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Beijing Vows to Strike Back at Latest U.S. tariffs; U.S. Continues to Increase Military Pressure on Iran; French Hostage Rescue; Albania's Opposition Calls for Early Elections; South Africa Decides in Fierce Election. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2019 - 03:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The world's top two economies at an impasse, as President Trump tells China to act now or face a deal that's far worse later.

A call for unity from Iran's president as the country faces increased pressure from the U.S.

And Catholic churches in Sri Lanka resume mass for the first time after the Easter bombing attacks nearly three weeks ago.

We're live from the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. As always, it's great to have you with us.

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VANIER: Limited time offer is a tried and true sales technique used by American businesses to close a deal. And that is the gist of a tweet on Saturday by President Trump. He writes that it would be wise for Beijing to seal a trade deal now, because if they wait until 2020 and he wins reelection they will only get a worse deal.

Whether the hard sell works remains to be seen. The signs so far are no. China's top negotiator says that the latest round of U.S. tariffs, a hike from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, must be rolled back before anything else can happen.

Beijing is holding firm and says it will strike back at the U.S. for imposing those higher tariffs. Our Matt Rivers has this report from the Chinese port of Tianjin.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So right now we're in a port in the Chinese city of Tianjin. It's one of the biggest in China. And it's in places like this where billions of dollars of goods go back and forth between the United States and China, both American goods coming here and Chinese goods going to the U.S.

You can call this the front line of the trade war between the U.S. and China, now heating up again. On Friday, the U.S. went forward with raising tariff rates on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to the U.S. and now we're waiting to see what the Chinese government is going to do to retaliate.

We don't know yet, they haven't given the specifics but we have some idea of what they will likely do. One of the things they could do will play out right here.

When American imports come in to ports like this, they're already largely facing tariffs as a result of this trade war. But Chinese officials could raise the rates on those tariffs and that would make those products more expensive.

Another thing they could do is target key U.S. exports. Over the years, China has bought billions of dollars worth of American soybeans. During the trade war, China's government actually banned those purchases from taking place.

But the restrictions were eventually lifted in good faith but China could put restrictions back in place if they want to. Ultimately, there are a lot of ways the Chinese government could retaliate and we don't know what specifically they're going to do.

What we do know is their aim is going to be to hurt both American companies and the American economy, because that's what happens in a trade war -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Tianjin, China.

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VANIER: And already the impasse is affecting long-term business decisions. A survey last February found a growing number of American firms are rethinking their investments in that country. A whopping 20 percent said they were even considering closing their China factories.

The U.S. is also ramping up pressure on another country, Iran. But Iran's president says his nation will never give in. According to Iranian state TV, President Hassan Rouhani has called on political factions to come together amid the standoff. He says the nation is facing an all-out war of economic and political pressure from U.S. sanctions.

This comes as the U.S. has increased its military presence in the Middle East in order to deter alleged Iranian threats. CNN's Ben Wedeman has more on this.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. military buildup in the Gulf continues. Trump administration officials say that they're deploying, in addition to a carrier group and four B-52 bombers, an amphibious vessel, the U.S.S. Arlington, as well as a Patriot missile battery, all intended to counter what are said to be Iranian threats against U.S. interests and forces in the region.

The specifics of the so-called threats are somewhat vague. Officials tell CNN in Washington that the Iranians are moving short-range ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles around the Gulf, that there are threats against around 5,000 U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq.

One of the main movers behind the latest American moves is U.S. --

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WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- national security adviser John Bolton, long an advocate of regime change in Iran. Before that, he was an advocate of regime change in Iraq, leading up to the war in 2003.

He may not be on the same page as his boss, President Trump, who has invited the Iranians to give him a call. And American officials have even passed to Swiss intermediaries a number where the Iranians can reach him.

President Trump told reporters Friday he just doesn't want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons, which incidentally what the was the purpose of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that he scrapped a year ago.

On Friday a commander with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, however, said Iran would not be responding to the president's invitation to talk -- I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Beirut.

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VANIER: David Rohde joins us for more on this, CNN global affairs analyst, also executive editor at "The New Yorker" website.

David, are the U.S. and Iran on a collision course?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's not clear. And one of the confusing things about this moment in the different messages coming out of the White House. You had John Bolton announcing this new deployment of an aircraft carrier and other weapons systems to threaten Iran.

And then shortly after that, you had President Trump saying he wants, as Ben noted, he wants Iran to call him. So it's a confused message and to be honest I'm not sure what's going to happen.

VANIER: What do you make of that, Trump saying what he would like to see from Iran was, his quote was, call me. And they have passed on a phone number to the Swiss in case the Iranians feel inclined to do that.

What do you make of that?

ROHDE: I'm not sure this is going to be an effective strategy. There has to be a clear message of saber rattling and, on top of enormous economic pressure, we're going to put military pressure on you. That's one message from the United States.

Or give us a call and make a deal. I think if there isn't that clear message, there isn't as much pressure on Iran. And the big thing hanging over all this is the timeframe. The Iranians could simply be waiting to see if Donald Trump wins reelection.

VANIER: U.S. sanctions have snapped back on Iran since Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal a year ago. I was wondering whether you think that may have primed Iran now for negotiations.

ROHDE: It has but, you know, you mention this intelligence that's come out. The sense is, according to American intelligence officials, the Iranians are trying to provoke the U.S. into carrying out some limited strike on Iran.

The sanctions have really hurt Iran's economy. Inflation and joblessness is running very high. So one way for the Iranian regime to be popular is to play on nationalism and to have some sort of American military action that would, you know, cause Iranians to rally behind this government.

So there are some people arguing in the administration that the U.S. needs to be very cautious and that they're essentially, Iran's trying to bait Trump or Bolton into overreacting and that overreacting could help the Iranian regime.

VANIER: One of the people who has the president's ears on this, quite naturally, is his national security adviser, John Bolton. He is known as a hawk. He once advocated regime change in Iran. Mr. Trump appears not to be buying into that, though. Listen to what he said earlier this week about Bolton.

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TRUMP: Yes, John is very good. John is a -- he has strong views on things but that's OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn't it?

Nobody thought that was going to -- I'm the one that tempers him but that's OK.

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VANIER: Again, I wonder what you make of that. When John Bolton came in as national security adviser, a lot of people noted, well, he's somebody who's advocated for regime change.

How is this going to influence U.S. foreign policy?

ROHDE: You know, you see that, I think, in the rhetoric. You see Bolton pushing on Iran. You know, he's very hawkish about North Korea. There was talk of this attempted uprising in Venezuela that failed.

But, again, you know, this is a foreign policy that's not working. You know, it seems like the president and John Bolton aren't in synch.

So how are you going to pressure Iran into, you know, new negotiations, pressuring North Korea into new negotiations, pressuring North Korea into new negotiation, even pressuring China when you don't have a clear message coming from this White House. And I think that this election is 18, 16 months away.

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ROHDE: There's a good chance all of these, you know, countries, including Venezuela, are simply going to try to wait out Donald Trump. As this election approaches, there's more pressure on Trump to deliver. He has no large diplomatic achievement to show for his reelection effort.

So if they can wait, if Iran can hang on, North Korea, China, Iran and Venezuela, President Trump is the one who comes under pressure to produce.

VANIER: David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst, thank you so much.

ROHDE: Thank you.

VANIER: And President Trump is lashing out at former White House counsel Don McGahn after reports McGahn refused twice to say publicly that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.

In a tweet on Saturday, the president writes he was never a big fan of McGahn.

He also denies that he was going to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, abruptly canceled his trip to Ukraine. He was going there to press the country's leadership to investigate accusations of impropriety by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Now Biden and other Democrats have responded. Sarah Westwood reports from the White House.

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SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, reversing his decision to go to Ukraine and discuss with Ukrainian officials something that might damage a potential 2020 rival for President Trump and that's former Vice President Joe Biden.

Giuliani first defended his decision to make this trip before backtracking amid a massive backlash, with Democrats criticizing the trip overseas to work with foreign officials to gain information that might hurt someone who could run against the president in the next presidential election.

Just for some context, this is all related to events that took place in 2016, when then Vice President Joe Biden was pushing to oust the top prosecutor in Ukraine. That prosecutor was investigating an energy company in which Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president, had financial interests.

And on Friday, Trump told "Politico" he thought he would be within his rights to ask attorney general Bill Barr to look into all this. Here's what he said. "Certainly, it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about but

I have not done that as of yet. It could be a very big situation."

Now of course, Biden was not alone in calling for the removal of that Ukrainian official; there were a number of other Western leaders who were doing the same at the time. And there's no evidence that the actions Biden took were connected to his son's business activities.

But before Giuliani abandoned his plans to go to Ukraine, Democratic senator Chris Murphy wrote a letter to the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asking him to press for more details about this trip. So Democrats were preparing to look into all this.

It also came after Trump told "Politico" he planned to discuss the planned trip with Giuliani. And Biden's campaign responded to all of this on Saturday. A spokesman telling CNN that this was, quote, "a blatantly political smear from the Trump team." -- Sarah Westwood, CNN, the White House.

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VANIER: At least one security guard is dead after gunmen tried to storm a luxury hotel in southwest Pakistan. These images show The Pearl Continental in Gwadar before the attack. The military says the assault is over and the guests are safe. Gwadar is located in Balochistan in southwest Pakistan near the border with Iran.

It's also a key port city, part of a $60 billion development project of China. It is frequented by foreign guests; among them, Chinese staff who work on the project.

Several militant group, including separatists, are known to operate in this area.

Three of the four hostages rescued from terrorists in Burkina Faso are in France. They were greeted by President Emmanuel Macron when they arrived on Saturday. We're hearing more details of their ordeal and a harrowing rescue operation. Salma Abdelaziz reports.

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SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER: French forces launched an operation to rescue what they believed were two French men kidnapped in neighboring Benin. Once inside, they found that an American hostage and a South Korean woman had been taken as well.

They were able to rescue all four but two French soldiers lost their lives in this raid. One of the freed French men speaks of his mixed emotions at his new-found freedom.

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LAURENT LASSIMOUILLAS, RESCUED HOSTAGE (through translator): First of all, our thoughts go to the families of the soldiers and the soldiers who lost their lives to free us from this hell. We wanted to present our condolences immediately to these families because our thoughts are ambivalent in relation to everything that is happening to us.

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ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): The two French men were kidnapped on May 1st in neighboring Benin, where they were on safari. They describe a terrible incident, where their local guide was killed by the kidnappers. They were taken and then moved to Burkina Faso. The French authorities --

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ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): -- for their part, say they had to act when they did to rescue these men because their hostage takers were about to move them on to another militant group, this one based in Mali and with links to Al Qaeda.

French authorities say if they had been moved on, it would have been near impossible to rescue these French men. Now the French military is involved in the Sahel region. There are over 4,000 French troops there fighting an extremist insurgency. The French foreign minister described this as a success in that battle against the extremist elements in the Sahel region. As for those French soldiers who lost their lives, the country will be honoring them in a tribute on Tuesday -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.

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VANIER: The votes are counted in South Africa and the ruling party, the ANC, will stay in power. But it is the ugly sentiment this week's election has stirred up that has many concerned. We'll have details on that when we come back.

And also this.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have many guarantees in the country and we appreciate them. But this is a special day in the country and we are not going to let that stop.

VANIER (voice-over): A call for equal rights in Cuba. Gay rights activists defy government orders and march in a pride rally. We'll tell you what happened during and after the event.

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VANIER: A lively scene on the streets of Havana. Gay rights activists in Cuba took part in a pride parade, demanding equal rights. It was an unprecedented march that had been canceled by the government just days earlier. But as CNN's Patrick Oppmann reports, that didn't stop protesters from rallying.

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PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is something pretty unprecedented in Cuba, a march taking place in the heart of Havana without the express permission of the Cuban government. These are gay rights activists. And every year, about this time, they hold an anti- homophobia march.

This is something new to this country, a country where it used to be considered anti-revolutionary to be gay. But this year, just days before the government canceled the gay pride parade, saying it was going to be infiltrated by anti-government activists coming from outside. People were very disappointed. They said they would do the march Norway.

Many here said they were warned not to come. And while there is a heavy police presence around us, so far none have intervened. Many of these activists say they are not anti-government, now anti-revolution. But they feel it's important to come out.

And even though gay marriage is still not legal in Cuba, the come out and say that they demand rights and respect and that they exist -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.

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VANIER: And after CNN stopped filming the protest there, police stopped the march and arrested several people.

Protests in Albania's capital turned violent on Saturday.

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VANIER: Some demonstrators threw petrol bombs at government buildings and police hurled tear gas at the crowds. It all comes as the country's opposition part is calling for the government to dissolve and hold snap elections. Alba Prifti reporting with CNN affiliate A2 is in Tirana.

ALBA PRIFTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a tense situation here in Tirana, where police are clashing with protesters. Protests put on by the opposition leader speaking, behind me here.

There are images, being projected on the building of the prime minister, that say leave. The democratic party and the group forming the opposition have asked the prime minister to step down. They're requesting snap elections. They're refusing to participate in the planned and organized elections coming up in June.

Protesters were tear gassed earlier and police have also seen Molotov cocktails thrown at them. At one point, there were several fires happening near the prime minister's building. Now it seems a little bit more calm. The protest has been going on for several hours now and there's still quite a few people still here in front of the prime minister's office -- reporting from Tirana, I'm Alba Prifti.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: Lawmakers in Hong Kong are fighting over a controversial bill, quite literally. Take a look.

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VANIER (voice-over): On Saturday, lawmakers brawled over amendments to a law that could allow Hong Kong to extradite people to countries without formal extradition agreements. That includes mainland China. Critics warn the law would erode freedoms for pro-democracy activists, journalists and foreign business owners.

Hong Kong's government is asking lawmakers to resume, quote, "rational discussions" about the issue.

And South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, is holding onto power after winning the contested general election. With all the ballots counted, the African National Congress came away with nearly 58 percent of the vote. But the heated election climate once again fueled populism and anti-immigration sentiments in the country. David McKenzie explains.

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HUSSAIN ASMAN (PH), SHOP OWNER: In the morning, the come in, the people. They come inside the fog (ph). They looted everything.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly 15 years ago, Hussain Asman (ph) fled violence and killing in Somalia...

MCKENZIE: So they looted your shop four times.

ASMAN (PH): Yes, four times.

MCKENZIE: -- only to find it here in South Africa.

The Somali business community and other African immigrants all targets of xenophobic attacks and crime.

In August of last year, looters casually walking past a murdered Somali outside a store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how are you feeling?

You are fine.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Every time South Africans have destroyed his business, Asman (ph) began again.

He said they always fear South African elections the most. "The government isn't interested in protecting us," he says. "We live among South Africans and, whenever there are elections, blackouts or no water, they rob us over and over again."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): South Africa's president recently called for arrests and prosecutions, saying there is no justification for criminality. But these attacks have gone on for years. Often their attackers go free.

MCKENZIE: In the most competitive elections since the end of apartheid, all of the parties seem to be pushing (INAUDIBLE) and tapping into (INAUDIBLE) of anti-immigrant sentiment.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Reflecting global trends, parties like the opposition Democratic Alliance are using slogans like "Secure our borders."

"(INAUDIBLE) the foreigners must just leave," he says. "They are here to destroy our country."

MCKENZIE: Some of us are elected.

What does that mean for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Means that it is a (INAUDIBLE).

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Despite party leaders officially calling for tolerance, it was easy to find stark anti-immigrant sentiment at political rallies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) before (INAUDIBLE). You can before must fix your house before you go in the other country and fix them.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): "We said 'Down with foreigners, down with foreigners,'" said this ANC supporter.

South Africans often blame immigrants for bringing in fake goods, taking jobs, pushing drugs, committing crimes, mostly with little evidence.

HERMAN MASHABA, JOHANNESBURG MAYOR: Our constitution is certainly (ph) around how, we as a country, must take care of the foreign nationals coming into the country.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Politicians accused of inflaming passions, like Johannesburg's mayor, say they just want the rule of law.

MCKENZIE: Their accusation is that campaigning and words are powerful and it stokes violence.

MASHABA: Well, you stoke violence when you've got a break down of law and order. When you --

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MASHABA: -- don't really have the rule of law in any country, where it's a jungle that anybody can do anything. That's where you have chaos.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Just months ago, Asman's (ph) grandson was killed during looting. Two weeks ago, his nephew, Nur Oman (ph), was robbed and murdered near his store. He was just 18.

"He lived with me when he came to South Africa. And I took care of him because he was family. And I've lost all hope since he died," says Asman (ph).

Hope for a better life in South Africa extinguished by violence and hate -- David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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VANIER: Catholic Churches have been holding Sunday mass in Sri Lanka for the first time since the Easter bombings. The attacks killed hundreds of people and dealt a blow to the nation's once-popular tourism industry. CNN's Nikhil Kumar reports.

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NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Empty beaches, deserted streets, restaurants with no customers, the starters idly outside. The devastating Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka killed more than 250 people. And the bombings also dealt a body blow to a key pillar of the country's economy: tourism.

I'm just a couple kilometers away from one of the targets of the Easter Sunday bombing, the St. Sebastian Shrine just outside Colombo. And I'm a block away from the beach that would normally be full of tourists. But as you can see, there's hardly anybody out on the streets.

The terrorists targeted churches and hotels popular with the 2 million tourists who visit the country every year. The industry accounts for about 1 million jobs. It's one of the great success stories here, following the end of a bloody 26-year civil war in 2009. But now the industry is staring at big losses.

According to the head of the trade body in Negombo.

HYACINTH GUNAWARDENED, NEGOMBO HOTELIERS ASSOCIATION: Most of the hotels are experiencing about 70 percent to 75 percent cancellations up to December. We keep on getting the cancellations.

KUMAR (voice-over): The impact is nationwide. One of the country's leading travel companies said about a third of the bookings they had for many have already been canceled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since 2009 we've only had it going up. Year on year, we have had increases. Since then, it is the first time we've had downfall.

KUMAR (voice-over): Among those killed on Easter Sunday were more than 40 foreign nationals from at least a dozen countries. Sri Lanka's leaders acknowledge the economic fallout.

MAITHRIPALA SIRISENA, SRI LANKA PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, the economy has suffered a blow as a result of these attacks. And it's the tourism industry which has suffered the greatest blow.

KUMAR (voice-over): It's a double blow. Back in Negombo, even as people here and around the country mourn the lives lost in the bombings, the economic costs are mounting -- Nikhil Kumar, CNN, Sri Lanka.

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VANIER: And that's it from us this hour. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier, I'll be back with the headlines, next.

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