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Heat Waves Strokes Hundreds Of Fires In Southern Countries; Global Cases Top 200 Million As Delta Spreads; 27 Gold Medals Up For Grabs In 12 Olympic Sports; Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi Will Soon Be Sworn Into Office; Protesters, Security Forces Clash On Explosion Anniversary; Protesters, Security Forces Clash on Explosion Anniversary; Mexico Takes U.S. Gun Makers to Court; Business is Booming for Wedding Planner, Dating Apps. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. You are watching CNN "Newsroom", and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, the struggle to control the wildfires burning in southern Europe. Greek firefighters responding to more than 100 of them in 24 hours. We are live in Athens.

Iran's new president officially takes the helm today what Ebrahim Raisi's leadership will mean for the country's relations with the rest of the world.

Plus, a CNN exclusive. Evidence of a possible prison camp for political dissidents in Belarus.

Good to have you with us. For the thread of scorching wildfires is intensifying in southern Europe, as some countries report an unprecedented number that are now burning. Wildfires in western Turkey have breached a thermal power plant. Crews were able to move explosive materials out of the plant beforehand. But there are fears that tons of coal left inside could still ignite.

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed in Greece where the island of area has been hit particularly hard as fire surrounded a local monastery and a dozen villages. Crews are working desperately to suppress the flames around some of the country's ancient sites, hoping to save Greece's history from being consumed.

So let's go live to Athens Greece, where Elinda Labropoulou is standing by. Good to see you, Elinda.

So, just how bad is the situation right now and what is the latest on firefighting efforts?

ELINDA LABROPOULOU, CNN JOURNALIST: Well, the situation is critical on the island of Euboea which seems to be the main focus of the fires right now. At the same time, there are dozens of lasers still burning across Greece, ancient Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympics is currently surrounded by fire. And so there are evacuations in the area as well as firefighters are putting up a tremendous effort.

Here in Athens, they're still -- the city's still covered in this haze. This smoke from a big fire that was put out yesterday after burning for almost two entire days destroying dozens of homes and the air remains very heavy, very difficult to breathe, and having sent dozens of people to hospitals with respiratory problems.

So, what we're really experiencing is just fires breaking out all across the country, in very small spaces of time. It's a very difficult time for Greek says there is a scorching heatwave that has been plaguing the country since last week and is expected to last until the end of this week at unprecedented temperatures. A heatwave worse than anything we've seen for decades, Rosemary.

CHURCH: How are people handling this on the ground? The average person there of course not necessarily have access to air conditioning. And then when it comes to the threat of these fires, what sort of shelters are available?

LABROPOULOU: Well, as you said, not everybody has access to air conditioning of course, and authorities here have really asked people to try and stay indoors at least in Athens because of the big fire, the smoke that has come in from the big fire so close to the Capitol. They're saying the air particles are quite dangerous so people should stay in. And with a window shut as much as possible. Of course when there is no air conditioning, that's particularly difficult right now.

There are shelters in place where people can go and authorities are really putting together a tremendous effort to make sure that you know people are well taken care of but the situation is expected to remain difficult throughout the week until temperatures drop, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Elinda Labropoulou, many thanks bring us up to date on the situation across Greece.

Well COVID cases worldwide have surpassed 200 million as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to strain healthcare systems. Three countries the U.S., India and Brazil account for more than 40% of the cases with Brazil now topping 20 million infections. Globally low vaccination rates remain a concern. Only about 15% of the world's population is fully vaccinated.


As the gap between vaccinations in wealthy and poor countries widens, the WHO is calling for a halt on booster shots until at least the end of September.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WHO: I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta volume. But we cannot and we should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines, using even more of it, while the world's most vulnerable people remain unprotected.


CHURCH (voice-over): And in Japan, with the Olympics in full swing, the country is expanding emergency restrictions to eight more prefectures, as COVID cases hit record highs.

China is also struggling to contain its recent COVID outbreak. The country reported 85 new confirmed cases on Thursday.

CNN's David Culver looks at the measures the government is taking to curb the spread of the Delta variant.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chinese state media calling it the worst outbreak since Wuhan, officials mobilizing across China to stop the rapid spread linked in part to the Delta variant. A handful of confirmed Covid-19 cases surfacing from Shanghai to Beijing. Worrisome given China's zero cases focus.

(on-camera): Here in the capital city you have tens of thousands of residents under strict lockdown. This is one of those communities. The reason we're not getting out is to not expose ourselves to what is a lockdown neighborhood. Behind these barriers, you have folks who are abiding by the stay at home orders and who are once again having to undergo mass testing. The warning from officials is eerily reminiscent of 2020.

(voice-over): A Beijing government spokesperson vowing to block the virus from spreading further within Beijing at any cost. It's leading to a halting of travel in China's capital from affected areas, the list of which is quickly growing.

Among the cities with new outbreaks Wuhan. After roughly a year of enjoying life near normal, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak is now testing each of its more than 11 million residents. Families canceling summer travel plans opting instead to stay home. Several communities sealed off, thousands taken into government quarantine for observation, the lockdowns, the mass testing, strict contact tracing through smartphones, all being enforced once again.

(on-camera): It might all sound extreme, but China's domestic containment efforts along with its tight border restrictions seem to have been working. Aside from a few isolated cluster outbreaks, life here had mainly returned to the way it was pre-COVID.

(voice-over): But officials say a commercial flight from Russia changed that, the plane landing in the eastern city of Nanjing on July 10th suspected of carrying the highly contagious Delta variant. On July 20th, officials confirmed Nanjing airport workers subsequently tested positive. Two days later, thousands of tourists visiting the central Chinese city of Zhangjiajie crowded together to watch live shows. It's believed some of those attending had been infected traveling through Nanjing. Cases then surfaced in several major cities and have since spread to dozens of others. As of Tuesday, the virus has been detected in 16 provinces across China.

It is the greatest test yet of China's post outbreak containment efforts and puts into question the effectiveness of Chinese made vaccines against variants like Delta, while the official number of confirmed cases is still in the hundreds since July 20th. All of the airport staff in places like Nanjing were reported to have been fully vaccinated with Chinese vaccines. Still, many got infected even more concerning several of those sick and are reported to be in severe condition. It has sparked uncertainty and panic buying in some cities, grocery store shelves quickly emptying as folks prepare for this latest outbreak to worsen and new stay at home orders to take effect.

This latest outbreak coinciding with the countdown to the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing gearing up to host the world. The games scheduled to start in six months, a spectator infrastructure is in place, but there's new variant threatening to leave stands near empty for yet another pandemic Olympics.

David Culver, CNN, Beijing.


CHURCH: COVID vaccine requirements could be coming for foreign travelers wanting to visit the U.S. A White House official says the Biden administration is developing a plan to mandate most foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated. It would be part of a phased approach to ease travel restrictions. A timeline has not been given but the official said there will be no imminent changes to current restrictions because of the highly contagious Delta variant.


Olympic athletes are aiming for golden a dozen sports including wrestling boxing, and for the first time ever karate. So far, track and field events have dominated the day.

So let's bring in CNN world sport anchor Patrick Snell. Great to see you, Patrick. So take us through all the highlights.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORTS: Hi, Rosemary. Yes, some great news for Australian sport. I tell you I'll get to that in just moments. I know that will make you very happy.

Twenty-seven gold medals up for grabs this day. I do want to start though with a big shock which came a little earlier in the men's 110 meters hurdle and another golden moment for Team Jamaica if not Team USA. Much of the focus ahead of this race on the world champion from America Grant Holloway who was actually leading until the final hurdle but that's when he seemed to lose his momentum. And it will be Hansle Parchment, who takes full advantage powering his way to victory. This in a season best time with 13.04 seconds. Huge disappointment I have to say for the 23-year-old Holloway who hadn't lost the hurdles race in a calendar year. A silver medal for him there at the Olympic Stadium joy for Jamaica. Meantime, the speedy tracker Tokyo 2020 producing more drama aplenty. This was on Wednesday in the Japanese capital as Canadian star Andre de Grasse going one better than his Rio performance, finally claiming gold in the men's 200 meters. The 26-year-old crossing the line added two Americans including Noah Lyles, the world champion.

And I do want to tell you about the historic first for Burkina Faso at these games. The country's first ever Olympic medal after Hugues Fabrice Zango secured the bronze. This was in the men's triple high jumper earlier, really special moment indeed. Zango saying afterwards, in fact is achievable extra special given that today is Independence Day in his homeland. Gold going the way of Portugal's Pedro Pichardo after he produced a leap of 17.98 meters great moment for him.

Meantime, on this day, the teens continuing their dominance this in the skatepark within the last couple of hours, we've had joy for 18- year-old Australian Keegan Palmer. He takes gold in the first ever Olympics men's park skateboarding competition. The Aussie scoring 95.83 on his final run to take gold, silver go in the way of the young Brazilian Pedro Barros.

And an update to a story that we told you about last week when the American BMX Raising star kind of feels suffering brain hemorrhage this after competing in the Olympic semi finals that really concerning news when we got that. But now we can tell you the 28-year-old is being released from hospital in Tokyo today. Fields, he was actually a 2016 Rio gold medalist. It crashed during his third run last Friday. He had to be stretch it off and taken by ambulance for treatment at the hospital in Japan.

He's going to be returning to his U.S. state of Nevada, where he lives for rehabilitation. Great news for him, we'll be doing that alongside with the love and support of family and friends as well. And we certainly here at CNN wishing Connor all the very best Rosemary at this time.

Back to you.

CHURCH: Yes, absolutely. And I don't want to toot my own horn. But Australia has done very well. When you look at the population, very small population, and they're really up there at the top.

SNELL: Credit (INAUDIBLE), especially in the swimming pool as well. But what a moment for that young skateboarder, 18 years of age.

CHURCH: Yes. Just incredible.

SNELL: Good for him. And your homeland.

CHURCH: Yes. Yes. I wanted to make that point. Patrick, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Were on the first anniversary of the deadly Beirut blast, protesters voiced their anger at the government over the lack of accountability. More of that ahead. Plus, a man known for his hardline approach to the west is just hours away from becoming Iran's next president. More on what this could mean for the rest of the world. We'll take a look on the other side of the break. Stay with us.



CHURCH: In just a few hours from now, Iran's judiciary chief and staunch critic of the West will be sworn in as the country's new president. When Ebrahim Raisi takes office, hardliners will control all branches of Iran civilian government. He has promised to continue his tough stand against the West, putting the future of the stalled indirect nuclear talks in question.

And Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran. He joins us now live. Good to see you, Fred.

So, what does the new leadership of Ebrahim Raisi signal for the country and the world do you think?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it signals that there's going to be fundamental political change both at home here in Iran, but especially also in the foreign relations that Iran has not just with Western nations, but of course, with other countries as well. It was really quite interesting, because Ebrahim Raisi was really known for domestic policies being the head of the judiciary until he was elected. He came out with a very strong foreign policy agenda the moment to that it was clear that he had won the presidential election.

And essentially what that means is that as far as trying to mend ties get better relations, Iran is going to focus on countries that are here in this region, also, for instance, countries in Africa as well. In fact, this morning, Ebrahim Raisi already said that he wants better relations with African countries. He was also talking about relations with Pakistan. And he's talking less about trying to mend ties with the West. Of course, that was always the big thing that the Rouhani administration wanted to achieve was better ties with the West. However, that was thwarted when the Trump administration left the nuclear agreement.

So we can see a real change in Iranian foreign policy. But one thing that will remain the same is that Iran does intend to confront the United States here in this region. Let's have a look.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): With hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi taking over as president, Tehran shows no signs of toning down its foreign policy.

Hossein Amirabdollahian who some believe could be the next Foreign Minister recently told me Iran will follow its own interests even against U.S. pressure. The foreign policy that is balanced with an eye towards all countries, he said, with a logical and at the same time a strong discourse, a discourse that will be able to secure Iranian rights on all fronts.

Iran currently has its own and various proxy forces deployed around the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. is also concerned about advances in Iran's ballistic missile program and wants talks with Tehran about the issue.

In his first press conference, President-Elect Raisi shut that notion down. Regional matters and missile matters are non negotiable, he said.

After a landslide victory in the recent presidential election, which critics have called uncompetitive because many candidates were barred from running. Analysts believe Raisi has the political backing to push through a hardline agenda.

FOUAD IZADI, PROFESSOR, TEHRAN UNIVERSITY: We have a unity within different branches of government and that's going to reduce tension, reduce infighting, reduce disagreements.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While Raisi said he would never speak directly with the Biden administration, indirect talks to revive the Iran nuclear agreement are ongoing, but progress has recently stalled. The U.S. warning its patients is running out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the ball remains in an Iran support.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Raisi will take office amid heightened tensions with Israel, the U.S. the UK and the Israelis, blaming Iran for the attack on the Israeli link tanker Mercer street in the Persian Gulf that killed two sailors. Iran denies any involvement. Israel sending a warning.

Regarding the ship and on the issue of Iran in general, we are working to rally the world but at the same time, we also know to act alone, he said.


Meanwhile other conflicts could be eased, Raisi says he's in favor of improving relations with longtime regional rival Saudi Arabia and move analysts hope could also help bolster Iran struggling economy after years of fighting a proxy war in Yemen.

SEYYED MOSTAFA KHOSHCHESHM, POLITICAL ANALYST: And when we speak of foreign trade, that means deescalation. That means decreasing. I mean, that means they talked with Saudi Arabia with other countries. That's why in his first press conference, after he was elected, he extended the warm welcome to resumption of ties with Saudi Arabia.


PLEITGEN: It's going to be very interesting to see Rosemary where the relations with Saudi ago -- Saudi Arabia ago under the Raisi administration, of course, that standoff between the Saudis and the Iranians over the past couple of years have really influenced the policies here in this region, a great deal. So any sort of detachment would obviously be a huge step that could deescalate large parts of this entire region.

But in general, what you're hearing from the incoming Raisi administration is they want to have a foreign policy that they believe comes from a position of strength, of course, military strength in this region, but diplomatic strength as well, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, we'll be watching closely. Fred Pleitgen bringing us the latest from Tehran, many thanks.

So let's bring in Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you so much for talking with us.


CHURCH: How do you think Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi will change foreign policy and relations with the U.S. and of course, the rest of the international community?

SADJADPOUR: Rosemary, I don't think he's going to change any of Iran's policies substantively. The president of Iran is not the authority. It's the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard. So his disposition towards the United States is going to be hostile. He espouses what they call a philosophy of resistance against America, the rejection of Israel's existence. And I think it's probably going to be bringing in a new team of advisors and perhaps a new foreign minister, who are perceived to be much more hostile to the United States less interested in cutting deals.

CHURCH: Right. Of course, the U.S. is concerned about Iran's ballistic missile program and its intentions. How likely is it that Iran would eventually talk about this issue with the U.S.? Because Raisi made it clear in his first press conference, that these matters are non negotiable.

SADJADPOUR: I mean, the Biden administration's first priority is to try to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which the Trump administration withdrew from. And that was thought to be something that would be pretty easy to resolve, but it's actually proven to be much more difficult.

And so, I think the first course of action for the United States is to, to really try to revive the nuclear deal. And it's likely going to take extra economic pressure for Iran to feel the urgency to make concessions in the nuclear context. And then, and potentially other contexts, like their missile program.

CHURCH: So what would that mean, because as you mentioned, those indirect talks to revive Iran's nuclear agreement are still going on, but with very little progress.

SADJADPOUR: I think the reality is that as long as Iran is able to sell its oil to China, it doesn't feel a great sense of economic angsting urgency that either they have to make concessions, or they could face economic collapse.

And so, I think the Biden administration's intention was to, to try to, you know, providing Iran some early incentives to incentivize them to sign the nuclear deal. But I think it had the opposite impact, they feel less of a sense of urgency. And so, what's likely going to have to happen is, you know, more united international pressure against Iran to first get them to revive the nuclear deal.

CHURCH: And what form would that take, do you think, or should it take?

SADJADPOUR: Well, again, its forms of economic sanctions, curtailing Chinese oil purchases from Iran. And this, we have to put it in the broader geopolitical context of the U.S., increasing, you know, U.S. China tension. And so, one of the challenges for the Biden administration will be to work with China, Russia and Europe, to come up with a somewhat united approach towards Iran. Just very difficult because all these countries have different interests and different views visibly Iran.

CHURCH: Yes, of course. And overall, what impact do you believe Raisi will have on Iranian politics and global relations in the end and how dangerous does the future look under his leadership particularly when it comes to Israel?


SADJADPOUR: Well, the most notable record of Ebrahim Raisi was that of a hanging judge. So he has a very dark history is someone who was sentenced thousands of people to be executed in the 1980s. And so, internally, his policy is really going to be more repression. That's the only way that the Iranian regime can really sustain itself externally. It's going to be a policy of resistance, hostility towards America and Israel.

And in some ways, Raisi's presidency will make it a little bit easier for Iran's adversaries, whether that's Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Republican Party to make the case against Iran, given Raisi's dark past.

CHURCH: Karim Sadjadpour, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: The United Nations is sounding the alarm on the safety of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians who could be trapped in the capital of Helmand Province. The Taliban are now pushing to gain control of provincial capitals. There has been heavy fighting between the militants and government forces in the southern city of Lashkar Gah. The Taliban also have claimed responsibility for the car bombing Tuesday on the acting defense minister's home in a heavily fortified area of Kabul. The Interior Ministry said at least eight civilians were killed. The first flight of Afghan refugees who helped Canadian Forces in Afghanistan has landed in Toronto. They were admitted under a special immigration program because of their work as interpreters and other jobs. More refugee flights are expected over the next few weeks. The government says it will not be releasing details about where the Afghans are being resettled to ensure their safety.

Belarusian's dissidents fear their government will put them in detention camps. And it may have already built one. Ahead, exclusive evidence of a possible camp for political prisoners.

And remembering lives lost. Beirut marks one year since the deadly port explosion.


CHURCH: What began as a peaceful day of remembrance turned into a day of protest and violence. With anger over the deadly blasted Beirut's port as fresh as it was one year ago.


Clashes between protesters and Lebanese security forces broke out after crowds gathered to mark the anniversary.

Earlier in the day, many attended a mass to remember the lives lost last August 4th. That's when hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate ignited at a warehouse setting of the massive explosion that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

Crowds also gathered at the port, the site of the blast, many voiced frustration over lack of accountability.


ADIB MORDAA, ACTIVIST: We need to know who blew them, who start them up. We need to see justice for the victims. Some people lost their dearest. Every one of us lost something inside of them in this horrible and ugly explosion. Even Lebanon's enemies never did something like that to us, but our own leaders did this to us.


CHURCH: The international community is pledging further financial support for Lebanon at a virtual aid conference. Participants pledged $370 million. That money will help address urgent food, water, health and education needs.

Well, French President Emmanuel Macron says his country is among those pledging millions of dollars to Lebanon. He called for accountability just days after the port blast.

CNN's Nic Robertson has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): Emmanuel Macron wasted no time weighing in to Beirut's chaos. Two days after last summer's massive port explosion, the French president issued a demarche for Lebanon's politicians, get your act together and govern.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: I'm here today, I'm going to offer them a new political pact this afternoon and will come back by September 1st if they have not obtained it.

ROBERTSON: Beirut wreaks of despair, years of no government, a collapsing economy, the streets are washed and anger, dismay and now destruction.

Macron's words sounded like salvation, instead, they're proving symptomatic of Lebanon's enduring problem, deep rooted outside interference.

During Lebanon's civil war in the 1970s and '80s, it became an ungodly cauldron of proxy plays. An alphabet soup of Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jews and Palestinian fighters with puppet masters in Baghdad, Damascus, Tripoli, Tel Aviv, Tehran and Beijing, all simmering in Soviet-American cold war rivalries turned Beirut, once known as the Paris of the Middle East, into a wasteland of shelled out, shot up streets.

Back then, in 1983, 241 U.S. Marines and personnel and about 58 French shoulders were killed by two Hezbollah suicide bombing attacks. The U.S. bought blamed Iran, which denied any involvement. Decades later, those and many other civil war tensions remain in play.

MIKE POMPEO, THEN-U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Frankly, Lebanon that the Lebanese people face a choice, bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah dictate your future.

ROBERTSON: Iran's proxy, Bashir, political military powerhouse Hezbollah in U.S. crosshairs for rocketing neighboring Israel.

Hezbollah punching back, blaming Pompeo's boss, President Donald Trump, for sanctioning Iran and damaging Lebanon for looking out for America's interest and not Lebanon's.

HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER: The sanctions and terrorists are a form of warfare against the resistance and we must deal with them as such.

ROBERTSON: At the root of Lebanon's proxy problem is confessional politics. The Christian president, a Sunni prime minister, and a Shia speaker of parliament, a tangled triumvirate foisted on it in part by its then colonial rule of France during the 1920s through World War II.

Today, Lebanon's long suffering population are at their wits and, caught in a vortex where others are wind makers. When Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman thought Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, who's gaining strength, he throttled back billions of dollars of aid to Lebanon, and not long after hustled his proxy.

Lebanon's P.M. sent Hariri to Riyadh where days later Hariri quit, only to reinstate himself when he eventually returned to Lebanon.

The result of these decades of stirring the crosscurrents of Lebanon's interreligious rivalries is in entirely predictable. No functioning government, the economy decimated, food prices driven up, electricity supplies drying up, passions reigniting and little surprise, Macron's post-bomb blast deadline for reform missed.


Europe's patience is running out in part out of fear refugees from Lebanon could flood its shores.

JOSEP BORRELL, E.U. FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: Let me be clear, we have the resources and the willingness to help more. But in order to help more, we need the process of reforms.

ROBERTSON: In exasperation, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief is planning proposals, sanctioning Lebanese leaders to force them to work together.

Days later, billionaire Najib Mikati nominated as the third P.M. designate to try to build a government since the port blast last year, the others, including Hariri failed.

Mikati has led two previous Lebanese governments. This time, it will be harder, not least because Lebanon's confessional millstone has dragged the country deeper into crisis but because old puppet masters refused to untie their strings and free their proxies to work in Lebanon's best interest.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


CHURCH: The Belarusian Olympian who rejected orders to return home is now safe in Poland. Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrived in Warsaw Wednesday after stopping first and Vienna.

Belarusian officials tried to force her to leave the Olympics last weekend after she criticized team coaches. But when her family warned it was not safe to return, she asked for political asylum while at the Tokyo airport.

Poland then offered Tsimanouskaya and her husband humanitarian visas. Belarusians already living in Poland gathered at the airport to welcome her with red and white symbols of resistance.

Well, back in authoritarian Belarus, troubling evidence is emerging of what may be a prison camp for political dissidents. The refurbished facility was found deep in the thick Belarusian forest.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has these exclusive report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: A chilling site not from the last century but last month, a possible prison camp built inside Belarus for political prisoners. CNN obtained this footage of what witnesses said looked like a newly refurbished camp, about an hour's drive from the capital, Minsk.

A new sign saying, forbidden border and entry. A three-layer fence electrified, they said. New moving surveillance cameras, bars and reflective screens on the window of newly rebuilt barracks, no prisoners yet, what looks like a soldier inside and regular military patrols who told our witnesses outside to leave.

One local talked to them anonymously. My friend, Sasha, a builder, told me they have refurbished this place. He says there are three levels of barbed wire and it's electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when the military men came up to me and said I can't walk here.

The building sits on the vast site of a former soviet missile storage facility surrounded by forest. The repairs came not long after defecting police officers released secret recordings of senior police discussing the need for prison camps at several sites.

Not surprisingly, CNN hasn't gained access to the interior of the site, so we cannot definitively say that it is intended for use as a prison camp. But a western intelligence official I spoke to said that was, quote, possible but didn't have direct evidence.

In the current climate, it's tough to imagine what else the camp could be for. Opposition leaders fear it could be used by President Alexander Lukashenko's forces during future protests.

FRANAK VIACORKA, SENIOR ADVISER TO SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: It's not surprising he's trying to build something like a regular prison camp, because the new wave of protests will come up anyway. It can be triggered by his statement, it can be triggered by economic situation, but it will come. And he understands that he also wants to be prepared more than last year in 2020. Now, this is why I would not be surprised if such camps are being built.

WALSH: Belarusian officials declined to comment and have called the recording about camps fake news when it was released saying they followed the law.

These images emerged after a weeks' long crackdown against remaining independent media inside Belarus and dozens of arrests. Inside Belarus, the protest movement is being persecuted so hard, it now holds remote flash mob demonstrations like these, filmed by drones, but some of it is finding ways to hit back, CNN has learned.


These are railway saboteurs apparently in action. They say their operations, the details of which we aren't disclosing, just trigger alarms that stopped trains on the tracks, risking nobody's safety and causing traffic to slow down, they say. We spoke to one organizer. When our skies our blocked, he said, we should block the land as well. The main goal is to cause economic damage to the regime because all the delays cause them to pay huge fines.

This action was carried out, they said, on a key route from Russia to the European Union. CNN can't independently confirm it was effective.

If there is an impact on railway traffic, it could have significance outside of Belarus and here, Lithuania, because so many goods from the east rely on this network to get to Europe.

Signs both side could be adopting new, harsher tactics, and what may await fresh protests as the screws tighten.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Vilnius, Lithuania.


CHURCH: Mexico says it's had enough of U.S. guns getting into the hands of criminals and drug cartels, and now it's taking action against American gun makers in court. That is ahead.


CHURCH: Protesters in India are demanding justice over the alleged rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl at a crematorium on Sunday. The family is part of the Dalit community considered to be India's lowest caste.

CNN's Vedika Sud has the latest now from New Delhi.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER (voice over): A grieving mother calls out to her child, come and hold me again, she says. Her nine-year-old daughter was allegedly gang raped and murdered Sunday evening at this crematorium in India's national capital, New Delhi.

Ever since, locals and activists have been protesting. Placards at the protest site demand justice for India's daughter.

The mother who belongs to the Dalit community, India's most oppressed caste, says she was called to the crematorium by the accused who claimed her daughter had been electrocuted and was coerced into cremating the body without involving the police.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter was raped. The accused didn't let us call the police. The priest is lying that she was electrocuted.

SUD: Four men, including the crematorium's priest, have been placed in custody. The formal charges have not yet been pressed. By the time people from the village intervened, most of the child's body had been burnt, which is now posing to be a problem while investigating the crime.


Have any of the accused come forward to confess that they did rape the victim?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a negative, ma'am.

SUD: Activists say the rape victims and their families hesitate to report rape crime fearing intimidations, like perpetrators of the crime, harassment and social stigma.

An eerily similar case was reported in Delhi's neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh last year, when a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly gang raped and cremated without the consent of her family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Dalit community has been facing such oppression for a very long time.

SUD: As history repeats itself, another bereaved mother begins her long wait for justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want justice for my daughter, I want justice for my child, hang the rapists.

SUD: Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi.


CHURCH: Well, Mexico says U.S. gun makers have to pay for what it caused a flood of American arms flowing across the border. Mexican officials on Wednesday announced a lawsuit against a group of U.S. gun manufacturers. It says that many U.S. weapons not only end up in criminal hands across the Rio Grande but also the manufacturers design and market their weapons in a way that makes them particularly attractive to drug cartels. And Mexico is linking those alleged practices to its surge in homicides over the recent years.

Government officials now say the gun makers should pay for the problems they are creating.


MARCELO EBRARD, MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The companies in the lawsuit provide compensation to Mexico for the damages caused by their negligent practices. The amounts in this case will be determined by a judge with the development and implementation of reasonable standards for monitoring of and disciplinary measures of distributors.

We trust in the judicial standard that will litigate and win over the judge. And we are going to reduce illicit trafficking to those who promote trafficking in the United States.


CHURCH: CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero joins me now to talk more about this. Thank you so much for being with us.

Where does the law stand on a legal battle like this, and is this about the law, or is it more about foreign policy?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, Rosemary, this is an unusual case with a foreign government filing this type of lawsuit against U.S. companies. I do think that the Mexican government will have some hurdles to leap over in terms of being successful with this case.

First, they'll have some challenges as to whether or not they have standing, in other words, a legal right to be able to bring the case in the United States, and second, there is a 2005 liability protection for U.S. gun companies that will also potentially put a block to this case.

So I think there are bigger foreign policy issues at play in terms of the motivations for the Mexican government in bringing this case.

CHURCH: Right. But now, of course, just focusing on the legal side of this, Mexico's government accuses U.S. gun makers and suppliers of knowingly flooding the market with firearms targeting drug cartels. Is there sufficient evidence to prove this is indeed the case?

CORDERO: Well, what the Mexican government has done is they have filed a very lengthy, over 130 pages, of a complaint in U.S. district court in Massachusetts. And so what that has enabled them to do is, in a public forum, an open document that's available to the public in the media, explain the entire case that they have regarding violence in Mexico and the allegations that they make regarding the negligence of these U.S. companies in providing guns that make their way into Mexico for criminal and cartel activities and purposes. And so this provides really a forum for them to be able to make that argument.

CHURCH: And, of course, the lawsuit accuses these gun makers of actively facilitating the flow of weapons to drug cartels and claims 70 percent of the guns traced in Mexico come from the United States. How much will any of this sway the court?

And then, of course, as you mentioned, there is that 2005 law that means that a lot of these gun companies are really protected from liability. So is it just a moot point?

CORDERO: Well, so the 2005 law is going to be a significant hurdle. There have been constitutional challenges to that law, but none of them so far have been successful. And so what I suspect the Mexican government in part is doing here is taking an opportunity where we have a new presidential administration, we have new Congress, to be able to get the attention of the U.S. government to focus on this issue.


So, for example, Congress could revisit that 2005 law. The Biden administration could engage in more diplomatic conversations with Mexico to try to see what, from an executive perspective, they can do to place pressure on the companies to try to stem the flow of these illicit weapons into Mexico.

CHURCH: And if that happens, could you see a future where there would be more lawsuits like this coming from within and outside the U.S.?

CORDERO: Well, certainly. If Congress change the 2005 law, then that can provide many new avenues for litigation to be brought against the gun companies. But right now, they do have that liability protection. And they also -- in this particular case, there is the special issue of whether the government of Mexico, a foreign country, has the ability to bring this case of negligence, the alleged negligence, as well as being a public nuisance, and that they also allege that the companies are providing defective materials that are in defective condition.

So it's a range of allegations. If Congress were to change that law, then certainly that would change the legal landscape for the gun companies.

CHURCH: We will watch and see what happens going forward. Carrie Cordero, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

CORDERO: Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Time for a short break. When we come back, dating and romance in the age of coronavirus, how vaccines are creating a summer of love.


CHURCH: Well, thanks to the vaccine, business is booming and love is blooming this summer in cities across the United States. Wedding planners, jewelers and dating apps

are all getting a piece of the action.

CNN's Clare Sebastian reports from New York.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For Shane Williams, months of COVID restrictions had leading to this moment, and it didn't disappoint.

SHANE WILLIAMS, LAWYER: I originally had it planned for actually December of 2020 in Quebec.

SEBASTIAN: When the pandemic prevented them from traveling, the lawyer from New Jersey used that setback to save up. He hired a proposal planning company, and even added a few diamonds to the ring.

WILLIAMS: COVID, that was such a rough year. It was just -- we were locked in the apartment the whole time, and I really wanted to spend some time and make it special. So I decided to wait until we could come to New York.

SEBASTIAN: Did he exceed your expectations?


SEBASTIAN: For professional proposal planner Tatiana Caicedo, it's been a busy summer and an emotional one. TATIANA CAICEDO, PROPOSAL PLANNER: Very often, clients are saying that his partner went through a lot this year and they wanted to do something nice for them. So, yes.

SEBASTIAN: It's nice to be able to apply that (ph).


SEBASTIAN: After months of fear and isolation, love, it seems, is back. Jewel is reporting engagement ring sales are soaring and Google says search interest in dating hit a five year high in July.

Here in New York, around two-thirds of adults are now fully vaccinated. So, despite concerns about new variants, sunset brings daters flocking to Manhattan's waterfront.


Many who we spoke to, couples who got together during the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It feels like we're just starting to date because we're just now getting to get out and get to know each other in other settings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We still have not seen our first movie together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We met on Hinge in the middle of -- or beginning of May last year, so right in the middle of it all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She swiped left, I swiped right. We've been locked out for so many months now. Now, you've got to enjoy love.

SEBASTIAN: And for the dating apps that made this possible, the summer brings in new marketing opportunities. Dating app BLK, which caters to the black community, releasing this remake all of the previous hit from Rapper Juvenile.

JONATHAN KIRKLAND, HEAD OF MARKETING AND BRAND, BLK: I will say since the release of Vax That Thing Up, we've definitely seen a spike in registrations, like 30 percent more registrations than like four-week prior trends.

SEBASTIAN: And like many dating apps, BLK now lets you filter for vaccination status with its Vaxified Badge.

KIRKLAND: To date, we've had over 180,000 BLK users add the badge to their profile. And we kind of (INAUDIBLE) to our users is that they want to know if their match is vaccinated or not.

SEBASTIAN: So while it's clear COVID changed the way people date, it also helped many realize what matters is the people you love.

Claire Sebastian, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: Very nice. Well, the duchess of Sussex is celebrating her 48th birthday with a little help from her friends.


MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: It's my 40th birthday and I have got an idea.


MARKLE: Really?

MCCARTHY: My first guess is that another photo-shoot under a tree where you're looking very peaceful.

MARKLE: Peaceful under trees, me every day.

MCCARTHY: No, okay. Are we finally getting matching tattoos? I mean --

MARKLE: Well, you know I already have something really similar across my back.

Because I'm turning 40, I'm asking 40 friends to donate 40 minutes of their time to help mentor a women who's mobilizing back into the workforce.


CHURCH: Melissa McCarthy helped Meghan Markle with her special birthday announcement in a video released on Wednesday. The duchess is asking, as we heard, 40 activists, athletes, artists and world leaders to participate in a mentor program for women getting back into the workforce after the pandemic.

Along with McCarthy, pop star Adele and poet Amanda Gorman are among those pledging to give 40 minutes of their time for the initiative. Great stuff.

I'm Rosemary Church. I'll be back with more CNN Newsroom in just a moment. Do stick around.