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Iraq Wedding Tragedy; Nagorno-Karabakh Crisis; Russia's War On Ukraine; Trump Legal Trouble; Autoworkers' Strike; Climate Lawsuit; Mexico-Guatemala Migrant Crisis. Thousands Bound for U.S. Camped at Mexico-Guatemala Border; U.K. Home Secretary: Questions U.N. Sanctuary, Asylum Policies; Private Rental Prices Soar to Record Highs Across the U.K.; Who is Running Wagner in Central African Republic; Developing Mauritius Payment Ecosystem. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 01:00   ET



LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and thanks for tuning in. I'm Laila Harrak on CNN Newsroom.

A bride and groom in despair after fire sweeps through their wedding, killing and injuring hundreds of guests. And workers struggling to help the tens of thousands of Armenian refugees fleeing the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. And London unveils plans to open its secret World War II tunnels to the public as part of a glitzy historic underground attraction.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Laila Harrak.

HARRAK: We begin with developing news out of Iraq where a wedding celebration has turned into tragedy. At least 100 people were killed and 150 others injured after a fire broke out at a wedding hall in the north of the country. A wedding guest says the bride and groom are devastated but are doing fine.

Firefighters are looking through the burnt out building for survivors and the prime minister says officials will "do everything they can to help those affected by the sad incident." Well, authorities say the fire was caused by candles and fireworks used during the wedding ceremony. And the situation was made worse by "the use of highly flammable low cost building materials that collapse within minutes when the fire breaks out."

Well next to Armenia where there's a growing humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees after neighboring Azerbaijan defeated separatists in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh last week. The Armenian government says more than 28,000 of what it calls forcibly displaced persons from the enclave have arrived in the country as of Tuesday. The mass exodus has led to this scene right here.

The only road connecting the region to Armenia packed full of cars as people try to flee. The International Committee of the Red Cross tell CNN it is working with officials to open more aid routes into the enclave. Doctors say many of the new arrivals suffer from malnutrition on.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been under blockade since December of last year, which prevented the delivery of food fuel and medicine. A US official says the recent military conflict has made the situation worse.


SAMANTHA POWER, USAID ADMINISTRATOR: It is absolutely critical that independent monitors as well as humanitarian organizations get access to the people in Nagorno-Karabakh who still have dire needs.


HARRAK: Well, meanwhile we're hearing the explosion at a gas station in Nagorno-Karabakh has now killed at least 68 people and injured hundreds more. Armenia and the Red Cross have sent ambulances and medical supplies to help the survivors. But the deadly blast is another strain on an already scarce resources, CNN's Scott McLean reports.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A week after war ethnic Armenians fleeing the Nagorno-Karabakh Region continued to arrive in Armenia. Some shell-shocked tired, others limping or literally out of gas, but alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): It was horrible. Children were hungry and they were crying. We ran away just to survived. That's all.

MCLEAN (voice-over): The journey out of the now war ravaged territory is extremely slow. Long lineups of cars wind down the switchbacks of the mountainous lodge and corridor. One family told CNN that leaving seems impossible, instead choosing to turn back and try again another day.

This comes a week after Azerbaijani troops launched a lightning offensive to regain control over the long disputed territory. It lasted just 24 hours before the outgunned separatist armed forces agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire and to disarm.

Nagorno-Karabakh for decades has been an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. But populated by 120,000 ethnic Armenians is long functioned as a de facto enclave of Armenia, a fragile grey area that held until war in 2020 and again last week. Thousands have now chosen to flee rather than live under Azerbaijani rule.


GAYANE, REFUGEE FROM NAGORNO-KARABAKH (voice-over): Can one live with them? No. One cannot. I've just survived. I've been on the road for a day. My children are hungry.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Yep. An explosion at a gas depot on Monday where people were fueling up before the journey to Armenia wounded hundreds according to Armenia state news. Straining already packed local hospitals and even field hospitals like this one run by Russia.

Even before the blast, getting injured evacuated was difficult. Now the International Committee of the Red Cross says there are hundreds of burn victims in urgent need of specialized medical care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heavy traffic makes it extremely difficult for us to pass across Lachin road.

MCLEAN (voice-over): And for those ethnic Armenians who remain in the Nagorno-Karabakh, there is plenty of uncertainty about how they'll be treated once the mass evacuation finally ends. Scott McLean, CNN, London.


HARRAK: And joining me now is Zara Amatuni, a spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Armenia, whom we just heard from -- in Scott's report. Thank you for joining us.

Can you describe the situation for us? So, what is it like right now?

ZARA AMATUNI, SPOKESPERSON, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS IN ARMENIA: The situation remains really precarious. We're seeing thousands of people that are fleeing and moving in Armenia. People are in need of a lot of things starting from food, access to health care, to mental health issues and supportive psychosocial support.

Our teams and our partners are working on the ground, the partners from the Armenian Red Cross Society, to receive people. We are not involved directly in the evacuations. However, we're trying to assess the specific protection needs of the people that are coming in. This situation actually is very much complicated also, because of the needs for medical treatment and evacuation of the people that, for example, suffered the recent explosion at the fuel depot.

HARRAK: Right.

AMATUNI: And our --

HARRAK: Sorry for interrupting you. Are victims of the explosion at the fuel depot were still arriving in Goris, Armenia? And how our medical facilities coping with a number of burn victims?

AMATUNI: That's really an issue. Hospitals in the area have been really working beyond their capacities, and the medical teams are exhausted. We were able, yesterday, to facilitate an operation of bringing in ambulances that took to Armenia some 75 patients, most of them people that suffered the injuries from this explosion, to get medical treatment in specialized medical centers in Armenia.

We're discussing with the decision makers the opportunities to increase the number of medical evacuations because, in addition to that, there are still people that we had assessed before, some 60 people out of them, only 23 were able to be evacuated. That also have medical condition, many of them were wounded. There are also others that are sick and need medical treatment as soon as possible. HARRAK: We're told that there were 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. How was the ICRC preparing for more refugees crossing into Armenia in hours and days ahead?

AMATUNI: Well, the ICRC released a specific statement yesterday, and I would like to call it that any safe passage operation should occur only if people themselves decide to leave. And as we see people really fleeing -- and we cannot -- we are actually looking at the situation as it is evolving. We really stressed the need of the authorities to respect international humanitarian law and other applicable law in relation to these people.

So people should not be separated against their will. They need to really have the necessary protection. Should they leave or should they choose to stay. We stand ready to act as a neutral intermediary to facilitate safe passage operations but there are two conditions for that. The first one is that people concerned should freely make the decision to leave and the second one is that this action should be requested for us. And certain modalities need to be agreed with all the decision makers on the sides for us to act.

HARRAK: All right. Zara Amatuni of the ICRC, thank you so much for joining us.

AMATUNI: Thank you


HARRAK: A top Russian admiral have reportedly killed in a Ukrainian missile strike may not be dead after all. Russia's Defense Ministry released footage Tuesday that appears to, Tuesday, that appears to show Victor Sokolov in a video meeting.

CNN cannot independently confirm if the video is real or, when and where it was recorded. Ukrainian says it is clarifying the fate of the Black Sea fleet commander. Christiane Amanpour asked Ukraine's new Defense minister about the discrepancy.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Can you confirm that the head of Russia's Black Sea fleet, Viktor Sokolov, is in fact dead or alive?

RUSTEM UMEROV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Well, first of all, he is in our temporary occupied territories, so he's not -- he should not be there at all. So if he is that -- it's a good news for everybody that we are continuing to de-occupy our territory.


HARRAK: Well, Ukraine had earlier said Sokolov and 33 others were killed in a missile strike on Friday. Kyiv has increasingly hit Russian targets in occupied Crimea, claiming Moscow was using the annexed region as a logistics hub. While the Kremlin is downplaying the arrival of the first US Abrams tanks in Ukraine, saying they will burn on the battlefield like other weapons. But Ukraine's military has resources on hand, including the menacing Vampire attack drones. CNN's Fred Pleitgen seen as like it has our exclusive report.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rolling into battle as night falls, Ukraine's army attacking in the east around Bakhmut.

(on camera): For the Ukrainians, this is an extremely important but also very complicated and potentially very dangerous mission. And we're going to be located very close to where the Russians are.

(voice-over): We're with a frontline drone unit called Code 9.2. Their drone, the Ukrainian made Vampire. The crew attaching the bombs as artillery whistles over our heads. The Vampire is fully night vision capable and plays a soundtrack showing it means business.

The team leader's call sign is Grov (ph), and he confirmed because Ukraine doesn't have a modern air force, tonight they are the air force.

The drones see in the night like in daylight, he says. We see the infantry. We hit the vehicles, cannons, everything we need to destroy. Grov (ph) also says Russians from the Wagner private military company have returned to the battlefield around Bakhmut.

Yes, there is Wagner here too. They swiftly changed their commanders and have returned here, he says. We're breaking through their line of defense and hitting them well.

As the drone takes off, the battle is already well underway. The Ukrainians using Western extended range artillery shells and cluster munitions to attack Russian ground forces. Grov (ph) is already busy targeting the Russians.

Oh, something is burning, he says. His unit also managing to take out a Russian main battle tank by dropping several bombs on it.

The Ukrainian army now starting to push forward. Our photo journalist Dan Hodge films powerful explosions, as armored vehicles advanced in the moonlit night.

(on-camera): We're now hearing a lot of fire, a lot of outgoing fire, a lot of incoming fire actually also as well as the Ukrainians are trying to move forward. And they say they want to take a key road away from the Russians.

(voice-over): But the Russians are fighting back, firing flares to unmask the Ukrainians advance and hit Kyiv's forces. Remains unfazed hunting a Russian tactical vehicle before destroying it. The Code 9.2 drone team often hunts Russian armor here recently even destroying a modern T90 tank in a highly complex operation. After more than a half dozen missions, the drone returns the final time. But as we tried to get away from the battlefield, a tire burst on our Humvee. No time for spare, we push off.

(on-camera): We just witnessed an extremely tough battle between the Russians and the Ukrainian, both sides going at it for hours with very heavy weapons. And the area where we were shells landed close to there on various occasions. Now we're heading back to base.

(voice-over): Hobbled but rolling after a long night on one of Ukraine's most dangerous frontlines. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Ukraine.



HARRAK: And still to come, a landmark lawsuit gets underway soon involving dozens of European governments say they're being accused of climate inaction by some very young plaintiffs. Plus, another legal loss for Donald Trump. A New York judge rules he committed fraud over the course of 10 years, what it means for his upcoming civil trial.


HARRAK: More legal trouble for Donald Trump. New York judge has found the former US president and his adult sons are liable for fraud after providing false financial statements for roughly a decade. The judge also canceled the Trump organization's business certification. Trump's attorney has already vowed to appeal, calling the ruling a "miscarriage of justice." CNN's breaks down the ruling.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN US NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a huge victory for New York Attorney General Letitia James and gives a clear path when that civil trial is expected still to begin next week. The judge siding with the attorney general in that civil lawsuit basically saying that Trump and his sons are liable that they defrauded -- basically over inflated their assets for more than a decade.

When we talk about assets, we're talking about his golf course, his hotels, his home. The judge noting in his paperwork and his decision that he overinflated his home by three times in size over evaluating it by $114 million to $207 million, saying that he is living in a fantasy world not a real world.

This also, the judge, giving a real blow to Trump who essentially rejected all of his arguments that he made in a deposition that his financial statements weren't fraudulent and that they contained disclaimers. My colleague, Kara Scannell, getting reaction from Trump's attorneys regarding this decision. And Trump's attorney saying this was an outrageous decision and that they do plan to appeal.

Now, there is appeal currently in front of the courts right now. We are expecting a decision on that appeal sometime this week that could delay the start of the civil trial where more matters are expected to be taken up, including how much Trump will have to pay in damages for what the judge just ruled on. But that's something certainly we're going to keep an eye on. Brynn Gingras, CNN in New York.


HARRAK: President Joe Biden did something Tuesday that historians believe no US president has done before. He visited a union picket line. Mr. Biden traveled to Michigan to join striking auto workers who have walked off their jobs at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis in a dispute over wages, pensions and other issues seen, CNN's Kayla Tausche reports. Thank you, everybody.


KAYLA TAUSCHE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden making history in Michigan using the picket line as the bully pulpit.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: You've heard a hell of a lot more are getting paid now.


TAUSCHE (voice-over): Standing with United Auto Workers nearly two weeks into a strike, backing their calls for a 40% raise.

BIDEN: Stick with it. You deserve the significant raise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The working class people --

TAUSCHE (voice-over): For Biden, who had vowed to stay out of contract and legal talks, it's a political tightrope to bolster a core constituency.

BIDEN: I'm proud to be the most pro-union president in American history.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): The President, in June, kicking off his 2024 campaign flanked by dozens of unions endorsing him. But one was missing, the United Auto Workers whose newly elected leader had just slammed the White House for awarding Ford $9 billion, saying the last time the federal government gave the big three billions of dollars, that companies did the exact same thing, slash wages, cut jobs and undermine the industry that for generations created the best jobs for working families in this country.

Since then, Biden aides have hosted UAW leader Shawn Fain and the White House has ensured future loans would prioritize union jobs. Shawn Fain, who invited Biden to Michigan but hasn't endorsed him yet, has high hopes.

SHAWN FAIN, UAW LEADER: We know the President will do right by the working class --

TAUSCHE (voice-over): Same says unions are having a moment.

FAIN: Whether we're writing movies or performing TV shows, whether we're making coffee at Starbucks, whether it's nursing people, back to hell, we do the heavy lifting, we do the real work.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): And Americans agree. In August Gallup poll found support for unions at 67%, the highest since the 1960s, and 75%. approval for UAW.

But former President Trump also vying for the working class vote which he won in 2016, making a Wednesday visit to the Wolverine State and accusing Biden his likely opponent of riding his coattails.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's selling our automobile companies everything right down the tubes. So, I announced that I'm going to Michigan and then he announced 20 minutes later, I'm going to Michigan.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): The White House denied that former President Trump's visit to Michigan played any role in Biden's decision to go. And the White House also tried to walk back comments by Biden that he supported the 40% wage increase the workers were seeking. One official told reporters after reviewing the audio that the President did say yes, I think they should bargain for that. Kayla Tausche, CNN, the White House.


HARRAK: According to a new report by the International Energy Agency, global demand for fossil fuels is likely to peak by 2030, but not nearly enough to limit the rising global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agency says achieving that target temperature would require a 25% decrease in demand for fossil fuels in less than seven years when compared to current levels.

The report also estimates investments in clean energy worldwide, will need to be -- will need to more than double every year by 2030 to keep that target temperature. Scientists consider a warming of 1.5 degrees, a threshold beyond which extreme weather conditions and shortages will have a catastrophic impact.

Six young people from Portugal have accused dozens of European countries of climate negligence. Their landmark lawsuit gets underway at Europe's top Human Rights Court in the coming day. They're seeking a legally binding verdict that could force governments to act. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz explains.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Destructive hurricanes, widespread fires massive floods, scientists say catastrophes like bees are becoming more common because of climate change. Now six young Portuguese, including Andre and Sofia Oliveira, are taking 32 countries to court. They want the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK to act faster.

SOFIA OLIVEIRA (through translation): We need you to do a better job. I noticed that climate change has a big impact on my life.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Their case is being heard this week, but the build up started six years ago after the 2017 fires in Central Portugal, the country's deadliest. More than 250 people were injured and 66 killed, many of those unable to escape when the flames reached this stretch of road died, trapped inside their cars.

The tragedy spurred the applicants into action, especially some who like Catarina lived close to the area most affected by the fires.

CATARINA MOTA, APPLICANT (through translation): None of our family houses burned down or anything like that, but we obviously felt it and we increased similarly feel the impacts of climate change in our summers.


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Catarina and others say climate change has already having a negative impact on their lives, and are asking the Europe Court of Human Rights to protect them. A true David versus Goliath case, but their lawyer believes they have a shot.

GEAROID O CUINN, FOUNDER, GLOBAL ACTION NETWORK: We believe this is an opportunity that the course should take. And we're optimistic because people recognize the opportunity and demand that states do more to avert the climate (inaudible).

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): A win would legally bind countries to take more action on climate change. But even if they lose, Catarina is happy, they've been able to raise awareness.

MOTA (through translation): This entire process has been very positive, and we've been able to achieve a lot. If the court outcome is positive, that would be the cherry on top.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): A cherry in the form of government action to secure a future that doesn't look like this. Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


HARRAK: As Paris gears up to host next year Summer Olympics, the French government is working on, "We accommodating the city's homeless." Governments group tell CNN around 10 regional temporary shelters have been set up around the country, and every week 50 to 150 people are being taken to one of these locations.

They say nearly 1,800 people, the majority of whom are migrants, have been moved so far.

Still had a growing migrant crisis in southern Mexico, how thousands of people are crossing into the country from Guatemala, with many hoping to eventually reach the United States.


HARRAK: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Laila Harrak.

It's not just the US-Mexico border that's seeing a record breaking surge of migrants this year. The Mexico-Guatemala border is facing its own crisis as thousands of desperate asylum seekers arrived there, hoping to make it to the US.

But as CNN's David Culver reports, they must survive dire situations before they have any chance at a better life.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you touch down in Southern Mexico, be ready to share the road with migrants. We spawned group after group marching north. Many of those who just illegally crossed into Mexico head here. This outdoor park turned to migration processing center.

We met folks camping out for days, some weeks, waiting to claim asylum in Mexico, or to get transit documents so as to pass through legally, or to sign up for, well, some aren't quite sure what they're signing sign up for but they do it anyways.

Rafael Torres Marti from outside Havana, Cuba. At 26, he sold his house, left behind a six-year-old son, and is traveling north with his dad.

He wants to go legally into the U.S. So he wants to go through this process here, get his documentation, and then get to the northern border, and eventually cross.

He wants to pave the way for the rest of his family to follow. Haido Eduarte (ph) traveled from Honduras with his wife and their two young boys. He's done this before.

Four years ago, he lived in Minnesota, said he was painting water towers -- water tanks. And he said he was deported from Minnesota to Honduras, and is now making the trek again.

In the already impoverished state of Chiapas, Tapachula feels the migrant strain. It is overflowing.

A lot of it is just waiting to get into an office and processed eventually. But you've got people from all over. We've met people from Haiti, from Cuba, from Honduras. And they're here for, many of them, an unknown period of time.

Last year, Mexico says some 77,000 migrants applied for asylum in Mexico. More than half of them do it in Tapachula, this year on track to be nearly double that -- a record high.

Not everyone sees it as a burden.

For some of the Mexican locals, all these people who are not from Mexico are a business opportunity too. Look over here, you can see some of the stands that are set up to sell food, vendors.

To get to Tapachula, it's an hour's drive or a day's walk from the Suchiate River -- Guatemala on one side, Mexico on the other. And in the shadows of the official crossing between the two countries, an armada of rafts, casually ferrying group after group.

She says it's really, really hard.

You can tell they have such a rush of emotion when they get to this, and some of them come ready to just continue on.

Others like Mikele Marsan (ph) and her husband Javier Guillen (ph) using this as a moment to catch their breath.

Wow, they're having their first child. She's five months pregnant.

Days earlier, they crossed the treacherous jungle terrain of the Darien Gap, connecting Colombia and Panama. All they own now fits in a small bag. They were robbed and held at gunpoint for hours. But that does not compare, they say, with what they saw.

Oh my God, they are just describing passing through the Darien Gap and they said several people had already passed away. A lot kids, they saw the remains. And says children were abandoned.

Those images (INAUDIBLE) Suzana Alaman, describing the journey she made with her four young kids. But admits her tear-filled pain, little ones lighten the load.

He had a little shampoo left in his hair. His 12-year-old Sofia helping clean it out as Joandry (ph) then turned the questions on me.

She says I'm older than her dad. Curiosity brings their siblings and cousins. And Joandry and takes over the mic, telling me why they left Venezuela.

Six years old.

Says the Venezuelan economy is bad.

Then as they share, disturbing memories surface.

They are talking about children, mind you. Having gone through the Darien and the bodies that they saw he is describing being abandoned (ph).

Sofia's pain as she remembers saying goodbye to loved ones.

Her heart breaking, the friends that she's lost.

So much behind them, yet far from over. More than a thousand miles until the U.S. border.

David Culver, CNN -- Tapachula, Mexico.


LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Well, as the U.K. seeks a solution to its own migrant crisis, a top cabinet member is questioning the United Nations' Refugee Convention and the very premise of persecution itself.


HARRAK: British Home Secretary Suella Braverman says the influx of asylum seekers and other migrants poses an existential challenge to the U.K. and to the West as a whole.

Well, this year alone nearly 24,000 people have been detected crossing the English Channel from mainland Europe. The conservative politician says it is proof that the U.N. Refugee convention is not working for modern times.


SUELLA BRAVERMAN, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay or to be a woman. Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary. But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect simply being gay or a woman or fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection.


HARRAK: Joining us now from Houston, Texas is CNN European affairs commentator, Dominic Thomas.

Dominic, a very good day.

What is the home secretary advocating here?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: The home secretary essentially is speaking to -- came to the United States to speak come to an audience that are already converted when it comes to the kinds of questions that she is talking about here.

And I think it is important to separate what we may describe as a crisis like situation in the United States. Or in the Italian island of Lampedusa and the situation in the U.K.

What we have here is a home secretary who is instrumentalizing the question of immigration for political gain. And the pillars that she is clinging to here in order to foster this kind of fear-like situation have to do with on the one hand using rhetoric that the U.K. is being invaded.

Secondly that this represents a civilizational challenge to the U.K. who are being supposedly overwhelmed by the latest quote "waves of migration", and to use her language and that international treaties are not assisting in this particular process.

In other words, they are not going along with potential U.K. rhetoric or violations of the law as they try to implement their policies.

HARRAK: Now Dominic, why is the home secretary making her case for a major reform of the U.N. Refugee Convention in Washington and not in London?

THOMAS: Yes. That is a great point. I think that she has, once again, sympathetic ears in Washington who are willing to listen to her. I think that acting like this on the international stage is a way of bolstering her own credentials.

The conservative party and as we know will have to face a general election within the next year. They are unlikely to survive that election. And she is positioning herself as a far-right person in her political party.

And I think ultimately putting the government under pressure by heightening her foreign policy credentials, by traveling abroad and by speaking to these issues to try to bring attention to these particular questions where in the U.K. now, the sorts of issues are falling on deaf ears for the most part.

HARRAK: Now the UNHCR issued a statement defending the global legal rules on asylum, saying in parts that where individuals are risk of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is crucial that they are able to seek safety and protection. A lot of the focus of the home secretary's speech Dominic, was on the definition of who is a refugee.

THOMAS: Yes. And that extends to who's immigrant, who's a refugee, who is an asylum seeker. And not only does she inflate numbers but she confuses the particular issue.

In some particular cases, not even being clear as far as she is concerned on whether people are economic migrants who have different rights versus those who are refugees.

And here, once again, she is instrumentalizing the question of sexual orientation, of gender as a way of appealing to the divisive rhetoric around culture wars. And these particular issues are being heavily denounced by international organizations who see these as a crucial component of a refugee or an asylum seeker and trying to make the case for acceptance in the particular country and seeking real life persecution in their countries of origin.

HARRAK: All right. Dominic Thomas, thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thank you.

HARRAK: And the U.K. is also grappling with a cost-of-living crisis that is throwing millions of Britons into financial insecurity.

According to the latest economic report from the British government, private home rental prices are growing at record high rates across Britain. 42 percent of adults paying rent or mortgage say they are finding it difficult to afford those payments.

Isa Soares spoke to one family who's feeling the pressure.



MATTHEW GREENWOOD, PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER: It has been a really, really tough six months. I have lost sleep over it because you wonder where the next bill is coming from.

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been a year of constant stress for the Greenwood family.

GREENWOOD: You see the cost on your electric just trickling up and up and up. And it is not that you are doing anything different on the day to day.

SOARES: With that, the anxiety sets in. It's a cycle that has left Matthew, a 34-year-old primary school teacher struggling.

He lost his job as schools cut budget. And his wife, who works 12-hour shifts is training to be a nurse.

In between parenting and job searching, he is counting pennies as the cost-of-living crisis squeezes the middle class.

Did you ever consider -- I mean have you considered with rental prices going up and inflation, food inflation moving with --

GREENWOOD: I think this was something that was on the cards last year. We really put it to the board that there would be something we have to do because we did not know where the extra money was going to come from to cover the increase in rent.

SOARES: Matthew's rent went up last year like many others around the U.K. facing a similar problem. Since July, 2022 private rental costs increased here by 5.3 percent. And now more than a third of adults are finding it difficult to afford their rent or mortgage payments.

The charity Turn2Us which advises people in financial difficulty is seeing firsthand the scale of the problem.

THOMAS LAWSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, TURN2US: We're seeing people get into debt. Let alone holiday funds or savings for their children's university. They've already been spent. They're borrowing from family members.

People are making really hard choices about not only their long-term future, but even, you know, months away.

SOARES: And that is the case for Matthew who is dreading another rent hike.

GREENWOOD: There's no guarantee I'd be able to afford the extra 50 pounds a month. A lot of people said it's only 50 pounds, you can cut back on some things but --

SOARES: What else are you going to cut back on?

GREENWOOD: -- there's nothing else to cut back on, you know. We are stripped to the bare minimum. SOARES: But just a few days after our interview, Matthew tells us that

his worst fears have become a reality.

Matthew, we saw your text message. Give us a sense of what your landlord has told you?

GREENWOOD: So we had a message off him a couple, days after you left basically saying that he is really sorry. He's got to put the rent up. So that's going up another 50 pounds.

SOARES: Another stressful news for you.

GREENWOOD: Worst-case scenario is we will have to move out. But realistically I don't know. I don't know at the moment.

SOARES: Isa Soares, CNN -- London.


HARRAK: The Hollywood writers' union is giving its members permission to go back to work even before they vote on that tentative new agreement. The boards of the Writers Guild say that their months long strike will officially end less than two hours from now.

The union members will vote next week and could still refuse to ratify the agreement. While the tentative deal goes through May 2026 and includes pay increases, better benefits, protections against artificial intelligence, including that A.I. cannot write or rewrite literary material, and compensation for streaming programming.

But settling the writer's strike is just one part of getting Hollywood back to work. The actors' union is also striking but has not reached an agreement with the studios yet.

Still to come, a look at Wagner's operations in the Central African Republic and who may be running operations there after Yevgeny Prigozhin's death.



HARRAK: The speaker of Canada's House of Commons has resigned after what he calls profound regret for his mistake on Friday. Anthony Rota praised a 98-year-old Ukrainian and Canadian veteran who fought during World War II. But human rights and Jewish organizations pointed out that the man actually served in a Nazi military unit.

The recognition came during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident deeply embarrassing.

A senior U.S. Defense official says it has not seen a withdrawal of Wagner forces from Africa in any substantial or meaningful number after former Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash last month. But as the Kremlin tries to get its arms around Wagner's sprawling

commercial network on the continent it is still unclear who is heading the operations there.

CNN's Clarissa Ward reports on the man who may be the new Wagner leader in the Central African Republic.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Behind this door we are expecting to find Dmitry Sitii, one of Wagner's bosses in the Central African Republic. Access strictly forbidden to all people who do not work here, then sign warns.

Our knock goes unanswered. And shortly after, we are told to leave the building.

We came back to the heart of Yevgeny Prigozhin's empire in Africa to see how his death had changed things and found two of his lieutenants still running the show.

Vitali Perfilev is in charge of the security piece while Sitii runs the commercial side. Sitii likes to keep a low profile these days which is not surprising given that he survived a mail bomb attack here in December 2022.

After the attack, locals began to wear T-shirts in support of him, a sign of the Wagner's entrenched popularity here.

We first met Sitii back in 2019. Officially, he was acting as a translator. But documents showed he was the head of a now defunct Wagner-owned company called Lobaye Invest and that he had started working with Prigozhin to influence U.S. elections in the so-called troll factory back in 2016.

Educated in Paris and fluent in French, English and Spanish, Sitii later created the Russian cultural center in Bangui which investigative group The Sentry says Wagner uses as a front to sell its gold and diamonds to VIPs and manage its timber and alcohol operations.

The center is one of the last places Prigozhin was photographed alive. Seen here with Sitii standing by him.

We filmed covertly at the cultural center where a woman who called herself Nafisa Kiryanova (ph) told us that Prigozhin's death has not changed the status quo.

NAFISA KIRYANOVA: So the mission continues to be so the Russian culture house continues to be.

WARD: so Dmitry doesn't have that job anymore?

KIRYANOVA: Why not? He is responsible for the whole mission. So he runs this job, he runs some other directions --

WARD: I see.

Ok, ok, ok. So it's all the same people basically.


WARD: In a rare and recent interview with Russian media, Sitii says he hopes the mission will not change.

DMITRY SITII, WAGNER DIRECTOR: If we start to retreat, then everything that has been built will also crumble. This is our chance. We are now looking for new friends, partners, new markets. Africa is a chance for Russia.

WARD: Over the weekend, video emerged of a ceremony to commemorate the death of Prigozhin. "Prigozhin, best friend of Central Africans", a banner reads as Wagner security chief Vitali Perfilev looks on.


WARD: One month after his death, Prigozhin's lieutenants are still standing watching over his empire.

Clarissa Ward -- CNN, Bangui.


HARRAK: Mauritius has one of the highest GDP's per capita on the African continent and the government is prioritizing innovation as a key driver for growth.

Well, in today's "Africa Insider", we look at a financial tech start- up that's helping develop the East African country's payment ecosystem.


MAYOWA KUYORO, PARTNER, MCKINSEY, NIGERIA: Mauritius is emerging as one of the top destinations for fintech on the continent because from a regulatory perspective, government is quite deliberate about putting into place policy that boosts, attracts, but also helps to make sure THAT innovation and (INAUDIBLE) companies find it as an attractive destination.

SEBASTIEN LE BLANC, FOUNDER/CHIEF GROWTH OFFICER, MIPS: Fintechs really matters in the growing of the African economy because it is a missing link between financial institutions, merchants and clients and users.

MIPS originally meant Mauritius Internet Payment System. But now it has become Multiple Internet Payment System working with all six different means of payment available in Mauritius meaning payment apps, wallets, financial apps in Mauritius and those for e-commerce and physical walk-in machines allowing the merchant to keep synchronized every digital means of payment coming in this ecosystem whether it be e-commerce or front facing for walk-in (INAUDIBLE). I just made with the same machine a payment by card. Previously I just

made a payment with a QR code. The two types of payments were going to these financial institutions but for the merchant and for the user perspective it is one ecosystem, the same back office is used for (INAUDIBLE), the cashier doesn't have to ask the client which means of payment you will use. Everything is synchronized through the same back office.

We have approximately 1,000 merchants in our portfolio (INAUDIBLE). We have workstations so these are big merchants. We have government institutions. But we also have SMEs, little shops.

And the presence of mixed logo makes me very proud especially when I go with my kids to (INAUDIBLE) and they say Hey Dad, this is your logo.

MIPS operates mainly in Mauritius. We also operate in Seychelles, Maldives and Madagascar. Our next step is to still continue playing in Mauritius, using Mauritius as a playground, our (INAUDIBLE) use it as, you know, to test some new ideas and to bring these new ideas as a fintech player in to North Africa.


HARRAK: Decades-old secret tunnels once used by British spies are set to be pre-transformed into London's most spectacular tourist attraction ever.

Details coming up after the break.



HARRAK: Visitors in London may get to explore the city's mile-long series of underground tunnels if new plans are approved. Built in the 1940s as bomb shelters, rather, during World War II, they were later used as tunnels for Britain's spy agencies. And in the 1950s as an internal communications exchange during the Cold War.

If plans are approved later this fall, the tunnels will be transformed into a glitzy tourist attraction with immersive screens, interactive structures and with plans to open in 2027.

Now a British skydiver went from riding air currents to riding a unicorn, literally.

CNN's Jeanne Moos, takes us along for the ride.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here's a fantasy for you, imagine dropping out of the sky and riding a unicorn. No wonder Jan Zackl (ph) has a new nickname.

JAN ZACKL, SKYDIVER: Everybody calls me the unicorn man right now. MOOS: At a skydiving festival in England, this instructor at Skydiver

(INAUDIBLE) jumped out of a plane at 6,000 feet. Dangling his bare feet, ready to hit the slip and slide which he can barely make out down there. Swooping they call this.

You have to have completed at least 200 jumps to compete in the unicorn riding contest. Jan has around 2,400 jumps.

ZACKL: It is difficult, because it is dangerous.

MOOS: It took him two tries.

About 30 skydivers tried to mount the unicorn. Some came close. But what was a pain in the neck for the unicorn could be a pain in the crutch for the skydivers.

It looks like you were coming in really fast.

ZACKL: Yes, I think I'm doing like 60, 65 miles an hour.

MOOS: We've seen a skydiver jump out of the plane, riding a unicorn but actually dropping in on one, a skydiver who does that is about as rare as a unicorn.

Jeanne Moos, CNN -- New York.


HARRAK: Does look like a lot of fun.

Thanks so much for watching. I'm Laila Harrak.

CNN NEWSROOM continues at the top of the hour. See you then.