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Novak Djokovic Made it to Number One Seed; Meetings Led to More Escalation Not Solution; P.M. Johnson Apologized to the Public; Prince Andrew's Case Move Forward. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 03:00   ET




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

Just ahead on CNN Newsroom, Novak Djokovic secures the number one seed in the Australian Open. But the big question remains, will he be about to stay in the country.

A de-escalation deadlocked diplomatic talks in Brussels yield little progress as Russia continues to threaten Ukraine.

Plus, Syrian victims of torture brace for a verdict in a landmark trial. A German court will soon decide the fate of a former Assad regime official charged with crimes against humanity.

UNKNOWN: Live from CNN center, this is CNN Newsroom, with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: Good to have you with us. Well, top ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is officially the number one seed in the Australian Open for the men singles after the draw was held just hours ago. But uncertainty still hangs over his participation.

Australia administration minister is still considering whether to revoke Djokovic's visa and remove him from the country. Even as that decision looms, Djokovic was out on the court today, practicing just days before the Grand Slam tournament kicks off. He is scheduled for a first round match against a fellow Serbian player.

Joining me now to discuss the latest development, CNN World Sport Alex Thomas in London, and in Melbourne, Ben Rothenberg, senior editor for Racquet magazine and host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast.

Good to see you both.

So, Alex, let's start with and take a closer look at that Australian Open draw and that that signals for the tournament ahead.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Well, as you say, Rosemary, it's the biggest indication we've had yet that Novak Djokovic could remain in Australia until the tournament gets underway. He is the defending champion, he's won it the last three years running, and he's won it nine times total.

In fact, you have to go back to 2014 for the last time you had a name that wasn't Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer on the trophy. And Federer, the Swiss legend is not in Australia playing in this tournament. Perhaps the other biggest star names to be playing is Rafael Nadal.

All the controversy about Djokovic's arrival in Australia set against the backdrop of whether Djokovic can truly be claimed the greatest men's player of all-time. Many would say he already is. But he is crucially level with Federer and Nadal on 20 Grand Slam singles titles. So a win in Melbourne would put Djokovic clear on 21 and probably set already for good.

CHURCH: All right, let's head down under now to Ben in Melbourne where the official draw for the Australian Open was actually delayed for almost 90 minutes. But then went ahead without any announcement being made by the immigration minister who is still considering, apparently whether Djokovic stays or go. So, what's going on here? Why is this process taking so long?

BEN ROTHENBERG, SENIOR EDITOR, THE RACQUET: You're right. We really thought there was going to be an imminent decision for a while. They announced this delay of the draw ceremony. The most obvious thing was that, this order, you know, the hammer is about to come down on Novak Djokovic potentially from the government, but there was no announcement despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison holding a press conference during that time nothing was announced, nothing was resolved.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is still reviewing the case and still says he's reviewing it. They haven't given up. They are still very much scrutinizing everything about Djokovic's presence in the country and their participation in this tournament. But it's been lingering on and sort of overshadowing further and further the tournament, which is really ramping up.

And there is a lot of interesting matches in the draw that we could be focusing on already from the sports angle, but still this political, social angle of Djokovic and in his continued presence here in this limbo state continues to dominate here.

CHURCH: And Ben, this really has been a mess from start to finish, well, we say finished, it's not really first yet, is it? So, what had been the reaction of all this in Australia? What are people across the country saying about that -- this and indeed, the other players there waiting to play on Monday?

ROTHENBERG: I think -- I think the (Inaudible) are pretty similar between Australians and the players at this point. There's a lot of impatience of how long this taken, there's a lot of frustration and resentment of Djokovic for having the rules that seem to be pretty unique to him applied. That he was able to get in without an exception and -- sorry, without a vaccination and with an exemption to that. And that he was, you know, given special treatment.


And I think there's not a lot of patience within tennis and within the wider Australian society. There is an online poll today, over 60,000 Australians responded on online and (Inaudible) web site and 83 percent voted that they want to see the government pursue re- deportation of Djokovic.

There is still a lot of will and a lot of political thing to be gained, I think for the government for pursuing this action. It's just sort of surprising that it's taking this long and it's been, you know, it was publicly so indecisive at this point that Djokovic (Inaudible) still left hanging on the hook which is just few days left before the tournament.

CHURCH: Yes, it is just intriguing, isn't it? And Alex, let's head back to you in London. Let's put this saga aside, and of course the draw has been done. So, what sort of Australian Open are we looking at here?

THOMAS: Well, as far as Djokovic is concerned, he's had possibly one of the easiest draws he could hope for. Obviously, he's the top seed. The draw is balanced so that the biggest seeds don't meet each other until the later stage of the tournament, but he's playing a fellow Serbian. And they've only played once before, that was last year. And Djokovic won easily in straight sets. A young Serbian there.

But most people from his country, and in fact, across tennis looks up to Djokovic as an icon and as a role model as well. So, it's not someone that's really going to try and get in Djokovic's face and use this controversy against him.

Also, an interesting draw in the women's singles where Ash Barty, the world number one in the women's game at the end of last year and obviously a huge favorite on home soil could face Naomi Osaka, split down the rankings a little bit recently as early as the fourth round.

CHURCH: All right. Ben Rothenberg, Alex Thomas, many thanks to both of you for joining us. I appreciate it.

Well, we are not done with Djokovic, later this hour I will ask an expert on the business of Australian sport about the case and why it's taking so long to sort out.

Well, a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis is so far elusive ahead of a third round of talks. Russia will soon meet Indiana with the OECD, the organization for security and cooperation in Europe.

Talks on Wednesday between the Russia and NATO ended in deadlock doing little to ease fears that Moscow might invade Ukraine. Both accused the other of refusing to de-escalate. One of Moscow's lead diplomat says the situation is becoming intolerable.


ALEXANDER GRUSHKO, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): One of the elements of this rather sad picture is that as a result of NATO's decision, all practical cooperation between us and the alliance in areas of common interest has been suspended. Today, we do not have a unifying positive agenda. None at all.


CHURCH (on camera): And CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now from Brussels. So, Nic, is there any hope that war can be averted at this juncture?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There is a glimmer of hope. But I think that the overall, sort of view at the moment is that the OSC meeting today won't change anything substantially. That really, the Russian delegations have to sort of round up all of these meetings and then go back to Moscow and consult with President Putin.

Because there's a very broad dip view among diplomats, indeed, among all the negotiators that have been around the table, or rather, last negotiators. You know, the diplomats sitting there having these talks.

Is that, there isn't really can be a decision made by these negotiators. They really have to come and put forward a position and then take it back to Moscow for President Putin to decide. So, at the moment, it really does seem to sit very much in President Putin's hands whether or not there will be war.

I think if there were glimmers for hope it's because the -- because NATO, the United States, and undoubtedly this will come up at the OSCE will all state to the Russian side that there is a possibility of discussing not about who can and cannot join NATO, or when NATO can or cannot put its forces. But more about mutually acceptable arms control agreements and troop training exercises. But there needs to be reciprocity on both sides.

But at the moment, the Russian side won't engage in that. They are sticking to their core question. Their big security concern of which I spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: I understand that there will have consequences. Then of course what nobody knows is whether they, despite those consequences, will choose once again to use armed forces against Ukraine.

ROBERTSON: The world has heard you say this clear answer many times -- are they just not listening to you?

STOLTENBERG: So, our answer is very clear. They are there to sit down and discuss, and engage in a balance verifiable arms control, transparency and risk reduction.

ROBERTSON: But there's no indication that they're willing to engage in that.

STOLTENBERG: Well, that remains to be seen. Because Russia was not ready in the meeting today to agree to a series of meetings.


ROBERTSON: But why not? Why not do you believe?

STOLTENBERG: I think it's because Russia needs to not take these proposals back and discuss them in Kremlin.

ROBERTSON: Given President Putin's avowed view his longevity and power to come, where is the compromise when he demands to talk about NATO and Ukraine? And membership and NATO pulling back forces to the east?

STOLTENBERG: NATO allies have -- they made it clear on which we are ready to sit down and discuss and make compromises, talk to the Russians on arms control and all other areas. But we also made it very clear where we are not willing to compromise, for instance, on the right of every nation to decide its own path.

ROBERTSON: Right now, the ball is firmly in the Kremlin's court now.

STOLTENBERG: Yes, we will -- we are waiting for their answer to our (Inaudible) conveniency in the meeting addressing a wider important issue for European security.


ROBERTSON: So, I put that to the head of the Russian delegation, the deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Grushko that the ball was in the Kremlin's court, he said no, it's not, it's in NATO's court at the moment. He also said that they hadn't come to these talks to come to discuss compromises at all.

I think there is a glimmer of opportunity here. He did say, despite restating Russia's position that NATO -- that Ukraine cannot join NATO and that any further, in their view, sort of escalation of the situation against Russia's interests could lead to legal military action in the future.

He did say, while NATO should put their proposals, presumably he was talking about this arms control agreements, should put their proposals in writing. But looking at the discussions this week you just have to see them as still being poles, poles apart, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, understood. Nic Robertson joining us live from Brussels, many thanks.

David Sanger is a CNN political and national security analyst. He is also a White House and national security correspondent for the New York Times. And he joins me now from Washington. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, Russia is not backing down, threatening military action if talks with NATO fail. You've written analysis on how far you think Russia's President Putin will try to roll back the clock to the mid- 1990s. What do you make of this significant escalation here, and where you see things going?

SANGER: Well, the good news, Rosemary, is that we're not seeing that great increase in troop numbers on the Ukraine border that we would've anticipated to see by this point. The numbers have stayed about 100,000 of those we reported yesterday we're beginning to see some helicopters and other air power that come in.

That suggests that maybe his goal is not to invade the entire country. (Inaudible) thought was probably more than he really wanted to swallow. But rather to take some portion of land, either permanently or temporarily. Probably just extending on what Russia grabbed in 2014 when of course it annexed Crimea.

The bad news is, that the differences that we've seen both Geneva during the U.S. talks with Russia and at the NATO meeting on Wednesday, were pretty profound. And they go to this question as you say, whether the United States and NATO nations would be willing to go back to sort of a pre-1997 condition when NATO was no place close to Russia's borders?

CHURCH: Do you see that there's any room for negotiation, that there is an off-ramp here for Russia? Because we know that Russia's President Putin, he doesn't want to back down. He doesn't want to be seen to be backing down. So, how much room is there? Is there a wiggle room for some sort of off ramp here?

SANGER: Well, certainly the U.S. and the NATO nations think there is. And they have offered to talk on two different things. One of them is reviving the intermediate nuclear forces treaty which you may remember President Trump exited in 2019. Although, to Mr. Trump's -- in Mr. Trump's defense on this, President Obama was very tempted to exit as well because the Russians have been treating on it.

Then the second thing that they have considered is entering some kind of renewed agreement that would keep a military exercise far from each other's borders. And that would be a way to give the Russians sort of a face-saving way to pull back from the Ukrainian border and the U.S. would agree that it would never conduct, that NATO would never conduct exercises too close to the Russian border.


The problem with this is, if Putin takes it, he's basically going back to his status quo that existed a few years ago. And that doesn't seem to be what this is all about in his mind.

CHURCH: Right. I mean, Russia did demand these talks in the first place. Right? And now after making an obtainable and unachievable demands in some instances, could President Putin use that as an excuse to invade? How inevitable is that?

I mean, I know you mentioned some of the good news here, that you didn't see an increase buildup of troops but will those draconian or the threat of a draconian sanctions be enough to reign him in at this juncture?

SANGER: You know, we really just don't know, Rosemary. The U.S. has talked about three sets of sanctions. Overwhelming financial sanctions against the biggest banks, technology sanctions that would prevent Russian industry from getting chips, semiconductors made with U.S. design and some consumer goods in which contain those chips, iPhones, refrigerators, and so forth.

And then a third set which would be arming the insurgency if one developed in Ukraine assuming that the Russians were occupying parts of Ukraine. I think Vladimir Putin has learned a lot of things in the past two years, and one of them is you don't want to be an occupying force.

CHURCH: Right. And of course, this is the second of three meetings with Russia's schedule this week. What could potentially come out of the final meeting?

SANGER: Not much in my mind. That's with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The one difference with that meaning is that Ukraine will be a participant because they are an OSCE member, they're not a member of NATO of course. If they were, this would be a very different kind of formula and conflict.

But that group is 57 or so nations. That's a lot of countries to be negotiating. I don't think that you're going to see a significantly different outcome or change of position than you saw in Geneva or in Brussels.

Now, the next week would then become important because everybody would return to their capitals and Putin would have to make some decisions.

CHURCH: All right, David Sanger, always a pleasure to get your analysis. I appreciate it.

SANGER: Great to be with you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Well, Boris Johnson is apologizing for a bring your own booze party during lockdown. Just ahead, why some British lawmakers say it's well past last call for the scandal plagued prime minister.

Plus, a legal setback for Prince Andrew as he battles allegations of sexual abuse.



CHURCH (on camera): Welcome back, everyone. Well, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apologizing for attending a bring your own booze party at Downing Street while the rest of the country was under lockdown. But oppositional lawmakers and even some of his own party are not buying it.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has the latest now from London.


UNKNOWN: Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER (voice over): The famously unflappable Boris Johnson, the great political survivor, has finally flinched.

UNKNOWN: He was hosting a boozy party in Downing Street.

ABDELAZIZ: After an outpouring of condemnation for attending hat critics allege was a bring your own bottle party at his official residence at 10 Downing Street in May, while the country was under strict COVID rules.

The prime minister says he saw it as a work event but finally made an apology of sorts.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who suffered terribly, people who are forbidden from meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this house I offer my heartfelt apologies.

ABDELAZIZ: Without actually admitting to wrongdoing and citing a pending investigation, his apology stoking even more anger.

KEIR STARMER, LEADER, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY: After months of deceit and deception the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.


STARMER: His defense, his defense that he didn't realize he was at a party.

ABDELAZIZ: It's the first time the prime minister has even admitted to attending one of the multiple gatherings held by his staff while the country was essentially in a lockdown, even he was pictured at one such a vent seated alongside a bottle of wine, and a cheese board.

JOHNSON: With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside.

ABDELAZIZ: To add salt to the wound, the event was held on a day with glorious weather, inviting to a public eager to get out, but it came with another warning to stay vigilant.

OLIVER DOWDEN, CONSERVATIVE M.P.: You can spend time outdoors and exercise as often time as you like, and meet one person outside your household.

ABDELAZIZ: Restrictions that were abided at the highest levels at various points. The queen herself, one of thousands of Britons forced to mourn the death of a loved one alone. It's a potentially lethal blow to Johnson in a scandal that's made casualties of top advisers and staff.

UNKNOWN: I'm truly sorry. ABDELAZIZ: Now he's losing the support of his own party with calls for his resignation. It's the biggest revolt he has seen so far. And though he may be a famous political escape artist, the party might soon be over.

Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


CHURCH (on camera): A U.S. judge has ruled the sexual assault lawsuit against Prince Andrew move forward. Virginia Giuffre claim that she was sexually trafficked to the British prince by Jeffrey Epstein. And that the price knew she was under age at that time.

Prince Andrew has steadfastly denied all the allegations and try to have Giuffre's lawsuit dismissed. If the case is not settled, the prince could face a trial date later this year.

Well, Anna Stewart is in London, and she joins us now live. Good to see you, Anna. So, walk us through the U.S. judge ruling, and what it means exactly for Prince Andrew and his legal team, as well as Virginia Giuffre?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Well, Prince Andrew's team had really hope that this case would be dismissed, it would be thrown out, and that would be the end of it. So, this is a devastating blow for that side.

Prince Andrew has of course long denied any of the sexual abuse allegations, but the idea that they are going to dismiss the case was really based on whether the case had any legal sufficiency.

Prince Andrew had argued that a settlement that had been reached between Virginia Giuffre and Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted pedophile, essentially meant that it released him from any kind of liability. Now the judge has decided that is not the case. He points out that Prince Andrew is nowhere mentioned in that settlement. He says the language in the settlement was ambiguous.

He also had an answer to Prince Andrew's team suggestion that Virginia Giuffre's complaint has been vague. He said this. Ms. Giuffre's complaint is neither unintelligible, nor vague, nor ambiguous. And he went on to say that the incidences of sexual abuse were made very clear, they were detailed.

And we will hear a lot more about them in detail if this case goes to trial, which as you say would be near the end of the year.


CHURCH: And Hannah (Ph) -- Anna, on that point, how likely is it that this will go to trial? Could it possibly end in a settlement?

STEWART: Well, Prince Andrew's options here are looking increasingly limited and actually very much out of his -- out of his control. So, his legal team may decide at this stage that a settlement would be the best option given the discovery process will involve depositions, the exchange of documents like e-mails, phone logs and so on.

All that could be very damaging for Prince Andrew and by extension the royal family. And then of course there would be the court case itself, and the idea that there could be a guilty verdict at the end of it.

Now the problem with a financial settlement though, would be that Virginia Giuffre's team may decide that's not what they want, she may well want her day in court. And she is entitled to have it. So, she may decide that's not the way she wants to go if Prince Andrew's team do decide to try and settle.

Also, Rosemary, I would argue that Prince Andrew, really, for any kind of return for him to normal public life as the member of the royal family would involve him having these allegations cleared in a court publicly.

Now right now, he has taken a step back as the member of the royal family, however, he is still holds the HRS title, his royal highness. He's still the duke of York and he is still the head of multiple charities, organizations. He holds very important roles within the military.

For instance, he is the honorary colonel of the Grenadier Guards which is a regiment in the household division. He took on that role from his father, Prince Philip. So, it's not just his reputation here. His whole future hangs in the balance. His options are increasingly limited, and as I say, increasingly out of his control. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. We'll watch to see what happens next with this. Anna Stewart joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Well, the Australian Open has saved a spot for unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic even though he could be thrown out of the country. The latest details and analysis just ahead.

Plus, Germany hit a record level of daily COVID-19 infections as the Omicron variant surges in Europe. We will have those alarming numbers after the short break. Stay with us.


CHURCH (on camera): Welcome back, everyone. Well, vaccine skeptic Novak Djokovic could get booted from Australia before he ever gets the chance to make history. But today, he was included in the draw for the Australian Open, which was delayed for more than an hour without explanation.

Djokovic is officially listed as the tournament's number one seed, and is set to face off against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.


But Australia's immigration minister could still kick the world number one out of the country at any moment, after revelations that he did not admittedly isolate after a possible COVID test last month. Djokovic also acknowledged submitting a false travel declaration. He is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Tracey Holmes is the host of "The Ticket" podcast and is with us now from Sydney, great to have you with us, I appreciate it.

TRACEY HOLMES, HOST, THE TICKET PODCAST (on camera): Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: So, after 90 minutes of delay, the draw for the Australian Open went ahead and know that Djokovic was included despite no decision yet from the immigration minister on whether he stays or goes. So, what is going on here? Why is it taking so long and making this an even bigger mess than it already was?

HOLMES: That's a very good question, Rosemary. And I don't think anybody has given a very suitable answer till now. Many people are just (inaudible) around this issue very quietly. Novak Djokovic, of course, who is hoping that he can remain here to defend his title and become the winningest of Grand Slam players. And then, of course, you got the tennis open officials themselves who just wants this mess to go away so they could get on with running his Grand Slam.

But aside from that he'd still no word from the minister. It's been three days now. Three full days since the court hearing that watch the original basic cancellation was made and that is when he had the first indication that perhaps it was still on the cards that Novak Djokovic could be detained and deported from the country.

So that element certainly remains but I guess, there are some now who are thinking as the days get longer and the days separate between that core case and the start of the open on Monday things are looking more and more in Novak Djokovic's favor.

CHURCH: So, even if the decision is made to thrown out of the country, Djokovic will get to play in the tournament while he appeals that decision. Si, is there perhaps a reluctance to make a final decision on this because of that?

HOLMES: Look, I don't think there is a reluctance because the federal government has been clearly adamant, very tough on borders and that rules are rules. And that there will be no exceptions. While many people think it's a very heavy-handed approach in this particular example, it is one that they obviously shine they are not averse to using.

But I think more than anything is that the minister is going to make sure that any case that's going to be incredibly watertight because they don't want to have the embarrassment of what happened on Monday.

CHURCH: And let's talk about the sentiment across Australia, how people are feeling about this, because before Djokovic posted his Instagram explanation, there was a swing back, a little bit more support coming his way. But once he revealed almost too many details, the people it seems to have swung back. Talk to us about that?

HOLMES: Yes. I think there's been so much discussion and it's as almost as though every time zone, as you wake up in the morning here in Australia (inaudible), would've been revealed now. You know, what other difficulty has he got to deal with, what other anomaly, what other situation that doesn't make sense. Did he turn up on another event? What if he fly to another country without declaring his position on COVID and is vaccinations (inaudible).

So all of this just every day there's a new story that he has to deal with. He's post yesterday said, there's been a lot of misunderstanding, people can make of that what they will. He then said that the travel document which was filled out incorrectly for Australia border officials, it was filled out by one of his agents, who has profusely apologize according to Novak Djokovic.

And you know, and then, of course, whichever frame of mind you take to the position of Novak Djokovic, whether you like him or (inaudible) him, he's going to change the way that you see this sort of unraveling allegations that just seem to continue.

The truth is, I think people who are very busy, like Novak Djokovic and other related athletes, people like politicians, people like businessmen, they do have teams of people around them who fill out these documents for them. But what we've seen is how very important it is that they get this right because, you know, the consequences as we're seeing all of this play out now are dire.

CHURCH: Yes. Indeed for anyone else making mistake on a form like that, entering Australia, there'd been no doubt about it, you would be thrown out. So, what about the other players at the Australian Open? What do they think about this because he apparently is getting preferential treatment and, of course, in amidst of all this other players are getting overshadowed, aren't they?

HOLMES: Yeah. It's interesting the whole idea that, you know, players don't have or shouldn't have preferential treatment because we know that, you know, the superstars of anything do. It's almost the nature of the business.


And for example another with some complaints because Novak Djokovic was getting to train and practice and it was shut off to everybody. Nobody else could watch. It was shut to the public and others don't have that sort of opportunity.

But by the same token, you've got a situation where the federal government is saying essentially he's a health risk to our nation. And then you have got the nation complaining because they can't go and watch him train while all of this messes still to be sorted out.

For the other players, it's incredibly difficult because, of course, every time they go to speak to the media, all they want to talk about is Novak Djokovic. And they don't have any answers. They don't know what's happening. They don't have any further insights.

So, it's not playing well for anybody at this point. And it won't until the decision is made. And there's no guarantee then, Rosemary, that it will be any better once that decision has been made, one way or the other.

CHURCH: Yeah, you are absolutely right. But I think, at least, it would bring some sort of closure if that decision could be made a little faster than it is right now. Tracey Holmes, joining us live from Sydney, many thanks, indeed.

HOLMES: Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Well, the World Health Organization has a warning. Do not take the Omicron variant lightly. The WHO's chief says while Omicron causes less severe disease then delta. It remains a dangerous virus especially for the unvaccinated. He says new COVID-19 cases around the world are increasing at a record rate. Just take a listen.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Last week more than 15 million new cases were case reported to the WHO from around the world by far the most cases reported in a single week. And we know this is an underestimate. This huge spike in infections is being driven by the Omicron variant which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries.


CHURCH: And Europe is dealing with a massive surge in the virus. Germany just hit its highest ever daily number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. Germany's chancellor is suggesting the country should make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all adults as cases spike.

Meantime, Spain reported its highest ever COVID-19 infection rate amid the Omicron wave. In France a teachers union is going on strike to protest insufficient COVID-19 protocols in school. And Italy reported a rise in COVID deaths despite a slight drop in cases.

All right coming up, humanitarian groups are sounding the alarm that Afghanistan is on the brink of disaster with millions facing starvation. What the international community is doing to help.


CHURCH: Before the break, we were talking to you about the spread of the Omicron variant across Europe. CNN's Barbie Nadeau is live in Rome, she joins us now to talk more about this. Good to see you Barbie.

So every country across the globe is struggling to deal with the highly contagious Omicron variant. What are the various countries across Europe doing to contain this and convince people to get vaccinated?

BARBIE LATZA NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (on camera): Well, Rosemary, you know, every country is looking at this differently. But the one thing that remains the same and continues throughout is the focus on people who are not yet vaccinated and the punishment for those people who are not yet vaccinated. Here in Italy, as of February 1st, everyone over the age of 50 has to be vaccinated or they face fines or they can lose their jobs.

In Germany, they are talking about locking down people who were not vaccinated. And it's because people who are vaccinated and get this Omicron variant of the coronavirus tend to get less sick. We are not seeing those people in the hospitals. The health care systems are under strain but it's mostly younger people who aren't vaccinated and older people who have chosen not to be vaccinated.

But you know, this isn't much of a surprise. Health authorities warned that the holidays would bring this sort of peak, about two weeks later, here we are, midway into January, we are seeing these peaks, seeing these high surges in cases. And now every country is waiting for them to plateau and hopefully start to go down.

But as we've seen in previous waves, the deaths take about two weeks to follow, rise in deaths. And so these cycles continue. This wave has not put the pressure on health systems as the previous waved did. But that doesn't mean it's not worrying just as the same, Rosemary, cost you.

CHURCH: All right. Barbie Nadeau, joining us live from Rome, many thanks.

Well, Russian led forces are set to begin withdrawing from Kazakhstan in a process that's expected to last up to 10 days. They came at the Kazakh president's request during the violent protests last week. At least 164 people were killed and thousands have been detained. The president said it will take at least eight months to restore the city of Almaty. He said 21 state owned properties along with 145 businesses needed major repairs and maintenance.

Well, just minutes from now, a German court is set to convict and sentence a former Syrian regime official, the crimes against humanity. Colonel Anwar Raslan is charged with complicity and 4,000 cases of torture. Dozens of murders and three cases of rape and sexual assault at a notorious detention center in Damascus. He would be the most senior's Assad official to be convicted of such crimes. Raslan deserted the Syrian regime in 2012 and fled to Germany.

So let's bring in CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, she joins us live at the courthouse in Koblenz, Germany. So what is likely to happen here and what sort of evidence do they have?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, you know, Rosemary we cannot overstate the significance of this trial of this moment. It would have shed moment for the victims of this year in conflict. Victims of the Syrian regime, for international justice really. You know, this is coming after a decade of a conflict were so many atrocities have been committed that the world watch. Yet there was really no accountability for all the crimes that took place over the past 10 years.

This is the first time that you have a trial were state sponsored torture in Syria is on trial. The first time you've got a senior -- former senior member of the Syrian regime who is being held accountable for these crimes. As you mentioned, Anwar Raslan, a former colonel was in charge of the investigations unit at a detention facility in Damascus. Within the span of a few months, early days in the revolution he was charged with overseeing the torture of more than 4,000 people, the death at least, 30 detainees. Several cases of sexual assault that took place at that detention facility.

And for about 18 months, Rosemary, this court here behind us heard testimony from witnesses. Horrific testimony from some of the witnesses of what they went through at this detention facility.


You know, the lack of accountability when it comes to the Syrian conflict has not been because of a lack of evidence. This is one of the most well documented conflicts in history. It is really a lack of international will as experts would tell you and there's been no path to justice.

Any attempts to try and refer Syria to international criminal court has been blocked by Syria's allies, Russia and China. But the victims of the Syrian regime also so many lawyers and investigators, organizations -- for the past 10 decades, Rosemary, who have been working so hard to collect the evidence, to document it, to build these cases against the perpetrators.

They have found an alternative route to justice here in Europe and Germany and in other countries to a concept known as universal jurisdiction that gives national courts like this one the jurisdiction, the authority to prosecute grave crimes against international.

Like crimes against humanity. Like war crimes and genocide that have taken place anywhere in the world no matter the nationality of those who committed these crimes. The victims, the lawyers that we've spoken to, everyone says this is just the beginning of a long battle for justice in Syria.

CHURCH: Indeed. Jomana Karadsheh, joining us there, many thanks.

Well, the Taliban are asking for a greater role in deciding how billions of dollars in foreign aid would be distributed across Afghanistan. They proposed a joint committee of Taliban officials and international representatives to coordinate distributions.

But it's something the U.N. and foreign governments would have to support as well. Humanitarian groups warned Afghanistan's economy and medical systems could soon collapse and millions of people face starvation. The International Rescue Committee ranks Afghanistan number one on its annual watch list of countries whose humanitarian crises are only growing worse.

Xavier Castellanos Mosquera is the under-secretary general at International Federation of the Red Cross. He joins me now from Kabul. Thank you so much for being with us. So, Afghanistan is on the brink of collapse with millions facing

starvation. So what needs to happen with this request from the Taliban for a greater role in deciding how billions of dollars in foreign aid is distributed across the country and can they be trusted in a role like that?

XAVIER CASTELLANOS MOSQUERA, UNDER-SECRETARY GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE RED CROSS (on camera): Well, first of all, what has been mentioned by you, yes, humanitarian needs are must in the country and will continue to be must it is. There is no actions in terms of reaching to the people in need. We are talking about more than 22 million people in need. During winter time when we see these negative coping mechanisms in Afghanistan where people is burning their clothes, the furniture in order to be able to warm themselves in houses.

But this cannot continue like that. Food is a significant problem and the level of the situation here in the country is huge. And what is needed regarding to your question, first of all is, the accessibility to cash is still important to have a solution in that sense. In order to (inaudible) the local economy. It's extremely important at the same time that local solutions is found.

So, organizations like the Afghanistan (Inaudible) Society with International Federation of the Red Cross and (inaudible) society, is a mechanism. In order to reach the people in need. To reach to the harder -- harder reach areas in the country. What we will need in terms of the humanitarian system is guaranteed the access for humanitarian workers, but at the same time invest in local communities and local organizations to be able to deliver humanitarian aid and be able to reactivate the economy in the country.

CHURCH: So do you see a role for the Taliban in doing this? Or would you see a need to bypass the Taliban?

CASTELLANOS MOSQUERA: Well, our view is that and I speak on behalf of the International Federation a role is to work with an international organization, in this case the Afghanistan Christian Society. If we invest in organizations like the Afghanistan Christian Society to be able to deliver humanitarian aid what we need is a good coordination with the governments and being able to access to every place in the country.

But what we are talking is here in the case of Afghanistan, our national Society that has over 30,000 active volunteers working every day, in terms of reaching to the communities.


So, if we guarantee humanitarian access, if we can guarantee the safety of the humanitarian actors in that way we will be able to achieve -- what we need to achieve which is a limit in human suffering. Here we are talking Afghanistan a significant need that if we don't act now we will really see critical living conditions in Afghanistan. CHURCH: So, what does the international community need to be doing

right now to see that happen? As Afghanistan really faces impending collapse and of course the starvation of millions of people as you pointed out.

CASTELLANOS MOSQUERA: Well these stage, if you allow me during this trip, first of all, Afghanistan (Inaudible) Society, what we have identified is where are the areas where we can bring added value to the humanitarian needs in the country. The second one is the conversation with the (inaudible) authorities in order to be to be able to ensure that any of the humanitarian goods have access here will reach to the people in need.

Where we will have the capacity to register ourselves, to the assessment ourselves and be able to guarantee that the items, the support, the health services that we provide is going to be along the principles of humanitarian action.

Therefore humanitarian organizations and other actors would need to have appropriate coordination mechanism in place been able to ensure that there is no duplication in the delivery of service. But at the same time is going to be critically important as I mentioned before, that the humanitarian access is guaranteed with principles of humanitarian action. The guarantee independents, (inaudible), impartiality in the delivery of humanitarian services.

CHURCH: Xavier Castellanos Mosquera, thank you so much for talking with us. I appreciate it.

CASTELLANOS MOSQUERA: Thank you very much.

CHURCH: Plunging straight into a solution. We visit the German Pavilion at the World Expo with its unique focus on sustainability. Back with that in just a moment.


CHURCH: The World Expo in Dubai is in full swing after being delayed more than a year by the pandemic. One of the most eye catching exhibits is from Germany. And it's all about sustainability.

As CNN's Richard Quest reports.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR (voice over): When they said go to Germany and discover 100,000 ideas, this isn't what I thought they meant. But apparently every one of these balls is meant to somehow show how we can all make the most of different ideas. That is if you managed to stand up.

All right time to get out. Germany has given a lot of thought into how to get the sustainability message across in a really fun way. And this place is -- this is called the Steer The Kite. The idea is create energy. It sounds really easy. Steer the kite.


I'm literally going in circles. No, no I finally got it. I'm going the wrong way, 27 percent accuracy. This sounds so simple the idea we keep the ball in the green by moving together protecting the climate. And here we go. No, no, no, hang on. It was supposed to be nice and gently. Weigh transfer. Look at that. You know what you're doing.

UNKNOWN: Our planet is in constant motion. And more than ever before its being change by us.

QUEST: It's just a strong message in an impressive ways it's presented.

This is such fun. Higher.

I think I'll keep mine as a souvenir. Typical, German efficiency.


CHURCH: He is such a kid at heart. Ricard Quest there.

Well, one of the Americas most beloved cookies is turning 110! To celebrate Oreo is unveiling a new flavor, chocolate confetti cake. This sandwich cookie, rich like its regular versions is custom made for milk dunking. Featured sprinkles inside and out, apparently a first. It will be available for a limited time starting January 31st, that's after the company increases the price of Oreos this month by up to 7 percent. Ouch.

Well, animal lovers are taking their first look at twin panda's born at a zoo in Tokyo. On Wednesday about 500 visitors were allowed to take a peek at the two cubs born last June. The zoo held a lottery for the tickets because of an ongoing COVID surge in Tokyo, of course. The public viewing will continue for two more days. The panda mom arrived from China about a decade ago. The zoo says her cubs are growing well, each weigh more than 14 kilograms now. Aren't they're gorgeous.

Thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church, have yourselves a wonderful day. "CNN Newsroom" continues now with Isa Soares.