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Biden Urges Assault Weapons Ban, Closing Loopholes; Police Identify Victims, Ages Range from 20 to 65; White House: North Korean Missile Test Poses Low End Threat; Russia Tops Agenda as NATO Countries Meet in Brussels; Investigation Finds Shocking Police Torture in Belarus; From Columbine to Boulder: Colorado's History of Gun Violence. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: After two mass shootings in less than a week President Joe Biden insists the time is now for concrete steps to address gun control issues in the United States. He has a long political history of pressing for reforms with mixed results. But in his remarks from the White House on Tuesday, he said he will do everything in his power to keep Americans safe, even as he faces an uphill battle in a divided Congress.


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 the lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act. We can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country once again. I got that done when I was a Senator. It passed. It was law for the longest time, and it brought down these mass killings. We should do it again.


CHURCH: Meantime, a makeshift memorial is growing near the Boulder, Colorado, supermarket where ten people were gunned down on Monday. More now on the victims from CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The victims going about their daily lives in a grocery store, customers, employees, some there to get their COVID vaccine. The 10 lives lost from all backgrounds and ages, from 20 to 65 years old.

GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): Our hearts ache for those who lost their lives.

SERFATY (voice-over): Among them, 25-year-old Rikki Olds, a manager at King Sooper store, she was raised by her grandparents. Her uncle describing her as charismatic, a strong, independent young woman, a shining light, he says, in this dark world. And 51-year-old Officer Eric Talley, a husband, a father of seven, who within minutes of the first 9-1-1 reports of an armed man inside the store, ran into danger. He was the first officer on the scene and then shot and killed.

BIDEN: When the moment to act came, Officer Talley did not hesitate in his duty, making the ultimate sacrifice in his effort to save lives. That's the definition of an American hero.

SERFATY (voice-over): Talley had been in IT before becoming a police officer but at age 40, pursued a career change, joining the Boulder police force 10 years ago.

CHIEF MARIS HEROLD, BOULDER POLICE DEPARTMENT: He didn't have to go into policing. He had a profession before this, but he felt a higher calling. He was willing to die to protect others.

SERFATY (voice-over): His father saying, it didn't surprise me he was the first one there. And revealing he was learning to become a drone operator on the force, because the job would be safer.

Talley's police car parked outside the Boulder police station, becoming a memorial and a procession of his fellow officers honoring him Monday evening. Boulder police revealing the other 7 victims.

HEROLD: The families of the victims have been notified.

SERFATY (voice-over): 20-year-old Denny Stong; 23-year-old Neven Stanisic; 49-year-old Tralona Bartkowiak; 59-year-old Suzanne Fountain; 51-year-old Teri Leiker; 61-year-old Kevin Mahoney; 62-year- old Lynn Murray and 65 -year-old Jody Waters; lives lost, families shattered.

HEROLD: Our hearts go out to all the victims killed during this senseless act of violence.

SERFATY (voice-over): Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Well North Korea has conducted its first known missile launch in a year. South Korea says its military detected two cruise missiles Sunday morning, but the White House is downplaying the situation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea, sir, do you consider that to be a real provocation by North Korea?

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it affect diplomacy at all?



CHURCH: CNN's Selina Wang is following the story for us from Tokyo. She joins us now live. Good to see you Selina. So President Biden doesn't seem particularly concerned about North Korea's missile test. Why is that?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, not at all. You even heard her laughing there at the end after calling this business as usual. And that's because U.S. officials were largely expecting this. They called this, quote, normal testing. Experts said that this was fairly routine, that this was a mild response to recent U.S./South Korea military drill.


And the key piece of information here is that North Korea launched a short-range projectile not ballistic missiles, this helps to explain why the U.S. does not see this as a serious breach and why it's not going to stop the U.S. from pursuing diplomacy with North Korea.

Now North Korea traditionally does take some sort of very provocative action early on in any U.S. and South Korean administration. When Trump and Obama took office tests of this kind were conducted as well and experts actually say that this was less of a provocative action than in previous administrations.

But when it comes to the timing, Rosemary, we are also just weeks away from when we are expecting Biden to publicly announce his administration's strategy on North Korea. It is expected to be a departure from previous administrations. You had Trump take a very top down approach, personally meeting with the leader. Then you had Obama who would not engage until North Korea changed its behavior.

And none of that stopped North Korea from continuing to develop its weapon systems. It did not stop North Korea from continuing to repress its citizens. And we know that Biden plans to take a multilateral approach, working with countries in the region. But, Rosemary, that is expected to be a challenge considering that China -- which is probably in the best position to influence North Korea -- does not seem willing to take that same active diplomatic role that it did in the past. So something to watch here moving forward is just what role China is going to take as the U.S. increasingly sees China as an adversary -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And we'll watch very closely. Joining us from Tokyo, CNN's Selina Wang, many thanks.

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

And Nic Robertson is in London for us and joins us live. Good to see you Nic. So how was Secretary Blinken received at the NATO summit and what's ahead for him Wednesday? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Seems to have

gone down very well so far, Rosemary. I mean, he came with this mission to listen to what these NATO partners had to say, to take that back to Washington, to allow President Biden to factor that into his decisions on things like troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, no decision taken on that. We heard from NATO secretary general yesterday, but it sort of talks about this more consultative process rather than the testy relationship that President Trump developed with NATO. So a warm return was how it was described by State Department officials.

Also Secretary Blinken meeting with what's known as the Vichy Grab (ph), four countries, you know, very close to Russia's border so, that will sort of feed into the thinking for today. But it is going to be a very tough message for Russia, what the European partners have wanted the United States to sort of project towards Russia is a consistent and firm policy. And that sounds like what Secretary Blinken is planning. The U.S. position and the discussions around Russia today to be. This is how he looked forward to that moment, described it.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are very clear-eyed. We'll work with Russia when it advances our interests and one of those is strategic stability and we have always demonstrated that with the extension of 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 that approach is exactly where NATO is as well.


ROBERTSON (on camera): And this is certainly going to be robust backing on that point from the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, as you've said, Rosemary. He is saying, look, Russia is using new and disruptive technologies. It is interfering in elections. It's spreading, you know, fake news and fake information about coronavirus. And these are seen as destabilizing, undermining things for democracies and of course democracy is something -- strength of democracies is something that President Biden really wants to sort of bake into his international relations. And NATO will be part of that.

So this idea that there are rising autocracies like Russia, like China that want to undermine not in traditional ways of countering perceived threats, but they're trying to do it by these new methods and that's part of what NATO is doing in these meetings. Which is to look at their 2030 positioning and that is to be able to be more than a conventional weapons alliance which has brought together more than sort of 50 percent of the global military powers, if you will.

But it wants to be able to meet those new and threatening technologies and that's where the developments are going to come, and Russia clearly is at the leading edge and the biggest immediate threat to many of the NATO partners for the United States.


CHURCH: All right, understood. CNN's Nic Robertson joining us live from London with that analysis. Appreciate it.

Well, Belarus's authoritarian president is showing no mercy to protesters who say he lost the election. Coming up, an exclusive CNN investigation reveals the brutality his regime has brought on demonstrators demanding democracy. Back with that in a moment.


CHURCH: Well, now to a CNN exclusive. Shocking examples of torture by police in Belarus. It's a violent effort to keep in power 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 now from London. Good to see you, Nick. So what all did you find in your exclusive investigation into police torture in Belarus?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Extraordinary and systemic crack downs since the August election, which was fraudulently as a victory by President Alexander Lukashenko. Extraordinary, too, to hear this Soviet Union era repression occurring right on the doorstep of the European Union.

The overbearing neighbor to Belarus's east, Russia, while the Kremlin obviously nervous at seeing a democratic protest movement on its doorstep supporting Lukashenko. But some say possibly too, also nervous at how the shear brutality inside that country may be turning a younger generation of Belarusians against Moscow for the foreseeable future.

But ahead now after tomorrow's call by the opposition for broad protests across the country we start this particular investigation with an extraordinary story of courage and hope.


WALSH (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 and 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." WALSH: 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.

WALSH (voice-over): 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 moved 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 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.

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, you can see her running from riot police, the stun grenade hit her leg badly. In hospital doctors gave her 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, PROTESTER: I get 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 good-bye to my limbs because no one will look after me.

WALSH: Police voracity in Belarus, the 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 25th. The U.S. has imposed commonplace sanctions and the Kremlin its usual weft of fear. It's an early test for President Biden which method will win out.


CHURCH: Nick Paton Walsh with that report.

And we asked the Belarusian ministry of interior, foreign minister and Prime Minister's office for comment, they declined to answer. We'll be right back.



CHURCH: Welcome back. Well Columbine, Aurora and now Boulder, Colorado has seen at least six mass shootings in the past 25 years. The city of Boulder tried to ban some forms of semi-automatic firearms such as the one used in the grocery market shooting, but a judge blocked those efforts less than two weeks ago. So now with ten more lives taken CNN's Tom Foreman takes a look at Colorado's dark past with guns and what happens next in a state all too familiar with tragedy.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Columbine High School attack more than two decades ago was a shock to the entire country, the murders of 12 students and one teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They just started coming in the library and opening fire and shooting and shot all around me.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The desperate flight, the confusion even after the two teenaged gunman killed themselves.

FOREMAN: For hours after the shooting began, police were picking their way through the building.

FOREMAN (voice-over): It all seemed more than any one state could bear. Then Columbine echoed through the nation with mass shooters in some places calling it an inspiration, grieving families and others citing it as a comparison.


But back in Colorado, the next horrific attack was on the way. 2012, Aurora, a young man burst into a midnight movie and opens fire. A dozen people are killed, 70 are injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could just hear gunshot after gunshot and I just started praying. FOREMAN (voice-over): Unlike the Columbine shooters, the killer is captured and sent to prison, just like them he was heavily armed.

DAN OATES, AURORA POLICE CHIEF: An AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun, 12-gauge shotgun, and a 40 caliber Glock handgun.

FOREMAN (voice-over): 2015, Colorado Springs, a man with an assault- style rifle starts shooting near a Planned Parenthood clinic. Three people including a police officer are killed, nine more wounded. Courts find the suspect mentally unfit for trial and he remains in custody.

2017, Highlands Ranch, another Denver suburb. A gunman barricades himself in the apartment and fires more than 100 rifle rounds. One officer is killed responding, four more and two civilians are wounded before the gunman is shot dead.

2019, again Highlands Ranch. Authorities say a pair of armed students walk into school and one pulls his gun in class, killing Kendrick Castillo who tried to stop him. Others are injured. Police capture the suspects. One confessed and is in prison and at other pled not guilty and awaits trial.

FOREMAN: And now Boulder where in just the last few weeks a judge struck down a local ban on assault weapons. Boulder joins that sad list of Colorado towns asking how could it happen here and what can we ever do to stop it?

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: And thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is coming up next. You're watching CNN. Have a wonderful day.