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Swedish & Finnish Leaders Announce Intent To Join NATO; Russians Accused Of Firing At Severondonetsk Hospital; War Orphans: 18-Year-Old Raising Four Siblings By Himself; One Dead, Five Injured In California Church Shooting; 10 People Killed In Racially Motivated Shooting In Buffalo. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 16, 2022 - 01:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, a warm welcome to all of you joining us from all over the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Paula Newton. Just ahead --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter was crouched down in the front end for the entire shooting. No community deserves this and someone came from far away to try to destroy us.

NEWTON: Two communities on opposite sides of the U.S. are grieving this morning hit by a pair of deadly shootings. So what we've learned about the shooter who opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo.

Plus, Finland and Sweden are inching ever closer to joining NATO, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to rattle security concerns in Europe. And what we know and don't know about North Korea's first reported COVID outbreak more than two years after the pandemic started.

And we begin with a seismic shift for European security as Russia faces the consequences of its war on Ukraine. On Sunday, Finland's government formally announced that it intends to join NATO. Hours later, Sweden's ruling party followed suit.

Now it's a historic policy changed for two countries that have remained neutral for decades. And it is likely to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin who has long considered NATO expansion a threat to Russia. But Finland's president told CNN Sunday, it was no longer possible to sit on the sidelines.


SAULI NIINISTO, FINNISH PRESIDENT: Russia tried to deny any enlargement of NATO. And that changed in a way very much our position here and outwardly and what we see now, Europe, the world, is more divided. There's not very much room for a non-aligned in between. So that was also what we were thinking. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Now, the Swedish Prime Minister echoed those sentiments saying Russia's invasion of Ukraine forced Sweden to radically rethink its security posture.


MAGDALENA ANDERSSON, SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: Our 200-year long standing policy of military non-alignment has served Sweden well. But the issue at hand is whether military non-alignment will keep serving as well. Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is not only illegal and indefensible, it also undermines the European security order.


NEWTON: Now the Finnish and Swedish Parliaments are expected to give the final green light very soon from their NATO leaders have said the approval process could move very quickly. As NATO looks to grow, its Secretary General says Ukraine can win this war.

Jen Stoltenberg says Russia is on the back foot after being pushed back from Kharkiv. Moscow is looking to recover from those losses by pouring troops into Donbas. But they too have hit fierce resistance. Russia is focusing artillery and troops in the area around Severodonetsk.

A Ukrainian official said Sunday the Russians fired at hospital there. There are reports Ukrainian forces have now pulled back from the nearby city of Rubizhne. But Ukraine's President maintained the invaders have hit a dead end.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We are preparing for new attempts by Russia to attack in Donbas to somehow intensify its movement in the south of Ukraine. The occupiers still do not want to admit if they are in a dead end, and their so called special operation has already gone bankrupts.


NEWTON: Now of course, Ukraine's military is backing up. Mr. Zelenskyy saying Russian forces have suffered significant losses as they tried to advance in the East. CNN's Sam Kiley has more on the fighting in eastern Ukraine from Kramatorsk.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the third month of the Russian invasion, the war created here in Ukraine by Vladimir Putin approaches. The fighting continues to be intense here in the east with a particular concentration of action around the northern city of Severodonetsk.


That is against the backdrop of significant losses by the Russians around the city of Kharkiv, also in the north up close to the Russian border. But with the increasing focus on events here in Kramatorsk, with a strong sense that the Russians may be trying to concentrate their efforts now on one or two axes of advance, thereby dialing down their level of ambition.

A bit, of course, down in the far south of the operational area or effectively around the city of Kherson, there's no sign at all of the Russians reducing their efforts there. And that is because Kherson sits at the headwaters effectively of a canal system that delivers fresh water into the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia after the 2014 invasion.

So, clearly the pressure is continuing from Russia. But there is an increasing sense among Ukrainians that particularly with these new weapons coming in from NATO allies, that they will be able to get much more on the front foot. And then of course, the question is, where do they stop? As far as President Zelenskyy is concerned, they will not stop until they've driven the Russians out of their country entirely.

Sam Kiley, CNN in Kramatorsk.

NEWTON: On Friday, meantime, Ukraine's defense minister warned the country is entering a long phase of this war. And even as Russian forces move back in some areas, you just heard Sam talk about that the fight is far from over. Here's how one Ukrainian Deputy Minister describe the situation on the ground.


OLGA STEFANISHYNA, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: What we see is a certain like a cautious amount of great news. We see that the Russian troops has been moving away from the major parts of the Western Ukraine in Kharkiv and the (Parrhesia) regions, which are just near the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. But we're not like overly optimistic in that regard. We see that Putin has readjusted his strategy, and he goes on the only possible winning scenario for him as the long lasting war.


NEWTON: Now the recent attack on a hospital and so that'll Donetsk is the latest in a long line of assaults, Ukrainian officials blame on Russian forces. You'll remember, of course, the maternity ward and Children's Hospital that came under fire just over two months ago in Mariupol. And you can see there, the extent of the damage. In this video, windows blown out the surrounding area littered with debris.

Pavlo Kovtonyuk, the co-founder of Ukrainian Health Care Center joins me now from Kyiv to discuss these attacks. Now, you know, I thank you for joining us regarding this issue. It's shocked so many I'm sure there in Ukraine. You say you've recorded 163 hospital attacks by the end of last week. I mean, the number just stopped me cold. What is it like to try and dispense any kind of medical care, let alone treat trauma patients when this is happening?

PAVLO KOVTONYUK, CO-FOUNDER, UKRAINIAN HEALTHCARE CENTER: Yes, we have independently recorded 163 cases. There are some estimations that show also larger numbers. And what's more important is that we do see the pattern behind them. It's not, you know, 163 coincidences. This is a clear strategy of targeting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, in some areas like Luhansk Oblast, where several Donetsk is, for example, situated there is literally no health care left for the moment, but also Russians had damaged hospitals all across the country.

And I think they have a purpose for that. And that purpose is just to create terror, to create insecurity and to also have some psychological effect aside from physical disruption.

NEWTON: I'm sure the psychological effect is quite profound. You know, early in the conflict, the maternity hospital that we were talking about was hitting Mariupol. It was the first indication not just for Ukraine, but many around the world that there would be no rules of war here. And yet, I do want to talk to you about the evidence that you have that these hospitals are targeted deliberately, because of course, we are used to indiscriminate violence, and the fact that, you know, they might be trying to hit a building next door, or perhaps their aim isn't very good.

What evidence do you have that they're actually targeting the hospitals and mean to hit these vulnerable victims who are obviously helpful and -- helpless in these facilities?

KOVTONYUK: Yes, we are collecting that evidence very thoroughly, because we are also working for our legal team in the international courts. And I think one day or another, this courts will prove that this intention, this pattern. But we clearly see the system here, even now.


And we also did see the same tactic earlier. Russia use the exactly the same thing in Syria when they were not only indiscriminately, but also purposely targeting hospitals there. In Ukraine, our air defense systems, prevent them from hitting hospitals directly wherever they want. But they just shelling civilian areas from the range indiscriminately. And this is what we see all around the country right now and trying to build a case and prove that and I think we'll be successful in that.

NEWTON: You know, given what you're telling me, we've seen, you know, even cities like Odesa right now come under attack there. What would you say to people in Odesa right now who are in hospitals, who must be in hospitals? What are they doing to try and prepare for this?

KOVTONYUK: Unfortunately, in the places like Odesa and recently Kharkiv, where Russian troops actually had no intention to seize it or to capture it, but they're staying kind of 40 kilometers from the city and just sharing it, you know, without any military reason. Now, the same happened into Odesa.

And actually the providing health care there is really a heroic thing because health care institutions cannot stop working unlike, for example, schools, or I don't know, shops or whatever. So they work, so they bring people to the shelters, they bring people on the ground, all the whole departments are moved on the ground and continuing to treat people. I think our health care personnel is also the -- in the pantheon of heroes of this war aside from military and volunteers.

NEWTON: Yes, and no doubt, we have already seen several heroic acts. What do you believe will be the lasting legacy of these attacks? I mean, not just to the medical infrastructure, but to Ukrainians as well about what they will begin to understand what this military campaign was all about in the end?

KOVTONYUK: I think Ukraine will have a memory of this barbaric war, right? And this barbarism is already has result, five millions of Ukrainians fled the country, six to seven millions of Ukrainians were internally displaced. And this happens exactly because this feeling of insecurity, but I do hope that there will be consequences for that in Russia, both in the international courts and on other occasions.

For example, next week, the World Health Organization will have the World Health Assembly, they have yearly. And I do believe that the countries, the member states of the WHO will also sanction Russia very firmly. They will suspend the voting rights of Russia and also remove the Russian Minister from the position in the executive board of WHO. This is what we are campaigning for.

So I think it is important that crimes are -- there is no impunity that the justice is being installed. And this is very, very important. This is what Ukrainians are hoping for.

NEWTON: Well, there is no doubt that hitting these medical facilities deliberately would be considered a war crime. And as you said, investigative teams are on the ground right now, trying to get to the bottom of what is going on.

Pavlo Kovtonyuk, thank you so much. Really appreciate your perspective.

KOVTONYUK: Thank you for having me.

NEWTON: Now the families of the soldiers still trapped inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol are asking Beijing for help. They want Chinese President Xi Jinping to act as a mediator with Russia to help get their loved ones out.

CNN spoke with one soldier's mother who has not seen her 21-year-old son since February.


TANYA VYCHNYK, MOTHER OF AZOV SOLDIER (through translation): He loves his country very much. And he says if we don't defeat them, they will defeat us. Everyone has to fight for their country. He loves his country. And all the guys who are there now especially Azov, they love their land very much and they will fight for it until the very end. He told me, I am prepared to give my life for it, but I am not prepared for this. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: And the family say time is running out for their loved ones who have dwindling medical supplies and almost no food after nearly three months of Russian bombardment. The family has made a similar request to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week.

Now for most 18-year olds, their biggest concerns are obviously usually school, friends, right, but CNN's Scott McLean met a young man who's now raising his four younger siblings, four of them by himself after their mother was killed in eastern Ukraine.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vyacheslav Yalov is barely 18, but he now has a responsibility far beyond his age, raising four kids all on his own.


His hometown in Donetsk has been on the front line of conflict since 2014. In mid-March, he and his mother left his four siblings to take shelter at a friend's while they went to get more supplies. Suddenly, two shells landed just a few steps away.

VYACHESLAV YALOV, RAISING FOUR SIBLINGS ON HIS OWN (through translation): I lost consciousness for a few seconds then I saw my mother lying on her side. I turned her over and she said, "I'm fine." I tried to save her. I saw that it was very painful for her to breathe. I ran for help, but there was no more.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Unable to find any, he went back to his mother alone.

YALOV (through translation): I took some clothes from the backpack. I tried to stop the bleeding, to make some bandages, but the wounds were so big.

MCLEAN (on-camera): How long did you stay with her?

YALOV (through translation): I was definitely there for longer than five hours. It took me a long time to believe that my mother had passed away. I still hoped that she was still breathing.

MCLEAN (voice-over): He then had to break the news to his four younger siblings, Danilo, Nicole, Timor and Olivia, just eight years old.

YALOV (through translation): I didn't know what to tell them. I was covered in blood when I entered. They were sitting in the kitchen on the left side and they realized everything. They understood it on their own.

MCLEAN (voice-over): He buried his mother in a shallow grave in a crater left behind by shelling and quickly made plans to get his family out. Their home was already badly damaged. A friend lent him money to take a taxi to Kostyantynivka then by train to Kramatorsk, and eventually on Tel Aviv and Drohobych in the far southwest of Ukraine, where the government put them up in a tiny one bedroom apartment.

MCLEAN (on-camera): Is your brother taking good care of you?

(voice-over): He says since his mom's been gone, the kids have stepped up to help with chores and dishes. He's there to help with their schoolwork. Though he has no extended family and few friends in the city, word of his story has spread through social media. Now total strangers often stop for a hug or to offer help.

They'll need plenty more of it until he can figure out how to balance childcare and work or eventually go back to school. Though nothing will come easily.

YALOV (through translation): I'm very thankful that we all remain together. I believe very much that my mother is nearby and she's helping me, somehow.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Scott McLean, CNN, Drohobych, Ukraine.


NEWTON: Up next for us, we're getting troubling new details on the buffalo shooting suspect as authorities looking to his background. We'll have that for you just ahead. And there was another deadly shooting in the United States Sunday, this time at a California church. That and the reason authorities are calling some of those churchgoers heroes.



NEWTON: Deadly gun violence erupted once again in the U.S. Sunday a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. California authority say one person died and five others wounded when a gunman opened fire at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods Sunday afternoon. Four people were critically injured, according to officials, while a fifth person sustained minor injuries.

A suspect is in custody. He's believed to be an Asian man in his 60s and not from the area. Orange County authorities say he was stopped before law enforcement arrived. Thanks to some extraordinary actions by churchgoers. Have a listen to this.


JEFF HALLOCK, UNDERSHERIFF, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT.: We believe a group of churchgoers detain him and hogtied his legs with an extension cord and confiscated at least two weapons from him. He was detained when the deputies arrived. That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in interfering or intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities.


NEWTON: The shooting took place during a lunch reception honoring the former pastor of a Taiwanese congregation that uses the church for its services. In Buffalo, New York, meantime, authorities believe the gunman in the mass shooting at a supermarket was motivated by hate. An official says the 18-year-old suspect told authorities he was targeting the black community.

Now investigators are reviewing a 180-page manifesto posted online and attributed to the suspect which appears to lay out detailed planning for the attack. New York's Attorney General spoke about the importance of uniting and healing that devastated the community.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: I held in my arms a young lady who worked at Topps, was so afraid that she was about to die, who witnessed the bloodshed.

BYRON BROWN, BUFFALO MAYOR: We're heartbroken. Many people with tears in their eyes. Families that have lost loved ones. I'm telling the community to grieve, but let's stay strong. Let's stay together and let's get through this as a community.


NEWTON: We're also learning more about the 10 people killed in Saturday shooting including 77-year-old Pearl Young. The longtime substitute teacher is being described as a true pillar in the community. The details are emerging about the Buffalo suspect's background including a disturbing incident last year just before he graduated from high school.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on that.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Police and FBI officials have been at the home of Payton Gendron's parents on the street in Conklin, New York behind me collecting evidence and other items that they'll need for the investigation into this case. As we put together some new information on the background of this alleged shooter, we do know from the Police Commissioner of Buffalo Joseph Gramaglia.


He told CNN earlier today that last June, June of 2021 that this suspect, 18-year-old Payton Gendron made what he called a generalized threat when he attended Susquehanna Valley Central High School, and not far from here, that was in June of 2021.

The police commissioner said that that threat was not racial in nature. But he said that state police then took the suspect in for a mental health evaluation, that the suspect was held for about a day and a half and then released. And remember, that was about a year ago in June of 2021.

State police also confirming that at that time, they took what was that a 17-year-old person in for a mental health evaluation, but they didn't give any more details than that. We're also getting some other new information about the suspect. I talked to the owner of a place called the Reliable Market here in Conklin, who confirmed to me that the suspect Peyton Gendron worked there for about three or four months, that he left about three months ago on his own accord, on good terms, giving two weeks notice, that he worked in the Deli Counter and a couple of other places in the store.

He was known as a very quiet young man by that owner, but the owner didn't have much else to say about him. That's the kind of picture that we're getting in this neighborhood from neighbors who say that they are shocked because they told us that they believe the parents are nice and friendly people and responsible people. The mother is known to take daily walks around the neighborhood and be a fairly friendly person.

But they too described this alleged shooter, Peyton Gendron, as being a very quiet young man. One neighbor told me that whenever you spoke to Peyton, you'd be lucky to get one or two words out of him. They didn't have a whole lot to say about the young man other than he was known to, on occasion help an older lady next door to them take out her trash every week.

But again, piecing together more details as we go on this alleged shooter in Buffalo, the owner of that store where he worked did tell me, quote, he'll probably pay a huge price for this as he should.

Brian Todd, CNN, Conklin, New York.

NEWTON: Now earlier, I spoke with Randall Blazak, he's the chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime and a professor at the University of Oregon. I asked him about his perspective on how certain platforms are being used to spread hateful and racist ideology online.


RANDALL BLAZAK, CHAIRMAN, OREGON COALITION AGAINST HATE CRIME: There is an increasing utilization not just of social media and the deep web and the dark web and all the kind of the dark corners of the Internet where we would find white supremacy, but gaming platforms. Because gaming platforms are where young males occupy space, it's where -- it's able to reach them and to kind of pull them into that world and where they're able to communicate and then push out their own activity.

And so we've really seen these gaming platforms become sort of the main currency among the younger elements. So the extreme right-wing movement.

NEWTON: This is incredibly disturbing. And when you see these young men, mostly white, aspiring to be these mass shooters, literally they aspire to this, you also say that they are practicing this gamification, as you call it. What does that entail? I mean, you gave us a little bit of insight there. But what is going on online?

BLAZAK: Yes, there is this larger rhetoric that there is a coming apocalypse or coming race war, or coming civil war and building up to that there is an effort to sort of raise the stakes. We saw this in 2011 with the shooting and the bombing in Oslo, Norway that killed 77 people. Christchurch, El Paso, they keep trying to kind of outdo each other's body counts as a way of almost playing a video game in the real world itself.

The victims are people of color and people who are seen to be the enemies of the white race. And to them, they're just these scores. So these body counts are just sort of scores to compete with each other. But the reality, of course, is incredible amount of trauma that goes out through communities and you have to deal with this.

Yet again, where these young men feel like this violence is going to support towards some end goal, some, you know, race war that they think it's going to save them. But in reality, there are just incredible amounts of people who have been harmed by this thinking.


NEWTON: North Korea, I won't say exactly how many of its citizens have COVID-19, but Kim Jong-un is sending the military to help with a soaring number of so-called fever cases. We'll have details on that and the live report from the region, next



NEWTON: Welcome back to our viewers from all around the world.

I'm Paula Newton. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

China is planning for life to return to normal in Shanghai next month. Local officials declared the city's COVID outbreak under control a short time ago. Shanghai's 25 million residents have grown frustrated by more than six weeks in lockdown. Who could blame them?

Meantime, China's neighbor, North Korea, is ramping up efforts to fight hundreds of thousands of what it calls "fever" cases. State media says Kim Jong-un has ordered the military to help stabilize the country's medicine supplies.

Now we have CNN's Anna Coren who's following China's COVID situation from Hong Kong for us. But we want to start with Blake Essig who's monitoring North Korea's situation from Tokyo.

What's the latest on the number of people who have fallen ill, and in terms of how many actually are locked down now in North Korea? and is there any indication that North Korea will accept help? I mean the U.N., South Korea are pledging to do whatever they can.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Paula, just a few days after North Korea identified or admitted its first ever case of COVID 19, these so-called fever cases in North Korea are surging with nearly 400,000 new cases reported this weekend. According to state-run media KCNA the outbreak started in late April and has since resulted in more than 1.2 million people developing symptoms and 50 deaths.

Although at this point it is unclear if those deaths were caused by COVID-19 because of a lack of testing. Now, as a result of the COVID crisis, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has since declared a major national emergency, ordered all cities nationwide to lock down, and has said the current outbreak is the greatest turmoil to hit North Korea since its founding more than 70 years ago.


ESSIG: Now, out of those 1.2 million fever cases, more than 560,000 are still receiving medical care, and are likely being isolated. While the North is now reporting positive cases, it's unclear exactly how widespread the outbreak is. And the reason for that uncertainty and the reason why we're calling these cases fever cases instead of COVID cases is because the level of testing in North Korea is extremely low. And the vast majority of those people, showing symptoms in all likelihood haven't been tested.

Now, according to the World Health Organization, since the pandemic began more than two years ago through the end of March, only 64,000 people have been tested out of a population of more than 25 million in North Korea making matters worse.

Experts say that the country lacks significant health care infrastructure. And it's unlikely able to treat a large number of patients.

And finally, almost none of the country's 25 million people have been vaccinated. And North Korea hasn't secured any vaccines through organizations like COVAX despite being eligible.

As for South Korea offering to provide vaccines, medical supplies, and personnel to help, so far, North Korea hasn't asked for assistance and it's unclear whether or not they're going to take advantage of South Korea's offer, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes. Quite worrying, especially when you consider, in fact, that even if they went on a mass vaccination program right now would not help with this current outbreak.

I want to go to you now Anna for the latest on China' situation in Shanghai. You've been following this for us for weeks now. And we have a mixed picture, right. We're hearing that perhaps some restaurants and stores will reopen. What does that mean for these residents that are still on lockdown?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These residents, 25 million of them Paula, are still in lockdown. They are entering the seventh week. I mean it really is mind-boggling. But the Shanghai government has come out and announced a three-stage plan to return to normalcy.

As you say, reopening supermarkets, shopping malls, barbershops, you know, to get back to normal. This, of course is all conditional on eradicating COVID. Now this plan has been met, as you can imagine with skepticism from the people of Shanghai. You know, I spoke to one resident this morning, Paula, who said, you know, a couple of weeks ago at the beginning of this pandemic, we would've welcomed this news. We would've been excited about the fact that Shanghai was about to reopen.

She said, it's no point, even hoping that this is going to happen. You know, we're talking about the middle of next month. Shanghai, Paula has announced 938 cases on Sunday. I should mention, that's the first time that it's dropped below, you know, that thousand number mark since late March.

Now, compare that to Beijing, which recorded 54 cases on Sunday and we're seeing a ramping up of restrictions there. People talking about a soft lockdown in certain districts. We know that something like 20 million people have already gone through like 15 rounds of mass testing. The government has announced another further three rounds of mass testing this coming week.

And I think, perhaps to really summarize where the government's mindset is in relation to its zero COVID strategy, they Asian Football Confederation Cup which China was supposed to host in June, July of next year, China has now announced that it is canceling those plans. That it won't go ahead with hosting this major event that's held every four years.

It was meant to be held in ten cities across China, but I think it really shows, you know,, how long the government thinks that the pandemic is going to affect China and its people, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, indeed, and you can't blame those residents in Shanghai (INAUDIBLE) skeptical about what may happen even next month.

Anna Coren in Hong Kong, Blake Essig for us in Tokyo -- appreciate it.

Now, voters in Lebanon went to the polls Sunday on a high stakes parliamentary election. The first since the 2019 popular uprising against the country's ruling elite. Several new political groups rose out of that movement to compete with the establishment parties, but despite widespread discontent, Lebanon's political class and an economy that is just in shambles, some fear voter turnout were still too low.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has our report.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The lines were long Sunday morning at Beirut's Khaled bin Walid (ph) school as women waited to vote in Lebanon's parliamentary elections. (INAUDIBLE) didn't mind that wait.

"We've hit rock bottom," she says. Like so many here, Fida (ph) she hopes that voters will somehow be able to throw off a political elite that has mismanaged and looted Lebanon for decades depriving its people of the most basic opportunities.

"All our children have emigrated," Samira tells me after voting. Only my husband and I are still here."


WEDEMAN: Yet the elite still have the money and resources to win votes in a system described by one analyst as a procedural democracy on paper, an autocracy in practice.

JAD WEHBEH, BEIRUT RESIDENT: I think it's going to be an uphill battle. It's going to take time. It's not going to happen this year. It's not going to happen probably in four years. But I think, we need to show a model that Beirut can change, and if Beirut can change, everybody else can change as well.

WEDEMAN: Voting has ended in Lebanon's 2022 parliamentary elections, and they are now preparing to count the votes.

It's still early, but expectations are that the turnout will be lower than when it was in 2018. Why? Well, many of the people we spoke to attributed it to the fact that the Lebanese economy is effectively collapsed. The GDP is half of what it was three years ago. Inflation is running at more than 200 percent.

The Lebanese leader has lost more than 90 percent of its value against the dollar. And four out of five Lebanese have fallen into poverty. And also many people are angry at the fact that not far from here, on the 4th of August 2020, the Beirut port blast happened, killing more than 200 people, wounding thousands, but still no one within the government has been held accountable.

The feeling of many Lebanese is that not only has the political elites, the people who've ruled this country for decades failed them, the entire political system has failed them as well.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN -- reporting from Beirut.


NEWTON: The value of cryptocurrency has been falling in recent weeks, and the losses are adding up for El Salvador, which invested heavily in bitcoin last year. That story, straight ahead.



NEWTON: It's been a rough few weeks for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Recent market fluctuations have cut bitcoins price to half of its all- time high. That's bad news for El Salvador, which last year became the first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. Now, it's facing tens of millions of dollars in financial losses.

Rafael Romo has our report more.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was flashy, loud and colorful. The special effects rival those of a rock concert. That's how El Presidente made his grand entrance, greeting everybody in English, no old fashioned suit or tie needed.

NAYIB BUKELE, EL SALVADORAN PRESIDENT: We demonstrated that bitcoin can do a lot of good things.

ROMO: Nayib Bukele, the 40-year-old millennial president of El Salvador told the crowd he's making his Central American nation of 6.5 million a bitcoin nation. That was back in November, when the market cap for cryptocurrency hit three trillion.

Bukele started promoting bitcoin during the summer.

BUKELE: This would generate jobs and help provide financial inclusion to thousands (INAUDIBLE) the formal economy.

ROMO: And in September, El Salvador became the first country to make bitcoin legal tender, alongside the U.S. Dollar. Two months later, the president announced plans to build a city where bitcoin would rain supreme. But not everyone has jumped on the bitcoin bandwagon.

JULIO SEVILLA, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: It's supposed to be the currency, right now, bitcoin but people are not using it. It's mostly, you know, businesses -- international businesses like Starbucks, like McDonald's that are accepting bitcoin because, you know, they don't want to be at the fault with policies of the government.

ROMO: And the government has gone all in, buying up more than 2,300 bitcoins since September to the tune of more than $103 million.

The problem is that in the same period, the cryptocurrency has lost more than 35 percent of its value. Meaning the Salvadoran taxpayers are tens of millions of dollars in the red, thanks to their president's investment strategy.

The president's answer, buy the did, words he has posted multiple times on Twitter.

SEVILLA: For an investor, for an individual investor, he may make sense, right, to say buy the dip. But the problem for our country, the risk is way bigger. And we don't know if this is the dip.

ROMO: Georgia University Business professor Julio Sevilla says the risk goes beyond losing money.

SEVILLA: Their own bond market us also suffered a lot, you know. It's up there with Ukraine on the riskier bonds for (INAUDIBLE) countries and Ukraine, it's in a war that they didn't induce. El Salvador is getting into this risk voluntarily.

ROMO: On the one hand, El Salvador is making a risky investment. On the other this small Central American country is counting on help from the International Monetary Fund to repay government bonds worth a 800 million dollars. The bonds are due in January, and this burden is in addition to other financial obligations.

How big is the risk of the fault?

SEVILLA: If the president keeps on buying, as bitcoin goes down, I think the risk of default maybe larger. Because at some point, the IMF is going to say, no, we cannot loan you money, you're not doing things the right way.

ROMO: Sevilla says he still expects El Salvador to get financing, but if its president continues to double down on risky investments. He says default is a very real possibility, and Bukele's dream of make his country a bitcoin nation could become a mirage.

Rafael Romo, CNN -- Atlanta.


NEWTON: Celebrations for the Buddhist festival of Vesak started in Sri Lankan on Sunday after a week long nationwide curfew was fully lifted.

Buddhists right across the country took to the streets and flocked the temples commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. But some believe it was a bittersweet celebration.


SHAKIB, MALE: We are here to celebrate Buddha's birthday as with last. Irrespective of any religion we do celebrate it. And here, we are supporting the struggle. That means, by the side, we are happy. And the other side, you are silent.


NEWTON: Sri Lanka is on the midst of an economic and political crisis, more than a month of mostly peaceful anti-government protests turned violent last week. A new prime minister was sworn in on Thursday.

South Asian countries are finding ways to beat a brutal heat wave. One town in northwest India deployed tanker trucks on the streets, giving everyone a welcome sprinkling of water in temperatures that have been above 40 degrees Celsius recently. Pakistan meantime is also struggling in the oppressive heat. And zoo workers in Lahore are spraying the animals with water and putting up shades to help protect them from the searing sun.


NEWTON: World number one men's tennis player Novak Djokovic achieved another career milestone over the weekend, becoming just the fifth man to reach 1,000 ATP tour victories. He did it by beating Norway's Casper Ruud in the Italian Open semifinals Saturday. And then for good measure, he went on to win the tournament on Sunday and not dropping a single set along the way. It's the first title for Djokovic since winning the Paris Masters in November. Now, sometimes, you just can't get that song out of your head, right? Gosh, have I been there before. Even if you're on the front lines of war.

Ukraine is still riding an emotional high from winning Eurovision. That ahead.



NEWTON: Heal my mind. The powerful performance there from Wynonna Judd singing a new song called "River of Time" written by her mother, Naomi Judd during a public celebration on Sunday.

Now, the biggest stars of country and southern gospel music performed moving tributes to the music icon who died by suicide in April at the age of 76. Fans helped fill the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville along with performances from Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman and Reese Witherspoon.

Wynonna Judd announced she still plans to be going on the road in the U.S. later this year for what was meant to be a reunion tour with her mother.

Now, in the midst of war, Ukraine's folk rock group Kalush Orchestra won this year's Eurovision Song contest on a wave of goodwill.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much. Thank you for supporting Ukraine. This victory for every Ukrainian. Victory to Ukraine.


NEWTON: And news of that win made it all the way to the troops hunkered down in the Mariupol steel plant which has been under siege from Russian forces for weeks now.

The sounds of war in the background there. Kalush Orchestra ended their performance with a plea to the world to quote, "Please help Ukraine."

Kalush Orchestra song "Stefania" paid tribute to the front man's mother. She didn't realize the song was even about her thinking it was about -- for some girlfriend.

STEFANIA, MOTHER OF KALUSH ORCHESTRA LEAD SINGER: And Sacha said he wrote a song for you and they (INAUDIBLE) of the song to me and then when he pushed it I heard the full song but I didn't know. He wanted to perform it from the Eurovision's stage but because he had to post thins song on the Internet before the Eurovision so I have heard it sooner.

He wanted also to make a surprise, so I would hear the song for the first time at Eurovision. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Some precious good news there in Ukraine.

And that wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton, thanks for watching.

My colleague Rosemary Church will be here in just a moment with more news.