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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Tonga Mostly Cut Off After Massive Eruptions; Houthis Say They Launched Deadly Abu Dhabi Strike; U.S. Senators Vow to Provide "Lethal Arms" If Russia Invades. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 17:00   ET


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: I'll be speaking to the Red Cross about aid efforts.

Then, a deadly attack in Abu Dhabi. The Houthis claim responsibility with France warning it threatens regional stability.

And then, look up to the sky. In just over an hour, we'll see the only Wolf Moon this year.


What that means exactly, ahead.

It's 11:00 a.m. in Tonga, which right now is mostly cut off from the rest of the world. Over the weekend, a series of eruptions from this underwater

volcano knocked out most communications and covered the island in toxic ash and smoke. This eruption here on Saturday triggered tsunamis that spanned

the Pacific. The explosion could be seen clearly from space. Experts say it was the largest reported volcanic eruption on earth in more than 30 years.

Tonga is a nation of more than 170 islands. And it's home to about 100,000 people. So far, there were no reports of mass casualty casualties but we

don't know the full scale of the devastation. The Red Cross says that it could be immense.

Katie Greenwood is the Pacific head of delegation for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and she joins me

now from Fiji.

Thank you so much for being on the program, Katie. We appreciate it. How are you?

KATIE GREENWOOD, PACIFIC HEAD OF DELEGATION, IFRC: We're getting new (ph). We're doing okay. Thank you so much.

NOBILO: So, as I just mentioned, one of the immediate challenges here is the complete lack of communications with Tonga and the inability to know

exactly what's happening there. So, what are you learning in the limited ways that are available?

GREENWOOD: That's right. Unfortunately, we had not been able to make contact with our Red Cross team on the ground since Saturday afternoon,

just after the large explosion and right as the tsunami warning was being put in course. And at that time, our team was supporting the local

authorities move people to available higher ground.

Unfortunately, since that time, we have been out of contact, as have been most aid agencies with people on the ground because of the multiple issues

around communication. Fortunately, last night we were able, through a series of relayed messages, to get in touch with our team, hear that they

are going well, and we have planned a conversation for later this afternoon through a satellite phone, if we're able to make that contact through the

ash cloud.

NOBILO: I'm glad you have been in touch with your team, Katie, that's good news. Now, what happens next? Because, obviously, looking at the scale of

this, and I'm just looking at some images here, there will be a lot of aid and support that's required for the people of Tonga. But also, Tonga is a

country that has had, I believe, one or two cases of COVID throughout the entire pandemic.

So, when you were trying to balance, making sure that they get the support they need without bringing yet another issue to the people of Tonga through

unwittingly bringing COVID, how do you make that calculus?

GREENWOOD: You're exactly right. We don't want to be swapping one disaster for another here. And I think the Tongan government and all aid agencies

are very conscious of that risk. So, nobody wants that to happen.

Escaping the pandemic over the last two years has been an incredible fate for Tonga. So we are very conscious of that. One of the good things is we

have really well trained people on the ground in Tonga. We have the relief items available on the ground in Tonga to at least provide the first part

of necessary relief items that people will require.

We're very focused on the water emergency that might be emerging as a result of the ash fall and into the main water sources for people, so that

will be a focus of our effort in the coming days. We'll also make sure people have to necessary items they require to shore up and remedy their

houses that may have been affected by ash fall and inundation from the tsunami waves as well.

We're fortunate that we don't think it is the catastrophic event we thought that might happen from this, you know, huge explosion. But we are very

concerned hear about some of the lower lying atolls and islands closer to the eruption site.

NOBILO: And what's your assessment of the danger from any further eruptions? Is there likely to be any more smoldering, or do you think this

is it for the time being?

GREENWOOD: Well, this is something that's open to conjecture and a lot of discussion at the moment to understand, certainly, the blast on Saturday

afternoon took people in Tonga by surprise. That volcano has been erupting since late November, December, with some moderate eruptions and some

moderate ash fall, which people have been, you know, coping with.

But this eruption on Saturday afternoon that triggered the tsunami warning was much larger than anybody factored in. So we do want to know -- it

really is hampering some of the relief efforts, the way that the sea is at the moment, the way that the ash fall has been. It's quite a dangerous

prospect to go out and do those further afield assessments.

So we are waiting till that ash cloud disperses, and to understand more.


We had some satellite photos that are coming in this morning that our teams are poring over with the U.N. agencies as well to understand whether that

might be further eruptions or whether it is safer to go afield.

NOBILO: Well, Katie, I wish I could keep speaking to you, but I know you have meetings to go to so you can help those people. So, I really don't

want to detain you for even a minute.

So, Katie Greenwood, thank you so much for joining the program and best of luck with the relief effort.

GREENWOOD: Thank you so much.

NOBILO: The UAE's allies are striking back after Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for deadly aerial attacks today in Abu Dhabi. The

Houthis say they launched five ballistic missiles and a fleet of drone this morning against the Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports. The UAE isn't confirming

those details, but it says three people were killed and eight wounded at Abu Dhabi airport and nearby oil facility. It hasn't routed any attack,

though, in Dubai.

Still, the Houthis say, this is just the beginning if the UAE doesn't stop its involvement in Yemen's civil war. The U.S. is among the countries

condemning the attacks as terrorism, and as Sam Kiley tells us, it didn't take long for the UAE's allies to retaliate.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The United Arab Emirates said that the killing of three civilians here just outside the

capital here in Abu Dhabi and the wounding of eight others in two different attacks in two part of the city would not go unpunished, and that seems to

being made good with coalition air strikes, that Saudi-led coalition airstrikes being conducted against Houthi targets in the north of Yemen.

This follows a double drone attack, at least, in these two locations. One in the construction area of the new international airport in Abu Dhabi, but

another in an oil facility, which hit a storage tank, caused several tankers -- fuel tankers to explode. Three people were killed, six others

injured there, so a total of eight injured, three dead in the first serious casualties the Emiratis have since they got involved in the war in Yemen,

on the side of the Saudis, trying to prop up the failing government there. This is particularly devastating to Emirati international foreign policy

because they have been trying to scale back their belligerent operations in places like Yemen and Libya and turned rather to rapprochement,

particularly with Iran, who has been backing the Houthis.

One of the key questions now will be, how much did the Iranians know about these Houthi attacks? Did they supply the weapons? Did they encourage it,

or was this a unilateral decision to attack them the Emirates taken by the Houthis?

The Houthis blamed the Emirates for stepping back into the war in Yemen, which supporting at least one possibly other militias fighting in the south

of the country, in particular, which arguably meant the pressure had been increased on the Houthis and presented them from making further battlefield

advances, which had been the pattern over previous months.

Nonetheless, this is also a blow to the Emiratis' future foreign policy which has been to try to get out of these conflicts and step forward into

the rapprochement with all of its neighbors, friend or former foe.

Sam Kiley, CNN in Abu Dhabi.


NOBILO: As a standoff between Russia and the West deepens, Britain says it's supplying anti-tank weapons to Ukraine to help it defend itself from

any possible invasion. This comes amid a series of meetings in Kiev meant to underscore the West's commitment to security and sovereignty.

Germany's foreign minister met with the Ukrainian President Zelensky, and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators met with top officials as well, vowing to

provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend itself should Russia inside to invade.

CNN's Matthew Chance has spent a lot of time reporting from Moscow and joins us tonight from Kiev.

Matthew, it's very difficult to determine what the Kremlin's true intentions are. It's opaque. And they appear to have backed themselves into

a political corner throughout the negotiations last week. What do any of their recent actions tell you about what options they might be weighing up

at the moment?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianca, I think it's probably true that both countries, the United States and Russia,

found themselves somewhat boxed in by the fact that negotiations they staged last week in the various cities -- Geneva, Brussels, Vienna, ended

in a stalemate.

Part of the reason for that, the main reason is Russia demands that NATO stop expanding and that Ukraine never gets access to the military alliance,

are unpalatable by the United States and other western officials, so it was not possible for Joe Biden, for NATO to exceed to those demands.


There were compromises floated from the western side, but the Russians have made it clear they're not interested in compromise solutions. They're only

interested in those core demands being met. It's definitely an impasse.

The question, is how does this de-escalate from here, I think, if it does de-escalate? One possibility course is that diplomacy continue may

continue. The Ukrainians suggested a trilateral online summit between President Biden, President Zelensky of Ukraine, and President Putin of

Russia. But the Russians haven't given a positive response to that.

There's a possibility there could be war. Of course, remember, Ukraine has tens of thousand of Russian troops across the border in Russia and

elsewhere as well, in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia, potentially poised to invade the country again if the order from the Kremlin is given.

And so, it is a very tense, uncertain, ambiguous situation that this country finds itself in tonight.

NOBILO: It certainly is. Matthew Chance, reporting from Kiev in Ukraine, thank you.

The South Korean government held an emergency meeting after North Korea fired two more suspected short range ballistic missiles. This is the fourth

test conducted in less than three weeks, which is an unusually high frequency of launches.

So, let's take a look at what's going in 90 seconds.

North Korean state media claimed a hypersonic missile was successfully test-fired on January 5th and January 11th. They also said that two

ballistic missiles presumed to be short range, were test fired last Friday on January the 14th. And then as we mentioned, another one just three days


It's not only the frequency, but also the timing of these launches in January that's unusual. The country often reserves such tests to mark

politically significant events or in response to U.S., South Korean military drills. So why is this happening?

In a recent statement carried by state media, a spokesman defended the country's right to bolster its arms, saying recently development of new

type weapons is just part of its efforts to modernizing its national defense capability. So, who does North Korea view as its biggest enemy? The


According to the statement made just before Biden took office, bolstering its national defense is not only an international priority, but also a

domestic one for leader Kim Jong-un at a time when the country is facing food shortages, economic woes, and has largely cut itself off from the rest

of the world during the pandemic.

Now, the United Nations Security Council prohibits North Korea from ballistic and nuclear weapons test. North Korea has not tested its longest

intercontinental missiles or nuclear weapons since 2017. However, after denuclearization talks stall in the 2019, it began testing a range of short

range ballistic missile designs.

The recent tests have prompted appeal from the international community for dialogue with the U.S. to restart. The White House has called for talks but

also responding with more sanctions, a response North Korea describes as an isolating and stifling policy. And so, long as North Korea's close ally,

China, remains silent on missile launches, there's little incentive for North Korea to stop flexing those ballistic muscles.

So, that's a wrap of what's going on in 90 seconds. Now, let's take a look at the other key stories making international impact.

Doctors in Khartoum say Sudan's security forces shot dead at least seven protesters Monday and wounded more than 100 others. It happened as

thousands of anti-coup demonstrators marched tours the presidential palace. Sudan has been in turmoil since the military seized full control of the

government last October.

A French court found a far right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour guilty of racist hate speech. He called young, solo migrants "killers, thieves and

rapists" on air in 2020. He's now being penalized with an $11,000 fine and says he will appeal.

Right now, Israel is starting to hand out second booster shots against COVID-19, but the question is, how much are they helping? A preliminary

study says a fourth dose of either Pfizer, or BioNTech, or Moderna vaccines can boost antibodies to even higher levels but might not be enough to fight

off the omicron variant. Other countries are simply struggling to get a first, second, or third shot into arms.

France's lower house voted to transform the country's health pass into a vaccine pass. As long as the new lawsuit isn't blocked by the country's

constitutional council, people will need to be fully vaccinated, booster included, to go to a restaurant or cafe, for instance, and that's highly



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It changes nothing.


We will continue to check each new costumer. Every person who enters the restaurant, it's just the name of the pass that changes from health pass to

vaccine pass, but nothing else changes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think it's a good thing so that we can overcome this crisis, live together again, and appreciate daily life

as it was before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we have a divided population, it's because there are people who question. I think they should not be

forced. They must be engaged, explained to, and shown why this must be done.

It's not good to force people. It's like in school. We don't force children to do something. We explain to them why it should be done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's perfect. At least everyone will be in agreement. Except those who don't want it of course. But I'm not

bothered. It's a good thing.


NOBILO: Austria is also planning to roll out a vaccine mandate to keep the country's health-care system -- excuse me -- from getting overwhelmed. It's

supposed to happen in three phases. And the first one is set for next month. We're also seeing anti-vaccine rallies across Europe. Thousands of

protesters took to the streets in several major cities.

The French vaccine pass could be bad news for tennis star Novak Djokovic, who's unvaccinated. It's expected to come into effect in the next couple of

days and the French sports ministry says there will be no exceptions for professional athletes. Djokovic is back home in Serbia, instead of

defending his title at the Australian Open. He was deported after losing a court challenge to stay in Australia over vaccine requirements.

As of now, he won't be able to defend his title in Paris, either. The French open is around four months away. Djokovic could be forced to sit out

some half a dozen major tournaments if he doesn't get vaccinated. "WORLD SPORT WITH ALEX THOMAS" will have more on that story for you at the half


Coming up in "The Debrief", as China crackdowns on Hong Kong's independent media intensifies, CNN speaks to journalists now out of work with nowhere

to publish.


NOBILO: Almost two years have passed since China imposed a national security law in Hong Kong, and while many pro-democracy activists and

political dissidents have been silenced, the crackdown is now focused on the city's independent media. Several news outlets have been forced to shut

down recently after police raided newsrooms and arrested journalists.

Those still reporting independently in Hong Kong wonder what's next as the city's media environment becomes more and more like mainland China.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson spoke with some of them.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what it looks like when the Hong Kong police knocked on the door of a local

journalist carrying a search warrant.

What time did they show up at your door?

RONSON CHAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSIGNMENT EDITOR, STAND NEWS: Six o'clock, a.m. I wake up in my dream.

WATSON: Police take Ronson Chan in for questioning.


That same morning they rate his workplace, the independent online news portal, Stand News, and arrest at least six other people tied to the

outlet, accusing them of publishing seditious material.

Within hours, Stand News shuts down for good. And just days later, another independent new site, Citizen News, closes preemptively, citing the

deteriorating media environment.

CHAN: Today you're getting the foreign correspondents interview, it is quite dangerous, honestly.

WATSON: It is dangerous for you to talk to me like that?

CHAN: Yes.


CHAN: I'm afraid that it will become evidence, saying that we've become an agent of a foreign power. But I -- I still think that I have to speak out

on what happened in Hong Kong.

WATSON: The Hong Kong authorities say they're going after criminals, not silencing journalists.

CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE: So these actions are law enforcement actions. These actions have nothing to do with so-called

suppression of press freedom or suppression of democracy.

WATSON: The government says it is not targeting journalists.

CONNIE, JOURNALIST: It's a lie. This was a lie.

WATSON: Connie, who doesn't want her full name published for safety reasons, worked as a journalist at the tabloid "Apple Daily." It shut down

last June, after police raided its offices, seized its assets, and arrested at least nine executives and staffers on charges of collusion with foreign


After a 16-year career as a journalist in Hong Kong, Connie is now unemployed.

CONNIE: I'm thinking of leaving Hong Kong.


CONNIE: Because this is not safe anymore.

WATSON: Hong Kong used to be the freest corner of modern-day China, a former British colony that was supposed to be spared the strict government

censorship in mainland China.

You see that gas right there?

The city was home to a feisty local press corps. In 2000, reporters shouted questions at then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

JIANG ZEMIN, FORMER CHINESE PRESIDENT: But the questions you keep asking, they're too simple. Sometimes naive. Got it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chairman Jiang, what do you think --

STEVE VINES, FORMER PRESENTER, RTHK: Hong Kong was also a very big center for international coverage in the Asian region, precisely because it was a

place where you didn't need to worry about someone knocking on your door in the early hours of the morning.

Hello, and welcome to "The Post."

WATSON: For 20 years, British journalist Steve Vines hosted a news show on Hong Kong's public television network. But he packed up and left for this

rain-soaked corner of England last year after he watched Hong Kong authorities arrest dozens of opposition politicians and activists.

VINES: It was just breathtaking! Every day, somebody was arrested. Some organization was forced to close down. Somebody else had been fired. I

mean, it was just relentless.

WATSON: The Hong Kong authorities insist journalists can still work here.

Is there freedom of the press in Hong Kong today?

TOM GRUNDY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HONG KONG FREE PRESS: Yes and no. It's difficult in that we feel that there is enough for us to continue, but it's

certainly put the industry in crisis.

WATSON: Tom Grundy is editor in chief of the Hong Kong Free Press. He hopes authorities don't muzzle his small, nonprofit reader-funded news


GRUNDY: We don't know where red lines are. The goalposts keep moving. For the moment, we're staying put and pressing on.

WATSON: But last year has been a bitter lesson for the city's heartbroken, newly-unemployed journalists.

CHAN: I trust them for over 27 years.

CONNIE: So, I just hope that anyone still have freedom of speech. Just -- you must hold it tight.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


NOBILO: It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day today in the U.S., but some celebrations across the country, like this one earlier in Washington, are

more somber events reminiscent of vote rights marches years ago. Protesters today are demanding lawmakers pass federal voting rights legislation that's

stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the gridlock moments ago, saying Americans' freedom to vote is under assault.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we must not be complacent or complicit. We must not give up and we must not give in. To

truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for freedom for all.


NOBILO: You're watching THE GLOBAL BRIEF. We'll be right back after this.



NOBILO: The producer of THE GLOBAL BRIEF told me over the weekend she barks in her sleep. Like a dog. Yep. Feel like that fact needs to be out


But as of yet, she doesn't howl like a wolf.

Although tonight that could all change. Tonight's full moon, the first of the New Year, has been known as the Wolf Moon for centuries. That's because

the folklore tells us wolves like to howl at it.

Astrologer also tell us that tonight, this planet, mercury will be in retrograde. That means it appears to be moving backward, but it's not

really, and that's because mercury's orbit is shorter in the earth, so it seems like it's retreat when it lapses us.

It's an optical illusion, of course, but it's said to wreak havoc on our emotions. So take it easy tonight, folks. Or just don't believe in


Well, we've enjoyed being with you today. Good night. See you tomorrow.