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Unrest in the CAR; Protests in Ukraine; Imagine a World

Aired December 11, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in South Africa. And now that the dignitaries and heads of state have gone, the memorial to Nelson Mandela has moved to the streets and into the hands of the people from whom he drew his love and support.

Mandela's coffin now lies in state at the Union Building in Pretoria and everyone can come to pay their respects, black and white are coming in. There are tens of hundreds of thousands, a steady stream, more joyful than sad, and often carrying their own tributes to the father of their nation.

He'll lie in state until Friday before his funeral in his home village of Qunu takes place on Sunday.

Now the French President Francois Hollande, who attended yesterday's soccer stadium memorial, is one of those leaders who has now left this country. But he does remain on the continent to address an escalating ethnic war just north in the Central African Republic.

He was in the capital, Bangui, today, where rival Muslim and Christian militias are slaughtering each other there and around the country. And France has rushed in more troops to bolster African soldiers who are trying to disarm those militias.

Now Hollande arrived as news of the first French casualties were announced.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is in the capital, Bangui, after traveling from the northern town of Bossangoa, and that's been paralyzed by violence. She joins me now.

Nima, what can the French president do to try to get the interim Central African Republic president to rein in his militias?

Is that possible?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure there is much he can do. The Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia has already disbanded the Seleka militias. And although initially there had been some optimism that when the French and African peacekeepers had begun the disarmament process over the weekend, that the militias were responding.

I have to tell you, Christiane, we traveled down that road from Bossangoa to Bangui, and we saw some pretty brazen militia roadblocks along the way, bearing in mind we were in a U.N. convoy guided by African peacekeepers. And we had to stop, like everyone else, for the militiamen to open those roadblocks and let us through.

But it's really when we got to the gates of Bangui, to the gates of the capital city, that we got a real sense of the challenge facing France.

As we arrived there, a firefight broke out between militiamen. This was as Francois Hollande was landing in Bangui, a firefight broke out between Seleka militiamen and French troops. And we ended up having to take cover behind the French tanks.

Take a look at this, Christiane.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This is the main gateway into (INAUDIBLE) Bangui, which has taken fire, trying to drive through the French defenses that are reinforced around the town.

They're creating a shelter (ph) for us so that we can move through the cars.


ELBAGIR: I also want to show you some more pictures, Christiane, that we managed to take of nighttime maneuvers being undertaken by the French on that same evening. You can really feel the tension there; you can feel the state of high alert that they're in.

As you said, they have now unfortunately suffered their first casualty, and that's clearly hit them very hard.


AMANPOUR: Well, Nima, the French, as we know, have sent in some 1,600 more troops; the Americans have been told that they're going to be helping to ferry and to support in terms of transport some of these troops and some of these operations.

Is it possible that the scale of the task at hand is much greater than officials thought when they authorized these troops to come here last week?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely. I don't think the French were expecting that they would need to move out into the regions quite so quickly. And definitely the violence that we witnessed in Bossangoa was a big part of that. They had to move men up there very, very quickly to try and quell that.

But what's happened is that Bangui hasn't been stabilized as quickly as had been hoped or expected as the -- I'm sorry; overhead we're hearing French military helicopters going above. Increasingly they're doing these patrols just as the sun begins to set here in Bangui, very much maintaining a visible presence.

The sense is from anyone and everyone that we've speaking to, Christiane, is that what they need here in the Central African Republic is simply more of everything, more humanitarian aid, more boots on the ground and more countries willing to step in and stand side-by-side with France -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: But let me just ask you, are the French troops making a difference?

We know from all sorts of interventions that Hollande has made that the French are really stepping up their activity in (INAUDIBLE), particularly in Africa.

Has it made any difference?

ELBAGIR: In terms of what people were expecting to come in and find, the clashes between the militias, the Seleka and the anti-balaka, we haven't seen as much of that since the French came in. Definitely they have definitely had an impact in that sense.

But I don't think France was expecting this kind of bubbling up of really civil violence, the retribution against Muslims, the distribution of machetes -- that is something that usually we're seeing police forces, civil authorities handling.

It wasn't what the French expected to walk into. And there does seem to be a little bit of confusion as to how you go into communities and disarm and disband neighbor trying to kill neighbor. That's going to be the big challenge here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: All right, Nima, thank you very much for joining me from Bangui.

And now we turn to our other developing story this day, the ongoing protests in Ukraine.

If the government thought it could silence public dissent with a police clampdown, so far it's having the opposite effect. And police are bearing the scars to prove it.

At least 10 officers were injured in the early hours of this morning as they tried to tear down barricades surrounding the protesters in central Kiev. Pro-European demonstrators are braving freezing conditions as well as police force as they attempt to stand their ground.

The E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, visiting here, has praised their tenacity while condemning the tactics of the authorities.

And the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the crackdown "disgusting;" indeed Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was in Kiev, handing out food to the protesters after they'd been beaten up.

And Diana Magnay witnessed all these morning's events first-hand.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's 2 o'clock in the morning, and it would appear that the riot police have decided that this is the time to go into the square in full force. I don't know how we're going to get in. This is the only way down and there are police three deep. But we'll try.

It's unclear how they're going to push through these barricades which have been up there for a long time. You can see the protesters manning the barricades. And there are hundreds of riot police here, but no easy access to them through into the square, which is exactly the way the protesters want it.

So the police have moved down here with chain saws to try and saw through these barricades and also use brute force to pull them back.

And it does look as though in that corner, it is giving way.

All right, now you have this sea of helmets, the red helmets of the protesters against the black helmets of the riot police, head on head. And we'll see what happens next.


AMANPOUR: And as we go to a break we leave you with more of Obama's tribute to Mandela at the soccer stadium yesterday, when he reminded everybody of the debt we all owe South Africa.




OBAMA: -- people of every race and every walk of life, the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And today is a day that black and white South Africans come to pay their personal respects to their very own giant of history. And they are coming from all over to file past Mandela's coffin as he lies in state at the Union Building of Pretoria.

I joined them as they walked and boarded buses to get there.


AMANPOUR: What are you doing here?


AMANPOUR: What are you doing here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to visit Madiba.

AMANPOUR: Why is it important for you today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we love him and he's our hero. He's everything to us.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lifetime experience. Lifetime experience. Mandela is uniting nations. (INAUDIBLE). We love him. Rest in peace.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): We also met Molopo (ph), heading to view the coffin and clutching something tight.

Hi, there. What are you carrying there?


AMANPOUR: I want to see what you're carrying.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Eventually, as everyone was lining up to board their buses, he told me he had been Mandela's driver and he revealed his precious cargo.

AMANPOUR: Look, this is it. Mandela (INAUDIBLE) Sisulu (INAUDIBLE) against apartheid. And this is you.


AMANPOUR: The second one is you.

What was he like? You were his driver. What was he like with you?

MOLOPO (PH): He really was the father, a comrade and everything, because people (INAUDIBLE) didn't know that we could walk close to Mandela.

I was shaking hands with him every day and sometimes sitting with him and Sisulu and other officials of the ANC.

AMANPOUR: As we walk up to the Union Buildings to see Mandela's coffin lying in state, we pass by these statues and symbols of the early white leadership of this country.

This is a statue of General Louis Botha (ph). Now he was the first prime minister of what was then called the Union of South Africa back in 1907.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And many white South Africans came to say their final farewell to Mandela, women like Marita (ph), laying flowers and wiping away tears.

MARITA (PH): My father is the same age as Madiba. Before the long road (ph) we are so grateful for his humility, his forgiveness, his smile, his love of children, his compassion. And we just want to spread it and say thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as we left the site, we stumbled onto this: a massive statue of Nelson Mandela to tower over the others here and to be unveiled on National Reconciliation Day in South Africa, which is next Monday.

And after a break, maybe it's the air or the water or just a coincidence, but imagine a land that gave rise to unprecedented greatness, not once but three times, blood, sweat and non-violence when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, South Africans will be able to visit Nelson Mandela's coffin at the seat of government in Pretoria for a final farewell until the end of this week.

Now imagine a world where three of the greatest leaders of the 20th century first came to light in South Africa. By now, of course, we know the saga of Nelson Mandela from activist to prisoner to president to national treasure.

And yet 120 years ago, a young Indian lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi was riding on a train to Pretoria when he first felt the sting of racial injustice. He was forced to leave his first-class compartment that he had paid for and thrown off the train.

It was a life-changing moment and for the next 20 years he fought for the rights of South Africa's disenfranchised Indian communities, enduring prison and developing his philosophy of non-violent resistance.

By the time he returned to India, he was known as Mahatma Gandhi. And using the skills and the discipline that began on that train to Pretoria, he faced down the British Empire to win India's independence.

And ironically, the embodiment of that empire also began his career here. Back in 1899, just six years after Gandhi was thrown off that train, Winston Churchill, a 25-year-old would-be correspondent, came to South Africa to cover the Boer War between Britain and the Dutch-speaking Afrikaners who were fighting for control of the country.

Young Churchill was captured and held prisoner by the Boers. And yes, you guessed it, in Pretoria. But he managed to escape and he returned to England a national hero with an aura of destiny that ultimately made him prime minister and the leader whose blood, sweat and tears saved Britain from the Nazis.

When he died in 1965 at the age of 90, Churchill's was considered then the largest state funeral in history, unrivaled until the funeral of Nelson Mandela, that memorial service this week.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always contact us at and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from Johannesburg.


And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.