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Israel Responds to Gaza Rocket Fire with Airstrikes; Over Half of India under Lockdown; U.K. Prime Minister Approves Next Phase of England's Reopening; China Reports Slowest Population Growth in Decades; U.N. Reports 781 Killed, Thousands Injured in Myanmar; U.S. Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Fast Boats. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired May 11, 2021 - 02:00   ET

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


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ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, welcome to our viewers all around the world, thank you for joining me, I'm Robyn Curnow.

Just ahead on CNN, Israel fires back after rockets are launched from Gaza, in a dramatic escalation of violence. We take you live to the region.

Plus, COVID cases, down for the second straight day in India but there is growing concern for rural areas, with little access to health care.

And China's population is growing but at a much slower pace than in the last years. Why that could mean trouble for the world's second largest economy.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Great to have you along this hour.

Tensions are high in Jerusalem. After weeks of confrontations, Israel and Gaza, exchanged rocket fire throughout Monday night. Clashes also at the mosque complex, when Israeli police entered the mosque after evening prayers.

And Israel Defense Forces said that hundreds of rockets had been fired from Gaza towards Israel but dozens were intercepted. Israel has responded with airstrikes. Palestinian health officials saying the strikes have killed nearly 2 dozen people, including 9 children. Hadas Gold, with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Palestinians running from flash bangs fired by Israeli police, at the Al-Aqsa mosque. Israelis ducking for cover, as incoming rockets fired from Gaza streak through the sky. A day when tensions have escalated dramatically.

There is a red alert going off.

Sirens even sounding in Jerusalem.

There are women right now, cradling their children on the ground.

Palestinians digging in Monday at the Al-Aqsa mosque, attending to erect barricades and raising glee for mass flags (ph). Pelting Israeli forces with rocks and fireworks. Leading police to move in with force with stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Despite police telling nationalist Israelis that they could not marched through the Damascus gate to the Old City, some right wing activists were arrested for barging ahead and attempting to break through the barricades.

The deteriorating security situation in Jerusalem leading to an abrupt, early end to the corruption trial proceedings for the day against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The escalating unrest leading officials to divert the course of Monday's planned Jerusalem Day flag march, a day many feared would put Israeli nationalists on a direct collision course with the Palestinian protesters in the Old City, a move that angered Israeli right-wing politicians, who threatened to cancel the march in protest as revelers continued to dance and chant with the flags until sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from Gaza began to ring out and forced them to take cover.

Some Palestinians cheering, as Hamas made good on a threat to retaliate against what it views as Israeli aggression on Palestinians in Jerusalem. Israel responding in kind with targeted airstrikes in Gaza.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): We will not tolerate harm to our territory, to our capital, to our citizens or to our soldiers. He who attacks us will pay a heavy price.

GOLD (voice-over): As calls for de-escalation of violence by the international community, so far go unheeded.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Thanks to Hadas for that.

Elliott Gotkine is in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, with the latest on what's happening on the ground there.

What can you tell us about what happened overnight?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Robyn, since this latest round of hostilities began, some 200 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip, into Israel, according to the Israeli Defense Forces.

Now about 90 percent of them, says the IDF, were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. As you can see behind me, some do get through, including this one hitting this residential apartment block, which lies between the Gaza Strip and Tel Aviv.

The apartment that it scored a direct hit on was destroyed. Others were damaged; 6 were injured and taken to hospital.

Now in response to these rocket attacks, the IDF says that it carried out 130 airstrikes on militant targets, using jet fighters and drones. It says it killed an estimated 15 militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The targets, which they've had their eye on for quite some time, were weapons manufacturing facilities, training facilities, two tunnels and the home of a Hamas battalion commander.

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GOTKINE: Now in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian health ministry says that 22 people were killed, as a result of the airstrikes; 9 of them, children, including a 10-year-old girl.

Now the IDF counters that it does its best to avoid civilian casualties saying, around 30 percent of the rockets fired, from the Gaza strip, actually fell short within Gaza, an abnormally high number, it says. Therefore, it's possible some of those fatalities were caused by fire from militants within the Gaza Strip itself. But it can't say for sure.

It did add the current airstrikes we have seen, in its words, are in the early stages of counter strikes on militant targets in Gaza. It is prepared for an escalation and a variety of possibilities. So it looks like the violence, the rocket fire, the airstrikes, on the part of the IDF, are set to continue today.

CURNOW: You talk about escalations.

So where do we go from here?

What does happen next?

GOTKINE: It looks like neither side is prepared to back down anytime soon. Obviously, in the background, we have the kind of proximate causes of the current eruption of violence.

The court case in relating to Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah homes, which was postponed for 30 days. Of course, that will happen again, we have the end of Ramadan coming up as well.

And of course, the other things going on in the background is Israel's continued political instability. There were coalition negotiations ongoing, which may have included support from one of the Arab parties. Now that may be ditched, as a result of what's going on.

There is a lot going on but, for now, we know that this violence is not going to die down anytime soon.

CURNOW: Elliott Gotkine, live, thank you.

(MUSIC PLAYING) CURNOW: In India's release of its latest COVID figures, just a short time ago, for the second straight day, the number of new cases has fallen, some 330,000 new infections, reported on Tuesday, as you can see here. But that is still quite high and far, far below what we saw over the weekend.

The death toll, creeping up a bit. Now despite the crisis, hundreds of people in the state of Uttar Pradesh have defied lockdown restrictions to attend a funeral for a beloved Muslim cleric. Police say, the crowd would've been in the hundreds of thousands if COVID measures had not been in place.

Now to a warning, the video we are about to air is blurred but still graphic. It appears to show bodies floating in the Ganges River. The remains of more than 30 people were pulled from its banks in eastern India, amid this second wave of the pandemic. It is not yet clear if these were COVID victims. Authorities say autopsies are being performed.

I want to bring in now Sam Kiley, who's live in New Delhi.

Sam, bring us up to date on what we are seeing there, where you are.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Robyn, you were just mentioning there an apparent dip in the numbers over the weekend of COVID infections.

As you well know, these are pretty bogus, frankly, at the best of times. Anywhere in the world, they indicate levels of testing and recording.

Here in India, those levels are quite out of whack with what experts believe is reality. Closer figures could be showed, perhaps, from death tolls. But even there, as we discovered on a visit to a rural state, the figures and reality on the ground are often very far apart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KILEY (voice-over): It's the injustice of a disease that strikes at random that Govodan finds hardest to bear. He insisted he hasn't cheated anyone is life, at 70, no one will speak ill of him. A lifelong potter, every household knows him.

"I haven't a single bad habit, like cigarettes, tobacco or anything. I'm 70, I've never had a row with anyone.

So why is this happening to me?" he pleads.

For the local pharmacist, Jitu (ph), it's too much. He's done what he can to help but dozens have died here in the last month.

Govodan has been ill for three weeks. This is just his home. Most in this Gujarati village in India's west are farmers, enjoying fertile soil and plentiful livestock.

When the wave of India's second pandemic engulfed India's teeming cities, people in the rural areas were not spared.

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KILEY (voice-over): With no village doctor or medics and a shortage of hospital beds in faraway cities, many here rely on Jitu's (ph) experience as a pharmacist.

He sourced oxygen, prescribed drugs.

"There's no one, here no health centers, no doctor, no nurse, there are no facilities in this village. So then I tackled it in a way I saw fit."

Does that make you angry?

"I got very angry but what can one do?

We've got no solutions," he says.

Dinesh says he tried to get his father into 4 hospitals but they were full. His father was diagnosed as a severe COVID patient.

He's seen the devastation of his village, yet his fear is no longer death; it's that COVID will destroy his family.

His daughter has COVID, his wife, too. She's struggling to breathe on their veranda, under the eyes of Hindu deities.

Their home is not far from the village crematorium, which is where volunteer efforts shift from Jitu to Jirgashanga. Until today he's been cremating people almost constantly. Now he clears up their remains. He's brought extra wood for what he fears is coming.

In the village, there are homes which have lost up to 3 people, uncle, son, mother, he's kept careful records.

Just in the last month, he tells me, this is the list of them, he's burned 90 people. In an average year, he burns 30 over 12 months; 90 in one.

Vessels already for families to carry the ashes of their dead, urns made by the potter, before he fell ill to a disease which has taken so many of his neighbors.

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CURNOW: Now, Robyn, there is increasing pressure on prime minister Narendra Modi to announce nationwide lockdowns. A number of states, 25, 27 states and military governments, already have posed forms of lockdown. They vary from total lockdowns to overnight curfews and so on.

There's a lot of pressure, particularly from epidemiologists here in India, to get this COVID wave broken, finally, at least with a relatively short period of lockdown. Of course, that has both political and economic consequences here, Robyn. CURNOW: Indeed it does. Sam Kiley, in New Delhi, thank you so much.

Powerful piece there.

India's COVID catastrophe has spreading to neighboring Nepal. It set a new record for daily cases and deaths on Monday. They reported nearly 9,300 new infections and more than doubled its previous death toll.

This comes as the prime minister called for and then lost a confidence vote, plunging the country into a political crisis as well.

Here in the U.S., federal health officials authorized emergency use of Pfizer's COVID vaccine to include people aged 12 to 15. Now this is the first COVID vaccine authorized for use in younger teens and adolescents in the U.S.

Even though this age group has reported fewer COVID cases than adults, experts say that they are taking a big step forward.

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DR. PAUL OFFIT, U.S. FDA VACCINE ADVISER: People have this notion that children don't suffer, which is not true. There's more than 3.5 million children who have been infected this virus and that's probably a low estimate.

There are hundreds of children who have died of this virus and there's an unusual disease called multi-system inflammatory disease, which we see in our hospital all the time.

It can cause children to have not just high fevers but have some evidence for damage of heart, liver and kidneys. It's important to get these children vaccinated and it will be much easier, for example, when we go down to 12 years of age, to have children vaccinated when they then go back to high school next year.

This can help not only those children but the teachers with whom they come in contact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: A CDC advisory committee, meeting on Wednesday and is expected to sign off on the vaccines used for adolescents before shots can begin.

In Europe, the E.U. pursuing further legal action against AstraZeneca after delayed shipments of its COVID vaccines. A E.U. spokesperson says that it's mostly a procedural move, after the initial lawsuit was filed last month.

The bloc argues, AstraZeneca's delivery delays and supply issues hampered the rollout of vaccinations across Europe, resulting in a breach of contract. The drugmaker, denying that, says that it fully complied with their agreement.

In a few hours, Queen Elizabeth will attend her first big event since the death of her husband, Prince Philip. She speaks at the opening of Parliament, outlining the government's agenda for the next year.

Among those plans, the lifting of COVID restrictions, beginning next week. British prime minister, Boris Johnson, says that England is ready for the next phase and the next step, of its phased reopening.

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CURNOW: That means, people can meet in groups, of 6 indoors, among other things.

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BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: From next Monday, you can sit inside of a pub and inside of a restaurant. You will be able to go to the cinema and children will be able to use indoor play areas. We're reopening hostels, hotels, B&Bs. We will reopen the doors to our theaters, our concert halls and business conference centers.

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CURNOW: In the meantime, the head of Europe's CDC says it's just too early for Europeans to start planning some holiday trips. We'll keep you posted on that.

Still to come, Colombia's president is calling for calm but protesting groups are vowing to keep up demonstrations. More on what they're demanding, that's next.

Also, China sees its slowest population growth in decades, a trend that could spell trouble for the global superpower.

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CURNOW: Welcome back, I'm Robyn Curnow at 17 minutes past the hour.

And the world's most populous country is reporting its slowest population growth in decades, China has just released its latest census figures, showing its population rose to 1.4 billion over last decade.

This slowdown is a trend that could have serious implications for the world's second largest economy. Let's get more on this with Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

Hi, Kristie.

Besides the fact that China managed to count 1.4 billion people during a pandemic, what are the implications of this number?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Look, the population is growing but it is also slowing down. That is the top line here in the world's most populous country, population growth is slipping. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in the last decade,

China posted an average growth rate of about 0.53 percent. That is 0.4 percent lower than the previous decade.

This the slowest population growth since the early 1960s and this is a big deal, it has huge implications for social welfare policy, for health care, for technology as well as for the economy.

If you have a slowdown in population growth, that also means a slowdown in workforce growth. That will just make it more difficult for trying to catch up to the United States, in terms of economic growth.

So why is this happening?

Experts say it's because of a rise in living costs and the fact that young urban couples don't want to start a family. They value of their independence more. But I want to tell listen to this, the official take from the head of the National Bureau of Statistics.

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NING JIZHE, NATIONAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS (through translator): The number of women of childbearing age, especially the most fertile women, was declining and there is a postponement of childbearing and also rising cost of child raising.

[02:20:00]

JIZHE (through translator): All of these are the reasons behind the decline in a newborns. That is a natural result of China's economic and social development.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: I also spoke with Yong Cai, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. He said that China has posted its slowest population growth since the early 1960s.

And he said that this is something that China knows and has known about for a long time, which is why it has reached out to his economy to focus less on manual labor and more on technology. Take a listen.

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YONG CAI, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: Chinese government is clear, society is aware of that and the structural adjustment is ongoing. The truth is, the cheap labor basically, people working nonstop, leaving their family behind, those kinds of base are getting behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: Nevertheless, there is pressure on the Chinese government to roll out measures to mitigate this, maybe further relax its birth control policies altogether. It was back in 2016 when China scrapped its decades-long one-child policy, replace it with a two child policy. But the population growth has continued to slow down.

CURNOW: Thanks for, that Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong.

A major protest group is vowing to push ahead with demonstrations in Colombia, the national strike committee met with Colombia's president but said the government didn't show, quote, "empathy" with its demands. This comes after more clashes between police and protesters on Monday. Polo Sandoval reports from Bogota.

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POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the release of decades worth of repressed anger and dissent. For nearly two weeks now frustrated Colombians have been taking to the streets.

Tensions started rising April 28 over government tax hikes imposed to ease the strain of the pandemic on the economy. Colombian President Ivan Duque withdrew his plan days later, but a wave of anger was already sweeping across the nation, one too late to contain.

GERALDINE LOPEZ, PROTESTOR: These tax reforms was the opportunity to loud [SIC] our voices and say no more.

SANDOVAL: But for Geraldine Lopez and her fellow protesters packing into parks and some even blocking roads, the movement has evolved into something else. Activists want to expose what they say is excessive force from Colombian police directed at protesters, much of it in the city of Cali, the heart of the movement.

LOPEZ: We really need the international community to see what is happening in Colombia.

SANDOVAL: One thing she wants the world to know about, the police shooting of protester Marcelo Agredo on April 28, the first day of protests.

Widely-shared video shows the 17-year-old kick an officer on a motorcycle. As he runs away, the officer shoots and kills the young man.

A senior member of Colombia's national police tells CNN this case is now in the hands of prosecutors.

The U.N. secretary-general calling on authorities to exercise restraint and it reports of human rights violations. At least 27 protesters have been killed, according to the government. But one human rights group reports as many as 47 dead, 39 of them by security forces.

JUAN PABLO RANDAZZO, PROTESTOR: The way that they decided to take these things is to bring the police forces and the military forces against their own people. That's why we're all here. We are not prepared to hear than the next day that one of our friends, that one of our family, that one of our brothers is the one who's getting killed. SANDOVAL: Government officials maintain that leftist militants and illegal armed groups are behind some of the violence.

Meanwhile, Colombians are sinking deeper into poverty. Government statistics show the poverty rate increased from 36 percent in 2019 to 42.5 in 2020.

In the once bustling colonial tourist town of Zipaquira, Marlon Peralta (ph) was forced to go from business owner to waiting tables to support his family, waving down the few visitors who drive past his mostly empty tables.

Peralta (ph) tells me he's never seen his country in such a dismal state. He feels the pandemic only helped make the rich richer and the poor poorer, due to Colombia's economic inequality.

The husband and father of five gets emotional, saying that he feels he may be a rich man when he comes to his health and his family, but financially, he's at his worst.

From the quiet streets of historic towns to the protester-packed avenues in the nation's capital, there is hope among Colombians that things will get better. With a persistent pandemic, a violence-torn country, the only question is when -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Bogota, Colombia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: To Myanmar now, where the U.N. says 781 protesters have been killed and thousands more injured since the military coup three months ago.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANE DUJARRIC, U.N. SPOKESPERSON: Our colleagues on the ground say, they remained appalled by the ongoing violence, at the hands of security forces since the military took over the government on February 1st.

Now in its fourth month, the situation in Myanmar has fast become one of the most -- excuse me -- one of the worst protection and human crisis is in the world today.

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CURNOW: Protesters have filled the streets in hundreds of cities and towns despite a brutal crackdown. A social media blackout has slowed the resistance but a national strike and other measures have crippled Myanmar's economy. The U.N. says the protests and the pandemic could force half the country into poverty by next year.

And the Italian island of Lampedusa is being overwhelmed with migrants desperate to get to Europe, more than 2,000 people arrived over the weekend. According to Italian state media. The country's interior ministry says nearly 13,000 migrants have arrived on Italian shores since the beginning of the year, three times as many during the same period last year.

The E.U. is calling for solidarity, stressing the need for other member states to help with the crisis.

Coming up on CNN, violence is intensifying in Jerusalem, now, the international community is calling for all sides to de-escalate.

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CURNOW: Welcome back to CNN, welcome back to I'm Robyn Curnow, live from Atlanta, it is 28 minutes past the hour.

Tensions are at a high in Jerusalem, at a point that hasn't been seen in years.

The sound of sirens pierced the night as Gaza and Israel exchanged rocket fire. Israel Defense Forces say hundreds of rockets were fired towards

Israel and Israel responded with airstrikes. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the rocket attacks crossed the line but the U.S. is calling for de-escalation from all sides.

Earlier, I spoke with Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud and former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. We talked about why violence has escalated during the holy month of Ramadan at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram esh-Sharif, the noble sanctuary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANNY DANON, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We have to look back a few weeks when President Abbas declared that he was postponing the election in the PA. It was supposed to take place after 17 years, since 2004.

In order to shift public opinion in the PA against Israel, he started to incite and what we saw yesterday were the results of the incitement. They've got nothing to do with anything that we did.

[02:30:00]

DANON: We basically allowed Muslims, Jews and Christians to pray together like always. It was a clear, orchestrated provocation by the PA, we thought later that day Hamas joined the cycle of violence by targeting Jerusalem with rockets.

We are doing what every other nation would do, we are defending our people, we are determined to do it and we will secure freedom of religion for all, not just for Muslims also for Christians and Jews in the city of Jerusalem.

CURNOW: How likely is a wider military conflict in Gaza?

How concerned are you this will escalate further?

DANON: (INAUDIBLE) defense and I can tell you that they always will try to be escalating situation. That's what we are doing today. We are losing our connection with Egypt and other places in the region to de- escalate the situation.

But at the same time, once we do the territorial organization, it's very hard to predict the outcome.

So we are getting ready for all scenarios. We hoped it would be a quiet morning and we can go back to tranquility in the region. But at the same time, we are ready for (INAUDIBLE).

CURNOW: The catalyst to much of this violence has been Israeli efforts to remove Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem, Palestinians say these moves are illegal.

What's your response to that?

DANON: That's an excuse. Yes, we do have disputes on different sides in Jerusalem, we have courts. It takes years to determine results. It's not the only location we're dealing with. But we know and when you look at the history that whenever you want to incite the mob against Jews, use a holy site, use the Temple Mount.

It happened in 1929, in 1936, 1948. Today we see it happening again by using holy sites, using religion in order to incite and to provoke violence in the region.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: But Mohammed El-Kurd has a different view. He's a Palestinian writer whose family lives in Sheikh Jarrah and is facing eviction. Here's what he told me earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOHAMMED EL-KURD, PALESTINIAN WRITER: It's not an eviction. According to the U.N. and countless politicians and human rights organizations, it could amount to war crimes. The situation is pretty tense. We are very scared of losing our homes.

CURNOW: Early settlers and courts would argue their claims to the land predates you and your family.

Have you been allowed to prove otherwise?

EL-KURD: No, the Israeli courts take their documents without verification, whereas our documents will not be looked at. They will not be taken into consideration. Besides, just because something is technically legal does not mean it's ethical or moral or just or accurate or correct.

We've seen many, many systems exploit the law and the judiciary to uphold supremacists and racists' lives.

CURNOW: You've written about being 11 and remembering this incident, about people coming to your home and taking half.

How was it to grow up with the anxiety of dispossession?

EL-KURD: It feels familiar because this is what every Palestinian feels like under the fangs of Israeli colonials in Palestine. My grandmother was thrown out of her home in 1948 in Haifa and again in 1967 and in 2009, when Israeli settler organizations, colluding with the Israeli state, took over half of our home.

This is my second time being dispossessed. It's scary but it also has a name. It's settler colonialism. It's apartheid and these organizations are working together with the state to dispossess Palestinians.

CURNOW: What would you like from the international community?

EL-KURD: I think the mix of self-defense and both sides are growing more and more penetrable, call the occupation what it is. This is what we're facing in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, is colonial violence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Now to a showdown at sea in the Strait of Hormuz, just south of Iran. More than a dozen Iranian fast attack boats traveling at high speed came within 135 meters of U.S. Navy ships, that tried repeatedly to communicate.

[02:35:00]

CURNOW: A Coast Guard cutter fired 30 warning shots and the Iranian boats broke contact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It is an international waterway and of course, when you are in the strait, there are certain limits to your ability to maneuver. I mean, it is a choke point in the region. And it's not insignificant that this dangerous, unsafe and unprofessional incident of behavior occurred there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: The Strait of Hormuz is a vital waterway to move oil out of the Middle East and connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Iranian sea.

Coming up on CNN, the high stakes divorce, with tens of billions of dollars online, the latest on the split between Melinda and Bill Gates and its reported connection to a convicted sex offender.

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CURNOW: So we are learning Bill and Melinda Gates have been working on their divorce since 2019. That is according to "The Wall Street Journal." The billionaire power couple, announcing their split last week. Dan Simon, with more, on these revelations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They met at Microsoft after she started in 1987: Bill, the founder and CEO; Melinda worked in product development.

MELINDA GATES, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: I was new to Microsoft. There were a lot of men there. And you know, you -- you're still looking around. You know, you're still figuring it out.

BILL GATES, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: But after about a year of that, you know, sort of to our surprise, certainly my surprise, we said, Hey, I love you and she said she loved me. And then it's like, wow! And now what is going to happen?

SIMON: After 27 years of marriage, their surprising split has become a source of great intrigue. And now questions are arising whether Bill Gates' contact with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein may have played a role.

"The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Melinda Gates was concerned over her husband's relationship with Epstein, going back many years.

EMILY GLAZER, BUSINESS REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": It seems that Melinda and Bill Gates actually met with Jeffrey Epstein back in 2013. That's according to a source that we spoke with. And Melinda Gates was not happy at the time.

SIMON: That source, an unnamed former employee at the Gates Foundation. Melinda Gates made her concerns known to her husband, according to the "Journal's" Emily Glazer.

GLAZER: She expressed her frustration to Bill Gates and really didn't feel comfortable with the relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, especially since Melinda Gates is a global advocate for women and girls. And it was already known that Jeffrey Epstein, you know, had his issues. And that dismay was expressed, but Bill Gates continued meeting and having ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

SIMON: In fact, according to "The New York Times" beginning in 2011, Gates met with Epstein on numerous occasions, including at least three times at Epstein's Manhattan townhouse.

[02:40:00]

SIMON (voice-over): And at least once staying late into the night. Gates emailing colleagues in 2011, "His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing, although it would not work for me," "The Times" reported.

A Gates spokesperson clarifying in 2019 that he was referring only to the unique decor of the Epstein residence and Epstein's habit of spontaneously bringing acquaintances in to meet Mr. Gates. And it was in no way meant to convey a sense of interest or approval.

His spokeswoman also saying they met to discuss philanthropy and that Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so.

In 2019, Gates told "The Wall Street Journal" he did not have a business relationship or friendship with Epstein.

It's not clear whether Gates' relationship with Epstein ultimately played a role in the divorce. But while the public just learned about the divorce last week, it had apparently been in the works since 2019 and through the pandemic, according to "The Journal."

B. GATES: In the case of Melinda, it's a, you know, truly equal partner. She's a lot like me, in that she's optimistic and she is interested in science. She's better with people than I am.

SIMON: Announcing the split last week on social media, Bill and Melinda Gates said, quote, "We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life."

Now according to the divorce filing, they've already worked out a separation agreement to split their assets, which, according to "Forbes," is estimated to be $130 billion -- Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.

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CURNOW: Actor Tom Cruise has returned his Golden Globe awards in protest of the Hollywood Press Association.

The "Mission: Impossible" and "Jerry Maguire" star has won three of the awards in the past for various roles.

Cruise's move comes as the organization, which gives the Golden Globes, is wrapped up in controversy over multiple issues; most notably, a lack of diversity and no Black members.

NBC announced on Monday they would skip airing the show next year to give the Hollywood Foreign Press Association time to make necessary changes.

Meanwhile, some of the music industry's brightest stars are in London for the Brit Awards on Tuesday night, the British equivalent, of course, of the Grammys. Usually airing in February but was postponed by the pandemic. Pop star Taylor Swift, the first woman awarded the global icon prize

and the first non-British recipient. The show was part of the British government's pilot program for resuming live events after the COVID lockdown.

NASA's asteroid liner has started its long journey home. Last October, Osiris Rex became the first spaceship to land on an asteroid. It touched down, recovering samples from an asteroid with a diameter barely larger than the height of the Empire State Building.

After firing its main thrusters on Monday, Osiris Rex took off on a 2.5-year journey, back to Earth. The rock samples it's bringing back could give scientists new insights on how the planets are formed.

And thank you so much for watching, I am Robyn Curnow, it's great being with you. I will hand you over to the good folks at "WORLD SPORT." Enjoy.