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Iraq Violence; South Asia Earthquake

Aired October 17, 2005 - 12:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A day of mourning mixed with anticipation. Iraqis in western Anbar province bury their dead, even as Iraqi leaders hail the early results from this weekend's constitutional referendum.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the big agencies are not here. And there's a real plea from our side for those agencies to mobilize, to mobilize quickly.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Send more help. Aid begins to reach some of the most remote quake survivors in Pakistan. The U.N. says, however, it is not nearly enough.

VERJEE: A setback in the Middle East. Israel cracks down on Palestinians after a surge of violence.

HOLMES: And a hero's welcome after a pair of Chinese astronauts make a safe return to Earth.

It's 7:00 p.m. right now in Baghdad, Iraq; 9:00 p.m. in Pakistan; 12:00 noon in Washington. There's your time call.

I'm Michael Holmes.

VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee. Welcome to our viewers throughout the world. And a very warm welcome to our viewers in the United States.

This is CNN International. And this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

We begin in Iraq, where coalition forces are on the offensive. But there are mixed reports on casualties.

HOLMES: Yes, a very confusion situation at the moment. U.S. military officials say dozens of terrorists were killed in air strikes in and around Ramadi, which is just west of Baghdad.

VERJEE: But a local doctor and witnesses say many of those killed were civilians.

The violence comes as Iraqis wait for final results on Saturday's -- Sunday's referendum on a new constitution. But early returns suggest the document will be approved.

Aneesh Raman joins us now from Baghdad with more.

Aneesh, first the violence in Anbar province. What do we know about civilian casualties and insurgent casualties?


The military announcing today that air strikes in and around Ramadi, west of the capital, yesterday left at least 70 insurgents dead. Now, here's what happened.

The military says in one incident in Ramadi itself, they fired upon a group of men who were planting a bomb at a site where an IED, an improvised explosive device, had detonated a day earlier, killing some five U.S. soldiers. Hospital officials there, though, say in that air strike some 20 people were killed, including six children under the age of 10, and 25 others were wounded. That was some video from the hospital there.

Another incident north of Ramadi yesterday. The military again saying an air strike was conducted on a group of terrorists that were killed.

Iraq's ministry of health, though, saying that incident left 14 people killed, five wounded. Among those casualties, among the dead, was a child. Among the wounded, two women.

Now, the U.S. military says that the insurgents here are, of course, living among civilians. They plan these attacks very carefully to avoid and minimize civilian casualties. But often on these large air strikes we see these discrepancies in numbers between the U.S. military, who says there were no civilian casualties as of now, and hospital officials on the ground as we effort to find out what exactly happened yesterday in Ramadi -- Zain.

VERJEE: The referendum and the political process, Aneesh. The U.S. says that it hopes that the highest Sunni turnouts on Saturday's vote will help to undermine the mostly Sunni insurgency. What's the reality on the ground? Will it?

RAMAN: Well, we heard from President Bush earlier today that turnout in and of itself is a huge success. Some 61 percent turnout is what's expected to be made official in terms of the numbers coming out tomorrow. And a huge turnout among the Sunni community. That is a success, without doubt.

But the biggest fear when it comes to this referendum is that it will pass, but barely. And we have already seen exit polling, if you will, coming out of two Sunni provinces, Al Anbar and Salahuddin, that suggest in both of those locations they had the two-thirds vote necessary to reject the constitution. That makes it all the more important to wait for these official results tomorrow.

The government, though, expressing optimism that a third province won't emerge similar to that. That's what would be needed to reject the constitution. But if this constitution passes, despite strong and huge Sunni turnout that voted against it, that could further alienate that group from the political process and further embolden the rationale of the insurgency. That, of course, is the biggest fear -- Zain.

VERJEE: On Wednesday, the trial of Saddam Hussein starts. What are Iraqi expectations of this trial?

RAMAN: Yes, an incredibly busy week here in the capital. On Wednesday, the first of what could be some 12 trials against Saddam Hussein.

He's been charged, along with seven other high-level detainees from his former regime, with crimes against humanity for what took place in July 1982 in the northern village of Dujail. Saddam at that time survived an assassination attempt and then had some 100-plus people summarily executed. He had thousands put in jail.

Iraqis will certainly be watching this. It's expected to be broadcast live on TV.

Mixed reaction, though, among Iraqis. Some of them have essentially written Saddam off. They see him as irrelevant. Others very legitimately fear that he will return back to power. But the government clear that this be the new -- an end to Saddam, and really invigorate the public that a new phase has begun in Iraq -- Zain.

VERJEE: For us in Baghdad, CNN's Aneesh Raman.

Thanks, Aneesh.

And we want to get your reaction to the Iraqi referendum vote.

HOLMES: Indeed we do. Our email "Question of the Day," please take part, is this: Will this weekend's constitutional referendum advance democracy in Iraq? Email us your thoughts, We'll read some of the comments a little later on YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Don't forget to include where you are. Keep it short, too.

Well, aid is finally starting to reach some of the more remote areas of Pakistan more than a week after that massive earthquake tore apart the northern part of the country.

VERJEE: Flights resumed after heavy rains grounded helicopters for several hours on Sunday. Besides delivering supplies, the helicopters have ferried many of the injured to hospitals in Pakistani cities. Aid workers say thousands of seriously hurt people urgently need medical treatment to ward off infections.

HOLMES: Millions more need shelter as the harsh winter approaches. Pakistan's foreign ministry says a U.N. conference is going to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, next week. That will be to assess needs for rebuilding the earthquake-ravaged regions.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Port Rawalpindi. She has an update now from the Chaklala Air Base. That's where it has been a very busy day.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a very different day this Monday now that the torrential downpours have ended. We have got helicopters going back up in the air again, and they are transporting food, water, shelter and also blankets up to the areas in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir that need them. But obviously, over the past day there have been many helicopters that have been grounded. They haven't been able to take the aid to where it is needed.

And you can see just behind me, many of these pallets are still a backlog from Sunday, that they haven't had enough helicopters to be able to take them to where they are needed. Now, these helicopters are absolutely crucial when it comes to the aid process.

They have been taking many of these packages up by lorries. They've been taking them by roads. But it is a very slow and a very painstaking process when you have to use the roads.

The roads all the way up to Mazaffrabad are clear at the moment. But when you go further than that, when you try to get into the more remote areas, then it is very difficult to be able to access these areas with lorries.

Now, many of these copters over the past 24 hours have been doing airlifts as well. They have been just dropping some of this aid onto the ground. Because in some of these mountainous regions, it is impossible to land a helicopter, and so they have just been pushing some of the aid out of the helicopters in the hope that those who are in the more remote areas, those that haven't even had the basic wave of aid will be able to get some food and water and, most crucially, shelter.

Now, for some days, the prime minister and many officials have been saying shelter is the most important thing. When we had those torrential downpours, it really shows that the winds are coming to the Himalayan region. And also, we have snow on the mountains. And for many villagers who do not have houses -- they have collapsed -- they have absolutely no protection against the elements.


VERJEE: CNN's Paula Hancocks reporting.

Landslides have cut off remote areas in Pakistan and India. Army troops are heading out on foot to injured and trapped survivors.

ITV's Penny Marshall went with one Pakistani patrol.


PENNY MARSHALL, REPORTER, ITV NEWS (voice over): Sadai Bibi (ph) has been trapped in her mountain village, unable to get help. Now help has come to her. Today, we joined the Pakistani army as they sent out foot patrols into the mountains to reach the injured and the sick. Eight days on, and the village of Caroli (ph) has received no aid and no help until today. Ten people died here.

Reaching those in isolated communities is now the challenge.

(on camera): It's in remote villages like this that the need is greatest. It's taken eight days for aid to reach here. And it's estimated there could be as many as 700,000 villagers trapped like this up in the mountains.

(voice over): And those who can get down and get help are flooding into the cities to get aid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still don't have a control on how bad the situation is up there. We were just told this morning that the weather up there is much worse than it is here. And we know that there are people out there. We know that from our rough aerial assessments that there are entire villages that have been flattened. And it is our challenge to be able to get aid to these people.

MARSHALL: Mohammed (ph) has walked from this village to a distribution depot in a valley. But much of what's available is unwanted and lies wasted. Everyone wants tents. There are none. Rationed to a few items, he leaves disappointed.

In the towns there are now a handful of doctors administering measles jabs, and a fumigator toughing pointlessly through the streets, attempting to ward of disease. But this is a rugged and remote area, and there are real fears that help has not yet reached the majority of the earthquake's victims, those trapped and still out of reach high in the mountains.

Penny Marshall, ITV News, Muzaffarabad.


VERJEE: The young survivors of the South Asia earthquake will need more than money to rebuild their lives. Find out how you can help on a CNN special, "South Asia Quake: Helping the Children." That's coming up this Tuesday at 17:00 GMT.

HOLMES: Romania's agriculture minister says no new cases of bird flu have been found in the country's Danube Delta region. Efforts are currently under way to stop the spread of the virus after confirmation on Saturday that the deadly H5N1 strain had been found in Romania.

It's also been found in Turkey, Russia as well. And now an official tells Greek public radio that birds on the island of Chios have tested positive for the virus as well. The World Health Organization is, of course, closely monitoring the virus.


MARIA CHENG, WHO: WHO's pandemic alert level has not changed. It remains at number three, which means that there is a new influenza sub-type that's capable of infecting humans. We would only change it if we saw this virus adapt in some way to become more transmissible among humans. But at the moment in Europe we've only identified avian influenza in birds. It's still not something that we see as a huge risk to the human population.


HOLMES: That virus, of course, has killed millions of birds, and at least 60 people in Asia since 2003.

A weekend attack against Israelis has shattered weeks of relative calm in the region.

HOLMES: Yes, "relative" is always the word in that region.

When YOUR WORLD TODAY comes back, we're going to explain how the violence is straining Israeli-Palestinian relations as the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, prepares to visit Washington.



KOFIA ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: ... with incredible courage, going to vote in large numbers despite the security situation on the ground.


HOLMES: Welcome back. You're watching YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International, an hour of world news for you.

Well, Iraqis went to the polls in droves over the weekend. Sunni, Shia, Kurdish voters alike. The early results show the draft constitution appears to have passed.

Let's get some perspective now. Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, joining us from New York.

Ambassador, thanks very much.

What do you think is going to be the immediate impact for Iraqis of a "yes" vote, if indeed it is confirmed as a "yes" vote?

AMB. FEISAL ISTRABADI, IRAQI DEPUTY AMB. TO U.N.: Well, I think that it's a very positive sign of moving forward, of the political process moving forward. What we know based on the deal which was brokered late last week, just before the vote, there will still be continued negotiations into the permanent phase. That is, next year, after the parliament is elected under the permanent constitution, assuming it does in fact past.

We know that there will still be negotiations, and that's probably a very healthy thing. So I think it's been an extremely positive experience. HOLMES: The Sunnis did vote "no" in numbers. There's still going to be this residual criticism that this is a document that isolates Sunnis. They fear, of course, that it's going to create rich, mini states, if you like, for Kurds and Shias.

How is the Iraqi leadership going to get around that?

ISTRABADI: Well, I think that's the wisdom of the agreement which was brokered last week, which is to say that we know for whatever reason there was a depressed representation of a particular group in Iraq. And that group, the Sunnis, have decided to come into the political process.

That's a very healthy thing. And then agreement goes on to state that issues can be renegotiated through the beginning of the next parliament.

So I think on the whole, there's every reason to be optimistic. And the very fact that now for the second set of elections, albeit this was a referendum, we have had a relatively high turnout, a turnout which would be considered high in any western European context.

HOLMES: And there's another vote not that far away, too. How will this vote, however, on this all-important constitution change or not change, influence the leadership of Iraq, the politicians, even the members of parliament in general?

ISTRABADI: Well, I think it's a very good thing. Of course you know Lord Acton's famous saying that "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

So I think it's a very good thing, even if there is a relatively -- we don't know, of course, but even if there's a relatively high "no" vote, short of the ability to veto the constitution, that's probably a good thing. It shows that democracy is in action, an (INAUDIBLE) democracy in Iraq is on the move. And it shows that the electorate of Iraq is prepared to hold their elected representatives accountable.

These are very healthy signs.

HOLMES: You know, it's been said more than once, after Ramadi was won, after several operations, there's many examples of where it's being said that the wind has been taken out of the insurgency's sails. The insurgency continues, of course, apace.

Is there going to be an impact of the constitution on the insurgency? Or unlikely?

ISTRABADI: Well, I've said it before, I think that we're on a two-track -- two parallel tracks. One is the political process. The other is the violence.

There is obviously, to the extent that the -- that the terrorists had been -- had they been able to disrupt the political process, we would have, I think, increased our problem. They have failed. They have failed in fact miserably so far. And I expect that we will have elections at any event on December 15, regardless of the result on the referendum.

So I think it's important to show the people of Iraq are making forward, positive motion, momentum. I think that ultimately this will be one of the ways that we will be able -- in which we'll be able to defeat these terrorists. Although, I must say that for some of them, certainly, they will simply have to be defeated sort of more classically.

HOLMES: OK. Always good to see you, Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Thanks so much.

Well, by the way, there's a lot more about all of this on our Web site, the vote on the constitution, who is for it, who's against it, some of the things we were just talking about with the ambassador there as the violence continues. Go to -- Zain.

VERJEE: Michael, Israel says it's put new restrictions on travel in the West Bank and suspended security coordination with the Palestinians. The moves follow Sunday's killings of three Israeli settlers by Palestinian militants.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat calls the suspension of security contact unfortunate, but an Israeli official contends there is nothing to talk about until the Palestinians take activity steps to fight terrorism. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has claimed responsibility for the shootings.

HOLMES: All right. We're going to take a short break now. When we come back, we're going to have a lot more for you, including the debate within Palestinian society over the role of Hamas in that society.

VERJEE: Up next, though, we'll also have a check of the global financial markets for our international views.

HOLMES: And for our audience in the United States, Tony Harris is going to be along to update you on what's happening there.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta. More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes. But first, a check of stories making headlines in the United States.

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers returns to Capitol Hill today in hopes of winning support among members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The so-called courtesy calls come as the Bush administration changes its approach on Miers' nomination. It is now emphasizing her legal qualifications rather than her religious convictions.

Here's what the president had to say minutes ago after lobbying the support of former Texas Supreme Court justices.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I sent a message here in Washington that the person I picked to take Sandra Day O'Connor's place is not only a person of high character and of integrity, but a person who can get the job done. Harriet Miers is a uniquely qualified person to serve on the bench.


HARRIS: Today, Miers is scheduled to meet with senators Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer, two Democrat who voted against confirming Chief Justice John Roberts.

Tropical Storm Wilma is churning in the Caribbean. Do the latest projections put it on course to threaten the U.S. Gulf Coast?

Let's go straight to our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras.


HARRIS: It is back to school in New Orleans, at least for a few children. Teachers welcomed students back to the St. Louis Cathedral Academy, the first school to reopen in the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Even though most of the students attending right now are children of relief workers, the reopening is considered a significant step in the gradual revival of the city. A New Orleans high school is scheduled to reopen tomorrow.

Grief counselors are on hand today to explain the inexplicable to high school students reeling from a deadly weekend bus crash in Wisconsin. Five people died when their chartered bus slammed into an overturned semi. It happened on Interstate 94, near Osio (ph), as the group returned from a state marching band competition.


AIMEE BRUNNER, FORMER STUDENT: It's almost as if, like, a family member died and you haven't found out yet. This morning, when I heard the news, I didn't even want to believe it was true. But once I watched it on TV, it hurts.


HARRIS: The five dead included the bus driver, a student teacher, the band director, his wife and their granddaughter. About 30 others were injured.

The U.S. violent crime rate is down again. Newly-released FBI figures show the violent crime rate fell 2.2 percent last year. Since 1995, the rate of murders, rapes, robberies and assaults has declined 32 percent. Harriet Miers just one of the topic ahead at the top of the hour on "LIVE FROM." Kyra Phillips talking with two senators, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. They're undecided on how they will vote when it comes to confirming Miers. Hear the questions they plan to ask her at the top of the hour.

Meantime, YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.


HOLMES: And welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY right here on CNN International.

Greetings from me. I'm Michael Holmes.

VERJEE: Yes, you are. And I'm Zain Verjee. Welcome to our U.S. viewers as well.

These are some of the top stories we're following.

Aid is finally starting to reach some of the more remote areas of quake-ravaged Pakistan after heavy rains grounded helicopters for several hours on Sunday. Pakistan's prime minister's office says the toll from the disaster now stands at 38,000. Another 1,300 deaths were reported in India, mostly in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

HOLMES: Israel has sealed off the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank and frozen all security contacts with the Palestinians. These moves coming after gunmen killed three Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank on Sunday. Now, in a separate incident, a senior Islamic militant was killed in a shootout with Israeli border police. This violence coming one month after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. It threatens an already shaky ceasefire.

VERJEE: U.S. military officials say some 70 terrorists were killed in a series of airstrikes in and around Ramadi, Iraq. But a doctor in a local hospital says civilians were killed, including children.

Meanwhile, official results in Saturday's Iraqi constitution referendum may be announced as early as tomorrow. Early vote returns suggest that the document was approved.

HOLMES: One of the places U.S. support has been critical is in Buritz (ph), where officials say voter turnout was vastly different from the last election.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson looks now at what could be behind that change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a while, we didn't even drive down this road because every day, we had an IED strike our vehicles.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Captain Bob Toon is on his way to Buritz, 35 miles north of Baghdad, mostly Sunni, and until recently, nothing but trouble for him and his men.

CAPT. BOB TOON, U.S. ARMY: This is where we've had a lot of major attacks. The helicopter got shot down right over here behind these buildings. We've been engaged with a lot of direct fire.

ROBERTSON: Insurgents were roaming the streets almost freely. No one in the town appeared willing or able to stop them. Then came one attack too many on Captain Toon and his men.

TOON: Where it all came together was on the 17th of June, when I had a platoon down here that was attacked and I lost some soldiers.

ROBERTSON: It was to be a tipping point not just for the town, but for Toon as well.

TOON: When you're getting shot at and your soldiers are dying in these very streets, it will make you waver from your commitment to the people. And maybe six months ago, I was pretty much at the end of my rope.

ROBERTSON (on camera): At the worst of times, Captain Toon and his men sustained serious attacks on 11 consecutive nights. Now, they say, they haven't had a serious attack in almost two months.

TOON: There was a lot of insurgent activity out here. This was their safe haven, their base of operations.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): It was to be here Toon's commanders would strike back, shelling Buritz's fertile date palm grove, hitting where it really hurts -- the town's pocketbook. The farmers quickly got the message.

TOON: Finally, they had, had enough. And instead of coming against us and fighting us harder, they realized the culprit or the person -- the people that were causing their family's heartache and turmoil were the insurgency that were in this village and they ran them out.

ROBERTSON: In a town center tea shop, residents, many of whom who've been detained by Toon and his men, are still bitter about the tactics.

"They shelled my date palms," this farmer complains, "and I've had no compensation."

But no one questions the results that the insurgents have been driven from the town.

"We had, had enough," he says. "We wanted a quiet life."

But the battle wasn't just won on the military front. Mayor Hassan (ph), a new police chief and counsel, replaced men tainted by association with insurgents.

TOON: First I want to say congratulations for such successful elections yesterday. It was very good.

ROBERTSON: Although the mayor wants to talk more about the content of the constitution than the vote, he readily admits Toon's tactics have changed attitudes, rocketing voter turnout from almost zero in parliamentary elections in January to 85 percent over the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The political and religious parties encouraged people to participate and that resulted in widespread turnout.

ROBERTSON: Toon says he was given $100,000 to help put Buritz back on its feet and so far, he says, he's spent $2 million.

The kids love him, but the verdict is still out with many adults.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Buritz, Iraq.


HOLMES: And we always love to get e-mails from viewers and want to get your reaction to the Iraqi referendum vote, don't we?


Our e-mail question of the day is this: Will this weekend's constitutional referendum advance democracy in Iraq? What do you think? Weigh in on this. E-mail us with your thoughts. The address is And we're going to read your comments later on YOUR WORLD TODAY. Tell us your name, where you're from and what you really think of Michael.


HOLMES: No, no, no, keep it clean.

We've been getting a lot of e-mails though.

VERJEE: We have.

HOLMES: I mean, the inbox is filling up rapidly. Get involved. We do want to read some of those a little later on.

All right. Let's move on.

VERJEE: Recent violence in Gaza is causing problems for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who meets with U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday.

HOLMES: Indeed.

It is not Israeli versus Palestinian violence, or not at least always, but Palestinian versus Palestinian violence.

Here's John Vause.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Heavily armed police on the streets of Gaza, increasingly under threat from Palestinian militants, especially Hamas.

BRIG. MOUSA ALIAN, GAZA CITY POLICE CHIEF (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): They're threatening Palestinian society which wants stability, law and order. By attacking the police, Hamas is causing chaos amongst the Palestinian people.

VAUSE: Last week, running gun battles erupted between police and militants after the Palestinian Authority tried to enforce a ban on the public display of weapons. A police station was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. By the time it was over, two policemen were dead, so, too, a young girl.

SALAH AVED SHAFI, GAZA ANALYST: The arms that were used, the fierce fighting, particularly on the side of Hamas, really was a shock to the people. Using RPGs against a police station was seen as a very, very serious signal by the people.

VAUSE: This is not the life many in Gaza had hoped for after Israel completed its withdrawal last month.

Wazi (ph) and Sahawadi (ph) are openly critical of Hamas. Their oldest son, Mohammed (ph), 11 years old, was among 19 killed at a Hamas celebration rally in a Jebaldi (ph) refugee camp when a truck full of explosives went off.

"We did not expect there would be more explosions here," his mother told me. "My son said he wanted to go to the rally and have a look. I wasn't concerned because now the Jews have evacuated."

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed the blast was an accident caused by Hamas. But even now, the militant group insists Israel is to blame.

MAHMOUD ZAHAR, HAMAS LEADER: Now we are running an effective (inaudible) investigation, and when we reach a conclusion, we are going to see that. But up to this moment, we are deeply convinced that Israel is behind that.

VAUSE: The Watis (ph) and many others just don't believe that, and they resent Hamas claiming their son as a martyr to the Palestinian cause.

"This explosion was wrong and a mistake," says Mohammed's father. "After this explosion, everyone hates them. Before, it was different."

These banners over one of Gaza's main streets were put up by Hamas, proudly declaring they forced the Israeli pullout.

(on camera): And according to one recent opinion poll, most Palestinians in Gaza believe that all of the militant groups and their campaign of suicide bombings and rocket attacks were at least partly responsible for the Israeli pullout. Hamas is now trying to convert that support into political capital before parliamentary elections, now less than four months away.

(voice-over): Support for Hamas is strongest in the Jebaldi refugee camp, but even here not everyone is following the party line.

Jemal Abunasah (ph) runs a taxi company and scoffs at talk that Israel was forced out of Gaza.

"Nobody wants Gaza," he says. "It's crowded. There is no benefit being here. Security is a problem. The liberation of Gaza was because Israel doesn't want it."

But the poor and powerless of Gaza still hold Hamas in high regard, mostly because of social services like this recent mass wedding. And for many, the group has an image of honesty and integrity which may have been tarnished in recent weeks, but could still be a compelling campaign platform come next year's election.

John Vause, CNN, Gaza.


HOLMES: All right. You're watching YOUR WORLD TODAY, and we're going to have more news.

VERJEE: Including troubling new information about priest abuse in the United States.

HOLMES: That's right. Confidential files reveal case after case in which the Los Angeles Archdiocese has been warned of abuse but failed to act.


HOLMES: Pope Benedict XVI says he still feels guided by the spiritual presence of his predecessor, John Paul II. The pontiff made the remarks in a 15-minute interview that aired on Polish television on Sunday. That was the 27th anniversary of John Paul's election. The holy father recounted how much he learned from John Paul, even in the late pope's last hours of his life.


POPE BENEDICT XVI (through translator): The encounter at Gemelli Hospital in Rome was the day before his death. He was visibly in great pain and he was surrounded by doctors and friends. He was still very lucid and he gave me his blessing. He could not talk very much. The patience he showed at this time of suffering was a great lesson for me, to see how he believed he was in hands of God and how he abandoned himself to the will of God. Despite his pain, he was serene because he was in the hands of divine love.


HOLMES: Pope Benedict also said he hopes to visit Poland, his predecessor's homeland, in June.

VERJEE: In the U.S., allegations of sexual abuse by priests have lingered in Los Angeles for years. Now, some of the cases may be moving closer to trial. Personnel files of many of the priests have been produced as part of settlement talks with lawyers for $560 accusers in a civil suit.

As Peter Viles tell us, critics say the files show that the church still isn't taking the problem seriously enough.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Rita Mia (ph). I was abused by seven priests.

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Los Angeles, still no resolution to the Catholic Church sex scandal. Alleged victims feel betrayed by long-serving Cardinal Roger Mahoney.

MARY GRANT, VICTIMS' RIGHTS ADVOCATE: You knew that the rape of kids was a crime. You kept it secret. You didn't call the police. You moved the predators. You caused more innocent lives to be shattered.

VILES: Mahoney told CNN last year that the church once thought it could cure abusive priests and did not inform authorities. But now he says it has a zero tolerance policy for abusive priests. This week, the church released summaries of abuse allegations against more than 200 priests.

MICHAEL HENNIGAN, ATTORNEY FOR L.A. ARCHDIOCESE: What we have here is a church that is embarrassed, that is contrite, that is ashamed of what happened in the past, and is committed to reforming it, to the extent that it is humanly possible to do so.

VILES: The documents show that priests accused of abuse were sometimes sent into therapy but not reported to authorities.

JAMES BALDRIDGE, ALLEGED SEX ABUSE VICTIM: What they cared about was their image and how can we suppress this and make it go away as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

VILES: Jim Baldridge says he was repeatedly raped as a boy by a priest who died 18 years ago.

BALDRIDGE: It's a nightmare for a lot of us. And it doesn't just affect the victims. It affects our families. It affects my wife and my children. And the part that really tears me up is I was one of the best Catholics out there. I worshipped the ground the priest walked on.

VILES: The church in neighboring Orange County paid more than $1 million per victim to settle abuse claims. Based on that math, a Los Angeles settlement would exceed $600 million. But talks between the archdiocese of Los Angeles and 560 alleged victims have stalled. Both sides say the church's insurance companies are refusing to negotiate. RAYMOND BOUCHER, ATTY. FOR SEX ABUSE VICTIMS: We've been in settlement discussions for about three years now. The insurance companies are clearly the single greatest impediment to resolving these cases. They want to see them drag on as long as they possibly can.

VILES: So both sides say it is now increasingly likely that some of those 560 alleged victims will soon have their day in court.

Peter Viles, for CNN, Los Angeles.



VERJEE: Coming up, returning to a hero's welcome.

HOLMES: Yes, an amazing story. China celebrating a mission accomplished. At the same time, it is celebrating growing confidence in its space exploration and looking ahead to the future. That's next.


HOLMES: All right. Welcome back, everybody. Festivity and publicity in China, with two of its countrymen welcomed as heroes upon their return to Earth.

VERJEE: Yes, they're celebrating the safe completion of the nation's second manned space mission, and they're already thinking about another.

HOLMES: Yes, all the hoopla representing a departure from the early days of China's space program, as our Jaime Florcruz reports from Beijing.


JAIME FLORCRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chinese astronauts safely back to Earth, their mission accomplished after spending five days in space.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It was a good trip. The working environment in the shuttle was great. We feel fine.

FLORCRUZ: And China feels proud. Jubilant crowds giving astronauts Feijing Long and Nya Haishung (ph) a hero's welcome. They will have to get used to a celebrity status, acquired when they blasted off from China's remote space center, covered on national television. It's a far cry from the usual secrecy that has surrounded the space program, and a show of confidence and sophistication.

The veteran pilots orbited the earth more than 70 times in five days, conducting experiments in zero gravity aboard a Shendo (ph) VI module. Their successful flight is viewed as a new symbol as a proud and ascendant China. WU BANGGUO, NATL. PEOPLE'S CONGRESS CHAIRMAN (through translator): The success is great for boosting China's prestige in the world and for promoting China's economy, science and national defense.

FLORCRUZ: And with the extensive media coverage, the flight is also expected to boost patriotism and national unity. China's only the third country in the world after Russia and the United States to put a man into space. Exactly two years ago, Chinese astronaut Yang Li Wey (ph) orbited the Earth for more than 21 hours. Building on Yang's success, the new space heroes accomplished a longer and riskier mission.

With the success of Shendo VI, the Chinese space scientists are looking forward to more space missions and even a moon landing.

(on camera): Such high goals have civilian and military implications, and they're about to challenge the dominance of major powers like the United States, on Earth, as well as space.

Jamie Florcruz, CNN, Beijing.


VERJEE: We like getting e-mails from you, especially Michael, because nobody ever e-mails him.

HOLMES: Yes, I do. I'm a very lonely man.

VERJEE: We've been asking viewers to send your thoughts on the constitutional referendum in Iraq.

HOLMES: That's right. The question has been, will this weekend's referendum advance democracy there? Let's take a look at just some of your responses. This is from Alusine, I hope I said that right, in Geneva, Switzerland, "I think the elections in Iraq are a positive step in bringing stability to that country. With the Sunnis participating in it, it shows that the terrorists are not winning and Iraqis will not be intimidated by the daily attacks."

VERJEE: Got one here from Morgan Easton (ph) in Lake Forest, Illinois. There's no doubt in my mind that this week's constitution will help spread democracy in Iraq, and even the rest of the Middle East. These people have lived under a totalitarian government all of their lives and they know nothing else.

HOLMES: All right, and now from Thelma in Veijo (ph), I think that is, California -- I'm probably wrong -- "The recent voting process in Iraq only served as a veneer of democracy. The opportunity for participation and a sham isn't democratic."

VERJEE: is the address. Send us your opinions.

HOLMES: Yes, that will do it from us here at CNN International. I'm Michael Holmes.

VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee.

HOLMES: Thanks for watching.



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