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Iraqi Airways Evacuating 430 Iraqis from Belarus; France Facing a "Fifth Wave" of COVID-19 Infections; Austria Implements Restrictions for Unvaccinated; China Evades Questions on Whereabouts of Tennis Star Peng Shuai; U.S. May Send Some Evacuated Afghans Back to Afghanistan; Call for More Anti-Coup Protests in Sudan; Colombian Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 10:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Return of the full lockdown as COVID-19 cases surge across Europe. Pressure growing for more robust

action. I speak to Austria's minister of economy about what can be done next.

Plus --


ANDERSON (voice-over): -- hundreds of Iraqi migrants stuck on the border between Belarus and Poland are returning home this hour, their hopes for a

European life dashed.


ANDERSON (voice-over): An exclusive interview with the Belarusian foreign minister, this is coming up.

Plus, where is Peng Shuai?

The Chinese tennis star made explosive allegations of sexual harassment two weeks ago. She hasn't been seen in public since. More on that later this



ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson. It is 7:00 pm here in the UAE.

It has been 22 months since Europe saw its first COVID-19 infections. Incredibly, several countries are still setting new grim records. Germany

saw over 65,000 cases in the last day, its highest single day surge so far. The country's chief health official said the actual number could be two or

three times higher than what is being reported.

Health experts blame the fact that a third of Germans are unvaccinated and have no protection against the virus. Vaccine advisers there are

recommending booster shots for all people over the age of 18.

Czech Republic and Slovakia also setting record highs for new daily cases. The Czech government is imposing tougher restrictions against those who are


And Poland reporting 20,000 new infections for the first time since April. CNN's Paris correspondent Melissa Bell taking a look at what is going on

across Europe and she joins me now from Paris.

We're hearing of tougher measures being approved in Germany.

What can you tell us at this point?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Within last hour or so, the bundestag have just approved it, that it is setting aside the framework that allowed

it to have nationwide restrictions but replacing it with a new framework that will allow COVID restriction to be tightened on a nationwide level.

Really going with that 3G method they call it in Germany: you need to show your vaccination status, negative PCR test or proof of recent recovery from

COVID, to go on to thing like public transport and into so many public places and also encouraging working from home.

It is, you just mentioned, the figures there, from the public health institute, its head calling it an emergency. Anyone who refused to see

that, he said, was simply not willing to look the truth in the face.

It is a Europe wide problem, with governments scrambling to find restrictions that will allow them to bring these figures back under

control, so alarmingly fast have they been rising.

Angela Merkel, the outgoing chancellor, will be speaking with the heads of the 16 German regions later today to look at localized targeting of

restrictions but a new nationwide framework approved by the three parties that are now negotiating to form the next government in Germany still has

to go to the upper house on Friday.

But that is the very latest, a tightening of measures in Germany to try and bring those devastatingly fast COVID-19 figures back under control.

ANDERSON: What is the story in France?

BELL: Similarly, France, another day of huge rises, 20,000 cases, another day of above 20,000 cases, similar as in the Netherlands and other


We have seen day after day of extremely fast rises and driven, as you mentioned a moment ago, by the fact there remain parts of the population

that are unvaccinated.

But what is perhaps most interesting are those countries like France, like Ireland, Becky, where the vaccination rates are actually pretty high. And

what that tells you is that although the unvaccinated are a big part of the problem, as the deputy vice prime minister of Ireland said yesterday, they

are causing a lot of trouble.

That 5 percent, 50 percent of those occupying ICU beds in the country, they're causing a lot of trouble.


BELL: But that is not the only problem. There is also the question of boosters with so many people's immunization levels having dropped months

after first having their vaccines.

ANDERSON: Yes. Melissa Bell is in Paris.

Austria also racing to control the new wave of the virus.

Thank you, Melissa.

The country reported its highest number of daily new cases today. The entire populations of Salzburg and Upper Austria provinces have been placed

under lockdown. For the rest of the country, lockdowns apply to those who have opted not to get the vaccine.

Last hour I asked Austria's minister of economic affairs what she believes is behind this latest surge.


MARGARETE SCHRAMBOCK, AUSTRIA'S MINISTER OF ECONOMY: What is important is that we need more people to get vaccinated. We do have a parte effeur (ph)

in Austria, who is not supporting our general program.

This is one of our key topics and key problems that we have. So we need to convince people -- and I'm asking really everybody to get vaccinated. This

is the only thing which helps in the medium and the long run. And we're working on that.

ANDERSON: Since November the 8th, Austria introduced what is called the 2G rule. Let me explain that. That excludes unvaccinated people from large

parts of public life.

And under the incremental government plan, as I understand it, once 30 percent of intensive care beds are occupied by COVID patients, unvaccinated

people will be placed under lockdown. The current level is around 21 percent at the moment.

Just how much longer before it reaches 30 percent?

SCHRAMBOCK: Well, it is important that unvaccinated people are protected. And so therefore, we launched this program and this measure. It is

important that we make a difference within those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated.

And it will help us so we have just launched this method and this action. And now we need to look at the results and, of course, again, we need to

ask everybody to take the opportunity and it is for free. It is available. It is broadly available. And numbers are rising in vaccination, this is a

good sign. But still a lot has to be done.

ANDERSON: Why has Austria been so slow in comparison to other parts of Europe to vaccinate its population?

SCHRAMBOCK: Well, as I mentioned before, we have one party in Austria, who is opposing the vaccination actively. And this differs from other countries

like Denmark, Italy or France.

And this is one, and for me as a minister, for economy, one of the key reasons why you have these issues. And it is then not only a health issue,

which, of course, by this but it is also economic issues.

And therefore I need to insist also to this party to change their mind and to cooperate and to convince people who are following them -- and not to

use fake news but to use the real knowledge of scientists and doctors, who are saying, telling us that vaccination is helping. This has proved

everywhere, also in Austria.

ANDERSON: This system that you have does raise ethical questions, of course, especially because many young Austrians don't believe in getting

vaccinated. This is what one protester in Vienna had to say.

"I think it is very discriminating because I'm allowed to go to work but, the rest of the day, I have to stay at home," he said.

They feel discriminated against, to which you say what?

SCHRAMBOCK: Well, it is important that everybody contributes to the current situation. And this contributing that -- so that we get out of this

vicious circle. This is what I'm telling them.

It is not about discriminating anybody. It is about helping those elderly people, which need to be protected. It is about those who cannot take a

vaccination because of health reasons. And it is also about the future jobs of next generations. This is what we need to think about now.

ANDERSON: One criticism, of course, of locking down the unvaccinated -- and we are hearing this across many parts of Europe, that are considering

this action -- is that it ignores the risks of transmission among the vaccinated.

And research has shown that the Delta variant is highly transmissible, even for those who are vaccinated. So there are appeals by some to do things

like reduce risks in indoor spaces, strengthen social distancing rules, so it applies to everybody and it doesn't seem to be discriminating, as some

see it.


ANDERSON: How do you respond to that?

SCHRAMBOCK: Well, our scientists have also clearly said that, of course, if you are vaccinated, you can get the illness. However, it will not be

that severe in most of the cases.

If we look at people in our hospitals, which are really severely hit by COVID, we can clearly see that they are unvaccinated and that this caution

is really, really huge. And if you are vaccinated, you can transmit it, of course.

But there is only little volume of viruses, so less volume of viruses and this is the key. It is the key to bringing it down to normal life and

making normal life possible.

And therefore, we need -- countries have proven it so other countries have proven it, so we need a number of people who are vaccinated. And I'm happy

that the numbers of people getting vaccinated the first, the second and also the third time is now growing. So these measures are important for us.

ANDERSON: I want to get your thoughts on another big story that has been dominating our headlines and, indeed, Europe lately and that's the crisis

at the border between Poland and Belarus. The European Union accusing Belarus of weaponizing migrants with the help of Russia to make Europe look


What is your perspective on this?

SCHRAMBOCK: Well, we are fully supporting the E.U. position and also the sanctions taken. And for me it is important to point out that these

sanctions are against the regime. It is not against the people of Belarus.

They deserve living in a country which is democratic and which is free, where they can express also their thoughts openly and not are under

pressure and risking their lives. And using people as a weapon is fully unacceptable.

And also we support fully Poland. The borders of Europe needs to be protected so that, inside Europe, we can have freedom, freedom of people,

movements, freedom of goods and freedom of services.

ANDERSON: Over the summer, when the E.U. imposed sanctions on Belarus, Austria was the only member state that blocked sanctions against Belarusian

banks themselves. Austria is also the second biggest investor in Belarus after Russia.

You were criticized for seemingly putting commercial interests above human rights. Eventually the government did lift that block. But I just wonder

where Austria's position is on Belarus today.

SCHRAMBOCK: Of course, you are putting it rightly. We do have a huge number of companies, of Austrian companies, important investments, both in

telecom and in the finance sector.

And therefore, we needed time to clearly rethink the situation, evaluate the situation. And this is what we have come to, full support of the

European Union sanctions.


ANDERSON: That was the Austrian economy minister talking to me about COVID and about what we have been witnessing at the Poland-Belarus border.

Hundreds of migrants who were standing their ground there, desperate to get into the European Union, will have to put their dream on hold for now.

Border officials say their makeshift camps have been cleared and the remaining migrants moved to a processing center in Belarus.

About 400 of the migrants are from Iraq, are currently on board a repatriation flight, set to arrive at their home country very soon. The

Iraqi Airways plane evacuated the men, women and kids from Belarus on what officials are calling a voluntary basis.

The Belarus president says there are currently 7,000 migrants in his country. He says about 5,000 are being diverted back home, reportedly

asking the European Union to take 2,000 others. And while it appears tensions have eased at the border crossing itself, the political war of

words rages on.

G7 foreign ministers backing Poland, calling on Belarus to end what they describe as "an aggressive and exploitative" migrant campaign.

Belarus, meanwhile, continues to rejects claims it orchestrated this crisis. Matthew Chance spoke exclusively to the Belarusian foreign minister

about the migrants' dire living conditions and what led to the standoff at the border. Have a listen.


VLADIMIR MAKEI, BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: This is a dramatic situation. We know that there are more than 600 women and more than 200 children. And

to see how they suffer, it is very difficult for a normal human being. We are not interested in having this situation here in Belarus.


MAKEI: And we think that this situation, as any other crisis, can be settled only through the dialogue.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll come to that in a minute. But you say you don't want to see these scenes. But you're

accused, Belarus is accused, of orchestrating this whole crisis, of encouraging these migrants to come here and of directing them toward that

border. You created these things.

MAKEI: Yes. We have heard a lot of accusations towards Belarus, saying that we have orchestrated this crisis, we have invited people to the

country, et cetera. This is a false assessment of the situation.


ANDERSON: More of Matthew's interview with the Belarusian foreign minister, that exclusive interview in the coming hours on CNN.

Hundreds of migrants are already out of Belarus, on their way back home to Iraq. Let's get the view from the Iraqi side. Jomana Karadsheh has more

from Istanbul.

Do we know that will happen to the 430 men, women and children returning home at this point?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we understand from the Iraqis, there are about 400 people on that flight that was scheduled to leave Minsk

a few hours ago. There might be some delays. It was supposed to arrive right around now. At least a couple of hours delay according to Iraqi


It is first going to stop in Irbil, in the Kurdish north, where we expect the majority of those on the flight are going to disembark. And then it is

going to hand to Baghdad. This is the first flight that the Iraqis have organized.

As you described these voluntary repatriations and we understand they're going to be more flights in the future. But as you can imagine, Becky, the

last thing people getting on this flight really want is to go back to the life that they tried to escape, they so desperately tried to flee.

And this is not something as simple as buying tickets and getting on a flight to Minsk. This is something that costs families thousands of dollars

to pay for this package -- the visas, the flights -- to get there and in many of those cases, Becky, for a lot of the people, these are their life


These are people selling their belongings, borrowing money to get on these flights and to try and make it to Europe.

And what I think is very interesting and shocking for a lot of Iraq watchers, who have been following Iraq very closely for years, is the fact

that so many of the people, who ended up leaving in their thousands, trying to get out through this new route to Europe, are Iraqi Kurds.

For the longest time, Iraq's Kurdish region was considered to be the more stable, the more prosperous part of the country. And then you got thousands

of people who have attempted to flee.

And when I have spoken to Iraqi Kurds, asking why this is happening, and people will tell you it is an economic situation, high unemployment. The

economic situation has gotten worse in recent months and recent years.

And then also you got this general feeling of hopelessness, what you hear from so many people in different parts of the region, just absolutely fed

up with their ruling elite and this perceived corruption of the ruling elite.

They just feel there is absolutely no future for them in their country and they had to leave.

In your interview with the Iraqi foreign minister, he told you that people were being exploited by Belarus, that they were being exploited by

smugglers, who were preying on their total desperation to get out.

But a lot of Iraqis also blame this on their government, on their leadership, for not really tackling the root causes of what is pushing

people to flee their country -- Becky.

ANDERSON: No, very good point, Jomana Karadsheh following the story for us today. And keeping an eye on that flight. When it arrives in Idlib, we will

get you images as soon as we get them in.

Coming up, a mysterious letter from a Chinese tennis star who hasn't been seen in public in weeks, while censorship clouds the truth and even CNN.

And some Afghan refugees could be sent back home to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Why they are being held back from getting to the United

States. That is coming up.





ANDERSON: China is yet again deflecting any questions on the whereabouts of Peng Shuai. Two weeks ago the Chinese tennis star accused a former top

official in the Communist Party of sexual assault before vanishing from public life.

Earlier today, the foreign ministry spokesman claimed not to be aware of the case, despite it drawing international attention. State-owned

broadcaster CGTN, however, is aware, saying it has received a letter claiming to be sent from Peng.

Tennis officials are calling the letter highly unbelievable and it raised concerns. More from CNN's Ivan Watson.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The royalty of professional tennis expressing concern about the welfare of one

of their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, it is shocking that she is missing.

WATSON (voice-over): Warnings echoed by other champions, past and present.

"I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK," writes Naomi Osaka, adding, #whereispengshuai.

"I've known Peng since she was 14," writes Chris Evert. "Where is she?"

Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis champion --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Peng Shuai moves into the quarterfinals --

WATSON (voice-over): -- hasn't been seen or heard from in weeks.


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: This is really extraordinary; a top athlete, 35 years old, the name a lot of people know, formerly number one

ranked doubles player in the world, just goes missing, gone?

WATSON (voice-over): In early November Peng published this bombshell post on her Chinese social media account, an open letter to a former top

Communist leader named Zhang Gaoli, now aged 75, who Peng accuses of sexually assaulting her after the two had an affair.

"Why did you have to come back to me, take me to your home to force me to have sex with you?" the post reads.

"Yes, I did not have any evidence and it was simply impossible to have evidence."

CNN cannot independently confirm these allegations and we've reached out to Peng as well as Zhang and his wife through the Chinese government for

further comment with no results.

Shortly after the controversial post, Peng's online profile more or less disappeared.

WATSON: Until recently, Peng Shuai was one of the biggest tennis stars in China. But look what happens when you try to search for people with her

name in the Chinese internet.

You get the message, "No results found."

Censors have all but scrubbed this woman from the Chinese internet.

WATSON (voice-over): On Thursday, Chinese state media released this email, purportedly written by Peng to the head of the Women's Tennis Association.

It completely disavows the previous allegations of sexual assault, adding, "I'm not missing nor am I unsafe" and "I hope Chinese tennis will become

better and better."


WATSON (voice-over): WTA chairman Steve Simon responded in writing, saying, "The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning

Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.

"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received."

Unable to communicate directly with Peng, despite multiple attempts, he's calling for independent and verifiable proof that this Chinese tennis star

is safe -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


ANDERSON: The censorship you heard about in that reporting is even affecting CNN's programming in China. Here's a TV in Beijing, tuned into my

colleague, Isa Soares, earlier. And then the signal is cut to prevent further reporting on Peng's disappearance.

To give us some context, Alex Thomas of "WORLD SPORT" joining us from London.

China has regularly hosted WTA tournaments in the past. The only reason it hasn't recently is the pandemic.

Do we know what the WTA's attitude will be toward China?

After all, it is a big cash cow for the organization.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the WTA, which is the women's professional tennis circuit, which Peng Shuai played on for two decades,

hasn't gone as far as discussing what the future is when it comes to playing tournaments in China.

In the last 24 hours, the WTA finals, the traditional season-ending tournament, with all the highest ranked players going for a big prize, has

finished Guadalajara, in Mexico. That should have been played in Shenzhen in China because the Chinese authorities signed a 10-year deal to hold that

WTA finals in their country, in Shenzhen, a specially built stadium from 2018 for 10 years.

A very lucrative deal as well. So certainly the WTA will be sensitive to that. But from Steve Simon, the CEO's, stance so far, they're far more

concerned about getting to the bottom of where Peng is.

ANDERSON: Where does the WTA go from here?

Is it clear, what recourse does it have?

THOMAS: We have got no real past events to compare it with or to know what happens now. We know certainly that human rights organizations have got


And from their past experience, certainly in recent years with China, we know the country doesn't react well to strong posturing against what it

sees as independence and its ability to run its own affairs.

And I think the only recourse the WTA has is to keep this in the public eye. It has been astonishing to see how many top players, past and present,

pundits and even the men's world number one, Novak Djokovic, have come out to say where is Peng, we need to hear from her. And I don't think that's

going to end anytime soon.

ANDERSON: And more on the disappearance coming up on "WORLD SPORT."

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. The U.S. rescued them from the fall of Kabul. But now they could be sent back to Afghanistan.

Why and what's next?

That's when we come back.

Plus, Colombia could be the first Latin American country to take abortion out of its penal code. We'll look at what the repercussions might be there.





ANDERSON: Welcome back, I'm Becky Anderson. We are broadcasting to you from Abu Dhabi and you are watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

An update on one of our top stories now; a flight with more than 400 Iraqis caught in the Belarus-Poland border crisis is now bringing them home. We're

watching for that flight to arrive but understand from Iraqi officials there has been some sort of delay.

Officials say the men, women and kids were evacuated from Belarus voluntarily. Border authorities in Belarus say all of the migrants, who

were lined up at the border so desperate to get into the E.U., have been moved. Their makeshift camps have been cleared and the remaining migrants

taken to a Belarusian processing center.

We all remember those desperate hours after the fall of Kabul, when the U.S. was evacuating Afghans who did not want to live under the Taliban

rule. We're doing that with many of their partners here, around this region here in the Middle East.

The American government is now considering sending some of those evacuees back to Afghanistan. Refugees in question are being held at a base, a U.S.

base in Kosovo.

They were brought there temporarily because they all have something in their background that is giving security officials pause. Kylie Atwood has

been digging into this story and she joins us now live.

What sort of security concerns are we talking about here that have U.S. officials so worried about letting these refugees into the country?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: Becky, the security concerns revolve around potential connections to terrorism, potential security

concerns. These aren't things that are going to be hashed out in these background checks in a matter of hours or days. That's why they have been

sent to this camp in Kosovo.

Officials aren't being specific with what the security concerns exactly are. They do note a number of these Afghans who have been at the camp have

then been cleared through the vetting process and sent to the United States or other third countries.

But the question mark is surrounding those who may potentially not end up passing the intensive U.S. security vetting. And there are about 200

Afghans at the camp in Kosovo now. None of them have yet been determined to be inadmissible to the United States.

So they're still going through the entirety of this security check process. But once those folks -- if there are any who are determined not allowed to

come to the United States, once they are identified, the real concern and question mark and challenge here is, where do they go, right?

And so that's what we were digging into; the United States is talking to third countries about potentially sending them there. And then one thing

they are considering doing for some of these evacuees is sending them back to Afghanistan.

Now that's wrought with implications and complications because of international law. You cannot send refugees back forcibly to the country

that they came from. You also can't send people to a place where they may be tortured.

So there are a lot of considerations and a lot of things that would have to fall into place for those Afghans to be sent back.

And of course human rights activists are pointing out that, look, because the Taliban is in control there, you would have to have some sort of

agreement with the Taliban that they would not do anything to harm these Afghans returning.

And there is really very little reason to believe that the Taliban would uphold any commitments. So this is a challenging situation. We should note,

though, that the U.S. government has a year-long agreement with the government of Kosovo, to keep them there.

There is still about nine months in that timeframe that is allotted. So they have time to figure this out. But they are concerned this could go

past that year-long date -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Stay on the story for us. As you get more, please let us know. Kylie Atwood there.

Let's get you up to speed on some other stories. Pro-democracy groups in Sudan are calling for more protests, a day after security forces shot and

killed 15 people during an anti-coup protest in the capital of Khartoum.


ANDERSON: It is the deadliest crackdown on protesters since the military takeover last month.

Jurors have begun a third day of deliberations in the high-profile Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters last year

during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It followed the police shooting of a Black man.

On Wednesday, the jury requested to view drone video evidence, leading to renewed calls for a mistrial by Rittenhouse's defense attorneys.

The Brazilian stock exchange now has its own Wall Street bull. The replica was unveiled in front of the exchange headquarters in Sao Paolo this week.

Colombia's highest court takes on an issue that brings up fierce emotions. We'll look at the abortion case it is considering and the possible fallout.

And the women's tennis season ends with a former world number one taking the title. That and more in "WORLD SPORT," which is up after this.




ANDERSON: The constitutional court in Colombia today is considering decriminalizing abortion. The country has seen protests recently on both

sides of this issue. (INAUDIBLE) set to resume in a few hours from now. A ruling on this is expected late on Thursday.

Right now Colombia only allows abortions under limited circumstances. You can see on this map, most countries have legalized abortion to some degree.

In most of South America, it is only legal to either save a woman's life or preserve her health.

Do we have Stefano Pozzebon joining us live from Bogota?

I don't think we do. We were hoping that we would have Stefano to talk to us about this. Anyway -- ah, we do.

Stefano, what do we know?


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm sorry, I don't know what happened. Yes, Becky.

The -- today's sentence is both the end, the arrival point of a 15-years campaign that stretched ever since in 2006, the same constitutional court

ruled on a number of exceptions that allowed Colombian women to interrupt their pregnancies.

But also activists are saying the new starting point of a new campaign to shift the attitudes around abortion in these countries, opened, this is

happening all across Latin America that, even if in some cases abortion has been decriminalized, there is still a lot of social stigma around the issue

and social taboo.

And I was able to speak with one of the signatories of the petition that is being discussed at the Colombian constitutional court just right now.


POZZEBON: Take a listen to what she said.


DR. LAURA GILL, GYNECOLOGIST AND ABORTION ACTIVIST: This is about people understanding that, regardless of their opinion about abortion, this is a

right. And this is a right that does not depend, in the case of decriminalization, does not depend on the interpretation that you make of

the law.

So even if you don't agree, even if you are in Montibia (ph) or in the middle of the Amazonas, that woman you have in front has a right.


POZZEBON: So this is not just about legalizing abortion but change the attitude of millions of members of the medical profession in these

countries and elsewhere in the region, to make understand that abortion is a right that should be upheld by doctors and gynecologists -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Stefano Pozzebon on the story for you out of Bogota in Colombia.

U.S. President Joe Biden is not expected to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. A senior administration official tells CNN the White

House may implement a diplomatic boycott of the games, which, of course, start in February.

That means no government officials would attend. Mr. Biden hasn't yet signed off on that. The main issue behind the boycott is China's human

rights record.