Return to Transcripts main page

Connect the World

Ninth Provincial Afghan Capital Falls to Taliban; Paris Saint- Germain Unveils New Superstar; Sudan to Hand Over Ex-President Omar al- Bashir to International Criminal Court; Greece Wildfires; China Sentences Canadian on Espionage Charges; Mexican Cartel Leader Threatens National News Anchor. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired August 11, 2021 - 10:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): The Taliban claim control of another city in Afghanistan as the U.S. president defends his decision to

end U.S. military support there by the end of the month.



ANDERSON (voice-over): Well, it's Messi time in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain fans welcoming the footballing great and can't wait to get their hands on

that number 30 shirt.



ANDERSON (voice-over): And thousands flee the wildfires raging across Greece but on the island of Evia, some choose to stay and fight.



ANDERSON: Well, it's 3:00 pm in London. I'm Becky Anderson. Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD.

The Taliban's deadly march across Afghanistan has now claimed its ninth provincial capital. That is just since Friday. Faizabad is the latest city

to fall. About 65 percent of Afghan territory is now in Taliban hands, including the key city of Kunduz.

We're getting our first look at the devastation there since the Taliban took over on Sunday. The group now say they have also taken over Kunduz

airport just outside the city.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif yesterday to rally the local commandos, who so far have kept the Taliban at bay. If

Mazar falls, that means the Taliban has nearly complete control of the northern part of the country.

Clarissa Ward was recently embedded with Afghan troops and she joins us live from the Afghan capital, Kabul, and Jeremy Diamond joining us from the

White House.

Clarissa, let's start with you. What have you seen and witnessed?

Tell us what's going on on the ground.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we spent time in the last week in Kandahar, which is Afghanistan's second largest city.

We just got back from Ghazni, which is another major provincial capital. As you mentioned, nine provincial capitals have already fallen to the Taliban

but many more are under threat.

Those two, Kandahar and Ghazni that we visited, are both completely surround by the Taliban. And let me tell you Afghan forces are really not

trying that hard at this stage to hold onto all of this territory.

We actually witnessed with our own eyes, as we passed a checkpoint that was coming up under some attack by the Taliban, Afghan forces running out of

the base and hailing civilian vehicles, jumping in them and driving away.

And when we went back through the same checkpoint the next day, the Afghan forces at that checkpoint were wearing civilian clothing, which I think

gives you a sense of just how much pressure these forces are under and just how difficult they are finding it to cope with that pressure -- Becky.

ANDERSON: You're at the White House, Jeremy -- stand by, Clarissa.

You're at the White House. The Biden administration, to many of our viewers, could be described as wiping its hands of a country in crisis.

What are you hearing there?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Listen, there's no question that President Biden is sticking to his decision to withdraw all

U.S. troops from Afghanistan, regardless of the conditions on the ground.

Of course, that was always the gambit that the president was making here, was that he was saying he was not going to do a conditions-based

withdrawal, which is something that many U.S. military officials had urged him to do.

And ultimately for the president, this comes down to how long the U.S. has been in Afghanistan, the $1 trillion plus that the U.S. has spent in that

country and the fact that still Afghan forces struggling to hold back the Taliban. Listen to him just yesterday.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We spent over $1 trillion over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000

Afghan forces. And Afghan leaders have to come together. They have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.


DIAMOND: Now listen, the U.S. is still conducting limited airstrikes in Afghanistan, though it's not clear what kind impact those are actually

having. And, of course, the U.S. is continuing to try to push through a diplomatic solution.

The U.S. envoy for these peace negotiations, between the Taliban and the Afghan government, traveled to Doha recently to continue to encourage a

peaceful settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

And the U.S. is also making clear that, if the Taliban do take the capital of Kabul by force, as is becoming increasingly likely, that the United

States will work to isolate any Taliban regime that comes to power by force.


DIAMOND: And that is kind of what they are trying to do and encourage this peace settlement to saying, if you continue to move forward with this

military solution to try and take over the government of Afghanistan, you will be isolated. You will be a pariah.

That is the argument that the U.S. is making but so far it does not appear to be something that the Taliban are heeding.

ANDERSON: The Taliban, Clarissa, as far as the White House is concerned, will be isolated. It will become a pariah.

Meantime, Afghan leaders are being told by that same White House that they have to come together and fight for themselves.

How is all of this going down on the ground?

And what are the consequences here?

WARD: Well, Becky, I mean, it's not going down well at all. People are petrified. They see the situation unraveling at an alarming speed. They see

that there's no real obvious plan in place to prevent a catastrophe. They feel a certain degree of resentment here as well.

Why did the U.S. withdrawal have to be so quick?

Why did it have to be so chaotic?

The one thing I would say about the Taliban, just from talking to their leadership at least, is that they do seem keen to try to preserve this

image that they have been working hard to cultivate, that they are a political force, that they have changed a lot since, you know, they lost

power in 2001.

They can have a sort of more productive relationship with the international community. But in principle, that's maybe what they say. But in practice

what you see on the ground is something quite different.

It's still very much an Islamist, fundamentalist, militant force that wants to re-establish an Islamic emirate, governed with strict medieval

interpretation of sharia law.

Now it may well be that the international community has no problem with accepting that as long as they abide by this key tenet, for which this

whole withdrawal agreement was predicated, which is that they agree never again to harbor terrorists on their soil.

And it may be that this is what the Biden administration is thinking, that they have already accepted the fact that it's only a matter of time before

the Afghan government falls and the Taliban sweeps to power. And they're willing to accept it as long as this doesn't once again become a harbor for


ANDERSON: What does the prospect of the Taliban, Clarissa, sweeping to power mean for the average person living in Afghanistan, man, women, kid?

WARD: OK, well, I think it's a really important question, Becky, and I think do you need to differentiate between people living in rural areas and

people living in urban areas.

The educated people living in urban areas, the middle class, you know, who have enjoyed having America's presence here on the ground, who have

thrived, they are devastated and they are petrified.

And many of them are thinking they may well have to leave the country because, simply put, it will not be safe for them and their families to


If you go out to rural areas, the thing you will hear over and over again from many people is, frankly, we don't care who is in charge. We just want

peace. We just want stability.

And a lot of the issues that, you know, naturally people seize on, in the West, for example, women's education, if you go out to a rural area in

Afghanistan, whether it's under the control of the government or whether it's under the control of the Taliban, women's education is just not a


So for a lot of people in those areas, they don't necessarily care that much. I should also add that there is widespread support for the Taliban in

many areas in the country as well.

There's a perception from many people that the Afghan government is corrupt and inefficient, that the Taliban, while the justice they mete out is very

brutal, it is at least swift and it is uncorrupt.

So you do have a lot of different opinions but certainly many people petrified and very concerned that their entire families could face an

uncertain future.

ANDERSON: Clarissa Ward is on the ground in Afghanistan and Jeremy Diamond is at the White House. We thank you very much both indeed.

This is an incredibly important story. This is a two-hour show and we'll do a lot more on Afghanistan as we move through this next hour and 40 minutes.

Well, it's a new team, a new league and in a new city. And now the formal unveiling of Messi with Paris Saint-Germain at a news conference in the

French capital, the League One squad already a powerhouse, gaining arguably the best football player of our time.

Messi will wear number 30; his old number, Number 10, already claimed by former and now current teammate, Neymar.


ANDERSON: The six-time Ballon d'or winner looks to add to his dozens of trophies, won over the past two decades, including 10 La Liga titles with

the Spanish powerhouse, Barcelona, and four key Champions League crowns. Messi telling the world he is primed for success.


LIONEL MESSI, FOOTBALL SUPERSTAR (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) to be here and (INAUDIBLE) to play. I'm very impatient. I still want to play. I

still want to win, as I wanted to from the first moment of my career.

And with this club, this (INAUDIBLE), I think this club is really ready to fight for all the trophies. This is my goal. I want to keep growing and

keep winning titles and that's why I come here to this club.


ANDERSON: Well, the impact of Messi signing on French football is enormous. Look at these fans, lined up to buy Messi merchandise outside the

PSG shop on the Champs-Elysees.

But there's a geopolitical angle here that goes far beyond France and European football. PSG are owned by the cash-flush Qatar sports investment

and remember Qatar are the somewhat controversial hosts of next year's World Cup. We'll explore that connection in detail next hour.



ANDERSON: Well, Sudanese cabinet ministers are telling CNN that the government will hand over former president Omar al Bashir to the

International Criminal Court. He faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the conflict in Darfur, where the U.N. says

300,000 people were killed.

Bashir ruled Sudan for three decades before being deposed in 2019. Now that decision to hand him over, along with other wanted officials, came during a

visit to Sudan by the ICC's chief prosecutor. CNN's Scott McLean is reporting live for us from Nairobi in Kenya on this story today.

Why now is a big question, when he's been wanted by the ICC since 2009, Scott.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more than a decade, Becky. I should say that the former Sudanese president Omar Bashir is already locked up in

Sudan, he was convicted in country of corruption back in 2009.

He's currently facing trial there in Khartoum for the 1989 coup that actually brought him to power for the next 30 years. The charges being

filed now -- or that have been filed since 2009 in the International Criminal Court -- pertain to the conflict in Darfur, which lasted from 2003

to 2008, a conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 2 million.

Bashir himself is accused of directing Arab militias to put down an insurrection attempt from non-Arab rebels. But in the process those militia

groups targeted civilians and prevented desperately needed aid, like food and water, from actually getting into the region.

In February of last year, Sudan, which is now run by this transitional military council, they promised that they would hand over al Bashir to the

International Criminal Court. But the announcement today from the foreign minister essentially made good on that promise.

The country has now signed on to the Rome statute, which allows that formal handover to actually take place.


MCLEAN: Though it's not clear at this point when that handover might happen or also how many others it may involve. There are also outstanding

ICC charges against al Bashir's former defense minister and also senior militia figures as well.

In general, the court tends to go after the biggest fish, accused of the most heinous crimes. So it's not clear how far down the ladder they are

seeking to go. As you mentioned, the charges have been outstanding since 2009 and they run the gamut of 10 in total, covering war crimes, crimes

against humanity and genocide as well.

Al Bashir was actually the first person to be charged by the court of genocide and also the first president, the first sitting president, who was

wanted on an outstanding warrant from the court.

He'll be the third African leader to be charged or to face trial but the first to actually be convicted, if he's, in fact, found guilty. Now this

case has been sitting in pre-trial mode in The Hague for more than a decade now because they haven't been able to go ahead until they have a defendant

actually sitting physically in their courtroom.

The ICC prosecutor, who was in Khartoum today, is seeking any information from the public, any information that might help them with the case. And

for al Bashir's part, he's always maintained his innocent and you can likely bet he'll mount a fiery defense, Becky, because back in 2009, when

he was convicted on these corruption charges, his defense team was actually escorted out of the courtroom, as the judge was reading the verdict,

shouting, "This is just politics."

ANDERSON: Yes, fascinating. Scott McLean is on the story for you. Thank you.

Next up on CONNECT THE WORLD, gone in an instant. Wildfires have burned over half of Greece's second largest island and now anger growing at the

government's response.

And Algeria will observe three days of mourning for dozens of people, including soldiers, killed by wildfires there. Who the government is

blaming for those deadly blazes, that is up next.




ANDERSON: Well, from North America to Europe and parts of northern Africa, we are watching as wildfires burn through thousands of square kilometers of


In Algeria, fires have killed at least 65 people, including 28 soldiers, who have died trying to save people from these flames. Since Monday, a

reported 103 fires in 16 provinces have ravaged mountain forests and villages.

The prime minister says arson is suspected but cited no specific evidence. The region is in a severe heat wave.

Well, nearly 600 wildfires are burning in every corner of Greece amid a blistering heat wave and drought. The fires have been raging for more than

a week now.


ANDERSON: The flames have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced dozens of villages to be evacuated. The country's prime minister says it is a, quote,

"natural disaster of unprecedented proportions."

Well, officials over half of the island of Evia have gone up in flames along with the region's honey, olives and figs. Eleni Giokos is there now.

And we've been speaking for days. We're hearing the complaints from people very loudly about the way that the Greek authorities have dealt with many

of these fires.

What are you hearing and seeing from where you are right now?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the fear, shock and trauma and it is -- I think it's just amplified because now we're sitting in the ninth

day, Becky, and this is still an active front.

We are now sitting in a situation where fires are being rekindled. It's hot and we started to see a bit of a wind today as well. And we've been driving

around the island the entire day, seeing fire trucks ready and waiting and dousing out new fires that are emerging.

And you're seeing smoke billowing from fires that were put out days ago and it's pretty traumatizing to see thousands and thousands of hectares of

mountains and hills completely decimated. We're talking about trees that have turned black.

We're on one of the hills here and this happened over the weekend. You can feel the heat coming from the ground and that's the big risk. You're also

hearing helicopters every few minutes, dropping water wherever they can. The good thing is we've got a bit more visibility today so you're seeing a

lot more assistance from the air.

But just so that I can show you that here, that hill up there, completely gone. We're talking about, as far as pristine forest, that has been

completely destroyed. And then you've got a strip of land with locals, volunteers and, of course, emergency services work very hard to protect the

house where we are right now.

It didn't make it through. This property has been destroyed. And you're right to say that locals have been very loud in terms of their criticism.

They feel that the government has abandoned them.

They feel that a lot of focus was put closer to Athens because there were wildfires there and that Evia didn't get the attention that they felt it

needed at the time, especially when the fires had begun.

Now the prime minister, we know, has apologized for the weaknesses in the response but he's also importantly now put together a relief package for

Evia and Athens, worth almost $600 million. We're talking about tax breaks for farmers and victims of the fire and for businesses.

And that, of course, is a very important step. But in the meantime, people still feel we're in crisis mode. And while we were driving around, we were

seeing people dousing their houses with water because there were new fires that were just emerging in new areas.

The good thing is, those big, intense flames we have not witnessed today so that's one positive element. But if I look at other parts of this, the

Peloponnese is now also experiencing rekindling. And that's also still an active front.

So there's still a lot of work to be done. One of the firefighters today told me that it's going to take months to completely do away with this,

because the forest, the wood, it burns slowly, Becky, so there's still a lot of work ahead.

ANDERSON: Yes. Eleni Giokos is on the ground, thank you.

Canada bracing for another round of blistering, dangerous heat and yet another heat wave could send temperatures there soaring to near 40 degrees

Celsius in parts of British Columbia this week.

Fire officials warn the hot and dry conditions could worsen wildfires that have been burning for weeks now. This follows June's deadly heat wave

that's blamed for the deaths of hundreds of people.

Well, China's sentencing of a Canadian business man is drawing international condemnation. Ahead on the show, the sentence handed to

Michael Spavor and how it fits into Chinese-Canadian relations.

Plus fed up and calling for change, people in Thailand take to the streets again over their government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.





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

Canada and the United States and the European Union are condemning China's sentencing of a Canadian business man. Michael Spavor, long based in China,

has been given 11 years in prison for spying and providing state secrets to foreign countries.

The sentencing comes a day after China upheld the death sentence for another Canadian, Robert Schoenberg (ph). Spavor was tried and held here in

a town near the North Korean border. He regularly traveled to North Korea. He and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig have been detained since

late 2018.

That pain just stays after Canada arrested a top Huawei executive. Paula Newton is joining us live from the Canadian capital of Ottawa.

And the U.S. embassy in China calling this a blatant attempt to use people as, quote, "bargaining leverage." Just explain what the diplomatic tensions

are here, referenced by that statement.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and what's interesting here is the strong statement from the U.S. government that was followed up

by a statement from Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state.

They are calling this arbitrary detention. I know we talk a lot about what this means for Chinese-Canada relations but it has a lot to do with the

U.S.-China relations and the relations with all of its allies.

This is an incredibly complicated case. Michael Spavor was, in fact, sentenced to 11 years and then deportation. The deportation is key and I

will get to that in a moment. But for now I do want you to listen to some of the reaction from the Canadian ambassador to China, who is on the

ground, who witnessed the sentencing but has some words here about what Michael Spavor himself said after the sentencing. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our collective presence and voice send a strong signal to China and to China and the Chinese government, in particular, that all

the eyes of the world are watching.


NEWTON: And the point is the eyes of the world are watching, Michael Spavor saying, look, I'm not disheartened by this. I'll continue to fight

and I want to go home. That's the message from Michael Kovrig as well. This case has been known of the two Michaels.

Justin Trudeau coming out today with a strong statement of his own, saying that this was all absolutely unacceptable and unjust. The same time, within

hours, Becky, on the other side of the country in Vancouver, Canada, there is the case of Meng Wanzhou. She is the daughter of the founder of Huawei

and a Huawei executive, who is wanted by the United States on accusations of fraud.

This is not about whether or not she is guilty. This is about extraditing her to the United States. The case has already dragged on. It's likely to

drag on for months more. What's interesting here, though, is that we just listened to foreign affairs minister Mark Garneau here in Canada. He's

giving a press conference as we speak. And he admitted again that negotiations behind the scenes are intense.


NEWTON: To try and garner some kind of negotiated settlement between Meng Wanzhou and the U.S. Justice Department, which would lead ultimately to the

release of the two Michaels and perhaps for some clemency on the other case, Mr. Schoenberg, who was now sentenced to death, something that the

Canadian government has called cruel and unusual.

I have to emphasize, this is not just about China and Canada. This is in fact about China's relations with many, many Western allies around the

world and a reminder that the Olympics, the Winter Olympics in China, begin in just a few months. And calls for many allies to boycott those games have

already started.

ANDERSON: Absolutely. Paula Newton is in Ottawa for you, folks.

Thank you, Paula.

Get you up to speed on some of the other stories on our radar right now. And anti-government protesters have been clashing with police in Bangkok in

Thailand for a second straight day. People there are angry over the prime minister's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and are calling for his


Police say they made at least 4 dozen arrests connected to Tuesday's demonstrations.

Well, South Korea reporting its highest-ever daily number of COVID cases. More than 2,000 on Tuesday. Health officials are blaming the Delta variant

and summer vacations for the surge. They say less than 16 percent of the country is currently fully vaccinated.

And Melbourne, Australia, extending its coronavirus lockdown by at least a week after reporting 20 new infections. The state's premier says that's too

many cases to come out of lockdown right now. And the origins of the infections, he says, are not clear.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson. It's 36 minutes past 3:00. We are out of London. Today, coming up a purported cartel leader

threatens the life of a prominent Mexican news anchor. We'll tell you what this means for her and for other journalists covering Mexico's deadly drug

war. That after this.




ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson.

One of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels is threatening the life of a national television news anchor.

On her primetime show, she often covers cartel violence. In a video posted Monday, a man wearing a mask claimed to be the leader of the Jalisco new

generation cartel, a man known as El Mencho. He threatened to track her down.

CNN can't independently authenticate the video here. Our Matt Rivers is tracking developments from Mexico City.

Just tell us about this news program and this specific anchor.


ANDERSON: What are they reporting on and what's been said about this new generation cartel and about this purported threat?

This is really worrying stuff, isn't it?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Becky. Unfortunately, it's nothing new here in Mexico, a journalist being targeted

by organized crime groups.

This particular anchor is Azucena Uresti. She a very well-known news anchor here in Mexico and hosts a nightly program on one of the biggest channels

here in Mexico. And she's known for not shying away from talking about the horrific organized crime problem that exists in this country.

She routinely talks about different criminal groups and also talks about the so-called self-defense groups or the vigilante groups that rise up in

different parts of the country to combat and protect themselves, many groups, say from these organized crime groups.

So in this video, which, again, we can't independently confirm, one of the leaders of this powerful cartel basically says, in part, quote, "Wherever

you are," referring to Uresti, "I'll get you and make you eat your words, even they accuse me of femicide because you don't know me. I am not a debt

collector or extortionist nor am I a kidnapper."

Directly threatening her life there; Uresti did respond on her nightly show earlier this week. Let's play you a little bit of how she responded.


AZUCENA URESTI, "MILENIO" NEWS ANCHOR (through translator): I have joined the federal system of protection from the government. I repeat, our work

will continue to be based on the truth and with the intention of providing information on the reality of a country like ours.

And also, as has happened on other occasions, I express my solidarity and support to hundreds of colleagues, who are still threatened or who have had

to leave their areas but who keep on showing the value (ph) of information and their love for this profession.


RIVERS: So she talks about the hundreds of other journalists being threatened because that's a daily reality, this is one if not the most

dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist covering local news.

Mexican nationals in different communities around this country risk their lives every single day to cover the news. And all you need to do is look at

the data to show how deadly this is.

And since the beginning of 2020, 13 different local journalists here in Mexico have been killed. In the last 10 years, 76 journalists have been

killed and that problem is not going away anytime soon.

ANDERSON: That's in Mexico City for you. Thank you.

It's a sight Barcelona fans hoped they would never see, Lionel Messi sporting the jersey of another team. He is going to be number 30 for Paris

Saint-Germain. Messi refusing an offer to retain his old number 10 worn by former and now current teammate, Neymar.