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Crowds of Demonstrators Gather before Hong Kong March; U.S. Mass Shootings. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired August 18, 2019 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It has been 11 straight weekends and Hong Kong protesters are not letting up. Thousands have flooded Victoria Park and a march begins this hour.

Also, wedding terror: scores are dead and several injured after a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Also, one step closer to democracy. Rival factions in Sudan have finally inked a deal. It looks like the people won, finally.

We are live from CNN Center in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Right now, huge crowds of people are gathering in Hong Kong's Victoria Park. In the next half hour or so, they will begin marching in the heart of the city. This the 11th straight weekend of protests and they show no sign of slowing down. Let's go now to our Paula Hancocks. She is out with the protesters.

Paula, set the scene for us.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, we are just outside of Victoria Park in between the park in the metro station, where an awful lot of people are coming through to join this rally. There is a constant, steady stream of people coming to join this rally. There has been for the past hour, if not more.

Now we understand an awful lot of the park is already full. There are certain areas that they can still fit people in but this is a very festive atmosphere at this point. We have seen families coming through; we have seen children sleeping in their prams. How you can sleep in this noise, I do not know. But it is definitely a family occasion at this point.

The organizers say that the park can hold 100,000 people. They expect 300,000 people. And if this is any indication of how many are coming, it is just a constant stream of people, chanting "Support Hong Kong, support the front lines." These are the messages we're hearing today, trying to unify. We have

seen different protesters break off and cause trouble in recent weeks but people here are saying this has to be peaceful, we have to fight for democracy in Hong Kong, calling for the demands that they have given to the government and an independent inquiry into police activity, for example, to be recognized.

So at this point, it is remarkable the number of people coming past here into the park.

Of course, the question is what happens when that park is full. Police have given permission for the protests in the park and that rally. They have not given permission for any kind of march afterwards, which is what some of these protesters want to do.

And if the park is, it is what they may have to do, so I think it is a constant negotiation between police and the organizers to try and close some roads and at least be able to fit these people in -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Paula, we can certainly see the people and hear their chants and understand that they are passionate about what they are about to do. Paula, thank you very much.

Let's cross over to Victoria Park. Will Ripley joins us now, setting the scene for us.

Hi, Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie. It is standing room only here Victoria Park. I am standing a short distance away from where the organizers are speaking to the crowd. The crowd chanting, "Free Hong Kong, democracy now," and also chanting against what they call excessive force used by Hong Kong police or, in their words, mainland style oppression.

Speaking of the mainland, there has been a new video released by Chinese state media and it shows the Communist Party's strength, just a short distance from the border with Hong Kong in Shenzhen, the armed military police, who continue to conduct large scale drills.

The video speaks for itself. It shows exactly what methods China can utilize if it decided to intervene here in Hong Kong and send in its military police to disperse this movement, which is now in its 11th consecutive week of protests.

At the moment, things are very peaceful here but it is that kind of oppression, that kind of intimidation that these crowds say bring them out here to send a message that they are unhappy with the way their government is running things and they are unhappy with what they view as the increasingly heavy-handed and authoritarian approach by Mainland China.

ALLEN: Yes, that is part of the story definitely to watch. Will Ripley for us there, all, right, we are going to switch back now to Paula Hancocks. She is in the crowd where people will be marching -- [03:05:00]

ALLEN: -- and it seems that according to Will, Paula, despite this Chinese propaganda video, that is what is emboldening a lot of these protesters.

HANCOCKS: Well, certainly we are seeing a lot of people, here, not just younger student protesters, which you equate with pro-democracy marshes. This is an entire family affair. You can see that many families have come with their children. There are people in wheelchairs. They are assuming that this park is going to be peaceful. They want their voices to be heard.

It's not just about that video or potential Chinese intervention. It is also much larger than that. The people here want some kind of investigation into what they see as excessive force by the police in Hong Kong.

It was not that long ago that the police were very well respected but that is completely changed. There is a real chasm between the protesters and the police at this point and we have seen that in recent days and even the police themselves felt they needed to come forward because it is not just a struggle on the streets. It is a battle for public opinion.

This has been the first face to face background briefing with foreign media, including CNN, with senior police officers saying that if the protesters did not use violence then they would need to use force.

Protesters have been using violent criminal behavior and this is why they felt the need to crack down but this is not how many of these protesters see it. They see the police as having used excessive force when it comes to dispersing crowds and it really is a deep chasm between the police and the protesters.

But for many people, here they just want their voice to be heard. They want the demands they have given to the government taken seriously.

ALLEN: Thank you very much, Paula. We will be watching the story from your angle and from Will's in Victoria Park as this plays out. Thank you so much.


ALLEN: We continue tracking breaking news out of Afghanistan. What was supposed to be a day of joy has turned into terror after a suicide blast ripped through a wedding in Kabul. Officials say at least 63 people are dead, more than 180 wounded. The blast comes after the latest round of U.S.-Taliban peace talks, the Taliban denying responsibility and had condemned this attack.

But this violence is raising fears about what a so-called peace in Afghanistan would actually look like. Here is how one witness described the attack on the wedding.


MOHAMMAD HASAN, WITNESS (through translator): We were sitting in our home when a strong sound of the blast came up. We came to the site of the blast and I saw that many women and children were screaming and crying. Many martyrs and injured people were transferred by the ambulances and it was a really terrible situation.


ALLEN: Joining us now is Bob Baer, a CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative.

Bob, thank you for coming in to talk with us.


ALLEN: We see ongoing violence in Afghanistan, we have had a wedding celebration attacked. It was a suicide attack in early August that injured dozens and dozens of people, women and children, the Taliban also claiming responsibility for many of the more than 1,500 civilians killed and wounded in July.

So does this escalation threaten these peace talks?

BAER: Clearly it is not with the United States wanted but this president is determined to get out of Afghanistan. He has hated this war from day one. He has been telling his generals, what are we spending all this money for?

How do we get out of it?

How do we win?

And he has called them into the White House and said, I want out of, there I don't care how you do, it I don't care what the level of violence, is we want out and this is what is going to happen.

ALLEN: Yes, he wants out completely by the election in 2020 but what is the risk to Afghanistan with a significant drawdown in U.S. troops?

They are talking about going from 14,000 to 9,000 by September.

What assurances should the U.S. try to get from the Taliban for a drawdown?

BAER: Well, it can't get any insurances (sic); the Taliban is a unified, movement the leadership cannot account for everybody and they cannot account for the Islamic State. That movement is apparently picking up support.

This latest attack on the wedding has all the hallmarks of an Islamic State attack. It was against a Shia wedding, so what I think we are going to see, it is like when we left Vietnam in 1975, we are going to see what will amount to a civil --

[03:10:00] BAER: -- war and there is nothing we can do about it. When you take the troops down to 9,000, how much control -- we are already losing control over the country, U.S. troops and NATO. We're going to have a lot less. They are going to be confined to barracks and they're only going to be able to watch the chaos.

ALLEN: You talk about civil war because the Taliban, we're going to remind our viewers, does not recognize the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

BAER: Exactly and there is also the sectarian differences between Shia and Sunni. The hardcore Sunnis look at the Shia as apostates and they believe that they can be basically wiped out. And this is what we are going to be seeing and I do not see that they have moderated in all these years since we invaded in October 2001.

The conflict is -- you know, in addition, Natalie, you have the whole problem of drought and refugees. This country is truly a basket case. But once we pull, out you're going to see a lot of revenge attacks. You're going to see this government is going to fall. It is all fairly predictable.

ALLEN: And is anything left there to help ameliorate some of this if the U.S. leaves?

BAER: No, the military is hollowed out. It is paid by NATO, by the United States. But the corruption is endemic in Afghanistan. This government has no legitimacy. And I don't think it can stand up its own army, especially after all these years.

I mean, very rarely is the president right. But he is right about this war being unwinnable and that we can only hold back the chaos for so long until we get tired. And it is costing a lot of money. This has been bungled from day one. It is not going to get better.

ALLEN: Yes, it is the U.S. is longest war and yet as we said, President Trump often says the U.S. troops should not act as police in Afghanistan. He wants out but senator Lindsey Graham, normally a staunch ally of the president, debunks that and says U.S. troops are the frontline defense for America against the reemergence of radical Islamist groups, who want to attack the American homeland. So there will be those voices in Washington.

BAER: But Lindsey Graham, the problem is, the Taliban did not attack United States on 9/11. That was Al Qaeda. There is no evidence the Taliban was aware of that attack in advance.

Now I can't tell you what they're going to do tomorrow, what the Islamic State is going to do but Lindsey Graham, there is no evidence that the Taliban is an international terrorist organization or intends to attack United States outside of Afghanistan. There's just none so far.

So we are going to have to wait and see whether that is changed or not. ALLEN: And finally, would be significant the Taliban in this peace deal would agree to renounce Al Qaeda and pledge a commitment to counterterrorism efforts?

BAER: I think that is important. This group is almost a cult and what they believe and don't believe is difficult for us to understand. But you have to take their word for, it, otherwise we are going to be in that country forever.

Come on, we have to think about the last group that attacked and invaded Afghanistan were the Mongols and they only did it by genocide that they won. The Russians, failed, the British failed and we failed and I'm not sure why this is a surprise to anyone.

There's got to be a way out of this country. Staying, in, it is a quagmire. We can't win it and, like I said, very rarely is this president right but he is right to get out of Afghanistan.

ALLEN: Well, we feel for the people of Afghanistan always caught in the middle of this one. Bob Baer, we appreciate your insights. Thank you for joining us.

BAER: Thank you.

ALLEN: For, more I'm joined on the phone now from Kabul by Sultan Faizy. He's a correspondent for the "Los Angeles Times."

Sultan, thank you for talking with us about this horrific event. And I am told that you have just come back from covering one of the funerals.

What can you tell us?

SULTAN FAIZY, "L.A. TIMES": Exactly, people are complaining about the security failure of (INAUDIBLE) complaining that the suicide attacker might have been going toward the old (INAUDIBLE) renovated by the government recently.

And it is getting prepared for the Afghan independence day. So, the closed ones for the victims, they have been saying that we were not expecting that insurgents might have attacked a wedding ceremony that is full of civilians --


FAIZY: -- so they are complaining about the security failure because this was less than a kilometer to the place where the government is going to celebrate its independence day.

So we are not sure about the exact numbers yet, because we have only got the 63 killed and 182 wounded. This is an official claim. But the close members of the families here claiming that they were more than 100 because of the blast was quite strong and powerful, because many people have been kind of vanished and people still are looking for their loved ones in various hospitals, because, so far, many people are actually busy with the funerals. And some are still looking for their loved ones and family members.

We are not sure that how many -- what was the security measure like on the street at that time but we definitely know that it was a rough time for the (INAUDIBLE) a dinner at that time, because usually, we have the dinner late in the wedding ceremony.

So, yes, this is being called a tragic incident to the Afghan people and a shocking incident because the people are trying to also (INAUDIBLE) in the next month and they're not fully (INAUDIBLE) movement in the country.

So they have been questioning the security measures because Taliban denies this attack and condemns this attack actually, so it is not really clear who was behind it.

ALLEN: Absolutely. The Taliban has been causing so much violence there this summer but so far have said they did not have anything to do with this. We appreciate your reporting for us. We will continue to follow developments on this tragedy. Sultan Faizy, thank you.

FAIZY: You are welcome.

ALLEN: We turn to Bangladesh. Officials vowing to help hundreds who lost their homes in a massive fire. National news media report the flames broke out Friday night, unfortunately engulfing a slum in Dhaka. All that was left were mounds of ash and debris, which you can see here.

The mayor of the city's northern district consoled emotional victims at a temporary shelter. He said more help is on the, way, including food, medicine and permanent housing.

We hope so.

In the wake of several mass shootings, hundreds of rallies are set for this weekend. Their message to lawmakers, we will share that with you after this.





ALLEN: Sudan's military and opposition leaders have signed a power sharing deal which paves the way finally for civilian rule and free elections in that country. Crowds turned out in the capital to celebrate this landmark agreement that comes four months after longtime president Omar al-Bashir was pushed out.

Two weeks after a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, at a Walmart, the community came together to demand a ban on assault rifles. Dozens of concerned citizens and elected officials called for new legislation. It is one of 100 rallies being held in all 50 U.S. states this

weekend. The aim: to get Congress to enact tougher gun control laws. President Trump came out in favor of stronger background checks just two weeks ago. He even claimed congressional Republicans were on board.

But that idea now seems to have fallen by the wayside. Here's what he said a few days ago.


TRUMP: I do want people to remember the words mental illness. These people are mentally ill. A lot of our conversation has to do with the fact that we have to open up institutions. We can't let these people be on the streets.


ALLEN: Erik Fisher is a licensed psychologist joining me now to talk about this.

Erik, thanks for coming in.

ERIK FISHER, PSYCHOLOGIST: Thanks for having me.

ALLEN: The emphasis on mental illness during the time of a mass shooting is an approach favored by pro-gun groups.

As an expert, what do you think of that?

FISHER: I think we have to look at the idea of how we potentially we redirect the discussion and while mental illness is a key feature, having to do with gun violence, often it is the consequences of gun violence. There are much higher rates of post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety from the people who experienced gun violence than from those who carry out acts of gun violence.

ALLEN: There are other emotions involved here. This is just saying, we have to address middle illness when there is a mass shooting. Is that a copout in some instances?

FISHER: I think again, in order to experience mental illness, we experience emotions and before we experience mental illness we, experience emotions. If you look at all of these mass shootings, they're often driven by a motion. Rage, anger, hatred.

But before that comes the emotions of fear, mistrust, helplessness, abandonment, rejection. I always teach that, anger, rage, arrogance, flippancy, emotions like that are protective emotions so they never come first and they never come alone. We have to look at the building blocks or the emotions that those emotions are protecting.

In all of these people who committed these acts, if you look, they felt disenfranchised from their environment, they felt threatened in their, power, a change in their status, they were feeling like they were being redirected by people in power over them to tell them that they have to hold on to the power they have, which is part of defiance that drives and fuels the hatred and fuels the rage.

ALLEN: And mental health experts are now criticizing the president, suggesting we just need to build more mental institutions. Those went out decades ago when they were more community based institutions. Those have been somewhat criticize for not providing the care. Your thoughts on that.

FISHER: It is out of touch. It is just out of touch. The reason we moved away from institutions is people were locked away for a lifetime and people just were not seen again. They did not have civil rights, civil liberties or rights on how to get out of those hospitals and it was really more of holding people they did not know what to do with.

Our ability to treat people has improved much better. And institutions, often you are treating a group of people with a number of different diagnostic issues; where in community mental health centers or even day treatment programs, you're treating specific issues.

Those issues are evidence-based outcomes that they have for those types of treatments, so our state of the art and how we are treating mental illness is much better and that really is best served in the communities.

ALLEN: So how do we as families then, coworkers, these shootings take place in offices, how does our society best address our addiction to guns and now this epidemic of mass shootings?

FISHER: We have to look at what guns mean to different people. To many people in mass shootings, it means power and it means power over people, it means being able to inflict or elicit fear from others.

To other people, it feels like a right to freedom. For other people it is hunting, it is food, things like, that. So we have to look at what are the factors driving our desire for guns?

Some of the guns we have to look at, what people are prone to buy, what personality dynamics, what historical issues, what reasons are people buying certain types of guns. So even when we make a global statement about mental illness and guns, we can't make a global illness (sic) about guns and make it blanket about all guns.

I think we have to look at specific factors. We also have to look at --


FISHER: Red flag laws, if we have red flag issues, those are issues that might prompt a change in a person's right or ability to have or use firearms or things like that. But beyond that, we have to build an increased trust in our culture.

We need leaders that are going to be unifiers, not dividers. We need people who are going to foster trust, not just in our country but in our communities, our neighborhoods, our families, our churches, our schools. We need to look at ways we have power with people rather than power

over people. Whether we like it or not, our country is changing. Our country is evolving. And if we want to move back to what was, we're going to remain stuck in this forever conflict because you can't go back and think you're going to find the past.

We have to move forward and find ways to do that together.

ALLEN: You talk about churches and communities. It is so hard to have this kind of common sense conversation that you're suggesting, apart from the political divide that we see over this issue.

FISHER: It is, absolutely, because even our politics has been intermingled with religion and we have to look at how then often what is sowed is fear and the fear of loss and the fear of control.

So we end up reacting the same way, with fear and by eliciting that again. What comes from fear and helplessness is going to be the anger, the rage, the hatred, the arrogance and those are the emotions, like I said, that protect. They don't solve problems, they protect and they want power over people rather than power with them.

ALLEN: All right. You make a lot of sense. We really appreciate your insights. Erik Fisher, thank you so much.

FISHER: Thank you.

ALLEN: Two kayakers had an unexpected brush with danger as they paddled along the Alaskan coastline. Watch.


ALLEN (voice-over): Look at that. They're lucky to be alive after part of a glacier collapsed right in front of them. They heard the cracking just before and then suddenly were pelted with flying ice and water.

Glaciers hive off ice like this all the time but it has been unusually hot this summer in Alaska.

And in Iceland, another glacier is in the spotlight but for a different reason. Researchers are unveiling this plaque. It is meant to honor the country's first glacier lost to climate change.

On that monument, an ominous inscription reads, "A letter to the future." Researchers say they want to draw attention to the climate crisis because they fear Iceland will lose all its glaciers in the next two centuries.

Something to ponder. That is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. I will be right back with our top stories.