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Belarus Forces Plane to Land and Arrest Opposition Leader; Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Meet with Middle East Counterparts on Israel-Hamas Ceasefire; George Floyd's Family Celebrates His Death Anniversary; Conflict with Intelligence Report on Origins of Coronavirus; A Cable Car in Italy Falls Into Mountainside; Volcanic Eruption at Democratic Republic of Congo; Global Impact of George Floyd's Death; Civil Rights Leaders Discuss Impact Of Global Protests; Kenya Launches Wildlife Census; U.S. Restricting Visas Over Conflict In Ethiopia. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 24, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hi, welcome to all of our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. Great to have you along, I'm Robyn Curnow.

So coming up, global outrage and condemnation, Belarus is accused of forcing a plane to land to arrest an opposition activist.

And a year after the death of George Floyd, the pressure for police reform grows for the Biden administration.

And, Kenya, takes action to save its declining wildlife population. We'll tell you how it plans to fight off the growing threats.

We begin with what some describe as "an active state terrorism." Leaders in Europe, the U.K., and the U.S., are blasting Belarus for reportedly forcing a commercial flight to divert, then arresting an opposition activist onboard. Roman Protasevich was on a Ryanair flight traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was diverted.

The airline pointed to a potential security threat on board. But state media and Belarus report that it was President Lukashenko who actually ordered a fighter jet to escort the plane to Minsk where the activist was detained. A passenger on board described what he saw.


UNKNOWN: So, when it was announced that we're going to land to Minsk, so Roman stand up, really opened the luggage door, take the luggage, and was trying to split the things like computers, give it to girlfriend, iPhone or whatever is called his phone, take to the girlfriend. I think he made a small mistake because there was around plenty people so he could give the things to the girlfriend, which also, I think arrested.


CURNOW: Well, Protasevich was the founder of two telegram channels critical of the government. They are classified as extremists in Belarus and he's been on a government wanted list for terrorism. Lithuania's president is among those slamming Belarus and he says he plans to speak with the European Council in Brussels in the hours ahead.


GITANAS NAUSEDA, LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We demand the release of Roman Protasevich. If that is not done, we shall talk about the very serious sanctions at the E.U.'s disposal. The regime could also face other measures, including declaring Belarus airspace unsafe for civil aviation, and stripping Belavia planes of the right to land at E.U. and NATO airports.


CURNOW: The Belarus opposition leader who ran against President Lukashenko last year calls the activist's detention unprecedented and she's calling on countries to help free him.


SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, BELARUS OPPOSITION LEADER: You know, people who are in prisons now, who suffered for -- they wish to tell the truth about the situation, they are all our heroes. And I want him to be brave and strong, but we really don't understood, just confirmation what happened to him right now because, you know, it's difficult, and the conditions of the people there are awful and just I want him to stay strong and he is strong.


CURNOW: A senior adviser to the opposition leader joins me now from Lithuania. Franak Viacorka is also a friend, an activist of Roman Protasevich, and spoke with him just before the flight. Good to have you on the show, sir. Just before we get to some of the details, I just want you your thoughts, your reaction right now to all of this information that is coming out.

FRANAK VIACORKA, BELARUS OPPOSITION: Honestly, I'm still shocked. All news were devastating. Just a few hours before everything happened, I was in touch with Roman an no one believed it could happen because exactly one week ago while I was taking the same flight with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya flying back from Athens, and we could have be arrested the same way. So, we could be in KGB prison right now.

CURNOW: So that is your concern, no doubt, about your colleague and your friends. Have you any indication about his whereabouts and what your concern about his state right now?

VIACORKA: We don't know what's happening to him, but just imagine a young guy, journalist, flying back from Athens where he worked and had some vacation time. Coming back to Vilnius and suddenly he knew on the plane that the plane is turning to Minsk where he might face the death penalty.

Of course, I can't imagine what he was thinking back, then and that moment. And of course, all the passengers, after 4, 5 hours, got back on the plane, but no Roman Protasevich.


And he is probably in KGB right now at the interrogation. Interrogation usually takes several days and you know that in Belarus, when they interrogate, they might use torture and other means.

CURNOW: Why have they targeted him and gone to such huge lengths to do so?

VIACORKA: They target him because he is very vocal. He is very brave. He was covering protests since last fall when elections were falsified. He was posting videos and pictures and always commented on the events and challenged President Lukashenko.

And during the last few months, he used to work on the telegram messaging at Project Belarus of the brain, which was amounting (ph) on the development of the even in Belarus to Belarus audience in Minsk regions. So he became the personal enemy of Lukashenko and right now we are doing all possible to release him from jail.

CURNOW: Why would Mr. Lukashenko go to such lengths to get hold of him? One analyst I actually spoke to said that this is a sign of weakness, not strength. Do you agree?

VIACORKA: Absolutely agree. A strong leader doesn't need to stop aircraft in order to arrest opponent. Of course, Lukashenko doesn't have support in the country. He lost his legitimacy. He can only rely only on violence, on police force, on law enforcement, on KGB. And this persecution of specific people, journalists, activists, human rights defenders, that's the sign of desperation.

CURNOW: What are you asking Europe to do and the U.S.? We've had comments from Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State. We've had outcry from European leaders. But what would you like them to actually do?

VIACORKA: Exactly. We want actions, but not words of condemnation. This is the moment when the west, democratic countries, must react. We should ask for imposing sanctions on Lukashenko's entreprises, Lukashenko's cronies. Target economic sanction on enterprises which supports the regime.

We will be asking G7 countries to raise Belarus issue at the summit in London. We will be asking State Department and the White House to discuss how Belarus democracy act might be implemented in order to help the Belarusian's on the ground. Journalists, media initiatives, human rights defenders, because people on the ground, people in Belarus, they need help and they need help right now. CURNOW: How concerned are you that all of that might be too late? You

know, that there is torture, perhaps, going on right now, and that a death penalty might be instituted here? How much urgency is needed?

VIACORKA: It's never too late to make effort to do something good. 35,000 people were detained since last August. 3,000 people are under criminal charges in prison. About 20 face terrorist accusations, fake terrorist accusations, and might face the death penalty including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

But, they don't execute women in Belarus, but still, still it's horrible. And the level of torture, the escalation of repression shows that the reaction, immediate western reaction, is must.

CURNOW: Franak Viacorka, thank you very much for joining us, for sharing your analysis, and also your concern. We will continue to check in on you.

VIACORKA: Thank you.

CURNOW: And the United States and the European Union are adding their voices to condemn the arrest. European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen twitted, "The outrageous and illegal behavior of their regime in Belarus will have consequences. Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned. Journalist Roman Protasevich must be released immediately."

And the statement from the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, says, "The shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers including U.S. citizens. We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms."

With a fragile ceasefire holding in Israel and Gaza, the U.S. Secretary of State will also head to the Middle East in the coming days. He'll meet with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.

The U.S. is putting its focus on reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Gaza right now. But Antony Blinken insists there has to be a prospect for a peaceful solution between Israel and the Palestinians, eventually.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: President Biden has been very clear that he remains committed to a two-state solution. Look, ultimately, it is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish, and democratic state. And, of course, the only way to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled.

But I hope that everyone takes from this, is that if there isn't positive change, and particularly, if we can find a way to help Palestinians live with more dignity and with more hope, this cycle is likely to repeat itself.


CURNOW: Humanitarian aid is beginning to flow into Gaza. Palestinian officials' estimates reconstruction will cost tens of millions of dollars. Israeli airstrikes destroyed hundreds of buildings and homes and left many other structures severely damaged and unusable.

Meantime, Jewish visits to Jerusalem's Temple Mount resume Sunday for the first time in weeks. The site is known to Muslims as the noble sanctuary. It's where clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police help to trigger cross-border fighting earlier on this month. Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem with the latest on all of this. Hadas?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, yes, the tension right now is on Gaza which is trying to rebuild, reconstruct, and just assess the destruction that has befallen it. We know that there are hundreds of trucks of aid finally flowing into Gaza, and that there is already tens of millions of dollars, if not more, that have been pledged by international organizations and others to help the people of Gaza.

There is concern from the international community as well as from other governments to make sure that that money that gets funneled into Gaza actually goes to humanitarian efforts and does not end up in the hands of Hamas and helps them rebuild their tunnels and their rocket arsenals. So, a big concern from the international community about that.

We know that the Israelis are also looking into ways to make sure that the money potentially gets funneled through the Palestinian authority in ways that could make sure that it gets into the hands of humanitarian efforts.

We know that there are Egyptian delegations that have been shuttling between Israeli, Palestinian and Gaza officials trying to find ways to ensure that the ceasefire lasts, trying to hammer out the details of what will take this ceasefire to continue as it is because so far, we have seen quiet since that ceasefire was announced in the early hours of Friday morning.

And the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is expected in this region in the next coming days. He will meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and other regional counterparts. And I think what's interesting about Blinken's visit and about the comments that he made yesterday in interviews was he was speaking about the need to restore confidence and dignity and calm here, but he is not yet jumping into negotiations for a two-state solution.

That is well within their goal, within what the Americans want, but he pretty much said that it's a little bit too early to be speaking about a two-state solution.

I think what's also interesting, what we're hearing from the Israelis as well, the finance minister who is a member of the cabinet, speaking in interviews, saying essentially the ceasefire is holding, but that Sinwar, the lead -- the Hamas political leader needs to be careful.

And if there are rockets fired, then Israelis will target Sinwar again. That just goes to show you how the ceasefire is holding, but things are still very tense as we saw in the clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Friday at the Al-Aqsa compound.

Now, the ceasefire is holding, that is the most important aspect of all of this, but it is still very intense and the diplomatic efforts are very much underway. Robyn?

CURNOW: Hadas Gold, there in Jerusalem. Thanks so much for that.

So Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of the police killings of George Floyd. President Joe Biden will observe the occasion by hosting the Floyd family at the White House. Family members held a rally at Floyd's memorial on Sunday. Joe Jones was there and he filed this report. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDNT: Robyn, a rally and a march here in Minneapolis commemorating the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd, who died under the knee of then officer, Derek Chauvin. A death that has set off demonstrations around the country.

A tragedy and a murder that is now a political movement. One of the big messages here is passage of the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which is tied up now up on Capitol Hill. President Biden had called for that bill to be on his desk by the one year anniversary, which is occurring on Tuesday, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

The family of George Floyd will visit the White House, but the bill, tied up due to disagreements over immunity for police officers. Joe Johns, CNN, Minneapolis.

CURNOW: And New Jersey State police are investigating after a gunfire killed two people and wounded more, a dozen more at a house party. Shots rang out just before midnight on Saturday and Fairfield, New Jersey. Police are still looking for a motive in the shooting and no information about potential suspects is being released.

A local minister said he heard at least nine shots and saw people running from the house. Deadly shootings were also reported in several other states over the weekend.

A new U.S. intelligence is raising questions about the origins of the coronavirus. All because of high-level reports that really just don't matchup. Intel found several researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill and were hospitalized in November, November of 2019.

Yet, China reported to the World Health Organization saying the first patient with COVID symptoms wasn't recorded until nearly a month later. Top U.S. disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the search for definitive answers needs to continue. Take a listen.

UNKNOWN: 02:15:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability, exactly what happened. Certainly, the people who've investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir, that then infected individuals, but it could've been something else. And we need to find that out.


CURNOW: The director of the Wuhan National BioSafety Lab calls the U.S. Intel report on these hospitalizations a complete lie according to state media. CNN has reached out to the Chinese foreign ministry for comment.

And coming up on CNN. Tragedy in the Italian Alps after more than a dozen people are killed in a cable car accident.


CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow. Authorities in northern Italy are investigating a horrifying cable car accident, which claimed the lives of 14 people on Sunday. A child is believed to be the only survivor and is in a critical condition.

AFP reports that prosecutors in Milan have opened an investigation into involuntary homicide and negligence. CNN contributor, Barbie Nadeau is in Rome ad has more on this accident. Barbie.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We're following tragic news out of Italy. On Sunday morning, a cable car carrying 15 passengers plummeted down a mountainside on the banks of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. Almost all of the passengers died immediately at the accident.

Now, this accident happened just as the cable car was about to reach its final destination, 1,491 meters above the lake. They were trying to reach a panoramic outlook area, overlooking this very popular lake in the north of the country. Rescue workers had to be airlifted down or travel on foot in order to reach the wreckage site which was inaccessible by road. Barbie Nadeau, CNN, Rome.

CURNOW: And at least 11 people are dead after Saturday's volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Officials say several died attempting to evacuate. UNICEF also says hundreds of children are feared missing or have been separated from their families.

The eruption occurred near the city of Goma. Thousands of people fled by crossing the border to nearby Rwanda. Here's how one woman described the situation facing survivors.


FURAHA GRACE, LOST HOME TO VOLCANO (through translation): We were in the market and then we had to run without any belongings. When we return to the city, the houses were burned and some people were left destitute. I got into an accident and got hurt. So we are appealing for assistance, and especially for food. We need food because we don't know where we're going to get it from.


CURNOW: Officials say the lava flow stopped by Sunday but not before swallowing up above 600 homes and flattening five schools.

Deposed Myanmar leader, Ang Sun Suu Kyi, is due to appear in court over the coming hours. She faces charges that range from illegally possessing walkie-talkie radios, to violating state secrets law.

This comes as a human rights group says more than 800 people have been killed by the security forces in Myanmar since anti-coup protests began in February. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports more than 4,000 people are still under detention.

And the trail running community in China is mourning the deaths of 21 people after extreme weather hit a 100 kilometer mountain race on Saturday. Frigid temperatures, hail, rain, gale force winds set in hours after this race began. Some runners suffered from hypothermia while others went missing.

Eight people were hospitalized and one survivor says he and about 50 others had to take shelter in a cabin and wait for rescuers.

Next on CNN, nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, CNN sits down with black leaders to discuss the impact it's had on the civil rights movement.


XERNON CLAYTON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I can't breathe. It's become now almost the l0anguage of the streets.



CURNOW: Welcome back. It is 26 minutes past the hour. As we mentioned earlier, Tuesday marks one year since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. George's murder sparked a global protest movement over racism and policing and highlighted the largest struggle for social equality. Our Suzanne Malveaux recently sat down with civil rights leaders to discuss the impact of those worldwide protests.



ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: George Floyd's death went around the world in less than an hour.

CLAYTON: I looked at that and I kept saying to myself, I can't believe this. I can't believe this.

UNKNOWN: When I say George, you say Floyd. George!


JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW PUSH COALITION: You see him begging to live, begging to live. Let me breathe.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The civil rights leaders who fought for racial justice with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 50 years ago are shocked that some of the same issues they marched and bled for are being re-litigated today. Voting rights, health care, police brutality.

CLAYTON: There are so many broken promises. So many unfinished pieces. We have repaired and eliminated bigotry, it's still with us.

JACKSON: He is the Emmett Till of this generation.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Till was the 14-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. His killers acquitted by an all-white jury.

But the video and conviction of Floyd's killer, Police Officer Derek Chauvin, makes this moment in history dramatically different than the overwhelmingly number of police brutality cases against black people. Floyd's killing pierced through a global pandemic, perhaps igniting the largest mass movement in U.S. history.

JACKSON: Black lives matter. They are really saying that people matter. That black lives must not cheapened (ph) by for the (inaudible).

CLAYTON: I can't breathe. It's become now almost the language of the streets.

YOUNG: I compare it to the little girl in Vietnam who was walking down the road naked because the napalm had bomb the cloths off of her. George Floyd's death had that kind of disgusting impact on people of goodwill who said no, this is too much.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): For the surviving members of Dr. King's inner circle, there are lessons today's activists can learn from their experiences, and the experiences of leaders that were lost in 2020, Reverend C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis.

For former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, one of King's most trusted advisers, dedication to the greater cause is key.

YOUNG: We just decided that freedom and justice and opportunity and to perfect this democracy was really worth your life. And he said, we probably won't make it to 40. He said, but if we make it past 40, we will have to make it to 100 because it's going to take a long time to straighten this place out.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): For media pioneer, Xernona Clayton, Dr. King's confidant, activists must protect the movement. CLAYTON: Dr. King never did anything without a plan. Keep your

environment pure and clear of interlopers, of people who just want an opportunity to get in on the news making moments.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): For Reverend Jesse Jackson, Kings protege, hope is powerful.

(On camera): What do you take away from your experience with your close relationship to Dr. King?

JACKSON: Keep your faith no matters. There must be a way out of a crisis. I miss him very much.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): But the most common lesson, uphold nonviolent resistance. For Young, it was the moment he and fellow marchers kneeled before dogs and police in Birmingham to show the power of non- violence.

ANDREW YOUNG, FMR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Instead of marching up to the dogs and yelling at them, people got down on their knees, and they started praying, the dogs will calm down by the people praying. And the policemen were telling the firemen to turn on the fire hoses and they just - they too were move and they let the fire hoses drop.

That was one of the amazing things about the civil rights movement. Nobody gave a damn about death. You know, in fact, Dr. King used to preach our funerals. And he made us laugh at our own possibility at death.

MALVEAUX: Laughter in the face of death and enjoying the journey. The three all recall kings final birthday, trying to help him break through some of the depression they all felt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: - Jesse, Andy, they said, you know, (inaudible) is the one who could change this.


MALVEAUX: They knew that through the pain and struggle, you must also find the joy. It was his last birthday at 39.

YOUNG: Martin Luther King is more with us now than he was in 1967. I would say to these young people that we're not going to ever be able to get George Floyd out of our systems, as we will never forget Martin Luther King, John Lewis and we shouldn't.

MALVEAUX: Suzanne Malveaux, CNN.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Just ahead. Kenya's population has grown in recent years, and that along with poaching and climate change may have been disastrous for the country's wildlife. How Kenya is now taking action to reverse course.



CURNOW: So in the past few decades growing populations, poaching and climate change have played a big, big part of the decline of wildlife in Kenya and COVID is further damaging the ecotourism business, making conservation extremely difficult, difficult. Now the country is taking action to fix that and to identify threats to its most valuable attractions by conducting a wildlife census.

Well, I want to go straight now to Larry Madowo, who joins me now from Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Tell us why the census is important. Hi, Larry, good to see you.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too. Robyn. This is the first time the country's trying something at this scale because it's traditionally focused on the elephant and the rhino. And in 2020, with most parks closed, tourism almost at a standstill, they didn't see any Rhinos poached for the first time and the lowest number of elephants poached for their ivory.

However, there's still a much wider range of species here that the countries just never wanted to count because it's really expensive. But with everything that happened in the last year, they thought is a good time to try and make progress and figure out how much of this resource exists, how much of it is threatened and what to do next, and I joined the Kenya Wildlife Service here at the Amboseli National Park.

A hippo getting a break from curious eyes now that the pandemic has stopped the most tourists from coming here. He's being tracked along with 1000 other species, officials watching closely for an irreversible decline in numbers. It's Kenya's most ambitious conservation effort.

NAJIB BALALA, KENYAN MINISTER OF TOURISM: We didn't get the tourists to help us to contribute to conservation, we lost a lot of livelihoods because there are no tourism. The parks are closed, and we could not help the communities around this area.

MADOWO: So Kenya lost 80 percent of your tourism revenue because of pandemic?


MADOWO: How long will it take to recover?

BALALA: The prediction is that until 2024 so we need to rethink and remodel our way of doing things so we can survive till tourism rebounces.

MADOWO: To do that, they're using aircraft, GPS trackers, camera traps, and a whole lot of manpower to know exactly how many are left. STEPHEN NDAMBUKI, WILDLIFE RESEARCH SCIENTIST: I feel that I'm really

empowered. And I read that - I feel that yes, I'm contributing to the conservation and getting out data that can be used to inform the officials on conservation matters.

MADOWO: Five hours a day, seven days a week researchers are in the air combing through every inch of the country's rolling landscapes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are just kilometres away from the Kenya Tanzania border. We're about 350 feet above ground. This is a good patrol hyphae space and we'll be able to count, observe and report any animals that may be.

MADOWO: The census will track the consequences of climate change, poaching, and human wildlife conflict. Back on the ground, there's a growing power struggle with a Masai people who gave up land for some of Kenya's most famous parks. Their livelihoods depend on their cows. But during COVID-19 when tourism completely dropped, the income for the villages has disappeared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has disappeared, sure.

MADOWO: And what are people doing now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They used to be to make some bracelets, necklaces but not any income. If for example, women have small need we have to sell one cow to buy for them the food.


MADOWO: The team here suspects erratic weather is affecting animal routines.

DR. PATRICK OMONDI, DIRECTOR OF BIODIVERSITY, KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE: We have seen wildlife going into places they have not been in 50 years, we have seen a lot of changes resulting from mainly climate change. Like for example within Amboseli, we never used to have permanent lakes and it's something that we are investigating as scientist, but it's also now lessened the habitat available for animals.

MADOWO: This wildlife census will cover all of Kenya's 58 national parks and reserves on land and on water. The result will provide the largest ever source of data for Kenya conservation and tourism. The government says it will help protect the millions who depend on this for their survival.

The pandemic has been devastating for Kenyan tourism, it contributes about a 10th of all the jobs in the economy and about a similar amount to the GDP and that just completely wiped out almost. And in fact, one of the initiatives that the tourism minister suggested was privatizing the management of national parks and reserves. That led to a huge amount of outrage in the country and he had to walk that back.

But there are a lot of people who are hoping this census will help make better decisions for how to revive this critical part of the Kenyan economy, Robyn.

CURNOW: Thank you. Great report there. Larry Madowo, thank you. So the United States plans to restrict visas to those linked to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region.


The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the decision on Sunday. Under the measure the U.S. would block visas for any current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials, members of the Security forces or anyone involved in undermining the resolution of the crisis in Tigray, no one was named as a specific target.

CNN has investigated atrocities being committed there, including sexual violence, mass killings and the blocking of aid to an area on the brink of famine. Now thanks for joining us here on CNN. If you're an international viewer, World Sport is next. If you're watching us here from the U.S., I'll be right back with more news.



CURNOW: Welcome back. So Japan has just open two large scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka. The move comes as the country battles a surge in COVID cases. Right now less than 2 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. For more now I want to go to Tokyo Selina Wang is standing by with more on that. Just tell us where you are and what's happening there right now.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Robyn, I'm outside of the Tokyo mass vaccination center. And just moments ago behind me there was a large group of cars and security. The Prime Minister just walking out of this area, going into the mass vaccination center, he is expected to shortly deliver some remarks.

And this along with the Osaka mass vaccination center that just opened today together are aiming to vaccinate as many as 15,000 people a day. They are run mostly by Japan's self defense forces, doctors and nurses who are administering the Moderna vaccine. Now I spoke to several of the people who just got their first dose today and they are feeling a huge sense of relief as Japan is in the midst of a fourth wave of COVID infections.

But they also feel frustrated that it has taken Japan this long to finally start this large scale vaccination. Take a listen here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Everyone thinks we shouldn't hold the Olympics but the government isn't in a position to say that, but I think the Olympics will definitely be canceled.

WANG: Now the Olympic frustration here is echoed by the people on the ground. I'm speaking to according to local polls, more than 80 percent of the people on the ground do not want the games held this year. And these mass vaccination centers are only solving a small part of what is a very big problem. You have less than 2 percent of Japan's population fully vaccinated.

Less than half a percent of the elderly have been fully vaccinated so far, and even the majority of healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. The problem now in Japan is not a lack of supply. It's a lack of manpower, a lack of doctors and nurses to actually administer the vaccine.

Japan despite being one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet has been held back by red tape, bureaucracy and a history of vaccine hesitancy. Now the Olympic officials and organizers say that they're confident these games can be held safely and they expect more than 80 percent of the people in the Olympic village to be vaccinated.

But the medical community here feels differently. A group of 6000 doctors, a group representing 6000 doctors in Tokyo has urged the government to cancel the games. They fear that the Olympics are going to further overstretch an already overburdened medical system in Japan, Robyn.

CURNOW: Thank you very much for that update there. Selina Wang in Tokyo. Well, India just hit another COVID milestone. It's now the third country to top 300,000 deaths from the virus. The daily death toll was nearly 4500 on Monday, after dipping below 4000 just a day earlier.

Meanwhile, Delhi is extending its lockdown for the fifth time until next Monday. And black fungus cases are rising with nearly 9000 detected in 23 states and union territories. It's basically a fungal infection that's increasingly being found among patients who've recovered from COVID in India.

And Latin American countries are watching coronavirus cases explode in the region as well. Argentina entered a new lockdown over the weekend and its ICU is being pushed to the brink as Matt Rivers now reports, Matt.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As cases drop in the U.S. and the country opens back up, other countries are locking back down. Today more than ever, we need to take care of each other said the president of Argentina as he announced another strict lockdown that began over the weekend. Only essential workers are allowed out during the day. Schools and non-essential businesses shut down once again, the restrictive measures now in place until at least the end of the month.

The move comes as the country's seven day average of new cases hits the highest mark of the entire pandemic. It's now about even with the average new cases in the U.S. even though Argentina's population is more than seven times smaller. Inside the country's ICUs, stats on a line graph.

Every patient is someone's child, somebody's parent says Dr. Pablo Pratesi, tears in his eyes. I feel their pain. Argentina's grief shared across Latin America and the Caribbean as the entire region grapples with what might collectively be its gravest moment of this pandemic. The region's seven day average of new cases recently the highest it has ever been.

In Brazil, one of the worst hit countries in the world, cases that had been declining are now slowly edging back up, still averaging more than 60,000 per day. Health officials say COVID-19 variant first detected in India has now reached Brazil. And in smaller countries like the Dominican Republic COVID-19 patients are forced to wait outside hospital entrances for beds to open up inside facilities overwhelmed by sick people.


They let her die because of a lack of a bed of oxygen said this woman who had been struggling for three days to find a bed for her mother sick with COVID. The way out of all of this, of course are vaccines which are in extremely short supply throughout the region. About 7 percent of all people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated far behind the U.S.

The hope is that the U.S. will share with this part of the world a lot of the 80 million doses promised for export by the Biden administration, because without vaccines, it's unclear how any of this gets better anytime soon. Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


CURNOW: Now the controversial Arizona audit of the 2020 U.S. election is set to resume in the coming hours. This as the Maricopa county attorney says those associated with the audit may be sued over there baseless claims that the election database was partly deleted. County officials also say the audit is not being done in accordance with Arizona law.

And U.S. President Joe Biden and his team are going to have a busy week planned. On Tuesday the President is hosting George Floyd family at the White House and the Biden administration is still trying to negotiate a massive infrastructure deal with Republican lawmakers.

Our Arlette Saenz is following both of those stories from Washington, Arlette.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden this week will mark the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd who was killed at the hands of police, a moment the President has called an inflection point for this country.

On Tuesday, Biden will host the family of George Floyd here at the White House and Biden has actually met with them in person before, traveling to Houston back in June of 2020 to visit with the family ahead of George Floyd's funeral there last year. The President has also spoken with the family on several occasions over the course of the past year, including a phone call to the family after the guilty verdict came in in the trial of officer Derek Chauvin. Now this visit comes as lawmakers up on Capitol Hill are still trying

to hammer out a bipartisan deal on police reform. The negotiators have said that they expect to blow past that initial deadline the President had said of having a bill on his desk by May 25. But they insist that progress is being made even if they will not have a bill together, this week.

Now later in the week, the President will travel to Cleveland, Ohio to deliver remarks on the economy and he will also be releasing his budget, outlining his spending priorities for the coming years. But there will also be a lot of attention paid behind the scenes as the White House is still trying to negotiate an infrastructure deal with Republicans up on Capitol Hill.

The White House has offered a counter proposal which significantly pared back their initial plans cutting about $550 billion in funding from their initial proposal. Now Republicans have objected to it, saying that right now the two sides remain further apart than they were just a few weeks ago but the window for hammering out a bipartisan deal could quickly come to a close.

The White House had suggested they wanted to have a bipartisan agreement around the Memorial Day holidays. So there's clearly a lot of work for both sides to do if they are going to pass an infrastructure package in a bipartisan manner. Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


CURNOW: At age 50, Phil Mickelson is now the oldest golfer to win a major tournament. He held a one stroke lead entering the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, but he played a steady round in the windy conditions on the oceanfront course in South Carolina.

Mickelson was mobbed by fans as he walked the final hole calling the experience quote a little unnerving but exceptionally awesome. This is Mickelson's sixth Korea major win. And New York's Madison Square Garden was host to expected 15,000 basketball fans on Sunday, one of the city's largest crowds since the start of the pandemic, they came out to see the New York Knicks play the Atlanta Hawks in their first playoff game with the Hawks edging out a slight victory.

World Sports' Carolyn Manno has more, Carolyn.


CAROLYN MANNO, CNN WORLD SPORT: The crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the latest sign of a return to normalcy after the coronavirus pandemic. 15,000 diehard Knicks fans gathering under one roof in the arena for the first game of their playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, the largest event indoors in the state of New York since the pandemic began.

Knicks owner James Dolan said that about 90 percent of the crowd was vaccinated and that proof was required upon entry, either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test within a 72 hour period. [02:55:00]

Fans I spoke with said they feel comfortable with the guidelines in place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The city is back to tri state areas back, it's a great feeling we could get back to our regular lives and move on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, we're taking - being safe, taking the right precautions so as long as everyone's vaccinated, I see no problems with letting in as many people as possible using the right safety precautions because at the end of the day, everyone needs to be safe. But obviously everyone here still loves their Knicks. So we got to get as many people in here as possible.

MANNO: The excitement here at Madison Square Garden is twofold, of course. First, the fact that fans are allowed to go back to sports the way that we're used to and dare I say it does feel a little bit normal out here, at least by our typical standards. And then of course, the fact that the Knicks are actually pretty good, fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, making it into the playoffs when they haven't won a playoff series in close to a decade.

All in all, very good night to be a Knicks fan in New York City.


CURNOW: Carolyn Manno there, thank you. So four time U.S. Olympic Gymnastics champions Simone Biles is the first woman to land Yurchenko double pike vault in competition. Take a look at this. Biles pulled out the move over the weekend at her first meet in almost two years.

The high difficulty move has historically actually only been attempted by men. But Biles makes it look so easy, doesn't she? She won the all- round title of the competition with a rhinestone GOAT on the back of her leotard. GOAT of course standing for Greatest Of All Time.

Now this is one of those two, one of the most watched videos in YouTube's history has sold for over $760,000. The viral Charlie Bit My Finger video from 2007 sold as an NFT or non- fungible token. NFTs allow people to buy and sell unique digital files creating authenticity and scarcity. The adorable video of the British brothers has been viewed almost 900 million times, but now will soon be deleted from YouTube.

And on that note that wraps up this hour of CNN, thanks so much for joining me. Rosemary Church picks up after this.