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Brazil Approaching 300,000 Deaths from COVID-19; First Vaccine Dose Given to Half of the Adult U.K. Population; New Surge Prompts Four-Week Lockdown in 16 French Regions; Natural Disaster Declared in Parts of Australia Amid Flooding; E.U. Set to Sanction Myanmar Military Officials for Coup; Rise in Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans after Pandemic; Biden Weighing When to Withdraw Troops from Afghanistan; Netanyahu Courting Arab Voters; U.K.'s Royal Family Considers Naming a 'Diversity Chief'. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 22, 2021 - 00:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome, everyone. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


Coming up on the program, thousands are evacuating as Australians ensured their fifth straight day of devastating rain. We're closely monitoring the situation in Brazil, where nearly every single ICU is at capacity with COVID patients. We'll hear from doctors on the front lines.

And the fight against anti-Asian hate. I'll talk about it all with a K-pop star, Eric Nam.

And we begin with the growing coronavirus outbreak in Brazil. At any moment, the country is expected to reach two staggering milestones: More than 12 million confirmed cases and at least 300,000 people dead.

In hospitals nationwide, the devastation getting worse. Right now, intensive care units in nearly every state are at least 80 percent full, with some completely maxed out. A crisis so severe that local officials and economists are demanding more action from the federal government.

But the president, as he has throughout this pandemic, remains defiant, on Sunday celebrating his birthday with supporters and continuing to speak out against restrictions. As CNN's Matt Rivers reports, his relaxed approach comes as more Brazilians are growing desperate.




MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's a sense of desperation outside this Rio de Janeiro clinic.

"She didn't get one," says Sylvia Silva-Santos (ph), walking out. "My 77-year-old mom can't get a vaccine."

One of many that showed up that day, waiting for vaccines that don't exist.

This woman says, "This is a disgrace. People waiting all day and night. Who knows if there will be a vaccine tomorrow?"

Brazil's COVID-19 situation has never been worse. Daily case and death records are the norm. ICUs nationwide are full, and health systems are failing.

And despite health officials saying the program has been a success. Vaccine deliveries are well beyond schedule, months away from making a big impact, experts say. No supply means no shots today, back at the clinic.

(on camera): So all these 70 plus-year-olds behind me have been told there no more vaccines left in this clinic. The weather app says it feels like it's about 100 degrees outside, and yet they're not willing to leave, because they're scared that if they do leave and some vaccines show up, they won't be here to get them.

(voice-over): They wait because they're scared of a disease that preys on the elderly.

But in Brazil lately, it's not just the old who are dying.


RIVERS: Maria de Pena di Silva Secada (ph) says, "She wasn't just a daughter. She was a friend. She was everything to me."

Her daughter, Basiani (ph), was only 28 when she died last year of COVID. Her 4-year-old son lives with Grandma now, their family forever missing a member.

She says, "They called me that morning and said she was dead. Then I went into shock. The virus didn't let us say goodbye."

For the last two months, multiple doctors across Brazil have told us they've seen more young people dying of COVID than before.

In Brazil's largest state of Sao Paulo, officials say 60 percent of ICU patients are now between 30 and 50, something Rio de Janeiro doctor Pedro Archer (ph) is seeing, too.

He says, "We have patients now in their thirties and their twenties, severe intubated patients. I think maybe the virus has mutated, become a new strain."

There are new COVID variants here, but experts say there's no proof yet they are more lethal to the young. To explain it, epidemiologists point more to scenes like this. Social gatherings, this one a party from this month, ramped up during

the new year and carnivale holidays. Younger people simply exposed more.

In another video given to CNN this weekend, dozens can be seen streaming out of a party broken up by police. And that's just the illegal staff.

In Rio, bars and restaurants can be open until 9, many taking full advantage.

(on camera): It is crowded out here. It just doesn't feel like you might expect, given that Brazil keeps setting new records for cases and deaths.


(voice-over): Where it does feel like that is this cemetery in Rio de Janeiro. Both young and old end up here. Today, it's a funeral for a 52-year-old COVID victim. There's a lot of services lined up this afternoon. So the family only gets 15 minutes to mourn.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Rio de Janeiro.


HOLMES: Well, the streets of Miami Beach in the U.S. should be clear at this hour because of the curfew. But let's show you the scene just hours ago, with officials attempting to clear people out. Just look at the crowds there.

The resort city has been overrun by massive throngs of spring breakers, many of them unmasked and packed closely together.

Saturday night, police fired pepper balls into what they called out- of-control crowds. More than 1,000 people have been arrested since early February.

The United Kingdom has reported a record number of COVID vaccinations in a single day, at least 840,000 on Saturday. Officials say more than half the adult population has now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Still, they're warning against easing restrictions too soon, noting that cases are still rising in other European nations.

In France, parts of the country have imposed new restrictions after a spike in infections. The government says the measures are necessary to ease pressure on intensive care units, some of which are close to capacity.

Now we have correspondents covering both of these stories. Jim Bittermann following developments in Paris. But let's begin with Phil Black, who has the latest from Essex in England.


different pandemic scenarios playing out in Europe at the moment.

Here in the U.K., the massive vaccination program continues to roll out at pace, with the government announcing it has hit a key milestone. Half the adult population has now received at least one dose, almost 27 million people. And the government believes the Brit (ph) rollout is now being reflected in steadily falling hospital missions and deaths, and it says its plan to largely reopen society within a few months remains on track.

So Brits here are beginning to hope and plan for open pubs and maybe even summer holidays, too.

Meanwhile, within the European Union, the mood is very different. As a new wave of the virus builds momentum, governments are left to wield the same blunt weapons: shutting down regions, telling people to stay at home.

France, Italy, Poland have all implemented tough restrictions. Germany may do so, as well. But for the people living through this, there is the added frustration of knowing it didn't necessarily have to be this way, because the vaccines are out there.

But E.U. member states have not yet secured enough supply to effectively, quickly beat back the virus. The frustrations are so great E.U. officials are talking about implementing a ban on vaccine exports to the United Kingdom.

Phil Black, CNN, Essex, England.



JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was new immediate criticism from several quarters about the government's new COVID restrictions in France. They limit movement in a large new area, here in Paris up to the English Channel and affect about 20 million people.

Many said the new orders were confusing and contradictory. Shortly after a new justification form went into effect, a form which people have to carry around with them in order to go out and about, the government was forced to backtrack and simplify it because of the complaints.

Medical workers here say the new roles were not restrictive enough, given the rapidly rising increase in hospitalizations and infections.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


HOLMES: Now Australia's government has declared a natural disaster in parts of the state of New South Wales. Heavy rain continues to battered the area, causing what's described as a once-in-100-year flooding event in some areas.

This was the scene as thousands of people were forced to evacuate. Several dams in the area are about above capacity.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now with more on this. And this is a pretty unusual event. Right?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. You know, Michael, I was looking into just the rarity of this. And of course, you noted, the one in 100-year event.

And we have a data set here at CNN, where we can access the hottest places in the world at any given point, the coldest places, the windiest, you name it. The wettest locations, incredibly. Nine of the ten wettest places on the entire planet in the last several days have been in Australia.

You look at the top 20, 18 of the top 20 wettest places on our planet have been across portions of Australia. And I don't ever recall seeing such a uniform area of one nation getting persistent wet weather for so many days. And of course, the records speak for themselves.

You take a look. Radar imagery, coast to coast. It's not an isolated spot. There's another very densely-populated region. It's very close toward some of the coastal communities, really from the central and mid-north coast all the way southward towards the Hunter Valley near Sydney. That's what we've seen, rainfall that really initially began on Thursday and hasn't let up much since that point.


And the meteorological conditions are in place here to produce significant rainfall. High pressure offshore. Low pressure dropping farther from the Queensland era, farther towards New South Wales over the next several days.

And in meteorology, they'll always tell you, air likes to flow from high pressure towards low pressure. So you take a look at where high is located, it is offshore, and of course, that is drawing additional moisture in abundance there with another system coming in.

So we're getting significant bouts of rainfall. We call training of storms. It's actually kind of replicating or resembling what you would see on boxcars on a train one after the other. They cruise by an identical spot.

And that's with these storms are doing across a densely-populated region. The rainfall amounts are as incredible as you'll ever see them. Five, six, seven, 800 millimeters in a few observations.

London, just for some comparison, gets about 600 millimeters of rainfall in any given year. These regions, in the past several days since Thursday, have picked up upwards of 800 millimeters. So essentially, a year plus worth of London rainfall there coming down in parts of Australia. So you take a look. Of course, that goes without saying, that the dams

have taken the brunt of what's happened here, reaching capacity or exceeding capacity. Officials there telling us that some 700,000 emergency calls have been received since Thursday as a result of the persistence of these storms, and an additional 750 water rescues and flood rescues have been prompted, as well.

And climatologically, this is the wet season. April, May, this is when you get to see rainfall, but the amounts are equivalent to what you would see in three or four months, as opposed to just one month. And just about 15 centimeters is what it takes here to kind of sweep you off your -- off your feet. You bring that up, Michael, to about 60 centimeters that can move a vehicle.

And people are surprised to learn that water, flowing water, just at 11 kilometers per hour has the same amount of force per unit area as an EF-5 tornado. So if you've ever tried to cross a river, you kind of feel that force on your legs. Incredible that just 11 kilometers per hour makes that as dangerous, as far as force is concerned, as a strong tornado -- Michael.

HOLMES: Wow. I just got an education there. What a -- what a statistic. And more rain than London in a year. I mean, people in London -- and I lived in London for a few years -- would be -- their jaws would be dropping at that. That's extraordinary.

Pedram, thank you. Pedram Javaheri there for us.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, the European Union poised to take action as the death toll mounts in Myanmar. We'll have the latest on the deadly crackdown, coming up.


HOLMES: At least two police vehicles set on fire and two officers seriously injured when a protest turned violent in southwest England. Demonstrators gathering outside a police station in Bristol to rally against a bill in Parliament that would give against a bill in Parliament that would give police new powers to limit the noise and duration of street protests.

Bristol's mayor said he had major concerns about the bill himself, but the clashes could help get the measure passed.

The U.K. home secretary, Priti Patel, tweeted the scenes were unacceptable, and "thuggery and disorder" will never be tolerated.

The European Union will soon approve sanctions on military officials in Myanmar in response to last month's coup and ensuing crackdown against protesters. Demonstrators have remained defiant, despite the ruthless violence by security forces.

Paula Hancocks is in Seoul with the latest.

Paula, good to see you. Tell us more about the E.U. plans, and frankly, whether they're likely to make a difference? PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, what

the E.U. has done is they have said that they're going to be focusing on individuals within the military, and also, the business interests of those within the military.

Now, it's no secret that the military is extremely wealthy, and they are able to -- to withstand a fair few sanctions before it really starts to pinch. What the E.U. said that they would do last month, which they will be carrying through today, this Monday, is the exact names, and entities, that they are going to be sanctioning.

It will be put through the foreign ministers from the E.U. block, and then they will decide whether or not to approve them.

Now, the U.S. has already approved its sanctions. They have already pinpointed certain generals that they are sanctioning. They've frozen assets, as well, within the U.S. funds. And they've -- they've also targeted some of the better known military state-run businesses that funnel money through to the military.

The U.K. has done something similar, praising assets and putting travel bans on the generals themselves. And this is something that those on the ground, protesters, activists, those pushing for sanctions has been calling for.

So the international condemnation is wonderful, but it's not enough. Actions have to be in the shape of targeted sanctions, and they have to financially hurt the generals and -- and restrict our ability to be able to operate and bring more weapons in.

We heard this from Tom Andrews just over the weekend. The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar saying that we have to cut access to money and to weapons -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And meanwhile, what about -- we're looking at images of the protests as they continue on. What about these reports of the military actually forcing civilians to dismantle checkpoints?

HANCOCKS: Yes. This is something that we have eyewitness accounts of. We've spoken to many people on the ground. There are also images that are coming out of the country, showing that the military appears to be, in some cases, taking people out of their cars at gunpoint or forcing them to help them to break down barricades in the roads, the roadblocks that protesters have put up.

And it's -- it is a worrying trend. It's a dehumanizing trend that we're seeing from the military, forcing people in the streets to work for them and work with them against the protests.

Now, there has been some parallels drawn between what the military has been known to do in the ethnic areas, which was, sometimes, reportedly using people as human shields, walking through dangerous areas, making sure that the local residents went ahead of them to give them some kind of protection through minefields, for example.

So, this is really what we're starting to see in the cities now. We know some of those platoons that we're working in the ethnic areas are now, in the cities themselves. And it's something that has been widely condemned. This use of the public to do the military's work -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Paula, thanks. Paula Hancocks there in Seoul for us.

Now, Americans are taking part in solidarity marches, rallies, and vigils across the country, showing their support for the Asian community after those deadly spa shootings in the state of Georgia.

Demonstrators chanting "Stop Asian Hate" marched in New York, and hundreds gathered here in Atlanta to honor the victims and condemn violence against Asian Americans.

A gunman targeted three Atlanta area spas last week, killing eight people. Six of them were Asian women.




HOLMES: Several Korean church congregations gathered outside one of those spas in Atlanta on Sunday, holding a Korean language service in honor of the victims. One of the pastors said the incident was clearly a hate crime.



BYEONG CHEOL HAN, PASTOR, KOREAN CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: It's an awakening moment for Asian Americans to stand strong, stand up and raise our voice, and participate in social justice movement.


HOLMES: Hate crimes against Asians have spiked both in the United States but also around the world. In the U.K., figures from the London Metropolitan Police force show more than 200 incidents of hate crimes against people of East Asian appearance between June and September last year. That's up 96 percent compared to the year prior.

In the U.S., hate crimes against Asians jumped almost 150 percent last year in 16 of America's largest cities. That's from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

CNN's Randi Kaye takes a look at some of the hate crimes against Asian Americans around the U.S. since the coronavirus pandemic began.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In San Francisco last month, at the edge of Chinatown, a 67-year-old Asian man is suddenly ambushed in a laundromat.

Surveillance video shows the terrifying moments as he's dragged to the ground. The attack comes just after police increased patrols in the area, following attacks in Oakland's Chinatown.

Oakland's Chinatown is where this 91-year-old Asian man was shoved to the ground. Watch as his attacker rushes him from behind. Police quickly identify the male suspect, who was involved in two other assaults on elderly people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have charged him with three counts of assault.

KAYE: In New York, this Filipino American believes he was targeted because of his race. His attacker slashing him across the face with a box cutter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He slashed me from cheek to cheek.

KAYE: It all happened on the New York City subway during the morning rush.


KAYE: Early in the pandemic, this Asian man was also harassed on the New York subway. And when he didn't move, the suspect sprayed him in the face with Febreze.

In San Francisco, this 84-year-old Thai immigrant died after he was pushed to the ground in January. He was simply was on his morning walk when an unprovoked attacker charged him from across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He never wake up again. I never see him again.

KAYE: A 19-year-old is now charged in his death with murder and elder abuse.

In Los Angeles, 27-year-old Danny Kim says he was randomly punched in the face by two strangers.

DANNY KIM, ASSAULTED BY STRANGERS: Two assailants approached me. They were hurling racial slurs. They were calling me "chink," "ching- chong," "Chinese virus."

KAYE: While not all of these have been ruled hate crimes as of now, they do contribute to a disturbing wave of violence against Asian Americans. It spurred on many in the Asian community and beyond to rally in an effort to stop the hate.

At a demonstration in New York City last month, some spoke openly of fear.

WILL LEX HAM, NEW YORK CITY RESIDENT: Many of my family members are living in fear and anxiety.

KAYE: Others pointed fingers.

PEARL SUN, NEW YORK CITY RESIDENT: I think the rhetoric from our previous administration was definitely the catalyst for all of this.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's got all different names. Wuhan. Yes, Wuhan was catching on. Coronavirus, right? Kung Flu? Yes.

KAYE: There have also been attacks on property. Asian-owned businesses have been hit and robbed, too.

And out in the open, in restaurants, bold-faced racism.



KAYE: In some communities, it's come down to neighbors protecting neighbors. After some in this California community threw rocks and hurled insults at an Asian couple's home, neighbors set up camp. Standing guard in shifts to keep the couple safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They see us, and they turn around.

KAYE: Standing strong, together, in the face of hate.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


HOLMES: Eric Nam, a Korean American singer/songwriter and K-pop star from Atlanta, wrote an opinion piece for This one really part of it. It said, "Let's be very clear: we have always been pleading for your help, perhaps more than ever over the past year. You did not listen. You did not hear us. Police hear us now because being silent now is being complicit."

And Eric Nam joins me now from Los Angeles. And thanks for doing so. I mean, so now, there is this big conversation in the U.S. about violence and racism, directed at Asians. But, you know, as you said, it's been a long time coming, hasn't it? There have been plenty of warning signs.

ERIC NAM, KOREAN-AMERICAN SINGER-SONGWRITER: Yes, absolutely. I think, if anything over the past year, we have been the loudest we have ever been. We have been asking for allies to stand with us and to fight with us.

And unfortunately, all the warning signs, they kind of went unnoticed. They kind of landed on deaf ears. And it's taken such an incredibly tragic and horrific event for this to really hit international and national news in a -- in a really targeted way. And so it's really heartbreaking, and I wish that this could have been done in better situations, but this is where we are right now.

HOLMES: You were born and raised here in Atlanta, where those brutal murders happened. So -- so that literally hits close to home for you. Have you personally encountered the sorts of things that are now being discussed?

NAM: Yes. I was born and raised in Atlanta, and I think, you know, myself, and a lot of Asian American AAPI, members of the community across the nation have probably witnessed and experienced a lot of the hate that we are seeing, that is being brought to the forefront of the conversation right now.

I think it comes from a place of ignorance, and it comes from a lack of education, and a lack of discourse. But absolutely, myself, as I kind of alluded to in my -- my op-ed piece, there are so many moments where I felt targeted or discriminated against, or you know, things that can also be very casually racist, where it's is this racist? I don't think it is, but I'm not quite sure how to identify it. And we've never really had that conversation.

HOLMES: I mean, the article, I've urged people to read it on, you wrote, very forcefully -- I'll just read one line. You said, "As AAPIs, we have been excluded, interned, vilified, emasculated, fetishized, and murdered."

And you spoke about Asian Americans feeling like perpetual foreigners. I found that sad but -- but interesting to explain that, and how it manifests in day-to-day life.

NAM: Yes. I think, you know, the American -- the United States has a very incredible history, but also a very dark history. And a large part of the Asian American experience has -- has had a lot of points and moments of that darkness that we've kind of swept under the rug, that we haven't really properly addressed.

I think from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the Japanese-American internment, there are just so many moments of history that we can point to and discuss, but in the sense of the perpetual foreigner, you know, I think it can be as casual as, like, Where are you from? Where are you really from?

For me, it's always Atlanta. But it's as if I'm not from there. And this is still a very common phrase, like, Why is your English so good? Where did you learn English?

These types of things are -- my -- English is my first language. But in many ways, it makes me feel as if, do I not belong here. Why am I here? And how do I identify it? And I think this is something that so many of us in the community have -- have dealt with our entire lives. And I think that's why so much of this racism can also be very casual, and it -- it can kind of sneak up on us in many ways.

HOLMES: Yes. My former co-anchor, Amara Walker, is -- is Korean- American, and she's spoken of exactly those sorts of things that you've just spoken about. You work in Korea, as well, around the world, I mean. You're pretty big in the K-pop world. What's been the reaction in Asia to what's been happening to Asians in America?

NAM: Yes. You know, honestly, I'm not there at the moment, so it's hard for me to really get a pulse of what people are feeling, what the sentiment is. What I do think is a general kind of consensus. What a lot of people

are feeling is fear. And a hesitancy to think of America in a -- in the most positive way for obvious reasons.

I think when people say, I'm going to go study in the states, or I'm going to go visit the states, for years, it's kind of been this thing of, Are you sure? It's a little unsafe. I'm -- I hope you have a safe trip. Or do you have to go?

And I think this kind of -- These instances are really rekindling and kind of adding fuel to the fire in terms of that sentiment, which is, I think, very, very unfortunate, considering that I believe, and I truly love this country, the United States of America, and so much of what it has offered to the world and the beauty of what the United States of America is. And to see it kind of shown in that light has been really, really disheartening.

HOLMES: It's a powerful message. It is sad that you have to deliver it. But -- but a powerful one and well made in that op-ed.

Eric Nam, our pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much.

NAM: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: Now Monday, CNN brings you a one-hour special. Amara Walker, Victor Blackwell, Ana Cabrera, and Anderson Cooper will look at this disturbing trend: violent acts against people of color. "AFRAID: FEAR IN AMERICA'S COMMUNITIES OF COLOR" airs Monday at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. That's 9 a.m. Tuesday in Hong Kong.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now in a surprise visit to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressed some lingering questions about the U.S. military presence in the region, which we discussed here at this time yesterday.

He was asked whether the Taliban had met conditions to ensure a U.S. troop withdrawal by May the first. That is a date agreed upon with the Trump administration last year. This was his response.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A process of reviewing the conditions have been met or not met is -- is ongoing. It's obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country. We'd really like to see that violence come down. And I think if it does come down, we can begin to set the conditions for, you know, some really fruitful diplomatic work.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: CNN's Barbara Starr with more from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Amid a very tough security situation, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin making an unannounced visit for several hours to Afghanistan to talk to Afghan leaders there about the situation in that war-torn country.

Austin said he was not there to discuss the May 1 deadline in particular, the Trump negotiated deadline for all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan, but he was there more to listen to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and hear about his concerns.

Nonetheless, Austin, when talking to reporters, did not take the opportunity to specifically endorse the May 1 deadline negotiated by the Trump administration. Have a listen to what the secretary had to say.

AUSTIN: In terms of an end date or setting a specific date for a withdrawal, that's -- that's the domain of my boss. That's the -- the decision that the president will make at some point in time, in terms of how he wants to approach this going forward.

STARR (voice-over): President Biden has already indicated that he may not adhere to the May 1 deadline. No decisions, we are told, have been made. One option we're hearing being discussed is a potential six- month extension for U.S. troops in that country.

We do know that many military leaders in the Pentagon would like to see some type of U.S. capability there in Afghanistan, or in the nearby areas, quickly able to move in if they do have to conduct continuing counter-terrorism missions against ISIS, or even still, al- Qaeda.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOLMES: With another contested election in Israel happening on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking to appeal to the country's Arab minority. Now, they make up about 20 percent of the population, a significant voting bloc.

Now he told an interviewer on Sunday that he will bring direct flights for Israel's Muslim pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca, even though there's not an international airport in Mecca.

It is a shift in strategy for the prime minister in the latest tight race where every vote will be crucial.

Hadas Gold with our report.


HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Benjamin Netanyahu has been crisscrossing the country ahead of Israel's fourth election in just under two years, hammering the message that he's the one that turned the start-up nation into the vaccination nation and brought historic peace agreements with Arab countries.

With his corruption trial now underway, Netanyahu is desperate to win enough seats in Tuesday's election to remain in power.

On the ground, this election is almost entirely staked on whether voters are for Netanyahu or against him.

Yair Lapid, a smooth-talking former television anchor, sits out in front among the anti-Bibi block. His centrist Yesh Atid party looks set for a strong showing. The approach is low-key, refusing to rise to Netanyahu's provocations until finally issuing a challenge to a TV dual.


GRAPHIC: You said I was your opponent. So come and face me.

GOLD: Out on the streets, it's hard to miss those who want the leader gone.

(on camera): The ani-Netanyahu camp up and down the country is passionate, dedicated and loud, having weekly protests here in Jerusalem against the prime minister. But it's not clear if the energy will translate into the actual numbers that they need to form a cohesive opposition that could unseat Netanyahu.

(voice-over): The big challenge for the opposition is stitching together left and right. One of Netanyahu's former cabinet ministers, Gideon Sa'ar, broke off to form a party called New Hope, claiming he's the true bastion of the Israeli right.

But Sa'ar's support has ebbed after a strong start.

Then there's Naftali Bennett, another former Netanyahu lieutenant whose Yamina Party may end up holding the keys to Netanyahu's future. Their seats could help put Netanyahu over the 61-seat majority he needs to hold onto power. Or, by joining the opposition, they could be the ones to sink him.

Despite the many challengers, protests, a corruption case in which he has pled not guilty, not to mention his fourth election campaign in almost two years, Netanyahu presses on. One of his most loyal aides explains it like this.

TZACHI HANEGBI, MEMBER OF KNESSET: The knowledge that you have to learn from your own mistakes in order to get better. And the feeling, the inner feeling that you are there because God sent you to save the people of Israel, and to lead them in troubled times. I think this is the power and support of the people.

GOLD: Hadas Gold, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: And still to come here on the program, weeks after that explosive interview from the duke and duchess of Sussex, hear how Buckingham Palace might be addressing the issue of diversity. That's when we come back.






HOLMES: What you're watching there is how some Iraqi Kurds are celebrating Nowruz, the Persian new year, as well as the beginning of the northern spring.

In addition to the fireworks, festival goers carrying burning torches gathered at the summit of Mount Aqrah.

This year's festivities much more subdued, of course, due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 300 million people celebrate Nowruz around the world.

Buckingham Palace admits the royal family needs to do more to address diversity, and a source tells CNN a diversity chief is a possibility. This coming week after Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah Winfrey, where they claim that at least one member of the royal family had made racist remarks.

CNN's Anna Stewart reports from London.


ANNA STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Days after Oprah Winfrey's interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the queen released a statement saying the royal family were concerned about issues raised, but they wanted to deal with it privately as a family.

Of course, though, there is much more to the royal family than its family members, there's the whole institution around it. And while we haven't had confirmation that a diversity chief will be appointed, we did get this statement from a royal source, saying diversity is an issue which is being taken very seriously across the royal households.

We have the policies, the procedures, the programs in place. But we haven't seen the progress we would like in terms of representation, and more needs to be done. We can always improve.

A clear acknowledgment there that's going to be welcomed by all those who found the issues raised by that interview concerning.

Also, this statement really highlights the complexity of the royal family. Yes there's a family at the top of it. There's also the institution, the hundreds of employees that work for them and for people like Prince Harry and Meghan, who are working members of the royal family, they really fit into both categories. And yet they felt unsupported by both.

Anna Stewart, CNN, outside Buckingham Palace in London.


HOLMES: Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. I'll be back in about 15 minutes with our top stories. Meanwhile, WORLD SPORT coming your way next.