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India tops 200,000 COVID Deaths, Actual Toll Likely Higher; U.K. PM Boris Johnson Facing Growing Scrutiny over Conduct; Creating Energy Under Your Feet; Political Upheaval Raises Regional Security Concerns; E.U. Chief Left Standing; India's Officially Tops 200,000 COVID Deaths; Possible Biden-Putin Summit; Saudi Arabia in Talks to Sell 1 Percent of Aramco. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 28, 2021 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00:01]

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining from all around the world. I'm John Avlon.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM:

India passes a grim milestone as COVID cripples its health care system, and countries around the world scramble to get aid to those who need it.

The White House hammering out details for a likely summit with Russian President Vladimir. What each side hopes to gain.

And from an acquisition of insensitivity to cronyism, Boris Johnson's very bad week. We will look at the potential political fallout.

We're following breaking news. India has had a one something couple milestone, 200,000 people dead from COVID-19. But a new model predicts the toll is actually much higher and could hit nearly 1 million people before August.

People in the country are pleading for oxygen and medical supplies on social media, and makeshift crematoriums are being built in parks and parking lots. Sports stadiums, hotels, and railway coaches are being turned into critical care facilities as hospitals run out of beds.

But help is on the way. Vital medical supplies are finally reaching India as countries around the world step up to help.

CNN's Anna Coren is following the story from Hong Kong.

Anna, this is a horrific new milestone. Tell folks how India started to really feel the pain of COVID at this time.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, John. The health ministry issuing the latest numbers, the death toll now surpassing over 200,000 since the pandemic began. The highest daily infection rate, over 360,000 cases; highest daily death toll, over 3200 deaths. You mentioned that model, and the University of Washington believes

the death toll is more like double the numbers that are being released.

How did we get here? Well, it was an easing of social restrictions, mass gatherings, religious festivals were allowed. Millions of people came together. Political rallies were allowed and are still allowed.

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, his party, the BJP party, held a rally just two days ago in the southern state of Telangana where people are packed together. Some are wearing masks and some aren't. That's why a second wave is decimating parts of India.

We know that people are dying outside hospitals because they won't be admitted because there are no beds, there is no oxygen. Yet people are still gathering for political rallies. It really is mind-blowing.

I should also mention that the prime minister's aunt passed away from COVID. That has been confirmed. The office of the prime minister yet to make that public, but certainly, the family has spoken.

The WHO, John, describing this as a perfect storm, what led to this place, and the variants, you know, that we have been discussing already so a huge problem. It's targeting young people and spreading in other parts of the world.

AVLON: It's clear that the double mutant strain really seems to be driving the second surge, and it's making not only India -- but India's neighbors incredibly nervous, because it seems to be uncharted territory with the virus. What can you tell us about it?

COREN: Well, we are seeing these cases in Nepal, neighboring Nepal, where just a few weeks ago, they were around 4 percent, now they are rising to 30 percent. And as you say, the double mutant and other variants have been detected in Nepal.

Pakistan on the lookout. We know that cases have surged there. They have yet to confirm whether or not it's the Indian variant or the double mutation, but, you know, it's only a matter of time. These borders are extremely porous, as is Bangladesh.

We know that cases are going up in Sri Lanka as well, just on the tip of India. China would also be extremely worried. I mean, John, this is not just a problem for India, but it's a problem for the region, and for the world.

AVLON: That's exactly right. Anna Coren from Hong Kong, thank you very much.

Many in India are blaming Prime Minister Modi's government for mishandling the COVID crisis. Members of his ruling BJP party are still holding rallies like this one on Monday, despite the worsening pandemic.

CNN's Ivan Watson reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than 3 months ago, India's prime minister declared victory over the COVID pandemic.

[01:05:03]

NARENDRA MODI, INDIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The nation that houses 18 percent of the world's population, that nation has effectively control the coronavirus and saved the entire world. In fact, entire humanity, from a major tragedy.

WATSON: India's initial success in beating back the first wave of COVID, celebrated by Modi's ruling BJP in a February resolution, thinking Modi's, quote, visionary leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against COVID.

The victory lap continued into April. Less than two weeks ago, Modi headlined at campaign rallies, dressing thousands of supporters ahead of local elections. That optimism running parallel within the Kumbh Mela religious festival where huge crowds of pilgrims gathered on the River Ganges.

Meanwhile, the second far more deadly wave of COVID-19 was burning its way across the country. Daily infection numbers dramatically surging throughout the month of April. A growing number of hospitals overwhelmed, short of beds and oxygen for sick patients, leading to awful scenes of Indians gasping their last breath outside hospitals while waiting for treatment that never came.

RAMAYAN LAXMINARAYAN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASES DYNAMICS, ECONOMICS & POLICY: These are deaths that could be averted with an $80 oxygen cylinder for a week. It's really that. I don't think the second wave was unavoidable, but the scale and the damage that it's causing, I think, was largely avoidable.

WATSON: With the public health system flooded, charities like the Hemkunt Foundation try to help. They provide oxygen to patients as they wait for a hospital bed. This aid worker Harteerath Singh says the foundation is receiving 15,000 calls for help a day.

HARTEERATH SINGH, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, HEMKUNT FOUNDATION: This is the worst I have ever seen.

WATSON: Is there any way that India could have prepared for something like this?

SINGH: We could have done a better job. Its collapse of the government and it's a harsh reality.

WATSON: Critics of the Indian government question why India, which exports oxygen overseas, now suddenly needs emergency shipments of oxygen and other medical supplies from foreign countries.

HARSH MANDER, WRITER AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: You had a full year to do it and instead we are fighting these shortages around the country.

WATSON: This week, top health officials suggested stockpiling and panicky patients have contributed to the shortage of hospital beds and oxygen.

DR. RANDEEP GULERIA, DIRECTOR, ALL INDIA INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL SCIENCES: There isn't a necessary panic among the public. And it is causing more harm than good.

WATSON: As for Prime Minister Modi, in a monthly radio address, he conceded COVID-19 was claiming lives and causing pain.

MODI: After successfully tackling the first wave, the morale of the nation was high. It was confident. But this storm has shaken the nation.

WATSON: Public health experts warn India's COVID storm is far from over.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AVLON: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has long downplayed the severity of COVID-19, even as cases in Brazil continue to surge. Now, the Brazilian Senate is investigating his government's handling of the pandemic. That could lead to an impeachment vote ahead of next year's election.

President Bolsonaro has been accused of sabotaging isolation measures, threatening local officials over restrictions, and discouraging the use of masks. .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RENAN CALHEIROS, RAPPORTEUR, PARLIAMENTARY INVESTIGATIVE COMMISSION: It was not by chance of the divine scourge that brought us into this situation. There are those responsible. They are responsible for action or omission, negligence, and incompetence. And they, if proven, will be held accountable.

As a rapporteur, I will be guided by the impartiality that the function imposes, regardless of my personal evaluation. The investigation will be technical, profound, focused on the objects that justified the parliamentary investigative commission and the politicized.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Brazil has the second highest COVID death toll in the world after the U.S., and Mr. Bolsonaro's chief of staff was caught on camera Tuesday saying he believes the president is risking his health by not getting vaccinated.

The probe on Brazil will look at the country's vaccine rollout, which has been plagued by missteps and delays. And now, as our Matt Rivers reports, Brazilian health officials are rejecting the Russian vaccine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like so many other countries around the world, Brazil is in dire need of more vaccine. So far, it has managed to vaccinate just a small portion of its population. And there were many in Brazil who were hoping that that problem might have been alleviated somewhat with the introduction of the Russian developed a vaccine.

[01:10:06]

In Brazil, some 66 million doses have already been agreed to in different contracts. Monday night, Brazilian health regulators actually denied emergency use authorization for the Russian developed vaccine, saying that it has grave concerns over the safety of this vaccine, the efficacy of the vaccine. It says Russia did not provide enough data about quality control, about efficacy, and also that there were flaws throughout the clinical testing phase during the development of this vaccine.

So, because of those reasons and more, health regulators in Brazil denying entry to Brazil, denying use of this Russian developed vaccine. Meanwhile, the agency in Russia that's funding the development of that vaccine, the agency responded with the CEO basically saying the decision in Brazil was a political one, saying that he believes that Brazil made the decision due to direct political pressure from the United States.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AVLON: The U.S. is hoping for more stable relations with Russia, as it hides a face to face meeting between the two countries presidents. We're going to dive deeper into details with a White House report coming up.

Plus, the Saudi crown prince says the world's largest oil company is in talks to sell a stake of Aramco to foreign investors. More on that in a live report, up ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: Ukraine's president is telling the country's military to be ready at anytime and case Russia sends troops back to its border. President Zelensky visited a military base in southern Ukraine on Tuesday near the Crimean peninsula seized by Russia in 2014. Just last week, Russian troops began pulling back from the shared border after weeks of amassing forces.

The Ukrainian president said Monday all sides in the conflict were at the finish line of agreeing on a new cease-fire. He also said he will likely meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the conflict. America's top diplomat says the U.S. and Russia are discussing the

timing of a possible summit between President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's comments come a day after sources say the White House is working on details of a likely meeting, which could happen as early as summer. Blinken says it's important to speak directly with Mr. Putin, but he noted that President Biden has made it clear that if Russia continues to engage in aggressive actions, the U.S. will respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We would prefer a more stable, predictable relationship. But that is ultimately up to Mr. Putin. If he continues to engage in this kind of conduct, we will stand up and respond to it.

On the other hand, if he chooses not to escalate, and I think there are areas where we can work together out of our mutual shared interest, for example, strategic stability.

[01:15:04]

We've extended new START. There is more to be done in that area.

But all of that, whether it's making clear what we're going to do if Russia continues to act out, or what we could do if it chooses to get on to a more predictable and stable course, all of that benefits from being able to speak face to face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Natasha Bertrand joins me now. She's a CNN White House reporter covering national security.

Welcome to CNN, Natasha.

First off, what's the latest on this proposed summit between Biden and Putin?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, the White House is hammering out the details of this. When we do know, any summit that would take place between the president and Vladimir Putin would take place after President Biden meets with G7 E.U. officials, committed officials in Europe this summer. In keeping with the administration's practice, a coordinating major for national and officials with key allies. That's important, because obviously the sequencing here is sending a strong signal to Russia that the U.S. comes at this relationship from a position of strength, and from a position of coordination with allies and from a united front.

So, when the president goes to Europe in June for these meetings, it is expected as of right now, that he will meet with Vladimir Putin shortly thereafter once he's already in Europe. The president has already propose to it, to Putin, that they hold the European summit around that time, and we are told that it is going to probably take place early this summer. So, that's where we are at right now. We don't know the exact details

of where it's going to take place, several states have volunteered to host the summit, such as Vienna. Vienna is actually looking like a pretty likely possibility as of right now.

But this could all change, there's a lot that Russia can do to make the administration say, perhaps, this isn't worth it. And we're not going to reward you with a meeting.

AVLON: This is of course a fluid situation, but as you say, the Biden administration is pursuing the summit from position of strength. That is a starkly different position from Trump and Putin. President Biden has called Vladimir Putin a killer. He's instituted two rounds of sanctions, expelled 12 Democrats, diplomats, excuse me.

So, what is the significance of the fact that the Russians, and the Biden administration seem so eager to get this on the books, early in the administration?

BERTRAND: Well, the Biden ministration wants to show that it is willing to engage with adversaries in the name of national security, in the name of making sure there are no misunderstandings, diplomatic misunderstanding, security misunderstandings that could lead to something potentially catastrophic. And this isn't a reset exactly, the Biden administration seriously cautions anyone against calling it that. Of course, the last recent during the Obama administration did not exactly work.

But it is an attempt to move forward in areas that they can cooperate on. One such area that the Biden administration has made a key priority, obviously, is climate. They feel the Russians could have a role to play there in combating climate change if they are committed to that. Another area is counter-terrorism, which has been done in the past biking administrators. It's an area where the U.S. would see more cooperation by Russia.

So, there are other areas including nuclear security for example where the U.S. would like to see some kind of deconfliction and predictability and stability in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

And the Russians, of course, are very eager to have this recognition of being once again, major players on the world stage, and having especially over the last few years being considered a global pariah, and traditional pariah by the global community because of their annexation Crimea and the invasion of Eastern Ukraine. It would be to their benefit to have this summit with the U.S., and be recognized by a new administration as a legitimate actor in the international community. That is what the Russians are hoping to get out of this.

AVLON: But you mentioned Ukraine and that's obviously key. You've said that reset has been rejected. But Ukraine has been obviously the scent of continued sanctions. Russia had been building up forces on the border. .

So, what is the significance of the staging of the meetings with Ukraine ahead of Russia, both the secretary of state and potentially for the president?

BERTRAND: Very key, John. So, the administration is dispatching Secretary of State Tony Blinken to Kyiv early next month, as soon as next week, to meet with his Ukrainian counterparts. And what we're told is that it is essential to ease their anxiety over a potential Biden Putin summit this summer, because there is a lot of fear in Ukraine that this is a reward for Russian to sit down with you United States and again be recognized as legitimate actor on the international stage.

[01:20:05]

And the Ukrainians are aware of that because they've been at war with Russia, of course, for the last 6, 7 years. So, they are very that they don't have a say, and if they don't have a voice in these discussions, they are going to have decisions be made over their head, they will be sold out. Here they want reassurances from the United States that they are going to continue being a key security partners, they're going to continue receiving military assistance from the United States, that they're going to have the support, the full support of the United States and NATO behind them as they continue to deal with Russian aggression.

So, the Ukrainians really wants a meeting between their president, Zelensky, and Biden before any meeting with Vladimir Putin takes place. That will be on the agenda for Secretary of State Blinken next week when he meets with those counterparts is, can we make this happen before Biden sits down with Zelensky -- before Biden sits down with Putin? Either virtually, or with a sit-down summit while President Biden is in Europe?

These are things being considered by the administration. But, of course, nothing has been telegraphed by the White House so far on this.

AVLON: Well, front loading meeting with Ukraine would send a very strong message about the priorities.

Natasha Bertrand, CNN White House reporter, thank you very much for joining us.

BERTRAND: Thank you.

AVLON: The U.S. secretary of state is also responding to growing concerns that the Taliban could seized on the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan.

Antony Blinken told CNN's Tapper that regional neighbors will have to use their influence to keep the country stable. But he also emphasized that the U.S. will stay involved in diplomacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLINKEN: Even as we are withdrawing our forces, we are not disengaging from Afghanistan. We are remaining deeply engaged in the diplomacy in support for the Afghan government as people, development, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, support for the security forces. We have trained over the years as you know very well, more than 300,000 of them.

So, all of that remains. And I think that there are different actors that work now, who I hope, we'll keep moving this in a more positive than negative direction. But we have to plan, we are planning for every scenario.

TAPPER: What happens to the girls and women of Afghanistan when we pull out?

BLINKEN: Jake, when I was in Kabul after the president's decision, I not only met with President Ghani and other leaders, I spent some time talking to some remarkable woman. A lawyer, an NGO leader, a teacher, a mayor, a parliamentarian, and I listened very carefully to their stories, to their concerns, and yes, to their fears.

But here's the thing, our support for them will endure, and I can say very clearly and categorically, that an Afghanistan that does not respect the rights, does not sustain the gains we've made will be a pariah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says troops have already begun withdrawing from local areas. The U.S. plans to get all remaining troops out of their country by September 11th.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince is calling the U.S. as strategic partner and says that his country has just a few differences with the Biden administration. Mohammed bin Salman's comments came in a televised interview Tuesday. They said the country is looking for things they disagree on, but also that, quote, avoiding points of difference.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration released a report implicating the crown prince in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince says Saudi Arabia is now in talks to sell 1 percent of the state oil firm, Saudi Aramco, to a major foreign investor.

Joining us now with the details is CNN's John Defterios. John.

So, Saudi Aramco's most prized asset in the country, the world's largest oil company, so what is the crown prince suggesting will occur in the next phase of a sale to a foreign investor?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Yeah, it's a big issue in this region in particular because of the oil assets we see in the Middle East, John. The crown prince unveiling the crown jewel, if you will, the plans for the future. They say it's a small stake in 2019, original aspiration was to go to the New York Stock Exchange, or the London Stock Exchange and Riyadh, they only listed in Riyadh.

Now, he's suggesting that a major energy country in a major country is looking at taking a stake of 1 to 2 percent over a period of time of 1 to 2 years. It's a little bit unusual, John, to show your hand that early in the game. But clearly, the crown prince is that Saudi Aramco can raise more money for his phase of the 2030 vision to diversify the economy.

Let's listen to MBS on Saudi television.

[01:25:04]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN, SAUDI CROWN PRINCE (through translator): I can't say the name of this country, but it's a huge country. If they got 1 percent of Aramco's industry in Saudi Arabia, and the request for Aramco's products in that country, the country bought the share.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEFTERIOS: So, those in the financial markets are starting to guess. So, what would this mean? Perhaps China is a big customer of Saudi Aramco, and CNPC, the oil giant there. Japan also major component.

But we can't, John, rule out the United States, because it is a major consumer still, despite the energy transition of oil. So, there is a lot of options on the table. But the concept is, he raised money from Saudi Aramco, you put it in the state investment fund, the public investment fund, the PIF itself, and then that drives the personification.

It has a challenge, because they spent a lot of money on development after the Khashoggi murder, foreign direct investment went down quite sharply but is rising again. But he needs to reduce unemployment of the country to show the benefits of his 2030 vision with unemployment around 12 percent, John.

AVLON: Well, certainly, that would be big news for global markets and geopolitics as you say.

Now, the crown prince was a very close ally of Donald Trump, who covered for him and refused to condemn notably, after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

So, what is MBS's view on relations with the Biden administration, and Washington's move to reopen talks with Iran?

DEFTERIOS: Yes. As you can hear, a softening tone from Mohammed Bin Salman, particular when it comes to Iran. But also look at what happened when it came to the year before when Biden took office, they settled this long-standing economic embargo with Qatar. So, they're trying to say we could be a bridge builder if you will.

With the Biden administration, I thought it was interesting, saying we have 90 percent agreement with each other, we are working on the final 10 percent. That would of course had to agree with the nuclear agreement of Iran as the Biden administration opens up talks.

He said something very interesting. We don't want to have a bad relationship with Iran, we want to deal with them and work with them in the future. When it comes to nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles, and the use of proxy Houthi rebels putting attacks on Saudi Arabia, that's where he draws the line. So one argue wet he has interviewed himself on his 6-year war in Yemen.

But, clearly, a different tone from Mohammed Bin Salman, now reducing that bellicose language against Iran and wanting to work with Biden administration, John.

AVLON: Fascinating stuff as always. John Defterios in Abu Dhabi, than you very much.

All right. Serious accusations of misconduct are following the British prime minister as he hits the campaign trail. Why they could cast a long shadow over the months ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:30:16]

AVLON: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm John Avlon.

We have breaking news from India where the country just topped 200,000 deaths as the coronavirus pandemic there spirals out of control.

Sounds of sorrow and pictures of people begging for oxygen have become an all too common sight in India. Many hospitals are out of beds and turning away critically-ill patients and health care workers are under tremendous strain.

The number of deaths is overwhelming. Bodies are being cremated in makeshift crematoriums in parks and parking lots. But aid is already arriving as the U.S. and other countries pledged to help.

One hospital administrator admits that oxygen is running low throughout India, but she says the real logjam is in transporting it. She told CNN there are other problems that are complicating this crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANGITA REDDY, JOINT MANAGING DIRECTOR, APOLLO HOSPITALS: I think the biggest thing which is under strain and stress is the medical manpower itself. It's doctors and nurses who are stretching themselves because every single health system has added beds. We are currently operating over 4,500 beds for COVID but in addition to that, we are doing over 5,000 patients in home care and telemedical kind of treatment.

We have taken up hotel rooms, almost 3,500 hotel rooms and put medical devices and clinicians in those to supervise patients over there, so everybody is stretched.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: I spoke last hour with Jeffrey Gettleman, the South Asia bureau chief for "The New York Times" and I asked him how the virus variants are contributing to the surge in India.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, SOUTH ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So there are a number of variants circulating in India now. And India is the perfect laboratory for mutations. You have rapid transmission in an enormous population 1.4 billion people. So it's giving the virus opportunities to change and to adapt, that's what viruses do.

So there's two variants. There's one known as the double mutant because it has two mutations that were seen on other strains. And then there's this U.K. variant here that is believed to be even deadlier. And the combination of the two is what's sickening so many people.

But the data in India is just not great. The government has not done a lot of studies on these individual variants, so we don't know what's happening, really, like why we are seeing this incredible spike.

But I do think that the rest of the world is concerned about what's happening in India for a couple of reasons. One, they feel horrible seeing these images of people dying needlessly because they can't get medical help. And two, they are worried that these variants and India can spread outside of India and infect or reinfect people all over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying to fend off an array of unsavory allegations. They include possible corruption and a cold hearted response to the COVID crisis.

Isa Soares explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After a horrific year of deaths and lockdowns, Boris Johnson's had hoped for a triumphant spring. Easing restrictions, opening up the economy, and taking credit for Britain's successful vaccine program.

BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I literally did not feel a thing.

SOARES: But as the prime minister hits the campaign trail this week, he faces damaging allegations about his conduct that might cast a shadow on the months ahead.

He's reported to have said he'd rather let the bodies pile high than enforce a third lockdown. Remarks said to have been made during a heated discussion in Downing Street in October.

A British tabloid and two broadcasters cite unnamed sources for the claims. Johnson denies he used these words, but again and again, he's asked did he?

JOHNSON: No. But again, I think the important thing I think that people want us to get on and do as a government, is to make sure that the lockdowns work.

MICHAEL GOVE, CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER: The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind.

SOARES: The prime minister approved a lockdown in October and again as the U.K. faced its deadliest wave this year --

JOHNSON: The government is once again instructing you to stay at home.

SOARES: But the claim could haunt the leader of the nation with one of the worst COVID-19 death tolls in the world.

JOHN RENTOUL, CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, THE INDEPENDENT: It's a fairly horrifying thing to say, isn't it? You know, let the bodies pile up, pile high in their thousands.

[01:34:50]

RENTOUL: But it was sometime ago and it was very much in the context of the difficult decisions that the government faced at the end of October when they really didn't want to lock down but felt that they had to.

SOARES: It's not the only story that threatens the prime minister's trademark optimism. A stack of claims, all denied, are piling up at Downing Street's door. There were demands for an independent inquiry into who paid for expensive upgrades to his Downing Street flat.

Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds have spent tens of thousands of pounds redecorating their home, according to British news outlets. A former top aide turned critic alleged Johnson planned to have conservative party donors split the bill. Although his trade minister said Johnson has paid for it.

Dominic Cummings was once Johnson's right-hand man but left Number 10 in November amid a power struggle. He's now at war with former colleagues who worry what secrets he's prepared to spill.

RENTOUL: There could be other stories that are embarrassing to the prime minister that are yet to -- yet to come out. I think Dominic Cummings has that kind of information. It looks as if he's prepared to stop at nothing to use it.

Cummings has denied being the source of the leak of texts with the billionaire James Dyson. Johnson reportedly said he would fix the tax issue if Dyson's staff came to the U.K. to produce ventilators during the first wave of the pandemic last year.

JOHNSON: I make absolutely no apology at all, Mr. Speaker for shifting heaven and earth and doing everything I possibly could, I think any prime minister would in those circumstances, to secure ventilators for the people of this country and to save lives.

SOARES: Meanwhile, the opposition leader says claims about bad behavior and misconduct can't be brushed aside. KEIR STARMER, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Every day there is more evidence of

this sleaze and frankly it stinks.

SOARES: Only a third of Britons think Johnson is trustworthy, according to a new poll. The worry for the prime minister is how to limit the damage and quell (ph) a row that shows no sign of simmering down.

Isa Soares, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AVLON: Dominic Thomas is CNN's European Affairs commentator. He's with us from Los Angeles now.

Dominic, let's dig into the politics, the policy and the personnel here. You know, it was December of 2019 only that Boris Johnson was resoundingly defeating Jeremy Corbyn.

This seems like a real setback, but how much does this parade of scandals really put him in political peril?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: I think on this particular occasion, what's so different is that nobody doubts that these words could have originated in Boris Johnson's mouth. As you know, he has a very long track record of making inappropriate and offensive comments.

And on this particular occasion, you could even argue that they are not only insensitive but even cruel. But what's so different this time around is the particular way in which, well first of all, we are a long way beyond Brexit. And so that sort of political project that united the party is behind them.

But on this particular occasion, he is embroiled in this bitter conflict with his former senior aide Dominic Cummings, and people are concerned about where this public process will end up. And you can see within his own cabinet, within his own party, people beginning, I think, to sort of jockey for a potential post-Boris Johnson cabinet here.

AVLON: Which is stunning, considering house soundly he defeated Jeremy Corbyn not that long ago.

But I want to dig in to that relationship because Dominic Cummings was about as close to the prime minister as you could be. If anyone knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak, it's Dominic Cummings.

So how unprecedented is this kind of a fallout, and how nervous are the folks at 10 Downing Street?

THOMAS: Well, the folks at !0 Downing Street are very -- are very nervous and I think that issue is compounded I think as well by the sort of era we live in, the era of digital media and WhatsApp and all the sort of access to materials that Dominic Cummings had. The particular allegations that go from essentially, you know, financial and ethical and lack of integrity, to the mishandling of the issue that has shaped U.K. politics since Brexit, which has been the response to COVID.

So these are very, very damaging and the Conservative power, you know, Party holds the majority that Boris Johnson sits at the helm based on whether or not Conservative Party membership wishes to keep him there.

So there's even a mechanism here whereby they can hold on to power by substituting the prime minister. And as we've seen the reason is this is becoming a frequent occurrence within the Conservative Party.

[01:39:52]

AVLON: There does seem to be a trend. And obviously with Dominic Cummings, there must be the looming danger that there couldn't be more that comes out.

But let me ask you this, I know at the outset of this scandal and some of the allegations of corruption, there was the sense that perhaps this didn't matter. That some of this had been baked in the cake, if you will, in terms of people's perceptions of Boris Johnson. Do you think the issues are being taken more seriously now?

THOMAS: They are being taken more seriously. And what's so interesting is that the party was united around Brexit. It's what allowed them to win this landslide election. All that Boris Johnson had to do was simply argue -- let's get Brexit done. And that won them and extended their parliamentary and majority and in theory has allowed them now to do anything that they want to do.

What is interesting is that he's been embroiled in these kinds of problems before. He's made these inappropriate comments but they have gone nowhere. They have offended people, but they haven't threatened his sort of position of power.

But I think on this particular occasion, we are seeing across political lines including in the British media a sort of a discontent with the way in which he's governing and inconsistent messaging, COVID fatigue and an insensitive leader at the helm. And the folks around him are loyal to themselves, not to the prime minister and I think see opportunities then for them advance their own political careers and to skip ship before it sinks.

AVLON: So quickly, before we go, who might some of those people eyeing a possible ascension be?

THOMAS: There's a whole group of them and many of them have been around for a few years vying for these positions since David Cameron, Prime Minister May, and so on. So you have one of the leading contenders would clearly be his chancellor of the Exchequer and behind him the foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

But there's also another figure in the wings not currently in the cabinet, considered a more moderate Republican who served under May, the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. So there is a whole group of them that could potentially put up a challenge to him and they have grown accustomed to running these campaigns over the last few years with so much transition at the Conservative Party leadership level.

AVLON: Never any shortage of drama at Downing Street.

Dominic Thomas, thank you very much for joining us.

All right.

Up next, generating power one step at a time, a U.K. start-up looks to reshape the future of clean energy with a new floor tiling that creates energy under your feet.

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AVLON: This week CNN's Bianca Nobilo is exploring how technology is playing a pivotal role in the way cities mobility are changing for a special called "ROAD TO THE FUTURE".

Today, she looks at a U.K. start-up installing a new kind of floor tiling that generates energy when people walk on it.

[01:44:57]

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BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One of the key aspects of smart cities in the future will be their renewable energy. And while solar looks likely to dominate the future of urban energy generation, one company thinks there is a gap in the market for a kinetic technology. And it's as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Pavegen's energy tiles have already been installed in over 200 projects across 36 different countries. And CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook me at one of their newest installations in the U.K.

(on camera): Tell me how your Pavegen tiles work.

LAURENCE KEMBALL-COOK, CEO, PAVEGEN: So how the system works is underneath the triangle is a rotary flywheel. So when you stand on it, it spins the flywheel for up to around 10 seconds per step. And the more you walk on it, the more it spins and it gives a continuous flow of power as someone walks down the street.

NOBILO (voice over): Each step generates between 2 and 5 watts of energy depending on weight. So the heavier the foot or wheel, the more energy produced.

On a small track like this, it's enough to charge a phone or provide lighting for these benches. But with bigger networks and constant commuter footfall, Pavegen sees bigger possibilities.

KEMBALL-COOK: We see applications for Pavegen in street lighting, pollution sensing, off grid power networks, maybe even in the future, feeding it back to the grid.

So we're expanding into key markets, so it's outside the White House in the area called Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. We've got running tracks in Hong Kong on the fourth story of a building and as you run the track, you use the energy to power lights in the building itself.

We believe we can reshape how cities look in the future. (INAUDIBLE) outside of every single office, every train station, every retail environment, and maybe even on every single road. So we want to take it everywhere.

And so the communities that can really benefit for it. So in a developing world, there's many applications where the energy produced can be incredibly valuable.

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AVLON: The E.U.'s chief executive says she was met with sexism at a meeting with the Turkish president earlier this month. But Turkey insists it was all just a big misunderstanding.

We will have the latest on what's been called sofa--gate, when we return.

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AVLON: There are signs that the crisis in Myanmar is turning into a wider conflict. Ethnic Minority Karen insurgents attacked a Myanmar army outpost near the Thai border Tuesday. The Karen National Union and Thai authorities said the military hit back with air strikes.

The Thai military moved 450 villagers away from the border for the safety. Villagers say they heard gunfire before dawn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUPART NUNONGPAN, MAE SAM LAEP VILLAGE CHIEF (through translator): I have never heard the sounds of guns like this. I have never seen people needing to flee like this. I am really concerned for all the villagers. I'm also afraid because we live along the border.

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AVLON: Meanwhile, a group that claims to be a new fighting force against Myanmar's junta released a video of members training in an area held by the KNU. A founder of the United Defense Force says they're protesters who fled the crackdowns. She says they'll train for three months to fight, not for a party or an individual, but quote, "for the people".

[01:49:48]

AVLON: Chad's interim leader is pleading for international support to prop up the beleaguered country's economy and restore stability. Chad's long-time president Idriss Deby was killed last week while visiting troops battling rebels in the north.

In his first speech since taking power, the late president's son promised to keep fighting terrorism, defending taking over for his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHAMAT IDRISS DEBY (through translator): the high dignitaries of our defense and security forces had no other choice than to do what they had to in this exceptional context of the general forthcoming chaos and the implosion of the country.

Confronted by the president of the National Assembly, declining to assume constitutional powers and faced with this immediate danger, a transitional military council has taken over to deal with this ultimate peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: But protesters are demanding an immediate return to civilian rule.

AFP reports at least five people have been killed and dozens more wounded in the demonstrations. President Deby's raises broader questions about security and stability.

Chad has been a close ally of France, a former colonial power in the effort to halt the spread of Islamist terror but as Melissa Bell reports, now Chad's internal upheaval could spread to the rest of the region.

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MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He had just won his sixth term, but Idriss Deby died as he came to power, violently. It wasn't his first frontline, but the war being raged against his 30-year-long grip on power by the fact (ph) or the Front for Change in Concord in northern Chad was to be his last.

By his funeral on Friday, his son Mahamat Deby had controversially taken power. Alongside him, Chad's former colonial power steadfast in its support. France backed Deby's coup in 1990 and was there at the end, too.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): France will never let anyone, either today or tomorrow, challenge Chad's stability and integrity.

BELL: France says it has not carried out any airstrikes, but has provided intelligence to help Chad's army against the rebels. This thanks to its (INAUDIBLE) force which is based in N'Djamena. Its 5,000 troops are fighting a range of Islamist groups in the broader Sahel, alongside regional forces.

Chadean in troops are one of France is most reliable partners. If they pull out to focus on trouble at home, militant groups will take notice.

CAMERON HUDSON, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If they interpret this as a power vacuum, and if they interpret as a lack of political continuity within chad as an opportunity, then you are likely to see a bold moves by Boko Haram or other extremist groups throughout the Sahel, in which case French and others really could be put on their heels as a result of the Chadean withdrawal and all the political uncertainty emanating from N'Djamena.

BELL: That uncertainty was borne across the border in Libya where the Fact (ph) rebellion trained and fought alongside another of France's allies. The troops of General Khalifa Haftar and his Russian mercenaries. The 2020 Libyan ceasefire and peace process forced foreign fighters out of the country, as the largely ethnically Guran Fact (ph) headed south, they were joined by Tubu (ph) and Tua (ph) red rebels, too.

But their initial optimism that the government was vulnerable, soon faded amid heavy, aerial bombardments by the Chadean army.

But Mahamat Deby is facing not only a rebellion in the north but questions also about the legitimacy of his rule.

SALEH KABZABO, LEADER, NATIONAL UNION FOR DEMOCRACY AND RENEWAL PARTY (through translator): I can only agree with those who currently condemn the setting up of a military body. It looks like a coup. It should not be a coup.

BELL: For Mahamat Deby's first week in power, the support of France was critical. The question now is whether it will be enough to ensure the stability that Idriss Deby so long represented.

Melissa Bell, CNN -- Paris.

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AVLON: Turkey is pushing back on a claim from European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, who says she was subjected to sexism at a meeting with the Turkish president earlier this month.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh with more from Istanbul.

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JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This incident earlier this month has been dubbed, sofa-gate. We had two European Union presidents arriving to meet the Turkish president in Ankara -- the European Council President Charles Michel and the European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen.

They walk into a room to meet with President Erdogan, only two seats were set up in the center of that room, two chairs that were taken by the two men, leaving Von Der Leyen standing and it was a very awkward moment that was caught on camera.

She was eventually seated on a sofa, on the same level as the Turkish foreign minister. Of course, she is higher ranking official.

[01:54:55] KARADSHEH: Turkey came under a lot of criticism following this incident. Accused of treating two presidents differently because Von Der Leyen is a woman. And Charles Michel also coming under criticism for taking that chair.

Now Turkey completely rejected the accusations that this happened because of her gender, saying the Turkish foreign minister at the time saying that this was an issue that was discussed between the protocol teams from both sides, and that Turkey went with the arrangements that were suggested by the E.U. protocol team.

Charles Michel also addressed that issue at the time, blaming this on Turkey's strict interpretation as he put it of protocol.

We have heard this week from Von Der Leyen herself, saying that she felt alone, she felt hurt as a woman.

Take a listen to what she told the European Parliament.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: I am the first woman to be president of the European Commission. I am the president of the European Commission.

And this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago, like a commission president. But I was not. I cannot find any justification for what I was treated in the European treaties. So I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman. Would this have happened if I had worn a suit, and a tie?

KARADSHEH: She went on to say that this incident was caught on camera, that there are thousands of far more serious incidents that take place, that go on observed and unseen.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN -- Istanbul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AVLON: In Albania, a man is being hailed for leaping into action. The blink-and-you-will-miss-it moment was captured on video Sunday.

You could see a badly damaged car careening through a square in the capital. People tried to pull the driver out with no success. But then out of the crowd, a man runs out and jumps feet first through the driver's window.

They worked to subdue the driver who was arrested by police. They say he was likely on drugs. The man who jumped into the car says he was worried it was a terrorist attack and he wanted to protect people.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Avlon.

CNN NEWSROOM continues with Rosemary Church.

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