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Your World Today

Russian Military Under Fire for Alleged Abuse of Conscripts; Controversial U.S. Program Under Attack; Palestinian Factions Agree to Form Coalition Government

Aired February 16, 2007 - 12:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Brutality in the Russian military, claims of hazing and bullying take a darker, more sordid turn.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The U.S. calls it an extraordinary rendition. Critics call it abduction. A judge in Italy calls it a crime and wants more than two dozen Americans to stand trial.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I lost my country. I miss my family. I miss my home.


GORANI: Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been uprooted by the U.S.-led war. Why do only a few hundred find a home in the United States?

CLANCY: And too fast and furious. Death-defying action and cool cars rev up for NASCAR's biggest event of the year.

It is 12:00 noon right now in Daytona, Florida, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad.

Hello and welcome to our report broadcast around the world.

I'm Jim Clancy.

GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani.

From Moscow to Milan, wherever you're watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

CLANCY: Hello and welcome, everyone.

On the surface, it's just a small cabinet reshuffling, but analysts say it's actually a calculated move to create some competition in the closely-watched race for the Kremlin.

GORANI: Russian president Vladimir Putin has promoted his hawkish defense minister to a top government post, giving him equal rank with another man widely considered a top candidate to replace Mr. Putin in next year's polls. President Putin moved Sergei Ivanov from his defense job to the post of first vice premier. Now two men hold that title. The other is Dmitri Medvedev. Many believe the promotion of Ivanov was intended to even up his presidential chances. President Putin is himself barred from seeking a consecutive third term by the constitution.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I signed the decree on the advancement of Sergei Ivanov in the Russian government. He is responsible now for the military industrial complex as a part of the civil sphere of a national economy.


GORANI: Ivanov's promotion could boost his image by distancing him from the military which faces persistent criticism of abuse of young conscripts.

Let's bring in Matthew Chance now in Moscow for more on all of it.

How significance is this reshuffle? Is Putin positioning Ivanov to become the next president of Russia?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly this reshuffle bolsters the chances of Sergei Ivanov becoming the next president of Russia in 2008, when Vladimir Putin steps down. It does two things for him which we've just touched on.

First of all, it puts Sergei Ivanov on an equal footing with the other main possible successors of Vladimir Putin. He also now has the same title, so within the context of Russian politics they'll be seen as of equal status in the Russian government as this election season in the country gets under way.

The other crucial thing that it does for Sergei Ivanov's chances of becoming that successor to Vladimir Putin is that it relieves him of the post of defense minister, which is a very unpopular position in Russia because of the terrible state of the Russian armed forces. In his new role as first deputy prime minister, he'll have a much broader (INAUDIBLE) and essentially, Hala, he'll be able to have many more chances to look better ahead of these elections.

GORANI: All right. Also, he comes from the same city, St. Petersburg, as Vladimir Putin. So there is some kinship there as well.

But let me ask you about that other story you're following of those shocking allegations of abuse and hazing within the Russian army. Tell us about that.

CHANCE: Well, this is one of those incidents which now Sergei Ivanov, for instance, the former defense minister, as of yesterday, will no longer be answerable for. It's an example of the terrible bullying that goes on, again, in the Russian military, this one provoking accusations and provoking outrage across the country.


CHANCE (voice over): In Russia's military, they call it the rule of the grandfather, the bullying of young conscripts by older servicemen. But the latest sordid allegations go far beyond these brutal kicks and punches.

Dmitry is a conscript with a terrible secret. Now a deserter, he says he was among those bullied by their military superiors into male prostitution.

DMITRY, SOLDIER WHO DESERTED (through translator): I deserted because of that bullying. Older servicemen were sending young soldiers to earn money as homosexual prostitutes. They would send us to clients and then take away the money.

CHANCE: In the dark back streets of the Russian city of St. Petersburg, Dmitry points out buildings where he says he regularly met paying clients, some with apparently long-standing links to male prostitutes in the Russian military.

DMITRY (through translator): One of my clients told me that I'm not his first one, that he's been using soldiers from my unit for at least five years. He said dozens of guys like me had visited him.

CHANCE: These charges of organized prostitution have been rejected by the military unit in question. Its commanders say they go beyond common sense. But it's hardly the first time the treatment of Russian conscripts have provoked outrage.

As you see here in his swearing-in ceremony, Private Andre Cichov (ph) became a tragic poster boy for the problem of abuses in the Russian military. Just over a year ago, he was strapped to a chair and badly beaten by his superiors, denied medical attention. Gangrene set in and this nervous teenager had to have his legs and genitals amputated.

Russian authorities have promised strong action to combat this kind of bullying in the ranks. Seven people were arrested in the Cichov (ph) case. But with the latest scandalous allegations, it seems Russia's terrifying rule of the grandfather is far from overcome.


CHANCE: Well, prosecutors in the Russian city of St. Petersburg say they are investigating these latest allegations. But the individual you saw in that report, Dmitry, is now being monitored in a Russian military hospital -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Matthew Chance, live in Moscow.

Thank you -- Jim.

CLANCY: Now to Italy, where a tool used by the United States in the global war on terror is coming under attack. The tool is called Extraordinary Rendition. That's when U.S. officials seize terror suspects and transfer them between countries.

As Jennifer Eccleston reports, one Italian judge says 35 American and Italian agents went too far.


JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Thirty-five people indicted, 26 Americans. Some, Italian prosecutors say, work for the CIA. And nine Italians, including the former head of Italy's secret services, SISMI.

Prosecutors charge all were involved in the abduction of a terror suspect, a Muslim cleric, Osama Nasir Mustafa Hassan (ph), Also known as Abu Omar under the CIA's Extraordinary Rendition program.

Here's how renditions worked.

Terror suspends were captured and taken for questioning to a third country, including some with sketchy human rights standards. This would be the first criminal trial involving renditions.

Prosecutors say Abu Omar was snatched from a Milan street in February 2003 while walking from his home to a mosque. They say he was taken to the U.S. Air Base at Aviano, Italy, flown to Germany, and then to his native Egypt.

Abu Omar was jailed there, and he says tortured. He got out of prison just last weekend. Omar remained a wanted man in Italy on terrorism charges.

Back in 2003, Abu Omar was suspected of terror links and under heavy surveillance. His every step logged by Italian police and security services.

SISMI's chief at the time, Nicolo Pollari, denies any knowledge of CIA renditions. Pollari, his deputy, other SISMI agents and a policeman were indicted today. Among the Americans indicted, prosecutors say, were the CIA station chief in Milan, his superior in Rome, and a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. But none of the 26 Americans is in Italy.

(on camera): Prosecutors want the Americans extradited back to Italy for trial. But so far the Italian government hasn't asked. And even if it does, it is unlikely the Americans would return.

Jennifer Eccleston, CNN, Rome.


CLANCY: A little bit later here on YOUR WORLD TODAY, Jonathan Mann will be joining us for some more insight on the CIA's controversial rendition program. We're going to hear from alleged torture victims and we're going to hear the outrage from Capitol Hill as well -- Hala.

GORANI: Well, Now to a terror trial already under way. The defendants say they had nothing to do with Spain's train attacks three years ago. So far, four men have taken the stand in Madrid. All are accused of involvement in those bombings. Those who would talk insisted they had nothing to do with the attacks that killed 191 people.

CLANCY: All right. Now to Washington.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is facing some tough questions up on Capitol Hill today. The secretary is testifying before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

U.S. lawmakers taking a hard look at emergency spending requests. Secretary Rice, no doubt, hopes for an easier time ahead as she travels to the Middle East this weekend.

Well, the U.S. wants to thaw the frozen Middle East peace process. It's not going to be easy. Secretary Rice's visit comes at a promising time. Fighting Palestinian factions have agreed to form a coalition government, but amid all of the hope there are reservations this is really going to work.

Ben Wedeman gives us a reality check.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Another day of noisy face-offs in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinians protesting excavations near the Aqsa mosque compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Security was tight. Tempers, short.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't want peace.

WEDEMAN: Clashes erupted, though small compared to a week ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to step into this volatile mess this weekend, bringing together in a summit in Jerusalem Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Part of an American attempt to be seen as jump- starting a peace process stalled years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we need is actual things happening on the ground, and not just another round of talk. And not just another smokescreen to cover the reality on the ground.

WEDEMAN: Hamas and Fatah have finally agreed to form a national unity government, but it's a shaky agreement at best. And there is, as yet, no guarantee the American-led embargo of the Palestinian Authority imposed after Hamas came to power last spring will be lifted.

After six years of studied disengagement from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the U.S. seems irrelevant, even to some of its friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should not wait for Condoleezza Rice to come to make any progress in peace. We should initiate it ourselves. We should determine the agenda, the international agenda about making peace in the Middle East.

WEDEMAN: Condoleezza Rice has come here nine times as secretary of state in the past two years. During that time, little has improved. Much has gotten worse.

Which might explain why expectations for this visit are so low.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most that the parties expect to get out of a meeting appears to be a process to discuss a process. Talks to discuss how talks might develop.

WEDEMAN: But in a region where bloody conflict is often just a stone's throw away, process is no substitute for progress.


WEDEMAN: And Jim, skepticism is shared on both sides of this conflict. In fact, one Israeli editorialist recently wrote the only thing he expects to come out of this summit is hot air -- Jim.

CLANCY: Well, more specifically, the United States clearly looking to be seen to be pushing the Middle East peace process, the roadmap of the Bush administration. At the same time, the Palestinians, as we heard in your report there, they would also like to get back to substantive talks. But does the Israeli side really want those negotiations?

WEDEMAN: Well, Jim, you have to actually go back to the end of 2003. That's when former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon announced his Gaza disengagement program. And that's really been the policy of the Israelis ever since, is unilateral moves -- pulling out of Gaza.

If the Palestinians want to talk about their unilateral moves, the Israelis are quite happy to do it. But by and large, they're not really interested in the kind of give-and-take negotiations that we saw for much of the '90s during the now, of course, dead Oslo peace process -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right. Ben Wedeman reporting to us there live from Jerusalem.

Thanks, Ben.

GORANI: All right. Now word of a new set of arrests in Iraq.

Security forces say they have arrested 35 members of a messianic Shiite group. You may remember they were implicated in a plot to seize the town of Najaf last month. Authorities tell CNN that the early-morning raids around Hilla against the group, which is called the Soldiers of Heaven, also netted a large weapons cache.

Meanwhile, there is conflicting information on the key -- on the fate, rather, of a key al Qaeda figure. U.S. military sources say they don't believe purported leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri was wounded by security forces on Thursday, but Baghdad is sticking by that claim. Iraq's interior minister tells CNN U.S. forces weren't at the raids carried out by police outside Balad and that al-Masri is in fact now wounded and on the run near that town.

CLANCY: Colorful celebrations in Pyongyang. GORANI: We will look at the grand festival offering high respect to Kim Jong-il.

CLANCY: And then a little bit later, a major embarrassment for the Super Bowl of car racing.


GORANI: Welcome back. You're with CNN International and YOUR WORLD TODAY.

CLANCY: There is where we bring CNN's international and U.S. viewers up to speed on some of the most important international stories of the day.

GORANI: Well, the latest U.S.-Iraqi mission to bring security to Baghdad is now in gear. Authorities say that violence has been reduced in recent days as more troops are actually out there patrolling the streets.

CLANCY: But for many of those that are out there on patrol in the streets, the toughest battles come after the battles in the streets are over.

Arwa Damon explains.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Any door could be booby- trapped, a sniper in any building, a roadside bomb in any pile of trash. Surviving is about controlling fear and staying alert.

It's always in the back of your mind what could happen. But you try not to think of that right when you're out working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you talking to me, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far down on the route?

DAMON: In a single morning, these soldiers held a brief memorial for one soldier and learned four more of their battalion had been killed. The toughest lessons of war are learned on the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to say I was ready to come over here, but when you get here it's different than what you think it's going to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I came over here I took for granted a lot -- family, you know, luxuries of life. Then you come over here and it's -- it's crazy.

DAMON (on camera): Here on the base, a poignant reminder of those who have fallen in the battle for Diyala. While no one who fought with them will ever forget them, commanders say the toughest part is talking to their families and worrying about how they will fare.

They say the two most common questions from loved ones are, "Did my son die alone?" and "Was he in pain?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a couple of shots at it. It didn't turn out to be anything.

DAMON (voice over): The troops don't like to talk about it, but they admit privately that the mission here takes a massive emotional and mental toll. They say people back home can't understand. But what they share creates a bond between soldiers unlike any other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're like brothers. You know, we fight together, we move around together. We go through a lot of hardships together. So that type of environment fosters, you know, that bonding between -- between the people in our unit.

DAMON: A bond strengthened with time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my second tour. I feel better safe -- you know, kind of being trained up a little bit. And the ones that are being here for the first time is -- it ain't easy.

DAMON: It's not easy, but they do it, even if some have doubts in the mission. They say they do it for each other.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baquba, Iraq.


CLANCY: Iraq very much on the minds of members of Congress in Washington.

GORANI: All right. Let's check other news that we're following this day.


CLANCY: YOUR WORLD TODAY will continue right after this short break. Don't go away.




GORANI: Well, it is a very big story that we only know little about.

That's right, Italy has been aggressive.

CLANCY: The scandal extends so far beyond Italy's borders. Jonathan Mann joins us with some insight.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: It was a the perfect kind of euphemism, a word that most of us never use, don't really understand and wouldn't find alarming -- "rendition." It started out as Americana secret, but now that secret is being told, by people Khaled Al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent was said he was abducted, flown to Afghanistan and physically abused there. Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, who's own government admits it helped U.S. authorities send him to Syria, where he was tortured. And now Italy's Mustafa Osama Nassaf (ph), who was flown from Italy to Egypt where, too, says he was tortured.

Investigators from the European parliament say they've identified 1,245 CIA-operated flights, and found what they've called 21 well- documented cases of rendition.

No one knows for sure how many countries worldwide participated, but those investigators say some 14 European countries cooperated with the U.S. rendition program. Among them, key allies like the U.K., Germany, Spain, Ireland and Turkey. There are active investigations under way in several countries -- Germany, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland among them. Canada has already investigated its own involvement and concluded it with a multimillion settlement and an official apology.


STEPHEN HARPER, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: On behalf of the comment of Canada, I wish to apologize to you, Maniya Mazig (ph), and your family, for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you have experienced in 2002 and 2003.

MAHER ARAR, DEPORTED CANADIAN: My suffering and that of my family did not end when I was released. The struggle to clear my name has been long and hard. My kids have suffered silently. And I feel that I owe them a lot.


MANN: The case is essentially closed in Canada, but it's still raising questions here in the U.S. Rendition didn't draw the attention of the Republican-controlled Congress. But it's drawing fire now that the Democrats are in charge.


ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTY. GEN.: I believe that piece of information is public. There were steps -- I think General Ashcroft confirmed this publicly, is that there were assurances sought that he would not be tortured from Syria.

PATRICK LEAHY, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRAT: Oh, attorney general, I'm sorry, I don't mean to treat this lightly. We knew damn well if he went to Canada, he wouldn't be tortured; he'd be held and he's be investigated. We also new damn well if he went to Syria, he would be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.


MANN: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the U.S. carried out renditions only with the cooperation of his allies, and she's maintained that the information collected has saved European lives. But now Italy and other nations have to make their own judgments.

Back to you.

GORANI: All right, Jonathan Mann there with our Insight.

Now the sectarian violence in Iraq has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

CLANCY: Now we've got the world, one of the world migration agencies, saying an additional one millions Iraqis could be displaced this year alone.

GORANI: That's on top of the other million.

Some are asking, why the United States isn't doing more for them.

Randi Kaye met one Iraqi women here in the U.S.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, this Iraqi woman brought flowers to American troops. Two years later, though, when she needed a visa from the U.S. so her family could flee growing sectarian violence, she says the U.S. turned its back.

(on camera) When you look at the numbers, the United States accepted just 202 refugees from Iraq last year, even though they had 70,000 slots open.


KAYE: Is there a sort of moral obligation on the part of the U.S. to help?

SARAH: Definitely. I mean, they came to the country. They took out the old regime, and they should have more moral responsibility toward the Iraqi people.

KAYE (voice-over): Afraid for the safety of her family, this woman asked we not use her real name. We'll call her Sarah. She believes insurgents targeted her family because they're Christian.

SARAH: Because Americans are Christian as well and because we have the same religion, we are traitors, we are not trusted.

KAYE: Sarah remembers the attacks.

SARAH: There were bullets rushing at home. Someone was firing at home.

KAYE (on camera): When did you say, "I must leave"? SARAH: We started to notice that there is a car following us. It was following us for a long time. We noticed that there are three men in the car. They were carrying guns, and they were aiming the guns towards us. They started shooting.

KAYE: The U.N. says there are nearly four million Iraqi refugees today. The overwhelming majority of them fled their homes after the war began. Tens of thousands more flee every month.

Yet, fewer than 500 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the U.S. in the last four years.

(voice-over) Many requesting visas support the U.S. war effort. Listen to this truck driver's testimony on Capitol Hill. A screen protects his identity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five of the terrorists were yelling, "Kill him." One, however, spoke up and said, "We will not kill you, but you must leave the country immediately."

KAYE: So how, then, could the country that led the invasion into Iraq leave so many of its citizens in limbo?

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES: We have today, 8.5 million refugees in the world, 25 million internally displaced persons in the world. It is obvious that resettlement will never be a solution for the bulk of this population.

KAYE: Hundreds of thousands have moved to other areas of Iraq. Many more trekked across the border to Syria and Jordan to live in camps like this one.

The State Department this week announced plans to contribute an additional $18 million to a worldwide resettlement and relief program and plans to accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees this year.

Refugee advocates say that's still not enough.

KRISTELE YOUNES, REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL: We need to do much more to react to this crisis. In particular, we need to increase our assistance to UNHCR drastically, as well, as well as our assistance to the countries, and we need to resettle more than 7,000.

KAYE: It took six months, but Sarah got her visa. She now lives with her uncle in New Jersey.

Still, she feels her country has been stolen from her and, with it, her family. The U.S. didn't grant anyone else in Sarah's family a visa. Her parents are in England with her brother. One sister is in Scotland, another in Canada with a baby girl Sarah's never met.

(on camera) Do you wish Iraq had never been invaded?

SARAH: Yes. At least I would be there. Now I even lost my life. I lost the security. I lost my country. I miss my family. I miss my home. I miss the security I have over there. And I'm scared.

KAYE (voice-over): Critics say the U.S. has been slow to accept refugees like Sarah's family, because they have yet to acknowledge the human cost of war. And acknowledging the scope of the crisis, refugee advocates argue, could mean the U.S. is admitting failure in the region.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Morristown, New Jersey.



GORANI: Welcome back. Millions in Asia are getting set to celebrate the Lunar New Year this Sunday. And for those of you who aren't following Chinese astrology, it's the year of the pig. Some even say it's the year of the golden pig. Now it's considered a very good year for having children, for children to be born. Well true or not, Eunice Yoon tells us about some parents who are not taking any chances.


EUNICE YOON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Since January, Pakeg Yung (ph), has been visiting this health clinic in Seoul twice a week. The 26- year-old comes here to get stuck with needles, burn herbal medicine on her stomach and pick up prescriptions for bitter tonics. She forces herself to do it all with one hope in mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My family says it's a good year to have a baby. 2007 is the year of the pig. By most calendars, the fire pig. But Asia has been taken by the rumor it's really the year of the golden pig. Babies born during this special year, they say, are destined for riches and a life full of luck.

YOON: So like many women, Yung (ph) is doing everything she can to better her chances of getting pregnant.

CHANG YOUNG HUN, ORIENTAL MEDICINE DOCTOR (through translator): The number of patients who have come to see us about infertility doubled since last year.

YOON: Western style hospitals are also packed with wanna-be moms, while some soon to be moms try to postpone their births.

PAK HEE JIN, CHA GENERAL HOSPITAL: Women have been asking us to delay their deliveries until after the new year. It's dangerous.

YOON: Retailers of baby clothes and maternity wear and bracing for a boom in sales. Though more private items are in a sales slump.

(on camera): This is a typical convenience store in Korea, where people can buy every day items like condoms. With so many people interested in having a baby this year, stores like this are seeing a 20 percent drop in condom sales. (voice-over): Yet, people who are banking their children's fortunes on this being the year of the golden pig may be sorely disappointed.

KIM MINSU, FORTUNE TELLER (through translator): I don't understand where this rumor comes from. This is just the year of the pig.

YOON: Even so, Pak (ph) doesn't mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want a baby that's healthy.

YOON: Though good luck doesn't hurt. Eunice Yoon, CNN, Seoul.


GORANI: All right. Well, fasten your safety belts. We'll take you next to the world of car racing. Tens of thousands of fans revving up their cars and heading to Daytona Beach this weekend. It's NASCAR's biggest event of the year. A preview coming up.


CLANCY: That's real music to some people's ears. Welcome back. You're watching YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International as we switch gears a little bit now to sports and the adrenaline-filled world of car racing.

Of course the Daytona 500 is Sunday, that's the Super Bowl of car racing for many people. It's NASCAR's biggest event of the year, that's for sure. And tens upon tens of thousands of fans are going to travel to Daytona to watch cars hit death defying speeds of more than 300 kilometers-an-hour. Millions and millions more will be watching this on Tv from start to finish.

Unfortunately this year, America's fastest spectator sport is a bit of a wreck before it gets started. The race for the checkered flag has hit some major speed bumps. Five teams now busted for breaking the rules, including a two-time Daytona winner. A fuel additive was found in his Toyota car. Now speaking of Toyota, this year the company becomes the first foreign car maker to rub up against Fords, Chevys and Dodges on the NASCAR circuit.

Needless to say, the cheating scandal has dented Toyota's debut. For more on the racing and the rule breaking, we are joined by Steve Phelps. He is chief marketing officer for NASCAR. He's down in Daytona right now. Steve, great to have you with us. Let's explain something here. Why would a company like Toyota want to get into an all-American race circuit like NASCAR? What's in it for them?

STEVE PHELPS, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, NASCAR: Well Jim, Toyota has actually been in the sport for three years. They were in our Craftman's truck series for the first three years. And now they've made our jump to our first two series, the Nextel Cup Series and then the Busch Series. I think Toyota's motivation to get deeper into the sport is really to connect to our fan base. And we have 75 million fans in this country and millions and millions more worldwide. And they want to feel part of America, they want to feel a part of the excitement that our fans have for this sport.

CLANCY: Well, it's got to be more about emotions. There's an old saying I think in NASCAR, that if you win on Sunday, you sell on Monday.

PHELPS: Sure, sure. The auto manufacturers have had that for a long time. That's something that's been said. And then the sponsors themselves, our fans are very sponsor-savvy, very sponsor-friendly. They spend with their wallets. And that's a very compelling thing for companies with us, Toyota, or anyone else to get involved in our sport.

CLANCY: Well you know, there's actually a rule in NASCAR that you can't race unless the vehicle is made in the USA. Now Toyota does assemble those Camrys that it's going to enter -- a couple of them is going to enter this year in this Daytona 500. You know, is that going to open the door for other people like Mercedes, BMW, other carmakers?

PHELPS: You know, that's a good question, Jim. We're going to go one manufacturer at a time. We're thrilled to have Toyota coming to race with us on our top series. They've proven they've been a good partner on NASCAR on the Craftsman Truck Series. And they're obviously excited about being here. They're going to have four races in the car -- four cars in the race this Sunday. And they -- you know, they're cutting their teeth, if you will.

CLANCY: You know, we've heard some grumbling from this pits, there's a lot of fears coming in with very deep pockets, Toyota may be able to outspend the other race teams.

PHELPS: Yes, you know, we've certainly heard some of those grumblings from the team owners. Team owners have been very respectful of the other manufacturers, the other teams out there.

They're going to have to learn as they go. They have four of the seven cars made the field for this Sunday. Their pockets are certainly not spending any more than any other manufacturers are at this particular point.

And we're excited that they're coming here, because we believe it's going to increase competition. And increase in competition is certainly what our fans are always looking for, having competitive side by side racing, which is the hallmark for NASCAR.

CLANCY: A great race, looking forward to the Daytona 500 this Sunday. Stephen Phelps of NASCAR, thanks for being with us.

Hala, back to you.

PHELPS: Thanks so much, Jim. GORANI: All right, Jim, well we've been asking you, our viewers, what you think about the issue of obesity. Now our question, do we worry too much about our weight? Here's how some of you have responded to that question so far. We've been asking you to send them to

Atobra in Ghana writes: "In Ghana, where diseases like hypertension and diabetes are increasing alarmingly, I do not even think we worry enough about obesity."

Rozalind in Israel writes: "America is obsessed with weight. The trend is to be anorexic-looking. But because of bad lifestyle habits, America has only choice - to be obese."

Bushra in Alabama has a different opinion: "On the contrary, with 54 percent of U.S. adults being overweight and nearly 30 percent obese, I think we're worrying too little about our weight. If this problem is not recognized soon enough as a serious public threat, all of the progress we've made so far achieving a high life expectancy will go down the drain."

Thank you for your thoughts and comments. E-mail us at throughout the day.

That will do it for YOUR WORLD TODAY this hour. From Jim Clancy and myself, thanks for watching, stay with us, the news continues.