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Erdogan Heading For A Runoff In Turkey's Knife-Edge Elections; Record Turnout Sees Thai Voters Rebuke Military Elite As Opposition Take Decisive Lead; Deadly Cyclone Mocha Slams Into Bangladesh, Myanmar; Gaza Truce Holds As Palestinians, Israelis Count Deadly Cost; Zelenskyy And Macron Meet, As France Pledges More Military Aid; Chinese Special Envoy Visiting Ukraine And Russia; Wagner Head To Moscow: "Stop Lying" About Bakhmut; Migrant Mother Make Long journey To Provide For Children; Nuclear Fusion Lab Trying To Replicate Power Of The Sun. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 15, 2023 - 01:00   ET




LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to all of our viewers watching from around the world. I'm Laila Harrak. Ahead on CNN Newsroom, Turkey's knife-edge election with votes still being counted. It appears that country's presidential race is headed for a runoff, and after 20 years in power President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still fighting for his political life.

Devastation in South Asia cyclone Mocha whipping homes to shreds as it made landfall in Myanmar, skirting a direct hit to the world's most vulnerable.

Weary of a conflict with no end in sight. CNN hears from Palestinians, exhausted by the endless violence and uncertain that the current fragile peace will even hold.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: live from CNN Center, this is CNN Newsroom with Laila Harrak.

HARRAK: We begin in Turkey where an election build as historic is proving to be exactly that. Preliminary results indicate the country's hotly contested presidential race is likely headed to a runoff with nearly 99 percent of returns counted state run news is reporting.

Now, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leads with 49.35 percent of the vote, opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu has 45 percent. While results are not official, neither candidate looks to have reached the 50 percent threshold required to win the presidency outright. Well, still Mr. Erdogan struck a self-assured tone while speaking from the balcony at his party headquarters. Take a listen.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): Though the exact results are not certain yet, but we are leading. They know that they are behind by a wide margin and they are now saying that they are leading, once again deceiving the public perhaps for the last time. We are not like them in front of our people. We have always been honest and sincere.


HARRAK: Kilicdaroglu was similarly confidence as he told supporters he welcomed a possible runoff.


KEMAL KILICDAROGLU, TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): Despite all his smear campaigns and insults, Erdogan did not get the result he expected. Nobody should get excited about a fait accompli. Elections are not one on the balcony. Election data still continue to come in. If our nation decides on a runoff with our pleasure, we will definitely win this election in the second round. Everyone will see it.


HARRAK: CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is in Istanbul with more on all these developments.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): As the polls predicted, is turning out to be very, very tight race. Ballot counting is continuing into the early hours of Monday. And so far, it doesn't seem that either of the candidates have been able to achieve that 50 plus 1 percent threshold that is needed to win the presidency.

This is President Erdogan toughest election he has faced in his 20 years of being leading the country out. We heard from President Erdogan tonight coming out addressing its people Addressing his supporters and an appearance on the balcony of its headquarter, the headquarters of his party in the capital Ankara. That's usually where he delivers his victory speech and tonight he came out and he said that he felt he needed to come out and speak to the people from that same balcony saying that while there are no official preliminary results out yet and that the vote counting is continuing.

He did sound confident saying that he believes that they are in the lead but at the same time accepting possibility that this is headed towards a second round. We also heard from the opposition candidate came out, Kilicdaroglu, also coming out saying that they are ready for a runoff if this is what the Turkish people have decided.

Now, here outside the headquarters of President Erdogan AK Party in Istanbul.


We have seen his supporters turning out all night saying that they are here to show their support for President Erdogan and if this is headed towards the second round, they are going to continue supporting him. They know that this has been a very tough election for him. And they believe that this is the man who represents them, who they want to represent Turkey and continue to lead the country. They believe that he has transformed this country into a regional power, a powerful on the world stage, and they want to continue on that path.

On the other side, you've got the opposition that has been promising people change, promising to unseat President Erdogan, who they say has turned this into an autocratic country. And they are promising to reverse his policies and take this country back to a parliamentary and a real democracy -- democratic system.

And as we are seeing these results coming out, you can see it reflects the divisions in this country. And you can see what a polarized country this is the one thing everyone agrees on, is this is the most consequential election in the modern history of this country. And this is not just about the next five years, they would tell you, this is about the future direction of this country. Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.


HARRAK: For more I'm joined by Soner Cagaptay. He's the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the author of "A Sultan in Autumn: Erdogan Faces Turkey's Uncontainable Forces."

Soner, a very warm welcome to CNN. What a nail biter we heard from both the incumbent and his top challenger, the main opposition leader, what were the main takeaways for you?

SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR, TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM AT THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: The pleasure to be with you. I think the biggest takeaway is that, in what was supposed to be a very competitive race, President Erdogan pulled up ahead of his opponent, Kilicdaroglu, perhaps not surprising, but not shocking given that President Erdogan enjoys a whole bunch of incumbency advantages.

He's been running Turkey for 20 years. In the last half decade, his rule has turned autocratic. He's raised checks and balances and autonomy for a lot of institutions, from courts to electoral bodies to media. His control of the media, as well as especially I think gave him the upper hand in the election campaign. Businesses loyal to Erdogan control 90 percent of the media in Turkey, 80 percent of Turkey's citizens do not read languages other than Turkish.

So Erdogan can curate reality for them. The media, therefore, rent stories throughout the entire campaign season. That is the reality for 80 percent of the electorate, not about earthquake and how it was devastating and whether government's relief agencies provided aid, not about inflation reaching 50 percent, not about democratic transgressions.

But the fact that Erdogan had made turkey into a military industrial power. And I think if Erdogan wins the runoff, if there is one, this will perhaps be a new election and globally, in going to record. One won on what I call post truth narrative, where the leader creating a narrative that has nothing to do with reality, but narrative -- that narrative becoming reality, because it's repeated so often and so frequently.

HARRAK: And now, as you there illustrate, I mean, the deck it seems to have been stacked against the opposition. I know you say that you're not surprised. But still, there is some element of surprise that Mr. Erdogan finds himself in this position. 20 years of consolidating power as you just outlined, for the first time he might find himself having to go to a second vote. What does that tell you?

CAGAPTAY: That's significant. You know, Erdogan has built a base, loving base that adores this leader. He's a Janus faced politician, I think. He does demonize, brutalized and crackdown demographics on unlikely vote for him. He does go erase democratic checks and balances. He's an authoritarian populace.

But he's also lifted people out of poverty for at least the first decade and a half of his rule from 2003 to '18. He improved access to services, including health care, basically, people started to live under him better, and he's got a base that loves him. I think that's the main challenge for Erdogan. Economy has not been good shape for the last five years. And he's never won national elections while not delivering growth. That was not an exception.

He did not win outright, notwithstanding the fact that he's got institutions and media supporting him. And the race was not fair. Although the vote was free. So not surprising, he did not win because the economy's not doing great in Turkey.

HARRAK: But what are the options right now for the opposition?


CAGAPTAY: So what was the surprise of the campaign was that what was supposed to be a two way race between President Erdogan and opponent Kilicdaroglu turned into a three way race unexpected entry to the race of our third poll candidate, who is campaigning solely on the platform and mostly on the platform like anti-immigrant, anti-refugee message.

Turkey now has its own anti-immigrant, anti-refugee party. This politicians name is Ogan. He got 5 percent of the vote. That's not a lot, but enough to spoil the race for either side. I think going forward, President Erdogan at about 49 percent and Kilicdaroglu at about 45 percent will both try to coat his votes.

But the candidate is fairly lengthy anti-immigrant, anti-refugee. It's going to be really hard for either of the sides to not fall for that kind of populism if they want to get his vote. So I think we're going into an interesting election period in most countries elections lasts a day in Turkey that lasts from May 24 to May 28, basically, 14 days of Lomas feel like a 14 day squeeze into one day of elections, busy campaign season and this new season from Turkey, of course.

HARRAK: I mean, in the turnout has been really very impressive, indeed. And I want to ask you a final question. Could Mr. Erdogan still lose this? Or is the writing on the wall for the opposition? And does that one man that you reference the third presidential candidate and ultra-nationalists, Sinan Ogan hold the key now to Turkey's future.

CAGAPTAY: He sort of holds the key. He's going to think Kingmaker he can or cannot make kings. We'll see how smart his strategies. The way I look at this race, oh, yes, it's a united opposition and the economy was not doing well on paper. The opposition should not have won outright, it did not. That's because odds are in President Erdogan's favor. It's almost like a 400 meter relay race.

President Erdogan ran the last 100 meters. The opposition had to run the entire 400 meters. They almost caught up with him, but could not. So, he's got institutional support for him the fact that he controls media that will help him and I think that momentum is not behind President Erdogan because his party, his alliance rather won majority in the parliament, he's going to tell the electorate, look, you don't want split government, you want to have both branches of government in the same hence, vote for me whether or not the election will go for that continuity, or they'll go for change.

It is up to Mr. Kilicdaroglu now to inspire the opposition in a way that perhaps he has not done effectively. And to say you do want change, you don't want more of the same. Otherwise, I think President Erdogan will win on May 28.

HARRAK: Soner Cagaptay, thank you so much.

CAGAPTAY: Thank you. Great pleasure.

HARRAK: The other big election of the weekend was in Thailand where voters have delivered a powerful rebuke to the military elites, with 98 percent of the votes in opposition parties have swept the board the progressive Move Forward party projected to win 149 seats with populist Pheu Thai in second place with 138 seats.

Well, despite the obvious mandate for change. It's not clear at this point who will take power. CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now from Seoul with a more on these developments. Paula, voters, their soundly rejecting military rule, but will the army respect this outcome?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laila, we've just had a briefing from the Electoral Commission in Bangkok. And they have said that this has been the highest turnout in the election saying it's some 75.2 percent, and this is really what many people were looking at how big the turnout was meaning whether the youth vote was going to show up in force, and that appears to have happened at this point.

So with more than 99 percent of the votes now counted, according to the electrical commission, Move Forward has 151 and Pheu Thai is in second place with 141 votes. Now of this is unofficial results. At this point, the Electoral Commission says it could take another five days before they can give the official result and then another 60 days before it is endorsed.

But what this means is the two progressive parties have won the vast majority of the seats that were up for grabs. And it does mean that this is a fairly sharp rebuke to the military led parties and the military backed politics that we have been seeing in Thailand now for years.

The Move Forward, for example, it is a group, a party that is relatively new, its former party was disbanded by the military backed party and prime minister. And what it's running on is a policy of structural reform in Thailand, reforming the economy, reforming the military, making sure that the military is no longer involved in politics, they have said and also a subject which was just a few years ago a taboo subject it's now become a public debate, the issue of the once untouchable monarchy and whether or not that two should be reformed.


So really remarkable that this group has had such a significant turnout. And it really is a message to the military backed parties. But of course, we still don't know who exactly is going to win the title of Prime Minister because even though you have two progressive parties who have won the vast majority, and officially at this point of the seats, there is still a chance they may not be able to feel the candidate. Each party puts a candidate forward but the military backed parties have actually changed the Constitution in recent years.

So the deck is stacked in favor of the military backed party. So for example, 500 MPs will decide who's going to be the prime minister, you have an extra 250 Senate members, and they have all been elected by the military backed party. So certainly that is where their allegiance and their loyalties lie.

So there is a lot to come even though at this point, we do know the two progressive parties have won the vast majority of the votes according to the unofficial tally, it's still not certain who will actually lead Thailand. Laila.

HARRAK: Paula Hancocks reporting. Thank you so much. While people are cleaning up and assessing the damage in Southeast Asia after tropical cyclone Mocha, battered Myanmar and Bangladesh with heavy rain and damaging winds, details after the break.

Plus, life is slowly returning to normal in Gaza as a ceasefire eases five days of deadly violence, but many aren't hopeful of lasting peace. Details ahead.


HARRAK: Remnants of what was tropical cyclone Mocha have moved on to Southwestern China now with little more than rain. But now before leaving a trail of destruction in parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The storm made landfall early Sunday along the coast of Northwest Myanmar, winds of more than 200 kilometers an hour, blew the roofs off of buildings uprooted trees and knock down power lines in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

Well, heavy rainfall and strong winds hit the Cox's Bazar area in Bangladesh, but no fatalities have been reported in the Rohingya refugee camps there. Let's get the latest now from CNN's Vedika Sud live for you from New Delhi. Vedika, what more can you tell us?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: I think Laila it's got to be fair to say that Bangladesh has been spared by this severe cyclone and the impact has been more on the western coast of Myanmar at this point. However, in terms of agencies and reaching out to them, they really haven't had much luck with people on the ground as of now in western Myanmar, we essentially talk about Rakhine State in Myanmar, which is on the western coast.


And what we are hearing from the UN and its agencies there is that Sittwe is the city that has been massively impacted at this point. You're right, power lines are down, telecommunications or down. There's no internet there. So very little information coming out from there at the moment, but what we do know is that the low lying areas in Sittwe have been impacted, it's been flooded.

What we also do know is that strong winds rain and storm surge as high as three to 3.5 in heightened meters is impacting the area as we speak.

The biggest takeaway and the biggest relief of Bangladesh is that Cox's Bazar, as you mentioned, has really not been the area where the landfall was initially predicted. It didn't make landfall there, which has been a big relief. However, this cyclone has left behind devastation a path of destruction in the area, because we do know that there are a lot of tin roofs in Cox's Bazar in that area, and that could have led to injuries of people.

People there are saying there have been at least seven injuries as of now in the area. But the focus is on Myanmar in the western course, as I said, a lot of people have been talking about the devastation left behind in Bangladesh. Here's what a farmer had to say.


ABDUR RAHIM, SHOPKEEPER (through translator): I run a shop here. The shop has also been blown away by the storm. I have a betel nut garden, but it also has been destroyed. I've seen the cyclones of 1991 and 1994. But today's was more dangerous.


SUD: And that's what the U.N. is also saying this is one of the strongest cyclones on record in the country. But more details awaited from Myanmar as we speak. We do know it's been heavily impacted. The western coast has been battered, but details will only emerge once there is more communication with Rakhine State. Back to you.

HARRAK: Vedika Sud reporting in New Delhi. Thank you.

Hasina Rahman, The International Rescue committee's Country Director for Bangladesh. Good to have you with us. When the cyclone made landfall there were fears of a humanitarian catastrophe, especially because, of course the storm made its way through some very vulnerable communities. What can you tell us about how the people in the impacted area are doing? Have you been able to reach out to them communicate with them?

HASINA RAHMAN, COUNTRY DIRECTOR FOR BANGLADESH INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Yes. Yes, thank you so much. Have you aware that we have over 900,000 Rohingya refugees living in the camps in Cox's Bazar. And there are around 500,000 (INAUDIBLE) communities, that half of them are extremely vulnerable, also living in poverty.

And, yes, the news of the cyclone there was a lot of like fear and frustration amongst the communities and the Government of Bangladesh, and the aid workers and UN agencies, we've been working together relentlessly on the preparedness to be able to move people to safety and also to make them aware about what to do in case of a cyclone.

And I must say it's been a close call for us in Bangladesh and in the refugee camps. There hasn't been any casualties. There has been -- we see reports of seven injuries. There has been excessive damage within the camps in terms of the shelters because most of the shelters in the camps are temporary in nature, and they're made of toppling and bamboo. So there have been repeated reports of damage in full damage and partial damage of several shelters and also the facilities that are provided by the government and different agencies there has been a sense of damage.

But we are we are very lucky that we -- the preparation that we took for the habit that we were expecting. It was a close call, and we're just really happy that we've been able to contain this damage with minimal loss.

HARRAK: A very close call indeed. What are you most concerned about right now?

RAHMAN: Right now the concern is obviously after the cyclone are they access to the cancers is still restricted. We do have our staff on the ground. IRC runs for 24/7 Primary Health Care Centers. So even during the cyclone, some of our staff were actually based in their locations ready to provide an emergency support as and when needed.

The worry now after the cyclone is there are still risks of landslide happening and there are risks of lightning other facilities and everything not being developed, or reconstructed as quickly enough.


So these are the things that we're looking out for and also providing primary health care services and getting everything up and running as soon as possible. Because the services that are provided within the camps are critical in life saving, any kind of any disruption pretty huge impact the communities that are living there. So assumption of those services and providing immediate support to people who were living in the camps. That will be important.

HARRAK: Hasina Rahman, the International Rescue Committee's country director in Bangladesh, thank you so much for speaking to us. And thank you for the important work that you're doing.

RAHMAN: Thank you so much. Thank you.

HARRAK: Israel says it struck two Hamas military posts in Gaza after a rocket was fired from the area on Sunday. Sources in Gaza tell CNN that the launch was the result of a technical malfunction. Well, the brief skirmish came after Israel and the Islamic Jihad group agreed on a ceasefire and five days of fighting which killed more than 30 Palestinians and one Israeli.

That fragile truce is holding for now in life and Gaza appears to be returning to normal. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel will continue to defend its territory if provoked.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I have said time and again, whoever strikes at us, whoever tries to strike at us, whoever tries to strike us in the future, his blood is forfeit.


HARRAK: Well, despite a truce in place, some Israelis are skeptical about a lasting peace.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think the problem is that there will be no into it. If we were to come to an understanding thanks to the ceasefire it would be good, but we achieved nothing. In a few months, there will be another round one kills the other and nothing happens.


HARRAK: The Egypt brokered ceasefire started on Saturday, but it took more than an hour for the rockets and airstrikes to completely stop. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Gaza and shows us the devastation that deadly fighting has caused.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTENRATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Broken cinder blocks and twisted metal, all that's left of an apartment building once home to more than 40 people. Saturday afternoon a call came from someone identifying himself as Rami from the Israeli military, leave the building now we're going to bomb it, he told Hassan at end. Don't bomb the whole building, Hassan pleaded. Just hit the apartment of the guilty person. There are disabled people here.

Once the building was empty, it was bombed. No one was killed or injured. Between you and me, I thought he was joking. Hassan told me. I didn't expect the house with disabled people would be destroyed impossible. Reached for comment the Israeli military didn't go into specifics, merely claiming they struck command and control centers used by Islamic Jihad for the planning of terrorist activities against Israel. Building residents insisted they didn't know who that target was. Whoever it might have been, this is the result. Dozens of people left without a roof over their heads.

We need a home, says Felastin (ph). The rest we can get 45 people now need a home.

Her neighbor, Bilel Napal (ph) is in shock. We don't have a bed to sleep on. We don't have clothing to wear, he says. We've lost everything.

With only scattered ceasefire violations, calm has returned for now. Gaza's markets are open again. For the more than 2 million residents cooped up in this narrow strip of land. There is no expectation of lasting peace.

56-year-old Musala (ph), a butcher, has lived through all Gaza's woes. The conflict he says will continue until Judgment Day. Armed struggle isn't the priority for most here. They're weary of it all.

Look, not just me. All Palestinians are tired to say the government worker me, you all of us. People worry about their children about their homes. Faded as they are trying to find their way through this never ending vortex of sporadic violence. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaza.


HARRAK: Sudan's military ruler is freezing the bank accounts of the rival Rapid Support Forces is the armed conflict between both sides enters a second month. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan issued the decision on Sunday. It covers all banks in Sudan and or branches abroad. So far there's been no response from the RSF since April 15.


Clashes between the military factions have left hundreds of people dead and thousands more wounded. The fighting in the African nation has also caused a humanitarian crisis.

Still to come, the head of Russia's mercenary fighters says Moscow is lying about the situation in Bakhmut. It comes as Russian forces retreat from the embattled Ukrainian city.

Plus, the U.S. hasn't seen an expected surge in migrants after border restrictions expired. But the country's top immigration official says it may be too soon to tell if the numbers have peaked.


HARRAK: Welcome back to all of our viewers around the world. I'm Laila Harrak, and you're watching CNN Newsroom.

Ukraine's president met with key European allies on Sunday earning pledges of more supports ahead of a counter offensive against Russia. He arrived in Paris on Sunday for talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. Zelenskyy and Macron held a working dinner in a joint statement. France promised to send more armored vehicles and light tanks to Ukraine this year. CNN's Melissa Bell has the story.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: It was a whistle-stop tour of European capitals to shore up allied support for the forthcoming counter-offensive. President Zelenskyy visiting Rome, Berlin and Paris, it was in Rome that he spoke specifically to the counter offensive saying that the first steps would be taken very soon.

Then on Berlin where he was also promised support by Olaf Scholz, just as he had been by the Italian Prime Minister, unwavering support in its continued fight against Russia. President Zelenskyy explaining at a press conference in Berlin, that now was the time he felt this was the year that the war could be won, and that the defeat of Russia, he said, could be irreversible. That is what he's urging allies to ensure they help happen. The Germans pledged a nearly $3 billion military aid package, and within that, 30 of those leopard tanks, that only last year, Germany had hesitated to send a toll.

Then on to Paris where President Zelenskyy met with Emmanuel Macron for a dinner at the Elysee Palace, again, a search for more determined show of support as the world awaits that counter-offensive. President Zelenskyy is to leave Paris on Monday morning.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.

HARRAK: And China is sending a special envoy to Ukraine, Russia and other parts of Europe this week in what Beijing calls an effort to promote peace talks. He reportedly be the highest ranking Chinese official to visit Ukraine since the war began. Let's get you more on this. Let's go to CNN's Beijing Bureau Chief Steven Jiang for more on these developments.


Steven, what are we expecting from these talks?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Laila, really not too much at this stage given how far apart Ukraine and Russia's positions are, not to mention the fighting that's still going on. But from China's perspective, though, they have to do this, especially after that phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Ukrainian counterpart, Zelenskyy, last month. The first such phone call between the two leaders since the Russian invasion, which by the way, that's a term Chinese officials and state media refuse to use, but still, China wants to use this trip to really shore up its credentials as this neutral party. And, you know, it is really interesting here, because in a broader context, the envoy is not only visiting Kyiv and Moscow, but also Germany, France, and Poland. So, this is very much about China's relationship with the European Union as well, which of course, is increasingly a battleground for strategic influence between Washington and Beijing. And Beijing is very mindful that to have a normal, good relationship with Europe when it faces this existential threat from Russia because of this war, they have to do something on this front. That's why Xi Jinping has personally, you know, expressed his commitment to facilitating to peace talks to a flurry of European leaders when they came here in the past few weeks and months. But the -- at the end of the day, though, you have to look at this -- the Chinese playing a long game, according to many analysts, that is they are betting. At some point, the fighting will have to stop, the two sides will have to return to the negotiating table. And at that point, China's huge leverage over Russia, its close ties with Putin will give it leg up in terms of playing this prominent role of a peacemaker as they did with Iran and the Saudi Arabia just a few weeks ago.

But it's also, of course, a testament to how China's self-interest and strategic goals may not always be perfectly aligned. They obviously don't want to see a defeated and weaken Putin in Russia, but at the same time, they want to have a major say and a stake in the reconstruction of post war Ukraine. That explains why they're sending this envoy who, by the way, as a longtime Chinese ambassador to Moscow to all these European capitals now, Laila.

HARRAK: Fascinating. Steven Jiang in Beijing, thank you so much.

And the Russian Ministry of Defense announced on Sunday that two of its commanders had been killed in combat in eastern Ukraine. It was a rare announcement confirming the deaths of high ranking military officials as several have already been killed since the war began in 2022. The ministry did not specify when they were killed, saying only that it was in the Donetsk region.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister announced its forces captured more than 10 Russian positions nearby Bakhmut. He also said Ukrainian forces continue to move forward in the suburbs of the city.

And the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group has accused Russian defense leaders of lying over what he calls Moscow's deteriorating position in Bakhmut. He was responding Friday to his statements from the Ministry of Defense that Russian forces had redeployed to, quote, "more advantageous positions." CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): After months of brutal fighting, the battle for Bakhmut maybe pushing Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin closer to the edge.

Standing in front of the bodies of his dead fighters, he launched into a rant against Russia's military leadership blaming them for the deaths.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, HEAD OF WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY (through translator): You think you were the masters of this life? You think you can dispose of other lives? You think because you have warehouses full of ammunition that you have that right? PLEITGEN (voice-over): For months, Prigozhin and Vladimir Putin's top generals Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov have been mired in severe infighting. But now the Wagner boss' tirades are becoming more vicious and more frequent, accusing Russia's defense minister of withholding much needed ammo.

PRIGOZHIN (through translator): Instead of using a shell to kill an enemy and saving one of our soldiers' lives, they are killing our soldiers.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): In a country where 1000s have been jailed for criticizing Vladimir Putin's war, Prigozhin is getting away with his tantrums. That's because Putin doesn't fully trust his own military and needs Prigozhin, Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov believes.

ANDREI SOLDATOV, JOURNALIST: He is extremely paranoid about control and political stability. Prigozhin on is a tool to, if not to keep the military in check, at least to keep them off balance.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The infighting seems to be costing Russia both lives and momentum. Ukraine's army now says it is making gains in Bakhmut. And while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his force is long anticipated counter offensive has not yet started, Prigozhin today, once again, accusing the Russian army of cutting and running.

PRIGOZHIN (through translator): Those territories that were liberated with the blood and lives of our comrades every day progressed by dozens or hundreds of meters during many months, today are abandoned almost without any fight by those who are supposed to hold our flanks.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Bakhmut was supposed to be a much needed win for Vladimir Putin, but now it could ring in major problems to come, Andrei Soldatov says.

SOLDATOV: I think he is nervous, which learns that you cannot trust completely what his people are telling him.


HARRAK: And that was Fred Pleitgen reporting for you.

And there are reports that four Russian military aircraft were shot down on Saturday within Russia's own territory. If confirmed, the incidents would mark a significant victory for Ukraine. Social media videos geo located by CNN show at least one helicopter crashing near a town in Russia's Bryansk region 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The governor of Bryansk confirmed that a helicopter had crashed and injured one civilian but gave no details on the cause.

Another video showed a massive column of black smoke after an aircraft came down in the same region. Ukraine hasn't confirmed that it was involved in the reported downings but says the aircraft, quote, "ran into some trouble."

He was Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas says it's too early to know if the number of migrants at the southern border has peaked after the expiration of Title 42. Officials had been expecting a migration surge after the Trump era regulation expired last Thursday. But so far, the numbers have shown a decrease in activity at the border. Mayorkas told CNN that daily border encounters had fallen by about 50 percent since the final days of Title 42. He credits the low numbers to the administration's message that migrants should not enter the country illegally.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We have communicated very clearly a vitally important message to the individuals who are thinking of arriving at our southern border. There is a lawful, safe and orderly way to arrive in the United States. That is through the pathways that President Biden has expanded in an unprecedented way. And then there's a consequence if one does not use those lawful pathways.


HARRAK: Well, many of the migrants who come to the United States do so with their families, in some cases with small or even newborn children. CNN's Polo Sandoval spoke with several migrant mothers in El Paso, Texas, about why they decided to make the long and dangerous journey.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Step inside this shelter in the heart of El Paso, Texas and you'll find people waiting in limbo. They're migrant families. Some single mothers who told us they were recently processed and released by border authorities. While some children visibly exhausted nap inside, others play in the courtyard. The young minds spared the anguish of moms and dads trying to figure out when or even if they can continue the rest of the journey.

In what can easily become a hopeless space, it seems the migrant mothers keep hope alive here. Conny Barahona keeps it together for Daniela (ph), her nine-year-old. She says to have her older daughters ages 18 and 20 remain in federal detention.

It will be a sad Mother's Day, she tells, me my daughter's won't be by my side. In the last three days, Barahona turned down coveted opportunities to travel to Houston refusing to go anywhere without all her daughters.

We left Honduras together and that's how we must remain until God allows, the single mother says. She forged a friendship with fellow migrant mom, Yescotty Gonzalez (ph), who left South America three months ago with a partner and their son Jason (ph).

We found another motherly bond in this corner of the shelter where Yovnella Falcon (ph) receives help and caring for baby Yeremy (ph) just two weeks old. His mom tells me she carried I'm from Venezuela to Texas where she went into labor immediately after stepping onto U.S. soil.


All of the migrant mothers we spoke to say maternal instinct to provide for the children is what drove them to make the perilous journey in the first place.

A parent will do anything to see their children safe says Barahona. A hug from Daniella seems to help ease any of mom's sorrows. Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. A seamstress like mom.


On Sunday, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, reported that they have experienced about a 50 percent decrease in the total number of migrant encounters all along the border. That number was roughly 10,000 leading up to the expiration of Title 42. That has slowly been dropping on Saturday, that number about 4,200.

Now, in terms of the number that will continue to rise is that number of asylum seekers turning to cities throughout the United States, as many of them don't remain in these border communities. They move to cities like Denver, Colorado, Chicago, Washington and certainly New York City for the duration of their immigration proceedings. Polo Sandoval, CNN, El Paso, Texas.

HARRAK: Well, the world may be one step closer to harnessing the power of the sun here on earth.


TAMMY MA, LEAD, INERTIAL FUSION ENERGY INITIATIVE: Every time we do a shot, it's 1,000 times the power of the entire U.S. electrical grid.


HARRAK: When CNN Newsroom continues, we'll take you inside a laboratory trying to make Fusion Electricity of reality.


HARRAK: Welcome back. For decades, researchers have been trying to find alternative sources of energy while a way to create power that's both plentiful and practical, which won't poison our planet. Well, how -- now it seems, rather, humankind is on the verge of harnessing the elusive power of the stars. CNN Chief Climate correspondent Bill Weir tells us about the latest breakthrough in nuclear fusion.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside this building, some very smart people built a star on Earth. Not the Hollywood kind, that's easy, no, the burning ball of gas in the sky kind. One of the hardest things humans have ever tried.

MA: I was at the airport when my boss called me and I burst into tears.

WEIR (voice-over): Tammy Ma is among the scientists who have been chasing nuclear fusion for generations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes down for shot on my mark, three, two, one mark.

WEIR (voice-over): And in the middle of a December night, they didn't.

(on camera): And you only need a tiny little bit of fuel?

MA: That's right. Yes. Because our little pellet, that sits right in the middle, you can't even see it on this target, is just two millimeters in diameter.

WEIR (voice-over): That target includes an abundant isotope found in seawater and goes into a chamber about the size of a beach ball in the 60s but it's now a round room 30 feet across with 192 massive lasers aimed at the center.


MA: They're big laser beams about 40 by 40 centimeters.

WEIR (on camera): Wow.

MA: Each one alone is one of the most energetic in the world. Every time we do a shot, it's 1000 times the power of the entire U.S. electrical grid.

WEIR (on camera): Wow.

MA: But your lights will flicker at home when we take a shot. So what we're doing is taking huge amount of energy and compressing it down and just in 10 nanoseconds.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

MA: So it's about $14 of electricity.

WEIR (voice-over): The National Ignition Facility then amplifies all that concentrated energy on the target. And if they get it just right, more energy comes out than when in with no risk of nuclear meltdown or radioactive waste.

MA: In a fusion power plant, you would shoot the same target over and over at about 10 times a second, dropping a targeted and shooting it with laser.

WEIR (on camera): So you'd need a target loader like a machine gun or something, right?

MA: We need a target loader, exactly. So there's still many, many technology jumps that we need to make. But that's what makes it so exciting. Right?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, U.S. SECRETARY OF ENERGY: A lot of people were saying, you've invested all this money, it's time to pull the plug because you guys haven't achieved ignition.

WEIR (on camera): Right.

GRANHOLM: I mean, it's called the National Ignition Facility, right?

WEIR (on camera): At some point you better get that work --

GRANHOLM: At some point, you better ignite. Yes, exactly.

WEIR (on camera): -- to ignite something.

GRANHOLM: I mean, it's really hard to replicate the process that's happening on the sun on Earth. It's just really hard. And so, when that happened in December, what it said is that this is actually possible. So, it's no longer a question of whether, it's just a question of when that fusion is actually possible. Now, let's get to work.


WEIR: Well, conventional wisdom and the International Energy Agency tells us it'll be decades before anybody's really plugging anything into Fusion Electricity. There is a startup called helium, which says they have a reactor that can fire plasma rings at a million miles an hour and will demonstrate electricity by next year. And in fact, in a first of a kind, power purchase agreement, Microsoft has already bought fusion electricity from helium for the year 2028. The future is coming fast. Bill Weir, CNN, in Northern California.

HARRAK: About 200,000 people in central Somalia have been forced to flee their homes. Heavy rainfall last week cause the Shebelle River to overflow sending gushing water into the streets. Roads and buildings were submerged. The U.N. says at least 22 people have died. And people who were able to get out waded through the streets with what little belongings they could carry. Somalia often faces extreme weather during the rainy season. And for many there, it's becoming a familiar pattern.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We fled from the flash floods that submerge the city like so many others. People ran out of the city to safety. For four days, the floods poured massively into the city.


HARRAK: Lions in Kenya are getting too close to humans and that's having deadly consequences. Conservationists say at least 10 lions were killed in the southern part of the country last week. And that includes one of Africa's oldest lions, 19-year-old Loonkiito. They say he wandered out of his protected area and into a livestock pen to look for food and the owner of the livestock killed him. The Kenya Wildlife Service met with people to discuss the problem. It says drought conditions increase human lion conflict because wild prey become harder to catch. So lions start going after farm animals.

Coming up, instead of looking out his window to see sun in the morning, what -- he sees fish, rather, why a man has been living underwater for months at a time.



HARRAK: More than eight years after ISIS fighters destroyed or damaged priceless artifacts at the Mosul Cultural Museum in Iraq, a major effort is underway to try and restore the building and some of its pieces. Since 2019, French restoration experts have been working with locals to give new life to centuries old Assyrian antiquities. Now, the project is in its second stage and it will focus on renovating the building itself. If all goes according to plan, the museum hopes to reopen to visitors by 2026.

A researcher in the U.S. state of Florida has set a new record for the longest time living underwater. On Saturday, diving explore and medical researcher Joseph Dituri spends his 74th day in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Key Largo. He's been living at this lodge 30 feet below sea level since March 1. And he plans to stay there until June 9, which would be his 100th. Day underwater.

Unlike a submarine the lodge doesn't have technology to adjust for the increased pressure underwater. And that's what Dituri is studying, how his body responds to long term exposure to this extreme environment.


JOSEPH DITURI, DIVING EXPLORER: The idea here is to populate the world's oceans to take care of the world's oceans by living in them and really treating them well. Not necessarily, oh, just make another record.


HARRAK: And finally this hour, a very happy birthday to the world's oldest dog. Bobi turned 31 years old this past week in southern Portugal, and his family threw him a big party complete with local meats and fish, and even a dance performance. His owner says Bobi is in good health largely due to the calm, peaceful environment of his rural village, even though he's gotten a ton of attention as the Guinness World Record holder. He's not just the oldest living dog, he is the oldest one ever recorded.

Happy birthday, Bobi.

Thanks so much for spending this part of your day with me. I'm Laila Harrak. Do stay with us. My colleague, Rosemary Church will be back with more news in just a moment. Have a great day.