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Strikes in Yemen; South Carolina Primary; Northern Ireland's Historic New Leader. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 04, 2024 - 03:00   ET




NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to all of our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Nick Watt live in Los Angeles.

Ahead on CNN Newsroom, the US targets Houthi rebels in Yemen in its latest round of retaliatory strikes, as Iran warns that the U.S. is fueling more conflict in the Middle East.

President Biden is projected to win his first official primary of the 2024 campaign. We'll examine what's ahead as Biden looks towards the general election.

And this --


MICHELLE O'NEILL, FIRST MINISTER OF NORTHERN IRELAND: I am honored to stand here as first minister. We mark a moment of equality and a moment of progress.


WATT: After two years of political gridlock, Northern Ireland's government returns to power sharing with a new historic first minister.

A new U.S. strike on a Houthi anti-ship cruise missile in Yemen. The U.S. says the missile was prepared to launch when it was destroyed. This comes after earlier strikes by the U.S. and the U.K. against 36 Houthi targets at 13 locations. The U.S. says it hit facilities involved in attacks on international shipping. The British defense secretary says the strikes are about, quote, protecting innocent lives.

The U.S. and U.K. are at the forefront of an international coalition trying to stop the Iran-backed Houthi attacks that are causing problems for international shipping moving through the Red Sea.

Iran's foreign minister is slamming the U.S. for trying to resolve issues by force. This is according to state-run media. He reportedly told the U.N., quote, the U.S. government's military approach, especially its joint airstrikes with Britain against Yemen and re- designating the Ansarullah movement as a terror group have complicated the situation and made it more difficult to reach a political solution.

The U.N. Security Council is planning to meet on Monday to discuss those U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East. Russia says it's requested the urgent meeting. The Russian Foreign Ministry says the airstrikes are a, quote, blatant act of U.S., British aggression against sovereign states.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now from Abu Dhabi. Paula, could you dig a little deeper on these fairly strenuous reactions to these latest strikes?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nick, I think the Iranian response is not surprising. The Houthi rebels are clearly Iranian- backed, Iranian-funded, and in some cases, with these Iranian proxies, they're Iranian-trained as well.

And so what we're seeing this weekend, on Friday night into Saturday, and also Saturday night into Sunday, is the U.S., and in the second case, coupled with the U.K. and support from other countries, targeting these Iranian militia in the region.

Now, we've heard from the U.K. defense minister pointing out that this is not a new escalation, what we have seen from these strikes against Houthi rebel targets in a number of locations in Yemen, pointing out that this is an ongoing process to try and protect the Red Sea, to try and protect commercial shipping, and to try and degrade the ability of the Houthis to be able to target U.S. Navy, a coalition Navy, and also commercial vessels.

But we have seen, and this is the third time that the U.S. and the U.K. have carried out these joint attacks against the Houthis, we have seen that they are able to continue to launch these, for example, anti-ship missiles against targets that they see in the Red Sea.

So, we have understood from both Washington and London that this is an ongoing process.


It's not something that is a one and done, so they will make sure that they can continue to target these missiles. In fact, we saw just in the early hours of this morning that they did target a missile that they said posed an imminent danger and was about to be launched by the Houthis.

It is important to note though it's separate to what we saw overnight Friday into Saturday local time when the U.S. targeted a number of elements in both Iraq and Syria. That, they say, was in retaliation for the loss of three U.S. servicemen following that deadly drone attack at the end of January. Nick?

WATT: So, I mean, Paula, we've got Russia also strongly against these attacks, but the U.S. has said that these attacks will continue at the times and places of their choosing. I mean, it doesn't seem to be much meeting of minds here.

HANCOCKS: Not in the slightest. I mean, we've heard from Washington and we heard from the Biden administration that this was going to be a multi-tiered response to that deadly drone attack and we've heard from the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, that what we saw earlier in the weekend was the first round, the first start of this attack.

So, they have definitely left the door open for a number of further attacks. We have seen more than 160 drone missile and rocket attacks from the Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria against U.S. and coalition troops and they have said that they will continue to fight against that. Nick?

WATT: Paula Hancocks in Abu Dhabi, thanks very much.

Meantime, anti-government protesters in Israel are taking their message directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

They marched towards one of Netanyahu's residences on Saturday, calling for his removal. In Tel Aviv, protesters blocked a major highway and wrote the word help on the pavement. Their message, they want the Netanyahu government out and they want the hostages, currently held in Gaza, back home. But Hamas is digging in on its demands for any deal, which include ending Israel's military operations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to the region in the coming hours. It's his fifth trip to the Middle East since the October 7th Hamas attacks.

Elliott Gotkine is keeping an eye on all of this for us from London and he joins us now. So, Elliott, a couple of different protests in Israel sort of merging, is that what's going on?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: That's right, Nick, they kind of bleed into one another.

So, for the last few weeks, we've seen in the renamed hostages, Hostages Square, which is opposite the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. They've been gathering there to call on the government to keep pressure up on the government so that it does all that it can in order to bring them more than 100 hostages who are abducted during Hamas' murderous rampage on October the 7th to get those hostages home.

They are still in captivity after 120 days inside the Gaza Strip. And at the same time, there are protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, which, in terms of Tel Aviv, are very close by. So, they bleed into one another physically and they also bleed into one another in terms of their overall objectives. Because many of the people who are demanding that Israel do whatever it takes to get the hostages home feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu is one of the main obstacles.

Now, they would point to, for example, leaks of a conversation that Netanyahu had with representatives from the hostage families. They say all their phones were taken, so it must have come from the government. They also point to comments by Netanyahu this week, for example, saying that he won't be releasing thousands of terrorists, in his words, in order to get the hostages home. And then there's his national security minister, the far right, Itamar Ben-Gvir, saying that if a, in his words, reckless deal is done, that would mean the dissolution of the government, something that Netanyahu doesn't want, because all opinion polls point to the fact that if there were elections, he would be ejected from office.

For now, there is no actual deal on the table, just a framework, but both sides seem quite far apart in terms of reaching a deal, Nick.

WATT: And, Elliott, in terms of the American involvement here, I mean, obviously, you know, this week we've seen U.S. strikes on Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but they're also sending the top diplomat, Antony Blinken, to the region. What's he hoping to achieve?

GOTKINE: So, this is his fifth trip since the Hamas-led massacre of October 7th. He's going to take in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank. And I suppose his agenda is going to be pretty familiar to him in that it's pretty much the same as it has been for all those other visits, namely to boost humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, to try to somehow facilitate this framework deal that's on the table and make that turn into an actual deal between Hamas for the release of those hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, and also to try to keep up the pressure perhaps on the Egyptians and the Qataris to get them to lean more on Hamas as well to that end.


Now, it's unclear if he's going to be any more successful this time round but certainly those are the reasons why he's in the region this time round. Nick?

WATT: Elliott Gotline in London, thanks very much.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next week on a clean standalone bill providing $17.6 billion in aid for Israel. House Speaker Mike Johnson made the announcement on Saturday.

This news comes as the Senate prepares to unveil its own bipartisan legislation which pairs border security with aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Senate negotiators are expected to release the measures text no later than Sunday with procedural votes starting next week.

And now to the U.S. presidential election, Joe Biden has clinched a landslide victory in South Carolina, the first official Democratic primary. CNN is projecting he has crushed his two opponents, Minnesota Lawmaker Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson. He's crushed them by more than 96 percent of the votes, so he will pick up all of the state's 55 delegates.

Hailing his projected win, Mr. Biden says, in 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign and set us on the path to winning the presidency. Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again and making Donald Trump a loser again.

CNN's Eva McKend has more.

EVA MCKEND, CNN U.S. NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Though the results of this primary contest not surprising, this state is still hugely consequential for President Biden. It was South Carolina and the black voters in this state that brought his campaign back to life in 2020. That is why he pushed so hard for this state to hold the first in the nation primary.

And when you speak to black voters across the state, the reviews are mixed. Some are really excited about Biden. They still give him a lot of credibility for being Barack Obama's vice president. Others have economic anxieties and feel as though routinely voting for Democrats, they have very little to show for that. And then you have pragmatic voters, people who are so concerned about former President Donald Trump returning to the White House, they think voting for Biden is a safe bet.

Listen, Democrats here, they say that they are excited about the black turnout, that they were able to get to rural parts of the state like never before via bus tours and other mechanisms. And they say the enthusiasm here from black voters will be mirrored across the country.

Eva McKend, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.

WATT: And joining me now is Thomas Gift. He's the director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London.

Thomas, can we really read anything into this ridiculously lopsided contest?

THOMAS GIFT, DIRECTOR, CENTRE ON U.S. POLITICS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LONDON: Well, it's great to be with you, Nick. I don't think we can read too much into it. A Biden win in South Carolina was always a foregone conclusion. I do think it's symbolically important. This is the state that propelled Biden to the nomination in 2020. He gave him a shot in the arm when everyone thought his campaign was done after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But I think for the same reasons that South Carolina had been good to Biden, it did have the potential to expose his vulnerabilities. One concern was any slippage of support among the base. Democratic turnout was extremely low in South Carolina yesterday, only about 24 percent of the 2020 numbers. But I think that that's entirely a function of Biden not having any real competition.

I think skeptics could read into it as a lack of enthusiasm. If progressives can't be bothered to show up to a primary, they might go MIA in the general election. But I really do think that that's too much of an overinterpretation.

What we saw from South Carolina is this confirmation that Biden faces no legitimate threat to the Democratic nomination. Okay. WATT: Okay. And there's been a lot of talk of Biden's past and they say, hopefully, future support amongst black voters. How key is that demographic to Biden winning re-election?

GIFT: Well, Nick, I think one of the most encouraging pieces of news from South Carolina was that black voters comprised about 76 percent of the early vote and that's actually up from 56 percent in 2020.


I do think that that's important because there is some evidence that Biden has been hemorrhaging support among black voters nationally. Polling shows that that's particularly true with young black voters who some experts argue are becoming a less reliable bloc for the Democratic Party.

In South Carolina, what we did see was Congressman Jim Clyburn and other prominent black Democrats touting the administration's record on racial issues, such as Biden appointing, for example, the first black woman justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I mean, to be clear, Biden is still going to win black voters by a landslide in the general election. But if even a small fraction peel off to Trump, that could pose a problem. I think like other Americans, black voters are prioritizing kitchen table issues, like the economy, inflation and crime.

So, I think for, you know, strategists to really keep their eye on all these demographic trends, solid support that we did see for Biden in South Carolina could be a bellwether. And certainly that's good news for him.

WATT: You mentioned there a kind of slip for Biden particularly amongst younger black voters who I've been reading seem to think that Biden doesn't necessarily understand what their needs are. It doesn't really relate to them.

You know, is there any chance that the Democrats might ditch Joe Biden and go for somebody perhaps younger? I mean, out here in California, we've seen Governor Gavin Newsom. I wouldn't say he's been running a shadow campaign, but he's certainly been projecting himself on the national and international stage. And I am told that he is perhaps waiting in the wings should anything happen to Joe Biden.

Is there any chance that Biden will not be the nominee?

GIFT: I guess never saying never, but I really do think that the odds of that are relatively small. And, in fact, I actually just wrote an article about this. And I think that there are two key reasons why Biden is unlikely to step down. One is he just thinks that he is the only candidate who can be Trump. And one reason to think that is because he's done it before. He likes to say, don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative. And with the alternative being Donald Trump, he thinks that he can win that one-on-one matchup.

And also I think the second reason is that there's just no obvious heir apparent. I mean, you could think about potential individuals, like the governor of California that you just mentioned, Gavin Newsom. But I think anyone besides Joe Biden still has an Achilles' heel. I think some Democrats would like kind of someone to parachute in from left field, like Michelle Obama. But I think that that's really just kind of liberal fantasies.

At this point, Democrats are going with Joe Biden unless he chooses to step down. I think he's going to be the one to go up against Trump.

WATT: All right, no liberal fantasies. Thomas Gift, thank you very much for your time.

GIFT: Thanks, Nick.

WATT: Still ahead, millions here in California brace for heavy rains and severe flooding. How communities are preparing to weather the storm.

Plus, deadly wildfires are burning across Chile. Officials sounding the alarm, telling residents to flee to safety.

Stay with us.



WATT: Millions of people in California can expect heavy rain, severe storms and life-threatening flooding as another atmospheric river moves in as we speak. Millions of sandbags are available and rescue equipment has been prepped.

A number of places in Southern California have issued evacuation orders because of the flooding risk and also the risk of mudslides, landslides and debris flows. Some residents say they're bracing for the worst and hoping for the best.


DAVID GREEN, RESIDENT: Everything that I've read has this getting five, six, seven inches, which is essentially six months worth of rain in about three days. So it should be a doozy.

GEOVANI OLIVARES, RESIDENT: Hopefully, it will be a fast-moving one, so it won't saturate us too much, but hopefully not.


WATT: CNN's Camila Bernal has the latest on efforts to get ready.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Officials here in Los Angeles say there's a few easy ways to prepare. Avoid unnecessary travel, have an emergency kit ready, and come to your local fire station because that's where you're going to be able to find sandbags.

Take a look behind me. There's been a steady flow of people coming to fill up their sandbags. And a lot of them saying that in previous storms, their garages, for example, flooded. So, this time around, they want to be prepared.

Now, that is the before the storm. During the storm, officials are saying that personal safety is and should be your number one priority, not going to flooded areas. Because what they say is that those currents can be very deceiving. Officials also saying they are prepared as well.

Take a listen to what the L.A. fire chief had to say.


CHIEF KRISTIN CROWLEY, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT: We've got our swift water rescue apparatus boats. We also have our teams that will be fully staffed, ready to respond to any water-related emergency.

Now, these teams are highly trained in swift water technical rescues. They stand ready to respond on a moment's notice. We've also bolstered our air apparatus, our helicopters, our air resources, adding skilled pilots and rescue teams to our helicopter fleet.


BERNAL: And officials also saying that there are crews ready to address power outages if that happens or if there is that need. There have also been outreach teams that are targeting the homeless population and telling them to find shelters, especially those that are currently in areas that are near the river or that normally flood, and, overall, officials just telling people to take this seriously because it could be dangerous.

Camila Bernal, CNN, Los Angeles.

WATT: Earlier I spoke with San Jose State Meteorology Professor Jan Null.


He weighed in on the storm itself and the damage it could bring.


JAN NULL, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF METEOROLOGY, SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY: It's going to be a really impactful storm. Whether every single location is going to see some of these sorts of flash flooding, that's not going to happen, but a lot of locations are and it's sort of a two-headed storm.

The first portion is in Northern California now. The rain has already begun up here. It will continue through tomorrow with moderate to heavy amounts. San Francisco could see around three inches of rain. The winds are going to be strongest along the north and central coast, gusting to 50, 60 miles an hour. Some of the mountains around here could see gusts up to 80 miles an hour. Then everything shifts tomorrow into Southern California with heavy rain ongoing Sunday and Monday. And as was just reported, we're looking at something on the order of three to four to five inches of rain in the L.A. basin and the other populated areas of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Riverside, Orange Counties.

So, you have lots of people being impacted. And in areas that are made mostly of concrete, you're going to have flash flooding.

WATT: I mean, are these kind of events becoming more common? I mean, I was up your way -- you know, I think for the first six or seven years I lived in California, there was barely any rain, and then there seems to be more of these storms coming in. I was up your way, I think March was it, when that last Pineapple Express came in and caused a lot of damage up there. Are these kind of events becoming more common here?

NULL: Yes. Over time, you know, looking at the last year or two isn't a good metric, but I think if we go on out over the next ten years, we will see more of these events than we saw in the previous ten years.

WATT: And they're becoming more intense. I mean, I read one climate analyst saying that these kind of events are becoming 10 percent more intense. I don't quite know how you reach that number, but is there some truth in that?

NULL: Possibly, you know, with a warmer atmosphere, it can hold more moisture, so some of these storms that would produce three inches could now produce three and a quarter inches. But it's a real fuzzy sort of metric to try and get your hands around. We need to look at it over a longer period of time and average them out.


WATT: Deadly wildfires have forced the president of Chile to declare a state of emergency. More than 50 people have died and more than a thousand homes have been damaged. Officials tell CNN the death toll is likely to rise. Nearly 400 residents are said to be missing in just one coastal city.

CNN Chile reports a man has been detained for accidentally starting one of the fires. Police say he was doing some welding work when grassland ignited.

More than 90 fires are burning in different parts of Chile, affecting more than 100,000 acres. The tourist area of Valparaiso is particularly hard hit.

We're also following the latest updates on U.S.-led strikes in the Middle East. Still ahead, we'll take a closer look at how Iranian- backed militia groups are using drones to their advantage.

Plus, Russian police take journalists into custody. We'll have the details after the break.


WATT: We're following breaking news in the Middle East, where the U.S. and the U.K. have launched attacks on Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. The U.S. says they hit 36 targets across the country. The strikes were supported by several other nations, including Australia, Bahrain and Canada. U.S. officials say they targeted facilities used in attacks on international shipping lanes. The White House says President Joe Biden proved the strikes earlier this week.

Both the U.S. and Iran say they don't want war in the region, but they continue to point fingers at each other over the current heightened tensions. There are thousands of U.S. troops on the ground across the Middle East, as well as many Iranian-backed militia groups.

President Biden blames Iran for the deaths of three American soldiers killed in that drone attack in Jordan. He said Iran is, quote, supplying the weapons to the people who did it. U.S. officials have not determined what kind of drone was used in the attack, but some analysts believe it was a type of Shahed drone.

Joining us now is Fabian Hinz, research fellow for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Fabian, let's just start with how have these relatively low-cost drones changed the landscape across the Middle East and indeed beyond?

FABIAN HINZ, RESEARCH FELLOW, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: So, the way I always talk about it is to say, imagine we would be living in 1990 and there would be no drones of this kind. There would be no precision guided missiles as well. The only thing these groups could really do would be to fire artillery rockets for the range of a few thousand kilometers or have guerrilla hit-and-run attacks.

But these new technologies really enable them to strike targets hundreds of kilometers away. If you look at the Houthis, for example, they have missiles and drones with ranges over 1,000 kilometers. So, they are able to hit the adversary very far away and, of course, that changes the strategic picture quite a bit.

WATT: And in terms of how the U.S. kind of fights back against that, I mean, we've seen the U.S. throwing, you know, B-1 bombers and F/A- 18s at this. I mean, the sounds kind of, you know, to use the old cliche, sort of asymmetric.

I mean, what can the U.S. do to try and counter this drone threat that we're seeing across this region and elsewhere?

HINZ: You know, it's quite challenging because when you look at these drones that are being used in Iraq, for example, they're quite complex systems. It's easy to move them around. It's easy to hide them. When you look at Yemen, of course, the U.S. seems to have quite a few successes when it comes to targeting anti-ship missiles, for example. But the Houthis are still using them and they're still using drones. So, it's difficult to counter them with offensive action.

The defensive systems that the Americans have employed seem to work well, but, again, they don't work 100 percent. And one must not forget that all of these drones that are used by pro-Iranian groups are used as part of some sort of asymmetric strategy. So, even if you intercept them, there's still a psychological effect. There's still a political effect.


And that's exactly what these groups want. So, it's a very, very tricky challenge that Americans have to deal with.

WATT: And, you know, part of these -- the targets for these American strikes, I mean, would they -- can they try to basically just interrupt the supply chains from Iran? I mean, is that just one practical way of trying to counter this, just stop Iran being able to ship these drones to these groups?

HINZ: I mean, if you look at the geography of the area, it will be very difficult to stop the shipments themselves. You can always try to hit the storage areas in the hope of degrading that arsenal. You can never eliminate that arsenal entirely because these systems are just too easily dispersed. But you can try to degrade it, but that requires really, really good intelligence. And the question is whether the U.S. has that kind of intelligence. Do they know where certain Iraqi groups hide their drones? Do they know the same about the Houthis? That's the real challenge here.

WATT: And the various people we speak to, people tend to disagree slightly on just how much control Tehran exerts over these various groups, the Houthis, Kata'ib Hezbollah. What's your take on sort of how reliant these groups are on Iran for their weapons and how much do they listen to Iran in terms of the missions that they themselves carry out?

HINZ: So, this is the beauty, so to say, of drones and missiles. You can always look at them and identify them. When you have debris that pops up somewhere, when you have a propaganda video released by these groups, you can identify the type.

And because we know quite a lot about the Iranian drone arsenal, for example, we can prove very, very easily that these drones are coming from Iran. But, basically, all the drones these Iraqi groups have used in the ongoing asymmetric campaign against the U.S. have been coming from Iran, the same is true for the Houthi anti-ship missile technology and for the Houthi drones themselves.

And, of course, how exactly the political connection, potential command and control between Iran and these groups looks like, it's very controversial. And it's very, very hard to gather evidence about it because these are decisions that are made behind closed doors.

But if you look at the systems themselves, there's no doubt that they're relying on Iran to a very, very high degree. And then, of course, you can draw conclusions. If these attacks have been ongoing for a long time, then you need resupply at one point, and the Iranians are continuing that supply. They could just say, okay, we might still support you financially, but we don't give you these specific systems for these kinds of attacks anymore. But we're not seeing that. In the contrary, we're seeing Iran resupplying these groups in the current confrontation.

WATT: Fabian Hinz in Bahrain, thank you very much for your insights. We appreciate your time.

Russian officials say at least 28 people were killed after a strike on a building near the frontlines in Eastern Ukraine. Moscow claims Ukraine was targeting a bakery when it hit a two-story building in Lysychansk, a town occupied by Russian forces. CNN cannot verify these claims, and Kyiv has made no comment on the incident.

Lysychansk was captured by Russian forces in July 2022. It was one of Moscow's last conquests before Ukraine's successful summer counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region.

Meantime, a Russian official says a massive fire broke out at an oil refinery in Volgograd after Ukrainian forces launched a drone attack on that city. Russia's military says all drones were intercepted, and the fire was contained without casualties.

We are hearing reports that journalists were detained after Russian police cracked down on a protest at Vladimir Putin's election headquarters. One Russian source says authorities pulled men from the crowd of protesters in Moscow. Seven journalists were taken to one police station, at least another 27 people, only one of them an actual protester, were driven to another police station. The source says one state media employee has now been released.

The protest was part of a growing movement of women demanding that their husbands and sons be brought home from the war.

CNN Contributor Jill Dougherty spoke about how the Kremlin could handle these women.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I think a lot of it is the Kremlin's dilemma. What do they do with these women? Because, you know, they're really not political per se. They're grassroots. They're not really very well-organized.

And, you know, face it, if you had pictures of women being hauled off and hit with batons, it would be a very bad look for the Kremlin.


So -- and these are the mothers and the girlfriends, spouses of people who are serving in this, as Putin calls it, the special military operation. So, they're doing what they're supposed to be doing.

And the message is not, you know, we hate the war. They don't even call it a war. So, what they want is they want their husbands and sons, et cetera, back. And so, how do you -- how does a Kremlin really, you know, fight against that? It's virtually impossible in kind of a P.R. way and in a society way in Russia.


WATT: Saturday was a day that many in Northern Ireland thought they would never see. Coming up, a Sinn Fein politician leading its parliament, and she says she will help create unity, not division. That's next.

Plus, he calls himself the world's coolest dictator, but despite his iron fist reputation, he's still expected to score an easy win in El Salvador's election. That's ahead.


WATT: For the first time ever in Northern Ireland, a nationalist politician is the first minister. Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein was sworn in on Saturday marking a seismic shift in Northern Ireland's history.

Her party was once considered the political arm of the Irish Republican Army during the violent period called the Troubles. Now, she'll share power with a unionist deputy first minister. As ITN's Kathryn Samson explains, they're pledging to serve all of Northern Ireland.


KATHRYN SAMSON, ITN SCOTLAND CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As the sun rose over the city of Belfast this morning, some spoke of a new dawn. The stage was being set for Stormont's return. Cameras assembled to capture the landmark moment, political paralysis finally ended.


And it was a historic moment for Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill cheered into the chamber by supporters, the first nationalist or Republican to ever be appointed first minister of Northern Ireland.

O'NEILL: Today opens the door to a future, a sure future. I am honored to stand here as first minister. We mark a moment of equality and a moment of progress, a new opportunity to work and to grow together.

SAMSON: This day, she said, would have been unimaginable to her grandparents, made possible by the Good Friday Agreement. Michelle O'Neill's father was an IRA prisoner, and she has attended memorials for former members.

But she has pledged to show respect to the royal family and cooperate with colleagues who cherish the union.

O'NEILL: This is an assembly all Catholic, Protestant and a center. I am sorry for all the lives lost during the conflict without exception.

The past cannot be changed or cannot undone, but what we can do, what we all can do, is build a better future.

I will never ask anyone to move on but I really do hope that we can all move forward.

SAMSON: The DUP, who collapsed dormant exactly two years ago in protests over Brexit trade rules, today nominated as deputy first minister. Emma Little-Pengelly's family also has links to the troubles. Her father was convicted for his role in a loyalist plot. In her speech, she spoke of remembering the devastation from an IRA bomb.

EMMA LITTLE-PENGELLY, DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER OF NORTHERN IRELAND: Michelle O'Neill and I come from very different backgrounds. But regardless of that, for my part, I will work tirelessly to ensure that we can deliver for all in Northern Ireland.

Michelle is an Irish Republican, and I am a very proud unionist. We will never agree on those issues, but what we can agree on is that cancer doesn't discriminate and our hospitals need fix.

SAMSON: The post of deputy first minister has equal power but less symbolic weight. Some unionists have found Michelle O'Neill's appointment hard to bear.

JIM ALLISTER, LEADER, TRADITIONAL UNIONISTVOICE: We have a Sinn Fein first minister, but not in my name, nor in the name of thousands of unionists who will never bow the knee to IRA Sinn Fein.

SAMSON: It's been a very long road to reach this point. The two-year hiatus at Stormont has piles pressure on public services across Northern Ireland. Few see its return as a panacea, but many hope it will be a platform to start fixing things.


WATT: A politician who dubbed himself the world's coolest dictator is expected to cruise to re-election in El Salvador today. Polls in the country's presidential election are set to open in just a few hours.

Incumbent leader Nayib Bukele is believed to be a shoe-in to win, largely because of his crackdown on the country's notorious gang violence. He managed to lower the country's murder rate, but critics say the crackdown led to massive human rights abuses and the dismantling of political checks and balances.

Coming up, Facebook has been around for 20 years now. We'll take a look at its complicated legacy. That's next.

Plus, he's arguably the greatest football star of his generation. We'll get the latest on Lionel Messi's visit to Hong Kong with his Inter-Miami squad.



WATT: 20 years ago today, Mark Zuckerberg launched the Since then, Facebook has become a social media juggernaut. Gamifying our relationships with likes, comments and shares, it also introduced a news feed which can bring people closer together, but which has also spread dangerous misinformation and harmful content.

This week, the billionaire Zuckerberg apologized to families for the harm the site has done to children, but only after a lawmaker asked him if he would.

Right now, Facebook has more than 2 billion active daily users, and 20 years since it was founded doesn't look like it's going anywhere.

Messi Mania is sweeping Hong Kong. The football superstar is there with his team, InterMiami, for a pre-season game which InterMiami co- owner David Beckham is also there. Tickets for the match sold out in less than an hour.

CNN's Kristi Lu Stout joins us now live from Hong Kong. Kristi, this is all rather exciting for you in Hong Kong.

KRISTI LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very exciting Nick. In fact, team Hong Kong, the local squad just scored. The score now is 1-1. The crowd went wild. But there is still Messi Mania among the stands. You see it in the fans all wearing the pink jerseys.

Lionel Messi, the Argentine football legend and superstar, is here with his team into Miami for pre-season friendly against Hong Kong.

But let me tell you, this does not feel like a friendly. Team Hong Kong is going all out. They are playing hard and every time they touch the ball, the fans in the stands, even the ones wearing the pink jerseys, they are cheering out in support.

Now this is Inter Miami's first ever international tour. The co-owner of the team, David Beckham, also here, he was spotted earlier before the match began at the top of the hour, signing jerseys and adding a little bit more football star power to the proceedings.

And this is a sold out event. Some 40,000 fans in the stands earlier got to speak to one of them, the very colorful, Christer Leung. Listen to this.


CHRISTER JORGE LEUNG, HEAD OF HONG KONG FOOTBALL TEAM SUPPORTERS CLUB: I'm happy to see him, obviously. I think it's great for Hong Kong and all the fans, all the Argentina supporters, and all the new Inter Miami supporters.


Yes, it's great.

He hasn't been here since 2014, and he came as a runner-up, World Cup runner-up, and now he's coming as a world champion, so it's perfect.


SOUT: Now, we also spoke to a Hong Kong footballer who was selected to be on the Hong Kong squad. He told us how this encounter with Messi, who is still on the bench, he's not on the pitch just yet, is a dream come true.

I want to share with you what he shared with us. This is Jordan Lam. He said, I was so surprised to get into the final squad and I think it's a dream come true. Playing with the GOAT, the greatest of all time, Messi, is something that I never imagined in my life.

Now, once again, the match started at the top of the hour. Team Hong Kong, they are playing hard. We need to get back inside to figure out what's happening right now. Nick, I'm going to have to toss it back to you.

WATT: Kristi in Hong Kong, thank you very, very much. Enjoy.

Sticking with football, there are reports that French football superstar Kylian Mbappe will join Real Madrid once his contract with Paris Saint-Germain ends this year. The sports network ESPN says Mbappe has not informed either team of his decision, but he is expected to make the announcement next week.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Nick Watt.

Newsroom continues with Kim Brunhuber, that's next.