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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. and Allies Target Belarus Regime with Sanctions; Constant Contact Hack; Calls to Cancel Olympics Grow; New Questions Surround COVID-19 Origin; Hundreds of Tigrayans Released; Goma Residents Flee Mount Nyiragongo Volcano; South African Women Fight Rising Violence. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired May 29, 2021 - 02:00   ET

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


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ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, welcome to CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow.

Coming, up finding an ally, Belarusian president gets support for his Russian counterpart as the U.S. ramps up pressure over the forced landing of a passenger jet.

Countdown on, state of emergency to one month before the start of the Olympics.

And hundreds of thousands fearing another, more destructive eruption in the DRC.

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

CURNOW: Thanks for joining me wherever you are in the world.

Our top story is the deepening international outrage over last weekend's forest landing of a commercial flight in Belarus. The U.S. says it's working with allies on sanctions specifically targeting the Lukashenko regime. The U.S. also says sanctions announced in April against in Belarus will go into effect next week.

Belarus on Friday responded to Lithuanian's expulsion of diplomats by ordering two Lithuania diplomats to leave Belarus. The European Union is considering a multibillion-dollar investment in Belarus only if the country returns to a functioning democracy.

In the meantime, numerous international airlines are now avoiding the country. The E.U. has called for a ban on flights by Belarusian carriers. President Alexander Lukashenko remains defiant as he met Friday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Fred Pleitgen has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As international condemnation mounts against the regime in Minsk and specifically, against Belarusian strongman, Alexander Lukashenko, Lukashenko paid a visit to Vladimir Putin in Sochi and obviously, the incident with the Ryanair plane and the Belarusian authorities forcing that plane land was certainly one of the things that was on the agenda.

It was quite interesting because, before that meeting even started, Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin could be seen together. Lukashenko had a briefcase next to the chair he was sitting in and said he had brought documents that he said would clarify the situation.

Now it wasn't clear whether he was specifically speaking about that incident, but it certainly did come up. Vladimir Putin, for his part, showing that he continues to support Alexander Lukashenko. That's important and seems to be very strong indeed.

Several Russian politicians have come out and said they believe the explanations Minsk has been offering up for forcing that jet to land are, as they put it, plausible. That as the international community continues punching holes in the narrative.

In fact, CNN obtained an email that was allegedly sent to the Belarusian authorities where they claim the reason why they told jet to land was because there was a bomb threat on board.

It turns out that email was apparently sent 30 minutes or less after the plane had already been told to divert and, in fact, European countries are continuing to say they believe that those explanations do not hold up and are vowing to take tougher action against Minsk -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.

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CURNOW: Joining me now from Washington is global affairs analyst Susan Glasser, also a staff writer for "The New Yorker."

Great to have you on the show. Thank you for joining us. We've had, this, evening in the last few hours, this press release from the White House.

Can you decode it for us?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Listen, it's unusual, obviously. On a Friday evening to release what looks like a new set of actions against Belarus and the government of Alexander Lukashenko in response to the extraordinary air piracy earlier in the week.

I took a couple things away from this. First of all, most importantly, Belarus, in taking this action, managed to land itself on the agenda of Washington and the Biden administration, in the way it wasn't, for the oncoming summit meeting between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden. I think the Biden administration essentially has no choice but to take

a much tougher line on Belarus. It was seen as acting ineffective not as a proxy for Russia, acting in concert with them. That was the message of the Lukashenko-Putin meeting earlier today.

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GLASSER: So, I think it's interesting that you have the visual of these 2 autocrats getting together and hours later, the White House saying, wait a minute, it's not just the European Union; we will be taking new measures.

That being, said my reading of it suggests it's not as tough as what the E.U. has done and it wasn't a European Union flight that was forced down in Minsk. It wasn't an American aircraft carrier, airplane, that was forced to land.

Nonetheless, I'm struck there are sanctions being reimposed on some Belarusian state enterprises. It's not necessarily a complete American heavy-handed response. Not yet.

CURNOW: There were Europeans and Americans on that flight. So effectively, they were hijacked as well, as well as the opposition journalist and his girlfriend.

It that also part of this response?

Or is it a direct response to the fact there is -- this government is trying to silence dissent?

GLASSER: This government has been trying to silence dissent for a long time. What's interesting, Belarus hasn't been on the agenda so much here in Washington. It's been an inward-looking moment.

And the crackdown that followed the election, in which Lukashenko not only insisted on maintaining power but essentially has launched a massive action of oppression around the country, since then, you haven't really seen a major response by the United States.

To me, by engaging in this active air piracy, now you are seeing United States talk more about human rights as a result of that in a way they might not have otherwise.

So did Lukashenko miscalculate?

Did he understand that was going to bring down more pressure from the United States?

I don't know. I do think that is one result, certainly, of this. It's not just about human rights, which has already been a crisis in Belarus. I think it's an affront to the international system, right?

What's going to stop any rogue dictator from forcing down airplanes that are over his airspace?

So I think that's part of the real reaction you are seeing from other countries.

CURNOW: Is the timing of this press release from the White House in response to these images we saw out of Sochi -- it was pretty buddy- buddy scenes between Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko.

What does that say about Russia and Moscow's role in all of that and the messaging coming from Moscow?

GLASSER: I think that was intended to send a message. I think it was correctly received. The message is Vladimir Putin is absolutely not turning away from Lukashenko but owning it.

If you look at the actions this week, that was pretty clear. You had Moscow as well, seeming to retaliate against European air companies, that were rerouting around Belarus in the wake of, this even just trying to fly to Moscow. In a way, you had Russia and Belarus acting in concert. These images really reinforce that.

A late Friday press release from the White House announcing sanctions like this, it's extremely unusual, especially from the much more process-oriented Biden administration.

I do think the message from Washington is meant to be, hey, we are paying attention. We are going to do something here. It may also be, all week long, they're facing increasing pressure to join in with their European allies and to do more here in Washington.

I do think there is real concern, including from Democratic allies of President Biden, why is he meeting with Vladimir Putin at this time?

Is it the best time, given a lot of outrageous actions on the part of Russia?

Including another hacking here in Washington of USAID in addition to this act with Belarus that Russia seems to be all aboard for. So there is a lot of questions about that that may be prompting a tougher response from the Biden administration.

CURNOW: Susan Glasser, always great to have your analysis. Thank you so much for joining us on CNN. Appreciate it.

GLASSER: Thanks for having me.

CURNOW: Washington says the cyberattack reported on Thursday was much bigger than previously thought. More than 7,000 accounts were hit across some 350 U.S. organizations, including many of the U.S. government. Among them, U.S. Agency for International Development.

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CURNOW: Microsoft says a Russian group linked to the Kremlin could be behind it all, the same one that targeted some federal agencies last year. Matthew Chance is in Moscow with that. Matthew?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is the timing of this alleged cyberattack that, I think, is the most striking, just a few weeks before the U.S. and Russian presidents are set to meet in Switzerland for a face to face summit that is already fraught with a long list of disagreements and grievances.

Russia's (INAUDIBLE) the latest crisis involving Minsk (INAUDIBLE) airline apparently to arrest two passengers on board. The treatment of Alexei Navalny, Russia's jailed opposition leader, the Russian military threat to Ukraine. And add these fresh hacking allegations, to add to the historical ones that are already there.

To make matters worse, since President Biden imposed tough sanctions on Russia for precisely this kind of cyberattack, the SolarWinds hack, targeting U.S. government agencies and blamed by Washington on the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service.

Microsoft which is taking the latest hacking of U.S. aid agencies, think tanks and humanitarian groups, mainly in the U.S., said the same group of Russian hackers are responsible this time around. For its part, the Kremlin has denied any knowledge of the espionage, saying it has questions about why Russia is again being blamed -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

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CURNOW: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he has a number of offensive options in the cyber domain to use against nations that are hostile to the U.S. he sat down with Barbara Starr for an exclusive interview. Let's take a listen.

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BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Are you satisfied that you have a menu of effective, offensive cyber operations, even if you can't talk about them?

GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I have another number of offensive options and, yes, and we will always maintain credible, effective options. Again, I present those options to my boss. And when he chooses to take advantage of them, we can employ them.

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CURNOW: Coming up on CNN, Japan is preparing to welcome tens of thousands of athletes and staff in July while fighting a coronavirus emergency. We have that story next.

Plus the search for answers intensifies surrounding where COVID came from, as new U.S. intelligence raises questions about what China knew and when. That's also next.

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CURNOW: The Tokyo Olympics is set to kick off in just 55 days. But coronavirus cases are surging in Japan. The country's prime minister just extended a state of emergency in several prefectures. So there are fears that the Olympics could become a superspreader event.

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CURNOW: Selina Wang explains what's at stake from Tokyo.

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SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Over the next two months, some 90,000 Olympic participants from more than 200 countries will be flying into Tokyo. Suddenly, opening the floodgates for country that's had its borders closed for most of the pandemic.

COVID-19 cases are surging in Japan. Tokyo and large part of the country are under a state of emergency.

KENJI SHIBUYA, PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT: The Olympics will add another burden of the health system which is already overstretched. As opposed to the symbol of unity and the peace and hope at the Olympics, it become the nightmare with a super-spreading event in Tokyo.

WANG (voice-over): Just around 2 percent of Japan's 126 million people have been fully vaccinated. The roll out slowed down by bureaucracy and a lack of medical staff to administer them.

At the current rate, the rest of the adult population won't even be eligible for the vaccine by the time the Olympics begin.

WANG (on camera): Organizers claim the games will be held in a safe bubble. At this Olympic Village, athletes will be tested daily and monitor with the contact tracing app.

Vaccines are not required, but officials say more than 80 percent of the Olympic Village will be. They're asked to practice social distancing, wear masks, except for when training and competing and only use public transport when necessary.

Now, experts say though that it's impossible to keep the massive games completely safe. Plus, they say there are plenty of ways for this bubble to be punctured as the Olympic participants come into contact with tens of thousands of unvaccinated volunteers who lived outside the bubble.

Olympic venues are all over Tokyo with a marathon and some soccer matches held 500 miles north in Sapporo.

So, whose responsibility is it to keep all these Olympic participants safe?

The Olympic playbook puts the ultimate responsibility on the athletes, rather than organizers or the Japanese government. Japan is spending more than $15 billion on these games, the most expensive Summer Olympics on record, including $900 million in COVID countermeasures.

But poll after poll shows that the majority in Japan do not want these games held.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I definitely don't think Japan should go ahead with the Olympics.

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

WANG: Ultimately, it's largely not up to Japan. Olympic contracts are written to favor the IOC. So, public opposition and medical system headed for collapse cost overruns are all burdens Tokyo will have to bear.

The IOC has the legal power to cancel the Olympics, but they plan to plow ahead -- Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.

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CURNOW: So many worried that the Olympics could bring widespread contagion which is sending possible new variants and even strain on Tokyo's buckling health care system. Blake Essig joining me now, following the story from the Japanese capital.

Blake, hi, lovely to see you. As Selina laid out, real concerns about the Olympics being a superspreader event.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Medical professionals, for a long time, have been expressing that concern. But Olympic organizers remain confident, these games can be held safely and will be held on schedule.

Now across Japan, COVID-19 cases remain high, continuing to see a record number of cases in critical condition and the medical system is strained. As a result, Japan's prime minister has extended the current state of emergency order in Tokyo in 8 prefectures. And the latest state of emergency came to effect at the end of April.

Most bars, restaurants and general public seemed to be following that government's guidance, but it does little to slow the spread of infection.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As the highly contagious variant strains continue to change to another, the measures we take must be able to lead to a decrease in infections. So, we are in need of more time than before.

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ESSIG: The state of emergency extension, lasting until June 20th, about one month before the Olympics are set to start. The Olympic organizers made it clear that it's not. They recently said the games will go ahead, even if Tokyo is under a state of emergency at the time.

To ensure a safe and secure Olympic Games, it seems the vaccinations will be key. The IOC says that 80 percent of people inside of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated but doesn't include the roughly 78,000 foreign delegates traveling to Japan for the games. No word on where they will stay or whether they will be vaccinated.

In March, Pfizer said it would donate COVID-19 vaccines to Olympic participants but only 20 out of more than 200 countries and territories are expected to participate. These are places where the necessary regulatory and legal conditions already exist.

For others, Pfizer says that they are working to establish a location, where these delegations can go to be vaccinated. But time is running out. Only 55 days to go before the games are set to begin. And it takes 5 weeks after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine before were considered fully vaccinated.

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ESSIG: Of course, developed nations like Japan, Australia, United States, all use their own supply to vaccinate participants; less developed nations don't have that luxury. It is also worth remembering, Robyn, here in Japan, still only about 2 percent of the entire public has been fully vaccinated.

CURNOW: That's quite a figure, isn't it?

Blake Essig, thank you so much, in there in Tokyo, thank you.

The World Health Organization says that politics are poisoning its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. The agency is urging countries to separate politics from science.

And their plea comes as the U.S. is ramping up its own evidence to flesh out theories, including, a possible lab leak in China. David Culver is reporting extensively from Wuhan, where the virus was first identified. He filed this report from Shanghai.

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DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden ordering U.S. intelligence to dig deeper into the origin of COVID-19. Putting a renewed focus on the Chinese city, where it was first publicly detected, Wuhan.

The White House says there are two possible origin theories. The first and natural spread from animals to humans, possibly amplified, inside this once crowded Wuhan seafood market. The second and far more controversial possibility, a leak of the deadly virus from this Wuhan lab.

JAMIE METZL, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: We know that China engaged in a massive cover-up, starting from day one, including destroying samples, hiding records and then imprisoning people in China, asking basic questions, and placing a gag order.

CULVER (voice-over): It has been well over a year since the initial outbreak and still no conclusive answers. Former President Trump made claims last spring that it started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab but never provided evidence.

The Chinese, along with many scientists, dismissing Trump's lab leak theory as a conspiracy. President Biden took office, supporting an international approach and investigating the origin.

This week, sources, familiar with the matter, tell CNN that Biden also shut down the Trump State Department inquiry into the origins over concerns about the quality of the evidence.

But now with newly reported intel, there are new questions of what China knew and when. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting this week a U.S. intel report found that several researchers at the Wuhan lab got so sick, they needed to go to the hospital in November 2019.

That is weeks before China reported its first patient with COVID like symptoms to the WHO. It has led to mounting pressure on the Biden administration to find answers.

In January of this year, we were in Wuhan, as the WHO sent a field team into China to investigate, visiting the now shuttered market once believed to have been the original ground zero. Since, it has been wiped clean.

We drove by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, heavily secured and, despite multiple requests, we were not granted access to enter. This is as close as we got.

The WHO scientists, however, were allowed in.

Their conclusion?

It is very likely the virus spread naturally from animals and that a lab leak was extremely unlikely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no evidence of that at all. But it is something that we talked about with people at the Wuhan lab. It got really honest and frank and good, informative answers, too.

CULVER (voice-over): But that's the issue with the WHO investigation. According to some of the scientists who took part, it relied largely on conversations with the Chinese scientists, taking them at their word.

Some of the experts, complaining that China blocked them from crucial data. Those, like Dr. Peter Daszak, have been criticized for their personal ties to the Wuhan lab, having helped fund and take part in the research in the facility before the outbreak.

Virologist Marion Koopmans (ph) was among the WHO team in Wuhan in January. She's careful to characterize the team's work as research gathering, not as an inspection. She also welcomes Biden's efforts to get more intel on the origins, hoping that he will share the findings.

MARION KOOPMANS, VIROLOGIST: So if there really is something to it, well, then it should be followed up.

CULVER (voice-over): In the meantime, China pushes back with its own narrative, calling the U.S. efforts a smear campaign.

"Their motive is vicious," the spokesperson says.

Chinese officials have relentlessly pushed an unfounded conspiracy, that the virus began in the U.S. But there's no evidence of that. Chinese state media labeling the virus an imported threat, even baselessly suggesting it came from outside of China on frozen foods.

CULVER: From the chaos and the confusion of the initial outbreak, to the surge in panic as the number of deaths soared and the virus spread, to the hopes that vaccines might bring us back to life pre- COVID-19, we are still left with the question, how did this all really happen?

[02:25:00]

CULVER: David Culver, CNN, Shanghai.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Thanks for that, David.

Coming up on CNN, vaccinations are increasing in Europe but we find out why one health expert says it is just not fast enough. That is next.

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CURNOW: Welcome back, I'm Robyn Curnow. It's 26 minutes past the hour.

The World Health Organization Europe chief, telling the AFP news agency, the region's rollout is far too slow. In the same interview, he also warned that the pandemic will not be over there until at least 70 percent of people in Europe are vaccinated.

Currently, just under 16 percent of Europe's population is fully vaccinated, according to figures tracked by our data. Meanwhile, Europe is taking a big step towards getting children protected. Scott McLean with more on that.

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SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Europe is now following the lead of Canada and the U.S. in approving the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 12. The European Medicines Agency, giving their blessing to the vaccine, after studies showed it was as or more effective, than it was in older teens, in young adults. Having about the same side effects.

However, the agency also conceded, the sample size of their clinical trial was too small to detect rare adverse reactions. Those only showing up in the real world data, once the rollout begins.

In fact, the clinical trial involved only around 2,000 kids. There were zero positive cases reported in the group that got the vaccine so, while the trial seemed to show 100 percent efficacy, the agency says the true number could be as low as 75 percent.

The European Commission still need to sign off on this decision and it will be up to each of the E.U. member states to decide whether to expand the rollout to this younger group. Europe has been quickly ramping up the pace of the vaccination campaign, more than one third of the population has got at least one vaccine dose. But that still lags significantly behind the U.K., and the U.S. -- Scott McLean, CNN, London.

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CURNOW: Here in the U.S., it is the unofficial start of summer, with the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Experts are advising people on holiday, to pack their patience. Some 37 million people, expecting to travel more than 80 kilometers from home. That is according to the top motor club site.

The Centers for Disease Control, also predicting COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths will fall over the next 4 weeks. And then, those who are vaccine hesitant, some states are offering incentives to get the shot. This weekend New York and New Jersey are offering sunbathers a chance to get vaccinated while at the beach.

Still ahead we're getting new developments on the violent unrest in Tigray. Men rounded up by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have finally been released. A CNN exclusive report, that's next.

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CURNOW: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow live in Atlanta.

To a CNN exclusive on the violent unrest in Ethiopia. Aid workers say hundreds of men in the Tigray region were released on Thursday following a CNN report into their detention that sparked international outrage. Nima Elbagir has been reporting extensively on the conflict and has the latest.

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NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It took two statements by the United Nations and a call for accountability and the immediate release by United States senator Chris Coons.

But hundreds of Tigrayan men have now been released. The young men who had been detained, tell CNN, tortured and beaten by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers because, they say, they were accused of being part of Tigrayan rebel forces.

Humanitarian workers at the scene say a handful of men still remain in detention, whom they are seeking access to.

CNN's investigation into these detentions prompted international censure. But this is just one incident. This is just one incident that has now been resolved after the weight of international opinion was brought to bear.

There are so many more incidents in Tigray, so many more families, seeking to know more about lost loved ones. And it really speaks to how difficult the situation in Tigray has proved to resolve, that it takes this much to get Ethiopia and Eritrean soldiers to change course -- Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.

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CURNOW: The U.S. State Department welcomed the news of the release but denounced the fact that they were detained at all. A spokesperson told CNN Eritrean forces must leave Tigray and all those responsible for human rights violations abuses and atrocities must be held to account.

The atrocities being committed are absolutely unacceptable, they shock the conscience and must end.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fearing a possible second volcanic eruption in a week. These people are seeking the safety and shelters. But many moved out to other cities and across the border to Rwanda. UNICEF warns thousands more, including children, could become homeless if the volcano erupts again. Larry Madowo reports.

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LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As it gets to a week since the volcano erupted, local authorities are reporting more danger, not less.

We're seeing more smoke billowing out of there. That is consistent with what the local military governor has said. And greater images show that the crater is expanding. So there is a possibility of a new eruption.

Another one, the magma under the city of Goma, will be able to explode at any time, with little to no warning. So that is some of the reasons why they ordered 10 neighborhoods to evacuate and they say 400,000 people have left. They're in temporary shelters and in churches, hospitals and mosques. There doesn't seem to be much of a plan for them.

Here is the aftermath of the anger of Mother Nature. This is allowing itself through a wooded area.

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MADOWO: This is a settlement that doesn't exist anymore. That, over there, used to be a highway. It's not had any traffic at all and they're trying to rebuild it right now, because, when you see here, it feels like charcoal but it's much more complicated. It breaks like that as well.

But this is what happens when you're in the path of an active volcano, one of the most dangerous in the world. And people here are unclear when they will be allowed to go home; 280,000 children could be displaced.

And if there is a second eruption, another 300,000 people could be displaced, according to UNICEF. So a real crisis here on the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one week after the first eruption, displacing so many people and still has left 40 people missing -- Larry Madowo, CNN, Mount Nyiragongo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Thanks for that.

More than a century after horrific killings, Germany formally recognizing it committed what some historians call the first genocide of the 20th century. It happened in Namibia, where German colonial troops killed up to 80,000 people in the early 1900s.

The victims are members of 2 ethnic groups who rose up against land seizures. On Friday, Germany's foreign minister said now those crimes will be called by their real name.

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HEIKO MAAS, FOREIGN MINISTER, GERMANY (through translator): Our goal is to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims. This includes naming the events in the German colonial period in what is now Namibia and, in particular, the atrocities in the period from 1904 to 1908, without sparing or glossing over them.

We will now also officially call these events what they were from today's perspective: a genocide.

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CURNOW: The minister also said Germany will formally ask for forgiveness and spend $1.3 billion on reconstruction and development in Namibia. The government called Germany's admission a key step towards reconciliation. And in South Africa, advocacy groups and survivors say lockdowns

during the pandemic are leading to an increase in violence against women. Gender based violence in the country is certainly not new, but an independent commission says government efforts to curb the abuse are falling short. Eleni Giokos has more from Johannesburg.

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ELENI GIOKOS, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Nakolo Radebe (ph), at just 24 years old, she was brutally murdered, allegedly by her partner and his mother.

MOUMI RADEBE, VICTIM'S MOTHER (through translator): They found her in the yard and then they tied her with plastic and closed it with a blanket.

GIOKOS (voice-over): Its tragedy family members are struggling to come to terms with but one that's become a familiar reality for so many in South Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel very bad. I feel very, very bad but I don't have power for what I can do about it.

GIOKOS (voice-over): Gender based violence has long been a crisis in the country. According to annual data collected by the national police service, more than 42,000 rape cases were reported between 2019 and 2020, up by more than 700 from the year before.

National femicide rates are five times higher than the global average, with almost 3,000 women killed between April 2019 and March 2020. But it's the rise in the number of intimate femicide rapes that's most concerning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If a woman is killed, the first thing that pops into a policeman's head would be, if they wanted to challenge that this is the husband or the boyfriend. The suspicion is that there's a possibility that there was an increase of femicide, intimate partner femicide during lockdown.

GIOKOS (voice-over): Data also shows a concerning trend when it comes to the justice system. The U.N.'s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has reported lower levels of prosecution and conviction when it comes to domestic violence in South Africa and found that those who reported their abuser often did not get the protection they needed.

Official figures show, out of nearly 144,000 requests for protection orders between 2018 and 2019, only around 22,200 were granted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was my room.

GIOKOS (voice-over): Yolanda (ph) is a survivor of abuse. She left her partner and came to the safe house in a secret location in Johannesburg.

YOLANDA (PH), ABUSE SURVIVOR: Every time a new day started for me it felt like an ending because I knew that, OK, as soon as I get home, this is what's going to like be happening. It was like a daily routine, this was like my life, you know. And as soon as he walks in, I'm going to get insulted, I'm going to be beaten.

GIOKOS: Did the abuse increase traumatically from pre-lockdown levels two when South Africa went into lockdown?

YOLANDA: Yes. I've always been abused but during level 5 and all way up to a level 3 was the worst I've ever actually suffered abuse from because you know, he had that -- so much power.

[02:40:00]

YOLANDA: And it was like living he was inside my brain. It went from verbal to financial to physical and to sexual.

GIOKOS (voice-over): For Yolanda, the shelter has provided life- changing support, at least for the short term. But for others, a combination of physical, emotional and financial abuse means escaping violence at home is nearly impossible, especially during a pandemic.

POWA, a party government funded woman's shelter, says the country's strict lockdown in 2020 created unimaginable challenges for women in abusive relationships.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we had an increase. Women in lockdown (INAUDIBLE) because they had no place to run to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Women are --

GIOKOS (voice-over): South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has described gender-based violence as South Africa's second pandemic. In a 2019 emergency response plan, the government allocated $75 million to fighting gender-based violence, for shelters, crime and prosecution and set targets.

The Commission for Gender Equality says only 17 of the 80 targets were achieved, a disappointing outcome for families like Nakolo Radebe's (ph), who have already lost so much -- Eleni Giokos, CNN, Johannesburg.

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CURNOW: And former U.S. President Barack Obama is praising a young British football star for his efforts to ensure children get enough to eat.

Obama joined England forward Marcus Rashford for a video call to discuss how young people can make an impact on society. Rashford certainly is. He successfully persuaded the British government to continue its free school meal program over the holidays.

During the call, the two talked about personal responsibility, the value of reading and education and why Obama says he doesn't measure up to Rashford.

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MARCUS RASHFORD, MANCHESTER UNITED FORWARD: For me, being in sports, I just made out my life could change very, very quickly and, if I wasn't like mature enough or a certain level in my own head. And it makes stuff like fame and bits like that even more difficult to cope with.

Free books, you can grow yourself from whichever way you want rather than somebody keep telling me to do this and do that. Books allowed me to just do it my own way.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Entire worlds are possible in books. You can grow and discover and make connections that you might not otherwise have made, just by the simple act of picking up and opening a book.

When you look at the history of big social movements and big social change, it's usually young people who initiate this. Marcus, I think, is way ahead of where I was at 23. I was still trying to figure it out.

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CURNOW: For his work, Rashford has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. As for that call with Obama, well, he's describing it as surreal.

I'm Robyn Curnow. I'll be back at the top of the hour with more NEWSROOM. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next.