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Death and Decisions; Libya: Operation Dignity; Imagine a World

Aired May 22, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

There are new fears ahead of Ukraine's crucial presidential election this weekend. Sixteen people, at least 14 of them soldiers, were killed in an overnight attack in the east. Armored vehicles and a checkpoint near Donetsk burst into flame after they were hit by rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

The government says it's the work of, quote, "terrorists," and Ukraine's prime minister is calling for an emergency United Nations session, saying that he will prove to the world that Russia is escalating the conflict and trying to derail this election.

At the same time and for the first time, NATO's secretary-general says that President Putin may be indeed implementing his repeated pledges to pull back his 40,000-strong force, a tweet from Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, "We've seen limited #Russian troop activity vicinity of #Ukraine border that MAY suggest that some of these forces are preparing to withdraw."

If true, it could mean that Putin may be facing the developing reality that his economy is suffering from the backlash and that sick and tired of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, many there are now pushing back the separatists.

Now ahead of these crucial elections that will determine not just Ukraine's future, but the stability of the whole region, it's important to look back and remember just how all this started.

It began in December, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a partnership deal with the E.U. after pressure from Putin.

And so we thought we'd show you a film of what happened next, ordinary Ukrainian protesters relive their gripping memories of Maidan, the uprising that changed the world brought Ukraine and Russia to the brink of war, led to the annexation of Crimea and saw the deepest chill since the Cold War descend over Moscow and the West. It's produced by Andrew Tkach, and independent Ukrainian filmmakers "Babylon 13."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I'm falling.

Why are you doing this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): They beat our people, Ukrainian guys we love and support. We're outraged and we'll fight to the end. Today, tomorrow and until they hear us. Out with the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): I'm against Yanukovych.

Here's my dad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Leave our kids in peace. We can't let them beat our children!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Throw out the gang!

Attach this.

YURI FITOUSSOV (PH), JOURNALIST (through translator): I'm Yuri Fitoussov (ph). I'm a journalist from I took part in a demonstration on December 1st. At first, the demonstration was totally peaceful. But about 1:00 pm, a group of young guys came up to the police line and immediately started beating them.

They were angry that news footage would show a protester protecting the police. Obviously, they wanted to show the police as victims of violence to justify a crackdown on a peaceful demonstration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (from captions) Shame on you!

FITOUSSOV (PH) (through translator): At 1600, it got dark. The lines of the police parted and the Berkut attacked. My skull was fractured and pieces missing. The fact that the police didn't arrest those who were attacking them but beat up random people who didn't get away is the most obvious proof that this was a planned provocation.

Then they could say the demonstration wasn't peaceful but an armed conflict between radicals.


ALEXANDRA MADOASA (PH), MUSICIAN (through translator): My name is Alexandra Madoasa (ph). When the revolution began, it was a peaceful protest. So I supported them with my music. People waited a long time. They tried to follow the path of non-violence. They thought that the government would listen and start a dialogue, but it never happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Wedge the shield tight and it'll protect you. You can move but they can't push you.

MADOASA (PH) (through translator): Then a really tall guy with a beard who accepted the responsibility to turn a peaceful demonstration into one that wasn't so peaceful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Now the Berkut substitutes -- attack!

MADOASA (PH) (through translator): But when I talked to them, I realized they weren't provocateurs, just ordinary guys who were trying to protect us from Berkut. So I started to see them with great respect because they had no fear.

ANDRIY YANCHIKUT (PH), (through translator): My name is Andriy Yanchikut (ph). In our "Three Musketeers" skit, we wanted to show those on the other side of the barricades and we weren't afraid of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Fill our mugs until they're overflowing.

YANCHIKUT (PH), (through translator): I came out on Maidan December 1st after they beat our students. I volunteered and said I was in the army reserve. So they said help organize our self-defense. There were all sorts of people here, students, women, business men, engineers. Our main tactic was to stop the police. Yes, we threw stones at them, but that was the only way to keep them away. Molotov cocktails are a tradition, but fireworks were a new idea and a very effective weapon.

They don't kill, but it can rattle you.

They called us extremists, terrorists. And when a kid gets shot in the eye with a rubber bullet, excuse me, but what would you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were providing cover for medics who were getting out the wounded. I got hit by a rubber bullet. Many other guys were also hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The cameraman is a hero. He was hit by a bullet and we just stitched him up when his first buddies brought him. He jumps to his feet and asks, "Can I shoot?" I say, "Shoot, for history's sake."

Legally, I'm had three wounds, a wound here in the neck and in the chest. It was an explosive bullet. But at 6:00 pm we pronounced him clinically dead and called the homicide squad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Another one? Bloody hell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): And I can see the second fatality brought in, hit by a sniper in the heart. We just broke down. Some of the doctors and nurses also cried. No one expected our children and grandchildren to end up in a war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): We're for peaceful Maidan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): In our protests of the angels, we tried to bring life and light to the very darkest corners.

TINA PERISUNKOV (PH) (through translator): My name is Tina Perisunkov (ph). We wanted to collect a common prayer for Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): Everyone can (INAUDIBLE) a line of the prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): One guy wrote, "God, please protect my company and the lives of Berkut," the men who were threatening him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): That's classic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They were brainwashed. They said we were fascists and nationalists, bandits and here we come out in angel wings, two little fascists.

Honestly, facing them, we were afraid, so I said, "Please don't shoot. We're afraid of you."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Dear citizens, don't violate the (INAUDIBLE). Leave the buffer zone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When we got close enough, he got a megaphone and ordered us to take a step back. I do and ask, "Is that enough?" He says, "Take another step back, and then another one."

But there was such a horrible vibration there. So our task was to defeat the robber (ph) because when you become a robber (ph), you turn into an egret (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Let them have it.

They're breaking through. Pack your stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): This is our territory, of our (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They began their attack by throwing down stun grenades. I was down below when they broke through the barricades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Don't throw any stones until my command.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Their water cannon broke through the barricade but they stopped them there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Berkut be warned. We're staying on the Maidan. We will hold our position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was shaken up by their stun grenades and they carried me out of there. After that, I don't remember anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I see you in my dreams, in green fields, along forgotten paths.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Monday, we get up to the sounds of battle. We jump into the ambulance, turn on the flashers and drive out. And they start shooting at us doctors. So we make a sharp turn and drive right into the riot police. And this is what we see, two generals, a colonel, machine gunners and two snipers shooting protesters right before our eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Guys, we need help!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Head, neck, heart, it was a professional shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This was Operation Boomerang. They lured our forces to attack and into the sniper's line of fire. And then they started shooting them down. It's a typical military operation. I'd understand if the protesters were shooting. But they weren't armed . They're not military men. They couldn't figure out this operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What could I say? I tell the general, "What are you doing? You're killing people. I've been to war. What are you doing?"

"Don't interfere, Doctor. Get in the car."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Usually this operation has three stages, withdraw, lure your opponent forward then finish him off with overwhelming firepower when they run. But the last stage failed because the protesters attacked and didn't retreat. They carried out the dead and wounded, but they held their ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It really hurt. I've seen terrible things in war, limbs and heads torn off. War is war. But here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Hero!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I returned here at 8:00 pm. That's when I discovered that many of our brothers were gone. Five were killed.

One young man just arrived here on the 19th and on the 20th he was killed.

On the 12th of February, his son was born. I'm sorry, but can we take a break?

I understand. Hate is a sin. But this is something I can't forgive. Let it be done legally, but I want revenge. We won't allow any politicians to rule Ukraine again.

MADOASA (PH) (through translator): A lot has already changed. We can't forget because these people gave their lives for Ukraine to be different, so there would be no more bandits or killings. That's why the music has to give hope for better days, for all this not to have been in vain.


AMANPOUR: A gripping portrait of a nation and a people clinging to a better future and a powerful testimony as to why these elections this weekend are so vital.

And that kind of desperation for a better future isn't limited to Ukraine. Three years ago, the people of Libya overthrew the dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi. Today, the country remains a failed state.

One man now says he can bring the tribes, the troops and the people together. You'll meet him when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

It's called Operation Dignity. It started as a road campaign by a former Libyan general to purge the chaotic country of extremist Islamist militias and the government that's said to support them.

Now an array of Libyan military tribal and political leaders have jumped on General Khalifa Haftar's bandwagon. Now even though he's played all sides of the political spectrum, as one said, the dilemma is that no one trusts him, but everyone likes what he's doing. We want the Islamists out.

So could General Haftar and his Operation Dignity be just what the doctor ordered for Libya? Or could he drag Libya back into a military dictatorship, much like General al-Sisi in neighboring Egypt? I asked him when I reached him earlier by phone in Libya.


AMANPOUR: General Khalifa Haftar, thank you for joining me all the way from Benghazi.

I want to start by asking who exactly are you? You have got against Gadhafi; you have fought with Gadhafi. You've fought against Islamists; you've fought with them. Now obviously you're against them.

What specifically are you doing now?

What is your mission now, General?

GEN. KHALIFA HAFTAR, LIBYAN REBEL COMMANDER (through translator): We after the revolution, after the war ended in Libya, I felt that the situation would be much better in that Libya. I was away for 25 years. And I wanted to rest from this struggle. But unfortunately, the alternative was not good enough.

And the national conference that was elected by the people did not rule in the right way and they were engaged in theft in my country. And there were a bar of militant groups and religious groups, (INAUDIBLE) organizations that has relations with more terrorist organizations, were in Libya. And this --what happened in Libya was -- there were theft, there were killing, there were chaos in the streets of Libya.

And the Libyan people, they say, where's the army? Where is the army? I have decided to face this threat and those who are against the Libyan people and we hope that the Libyan tribes and the civic institutions in Libya who support us.

AMANPOUR: OK. General, it looks like you have now a quite a lot of support from various leaders in Libya, from various members of the armed forces.

But the Islamic groups are also pledging to fight you.

Is this just going to be another round of fighting in Libya?

HAFTAR: There are groups who are fighting me. They are the extremist groups that claim religious adherence to Islam and the people of Libya do not agree with. And because the Libyan people are peaceful people but people who are fighting us, they are extremists. Therefore, we are facing them strongly and we are also attempting to defeat them.

AMANPOUR: Do you think you can win?

Do you have help from outside?

HAFTAR: I have no help from the outside Libya as I mentioned. We hope -- we depend on the social structure in Libya, the specific institutions in Libya, the tribes in Libya and the Sunni people of Libya and I am 100 percent sure that we will defeat them with the help of God, even though we are fighting on behalf of the entire world in this battle.

AMANPOUR: And General, you've obviously heard this, but people are saying is General Haftar another General al-Sisi, referring to the leader in Egypt?

Do you want political power?

Remember, al-Sisi said that he didn't want political power and now he's standing for election, will probably be the president.

Are you aiming for political power?

HAFTAR: I want for Libya to be together and did not come out only to provide security for Libya and I want for the Libyan society to be safe and secure. Personally, I do not want political power. But I want the safety and security of my country and my people.

AMANPOUR: Some of your biggest backers include those who have seized, for instance, the oil refinery area, the oil port. They call it the province of Cyrenaica and they've supported you.

If you win, will they demand that Libya be split up and that spins off into an independent state?

HAFTAR: Those who want to divide Libya, they will not be present. We are the one who are doing this. The people of Libya are supporting us. We have no intention to divide Libya, not whatsoever. We want all the services to reach all the people of Libya across the country. This is what we want and what we seek.

AMANPOUR: General Khalifa Haftar, thank you for joining me from Benghazi.


AMANPOUR: So General Haftar is calling this a defining struggle. And while some fear that Libya teeters on the brink of military rule, Egypt has already gone over that edge. Their generals may indeed be able to keep the peace, collect the garbage and even make the trains run on time, but martial law and order can come at a very terrible price.

One brave and brilliant young Egyptian who refuses to pay that price, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, remember the Arab Spring with turmoil in Tripoli and generals back in the saddle in Egypt, not to mention endless civil war in Syria? That spirit of independence and hope keeps fading like a mirage in the Sahara.

Now imagine a world where hope still lives in the mind of one tenacious and talented teenager. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is an annual gathering of the best and the brightest young innovators on this planet, drawing nearly 2,000 high school students to the United States from 70 different countries, all vying for over $5 million in awards.

One of those beautiful minds belongs to Abdallah Assem, a 17-year-old Egyptian prodigy whose science project helps paraplegics use computers. But Abdallah won't be returning to a hero's welcome. He's asked for asylum, fearful that the Egyptian government will arrest him for taking part in protests in Tahrir Square, a charge that he denies.

Sadly, it's one more example of a brain drain that threatens to rob Egypt of some of its sharpest young thinkers, and not very helpful to General al-Sisi's mandate to fix the economy.

As for Abdallah, he now depends on the kindness and the character of strangers.

Will the United States government grant him asylum? Or condemn this remarkable young man to spend his most creative years behind bars in an Egyptian prison?

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 London.