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CNN NEWSROOM

Biden to Meet Floyd Family on Anniversary of His Death; Blinken on Middle East Tour to Shore Up Ceasefire; EU Slams Belarus After Dissident's Arrest; Airlines, Aviation Industry Alarmed by Belarus "Hijacking"; Aung San Suu Kyi Makes First In-Person Court Appearance; Myanmar Detains U.S. Journalist as He Was Leaving Country; W.H.O.: Chinese Data Could Offer Clues to Pandemic Origin. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2021 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, George Floyd's death triggered global protests against racism and police brutality. Now a year later Congress is still working on some sort of police reform.

The U.S. sends its top diplomate to bolster peace efforts in the Middle East. We will have live reports from the region.

And exclusive details on that W.H.O. investigation in Wuhan. What may have been overlooked while studying the spread of COVID-19.

Thanks for joining us. Well, today marks the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death at the hands of police. Former officer Derek Chauvin was recently convicted of his murder. Floyd's killing sparked a global outcry for racial justice with protesters demanding police reform and chanting Floyd's last words "I can't breathe."

In the coming hours several events to honor Floyd's life have been planned in Minneapolis and Floyd's family will meet privately with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House. Mr. Biden had hoped to sign a police reform law today as well, but while lawmakers say they are hopeful they will eventually reach a deal, several sticking points still need to be negotiated. CNN's Joe Johns is in Minneapolis with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'm hearing anger, impatience, urgency. It's not really directed to Joe Biden if you think about it because there is an expectation that he's going to sign a bill once it gets to his desk. But the concern here is about police reform specifically the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act because people here say one of the major things they want is a bill with teeth. They don't want the Congress to rush through and send something to the president's desk just for the act of doing it.

The other thing I think is important to say is, while there is an awareness here in Minneapolis and in many other places that people have talked for a year about change since the death of George Floyd. The fact of the matter is, we've had a number of high-profile, questionable, controversial situations where people have died in police custody or at the hands of police across the United States with no satisfaction to the families. Which is something Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney who spoke here was also for a while a representative of the family. He read some of the names of the people across the country who have died, and he also said this, listen.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Since Trayvon and since Michael Brown how many more families have been added to this fraternity that seems to be one of the quickest growing fraternities in the black community? I mean, it's just heartbreaking.

JOHNS: There's going to be a candlelight vigil also as you said at the top. The family of George Floyd going to the White House to meet with the president on the very same day, the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Thanks for that report.

Well, police in West Jefferson, Ohio, are investigating the shooting deaths of several people according to CNN affiliate WSYX. At least three people were found dead in an apartment and police say more were found outside. Authorities are still working to identify the victims and a possible suspect.

The number of Americans being killed by firearms is staggering. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 7,500 people have died as a result of gun violence so far this year. That's a 23 percent increase over the same period last year. In 2014 a stray bullet hit DeAndra Dycus's son while he was at a birthday party, now he is a nonverbal quadriplegic.

[04:05:00]

Last year she spoke about her experience at the Democratic National Convention. She tells CNN why she thinks gun violence legislation is not moving forward in the U.S. Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEANDRA DYCUS, MOTHER OF SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We seem to be stuck because people are making this a party -- an issue of party lines and this is about public safety, this is about a public health crisis and most importantly it's about saving lives. It doesn't matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican. What matters most is that in this age, in 2021, no one is exempt from being shot by a gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Two North Carolina women are out of the hospital after they were hit by a car while protesting the fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. A 41-year-old woman is in custody charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Police are investigating and say they could include hate crimes charges.

And British Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson is in critical condition after being shot in the head in London. Her political party said on Sunday. The Taking the Initiative Party said the attack happened following numerous death threats as a result of her activism. But London's metropolitan police earlier said that at this early stage of investigation there was no evidence to suggest a targeted attack or that the woman had received any credible threats against her prior to this incident. At a vigil hosted by Black Lives Matter U.K. on Monday supporters chanted "no justice, no peace" and they hailed Johnson as a fearless political campaigner.

Well, right now the U.S. Secretary of State is in the Middle East. Antony Blinken is in Israel on a mission to make sure the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants holds up. He is meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this hour before heading to the West Bank to talk with Palestinian leaders. Blinken will work to get aid into Gaza but he's made it clear restarting long-term peace talks is not on the agenda this time.

CNN correspondents are in place for each stop of Blinken's day. We will go to our Hadas Gold in Jerusalem later this hour, but first to Nic Robertson who joins us live from Ramallah. So Nic, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to hold a news conference with Israel's Prime Minister. Then later today will meet with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah. What are the expectations of this U.S. peace effort?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Secretary of State has set the expectations as making sure that the ceasefire holds and not that he's coming here to work out a lasting durable peace on the two-state solution framework the U.S. believes should be followed here. He will when he meets with Israeli politicians including the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu undoubtedly hear about their concerns that any support that goes into Gaza, financial support for rebuilding doesn't end up in the pockets of Hamas to be used for weapons in the future.

The U.S. government has said that it wants to make sure that the money goes in through the U.N. and through the Palestinian Authorities. So when he has meetings here later today in Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority President, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister no doubt there will be discussions along those lines, but in Jerusalem he will hear those concerns.

When he gets here to Ramallah he will also hear the concerns of the people of Ramallah. There is a protest called here today for about half an hour before he arrives and they're protesting because they feel that the United States is no longer an independent intermediary, interlocutor for potential peace talks in the future. So there will be a protest here on the streets when he arrives. But for the Palestinian Authority officials who will meet with him, they hope that he will begin to set a horizon for that durable peace in the future. That's what they want.

They say the ceasefire is important, but also having an idea of how engaged the United States wants to be, of making sure that that engagement works in the direction to support what they want to come out of this. Which is a heightened awareness of this administration, the plight of Palestinians as they see it is the expansion of settlements and this is something that they want the Secretary of State to take away after his visit here -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Nic Robertson joining us live from Ramallah. Many thanks.

Now, this may come as no surprise, but the U.S. surgeon general says most American health care workers are experiencing burnout after battling the COVID pandemic. And he warns the nation could be in danger of losing doctors from an already shrinking workforce.

[04:10:00]

We're also following some positive signs in the COVID battle, the CDC says four states have fully vaccinated more than half of their total population. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And about 39 percent of the U.S. population, nearly 131 million people, are fully vaccinated. In New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is promising some big changes for the public school system.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alexandra Field in New York City. The nation's largest school district will be back fully for in- person learning in September with no remote option. That's the announcement made by the mayor who says the decrease in cases and the increase in vaccinations are making that possible. New York City schools chancellor says schools will still observe social distancing guidelines and will require masks when they do fully reopen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Our thanks to CNN's Alexandra Field in New York there.

Well now to a travel advisory for Americans. U.S. citizens who are outside the country with expired passports will be allowed to use them temporarily to return directly to the states. Officials hope this will help ease travel challenges created by the pandemic. This special travel period lasts until the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is warning Americans to avoid traveling to Japan because of the surge in COVID cases there. It's a huge blow for Tokyo of course which is already under intense pressure to cancel or postpone this summer's Olympic games. Now less than two months away. We will have a live report from Tokyo later this hour with more reaction to this travel advisory.

Coming up, we are tracking the international fallout after a brazen move by Belarus and the arrest of a dissident journalist. Plus Myanmar has detained this American journalist as he was trying to

leave the country, now he's being housed in a notorious political prison. A live report on the case of Danny Fenster next.

[04:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: European Union leaders are taking strong and swift action after a commercial flight was forced to land in Belarus and a dissident journalist on board was arrested. On Monday Raman Pratasevich appeared on a pro-government social media channel, admitting he was responsible for organizing mass protests in opposition to last year's presidential election. His supporters say he looks to be under duress.

The EU was now agreed to more sanctions on Belarus including economic ones and Lithuania's foreign minister says after the incident the Baltic region should have a permanent U.S. troop presence.

Now CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Berlin. Good to see you, Fred. So international outrage growing over the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Raman Pratasevich. So what is the latest on this reaction?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Rosemary. The outrage is growing especially after that video came out I mean his supporters are like thing that to a hostage video saying they certainly believe that was made under duress. In fact, his father actually spoke the Reuters news agency in there said that he didn't believes that his son might have been beaten. He's saying there was a lot of powder on his face. They're Saying his nose looks to be broken as well.

That obviously is something that is impossible to confirm. But even the Biden administration came out and President Biden and said, look, they believe that this video was made under duress and called this entire incident absolutely outrageous. Meanwhile, the European Union for its part is indeed taking action. They are saying they want new sanctions. They're also saying that they are going to stop flights by the Belarusian flag carrier Belavia into EU territory. Listen to Ursula von der Leyen had to say about that a little earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: This is an attack on freedom of expression and this is an attack on European sovereignty. And this outrageous behavior needs a strong answer. Therefore, the European Council decided that there will be additional sanctions on individuals that are involved in the hijacking, but this time also on businesses and economic entities that are financing this regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN (on camera): So there you have Ursula von der Leyen. Really I have to say the European Union moving very, very swiftly considering it's a 27-member bloc with that new action that they want to take. Of course, the Biden administration also calling for Raman Pratasevich to be released immediately. And you know, looking at the flight situation over Belarus -- I've been checking it throughout the course of the day -- there's really not many airlines that are flying over it anymore. And you can see the European carriers, most of the European carriers already avoiding Belarusian air space -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: CHURCH: All right, and many thanks to our Fred Pleitgen bringing us up to date on reaction there from Berlin. Appreciate it.

Well the Ryanair incident has alarmed the aviation industry with growing calls for an investigation into the Belarusian government's actions. A U.N. affiliated group is planning an urgent meeting on Thursday and world leaders are asking airlines to avoid Belarusian air space but there may be obstacles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: The challenge is that the information about the people on the airplanes is shared through this Chicago Convention and that's a security fact that was put in place within the Chicago Convention, one of the annexes. So think about this, now they've got information about every person that's on that airplane that crosses their air space and they can use that however they want. They can use it for defense. They can use it for corporate espionage. They can use it for just anything they want to kidnap or take anyone that they think is going to benefit their dictatorship rule there in Belarus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: CNN safety analyst David Soucie speaking to me a little earlier.

[04:20:00]

Well the family of an American journalist detained in Myanmar says it is a nightmare. Danny Fenster was planning to fly home to surprise his parents, they had not seen each other for over two years. Now he is being held in one of Myanmar's notorious prisons. His family and employee, the news organization Frontier Myanmar, say they've been given no explanation. Meanwhile, the country's ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court, in person, on Monday, for the first time since the February 1st military coup. Well CNN's Anna Coren joins me now from Hong Kong. She's been following all these developments. So Anna, what is the latest on the U.S. journalist detained in Myanmar?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well as you mentioned, Rosemary, his family and his employer have not heard from him, Danny Fenster. This is the 37-year-old journalist originally from Detroit, Michigan. Once he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on Monday morning, he was boarding a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then on to the United States when authorities detained him. No reason was given and the family has no idea as to why he is being held reportedly at Insein Prison. This is a notorious prison on the outskirts of Yangon. It houses more

than 10,000 inmates in squaller conditions. There are reports of torture that takes place inside this prison. Hundreds of these prisoners, Rosemary, are political prisoners.

Danny is the fourth foreign journalist to have been detained since that bloody coup on the 1st of February. The other U.S. national being held inside Insein Prison is another journalist Nathan Maung. He has also been in there since March. The U.S. State Department obviously aware of both cases, certainly aware of Danny's case in the last 24 hours, doesn't have any comment at this stage, Rosemary, because of the sensitive nature of the case.

CNN's John Vause spoke to Danny's brother Brian a little bit earlier today and he just hopes that his brother will be released soon. This all happens as Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's ousted civilian leader, appeared in court yesterday in person. It's the first time that she's been seen in public since the coup after she too was arrested. She's facing something like six charges. They range from the possession of an unlicensed walkie-talkie, breaching COVID restrictions during the election. The worst, however, is breaching this official secrets act which alone holds a 14-year prison sentence if convicted.

Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly, however, in good condition and certainly struck up a defiant tone when she was allowed to speak to her lawyers for half an hour in private before she made that court appearance. Let's have a listen to what her lawyers had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She wishes her people to stay healthy and affirm that the NLD will exist as long as people exist because it was founded for people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Aung San Suu Kyi is always confident in herself and she is confident in our cause and confident in the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COREN (on camera): Aung San Suu Kyi due to appear in court again next month. We should also mention, Rosemary, that a human rights group in Myanmar says that since the coup on the 1st of February more than 800 people have been killed, more than 4,200 have been arrested and there are arrest warrants out for 1,800 people -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Anna Coren bringing us the latest on what's happening in Myanmar from her vantage point there in Hong Kong. Appreciate it.

And still to come, the World Health Organization tells CNN that previously overlooked data from China could offer an important glimpse into how the COVID-19 outbreak started. Why the group says it's even more important they get into Wuhan to investigate. Plus the U.S. Secretary of State has been meeting with Israel's Prime

Minister. We will have more details of Antony Blinken's visit to the Middle East. That's next.

[04:25:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: The World Health Organization is hoping previously overlooked Chinese data on the coronavirus may provide important new clues into the origin of the pandemic. The data tracks China's evolving knowledge of COVID-19 throughout the early days of the outbreak and was collected by investigators during their visit to Wuhan earlier this year.

Our Steven Jiang is standing by in Beijing, but first CNN international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh joins us with exclusive details on that W.H.O. investigation into the pandemic outbreak. So Nick, what are you learning on this?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Rosemary, a lot of this is interesting data points, essentially hidden, previously overlooked within the W.H.O. report into the origins of the coronavirus' substantial annex. They published a report but also put out 200 pages of information in the annex there as well. Now the source close to the panel says that actually investigators were particularly surprised to read within that annex that on December 7, 2019, China instituted widespread screening of animals potentially couriers or carriers of coronavirus in the Hubei Province -- on December 7th. That's just one day, in fact, before China says it discovered the first onset of symptoms in a human being.

Now, we asked China what is, this extraordinary coincidence about, and they said it's part of regular testing that they do in that area to check animals for new diseases. Obviously, this testing was done a few months later and the animal samples put in storage when novel coronavirus tests became available. But it's an extraordinary coincidence that this screening was happening just at the very early parts of December when China publicly says it wasn't aware SARS-CoV-2 was circulating.

A very simple explanation they say but also it involves lots of these animal samples being stored by China which potentially give W.H.O. investigators a library of things they could look at to see what potentially may have happened in the past or even since the outbreak of the coronavirus. So an interesting point there, too, and one that strangely in the annex conflicts with another data point in which a key hospital says it destroyed a lot of human samples of tissue that it had collected around that time as well.

But this source close to panel says these are all things that the W.H.O. investigators really want to get back into Wuhan and Hubei to continue investigating.