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Trudeau: "Credible Allegations" Link India To Sikh Murder; Five Americans Freed From Iran En Route To U.S.; Zelenskyy To Attend UNGA, Meet Biden To Shore Up Support. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 19, 2023 - 01:00   ET




LAILA HARRAK, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome. I'm Laila Harrak. Ahead on CNN Newsroom, headed home the multibillion dollar deal that led to the release of five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran.

A murder investigation turned international incident after Canada accuses India's government of killing a prominent Sikh leader.

And actor Russell Brand postpones his comedy tour as he faces multiple sexual assault allegations and investigations.

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

HARRAK: Diplomatic relations between India and Canada have suffered a serious blow after the Canadian Prime Minister suggests that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a prominent Sikh leader. India fired back, calling the allegations absurd and unsubstantiated, CNN's Paula Newton has the story.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a startling accusation, Canadian officials say the killing of a prominent Canadian Sikh leader in the province of British Columbia in June, may have been an assassination carried out on the orders of the Indian government.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

NEWTON (voice-over): Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he confronted India's Prime Minister with the allegations in a face to face meeting just last week, as Narendra Modi hosted the G20 Summit.

TRUDEAU: Canada has declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government. Last week at the G20, I brought them personally and directly to Prime Minister Modi in no uncertain terms. Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.

NEWTON (voice-over): The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar remains unsolved. Royal Canadian Mounted Police say Nijjar suffered multiple gunshot wounds while sitting in a vehicle outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. Homicide investigators say two mass suspects described as heavier set males fled on foot and then possibly in this 2008 silver Toyota Camry.

In the earliest days after the homicide, protesters demanded justice, saying the killing was politically motivated and chilling retribution for Nijjar's activism and support for sick independence in India. At the time, RCMP would not comment on a possible motive. But now Canadian officials are speaking loud and clear about their suspicions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The allegations that a representative of a foreign government may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen here in Canada on Canadian soil is not only troubling, but it is completely unacceptable. If proven true, this would be a grave violation of our sovereignty, and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other.

NEWTON (voice-over): That stern rebuke was followed by swift action. Canada expelled the head of India's spy agency in Canada, one of India's top diplomats in the country. In a statement the Indian government responded saying the allegations are unsubstantiated and accused Canada of sheltering terrorists. Trudeau considers the intelligence so credible that his foreign minister says he raised the issue with both U.S. President Joe Biden and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The killing of Nijjar and its fallout is now a potential political powder keg in both India and Canada, home to one of the largest Indian diaspora anywhere in the world. Sikh independence has long been a dangerous fault line and Indian politics. Canada now fears that conflict may have been brought to its shores with deadly consequences.


Paul Newton, CNN.


HARRAK: Let's take now to New Delhi to CNN's Vedika Sud. Vedika, these are extraordinary developments, what has been India's reaction?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: You know, Laila, we -- this is not only extraordinary, it's a very serious allegation and a very rare allegation to make. Do remember that Canada is seen as a key Western partner to India. And for its prime minister to stand up in Parliament and make such a serious accusation against the Indian government and its agents is very rare.

Not only that, you also have the government coming out and publicly taking the name of the Indian diplomat who has been expelled again, very rare. This, without any doubt, is going to snowball into a massive diplomatic crisis between the two countries and indications of this for those who could read between the lines was a handshake between the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau, when he was in Delhi about 10 days back for the G20 Summit.

Now, India's response has been very prompt and has been very strong. I'm going to read an excerpt from the statement that was issued about two hours back from India's External Affairs Ministry and it reads such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been proved shelter, provided shelter rather in Canada and continue to threaten India sovereignty and territorial integrity, a very strong statement coming out from the Indian government there.

And according to them, this is not the first time that they've raised this concern of anti-India activities by extremists in Canada who they call a part of the Khalistani movement. The Khalistani movement, remember, is a movement that has been on for decades demanding a separate state for Sikhs. And this has been condemned by India. This movement had been outlawed by India some time back.

And the person that we're talking about, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down in June this year outside a Sikh temple in Canada is seen as a terrorist by India, what the Canada government calls is a citizen of Canada, Hardeep Singh Nijjar for the Indian government is a terrorist. And he was declared a terrorist in the year 2020. And the allegations he faces is that he has been or rather had been sending money to India, through which people were targeted in India and killed.

And also there was extreme radicalization of the youth taking place in some states in India because of this leader. Now in the days to come, there is going to be outrage and uproar inside Parliament and outside Parliament here in New Delhi. A special session of Parliament is on this week, and we're going to see a lot of reactions coming out. But we'll have to see how this plays out between the two leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart in Canada. Back to you.

HARRAK: Vedika Sud reporting from New Delhi, thank you.

Now, it is just past 1:00 a.m. in the Washington, D.C. area where five Americans are about to take their first steps on U.S. soil in years. They've all been held prisoner in Iran, the U.S. government designated them as wrongfully detained. But they were released by Tehran on Monday as part of a deal mediated by Qatar.

It also includes the release of five Iranians held in the U.S. and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds. The Americans made a brief stopover in Doha before leaving for the U.S. Only three have been identified publicly, including Siamak Namazi, who's been held in Iran since 2015. Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi were both arrested on espionage charges in 2018. The two other freed Americans have not been identified publicly. A U.S. official says President Joe Biden spoke with all of their families.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's very good to be able to say that our fellow citizens are free after enduring something that I think it would be difficult for any of us to imagine that their families will soon have them back among them. And that in this moment, at least I have something very joyful to report.

HARRAK: More now from CNN's Becky Anderson in Doha, Qatar.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR, CONNECT THE WORLD (voice-over): Smiles, hugs and tears, as five Americans detained inside Iran for years are finally freed and on their way home. Among them, Siamak Namazi, he was arrested in 2015 while on a business trip to Iran, and charged with having relations with a hostile state. After nearly eight years in prison Namazi was Iran's longest held American prisoner. Feeling abandoned by the U.S., earlier this year he appealed directly to President Biden in an unprecedented interview with CNN from inside the notorious Evin Prison.


SIAMAK NAMAZI, IRANIAN-AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN: Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out to finally hear our cry for help bring us home.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Also freed dual Iranian-American citizens Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi. Tahbaz, an environmentalist was arrested while on a trip to Iran in 2018. Shargi, a businessman who moved with his wife to Iran from the U.S. in 2017, was also detained in 2018 on similar charges to that of Namazi.

(on camera): For years their fate tied to tensions between the two countries but with the help of a common friend in Qatar, breakthrough diplomacy brought us to this very moment.

(voice-over): Iran free the dual citizens and a deal to release five Iranians held in U.S. prisons, and to unblock $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea. That cash moving from Seoul to Switzerland before being transferred to Doha, after the Biden administration last week, issued a sanctions waiver clearing the way for the money to move. The role of Qatar now changing from mediator to guarantor ensuring Washington's demands that Iran's billions are strictly controlled, and spent only on humanitarian goods, like food and medicine.

But critics worry even with Doha's oversight the monies could be spent, however, Tehran decides. There's also concern this latest deal enables what many critics have dubbed Tehran's hostage diplomacy. But for the freed Americans today at least, politics will likely be a secondary concern, as they finally get to go home after years of mental and physical anguish.

Becky Anderson, CNN, Doha.


HARRAK: And a senior U.S. official says the release of the five Americans does not change America's relationship with Iran in quotes anyway. In fact, the Biden administration has issued new sanctions against Iran following the release. They are aimed at Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The U.S. says he enabled the wrongful detention of American citizens, causing immeasurable pain and suffering for the victims and their families.

And more we're joined by Trita Parsi. He's the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft as well as the author of "Losing an Enemy." So good to have you with us Trita. Can you put this moment into context for us from a diplomatic perspective? How significant is it that they managed to reach a deal and that the U.S. was able to secure the release of these wrongfully detained Americans?

TRITA PARSI, QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: Well, obviously, this is huge, particularly for some of these prisoners. I mean, one of them has been in jail for almost eight years, there's been several prisoner swaps, he has constantly been left over and now he's finally free. So you can just imagine how elated he and his family must feel to know that this nightmare is finally is over.

In the context of U.S.-Iran relations, this is obviously important in terms of removing a very, very problematic obstacle. But I don't foresee it leading to any strategic shift in the relations or even a deepening diplomatic process. I don't see the political appetite for that in Washington oriented or in Tehran for that matter, at least not until after the U.S. elections.

HARRAK: Now, as you know, there is now a criticism that the Biden administration should not have done this, because this deal allows for some frozen Iranian funds to be released and that it's tantamount to sanctions or relief. What do you make of that argument?

PARSI: I don't find that argument, convincing at all, at the end of the day, if the frozen funds were supposed to be used as leverage against Iran, what better way of using them then to release wrongfully detained Americans who should not have been in jail in Iran in the first place? And when it comes to the argument that the Iranian government can use the money any way they want, that is simply not true. This money is going from the South Korean bank to a Qatari bank.

If the Iranians want to buy food, agricultural products, medicine, that list has to be approved by the U.S. and then the Qataris will make the purchase using that money. The Iranians essentially will not even be able to touch that money. There has never been a deal that has been as restricted as this.


HARRAK: Now, as a part of the deal, Iranian nationals have been released, how much do we know about them? And why were they detained in the United States in the first place?

PARSI: We know quite little about them, because their cases have not been given much attention. In fact, very few people even knew who these people were up until a couple of days ago. Most of the cases are violations of sanctions one way or another. And it's not entirely clear as to whether they wanted to be part of this swap. We have examples in the past, in which Iranian prisoners in the U.S. were asked to be part of a swap and declined, they did not want to be part of his job. So we don't know the full details of what the backgrounds and the circumstances of the five Iranians that happened to this.

HARRAK: How would you In conclusion, describe the Biden administration's policy now when it comes to Iran?

PARSI: I think their policy when it comes to Iran, it remains the same as it was from the very beginning, which is that they want to see if they can resolve the nuclear issue, for instance, but they want to do it at a minimum political costs. And that is, I think, part of the reason why this has taken such a long time.

There's constantly been an effort to try to reduce the political risk in the political class rather than actually having a more bold policy. Now, thankfully, it's finally come to a conclusion on this sense of the nightmare of these prisoners is over. But for a long time, the fate of the prisoners was tied to the fate of the nuclear deal, and that was completely erroneous because these prisoners, these wrongfully detained Americans should not have been remaining a prison just because the nuclear issue could not be resolved.

HARRAK: All right, Trita Parsi, thank you so much for this conversation.

PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.

HARRAK: World leaders gathered in New York are set to kick off the United Nations General Assembly in the hours ahead. U.S. President Joe Biden is among those delivering remarks on Tuesday before holding a bilateral meeting with the U.N. Secretary General. Leaders will be discussing a whole host of issues from climate change to the war in Ukraine.

Here's a look at some notable absences from the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Biden is the only leader of the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council to attend.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be attending the annual meeting in person for the first time and is set to address the assembly in the coming hours. Well, on Monday he visited Ukrainian soldiers undergoing treatment and rehabilitation in New York. He also honored some soldiers with awards.

The commander of Ukraine's land forces as troops have successfully broken through a Russian defense line on the Eastern Front. They've liberated two key villages around the Bakhmut region in the past few days. And military officials say the overall situation remains difficult. Because Russian forces are fighting to claw back every inch of territory Ukrainian troops regain. CNN's Fred Pleitgen shows us now the scene on the battlefield.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Ground combat in a place reduced to a wasteland by months of relentless fighting. Ukrainian forces released this video saying it shows their troops advancing near Bakhmut on the Eastern front.

They're coming. Cover me the soldier says, as machine gunfire rings out and later mortars rained down. The Ukrainian say their gains here are small but important, firing heavy weapons at the Russians including rocket barrages from combat helicopters key of trying to show they have the upper hand, a presidential adviser tells me.

Let's not forget that we're talking about the army that everyone was afraid of only yesterday, he says. Today we're talking about a Ukrainian offensive in different directions. The Russians eager to show they are holding on. Russian state media releasing this video of Putin soldiers in the ruins of Bakhmut claiming they'll hold off Ukrainian assaults.

We can see them in the forest line, their trenches. We're working on those targets, he says. We shell them with our mortars. As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy embarks on his visit to the U.S. both for the U.N. General Assembly but also to meet with President Biden and members of Congress, the Ukrainians are urging the U.S. to keep up its support, saying aside from the longer range ATACMS tactical missiles to hit Russian supply lines, they urgently need a lot more artillery ammo as their forces are heavily outgunned, even as they tried to advance.


Speaking to 60 Minutes, Zelenskyy highlighting the sacrifices Ukraine is making. We're defending the values of the whole world, he says, and the Ukrainian people are paying the highest price. We are clearly fighting for our freedom. We are dying.

A tough and slow grind on the ground as Kyiv's military tries to inch forward, vowing they won't stop until they've ousted the Russians from all of Ukraine's territory.

Frederik Pleitgen, CNN, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.


HARRAK: Ukraine's government has just dismissed all but one of its deputy defense ministers, its latest large scale shakeup in a ministry recently plagued by corruption scandals. One of those dismissed is Hanna Maliar, who had become a familiar face for her updates on the progress of the counter offensive.

None of the officials who were fired were directly accused of corruption themselves. But it comes just weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired defense minister Oleksii Reznikov, who had been unable to root out graft. He was replaced by Rustem Umerov, who says the ministry is rebooting while the work of defending Ukraine continues as normal.

Still to come, mass graves are still being dug for more than a week after deadly flooding and Libya, as residents recount the moments when they suddenly lost their family members.

Plus, a stunning number of migrants have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa over the past week. We'll tell you about the government's latest plan to address the issue.


HARRAK: Protesters packed the streets of the Libyan city of Derna on Monday. Hundreds of residents demanded accountability from officials they partially blame for the scope of the damage from the recent deadly flooding. Residents blamed government officials for not giving enough warning for residents to evacuate in time.

Critics are also highlighting the fact that experts knew as early as last year, the city was vulnerable to floods and the dams required maintenance. Orders reports Libya's acting prime minister in eastern Libya dismissed all members of the Derna's Municipal Council and has called for an investigation.

And meantime volunteers are working to dig large mass graves to handle the thousands of bodies found since last week. Then as hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed in the days following the floods, with more than 2,500 people buried. In cases where bodies are decomposed and bloated beyond recognition, victims are identified by numbers. And officials take DNA samples ahead of burials. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is in Derna with more.



JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's all gone they say. Derna is now a city of the dead. There was no time for final goodbyes here. Mom, rest in peace, spray painted where that mother once lived. In 90 minutes, a city and its people were left shattered. Here, grief lingers in the air.

It faces tell of the horror they survived and lost they have yet to comprehend. Akram lost his brother's entire family. He now sits where their house once stood. It's all he has left of them. I lost my brother and his children. I lost my neighbors. I lost my whole world, he says. He searched for their bodies everywhere and hospitals and by the sea. Akram breaks down as he tries to remember his last call with his brother just two days before the catastrophe struck. He says this is God's will. It's a harsh one they've had to accept.

Everyone here has lost family, one after the other they share their gut wrenching stories. Still face are numb, Abdullah, recalls how he held his 10-year-old son and jumped from one rooftop to another to escape the ferocious flood. He helped save families but couldn't save his own. Abdullah lost his mother, his wife and his two other boys, 25 family members in total, but he's only buried four. Everyone here is on a mission to find the dead. There aren't enough search and rescue teams. It's mostly volunteers digging through the muddied rubble of these homes. They call passers' by to join.

(on camera): They believe there is one or more dead bodies underneath the rubble. They say they can smell it.

(voice-over): But most of the bodies are not here officials say, thousands were swept away with their homes and in their cars into the Mediterranean. Derna's idyllic seafront is now a staging area where they deliver the dead. Radia has not had time to process where she survived. She has been here since last Monday preparing the dead for burial. This is the hardest thing she's ever had to do, she says. She's recognized the lifeless faces of family, friends and neighbors.

Is this Derna, it will forever be heartbroken, she says. We lost our finest. People used to come and look at our flowers, our Jasmine. Now they come to a broken Derna.

At a cemetery outside the city where more than 1,000 victims have been buried in mass graves, they prepare for more. No family here just strangers who prayed for the dead. But there's no time to stop. The bodies just keep coming.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Derna, Libya.


HARRAK: And for more information about how you can help Libya's flood relief efforts go to

Italy is increasing the amount of time migrants can be held in detention and is making it easier to deport those who are deemed ineligible for asylum. Many of the migrants are arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa. And so far this year, almost 130,000 have arrived nationwide. That's nearly double the number from last year.

The wave of migrants is especially problematic for Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The far right politician was elected in parts on her promise to stem the flow of migrants. The arrivals have overwhelmed the tiny island between Italy and Africa. Meloni saw the humanitarian crisis firsthand this weekend when she visited Lampedusa with the President of the European Commission. CNN's Barbie Nadeau has the details.

BARBIE LATZA NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Sunday visit to the Italian Island of Lampedusa by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has been met in Italy with some skepticism.

The two visited the island after a surge in irregular migration, mostly boats coming from Tunisia, more than doubled the population of 7,000 on the island over the course of the last week. Now the two laid out a 10 point plan to deal with irregular migration. Most of that relied on a stopping the disembarkation of boats from a transit countries like Tunisia and Libya. [01:29:47]

It didn't so much focus however on helping the people or finding a way for the people who are trying to reach Europe for asylum and protection and find ways to do that.

It did mention humanitarian corridors, and some legal methods that those have in the past have been very difficult to implement in war- torn countries and places where migrants most need to apply for asylum.

Instead the focus was on destroying (ph) smuggler rings into Tunisia and Libya, and to destroy the actual boats that the migrants are setting sail upon, both of which would be very difficult because Europe doesn't have jurisdiction to carry out law enforcement in the countries of transit.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN -- Rome.


LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: And coming, up an actor who made his name performing raunchy standup comedy shows is now facing sexual assault allegations. Details, on the controversy surrounding Russell Brand. That's next.


HARRAK: London's metropolitan police say they are investigating an allegation of sexual assaults from 2003 after a joint investigation into the comedian and actor Russell Brand by three British media outlets was published Saturday.

But they're not naming the British comedian in the probe. Brand has denied all the allegations so far.

Clare Sebastian has the latest.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT; Russell Brand won't be performing onstage for a while his (INAUDIBLE) comedy tour now postponed. The outspoken comedian and actor seen here leaving his last show Saturday night just as U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 at a joint investigation with "The Times" and "Sunday Times" newspapers detailing allegations of multiple sexual assaults, including one rape.

One of the women who came forward referred to as Alice, not her real name, says she was just 16 at the time.

ALICE, VICTIM OF RUSSELL BRAND: Russell engaged in behaviors of a (INAUDIBLE), looking back there I didn't even know what that was. They're not what that looked like.

SEBASTIAN: CNN cannot independently verify these allegations.

RUSSELL BRAND, COMEDIAN AND ACTOR: Hello there, you 6.5 million awakening wonders --

SEBASTIAN: And Brand has vigorously denied them in a video posted on his popular YouTube channel before the documentary aired.

BRAND: As I've written about extensively in my books I was very, very promiscuous. Now, during that time of promiscuity the relationships that I had were absolutely always consensual.


SEBASTIAN: Well, Brand now has millions of loyal followers on social media portraying himself as a voice against the mainstream media.

BRAND: This is what we should be demanding of any democracy.

SEBASTIAN: The list of accusations against him center on his time as part of the mainstream media.

His career reaching new heights during the period the allegations related, his own promiscuity becoming an integral part of his comedic person.

BRAND: I swear you, I pledge, with the Lord God as our witness that I will consummate our love in the studio, in the midst --

SEBASTIAN: He made his name on Channel 4's "Big Brother's Big Mouth" airing in the U.K. in the mid-2000s. The broadcaster said it was appalled and was determined to understand what happened.

The BBC who parted with Brandon 2008 over offensive voice mail messages said it was also urgently looking into the issues raised. And, the literary agent Tavistock Wood who had been listed as Brand's representative told CNN they believe they had been horribly misled by him and has severed all ties.

As for potential criminal investigations there are as yet no indications these are underway either in London or in Los Angeles where two of the alleged assaults took place.

The metropolitan police says that it did receive a report on Sunday of an alleged sexual assault in London in 2003 without directly naming Brand.

The Met has urged anyone who believes they've been a victim of a sexual assault no matter how long ago, to come forward.

Clare Sebastian, CNN -- London.


HARRAK: Joining me now to talk more about this is Caroline Heldman. She is a professor of critical theory and social justice at Occidental College and she joins me now from Los Angeles.

Professor, good to have you with us. Russell Brand vehemently denies these accusations that he sexually

assaulted four women. This story has elicited a lot of reactions. What do you make of some of the responses we've seen so far?

CAROLINE HELDMAN, OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE: Well I think they're pretty stereotypical, right. We've seen this pattern before. I would predict similar to Bill Cosby and Weinstein and Marilyn Manson when you have allegations coming out over a number of years, there is likely to be some fire with that smoke.

But a very typical response especially for celebrities who are accused of rape and sexual assault is that people will not (INAUDIBLE) the allegations even though statistically speaking, if one survivor comes forward there is a 92 percent chance that she or they are telling the truth, two come forward it goes up to 99 percent. As a data scientist I'm looking at four. Again like this court (ph) for celebrities, really in effect that he got a standing ovation with four allegations of rape really speaks to how entrenched rape culture is meaning that we don't really take this seriously as a crime.

HARRAK: Now, Professor, he's not shying away from his past. I mean he's very public in acknowledging that he was promiscuous. And in his public persona during that period was also very unapologetically raunchy.

And people thought it was charming, you know. timing everybody, you know, talked about him as this disarming character. What does it tell you in terms of where, you know, there was a time when that type of behavior was ok? And now looking back at that period, it is quite different to watch.

Does it mean that our standards have shifted?

HELDMAN: Well, you know, I'm a huge Russell Brand fan. And I love that type of humor. His promiscuity and his jokes about promiscuity I think were liberating for a lot of folks. And I look at that and I say, look, there is nothing wrong with promiscuity.

Maybe you think there is, but who cares who anyone has sex with.

But there is something wrong with rape. It's a felony crime. Sexual assault -- these are crimes. And so I think it's interesting that we're looking back at Russell Brand now that had these allegations not come forth, I think his humor would still be pretty charming.

HARRAK: Now what happens in terms of, you know, when these types of stories are revealed. What kind of effect do they have?

HELDMAN: Well, they have an effect of empowering other survivors to come forward. I would imagine, and I'm not (INAUDIBLE) this is not my first time that a celebrity is being accused of rape rodeo.

I would imagine that all of this press and publicity would cause other survivors, other women who they have victimized to come forward. We've already seen that. By the way this is not a huge surprise. Kylie Minogue's little sister

a decade ago said that he was a vile perpetrator. We know that there was some course (ph) of control issues reported from his former spouse, Katy Perry.

We know that a model that he dated changed his name in a book but it was pretty obvious it was him and she had rape allegations.


HELDMAN: So to be honest, I have been waiting -- expecting this for a number of years. And I expect that Russell Brand was also expecting this. It's a very tight powerful response to these allegations.

HARRAK: You know, what can be done -- what can we learn from, you know, these types of allegations in terms of what measures can be put into place to prevent future abuse?

HELDMAN: Well, I think it's very clear that similar to Weinstein and Cosby and others this behavior is an open secret. Russell Brand's behavior was an open secret in Hollywood and of course, you referred to some of his humor earlier. Some of them really cross the line, like their allegations that he was inappropriate in terms of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Many, many people knew this. And I think what we can learn from this is that a lot of people have to be involved for someone this high- profile to have this number of allegations and be able to get away with it if they are true for many, many years, that folks around him likely played a role in this.

HARRAK: Caroline Heldman, thank you so much.

HELDMAN: Thank you.

HARRAK: Next to Spain which has named a squad for two upcoming international football matches even though 20 of the women called up had already signed a letter refusing to play for their country until structural changes are made. And one notable name was left off the players' list, Jennifer Hermoso, who was given an unwanted kissed by the former president of the Spanish Football Federation.

CNN's Don Riddell picks up the story.


DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: What is going on at the Spanish Football Federation, and how are they treating their world champion players? It's almost exactly a month now since they won the women's World Cup but there hasn't been much celebrating in that time.

Instead, what's happened, since they beat England in the final has been absolutely extraordinary. The Spanish Football Federation was plunged into a state of profound crisis by former president Luis Rubiales, who kissed the player Jenni Hermoso during the medal ceremony. He has since resigned, and the coach Jorge Vilda has been fired. But

things are not getting any better. In fact, they might just be getting worse.

On Monday, the team's new coach Montse Tome named the squad to play two upcoming nations league games against Sweden and Switzerland. And there were some raised eyebrows because her squad included 20 players who had said that they wouldn't lineup for the national team. This is what Tome had to say about that.

MONTSE TOME, COACH, SPANISH WOMEN'S NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM (through translator): Yes. I have spoken to the players, and I will not reveal what we have spoken about. These are things that are part of a professional relationship and they stay between us.

RIDDELL: Well, on Monday night, the players revealed a somewhat different version of events. Many of them posted this statement to their social media accounts, stating that they had not agreed to come back to the team.

Previously, they had asked not to be played until real structural changes had been made within the organization. In the statement they said, quote, "We will study the possible legal consequences to which our federation -- that's the Spanish Federation -- has exposed us by putting us on the list which we had asked not to be called on due to reasons which we had already explained publicly to take the best decision for our future and for our health.

We regret, once again, that our federation places us in a situation which we never would've desired.

This would be a truly remarkable situation for any team. Not least the newly crowned world champions. The federation has publicly acknowledged the need for reform. And yet, it seems, the players feel as though they are being forced back into the national team.

It's a reminder of the challenges so many women face in sport and in the workplace. But these players are clearly determined to fight for a better future.

Back to you.


HARRAK: And it's been almost a month since Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash. So CNN journeyed into one of Wagner's primary and most remote centers of operation, the Central African Republic to see how the militia, and Russia's influence may be changing. That's up next.



HARRAK: Almost a month after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a still unexplained plane crash, Russia has been moving to consolidate Wagner's operations across Africa.

CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward traveled to the Central African Republic, one of the world's poorest nations and one of Wagner's first operational sites on the continent to see how Wagner's work and Russia's influence might be changing.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the Central African Republic, the message from Wagner is clear: it's business as usual.

Less than one month after their boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash, masked mercenaries still guard the president and cut an intimidating figure on the streets of the capital.

Faces covered, as Wagner protocol dictates, they are unapproachable and untouchable. These are the first images of Wagner fighters in the country since Prigozhin's death.

So they're clearly still very much a presence here in Bangui.

That presence runs deep. The markets are full of cheap sachets of vodka and beer, made by a Wagner-owned company. The locals seem to like it.

They say they don't drink beer, only Russian beer.

We've come back to the center of Prigozhin's empire in Africa, right as his death raises questions for the regimes he protected and the mercenaries whose loyalty he inspired.

Our last visit was in Wagner's early days here. Run like the Mafia, providing guns and fighters, and propaganda, in return for gold, diamonds and timber, using intimidation and brutality along the way.

That car full of Russians have been following us for quite some time. We don't know why. We don't know what they want.

But in this lawless, war-scarred country, one of the poorest in the world, that ruthlessness and the security it brought, is celebrated by many.


WARD: Wow, that is quite the T-shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, beautiful T-shirt.

WARD: Presidential advisor Fidele Gouandjika says the nation is in mourning for Wagner's dead leader.

GOUANDJIKA: He was my friend. He was my friend, best friend. A friend of all Central African people.

WARD: Why exactly was Mr. Prigozhin so popular here in your mind?

GOUANDJIKA: Because our country was in war. So Mr. -- Mr. Putin give us some help with Prigozhin.

WARD: So aren't you nervous, now that he's dead, that things might change?

GOUANDJIKA: But Mr. Putin called our president. He told him that everything will be like yesterday. Nothing will be changed. Nothing.

WARD: But according to a diplomatic source here, hundreds of Wagner fighters left the Central African Republic in July after Prigozhin's failed mutiny.

Those who remain, including his top lieutenants, have agreed to work for the Russian Ministry of Defense. Fighters have already been pulled back from frontline outposts to population centers in an effort to cut costs, the source says.


WARD: What's less clear is what becomes of Wagner's civilian presence here. This is one of the last places that Prigozhin was seen alive, during his final tour across Africa.

It's called the Russian Cultural Center. Only it has no connection to Russia's official cultural agency, and was run until recently by Prigozhin's closest associate here.

Photographs taken on that visit show a new face, a woman known as Nafisa Kiryanova.

After days of asking for permission to visit, we decide to film covertly.

WARD: So but you were here then, when Yevgeny Prigozhin when he was here, in the photographs. There's the photographs of you with Prigozhin together.



WARD: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was just over in that corner.

There you are.

KIRYANOVA: Ok, ok. That's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is Mr. Prigozhin, no?




WARD: Do you think he knew they were going to kill him?

KIRYANOVA: My gosh. What is the question there? Who knows such things?

WARD: What does it mean for your work here? Does it change anything?

KIRYANOVA: Does it change anything if -- I don't know, if the president of your country dies? Does it mean that your country stops to exist?

WARD: She shows us one of their daily Russian classes. As we step back outside, we see a Wagner fighter.

WARD: Hi. Who are you?

You can just make him out, retreating to the back of the center, where according to the investigative group, The Century, Wagner sells its gold and diamonds to VIPs, and manages its timber and alcohol operations.

WARD: Who is that?

KIRYANOVA: A personnel.

WARD: A person?

Can we see what's there? That's weird.

KIRYANOVA: Actually, well, what are you going to see there?

WARD: Like most of Wagner's activities here, it's clear there is still so much that is hidden from view.

We've pushed the visit far enough. It's time to go.

No matter who takes over here, Western diplomats say they don't expect much to change.

At the local Orthodox church, the Greek lettering has been painted over. Its allegiance now is to the Russian patriarchy.

And even in the skies above the empire Prigozhin built, Russia's dominance lives on.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Bangui.


HARRAK: And still to come, anti-Semitism was a big talker as Israel's prime minister and Elon Musk sat down for a chat in California. Hear what Benjamin Netanyahu told Musk about hate speech on his platform, X.


HARRAK: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, to combat anti-Semitism on his platform X, formerly known as Twitter. They met for a conversation in California where protesters also showed up to challenge the prime minister about one of his most controversial initiatives back home.

CNN's Hadas School reports.



HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicking off his week-long visit to the United States with a visit to California to meet with Elon Musk for a live discussion about artificial intelligence and technology.

But he did address Elon Musk on allegations that he has allowed anti- Semitism to flourish on the platform formerly known as Twitter, now known as X.

Take a listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu had to say.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I also know your opposition to anti-Semitism you have spoken about it and tweeted about it. And all I can say is that I hope you find within the confines of the First Amendment the ability to stop not only anti-Semitism or roll it back as best you can, but any collective hatred of a people that, you know, anti-Semitism represents.

GOLD: Now, Elon Musk responded by saying he's against anti-Semitism, saying he's against anti-anything, talking about the difficulties of trying to balance freedom of expression without letting this kind of things flourish on a platform. Even mentioning that that is one of the reasons why he wants to charge everyone for use of the platform, believing that that will help combat thought.

It was also interesting to hear in Elon Musk tell Benjamin Netanyahu that never before had he received so much pushback about an event being held at Tesla where this conversation was held then over this event with Benjamin Netanyahu. And that is connected to the judicial overhaul that Netanyahu's government is trying to push through back here in Israel.

Elon Musk even mentioning the protesters that had lined the streets getting up to the Tesla factory, protesting against Benjamin Netanyahu's presence there and against the overhaul.

In essence, Netanyahu responded by saying he was trying to rebalance the branches of government and promising that there would be some sort of consensus middle ground found. And saying that Israel will remain a democracy, even saying that Israel will become an even stronger democracy after this overhaul has passed, that is.

Obviously, something that the protesters here in Israel and the opposition parties here in Israel feel very strongly on the opposite end of.

Hadas Gold, CNN -- Jerusalem.


HARRAK: And finally, this hour, a Danish artist has been ordered to repay most of the money he received from a museum. Jens Hannig (ph) was loaned about $76,000 to create two works where he was meant to attach cash to canvasses to depict wage disparities in Europe. But instead he delivered two blank canvases, yes, blank campuses. As if the work was titled, take the money and run.

The Museum of Modern Arts show they did put the canvasses on display but according to Copenhagen says Hannig has to repay the museum most of that loan plus legal fees.

Art is in the eye of the beholder.

That wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Laila Harrak.

I will be right back with more news. Hope to see you then.