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Top Russian and U.S. Diplomats Meet on G20 Sidelines; Greece Train Collision; China Slams Potential U.S. Arms Sale to Taiwan; Russian War Opponent Fights to Stay in South Korea; Experts Worry about Russian Control of Zaporizhzhya Site; British Forces Seize Iranian Weapons Shipment. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 02, 2023 - 10:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): I'm Becky Anderson, live from Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD.

Coming up this hour, U.S. and Russia hold the highest level meeting since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Anger in Greece, as the death toll from that deadly train crash rises.

Hundreds of Iranian school children fall ill in a string of mysterious poisonings.

And it's liftoff for a crew of astronauts, including one from the UAE, headed to the International Space Station.


ANDERSON: We begin with the short unplanned but significant meeting on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in New Delhi. Just a short time ago, we heard

from the U.S. secretary of state, speaking after his meetings earlier. He met with the Russian foreign minister for about 10 minutes.

It was their first face to face meeting in more than a year. CNN's Fred Pleitgen joining us from Moscow.

You've been monitoring what we've heard from Antony Blinken.

What did he have to say and what did you make of what you heard?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Becky. I think first of all, I think you're absolutely right. I think this was a

meeting that was sort of off the cuff. It certainly wasn't planned.

Nevertheless it is, of course, of high significance because it is the first time that these two foreign ministers meet since the war in Ukraine has

started. It was quite interesting to listen to that press conference from Antony Blinken because, of course, he also underscored some of the


Obviously for the U.S., secretary of state Blinken pointed out that he called on the Russians to release Paul Whelan, who the U.S. says is

wrongfully detained here in Russia. The U.S. says there'd been a substantial proposal by the United States. And he called for the Russians

to accept that and free Paul Whelan.

But then, of course, they also went into these massive international affairs, mainly the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, where the Russians

have of course suspended their part of the treaty, the compliance with that.

And the secretary of state said he called on the Russians to come back into compliance with that treaty, to abide by the treaty, once again.

Of course, one of the main things that the Russians have been talking about not wanting to do anymore is allowing inspections on their territory. They

believe that the U.S. is passing on information to the Ukrainians that could help Ukrainians hit strategic locations in Russia.

We recall that last, year there was a hit on a military base, on an airbase housing Russian strategic bombers. That's one of the things that Vladimir

Putin mentioned, only about a week ago, in a very important speech that he gave there.

So some pretty important stuff that was discussed there. Obviously also, the secretary of state saying that he called on the Russians to end the war

in Ukraine. But the Russians called it a special military operation.

One of the things that we've done, Becky, is we've reached out to the Russian foreign ministry, to the spokesperson here, Maria Zakharova, and

she also confirmed that this meeting took place.

She said that it was secretary of state Blinken who approached Sergey Lavrov, saying that they were really only talking on the sidelines of that

G20 meeting. But she confirmed that that meeting took place. Also, obviously, said that there were no agreements reached and no further wider

proposals seriously discussed -- Becky.

ANDERSON: I think it's important to point out a couple of things here. The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was speaking at the beginning of this


He said, and I quote, "Global governance has failed." We also got no real unity in a communique at the end of this meeting from those present. These

are representatives of 20 world's most developed nations. And this is the West plus some.

I think it's important to work out or to point out here, what we are seeing is a wider sort of resonance, not just out of the West.

And it is clear, not everybody is singing from the same song sheet when it comes to the war in Ukraine, are they?


PLEITGEN: You know, you're absolutely right, I think that's absolutely correct. You can see the messaging that's taken place since the G20 meeting

has finished. And, of course, we've heard secretary of state Blinken there saying that most of the G20 nations are on side with the United States,

condemning what Russia is doing in Ukraine.

The very few nations on the side with Russia. But you know, in the scheme of things, of course, there was no common communique they were able to

agree upon. That certainly is something that can be seen as a failure of this kind of diplomacy.

At the same time, of course, secretary of state Blinken saying it's very important that all of these nations spoke, that it is clear there was

widespread combination of Russia's war in Ukraine.

But if you look at things from the Russian side, Sergey Lavrov, he also came out, he also said that, yes, there was no agreement that was there to

be reached. He then accused the West of biding by their position, saying there were a lot of things that didn't match up with what the West was


Also he said, he underlined, as he put, it that he believes that, for instance, China and Russia see eye to eye on the pressure that Western

nations and specifically the United States are putting on Russia.

So certainly I think you're right. This whole venue, the G20, obviously having big problems coming to terms with Russia's war in Ukraine, whether

or not it needs to condemn it and, in certain cases, this does appear as though it is a failure of diplomacy to try and move forward on all of this.

Of course now you see both sides really trying to spin all this their way. The Russians certainly came out very quickly on their own, saying that they

had failed to reach a communique and blaming the Western nations for this.

At the same time underlining that they believe that they're absolutely on the same page as the Chinese in all of this as well, who, of course, carry

great weight in the G20.

ANDERSON: Absolutely. Fred, thank, you. No withdrawal at least for now.

Ukraine's military says its forces will remain in Bakhmut, while suggesting that Russian forces are advancing within the city. A CNN team spoke to

soldiers who have been operating in Bakhmut for weeks. One says they've been fighting Wagner group troops and two Russian paratrooper battalions.

Another says if they leave Bakhmut, Russians will start destroying the next villages and towns. Alex Marquardt reports from one of those nearby towns.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is the road on the way to Bakhmut; cars, military vehicles, bombing up and down

this road going to and from the front.

You see this armored vehicle right here?

The V sign for victory.

There are still some people here; not too many but some of these hardly residents have stayed behind.

This is the shop of Sivush (ph), who is here, grilling meats called shashlik. He actually fled from Bakhmut two months ago and has opened up

the shop, selling basics like bananas, beet root and candles.

There's another man who -- here, who we just met, whose daughter is still in Bakhmut, one of the thousands of people there who have been asked to

evacuate but are still in the city amid this incredible fighting.

You can see that they put up wood there to protect those windows. So much destruction in this town.

We were just farther in -- the center of town is called Chasiv Yar. This is one town over from Bakhmut -- with a large group of people at a bus stop,

waiting for a water delivery that never came.

Every few moments, you can hear explosions, the sound of what we believe to be outgoing artillery fire, Ukrainians firing at Russian positions.

We spoke with an older woman named Valentina (ph), who said that there is so much flying over their heads, that she is scared all the time, that they

are so close to the Russian positions.

That's more outgoing artillery fire.

They're so close to the Russian positions that they can walk there. We also spoke with some Ukrainian soldiers, like these ones, who manned one of

those artillery positions. They told us that there has been no order to pull back from Bakhmut, that they're fighting because, if they give up

Bakhmut, then this town, Chasiv Yar, this would be next.

And that is what everyone is thinking now that, if Russia were to take Bakhmut, that they would have another foothold in this region from which to

try to push farther into Eastern Ukraine -- Alex Marquardt, CNN, in Chasiv Yar.


ANDERSON: Rising death toll and growing anger over Greece's deadliest rail crash in living memory. Tuesday's head-on collision by two trains has now

killed at least 46 people. We are looking at security footage of the crash as it happened.

Greek train workers are now on strike and protesters have taken to the streets, demanding action over the disaster.


ANDERSON: CNN's Nada Bashir is at the scene in Tempe in central Greece.

Nada, a very simple question, at this stage, do we understand what went wrong?

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Becky, the investigation is still ongoing. But at this stage, at least one person has been arrested. A train

station manager from the nearby station of Larissa has been arrested and now charged with causing mass deaths as well as grievous bodily harm

through negligence.

He is, according to state media, already admitting to making mistakes. The prime minister has described this as being the result of tragic human


But look, there are still many questions around this collision. There's still an ongoing investigation. Questions are mounting as to whether the

safety measures and procedures, needed to ensure a safe running of the railway network here in Greece, were properly implemented.

There has been a real backlash against the government and indeed against the transport ministry. In fact, just yesterday, the country's transport

minister announced his resignation. He said that this was a sign of respect to those who had lost their lives.

He also conceded that the railway network here in Greece is simply not up to the standard that one would expect in the 21st century, admitting that

there need to be improvements and that the efforts to make improvements by the transport ministry over the last three years have simply not been


And there is mounting anger, mounting frustration being directed toward the government. We've seen protests taking place in parts of the country. We

are now seeing railway workers, metro workers, going on strike.

Look, the details of this are still unfolding. And as we saw, over the course of this investigation, those questions are continuing to rise. Take

a look.

BASHIR (voice-over): A fireball ignites; a passenger train in Greece carrying more than 350 people colliding head-on with a freight train,

killing dozens. In the aftermath, debris and carriages scattered across tracks.

KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER (through translator): What we're experiencing today is very, very difficult as a country. We are talking

about an unspeakable tragedy. Our thoughts today are first and foremost with the relatives of the victims.

BASHIR (voice-over): The crash happened shortly before midnight, local time, when the passenger train on its way from Athens to Thessaloniki

changed lanes and switched to a cargo track before colliding with the freight train.

A train station manager has now been arrested, charged with mass deaths and causing grievous bodily harm through negligence. Firefighters, meanwhile,

worked through the night to find and identify victims. Rescued passengers describe the ordeal as a nightmare.

STERGIOS MINENIS, TRAIN PASSENGER (through translator): We heard a big bang. It was 10 nightmarish seconds. We were turning over in the wagon

until we fell on our sides and until the commotion stopped. Then there was panic. Cables everywhere, fire; the fire was immediate as we were turning

over. We were being burned.

BASHIR (voice-over): More than 70 people were injured and now receiving treatment in hospital. Most of the passengers were young, the head of an

intensive care unit at a local hospital told state media. Meanwhile, rescue workers continue the desperate search for more survivors.

MITSOTAKIS (through translator): One thing I can guarantee: we will find out the cause of this tragedy and do everything in our power to make sure

it never happens again.

BASHIR (voice-over): Greece has declared a three-day mourning period, flags flying in half-staff across the country to remember the crash

victims. But authorities say that the death toll is still expected to rise.


BASHIR: And Becky, as you saw from our report last night, there was a real sense of ongoing investigation here. However, there was a brief pause in

that recovery effort due to adverse weather conditions. It has been quite rainy and quite dark over the course of the night.

But if you look behind me, the rescue teams, the response teams, they're still very much present. There is a heavy police presence, fire brigades,

all working to look through the wreckage. The first two carriages of this train completely engulfed in flames. The third carriage behind me turned on

its side as it derailed.

Unfortunately, of course, there are no more survivors expected to be recovered from this wreckage. But they are still trying to recover bodies

and for some, in worst case, they're trying to recover DNA in order to be able to identify the victims still missing.


ANDERSON: Thank you, Nada Bashir is in Greece for you.

The U.S. is condemning inflammatory comments by Israel's far-right finance minister, who called for a Palestinian town to be erased.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Let's be very clear about this, these comments were irresponsible, they were repugnant, they were


And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement of violence.


ANDERSON: The comments by Bezalel Smotrich were referring to the town of Huwara in the occupied West Bank, where two Israeli brothers were killed on

Sunday, prompting a rampage through the area by Jewish settlers, that left at least one Palestinian dead and dozens injured.

Hadas Gold tracking developments from Jerusalem.

And the pictures that we saw, of cars burned, homes ransacked, these comments from the finance minister, especially as he also happens to be a

minister in the defense ministry in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, how have they gone down?

And what is the perception there as to whether he will be held accountable at this point?

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction was quite swift from much of the media, much of the opposition lawmakers, such as the

former prime minister Yair Lapid, who called incitement to war crimes.

But if you know Bezalel Smotrich and you know his history, perhaps it wouldn't be as surprising. He is a settler leader himself. He leads one of

the most right wing parties, if not the most right-wing party in the Israeli government.

He's made comments in the past about wanting to annex the West Bank. But these comments definitely reached a new level, especially because he

repeated them after that settler rampage.

So initially he was asked at a conference, you know, why did you like a tweet that made similar comments referring to Huwara?

Then he says at this conference, this is after the settlers had already rampaged through the town, saying that it should be erased.

Then afterwards, he tried to sort of clarify his remarks. What he said was, I did not mean to wipe out the village of Huwara but only to act in a

targeted manner against the terrorists and supporters of terrorism within it, to exact a heavy price from them to restore security to residents of

the area.

Essentially saying I didn't mean to say the exact words that I said twice.

As you heard from the State Department, that is some of the harshest reaction from the American government, definitely about this government but

of really any foreign minister in recent memory. They came out swinging quite quickly.

We have not heard yet from the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu about this directly. I think it's very interesting.

We're waiting to hear whether he will respond directly to this because, as you heard from the State Department spokesperson, he is calling on Benjamin

Netanyahu and other Israeli government leaders to condemn these remarks.

Now the attorney general of Israel has already asked police to open an investigation into another member of parliament, who sort of made similar

comments. So there is a push now from some critics of Bezalel Smotrich to get the attorney general to do the same for Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., in the next days to attend a conference, an Israel bonds conference. We do know from a source

that he is not scheduled to have any meeting with the Biden administration. This was not going to be an official government trip anyway. It's him

speaking at a conference.

But even before these comments, I don't think he would've likely had met with anybody in the Biden administration. But after these comments, for

sure I don't think that any of the Biden administration will be meeting with him -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Hadas Gold in Jerusalem. Thank you.

Next hour, I'll speak to the U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories about the situation on the ground. He's calling for

Israeli actions in the West Bank to be investigated. Stick with CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Becky Anderson.

Also coming, up relations between Washington and Beijing could become even more icy, as the U.S. could end up selling millions of dollars worth of

military firepower to Taiwan.

Plus, a story of a man who fled Russia to avoid serving in the Ukraine war. We'll tell you why South Korea now wants to send him back.





ANDERSON: Relations between Beijing and Washington could become even more tense with the Biden administration approving a potential arms sale to

Taiwan. The self ruled democratic island could get more than $600 million worth of weapons, including missiles, the F-16 fighter jets like these.

CNN's Marc Stewart is in Tokyo covering this for us.

Marc, Beijing says the deal would undermine China's sovereignty and stability across that Taiwan Strait.

What risk this escalates?

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, as you can understand, someone who is a student of the world, China is certainly

disapproving of this potential military sale. It is condemning it.

And here is the context. The Chinese government, the Communist Party views Taiwan as sovereign territory yet it has never controlled it, so it is a

new layer in a very sticky relationship between the United States and China, this potential military sale.

The United States has been a supporter of Taiwan, especially its ability to defend itself. Take a listen to a spokesperson from China's ministry of

foreign affairs from earlier today.


MAO NING, SPOKESPERSON, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): The sale of arms by the United States to China's Taiwan region seriously

violates the One China principle and the three Sino-U.S. joint communiques. It damages China's sovereignty and security interests as well as Sino-U.S.

relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. China has always firmly opposed this.


STEWART: So that is the view from Beijing; the view from Taiwan, the government there, is expressing sincere gratitude to the United States. And

then we have this ongoing tension between the United States, independent of the Taiwan situation.

Of course, the U.S. and China are still trying to sort out the diplomatic tension from the suspected spy balloon shootdown.

Then we've obviously been hearing from the State Department, expressing concerns that China is considering possibly helping Russia acquire weapons

of lethal force. So yet another complication in an already complicated relationship, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. Thank you, Marc.

A Russian man opposed to the war in Ukraine is stuck in legal limbo in South Korea. He doesn't want to go back home, because he may be sent to

fight in Ukraine. So he is seeking asylum. But South Korea, not rolling out the red carpet for him, as Paula Hancocks reports. That left him stranded

at the airport for an awfully long time.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than four months of sleeping on the floor with 50 men in a small airport room, one Russian man

waits to hear his feet. Hiding his identity for fear of repercussions, he's applying for asylum in South Korea, having fled a mandatory call-up in

Russia last October to fight in the war in Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When I heard about the mobilization, I felt terrible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): because I'd been at rallies protesting against the war. I knew, based on the information they have on

me, anyone who opposes the war would be first to be sent to the front lines. That was my biggest fear.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): President Vladimir Putin's mass call-up sparked an exodus from the country. Hundreds of thousands of men are believed to have

fled to avoid being sent to Ukraine.

Leaving his wife and 7-year-old son, he boarded a flight to South Korea, saying he believed he would be accepted, as it is a democratic country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I miss my boy really badly. I can't talk about it. It's too emotional. I really miss my family.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): He would wash his laundry in an interim airport bathroom, saying there was no hot water for showers for the past months,

despite Seoul immigration saying there should be.

He was given a hot bun and juice for lunch, chicken and rice for dinner. While he feels powerless to control his future, he says the alternative

would be far worse.

HANCOCKS: What would your message be to the people who are deciding if you can stay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm not a draft dodger. I'm against the war and I don't want to go to war and kill people. But I am not

a draft dodger.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): An important point to make, he feels, as South Korea has mandatory military service of his own, of at least 18 months for

all able-bodied men, most by the age of 28.

HANCOCKS: Do you consider yourself a victim of this war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course. A year ago, I had no intention of leaving. I never thought I'd leave Russia.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): What he didn't realize before boarding the plane to Seoul, he says, is how few refugees this country accepts. In 2019, almost

15.5 thousand applicants, just 79 were granted refugee status. That's half of 1 percent, with just 230 receiving a permit to stay on humanitarian


He was moved this week to an immigration facility with some freedom of movement to await his fate.

HANCOCKS: The justice ministry said this week it is appealing the decision to even allow him to apply for asylum. He says he is surprised and

disappointed by that decision and his lawyer said that process alone could take up to five months. Then applying for refugee status could take another

1-2 years.

And his lawyer says, based on precedence, success is not going to be easy - - Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


ANDERSON: Well, difficulty walking, nausea and fatigue, these are some of the symptoms hundreds of schoolgirls in Iran have been feeling.

Are they being poisoned?

More on that after this.





ANDERSON (voice-over): Welcome back I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi, the time is half past 7:00, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. A quick recap of

our top stories this hour:

Protests have erupted Greece after Tuesday's head-on collision between two trains killed at least 46 people and left scores injured. Anger growing

over the country's weak record on railway safety.

Ukraine's military says its forces will not withdraw from Bakhmut, at least not for now. Officials suggest Russian forces are now advancing within the

city. There are fears that if Bakhmut falls, Russian troops will seize nearby villages.

U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken met with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov briefly on the sidelines of a G20 gathering in New

Delhi. It was the first meeting between the two top diplomats since Russia's war on Ukraine began.

ANDERSON: Ukraine reports another Russian attack on the city of Zaporizhzhya. Russian shells hit a residential high-rise building, killing

three people and sending five to hospital. Rescuers saved a pregnant woman, pulling her out of the rubble.

In the meantime, the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant remains the subject of acute safety concern a year after Russian forces moved in. Clare Sebastian

has more on that.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A year into its occupation of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Russia is making

changes. Satellite images showing the dry storage area where spent nuclear fuel is kept after being cooled first in August last year. Then, at the end

of February, what looks like a wall of structure has appeared.

Russia's atomic energy company Rosatom tells state media it's building a shield to protect against Ukrainian artillery strikes. A local Russian

backed official posted this in December, calling it a protective dome.

PETRO KOTIN, PRESIDENT, ENERGOATOM: It's all illegal doing anything without license because it impacts nuclear radiation.

SEBASTIAN: The head of Ukraine's atomic energy company Energoatom says it's all part of a deteriorating situation at Zaporizhzhya that he is

powerless to stop.

SEBASTIAN: What is the biggest risk right now when it comes to safety in the plant?

KOTIN: Well, yes, biggest risk is that we do not know what is in their hands at the moment. You cannot expect they can do anything so they can

continue shelling on the plant, for example.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): Energoatom says Russia, which forcibly took over the plant last March, damaging several buildings in the process continues

to use it as a de facto military base. Video surfaced last summer of military trucks in one of the turbine buildings next to a reactor.

Last month, Energoatom accused Russia of bringing hundreds of newly mobilized troops to the site before deploying them to the east.

Rosatom own press service for the power plant denied there's any heavy military equipment on site but noted that Russia's National Guard troops

Putin's domestic security force are guarding the plant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very worried about Zaporizhzhya. I'm very worried.

SEBASTIAN: Energoatom says the plant has been cut off from the electricity grid five times in total, leaving diesel generators the last line of

defense before catastrophe.

Fighting has also come to close. The IAEA reports shelling hit a building housing fresh nuclear fuel in September and a reactor building in November.

Energoatom now estimates four.5 thousands Ukrainian stuff are left at the plant out of 11,000 before the war.

NICK TOMKINSON, NUCLEAR EXPERT: That reduction of the number of people is going to have a significant impact on their ability to maintain and

function sort of systems whether or not that's security systems, safety systems, radiation monitoring.

SEBASTIAN: Nuclear expert Nick Tomkinson says he is working with the Ukrainian government to try to deploy radiation mapping systems in

Zaporizhzhya and other nuclear sites.

TOMKINSON: One of the concerns could be that things could go missing from Zaporizhzhya, particularly some of the fuel. I'm not worried about mistake.

What I'd be worried about was an active decision to do something.

SEBASTIAN: Ukraine's nuclear power company though is worried about a slow motion mistake. Poor maintenance leading to the degradation of the

equipment on the site, including the reactors themselves currently all in various states have shut down.

KOTIN: It is going to the stage, nobody knows if we will be able to operate it again. And this is just a matter of time.

SEBASTIAN: The Russian side says strict radiation safety standards are being observed. Hardly a constellation when 20 percent of Ukraine's

electricity supply remains hostage to this war --



SEBASTIAN (voice-over): -- Clare Sebastian, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: To a deepening mystery in Iran now: what has been making hundreds of schoolgirls sick?

The illnesses began in November. Here's someone being loaded into an ambulance just yesterday. CNN chief international investigative

correspondent Nima Elbagir has been looking into this from London.

The descriptions, Nima, are of students falling on the floor and not being able to walk. These are chilling.

What we know at this point?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know that these attacks have continued as recently as yesterday, Becky. Over 100 students

were complaining of the same kind of symptoms that have been registered in incidents across the country.

One of the things that has been quite confusing on the face of this is much of these incidents, have been reported on, have been in the regime

heartland a conferences (ph) has had multiple schools and multiple incidents happen in it.

But once you start to speak to people on the ground, as we have been able to do, communicating with students and their families, a different picture

emerges. Many of these students, Becky, believe that it is linked to the girls' participation in protest.

They are incredibly concerned that this is some kind of retaliation, some kind of warning to them. When you look at the timing, these incidents began

late November, about six weeks after the protests began in Iran, where young women, all the way down to schoolgirls, joined by men and boys, were

protesting for basic freedoms.

Protesting against the country's restrictive conduct and clothing laws. And when you speak to parents, Becky, they say, unfortunately, that the fear is

having an impact, that they are keeping a lot of their daughters home.

Because there are dozens of girls in hospitals; one as recently as yesterday, a medical source told us, was intubated and is in an intensive

care unit.

And although these girls desperately want to exercise their right to education, their right to what few freedoms they have under the regime,

their parents are worried that it's not worth the risk, Becky.

ANDERSON: Nima, clearly many believe that these girls are being deliberately poisoned. President Raisi has ordered an investigation into

these illnesses, as the government is referring to them.

But we are several months into this; what do we know at this point from that investigation?

Clearly for so many of these girls, this is too little, too late, at this point, isn't it?

ELBAGIR: What we do know is that the government, the authorities' version of events has shifted substantially. So as early as a week ago, officials

were accusing these girls of hysteria and saying that the only thing the girls were suffering from was rumormongering.

And somehow that this was some sort of rumormongered contagion. When you look at the spread of the incidents, I mean, we have managed to count over

40 incidents. When you look at the spread, it's almost impossible to have such similar incidents, such similar symptoms, often on and around the same


And it be some kind of coincidence. So we've heard the government go from saying that this is implausible, to now, we've have the national, the

police chief saying, actually admitting that it is poisoning and other actors within the government saying that they are concerned that it might

be domestic extremism.

Some family members are finding it very difficult to obtain control. There's a video that went hugely viral inside Iran, where a woman was

pulled back by officials from her head scarf and handled quite roughly. There was an immediate controversy internally.

And the government has actually quite rarely said that it's going to investigate even -- you can see that now on air, we're showing that to the

audience -- right in the middle of the scuffle, this woman was very brave, demanding answers in terms of what was happening to her daughter.

And now authorities are saying that those who pushed and pulled that mother in that moment of fear and need, that they will be held accountable. So you

really get a sense of how, how much of a knife edge authorities in Iran are having to walk, in the face of real public fear and concern.

The numbers are staggering. It could be as many as 1,000 students, Becky. But the reality is, parents still don't have concrete answers for what is

being done to their daughters and whether they will know that, in the long term, things are going to be OK.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. Nima, thank you.

Let's get you up to speed on some of the other stories on our radar right now.


ANDERSON (voice-over): The British Navy seized these Iranian weapons last week near the Gulf of Amman. Officials say they include anti-tank missiles

and suspect that they were being smuggled to Yemen.


ANDERSON (voice-over): U.S. forces say that this is the latest of several illegal shipments linked to Iran in recent months.

Severe turbulence forced a Lufthansa flight headed from Texas to Germany to be diverted to Virginia. Seven people injured and taken to hospitals.

Debris and food scattered everywhere on that flight. One passenger said it felt like freefalling off the top of a roller coaster.

A SpaceX rocket lifted off Thursday morning, carrying four crew members to the International Space Station. They will stay there for about six months.

They include an astronaut from here, the UAE. He'll be the first long-term Emirati in space.

Coming up, a need for speed: the F1 season is back this weekend.

But will anyone be able to dethrone Max Verstappen and Red Bull?

More on that, after this.