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Remembering the Crackdown at Tiananmen Square; Hong Kong Police Close Entrances to Victoria Park; Taiwan Calls for Democracy in China on Anniversary; Student Leader Who Survived Crackdown Speaks Out; Tokyo 2020 Organizers Double Down Despite Calls to Cancel; Conservation Group Goes to Court Over Ecological Impact; Texas Valedictorian Goes Off-Script to Slam Abortion Law. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 4, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

We've been seeing blue skies and barricades in Beijing's Tiananmen Square where 32 years ago today Chinese troops launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters while the world watched in horror. It's believed thousands of people were killed although the official death toll is around 300.

Now, mainland China would like the massacre to be forgotten. In Hong Kong hundreds of police have been sealing off and clearing out Victoria Park, that's where huge vigils honoring the Tiananmen victims have been held for decades. Authorities say there will be no large assemblies due to the pandemic.

Last year many people defied the ban and gathered there anyway but now a national security law makes it clear that China will no longer tolerate democratic dissent. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live near Victoria Park and our Will Ripley standing by in Taipei. First to you Kristie. Despite the fact that the vigil has been canceled there's was plenty of action at the park where the commemoration usually happens right behind you there. What's the latest?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, I'm standing outside Hong Kong's Victoria Park on this sensitive anniversary, 300 to 400 police officers are out in force ready to take swift action against any unauthorized June 4th vigil. Also ready to take action against anyone who dares to cross these barricades to enter the park which is now sealed off.

We know at least two people have been arrested today including a vigil organizer with the Hong Kong Alliance. She was detained at her home for publicizing the vigil. For two years in a row the Hong Kong police have banned the once annual vigil, citing coronavirus restrictions. On Thursday only one imported case (INAUDIBLE). Take a listen to this from the senior superintendent of Hong Kong island on the police reason why behind the ban. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIAUW KA-KA, 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 safety and affecting rights of others.


STOUT (on camera): For over 30 years up until the year 2020 tens of thousands, if not more, Hong Kongers would gather here at night to light their candles and remember what happened in Beijing on June 4th of 1989. It would be around 8:00 p.m. local time, a sea of flickering light. Those scenes will not be repeated tonight. We received a statement from the exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law, about the ban and what this moment means for Hong Kong. Let's bring up the statement for you.

It says, quote, the government is using the public health concern as excuses to ban the vigil politically. It's obvious that the government even tries to criminalize the act of commemorating the even. The banning of the June 4th vigil is an example of the government eroding our freedom in a dramatic way -- unquote.

Last year the vigil was banned by police citing coronavirus restrictions. In August of last year 24 pro-democracy activists were arrested for taking part in last year's vigil. Including the high profile activist Joshua Wong. Just last month he was sentenced to an additional ten months in prison.

Despite the ban a number of Hong Kongers said that they do plan to remember June 4th but in small private intimate ways by lighting a candle at home, by attending a vigil at church or case of the imprisoned veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan who is serving jail time for his role in the 2019 pro-democracy protest. He plans to light not a candle but a cigarette in his jail cell tonight -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Kristie.

Let's turn to Will Ripley in Taipei. Will, the vigil isn't happening there either but for a very different reason. What can you tell us?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Taiwan, Kim, they are grappling with their most severe outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. So unlike Hong Kong which has had one local -- one imported case in the last day here they're seeing hundreds of new cases emerge every da. And there are restrictions in place including gatherings on the number of people who are gather in a group.

And so, as a result there will not be a large-scale formal memorial for the Tiananmen anniversary but the government is pronouncing that they support the Tiananmen survivors, and they support the fight for democracy in China.

[04:35:00] And I spoke with one of those student activists from 32 years ago, who had many of his friends and classmates die in Tiananmen Square, about the significance of this day.


WU'ER KAIXI, TIANANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE SURVIVOR: Being a survivor of June 4 massacre, a participant of the 1989 student movement I certainly appreciate Hong Kong people commemorating June 4th but then the Beijing regime together with its puppet in Hong Kong said no to our challenge, to our demand for freedom, to the demand of Hong Kong people for their freedom and democracy.

RIPLEY: You've said the Western world lost a city.

KAIXI: Yes. We should see the world map more like free world versus the enemy of them. So if the world is two color 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's what the pro-Beijing camp 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 it's 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's no real sugar coating it. It is one of the darkest times in Hong Kong's history I would believe. There is a silver lining. I see in the last two, three years U.S.-led Western democracy who enabled Chinese regime to conduct all these atrocities is coming around a little and realized what they have done and then 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 what some have called Chinese military intimidation?

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


RIPLEY (on camera): Wu'er Kaixi who lost the fight for democracy in mainland China, he swam to escape the authorities in the mainland. He only had the clothes on his back when he went and lived in the United States and has now will I have had in exile here in Taiwan for many years. Interestingly even though he was public enemy number one or two back after the 1989 massacre, he in the years since, including recently, has offered himself up for extradition. He has said I will go back to the mainland. Put me in prison. Charge me. And every single time he's done that the authorities have denied his offer. He thinks it's because they know that his message would be far more powerful even sitting inside a jail cell in China than sitting here in Taiwan, an island that continues Tiananmen Square memorials after Covid, after today's heavy rain. They say people will gather here again and again and again -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Will Ripley in Taipei. Appreciate it.

Final preparations for the Tokyo Olympics are under way. The games are now less than 50 days away and yet more and more people want to see them canceled. We will explain. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: So far in Japan not many people are vaccinated against COVID-19 and nine regions along with Tokyo are under a state of emergency. But as far as the Tokyo 2020 organizers are concerned, the games will go ahead.

CNN's Blake Essig is live from Tokyo. Blake, we heard harsh words from a Japanese Olympic legend. Tell us more about what she said and whether it'll make any difference at this point with organizers seemingly barreling ahead here.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim, look, it seems like there's nothing that's going to stop these games from happening. Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto made that point once again earlier this week, when she said that the games will be going ahead and that the event is impossible to postpone a second time.

While the games do see inevitable, the criticism has been relentless and as you mentioned today it came from Japanese Olympic Committee board member and former gold medalist in judo, Kaori Yamaguchi. An op- ed published in "Kyoto News." She hit out at Olympic organizers and the Japanese government saying that the games have lost their meaning.

Now she asked the question, what will these Olympics be for and whom will they be for? Now writing that the power of sport is of little comfort to people worried about the medical situation, that if organizers keep pushing we will all be left with biter after taste. Now Yamaguchi also writes that we have been cornered into a situation where we can't stop and that the International Olympic Committee seems to think that the public opinion here in Japan is not important.

Now, she points out that comments made by IOC Vice President John Coates who recently said that the games would be held even if there was a state of emergency order in effect. Now the public criticism from a board member involved with the Olympics is the first that we've really heard, you know, anything of the sort from somebody with that much involvement in the Olympics. And it definitely captures the mood here on the ground.

Now, in just the past few weeks we have heard from doctors' groups and Olympic sponsor industry leaders and a majority of the Japanese population who have all called for the games to be canceled or postponed as a result of health and safety concerns. Now those concerns Yamaguchi says, the Japanese government and Olympic organizers have failed to address and that in general appear to be avoiding having the discussion about.

Now, currently Tokyo and nine other prefectures are under a state of emergency order, expected to expire June 20th. Now that's just about a month before the games are scheduled to begin. And it is worth noting, Kim, that Japan's top coronavirus adviser told the lower House of Parliament that it's not normal to host these games during a global pandemic and that holding the Olympics under a state of emergency should definitely be avoided. Will it make a difference, Kim? I guess we will have to wait and find out. We have about 49 days.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, Blake Essig in Tokyo. Appreciate it.

Sri Lanka is reeling from an environmental emergency following the sinking of a cargo ship just nine nautical miles from its coast. The sinking already has created one of the worst ecological incidents Sri Lanka has ever seen.


But it could get even worse if chemicals and oil leak from the vessel and now a local conservation group is going to court demanding compensation for fishermen and coastal communities.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is following developments from Seoul, South Korea. Paula, the fact that this group is asking for compensation suggests the ecological damage here could be massive. What's the latest?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kim, certainly this group itself is saying that some 50,000 fishermen in the area could be affected by this and, in fact, have been in many ways. So there has already been an environmental damage. We have seen that there have been many chemicals spilling into the sea as that almost two week fire raged on the vessel.

Now, we have got drone footage of that vessel and even though much of it is submerged beneath the surface you can still see that some of those containers are smoldering, showing the absolute intense heat that was coming from the fire that was on board. And of course there were chemicals on board which means there has been pollution going into the seas and then affecting the coast lines of Sri Lanka.

Now, we know at this point that there have been billions of these plastic pellets of microplastics, we know there was nitric acid and other chemicals although authorities hope that some of those chemicals were actually burned off in the fire. What is the greatest concern at this point is the 350 tons of fuel oil that is on board. Authorities saying at this point there is no indication that it has been leaking, but of course that is a great concern if it does.


ASHA DE VOS, PHD, MARINE BIOLOGIST: We would need, you know, to use disbursements. And as you disburse oil, obviously, it starts to move further. It can caught species, sea birds, for example get very badly impacted by these things. Any species in the water can get stuck in the fish gills. So that could be really problematic. And really that's the last thing we would need right now.


HANCOCKS (on camera): So at one point they were trying to tow this vessel further out to sea so at least some of the damage could have been mitigated for the coastline of Sri Lanka. There are or at least were up until a couple weeks ago pristine beaches in Sri Lanka and when the pandemic was over the tourism industry was really hoping to be revived. This will have a severe impact on that.

And as I say, up to 50,000 fishermen according to that conservation group have been affected. It is a coastline that is rich in marine life in mangroves, and certainly certain lagoons have been oil booms put around them to try to prevent any oil spill from reaching that particular area. But at this point authorities believe that part of the ship is actually embedded in the floor of the sea. And so it is impossible to try and tow it further out to sea as of course the danger there is it could simply break up and that would guarantee that the oil would leak from the vessel.

Fishermen are furious. They say that local authorities did not handle this well. That the ship knowing that it had a leak on board should never have been able to come so close to the shore. So at this point the supreme court will be hearing that petition. Fishermen saying they need compensation -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, real ecological disaster developing there. Thanks so much, Paula Hancocks in Seoul.

An 18-year-old high school valedictorian in Texas risked public outrage to speak out on a controversial issue close to her heart. She tells us why she did it.


PAXTON SMITH, HIGH SCHOOL VALEDICTORIAN: It just kept playing on repeat in my head how upset I was and at that point I realized that this is something that I need to talk about.




BRUNHUBER: For the first time in his legendary career four-time NBA champion LeBron James has been bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Patrick Snell has that and more in our minute in sports.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Well, we start this Friday with an extraordinary story from one of the biggest events on the international golf calendar, the U.S. Women's Open in San Francisco where it's 17-year-old high schooler Megha Ganne co-leading after round one.

In the NBA playoffs the Denver Nuggets looking to clinch their series against the Portland Trailblazers Thursday night, and they are indeed moving on after completing the job to seal the series 4-2.

To Paris where the top ranked women's player in the world Ash Barty, out of Roland Garros at the French Open there having retired her during her match on Thursday. Victories for the big three on the men's side. Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, though the Swiss icon losing his cool at one point, just a little bit during a dispute with the chair umpire.

To South America on a Thursday night of raw emotion as Lionel Messi and Argentina's players paying their own emotional tribute to the iconic Diego Maradona who passed away late last year age 60.

How about scoring a double century in your first ever test match? What to know how that feels? Well just ask New Zealand cricketer Devon Conway, on that high flying note it's back to you.


BRUNHUBER: A high school valedictorian in Dallas, Texas, is using her platform to make a powerful statement. Paxton Smith scrapped her approved graduation speech to speak out against the state's sweeping new abortion restrictions. The so-called "heartbeat law" effectively bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and makes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from incest or rape. Paxton gave the speech and later spoke to our Chris Cuomo.


PAXTON SMITH, HIGH SCHOOL VALEDICTORIAN: Today I was going to talk about TV and media and content because it's something that's very important to me, however -- however, under light of recent events it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state.

Six weeks. That's all women get. And so before they realize most of them don't realize that they're pregnant by six weeks.


So before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger. It's a problem that cannot wait and I cannot give up this platform to

promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.

SMITH: I had recently heard about the passing of the heartbeat bill and I was trying to work on an assignment for school but I couldn't bring myself to focus on that assignment because I was so distracted by how upset I was with the heartbeat bill and it kept playing on repeat how upset I was. And at that point I realized that this was something that I needed to talk about. This was incredibly important to me and that I felt like it was the right thing to do and that there was no better time to make a speech like that. And I had thought of a lot of the risks that were involved and that was something that I was willing to take on.


BRUNHUBER: Smith earned praise for her bravery from people in the crowd and even on Twitter from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What a courageous young woman.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is next.