Return to Transcripts main page


Hardline Cleric Raisi Favorite in Presidential Race; Migrant Workers in Thailand Struggle to Help Families Back Home; Japanese Leader: Keep Games Safe, Watch Them on TV; Putin Praises Biden, Calling Him a "Professional"; Nearly A Dozen Run for Office after Supporting Trump on January 6; Former President Gbagbo Returns to Ivory Coast from Exile; State Media: Kim Admits North Korea Faces Food Shortages; Lebanon Faces Energy Shortage Amid Economic Problems; New U.S. Federal Holiday Commemorates the End of Slavery; Birthplace of Modern Day KKK Prepares to Mark Holiday. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired June 18, 2021 - 01:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: To the polls to choose a new president who has already been approved by the supreme leader in those within his inner circle.


A day after the Geneva summit, Putin speaks kindly of Biden. But does he damn him with faint praise (INAUDIBLE)?

And with North Korea facing food shortages in the coming months, a notably slimmer Kim Jong Un calls for all efforts to be directed towards farming.


VAUSE: The big unknown right now in Iran's presidential election, will voters stay home and protests of a list of mostly hard lined conservative candidates handpicked by the regime? If there is a voter boycott, then the next president of these limit public of Iran will most likely be an ultraconservative cleric hostile to engagement with the U.S. and diplomacy with the West. A man whose human rights groups say played a leading role in a political purge which left thousands dead.

Ebrahim Raisi is head of Iran's judiciary. He ran for president in 2017, losing out to Hassan Rouhani. He said he supports reviving the nuclear deal negotiated by Rouhani, but only in tandem with lifting of U.S. sanctions which have devastated Iran's economy.

Raisi is not only close to the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but he's also seen as a possible contender to replace him in the coming years.

For many in Iran, this election is marred by disillusionment over the government's failure to end U.S. sanctions, and also cynicism that the fix is in. You've been calls for voter boycott nationwide. CNN's Fred Pleitgen in the Iranian capital of Tehran once again this

hour. So, we're looking at, what, 9:30 in the morning there to start the weekend? What's the voter turnout been like and is this an indication if that boycott is actually happening or not?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly doesn't look like there's a boycott happening where we are right now. I have to say, this is a polling station in Central Tehran. This is the northern part of Central Tehran. You can see here, there's people signing up right now to get their ballots, and what they do is actually go over there, look at the list of candidates. There are several other elections also taking place, like the city council elections, also some members of parliament being elected as well.

But, of course, the main event here, if you will, John, is the presidential election. You're absolutely right, Ebrahim Raisi is very much the front runner.

Now, it is 9:30 here in the morning and we do see that there -- it's a good stream of people, if you will, that are coming in and that is something that is continued. We did pick this place that random. We showed up here. They let us in.

And there were people already here and they have been sort of coming as we've been filming here. It's quite interesting when you talk to the people. It is definitely the case, I would say, that most of those who we spoke to said the devastating state of the economy is definitely by far their main issue.

And, of course, there's two factors to that. On the one hand, many of them blame the crippling sanctions put in place by the Trump administration for a lot of that, but there is also a good deal of disillusionment on the part of many people with some of the policies of the Rouhani administration who same made things even worse.

So, definitely the folks who are showing up here are saying the main issue that is on their mind, but a lot of them are also quite frankly saying they believe the relations with the west and relations with the United States also plays a factor in their decision making. Of course, Ebrahim Raisi, as you've noted, is very much a hard liner, is very much -- it's going to be very difficult to deal with for the U.S. and its allies.

But he's also someone who wants to revive the nuclear agreement. He says he wants to do that because the supreme leader supports those negotiations to bring the U.S. back into the JCPOA. Of course, at this point in time, John, it's impossible to say what exactly the voter turnout is, but we do see a good stream of people coming in right now.

VAUSE: Yeah, some have gone so far as to say this election is blatantly rigged towards a hard line conservatives, and the supreme leader decided to hold on to power, which could mean the end of whatever democracy there has been in Iran. Is that too extreme at this point?

PLEITGEN: I think at this point that is probably a little bit extreme, but I do think there's a good deal of concern on the part of the authorities that voter turnout could be very little, because some of the factors that we've been mentioning, because of the fact that so many candidates were disqualified. And then, you know, we mentioned at the top of our broadcast at the only seven candidates were actually allowed to participate in this election vetted by the council, that's the candidates, a guardian council.

That's now down to four. There are 3 other candidates were dropped out in favor of Ebrahim Raisi, and I think that you can tell that the supreme leader, he came out a couple of days ago and said that he believed some of the disqualifications or unjust, he thinks the reasoning for that was unjust, obviously, he thinks that that could throw of people in revive their trust a little bit, that even the supreme leader is criticizing some of those decisions that were made, and he came out earlier today, he's obviously the first to cast his ballot 12 of these elections. He urged people to come out and cast their votes.


Now, low voter turnout, the Iranian authorities have said, the supreme leader has said they believe that that is something that could severely weakened the system. They believe that the voter turnout is always a signal of the legitimacy of the authorities here in this country, of a system here in this country. So, it's certainly something that is a concern. It's certainly something you could tell, the authorities are thinking about, and really some of the measures that have been taken we can also see are made to try and ensure that as many people come to the selection as possible, despite all the things that have happened, despite all the disqualifications.

Like for instance, right now, there's talk of the authorities and possibly allowing the polls to stay open wait longer than usual, until 2:00 a.m. in the morning. That is unprecedented in this country. We will wait and see whether that actually happens. It certainly seems like that could be very possible. But, yes, it is very much on the minds of the authorities, on the minds of the supreme leader that the voter turnout here could be very low. They certainly are trying to do everything to prevent that -- John.

VAUSE: Fred, thank you. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Iran. Appreciate it.

Robin Wright is a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a columnist for "The New Yorker" and she joins me now from Washington.

Robin Wright, good to see you.


VAUSE: There was a lot of interesting details in your piece for "New York" and this paragraph in particular, almost 600 Iranians including 40 women registered to run for president and seven were approved by conservatives. Even regime loyalists were shocked. They rejected the former president, the current vice president, a

long-serving former speaker of the parliament and the current mayor Tehran. Five of the seven candidates approved were hard-liners, deeply hostile to the West.

So, why actually they set the deck so blatantly this time?

WRIGHT: There's a lot of stake in this election, and for more than the presidency. This is an election that will select the man who may oversee a transition of power from the current supreme leader who's been in power for more than 30 years. People know that the person they elect will have an enormous say on who the supreme leader is and may even be the next supreme leader.

So, he may rule for more than four or eight years. So, the system tried to engineer basically the outcome by offering few alternatives as you pointed out, five are hard-liners, and one moderate, one reformer who dropped out of the last minute. There isn't much of a choice for Iranians.

VAUSE: And actually to, you know, a lot of expectations that the voter turnout will be quite love for this election. Here's how the supreme leader explains why there is that explanation of a low turnout. Here he is.


AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER: It has been a few months for this upcoming election on Friday. American and English media and those mercenaries who are operating under their flags and working these media groups are doing everything they can to possibly bring the election under question and reduce public turnout and undermine the elections of the Islamic Republic.


VAUSE: To be clear, it's that list of approved candidates on the ballot, which is not inspiring a lot of enthusiasm. But for the supreme leader, I showed you, a low voter turnout is kind of what he wants, right?

WRIGHT: Well, in some ways yes, because when there's a large turnout, the dark horse candidates often win. It's been true for the last three presidents since 1997. They were all upsets. And the main candidate against the obvious front liner and hard-liner, the chief of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is a moderate, is a former central bank chief, and he doesn't -- if people turned out he would have more of a chance to win. If people turned out there might be a runoff, because there were four remaining candidates.

But people I think are kind of deflated about the system. There is more at stake again politically than just the presidency. It's really -- the turnout will determine the enthusiasm and support for the system in general. So, the supreme leader has a vested interest in urging, even appealing people to turn out, because he wants to show that the system is legitimate. If they don't turn out, that is a black mark on the system, 40 years after the revolution.

VAUSE: You know, when Hasan Rouhani first ran, his polling numbers initially were in the single digits, and then two weeks before the election they shot up. There was a huge approval rating, 75 percent, he won with a clear majority, I think a small majority but a clear majority. So, what are the chances that something similar will happen this time around? It seems a lot of people are disillusioned with how it's all going to play out, especially given the fact that the nuclear deal was ripped up by Donald Trump and the damage was made in such a major way.

WRIGHT: Yeah. So, I think the public opinion polls indicate that Iranians are angry about the fact that the nuclear deal was torn up, the economic benefits promised of them under the nuclear deal were not realized.


There's also rampant corruption in Iran, many by a lot and by the system and those in power. There is a sense that those who vote want to see the system perpetuated. And those who don't vote feel that they're really not much of an alternative for them.

VAUSE: You know, just talking about Donald Trump. He withdrew from the nuclear deal agreement. That proved the hard-liners right. You can't trust the United States. That was a blow for the moderates. Was it more the blow, more than 1000 U.S. sanctions which followed? It really crippled the economy?

WRIGHT: It crippled the economy and intercepted with the pandemic. Remember, Iran was one of the epicenters, early epicenters of COVID- 19, and so, it has suffered enormous hardships. Still in the middle of a fourth wave, and a very small percentage of the population has been vaccinated, so that may be another factor in terms of the turnout. Who wants to show up when you might come back with a fatal disease?

I think there are a lot of precautions being taken. People are even being asked to bring their own pens to fill in the ballot, but there is a sense that the reformists did not deliver what they promise. President Rouhani won two landslide elections, promising to deal with the outside world to engage in the forms that home and create economic wealth and none of that has happened.

VAUSE: At the same time, Joe Biden, the new U.S. president, is looking to negotiate with Iran to get back into the nuclear treaty to restart that. He's most likely to be facing a hard liner.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. This is at a very sensitive time in terms of what the United States -- a new administration wants to achieve. It wants to go back to the nuclear deal to contain Iran's program to ensure that it does not -- it takes more than a year to build a bomb, if it decides to do so.

And the fact that you have a new administration coming in, it's much more hard-lined, and a president who has been sanctioned by the United States for support or involvement in the execution of minors and thousands of dissidents. So, this is going to make it much harder for the United States for President Biden to justify dealing with Iran, and to kind of get over the hump of the current negotiations to try to renew the nuclear deal, one of the most important proliferation agreements in more than a quarter century.

VAUSE: Robin Wight, great piece in "The New Yorker", great to have you with us. Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Israeli airstrikes have targeted Hamas militants in Gaza for a second time this week, in response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza which set off dozens of fires in Israel. No casualties have been reported from either fires or the airstrikes. A former finance minister says Israel decided to change the rules after its last deadly go-round with Hamas in May.

Well, for months, Myanmar's military leaders have brutally crushed any dissent, at times it seems, the army has killed with total impunity. This forced thousands to flee neighboring countries like Thailand, searching for nothing more than safety. But even those who've managed to cross the border cannot leave behind their concerns and fears for loved ones still back home living amid the violence and chaos.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has more now and a warning some viewers might find video in her report disturbing.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT 9voice-over): This is the aftermath of the military airstrike on a gold mine in Myanmar, cries of agony as one of the survivors sees the burned and mangled remains of his colleagues, 11 people who were reported dead. The rest of this video is too graphic to show.

Across the border in Thailand, Myat (ph) says his relatives worked at that mine, but luckily was not there on that day. Showing me a photo, he says, he does not understand why the military would target it. Myat (ph) is not his real name. He fears for his family's safety back home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't stand it, they are innocent people. I don't think they even had Internet. So, they wouldn't have known what was happening.

HANCOCKS: Myat (ph) meets fellow migrant workers to earn money to send back money to their families in Myanmar, something they cannot do now with the crumbling banking system and internet shutdowns. What they can do is watch social media to see what is happening and trying to connect with family back home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never thought the coup would have been. I could not even think it would happen. I'm very sad when I saw a lot of killing in Myanmar. It feels like their death is my death as I could not do anything for them.

HANCOCKS: A couple shows me a photo of his 7-year-old son who lives with his grandmother near the border. They've not seen him for more than 2 years due to COVID restrictions. The video, of course, that kept them going are no longer possible with the Internet shutdown.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very worried about my child. We heard the military is taking people around our village for forced labor, especially boys and men, so they cannot sleep peacefully at night.

HANCOCKS: As with previous military coups in Myanmar, Thailand has become a reluctant refuge for those an exile. Frederick, not his real name says the average 3 or 4 hours of sleep during the day in Yangon, you don't sleep at night at all. That is when the arrests happened. An activist in the civil disobedience movement, he says he was a target and fled to Thailand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are killing people. They are arresting people. Even if you are arrested, you don't know if you will be alive or not.

HANCOCKS: Sleep no longer comes easy to these migrant workers. They may be out of reach of the military's brutal grip, but their families are not. Fear mixed with helpless guilt has become their new reality.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Bangkok.


VAUSE: Well, copies of Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper, "Apple Daily", are selling fast just a day after the paper's chief executive and top editors were arrested. The headline on the front page is defiant: We must fight on.

Hong Kong officials say the arrested executives, and journalists, allegedly involved in a conspiracy to compromise national security. Just the latest escalation in Hong Kong's crackdown against pro democracy activists, and journalists. The paper's founder, Jimmy Lai is serving a 14-month prison sentence for involvement in two protests, back in 2019.

Well, despite having one of the world's most advanced vaccine rollout, as the U.K. reported as highest number of new daily coronavirus cases in months. Look at two big factors behind the spread.

Also, Taiwan, racing to catch up when it comes to vaccinations, says that Beijing is now in the way, the tables may turn as soon as next month and we'll tell you why, when we come back.


VAUSE: And that was the scene outside the stadium in Copenhagen on Thursday, as Denmark faced Belgium in the Euro 2020 tournament. Fans, applauding Danish footballer, Christian Eriksen, who remains in hospital after collapsing on the pitch, on Saturday. Eriksen was resuscitated after suffering a cardiac arrest during Denmark's opener against Finland, last weekend. Play was stopped in the 10th minute in Eriksen's honor, as the crowd joined players from both teams from cheering.

Before the match, a giant banner, with Eriksen's number 10 on it was brought on to the field, as the popular anthem, "You will never walk alone", filled the stadium. For the record, Belgium beat Denmark, 2-1.

Usually, the number of spectators an Olympic event is determined by the number of seats in the stadium. But in Tokyo, like almost everything to do with the Olympics, a global pandemic means it's just not that simple.


Right now, the number of spectators is kept at 5,000 total, all locals, but medical advisers say that the cap could be double to 10,000, but only where there is no government ordered state of emergency.

Selina Wang is in Tokyo for us following all of this and also, we have some word coming from the organizing committee of the Tokyo Games of some new, essential guidelines for those spectators, whatever the number might be, come the Olympics we are fortunate enough to attend.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's exactly right, John. And organizers said that even once they officially announced the cap on spectators, they need to be flexible about changing that, depending on how the COVID-19 situation, and medical strength, changes here on the ground in Japan.

Now, if the cap ends up being 10, 000, as you mentioned earlier, John, that would still mean that more than 80 percent of the seats at the Olympic opening ceremonies would be empty. And, organizers are urging spectators to go straight from their homes, to the venues, not to stop at restaurants, not to be drinking, and partying in the streets, because a big concern is that after the state of emergency lifts, you will see a big rebound in activity, and thus a rebound in COVID cases, especially as people come out to celebrate these games.

And the prime minister, also aware of this concern, and announced in the news conference last night, urging people to watch the Olympics from home. Take a listen.


YOSHIHIDE SUGA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER: I would like to show the world, Japan can overcome a difficult time through the peoples efforts, and wisdom. For that, I think it is important to hold a safe and secure Tokyo Games, curb the spread of infection in Japan during the period of the games, and to prevent infection after the games. I would like to ask everyone to support the athletes at home, by watching the games on TV.


WANG: John, a team of Japanese researchers found that if the games are held a spectator versus without, it would lead to a cumulative 10,000 additional COVID-19 cases. Many public health experts have been saying, even without spectators, it's impossible to hold these games in a safe bubble, considering how massive the size of it is.

And, in the press conference with Tokyo organizers, they did say the Delta variant would be a major concern.

VAUSE: So, what we're looking at here in terms of spectators and will it be 5,000 or will not be 10, 000, you know, it all comes down to a state of emergency in their particular prefecture where the Olympic venue is right now. But we are also hearing, the government may go to a quasi-state of emergency.

So, how is this all working?

WANG: It's very confusing, to say the, least on. Now, Tokyo, and large parts of the country have been under a state of emergency since April 25th to try and stem the latest wave of COVID-19 cases.

Now, that state of emergency, and most of the prefectures, including Tokyo, will be lifted on the 20th. After, that things shift to a quasi-state of emergency. John, none of these declarations have been a hard lockdown. Under a state of emergency, it asks some businesses to close early, to shut completely, but mostly relying on people's own compliance.

Under quasi-emergency measures, restaurants are still asked to close early, but can now serve alcohol until 7:00 p.m. Now, the question is, is there going to be a rebound? Will measures be put back in place ahead of the Olympics? If there is a big rebound, will it dictate the cap on spectators at these games? John?

VAUSE: Selina, thank you. Selina Wang for us in Tokyo with the very latest, and thank you for sorting that out, we appreciate it.

Well, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and prevention this week, listing the delta variant first intensified in India as a variant of concern. That means more transmissible, and causes more severe symptoms.

Here's a senior White House adviser.


ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER TO COVID RESPONSE: This is a more virulent strain. This is like COVID on steroids. You can be around people for less time, and still be exposed.

I think what you will see is in communities, perhaps in the Southeast where vaccination rates are lower, I think you will see outbreaks, particularly come fall.


VAUSE: The Delta variant, now dominant in the United Kingdom, making it more than 90 percent of all new cases. Shopping again on Thursday, more than 11,000 infections were reported from just one day, the most since February. That is despite Britain's advanced vaccine campaign. A new study from Imperial College, London, shows that young adults,

and children in England, are behind an exponential growth in COVID infections. Starting today, though, all adults, 18 and up, are eligible for vaccination.


SIMON STEVENS, HEAD OF NHS ENGLAND: Already, over 3 million people in their twenties have had their first jab, and so everybody is working up, and following in the footsteps, to get that protection not only for you and your friends, but also for your neighbors, in a way that will keep us safe, and hopefully get us back our summer.


VAUSE: The battle to contain its most severe coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began has become a battle over vaccines. The self governed island now has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world.


It's trying to bring in doses from other countries as well, but accused Beijing of blocking those shipments.

But now, one company in Taiwan says it's developed its own vaccine.

CNN's Will Ripley in Taipei with a CNN exclusive.

A homegrown vaccine for Taiwan could be the answer to a lot of problems.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because they have had such a difficult time, as you mentioned, John, getting foreign vaccines into the country. There are actually two vaccine manufacturers in tow, on workload exceeds, with to remove you from is the first with emergency use authorization. They say the timing is critical here.

When you look at Taiwan's case numbers, their local cases, the total cases, their total deaths, all increasing dramatically over the last 30 days. You look at a six-fold increase in total cases, and a 41-fold increase in total deaths. Lives are, literally, on the line, here on the island of Taiwan.

But, will this vaccine be approved? More crucially, should it be approved?


RIPLEY: At Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation --

You must be so busy right now.

You can feel energy in the air. This company is the first in Taiwan to submit its COVID-19 vaccine to government health officials for emergency use authorization. Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, hopes locally made vaccines will be ready for the public by late next month. Taiwan is battling its most severe outbreak of the pandemic. The government is struggling to get enough foreign vaccines, and a region where China often calls the shots.

Cross-strait tensions are high. Taipei accuses Beijing of blocking access to foreign vaccines, a claim China denies. That makes the work happening here crucial.

This is the room with a package and label box after box of these single dose syringes. Each box contains 100 of these. The company says they can scale up production and eventually produce 40 to 50 million doses a year.

CHARLES CHEN, COE, MEDIGEN VACCINE BIOLOGICS: On one hand I feel excited. Our vaccine is coming. But on the other hand I feel very sad. If it was month earlier, maybe we are able to save more peoples lives.

RIPLEY: This is Medigen CEO Charles Chen's first interview since his company applied for emergency use authorization.

What would you say to people here in Taiwan who might be reluctant to take a domestically produced vaccine?

CHEN: Once the data and the result is transparent and convincing, I think people, very much, have been convinced.

RIPLEY: Cheng says that data shows their vaccine is safe. It produces antibodies in 99.8 percent of patients, what they don't know is the efficacy rate. Taiwan had almost no active cases until just over a month ago.

How do you develop a vaccine when you don't have active cases?


RIPLEY: Overseas business development director Paul Torkehagen says Medigen just finished phase 2 clinical trials.

TORKEHAGEN: So, what we did is we designed a really, really large phase 2. Usually phase 2 is about a few hundred people. Our phase 2 is 3,800 hundred participants. We wanted a very large amount of safety data.

RIPLEY: Since you don't know efficacy, is it too soon to get emergency use to start vaccinating people?

TORKEHAGEN: What's the consequence of not vaccinating and being not protected?

RIPLEY: Will you be getting your vaccine, your company sexy?

CHEN: Yes.

RIPLEY: No question?

CHEN: No question.

RIPLEY: But there are questions. How effective is Taiwan's vaccine? Here, it's a matter of life or death.


RIPLEY (on camera): What would could hold this whole process up is whether or not the Taiwanese regulators will decide that this technique, called immuno bridging is sufficient enough to approve the vaccine for emergency use authorization. Immuno bridging is when you compare the antibody production in a vaccine, versus another vaccine that's already been approved. So, in other words, they know how many people have produced antibodies, but could the level of antibodies, if it is comparable to an approved vaccine, mean that it has a high enough efficacy rate to be worthwhile?

The U.S. FDA, yet to make a decision about this, along with most other countries around the world. So, Taiwanese regulators really do have to make a choice here, John, do they approve this technique, which there are still questions about, or do they hold up getting these badly needed doses here on the island of 23 million, which may have to wait months, and months, to get enough foreign vaccines?

VAUSE: Well, thank you. Good story there, Will Ripley, live for us in Taipei.

Well, it's two days after the Geneva summit, in the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has apparently some kind words about the U.S. president. We tell you what they are in a moment.

Also, using the Capitol riot to boost a political campaign. One man who was arrested, and charged, now running for governor. And he is not the only one.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's two days after the Geneva summit and the Russian President Vladimir Putin has some apparently kind words about the U.S. president. We tell you what they are in a moment.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

Thank you for staying with us. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Well, it was brief but to the point. President Biden and Putin traveled to Geneva to meet face to face, say what they needed to say. And then about three hours later it was done.

President Biden described the closed door summit as positive. The Russian president said the talks have been constructive. But a day later and Putin had praise -- surprisingly, praise -- for Biden. CNN's Nic Robertson has details.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, this rare praise by President Putin for President Biden so soon after that summit comes as the Russian president was holding a video conference with graduates from Russia's Graduate School of Public administration. And he said that the pair of them had got on. It was quite friendly, he said. That they understood each other and understood where each other stood on key issues.

But then came one of the surprising bit where President Putin actually said that the Russian media's presentation of President Biden and his image, that they got it all wrong and in fact Biden is a real professional.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This image of President Biden, which is pictured by Russian and U.S. media, does not correspond to reality.

This image of him can feel discouraging but there is no need to be discouraged because President Biden is a professional. And you should be very precise while working with him to not miss anything. He doesn't miss a thing.

I repeat once again. He is focused. He understands what he wants to achieve and reaches it very skillfully. You can easily feel it.

ROBERTSON: What makes Putin's comments there particularly surprising is the reference to Russia's media has not been portraying Biden as he actually is because they've been portraying him as somebody who's weak, who's not really up to the job, who might not last through his presidency. And when Russian media presents President Biden that way, it's coming from the Kremlin.

So here you have President Putin say oh, change that. So are we going to see now a different version of President Biden portrayed in Russian media? That's certainly what Vladimir Putin is hinting at there.


ROBERTSON: What it does seem to reference in many ways is what Dr. Jill Biden had said in the run-up to the summit where she said President Biden was over prepared for the meeting. That now seems to be endorsed by President Putin.

Nic Robertson, CNN -- London.


VAUSE: News conference after the summit President Putin was asked about his crackdown in Russia on opposition members.

He deflected the question by mentioning the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PUTIN: People rioted and went into the Congress in the U.S. with political demands and many people were decried as criminals that were threatened with imprisonment for 20 to 25 years. And these people were immediately arrested after those events.

And one of the participants was just on shot on the spot and unarmed as well.


VAUSE: And now a number of Trump supporters who were there on Capitol Hill that day are looking to further their own political careers. At least one is touting his role in the insurrection to boost his campaign.

Here's CNN's Sarah Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From the Capitol riot --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was in Washington D.C.

MURRAY: -- to the campaign trail.

JOEY GILBERT, CANDIDATE FOR NEVADA GOVERNOR: Election integrity is not the number one issue of these guys (INAUDIBLE) than their egos. Lost, confused or too stupid to be running.

MURRAY: Republican Joey Gilbert, a former boxer turned lawyers says he's launching a bid for Nevada governor.

GILBERT: I'm not a politician. I never wanted to be a politician, all right.

But let me tell you something. I am (INAUDIBLE). And that's called running for governor.

MURRAY: The announcement coming just months after Gilbert says he was in Washington and scaled the Capitol steps January 6.

GILBERT: One of the few things I've ever seen, people were on the Capitol steps. We just walked right up. When I went up there --

MURRAY: But insists he never went inside.

GILBERT: Yes, some people did go into the Capitol. I don't condone that. I had nothing to do with that.

MURRAY: Gilbert who is still doubling down on the lie the presidential election was stolen --

GILBERT: In my opinion Trump is still our president. MURRAY: -- is one of nearly a dozen aspiring politicos spotted near the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by CNN and other news outlets.

In Michigan, Ryan Kelley is running for governor, and ducking questions about his whereabouts during the Capitol insurrection.

RYAN KELLEY, CANDIDATE FOR MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: I never went inside the Capitol building. Never had the intention to and did not go inside. Nor did I have any altercations with police officers.

MURRAY: While he denied going inside, Kelley would not respond to CNN or a local news reporter's questions about images showing him deep in the fray of rioters outside the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's you, correct, right here?

KELLEY: You got my statement on the Capitol, brother.

MURRAY: Gilbert and Kelley could face crowded primaries and it's too early to say if they have a shot at victory.

While neither of them have been accused of a crime, that is not the case for Jason Riddle. The New Hampshire resident arrested after sharing photos of himself inside the Capitol holding a bottle of wine he stole with a local new station. Riddle faces five counts, including unlawful entry and theft of government property and has pleaded not guilty. Now he says breaking into the Capitol could be a boost to his campaign.

JASON RIDDLE: It tells them I show up. I'm going to actually keep my promises and make some changes.

MURRAY: But first he will have to clarify what, if anything, he is actually running for.

RIDDLE: I thought Anne (ph) was a state representative.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. A state rep is in the state house in Concord.

RIDDLE: Yes. That's what Anne is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. She's in Washington.

RIDDLE: Oh. I guess I had to run against that then.

MURRAY (on camera): Now, in addition to Riddle seemingly having no idea what he is running for, here is another wrinkle. He is not allowed to set foot in D.C. under the terms of his release.

Now lawyers for Riddle did not respond to CNN's request for comment. Additionally, Kelley and Gilbert also did not respond to CNN's request.

Sarah Murray, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: Well, with North Korea facing a food shortage in the coming months -- a notably slimmer Kim Jong-un calls on the country to use a revolutionary (INAUDIBLE) to make it through this looming crisis. That's ahead.

Also economic problems pileup in Lebanon including Gas and electricity shortages. Along the way hope for a better future also becomes a rare commodity.



VAUSE: Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of the Ivory Coast has returned from exile after he was acquitted of war crime charges. He was ousted during a civil war 10 years ago in which 3,000 people were killed.

His trial at the International Criminal Court ended in an acquittal in 2019. He has denied all charges including crimes against humanity.

The ICC upheld his acquittal just a few months ago after prosecutors appealed. Some of the former president's supporters are celebrating his homecoming.


JEAN BATISTE ATIAPO, LAURENT GBAGBO SUPPORTER (through translator): It's really a special day for us because this figure that is coming is very dear to us.

He left us for a decade and we are here today to welcome him with joy and cheers because we need him for the country to reconcile an move forward.


VAUSE: The United Nations says North Korea is facing food shortages later this year. And leader Kim Jong-un has also spoken of a tense food situation according to state news agency. He did not say how serious conditions are, but he did blame the shortages on last year's typhoons and floods.

And at the same time he's also taking stock of the Biden administration and has concluded that Pyongyang should be ready for both confrontation and dialogue.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now live from Seoul. So, I guess, which will it be? Confrontation or dialogue? Is that just purely up to him or the Biden administration will have a say on that as well?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question. It's a tricky one to answer. But to be honest, we do know John, that the Biden administration has already made overtures towards North Korea and they have been rebuffed. So clearly there is a tendency to have to rely on North Korea being willing to play ball as well when it comes to dialogues. So he's not showing this week's Workers Party which he would prefer at this point that he is saying that both need to be prepared for.

Nd what we heard earlier in the week which really seems to be a top priority for North Korea at this point is the issue of food insecurity. We heard from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un himself saying that quote, "The people's food situation is now getting tense.

Now, it's not the first time he has spoken about the food situation in North Korea. It is the strongest terms that we have really heard him talking about this and it shows that there are great concerns about food security in North Korea.

We've had a report earlier this week -- this month from the United Nations Food and Agriculture report saying that they estimate there will be a food gap of some 860,000 tons this year -- that's the equivalent of about 2.3 months of food. Now usually, that could be topped up with humanitarian aid. That could be topped up with food coming in from China across the border. But that is simply not happening at the moment because the border is tightly shut due to fears of COVID-19 coming into North Korea.

So clearly there are concerns about how exactly North Korea's going to deal with that shortfall. Now Kim Jong-un himself saying that he's blaming in some part the agricultural industry for not producing enough grain, not reaching its goals.

But to be fair, most years North Korea does not grow enough food to be able to feed its own people. It does rely on humanitarian aid and for what comes in from China, both of which are not happening at the moment, John.

VAUSE: On a sort of separate topic, if you like, It has been noted by experts that Kim Jong-un is looking notably slimmer. There were some estimate that he was 300 pounds. He may have lost up to 40 pounds.

And this is concerning, because he's in charge of nuclear weapons. There is no successor in place should he have some kind of health concerns. So what do we know about his current health?


HANCOCKS: Very little. There is this constant speculation, John, on his health. Clearly he usually does not look like a very healthy man. We know that he has been obese in the past. We know that he smoked heavily, you can see that from the footage and the photos of when he is watching some of his missile launches.

So clearly, he is not a very healthy leader. And that does concern other leaders in the region and around the world. So there is this speculation constantly on his appearance -- whether or not he has lost weight.

Certainly it appears like he has at this particular juncture, but there is nothing concrete. And the less we hear from North Korea saying this is the reason he has lost weight, we're simply not going to know.

VAUSE: He does look slimmer, at least.

Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks there in Seoul. We appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, Lebanon was once known as a country that somehow -- somehow managed to get by no matter the crisis de jure. But after a pandemic, wars, a crumbling economy and other disasters, the problems just keep piling up.

That now includes a gas and electricity shortages.

We have more now from CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As if Lebanon didn't have enough problems already, along comes another -- a petrol shortage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Suddenly the whole country is, you know, destroyed within a couple of months. And it's just too much to bear.

WEDEMAN: Lebanon's currency has lost 90 percent of its value in less than two years. Inflation is soaring. A massive blast in the Beirut port killed more than 200 people last year. Coronavirus killed thousands more. And the country has not been able to form a proper government in almost a year.

Taken altogether, it is grim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to hell.

WEDEMAN (on camera): These long lines outside the gas stations are a manifestation of a much bigger problem of a government that is bankrupt, that is broke, that does not have enough hard currency to import fuel to keep the lights on.

(voice over): Also in short supply, fuel to run the country's decrepit power plants, the normal lengthy power outages are getting even longer. The electric grid is antiquated. Those who can afford it depend on private generators to make up for the difference.


WEDEMAN: Lebanon's caretaker energy minister Raymond Ghajar warns as bad as things are now, worst may be yet to come.

GHAJAR: The blackouts will be a true blackout. Not public electricity blackout. It will be complete darkness. And I think this is, you know -- it's a calamity.

It is not a scenario that is livable.

WEDEMAN: Iraq has reportedly promised to provide cut rate fuel, but it hasn't arrived yet and meanwhile Lebanon's squabbling politicians do nothing to fix the countries many problems.

MARC AYOUB, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT: So we are just buying time. We are kicking the can down the road without reforms, without a complete solution for the (INAUDIBLE).

WEDEMAN: And Lebanon is running out of time, fuel, and it seems, everything else.

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Beirut.


VAUSE: Back to our top story this hour, hardline Shiite cleric Ebrahim Raisi is the front runner in Iran's presidential election. Voting is underway at this hour. He's a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and is under U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses.

But he says he supports talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Crippling sanctions by the west and most of all the United States and the coronavirus pandemic has hit Iran's economy hard.

Many blame the outgoing president Hassan Rouhani. The Ayatollah is appealing for large turnouts, but experts say it could be a record low.

More on this at the top of the hour when Michael Holmes takes over.

In the meantime, we'll take a short break. When we come back, President Biden signs into law a new U.S. federal holiday recognizing the end of slavery.

So how will they celebrate this holiday in the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan? We will go there.



VAUSE: And with that the U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law a holiday, June 19th or Juneteenth as it is called, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United states.

June 19th, 1865 was the day when slaves and Texas learned that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, freeing them.

The 94-year-old woman who has led the effort to make Juneteenth a national holiday spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo and what this all meant to her.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) OPAL LEE, JUNETEENTH ACTIVIST: I guess, I thought it would be like this but to have it actually happen was -- can I use the phrase the children use -- it was off the chain.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Off the chain. How so?

LEE: To find out, you know, I knew that the Senate had passed the bill, but I thought the house was going to take a lot longer. And to find out that both of them had, and I'm on my way to Washington, D.C. and I'm going to be in the White House. I don't know how to describe it.

I am humbled by it. I truly am.


VAUSE: This new holiday has special meaning for the small Georgia town where the modern day KKK was founded amid a controversy over remembering the civil war looms large to this day.

Here's CNN's Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): 80-year-old Gloria Brown remembers when hundreds of men in white robes would descend on her town each summer.

GLORIA BROWN, STONE MOUNTAIN RESIDENT: As a little girl, they looked like a white ghost, you know, these (INAUDIBLE) that ghosts and -- they looked like a white ghost.

SAVIDGE: Crosses would burn from a nearby mountain tops. Brown's father, a World War I veteran reassured her one day things would be different.

BROWN: He said that will change.

SAVIDGE: He was right. This weekend Stone Mountain, Georgia, birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan holds its first Juneteenth celebration honoring the end of slavery.

CHAKIRA JOHNSON, MAYOR PRO TEM, STONE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA: We will have a dance group. An African dance group. Life DJ. We will have vendors and food. And then we will end the night with fireworks.

SAVIDGE: Deputy mayor Chakira Johnson is excited to show off how much it's different in the village of roughly 6,300, now 78 percent black.

JOHNSON: It is our hope that people will see us for who we are today and recognize that, you know, things have changed. We may not be perfect, but we are not who we used to be.

SAVIDGE: But the celebration is not without controversy. Thanks to the town's neighbor. You see the entire village sits in the shadow of the largest confederate monument in the United States, a carving on the side of the mountain in Stone Mountain Park. With its confederate name streets, confederate flags and three*acre mountainside homage to the myth of the so-called Lost Cause, a twisted reinterpretation of the south's defeat in the civil war.

To many, it's a giant reminder of the old Jim Crow south and the village has nothing to do with it.

(voice over): You have no say as to what goes on and with the park does?

JOHNSON: No say. Zero say.

SAVIDGE: The controversy was sparked with a protest group the Stone Mountain Action Coalition which described themselves as a movement dedicated to a more inclusive Stone Mountain Park, requested a booth at the village's Juneteenth festival to pass out fliers about the park. The village said no, because it was a celebration.

GABRIELLE ROGERS, CO-FOUNDER, STONE MOUNTAIN ACTION COALITION: They wanted a day without politics, a day without disturbance. And that is not what we stand for.

SAVIDGE: It's not the first time Stone Mountain village has been caught up in the middle of anger over Stone Mountain Park.

Last summer, leftist anti-racist groups and armed far-right militia members came to town in a tense face-off over race, politics and the mountain memorial.

Marita Davis Johnson is a commissioner in the county that encompasses Stone Mountain Park. She's no fan of the monument.

MARITA DAVIS JOHNSON, COMMISSIONER: If I had my way it would be blasted.


SAVIDGE: But Johnson also spearheaded the effort to make Juneteenth a county holiday and believes it is a time to be celebrated by everyone.

JOHNSON: Just like we celebrate the 4th of July for the freedoms of people in this country, I think it is also important to celebrate Juneteenth for the freedoms of black people in this country.

SAVIDGE: Gloria brown's father wasn't the only one to predict a different day for his town. So did another man in 1963. In his famous "I have a dream" speech, Martin Luther King said in part, let freedom reign from the snowcapped --

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. SAVIDGE: This weekend in Stone Mountain Georgia, that dream will seem

closer than ever, even as they celebrate in the shadow of the confederacy.

Martin Savidge, CNN -- Stone Mountain Village, Georgia.


VAUSE: Before we go a legend in Africa's fight against colonialism has died at age 97. Independence leader Kenneth Kaunda became Zambia's first president after helping liberate what was then Northern Rhodesia from Britain.

His death had sparked independent movements across Africa. Kaunda served for 27 years and yet he knew when to walk away. He was one of the first African leaders to hand over power peacefully. That was in 1991 after protests forced him to allow multi-party elections which he then lost.

Kaunda was a comrade and friend to South Africa's Nelson Mandela and spoke at his funeral.


KENNETH KAUNDA, FIRST PRESIDENT OF ZAMBIA: This good son of the world not only of South Africa, Madiba showed us the way, whether you are white, black, yellow or brown, you are all God's children.


VAUSE: The Nelson Mandela Foundation issued this tribute. We will not forget Kaunda's contributions to the struggles against colonialism and apartheid nor the lessons his life holds for reflection on how democracies should be measured and how it can be deepened.

Later in life, Kaunda became a beloved statesman, dedicating himself to the fight against AIDS. The Zambian government has declared 21 days of mourning.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause.

Please stay with us. CNN NEWSROOM continues with my old colleague and old friend, Michael Holmes.

Thanks for watching.