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Hurdles Needed to Clear for the Debt Ceiling Bill; Kyiv, Moscow Attacked by Drone Strikes; NATO Peacekeepers clashed with Serbian Protesters in Kosovo; California Senator in Jeopardy, Governor Promised to Appoint a Successor; Uganda's Anti-LGBTQ law drew Flaks Internationally; Miami Heat faces Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 30, 2023 - 03:00   ET




LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Laila Harrak.

Ahead on "CNN Newsroom." A compromise deal has been reached. The bill has been written, but the U.S. debt limit drama is far from over, with a major hurdle needing to be cleared in the hours ahead.

Moscow hit by a series of drone strikes, plus new attacks have also struck the Ukrainian capital overnight.

And growing concern about the future of Senator Dianne Feinstein, after a report reveals the 89-year-old is having to rely on her staff more and more.

UNKNOWN(voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Laila Harrak.

HARRAK: The bipartisan deal to raise the U.S. borrowing limit and save the country from defaulting on its debts will face its first serious hurdle in the coming day.

The House Rules Committee will take up the bill, and several of its members have been slamming it. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he's not worried about that committee. Both Republican and Democratic leaders are facing revolts from within their ranks by members who think their side gave up too much in the negotiations. But the U.S. President is optimistic. The deal will make it across the finish line.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, I never say I'm confident with the Congress going to do it, but I feel very good about it. There is no reason why it shouldn't get done by the fifth. I'm confident that we'll get a vote in both houses and we'll see.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRAK: Well, many members of Congress are falling in line, realizing it's either the deal on the table or a financial crisis that was entirely preventable. But not everyone is in a mood to compromise despite the risk of default. Some lawmakers in both parties say the deal is unacceptable.


REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-NY): I'm saying I'm still undecided because we are still reviewing the bill. We've been talking a lot about spending, but we're not talking about revenue. These so-called cuts that Republicans want to make. They're making these cuts while not being open or willing to discuss, making sure the wealthy pay their fair share.

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): I certainly hope that there won't be Republican support for it. I hope that we can kill it, whether it's in the Rules Committee or whether in the Republican Conference before we bring it to the floor, and go back to a bill that will actually cut our spending, reform our Congress so that we can save our country fiscally.


HARRAK: Joining me now from Los Angeles is Jessica Levinson. She is a professor at Loyola Law School and host of the "Passing Judgment" podcast. Jessica, always good to have you with us. The U.S. debt ceiling is all anyone has been talking about in Washington and all around the world. The House is now voting on this on Wednesday. What's the first hurdle that they need to overcome?

JESSICA LEVINSON, LAW PROFESSOR, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Well, they need to get enough votes. And I think the real question mark here will be what happens to the House Freedom Caucus on the right and what happens to the really progressive wing of the Democratic Party on the left.

And if there are significant defections, I think that will give us an indication of basically how good a job Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the House, has done in terms of rallying his troops and how many Democratic votes are needed here.

I think because he said, I think we have a deal. One would guess that he could count. Having said that, this is a speaker who had 15 rounds before he got that job. So I don't think that we should assume that anything's a done deal.

HARRAK: So we can't assume that anything is a done deal. What do you think will placate holdout Democrats and the most hawkish Republicans?

LEVINSON: Probably nothing, and I don't think that they're needed. I mean, there is enough votes there without the right wing of the right- wing and the left wing of the left-wing, so to speak. And I don't think that the House Freedom Caucus on the right, I don't think they're happy with this deal because they wanted much more concessions. They wanted significant cuts when it comes to federal funding and big federal spending. And they didn't get that. They did get President Biden to the table. They did get some concessions, but there are moderate wins at best.


And I think that the progressives are upset that President Biden did go to the table. They're upset that he gave any concessions at all. They think Republicans held them ransom and that the president basically gave into that. So I'm not sure any part of this deal will placate them, nor does it need to.

HARRAK: Now, looking at the contours of this deal, what are some of the standout policy goals achieved here?

LEVINSON: So I think some of the big policy goals for the Democrats that were achieved is essentially hands off big federal spending programs like Social Security and Medicare and veterans benefits.

In the sense that those will not see significant slashes under this deal at all. I think what Democrats were able to do, which is essentially kind of hold the line on the big ticket items. There will not be a big decrease in discretionary non-defense spending. And that's what Republicans wanted.

For Republicans, they did get some concessions. There is essentially a freeze on spending for about a year, and then it will only go up incrementally. They also got some concessions with respect to requiring people who receive certain benefits to work a certain number of hours. So there's a little bit in here for everyone, but on the whole, I think, It's better for Democrats, but still, people say they had to go to the table at all, and President Biden said, I won't negotiate. Give me a clean bill. And he did. He negotiated.

HARRAK: So he blinked. There's a lot of talk about who won, who lost politically. I mean, you touched a little bit on that and who exacted the most.

But if we take a long view in terms of who historically benefits the most from fiscal battles, does it translate into more support at the ballot box, for instance, next year?

LEVINSON: It's such a good question, and I wish I could give you an answer other than I think it depends. I mean, it depends what concessions were extracted and from whom.

And I know it feels like, in some ways, that the election is right around the corner, but there's so much that could happen between now and when we actually vote. This might be a distant memory.

Now, if, in fact, this deal falls through, if, in fact, we do default on the debt and there is almost guaranteed economic catastrophe, people will blame those in power. They will obviously blame the president, but I think that they will also blame the Speaker of the House as well. So in terms of how that would play for the next election, it really depends who people want to place the most blame on their feet. And I'm just not sure in terms of how this would play out for how long. At this point, I think it's a win for the country because it would be economically terrible for us to default. HARRAK: And just a final thought from you, Jessica, before I let you

go. Do we have any sense of what the general public here in the United States thinks about the handling of this crisis?

LEVINSON: I think most people think, find a way to make this happen. Most people are slightly more moderate, I believe, than their representatives in the sense that they think, I have to go to work, I have to do my job, and I have to, when I spend money, pay those bills.

So what is happening with respect to the government that they might be able to default? What will that mean for us internationally? What will that mean for us domestically? And people tend to feel really removed from the federal government that would change if the federal government stops being able to make payments and people will feel all the ways that the federal government affects our lives. We avoided that and that to me is the big takeaway. What happens in two years? Now there's a precedent for serious negotiations.

HARRAK: Jessica Levinson, always good to have you on. Thank you.

LEVINSON: Thank you.

HARRAK: And a close look now at what's in the plan. The bill would suspend the debt limit through January 1st, 2025. So it won't be a distraction during next year's presidential election. The bill would also roll back non-defense discretionary spending to last year's levels. It would expand work requirements for some adults receiving food stamps. And it would claw back about $30 billion in unused COVID relief funds.

Well earlier, I spoke to Justin Wolfers. He's a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. And I asked him about the challenges to getting the bill approved by Wednesday, as well as what the critics are still unhappy about. Here's part of our conversation.


JUSTIN WOLFERS, PROF. OF ECONOMIC AND PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Well, the big takeaway, I think, is that this does very little macroeconomic damage. There's a big ideological fight. And of course, Democrats are very happy that President Biden got to keep the really important, bigger parts of his agenda.


Republicans are happy that they're at a point where they didn't really have much control, except for the leverage of the debt limit, yet they still got major concessions.

The most important thing that happened here from a macroeconomic perspective is that we've got caps on discretionary spending, non- defense discretionary spending for the next two years. Now, that's not going to have very large macroeconomic impacts because out of the entire federal budget, only about a third of its discretionary spending, and only half of that is non-defense discretionary spending. And so it's that one-sixth of the federal budget that we've got to

freeze on. And so that's not going to be large enough to either create a recession or prevent one.

HARRAK: Well, let's do a cost-benefit analysis then. Was this situation at all worth it when you look at that end result from an economic vantage point?

WOLFERS: Well, For Joe Biden and the White House, no, actually let me go back. For anyone who cares about the U.S. economy, which I hope is all of us, it's absolutely worth it because the alternative of defaulting on the debt would have yielded a great big ugly unknown right at a point when our recovery is feeling a little bit fragile. So I think the American economy is for sure cheering this outcome. Did Republicans get as much as they want? For sure, they were much more aggressive in their early asks, but equally, they don't control the Senate, they don't control the White House. It's kind of crazy that they got anything out of this at all.

And Democrats, particularly on the left, we're very disappointed that there was work requirements put in for food stamps. There's no evidence these work requirements help anyone work. It's just a way of being a little harsher on those who maybe really need help.

So Democrats, I think, will be somewhat disappointed by that. But, you know, so there's the ideological push and pull. And the good news is that that push and pull didn't knock off the overall economy that affects all of us.


HARRAK: Officials in the U.S. state of Florida say at least nine people, including a one-year-old child, were wounded in a shooting on Monday evening. Police believe the shots were fired during an altercation between two groups of people. They've detained one person of interest and are searching for another suspect. The shooting happened near a busy pedestrian area by Hollywood Beach in South Florida at the end of Memorial Day, a holiday honoring U.S. military members who have died in service.

Emergency workers in Iowa have rescued an eighth person from an apartment building on Monday, the day after it partially collapsed. While now officials are going from search and rescue to recovery mode. Miraculously, no one died when the back section of the building caved in and detached from the rest of the building, according to fire officials. But it's unclear how many people might still be unaccounted for. The building is scheduled to be demolished Tuesday.

Just ahead, Moscow buildings hit by drone attacks will have the latest on the damage, anyone might be responsible in a live report from London.

Plus, Serb protesters clash with NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo. We'll explain what's behind the recent unrest.



HARRAK: We're following a developing story out of Moscow where the mayor reports two buildings have sustained minor damage from drone attacks. He says on Telegram, no one has been seriously injured so far, but the city's emergency services are on the scene and investigating.

Let's go live now to London to CNN's Clare Sebastian. Clare, what more can you share with us about these new developments?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, later the Russian Ministry of Defense has come out in the last hour and explicitly blamed Ukraine, saying that eight aircraft-type UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles, were involved in this attack. They say all of them were essentially suppressed, in their words, three by electronic warfare, which we assume to be signal jamming and things like that, and five were shot down by air defense missiles.

So they're saying none of them reached their targets. The Moscow mayor in an update, saying two people have sought medical help after several buildings were damaged. He says minor damage was sustained by several buildings. No one apparently needed to be hospitalized. And we're hearing as well from the investigative committee in Russia that the persons involved in this attack, they say, will be identified. They are, of course, investigating this.

Images coming out of potential drone fragments around these buildings on state media. So clearly, there is work continuing by emergency services investigators, things like that but extremely rare situation here for the residents of Moscow.

Coming just a few weeks after we saw those drones hit the Kremlin itself, now residential buildings appearing to be hit as well. This will be very unsettling to the Russian people. Just another way, Laila, that the war is now really hitting Russian soil.

HARRAK: And, Claire, this in addition comes after those scenes of terrorized residents that we saw in the Ukrainian capital running for cover and we understand Russia unleashed even more attacks?

SEBASTIAN: Yeah, the Ukrainian Air Force is saying that 31 drones were fired, 29 of which were shot down over Kyiv. They say a 33-year-old woman, we now understand from the national police, was killed and 13 people injured by shrapnel. We understand, so underscoring there, that even though most of those drones were shot down, there is still danger from falling debris.

This, according to the Ukrainian side, the 17th air assault by Russia on the capital Kyiv since the beginning of the month. So these are now happening with startling regularity and coming just after we saw a very unusual daytime attack using both drones and missiles on Monday. So clearly the capital now of Ukraine, a major target by Russia.


HARRAK: A major target. Now President Zelenskyy announced that he's decided on the date of the counteroffensive.

SEBASTIAN: Yep, in his nightly address, Laila, saying that the decision has been made, although of course he did not give away what that decision was, when and where, we still don't know. But Ukraine is clearly pointedly now allowing the suspense to build, the pressure to build around this counteroffensive, though of course not giving away any operational detail for obvious reasons.

We just saw over the weekend the commander of the armed forces releasing a very highly-produced video showing Ukrainian troops training, showcasing western weapons, the highest tech western weapons that Ukraine has now taken delivery of and saying the time has come to take back what is ours.

I think it's clear that they want to keep Moscow guessing, keep them on the defensive, while of course not revealing when this will start. But we're seeing progress in the rhetoric. President Zelenskyy said when he visited the U.K. in the middle of the month, we need more time, not much. Now we seem to have progressed to a decision on that timing having been made.

HARRAK: Clare Sebastian reporting. Thank you so much. Thank you for your continued coverage.

Italy's Defense Ministry says nearly three dozen NATO peacekeepers were injured on Monday in clashes with Serb protesters in northern Kosovo. The Defense Ministry alleges that protesters threw Molotov cocktails and other objects at the peacekeeping force known as KFOR. While Serbia's Defense Minister says many protesters were also injured.

Let's get you more on these developments. I'm now joined by Barbie Nadeau in Rome. Tensions really running high in the region.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's absolutely right. You know, 14 of those peacekeeping soldiers were Italian, so it's a very important issue here in Italy. But, you know, the tensions in this area go back a long, long time, let's say 2008, Kosovo declared its independence. That wasn't recognized by Serbia.

And the region where all these tensions are right now is populated really by ethnic Serbian people. And the tensions are growing. They go back to this election that happened in April that the people in this region of northern Kosovo boycotted.

And so you've just seen tensions rising from there, but this is the first time we've seen sort of an attack like this on the peacekeeping forces. Now, these KFOR NATO forces have been in that region since 1999, but this is a very, very worrying situation here in Europe, Laila.

HARRAK: Unprecedented. NATO is... Do you believe NATO is on high alert after these clashes? NADEAU: Yeah, no, NATO is warning absolutely, you know, that everyone needs to calm things down. Now, we've also heard the Serbian president say that he's urging people to calm down, to tone down this rhetoric. Let's listen to what he had to say.


ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am urging the Serbs in Kosovo not to get into a conflict with NATO. Not because I'm afraid, or because any of us are afraid. None of us personally have anything to lose, but because that's what Kosovo's prime minister wants most.


NADEAU: And you know, that's the key right now. I think what you're looking at is what's going on with Kosovo, is basically ethnic Albanian-run country right now. And so these clashes between the ethnic Serbian population and the majority ethnic Albanians go back a long time, but you've got the United States and other NATO countries warning the Kosovo government basically to not try to engage the Serbian people who live in that country to have, you know, a conflict with NATO. That's the last thing they want. So it's a very complicated situation and it's a tinderbox, Laila.

HARRAK: Barbie Nadeau reporting. Thank you so much.

Still ahead this hour, new questions about Senator Dianne Feinstein's future and what might replace her if she's forced to step down.




HARRAK: A driver navigates through heavy flames and smoke in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia as hundreds of firefighters' battle multiple ferocious wildfires. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls the fires there incredibly serious. Officials say they've burned more than 10,000 hectares, destroyed at least 200 homes or other structures and have forced 16,000 people from their homes.

On the other side of the country, wildfires in Alberta have been burning now for weeks. Some 27,000 firefighters are on the lines there battling more than 60 active fires.

An impeachment trial that will determine the political fates of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is now set to take place no later than August 28th. That word after articles of impeachment against Paxton were delivered to the State Senate on Monday, two days after the House voted to impeach him. A legislative investigation accused the third- term Republican of several offenses, including abusing his powers, retaliating against whistleblowers, and obstructing justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ANDREW MURR (R-TX): Pay attention to the trial in which the same witnesses under oath will provide testimony and provide evidence regarding the various very serious allegations of bribery, abuse of official capacity, conspiracy, retaliation, misuse of information, and other charges contained in the articles.


KEN PAXTON, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: This shameful process was curated from the start as an act of political retribution. They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.


LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: All supporters of the now-suspended attorney general turned out for a rally. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing.

As growing speculation and intrigue around the health of 89-year-old Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. A new report details claims she has become increasingly reliant on aides to help her do her job on Capitol Hill. Some California Democrats are lobbying Governor Gavin Newsom to keep his promise to appoint a black woman to replace Feinstein if she retires.

CNN's Kyung Lah reports.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOME (D-CA): Good morning, Los Angeles.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SR. U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California Governor Gavin Newsom hit his party's top issues at the California Democratic Convention.

NEWSOM: This is the free state of California.

LAH (voice-over): But not the biggest question swirling among the Democratic faithful, especially in this room of black Democrats.

(on-camera): Are you confident that Governor Newsom will keep his promise?

UNKNOWN: I'm optimistic.

LAH (on-camera): That's not confident.

UNKNOWN: I'm cautiously optimistic.

LAH (voice-over): She's talking about this.

JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR, THE REID OUT: If in fact Dianne Feinstein were to retire, will you nominate an African American woman?

NEWSOM: We have multiple names in mind and the answer is yes.

LAH (voice-over): Age 89, Senator Dianne Feinstein had been absent from the Senate for months battling health issues. Now, back on the job, she maintains she can fulfill her duties and will not resign. But should she step aside?

Governor Newsom would nominate the person to complete her term. With the razor-thin Democratic Senate majority and judicial nominations in the balance, California Democrats are confident Newsom is aware of the states.

KIMBERLY ELLIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think he needs reminding. He knows why this is so important.

LAH (voice-over): Kimberly Ellis is one of a powerful group of black Democrats openly lobbying for Newsom to keep his word.

ELLIS: Black women are the margin of victory. We get it done. We believe that Gavin Newsom will keep his promise to fill that seat with a black woman. The only question is which black woman. And from our perspective, it's Barbara or Bust.

LAH (voice-over): Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who has been in Congress since the late 90s. She is already running for Feinstein's Senate seat in the 2024 election.

(on-camera): Should you be that black woman?

BARBARA LEE (D), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, let me say, I'm focused on this campaign and I'm not gonna get involved in his process. He made a commitment and I am running to win this campaign.

LAH (ON-CAMERA): How important is it for a black woman to sit in the Senate?

LEE: Representation matters. When you look at the fact that there's not a voice in the Senate who represents our diversity, it's outrageous.

Y'all want this picture.

LAH (voice-over): But choosing Lee isn't a simple choice for Newsom. It would mean elevating her above two rivals in the Senate race.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: And we're gonna be friends during the campaign.

LEE: That's right.

LAH (voice-over): That's Congressman Adam Schiff. He's also running for the same Senate seat. The lead prosecutor in Donald Trump's first impeachment trial backed by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

SCHIFF: My father gave me some very good advice, which is focus on the things you can't control, not the things you can't. So I'm focused on running my race. And I do think that ultimately, voters want to decide this race. And they want that choice to make. And I think they will have that choice.

LAH (voice-over): Congresswoman Katie Porter, beloved by the progressive base is also running for the Senate seat.

(on-camera): How much does that tip the scales if he selects representatively?

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I assume that Governor Newsom will keep his promise. But I can't speak for him or what he's thinking about. For me, this campaign is about not about the past. It's about the future. It's not just about the next six months. It's about the next six years, the next 60 years for California.

LAH (voice-over): A Newsom adviser tells CNN this is a politically fraught choice he would like to avoid. His supporters say it would present a tough decision that could test Newsom's own standing within the party.

VILMA DAWSON, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRAT: I know the governor has his mind on the future himself. And people have long memories as to whether or not they can trust someone to support, shall we say, promises that they made.

NEWSOM: We're proud to be here as Democrats.

LAH (on-camera): There is another option here, should Governor Newsom get the chance to nominate someone for this seat. It would be to nominate a non-political person or someone who pledges to not run in 2024. But among the Democratic activists that we've spoken to, they call that quote, "under deliverance."

Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.



HARRAK: Well, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is hitting the road in just a few hours on his first campaign stops since announcing his presidential bid.

The Republican candidate will spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Iowa. He'll head to New Hampshire Thursday, then travel to South Carolina on Friday. And he's already busy attacking his one-time political ally, former President Donald Trump. DeSantis is using his ongoing feud with Disney to argue why he's more likely to win the Iowa caucus.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's taken the side of Disney in our fight down here in Florida. I'm standing for parents, I'm standing for children, and I think a multi-billion dollar company that sexualizes children is not consistent with the values of Florida or the values of a place like Iowa.


HARRAK: DeSantis was referring to Disney's opposition to Florida's so- called Don't Say Gay Law, which prohibits educators from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to students from kindergarten to third grade.

Uganda's president signs an extreme anti-LGBTQ measure into law. Drawing intense international condemnation, will explain what's in the law, why activists in the country are telling CNN they now fear for their lives.




HARRAK: The East African nation of Uganda is facing intense condemnation from Western countries and human rights groups following its approval Monday of an extreme anti-LGBTQ law.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the measure with a golden pen after Parliament approved it. It mandates the death penalty for so- called aggravated homosexuality, and simply engaging in gay sex could lead to life in prison. The law also criminalizes sex education for the gay community and encourages Ugandans to report LGBTQ individuals.

U.S. President Joe Biden is threatening sanctions, saying, I join with people around the world, including many in Uganda, in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It's wrong.

CNN's David McKenzie has more now from Johannesburg.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, there's a law that was signed by President Museveni, is one of the most draconian anti-LGBTQ laws in the world. It includes, amongst other things, a life sentence for those who are caught in the act of homosexuality. And crucially, it makes illegal the promotion of homosexuality. And I'm using the words within that bill, which means that education could be curbed for sexual education. It also asks for people to out those who they believe are LGBTQ to the authorities.

Now, I've spoken to several activists today in Uganda who fear for their lives at this moment. They worry that people will take the law into their own hands, and there has already been an atmosphere of fear in the lead-up to the signing of the bill. Now, the proponents of the bill say that this is an important moment for Uganda. This is a deeply conservative, mostly Christian country. And the man who put his name to the bill had this to say.

ASUMAN BASALIRWA, UGANDAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: So if we don't stand our ground as a country, as a people, as a community, then we will completely have succeeded our sovereignty and independence as a country.

MCKENZIE: Now, Museveni has already faced a great deal of pressure not to sign the bill, and I'm sure he'll be roundly criticized by Western governments and potentially face sanctions for this. Uganda is very dependent on support from the European Union and the U.S. for both humanitarian aid and, in the U.S. case, military support. But he has stood firm and says this law should be put forward and these punishments should be meted out.

Now, despite the talk of sovereignty, there is a growing body of evidence that U.S. groups were certainly involved in helping Ugandan lawmakers push through this law, the conservative groups, and the same is the case in Ghana, where a similar law is being proposed.

David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.


HARRAK: This week, Iran is prosecuting two journalists who reported on the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in police custody back in September. Well, her death sparked months of massive protests and calls for an end to Iran's hardline clerical regime.

Well, Iranian intelligence agents accused the two female journalists of colluding with hostile powers, charges that could carry the death penalty. The first trial session for one of the journalists was held Monday in Tehran behind closed doors. The other journalist's trial will start on Tuesday.

While the protests in Iran have eased, authorities there are not giving any inch to anyone showing dissent. Human rights groups say the government has begun executing protesters once again.

Salma Abdelaziz has the details.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside a jail near Tehran, families of prisoners gathered chant, do not hang them.

Their pleas come as Iran resumes the execution of protesters after a months-long hiatus. The brutal practice restarted this month with the hanging of three young men accused of killing three members of the security forces during anti-government protests in November.


The news sparked more demonstrations.

But activists in human rights groups say the allegations against the trio are baseless.

Majid Kazemi was forced to watch video of interrogators torturing his brother, and he was subject to at least 15 mock executions, according to Amnesty International.

In an audio note obtained by the organization, he maintained his innocence. CNN cannot independently verify the clip.

They kept beating me and ordering me to say this weapon is mine, he says. I told them I would say whatever they wanted. Just please leave my family alone.

Before his execution, the family of 36-year-old Salem Mehr Hashami, a karate coach from Isfahan, tried to draw attention to his plight. This picture of his father spread on social media. My son is innocent, the sign reads.

But to no avail, activists shared this heartbreaking video they say is Mehr Hashami's dad hugging his picture as he lay by his son's grave.

Iran has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

The total number of demonstrators known to have been executed since last year now stands at seven, according to CNN reporting. And more executions are likely imminent.

Over 100 protesters have been sentenced to death or are facing charges punishable by death, says this human rights activist.

MAHMOOD AMIRY-MOGHADDAM, DIRECTOR, IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS NGO: When authorities fear protests or right after protests, number of executions go up. The aim is to create fear in the society to prevent more protests.

ABDELAZIZ (on-camera): Do you expect that the number of executions is going to rise even more this year?

AMIRY-MOGHADDAM: It is rising already. Unless the international community takes a strong move against these executions, we might be facing a very large number of executions in the coming months.

ABDELAZIZ (voiced-over): Rights groups say that Mohammed Rabatlu, a 22-year-old protester with a mental health issue could be one of the next victims of Iran's execution machine.

Activists are ringing the alarm. They say yet another Iranian faces death just for daring to speak out.

Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


HARRAK: Still ahead. China sends the fifth manned mission to its space station with an eye on expanding its space program. We'll head to Beijing for an update on the launch.




HARRAK: China sends its first civilian astronauts into space as it launches the Shenzhou-16 mission.

(VIDEO PLAYING) Officials say the liftoff was a complete success and it marks another step forward for the country's ambitious space program. The three crew members on board the craft are set to man China's space station, taking over from the previous Shenzhou-15 astronauts.

Let's get you more on these developments. We can go now to CNN's Steven Jiang live in Beijing. Steven, tell us about China's space ambitions.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah, Laila, this really marks another incremental but major step forward in the Chinese space program and really ushering this phase of routine operations for the self-made space station of the country, the Tiangong. Now, let's not forget the core module of this space station entered orbit only back in 2021. And by the end of last year, they had already completed construction of this T-shaped three module structure.

And now, there's already talk about further expanding this into a cross shaped structure to extend research capabilities. And when the spacecraft actually docks with the Tiangong in the coming hour, we are going to see six Chinese astronauts in this structure. And that is really quite a feat considering this country's first manned space mission was only launched 20 years ago, back in 2003.

Now this latest crew, of course, the three astronauts, they're going to conduct a series of experiments and research doing their five months stay in space, but also, of course, installing, testing new equipment and conducting spacewalks, all of that has become increasingly common.

Now, one of the most fascinating aspects about this latest crew, as you mentioned, is it's the first time China is sending a civilian into space, a professor from a very prestigious aeronautics university here in Beijing. And he is a payload expert and not a pilot, but he still went through very rigorous training here on the ground before being selected. And of course, the fact it's noteworthy is because all previous astronauts in China, from China have been military personnel.

And that, of course, very much pointing to the military driven and military run nature of the space program here which is really at the foundation of its success not only in manned space missions, but also unmanned missions including lunar and Mars probes. But of course that's also been a source of controversy which is also why the U.S. Congress has largely banned space cooperation between the two countries. Laila.

HARRAK: Steven Zhang reporting from Beijing. Thank you so much.


The Miami Heat are headed to the NBA Finals after beating the Boston Celtics 103-84 in a must-win game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami's victory thwarted Boston's effort to become the first team in NBA history to win a seven-game series after being down three games to none. Miami's Jimmy Butler finished the game with 28 points and was named the series MVP. The Heat are now the first 8th-seeded team to reach the NBA Finals since 1999. They'll be facing the Denver Nuggets for the title with game one set for Thursday.

Want to watch? On behalf of the entire team, thank you so much for your company. I'm Laila Harrak. "CNN Newsroom" continues after this short break with Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo. And I'll see you next time.