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Kabul Airport Apparently Resumes Limited Operations; World Waiting for Taliban to Form a Government; Afghan Uyghurs Fear Deportation Back to China; Vaccinations Plateau as Delta Variant Spreads; Health Officials Monitoring Mu Variant; Hawaii Governor Asks Residents to Be Safe over Holiday; New Orleans Providing Residents Bus Rides to Shelters; At Least 25 Dead in New Jersey from Flooding; U.S. President Joe Biden to Visit All Three 9/11 Attack Sites; Parole Recommended for Robert Kennedy Assassin Sirhan Sirhan; U.S. Paralympian Jessica Long Wins 29th Career Medal; Beijing Tells Broadcasters to Promote Chinese Values. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 05, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, welcome to viewers around the world and thank you for joining me this hour. Live in Atlanta.

Just ahead on CNN, fierce fighting Afghanistan in the only province not to be under the Taliban control.

Uyghurs relocated to Afghanistan from China are fearful. We have that story.

And anger growing over long lines at London's Heathrow Airport, thanks to COVID checks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Great to have you along this hour, thank you for joining me.

We begin the show in Afghanistan where Taliban fighters are trying to seize the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul. The rugged district is home to anti-Taliban forces. It's the only territory not under Taliban control.

Fresh fighting had both sides claiming successes. CNN can't independently verify the accuracy of those reports. In the capital, where ordinary Afghans have been starved for cash, the exchange market reopened. Most banks as you can see remained closed or are limiting withdrawals.

There are words that Kabul airport have resumed some operations. Qatar's ambassador witnessed the first domestic flight taking off. Journalist Ben Farmer joins me by phone. Let's talk about the fighting, how critical is it, what's going on there?

BEN FARMER, JOURNALIST: It is very important to watch what's happening, this is about 90 minutes drive north of Kabul, the only part of the country not under Taliban control.

Both sides are claiming quite a success. What we do know independently is there is an international aid charity that runs a hospital in Panjshir Valley. They say the Taliban reached the village where their hospital is situated, which is a long way into the valley.

It does seem like the Taliban penetrated at least some of the way. Last night the acting president was in the valley and made a statement to the world. He called on the United Nations and the international community to try to stop the onslaught.

CURNOW: And meanwhile, while you are in Kabul, what's the economic situation?

We have been seeing people desperate for cash.

Are the banks open, what's the situation economically?

FARMER: The banks are open. But the situation is still desperate. I drove past one bank, there were one long crowds. There were Taliban guards trying to keep order. They were hitting people and whipping them with sticks.

There are limits on how much you can draw from the bank. It is $200 per week. A lot of people who work for the government and so on, the government has not paid them for two months. So things are very difficult for a lot of people.

CURNOW: And with that in mind with the uncertainty of the political situation of the security situation of the economic situation, what came out of the meeting with Pakistani intelligence?

And what does their presence tells us about the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan.

FARMER: I think Pakistan is very concerned that any insecurity in Afghanistan will spill over into Pakistan. Of course, there is, also beyond that, there have been accusations that Pakistan was turning a blind eye and keeping it a safe haven if not actively supporting it.

Pakistan denies that. But the Afghan government and many in Washington do believe it did have some kind of support from Pakistan. So there could be (INAUDIBLE) Pakistani spy chief arriving in Kabul just weeks after the Taliban have taken power. It has led a lot of people to believe that may have been true all along.

CURNOW: Ben Farmer there. Thank you for your reporting.

[02:05:00] CURNOW: No one knows how the Taliban plan to rule because they haven't yet formed a government. I want to go to Ivan Watson, he joins us from Hong Kong but he spent many decades reporting from Afghanistan.

Good to see you. You heard Ben on the ground in Kabul.

What is the next step for the Taliban?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the announcement of the government, which we have been told is imminent but still really has not been declared as of this time.

And Ben was talking about the economic situation, the Taliban has inherited one of the poorest countries in the world. And there are currency problems right now. There was a step forward, that the main currency exchange in Kabul was reopened on Saturday for the first time in more than two weeks.

The former finance minister of the government says that is a good sign. He's relieved Afghan currency seems to be holding its current value right now.

But how will a Taliban government run a country?

And what will its monetary and fiscal policy be?

The former government relied on international aid for more than 70 percent of its budget. That's according to the World Bank.

We are hearing from Pakistan officials speaking to CNN that two of the names that had been raised for potential finance ministers are both individuals that are currently under international sanctions. Big questions that the Taliban will have to face.

And then there is the other question about vulnerable communities and the rights of women for example. And we saw on Saturday of a small protest of people trying to assert their rights and some of those women claimed in Kabul that they were flogged and beaten by Taliban fighters. Take a listen to one of them.


SORAYA, AFGHAN WOMEN'S RIGHTS PROTESTER (through translator): Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near the former government offices for a protest.

But before we got there, the Taliban hit women with electric Tasers and they used tear gas against women. They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine and the women became bloody. There was no one to ask why.


WATSON: And women are just one of the communities in Afghanistan that are feeling vulnerable right now. A Taliban official, after that protest and the allegations of violence there, went on to accuse the women protesters of deliberately trying to cause problems and adding that, quote, these people don't even represent 0.1 percent of Afghanistan."

I have been speaking to members of another minority in Afghanistan that feels very uncertain and vulnerable right now. Take a look.


WATSON (voice-over): During the final frantic days of the evacuation from Kabul airport, a woman films desperate families, waiting under the sun for a seat on a plane out of Afghanistan.

"Look at these poor people," she says. "This is a difficult, sad situation, very painful."

She is speaking a language that is foreign to Afghanistan, Uyghur. She is a member of the ethnic Uyghur minority from neighboring China, who moved to Afghanistan more than a decade ago after marrying an Afghan.

On August 25th, the woman's family made it onto this military flight to Italy, where she speaks to CNN from quarantine on condition we don't identify her. She fears the Taliban could hurt her in-laws still in Afghanistan and that the Chinese government could target her other relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Right now China is trying to capture and send back, all of the Uyghurs from abroad. Uyghurs are facing genocide. If I go back to China, the Chinese will torture and kill me.

WATSON (voice-over): Uyghur exiles from China are among the many communities in Afghanistan terrified by the Taliban takeover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a representative of Uyghurs in Afghan.

WATSON (voice-over): Abdul Aziz Naseri was born in Afghanistan after parents fled China's cultural revolution in 1976.

WATSON: What scenario are you worried about?

ABDUL AZIZ NASERI, AFGHAN UYGHUR: There is a lot of the families in Afghanistan, Uyghur families living in Afghanistan, and they are afraid from China because the Taliban was dealing with China behind the door.


NASERI: And they are afraid to send them back to China.

WATSON (voice-over): Since 2016, China allegedly detained up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in internment camps as part of what it calls a campaign against Islamic extremism in Xinjiang. Yet Beijing has been courting the Taliban. China's top diplomat held talks with a Taliban delegation in late July. And this week a Taliban spokesman called for closer ties with Beijing. ZABIULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We look

forward to building a very strong relationship with China because it is a rapidly developing country which can support Afghanistan.

WATSON (voice-over): CNN obtained testimony of more than a dozen Uyghurs, detailing alleged detention and deportation from other Middle Eastern countries back to China.

Asked about this recent report, which alleges the forced repatriation of over 851 Uyghurs from 23 countries, from 1997 and 2016, China's foreign ministry told CNN the report was published by an "anti-China separatist organization and not worth a response."

That is cold comfort for this Uyghur family in northern Afghanistan, who don't want to be identified.

"We face oppression here in Afghanistan," says this Uyghur woman. "And we're afraid to go back after hearing about the oppression in our homeland."

Uyghur exiles caught between a rock and a hard place, like millions of others in Afghanistan, now facing a very uncertain future.


WATSON: Now the Taliban have announced a general amnesty for anybody who worked with the former Western backed government. It called all people to go back to work to rebuild the country.

So a big question whether this is a kind of reformed or more modern Taliban or whether they go back to the days of public executions in sports stadiums. One way to try to decipher that is to watch how vulnerable minorities, based on religion, ethnicity and gender, how they are treated in the weeks and months to come.

CURNOW: Thank you very much, Ivan Watson.

America's top general says he is feeling angry. Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley said it comes from seeing everything that's unfolded over the past 20 years. He spoke of losing soldiers killed in action as well as the wounded and the grieving families. The general visited with troops returning from Afghanistan and he praised them for their roles. Take a look.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, USJC CHAIRMAN: You guys did an incredible job, all of you, everybody. The Army, Navy and Marines and Air Force flying out, 124,000 people, that's what you saved. That's what came out of there.


CURNOW: The U.S. Air Force commander there, who helped oversee the withdrawal of the troops, is sharing new details of the historic moment. The commander described a fast-moving operation. The final five planes were in and out of Kabul in under three hours.

When the flights were loaded, all those planes were in the air within three minutes. The commander spoke with CNN about what it is like to be on the last plane out of Afghanistan


LIEUTENANT COLONEL ALEX PELBATH, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE, AIRBORNE MISSION COMMANDER: Instead of focusing on danger, what all the operators do is you focus on the mission you got at hand. You focus on your individual tasks. You focus on success. And you focus on doing your part of the mission as well as you possibly can.

I was able to see in front of me the first aircraft had just made their left turn. The second aircraft right behind and the third aircraft had just lifted off. The fourth aircraft on the runway, I had the entire picture of the C-17 force in front of me. For sure, an image that I will never forget.


CURNOW: You are watching CNN. Coming up, vacation irritation, some U.K. travelers face an hours-long wait at the airport. Why officials are pointing at the U.K. government. We have that story next.





CURNOW: As Western nations debate the timing of booster shots, data reveals an overall slowdown in vaccinations. Both Israel and the U.K. appear to be on track to hit herd immunity and the U.S. have some cause for optimism.

But as you can see, vaccinations have hit a plateau. Experts say 80 percent to 90 percent of the population need to be fully vaccinated before all restrictions are dropped.

The number of new global COVID cases really held steady last week after increasing for two months, that's according to the World Health Organization. But some countries that had avoided severe outbreaks are seeing infections rise.

New Zealand reported its first COVID death in six months, along with 20 new cases. And neighboring Australia is battling its worst COVID wave yet, repeating new infections on Saturday.

In the U.K., officials with London's Heathrow airport are lashing out, after passengers waited hours to get through immigration. The home office says COVID health checks mean longer wait times. They admit the situation is unacceptable and say they are waiting to deploy agents at the airport. U.S. health officials are keeping an eye on a new COVID strain, the Mu

variant was flagged as a variant of interest by the WHO. A global database that tracks variants says Mu has been detected in all but two U.S. states.

But officials don't believe it is an immediate threat. CDC numbers shows Mu accounts for less than half of 1 percent of U.S. cases; by comparison the Delta accounts for over 99 percent.


CURNOW: And Hawaii is taking no chances with COVID over this Labor Day holiday weekend. Cases flared up there with hundreds of patients hospitalized statewide. While they are not imposing any mandates, the governor warned of the burden that COVID was placing on hospitals and asked the public to enjoy the holiday safely.


DAVID IGE, GOVERNOR OF HAWAII: Because of COVID, the hospital systems across the state is in danger of moving toward the worst case scenarios. If that happens, we have heard from our health care leaders that people may not receive the care they need and certainly some may die.

Our choices today and over this weekend can help prevent the worst case scenario for our health care system. So please act responsibly this holiday weekend and, moving forward, as we battle this highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, do it for the sake of your family, our community and our state.


CURNOW: Going straight to Honolulu where I am joined by Dr. Darragh O'Carroll.

Doctor, good to see you again. I want to get your take on how bad the situation is where you are in Hawaii.

DR. DARRAGH O'CARROLL, EMERGENCY MEDICINE SPECIALIST: Hey, Robyn, thank you for having me. I would say the situation is dire on two of our main islands. On Oahu, all of our ICUs are full. We have 224 people needing ICU care and only 223 beds available.

Our oxygen levels that we have in our hospitals, the amount been used has skyrocketed 250 percent. We are also having trouble -- there is a worldwide shortage of getting oxygen tanks anywhere in the world. We are having to ship in oxygen by boat or plane. And so it is a dire straits on several of our islands at the moment.

CURNOW: I think you were one of the doctors the healthcare leaders referred to, who gave testimony to politicians on how bad it is.

Why did you feel you needed to do that?

Are doctors like you being heard? O'CARROLL: Yes, there was a recent article covered by the Associated

Press, that said we are crying for more mandates. We are having trouble taking care of non COVID-19 emergencies, strokes, heart attacks and kidney failures and severe infections.

When you don't have an ICU bed to admit a severely sick patient, then everything backs out to the emergency department. So we have people wait for days. All of our elective surgeries have been cancelled.

Elective surgery means it is not going to harm you if you don't have it today. That's mastectomies and heart-valve replacements and people who have cancer can't get those tumors removed and they'll have to go to chemotherapy.

So there is a lot more ramifications. And our dentists are not able to do their procedures for special needs kids who need to be put on oxygen. So it is a wide effect.

CURNOW: What do you feel when you are seeing visitors or travelers coming into Hawaii for Labor Day and holiday vacations?

O'CARROLL: It is a tough place for Hawaii to be. I think most of the world knows Hawaii is a largely tourist dependent economy. When we have this many people arriving -- and many are only taking one prescreening test and many of the countries and islands using many tests, where travelers that come here don't quarantine and there is only one test which catches about 30 percent or40 percent of people.

You get the situation of where we are and especially with the explosiveness of Delta variant. What it also means is there is a huge percentage as a population, who is like dry tinder. So it is taking off and our department of health said weeks ago, our islands are on fire and our government has not done anything. Our lieutenant governor has not instituted things we feel need to be.

CURNOW: How are you dealing with compassion fatigue, especially when sick people come into your emergency room, test positive for COVID and they are unvaccinated?

As a doctor, is this proving to be difficult to deal with?

O'CARROLL: It is trying.


O'CARROLL: I would say it is tough when you know there is something that could have prevented somebody suffering in this way and perhaps losing their life.

You know, it is trying on all of us. You know I would say three- quarters of the people who come in, who are unvaccinated -- and in total about 85 percent of our hospitalizations at the moment -- three- quarters of those unvaccinated persons are sorry that they did not get the vaccine.

And the other quarter perhaps upsettingly say that we are part of a conspiracy, which you have to take off and roll off your shoulder and do what you are there for.

Because every person should get the treatment that we are there to give. And we are going to continue to march on.

CURNOW: Well, thanks for your work. Thank you for all that you are doing. Dr. Darragh O'Carroll there.

So Brazil is suspending beef exports to China. Animals with mad cow disease are in different Brazilian cities. Officials say there is no risk to human health. It does add though, this version of the disease happens spontaneously in cows. It is not clear when exports to China, Brazil's biggest meat buyer, will resume.

I'm Robyn Curnow. For U.S. viewers, CNN NEWSROOM continues. For everyone else, I am going to hand you over to Richard Quest for "QUEST'S WORLD OF WONDER," enjoy.





CURNOW: I am Robyn Curnow, thank you for joining me.

It's been nearly a week since Hurricane Ida stormed ashore and there are still widespread power outages in Louisiana amid the scorching heat. Long lines outside gas stations and a shortage of essential supplies like food and water underline the struggle many face to recover in the wake of the storm.

CNN's Nadia Romero is in New Orleans where thousands are trying their luck by moving to shelters outside the city.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been several days now since Hurricane Ida made her way through this city and residents say it's the aftermath that is really starting to wear on them. Not having power, which means no AC, in the middle of what is a hot time in the Gulf Coast, the heat index so high, residents say it's unbearable.

Many have come outside the convention center and over here you can see there is a line of coach buses that have lined up to pick up people, up to 2,200 evacuees a day, through the city of New Orleans.

They get picked up from 12 different locations, they come to the convention center, go through a registration process, get on a coach bus and they take them out of the city to northern Louisiana, like Shreveport or to Texas.

Listen to why one woman says she had to evacuate now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMERO: What are you missing in home right now that's making it unlivable?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it smell bad in there. You know, it's setting up mold. Yes.

ROMERO: Is it hot?

Do you have any food?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ain't got no food. It's spoiled, my food is spoiled. I don't have no food. I had to throw it out. And it's rough. And there's -- then we getting so much of heat.


ROMERO: So the city says they went to assisted living facilities and nursing homes to try to reach out to special needs cases, to make sure they were OK; if not, to get them loaded on a bus and to safety. They'll have the convention center open for the next couple of days to take more people who are in need -- Nadia Romero, CNN, New Orleans.


CURNOW: Also in Louisiana, seven nursing home patients are now dead after an evacuation went wrong. The Health Department classified five of those deaths as storm-related. They were among hundreds of people evacuated to a warehouse that reportedly had major problems, including failing sanitary condition.

The state attorney general is launching an investigation into that.

Meanwhile in Jefferson Parish, a man surrendered after allegedly shooting and killing another motorist in line at a gas station. The sheriff says it started when the suspect bypassed the gas line and was confronted by the person he cut off.

Friday's shooting underscores the challenges law enforcement face in the midst of gasoline shortages, rising tensions after Hurricane Ida.

After slamming the South, Ida brought catastrophic floods to the Northeast, killing at least 50 people. In New Jersey, people are looking for six missing people, including two college students swept into a storm drain. The families say they are best friends.

In Pennsylvania, residents hit with historic flooding there, along with several tornadoes. At least four people died. The waters caused damage to infrastructure, as you can see from these images. More than 800 bridges across the state will require inspection. Polo Sandoval is in Philadelphia.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you wonder where most of the water that was flooding neighborhoods, you are basically looking at it here. You can see Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have worked around the clock to pump that water out of the roads and into the Schuylkill River here, actually reaching two feet above major flood stage a couple of days ago.

We have seen the water level here drop considerably and that signals the end of one phase and perhaps a start of another, which will be clearing out all the debris that was left behind.

Give you an idea of what this river carried into the city here, usually you'd see people walking out and about but now you see the river sediment, trunks and other debris. Now the question is when and how will the city of Philadelphia will be able to clear spaces like this out. Really, there are bigger concerns in neighboring New Jersey.


SANDOVAL: Which is where we saw at least half of the total fatalities. And I heard people there in the Garden State the last couple of days, yes, many families are grieving and also many families lost their homes all together. So the question of when they'll be able to pick up the pieces and move on, that's still up in the air.

They will want to hear from President Biden as he makes the time to visit early next week and certainly there will be a big spotlight on him as millions of Americans are waiting to see what will happen next -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Philadelphia.


CURNOW: Thank you for that.

As millions in the Eastern U.S. are picking up pieces after Ida, we are monitoring this season's third major cyclone in the Atlantic, Hurricane Larry is a category 3 storm.


CURNOW: We are losing Derek there. We'll try to check in in a moment.

You are watching CNN. We are a week away from the 9/11 anniversary. It's important how the president will mark the event.

Also a request to parole Sirhan Sirhan have deeply divided Robert Kennedy's children. The latest on that story as well.




CURNOW: Next Saturday marks 20 years since 9/11.


CURNOW: Joe Biden plans to go to all three of the sites. He also made a move that could meet a longstanding demand of family members of the victims. Here's Arlette Saenz with more on that.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden is preparing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by visiting each of the memorial sites next Saturday.

The White House announced plans for the president and first lady to visit the 9/11 Memorial in New York City as well as Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. This comes after President Biden signed an executive order, directing the Justice Department to conduct a review to declassify documents relating to investigations into the 9/11 terror attacks.

The president had been facing some pressure from the families and survivors of that 9/11 attack to release these documents. They sent a letter to the president, saying if he did not take steps to release these documents relating to 9/11, that he'd not be welcomed at Ground Zero and other memorial sites.

But the president says the 9/11 families have always been in his heart and their voices have been appreciated in that process. This order would require that any items that are declassified be released within the next six months.

As for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will also be on hands in New York City. Former president George W. Bush will be speaking at Shanksville. Vice President Kamala Harris will also be attending the event in Shanksville before joining up with the Bidens at the Pentagon.

The country unites around this moment for a solemn day to commemorate the thousands of people who died on those attacks on September 11th -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, Wilmington, Delaware.


CURNOW: The man who shot and killed Robert Kennedy in 1968 could soon be released from prison. Sirhan Sirhan has been recommended for parole. Some of the Kennedy children support this but others in the family oppose it. We get the latest from Natasha Chen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Kennedy has been shot, is that possible?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The possible release of the man who assassinated Robert Kennedy 53 years ago is dividing the family of the former U.S. presidential candidate and senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the gun, Rafer!


CHEN (voice-over): In June of 1968, Kennedy's 10 children lost their father when Sirhan Sirhan shot him in the kitchen hallway of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, now hold on to the guy. Hold on to him.

CHEN (voice-over): His 11th child, Rory Kennedy, wasn't born until later that year.

Now responding to a California parole board panel's recommendation last week to grant parole to her father's assassin, she wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times," asking, "How, having committed one of the most notorious assassinations of the latter part of the 20th century, can you be considered rehabilitated when you won't even acknowledge your role in the crime itself?"

Five of Rory's siblings also oppose parole for Sirhan.

24-years-old at the time, Sirhan, a Palestinian, was said to be outraged with Kennedy's proposal to send military planes to Israel. He was convicted and sentenced to death. But his sentence was commuted to life with a possibility of parole after California did away with the death penalty in 1972.

At a parole hearing in 2011, Sirhan's memory of events was hazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The shooting of the gun, how long did you have the gun?


I'm not aware that I took it in. I'm not aware that I fired with it. But I was confronted with it later on and I had to take responsibility for that. And I do.

CHEN (voice-over): Responsibility for a killing that shaped the course of an already turbulent political era, just two months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and nearly five years after the assassination of his own brother, President John F. Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about what you did?

SIRHAN: It's the most horrible thing that any human being can do to another.

CHEN (voice-over): Two of Robert Kennedy's children support his release.

DOUGLAS KENNEDY, SON OF ROBERT F. KENNEDY: My father was taken away from me.

CHEN (voice-over): Douglas Kennedy, who attended last week's parole hearing, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who wrote a letter, saying in part, "While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Mr. Sirhan's impressive record of rehabilitation." Sirhan had been denied parole 15 times. But last week, prosecutors did not oppose a release because they were not in the room. That's because the Los Angeles County district attorney George Gascon, who was elected in late 2020, directed his prosecutors to stop attending parole hearings.

His office says, "This allows the parole board to make an objective decision.


CHEN (voice-over): "Not just based on the facts of the crime but also on how the person has behaved in the years since committing it."

A point of debate among the Kennedys, now watching the 120-day review period to see what the full California parole board decides and whether Governor Gavin Newsom weighs in after that -- Natasha Chen, CNN, Los Angeles.


CURNOW: The Paralympics are coming to a close in Tokyo. Dozens of world records were broken and U.S. swimmer Jessica Long shows her dominance again. We sit down with the gold medalist. That's next.




CURNOW: The closing ceremony for the Paralympics is just hours away. Athletes from around the world competed in Tokyo and broke dozens of records. One of those athletes is American Jessica Long.

The 29-year-old swimmer won six medals in Tokyo, giving her 29 career medals. She spoke with our Selina Wang about her remarkable career.



SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jessica, you're now a 29-time Paralympic medalist. You're going home with a full set of medals from Tokyo.

How are you going to reflect on your experience here?



LONG (voice-over): I don't think it has really hit me yet. I like the sound of 29 Paralympic medals. That sounds so insane to me.

Just thinking about this journey that I've been on since I was 12 years old and finding out about the Paralympic movement.

WANG (voice-over): You were just 12 at your first Paralympic games, the youngest on the U.S. Paralympic team.

What has kept your drive and motivation after all these years?

LONG (voice-over): What has really motivated me is going back to that little 12-year-old girl who never gave up. Even when days get tough and I've definitely had a lot of tough days, even with the postponement, just going back to her, how she would never give up, so why am I going to give up?

WANG (voice-over): You were born in Russia with a rare health condition. How did that impact your childhood?

LONG (voice-over): I was born with something called fibular hemimelia. I had a foot with three toes that, after I was adopted at 13 months, they had to amputate it at 18 months old so I could wear prosthetic legs.

There are some parts of my childhood I don't remember because they were so incredibly painful. We're talking about got the right leg done, we go back and do the left leg.

And then as soon as I got the left leg done and I started to learn how to walk again, it was back into the right leg. It was a constant -- it was constantly overcoming. I think in some crazy way, I just thought it was somewhat of a punishment, right?

I was adopted. It's very real to feel abandoned. And even though I was in such a loving family, I was adopted into a family with a total of six kids -- you still kind of feel like, what did I do wrong?

Everyone had legs. No one else in my family had to get surgery. It was survival and it really set the tone to never give up.

WANG (voice-over): How did that constant barrage of obstacles, how does that fuel your swimming today?

LONG (voice-over): As an amputee, I'm still in pain every day. My legs hurt. Me, I just think that's kind of something that comes along with being an amputee. So it's so funny to me that I picked a sport, where single every day, I'm going to be challenged, like so challenged and in pain and feeling the burn in my shoulders.

But at the same time I think to me it's such a comfort. I -- just that pushing through to know that, no matter what I go through, I can overcome it.

WANG (voice-over): You've talked about being just exhausted after the Rio Olympics.

What happened there and how did you bounce back?

LONG (voice-over): I was totally burned out. I had two shoulder injuries. I had a really bad eating disorder. I'd never really dealt with that before. And I had lost about 20 pounds. I was really sick, I was really weak, mentally, physically, emotionally.

It was something that I felt like I had to get through it but it felt so incredibly challenging. And when I got back, it was the first time that I truly felt depressed, sad. And I didn't like the word depressed. Back then it felt like such a bad word.

We talk a lot about the post-Olympic blues. But after six months, I was still feeling down and just like a failure, I knew I needed some help.

WANG (voice-over): A key conversation at the Tokyo Olympics was athlete mental health. You had Simone Biles talking about the pressures elite athletes face.

How did you relate to that?

LONG (voice-over): After Rio, I started seeing a counselor, a therapist, and just talking about my mental health. Coming into these games I felt more prepared than ever. But at the same time still having a hard time.

Mental health is such a journey. It doesn't change overnight. I know that when I get home, there's going to be a lot of processing and not being too hard on myself. I think coming here, I realized for the first time just truly how loved I am as a person and that, no matter my outcome, I was going home to a husband who loves me, a family who loves me.

And that was enough. That was just as worthy or just as successful as a gold medal, to me.

WANG (voice-over): So the 29 medals are incredible but you realize you are more than just those 29 medals, as incredible as it is.

LONG (voice-over): I'll look at them. I'll celebrate. I will let people wear them, hold them because everyone has been a part of this journey with me. After I celebrate, I will probably put them in my medal basket, in my closet and get ready for Paris.


CURNOW: Thanks to Selina Wang. Beautiful story there, beautiful interview.

China is telling broadcasters and online media companies to make sure the people they show reflect the values of the Communist Party. The move bans programs that idolize celebrities and even regulates the appearance of performers. Here's Will Ripley with details on that story, Will?



WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her face lighting up screens in China for decades. Zhou Wei, also known as Vicky Zhou, one of China's highest paid household names.

At least she was. Government censors scrubbing Xiao from most of Mainland China's internet, yanking her movies and TV shows from streaming platforms without even giving a reason.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter how big you are in China. You can be a very big celebrity. But the government is not afraid. No one is above the law basically. I think that is the signal here.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Xiao's agent did not respond to CNN's request for comment.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Xiao's name on a list of misbehaving celebrities, circulating on Chinese social media. The list includes Fan Bingbing, arguably China's most famous and reportedly highest paid actress, fined nearly $130 million in 2018 for tax evasion.

The same charge levied last week against another canceled actress, Zheng Shuang, slapped with a $46 million fine. She did reportedly make 24 million bucks for a recent romantic drama in a nation where hundreds of millions barely make $140 a month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't get too high. You can't get too famous and you can't get too wealthy.

RIPLEY (voice-over): President Xi Jinping is pledging to redistribute wealth, a policy believed to be popular among many Chinese young people. The nation's top internet regulator also targeting celebrity fan clubs, state media comparing them to cults, susceptible to the influence of hostile foreign forces.

Authorities announced measures to clean up chaos caused by fan obsession and cut off the capital chain behind the phenomenon. The cyberspace administration of China promising to protect online political security and ideological security.

The Beijing leadership calling on celebrities to promote patriotism, morality and, above all, the Communist Party's ideology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to stay clean and wholesome. Make sure you're friends with the right people and paying your taxes and it's a very narrowly defined, what's good and what's not appropriate by Beijing.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Those who don't comply, experts say, risk being blacklisted in the blink of an eye -- Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.


CURNOW: Thanks to Will for that story.

Thanks for watching. I'm Robyn Curnow. More CNN after the break.