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NEWSROOM for August 27, 2001

Aired August 27, 2001 - 04:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: And welcome to a brand new week of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Shelley Walcott.

On today's show, preparing for the birth of a new democracy and mourning the death of a rising star. Here's our lineup.

In "Today's News," the people of East Timor prepare for their first democratic election. Then in "Environment Desk," a great American river in need of a massive cleanup. On to "Worldview" and a long captive whale on his way back to the wild. And in "Chronicle," a look back at the life of R&B singer Aaliyah.

After a hard fought transition to win dependence, East Timor prepares for its first-ever democratic election. Voters will head to the polls next year to elect a president once the East Timor is no longer administered by the United Nations. East Timor has been under U.N. administration since 1999 that's when it decided to break away from more than two decades of Indonesian rule. That decision triggered a wave of deadly violence by pro-Jakarta militias. Thousands of people were herded across the border into Indonesian West Timor where they remain refugees.

Thursday, in preparation for the upcoming presidential election, more than 380,000 people are expected to vote for a constituent assembly. Among other things, that assembly will be responsible for writing East Timor's constitution.

Maria Ressa reports from the Capital of Dili.



MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They sing about home. For this family, a journey that's taken two years. Chased out by Jakarta militias, now arriving shortly before East Timor's first democratic vote. It's been a long struggle.

In 1999, the vote for independence here triggered violence that killed hundreds, destroyed most of its infrastructure and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. Now as East Timor prepares to vote again, authorities are asking the people to put the rivalries of the past behind so they can build a new future.

DOMINGO XAVIER, VILLAGE CHIEF (through translator): They may have lied in the past, but we would like to put this behind us and start a new life for those who have decided to come home.

RESSA: The man who can unite this fractured society is Xanana Gusmao who announced this weekend he would run for president if elections on Thursday are peaceful. That is something Timorees are praying for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I go to church to pray to God for a peaceful and safe election.

RESSA: On Thursday, 380,000 Timorees will choose 88 people to draft its constitution.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, EAST TIMOR LEADER: The people finally are going to vote on a law -- on a constitutional law, elect their deputies to set the stage for the election of the president next year and the independence.

RESSA: There is a different mood in East Timor today, gone are the extremes of emotions, no jubilation, no violence, just a recognition they have sacrificed much to get here and that much more needs to be done to move ahead.


WALCOTT: East Timorees freedom fighter Jose Alexander (ph) Xanana Gusmao ended months of speculation Saturday when he announced his candidacy for president. The former guerrilla commander is very popular in his homeland after liberating it from 24 years of repressive Indonesian occupation. Now to many he has become a symbol for independence.

Here's Maria Ressa, again, with more on Gusmao and the reaction to his announcement.


RESSA (voice-over): Xanana Gusmao led East Timor's fight for independence. In 1981, he was elected commander-in-chief of the volunteer guerrillas, which has fought against Indonesian rule for nearly a quarter century. After East Timor's vote for independence, Xanana Gusmao said he wanted to be an ordinary citizen. He stepped down as party leader, resigned as the head of the de facto parliament, repeatedly saying he did not want to run for president. On Saturday, he reversed all that.

XANANA GUSMAO, INDEPENDENCE LEADER: I declare here now that I will accept to be nominated by the parties to the office of president of the Republic of Timorasi (ph).

RESSA: Gusmao was a respected leader, seen as the man who can unite an extremely fractured society now under U.N. rule. SERGIO DE MELLO, EAST TIMOR U.N. CHIEF: This is the right decision, he announced it at the right time. It will reassure the population and will help us continue to move this process forward in a stable, peaceful manner as has been the case so far.

RESSA: On Thursday, East Timor will hold its first democratic election. Sixteen political parties are competing for 88 seats for an assembly charged with writing East Timor's constitution. It will map out its entire political system, including a schedule for presidential elections. Many here believe that choice for president has already been decided. The question now is what route Timor takes to get there.

Maria Ressa, CNN, Dili, East Timor.


WALCOTT: In today's "Environment Desk," the story of a great American river in desperate need of a massive cleanup. We're talking about the Hudson River, a body of water that over time has provided inspiration to storytellers, artists and history buffs. The Hudson has also played a key role in the growth of the United States. The harbor at its mouth helped New York become one of the world's largest cities, but the Hudson River has had to pay a price for its proximity to densely populated areas. Today, the river is terribly polluted with PCBs. Those are highly toxic chemicals that may cause birth defects, cancer and other health problems. Now the federal government appears ready to oversee a billion-dollar project to clean the river up.

Natalie Pawelski reports.


NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 25 years, commercial fishing's been banned from the Hudson River, and amateur anglers have been told not to eat too many fish because of PCB contamination from a couple of old General Electric plants.

Now EPA sources say administrator Christie Whitman will order a cleanup, a half billion-dollar dredging project targeting PCB hot spots along 40 miles of the upper Hudson River bed.

SARAH CHASIS, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Finally, the government has done what it should have done a long time ago and stood up and said, you've got to clean it up, G.E., and that's the right decision. PAWELSKI (on camera): Superfund rules mean that General Electric would have to pay most of the half billion dollar clean-up tab. It's a huge defeat for G.E., which has been campaigning against the dredging idea for decades. G.E. argues dredging would just stir up the PCBs now lying in the riverbed.

(voice-over): General Electric didn't want to talk on camera. But in a written statement, the company said quote: "G.E. is disappointed in the EPA's decision to undertake a massive dredging project of the upper Hudson River which will cause more harm than good."

PCB levels in the Hudson have been dropping, but the toxins can stay dangerous for 250 years. PCBs are suspected of causing cancer and other health problems in people.

CHASIS: The only way to address the problem was to remove the PCBs from the river, and that's what this plan would do.

PAWELSKI: There are still a lot of questions about the cleanup plan, like, where do you put more than two and a half million cubic yards of contaminated river sediment? But if it works, it could mean a once vibrant fishery re-opened for business, and a great American river, reborn.



WALCOTT: Soaring utility rates have been the subject of much debate this summer in California and across the nation. The price of wholesale electricity has skyrocketed over the last several years. Some home and business owners, however, are discovering the benefits of drawing electricity from municipal power plants rather than from private utilities.

Brian Palmer has that story.


BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Soaring temperatures this summer made many Americans crank up their air conditioners, sucking up electricity and straining supplies in places like New York City. As the summer winds down, many will be reflecting on the cost of using so much power but not everyone.

Restaurant owner Ray Montemurro was actually paying less for electricity these days after moving his business from one town in Long Island to nearby Rockville Center, which runs its own electricity supply.

RAY MONTEMURRO, DODICI RESTAURANT: It happened to help us a lot financially and you know, it -- at the end of the year, you know, when you're summing everything up, it's -- definitely pays to be in Rockville Center.

PALMER: Most cities and towns that run their own power supply buy electricity wholesale. Only about 13 percent can generate their own, like Rockville Center.

TONY CANCCELLIERI, VILLAGE ADMINISTRATOR: We generate about eight percent of the time and we import 92 percent of the time, roughly. And on a daily basis, our staff looks at the market to see what's out there.

PALMER: The U.S. has more than 2,000 non-profit electric utilities run by local governments. Cities like Cleveland, Austin, Los Angeles serving 40 million Americans.

DAVID PENN, PUBLIC POWER ASSOCIATION: Public Power is really about local citizens running and owning their own local electrical utility to the local government and they don't have to charge a profit. Their purpose is very clear; the mission of Public Power is to deliver low cost, reliable electric service, not to deliver profits to stockholders.

PALMER: Some experts say public utilities deliver lower rates because they get preferential tax treatment and have access to cheap hydroelectric power produced by the federal government. Plus, they have long-term, low-cost contracts with power generators locked in years ago.

Still, municipal power is just a fraction of the market. Private utilities provide nearly 75 percent of the nation's electricity. And starting a municipal power company from scratch is a much more complicated and costly process today than it was when Rockville Center built its plant more than 100 years ago.

A few smaller towns have succeeded. But efforts to go public in cities like Buffalo, New York have stalled because of the price tag, an estimated $900 million.

Brian Palmer, CNN, Rockville Center, New York.


ANNOUNCER: Teachers, make the most of CNN NEWSROOM with our free daily classroom guide to the program. There you'll find a rundown of each day's show so you choose just the program segment that fits your lesson plan. Plus, there are discussion questions and activities and the guide highlights key people, places and news terms. Each day, find hot links to other online resources and previews of upcoming "Desk" segments.

It's all at this Web address where you can also sign up to have the guide automatically e-mailed directly to you each day. It's easy. It's free. It's your curriculum connection to the news. After all, the news never stops and neither does learning.

WALCOTT: So what do whales, trains and music all have in common? Well, they're all part of our "Worldview" segment today. We'll visit Nigeria, a nation getting a message of music and faith from an American gospel singer. Then it's time to ride the rails to Tibet. Find out about the challenge facing workers in China. They're building the highest railroad ever. And from the heights to the depths, we'll visit the oceans around Iceland for a whale of a story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After being captured in Icelandic waters more than 20 years ago, Keiko, the killer whale and star of the 1993 film "Free Willy," is closer than ever to achieving freedom. Researchers have been working with and monitoring Keiko off the coast of a small Icelandic island. They say the famous whale has been making headway in socializing with other oracle whales that live nearby, a key part of his adaptation into the wild. The 10,000-pound whale was returned to his North Atlantic birthplace from an aquarium in Oregon in 1998.

Natalie Pawelski has more on Keiko's quest for freedom and the progress he has made since he's been in Iceland.


NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taking Keiko for a walk, that's what keepers call these ocean swims designed to hook the long-captive whale up with his wild cousins.

JEFF FOSTER, OCEAN FUTURES SOCIETY: We want him to make that choice, that leap, to you know, to spend more time with his own kind. And we're hoping that curiosity will take over and those natural instincts to be with his -- in a social group.

PAWELSKI: Returning the star of "Free Willy" to a wild life in the open ocean, that's the dream of the people at the Ocean Futures Society. But putting the wild back in a whale that's been captive for 20 years has never been done before. So they're feeling their way as they go.

In his roomy pen in an Icelandic bay, Keiko exercises each day. It looks like a marine park show, but his keepers say these moves are ones they see in the wild. As they try to wean Keiko from human interaction, visitors are not allowed to get too close.

FOSTER: We want to change his focus from above water and the people, to below water and the animals that live in his environment.

PAWELSKI: But when the drill is done, Keiko comes over to check out visitors.

CHARLES VINICK, OCEAN FUTURES SOCIETY: He recognizes who's new. He comes over to check them out. He's also camera-savvy. He's been around cameras for 20 years. So he knows that a camera is there, and he often comes over. He knows that the camera is there for him.

PAWELSKI: Even as he keeps one fluke in the human world, Keiko is also getting more comfortable with his native habitat, the Icelandic waters where he was captured as a 2-year-old. On his first ocean walks last year, he shied away from wild whales. Now he swims up to them.

VINICK: Sometimes he chases whales, sometimes they chase him. An encounter can last three seconds, it can last 10 or 12 minutes.

PAWELSKI (on camera): Of course, there's a big difference between spending a few minutes at a time with wild whales and swimming off with them forever. It's an open question whether Keiko's real life will ever imitate art, or at least the movies.

(voice-over): In "Free Willy," Keiko's robotic double jumped over a sea wall and swam away to live happily ever after. In real life, for a whale who's been in captivity for 20 years, it's not so simple. FOSTER: They're a very social animal, they live in social groups, and they live in these groups for most of their lives. So if he was a solitary animal out there on his own, I'm not sure if he would be able to survive.

PAWELSKI: That's why it's so important for a wild pod of whales to accept Keiko.

But this summer's whale window is closing. The wild killer whales soon continue on their migration to parts unknown. And now, a salmon farm is being planned in the bay next to Keiko's pen. If the tons of fish, feed and waste affect the water quality in Keiko's bay, Keiko, who's already been moved from a Mexican marine park to an Oregon aquarium to a bay in Iceland, may be forced to move again.

Natalie Pawelski, CNN, Iceland.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a new twist in the ongoing tensions between China and Tibet. Fifty years ago, Chinese troops took over the formerly autonomous region. The Chinese called it a liberation. People in Tibet call it an occupation. Ever since, critics have charged China with suppressing Buddhism and with committing human rights abuses in Tibet.

Now Beijing has begun construction of a 710-mile railway that would link the city of Gomud with the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The railway will be an engineering marvel. Climbing to a height of nearly 17,000 feet, it's the highest line ever attempted. China says the main purpose of the railroad will be to bring much needed economic development to the region. People in Tibet aren't so sure.

Bronwen McLaren (ph) explains.


BRONWEN McLAREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Work has now begun on a Chinese railroad that`s being called one of the most ambitious engineering feats of all time. When completed, it will be the highest and one of the most spectacular train rides in the world. But it also promises to be one of the most controversial, because the finishing point of this railroad is Lasa, the capital of Tibet.

Chinese troops invaded the isolated mountain kingdom in 1950, forcing an estimated 100,000 Tibetans to flee. Beijing has been firmly in control ever since, and some say this railroad is a move to strength Beijing`s hold on the region.

MIGYUR DORJEE, DALAI LAMA REPRESENTATIVE: If this is implemented, either this is some kind of final nail to the coffin. It will be a total disaster for the Tibetan people.

ALISON REYNOLDS, FREE TIBET CAMPAIGN: The railway poses a very serious threat to Tibetans. It`s going to facilitate the in migration of more Han Chinese people into the region. We`re already seeing fears from local people that are living along the side of the track that they might have to be resettled that nomads might have their lifestyles disrupted. And certainly already China is treating Tibet as a colony and this is going to increase that.

McLAREN: The Chinese government has a different take. It says it`s merely trying to develop China`s poor western regions currently served only by a two-lane highway.

BAI MA, VICE GOV. QINGHAI, PROVINCE (through translator): This is a very significant project. Those who slanderously say that the Chinese government wants to build the railway to better control Tibet, have no basis for their claims. If an area has only roads and no railway, then it has little chance of developing.

McLAREN: And many Chinese agree.

XU LI, RAILROAD FOREMAN (through translator) For me personally, I think we`ll have a chance to catch up to the level of economic development in the east. This construction project will help to achieve the development of the west.

McLAREN: The 30,000 laborers who will build the railroad face some formidable obstacles. They`ll be carving a route through frozen earth and mountains some 5,000 meters high. At such high altitudes, they`lll also have to cope with a lack of oxygen, so they will only work four to six hours a day under constant medical supervision. China hopes to complete the project by the year 2007. The financial cost will be $2.4 billion but the ultimate price may be paid by Tibet. Bronwen McLaren, CNN.


WALCOTT: For now we leave Asia to travel to the West African nation of Nigeria. It's one of the largest countries in the world and the most populous on the African continent. Though most Nigerians are black Africans, Nigeria is home to more than 250 different ethnic groups, that differ in language, culture and tradition. About 45 percent of Nigerians are Muslim while around 40 percent are Christian. Many people combine Islamic or Christian beliefs with traditional practices. Recently, the citizens of Lagos were treated to a special religious tradition, gospel music, and the music maker, none other than the very nontraditional Kirk Franklin.

Jeff Coinage (ph) has the story.


JEFF COINAGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kirk Franklin flew into Africa's most populous nation and wasted no time getting into the rhythm and beat of Africa. Although it's not his first time on the continent, the 54-year-old gospel sensation admits coming to this spot of Africa has deep meaning for him.

KIRK FRANKLIN, GOSPEL MUSICIAN: You know I have to be honest in saying that you know to come to Nigeria was a very different experience. You know to me, you know, it's the official, you know, thing of getting a chance to see my people in, you know, a true form. And you know -- and not to say that I didn't experience that in other places I've been, but you know, it has -- it has been truly different here.

COINAGE: It may be different here but the message is the same. Franklin wants to spread gospel of his band, New Nation, to a country that takes its religion seriously. Nigeria's 120 million people are divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims. Franklin says Christians all over need to reexamine their purpose and role here on Earth.

FRANKLIN: There's a lot of healing that I think that even my brothers and sisters here in West Africa they need to understand they're all people of color. There needs to be a universal healing, a universal coming back to God, that there's been a global straying away and that there needs to be a global revival of the soul and the spirit back to the Lord.

I want to thank to everyone in this church this morning.

COINAGE: And to demonstrate that he practices what he preaches, Franklin took time out to attend a church service in the heart of the commercial capital Lagos to see for himself just how significant the role religion plays in Nigerian culture. Three days and several shows later, Franklin's music proved to be a popular attraction. Nigerians young and old turned out in large numbers to witness the so-called messiah of gospel music.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's wonderful. I think he's -- I think he's just wonderful. I think -- I think -- I'm lost for words. Really -- he's really -- he's really...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it was that great. I would love to touch him. How can I get to you know, just to touch him and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COINAGE: By the time his convoy rolled out of town, Franklin seemed to have struck a chord with a troubled nation. Before leaving Nigeria, he offered a parting message.

FRANKLIN: That Christ is just not for the free world, Christ is not just for the white man, Christ is just not for the rich and for the good but Christ is for the bad, Christ is for the black, Christ is for the ugliest and worst people in the world, for people like me, people that have made mistake in their life, people that have, you know, have shortcomings and fallen and, you know, that's the message.

What I want to do is I want you to show me -- I want you to show me how you praise the Lord here in Nigeria.

COINAGE: The message from the message.

Jeff Coinage, CNN, Lagos.


WALCOTT: In "Chronicle" today, investigators are pouring over the wreckage of a plane that carried R&B singer and actress Aaliyah and eight others to their deaths. The small Cessna crashed just after takeoff at an airport in the Bahamas Saturday night. The group was heading back to the United States after shooting a music video. The death of the 22-year-old entertainer has left her family, friends and fans in shock.

Kyra Phillips looks back at the woman who captured fame early only to die way too young.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Grammy-nominated singer, Aaliyah, once described herself as street, but sweet, yet she grew up anything but street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a beautiful person inside and out, and we're going to all miss her.

PHILLIPS: Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born in Brooklyn and raised in Detroit. She was a straight A student at a performing art school, went on "Star Search" at age 11 and released her first album, "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number," when she was just 15.

Her first project was produced by singer/songwriter R. Kelly. Soon after, unconfirmed reports surfaced that Aaliyah and Kelly had married. The relationship didn't last, but Aaliyah did go on to her multi-platinum sophomore album, "One In A Million" in 1996.

Her latest release, "Aaliyah" hit record stores only last month. Aaliyah's talent and style also earned her a string of movie offers.

AALIYAH, "ROMEO MUST DIE" (on screen): Did you do it?

DELROY LINDO, "ROMEO MUST DIE" (on screen): Did I do what?

AALIYAH: You know what I mean. Did you have his brother murdered?

LINDO: Where did that come from?

AALIYAH: Come on daddy, please. I really need to know.

LINDO: No, I did...

AALIYAH: Can you be straightforward with me for once?

LINDO: I'm telling you no!

Trisha, I can't have you hanging with Ch'u's boy.

PHILLIPS: She received critical acclaim for her role in last year's Kung Fu fighting "Romeo Must Die," which led her to a huge Grammy-nominated hit, try again, featured on the movie sound-track. And Aaliyah was scheduled to star in two follow-ups to "The Matrix" with Keanu Reeves. The fans will get to see the strikingly pretty entertainer in the upcoming release of Anne Rice's "The Queen of the Damned."

Aaliyah, which is Arabic for the highest, most exalted one, was 22 and a rising megastar.


WALCOTT: Well that wraps up today's show. We'll be back here tomorrow.


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