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CNN NEWSROOM

AstraZeneca Given 48 Hours To Clear Up Efficacy Claims; Political Stalemate In Israel's Election But Netanyahu Claims Victory; Colorado Shooter: A Muslim American Isolated; Biden Calls For Ban On Assault Weapons; Brazil's Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of COVID Restrictions Set By States; Myanmar In Silent Protest After Death Of Seven-Year-Old; Large Container Ship Stuck in Suez Canal; U.S. Secretary of State Blinken Meeting with NATO Leaders; Ethiopian Leader Confirms Eritrean Troops in Tigray; Houthi Rebels Reject New Saudi Ceasefire Proposal; Investigation Finds Shocking Police Torture in Belarus; Devastating Fire at Rohingya Camp. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[01:00:00]

JOHN VAUSE, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Once again setting the stage for a political gridlock. A result Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a huge victory.

Forty-eight hours to get it right. AstraZeneca's race against time to show it did not cherry-pick data and make misleading claims over the effectiveness of its COVID vaccine.

And surely they've suffered enough by now. A deadly fire has swept through a Rohingya refugee camp. Another devastating blow for an ethnic group already victims of genocide.

For the fourth time in two years, it appears Israeli voters have opted for more of the same. Eternal political gridlock, it seems.

Votes are still being counted, official results are still days away or longer but according to exit polls, with a projected 30 seats, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud will have the most seats in the next parliament.

The main opposition, Yesh Atid party, predicted to take 18 seats. A total of 61 seats are needed for governing majority; 53 are pro- Netanyahu, 52 firmly anti-Netanyahu.

Which leaves two parties, the right wing Yamina and the Joint List made up of the Arab party groupings to join either bloc to form a coalition.

Despite the political stalemate which seems likely to continue, Benjamin Netanyahu is claiming victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL (Through Translator): Tonight, we brought a great achievement. We brought Likud to be the biggest party in Israel by far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Joining us, Elliott Gotkine live in Jerusalem for us this hour.

OK. So the situation now gets a little complicated because the president will meet with the party leaders, decide who he thinks has the best chance of forming a coalition, tap them to do the job and that's when all the political horse trading begins.

But for Benjamin Netanyahu, this is about a lot more than just forming a government, this could sort of determine his fate when it comes to a whole host of corruption charges he's facing.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Well, John, his corruption trial is due to resume at the evidentiary stage in just a couple of weeks' time. So that's certainly one thing on his mind.

But make no mistake, Netanyahu's been very firmly focused on winning re-election.

Yes, perhaps he believes that being prime minister will give him greater cover for those corruption trials that he's facing. But at the same time, he is Israel's longest serving leader and he still believes that he is the best man for the job.

And I can tell you, John, that since we last spoke, we've actually been getting official results trickling through, about two-thirds of the vote has now been counted.

And according to that vote count, what it suggests is that the pro- Netanyahu bloc has 56 seats at the moment, and the anti-Netanyahu bloc has 51 seats.

Now if you add in the right-wing Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett, that pushes Netanyahu over the line with 63 seats and if Yamina were to go with the anti-Netanyahu bloc, it would only get them up to 58 seats.

Now there is a kind of wildcard in this which is the United Arab list -- sorry, the United Joint -- the Joint Arab List, I beg your pardon -- which is at the moment on six seats. And if they were in theory to join the anti-Netanyahu bloc then that could give them a slightly larger share of the seats in the Knesset.

But no Arab party has ever joined a governing coalition, so that seems very unlikely.

VAUSE: These numbers are just fascinating when they come in and sort of working out how these coalitions might or may not work.

Naftali Bennett has a very sort of torrid relationship with Netanyahu, if you like, they were once close, they now despise each other.

So what are the chances that he will actually agree to forming a coalition with Netanyahu because he doesn't sit naturally with the anti-Netanyahu group?

GOTKINE: Well, Naftali Bennett, ideologically at least, as you say, would seem like a natural fit for a pro-Netanyahu government, a right wing government that is broadly pro-settler and also kind of liberal in its outlook in terms of the economy at least.

Naftali Bennett would also be perfectly -- sit perfectly happily with the religious parties in the pro-Netanyahu bloc.

The only thing is that Bennett didn't agree, he refused to agree to sign up to this pre-bloc-agreement that all the religious parties have done with Netanyahu so he's been more circumspect.

He hasn't ruled out sitting with a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the way that say the other right wing New Hope's leader Gideon Saar has but he hasn't -- what he has done is ruled out sitting in a government led by Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid.

So still more confusing but Bennett has sat with Netanyahu before so he could do it again.

VAUSE: And then we're in a situation where this the fourth time we've had this kind of gridlock, if you like.

Assuming that they form a coalition which they have done in the past but it just doesn't last, does that then mean, what, a fifth election? Very quickly.

[01:05:00]

GOTKINE: Well, if a governing coalition were to collapse then yes. There is a possibility of going to further elections. All party leaders say that that is certainly something they don't want to see.

And President Reuven Rivlin when he was voting yesterday was lamenting the fact that we keep going through all these elections.

And as you say, what he'll do is he will -- once the final results are in, he will canvass the party leaders to see who they recommend to be prime minister. And then he will likely tap the person that has most party leaders and thereby most seats, in support of his coalition.

And given the way the numbers seem to be right now with some two- thirds of the vote counted, it seems likely that that person would be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

VAUSE: He may do it yet again (ph). Elliott, thank you. Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem. Appreciate it.

We head to Boulder, Colorado now where police have released the names of all 10 victims of that mass shooting at a grocery store.

Among them, twenty-five year old, Rikki Olds, the manager at the supermarket. Her uncle says she was energetic, charismatic, a shining light in a dark world. Two others aged 20 and 51, also worked at the supermarket. The first police officer on scene, 51-year-old Eric Talley among the dead. The other victims ranged in age up to 65.

Police still do not know why the 21-year-old suspect went on a shooting rampage. He's charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. His first court appearance is on Thursday.

We have more now from CNN's Kyung Lah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNKNOWN: The entire building is surrounded.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the officers first made their way, and they confronted the gunman 21-year old Ahmad Alissa. The arrest warrant he was walking to SWAT officers to surrender.

He'd been shot in the leg. Removed a green tactical vest, all of his clothing except for shorts. The affidavit says he had two weapons, an AR-style rifle and a handgun, one of them purchased just six days before the shooting.

The affidavit says the suspect did not answer questions, though he asked to speak to his mother.

MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, BOULDER, COLORADO: I know that there's an extensive investigation just getting underway into his background. He's lived most of his life in the United States and beyond that, we're still in the very early stages of the investigation.

LAH: The family immigrated from Syria in 2002. The gunman's brother says Alissa struggled with mental illness, growing increasingly paranoid.

On his now removed Facebook account, Alissa wrote a year after graduating from high school, "I believe my old school was hacking my phone."

A high school friend says Alissa was bullied in high school for being Muslim, something that he resented.

DAMIEN CRUZ, SCHOOL FRIEND OF THE ALLEGED SHOOTER: People chose not to mess with him because of his temper. People chose not to really talk to him because of all -- how he acted and things like that.

So yeah, he was very alone, I'd say. But when he was with you, he was approachable.

Alissa's brother said he never knew him to own guns. Law enforcement did recover additional weapons from the gunman's home.

UNKNOWN (Captioned): 136, there are multiple shots being fired at us.

LAH: Witnesses first heard shots in the parking lot around 2:30 in the afternoon. Anna Haynes lives across the street from King Soopers grocery store.

ANNA HAYNES, WITNESS: I also saw the gunman himself holding a semi- automatic rifle. He was on the handicap rail to the entrance of the store.

LAH: Newly-released arrest documents say witnesses saw the suspect fatally shoot at least two people in the parking lot, a man in a vehicle and an elderly man.

Store employees say they watched through a window as a gunman walked up to the elderly man, stood over him and shot him multiple additional times.

UNKNOWN (Captioned): He's armed with a rifle. Our officers shot back and returned fire -- we do not know where he is in the store.

LAH: The first officer to confront the gunman was killed, shot in the head as the shooter continued to roam the store busy with shoppers and people waiting to be vaccinated in the store.

STEVEN MCCUE, GRANDCHILDREN WERE INSIDE THE STORE DURING SHOOTING: That's when at least one shooter came in and killed the woman at the front of the line in front of him.

They ran upstairs to hide, they hit in a coat closet standing up for 45 minutes.

LAH: As the gunman was led away, 10 lay dead at the store.

MARIS HEROLD, POLICE, BOULDER, COLORADO: Officer Eric Talley, 51.

LAH: One by one, the police chief spelled out all the names of the 10 victims including her own officer, Eric Talley.

HEROLD: This officer had seven children ages 5 to 18. I just had that officer's whole family in my office two weeks ago to give him an award. And so it is personal, this is my community.

LAH (Voice Over): Kyung Lah. CNN, Boulder, Colorado.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And once again, there are calls for the U.S. Congress to act on gun reform. Previous efforts, though, in the wake of mass shootings have ended in frustration.

This time, though, President Joe Biden says he wants to see real progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future. And I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.

[01:10:00]

We can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country once again. We can close the loopholes in our background check system including the Charleston loophole.

The United States Senate -- I hope some are listening -- should immediately pass the two House pass bills that close loopholes in the background check system.

These are bills -- they received votes from both Republicans and Democrats in the house. This is not -- it should not be a partisan issue, this is an American issue.

It will save lives, American lives. And we have to act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The killing spree in Boulder, Colorado the sixth mass shooting in the U.S. this year in which at least four people or more were killed.

Just a week ago, a gunman killed eight people at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area.

In a sudden change in tone and substance, Brazil's president has announced this will be the year of vaccinations, promising a return to normality very soon.

Jair Bolsonaro defended his response to the pandemic even as cases are soaring and the deadly death toll has reached an all-time high.

We hear more now from CNN's Matt Rivers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, another brutal day for Brazil on Tuesday with health officials announcing yet another single day record had been set for the most coronavirus deaths recorded.

More than 3,200 deaths recorded by officials here on Tuesday. That's the highest such figure so far and it's the first time since this pandemic began that Brazil has recorded more than 3,000 deaths from the virus in a single day.

Part of the reason that is so high is because of what is happening in the state where we are right now, the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest state.

Health officials here announced on Tuesday that more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths had been recorded. That's the first time since this pandemic began that they've recorded more than 1,000 deaths.

And it's roughly 50 percent higher than the previous single-day record which had been set last week.

Meanwhile, news out of Brazil's supreme court where President Jair Bolsonaro had brought a case against several state governors from across the country. These governors had put in place lockdown measures to try and stop COVID-19 from spreading as rapidly as it is right now.

Bolsonaro had argued that only he had the power to put in place certain measures. But the supreme court basically threw out that case ruling in favor of those governors.

The supreme court saying in part, quote: "A totalitarian vision is not appropriate in a democracy like Brazil." And that the president is responsible for the, quote, "larger leadership, the coordination of efforts aimed at the well-being of Brazilians."

RIVERS (On Camera): Matt Rivers, CNN, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, Germany will enter a hard five-day lockdown over the Easter holiday to combat a new wave of COVID infections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the announcement Tuesday as the country reported nearly 7,500 new cases and 250 deaths in a day.

Almost all businesses must close over the five days. Merkel is warning the country's current restrictions just are not enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (Through Translator): And that is why the 1st and 3rdof April will be designated one off quiet days with extensive contact restrictions as well as a ban on gatherings between the 1st and 5th of April, an extended quiet time over Easter.

The point is that over five consecutive days people should stay at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: A general lockdown in Germany will be extended through mid- April.

French president Emmanuel Macron is making it his priority to speed up vaccinations as the country faces a third COVID wave.

Starting this weekend, anyone over 70 in France will receive the COVID vaccine, if they want one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (Through Translator): Vaccination is a national priority. There are no public holidays or weekends for the vaccination campaign.

We have to vaccinate as much as possible in the vaccination centers open at the national level. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: France has had a difficult vaccine rollout so far. The head of the country's Hospital Federation warns that hospitals could face an unprecedented shock in coming weeks if the number of confirmed infections continues to rise.

Well, just days after the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine got its latest green right from European regulators, it's once again coming under criticism.

This time not for safety but rather on how effective it really is. A U.S. review board says the pharmaceutical company released data which was outdated.

On Monday, AstraZeneca claimed its vaccine is 79 percent effective against preventing COVID symptoms, 100 percent effective when it comes to severe disease.

But the senior U.S. expert says outdated information will not help boost vaccine confidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It really is unfortunate that this happens. This is really what you call an unforced error because the fact is this is very likely a very good vaccine.

[01:15:00]

And this kind of thing does, as you say, do nothing but really cast some doubt about the vaccines and maybe contribute to the hesitancy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: AstraZeneca is planning to apply for emergency use authorization in the U.S. early next month.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner is a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

He joins us now. Dr. Reiner, thanks for being with us.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's my pleasure, John. Thank you.

VAUSE: OK. Here's part of a brief statement released Tuesday by AstraZeneca. Maybe you can translate it for us.

"The numbers published yesterday were based on a pre-specified interim analysis with a data cut-off of 17 February. We have reviewed the preliminary assessment of the primary analysis, and the results were consistent with the interim analysis. We are now completing the validation of the statistical analysis." OK, bottom line. Did they or did they not cherry pick data using the

most favorable as opposed to the most recent; it's pretty much either a yes or a no answer, isn't it?

REINER: Yes, this is really unfortunate. So let me drill down, the bottom line is this.

It appears that AstraZeneca publicly presented data, top line data, on Monday which was locked at about the middle of February. That data did not include events that occurred after that cut off day, over the last month or so.

The Data Safety Monitoring Board, the independent panel of advisers who monitor clinical trials, objected to not including any subsequent events in the final presentation. And that's what the whole row is about.

Because new cases in either arm can affect either the safety or the efficacy analysis, and that's what the DSMB wanted presented. And that's what we're now promised over the next couple of days.

VAUSE: And this is being described as sort of an unforced error by AstraZeneca.

REINER: Yes.

VAUSE: Not being their first. That's a point that Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's School of Public Health tweeted about.

He said -- he tweeted: "From everything I know, the AstraZeneca vaccine is a good vaccine. From everything I know AstraZeneca's incompetence at communicating trial results working with regulatory agencies, et cetera, is stunning."

And (inaudible) to that point last year when trials in the U.S. were suspended because two volunteers fell ill. It took AstraZeneca seven weeks to get information to regulators so those trials could resume.

But at the end of the day, vaccine makers all know success will rise and fall on public trust.

And given all the problems this company has already had -- when the most recent data, according to "The Washington Post" shows an efficacy of between 69 and 74 percent (ph), why use the old data to get that number to 79 percent as claimed in Monday's press release? It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

REINER: It doesn't make any sense to me either, sort of gilding a lily.

Look, this vaccine has been beset with unforced errors from the beginning. There were concerns about cases of transverse myelitis early on in the fall which did cause the European trial and the U.S. trial to be put on hold, the U.S. trial for several weeks as you said.

More recently there have been questions about blood clots. Again, the World Health Organization now saying they are confident it is not a problem but several countries in Europe, again, put on hold the use of this vaccine.

And now we see this confusion with top-line efficacy and safety data from the U.S. trial.

Also at the very beginning, there was a problem in their pivotal trial with the dosing of their vaccines, actually a fortuitous mistake which led to an understanding that a reduced first dose followed by a full dose second dose would result in the best outcomes.

This confusion has really set this vaccine back months.

There's a big question whether any person in the United States will ever see this vaccine as the United States has enough of the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for 400 million Americans.

Of course there are only 330 million Americans. So it's yet to be seen whether the AstraZeneca vaccine will ever go into the arms of Americans.

VAUSE: And that's a big issue. Because of all the problems so far, FDA approval was seen almost as a chance of redemption for AstraZeneca.

Keep in mind many saw the vaccine as potentially a global workhorse against COVID-19. It was going to be sold at cost, no profit, made cheaply, easily and quickly.

So there is a lot hanging in the balance right now not just for the drug maker but for everyone else.

REINER: Right. We need to not just vaccinate the industrial world, we need to vaccinate the entire world. And we need vaccines that are not only affordable but which are easily transportable.

[01:20:00]

And the AstraZeneca vaccine just needs an ordinary refrigerator and is stable there for many months.

So this is one of the vaccines that most people thought would be ideal for most parts of the world.

Even with all the flawed communication, this vaccine is almost certainly a very fine vaccine and should be used around the world.

And the 60 million doses that are basically just sitting waiting to go into arms can save lives outside the United States and should be shipped outside the United States if we're not going to use it.

VAUSE: And very quickly, that seems to be the tragedy of all of this. It is a safe, it is an effective vaccine, it has problems with everything else around it but the vaccine itself is actually pretty darn good. REINER: This is a good vaccine. The company has stumbled badly but

this vaccine cannot be relegated to the dustbin, it has to be administered to folks around the world. And the company needs really to get their act together.

BIDEN: And they have about 48 hours to do that so we'll see if they can. A lot is riding on that.

So Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you. Good to see you.

REINER: Good to see you, John. Take care.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM. Why the White House isn't too concerned by North Korea's first known weapons test in a year.

Also the sound of silence in Myanmar. We'll have the latest act of defiance by pro-democracy demonstrators.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: According to Seoul, North Korea conducted its first known weapons test in about a year on Sunday, launching two Cruise missiles.

The White House though has described it as a low-end threat.

More now from CNN's Selina Wang following the story live in Tokyo.

So why is the White House so casual and relaxed and dismissive about this weapons test?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's because this test was widely expected. U.S. officials have called it part of, quote, normal testing. Experts have called it fairly routine and a mild response to the recent military drill between the U.S. and South Korea.

And really, the key piece of information here is that according to one senior administration official, they told CNN that North Korea had launched short range projectiles, not ballistic missiles.

And that key distinction helps explain why the Biden Administration does not see this as a serious breach, it helps to explain why the U.S. says this isn't going to stop America from pursuing diplomacy with North Korea.

Now listen here to what Biden had to say earlier to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: On North Korea, sir, do you consider that to be a real provocation by North Korea (inaudible)?

BIDEN: No. According to the Defense Department, it's business as usual. There's no new -- there's no new wrinkle in what they did.

UNKNOWN: Does it affect diplomacy at all? (END VIDEO CLIP)

[01:25:00]

WANG: Now North Korea, John, does normally pursue some type of very provocative action ahead of new administrations. And both the U.S. and South Korea, notably there were similar tests that were done around when Trump and Obama came into office.

And experts have noted that this was actually less of a provocation than during previous administrations.

In terms of the timing here, this also does come as Biden is outlining his administration's policy towards North Korea, it could be coming out publicly in just a matter of weeks.

And the expectation is that Biden is going to take a different approach from his predecessors. You had Trump who was taking a very top down approach to meet directly with the leader. Then on the other hand, Obama refused engagement unless North Korea changed its behavior.

We know that Biden is going to try and push through a multilateral strategy working with allies in the region. We know that this topic was discussed during the meetings here in Japan as well as in South Korea.

But experts say this is going to be difficult and challenging partly because China which is probably best positioned to influence North Korea appears to be less willing to play that active diplomatic role that it played in the past.

So, John, something for us to watch is the role that China is going to play in all of this as the U.S. increasingly sees the country as an adversary.

VAUSE: Selina, thank you. Selina Wang there in Tokyo.

Well, protesters in Myanmar have called for a silent strike on Wednesday. And images from Myanmar show businesses which are closed, residents staying indoors.

This nationwide strike is in response to a death of a seven-year-old girl who was shot and killed by security forces. She was sitting on her father's lap inside her home.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul this hour with more details.

It does appear -- if you look at all those images from Myanmar -- that the place seems deserted.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John, yes. This silent strike is certainly what everyone is calling for today. And it does appear as though many are taking note of it.

We are seeing social media images of just deserted streets at the moment, one of the groups saying that silence is the loudest scream.

So this is really another way of showing their displeasure at what is happening that calls for the democratically elected government to be brought back into power, for detainees to be released and of course, for protesters to be able to peacefully protest without being shot.

Now you did mention there the seven-year-old girl. Now according to local media, "Myanmar Now," this particular girl who they name as Khin Myo Chit was in her father's arms when security forces came to their house and broke the door down, according to relatives.

And at that point they asked the father if everybody was at home. When he said they were, the security forces did not believe him and shot at the father, hitting the girl instead.

Now we have spoken to the doctor who treated the girl and he said that she was in fact shot in the stomach and corroborated what the family had said.

And this is just one in a string of minors that we're hearing about being caught up in the violence in Myanmar at this point. Save The Children have issued a statement saying they were horrified that children continue to be among the targets of these fatal attacks in peaceful protests -- also referencing the report of the seven-year-old saying she should have been safe within her own home.

Also the advocacy group, AAPP, condemning what has happened in this case. Saying that from their count at this point, at least 275 people have been killed at this point.

But again, what we are hearing from activists on the ground and people on the ground is that there is a very real fear that the death toll is actually far higher.

John.

BIDEN: Yes. Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks live in Seoul with the very latest. Thank you.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, a huge container ship stuck in the Suez Canal blocking traffic from both directions. The very latest in a live report from Abu Dhabi.

When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:31:24]

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause.

Right now one of the world's busiest waterways is at a standstill -- a large container ship stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking vessels from both directions.

CNN's John Defterios is following developments from Abu Dhabi.

Ok. How does a ship get stuck in the Suez Canal?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGIN MARKETS EDITOR: I thought you'd come up with a question like that, John.

I'll tell you, this is the closest thing you could have to a pile of ships, particularly in the Suez Canal which is one of the busiest, as you suggested, in the world here.

It's not too complicated. The Ever Given is 400 meters long which is a huge ship built in 2018. The Evergreen Marine was suggesting, the ship owner, that the strong winds here blew it horizontally to the Suez Canal.

This was on route, according to the marine company, from China to Rotterdam. Now, apparently there's a bunch of tugboats here trying to shift it around, but you have a couple of choices here. You either use the tugboats which are struggling to dislodge it from the sand bank or you have to dredge or dig it out which is extraordinary.

This happened about 24 hours ago. And as a result, the vessels going both northbound and southbound into the Suez Canal are backed up, right. So this could have a knock on effect depending on how long it takes to dislodge the vessel.

But it's extraordinary because some of the social media pictures show people looking and gaping at the vessel from the sidelines of the Suez Canal, even the pictures emerging right now on social media.

But this vessel is long, it's almost as long as is the Empire State Building's tall. So it's pretty extraordinary to see this in the canal today.

VAUSE: How much longer will the Suez Canal be blocked? I think what -- there's dozens, maybe 100 of those ships or so waiting to, I'd say use the Suez Canal to go from any of these nations to the Mediterranean.

So how long will this take to unblock? And what's the implications if it goes on for some period of time?

DEFTERIOS: Well, the canal usually handles about 50 vessels a day, right. So if you can see this taking two or three days, right, then you have a real problem.

We're getting early indications that it had an influence on the oil market for example, which was pummeling lower here because of the third wave of cases in Europe. We've had a severe drop over the last two days in the oil market itself.

The oil market popped up and then it stabilized. I don't think this is an ongoing long term problem, but according to tankertrekkers.com, which is a group based out of Sweden, they're saying there's 10 million barrels or about 12 percent of global supplies backed up both north and south, with Saudi-Russia and Ormani (ph) vessels now waiting to clear to get into the oil market, John.

VAUSE: Interesting times. John, thank you. John Defterios there --

DEFTERIOS: Yes, no kidding.

VAUSE: -- in Abu Dhabi. Thanks, John.

In just a few hours, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with NATO and E.U. leaders in Brussels. He arrived on Tuesday, spoke with NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Blinken says the U.S. remains committed to the alliance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I've come to Brussels because the United States wants to rebuild our partnerships first and foremost with our NATO allies.

We want to revitalize the alliance. To make sure it's as strong and effective against the threats of today, as it has been in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[01:34:56]

VAUSE: Blinken also says the U.S. will work in coordination with NATO to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and end the conflict there.

He plans to tell his German counterpart the Nord Stream 2 pipeline meant to deliver natural gas from Russia is probably a bad idea.

Well, Saudi-proposed cease-fire in Yemen has been dismissed by Houthi rebels as just simply not going far enough because it does not completely lift a maritime blockade.

This proxy war between the Saudis and Iran has killed more than 100,000 people, according to one monitoring group. And now the country is verging on famine.

We have more now from CNN's Nima Elbagir.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yemen's Ansarullah Houthi rebels have rejected a U.N.-backed Saudi proposal to bring to an end the six-year-long conflict in the country.

(voice over): The Houthi vice foreign vice foreign minister told CNN that first and foremost, they need it to be a lifting of the Saudi imposed blockade on Houthi-controlled sea and airports.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister had said that the plan would come within immediate cease fire and a lifting of the humanitarian blockade. But it seems that the Houthi movement wants to see action first. This may sound like it's disappointing in terms of the potential for peace talks. But in fact given that the two sides haven't even been talking about peace for a very long time, this actually counts as the beginnings of a positive step.

Saudi's proposal comes after a CNN investigation showed the devastating impact on the humanitarian crisis there of Saudi's sea blockade of the Houthi-controlled port of Hudaydah (ph). We were able to prove that not a single oil tanker had been allowed to dock in Hudaydah for the entirety of this year.

For now the two sides are both, we are told, thinking about how to move forward. And for the first time in a long time they are at least talking about peace talks.

(on camera): Nima Elbagir, CNN -- Khartoum.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Ethiopia's prime minister is admitting that Eritrean troops entered the northern Tigray region. He says any soldiers guilty of abuses will be punished. This comes after numerous denials from both countries.

But human rights groups have been documenting the killings and the atrocities against of civilians including rape and torture.

The U.N. wants an independent investigation. On Tuesday, Ethiopia's prime minister claims any preparations will -- any perpetrators rather -- will be held accountable. And then seemed to deflect the blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABIY AHMED, ETHIOPEAN PRIME MINISTERS: Civilians could be highly harmed in these types of situations. The best solution would have been not to start a war.

There will always be collateral damage in a war. Once you start a war, you cannot claim there is no slapping in the face. Foul only exists as a rule of engagement in a boxing ring. War is a very bad thing once you're in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The prime minister said Eritrean troops are standing across the border to prevent rocket attacks from the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, a CNN exclusive.

Running from repression in Belarus -- a violent crackdown on dissent, proof of torture to detainees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: There's testament to how bad things have gotten in Belarus that people feel compelled to make this dark, perilous journey, a run to freedom the likes of which Europe hasn't really seen since the Soviet Union.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[01:38:22]

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VAUSE: Now to a CNN exclusive, which has revealed police in Belarus using torture, part of a violent effort to keep in power the man known as Europe's last dictator, President Alexander Lukashenko. He's faced seven months of protests against an election most say was rigged.

Details now from CNN's international security editor Nick Paton Walsh.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH (on camera): The crackdown inside Belarus has significantly worsened, become systematic almost since it began after the fraudulent election victory declared by President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus back in August.

Extraordinary, almost Soviet era stories of repression that we've been hearing. And to Belarus' east, support in form of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Our investigation though into these abuses, begins with a fortunate and courageous story of an escape from that repression.

(voice over): Somewhere through the icy sludge here is the path to freedom. Across the border, an ounce of what's been called Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus. Some walk if they can one man, we'll call him Sergey, had no choice but to swim it nearly 3 miles.

Here he stands on sheet ice, free, but in anguish at having to flee, after just crossing out of Belarus into the safety of Ukraine. He films himself in flippers in a wet suit to leave evidence of what he tried in case he doesn't make it.

"I'll try to crawl there" he says. "And hope I won't freeze. I'm navigating by the stars, the feeling is indescribable. I've been going 90 minutes and have a mile left."

Being detained before for protesting and on a wanted list he had to flee imminent arrest. "I can't turn back now."

As testament to how bad things have gotten in Belarus, the people feel compelled to make this dark perilous journey, a run to freedom the likes of which Europe hasn't really seen since the Soviet Union.

Belarus caught between Russia and the European Union has been ruled for decades by an autocratic president Alexander Lukashenko. He declared victory in August elections the U.S. said were fraudulent.

Huge protests followed. And he move swiftly to crush them. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin are two peas in a pod when it comes to shutting down dissent so Putin swiftly helped his skiing partner with $1.5 billion, another unspecified aid.

Months of systematic repression and torture followed documented by human rights groups. CNN has obtained from defected police officers videos exposing abuse, leaked from the police's own archives.

Here the white SUV is full of activists fleeing a protest crackdown. Riot police pounced, one fires a gun.

The ferocity is startling. Some kicked were they lie. Another has had his face rubbed into the ground. Mostly lie incredibly still. They are then detained. In custody CNN was told mistreatment ranges from extreme cold and cramped cells, to being beaten severely and sexual assault.

Andrei endured on another day perhaps the worst abuse in the back of a police van. He refused to unlock his phone so they cut open his pants and raped him with a baton.

"It was hard to move at all because I've been heavily beaten. He cut my underwear using this knife. He asked me to give the password again, I refused, and then he did what he did. It's not just anger, police train to do this. We are just seeing it now on a huge scale for the first time. It's touched nearly every family in Belarus."

Custody is often brutal. Detainees from an October protest were filmed by police and forced to face the wall inside a central police station. Some bleeding, one with 7 teeth smashed in, some ravaged by tear gas. Many here told us they were later beaten in custody, some have fled Belarus.

[01:44:51]

WALSH: But you can also see a teenage boy motionless on the floor. Witnesses told CNN he had likely had an epileptic fit, but the police ignored him. Occasionally kicking him and saying are you a boy or girl. A minor, he was released later.

In these rooms, police are still tracking down protesters. One we'll call Anya, you can see her here running from riot police. A stun grenade hit her leg badly.

In the hospital, doctors gave her a little help she said, but tested her blood for alcohol and rang the police to say she was a likely protester. She fled home.

ANYA: I got a phone call from the police asking where I had been. I began making up stories, they said they would come and get me, a unit of them. And if they take me I thought, then I can say goodbye to my limbs because no one will look after me.

WALSH: Police ferocity in Belarus, the riot squad descending on a car here has slowly and quietly swamped a generation desperate for new life and calling for new nationwide protests on March the 25th. The U.S. has imposed commonplace sanctions and the Kremlin its usually

whiff (ph) of fear. It's an early test for President Biden of method will win out.

(on camera): Now, I should be clear that we asked the Belarus interior ministry, the foreign ministry and the prime minister's office to comment and they declined to give us any.

The U.S. State Department, they strongly condemned the brutality of the Lukashenko regime after we presented them with a summary of our report's findings and they pointed out that there are 500 cases of documented severe abuse and many people still reported missing.

And they said all of this brutality damages the legitimacy of the Belarusian authorities, not only in the eyes of their own people but in that of the international community too.

But in the days ahead the oppositions have called everyone out on to the streets for mass protests nationwide. It's unclear what impact this sort of rule of fear has had on people's desire to protest. There have been arrests that have already preceded these potential protests.

But also interestingly as well, there are some analysts who say that this kind of brutality, extreme persistent as it is, is possibly even put the Kremlin off being too closely associated with it. Some say Russia fears being permanently tainted in the eyes of a younger generation of Belarusians for supporting this kind of brutality. Little sign yet though of Moscow backing away from its strongman in Minsk.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN -- London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, they escaped with so little and now for so many, fire has destroyed what even Myanmar's military did not.

That is another (INAUDIBLE) for Rohingya Muslims who have already suffered so much. Fire has swept through a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: A fire which swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh has left at least 11 people dead. Hundreds remain unaccounted for raising fears the death toll will rise. Survivors returned on Tuesday, many searching the debris of what was once their homes for anything of value.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society says it's launching one of its biggest ever relief efforts at the camp.

Most of the nearly one million Rohingya living there fled neighboring Myanmar after a violent crackdown by the military four years ago.

[01:49:54] VAUSE: For more now on this disaster, Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch Asia Division is with us this hour.

So Brad, thank you for taking the time. You know, there are losses after this which can be counted and quantified.

We go through the numbers. Almost a dozen are dead -- a dozen people are dead. More than 400 are missing. More than 500 are hurt. At least 10,000 makeshift homes are gone. 45,000 people have been left without shelter, two major hospitals destroyed.

Looking at food distribution centers, learning centers, as well as water and sanitation facilities all damaged.

There are those numbers. And this is what that loss feels like. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have lost everything, my husband and my two children came out of the fire, but one of my children is still missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You know, so for the Rohingya, in terms of personal loss as well as community loss when the final assessment is done, what will it say?

BRAD ADAMS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH ASIA DIVISION: Well, this is particularly sad because you'll remember that when the Myanmar military committed genocide against the Rohingya, they drove 750,000 out of the country to Bangladesh to these camps.

And one of the ways they drove people out of Myanmar was by burning down their villages. So for many of the Rohingya, they have had their original homes, their family homes, their ancestral homes burned to the ground. Their villages erased from the face of the earth, often bulldozed into nonexistence.

They moved to Bangladesh and are living in thatch huts, with tarpaulin roofs. They're barely scraping by trying to survive day by day.

And then this fire breaks out and they lose everything. We've interviewed a lot of people in the last 24 hours who told us the same story as you just broadcast. They've lost everything. And they feel bereft.

I think you're suggesting -- in addition to the physical loss, there's the psychological harm. I mean they just tell us they don't feel safe anywhere.

VAUSE: Yes, you know, the fire spread very quickly and it's interesting how "The New York Times" reports it. The blaze quickly grew out of control, fueled by strong winds and hundreds of cooking gas cylinders that exploded as it raced across the camp. After that, reports of barbed wire which actually circles the camp to keep the Rohingya in did just that. Many were trapped. What more do you know about that part of the story?

ADAMS: Well, that's another tragedy because in September, 2019, that Human Rights Watch put out a press release after raising this with the Bangladeshi authorities saying that the camp should not be surrounded by fencing.

This is for a lot of reasons, freedom of movement and basic humanity, but also we were concerned about a tragedy like this, and we said specifically, and (INAUDIBLE) we told the Bangladesh authorities and we were not the only ones -- other organizations did to -- that in the event of an emergency, in the event of a fire, people would not be able to leave.

And emergency vehicle such as fire trucks and ambulances would not be able to enter. And indeed that's what happened yesterday.

There's one main entrance to the camp where people were funneled into to get out. So that led to a stampede, that led to a bottleneck of people getting out and trying to get away from the fire. But also meant that emergency vehicles could not get in.

So fire engines and other first responders were not able to enter the camp which made the fire spread faster and longer.

VAUSE: You know, the camps have seen fires before. I mean this is one camp, there's actually a whole bunch of other camps, more than 20 of them. But this fire on Monday seemed to be in a league of its own.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHANNES VAN DER KAAUW, HEAD OF UNHCR BANGLADESH OFFICE: What you have seen in this fire is something we've never before seen in these camps. It is massive. It is devastating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And you know, This is an ethnic group described as the, you know, longest-persecuted in the world. It seems surely they've endured enough. Can you explain actually the failure to protect these people?

ADAMS: Well, I can't, to be honest. The U.N. Security Council has done almost nothing. They have a job to protect the international peace and security. They have a job to protect the most vulnerable. They've made, you know, a million statements about the responsibility to protect, never yet. They've done nothing, largely because China and Russia vetoed at all times, to hold the Myanmar authorities accountable. Rohingya have said they want to go home. But the only way they're going to go home back to Myanmar and get out of these (INAUDIBLE) camps is if there's protection because if they go back they fear, and rightly, they will simply be a target of genocide and ethnic cleansing again. And in the camps, you know, the Bangladeshi's have in some ways been generous because they've allowed them to stay, but in others they made life miserable. One of the reason so much burned was because people are living in thatch huts.

And that's partially because the Bangladeshi's refused to allow more permanent structures to be built. Concrete houses for example are banned. The Bangladeshi government said you're temporary, you can't stay here permanently. We don't want you.

You know, they made it very clear they don't want the Rohingya. They moved 13,000 to an island in the middle of the ocean that is likely to be submerged if there's a serious typhoon or monsoon out in the ocean. And basically, if you're a Rohingya you feel like nobody wants you.

[01:54:59]

ADAMS: And then there's western countries that often resettle refugees, they've taken virtually no Rohingyas. Other ethnic groups in Myanmar have been taken but not the Rohingyas.

VAUSE: Yes. One thing about Bangladesh, they did more than any other country did by taking the Rohingya in the first place. But yes, they've made it known in no uncertain terms, it is a temporary arrangement.

Brad, Thank you. Brad Adams there from Human Rights Watch. Appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

China and Russia are teaming up to denounce what they see is foreign interference in their internal affairs. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi issued a joint statement calling on other countries to stop politicizing human rights under the pretext of promoting democracy.

The statement comes as the U.S., European Union, and other allies impose new sanctions on Chinese officials for what they call serious human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. China says it's only cracking down on violent extremists.

CNN will have an exclusive report on Uyghur parents desperate to be reunited with their children. Amnesty International says China's policies towards the Muslim minorities have split up thousands of families.

CNN's David Culver traveled to Xinjiang to look for the children who've been left behind. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Followed by a convoy of suspected undercover Chinese police vehicles, blocking roads that lead to possible internment camps. Keeping us from getting too close to so- called sensitive sites.

CNN searching for the lost Uyghur children of Xinjiang. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She definitely missed me.

CULVER: Thousands of families have now been ripped apart due to China's actions. We tracked down two of them.

Do you want to be with them? Do you miss them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: David's exclusive report "THE LOST CHILDREN OF XINJIANG" can be seen on AC360 Wednesday night in the United States. It's midnight London time. You can see it all throughout the day on Thursday right here on CNN International.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause but there is a lot more after the break.

The news continues on CNN. I'll be back in just a moment.

[01:56:55]

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