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Protests in Greece; Yemeni President Addresses His People; Wrap Up of The Ryder Cup; Interview with Amir Khan

Aired September 26, 2011 - 16:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: A working class at breaking point, with more austerity on the horizon, can Greece expect more of this?

Live from London, I'm Becky Anderson.

Also tonight, the horrifying story behind a teenager's death that Amnesty International calls one of the most disturbing that it's seen out of Syria.

But from another repressive regime, a sign of progress.

Is Saudi Arabia really on the cusp of change?

Well, it's a seemingly Olympic feat -- Greece needs to push through new, tougher austerity measures and fast. The end game -- $10 billion worth of bailout funds, which it needs to pay public sector wages and pensions next month.

Well, the first hurdle comes Tuesday, as lawmakers vote on a new property tax.

Now that is already sparking angry protests outside parliament. Riot police fired tear gas into a 2,000 strong crowd on Sunday after they were pelted with bottles.

But global concerns soothed somewhat, at least on the stock markets, at least in the Western Hemisphere Monday, after a weekend of debt and deficit diplomacy in Washington.

Let me just bring up the major indices for you and you can see what happened.

The Nikkei 225 Fund not such a good day for the Japanese market. You can see right from the beginning, starting out on the fall and then moving down.

The FTSE, though, this is a better story. Up by only about .5 of 1 percent. But my goodness, after seeing the 7 and 8 percent falls that we've seen over the past couple of weeks, this is really a good day.

And Wall Street, off the back of that, actually, as it closes today, up about 2.5 percent.

You know, 272 points is not an enormous rise, but given what we've seen over the last couple of weeks, of course, optimism that Eurozone officials will agree on plans to slash Greece's debt and recapitalize the European banks.

The financial stocks doing well in Europe, and, indeed, in the U.S. today.

There's also talk of a 50 percent write-down in Greek debt, or a haircut, as it's known in the markets. And talk of a massive increase in the Eurozone rescue fund. Much of this, though, is highly speculative.

Well, Greece has already benefited from a so-called haircut, with bank creditors proposing to trim debt by 21 percent in July.

CNN's John Defterios is in Athens and he joins me now live -- there's speculation an even bigger cut is in the offing. That didn't, though, John, stop people hitting the streets again at the weekend.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, HOST, "MARKETPLACE MIDDLE EAST": Yes, it's interesting, Becky, we're almost on a two track process, if I can put it that way. Number one is this potential cut of 50 percent. We'll cover that in a moment. But right now, the protests that were triggered yesterday -- and we saw sporadic strikes today, expect more of the same on Tuesday and Wednesday -- were triggered by the $38 billion austerity plan. We're seeing austerity fatigue kick in here in Athens, pension cuts that are already in place. And then, as you suggested, property taxes being voted on the parliament behind me tomorrow night.

Ahead of that vote, we have Prime Minister George Papandreou. He went to Berlin this evening. He'll speak to German industrialists tomorrow. And the message is the dual track one, as well. He's telling German industrialists, give us some breathing room, support us in this last round of austerity cuts, we'll deliver those cuts.

But he's also giving a message to the parliamentarians, look, we do need to deliver on what we say we're going to do. This is coming in a very contracting market, though, Becky. The economy that contacted 7.3 percent in the second quarter, 16 percent unemployment, 40 percent unemployment for people between 30 and 44 years old.

So this is a very, very tense situation in which to try to push austerity one more time.

ANDERSON: Are the parliamentarians resigned to the fact that this is -- this is going to be very painful and it's going to take a very long time, at this point?

DEFTERIOS: Yes, you know what's interesting is that the parliamentarians are very divided. In fact, I would say there's three tiers of division in this society.

Number one, within PASOK itself, very, very tense -- I spoke to a number of parliamentarians today -- between the PASOK ruling party and the Conservatives, they have -- don't see anything eye to eye at this juncture.

And finally, which is quite dangerous, and I've been coverage Greece for the last, you know, 20 years off and on, you have a society, from the public sector pointing to the private sector saying the private sector hasn't paid their fair share of taxes and the private sector saying that the public sector is too big, one fifth of the workforce waking in the public sector. It's time to reform, finally.

But there's -- it's tearing at the seams of society here, Becky. And I think that's the big change and why they need to reduce the debt and why they need to finally reform.


John, thank you for that.

John Defterios in Athens for you this evening.

The Eurozone may welco -- welcome greater austerity from Greece, of course. But with every new budget cut and tax hike, Greeks themselves say that life just gets tougher.

Earlier, I spoke to Yiannis Pantzos, a 48 -year-old father of four from Athens who has retired from the airline, the Greek airline, Olympic.

I asked him how austerity measures are affecting his ability to just make ends meet.

This is what he said.


YIANNIS PANTZOS, PENSIONER: Personally, I have a 40 percent decrease in my monthly income. My family situation for my wife and four children. So I have to cut further the expenses I'm doing on my family budget. And as this changes rapidly through time, every two months, I am obliged to do that. So I'm -- I have an idea that I'm drowning myself in no way out. I mean finally, I will arrive in some point, but I will not be able to live a quality life.

ANDERSON: Yes. I know that the kids have got photocopied books at school. You're saying that the buses that used to come every 20 minutes are now coming, say, every hour.

You are retired at 48, I believe. People watching this all over the world might say that you had it pretty...


ANDERSON: -- that you couldn't afford it in Greece, what did you expect?

PANTZOS: Yes. People will say that because people probably does not -- does not know the background of my retirement. I am not retired because I wanted to. I was obliged by the government to retire because the public airline I was working had to be privatized. So Olympic Airlines, I was working, is privatized and now I am retired because it was not my choice, but I was pushed through that.

ANDERSON: You're saying it's the middle classes and the lower classes who have been really hit by these austerity measures, aren't you?

How long will people be able to cope?

PANTZOS: Well, what I'm seeing soon is a big reaction from these classes of -- these Greek social classes, because people cannot stand still sinking and sinking their income when their demands for living are -- are bigger and becoming, day by day, more expensive.

ANDERSON: Is this an every day conversation now?

Is this the only topic of conservative in Greece?

PANTZOS: This is the only conservative in Greece right now, yes, because people is -- is going to pay taxes through the electricity bills and going to pay taxes through the electricity bills and these taxes are supposed to be paid immediately by the end of the month -- of the month.

So everybody is surprised. And this is a conversation that everybody has in Greece right now.

ANDERSON: How concerned are you...

PANTZOS: And I believe it's going to be...

ANDERSON: -- I mean do you think...

PANTZOS: -- a big reaction in the next two or three weeks.

ANDERSON: OK. So -- so what do you -- what should we expect to see?

PANTZOS: I cannot guess, but what I could say for sure is that you should expect to see a big, big social reaction.


ANDERSON: Yiannis Pantzos there, speaking to us earlier.

Well, it's not just the Greeks struggling. I'm not telling you anything new when I say that.

The country's 700,000 Albanian immigrants are sending less money back to their families and many are heading home. Remittances are important to Albania's economy, adding up to something like 9 percent of GDP in 2009. Economic growth there has shrunk from around 6 percent before the 2008 economic crisis to 3.5 percent this year.

But compare that to the European Union, which was growth of just 0.2 percent last quarter.

Then suddenly, while things don't look so bad, do they?

So look at these figures.

Why is Albania still so eager to join an EU club in such a mess?

I put that to Prime Minister Sali Berisha earlier.


SALI BERISHA, ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER: I remain anxious and EU integration is and will remain...


BERISHA: -- the top priority project for my country.


BERISHA: And we'll do every best to achieve what it is required -- standards, norms, practices to -- to merit it. I do consider it imperative, this process.

ANDERSON: But why would Albania want to be part of an economic space which is currently in what the IMF has described as a very dangerous phase?

We may be looking at a decade of lost growth.

Why would Albania want to be part of that?

BERISHA: It's true that it is a serious crisis. But it is my deep belief that the European nations has all potentials to overcome it and Albania has no reason to be -- to slow down its effort because of this crisis. I do believe that the euro, despite its momentary difficulties, will persist and will be kept as probably one of the greatest heritage of Europe's of all times.


ANDERSON: Well, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha speaking to me earlier.

We've got some key dates for you, a new diary on this story. The first, October the 3rd. That is when Eurozone financial markets next meet. But word is, well, they won't have a decision on releasing bailout funds to Greece by then.

The second big date for your diary, November the 3rd. The G-20 meets in France, promising a bold action plan to deal with government debt.

Well, just ahead on this show this hour, speaking out after returning to Yemen -- President Saleh addresses the nation. Coming up in 90 seconds, who he blames for the recent deadly violence there.

Then, talk about pressure -- the multi-million dollar prize that came down to just one shot.

And later in the show, time to be counted -- Saudi women get the vote, but still can't drive. We're going to ask a woman's rights activist, is it enough?


ANDERSON: It's just before 15 minutes past 9:00 in London.

I'm Becky Anderson.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN.

Let's get you a brief look at some of the other stories that we've been following for you today.

And the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize died on Monday after a long battle with cancer. Wangari Maathai was known for her commitment to the environment, fighting for Africa's poor and campaigning for human rights. She spoke about her work in 2004 with CNN's Jonathan Mann.


WANGARI MAATHAI: What we need is education. We need a lot of education and especially education of men to be willing to protect women. That's what...


MAATHAI: Yes, really.



MAATHAI: Yes, I was going to say that it is, indeed, the men who have the upper hand. They can protect us if they committed themselves to it, if -- because they are in a much better position, both economically and in terms of preventive measures that are available, they are in a much better position to protect us.


ANDERSON: An incredible woman who will be sadly missed. Wangari Maathai was 71 years old.

Well, authorities are looking for a motive in a deadly attack at the U.S. Embassy complex in Kabul. U.S. officials say an Afghan employee of the American Embassy opened fire indiscriminately on Sunday, killing a U.S. citizen and wounding another. The attack took place at an annex used by the CIA. Security guards shot and killed the gunman.

Well, Yemen's president is calling for a power transfer through the ballot box. But that is not satisfying tens of thousands of protesters who want him to step down now.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh addressed his people over the weekend in a televised message.

Nick Paton Walsh has the details.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think very much a two-pronged message from President Saleh in this speech, his first address to the nation since he unexpectedly returned to the nation two days ago from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

On the one hand, he's calling his opponents and the protesters terrorists, blaming them for damage to the economy of the country, for the blackout that's been affecting the capital, Sanaa, and trying to paint them as a destructive force.

But at the same time, he seems to be placating demands from the United States, the U.N. and possibly Saudi Arabia, as well, but he accepts a locally mediated deal, which would see his vice president organize a transition out of power toward elections.

Just hear a little bit of what he had to say.


ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, YEMENI PRESIDENT: Let us go ahead toward developed boxes (ph). We are not for coup d'etats. We are with the legitimate demand of whether it is from the people or from political parties, the ballot box, peaceful transition of government.


PATON WALSH: Now I think what's interesting about this speech is it comes amid great violence on the streets that they're continuing, 120 people plus killed over the past week. And President Saleh doesn't sound like somebody who's really thinking about leaving power. Many cynics, I think, considering this purely a tactic for him to buy himself more time.


ANDERSON: Nick Paton Walsh reporting for you.

Well, in Perugia in Italy, appeals of the murder convictions of American, Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Rafael Sollecito are entering the final stage. They were convicted in the 2007 stabbing death of Knox's roommate, Meredith Kercher, back in 2009.

Defense lawyers say the DNA evidence used to convict them was shoddy. A verdict in the appeal could come next week.

Well, Boeing has delivered its first 787 Dreamliner after three years of delays. The plane maker officially handed over the aircraft to Japanese carrier, All Nippon Airways. Production of the Dreamliner has been plagued by billions of dollars in cost overruns. And Boeing hopes the fuel saving plane will give it an edge over rival Airbus.

Well, the trial of the doctor accused of administering the drugs that killed Michael Jackson will begin on Tuesday. Conrad Murray will appear before a jury in Los Angeles, charged with involuntary manslaughter. The judge has ruled that jurors will not see Jackson's 2009 announcement of his "This Is It" concerts here in London. The defense says that announcement was delayed 90 minutes because the singer was passed out and could not get off a sofa.

You are 90 seconds away from this -- the biggest win of his career. And it all came down to just one hole. How Bill Haas took home more than $11 million.

Well, a new era for the high end fashion industry -- how the iffy economy is pushing the world's top designers out of boutiques and onto the high street.


ANDERSON: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN.

Now, talk about pressure, if you had more than $11 million riding on a putt, would you get the yip (ph) or could you put it away?

Well, here's how it all went down for American golfer, Bill Haas.


ANDERSON: Here he is recovering superbly, with an astounding shot from the water, only to set himself up for one last hole he just had to make.

Well, in this winner take all life and death playoff against U.S. Ryder Cup star, Hunter Mahan (INAUDIBLE).

For more on the tour championship and its lucrative conclusion in what is (INAUDIBLE) FedEx Cup, I'm joined tonight by "WORLD SPORTS'" Alex Thomas.

He must have nerves of steel.

Anyway, describe him.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, golf's detractors would say it's not the most athletic of sports, but that is certainly an ultimate test of nerve, isn't that?

I mean the Tour championship is one of those really big tournaments outside the four major championships. But made even more interesting by this huge FedEx Cup bonus, just for that handful of high profile tournaments at the end of the season.

So suddenly he can go from 24 from the standings or something like that to first place, tipping Luke Donald, the English world number one.

Well, consistency isn't enough. It's winner takes all in a huge, huge sense.

Just to put it in perspective, Becky, Bill Haas has been on tour for eight years, won around $10 million in career earnings -- pretty good. But that $11.4 million scoops the whole thing in one go.

ANDERSON: Boy, that was (INAUDIBLE).

And the Solheim Cup was exciting this weekend, as well, wasn't it?

That's the girls, of course, of (INAUDIBLE)?

THOMAS: Yes, absolutely. I mean it's hard to say that one had more heart than the other. Here we have the best women golfers from the whole of Europe and the whole of the States competing against each other in a team event, not getting paid for it. But in the rain in Ireland, the Killeen Castle, I can tell you that Michelle Wie first hold her path. And she was up against Suzann Pettersen. They went back and forth. Europe eventually winning for the first time since 2003, stopping four American victories in a row.


THOMAS: So it was an unbelievable comeback by Europe on the final day singles and a victory for women's golf.

ANDERSON: Good. What a great weekend of golf. And you can see them closing out at that point.

I know you've got a great interview with a boxer tonight.


THOMAS: Yes, more on "WORLD SPORT" later.

But, so I'll just try it out for you, because he's arguably the best light welterweight in boxing and wants to finish as the greatest the sport has ever seen. And if he's going to do that, you may have to fly a certain Floyd Mayweather, Jr, who's probably the best pound for pound boxer in the world right now.

But when my colleague, Don Riddell, sat down to speak to him, they talked about a recent trip to the United States.


AMIR KHAN, WBA SUPER & IBF LIGHT WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPION: Hillary Clinton invited me on the 19th. We went there. It was an honor to be part of that event. It was about the Muslim sportsmen who -- who (INAUDIBLE) who -- who do good things in the Muslim community. And it being Eid, as well, and Ramadan just finished, they wanted to invite us there and get -- it was a get-together thing.

And I enjoyed it. And they want me back over there again in December for me to meet Obama. So, you know, it's good timing.

DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you feel about that?

KHAN: That's really, I mean when we -- when they got talking about it, I thought at first they were probably just pulling my legs. But then they were quite serious about it and I thought wow, you know, I might never get the chance to go to the White House or meet Obama again.

So I'm going to make the most of it (INAUDIBLE)...

RIDDELL: Is he someone you look up to and you respect?

KHAN: Definitely. You know, I think he's doing a good job with America and, you know, he's -- he's such a huge name, probably one of the biggest names in the world. And to me, so if I came to shake his hand and have a chat with him, I think it would be brilliant.

RIDDELL: You like to make a difference, don't you?

KHAN: I -- I love to. You know, one thing about me, I do a lot of charity work and I love to use my status in a positive way. You've got a lot of sportsmen who don't want to. But I'm one who likes to give more to the community and give back to the people because boxing, in a way, has changed my life. So I want to give -- give something back.

RIDDELL: How did you feel when you saw the riots that took place all over Britain this summer?

KHAN: It -- it was crazy. Everywhere, you'd see shops being burned and smashed and cars being burned and lots of things were being stolen. And the people were just mashing up their own streets.

So that I thought what is the purpose of rioting?

You know, I think it was just the whole situation more than anything. People are frustrated because, look, nowadays in the recession, there's no jobs. Maybe I think that it was something that was just pushed through (INAUDIBLE) lever and the lever the wrong way.

RIDDELL: And you are involved in a campaign at the moment where you're going to try and help some of these kids...

KHAN: Yes.

RIDDELL: -- to show them that there's another way.

Tell me about that.

KHAN: Definitely. We're doing a Not for Violence campaign, which is many of (INAUDIBLE) stuff that are happening. And, you know, there's a lot of kids nowadays on the streets that have nothing to do. And what we try to do is it put them into sports. We've now got boxers (INAUDIBLE) where I'll be able to fight with the kids coming in in a week. You know, that keeps 500 kids off the streets and out of trouble, gives them discipline and (INAUDIBLE) where they are.


THOMAS: You can hear more of that interview, including Amir Khan's boxing ambitions, in "WORLD SPORT" in around an hour's time, Becky.

We'll also have our Top Ten Football Poll.

ANDERSON: Excellent.

He's a good lad, isn't he, Amir Khan.

THOMAS: He is.

ANDERSON: Thank you, love.

All right, we are going to take a very short break at this point.

Still to come, an horrific story of intimidation, blackmail and murder. A Syrian family says their daughter was brutally killed because of her brother's opposition to the regime.

Also this hour, an historic victory for women in South Africa. Yet their newfound rights come with considerable limitations.

That all coming up here on CNN.

Do stay with us.


ANDERSON: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, the world's news leader.

Let's get you a check of the headlines this hour.

And global stock markets have been reacting positively to hopes that Europe's debt crisis may now be headed on the right path. The Dow Jones industrial average closing up around 2.5 percent, financial stocks amongst the best performers across the board in Europe and in the US today.

US officials are trying to determine a motive in a shooting at the American embassy complex in Kabul. They say an Afghan employee opened fire indiscriminately in a CIA annex, killing a US citizen. Security guards shot and killed the attacker.

Yemen's president says he supports early elections, but his televised speech did nothing to quell protests demanding his immediate departure. Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen on Friday after spending months recovering in Saudi Arabia from a bomb attack on his compound.

And lawyers for Dominique Strauss-Kahn have reportedly asked for a civil suit filed against him by a hotel maid to be dismissed. According to Reuters news agency, the former IMF chief is claiming in the case that he was immune under international law. The maid had accused him of sexual assault, but criminal charges against him have now been dropped.

Well, at a time when much of the world is condemning Syria, the country's foreign minister is trying to turn the tables. He addressed the UN General Assembly today, accusing Western nations of attempting to, and I quote, "dismember Syria with a campaign to stir up chaos."

Senior UN Correspondent Richard Roth joins us with more. Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UN CORRESPONDENT: Becky, the Syrian foreign minister addressed the General Assembly, got very little reaction or reception from the hall, as opposed to some of the ovations we heard last week.

The foreign minister said his country is adopting reforms and changing the constitution and listening to the people, and that it's blatant conspiracies from the outside which are hurting the country.


WALID AL-MOUALEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Popular demands and claims have been manipulated to further objectives which are completely different from the interest and the expressed desires of the Syrian people.

These demands were the stepping stone used by armed groups to sow discord and sabotage our security. They became the new pretext for foreign interventions.

Syria exercises its responsibility to protect its citizens.


ROTH: The Security Council at the UN has failed to adopt a resolution pushing sanctions on the Syrian regime. Germany, which is a member of the Council, is in favor of sanctions, and the German foreign minister, before the Syrian foreign minister spoke, said Syria needs to get its act together.


GUIDO WESTERWELLE, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The Syrian government has responded to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people with brutal force. Germany will continue to press for Security Council resolution.

That is not only about showing solidarity with the Syrian people, it is also about the international community's credibility. If the repression continues, we Europeans will further tighten the sanctions against the regime.

The Syrian people should be allowed to shape its own future.


ROTH: Inside the Security Council, there were dueling resolutions, one favored by Germany, Britain, France, and the US, and the other, China and Russia. The difference? One side wants sanctions, the other does not. And as the bloodshed continues there, there's a deadlock at the United Nations regarding international reaction. Becky?

ANDERSON: Richard Roth on Syria for us tonight. Richard, thank you for that.

Well, Syria's words on the world stage may seem hard to square with events on the ground, especially after you hear this next story.

Human rights activists call it one of the most disturbing cases of death in detention that they've seen so far in the country. Arwa Damon is following developments from Beirut in Lebanon, for you. Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN BEIRUT CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Becky. And while on the one hand, we do continue to hear the Syrian government blaming armed gangs for the violence, for the horrific images that have been emerging from that embattled nation, activists say that it is quite simply the Syrian security forces who are responsible, and they are continuing to catalog crimes that they say were carried out by the Syrian security forces, members of the police and of the military, as well as the secret services. Among the most recent victims, a young woman just 18 years old and her brother.


DAMON (voice-over): July 27th, the last time Zainab al-Hosni's family says they saw her alive. They claim she was abducted off the street by Syrian security forces. She was just 18 years old.

"My mother received her body from the hospital on September 17th," her brother Yousef al-Hosni says in a statement posted to YouTube. "Her body was chopped into four parts. Her head, two arms, and torso."

DAMON (on camera): We have viewed pictures of what was done to Zainab's corpse, and they are simply too gruesome to air.

Not only was her body dismembered and decapitated, bits of her flesh are charred. Most of it appears to be melted or burnt down to the bone. The pictures are among the most horrifying images we have seen come out of Syria.


DAMON (voice-over): "The killed the rose, Zainab," read the placards carried by dozens of women in the city of Homs, protesting her slaughter and chanting for the downfall of the regime.

Her crime? Zainab's older brother, Mohammed, was an activist, well- known for leading demonstrations and treating the wounded in Homs. For months, he had been evading the authorities. The family said that the security forces demanded Mohammed in exchange for Zainab.

On September 10th, the family says Mohammed was wounded in a demonstration. He came back to his loved ones a corpse, tortured to death, they believe.

"There were three gunshots in the chest, and one to the shoulder, "Yousef states. "A gunshot wound to the mouth that exited through his head. His arms were broken. There were cigarette burns to his face."

The family had just collected Mohammed's body from the hospital when doctors told them there was a young woman named Zainab's body in the morgue. A few days later, they received her mangled remains.

CNN cannot independently confirm the family's account of what happened, and repeated calls to the Syrian government were not returned.

Phillip Luther with Amnesty International said in a statement, quote, "If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death in detention we have seen so far. And if confirmed, a chilling indication this regime will stop at nothing to crush those who dare oppose it."


DAMON: And Becky, a family friend and neighbor told CNN that Zainab's father had actually died when she was just three years old. Both she and her siblings were forced to leave school and try to carve out a living to help the family just to get by.

She was actually working as a seamstress. She used to dream of owning her own tailoring shop one day, and this family friend saying that because of their situation, perhaps this family was chosen to be at the forefront of the Syrian revolution simply because all that they themselves had personally suffered in the past and, of course, continue to suffer now, Becky.

ANDERSON: And of course, we are not able to report from Syria, which is why you're reporting from Beirut in Lebanon. What, though, did happen in Syria today?

DAMON: Well, Becky, there's been this ongoing countrywide crackdown, activists telling us that in Rastan, that is also in the province of Homs, tanks stationed on the outskirts of the city had moved in, people incredibly worried, saying that doctors were unable to treat those who were in need, people largely staying indoors.

The local coordination committee is reporting numerous crackdowns taking place, saying that at least eight people have been killed.

And this is the same type of cycle that we are now seeing day in, day out. More violence, more activists trying to go out and demonstrate and, again, the Syrian government continuing to deny all allegations that it is targeting peaceful demonstrations, quite simply continuing to blame these armed groups.

Two competing narratives taking place in Syria, Becky, with people struggling to figure out how some sort of a resolution is going to come about.

ANDERSON: Sure. Arwa Damon reporting for you this evening here on CONNECT THE WORLD. Arwa, thank you for that.

Well, we are staying in the Middle East for you after the break with a look at women's rights and women's voices. Saudi Arabia makes a move towards their right to vote, yet women won't be able to drive to cast their ballot. We're going to tell you what women think about that in just a moment.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered. And that's why we will continue and insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men.


ANDERSON: All right. Well, just four months on from the US president's speech on the Middle East, and already we're seeing a shift in a country ruled by an ultra-conservative monarchy.

Tonight, we're focusing on Saudi Arabia for you, where a big change may be -- may be -- on the horizon. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom takes a look.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: By Saudi standards, the announcement was historic.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabian king Abdullah making a major announcement that in the next round of elections that women in Saudi Arabia would be able to participate more in the political arena, that they would be able to nominate themselves as candidates and that they would be able to nominate other candidates.

Now, while that's being interpreted in Saudi Arabia and outside of Saudi Arabia as the king saying that women will be granted the right to vote, now in Saudi Arabia, some women activists who, yesterday were elated at the news that they would be able to have a greater participation in the political process are starting to wonder what exactly this statement means.

And some disappointment is starting to set in. I've spoken to some women's rights activists today, and they've said that while it's great that the king is now suggesting that they will have the right to vote, this next round of municipal elections won't happen for at least another four years. That's 2015.

The king also said that women would be appointed as full-time members of the Consultative Council, the Shura Council. But that's not going to happen for at least another year and a half to two years.

Women's activists saying they wish that the king had said that this could happen now, and they're wondering why that didn't happen. They're saying that a lot can happen in the next year and a half, two years, to four years before the next round of elections happen. A lot can happen in that time.

The more conservative aspects of the government there can -- could try to reverse this decision, could try to take the right for women to vote out of their hands before they actually officially get it.

And that's where the disappointment lies today. Some are saying this is a real reality check and that the king should actually come out and reassure them that this will happen and will happen as soon as possible.


ANDERSON: Well, as one small barrier comes down, many, many hurdles remain. We've been speaking to one Saudi woman who isn't afraid to call for more rights, including being able to drive.

Here is Wajeha al-Huwaider behind the wheel back in 2008, openly defying the ban in Saudi Arabia. Well, I spoke to her earlier on the phone about King Abdullah's announcement and asked her if she thought it was good enough.


WAJEHA AL-HUWAIDER, WRITER AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST (via telephone): I think the king is sincere. The king is trying his best to make a change.

But at the same time, I don't know about his advisers. They are not giving him the real pictures of the society. People are changing, they are ahead of the government and what the government is contributing now.

Most of the Saudis are young. They are most of them under 25, well- educated, some of them, they even -- they've been abroad.

So, you cannot just treat them as their fathers or the generation before. They need to improve the status of human rights and women's rights, and they need new laws and they need to lift the banning a woman traveling and driving cars.

The whole thing needs to be revised, and it's not just one decision. In many cases, we need to change a lot. And we cannot wait for something to be postponed until four years from now.


HUWAIDER: We are already very late in many issues.


ANDERSON: All right, Wajeha al-Huwaider speaking to me from Saudi Arabia earlier. Now, she's a prominent women's activists and she features in a book by our next guest. Joining me now from Washington is Robin Wright, author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World."

When we were -- when we were talking earlier on, Wajeha -- I put it to Wajeha that this is too little too late, surely, that even if you get to vote in four years time and you could put yourself up for the municipal council, you can't even drive to get there, and she agreed. She said this was -- this should have happened quicker.

But it's no surprise, really, it hasn't. It's such an ultra- conservative nation.

ROBIN WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "ROCK THE CASBAH": Well, it's not only an ultra-conservative nation, but this is -- this is an absolute monarchy and no one should have any illusions about what giving women the vote is actually going to mean.

The councils are only local. They're half elected, half appointed. So at the end of the day, the government can still determine what happens, what comes out of these local elections, what comes out of the local councils.

And also, it's the same thing with the Shura Council, where women will be appointed to help advise the king. The fact is that the king makes the decisions and they don't have an tangible weight.

So, at the end of the day, it's a nice gesture. It's nice to acknowledge that women have a political role in society, but it doesn't mean anything in practical terms, even when they get the vote in four years.

ANDERSON: Robin, the White House released a statement, said, and I quote, "These reforms recognize the significant contributions women in Saudi Arabia make to their society and will offer them new ways to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and communities."

Do you think that sounds a bit condescending?

WRIGHT: Well, the United States has, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, has always taken a position that sides on the stability of these oil rich countries.

There's a little bit of hypocrisy when it comes to US policy. The United States is all for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya, across North Africa, into the Levant with Syria and Yemen.

But when it comes to the oil-rich Gulf states, the United States has not pushed volubly or in practical terms for these countries to engage in more specific change. And so --

ANDERSON: Go on, Robin.

WRIGHT: Go ahead.

ANDERSON: Yes, so I guess what we're seeing is a sort of nod and a wink, as it were, to a Saudi Spring, but nothing like the sort of changes that we've seen across the region.

Generations have said to me in the past from Saudi that they've -- their parents have said to them as women, "step by step." And then that's gone down. This time, in this generation, they want to go quicker.

WRIGHT: Yes. And the reality across the Middle East is that women are playing a very important role as an engine of change. They are players when it comes to the protests in Tahrir Square in Egypt.

In Tunisia, they're actually considering a proposal that would make all -- half of all elected offices, including Parliament, women only.

And this is the kind of idea that would be anathema in Saudi Arabia. It's in stark contrast to this tokenism that gives women a right to participate in the process but, as you point out, not be able to drive around to campaign.

There are a lot of changes that would have to take place to make this something that really is meaningful in a political sense.

ANDERSON: And will those changes happen anytime soon?

WRIGHT: Well -- I doubt it. The king is 87 years old. He's considered a reformer compared with his brothers, who are his successors. Those -- one is 83, the other one is in his late 70s.

The older generation is very -- still very conservative, wedded to the idea of Wahabi ideals, a very conservative Islamic ideology, and it's not likely that we're likely -- that change will be meaningful in the near future when it comes to women or the young people, that this is still a country where the king will have the final say on every single issue.

ANDERSON: Robin Wright, it's a pleasure to have you on the show tonight, author of "Rock the Casbah" out of our New York bureau for you this evening. Thank you.

Well, coming up next on CONNECT THE WORLD, fashion fever. Why some designers are strutting off the catwalk and into the High Street. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: All right. Some pictures, there, of models on the catwalks in Milan as we close out Milan's Fashion Week in the middle of this week.

We are right in the thick of catwalk season, of course, with Paris picking up later this week as the curtain closes on Milan's spring-summer 2012 collections.

But in these dire economic times, it's not all about the runways these days. Brands are having to think of new ways to get to you and me, the customers. And for many, that means heading -- well, heading for the good old High Street. Monita Rajpal reports.


MONITA RAJPAL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For over a century, "Vogue" has been at the forefront of fashion. What started as a weekly American publication in the 1890s has turned into a global phenomenon.

RAJPAL (voice-over): Such is its influence that in 2008, with much of the world in a financial free fall, the "Vogue" establishment created Fashions Night Out, encouraging people to get back into stores at events that would signal the start of the fashion season.

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN, BRITISH EDITOR, "VOGUE": It was started three years ago as a -- a response to the economic climate internationally. And now, three years on, every city has a different scenario.

In London, what we're finding at the moment is a lot of the high end shops doing very well. High Street is struggling more. So, in this country, I think what it will do, I hope, is just bring back a bit of a feeling that you can have a good time shopping.

RAJPAL: With a global invitation to log on and the events streamed live on the internet, French "Vogue" editor-in-chief, Emmanuelle Alt, strutted the city, flanked by her model army.

EMMANUELLE ALT, FRENCH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "VOGUE": You know, if you compare these to singers, like it's just -- you buy records, but you got to go to Paris. You need the contacts with the people. It's like being able to touch or see or talk to someone that you admire, that you like. That's why it's great.

RAJPAL: In November, all the "Vogue" editors intend to extend their fashion solidarity to Japan. Tokyo's Fashion Night Out will signify a recovery for a country hit hard by natural disaster. "Vogue" Japan's editor-at-large, Anna Dello Russo, was at New York's event.

With over 20 years in fashion, Dello Russo has turned her well-trained eye for high fashion to create a capsule collection with American department store Macy's.

ANNA DELLO RUSSO, JAPAN EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "VOGUE": Fashion is a smell, it's a flavor. You have to just build a dream around the product. You can have fine eye, great energy in fashion, but it has to be a great quality, too.

The creativity makes your reality less tough, because reality for me is too tough.

RAJPAL: If creativity truly does make reality less tough, then in these economic times, it has to be affordable. With that in mind, Macy's Department Store has also connected designer Karl Lagerfeld to the mass market by bringing the artistry he deploys for fashion labels, Chanel and Fendi.

The other Anna, US "Vogue" editor, described as the most influential woman in fashion by her peers, was on hand to lend support.

KARL LAGERFELD, DESIGNER: I was the first to do H&M, and I think it's very interesting for a designer like me, who does a very, very, expensive, the most refined, to go to the other end and try to do as well as possible.

Because that's fashion today. There are more people who buy t-shirts for $10 and dresses $100 than for the other prices. But people who can pay a lot, buy also inexpensive clothes because jeans and a t-shirt is a cultural -- is something that's part of life today.

RAJPAL: Following in the footsteps of Lagerfeld, Donnatella Versace is the latest designer to collaborate with H&M. As for H&M, it's about reflecting customer demand. Customers who are fashion-savvy, thanks in part to the internet.

CATARINA MIDBY, H&M: So, now the information is now available to everyone. You can go out there and find all the information about trends and inspiration.

And we see that most consumers actually have their own look, they go for their own kind of personal style rather than just following the trend the way it used to be.

RAJPAL: The idea of being beyond trends was a launchpad for Carmen Busquet, the brains behind CoutureLab, a site that aims to provide consumers with the tools to celebrate their individuality.

CARMEN BUSQUET, COURTURELAB: The original idea -- I think it was the same time and multiple time. I -- it was to create something that was beyond seasons and trends.

I started as a clothing laboratory of ideas because I'd always believed that you start small but think big. And I know you can think big then start small, and the internet is a great tool for that.

Any small idea that you apply, since you have a global market out there and no boundaries, it can grow. So it's a great tool for niche market.

RAJPAL: Monita Rajpal, CNN, Paris.


ANDERSON: Models start strutting their stuff in Paris on Thursday. My colleague Monita will be there. Follow her on Twitter for all the action from the fashion shows, the front rows, and the parties, and see her reports here on the show as the French capital gears up for Fashion Week.

And you can follow me, too, @BeckyCNN. I'm Becky Anderson, that is it for tonight's CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you for watching. The world news headlines and "BackStory" follow this short break. Don't go away.