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World Health Organization Warns of Rising Cases and Deaths; Cuba Defends Crackdown Days After Widespread Protests; Britney Spears Wins Right to Hire Her Own Lawyer; Alleged Iranian Kidnapping Plot; E.U. Presents Bold Plan to Reduce Emissions by 55 Percent by 2030; China's Economy Grew 7.9 percent in Second Quarter; Many Afghans Living in Fear of Taliban Takeover; Parents Reunited with Abducted Son after 24 Years. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 01:00   ET



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

And coming up, a highly contagious variant and dangerously rates of vaccination in parts now combining to fuel a new surge of COVID infections worldwide.

Britney Spears gets her own lawyer and goes on the offensive in her legal battle with her father over who controls her finances and her life.

And a father who never stopped looking, reunited with his son, 25 years after the boy was killed.


VAUSE: If there is one thing we've learned about the coronavirus, these past 18 months is this: the pandemic can suddenly and unexpectedly pivot off deadly consequences. Worldwide after nine straight weeks of decline, the number dying each day from COVID is again on the rise. Four million lives have been lost to this pandemic and this is where most of them die.

The Americas and Europe have been especially hard hit. What's not shown there is a dramatic increase of fatalities in Africa. Last week, up 50 percent from the previous week. And then there is Russia, shattering its own daily death tolls.

Meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasting a significant rise in hospitalizations in the United States over the next month. Those numbers have also been falling since April. Europe is enjoying a sudden surge in new cases as well.

U.K. on Wednesday clocked its highest number of infections since January, more than 42,000. Despite an advanced vaccine rollout and ahead of England's plans to reopen on Monday.

Belgium cases have tripled in the past 3 weeks, and in the Netherlands, a 500 percent spike in a single week. But despite the soaring figures, some remained adamantly opposed to vaccinations.

Thousands of anti-vaxxers rallied in Athens, chanting "take your vaccines and get out of here". They're angry over the government's decision to require vaccinations for health care workers.

And in Paris, riot police used teargas on protesters for overturning garbage cans and setting fires. The French president announced Monday that people will soon need a vaccine certificate or health pass to go to popular gathering places. The protests came during festivities for Bastille Day, which marks the anniversary of a pivotal moment in the French Revolution.

To Los Angeles now and epidemiology professor Anne Rimoin from UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Professor Rimoin, good to see you.


VAUSE: OK. So, the world is looking a lot like you did in some ways like it was a year ago. Infection rate is surging, many are not wearing masks, not practicing social distancing. Only now, there are effective vaccines, there's a lot of them, and many people have been vaccinated. But then, at the same time, vaccination rates are falling. So, it's a little different.

We lead two potential futures here right now, the worst of the pandemic could soon be over in some parts outdoor, or this could be the eve of another summer surge and our behavior terms of mask and avoiding large groups could all remain determine what happens?

RIMOIN: Well, John, you know, we have good news and we have bad news. The good news is, of course, we have these great vaccines that are there, that are going to be able to help us in terms of being able to prevent severe infection, severe disease, hospitalizations, death.

But the problem is, we've got this much more contagious, much more transmissible variant, a variant like the delta variant that is circulating. This variant is so contagious. It is very easily spread from person to person. And so, we have these unvaccinated people who are at great risk.

But we also have to remember while vaccines are fantastic at preventing us from having those serious consequences of the virus, it doesn't mean that you're 100 percent protected.

And so, we are seeing this virus is spreading globally again, you're right. We're kind of in a similar situation that we were last year.

VAUSE: Well, the latest research has found the delta variant might spread faster than other strains of the coronavirus because it makes more copies of itself inside out, but it's quicker than other strains of the coronavirus. Chinese scientists detected delta viral loads are about 1,260 times higher than earlier strains on initial positive tests. And I want you to listen to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta to explain what

that kind of means in the real world.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are going to start to turn into a situation where you have not vaccinated and unvaccinated in this country. You're going to have vaccinated and infected.


This is an unforgiving variant.


VAUSE: So, well, those clusters of unvaccinated people by choice or because they don't have access to the vaccine, essentially turned into coronavirus incubators for potentially more contagious, more deadly variant?

RIMOIN: This is very possible. I think that what Sanjay Gupta says is absolutely correct. We have people who are vaccinated who are well- protected against these very serious effects and those people who are not vaccinated are at more risk than ever before because this variant is so contagious, so easily transmissible. For those people who are not vaccinated, it means you're much more likely to actually get this virus now than a year ago.

VAUSE: Well, the nurses union in the United States wrote a letter this week. They're warning the pandemic is far from over despite what a lot of people feel and think right now. They're urging everyone to continue to wear face masks, regardless if they've been vaccinated or not. And they are criticizing the CDC for being too slow in recognizing the coronavirus spreads through airborne transmission.

Part of the letter reads: The CDC's refusal to recognize aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2, which is the coronavirus, has led to week guidance, leading workers and the public unprotected. As a result, nurses and other health care workers, in addition to countless workers in every industry, have been infected, leading to many cases to hospitalization, death, and long term health impacts.

It was only in April this year that the WHO and CDC conceded that the virus was airborne. But just months into the pandemic, many scientists were adamant it was. It couldn't be spreading so quickly if it wasn't.

So, this is a big deal and it doesn't seem to be getting the publicity that it needs to be done because people need this information if they are to make the right decisions about their health and what they should be doing.

RIMOIN: I agree with you completely. I think this letter brings up some very important points. The first of which is the issue about masks. And I've been having this conversation regularly with my family, with my friends, with my colleagues. You know, the bottom line is, there's a lot of virus starting to

circulate again and it's fires that is much more contagious. So, wearing a mask matters. Right now, what we have is people who are vaccinated, which is fantastic, but we have all of the social distancing measures, the mask measure, is all going by the wayside and a much more contagious variant.

So, it means that we just have much more opportunity for this virus to spread. It makes sense if you have the option to wear a mask, wear a mask, it's going to double up that protection for those people who are vaccinated so they don't have a breakthrough inflection and get people who aren't vaccinated by choice or because they're not yet eligible.

We have to remember that we have a good 20 percent of the population, all the kids, who are under 12 years of age who cannot yet get vaccinated and a potential for older people who may start to have some waning immunity, who may also be vulnerable. So, it's really not the time to be throwing everything away. Believe me, I, too, would like to take away the masks and to be able to get back to normal life. But we're not just there yet, where the pandemic is not over as much as we wish it was.

VAUSE: I put my mask away for the most part, I've been getting it back out after tonight. And so, Anne Rimoin, thank you. Good to see you.

RIMOIN: My pleasure.

VAUSE: A developing story from Cuba and a concession from the communist government. Restrictions on travel, bringing food, medicine and hygiene products into the country will be lifted, and customs waved through the rest of the year. This comes after thousands took the streets on Sunday, many angry and frustrated by economic crisis, as well as shortages of food, and medicine.

Patrick Oppmann is our man in Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN HAVANA CORRESPONDENT: The Cuban government is continuing to crack down on those protesters who took to the streets by the thousands, demanding change. We've seen videos of heavily armed police entering people's homes and forcibly arresting them. It's not clear how many people were arrested or missing or have been killed. The Cuban government, so far, has only said that one person was killed in a confrontation with police.

They say that on Monday, a protester tried to attack officers and that they killed that protester. It's not clear how long this crackdown will continue. The government clearly seeing this as a threat to their authority, that so many people seem to rise up in a matter of several hours.

Officials seem quite surprised and continue to react over the last few days. One of the ways they've tried to tamp down on these protests by cutting off access to social media and messaging apps. There's been more connectivity in the last several hours, but still,

many of the messaging apps that protesters use to get outward about the protests remain blocked. To Cubans, the Cuban government is not making any apologies about the fact they say they will do whatever it takes to maintain control.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


VAUSE: In Argentina, protesters were chanting "libertar" as they gathered in a show of solidarity just days after Cubans took to the streets.


It's a scene repeated in cities around the world, that includes Miami where hundreds turned out for a rally in an area known as Little Havana.

South Africa is reportedly planning to deploy every 25,000 soldiers to restore calm after days of looting, arson, and violence. Protests were triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma last week, but have grown into outpouring of anger over economic inequality in the country 27 years after the end of apartheid.

Warehouses and shopping malls have been ransacked, but in a sign of a public backlash, residents now arming themselves to protect their property but the violence continues.

CNN's David McKenzie has more now reporting in from Soweto.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the end, after the mayhem, there is nothing left for the looters to take. It's almost incomprehensible what happened here. The alarms are still going off. This was the center of life in Soweto.

It's like a bomb went off here. Everything is destroyed. Everything is taken. And it took just a few hours.

The president vowed to arrest and prosecute those responsible. He called for calm, but few listened.

In Durban, as city center left guttered. Aerial footage showing the sheer scale of destruction. In this food line, they are only allowed to buy 15 items each because there just isn't enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has failed the people and all his government workers, that includes the army and the police have really failed us. And it's so sad to see that the communities have to protect themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We say no to looting of our own establishments.

MCKENZIE: Just describe what it has been like to try and defend this mall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been hell. These guys there have been shooting at us for the last four days.

MCKENZIE: Vigilantes did what the police did not. Nhlanhla Lux says they battled armed attackers through the night to save Maponya Mall, the pride of Soweto.

NHLANHLA LUX, SOWETO COMMUNITY LEADER: We said the men in Soweto will rise, or unite, or come together and make sure that the business the communities, the woman and children are protected.

MCKENZIE: Protected. But now Petronella is forced to buy bread from a truck.

PETRONELLA: Very sad. Otherwise, we're going to end up not -- actually, we are going to end up not having food for the next coming days and weeks.

MCKENZIE: Dudhan Korsi forced to pick through the debris and run to salvage anything from a pharmacy. But there was nothing left to save.

David McKenzie, CNN Soweto, South Africa.


VAUSE: Well, a big legal win for Britney Spears in her legal fight to regain control of her personal affairs and finances. After 13 years with a court-appointed attorney, the singer has been granted the right to choose her own lawyer.

CNN's Randi Kaye has details on the emotional testimony which was heard in Wednesday's hearing.


BRITNEY SPEARS, POP STAR: When I tell them the way I feel it's like they hear me but they really not listening.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Angry, traumatized, unable to sleep. That's how Britney Spears says she's feeling with her father in control of her life, and her $60 million dollar fortune.

Her desire to now press charges against her father comes as Britney called the conservatorship f-ing cruelty. If this is an abuse, I don't know what is. I thought they were trying to kill me, she told the judge.

All of this comes after a hearing last month, where she painted a troubling picture of her life under the conservatorship run by her father, alleging emotional abuse, financial manipulation and forced isolation and medication.

All I want is to own my own money, Britney told the court, saying anyone involved in the conservatorship including her father, Jamie Spears, should be in jail. Perhaps most disturbing Britney's claim that she can't get married or remove her birth control and have a baby without the conservatorship signing off.

The so-called team won't let me go to the doctor to take it out, because they don't want me to have any more children, she told the judge.

Britney Spears was 26 when she entered the conservatorship that was in 2008 after she'd been hospitalized, shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi's car with an umbrella, all fueling concern about her mental health.

Jamie Spears lawyer told ABC earlier this year that he rescued his daughter from a life-threatening situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Britney knows that her daddy loves her.

KAYE: Conservatorships are designed for people who can't take care of themselves. Yet since hers was set up, Britney has released numerous albums, starred for four years in her hit Las Vegas show and headlined a global tour that brought in $130 million. Now, 39, she is asking the judge to end the conservatorship calling it abusive.

Britney Spears has sold more than 77 million albums in the U.S. according to Nielsen music. Yet "The New York Times" reports the conservatorship limits her allowance to $2,000 a week.


"The Times" also reports Britney was made to perform when she was sick with a temperature over 100 degrees.

SPEARS: It was like, it's bad. I'm sad.

KAYE: Earlier this month, Britney's mother Lynne Spears filed a petition to allow her daughter to choose her own attorney, which was prohibited by the conservatorship.

Today, the judge granted Britney the right to choose a lawyer and she's now retained former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart to represent her.

CROWD: Free Britney!

KAYE: Meanwhile, across the country, the movement Free Britney is growing and celebrities are taking notice.

On Instagram, Madonna recently called Britney's conservatorship, a violation of human rights, demanding: Give this woman her life back.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


VAUSE: Britney Spears took to Instagram after the hearing, saying, coming along, folks, coming along now with new representation today. I feel gratitude and blessed. Thank you to my fans who are supporting me. You have no idea what it means to me to be supported by such awesome fans. God bless you all.

Well, hiccups for days have sent Brazil's president to hospital. We have the very latest on what doctors say about his condition and why it could be related to when he was stabbed in 2018.

Also, an alleged plot to kidnap a U.S. journalist from New York City and take her to Iran. Court documents say Iranian intelligence officers hired private investigators to spy on her.


MASIH ALINEJAD, JOURNALIST: When they showed me the photos of my private life with my husband, my stepchildren, my beautiful garden in Brooklyn, it was like wow.



VAUSE: Pope Francis is now recovering from a colon surgery at the Vatican. After a 2-week long hospital stay, he was discharged on Wednesday.

On the way home, he stopped to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray for the sick and he said he is grateful for the successful procedure.

Well, Brazil's president is facing a Senate investigation over his failed pandemic response. His popularity numbers of plummeted and now, Jair Bolsonaro is in hospital with a chronic case of the hiccups, which led to the discovery of an obstruction in his intestines. But we are told he will not need emergency surgery. He was sent in for testing on orders from the doctors who treated him after a stabbing on the campaign trail in 2018.

CNN Brazil's Anne Barbosa has more now from Sao Paulo.


ANNE BARBOSA, CNN BRASIL: President Jair Bolsonaro will remain hospitalized under conservative treatment. The decision was made by the president's medical team after clinical, laboratory and imaging evaluations. At least for now, the possibility of underground surgery is ruled out. And the release by the hospital where he was admitted here in Sao Paolo does not say how long the hospitalization will last.

The President Jair Bolsonaro is facing a clinical condition of intestinal obstruction and was transferred from Brasilia to Sao Paulo after severe abdominal pain and hiccups undergo exams and a new medical evaluation.

In 2018, during the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro was stabbed in an attack that caused wounds to his intestines. Since then, he has undergone severe medical procedures and has been followed up closely. The hospitalization takes place at a time of much political turmoil in

the country, with the investigation of the irregularities in purchase of vaccines against COVID-19.

Anne Barbosa, CNN, Brazil, Sao Paolo.


VAUSE: Haitians are paying tribute to their late president a week after he was assassinated. A small crowd gathered at a makeshift memorial outside the national palace, letting down flowers and candles. The Haitian flag put to half-staff in front of a large photograph of Jovenel Moise.

Meantime, investigations continue into his killing, with the head of security at the presidential residence now in police custody.

An associate of Dimitri Herard tells CNN police told him the order to hold him came from above.

CNN's Matt Rivers has the latest now on the investigation.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The leaders of three different government organizations tasked with protecting the president and/or the places where he spends his time all turned down voluntary invitations for questioning by the prosecutors office, leading the investigation into the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

One of those three men, Dimitri Herard, he leads a unit tasked with protecting the presidential residence. We were able to speak to a close friend who says he is innocent and any suspicions of him are simply politically motivated.

Here's a little bit of our conversation.

The president gets killed on his watch. Why shouldn't he be a suspect?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not saying he should be a suspect, but the main thing is that he should be questioned as a potential suspect yet, but the chain of command does not stop at Dimitri. The chain of demand goes much higher than him. He has bosses and those bosses have bosses. I don't see any of them being fired or being questioned, or for that matter being detained. He's the only person right now that's being detained.

RIVERS: So, after all three of those men declined questioning, it's unclear exactly where the prosecutor's office will go next, what comes next. But what is clear is that the investigation into this assassination of President Jovenel Moise is far from over.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: With investigators trying to piece together the assassination plot, a retired soldier claims the 26 Colombians accused of killing Jovenel Moise were actually hired to protect him.

Matias Gutierrez told CNN he was contacted by another retired soldier who was recruiting a group of private security guards to travel to Haiti.


MATIAS GUTIERREZ, RETIRED COLOMBIAN SOLDIER (through translator): They only mentioned a company based in the U.S. and a job as private security in Haiti. Private security to the president of Haiti. It's impossible they did, impossible they killed the president in cold blood.

The salary was 2,700 per month, once a month. I spoke with several of them after they got to Haiti and they were working fine. I spoke with them and they told me they were completing a job, and the job is private security.


VAUSE: Gutierrez says he stayed behind because of the pandemic.

Four Iranians have been charged, accused of planning to kidnap a U.S. journalist critical of Iran's leadership, and to forcibly take her to Iran. The indictment was unsealed Tuesday in a New York federal court.

And CNN's Brian Todd has details.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Speaking Farsi and showing a New York police vehicle with lights flashing beneath her window, Masih Alinejad says the police have been outside her home for about two weeks.

MASIH ALINEJAD, IRANIAN JOURNALIST (through translator): When I asked them why they were here, they told me it was to protect me.

TODD: And for good reason. Alinejad, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin, is a journalist and human rights activist who is often critical of the Iranian regime.

U.S. law enforcement is now accusing Iran of a brazen plot to kidnap Alinejad from the heart of New York City, and hustle her to Iran, where a U.S. Attorney says, the victim's fate would have been uncertain at best.

ALINEJAD: Now they're trying to kidnap an American Iranian citizen from New York to use me as a bargaining chip, or I don't know, execute me.

TODD: The details are right out of a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie. According to the FBI and prosecutors, the Iranian regime first tried to get Alinejad's relatives in Iran to lure her to a third country so they could detain and transport her back to Iran.


The relatives didn't agree.

So, an indictment says, four members of Iranian intelligence hired private investigators to surveil Alinejad at her Brooklyn home, which she says the FBI tipped her off to.

ALINEJAD: But when they showed me the photos of my private life with my husband, my stepchildren, my beautiful garden in Brooklyn, I was, like, wow.

TODD: The Iranian intelligence agents seemed to get really creative from there. Prosecutors say they looked at ways to get Alinejad to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, then possibly whisking her away in, quote, military style speedboats for self-operated maritime evacuation out of New York City. Then they researched how to take her by boat to Venezuela, which has friendly relations with Iran.

REUEL MARC GERECHT, FORMER CIA OFFICER: It is obviously disconcerting that they would dare to do these operations in the United States, and it certainly tells you that they don't sufficiently fear the United States.

TODD: The four Iranians have been charged with conspiracies related to kidnapping and other counts. They are on the run. An Iranian woman who lives in California was arrested earlier this month, charged with providing money for the plot. She's pleaded not guilty.

This isn't the first time Iranian intelligence have been accused of an audacious plot on American soil. 10 years ago, prosecutors said Iran plotted to blow up an upscale D.C. restaurant, Cafe Milano, while the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. was there. The plot failed.

Are they're going to try out the plots like this on American soil?

GERECHT: Well, unless they are punished severely, I wouldn't be surprised if they try again.

TODD: Both the White House and the State Department have condemned what they called Iran's dangerous and despicable plot to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. Iran has denied any involvement in the alleged plot, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman saying the allegations are baseless and ridiculous and really not worth answering. He added this is not the first time the U.S. has undertaken what he called Hollywood scenarios.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: And earlier, Masih Alinejad spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper about the alleged kidnap plot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALINEJAD: I want to meet them. I left my homeland to come to America, to be safe, and now, I found out that even here in America, in the United States of America, I'm not safe because the Islamic Republic of Iran can easily hire someone here to kidnap me.

It's not about me. I don't want the Biden administration to protect me. I want them to understand that this is the nature of the Islamic Republic. It's not about one Iranian-American citizen here. They are going to deal with a regime that easily, easily killed 1,500 people in Iran protests.

And I just give the voice to the mothers and fathers of those protesters, and that is why actually the government is scared of me. That is actually my crime. So what I'm trying to make clear here is that human rights should be the first agenda. And the U.S. government should stand for universal values, for Western values. So, they should not left (ph) human rights under nuclear deal. That's my point.


VAUSE: That was Iranian American journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad.

Well, still to come, China's economy is still growing but the latest numbers from Beijing reveal troubling signs of the world's second biggest economy.

Also, the European Union getting serious about climate change, but turning that bold blueprint into concrete action far from the done deal.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: The European Union has unveiled an ambitious and detailed plan to fight climate change. It says emissions on the continent can be cut by half by the end of the decade, with a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. But getting all 27 member states on board will be a bigger challenge it seems.

We have more now from CNN's Anna Stewart in London.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: If Europe is to become the first climate neutral continent in the world by 2050, a massive overhaul on climate policy is needed. And the E.U. commission is proposing this -- they're calling it the European Green Deal.

It is a package of policies that would have huge implications for industries right across the bloc. The cost of using non renewable fuel could soar for businesses in the E.U. due to higher taxes and also lower caps on carbon emissions.

To assure that those businesses aren't then made less competitive than their non-E.U. rival, the commission actually proposes some tariffs on certain imported goods. They are calling for a carbon border.

There's a big focus on transport here. That accounts for every fifth of the E.U.'s emissions so no surprise there. Cars and vans are to be emission-free by 2035, which effectively means banning combustion engines and actually even putting hybrid cars on the endangered list.

Aviation and shipping also to be taxed for using (INAUDIBLE) fuel for the very first time and I asked the association representing it. They told us that actually taxation they say is counterproductive. They say it could destroy jobs.

So there is likely to be push back also politically. Officials have told CNN that actually getting the E.U. commissioners to agree to the deal is a struggle, and this will need approval from the E.U. Council and parliament to become law.

Decarbonization is going to be more costly for some member states. they could oppose the plan at the E.U. leader level. And then in the E.U. parliament, there are some MEPs who say it goes too far. This would make the E.U. uncompetitive. There are others who say the proposals don't go far enough.

Of course, any vote in the E.U. can also become a proxy for other divisive issues from human rights to migration to the rule of law. So this is an ambitious plan. It is one that is time sensitive if Europe is to become climate neutral by 2050. But this could take years to be negotiated.

Anna Stewart, CNN -- London.


VAUSE: Earlier, I spoke with environmentalist Bill McKibben, the founder of 35.Org --, I should say. I asked him if the European plan was enough to make a difference. Here he is.


BILL MCKIBBEN, FOUNDER, 350.ORG: We are so far behind in the climate race that we are never going to be going fast enough. We're losing this race in a bad way.

I'm glad that the E.U. and today the U.S. Senate have begun to set on more ambitious plans for tackling the climate crisis.

But as the Greta Thunberg pointed out today, the science is the final arbiter here. We need to go as fast as we possibly can. I mean to borrow a metaphor from the internal combustion age, we have to put the pedal to the metal.

It's good to see these countries speaking up. The problem is that the heat waves are speeding up just as fast.

VAUSE: Just very quickly, do you think that now that the E.U. has made this commitment, others will follow this example because at least something is getting done? MCKIBBEN: I think that it probably ups the stakes for the Glasgow

meeting in November. And I think one of the interesting things that happened today was that both the E.U. and the U.S. Senate began talking about putting tariffs or border penalties or things on countries that aren't taking carbon seriously.


MCKIBBEN: So we are beginning to see this kind of ratcheting up around the world of commitments. We are definitely a lot further than we were -- I mean this time a year ago. We had -- you know, Donald Trump telling us that climate change didn't exist

So we're ahead of where we were and behind of where we need to be, and that's where -- you know, that's the horrible drama of the moment in which we live.


VAUSE: Environmentalist Bill McKibben there speaking to us a short time ago.

More than 60 major wildfires are burning across the U.S. right now. The biggest by far is in the state of Oregon. It's called the Bootleg fire and in the past weeks, it has scorched over 200,000 acres.

The fire preparedness level in the United States is now at its highest point for the first time in a decade. It's been raised to that level this early in the fire season.

Officials blame climate change for the severe drought and high temperatures fueling these fires.

Well, the numbers are now out. China's economy grew almost 8 percent in the second quarter compared to a year earlier. That's a lot less than what China reported in the first quarter, 18 percent, a sign that its economic recovery from the coronavirus might be losing steam perhaps.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong for us. I mean I guess it's too early to know just how the economic recovery is going. It's those quarter on quarter numbers which are going to be more important than the year on year numbers, right.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But it is losing steam. Look, amid the pandemic, China is maintaining economic growth, but the rate of that growth is slowing down.

Earlier today, China announced that its economy, from the April to June quarter, the second quarter of this year, grew about 7.9 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Yes, that is far lower than the 18.3 percent year on year growth that China had achieved in the first quarter.

That was when China's economy roared back to life after the initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic. Economists say the factors fueling the economic growth in the second quarter include recovery in the services sector, as well as strong exports.

But they also point out this. The Chinese economic growth story is changing. It's in fact, slowing down. Listen to this.


JULIAN EVANS-PRITCHARD, SENIOR CHINA EOCNOMIST, CAPITAL ASIA: I think really the story here is that actually because the Chinese economy recovered very rapidly from the COVID-19 downturn, it's basically fully recovered. In fact, it's above its pre-virus trend.

There's just a lot less room for it to continue to grow rapidly, so it's hitting against those constraints and that's why we are starting to see those growth rates weaken quite considerably.


STOUT: You know, China's economic growth is facing a number of speed bumps. It includes surging commodity prices as well as supply chain disruptions. Don't forget, U.S.-China trade tension and sanctions.

But according to Aiden Yao, he's a senior economist with AXA Investment Managers. He says the biggest short-term risk is the coronavirus. Listen to this.


AIDEN YAO, SENIOR ECONOMIST AXA INVESTMENT MANAGERS: The virus represents the biggest short term growth risk. You mentioned the virus outbreak at the beginning of the year along the Chinese New Year. More recently Guangzhou.

If you have these types of outbreaks occurring on a periodic effect, then that is certainly going to hold back the recovery -- consumption recovery.


STOUT: Every additional coronavirus outbreak in China, and there have been a number of flare ups in recent months, it affects household confidence. It affects domestic consumption. It affects the global supply chain, as we see when -- about a month ago when there was that COVID flare up in Guangdong and a major port city.

That said, economists do say that China looks like it's on track to achieve its target of 6 percent economic growth for the year. But it is slowing down. China's economy is slowing down.

Back to you, John.

VAUSE: Just very quickly. When we talk about the coronavirus and the impact that it has on those communities within China, that's important. But also is important is how that affects supply chains world wide and how that causes economic problems elsewhere.

So what happens in China is not staying in China. STOUT: Yes, absolutely. I mean it was interesting and another reason

why we saw that 7.9 percent growth for this quarter was because of exports. And that was because you have lockdowns easing. You have the vaccine rollout taking place in key markets in the West like the U.S. and the U.K.

But the longer that the virus is out there, and when lockdowns return, when there are hiccups in the vaccine rollout, that affects the appetite for Chinese exports.

But also, China needs to rely on its own domestic engine as well. And COVID is a threat to inside China as well as we have seen with the services sector. It's not going to bounce back until families, until spenders inside China feel confident enough that they can go out again and spend again.

Back to you.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout for us as always in Hong Kong. Really appreciate it.


VAUSE: Another major victory for the Taliban and their summer offensive, taking control of another key border crossing and facing little resistance in the process.

That's just ahead. We will go to Afghanistan next on CNN NEWSROOM.


VAUSE: To Afghanistan now where Taliban fighters now control the border crossing with Pakistan. Witnesses and Pakistani officials report the militant group met no resistance from Afghan forces. And a Taliban spokesman tweeted that they've seized a large number of weapons as well as vehicles.

The Taliban now control more than 200 districts and several important border crossings which are a key source of revenue for the Afghan government.

And the U.S. president who ordered the invasion of Afghanistan predicts the American troop pull out will have dire consequences for Afghan women and girls. George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Afghanistan after the September 11th terror attack. He says a return to Taliban rule would be disastrous.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sadly, I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a mistake? The withdrawal --

BUSH: You know, I think it is. Yes. I think -- because I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad. And I'm sad. Laura and I spent a lot of time with Afghan women and they are scared.


VAUSE: We are already seeing the consequences of the Taliban surge in Afghanistan. Female journalists are among those being targeted and killed.

And CNN's Anna Coren has more now reporting from Kabul.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Among the wild flowers and thistles, a sacred place in the heart of Kabul. The distant sounds of the city blocked out by the high-walled compound.

Mohamed Kahiri (ph) and his son walk through the gates. Waiting for them, three mounds of earth, only a month old. They pick up rocks and tap on the gravestones, telling the souls, "I am here, and praying for you."

Mohamed's world was shattered last month when his wife and two daughters were killed in a car bomb attack. As Hazaras, an ethnic minority persecuted by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, they have always been a target of terror.

"When I heard that, I didn't know the sky, and I didn't know the land," he said. "Everything went dark on me."

However, his 23-year-old daughter, Mina, a news anchor at a local TV station, had been receiving death threats for months.

Her blossoming career and appearance on radio and television, a repudiation to the Taliban.

"Since it happened, I really hate this country, but what can I do? I see the future of this country is finished. There is no future."


COREN: Over the last 20 years, the one industry where Afghan women have thrived is the media. Female anchors present the news alongside their male colleagues, an enormous step forward in this culturally- conservative country.

But it hasn't been without sacrifice. The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 53 journalists have been murdered in Afghanistan since 1992. Local groups say the true number is more than double.

NAJIB SHARIFI, AFGHAN JOURNALISTS SAFETY COMMITTEE: We earned our press freedom at a very, very significant cost. I don't think any other country has sacrificed as many journalists as Afghanistan has.

COREN: But the rise of an emboldened Taliban is now an existential threat to many Afghans, including local journalists who know if the militants come to power, they will not be spared.

(on camera): While the targeted killings and death threats have become commonplace here in Afghanistan, it's the deteriorating security situation that is unnerving many in the media industry.

But despite these fears, there is a defiance, particularly among female journalists who say they will not be silenced.

(voice over): Among them is her Mina's best friend and colleague, 23- year-old Zahara Sadiqi. She too has received threats, and while she can't remember life under Taliban rule, this young woman refuses to be terrorized into submission.

"We are Afghans, and we will continue to do our job," she tells me. "The goals that Mina had in raising our people's voice, I want to continue that for Mina.

A voice pleading to the world to never abandon the freedoms this country has fought too hard to achieve.

Anna Coren, CNN -- Kabul.


VAUSE: Zainab Salbi is the founder of Women for Women International, on organization that has spent nearly three decades supporting female survivors of war. And she is with us this hour from New York. Zainab, welcome to the show.

ZAINAB SALBI, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: Thank you, great to be here. thank you, John.

VAUSE: Well, you know, the Taliban it seems with military victory now in sight it's pretty much a return to business as usual. A 34-year-old woman now living in a district under Taliban control recently told Voice of America they want to impose the restrictions that were imposed on women under their rule including not leaving our houses without a male companion and wearing hijab.

You know, in the past year or so, senior Taliban leaders had hinted that they where open to it or maybe they would allow some kind of reform to happen, that they would move away from the Sharia law.

It seems remarkable that anyone could actually believe that this group of religious fanatics would go along with that. They held public executions in (INAUDIBLE) on a weekly basis, you know.

So why would anyone suspect that this group of, you know -- the Taliban will actually change their ways?

SALBI: I don't know why would anybody suspect that actually. And we have a lot of actions to show what they are doing. In the last year since they were invited to be part of the negotiation, they have been consistently assassinating women activists, artists, intellectuals, of course government members but also anybody that they see as a threat. And these assassinations that has happened consistently in the last year has created a lot of tension and a lot of fear, and all throughout Afghanistan.

This is not people imagining fear, the Taliban have already been doing assassinations and the impositions of their old rules in today's world.

And so the fact that they are telling the western world or the U.S. that oh, we are reformed is, I don't know, as you said, why would anybody believe that. And what would that serve us if we believe actually what they are saying to the western world while they're implementing this in the ground?

VAUSE: In other words, it's sort of back to the future, if you like, for Afghanistan in the coming months, which is incredibly sad when you consider the gains that have been made.

But Fatima Gilani, who was one of Afghanistan's peace negotiators had this warning of what could happen if the Taliban returns to power. Here she is.

FATIMA GILANI, AFGHAN PEACE NEGOTIATOR: They will have a right in their own hand to do whatever they like. They could harm not only the region, they could harm anywhere they want.


VAUSE: I mean I took that to mean that a Taliban takeover would not just be a disaster for Afghan women and for Afghans in general. It could pave the way potentially for some kind of another September 11 attack.

SALBI: Most definitely. And a few things here to consider, and what the team are saying on the ground in Afghanistan. So what Afghans are saying.

First is that there is a Taliban which of course, everyone is afraid of them. They're even more afraid of new militias that are emerging. That they're ISIS militias and so a lot of people are more afraid than not knowing of these militias and how dangerous they are.

No one is joining the government's national guards or the national army. Everyone -- not everyone -- those who are joining militias are going either with ISIS or with Taliban because of this.


SALBI: And those who are the moderates, the leaders, the NGOs, the intellectuals are so scared of not only the Taliban but of the chaos that they will bring about with all these new militias that are entering the region.

VAUSE: The U.S. president who ordered the invasion of Afghanistan has spoken out not just about his concerns for women and children living under a Taliban regime, but also the thousands of Afghans who worked with American and NATO forces.

Here is George W. Bush.


BUSH: It seems like they're just going to be left behind be slaughtered by these very brutal people. And it breaks my heart.


VAUSE: You know, the United States was the occupying power in Afghanistan for almost two decades. It's incredible to think that in all that time, no one is thinking ahead, no one thought about what would happen when this day came.

SALBI: He's right to be scared. He's right to warn everyone that this is very sad to witness. And it doesn't seem to be a clear plan on how we're going to do it and that's why I bring you know, development.

The only tool right now we have is to ensure there is more money going into the hands directly of women and girls in Afghanistan. And to protect their access to resources and not to abandon them.

I mean that's -- I don't -- you know, we have international NGOs, all the expatriates are being withdrawn from Afghanistan. You have NGOs who are -- the only NGOs who are staying are the ones who are with local stuff such as Women for Women International and other larger NGOs.

Everyone is worried. Do we have an exit plan? What do we do? What I can tell you is not -- we're not willing to abandon them. We're going to stay with them. we're going to stay with the women until the last breath. And we cannot abandon them -- not for them, not for us, not for the world stability.

VAUSE: I wish you all the luck in the world, Zainab. Thank you for being with us.

SALBI: Thank you.

VAUSE: And the thousands of Afghan translators who helped U.S. and NATO forces for the two decades-long war, moves underway to really take them and their families to safety.

With the Biden administration announcing Operation Allies Refuge. It's still not known how many will be evacuated or where they will go.

With many living in rural areas far from the capital, there are concerns over simply reaching an airport for flights out of the country.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can confirm that flights out of Afghanistan for SAV (ph) applicants who are already in the pipeline will begin in the last week of July and will continue. And our objective is to get individuals who are eligible relocated out of the country in advance of the removal -- of the withdrawal of troops at the end of August.


VAUSE: The Pentagon says 95 percent of U.S. forces have already left the country. President Biden promised during his speech last week to stand with all Afghans who stood for the United States.

Well, coming up here. He never stopped looking. More than 20 long years and now finally, father and son reunited. The incredible story when we return.


VAUSE: The number of migrants dying while trying to cross the Mediterranean has more than doubled in the past year. According to the International Organization for Migration, in the first half of the year almost 900 people died while making the crossing.

If you look at the blue bars on the right you can see that number of people attempting the journey is also sharply higher.


VAUSE: Well, giving up was never an option for one Chinese family. After more than two decades of searching -- a search which meant they almost lost everything they had, they've been reunited with their son who was kidnapped as a child.

They've also helped other -- dozens of other abducted children find their way home.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout has our report.


STOUT (voice over): Teary eyes and an unemotional embrace. This couple cling to their son who was abducted as a two-year-old 24 years ago. The family's happiness marks the end of a desperate search.

Over the last 2 decades, the father Guo Gangtang wore down 10 motorbikes and incurred staggering debts scouring nearly all of China in hopes of finding his son, Guo Xinzhen (ph).

GUO GANGTANG, FATHER OF ABDUCTED SON (through translator): I thought maybe there is a ray of hope to find my son if I go out searching for him. The kidnappers would never sent my son back anyway. If I had stayed at home there is no chance. So since the end of 1997, I began the search for my son.

STOUT: Gangtang could not find his son but along the way he managed to help reunite 100 other abducted children with their families. His story even inspired the 2015 Chinese movie "Lost and Love".

On Monday police in Xiandong Province (ph) said they had found Guo who is living in neighboring Hunan Province and reunited him with his parents. Police said that they had arrested two people who confessed to kidnapping and trafficking Guo.

In 1997, Guo's parents told police their boy was abducted near his home by an unfamiliar woman. Authorities collected evidence but with limited technology at the time the case remained unsolved. But it was never closed.

In June police used new DNA analysis and a facial feature comparison and found a potential match. Then they did DNA testing to confirm that they had found the long lost son.

TONG BISHAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION BUREAU (through translator): Even though the current appearance of abductees can vastly differ from that when they were missing as children, the experts made bold innovative moves and broke through various obstacles and technical barriers.

STOUT: Child abduction and trafficking is a long-standing problem in China. It's not known exactly how many go missing each year. But some estimates say as many as tens of thousands. And many aren't as lucky as Guo Xinzhen and his parents.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN.


VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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