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Demonstrators Clash With Police Amid Pension Reform Protests; Joe Biden Hopes Benjamin Netanyahu "Walks Away" From Judicial Reforms; Mexican Officials Revise Fire Death Toll Down To 38; U.S. And Mexico Grapple With Influx Of Border Crossings; Surveillance Video Shows Shooter Inside School; Ukraine: Heaviest Fighting In Donetsk, Luhansk Regions; Prominent Afghan Girls' Education Advocate Arrested. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 00:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM. Police and protesters clashed during the latest round of strikes in France. There are signs the nationwide movement could be losing steam.

Plus, at least 38 people are dead after a migrant protest goes horribly wrong at the detention center in Mexico along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And disturbing details about the latest school shooting in the United States including a social media message from the shooter just minutes before the attack.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Paula Newton.

And we begin in France where anger rages on over the government's controversial move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

You see there hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Tuesday for yet another day of nationwide strikes.

Now, in several cities, protesters clashed with police throwing stones and burning garbage piles. The French interior ministry estimates more than 700,000 people participated in the protests.

Here's the thing though, that is a lower number than demonstrations earlier this month. Now many union leaders are calling on President Emmanuel Macron to put the unpopular pension reform plan on hold. The government shows no signs of backing down.

Meantime, trash collectors in Paris announced their suspending their week's long strike and will return to work Wednesday morning.

CNN's Sam Kiley has more now in the French capital. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): 10 days of demonstrations and the latest marched through Paris begins to feel almost routine.

Within a few hours, this though was the scene.

Concern over the rising level of violence has led the unions to ask for a dialogue with the government. This is what a senior union official said.

MAHER TEKAYA, SENIOR UNION OFFICIAL, CFDT: The only solution is to sit around the table and to have a constructive dialogue on how to find the way out of the situation.

KILEY: The government's response has been this.

LAURENCE BOONE, FRENCH MINISTER FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS: Now, there has been a democratic process. We've had hundreds of hours of debate at the parliament. The bill has been passed and I think we need to move on.

KILEY: The government said that they were expecting about a thousand extremists to join these demonstrations and they're hell bent on trying to make sure that they don't gain the upper hand in what they're getting to turn into, albeit relatively small scale, but pitch battles here on the streets of Paris.

Interior Ministry numbers put today's demonstration in Paris at 93,000. That's a 27,000 drop on the union organized protests last Thursday.

And across France, the numbers demonstrating were also down from peak of about 1.28 million to only 740,000 today.

Opponents of the plan to raise the pensionable age in France from 62 to 64 must now pin their hopes on forcing a U-turn on the French government through street protests.

But after two months of frequent strikes, the austerity of protest in terms of lost earnings is beginning to bite. Garbage collection will return for the first time in weeks to Paris on Wednesday. A sign perhaps that the fire is slowly going out on the opposition to pension reforms, but not opposition to President Emmanuel Macron himself.

Sam Kiley, CNN in Paris.



NEWTON: Now after months of turmoil, representatives from Israel's ruling coalition and opposition sat down for their first face-to-face negotiations over the Prime Minister's attempt to overhaul the judiciary. Now this comes a day after Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was putting the reforms on hold to allow more time for what he calls dialogue.

Now, more members of the opposition are expected to be at the table when talks resumed in the coming hours and while the demonstrations have yet to lead up, they were in fact noticeably smaller on Tuesday.

The U.S. president meantime says he hopes Netanyahu abandons the overhaul, Joe Biden was also asked whether the controversy had reached an inflection point, listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know if they're at an inflection point, but I think it's a difficult spot to be in and they got to work it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what do you hope the prime minister will do on that particular law?

BIDEN: I hope he -- I hope he walks away from it.


NEWTON: OK, the Israeli prime minister has responded to those remarks. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is following all of this for us from Tel Aviv and joins us now live.

Elizabeth, it's good to have you on this story. Now look, even in the face of U.S. criticism that we just heard, Netanyahu seems to be standing firm. How did he react to Biden's really incredibly blunt remarks throughout the day?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Paula, it was quite blunt, it was really quite strong criticism.

Let's read through some tweets from the Prime Minister that he said -- that he wrote rather, in response, he wrote, I have known President Biden for over 40 years. And I appreciate his long standing commitment to Israel, the alliance between Israel and the United States is unbreakable and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us.

My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we're striving to achieve the broad consensus.

Israel as a sovereign country which makes his decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.

Now, there's a lot to unpack there, Paula. But just to make two quick points, I think you could make a case that this is not just an occasional disagreement. As you said, this was very strong criticism from President Biden, it is unusual.

And he went on to say even more than what we showed just now. It was really unusual criticism. This doesn't feel occasional, this feels much bigger than that.

And also, the prime minister talked about Israel going by the will of its people as a sovereign country. I think the will of the people has been made pretty clear by the many, many -- you know, the huge numbers that have shot for demonstrations and real questions about whether the prime minister would win an election if it were held now.

Certainly being here in Israel, I have spoken to people who voted for Netanyahu over and over and over again, but recently, were out in the streets protesting against his government, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes. Such a crucial point you make, right, the fact that even the Prime Minister supporters now believe that this could harm the country. The Prime Minister still sounds and acts like a man who believes a compromise is possible, are you seeing any signs of that?

COHEN: I think, you know, he's sitting down, the two sides are sitting down. So there's definitely signs of that. But I think the two sides are going to really look to see to borrow a word that President Biden used, whether the Prime Minister is being genuine, whether he -- you know, he's a political master, his longevity attest to that. But is he being genuine when he's sitting down or is he just telling each side what they want to hear?

And is he being genuine? Or is he just doing what he thinks he needs to do to get out of his legal woes, Paula?

NEWTON: Yes, a lot more drama to come on that. Elizabeth Cohen will be following it throughout the day for us. Appreciate it.

Now, Mexican officials have revised the death toll from a fire at a migrant Detention Center down from 40 lives lost to 38. Still such a huge tragedy. More than two dozen others were injured.

Now, there's new video of showing the moment the flames and smoke spread throughout the facility. CNN's Ed Lavandera has the latest for us and a warning, this report contains graphic content.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This dramatic video captured what appears to be the beginning of the fire that spread through this Mexican migrant detention facility in Juarez late Monday night.

You can see flames and smoke filling the detention area in a matter of seconds, migrants scrambling for their lives and several Mexican immigration officers walking away from the area while migrants were left locked in the cells. Eventually, thick smoke fills the area, making it impossible to see anything else.

Outside, witnesses described hearing migrants screaming for help as fire spread through the detention center. Rescue workers responded, pulling people from the smoke and flames. This woman says there was smoke everywhere. Everyone was running for their lives. But all the men were left locked inside and the door to let them out was never open.


Mexico's president says the migrants started the fire when they found out they were being deported. The president says they protested by setting fire to mattresses inside the building where they were being detained.

The video from inside the detention center doesn't clearly show how or who started the fire, but several mattresses can be seen on the ground by the steel jail bars.

Mexico's national migration institute and attorney general are investigating the cause of the fire as many questions remain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I showed up when the fire had already started, just flaming and more than anything that take away was the screaming of people still inside.

LAVANDERA: You don't sound convinced that it was the migrants that started this fire?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Migrants are coming to me and letting me know that they believe that someone else outside the building started the fire. They were locked inside a room, which they should have never been locked in.

LAVANDERA: This woman who cried as her husband was taken away by ambulance said he was grabbed off the street into that Juarez and taken to the migration center, like grabbed him on the street for no reason. Immigration advocates say this deadly fire fuels concerns along the border as migrants continue to flow through Mexico trying to reach the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have migrants that are just desperate and frustrated.


NEWTON: Thanks to Ed Lavandera reporting there. Joining us now is Raul Reyes, he is an attorney and immigration analyst and CNN Opinion Writer, he joins us now from here in New York. Good to see you.

Was it chilling just to listen to her words that they could still hear the screaming from inside the facility? I mean, you still have to just take a moment and think about that.

You know, you have said categorically that the U.S. is deporting these migrants to Mexico to places that even the State Department warns travelers are not safe. Do you see a way out of this at this point?

RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY AND IMMIGRATION ANALYST (on camera): Well, look, at this point, you know, just -- you know, these images are so disturbing. The sound is disturbing.

I mean, what we're talking about, regardless of people what your political affiliation is, these were 38 people who are seeking a better life and the Mexican government as well as the United States government bears some responsibility for this -- for this, you know, horrible event.

And the thing is, what the Biden administration has been pursuing is a deterrence policy, trying to get people to not attempt to come here and claim their lawful right for asylum.

This is an approach, the same approach taken by -- President Obama took this approach. President Trump took that approach. And what we know from all these years of talking about the immigration issue and the border crisis, is that it doesn't work.

So, I believe in my view, there is a path forward. But both Republicans and Democrats have not been -- have not been willing to touch what seems like the third rail of immigration and address it.

For example, right now with the Biden administration is doing is largely restricting asylum, right? Now, they want people to apply for asylum on the Mexican side of the border because our resources are overwhelmed. And all we're doing is basically outsourcing the problem to Mexican officials. Their side of the border becomes overcrowded. And then periodically, they do their roundups, they place people in detention, and this facility, in particular, has a history of inhumane conditions. And as a result is these horrendous tragedies that are very sad. But they are also -- they are also predictable, and they could be avoided with a different approach.

NEWTON: When we talk about a different approach. So, the Biden administration has said that they're trying to alleviate some of the pressure on the border, that includes an app which you say immigration lawyers call that app asylum ticket master, because it's so clunky, so arbitrary.

So, what would be the better process? And I want you to address directly, you know, people who say, look, if we make it too easy, if the administration makes it too easy, we will get two, three, four million people trying to claim asylum every year at that southern border.

REYES: Right. Well, the most the best and the most legal path forward actually, that task rests with Congress, because it was our Congress that set up the rules for asylum and claiming asylum in the United States. A lot of people think, you know, why do these people come here, and the reason they come here for asylum is because asylum by U.S. law requires physical presence in the United States. It is a legal right. And we've seen successive administrations try to -- just try to hold that back, to stop these increases we've seen at the border.


And I think, what United States needs to do as a nation is perhaps set limits on asylum and rethink whether we want to continue to have this type of asylum system that has no caps like other forms of visas or other work permits do. There are set numbers for refugees, asylum is not constructed that way.

And secondly, the administration must tackle the incredible backlog we have on asylum cases. Right now, it takes about 4.3 years from start to finish for an asylum case to be adjudicated.

Now, anyone possibly see that as a functional system. So, when we look at people at the border, when we look at these unauthorized (AUDIO GAP) and these tragedies that are occurring, this isn't the first one we've seen people joining S.C. (PH) or migrants found locked in the -- in these truck compounds.

I think what people need to think more realistically is what is this -- what is a potential solution, not just holding political theater going to the border or trying to come up with an unrealistic laws and policies that do not reflect the reality on the ground.

NEWTON: Well, we will see if the Biden administration has anything up their sleeve. Again, thank you so much. Appreciate your insights there.

REYES: Thank you.

NEWTON: Now, a childhood friend says the Nashville school shooter messaged her on Instagram just minutes before the attack "I'm going to die today, something bad is about to happen". Police are still trying to figure out why 28-year-old Audrey Hale opened fire killing three children and three adults. Our report now from Carlos Suarez contains some disturbing video.



CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Body camera video from two Nashville police officers showing them rushing into the Covenant School on Monday.

POLICE OFFICER: On me, on me. I don't know where he is. Let's go, police!

SUAREZ: Going room to room.

POLICE OFFICER: It's upstairs. It sounds like it's upstairs.

SUAREZ: And up to the second floor, before confronting the shooter. Surveillance video at the school released by police captured 28-year- old Audrey Hale, shooting through doors at the school, entering and starting the attack.

Today, authorities revealed more about the writings they said Hale left behind.

CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, NASHVILLE POLICE: There's several different writings about other locations. There were locations of -- there was talk about the school, there was a map of the school. A drawing of how potentially she would enter and the assaults that would take place. SUAREZ: Police said they've interviewed the shooter's parents, who said Hale was being treated for an emotional disorder.

DRAKE: We've determined that Audrey about seven firearms from five different local gun stores here legally. They were legally purchased. Three of those weapons were used yesterday.

SUAREZ: According to investigators, Hale hid the guns at home.

DRAKE: Parents felt that she should not own weapons. They were under the impression that was when she sold the one weapon that she did not own any more.

SUAREZ: As a search for answers continues, so does the morning for the six people killed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that it's always terrible to hear about something like this happening, but when it's just down the street from your house, it's -- it hits another part of you.

SUAREZ: Among the killed was Cynthia Peak, believed to be a substitute teacher. Mike Hill, a 61-year-old custodian at the school. And 60- year-old Katherine Koonce. She was the head of the school who police believe encountered the shooter in the hallway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No question whatsoever, she gave her life because she was trying to -- protect students, protect faculty.

SUAREZ: The children who were killed were all just 9 years old: William Kinney, Evelyn Dieckhaus, and Holly Scruggs.

Scruggs and the other victims were remembered in a service that was held at the Park City's Presbyterian Church in Dallas were Scruggs father served as associate pastor before coming to the Covenant Presbyterian Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here because their hearts are broken. We're here because we weep with our friends.

SUAREZ (on camera): The chief of police was asked why it took officers 11 minutes to respond to the school after the initial 911 call was made. The Chief said based on what he had seen so far, he did not have a problem with it, but that the department would look into that response.

Carlos Suarez, CNN, Nashville, Tennessee.



NEWTON: Still ahead for us, Ukrainian fighters say they've repelled at least two dozen Russian attacks in just the last day or so. The latest on where they say fighting is the heaviest now.

Plus, as North Korea ramps up its missile tests, South Korea and the U.S. are showing off their firepower and the strength of their military alliance.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the drill that North Korea always reacts to, the idea of American and South Korean Marines storming a beach on the Korean Peninsula.



NEWTON: The Ukrainian military says the heaviest fighting in the war right now is concentrated in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east where they claim to have repelled at least 24 Russian attacks just in the past day or so.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in eastern Ukraine for us and spoke with several residents who have endured the fighting.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There isn't much to be salvaged from this business in Slovyansk, demolished Monday morning in a Russian strike.

Oleg, his wife and some friends are loading up what's left. I'm still in shocks, says Oleg. I'm 62 years old and I've invested my heart and soul and money to build it. And now that I'm old, it's been destroyed.

The attack killed two people and injured more than 30, the likely target an army recruiting office next door.

In the hospital, one of the victims lies unconscious, a 30-year-old woman, a wall fell on her, fracturing her skull in damaging her internal organs.

Surgeon Sergei Okovitiy has struggled since the war began, trying to mend shattered lives and bodies.

Unfortunately, I have had to treat many serious injuries caused by mines and explosions, he says.

To the south in Krasnotorka, another Russian attack hit just next to this kindergarten, fortunately empty since the war began. Strikes like this happen on a daily basis. This one occurred late on Monday evening.

Hours afterwards, workers make repairs area is regularly hit. They may be back here soon.

Down the road in Kostyantynivka, closer to the front, only a few residents remain. 73-year-old Tamara isn't going anywhere, putting her faith in a higher power.

God protects me, she says. God will save me. If not, it is what it is.

Artem sells seeds and other supplies to a dwindling community of optimistic gardeners.

Everyone is scared, he tells me. Only idiots aren't until now. I'm here. Here, but I evacuated my children.


Not all children have left, however. One finding solace on a swing amidst the ruins.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Kostyantynivka.


NEWTON: A fearless advocate for girls' education in Afghanistan has been arrested in Kabul. Malala Yousafzai is now one of those condemning his detention. We'll speak with a prominent Afghan women's rights activists about how the world should now deal with the Taliban.


NEWTON: And a warm welcome back, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton.

A prominent activist for girl's education in Afghanistan is now in the custody of the Taliban. Now they've confirmed the arrest of Matiullah Wesa whose NGO pin path brings mobile schools and libraries to the most remote parts of the country.

The U.N. also confirmed the news saying Wesa was arrested Monday in Kabul but his whereabouts and the reasons for his arrest are unknown.

Now, in a video on social media was his brother claims two of their other brothers were arrested as well and says the Taliban took their phones and humiliated his family.

Wesa's arrest has sparked an outcry from his supporters. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai is among those calling for his release. You see it there in her tweets.

Now, Wesa support for girls' education is happening in a country where the Taliban have banned girls and women from high school and universities.

And of course, that's just one of the draconian restrictions imposed on women since the Taliban returned to power almost two years ago.

Now, a newly released human rights report from Amnesty International notes that Afghanistan is the only country in the world that bans girls from secondary school and women who have protested have been dealt with severely.

Among other restrictions, Afghan women now have to have a male chaperone to be out in public. They are banned from public parks and from working for NGOs, and they must follow a strict dress code.

They also no longer have any legal recourse if they become victims of domestic or other gender based violence. And amnesty says women have been punished for reporting it.

Despite all this, our next guest says it is time to try and reengage with the Taliban. Mehbooba Siraj is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the executive director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center.. She is also the subject of the upcoming film titled "The Noble Guardian." Take a listen.



MAHBOUBA SERAJ, AFGHAN WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I was not thinking that U.S. is going to be staying here forever and ever, but how can you just pack up, and leave? What about the consequences?


NEWTON: And Mahbouba Seraj joins us now from Hong Kong.

Thank you so much for coming to talk to us about the issues at hand right now in Afghanistan. It sounds like what you're proposing, engagement on some level with the Taliban is something that you believe needs to happen right now.

But what do you think will change if that engagement happens?

SERAJ: Hello, Paula. Thank you so much for having me here.

I just, you know, I know from what the Taliban are actually doing in Afghanistan, and especially to the Afghan woman, for me to say something like that, I know it sounds absolutely horrendous by -- by all of the people in Afghanistan, by my colleagues, by the ones that they are -- and other human rights activists and protectors of -- of women's rights.

But at the same time, totally the honest truth. We really don't have any other option. I really don't know how long that country can go on like this. How long we can go on the way we are; how long the girls can be in Afghanistan, in their homes locked up and not being able to do their education. That is not going to -- this is not the right way to go.

I know that sounds really horrible from what I'm asking, but I don't have -- I don't see any other -- any other -- how shall I say? Any other way of dealing with this problem.

So this is the one way of doing it, just to have a talk with them; have some kind of a -- you know, some kind of a dealing started.

NEWTON: Yes. And if you do -- if you do talk, what kind of concessions do you think they might agree to first? You know, I note that right now they want the sanctions against Afghanistan lifted. And yet, the interim foreign minister wrote in an editorial. He did not even mention trying to restore any women's rights.

SERAJ: Absolutely and unfortunately, they think by doing that, you know, the world is going to give them, you know, everything that they asked without them, giving a single, you know, and not even an inch to the rights of the Afghan woman. It's not going to happen that way.

They really have to -- have to give the woman's rights to the women. They have to let the girls go to school. They have to let the girls go to the university. And they have to let the woman work. Otherwise, it will not happen.

But at the same time, in order to make all of these things happen, we really have to talk to them. We cannot just not have any conversation and hope that something miraculous is going to be happening, because it will not.

NEWTON: And yet, they seem to be, in fact, more severe and how they are restricting women and girls. And most recently, we just talked about it. We had Mr. Wesa. We believe he's under arrest. Why do you believe he's under arrest?

And I have to ask you, do you feel that you could also be detained? Do you fear that when you return to Afghanistan?

SERAJ: You know, it's becoming, especially after his arrest. You know the way -- the way they did that to him, because this guy this guy is only for the girls' education, for God's sakes. He's not doing anything wrong. He's just going around and talking to the girls and just giving them some books. I mean, he's not even building schools or anything.

And why would they do something like that to him? I absolutely -- it's the most unbelievable thing that happened, and why, I still don't know. And as far as me going back to Afghanistan, to tell you the honest truth, is truth is becoming such a, you know, you know, unreasonable actions that are being taken place that, you know, I've always was afraid about myself.

And now I now I am, and I am even more. Because who knows what they're going to be doing? But then again, you know that's the way life goes on. And I believe in in my -- and my struggle for what I stand for, which is the women of Afghanistan and their education is very important to me.

NEWTON: And you will return?

SERAJ: Absolutely.

NEWTON: You know we were -- We were just talking about some of the conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan right now, and Amnesty report, you know, makes it clear what's happened.

The repression has been, in fact, exponential, in their words. What is your fear of what is to come?

SERAJ: Well, my fear of what is to come is that -- that the women of Afghanistan is going to be staying behind the walls and not being able to go to school or to have to take any part in the society, and the world is going to forget about them. That is my fear. And if that, God forbid, happens we are lost. We are doomed, because

at least right now, I want the world -- the world remembers us. And the world, you know, even if I don't have a voice and a whole lot of us, the rest of the women of the world are going to be our voices.


NEWTON: And they're -- they're hearing your voice right now, and we've been witness to your courage for several years. And we'll look forward to that film, "The Noble Guardian," in the coming months. Mahbouba Seraj, thank you so much. Really appreciate you.

SERAJ: Thank you, Paula. Thank you for giving me the time. Thank you, appreciate it.

NEWTON: And we will be right back after a short break.


NEWTON: Tens of thousands of South Korean and U.S. troops have been conducting large-scale military exercises that involve a practice assault that's considered an offensive maneuver, even though the allies have long insisted the drills are for defensive purposes only.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has an exclusive look at the joint drills now underway.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A ship- to-shore assault, grounding of fighting force and equipment while trying to maintain the element of surprise.

HANCOCKS: This is the drill that North Korea always reacts to, the idea of American and South Korean marines storming a beach on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang sees this as a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

Now, the South Korean and American line has always been that this is defensive in nature.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Twenty-five hundred U.S. Marines and sailors, 3,000 South Korean marines and sailors working together on one large- scale joint drill.

The U.S. landing craft aircushion, or LCAC, bringing to shore all that's needed for the early stages of battle.

HANCOCKS: And we haven't seen this level of drills in the Korean Peninsula for five years. Multiple tours (ph) across the country of South Korea. They're being held on land, at sea, and in the air.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): We gained rare access behind the scenes of this training, flying out to the U.S. amphibious assault ship, the USS Makin Island. On the back of North Korean missile launches and disputed claims of simulated underwater nuclear weapons tests, this is a drill that will be watched carefully in Pyongyang.

HANCOCKS: We're about 30 nautical miles from shore at this point, and this is one of the LCACs that is being loaded up right now, ready for an amphibious landing.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is meant for rapid response to any kind of crisis, military or humanitarian. Self- sufficient and often the first to arrive in an emergency.

But with a five-year gap in training, due to COVID-19 and previous diplomatic efforts with North Korea, there is an element of catching up.

CAPT. TONY CHAVEZ, USS MAKIN ISLAND: We've had to start from the basics again. There's some things that we're relearning. I mean the basic as just of communications between ships, between aircraft, and then a partner, an ally here in this region.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): North Korean military moves, it appears, are not the main focus here.

COL. SAMUEL L. MEYER, 13TH MARINE EXPEDITION: It's in an area of the world that's significant right now, but it is routine. It has been scheduled. We've done this many times. So the fact that those things are happening around us, really, our focus is just on the exercise.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Interoperability is the most used term during this drill, working on smooth American-Korean maneuvers.

CAPT. AARON PADEN, OSPREY PILOT: We're used to this now, so if we have to do this for real, we've already done it. We've already worked with the Republic of Korea, and we know how to operate with them.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): A U.S. return to large-scale drills in a region of both allies and adversaries.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, off the Southern coast of South Korea.


NEWTON: So in the coming hours, the U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on a climate change resolution that seeks to clarify exactly what big polluters are responsible for.

Officials in Vanuatu have been working towards a resolution for years, bearing the brunt of worsening severe weather.

CNN's Anna Coren has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): High above the vast Pacific Ocean. Vanuatu's leader looks down on his fragile paradise.

The nation is one of the most vulnerable on earth, its people at constant risk from cyclones, earthquakes and live volcanoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe it's all because of climate change.

COREN (voice-over): On the remote island of Fortuna, a village chief surveys the damage caused this month by two Category 4 cyclones that slammed his community in the same week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cyclones are getting stronger and stronger every year.

COREN (voice-over): The fight against global warming is Vanuatu's existential crisis. But it's not the only global issue that clutches at this tiny nation.

The people of these islands are getting wrapped up in the great power tussle between the U.S. and China. Both want greater influence across the blue Pacific continent.

U.S. allies Australia and New Zealand have always viewed the Pacific as their neighborhood. So when the cyclones hit Vanuatu, they were first in to help.

CAPT. JACE HUTCHISON, HMAS CANBERRA: Australia is a direct neighbor of Vanuatu in our region. And just like all the other neighboring Pacific family countries, we respond to natural disasters when our neighbors are in need.

COREN (voice-over): All know the value of winning hearts and minds in the Pacific.

Beijing sent in cyclone aid, too. But as China and the U.S. talk about new embassies, new military bases and new economic deals in the region, Vanuatu's climate change adaptation minister says to keep old friends or win new ones, you have to listen to what they need.

RALPH REGENVANU, VANUATU MINISTER OF CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION: The U.S. and China could absolutely gain great influence in the Pacific by taking real action on climate change. If China and the U.S. profess to be our friends and want to support us, they need to deal with climate change, which is the greatest threat to our existence.

COREN (voice-over): Vanuatu wants the International Court of Justice to determine how culpable big polluters are for climate disasters in the developing world.

REGENVANU: This is a question about human rights, the rights of people to live on this planet.

COREN (voice-over): That path to climate justice could also lead great powers toward geopolitical influence in the Pacific. Anna Coren, CNN.


NEWTON: I'm Paula Newton. I'll be back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM, but first WORLD SPORT starts right after a quick break.