Return to Transcripts main page


At Least 70 People Killed in Dhaka Fire; Pope Francis Delivers Opening Prayer At The Summit; Haitians Fed Up With Country's Economic woes; Zimbabwe Faces Shortage Of Bread; Sisters In Limbo; Inferno in Bangladesh Killed 70 People; Mueller Probe is About to End; Bad Decision Resulted to Regrets; U.S. and China Working to End Trade War. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 21, 2019 - 03:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The Vatican holds an unprecedented summit. Catholic leaders get ready to address sexual abuse by clergy.

And a deadly fire ripped through a neighborhood in the Bangladesh capital destroying buildings and killing dozens of people.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would the highest-ranking Saudi official in Hong Kong personally allegedly intervene in the travel of two adult Saudi women?

CNN reached out multiple times to the foreign ministry in Riyadh and the consulate here in Hong Kong and got no answer at all.


CHURCH: In a CNN exclusive, we hear from two sisters stuck inside an airport as they try to escape alleged abuse from their family in Saudi Arabia.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church, and this is CNN Newsroom.

At this hour, an unprecedented gathering is taking at the Vatican. Pope Francis is delivering the opening prayer at a summit of about 200 church leaders who are meeting to address sexual abuse by the clergy.

The church is facing a number of scandals including the sexual abuse of nuns by the clergy and top leadership admitting they made errors in judgment in handling the abuse of children.

Well, our Rosa Flores is in Rome. She is covering this and joins us now with the very latest. So, Rosa what -- what's the scene there at the summit? And how is the Vatican dealing with the high expectations coming from sexual abuse survivors who want to see more progress made than the summit is apparently able to offer.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, and we have those live pictures, because this unprecedented summit has actually just kicked off. And it kicks off with a prayer. We're expecting Pope Francis to have some opening remarks as well. He will also make some closing remarks at the end of this four-day summit.

The expectations extremely high. The stakes extremely high. Cardinal Cupich from Chicago, one of the organizers of the summit called this a turning point. Other people have called this a watershed moment for the church because it has been a tumultuous year for the church.

About a year ago this scandal kicked off in Chile after Pope Francis make some off-the-cuff remarks on the sidelines of his visit to that country. That of course led to led to all of the bishops being summoned here to the Vatican and all of them actually offering their resignation.

So, about the expectations of the summit, we talked to survivors that have descended from every part of the world. Making demands to the pontiff, to the people at the Vatican to the bishops who will be here. One main demand is zero-tolerance.

But here the nuance. Its zero-tolerance not just for abusers but for the people who cover up abuse. And of course, they point the finger at the bishops who are participating, some of the bishops. Not all of them. But some of them who have been participating and will participate in this summit. Take a listen.


PETER ISELY, FOUNDING MEMBER, ENDING CLERGY ABUSE: Now we made our demands. Have we think that's the demands of not just survivors but the people everywhere for zero-tolerance, that we end this summit and its universal church law that the pope writes into universal church law, zero-tolerance for the coverup of sex crimes. They could do it right now. They got the evidence, many bishops.


FLORES: Now the spokesperson of the Vatican put it like this. He said that this is a monster that they must face without fear. But, Rosemary, that monster keeps on growing and changing because as you mentioned a little while ago, the church is not just dealing with clergy sex abuse of minors but the pope now acknowledging the abuse, the sexual abuse of nuns as well.

[03:05:07] And then the top leadership of nuns and priests around the world also acknowledging their grave errors in judgment in handling these cases. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. A lot of scandals. We will watch to see if the summit makes any progress at all. Rosa Flores reporting there from Rome. Many thanks.

We are following a devastating fire that killed at least 70 people in Dhaka. Crews spent hours battling the blaze as the flames ripped through an historic part of the Bangladesh capital. It has a history of building fatalities. The 2012 collapsed of a factory killed more than 1,000 people. The same year 117 died in a factory fire.

And our Nikhil Kumar joins us now from New Delhi with more. Soh Nikhil, what are you learning from authorities about this deadly fire and the circumstances leading up to it and why it spreads so very quickly?

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Rosemary, the blaze is now been put out and details are still emerging as the authorities there investigate exactly what happened. But what they know so far is that late on Wednesday night, late Wednesday evening, local time in Dhaka, there was a car that was parked in this area of Dhaka, the old part of the city and it had a gas cylinder inside.

The cylinder for some reason exploded. That set off the fire and now this part of Dhaka is very, very densely populated. The fire very quickly spread. Five buildings were affected by this, a restaurant that was affected. There were people dining inside who were caught in the inferno.

One of the buildings authorities have told us was a perfume warehouse and inside there were chemicals. There were plastics and other flammable material. And that's sort of fed the fire and it became bigger and bigger which, you know, as reflected in the visuals that we've seen from overnight when the blaze was at its fiercest.

The fire is now been put out, at least 70 people dead. Forty people we are told are still in hospital. We don't yet have details about the nature of their injuries and how serious they are and what may happen to the death toll in the coming hours.

But a very serious blaze, a massive tragedy for the city, for the country, a country that as you said has been hit by other incidents where buildings in crowded areas. Buildings where regulations haven't been followed have been hit by disaster and ordinary people have suffered. And that's going to be something for investigators to look once everybody has a full idea of the people caught up in the blaze last night. Rosemary?

CHURCH: It is horrifying and devastating. Maybe this is a turning point for Dhaka and for Bangladesh. We will watch very closely. Nikhil Kumar, thank you so much for bringing us the details on that.

Well, Donald Trump has called it a witch-hunt and a hoax but next week special counsel Robert Mueller is expected to submit his final report on the Russia investigation.

Sources tell CNN that Attorney General Bill Barr will then submit a summary to Congress but the American people may never find out what's in that report.

CNN's Abby Phillip has reaction now from the White House.


leaving the Mueller report in the hands of his new Attorney General Bill Barr.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should the Mueller report be released while you're abroad next week?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that will be totally up to him.

PHILLIP: Trump offering a muted response to what would be the end of an investigation that he's railed against for two years. Instead, Trump lashing out at the former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe who played a role in starting the probe.

TRUMP: I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of days. And he really looks to me like sort of a poor man's J. Edgar Hoover.

PHILLIP: The president's comments coming in the midst of McCabe's bomb shell media tour that has raised questions about whether Trump might have been acting on behalf of the Russian government.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation and I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.

PHILLIP: McCabe even hinting that ongoing investigations could involve the president's children.

COOPER: Was the president's family being looked into either before the appointment of Mueller or after?

MCCABE: That's something I don't feel comfortable talking about as it goes to kind of could go going investigative matters.

PHILLIP: And making it clear that a bipartisan group of congressional leaders were in the look as the Department of Justice opened obstruction of justice and collusion investigations into the president.

MCCABE: At the conclusion of my remarks there were no objections, there were no protests. There was no -- you know, there was a clear sense in the room that people were resigned to the fact that we had taken a necessary step. That was my impression.

[03:10:05] PHILLIP: Trump dodging a question about that revelation, focusing instead on attacking McCabe.

TRUMP: I think it's a disaster. And what he was trying to do was terrible. He was caught. I'm very proud to say we caught him. So, we'll see what happens but he is a disgraced man. He was terminated not by me, he was terminated by others.

PHILLIP: And despite publicly supporting the director of national intelligence today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you considering replacing Dan Coats as your Director of National Intelligence?

TRUMP: I haven't even thought about it.

PHILLIP: CNN has learned that Trump is privately telling associates Dan Coats may soon be out of a job.

DAN COATS, UNITED STATES DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.

PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN Trump is still angry about Coats' congressional testimony that he believes undercuts his own rosy portrayal of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

And President Trump also told reporters that this next meeting with Kim is unlikely to be his last. He also expressed optimism that Kim Jong-un would choose total denuclearization, though, he did say that he was not going to lift sanctions unless there were more meaningful steps taken toward that goal.

Abby Phillip, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: New York Times politics editor, Patrick Healy joins me now. He's also a CNN political analyst. Great to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, we are now hearing that the Mueller report could very well come out as early as next week but we don't know if we'll actually see it unless of course someone leaks it. But at this point it is up to the discretion of the new Attorney General Bill Barr as to what he will do with it. How much of the Mueller report do you think Barr will disclose to the Congress and of course, the public?

HEALY: Well, Barr has been pretty circumspect about this, Rosemary. He really hasn't taken a strong position in terms of saying that there will be full disclosure or full transparency. The sort of party line right now seems to be that, you know, generally the Justice Department does not comment when there isn't an actual charge coming out of a report.

So, in terms of disclosing the sort of the details of what Robert Mueller submits, you know, isn't something that Barr is committing to. The question is he's going to have a very restive Congress, both Democrats feeling very much that they want a very full accounting about the last two years of what Robert Mueller found and evaluated with President Trump.

And then I think the Republicans who, especially if they believe that there's no kind of there there with regard to President Trump, you know, may want that to come out so they can brand this -- you know, as just a great expensive money for nothing. So, really is sort of a big question, you know. What is -- what is going to come out officially and then potentially through leaks?

CHURCH: Right. So, let's look at what's come out of the Mueller investigation so far. Here we see all the guilty pleas, seven in total, including former U.S. national security advisor Michael Flynn, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and former Trump chairman -- campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

And then here's the snapshot of what the Mueller probe achieved so far.

One hundred ninety-nine overall criminal counts, 37 people and entities charged. And as we just saw seven guilty pleas. So, how significant is this outcome and would you expect any more indictments or do you think that part of it is over?

HEALY: Well, it's a significant work. I mean, what Robert Mueller and his team have found is sort of a succession in series of lies and false statements that have been told by people very close to Donald Trump. You know, in some cases people like Michael Cohen who have been with the president certainly for years before he entered the White House.

And these were people who were confidantes who were -- their role was basically to protect the president and you know, for a variety of reasons they chose to make false statements.

And the degree to which Robert Mueller has drawn kind of a pattern it seems like of people who the president has chosen to surround himself with, get advice with and get protection from. You know, it's a very damning portrait of the people who this president seemed to trust the most.

[03:14:58] But what we all know, Rosemary, is that for a lot of Americans there has been curiosity about whether this investigation would lead to the president himself. Whether there would be evidence of obstruction of justice of any kind of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and whether the president had any involvement in that.

And you know, as something builds for two years, I think there's like a great curiosity, certainly among Americans about whether this is actually going to implicate the president himself.

In terms of indictments, I don't have information on that. I don't know. It seems clear if he -- if Robert Mueller is getting ready to wind down, he seems willing to close up shop it seems like before all of the prosecutions have reached their end.

But I think really what we're all sort of asking ourselves is what the final judgment from Robert Mueller's investigation of President Trump.

CHURCH: We shall know a little bit more at least in the coming day. Patrick Healy, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

HEALY: Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Well, there's just one week left for the U.S. and China to reach a deal that could end their trade war. Two days of high-level talks that begin just hours from now. U.S. tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese products had to jump to 25 percent if they can't reach an agreement by March 1st.

Our Will Ripley joins us now from Hong Kong. So, Will, what are you hearing about where these trade talks are going and what's expected to come out of them?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Rosemary, the information coming out is about as clear as the hazy weather today here in Hong Kong. In Beijing, we asked the Chinese government for an update and they said we'll tell you when the talks are over.

You know, we hear information leaked from sources that things are going well. Then they're not. The markets go up, they go down. What we know this March 1st deadline just over a week away when $200 billion in Chinese goods could get slapped with 25 percent tariffs, potentially devastating for China

That is why they have sent their Vice Premier Liu He to Washington where he will be meeting with the U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Those meetings happening today and tomorrow. We might not get an update until it's all said and done.

You know, one thing that we thought was certain, U.S. trade officials repeatedly have said that March 1st is nonnegotiable. I mean, Lighthizer, himself, said to CBS in December and I'll read t for you here. Quote, "As far as I'm concerned it is a hard deadline. When I talked to the President of the United States, he is not talking about going beyond March."

But then President Trump said this just this week.


TRUMP: I can't tell you exactly about timing, but -- you know, the day is not a magical date. A lot of things can happen.


RIPLEY: So, we know the last round of trade talks in Beijing ended last week. Is President Trump saying this to undercut his own negotiators or does he seem to think that things are moving in an encouraging direction, and perhaps, would be willing to extend the deadline if they are indeed making progress that he finds sufficient on these really thorny issues like, you know, these allegations that China has been manipulating its currency and devaluing the yuan to make Chinese goods artificially cheap.

Chinas has already said that they are going to try to purchase more U.S. products and attempt to reduce the $375 billion trade deficit that President Trump talked so much about.

But some of these more difficult issues really center around tech. Forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and of course, the whole Huawei saga playing out as well, Rosemary.

So, still, a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of nervous investors and manufacturers all over the world wondering what is going to happen in Washington.

CHURCH: Yes. As you say, global markets watching very closely to see the outcome of these talks. Our Will Ripley bringing us up to date on the situation from Hong Kong. Many thanks.

Well, a final assault on the last ISIS stronghold in Syria, as a truck packed with civilians leave the enclave. The latest from the front line. That's ahead.

Plus --


SHAMIMA BEGUM, ISIS BRIDE: You know, I was only 15 years old. I could make my own decision back there. I do have the, like mentality to make my own decision. But I did leave on my own knowing that it was a risk.


CHURCH: This young woman justifies her decision to join ISIS but now she wants to go home to the United Kingdom. Ahead, what the British government has to say about that.


CHURCH: Well, just 36 days before the Brexit deadline and the British prime minister is still working to make a deal. She and the president of the European Commission say their latest task -- talks, rather, were constructive and they agree to find a solution to the controversial Irish border.

But ahead of that meeting there was this unusual street protest. Yes, those are anti-Brexit demonstrators in unicorn costumes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Theresa May has come here looking for unicorns. And we didn't want to disappoint her. You know, a unicorn is a mythical beast. But a lot of people in the U.K. still believe in it. For instance, I think that you can have an invisible border in Ireland and still leave the single market and the customs union.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: But the prime minister has much more on her plate to worry about. Three members of her party resigned over what they called the disastrous handling of Brexit. They are standing as independents and have joined the group of eight Labour M.P.'s who also split from their party over Brexit.

Well, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a stern warning for the West in his annual address to parliament. He said if the West deploys nuclear missiles in Europe, Russia would target the West, in particular what he said was the decision-making centers.

A not so veiled reference to Washington. It comes after the U.S. pulled out of a longstanding nuclear treaty leading Russia to do the same. NATO called Mr. Putin's threat unacceptable. And the U.S. State Department called it Russian propaganda.

Well now to the fight against ISIS. U.S.-backed militias are fighting to oust the terror group from its last Syrian town.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is on the front line where forces are preparing for a final assault.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the latest batch of civilians to come out of that half-mile square part of Baghouz al-Fawqani that still contains civilian and ISIS fighters. It seems that some sort of arrangement has been worked out between the Syrian Democratic Forces and the ISIS forces still inside that town.

We counted 17 trailer trucks in all with mostly women and children. Those we could see were silent. The convoy included some men as well. A commander with the SDF told us more than 20 wounded ISIS fighters were on board.

[03:25:02] David Eubank runs a group called the Burma Free Rangers which has been providing medical aid to people in war zones in Iraq and Syria. They've been here for three weeks.

DAVID EUBANK, DIRECTOR, FREE BURMA RANGERS: Well, in the time we've been here we've seen 5,000 people, 5040 people total count. Forty people yesterday morning. Pretty much of them women and kids with some men at estimate maybe 500 men among that 5,000 and broken.

I felt broken in spirit. I'm not sure what you saw, you know. But I felt like scared and terrified. Like yesterday morning they're like, they stop, holding their babies looked at us.

WEDEMAN: Monday we were able to peer inside ISIS' last dotted territory and saw people calmly walking around in the open. Yet, SDF commanders insist there is no truce.

What's not clear is what happens next. If this the bulk of civilians who were left in that square mile area in Baghouz al-Fawqani, it means perhaps that only fighters, ISIS fighters are left and we have been told by an official with the Syrian Democratic Forces that once the civilians have been cleared out, the SDF is going to go, in his words, to clean it up.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, on the hills overlooking Baghouz al-Fawqani.


CHURCH: And for women and children escaping the last ISIS stronghold, there is no guarantee that they will be getting their old lives back. Like Hoda Muthana who left the U.S. State of Alabama to join ISIS.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said she is not a U.S. citizen and cannot come into the country. But a family spokesperson claims she was born in New Jersey.

Another young woman who ran away to join ISIS also can't go back home. The British government is revoking Shamima Begum's citizenship. She's living in a Syrian refugee camp and wants to go back to the United Kingdom with her newborn son.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos explains why Britain is refusing to let her back in.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPPONDENT: Shamima Begum shocked Britain when she skipped school four years ago to travel to Syria, a child who went to a war zone returned to the public eye a young woman with child but seemingly no regrets.

BEGUM: You know, I was only 15 years old. I could make my own decision back there. I do have the, like mentality to make my own decision. But I did leave on my own knowing that it was a risk.

DOS SANTOS: Found in a refugee camp last week by then heavily pregnant and pleading to come home, Begum's apparent lack of remorse appears to have underpinned the U.K.'s decision to strip her of her citizenship. Since she was discovered she's given birth and granted multiple interviews. During which she's aired contentious point of view. Here she is seeming to justify the 2017 Manchester arena attack which claimed the lives of 22 concertgoers.

BEGUM: Women and children are being killed back in the Islamic state right now. And it's kind of retaliation. Like, their justification was that it was retaliation, so I thought Ok, that is a fair justification.

DOS SANTOS: It's word like these that have alarmed the country and its lawmakers.

SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: The House will have also seen the comments of Shamima Begum and that she's made in the media and it will have to draw its own conclusions. Quite simply, if you back terror there must be consequences.

ALEXANDER CARLILE, MEMBER, BRITISH HOUSE OF LORDS: I think that there will be a mixed reception to this but the vast majority I suspect of British people don't particularly want Ms. Begum back in this country.

DOS SANTOS: Central to the U.K.'s decision is whether Begum has access to a second citizenship through her mother from Bangladesh, meaning stripping her of her British passport would not render her stateless.

However, a family representative told CNN she did not have a Bangladeshi passport and had never set foot in that country. Bangladesh says that Begum's future is a matter for the U.K.

Some argued Britain has a duty of care. Begum, they say, is brainwashed and likely to be suffering from mental illness after her time with ISIS and following the death of her first two children when they were months old.

EMILY WINTERBOTHAM, SENIOR FELLOW, RUSI: When she left, she was 15, so she was a minor. Obviously, she isn't anymore. She's now 19. And the experiences that she's had overseas would need to be looked at.

DOS SANTOS: Less clear and more urgent is the fate of Begum's son born at the weekend while his mother was still a British citizen. Begum has a right to appeal against the decision to remove her citizenship.

On Twitter, her lawyer said her family was disappointed and would consider mounting a legal challenge to the move.

Nina Dos Santos, CNN, London.


CHURCH: We'll take a short break here. Still to come, tons of food and medicine piling up on the Venezuelan border. A plan is now in the works to get that aid into the country where it's needed. That is coming your way in just a moment.

[03:30:00] Plus, two sisters say they were trying to escape oppression but their plan was foiled by a high-ranking Saudi official in Hong Kong and this isn't the first time, their exclusive story when we come back.


CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we are then following this hour. At least 70 people were killed when a fire ripped through a historic part of the Bangladesh capital, Decca. Crews spend hours battling the blaze and say it is now out. It is believed to have started when a fuel cylinder in a car exploded.

Pope Francis delivers the opening prayer as the Vatican convenes unprecedented summit of church leaders on clergy sexual abuse. About 200 Catholic leaders from around the world are meeting right now to address the growing number of scandals the church faces. Victims are demanding zero-tolerance for abusers and the bishops who cover up for them. The actor who claimed he was the victim of a hate crime last month,

now faces charges of filing a false police report. Jussie Smollett is due to appear in court for a bail hearing later, Thursday. His attorneys say, they will mount an aggressive defense.

In Venezuela, opposition leader, Juan Guaido says he will go to the Colombian border on Saturday to try to get tons of humanitarian aid into the country. Food and medicine have been piling up in Colombia after President Nicola Maduro blocked the border crossing to keep them out of Venezuela.

Joining me now is Brett Bruen, he is former Director of global engagement at the White House. Thanks so much for joining us.


CHURCH: So, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has boasted that he has the full support of his country's military. Just a few hours ago the country, its deputy military attaches to the U.N. posted a social media video recognizing Juan Guaido as the interim president. Could this signal the beginning of the end for Maduro do you think?

BRUEN: We've seen a number of foreign military diplomatic attaches that have peeled off. So far internally there had been fewer defections. And this is really the critical question. Will we see in the lead up to and perhaps on Saturday when Guaido is mounting an effort to get humanitarian aid into the country, more military decide that Maduro's time is up and they're going to throw their lot in with Guaido.

[03:35:03] CHURCH: What would be -- what would they be weighing out right now as to what they do at this point? And how much discussion would they be having with the rest of their colleagues?

BRUEN: Well, you have this challenge, Maduro has stood up for the last months to international pressure, to internal pressure from people in the streets and the political opposition. The military is following all of this and they got to see a clear sign that the international community is able to effect conditions on the ground, not just with words, not just with humanitarian aid piling up on the border. And this is why Saturday becomes so important.

If there are cracks in the blockade that Maduro is mounting on his border. If there are military officers, soldiers that are unwilling to stand between their people and humanitarian aid, then I think it is a troubling sign for Maduro and his days are limited.

CHURCH: So, what do they need to see to make that leap -- that quantum leap to Guaido?

BRUEN: They need to see that Guaido is able to deliver. And right now we heard a lot of word. We heard the ambition that he has for his country and for a different future for the Venezuelan people, but now he needs to show the ability to bring in some of that humanitarian aid, to peel off some of those military officers who are willing to stand with him. Those conditions will start to change the calculus of other military

government officials and that right now is the x factor. If Guaido can deliver results, I think we'll see a change in direction for the country. If Maduro holds up on Saturday, it does not bode well for Guaido.

CHURCH: Now, Amnesty International published a new report, the details, some of the brutality of the Maduro regime on Wednesday. Just take a listen.


ERIKA GUEVARRA ROSAS, DR. FOR THE AMERICA'S AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (through translator): In this period between January 21st and January 25th we have documented 45 people who lost their lives in the context of a repressive and systematic policy, the security forces under the command of Nicolas Maduro.

There's more than 900 people to attend with in a period of five days. People who included dozens of children and minors who are subjected to mistreatment to arbitrary detention, where meets with adults in the detention centers and many of these children and girls.


CHURCH: So this was punishment for protesting against the regime. Do reports like this have any impact?

BRUEN: The problem is that a lot of these actions are happening in the shadows. What will be interesting on Saturday is the images of potential confrontations. If we see the military services brutally repressing unarmed civilians. That will be an image seared into the consciousness of both Venezuelans and those following events around the world, that could very powerful.

CHURCH: Brett Bruen, thank you so much. We will all be watching to see what happens in Venezuela in the days ahead. Many thanks.

BRUEN: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, political unrest in weeks of deadly protest in Haiti is taking its toll, especially on their economy. We are hearing from Marquette Vandross (ph), who are struggling to make ends meet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): With the situation I'm going through here, there are no tourist and they are the people that I sell to. There are no rich people, no tourist at the moment. I'm going to wait it out, I'm used to waiting. The problem is that this is affecting us all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is how we live we are scared, because we don't have customers, because people are scared to go out. We can't make money.


CHURCH: Protesters in Haiti have been calling for the president to resign. They say he is suspected of corruption and diverging funds from social programs.

Zimbabwe could run out of bread in just a few days as flour stock hits a nationwide low. The country can't afford to import waste, leaving just eight days with supply left the Grain Millers Association says that it owes at least $80 million for wheat and has warned the national Bakers Association of Zimbabwe to don't pay for 55,000 tongs which are located in warehouses in Zimbabwe and Harare.

Zimbabwe imports wheat primarily from South Africa and Canada and blends with local grain to make flour for bread. The country's second major staple after maize meal. The central bank list wheat, among priority imports such as fuel and drugs.

[03:40:00] Zimbabwe has resisted attempts by the baking industry to raise the price of bread to make the industry viable. The government actually for the reduction of prices recently from $2.70 a loft to $1.80, and coming up here on CNN Newsroom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since we were teenagers, we experienced family violence and abuse and we wanted to run away from this.


CHURCH: These sisters say they were oppressed and abused in Saudi Arabia and had to get out, but not everything went as planned. Now they're living in limbo in Hong Kong. Their exclusive story, when we come back.


CHURCH: What was supposed to be a two hour layover in Hong Kong has turned into a five-month stay for two Saudi sisters, hoping to flee oppression and abuse back home. They are now stranded and in hiding after Saudi diplomats intervened and try to make them return home. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Ivan Watson, the sisters say they have few regrets.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was supposed to be a family beach vacation. Instead, it is proof two sisters say of the life they lived under oppression.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day it was like a nightmare.

WATSON: This holiday in Sri Lanka last September was also the scene of their dramatic attempt to escape from their family. Ruan and Ream (ph), not the real names are 18 and 20-year-old sisters from Saudi Arabia. For their security, they've asked us not to show their faces.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since we were teenagers, we experienced family violence and abuse and we wanted to run away from this.

WATSON: Who was committing violence in the family?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Father and the brother.

WATSON: Under Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system. Women have fewer legal rights than men, forced to cover up and unable to travel or even apply for a passport without a husband, father, or brothers permission.

Years ago, these sisters secretly renounced Islam, a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia and they began plotting their escape. On the family holiday in Sri Lanka, they saw their chance, but first they had to get their passports from their parents.

[03:45:02] You snuck into your parent's room?


WATSON: While they were sleeping?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. So, I just -- I can't --

WATSON: To get your passport?


WATSON: In the middle of the night, they fled to a waiting taxi and took off the long black abayas they were forced to wear from the age of 11.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the first time we went without abaya.

WATSON: And you're smiling right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really great memory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's quite exciting.


WATSON: At Colombo airport, they bought tickets and received boarding passes for Sri Lankan Airlines to Hong Kong and then Cathay Pacific Airways to Melbourne Australia where they've already arranged online tourist visas. But when they landed at Hong Kong international Airport, the station manager of Sri Lankan airlines and a representative of Jardine Aviation Services Group met them at the gate and asked them for their boarding passes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I showed it to him and he grabbed it. We were asking, what's going on? Why are you walking fats? And they said the plane, maybe you can't catch it.

WATSON: As they walked to the airport, they were led to the desk of Emirates Airlines and the story changed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, now there's someone from that Saudi consulate. You know, that at that time we just start to panic.

WATSON: Sri Lankan airlines sent CNN this detailed account. It alleges that this man, Abdullah Hussein Alsharif, the vice console of the Saudi consulate in Hong Kong came to the airport and asked the airline to change the sisters itinerary.

WATSON: The Saudi consular officials had informed Sri Lankan airlines staff, but the passenger's mother was terminally ill, and the passengers were therefore required to return to Riyadh immediately. Sri Lankan airlines tells CNN, Saudi officials canceled the sisters tickets to Australia and requested new boarding passes to take them to Dubai and then Saudi Arabia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When we scream in his face saying, return my passport, you have no right to take it. You cross the line, we will tell the police, he's scared and then he took our passports and literally run away.

WATSON: In the airport?


WATSON: This isn't the first time Saudi government officials have tried to stop women from fleeing. In Thailand las month, 18 year-old Raha Falkanoon (ph) barricaded herself in a hotel room and took to the Internet, begging for help to prevent deportation back to Saudi Arabia.

And Dina Lasnu (ph) was filmed by passengers in Manila airport in 2017 being forced by male relatives on the flight back to Saudi Arabia. Activist haven't heard from her since. Back in Hong Kong, the sisters accused the Saudi Vice Consul Abdullah Alsharif of intervening in their attempt to board the later Qantas flight to Australia, eventually prompting an Australian official to cancel their visas.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs refused to tell us why the visas were canceled, saying it does not comment on individual cases. The sisters have been stranded in the city ever since.

Do you think this sisters are in danger here in Hong Kong?


WATSON: Human rights attorney Michael Vidler filed a criminal complaint on behalf of the sisters.

MICHAEL VIDLER, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: We allege that they were the subject of an attempted kidnapping at Hong Kong International Airport and their restricted area. We alleged that they've obtained their documents by the seat. They then use that documents unlawfully to cancel their boarding passes.

WATSON: Vidler says his team have screened airport security camera footage showing this man Saudi consul general in Hong Kong. Omar Al Bunayan. Shown here at the airport in happier times. The lawyer says the diplomat was filmed holding the sisters passports and boarding passes at the airport on September 6.

A big question here why with the highest ranking Saudi official in Hong Kong personally allegedly intervene in the travel of two adult Saudi women. She then reached out multiple times to the foreign ministry in Riyadh and the consulate here in Hong Kong and got no answer at all.

But Hong Kong police tells CNN, they are now officially investigating what happened in the airport on that day Sri Lankan airlines and Jardine aviation services group both denied any wrongdoing saying they've did not pressure the sisters into changing their flights. As for the sisters, they are still living in hiding in Hong Kong, hoping to receive political asylum. They have a defined message for their family back home.

[03:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be a successful woman and to give them that message with my success that they can't break me.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH: And if you would like to read more about Ruan and Ream's dangerous escape from Saudi Arabia. You can head over to for Ivan's full report.

Well, from coast to coast a winter storm stretches across much of the United States, bringing records snow fall and dangerous travel conditions. We would take a very close look at it, just ahead. Plus, condiment confusion on the campaign trail for a presidential -- U.S. presidential candidate. The story of Kirsten Gillibrand and the Roche girl (ph), that's next.


CHURCH: Well, it's not something you see every day. Minnesota woman using ski's to get to work. Snow fall in the state top 76 centimeters on Wednesday. It is the first time Minnesota has seen that much snow since 2010. Now, as the weather is pounding the entire United States about 100 million people are facing winter weather and flooding. Let's turn to our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, he's watching this very closely, what can you tell us, Pedram?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, it's beginning to taper off. That's the good news here for the northeastern U.S., but as you saw across parts of Minnesota, that's a dedicated woman right there heading off to her duties, but you take a look, this is that New York City's Central Park. The snow showers significantly accumulations at times had led to significant disruptions of the airport.

In fact, when you take a look at how things broke down across this region, we're talking about thousands of flights that are impacted on Wednesday alone across the country, 2400 cancellations in and out of the U.S., 7400 delays New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C.'s Reagan National seen the brunt of the system. And all of this, expected to really to taper off over the next couple of hours of the system, moves off the northeastern U.S.

In fact, snow showers at this hour, just about the peel away from the East Coast of the United States and that again is semi. Pleasant changes there in the forecast finally seen improving conditions, but then the attention shifts farther towards the South. That's where the southern tier of the frontier has gone from just being a cold front to notice becoming more of a stationary front as indicated in the red and blue pattern right there call the southern area of the United States.

And this is an area with over 80,000 lightning strikes just since midnight on Thursday morning now and of course with it, with significant rainfall we've seen -- some significant flooding as well. In fact, look at the scenes out of areas around Tupelo, Mississippi, we've had water rescues across these region and the flooding really going to be a major, major concern. You see the woman here being -- crawling out of her vehicle into -- but as the sheriff's patrol vehicle there are beginning out of trouble,

But this is the concern that's really going to expect the next couple of days, because the pattern does not shift much for the southern U.S. when it comes to the web element in metro Atlanta. Places like Birmingham, Memphis, on to international Tennessee underneath either a flood watches or flood warnings from the significant rainfall and notice from Thursday into Friday, it still hovers here in the next couple of days and rainfall amounts the highest totals near the top of the charts here. We are talking about 300 millimeters or more in a few spots around the Memphis, Tennessee and with that said, you go back towards the Western United States.

There is another system diving right into the four corners region and with that I will eventually end up around the Midwestern U.S., kind a follows a similar track.

[03:55:04] So, Rosemary, this is --it has been long winter for portions of the U.S. and it looks like another shot of energy coming in this direction over the next couple of days.

CHURCH: Oh, boy, OK, thank you so much, Pedram. Thanks for keeping a closed eye on that.

Well, campaigning for president can be hard work of course, especially when everyone knows who you are just yet. That's what happened to Democrat Kirsten Gellibrand. When she makes it out with a would be voter in Iowa. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don't even think of messing with her ranch dressing, as Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand was speaking at an Iowa city restaurant called the airliner, this viral moment took off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry, I'm just going to get some ranch.

Jimmy Fallon has the replay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry, I'm just going to get some ranch.

JIMMY FALLON, THE TONIGHT SHOW: You're election is in two years, I need my ranch, now.

MOOS: And this was born ranch girl, the hero, America needs now. So what is so great about ranch?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the best condiment, like they can only have one for the rest of my life. It would definitely be ranch.

MOOS: College student Hannah Kinney was upstairs leading a Bible study group when the order arrived without ranch dressing. Hannah tried to wiggle away to the kitchen through the Gillibrand crowd not recognizing the senator.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was thinking, oh Hannah, they are thinking you just like trying to cut and brunt to get closer to the senator, that's why (inaudible), I'm just trying to get some ranch, like I won't want anyone to be like mad.

MOOS: Elle Magazine, gosh, clear a space on Mt. Ranchmore and then change the name the Mouth Ranchmore. So what was the ranch for? Pizza, the ranch girl is a deeper. She dips her pizza in it.

Ranchgirl says she leans the left and plans to vote Democratic. Senator Gillibrand tweeted never get between a Midwestern, the ranch telling Hannah, pizza's on me during the next trip to Iowa City. The restaurants giving her a year's supply of ranch.

Did you ever drink it straight from the bottle?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have definitely probably done that, like on a dare, like in the past.

MOOS: On her wish list and endorsement deal from wishbone. Jeanne Moos, CNN -- my cameraman is telling me I have ranch on my upper lip -- New York.


CHURCH: Each to their own, right? Thanks for your company this hour. I'm Rosemary Church. The news continues next with Max Foster in London. You are watching CNN. Have a great day.