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Proposed Plan To End Libya Fighting; Explosion Rocks Belarus Subway Station; W.H.: It Would Be "Armageddon-Like"; President Obama's Defining Moment?; Nuclear Plant Ghost Town; Pain at the Pump

Aired April 11, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Drew. Happening now, a road map as it's being called to try to end the fighting in Libya, but it has been rejected. Why a proposal potentially did it up to Moammar Gadhafi certainly doesn't cut it for rebel leaders.

Plus, the CNN exclusive, two journalists risk their lives taking us inside this mandatory nuclear evacuation zone in Japan. It's a city that froze in time one month ago today.

And here in the United States pain, serious pain, at the pump as gas prices come close to the all time high.

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

But, first, to the bitter fighting in Libya right now where there are new indications Moammar Gadhafi is willing to consider a proposed cease fire. The Libyan dictator sat down yesterday with delegates from the African union and agreed in principle to a plan to end the bloodshed and allow outside forces to help keep the peace, but opposition leaders are saying, no deal. CNNs Reza Sayah is in Benghazi.

CNNs Fred Pleitgen is in Tripoli. Reza, first to you, what about this latest meeting between the head of the African union and the rebel leaders in Benghazi. He met a few days earlier in Tripoli with Gadhafi.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. The opposition rejecting this proposal, and I don't think this is shocker by any stretch of the imagination. The outcome of this was very predictable. Earlier today, when you talked to opposition officials, they didn't even know the details of this proposal put forth by the African union, but they knew that it didn't include the removal of Col. Gadhafi and his inner circle and that's why they have rejected it.

News of the rejection drew tears from a crowd of about 2,000 demonstrators that had gathered in front of the Benghazi hotel today where opposition leaders were meeting with this African delegation representing the African union. After a meeting of about several hours, the announcement was made by the top two leaders of the interim government of the opposition. Essentially, they said this proposal is not a solution for the violence against Libyan people, and it doesn't include the removal of the regime, Gadhafi's sons, and his inner circles, and the reforms that it's proposing is within the Gadhafi regime, which, according to the opposition, has been rejected already. So, Wolf, on Sunday night, the African union made a little bit of noise, got some attention when they put forth the so-called road map to peace, and it was accepted by the Gadhafi regime, but clearly, the opposition is saying, no way. They have rejected it.

BLITZER: Reza, a lot of us who have watched the relationship between Gadhafi and the African union over the years, including the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who represented the African union in these meetings with Gadhafi and now with their rebel leaders, know that Gadhafi spread a lot of his money, millions and millions of dollars around to the African union to a lot of the leaders of the African union, a lot of the countries to the African union. Do the rebel leaders really think that Jacob Zuma and the African union are fair mediators in some sort of diplomatic cease fire?

SAYAH: No. Of course, Col. Gadhafi made a lot of friends by spending that oil money and that's why the opposition was very skeptical with this proposal. We should note that South African president, Jacob Zuma, did not show up to Benghazi. Of course, he showed up to Tripoli on Sunday night. He didn't come to the capital, the opposition capital of Benghazi today. He wasn't involved in these meetings.

When it's all said and done, I think what happened with the African union was an effort on their part to quiet some of their critics. A lot of people were saying, why is the African union been silent during this conflict? Why have they not played a more prominent role? With this, I think, at least they can say they tried as well, but it didn't work, but certainly, those past relationships with Col. Gadhafi and some of these Sub-Saharan African nations made the opposition and its leadership very skeptical when it came to this proposal.

BLITZER: And quickly, why didn't Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, come to Benghazi just as he went to Tripoli?

SAYAH: That is not clear. We posed the question to the opposition leaders today. It wasn't clear why he didn't meet with the opposition leadership. South Africa did send a representative to these meetings, but it wasn't the South African president, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to check that. Reza Sayah for us in Benghazi. Let's go to Tripoli right now. CNNs Fred Pleitgen is standing by there. All of a sudden, over the weekend, Fred, you get a call. You're heading out of the hotel where you are in Tripoli, and you're going to some mysterious location and you wind up at Moammar Gadhafi's tent. Walk us through what happened.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly was very interesting, Wolf, and it certainly also had to do with this visit by the African union. Basically, what happened was they announce these sort of little trips about five minutes before you actually have to leave. So then, they drove us up to the compound where we know that Moammar Gadhafi has his tents and also some other buildings.

And essentially, what you have going on there is there is a little sort of a party-kind of scene with a lot of people who are celebrating, and then, they walk you little further and you're right in front of Gadhafi's tent. What he did then is he exited the tent with these African leaders with Jacob Zuma also holding hands and locking arms with some of them, and then he walked up to this crowd that was cheering him on and basically just cheered them on as well.

He was in a car. He was in sort of a Mercedes van where he was out the sunroof and cheering them on. So, it was a quite bizarre scene. It didn't last very long, but it certainly did show how seriously and how important the visit from these African leaders and to what extent he was trying to trump this up and use this, of course, also in the realm of public relations towards the international community. So, certainly, this was something that was really played very, very largely.

This peace initiative by the African union played very, very big by the Libyans here. They had massive sort of greetings at the airport when the president arrived. And then, of course, that big scene in Gadhafi's compound, which is a very, very reclusive place. It was really one of the first times that we've actually seen Gadhafi in a very, very long time that he shown himself to western journalist up very, very close. I mean, we were about maybe a yard away from him, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, how did he look to you? What was your impression?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's a very interesting question and something that we amongst ourselves debated as well. He didn't look too bad. I mean, he looked very, very defiant. Certainly, when he was in his car that was taking him around the premises and sort of going out the sunroof and then the car sort of got stuck within these people who are cheering him on. He immediately ordered the driver to open the sunroof and got out and cheered the people on.

So, he did seem quite defiant. He seemed very confident. This, of course, very difficult to read anything into that, but certainly, did look like someone who's willing to relinquish power very quickly, but certainly someone who's also very much keen on making the most of that public relations opportunity with those African leaders which showed up, of course, foremost, Jacob Zuma, who, for a very long times, has been supporting Moammar Gadhafi.

And also, on that evening actually called for NATO to immediately stop its enforcement of the no-fly zone and stop what he said the bombing that was going on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sure Gadhafi wanted to show the Libyan people how important he is and look at this African union leaders, Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa coming to Tripoli, come into my tent, a good propaganda purposes for him. Thanks very much, Fred. We'll stay in close touch with you. Fred Pleitgen on the scene for us in Tripoli.

Let's go to the military operation underway in Libya right now. A new U.S. concerns, a stalemate could be emerging. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence is joining us with this part of the story. What's the latest, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one senior U.S. official tells us that there's almost no chance that Libya's rebels can move further along on the ground towards Tripoli, and yet, another official tells us that Moammar Gadhafi's forces cannot undertake a major ground offensive. So, where does that leave you?


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Nobody wants to call it a stalemate, but U.S. officals privately say the rebels are holding Ajdabiya but don't have the organization, weapons, or manpower to move on. Gadhafi holds Brega, but air strikes have a destroyed a third of his ground armor and cut into his supply lines. U.S. and NATO officials now believed neither side can move. They also say it can't go on like this. If it does, al Qaeda is almost sure to take advantage.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: If this ends up in a stalemate that eventually could also make Libya a failed state, that could become a breeding ground for terrorists and extremists.

LAWRENCE: In a political term, there's no such thing as a tie.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: A stalemate would be a defeat. I think for the president and in terms of his stated goal of seeing Gadhafi leave.

LAWRENCE: Former Defense Secretary William Cohen says NATO must do more militarily.

COHEN: That would intensify the military operations.

LAWRENCE: U.S. and NATO officials have information notes civilians being killed, but Gadhafi's forces are enough now so mixed in so with civilians it's impossible to launch air strikes against them, unless, you use low flying aircraft that can fire extremely accurately, the kind that U.S.S. stop flying now that it is not leading the mission. In addition, Gadhafi may still have as many as 15,000 shoulder fired missiles. It's why NATO secretary-general now says there's no way to fight its way out of this.

RASMUSSEN: I want to be clear that there can be no solid military solution to the crisis in Libya.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Especially when it's getting harder for NATO to even tell the two sides apart. For example, last Thursday, NATO warplanes accidently bombed the rebels because they didn't know that the rebels now had tanks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thank you.

In Belarus, meanwhile, at least 11 people are dead, more than 100 others injured after a massive explosion at a subway station. Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev is calling the blast a terrorist attack. He's offering a help in the investigation to who's responsible. Transport security of the area has been heightened as a result.

The "Cafferty Files" coming up next.

Also, held at gunpoint and interrogated for hours, you're going to want to hear what happened to our own CNN team investigating internet activists in Bahrain.

Plus, new signs President Obama could be trying to redefine the term liberal. We're digging deeper.

And frozen in time one month ago. We're going inside Japan's mandatory nuclear evacuation zone. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Congress down to the wire over the budget. Jack series got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It was close, very close, but maybe not so close, but we were lead to believe it was close. Anyway, in less than two hours before the federal government said to shut down on Friday night, Republicans and Democrats agreed to cut $38.5 billion from spending in the 2011 fiscal budget. All of the expected self- congratulatory back patting and smiles accompanied the deal.

Some even tell (ph) that the measure is creating the largest spending cuts in American history, but let's not forget a couple things. The fiscal year is already half over. This should have been done six months ago. The Democrats refused to even address doing a budget last September. And when it comes to the debt crisis in this country, the 2011 budget is only the tip of the iceberg. In the eight days leading up to the vote on Friday night to cut 38.5 billion, the national debt rose by 54 billion.

We're anticipating running a deficit of $1.4 trillion this year. 38.5 billion is chump change. The next big fight on Capitol Hill, that will be over raising the nation's debt ceiling. The Treasury Department says we will reach our borrowing limit of $14.3 trillion around the 16th of May. Beginning this weekend, Congress is going to take a two-week spring break. That makes a lot of sense, right? That means that when they get back, they'll have only about two weeks to hammer out a deal before the country runs out of money or at least the ability to borrow.

Many Republicans have said they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstance, period. President Obama expected to weigh in on all this on Wednesday in a speech that will lay out his plans for reducing the deficit. The president is going to propose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. He's going to call for reforms To Social Security, and he will suggest raising taxes on Americans making more than $250,000 a year. These are all things we've heard before. There are all things that should be done, and of course, there all things on which nothing has been done, and Congress is going on vacation. Just lovely.

Here's the question. If it takes a threat of the government shutdown to cut $38 billion, how will serious deficit reduction ever be accomplished? Go to and post a comment on my blog. They've got some stones going on vacation for two weeks.


BLITZER: Well, you know, they got to rest a little bit. They work, those guys.

CAFFERTY: Excuse me?


BLITZER: All right. Jack, stand by. We'll get back to you. Good question.

A bloody standoff right now in the Western African nation of Ivory Coast is over. The man who tried to steal last year's election, the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, is now under arrest after soldiers stormed his compound. Our senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, is joining us now live from the commercial capital of Abidjan with the latest. What is the latest now that he's gone, apparently, Dan?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, still intermittent gunfire echoing around this part of the city that we're in, so the fighting end, apparently, but looting is not completely over yet. It's calm down a lot and a day of incredibly dramatic developments as Laurent Gbagbo who was hiding down in the bunker underneath the presidential palace where he then saw owners to wait (ph) finally flushed out his side.

Gbagbo side claimed it was French special sources that went and then gotten him, but the U.N. and the French are insisting it was, in fact, forces loyal to his rivalry, current president, Alassane Outarra, who went in and got him out. We understand he is now at the Gulf Hotel which is where President Outarra has been flew to camp out ever since this standoff started after the election back in November. So, the moment Gbagbo has come out and urged his followers to lay down their arms, but from what we're hearing on the streets, (INAUDIBLE) doing that yet.

BLITZER: It was very, very bloody, Dan. How many people has it estimated died since November, the election, in the Ivory Coast.

RIVERS: We just don't know, but I mean, we're looking at hundreds and possibly (INAUDIBLE) incident alone up in the northwest (ph) with those reports of 200 people being allegedly massacred. Now, the people there were saying to local reporters that they claim it was Alassane Outarra's side, the current president's side, who revolted in the massacre. He's really denied that. So, there will clearly have to be an investigation and got human rights torch has come out and talked about trying to launch an investigation into that particular incident, but overall, you're right. This has been an incredibly bloody few weeks here in Ivory Coast. The country is teetering on the press officials all out civil war. It has been pretty much a war, urban warfare here in Abidjan main commercial city.

As we drove in here, there's plenty of evidence of lot of smashed up buildings and looting, and as we way, we're still being hearing gunfire this evening, and pretty much no one out in the streets. So, there's a curfew in place. The big question now really is whether Gbagbo's followers, the militia, particularly, the young militia that have so terrorized possible city will now lay down their arm.

BLITZER: Dan Rivers, another one of our courageous international correspondents. Dan, be careful over there in Abidjan. We'll stay in close touch with you.

When it comes to lifting the debt ceiling here in the United States, would Senator Barack Obama disagree with President Barack Obama? Sounds that way if you listen to what he said before he made it to the oval office.

And imagine your home town emptied of people, silent streets, vacant homes, and an invisible menace in the air. You're going to visit a place just like that. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including another road block for Arizona's controversial immigration law. What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Well, the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that blocked key sections of the Arizona law that sparked furious protests by immigration activist. A panel found that a judge did not abuse her authority in ruling against Arizona. Among other things, the law requires police to ask about immigration status while enforcing other laws. The Obama administration argued that immigration law is the federal government's responsibility.

And right now, live pictures of Washington D.C. Residents protesting the use of their city as they say as a bargaining chip in the budget negotiations. In the writer to the budget bill, Republicans blocked Washington from using its own funds for abortions. You can see the mayor talking, the mayor of Washington, D.C., is speaking out to residents right now. They also push the city to accept funding for controversial school voucher program.

And Britain caught one of their last glimpses of Prince William and Kate Middleton before their wedding on April 29th. The couple made their last official public appearance today as single (ph) and paying a visit to a school and then a park despite the rain. 15,000 people turned out to see the happy couple -- Wolf. BLITZER: Is there a rule we have to call her Kate or Katherine? I think they're going to call her Katherine when she becomes a princess, is that right?

SYLVESTER: Yes, there's a whole process in terms of what her new title will be and so forth. So, it's going to be fascinating. And I'm wondering if they're going to say Katherine as opposed to Kate.


SYLVESTER: I think it is going to be Katherine, too.

BLITZER: Check that.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Fresh from the budget fight, some lawmakers are itching for another battle over the federal debt? How much is too much? And could we all be facing catastrophic consequences of default?

And people (ph) forced to flee from Japan's crippled nuclear plant. They leave behind ghost towns that remain frozen in time.

And CNN journalists come face-to-face with machine guns when they try to expose a brutal crackdown in the Middle East.


BLITZER: The escalating spending battle on Capitol Hill is only just the beginning as Congress prepares to vote this week on a controversial budget plan to cut spending by $38.5 billion this current fiscal year. Lawmakers are already gearing up for an even bigger fight whether to raise the country's almost $14.3 trillion debt limit.

Let's turn to CNNs Mary Snow. She's working this part of the story. Mary, stakes here for the entire building are enormous.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. This is a battle, Wolf, where the stakes are higher than the budget fight, and by the middle of next month, the Treasury Department has warned the U.S. borrowing will hit its legal limit and markets are anxiously watching this battle play out.


SNOW (voice-over): As the nation's debt climbs closer to the limit the government can legally borro, the prospect of not raising the debt ceiling is sparking talk of disaster. At the White House --

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The consequences of not failing to raise the debt ceiling would be "Armageddon-like" in terms of the economy.

SNOW: And Republican Texas senator, Kay Bailey Hutchinson told CNN --

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, (R) TEXAS: The debt ceiling is going to be Armageddon. I mean, that is the one where we have got to see reforms before the debt ceiling is raised.

SNOW: Congress sets the cap on how much money the federal government can legally borrow. The first limit was set in 1917. Maya Macguineas is the president of a non-partisan group of budget expert says, now, the debt situation is worse than it's ever been.

MAYA MACGUINEAS, PRES., CMTE. FOR RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: The debt ceiling is basically one of the few breaks that we have in the system or the few minors to politicians that there really shouldn't be an open ended credit card for Congress.

SNOW: Right now, Uncle Sam's credit card limit stands at $14.294 trillion and is getting close to maxing out. The current debt stands at $14.211. At the rate that the government is spending, the country will hit its limit May 16th, but the Treasury Department could buy time and extend the cap until July. And the U.S. is different from other countries, says Sean West, and analysts on U.S. political risk because it's debt ceiling debate is separate from budget negotiations.

SEAN WEST, EURASIA GROUP: What we have is a separate symbolic vote allowing the government to borrow more money to continue issuing debt and paying interest on debt. They don't have that in other countries. What they have is the sort of initial budgetary debates about what they're going to do.

SNOW: And while some budget experts say the debt ceiling is an opportunity to address the country's fiscal problems, they say failing to lift the ceiling would be unimaginable since it's never happened before.

MACGUINEAS: If we were to actually fail to lift the debt ceiling and create a crisis from a U.S. default, basically the recession that we just experienced, or past recessions in all of our histories, would have been just a simple little dress rehearsal for what we see.


SNOW: And Wolf, if the debt ceiling wasn't raised, there's another option to prevent the U.S. from going into default, and that would be for Congress to either raise taxes or cut spending by as much as $738 billion, but that would only cover the period until the end of the fiscal year, which is at the end of September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good explanation, Mary. Thank you.

President Obama is doing a bit of an about-face when it comes to the debt ceiling. As a U.S. senator back in 2006, he voted against raising the debt ceiling, saying this -- and I'm quoting him -- "Leadership means that the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."

That was then. This is today from the White House --


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president, as David Plouffe said yesterday, regrets that vote and thinks it was a mistake. He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy, that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration's policies, you can play around with. And you need to take very seriously the need to raise the debt limit so that the full faith and credit of the Untied States government is maintained around the globe.


BLITZER: It's not every day you hear a White House press secretary saying the president has blundered, whether this press secretary or any other press secretary.

President Obama, meanwhile, is expected to lay out his plan for long- term deficit reduction in a major speech planned for this Wednesday at George Washington University, here in the nation's capital.

Let's talk about that with our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

I know, Gloria, you've been doing some reporting. What can we expect specifically to hear from the president on Wednesday?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one senior White House adviser told me today, Wolf, that we should not expect a line- by-line kind of a speech. They make the case they already have a budget out there. But they are going to talk about the goals that they want to reach in deficit reduction.

Obviously, there are lots of budgets out there right now. There is the House budget chairman, Ryan's budget out there. The Democrats are going to offer a budget. You've got the Gang of Six senators. You've got the fiscal commission.

And the White House, given the controversy that's going on with the debt limit, understood that it had to put something into the mix. They believe that they have what this senior adviser said to me earned their bona fides in the budget battle, given what just occurred, and he wouldn't give up much of the specifics, but I guarantee you they are probably going to talk about more in defense cuts, probably more tax increases on the wealthy, and general goals for what they want to see in this larger budget debate. At least they are getting into it at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if he touches entitlement issues like Social Security --

BORGER: Well, that's a big issue.

BLITZER: -- Medicare, Medicaid.

How much of a defining moment, David, is this for President Obama?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It's an important moment, Wolf. He's had so many of them, I don't think you can say this is defining, but I do think it's a very important moment.

I think far more than in the last budget battle, this is going to prove his bona fides. Is he truly -- does he truly mean it when he says he wants to have budget discipline, that he wants to cut back entitlements, raise taxes and defense, or is he going to fall back into glittering generalities? And I think he's going to be judged in part by how bold this is, whether he's going to stretch for the kind of $4 trillion reduction and deficits that his own commission came up with, and how specific he is.

If it's just an invitation to come talk, let's have negotiations, and, gee, I would really like to see Medicare slim down some, and, gee, I'd really like to see Medicaid and maybe even Social Security -- I don't think that's going to hack it. I think what people are looking for is something more concrete. It's not clear to me from Gloria's reporting, as valuable as it is, just how concrete they're going to be.

BORGER: Well, and I was told that they are actually still working on it, David. But they are also playing this very close. So there may be more details there, obviously, than I know about at this time.

But what is definitional, I think, is the question of, how do liberals approach the budget? I mean, they have been disappointed in Barack Obama, they thought he was a liberal, and now he's running toward the center.

In this context of deficit reduction, the American public believes that it's the second most important issue out there next to the economic recovery. So how are they going to approach deficit reduction in the future? And that's what Barack Obama can help to define.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, David Gergen.

Guys, thanks. We'll digest this thoroughly on Wednesday, when the president releases his statement, his speech on trying to reduce the national debt.

A lot of people are wondering why he had to wait until the Republicans came out with their own plan -- Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the Budget Committee -- why did the president have to wait? Why didn't he do it earlier? It looks like he's just reacting, as opposed to initiating this whole serious discussion.

Much more on this coming up this hour and next. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, a CNN exclusive. Two reporters risk their lives to take us inside Japan's nuclear waste site.

Stand by.


BLITZER: Japanese authorities ordered new evacuations today near the Fukushima nuclear plant turning nearby communities into ghost towns. In a CNN exclusive, Kyung Lah spoke with freelance journalists who have seen the desolation firsthand.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No sounds of human life. Just empty streets and homes. Hospital beds, hastily discarded. This is what a mass evacuation of a town inside a nuclear crisis looks like

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a normal city, but there's nobody.

LAH (on camera): A normal city, but no one's there.


LAH (voice-over): "Everything stopped here on March 11th at 2:46 p.m.," he says.

There is rare video of Futaba, shot two weeks after the tsunami, captured by freelance journalist Naomi Toyota (ph) and Sugu Ogawa (ph), risking their lives entering the dangerous mandatory evacuation zone in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear plant. People left so quickly in the wake of the disaster, this dog was left behind, chained, now starving. You can see its ribs. Ogawa (ph) fed his lunch to the dog.

But what Ogawa (ph) can't forget, this sign, once a proud symbol of the town, that reads, "Nuclear energy, our hometown's future."

"It's ironic," he says. "The nuclear power plant was supposed to open the door to the future. Instead, it closed that door."

Everywhere they went, radiation levels easily exceeded the legal limit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought (INAUDIBLE). After that, I'm -- before that, I don't feel anything.

LAH (on camera): And it's scary, because you can't feel anything. You can't see it.

(voice-over): Across the evacuation zone, Toyota (ph) photographed other empty towns, bodies that have yet to be found or buried. Time, frozen like another nuclear disaster zone Toyota (ph) had just returned from, Chernobyl, on its 25th anniversary.

(on camera): You think Fukushima will be --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this moment.

LAH: -- like Chernobyl. Does it make you sad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Please stop.

LAH (voice-over): Futaba evacuees asked us to show them video. They crowded around the laptop, eager for a glimpse of their abandoned homes.

"That Geiger counter means we can't live in Futaba," they say. "That sign was a lie," says Nobiyuki Iraki (ph). "For the last 40 years, TEPCO has only been saying nuclear power is safe, that there's no chance of a meltdown. We, the people of Futaba, feel we've all been betrayed."

(on camera): Do you think your main street or your downtown will be filled with people ever again?

(voice-over): "No," they say.

The evacuees left so quickly, they have no clothes, no job, and they live in a gym. And as their town echoes loudly, no apparent future to return to.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


BLITZER: That all happened one month ago today. So sad.

It's taking more money to pay for less gas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $4.19 a gallon? That's ridiculous. That's absolutely absurd.


BLITZER: We might agree, but what can we do about it? We're taking a closer look to see where it could eventually stop.

And CNN journalists find themselves staring down the barrel of a machinegun.


BLITZER: Remember July, 2008? Presidential candidates were competing, a gallon of gas hit $4.11 then. Brace yourself, because we're now just 35 cents shy of that price.

Lisa Sylvester is here with more.

A lot of folks are worried. This is almost like a tax across the board, anybody who needs to buy gas.

SYLVESTER: Yes. You know, people who go to fill up at the pump, they already know this, that gas prices have been on a steady climb. We are now nearing a new nationwide record high of $4.11 a gallon for regular. Some areas of the country though have already topped $4.00 a gallon. And if the trend continues, it could slow the country's economic recovery. It could also spell new headaches for politicians.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Coast to coast, from Atlanta to New York to Los Angeles, consumers are getting socked by high gas prices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $4.19 a gallon, that's ridiculous. It's absolutely absurd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to drive, and they don't pay mileage. So it's really, really sticking me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they're getting all the bailouts and the breaks, and we're getting squeezed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's L.A., so it's even worse than most places.

SYLVESTER: The national average price for regular gasoline is $3.79. That's up 93 cents since last year.

Why are oil prices shooting upward now? The fighting in Libya is one contributing factor. Fears of unrest spreading to other countries in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia also has markets on edge, and economists say factoring in speculation and an increase in demand from countries like China. Higher gas prices hit consumers where it hurts most -- discretionary spending.

PETER MORICI, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR: Consumers really feel a pinch. They are limited in their discretion because they have to pay their mortgage, they have to pay their utilities. So, to pay higher gas prices, they go out to dinner less, they go to movies less, they buy fewer clothes. The amount of money that most consumers have to work with is very limited.

SYLVESTER: Gas prices are expected to continue to rise through the spring. The spike in prices is not just a pocketbook issue, it's also a political one.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: There is not a lot of evidence that anything that political leaders are doing in the short term has as much impact on gas prices as market trends or long-term energy policy. But that doesn't stop politicians of both parties from pointing the finger at each other.

SYLVESTER: The issue is already playing out like a campaign ad. Republicans are blaming President Obama. Sarah Palin is calling him the $4-per-gallon president on a Facebook page. Democrats pushing back, pointing to Republicans' cozy ties with the oil and gas industry.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: And in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 64 percent said an increase in gas prices causing them hardship, and an amazing 81 percent said they expect to see $5-a-gallon gasoline sometime this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Just think of all the folks who are making that extra money as the price of gas goes up. A lot of countries in the Middle East -- the major oil exporting countries, I should say -- it's a bonanza for them.

SYLVESTER: That's a lot of money going out the door though for many consumers.

BLITZER: Yes. And even in the United States.

Thanks very much.

A CNN videotape erased. A reporter forced to the ground at gunpoint. We have an extraordinary report for you coming up.


BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question is: If it takes the threat of a government shutdown to cut $38 billion form the budget, how will serious deficit reduction ever be accomplished?

Tom in New York writes, "By getting rid of the Bush tax cuts. They could also close the loopholes that allow corporations making billions in profit to pay no taxes. We have much more of a revenue problem than a spending problem. The uber-rich are not paying their fair share. It's past time that they share the pain."

Don writes, "It won't. The amount of cuts required to balance our budget are simply too overwhelming to even comprehend. Even more depressing, no politician will dare risk political suicide by proposing any unpopular cuts."

Ray in Georgia, 'One of two ways. It took us about 75 years to get into this mess, so it could take 75 years to get out of it. But to be sure, we will need some grownups to do it. It's disgusting to hear some of the elected representatives say the sky is falling if we cut anything. The sky will fall if we do nothing."

Z. writes from California, "If we get out of Iraq like we were promised, send all the illegal aliens back home, we would be absolutely shocked at how much more money is in the coffers. It's not rocket science. A work for welfare program wouldn't be a bad idea either. They could fill the void from the banished illegals."

Tom writes, "Obama's stimulus program is the proven solution to a healthy economy. When we're earning money again, we'll be in a position to bring down the deficit. Top economists like Krugman, Reich and Stiglitz know that cutting spending is going to set the economy back and postpone any possibility of paying down the deficit." And Jeff in Minnesota writes, "A dollar at a time, Jack. This will not be easy because of all the sacred cows that have been created over the years. This is where President Obama needs to lead."

If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stakes, as I like to say, are enormous Jack. Thanks very much.

CNN dives into the underground world of people resisting a repressive regime in the Middle East. We learn firsthand what happens to those who dared to challenge the government.


BLITZER: A terror in Bahrain. A CNN documentary team has just returned to the United States after a shocking investigation.

Here's CNN's Amber Lyon.


AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flying into Bahrain, our plane was largely empty.

(on camera): You definitely know you're heading into an area of unrest when you are one of the only people on the plane headed to that country.

(voice-over): On the streets, we discover an eerie silence; almost no tourists in the hotels; a strict curfew and military checkpoints; no signs of protests, but we were to find out that the unrest here has not ended. It's just been silenced.

(on camera): We've come across a lot of military checkpoints just driving around here. And you see the guys standing there with their guns, and they're all wearing masks covering their face.

(voice-over): We had arranged a series of interviews, but most of the sources who had agreed to talk to us disappeared. Family members or others close to them say they had been arrested or gone into hiding after masked machinegun-toting security forces raided their homes and threatened them. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights says more than 460 people have been detained in recent week -- nurses, who treated wounded protesters; doctors; bloggers; a poet.

Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights says that there's fear these people are being tortured.

NABEEL RAJAB, BAHRAIN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: There are people who were hanged for a month, and they were electrocuted and sexually harassed and assaulted. And this is the way they are treated inside Bahrain prisons.

LYON: We tried to investigate these arrests ourselves, but our second day in Bahrain, helicopters hovered overhead as we stood in the street outside Nabeel Rajab's home. Suddenly, half a dozen military and police vehicles surrounded us.

About 20 men in black ski masks, some wearing civilian clothing, pointed machineguns at us. They forced us to get on the ground at gunpoint.

They erased al the video they found. Then we were taken to a police station and interrogated for nearly six hours before being released.

Bahrain's foreign minister couldn't tell us why we were arrested.

SHEIKH KHALID BIN AHMED BIN MOHAMMED AL KHALIFA: To scare somebody not to say anything, or to scare someone not to express his views. This is not a government policy.

LYON: We asked him about the missing.

AL KHALIFA: There were many who I know personally who have been called in for questioning and arrested, but for a short period of time. It was for questioning. But I didn't hear that any one of them being harmed in any way, just for blogging or being active online.

LYON: From this point on, government minders were attached to our team at all times. They would not allow us to film any of the tanks or military.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a tanker down there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a tanker where?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want it to come to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. How can we shot shoot this stuff?

LYON: And our minders told us that there were no protests.

(on camera): If there's a protest today, can we go to the protest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What protest? There's no protest (INAUDIBLE).

LYON (voice-over): Instead, our minders brought us to see the nice things in Bahrain. They brought us to the shopping mall to look at the fine selection of Bahraini shoes.

Meanwhile, while we were being minded, human rights workers told us security forces continued to raid homes late at night, taking the opposition away, one by one, at gunpoint. But we were warned by government officials not to press any further or we would again be arrested. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are those guys following us all day?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they're not following us.

LYON: And this time we might not get out.

Amber Lyon, CNN, Bahrain.


BLITZER: And a quick footnote. In the last couple of hours, Amber confirmed that the Bahraini government is now looking to file criminal charges against Nabeel Rajab. He's the human rights activist she just featured. The government says he tweeted a picture of an alleged torture victim and claims Rajab doctored the photo. Rajab tells Amber the government is trying to shut him up.

We'll have more on this story coming up.