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Inside Homs on the Frontlines; Violent Syrian Protests; The Romney Rebound

Aired December 28, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with Syria and our "Keeping Them Honest" report. For months now, we have witnessed, the world has witnessed, men, women, children, demonstrating the streets. Initially they called for reforms. When those calls were met with arrests and torture and killing, they began to call for the overthrow of the regime.

Well, there has been more bloodshed in Syria, and sadly that is nothing new tonight. But what is new tonight is that there's a team of observers from the Arab League now on the ground in Syria. Observers sent in to verify that Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, has removed military forces from the streets and is no longer attacking protesters.

They've now been on the ground for about 48 hours. And their initial statements are so far stunning. The chief monitor of this Arab League observer force is a Sudanese military commander named Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi. Not only is he a Sudanese military commander, he's also the former head of foreign intelligence in the government of Omar al-Bashir, the man now wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in crimes against humanity.

More on that in a moment. Today, the head of the Arab League team in Syria, General al-Dabi, told Reuters that, quote, "things were calm and there were no clashes in Homs," which has, for months, seen some of the deadliest violence. He went on to say, "The situation seems reassuring so far." He also said, "Some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening."

Nothing frightening. That is not of course what we've been hearing from people in and around Homs for months and it's not what you will hear tonight from a reporter who snuck into that city and just returned. The footage he took is very disturbing. And we're going to show you that in a moment as well.

There's other video from Homs to show you tonight, but before we do, I want to warn you it is very hard to watch. This is video claiming to show the aftermath of an artillery strike on Monday in Homs. The very day the Arab League monitors were arriving in Damascus. The scene, destruction, several people lay dead. As always, we can't independently confirm the facts because the Syria regime won't let us see for ourselves. But this is what others tell us is happening.

In Homs, the day the monitors landed in Syria, the gunfire was reportedly nonstop. This is a neighborhood called Baba Amr. The monitors visiting that neighborhood today. And you heard what General al-Dabi, the chief monitor, said nothing frightening. On Monday, a Syrian activist described the exact opposite.


ABU RAMI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: The security forcers and militia of Syrian army, they are using armor vehicle and aircraft armor, storming this area, storming this neighborhood. There are more than 10 houses completely destroyed, and there were many bodies under the rubble there. There is now a genocide take place in this city of Homs.


COOPER: Now you can argue about the use of the word genocide, but the killings have certainly taken on a sectarian nature. This activist in Syria is desperate that someone do something to help.


RAMI: We are calling to direct intervene from the whole organization and the international community, to intervene here in Syria and stop this bloodshed that's going on in Syria and in Homs in particular.


COOPER: Just yesterday, again with the Arab League monitors on the ground, there was reported violence across Syria. This video reportedly showed security forces firing on protesters in Hama. Remember the monitors are in Syria to verify the President Assad is not attacking his people.

Today in Daraa where all this began, military defector launched an ambush on security forces. This video purports to show it. According to an opposition group, four security force members were killed and at least 14 other people died across Syria today.

So what did the Arab League observers actually observe in Homs today? Well, besides the benign statements by their leader, we've seen this video. Again, I warn you it's disturbing. It shows what apparently is an Arab League observer being shown the body of a dead child. The man is in the orange vet. He is presumably the Arab League observer, according to the logo on his vest.

The little boy is said to be about 5 years old. He and his family were allegedly shot by security personnel who opened fire on their van.

Now remember, the Sudanese head of this observer team says he saw nothing frightening, things seemed calm today. Many people are outraged that this Sudanese man al-Dabi is leading this mission to begin with. Again he's a military commander in Sudan and was head of foreign intelligence in a government, which is now accused of genocide in Darfur. He reported to a leader who's now wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. This is the man who's head of the observer force. The Syrian opposition group, doctors, local committees in Damascus, is calling for them and removal from the observer force saying his role as the deputy head of foreign intelligence raises questions as to his knowledge of mass atrocities in Darfur.

Al-Dabi is now tasked with probing war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed against Syria victims. The appointment of al-Dabi taints the Arab League's efforts and characterizes it as nothing more than a political farce causing little help but much harm to the situation in Syria.

The situation al-Dabi calls reassuring and calm.

Today U.S. State Department spokesman responded to al-Dabi's initial assessment of Homs saying it's just the beginning of the mission and they've only seen a small area so far. It's important, he said, that we let them get themselves squared away on the ground to get their mission up and running.

Fair enough. But Syrian opposition groups report that at least 14 people were killed today across the country, including five people in Homs. A free-lance journalist and filmmaker who we're not naming for his own security has just left Homs, he spent six days there. And over the next few days, CNN is going to be showcasing his remarkable stories from the frontlines of a city at war.

His first report tonight is about government snipers that prowl Homs, picking off civilian victims at will and randomly.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The snipers are on basically every main street. They have checkpoints on both sides. Snipers would shoot everybody who is basically crossing this street between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 in the morning. This is an unofficial curfew.

The activists asked -- told me I have to meet this woman. This is the mother of a victim who got shot when she was pregnant in the seventh month. It was during the morning when she wants to go out for shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): Her brother tried for half an hour to go over the walls and roofs to get to her, but he didn't manage to reach her. Finally they managed to pull her away, but it took another half an hour to get her to my house.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You arrived, the situation, you arrived at the scene where a half hour ago somebody got shot, and 30 minutes later, people are crossing very normally the street. Me, crossing the street, I've been feeling, basically, literally I've been feeling that somebody is aiming. The snipers are aiming on me, and it's up to him if he's going to pull the trigger or not.

I came to this junction and I realized that somebody wanted to cross the street with a huge bag of cigarettes. So -- I could hear the snipers choosing and who was he -- across the street and the bag of cigarettes was in the middle of the street. So it's, again, one of this -- very impressive scenes where people have been very happily and almost like a sports challenge to get the cigarette back out from the sniper range.

And they've been happy when they could. And they started to throw it from one side to the other. And they started to throw the bags. We're not able to cross. So everything they needed on the other side, they throw it over the street.


COOPER: A short time ago I spoke to that journalist by phone. Again, we're not naming him for his own security.


COOPER: The footage that we just showed of snipers basically shooting people who are trying to get supplies, cigarettes and food is really stunning. Is there any justification for what they're doing? I mean how can they justify randomly shooting people, targeting people in the street?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes. It's exactly what you said, it's randomly. What we have seen in Homs was especially in the neighborhoods, (INAUDIBLE) and Khalidiya, which are exactly in the middle of the city, surrounded by a lot of different sniper positions which are aiming to all of the main alleys which are surrounding the neighborhood.

They are trying to randomly put fear into the people and to this neighborhood in order to get them quiet and not getting out of the streets to demonstrate.

COOPER: And yet people continue to turn out to demonstrate. And you make the point that they have no other choice, that if attention -- if the world attention stops focusing on Homs, if the demonstrations stop, the government will just go in later on once it's gotten quiet and arrest them anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Exactly. So there is no other option for them, there might be either keep on fighting and demonstrating, uprising, or getting killed by the regime anyway.

COOPER: You spent time in Syria before, you took great risk, you risked your life to get into Homs. What surprised you the most?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Everybody who was enforcing every time that they are doing for a peaceful uprising now start to know the point of no return is already crossed. This is not be able to do peacefully. We are getting armed. We have the free Syrian army. We will have to fight. COOPER: The Arab League has sent in this monitoring team into Syria to try to assess the situation. What are people there say about that? Clearly the head of the team is the Sudanese general, his own track record is in question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What the activists have been telling me about the monitoring team is that they are basically saying that this is a total show by the Arab League, that Arab League would want to really some pressure and steps against the regime, they would not need this monitor of teams especially now the team which is guided by somebody which is not really the most convincing people for the activist.

COOPER: Thank you for what you've done, thank you for your footage.



COOPER: Joining us now is Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

You know when you see people being shot on the streets, trying to toss bread across from one to another, there's no -- I mean there's no justification for the government of Syria doing that.

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I think you have to understand the mind of Bashar al-Assad, just as his father maintain his reign by conquering, if you will, and defeating the city of Hama 20 years ago. I think Bashar al-Assad is determined to defeat the city of Homs. He's determined. He wants to make sure there can be no Benghazi. There can't be, if you will, just as Benghazi --

COOPER: No free zone.

AJAMI: Exactly, became the free zone and liberated Libya. There can't be -- Homs cannot liberate Syria. And the demography of Homs is very complicated. It's mostly a Sunni town but has substantial Alawi population.

COOPER: And the Alawites are the ones who -- are the ones who support the government or traditionally have supported the regime.

AJAMI: Absolutely. And there's specific geography of this field that you see. The Alawi neighborhoods are spared. The Sunni neighbors are shelled. The corpses are in the Sunni neighborhood. The bread, the electricity is all cut off from the Sunni neighborhoods. So you see the logic, the terrible logic of this regime.

COOPER: Which is basically pushing it towards civil war, towards sectarian conflict.

AJAMI: Yes, well, listen, that's exactly from the playbook of Bashar al-Assad. That's what he would love to do in fact. Because if he makes it sectarian, he corners his own Alawite community. They stick by him. They have to become Basharist. They must stay with him to the bitter end. And I think this is something that he believes that he can win.

COOPER: And yet they are in this situation where clearly he cannot win, or -- but he -- they cannot win either.

AJAMI: Right.

COOPER: I mean there is this right now this back and forth.

AJAMI: Absolutely. I mean I think we've thought before about Syria repeatedly, and I think what it is in many ways it's a kind of irresistible force meeting with this immovable object. The people can't go back, they've crossed that point. They can't go back. They can't accept the tyranny of the Assad dynasty.

And anyway, they're marked. All the activists are known to the city of intelligence people. They will go and pick them one at a time, so I think it's too late if you will for the opposition. They must win and it is too late for the regime because guess what the regime is looking at. Bashar al-Assad is looking at -- he sees possibly what happened to Gadhafi as a prelude, as a kind of a cautionary tale of what could happen to him.

COOPER: And I think that's a really important point that it is beyond the point of return for the people who have protested thus far.


COOPER: There is no going back for them, because if the world -- not that the world is really paying attention, but to the extent that it is, if that attention stops, the protests stop, then security forces come in the night and just take you away and kill you.

AJAMI: Well, I think you've got it. And I think what's interesting about it, there was a -- there was a kind of placard carried by some women in Homs that said all doors are closed except your doors or god. There's only god left for them. Because again, they look at Libya and see that Libya was rescued by NATO, and they look at their own situation, 10 months into this terrible fight, no one has come to the rescue.

And the Arab League is a joke. The Arab League had always been a joke. The Arab League did one decent thing on Libya, and all it did was to single out Gadhafi, to (INAUDIBLE) went for the international community. And so now the Arab League sends this compromise mission, but we'll see what we see.

COOPER: Yes, there are 60 observers for a country --


COOPER: I mean a ridiculously small number, led by a man who is linked to the regime in Sudan.


COOPER: I mean that's -- if you wrote it as a play, it would be laughable, but it's real.

AJAMI: Exactly. Sixty observers for a country of 23 million led by someone who must be reckoned to be the godfather of the dreaded Janjaweed in the Sudan. So you send someone to Syria with this kind of compromised moral credit, but look at the Arab world. No one really wants this assignment You can't send the Lebanese. They don't want it. You can't send the Jordanian because they border Syria.

You can't send an Iraqi. And the Syrians will not accept anyone from the Gulf. And the Egyptians don't want to do it, so guess what, we still to the Sudanese. It's a terrible mission, and I think the international community that's hiding behind the Arab League if you will has to face at some point what is to be done about Syria.

COOPER: So that's the thing, though. Is there any answer to it, because if it goes to the U.N., there's Russia and China, which could very easily veto anything?

AJAMI: Exactly. And here's -- you know when the Arab -- when basically the Arab League says to the Syrians, look, if you don't behave, if you grant us access, if you don't stop killing your people, we're going to internationalize the conflict. We're going to refer it to the Security Council. And Bashar al-Assad said, welcome. At the Security Council he has Russia and China. And not only that, the last time the Security Council discussed Syria, he not only had Russia and China, he had India and Brazil and South Africa, to the eternal shame on his side.

COOPER: Yes. Fouad, thanks for being on. Appreciate it.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. I'm tweeting tonight.

Coming up, a stunning development less than a week before the Iowa caucus. New polling showing Mitt Romney still holding the lead but support for Newt Gingrich dropping significantly. We'll hear from Romney and talk about what's behind Gingrich's drop. / Also ahead, amazing pictures out of North Korea. Have you seen these pictures today of the elaborate funeral for Kim Jong-Il? Mourners filling the streets of Pyongyang. Whether real or not, the cries as you see them there, just incredible to look at. We'll have all of the most -- well, the most important moments coming up. We'll be right back.


COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight just six days before the Iowa caucuses, new polling shows support for Newt Gingrich is dropping significantly and surging for Rick Santorum. The latest CNN/TIME/ORC poll released this late afternoon shows Mitt Romney, Ron Paul are the frontrunners among the likely GOP caucus participants in Iowa. Romney has a slight lead over Paul. The next two spots, though, are the big stories. Santorum is in third place with 16 percent, up 11 points from beginning of December, and Gingrich is at 14 percent, down 19 points from beginning of the month.

Now in just a moment, I'll talk with our political panel about whether all the negative ads against Gingrich from rival campaigns are behind that plunge. But first here's what frontrunner Mitt Romney had to say today to Wolf Blitzer on "THE SITUATION ROOM".


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to get in a campaign like this, you've got to have broad shoulders, and if you can't take on the negative that's part of a primary, you're sure as heck not going to be ready for what's going to come from Barack Obama. If you can't handle the heat in this kitchen, wait until Barack Obama's hell's kitchen.


COOPER: Joining me now from Des Moines, Iowa, chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Also in Washington, Republican strategist Rich Galen and CNN political contributor, Hilary Rosen.

Candy, one of those interesting numbers out of this new CNN/TIME/ORC survey wasn't the horse race, it was the response to the question we asked the voters who has the best chance of beating Obama in Iowa. Romney was far and away the top pick. And in New Hampshire, he had more support on this question than all the others in the race combined.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, listen, in so many ways can he beat President Obama is the question. That to me is the most significant part of the poll because you can love somebody because they say exactly what you think, what you believe. You can love someone because you like their personal story, but in the end, what Republicans want is someone who can throw President Obama out of the White House.

So electability is huge. It's what Mitt Romney has been pushing, saying look, you've got to have someone who can stand up to President Obama, could actually beat him. And in the end when they go into the poll, whether it's a straw poll or a caucus, or a primary in New Hampshire, what Republicans want is someone who can beat Obama. And so I think we are definitely talking about a winner kind of number for Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Hilary, do you think Republican voters are finally rallying around Romney, I mean maybe they're not in love with him, but, you know, maybe it's a marriage of convenience?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, this campaign has been so fascinating because clearly Democrats, we've always thought that we're going to end up, you know, with the president running against Mitt Romney, and -- but yet it was in, you know, the early months of the fall where Mitt Romney's vulnerabilities were really obvious. You know he -- the fact that he is a flip flopper, that he has no job creation record, that he has consistently been inconsistent.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Come on. Come on, Hilary. Stop.

ROSEN: And -- wait, give me this, Rich, and what happened was Republicans then saw those weaknesses and started looking elsewhere. And the rest of the field isn't that attractive either. And I -- you know, you saw the Gingrich surge, he was a lot angrier about the president, and so he had his surge for a moment.

But I think when push comes to shove from their perspective, Romney has run a pretty good primary campaign to date and all of those other candidates have their own flaws. And Iowa may just be more reflective of the Republican primary problems than it is their solutions --

COOPER: Rich, I'll let you respond to what Hilary said.

GALEN: I talked to two campaigns in Iowa today, and Candy is out there, so she probably heard the same things. But they say that the Santorum surge is a real surge, and that Ron Paul's campaign is probably tomorrow going to turn its big guns not only advertising but people in stops where he is, the social media that the Paul people are so good at, they're going to turn that entire operation against Rick Santorum and try to protect at least their second place finish in Iowa, if not to pivot back and try to top Romney.

But they're absolutely convinced that these other two campaigns that Santorum is peaking at exactly the right time, not that he can win, but that he can -- he can really kind of surprise everybody and knock everybody --

COOPER: And Rich, why do you think it is that he has done so well just in the last couple of weeks?


GALEN: I think -- to this extent I agree with Hillary that this is -- he's the last one standing whose tires haven't been kicked by the conservative wing of the Republican Party. They went through everybody else.

ROSEN: The other issue -- reason why Santorum is surging obviously is that the evangelical vote, which is 60 percent historically of the Republican primary, remember, pushed Mike Huckabee to a win in 2008. That they're coalescing around Rick Santorum, and there aren't that many states where the evangelical wing of the Republicans are that dominant, but if Santorum does well in Iowa, you know, he can also move -- he's not going to do that well in New Hampshire, but South Carolina is another early state where the evangelical vote is pretty strong.

And so, you know, there -- GALEN: Yes, I think --

ROSEN: There ends up being --

GALEN: I speak South Carolina --

ROSEN: Again, anybody but Mitt and then who coalesces around Mitt as the strongest candidate.

GALEN: Yes, I think South Carolina is going to be the two-man death match between Santorum and Gingrich, loser goes home. But when you get past that, Hilary and Candy, you still have to go to Florida a week later, $2 million a week state. Who else has got the money and the resources and the infrastructure to do all that within 28 days, starting next Tuesday.

COOPER: Candy, there are expectations now -- I mean for Romney that if he places anywhere but first that that would be seen as defeat?

CROWLEY: I think it depends. I don't think he can get any place but second and not have it be negative for him, but I think he can place a strong second to someone like Ron Paul, simply because most Republicans, even though this makes the Ron Paul people very upset, most Republicans don't see Ron Paul as someone who --

COOPER: You're going to get e-mails.

CROWLEY: Yes, I know, as someone who will win the nomination, but he is someone who can stay the course. He will stay in this forever, I mean until the end, until it's over, but you know placing second to Ron Paul in Iowa for Mitt Romney would be OK. It would -- they could use that as traction moving into New Hampshire.

What Mitt Romney can't do is lose to Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich. That's a problem.

COOPER: We got to leave it there. Candy Crowley, thank you. Rich Galen, Hilary Rosen, thanks.

As we said, the Iowa caucus is less than a week away. We'll have the results analysis right on CNN. Of course that night our coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, and that's next Tuesday, January 3rd.

Just ahead, in North Korea, a fascinating day carefully staged farewell for Kim Jong-Il. Thousands of wailing mourners lining the streets of the capital. We're going to take a look at the very public outpouring of grief and also what's next for the country. We'll show you the most remarkable images from this day.

Plus, what price bullying a reporter sues the Massachusetts town where Phoebe Prince committed suicide for details of a settlement with her parents. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: At Kim Jong-Il's funeral, a rare glimpse in the world's most closed society. But was all of that wailing and weeping genuine or crocodile tears in the crowd? Take a closer, but first Susan Hendricks has a "360 News Business and Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. The trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resumed today after a month long break only to be adjourned until Monday.

The ailing 83-year-old arrived at court by ambulance and was brought in on a stretcher. Today, families of slain protesters asked for the head judge disqualified, but were denied. Mubarak is pleading not guilty to charges he ordered the killing of protesters back in February.

Mexican police say they have captured a top drug trafficker. This is huge. Authorities say the 39-year-old Luis Rodriguez Alevera was arrested at Mexico City's airport on Tuesday. The U.S. offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

The town of South Hadley, Massachusetts paid the parents of a bullying victim nearly a quarter million dollars after their daughter committed suicide. You remember this sad story. The 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself last year. A reporter sued for details of that settlement.

In business news, last minute shopping caused a surge in holiday sales according to industry analysts. Mall shoppers spent about $44 billion during the week before Christmas, up almost 15 percent from last year. Maybe you could tell from all the video we've been showing. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Susan, thanks. Tonight, another look at another -- the other major stories of the year that's coming to a close, this Saturday, New Year's Eve at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern, we're bring you our special, "All the Best, All the Worst of 2011." Tom Foreman previews the impact of pop culture.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The final Harry Potter film exploded into theaters. Conjuring up more than $380 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was kind of sweet. It was a nice movie.

FOREMAN: Putting an exclamation point on one of the most successful literary and cinematic series of all time.

COOPER: You know it's always nice to see a big movie where you want to eat popcorn, drink soda, and just kind of immerse yourself in it and that was definitely one of those films.

CARSON KRESSLEY, TV PERSONALITY AND STYLE EXPERT: I have no idea what's going on from the beginning to end. It is Mr. Whose wits, and they're riding on their turducken. I need a guidebook. Great movies this year, trying to think what my choices are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My three favorite movies I'm going to tell you a lot about. Number three, "Panda Two." Number two, "Winnie-The- Pooh and number one "Puss and Boots." Worst movie of the year for me, "Hangover 2." It was the same movie!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not to freak you out, it will be OK.

DUFF GOLDMAN, CHEF AND OWNE, CHARM CITY CAKES: How are you going to make the same movie twice. Come on!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't freak out, it's going to be OK.

GOLDMAN: You know, come up with a new plot.


COOPER: It's the preview of the special, "All the Best, All the Worst of 2011." Again, that airs Saturday, New Year's Eve at 8:00 and 10:00 Eastern.

And then you known what happens after that, we ring in the New Year, me and Kathy Griffin live from Times Square. I don't know why they did it again this year, but they did. They hired her again. Party starts 11:00 Eastern on New Year's Eve here on CNN. I hope she doesn't get me fired.

Up next to a more serious note, we turn to the funeral of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. The video is really just amazing grief on a level outside you may find hard to understand. We look behind the tears, find out what may lie ahead for North Korea now that their, quote/unquote, "dear leader" is gone.

And later, new details about the horrific Christmas morning fire at a Connecticut home that took five lives. Autopsy results paint a much clearer picture of what really happened.


COOPER: A cult like devotion on display for a dictator who ruled with an iron fist, all of it intended for worldwide consumption. Up close the funeral of North Korea's dear leader Kim Jong-Il. It was a well choreographed production to be sure.

In a moment, we are going to talk about what happens to North Korea now, but first here's a look at the spectacle we rarely get to see.


COOPER (voice-over): The weeping voice of a North Korean state news anchor, announcing the start of Kim Jong-Il's funeral procession. It's a national and required day of mourning for the leader whose death came as a surprise to most of the world, leaving the future of this secretive society unclear. The weeping of North Koreans as they watch the procession showcased throughout the broadcast. The wailing heard constantly in the background. Whether the grief is real or forced is unknown.

At the head of the funeral coach walks the new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, already titled the great successor, his hand resting on the car that holds his father's body, a clear symbol of his inherited leadership.

He is Kim Jong-Il's youngest son. His two older brothers are notably not visible during the funeral. The funeral broadcast is also a propaganda tool. The state anchor tells us that even the snowfall is a sign of grief. Tears from heaven for Kim Jong-Il.

The general, our general, the announcer weeps, where have you gone. This woman echoes the announcer, saying general, you can't go. You can't go. As the procession reaches the city's central Kim Il- Sung's Square, the wailing crowd is worked up into a frenzy.

And the message of grief for the dear leader is turned into a message of support for his son, who is surrounded by military advisers, including his uncle, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, believed to be the power behind the scenes.

The world will witness our march forward, the anchor says, we will defend Kim Jong-Un with our lives. Thousands of soldiers stand in the square, motionless, in perfect formation, a symbol of the collective, their heads bowed in a sign of respect.

For a dictator who kept such tight control of his country through his army, his carefully choreographed funeral is also a show of military strength, sending the world a message true or not that the nation is united behind the new regime.


COOPER: It's so fascinating to watch. Let's dig deeper now into North Korea. I'm joined by Barbara Demick, Beijing Bureau Chief for the "Los Angeles Times." Also the author of the book, "Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea."

Also joined by John Park, a research fellow in Harvard University, directs northeast projects at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Barbara, when you see that outpouring of emotion, is that real? Yes, is that real?

BARBARA DEMICK, BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Only in part. You know, it is funny, I've talked to many people who were at Kim Il-Sung's funeral in 1994, and what they describe is a situation where you just get swept away by the crowd, like if you're around people coughing, you cough.

You're around people crying, you cry. Many people, including people who were on camera have told me how they were required to fake it or they thought that political loyalty would be questioned and their whole family would be downgraded in social status. So I think sometimes the people themselves don't know if they're crying for real.

COOPER: John, why did the line of succession go to Kim Jong-Il's youngest son?

JOHN PARK, RESEARCH FELLOW, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, the speculation, Anderson, is that if you look at the eldest son, Kim Jung-Nam there was an episode he tried to sneak into Japan to go to Tokyo Disneyland. That's credited as the main reason why he perhaps is not fit for succession.

COOPER: He tried to sneak into Japan to go to Tokyo Disneyworld?

PARK: That's correct. It was a huge embarrassment for North Korea and he was promptly deported. But, you know, this is something that's part of the North Korean war now.

He is more or less living in exile in Macau and reports out of China that he is under considerable protection. But the second son, Kim Jung-Choi, the Japanese chef who lived with Kim Jong-Il, personal chef for many years, noted that Kim Jong-Il viewed his second son as not really the material for strongness.

The third son, I think the biggest claim to fame for him is he remarkably looks like his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, an important part of the propaganda, transition to the third generation.

COOPER: So does he have the support of the military, which he is now head of?

PARK: Well, I think one thing we have to remember is that this process is on-going, even in the death of Kim Jong-Il, and with that, the military is a critical part, because Kim Jong-Il consolidated power through the military after the death of his father in 1994.

But the key thing about the North Korean military and the whole emphasis of the military and new leadership structure is that the North Korean economy is a militarized economy.

So Kim Jong-Un as a four star general, as a senior military figure, he will have to be groomed to run some of these very important military linked state training companies.

It's a very important revenue generator for the regime and for a future Kim Jong-Un regime.

COOPER: Barbara, his uncle often described as one of the real power.

DEMICK: That's right. He is 65. An appropriate age for leadership in Korea is married to Kim Jung-Il's younger sister. He who is the closest family member to Kim Jong-Il and they have been power brokers behind the scenes for a long time.

He has a large family, had brothers and sons, very involved in the military. And I think there was somewhat of a deal made where Kim Jong-Un would be the figure head, giving considerable power to him, a bit Shakespearean, but that's how the deal works.

COOPER: Barbara, how does this funeral compared to the funeral of his father?

DEMICK: You know, it is funny. The North Koreans are not that creative. It is almost the same, his father died in the summer, so there was no snow, but the procession, the cars, the rituals of grieving today, already Thursday in Asia.

There's going to be a three-minute moment of silence at noon. The death was announced by the same television broadcaster on North Korean television, also done at noon. So they're following this template, they feel like it worked last time, so maybe it will work again.

COOPER: John, what are the biggest questions you would like to know the answers to? There's so much we don't know about the inner workings of this regime.

PARK: I think, Anderson, there's a lot of speculation in reading the tea leaves right now. But there's one fundamental question that I think is very objective.

Will Kim Jong-Un and his collective leadership be able to make money on a recurring basis and running the web of the state trading companies, which effectively make up North Korean corporate.

Kim Jong-Il was reported to run this system quite well, quite effectively, so the question going forward, irrespective of being the third son of Kim Jong-Il, will Kim Jong-Un learn from his uncle, with the running and the profitable operation of the trading company.

COOPER: What is it that's making the money?

PARK: Key part of it, and this is a new reality of North Korea, is that all of these North Korean state trading companies have very important Chinese partners.

And the commercial deals and the transactional nature of these relationships, it isn't one of resurgence of an alliance or any type of preferential treatment, it is each side going out, trying to make a buck.

But now the partnerships between these trading companies on the North Korean side, private Chinese companies on the Chinese side is growing rapidly in the border region, and specifically in the North Korean mining industry.

That is a key area that has been neglected and underdeveloped for many years. But already we're seeing reports of increasing coal exports from North Korea to China, so the evidence is there.

COOPER: Barbara, what question would you like most answered?

DEMICK: Are you going to be the next -- the Deng Xiaoping of North Korea. I think there are a lot of expectations that he will when he comes into his own, that he is going to open up the country.

The Chinese certainly know, the North Koreans know that the country cannot be sustained at this level of poverty, deprivation, and hunger.

In North Korea, it is extraordinary, in the middle of the greatest economic miracle of the world next to China and South Korea and Japan, and somebody has to move things, and the question is, is Kim Jong-Un going to be it.

COOPER: Interesting. Barbara Demick, appreciate it. John Park as well. Thanks.

Coming up, new information about the tragic Christmas Day fire at a Connecticut home, left three young girls and grandparents dead. We have autopsy results, which gives really new clues about exactly what happened.

Also much lighter story, one's going to make you smile, a battle between a crocodile and a lawn mower. Details on that ahead.


COOPER: Susan Hendricks back with a quick update in the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

HENDRICKS: Anderson, some heart breaking new details in the tragic Christmas day house fire in Connecticut that killed three young girls, ages 10, and seven-year-old twins and their grandparents.

The medical examiner officer says the grandfather seen here dressed as Santa with his grandchildren died from blunt force head and neck trauma and smoke inhalation.

He reportedly fell through the roof outside a window while trying to save one of his granddaughters. All three grandchildren and their grandmother died of smoke inhalation.

A baby in Oklahoma has reportedly tested positive for Cronobacter, that's a bacteria that has been found in baby formula. According to Reuters, this is the third case in recent weeks. A baby in Missouri died after 10 days, another is recovering in Illinois.

Build-A-Bear workshop is recalling nearly 300,000 teddy bears sold in the U.S. and Canada. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the Colorful Hearts teddy bear eyes could loosen and fallout, causing a choking risk. But the agency says no injury so far has been reported.

And look at this. A 16-foot crocodile at an Australian reptile park apparently had enough of the sound of a lawn mower. So the croc named Elvis dragged it into his pool and held it underwater. Elvis was finally lured away from the lawn mower by what else, meat on a stick. It works every time -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Susan, thanks. Coming up, your choice for number three on the top ten "Ridiculist" countdown. Last night, number four, man haters that doubted the relationship of Doug Hutchinson and Courtney Studden.

Well, tonight, number three on the list, which was voted by you. The first time the names Doug Hutchinson and Courtney Studden ever crossed my list. That's right they makeup three and four of the top ten "Ridiculist." The memories. That's next.


COOPER: All right, you voted for it. Here is the number three, top ten "Ridiculist" of the year. And it is the first time we ever met Courtney Studden and Doug Hutchinson. Take a look.


COOPER: Tonight, we are adding those heartless folks who are criticizing the love between this actor and his new bride. Talking about a guy named Doug Hutchinson, apparently he was in the movie "The Green Mile," and had small roles on "Lost" and "The X Files."

Not I'm not familiar with his work really at all, but here's what I do know. He's 51 years old and a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, he married a 16-year-old girl. Now a lot of people are making noise about how the girl, Courtney Studden, is a minor, and how there's a 35 year age difference between them. Blah blah blah blah blah.

I don't see what the big deal is. The wedding was May 20th according to my calendar that was a Friday. So she probably only had to miss one day of high school. What was she going to miss in 11th grade anyway, algebra? Whoever uses that?

But it did get me thinking, who is this young lady who found true love with a character actor in his early 50s. Luckily, she has a YouTube channel where she posts videos, probably talks about homework, getting her driver's license and Justin Bieber and stuff. Let's take a look.

Goodness. Well, I'm sure there's more to her than just that. A lot of people suggest that someone should have told Courtney don't marry that guy, he is too old for you, you have a driver's test coming up, but guess what, her parents gave their permission.

Not the uptight parents that won't let her stay out past 11, make music videos on boats, marry someone three times her age. They're cool parents. Her mom told Radar Online they're totally supportive of the marriage.

Her dad says his new son-in-law who's four years older than he is, quote, "the nicest man I ever met in my life." So cool. They also instilled morals in their daughter. Here is another of her YouTube videos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never done pornography, I never will. About myself, I am a Christian girl, hold my faith very tightly.

COOPER: Believe me, you learn how to wear things tightly when you go to the beach wearing nothing, but the American flag. I like that at age 16, she says she has never done pornography.

That's like saying I'm about to do pornography, or inevitably I will do pornography, but I haven't done it yet. Wonder if her parents booked her for that photo shoot. They are so cool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a virgin and I plan to stay that way until I am married.

COOPER: OK, a little bit of an over share. But I'll say this about Courtney, she likes to keep it real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My breasts are real. Everything about me is real. My hair is real, my teeth are real, my eye lashes are real. My breasts are totally real, believe it or not, but they are.

COOPER: Did she mention that her breasts are real? I think she mentioned twice. You know what else is real, their love is real. Courtney, I wish you nothing but the best in your singing career and your marriage, but if it doesn't work out, someone's recently back on the market. And to all you haters, remember, age is only a number. 51 just a number. 16, just a much, much, much smaller number. Ain't love grand? So to all you doubters and haters, don't be too hard on these lovebirds, at least not until the divorce or the inevitable reality show about the divorce comes out. Until then, all of you are on the Ridiculist.


COOPER: All right, we'll have no. 2 on the list tomorrow. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.