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CONNECT THE WORLD
Thai Military Mediates Talks Between Government, Opposition; Dozens Dead After Twin Blasts In Nigerian City of Jos; Hosni Mubarak Sentenced To Three Years For Embezzlement; African Start-up: Sematime
Aired May 21, 2014 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN MANN, HOST: Terror in Nigeria -- carnage at a market after a brutal strike by terrorists. Authorities fear the death toll with climb.
Also ahead, Thailand's military orders and encounter between rival political groups. Is Bangkok any closer to resolving the crisis?
Six fans of pop star Pharrell can't be happy after a simple online fan video gets them arrested in Iran.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.
MANN: Hello, and welcome. I'm Jonathan Mann in for Becky Anderson. Thanks for joining us.
The terror group Boko Haram has struck northern Nigeria yet again. This time local residents say the militants attacked two villages near Chibok, killing at least 30 people.
News of the attacks came one day after twin bombings decimated a crowded market in the city of Jos, sending people running panic. One emergency official put the death toll at 118, but said they were still searching through debris for more victims. A local official gave a far lower toll saying 46 people had been killed. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Our Vladimir Duthiers is tracking developments for us in Abuja and joins us now.
What can you tell us about these attacks?
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, we know this attack that happened in Jos left people running for their lives from a gruesome and gory scene, bodies strewn everywhere, people scrambling to take the wounded by hand in wheelbarrows, anyway that they could to local area hospitals. We know that in talking to some of the hospital staff that we could barely hear the nurses and the doctors over the screams and the shouts of people that were cramming into this hospital.
This is -- this happened in an area, Jonathan, Jos, which has not typically been a target of the recent violence that we've seen over the past couple of years, it has been concentrated in the northeast.
No one has claimed responsibility for this attack, but it does bear the hallmarks of Boko Haram. And this is what they are known for. They -- apparently according to eyewitnesses, a vehicle crammed with explosives exploded. The second vehicle, Jonathan, exploded when first responders arrived on the scene.
MANN: Now the government says it has 20,000 men in the northeast searching for Boko Haram, trying to find the schoolgirls, of course, who have been the subject of so much attention. An attack outside of that immediate region has to be some kind of statement of defiance about Boko Haram's reach and the government's credibility.
DUTHIERS: Absolutely, Jonathan.
I think that these attacks that we started to see, they've actually stepped up attacks in the last couple of weeks. And the attacks that you mentioned earlier at the top that killed 30 people in Mariguroori (ph) this is in a state that is under a state of emergency.
So what the terrorists seem to be saying is that, look, you can put a state under a state of emergency, you can have 20,000 Nigerian troops in the northeastern part of the country searching for the 200 plus girls that we abducted, but we still can attack with impunity at will any time anywhere, Jonathan.
MANN: Vladimir Duthiers in Abuja, thanks very much.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House foreign affairs committee is taking up the issue of Boko Haram in hearings right now. Among the people testifying, a teenage girl who survived an attack by the group, but saw her father and brother murdered. Here is what she had to say on the sidelines of that hearing.
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)
DEBORAH PETER, SURVIVED ATTACK BY BOKO HARAM: I want the government to know how much, like, Nigeria is in our prayers and that I want them to like maybe send army to find the girls or maybe like we should help them for the people that lost their families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MANN: We're keeping our eye on those hearings. We'll bring you any developments that come out of them.
Also ahead, Nigeria's Muslim community speaks out against the bloodshed, they say has no place in Islam. And Nigeria has seen more than its share of unrest and violent insurgency before. We'll have a look at whether Boko Haram's terror campaign poses and new and even more terrible kind of threat.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been sentenced to three years in prison for embezzlement, but criminal charges are still pending. Mubarak was convicted of embezzling $18 billion in public funds that were supposed to be used to renovate presidential palaces. His two sons got 4 years sentences each.
Reza Sayah joins us now from Cairo with details.
Reza, Mubarak seems to go from trial to trial. Tell us how this one ended.
REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's one trial down for Hosni Mubarak, another one to go. Hosni Mubarak, as you mentioned, convicted in the embezzlement trial today. He gets three years in prison. His sons Allah and Gamal get four years in prison.
They're accused of and convicted of taking monies, taking state funds that were set aside for improving the presidential palace and instead using it to improve their own private homes.
The three appeared in court today. Hosni Mubarak wearing a dark suit, his two sons wearing white prison garb.
The three were also ordered to pay about $3 million in fines and roughly $180 million that they allegedly took.
We should point out that the three have already served about three years in prison. If they get credit for that, and it's likely they will, that could mean that they will each serve less than a year in prison. But we should point out, Jonathan, that Hosni Mubarak still faces another serious trial. In that trial, he's charged with ordering a deadly crackdown against protesters during the 2011 revolution. If convicted in that trial, he faces life in prison.
MANN: Now there's a particular aspect of this case, obviously less serious than the ones you just describe, which is that the Mubaraks apparently -- at least according to published reports -- gave the state back an awful lot of money, more money than they ever could have earned legally as government employees, almost confirming that the allegations of corruption were true.
SAYAH: There are reports that Mubarak has already given back $120 million to the state. That's a sign that this man has some deep pockets. And it's no secret here in Egypt that this was a wealthy man.
Initially when he was ousted, there were reports that his wealth equaled hundreds of billions of dollars. Observers say the wealth is closer to several billion dollars. And they say much of that was amassed through stealing public funds.
MANN: That's why the three years sentence seems kind of odd. I mean, three years seems like what you might serve in jail anywhere in the world if you were stealing cash from the till in a store or if you were a mildly crooked accountant. Embezzlement at that scale seems to suggest a more serious amount of time behind bars.
SAYAH: Yeah, to put it in perspective, Jonathan, over the past several months there have been young pro-democracy activists who broke in the protest law, that means they just stepped out in the street, and they've received harsher sentences. That's why this Mubarak sentence is probably not going to sit well with pro-democracy activists, faces of the 2011 revolution who blamed many of Egypt's problems on Mubarak and it was certainly fuel accusations that Mubarak still has a lot of sympathizers within the so-called deep state, within the establishment that includes the judiciary.
MANN: Reza Sayah, live in Cairo, thanks very much.
Thailand seems no closer to resolving its months of political deadlock. The army has set another meeting for Thursday with rival political groups and the government, the military has been criticized for declaring martial law, but says it was necessary to head off violent protests.
Paula Hancocks has the latest from Bangkok.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This military presence herein Bangkok is just outside the pro-government protester's camp. And to be honest, this is the largest military contingency that we've seen whilst driving around Bangkok.
The army chief said that it was not going to be a coup. This martial law was going to be business as usual. And at this point, it appears as though that may be the case.
The leaders of both political protest camps may finally be sitting in the same room. But given how different their opinions are and how different their positions are, it's very difficult to know where the common ground would be.
But these pro-government protesters, the so-called red shirts, are angry that their democratically elected prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was forced from power just a couple of weeks ago by a ruling by the constitutional court. And they say that if a non-elected official is put into that position, then they will rise up in serious numbers. At that point, the military would not be able to just stand by.
And this is the heart of the anti-government protest camp, the so- called yellow shirts. And what they're calling for here is a new government. But the protest leaders say that they need reform before they can have a government they've already boycotted and disrupted the February election, because they allege that their rivals are corrupt.
So you can see that the two political sides in Thailand are very far apart. And the military, now acting as mediator, has its work cut out for it to try and bridge that gap.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Bangkok.
MANN: Still to come, after fully 10 years of negotiations, China will not have to worry about its supply of natural gas for the next 30 years. Details of a long awaited deal with Russia coming up.
And six young Iranians dance to a famous song in a carefree music video. Now they're under arrest. Their crime -- happiness? We'll explain coming up in the program.
MANN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World. I'm Jonathan Mann in for Becky Anderson. Thanks for joining us once again.
Boko Haram is stepping up its campaign of fear in northern Nigeria. Local residents say the group targeted two villages near Chibok this week killing at least 30 people and burning homes to the ground. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday double bombing in the central Nigerian city of Jos. An emergency official says 118 people were killed. A local official puts the death toll at 4.
The spike in attacks by the extremist group has made life difficult and dangerous for Nigeria's Muslim community. Now, though, it is publicly condemning Boko Haram and its leader.
Zain Asher reports from the Nigerian capital Abuja.
ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An afternoon call to prayer. Nigeria's Muslims flock from all over Abuja to kneel before before god at the country's national mosque. Some stay for hours reciting prayers under their breath, others come for quiet reflection.
But in the past month, there has been something heavy weighing on their hearts.
MOHAMMAD SANUSI, WORSHIPPER: We are just asking them to release the girls because the girls have not offended anybody.
ASHER: This is the man Nigerian Muslims here are desperate to distance themselves from: Abubakar Shekau, a man who relishes violence, delights in mayhem and is wrecking havoc in northern Nigeria.
SHEIKH MUSA MOHAMMAD, CHIEF IMAM: Anything to do with killing people is not Islam.
ASHER: Not everyone here has seen the video showing more than 100 girls being forced to recite the Holy Koran, but those who have share this.
MOHAMMAD: In Islam, nobody should be forced to accept Islam.
ASHER: As we were filming here, word filtered in of another deadly bombing in the city of Jos, an area that has seen violence between Muslim and Christians for many years.
But it's not just Christians who are under attack by Boko Haram, Muslims are also prime targets. In the past five years, a handful of prominent Muslim clerics have been brutally murdered for speaking out against the group.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are killing Christians, they are killing Muslims. They are killing everybody that comes come across them.
ASHER: The many Muslims here are no longer afraid to condemn them, even though they say Boko Haram members might be living amongst them in their communities and might even be praying alongside them at their mosques.
Zain Asher, CNN, Abuja, Nigeria.
MANN: For more on the security challenges and threats of Boko Haram, we're joined now by Sajjan Gohel, director for international security at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based Think Tank.
Thank so much for being with us once again.
We've talked about terrorism in many parts of the world, but let me ask you about what we're seeing in Nigeria, because I wonder if we're seeing more of the violent life of a perennially troubled country, or if this is some kind of turning point.
SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: It's an important point that you bring up, Jonathan. Certainly, Nigeria has had a number of problems in the past. It's a country rife with ethnic, sectarian, religious problems - - Christians in the south, but the Igbo and the Yoruba in the north. You have the hausa and fulani.
But what is now beginning to emerge is the fact that you have a group like Boko Haram that is ideologically affiliating itself with al Qaeda. The group's name itself in hausa means western education is a sin. But also what's important is that the tactically their attacks are resembling what al Qaeda has been trying to carry out in the past, which is multiple coordinated attacks like we've seen in Jos, hostage taking. So this is an outfit that is beginning to create new problems and ramifications throughout the country.
MANN: I want to ask you, though, about the group -- about the individuals in the group, because there are well informed Nigerians who say these are thugs masquerading as Muslims. Really what they're after is chaos and women. And they're really not much more than that.
Are they better trained than the kind of insurgents Nigeria has faced before? Are they better supported? Are they better armed?
GOHEL: The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, he's an individual who just like bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and Anwar al Awlawki is very skilled at producing media videos, using the oxygen of publicity to purport his propaganda, spread his doctrine.
They may not necessarily have fighters who have trained and fought in the Afghan jihad or in Syria. They're mostly local. But nevertheless, they're causing enormous problems by targeting the Nigerian military, targeting churches. They're even going after Muslims who they feel are not true representatives of the Islamic faith.
MANN: I wan to jump in one thought you made -- you passed over very quickly, because it seems to be a crucial point that we're seeing in the news now. They have been mostly local. They have been confined to the northeast of the country. But now this terrible attack in Jos, and it's not the only place outside of their more familiar battleground areas that they have managed to attack. It would seem that they're able to at least spread their terror. What should be make of that?
GOHEL: They are spreading. In fact, the group has been carrying out attacks in Nigeria for many years, perhaps the only time they gained international attention initially was when they carried out the attack on the UN building in Abuja, the capital back in August 2011.
More recently, of course, the Nigerian schoolgirls taken from Chibok.
So this is a group that is spreading its wings. It is becoming more bold in its type of operations. And certainly you have to remember all groups start off small. They start off local. Then they become regional and then they become transnational. This is how it always begins. And this is the problem and the concern. They are a group that...
MANN: Who is helping them do that? Who is backing them? Who is supplying them? Who is giving them refuge so that they can train?
GOHEL: The group like Boko Haram, in the past they have used their -- the funding from criminal enterprises, hostage taking -- ransoms have been paid on a number of occasions. They're also operating in effectively like a small state within a state, especially in places like Borno. Maidogoori (ph), which is regional capital of Borno state, has become one of the main ideological centers and hubs for them.
MANN: You're anticipating my last question here, which is what happened to the state of Nigeria? Why have the authorities -- why is the Abuja government been unable to do more to stop this slow and obvious spread?
GOHEL: Ever since the last Nigerian military ruler, General Abacha died, the country has developed a semblance of democracy, it has opened up. But there are a lot of challenges politically, socially, economically the country has been unstable. That also feeds into the counterterrorism apparatus. In many ways best way to describe Nigeria is it's an organized chaos. One doesn't necessarily know how it functions, but it somehow manages to muddle through. And unless western support is given to the Nigerian authorities, this is a problem that will spread just -- not just within Nigeria, but it'll go beyond the confines of the country.
So this is a group that we'll have to watch. And not just Boko Haram, but it's splinter outfits like Ansaru, which have also become very deadly in abducting westerners and executing them. So we need to see the problems in Nigeria are not just local, they are going to be transnational.
MANN: Sjjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, thanks so much for talking with us once again.
MANN: Meanwhile, another battle being fought in Nigeria, and not against Islamic insurgents but on the cultural front. Biyi Bandele is the director of the acclaimed movie Half of a Yellow Sun, it's story is built around his country's civil war, the Biafran War. More than a million people died between 1967 and 1970.
But (inaudible) wonders if his film hasn't received a license in Nigeria, because it could provoke tribal violence at the very time the country is addressing Boko Haram.
Read what else he has to say about his film being effectively banned by going to CNN.com/international.
Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World. Young Iranians under arrest for a video the government calls obscene. They simply called it Happy. More on that later.
And next, how one African startup is changing the way schools and parents communicate with smartphones.
MANN: You're watching Connect the World. Welcome back. I'm Jonathan Mann in for Becky Anderson.
It's time for us to take you to the Global Exchange where we introduce you to the people and places paving the way forward in the world's emerging economies. Today, a look at a tech company in Kenya that's helping schools improve communication through text messaging. Here's African Startup.
BONIFACE GITHINJI, SEMATIME: My name is Boniface Githinji. I created a communication platform in Nairobi, Kenya.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boniface Githinji tech startup is called Sematime. It's an SMS service provider for small and medium businesses. He says clients can send information, bills and invoices to large groups through text messages. He can also custom design special features, that's why he targets Kenyan schools as potential customers.
GITHINJI: So, for schools in addition to just doing general purpose communications, they can also send report cards. They can also send exam results and fee balances to their parents through SMS.
UIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's all done with just a click of a few buttons.
GITHINJI: Yeah, so this is just sample message that you are trying to send out to parents. It's that fast. It's immediate.
Where we come from, like where we have schools from, kids whenever they issue report cards, they are paper forms. They don't take them home. And so parents are unaware of how well their kids have been performing. So we came up with this service to specifically make it easy for these schools to communicate to parents through our SMS services.
(inaudible) capital. But you have this idea, you go show it up to a few schools. But then you realize that you don't have money to actually now push it as much as you can. So that's how we fund ourselves with Nailab.
Nailab stands for Nairobi Incubation Lab. It's an organization that (inaudible) to get startups, people who want to do something, but probably don't have the space, don't have the facilities, don't have the Internet.
I probably wouldn't be here if not for Nailab. And so they were very instrumental when we started.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boniface has had a pretty successful start. He's just 26 years old and says his company made about 6 million Kenyan shillings last year, that's about $68,000 U.S. dollars. But even with his financial success so far, he remains grounded.
GITHINJI: I'm not so feeling accomplished. I think it's a long, long way to get to that point. I think it's just beginning. We have like a thousands things that we want to do. And we can't just wait to get started.
MANN: The latest world news headlines are just ahead.
Plus, when you hear some songs, it's pretty well impossible not to dance, but in Iran that could get you in trouble. Just ahead, how one catchy tune got a group of people arrested.
And a huge amount of water has been accumulating on the site of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. We'll tell you how the companies owners are dealing with a problem that isn't going away, it's getting worse.
MANN: This is Connect the World. The top stories this hour.
Nigeria's president is condemning Tuesday's twin bombings in the city of Jos and pledging to redouble efforts to win the fight against terror. The bombings killed dozens of people at a crowded market with one official putting the death toll at 118. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges. Mubarak was convicted of embezzling $18 billion in public funds that were supposed to be used to renovate presidential palaces. He still faces criminal charges in the deaths of protesters during the 2011 uprising.
The leaders of rival protest groups in Thailand sat down for talks in Bangkok, the meeting organized by the military. No deals have been struck, but they are to meet again Thursday to discuss how to end months of political unrest.
China has a new energy source: Russia. The two countries have struck a huge natural gas deal. Starting in 2018, Russia is to send natural gas by pipeline to China for 30 years. The deal comes during Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to China. Some value the 30-year pact at $400 billion, and it could signal a shift east for Russian commercial interests.
CNN's emerging markets editor John Defterios joins us now from St. Petersburg. John, an amazingly big deal that took an amazingly long time to reach. Tell us about it.
JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, it's interesting, you're correct in that, Jonathan, both in the scale of this and how long it took to close. It was on the boil for ten years. It is fair to say this deal is finally cooked.
The one that we don't know about the deal is the compromise on the pricing. We know Russia went into this trying to price the gas to China at the same level they sell it to the European Union. China came back and said, look, we're getting natural gas coming in from Turkmenistan right now at a lower price, so they had to close the gap.
A couple of things we do know: 38 billion cubic meters a year. This represents -- and it is sizable -- about a quarter of China's current demand right now, Jonathan.
Number two, they're going to build two pipelines, one coming from the Sakhalin Islands, about 2600 kilometers there. Another one about 4,000 kilometers coming from another section of Russia right in the heart of eastern Siberia, and that's going to cost better than $40 billion to build. China's going to probably put up about half of that level.
But let's take a step back. Geopolitically, what does it mean? We know China's gone into Africa to get natural gas supplies and oil supplies and minerals. We know it's gone into central Asia, but this is the first time on a very large scale it's doing so with Russia.
And it proves that Russia is not so isolated around the world right now, Jonathan. They have problems with EU sanctions, European Union sanctions, United States sanctions, but this was very important for Vladimir Putin to look east and suggest, I can do a deal with the second- largest economy right now, and that is China.
MANN: The timing of it is fascinating in that respect. It really works to the Kremlin's advantage, because its European customers of long- standing, they're looking a little less loyal.
DEFTERIOS: In fact, it works on many levels in that effort by Vladimir Putin. As you can see, I'm standing on the Neva River here in St. Petersburg. This is the hometown for Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, Medvedev, the head of Sparebank, one of the key banks here in Russia, the head of Gazprom, and the head of the oil giant, Rosneft as well.
Why am I saying that? They're having a gigantic forum starting, the annual St. Petersburg forum tomorrow. Vladimir Putin didn't want to go to Shanghai, after all, the expectations were very high, come back to St. Petersburg with a number of no-shows from US and European executives not coming to the summit to make a signal, and taking the pressure from the White House and not have a deal done. It was very important to get this signed off.
Also, it's important for domestic reasons. The popularity rate of Vladimir Putin are very high right now, but that's not based on the economy. The economy was growing 4 percent back in 2010, Jonathan. It's come down to 1 percent last year, and probably a recession this year. It was important for Vladimir Putin to go to China and say, I'm going to the east, I can sign some deals, and I can try to revive growth in 2014 and 2015 before the political pressure really comes onto him, Jonathan.
MANN: I have to ask you about one more thing you passed over kind of quickly, which is natural gas is a kind of energy that doesn't move, really, on ships, it doesn't move by train, it doesn't move along cables. You need a pipe. Just building a pipe, or pipes, as you say, for this quantity of natural gas, would be a massive deal on its own.
DEFTERIOS: It's a massive deal, but it's not new to Russia. They have oil pipelines going into China right now. Central Asian players, like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have pipelines going into China. They're building two, one for a thousands kilometers, the other one 2600 kilometers. The investment's at least $40 billion.
And get this, Jonathan: they're serious about getting it done. China wants the energy delivered by 2018. So, both parties, very serious, after ten years of negotiations to get the deal done. And it was particularly important, I would say, for Vladimir Putin ahead of the Ukrainian elections this weekend, to kind of communicate to the Russian diaspora he's not going to be completely isolated from the world economy.
MANN: Really, it sends a message billions of different ways. John Defterios, live in St. Petersburg. Thanks very much.
DEFTERIOS: Yes, indeed.
MANN: A very different kind of story about energy elsewhere in the world. TEPCO says it's begun diverting ground water from around the Fukushima nuclear complex into the Pacific Ocean. The plant operators says it's trying to reduce water accumulating on the site and becoming radioactive.
TEPCO says the water being released was pumped from wells above the plant last month and has met strict safety standards. Still, despite that assurance, some are skeptical, saying TEPCO underestimated the amount of radioactive material it's actually releasing into the environment. Our Will Ripley traveled to the heart of the devastation inside the red disaster zone to see how the cleanup is going.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lifeless. Decaying. Desolate. Fukushima is virtually untouched since that awful day three years ago when people living here had just hours to take what they could and go. Fields once full of crops, now full of black bags with contaminated soil.
RIPLEY (on camera): Right now, we're on the bus heading toward Fukushima Daiichi. We just passed the police checkpoint, which stops anybody from coming in, and what we're seeing along this road are so many empty homes, empty businesses.
RIPLEY (voice-over): A senior scientist and his research team at Fukushima University just published a study claiming the power plant's operator, TEPCO, grossly underestimated the mount of radioactive poison, cesium-137, released during the meltdown.
RIPLEY (on camera): This material has already gone into the ocean. It's already there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
RIPLEY (voice-over): He's especially worried about contaminated fish in a country where most meals come from the sea. His research team says cesium spewed into the air during the meltdown and later fell into the water, contaminating the north Pacific Ocean and the Japanese mainland.
TEPCO says the company's radiation estimates come from the best information they have, but a spokesperson admits, nobody really knows for sure.
This is my first time going inside one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Wearing special suits to protect us from radiation, we pass through security, board the bus, and go to the heart of the Fukushima nuclear plant. Piece by piece, workers are trying to safely take it apart.
RIPLEY (on camera): Even under normal conditions, this is slow, grueling work. This is Reactor 4. This reactor's relatively intact, but Reactors 1, 2, and 3 melted down. There's a lot of damage, a lot of contamination, and the cleanup is expected to take decades.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Outside, buildings, battered by the 50-foot wall of water during the 2011 tsunami. Inside, a reactor control room with walls turned into makeshift notepads when the plant lost power. Water level measurements from workers trying to prevent the meltdown.
The invisible danger from Fukushima is why these towns will continue to sit empty for years as crews try to contain the slow-moving catastrophe that turned their homeland into this wasteland.
Will Ripley, CNN, Fukushima, Japan.
MANN: Live from CNN Center, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. A homemade tribute to the famous song, "Happy," but apparently this kind of happy is a crime in Iran. We'll explain, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC - "HAPPY" BY PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MANN: We want to take a moment to update you on one of our top stories from yesterday, the deadly violence in Libya. The Reuter news agency says at least two people were killed in a rocket attack near an army barracks in Tripoli. It says the victims, migrant workers from a nearby carpet factory that caught fire.
Also Tuesday, a Chinese construction engineer was killed by gunmen in Benghazi. Libya's instability turned more acute over the weekend when militiamen stormed the parliament and announced they were suspending it.
Welcome back, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Jonathan Mann. Let's move onto Iran now, and a story that's trending right now on social media. It not only speaks to the country's political struggles, but also to its cultural divide.
Earlier today, it was reported that six young Iranians were arrested for their role in making this video, a tribute to the popular dance song, "Happy."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC - "HAPPY" BY PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MANN: The video went viral, prompting Iranian authorities to take action against what Tehran's police chief reportedly called an "obscene attack on public morals." Reza Sayah has been monitoring developments from Cairo and joins us now.
Reza, what can you say? It seems like innocent fun? People are making these kind of videos around the world, but apparently, in Iran, something different.
REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It looks that way, Jonathan. First off, we should point out that over the past several hours, we've seen an unconfirmed report that says this group has been released on bail. We're working hard to verify that.
Also, a Twitter account believed to belong to President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, tweeted this message, that "Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behavior that causes joy." Seemingly a message of support for these individuals.
But there's so much irony here. You have this song that's about happiness, a group of young Iranians who are making a music video to push the message of happiness, but the way things stand right now, the ending to this story doesn't seem to be a happy one.
SAYAH (voice-over): At least six young Iranian men and women have been arrested by Iranian authorities and paraded in front of state TV cameras for this:
(MUSIC - "HAPPY" BY PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
SAYAH: Shooting an amateur music video to the tune of pop singer Pharrell's hit, "Happy."
(MUSIC - "HAPPY" BY PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
SAYAH: In the video, the young Iranians are seen playfully dancing and lip-synching. The music video received nearly 100,000 hits on YouTube and closes with this written message: "'Happy' was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face."
Tehran's police chief wasn't smiling when he boasted on state TV that the group was arrested within six hours because they made an obscene video without a permit form authorities. Other state media reports describe the music video as vulgar.
The Islamic Republic forbids men and women from dancing with one another. Punishment can range from a prison sentence to a lashing and a fine. The women in the video also appear without the mandatory Islamic hair veil.
In the arrest video aired on state TV, several of the accused performers have their backs to the camera, but they can be heard quivering as they tell a reporter they were misled by the video's producer. The arrests have sparked outrage on social media. Pharrell Williams himself posted on his Facebook page, "It's beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness."
In his first year as president, Hassan Rouhani has pushed for more social freedoms and signaled a more moderate Iran, a campaign Tehran hopes will win good will amid the current nuclear negotiations with world powers. The arrests of young Iranians for simply making a music video about happiness is a potential blow to that goodwill campaign.
SAYAH: International pressure is growing for the release of these young Iranians, Jonathan. Thousands of messages on social media, pressure from rights groups already. We'll see how that impacts the case.
MANN: Reza Sayah, live for us. Thanks very much. Well, to find out what the episode tells us about the unfolding political and social situation in Iran, we're joined by Iranian analyst Ali Alizadeh from our London studios. Thanks so much for being with us.
Let me ask you, first of all, before we get to that video in particular, just about the internet itself, because even before the internet, obviously, Iran had this incredibly vibrant, literate, sophisticated, energetic culture pushing against all kinds of government controls. What do Iranians -- what do they find on the internet? A little bit more freedom normally?
ALI ALIZADEH, IRAN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you remember during the 80s, the government fantasized about homogenizing people's lifestyle. They thought they can even not only control the public space, but also control the private space. They would attack people's houses for having parties or drinking alcohol or whatever lifestyle you want to have.
Twenty, thirty years later, they've been pushed back from those claims. Basically, they got defeated on that because of endless people's resistance and defiance. The question now is, they want to control the public space.
But more importantly, they want to make sure that people don't represent anything out of norms in the public space. Basically, they want to keep the shop window clean, somehow more compatible with the norms that they preach endlessly in the state TV, et cetera.
MANN: I'm going to stop you there because you keep using one word over and over again. You say "they." You're talking about the Iranian government. Over the weekend, President Rouhani gave a widely-reported speech in which he said that Iranians should embrace the internet rather than see it as a threat.
And then of course, in addition to that speech, just a few days ago -- and the timing of this is amazing, given when the arrests took place, just two hours ago, the tweet that we heard from our correspondent, "Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy."
The name of the song is "Happy." It seems like he's directly referring to this. What are we to make of this if what you're telling us is that they, the government, want to clamp down?
ALIZADEH: Let's just make it clear: I'm not talking about government, I'm talking about the state. I'm talking about the overall houses of power in Iran, most of them being unelected.
Rouhani and his government themselves, not because they are freedom- loving, but because they are pragmatic people, because they want to go with the project of normalizing Iran's relationship with the world, with the West, they want to make sure that the PR of the regime is good, because you need that for the nuclear negotiation, and they want to invite foreign investment.
They are not the ones who are against people's happiness. Not that people's happiness is in Rouhani's list of priorities. But he's not against them.
They are the other side, the hard-liners, people closest to Supreme Leader Mr. Ali Khamenei and the kind of more traditionalist clergy. They are the ones who are against it.
Now, let's see what's happening now. Iran nuclear negotiation inside Iran has -- a lot of sabotage has been happening by the hardliners, but they know that they put the eggs in the wrong basket. The nuclear negotiation and the yes for that came from the center of power in Iran, from Mr. Khamenei himself.
Now, what can they do now? They had some conference against that, saying that you sold our national interests. But they know that the nuclear deal is done. What can they do now in order to fight against the government in terms of the in-factional fighting of parts of the Iranian regime --
MANN: I'm going to stop you, because I'm trying to follow your train of thought closely here. You're saying that because certain power centers couldn't address really substantive disagreements, like nuclear negotiations, they've turned on internet dancing? I'm curious about that. And I'm also curious about --
ALIZADEH: That's right.
MANN: -- whether there are millions of Iranians who are really glad that somebody is clamping down on internet dancing. What's the public to think when somebody -- the police in Tehran or anybody else -- somebody in a position of authority suddenly sees this as an important step to take? Do they have public support?
ALIZADEH: All right, let's have a look. Iran nuclear negotiation and the behavior of Ahmadinejad for eight years, that was an alliance between pragmatists in the middle, reformists on the left, but also the conservatives, some of the big clergy, some of the traditional conservatives who were close to American section of the bazaar.
They are all for negotiation. But how can you divide them? The hardliners, the extremists, are trying to bring up the cultural issue. The shift from nuclear to culture has been approved by Supreme Leader. He's mentioned culture about eight times in the last three months.
Similar to 1990s when Rafsanjani was the president, Khamenei himself was very afraid of what he called cultural invasion. Mr. Khamenei is very much afraid of Velvet Revolution, and he has studied very closely the fate of Eastern Bloc. That's why the all the focus is going to be on the culture, and many of the battlefields have already been opened on the culture.
MANN: And we see --
ALIZADEH: This is one of the many we're going to see in the next few months --
MANN: -- and we see six young people -- six young people caught in this. Ali Alizadeh, thanks so much for talking with us.
You can get more on this and all the headlines across the Middle East at cnn.com, and if you're an Arabic speaker, you'll see it at cnnarabic.com. That's where you'll find op-eds and analysis from our regional contributors. All that and more, cnnarabic.com.
Coming up after a short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, France's main rail company just ordered a new fleet of trains, but an embarrassing mix-up could end up costing millions more. You won't believe the mistake.
MANN: Welcome back, I'm Jonathan Mann, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Thinking of a carefree train trip through Europe? But France spent billions of dollars to upgrade its rail system, only to find it has one major unforeseen problem: the trains that were ordered are too wide to fit in hundreds of rail platforms.
Jim Boulden joins us now from London with more on the costly and embarrassing mistake. And you've got to ask, what happened? Too much wine at lunch, maybe?
JIM BOULDEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's not just hundreds, Jonathan. It's 1300 stations that are going to have to be fixed here for the cost of some $50 million -- sorry, $80 million to fix these.
And what seems to have happened is that a few years ago, the French government split up those who owned and run the network of the train and the actual train operators themselves.
And so, when the train operator, SNCF, went out to order billions of dollars worth of trains, they wanted to make sure they knew how wide or how thin these platforms were, but they only got the dimensions for the newer platforms. They forgot about the platforms that are more than 50 years old.
So, when they got the trains and started the delivery of them, they realized they weren't going to be able to go into all these stations.
So, can't take back all these trains, obviously, so they're having to modernize all of these platforms. They've said they've already done 300 of them since 2012, so now they're just plowing through, getting these platforms done. And then, between now and 2016, they hope to be able to get more of them done and get these new trains that they've ordered onto the tracks, Jonathan.
MANN: Do we know how they discovered the problem? Terrible screeching noises and sparks flying --
MANN: -- and masonry crumbling?
BOULDEN: Well, they said they discovered it in 2012. They haven't told us how they discovered it, but you have to imagine, these trains get delivered from Bombardier and they get delivered from Alstom, they put them on the tracks, they have to test them, as you would.
And you can probably see, just supposed to be a few millimeters off, so they would have been coming into the stations and not be able to go all the way.
I think what's so interesting here is that the current government is blaming the previous government, as you would, by saying they should never have split the rail companies and the train operators and the owners of the rail tracks themselves, because that's the problem.
But it seems to be the fact that there just wasn't enough communication between the two before they made this massive order. And of course, they can't give the trains back.
MANN: It would also seem, sooner or later, the mistake would have come down to one man, one woman, one idea, one set of measurements. You kind of wonder, who if anyone inside of the massive French bureaucracy is really having to answer for this. Is the transport minister quitting? Are heads rolling, as they say, in France?
BOULDEN: No. No, the government's blaming the previous government. I think what's interesting is this was actually revealed yesterday by a sarcastic literary magazine, a humorous magazine. And the government then had to actually admit it, then the rail companies had to admit it.
And as I said, they discovered it back in 2012. Nobody in France seemed to have picked up on this fact that they'd been repairing -- as they're calling it, restoring -- these platforms. Well, actually, they're just making them a little bit thinner.
MANN: Jim Boulden, live for us. Thanks very much.
The team at CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you. Travel by train, come visit, or send us a message, facebook.com/CNNconnect. Have your say.
In tonight's Parting Shots, more engineering goofs. Check this out. Lots of hard work on a $10 million boat went right into the water. Literally, can you see that? TV station KARO reports the builders of this luxury yacht in the US state of Washington were putting it into the water for the first time, preparing to deliver it to the owner, when something went very wrong and it flipped over.
Five people were rescued unharmed, but investigators are still trying to figure out just what happened, what made the new boat scuttle itself on its maiden voyage. The owner must be beside himself, or tossing and turning, you might say. A lot of money underwater.
I'm Jonathan Mann, you've been watching CONNECT THE WORLD, thanks for joining us.