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Western Europe Heads into Winter with Covid Cases Rising; Thousands Protest Against Austria's COVID Restrictions; OIC Faces Growing Scrutiny After Call with Tennis Star. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired November 23, 2021 - 01:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, I'm Paula Newton. Ahead right here on CNN Newsroom, new COVID restrictions as Europe struggles through a wave of cases that one official warns won't end until everyone is, "vaccinated, recovered or dead."

Supporters of a missing tennis star remain skeptical and fearful after the International Olympic Committee releases only a single photo from its video call with Peng Shuai.

And hopes for a more moderate Taliban suffer a big setback after Afghan women are banned from appearing in television dramas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

NEWTON: And we will get to our top stories in a moment. But first, some breaking news from Bulgaria. Officials say at least 46 people have died in a bus fire. Now that bus with Northern Macedonian registration plates caught fire on a highway about 45 kilometers west of Bulgaria's capital Sofia. Children were among the victims, we're learning, and authority say seven other people are being treated for burn injuries.

North Macedonia's Foreign Minister said the bus was returning from a weekend holiday trip to Istanbul Turkey. And we will update that story for you as soon as we get in more information.

We begin in Europe, though, this hour where several countries are stepping up their fight against a surging number of coronavirus cases heading into winter. Austria began a nationwide partial lockdown on Monday for at least the next 10 days. The government is now leaning hard into its vaccination drive.

Now the chancellor tells CNN citizens who defy a February vaccine mandate will be fined. The government's pressure might already be working vaccination centers report a massive increase in people coming to get shot. Right now, about 66% of Australia's population is fully vaccinated.


ALEXANDER SCHALLENBERG, AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR: That's the thing that saddens me most, we have enough vaccines, we have science gave us the possibility, the exit ticket out of this vicious circle of virus waves and lockdown discussions and simply not enough people are using this possibility and taking this exit ticket.


NEWTON: Now in the Netherlands, meantime, it's dealing with a different set of COVID related problems. On Monday, the Prime Minister denounced weekend rioters as "idiots" as using restrictions as an excuse for violence. Demonstrations against New COVID Rules turned violent in several cities with dozens arrested. A school set on fire and both rioters and police injured.


MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER (through translation): I will never tolerate idiots who use violence against people who go on the streets day after day to keep this country safe for you and me, just because they are unhappy.


NEWTON: And the Delta Variant is turning Germany into another COVID hotspot in Europe. On Monday, the U.S. added it and Denmark to the list of very high-risk travel destinations. German officials are pleading with people to get vaccinated. Health Minister made the grim warning. Take a listen.


JENS SPAHN, GERMAN HEALTH MINISTER: There is a likelihood that at the end of this winter just about everyone in Germany will have been vaccinated, recovered or dead as some put it cynically.


NEWTON: Now it's helpful here to get a look at the map, COVID cases are rising throughout Western Europe if we have a look at the map, it shows the increase just in the past week compared to the previous week. You'll see the darker red shade there the more severe the outbreak and now with Austria back under lockdown other countries in Europe are considering their own plans heading into colder months. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has more now from Vienna.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A month before Christmas, near silence on the streets of the Austrian Capitol Monday, as a fourth nationwide lockdown begins. Vienna locals growing weary as the pandemic endures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It feels like a luxury prisoner that's what it's like. Personally, I don't feel good psychologically.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): I'm really fed up with these lockdowns. I've had enough.

ABDELAZIZ: As COVID-19 cases in Austria sore it's become the first European country to re-enter a full national lockdown in recent months, as well as the first to mandate vaccines for anyone who is eligible beginning in February.

The new restrictions prompting angry protests here over the weekend an estimated 40,000 taking to the streets in opposition but the mandates though unpopular have also led to a kind of public capitulation.


The country's biggest vaccination center saw what officials say is a massive increase in first time shots in the wake of new measures.

Now, other European countries hope to imitate that trend, as Europe once again becomes a global epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic.

New restrictions on the unvaccinated began in the Czech Republic Munday, adults who haven't been inoculated or barred from places where people congregate, including pubs, museums and services such as hairdressers, officials issuing strong statements for those who resist immunizations.

JAN HAMACEK, CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER (through translation): The answer to the anti-vaxxers is that the data is absolutely clear, if the vaccines were not there, and if we didn't have vaccination throughout the population, the hospitals would have collapsed already.

ABDELAZIZ: The Czech Republic joins Germany, Austria, Ireland and several other European nations now enforcing strict measures against the unvaccinated. In the Netherlands and Belgium, new measures met with protests that erupted over the weekend, governments fighting public discontent, as they also battle rising infections as a pandemic remains ahead of another holiday season. Salma Abdelaziz CNN, Vienna.


NEWTON: Joining me now from Los Angeles is Anne Rimoin. She's a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Anne, good to see you again. And I really wish in almost two years here that we weren't back at the same issues. We're looking at Europe right now, officials are taking a very tough line. We just heard them and essentially blaming those who are unvaccinated for the threat to hospitals, the health care system, let us know from a medical perspective, would it have saved lives if they had taken a tougher stand months ago?

ANNE RIMOIN, EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, Paula, it is nice to be here. And I'm sorry to be here still talking about COVID-19. And still really being in this place that we've -- that we were in, you know, just a year ago as well.

You're right, the cases are increasing. We are seeing really the burden of infections are occurring in unvaccinated individuals. And even though we have great vaccination rates in a lot of these countries, that still you end up with 60 or 70% vaccinated, you still have 30 or 40%, who are unvaccinated. And this virus tends to find those people who are unvaccinated, unvaccinated people also really do bear the burden of severe disease, hospitalization and death. And so that's what's burdening these hospitals very clearly as well.

So, you know, the problem is that vaccination will make a very large difference, it will keep people safe, it will keep people out of the hospitals, it will keep people from having severe disease. But these vaccines have limits. They do wane. The immunity does wane over time. So, we're also starting to see a decrease in the protection provided by these vaccines. So, you know, it's both things happening at the same time, a large swath of people who are unvaccinated, this virus can burn very quickly through them and can result in very severe disease, hospitalization and death, and also waning immunity and people who were vaccinated early on.

NEWTON: And I'm glad you brought up the issue of the waning immunity. I'll ask you about that in a second. But before we get to that, I do want to talk about what's emerged in Europe. And this is really the unvaccinated are pitted against the vaccinated and many there are getting quite resentful at the lockdowns and yet you have the re- approach here in the United States and places like the U.K. where they let the case count rise. And as long as the hospitals aren't collapsing, they kind of feel as if they found a way to again live with the virus. Is there any answer here that makes sense in public health terms?

RIMOIN: You know, it's a tough issue. And penalizing people or really stigmatizing people who are not vaccinated, that's not necessarily the best way to get people to want to participate or to do the right thing. And so, I think that public health has still had a very hard time being able to message this appropriately and really to get people to understand the benefit of vaccination and what that -- and how that how that helps.

The other thing that can be employed during this time period, too, is testing. We really need to do better globally at having rapid tests be readily available to keep people who are positive who do have the virus away from others. I think that that's something that we all need to do much better. Germany actually did a very good job of this early on, but it really does mean we have to think about better messaging and how we're going to do it.


I think it's very difficult to say that we're ready to just live with this virus and just let it go. We need to be doing a really good job of getting people vaccinated, getting people boosted, and making sure that they can get tested when they need to get tested, so that we're not spreading this virus, even those people who are vaccinated aren't spreading the virus with a breakthrough infection. NEWTON: Right, understood. And talking about those breakthrough cases, it's become incredibly worrying among the vaccinated. What do you say to people who are losing faith that we can vaccinate our way out of this pandemic?

RIMOIN: I don't think we can use any one single public health measure to get out of this pandemic, it's going to have to be multi-pronged, we're going to be able to -- we need to be able to vaccinate as many people as possible because that's going to really drive down the severe disease, hospitalization and death rate and that's really critical.

But we're still going to have to be able to do things like use masks when needed. And the other thing that we really need to be able to do is have good rapid testing widely available to people so people can make decisions based on their status. If vaccines are going to provide sterilizing immunity, which they don't at this point, you know, we really are going to need to be able to consider what else we can do to really shore up immunity and keep people safe. It isn't going to be through one thing, going to have to have a multi prong approach and have this kind of multi-pronged approach for a long period of time.

NEWTON: Yeah, unfortunately, Anne. Thanks for reminding us though, but all those things that we do have in the toolbox because it does seem sometimes people are picking and choosing, and I mean government's here in terms of public health and not using all the tools that they can be using.

Anne, good to see you, I appreciate it.

RIMOIN: Always a pleasure.

NEWTON: Former South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan has died at the age of 90. Now the former military commander took power after a 1979 coup. He served for eight years until a student-led democracy movement forced his resignation. Chun is probably best known for his brutal crackdown on protests in the city of Guangzhou in 1980 that left 1000s of protesters dead or injured.

South Korea's National Police Agency says Chun passed away at his home. The cause of death was not released.

The International Olympic Committee is facing growing scrutiny after its video call with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Now the IOC claims Peng is "safe and well" after checking up on her Sunday amid widespread concerns about her safety. But critics are skeptical and questioned the IOC's true motives here. CNN's Will Ripley reports.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Free Peng Shuai, the growing call of protesters, politicians, professional athletes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just have to unite and stand together.

RIPLEY: A global outcry for the Chinese tennis star, many fear is being silenced.

ENES KANTER, BOSTON CELTICS PLAYER: It's time to speak up because there is less than 100 days until the Winter Olympics.

RIPLEY: The International Olympic Committee trying to calm the controversy. An IOC statement seems to support the Chinese government narrative that the three-time Olympian is safe and well, despite growing concern for freedom. The IOC handing out this single image Sunday of a 30-minute video call between Peng. IOC President Thomas Bach and two other officials. The IOC not giving CNN access to the video asking to, "respect her privacy."

And IOC official on the call says I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern. Some suggest the governing bodies real concern is not Peng, but profits. The IOC statement fails to mention Peng's explosive allegations three weeks ago that one of China's most senior communist leaders photographed with the IOC's Bach in 2016 sexually assaulted her. Unlike the IOC, the Women's Tennis Association prepared to pull hundreds of millions of dollars in business out of China demanding direct communication with Peng, unmonitored, uncensored. The WTA telling CNN, this video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation without censorship.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: The history books look back at this time, they will say the WTA what an incredible masterclass and humanitarian leadership, the right way to do it to call China on its abuses. And the International Olympic Committee sitting there, as they always do, basically doing nothing.

RIPLEY: Which some say makes the IOC complicit in the apparent silencing of a tennis icon who dare to speak out against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. He's known to keep a low profile portrayed in Chinese propaganda as down to earth a crusader against corruption.


GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, THE COMING COLLAPSE OF CHINA: The Communist Party will deal with this as an internal matter. I really doubt that they will actually refer this to prosecutors of the state because that would raise just too many issues. If all senior leaders had the goods on everybody else.

RIPLEY: Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


NEWTON: I want to bring in our Kristie Lu Stout now who's live for us in Hong Kong. Kristie, I know how closely you've been following the story. You pointed out that Peng's supporters, right, are still unconvinced by all of these videos that they've been seeing her?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, including this video chat that took place on Sunday between her and the president of the IOC. They still have a lot of concerns about just how free she is. Human Rights Watch has issued this strongly worded statement in which it calls on the International Olympic Committee to stop the promotion of Chinese propaganda to retract its statement regarding that video chat with Peng Shuai to explain the circumstances surrounding that call and also to urge Beijing to end censorship to open up a full investigation into allegations and to allow Peng Shuai to travel freely.

Look, according to the IOC, they said that this was a 30-minute video chat took place on Sunday between her and the IOC President. Peng Shuai said that she's safe and well. She is living at her home in Beijing. She wants her privacy to be respected. The IOC did not provide a video for the video chat. All we have is the statement. All we have is a screenshot from that video chat.

And CNN approached IOC overnight for more clarity for an additional comments, and we received the statement. We'll bring it up for you. According to the International Olympic Committee, they say, "Safeguarding the well-being of athletes is paramount to the IOC and the Olympic movement. We have agreed to stay in touch, and she agreed to meet in Beijing in January."

Now the IOC does not mention Peng's allegation of sexual assault, and that makes the IOC's reaction in stark contrast to Women's Tennis and their response to Peng's situation. They continue to ask for verifiable evidence that she is well that she is not under any form of coercion. And they continue to ask for a full investigation into their sexual assault allegations.

In fact, it was three weeks ago, when she made that accusation against a top party boss Zhang Gaoli, accusing him of forcing her to have sex. She made this allegation in a very lengthy post on her verified Sina Weibo account. It was taken down within half an hour. And I just want to focus on what she said. So, if we can bring up the statement, this is from her verify Weibo account that was put up, of course, CNN was not able to verify this statement. But this was what was in that 1600- word post. Peng writes, "Why did you have to come back to me, take me to your home to force me to have sex with you? She goes on to say, I couldn't describe how disgusted I was. How many times they asked myself, Am I still a human? I feel like a walking corpse.' She says. 'Every day I was acting, which person is the real me."

Now, Peng said also in this post, she did not have enough evidence to prove her allegations. She said that Zhang was always worried about whether she would be recording things. Again, we cannot independently verify the post. We continue to try to make contact with Peng Shuai. We continue to try to get comment from Zhang Gaoli through the State Council Information Office. Ministry of Foreign Affairs still continues to say we declined to comment. Paula.

NEWTON: Yeah, and I will say as well, we continue to try and get more comment from the IOC.


NEWTON: Kristie I'm so glad that you brought up the disturbing nature of her allegations and yet you've talked very much about the censorship in China, but this entire issue, had there been any cracks in that censorship at all? LU STOUT: You know, it's really interesting because Peng Shuai, and her allegations as controversy has been underblanket censorship online in China and estate media. And yet there was this very rare discussion or mention of Peng Shuai's case that took place on Weibo. You had the French Embassy in China, put a Chinese language post on Sina Weibo last night in which they express concern for Peng Shuai, that's the post right there. And they also call on the Chinese Government to respect their pledge to protect women against violence.

This Weibo post is still up. It has about 1.7k, nearly nearing 2000 likes. The comments have been clearly pruned. Most of the comments that are on there are clearly negative. A number of the commenters are saying that the entire controversy surrounding the Chinese tennis star is "a conspiracy." Back to you.

NEWTON: Yeah, a story -- disturbing story that we'll continue to follow. Kristie, thanks for that update. I appreciate it.

Now Russia's military buildup near its border with Ukraine has the west worried about a possible invasion. Still ahead, what steps the U.S. has considering to counter that threat.


Plus, details on the new restrictions Afghan women and girls are facing under Taliban rule.


NEWTON: Russia's foreign intelligence services dismissing concerns about a possible invasion of Ukraine as absolutely false, but the U.S. and Western allies are watching closely as Moscow masses troops on the border and in the region. CNN's Jim Sciutto explains.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: With concerns growing about a Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border, the Biden administration is now considering sending military trainers to the region. And military equipment that could include Javelin anti-tank missiles and mortars, as well as Stinger air defense missiles, multiple officials tell CNN. But the Biden ministration is still weighing the consequences of such moves. But some administration officials concern they could be seen by the Kremlin as a major escalation.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Javelin anti-tank missiles are quite effective against the T80 tanks which the Russians are actually employing in these efforts against Ukraine right now.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. has been warning allies of a possible Russian invasion with just a short window to prevent Russia from taking action, as top U.S. officials increasingly sound the alarm publicly.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have real concerns about Russia's unusual military activity on the border with Ukraine.

LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to.

SCIUTTO: A top Ukrainian intelligence official claims in an interview with the Military Times that Russia has more than 92,000 troops amassed near Ukraine's border that are preparing to attack in January or February. These satellite images from earlier this month show those Russian T-80 tanks, as well as armored personnel carriers and other equipment, massed in the small town of Yelnya, a possible staging area for invading Ukraine from the north, potentially through Russia's ally, Belarus.

BLINKEN: We don't know what President Putin's intentions are. But we do know what's happened in the past. We do know the playbook of trying to cite some illusory provocation from Ukraine or any other country and then using that as an excuse to do what Russia is planning to do all along.

SCIUTTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin's response is to call existing U.S. support for Ukraine a provocation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We need to consider that Western partners worsen the situation by delivering to Kiev modern lethal weapons and having provocative exercises in the Black Sea.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


NEWTON: Joining me now from London is Michael Bociurkiw, he is a Global Affairs analysts and the former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


Really good to see you, Michael, as the tension here continues to ratchet up. We just heard from Jim right about a possible intervention on the part of the United States and Ukraine. Putin's reaction again, very predictable. We've been here several times before, what's the risk now, Michael, because the U.S. is in a tough spot, as always, right? If you respond, if you respond here, it gives Russia the opportunity to say we are just reacting to what you're already doing in Ukraine.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Sure. Good to be with you, Paula. Yeah, the U.S. is in a very tough spot. And it's also in a further tough spot because it doesn't have many diplomatic boots on the ground in key capitals like Kiev because of the holding up of ambassadorial appointments.

But listen, you know what America and Western allies need to understand but Mr. Putin are basically three things. Number one, he's a very dangerous man. And Jim mentioned the build-up of the Russian troops there on the border, as well as heavy high-tech armory. The other thing is, we learned this summer that Mr. Putin still dreams of a reunification of Russia with Ukraine. And then thirdly, Mr. Putin is like a chess player. He's a master at it. And he likes to strike, strike when the West is very vulnerable, and distracted. And right now, where I sit, you know, in the U.K. and Europe, there's a very big distraction with the COVID-19 crisis, and also a looming energy crisis that Russia is gradually having control over.

NEWTON: Yeah, certainly a lot of play here. And as you point out, we've gone through several U.S. administrations with Mr. Putin now on this. What has been the reaction inside of Ukraine, given that Eastern Ukraine to remind everyone has had the simmering conflict for years with separatists? They're supported by Russian arms and intelligence?

BOCIURKIW: Exactly. I think there is a growing fear in Ukraine, and I've just returned from the region I was in Riga and also there, especially with what's happening with the so-called hybrid warfare tactics of Russia, as everyone saw, using the puppet Lukashenko of Belarus, to send vulnerable migrants to the E.U. But also, Paula, I think, what's happening, this isn't often cited, but there's also like changing dynamic on the battlefield in Ukraine's favor. And I think this is really worrying Mr. Putin. And what I mean by that is, they're now using very advanced Turkish drones to take out Russian backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. And there's more on the way. And it's a very interesting, geopolitical dynamic, because don't forget, Turkey is also a member of NATO, but it also sells aircraft and weapons to Russia.

But, you know, I'll just reference 2014, again, when MH-17 was shot down, Ukraine was getting a real advantage at that time. What did the rebels do? They call it in that book missile that shot down MH-17. And that's why I'm particularly worried right now that the same playbook may happen.

NEWTON: Yeah, just hearing that from you, Michael, I have to say is incredibly chilling, because you see it unfold. And yet there does seem to be this vacuum where diplomacy doesn't seem to be able to do anything. I will note that the Biden administration agrees that they are trying to set up some type of a virtual summit with Mr. Putin on the coming weeks. At this point, though, you have to ask the question, what is Putin's endgame because at every turn, and you make such a good point about the fact that the situation in terms of advantage seems to be changing in Ukraine, does he mean there to just probably take off some of the heat from what has been going on? Whether it's with Turkey or with NATO allies?

BOCIURKIW: Sure. Well, we're not even sure if Mr. Putin knows what the endgame is. But one point of speculation there, of course, is that he would like to establish a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, because it's very difficult to service that huge territory.

I think the only thing that may deter him from this is a sign of -- a show of unity, strong unity in the West made more difficult, though, by the departure of Angela Merkel from the mix, she was the only one I think that put them would really stand up to her listen to. But I think if they can show that any further land grab will be very, very financially painful. And I'm talking about even temporarily removing Russia from the swift payment system, which will paralyze their economy. That's something they -- that which would deter them. But the other thing, on the other hand, there's so many other hands with Mr. Putin, is that Nord Stream 2 pipeline, gas pipeline is about to enter service, even with a delay in Germany. And that will give me even more leverage over the situation with the Ukraine and over Europe.

NEWTON: Yeah, and I know everyone says that, look it up that pipeline, really deal politically will develop into a very serious situation for Europe going forward.

Michael, I'm so glad to get your analysis on this. I appreciate you being here with us.

BOCIURKIW: My pleasure.


NEWTON: Now, New Delhi's air quality show some improvement but still has a long way to go. We'll have the latest on the pollution in the Indian capital and whether it is safe enough for schools to reopen.


NEWTON: And we want to update you on our breaking news from Bulgaria. Authorities now say at least 45 people died in a fire aboard a tour bus. Now, initial reports of the death toll was 46, but they're now saying it's unclear exactly what the death toll is.

Authorities saying most of the passengers were from north Macedonia. That is where the bus registered. It caught fire on a highway about 45 west of Bulgaria's capital Sofia. Children were among the victims. Seven other people are being treated for burn injuries.

To Afghanistan now and the Taliban have now banned most television shows featuring women. And it's all part of a new set of media restrictions laid out by the militant group.

Now under the new rules, female journalists can still present the news, but only if they wear a headscarf on screen.

It is the latest sign the Taliban government is limiting Afghan women's rights. Now women and girls are already instructed to really stay home from work and school with few exceptions. That rule was imposed, shortly after the Taliban seized power in mid August.

Lisa Curtis is a senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. And she joins us now from Virginia.

Lisa, good to see you.

Unfortunately, so much of what we're hearing from Afghanistan now was predictable even if it didn't happen in the first few days after Afghanistan fell for the Taliban.

The issue here, does the international community have any leverage to try and change what the Taliban is doing?

LISA CURTIS, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Well, unfortunately, I think you are right. That it's not surprising this latest restriction that the Taliban has put on women that they cannot appear in TV dramas.

And as you said, initially they said all the right things, that women would be allowed to work, go to school. Unfortunately, that's not what we've seen playing out.

Young girls are being forbidden from going to secondary school. Women are not being allowed to work except for perhaps in the health care sector. And unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, a woman activist was murdered. And this has sent a chill through the women's rights community.


CURTIS: Now the U.S. does have leverage in the form of the financial assistance. We know that the Taliban need financial assistance. The country is close to an economic collapse. So there is leverage in our assistance.

Now we don't condition humanitarian assistance, but in terms of broader, longer term, economic assistance, that is something we can condition on respect for human rights.

NEWTON: And yet it is disturbing when you say that ok, we have -- and I say we, meaning the western allies have some kind of leverage when it comes to the financial resources. But many people have been warned that in any way, shape, or form, trying to restrict some of that financial assistance, will end up harming the people of Afghanistan even more.

CURTIS: Well, the U.S. has already provided around $474 million in humanitarian assistance just this year, more than any other country. We have frozen $9 billion in Afghan assets because, you know, the Taliban has made designated terrorist leaders part of their government. We have four leaders of the Haqqani Network, a State Department designated terrorist organization.

So we simply can't afford to risk putting money in the hands of terrorists. So there is good reason for keeping that $9 billion in Afghan assets frozen in the United States.

But when it comes to humanitarian assistance, the U.S. is providing this assistance. And there are ways to bypass the Taliban. People who have talked about setting up the humanitarian financial corridor, where you perhaps have a private bank that you can run funding through, to provide salaries to the civil servants.

Because when we helped fund the Afghan government before when you had the former government in place, we were able to get that funding directly to the civil servants.

So we should be able to now bypass the Taliban, and still get much of this humanitarian assistance into the people that need it.

NEWTON: And then as far as trying to have any influence over the Taliban and how they are treating women, what more do you think the international community can do?

CURTIS: Well, we know the Taliban wants international recognition. So again, I think if the United States works closely with like-minded partners that also want to see respect for women's rights and human rights, we can work together with these countries, and sort of lay out a roadmap for the Taliban things that we need to see.

And this can be a sort of a roadmap to recognition, if that's, you know, what they in fact want which is what they say they do want. So there are ways to have leverage. It is not easy and I think we are more likely to influence the Taliban, if we work together with our international partners and don't try to go it alone.

NEWTON: Yes. That seems to have been the lesson in Afghanistan, writ large. And I will say while everything you're saying is theoretical, unfortunately at this hour in Afghanistan, there are so many women and girls just feeling the chill of Taliban rule right now.

Lisa, I appreciate you coming in to talk to us about this.

CURTIS: Thank you.

NEWTON: Now at least 35 people have died in extreme flooding across two states in southern India. Now government officials saying more than 600 people have been rescued from the floods so far, following monsoon rains.

Relief efforts are still underway in the state of Andhra Pradesh including search and rescue efforts for 30 people still missing. Now rainfall is expected to decrease thankfully over the coming days. But is forecast to later pick up again.

Meantime the ban on construction has been lifted in India's capital after a slight improvement in air quality.

The Indian government has ordered a halt to all construction and ordered all schools and colleges in and around New Delhi to close last week and that was because of the worsening air pollution.

Officials say they will be monitoring pollution levels in the city and make a decision later this week on whether to reopen schools.

GOPAL RAI, DELHI ENVIRONMENT MINISTER (through translator): Schools, colleges and other institutes will continue to remain shut. However, after analyzing the situation Tuesday, we will consider reopening them from 24th of November. We will make a decision accordingly, if we need to increase the closure duration or open the schools.


NEWTON: I want to bring in our meteorologist, Tyler Mauldin now. You know, the measures are extreme, but the weather and the pollution really is extreme as well.

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: There are a lot of factors at play even though the air quality has improved slightly. It's still really bad.


MAULDIN: We are right above that threshold of very unhealthy and in the days to come we're going to hover around unhealthy to very unhealthy. That is all the way through this upcoming weekend.

You know, India is sandwiched right to the west of the Himalayas, and that causes it, helps it to be the one of the most polluted areas in the world. 14 out of 20 of the most polluted cities in the world are located right here in India.

I mentioned the Himalayas are right here. That traps the smog right over -- right over India. And then you add in the fact that there are these inversion layers, and inversion is when the temperature rises as you go up in the air.

So that actually it gets warmer instead of cooler as you go up in the air. That puts a lid on the atmosphere, and traps that smog at the surface.

And that's what we've been dealing with here recent. We're talking about particles that are smaller than a speck of dust, smaller than your hair, ok. So tiny little particles including the Himalayas and the inversion layers.

In addition to that, you've also got the fact that India is increasing their electricity production through coal and then you've got the agricultural fires, as well as the fireworks.

So you have a lot of things coming together in one litter area causing some terrible, terrible pollution and air quality, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes and as you've told us before, right, it doesn't matter how small those air particles are, you can definitely feel them, and they do damage to people's health.

Tyler thanks for that update.


NEWTON: Appreciate it.

Lawmakers investigating the U.S. Capitol riot have officially summoned prominent allies of Donald Trump to testify. But how likely are they to comply?


NEWTON: A longtime Republican operative and a loud conspiracy theorist are among the latest allies of former U.S. President Donald Trump to be called to testify at Congress. Now, they have been subpoenaed by the Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Lawmakers are shifting their focus to the organizers and funders of those so-called Stop the Steal rallies who relentlessly lied about election fraud and whipped this mob into a frenzy. Ryan Nobles has the story.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The January 6th Select Committee issuing five new subpoenas. Five individuals who are closely associated with the planning and execution of the rallies leading up to January 6th including that big Stop the Steal rally that took place in front of the White House.

Many of the people who participated in that rally ended up here on Capitol Hill in an attempt to interrupt the certification of the November election.

There is two big names in this group. Alex Jones and Roger Stone -- two major conservative provocateurs, people that have been longtime supporters of the former president, Donald Trump and of course, played a big role in peddling the lies about the election that Trump was the leader of.


NOBLES: They also helped to raise money and convince people to come to Washington on January 6th with the implicit goal of trying to interrupt the democratic process.

But it's not just Jones and Stone, there are three other names. Taylor Budowich is currently the spokesperson for the former president in his capacity outside of the White House. And then two other individuals, Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence.

They are an engaged couple. They have been behind the scenes players in all of this. Closely associated with Steve Bannon. Also closely associated just on the outer ring of the Trump campaign and the Trump political effort.

They had a lot to do with the organization, the raising of funds and the spending of funds as it relates to those rallies on January 6th.

There is a big question though is just how cooperative these witnesses will be, particularly Alex Jones and Roger Stone, who have a penchant for either ignoring congressional and legal requirements that are put on them or outright lying to panels like this.

This is what one of the committee members Zoe Lofgren had to say about both of these individuals coming before the committee.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Mr. Stone raised money for security through his Website He reportedly had an affiliation with the Oath Keepers that led some of the assault on the Capitol. He made remarks that he was planning to lead the march to the Capitol from the Ellipse that day.

Mr. Jones claims to have raised the majority of the funds for the staging of the rally. So we want to find out what they know. We are following up with other leads that we have received about the funding. NOBLES: This ultimately though is about connecting dots. There were

obviously three layers to all of this, right. There was the peddling of the election lie first. There was the effort to bring people here to Washington. And then the final step would be convincing people to come into the Capitol on that day to try and interrupt the democratic process.

At this point, the committee has not shown direct evidence that those three stages have a direct connection and that those connections lead back to someone like Donald Trump. But that is clearly the role -- or the goal that they have throughout this process. Bringing together this group could be one piece of that big puzzle.

Ryan Nobles, CNN -- on Capitol Hill.


NEWTON: Now in the coming hours jury deliberations are expected to begin in southern Georgia in the trial of three men charged in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man.

Defense attorneys in the racially-charged trial wrapped up their closing arguments Monday. They claim the defendants acted in self- defense and we're trying to make a citizen's arrest for suspected burglary when Arbery was fatally shot last year.

Arbery's family has said he was simply out for a jog when he was killed in the defendants' neighborhood.

Now a vigil was held Monday night for the victims of the Christmas parade crash in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Five people were killed, almost 50 injured including many children.

Police say the suspect, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks was out on bail for unrelated charges in a domestic abuse case and he was involved in another domestic disturbance right before the parade incident.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has the latest.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A shocked community learning the names of the neighbors they lost.

DANIEL THOMPSON, WAUKESHA POLICE CHIEF: Virginia Sorensen (ph), 79- year-old female. Leana Owens (ph), 71-year-old female. Tamara Durant (ph), 52-year-old female. Jane Coolidge, 52 year old female. Wilhelm Haspel (ph), 81-year-old male.

JIMENEZ: The victims, five in all, ranging in age from 52 to 81 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have multiple casualties. People down in the streets. 40 casualties down main street.

JIMENEZ: Along with the dead, 48 people were injured. Some as young as three years old. 18 children, including three sets of siblings are being treated at Children's Wisconsin, a hospital in Milwaukee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of the 48 are children and they are in critical condition.

DR. AMY DRENDEL, CHILDREN'S WISCONSIN: Injuries range from facial abrasions to broken bones to serious head injuries.

JIMENEZ: Police identified the suspect as 39-year-old Darrell Brooks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suspect prior to this incident was involved in a domestic disturbance.

JIMENEZ: Brooks was released on $1,000 bail earlier this month in connection to charges including domestic abuse. He allegedly ran over a woman with his car.


JIMENEZ: And the incident came after another 2020 case where he was charged with two counts of reckless endangering safety. He allegedly fired a gun during an argument. CNN reached out to his attorney from the incidents but did not get a response.

Meanwhile, new audio of the parade incident makes clear the chaos in the moment, heard in the voices of the first responders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A red Escape black male, I couldn't stop him. He's going westbound, blowing his horn.

Alert all the hospitals.

JIMENEZ: Along the parade route, Kaylee Staral (ph) thought at first the vehicle was in the parade. Seconds later she realized it wasn't.

KAYLEE STARAL, WITNESS: You see people running around and screaming and crying and running into the store fronts and you realize that this is real. This is serious and people are hurt because of it.

JIMENEZ: Among those dead, members of Milwaukee's dancing grannies. A post to their Facebook page said "Those who died were extremely passionate grannies. Their eyes gleamed with the joy of being a granny. They were the glue that held us together."

Now, as the community here continues to try and recover, the investigation into the suspect Darrell Brooks continues. He has a criminal history going back to the 90s.

But on that incident earlier this month that he posted $1,000 bail for, the woman he allegedly ran over claims to be the mother of his child. She also claimed that the car part of it didn't happen until after he allegedly hit her with a closed fist.

(on camera): Now, we reached out to his attorney for that incident and haven't gotten a response on that. But the Milwaukee County district attorney's office called the amount that the bail was set for inappropriately low saying that it was not consistent with their risk assessment procedure.

The suspect has his initial court appearance for this Christmas parade incident on Tuesday where police have said they will be referring five counts of first degree intentional homicide.

Omar Jimenez, CNN -- Waukesha, Wisconsin.


NEWTON: A U.S. report shows minority communities are more likely to suffer from climate crisis and those also living in polluted areas dubbed Cancer Alley say their government has failed them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want him to stop the slaughter. This is outright slaughter.


NEWTON: So the extreme weather -- climate crisis, pardon me -- extreme weather and rising rates of disease from pollution are problems that can affect all Americans, of course. But often it's low income communities and people of color who bear the brunt of those growing threat.

CNN's Rene Marsh explains.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's been nearly three months since Hurricane Ida, a category 4 storm slammed Louisiana. Yet this small black community of Ironton looks like the storm hit yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got people that lost everything, don't know when they are going to get their next meal from.

MARSH (on camera): What is that like, having to know that every hurricane season you don't know if you are going to lose everything again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never been to war but I can imagine when a young man that's been in the war and dealing with post-traumatic stress. This is a form of post-traumatic stress.


MARSH (voice over): Steps away from destroyed homes, caskets with the dead inside sit under the warm Louisiana sun. The state-run cemetery task force has not returned them to their resting place after floodwaters forced them from their grave sites.

CASSANDRA WILSON, DECEASED FAMILY MEMBER DISPLACED: It's heartbreaking to see that no one is really trying to put them back. MARSH: Ironton is in Plaquemines Parish where the Mississippi River

meets the Gulf of Mexico, south of New Orleans -- much of the area is below sea level and it has the dubious distinction of being one of the fastest vanishing places on the planet due to climate change induced sea level rise.

A recent EPA study found minorities are more likely to live on land endangered by rising sea levels and more likely to die from extreme temperatures.

But extreme weather is not the only danger. A drive along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge reveals an 85- mile stretch of more than 150 petroleum and chemical companies that have sandwiched whole neighborhoods while spewing harmful emissions.

More vulnerable to climate change, more exposed to pollutants -- it's the proverbial one-two punch EPA administrator Michael Regan came to see as the Biden administration promises to address environmental injustices in minority and low income communities.

(on camera): The general feeling here is that their government has failed them.

MICHAEL REGAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I think the state and federal government and local government has failed the people in terms of effectively communicating and being transparent and offering some levels of release.

MARSH (voice over): Failing people like 81 year old Robert Taylor, a lifelong resident of Louisiana's Cancer Alley, where the nation's highest cancer rate is concentrated.

ROBERT TAYLOR, CANCER ALLEY RESIDENT: We want him to stop the slaughter. This is outright slaughter.

MARSH: These are all of Taylor's family members diagnosed with cancer. Almost everyone here has a cancer story.

REGAN: When you look at how much industry is here and the suffering that we are seeing, there has to be a correlation.

MARSH: The state has not declared this a public health emergency. Are you prepared to go against that?

REGAN: We are going to assess the data. We're going to follow the facts. We're going to follow the science. And we're going to follow the law

MARSH (on camera): We reached out to the state of Louisiana about those caskets that you saw in the piece there but did not get a response.

Rene Marsh, CNN -- Washington.


NEWTON: And I want to thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Paula Newton.

The news continues right here on CNN with Rosemary Church. That's right after a break.