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CNN NEWSROOM

Evidence of Possible Belarus Prison Camp for Dissidents; Renewed Calls for Justice on Anniversary of Explosion in Beirut; Millions Tested, Movements Curbed as Delta Spreads in China; Medical Workers Quitting Over Arkansas Outbreak; Mexico Takes U.S. Gun Makers to Court; Airline Now Says It Supports Crew Who Taped Man to Seat. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:00]

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NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chilling sight, 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 windows of newly rebuilt barracks. No prisoners yet. What look 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 refurbished this place, he says, there are three levels of barbed wire and it's electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when a military man 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 forests. The repairs came not long after defecting police officers released secret recordings of senior police discussing the need for prison camps at several sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The assignment to develop and build a camp, but not for prisoners of war or even the interned, but a camp for especially sharp-hoofed for resettlement. And surround it with barbed wire along the perimeter.

WALSH: Not surprising CNN hasn't gained access to the interior of site, so we can't definitively say that it is intended for use as a prison camp, but a Western intelligence official I spoke to said that use was, quote, possible, although they didn't have direct evidence.

In the current climate it's tough to imagine what else the camp could be for. Opposition leaders fear its possible use, why President Alexander Lukashenko forces during future protests. FRANAK VACORKA, SENIOR ADVISER TO SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Not

surprising that he is trying to build something like a regular prison camp because the new wave for 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 but he also wants to be prepared more than last year in 2020. And this is why I would not be surprised that such camps are being built.

WALSH (voice-over): Belarusian officials declined to comment and have called the recording about the camps fake news when it was released saying that they follow the law.

These images emerge after a week's 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 stop trains on the tracks. Risking nobody safety and causing traffic to slow down, they say. We spoke to one organizer.

When our skies are 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.

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

WALSH (voice-over): Signs both sides could be adopting new harsher tactics and what may await fresh protests as the screws tighten.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (on camera): So, you can see really there the frankly terrifying climate inside of Belarus. And you have to ask yourself what is that facility we found in the forest if it's not intended at some point to house prisoners.

The horrifying climate inside Belarus that certainly would have been in the mind of the Olympic athlete Kristina Timanovskaya when she told me her grandmother said she'd been criticized on state television for her critical remarks about the Olympic team there, causing her to seek asylum in Poland. She is supposed to talk later on today from Poland. But I think it's the clumsy threatening behavior of the Lukashenko regime towards her that has certainly shown a spotlight on their behavior internally. But remember too, also I think possibly cast a greater pall of fear over that at large Belarusian (INAUDIBLE) those forced to leave the country because of the repression. And possibly the feeling that in Minsk, Belarus feels increasingly confident globally about how far it can throw its repressive tactics -- Kim. KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Great reporting on what could be a really

troubling development there. Nick Paton Walsh in London, thanks so much.

A day of remembrance and protests in Beirut as thousands gathered at the city's port Wednesday one year after a deadly explosion there killed 200 and injured thousands. There are still many questions and no accountability. And as the day went on, the anger felt by many boiled over in the streets.

Protestors clashed with security forces as they voiced their fury and frustration at the government. CNN's Ben Wedeman joins me now from Beirut.

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So, Ben, you were at the protests. Take us through what you saw and the reasons behind the anger now a full year later.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw the protests that coincided with the exact moment, 8 minutes past 6:00 p.m. on August 4th. There were thousands and thousands of people right next to the port for that moment of silence, the names of those who died in the blast were read out. It was the largest gathering we've seen certainly since perhaps the 2019 October uprising here.

But that was followed by clashes with the Lebanese security forces army and Gendarmerie near Martyr Square just off the road that leads to Parliament which is of course now the entire area is blocked with blast walls because of repeated protests.

But what you're seeing is being played out the real anger and frustration with the fact that a year after the blast, the investigation in the government is running -- which one minister just a few days after the blast said would just take five days. It's been a year. His come up with nothing. No one has been put on trial. We've seen senior politicians, members of Parliament, ministers using parliamentary immunity, other forms of immunity, to avoid being questioned.

And of course, this is going on against the background of an ever- worsening financial and economic crisis. So, people are just fed up at this point. And it's not surprising that occasionally that frustration boils over into violence. But as one person was telling me last night, that they can't afford because of the crisis at the moment to actually do this day in and day out because people need to work. People need to feed their families.

But certainly, inside people here, many of them would really like to see this entire political elite peacefully or otherwise be brought down -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, said to see so little has changed. Ben Wedeman in Beirut, thanks so much.

There's growing outrage in India over the alleged rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl at crematorium on Sunday. Hundreds protested in Delhi on Wednesday, including the girl's parents demanding justice. Four men have been arrested, one of them a priest, but they have yet to be charged. Police are investigating this as a crime of caste violence. The girl's parents are part of what is considered India's lowest caste.

Some U.S. hospital workers call it quits over the latest COVID surge. Next, a wave of new patients inundates many and overwhelmed some staffers. Stay with us.

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO DIRECTOR GENERAL: We should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the most world's most vulnerable remain unprotected.

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BRUNHUBER: The World Health Organization is calling for a pause on COVID booster shots for the next two months. It wants to allow time for every country to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their population. The W.H.O. says more than 80 percent of administered shots have gone to high or upper middle-income countries even though they account for less than half of the world's people.

Meanwhile China is scrambling to control a delta variant outbreak with millions being tested in the city of Wuhan alone where the COVID pandemic began of course. CNN's Steven Jiang is in Beijing. Steven, so bring us up to speed on this outbreak and how China is handling it.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Kim, the fact the cluster has now spread to Wuhan is of course both newsworthy and also poignant, that's why we have already seen videos on social media that people are now emptying supermarket shelves to stock up on food and supplies. Because their memory of that three-month lockdown from 2020 still very much raw.

And that city officials are doing what many of their counterparts are doing across the country, which is err on the side of over caution. That's why they ordered a city-wide testing of 11 million residents when fewer than 10 cases were reported. And even now that city reported just recorded some 12 cases. But this familiar playbook of multiple rounds of mass testing and extensive contact tracing, of course, really shows how concerned officials here are about the spread of this cluster which really shows no seen of abating.

The latest figure we got from the government was 94 locally transmitted cases recorded on Wednesday. This obviously pails by comparison to what we're seeing in many parts of the world including in the U.S. But in this country, they hadn't seen this level of infections for months. That's why increasingly we are seeing local authorities reimpose draconian measures we hadn't seen for a long time. Including for example, quarantining thousands of people for just a handful of cases. That happened in Wuhan, but also here in Beijing.

And local officials are also telling their residents not to leave town in the middle of this peak summer travel season. And among the latest developments we are seeing here, national immigration authorities announcing they are going to stop issuing or renewing Chinese people's passports in their effort to further restricting across border travel even though Chinese borders have been largely sealed for well over a year. And the central leadership here is also sending some 20 teams around the country to help local officials close loopholes in their COVID responses.

So, all of this of course, part of the government narrative that all the more recent outbreaks and clusters have something to do with people or goods from overseas. That's why securing borders remains a top priority. And of course, it also indicates that they will stick to their current approach of zero tolerance towards locally transmitted cases even though there are growing questions about the long-term sustainability of this policy -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks for that, Steven Jiang in Beijing.

And of course, the U.S. is also fighting a huge outbreak. And one hot spot is Arkansas, where the virus is spreading so fast, there are only 25 ICU beds left available. As Martin Savidge reports, some medical workers find it too much to handle.

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MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Greg Thompson, surging COVID cases have made every day a disaster.

GREG THOMPSON, RUNS AMBULANCE SERVICE: A slow-moving mass casualty event, yes.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He runs the ambulance service for Little Rock and Central Arkansas. But his ambulances are running out of places to take patients. Computers track hospital availability. Red means they're full.

[04:45:00]

It's the reddest day they have ever seen.

For Dr. Cam Patterson, every day is a challenge.

DR. CAM PATTERSON, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS FOR MEDICAL SCIENCES: We are down over 200 nurses, empty positions that we can fill.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): As chancellor at the University of Arkansas for medical sciences, part of his duties includes overseeing Arkansas's only level one trauma center. He says the latest surge is pushing his health care workers to the breaking point.

PATTERSON: We've had people literally walk off the job, because I couldn't take it anymore.

SAVIDGE: Somebody walking off of their shift at this hospital?

PATTERSON: We've had people -- we've had people walk off their shift in the middle of the shift, as distressing as that is, because they just cannot take it anymore.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): They now have three COVID wards that could add more beds, but like most hospitals, they can't add more staff.

SAVIDGE: Did you ever anticipate that the worst surge would be at a time when there was a vaccine?

PATTERSON: No.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): What's different this surge health care workers say is the frustration that it shouldn't be happening, not with the vaccine, not in summer. This was supposed to be their break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everyone thought that.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Instead, Arkansas's vaccination rate has remained low and daily new COVID hospitalizations have exploded.

SAVIDGE: Overwhelmingly, most of the patients are unvaccinated. How do you not get angry?

DR. MARC PHAN, ER AND ICU DOCTOR: I try to respect everyone's decision. I know there is a lot of misinformation.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Being an intensive care and emergency room physician is all Dr. Marc Phan ever wanted, or so he thought.

SAVIDGE: I just wanted to read a tweet that you put out. And you said, not going to lie, this has sped up my thoughts of retiring from healthcare by a few years. What's going on?

PHAN: It gave me second thoughts on, you know, what I'm going to do entire -- the rest of my life.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He sees the constant stress stealing his coworkers' passion for their job, and compassion for their patients.

SAVIDGE: Burnout, do you see it? Do you hear about it?

PHAN: Oh, it's constant.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): As a new nurse, COVID is the only life Takela Garner has ever known.

TAKELA GARDNER, NURSE: I feel like it's taking over.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): In 18 months, she's seen as many people die as most nurses before COVID saw in a career. And it's taking its toll.

SAVIDGE: Have you had days where you did not want to come to work? GARDNER: Yes, yes, I've had moments where I have sat in my car and cried before I came to work, before I came in. I literally just sit there and cry.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Martin Savidge, CNN, Little Rock, Arkansas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: 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 vaccines for most foreign visitors. It would be part of a phased approach to ease travel restrictions. No timeline yet, but we're hearing there will be no imminent changes to current measures due to the highly contagious delta variant.

Now while new infections are soaring in the U.S., parts of Europe are heading in the opposite direction. That has England, Scotland and Northern Ireland ready to allow more visitors. Starting Sunday, Germany, Austria and five other countries will be added to the green list, that means travelers returning to those parts of the U.K. won't have to quarantine unless they test positive for COVID. And people arriving from France will be exempt if they're fully vaccinated.

Well, this incident of air rage ends with a passenger taped to his seat. The story of what led to this and how airlines are rethinking midair safety, coming up on CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.

[04:50:00]

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BRUNHUBER: Mexico is taking U.S. gun makers to court over what it calls a flood of weapons flowing across the border. A lawsuit the Mexican government filed Wednesday says that many U.S. weapons not only end in criminal hands but 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 years. But as CNN legal analyst says it'll be a long court battle for Mexico.

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CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: 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. companies -- U.S. gun companies that will also potentially put a block to this case.

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BRUNHUBER: Another battle that is going on is taking place in the air. In the latest case of air rage, a passenger is accused of assaulting flight attendants and then finally had to tape him to his seat. Pete Muntean has more on that.

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PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New video from a weekend Frontier Airlines flight shows what attendants called the ugliest case of an unruly passenger yet. Miami-Dade police alleged that passenger Maxwell Berry ordered two drinks, spilled a third on himself, emerged from the bathroom shirtless, then groped the breasts of two flight attendants. Police say a third flight attendant was assigned to watch Berry when he started throwing punches.

Video then shows a flight attendant taping the passenger to his seat prompting Frontier to initially suspend its flight crew from the job.

TYRI SQUYRES, FRONTIER AIRLINES: After an incident like this we're going to do a thorough investigation and really review what happened, how it happened and how it was handled.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Now in a new statement, the airline says it is supporting the crew and the prosecution of Berry by law enforcement, an announcement that came after criticism from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants.

SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: All the crew had on board that flight for any kind of restraint was duct tape.

[04:55:00]

And so, if we want flight attendants to be using other procedures, then we have to make that possible for them to have other tools and procedures to use.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The TSA is restarting flight attendants' self- defense training as in-flight issues are becoming more common. Of 3,700 cases reported to the FAA this year, so far, only 99 have triggered enforcement action. Police have already charged Berry with three counts of battery. But flight attendants say prosecution of other problem passengers needs to be just as swift.

MUNTEAN: Are you scared?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes, a little bit, yeah. You get on a plane full of people and some of them aren't very happy and you just never know what's going to happen.

MUNTEAN: One flight attendant union surveyed 5,000 of its members and 85 percent of them reported dealing with an unruly passenger just this year. Just shy in one of every five reported a passenger becoming physical with them. By the way, the passenger in this case, 22-year- old Maxwell Berry of Ohio, is not returning our requests for comment.

Pete Muntean, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: One man's trash is another man's treasure, but for one Ohio family, that luckily wasn't the case. While cleaning out their grandmother's house, this family accidentally threw out $25,000 that was kept in an envelope. Now it could have ended in disaster, but thankfully they called the waste collection company just in time. Listen to this.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Couldn't believe it, took ten minutes and I seen a man that looked like that, pulled it off, opened it up and there was a package inside with the money in it. They were so happy. They were tearing up.

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BRUNHUBER: Well, it was a happy ending for this family. The company says that it is rare to find something a customer has mistakenly thrown away. Kudos to those honest workers there.

I'm Kim Brunhuber at CNN Center in Atlanta. Thanks so much for watching. "EARLY START" is next.

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