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CNN NEWSROOM

Highly Transmissible Delta Variant Spreading in U.S. & EU; Cuban Migrants Attempting Treacherous Sea Crossing; Taiwan Foreign Minister: We Need to Prepare for Conflict with China; Apple Daily's Final Edition; Russia Claims It Chased British Warship Out of its Waters in the Black Sea; Airstrike Kills Dozens as Ethiopia Awaits Election Results; Beirut Museum Works to Restore Treasured Artifacts; Cape Cormorant Rescue Operations; Britney Spears Asks Court to End "Abusive" Conservatorship. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired June 24, 2021 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00:15]

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: And hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Paula Newton.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM:

The Delta variant has set its sights on some new targets. Where we're seeing spikes.

Today is "Apple Daily's" last day on newsstands. Our team in Hong Kong got an inside look as the final edition rolls off the presses.

After years of speculation, we're finally hearing from Britney Spears herself. I'll speak to the woman is documentary helped propel the "Free Britney" movement.

(MUSIC)

NEWTON: Well, highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is alarming health officials around the world. Now, the European CDC says it's spreading so fast, that it's on track to make up 90 percent of new COVID cases in the European Union by the end of August.

Russia is blaming an uptick in COVID cases and deaths on the variant. And Moscow's mayor says 90 percent of people with infections there have the Delta strain.

In the U.S. meantime, it has been detected all American states except South Dakota, the U.S. CDC director is calling it an opportunistic virus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: About two weeks ago, we had about 10 percent of our strains being the Delta variant. And now, more recently, about 20 percent of our strains here in the United States are the delta variant. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: And what's even more concerning is that there is a newer version of this variant. The Indian health ministry is calling it the delta plus strain, now a variant of concern.

Joining me now to discuss this is Dr. Bob Wachter. He is chair of the University of California's San Francisco's Department of Medicine.

Good to see you. I wish we are not discussing variants right now. You know, you were warned about this variant. You warned about it early and often.

You know, a thread -- a thread of yours on social media caught my attention earlier this month. You said: if you're not vaccinated, I'd be afraid, maybe even very afraid. Why?

DR. ROBERT WACHTER, CHAIR, UCSF, DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE: Yes, as Dr. Fauci said this virus is better at its job than the one we've been dealing with for the past year and the one we've been dealing with for the past year has killed 600,000 people in the United States. So that's a little bit scary.

The spectacular news is that the vaccine, certainly the one in the U.S. and Europe as well worked very well against this variant. So if for fully vaccinated, you are safe. If you're unvaccinated, then your body is no better at fighting off the virus than it was 18 months ago, but the virus is better, is more infectious. Maybe, as Dr. Fauci said, more serious if you get it. So I would be scared if I was not vaccinated.

NEWTON: And there are two categories here, right? There are people who unfortunately -- this is the vast majority of the world, that does not have access to vaccines and then we have a small minority, whether it's in Europe or other parts of North America, who just don't get the vaccine. What is the message that you send really to both groups of people at this point?

WACHTER: Well, for people who don't have access to it I think everyone has to do everything that we can to give them access as quickly as possible. We've all seen around the world what devastation this virus can do and this was with the old version. And so, there is concern that it can rip through a country and society if the rate of vaccination is very low. And the U.S., we really didn't see downward pressure on the virus until we got up to 30, 40, or 50 percent of people vaccinated.

In countries like the U.S. and Europe, in the U.K., it's a different story. In the U.S., pretty much everyone who wants to have a vaccine has access to it. So if you are not vaccinated, in the majority of cases, you have made a decision, and it's a bad decision. It was a bad decision a month or two ago, but I would've thought maybe you'll get away with it because the amount of virus in many communities is very low and in San Francisco where live, there's very little virus circulating around. I'm no longer feel that you're likely to get away with it. I think

it's more likely that when delta becomes the majority of the virus in all of our communities, the folks that are unvaccinated are really unprotected against that virus and it can -- it can, it can really slam them.

NEWTON: You know, we've heard a lot about, of course, it's delta variant. There is also now another mutant delta variant that's been detected again in India. Are you worried now that some of these variants may actually escape the vaccines?

[01:05:04]

WACHTER: Well, we've been worried about that ever since November when we first got an indication that there would be variants that had different properties than the original. At least so far, the news has been good. But -- and the variants that we've been seeing have been more infectious, perhaps a little bit more serious although not terribly so, but by and large susceptible to the vaccines that we currently have.

I'm guessing that the new variants will continue to be susceptible but that is -- that is a guess. There is nothing written in the cards that says that a variant can't figure out ways of sidestepping the vaccine. The best protection we have now is for everybody to be vaccinated as quickly as they can to keep the number of viral replication's down, that will keep the number of variants down.

But we may find ourselves with a need for boosters and some reconfigured vaccine. If in fact a variant figures out how to get around the vaccine. So far on that count, so good.

NEWTON: Yeah, to that point though, this issue of whether or not it escapes vaccines, have you see evidence or do you expect to see evidence that without those boosters, the elderly especially, and I'm talking about the elderly that are already vaccinated, you know, could be more at risk here with this new variant?

WACHTER: It makes sense that they might be. And there's one indication of it with delta. And that is that when people are fully vaccinated, they are about as well-protected against delta as they were against the prior viruses. But the first dose of Pfizer and Moderna protected people quite well with the prior variants. That's why the U.K. for example had a strategy of giving people first doses quickly and then holding off on the second dose.

What we're seeing with delta is the first dose does not work quite as well which shows that it requires a higher level of immunity, so it does make me worried that someone who has a relatively weak immune system, for example, an elderly person who got vaccinated, or someone who's immunity is not from vaccination but from an infection that they maybe had a year ago, I'm wondering whether those will turn out to be somewhat susceptible.

The good news is so far we haven't seen that. So far, it looks like if you've been fully vaccinated, your chances of getting infected and certainly chances of getting very sick is very, very low. But it's something we have to watch very carefully.

NEWTON: Yeah, still hanging all of our hopes on those vaccines.

Dr. Robert Wachter, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

WACHTER: My pleasure.

NEWTON: So you just heard the doctor and I talking about whether or not that immunity will wane. Now, the CDC is monitoring data from those at risk groups a doctor was talking about, trying to determine COVID vaccine booster shots will be needed in the future.

Now, vaccinations as we were just talking about have been the most important part of the global fight against this virus. But right now, there is no clear cut answer as to how long immunity will last.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On December 14th, the nurse in New York became the first American vaccinated for COVID-19 outside the clinical trial. That was 6 months ago.

Now the discussion is all about boosters. Will we need them? And if so, when?

DR. ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: There will be a need for a booster somewhere between eight and 12 months.

GUPTA: There is no set rule now that says in 6 months, or in a year we're going to get -- we're going to require a boost.

DR. AMESH ADALJA, SR. SCHOLAR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: It's frustrating people want to know how long immunity lasts, but it's going to take time.

GUPTA: Dr. Amesh Adalja is an infectious disease physician with expertise in preparing for pandemics. He served on government panels responding to public health emergencies. Not unlike the one we've been in for the past year and a half.

What are you looking for as some early clues that we would need that booster shot?

ADALJA: I want to know what's happening to these patients clinically? Are they getting breakthrough infections? And are those breakthrough infections severe enough to land them in the hospital?

GUPTA: With some diseases like yellow fever, most people get lifetime protection from a vaccine. But from others like influenza, we roll up our sleeves every year. Even among coronaviruses it ranges.

ADALJA: The first SARS in 2003, it appears in those individuals who are infected naturally develop long-standing immunity. It's a little bit different with the community-acquired coronavirus because they are always causing common colds and maybe more tenacious to cause reinfections.

GUPTA: Boosters daddies are underway. In some cases, boosting with a different COVID-19 vaccine, or one that's been tailored to a specific variant.

Should we be worried there'd be a particular variant that may start to escape the protection of these vaccines?

ADALJA: I think it's very hard for a virus to mutate in such a way and to get the perfect mutation to be able to completely evade a vaccine to make it worthless.

[01:10:00]

GUPTA: At the same time, we are hearing more and more good news about just how robust immunity to COVID-19 might be. Six months out, both Pfizer and Moderna still have more than 90 percent efficacy against COVID-19. And even among people who have been infected, we're still seeing evidence of immunity a year later.

And it's not just antibodies we're talking about.

ADALJA: The antibody arm everyone knows about and there's a whole other arm which is called cell mediated immunity. We will find T-cells that are reactive to COVID-19 long after infection, and those maybe instrumental for how we determine when a booster is necessary.

GUPTA: But there may be some who may benefit from a booster sooner than others. Like immuno-compromised people. A recent study found that a third shot provided a boost to a small group of organ transplant recipients who had low antibody responses, including a 3rd of them who had no detectable antibodies after the first two doses.

For many of us, the benefit is less clear cut. An issue that becomes even more complicated when you start to look around the world.

ADALJA: If you've got this pandemic raging out of control in many countries where they can't get single doses into people, it really is going to be difficult to justify giving people a 3rd dose.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: Cuba is racing to get more people vaccinated against hold it as cases their surge. The country as far from reaching heard immunity with just over 8 percent of its population fully vaccinated. Health officials say one of their homegrown vaccines is highly effective. The shots can't come soon enough more than 2,000 new cases reported Wednesday alone, breaking another daily record of new infections.

The virus is one factor in the uptick of migrants attempting the sea crossing from Cuba to the United States. It's a dangerous journey that has caused an unknown number of lives. Patrick Oppmann has this exclusive report on Cubans willing to risk

everything to start a new life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A U.S. Coast Guard cutter enters Cuban waters carrying migrants, stopped at sea while trying to reach the United States. Under an agreement between the two countries, the Cubans are sent back to the island after being picked up by the U.S., leaving the island on barely seaworthy rafts smuggled out in speedboats by human traffickers.

In recent years or number of Cubans making the illegal journey by boat had dwindled. Now the communist run island hit by the impact of the pandemic, and increased U.S. economic sanctions. Hundreds of Cubans are again attempting the treacherous sea crossing.

Cuban officials who gave CNN rare access to a migrant repatriation say they are concerned by the spike in activity. They put people's lives at risk. They have too many people on board, he says. They knew people trafficking with speedboats and they also overload those votes to make more money.

It can take days to make the 90-mile journey across the Florida straits. And only seconds for a trip to turn deadly. Neither the U.S. nor Cuba can say how many people have died in 2021, attempting the crossing.

Yulia Cordez (ph) She says her brother Pedro Angel was one of at least 5 people lost at sea after the brother capsized leaving the island in March.

What we want is to know, she says, to have some news, however tough it is. But at least know it happened to him.

Despite the risks, many Cubans are increasingly desperate to leave the island. Some sell all their possessions to pay for the trip. This woman who has returned by the U.S. Coast Guard attempted a hazardous trip, carrying her 8 month old baby. After the U.S. embassy in Havana shut down businesses nearly 4 years ago following mysterious held incidents more than 100,000 Cubans had been unable to obtain visas granted to them to visit or emigrated to the U.S.

Cubans have to self to travel to a third country to apply for a visa to enter the United States illegally. It's a costly and lengthy process, but during the pandemic it's been next to impossible to do. Many people say they can no longer afford to wait even if it means breaking the law, or risking their lives at sea.

While the numbers of Cubans leaving by boat are far less than during the rafters crisis of the 1990s, and Mariel boat lift of the 1980s, Cuban officials said they want to engage with Washington before the flow of migrants increases.

CARLOS FERNANDEZ DE COSSIO, CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: The trend is there. And difficulties Cuba has today have not fazed for over a decade. So, the recipe and the conditions are there for an uncontrolled migration through the ocean.

[01:15:01]

Something we want to avoid.

OPPMANN: So far, Biden advisers have said Cuba is not a priority for the administration. But as the pandemic and Trump era sanctions continue to cause havoc here, an increasing number of Cubans with nothing left to lose could create a crisis that becomes impossible to ignore.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Orosco (ph), Cuba.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: Taiwan's foreign minister says the island will not buckle under China's military pressure and he says neither will he, as Beijing pressures him personally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH WU, TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If they continue to say they want to pursue me for the rest of my life, really, I'm not really concerned about that. I think it's an honor to be targeted by the Chinese government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Still ahead, words about what Taiwan needs to do in the face of China's military threat.

Plus, a pride protest at Euro 2020 match between Germany and Hungary as fans filled the streets of Munich with the colors of the rainbow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEWTON: Taiwan's foreign minister is issuing a blunt warning as China flexes its military muscle near the island.

Now, in an exclusive interview with CNN, Joseph Wu said Taiwan needs to prepare for a possible conflict with Beijing. He also said the military pressure is part of China's strategic game plan that goes well beyond Taiwan.

The foreign minister spoke with CNN's Will Ripley and he joins me now from Taipei.

Will, good to see you and good to have you there on the ground. I am struck by the timing of this. He chose to speak to you and speak to you in some fairly blunt terms.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He spoke to us, Paula, just one week after China's largest ever recorded air incursion according to Taiwan. Twenty-eight Chinese warplanes flying into Taiwan's air defense identification zone. The foreign minister that's says one type of psychological warfare or hybrid warfare that Taiwan feels that China is waging on this island every single day. The biggest threat he says comes from cyber.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH WU, TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Taiwan has some very good capabilities in dealing with cyberattacks, and that is because of our long-experienced dealing with cyber activities initiated by the Chinese toward Taiwan. They used cyber warfare. They used cognitive warfare, disinformation campaign and the military intimidation to create a lot of anxiety among the Taiwanese people.

RIPLEY: Why is Beijing doing this now? Why are they stepping things up now?

WU: They might have a territorial ambition over Taiwan, for sure, because they've been talking about that. But I think they are also trying to expand their sphere of influence over the East China Sea, over the South China Sea, or beyond the first island chain into the wide Pacific.

[01:20:02]

So this is not just Taiwan's problem, and we certainly hope that the international community will continue to look at the peace and stability in this region with attention and continue to support Taiwan.

RIPLEY: How much do the actions of the United States and Western democracies lead to those measures, that intimidation by China?

WU: If you look at the Chinese long-played military actions in Taiwan, it has started before the G-7 meeting. And it started before the senators arriving in Taiwan by a C-17. But sometimes, the Chinese would like to use excuses.

RIPLEY: Do you believe that China has the intent of unification by force or preventing separation by force?

WU: I think the Chinese are trying to unify Taiwan through peaceful means, if possible, but they want to use force, if necessary. So we need to prepare ourselves for a possible conflict.

RIPLEY: What is the likelihood, in your view, of an all-out military confrontation between Beijing and Taipei?

WU: We hope it doesn't happen. A war between Taiwan and China is in nobody's interest. The important thing is that Taiwan is a democracy. And Taiwan is a high symbol of democracy at a time when China is trying to expand its authoritarian influence, Taiwan is on the frontline.

RIPLEY: You have also been a target of the mainland government. They have accused you of being a separatist and threatened to take whatever legal actions they can if they get their hands on you. What is that like to be a target of the mainland government?

WU: I would continue to say what is right, and I will continue to advocate what is good for the people here in Taiwan.

What I said is only the truth. They cannot tolerate truth. And if they continue to say that they want to pursue me for the rest of my life, I don't really -- I'm not really concerned about that. So for that, I think it's an honor to be targeted by the Chinese government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: Foreign Minister Wu was labeled a die hard separatist by Beijing after comments he made at a press conference where he said Taiwan would fight to the very last day if attacked by China. Of course, China's defense budget is around 15 times that of Taiwan. Foreign minister says they are now trying to evolve their military capabilities, including asymmetric warfare to try and that Beijing know that if they do make a military move, there would be severe consequences -- Paula.

NEWTON: Yeah, certainly, a fear of conflict there has potential of deeply broadening. That's definitely in that region.

Will, so good to have you on the ground. Appreciate it.

Now, Hong Kong's largest and loudest pro-democracy anti-Beijing newspaper is no more. Customers lined up to buy the last edition of "Apple Daily". Its digital version is also set to disappear by the end of the week.

Those were the cheers and that was the scene on Wednesday after staff finished editing the last issue, celebrating 26 years of hard work hours after two more other journalists were arrested by police.

Meantime, crowds gathered outside the headquarters to show their support and only took a year for Hong Kong strict national security law to bring down this newspaper. And many now fear press freedom as a whole may have gone down with it.

CNN's Ivan Watson was there when the final issue went to print.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the sprawling newsroom of one of Hong Kong's most popular newspapers, "Apple Daily", but it's not likely to be functioning for much longer because the staff here are working to put what management say will be their final edition to bed, and that's because less than a week ago, hundreds of Hong Kong police raided these offices and began going through computers and hard drives. And they arrested at least five of the newspaper's top executives.

And those individuals are now being accused of, essentially, treason. They're -- they have allegedly incited foreign governments to put sanctions on the leadership of Hong Kong and of mainland China through the articles that they had published.

The leadership of Hong Kong vehemently denied that this is an effort to stifle Hong Kong's free press. CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE: And don't try to accuse Hong Kong authorities for using the national security law as a tool to suppress the media or to stifle the freedom of expression.

WATSON: Throughout a sporadically rainy night, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the offices of "Apple Daily," and in an impromptu show of support, a gathering that has now attracted the attention of the police.

[01:25:04]

And now the final edition has been printed in these predawn hours. The headline here says, "Hong Kong's painful farewell in the rain."

The management of "Apple Daily" say since the police seized the company's assets, they cannot afford to continue publishing this daily newspaper. Meaning these printing presses will soon go silent for the very last time.

The British foreign secretary and the European Union have denounced this. And it's part of a broader crackdown in Hong Kong, where opposition politicians have been rounded up and face different kinds of charges.

The pro-democracy marches and protests that once were part of the city's culture have not been tolerated for a year, ostensibly on the grounds of public health because of the coronavirus pandemic. It has taken just one week for the authorities in this city to kill this newspaper.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

NEWTON: To Munich, Germany, now where Euro 2020 fans rolled out the rainbow for the home teams match against Hungary. Now, football's governing body UEFA denied a request to light the stadium in rainbow colors to protest Hungary's new anti-LGBTQ law. So, Munich lit up city hall and other landmarks and handed out about 20,000 flags to spectators.

More now from World Sport anchor Don Riddell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: UEFA didn't want Germany's game against Hungary at the European Football Championship to become political, but in the end, there was no warning. It antidiscrimination campaigners had wanted the Munich stadium lit up in the rainbow colors. A statement of inclusivity after the Hungarian parliament recently passed legislation which bans the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change.

European Football's governing body likes to present itself as an inclusive organization but their neutral stance on this occasion fired-up campaigners to make a statement in any way they could.

So, other buildings in Munich were eliminated in the rainbow colors, so to are the football stadiums across the country. Outside the arena before the game, fans were handed rainbow flags and some were seen inside the stadium during the game. One protester even managed to get onto the field during the national anthem with a flag.

The game was a thriller. The climax of group F and about down to the wire. With 6 minutes remaining, Germany went out of the tournament. They got saved for the midfielder who happens to be one of the most outspoken players when it comes to LGBTQ rights.

With three of the four teams going through to the next round, it's a pretty inclusive group. But Hungary won't be included in the knockout stages. They are out now and there is no mistaking Goretzka's celebration in front of the Hungary fans. He was making the heart symbol. He was promoting of. It's almost as if it was meant to be.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: Britney Spears as breaking her silence in an effort to regain control of her life. Coming up, the director of the "Framing Britney Spears" documentary had to say about the pop stars impassioned plea.

Plus, Ethiopia's military is denying reports of an airstrike in Tigray. Now, witnesses say dozens were killed. We'll have the latest from the war-torn region.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:31:16]

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: The U.K. is pushing back after one of its warships was accused of entering Russian waters. Now Russia says the British destroyer entered waters that Moscow claims are in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea and then had to fire warning shots and drop bombs to make the ship turn around.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN (through translator): Our country's defense ministry already gave professional evaluation of the dangerous actions of British destroyer. I would like to add that we treat it as blatant Britain's provocation that is contrary with international law and Russian legislation.

I will also like to say that we will summon the British ambassador to the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: But the U.K.'s defense ministry in fact denies this saying no warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender, the royal navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.

Now, Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine after a military intervention in 2014 and relations between Russia and NATO allies have been tense in the area ever since.

The E.U. is calling on the international community to take action in Ethiopia's Tigray region after a deadly airstrike killed as many as 30 people. Witnesses say a market was struck Tuesday in the war torn region.

The U.S. strongly condemned the attack calling it reprehensible. Sources also tells CNN the Ethiopian military shot at doctors who tried to reach the victims and that ambulances were blocked from trying to reach the wounded.

But the military claims the airstrike reports are fake, and meant to overshadow Ethiopia's peaceful election held on Monday.

CNN's Larry Madowo has the latest from Ethiopia's capital.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A chaotic scene at the main hospital in the Tigrayan capital Mekelle. The casualties pouring in after an airstrike on a busy market Tuesday afternoon in Toboga killed at least 30 people, according to eyewitnesses, wounding dozens more. Aid workers and Tigrayan rebel leaders saying the death toll is likely to climb much higher.

Outside the hospital, distraught family members in Mekelle wait anxiously for information on loved ones. Even as medical sources say Ethiopian forces blocked more ambulances from driving to the scene about 20 miles away.

Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane telling CNN reports of an aerial bombardment were face news. And accusing the people in the hospital of acting drama in an attempt to overshadow a peaceful election.

But the even spokesperson expressing alarm on behalf of Secretary General Antonio Guterres amid growing reports of civilian casualties in the air strike.

STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESMAN FOR U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The situation in the area remains very, very volatile. It's important that everyone engaged in fighting do their most to protect civilians, to obey international humanitarian law.

Once again, we want to see an end to hostilities in the region. We want to see greater access for humanitarian workers. Frankly from what we've seen here, things are not going in the right direction to say the least.

MADOWO: This week, amidst the backdrop of an election that will decide the next Ethiopian prime minister, the region has seen some of the worst fighting since the conflict began in November. (on camera): The European Union also condemned the targeting of civilians in Tigray. But the Ethiopian military told CNN it would never target civilians by air or land.

[01:34:52]

MADOWO: This latest escalation in the north of the country happened just a day after what is a generally peaceful election in most parts of the country though Tigray was excluded because of the ongoing war.

Larry Madowo, CNN -- Addis Ababa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: U.S. President Joe Biden is preparing to sit down with his Afghan counterpart on Friday. Topping the agenda: the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as American winds down its longest war.

But as U.S. troops head out the Taliban are already making territorial gains and taking control of at least 50 districts so far. That's according to the U.N. envoy in Afghanistan.

Now, the deputy U.S. Secretary of State acknowledged the Taliban's aggressive moves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WENDY, SHERMAN, DEPUTY U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Most of them right now are in territory that is really Taliban controlled more than it is by the Afghan National Forces.

We will continue to provide support to the Afghan National Forces. We have been training equipping and helping them for many years. They are very capable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Those are former Afghan Mujahadeen residents of northern Kabul speaking out against the Taliban as they rallied Wednesday in support of Afghan forces.

This comes as the Taliban sees dozens of towns, as we were saying, and that's including places in those crucial northern provinces. But those at the rally vowed to stand up against Taliban militants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QOMANDAN BARYALAI, NORTHERN KABUL RESIDENT: We are Mujahadeen. We have stood against them before and are ready now too. We will not allow them to advance in our homeland and we will surely eliminate them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Now, hundreds attended the rally in Kabul. Peace talks negotiator warns Taliban will eventually look to encircle that city and other major urban centers of security forces are unable to stop their advances.

It has been 10 months since a massive explosion at the port of Beirut destroyed entire neighborhoods. You will remember it well.

The economic crisis in the meantime drags on. The work to recover and rebuild is well underway. That's happening right now in a museum housing a treasure trove of the country's history.

CNN's Ben Wedeman shows us the effort to put a few little pieces of Lebanon back together.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see, this one has a lot of iridescent pieces that have fallen off. I'm going to pick them up.

It's going to be difficult to put back.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A month after last year's Beirut port blast, Clare Cuyaubere and Marya Soubra sort through what was a display case that held 74 rare pieces of ancient Roman and Medieval glassware in the Archeological Museum of the American University of Beirut.

CLARE CUYAUBERE, CONSERVATOR: At first I was horrified, and it was really daunting, like how much we had to get done.

WEDEMAN: Clare, a conservator from the French National Statute for Cultural Heritage is now back in Beirut to help finish the task.

(on camera): And how does this compare with a jigsaw puzzle?

CUYAUBERE: It's so much harder. You usually don't have 72 jigsaw puzzles mixed up together, right? And then you have the added difficulty of the -- of the fragility of the object.

WEDEMAN: Fitting thousands of tiny jagged pieces of broken glass together again is a task requiring painstaking precision and the patience of Job.

Marya is studying archeology, as demanding and difficult as this work is, she says it will be easier to repair this ancient glassware than fix Lebanon, a country fractured repeatedly in recent years by crises and catastrophes.

MARYA SOUBRA, STUDENT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT: I think this is more possible because you actually have all the pieces on the trays. You just have to pick them out. But for Lebanon, where are the pieces, you know, you just don't have them. I'm going to have to find them or if you don't find them, we have to create them also.

WEDEMAN: Yes, this effort to restore a small are part of Lebanon's rich heritage is therapy in itself, says museum curator, Nadine Panayot.

NADINE PANAYOT, MUSEUM CURATOR: When you are on the floor picking up those pieces, sifting through the glass, and you are so happy when you identify some pieces and you put them together, it just had a healing effect.

Wedeman: Indeed this project shows that even things shattered into hundreds of miniscule pieces are not beyond repair.

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: Our thanks to Ben for that report. Our initiative "Call to Earth" is next. We will show you what freedom looks like for cormorant chicks on Robin Island in Cape Town.

[01:40:01]

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NEWTON: In today's "Call To Earth" we take another look at those protecting marine life right around the world.

Now, one indicator of ocean health in general, the presence of healthy seabirds. Now, if the birds are doing well, so too is the ecosystem as a whole.

When 2,000 cormorant chicks were found abandoned off the coast of Cape Town, it triggered the second largest rescue operation the region has ever seen.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is swim time at the SANCCOB Seabird Rescue Facility in Cape Town where these young Cape cormorants have spent the past six months being prepared for life in the wild.

DAVID ROBERTS, CLINICAL VETERINARIAN, SANCCOB: Before they get released, they really need to learn as quickly as possible to catch food for themselves. They must be able to fly and be able to swim underwater, catch fish, and then come out and still be dry so they don't get cold and wet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In January 2021 some 2,000 chicks were found abandoned by their parents on Robben Island 60 years after Nelson Mandela was first imprisoned on its rocky shores.

KATTA LUDYNIA, RESEARCH MANAGER, SANCCOB: So these parents were probably already struggling to find enough food for their chicks. Then it was very hot days they just came to a point where they just couldn't deal and they decided to rather abandon their chicks and basically save their own lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's when the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds swooped in.

LUDYNIA: So in total we rescued over 2,006. It's actually the second largest rescue we've undertaken here in the western cape. ROBERTS: But they were very weak, dehydrated, overheated. The first

few days were really tough. We couldn't save them all, so we lost more than half of our little chicks in the first few days.

But after that things got a lot better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To help as many to survive as possible, the team had to take extreme measures.

ROBERTS: So when we feed them, we don't want them to think of people as a source of food. We've been wearing black outfits to hide the human shape, and to ensure that when you're putting food down there they don't think it's a person doing it. And it's worked very well.

Now they associate this black flowing robe with supplement feeding but if someone walks in a normal clothes they don't come and mob you to try and ask you for food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their efforts were rewarded. The foundation says so far over a thousand rescued Cape cormorants have been returned to nature.

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LUDYNIA: We do what we call a soft release so we built an enclosure on Robben Island. They're still being fed there. They can see the wild birds that are still roosting on the island. They can smell, they can hear them so they can get used to the environment.

After 48 hours we open the gates and the birds are free to do whatever they want. Some of them immediately join the wild birds to do their own thing. Others stick around at the enclosure, but in the long run we obviously hope that they learn to feed by themselves, and then actually to reintegrate into the wild population.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And much like a former inhabitant of this iconic island, bringing global attention to their plight.

LUDYNIA: So it is obviously nice for us to be able to rescue these birds. And it helps a lot with the awareness. There is a huge industrial fishing for sardine and anchovy which is obviously competing with our seabirds for the same resources.

We know that climate change predicts more frequent heat waves, so we expect to see these abandonments actually happening more often, unless we get a handle on the fish stocks.

Having these birds here has helped the last few to explain to people that they are endangered. It does give us kind of hope to be able to do something and we have raised basically all the alarm bells to this rescue about the current state of (INAUDIBLE).

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NEWTON: Gorgeous shots there. Now, we'll share more inspirational environmental stories like this one as part of this initiative at CNN.

And let us know, please, what you are doing to answer the call with the hashtag #CallToEarth.

CNN NEWSROOM continues in just a few moments.

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NEWTON: Britney Spears isn't holding back as she breaks her silence over her ongoing battle to regain control of her life.

Now, the popstar told a Los Angeles judge she feels, quote, "traumatized from the 13-year court-ordered conservatorship that put her father in control of her personal and business affairs".

CNN's Stephanie Elam has more on the lengthy legal battle ahead.

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STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Britney Spears is angry. She wants her life back and she wants the world to know it.

Speaking remotely to a Los Angeles County courtroom, the pop singer saying her wish and dream is for the conservatorship to end. A legal arrangement she's been living with for nearly 13 years.

In the status hearing, Spears expressing frustration over the lack of control of her own life, saying, quote, "I'm traumatized. I'm not happy. I can't sleep. I'm so angry it's insane."

Even adding she wants to marry and have another child -- both major life moments she says the current conservatorship doesn't allow.

Her father's only response to the artist's stinging criticism was that he loves and misses her.

The trouble for Britney Spears began in 2007. Her girl next door image unraveling in front of the paparazzi who were always chasing, capturing her every move especially the uncomfortable moments in the singer's personal life.

[01:49:44]

ELAM: The following year, multiple health and psychiatric issues landed Spears in the hospital in January. Her father, Jamie Spears, filed a petition with the Los Angeles County superior court that February, to place her under a temporary probate conservatorship. Jamie Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet becoming permanent co- conservators of Britney's estimated $60 million estate in October, 2008.

Her father getting control of her medical care, something Spears spoke emotionally about saying, quote, "I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told I can't get married. I have an IUD inside me, but this so-called team won't let me go to the doctor to remove it because they don't want me to have any more children. This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good."

LISA MACCARLEY, CONSERVATORSHIP ATTORNEY: Usually, most conservatorships in probate court are for the elderly. People that have exhibited memory deficits or judgment deficits that are pervasive and most likely going to endure for the rest of their lives.

ELAM: But through all this, Britney Spears kept working while under this conservatorship, releasing several albums, two that went platinum.

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER: What's up, Vegas.

ELAM: Holding down her "Pieces of Me," Las Vegas residency, reportedly earning her $30 million --

CROWED: Britney, what's up.

ELAM: -- and serving as a judge on the X-Factor.

Attorney Andrew Wallet resigned in the spring of 2019, leaving Spears' father in control of just about every aspect of Britney's life.

But last summer, Britney pushed back. In legal documents, her court appointed lawyer stating Britney is, quote, "strongly opposed to having her father as conservator and requested that Jamie be removed".

Instead, a judge in November added Bessemer Trust, a private wealth and investment management firm as a co-conservator to oversee her estate.

Now Spears wants to pick her own lawyer and as she said in court, quote, "I just want my life back."

(on camera): As this was just a status hearing, up next will be a new court date that will be set where Britney Spears will likely petition the court to end the conservatorship.

Stephanie Elam, CNN -- Los Angeles.

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NEWTON: Samantha Stark is the producer and director of "Framing Britney Spears". And she joins me now from Los Angeles.

You are just back from the courtroom. And I just want to get your reaction to what you heard from Britney Spears speaking in her own words about this for really the first time. It was visceral, raw, and frankly heartbreaking.

SAMANTHA STARK, DIRECTOR, "FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS": Yes. It was. I found it thrilling to hear her say in her own words what we have suspected with our reporting. We released an investigative report yesterday about, you know, that she had been asking to get out of this for many years, with transcripts that we found. So hearing her say today I feel like I'm being abused, and I feel like I've been working since right after this started, and not only caring for myself, but caring for all of you, to the lawyers.

And she was making the case that she shouldn't have been in this. She said some really harrowing things, like this idea that she was forced into a mental health facility because she didn't want to tour, was how the story ended up going.

And that she was forced to take lithium against her will, which she had never done in her life. And that she felt forced to tour to begin with.

She said she was often so tired and she didn't want to do it and they wouldn't. She felt that her management made her do it.

It really feels like this is not the situation that everyone thought it was or that, you know, was presented to the public at all.

NEWTON: Not at all. So much we didn't know. You know, the issue -- this really just strikes to the heart of why people are so shocked by what's happened to her. Somebody who should have been in somewhat a position of power even if she had gone through some mental struggles.

The issue they would not allow her to have children? That they forcibly told her you must be on birth control?

STARK: So she, you know, she said and we know this in our report we uncovered some confidential documents. And we know that in 2014, Britney through -- asked her lawyer to ask the court to express that she wanted to get married and have kids and she wanted to retire.

It's seven years later, now we know she's felt forced to work and she said that she has an IUD birth control in and that she feels like her team will not take her to the doctor to have it removed.

This is a lot of control that they have over her.

NEWTON: Yes. And all legal, right? All court sanctions.

STARK: Which is -- yes, which is so surprising. Well, it's surprising and not surprising right because there's so much conflict of interest in the conservatorship system. Britney is paying lawyers on both sides to fight against each other.

If her conservatorship ends, her own lawyer that the court appointed to her stops getting paid. Today she said I didn't know I could file a petition to end my conservatorship.

[01:54:54]

STARK: Can you imagine 13 years have gone by and her lawyer, they said she's incapable of hiring her own and the one they assigned to her does not communicate to her that that's a possibility even though we know from the documents we uncovered that she has been asking (INAUDIBLE) for years.

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NEWTON: Unbelievable. It's just unbelievable.

Your documentary we just mentioned was entitled "Framing Britney Spears". And it really did frame the controversy, right, for the world.

It's a story that now transcends celebrity, I would argue, crude tabloid interests. This really strikes to the heart of the issues of sexism and how cases of mental health are dealt with.

Was that your intention when you set out to really create this documentary?

STARK: Absolutely. And you know, we had a big team from "The New York Times" when we were working on it and we decided that we didn't want the story to be about celebrity. We wanted to be about -- we wanted it to show how this could happen to anybody, and how sexism really influences that.

I mean there are so many people, the narrative that I feel like Britney totally squashed the way she laid out her points. But there is this narrative that she was out of control, unhinged, hysterical, and that she needed her daddy -- literally her daddy to come in and save her and take care of her. And that, you know, she needs continuous evaluation because if they weren't looking out for her, she would, you know, go off the rails or whatever.

I mean this is a woman who is making millions of dollars in an athletic schedule. And the way she said it, it just feels like this idea she's a little girl that needs protection is so misogynistic and it feels like it has carried throughout this whole 13 years from what she's saying and what we are seeing.

NEWTON: Today's testimony certainly raised a lot more questions and certainly, really to the heart of what Britney Spears has been going through.

Samantha Stark, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

STARK: Thank you.

NEWTON: Yes, this was the big talker today. Many celebrities are taking to social media to show their support of Britney Spears.

Mariah Carey tweeted, quote, "We love you, Britney. Stay strong."

And Justin Timberlake tweeted "We should all be supporting Britney at this time. Regardless of our past, what's happening to her is just not right. No woman should be restricted from making decisions about her own body."

Timberlake and Spears share a long history together. They were in a highly-publicized relationship in the late 90s and early 2000s.

And that does it here for us. I'm Paula Newton. Thanks for your company.

Rosemary Church picks things up from here.

CNN NEWSROOM continues in a moment.

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