but you should know that keeping the economy going and making sure jobs are available is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and it's the last thing I think about when I go to bed each night. And I will not be satisfied until every American who wants a good job can find one and every American gets a shot at the American dream.

That's what we're focused on. That's what we're fighting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, jobs, jobs, jobs. It's always been the economy, from a political perspective, issue number one.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, and what you saw just there was the president trying to get back on message because, of course, he's been dealing with so many other issues.

And I spoke with a senior administration official today who said to me that they were actually pleasantly surprised by these jobs numbers. They were quite worried, because obviously they have been facing some very strong headwinds in the last couple of months -- the increase in energy prices -- and they are worried about confidence out there, given the fact that we've been dealing with wars, with tsunami, with earthquake. And so when these numbers came out, they were very excited about it.

They think it's because the private sector is gaining some momentum, Wolf. There's a lot of money out there, sitting out there, still to be invested. What concerns them is that state and local governments are really lagging behind in terms of reemployment, so they know that's going to be a problem for them.

What they'd love to do? There's no magic number heading into the next election, but if they can get below 8 percent, or at 8 percent, they would be thrilled.

Remember Ronald Reagan reelect in 1984? He went from over 10 percent to just over 7 percent at the time he was getting reelected.

BLITZER: And that's why 1984, as you well remember, is a result in part of that.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: How are the Republicans reacting today to these pretty good job numbers?

BORGER: Well, they are good numbers. And of course, you know, the Republicans are not willing to give President Obama any credit whatsoever on this, as could be expected.

Just take a look at what John Boehner said today, the Speaker of the House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Today's jobs report is welcomed news, but Washington needs to do a lot more to end the uncertainty and get our economy moving again. It's clear that we need to cut spending and we need to stop unnecessary regulations, end the threat of tax hikes, and pass the trade bills that are out there. And these are the pillars of a Republican plan that will actually create jobs in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Well, Wolf, cutting spending is going to come up soon enough. You know, you have this question of whether there's going to be $30 billion in cuts on a deficit deal. And then the Republicans next week are going to put out their budget plan, and both the White House and Republicans have to decide how serious they are about entitlement cuts, because that's the long-term issue that's going to take us into the 2012 election and maybe reduce the deficit in this country.

BLITZER: They've got to keep the government open.

BORGER: That's their first problem, right.

BLITZER: They've got a week to do that as well. That's a problem as of next Friday.

Thanks very much, Gloria.

Moammar Gadhafi's regime now rejecting a cease-fire deal from rebel forces. We're going back to Libya for a live report.

And hope is fading in the desperate search for the more than 16,000 people missing after Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Why they may never be found.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This just coming in, our top story. Twelve people were killed, brutally, in Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan.

The local police authorities there now saying they have made some arrests. Police have arrested a number of suspected people who might be the main organizers of today's attack on the United Nations office in Mazar-e Sharif. We don't believe any Americans were killed in that incident. A number of foreign United Nations workers were though killed.

The outrage, it resulted in part, we're told, because they heard of this report that this pastor in Florida the other day burned a copy of the Koran, and that caused them to go after an American target. They couldn't find any American targets, so they went to what they thought would be the closest thing, a United Nations target in Mazar-e Sharif, where it had been relatively peaceful, and they wound up killing at least 12 people, injuring many more. A lot of these foreigners working for the United Nations.

We'll stay on top of this story for you and bring you more. It does underline what's going on in Afghanistan almost 10 years after the United States went in to help the people of Afghanistan get rid of the Taliban.

You see what's going on. You see these pictures, how some of them hate the United States. They hate the United Nations. They just want these people to leave.

Let's get to some other news right now.

In Japan, people evacuated from their homes near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may not be allowed back now for months. Tokyo Electric gave us this picture today showing workers spraying all sorts of poisons to prevent radioactive particles from spreading.

Meanwhile, hope is fading in the desperate, desperate search for thousand still missing.

Here's CNN's Paula Hancocks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Noriyuki Tanaka clears out his mother's house. Through the kitchen window he can see the police team search for her body.

Her mobile was found in the kitchen. She had tried to call Tanaka six times after the earthquake, but there was no reception. Her last attempt was 3:16, just before the tsunami hit her hometown of Kamaishi.

Tanaka tells me, "What I can do to find her is limited. I appreciate volunteers helping me, but they can't do anything with debris like this. You need professionals."

This team is the first to search this area. A search-and-rescue team, they are trained to find life, but it's much too late for that.

(on camera): It's been three weeks since the earthquake and the tsunami, and more than 16,000 people are still unaccounted for. Now, crews are working systematically through vast areas of debris to try and find the bodies, so at least the families can pay their last respects.

(voice-over): The police chief tells me, "Debris is everywhere. There's not enough manpower, so we need heavy equipment to take away the big pieces, but the rest we do very carefully."

It is painstakingly slow. It has to be that way, we're told, so the digger does not damage a body. A backbreaking day of searching clears a tiny area and finds nothing, but photos or anything that looks precious are put to one side for residents to collect. A cross or a circle marks a spot that has been searched already, but it's the unfathomable debris as far as the eye can see that could be hiding some of the missing.

Local residents help, alongside emergency services. Makoto Nihonmatsu volunteered with the fire brigade. He says, "People come home to collect belongings. Instead, they find a body. So they call us to collect it."

The number of bodies found is slowing, but the number of missing is barely falling. Residents will soon have to face the reality that not everyone will be found, that when the tsunami pulled back to the sea, it took some of its victims with it.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Kamaishi, Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, CNN, we're going back to Libya. We're going to go take a look at a critical mission that's unfolding right now.

And an exclusive look at the marshes of Louisiana as well, almost a year since the oil spill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're very proud to tell you that CNN has won the prestigious Peabody Award for our coverage of the oil spill disaster along the Gulf last year. It's our 16th Peabody Award.

CNN is following the cleanup. But what if the coastline is never really clean?

CNN's David Mattingly has this exclusive look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Louisiana officials are watching their worst predictions come true. BP oil spill damage to some sensitive marshes may be permanent.

(on camera): Are these marshes done for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area is likely going to be open water in a few years.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): This is what this 40-acre section of marsh looked like when the oil hit last May. The syrupy crude I saw floating on the water then was just the beginning of the problem.

(on camera): Was all this killed by the oil?

(voice-over): Returning 10 months later, the Louisiana governor's office gave me an exclusive and disturbing look inside this damaged ecosystem. I could still see oil everywhere sticking to the plants.

(on camera): It's like tar. They're so sticky. Look at that.

(voice-over): It's also saturated the fragile soil. You can find it a foot below the surface.

(on camera): Right down here. Yes, it's down into the roots. Look at that. It's like a paste.

(voice-over): And Louisiana officials still look at all this oily black and see red.

BILLY NUNGESSER, PARISH PRESIDENT: That is (EXPLETIVE DELETED). OK? Because don't piss me off, because that is (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MATTINGLY: This confrontation was in December, as parish president Bill Nungesser accused the Coast Guard of not doing enough to speed the cleanup.

After months of study, the Coast Guard now tells me digging out the oil in some areas will do more harm than good.

CAPT. JAMES HANZALIK, U.S. COAST GUARD: You and I can go in, you can trample oil into the marsh, where it would make it even worse than what it would have been if you would have just left it alone.

MATTINGLY: And there's fear that the oil we see in the marshes is only a fraction of what's here. There's oil underwater, too.

(on camera): This is how most people find submerged oil out here. It looks clean right now, but not for long.

Hit it.

(voice-over): Watch what happens as a couple of quick spins from our airboat churns up the sediment below and releases the hidden oil.

(on camera): That's not mud we're looking at, is it?

(voice-over): Within seconds, a telltale sheen begins to form, a reminder that the losses suffered in this spill are far from over.

(on camera): So as long as this oil is here, it's just going to keep killing anything that tries to live here?

GARRET GRAVES, COASTAL PROTECTION AND RESTORATION: It's going to keep killing, and you're going to have the birds that are going to come back and get re-oiled. And they're going to go fly somewhere else. So, yes, the impacts are going to continue.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And that, officials say, could go on for decades.

David Mattingly, CNN, Louisiana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Four "New York Times" journalists held in Libya, they're now back home. They're speaking to CNN. You'll hear what they have to say.

Plus, exclusive access into the mayhem in Misrata.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Four "New York Times" journalists were held captive for six days by Gadhafi's forces. They feared they could die.

They spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper last night. He asked them about the moment they were abducted while driving out of Ajdabiya.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANTHONY SHADID, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The only thing I play over in my head was that creeping realization of what we were actually up against. And Lynsey was the first to realize that it was a government checkpoint.

And it must have been seconds, but it felt like minutes. As we got closer and closer, we saw the green military uniforms, the military vehicles, and then almost -- I mean, almost instantly, you realized that you were actually at a government checkpoint and that we had pretty much no options at that point.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": And that's got to be the worst feeling. I mean, to suddenly see the green vehicles and realize, OK, wait a minute, there's a level of organization here, these guys aren't the opposition forces, this is Gadhafi's people.

LYNSEY ADDARIO, "NEW YORK TIMES" PHOTOGRAPHER: And you can't turn around and go back because they'll open fire. I mean, you would assume they would open fire. You look more suspicious if you try and run away.

So we just sort of -- we made a decision to go forward, and at some point, you know, it's so chaotic. You don't know what the best option is.

I mean, Tyler was saying, "Don't stop. Don't stop," because we kind of just wanted to coast through and hope they didn't recognize we were foreigners. But at the same time, they knew that we weren't. I mean, they saw Tyler in the front seat -- and Mohammed (ph).

COOPER: And the risk is, if you don't stop, they'll just open fire.

ADDARIO: Right. I mean, it's kind of a no-win situation. And then our driver, when he stopped the car and he jumped out and said, "Sahafa (ph)," "journalists," and then there was chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All hell broke loose.

COOPER: And very quickly, you find yourselves laying on your stomachs, bound. And you hear one of the soldiers -- you speak Arabic, right? You hear one of the soldiers say, "Shoot them."

That's right. We were put on our knees first, and there was a lot of kind of slapping, emptying our pockets.

And I remember one of the soldiers was yelling at me, "You're the translator! You're the spy!"

And then soon after that, they forced us on our stomachs. And I think we all had that very sinking feeling that this was it.

And I remember, on my stomach, looking up, and I remember him being a tall soldier, and him saying, "Shoot them." And it felt like -- to me, again, it felt like a lot of time elapsed, but I think it was just probably a matter of seconds.

And another soldier said to him, "You can't. They're Americans."

COOPER: You really thought you were going to die?

TYLER HICKS, " THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. When they demanded we lay on our stomachs, we all were begging, "No. We're sorry."

We were begging not to go on our stomachs. We all felt that once we were on our stomachs, they're just going to start shooting. And as soon as I went on my stomach, I was just waiting to hear gunfire. And it was really a sinking and empty feeling.

COOPER: Do you think it's the fact that they viewed you as Americans, that's what made the difference?

SHADID: I think the idea of executing three Americans and a British journalist would have had implications. And there was going to be repercussions of basically executing us there at a checkpoint.