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Deadly Fire At Wedding In Iraq; Long Lines Of Traffic Out Of Nagorno-Karabakh; Sen. Bob Menendez Refuses To Resign Amid Federal Charges. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired September 27, 2023 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAILA HARRAK, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to all of our viewers watching from around the world. I'm Laila Harrak. Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM. A celebration turns into tragedy. Flames ripping through a wedding hall in Iraq. What we know about the possible costs of the deadly fire.
The long way to escape long lines of slow-moving cars crawling along a mountainous corridor as 1000s fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh. And are you ready for it? So, European University is entering its Taylor Swift era with a new class dedicated to the superstar's songbook.
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. While 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 fire breaks out."
Well, next, we turn our attention to Armenia where there is a growing humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees after neighboring Azerbaijan defeated separatists in the breakaway region of Nagorno- Karabakh. The Armenian government says more than 28,000 "forcibly displaced persons" from the Enclave have arrived in the country as of Tuesday. The mass exodus has led to this scene that you see right here.
The only road connecting the region to Armenia packed full of cars as people tried to flee. The International Committee of the Red Cross tell CNN it is working with officials to open more aid routes into Nagorno-Karabakh. Many ethnic Armenians lament having to leave their homes behind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARINE SHAKAYRAN, REFUGEE (through translator): Now we are homeless dogs. And now we are at that status. Let the world know that we are homeless dogs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRAK: While the European Union says it will provide more than $5 million in aid. The U.S. has announced more than $11 million in humanitarian assistance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRAK: Well, meanwhile, the death toll from the explosion at a gas station in Nagorno-Karabakh has soared to 68 people, but hundreds more injured. Armenia and the Red Cross have sent ambulances and medical supplies to help the survivors. But the deadly blast is another strain on already scarce resources.
CNN's Scott McLean reports.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): 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 translator): It was horrible. Children were hungry and they were crying. We ran away just to survived. That's all.
MCLEAN (voiceover): The journey out of the now war-ravaged territory is extremely slow. Long lineups of cars wind down the switchbacks of the mountainous launch 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 and is long functioned as long functioned as a de facto enclave of Armenia.
[02:05:13] A fragile gray 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 (through translator): Kind of one live with them. No one cannot. Have just survived. I've been on the road for a day. My children are hungry.
MCLEAN (voiceover): 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 -- it's extremely difficult for us to pass across Lachin route.
MCLEAN (voiceover): And for those ethnic Armenians who remain in 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 last hour I spoke with Zara Amatuni, the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Armenia. And she outlined the most pressing needs for people right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZARA AMATUNI, SPOKESPERSON, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS IN ARMENIA: People are in need of a lot of things starting from food, access to health care, to mental health issues and the support, psychosocial support. Our teams and our -- the -- our partners are working on the ground. The partners that -- the Armenian Red Cross Society to receive people the -- 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: Sorry for interrupting. 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 two Armenia -- some 75 patients. Most of them people that suffered the injuries from this explosion to get the medical treatment in specialized medical centers in Armenia.
We're discussing with the decision makers. The opportunities to increase the number of medical evacuations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRAK: And that was Zara Amatuni with the Red Cross. Ukraine now says that is clarifying the fates of Russia's Black Sea commander after Moscow released footage appearing to show Admiral Viktor Sokolov taking part in a video conference. Ukrainian had claimed Sokolov was killed in an attack on Sebastopol on Friday. CNN cannot confirm if the man in the Russian video is Sokolov or when and where it was recorded.
Our Christiane Amanpour asked Ukraine's new Defense Minister about the situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Minister, can you confirm that the head of Russia's Black Sea Fleet Victor Sokolov is in fact dead or alive?
RUSTEM UMEROV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Well, first of all, he is in our temporary -- occupied territory. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRAK: And Ukrainian special operations forces said Monday that Sokolov and 33 others were killed in the strike also possible. Ukrainian spokesperson says Russia has been using Crimea as a logistics hub.
A very crossing point between Ukraine and Romania has been suspended after fiery attacks from Russian drones. Video was shot from a ferry on the Danube River shows explosions at a port on the Ukrainian side in the Odesa region. Authorities say Russia hit the region with attack drones for two hours early Tuesday.
While two truck drivers were injured, one seriously. Several warehouses and about 30 trucks were damaged.
Ukraine is reporting progress and its counter offensive against Russia's invasion. The spokesperson for forces in the East says keeps troops have "enjoyed success in villages near Bakhmut."
CNN's Fred Pleitgen spent time along the front lines there and has this exclusive report.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Rolling into battle as night falls. Ukraine's army attacking in the east around Bakhmut.
PLEITGEN (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.
PLEITGEN (voiceover): 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 group 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 is already busy is targeting the Russians.
Oh, something's 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.
PLEITGEN (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.
PLEITGEN (voiceover): But the Russians are fighting back. Firing flares to unmask the Ukrainians advance and hit Kyiv's forces. Grov 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 T-90 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 sphere (INAUDIBLE)
PLEITGEN ((on camera): We just witnessed an extremely tough battle between the Russians and the Ukrainians. 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.
PLEITGEN (voiceover): Hobbled what rolling after a long night on one of Ukraine's most dangerous frontlines.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Bakhmut, Ukraine.
HARRAK: In the U.S., the pressure is on for lawmakers to reach a deal to fund the governments with less than four days to come to an agreement or face the federal government shutdown. One of the main obstacles, U.S. funding for Ukraine. A stopgap bill unveiled in the Senate would keep the government open. It also earmark $6.2 billion for Ukraine. But the plan is likely to be a hard sell and the Republican-led house.
Hardline conservatives in that chamber have railed against a short- term spending deal. And many are also opposed to sending more aid to Kyiv.
President Joe Biden does something Tuesday that historians believe no U.S. president has done before. He visited a union picket line. Mr. Biden traveled to Michigan to join striking autoworkers who have walked off their jobs at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis in a dispute over wages, pensions, and other issues.
The UAW's president was there with him. Here's what Mr. Biden said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wall Street didn't know the country. The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class and that's a fact. So let's keep going. You deserve what you've earned and you've earned a hell a lot more than you're paid now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRAK: Well, Mr. Biden's likely opponents for the presidency in 2024, Donald Trump comes to Michigan later Wednesday to address a group of auto workers. But the UAW president said he will not meet with him.
Still ahead. Two dozen Democratic senators are calling on Bob Menendez to step down after his federal indictments. But he's not budging. Details just ahead.
Plus, home and rental prices are soaring across the United Kingdom. And there's no relief insights. We'll hear from families how they are coping with the stress.
HARRAK: More than half of Senate Democrats are now calling on Bob Menendez to resign following the federal indictment accusing him and his wife of bribery. But the New Jersey Democrat is remaining defiant as ever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I'm here to do the work of the people to Jersey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why wouldn't you resign, sir? Senator Menendez.
MENENDEZ: Because I'm innocent. What's wrong with guys?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRAK: Well, I'm Mr. Menendez and his wife are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including cash, gold bars and even a Mercedes convertible in exchange for the senator's influence to benefit the government of Egypt.
CNN's Jason Carroll has more.
MENENDEZ: Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Despite the federal indictment, accusing him of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, among other allegations, despite more calls to resign today from senators from his own party. Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey tweeting Tuesday, the public's trust has been broken. Fellow New Jersey Senator Cory Booker saying in a statement, he has stated he will not resign but I believe this is a mistake. Despite all the calls to go, Senator Bob Menendez has said he's not going anywhere.
MENENDEZ: To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts.
CARROLL (voiceover): Perhaps given the political climate, you should be surprised by Menendez's defiance. He's not the only politician digging his heels in in the face of indictments and allegations of corruption. The most defiant of them all, former President Donald Trump, impeached twice and indicted four times. But instead of stepping down during his presidency or stepping aside from his campaign to handle his current legal entanglements, he is pushing forward and has always denied wrongdoing.
DONALD TRUMP (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a witch-hunt. It's just a continuation of a witch-hunt.
CARROLL (voiceover): There's also disgraced and defiant Republican New York Congressman George Santos who has pleaded not guilty to 13 federal charges including wire fraud and money laundering.
The freshman Congressman is also accused of stealing cash from a fund meant for an Iraq war veteran's dying dog and lying about his resume. All that and yet the strategy is not to step aside it's remained defiant, stay the course and pull a catchphrase from Trump's playbook.
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Now I'm going to have to go and fight to defend myself. The reality is, it's a witch-hunt.
CARROLL (voiceover): There was a time when it wasn't even a question. If someone tasked with upholding the law and then was accused of wrongful conduct, they would eventually stepped down.
RICHARD NIXON, 37TH U.S. PRESIDENT: The interests of the nation must always come before any personal considerations.
CARROLL (voiceover): Take the historic moment in 1974 when former President Richard Nixon facing a likely impeachment resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective that noon tomorrow.
CARROLL (voiceover): More recently, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once praised for his performance during the pandemic resigned in 2021.
ANDREW CUOMO, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: As you probably know, I'm stepping aside as your governor.
CARROLL (voiceover): Following allegations of sexual misconduct. The soul charged against the former governor was dismissed.
And remember in 2018, when Senator Al Franken resigned his Senate seat following allegations he touched women inappropriately. He said he had no recollection of the women's claims and has since said he regrets the decision to resign. But as of late, rather than resignation, defiance seems to be the political course of action.
MENENDEZ: Not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey's senior senator.
CARROLL (voiceover): Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.
HARRAK: Ziad Abdel Tawab is with me now from Marseille, France. He is the Deputy Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. He's also a former Human Rights Officer with the United Nations. A very good day, sir. U.S. Senator Bob Menendez's indictment has some here in the United States Congress calling for the U.S. to rethink its very substantial aid to Egypt. What could that potentially mean for U.S.-Egypt relations?
ZIAD ABDEL TAWAB, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CAIRO INSTITUTE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS STUDIES: Well, for almost three decades, U.S.-Egypt relation has been marked with the financial aid, both military aid but also economic assistance. More than $80 billion have been spent over the past three decades over these two items. However, in very few times, you have seen the U.S. administration trying to conditional this aid on human rights reform and political reforms in Egypt. This new indictment shows that by Egypt allegedly meddling into U.S. national interest and U.S. national policies that could be a reason to think that the U.S. administration would sink to condition these aides once more. And for the first time sees that $235 million in military aid would be suspended to Egypt.
HARRAK: How reliant is Egypt, an Egyptian army specifically on U.S. assistance?
TAWAB: This is a very good question. I think it has been part of the big debates for the past -- for the past decade since 2011. Some people within the U.S. administration think that the aid leverage won't work, that Egypt doesn't care much about the military assistance. However, the recent indictment proves that actually Egypt is very well aware of the importance of this assistance.
Egypt is going through a steep economic and financial crisis. It's on the brink of an economic collapse. The $1.2 billion that it receives in aid from the U.S. annually is important to show to creditors that Egypt has a vital support from the U.S. administration. Cutting down this money will lead Egypt to rethink its policies internally but also internationally vis-a-vis its partner, the United States.
HARRAK: Now, this is a complicated relationship. It's very fraught at times, yet the U.S. has preserved its existence for Egypt for decades, as you just explained. Do you see that changing at all realistically?
TAWAB: We hope it would. I mean, given the human rights record of President Sisi whereby thousands have been sentenced to death over the past decade. An unfair trials that were described by the U.N. as mockery to justice, the extrajudicial executions of thousands of Egyptian dissidents in the streets of Egypt.
The thousands of forcibly disappearance and the tens of thousands of peaceful activists that are still imprisoned in Egyptian prisons. This should be all reasons for the U.S. administration to rethink its relationship with the Egyptian government and try to pressure them to reform. However, we've all seen that in the past decade, Egypt has been spending extravagantly for legal lobbying of U.S. officials, arresting American citizens in Egypt.
Taking family members of U.S. citizens as hostages and meddling in Judicial Affairs in the U.S. Spying on American citizens on American soil and allegedly right now bribing a U.S. official. This is something that would require the U.S. administration rethink its relationship with Egyptian regime.
HARRAK: Ziad Abdel Tawab, thank you so much.
TAWAB: Thank you. And coming up. Families across the United Kingdom are struggling to pay for their food, transportation and even their homes. Why many people feel like they're barely hanging on?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRAK: The U.K. is grappling with a cost-of-living crisis just 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. And across Great Britain, 42 percent of adults paying rent or mortgage say they're finding it difficult to afford those payments.
Isa Soares spoke to one family who's feeling the pressure.
MATTHEW GREENWOOD, PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER: It's been a really, really tough six months. I've lost sleep over it because you wonder where the next bill is going to come from.
ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voiceover): It's been a year of constant stress for the Greenwood family.
GREENWOOD: You see the cost and your electric just trickling up and up and up. And it's not that you're doing anything different on the day to day.
SOARES: And 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 budgets and his wife who works 12-hour shifts is training to be a nurse.
GREENWOOD: In between parenting and job searching, he's counting the pennies as the cost of living crisis squeezes the middle class.
SOARES: Did you ever consider, I mean, have you considered, with rental prices going up and inflation and food inflation, moving in with family members?
GREENWOOD: Yeah, I think this was something that was on the cards last year. We really, sort of, put it to the board that it would be something we have to do, because we did not know where the extra money was going to come from to cover the increasing rent.
SOARES (voice-over): Matthew's rent went up last year like many others around the UK 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 saving for their children's university, they've already been spent. Their borrowing from family members. So people are making increasingly hard choices about not only their long term future but even, you know, months away.
SOARES (voice-over): And that's the case for Matthew who is dreading another rent hike. GREENWOOD: If it did work, there's no guarantee I'd be able to afford the extra 50 pounds a month. I know a lot of people say it's only 50 pounds a month, 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 was really sorry and he's gotta put the rent up. And so that's gone up another 50 pounds.
SOARES: Another stressful news for you.
GREENWOOD: Worst-case scenario is we'll have to move out. But realistically, I don't know. I don't have words at the moment.
SOARES (voice-over): 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. Well the board of the Writers Guild says their months-long strike will officially end less than an hour from now.
Union members will vote next week and could still refuse to ratify the agreement. The tentative deal goes through May 2026 and includes pay increases, better benefits, protections against artificial intelligence, including that AI cannot write or rewrite literary material, and compensation for streaming programming.
But settling the writers 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 just yet. Now you don't have to be a Taylor Swift fan but it might help if you want to pass a new college course focused on the superstars music and lyrics. We'll get details from the class professor.
HARRAK: Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour took the US by storm and now, for the first time in Europe, a university is offering a new course dedicated to the literary merits of Swift's music and lyrics. Belgium's Ghent University says the purpose is to think critically about Swift as an artist and writer, and to use her music to explore other topics such as literary feminism, fan studies and tropes like the anti-hero. In the US, universities like Stanford, the Berkeley College of Music,
Arizona State and others are already teaching classes on Swift's music. Well joining me now, Elly McCausland is assistant professor at Ghent University in Belgium, who curated the course. So good to have you with us. Well has class already started? What has the first couple of days been like?
ELLY MCCAUSLAND, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, GHENT UNIVERSITY: Hi. Yes, we started Monday. So a couple of days ago, and, yes, it's been wild. I have, sort of, twice as many students as I usually would. But I think they really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it, it's been really fun so far. So I can't wait to see how their semester unfolds.
HARRAK: So tell us a little bit about what you'll be teaching. What's in the syllabus?
MCCAUSLAND: We have a pretty diverse syllabus. We go from 10th century through to the 19th century, in that we look at everything from elegy to the romantic poets to Charlotte Bronte to Margaret Atwood. So we have a couple of more modern texts as, kind of, treats in there. Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, Chaucer and a couple of poets from the middle ages.
HARRAK: Why should students take a class on Taylor Swift? You know, why is this subject worthy of scholarly analysis?
MCCAUSLAND: I think the main thing I'm trying to do here is to make literature more accessible to people. So there are certain texts, particularly older literature that, you know, maybe we might not pick up and read for fun, particularly if they're in really archaic english. Particularly if English is not your native language.
And, I think, if I can get students thinking about those texts in a different way through a modern lens, then that's my mission, really. To get people making connections between literature that might seem pretty old fashioned and the current day.
HARRAK: So using Taylor Swift to make Chaucer more accessible?
MCCAUSLAND: Yes, exactly. So, the seminar on Chaucer, we're looking at Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. We're looking at the idea of love and war. And Swift writes a lot about love and war and using the metaphors of war to talk about romance, and that is actually something that Chaucer was doing as well. So we'll be putting those two texts in dialogue.
HARRAK: Right so make everything more accessible for non native speakers. Well this has made world headlines. What has been the reaction from colleagues?
MCCAUSLAND: Yeah, pretty supportive. My colleagues, they're pretty excited I think. Yes, I'd say it's been really positive. I've had great reactions from colleagues and from students. There have been a couple of raised eyebrows but I think that's inevitable and, you know, our university motto is, there to think, so that's what I try to do.
HARRAK: And so how will students be graded, do you have to be a fan?
MCCAUSLAND: You don't have to be a fan, no. I make this very clear at the beginning of the class. So obviously if you're a fan that is great but, there are two parts to the assessment. One is the written essay which can be on any text on the syllabus, doesn't have to be on Swift, although you are super welcome to include Swift.
And the other part is a more creative assignment where I asked them to reflect on the course and what they've learned and something that will kind of stick with them and they can do whatever they like for that. So I'm encouraging them to do like, they could write a song, they could make a podcast, they could make a video, a piece of art, whatever they like.
HARRAK: Now, I don't know if you know, you probably actually do, but the University of Melbourne will host an academic conference on the Swift phenomenon. Will you be taking part?
MCCAUSLAND: I really hope so, yes. I'm planning to submit a paper in the next couple weeks. So fingers crossed I would love to be a part of it.
HARRAK: It's extraordinary because what does this tell you about Swift's impact? I mean you're teaching a course at Ghent University. Then there is this quite prestigious symposium that's taking place. I believe seven Australian universities are organizing it.
MCCAUSLAND: Yes, I mean, I think it's because she's a premonition. You know, she is, her level of fame and her level of reach, I think, you know, we've rarely seen before. And so it just sort of makes sense to study this, you know, what is going on here, why does she have this global reach?
And, you know, how can we connect that to different disciplines? I think there are many people, many academics out there who, like me, are also trying to make their discipline more accessible and, you know, get people, sort of, to look at it from a new angle by comparing it to popular culture.
HARRAK: And, I mean, have you heard from Taylor Swift? Have you tried to reach out?
MCCAUSLAND: I haven't. I am sure she has better things to do. I don't know, they say never meet your heroes. I'm not even sure what I would say to her. So if she wants, Taylor if you are listening, please do reach out. But no, I'm not going to bother her at this time. I think she's got quite a lot on.
HARRAK: Alright, good stuff. Elly McCausland, thank you so much for talking to us. Greatly appreciated. Now, 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 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. Well if plans are approved later this fall, the tunnels will be transformed into a glitzy tourist attraction with immersive screens, interactive structures and plans are to open in 2027. Now, a black bear was pretty brazen, barging in on a family's picnic. Devouring their tacos and enchiladas in an ecological park in northern Mexico.
And you can see one woman shielding a child's face as the bear chows down the food, and we're told the bear ambled away with a full belly after polishing off the picnic. The park is in a protected area that's part of the bear's natural habitat. Oh boy, that is really scary. I would have left. And finally this hour, talk about a dog gone good time.
More than two hundred dogs and their owners attended a screening of Paw Patrol, The Mighty Movie, in Los Angeles at Griffith Park on Sunday. And the canine crowd even managed to set a Guinness world record for most dogs attending a film screening. Well the event was put together by Paramount Pictures, Best Friends Animal Society, and Street Food Cinema.
Well the new Paw Patrol movie releases this Friday in the US. It's going to be a lot of happy kids. Thanks so much for joining us. On behalf of us all here, thanks for your company, I'm Laila Harrak. Do stick around, WORLD SPORT is up next. And then CNN NEWSROOM continues with Bianca Nobilo.