Return to Transcripts main page


Ethiopian Plane Tragedy Killed 157 People; Venezuela's Crippling Economy Worsen by Blackouts; Siti Aisyah Breaths the Air of Freedom; U.S. Watches North Korea; World Headlines; Budget Battle Looms Over Trump's 2020 Spending Plan; Countdown to Brexit: Deal, No Deal or Delay?; ISIS Clinging to Syrian Enclave; India Gears Up to Vote; Kane Tanaka of Japan is Now the World's Oldest Living Person. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN HOST: Digging through the wreckage. Investigators are looking for answers after an Ethiopian airlines flight crashes minutes after takeoff.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And a shocking development in the murder trial of Kim Jong-un's half-brother as the Indonesian woman accuse of killing him gets her freedom.

HOWELL: Plus, a new challenge for the U.S. president as he tries to convince Congress to slash funding for education and healthcare to instead use it to pay for a border wall.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church. CNN Newsroom starts right now.

HOWELL: Our top story, families grieve for the loss of relatives from the Ethiopian plane crash and the Boeing aircraft company is taking the brunt of scrutiny right now.

CHURCH: Officials from Ethiopia and China say they are now grounding all Boeing 737 max 8 aircraft. The same type of plane from Sunday's crash in Ethiopia which killed all 157 people on board. Ethiopia says the decision was made as a safety precaution. China says it want assurances from Boeing and U.S. regulators before resuming those flights.

HOWELL: The 737 max 8 is also the same model from last year's Lion Air crash in Indonesia that crashed killing 189 people on board. Now it's still unclear what caused the Ethiopian airlines crash and there's no evidence the two incidents are linked. Boeing said in a statement that it is saddened by the loss of life from 302 and would be sending a technical team to the crash site for assistance.

CHURCH: The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines says his company is also cooperating with the investigation.


TEWOLDE GEBREMARIAM, CEO, ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES: We don't know the cause of the accident. We will comply with all the international regulations and the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, American NTSB will come and the defense aviation. These are the two mandated board to investigate. As an airline will be fully supporting and cooperating with the investigation and we will know the exact cause.


HOWELL: CNN has multiple teams covering this crash. Journalist Robyn Kriel is live near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, and CNN's Farai Sevenzo is in Naorobi, Kenya. Robyn, we start with you. Last we chatted 24 hours ago, it seems that you were en route to the crash site. Tell us more about what you saw there, what you're seeing and what investigators are doing.


ROBYN KRIEL, JOURNALIST: George, a poignant moment just a short while ago when three bodies were pulled from the wreckage that you see behind me. And a moment of silence. Emergency crew workers and the graders that you see behind me stopped and everyone stood quietly as these bodies came out.

Ethiopians really feel terrible. A number of people have apologized to us saying that they are so sorry for the loss and almost they feel humiliated by this. And of course, this is testimony to the Ethiopian people. They are incredibly passionate proud nation and they are extremely proud of their national carrier with a lot of reason.

Ethiopian Airlines is definitely one of the top airlines in Africa and often has, I mean, from we understand almost has a spotless safety record. So, everyone is asking the question exactly what went wrong with Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

George, we spoke to someone who witnessed this crash just a short while ago. He said that he was on one of the hills that you see behind me. This area is really sort of a cabin in amongst a number of hills were just south of Addis Ababa, about an hour and a half south of Addis Ababa.

He was collecting firewood with some of friends when he saw this plane circling, he says. And it was circling he said did a couple of circles and it looked like the pilot or whoever was steering the plane was trying to balance the plane out.

He then says it went into the ground, and he said it sounded like a bomb. Now you can imagine we're in a remote part of Ethiopia exactly that this is not something that these people have ever seen before. So, a number of people rushed to the scene. He said that they were crying.

And this continued until I got here when people were still crying and apologizing and trying to help with any way they can.

HOWELL: Robyn Kriel following the story at the crash site. And now let's switch over to our colleague Farai Sevenzo. Farai, the plane was in route to Nairobi where you are right now. Many people there have been waiting at the airport for loved ones.

[03:05:02] But again, there were no survivors on this flight. How are people in that community coping with the past 24 hours?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely right, George. I mean, remember, 24 hours ago, just behind me here from the international arrivals, 157 or so people were supposed to be streaming out of here on a normal Sunday morning after that flight from ET302 and they didn't make it.

Eyewitness have been telling us here at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that as soon as that manifest came out of the missing names and missing passengers. People simply doubled in grief.

And of course, as the day wears on now 24 hours later, there's such feeling in the capital of Kenya that this has been a tragedy of such magnitude especially to the communities that make up the NGO's, the United Nations personnel who are always faring between Addis as central policymakers for Africa where the African union sit and Nairobi where they live. Many of them live here. There is a United Nations Avenue in Kenya's capital city.

So, at the moment, George, just to catch you up, the cabinet secretary James Macharia, he was joined by Yilma Goshi -- Goshu, I beg your pardon -- the Ethiopian Airlines head whose confirmed that news that they are grounding this Boeing 737 max 9.

And of course, they say that 32 Kenyans died in this tragedy. They say they have identified 27 of those families and they will do everything they can to try and take them to the site crash, if they need that for closure. And they are trying to put them some of them in hotels and have appealed to us the media to give them a little bit of moment of space because as you can imagine, you know.

I just landed this morning, George, from a completely different destination. And this is a very busy airport. Everybody uses Ethiopian Airlines, because as my colleague just told you it's one of the busy airlines in Africa, and indeed, the world.

So, this tragedy has a lot of unpicking to go, George. And at the moment we're waiting to see now how the families are going to be catered for by, as I said, this government agency Kenya has set up to try and at least ease their pain of searching and answering what on earth happened yesterday Sunday morning.

HOWELL: Farai, thank you. And Robyn, just to ask you as well, are people still showing up there?

KRIEL: Yes. And just as we've, as I was listening to Farai speaking, George, we are watching what looks like Ethiopian Red Cross officials pulling a couple more bodies from the wreckage. It looks to be two, from what my cameraman is telling me. So, yes, it is still ongoing here. It is still devastating. There are still people here mourning the loss.

So far, we've seen some people from foreign embassies. We've seen some people from what looks to be the Chinese embassy. And were -- we understand that more officials, experts from other countries will also be joining and trying to ascertain who and make sure that they can match remains with the right people, the family members.

I want to talk a little about the kind of people who are on board this flight. I know Farai mentioned it as well. But 19 U.N. staffers. The Wall Street Journal just put out an article saying that this flight was a testimony to the type of people at work in this part of the country.

The humanitarian workers, the academics, the writers, the poets. All of those vibrant people who work in this region. Sometimes in very tough countries travel between Addis Ababa, home of the EAU, oftentimes to Nairobi which is another hub city with a number of U.N. organization base there.

But, yes. It is very brave people. People who work in Somalia. People who are Somali. People who work in South Sudan. All of these types of people trying to make a difference oftentimes in these parts of the world. And again, as the Wall Street Journal reporter put it, a testimony to the type of people that work in South Africa, the humanitarianism of those sorts of people.

PERINO: Robyn Kriel joining us, thank you so much. And Farai Sevenzo as well, thank you both for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.

The passengers on the Ethiopian Airline flight came from 35 different countries. Showing that Sunday's crash was truly a global strategy.

CHURCH: Yes. They included 19 United Nations staff members, six of them from the U.N. office in Nairobi. The U.N. secretary general says he was deeply saddened by the loss. A Georgetown University student from Kenya also died in that crash. School officials called him a champion for social justice across East Africa.

[03:09:57] Also on board, the children and wife of a Slovakian lawmaker. He asked people to think of them in a quiet memory.

HOWELL: And we're hearing more from the families of those who lost their lives on Sunday.

CHURCH: Ben Kuria whose father died in the crash told the BBC the two shared a meal in the United Kingdom shortly before his dad left for Ethiopia.


BEN KURIA, SON OF ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES CRASH VICTIM: When I woke up I was -- you know, I went on the phone to look at whether he probably drop a message to say he'd arrived safely in Addis. And the first thing that I saw was a message pop up that said that, an Ethiopian Airline airplane has crashed in near Addis Ababa and then it was just a roller coaster of news.

I think shortly after that, I found out that nearly everybody had passed away. And it was just a frantic rush to work the phones to kind of try and get any information that we could get.


CHURCH: A hard way to get that news. And he says he's still in shock not just for his father's passing but for all the people on that flight.

HOWELL: Of course, stay up to date with the latest news on the Ethiopian Airlines crash. We're tracking it all on

Venezuela's opposition leader says his country has truly collapse after blackouts that crippled the nation this week.

CHURCH: In an interview with CNN, Juan Guaido said the outages have caused Venezuela hundreds of millions of dollars and have made it hard to get basic needs.


JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): There is no service in the hospitals. These were the best hospitals in the country. If we are in the capital, what is it like, kilometers inside Venezuela, where there's been or there has been very little gasoline with periodic cuts in electricity without basic goods, with inefficient public transportation.

You can say with all responsibility that Venezuela has already collapsed. There's been an exodus of talent. There are many specialists, many technicians that have found opportunities elsewhere so they don't have the manpower, they don't have the technical capacity to do it quickly.

The proof is it's been four days. More than $4.1 billion lost in the national economy and the minute by minute that grows. So, I don't think they can recover fully the system.


HOWELL: And we also asked Guaido if he thinks his rival President Nicolas Maduro would step town without violence.


GUAIDO (through translator): He is the one making it harder and doing that today. Twelve hours ago, we counted 17 murders. We can't call it any other way. Imagine if in your country you wait to the news that there's been four days without electricity because of corruption because they steal from electricity plants and 17 people died. That's murder.


CHURCH: Guaido also says he will call for a state of national emergency to address this crisis. The country had already been dealing with hyperinflation, food shortages, and many more issues.

HOWELL: In the meantime, the opposition says 16 states in Venezuela are completely without power while six have partial power. And with the lights still out, the government is suspending all school and work activities on Monday.

CNN's Paula Newton has this.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the piece of good news comes from the lights that you see behind me. It seems that the city this country is just beginning to recover. But the toll it has taken already in a country crippled by acute shortages of food, of medicine and now this.

We have heard stories of so many people just struggling to survive especially in those hospitals that were already facing so much adversity.

Today, we heard from many, many people who said look, the power must come back on. We are running out of everything, we have spoiled food in our homes and no way to really figure out how to get more food.

And quite frankly, the money to get more food into our homes. Right now, the government has said that Monday, again, everyone should stay home. Schools, businesses, the government is closed. People again will continue to try to and recover.

Politically, the opposition still continues to say this was mismanagement on the government side. President Maduro, though, continuing to hold his line saying that this was indeed sabotage.

One thing is for sure. The hydro system, the electricity system in this country is in dire need of repair. And in the middle of a drought, Venezuelans know that while this blackout may be over for now, or at least beginning to be over, they know that they risk more blackouts to come and of course, more struggles.

Paula Newton, CNN, Caracas.

[03:14:59] CHURCH: And U.S. national security adviser John Bolton weighed in Sunday on Venezuela's political struggle.

HOWELL: In an interview with ABC News, he continued to show support for Juan Guaido, saying momentum favors the opposition leader.


JOHN BOLTON, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I'm not certain of anything, but I do think momentum is on the side of Guaido. I think the overwhelming support of the population and the overwhelming support of the enlisted personnel in the military and the junior officers, the top officer core, only a few have broken. You know, there are 2,000 admirals and generals in Venezuela which is

more than all of the nations of NATO combined. That tells you who benefits from plundering the economy.


CHURCH: U.S. national security adviser John Bolton there.

Well, a woman walks free after being accused of killing Kim Jong-un's half-brother. We will take a look at what's behind that surprise decision. We're back in just a moment.


CHURCH: We have new developments in the murder trial of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother. Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian woman who was accused of the 2017 killing of Kim Jong-nam walked free on Monday. She said she had no idea she was being used by North Korea and thought the direction she was given was from a TV show.

[03:20:03] HOWELL: But charges against a Vietnamese national remain. Prosecutors accused the two women of exposing Kim Jong-nam to the deadly nerve agent VX as he entered the Kuala Lumpur airport killing him within minutes.

CHURCH: Well, for more on this we wat to turn to Ivan Watson who is following this from Hong Kong. Good to see you, Ivan. So do we have any idea why this Indonesian woman has been released and what about the other woman?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does appear that this remarkable release and the decision by prosecutors to drop charges was a result of lobbying by the Indonesian government on behalf of this suspect, Siti Aisyah.

It's a remarkable turn of events now. A little bit more than two years after the very brazen daylight assassination of Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur International Airport allegedly with VX nerve agent.

Take a listen to what Siti Aisyah's lawyer had to say after the charges were dropped against her.


GOOI SOON SENG, SITI AISYAH'S LAWYER: Today the prosecution informed the court that they declined to further prosecute the case against Siti Aisyah under section 254 of the CPC which (Inaudible) they are no more interested to continue with the prosecution of Siti Aisyah. So, on this call, Siti Aisyah has been discharged from the court today.


WATSON: So, Rosemary, the lawyer says she's going to be headed home soon. Now Siti Aisyah appeared at the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Their senior Indonesian officials confirmed that there was a heavy lobbying effort on the orders of the Indonesian President, Joko Wi to try to help free Siti Aisyah arguing that she was a scapegoat in this assassination.

She thought she was participating in a reality TV show. And that all efforts were made to help her escape the death penalty and it appears that lobbying effort succeeded. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Surely, though, if Siti Aisyah has been released, then the other woman should as well. What information are you getting on that?

WATSON: Precisely that's the case, that the lawyer who's defending the other key suspect, the Vietnamese woman named Doan Thi Huong that's the case that he's now making, arguing that if Siti Aisyah has been released, then her alleged co-conspirator should also be released on the grounds of fairness.

So, he has until Thursday to try to make that case and to try to get that response from the attorney general of Malaysia.

The Vietnamese government the diplomats that I've spoken with say that they've been heavily involved in the case of their citizen. Clearly concerned that she too faces the possibility of the death penalty and are involved in that.

So, we're expecting some kind of public statement from the Vietnamese foreign ministry sometime later today.

This is a remarkable case because it involves the very public assassination allegedly with a weapon of mass destruction, VX nerve agent in an international airport of the and half-brother of North Korea's dictator. And two key suspects who pled not guilty, one of them released. There are four North Koreans who are also wanted in connection with this but their whereabouts are currently unknown.

CHURCH: Extraordinary situation, and outcome as we follow these details. Our Ivan Watson bringing us the very latest from that story from Hong Kong. Many thank as always.

HOWELL: A top White House adviser says President Trump will be disappointed if North Korea conducts a new missile test.

CHURCH: John Bolton spoke after the release of satellite images showing activity at a rocket facility near Pyongyang. Both said in a TV interview he did not want to speculate on what the images meant but he said the U.S. is always watching North Korea. Take a listen.


BOLTON: The president has been very clear that he's not going to make the mistakes of prior administrations. And one mistake the prior administration has made repeatedly was assuming that the North Koreans would automatically comply when they undertake obligations.

The North Koreans, for example, have pledged to give up their nuclear weapons program, at least five separate times beginning in 1992 with the joint North-South denuclearization agreement. They never seem to get around to it, though. So that's reason why we pay particular attention to what North Korea

is doing all the time. We see exactly what they're doing now. We see it unblinkingly and we don't have any illusions about what their capabilities are.

CHURCH: And Bolton says the U.S. has leverage right now in any deal with North Korea because of economic sanction.

[03:25:02] HOWELL: The British government is defending itself actions after the death of an ISIS member's baby in Syria.

The U.K.'s top diplomats spoke to the BBC about Shamima Begum's child that strip the mother, seen here, of her citizenship. She used the term -- he used the term Daesh, an Arabic acronym for ISIS.


JEREMY HUNT, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Shamima knew when she made the decision to join Daesh she was going into a country where there was no embassy, there was no assistance and I'm afraid those, you know, those decisions awful as (Ph) they do have consequences.


CHURCH: And that was British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt speaking about Shamima Begum. She left the U.K. to join ISIS more than four years ago at the time she was only 15 years old.

Well, President Trump is not backing down. His 2020 budget proposal includes billions to build a border wall. Democratic leaders had a predictable response. We're back to that in just a moment.


HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN Newsroom. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church.

We want to check the headlines for you this hour.

Crews are combing the site of the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board. Nineteen of the victims were United Nations staff members. The Nairobi bound flight went down just minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The airline's CEO says the pilot reported technical difficulties and was given clearance to turn back.

[03:29:56] HOWELL: Thousands in Russia are protesting a bill that would tighten internet restrictions. It passed Russia's parliament last month. It still needs two more approvals before becoming law. Supporters say it is necessary to prevent foreign meddling but critics say it would be used to stifle dissent.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: An Indonesian woman accused of the 2017 killing of Kim Jong-un's half-brother walked free on Monday. Prosecutors said they would not pursue the case against her. Charges against a Vietnamese national remain though. Prosecutors accused the two women of exposing Kim Jong-nam to the deadly nerve agent VX as he entered a Kuala Lumpur airport killing him in minutes.

HOWELL: The U.S. president appears ready for another battle with Congress over a border wall. President Trump is set to deliver his 2020 budget request later on Monday.

CHURCH: In his 2020 budget request, the president proposes a five percent cut across federal agencies. That means cuts in education, health care, but not for defense. It includes $8.6 billion for a border wall. Five billion will be taken from customs and border protection and $3.6 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget.

HOWELL: Let's talk more about all of this now with Natasha Lindstaedt. Natasha is a professor of government at the University of Essex. It is good to have you with us.


HOWELL: Natasha, so President Trump is asking for billions more for his border wall in his proposed budget despite seeing members of his own party vote against it in Congress. What do you make of this renewed push?

LINDSTAEDT : We have to kind of look also at the context of the week that he's been having. He's had a terrible week with what happened with the summit in Vietnam with North Korea. That didn't really work out. The Michael Cohen hearings didn't go over well for him. And then there was also bad news about him ordering security clearances for his son-in-law and daughter. And then he went to CPAC and he sort of renewed his energy and his focus, you know, just really directing his energy to his base and really trying to make due on promises.

What they like about him is that he comes through on the promises. He said he wanted to get out of the Iran nuclear deal. He did. He said he wanted to get out of the Paris climate deal. He did. And then he is trying to make deal on this promise, at least giving the base the impression that he's willing to do whatever it takes to build this border wall.

HOWELL: It looks like we're headed for another budget showdown. How might that play out as he should have faced resistance?

LINDSTAEDT: He's definitely going to face resistance because the Democrat had been already incredibly critical of his spending and taxing. I mean, they see him responsible for increasing the deficit to $2 trillion. They don't like as you have reported that there's going to be a five percent cut in federal agencies and that would directly affect things like social security and Medicare.

And they don't like this idea that he wants to create some sort of military contingency fund, which they see as a military slush fund for him to get around some of the spending limits on military spending. They really don't like the types of things that he wants to focus on. And now he has to deal with a divided Congress.

He has a House that is in the hands of the Democrats and appeared to be in spite of everything that was happening last week, very united on these issues on what they want to prioritize. And for sure what they don't want to prioritize is giving him additional money to build this wall which they see as completely ineffective in dealing with immigration issues.

HOWELL: And in the proposed budget, again, deep cuts in education, deep cuts in health care, a lot of focus on military and border security politically. What does this mean for the president and his base? Where does it put Democrats as many are gearing up for 2020 race?

LINDSTAEDT: This speaks directly to his base. This is exactly what they want. This is what is popular at the rallies. He is talking about security. He really tries to explain on the fears (ph) of the American public that there is incredible crisis. In one of the recent interviews he was doing with the press, it was very clear that that's what was so great about the shutdown, was that now the public really knows about how bad this security crisis is at the border. But this doesn't really sit well with Democrats at all.

In fact, the recent polls from Iowa indicated that 80 percent of Democrats really care about health care, that health care is one of the most important issues of the campaign. I think that is what Democrats are going to focus on, that whatever Trump's spending plans include, they're not really focused on health care at all. And Democrats want to present themselves in 2020 as the party that cares about the issues that really affect, you know, middle-income, low- income voters.

HOWELL: Right. Natasha Lindstaedt, thank you again.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: Right now, Britain is set to leave the E.U. in just 18 days.

[03:35:01] On Tuesday, British lawmakers will vote on the prime minister's withdrawal deal, the same one they rejected just two months ago.

HOWELL: Here is the thing though. If the deal is voted down Tuesday, there are some options. On Wednesday, parliament will decide whether to leave the E.U. without a deal. And if there's -- if it's a no, there will be a vote on Thursday to delay Brexit.

CHURCH: All right. So let's talk all about all of this with Jonathan Portes. He is a professor of economics and public policy at King's College. He joins me from London. Thank you so much for being with us. OK, so as we explained, British lawmakers have previously rejected the prime minister's Brexit deal. Why would it be any different come Tuesday?

JONATHAN PORTES, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, KING'S COLLEGE: Well, there are two reasons it could have been different. The first is that the U.K. and the E.U. have been negotiating not changes to the deal but what the E.U. called clarification and interpretation designed to make it somewhat more palatable to the British parliament.

The second is that we're that much closer to Brexit day itself and the prime minister has been saying increasingly loudly that if her deal doesn't go through this time, then the risk or at least the risk from her point of view is that Brexit will be delayed or even cancelled, the idea both of these changes or what was to make the deal more acceptable or at least less unattractive to hard line supporters of Brexit in her own party.

The problem is that so far at least neither of these strategies has really worked, which is why at the time we are talking now at least, it's looks very unlikely that the deal will go through.

CHURCH: Right. So you don't think those clarifications and those interpretations will be sufficient then to get lawmakers on board on Tuesday?

PORTES: That's right. Essentially, the fundamental problem is that the agreement that was negotiated says that they backstop the provisions relating to how the Irish -- to the Irish border and the necessity for the U.K. and Northern Ireland to stay in a close customs relationship with the E.U. after Brexit.

Those provisions were designed to be a backstop and an insurance policy. Essentially what the hard line Brexiters and conservative party want is a get out clause, a way out of that. And unsurprisingly, the response is 27 and the Irish's bid, if you can get out of that, it's not an insurance policy, it's not a backstop anymore, not a safety net. So, those talks so far at least have not gone very far.

CHURCH: All right. So, let's say it doesn't get voted, Prime Minister Theresa May's deal doesn't get voted on to move forward to Tuesday, so then the possible scenarios there. We mentioned Britain crashing out of the E.U. or perhaps a delay here. Surely a delay would be the more likely outcome going forward at this point. But you have to wonder why they hadn't thought this through, all the Brexiters, here they are, they are looking incredibly foolish. Are they not?

PORTES: They are. You're quite right. A delay is the most likely option. And you're also right that the Brexiters are somewhat stuck. They have (INAUDIBLE) to say how much they hate the deal that is on the table. But, equally, they do not have a majority for what they really want which is for us to crash out without a deal.

So, the most likely near term (ph) scenario is indeed a delay. But the problem is of course that the delay in itself does not solve any of the fundamental underlying issues. We still have this dilemma. Do we want a deal on the line? Do we want to crash out without a deal? Or do we want to try some other path for which as yet neither the government nor the opposition has any clear plan?

CHURCH: What about the second referendum? A number of people pushed for it. There aren't enough lawmakers on board to go in that direction. But the reality is when you look back on the history of this, a lot of people did not know in Britain what they were voting on. They thought they were voting to keep immigrants out for the most part. Did they not? And now, they are in the situation where a lot of people are saying, given another opportunity to vote, they would change the way they voted.

PORTES: Well, I think you're right on the first point, but not on the second. You're right that we didn't know what we were voting for. I didn't and I'm supposed to know something about this topic. That is to say we have learned an awful lot in the last few years. Everybody who is paying attention has learned an awful lot. So we indeed knew information.

But I think you're wrong in saying that lots of people would change their mind. The polls suggest there has been be a consistent but still pretty small swing and favor for May.

[03:39:59] So, it's quite possible there would be a small majority to remain. But it's not clear that that solves the problem, right? A small majority to remain is not necessarily more decisive than a small majority to leave. And that's one of the reasons lawmakers as you say are very nervous indeed about voting for a second referendum because they thik it would be very decisive and won't necessarily solve anything. It has to be said that they are probably right about that.

CHURCH: Certainly. If it wouldn't change the outcome, then it would be completely pointless. Jonathan Portes, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your analysis on this.

PORTES: Thank you.

HOWELL: ISIS is still clinging to its last piece of territory in Syria. That's despite another round of intense fighting. We go live to the scene of the battle. Stay with us.


HOWELL: In Eastern Syria, the last 24 hours have seen another round of intense fighting as U.S.-backed forces are once again trying to seize that country's last ISIS enclave.




CHURCH (voice-over): That was the scene Sunday. You can see explosions lighting up the night sky and hear heavy gunfire. The largely Kurdish U.S. ally says ISIS has run out of time to surrender.


HOWELL: CNN's Ben Wedeman, producer Kareem Khadder, cameraman Scott McGweny (ph) and team member Adam Dhabbi (ph) have been covering this battle from the front lines. And now, Ben joins us with more in Eastern Syria. Ben, tell us about the situation as it stands right now.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: George, what we have been hearing is occasional shelling, occasional machine gunfire coming from this small enclave behind me, just about half square mile.

[03:45:07] Overnight, the bombardment was much more intense. We were seeing tracer fire. There were airstrikes. There were artillery and mortar rounds going in as well. What's interesting is this morning, we did spot through our telephoto lens not only people walking around, but despite the bombing, despite everything that's been going on, there are still the black banners of ISIS flying over this encampment and it's not at all clear how many people are still inside.

We know that the Syrian Democratic forces have twice before tried to continue with this operation but had to halt and call a truce to allow civilians to leave. Now a month ago, the Syrian Democratic forces officials were telling us they were only around 1,500 people inside in addition to 500 fighters. It turns out there were more than 30,000 people inside.

And therefore, they wanted to avoid civilian casualties so they came out not only civilians, also hundreds and hundreds of ISIS fighters themselves who surrendered. One of them told me that the bombardment was just too intense. They could not stay inside. And many of the families, in fact, are family members, families of ISIS fighters as well.

And even now, the Syrian Democratic forces, George, are telling us that they believe there are still some civilians, not many at this point, still inside this camp. Over the last 72 hours, just a few dozen people left the encampment. And that is why they decided that they would make this third perhaps final attempt to retake what is honestly a very small piece of land. George, I think I've lost communications, so back to you.

HOWELL: All right, Ben, thank you very much for the reporting.

CHURCH: It will be the world's largest display of democracy. We will go New Delhi live to talk about the upcoming election there and the 900 million people who can vote. That's next.


HOWELL: Voters in the world's largest democracy head to the polls starting April 11th. India's election commission says the voting will be held in seven different stages. It's coming off the back of escalating tensions though between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region.

CHURCH: And despite economic and sectarian tensions, current prime minister, Narendra Modi, will seek reelection. But other politicians are already trying to win over the 900 million people eligible to cast a vote. So for more, let's go to Nikhil Kumar who joins us live from New Delhi. Good to see you, Nikhil. So, how likely is it that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will stay off in the opposition and win another term here? NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Rosemary, he remains. He was and he remains the single most influential, most consequential political figure in this country. But the landscape as we head into this election has changed. Only a few months ago, it looked like Mr. Modi was an almost certain candidate for reelection. It became a much, much more tighter contest.


KUMAR: It's the biggest electoral show on earth. And this time, it is all about this man, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Fresh from a tense fight with rival Pakistan that's fired up his base, Modi and his Hindu nationalist party are still facing a tight contest.

In 2014, years before Brexit, before Trump, he wrote a populist wave to win in a landslide. He promised to generate jobs for the roughly 12 million young Indians who enter the workforce each year.

And to borrow a phrase from another populist leader, he promised to make India great again, to stand up to foes like Pakistan and restore national pride.

But as he seeks reelection, there are questions about his record. That's fired up the opposition. Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the principal opposition Indian National Congress party, says Modi has failed.

RAHUL GANDHI, PRESIDENT, INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS: Mr. Narendra Modi has spent five years, five years wasting India's time.

For their critics, Modi and his Hindu nationalist base are also a threat to India's secular fabric. Although majority is Hindu, India is home to multiple religious minorities including more than 172 million Muslims.

In recent years, Human Rights Watch says Hindu vigilantes will consider the cow as sacred animal, have mounted a violent campaign against beef consumption and those in the cattle trade that's claimed at least 44 lives including 36 Muslim.

On the economy, experts say joblessness has worsened despite healthy growth. Many also complain about the impact of two big policies, the 2016 currency ban that sparked nationwide chaos and a new goods and services tax which some small businesses say was badly implemented.

Experts say economic factors were among the reasons Modi's party suffered heavy losses in key state level elections in December. So, could Modi be a one-time leader? Will he be triumphant again? The answer is in the hands of the more than 800 million people who are eligible to vote over the coming weeks.


KUMAR: As you can see, a number of issues that have turned this into much, much more of a contest than It was just a few months ago, about a year ago. Back in 2014, Mr. Modi outlined a very optimistic vision for the country, a country that is very, very young.

[03:55:02] You know, most Indians are below the age of 25, more than 50 percent. And it's that constituency that he appealed to last time by promising this effectively economic renaissance. He's going to be tested on that. It is something that the opposition says he just hasn't delivered.

When I talked about the opposition, it is also worth bearing in mind that there isn't just one party. The Congress is the principal opposition party. But this is a country with hundreds of regional players. It is a parliamentary system. When Indians vote, they will be voting for their local M.P. and the party that has the largest number of M.P. get to choose the prime minister.

So it's also possible that somebody ends up with a large share of the vote but doesn't win a majority in which case these regional players could be very, very critical after the votes are counted on the 23rd of May. All in all, it's a very, very close contest. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

CHURCH: We will certainly do that. Nikhil Kumar, thank you so much for your reporting. Appreciate it.

HOWELL: Finally this hour, at 116 years old, a woman in Japan is officially the world's oldest living person. Kane Tanaka was born on January 2nd in 1903.

CHURCH: How about that? The Guinness World record has honored her with certificates for being the oldest living woman and the oldest living person. She likes to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and guess what, she likes to study math. She is said to be very good at playing the strategy board game Othello, got to keep on top of these things, keeping mind alive.

HOWELL: Absolutely, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right.


HOWELL: Thank you so much for being with us. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church. "Early Start" is next for our viewers here in the United States. And to everybody else, stay tuned for more news with Hannah Vaughan Jones in London. You're watching CNN. Have a great day.