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Syrian's Christians Support Assad; Oceans in Danger; Another Asteroid Near Earth; Ahmadinejad Visits Cairo; Confusion Over Monkey Photos; K-Pop Craze Invades U.S.

Aired February 05, 2013 - 12:30   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Much of the world, including the United States, opposes Bashar al-Assad's regime but Syria's Christians are afraid that, if rebels overthrow the president, radical Islamists will target them.

Fred Pleitgen has a CNN exclusive on a Christian community that is standing its ground.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A checkpoint in the predominantly Christian town, Saidnaya, but this isn't a government outpost. It's manned by a local Christian militia loyal to the Assad regime. None of the men would speak to us on camera, afraid they'll become targets from the opposition.

The militia has several checkpoints throughout the town of Saidnaya, but they also have several hundred men under arms who patrol streets here to make sure that no militants infiltrate this fairly safe area.

Housam Azar organizes the group. Driving through Saidnaya's streets. he tells me he can't imagine Syria without Bashar al-Assad.

"I don't know why, but we love the president very much," he says. "We love him a lot. Sure, there are some mistakes but we love the president a lot."

Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria's population. So far, most of them have not joined the uprising against the Assad regime, wary of Islamist militants within the ranks of the opposition. There are 44 churches in Saidnaya. The town is a center of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world.

But standing on a hilltop, Housam points to nearby towns he says have opposition fighters, some of them radical Islamists who have fired mortars at Saidnaya town and even kidnapped people from here.

"We will not leave, he says. Syria's our country and Saidnaya is our town. We will not leave even if it's destroyed, if it's bombed every day, and a thousand people die. It's our land, and we will not leave it."

And, so, the Christian militia members man their checkpoints and patrol the streets, fearful the opposition might try to oust them from their homeland, should they prevail.

As the Muslim call to prayer rings over the many church tops of this town where Christians and Muslims live side by side, many here worry, the conflict in Syria might put an abrupt end to a calm that has lasted for generations.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Saidnaya, Syria.


MALVEAUX: This could literally be a sea change in the fight against climate change. Scientists think that they can cure our planet's problem with carbon emissions by actually seeding oceans with a tiny mineral.

We're going to explain how all of that actually works.


MALVEAUX: Oceans around the world are in danger now. It is estimated that 30 percent of the coral reefs on the planet are going to be destroyed within the next 10 years and that's mostly because of global warming. Now, scientists think this tiny mineral might hold the key to stopping climate change.

Joining us now, our own meteorologist Chad Myers and environmentalist Philippe Cousteau. Good to have you both here, sitting on the couch.

PHILIPPE COUSTEAU, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Finally in person. Usually we're ...

MALVEAUX: Yeah, in person, I love this. This is good. This is great. Tell us about this -- what the study here, this mineral and what does it mean to actually be able to change the coral reef.

COUSTEAU: Well, it's not just coral, Suzanne, but the idea to take these minerals and seed the oceans, essentially, with them to allow for biological processes to happen, essentially phytoplankton-growth, et cetera, that can potentially absorb carbon out of the atmosphere.

And, you know, in principle, it's not a bad idea trying to figure out what kind of technological applications we have to solve the carbon crisis that we're facing, but unfortunately, a lot of the science is still in pretty early stages and may have additional side effects that we don't fully understand yet.

MALVEAUX: And what are those side effects? What do you think? This would actually be changing the bottom of the ocean, right?

COUSTEAU: Conceivably, what would happen is that the phytoplankton at the surface would grow, according to these minerals and iron that we seed the ocean with, and those would absorb it. Being a plant, those would absorb -- in their decay, they would absorb carbon and oxygen, et cetera, and help to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere. Then they would sink down to the bottom of the ocean and help bring that carbon down and sequester it and hold it there at the bottom of the ocean.

We just don't know all the potential impacts that that can have for food chains, also algal blooms can sometimes be toxic not only to animals but to humans. So, there's still early days yet in terms of understanding exactly what the long-term ramifications of that type of geo-engineering would be.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think another thing and you and I talk about this a lot is the ocean acidification. Where are we going to go when our oceans die? When those oceans die, if they do, that's, to me, more important than the land being dry or getting more rain because of global warming climate change.

We have to do something. We have to do it soon. We are on the edge. The next story is about carbon dioxide not being able to go into the warmer ocean water.

COUSTEAU: Well, it's true. And one of the issues that we look at is that, while this type of geo-engineering and new technology is certainly exciting and something we should pursue, there are a lot of ecosystems like sea-grass beds and mangroves -- you know, we're losing mangroves faster than we're losing rain forests.

We know for a fact today absorb carbon, so we should also be focusing on making sure that those kinds of coastal ecosystems are healthy instead of solely focusing on these types of technological approaches.

MALVEAUX: Why don't people know about this stuff? I mean, this is always so fascinating. It's always new to us because we're just learning about this now.

COUSTEAU: Well, a lot of it is emerging science and information. And science is a long iterative process. It takes time to go through the scientific system and to make sure that our Is are dotted and Ts are crossed. So, it's not a very rapid type of program and these scientists really like to take their time to make sure their information is accurate.

MYERS: You don't want to poison ocean with the chemicals you're going to put in, right? But I think it's going to take something like that to counteract that.

COUSTEAU: Definitely.

MYERS: We're doing better with CO2-emissions and all that, per person, but you know, the cars are doing much better, but we have twice as many cars, so we're not making any progress. I'm thinking it's going to take like a million little sparking machines around the world to spark the carbon and the oxygen apart and get the carbon dioxide to fall out.

It's just -- it's a tremendous -- the amount of carbon dioxide we have in the air right now is just -- I think it's overwhelming.

COUSTEAU: We far surpassed 350-parts-per-million, which was the number that we wanted to keep below. We're going to blow past 450. We're going to blow past 550 probably. So, we know -- absolutely, Chad's right -- we have to take carbon out of the atmosphere at a certain point.

But there are a lot of natural processes and ecosystems, like mangroves, the sea grass that are doing that. We should make sure that we enhance those first, and then certainly invest in these types of new technologies.

MALVEAUX: We're going to have you come back as a regular to explain all of this because we have a lot of work to do on the environment.

COUSTEAU: We do have a lot of work to do.

MALVEAUX: We actually have a lot of work.

Chad, I want you to stick around. We have this asteroid, this really cool asteroid story here, and I understand it's going to make a close shave with the earth fairly soon.

What is this? Half the size of a football field hurling at us more than the speed of 70,000-miles-per-hour, what does this mean?

MYERS: It's going to be very close. It's going to be -- this is going to be one-tenth the distance between us and the moon. And, at some points, maybe even closer. It's going to hurtle through. It's not going to hit the atmosphere. It's not going to be an issue. But it's something that we didn't even see until last year.

Now, all of a sudden, we're also 17,000 miles from getting a direct- impact asteroid that we didn't know about two years ago. So, our near- earth asteroids are certainly growing in intensity.

MALVEAUX: And they're getting a lot closer.

MYERS: That would be worse than the Super Bowl right there.

MALVEAUX: That would be a disaster more than a power outage. What would happen, do you think, if it actually did hit earth?

MYERS: Well, let's go to my graphic. I have something on GR-107 for the director there. This is going to actually pass between us and our earth-orbiting satellites, so it could actually knock one out of the sky. I doubt it because there's that much room up there. There's a lot more space than satellites.

But if it would hit the earth, it would probably knock down hundreds of square miles of trees because one of these happened -- about the same size happened in Siberia, and 700-to-1,000 square miles of forest land knocked down.

Not very many people lived there, that was the good news.

MALVEAUX: That's good news. How often does that happen when they get that close?

MYERS: Right now, they think this encounter happens about once every 40 years. But we're just finding more and more and more every day. That number could be 20 years soon if we keep finding too many.

I don't like it. Where is Bruce Willis when you need him?

MALVEAUX: Break up those things.

Chad, thank you.

MYERS: Always a pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Thanks. And in person, love it.

Iran has been boasting now about successfully launching a monkey into space. That happened last week. But much like an American moon landing decades ago, there's a conspiracy theory going on over this monkey, whether or not they really put that little guy up -- he looks miserable -- into orbit.

We're going to get to the bottom of it.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. We take you around the world in 60 minutes.

Right now in Britain, the possible legalization of same-sex marriage is being debated now in parliament. The measure's facing strong opposition within the prime minister's own party. The vote is set for later today.

And don't be fooled by the pictures. Check it out, though.

Not yet time for Mardi Gras. It's a parade honoring Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl win. The team rolled through town -- it was about 40 degrees, the weather -- to celebrate the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, well, he led the way. The Ravens quarterback threw three touchdowns in that big game. It was fun to watch. And while there was no parade in San Francisco, the 49ers, well, they got a consolation prize, free Jell-o pudding cups. That's all right, I guess. Jell-o -- free Jell-o pudding cups. OK.

Only a few years ago, another story here, this visit would have been unthinkable. You see him there. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arriving in Cairo in an effort to reunite the ties -- renew these ties between Iran and Egypt, signaling really a thaw in their cold, frosty relationship. Former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, he supported a peace treaty with Israel, a country in which Iran has hostile relation.

I want to bring in our international desk editor, Azadeh Ansari, to talk about this.

What is the significance when you see Ahmadinejad getting off that plane in Egypt of all places? AZADEH ANSARI, CNN INTERNATIONAL DESK EDITOR: That's such a great point. And there's a back story to all of this. So, diplomatic ties really began to unravel after the 1979 revolution. And we've heard a lot about this period in Iranian's history due to the movie "Argo," which we talked about recently as well.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Sure.

ANSARI: But also significant is the fact that Iran's shah at the time, Reza Pahlavi, was diagnosed with cancer and no other country would take him in, take this exiled president in, except for Egypt. And that was the predecessor of Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat, who took him in. And Egypt still remains the resting place for the former shah of Iran.

MALVEAUX: Do we think this is a dangerous reunion, if you will, to see these two powers together. Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, and now you've got Iran, Ahmadinejad, the two of them talking?

ANSARI: Well, they still have a lot of ground to cover, Suzanne. But, you know, they still differ on Syria, for example, and their approaches toward Syria. But it's the first step. And we'll see where this goes. But again, we've never seen anything like this before in the last 33 years.

MALVEAUX: All right. Ahmadinejad, of course, he's making news in so many different ways. We've got to talk about the poor monkey that we see strapped to the rocket. He looks miserable. Do we believe that this is even true? I mean there's all of this fuss, right? You have different photos. Explain to us what that is about.

ANSARI: Sure. I mean, I want to know what that monkey saw when it went up and what it came down to tell those scientists. But -- so the discrepancy here, which has launched this #monkeygate on the Twitter verse, is due to the fact that before the launch Iranian media released a photo of the monkey with a mole on his right eyebrow.


ANSARI: Then, that raised some eyebrows in and of itself because two days after the launch, there was another photo released by Iranian state media showing the monkey without a mole. And they're like, holy moly, what's going on, right?


ANSARI: So then the Iranians have not officially commented on this, but in state media reports they've said that, oh, oops, the first photo we published was of a monkey that was supposed to be part of the 2011 launch which, you know, failed.


ANSARI: So that explains the mole.

MALVEAUX: And I want to talk a little bit about this other oops moment here, because this is getting a lot of buzz here. So, Senator John McCain weighs in on this. Taking a swipe at Ahmadinejad. He says, tweeting out here, "So Ahmadinejad wants to be the first Iranian in space. Wasn't he just there last week? Iran launches monkey into space."

There's some folks who say, it's kind of, you know, I mean, off-color. Some say even racist. What do they make of this in Iran?

ANSARI: Sure. Well, Ahmadinejad is known for his kind of sidebar comments, more or less, you know. And in the comment that he made, he wants to be the first -- he just volunteers to go up into space, you know, puts himself on the line here.

But, I mean, even that wasn't really taken seriously. It was kind of a joke and mentioned in jest. But I have to break it to him, he's not going to be the first Iranian technically because my namesake, Anousheh Ansari, in 2006, she pioneered her own way into space and she paid for her own mission. She was the first private citizen to -- Iranian citizen to pay her way into space.



MALVEAUX: I had no idea.


MALVEAUX: Breaking news. Your namesake as well.

Thank you so much.

ANSARI: You're welcome, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Good to see you, as always. Very interesting.

And, of course, new craze taking over here. This is coming from Korea. It is a lot more than "Gangnam Style." We're going to show you why folks are so excited.


MALVEAUX: The Beatles ushered in the British invasion in the U.S. decades ago. Well, now there's a new craze that's made its way here. It is called K-Pop. And if you're not sure what we're talking about, maybe this is going to ring a bell. Watch this. We're talking about Korean pop music.

CNN's Kyung Lah finds out what makes it so appealing now to Americans.


ELI ALEXANDER, KPOP FAN: Hi. My name is Eli Alexander. I'm 18 years old and I'm from Ogden, Utah. I'm a huge fan of many K-Pop groups, of all K-Pop groups.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eli Alexander's watched this K-Pop video countless times on the web and you can too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Music can connect people.

LAH: It is an obsession, a devotion that led Eli to dance out of Utah to Southern California. But why? And how could the music from my homeland -- I was born in Korea -- connect with a white kid from Utah? Or the thousands of fans who turned up on a Saturday morning in Orange County, California, for the first Korean Pop, or K-Pop, convention in America?

LAH (on camera): Forgive me, you're not really the demographic I think of when I think of K-Pop fans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It can look like anything.

LAH: Anything nowadays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any like -- any race. Like it's -- as long as you love the music.

LAH: You pretty much stop anyone here and ask them how they found out about K-Pop. They found out on YouTube. Prior to the Internet and the rise of social media, this would have never happened.

LAH (voice-over): And it's seeping into your world. By now, you heard it. Likely even tried it. But Psy, the chubby Korean pop star, is just the tip of the Korean pop music tsunami. But this band, NU'EST, wasn't discovered -- it was manufactured, like nearly all K-Pop groups and singers.

Inside studios like this on in Los Angeles, young guys train. If they're lucky, they're eventually recruited by a Korean music studio and taken to Seoul and there molded into the image of the K-Pop star.

The K-Pop makeover goes beyond skin deep. Dr. Kim Byung Gun is one of Seoul's top plastic surgeons at a clinic that performs a hundred surgeries a day.

LAH (on camera): When patients come in and talk about why they want these types of surgeries, what do they tell you?

KIM BYUNG GUN, SURGEON: They want to have the faces of the singers and movie stars of Korea.

LAH (voice-over): K-Pop, says Dr. Kim, has helped fuel that desire. It's a well-known fact in the K-Pop world.

"It's not uncommon," says the president of CJ Entertainment. "K-Pop is very visual," he says. "Looks are important."

LAH (on camera): The one thing I will say, after spending most of the day here, is that things have come a long way. When I grew up, it was definitely not cool to be Korean. But things have certainly changed.

LAH (voice-over): A world only getting smaller, merging, on the big stage, the personal one. ALEXANDER: Thank you all for listening. I'm Eli Alexander. And hwaiting!

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Irvine, California.


MALVEAUX: I love that.

All right, so when you hear the word Olympics, you usually think, what, pole vaulting, sprinting, long jump, that kind of stuff. But in what they're calling the Rural Olympics in India. One of the main event, getting run over by a tractor. We'll explain.


MALVEAUX: All right, this is India. We're actually seeing -- this is really bizarre. These are ways that folks show how strong they are. They call this the Rural Olympics. I want you to take a look at just some pretty amazing stunts here.

So this guy uses his teeth to lift a plow over his head, no hands. There he is. Some 4,000 people from across India, they competed in this over the weekend. Crazy stuff. Another dangerous-looking performance here. These two guys lie on the ground as a tractor runs over them. One of them is even posing for pictures as he does it. Pretty unbelievable stuff there. But, you know, this is for entertainment and sport, I guess.

Here's another picture, racing. These two guys racing each other. This is carts that are pulled by the cows. You see them there. They look very animated, and they're screaming. More than a million people, they actually turned out to watch all of this. It's a big competition. And these games have only been around for about 80 years or so. So a lot of folks love that stuff.

Hostage stand-off in Alabama is now over. The five-year-old, Ethan, he is now safe, but at what cost? We're going to hear from one woman who was kidnapped and the nightmares that she had after the attack.