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Activists Detained on Tiananmen Square Anniversary; U.S. Pledges to Send 80M Doses Worldwide by End of June; Who's in Charge of Canceling Tokyo 2020?; U.S. Says It's Monitoring Situation in Afghanistan; U.N. Sounds the Alarm on Strength and Dangers of Taliban; Nigeria School Kidnapping; Nicaraguan Opposition Leader Under House Arrest; U.K. Newspaper Report Renews Debate over Royal Family Racism. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired June 4, 2021 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00:01]

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, I am John Vause.

In the hour ahead:

Thousands of Hong Kong police enforcing a pandemic ban on large gatherings. It also just happens to be one of the darkest chapters of China's history.

For everyone demanding Tokyo cancel the Summer Games, maybe try the IOC instead, because the legal reality is, they're the only ones who have the legal authority to do so.

And, a long march across China. A herd of Asian elephants, literally on a road trip, now on the outskirts of the major city.

(MUSIC)

VAUSE: Well, right now, government censors in mainland China are working overtime. A coverage of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown is being blocked. Last hour, CNN programming was replaced with Killerbus (ph).

For the second straight year, there will be no formal vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 32 years since the crackdown. A memorial has been held there for decades but once again, authorities refused to issue a permit citing COVID concerns.

Plus, there are many defied that ban. They gathered anyway. But now, a new national security law makes it clear that China will no longer tolerate pro democracy dissent.

Today, we are seeing blue skies and barricades in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. On June 4th, 1989, the world watched as Chinese troops launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. The death toll officially stands at around 300, but it's believed thousands were ultimately killed. CNN's Will Ripley and Kristie Lu Stout covering the anniversary. Will

is live in Taipei, Taiwan. But, first, we head to Hong Kong in Victoria Park and Kristie.

So, what is happening there at the moment? I guess not a lot.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on this sensitive anniversary, I'm standing here in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, once the site of the once annual Tiananmen vigil. And the days running up to this day, there were reports that up to the 7000 riot police and tactical gear will be out and about ready to take swift action against any unauthorized gathering, but we have not seen a show of force ads of this hour.

But two arrests had been made this day, including the arrest of a vigil organizer, Chow Hang Tung. She was detained at her home earlier today for publicizing the unauthorized vigil. For two years in a row, Hong Kong police have banned the vigil citing coronavirus restrictions. On Thursday, the city of seven and a half million reported one imported new case of the virus, there have been a number of large social gathering events that have taken place here, including an art fair.

But let's hear straight from the senior superintendent of Hong Kong island about the rational behind the ban of the vigil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIAUW KA-KEI, SENIOR SUPERINTENDENT, HONG KONG ISLAND REGION: Police have reasonable grounds to believe that the activities not only increase the risk of infecting COVID-19 by participants and other people, but also pose serious threats to the lives and health of all citizens jeopardizing public school safety and affecting rights of others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: For over 30 years, up until the year 2020, tens of thousands of people if not more would gather here. 8:00 p.m. local time on June the 4th to remember what happened and what was lost June 4th of 1989.

This area here would be transformed into a sea of flickering light and that vision not likely to take place today. Now, we have received a statement from Nathan Law, he is the exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy leader, talking about with this moment means for Hong Kong.

Let's bring up the statement for you. In it, he says: The government is using the public health concerns as excuses to ban the vigil politically. It's obvious that the government even tries to criminalize commemorating the event, the banning of the June 4th vigil is an example of the government eroding our freedom in a drastic way.

The Hong Kong Security Bureau has warned that anyone participating or publicizing this unauthorized gathering will face jail time. Last year, the vigil was also banned. The police citing the coronavirus and pandemic restrictions. In August of last year, 24 activists were arrested. Among them, high-profile pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong.

And it was just last month, in May, that he was sentenced to an additional 10 months in jail for his participation in the vigil that took place last year. That said and despite the ban, a number of Hong Kongers have said that they plan to mark this sensitive anniversary in personal intimate ways by lighting a candle at home.

Even according to Lee Cheuk-yan, he is a veteran organizer of the vigil who is now in jail for his role in the 2019 protest, he says he plans not to light a candle, but a cigarette in his jail cell tonight -- John.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout there live for us in Hong Kong.

Let's go to Will Ripley who still getting drenched there in Taipei.

[01:05:04]

So, Will, you know, there was always a lot of focus on Hong Kong over the years when they held these candlelight vigils in defiance in Beijing. But there's also been memorials and vigils held in Taiwan as well. That is set to continue.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And those memorials take on a new significance, because this is now the only place in the Chinese speaking world where a formal mass gathering would not only be allowed but actually encouraged by the government.

However, that is not happening today. This island is dealing with the most severe outbreak in COVID-19. There are level 3 restrictions in place, and as you can see we are in the midst of a pretty heavy monsoon with thunder and lightning. So even for people who might have gone to Liberty Square to drop off flowers are facing a lot of obstacles.

But, of course, the biggest obstacles are faced by the people of Hong Kong. I want to read a message from the Taiwan presidential spokesperson about the significance of today's anniversary saying: Taiwan, more than any other country, wants to see China democratize. We want a democratic neighbor. Today we remember those who fought and died for this.

Wu'er Kaixi is one of those student leaders now living in an exile here in Taiwan. He had many of his friends die on June 4th 32 years ago today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WU;'ER KAIXI, TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE SURVIVOR: Being a survivor of the massacre in the participant of the movement, I certainly appreciate Hong Kong people's commemorating the June 4th, but Beijing regime together with the puppet in Hong Kong said no to our challenge, to our demand for freedom, to the demand of the Hong Kong people for their freedom and democracy.

RIPLEY: You have said the western world lost the city.

KAIXI: Yes. And we should see the world map more like free world versus the enemy of them. If the world is two colors and then Hong Kong has just changed color.

RIPLEY: How would you respond to those who might think that the protesters pushed too much? Too far? That is what the probation camps says in Hong Kong.

KAIXI: Well, they also said we did that in 1989. It is not much different from accusing a rape victim of wearing too exposed. Of course, the communist party to be blamed first. You cannot blame the victim.

RIPLEY: Is there any hope for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong at this point?

KAIXI: It is. There is no way of sugar coating it. It is one of the darkest times in Hong Kong's history, I believe.

But there is a silver lining. I see in the last two, three years the U.S.-led Western democracy who enabled Chinese regime to conduct all these atrocities. It is coming around a little and realized what they have done, and coming to a point to thinking of changing this failed China policy.

RIPLEY: You left China 32 years ago after many of your fellow students died. Now we are sitting here at Liberty Square. Do you worry about the future of democracy here in Taiwan given the Chinese military intimidation?

KAIXI: Of course. You have to worry about democracy all the time, even with a living in democracy. That threat to Taiwan is military, is over 1,000 warheads pointing at this island from the floor of China. People here in Taiwan breathe in and out freedom, and they know it, because they have earned it and they will defend it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: Interesting fact, John, about Wu'er Kaixi. He has offered himself off for extradition back to the mainland to face charges many times. And each time, the Chinese government has rejected him. He thinks it's because they know that any attention to that story will only further undermine their censorship of the story as CNN continues to be blacked out as we speak on the mainland.

But it's not blacked out here in Taiwan. And the Taiwanese government says even though COVID and the weather this year is preventing a large scale former gathering, they know the significance that this will now be the only place in the Chinese speaking world that will hold such gatherings and they say they will continue next year and in the following year, John.

VAUSE: Yeah. It's notable that, essentially a cyclone and a pandemic is keeping people away.

Will, thank you. Will Ripley in Taipei.

Meantime, President Biden greatly expanding the number of Chinese companies that soon will be off limits to American investment. The administration says they're linked to China's military and its surveillance capability and pose a threat to the U.S. national security. The president's new executive order almost doubles the number of firms that President Trump blacklisted back in November.

[01:10:03]

Keeping a close eye on markets in Asia as this news sinks in. As you can see, this -- there hasn't been a lot of movement. Nikkei is down by half a percent, Hong Kong down by third of 1 percent. Shanghai, a touch it's closed out. Seoul Kospi down by just a touch as well.

Let's go live now from Beijing, Steven Jiang.

So, clearly, we are now waiting to hear with the response will be from Beijing. They obviously were not happy when the first list came out. Clearly, this is a doubling down by Washington.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: That's right, John. You know, this is probably like Mr. Biden's toughest measure against China since he took office. As you mentioned, this is a continuation, an expansion of a Trump era policy, because the original order was signed by Donald Trump last November.

But this is not a total surprise, because Mr. Biden and his senior officials have been saying for a long time that they do not disagree with Mr. Trump's assessment that China is a strategic rival in the U.S. and this challenge from Beijing needs to be addressed head on. What they disagreed, of course, was approach. Mr. Trump preferred to go it alone, but Mr. Biden says the best way to confront China is to form a united front with allies and partners, especially those like- minded partners that share the U.S. democratic values.

So, that's why in this latest order from the White House, you not only see the number of targeted Chinese companies doubling as you mentioned, but the scope has been clarified and expanded, because there are having cases in the past of some Chinese company successfully suing the U.S. government to get off the list.

And now, of course, Mr. Biden is saying these companies are on this list and not only because of their alleged ties to the People's Liberation Army, but because for many companies there technologies and products, especially surveillance technology is being used both inside and outside of China that contribute to the repression of ethnic and religious minorities, among them of course or the Uyghur Muslim minorities and the Xingjian region of China.

So, Mr. Biden is saying these companies are being targeted not only because their technologies and products undermine security of the U.S. and its allies, but also their shared of democratic values.

Now the Chinese government as you said we'll response fairly soon, the foreign ministry official already said yesterday when asked about this upcoming decision, that saying any such measures were in total disregard of facts and urging the U.S. to correct its mistakes and stop undermining the global market order and investors rights and interests. But also, he warned about consequences for the U.S., saying the Chinese government would take -- will take counter measures to protect Chinese companies' interests.

Although there is no specifics, many have pointed to the possibility of American companies, especially including global, very prominent global brands being outed to the Chinese governments so called unreliable entity list that would restrict or disrupt these companies' activities inside China -- John.

VAUSE: Steven, thank you. Steven Jiang live in Beijing.

Well, still to come, President Biden has revealed how the U.S. will distribute millions of doses of COVID vaccine around the world. We'll have the details from the White House in a moment.

Also, we'll hear from the Taliban. After a U.N. report on the dangers the Islamic fundamentalists still pose to Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:15:26]

VAUSE: For so many in countries where vaccines are in critical short supply, and the coronavirus is spreading like wildfire, they have been waiting for details from the White House on how millions of doses of vaccine will be distributed. They've been waiting, as if their lives depend on it.

On Thursday, the White House announced it has a plan to distribute 80 million surplus doses globally by the end a month.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, after months of deliberation, you finally see President Biden's team announced their global vaccination strategy. This is being led by Jeff Saenz, the president's COVID coordinator, who is now handling the global aspect of this, and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, though we're told by sources, they worked essentially across several departments for the last several months, figuring out how they would come to get down on this.

The final decision appears to be that they are going to donate 75 percent of excess vaccines from the U.S. to COVAX, that international vaccine initiative. But the rest, they are going to decide unilaterally where those vaccines are going. Though National Security Adviser Sullivan, did say earlier, they still maintain the right for the U.S. to make the final decision about where those vaccines are going, the ones that are going through COVAX.

So, the way this is all getting started, is with President Biden saying they have about 80 million to send out, right now, though, it's only starting with 25 million because the 60 million AstraZeneca doses, give or take a few million, still have not cleared FDA safety, and efficacy reviews. So, they cannot send those out until that happens.

And so, right now, you're seeing 25 million vaccines that are going out. About 19 million of those are going through COVAX, the other 6 million, going through U.S. allies, Mexico, India, South Korea, and Canada. That is where it's starting. Of course, it remains to be seen where the rest will go.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, the U.K. is closely following the footsteps of the United States. Britain's health secretary has details on what they're planning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT HANCOCK, UK HEALTH SECRETARY: Well, of course, this is absolutely something we are looking to do as well. It's something we've been talking about, here in Oxford, in England, as the G7 health ministers have been meeting to talk about how we get the whole world out of this pandemic. You know, this isn't over until it's over everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The U.K. is seeing a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections on Thursday alone. That's the highest daily total since March.

National Health Service data shows a number of cases, in the U.K. up 22 percent from last week. But the government has yet changed its goal to lift all coronavirus restrictions by June 21st, in orders, it's still in place. They hope new travel restrictions would keep that on track.

Bianca Nobilo has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Thursday that no new countries will be added to the U.K.'s green travel list, and that Portugal will move from the green list to the amber list. Meaning that any U.K. travelers to Portugal will have to quarantine for 10 days, upon their return, and take two tests.

Seven countries were also added to the U.K.'s red list. These are countries that U.K. citizens are prohibited from traveling to, apart from in the most extreme circumstances. The seven new countries or Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan,, and Trinidad and Tobago. The transport secretary explained his decision-making for moving

Portugal from the green to the amber list by saying that there has been a doubling of positive coronavirus cases in the country. He also said that there is the identification of a variant of concern. In particular, this mutation of the so-called India variant, which has been discovered in Portugal.

This is bad news for wishful travelers, and for the U.K.'s hard-hit travel and airline industry. Airline CEOs were quick to come out and voice their opposition to the plan, criticizing the lack of warning, saying it was a shock that it was confusing, and they were concerned about the economic impact.

The CEO of easyJet, Johan Lundgren, says it was a huge blow, and simply isn't justified by science. While the CEO of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, said that the U.K. is the worst performing country in the G7. And that the prime minister was sending a message that the U.K. would remain isolated from the rest of the world, and isolated from its G7 partners.

One of the U.K. government's chief concerns when it comes to coronavirus is whether or not they will be able to reopen the country, and relax all restrictions by the 21st of June.

[01:20:00]

The government argues that by imposing these travel restrictions today, which will take effect next week, that will protect the country's path to freedom on the 21st.

Bianca Nobilo, CNN, outside London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Yes, 49 days, 5 hours, 39 minutes, and 56 seconds until the curtain goes up on the Summer Olympics. They were delayed a year because of the pandemic, meant to start July 23rd, still called the 2020 Games. We're expecting organizes to hold a news conference, it's their regular one. We'll bring you any details to come from that.

Japan, though, continues to fight a fourth wave of infections, and many remain concerned that hosting the games will come at a very high price. Organizers may be looking at another cost, in the billions of dollars.

CNN's Anna Stewart explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After years of preparation, Tokyo 2020 is just weeks away, a year late due to the pandemic, organizers say that the event will cost $15.4 billion. Some estimates, suggesting it will cost more.

Opinion polls in Japan suggest a majority of the public want it canceled. Japan has already banned overseas spectators, which the Nomura

Research Institute estimates will cost the country over $1 billion in lost revenue. Canceling the games, it says, would cost more than $16 billion. But the think tank warns that these costs actually pale in comparison to the economic damage another wave of coronavirus could cause.

The IOC says its priority is to hold games are safe and secure. And, while pressure mounts for Japan to cancel the games, contractually, it can't.

ALEXANDRE MIGUEL MESTRE, SPORTS LAW ATTORNEY, ABREU ADVOGADOS: In practice, the single entity that can cancel games is the IOC, International Olympic Committee, because, according to the Olympic charter, the IOC has an exclusive property of the games.

STEWART: So, this means that, actually, Japan can't unilaterally decide to cancel the Olympic Games?

MESTRE: If Japan, if the organizing committee, if Tokyo, decides to not go on on their obligations under the host city contract, of course, it would not be possible to undertake the games, and in that condition. And in that condition, of courser, the IOC would be entitled to sue those co- parties in the host city contract.

STEWART: The IOC has insurance for games cancellation and abandonment, which could cover part of its operational cost. But what about its partners, the sponsors, and the broadcasters?

PATRICK VAJDA, PRESIDENT, XAW SPORTS: The main one in terms of money is the TV rights. The different contracts now are so complicated. Twenty years ago, it is easy to answer your question. Today, it's almost impossible, because a different TV network bought not only one games, but several. Generally speaking, three online, sometimes four.

We have to take each contract one by one and to analyze what is written in the contract. Sometimes, it is written something about the cancellation, they have to reimburse, they have not. It depends on the contract and it is a pure contractual agreement between two private companies.

STEWART: Billions of dollars, lawsuits, and insurance claims are at stake if the games are canceled. If they go ahead, the IOC risks breaching its own charter, which says it will promote safe sport, and protects athletes, who are already beginning to arrive in Japan.

The ultimate cost could be borne by those at risk from COVID-19 if Tokyo 2020 becomes a superspreader event.

Anna Stewart, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Few people know more about the inner workings of the IOC than Ed Hula, founder of Around the Rings, what many considered the go-to source for all things Olympic. Ed, he joins us now here in Atlanta.

Ed, good to see you again. It's been a while.

ED HULA, FOUNDER, AROUND THE RINGS: Good to be with you, John, as well.

VAUSE: Thank you.

Now, reading the contract between the IOC and Tokyo, the host city, it is striking how, blatantly, one side of that agreement really is. Take Section 11, termination. There's a long list of reasons which empower the IOC to terminate the deal, for example, if the host country is in the state of war, civil disorder, or belligerence, or if the games are not held in 2020. If the IOC cancels the games, the host city waves any rights to sue for damages. Nowhere, and more than 80 pages of contractors, is there any mention that the host city, or host country's government, has the right to cancel the games.

So, Ed, shouldn't the IOC be owning this? Just come clean and say the games will happen, because they don't want to lose the revenue from the television rights, it's all about the money.

HULA: Well, yeah, it is, somewhat, about the money. The IOC would like to deliver the games that the broadcasters can send around the world, broadcasters like NBC in the United States, broadcasters around the world, who pay rights to broadcast these games.

[01:25:15]

That's the lifeblood of the IOC's income. So, for the games to take place, it continues that economic activity for the IOC. When games don't happen, it comes to a crushing halt. Sponsors, still, will make their payments, though, the cancellation insurance is just a fraction of what the games, actually, costs to put on. Probably $500 million, $600 million of cancellation insurance is about all that is in there.

It's a mess. My friend, David Wallechinsky, the great Olympic historian, has called it that exactly. It's a mess. I have never seen anything like this in an Olympic Games, just 50 days away.

VAUSE: Yeah. You know, talking about canceling the games, the Nomura Research Institute not only found that canceling the Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympics this hour will cost Japan around 1.8 trillion yen. That's about $16 billion or $17 billion U.S. dollars. The same study goes on to warn of an even bigger economic loss if a fresh state of emergency is declared to cope with another spiking coronavirus cases once the games are over.

No matter which way you look at this, Tokyo is not in a good position. It's a no-win situation here, it seems.

HULA: It's a very difficult situation. The IOC is trying to do what they think is the best they can to keep athletes, and the Japanese public safe from any harm from athletes, other officials coming into Japan, and spreading the disease. But, the risk to Japan of a new increase in infection, a rise in a number of deaths from the coronavirus, is who the other side of the risks we're dealing with here.

The IOC believes they're doing what they can to keep everyone in the bubble is going to protect Japan from subsequent infections, but that's -- you know, it's a roll of the dice. It's a big risk. It's going to come to a government, the city government, maybe, the national government would have to say, no Olympics, we can't do it.

But, I don't think it will happen unless there's a substantial rise in the number of infections, unless there is a significant increase in the number of deaths. The state of emergency, right now, lasts until June 20th. Everyone is holding their breath, and seeing what happens.

The IOC is bound and determined to make these games happen in July and the Paralympics to follow in August. They are bound, and determined to make these games happen. They must realize, if things get worse as far as the disease goes, it does raise the specter that the government will, simply, say you can't have the games here.

VAUSE: But the University of Oxford took a close look at the overall cost runs of hosting cities, it's over this period of time, they found the average overrun, all out, is more than 200 percent, many times greater than what the IOC tells bidding cities. He's part of that report.

Either the IOC is diluted about the real cost risks when it insisted a 9.1 percent contingencies is sufficient, or the committee, deliberately, overlooks comfortable facts. Either case, host cities and nations are misled.

You know, the IOC credit are sort of no lose scenario for itself. It encourages bigger, more spectacular bids to increase revenue, which it then takes a lion share of that. All costs, all risk is with the host city.

So, answer me this, at what court would that agreement actually be enforced? You've said, you know, that Tokyo could say, enough, they're going to walk away from this, where would the IOC actually seek damages for that?

HULA: They might go to court to in Japan. But, I don't think it would come to that, because it would lead to some bad blood between the IOC and Japan, one of the most important nations for the Olympic movement. And the IOC doesn't want that.

The IOC has cancellation insurance. As I've said, it is worth $500 million, $600 million, $700 million or so. Just a fraction of what the IOC would expect to receive and revenue from the Tokyo Olympics. That, I think, is the best they can do.

[01:29:54]

The IOC is perhaps worried about being sued by some of its sponsors if they cancel the games. Maybe the broadcasters might enter into some sort of suit against the

IOC. That's the possibility if the worst happens. If the worst happens, I think we're going to see everybody trying to cover their bets with calling up the lawyers.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Call the lawyers. That's the worst-case scenario in everything, I think. Maybe they'll get all (INAUDIBLE) as there's a pandemic and leave the lawyers at home.

HULA: Yes.

VAUSE: Ed, thanks for being with us. It's really appreciated.

HULA: It's good to be with you, John.

Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM just months before presidential elections in Nicaragua, an opposition leader suddenly under house arrest.

And the classrooms remain empty while the memories of a kidnapping that happened there remained vivid and horrific. We'll hear from the survivors of yet another attack on a school in Nigeria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause.

A U.N. report is warning that despite what Taliban leaders may have said or promised publicly, the Islamic fundamentalists who once ruled Afghanistan and gave safe haven to terrorist behind 9/11 remain close to al-Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We will have the means to detect a reemergence of a terrorist threat to the homeland from Afghanistan and to take action should that occur.

We are going to reposition our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against this potential reemergence and we've spoken of the over the horizon options.

Under the agreement, the Taliban committed not to allow al-Qaeda or other terrorists to threaten the security of the United States or allies from Afghan soil. We are going to hold them to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The U.S. military is well ahead of a September 11 deadline for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan. And the U.N. Security Council's assessment is raising concerns about a fragile national Afghan army as well as threats to women, academics and journalists.

CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has more. But first a warning, his report contains disturbing images.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): Key points include 2020, the most violent year ever with assassinations up 28 percent; 2021, attacks up 61 percent from the same period last year.

[01:34:53]

ROBERTSON: And the Taliban's intent appears to be to continue to strengthen its military position. All the while, apparently lying to the U.S. The report saying the Taliban and al-Qaeda remain closely aligned and shows no sign of breaking ties.

This despite signing an agreement with U.S. February last year vowing to cut those connections.

Other points of concern in the report include Afghan troop strength, approximately 308,000 personnel, well below its target strength of 352,000 where recruitment has continued to decline.

Meanwhile, the U.N.'s member states like the Taliban now contest or control 50 to 70 percent of Afghan territory outside urban centers and exert direct control over 57 percent of district administrative centers. Taliban troop strength estimated at approximately 58,000 to 100,000.

The report cites another disturbing development. Women, intellectuals, religious scholars and journalists have become increasing targets of Islamist groups. 85 percent of those executions were assessed to be by the Taliban.

The report also assesses that Taliban have significant income. Estimated from $300 million to $1.6 billion from opium poppy production, extortion, kidnapping for ransom and mineral exploitation, including control of 280 mining zones. Only one less than the government.

Another detail in the report underscores how little has changed during America's longest war. The son of the Taliban's founding leader and commander during the 9/11 attacks is rising high in its ranks. And the U.N. says is reported to harbor ambitions to become the group's leader.

Nic Robertson, CNN -- London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Afghan army general (INAUDIBLE) tells CNN he's optimistic about the future and believes the Taliban has underestimated both the discipline and morale of his troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GENERAL, SAMI SADAT, AFGHAN ARMY: It's not a surprise that the Taliban are gearing up and preparing for attacking major cities. They're already destroying much of the infrastructure, bringing more al-Qaeda and regional terrorists into their files and ranks.

That's no surprise for us. I think we are equally ready to counter that for the past one and a half year. We have been giving the peace a chance throughout the time and the Afghan forces remained in defense while the Doha talks continued between the United States and the Taliban.

Prisoners were released and the United States airstrikes was limited. The ground forces completely halted.

So we are already in charge of the ground operations and what is happening in the combat zone in Afghanistan. I think now that we know that the peace chance was wasted by the Taliban. They did not use it effectively, I think we're also coming up to conducting ground offensive operations, you know, targeted airstrikes.

I am not worried. On the contrary, I see this as an opportunity for Afghan forces to stand up to the day and defeat the Taliban. It may take some time, but defeating Taliban is inevitable for two purposes.

The first purpose, the cause in which the Taliban are fighting. As the U.S. troops withdraw it will be increasingly difficult for the Taliban's to recruit in the village of Afghanistan in the name of jihad. So the very purpose of jihad will vanish with it.

However, you know, the Taliban being a destructive force, it still has the capacity to wage violence across the country.

They tried very hard from the beginning, enough men until now, storming 10 provinces of Afghanistan trying to overtake some 40 cities like the city of Lashkargah, Ghazni (ph), Wardach (ph) and Kunduz in the north.

But failed they in all those fronts and lost a lot of men. So now they, in the last few days, we've seen in an increase in Vivi-ID attacks and to the main population areas and it is. That shows that the Taliban were underestimating the Afghan military. They were preparing for these major assaults.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[01:39:54]

VAUSE: And we are hearing from the Taliban, issuing a statement which claims the U.S. assessment is based on misinformation while claiming at the same time to have kept commitments made in February last year in the so-called Doha Agreement.

Here's part of the statement. "The United Nations Security Council has reported that the Islamic emirate is not ready for peace and still has convictions with al-Qaeda. We reject this report." There's just (ph) more.

The gunmen who abducted close to 150 children from a school in Nigeria have reportedly demanded a ransom. The children and three teachers were taken in north central Nigeria on Sunday.

The school's headteacher says he was able to speak to the abductors and says they told him if they don't receive more than $400,000 by Thursday afternoon local time they will start killing the students.

There is no word on if that threat has been carried out.

Stephanie Busari spoke with some survivors who saw firsthand what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE BUSARI, JOURNALIST (voice over): Cries of anguish speak louder than any words. Once again, a classroom in Nigeria is empty. The children who sat here are gone, held captive by gunmen who abducted them on Sunday.

More than 150 children and teachers are believed missing. Some as young as four years old. Some who narrowly avoided capture are now telling their stories.

SANUSI MUSTAPHA, STUDENT WHO ESCAPED ABDUCTION (through translator): Myself and other students ran into an office and locked ourselves inside. The people started banging on the school gate that we have already we locked up everywhere. We asked the pupils to lay down on the floor.

BUSARI: Police called the abductors who did this "armed bandits". What they are after is money, ransom. And to get it they smashed their way through this small Islamic school in Tegina Town (ph) Niger state.

They led the children away into the bush. 11 were later left behind, being too young and feeble for the arduous journey ahead, the government said. Days later the attack feels close at hand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are sorry for --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry for what happened. Sorry for what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never expected and I don't (INAUDIBLE) for even my enemy to experience this.

BUSARI: The school's headmaster says the abductors have been calling him regularly.

ABUBAKAR NGAIBA ALHASSAN, HEAD TEACHER: Some of them don't have food to eat. They are giving them this granut cake (ph). That is (INAUDIBLE). That's what they are giving them. They are giving them like one or two.

And the problem there, they are very, very sick.

BUSARI: Kidnapping for ransom is now a familiar tale in Nigeria. Just this year that authorities say an estimated thousand children have been abducted. The Niger state government says it's trying to beef up security at schools. Already, the Tegina Town captors have threatened to start executing children if the ransom is unpaid and sending bodies back to the head teacher, while parents wait in agony unsure if they will ever see their children again.

Stephanie Busari, CNN -- Nigeria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: You're watching CNN. We will be back after a very short break.

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VAUSE: Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on Belarusian state TV Thursday -- an interview which his supporters say was given under duress, in which he apparently confessed to organizing large- scale anti government protests last year.

The activist and his girlfriend were arrested last week when a Belarus MIG-fighter escorted their flight to a forced landing in Minsk.

Protasevich has been something of a regular on state TV since then. Now, critics of the Belarusian President say this interview was painful to watch. The senior adviser to an exile opposition leader tweeted out saying in part, "This is not Roman I know. This man on Goebbels TV is the hostage of the regime.

We must make all possible to release him and the other 460 political prisoners.

Well, a hopeful for the Nicaraguan presidential election is under house arrest, putting her presidential bid in question. She's been charged with money laundering and she denies that. The opposition leader was likely the only candidate challenging President Daniel Ortego who's seeking a fourth term.

Details now from CNN's Rafael Romo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was a sudden operation. Police in riot gear violently pushed away journalists covering a raid at the home of an opposition presidential candidate in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.

At the other end of the block, officers were executing a search warrant at the home of Cristiana Chamorro, an Independent presidential candidate who at the end of the day was placed under house arrest.

The show of force against the opposition candidate and a journalist come only 5 months before Nicaragua holds presidential elections. Nicaragua strongman Daniel Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term. The 75-year-old former revolutionary leader has governed the Central American country since 2007 and previously ruled the nation between 1979 and 1990, the last five years as an elected president.

The opposition claims Ortega, who has a stronghold in all government institutions, is targeting the independent press and trying to silence the only other alternative candidate so that he has a clear path to reelection.

"This is obviously a political act against the candidate who has plenty of support among the people," this opposition activist says. "It seems like they're afraid of what people and democracy have to say."

(on camera): Chamorro, the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios and Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a journalist murdered in the 70s during the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza before Ortega came to power, is facing money laundering charges stemming from her role as director of the Free Press and Human Rights Foundation named after her mother.

But in an interview with CNN, the 67-year-old denied the charges and said it's all an intimidation effort straight from Ortega, who she says leads an atrocious dictatorship.

(voice over): "What we want is to eradicate the dictatorship to establish democracy and to give freedom to the Nicaraguan people," Chamorro said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on the visit to Costa Rica, Nicaragua's southern neighbor that Chamorro's detention and recent actions by the government of Nicaragua concern not only the United States, but also its neighbors.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We've been very disturbed by the steps that Nicaragua has taken backward, not forward in terms of putting in place what is necessary for a free and fair elections).

ROMO: Meanwhile, Nicaragua's attorney general's office is asking that Chamorro be disqualified from running for office, and that she remain in detention which would almost guarantee that Ortega remains in power.

Rafael Romo, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, the ever-widening troubles of 15 elephants in China. Are they lost? Hungry? Maybe just a little adventurous? We will have some answers, hopefully when we come back.

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VAUSE: Living on the edge in central Mexico. The edge being a massive sinkhole, which suddenly appeared in a family's backyard on Saturday.

At first, it was just five meters wide, but then 6 days later it is now at least 60 meters across, 20 meters deep. The family has now left. Officials say farming and structural ground (INAUDIBLE) maybe to blame.

Well, a herd of wild elephants has caused more than $1 million in damage apparently, after leaving a nature reserve in China. 15 Asian elephants have traveled hundreds of kilometers in the southwest part of the country leaving some destruction in their wake, not a lot.

Authorities are trying to lure the animals away from populated areas like the one in Hunan Province. Still really unclear at this point why the herd suddenly decided to be on the move. It is a mystery. We'll try and get some answers.

Joining us now from Brisbane, Australia, Becky Shu Chen, the China Project's coordinator for the Geological Society of London.

Becky, thank you for being with us.

BECKY SHU CHEN, CHINA PROJECTS COORDINATOR, GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON: Thank you.

VAUSE: You know, the sad reality is that it's sort of cutesy as the story seems to be, this herd of 15 is just a little less than 8 percent of the entire number of all Asian elephants in China. They were between 200 and 250.

And one very likely reason for this unprecedented trek is because the land they once roamed is now being used increasingly for farming and housing and it's probably the reason why they are endangered in the first place.

CHEN: Yes. I think this is a complicated issue. First as you mentioned, the elephants they inhabit natural forests. But this kind of tropical landscape is also considered to be highly productive for rubber plantations.

So it remains Asian elephants' homes are shrinking very isolated and very patchy and fragmented natural (INAUDIBLE)).

And on the other hand, because since maybe 34 years ago, the Chinese government, they committed to protect elephants.

So after just the four decades, over 80 elephants numbered, bubbled. And these animals, they need big space to make -- lure them out.

VAUSE: Yes. The numbers of Asian elephants in China in particular, is on the rise and in this herd, it's also on the rise as well. Is it noteworthy? Is it remarkable that there's a number of calves which had been born along the way.

CHEN: Yes there's one. One calf, born on the way like in November. So yes, these elephant will just stay and it's spite of the baby bump and then then the weapons' five months. And then they roam probably to the mall.

VAUSE: So obviously, the elements may be feeling --maybe it's safe to roam among we humans.

I just wanted to know --= could this take a turn for the worse, from what you've been seeing. Is this being managed in a way which will allow the elephants to continue on with out being harmed.

CHEN: Yes, I think right now the government, they are doing the best. I think China is the only country in the world right now, so they are setting out the drums on the 7/24 basis to monitor the elephants. So whenever they know, the elephant subdually (ph), the direction, they are like they're calling for the police. and the police together with others mentioned was also risky as to work, evacuate people away so they could let the elephants roam without direct contact with humans.

(CROSSTALK)

CHEN: So right now, the policy is to keep them safe. Yes, those human elephants. The most important thing is to keep them separate.

VAUSE: Absolutely. How do you see this ending? What is the most likely scenario? Will they find a new habitat, maybe put down some routes for a while? Will they turn around and head back to the nature reserve? Or they'll just keep heading north?

[01:54:52]

CHEN: Well, so they already roamed 400 kilometers. I think for elephants, they expanded outside the reserve, it's not the very near, I think it's happened 10 years ago.

But for this particular herd, you know, kind of unexpected going north. So this reminded me of (INAUDIBLE) they are definitely moving, nonetheless (ph) so they're not homeless, they're just helpless. So they just keep roaming to new areas once they find a nice home. They may stay.

But we really don't know. And they're already 400 kilometers away.

And the same thing happened to India and some (INAUDIBLE), they moved to an islands and they haven't returned since we saw. So it's very hard to guess.

VAUSE: Yes, my favorite is the elephant who crossed the border between China and Myanmar actually at a border crossing. Went over and then came back.

But yes. Anyway, we will see what happens with these guys. We hope they stay safe because their numbers are very low but getting better.

So thank you. Becky Shu Chen there in Brisbane, appreciate it.

CHEN: Yes, thank you.

VAUSE: Well, a controversy erupted recently amid claims of racism within the British royal family. And that came from Prince Harry and Meghan Duchess of Sussex. Now a report by the British newspaper, "the Guardian" is renewing that focus.

Documents long buried in the national archives indicates the Queen's courtiers banned ethnic minority immigrants, those foreigners, from clerical roles at Buckingham Palace through the late 1960s.

We have more details now from Anna Stewart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a disturbing report. And it comes just weeks after the royal family had to declare that they are not racist.

Now, we've asked Buckingham Palace for a response to this report. They have not denied the account given in the sixties, but they have said this. "Claims based on second hand account of conversations from over 50 years ago should not be used to draw or infer conclusions about modern-day events or operations. The principles of crown application and crown consent are long established and widely known."

Now, quite aside from the historical context and the suggestion here that there was systemic racism within the institution of the royal family, at least in the sixties, there is also the fact that still today the royal family does not have to comply to a quality legislation. That is what is meant by a crown application and crown consent.

Now, the palace said they do comply by such laws in spirit and in practice, but these complaints are essentially dealt with in-house.

Plenty of questions have been raised by those claims made by Meghan and Prince Harry as to whether that process is good enough. And of course, the royal family have denied they are racist, but are they doing enough to protect and promote diversity within the royal household?

Anna Stewart, CNN from outside Buckingham Palace in London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, thank you for watching this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. But there is a lot more. At least another hour.

I'll be back with more news after a very short break.

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