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UNESCO: Great Barrier Reef Should Be Listed As "In Danger"; Iranian President-Elect Backs Nuclear Talks, Rules Out Meeting Biden; Ethiopian Election Held Despite Boycott, Jailed Opponents, War; Taliban Take Over Several Districts in Northern Afghanistan; Hong Kong's "Apple Daily" Newspaper May Have to Shut Down; Brazil's COVID- 19 Crisis Killing Children at Alarming Rate; Colombia's COVID Death Toll Tops 100,000; Macron and Le Pen's Parties Fare Poorly in Regional Contests; Carl Nassib is First Active NFL Player to Announce He's Gay. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired June 22, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Avlon in New York. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour, a great big beef over the Great Barrier Reef. Why Australia is fuming over UNESCO's move to list it as endangered.

Plus, a new hard-line president is about to take office in Iran and although he wants the U.S. back in the nuclear deal, he has no plans to meet with President Biden.

And is the far-right's rise in France over? Sobering election results from Le Pen, and concerning Macron, too.


AVLON: A battle is brewing over one of the world's great natural wonders, and one of its most delicate and diverse ecosystems. A UNESCO committee is recommending that the Great Barrier Reef be listed as endangered due to climate change. But Australia is strongly opposed, saying it spent billions to protect the reef. The country is appealing that recommendation.

For more on this, let's bring in CNN's Ivan Watson live in Hong Kong.

Ivan, why is Australia's environmental minister in a fight with UNESCO?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She's accusing UNESCO of a back flip by proposing to list the Great Barrier Reef as a world heritage that's endangered. Now, the Great Barrier Reef has been on the World Heritage list at UNESCO since 1981.

You know, John, you just mentioned before the show that you are lucky enough to scuba dive there once. I was able to film there in 2018, it is truly a treasure. These underwater forests of coral, thousands of reefs and islands, one of the most diverse marine habitats in the world.

But it has been under immense pressure from climate change. There have been these huge bleaching events. In 2016, 2017, and 2020, that's on the oceans temperature rises to the point that it kind of cooks and kills large swath of the coral. This has been a discussion between UNESCO and the Australian government for several years now.

But now, UNESCO saying hey, the damage is so extreme and the current state of the great barrier reef this in such a terrible state that we have to kind of ramp up the designation of would danger it is in now.

That is where it has run a foul of Australia's environment minister, who has I mentioned called us a backflip. She went on to say quote, I made it clear that we will contest this flawed approach, one that has been taken without adequate consultation.

She was in a phone call with the director general of new UNESCO, along with Australia's former minister criticizing this designation, this proposed designation. Sussan Ley went on to say, I agree that global climate change is the single biggest threat to the world's reefs but it is wrong and our view to single out the best managed reef in the world for an endanger listing. So I don't think this disagreement is over, this is just the beginning, John.

AVLON: Certainly sounds like it. And to your point though, I mean, the Great Barrier Reef is a magic place. It has been suffering for many years, due to climate change and these bleaching events.

So what is the significance of this designation? How much is Australia simply saying we've done a better job than many others, putting in so much money to preserve this and it feels like an insult, when in fact it could just be reflection of reality courtesy of climate change?

WATSON: Yeah, that's one of the arguments here is the Australian government saying why you picking on us? But then you have environmental groups coming out and supporting UNESCO's proposal here. Saying hey, there is real tension here. You do have the Australian government that has pledged billions of dollars to preserve the Great Barrier Reef.

But at the same time, Australia is one of the world's biggest exporters of coal. So, it is contributing directly to greenhouse gases that are heating up the pilot and if anything, the Australian government's projections for coal exports are expected to grow over the next five years. UNESCO is trying to give Australia some credit on helping with some measures to clean up its water purity, and it is also conceding that climate change is not purely Australia's problem. It is a global problem that all countries around the world contribute to.

But I do think it is underlying this inherent tension between environmental preservation of the environment and economic interests, and the Australian government seems in this dispute to be having trouble squaring those interests.

[01:05:15] AVLON: Ivan Watson in Hong Kong, good to see you. Thank you very much.

All right. Iran's newly-elected president is taking a tough stance against the United States. In his first news conference Monday, Ebrahim Raisi says he's no plans to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden, but he did call on the U.S. to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen asked him if he plan to negotiate with Biden administration on a possible expanded nuclear agreement.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You've already told us how you feel about a direct meeting with President Biden, but would you be willing to talk to negotiate with the Biden ministration? Would your administration be willing to do that? What do you expect of the Biden administration, and how do you feel about the U.S. proposal for a possible expanded nuclear up agreement that will also cover Iran's ballistic missiles and also regional issues as well.

EBRAHIM RAISI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): Americans broke the promise, Europeans also did not make good on their commitments. So we are stressing that the U.S. administration when it comes to within this deal, the U.S. needs to adhere to that and act accordantly. Regional issues, or ballistic issues are nonnegotiable.

Raisi won the election with Iran's lowest voter turnout since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979. He's expected to deliver his first speech in the coming hours in Mashhad, the city of religious pilgrimage.

Fred Pleitgen also spoke with Iran's former deputy foreign minister about how Raisi's foreign policy could affect relations with the U.S.


HOSSEIN AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN, IRAN'S FORMER DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I believe that the foreign policy under Mr. Raisi will be out on a dynamic, a foreign policy that is balanced with an eye towards all countries, with a logical and at the same time strong discourse, a discourse that will be able to secure Iranian (INAUDIBLE) on all fronts.

PLEITGEN: How do you think the Iran U.S. relations will evolve under Ebrahim Raisi? Because he's very critical of the United States in the past?

AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN: It's the United States that is constantly lost opportunities. This will be the much defendant on U.S. behavior and for them to determine how the able to address the relationship with Iran.

PLEITGEN: Is there a different feeling though towards this administration, the Biden administration than there was to the Trump administration? AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN: I believe that Biden is seeking to return to the

nuclear agreement, he should not be working you things up, like the region, on missiles and interfering in Iran's affairs. And the U.S. should focus on their return to the JCPOA and the commitments that they have under the agreement.

PLEITGEN: Do you have faith that the Iran nuclear agreement will come on track?

AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN: I assume that the moment that the Vienna talks come to a point where the interest of our people will be secured, the implementation of the JCPOA can be started.


AVLON: Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He joins us from Washington with more.

Karim, you have an excellent new piece in "The Atlantic" called "Iran stops pretending". What do you mean?


So, for decades, Iran has essentially tried to showcase their presidential elections every 4 years to the global media, to advertize the idea that they conduct democratic elections just as all other democracies do. And the reality of Iran, it's never been a democracy, it never really hosted free and open elections. But they have always conducted these pillows but competitive electoral pageantry.

And this time around, with a bit of a last week was they essentially stopped the pretense of trying to pretend that their democracy, they essentially carried out an incredibly closed, rigged election, to essentially anoint one man, Ebrahim Raisi, to be the country's president. And so, this was, by Iranian standards, which has never been free and fair. This was, was egregious even by Iranian standards.

AVLON: And was that sense of a rigged election do you think account for the fact that only 48 percent of the electorate turned out, which I think is a historic blow even in the context of the Islamic Republic?

SADJADPOUR: Absolutely. You know, none of the candidates have a popular appeal, including the candidate that won. Ebrahim Raisi, and remember, these numbers of 48 percent turnout are the numbers that provided by the government of Iran, but they can't be corroborated. So, you know, for all we know, those numbers could have in reality did much lower.

But, you know, I talked to a lot of people inside the country and a lot of people said, we don't want to dignify this closed election by voting. It wasn't something they wanted to legitimize. So, I think that for reason, you know, you saw very little enthusiasm among the Iranians. AVLON: Well, and you quote from an NPR interview with the woman on the street who used rather salty language which I'll recommend that folks read for themselves because I don't think we can say on television. That said, I was struck by the fact that right after Raisi's election, Amnesty International came out and said he should be investigated for crimes against humanity for his role in mass executions several decades ago.

I wonder, not only you do consider him the most hard-line Iranian president in years, but how that particular background as a judge, a hanging judge, creates his worldview?

SADJADPOUR: You know, John, we know at least 5,000 people were executed in Iran's summer of 1988, a very short period of time. And, you know, men, women and children, most of them young people, young idealistic people in the Iranian opposition group.

And so when you mask execute at least 5,000 people, that affects thousands and thousands of families, loved ones, people who they knew and that. And so, for many Iranians, the new president is the most associated with these crimes against humanity.

And so, you know, I think in some ways, the government of a run I would argue was given a gift to national adversaries, whether that's the government of Israel, and Saudi Arabia or Republican Party in the United States who 4 years have been trying to make the case that Iran is a radical state, human rights abusers, they should be given sanctions relief. So, when the government of Iran is now headed by someone who Amnesty International says should be internally prosecuted, Iran has made the job of the adversaries much easier.

AVLON: So just briefly before we go, do you think then that the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the nuclear deal actually strengthened the hard-liners hand?

SADJADPOUR: You know, I opposed the Trump pull out of the nuclear deal awe but I think oftentimes in Washington, D.C., we tend to give ourselves too much credit for our ability to really shape the politics of other countries. And I think in reality, the reason why Ebrahim Raisi was anointed to be with Iran's president had much more to do with internal Iranian factors, namely Iran's supreme leader wanting to essentially empower someone who could be his successor. It had a lot more to do with Ayatollah Khamenei's calculations than Donald Trump 's actions, I would argue.

AVLON: Karim Sadjadpour, thank you very much for joining us as always.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you, John.

AVLON: Votes are now being counted in Ethiopia's first multi-party election in 16 years, one that's already been marred by an opposition boycott, jailed opponents and an ongoing war in Tigray.

The many who were able to vote on Monday waited in long lines for hours, but in some areas, voting is delayed until September. For those in the Tigray region, devastated by war and a humanitarian crisis, they don't know when they'll be able to vote, no date has been set.

CNN's Larry Madowo has the latest on Ethiopia's potentially pivotal and controversial election.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Election day in Ethiopia was a largely peaceful, with no major incidents as reported around the country. Voting was extended to 9:00 p.m. because of challenges in some polling stations and it's exactly 10:00 p.m. There are still people waiting to vote at this polling station we're in Addis Ababa. There's a couple of dozen people still to vote.

We have seen people waiting 5, 6 hours to cast their ballots. They have been largely patient, which is extraordinary because at some point, there was rain and that did not deter people from getting their voices heard. There are 47 political parties contesting this election, we asked for one of the major opposition candidates why he decided to contest anyway when two major opposition parties boycotted it, especially with some opposition leaders in jail.


BERHANU NEGA, ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: We believe the most important thing about this election is that is credible, no matter who wins, no matter how many votes one gets, no matter how many how many parliamentary seats winds. At the end of the day, the whole country will win if the election is considered credible and at the end of September, we will have an elected, legitimate government.

MADOWO: The national elections board of Ethiopia has promised to have preliminary results within five days but the actual final count could take longer. This is a massive logistical nightmare with 48,000 or so polling stations, 37 million registered voters and in the 20 percent of constituents not participating in this election, they will have their own election in early September. But people see this process floated as maybe, as a first up and midwifeing a democratic transition in Ethiopia, and then a constitutional reform as everything needs to come together.

Larry Madowo, CNN, Addis Ababa.


AVLON: A new development in Nicaragua's political purge, Miguel Mora Barberena, of the country's Democratic Restoration Party, has been detained. He's the 5th presidential candidate taken into custody, and the 15th overall opposition leader arrested on charges of a vague national security threats.

Critics of President Daniel Ortega say the roundup of his critics is eroding democracy in Nicaragua. Ortega's campaigning for a 4th consecutive term in office, with an election set for November.

Local officials in northern Afghanistan say the Taliban militants have taken over dozens of districts across several provinces. On Monday, one official said nine districts fell to the Taliban in just one week, most without even a fight. This all comes just months ahead of September 11th, the date when U.S. troops and their NATO allies planned to be out of Afghanistan ending America's longest war.

CNN's Nic Robertson explains the situation on the ground, right now.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Balkh province in the north of the country. Their five district centers fall into the Taliban and the neighboring Kunduz and other two district centers there. And officials there saying actually there was no fighting because there is an effort to avoid civilian casualties. So, in effect, you can say that the Afghan forces defending those district centers decided not to fight.

Move a little further, around that sort of northern part of the country, Takhar, nine district centers falling there over the past week. Head a little further west to Faryab, six district centers falling over the past 2 weeks. Indeed, the Taliban claiming they have taken another regions of the country, mostly in the north they've taken another 8 district centers.

We at CNN can't confirm those, but the picture that's emerging, particularly in the north is one that is concerning for everyone who has a stake in the stability of the future of Afghanistan. Because the more the Taliban exert there, try to exert their power and control, the weaker the central state becomes.

There's no sense at the moment that a provincial center is about to fall, I talk to one of the commanders involved in the fight in Balkh just less than an hour ago, he said to me, you know, we're bringing an Afghan national army forces. We hope to retake those 5 districts enters with the next couple of weeks, a couple of weeks is quite a while. That gives you an idea of how long it may take.

You know, the Taliban according to the U.N.'s latest report have been ready to make a move as NATO reduces forces. Because the one thing they don't have to fear now is NATO airstrikes they're able to move more openly and freely.

The other thing I'll just say about the region that they've gone after, this was a region that is not traditionally a Taliban region. It's also relatively flat, compared to most of Afghanistan which may make the fighting for them a little easily. The swift news and towns falling quickly, that's something we saw 25 years ago with the Taliban.


AVLON: And as the Taliban move to gain control across Afghanistan, officials say, the National Security Council Committee was set to discuss the U.S. withdrawal plan. Pentagon press secretary said he couldn't speak to the specific recommendations being made by the defense secretary with regard to the withdrawal, but he said the schedules could fluctuate as conditions changed. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Every day, the situation in Afghanistan changes, as the Taliban continue to conduct these attacks and to raid district centers as well as the violence, which is still too high. Every day, there's a fresh set of data to look at that helps inform his discussions with military commanders and eventually whatever changes may come of that.



AVLON: Already the U.S. withdrawal is more than 50 percent complete, and Kirby said the September 11th deadline to the full pull out will be met.

Hong Kong chief executive is defending a massive police raid on a pro- democracy newspaper. But now, that paper may be forced to shut down. We'll have the latest from Beijing, next.


AVLON: Hong Kong's pro-democracy anti-Beijing newspaper, "Apple Daily", says it may be forced to shut down by the end of the week. It comes after a sweeping last week or hundreds of officers searched the paper's headquarters, seized journalist devices and arrested five executives on charges of breaking Hong Kong strict national security law.

Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam says the police operation against "Apple Daily" was, quote, unrelated to normal journalist work and out of that will were handling is not issues with the news organization, nor any journalistic work, but an act that endangers national security.

Let's go live to Beijing where CNN's Steven Jiang is standing by.

Steven, what's the latest and does Carrie Lam's comments have any credibility?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: You know, John, it's both telling and chilling to hear Carrie Lam used to express and the terms that I've often heard from officials here in Beijing to describe press freedom, that is reporter should not used press freedom as, quote/unquote, a shield to violate the law. Now, of course, she also responded to the U.S. government's condemnation of the Hong Kong police operations last week to raid the "Apple Daily" newsroom, warning foreign governments not to, quote, beautify acts that endanger China's national security.

So, you know, that kind of vigorous defense is absolutely not surprising coming from her, but the cold reality for the newspaper, of course, it is, of course, the government in Hong Kong has frozen its more than $2.3 million U.S. dollars worth of assets, soon, it's going to be able to make payments to its employees and vendors at the end of this month. That's why in all likelihood it will be forced to seize operations by the end of this coming weekend.

This, of course, there's such a watershed moment for this iconic newspaper after its 26-year run. This is one of these newspapers that have offered a very critical voice to both policies from Hong Kong government, but also from the central leadership in Beijing.

And in the year since China, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, the city did have a high degree of autonomy on this "one country, two systems" formula. But, of course, that's being really rapidly changing in recent years as the Beijing government here trying to reign the city in. They actually have often singled out Apple Daily has the black hand between Hong Kong's protest movement in recent years.


And after the passage of that controversial national security law you mentioned, you mentioned this newspapers days are indeed numbered according to many observers and analysts.

So, now, of course, we have to come to this moment when it's actually going to stop printing after 26 years and this is going to have such a chilling effect, not only on the local press in Hong Kong. I remember, "Apple Daily" is now the media outlet being affected.

Other outlets, including the territory's public broadcaster known for its investigative work, often critical of the government policies, also are being threatened to go through an overhaul after the government pulled its programs and replaces editors, and, of course, foreign media, especially many western media outlets to have been losing using Hong Kong's window to report and observe China as well, they're going to be reassessing their presence in the city now. The sweeping national security laws being so vigorously and some would say zealously enforce, with a lot of sweeping scope, applying to anything from so-called sedition to succession, to collusions with foreign power.

So, this is, really, going to affect Hong Kong's future, even though the government said that they are determined to make sure the city remained free, economic entity, and a financial hub for the world. But that, of course, relies on a free flow of information, and if that can be so sure about Hong Kong anymore -- John.

AVLON: Quite right, you can't be both.

Steven Jiang, live in Beijing, thank you very much.

For more on "Apple Daily", I'm joined by Bill Holstein in Briar Cliff Manor, New York. He is the author of new book, "A Grand Strategy: Countering China, Taming Technology, and Restoring the Media".

Bill, it's good to talk with you.

Bill, is the shuttering of "Apple Daily" effectively mean the end of the free press in Hong Kong?

BILL HOLSTEIN, AUTHOR, "A GRAND STRATEGY": Yes, of course, that's what it means, and the Chinese are determined to impose communist rule, and absolute authoritarian rule on Hong Kong, as evidenced by their security law that they instituted almost a year ago, last July 1st. So, yes, they're going to shut down all freedom of expression.

Next is the academic community. So, yes, this signifies that the Chinese are determined to impose absolutely control (INAUDIBLE) expression and assembly in Hong Kong.

AVLON: And as you say, they are effectively using laws like the National Security Act to undermine the rule of law. They raided the newsroom, they arrested a few executives, and basically what they're doing in this case is squeezing the money, and basically telling banks, including Western banks, that if they do business with this company, they, themselves, could face legal recourse.

If you see anything like this, and what should those banks be doing to try to push back on China, if anything?

HOLSTEIN: All American companies, who are doing business in China, which includes Hong Kong, now, are being put to the test in terms of loyalty, frankly. Are they going to support selling equipment to the Chinese army, and to the Chinese surveillance state? Are they going to sell semiconductors that ending up in the hands of the PLA? Is Apple going to ban apps from its App Store that would help the protesters locate police, which they have done?

So, all American companies involved in China right now are going to be put to this test of, do you support the objectives of the communist government, or, do you try to maintain critical distance, and remain true to something that might be recognizable as American or international value?

AVLON: But what you're saying after having covered China for many years I believe is that dance of a little bit of distance may no longer be possible in the near future.

HOLSTEIN: That is what's happening. There is a tense when it's taking in deeper on trying to confront China's technological power as the Chinese dig in digger with a wolf warrior diplomacy, American companies are going to be in a very difficult position to maintain, to play both sides in effect, to do business in China, and not to avoid -- to avoid the problems that Disney ran into, for example, when they made a movie that vilified the Uyghurs.

So, yes, American companies have been through a real crucible of fire here.

AVLON: Bill, you say that this is basically part of a pattern, that Hong Kong -- well, it's great press tradition is being squeezed, in effect, that it's part of a larger game with regard to China, trying to control how it is perceived, via the press, worldwide. Explain.


HOLSTEIN: That's right. Well, the recent commentary from Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders is that the global discourse -- that's the phrase they're using -- the global discourse is running against China in terms of what they're doing in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, in terms of the South China Sea, in terms of the One Road One Belt Initiative.

And so that they must come in charge -- get in charge of the global discourse, which they are trying to do, on a global basis. So they're putting the squeeze on American correspondents in China. Many of them have been kicked out, denied their visas. They're putting pressure on media in every country in the world, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

They are seeking to shape the story. They are spending billions of dollars on Facebook ads to confuse the Americans about who is right and who is wrong.

Basically, they are on a campaign to deny that the Americans have any moral authority to comment, to make any comment about what the Chinese are doing. So, it is a global battle to find the truth. Who is telling the truth? Is it going to be Xinhua, or is it going to be CNN? I hope it is CNN.

AVLON: Well, Bill Holstein, thank you very much for joining us and congratulations on your new book.

HOLSTEIN: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

AVLON: Belarus has now hit with new sanctions as the U.S., the U.K., the European Union and Canada issue a coordinated response to the government's forced landing of a commercial flight and arrest of an opposition journalist on board.

Roman Protasevich, a critic of President Alexander Lukashenko, was on that Ryanair flight last month when it was diverted to Minsk on its way from Greece to Lithuania. He and his companion were both arrested.

In a joint statement, the countries said, quote, "We are united in our deep concern regarding Lukashenko's regime's continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms and international law."

The U.S. Senate is preparing for its first procedural vote on a sweeping voting rights bill set to take place in the coming hours. Ahead of that, former President Barack Obama, advocated for the "For The People Act".

He invoked the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol during a call for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Obama reminded Americans about the importance of fighting for democracy.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The violence that occurred in the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, just a few months ago, should remind us that we can't take our democracy for granted. Around the world, we have seen once vibrant democracies go into reverse. Locking in power for a small group of powerful autocrats and business interests, and locking out the political process, dissidents and protesters and position parties and the voices of ordinary people. It is happening in other places around the world and these impulses have crept into the United States. We are not immune from some of these efforts to weaken our democracy.


AVLON: Still to come on CNN, COVID-19 cases are surging in Brazil right now and it is claiming the lives of children there at an alarming rate.

Plus, we'll find out how the World Health Organization is taking steps to make COVID vaccines more available on the African continent.



AVLON: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Avalon.

The World Health Organization is painting a dire picture of vaccine equity, criticizing the lack of doses available to the world's most vulnerable populations.


MICHAEL RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WHO HEALTH EMERGENCY PROGRAMME: We have a very, very short window of time together, our most vulnerable protected. And we haven't done it. We have not used the vaccines available globally to provide global protection to the most vulnerable.


AVLON: The WHO officials say that more than half of poor countries receiving doses through the COVAX sharing program don't have enough supplies to continue, and some have completely run out.

The World Health Organization is also working to address the problem. They're planning to work with a group of companies to manufacture vaccines in South Africa.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL: Today, I am delighted to announce that WHO is in discussions with a consortium of companies, administrations to establish a technology (INAUDIBLE) in Africa.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: It has been shown now that we just cannot continue to rely on vaccines that are made outside of Africa because they never come. They never arrive on time and people continue to die.


AVLON: Those vaccines could potentially be available, in about 9 months to a year.

In Brazil, more than a half million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the pandemic started, a milestone that was crossed over the weekend.

And as CNN's Isa Soares reports, children there are dying at higher rates than in many other countries.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who's mommy's little girl?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Little Sarah Gois (ph) was born this January in Brazil in the midst of a ravishing pandemic. Her 22-year- old mother naturally besotted with her precious princess.

But even an abundance of love wasn't enough to stop her daughter from contracting COVID-19.

SAMEQUE GOIS, MOTHER OF CHILD WHO DIED OF COVID-19 (through translator): I thought it was something I had done, maybe I passed on the virus. I didn't know what was happening around me. I knew that the only thing I could do was to get on my knees and pray.

SOARES: Despite all her pleas, little Sarah died. She was only five months old.

GOIS: When she died, when they gave us the news, I was able to hold her. I could feel her, one last time.

SOARES: It is a loss that is felt much more often in Brazil than in many other countries. While the Brazilian health ministry says that 1,122 children under the age of 10 have died since the start of the pandemic, one research group argues the death toll is actually closer to 3,000.

This year alone more than a thousand have lost their lives. And doctors tell us the gamma, or P1 variant, first identified in Brazil, may not be to blame.

DR. ANA LUIZA BIERRENBACK, EPIDEMIOLOGIST AT VITAL STRATEGIES: Is that kids have been dying more in Brazil since the original variant was here. So, it was not the addition of the P1 variable that makes kids die even more than another countries.

SOARES: Despite the rising numbers, Baby Sarah was only tested for COVID-19 12 days after she developed the first symptoms. Her mother, tells me doctors assumed she had something else. A common misconception in Brazil, tells new pediatrician Andre Laranjeira.

DR. ANDRE LARANJEIRA, PEDIATRICIAN (through translator): A lot of pediatricians have a certain resistance when it came to requesting COVID-19 tests for children when they are exhibiting those typical symptoms on the respiratory tract. Runny nose, cough, fever -- practically all children have those symptoms this time of the year.


SOARES: But Dr. Laranjeira says this alone doesn't explain the higher death rate across Brazil. Outside (INAUDIBLE) hospital on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, one family is counting their blessings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm overcome with emotion. I'm so happy.

SOARES: Her nine-year-old daughter, Manuela is finally out of ICU after some five days on a ventilator, having contracted COVID-19. Back at home, her parents revealed their ordeal.

CAROLINA BASTO, MANUELA'S MOTHER (through translator): Her kidney was no longer functioning. Her heart was beating irregularly. It was the end of the line for me.

KLEBER DE OLIVEIRA, MANUELA'S FATHER: We were desperate, our world had collapsed.

SOARES: They say it took four doctors to diagnose Manuela. But in the end, she was admitted to an ICU, and got the best possible treatment.

But not all in Brazil can have access to this type of health care.

DR. LARANJEIRA: When you take the fatalities within the pediatric age group, more than 60 percent are from vulnerable socioeconomic herbs. It is impossible to turn a blind eye to that.

SOARES: Here, this disparity can be the difference between life and death. Between a family that gets to celebrate and one that is forced to mourn.

Isa Soares, CNN.


AVLON: The pandemic has caused significant disruption to the sporting world as well and the Copa America football tournament in Brazil, among the major events affected right now. Since the event started over a week ago at least 140 positive cases have been detected among players, members of delegations and service providers. That's according to Brazil's health ministry.

And remember, Brazil is hosting the tournament, even though its COVID cases are surging.

The president of Colombia also is warning that COVID-19 will be around a lot longer than we'd like think. It comes as the country's death toll from the virus is on the rise and now it's surpassed a sobering milestone.

CNN Stefano Pozzebon has more from Bogota.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN REPORTER: The COVID-19 death toll in the Colombia reached the somber mark on Monday of 100,000 victims according to figures released by the Colombian health ministry as the country reports its 648 COVID-related new deaths in 24 hours.

And this comes as Colombia is struggling to contain a prolonged third wave of the pandemic which has brought sustained increases in new deaths and new cases across the last three months.

Last wee in the Colombian president Ivan Duque warned that the end of the tunnel is nowhere near for the COVID-hit nation. Duque was speaking -- attending a holy mass in the honor of the COVID victims.

Here is what he said.

IVAN DUQUE, COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The virus hasn't gone away. And probably, it will stay here for longer than we would like to think. We must get used to the idea that COVID-19 will stay with us, through 2021 and even 2022.

POZZEBON: And one of the reasons for that is that even with these dramatic numbers coming out of intensive care units and hospitals, the country is, pretty much, still open, with only limited restrictions in place on trade and travel, and no national lockdown imposed.

These leaves the virus to spread virtually unchecked. And with an economy in tatters there really is no easy way out for Colombia and its people.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


AVLON: France records its lowest voter turnout in decades. Just ahead, we're going to see what that says about Emmanuel Macron and next year's presidential election.



AVLON: Canadians are demanding answers after a video surfaced showing a Montreal police officer kneeling on a black teenager's neck.




AVLON: The incident is drawing comparisons to George Floyd's murder last year. According to our news partners at the CDC, the officers were reportedly responding to a call about students fighting and the 14-year-old was being arrested for having a stun gun.

While Montreal officers are not banned from using neck restraints police say the incident is now under investigation.

A woman who killed her abusive husband is on trial for murder in France. Valerie Bacot admits to shooting Daniel Polette in self- defense in 2016. She says Polette who was 25 years her senior, first raped her when she was 12 years old, got her pregnant at 17. Polette had been dating her Bacot's mother at the time. Bacot says the abuse lasted for almost two decades.

The prosecutor argues the murder was premeditated, something the defense denies. The trial is expected to last five days, and Bacot could face life in prison.

Voters in France will go to the polls again Sunday after poor showings for President Emmanuel Macron and far right leader Marine Le Pen's parties.

Her National Rally Party won 19 percent of the vote in the first round of regional contest. That is lower than expected. Mr. Macron's party won just under 11 percent.

Political analysts say it's hard to draw any conclusions about next year's presidential race since an unprecedented 68 percent of the population did not bother to vote.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came to have lunch, and I wasn't aware that there was elections today. I don't think I will go and vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don't know who to vote for, maybe I will abstain. Well, normally I don't believe in abstaining because it's not taken into account. But there's not much choice, that's why I'm hesitating.


AVLON: Turnout hasn't been this low since 1958. COVID-19 restrictions, kept public campaigning to a minimum. And analysts say that many voters chose the warm summery weather to meet family and friends instead of going to the polls.

Joining me now from Paris, journalist Christine Ockrent. Christine, thank you very much for joining us. What is the significance of this election, particularly Le Pen's Party doing worse than expected?

CHRISTINE OCKRENT, JOURNALIST: Well, I would say, first of all, these are regional elections. And as you said, you know, most people just didn't bother to go and vote. Two-thirds of the electorate, and I think it has a lot to do of, you know, coming out of this very long, anxious time of COVID.

The fact that the far right did not perform at all, as well as pollsters had predicted certainly has to do with the fact that it is mostly young people and also, underprivileged segments of the electorate who just, you know, wouldn't be interested.

And of course for Marine Le Pen, it is very bad news. Because she was trying to turn these regional elections into a national contest so as to make them a launch pad for her own presidential bid, next year. The other surprise, the bad surprise, for Emmanuel Macron, the president, is a very poor performance at the regional level of his own political party which, really, has no grassroots at all. And so, it performed very poorly around 11 percent.


OCKRENT: So it means, that the two main contenders that are supposed to fight until next May -- May 2022 are really are the losers of this round of regional elections.

AVLON: That is a stunning turn of events, given their prominence in French politics. I wonder if you might explain to us, one of the parties that did better than expected? A new center right, party called Les Republican.

OCKRENT: Yes, the traditional conservatives who, at the national level, are in shambles. With the leader of the party, at the national level, who has no authority over the incumbents who won very highly last Sunday. And that is, you know, it's an irony that (INAUDIBLE) the leader of the traditional conservatives is not recognized as such by (INAUDIBLE) the three incumbents at the regional level who did quite well last Sunday.

And, the other surprise has to do with the other traditional party, which is even more so in shambles, the left with the Green Party, which is gaining speed, and again, I would say that it has to do with the incumbents, the local, political personalities, with a heavy impact on their own people, who are the real winners, and that does not, really, predict anything valid, in my view for next May, for our presidential election.

AVLON: As you say, all politics is local, but Tipp O'Neill was certainly right about that. But some folks have intended to draw a line from a race in Germany, earlier this month, where the far right party did far worse than expected.

With Le Pen's performance in this most recent elections, do you see that connection as, perhaps, signs of a beginning trend in Europe?

OCKRENT: I would like to say so, but I don't believe that. I think in Germany, which has a federal system, like yours, as opposed to ours, which is highly centralized. In France, there is always a major difference between national politics and local politics. Sorry for (INAUDIBLE).

So I think the far right, Marine Le Pen last Sunday, it was very angry, and really shouted at her supporters and said, you know, we have a second round next Sunday, put yourselves together, we have to show how strong we are.

I think that the game is far from being over.

AVLON: That is an internal truth. Christine Ockrent in Paris, thank you very much.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM next, a history making announcement from a pro football player in the United States.


CARL NASSIB, NFL PLAYER: Just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for a while now. But I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.




AVLON: Exciting action in the day ahead in the Euro 2020 tournament. England and the Czech Republic will face off at Wembley Stadium in London in a crucial Group D matchup. Croatia will take on Scotland in Glasgow.

Monday saw Denmark through the round of 16, with a decisive 4 to 1 win over Russia. Some would say, they're the sentimental favorite after midfielder, Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest in the middle of their opening match against Finland.

But it is world number one, Belgium, who won Group B with a 2-nil victory over the Finns on Monday. For more matches will close out group play on Wednesday.

Now a history-making moment in to professional sports. American football player Carl Nassib is the first active player in National Football League history to announce that he is gay. The defensive lineman for the Las Vegas Raiders shared the news Monday on Instagram.


NASSIB: What's up people? I'm Carl Nassib. I'm at my house here in Westchester, Pennsylvania.

I just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for a while now. I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.

I really have the best life. I've got the best family, friends, and job a guy could ask for. I'm a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I'm really not doing this for attention.

I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day, videos like this in the whole coming out process, are just not necessary.

But until then, you know I'm going to do my best, and do my part to cultivate a culture that is accepting, that's compassionate.


AVLON: NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell released this statement. Quote, "The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters. We share his hope that some day soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march towards full equality for the LGBTQ+ community."

A rare case of China's fiery national liquor has sold for nearly $1.4 million in London. Auction house Sotheby says that's the highest price ever paid for a single lot of Moutai outside China. More than five times what was expected. It included 24 models of Moutai sold under the Sunflower brand from 1974. How about that?

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Avlon.

CNN NEWSROOM continues with Robyn Curnow after this short break.

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