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Blinken To Meet Key Israeli Officials In Hours Ahead; Qatar: Hamas Response To Hostage Deal Is "Positive"; Biden: Hamas Counterproposal Is "A Little Over The Top". Activist Works to End Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone; Rise of Far-Right Causes Concern Ahead of Key Elections in Germany. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, HOST, "CNN NEWSROOM": Coming up here on CNN --


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: An agreement is possible and indeed essential.


VAUSE: But, can a deal to pause fighting in Gaza come in time for a million and a half civilians in Rafah, caught in the crossfire of Israel's war with Hamas?




VAUSE: Watching as Republicans line up to do their master's bidding and kill a deal on border security because Donald Trump told them to do so.

And a day after King Charles reveals he has cancer, Prince Harry arrives in London to be with his father, who was 100 miles away in Sandringham.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Atlanta, this is CNN Newsroom with John Vause.

VAUSE: The U.S. Secretary of State will push for humanitarian pause in the fighting in Gaza when he meets with the Israeli Prime Minister in Tel Aviv in the coming hours. Those talks take on added urgency with almost a million and a half displaced Palestinians now in the firing line, as the Israeli military bears down on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Any pause in the conflict will be part of a potential deal with Hamas in return for the release of Israeli hostages. The militant group received a framework of an agreement and has made a counteroffer, calling for a "complete ceasefire", a condition which in the past Israel has repeatedly opposed.

On Tuesday, Secretary Blinken was in Qatar, which has acted as mediator in hostage negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Qatar's Prime Minister described the response by Hamas leaders as positive.


MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN AL-THANI, QATARI PRIME MINISTER (TRANSLATED): We have received a reply from Hamas with regards to the general framework of the agreement with regards to the hostages. The reply includes some comments, but in general, it is positive.


VAUSE: A different assessment, though, from U.S. President Joe Biden.


BIDEN: There has been a response from the opposition, but -- yes, I'm sorry -- from Hamas. But, it seems to be a little over the top.


VAUSE: CNN's Nic Robertson following all the developments, reporting in now from Tel Aviv.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, President Biden is describing Hamas' counterproposal as a little bit over the top. Other U.S. officials saying it is positive and reasonable. The Qataris, who were the key interlocutors here, also described it as positive. But, they also indicated it wasn't a sort of straight up and down yes/no answer to the proposal that had been given over a week ago.

And just going into late Tuesday, the State Department was saying the ball was in Hamas' court to give their response. That response, the timing of it, is interesting, because it happened only just before Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Doha. So, really not giving him much time to study it before he gets into meetings here in Tel Aviv on Wednesday with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli government officials.

We know that Mossad here is already in possession of the counterproposal. They're looking at it. Hamas themselves have said that they have responded in a positive way to the proposal that they receive, but their language in their statement, which doesn't detail what's in their counterproposal, but their language still indicates they want this permanent ceasefire, which for the Israeli government has been a no go. What was on the table was a ceasefire of perhaps around about six weeks. That could then lead to a longer cessation of hostilities. Hamas also indicating that they want all their prisoners released. So, they want a full exchange of prisoners. That also has been a no go for the Israeli government who don't want to hand back all the Hamas prisoners who are in their jail.

So, is there too much daylight between the two sides here? Certainly. Wednesday is going to be a very busy day here for the Secretary of State with all his meetings with Israeli officials to try to close some of the gaps. The positions, as far as we know, are still a part. It's going to take some maximum diplomacy to close it, and it's not clear that that's going to happen in the short term. Nic Robertson, CNN, Tel Aviv, Israel.

VAUSE: Kurt Volker spent 25 years working in senior foreign policy positions for six presidential administrations, who is also a U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and is with us this hour from Washington. Thanks for coming back. It's good to see you.


VAUSE: OK. So, now the exact details on the counteroffer by Hamas have not been made public. But, a source tells CNN it is "reasonable and does not include two of its most prominent and public demands that Israeli soldiers leave Gaza or for deal to end the war.


It is enough for the Secretary State and others to believe a deal is still possible." Here is Secretary Blinken.


BLINKEN: There is still a lot of work to be done. But, we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it.


VAUSE: So, what we're hearing a deal is possible, the counteroffer is reasonable, it's positive, essentially, open-ended words were so non- specific. It's frustrating. So, from your experience as a senior diplomat, what's your sense of what's actually going on here? How is this playing out?

VOLKER: Well, honestly, I think what Secretary Blinken is doing is the right thing and is what anyone in his position should do, which is, don't give up. Keep trying. Keep talking. Keep traveling. Keep pushing. What he said there doesn't necessarily indicate what he thinks is realistic. And I think any realistic assessment here is that Hamas is not serious. Hamas could release the hostages. They're not doing so. Hamas could be saying we're going to give up the fight. They're not doing so. Israel is not going to rest as long as Hamas militants are armed and organized and holding hostages. So, this is actually quite an impasse.

So, I think what Secretary Blinken is doing is right, by trying to keep that door open and trying to see if there is a way to get there. But, I think the honest assessment is the chances are very, very slim.

VAUSE: Well, let's assume that there is an extended pause in fighting in Gaza and there is some kind of deal. Secretary Blinken believes that could then possibly open the door to a more lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Again, here is Secretary Blinken. Listen to this.


BLINKEN: We're also determined to use any pause to continue to pave a diplomatic path forward to a just and lasting peace and security for the region. That is the best way, the best way to ensure that October 7 and the tragic loss of life by Israelis and Palestinians is not repeated.


VAUSE: He didn't say that any kind of lasting peace deal is based around the two-state solution. How does that have a chance when it's been rejected outright by the current Israeli government as well as by Hamas militants in Gaza?

VOLKER: Exactly. So, just a lasting peace, of course. That's what everybody wants. The question is, how do you do it? And Hamas, as you said, rejects the idea of a two-state solution. They reject Israel's existence. Likewise, no Israeli government, no Israeli citizens would trust a Palestinian state that is run by Hamas, or even the Palestinian Authority, which has shown itself weak and incompetent as compared with Hamas. If there was a democracy in Gaza, they would elect Hamas again. So, there is no way that I see a two-state solution is actually possible going forward.

I think we need to really be thinking outside the box here of what are the other types of solutions, maybe even ones that put aside concepts of political recognition and focus instead on economic development, on enfranchisement of a population, on demilitarization. We need to be thinking about different things because I think a two-state solution at this stage is frankly impossible.

VAUSE: Yeah. We've been talking about it for decades, and obviously, it's gone nowhere. But, still these negotiations over hostages are continuing with the Israeli military bearing down on Rafah. And there are satellite images which show how the population of Gaza's southern- most city has surged since the war began. The ones were taken early October as well as earlier this month. There is no open ground in sight. A million and a half Palestinians are simply crammed together in search of some kind of safety. And somehow, the Israeli military plans to find and kill Hamas leaders in Rafah in the coming days.

If there isn't a deal for the hostages and there is no pause and fighting, it seems this military operation by the Israelis is likely to add in a bloodbath for civilians in Rafah.

VOLKER: Well, I wouldn't go quite to that extreme at the moment anyway. I think what Israel has tried to do is clear northern Gaza, create some space where they feel they have some measure of control, and where Hamas is no longer able to be operational. They do want to go after and find whoever the Hamas fighters are that infiltrated with the civilian population in Rafah. But, they also then want to create a valve to release people who are unarmed and who are genuine civilians to get them to safety.

And remember, the other side of this border is Egypt, and Egypt is not letting these people out of Gaza into Egypt either. They're being squeezed there and trapped there. It is a horrific situation for the civilians, a horrific situation for the population, but it's also one that is -- it's kind of easy to understand how this gets created because you have Hamas military force embedded with the civilian population, fully organized, fully armed, willing and able to attack Israel as well.


The Israelis are doing their best to avoid civilian casualties. But, at the same time, they are forced into a situation where they have to try to make sure that they can root out Hamas.

VAUSE: Yeah. Urban warfare is incredibly difficult, and especially this is what Hamas wants. They want to draw the Israelis in, and that is obviously the main concern right now. And Ambassador Volker, thank you for being with us. Really appreciate your time, sir.

VOLKER: Well, it's a pleasure. Thank you.

VAUSE: To Washington now, a crucial U.S. funding for Israel and Ukraine is being stalled by Republicans in Congress who, it seems, are unable to count votes. In the past few hours, the GOP-controlled lower house failed to pass two of their own bills due in part to chaos within party ranks. First, a blatant political stunt backfired when Republicans fell short by two votes to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. House Speaker Mike Johnson says they will try again but only when they are certain they actually have the votes.

An almost $18 billion standalone funding bill for Israel sponsored by the Republicans also failed. Right-wing Republicans forced the House Speaker to bring the bill up under a procedure which required a two thirds majority. Well, makers on both sides of the aisle opposed that measure. And a bipartisan deal on immigration and foreign aid is on track to fail a vote in the Senate Wednesday amid Republican infighting and because Donald Trump wants the bill dead. The bill includes $75 billion in aid to both Ukraine and Israel. U.S. President Joe Biden had this warning for Republicans if the bill fails.


BIDEN: We can't walk away now. That's what Putin is betting on. Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin. Opposing this bill is playing into his hands. History is watching. History is watching. A failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten.


VAUSE: We're live down to Los Angeles, and Ron Brownstein, CNN's Senior Political Analyst and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. Good to see you, Ron. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi John.

VAUSE: So, it's been quite the day for Republicans in Congress. Let's just recap in bullet points, failing to pass a vote in the Republican- controlled lower house, to impeach the Secretary of Homeland Security, which was a political stunt, failing to pass their own standalone funding bill for Israel, and then in the Senate, we have Republicans set to kill what was considered to be a great bipartisan deal for Republicans on border security, which also happens to include funding for Israel as well as Ukraine. And again, here is this message from the U.S. President about what that -- what will be the result of that failure to pass that bill. Here he is.


BIDEN: If the bill fails, I want to be absolutely clear about something, the American people are going to know why it failed. Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends.


VAUSE: It seems to be a pretty easy case to make.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it is on this bill. I think the overall political case on the border is still tough for Biden to make because he starts with such a deficit in terms of the public trusting Republicans more than Democrats on this issue at the moment. But, to all your bullet points, I would add two others, the indications that the Republican National Committee Chair is going to be forced out very shortly, to be replaced by a Trump lawyer, and the resolution introduced by dozens of House Republicans indicating that Donald Trump did not participate or commit insurrection as President. And all of these stories today really are just telling us how profoundly under the hold of Donald Trump the Republican Party has fallen.

I mean, I thought this deal in particular that unraveled in the Senate is remarkable. I've been covering immigration politics since the early 1990s, and the basic framework has always been that Democrats will agree to tougher enforcement at the border and in the interior in order to entice Republicans to agree in some pathway to legalization for some portion of the undocumented population. This was a deal in which Republicans got the enforcement they want without any immigration concessions on the other side. The only concession to Democratic priorities was funding Ukraine and Israel and traditionally for Republicans funding someone standing up to Russian aggression should not have been a concession, and yet that died because Trump wielded so more than any other single reason.

VAUSE: And here is what Trump said on Monday about the border deal and pretty much why it is dead going forward. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a Democrat trap. It's a trap for Republicans that would be so stupid, so foolish, to sign a bill like this. This bill can't be signed. It's so bad on the border. It's so bad on the border. I've never seen anything like it.


Actually, it's one of the worst, one of the dumbest bills I've ever seen. I think it's dead, totally dead, at the House.


VAUSE: So, explain, though, how this deal, which would secure the border, allows Donald Trump to run for President on a campaign promise to secure the border?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, this issue -- I mean, the substance of this bill completely belies what he was saying. This is -- it is immigration provisions, virtually an enforcement-only bill. It contains restrictions on the ability of people to claim asylum at the border. It gives the President authority to completely shut down the border, which was an idea that was usually explosive as recently as Donald Trump's presidency to the point where he repeatedly threatened it but did not do it. And it provides enormous new resources for enforcement and adjudication, including speed -- accelerating the process by which people will have their asylum claims judged and removed from the country.

On a substantive basis, it is essentially a list of Republican priorities on the immigration side. But, the view among House Republicans in particular was that there is no reason to make a deal. We think we're going to win in November and we can impose exactly what we want. Then the problem with that is, can you get 60 votes for these same ideas in the Senate if there is a Republican President demanding? I mean, it's not clear to me at all that Republicans can even replicate what they achieved in this deal if they have unified control, much less go beyond it.

VAUSE: Does Donald Trump have any perception of the history of any of this? Do you think he is aware of just how difficult it has been for Republicans to get their way when it comes to reform of immigration and border security measures put in place because this deal had nothing that the Democrats wanted? There is no path to citizenship. There is nothing --


VAUSE: -- on asylum seekers. So, for Donald Trump to blow it up simply because it helps him at the election, does it come absence of any of that sort of historical knowledge, do you think?

BROWNSTEIN: I can't imagine he is well versed on the history of this. Now, in one sense, John, this does follow history. What we saw in 2006 under President George W. Bush, a Republican, and what we saw in 2013 again under President Barack Obama, a Democrat, was a bipartisan coalition pass an immigration reform bill through the Senate that contained the kind of compromise that I talked before, legalization and return for tougher security as well as, I guess, worker program. Each time it passed with a bipartisan coalition, the filibuster proof majority in the Senate, including Mitch McConnell, by the way, the first time, and then the House Republicans refused to even consider it, both in 2006 and 2013.

So, in that sense, what actually killed this bill as much as Trump's opposition and maybe this is just a reflection of Trump's opposition was the House Republicans saying they would not take it up. Senate Republicans saw no need to antagonize Trump to vote for something that was never going to even be considered in the House. I mean, that does fit with the historical pattern. But, as I said, this basically means that even if Trump is elected, his options on the border are going to be through executive authority, that are going to be -- executive actions are going to be challenged in court.

Now, he has put forward some truly aggressive and militant ideas, including the largest deportation in American history, the establishment of internment camps and the use of military force against Mexico. But, this deal is, I believe, a better deal than he will be able to get even if Republicans have unified control simply because Democrats won't vote for anything like this with a Republican in the White House without some concessions on the other side that he is never going to make.

VAUSE: Assuming there are Democrats in this Senate.

BROWNSTEIN: Although some.

VAUSE: Yeah. At least some. Yeah. Ron, thanks so much. Really appreciate you being with us. Be well.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: And more legal blow to Donald Trump with the U.S. Federal Appeals Court ruling that presidential immunity does not prevent Trump from being prosecuted for crimes allegedly committed to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In their ruling, the three-judge panel wrote executive immunity which may have protected Trump while serving as President does not apply to citizen Trump and criminal liability. They also dismissed Trump's defense argument that his indictment would have a chilling effect on future presidents. Trump's spokesperson is set to expect an appeal.

Still to come here on CNN, remembering Chile's former President after his death in a helicopter accident. Also ahead, Britain's King Charles heads for Sandringham as he battles cancer, and his youngest son Harry touches down in London.




VAUSE: According to U.S. investigators, when Alaska Air flight 1282 to go from Portland last month, four bolts meant to secure the door plug may have been missing. Preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board have just been released into why the door plug blew out mid-flight, leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage. This is a photograph of the Boeing 737 Max 9's door plug, more than a month before the plane was delivered to Alaska Air. The NTSB says it shows the bolts were missing during work on the aircraft. A final report could be more than a year away.

Chile is mourning the loss of former President Sebastian Pinera who was killed in a helicopter crash on Tuesday, 74-years-old. A state funeral will be held for the leader and three days of national mourning have been declared. A statement from his office says others survived the crash but it's not clear yet what caused the accident. People with flowers outside Pinera's house following news of his death.

And CNN's Patrick Oppmann has details on the accident and the legacy Pinera leaves behind.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sebastian Pinera had served two terms as President of Chile. He was a billionaire and a conservative, one of the most conservative presidents that Chile has had since transitioning from the dictatorship, the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. According to the Chilean government, Pinera died on Tuesday while traveling in a helicopter in the southern part of the country. There were three other people aboard the helicopter with him when it crashed. They survived and are listed as being out of danger. It is now known what caused the helicopter to crash, although there was rainy weather at the time of the crash, it was reported in Chilean state media.

The Chilean Navy was able to secure Pinera's body. He will be remembered in Chile as being President during the time in 2010 when 33 miners were rescued safely after being trapped in a mine collapse. Pinera was on the site of the rescue for hours as each miner was pulled for the mine. He would come and shake their hands and greet them. He monitored minute by minute the progress of that successful rescue operation that was followed by people throughout the world. He will also be remembered during his second term for the heavy-handed response to widespread protests in the streets by students. That received a lot of criticism because so many people were injured or killed as a result of the government clashing with their students afterwards. He admitted that perhaps the reaction to those protests had been too strong.

Pinera, according to the current President of Chile, Gabriel Boric, will be remembered. It will be mourned across the country and will be given a state funeral. His death comes as Chile is already recovering from widespread wildfires, the worst wildfires in that country's history that have killed over 100 people.


Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.

VAUSE: Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla are spending time at their Sandringham country estate north of London. The 75-year-old monarch was seen in public Tuesday, a day after Buckingham Palace announced his cancer diagnosis. Meantime, his son Prince Harry arrived in London Tuesday, flying in from California.

More details now from CNN's Royal Correspondent Max Foster.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): This is the first glimpse of King Charles since his cancer diagnosis was made public, as he appeared well enough to leave London for his countryside estate. Buckingham Palace revealing on Monday that the 75-year-old monarch is postponing his public-facing duties whilst he undergoes treatments. But, the palace says he will carry on with state business and official paperwork. CNN understands the king's weekly audience, with the British Prime Minister for example, will continue. But, if the illness worsens, royal commentators say appointed councillors of state can be called upon to step in, most likely Queen Camilla and Prince William.

EMILY NASH, ROYAL COMMENTATOR: These are members of the royal family who can deputize for him in constitutional affairs if he is incapacitated in any way or even if he is overseas on other duties. And it's been made very clear to us so far that there is no plan to bring any of these people into play.

FOSTER (voice-over): The number of working royals has dwindled in recent years. Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stepped back from royal duties in 2020 whilst Prince Andrew was forced out amid controversy over his relationship with a convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. But, already the royal family is putting its very public differences aside, Prince Harry arriving back in Britain from his home in the U.S., believed to be the first time he is seeing his father since the coronation in May. A royal source telling CNN there are currently no plans for Prince Harry to meet with his brother Prince William. The two are still estranged.

But, as with any family, the illness of a loved one may encourage the royals to put their differences aside.

Max Foster, CNN, Buckingham Palace, London.


VAUSE: We'll take a short pause right now. Back in a moment. You're watching CNN.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN Newsroom.

The almost two-year long war between Ukraine and Russia has been defined by the use of drones, often with devastating effect, and now the Ukrainian military looks set to have its own branch called Unmanned Systems Forces just for drones. In recent weeks, Ukrainian drones have attacked Russian ships in Crimean waters, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the drones have been invaluable in combat in the sky and at sea.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Ukraine did actually change the security situation in the Black Sea thanks to drones. Defending assaults on the battlefields is often thanks to drone. The destruction of the occupiers and their equipment, that's also drones.


VAUSE: Zelenskyy made the announcement about a special branch for drones ahead of a widely expected reshuffle by Zelenskyy of the government and military leadership and ongoing riff between Zelenskyy and the army

More than 80 percent of women and young girls in Sierra Leone and more than 200 million worldwide have been subjected to female genital mutilation.

CNN's David McKenzie teamed up with As Equals, CNN's ongoing series on gender equality -- inequality. And they spent time with a brave activist who has faced harassment and isolation as she tries to change the mutilation practice from inside the communities.

And a warning: as you'd expect, you may find some of the images disturbing.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across Sierra Leone, there's a hidden horror.

MCKENZIE: What's happening?

RUGIATU TURAY, FOUNDER, AMAZONIAN INITIATIVE MOVEMENT: We are going to Kambia. And there is an incident of a young girl that died after initiation.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): We are traveling with activists Rugiatu Turay. Her life's work is ending female genital mutilation, or FGM.

Traditionally, the cutting is kept secret in the initiation to the all-female Bondo Society, a society that is a rite of passage for girls and young women, where they also learn valuable skills from members.

TURAY: Somebody grabbed me at the back. And they stripped me naked.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Turay was excited about joining the Bondo Society. When she was just 11, she learned the truth.

TURAY: I felt the sharp coats. I started fighting. And when I woke up, I saw my sisters, the two of them on the floor bleeding. I could not walk for seven days, because I lost so much blood.

MCKENZIE: Did you already think then that this should stop?

TURAY: It was from that experience that I started talking to my friends.

Good morning. Good morning.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Talking to anyone who will listen.

TURAY: Just yesterday we got this information about this 13-year-old girl.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): In the holding cell is the girl's own mother. Police arrested her, the cutter or sowei, and her grandmother. Arrests like these in Sierra Leone are extremely rare.

In the village where she died, most have fled, afraid of the police; afraid of the consequences.

Salamatu Jalloh was just 13. Police believed she bled to death. She's been here alone for four days.

"When I went inside and saw my daughter's body, I felt devastated," says her father. "I didn't feel good. I'm confused. The stench is all over here."

TURAY: Why do parents continue to subject their children to this pain? Parents that I know love their children so much, and they always protect them.

MCKENZIE: And why do they?

TURAY: They look at the cutting as being the Bondo itself.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): To separate the two, Turay and her organization go village to village. She targets the soweis who are paid to cut, trains them in new skills, convincing them to put down their knives and lead bloodless Bondo ceremonies.

Turay is slowly succeeding, where for decades, international organizations have failed.

TURAY: You cannot fight something you are not part of. I am part of the community. I know what they do. I know; I talk out of experience. They understand me. I understand them.

TITY SESAY, "BLOODLESS BONDO" INITIATE: I ran away, because my mother and my aunt want me to join the Bondo with cuts.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): It's still up to brave young women like Tity Sesay to resist the social pressure and to convince others, as well. But the U.N. still estimates more than 80 percent of women and girls have gone through FGM here.

SESAY: The say it is a tradition. I say it is a tradition that is very wicked. This is a wicked tradition.

MCKENZIE: It's a huge mountain to climb still. Do you think you can climb that mountain?


TURAY: In Sierra Leone, we've gone too far climbing to yield (ph). We've gone too far.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Going far, building schools to educate and empower young girls. Helping soweis lead the charge to a better tradition: celebrating protecting their sisters and daughters.

TURAY: We will climb the mountain, and all of us will be at the mountain top to say FGM has end. And it will end in our generation as we speak.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): David McKenzie, CNN, Port Loko, Sierra Leone.


VAUSE: For more stories from CNN's ongoing series on gender inequality, please go to

When we come back here on CNN, with key elections just months away in Germany, the rapid rise in popularity of the far-right AFD Party is causing some serious worries for mainstream politicians. More on that in a moment.


VAUSE: Weeks of negotiations to form a coalition government in the Netherlands are in disarray after a key party walked out.

The centrist New Social Contract, or NSC, abruptly ended talks Tuesday over what it says was new information about the government's finances.

It's a setback for far-right leader Geer Wilders, who has been trying to form a working coalition after his party won a majority in the election -- a majority of votes in the election -- back in November.

Wilder says he's incredibly disappointed over NSC's move. If the parties cannot agree to form a coalition, new elections could be held.

Germany is grappling with the sudden rise of the major far-right party ahead of key elections this year. Opinion polls show the Alternative for Germany, or AFD, is polling in second place nationwide.

Now, mainstream parties fear AFD could sweep the polls in the coming months, as CNN's Sebastian Shukla reports.


SEBASTIAN SHUKLA, CNN INTERNATIONAL PRODUCER (voice-over): It's boots on the ground in Freienthal for the Alternative for Deutschland, the AFD.

In this tiny Brandenburg village, Germany's far-right party are doing what many say their government aren't: talking to them. But as night falls, protesters spring with a message: Germany has been down this path before. "Never again" means now.

ADAM SEVENS, PROTEST ORGANIZER (through translator): The AFD's plans only reveals the xenophobia, hatred, and bigotry that exists in this country.

SHUKLA (voice-over): Views that are not hard to find across the road in the village hall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm glad that someone is taking care of all this scum that has spread in our country, in our beautiful Germany.

SHUKLA (voice-over): Pro and AFD curious supporters have gathered to hear from party officials. The message even has Trumpian undertones. Our country first, posters say.


SHUKLA: Part of the AFD call for voters is about luring people away from some of Germany's largest political parties through transparency, they say. But some of what's being discussed in this room is warped: questioning things like the COVID pandemic and whether climate change is even real.

SHUKLA (voice-over): As the meeting concludes, many leave content with what they've heard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The AFD is finally standing up for the citizens and is slowly doing what we want. And what we want is to be part of the government.

SHUKLA (voice-over): Omid Nouripour is part of that government. And he acknowledges that public image is partly to blame for their ailing poll numbers.

OMID NOURIPOUR, HEAD OF GERMANY'S GREEN PARTY: No doubt that we have to improve a lot of things, especially the performance of our coalition, or giving the impression that we just shout at each other. We are not. But the feeling is there, and we have to improve that.

SHUKLA (voice-over): Following an explosive investigation from the news outlet Correctiv, AFD lawmaker, Dr. Hans-Christoph Berndt hailed the so-called remigration plan discussed as a promise.

At this hotel, far-right leaders suggested mass deportations, including for German citizens of foreign origin.

HANS-CHRISTOPH BERNDT, HEAD OF ALTERNATIVE FOR GERMANY, BRANDENBERG (through translator): It is not only legitimate, it is necessary to think about remigration. Since 2015, more than 10 million foreigners have entered the country, and a large proportion of them are not willing to integrate and live in German society but are instead building parallel worlds.

The federal government is not putting the interests of the indigenous population first.

SHUKLA (voice-over): In the real world, the report sparked waves of anti-AFD protests. Berndt's response is to shout conspiracy.

BERNDT (through translator): Yes, without the government campaign, people wouldn't be out in the street. I am very positive.

SHUKLA: Sebastian Shukla, CNN, Brandenburg, Germany.


VAUSE: The FDA has tried to distance itself from the reported secret meeting, saying it was not an official party event.

A college student who tracks the private jets of celebrities and public figures is now facing possible legal action from Taylor Swift. Jack Sweeney's program uses publicly available real-time flight data to track some of the world's elite.

That would include billionaire Elon Musk, who famously tried to pay Sweeney off in 2022 to get him to stop, then shut down Sweeney's Elon Jet Twitter account, calling it a security risk.

Now, it's Taylor Swift against Sweeney, with her lawyers issuing a cease-and-desist order to stop what they call stalking and harassing behavior.

CNN has reached out to Swift's team for comment. We're yet to hear back.

I'm John Vause, and I will be back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT starts after a short break.