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Dozens Killed in Donetsk Airport Clashes; Four OSCE Observers Held by Pro-Russian Separatists; Concerns Over Low Voter Turnout in Egypt; South Korea Hospital Fire; President Obama's Foreign Policy Speech; Global Exchange: We-Cyclers

Aired May 28, 2014 - 11:30   ET




JIM CLANCY, HOST: Answering his critics, US President Barack Obama saying he will not deploy troops overseas just to avoid looking weak. We'll bring you both sides of the debate ahead.

Also, a surprise third day in Egypt's election. We'll examine while polling has been extended when most people already know -- or think they know -- the result.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CONNECT THE WORLD.

CLANCY: All right, we're going to begin now with the crisis in Ukraine, clearly on the mind of Mr. Obama as he addressed the West Point graduates there. Mr. Obama said the US is standing with its international partners and institutions in isolating Russia. He says the policy is working. The Ukrainian people are now able to have a say in their future.

Well, meantime, the situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk much calmer today after some of the worst violence of this crisis. Dozens of people were killed when Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists clashed at the city's airport.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry says four international observers who went missing Monday are being held by a pro-Russian group. Nick Paton Walsh joins us now, live from Donetsk with the latest. Nick, what can you tell us about the developments on the ground there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned the OSCE observers. We now know, according to the OSCE -- the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry they are being held by these pro-Russian separatists. No more details about that.

We know they went missing to the east of Donetsk on losing contact with their headquarters at 6:00 on Monday. So, it's obviously taken a while to establish what's going on here.

This certainly harkens back to the other OSCE observers taken, now, weeks ago in Slaviansk, held as, quote, "prisoners of war," in the eyes of pro-Russian separatists. They were eventually released after a Russian envoy came from the Kremlin and said, look, we're going to let these guys go.

So, potentially, this is a negotiable way out, but it comes at a tenser time here after that large escalation of violence here in the city center of Donetsk near the airport, there, on Monday.

It's been quieter since then. We heard a jet buzzing the capital of this region earlier on today, and it was clear the Ukrainian military reminding everyone that its presence was felt. Reports of shooting not far from where I'm standing.

But a broader sense, I think, that this is a city on the edge, waiting to see what's next. Waiting to see if this Ukraine military sharpening of their resolve is part of the beginning of a wider campaign, or simply the president's, Petro Poroshenko, saying "I do have the capacity to use my military effectively. So, if you want to talk to me, don't expect nothing but concessions." Jim?

CLANCY: As we look at the situation there, there are persistent reports that there are more pro-Russian separatists streaming across Ukraine's borders. Is there any way to confirm that?

WALSH: It's hard. We hear reports, it's almost daily, of trucks crossing, the Ukrainian border service talking about some trucks trying to cross, not succeeding.

We've seen ourselves, here, an influx -- possibly too strong a word -- but certainly the recent appearance of a lot of Chechen militants on te street here, which let the government of Chechnya, part of the Russian Federation, has very clearly denied having anything to do with them, despite one of them telling me he used to be in Kadyrovcy, that's a part of the police, actually, in Chechnya, and in fact, are Russian citizens.

So, a lot of evidence here that potentially the militants are gaining in strength in some ways. But too, they've also had their first sharp blow when the Ukrainian military moved in on the airport there, plus over 30 of their soldiers -- militants there being killed.

So, it's very hard to tell quite what strength they're at. The key thing about the separatists, though, is their political messaging. Fractured at times, it's clear they're not speaking with one voice. It's clear they're possibly a little concerned about how Russia hasn't come to their aid.

They said today how their request to Vladimir Putin for assistance wasn't written in the correct official form, that's why he hasn't responded to it. Baffling, frankly, given the visceral nature of what Vladimir Putin used to say about assisting people in the Ukraine here. He's very much changed his tack, at least certainly publicly, Jim.

CLANCY: Nick Paton Walsh, let's go back a little bit to President Barack Obama's speech. And clearly he's laying out here that the world has to understand that the United States considers Ukraine a priority, but it's not the kind of priority that it's going to risk a confrontation with Russia about.

And there's also voices in the wings that are saying the Europeans need to rise up. At a time when they are reducing their military spending, vis-a-vis the United States, they can't expect the United States to jump into Europe and take all the action.

WALSH: Well, absolutely. One of the parts of Obama's speech was to suggest that NATO allies should be doing more. I think there's only a couple of them make up the 2 to 3 percent of GDP on defense spending that NATO, at the founding document, its members agreed to have.

It's been a weakness for NATO, certainly. Putin's played on the divisions between Europe. You have strong business ties and strong energy needs with Russia, allowing the Germans to, perhaps, be a little softer on their calls for sanctions.

But I have to say, in some ways, the US policy has worked. Because we have markedly seen since Obama changed his kind of deadlines for all this, to say that if they interfered with the elections that just past this weekend, sectoral sanctions could have come in.

We did, I think, in some ways see Russia back off and call, at least publicly, for no interference and for the results to be accepted. The troops have not crossed the border, and we are hearing NATO saying they are, in fact, withdrawing, like the Kremlin said they were doing a number of weeks ago.

So in some arguments, the US policy here has been effective in that there aren't Russian troops again on Ukrainian soil, like they were in Crimea. And we have seen these elections at least pass with the result that most people can think -- at least it means there is a new president in power in Kiev.

But what they haven't managed to so is show American strength and resolve in pushing the Russians back. Obviously, Moscow recognizes that Washington is exhausted after a decade of wars. You heard in that speech a Barack Obama still very much sounding like the man who came to power, trying to assuage the Bush era, trying to calm everybody, there's no longer the need to march into war.

But perhaps the world has moved on a little bit in some ways. So much of the people who used to look for Washington to save them, for leadership, are now hoping for, perhaps, a tougher response. They're not getting that here in Eastern Europe. That's got some of the more eastern NATO allies concerned.

And certainly, I think, people will be looking to see if there's anything more Washington intends to do. Because this situation on the ground, while on paper, you can say it's calming, we've seen the worst violence yet in the capital here on Monday. The separatist militants are moving around with quite a lot of weaponry on their side.

And the exchange of heavy weaponry which wasn't even an issue weeks ago is now happening on a daily basis. Jim?

CLANCY: All right, keep an eye on all things there on the ground, as always. Nick Paton Walsh, great to have you with us. Thank you for your perspective, too, when we discuss foreign policy vis-a-vis the situation there in Ukraine.

Moving on now, polls open for a third day in Egypt's presidential election. Turnout has been such an issue in this contest that even television hosts have taken to the air, criticizing people for not coming out and casting their ballots. CNN visited several polling stations and found them virtually empty. Reza Sayah has more for us from Cairo.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why did authorities suddenly extend Egypt's presidential election? Perhaps because voter turnout appeared to be awfully low.

We should stress, we weren't able to visit every polling station in Cairo and Egypt, but almost every polling station we visited looked like this one in the Dokki neighborhood of Cairo. No lines, no waiting, no crowds. Oftentimes, security forces, police officers outnumbering voters going in.

We're going to walk down the street and show you another polling station nearby, and while we're walking, we're going to show you pictures of some of the few dozen polling stations we either visited or drove by.

This is another polling station in the Dokki neighborhood. This one in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of Cairo. Here's another one in a nearby neighborhood. This polling station is in the Nasr City area of Cairo. Once again, very quiet, no lines, no waiting.

And as we approach this other polling station down the street, once again, you see no lines, no waits, no crowd. And seemingly, more security forces than voters going in.

This is why you get the sense that authorities here and supporters of the former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the heavy favorite in this election, started to get worried about voter turnout, and seemingly tried to do something about it.

For example, late Monday night, authorities suddenly declared Tuesday a national holiday. They extended voting hours. Egyptian television hosts started openly criticizing voters for not coming out.

We should also point out that in Egypt, there's a law that's rarely enforced that says you can be fined about $70 if you don't come out and vote. Other television hosts suggested that that law would now be enforced.

Remember, for Mr. Sisi, a win was not enough. He wanted to win emphatically with a high voter turnout to show the world that this is a legitimate process, a credible process. But at this point, a high voter turnout is far from a certainty. Perhaps a sign that this is a country that remains divided.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Cairo.


CLANCY: Police in South Korea say an elderly man who is suffering from dementia is now the main suspect in a hospital fire there. It broke out earlier on Wednesday, 21 people lost their lives, mostly from smoke inhalation, the head of the hospital apologizing publicly. Paula Hancocks is in Seoul.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A man in his early 80s is being questioned by police in connection with Wednesday's deadly fire at a South Korean hospital. The police suspect arson, and they say they have obtained CCTV footage of the floor where the fire started that led them to the man who is a patient at the hospital, suffering from dementia.

The victims, many of whom were asleep in bed when the fire broke out after midnight, are also suffering from dementia or suffered strokes and other chronic diseases. The ward affected was filled with patients in their 70s and 80s. Many of them were unable to move from their beds, and officials believe it's likely they died from smoke and toxic gas inhalation.

The fire itself was not that big, according to officials, and it was extinguished relatively quickly. Now, South Korea is already reeling from a string of deadly incidents this year. Just last month, a ferry sinking claimed the lives of almost 300 people, 16 are still missing. And just two days ago, there was a fire in a bus terminal just north of Seoul. Eight people were killed in that incident.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


CLANCY: Live from CNN Center, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. And coming up next, we're going to take an in-depth look at President Obama's foreign policy speech and how it could affect his legacy on the world stage. What's the global reaction? Stay with us.


CLANCY: Welcome back everyone, you're with CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Jim Clancy. President Barack Obama laying out his foreign policy vision for the United States in front of the next generation of military leaders.

Mr. Obama, the commander-in-chief, wrapped up his speech at the US Military Academy's graduation at West Point within the past hour. In it, he stressed the need for US leadership and diplomacy in dealing with crises overseas.

He also made it clear that he would not hesitate to use military force, in his words, "unilaterally, if necessary," especially if American interests are threatened.

The president's speech was largely designed to hit back at his foreign policy critics who say he's been far too passive in dealing with crises like Syria.

Even if there was an appetite for US military action overseas, where would President Obama start? Some of the biggest challenges may come from jihadist terror groups in Africa and the Middle East, especially if they were to attack US interests or allies.

The map shows some al Qaeda and affiliates and where they're operating around Africa and the Middle East. Al-Shabaab in Somalia recently launched attacks in Kenya and Djibouti as well.

Meantime, in Nigeria, a lot of focus on Boko Haram, which has launched numerous terror attacks and kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls. Al Qaeda has also been extremely active in the Syrian conflict, fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Intelligence analysts suspect al Qaeda may use Syria as a base for strikes against Europe and the US in the future.

Now, situations like the one in Syria present a huge conundrum for President Obama. Let's take a look at how he's handled them so far. Joining me now to discuss this is Faisal al Yafai, he's the chief columnist for "The National." He's joining us out of Abu Dhabi.

And also joining us from London, Alan Mendoza, the executive director of the British think tank the Henry Jackson Society.

And I want to begin with you, Alan. You've been a critic of President Obama. How did you see this speech? Was it effective or not?

ALAN MENDOZA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE HENRY JACKSON SOCIETY: Well, I think it was honestly a defense of the policy we've seen, but it can't mask the fact that what we're watching is, on our watch, essentially, the dissipation of American power before our eyes. The president speaks of withdrawal. Essentially, he calls it leadership, but it is withdrawal from the world.

But you're leaving a vacuum, and others are going to step into that vacuum. And we in Europe are very concerned about the loss of American power that we are seeing. When the British withdrew from their empire --


MENDOZA: -- after the second World War, Churchill called it scuttle. Well, this is a scuttle speech from President Obama.

CLANCY: Faisal al Yafai, the Europeans are worried about that power vacuum left by the Americans. Obviously, the Europeans don't plan to step in. What's the view from the Middle East?

FAISAL AL YAFAI, CHIEF COLUMNIST, "THE NATIONAL": You know, everything that Alan said could apply equally to the Middle East. There is a very big trust deficit in the region, as there is in Europe, with regard to President Obama's leadership.

The allies in this region, particularly in the Gulf, simply do not believe that Barack Obama would step in if red lines were crossed elsewhere, as they were in Syria with no response.

CLANCY: Gentlemen, you leave me in the role here of being a defender of President Obama and his policy, so let me do it from the perspective of the American public, weary of war after ten years. Everybody is saying, America, you've got to stand up and do this.

What he's saying is countries in the Middle East, countries in Europe have to stand up, up their defense spending, which they are doing in parts of the Arab world, but certainly not in Europe, and be a real partner in all this, not leave it to the Americans to be the ones who pay in blood and treasure for every conflict, for every confrontation. Alan, go ahead.

MENDOZA: Well, I think that's a very unfair point of view. The Europeans in various places have backed America. Britain certainly has lost money, treasure, blood in Iraq, Afghanistan as well. It is true we could do more. I would certainly back doing more.

But we need America to lead in this regard. There's one super power, it needs to take the lead, otherwise you have countries like Russia, China, doing that.

CLANCY: Faisal, you've had Gulf states, Qatar, you've had Saudi Arabia, you've had the UAE that have been trying to prop up the rebels in Syria. The United States could do more, but it's not going to intervene.

AL YAFAI: Well, bear in mind that it isn't just what America will do, it's that they -- what they will not allow others to do.

So, for example, when Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the Syrian opposition, was in Washington, he was asking for Manpads, and he was trying to get the Americans to either provide them or allow their allies in the region to provide them, because that is the only thing that can tip against the Assad army.

This is a speech, let's be clear, that will be very well received in Damascus today. President Assad, sitting in the presidential palace, waiting for the ballots to come in, which will doubtless return him to power for another five years, will be very pleased to hear that there is no response coming from the international community.

When President Obama says a high threshold has to be met for military action, he's right. But a high threshold is 150,000 people slaughtered, cities destroyed, millions of people living in refugee camps and on the move. That is a high enough threshold.

CLANCY: Alan, as you look across that speech, and we -- I think one of the observations I made, I didn't hear any of my US counterparts make it, and that was very tepid response from the cadets there at West Point looking at that. Is that the same response you would expect from Europe today?

MENDOZA: Absolutely. I think it's -- as Faisal has said, if you set that high bar, you are sending a message around the world to dictators, to authoritarian states, you can act as you please. We will set red lines, we will cancel them, we will cross over.

He can't -- the president can't on the one hand say he's got the best hammer in the world and then tell the people who represent that best hammer that actually they're going to sit at home while the world plays out in wicked ways in front of them. That's why there was a tepid response, I feel.

CLANCY: Faisal, President Obama, he laid out there all of the different thresholds, he talked about those thresholds that Alan just mentioned, but he didn't set any priorities. He didn't set any specific area.

He did announce $5 billion to help fund counter-terrorism operations with partners, whether it's in Libya, whether it's in Chad, whether it's in Nigeria, other places that might be confronting terrorist problems. Will that go over well?

AL YAFAI: It will, definitely with regard to the $5 billion, that will go over well, especially in this region, where one of the biggest concerns that the Gulf States have is, of course, Yemen. Yemen has a huge problem in the south with al Qaeda remnants, the remnants of this ACAP, as they call it.

And yes, the $5 billion will go a long way. I think Yemen is one of the countries he mentioned in the speech. So it isn't that there's nothing in the speech to applaud. It's just that I think expectations were that there would be something said about the single biggest problem that confronts this region today, and that is the Syrian civil war, and Obama had nothing to say about it.

When Alan makes the point that he was talking about having a very powerful hammer, he spent most of the time, as Nick Paton Walsh said, being the philosopher-in-chief and reinterpreting what a nail is.

We can all see what a nail is. A nail is a conflict which is burning out of control and will drag the entire region with it. That's a nail. Obama has the hammer, and it is time he used it.

CLANCY: All right. Faisal al Yafai and Alan Mendoza, gentlemen, I want to thank you both. I don't know what the White House is going to think about your analysis, but I think it came from the heart. Appreciate it.

Live from CNN Center, this is CONNECT THE WORLD, and coming up, a new lease on life. The woman proving that recycling has more benefits than anyone might imagine. We're going to explain how this businesswoman's life has been changed by what she calls "We-cycling."


CLANCY: You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD, we're live from CNN Center, welcome back, I'm Jim Clancy. It is time for us to take you to the Global Exchange, where we introduce you to the people, the places paving the way forward in the world's emerging economies.

Now, we all know recycling is good for the environment, but for one business owner, it's also having a positive impact on her life. She runs a recycling company, it's in Lagos, Nigeria. While she's yet to turn a profit, her venture is bringing people together in very unexpected ways. Isha Sesay has her story.


BILIKISS ADEBIYI-ABIOLA, FOUNDER, WE-CYCLERS: Hi. My name is Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, and I started a recycling company in Lagos, Nigeria.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her start- up has only been operational for about a year and a half, and it's already overflowing with recyclable waste that she's collected.

ADEBIYI-ABIOLA: So, behind me is our original sorting area, but we kind of outgrew it, and we had to come outside and put the waste outside. You see here is where we keep the plastic bottles. The material is sorted, and then bagged into one of those jumbo bags, and then taken to a recycler that will use it to make a new product.

And we hope that as we grow and as we add value to the products that we sell, then we will start to see profits come in. But now, we're not making profits.

SESAY: The company runs on teamwork, which goes along with its name, We-cyclers.

ADEBIYI-ABIOLA: We operate our we-cycles, which are low-cost cargo tricycles that collect the waste. So, households -- we know when to learn about the fact that we are in the community register with us, and we put them on a weekly schedule for waste collection.

So, the community we are in here is in Itire in Surulere Lagos. You see, we put the lid in low-income areas that don't really have good access to waste management -- collection. They don't understand proper waste management as well.

So, I -- we felt, the team that started it felt that there was something that we could do to improve the situation of people.

We-cyclers come and they collect the plastic bottles, the pure water sachets and the kind, and they weight the waste.

SESAY: Then the We-cyclers give people points that can actually be exchanged for rewards.

ADEBIYI-ABIOLA: Every three months, they have the opportunity to redeem the points for something. They can say, I have, maybe, 100 points, and I want to get a bowl. So basically, we're giving them really small gifts that just kind of motivates them and encourages them to recycle.

SESAY: At the moment, the gifts are mostly donated items. This woman is getting free samples of soap and detergent. It's all Abiola can afford right now to make sure she has enough to pay her employees.

ADEBIYI-ABIOLA: We have 31 employees, and they're very excited. It's very difficult, as a youth, to find a job in Nigeria. Over 50 percent of the youth in Nigeria are unemployed. So, people are seeing We-cyclers as a way to save money for some kind of goal.

Many of them have told me that before We-cyclers they didn't even know that you could make money from trash. And it's really, really heartwarming to see.

CROWD: We-cyclers!


CLANCY: All right, there we are. I'm Jim Clancy, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. We were glad you could join us.