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CNN International: Some Syrians Angered to See Arab Leaders Welcome Assad; Heavy Flooding Kills 11 People in Italy, Orange Alert Issued; Rafael Nadal to Miss Tournament Due to Injury. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 19, 2023 - 04:30   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo. If you are just joining us, let me bring you up to date with some of today's top stories.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will travel to Japan this weekend for the G7 summit. He'll also attend the Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia. This comes as his country is preparing for a spring counteroffensive against Russia, and the need for more military aid is increasing.

Negotiations in Washington continue over raising the U.S. borrowing limit. U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he can see a path to a deal and wants Congress to vote on a Bill next week.

The high-level Arab League Summit is set to begin in just a few hours, as leaders gather in Saudi Arabia. This year marks the controversial return of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. He arrived in Jeddah on Thursday ahead of the gathering. His first ever Arab League Summit since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Mr. Assad still controls vast swaths of Syria, though he remains a world pariah, with sanctions on this country. Many Syrians are angry and disheartened to see the Arab world welcome the Syrian president back into the fold, after years of killing and brutalizing his own people. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has this story.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Assad or we burn the country, vowed his supporters, and the country burned. It was a regime's existential battle, where no holds were barred. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost, maybe many more. And millions forced into a miserable existence far from home, victims of a civil war.

Their pain was the worlds to see. Atrocity so shocking, yet the world did little. 12 years on, Assad still denies attacking civilians and claims he was fighting terrorism. Now the ruthless president who unleashed hell on his people with the help of his ally, Russia, is not only a free man, he's now welcomed in some world capitals with red carpets and handshakes. WAFA MOSTAFA, SYRIAN ACTIVIST, FATHER MISSING IN SYRIA: And defeat is something that, you know, one, at some point, must accept. But this is beyond any conversation about defeat or win. This is about, you know, this is about the man who is responsible for the pain and for the suffering that I've been going through in the past 10 years.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Wafa Mostafa counts the days since she last saw her father, more than 3,600 days of searching, waiting, campaigning. Ali Mustafa vanished into the black hole of the regime's prison system, one of more than 130,000 forcibly disappeared by the regime.

MOSTAFA: In living years of your life, wondering every night before you go to sleep, if your own father is still alive or not, is something that, you know, hard to explain and hard to describe. Instead of normalizing Assad now after 12 years, they should have, you know, hold him accountable for the war crimes he'd committed, for the war crimes that he is most importantly for the war crimes he is still committing.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Bringing Bashar al-Assad back into the regional fold, Arab leaders argue is for stability in the Middle East. Is for an end to a refugee burden, its neighbors say, they no longer can bear.


Those who survived his brutal battle for survival now facing a new Middle East, a new reality where they fear they may be forced back to the horrors of Assad's regime.

NABIL AL-OTHMAN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST, REFUGEE IN TURKEY (through translation): It's a monstrous regime in every sense of the word. We heard from many detainees what they went through. I'm from Idlib where he used chemical weapons and banned weaponry against us.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): 27-year-old Nabil Al-Othman is a former rebel, now an activist. Like millions of other Syrians, he found safety in Turkey. But with anti-immigrant sentiments on the rise and the fate of Syrian refugees now at the heart of the country's political debate, Syrians feel their safe space is shrinking.

AL-OTHMAN (through translation): Even if the whole world normalizes this regime, Syrians will never trust it. For me going back to this monstrous criminal was impossible. If I return, I'll be sent straight to jail, torture and to my death. If they want to forcibly returned me, I'll try to get to Europe.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): For more than a decade, they begged the world to end their nightmare. But they were left to face it all alone, and now face a world where their oppressor got away with it.

MOSTAFA: I think that instead of welcoming Assad to Riyadh, I think he should be welcome to the ICC. There is still this hope that, you know, my father will be free. I might be able to save him one day. But, you know, normalization feels like the end of everything. It feels like the end of this hope. It feels like the end of, you know, what started in 2011 and it was like the end of my life.


CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins me now live. Jomana, what's been the reaction from Syrians as Assad arrives at the summit?

KARADSHEH (on camera): Well, you know, Bianca, people will tell you that Assad rejoining the Arab League, being readmitted again after all these years, after all he has done to his people and his country. Is really more symbolic than anything. But it is a very painful moment for a lot of Syrians who are watching this. Watching him arrive in Jeddah yesterday. Coming out of the plane, looking relaxed, all smiles, to handshakes and red carpets. That really is a very, very painful moment.

And Syrian activists will tell you that this is not just a shameful moment, as they scribe it, for the Arab world, for Arab leaders, they say that this is also very, very dangerous. This sort of victory lap trip that he is on right now is in dangerous precedent, they say. What kind of message does this send to dictators and autocrats and people like Assad who have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

I mean, Bianca, his regime according to legal experts, there is more evidence against that regime, than there was against the Nazis in Nuremberg. This is one of the most documented wars of our time. And then you have the man accused of leading that regime, accused of all of these atrocities, arriving to the sort of welcome, and being admitted into the Arab League.

And they will also tell you, Bianca, that what happened in Syria, the fact that there was total impunity, that nobody was held accountable. The regime itself as a whole was not held accountable for what happened. Bashar al-Assad not being held accountable and as well as his Russian allies. The Russians who have also supported him in his campaign to recapture much of the country, and all of the brutality and killings, and strikes, that we saw over the years.

And they will tell you, the fact that this happened, the fact that no one was held accountable, that that emboldened President Putin. That it allowed for the war in Ukraine to happen. This is what a lot of Syrians feel.

And today, Bianca, we are hearing from the Arab diplomats saying that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine is going to be at that Arab summit, this highly, they're high-level summit taking place in Saudi Arabia. So, seeing Bashar al-Assad and Zelenskyy in that same summit is going to be something that everybody is going to be watching and how that all plays out. Of course, especially as you have many of the Arab countries with very close ties to Russia -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Jomana, thank you so much. And you make a very important point about how that impunity can embolden and have unintended consequences for others around the world as well. Thank you so much.

Ten days before Turkey's runoff election, the president's rival vowed to send all migrants and refugees back to their home the countries. Kemal Kilicdaroglu's bold promise is aimed at securing support of a third candidate, right wing secularist Sinan Ogan, who netted just over 5 percent of the vote and is now poised to play kingmaker in all of this.


Kilicdaroglu needs his backing to have any real chance of beating the incumbent president, who barely fell short of an outright majority.


KEMAL KILICDAROGLU, TURKISH OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): I announced it to you here. I will send all of the refugees home, as soon as I come to power. Period.


NOBILO: And a programming note, for our international viewers, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joins CNN's Becky Anderson for an exclusive, in-depth interview for the head of Turkey's first ever presidential runoff.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: So, up until last Sunday, you had comfortably won every election that you have competed in. That is a remarkable record over 20 years. Now your leadership is challenged, and you are competing in the first ever presidential runoff in Turkish history. How confident are you, sir?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): The current competitor has been challenging us for 15 times now and he was defeated each time that he challenged us. And the forthcoming runoff elections which will be held next Sunday. I feel confident that my people will invest in a strong Turkish democracy. And I hope and play that out of the runoff elections, our people will not let us down.


NOBILO: Our international viewers can watch the full interview with President Erdogan on "CONNECT THE WORLD" at 5:00 p.m. in Istanbul. 10:00 p.m. in Hong Kong and that is 3:00 p.m. here in London.

More heavy rain falling across parts of Italy, as authorities continue searching for people who are missing in these storms. We will have a live report from Rome, coming up after the break.



NOBILO: Welcome back. Another round of heavy rain across Italy today, prompting authorities to issue an orange alert for parts of the northwestern and southern region for heavy rain and high winds. And rescue workers continue to pull more people from floodwaters and mudslides in the northern region. At least 11 people have been killed and about 20,000 people have been forced to work from their homes this week because of this weather. Joining me now is CNN contributor, Barbie Nadeau live for us from Rome. Barbie, what more can you tell us?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, we are really hearing about more evacuations as some of the smaller rivers are starting to crest, putting a lot of people in danger. And we're still getting reports of really harrowing rescue operations, let's take a look at what we saw from yesterday.


NADEAU (voice-over): Thousands of evacuations continue in Northern Italy after deadly floods and landslides wiped out key infrastructure. Several people died and rescuers continue to search for the missing. A pregnant woman was lifted to safety by the Coast Guard called in to help with water evacuations.

An elderly couple evacuated from their home overnight. Bridges washed away have hampered rescue operations. Roads have become impassable.

FAUSTO CASANOVA, SUPERVISOR, PROVINCIAL HIGHWAY (through translator): We close the road to Forli-Cesena (ph) after the flooding of the river Cordana (ph). A torrent flooded on the via Amelia in the Castel (INAUDIBLE) area. The Mata (ph) bridge collapsed near Osuna ala Amelia (ph). The situation is very complicated. The only road available to reach Faenza and Ravenna is the Via Emelia (ph). The highway is closed due to flooding.

NADEAU (voice-over): The floods have even sparked fires.

KELI SHARK, FAENZA RESIDENT (through translator): I was expecting the river to rise after the red alert warning came through. But instead of breaking through in two or three places, it burst its banks and the water came with no warning. What can we do? We're waiting for the help of civil protection teams. They're not here at the moment. So, we're helping in order to save our houses. What can we do other than that, we'll wait until someone helps.

NADEAU (voice-over): Residents who can't stay with friends and family are being housed in local cinemas and museums. Weather conditions are expected to improve slightly before another system moves in.


NADEAU (on camera): And now you know when we see the sort of lull in the weather today, they are expecting more rain in the coming days. It won't quite be as heavy as they say as it was before. But we're also seeing warnings, as you mentioned, of rain and wind all across the country. Which is going to put those rescue operations probably under a lot of pressure across the whole country -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Barbie Nadeau for us in Rome, thank you.

A man has been arrested after driving through a Vatican security gate Thursday night -- that is according to Vatican news which sites the Vatican press room. From the car scene here, meandering around the square. Security guards reportedly prevented him from entering when he was first approached. Moments later he returned at high speed and rammed through the gates. He made it to a courtyard where he got out of the vehicle and police then arrested him. A doctor assessed the man and said that he was, quote, experiencing a serious state psychophysical alteration.

Scientists in Abu Dhabi are researching aspects of the date pod that are, well, the pits. Dates are a healthy, delicious but the pits inside not so much. However, researchers may have discovered a new use for the seeds. And as CNN's Christina Macfarlane shows us in today's "BOLD PURSUITS," it's a bit fishy apparently.


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The humble date palm tree. It's as synonymous with the Middle East as oil and sand.

MACFARLANE: But as delicious as states are, we're not here for the sweet stuff. We're here for this.

MACFARLANE (voice-over): With its oval shape and size of an almond, date pits are the leftover byproduct during processing. And over the last few years, these mounds of date pits have been the focus of scientific experience in this Abu Dhabi university.

ERIN LIM, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, FACULTY OF HEALTHY SCIENCES HIGHER COLLEGES OF TECHNOLOGY, ABU DHABI: I notice that there's a lot of waste generated from the pits. So, I focused my research interests in isolating compounds from the pits.

MACFARLANE (voice-over): Grinding the date pits into fine power, Erin and her team say that they found them rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals and fibers. They also discovered that they have antimicrobial properties. Meaning they could be used to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses.

LIM: I then decided to see if date pits could be used towards aquaculture.

MACFARLANE (voice-over): Aquacultural fish farming is a massive global industry.


LIM: I moved into looking whether the extracts from the date pits could be used as potential food additives into the fish feed to further enhance fish growth which is of commercial interest to the fish farmers. And also, to look into if we can use them for prevention of disease.

MACFARLANE (voice-over): They have added the date pits seeds to fish feed. And say that it can be used to enhance the growth of fish. They also think that the date seed could provide a natural antibiotic in the fight against diseases in fish. LIM: We found very good antimicrobial activity against common fish


MACFARLANE (voice-over): Over the next few months they will apply their findings in lab-based trials on actual fish.

LIM: Possibly in the next 1 to 2 years, once we have conducted field trials we could possibly go into large-scale production.

MACFARLANE (voice-over): Erin's discoveries are finding a use for date pit waste, a news source of fish feed, and potentially leading to breakthroughs in the treatments of diseases in fish.


NOBILO: A major change is coming to Starbucks -- ice drinks. Are you ready for "Nugget Ice."? I will explain to you and myself after the break.



NOBILO: Tennis star Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the upcoming French Open Due to injury. It's the first time he'll missed the tournament since he made his debut in 2005. The Spaniard, who has won 22 major titles, also said that 2024 will probably be his last year in professional tennis.

Nadal suffered and hip injury during the second-round defeat at the Australian Open in January. The French Open begins on Monday.

Starbucks ice coffee is about to get an overhaul, the company is switching from the large cubes, that you can see pressed against the side of these drinks, to what is known as "Nugget Ice." Also called pellet ice or even chewy ice. The tiny little cubes have their fans, but some customers worry that they will water down the drinks or even change the texture. Starbucks insists that they will not melt any faster, nor will the drink and up with any less ice. That is good to know.

A Hollywood icon is celebrating at Cannes. Legendary actor, Harrison Ford was presented with an honorary Palme d'Or. Which is akin to a lifetime achievement award at the film festival on Thursday. The actor, whose long list of films includes the "Indiana Jones" series and "star wars," was visibly moved by receiving the award. He says he was very touched, and told the audience, you've given my life purpose and meaning, and I am grateful for that. Very well deserved.

And award-winning rapper and film star Chris "Ludacris" Bridges has earned his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was unveiled by his "Fast and Furious" Costar, Vin Diesel as well as LL Cool J, who influenced his music career. Ludacris has sold more than 24 million albums worldwide. He's been on tour, opening for Janet Jackson. And he is starring in "Fast X." The tenth film in the "Fast and Furious" franchise. That does that here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London. You

all have a wonderful weekend. I'll see you on Monday. "EARLY START" with Christine Romans is coming up next.