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Japan Weighs Emergency Measures as Health Experts Meet; U.S. Intel Divided on COVID-19 Origin After Year-Long Inquiry; Russia Denies Its Airspace As Detour Around Belarus; Al Qaeda Thrives in Afghanistan Ahead of U.S. Pullout; U.S., U.N. Demand Release of Hundreds of Detained Men in Tigray; Relative of Detained Iranian- Americans Speaking Out; Tens of Thousand Flee Volcano in DR Congo; Container Ship Carrying Chemicals Burns Off Sri Lanka; Top Baseball Player Escapes During Tournament in U.S. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm John Vause. Thanks for being with us again. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live at Studio 7 at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta.

Ahead this hour: The COVID games. Health experts warn of an Olympic variant which could spread around the world.

Plus, the U.S. government's new statement explaining what it does not know about the origins of COVID-19.

The tit-for-tat bans on flight plans. How Russian support for Belarus will impact air travel across Europe.


VAUSE: Olympic organizers and the Japanese government are both facing some critical choices in the days ahead. That includes extending or ending a government-ordered state of emergency in a community struggling to control a surge in new COVID cases.

And for officials with Tokyo 2020, decisions about new health precautions. They toured the Olympic Village, athlete dormitories and dining halls with public health experts, ahead of a third revision to their safety playbook which is due out next month.

Japan is averaging about 4,500 COVID cases a day according to Hopkins University. Figures compiled by CNN show only about 2 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

More now live from Tokyo with CNN's Blake Essig standing by.

So, yeah, there's a lot ahead, but clearly one of the issues that is not on the agenda is the fact that these games will go ahead regardless of where anybody says. And it seems to be a battle that they're willing to take this risk. BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That seems to be the case, John. You

continue to hear from doctors, groups, other medical professionals saying these games should not happen, but it doesn't seem to matter to Olympic organizations. They're pushing ahead. Today, we heard from a panel hosted by Tokyo 2020. They said in terms of COVID-19 that the impact of 100,000 visitors coming to Japan for the games is limited. They say that the movement of these people is wet could cost the spread of infection.

Now, the exact details regarding how Olympic organizers are going to prevent that from happening is still being worked out.

Fueled by U.K. variant, COVID-19 cases across Japan remain high. The country continues to see a record number of patients and critical condition. The medical system in many prefectures is still strained.

Now, despite the fact that Tokyo and several other prefectures in some of Japan's most densely populated areas have been living under a state of emergency sense the 8th end of April, the current state of emergency order which is not expected to expire on Monday. Japan's prime minister will decide later today whether or not to extend it. Again, that state of emergency order has proven somewhat and effective as those cases have remained high throughout the state of emergency.

Now, if he does extend this current state of emergency, just about -- it will expire June 20. Just about a month before the Olympic Games are expected to be -- or scheduled to begin. And that might seem significant, but again Olympic organizers made it clear that it really isn't. They said recently the Olympic Games would go ahead, even if Tokyo is under a state of emergency at the time.

And while Olympic organizers plan to push ahead, the governor of the Chiba prefecture, just east of Tokyo, has announced that the torch relay will bypass the entire prefecture, he said that instead, the torch relay will be held likely behind closed doors and this decision was made in the best interest of local residents' safety and security.

Now, a doctors union in Japan has also once again called for the Olympic Games to be canceled. Their biggest concern is virus variants. They warned of strains found in India, in South Africa that can spread rapidly, and talked about the possibility for a new strain of the virus to emerge as well.

Now, the union is also questioning Olympic organizers plan to set aside nine hospitals for athletes, because during the month of July and August, medical professionals say that hospitals will already be overwhelmed, even if COVID-19 is not an issue, because of patients being brought and suffering from heatstroke.

And, John, in 2018 alone, more than 1,000 people died in Japan because of a heat wave.

VAUSE: Yeah, the interesting thing, though, is that the places that have had these massive events, despite the high rate of vaccinations, I guess there's still some limited outbreaks. But there are areas that have had low rates of vaccinations like India with the cricket, there have been reports of the outbreaks of the pandemic. So, with that in mind, Japan is one of the countries that has a low rate of vaccination right now. The E.U. is giving 100 million doses of vaccine to try to help inoculate about 40 percent of Japan and its population.


But it does not seem to be an issue of supply but just reluctance.

ESSIG: No, it's not an issue of supply. Supply here is not the problem. As you mentioned only 2 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The medical professionals are saying that it's a lack of manpower and chaotic reservation system and the struggle to distribute the vaccine, which is to blame for this slow roll out.

I've spoken to infectious disease specialist who have told me that holding these Olympic Games -- if it is the most important thing the vaccines are absolutely the right thing to do, but that vaccinations should not be given out to host an event, that they should be given to protect people's lives.

And so, you know, from these medical professionals' perspective, you know, giving these vaccines and essentially, you know, potentially having -- jumping the line in front of people that really need these vaccines to save their lives, you know, is the wrong thing to do.

VAUSE: Yeah, good point. Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there in Tokyo.

Last hour, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, an expert in viral diseases, told me about the risks of holding Olympics while COVID infections are surging.


DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We all want things to open but wanting something and wishing for something does not make it so. I think the potential for disaster is real. It can happen.

Listen, right now, Japan is on a huge surge, having approximately 50,000 cases a day. So, unfortunately, this could be a perfect storm. And vaccinations appears to be the only way to maybe thwart this.

But, again, the world is going to convene for athletes and it may also be convening for a different variants of the virus. So, it's a possibility.


VAUSE: And CNN sports analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Christine Brennan, joins me now.

Christine, welcome back. It's good to see you.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: John, great to be with you. Thanks. VAUSE: OK. What -- it does not seem to be getting a lot of attention

or a lot of oxygen in this debate between the public health officials and Olympic organizers is the view from the athletes, those who have trained for their entire lives for this one moment.

Dominique Dawes also known Awesome Dawesome won gold in gymnastics at the Atlantic Games in '96. And here's her take. Listen to this.


DOMINIQUE DAWES, U.S. OLYMPIC GYMNASTICS GOLD MEDALIST: These athletes have been disappointed already. The Olympics were supposed to happen in 2020. Many of them were geared up and about to peak during that time. And then it was postponed for a year. And that had to be emotionally, physically draining for all of them.

However, they stuck it out. They've made this commitment. And to then be postponed or actually canceled, that would be pretty devastating.


VAUSE: It would be devastating. Is that the overwhelming sentiment among athletes as opposed to concerns about COVID-19?

BRENNAN: John, I think that a lot of these athletes are just so focused right now on competing, training every day. The ones I've talked to almost don't want to even start to consider the possibility that there won't be an Olympics.

The hope was that when they move the games for a year into the future, the hope was that we would be out of the pandemic, or at least close to out of it and this would be this great coming out party, the world together again, joyfully celebrating the end of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, right now, that's exactly not what's happening. We are seeing the problems of the pandemic and this is much more of a reflection of the world's issues and difficulties and dealing with COVID-19.

That's the reality that we are seeing. Most of the athletes are so focused right now on competing with the goal of getting to Tokyo that I don't think they are thinking about things the way (AUDIO GAP).

VAUSE: Well, on Thursday, the head of the IOC was once again insisting that the Tokyo Games would be safe and everything that can be done essentially is being done.

Listen to this.


THOMAS BACH, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE PRESIDENT: In this final stretch, our top priority continues to remain on organizing safe and secure Olympic Games for everyone, the athletes and all participants as well as our gracious hosts, the Japanese people.


VAUSE: But as say, you know, the devil is often in the detail about safety, and the athletes guidebook has this disclaimer right at the end: Despite all the care taken, risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated. Therefore you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic games at your own risk.

So all care taken but no responsibility, people. Not exactly reassuring, is it?

BRENNAN: No, it's not, John. I think this is what happens when you try to hold the largest peacetime gathering of the world at a time where you are really not supposed to be gathering. And it sounds funny. It's not. It's obviously very, very serious.

Also taking it to a country where only about 3 percent of the population is vaccinated right now.


That is, of course, Japan. And one would have thought they would have upped that and just even just to be ready for the games. Obviously, they are not. They seem to be getting on the mark on this and working hard getting -- you know, speeding it up, but still.

So, I think these athletes are well aware. They've lived through the pandemic. Their parents, the families get that and I think they know these are extraordinary times. And all the athletes I've talked to are willing to take that risk. They signed a code of conduct. They know the rules.

If this is just another part of that, I think they're willing to accept it for the honor, the privilege, the joy, the dream of going to the Olympic Games and representing their nation. That's -- it may sound Pollyanna to a lot of people, but it's real for these young athletes.

VAUSE: But part of that agreement that they signed this year has a waiver which releases the Games organizers from any liability for COVID-19. They say that that is just standard. It's just normal. But is it?

BRENNAN: Well, we've obviously never try to hold Olympics during a pandemic before.

I think that -- my guess would be that lawyers -- if -- let's just say if the worst happens, and I hope this is not the case, John, and there is a terrible outbreak and there is illness. There -- again, God forbid, there's death involving athletes or the people of Tokyo, because of the athletes being there, because of the influx of 10,000, 15,000 people.

But some sense would be that lawyers would be able to break through some of these things of in fact there was legal action to pursue. No one is saying that right now. We don't know. But I think if we've learned anything is in the last, what, 14 to 15

months, is that there is so much we don't know about COVID-19 and this pandemic.

VAUSE: Well, the legal answer to all of this is that you cannot contract yourself out of negligence. So, that was one part of it, I guess it'll be interesting if there is legal action further down the line.

But, Christine, thank you so much. Good to see you.

BRENNAN: John, thank you very much.

VAUSE: "New York Times" reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies have unreviewed data which could help pin-point the origin of COVID- 19. After year long investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is admitting to no consensus on how the pandemic began.

Here's a statement, the U.S. intelligence community does not know where when or how the COVID-19 virus when transmitted initially, but has coalesced around two likely scenarios. Either in it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident. While the two elements of the IC lean towards the former scenario and one lean more towards the latter -- each with low or moderate confidence, the majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.

Translation, they don't have a clue.

CNN's Will Ripley is following all of this from Taiwan.

You know, what we do also have now is China responding to the U.S. probing to the lab leak theory by calling for a probe into a U.S. lab.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With no evidence, John, that the virus originated from a U.S. lab, but yes, this is "The China Daily" tabloid. Their latest editorial calling it more mudslinging, calling the lab leak theory a smear campaign, a conspiracy theory. And they are calling for an investigation of this multiple origin theory, that the virus somehow simultaneously appeared at multiple locations around the world.

Not in China, which is the widely accepted view, even though as you correctly stated intelligence communities around the world have no earthly idea exactly what happened.

What they do know is that 3-1/2 million people are dead, and there needs to be an investigation to prevent this kind of thing from happening at this level of severity.

Preventing future pandemics it means raw data, access, something that the Chinese authorities have been really unwilling to give the global community. Even the WHO report, they sent those 17 experts in January and February to Wuhan, in Hubei province, but they didn't necessarily have access to some of the raw data. They had to talk with Chinese researchers and take their accounts and then that's how they said that it's most likely the virus came from a bat and went to another animal and that's how it was spread to humans.

So, China is saying that hey, they'll be more transparent about their Wuhan Institute of Virology if the U.S. was willing to, you know, allow access on a trail that might lead to its own laboratories. But the question continues to be, OK, what's the evidence? And, unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of motivation for China to be more transparent, because of the potential loss of the face of something embarrassing were uncovered, John.

VAUSE: Yeah, absolutely. Will, thank you. Will Ripley in Taiwan with that, thank you.

A new study says face masks are a key part of making indoor concerts safer during a pandemic. The research comes from a live music venue in Barcelona back in December of last year. It was attended by nearly 1,000 people.

The study published in the medical journal "Lancet" says not one person tested positive for COVID-19 eight days after. Here's why. There were safe with precautions including same day screening, mandatory N95 masks, enhanced ventilation, as well as crowd control.

You want concerts, wear a mask.

While E.U. authorities are considering sanctions on Belarus, we're seeing a show of support from Russia. When we return, why Moscow would not let European carriers, at least some of them, land in Russian territory.

Also ahead, the U.S. wrapping up its 20-year war in Afghanistan, but a CNN investigation has found al Qaeda is poised to fill the security vacuum left behind by U.S. troops.


VAUSE: A live look now at air traffic over northeastern Europe. It's coming up to 8:00 just 8:18 on a Friday morning. Skies over the Belarus, though, are mostly quiet. Very few planes to be seen there.

And that's because the E.U. has told European carriers to avoid Belarus and has closed European airspace to Belarusian airlines.

So, now, Russia is refusing to let at least two European carriers to land in Moscow after their flight plans avoided Belarus. Air France and Austrian Airlines have canceled their flights rather than defy E.U. guidance to avoid Belarusian airspace.

This is all the fallout from the decision by Belarus to order a Ryanair flight carrying a dissident to land in Minsk. Meantime, the Belarusian president preparing to meet in the coming hours with his ally, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who's already sealing his support for Alexander Lukashenko.

Matthew Chance has details.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear what Russia's intentions, are but what we know is that so far to European carriers, Air France and Austrian Airlines, have been forced to cancel flights to Moscow because Russia has refused to give them permissions to take an alternative route that would bypass Belarusian airspace, if that continues to happen it could be a major escalation of the crisis potentially cause widespread disruption to air travel in and out of Russia, and possibly even across Russia.

European Union, of course, advised airlines to avoid the Russian airspace and banned flights from Belarusian airlines, a response to the extraordinary events of the weekend in which Belarusian authorities forced the passenger airline on route from Athens to Lithuania, to land in Minsk, transport officials in Minsk say there was a bomb threat, but in fact two passengers aboard the aircraft were detained on the ground in Minsk has provoked a wave of condemnation. But for Moscow, of course, which says it's got no reason to doubt the official Belarusian version of events.

Later on Friday, the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will be here in Russia with face to face meetings with his counterpart Vladimir Putin, meetings that will be closely watched to see how much backing the Kremlin leader is prepared to offer his Belarusian president, given the fact he is preparing for a very important, much anticipated summit this month with U.S. President Joe Biden.


Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: Simon Calder is the travel editor for "The Independent" and he's here with us now from London.

Simon, it's good to have you with us.

SIMON CALDER, TRAVEL EDITOR, THE INDEPENDENT: Yeah, it's an extraordinary story.

VAUSE: It really is.

CALDER: I could not believe events as they unfolded on Sunday afternoon there in European time this jet, perfectly normal flight from Athens suddenly being diverted with a MiG 29 fighter to encourage the pilots to cooperate with traffic control instructions.

Since then, as predicted, we have seen a ban on using Belarus airspace and a reciprocal ban on Belavia, the Belarusian airline flight to many Western European nations. What we were not expecting was the reaction of Moscow. And, in fact, I have to talk you through it. So, on Monday, we had the ban imposed by the U.K. on its airlines over

flying Belarus and the British Airways jet to actually flying from London to Islamabad in Pakistan. It found itself rerouted during its flight to avoid the Belarus. It then had to circle for some time over Latvia while the Russians agree to new flight plan and actually had to refuel in Moscow on the way through because it spent so much fuel.

On Tuesday, we had the Air France having their aircrafts banned from Russia because the French airline wanted to reroute the usual flight plan and the Russians said you'll be coming via now we've seen the same with the Austrian airlines. It appears that Western European airlines are no being used any kind of geopolitical game.

The big worry is if Russia were to say right, you cannot over fires on our way to our destinations in Asia, because so much of the air traffic of course between Western Europe and East Asia spends many, many hours flying over Russia in order to fly the most direct course.

VAUSE: OK, let's unpack this. There's a lot. Let's just start with the airlines that are allowed to land and ones that are not, because it's not consistent, right? Because there was a Polish air carrier LOT which avoided Belarus was allowed to land in Moscow, similar situation with Lufthansa, they are avoided Belarus airspace but were also allowed to land by Russian aviation officials.

So, is the uncertainty part of all of this that the Kremlin wants? There's also a suggestion that Moscow might be heading weaker links in the chain to undermine E.U. solidarity. How do you see it?

CALDER: Of course. Entirely possible that Russia should just be picking on the odd flights just to kind of as it were toward people off. And this is nothing new and it's not restricted to the Russian sphere of influence. Going back to 2019 for about 19 weeks, there was interruptions to the normal flow of air traffic over Pakistan into India, following with the Pakistan government said was a military incursion.

And that effectively meant that airlines had to reroute over to avoid Pakistan airspace in order to reach India and point beyond. However, it's not a zero penalty game, because actually countries such as Russia make a vast amount of foreign exchange from allowing over flying rights, they don't really want to disrupt the normal flow of international air travel, that I've heard from several senior aviation people in Western Europe, will basically just say the last thing aviation needs the moment is to be used as a pawn in a geopolitical game.

VAUSE: Yeah, very good point. They're just recovering, now but on the prices are going up and the flights are booked. But you mentioned the issue with Russia, closing the ace airspace by the E.U. over Belarus is one thing, over Russia. They decided to get in the game, it's entirely different thing altogether. In terms of land mass, Belarus is relatively small, just over 200,000 square kilometers.

Russia, though, the world's largest country, 17 million square kilometers, 11 time zones bordering 14 other countries. So, you touched on this, how much harm and confusion could Putin actually caused just by opening and closing Russian airspace at random times?

CALDER: Oh, that would be absolutely astonishing. It would get bring a great deal of the Europe Asia traffic that is operating right now. It almost goes back to the 1980s where we had aircrafts finally capable of flying nonstop from Western Europe to East Asia, and for quite a time they had to avoid Russia altogether or pay extraordinary numbers of dollars to fly over Russian airspace.

And very disruptive, and a lot of extra fuel, costing a lot of time and it was deeply damaging. And it's entirely possible that Russia, particularly after the meeting with the 2 leaders in Moscow, decides to step things up.

Ultimately, of course Belarus airspace will open. The Latvia will be able to fly to Western Europe once more. It's simply a question of them whether that last weeks, months as probably Europe -- Western Europe would like, or whether it's over in a few days as certainly Minsk and Moscow would like.

VAUSE: Well, I guess we'll find out in the coming days.

Simon, it's good to have you with us. Thank you. We really appreciate it.

CALDER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Take care.

Well, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Bashar Al-Assad has won a 4th term in office, a landslide win in Syria's presidential election.

He defeated two relatively unknown rivals but that was enough for thousands to take to the streets in celebration, a victory in what activists have been calling a sham election.

The United States and several European countries say it was neither free nor fair. It should've been held under U.N. supervision. President Al-Assad has dismissed those comments on Wednesday, that was after he cast his ballot.

Al-Assad's presidency has been defined by conflict. This is the second election he won. There was an uprising 10 years ago that spiraled into civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Millions have been displaced and illicit has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He denies those allegations.

In the U.S., a key Senate vote that would establish a commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection the Capitol appears to be just hours away, but Senate Republicans are expected to block it and destroy the deep partisan divide that has emerged since the riot.

Just a few months ago, some Republicans who were adamant of bringing commission into the Capitol security was needed. Now, they argue that it would not bring any new information about the insurrection and could turn into a partisan squabble. Five people were killed, 140 police officers were injured during the riot. The mother of a Capitol police officer who died that they after the

insurrection is hopeful her meeting with Republican senators change their minds about the commission vote. Gladys Sicknick says her son, Officer Brian Sicknick, was doing his job as he confronted the rioters in January 6th.

She was on Capitol Hill Thursday to talk with lawmakers about her son and to push for Republican support, but a source familiar with those meetings tell CNN the meetings were very hard on her.


REPORTER: Does it anger you, Mrs. Sicknick, to hear senators who do not support this commission, and what emotions do you feel when you're confronted with that?

GLADYS SICKNICK, MOTHER OF BRIAN SICKNICK: This is one here today. Usually I stay in the background. But I just could not stay quiet anymore.


VAUSE: Sources tell CNN there were some sparks when Sicknick met with Ron Johnson, a Republican senator who downplayed the insurrection, calling it a peaceful protest.

The rest of the meetings were set to have been cordial even when some senators said they were opposed to the commission.

Al-Qaeda keeps the foothold in Afghanistan despite a long military campaign to try to end the movement. A CNN exclusive investigation finds the terrorist group will likely remain a threat long after the U.S. troops have left. That's ahead.

Also a little later, thousands are fleeing their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo as threat of another deadly volcanic eruption looms large. CNN is there with the very latest.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. Thank you for staying with us. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

What so many have feared in Afghanistan might just happen. There's new signs that al-Qaeda will be a worldwide threat once the American military has pulled out.

The U.S. withdrawal by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September is well ahead of schedule.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has new details now in an exclusive investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Al Qaeda, the reason the U.S. went to Afghanistan, are greatly diminished, the Biden administration said.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to end America's longest war.

WALSH But a CNN investigation has discovered al Qaeda, very much alive and thriving in Afghanistan. Linked to global cells the U.S. is hunting.

Senior afghan intelligence officials tell CNN, al-Qaeda are communicating with their cells worldwide from Afghanistan. Getting shelter and support from the Taliban in exchange for expertise. And could be able to attack the west from there by the end of next year.

(on camera): The U.S. Treasury in January said Al Qaeda was quote, "growing in strength" here. But Afghan intelligence officials I spoke to go further, saying it's more substantial than that. That al Qaeda provide expertise like bomb making, but also in finance, and moving cash around.

(voice over): Core al Qaeda members number in their hundreds, most assessments conclude, but it's not how many, but who, which is most telling.

Key is senior al Qaeda Hussam Abdur al-Rauf, known as Abu Muhsin al- Masri, here on an FBI wanted poster issued in 2019. An Al Qaeda veteran, he was in on 9/11 before it happened, said Afghan officials.

(on camera): Al Masri crossed in for Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2014 and over six years, I was told, moved around different provinces in Afghanistan. Something that senior Afghan intelligence officials say would only be possible if he had the assistance of top Taliban officials.

(voice over): But he was in October tracked down to here, a tiny Taliban controlled village in Ghazni (ph) that we can only see on satellite images. Afghan special forces lost a soldier rating this compound, so fierce with the Taliban resistance. And Al-Masri died of injuries here.

(on camera): When they went through Al-Masri's possessions, his computer, they found messages communicating with other al-Qaeda cells around the world. Talking about operational matters, not necessarily attacks, but also about how soon Afghanistan could be a much freer, easier space for them to operate in.

(voice over): Then something curious happened, revealing a lot about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan's global connections, particularly in this case, to Syria. There was two, rare U.S. strike in al-Qaeda cells in Syria immediately afterwards. This one, on the 15th of October, and another a week later both in Idlib.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. military said they were, quote, not aware of any connection to the Afghan raid, but a senior Afghan official told me, they were most likely connected because the Americans asked the Afghans to delay announcing their raid for over 10 days.

And during that delay, before the Afghans broke the news, both Syria strikes happened. Strikes on al-Qaeda figures are often announced by Afghan intelligence who present the threat as why the U.S. must stay.

A Taliban spokesman, rang CNN to say the claims were false and designed to keep an American money coming to Afghanistan. He also said, the Taliban had agreed to kick out terrorists, as part of their peace deal with the United States.


WALSH (on camera): I was told, there isn't evidence at this stage that al-Qaeda is plotting attacks on the west from Afghanistan. But still as they grow in freedom of movement, I was told it is considered simply a matter of time until that may happen raising the question, is the reason why the U.S. came to Afghanistan in the first place going to end up the reason that they have to come back?

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN -- Kabul, Afghanistan.


VAUSE: Well, Ethiopia and Eritrea could be facing new U.S. sanctions if the violence and atrocities in the Tigray Region does not stop. The warning comes from the U.S. State Department just days after CNN reported witness accounts of soldiers running (ph) up hundreds of young men from displacement camps. Just one of the many atrocities CNN has investigated in the region during the past few months.

The State Department says a review is underway to determine if war crimes have been committed.


ROBERT GODEC, U.S. ASSTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS: The United States condemns in the strongest terms, the brutal killings, sexual violence, including gang rape, forced removals, wanton destruction of civilian property.

We condemn all of the human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities that have taken place in Tigray.

The atrocities have been committed by all of the armed actors including the Ethiopian National Defense Force, Foreign Regional Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, and to some but a lesser degree, by the Tigray People's Liberation Front.


VAUSE: Both the U.S. and the United Nations are demanding the release of those recently detained young men.

CNN's Nima Elbagir recently reported from Tigray and has more on how the U.S. and U.N. officials are responding to CNN's latest findings.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Just days after the United States announced financial sanctions, and visa restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials that they say they believe are complicit in violations in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

CNN was sent this video, filmed secretly in Shire town in Tigray. It shows desperate parents gathered at the U.N. offices in Shire desperate to hear word of their loved ones, who they say, were taken away by Ethiopian, and Eritrean soldiers forcibly detained and beaten.

CNN shared this investigation findings with the United Nations and the resident coordinator has called these detentions arbitrary. Saying, that they are serious violations of humanitarian law and calling for the immediate release of these young men.

We also shared our findings with Senator Chris Coons, President Biden's envoy to Ethiopia. And he is also calling for the immediate release of these young men saying that if they are harmed, or if they are not released then there must be accountability.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


VAUSE: The French president has acknowledging France's overwhelming responsibility in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Survivors and researchers accused France of supporting the Houthi regime, a key ally in Africa, a support which continued even after the massacres began.

In just 100 days more than 800,000 people mainly Tutsis were killed by Houthi militias. Here's Emmanuel Macron.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): But France has a roll, a history, and a political responsibility in Rwanda. And it has a duty io look history in the face and to recognize the suffering it has inflicted on the Rwandan people by allowing silence to prevail over the examinations of the truth for too long.


VAUSE: But Emmanuel Macron stopped short of a public apology. Survivors' groups had mixed reaction to his statement.

Well, a family member of two Iranian-Americans detained by Tehran is speaking out just as Washington tries to revive the Iran nuclear deal. He's pleading with the Biden administration to not forget about his loved ones accused of working for the United States.

And he sat down with CNN's Kylie Atwood.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Babak Namazi is living in fear.


ATWOOD: Both his brother and his elderly father are detained in Iran. And while the Biden administration is in talks to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, he is worried about them getting left behind again.

His concerns are justified. American prisoners were released from Iran in 2016. On the same day, the U.S. officially entered the Iran nuclear deal. Then in 2019 as part of a prisoner swap. And once again just last year. But every time Babak's family members remained in Iran.

NAMAZI: Each time I saw lights at the end of the tunnel. And it's turned out to be a fast moving train unfortunately.

ATWOOD: He fears for their lives every day, particularly if they are abandoned once again.

NAMAZI: I have no doubt that Siamak and my dad will now survive. Siamak has said so much himself. I mean how much can any human being endure in these kind of conditions to be mistreated? To be tortured? Six years of this being going on?

And then also betrayed by your own government for this (INAUDIBLE)


ATWOOD: The family's nightmare started when Siamak was taken into custody in 2015 accused of working with the U.S. government which the family denies. The following year when American prisoners were freed as the Iran deal was implemented, Babak was told his brother would be released within weeks. But that never happened.

NAMAZI: That tried and failed catastrophically because not only Siamak was not released, but within weeks, my dad was taken as well as other hostages.

ATWOOD: His father, Baquer, flew to Iran to get his son out. And that is when he was arrested by Iranian authorities charged with the same alleged crime. And while in prison, the 84-year-old had two heart surgeries and nearly died.

His sentence was commuted last year but he is still not allowed to leave Iran. Babak says that his brother Siamak has been tortured in Evin Prison.

NAMAZI: He was beaten up physically. He was tased. He was tied down. He had wires connected to him with threats of electrification.

ATWOOD: Babak is in Washington this week. He will meet with members of Congress and see State Department officials who he is in regular contact with. He has requested a meeting with the White House but that has not been granted.

(on camera): Your heart has been broken multiple times before, right? What gives you any confidence that this time it won't happen again?

NAMAZI: I don't have a good answer. I guess faith in humanity, I still have that faith.

ATWOOD (voice over): The State Department says, securing the Namazis' release is a top priority.

ROBERT MALLEY, SPECIAL U.S. ENVOY TO IRAN: We can't forget them, and anything that happens on the nuclear side, whether we succeed or fail, our goal is going to be to get them back home.

ATWOOD: There are some signs that talks over the Iran deal are happening in parallel to the discussions about the release of his father and brother. But Babak says the release may require bold action.

NAMAZI: I think the expectation I have from President Biden, along what I've had from all other president all other presidents is to be prepared to make difficult decisions. To make courageous decisions.

ATWOOD (on camera): The weight on his Babak's own shoulders is truly unimaginable. He says that thoughts about securing the release of his father and his brother engulf him every single day. From the minute he wakes up, until the time he goes to bed at night.

And one devastating thing is that his son recently, graduated from college. And It tore him apart that both his father and his brother couldn't be there to watch.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


VAUSE: We'll take a short break.

When we come back panic and chaos gripping a major city in the Democratic Republic of Congo almost a week after a deadly volcanic eruption, thousands are fleeing, and fear that there is still one to come. A report from Goma is next.

Also fears of an environmental disaster off the coast of Sri Lanka, a container ship full of chemicals still on fire after more than a week. The very latest in our live report, in a moment.



VAUSE: A mass exodus from a major African city is underway this hour sparked by fears a deadly volcano could erupt a second time. Tens of thousands are leaving the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And for most, where they are going, and what their futures hold, is unknown.

CNN Larry Madowo reports now from Goma.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A state of chaos and panic as people flee the city of Goma, following what scientists call and unprecedented situation. Residents of ten neighborhoods evacuate their homes with only what they can carry. Mattresses, essential items, and little else.

Hundreds of thousands hit the road on Thursday according to aid agencies.

MAPENDO RACHEL, EVACUEE: There are houses could collapse because of the earthquakes. so we are leaving, because we are afraid. A crack already appeared under my bed.

MADOWO: What sounds like a description of an apocalypse is a reality facing this part of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Zero action for months, Nyiragongo on Saturday puts them in the high-risk path of lava flow or a catastrophic implosion from magma underground. An increase in earthquakes has less to fear of a second eruption.

(voice over) This is a scramble, to leave the danger zone of Goma. Thousands of pole using every mode of transfer available to them, to try to get to the safety zone in Sake. We're about eight miles out and traffic is backstopped all the way.

(voice over): More people trying to cross the border in to the Safety of neighboring Rwanda, UNICEF projects that after 280,000 children could be displaced in the aftermath of the volcanic Eruption.

this mother of six tells me she's left everything behind, except her kids.

Its all in the hands of God. She says. The Congolese government in Kinshasa (ph) says that priority is the preservation of human life but the crowded evacuation route leads to small towns like Sake that are hardly prepared for the influx of internally displaced people.

Aline Mugisha (ph) prepares a small dinner for her three children outside a church but worries about where their next meal will come from.

ALINE MUGISHA, EVACUEE (through translator): We don't have the means to take care of ourselves. There's limited food, we are sleeping on the floor and we are suffering too much.

MADOWO: The latest eruption that killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands put indescribable stress on an already worn-down population. the Norwegian Refugee Council a leading humanitarian organization says the DRC is the world's most neglected displacement crisis in 2020.

JAN EGELAND, SECRETARY-GENERAL, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: It has the richest mineral base on earth this country, but people living on top of this mineral reservoir are among the poorest people in the world, and the most neglected. MADOWO: The city of Goma, emptied into the night as panic spread. Many

who have yet to reach their final destination slept rough on the streets anxious, about a potential disaster.

Larry Madowo, CNN -- Goma.


VAUSE: Off the coast of Sri Lanka, emergency crews are working to prevent an environmental disaster. It container ship carrying chemicals has been on fire for a week now. And with each passing day, fears grow that 320 metric tons of oil on board could spill into the ocean.

CNN's Paula Hancocks watching all of this live for us this hour. So Paula, exactly what are they doing at this point? What are (INAUDIBLE) this was happening and what are the chances of success?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we've just had an update from the chairman of Sri Lanka's EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency over the telephone telling us that the fire is still going. But the density seems to be reduced. Saying that there is far less smoke billowing from this container ship at this point.

But they haven't managed to get on board as of now. We know that both the Coast Guard in India and also the Sri Lankan navy is working to put this fire out. Helicopters being used to try and douse the flames also. Firefighting dams trying to put it out.

But as you say, it has been eight days already. Now, the chairman did say that the structure of the vessel is ok and it is still intact. That is different to what we have been hearing over recent days a suggestion that the ship may not sink, although they won't confirm that at this point. But it appears as though it is more intact than previously believed.


NISHANTHA ULUGETENNE, SRI LANKA NAVY COMMANDER: At the moment, we are fighting this fire with the Indian Coast Guard, and other naval vessels along with (INAUDIBLE) the company and the (INAUDIBLE) port authority.

At the moment we are in a very stable condition -- and stable condition and the condition. (INAUDIBLE) until we can put the fire off completely.



HANCOCKS: But there has already been some environmental damage hearing from the EPA, saying that about 40 kilometers of beach in Sri Lanka have been affected. They have more than 800 army personnel on the scene at the moment, trying to clear up that debris. Clearly there are many more containers on this ship, some of those have leaked into the ocean. Many have been burned, and so clearly, there has been some pollution.

But what they're trying to do as well is to put these oil booms around the vessel itself, so that if the worst happens and if this the vessel does sink then, at least, they are hoping much of the oil will be contained as the oil will rise to the surface, and they will be able to see it quickly.

The chairman of the EPA saying that there is no oil visible at this point. And they are hoping that the ship remains intact, John.

VAUSE: I guess the question now is what are the chances that they can prevent this ship from actually sinking?

HANCOCKS: Well, it's interesting, because back on Tuesday, we heard from the fisheries minister of Sri Lanka. And he put the likelihood of it sinking at 80 percent saying that he didn't see how they could manage to keep it afloat.

They have had more help come in at this point. We know that they have had help from Europe, there's a Dutch crew that is trying to prevent this ship from sinking, as well as everybody knows, it would be catastrophic if it were to sink and if there is well over 300 tons of oil seeped out into the ocean.

So, they are hoping that over the recent days, they have managed to make it more intact, and prevent that catastrophe.

They have a particular bay close to where the waters would come to, the polluted waters would come to, which is a haven and a protected area for much of the marine life for mangroves and we also know there is some 5,000 fishermen that work in that particular area.

So, it would be devastating for that area itself. The fishermen themselves are being told to stay at home, not to go out onto the water, and all the public have been told not to go to the beaches as well.

And they are trying to put the oil booms within this bay area, as well, to try and prevent if the worst happens, prevent the oil coming onto the shore, or into those more protected areas.

But, at this point, it's a bit of a wait and see game. It has been going for eight days. Certainly the news appears to be more positive at this point as the likelihood of the ship sinking, appears to be decreasing but it has not disappeared and the fire is still burning, John.

VAUSE: A week is Incredible. Thank you, Paula. Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul.

There's a stark warning from the World Meteorological Organization. The earth will likely reach a dangerous climate tipping point in the next 5 years. There's a 40 percent chance, the average global temperature will temporarily, reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre- industrial levels.

That may sound familiar. Climate scientists often point to that and say, it would dramatically increase the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods, food shortages.

Last year the world's average temperature was 1.2 degrees warmer -- very, very, close, just 0.3 away from 1.5-degree threshold.

There are also climate concerns to this year's Tokyo Olympics. A new report says the average temperature in Tokyo has increased three times as fast as the world's average. It can be extremely dangerous for the athletes competing at the games.

Organizers have already moved some outdoor events away from Tokyo to other cities which are a little bit cooler.

When we come back, he was a huge baseball star in Cuba, not now. The young second baseman faces backlash at home after defecting to the U.S.

That's ahead.



VAUSE: It seems the lure of a lucrative Major League Baseball contract was just too much for young second basemen with Cuba's national team.

Just hours after arriving in Florida, 22-year-old second baseman Cesar Prieto slipped away from the team in Miami, yes he defected.

Here is CNN Patrick Oppmann.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cuba's Baseball Confederation confirmed on Thursday that one of their star players has defected just hours after arriving in the United States.

Cuba's national baseball team had come to Florida after months waiting for their visas to play in the United States in a tournament that will qualify which teams will play in the Tokyo Olympics.

Just as the players were arriving to their hotel, according to reports, star player second baseman Cesar Prieto apparently separated from the rest of the team, climbed into a car and just disappeared.

This is increasingly common when Cuban players, particularly baseball players, play abroad because here in Cuba players tend to earn really a pittance compared to what they can earn in the United States.

And players also say that the government really controls what teams they play for if they have the opportunity to play abroad. And that if they want to earn the kind of million dollar paydays that so many players tend to earn in the United States, they need to leave their country.

The Cuban Baseball Federation criticized Prieto for leaving his team for essentially betraying his country. And said that his behavior had been repudiated by the other players on his team.

Cuba's government says that because the United States has resisted allowing the Cuban government to reach a deal with Major League Baseball, the Cuban players are forced to defect, essentially, slip away from games, and from trips, in the middle of the night to go and play in the United States and earn some of those big paydays.

Now, Cuba's team, as they look to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics is going to have to do so without one of their star players.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN - Havana.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching. I'm John Vause.

But please stay with us, another hour of CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment.

Only getting started.