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U.S. Aid Cut Has Deepened Crisis in Yemen; Lukashenko to Meet with Putin Amid Ongoing Protests; Greek President Speaks About Tensions with Turkey. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: It is an often forgotten conflict. One that doesn't make the headlines every week. We're talking about Yemen. And the United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have likely been killed there since 2015. The country is mired in problems ranging from war to famine, to a pandemic. All of this made even worse when the U.S. cut funding to northern Yemen earlier this year. In an exclusive report CNN senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, takes us inside a medical ward in Yemen to show us the devastating impact of those cuts.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this hacked children's word in the main hospital in the north of Yemen, anxious mothers vie for attention as Dr. Eshima (ph) does his rounds.

This little girl is named Hafsa. Her mother tells the doctor Hafsa has five brothers, all malnourished. But Hafsa is the only one they can afford the medicine for.


ELBAGIR: This mother of an 8-month-old tells Dr. Eshima (ph) her little boy can no longer lift up his head. He's too weak. His little belly is painfully swollen, a telltale sign of acute malnutrition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TRANSLATED TEXT: This is a tragedy. A family of ten are all squeezed into one room. Four of her children, in three years, dead from malnutrition.

ELBAGIR: Rows and rows of hungry children, their bodies so stripped of fat that every move is agony. Hard to believe that these are the lucky ones. These are the children whose parents can afford the car journey to the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TRANSLATED TEXT: These are all the patients we admitted. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen cases. Just on the first day of September.

ELBAGIR: Even for Yemen, this is not the norm. Every day brings dozens more patients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TRANSLATED TEXT: And here you have death. Just one day after we admitted her.

ELBAGIR: And more death. This patient died this week, a one-year-old called Fatma. It's very hard to keep track of exact figures for child deaths, because so many of the children don't even make it to the hospital.

All the doctor knows is that things are getting worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TRANSLATED TEXT: In August and September, our cases have spiked very clearly, most likely because of the withdrawal of support from the NGOs and other centers having to close due to lack of funding.

ELBAGIR: Why is that? That lack of funding that Dr. Eshima (ph) was talking about. Eighty percent of the 30 million population in Yemen is reliant on aid, the majority of whom live in the Ansarullah Houthi- controlled north.

The Houthis seeking to control the flow of aid placed restrictions on U.N. agencies in areas under their control. In March, the U.S. suspended much of its aid to the north, citing concerns over Houthi misappropriation. Two other key donors, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have also drawn down.

The U.S., UAE and Saudi Arabia have all slashed their Yemen aid spend. The U.S. spend dropping from almost a billion to 411 million. Saudi from over a billion to half that, with only 22 million actually received. The UAE has given zero dollars to the U.N.'s 2020 Yemen appeal.

CNN was able to obtain access to a confidential internal U.N. briefing document. U.N. agencies have confirmed to us its contents.

In the aftermath of the drop in foreign aid, the U.N. has shuttered almost 75 percent of its programs. In previous CNN investigations, we traced serial numbers on armaments in Yemen back to arms deals between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the U.S., proving that the U.S. government has profited from the chaos of the war in Yemen. And aid agencies tell us that the aid drawdown threatens to wreak even more havoc.


Mushaira Farah (ph) pushes her disabled son in a wheelchair. Mushaira used to receive support through a U.N.-funded program. Now she can't even afford to get her son, Assan, to hospital.

Malnutrition has left Assan mentally disabled, and she has to choose between feeding him or paying for treatment. She carries him through the little alley that leads to the half-finished building site where she and other displaced families have erected makeshift shelters.

Up until a few months ago, she tells us Assan was like any little boy. But after the family were displaced from their home by fighting, now they live here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, TRANSLATED TEXT: I have no help, I just pray to God.

ELBAGIR: The aid suspension has driven the people of the Houthi- controlled north into deeper isolation. Yemen's north could already be in famine, and we might not even know it.


CHURCH: And CNN has received responses to our reporting from Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi foreign ministry told CNN that they intend to meet their full commitment but the delay in disbursing their pledged aid, quote, is based upon a request from the United Nations to have the announced pledge be paid in one upfront payment to each individual U.N. agency.

The United States aid organization, USAID, points the finger of blame firmly at the Houthis for obstructing a distribution in the north. But say, they continue to support countrywide U.N. operations and some of the NGO partners lifesaving activities in the North. And they say, they are by far the largest donor to the humanitarian response in Yemen this year.

The United Arab Emirates told CNN, it was the first country to respond to the coronavirus outbreak in Yemen and is one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to Yemen with more than $6 billion provided from 2015 until the end of August 2020.

All three reiterated their concerns over alleged Houthi misappropriation of aid.

And Nima Elbagir joins us now from London. And Nima, incredible reporting as always in a truly heartbreaking story. So, what can be done about this horrifying level of malnutrition in Yemen?

ELBAGIR: What is so incredibly heartbreaking about the story is that this is an entirely manmade crisis. Right? The war itself and happen because of the various actors, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And of course, Ansar Allah, the Houthi administration in Sa'dah.

But now this aid drawdown is something that these state actors decided upon and it can be rectified if they decide to fulfill their pledges. But not just fulfill their pledges, if others who have not donated to the Yemen United Nations Assistance Program for this year step up. That includes Kuwait who in the past has been a very big donor and have not given anything substantial this year.

Of course, this is a very difficult year for people around the world, but the reality is that Yemen was falling off the map, falling off people's assessments of what needed to be attended to even before the coronavirus epidemic took hold. You saw those pictures, Rosemary. It is very clear that the world needs to do something, and it needs to do something very soon. CHURCH: Yes, it most certainly does. Thank you so much for pulling the

curtain back and showing the world it needs a spotlight on this. And the consequences of what happens when money is withdrawn and just not put forth. Nima Elbagir, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Well, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party picked its next leader who's now poised to become Prime Minister. And is no surprise that Yoshihide Suga has won. He was the favorite candidate as well as outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's right hand man for eight years. Mr. Abe Japan's longest serving leader since the end of World War II, is stepping down due to poor health.

Well, the President of Belarus is set to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming hours and will likely ask for help with ongoing antigovernment protests. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through Minsk on Sunday demanding President Alexander Lukashenko resign. The country's interior ministry says more than 400 people were detained during Sunday's demonstrations.

And for more on the meeting between the leaders of Belarus and Russia, we want to bring in CNN's Matthew Chance. He joins us live from Moscow. Good to see you, Matthew. So, what are the expectations here of that meeting?


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean look, this is the latest show of public support from the Kremlin in the person of Vladimir Putin for these opposite number in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko all along has been sort of casting these the massive protests is country against his election six weeks ago or so, which has been marred by allegations of widespread (INAUDIBLE) as an attempt by outside powers.

He's talking about the West to take over Belarus. And his warning for some time now has been that Belarus is not the final target of these outside powers that are conspiring against him, but Russia will ultimately be targeted by them as well. And you know, that's an appeal that's an ear here in Moscow. Vladimir Putin has, you know, grassroots protests of his own. He doesn't want to sort of, you know, throw support behind the protesters in Belarus encase it encourages the protesters in his own country.

And so, you know, there's been all sorts of public expressions of support from the Kremlin. For instance, Vladimir Putin has said, you know, look, there's a police force we're putting on standby to go into Belarus if it's requested by Alexander Lukashenko, by the Belarusian authorities. That request as far as we know has not come through yet but nevertheless, there is an antiriot squat that is Russian on standby to go in if it's requested.

And at the same time, you know, there are concern about what price the Russians will ask from Alexander Lukashenko for that kind of support. There's been lots of conversations and discussions over the past couple of decades really, about a closer integration between Russia and Belarus. The two countries very similar. They share a language. They share a common sort of cultural backdrop and there's a treaty that both countries some time ago signed for closer integration, but it's sort of been dormant and there's a possibility that could be rekindled.

You know, at the same time, the Kremlin is aware of the fact that these protests in Belarus are not anti-Russian and by giving support to Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin risks turning the Belarusian streets against them.

All right, Matthew Chance bringing us the latest there from Moscow, appreciate it.

And coming up next, a tiny Greek island is in the eastern Mediterranean is in the spotlight after the Greek President visited it on Sunday amid an escalating row with Turkey. And CNN spoke exclusively to her during that trip. We'll have that on the other side of the break. Stay with us.



CHURCH: Turkey's defense minister is criticizing the Greek President's visit to a small island in the eastern Mediterranean telling state-run media it, quote, bothers us. Kastellorizo is a Greek island that lies just off the southern coast of Turkey. The Greek President's trip comes amid escalating tensions between the two nations over gas and oil reserves.

And our Nic Robertson is on the Greek island of Kastellorizo and he joins us now where he has just spoken with the Greek President. Good to see you, Nic. So, what all did the President have to say about these escalating tensions with Turkey?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, she said that Greece is ready for diplomacy, is ready to talk as long as in Greece's eyes Turkey takes its naval ships out of what they consider to be an aggressive position.

Over this weekend it does appear as if the sort of parameters of the tension of the moment are changing. It's unclear in which direction they are going to go. But you had the defense minister there in Turkey just a couple of miles behind me saying that Greece is actually, militarizing this island. Greece says, of course, that's nonsense and it's not true. The Greek President coming here to reassure the citizens here and send a message to Turkey.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): At a time of tension with Turkey, Greece's president is on a mission. To Kastellorizo, a tiny island, population about 500 less than two miles from Turkey. To celebrate an anniversary of nationhood. A message to residents and to Turkey just across the water.

KATERINA SAKELLAROPOULOU, GREEK PRESIDENT: We are living in delicate times, but we are all for dialogue. Greece has proved that it's supporting dialogue, but of course dialogue not under threats.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Coming here in the face of Turkey at a time of tension is that not also a provocative message?

SAKELLAROPOULOU: I don't think a peaceful visit from the president of Greece can be provocative in any way.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Even so, Turkey's defensive minister chose the same moment to visit the Turkish town in plain sight just across the sea, he criticized the President's visit.

(on camera): The crux of the dispute is this. That Turkey over here is claiming that Greece, over here, is using some of its tiny islands to claim an outsized portion of the Mediterranean to stake for its claim on the hidden underseas gas reserves.

(voice-over): This summer, Turkey began exploration backed by its Navy in disputed waters. A war of words has grown since.

And this weekend, after a 10-year hiatus, Greece's Prime Minister announced beefing up his armed forces, buying 18 fighter jets from France, adding 15,000 troops to his army and ships for his Navy. I asked the president, why now?

SAKELLAROPOULOU: The government has decided that we must make these moves.

ROBERTSON (on camera): To send a message to Turkey?

SAKELLAROPOULOU: Not only to send a message but if you are -- you want to have peace you must always be better prepared for war.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Even so, no one here is panicking. They've seen it all before.

Captain Karagiannis who runs the local ferry to Turkey plays down his concerns.

CAPTAIN GEORGE KARAGIANNIS, RUNS LOCAL FERRY TO TURKEY: No problem. Everything is fine. All is good.

ROBERTSON: For now, he might be right. Over the weekend, Turkey pulled back its gas exploration ships.

(on camera): Do you think this tension over the gas reserves is finished, is going down? Is it over?

SAKELLAROPOULOU: I'm not so positive that it is. Because it's Greece and Cyprus and it's the whole Mediterranean, it's going to move by small steps. Everybody needs stability in the Mediterranean not only Greece, not Turkey, the European Union, NATO, everybody.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Not the first crisis between the two nations and not done yet either. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: So, where do things so from here? Well, there is a meeting of EU leaders in about 10 days' time. The Greek Prime Minister wrote an article in a European newspaper a couple of days ago and said, look, if Turkey doesn't sort of demilitarized or stop these explorations in disputed waters, then the European Union should put sanctions on Turkey for that. That's Greece's position.

Where things stand right now, I think Greek officials are a little concerned that having pulled back its exploration vessels right now, Turkey will go quiet until that summit and then maybe the tensions will ratchet up again afterwards.

CHURCH: And we'll watch to see what happens. Nic Robertson, many thanks.

Well, a source tells CNN that TikTok and Oracle will become U.S. business partners though the exact nature of the agreement is unclear. That word came Sunday just after Microsoft said it would not buy TikTok's U.S. operations from its Chinese owner ByteDance.

Well, the 2020 U.S. Open is now in the history books. In the men's final match did not disappoint. After the break, we look back at the tournament and a history-making comeback by the men's champion.



CHURCH: Well, the movie "Mulan" was supposed to be Disney's newest blockbuster film, especially in China. The movie opened to lackluster results there this weekend bringing in an estimated $23 million. A disappointment for a film that cost $200 million to make. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic could be a reason for diminished box office receipts. Theaters in China are limited to half capacity.

Well, nine U.S. professional football teams did not take the field during the national anthem in the first week of the new season. The teams elected to stay in their locker rooms to protest racial injustice. In addition, players and team staff kneeled, linked arms and raised their fists in solidarity with protests around the country. It was just two seasons ago that the NFL mandated that players either stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room. Last month commissioner Roger Goodell said he wouldn't penalize any player for kneeling in protest.

Well, Austria's Dominic Thiem won the 2020 U.S. Open men's tennis title in a thrilling comeback Sunday. The 27-year-old defeated Germany's Alexander Zverev in an epic five set match. Thiem had to battle back after losing the first two sets, winning the next three to capture the title. It is the first time that has happened in the modern era of professional tennis.

And think you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)