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CNN International: Strikes Paralyze Israel after Netanyahu Fires Defense Minister; Netanyahu Calls on all Demonstrators to "Behave Responsibly and not to act Violently"; Southeastern U.S. Stuck by at least 20 Confirmed Tornadoes; What Can Netanyahu do now to Satisfy Protesters; Chinese Residents Worry Over Finances after Zero- COVID ends. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2023 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead happening right now a massive protest in Israel hundreds of thousands of workers holding a general strike against the government's plans to overhaul the judicial system more on this deepening political crisis in a moment Vladimir Putin provoking a swift response with his announcement to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus we'll get the view from Moscow.

And Prince Harry is back in London. We'll tell you, why? We begin with a country in crisis, more strikes, more protests, paralyzing Israel and turning up the pressure on the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is happening after he fired the Defense Minister, who suggested putting his judicial overhaul on hold. We've just heard the first comments from Netanyahu on this pivotal day.

He sent a tweet, moments ago calling on all demonstrators to behave responsibly and not act violently. Right now, the backlash is consuming the country with the largest union calling for an historic strike is affecting everything from airports to seaports to McDonald's. More than two dozen mares are on a hunger strike to protest against the overhaul.

Moments ago, the Israeli Justice Minister who's a major backer of the legislation suggested it could be delayed and warned that lawlessness could bring the government down. Barak Ravid covers the Middle East for AXIOS; he joins us now from Tel Aviv. This is extraordinary, isn't it? What would you compare it to?

BARAK RAVID, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, AXIOS: Hi, Max, how are you? Well, you know, I had some conversations with some Arab colleagues in neighboring countries. And half-jokingly they said, well, how's it going over there with the Israeli spring? And I got to say that, although Israel is very different than our neighboring countries, because it is still, at least for now, a democracy.

There is a lot to it, because I think what we see - is a very big part of the Israeli society that even if maybe at the beginning, it was more the usual suspects of the leftist and the liberals. I think it has grown and grown and grown and grown in recent weeks. That now the majority of Israelis, even those who voted for Netanyahu in the last elections, are in the streets, because they realize that what is going on is not a judicial reform, it is something far worse. And it is something that can influence their most basic freedoms.

FOSTER: How disruptive have these strikes been? Are they more disruptive than you expected? More people can involve?

RAVID: I think that the strikes themselves just started today. I think the big worker unions were sitting on the fence for a long time. And I think that what brought the change is what Netanyahu did yesterday. You know, it's funny that at the beginning, it's almost comical; that you know his tweet from a few minutes ago that he said people should act responsibly.

When last night he fired the Minister of Defense that he appointed only because the Minister of Defense warned that the judicial overhaul has become a threat to Israel's National Security and I think that the firing of the Minister of Defense, I think, rattled a lot of Israelis and brought those spontaneous demonstrations last night where you had more than 100,000 people at 12 at midnight, demonstrating on Israel's main highway in Tel Aviv, - the people.

And those demonstrations continued today and brought this strike were announced a few hours ago. And I think that what we're seeing now to resolve the - result of a popular uprising of people went to the streets and said enough is enough.

FOSTER: OK, thank you so much for joining us with your view there. We'll be back in Jerusalem as well. We've Hadas in Jerusalem amongst that demonstration. So we're going to be covering this throughout the morning and the day and see how it develops.


Meanwhile, the Kremlin says Western criticism will not affect a plan announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He's interested in tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus close ally of Moscow. The European Union's top diplomats call the plan a threat to European security.

NATO denounced the move as dangerous and irresponsible. CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now live from Moscow is seen obviously as an escalatory move by the West.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, definitely the Europeans, Max, have said this is a threat to European security and they called on Belarus. To push back on this Russian announcement, they said it's up to Belarus to decide whether or not these missiles are accepted on its territory.

There's been no sign of Belarus doing that, by the way. There's been a bit more of a Kremlin response, though, from the United States, the State Department of the U.S. Officials saying that, you know, they don't see any reason to change the nuclear threat posture of the U.S. and they're not seeing any sign either of Russia moving closer towards using a nuclear weapon. I mean, I think it's important that to remember that, you know, whether or not these missiles, tactical nuclear missiles, small battlefield nuclear devices, are moved to Belarus, that doesn't impact the ability of Russia to use them. You - use them now from their facilities inside Russia.

And what this is being seen as is much more of a sort of, you know symbolic gesture in terms of public opinion. Well, overseas as well, definitely, but public opinion at home. And we've sort of taken a straw poll of people out on the street in Moscow earlier today. And for the most part, people are very supportive of this.

They're saying, look, you know, Russia needs to do whatever it can to defend itself and you know, this is very much seen as a move in that direction. It's also being interpreted I think, by people who are closely watching the sort of situation in the Kremlin, etcetera.

As being a move to tighten the Kremlin's grip on Belarus, because these missiles remember, and not just going to be given to Belarus they're still going to be under the command and control of Russian forces. So that means if and when they're sent there, there'll be large numbers of Russian Military personnel that go with them.

And so it's going to increase the military presence of Moscow inside its allied a neighboring country of Belarus and so it's almost like Russia is slowly but surely tightening its grip over its Belarusian ally, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Matthew, thank you for joining us in Moscow. We've also got a close eye on global markets this hour following an announcement by the FDIC that First Citizens Bank has agreed to buy all a Silicon Valley Banks loans and deposits SVB was seized by U.S. regulators.

Earlier this month, after fears for his health, began a run on the bank and triggered global fears about the stability of other lenders. Clare Sebastian is with us now. We're looking at the main European markets, the HANG SENG was down in Hong Kong, wasn't it but actually things feeling a lot more positive going into this week.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a bit of sense that the clouds of somewhat parted, Max. This was the first weekend and three that we didn't get bad news about a bank in the United States or elsewhere. And of course, that news around Silicon Valley Bank that after a bidding process. They finally found via First Citizens Bank will come in and take on most of their assets, loans and deposits.

They are getting a discount of $16.5 billion portfolio of 72 billion, according to the FDIC, but there are sweeteners in their things like a credit line, it's a share loss agreement whereby they share their losses with the regulators and it does stabilize things for depositors and that is key.

Silicon Valley Bank 17 legacy branches will reopen this morning in the United States as a division of First Citizens Bank that means people will be able to access their money and all of that. So that's why partly we're seeing this sense of relief in the markets the sense that the regulators are sort of cleaning up behind the scenes mopping all of this up.

We are going to get more questions though this week. Congressional hearing start tomorrow on why Silicon Valley Bank failed?

FOSTER: The question? Thank you, Clare. Now Britain's Prince Harry is at London's High Court today. The Duke of Sussex will attend a hearing in his case against associated newspapers. The Prince and several other high profile figures began legal action last year, alleging that the media group had used phone tapping and other invasions of privacy to gain information.

And singer Elton John and actress Elizabeth Hurley and Sadie Frost are also plaintiffs in this case. People across the Southeastern U.S. are picking up the pieces after tornadoes ripped through the region. At least 26 people lost their lives in the severe weather this weekend.

The City of Rolling Fork, Mississippi was almost completely flattened, and forecasters say the worst may not be over yet either. More than 20 million people from Texas to the East Coast are currently under severe storm threats. Nick Valencia joins us from Rolling Fork, Mississippi with a look at the damage.


It really is quite extraordinary when you look at those images and the scene behind you.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is extraordinary, Max, and this town was just obliterated by that EF-4 tornado that ripped through here on Friday night. The scene behind me really paints a picture of what this town looks like throughout just about 2000 residents here and much of this community, it's just gone.

There are very few portions of this community that were untouched by that EF-4. What really is striking to us though, as we look at these images here in the force of the wind that did this to this car, wedging it between these vehicles ripping off roofs, you know, everyone has been affected here, but they're still chipping in to help?

Earlier we met a Police Officer here Antwan Jones, he's been on the Police force for five years. He took cover in a bathroom tub with his girlfriend and he was literally picked up and floating around in the air. He survived that experience with just a few scratches, put on his uniform, and then went to work as a first responder.


ANTWAN JONES, TORNADO VICTIM: Bad to live from overseas and the storm actually placed us down with a bow to it was originally.

VALENCIA (on camera): I mean you have to think that this is maybe the end for you. You're up in the air, you're floating around.

JONES: Yes, sir, we thought we were that we were going to die --.


VALENCIA: You know, Antwan Jones story is remarkable, but it's not unique in the sense that you know, we spoke to the Vice Mayor, her home was lost and yet she was out over the weekend, Max, passing out hot meals to her constituents. Last night there was another round of severe weather that touches this portion of the Mississippi Delta.

It is a very impoverished portion of the Mississippi Delta predominantly black. Many people here don't have home insurance. And when you look at the scene here behind me, we're told that a couple here, a married couple lost their lives at the homes here behind me. There is certainly going to be a long time before they're able to get back to normal here with the wreckage that you could see, Max.

FOSTER: Unbelievable scenes, Nick Valencia in Mississippi thank you so much. A deepening political crisis and a country in chaos Israel's President wants the government to pause its controversial judicial plan amid massive protests. You can see here, the response coming up.


FOSTER: What can Israel's Prime Minister do now to satisfy protesters as we mentioned earlier, massive protests have a general strike of crippling the country. It's affecting everything from seaports to hospitals, airports to universities. Benjamin Netanyahu is under mounting pressure to back down on his controversial plan to overhaul the judicial system.

Over the weekend he sacked the Defense Minister for his opposition. In an interview with British Broadcaster Piers Morgan, Mr. Netanyahu defended his plan to weaken Israel's Supreme Court and insisted he's not trying to destroy democracy. Let's go to CNN's Hadas Gold and now in Jerusalem.


We will be awaiting a response for him, weren't we? Some people suggesting, he was going to have to climb down but he's not apparently going to do so.

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I'm in Jerusalem right now protesters continue to stream by behind me, as you can see down towards the Israeli Supreme Court and the Israeli parliament, in opposition, of course, to these judicial reforms. But we have not heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

We were supposed to all of the Israeli media was reporting that in the morning hours, he was going to come out give a speech announcing that he was potentially going to halt this legislation, this massive judicial overhaul, and yet we have had absolutely no speech from him yet.

But in the meantime, the Israeli economy and essentially its society have ground to a halt the largest labor union in Israel. He stood route announced a massive strike that's also been joined by other elements of the private sector, Max everything from the major ports, from the airport for some time.

Even McDonald's has gone on strike against this judicial overhaul, and especially the reactions from over the weekend when Benjamin Netanyahu fired his Defense Minister for being the first Minister to come out and speak out against these judicial overhaul saying reforms are needed, he said, but just the way that it's being pushed through is causing such divisiveness in Israeli society.

He warned that it's causing a real incredible threat to Israeli security. Meanwhile, we have actually heard from Benjamin Netanyahu in the last hour. So he did issue a tweet, saying I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and on the left to behave responsibly and not to act violently.

We are brotherly people. There have been calls from the far right wing fringe movements in Israel to come out against these protesters that you can see behind me there are fears that some of these groups could get violent. I do have to say max at the protests over the last 24 hours.

They have felt different, they have felt angrier, everyone is still waiting on Benjamin Netanyahu to hear him come out and either say he's pushing forward with this legislation where they're have to say honestly fewer and fewer voices supporting that move, or whether he will heed the call from essentially all sectors of Israeli society, including these protesters calling on him to at least freeze legislation for some time, Max.

FOSTER: Hadas in Jerusalem amongst those protests, thank you. Earlier, the President of Ben-Gurion University in Israel tweeted, there comes a time in the history of a people, person or organization when you have to stand up and be counted.

With what's happened in Israel over the past 23 hours, we decided that the time had come for us to make a stand, and suspend classes. Daniel Chamovitz joins us now live. Thank you so much for joining us.


FOSTER: Thank you. We spoke to a journalist earlier, who described this as the Israeli spring? Does it feel like that something seismic going on here?

CHAMOVITZ: Well, what feels like the Israeli spring is the spontaneity of the demonstrations that happened last night. Until now over the past three months, the demonstrations have been orchestrated, they've been clear who's going, where, when? But last night, there was just an outpouring of people from all sides.

And it's really important to make the distinction that what's going on in the streets right now is not right versus left. I have very many right wing friends, a lot of people who actually support the changes that are trying to be made through the legislature, but are completely against the way that it's being railroaded through, and the divisions it's causing in the country. So this is not a political pro-Bibi, anti-Bibi, this is just against the way that everything has been doing that's tearing the country apart.

FOSTER: That suggests that if he handled things differently and came up with a different way of getting to where he wanted to be? There might be some common ground or a solution here.

CHAMOVITZ: Well, I'm not a political columnist or strategist. But I can tell you that the Presidents of all the Universities for the past several months, we've been calling for dialogue, open and honest dialogue between all sectors of the country. We as Universities think that were a wonderful place for that to be happening.

But that if people get together and talk about their true needs and fears, a consensus can be found. And we're talking about something that's so basic, which is basically constitutional reform and you have to remember, Israel doesn't have a constitution. But what we're talking about is constitutional reform in the country. This has to be come about by consensus, and not by simple majority rule.

FOSTER: So, for example, these judicial reforms, giving the government some control over which judges are appointed. These are questions that should be put out to the people to a referendum, perhaps, as opposed to force through by the Prime Minister effectively.

CHAMOVITZ: No, no, I'm not talking about a referendum. I'm talking about all sides of the political spectrum, getting together for the good of the country. Israel survived for over almost 75 years, because we've always known to work towards consensus for the good of the country.

While we have our political differences, like every country, we always knew that the future of the country is what was important to everyone.


And I think what happened last night was the firing the sacking of the Defense Minister, over him just voicing an opinion was just one step too far.

FOSTER: Daniel Chamovitz, really appreciate your time and we'll follow your progress and that of all of those out striking today.

CHAMOVITZ: Thank you.

FOSTER: Still ahead making a comeback, Beijing's restaurants and shops are looking to make up for lost time but times are hard post COVID. We'll take a tour around Beijing view with Selina Wang, next.


FOSTER: North Korea conducted more weapons tests on Monday morning this time short-range ballistic missiles. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff say two such missiles were launched flying about 230 miles or 370 kilometers before falling into the water East of the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang has ramped up missile launches and ongoing military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. they are the largest joint exercises since 2017 and will end in early April. Now after 3 years of harsh zero COVID policy China's economy is taking small steps towards recovery.

New Economic data shows industrial production and retail sales are rising since rules were scrapped in December. There is one huge problem though and that is youth unemployment is extremely high. So how is Beijing coping? Selina Wang takes a tour around the Capitol.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The crowds are back in Beijing during the pandemic this popular shopping area was virtually empty. The stores were starved for business and the restaurants did not allow people to dine inside. But now people are back in the streets and they are ready to spend.

WANG (voice over): China dropped its harsh zero COVID policy last December. And families like this one from Inner Mongolia are traveling for the first time since the start of the pandemic. He tells me people are finally going out after being stuck inside for so long. It's a busy Saturday night and getting a table is a battle.

WANG (on camera): About a 30-minute wait, that this line is huge to get into this restaurant follow me.

WANG (voice over): But it's not so bad compared to other places.

WANG (on camera): They're not even taking weights anymore. It's all fully booked for the rest of the night.

WANG (voice over): We try our luck in another area but it's not any better.

WANG (on camera): There are these long lines out of so many of the restaurants. I've been talking to people here who've been waiting for more than an hour.

WANG (voice over): Including this man, a tourist from Wuhan, where the pandemic started. I ask him if people are feeling happy that the country has opened up. Not necessarily he responds. The mood is still depressed because people's incomes were unstable during the pandemic.

Beneath the surface of busy shops and streets are deep economic wounds. Nearly one in five of China's youth is unemployed. That could be about 20 million people, according to CNN's calculations. Across the country, they're flocking to job fairs like this one.

WANG (on camera): The organizers here say that things have really picked up since pandemic restrictions and --.

WANG (voice over): These two women graduated college last summer but still haven't found work. She tells me she majored in chemistry but if she can't find a job in the sciences, she'll take any job she can get. This computer science graduate tells her he's been applying to jobs everywhere, online and in person with no luck yet.


He says he's worried about the mass layoffs at China's technology companies. But it's not just high tech jobs getting - gives an impassioned speech, claiming that a lot of factories in Guangdong China's manufacturing hub are laying off workers pay cutting salaries.

Meanwhile, local governments are struggling to cope with mounting debts after years of paying for mass testing and COVID quarantines. Just one province Guangdong spent $22 billion fighting COVID over the past three years. Some cities are reducing costs by cutting government provided medical insurance for residents.

The change sparked protests in several cities last month, crowds of senior citizens took to the streets in Wuhan in Dalian shouting for their money back some of them pushing against rows of Police. Back on the streets of Beijing, normal life has returned. But each person and business is still dealing with the aftermath of years of economic pain. Selina Wang, CNN, Beijing.


FOSTER: The so called mega strike by Germany's Transport Workers has brought public transportation to a standstill there; hundreds of thousands of Transport Workers are striking on Monday. Essentially paralyzing the air travel and public rail networks they are demanding a 10 percent pay rise due to rising food and energy prices.

Before we go just to check on those massive protests in Israel these are live pictures and scenes like this really appearing across the nation today paralyzing the country, putting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is happening after he fired the Defense Minister who suggested putting his judicial overhaul on hold.

We'll continue to monitor this will be any updates as they come in. But thank you for joining us here on CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. "World Sport" with Amanda Davis is up next.