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Fierce Gun Battle Outside Hotel; Key City of Zawiya in Opposition Hands; Fighting Reaches Tripoli; Moussa Ibrahim speaks in a Press Conference in Tripoli; High-Tech Board Games
Aired August 21, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, there are major developments unfolding right now in Libya. Here's what we know right now. The battle for control of the country's capital is intensifying.
Rebels inside Tripoli say they're advancing toward Moammar Gadhafi's compound and now control parts of the city. Reinforcements are reportedly on their way. Reuters says thousands of opposition fighters were seen advancing toward Tripoli. And NATO said today Gadhafi's regime is, quote, "crumbling."
The Libyan government denies any rebel gains. And in an audio address on state-run TV, Gadhafi vowed to fight to the end.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): Do you remember the million marches? I am with you. Alongside with you. In this fight. We will not - we're not going to give way or give up.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: A fierce gun battle broke out today near a hotel where many international reporters are staying.
CNN's Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance joins us now from Tripoli. You have been staying at that hotel. Give me an idea what you and other journalists are feeling about your safety with the gunfire surrounding the hotel.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, we're holed up into - on to one of the upper floors at the hotel. The gunfire, Fredricka, isn't just outside the perimeter of the hotel. It's all over the city. The whole city is in a kind of mayhem as armed groups, rebels and Gadhafi loyalists battle it out on the streets of the capital for control of this city.
We've heard from government officials that - that 376 people were killed in the 24 hours up until a few hours ago. Obviously with those fierce gun battles still raging and areas of the capital now confirmed to be in the hands of the rebels and anti-government control, we're expecting that death toll to rise much higher. Because this - this fight for Tripoli is a very intensive one and it's by no means over or even close to being over at this point, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And is it difficult, Matthew, to tell whose side anyone is on?
CHANCE: From our vantage point here, it's not. Because everybody in the hotel is a Gadhafi loyalist in terms of, you know, are government minders and the men with guns are in the lobby. And that's been the case from the outset.
In fact, Tripoli itself has been very quiet up until 24 hours ago. There's been little kinds of pockets of stability and calmness during the Libyan crisis with the exception of the first weeks of the crisis where there was an uprising here that was caused by rebels.
But all of that calm and stability has, as I say, turned to - to mayhem with these fierce clashes under way. The rebels are in various areas of Tripoli. We understand from the government, they're confirming that they're in eastern parts of the city. Other reports unconfirmed by us suggesting that rebels have also entered the city from the western outskirts as well.
What we can say with a degree of certainty, with absolute certainty, is that outside the hotel in the streets of Tripoli there are ferocious battles under way tonight.
WHITFIELD: And so, Matthew, you mentioned at the hotel there, there are a number of government minders, et cetera. But are government officials saying anything to international journalists about what their point of view on this gun battle is?
CHANCE: Yes. Well, they are. In fact, Moussa Ibrahim has been (INAUDIBLE) just a few moments ago saying that this is a tragedy that's happening. He's warning that there could be a massacre in Tripoli and all-out tribal warfare. And if this violence continues and if the rebels secure Tripoli, he's called on NATO to stop their air strikes.
And in fact, over the past several days the government has been calling for a cease-fire saying now is the time to talk, to try and find a peaceful solution.
But there is a sense in which the window for peace talks, which was open, I think for a while for Colonel Gadhafi to perhaps negotiate his exit from Tripoli or - or the rebels and the Gadhafi loyalists to negotiate some kind of understanding, that window appears to be closing now. Because the rebels have made with the support of NATO such dramatic military gains in the past few days. But you get the sense they're not really in the mood to do a deal and to talk.
WHITFIELD: Matthew Chance in Tripoli, thanks so much. And we're hoping to be able to talk to that Gadhafi spokesperson, Moussa Ibrahim as soon as he is available. Appreciate that.
All right. Meantime, let's look west of Tripoli now to the City of Zawiyah. That is the city where rebel units have been battling Moammar Gadhafi's forces for several days and now claim to control it completely.
CNN's Sara Sidner is there this evening. So, Sara, what are you seeing and experiencing there in Zawiyah?
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting to note here, because we've spent quite a bit of time in Misrata when there were battles going on near that city. We are hearing the same chant now, and you can hear it behind me, from the mosques, from the mosques all over this city, which is just 30 miles west of Tripoli. And it's a call that was going out when the battle was the most fierce. A call for victory saying God is great. And that went on and on and on in Misrata until the battle was pushed far out of that city.
So it gives you some idea of what is happening now. We are hearing lots of small arms fire and also some - what sounds like artillery fire. You hear that there. Some more fire coming from the western part of the city. But they are now pushing east, and that's where they've been going because that is towards Tripoli. They were able to push the Gadhafi forces farther and farther back. They say that they've been able to push them actually almost all the way to Tripoli at this point.
The fighting was fierce today. We were on the frontline. About 27 kilometers, so it's about 15 miles from the edge of Tripoli. And we were out - had to turn back because the fighting was so fierce there. We saw some buildings on fire. We saw a destroyed buildings, shelled buildings. Again, a lot of fire going on in the air which is celebratory, but we also hear what sounds like a battle that is probably about 30 kilometers from us. So very close to Tripoli.
WHITFIELD: And, you know, Sara, last hour I spoke with a resident out of Tripoli talking about what she thought to be the rebels' advantage and that in her view, Gadhafi did not have that much longer, perhaps, in her view, until the end of the week to be in power. What do ordinary residents seem to be thinking there in Zawiyah?
SIDNER: We saw residents today for the first time, a lot of residents, come back into the City Center. We saw fathers, mothers, children driving around the City Square, (INAUDIBLE) Square and they were yelling "God is great. Libya is going to be free, out with Gadhafi." And so there seems to be a bit of celebration going on.
Families a bit relieved especially here in Zawiyah, the ones that we saw, relieved that Gadhafi forces had been pushed out. They were happy that the rebels were able to do that. But, of course, it is very difficult here to see the other side. Those who may have been in support of the Gadhafi regime or continue to support that regime. Those folks certainly quiet if there are any in this city. We're not hearing from them. We are hearing from those who say that Gadhafi has ruled this country for too long and they believe that Tripoli will be rid of Gadhafi in not a few days, in not a few weeks, but in just a few hours.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sara Sidner, thanks so much from Zawiyah.
A few moments ago, I also talked to NATO's former commander, General Wesley Clark. He has been talking to his sources in Tripoli and sees today as the final stages or representing some of the final stages of Moammar Gadhafi's time in power. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FMR. NATO COMMANDER (via telephone): This is not Fortress Stalingrad. He doesn't have cohesive forces. He's got a lot of mercenaries fighting for him. He cannot control access to the city, so he can't prevent the infiltration of arms, ammunition and more fighters.
If he is in Tripoli, he's going to be driven down into a very small corner. And we're - we're approaching the end game in this battle.
WHITFIELD: So you do believe that it's imminent that Moammar Gadhafi is going to lose power there?
CLARK: I think he's going to be forced - I think he's approaching a decision point where he's reaching his last opportunities to bargain effectively for his survival and the survival of his family. And if he doesn't decide to do that, he's going to end up fleeing for his life.
WHITFIELD: General Wesley Clark, a NATO spokesperson today described Moammar Gadhafi's regime as crumbling and said NATO would continue striking military targets that threaten the people of Libya.
As for the people of Tripoli, a resident of the capital told me moments ago that people were massing in the streets, marching and shouting against Moammar Gadhafi with the sound of gunfire on the outskirts of town. She asked us not to broadcast her name, but listen to what she told me when I asked her if she was afraid.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via telephone): Not really at all. This is the freedom we've been waiting for for 42 years, who have (ph) been president for 42 years. Not to mention the last six months where we weren't allowed to do anything here in Tripoli, sitting down at home at night. You don't even know whether your neighbor is - whether your neighbor is with or against.
So today when the day came, you don't - I don't even know how to explain it. We were outside of the windows screaming. No one can control the other. Like everyone's screaming and we realized that no one wants this, no one wants this - this dictator.
WHITFIELD: And so while you're expressing to me that you want him to go, do you feel bold enough to say that out loud? I realize others are. But do you feel, you know, safe enough to express yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't - it's unbelievable. Let me tell you that since the 20th of February, no one really had the guts to go out and scream in the streets because of the - like, he's arrested 50 - over 50,000 of our people. Today, people are going out. People are talking on the phone. We couldn't even talk on the phone before. Most of us had our phones closed because we were scared. But there's no more fear. No more. Gadhafi is gone. We don't want him anymore. Insha'Allah (ph). The end. Game over.
WHITFIELD: A Libyan government official announced just a few minutes ago that Moammar Gadhafi's forces can hold on for a long time in Tripoli and warns that a humanitarian disaster looms as rebels enter the capital.
So we're going to take you, by the way, to another country. To Mexico and a soccer game unlike any other.
There, players and fans run for cover. This was no weather event that sent them seeking shelter.
And for anyone who loves words, guess what? The dictionary is getting a few new ones. So put on your jeggings and get ready to re-tweet.
WHITFIELD: All right. I want to bring you up to date on all that's taking place in Libya now. Rebels and supporters of Gadhafi apparently facing off in the capital City of - of Tripoli right now.
And also right now, the government spokesperson, Moussa Ibrahim is speaking right now. We want to dip in and see if we can see what's being said.
MOUSSA IBRAHIM, LIBYAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: -- capital of this great nation. And the death toll is beyond imagination. Last night, the number was 376 people dead and almost 900 injured. Some of them, of course, are because of NATO's attacks on our checkpoints, army, soldiers and our streets and neighborhoods. Some other are because of the fighting between us and the rebels.
Today, I have confirmation from the Libyan Ministry of Health that since the 12:00 midday and - what it is now? It's 11:15 local time, so almost 11 hours. Eleven hours of violence, it's 1,300 people killed in Tripoli alone with 5,000 people injured. The hospitals cannot even cope with such death toll.
So we are saying it out loud to the world that a peaceful city, these journalists lived here for a long time and they could see that life was normal and peaceful in this great city. And now it's being turned into a hellfire because of NATO's actions. NATO is attacking the heart of a peaceful civilian city. It's attacking an army that has taken defensive positions. It's attacking volunteers who came out of their houses, left their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers to defend their cities.
And NATO gives direct air cover to these armed gangs who have no political project, no real dream for Libya. What they want right now is vendetta and revenge. They are filled with hatred, supported by tribal conflict. Supported by bitterness from the previous years. And all they want is to destroy this beautiful city, especially the tribes, the families and the neighborhoods that are well known for supporting the leader of this country, Moammar Gadhafi.
We - I have warned you before. I had a press conference this morning. I talked about the death toll of last night. And now, I have the official figures released for the last 12 hours. And we expect the death toll to rise beyond anyone's imagination. It's really a true dramatic, a true tragic event taking place before you here in Tripoli, supported by the might of NATO.
These armed gangs would not be able to move a meter, to advance a meter if faced by our army and by our tribes and our families and our volunteers, but because NATO kills anything that moves before the rebels, then these rebels are able to move forward.
So we appeal to the world, to the heart of this world, people in my city are being killed day in, day out, without any possible way out. Without any possible way for negotiation. We have talked before. You cannot condition peace. You need to sit down, talk and then discuss everything. Who has the right to take agendas outside the talk, the peace talk? To take points outside and say you cannot discuss this?
We said before that we accepted the African road map. We accept negotiation talks. We can sit down with all parties, achieve peace, agree on how to move forward for Libya. But no one wants to listen Because all NATO cares about is to destroy this Libyan political system. So it can have a political system that will fulfill its own desires. Not the desires of the Libyan nation. The desires of NATO.
Significant proportions of the Libyan nation made its views very clear. They came out on the streets in the millions. Shouldn't these people be heard, be listened to, be heeded? One thousand three hundred dead since 12:00 midday. It's 11 hours, not even 12 hours. Five thousand injured. Our hospitals cannot cope with such a disaster. The Red Cross is here in Tripoli. We're hoping they will be able to help us, but the security situation is quite difficult.
And I tell you, lastly, that we are very resilient and still very strong and we have still thousands and thousands of fighters who have nowhere to go but to fight. So this will increase and increase, and the death toll will increase. Because people are so scared of the revenge and hatred, of the other side if they win. Each side, actually, is terrified of the other side.
So let's suspend all military operations, all violence right now. NATO can order the rebels to stop immediately. We can order our troops and volunteers to stop immediately. And then we sit. And just as the rebels have their leader or leaders who will lead the negotiations, and without them the rebels would be lost and destroyed, we have our leader. It's Moammar Gadhafi. We need him to lead us for peace and for a way out of this.
If you take Moammar Gadhafi out of the equation, a whole side will collapse and become an easy prey for the other side. That is why people are frightened for Gadhafi. So you cannot deprive millions of people of their leader they choose and they want and let them or leave them to be easy prey for a vengeful, hateful side.
This organized without a proper leadership, you saw them, they killed their own commander of the army. They are penetrated with al Qaeda elements. They are very tribal. They are tribalists. So we hold the world responsible.
They have already committed the crimes in Tripoli. They have burned houses in Tajura, in (INAUDIBLE), in Fashloom, in Arada. They have kidnapped people. They have killed people who were walking the streets because they were well-known supporters of the government. Not military people, but just normal civilians. They have attacked shops. They have taken money from shops already. And the fight is not over.
We are really fighting them and actually defeating them right now in many neighborhoods. And, yet, although they haven't settled yet, they have already started their wave of crimes. Of burning houses, burning cars, kidnapping people, killing people in the street is not crimes, then what is?
So I'm telling you, the world cannot claim that it did not know. Now you know. Since this early morning, I talked to you, you know. You need to stop this disaster from taking place.
As for us, we will fight. We have whole cities on our side. They are coming en masse from everywhere to protect Tripoli to join the fight. People have the right to fight for themselves and their families and their houses and their property and their future. And people will not give up.
Because I talked to people, I talked to people and I ask, why are you fighting? And the answer always comes, because I have no other way out. It's not like I have peace, I can negotiate, I can sit down, I can stop this madness. If I don't fight, I'll be killed. Because I belong to a family that supported the government. Or I belong to a tribe that made its voice clear. Or I belong to a neighborhood or belong to - so people are terrified and they're fighting out of fear.
The other side is fighting out of fear as well. And NATO cannot and should not provide immediate and direct support for a side in a civil war. This is illegal and immoral. One side is killing, and NATO is giving them support.
I don't want to take long time. I just wanted to give you this message that NATO will be held responsible morally and legally for the deaths taking place in Tripoli this night, last night and the coming nights. They cannot say that this was not expected to happen. They are rocketing our city. And they have, indeed, killed many children, many men and many women. We will fight because we have the right to. And we have the leader Gadhafi, he led us in this confrontation for dignity and our freedom from NATO's agendas and Gadhafi should lead us for our peace and democracy and negotiations.
Thank you very much. WHITFIELD: Libyan government spokesperson there Moussa Ibrahim saying it is bad and likely to worsen there in Tripoli, the capital city, as well as throughout Libya, unless, he says, NATO suspends these military operations. He says he and the government is holding NATO responsible for all that has taken place.
However, he also warned that Libya is still very resilient, talking about the government there. They have thousands of fighters and they have nothing to do but fight. He also underscored that just within the past 11 hours alone since there have been gun battles between rebels and those supporters of the Gadhafi government, that there have been 1,300 people who have been killed in that time period and 5,000 injured.
He also underscored this has been a peaceful city turned into a, quote, "hellfire because of NATO's actions."
We'll continue to watch all that's taking place there in Tripoli and beyond there in Libya.
As well as this. Just in, rebel National Transitional Council Head Mustafa Abdul Jalil says that Saif Al-Islam, one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons has actually been captured. He was speaking in an interview with Al Jazeera.
When there's more information on that reported capture, we'll bring that along to you as well.
We're going to take a short break right now from the NEWSROOM. More after this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Faced with growing calls to resign over his brutal crackdown on opposition protesters, now a Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is speaking out. He talked about his country's future in an interview with Syrian State Television just a short time ago.
Al-Assad says Syria is now in a transitional period and he is promising reforms. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA (through translator): We are now in a transitional period. There will be elections. There will be a review of the constitution and of course throughout this transitional period, which is very critical and very sensitive, it is important that we continue with the dialogue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The crackdown against opposition protesters in Syria has gone on for now five months.
And nothing clears a soccer field like the sound of automatic gunfire. The shots rang out outside of the stadium in Northern Mexico yesterday, sending players and fans as you see right there, running for cover. A nearby police station was under attack from gunmen. No one was killed, but it added to the fear in this part of Mexico. The area sees a great deal of drug cartel-related violence.
And still overseas now, Pope Benedict held the final mass of a Catholic youth festival in Madrid today. The pope told the crowd of more than a million young Catholics to abide by the principles of the church in spite of changes in society. The Pope also announced the next World Youth Day will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
Board games have been around for generations. But two MIT graduates are giving them a high-tech upgrade.
Gary Tuchman brings us the story in this "Technovations."
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't be fooled. This is no ordinary video game. They're called Sifteos, electronic cubes that communicate with each other wirelessly.
But inventors Jeevan Kalanithi and David Merrill say old-fashioned games were the inspiration.
DAVID MERRILL, INVENTOR, SIFTEO: What we used to think of when we talked about social games was checkers, board games where you sat around a table with other people face to face and play games with pieces on the table.
We're bringing these two great play traditions together.
TUCHMAN: The colorful cubes present all kinds of possibilities.
JEEVAN KALANITHI, SIFTEO: Miniature games about sorting numbers and spelling words. Things like that.
TUCHMAN: The M.I.T. graduates say multiple players and movement combine the best of the old with the new, creating a whole new gaming experience.
MERILL: Video games came along. And video games are awesome because they're interactive. But they lose some element of the face to face dynamic of play with game pieces.
KALANITHI: This is a great moment in history where computing is getting to the point and sensing is getting to the point where we can build devices that understand how people work in the world naturally.
TUCHMAN: Technology that speaks to the way we play.
Gary Tuchman, CNN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: Top stories right now. Pressure is mounting on Libya Leader Muammar Gadhafi as rebels tighten their squeeze on the capital city. Thousands of opposition fighters are reportedly advancing in Tripoli. And rebels say they control several areas within the city.
Gunfire and explosions rocked Tripoli today. And CNN's Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance was holed up in a hotel while gun battles raged outside. I asked him to describe the scene where he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're holed up on to one of the upper floors of the hotel because the gunfire Fredricka isn't just outside the perimeter of the hotel. It's all over the city. The whole city is in a kind of mayhem as armed groups, rebels Gadhafi loyalists battle it out on the streets of the capital for control of this city. We've heard from government officials that 376 people were killed in the 24 hours up until a few hours ago.
Obviously series of the gun battle is still raging and areas of the capital now confirmed to be in the hands of rebels and anti-government control, we're expecting that death toll to rise much higher because this fight for Tripoli is a very intensive one and it's by no means over or even close to being over at this point, Fredricka.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Matthew Chance there. In an audio address on state-run TV, Muammar Gadhafi vowed to fight until, quote," the last blood drops from every man and woman. A Libyan government spokesman says about 1,300 people have been killed just within the last 12 hours alone.
And faced with growing calls to resign over his brutal crackdown on opposition protesters, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is speaking out. He talked about his country's future in an interview Syrian state TV a short time ago. Al-Assad says Syria is now in a transitional period and he is promising reforms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA (through translator): We are now in a transitional period. There will be elections. There will be review of the constitution. And of course throughout this transitional period, which is very critical and very sensitive, it is important that we continue with the dialogue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Just days ago, President Barack Obama and European leaders called on al-Assad to step down.
Turning now to the U.S. economy, in the midst of recession, one in five children now live below the poverty line. Athena Jones talked to a married couple in Washington. They have four kids and both have been out of work for over two years now. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the wedding dress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The ripple effects of the recession can be felt here at the Washington home of Nathan and Keana Wallace.
Both have been out of work for more than two years. And their unemployment benefits have run out. The Wallace's live in public houses and don't have to pay rent. But they have struggled to pay their utility bills and recently had their power cut off. KEANA WALLACE, MOTHER: We did candles. We just, you know, some days during that six-week period it was either the kids eat or we eat. We just had to make sacrifices.
JONES: Both of the Wallace's cars have been repossessed. And they'll have to come up with $120 a month for mote row passes for their four children once school starts. They once brought in $5,000 a month and say they're determined to get back on track.
WALLACE: I get up with my boxing gloves on every day for them.
JONES: According to a study by the Annie Casey Foundation, a national charity, one in five children lived below the poverty line in 2009. The Wallace family receives food stamps each month but they run out after about three weeks.
Nathan mows lawns and does other odd jobs and Keana sells snow cones, hot dogs and candy to get by.
Do you go outside here?
WALLACE: I go over one street. I do it on the corner. And then with the candies, I do it all over the metro. I do it at a Subway stations. I do it up and down the street. I do what it takes to make sure we can survive another day.
JONES: She brings in as much as $145 on a really good day. But that doesn't happen often, 13.9 million people were unemployed in July and nearly half of them are like the Wallace's. People who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.
Advocates for children and families don't want to see the focus on budget cuts hurt programs for the poor.
LAURA SPEER, ANNIE E. CASEY FOUNDATION: We can't forget about children as we make decisions in the fiscal crisis. We can't cut these programs thinking eventually we might put money back into them. Childhood is a very short time.
JONES: Keana's 14-year-old daughter, Danielle, believes things will turn around for her family. And she has a lot of plans, for her own future. DANIELLE BEDNEYY, KEANA'S DAUGHTER: First, I want to go to college for designing school. Then after I graduate from design school, I want to send my pictures in to be a model. After I'll be a model for five years, I want to open my own store calmed Dannie 101, a clothing store.
WHITFIELD: And Athena Jones joins me right now from Washington.
So, it is really comforting to see that though these children of that family are trying to be as hopeful as they can. And that really has to help support the parents as well, doesn't it?
JONES: Well, certainly. It was interesting talking to the family, spending some time with them yesterday, and they seemed like they held out a lot of hope for the future that things were going to work out.
They've cobbled together the money they need each day, each week. They believe that everything is going to work out for them. They're going to get back on their feet. They of course cited often their faith in god, saying that's what's helping them get through, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Meanwhile you know if you know the study is very unhopeful for lack of a better word. It is rather pessimistic, talking about the whole nationwide view of how poverty is striking families in this country, isn't it?
JONES: Well, it is. The study found 2.4 million children fell into poverty between 2000 and 2009. And so that's essentially erasing all the gains that had been made in reducing child poverty rates since the early 1990s. And one other important point from this study, Fredricka, it said 42 percent of this nation's children are living in low income families.
So that means 31 million children are living in families that make less than twice the federal poverty line. That's just $44,000 around about for a family of four. And so, it shows you people are struggling all across the country, whether or not they're below the poverty line, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Athena Jones thanks so much in Washington.
WHITFIELD: So, if you've ever been to Los Angeles you've probably never done this.
Until recently, many of them hadn't either. The Los Angeles River had been deemed so contaminated, so filthy that you couldn't even get near it.
But that has changed. It's a story of hard work now paying off.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: Los Angeles is taking steps to get its once grand river back, for a few weeks this month and next, the river is open to kayakers and canoeists for the first time in decades. Until now the river was considered too contaminated for people and was strictly off limits.
The federal government is now working with local conservationists to reopen a 1 1/2 mile stretch of the river to such guided tours. The trips have to be guided, as I mentioned. But that's to make sure no one fathers and mothers into the heavily treated runoff or gets tangled in the garbage laden brush. That's still a problem there but very hopeful situation there.
Jacqui Jeras is here. Isn't that something?
JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. They're hoping next year, this has been so successful so far, that they'll be able to do it a little bit longer.
WHITFIELD: I bet it'll work out.
JERAS: Clean those rivers.
WHITFIELD: That's right. Meantime what do we have going on out there? A lot of activity behind you?
JERAS: A new update for you on Irene. The 5:00 advisory in from the national hurricane center. There are some little changes that are important that you need to know about.
Let's start out with the latest statistics. This storm is just almost centered over St. Croix at this time. The winds are the same in terms of maximum sustained at 50 miles per hour. But we're starting to see some structural changes that this thing is trying to get a little better organized.
But we do expect intensification and we're starting to get some very heavy rainfall over parts of Puerto Rico. We can expect to see those tropical storm force wind gusts. In fact, take a look on the ray tar picture here. This is St. Croix right there. You can kind of see in this area here where that center of circulation is. So, we certainly don't have anything like an eye or eye wall really trying to develop. But we do expect this is going to start to tighten up and the islands in this area really aren't going to do anything to weaken that storm. It's got to get over a little more significant land mass in order to be able to do that.
Now, let's talk about the latest on the forecast track. We talked last hour if you joined us that the computer models, they've been shifting off to the east a little bit more during the day. And now in turn the national hurricane center has slightly shifted their forecast off to the east, too. But it still remains west of the main guidance. So, this big white line that you see here, this big thick one, that's the official NHC forecast. You can see the majority of the models, many of them are what we would call the good models, are even more eastward. So, we really want to give you a big heads up in the Carolinas, in Georgia that you guys are in this cone of uncertainty, too. This is not necessary a done deal that this is could be a form of storm.
So, let's take a look at this forecast track. You can see the intensification, likely a category one hurricane as it approaches the Dominican Republic. One thing to keep in mind, you know after that earthquake in Haiti and the D.R., a lot of mountainous terrain here. So, flash flooding is a real concern here.
And then we'll watch it head on up toward the north and the west. We'll be talking about maybe Thursday where the U.S. really needs to start getting concerned. So, continue to track this throughout the week.
WHITFIELD: Alright, Thanks so much for the heads up. We've got a little time.
A woman faced with heart surgery says no. Instead, she changed her habits. We'll explain.
WHITFIELD: With mounting pressure and gunfire in Tripoli, we understand right now leader of more than 40 years, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has taken to the air waves now.
Let's listen now to his address to the people of Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): In Muslim, the hero and Ansara serve next from the sonata, the old city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Now, again, we understand that Muammar Gadhafi is addressing the people of Libya right now. You heard the translation. We're not quite sure what the pause is all about.
But just moments ago, before Muammar Gadhafi took to the air waves, a spokesperson for the government did take to the microphones there in Tripoli, Moussa Ibrahim. There, he said that in the past 12 hours alone some 1,300 people have been killed, 5,000 injured. He says he is holding the world responsible. Chiefly holding NATO responsible and that it's up to NATO to try to suspend any military operations as soon as possible. One more time we're going to try this. We understand that Muammar Gadhafi is now talking. Let's listen to the translation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GADHAFI (through translator): Go back to your places. NATO will not serve you. It will not protect you from the dying Libyan people. How can you allow Tripoli to be destroyed, burnt and the houses and the blocks of grass that were built with our sweat and toil in Tripoli? They have turned into cinder and into smoke. This destruction by NATO. Get out and leave the people to paradise. Get out, get out of the mosques. Get out. These pure people get out of the mosques and lead the people. Encourage the people. Women who have trained to use arms should come out. Come out and fight. These are very small groups of people who are collaborators with the imperialists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)\
WHITFIELD: OK. Once again, you're looking at pictures of Colonel Muammar Gadhafi, leader for more than 40 years there, in Tripoli in Libya and apparently in this pause translation will be forthcoming but apparently he is holding strong.
Also underscoring the message that NATO is responsible and that it is NATO and the world powers that be, that need to leave Libya alone. He says allow him to continue to lead his country as he has for more than 40 years now.
We heard from his spokesperson earlier which said something like 1,300 people have been killed in the last 12 hours alone and also a plea coming from that spokesperson saying that it would be up to NATO to perhaps suspend operations but if that does not take place, he warned that Libya is still very resistant and resilient with thousands of fighters with nothing to do but fight.
When we get that translation for more that Muammar Gadhafi may be speaking of, we'll try to bring that to you as soon as possible.
And this other bit of information coming in as it relates to all that's taking place there with the gun battles intensifying in the capital city of Tripoli. Rebel National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul Jalil says that Saif al-Islam, one of Muammar Gadhafi's son has actually been captured. He was speaking in an interview with al-Jasir when that information came out.
We'll continue to follow the developments there from Libya.
We'll have much more after this.
WHITFIELD: Alright, the gun battles intensify in the capital city of Tripoli in Libya between rebel fighters and those who are supportive of Colonel Muammar Gadhafi, this as Colonel Muammar Gadhafi has taken to the airwaves there and try to assure people that he's really not going anywhere but that instead it should be NATO who should suspend its military operations.
Meantime, not long ago we also talked to a resident there in the capital city who said that people there are amassing in the streets marching, even shouting against Muammar Gadhafi with the sound of gunfire in the outskirts of town and even right downtown.
The person I spoke with asked that we do not use her name, publicize her name, but listen to what she had to say when asked about whether she was afraid at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not really at all. This is freedom we've been waiting for, for 42 years. We have been in prison for 42 years. Not to mention the last six months where we weren't allowed to do anything here in Tripoli, sitting down at home at night. You don't even know where your neighbor has guns.
Today, when the day came, I don't even know how to explain it, we were outside of the windows screaming. No one is in control with the others. Everyone is screaming and realized that no one wants him. No one wants this dictator.
WHITFIELD: So, and while you're expressing to me that you want him to go, do you feel bold enough to say that out loud? I realize others are but do you feel you know safe enough to express yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know it's unbelievable. Let me tell you that since the 20th of February, no one really had the guts to go out and scream in the streets because he's arrested over 50,000 of our people.
Today, people are going out. People are talking on the phones. We wouldn't talk on the phone before. Most of us had our phones closed because we were scared. But there's no more fear, no more. Gadhafi is gone. We don't want him anymore. The end. Game over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That from a resident in Tripoli who chooses not to have her name revealed.
Meantime, a Libyan rebel fighter says they captured one of Muammar Gadhafi's sons. We're going to continue to watch the developments out of Libya throughout the evening with Special Reporting continuing.
That's going to do it for me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
CNN NEWSROOM continues at the top of the hour with Hala Gorani.