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South Africa's Reservists Called to Quell Violence; England Pushing to Reopen; Britney Spears Back on Her Feet; Indonesia the New Epicenter in Asia; Assassins Hired to Kill Jovenel Moise; Australian States with New Restrictions; E.U. Wants to be Carbon Free by 2050; War In Afghanistan, State Department Saying Slaughter Is Horrifying And Atrocious Act; Taliban Accused Of Targeting, Killing Female Journalists; Many Afghans Living In Fear If Taliban Takeover; Four Iranians Charged With Plot To Abduct U.S. Journalist; Refugee Team Delayed After Official Tests Positive For COVID-19; China's Economy Grows 7.9 Percent In Second Quarter; Crisis In Lebanon, Hariri, Now Is The Moment Of Truth; Parents Reunited With Abducted Son After 24 Years. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, South Africa is calling up new reinforcements as the country struggles to restore order after almost a week of chaos.

A legal win for Britney Spears as she tries to regain control of her life. Her emotional testimony and accusations against her father.

And later, the father who wouldn't give up searching for his kidnapped son. Details on their emotional reunion almost 25 years in the making.

Thanks for joining us.

Well, after days of looting and arson South Africa's National Defence Force is calling all reserved members to report for duty Thursday to help quell the violence. Although the protests were triggered by the jailing of ex-President Jacob Zuma and last week, there evolved -- they have evolved into an outpouring of anger over the economic inequality in the country 27 years after the end of apartheid.

CNN's David McKenzie is live from Johannesburg. He joins us now. So, David, how has politics played a role in this violence, and how is the military dealing with this?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the most pressing issue is the South African National Defence Force saying all reservist must report at dawn this morning. So, presumably, they are already reporting to their barracks to be deployed at the hotspots of this unrest and violence in the country that it's really shocked the nation.

At this hour, there are private citizens protecting their neighborhoods, they have been criticized of vigilantism, those people say they are just trying to protect their livelihoods. Fuel shortages in Durban, the major city on the coastline as well as panicked buying, and that area, as well as parts of where I am sitting. People are left picking up the pieces of what has been a very violent few days.


MCKENZIE: 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 the 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, a city center, it's left gutted. Aerial footage shows the sheer scale of destruction. In this food line, they are only allowed to buy 15 items each, because there just isn't enough.

UNKNOWN: The president, Cyril Ramaphosa has failed the people, and all these government workers that it was the army and the police, have really failed us. It's so sad to see this in communities that protect themselves.

UNKNOWN: We say no to looting of our own establishments.


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

NHLANHLA LUX, SOWETO COMMNITY LEADER: It's been hell. These guys that had been shooting at us for the last 48 hours --

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.

LUX: We said the men in Soweto will rise, will unite, will come together, and make sure that the business, the communities, the women and children are protected.

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

UNKNOWN: Very sad.

UNKNOWN: Yes, mama.

UNKNOWN: We are going to end up not (Inaudible) are going to end not having food for the next coming days and weeks.

MCKENZIE: Dudon Kozi (Ph) forced to pick through debris and run to salvage anything from a pharmacy, but there was nothing left to save.


MCKENZIE: Now Ms. Kozi (Ph) told us she was hoping to ramp up vaccinations at that pharmacy. Of course, South Africa is dealing with a very bad third wave of the COVID-19 virus. They can't do it there. And that's illustrative of the rest of the country where hundreds of shops are being destroyed and looted and now people are asking why it came to this. Why did the authorities wait so long to ramp up security after everything was destroyed already? Rosemary?


CHURCH: Yes. It is an important question. David McKenzie joining us there. Many thanks.

Europe is enduring a stunning surge of new COVID cases. There is a lot of red and dark orange on that map and the country is seeing the biggest increases. Authorities in Belgium say infections there have tripled in the past three weeks. Almost two thirds of those cases are from the Delta variant.

And the Netherlands is dealing with a 500 percent spike in cases in a single week. The government reimpose COVID restrictions Friday, and the prime minister has apologized for easing them prematurely.

And on Wednesday, the U.K. recorded its highest number of daily infections since January. More than 42,000. But England is still pressing ahead with plans to fully reopen on Monday. Authorities say more than two thirds of adults are fully vaccinated.

So, let's cross to Phil Black who joins us live from London. Good to see you, Phil. So England is still pushing ahead to open up fully and that's angered a lot of medical experts. Where is all this going?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For much of the buildup to this day, Rosemary, much of the British press has described it as Freedom Day. To some degree encouraged by the government and statements it has made. A triumphalist return, if you like, to something like the normal way of life.

But over the last week or so, the government's messaging has really shifted. It is now significantly more grim. A lot less enthusiastic. The message now is something closer to yes, the rules are officially changing, but please don't change your behavior too much. Take a listen to the British health secretary.


SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: It's so important that people act with caution and with personal responsibility. For example, everyone should return to work gradually if they are currently working from home. They should try to meet people outside where that's possible. And as expected and recommended that people should wear face coverings, unless they're exempt in crowded indoor settings like public transport. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: So, a big bang return to normal life is now being actively discouraged by the government. The reason why is no one can say with any certainty just how this is going to turn out. It is unprecedented, no other country has made this move in these circumstances.

On one hand, you have exponentially rise in cases, as you say, more than 42,000 recorded yesterday. The government predicts that will increase perhaps beyond 100,000 a day in a just few weeks. But on the other hand, and this is what they think makes it possible. You have an advanced vaccine program where more than 66 percent of the adult population now has two doses.

So, the hope is you can have vast numbers of cases without lots of suffering. Without lots of people in hospital, without high numbers of deaths. And so far, that theory has broadly held true, admissions and deaths are trending upwards. But nothing like the previous waves. That said, this is before that final unlocking of restrictions.

And the scientists advising the government say what happens next really comes down to the people and how they respond? If they enthusiastically returned to something like pre-pandemic living, and alter their behavior very quickly, then the modeling suggests you could still see a wave of hospital admissions that would be equal to or even greater to that scene during the peak of the terrible winter wave back in January.

But the modeling is vague. Because there are so many variables, no one can say with any certainty which scenario is most likely to play out in the coming weeks and months. So, for all these reasons, it is a gamble. The government would say a calculated gamble. You are right, there is strong scientific objection which describes this as reckless. But whatever happens, the English people will be living it in real- time. And the world will be watching. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes, indeed. And one doctor I spoke to said it is a dangerous gamble so we will watch very closely. Phil Black joining us there live from London. Many thanks.

Well, despite these soaring infection rates across Europe, some remain adamantly opposed to vaccinations. In Paris, riot police used tear gas on protesters toppling garbage cans and setting fires. The French president had announced earlier this week that vaccines are mandatory for health care workers, and everyone will soon need a vaccine certificate or health has to go to restaurants, bars and other popular destinations.

The French protest came during festivities for Bastille Day which marks the anniversary of a pivotal moment in the French Revolution.


Asia has a new COVID epicenter, Indonesia. The country's seven-day average of new cases surging as the Delta variant spreads. More than 54,000 new infections were reported Wednesday, a national record. The island nation is now seeing more daily cases than hard-hit India.

Indonesia is also facing a slow vaccine rollout and some experts say if the spread continues, it could push the nation's health care system to the brink of disaster.

Well, CNN Indonesia anchor Yudi Yudawan joins me now live from Jakarta. Good to have you with us. So, how will Indonesia's hospitals likely cope with a surge in COVID patients?

YUDI YUDAWAN, CNN INDONESIA ANCHOR: Yes. If you say that the numbers of COVID cases are getting high. Fifty-four thousand people have been infected during the pandemic since the last 2020. So, this is the highest daily tally numbers especially in Jakarta. Twenty-six percent numbers contribution from this country, especially came from the city of Jakarta.

The government trying to figure out this many in the system, especially due running with the facility of the health care such as giving the emergency health care system, they provide 1,200 -- 120,000 of bed occupancy rate for many other people who had been infected, especially they tried to give an opportunity with others of hospital especially in the private sector hospitals who are in charge with this condition.

And the second one, contributing many medicines especially for the people or for the patient who been stay at -- self-isolated because they cannot get a facility, they cannot get the facility of their hospital during the running of the bed occupancy. Rate is getting lower during the pandemic recently. Especially the vaccine.

The numbers of vaccination is getting high. Last Wednesday, the government statement giving the information that almost 2.4 million vaccination programs had been injected especially for the youngers. If we know that Indonesia need 180,000 people supposed to be get injection before the last 2021 by this year. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. CNN Indonesia anchor, Yudi Yudawan, thank you so much for your insights on that. I appreciate it.

Well, Britney Spears is standing her ground. The singer is lashing out at her father, saying she wants him to be charged. Coming, up the new developments in her legal battle.

Plus, the European Union gets serious about climate change. But turning that bold vision into concrete action is far from a done deal.



CHURCH (on camera): Welcome back, everyone. Well, a big legal win for Britney Spears in her court battle to regain control of her personal affairs and finances. After 13 years of the 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 heard at Wednesday's court hearing.


BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER-SONGWRITER: When I tell them the way I feel, it's like they hear me, but they're really not listening.

RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Angry, traumatized, unable to sleep, that's how Britney Spears says she is feeling with her father in control of her life and her $60 million fortune. Her desire to now press charges against her father comes as Britney called the conservatorship effing cruelty.

If this isn't 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 a 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 had 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.

UNKNOWN: Britney knows that her daddy loves her.

KAYE: Conservatorship are design 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's 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 the temperature over 100 degrees.

SPEARS: It's like, I'm sad. 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.


CHURCH (on camera): Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is in hospital after a chronic case of the hiccups, led to the discovery of an obstruction in his intestines. He won't need emergency surgery, but will stay hospitalized under clinical treatment. He originally complained of abdominal pain and hiccups for more than a week.

The president was sent in for testing on orders from the doctor who treated him after a 2018 stabbing. Bolsonaro claims his condition is a result of that attack.

Well, the mystery surrounding the horrifying assassination of Haiti's president is growing. The head of security at the presidential residence is now in police custody. An associate of Dimitri Herard tells CNN police told Herard the order to hold him quote, "came from above." And that's not all. A retired Colombian soldier claims the man accused of killing Jovenel Moise were actually hired to protect him.

Stefano Pozzebon has the details.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: After 26 Colombians were accused of being involved in the assassination of the Haitian President Jovenel Moise, a retired special forces soldier here in Bogota has told CNN that were actually hired to provide security for the leader, and that he himself was approached for the job by a U.S. base company. According to Matias Gutierrez, the approach came via WhatsApp from a fellow veteran who added him to a group with Allah (Ph) recruiters.


MATIAS GUTIERREZ, RETIRED COLOMBIAN SOLDIER (through translator): They only mentioned the company based in the U.S., and a job as a private security in Haiti. Private security for the president of Haiti.

They were not working in the inner circle. The country would never put the safety of a president in the hands of a stranger. The inner circle is always a group of presidential guards or Secret Service. Our group was uniformed and working in support of the inner circle.


POZZEBON: The Colombian police have accused the Haitian-born American citizen named Christian Sanon to have hired a company based in Miami called the CTU security to hire the Colombians to kill the president. But in Bogota, Gutierrez and the relatives of several of the Colombians accused of the crime believed that their loved ones were victims of a plot, and fear they will never see them again.

And after more than a week since the body of President Moise was found in his residence, there are still many unanswered questions in the story.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.

CHURCH: And now to a developing story from Cuba and a concession from the communist government. It says restrictions on travelers bringing in food, medicine, and hygiene products will be lifted, and custom duties waved for the rest of the year. On Sunday, Cubans packed the streets in protest, frustrated by the economic crisis and a lack of food and medicine.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is in Havana.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Cuban government is continuing to crack down on those protesters who took to the street 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 are 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 is 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 is 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 that they say they will do whatever it takes to maintain control.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.

CHURCH: A crowd in Argentina chanting libertad as they gathered in a show of solidarity days after those widespread protests across Cuba. It's a scene repeated in cities around the world including in Miami, where hundreds turned out for a rally in an area known as little Havana.

And this just in to CNN. Australia's second most popular state is going into a five-day COVID lockdown again, Melbourne and the surrounding state of Victoria will join Sydney in this latest restriction as part of an effort to stop a fast spreading outbreak of the Delta variant. It's the fifth time Victoria, the state of Victoria has been put upon pandemic restriction. The move means some 12 million Australians are now under stay-at-home orders.

The European Union says it has come up with an ambitious and detailed plan to cut emissions on the continent by half by the end of the decade. With the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. But getting all 27 member states on board will be a huge challenge.

We get 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 are calling it the European Green Deal. It is a package of policies that would have huge implications for industries right across the block. The cost of using nonrenewable fuel could soar for businesses in the E.U. due to higher taxes and also lower caps on carbon emissions.


To ensure that those businesses aren't made less competitive than their non-E.U. rivals, the commission 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 over a 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 are set to be taxed for using polluting fuels for the very first time. And IATA which is the association representing airlines have told us that actually taxation they say is counterproductive. They say it could destroy jobs.

So, there's likely to be pushback, also politically. Officials have told CNN that actually getting the E.U. Commission is to agree to the deal was a struggle. And this will need approval from the E.U.'s council and parliament to become law. Decarbonization is going to be more costly for some member states, they could oppose the plans 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 plan could take years to be negotiated.

Anna Stewart, CNN, London.

CHURCH: And time for a short break. When we come back, targeted by the Taliban. One group of women in particular is drawing the ire of extremists in Afghanistan.

Plus, an alleged plot to kidnap a U.S. journalist from New York City and take her to Iran. With court documents suggesting it was all backed by the Iranian government.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHURCH (on camera): Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are now in control of a key border crossing with Pakistan. Witnesses and Pakistani officials confirmed the militant group captured the site with no resistance. A Taliban spokesman tweeted that they seized a large number of weapons and vehicles since the U.S. accelerated its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban have claimed control of almost 200 districts and several important border crossings.

Well, the U.S. State Department is the latest to condemn the allege execution of unarmed Afghan commandoes surrendering to the Taliban. And we must warn you video of the incident reported exclusively by CNN is graphic.


Members of the Special Forces unit have their hands in the air when Taliban fighters open fire on them near the border with Turkmenistan back in June. Witnesses also confirmed what happened. But the Taliban claimed the footage was fabricated and denied the executions happen. The Afghan defense ministry and amnesty international call the killings a war crime. Here is U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The video which I should say we don't have any reason to doubt depicts horrifying scenes. The killing in this case the slaughter of unarmed individuals is -- it's an atrocious act. It's an outrageous sight and of course we condemn it.


CHURCH (on camera): And we are seeing the chilling effects of the Taliban surge throughout Afghanistan. Female journalists are among those also being targeted and killed by the militant group.

CNN's Anna Coren reports from Kabul.


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

Mohammad's world was shattered last month when his wife and two daughters were killed in a car bomb attack. Hazaras, an ethnic minority persecuted by the Taliban and other insurgents groups. They've always been the 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, Mena, 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 into 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. Over the last 20 years the one industry were Afghan women have thrived is the media.

Female anchors presents 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 JOURNALIST 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.

While the targeted killings and death threats have become commonplace here in Afghanistan, it's the deteriorating security situation that is unnerving money in the media industry. But despite these fears, there is a defiance particularly among female journalists who say they will not be silenced.

Among them is Mina's best friend and colleague 23-year-old, Zahara Zadiki. 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.


CHURCH (on camera): Joining me now from Melbourne, Australia is Azadah Raz Mohammad, an international humanitarian and human rights lawyer. Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: We just saw in Anna Coren's report, the targeting and killing a female journalists by the Taliban. And many other women and girls are now in grave danger after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. How inevitable do you think is a return to repression for these women who fought so hard over the last 20 years to get access to education and a better life?

[03:35:09] RAZ MOHAMMAD: It's extremely concerning, because in the past 20 years

we've seen that as you mentioned, we had a hard gain achievement. Today we have women parliamentarian, ambassadors, and also women in security forces. So, it's extremely concerning that we actually will lose all this achievement for the sake of Taliban regaining the country.

And we have unconfirmed reports from the Taliban-controlled territories in the north of the country specifically, the Taliban has actually reimposes their aggressive and extremely discriminatory laws against women. They have banned women from going to work, they have banned women from education as well as leaving the house for just basic commodities and basic needs. So, it's extremely concerning that we will lose all these achievements once if the Taliban, they manage to actually capture the biggest cities in Kabul.

CHURCH: It has happened very quickly, hasn't it? And you have written that the world must insist that negotiations with the Taliban for cease-fire and a governing role for the militant group should also safeguard the rights of women, or else talk of peace will be empty. But realistically, how likely is it that that would happen? And what is the future of these talks after the Taliban allegedly executed unarmed Afghan commanders and seized control of major border crossings and perhaps large parts of the country?

RAZ MOHAMMAD: Yes. Exactly. We still don't know how the Taliban -- what is the Taliban stand on women's rights? They have been repeatedly asked for what is your stand on women's right and what kind of rule you want for women in the future of Afghanistan should you be in part of the Afghan government in the future? They have been reluctant to answer those questions.

And also, they -- like if they (inaudible) the generous insistent to answer this so that, well it should be the woman's right, or the women will be based on the Islamic values. But we all know what Islamic values they have. It's extremely ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic Sharia law that we have seen unfortunately at the end of 1990s and especially right now.

We have a horrifying footage of women being lashed for just leaving the house, under very recently under the territories under their control. And they also claim that the Taliban has changed and now they are motivated. But I think they have become more brutal. As you have seen of the footage of the soldiers being shot at. I think the same is very concerning about women and other ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

CHURCH: How concerned are you that the international community will eventually wash its hands of Afghanistan now that the Taliban apparently have so much control over the country, carried out murderous acts that would surely make talks untenable?

RAZ MOHAMMAD: Exactly. That's the concern right now, because the international community has left, like the soldiers have left the country. Although we have commitments from European Union and as well as American and the rest of the world that they will not abandon Afghanistan, but we need international solidarity.

Especially from the ethnic minority groups and women Afghan women. We need to be here and right now it's very unpredictable of what will happen in the future of these negotiations because as you can see the negotiation -- the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban is going extremely slow.

And then Taliban has been reluctant to attend a lot of these conferences, a lot of these peace talks because they don't want to answer specific questions to a cease-fire, and they have been denying a cease-fire and then they also say that based on the bilateral agreement between United States and the Taliban, they say that we will have a reduction of violence.

But I'm not really sure what reduction of violence means, because according to United Nations reports and also the Afghanistan independent human rights commission's report, the civilian casualties has increased and doubled since they started these peace negotiations. So, it's extremely concerning at the moment, an extremely unpredictable of how the future will unfold.

CHURCH: Azadah Raz Mohammad, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

RAZ MOHAMMAD: Thank you.

CHURCH (on camera): Well, four Iranians have been charged in an alleged plot 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.

CNN's Brian Todd has our report.


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.


CHURCH (on camera): Just ahead, a nation on the brink of economic collapse now waiting to see if its leaders can finally agree on a new government to address the crisis. We will take you live to Beirut.



CHURCH: Olympic hopefuls are making their way to Tokyo for the summer games, which kickoff in just over a week. One group that is not there though is the Olympic team of refugees from different countries. The IOC announced the team would not arrive this week after an official tested positive for COVID-19 at a welcome event in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Tokyo on Wednesday reported its highest number of new daily COVID cases since May, despite the ongoing outbreaks in a state of emergency in the city. Olympic organizers are counting on Tokyo's strict measures to keep people safe.

And CNN's Will Ripley joins me now from Tokyo with the latest. Good to see you, Will. Just over one week until the games commence and we're hearing more reports of infections that could directly impact the Olympics. What is the latest on all of this?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): In many ways, Rosemary, this safety precautions that are in place are designed to protect the athletes just as much as the Japanese public. Because frankly, the number of people who are testing positive coming into the country right now is extremely low. The number that was given yesterday was around 8,000 arrivals and just three positive COVID cases.

So, actually the chances are better for somebody to actually intermingle with a member of the Japanese public who is not vaccinated, given that they are saying around 80 percent of the athletes are estimated to be vaccinated along with many of the journalist. Everyone on my team is fully vaccinated. And yet, we are the ones in quarantine.

When we went over to the Olympic stadium today we had to submit our travel plan in advance and get it approved. We had to drive in our private car, we kept our masks on when we were there, you know at all times. There was one bit of a scare ahead of the arrival of the Brazilian judo team at their hotel outside of Tokyo. Eight hotel staff members have tested positive.

None of those hotel staff had any contact with the athletes themselves, but it just goes to show how at least in these early days of the large crowds arriving, this testing procedure and contact tracing procedure is hopefully working in identifying the small number of cases before there is some sort of superspreader cluster.

Because I've been talking to athletes just in the last couple of days for a piece that we are working on. Athletes who actually caught COVID. And in some cases it was so devastating that more than a year later they still had symptoms and they didn't qualify for the Olympics. So, certainly, just like they want to protect the Japanese public, they also want to protect all of these athletes who are coming in from hundreds of countries around the world. And there will be some, you know, 18,000 athletes and officials living at the Olympic village in Tokyo. So, very strict hygiene protocols in place today as well, Rosemary.

CHURCH: It is a very delicate balancing act. And we will be watching this all the way. Will Ripley, many thanks joining us there.

Well, the numbers are out. China's a County grew almost 8 percent in the second quarter to a year earlier. That significantly slower growth that China reported in the first quarter when the numbers reflected how much the economy had slumped a year before when the coronavirus outbreak began. The second quarter growth rate was a bit weaker than expected, but China is still on track to exceed its annual growth target.

We may find out in the coming hours whether the Lebanese president will accept the formation of a new government after months of political stalemate. Prime Minister designate Saad Al Hariri met with President Michel Aoun on Wednesday to present a list of 24 officials whom he wants as his new cabinet. But the president has rejected all of Hariri's previously proposals and with Lebanon on the verge of economic collapse, Hariri described this latest attempt as the moment of truth.


SAAD HARIRI, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): For me, this government is able to establish itself in the country and to start working seriously to stop the collapse. I wish to receive an answer from the president tomorrow, so that we can build on the matter as required.


CHURCH (on camera): And CNN's Ben Wedeman joins us now live from Beirut. Good to see you, Ben. The moment of truth but while the politicians (inaudible) the people of Lebanon are really suffering right now. What is going on?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, basically, you know, we are now at 339 days since the resignation of the last government in the aftermath of the 4th August Beirut port blast that killed more than 200 people. And what we have had since then is this endless wrangling among the politicians over how to form a new government. And of course, the Europeans and the Americans, have made it clear that Lebanon is not going to get the aid it desperately needs to get out of this crisis, until there is a proper government.


So Saad Al Hariri, who's been -- who is the designate Prime Minister met yet again with Michel Aoun, the president of the republic and submitted 24 names supposedly technocrats and specialists to form this new government. But until now, the president has hesitated to give his approval to this government because he wants at least a third of the cabinet members to be from his political block, which is aligned with his butler that third of cabinet seats would give them the ability to have a veto power over any decisions from the government. So really, the deadline continues, and it's not clear if he will

approve this government. If he doesn't, there's a very good chance that Saad Al Hariri will simply step out of the process, and leave it up to somebody else to form a new government.

However there is pressure building. Hariri was in Cairo yesterday, where he met with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who gave his support to Hariri. Recently the French and American ambassadors to Lebanon went to Saudi Arabia to get their support. The Saudi support for some sort of new government. So, pressure is building, but it is hard to say at this point if Lebanon's politicians will stop squabbling and really start to put out the fire that is Lebanon's economy, going to pieces. Rosemary?

CHURCH: This is the problem, isn't it? I mean, Lebanon on the brink of collapse right now. People are having problems with access to food, power, fuel, medicines, and soaring prices at the same time. They are still recovering from last year's blast in Beirut. I mean, this is critical. People are really hurting there. And these politicians don't appear to understand. They seem detached. What is going on?

WEDEMAN: Well, what you are telling, the brink of collapse -- no, the collapse has occurred. The Lebanese leader which two years ago which was worth 1,500 to the dollar, is now trading at 19,000. Peoples incomes are just worth a fraction of what they were before, but the politicians, what we've seen over the last actually years, is that they are largely indifferent to the suffering of the Lebanese people.

And I think this is why the donor community is so frustrated is that, as the economy collapses, they just don't seem to be in any hurry to form a government. And the anger is mounting. Now what we saw going back to October 2019, Rosemary, was when at the time it was called a revolution, perhaps an uprising that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.

Now they are so busy just trying to feed their families, make ends meet. They don't have the time or the energy to go back to the streets again. But the worry is that if things really get even much worse, there's going to be what is known as a revolution of the hungry. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. Absolutely. Ben Wedeman joining us there, many thanks. And we will be right back.



CHURCH (on camera): Giving up was never an option for one Chinese family, after more than two decades of searching and losing nearly everything. They have been now reunited with their son who was taken as a child. They have also helped dozens of other abducted children find their way home.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout has our report.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Teary eyes and an emotional 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 two decades, the father Guo Gangtang wore down 10 motorbikes and include staggering deaths scouring nearly all of over China in hopes of finding his son (inaudible).

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

LU STOUT: Gangtang could not find his son but along the way he managed to help reunite 100 other abducted children with their families. He's story even inspired the 2015 Chinese movie lost and love.

On Monday police in (inaudible) province said they had found Guo Xinzhen who was living in neighboring Yunnan province and reunited him with his parents. Police said that they had arrested two people who confessed to kidnapping and trafficking Guo Xinzhen. In 1997, Guo's parents told police there boy was abducted near his home by an unfamiliar woman.

Authorities collected evidence but with limited technology at the time the case remains 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, experts made bold innovative moves and broke through various obstacles and technical barriers.

LU STOUT: Child abductions 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 he Guo Xinzhen and his parents.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN.


CHURCH (on camera): An extraordinary story there. I'm Rosemary Church. Thanks for your company. I will be back with more on CNN Newsroom in just a moment. Do stay with us.