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Simone Biles Wins One Final Medal; Iran Transitions under U.S. Sanctions; Head of Belarus Exiles' Group Found Hanged; Afghan General Warns Al Qaeda is Joining Taliban Fighters; Going Green; Beirut Blast Official Investigation Stalled; Fires in Turkey. Aired 10-10:45a ET

Aired August 03, 2021 - 10:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): New dawn in Iran: hardliners will now control all the levers of government as Ebrahim Raisi is confirmed as


A man who fled the government crackdown in Belarus and to help others do the same is dead. This comes one day after a Belarusian Olympian says she

is too scared to go home.

And Simone Biles is back. She won another Olympic medal, tying the all-time record for U.S. gymnasts.


ANDERSON: Out of London today, it is 3:00 pm, I'm Becky Anderson, hello and welcome to the show.

A promise and a warning from Iran's incoming hardline president, as he is formally endorsed today by the supreme leader. Ebrahim Raisi says he is

going to work to lift, in his words, "tyrannical U.S. sanctions" but he also says his country's economic future will not be tied to the will of


Raisi is taking office facing a host of challenges; those crippling sanctions, a record high COVID-19 surge and nuclear talks that have

essentially stalled out. His inauguration later this week comes in the shadow of an attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman that Israel, the U.S.

and the U.K. blame on Iran.

Iran denies that. CNN's Fred Pleitgen, who was in Iran for us on Election Day back in Tehran for this official transition of power.

We have heard from Ebrahim Raisi.

Did anything he said strike you as unexpected?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not very much is unexpected, considering some of the things that he said since his

election, Becky, but certainly something that does hint at the fact that the transition that's going on right now in Iran is a lot more fundamental

than many people think.

I think it's fundamental in many ways. On the one hand, you have the very fact that the government in Iran is going to be a lot more conservative

than it was before. But also a lot of the policies really seem to be changing.

One of the things that we saw over the past eight years, really, is that the Rouhani administration was very eager to plug Iran back into the world

economy, obviously to get the sanctions lifted to get foreign direct investment into this country.

You and I have been on the ground here. We were talking about Western firms possibly coming to Iran. That, of course, was all before the days of the

Trump administration as the U.S. left the JCPOA and put in place crippling sanctions.

Ebrahim Raisi is saying he wants Iran to become more self-reliant. He wants the sanctions to be lifted but at the same time he wants what the Iranians,

especially conservatives call a resistance economy.

He said that very clearly today, speaking after the supreme leader accepted him as the new president-elect. I want to listen in to some of what Ebrahim

Raisi had to say.


EBRAHIM RAISI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will definitely pursue the lifting of tyrannical sanctions but we will definitely not allow

the people's national ability (ph) and the economy to be impacted by it.

We will not name (ph) them to outsiders' wishes.


PLEITGEN: Ebrahim Raisi talking about the future of the Iranian economy. He also said that he realizes there is a big need to fight corruption in

this country. He was, of course, until now, the head of the judiciary.

And that was really one of the things that he said would be one of his main priorities. Then, of course, also, which is so important for the world and

for us as well, is Iran's foreign policy.

I think there you can really see that the three big pillars here in this country, obviously the supreme leader has the final authority on


But also the military complex, especially with the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the presidency now, very much seeing eye to eye and very much on

the same page, where the Iranians are saying they're going to have a very, very dynamic and active foreign policy.

Of course, especially here in the greater Middle Eastern region.

ANDERSON: So you are on the ground in Tehran, of course, but in touch with your sources both in Europe and in Washington. I just wonder what you

believe or how you believe the sort of rhetoric that we are now hearing clearly from this new president, how that is going down in the capitals of

Europe and in Washington.

PLEITGEN: Well, I do think that, especially in the United States but also probably in Europe as well, they do understand that there is going to be

different policies coming out of Iran. And then there are certain things that are going to be changed and it's not going to become easier,

especially for the U.S. here in the Middle East.


PLEITGEN: You are going to have an Iran that is going to be very forceful, especially in the Middle Eastern region in foreign policy, of course; also

in the military sphere of that as well.

Of course, Iran projects a lot of power here in the Middle Eastern region. You have Iraq, where Iran has a lot of affiliated militias, also has a

presence as well; Syria, of course; Yemen.

But at the same time, of course, the Biden administration does hope that there can be a sort of rapprochement, at least between those two countries,

even if it's not something that happens direct.

Of course, there is still the hope in Washington that the JCPOA can be brought back, that the U.S. can get back into the nuclear agreement. As far

as Yemen is concerned, all sides want the civil war there to end.

One of the key things that many countries in Europe but also, of course, the United States are looking to as well, is how relations move forward

between Iran and Saudi Arabia, whether or not those talks that have started are going to be fruitful and whether or not those two countries can sort

out their differences which would be so important here for this region, Becky.

ANDERSON: Fred Pleitgen on the ground in Tehran, for you; inauguration this week on Thursday. Thank you.

Want to get you now, folks, to the mysterious death of a Belarusian activist in Ukraine. Police are launching a murder investigation into the

death of Vitaly Shishov. He had fled the government crackdown and was helping others to do the same.

He was found hanged in a Kiev park after he went for a run. Meantime, as you will be likely aware, an Olympic athlete who refused to return home to

Belarus could now be heading to Poland anytime. Warsaw has granted her a humanitarian visa.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance now connecting us to the latest developments in Kiev.

What are you hearing from police and authorities there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, there's been a lot of speculation in Kiev about what could be responsible,

who could be responsible for the death of Vitaly Shishov, this activist from Belarus, a prominent figure in the Belarusian diaspora/expatriate

community in Ukraine.

So many have come across in the past 12 months since the disputed election that took place there and the ferocious crackdown at the hands of Alexander

Lukashenko, the president of the country, and his loyal security forces.

He was helping people come across the border, he was helping them find accommodation and organizing protests against the regime in Minsk as well.

This morning at 6:00 am local time in Kiev, he was found hanging from a tree in a local park, where he goes jogging most mornings.

He went out the day before jogging; they couldn't find him. It took a big manhunt involving the police and his friends as well to eventually locate


There was a news conference by the chief of police here in the Ukrainian capital a couple hours ago, in which he said, look, this is the update, the

status of the investigation; we don't know whether this was murder yet.

And, of course, I'm paraphrasing at this point. We don't know whether it was suicide; we're investigating both things. There was talk about the

abrasions on the body, particularly on the face of Vitaly Shishov, which corresponded with, the police say, possibly a fall.

But other people who saw the body, his colleagues, for instance, who saw the body before it was taken away by the authorities, said his face bore

the marks -- I think I might be slightly misquoting here -- bore the marks of a violent death.

So you know, there has been all sorts of speculation, particularly -- I mean, no one is publicly pointing the finger of blame, no one in an

official capacity, at least, is pointing the finger of blame at the Belarusian security services.

But that's certainly the sort of suspicion on the street here, as Kiev is sort of reeling from this shocking death of this prominent Belarusian

campaigner in the Ukrainian capital.

ANDERSON: Matthew Chance is in Kiev, Matt, thank you.

CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh has been following the disturbing fate of a number of Belarusian dissidents.

Catch us up on what you know of the case of Vitaly Shishov.

What are we hearing from his organization, if anything?

And this, of course, comes just a couple of months after the Ryanair incident, when a plane was grounded under false pretenses and a dissident

arrested at that point. It looks certainly as if we're seeing a pattern of behavior here by the government.

Are we?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think it's important to be very slow in the conclusions that we draw about Vitaly

Shishov here. It simply isn't clear what happened at this stage. As Matthew was saying, of course, Occam's razor, the simplest solution, is to point to

those people who he opposed and that's the Belarusian regime.


WALSH: But at this stage investigators are talking about the possibility that the abrasions and the peeled skin that were on parts of his face.

That's as far as they will go in the statements they've given; could have been a result of a one-time fall so they're suggesting it may be part of

the hanging incident.

Quite who was behind that, quite why somebody would choose that place to take their own life after they seemed to be as on a run, things the

investigation will surely iron out.

And there are other theories, too, circulating about how this possibly could have happened. In terms of a pattern of behavior, this would be an

extraordinary outlier event, if indeed the Belarusian KGB were, in fact, accused of it. It's not something they've been seen doing of late.

In fact, the Ryanair event, the forced landing of a plane for an opposition blogger to be arrested, that is extraordinary, too. But I think this has

increased scrutiny obviously because of a fatality here but also, too, because of the events in Tokyo with Kristina Timanovskaya, who says she was

forced back towards a plane, back to Belarus after making critical comments about how her Olympic team was managed.

She was being forced now her consents she said to run in a 4x400 relay race. So essentially a feeling that the Lukashenko government are

increasingly isolated after the Ryanair incident and after Tokyo, are increasingly emboldened.

That doesn't equate to them being to blame for what happened in this park outside of Kiev. The investigation will plow through that certainly. But it

all focuses attention on the isolation of the Lukashenko regime.

The cheering you're hearing behind me is the ongoing tour around the United States and Europe of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is the self-declared

opposition leader of the Belarusian opposition movement here.

She's recently met with President Biden in Washington. Here, she says that the election was fraudulent; pretty much everybody outside of Belarus's

government agrees with that assessment here. She has just met prime minister Boris Johnson here, too.

And entered into a room here of the Belarusian diaspora in London to shouts of "our president." You've seen in situations like this around the world

that sort of disparity between an increasingly isolated authoritarian government inside of Belarus, oblivious to how the rest of the world

perceives its outlandish actions in Tokyo and the Ryanair jet, and the Western embrace of what the West would like to see as its opposition leader


These sorts of events you're going to see continuing because (INAUDIBLE) cannot get back into Belarus and so many of those who support have been

forced to leave because of the ongoing wave of repression.

So we just see this extraordinary disparity between how Lukashenko acts inside and how he thinks he can act outside of the country and what the

countries surrounding Belarus perceive is its best future -- Becky.

Nick Paton Walsh for you there in London.

It is 12 minutes past 3:00 here. American gymnast Simone Biles leaving the Tokyo Olympics with an individual bronze medal after many of us wondered if

she would even compete again at these Olympics.

The balance beam final was both her first and last individual event. She withdrew from several other events over the past week, citing a need to

prioritize her mental health.



ANDERSON: The Afghan military has a stark warning for citizens in Helmand province: get out. This as the Taliban get more help to gain more ground.

The details ahead.

Plus the Greenhouse: a man makes his home zero waste and produces enough food, get this, for a restaurant. We will take you inside that home after






ANDERSON: Civilians are being urged to leave Taliban-controlled areas as fighting ramps up in Afghanistan. Taliban militants are intensifying their

push to seize provincial capitals in the country.

You see their control here in red on this graph. A source says they've seized a TV station in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Meanwhile, one Afghan general telling the BBC that militants are mobilizing in large numbers and is warning of global security risks.

CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joining us from London.

The withdrawal by the U.S., of course, was about a sense that Afghanistan was no longer a national security threat.

Is there now, it seems, significant concern about whether indeed Afghanistan could be a global threat going forward?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That's certainly the message coming from the Afghan government and from that particular general,

who's got troops right in the forefront of the fight with the Taliban.

Difficult to know how his assessing precisely who is in the front lines, running house to house in some of the urban fighting that's taking place

now, in around the provincial capitals of Herat, of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar.

But the assessment that this is a threat ultimately to international security is one that we've heard from the Afghan government in the past,

that was really a message that they hoped would keep the U.S. in the fight for longer.

We know at CNN because we're talked to the Taliban's affiliates, either in Pakistan or even the Al Qaeda; we spoke with a couple of their operatives,

questions earlier this year.

They're very much aligned to the Taliban and they very much do see the Taliban's gains as a benefit for them. So what the commander is saying is

undoubtedly true; that, if the Taliban win in Afghanistan, international security will be in a more precarious position than if there is a

negotiated solution with the Afghan government.

But the fighting on the ground today and coming from the same commander, I think, really tipping his hat to what is becoming now a very, very, very

deeply troubling situation in Afghanistan, where the fighting is now in the cities.

Civilians are being wounded according to the U.N. in the city of Lashkar Gah. In the past 24 hours, 118 civilians killed or wounded there. And

that's being replicated in other places around the country.

What the general is saying to the Afghan population is, look, we're really sorry but we've got to fight, is the bottom line here. So please, if the

Taliban come to your area, get out of your house. It won't be for long.

But the clear message is the Afghan government is going to fight the Taliban over your house, through your house, around your house, from the

top of your house if the Taliban are hiding in there. This is part of the picture of why the civilian casualty toll is rising, Becky. There's no end

to this particular situation in sight at the moment.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely, how worrying. Nic, thank you very much indeed.

Folks, let's pause for breath for a moment. "Going Green" is a series here on CNN. It's all about how changemakers are pushing our world towards a

better period of sustainability as it were. Today we tour a home that is truly sustainable and produces zero waste. Have a look at this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): In the heart of Melbourne a glimpse into the home of the future. This is the Greenhouse, a self-sustaining living

space and the brainchild of zero waste advocate Joost Bakker.

JOOST BAKKER, ARTIST AND ZERO WASTE ADVOCATE (voice-over): We are the only species that generates waste. In nature, there is no waste. It's all

practical; it's all logical. So simple; there is nothing that's gone into this building that can't be recycled or isn't biodegradable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Run on renewable energy, the three-story building is the realization of a complete closed-loop system.

BAKKER (voice-over): The greenhouse is inspired by nature. It's an ecosystem where everything becomes a food source for something else. We're

harvesting rain water and using it for aquaponic systems in growing food.

We're using waste to make fish food. The mushroom is designed to harness steam from the shower. We've experimented with about 20 different

varieties. This is an Australian native mushroom that a friend of mine found bush walking.

And Snowflake is what he has called it and it's delicious.

From maybe age 12, I started getting really obsessed with the idea of productive buildings. The potential of that building is to grow food and to

grow energy and to be so much more than what they are today.

Can't beat the smell of freshly harvested food. It's really about showing that we have got some incredible solutions where we live.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The Greenhouse works as a restaurant. And making use of what's grown on the premises are the house's only

residents, chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone.

MATT STONE, CHEF (voice-over): To be able to grow and produce food on (INAUDIBLE) in the middle of the city and turn it into exciting dishes is

completely unique. And there's nothing quite like it.

JO BARRETT, CHEF (voice-over): We just head out the garden and pick from there and then start cooking.

STONE (voice-over): We often get asked how you can live more sustainably. And it's a really simple answer. It's eat locally and eat seasonally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): More than one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, according to a recent U.N. study.

Bakker's vision provides a blueprint for a greener home and a more sustainable food system.

BAKKER (voice-over): Our food causes more harm to the Earth than anything else. We don't need as much land to grow as much food as what we do. So we

can return land into wilderness. We can start planting more trees on farms.

There's a lot of damage that we need to repair but we can't do that without finding an alternative system for food production. And that, I believe,

sits right where we live.


ANDERSON: Coming up on CONNECT THE WORLD, it's been called one of the biggest nonnuclear blasts in history.


ANDERSON (voice-over): One year after Beirut's tragic port explosion, no one -- no one -- has been held accountable. Human Rights Watch has

something to say about that. Later we are live in Beirut.





ANDERSON: Welcome back. I'm Becky Anderson in London and you are watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

"Criminally negligent;" "They tacitly accepted the risk of deaths," just some of what Human Rights Watch is saying about some Lebanese officials in

a hugely critical report as Beirut faces the first anniversary of this.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Justice and accountability remain elusive a year on from that deadly Beirut port blast. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in the Lebanese

capital, remembering that terrible day.



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some time between 5:00 and 6:00 pm on Tuesday the 4th of August, 2020, a fire broke out here. Here

used to be hanger 12, a warehouse that contained perhaps up to 2,750 metric tons of highly flammable ammonium nitrate.


WEDEMAN: Plus, 23 tons of fireworks and 1,000 car tires.

The fire burned. There were attempts to put it out. they failed. And at eight minutes past six there was a massive explosion. Describe by some as

one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history.

And of course, it sent a shock wave right over there into some of Beirut's oldest neighborhoods shattering glass, toppling walls, killing. And the

final death toll as many as 210 people, perhaps more. A final death toll is not even known at this point.

More than 6,000 people were wounded. More than 300 people were rendered hopeless, around 77,000 housing units were either damaged or destroyed.

And according to the World Bank, the cost of the damage caused by the explosion is somewhere between 3.8 and $4.6 billion. A sum of money this

country, which is bankrupt, simply cannot afford.

Now there's been an investigation going on since says after the blast. But it hasn't found anyone culpable. It hasn't come up with the reasons for the

explosion. It hasn't explained why all of that ammonium nitrate was left, apparently very poorly secured in very improper conditions.

And the relatives of the victims are increasingly angry with the fact that it appears that the government and the politicians are just trying to

protect themselves and avoid any kind of blame.

All of this while the country's economy has melted down. There has been political unrest, there has been a government in paralysis for a year now.

And of course, the country is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

All of this leading those Lebanese who can to ponder leaving this country for good -- I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from the port of Beirut.


ANDERSON: The Lebanese, of course, were promised the results of an investigation within days. We are now a year out and, as Ben rightly

pointed out, no justice and no accountability.

Well, the horrifying numbers of dead and injured were widely reported, of course; less well reported, at least 85,000 students affected by that

explosion, 226 schools, 20 training centers and 32 university campuses damaged.

The U.N.'s educational scientific and cultural organization UNESCO immediately took action after the blast.

A year on it's telling the world, "Beirut has a unique place in the hearts of so many people across the Arab world and in the Arab diaspora.

"In late 2020, UNESCO embarked on a fundraising and rehabilitation initiative, Li Beirut, For Beirut, to meet the immediate needs of

education, culture and heritage sectors in the city."

My next guest is UNESCO's assistant director general for education, Stefania Giannini. She joins us live from the Lebanese capital, which she

is visiting in honor of that anniversary.

Thank you for joining us. Human Rights Watch today releasing a report, indicating that some government officials, including the president and then

PM, may have foreseen the fatal risk posed by the presence of the ammonium nitrate at the port, making them criminally negligent under Lebanese law.

What do you make of that?

STEFANIA GIANNINI, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR GENERAL FOR EDUCATION, UNESCO: Well, I'm here once again. It was less than one year ago as you mentioned, two

weeks after the dramatic blast, the UNESCO director general, who launched this initiative in Beirut.

I'm here to reaffirm UNESCO's solidarity with the people of Lebanon. I'm speaking now from one of the most impacted neighborhoods in the city

center, the historical city center.

So I mean, this is a country on its knees, we see clearly. We visited the schools this morning, rehabilitated schools. And we talk with teachers,

with children and the families. And there is a lot to do and we have our part to play to ensure that education and culture can really be the pillars

of Beirut and Lebanon recovery.


ANDERSON: Your organization has been helping coordinate the response on the ground. This damage went far beyond the sort of physical wreckage;

untold harm has been done to these sort of cultural heart of Beirut.

What kind of recovery to you hope to see for the capital and what will it take to get there?

GIANNINI: There is still an emergency action to be taken. More than 700 historical buildings have been severely damaged by the blast. And we

already stabilized 14 of them.

But it's not because of that, it's not because of protecting the cultural heritage that we are here. It's an important dimension of our work. It's

about given artists, the young people, all the creative industries that this is a country which really very much grounded on its human capital and

culture and creative industries, the opportunity to look at the future with some hope.

And this is the next step to do. This is about still continuing to mobilize political attention, support from the international community as well. We

joined the international community to --


ANDERSON: OK. Let me --

GIANNINI: -- to have -- sorry, this is an important point.


GIANNINI: -- to have an government which (INAUDIBLE) responsibility.

ANDERSON: And I think that's really important that we discuss that finally because as UNESCO points out, Beirut has a unique place in the hearts of so

many people across the Arab world, who are asking two simple questions at this point.

What's being done about the pursuit of justice?

Critics say that is long overdue.

And what is being done by the political elite, who have been held responsible by so many, not just in Lebanon but around the world for the

mess that is Lebanon today?

Your thoughts?

GIANNINI: We stand by Lebanese people. We stand by teachers, students, artists and all those components of Lebanese society, which are really the

future. And we send a message to political leadership, which is about taking leadership and ownership.

I mean, the international community is doing its job. But of course, it's about -- it's about having a partisan (ph) shift. And I think that this

first step, rehabilitation of, you know, 95 schools out of more than 200, it's already something. It's already an important achievement, it's already

sign of hope.

But of course, now we continue to stand by the community. But I think that we have to urge the Lebanese political leadership to take their own

leadership and responsibility and ownership in this next space.

ANDERSON: We thank you for joining us.

As the people of Lebanon mark a year since the Beirut tragedy, please do join us for special coverage this Wednesday at 6:00 pm in Beirut, 4:00 pm

in London.

Stefania, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Ahead on the show, we will return to the situation in Lebanon. Europe seeks to turn up the heat on those very politicians we've just been discussing,

in a country deep in crisis. We will speak with the E.U. ambassador to Lebanon, as the bloc looks increasingly likely to impose sanctions.

Plus, Haiti's first lady sits down with CNN and demands justice for her husband's assassination. That interview is next hour.





ANDERSON: You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Let's get you up to speed on some stories on our radar.

Turkey says it has brought 146 of its 154 forest fires under control. For a week, more than 5,000 people have been battling these flames. At least

eight people have sadly lost their lives. There are reports that a blaze is now racing towards a critical thermal power plant in the coastal city of


Greece also battling dozens of forest fires as an extreme heat wave grips the region. This satellite image shows land surface temperatures on Monday,

with Greece to your left of the screen and Turkey to the right. Those dark areas show soil temperatures reaching 53 degrees.

Chinese tech stocks plunging today after state media called online gaming "spiritual opium." A state run newspaper published a lengthy article, later

removed, on the harmful effects of online gaming on kids. Tencent shares lost 6 percent in Hong Kong after announcing new online game time limits

for minors.

Gymnastics legend Simone Biles has won a bronze and that is the smile of someone back in their element. To see the American compete at all was very

much in doubt, as you will be well aware, after a week's worth of skipped events but she came back for one individual event, finishing third on the

balance beam final.