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Zelenskyy Heads Home From G7 Summit; Greece's Conservative Party Wins Big In National Election; Sudan's Paramilitary RSF Says Will Abide By Short-Term Ceasefire; Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan Speaks To CNN; Film Industry's Biggest Starts Shine Bright At Cannes. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 22, 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, Ukraine's President heading home from the G7 summit where he got a strong show of support from key allies and took another step towards securing advanced fighter jets for his country.

And Greece's ruling conservative party supports a big win in Sunday's election, but can't really form a ruling coalition. Do they even want to?

Plus, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan talks to CNN about his recent arrest, and he believes the country's government is violating his rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center. This is CNN Newsroom with Laila Harrak.

HARRAK: Japan's Prime Minister says G7 nations are striving to bring just and lasting peace to Ukraine as soon as possible. The group wrapped up their high stakes summits in Japan on Sunday, which included a visit from the Ukrainian president.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy headed home from Hiroshima with pledges of unwavering support and more military aid for his country. U.S. President Joe Biden alone announced a new security assistance package worth $375 million as the two leaders sat down for talks.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Zelenskyy also pushed back on claims that his troops may have lost the embattled city of Bakhmut, where fighting has raged for months.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Now our people are accomplishing a very important mission. They are now in Bakhmut. I will not share where exactly but it witnesses that Bakhmut is not occupied by Russian Federation as of today. There are no two or three interpretations of those words.


HARRAK: Well, one day after claiming to have control of the bitterly contested city of Bakhmut, Wagner chief Yevgeny Pregorgen says his forces will be pulling out of Ukraine on Thursday. You can see that the city has been completely decimated after the intense fighting with the people's homes now just a mass of concrete and rubble.

And the constant shelling has left most of the buildings charred. Pregorgen says Wagner will hand over its positions to the Russian military. But there's been no response on that yet from the Russian Ministry of Defense, and a top Ukrainian commander who visited troops on frontline near Bakmut says his forces control an insignificant part of the city, although they've made significant progress in the suburbs and other areas immediately outside the city.

Meantime, President Zelenskyy is closer to obtaining the long desired F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine after a very eventful agenda at that G7 summit in Hiroshima. CNN's Nic Robertson has the story.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (on camera): Well, undoubtedly getting agreement on the F-16 fighter aircraft was the single biggest takeaway from -- for President Zelenskyy at the G7. In fairness, there was a lot of diplomatic legwork done in advance. But by virtue of having all those leaders there together, it gave a focus point to bring an agreement to conclusion and President Zelenskyy spoke in a press conference afterwards, not just about the importance of the F-16 aircraft to help give the Ukrainian Air Force better reach, better able to tackle the threat for the Russian forces. But he said that he by virtue of being there in the room face to face with the leaders, he gets better results that way.

So bringing everything together, bringing allies and partners together showing unity to Russia, that they're unified behind Ukraine was important. But for Zelenskyy, I think just having this meeting, being there in person, with so many allies is a bolster and certainly, that's what we hear on the ground here. Talk to commanders and troops at the frontline that F-16 very important for them and knowing in this very, very hard fight against Russia, a much bigger enemy in this hard and tough fight. They know they've got allies and partners in the rest of the world that are supporting them.

But I think the other takeaway from the G7 was that President Zelenskyy was able to meet with people like the Prime Minister of India, the leader of Indonesia as well, and try to break the Russian narrative of victimhood, that Russia is the victim of Western and NATO aggression.


To put it plainly to these leaders who say, look, Russia has invaded our territory. And this is going to be very important when President Zelenskyy is looking at these nations around the table of the United Nations, ultimately trying to get a peace deal agreed with the U.N. and for these other countries to put some kind of pressure and bring some reality to bear on Russia.

So the takeaway for Zelenskyy a big trip, a big reach around the world, a big diplomatic reach, and take away successes when those F-16 actually arrived, and are in service. Not clear, but for Zelenskyy a good trip to Japan. Nic Robertson, CNN, Eastern Ukraine.


HARRAK: Beijing and Moscow are lashing out at G7 countries after G7 leaders slammed what they called China's economic coercion and pledged new measures targeting Russia. While Beijing has now summoned Japan's ambassador to China accusing Tokyo of collaborating with other countries to quote smear and attack China during the summit.

And as the G7 summit in Japan, it's worth noting that China was hosting its own summit with leaders from Central Asian nations.

CNN's Anna Coren is following developments for you and she joins us now live from Hong Kong. Good to see you, Anna. Tough messaging at the G7 did not go down well with Beijing. What has been the regional reaction?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it hasn't gone down well at all, Laila. China, in fact has voiced its anger towards a G7 countries in particular, the host Japan after summoning Japan's ambassador to China to express serious de Marche regarding discussions about China during the three day summit in Hiroshima.

China's increasing aggression and Russia's war in Ukraine was very much top of the agenda.

Let me read you some of the statement released by China's Foreign Ministry late last night following Japan's dressing down it reads quote, Japan as the host of the G7 collaborated with relevant countries to smear and attack China in a series of activities and in the joint communique. It went on to say that such activities have grossly interfered in China's Internal Affairs violated the basic principles of international law and the spirit of the for political documents between China and Japan.

Now, at the summit, the leaders of the world's richest democracies were very much united in their growing concern over China, you know, stressing the need to obviously cooperate with the world's second largest economy, but also to counter its, quote, malign practices and collusion in that joint communique.

The U.S. as we know, it views China as the most serious, long term challenge to the international order. And this was backed up by the British prime minister at the G7, who said that China poses quote, the greatest challenge of our age in regards to global prosperity and security.

The leaders of the G7 also pledged new measures targeting Russia, as you mentioned, Laila, to choke off its ability to finance and fuel it's war on Ukraine. And that surprise visit by President Zelenskyy certainly cemented leaders resolve and commitment. We heard from the U.S. President Joe Biden pledging ongoing support to Ukraine saying we have Ukraine's back.

As you mentioned, you know, both China and Russia they hit back at the statements. Russia's Foreign Minister slam the Group of Seven for indulging in their own greatness with an agenda that aim to obviously deter Russia and China.

China's foreign ministry it accused G7 leaders of hindering international peace, and said the need of the group needed I should say to reflect on its behavior and change course.

Laila, it's very clear that after this G7 the world is even more polarized and divided those opportunities to obviously engage in constructive dialogue are becoming less and less likely.

HARRAK: Not a good prospect. Anna Coren reporting for you live from Hong Kong. Thank you very much.

So now focusing out to Greece, where the ruling conservative party has won Sunday's parliamentary election, but fell short of the majority needed to form a government. With most votes counted New Democracy took a significant lead with more than 40 percent of the votes, trouncing the opposition leftist Syriza which got only around 20 percent. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed his party's when calling it a political earthquake.


KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I am proud. I am also touched as I feel the heavy responsibility that has been placed on my shoulders by such an impressive percentage. I pledge that I will work even harder in order to honor your trust. The dynamic of the result is more than clear.


Citizens want a strong government with a horizon a four-year term with bolder changes, so that we can cover the lost ground that separates us from Europe even faster.


HARRAK: While the prime minister also ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition, which will likely set the stage for another election, in about a month or so. Meanwhile, the opposition says they will now focus on the second round.


ALEXIS TSIPRAS, OPPOSISTION SYNZA PARTY LEADER (through translator): The election period is not over yet, as they will most likely be a second round. Therefore, we don't have the margin of time. We must immediately make all the necessary changes to have the best possible terms and the next crucial and final electoral battle.


HARRAK: Well, joining me now from Athens, Greece is Fanis Papathanasiou, a senior international correspondent with Greek Public Television. A very good morning, Fanis. Thank you so much for joining us. An astounding results -- absolutely an astounding result, the incumbent describes the outcome of this election as a political earthquake. Put this in perspective for us if he will. Did anybody see this coming and why is it a political earthquake?

FANIS PAPATHANASIOU, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, ERT, GREECE: It isn't earthquake becauseKyriakos Mitsotakis has managed to have a huge win and historic win over the center, left opposition party of Alexis Tsipras. It is the biggest margin since the first dictatorship elections in 1974. Mitsotakis convinced the Greek people that he's the best candidate to lead Greece for the next four years, and he asked for a second chance.

During the campaign, he spoke about the future prioritizing a positive narrative, while his opponent Alexis Tsipras focused on the negative. Mitsotakis has apparently emerges and skated despite being criticized in regard to tragedy, a real tragedy (INAUDIBLE) at the center of Greece despite also the greatest influence by spying scandal, and concerns about the rule of law. So it is a political earthquake here in Greece.

HARRAK: That is very remarkable, is it? Isn't it, Fanis, because none of those very serious scandals really stuck to him at all? What does this outcome signal to you about the Greek electorate and its state of mind right now?

PAPATHANASIOU: The Greek people want to focus on the future. So, Greece has emergence Laila from a long economic crisis that without a nearly 1/4 of its economic output. One challenge for Prime Minister Mitsotakis on his second term is to speed up the power potential for the country. So he spoke about the positive side on this.

So he wants now in autonomous government, that you will give him a chance with a fresh, strong mandate to push for critical economic reforms and to lead for more investments. That's the thing that made the difference, because he spoke about the future. He spoke about the growth of the gig economy.

HARRAK: Now, what happens now, Mr. Mitsotakis does not want to form a coalition.

PAPATHANASIOU: Yes, despite the fact that the Greek Prime Minister has warned by a double digit lead, he cannot form a single party government. Therefore, the Prime Minister cannot form a government without finding a coalition partner. But this huge win an historic win, as I said before, many analysts predict that he will not even try with this win to form a coalition government. He wants an autonomous government that will give him a chance to govern, to rule with one single party government.

So definitely we will have new elections at the end of June, probably, or early July, with a new electoral system. This, which is going to be applied will give a bonus of 20 to 50 parliamentary seats to the government and a change. We're starting autonomous government for the Prime Minister Mitsotakis.

HARRAK: How easy will it be to animate Greek voters, you know, for a second time round to come out and vote.

PAPATHANASIOU: Greeks, like election, it's going to be easy. Even though we are going to be in the middle of the summer, people will go and vote and people predict here that he's going to be a big winner and this new election round.

HARRAK: But in the meantime, what are the options for Syriza? What is behind their poor performance? Will they be able to turn that around? Will there need to be a change in leadership? And what would it mean if Mr. Tsipras were to depart from the party?


PAPATHANASIOU: That's a big challenge the good question. Now the problem is for elected Tsipras, the left leader of the opposition will fail to convince the voters that his party Syriza offers alternative government option to Mitsotakis' policy.

So the main opposition leader has bigger challenge now because has to lead Syriza to these elections after a huge defeat for his party, with no chances to win, and many analysts predict that it will lose even more voters to other parties like PASOK and to a New Left Party, the cause of liberty for who is led by a former colleague of Alexis Tsipras, Zoe Konstantopoulou, a former Speaker of the House.

HARRAK: Interesting times ahead in Greece. Fanis Papathanasiou, thank you so much for joining us and explaining all.


HARRAK: Still ahead, Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan talks to CNN about his ongoing standoff with the military and concerns about his safety details ahead. Plus, typhoon Mawar is slowing down and gaining strength in the Pacific. We'll have an update for you on the track of this powerful storm.


HARRAK: The two warring sides of Sudan both voiced their commitment Sunday to a week long ceasefire, raising hopes for millions of desperate civilians. The Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have agreed to the U.S. and Saudi brokered ceasefire that set to begin Monday evening.

Now it's hoped that the ceasefire will enable aid groups to get vital supplies through to civilians trapped by the conflict. At least 850 people have been killed, almost 3,400 wounded and millions displaced because of the fighting. And both for instance on Sunday called for the two warring parties to quote set aside their weapons.

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is lashing out at the law and order situation in his country. Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Khan says there is quote, no rule of law in the Pakistani government is violating the Constitution and his rights.

Mr. Khan has been involved in a tense standoff with the country's military for months now that has deepened political instability and lead to violent protests.

Let's get you more now we want to hit to CNN's Paul Hancocks, who joins us live from Seoul, South Korea. Paula, tell us more about what he told Fareed Zakaria.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laila, Imran Khan effectively said that that democracy is being dismantled in Pakistan criticizing the current governments and also the military supporters behind it.

Now he did point out that his house in Lahore, he's been holed up there since being released on bail on May 13th. He said that it is surrounded by police at this point, who alleged that there are quote, terrorists inside talking about those that they believe were involved in some of the violent clashes after the arrest of Imran Khan earlier this month.

Now, what he has been saying to Fareed Zakaria is that he is concerned that some of those that have been arrested are also going to be tried in military courts, something which has been criticized by human rights organizations and something which Imran Khan says should not happen.


IMRAN KHAN, FORMER PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: Everything is being done to dismantle our democracy. So right now, as we speak, over 10,000 workers have been arrested. My entire senior leadership is in jail. And Tuesday, I'm going to make an appearance for various bills in Islamabad, 80 percent chances are that I will be arrested. So right now, there is no rule of law.


HANCOCKS: Imran Khan says that if he is arrested, he understands many of his supporters will come out and protest he has asked them to protest peacefully. Now also, we understand after he was ousted last year in a no confidence vote from his position as prime minister, he has consistently said that he believes the army chief was behind that decision and that effort to push him from power. And he is laying the blame for what has happened since firmly at the army chief's shoulders.


KHAN: All I know is that the last six months that he just worked to remove my government. And he's openly afterwards at an interview claimed that he decided that I was too dangerous for the country. And so my government was ousted since then. All I have said is that the solution to Pakistan's problems in free and fair elections, because that's the only thing that would bring political stability in this country.


HANCOCKS: The current government and the military deny those accusations that Imran Khan makes against them. What he also pointed out was what many in the country are concerned about and that is the state of the economy. The economy has been tanking in recent months. He pointed out that there needs to be a stable political system for there to be able to be any chance of trying to kickstart the economy and trying to help people's lives.

Now he also was asked by Fareed Zakaria about the believed assassination attempt against him in November of last year when Imran Khan was injured. And Khan said that he does believe his life is in danger, but he won't stop in doing what he is doing. He understands he will be going to Islamabad, he says on Tuesday, to go to a court there and he believes there is a good chance he will be arrested once again. Laila.

HARRAK: Paula Hancock's reporting for you. Thank you so much Paula.

Typhoon Mawar is gaining strength in the western Pacific and it's also slowing down as it hits for Guam. The outer bands are already starting to impact the U.S. Island territory while the typhoon is currently the equivalent of a Category 2 Atlantic hurricane. Heavy rainfall, flooding, damaging winds and high surf are all possible as the storm comes ashore in the days ahead.

Meteorologist Britley Ritz is at the CNN Weather Center for you with the latest on the typhoon and its current path. Britley, great to see you. What are you exactly saying?

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Laila, the conduction itself really starting to deepen and you can tell them visible satellite noticing the brighter whites especially around the center of the load. That's a good signifier of strengthening with Typhoon Mawar.

The system moving real close to Guam and rota within the next 24 to 48 hours so the system, the center of the low 425 just about kilometers from Guam at the moment. Winds sustained around the center 160 kilometers per hour, gusts of 195 It's moving off to the northwest at 15 kilometers per hour. We now have typhoon warnings for Rota and Guam and tropical storm warnings for the Northern Mariana Islands.

The system moving up toward Guam within the next 48 hours. You can expect landfall sometime early Wednesday and that's when we can expect the typhoon winds with this then finally pushing back out to sea toward the northern provinces of the Philippines as it roll to the next 120 hours.


The winds strongest in the upper right hand quadrant. You can expect that Wednesday early Wednesday and into the afternoon local time toward Rota and in Guam of course, still dealing with stronger winds but the strongest of the winds staying just to the north and finally again moving out to sea and pushing toward the Philippines by Saturday.

Winds already tropical storm force extending 168 kilometers from the center but again starting to feel the typhoon force winds rolling into Wednesday morning. Heavier rain staying toward Guam, Rota tapping into some of that as we roll into early Wednesday, then most of the rain will start to taper back a bit rolling into Saturday. How much rain. Great rain question. The next five days Guam expect over 250 millimeters of rain. Laila, quite a bit going on here.

HARRAK: A lot going on. Thank you so much for covering it all. Britley Ritz there for you at CNN Weather Center.

After cutting short her trip to Japan for the G7 summit, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has returned home and visited the flood ravaged northern region on Sunday. Residents there are cleaning up the damage from the flooding and mudslides which killed at least 14 people, more than 36,000 had been evacuated during the storms. And by Sunday evening, about a third of them, were able to go home. Well, here's what the Prime Minister had to say about what she saw.


GIORGIA MELONI, ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): That's Italy, we can always make a strong recovery in the face of tragedy. I've seen so many young people who were there trying to help, people coming from outside the affected areas who want to be key players and participate in a moment like this. I've seen so much pride in the affected citizens, people motivated by the desire to rebuild to participate. I found that incredible.

Usually when you have these catastrophes and tragedies, there's a risk that resignation takes over everything. That is not what we found.


HARRAK: A massive fire has got at the historic Manila Central Post Office in the Philippines capital. The fire broke out late Sunday and teams of firefighters battled it for more than seven hours overnight before finally getting it under control.

While the Post Office was first built in 1926 and then rebuilt in 1946, after it was badly damaged in World War II well it sits near other tourist landmarks. No word yet on the cause of the fire or any injuries.

And secret locations under clandestine conditions, Ukrainian soldiers are making handmade bombs that's proving to be key in their fight against Russia. We'll have a look at how they're doing it.

And Paul Whelan, the American detained in Russia tells CNN he has confidence the wheels are turning toward his release. More of that exclusive interview, next.



LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Laila Harrak. And this is CNN Newsroom.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he's thankful to the G7 after summit in Japan led to more support and military aid for his country. Mr. Zelenskyy met with world leaders in Hiroshima, during what he says is a crucial moment for the fate of peace in Ukraine. The U.S. promised a $375 million security assistance package and President Joe Biden backed a joint effort with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets.

Meantime, Ukrainian soldiers are building cans sized bombs by hand under instruction from British explosives experts. As seen as Nic Robertson shows us in this exclusive reports, these bombs are having a big impact on the battlefield.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These batteries, the cold affects them. So, after three or four days in the cold, if you're leaving it outside, or if there's no heating, these ones, yes, these will last probably three weeks.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLAMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Ukrainian troops get a lesson on covert bomb making.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that goes through your battery.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): British explosives and counterinsurgency specialists pass on decades of know how to soldiers already well versed in normal frontline combat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: killing somebody, blowing up property, we are showing just how it's done.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But these are no ordinary bombs. They are secret weapons in Ukraine's clandestine arsenal to kill Russians on Ukrainian land.

"SKIF", OFFICER, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES (through translator): If we have a high priority target, we of course uses equipment against it.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): And it's not just individual targets, similar technology, already in very experienced Ukrainian hands was used to bring down a building on dozens of Russian troops recently in Bakhmut.

"SKIF" (through translator): This equipment is used to destroy the enemy. We use it to produce explosive devices we can use on the ground on the battlefield or in the air as munitions for drones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This switch. This switch can be very little. ROBERTSON (voice-over): But it's not just the subversive skills and techniques the British experts bring that are needed in undercover operations, it's the bomb components to sophisticated switches, specialized microchips, night vision goggles, covert monitoring devices, even 3d printers, some relatively easy to buy outside Ukraine are in high demand, because troops here are in a race against time against the Russians. And getting them through NATO partners simply takes too long.

"SKIF" (through-translator): It's hard to measure this help with words on ours because it's a great moral support for us straight to our hearts. And we are very, very grateful for this help.

ROBERTSON (on camera): It's a measure even on the eve of an expected big counter offensive of just how much help Ukraine's military still needs. That more than a year into the war, even the smallest of components, the most modest of hands on help is so gratefully received.

Nic Robertson, CNN, eastern Ukraine.


HARRAK: Russia is firing back at the International Criminal Court for issuing warrants for President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Children's Rights Commissioner. Russia's Investigative Committee is charging ICC prosecutor Karim Khan and judge Rosario Aitala in absentia with various crimes. Moscow said Mr. Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova are innocent after the ICC indicted them on war crimes charges involving the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Paul Whelan, an American citizen detained in Russia says he feels confident that his case is a priority for the U.S. government, but wishes it could be resolved faster. Here's what he told CNN in an exclusive interview.


PAUL WHELAN, WRONGFULLY DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I feel that my life shouldn't be too considered less valuable or important than others who have been previously traded. And I think there are people in D.C. that feel the same way and they're moving towards a compromise and resolution to this as quickly as they can. There will be an end to this and that -- and I hope is coming sooner than later, but it is depressing on a daily basis, you know, going through this.



HARRAK: Paul Whelan was detained in Moscow in 2018 for espionage, charges he denies.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler spoke with him and has this report.

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Paul Whelan was actually able to watch his sister's speech before a U.N. Security Council meeting last month that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov chaired. And in that speech, Elizabeth Whelan called for the Russians to immediately release her brother. Paul Whelan also said he was able to watch parts of President Biden's speech to the White House correspondent's dinner, in which the U.S. president called for the release of Americans wrongfully detained around the world, including Paul himself. Now Whelan said he believes that the Russians allowed them to view these speeches because they could spin it as propaganda of U.S. officials, quote, "begging for the release of one of their own," but for Paul Whelan himself, this was a big boost to his confidence that the U.S. was doing all that they could to secure his release. Here's what he said about seeing those public events.


WHELAN: The public displays and events such as the press corps dinner and the U.N. visit, demonstrate to not just me, you know, privately, but to the world, that our leaders are impacted by this and they do want me back and they are working to try to get me home. And if you consider all of the people and all of the agencies in my four countries that are working on this, it's incredible. And I think you're going to get it done.


HANSLER: Now it's important to note that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the U.S. has put forward a proposal to the Russians to secure Whelan's release, but the Russians have yet to engage on that proposal.

Jennifer Hansler, CNN Washington.

HARRAK: Officials investigating the deadly crash at a soccer stadium in El Salvador, the overselling of tickets and issuing a fake tickets may have contributed to the tragedy. At least 12 people were killed Saturday when a large number of fans stormed the general seating area during a match at a stadium that holds more than 44,000. Journalists de Stefano puts Yvonne reports.

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Authorities in El Salvador are investigating the causes behind a stadium crash that killed at least a dozen people on Saturday night, you're in a football match. The match between Alianza FC and FAS, two of the country's most popular football teams were suspended around the 20th minute. These fans attempted to enter the Cuscatlan Stadium in San Salvador, the largest sports venue in the country causing what authorities have described as a stampede.

El Salvador Interior Minister Juan Carlos Bidegain said that one of the causes could be the overselling of tickets with fans outside the venue allowed to enter the stadium without a valid ticket. The attorney general also said on Sunday that the company that manages the Cuscatlan Stadium, as well as the leaders of the two football club are being investigated.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota. HARRAK: Still to come, a culture battle in Colorado School. Some parents claim teachers are indoctrinating students on issues of gender identity and sexuality in the classroom. We'll hear from moms on both sides of the debate.



HARRAK: A group of moms in the U.S. fear their children are being pressured at school, not to do drugs but to be gay or transgender. It's a fear rooted in the idea that conservative traditional values are at risk. Well now that non binary pronouns and queer themed literature have become more commonplace in American society, CNN's Elle Reeve spoke to some of those moms and at least one on the other side of the debate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By exposing our children to adult concepts such as gender identity, we are asking them to carry a load that is much too heavy for them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Might I suggest instead of anal sex, perhaps we could go back to teaching cursive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This book is not appropriate and it is in your schools.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moms for Liberty is a parent activist group began in Florida in 2021 to protest public schools being closed for COVID and mask mandates. The group became a frequent and spicy presence at school board meetings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is about more than math, for the record.

REEVE (voice-over): But now there are more than 250 Mom's for Liberty chapters nationwide, the group says, and it has gained major conservative allies and morphed into something else. It can panic and suppose it indoctrination of children on race and sexuality.

DARCY SCHOENING, CHAPTER CHAIR, EL PASO COUNTY MOMS FOR LIBERTY: I have the right to say, I don't want my kids to learn this. I don't agree with this movement. And that's my rights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So book should fall into that category as well.

REEVE (voice-over): We wanted to understand what's driving these moms on a deeper level than some viral videos, so we met with the moms for Liberty Chapter in El Paso County, Colorado. For Conservatives won majorities on three school boards in 2021, leader Darcy Channing let us watch a meeting where they talked about how to pressure those boards into making the policies they want.

SCHOENING: What school district for most of you guys in? REEVE (voice-over): What moms for Liberty has become most famous for is claiming school libraries contain books with pornographic content, and for trying to get some books removed. Some of those books listed do talk about sex. But according to the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity, they're not porn.

(on camera): I've read a lot of criticism of your group. People say that this is kind of like a moral panic that people have an irrational fear of what's going on.

SCHOENING: We're not looking to banned books, we're not looking to burn books, we just need to get back to a system where parents know what their kids are learning, and for the most part, it's educational and not political.

REEVE (on camera): One of the books on your list is Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five." I mean, it's considered one of the classics of modern literature.

SCHOENING: Right. I read that in high school. Yes.

REEVE (on camera): Well, why would we -- would you want that removed from the library?

SCHOENING: No, you know, again, age appropriate.

REEVE (on camera): It's on the list.

SCHOENING: What might not be appropriate for a six-year-old is appropriate for a 15-year-old.

REEVE (on camera): Is someone assigning a first grader to "Slaughterhouse-Five?"

SCHOENING: No, but again it's the right of the parents to know that it's there, that their children have access to something that they may not have access to at home.

REEVE (voice-over): One of the big issues right now is pronouns. In March, Colorado's District 11 school board considered a proposal to prevent teachers from asking kids their pronouns, sparking protests.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Teachers can no longer ask kids their pronouns. That's right. No more grooming kids with pronouns and D11.

REEVE (voice-over): The school board has tabled the proposal.

(on camera): Why is asking a child their pronouns indoctrination?

SCHOENING: If you ask my children, who are seven and eighth, what are your pronouns, they don't even know what that is. So, when you ask that, you're planting the seed in their minds that they maybe should identify as another gender or that identifying as another gender is hip or cool. Hey, my teachers asking me, so maybe this is what I should do. REEVE (on camera): But I certainly never felt that way about my teachers. Like, I didn't learn I was heterosexual from my health teacher. It was from like, watching '90s movies with Brad Pitt in it.

SCHOENING: Yes. Yes. Well, and -- but -- and I think that's how most of us are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is children can get on there --

REEVE (voice-over): We wanted to hear what some of the more liberal parents had to say. Some of them sat in on the meeting, and one passed me this note calling it a hate group. The next day, we met with those parents.

(on camera): For the record, have any of your kids ever come home and said I am feeling peer pressure to be gay or trans?



REEVE (voice-over): Naomi Lopez is a speech pathologist and works in a District 11 school.

NAOMI LOPEZ, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: First of all, we're not going around saying, OK, you know, I want you to think about it, what gender are you?

REEVE (on camera): Yes.

LOPEZ: Like, that's not happening.

REEVE (on camera): They say it's happening..

LOPEZ: It's not. My personal beliefs, my personal viewpoint on the world does not come into the classroom, we are professionals with degrees in pedagogy.

REEVE (voice-over): And she's also the mom of a transgender student.

LOPEZ: So -- I'm sorry, can you ask me again, because I'm getting pissed off.

REEVE (on camera): What -- do you want to talk about that first, why does it make you emotional to talk about this stuff?

LOPEZ: So I get emotional, when other people who don't have children who are transgender or queer, place an assumption on it for the -- for the sake of persecution, based on their own belief.

SCHOENING: When you're putting all this curriculum everywhere, and you're telling kids, hey, you can come talk to me behind your parents back, I got your back. I mean, there's a clear move to bring more of that into our schools. And it's just not the school's place.

REEVE (on camera): So, what I feel like you're strongly implying, and I would like to get your take on, because I don't want to attribute something that you don't think, like, to me, it sounds like you're saying there's some kind of high level coordinated effort to make more children trans and gay.


REEVE (on camera): Well, who's directing that?

SCHOENING: Teachers unions and our presidents and a lot of funding sources. And teachers unions are also heavily backing the curriculum that we're bringing into school.

REEVE (on camera): Why would they want more kids to be gay and trans?

SCHOENING: Because it breaks down the family unit, which breaks down traditional conservative values, it breaks down a lot of things in this country. It changes the way that people think, it changes the way that people handle politics.

REEVE (voice-over): Of course, there's no evidence of a coordinated plan to make kids trans.

(on camera): When I hear those thoughts about like some sort of concerted effort to make people gay, does it sound like a conspiracy theory to you?

SCHOENING: It's not a conspiracy theory that this state whether you're talking about Colorado or the federal, government is taking a stronger and stronger hand in public education in raising our kids. So, do I think that, for some reason, people want everyone to be gay? That's a mischaracterization of what I think. I think that people will use, you know, the people that want to erode away at parental rights, the left the teachers unions, they'll use LGBTQ or whatever may be the case at the time. Those are just tools to erode away at parental rights.

REEVE (voice-over): The last 11 meeting of the school year was mostly about student awards and performances. The board seemed to anticipate the few moms for Liberty members in the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we reflect over the last year, removing rogue woke clubs, teachers -- woke teachers and woke counselors from D11 is a must.

REEVE (voice-over): And a couple of students push back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you remove teacher's ability to ask for pronouns, you will remove the ability for safe spaces to exist, taking away the safety of your students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to recognize our students and the support staff that are supporting our students out there.

LOPEZ: My child thinks it's ludicrous that it's such a big deal because to them, it's just normal. To their friends, they don't care how my child identifies, they love them for who they are.

REEVE (voice-over): Elle Reeve, CNN, Colorado Springs, Colorado.


HARRAK: We'll be right back.



HARRAK: The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing on the French Riviera. Right now, 21 films competing for the prestigious Palme d'Or prize, and the glamorous event as usual, full of promising blockbuster movies up and coming talent. And of course, Hollywood A listers, like Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas, Natalie Portman, and there's a hint of controversy as well over the choice of the film that kicked off the festival.

And I'm delighted now to welcome from Cannes, Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter's European Bureau Chief.

Scott, so lovely to reconnect with you. The Cannes Film Festival kicked off this week and it got off to a controversial start. Why are some people upset?


Yes, the festival was a bit controversial this year, particularly because the opening film, Jeanne du Barry, which is a French film about the sort of the end of the French royal family, but the controversy was around who was playing King Louis, which is -- was Johnny Depp was cast for the lead role. And of course, Johnny Depp is a very controversial figure. Now, due to his very public legal disputes with his ex-wife, Amber Heard, and allegations of abuse against him, it didn't seem to affect the way that fans reacted to him. And the French audiences never really turned against Johnny Depp and many people saw his arrival here and his presentation of this film as an -- as a sort of return to the spotlight. But there definitely was a lot of controversy around this -- choosing this film to open the Cannes Film Festival, and a lot of questions being asked as to why they actually picked it.

HARRAK: And incidentally, of course, that film directed by a woman. And speaking of women, we're seeing more and more filmmakers in competition at the film festival of women, but nowhere near parity give us a sense of what role women play in this festival. How are organizers dealing with criticism leveled at them that there are not enough female filmmakers at Cannes? Do you see things changing?

ROXBOROUGH: Well, I'm for Cannes' level, things have changed quite a bit. There are six women in competition, female directors, with films and competition, that's the most there's ever been. But as you said, it's nowhere near parody, it's just about 30 percent, which is nowhere near 50. The -- on a sort of structural level, Cannes has done a few things as well, the president of the Cannes Film Festival, the big boss is a woman, Iris Knobloch, the first time a woman's had that position. And she's been very vocal about trying to get through gender parity within the festival.

But they still got a long way to go. I mean, remember just a couple of years ago, Cannes was promising to reach 50 percent parity in terms of female directors in competition by 2020. It's now of course 2023, and we're still a long way from that. Cannes is trying to make progress, but a lot of people are saying it's not doing nearly enough.

HARRAK: Now, Scott, Cannes incredibly glamorous, you got beautiful people booted and suited on the red carpets, a gorgeous gowns going up those famous stairs, but the film industry on a serious note is going through a very challenging time. You know, how do you see that displayed at the festival? What kind of role does it play?

ROXBOROUGH: Yes, it plays a huge role because the film industry is one of the reasons that Cannes exists. It's not just the big film festival, it's also huge film market where films are bought and sold. And so, whatever's happening in the international film industry, you feel it here in Cannes. And of course, the big issue on everyone's mind right now is the ongoing writers strike, the Hollywood writers are on strike, that means no new films are being written, that's having an impact here. People are really concerned that not just the writers but very soon the directors, the Directors Guild is also negotiating a contract.

And SAG, the Screen Actors Guild could also soon be on strike. If that happens, the entire film industry in Hollywood shuts down and that will have a knock on effect on the rest of the world. So, although everyone's celebrating here, cinema in Cannes, walking those red carpet steps and, and having a great time, everyone's concerned that the party could be over very, very soon.

HARRAK: And my final question to you, Scott, what are the hottest movies so far? And of the films that you did see, which is the best film in Cannes that we should all check out?

ROXBOROUGH: Yes, well, we have a couple of sort of big Hollywood film's screen here. Probably the funnest was the new Indiana Jones film, "Indiana Jones of the Dial of Destiny," basically everything you'd want from an Indiana Jones movie, the fifth entry with Harrison Ford and the last, he's 80 years old, so he won't be coming back for another Indiana Jones film. So that was a great sort of entertaining movie.


But in terms of the film, that I think could win the Palme d'Or and definitely the best film I've seen here, I'd have to go with the "Zone of Interest," which is a very tough film set in Auschwitz about the Holocaust, from British Director Jonathan Glazer, but a German language movie. And it's very difficult to describe in a short one or two sentences, but it's just incredibly powerful and moving and wrenching, really, emotionally, but done in a way that I don't think I've ever seen before in a holocaust movie. It's definitely sort of breaks new ground for tackling the subject. I think it probably will be rewarded next week come the Cannes Palme d'Or. HARRAK: All right. Scott Roxborough, great catching up with you. Thank you so much for getting up so early for us. We greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

ROXBOROUGH: Well enough.

HARRAK: And in the coming hours, a Space X craft will dock with the International Space Station carrying the latest crew of all private astronauts. CNN's Carlos Suarez has more on Sunday's Launch.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The mission commander called it a phenomenal ride in to space, the Axiom 2 Mission is on its way to the International Space Station after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday. According to Axiom Space, it'll take the four member crew 16 hours to get to the ISS where the crew will spend about eight days. The stage one rocket booster successfully landed at Kennedy Space Center some eight minutes after liftoff. A sonic boom was heard as the rocket landed.

Two Americans and two Saudis make up the Axiom 2 crew. Commander Peggy Whitson is a former NASA astronaut who has spent 665 days in space and served as commander of the International Space Station. She's joined by mission pilot John Shoffner, Ali AlQarni, and Rayyanah Barnawi are mission specialists. Barnawi made history on Sunday becoming the first Saudi woman in space.

Carlos Suarez, CNN Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

HARRAK: And thanks so much for spending part of your day with me. I'm Laila Harrak. Do stay with us, my colleague Rosemary Church we'll be back with more news in just a moment. See you next time.