January 31, 2012
Posted: 2350 GMT

Thanks for watching our special coverage today. In just a few hours, Floridians will have chosen their Republican nominee.

Here is a behind the scenes look at our camera position in Tampa. We'll be back tomorrow for more coverage from Florida. Hope you join us then.

Filed under: Florida Primary •U.S. Elections

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Posted: 1616 GMT

Hi everyone,

I spent some time with ordinary Florida voters just a few hours before the crucial Republican primary in this state. Mitt Romney is enjoying a firm double digit lead over former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Whoever ends up winning, voters told the Idesk team they just want a candidate who represents them and who can fix the economy.

Florida's economy is worse off than the country as a whole: the unemployment rate is 9.9% vs 8.5% overall. And the long term unemployed account for over 50% of those without jobs, the highest in the nation.

Check out my report from Tampa:

Filed under: Florida Primary •U.S. Elections

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January 27, 2012
Posted: 038 GMT

Hala Gorani's interview with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Hala asked Pillay about the difficulty in tracking the number of dead in Syria.

Filed under: Syria

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January 25, 2012
Posted: 1720 GMT

During the best of times, reporting from Syria is a challenge.  Today, reporting from Syria means risking your life.  Even on government sanctioned trips, journalists are now facing the possibility of death. Syria may not be a warzone yet, but it’s turning into one quickly.

The UN believes more than 5,000 people have been killed since protests against President Assad began 10 months ago.  On Wednesday January 11, French television journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in an apparent mortar attack while covering pro-government demonstrations in Homs, the city at the epicenter of the anti-Assad movement. Jacquier was invited into Syria.  He was there officially.  He died in Syria doing his job.

This is a worrying development in Syria.  What started with a small demonstration in the southern city of Daraa, when parents of children detained and tortured by authorities for writing anti-regime graffiti protested in the streets, has now turned into a complex and multi-layered nationwide crisis.

There are anti-regime protesters who remain unarmed.  But there are also army defectors who've formed the "Free Syrian Army", and who are vowing to defeat the oppressive regime by force.  Meanwhile, the country's president, Bashar al-Assad, continues to blame outside instigators for the unrest.  He promises to defeat "terrorists" with an "iron fist", while promising reforms critics say are toothless and cosmetic.

Each Arab Spring uprising has followed its own distinct scenario.  In Tunisia, the authoritarian rule of the president has been replaced by what looks like a functioning political process.  In Egypt, the army is still in charge, and many say the head of the dictatorship was eliminated, but the regime remains – imprisoning critics and cracking down on street protests.

As for Syria, a minority regime is fighting for its survival. It won't go down without a fight. A change of regime in Syria means the minority Alawite clan ruling the country for over 40 years will be stripped of its powers and privileges.  What replaces it, no one dares to predict.  Not even the most seasoned Arab world observers predicted Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain. Libya. In 2012, in this time of change, anything can happen.

When I reported from Syria last July, the government prevented us from traveling to the hotspot city of Homs because, they argued, they couldn’t keep us safe from “terrorists” and “armed gangs”.  No doubt the regime will blame the attack that killed Gilles Jacquier on them. It has been the Assad government’s narrative from the beginning. Many are more than a little skeptical.

For other journalists, trying to get the story means entering Syria in secret – and trusting rebel contacts enough to be led through the darkness and into cities under siege.  Away from the prying eyes of government minders, they risk imprisonment, torture, even death to cover the rebels.

That is exactly what one freelance journalist has done.  He got into Homs with the help of a rebel network and captured some of the most dramatic images of the uprising so far. We've aired his exclusive material on CNN over the last few weeks.

One part of Homs, Baba Amr, is now virtually under the control of the Free Syrian Army. The journalist, whom we are not naming for his own safety, spent several days capturing their fight and the struggle of ordinary Homsis in the neighborhood.  An island of rebel control in a city under siege.  The kind of story the regime and its supporters don’t want you to see.  Those who risk their lives to bring us the truth deserve our respect and admiration.

Homs has become a microcosm of what Syria one day might look like: certain areas will become battlegrounds between armed defectors and regular troops, others will be gripped by fear and concern for the future; some will continue to support the regime for sectarian reasons or because they dread the uncertainty of what might replace Bashar al-Assad.

I've been traveling to Syria my whole life.  It was one of the most beautiful and colorful countries in the world.  To see it like this, as it struggles towards what lies ahead, is sometimes difficult.  But the Arab world as a whole is changing after years of paralysis.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

Hala Gorani is an anchor and reporter for CNN International's iDesk

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Filed under: Journalists •Middle East •Syria

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Posted: 011 GMT

Nic Robertson talks to Hala Gorani about his reporting from inside Syria with the Arab League monitors. Nic just returned from Syria and joined the International Desk from London.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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January 23, 2012
Posted: 2143 GMT

Hala Gorani speaks to E.U. Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton about the European Union's new and unprecedented sanctions against Iran. Ashton tells CNN this is to pressure Iran into restarting talks about its controversial nuclear program.

Filed under: European Union •Iran

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January 21, 2012
Posted: 418 GMT

Hala and Wolf Blitzer discuss what to expect Saturday in the South Carolina Primary. Click here to see their conversation.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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January 20, 2012
Posted: 2049 GMT

Damascus, Syria (CNN) - Syria smoldered Friday as anti-government demonstrators poured into the streets and the Arab League mulled an extension of its monitoring mission.

Protesters focused their attention on political prisoners and demanded the release of detainees. At least 10 people were slain in clashes Friday, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist group.

For more than 10 months, Syria has been in the throes of an anti-government public uprising and a brutal security crackdown against protesters. The United Nations last month estimated well over 5,000 deaths since mid-March. Opposition groups estimate more than 6,000 people have died.

The Arab League has called on President Bashar al-Assad's regime to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities and allow outsiders, including the international news media, to travel freely around Syria.

The purpose of its month-long fact-finding mission was to see if the government was adhering to an agreement to end the violence. The mission was scheduled to end Thursday but the League was negotiating an extension.

A handful of Arab League members will meet Saturday, led by Qatar, before the full body meets Sunday in Cairo to discuss the monitors' final findings.

Human Rights Watch urged the Arab League to publicly release its final report about the group's monitoring mission.

"The Arab League should make its monitors' report public to address increasing concerns that its monitoring mission is being manipulated by the Syrian authorities," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said on Friday. "Only a transparent assessment of the monitoring mission can determine whether the monitors should stay in the country."

Human Rights Watch has questioned the mission's "lack of transparency and independence."

"The criteria for selecting the monitors have not been made available nor has any information about their monitoring experience. The mission has relied on the Syrian government for security and to transport monitors around the country, compromising the mission's ability to access victims and witnesses safely. The mission's interim report on January 8 has not been made public, and the Arab League has not shared information about the mission's methodology," the group said.

Opposition activists and human rights monitors say the Syrian government has not stopped its aggressive actions against protesters since the mission began December 26.

Human Rights Watch said it has "documented daily violations by security forces against protesters and steps by the Syrian government to interfere with the work of the mission."

Citing local activists, it says 506 civilians have been killed by security forces since the Arab League monitors started the mission. It said "attacks against security forces have also intensified in certain parts of the country."

The al-Assad government says it is fighting "armed terrorist groups," which it blames for the violence.

The opposition Syrian National Council sent a delegation to meet with Arab League officials about the report.

"The report must document the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against civilians in all cities and towns," the group said in a statement. "Ongoing human rights violations include direct orders by the regime to kill civilians using snipers, and executions by firing squad, in public squares. The SNC delegation will stress that the report must contain clear language indicating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed by the regime against unarmed civilians."

Thousands of people have been detained since mid-March. Activist groups on Friday issued statements about one man, Hossam Ahmed Naboulsy - detained in Baniyas several weeks ago.

A video purporting to show a badly beaten and dazed Naboulsy surfaced, and it has prompted stern reaction from activists. The man in the video has a bruised and swollen face

The LCC has urged his release. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another activist group, says it is "extremely concerned" for his life.

Human Rights Watch is also urging the U.N. Security Council "to impose targeted sanctions to halt the ongoing killings."

"The Arab League should publicly recognize that Syria has not respected the League's plan and work with the Security Council to increase pressure on the authorities and effectively curtail the use of firepower," Whitson said.

The SNC delegation also said it plans to demand that the issue be referred to the Security Council "for a resolution to establish a safe zone and impose a no-fly zone in Syria. The resolution must also call for the establishment of an oversight body empowered to use force to prevent the Syrian regime from continuing to kill and torture its civilian population."

While Western powers have imposed sanctions on Syria during the government crackdown, opposition by Russia and China has kept the U.N. Security Council from following suit.

Syria said U.S. and EU sanctions on its oil sector have led to a $2 billion loss, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said, citing the country's oil minister. The government blames oil and gas pipeline sabotage on the terrorist groups.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz and Joe Sterling contributed to this report

Filed under: Uncategorized

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International Desk brings viewers into the heart of the largest news gathering operation in the world. Viewers don't come here to watch the news; they come here to be immersed in it. To feel the rush of being the first to know what's happening as stories break, and to leave knowing they've gotten the best and latest information available. The show airs Mon-Fri at 1900 CET.

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