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36 Known Dead In Taiwan Train Derailment, Dozens Still Trapped; Ethiopian Soldiers Appear To Have Carried Out Executions In Tigray; ISIS Terror Attack In Mozambique Organized And Targeted; Brazil's Cities Warn They'll Run Out Of Oxygen Next Week; Easter At The Vatican And Across Europe: Subdued Celebration Amid Lockdowns, Closures And Restrictions; Curfews And Closures; Uruguay In Measures To Stop Virus Transfer From Brazil At Its Borders; At Least 36 Killed In Taiwan Train Derailment; Ex-Officer Chauvin Defends Force In Call To Supervisor; Telecom Companies Ordered To Shut Down Wireless Internet; OPEC To Boost Production After U.S. Calls Saudi Arabia; H&M, Nike, Other Brands Face Boycott In China; Officials Charge Capitol Rioter Who Allegedly Tased And Assaulted Officer Mike Fanone With A Flagpole. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired April 2, 2021 - 02:00   ET



VOICE OVER: This is CNN Breaking News.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

And we begin with breaking news from Taiwan and what appears to be the island's worst rail disaster in decades.

At least 36 people, we're told, are dead after a train derailed inside a tunnel, more than 60 people taken to hospital.

Rescue crews still working to free dozens of passengers believed still trapped in the wreckage.

CNN's Ivan Watson is following developments for us. Joins me now live from Hong Kong. So, Ivan, what is the latest on this?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you've got an urgent rescue operation underway in a remote area.

This train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan north of Hualien in what looks like pretty tough topography there, basically a cliff near the ocean and it does seem a bit remote there.

And complicating the fact is the derailment took place in the tunnel -- part of the train, several of the cars outside. And we have seen images of survivors who were able to walk away.

But it's complicated by the fact that cars were damaged inside of the tunnel and that people are having to be rescued from deep inside that tunnel in difficult conditions. The death toll, according to the Taiwan Railway Administration, at

least 36 killed. Dozens of people sent to hospitals. And again according to that railway association, multiple persons with, quote, no vital signs.

This was a train traveling from north to south, it could reach speeds of up to 130 kilometers an hour.

The President of Taiwan has published a tweet. She is trying to mobilize rescue efforts and she wrote in English, quote --

"In response to a train derailment in Hualien, Taiwan, our emergency services have been fully mobilized to rescue and assist the passengers and railway staff affected. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident."


HOLMES: And this is a long weekend, is it not, a holiday weekend so a lot more people would have been traveling; is that correct? And how many people on the train?

WATSON: That's right. This is the start of a long weekend, the Qingming Tomb Sweeping Festival. So some of the survivors that we're hearing from were traveling either to or from festivities and gatherings for that.

Some of the people describing -- oh, and you asked about the number of people on the train, that's estimated to be around 350 people who were on board at the time when this took place.

So people describing having to break through the windows of their train car using their luggage to try to escape after the derailment had taken place and having to step past people who were lying on the ground. Just to give you a sense of how harrowing this must have been.

Again, at the beginning of this holiday festival, a terrible tragedy's that's taken place.

And a little bit of context. In 2018, there was another train derailment in northeastern Taiwan, 18 people died in that accident, 175 injured. And the death toll here more than twice that number, so far.

HOLMES: And a difficult rescue, as you point out, in a tunnel there making it that much more harrowing.

Ivan Watson in Hong Kong keeping an eye on developments for us. Thanks, Ivan.

Now after months of denial, Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed admitted last week that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea have been fighting with his federal sources in the Tigray region, their target members of the Tigray People's Liberation Front. Mr. Abiy admitting what eyewitnesses and victims have been seeing for

a long time now. And that is that Eritrean soldiers were responsible for atrocities in Tigray despite Eritrean denials.

Now CNN in collaboration with Amnesty International has investigated what is a gruesome video circulating on social media that shows Ethiopian soldiers carrying out extrajudicial executions of unarmed man.

We must warn you the video you're about to watch is disturbing.

Here's Nima Elbagir.



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are watching footage filmed by a soldier turned whistleblower, now in hiding.

This video was obtained by a pro-Tigray media organization based in the U.S. The video you're watching will show these Ethiopian soldiers execute these men. A war crime.

The Ethiopian government has waged war against Tigray's ousted regional leaders for the last five months with the help of neighboring Eritrea.

Ethiopia has implied the atrocities in Tigray are mainly Eritrea's doing. That's not true, and here's why.

We know these are Ethiopian soldiers because of the Ethiopian flag on their shoulders here and here. Examining details of the stitching, color and camouflage patterns, military experts confirmed to us that the uniforms match those of the Ethiopian army.

In addition, the soldiers are speaking Amharic, the official language of the Ethiopian federal army, distinct from the local language.

We also know the location by analyzing the video and geolocating the footage. We know it's in central Tigray by the mountain range and terrain just south of the city of Aksum.

This model developed by Amnesty International then verifies that location through spatial analysis. You can see the mountain range matches the footage.

The captives were moved from where you saw them sitting to here, 1.7 kilometers away.

We know that because the video was tracked and mapped and key geographical features were matched on the basis of a high-resolution satellite image of the site.

By pinpointing the location, CNN was able to speak to local villagers who confirmed their family members were dragged away by Ethiopian soldiers and have not been seen since. Some believe their loved ones are in this video.

You can hear soldiers asking the whistleblower to come closer.

UNKNOWN (Translated, Captioned): Why don't you get close and film the execution of these.

ELBAGIR: The wording here is important, "execution." This is premeditated. They've rounded up these men to kill them.

We must warn you what you're about to see is horrifying.

UNKNOWN (Captioned): Walk them down there, shoot him in the back of his head.

ELBAGIR: Shoot them in the head, he says. And they do.

Look at the left of your screen. The man shoots. We paused the video just before his victim falls to the ground. And again, another soldier raises his weapon towards the man in the white scarf.

The video cuts out but the next scene tells you what happened to him, to all of them. The soldiers continue to shoot making sure that there are no survivors.

What you are witnessing is an extrajudicial execution. We counted at least 34 young men at the beginning of this video. All are now presumed dead, their bodies casually flung over the ridge.

No attempt to hide what has been done here, no apparent fear of consequences. Their actions are so appalling, we could only show individual frames from the video.

But it doesn't stop here. You can hear someone saying check that one, that one is not dead, kill him or I will come. The same soldier moves further along the ridge and shoots from close range as other soldiers watch on.

Much of the region remains under Ethiopian government blackout but CNN and Amnesty International were able to speak to local villagers and family members who told us that at least 39 men remain missing from the village.

One man was able to watch the video and confirmed to us that his brother is among the dead depicted here.

Family members continue to search for their loved ones but have been unable to reach this remote area. Their wish to respectfully bury their dead will go unheeded.

ELBAGIR (Voice Over): Nima Elbagir, CNN London.


HOLMES: Ethiopian officials did respond to our requests for comment. And for more on this story, do visit our website at Soldiers are still patrolling an area of Northern Mozambique were ISIS-linked insurgents launched a coordinated attack more than a week ago.

The government confirming dozens are dead, hundreds more are missing. The attack appears to have targeted foreign workers.


HOLMES: A ferry carrying more than 1,200 evacuees arrived in the arriving in port city of Pemba on Thursday. Many say they saw their family members killed and they went woo food or water as they ran from the militants.


MARIAMO TAGIR, SURVIVOR (Through Translator): I'm so tired. It was seven days on the bushes, I'm so tired. We crossed paths several times with evil-doers. The situation is really bad, many dead. Many dead.


HOLMES: Ambassador Jay Peter Pham joins me now. He's a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former special U.S. envoy for the Sahel region of Africa and for the Great Lakes region as well.

Mr. Ambassador, appreciate your time. This attack on Palma showed organization, it also showed effective command and control.

What do you make of the state of this ISIS-linked group Shabaab and its capabilities in Mozambique?

AMBASSADOR J. PETER PHAM, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW AT THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Well, what was unusual in this attack which began about one week ago was, as you say, Michael, the organization, the sheer scop and scale of it.

But it's nothing new. It's been going on now for almost four years, intensifying -- there are literally hundreds of attacks every year. So we're surprised, perhaps, by the scale but unfortunately not by the existence of this group.

And it's been -- and the victims are local people, ordinary individuals just trying to live their lives, and they're caught in between now.

HOLMES: As is so often the case. And I guess, you've got to discuss the capabilities of the military too. In the past, there have been issues raised of poor training, poor morale, even shortages of ammunition for troops in the field.

How important is it that the military gets up to scratch when it comes to dealing with this?

PHAM: Well, I think there are two things. First, Mozambique went through a very long and bloody civil war and in the aftermath they decided to disarm and demilitarize which was sort of like an option and probably the right one at the time but now it's coming back to bite them.

So they're going to need to ramp up the military but you can't train a military overnight.

But more important than training and equipping a military, they also have to build a military that is responsive to the people. Because the one thing that's going to drive this insurgency and allow it to fester is if we start seeing human rights abuses, if we start seeing civilians being caught in the cross fire. At least from the government side.

HOLMES: And ISIS plays well into disaffection on the ground, as you point out. That's a very good point.

I want to ask you about the damage that could be caused to the Mozambiquan economy which was -- it was about to go into a bright phase with natural resources.

Would you agree what's happened is basically threatening the country's economic future?

PHAM: Yes. In fact, the very town that's under attack -- that was under attack the last week, Palma, is the center of the French oil giant Total's $60 billion investment to develop natural gas. Other companies, including ExxonMobil, are also in the area.

So the security risk will certainly enter into the calculus especially with energy prices for hyper carbons going down as it is already. I think a lot of companies may be reassessing whether the political and security risk on top of that makes it worthwhile.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed. And the harm from that, Total's already shut down operations for the moment because of this.

I wanted to ask you to because you know the region so well. Speak to the regional aspect of what's going on.

Just in that part of Africa, you've got ISIS-linked activity in Mozambique but also in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then you've got Tanzania sandwiched in between those two countries and concerns they could get engulfed by Jihadi violence.

How concerning is the ISIS present (ph) on the continent more broadly?

PHAM: Very much so. They're being squeezed elsewhere in North Africa, in Syria and Iraq. And they're moving into Africa where they see opportunity.

Where there's poor governance, where there populations that are disaffected, where their people aren't enjoying the benefits of the resources that are around them. They're feeding off of that.

And unfortunately, this has gone long unrecognized. Now I give credit to the current U.S. administration for following up

on work, groundwork laid by the Trump Administration, I give credit to the Biden Administration for pulling it over the line in declaring both the ISIS-affiliated group in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the one in Mozambique as foreign terrorist organizations.

That opens the opportunity for additional support to the governments and the communities in question.

HOLMES: Yes. Worrying situation on the ground. Ambassador J. Peter Pham, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

PHAM: Thank you.


HOLMES: Now Brazil's COVID-19 crisis is so bad, there aren't enough graves. We'll get an update from Sao Paulo when we come back.

Also, Easter weekend getting underway in Europe with hopes for rebirth and an escape from the pandemic.

We'll be right back.


HOLMES: What was originally meant as an April Fool's stunt in Brussels got out of control on Thursday, riot police using water cannon and tear gas to disperse crowds gathered in defiance of COVID lockdown measures.

Now they came in response to a hoax Facebook event that promised performers like Daft Punk.

Local police say more than 2,000 people showed up even after organizers had revealed it was a prank and Daft Punk broke up.

Some who attended say they were protesting the government over COVID restrictions. Authorities have started an investigation to see who was behind the event.

Europeans are waking up to one of the most important days on the Christian calendar. And, once again, the faithful will mark Good Friday, the start to Easter weekend under the pall of a pandemic.

Europe has been battling a new flare-up of COVID infections with 27 countries in full or partial lockdown, the World Health Organization calling the region's vaccine rollout unacceptably slow estimating just four percent of people there have been fully vaccinated.

And that is raising concerns us as some Europeans seem determined to get away for the holiday weekend and soak up some sun.

Authorities warned now is not the time to relax restrictions or let your guard down.

Meanwhile, India grappling with a second wave of the coronavirus just as the biggest religious pilgrimage on earth gets underway.

Cases there have been rising rapidly since March and Thursday saw the highest single day increase since October. But that is not stopping millions of people gathering for a month-long Hindu festival.

Devotees do have to be tested for COVID-19 and show negative results at various checkpoints.

Well, the pandemic is hitting Brazil so hard right now its biggest city is rushing to empty old graves to make room for new COVID-19 fatalities, Sao Paulo city hall registering a record number of daily burials just this week.

And the country currently accounts for around a quarter of daily deaths worldwide. That's more than any other nation. The virus is also taking a crushing toll on Brazil's economy and on health care workers.

Shasta Darlington with our story.



SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brazil registered the deadliest month yet from the coronavirus pandemic with over 66,500 people dying in March, more than double the previous record.

The crisis shows no sign of letting up with 625 cities warning they'll run out of oxygen over the next week and 15 of Brazil's 26 states reporting ICU occupancy over 90 percent as a surge of new infections cripples hospitals.

While Brazil has started a vaccine program, the roll out has suffered from delays and political infighting. So far only 8.4 percent of the population has received a first dose.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to rage against isolation and lockdown measures.

This week, the president announced the biggest cabinet shakeup since taking office amid criticism over his handling of the pandemic.

Six ministers were out on Monday and on Tuesday, the commanders of three branches of the armed forces were let go. The reshuffling an indication of how much pressure Bolsonaro is under as COVID-19 continues to ravage the country.

DARLINGTON (On Camera): Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.


HOLMES: Now of course it is Easter weekend and as we said, people in Europe seem to be taking to the road for vacation time.

Our Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher joins me now live from Rome and a second year of a muted Easter in Europe.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Michael. Nowhere is that more evident than here in Rome.

Easter weekend is a big holiday weekend for Italians, they not only celebrate Easter Sunday but also the Monday after Easter. And of course, with the Vatican here, this is usually the time when we would see thousands of tourists coming for Easter weekend.

None of that happening this weekend, obviously, as Italy is going into a national lockdown starting tomorrow.

Similar national lockdown happening in France. And interestingly, in Germany, they were due to have a lockdown over Easter but Chancellor Merkel had to backtrack on that after criticism that it had been decided too quickly.

But what this lockdown means for Italy, Michael, is essentially you cannot travel outside of your city or town of residence -- this is for this weekend.

You cannot have any large gatherings, even families in private homes. The curfew at 10 o'clock, everybody has to be inside their homes.

Now keep in mind that many people in Italy have already been living under these restrictions for some weeks now because the government two weeks ago decided that in many of the regions of Italy they would go into strict lockdown measures.

What's different this weekend is this is now national. So any of those regions that weren't already in strict lockdown are now going to be so.

The government also deciding just the other day to extend the lockdown measures for those regions which they say are in the red zone, that have a high case -- daily cases of the virus, to extend those through the end of April. France is also extending their national restrictions.

One difference between France and Italy is France has decided that schools will not go back until the end of April whereas in Italy starting on Wednesday, they will allow at least up until the middle school to go back.

So there are some variations but we're looking at very strict restrictions for Italians and for Europeans in general.

Of course, the focus now, Michael, is on vaccinations.

The Italian government deciding just the other day that they will mandate that all pharmacists and health care workers working directly with people need to be vaccinated.

So anybody deciding that they don't want to be vaccinated that has to work directly with people will either be transferred or indeed risk suspension without pay. So that's a rather strict measure coming from the Italian government.

Of course, they have an ambitious plan, Michael, to try to vaccinate 500,000 people a day. They are working on that plan, trying to get vaccination centers up and running in many, many places throughout Italy.

They say they would like to have all adult Italians vaccinated by the end of the summer. Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And the WHO very unimpressed with Europe's numbers on vaccinations.

Delia Gallagher on a very quiet Roman street. Thank you.

Now Brazil's neighbors are trying to keep its crisis from spilling into their territory.

Bolivia closing its border with Brazil for a week to that end and parts of Uruguay also taking action after the variant first found in Brazil made its way over the border.

Rafael Romo explains.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rivera, Uruguay, population 65,000. Stores in this normally busy border town are now shut down.


President Luis Lacalle Pou last week decreed the closing of all border free shops (ph) due to an alarming spike in coronavirus deaths, cases, and hospitalizations.

Schools and most government services are also shut down and Rivera is once again for the second time since the beginning of the pandemic a coronavirus hot spot in Uruguay.

Rivera's across the border from Santano do Livramento, Brazil, a city of 76,000 that is also facing a COVID-19 crisis.

The Santano do Livramento general hospital director says they are now fully devoted to treating COVID-19 patients operating at 106 percent capacity which means some infected people are being treated in tents.

On the Uruguayan side, the director of the intensive care unit at a local hospital says the Brazilian coronavirus crisis made Rivera the COVID-19 gate into Uruguay.

We're very limited in our ability to treat patients the way we should, he says.

Officials believe the constant flow of people across the border on holiday travel have created the perfect COVID-19 transnational storm.

The P1 variant that originated in Brazil has now been found in Rivera which is also a destination for saqueledos (ph), Brazilian merchants who buy products in Uruguay to resell in their country.

There are 10,000 people from Rivera who live on the Brazilian side and as many Brazilians who live on the Uruguayan side according to Rivera mayor, Richard Sandler.

We are now trying to generate the health barrier, Mayor Sandler says.

His goal is giving half the population in Rivera the first COVID-19 shot within the next few weeks and getting one out of five residents fully vaccinated.

The challenge is that the Brazilian side would have to make a similar effort to achieve herd immunity and defeat a virus that knows no borders.

ROMO (Voice Over): Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


HOLMES: When we come back here on the program.

George Floyd's girlfriend takes the stand in the murder trial of former police officer, Derek Chauvin.


MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTOR: When was it that you first met Mr. Floyd?

COURTENEY ROSS, GIRLFRIEND OF GEORGE FLOYD: It's one of my favorite stories to tell.


HOLMES: Her stories of happier times before his death at the hands of police.

That's coming up. Do stay with us.


HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, thanks for being with us.

Now we are following breaking news out of eastern Taiwan where a busy holiday weekend is off to a tragic start. A train derailment inside a tunnel has killed at least 36 people.


Now, what you're seeing there is new video. We've got main of the rescue operation on the way, which as you can imagine is complicated by the fact that's in a tunnel. And there are still dozens of passengers apparently still stuck in the wreckage. Government officials say more than 60 people are being taken to hospitals. Reuters citing Taiwan media, which says the train was so full that many people were standing. HOLMES (on camera): Thank you on any developments there. Now, testimony will resume in the day ahead in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, accused in the death of George Floyd. Prosecutors meticulously building their case against Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last May. CNN Sara Sidner, with the latest from Minneapolis.


DEREK CHAUVIN, FORMER AMERICAN POLICE OFFICER (via telephone): Yes. I was just going to call you and have you come out to our scene here.

SARA SIDNER, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN (voice over): Did you reheard newly released audio, Officer Derek Chauvin talking on the phone with a supervisor to explain his version of events on May 25, 2020.

CHAUVIN (via telephone): We have said, had to hold the guy down. He was going crazy. He wouldn't go in, uh, shutting off here in a moment, wouldn't go in the back of the squad.

SIDNER (voice over): From the witness stand, Chauvin police sergeant recalled, Chauvin's description of events emitted key details.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTOR: Did he mention anything about putting his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck or back?


SIDNER (voice over): The Sergeant says, he soon arrived on the scene to talk to the police officers involved. Then went to the hospital with Chauvin and other officers to check on George Floyd.

PLEOGER: Someone approached me, let me know that he passed away.

SCHLEICHER: Do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Mr. Floyd should have ended in this encounter?


SCHLEICHER: What is it?

PLEOGER: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have pinned to the restraint.

SCHLEICHER: And that was after he was handcuffed on the ground and no longer resistance.

PLEOGER: Correct.

SIDNER (voice over): The tears were immediate for Thursday's first witness. Courteney Batya Ross.

SCHLEICHER: And when was it that you first met Mr. Floyd?

COURTENEY ROSS, GEORGE FLOYD'S GIRLFRIEND: He found my favorite stories.

SIDNER (voice over): She testified the first time she met George Floyd, she was upset, and he then a stranger consoled her.

ROSS: Floyd has this great, deep Southern voice, raspy. He's like this, sis, you OK, sis. And I wasn't OK.

SIDNER (voice over): Ross eventually became George Floyd's girlfriend.

ROSS: We had our first kiss in the lobby.

SIDNER (voice over): In there nearly three-year relationship, she testified they both struggled with prescription pain pill addiction.

ROSS: Floyd and I both suffered with opioid addiction. We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.

SIDNER (voice over): The defense honed in on where the drugs came from and the timeline of their drug use, including an overdose and hospital visit for Floyd two months before his death.

ERIC NELSON, DEREK CHAUVIN'S ATTORNEY: You did not know that he had taken heroin at that time?


NELSON: It was your belief that Mr. Floyd started using again, about two weeks prior to his death, correct?

ROSS: I noticed a change in his behavior, yes.

SIDNER (voice over): In redirect, prosecutors highlighted Floyd's history and built up tolerance for opioid pills.

NELSON: When he took those, obviously he didn't die, right?

ROSS: No, he did not.

NELSON: He was OK after using them?

ROSS: Yes. He was playing football. Paying now, eating.

SIDNER (voice over): This video introduced in court today, showed the moments paramedics loaded fluid into their ambulance. Paramedics and firefighters testified, they had initially been called to respond to a non-emergency patient with possible intoxication and a mouth injury.

NELSON: The information you had, as you were initially responding was that there was a mouth injury, correct?


SIDNER (voice over): The call was later upgraded. And when they arrived, Floyd was unresponsive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought he was dead. SIDNER (on camera): What is remarkable is that even though those two paramedics thought that George Floyd was certainly unresponsive and maybe dead, even when they got there, Derek Chauvin was still on the neck of George Floyd, when he simply wasn't moving for several minutes. Sara Sidner on CNN, Minneapolis.


HOLMES: Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar are having to adjust to another challenge. This time Myanmar's military junta has ordered telecom companies to shutdown wireless service. It is so unlikely to stop protesters who've been marching for weeks now against the February 1 coup. Security forces responding with live ammunition and arrest while in Karen state with airstrikes.


A relief troop says, they targeted an ethnic minority group and continued on Thursday morning, the same day the military promised a ceasefire. Now all of this as the deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu, faces a fifth charge, this one for violating the country's Official Secrets Act. When we come back after the break, Chinese consumers outraged against western apparel brands, as the company's called out for alleged forced labor in China's Xinjiang region. We'll discuss next.


HOLMES: Well as April showers bring May flowers and traders on Wall Street made it rain on the first day of the month, the S&P 500 topping 4000 for the first time ever. Thanks to optimism about the Coronavirus recovery. The DOW gained 171 points to finish more than half a percent higher, and the Nasdaq Composite jumped at 1.8 percent.

Now more people are expected to travel this spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere after getting the Coronavirus vaccine. So, OPEC has agreed to boost oil production over the next three months to help keep fuel prices in check. That move coming after a call from the U.S. Energy Secretary to Saudi Arabia.

And while we're at it, let's get a look at the latest numbers from the oil market. You can see Brent Crude up 2.85 percent, which is a pretty sizable jump, not as big as West Texas Intermediate up nearly 3.5 percent. Now Chinese consumers are boycotting H&M, Nike, and other Western brands. Those companies said, they're concerned about allegations of forced labor in China's Xinjiang region. Much of the world says, those are human rights violations. China says, there lies. Selina Wang reports.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Here goes the H and here goes the M, across China. H&M logos and billboards are getting kicked off advertising frames. Scratched off the wall and even covered in red cloth amid a sudden consumer boycott. The logo is now a symbol of shame in China. Its products have also disappeared from Chinese e- commerce platforms.

CNN search for H&M on Alibaba and Jadis apps yield no results. Swedish company is just the latest target of Chinese patriotic fury whipped up by the government. It all started after a group linked to the Communist Party reposted a six month old statement from H&M. Saying it was deeply concerned over reports of forced labor in cotton production in China's far western region of Xinjiang.


The company in September said, it would stop sourcing cotton from the region or the U.S. has accused Beijing of committing genocide against wiggers and other Muslim minorities. These are allegations. Beijing has strongly denied. The Communist Youth League criticized H&M for spreading rumors to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also trying to make profit in China. Posts on China's Twitter like platform Weibo with the hashtag #I support Xinjiang cotton have been viewed more than seven billion times.

Within hours, the fury spread to Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Puma, Converse and others. As social media users and state media dug up their old corporate statements expressing concerns about forced labor reports in Xinjiang. Dozens of Chinese celebrities publicly announced they would cut ties or end promotional partnerships with these foreign brands. They rushed to defend Beijing's policies in Xinjiang, even several of Chinese top wiggers stars. The outrage spread to the streets of Beijing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should boycott them and let them know that China is not a country to be trifled with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll resist any brand that has any bad comments about our motherland.

WANG (voice over): Xinjiang produces one-fifth of the world's cotton and nearly 90 percent of China's cotton annually. In January, the U.S. banned imports of cotton imports from the region over forced labor concerns. Beijing's campaign against foreign retail brands came just days after the U.S. EU and UK sanction several Chinese officials, over their alleged role in the crackdown in Xinjiang.

WANG (on camera): Beijing has leveraged the country's massive consumer base for political means in the past. What is the ultimate aim here?

JAMES MCGREGOR, CHAIRMAN, APCO GREATER CHINA REGION: I think China's feeling really threatened by all of these sanctions, and is decided just to hit back as strongly as they can to try to get these companies to influence their governments to kind of tone down and back off.

WANG (voice over): But analysts projected the drop in sales will be temporary for the targeted brands, with H&M likely suffering the most. Other brands like Nike and Adidas, who sponsor Chinese sports teams are still available on Chinese ecommerce.

WANG (on camera): Here in Japan, retail store Muji said that it will continue to source cotton from Xinjiang, and that it's conducted due diligence on its supply chain.

WANG (voice over): In fact, it's even advertising products made with Xinjiang cotton on its website.

WANG (on camera): But experts say, it is impossible to conduct accurate due diligence on supply chains in Xinjiang, and that the only way to ensure that a brand is not complicit in forced labor is to cut ties, but not all consumers have the same concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't affect my shopping. I trust Moody's products and quality. My house is filled with their products. She tells me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So as long as they continue to hold this current policy, I might think twice to shop in the stores.

WANG (voice over): As tensions between China and countries around the world intensify, brands will increasingly be forced to pick aside. Selena Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


HOLMES: I am Michael Holmes, thanks for spending part of your day with me. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at home CNN. Kim Brunhuber will be here in about 15 minutes with more CNN newsroom. World Sport up next. I'll see you tomorrow.