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CNN International: Mounting Questions Over Whereabouts of China's Defense Minister; Ukraine Claims Andrivka Retaken in Fierce Fighting; Union Launches Strike Against Big Three U.S. Automakers; Joe Biden Dealing With Multiple Issues in Challenging Week. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR NEWSROOM: Hello, welcome to CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead on the ground in Eastern Libya where thousands of people were killed by unprecedented flooding. CNN is in Derna with more on the scope of the destruction.

Then the Kremlin confirms that no agreement was signed between North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Plus, we're live in Madrid, where the Former Head of Spain's Football Federation Luis Rubiales is just testified in the criminal complaint against him over the World Cup kiss.

Those stories just a moment, but first, we want to bring you mystery from China. There are growing questions on the whereabouts of China's Defense Minister. Li Shangfu, who was appointed to his position in March hasn't been seen in public in more than two weeks.

And the speculation he's been placed under investigation this following the unexplained disappearance of China's Former Foreign Minister. CNN's Marc Stewart joins us live from Beijing. What have you managed to find out, Marc?

MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Max, certainly a lot of intrigue and it came up for discussion today here in Beijing at a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which spokesperson mounding was asked about Li's presence. Where is he?

And the response was simply, "I'm not aware of the situation". Li was last seen about two weeks ago here in Beijing at a conference, a peace and security conference, but has not been seen in public since. I should stress that's not all that unusual while this is an important job as Defense Minister.

It's not one that is necessarily entirely in the public view. He has been very busy during the several months before he was last seen at the end of August, he was traveling to both Russia and Belarus where he met with his Russian counterpart to have a meeting there while away.

There is some context though to all of this, it is not the first time that a member of President Xi Jinping's cabinet has basically gone missing it was late July that we in fact, Max, we are talking about the removal, the abrupt removal of Office of Foreign Minister Qin Gang about at the end of late July.

So that is the context here. Now, exactly what this means is as far as President Xi Jinping and what he is thinking, perhaps his motives, we know that he has been very focused on the centralization of his government and the fate of the Communist Party. At this point though, again, no specific location as to where Li may be.

It is very interesting to note that his bio, his official bio is still present on the Chinese government website, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Marc, thank you for that update. The catastrophic flooding in Libya is a terrible tragedy in which climb isn't capacity, capacity has collided. That's according to the U.N. Aid Chief. He says the extent of the problem in Libya is still unclear. -- borders, puts the death toll of 5000.

But the Mayor of the hardest hit City Derna says it could be four times that amount. Authorities say 10,000 people are still missing beyond the staggering numbers. Volunteers say they're overwhelmed by the scale of the human disaster in Derna, as aid slowly begins to arrive.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is on the ground in Libya, she spoke to my colleague, Poppy Harlow, just a short while ago.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've all covered wars, natural disasters before but none of us have seen anything like this. I mean, we drove into Derna, late last night. And even during night time in the dark, you could still see the destruction.

And now during the day, this is just utter, utter destruction. And it really feels like you're walking through a war zone like massive bombs had gone off here. And this is what people here would tell you. You know, you've got several cities along the Libyan coast that were impacted by Storm Daniel by the flooding over the weekend.

But nothing like this where people are describing here as this catastrophe. What happened in Derna, of course, as you know, is those two dams that burst and you have the floodwaters that swept through the -- of the city, washing out entire buildings, neighborhoods, homes, infrastructure families, and brought it all down here to the sea, to the Mediterranean.

I mean, it's very difficult for us to really move the camera around because of the communication issues. The communications were disrupted in the city so our connection is not very stable. But looking into the sea, Poppy, what we see here is people's lives in there. You see homes, you see doorframes, windows, furniture, clothes, cars, everything. And they are still right now searching for dead bodies.

[08:05:00] Bodies that are still washing up on the shore six days after this tragedy happened. Right now, Libyan officials are saying about 5000 people have been killed. There are still 10,000 people unaccounted for U.N. officials that we've been speaking to say they don't expect to find any more survivors right now.

And what you've got here, where we are is all these volunteers from different parts of the country who are working who are trying to assist in this recovery effort. And it is such a tough task. They're telling us they're not equipped to deal with something like this.

They don't have the means and capabilities to do this. One young man I was speaking to just a short time ago, just describing how people were just tying ropes to themselves and holding each other as they would dive into the sea and start pulling out body after body this one young man Tommy and one day he pulled 40 bodies just by himself.

And right now, the volunteers here are saying look, they need heavy equipment. You've got cars that are stuck in there and they don't know how many people are still in there. They are worried that there are people still dead bodies of course in these cars and they want support, they want help.

They want heavy equipment, they went divers, they went diving equipment to try and get recovers many bodies as they can. They have had some international support. We have seen some teams here on the ground. The Turks were already out on a rubber boat just a short time ago.

You have helicopters in the air, but it is nowhere near enough, Poppy, to deal with this disaster.


FOSTER: Jomana there speaking to, Poppy. Now, Ukraine is claiming a victory along the eastern front lines, where some of the fiercest fighting of Russia's war is actually taking place. Kyiv says his troops have retaken a village south of Bakhmut in what it's describing as a lightning fast operation.

Meanwhile, sources tell CNN, U.S. President Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy will talk one on one next week when the Ukrainian President is in the U.S. to speak at the U.N. General Assembly. But it's unclear whether the meeting will take place in New York, or indeed in Washington.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins me now live in Kyiv, the big opportunity for Zelenskyy to present himself onto the world stage. What do we know about him?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And important timing, Max, even as President Biden is hoping to convince Congress to approve a new military aid package, so that'll be an important visit. Important also to rally international support behind continued funding of this defense here in Ukraine has been going on more than 19 months. And of course, every month, it gets a little bit harder to continue keeping everybody on board. Still, as you mentioned, Max, important successes on the ground for the counter offensive here. And that is important too, in keeping allies motivated to continue sending weapons and funding to Kyiv.

What we've seen remember over the last few weeks have been very small, limited gains being made by the Southern counter offensive today, what Ukraine has confirmed is an important gain in the eastern counter offensive. The village of Andrivka, now that is the South as you save Bakhmut.

It had been the subject a lot of speculation these last couple of days, there had been early claims that had been captured that had been then denied. There was still fighting going on -- now this morning the confirmation that Ukraine says it is fully in their hands.

What they say is that after a lightning operation that lasted two days, one of their brigades managed to encircle the Russians that were there, cutting them off from the rest of their troops and taking full control of that village. And that is important because just as what we've seen in the southern counter offensive.

Although it is a small village, it is strategically important. This is an important gain symbolically and strategically, because any small gain eastwards as far as this counter offensive is concerned is important not only because according to the Ukrainians, they've taken a lot action, a lot of Russian losses in this.

It's about also momentum and motivation. And strategically being able to move further east and do similarly what they've done the south create a sort of breach that they can then seek to widen as they seek to penetrate further eastward. So an important win for Ukraine, an important victory remember in a counter offensive, that has been much criticized, Max, for not going as fast as many would have hoped.

FOSTER: OK, Melissa, thank you for bringing us that. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is continuing his travels to Russia's Far East following his high stakes summit on Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier today, Kim's armored train pulled out of Komsomolsk-on-Amur where we're not exactly sure.

He's heading next. During his visit he taught a plant that makes fighter jets is Russia's largest aviation manufacturing facility. According to the Kremlin, no agreements were signed during Wednesday's meeting between Kim and Russian President Putin. And today Mr. Putin said Moscow will seek good neighborly relations with North Korea within the framework of in International Law though.


The first court appearance for the embattled Former Head of Spain's Football Federation ended just moments ago. Luis Rubiales was in court to answer a criminal complaint of sexual assault and coercion. It stems from allegations he gave an unwanted kiss to footballer Jennifer Hermoso after Spain won the Women's World Cup and then pressured her to say it was consensual.

Prosecutors say Rubiales denied any wrongdoing. They've requested a restraining order for preventing him from speaking or indeed being anywhere near Hermoso. The judge will determine if the incident should lead to a trial. Journalist Al Goodman is tracking the story for us. So he had this chance to tell his story today. What was it?

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: Hi, Max, well, he told his story inside the court but he didn't tell it here to the media outside the court. So he came down this street into the courthouse behind me with his lawyer on the way in he said nothing, on the way out he said nothing.

But the Prosecution Service issued a statement saying that he did deny the charges inside the court hearing, as you just mentioned, and that he also answered questions from the judge, the prosecutor and from Jennifer Hermoso's lawyer. Now the prosecutors asked for these restraining orders.

In addition to staying away from her and not communicating with her during the investigative phase, that's what the prosecutors want. They've also asked that the judge require Rubiales to show up at a courthouse twice a month that could be a courthouse near his home.

That's a standard sort of restriction on defendants. We don't know if the judge is going to go for any of that we're waiting for that ruling. Or most of his lawyer spoke to the reporters outside here, outside of the courthouse, and she said the whole world could see that it was not a consensual kiss.

And she said Hermoso was understandably affected by what she called a humiliating event at that stadium in Sydney, Australia, right after the Spanish going to beat England in a close game to win the World Cup and she says that the event tarnish that overshadowed that event.

But right now we're just waiting to see what the next step is. It is worth noting this is a very preliminary phase, the judge is conducting an investigation right now in the court to see whether this merits a trial potentially a future, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Al Goodman thank you. For the first time in history union workers are the three big U.S. automakers are on strike. Workers in General Motors, Ford and Stellantis hit the picket lines at midnight local time. The United Auto Workers want higher wages, better benefits and more job protections.

They hope to reclaim some of the benefits they gave up more than a decade ago when the car companies were on the brink of bankruptcy. The companies have offered a pay hike. But the union says there's just not enough. CNN's Gloria Pazmino is outside of Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, with the details.

These are very important factories for America and indeed the world. How are they being affected?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Max, it's so important that you mentioned that the historical context of this fight there because you are correct. The union has said that for several years now workers have made concessions to the automakers and that now that the auto industry here in the United States is thriving.

They want to read back some of those benefits. And that's what that fight is about. There's a fight over salary increases and different salary tiers. I want to just give you an idea of what's happening here behind us. As you said, we're standing in front of a manufacturing plant here in Michigan.

This is just one of the many plants all across the state and really all across the country you can see that there are several workers that have been lined up in the picket line here. There are several gates that give you access to this plant and there is a presence of workers at nearly every gate.

With every passing car, you can feel that there is a lot of support for the workers here. Now the union has said that they have a strategy about how they're going to approach this strike and they're calling it a stand up strike. What that means are those specific locals around the country will be told when and where to strike?

Not all of the workers are walking out at once. The union says that's on purpose. They want to keep the automakers guessing about when and where the workers will be walking out on the job, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Gloria, thank you for that update. Still to come, no one said being President will be easy. Up next, we'll take you to the White House where Joe Biden is wrapping up a week filled with frustration.



FOSTER: Impeachment and diamond sagging poll numbers and now a strike has not been a good week for Joe Biden. Let's say Republicans begin an impeachment inquiry into the President claiming he's profited from his son's business deals. That same son Hunter Biden was indicted this week for allegedly lying about his past drug use and violating gun laws.

Poll after poll shows the American public even Democrats questioning whether the President is simply too old to serve another term in office. And now he's also dealing with historic labor unrest as we were hearing as the United Auto Workers Union is striking against the Big Three automakers at the same time.

Let's discuss all of this was CNN's White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz. I mean, we're saying it's a bad week. How does it compare with some of those other bad weeks would you say?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, the President is certainly facing a number of setbacks when it comes to political issues, personal issues, and also economic issues, of course at the center of it is that those charges that his son Hunter Biden is now facing from a special counsel. It marks the first time that the Justice Department has charged the son of a sitting President. Now the White House has really on that topic, referred all questions to the justice department saying that this is an independent investigation. But it's something that personally impacts President Biden of course he is very close with his son Hunter.

They talk very often he has in here at the White House. And the President had hoped that over the summer, they were about to turn the corner on some of his legal issues. He's felt that there is almost a sense of relief around the corner. But then that initial plea deal that Hunter Biden face collapsed.

Now this is all coming, this new indictment of Hunter Biden on those gun charges comes as the Special Counsel is still continuing other investigations into the President's son. And at the same time up on Capitol Hill, you have House Republicans now nearing launching that impeachment inquiry into the President.

Even though these House committees have not turned up any evidence to directly link President Biden to any of his son Hunter Biden's a business dealings. This is an issue that could very well play into the 2024 election when you think about the possibility of Hunter Biden being on trial as the campaign is underway, and also as Republicans move forward with this impeachment inquiry.

And then there are the issues on the economic front, when you think of the auto strike that is now happening after the UAW was unable to reach contract agreements with those Big Three automakers. The President had hopes that this would be a strike that would be averted.

He had said just on Labor Day that he didn't ultimately think they were going to go through with this strike, but that indeed, in fact, happen at midnight here in the United States. And just yesterday, the President had been working the phones in those final hours talking to the UAW President as well as the leaders of those Big Three auto companies.

Now, in a short while we will be hearing from President Biden on the status of those negotiations. But it also comes as the White House will have to turn their focus to try to blunt any economic impact that this strike could have while it is targeted, it could still have significant impact on the suppliers to these auto companies.

So we will see if the White House has anything to roll out related to that. But this is also a political issue for President Biden. Some of this is playing out in the battleground state of Michigan. Of course, the President has billed himself as one of the most pro union Presidents in history.


But it comes at a time as you we're seeing these disagreements between the auto companies and the Auto Workers Union. So this has been a very challenging week for President Biden, we will see what kind of impact this could have on the long term on him. FOSTER: Yes. Which of those issues would you say is going to stick with him and going to really drag him through the electoral cycle?

SAENZ: Yes, I mean, I think people will be watching to see what happens with the UAW. We'll see if it eventually gets resolved. But the issue regarding the impeachment inquiry and his son Hunter is something that Republicans are intent on keeping front and center heading into the 2024 election.

Now, the Biden campaign has tried to use the impeachment inquiry to their political advantage tried to argue that it shows that this is extreme politics at its worst of what Republicans are trying to do since I haven't found any evidence to directly link President Biden to his son Hunter Biden's business dealings.

But if you have this Hunter Biden trial playing out in the background, these are all things that advisors are concerned could sink into the psyche of people heading into the 2024 election, but this is something you know that they've been closely waiting for, monitoring and it's something that could carry out especially as Republicans you think about Donald Trump also has tried to make those Hunter issues a big problem for the President.

FOSTER: OK, Arlette, really appreciate your analysis there, thank you for joining us on that long week for President Biden. Now coming up CNN's Melissa Bell spends time with one Ukrainian unit on the southern front line where troops are outmanned, outgunned and facing a moment by moment fight for their very survival.


FOSTER: Tell me about to Russia's war in Ukraine where Kyiv's grueling counter offensive is more than three months old. On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops are often outmanned and outgunned, and it shows as both sides trade nonstop artillery fire across the front. CNN's Melissa Bell spent time with one unit and has her report now.


BELL (voice-over): Aiming for a specific target the fury of Ukrainian artillery. Nothing in this war goes on scene, not even the Russians walking into this house eight kilometers away. The target spared by Ukrainian myths. As they try to move the Zaporizhzhia frontline forward.

These gunners must now wait for better coordinates from the surveillance drone, even though the two are constantly watched, and more often than not outgunned.

"ODESA", UKRAINIAN BATTERY COMMANDOR, 128TH MOUNTAIN ASSAULT BRIGADE (ph): The Russians are learning. They copy our tactics. As soon as our guys strike, they strike back. They can respond to one of our howitzer with two or three of theirs.

BELL (voice-over): And 20th century artillery is slow to move and far too easy to see with 21st century technology. MARIAN, UKRAINIAN GUNNER, 128TH MOUNTAIN ASSAULT BRIGADE (ph): There are a lot of enemy drones flying here. That's why we constantly hide our positions because when the enemy sees us, they start shooting.

BELL (voice-over): Russian surveillance and attack drones are never far. But neither are Ukrainian ones says Odesa, the Battery's Commander.

"ODESA" (ph): We use aerial reconnaissance. We watch the flight of the shell and adjust the gun (ph) to hit target, so we waste less ammunition.


BELL (voice-over): Odesa tells his men to lower the gun one notch between drones and artillery, nothing is left to chance.

BELL: What they've been targeting is a building just on the other side that has Russian infantry and Russian artillery inside the drone has been guiding them. They're about to fire for a third time and what they say is that we should then expect incoming Russian artillery in response.

BELL (voice-over): This time it's a hit, not just the building but Russian ammunition and artillery too, which means that the retaliation should be swift and it's time to go as fast as we can. The reply doesn't take long.

"ODESA" (ph): Now we are targeting, their -- . LAY DOWN!! Incoming over there!

BELL: They're hitting over there, because as expected that incoming artillery followed. We're now having to drive away as quickly as we can although what they explain is that it isn't just the incoming artillery one of the most dangerous things about driving around these parts are the drones.

BELL (voice-over): From his position at the back of the pickup truck Odesa can hear and see the incoming fire.

BELL: Go, go, go, go, and go. He's telling us to drive fast, because of the incoming artillery.

BELL (voice-over): In all nine artillery rounds were fired back, a measure of Russian anger and today for these soldiers of Ukrainian success.

"ODESA" (ph): After you have experienced this, you begin to understand the value of life.

BELL (voice-over): The rush of survival for today at least. Melissa Bell, CNN, in Southern Ukraine.


FOSTER: Thanks for joining me here on CNN "Newsroom", I'm Max Foster in London. "World Sport" with Amanda is up next.