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Deadly Wildfires Rage Across Europe; Belarusian Dissident's Mysterious Death; Blast Rocks Kabul Near Acting Defense Minister's Home; China Scrambling to Contain Growing COVID-19 Outbreak; Growing Calls for Vaccine Passports as Cases Surge; Memorial Vigil Marks One Year since Deadly Blast; 1,000+ Spectators Allowed at Olympic Cycling Events. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired August 4, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Hello. I'm John Vause.

Coming up this hour, wildfires sweeping across southern Europe, forcing thousands from their homes, made worse by scorching heat wave which is setting new record highs to summer temperatures.

Also ahead --


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was either murder, or it was -- or it was suicide. Or possibly murder made to look like suicide.


VAUSE: The mysterious death of a Belarusian activist, Vitaly Shishov. CNN reports from the scene of his death outside Kyiv, Ukraine.

And the pandemic ain't over until it's over. Panic buying in Wuhan, China, this week as fears loom of another COVID lockdown.


VAUSE: We begin this hour with a heat emergency in southeastern Europe, fueling wildfires, which is threatening lives, and homes in multiple countries.

Scorching heat wave is either broken or come close to breaking summer highs across the region, bringing the worst heat wave in Greece in more than 30 years. Almost a dozen countries are under heat warnings.

Thousands of homes have been damaged in Turkey, as firefighters struggled to control more than 150 fires. One town has issued an urgent plea for help, as fires inches closer to a thermal power plant.

In neighboring Syria, white helmets are offering temporary shelter for those displaced by the fires in Turkey. The group also known as the Syrian civil defense provides medical care to victims of Syria's long- running civil war but now says it is standing firmly with the people of Turkey.

After a week of risking their lives to contain the fires in Turkey, fatigue is hitting emergency workers hard as well as local volunteers.

CNN's Arwa Damon is on the front lines of the fires and filed this report.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the 7th pass of that helicopter over this one area. It was a tiny little fire starting point that quickly engulfed the side here.

And these firefighters, these volunteers are so exhausted and getting understandably so emotional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday, it was an amazing. We are kind of in the middle of a vortex. That was amazing. Like, I almost called my mom and said, hey, thanks. Yesterday was amazing.

DAMON: And today, you've been fighting, but it keeps popping up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came in at started in the center, it's been starting to spill over.

DAMON: And today, how has today been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today? Worse, because the fire is spreading to the direction of --

DAMON: So, different points now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, small, but getting bigger.

DAMON: You are quite emotional?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, look at it. Look at it!

DAMON: This fire has been moving so quickly, and they are trying to get some of the water trucks to move further down. This is devastating, and it's not just happening here.

Across southern Europe, a number of countries are fighting forest fires, and the conditions there and here as well, we have been experiencing a significant heat wave.

In Turkey, for example, there have been record high temperatures, very low humidity and all of these allow for the fire to move violently and very aggressively, and that is our own doing. That is because of climate change.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Marmaris, Turkey.


VAUSE: CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more on the fires and the conditions also, and what is in store? In the coming days, in terms of, heat and do you have any insight?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There's a bit of potential for temperatures here to cool off, just a few degrees, still going to be at least 5 degrees above average in some areas, close to 10 degrees above average.


So, there is brief cooling in store not much in the way of moisture. But look at the satellite images here, courtesy of NASA looking down across the Mediterranean from about 35,000 kilometers up. This is the geostationary weather satellites across this region and you see the smoke, the haze, and, of course, the activity happening even offshore as the winds blow the smoke away from Turkey. It shows you how expensive of an area of coverage this is that from 30,000 kilometers above you are able to look down and see smoke across the Mediterranean.

We will shift the attention right there towards Turkey and notice the southern fringe of it along the Mediterranean, just since Friday, since last week, going back to the 28th, 154 fires observed across this region of Turkey. We saw a temperature of maximum observation across Europe coming in at 47.1 degrees. That's almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit, hottest ever observed on the continent. You have to go back to Athens in 1977, 48 occurred across that region and temperatures again going to Florida these numbers over the next several days before cooler air arrives.

But just out of curiosity, I look at this, John, and see where the warmest water in the world, was not surprising, you come across Iran and Iraq and you saw the observations there into the middle 40s and notice the area which is this 20 kilometer from the Mediterranean comes in that warmer temperature deep into the heart of the desert. Really speaks to the heat wave and the extent of it here.

VAUSE: Pedram, thank you. Pedram Javaheri, we appreciate that, thanks.

A prominent Belarusian dissident has been found hanged in a park in his home in Kyiv. A police investigation is now underway. Vitaly Shishov led an organization which helped Belarusians flee persecution begin new lives in Ukraine.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports from the forest where the body was found.


CHANCE: We've come here to what was meant to be a park but it's a dance area of forest outside of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital where that Belarusian dissident Vitaly Shishov was found dead, hanging from a tree over here, just a few hours before we got here. So, we've got right to the scene. The actual tree where we understand that he was found by police in the early hours of Tuesday morning, hanging by his neck here.

The police have taken the rev away, but it was hanging from this branch above the ground, maybe 12 feet above the ground. We were also told by the police there was some steps arranged, here makeshift steps using logs, a cell phone that belonged to Vitaly Shishov as well. It's all been taken away by the authorities who are doing forensic tests to get to the bottom of it.

Here, look, you see the forensic teams have left their rubber gloves on the floor here which they've used to pick up any evidence that they can.

Some of the most important evidence is from the body itself, and there's an autopsy being undertaken at the moment. But, according to the latest police report, they were abrasions on the face, and on the knees of Vitaly, like in the words of police, he had fallen at least once. One of his colleagues who saw the body before it was taken away said it looked like Vitaly Shishov had the scars of a violent death.

And so, that is feeding in towards the suspicions that are percolating and circulating around this mysterious death.

Look, you can see there is all bits of rubbish scattered around this whole area. There's been a campfire. It's a place that is kind of used, even though it's quite isolated. It is used by the local walkers and things like that. It is where Vitaly Shishov went jogging several times a week through these forest paths and, of course, he went jogging one morning and didn't come back.

A question of who he was, I think, is relevant, because as I said, Vitaly Shishov was within the Belarusian community in Ukraine relatively prominent. He ran something called the Belarusian House, which helped people escaped from Belarus and escaped the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, and when they got to Ukraine he found them, work help them find housing and things like that.

He also organized protests and campaigns against the regime in Minsk. He was unknown enemy of the authorities in Belarus, and that is to say could be relevant. A mystery of why this happened. The authorities say they are reserving judgment on impact with the police say is at the moment looking at possibilities. This was either murder, or it was suicide, or possibly murder that was made to look like suicide.


Now, everyone in public office here, the prosecutors, the government officials in Ukraine have stopped short of pointing the finger of blame directly at the Belarusian state. But there's been a pattern of increasingly autocratic tyrannical behavior by President Alexander Lukashenko up Belarus. A couple days ago, a Belarusian Olympic sprinter was attempted to be bundled out of Japan back to butler's after she criticized her coaches.

Earlier this year, another butler Russian dissident was flying on an airplane over Belarusian airspace when it was forced down onto the ground in Minsk, and he was taken off it and is still in detention now.

You know, everyone is reserving judgment at this stage about who was responsible for this death. But if it is found to be the Belarusians, the Belarusian state, it would obviously marking a major escalation, in that country's autocracy.

Matthew Chance, CNN, in the forests outside of Kyiv, Ukraine.


VAUSE: Meantime, internationally the committee has started a commission into alleged threats made by Belarusian officials to sprint at Krystsina Tsimanouskaya. The IOC wants to hear directly from the two officials involved in attempt to forcibly send her home to Belarus.

A short time ago, Kristina Timanovskaya arrived at Turkeys International Airport but did not board of late for Warsaw even though she had been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland. Instead, Kristina Timanovskaya boarded a flight for Vienna. It remains unknown as if she will continue on their -- continue to Warsaw from there or whether she will stay in Austria where she is training for the Olympics.

Timanovskaya says she's feared for her life accusing the team of officials at Tokyo Games forcing her out because she criticize them publicly.


KRISTINA TIMANOVSKAYA, BELARUSIAN OLYMPIC SPRINTER (through translator): My trainer said to send me home was not their decision, that it was said to them to do this.

REPORTER: Your message for people in Belarus who are frightened of their government, what do you say to them?

TIMANOVSKAYA: Do not be afraid. Always say your opinion. We have to have freedom of speech and people must say what they think.


VAUSE: The Olympic committee in Belarus said on Tuesday, Timanovskaya was ordered home because of her emotional and mental state, claims rejected by Timanovskaya.

VAUSE: Track and field moves into year on day 12 of the Olympics in Tokyo, as well gold medal up for grabs transports including sailing, cycling, weightlifting, and some of the younger Olympians we've ever seen have made it to the podium for Great Britain and host nation Japan.

Let's go to our young man in the World Sport anchor desk, Patrick Snell.

These kids are kids, and it's looking deja vu at the track, right?


VAUSE: We'll get to that in a moment because we've had some incredible -- the winner was 19, but I'll tell you, what special successes for a 12 year old and a 13-year-old as well, John. But I do want to start with a day that already given us a truly special Tokyo 2020 moment, or should I say, yet another one for the second day in a row, a 400 meter hurdles Olympic final. We got the thrilling finale and to athletes breaking what was the previous world mark in this particular event.

This time, it was in the women's race as the American duo Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad going head to head and focus on them ahead of the race. McLaughlin breaking the road record to win gold in a time of 51.46 seconds and that beating the mark, she set in late June, when she ran it in a time of 51.90.

Meantime, Muhammad who won an Olympic gold in this event in Brazil in 2016, winning the silver medal. Her time 51.58 seconds and here's what's impressive about that, a time that would've surpassed McLaughlin's mark from June.

Even the bronze that'll went the way of Femke Bol of Netherlands in a time of 52, amazingly that now the 4th fastest time ever in the history of this event.

Well, they may well know, Usain Bolt at these games, but Jamaica still with much to celebrate, after Elaine Thompson-Herah completing a historic double-double, adding 20 meters gold medal to the 100 meters crown just as she did at Rio in 2016. Not only did she finish first, this in Tuesday's final, but she was well ahead of her rivals as well, crossing the line in 21.53 seconds, second fastest ever time in this event.

History, by the way, John, also made by Namibian team Christie Mboma who came second. This just weeks after switching from normal event of the 400 meters due to World Athletics DSD rules.


I want to get to world record holder in poll vaulting. Mondo Duplantis telling us right here in fact on CNN that he'd always dreamed of winning Olympic gold since those childhood days spent back in his own backyard in Louisiana.

Well, gold is now his reality for the 21-year-old American born Swede after he sort of over 6.0 meters on his first attempt. By the way, his great rival, double world champion Sam Kendricks not in Tokyo after missing the games due to a positive test for COVID-19. But Duplantis without question, going into this, he was the overwhelming favorite. He did come close to setting another world record, but he was delighted to get the job done and realize that childhood dream of his that I mentioned.

But, all right, John, I know you are going to like this story, it's so compelling. Another golden moment for the host nation Japan, or rather two as they take the top 2 spots on the podium. This in the woman skateboarding park event.

Yosozumi Sakura, who's 19, winning gold. This was just a short while ago and Hiraki Kokona at 12 year old winning silver. Sky Brown, Great Britain's youngest participant in the history of the Olympics at age 13, earning bronze.

By all reports, it was a wonderful contest with everyone shearing each other on and encouraging each other. Great camaraderie and, boy, that is some success. And wonderful talent on the podium. Great to see it.

We're going to be going bigger on that right through the day and, of course, forthcoming editions of World Sport, John, that I know you'll be watching.

VAUSE: I will be watching. How old again? What were the ages?

SNELL: Nineteen, 12, 13.

VAUSE: Oh, my gosh.

SNELL: Incredible.

VAUSE: Babies!

SNELL: Nineteen was the top age, down to 12 and 13, wonderful stuff.

VAUSE: I've got milk over on my fridge.

Patrick, thank you. Patrick Snell, you'll be back with more of the Olympics. Thank you.

But we'll take a short break. And when we come back here on CNN NEWSROOM, the quality and the Olympics. CNN speaks to the first ever gold medal winners in the mixed triathlon.

Also ahead, after a damning report on sexual harassment, calls are coming from the most senior leaders of the Democratic Party in the U.S. for New York's governor to resign.

And the sound of blaring sirens heard after a massive blasts and gunfire in Afghanistan's capital, as Afghan forces lose the battle against the Taliban offensive around the country.


VAUSE: Well, he became a hero during the early days of the pandemic for his direct straight talk. But now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is under pressure to resign, after investigation confirmed allegations of sexual harassment. Eleven women made the accusations, and all women were found credible by the state attorney general.

President Biden did not call for Cuomo to step down when the allegations first surfaced months ago. Here's what he told CNN's Kaitlan Collins now.



COLLINS: And if he doesn't resign, do you believe he should be impeached and removed from office?


BIDEN: Let's take one thing at a time here. I think he should resign.


VAUSE: Biden did not call for impeachment by the least one accuser of Cuomo did. Here's what she told CBS.


CHARLOTTE BENNETT, CUOMO ACCUSER: If he is not willing to step down, then we have a responsibility to act and impeach him. He sexually harassed me. I am not confused. It is not confusing, I am living in reality and it's sad to see that he's not.


VAUSE: New York state assembly launched a probe into Cuomo back in March. The governor has denied the allegations and said Tuesday, he has never made inappropriate sexual advances.

That's the sound of emergency sirens, sounding out over Afghanistan's capital after a car bomb exploded near the home of the Afghan official in Kabul. It was in the heavily fortified "Green Zone" in Kabul.

A government spokesman said that the minister and his family are unharmed but that four attackers were killed. The bombing comes after a Taliban push towards major cities.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Kabul and filed this report.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was just before 8:00 p.m. when that loud blast shook the city, we actually ran up onto the roof, we could hear sporadic gunfire, there was a loud explosion and there were two smaller blasts.

So far, nobody has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. But we know that it happened in the neighborhood, where Afghanistan's acting defense minister lives, we're told that he was not at home at the time. That he has not been injured.

And since that blast, it has been extraordinary to hear, people all across this city have come out onto their balconies, and they have been chanting over and over again "Allah Akbar," meaning God is greatest. They are doing that change in support of the Afghan security forces, and essentially in defiance of this attack on the capital.

All of this happening, as you know, while the Taliban continues a major offensive, gaining momentum and ground across the country.


VAUSE: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling served in the U.S. military for 37 years. He was a commanding general for the U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army. And he is with us now from Orlando in Florida.

Good to have you with us, sir.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's good to be with you, John.

VAUSE: I want to continue with the Kabul attack, which appeared to target the defense minister. The U.S. State Department says these are hallmarks of the Taliban, and had this warning about if this is an attempt to undermine peace talks with the Afghan government.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: They will be a national pariah. They won't have the support of their people. They won't have the support of the international community. And the concern from all of us, one of many concerns -- is that the result will be civil war.


VAUSE: Well, here's a news flash, the Taliban are already international pariah. They don't have a lot of support among Afghans. Apart from China, they have zero international support. None of that seems to bother the Taliban.

But it does lead to the question of civil war. How likely is that?

HERTLING: It's happening. I mean, I don't understand anyone saying it could lead to civil war, it is already occurring.

You know, most Afghan watchers, John, are predicting that people are going to see bad things, in Afghanistan, and there will be tough fights in the cities between the Afghan national army and Taliban. I predict that it is going to be worse than most expected a lot sooner than most expect it, because of the fact that the Taliban have the rural areas.

They are now in circling the population centers, as we saw today in Kabul. They are threatening the population, even though there are some very strong Afghan military that are willing to fight back and some of the key population centers, it is going to be continuous activity, just like you saw in any insurgency, where the enemy or the insurgents are threatening the population and the government.

VAUSE: Well, the U.N. is saying that it stands by, ready to help. But there's a "but".

Listen to this.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESMAN FOR THE U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: We are there to help the Afghan people. But it is up to the Afghan parties to reach a political solution. We and the international community are there to support and guide in whatever way we can. But there are needs to be -- there needs to be a political solution.


VAUSE: So when it comes to a political solution, according to a U.S. diplomat attending peace talks in Doha, at this point, they, the Taliban are demanding that they take the lion share of the power in the next government, given the military situation as they see it. That is not a negotiated political solution. That seems just shy of surrender.

HERTLING: Yeah, let's remind ourselves to the Taliban are. They call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They are the Islamic organization that is stuck in the 14th century. They believe in the harsh interpretation of Sharia law, they have a history of genocide, denial of food, extra judicial punishment.


You name that tune. So, when we were negotiating with the Taliban, without the Afghan government at the table, they were a lot of people that would say, don't expect great results from them, from a diplomatic perspective.

They lied. They continue to lie in terms of what they're going to do. And you can't depend on them, as a representative group of people of the entire state of Afghanistan.

VAUSE: Well, Taliban controlled nine to 10 districts in Lashkar Gah which is the capital of the Helmand Province. And Afghan commander is urging civilians in those districts to evacuate. There's an indication more U.S. strikes are on the way. Elite commando units from the Afghan government are effectively only resistance on the ground.

VAUSE: So, to quote one U.S. military official from Monday, it's not going well.

Then there is reporting from "The Wall Street Journal", the Taliban commander overseeing an assault on the key southern city of Lashkar Gah is one of 5,000 former prisoners released by the Afghan government last year, under pressure from the United States. That's Afghan Western officials according to them.

It seems hard to imagine that this could get any worse. If Lashkar Gah falls, will be the first provincial capital which goes two other provincial capitals are under siege. This -- is this a sign of a domino effect?

HERTLING: Well, I'm not sure because the Afghan army is standing tall in quite a few of the population centers.

But remember, in a press conference that General Milley and Secretary Austin had a few weeks ago, they suggested that the Afghan government would be centralizing their forces -- to fight more effectively against the Taliban and the key population centers.

They haven't had the time to do that yet, the Afghan National Army has been spread across the country, so that reconstitution to defend the major population center is going to be a difficult military maneuver. And unfortunately, most of the provinces that allow the transit of these military forces have been overcome by the Taliban intimidation and killing.

So, it's going to be tough to even have a supply chain, or the fact that the Afghan army can move between provinces to resubmit against the Taliban forces. So, it's going to be difficult.

VAUSE: Yes, the Taliban seem to be on a roll, which, you know, success begets success. And we're out of time though, but good to have you with us.

We appreciate it. Thank you, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, take care.

A defiant tone from Iran's incoming president, Ebrahim Raisi, as the hard line conservative details on some of his policies and priorities on Tuesday. That's ahead of his inauguration, later this week. Our man in Tehran is CNN's Fred Pleitgen.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Iran's political transition is nearly complete as the incoming hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, is officially accepted by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi vowing to try and get sanctions on Iran lifted but not cooperate with countries, like the U.S.

We will definitely seek to eliminate and lift the tyrannical sanctions, he said. We will not make the people's livelihood conditional. We will not tie all these things to foreigners. We will definitely pursue the matters that are immediate issues for us and we are facing today.

Iran faces a multitude of immediate issues, the economy continues to struggle as tough sanctions put in place by the Trump administration continue to take their toll.

Water shortages have recently led to demonstrations, some of them violent in parts of the country, with Iran's supreme leader saying he understands the protesters and that their demands need to be addressed.

Raisi vowing to tackle the matter. These matters have been detected, and I assure the people that the solutions have been delineated, and we have benefited from the views of experts and scholars, and this will be urgently dealt with.

Raisi will take office amid heightened tensions with the West. The U.S., Israel and the U.K. are blaming Iran for the drone attack on the Israeli-linked tanker, Mercer Street, an attack that killed two sailors from Britain and Romania.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are in a very close contact and coordination with the United Kingdom, Israel, Romania and other countries. And there will be a collective response.

PLEITGEN: Iran denies the allegations and is warning against any retaliation. The incoming administration in Tehran says it will get tougher on the U.S. while negotiations are continuing to try and revive the Iran nuclear agreement, Ebrahim Raisi has already shut down any direct talks with Washington. When asked at a recent press conference if he would speak with President Biden, he simply said, no.


PLEITGEN (on camera): Well, Iran's outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani, was eager to improve ties with the West. Iran's new president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, says under his conservative administration, Iran will act according to its own interest and try to become as self-reliant as possible.


Fred Pleitgen, CNN -- Tehran.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Still to come it's back to the future in China with a new outbreak of COVID-19 starting panic buying in Wuhan and entry restrictions for travelers to Beijing. Details in just over two minutes.


VAUSE: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause.

With the growing outbreak of COVID infections, China is once again imposing some tough restrictions. That includes no entry by train or air into Beijing from travelers from cities where high rates of infections. The home-grown Sinovac vaccine has also been approved for children for ages 3 to 17.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us now live from Hong Kong with more. And again, you know, this is what China does when there is an outbreak. They come down hard, we've seen it before.

It doesn't seem to be as effective as it has been in the past?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's going to be a lot harder for China to rein in the delta variant. Look, this outbreak is spreading fast. It's causing alarm. There are scenes of panic buying taking place in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first emerged and the city where the delta variant has been detected.

In fact, early this morning, local government officials have confirmed that the outbreak in Wuhan today is linked to the highly contagious delta variant. It first emerged in the city of Wuhan on Monday, when seven migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Wuhan reported nine locally-transmitted cases of the virus earlier today. China, nationwide, reported a total of 71 new locally- transmitted cases of the virus. That case count is far lower than elsewhere in the world.

But the fact that it spread to 26 cities, 16 provinces across China in the last two weeks, is causing a lot of concern. As a result we've seen these sweeping pandemic restrictions take hold. Millions of people are under lockdown, including in the popular tourist city of (INAUDIBLE) where tourists and residents are not allowed to leave.

You also have tens of millions of people undergoing mass COVID-19 testing in Nanjing, in Wuhan. Also in Jiang Zhou (ph) that was a city where this devastating floods recently took place in central China.

Massive travel restrictions are in place as well. China is throwing the entire pandemic playbook at the delta variant. Will it work? Listen to this.



BEN COWLING, DIVISION OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND BIOSTATISTICS: Yes. China can use its playbook again. It's worked successfully for the last year. The things they can do in China, maybe can't be done elsewhere.

They can use the mass testing, the lockdowns, the quarantines to get delta under control, but it may take a little bit longer than previous outbreaks have taken.


STOUT: And it needs to work. It needs to work fast because, you know, China's very lucrative Golden Week holiday season, it begins October 1st. it's just two months away. And six months away is the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, John.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout live for us in Hong Kong.

Well France is not only tightening COVID restrictions amid surging cases linked to the delta variant, but it's also severely limiting entry to public venues and events for the unvaccinated.

An outdoor mask mandate has been reinstated for vacation spots, including Cannes and Nice. And the country is working to expand its (INAUDIBLE) health passport which provides vaccination status to all public venues including restaurants, bars, shopping centers. France's constitutional council expected to rule on that measure Thursday. The president had this message as cases continue to rise.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): I will be the first to be happy that we abandoned the health pass, the masks, social distancing against the virus. That would mean a very simple thing. It is the battle would then be won and that we would be down the epidemic.

But this is unfortunately not the case. We are facing the fourth wave. We must therefore continue to take measures to save lives, protect everyone.


VAUSE: A few public health officials in the United States have been calling for a type of vaccine passport for a while now. Earlier, I spoke with Arthur Caplan, professor of Bioethics at New York University. He told me why he believes these health passes are long overdue.


ARTHUR CAPLAN, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: We are way behind on the vaccine passport idea. I've been calling for us to create some form of vaccine proof or authentication that's easy to carry and that could even be on an iPhone or an iPad for months.

I don't know why our government won't push this idea forward. I think they fear political pushback. Many states have said they don't want passports.

My argument is if we are going to respect the rights of the vaccinated and we are going to keep America open, as well as permit travel elsewhere, we have to have the ability to prove vaccination.

So not issuing vaccine passports, or state-based cards, only sets us back. It's not getting us more freedom. It's getting us less freedom as the honor system about who says they are vaccinated and who says they're not just doesn't work.

What do you do to enforce it? You basically say, look, I'm sorry, we don't have a vaccine passport. But take that card in America you get from the CDC, take a picture of it, put it on your phone, and you are going to be able to go where you want, more or less. But not come in if you don't have some proof of vaccination.

So the enforcement comes in the liberty. A lot of people who were anti vaccine say they want to be free. They want to be free to do what they want.

That kind of freedom comes with responsibility. You don't kill children, you don't kill the vulnerable, you don't make others sick. You respect the rights of people, if you will, to maintain their health. You get vaccinated.

That's part of the responsibility of having liberty.

VAUSE: New York City is following France's lead and will soon require proof of COVID vaccination for a variety of indoor settings. Customers must show they've received their shots before entering restaurants, entertainment venues, and gyms. That all begins September 13th.

Coming up next here on CNN NEWSROOM, Beirut remembering the victims of last year's deadly explosion at the city's port. On the anniversary of that blast, why are families of the victims still -- still waiting for answers?



VAUSE: Remembering those who lost their lives in a massive chemical explosion near ago today in Beirut, for those whose loved ones are among the thousands who were killed and wounded, for the hundreds of thousands who were left homeless by a blast so powerful it was felt almost 250 kilometers in Cyprus.

There's been no investigation into what happened. No accountability for the officials who allowed thousands of tons of explosive chemicals to sit in a warehouse unattended for six years.

This was a man made disaster, which accelerated Lebanon's downward spiral into economic meltdown. A crisis so bad the World Bank says it could rank in the top three most severe downturns anywhere in the world since the 1850s.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports now from Beirut.

But first a warning, his report contains graphic images some viewers will find disturbing.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): 5:54 pm, Tuesday, the 4th of August, 2020. A fire rages in Beirut ports hangar number 12th. 14 minutes later, this.

One of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history ripped through the heart of the Lebanese capital, killing more than 200 people, wounding more than 6,000, rendering at least 300,000 people homeless.

The official investigation into the blast has stalled. All the questions about how and why this bloodbath happened remain unanswered.

What is clear, however, is that soon after a Moldovan flagship docked in Beirut port in 2013 with 2,750 tons of highly volatile ammonium nitrate. Lebanese officials didn't act on all the warnings that had posed a mortal threat to the city.

A flurry of notes passed around the government, highlighting the danger, but no one did a thing.

(on camera): The most generous explanation for the cause of the Beirut port blast is criminal negligence that what happened here was the result of years, if not decades of corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. The Beirut port blast was not a freak accident.

(voice over): Beirut port has long been described as Alibaba's cave. A dark den of official corruption where Lebanon's political factions share in the spoils.

NIZAR SAGHIEH, DIRECTOR, LEGAL AGENDA: What is negligence when everybody was aware, and nobody acted. What does it mean? That means that there is a total banalization of the public interest, of the public danger.

WEDEMAN: Samyed Durhan's (ph) husband Hamed was killed in the blast and on this day, she has joined the families of those killed at a protest, demanding accountability from Lebanon's leaders.

"For 30 years, they destroyed us," she says. They made us beggars. They impoverished us. They humiliated us, they murdered us."

Investigative journalist Riyadh Kobeissi (ph) has spent years reporting on skullduggery in the port.

RIYADH KOBEISSI, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: What happened on the 1st of August is not a random mistake. It's a system failure. It's a system failure. And those who compose the system, despite the fact the contradiction between them. they are refusing to hold responsibility for what happened.

The 1st of August is a direct result of this cohabitation between the mafia and the militia.


WEDEMAN: Lebanon's caretaker justice minister declined our request for an interview, but provided a statement saying, in part, "I abide by the principles of separation of power, judicial independence and secrecy of the investigation."

Yet Lebanon's track record for investigations is spotty. Over decades, a series of assassinations have rocked Lebanon, followed by investigations and the culprits have almost always gotten away.

But this atrocity was different. Tracy Naggear (ph) lost her 3-year- old daughter Alexandra in the blast.

TRACY NAGGEAR, MOTHER OF BLAST VICTIM: The difference between the death of my child and the death of, you know, the politicians that were killed from 2005 onwards is that Alexandra is a kid. She didn't ask anything from anyone. She was a citizen. She was living in her house. She was happy.

WEDEMAN: And now Alexandra and more than 200 others are gone. After such knowledge, after such trauma, so many here are asking what forgiveness?

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Beirut.


VAUSE: Nazih Osseiran, reports on Lebanon and Syria for "The Wall Street Journal". He is with us this hour from a Beirut neighborhood which was hit hard by that massive explosion a year ago today.

Nazih, thanks for being with us. Protests are planned there for later today. So what is the expectation in terms of how many will take part? Because it seems very few people in Beirut are being spared from the fallout from this explosion.

NAZIH OSSEIRAN, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Hi John. Thank you for having me on.

We expect the protests today to be big. We expect them to be a bit (ph) violent, keeping our very angry at the establishment politicians for failing to provide accountability and (INAUDIBLE) this past year.

But more importantly I think, and I was talking to Alexandra's dad yesterday and he made this point which was these protests are very much a sign of solidarity.

The Lebanese have been going through a very, very difficult year. (INAUDIBLE) being part of the worst economic crises in last (AUDIO GAP) years.

So these protests today are also really about solidarity, about people showing each other that they're there for each other, that they're not alone in this because even though 200 people were killed, and several thousands were injured, an entire country is traumatized. So you have five million traumatized people. So these protests are really about healing and also demanding justice.

VAUSE: Yes. And one of the reasons why there's so much anger there is because there's been no real government investigation. Human Rights Watch has actually done their own, finding a number of senior officials including then Prime Minister Hassan Diab and the director of security, Tony Saliba were the first told on the evening of June 3rd about the chemicals that was two months before the blast. They were told the chemicals were at the port.

Here is more now from Human Rights Watch. Listen to this.


AYA MAJZOUB, RESEARCHER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab told us on that on the same evening he requested that state security finalize and send him their report within days.

But Saliba told us that Diab did not ask for such a report. Diab then told us, "I then forgot about it and nobody followed up. There are disasters every day."


VAUSE: There are disasters every day, but not like this one. So you know, finding the people responsible doesn't seem to be particularly hard.

So what is stalling the government investigation, even though there is a new government in place?

OSSEIRAN: You know, we don't know -- so far, more than two dozen people have been arrested in relation to the explosion. But most of these are very much low level employees.

Ministers, security officials, former prime ministers have not been taken in for questioning. And the reason legal (ph) watchdogs say is because these people control the (INAUDIBLE) of power.

And you know, the Human Rights Watch report is spot on. All concerned city officials knew about the presence of these explosive substances. But all of them failed to act in time.

VAUSE: And it appears that not all the ammonia nitrate which was delivered to the port exploded. Reuters is reporting the FBI's October 7, 2020 report estimates around 55s tones of ammonia nitrate exploded that day, much less to the 2,754 times that arrived on a Russian leased cargo ship in 2013.

You know, the boat that exploded about 20 percent of the initial amount which leads to a couple of questions. What happened to the other 2,200 tons of nitrate? Where could it be? Was it stolen? And how much worse could the devastation have been if the entire amount blew up?

OSSEIRAN: So, right you know, these questions kind of speak to the ambiguity of the investigation, you know. Here we are a year later, and still we're issuing all of these questions (ph) in which we don't have concrete answers for.


OSSEIRAN: We don't know if the ammonium nitrate, the remaining part of it that didn't explode would -- just kind of flew off in the explosion under the pressure (ph) of the detonation.

We don't know for sure if it was stolen and made its way to Syria and was used in manufacturing explosives. We don't know if it was stolen and then taken and sold on the black market. We still have all of these tables (ph) and extensive questions that are unanswered.

But what is for sure is that the fatalities would have been much higher had the entire amount went up.

Also, it's kind of a miracle, a coincidence that the fatalities weren't much higher because of the 500 tons that went off because had the port been just a little bit higher, and had (INAUDIBLE) then based on just distance, then the blast would have spread a much wider area and going to (INAUDIBLE) a lot more damages. Military intelligence officials are interviewed at the time estimated something like 6,000 people would have been killed had the port been just a bit higher or the stack was (INAUDIBLE) differently.

VAUSE: Nazih, you did some great reporting for "The Wall Street Journal". So thank you for being with us. We really appreciate your time.

OSSEIRAN: Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: Later today, "CONNECT THE WORLD" will have stories of dignity, courage, as well as hope as Lebanon marks one year since the port explosion.

Our special coverage Wednesday 6:00 p.m. in Beirut, 4:00 p.m. in London.

And when we come back here on CNN NEWSROOM


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't beat that. We're going to be in the history books forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a quite special to bring home the gold. It's even more special --


VAUSE: Here from the first ever Olympic gold medalist in the mixed triathlon.


VAUSE: A live look there at Tokyo. It's just gone 2:53 in the afternoon.

Coming up on 3:00 there in Tokyo.

Olympic cycling now getting underway very soon with the men's team pursuit scheduled at the start of the coming hour.

And the venue outside of Tokyo will feature something we have not seen a lot of during this games and that would be spectators.

CNN's Blake Essig is one of the few spectators who's there. So what can we expect at the velodrome?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. you know, John right now I'm in Shizuoka prefecture. It's about two hours south of Tokyo.

And this is practically the only part of the country where you can get a ticket to watch an Olympic event. And that is because no state of emergency order has been declared for this prefecture.

Here in about the next hour inside the Izu Velodrome right behind me, there will be, in fact, fans in the stands to watch the track, cycling, and cheer on athletes -- nonverbally, of course.

Fans have been arriving for the past two hours or so by bus. This is an incredibly rare experience at these games, given the ban on spectators at 97 percent of events and 88 percent of Olympic venues.

Now, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been historic for a number of reasons. No spectators at a majority of events, being one of them, but it will also be remembered for a handful of familiar events that came with a little bit of a twist.


ESSIG: And that twist was that men and women competed for gold at the same time. The mixed events featured in Tokyo include the 4 x 400 meter relay on the track, the 4 x 100 meter medley in the pool, team judo, team trap shooting and team triathlon.

I spoke with the gold medal winning triathlon mixed relay team from Great Britain about making history, strategy, and the significance of mixed events making their Olympic debut.


JONAHAN BROWNLEE, MIXED TRIATHLON GOLD MEDALIST, GREAT BRITAIN: It's history. It's the first medal, the first medal of the mix team relay in the Olympics and it's yes, we can't beat that. We're going to be in the history books forever.

GEORGIA TAYLOR-BROWN, MIXED TRIATHLON GOLD MEDALIST, GREAT BRITAIN: It's just really special, yes. Just to be a part of the mixed team relay, the first in the Olympics. That is quite special to bring home the gold, it's even more special. And I think we've just got a great team and we all believe in each other.

ESSIG: You guys took part in one of several mixed events to debut at these games. Talk about the dynamic that goes into the mixed events?

BROWNLEE: Well, I think the mixed events are great for the Olympics. I think it's what the Olympics maybe is all about. Equality, male and female competing on the same course, same distance. And also the team aspect of, you know, you and I competing as a part of the team, and you win together and you lose together as well.

And I know the big thing we had was whatever happened, we won't blame each other. There is no kind of blame culture. If someone has a bad day you lose together. And I think that's really, really important.

ESSIG: Despite the restrictions put in place, the crowd size was pretty large. How did that crowd size play a role in your success?

ALEX YEE, MIXED TRIATHLON GOLD MEDALIST, GREAT BRITAIN: Yes, I mean it was brilliant to have a crowd again. And I guess due to COVID and stuff we've not been able to have many spectators at all the events so far, but to have support and people cheering your name, to be in Japan, and people still calling your name specifically is very cool.

Yes, it definitely helped to have I guess just lift the sport, let alone just our performance.

BROWNLEE: The most important thing is Olympics happened and happened in a safe environment. And that's what we've got. So we're just very, very fortunate and appreciative that it has happened.


ESSIG: And these mixed events are part of a drive by the International Olympic Committee to bring in a younger audience, John. Very exciting stuff to see.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you. Yes, appreciate that. Blake Essig there live for us where the event has spectators -- at an event. Exciting stuff.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

But I will be right back with another hour just a few minutes away. Stay with us.

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