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U.N. Fears Civil War in South Sudan; South Korean Intelligence; Toronto Hit by Ice Storm; England and Scotland Pounded by Winter Storm; Sacco Sacked After Offensive AIDS Tweet; Cracker Barrel Reverses, Resumes Selling "Duck Dynasty" Merch

Aired December 23, 2013 - 12:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: This is the youngest nation in the world. We're talking about South Sudan, just two years independent from its neighbor Sudan. But in just the past week, hundreds of people have died across the country. Armed rebels, government troops are fighting them. There is an ethnic aspect to all of this. There are people getting caught up in between.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And now the United States and many other countries pulled their citizens out of South Sudan over the weekend and U.N. bases there, they are now flooded today with people who just - they can't go home because of the violence. President Obama says he might take further action to support the American people and interests in South Sudan. Now, he said that after three U.S. military airplanes were fired on while trying to get people to safety, four U.S. troops were actually hurt in the incident.

HOLMES: And we just found out actually a few minutes ago that the special United States envoy to South Sudan has arrived in Juba in that the country. And we're told that he's trying to head up efforts to end the conflict there diplomatically. So far, not working

MALVEAUX: At the same time, the head of the United Nations says that he is diverting peacekeepers and supplies from other missions in Africa to help out in South Sudan.

Want to bring in our Frederik Pleitgen in New York today.

And, Fred, first of all, talk about this. This is a country that has seen very little calm, very little peace in its young survival, in its young stages here. Now we're talking about things getting worse. How do you turn this around?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's going to be very difficult. Essentially what's happened here, Suzanne, is that this is a conflict between two men, between the president, Kiir, and the former vice president, Machar, that's now turning into an ethnic conflict. And, of course, like in many of these places, you've had ethnic tensions between some of these tribes in that country for a very, very long time. Also some massacres in the past. And now this political feud is bringing all of this forward and is making all of this worst and is leading to all this conflict going on.

As you said, the situation there grows more volatile by the day. The latest thing that's happened is that apparently the rebels there have taken some very key areas, including the main town in the main oil producing area. South Sudan gets almost all of its country's revenues from oil. Now, the government is talking about launching a counter offensive. So at this point in time, I know the American envoy, Donald Booth, has just landed on the ground there to try and mediate between the two sides. But it certainly, at this point, is looking more like escalation than anything else. And that's bad because this is a volatile country in a volatile part of Africa, Suzanne.

HOLMES: Yes, and, Fred, you know, you were talking about summary executions, as you say. You know, there are ethic killings involved, retaliation, tit-for-tat. The humanitarian situation is confounding a lot of people. And there's a lot of people who have fled. They've gone to U.N. bases for help. What's being done about them?

PLEITGEN: Yes, it's absolutely catastrophic. And the U.N. says that it could get a lot worse. There's about 45,000 people the U.N. estimates that have actually fled on to U.N. bases, but, of course, those U.N. bases are not really protected. The U.N. mission was having a lot of logistical problems even before all of this happened. There was one U.N. base, as you guys know, that was attacked last week where two U.N. peacekeepers were killed. Also some people who had fled to those bases. The U.N. is now pulling soldiers that it has in neighboring Congo to try and beef up the security around those bases.

And as you guys said, the U.N. says it's flying all of its non- essential staff, or has flown all of its non-essential staff out of the country into Uganda, but they've also made very, very clear they are going to do their best to keep protecting the civilians there on the grounds because what they want, what they don't want under any circumstances is for these ethnic tensions to get any worse and for there to be any sort of massacres between these two tribal factions because that could certainly very easily tear that country apart, guys.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, tell us about what the president is referring to when he talks about U.S. assets, when he talks about U.S. interests inside of South Sudan. I mean, what is the U.S. angle here when it comes to the involvement, and potentially boots on the ground?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, certainly the U.S., of course, first and foremost, wants to keep this country together. And when you talk about U.S. assets, the one thing that he's mainly talking about is the U.S. embassy on the ground. There are some smaller U.S. business assets there, as well, but at this point in time the belief is that pretty much all U.S. citizens have now left the country. But the president has been very clear. They put a couple dozen U.S. troops on the ground to help protect the embassy because the situation in Juba had become very volatile over the past couple of days and he was very clear in saying he will put more assets on the ground, including additional troops, but only to protect American interests. It's made very clear, the White House has, that this does not mean that the U.S. is in any way getting involved in this conflict.

However, at some point in time, it might be difficult to sustain that position because the U.N. is already calling for additional countries to try and get hardware on the ground to help the U.N. conduct its mission. You're talking about things like helicopters, for instance, to fly those peacekeepers from Congo over into South Sudan. Very, very worried about the situation. But right now, the U.S. is saying it wants to protect all the things that are of American interests there, not getting involved in the conflict at this time. But again, a very, very volatile situation on the ground there, guys.

HOLMES: All right, Fred, thanks so much. Fred Pleitgen there at the U.N. The civilian population, as usual, caught in the middle.


HOLMES: Kids (ph).

MALVEAUX: And the president, President Obama, saying, look, you know, making it very clear, it is going to be a very limited role with U.S. troops because a lot of Americans, you know, very wary about getting involved.

HOLMES: They're not going to get involved. However, the U.N., they've got to do something because people are dying every day there, as we're seeing right across Africa.

Let's move on to the formerly NBA star, Dennis Rodman, making headlines again for his relationship, an unusual one we'd have to say, with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

MALVEAUX: So the NBA veteran, he just wrapped up a five-day trip to Pyongyang. Well, that is where he was training the country's basketball team. And Rodman did not meet with Kim this time. And his basketball diplomacy hasn't really done anything to ease tensions in the Korean peninsula. This third trip came on the heels of the execution of Kim Jong-un's powerful uncle.

HOLMES: Yes. Now some people initially saw that execution as a sign of North Korean instability under the young leader. But South Korean intelligence now suggests it may not be the case. Here's Anna Coren.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne and Michael, new details have emerged over the purge and execution of the uncle of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, shedding new light on the political situation inside the hermit kingdom. Well, according to the National Intelligence Service here in South Korea, it believes that Jang Song Thaek, Kim's uncle, mentor and second in command, was not executed over a power struggle but rather a conflict of interests involving coal and trade deals that, quote, "violated the supreme leadership."

They also believe that despite analyst theories that Kim was trying to consolidate power, the young supreme commander's position is stable and he's firmly in control. This information comes as former NBA star Dennis Rodman flew out of Pyongyang after a five-day visit to North Korea, where he was training the national basketball team. Well, they're preparing for an exhibition match next month to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-un. Surprisingly, Rodman did not meet with his close friend Kim, but said the trip was awesome and that he's looking forward to returning for the big game on the 8th of January. Now, Rodman has yet to name the American team made up of former NBA stars. There are reports that some of the players are concerned about their safety and have yet to sign on. But Rodman says there is nothing to worry about and that he will be announcing the team shortly.

Back to you.

HOLMES: All right, Anna, thanks so much. Anna Coren there.

MALVEAUX: And the man who invented the world's most widely used military grade assault rifle has died. Mikhail Kalashnikov created the AK-47 automatic weapon more than 65 years ago. And the design really hasn't changed very much since. He named the rifle after himself, became the standard issue rifle for the Soviet army.

HOLMES: Yes, it was initially called the Avtomat Kalashnikova, actually, automatic Kalashnikov. He described other weapons, as well, and tinkered with this one a bit. None were as successful as the AK. There's an estimated 100 million AK-47 rifles in the world today. They're famed for their reliability.

MALVEAUX: All right. You describe this one.

HOLMES: Oh, yes, even the occasional TV reporter gets a chance to fire an AK-47 if he's in the right place and right time.

MALVEAUX: That would be you.

HOLMES: On this occasion in Afghanistan at a training session for Afghan forces. Anyway, Kalashnikov, 94 years old. A grand old life. He died in Russia in the town where the rifle is still made. He'd reportedly been sick for some time.

MALVEAUX: All right. Take you now to Berlin. He went from Russia's richest man in the country to the most famous political prisoner. For the first time in 10 years now, Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky is now speaking out in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

HOLMES: Yes, Khodorkovsky is a longtime opponent and very vocal one of the Russian government, in particular Vladimir Putin. He was convicted on tax evasion and fraud charges back in 2005, but Russia faced international criticism over his imprisonment. He and many others considered him a political prisoner.

MALVEAUX: Well, on Saturday, he was reunited with his family after President Vladimir Putin signed an amnesty decree amid mounting pressure for his release. During his first sit down interview, he talks about his life behind bars.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Was there a deal for your release? Did President Putin or his people say, on this condition, we will release you? Were there any conditions laid?

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, PARDONED RUSSIAN PRISONER (through translator): It's rather was the reverse. Mr. Putin on a number of times publicly said that he was ready to consider the question of my pardoning, but I had to say that I was guilty for that. That was an absolutely inacceptable condition for me.

AMANPOUR: Do you forgive Vladimir Putin?

KHODORKOVSKY: I would put it differently perhaps. I don't think that revenge would any - would be any rational behavior. And something that is rational behavior I can always deal with.


MALVEAUX: That was CNN's Christiane Amanpour. And you can see more of her interview with him today at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on "Amanpour."

HOLMES: Meanwhile, here's more of what we're working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD.




HOLMES: Ouch. Hundreds of thousands of people without power right now because of a dangerous winter storm and yet another one threatens to make it a very dark Christmas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happiness is killing things, pop, pop, pop, pop.


MALVEAUX: Camouflage and shotgun shells, "Duck Dynasty," of course, a big business. And now one company is apologizing to its customers for taking "Dynasty" items off its shelves. This controversy not going away anytime soon.

HOLMES: Also, a special holiday visitor drops in to see us. If you have kids, you know this guy, and that girl as well. They're talking about "The Elf on the Shelf." We've got the co-creator of this widely popular phenomenon coming to join us to talk about how and where it all began. He's everywhere.

MALVEAUX: Everywhere.

HOLMES: Ubiquitous (ph).

MALVEAUX: Look, in the NEWSROOM too.

HOLMES: Get off the set.


HOLMES: Welcome back. Here's some of the stories making news around the world right now.

Let's start with Toronto, dealing with one of the worst ice storms in that city's history. Take a look at what it looked like on Sunday.

MALVEAUX: Hundreds of trees caved because of the weight of the ice. You can see it there. More than 250,000 people, they lost electricity as freezing rain brought power lines down. 200,000 still don't have power. Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, he's been in the news a lot lately for smoking crack cocaine, you right recall. Well, he's weighing in on all this saying he decided not to declare a state of emergency.


MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: We believe that the worst weather is over. We were concerned last night with the high winds and freezing temperatures. That did not happen. Shelters are up and running. Everyone is OK. It's business as usual here at city hall. We're expecting all employees to show up.


HOLMES: And Ford said several hundred people took advantage of warming centers that they set up in the city. He does expect that the power will be restored for everyone by Christmas. Certainly hope so.

MALVEAUX: Hope so.

And people across England and Scotland, they are also dealing with the strong storm threatening to disrupt holiday travel plans. The rail service is warning of trains delays, cancellations, because of wind gusts up to 80-miles-per-hour.

There's also flooding, as well. Some ferry service also being affected. Thirteen million people are expected to travel by car or bus, just over the next three days.

HOLMES: They're going to be dealing with some major delays, and that's going to be also affecting Europe.

Chad Myers, what's behind it all?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is a huge storm. It's a low pressure that's just in the North Sea, and this is a biggie.

The pressure of this storm is equal to a Category-3 hurricane, no kidding, 941 pressure, and there's another storm coming in two more days, so not just one, but two storms for the U.K. and for Wales.

This is a big effect here. We are going to have waves of 40 to 50 feet here along this coast, the West Coast from Wales all the way back down toward the U.K., but not so much into London, a little bit farther away from London.

So, we're not going to get the significant action in London, but there is going to be wind gusts of 80-miles-per-hour. Think about that when you push those waves against those rocky shores there. And here's what the radar looks like. We're going to see rainfall and even some snow in the higher elevations just north of Dublin, obviously there, and then north of Glasgow, we're going to see the snow, as well.

But look at this wind gust. This is just wind gusts tonight. And there are a lot of planes on the way to this area for tonight's landing. We have 60-mile-per-hour winds in London. I don't believe we're going to get all the planes on the ground when you have winds like that.

I can show you what it looks like right now. This is the Flight Explorer. Planes are on their way over to America at this point in time. Later on tonight, they go the other direction, so that you wake up in the morning. But a lot of people, I believe, probably won't even be going to the area, may have to divert planes back toward, maybe even toward Paris.

If you're trying to get there, it's going to be a long time, and probably those -- some of those ferries won't even get across the North Sea or across the Channel, the Channel at all the next couple days.

HOLMES: Fifty-foot waves?

MALVEAUX: Good lord.

MYERS: Absolutely. Literally, waves the size you would get with a hurricane because the winds are that strong out there.

HOLMES: They've got all the North Sea activity there, as well, so that's going to have a lot of impact.

Chad, thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: We appreciate it.

Of course, it's a lesson to be careful what you tweet. That is the hard lesson being learned by a p.r. executive after an offensive tweet about AIDS went viral that she sent. This morning, she is out of a job. Up next, we're going to tell you what she said that ignited a social media firestorm.


MALVEAUX: This morning, a p.r. executive is apologizing for an offensive tweet that tore through the social media world and landed her in some big trouble.

HOLMES: Indeed. Her name is Justine Sacco, and she says her decision to accepted out this tweet on Friday was, in her words, "careless."

Here's the tweet. "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"

Sacco sent that tweet out just before she began a 12-hour flight to South Africa, and over the weekend, she was fired.

MALVEAUX: This was not the first time Sacco said something controversial. Our CNN's Pamela Brown has the story.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne and Michael, it's highly unusual that a publicist would be at the center of a publicity firestorm like this, but that happened to Justine Sacco.

Fifty-three characters, that's all it took for Sacco to lose her job. In fact, it's not the only controversial tweet. It's one of several tasteless tweets on her now disabled Twitter account.


BROWN: Social media is calling it "the tweet heard around the world." "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get aids. Just kidding. I'm white!"

Now, three days after p.r. exec Justine Sacco sent out that tweet, she is out of a job and apologizing.

On Sunday, Sacco issued this statement, saying, "Words cannot express how sorry I am and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet.

"For being insensitive to this crisis and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed."

Sacco was head of p.r. for IAC, the media company owned by Barry Diller that operates Web sites like "The Daily Beast," College Humor and But on Saturday, the company said Sacco is no longer a good match, firing her.

The now-former p.r. exec found herself the target of a social-media mob on Friday, sending out that tweet right before logging offline while on her 12-hour flight from London to here native South Africa.

JOE CONCHA, COLUMNIST, MEDIAITE: Not only is this a publicist's worst nightmare. It's any public figure's worst nightmare.

To send out a tweet, it's kind of like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. You can't take it back.

BROWN: Her Twitter page immediate filled with hateful comments, the hash tag, #HasJustineLandedYet, trending worldwide, one guy following the hash tag even awaiting her arrival at the Cape Town airport.

A "trial by Twitter," as many are calling it, according to her LinkedIn page, Sacco was also formerly a publicist for the WWE.

And on her now disabled Twitter page, she has a cache of vulgar, now- deleted tweets like, "I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night" and "I can't be fired for things I say while intoxicated, right?" leaving many to wonder how could a p.r. expert not know how to manage her own in social media.

CONCHA: I don't think people like Justine realize the immediacy of Twitter. One tweet, one statement, is all it takes in the world of Twitter and the world of social media to cost somebody their career. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Yeah, Justine Sacco, having to learn that lesson the hard way, but if there is any could that can come from this, it appears that more attention has been focused on AIDS-relief charities.

In fact, someone actually registered the domain name,, and linked it directly to Aid for Africa relief Web site, so at least there is some good coming from this.

Suzanne and Michael?

MALVEAUX: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you.

HOLMES: Committing "Twitter-cide," as they say.

MALVEAUX: The restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, scrambling now to put "Duck Dynasty" merchandise back on its store shelves, it is now apologizing to its customers.

We're going to tell you how the store's attempt to avoid controversy has actually had the opposite effect.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

The restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, reversing a decision to stop selling selected "Duck Dynasty" merchandise.

MALVEAUX: Cracker Barrel pulled the products after controversial comments about race and homosexuality by the show's lead character, but customers responded with messages demanding that the store resume selling the t-shirts, key chains, all that good stuff that they do.

CNN's Richard Quest is joining us to talk about all of these things. So, first of all, give us a sense of the company itself, like the reversal, how did they manage this, the whole messaging behind it.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were just very blunt and open- minded about it and open about it. They simply said, We took the products off the shelf because we didn't want to offend anybody because of the comments from the star of the show.

And then they said, Now we realized we've done exactly what we didn't want to do.

So what does it tell us? And what we're watching are companies doing, Do we? Don't we? If we do, what happens? If we don't, what happens? And going backwards and forwards.

And this is fascinating because here you have it played out in real- time.

MALVEAUX: So, how much does it cost them to do this little dance, this little back-and-forth? QUEST: Forget the money side of it. Cracker Barrel is -- that's really rather small change. It's the reputational issue.

They thought they were doing the right thing by taking them off the shelf. They now realize they shouldn't have done it because some people said -- and this is what companies across the globe, our own company, every company is now facing in this new era.

The only difference here, of course, was it was a printed article. It wasn't a sort of a social media, but the reaction came from social media.

HOLMES: And that's the problem is the speed with which things happen.


HOLMES: The companies react -

QUEST: Absolutely.

HOLMES: -- and sometimes it's very knee-jerk.

QUEST: Well, you say it's "knee-jerky." It's "knee-jerky" because they think that's what needs to be done.