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Clashes in Shanghai As Protests Over Zero COVID Policy Grip China; President Biden Eases Sanctions on Venezuela to Let Chevron Pump Oil; U.S. West Coast Braces for Rounds of Storms that will Bring Heavy Rain. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 28, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, unprecedented protests across China. What will President Xi do about the anger over COVID lockdowns. President Biden easing sanctions on Venezuela and letting Chevron pump oil there. What will the White House get in return?

And a powerful storm system starting in the American west, could be a big trouble by tomorrow for tens of millions from Texas all the way to Indiana.

All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans. We begin with defiance on public display in cities across China. Anger over the country's zero COVID policy boiling over.




ROMANS: Large crowds gathering in multiple big cities over the weekend, protesting the government's unrelenting restrictions, nearly three years into the pandemic. Some even calling for the removal of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. It comes as China records another record high in daily COVID cases Monday.

Overnight, Chinese state media reiterating that the country's COVID measures are, quote, "scientific and effective". Let's bring in CNN's Steven Jiang live in Beijing. You've seen that video, people holding up these blank pieces of white paper, it is a -- it is a sign of protest that it's something we usually don't see in China.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine. It's just extraordinary to see how widespread those protests were over the weekend. Something we really haven't seen in this country for decades. But it's even more extraordinary to hear demands from some of the protesters really starting on Saturday night in Shanghai.

Because up to that point, even the most vehement opponents of the zero COVID policy have been dancing around the issue of who is to blame for this growing fiasco with most still pointing a finger at local enforcement, but those protesters in Shanghai really directly targeting the ruling communist party and its top leader Xi Jinping, basically saying, the system is the problem here.

And that obviously something not tolerated in this country, which may explain why they received some of the harshest treatment in the hands of police authorities, because among the biggest fears of the government, of course, is this kind of message inspiring others across the country. But that's exactly what we have seen since with protesters in other cities, including here in Beijing, not only shouting slogans like no to COVID tests and yes to freedom, but also things like no to dictatorship, yes to votes.

And it's very notable that many of the protesters have been young people, including students on college campuses across the country. Because remember, for many of them, they have lived their entire college life in the past three years under some forms of lockdown. And they're also among the hardest-hit groups because of this impact of zero COVID on the economic slowdown, and with youth unemployment really skyrocketing.

So really, this is a group of people that's feeling increasing that sense of hopelessness and that obviously makes them more likely to take to the streets and have their voices heard through protests, Christine.

ROMANS: And Steven, the significance of that blank piece of white paper, it's a protest of censorship, right?

JIANG: That's right. You know, but the irony here is despite, you know, having the world's most extensive -- some will say most sophisticated censorship, word has spread. You know, there's a lot of people trying to post and reposting images and videos of those protests, even though they're quickly being removed by censors.

There are also a lot of discussions in coded language to evade censorship because the irony of the zero COVID policy is, it's almost an equalizer in terms of making most people in this country suffer equally deeply. So really bonding them in a way no matter their political leanings --

ROMANS: Yes --

JIANG: Aspirations, bonding them with a shared grievance against this policy and those who are responsible for it, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Steven Jiang, thank you so much, keep us posted. Unprecedented protests there. You just don't see that in China. To Russia now -- or to Ukraine now, where Russian forces may be preparing to leave the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Zaporizhzhia provided Ukraine with up to 20 percent of its electricity before Russia's invasion.

It's been under Russian control since March. CNN's Sam Kiley live on the ground for us in Zaporizhzhia. Why do the Ukrainians believe the Russians are pulling out of there or may pull out of there?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the first thing to say, Christine, is that this is coming from the Ukrainians.


They're at war with the Russians. The Russians, as you rightly point out, are in control of that nuclear power station. So in all probability, this is propaganda. It's very difficult indeed to see why on earth the Russians would pull out of a nuclear power station that gives them a hold on the throat of the Ukrainian energy industry.

As you rightly point out, that one power station which is the biggest in Europe supplies 20 percent of the energy needs for Ukraine at its peak. So were it to return to Ukrainian hands, following a Russian withdrawal, and that would be almost instantaneous, it would be a massive boost to an energy system that is under pressure, military pressure from repeated swarm attacks by cruise missiles.

I think this is really to be seen in part as part of the psychological operations that the Russians and the Ukrainians wage against each other. The Russians have denied flatly that they have any plans to withdraw from this nuclear power station.

And the other point to make here is that the power station is on the other side of the Dnipro River, which is in that area controlled by Russia if they were to withdraw, that would give a bridge head to a military campaign that is much-anticipated in any case in the Zaporizhzhia region by Ukraine.

There is a great suspicion that the Ukrainians will begin an offensive in this frontline, which has been static really for six months in the next few weeks or months. So any way you look at this, I think is extremely unlikely the Russians will withdraw.

ROMANS: All right, Sam Kiley, thank you so much for that. All right, Democrats led by President Biden have renewed calls for a ban on assault weapons after mass shootings at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado and a Virginia Wal-Mart. Here is Colorado Governor Jared Polis.


GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): This looks like this would have been a good instance for the use of Colorado's new red flag law, which has been used several hundred times, but could have been used even more to prevent these kinds of tragic events or more often to prevent self harm or suicide. We learn from each instance, but you also have to look at all the causes.

Do we need better laws on ghost guns? Do we need to make sure that we have a better process around semi-automatic weapons?


ROMANS: All right, meanwhile, two men who helped stop the gunman at Club Q were hailed as heroes. Army veteran Richard Fierro's brewery got a huge turnout this weekend. The other man, Navy officer Thomas James said in a statement Sunday, "if I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person."

All right, early voting gets underway today in all of Georgia counties in the Senate runoff. It began in some parts of the state, Saturday, after a ruling by Georgia's Supreme Court allowed it. As many as 22 of Georgia's 159 counties cast ballots on Saturday. Officials say nearly 80,000 votes were cast.

Meantime, incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker began a post-Thanksgiving sprint leading to next week's runoff. CNN's Eva McKend has more.


EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Senator Warnock rallying Georgians at a souls to the polls event Sunday. Souls to the polls, of course, popular in the black Church tradition, the idea being that you go to Church and then you get your souls to the polls. You get out and you go vote. What we have seen in Georgia thus far is really robust turnout among black Georgians.

About half of the 70,000 Georgians that turned out on Saturday were black Georgians. I asked Senator Warnock about this. And he says he's proud the Democrats have built this multi-racial coalition here. But he told supporters earlier on Sunday that the Saturday vote did not come easy. That it is something that Democrats had to fight with Republicans for. Take a listen.

RAPHAEL WARNOCK, CANDIDATE FOR SENATOR: We filed a lawsuit so you can vote on Saturday. They filed a petition asking for emergency relief. What you ought to ask yourself is, what do they want relief from? You want relief from people voting?

MCKEND: Now, for his part, Herschel Walker not on the campaign trail over the weekend, but he has a number of events this week, including in Cumming and Dalton, Georgia. Georgians have all this week to vote early. And if they don't make it out this week, they of course can vote on election day, December 6th. Eva McKend, CNN, Atlanta.


ROMANS: All right, Eva, thank you for that. Ahead, the significant severe weather event headed to the American Midwest this week. Plus, an intense rescue operation in Maryland. A pilot and passenger trapped after their small plane slams into power lines. And more on those protests erupting in China. What does President Xi do next?





ROMANS: Protests against the government's zero COVID restrictions are spreading quickly across China, so are COVID cases. They are setting new records just about every day. Stock markets in China tanking to start the week with some protesters actually calling on President Xi Jinping to step down.

Will the Chinese leader ease COVID restrictions? And how secure is his hold on power? Let's bring in CNN's political and national security analyst David Sanger, he's also a White House and national security correspondent for the "New York Times". Good morning, David. David, listen to what one of the protesters told us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think we just need to identify the close contacts or semi-close contacts. Those people who might be infected. This is just enough. We don't need this huge screening of the whole compound. It's not necessary to be so meticulous.


ROMANS: The zero COVID policy is unpopular, of course, in China. And then this weekend, there was this apartment complex fire that killed ten people because it looks as though the fire department had a hard time getting in there because of COVID lockdown restrictions.


So, how real a threat is this now to Xi Jinping's leadership that you have so much unprecedented protests across the country?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's a remarkable moment because it comes just weeks after Xi Jinping was basically embraced for life as China's leader at the 20th party Congress. And he had orchestrated the entire thing to make sure that there were no challenges to his rule.

And here you heard on the streets of Shanghai, people calling for him to step down, for the communist party to step down. So why is this so unusual? First is, we've seen protests in China before, but they've almost always been about environmental degradation, you know, a big factory leak, something like that, bad baby milk that led to some at one point.

There have been safety-related issues by and large, only rarely have there been human rights issues. But this goes to a question of lifestyle. This goes to a Chinese populous that is sick of being locked up and being told not to question the government. And you heard that a little bit in that clip, I think, where they were saying, you know, basically other western countries have figured this out. Why can't China figure this out?

ROMANS: So many young people on the streets as well. You heard our Steven Jiang say that in some college campuses, these students have been locked down their entire college career. You can see the pictures of the -- you know, holding up a blank piece of white paper as a protest against censorship, right?

SANGER: That's right.

ROMANS: How -- you know, how does Xi respond here? Does he double down on the lockdowns or can he ease some of these lockdowns to try to cool this anger?

SANGER: Well, my guess is that he starts by double down -- by doubling down on bringing down the protests. We've seen cases of which the police have either been detaining people or forcing them to empty out their cellphones of pictures of the protests. I'm not sure what that accomplishes, but it's sort of just an act of control.

So I think there's no way Xi is going to allow this to take root. And once you see the blank sheets of paper, then you realize that the protest is about more than just COVID and COVID restrictions, it's about censorship. So, I think that's the first thing you see him do.

I do suspect that you're going to see them loosen up a little bit on the restrictions in part because they need to do it for commercial reasons, in part because they look in their own neighborhood, and they see that Japan and South Korea, which had very strict rules have also managed to lift them and don't seem to be having big resurgences.

ROMANS: Yes, watching the shares in the region fall because of the idea that Xi will respond with even tougher COVID lockdown restrictions. David Sanger, so nice to see you. Thank you so much for getting up early for us this morning.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

ROMANS: All right, and a powerful storm system threatening parts of the U.S., it could affect some 25 million people from Texas to Indiana. Let's get straight to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. So who is most at risk here for severe storms? And when does it happen?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, METEOROLOGIST: You know, we're looking at Tuesday, Tuesday afternoon to Tuesday evening. And it looks like parts of the southern plains going to be kind of getting in on the action initially. But break this down because for right now, generally quiet conditions across the eastern half of the U.S., really a beautiful setup.

While back towards the west, all the activity in place into this, that weather maker where parts of at least eight states underneath these Winter weather alerts where for some, upwards of over a foot of snow is expected in the next 24 to say 36 hours. All of this energy will begin to gradually shift off towards the east.

And notice, my friends in Seattle, temperatures cold enough to support snow showers, typically the average first snow happens on the 26th of December. So to see multiple days of this in late November into early December, you know it's a potent storm system, and that energy does eventually end up across the central United States and southern United States as we go in from again, Monday night into Tuesday, and eventually we think the peak of the activity Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday evening.

So, here comes the front. The elements in place, gulf moisture coming in from the south and severe weather pattern that sets up here pretty impressive one for any time of year.

In fact, a moderate risk has been issued by the storm prediction center indicated in red, that on a scale of 1 to 5 is a 4, that is the second highest tier here when it comes to severe weather threat and damaging winds, large hail are in place there, but also the threat for tornadoes, and not just any tornadoes, possibly some large tornadoes EF 2 or greater Tuesday afternoon.

And notice, places such as Memphis points to the south, near Jackson, all of this in line here for severe weather with the highest threat there of 15 percent chance within any point of 25 miles of any point there, having a chance here for a strong tornado, again going into Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday evening.


So certainly worth following here, and you'll notice just how potent the system is --

ROMANS: Yes --

JAVAHERI: Here, because the temperatures go from the 70s down to the 40s in a span of just 24 hours from Tuesday into Wednesday. So, we'll monitor it as the storm progresses.

ROMANS: All right --

JAVAHERI: Christine?

ROMANS: Yes, keep watching and keep us posted. Thanks.

JAVAHERI: Thank you.

ROMANS: Right, quick hits across America now, a 12-year-old was killed and five other teenagers injured in a shooting in a downtown Atlanta shopping district. Three guns were recovered from the scene. The pilot and passenger rescued overnight from a small plane that crashed into power lines in Maryland Sunday causing a blackout.

They were trapped inside the plane for more than seven hours while crews worked to secure the plane. Police in San Francisco say a suspect hijacked a city bus driving at a mile and a half and hitting multiple cars before he stopped. There were no passengers on board. All right, a state of emergency declared in Italy after a deadly landslide hits a tourist hot spot.

And Iran calling for the U.S. to be kicked out of the World Cup a day before the two teams battle on the pitch.



ROMANS: All right, the U.S. State Department is crediting American sanctions on Russia with making a real difference in Ukraine.


JIM O'BRIEN, HEAD OF STATE DEPARTMENT'S OFFICE OF SANCTIONS COORDINATION: You've seen the Kremlin keep changing what it said -- its stated aims are, right? It began with a full scale invasion of Ukraine and effort to take the capital shifted to a sort of incremental improvement on the land that it had taken before the war, and now it's giving that territory back.

And so these are real changes in Russian behavior. It's related partly to the sanctions, partly to export controls. They can't buy the kinds of inputs they need for their military. Right



ROMANS: That's our Matthew Chance there. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us live from Moscow. From what you've seen on the ground, Fred, are sanctions having an impact on Russia? I mean, beyond, you know, the big oligarch yachts being seized and docked, what are you seeing?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Do you know what? I think a lot of people, if they came here to Moscow, they'd be pretty surprised. We've been out here over this past weekend in large malls and also in the general public.

And certainly, it seems as though there were a lot of people out, there weren't a lot of people spending and most of the shops were still open. In fact, there were some places where you could barely move because there were so many people out. There's Black Friday sales that were going on late last week and over the weekend as well.

So certainly, it does seem as though people are still going out and do still have some spending power, Christine. But of course, we also always do have to caveat that. Moscow certainly is not the rest of Russia. And there are definitely some regions in this country that are suffering more than others.

And of course, also here in this region, there are a lot of people who have lost their jobs and whose spending power has drastically decreased as well, because this country also, like so many others, is suffering from massive inflation as a result also of the sanctions. Now, if you're out here in Moscow, the civilian economy does not seem to be disproportionately suffering, and certainly, doesn't seem to be crippled.

However, the war economy certainly is a different picture, it seems to be a different picture. You're talking about the budgets needed for what Russia calls its special military operation with Jim O'Brien that he was talking about. And then also, the Russians certainly do seem to be having some problems getting their hands on sophisticated technology to manufacture and replace some of those modern weapons that they need on the battlefield as well.

You're talking about things like computer chips and other parts as well that the Russians would need. And you know, we've heard some of the reports that the Russians buying drones in Iran, looking for ballistic missiles from Iran as well and looking elsewhere to try and replenish some of the weapons that they need.

So, as far as the civilian economy is concerned, I would say that most people have not felt the full brunt of sanctions yet. The combat economy certainly is one that is very different. But what we're hearing from Russian officials, and I think this is something that in that interview became very clear as well, they do seem to be switching with the actual goals of the special military operation are.

However, the spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, he came out just a couple of days ago, and once again said that he believes that Russia's efforts in Ukraine will be brought to a successful end. So it certainly does not seem as though the Kremlin seems at this point in time to be changing course, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Fred Pleitgen for us in Moscow, thanks, Fred. The death toll from a landslide on the Italian island of Ischia now stands at seven. A newborn is among the dead. Italy's Prime Minister has declared a state of emergency, Michael Holmes has that story for us.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rescue teams searched for missing people after disaster struck an island off the coast of Italy. Heavy rain resulted in a wave of mud and debris crashing through a small town on the island of Ischia known as a popular tourist destination.

Local authorities confirmed the landslide caused the deaths of several residents, including a newborn. The disaster leaving buildings destroyed, cars overturned and streets covered in mud.

LUCA CARI, FIREFIGHTER (through translator): Some houses have been swept away by mud. And you can see it here on the seafront, there are huge rocks and they have been transported by the landslide from the hill.

HOLMES: Volunteers joined forces with emergency services in the search and rescue efforts for those thought to be missing in the wreckage. The operations are being challenged by difficult weather conditions as strong winds persist. In a Sunday prayer, Pope Francis expressed his concern for those affected by the disaster.

JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, POPE, CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): I am close to the population of the island of Ischia hit by flooding. I pray for the victims, for those who are suffering, and for all those who have come to the rescue.

HOLMES: The national government has declared a state of emergency and released more than $2 million of aid and assistance to the island.