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Belarusians Flee for Their Lives; Ninety Percent Votes Counted in Israel's Fourth Election; Too Early to Declare Victory for Any Party; Police Now Release Names of 10 Victims in Colorado Shooting; President Biden Wants Senate to Pass New Gun Laws; France Vaccination Racing with the Virus; North Korea Missile Test Pose Low End Threat; Russia Tops Agenda As NATO Countries Meet In Brussels; Crisis In Myanmar, Hundreds Of Protesters Freed From Prison; Ethiopian Leader Addresses Atrocities; United Kingdom Marks One Year After First Lockdown. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It is 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.


CHURCH (on camera): A CNN exclusive investigation the brutal fate and harrowing escapes of those who are fighting for democracy in what's known as Europe's last dictatorship.

The U.S. secretary of state calls for collective unity embracing renewed ties with Europe's NATO allies against a common threat.

And Ethiopia's leader acknowledges reports of atrocities committed in the Tigray region almost a month after a CNN investigation confirmed the violence.

Good to have you with us.

Well, counting is underway in Israel where voters cast ballots in the fourth election in two years. Right now, the final outcome remains uncertain. We will go live to Jerusalem in just a moment for the very latest.

But first, a CNN exclusive, shocking accounts of torture by police in Belarus. It's a violent effort to keep empower the man known as Europe's last dictator, President Alexander Lukashenko who has faced seven months of protests against an election most say was rigged.

CNN's international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is with us this hour from London. Good to see you, Nick. So, what all did you find in your in your exclusive investigation into torture in Belarus?

WALSH (on camera): The crackdown has not only become extraordinarily brutal but almost systematic. It's extraordinary to hear the stories that we heard, reminiscent really of the kind of worst repression of the Soviet Union, but to hear them in 2021 from a country that is on the doorstep of European Union, right next to Poland and Lithuania. But with an overbearing neighbor to its east, Russia, whose Kremlin is, it seems, deeply concerned about the fate of Belarus and dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Giving him assistance, but also some say possibly too concern even themselves at the brutality of the scenes that we saw too.

I should tell you that this report, which does contain some graphic stories from people begins with a story of extraordinary courage and hope.


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

Here he stands on sheet ice, free, but in anguish of 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 in on a wanted list, he had to flee imminent interest. I can't turn back now. But it'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.

Belarus caught between Russia and the European Union has been ruled for decades by autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko. He declared victory in August elections that 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 dollars, another unspecified aid.

Months of systematic repression and torture followed documented by human rights groups. CNN has obtained from defective police officers videos exposing abuse, leaked from the police's own archives. [03:05:03]

Here the white SUV is full of activists fleeing a protest crackdown. Riot police pounce, one fires a gun. The ferocity is startling. Some kicked where they lie. Another has had his face rubbed into the ground. Most 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 (Ph) 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 had 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 are trained to do this. We are just seeing it now a huge scale for the first time. It's touched nearly every family in Belarus.

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

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 a girl. A minor, he was released later.

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

UNKNOWN (through translator): 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 a riot squad descending on a car here has slowly and quietly swamped a generation desperate for a new life. And calling for new nationwide protests on March the 25th. The U.S. has imposed commonplace sanctions and the Kremlin its usual writ of fear. It's an early test for President Biden which method will win out.


WALSH (on camera): I should make it clear we approach the Belarusian interior ministry, the foreign ministry, and the prime minister's office for comments for that story and none would reply to us.

The State Department when presented with a summary of the findings of our investigation in the United States, they said that they reminded people that they strongly condemned the brutality of a Lukashenko regime and remind everybody that there are 500 people currently imprisoned, and a number still missing.

Saying that the violence has robbed the Belarusian authorities of the legitimacy, not only in the eyes of their own people but in the eyes of the international community as well.

As you heard there tomorrow is a key day of protests across Belarus, the opposition has called everyone out onto the streets again, it's unclear what the impact of the fear of the last months will be on the turnout for that.

But the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement to CNN, that even in fact the Kremlin who so lowly supported Alexander Lukashenko, perhaps feel that he's become, quote, "too expensive and too toxic because of the brutality."

Remember, there are some analysts who in fact feel Moscow is seeing these scenes, and perhaps remembering what occurred in Ukraine after a brutal civil war there and the popular hostility now against Russia in the hearts of many Ukrainians. And feeling a similar reprise in Belarus in the younger generation on the streets there.

It remains to be seen, though, quite how violent the days ahead get if there are protests in significant numbers. And quite what that does to the ongoing, it seems, sustainability of Alexander Lukashenko. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. We thank you for that exclusive report. Nick Paton Walsh joining us live from London. I appreciate it.

Well, we -- we are getting fresh results from Israel's elections. And they show a slim majority for the block of parties supporting current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With 80 percent of votes tallied so far.


All three Israeli TV networks are reporting that Netanyahu's Likud Party is on track to win 31 seats. His main challenger, the Yesh Atid Party led by Yair Japid -- Lapid, rather, has 18 seats so far. The overall results show Netanyahu's preferred coalition block of religious and right-wing parties are now holding 62 seats, 61 are required for a majority.

So, let's turn to journalist Elliott Gotkine. He joins us live from Jerusalem. Good to see you, Elliott. So how likely is it now that Benjamin Netanyahu will hold on to power, and pull together a workable coalition with these numbers?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Well, the numbers you outline suggested that it was within his grasp. But actually, in the last couple of minutes, everything is kind of changed. And the reason for that is that one of the Arab parties known as Ra'am, before when we've been talking all morning, and including when we were just referring to the exit polls, it looked like they were not going to get enough votes to get into the Knesset or parliament.

You have to get 3.25 percent of the vote. It looked like they were going to come in under that number, and therefore all of their votes would go to waste, and then proportionately everybody else would have more seats to divide up between them.

Now the latest numbers based on around 90 percent of the votes being counted, suggest that Ra'am has made it into parliament. And at the moment, given the number of votes that it has got with 90 percent of the vote counted, would get five seats, and that means that seats come off of a few other parties.

So, and there's a lot of kind of updating mental arithmetic going on here. So, without the kind of the kingmaker in the situation, Naftali Bennett, it's Yamina Party, without it the pro-Netanyahu bloc now looks like it's going to get 52 seats. With Yamina it would have 59. So, two seats shy of the majority.

The opposition, the main opposition leader, Yair Lapid with Yesh Atid, his anti-Netanyahu bloc, without Yamina, without Naftali Bennett's party would have 50 seats, with him they would have 57. Again, falling shy of a majority. Now on paper, of course it's possible that both the joint list and Ra'am could join either the pro-Netanyahu bloc in the case of Ra'am or the anti-Netanyahu bloc in the case of the jointless.

But no Arab parties have ever formally joined a governing coalition in Israel's history. And were they to kind of do so, that would potentially put off other members of either the pro-Netanyahu bloc or the anti-Netanyahu bloc from joining those coalitions. So, that seems very unlikely, and it seems, I'm sorry to say, that the deadlock right now as more votes get counted is getting even tighter.

CHURCH: Wow. The fourth election in two years and they seem to be right back in the same place they were before. Journalist Elliott Gotkine joining us live from Jerusalem. Many thanks.

Well, for more, let's bring in Yaakov Katz. He is the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. Thank you so much for being with us.

Of course, we've just learned these new numbers, 90 percent of the votes counted and it looks like you're right back where you were in the same position from the last election.

YAAKOV KATZ, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JERUSALEM POST: Unfortunately, that does seem to be the case. We're still in something of political deadlock. I would urge caution to wait till we have final results which will probably still take another couple of days. There's about half a million what are called double envelope ballots by soldiers, Israelis who vote overseas because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were special ballots that were set up at the airports and other places.

So, those could also shift the final tally of the votes. But it's very possible that we will end again in a deadlock with neither camp, neither the pro-Netanyahu camp or the anti-Netanyahu camp being able to form a governing coalition. You need 61 majority to be able to rule in Israel. And that's been the problem. Netanyahu has evaded that for the last two years.

CHURCH: I think that you say we should wait till the vote comes. Benjamin Netanyahu didn't wait, he's already announced victory, hasn't he? He's got ahead of himself.

KATZ: Well, a lot of it, Rosemary, as you know is about sending the victory narrative, or the post-election narrative. Netanyahu wants the public to think that he is the person who won. And by the way, if you look at the numbers, if he's at 31 seats, which seems to be the case in the second largest party after him, Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid is only at 18, that's a big difference. Right? That's a double digit -- digit gap. And that's one of the largest gaps between the first two parties that Israel has seen in decades in elections here.

So, it is a very big a resounding success, for Netanyahu on the one hand on a personal level. But again, Israel is a parliament. Israel requires a coalition majority and that he is still does not yet have.


But I would say that if he gets to 59, 60, he might not be able to form a coalition but he could continue to do what he's done in the last three rounds of elections. Right? We're now on -- this was our fourth election in two years, he was able to deny anyone else from forming a government. And that allows him to remain interim prime minister which ultimately is his objective. Right?

Let's not forget Netanyahu is in battle, he's on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His ultimate objective throughout these past two years of elections has been to staying in power and to trying and -- to go -- to go to the trial from position of power, but also to trying to find a way out of the trial. That's what he was hoping to achieve with the 61 majority on the right, he doesn't even have that yet but for now he's still is the prime minister.

CHURCH: And of course, it does make sense that if Israel keeps holding elections, people will keep voting the same way unless something seismic occurs. And Netanyahu was hoping his leadership through the pandemic, the successful vaccine rollout would be just that and help change the outcome and attract more support for him and his party. Could he be right in the end once all the votes are counted?

KATZ: Well, I think you're right. You know, Israel has been known now internationally for an amazing vaccine -- vaccination rollout. Now we're being called the vaccination nation to some extent. But I think that the way to look at the successful vaccine rollout was the fact that, had we not had the vaccines, people would've voted against Netanyahu, you would still would've high tally rates, high infection rates, the economy would have still been close.

It's very possible that Israel still would've been in a national lockdown. Because of the vaccines, Israel was not in a lockdown. So even though Netanyahu didn't get larger or higher numbers than in past elections, but he also didn't bleed votes. Right? He was able to pretty much retain his base of constituents, and that was important for him.

So, he was able to hold on to his power base, and maybe we'll see what happens with the end numbers, with the final numbers, he might end up getting that 61 magical number that he's tried to get in the last four elections.

CHURCH (on camera): Yes. It has been elusive so far. We'll see how that goes. Yaakov Katz, thank you so much, joining us from Jerusalem. I appreciate it.

Well now to Boulder, Colorado where police have released the names of all 10 victims of the mass shooting at a grocery store. They range in age from 20 to 65. The shopping center has turned into a makeshift memorial with cards, flowers and other remembrances.

Twenty-five-year-old Rikki Olds was a manager at the store. Her uncle says she was energetic and charismatic and a shining light in a dark world. Shooting survivor Maggie Montoya sounded shaken talking about her friend and colleague.


MAGGIE MONTOYA, COLORADO SUPERMARKET SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It just all crash down. I was just nervous the whole time I was back there and really anxious. And I didn't know if I was going to make it out of there but it just -- it all came crashing down. Seeing someone I knew dead, dead there that we're not going to be able to walk out to her family or to walk out the store.


CHURCH (on camera): The Colorado shooting is prompting U.S. President Joe Biden to call for new gun control measures, including banning assault weapons and closing background check loopholes.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Senate should immediately pass, let me say it again, the United States Senate, I hope some are listening, should immediately pass the two House passed bills that close loopholes in the background check system.

These are bills that receive votes from both Republicans and Democrats in the House. This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives. American lives. And we have to act. We should also ban assault weapons in the process.


CHURCH (on camera): Well police still don't know why the 21-year-old suspect went on this shooting rampage. He is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, and has his first court appearance on Thursday. More now from CNN's Kyung Lah.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNKNOWN: The entire building is surrounded.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As the officers first made their way in, they confronted the gunman. Twenty-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the arrest warrant says 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, BOULDER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I know that that there is 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 struggle with mental illness, growing increasingly paranoid and he's 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 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 yes, he was very alone I'd say. But when he was with you, he was approachable.

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

UNKNOWN: One thirty-six, we have 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: 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 a shooter continued to roam the store busy with shoppers and people waiting to be vaccinated in the store.

STEVEN MCCUE, GRANDCHILDREN WERE INSIDE 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, hid in a coat closet standing up for 45 minutes.

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


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: Kyung Lah, CNN, Boulder, Colorado.


CHURCH (on camera): And among the other victims, 20-year-old Denny Stong. He also worked at the King Soopers grocery store. A friend and coworker says he wants people to remember Stong as a wise young man who supported the second amendment and like to go shooting on the weekends. He says they were like brothers. He'll miss his smile and his honesty.

We'll be right back.



CHURCH (on camera): According to the World Health Organization, a six-week decline in COVID-19 deaths has stalled as global cases rise for the fourth week in a row. The WHO reported more than three million new cases and 60,000 new COVID deaths in the week leading up to Sunday.

Brazil, the U.S., India, France, and Italy had the most new cases. French President Emmanuel Macron is making it his priority to speed up vaccinations as cases continue to climb. Starting this weekend, anyone over 70 in France can get a vaccine. And the U.K. has now marked one year since its first COVID lockdown.

CNN's Scott McLean joins me now live from London. Good to see you, Scott.

So, the U.K. had a very difficult and tortured start to this pandemic. But now one year later, its vaccine rollout has been impressive. What is the latest on that and of course restrictions still in place?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Rosemary. This is undoubtedly been a year of extremes. On the one hand, the U.K. has had one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls on earth. Despite the fact that this country has been through three lockdowns, one of which we are in right now.

On the other hand, the speed of the vaccine rollout has been almost unmatched among major countries on earth. Fifty-four percent of the adult population right now has had at least their first shot of the vaccine. They are hoping to offer it to everyone over 50 in the next three weeks in the entire country or every adult in the country at least by the end of July.

This though stands in stark contrast to what's happening in Europe right now where they are dealing with a brewing third wave of coronavirus cases and yet, not enough vaccine doses to actually deal with it. And so, the E.U. is threatening to block exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But because of the interconnectedness of the way that the vaccine supply chain actually works, there is plenty of concern that that could cause more problems than it actually sells for Europe. Some of the components for E.U. vaccines actually come from here in the U.K.

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that look, he's not interested in getting into a tit-for-tat with the E.U. and blocking any kind of vaccine exports from his end of things, but that's pretty easy for him to say. Considering that right now the U.K. is not actually exporting fully finished vaccine doses.

Right now, the contract that they have with the E.U. -- or with the AstraZeneca, excuse me, says that the company must fulfill the U.K.'s entire order because before it starts shipping doses abroad. And so, the government wants to make sure that this lockdown that they're in right now is irreversible, that there is no going back.

And so, even though Europe is seeing a third wave and the prime minister expects to feel the repercussions of that here in the U.K., even if cases starts to rise, this country has a line of defense in the fact that so, so many adults have now been -- been vaccinated.

There will be a slight loosening of restrictions starting next week in terms of social gatherings. You won't be able to shop for nonessential items or you can get your haircut though for two and a half weeks. Officially also tomorrow, parliament is debating a bill which would slap anyone caught leaving this country to go on vacation with a $7,000 fine, that would be in place until June.

Though the prime minister says it is still possible for vacations, international holidays to be allowed earlier. But obviously, they want to be cautious and make sure, as I said, Rosemary, that this lockdown is irreversible.

CHURCH: Yes. They are not taking any chances. Scott McLean, many thanks joining us live from London. I appreciate it.

Well, you are watching CNN Newsroom. Still ahead, North Korea conducts its first weapons test in a year. But the White House doesn't seem too worried about it. We'll explain why. Meantime, America's top diplomat is in Europe meeting NATO allies and

dealing with Russia is topping the agenda.


CHURCH (on camera): The White House is dismissing a recent weapons test by North Korea as a low-end threat. South Korea says two cruise missiles were launched early Sunday, in Pyongyang's first known missile test in a year. And for the first time since that test, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has been seen publicly, shown here at a large scale residential project in Pyongyang. The Biden administration says the missile tests won't stop the U.S. from trying to improve relations with North Korea.

Meantime the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Europe for NATO meetings, and Russia is topping the agenda. Britain's foreign secretary is calling on the NATO allies to face down the threat from Moscow, and ensure that it faces consequences for its hostile actions.

So, let's get the latest on all of this. Selina Wang is in Tokyo in Nic Robertson is in London. They join us both now. Good to see you. So, Nic let's start with you. How was U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken received on his first day at the NATO summit? And what is ahead for today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, a warm return, that's how State Department officials are describing it. They discussed Afghanistan, of course a very big issue in the United States right now. As President Biden tries to determine what to do about the ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan. And it does appear that NATO members have agreed to continue to allow those talks to continue.

The precise details of that we don't know. But we do know, from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that no firm decision has been taken on Afghanistan yet. The Secretary of State also met with the E3 that was Europe -- that was the U.K., France, and Germany and their foreign ministers to discuss in part.

Iran met with the (inaudible) well to discuss more about the view on NATO and Russia, from Eastern Europe. And but I think today is going to be the day when you're going to hear very tough language towards Russia. We've heard some of that already from Secretary Blinken. This is how he frames what he wants NATO to do and it's posture towards Russia going forward.


ANTHONY BLINKEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We are very clear eyed. We will work with Russia when in advances our interests, and one of those is strategic stability. And we've already demonstrated that with the extension of the -- the new start agreement. On the other, hand we will stand resolutely against Russian aggression and other actions that try to undermine our alliance. And I think that approach is exactly where NATO is as well.


ROBERTSON: Well, that's something is certainly what we heard for the British side -- foreign secretary Dominic Raab saying that there should be real world consequences for the increasing threat from Russia. And specifically talking about interfering in elections and spreading misinformation about coronavirus.

Very difficult things to challenge in the cyber context. But that seems to be the direction this sort of hybrid threat that Russia has been posing for sometime. Moving NATO in that direction as it refrains and re-focuses for the challenges of 2030. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Alright, thanks for that, Nic. And Selina, while all of this was going on, of course we know that North Korea decided to test short-range missiles in what appears to be the nation's first challenge to President Biden. But the U.S. leader just laughed it off. What was that all about?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Rosemary, the perceived threat level here is low. U.S. officials have been expecting this, they called it part of quote, normal testing. From the expert perspective this was a fairly routine test and it was a mild response to the recent U.S. South Korean military drill.

And the key piece of information here though was that, this was a test of short range projectiles. This was not ballistic missiles. This helps to explain why the U.S. does not see this as a significant breach. It helps to explain why this is not going to stop the U.S. from pursuing diplomacy with North Korea. Now take a listen here to what Biden had to say to questions from reporters earlier.


UNKNOWN: On North Korea, sir. Do you consider that to be a real provocation by North Korea?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No. According to the Defense Department, its business is usual. There's no new -- there's no new wrinkle in what they did.

UNKNOWN: Does it affect diplomacy at all?




WANG: Biden laughing at the end there, calling it business as usual. It is normal for North Korea to take some kind of strong provocative action, around the change of administration, both in the U.S. and South Korea. We saw tests conducted around when Trump and Obama took office. And experts have pointed out that this is actually less of a provocation than when previous administrations had the change in term.

Now, another thing to note is that this also comes around when Biden is preparing to announce the new policy for his administration towards North Korea, it is expected to be a departure from previous administrations. You had Trump take this very top down approach directly meeting with the North Korean leader, on the other hand you had Obama who would not engage until North Korea changed its behavior.

None of those strategies actually worked in terms of preventing North Korea from continuing to develop its weapons system, in terms of stopping North Korea from continuing to repress its citizens. We know that Biden plans to take this multi lateral approach, of working with allies here.

Unclear how successful that's going to be considering that China, which is probably in the best position to influence North Korea, does not seem as willing to play the diplomatic active role that it did in the past. So, key question is going to be how China continues to play into this as the U.S. continues to see that country as an adversary. Rosemary.

CHURCH: Alright. Selina Wang, joining us live from Tokyo, many thanks.

Joining me now is Ambassador William Taylor, he is the vice president of Strategic Stability and Security, at the U.S. Institute of Peace And a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Thank you sir for being with us.


CHURCH: So, at the NATO summit, Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a commitment to rebuild and revitalize the transatlantic military alliance, after four years of friction with the Trump administration repeatedly calling NATO obsolete. How difficult will it be to repair the damage already done, and get relations back on track do you think?

TAYLOR: Actually I think it will not be that difficult, because both sides, both the NATO allies and the United States, want it to happen. Yes, you are exactly right. There had been challenges over the past four years, but, Anthony Blinken, Secretary Blinken, and President Biden are committed clearly to this alliance, to the NATO alliance seeing allies as a source of strength.

And as I say -- my sense is the European see the United States as a source of strength. So that an alliance, were both sides are working together, is in both interests and that's why I think it will be restored well.

CHURCH: And Ambassador, Secretary Blinken said China's military rise, and Russia's attempts to destabilize the West, where threats that the required NATO to come together, to unite. And he urged Turkey to embrace the alliance, after buying Russian weapons, of course. So, how challenging will all of that be and are you confident the alliance can help the West confront the threat coming from both Russia and China? TAYLOR: I am, Rosemary. And we've seen some evidence of that just in

the past couple of days. As you say, the Russians have tried to destabilize the West, there are big problems coming out of Chinese actions against their neighbors and against their own people. And the United States, with European allies, has taken action.

Together and coordinated action. With the E.U., with NATO allies, on sanctions against the Chinese, and as we know sanctions against the Russians for their regress of actions against Ukraine in particular, but more broadly than that.

CHURCH: And as part of this renewal of relations with the alliance, President Biden will join a video conference of E.U. leaders on Thursday. How important is that move and what message does it sent to the world?

TAYLOR: I think it's very important. And the message is a similar message to what Secretary Blinken is speaking with NATO allies today. That is President Biden is eager to demonstrate, with his presence and this meeting, virtual presence at this meeting that the United States cares about allies, invest in allies, invest in alliances.

And again President Biden sees this to be something that enhances U.S. strength and Europeans see that alliance as enhancing European strength. So, that connection, demonstrated by President Biden's presence at these discussions, will be important.


CHURCH: And Ambassador while we have you here, I do want to get your response to North Korea firing short-range missiles and what looks like a challenge to the Biden administration. How should the U.S. respond to this?

TAYLOR: The U.S. should respond with allies. This is a theme of what we are talking about tonight, its sounds like (inaudible), but I noticed, we all noticed that Secretary Blinken, the National Security Adviser, Jake Solomon before sitting down with the Chinese, went to Japan and South Korea.

And I'm sure the topic of North Korean challenges, problems, came up. When Secretary Blinken was in South Korea and in Japan. The response to those missile firings, it's not the first time he's done that of course, the response has to be a unified response. And that will be the goal.

CHURCH: All right Ambassador William Taylor, thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH (on camera): We are getting word now of a major prisoner release in Myanmar. Reports say hundreds of protesters arrested for opposing the country's military coup, have just been freed from prison Yangon. More than 2,000 people have been arrested since the coup last month, and it comes as protesters adopt a new tactic they're calling a silent strike.

Businesses are closing and residents are being asked to stay indoors, the nationwide strike is in response to the death of a seven year old girl. Whom security forces fatally shot Tuesday, in her own home.

Still with the military's violence crackdown showing no's sign of letting up, many are making the tough decision to leave. And make a risky journey across the border into India. That's where Vedika Sud has one family's story.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN PRODUCER (voice over): Right behind me is Mizoram Myanmar international border. Mizoram is one of the four eastern states in India that shares a border with neighboring Myanmar. Ever since the military Junta took over in Myanmar, hundreds of people have been fleeing the country, CNN spoke with a 36-year-old pregnant woman who crossed into India along with her five-year-old daughter, and her husband who she says served in the police force. Here's their story.


SUD: A close call for this woman and her family, pregnant with her second child, she crossed over for Myanmar in to India's northeastern state of Mizoram along with her five-year-old daughter and husband. We are not giving her names since she fears for her family back home.


SUD: She says a husband, a police officer, refused to shoot at his own people as ordered by Myanmar's military Junta with three bags full of clothes, little money and the bible the family fled their home town in the thick of night. Undertaking in almost 200 kilometer long journey on motorbike and on foot.


SUD: This border crossing between India and Myanmar has been closed for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However Indian officials say more than 400 refugees, desperate to flee the military Junta crackdown, have crossed over with the help of local activists.

This man from the ethnic chain community is one such activist. He fears being identified by security forces, so we are not giving his name.

UNKNOWN: (SPOKEN IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) SUD: A strong network between activists and relatives of refuges on

both sides of the border helped facilitate their escape But not without risks.


SUD: He says the relief refugees feel after escaping the clutches of Myanmar's military Junta is short-lived.


SUD: The family is given temporary shelter by a group of volunteers. She hopes to return with their daughter and an unborn child to their country someday.



SUD: But the escalating violence and kills in Myanmar could make this day as refugees in India a long one.


SUD (on camera): We've spoken to two more people who crossed into India from Myanmar, they claimed the military Junta has ordered the police to shoot at protesters. CNN cannot independently verify these claims or the claims made by the woman or local activists. We did reach out to the Myanmar embassy for a response, but have not received any so far.

CHURCH: Well, coming up here on CNN Newsroom, Ethiopia's Prime Minister is finally acknowledging the atrocities in the Tigray region, but victims may not find his remarks reassuring.


CHURCH: For the first time, Ethiopia's Prime Minister admits troops from neighboring Eritrea into the northern conflict region of Tigray. And he says any soldiers found responsible for abuses would be punished. Now this comes after a number of denials from both countries. But human rights groups have been documenting the killings and atrocities against civilians, which include rape and torture. The U.N. is calling for an independent investigation.

CNN recently published investigations into the violence, as well as into rape being used as a weapon of war against women. And CNN senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir has been reporting on this extensively, and is with me now from Khartoum in Sudan. Good to talk with you Nima, but just such an awful story to cover.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister, now admitting Eritrean troops entered the northern Tigray region. He says any soldiers who committed rape, torture or looting will be punished, how significant is this? And will there actually be consequences do you think?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, it is an abrupt about time and as he said, it comes after months of denial, but if you listen to the actual language he used, Rosemary, it wouldn't have been particularly reassuring if you are a victim. Take a listen to this.


ABIY AHMED, ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): 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 exist as a rule of engagement in a boxing ring. War is a very bad thing once you are in it.



ELBAGIR: So in admission, yes, absolutely but not in admission that really takes responsibility for the part that the Ethiopian authorities have had to play in this. He appears to really be casting blame on his opposing antagonist in this, the Tigray's people's liberation front, and blaming them for having gotten to this place Rosemary.

CHURCH: And Nima, along with your incredible reporting on this, human rights groups have also been documenting these killings, rapes and other atrocities. And the U.N. is calling for an independent investigation. How critical is it that that gets done and done quickly?

ELBAGIR: The investigation of course is incredibly important but it's also how the investigation is going to be carried out. At the moment the proposal is that the U.N. will partner with the Ethiopian human rights commission, which is itself a state appointed, and many of the victims that we've been speaking to, the survivors I should say of this violence, and their love ones, tell us that it that is not acceptable.

What they want is an independent investigation, what they want is to be listened to and to be heard, as this investigation is being carried out. And so far they really don't feel at the moment that there is any chance that this investigation will reflect fully the horror that is going on inside Tigray, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Unbelievable. Nima Elbagir, many thanks for your reporting, joining us live from Khartoum in Sudan.

Well, a day of reflection in the United Kingdom, a year after its first COVID lockdown, the country pays tribute to those who have died and sends a message of support to those who are grieving.


CHURCH (on camera): Landmarks across the United Kingdom were lit up on Tuesday as the country marked one year since its first COVID lockdown. On this day of reflection, many paused to remember the thousands of lives lost to the virus. Cities like London were illuminated with yellow lights, symbolizing hope and support for those who were grieving. A year on the pandemic has significantly altered life in Britain.

CNN's Phil Black looks at how people are trying to cope after months of unimaginable pain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is a small moment in

an extraordinary time. One day of reflection. One minute of silence. A desperately insufficient window for considering all that has changed and all that has been lost. But within the pandemic's grift, this is a rare collective moment to pause and remember. To try to understand how it came to this.

Its one year since the unthinkable became the every day. One year since British life, with its vibrant energy, it's wealth of sheer joys and experiences was stripped back to something unrecognizable. Far poorer, disconnected, lonely. A year of knowing death is all around. Are relentless numbers failing to convey the (inaudible) of loss and suffering behind them.


A time of grief, where the rituals of grieving are twisted and stretched. The comfort of togetherness forbidden. It was simply beyond reach.

Like so many essential human experiences the sorrow of mourning is now often shared and process through images on a screen.

A year of COVID-19 renewed Britain's love for its health service. And those who risked their lives preventing its collapse whose faces show the strain of long exhausting shifts, working to save others. But the long year this started with publicly celebrating their efforts on doorsteps every week has evolved into a quiet acceptance, or worse, an expectation they will keep doing whatever is necessary regardless of the cost.

Other workers really considered in normal times, have also found some appreciation for their vital roles and the risks of carrying them out during a pandemic. While the virus has become another thought, exposing engrained inequalities to its disproportionate impact on people of color.

After one year, everyone knows the suffering imposed by the pandemic, is not equal. But everyone has suffered, and lost something. We've lost time. Especially time together, opportunities to celebrate and feel joy, jobs, businesses, education. Psychotherapist Julia Samuel describes them as living losses.

JUIA SAMUEL, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: You feel frightened. You feel furious, you feel numb. You feel confused. You feel in denial, you feel all the different things and you can feel them all at the same time. And yet you look out the window and nothing is changed.

BLACK: Britain's year of COVID is only one chapter in a global saga of incomprehensible change and pain that is still being written. One day of reflection, is utterly inadequate, but it's a start.

Phil Black, CNN, Essex, England.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH (on camera): It is been a long year, thank you so much for

joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. I'll be back with more news in just a moment.