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Afghanistan Led by a Mix of Terrorist; Taliban Fire Gunshots at Protesters; U.S. Counting on Taliban's Word; Afghanistan in Dire Need of Help; Once a Terrorist, always a Terrorist; France Preparing for its Biggest Trial; Sting Operation Failed in Belarus. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead on CNN Newsroom. Afghanistan's new caretaker government is stacked with Taliban loyalists. Former Guantanamo detainees and two senior members of a U.S. designated terror group.

Six years after the Bataclan terror attack France's biggest trial gets underway. We are live outside the courthouse in Paris.

Plus, former high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officers speak exclusively to CNN about a failed sting operation targeting suspected Russian war criminals.

Good to have you with us.

Well, it is just passed 11.30 in the morning in Kabul Afghanistan where images on social media appeared to show a small group of women marching against the Taliban in the western part of the capital, Tuesday saw the biggest protest yet in Kabul. Witnesses say several hundred demonstrators demanded education, human rights, and a role in government. The Taliban responded with violence.

Some crowds dispersed after the Taliban fired over their heads. Journalists say they were beaten and arrested. Women were detained for several hours. A hospital spokesman says two people were killed in the western city of Herat.

Well that comes as the Taliban have announced a new caretaker government made up of hard-liners with a history of connections to Al- Qaeda. The acting prime minister is under U.N. sanctions and was a close aide to the Taliban's late founder Mullah Omar. And the acting defense minister is Omar's son.

Two others are leaders of the Haqqani network designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. One is on the FBI's most wanted list and both have multimillion-dollar bounties on their heads.

Former inmates at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay are filling other posts. They were part of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. in 2014 for army surgeon Bowe" Bergdahl.

Well we get more now from CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): In the biggest challenge to Taliban rules so far, women and men took to Kabul streets. Demanding an end to the Taliban's military offensives.

UNKNOWN: We are here for this protesting for our human rights, we want to stop killing

ROBERTSON: Anger too at Pakistan, who many Afghans blame for the Taliban's rapid rise to power. The Taliban responding with gunfire. This time at least over protesters heads. Also detaining some of the women. Beating and arresting several journalists before releasing them several hours later, according to social media accounts.

The Taliban commander at the protest blaming America. "What is it there to protest against" he said. "We're in an emergency situation. The United States is giving the money. There is no other problem."

Hours later, the Taliban announcing their new caretaker government. Top jobs the hard-liners with a track record of opposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The powerful interior ministry going to Sirajuddin Haqqani. The FBI says he has close ties to Al-Qaeda and has a $5 million bounty on his head. And he's under U.N. sanctions for connections to terrorism.

Hours earlier, in Qatar, Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicating that the United States is in communication with the Taliban leadership.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been assured again that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave. And again, we intend to hold the Taliban to that.

ROBERTSON: On Monday the Taliban over running the last pockets of anti-Taliban resistance from the Panjshir valley. Consolidating their power across the whole country, deepening U.S. dependence on Taliban commitments to stop Al-Qaeda attacking America.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is no question that it will be more difficult to identify and engage threats that emanate from the region.


ROBERTSON: At the U.S. embassy in Kabul the Taliban banner painted on the wall subtext, we know you won't be back for a while. Despite the ongoing turmoil some aid flights landing in the capital. The U.N.'s top aide official met with Taliban leaders too. But what's arrives so far woefully short of what the country needs. JENS LAERKE, SPOKESPERSON, UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION

OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS: Basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing. And food and other lifesaving aid is about to run out.

ROBERTSON: Pressures on the Taliban's new caretaker government already mounting.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Islamabad, Pakistan.


CHURCH (on camera): And CNN's Anna Coren has covered Afghanistan extensively and was in Kabul recently. She joins me now live. Good to see you, Anna.

So, we'll get to the Taliban government in a moment. But what more are you learning about the protest underway in the west of Kabul putting the Taliban to the test once again.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, I've just a word that that protest is still ongoing. And I've just seen some social media footage that we are yet to clear, but you can see these women confronting Taliban fighters saying no women in your government, it will be a failure. And they are yelling at these fighters.

The courage of these women is just extraordinary. This protest is in the west of Kabul, it's in Hazara area, these are Shia Muslims, it's an ethnic minority that has previously been persecuted by the Taliban amongst other, you know, organizations.

But certainly, the Hazara's, you know, very educated people. These are, you know, families who have sent their daughters to school, to university. I've met plenty of them who had big dreams and hopes. And now they are being suppressed. And these women are refusing to stay silent.

So, we saw that scene yesterday in Kabul where hundreds took to the street, demanding freedom, demanding recognition. They are also protesting against the Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan. But really, the crux of these protests is about women. These protests also in Herat, that you mentioned where a number of people were killed and injured. And also, in Mazar-i-Sharif.

So, you know, this call for national uprising, perhaps this is what we are seeing, Rosemary, where these women are taking to the streets. We are hearing from organizers that they are planning to roll out these protests despite the Taliban's guns and bullets and truncheons, they will continue to protest.

And interestingly, Rosemary, I spoke to one female activist, an Afghan activist who managed to get out of the country, she is looking at these images and she said she is so proud of these women. That what she is seeing is mind-blowing. She wishes she was there taking part in it which is just incredible.

CHURCH: Yes. And incredibly brave as you say as well. These women have already reacted to the newly announced Taliban government. What other reaction has there been given its links to terror?

COREN: It's going to be a very interesting tight rope that the United States and the west is going to have to walk. How are they going to navigate this space in dealing with the Taliban, which as you say has designated global terrorist within its cabinets.

You know, the most staggering, I think is the interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani who is going to be responsible for internal security as well as for police. I mean, this is somebody who is on the FBI watchlist, $5 million dollar reward is out for information for his arrest. How does the United States deal with him, as well as the other terrorists, designated terrorist within the Taliban government?

Now the Taliban will say that this is just a caretaker government but it is exceptionally hard line. You know, there are people in that government that go back to the former Taliban government from 1996 to 2001. They were part of that leadership.

So, you are not seeing a government that is inclusive which is what they talked about these last three weeks that represent all Afghans. Of the 33 mullahs, 32 of them are Pashtun. And as we know, obviously no women and the ministry of women's affairs, Rosemary, has been scrapped.

CHURCH: Anna Coren, many thanks. I appreciate it.


Joining me is Carter Malkasian. He worked in Afghanistan for the U.S. Defense and State Departments. He is also the author of "The American war in Afghanistan: A History." Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So, what's your reaction to this newly announced hardline Taliban government lead by a religious cleric and also including a wanted terrorist as its top security official? What might this signal in terms of life for Afghans, particularly women under this new regime?

MALKASIAN: I mean, I actually kind of expect more of the same. The same kind of Taliban movement that's led the fight against the government, the fights against us appears to have decided to keep itself in power which is somewhat like what we expected.

I would expect that their rhetoric now in which they try to portray themselves as more moderate, to continue. But at the same time, I expect to see their behavior to while being more moderate than in the 1990s to still be somewhat less than what their rhetoric is. So, it seemed kind of events that we've seen today with protests and somewhat oppressive reaction to the protests. I expect that to continue.

I mean, really, what we are seeing here is the Taliban movement that we've been fighting for 20 years reestablishing itself in power with most of the same leaders. CHURCH: And what's your biggest concern about this new Taliban

government? And what might it mean for any future relations with the U.S., and indeed the international community generally?

MALKASIAN: So, there's a few things. For one thing, is that they seem to have reestablished their Islamic emirate. And I don't want to put too much stress on that because it is possible that they'll have some more negotiation, reach some kind of compromise, maybe change what it is. But right now, it looks to be the Islamic emirate as we knew it.

With an emir on top that being Mullah Hibatullah, and then a selection of leaders beneath that. Some of those leaders that we've known now for a while who have been connected with terrorist group like Sirajuddin Haqqani.

I think internationally this poses some challenges. For one thing, several countries, including the United States have said that they don't want to see an Islamic emirate return to Afghanistan. One in which the Taliban have a full monopoly on power. And it's not just the United States that said this. Russia had said it. Iran has said it. China has said it.

What these countries are going to do is a little bit unclear. Are they going to kind of hedge and wait to see how things play out? Or are they going to be firmer with the Taliban and say this really isn't what we wanted? Or are they going to say hey, the Taliban is the best we can do let's work with them.

CHURCH: And what will this new Taliban government mean when it comes to Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan do you think?

MALKASIAN: I think in that sense, some of it will be the same. So, this new government is going to want to distance itself a bit. It's not going to want to be known as the lackey or the puppet of Pakistan. The Taliban have always been very, very sensitive to that.

So, they will try to portray themselves as neutral. At the same time there is a long-standing tie between members of this government and Pakistan. And Pakistan is going to want to maintain some kind of influence there. And the Taliban themselves are going to need financial support. We already know that they have these problems. And the first country to look to for that financial support is Pakistan.

CHURCH: And you mentioned this, the Taliban of course had recently promised to uphold women's rights but they've already beaten Afghan women protesting on the streets. They also promised to help American citizens out of the country. But some of those Americans are apparently still sitting on planes at the airport in Kabul waiting to fly out.

Actions of course speak louder than words. So how torrents will the international community be of behavior like this? And at what point will they use the financial leverage that they clearly have to ensure that the Taliban do what they previously promised they would do?

MALKASIAN: Well, I think the Taliban are at a test what the international community is going to deal with the United States and other countries are going to do. And if they sense that they can get away with things they will keep on pressing that. I mean, it is really up to the international community to try to pressure the Taliban and constrain the Taliban from perhaps following their worst impulses.

I'm actually I'm not sure how and what way the United States will apply its leverage, its financial leverage, et cetera. One of the tricky things here is that the Taliban have already committed to us to do certain things. They have already committed on to undertake certain actions against Al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

And so, do we want to put in forth of them that well, we'll now, you know, essentially pay you to do this? Or are we just going to hold them to the agreements that they've already made.


And I know the issue is much more complicated than that. But I suspect that these kinds of issues are what's being discussed by policy makers now.

CHURCH: Carter Malkasian, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

MALKASIAN: Thank you.

CHURCH: In just a few hours France will revisit its deadliest attack in peacetime. Twenty suspected in a 2015 terror rampage across Paris after going on trial and security is high. ISIS claimed responsibility for the shootings and blast that killed 130 people.

Melissa Bell reports.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): France shaken to its core. November 13th, 2015 a night of terror that began at the Stade de France, events or coordinated attacks across Parisian bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall. In all, 130 people were killed that night. Now their families and those who survived are preparing to relive an ordeal that is beyond words.

OLIVIER LAPLAUD, SURVIVOR OF BATACLAN ATTACK: I'm sleeping a little bit less. I have some flashbacks.

BELL: France's biggest ever trial which will see 300 victims testify will be held in this specially designed courtroom over at least nine months. The French president at the time, Francois Hollande will also give evidence.

But of the 20 men accused of planning, aiding and carrying out the attacks, only 14 will be in the dock. The most closely watched will be Salah Abdeslam. He was arrested in Brussels a few months later, one of the only known survivors amongst those accused of being directly involved on the night. ISIS may have claimed responsibility, but so far, he has refused to speak. JEAN-MARC DELAS, VICTIMS' ATTORNEY (through translator): It isn't so

much that the trial is going to disappoint because we're not expecting a lot, but that it might not even shed much light.

BELL: One of the challenges will be ensuring that justice is done on all sides. The outpouring of grief that followed the attacks, a reminder of how wounded France was as a country with the question now of how neutral its judiciary can be.

NEGAR HAERI, SUSPECT'S ATTORNEY (through translator): It won't just be about sentencing but about democracy. It is the idea of justice that is in question. In any case, it is tested in this trial.

BELL: For those who are there that night and still live with its images the trial will also be about being heard.

LAPLAUD: Only the victims and people who experience that night can understand what I'm feeling and the violence and the images of what I saw. The blood. The corpse.

BELL: Something he says that will be hard to explain but necessary to say.


CHURCH (on camera): And Melissa Bell joins us now live from Paris. Melissa, security understandably high for this trial of course. What's expected to come out of this in the end, and what's the mood on the streets of Paris on this first day?

BELL: Well, for now a great deal of security all around this, the old justice courthouse here at the center of Paris, especially redesign to the tune of eight million euros, to try and get it prepared for what is going to be historic, a historic trial in every sense.

And first of all, in terms of its scale, 330 lawyers involved, Rosemary. And the capacity to seat 500 people at any given time, 550 within special screens that will allow people who hadn't been able to fit inside the room to watch it as well.

Now, this entire section of Ile de la Cite in the heart of Paris has been cordoned off. And we've just been seeing a great deal of police activity with extra convoys coming in. I'm just going to show you all the police arriving here now.

And what we're hearing from our French affiliate BFM, is that the man that you just saw in that report, Salah Abdeslam who is of course the last known survivor of those directly involved on the streets of Paris on the 13th of November has just been taken out of his cell and he's on his way to the courthouse even now.

So, all eyes will be very much on him. And yet, you are not going to be seeing a great deal from inside that courthouse. You'll see arrivals, lawyers going in and out, for instance. Nothing from inside. And that is because although the proceedings will be recorded for prosperity, there will be a memorial, a recording of this for history sake that will be not available for a few decades yet. Nothing will be shown live.

The only people with access to what is going on inside that courtroom are those victims, or families of victims, or survivors who have been given special access so that they can follow the live feed over the course of the next nine months, Rosemary.


CHURCH: All right. Our Melissa Bell covering that and joining us live from Paris. Many thanks.

Well, still to come, a CNN exclusive report on a failed Ukrainian led sting operation to capture suspected Russian war criminals. We'll have more on that.


CHURCH (on camera): We are following developments out of southwest Mexico where a powerful earthquake has sent shockwaves across the country. The epicenter of the magnitude seven quake was not far from the coastal resort city of Acapulco. At least one person has died. Official say a man was crushed by a falling pole. Power lines and trees were brought down, some buildings and car sustained minor damage.

The tremors were felt almost 400 kilometers away in Mexico City. The country's state earned utilities service now says more than one and a half million customers have no electricity in Mexico City and four states.

In July last year, security forces in Belarus arrested 33 suspected Russian mercenaries accusing the Kremlin of sending them to inflame anti-government tensions in the country ahead of presidential elections. The men were paraded on Belarusian state TV before being deported back to Russia.

But CNN can now reveal stunning details of what former Ukrainian intelligence officials say was actually not a failed attempt by Moscow to meddle in the elections in Belarus at all, but a foiled Ukrainian led operation to capture and jail Russian mercenaries linked to war crimes.

Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has our exclusive report.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The dramatic raid in a Minsk hotel was all over state TV. Belarusian special forces shown arresting this group of alleged Russian mercenaries. Experienced fighter is how they were described suspected of being sent by Moscow to disrupt elections in the country last year.

"We got confirmed intel that these Russians had real combat experience and actually took part in armed conflicts." This heavily disguised Belarusian police commander warned at the time. But what he didn't know is why this mysterious group of Russians was really there. Few did. Until now.

All right. Well, we are now driving to an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital where we are set to meet a group of former Ukrainian and military intelligence officials who have an extraordinary story about what actually went down in Belarus.


And about how those Russian mercenaries, were in fact part of an elaborate Ukrainian led sting operation to capture suspected Russian war criminals to bring them to justice here.

The former high-ranking officer spoke to CNN on condition we shield their identities. They are not authorized to disclose details of what they say was an ambitious top secret plan backed by the United States that failed at the last moment when Belarus intervened.

When you saw all of those people, those Russian mercenaries being arrested in Belarus, that was a nightmare for you. What did you think?

SOURCE A, FORMER UKRAINIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: The feeling I got was very bad because it meant all of our hard work had gone down the drain. We had carefully prepared for more than a year in the hope that justice would prevail, and that these bandits would be in prison and punished. Unfortunately, this didn't happen.

CHANCE: When he says bandits, he means Russian-backed fighters battling Ukrainian government forces in the country's breakaway east. Among them a Russian national accused of involvement in some of the worst atrocities of the war like the downing in 2014 of a Malaysian airliner MH 17 with nearly 300 people on board.

Our intelligence sources say the men detained in Belarus had been identified over many months as having suspected links to war crimes.

SOURCE B, FORMER UKRAINIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: There were two who were present when the missile that down MH 17 was launched. Four others were members of a group responsible for shooting down our military aircraft and killing at least 70 pf our best men. So, identifying and punishing was of high interest to us.

CHANCE: It was apparently of interest to U.S. intelligence too. Although U.S. intelligence officials deny having any direct role. According to our sources, the Ukrainian led operation got some U.S. cash, technical assistance, and advice from the CIA on drawing Russian mercenaries in.

Senior U.S. Official told CNN those allegations are false. But identifying the right people and then luring them out of Russia required an elaborate deception. So, our former Ukrainian military intelligence sources told us they set about creating a fake private military company with its own Russian language web site.

On it they advertised jobs like one lucrative contract for $5,000 a month to protect oil facilities in Venezuela. That was the bait. And we're told hundreds of Russian mercenaries actually took it. All they had to do according to our sources was prove who they were and where they fought.

SOURCE A: We started to call them and say, hey man, OK, tell me something about yourself. Maybe you are not really a fighter. Maybe you are a plumber. Or something like that. And then they started to reveal things about themselves. Sending us the documents. Military I.D.s. and proof of where they had fought. And we are like, bingo. We can use that.

CHANCE: They are sending you evidence of who they are.

SOURCE A: Yes, they sent it to us. Absolutely.

CHANCE: In fact, what followed was according to our sources, have thanked him of freely volunteered intel. Not just documents and photos, but potentially incriminating videos like this one after the downing of a Ukrainian military aircraft in the eastern war zone. Offered up by the fighters themselves.

All of Ukrainian televisions had to do was pick the ones it wanted off of the lucrative Venezuela contracts. Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions in Russia assemble them in neighboring Belarus to fly out. And intelligence sources said the real plan was to land them in Ukraine and make the arrests.

SOURCE B: If these people would have ended up here in Ukraine, the details of their criminal acts would have become known around the world. Ukraine could've brought them to justice and shown that our fight with Russia is serious. And that we won't raise our hands and surrender.

CHANCE: But the plan failed when the Belarusian's arrested the group just hours before they were meant to leave. It could've been a stunning blow to Moscow. Instead, according to our sources, a bold Ukrainian intelligence operation was foiled.


CHANCE (on camera): Well the current Ukrainian government is trying to put some distance between itself from what we now know unfolded last year. The country's intelligence officials have not responded to our requests for a comment about this failed sting. But even if this operation had been successful and so many Russians had been captured, it's unlikely anybody from the Ukrainian or indeed the U.S. governments would have wanted to take responsibility.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And still to come, their journey was traumatic that six Afghan children wouldn't had made it safely to England if it wasn't for their cousins brave actions.

And growing fears for Brazil's democracy as the country's president attacks the elections system and the judiciary. We will have the details ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: Well, let's get you updated on developments in Afghanistan where images on social media appear to show a group of women marching in western Kabul. A local media reports they are protesting the murder of a pregnant policewoman, allegedly killed in front of her family a few days ago. In Kabul on Tuesday the Taliban fired over the heads of protesters. A number of women were detained and some journalists say they were beaten. Meanwhile, the Taliban have announced a new government of hard-liners with a history of terrorist connections. The group spokesman insists the cabinet is diverse.


ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN'S SPOKESMAN (through translator): Neither it came to existence based on one ethnic group, nor have we struggled for one ethnic group, nor do we represent one ethnic group. We represent the whole of Afghanistan, and we talk on the level of the whole of Afghanistan and our struggle was based on the whole of Afghanistan. We are not people of one tribe or ethnicity. Neither do we believe in this.


CHURCH: But members of the Hazaras ethnic group, still feel threatened by the Taliban. And among the first refugees to arrive in the U.K., after the fall of Kabul are six Hazaras children. They made the frantic journey from their country with their cousin who's barely older than they are. Our CNN's Phil Black has their story.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's difficult to comprehend what these children are feeling. Fear, loneliness, trauma. These six boys and girls, aged five to 17 from three different families have been transported from the desperate streets of Kabul to a small English town. They have left behind everything they know and love. Including their parents. They are at least safe, because of their cousin Nasal (ph) extraordinary courage.

UNKNOWN: They were crying. I don't know what to do.

BLACK: They cry every day.

UNKNOWN: They cry every day. Especially with their parents. They don't know what's going to happen.

BLACK: Nasal is 28 years old. A British citizen who is visiting family in Kabul as the Taliban took the Capital


UNKNOWN: In 24 hours it's like the world flipped.

BLACK: Nasal knew her whole family was suddenly in great danger. Because they are Hazaras, an ethnic group long persecuted in Afghanistan and often massacred by the Taliban.

UNKNOWN: The first enemy for the Taliban's are Hazaras.

BLACK: So she eventually headed for the airport with her cousins, determined to save them. This video shows part of their journey.

UNKNOWN: Nasal's uncle is driving. He repeatedly tells the children, don't be scared. Nothing will happen. Just hours later he would be dead. Video captured by other people on the same day shows the chaos they were heading into around Kabul airport. Nasal says they pushed through the crowds. Her uncle was trying to clear a path. When he was shot.

He just fell?

UNKNOWN: He just fell. He got shot right in the heart.

BLACK: Nasal did not know where the bullet came from or what to do. She took this picture, as he lay dying.

UNKNOWN: He said go. That's the last thing he said. He said go. And I went.

BLACK: Did you look back?


BLACK: She kept the children moving, eventually approaching some American soldiers.

UNKNOWN: I said I'm a British citizen. They said who are they? Because they didn't have passport documents or nothing. I said these are my kids. I have adopted them.

BLACK: But you don't know which way is going to go?

UNKNOWN: No. It was a scene where if they don't go. Even one of them, if they don't go, I'm back I'm not going also.

BLACK: You meant that?

UNKNOWN: Yeah. And I explain that to them, I understand (inaudible), right in the face. Go.

BLACK: For Nasal, that enormous relief of saving six young lives is now been overwhelmed by great responsibility. The youngest, just five years old, is deeply anxious about his parent safety.

UNKNOWN: He is like we are Hazaras. They are going to kill us first, I don't have enough time. This is what he's telling me.

BLACK: Children who grew up in Afghanistan knowing that Taliban means death to Hazaras.

UNKNOWN: Yes. BLACK: This young woman's life is now on hold indefinitely, as she

cares for these children. Soothed their nightmares. Tries to convince them that they will see their parents again. Phil Black, CNN, Hemel Hempstead, England.


CHURCH: Well, Brazil's president is attacking the integrity of next year's election. Huge crowds of supporters cheered as Jair Bolsonaro called the election system a farce on the country's Independence Day. Opposition protesters also took to the streets in major cities on Tuesday. Critics say Bolsonaro is undermining confidence in the voting system, as a ploy to challenge the election results if he loses.

CNN's Isa Soares joins me now from London. Good to see you, Isa. So, apparently straight out of Donald Trump's playbook, Bolsonaro is preemptively trying to cast doubt on the country's election system, without any evidence to support his claim. How likely is it that this strategy will work for him?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Good morning, Rosie. Well, we should see in the long term whether he has more luck than former President Donald Trump of course, during the short term as we look at those scenes across Brazil, both in Brasilia and in Sau Paulo. It does not look like he still has his support, although it is important to point out that the crowds were much smaller than many of us were really expecting.

Now his base, we know is dwindling. His support at home is also low. His approval rating is roughly around between 20 and 25 percent. Just to put into perspective for our viewers. So it is clear that this needed to be a really a show of force, a demonstration really to Brazilians and to the rest of the world that he is still in power and he is still in control. It is about demonstrating power, although albeit, a percent of power, because Brazil is incredibly divided.

And what we have seen and heard from Jair Bolsonaro, is as more, instant motivation and more distrust. Distrust across the country. The rhetoric we are hearing is very similar to the Donald Trump's playbook. You know, it's for no reason that he's called Trumpino or Trump of the tropics. He has been really sowing doubts on the Democratic institutions of Brazil. He is basically saying that the electoral system, really needs to change, it needs to be altered. He wants the electronic voting system for next year's election to be supplemented by a paper ballot. Now, Supreme Courts has voted on this, and he did not win that vote. So now he clearly is, pretty mad at two Supreme Court justices. Take a listen to what he had to say.



JAIR BOLSONARO, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL (through translator): We cannot have elections where there are doubts among the voters. We want clean, honorable elections and with the public vote count, I cannot participate in this farce sponsored by the superior electoral court president.


SOARES: So, you hear him there. He cannot, you know, cause elections a farce and really said he won't be listening to the Democratic institutions and to the Supreme Court judges who by the way are investigating him. Two of them investigating him for those allegations. Completely unsubstantiated on electoral fraud in Brazil and Brazil's electoral system, as well as the Bolsonaro propaganda machine. Those two are being -- probes are being investigated. But the concern here, and this is a huge concern right across Brazil, is that if he does not accept the election results, come next year because up to a day or so ago, defeat was not even part of his vocabulary. If he does not accept those results of next year. The concern is that we could be seeing scenes that we saw in the capital of D.C., of an insurrection and that is a huge concern, Rosie.

CHURCH: Yeah, it most definitely. Isa Spares bringing us up to date on that story. Many thanks.

Well, a prison fire in Indonesia has killed at least 41 people. Almost all of whom died in their cells. The fire started early Wednesday, officials say the wardens could not open the cells fast enough to save the men before the flames got out of control. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but police suspects an electrical issue may be to blame.

Hong Kong's national security law strikes again. As police arrest pro- democracy leaders for not handing over sensitive information. We will have the latest from Hong Kong, next.


CHURCH: Hong Kong police have arrested at least four leaders of a pro-democracy group that organizes the annual rally, commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. The move comes after the group refused to turn over information requested under Hong Kong's national security law. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins me now live from Hong Kong. It's good to see you Kristie. So, what is the latest you have on the situation?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, this is the latest that know and the situation is pretty serious and wanting to report this moment, because it's a significant setback, yet another one to the opposition movement in Hong Kong, as well as to civil society here in this city.


Earlier today we learned that four leaders of the Hong Kong alliance were arrested by Hong Kong police. This is the organization behind the once annual June 4th vigil that would take place in the city's Victoria Park. And among those arrested, include the chairwoman of the Hong Kong alliance. This comes just one day after the Secretary of Security, Chris Tang said that he would take swift action against those who refused to comply with data requests from the national security police.

The Hong Kong alliance said that they refused and would not hand over any data. In fact yesterday, they had announced that they had filed a judicial review to challenge that police request. But the arrest were carried out, today, in the early hours of this morning. According to Chris Tang, he accuses the group of being foreign agents. That is a very serious crime under the national security law here in Hong Kong. Here is how he explain that charged on Tuesday.


CHRIS TANG, HONG KONG SECRETARY OF SECURITY (through translator): They turn these extra resources into privileges. To recruit followers and influence people in prison. And for them to grow hatred against the government. The Hong Kong government, and the central governments which will endanger national security.


LU STOUT: Colluding with foreign forces is one of the four crimes under the national security law which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June of last year, punishable with up to life imprison. According to the chairwoman of the alliance, who was arrested earlier today, she called the accusation, quote, "ridiculous." And these arrests are just the latest moves that have taken place in recent weeks, in recent months here in Hong Kong against the opposition and civil society here in Hong Kong.

It was just mess month when the civil human rights front disbanded after a police investigation that was the organization that had organized the once annual July 1 March. As well as mobilized millions of people to march in the streets of Hong Kong in the summer of 2019. We also saw recently the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, disband. After it was criticize by Chinese media. This is the largest professional union here in the city. And this has prompted human rights activists to say that, you know, this is getting increasingly challenged to work in this environment. In fact, one human rights activists described it as a very deep winter. Here's Johnson Yeung.


JOHNSON YEUNG, FORMER CHRF: We are in a very deep winter for civil society groups and for human rights campaign. It will pose more deterring effects and right terror to every organizers and individuals that are trying to fight for human rights.


LU STOUT: Chinese authorities including Hong Kong's top leader Carrie Lam, insists that there have been no erosion's of rights and freedom since the national security law was imposed. But today's arrests are very, very significant. The Hong Kong alliance and its ability to organize the once annual June 4th Tiananmen Square vigil, has long been seen as a marker. As a bellwether for the cities freedoms. Rosemary.

CHURCH: Alright. Kristie Lu Stout, many thanks for bringing us up to date on that.

Regional leaders in West Africa will meet to discuss the coup in Guinea, later today. The military coup leaders promised a transitional government. But they have not explained what it will look like or when it will be established. Guinea's main opposition leader says he is willing to participate in a transition government, but he has not been consulted.


CELLOU DALEIN DIALLO, GUINEA OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): The first mission for May, is to help get the country out of this exceptional period by organizing free and fair elections, so we can put the institutions back into place. Credible and legitimate institutions, because they come from the will of the sovereign people.


CHURCH: The military arrested President Alpha Conde on Sunday, his location is unknown. Conde was serving a third term, after a disputed election last year.

While it's been more than 50 years since the Nigerian region Biafra lost a brutal civil war. The recent arrest, an extradition of a leader in the separatist movement has rekindled a longing for independence. And as CNN's Stephanie Busari reports, the calls are growing louder in a seemingly unlikely place.


STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN PRODUCER (voice over): The streets of London are not where you would expect to find protest for breakaway region of Nigeria. But demonstrators came here in support of their leader. The voice of the indigenous people of Biafra, IPOB, a separatist movement that wants to break away from Nigeria, is this man, Nnamdi Kanu. A Nigerian British citizen who has been on the run since 2015. Kanu was arrested in June and extradited from Kenya, back to Nigeria. It is part of a crackdown on growing calls for independence. Analysts say Kanu is just filling a vacuum, left by multiple failures of government.


REMI ADEKOYA, ASSOCIATE LECTURER, THE UNIVERSITY OF YORK: The increasing popularity of this calls is a direct consequence of the failures of the Nigerian state or more broadly speaking, (inaudible) of the Nigerian project.

BUSARI: The last time the recalls for independence in Nigeria, an estimated one to three million people died during the Biafran Civil War in 1967. But these calls are also being driven from outside Nigeria.

This quiet London Street is not exactly where you would expect to find the hub of a global network of pirate radio stations, broadcasting their separatist agenda back into a Nigeria. At the registered address, we meet Darlington Imoh, a Kanu ally and

Biafran sympathizer, even with Kanu off the airwaves, his disciples remain committed to the cause.

Do you conduct Nnamdi's the arrest, Mr. Kanu's arrest, it means that end of the Biafran movement?

DARLINGTON IMOH, KANU SUPPORTER: Definitely not. If you kill one general, another general takes his place. Definitely not. Definitely not. We want -- they are afraid -- we are not asking for, we are asking for (inaudible) they see what I see, they are asked for.

BUSARI: Analyst say that is a pipedream.

ADEKOYA: Well, I think first of all the Nigerian government will be afraid to our referendum to happen. And the fact that they'll be afraid to allow the referendum to happen, shows you how deep the problem is.

BUSARI: but the cracks may be beginning to show. President Muhammad Buhari tweeting in June about how the Nigerian government would deal with separatists. Twitter remove this post deeming it offensive. And days later, they Buhari banned the platform entirely from Nigeria. While Kanu remains in custody, but hasn't deterred protest in southeast of Nigeria. Where IPOB had ordered a shutdown of work and economic activities every Monday. Although that was recently suspended. What seems clear is that the nation could be at an impasse.

ADEKOYA: Worst-case scenario, of course, is that before 2023 the country essentially de facto disintegrates. Perhaps not into a full blown civil war, but into a lot of skirmishes, into a lot of violence.

BUSARI: An already fractured nation can ill-afford another conflict. Stephanie Busari, CNN.


CHURCH: The British government has said they are seeking clarification from the Nigerian government about the circumstances of the arrest and detention of the Nnamdi Kanu. And the Nigerian government has said that Nigeria is indissoluble and indivisible. And they will continue with their methods of detection and prevention of crimes against the internal security of Nigeria.

"CNN Newsroom," is back in just a moment. Stay with us.


CHURCH: Britney Spears' attorney is declaring a massive legal victory in the popstars fight to regain control of her life, including her multimillion dollar estate. This comes after the singer's father, Jamie Spears, filed a petition to end the 13-year-court ordered conservatorship that has him overseeing her personal affairs, health issues and finances. The petition said, the singer circumstances have changed enough that grounds for a conservatorship may no longer exist. Pressure has been mounting on Jamie Spears, for months now. After his daughter accused him of years of abusive treatment.


And protest -- protests in El Salvador's after the Central American country became the first in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. Critics point to Bitcoin's market volatility, case in point, Bitcoin's value briefly plunged more than 10 percent on Tuesday. CNN's Rafael Romo has more from Mexico City.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice over): It was not the stellar rollout that the Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele was hoping for. There were glitches with the governments app designed for exchanging Bitcoin for dollars and vice versa. Also within hours, the cryptocurrency lost about 10 percent of its value. On the plus side, major fast food chains that operate in El Salvador, like McDonald's and Pizza Hut are already accepting Bitcoin.

The Salvadorian national assembly has created a fund of $150 million, so that there is money readily available, if people want to exchange their Bitcoin. By midday the government of El Salvador had already purchased 550 Bitcoin's, equivalent to nearly $26 million. And even though El Salvador became Tuesday the first country to declare Bitcoin as legal tender. The reality is that a small coastal village in Central American country has been using it for years. It's called El Zonte, and it's home to Bitcoin Beach, a locally led initiative supported by a U.S. based nonprofit organization. That has been promoting the cryptocurrency as a way to empower those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

People there, including many small businesses, have been using Bitcoin for daily transactions. Not everybody in the country is convinced though. There have been at least two major protest against Bitcoin, where one union leader compared adopting Bitcoin as gambling in a casino. According to a recent survey conducted by the Central American University in El Salvador, seven out of every 10 Salvadorian's would rather continue to deal in dollars even if Bitcoin is widely available. Rafael Romo, CNN, Mexico City.


CHURCH: And thanks so much for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church, I'll be back with more news in just a moment. Do stay with us