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Hala Gorani Tonight

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Aired May 26, 2021 - 14:00   ET



HALA GORANI, HOST, HALA GORANI TONIGHT: I am Hala Gorani, we're coming to you live from London. Breaking news out of San Jose, California. Multiple

people are dead after a mass shooting at a rail yard, you're seeing overhead pictures there of the scene. Here is what we know this hour, eight

people are dead along with the shooter, multiple people are wounded. Here's the mayor last hour.


MAYOR SAM LICCARDO, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA: This is a horrific day for our city and it's a tragic day for the VTA family. And our heart pained for the

families and the co-workers. Because we know that so many are feeling deeply this loss of their loved ones and their friends. Now is a moment for

us to collect ourselves, understand what happened to mourn and to help those who have suffered to heal.


GORANI: All right, just the latest mass shooting in the United States. We'll have much more on this breaking story in just a few minutes. Welcome

to the program, I'm Hala Gorani. Outcry today against the Belarusian government. It is growing days after officials there diverted a plane and

detained a dissident and his girlfriend on board. The country's embattled president though, Alexander Lukashenko is obstinate. He is claiming still

that the move was legal and that it was prompted by security threats. He also says the country is under attack by opponents both at home and abroad.


ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, PRESIDENT, BELARUS (through translator): As we forecast our wishes both inside the country and outside the country, they

have changed their tactics in terms of attacking the Belarus state. They have crossed many red lines and transgressed common sense and common

morality. This is a hybrid, modern war. We have to do our best in order to avoid this becoming a hot war.


GORANI: All right. He did not mention the dissident who was forcibly removed from that Ryanair flight. Belarus' exiled opposition leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is also speaking out tonight, blasting President Lukashenko. She says he's turning the country into the North Korea of

Europe, and is urging the EU to respond with tougher measures.


SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Let's be frank, the previous EU strategy of wait and see towards the Belarusian regime

doesn't work. The EU approach of gradually elevated pressure on Lukashenko's regime hasn't managed to change its behavior and only led to a

growing sense of impunity and massive oppressions. Now I call on the European parliament to make sure that the reaction of the international

community is not limited to the Ryanair flight incident.


GORANI: Well, I'll be speaking with Tsikhanouskaya's chief adviser in just a moment. First, though, I want to get more on the day's developments with

CNN's Fred Pleitgen who is live in Berlin. We know that the sanctions that the EU has announced against Belarus are in effect. We've heard from

Lukashenko, where do we stand?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think, first of all, Lukashenko, Hala, really, I mean, he came out and just made a

flurry of accusations and gave information that really is impossible to corroborate. In that speech that he gave to parliament, first of all, as

you mentioned, he did say that he believed it was legitimate for the Belarusian authorities to come and to force that plane to land. He said

that the alleged bomb threat that led to them launching fighter aircraft to make that Ryanair jet land, that, that came from Switzerland.

Now, you'll recall that only yesterday, the Belarusian authorities claim that it was Hamas that issued that threat, leaving Hamas to say that it

wasn't them. The Swiss authorities also say they have absolutely no knowledge of any sort of bomb threat coming from their territory or from

anybody inside Switzerland. He then also claim that several airports in the region, specifically Warsaw and Vilnius had not allowed the plane to land.

Also the Polish authorities say that's absolutely not true. They had no information whatsoever about a plane even wanting to land. The Greek

authorities have also just come out and said that the information coming from Lukashenko is misleading and incorrect as well.

So, you can see the international community, specifically European countries pushing back against a lot of this. He did then say as you've

noted that he believes that Belarus is under attack both from the opposition inside Belarus, but then also from outside powers as well,

seeming to mean western countries.


I think one of the main key things that he also tried to do is, he also tried to put -- bring Russia into all of this by saying that he believed

that Belarus is only a testing ground, that then Russia would be next for efforts to try and destabilize Belarus and then Russia as well. So, you

can see him really lashing out at some of the people who have been criticizing him. Also didn't mention Roman Protasevich who of course still

remains in custody. And the European Union as you've also said, those sanctions really are going into effect -- I was keeping an eye throughout

the better part of the day on the airspace over Belarus, it was really empty and there was one jetliner from Belavia, from the flagship carrier of

Belarus and had to circle inside Belarus for more than two hours and then return to Minsk because it couldn't fly into the European Union.

GORANI: Right, well, Lukashenko, straight from the strong man playbook, we've heard that type of discourse from him, we've heard it from other

leaders around the world and many countries we've covered over the years. Thanks very much Fred Pleitgen for that. The EU as we were discussing with

Fred is actively trying to put pressure on Belarus to change course. Let me remind you of some of what it's done so far. EU leaders are demanding the

immediate release of Roman Protasevich. They're pushing to bar Belarusian aircraft from flying in EU airspace and even from using EU airports.

The EU wants the International Civil Aviation organization to conduct an investigation into the forcing down of that Ryanair jet. And in addition to

more sanctions, the EU is freezing a $3.6 billion investment package for Belarus. Is this enough? Is it going to hurt the Lukashenko regime enough?

Joining me is Franak Viacorka, he's the chief adviser to the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who we heard from just a little bit

earlier. Thanks for joining us. First off, what are your thoughts about these EU sanctions? Have they gone far enough? Will they have an effect?

FRANAK VIACORKA, CHIEF ADVISER TO SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Thank you so much for having me. I think EU also shares responsibility for what's

happening now in Belarus because of that real repression started in Belarus in the last Summer. And the EU was very cautious and they did not react

promptly unless full and the last sanctions we saw were only in December. And right now, last Sunday incident was a wake-up call for the European

leaders and forced them to act bravely. Only now nine months after all this repressions started. Of course, it's not enough. Of course, 18 names on the

sanction list we have right now is not enough, and it will not force Lukashenko to step down or conduct new elections.

Only sectoral economic broad sanctions on enterprises close to Lukashenko, on oligarchs close to Lukashenko will force him to make concessions. But

also, let's not forget, it will work only in combination with assistance. On the one hand, pressure on the regime, on the other hand, assistance to

civil society.

GORANI: Right, because if you often times these sanctions hurt people more than they hurt the people in power. And that is one of the concerns and one

of the things you have to balance. I wonder, we're hearing from opposition activists who are saying, look, if Lukashenko can force divert a plane

flying from one European Union country to another, land it forcibly in Minsk, arrest a regime opponent and his girlfriend, that no one is safe

anywhere. Do you have concerns -- I mean, do you have concerns for your safety?

VIACORKA: No one is safe anywhere. And I must say I am concerned about my safety, about my friends, about our team. Yesterday, we had a discussion

and we decided to strengthen security for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, for democratic leaders, for our office because we know after Sunday that they

can follow us everywhere. We knew that KGB agents, they were following Roman Protasevich in Athens airport on the EU territory, and they managed

to stop displaying flying over Belarus territory from one European capital to another European capital.

Unfortunately, we are living now in the situation when we can be always monitored, followed. And Lukashenko's KGB people, they are harsh and they

can do harm to any of us at any moment. He's the threat not only to Belarusians anymore, he's the threat to Europeans and the sanctions needed

to stop this lawlessness spread outside of Belarus.

GORANI: But how do you continue your work under these conditions?

VIACORKA: First of all, we will strengthen our structures in Belarus. Because we still have thousands of people, volunteers, doctors, journalists

working under pressure. Many of them are being detained and sentenced. Many people got sentenced to five, six, 15 years of prison. We just had the

funeral today of activist who was killed in prison three days ago.


Last week, the biggest internet portal of Belarus was closed. Every day, Lukashenko makes one attack one after another. And European reaction can

help to prevent the de-escalation of repressions. And we will be working on safety of ourselves, but also safety of the people on the ground.

GORANI: Have you had any European governments from the EU been in touch with you about strengthening your security system or assisting you in those

efforts that you just outlined of continuing your activism, continuing your political opposition --


GORANI: To Lukashenko while remaining as safe as possible.

VIACORKA: Oh, absolutely. We are in touch with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the British Office of Foreign Affairs, we are in

touch with White House, with Jake Sullivan, national security adviser. We are trying to develop the role of map, how to solve this crisis. How to

stop Lukashenko. How to isolate him, but also how to lead the country into the new elections because the only solution of this crisis in Belarus is

right now, to conduct free and fair elections. Because the last elections were rigged. Lukashenko lost this elections, and this is the basic problem

we have to solve.

GORANI: Yes, and how do you -- how do you get there? I mean, here you have a situation where you mentioned yourself that Lukashenko essentially rigged

the elections of last August 9th, and that the results were not legitimate, transparent results. You have dissidents arrested. You mentioned yourself

in custody that activists have died. How do you get to that end point?

VIACORKA: First of all, we have to put it on the top of the agenda of world leaders. G-7 --

GORANI: Yes --

VIACORKA: Summit in London must discuss Belarus. U.N. Security Council must put Belarus on their priority list. Joe Biden, when he comes to Europe

on the NATO Summit, he can discuss Belarus as well. Leaders of U.K., European Union and the United States can express their solidarity with

Belarus by meeting Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who represents interest of Belarusian people. It's very important together to discuss the solution of

the crisis at the high level conference. It's very important to recognize Lukashenko's regime as terrorist. We don't want North Korea to appear in

the center of Europe and threatening everyone in the region. In order to stop this, pressure needed now.

GORANI: How are you optimistic? I mean, for instance, I think back a few years ago, when critics of the Russian move to annex Crimea said the

Europeans really allowed Vladimir Putin to do whatever he wanted there when it came to Ukraine. Why do you think this will be different?

VIACORKA: I think lessons learned after Ukraine and Crimea happened and many European leaders realize that it's better to react quickly than to

solve many unsolvable problems after. Belarus is not divided to the west and east. Belarus is pretty clear story. There is a black and white. Very

visible contrast. There's Zepa dictator who controls with the violence and the situation in the country. And there are people who want changes. The

only thing we ask from the EU and from the west, to take the clear stand, the clear position and to support those fighting for freedom. It's -- it

can be success story. There's a good momentum.

Lukashenko is very weak right now, he doesn't trust anyone. Even people around him, they are defecting, they are fleeing the country. And we have

people mobilized, hopeful. They saw the reaction of the west. They saw the reaction of Joe Biden. They heard the reaction of Josep Borrell. What we

need right now to give them more hope, more energy and to show that they're not alone in their fight for freedom.

GORANI: Franak Viacorka, thank you very much. The chief adviser for the opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Thanks for joining us from

Vilnius this evening. And staying with the story, the Russian girlfriend of Roman Protasevich who was arrested along with him in Minsk has appeared in

an alleged confession video. In the recording, Sofia Sapega says she works for a social media channel that publishes personal data of government

employees. Let's get the response in Moscow. Matthew Chance joins me now live. The family of Sofia Sapega say this doesn't look like she was -- I

mean, it looks like it was a coerced statement that she was making on camera.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. This confessional sort of video tape that was recorded when she was in that

pre-trial detention center, in which she said that she worked for a sort of telegram, social media channel that disclosed the names of certain

Belarusian officials.


Right, her family members, other observers, critics have pointed out that it's likely that this kind of recording was made under duress, just like

the recording the day before of Roman Protasevich when he said that he was cooperating with the authorities, that he was being treated well and that

he was confessing to organizing mass riots, I think he said in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. And so, that's another level of criticism that's being,

you know, thrown at the Belarusian authorities for putting these young activists under that kind of pressure.

And of course, human rights groups have pointed out the kind of terrible physical abuse that prisoners inside Belarusian jails have been subjected

to over the past -- well, particularly over the past 12 months since the elections which seemed to be not free and fair by election observers and

critics and the protests against them. Now, the Russian reaction to this detention has been pretty meted, you know, given all of that. They've

acknowledged that a Russian citizen has been taken into the custody of the Belarusian authorities. They say that their consular services will be

provided to her. They say the Belarusian authorities are cooperating with the Russian consulate there, and the Russian embassy officials there.

But they've stopped short of outright criticizing the Belarusian government, either for arresting one of its nationals, this girlfriend of

Roman Protasevich, Sofia Sapega, and also criticizing it, not criticizing Belarus either for carrying out this extraordinary operation which was well

outside as we've been reporting the international norms, and essentially forcing that civilian airlines land apparently with the expressed purpose

of detaining that, you know, opposition activist and journalist which they have now done, Hala.

GORANI: And also we saw Alexei Navalny, Putin critic Alexei Navalny in court today. Tell us more about that.

CHANCE: Yes, I mean, another opposition activist. This time -- this time in Russia here. He made an appearance by -- you know, by video screen into

a court here. He's actually trying to sue the penal colony where he's been incarcerated for censorship and for various other violations of his rights.

This was just a sort of preliminary hearing, we'll see how that goes. But of course, it brings to the fore once again the fact that Russia itself has

political prisoners. It's incarcerated Alexei Navalny, its foremost political opponent or opposition figure, just like Belarus has taken into

custody prominent figures in its opposition protest movement.

And of course, all that comes ahead of that summit which is looming over all these offense between President Putin of Russia and Joe Biden of the

United States. As if there weren't enough fraud issues between those two countries. Whether it's hacking or the situation in Ukraine or you know,

the backing of various sides in the Syrian conflict. Now there's another issue which has come to fore. Russia's support, Russia's backing, Russia's

refusal to criticize the Belarusian authorities for doing what they've done over the past 48 hours.

GORANI: All right, Matthew Chance live in Moscow, thanks very much. Much more to come including an update on our breaking news this hour. A mass

shooting this time in San Jose, California. We will take you live to the scene. Plus, disastrous dithering and completely unfit for the job. The

scathing take-down of the British Prime Minister's handling of the pandemic by his former right-hand man. We'll be right back.



GORANI: We are following breaking news out of California where at least eight people have been killed in another mass shooting in America. It

happened at a rail yard in the city of San Jose. Officials say the gunman worked at the facility. He's also dead. Stephanie Elam joins me now from

Los Angeles with more. What more can you tell us, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, we're just getting a little bit of information here. There's a lot of moving pieces with this, Hala, but

what we can tell you is that we know that eight are dead, we know that there are several more people who are injured. We know that the shooter is

dead, although it's not clear yet if he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was hit. What's note-worthy here is that the sheriff's

department is literally across the street from this transportation hub for this light rail system in the South Bay of the San Francisco Bay area in

San Jose.

And so because they were so close, the sheriff is saying that they were actually entering the building as the shots were still being fired, and

we're able to immediately go into their programs that they have already instituted for when there's a mass shooting event to get people out and

remove employees to safety and then get them through and then secure the place. One thing that they have been able to do though since then is that

the bomb-sniffing dogs have alerted on something in one of the buildings. And so, they're continuing to check on that one location to make sure that

it isn't anything.

And at the same time, the mayor of San Jose telling our affiliate "KGO" that they're investigating a house fire that they do believe maybe

connected to this event here. They said luckily that nobody was inside of that house. Still, a lot of moving parts here, we know now that the shooter

was an employee of this transportation authority, the Valley Transportation Authority here in San Jose. And so, they're looking at what could have been

a motive behind this, but still looking for a lot of reasoning and not getting that. We do know that the train system, the light rail system

actually continued to operate.

Remember, this happened at about 6:30 in the morning local time, and that the train service continued to operate. The president of the authority

saying that the shooting did not happen in the control operations center. And so trains were still rolling throughout the valley as they should, but

they're shutting down service coming up here in about 35 minutes for the rest of the day as they are working to process this. And also, just keep in

mind, all of these loved ones who are now trying to get reunited with their family members and keeping in mind that these are basically essential

workers, Hala.

These are the people that have been keeping the light rail up and running in Silicon Valley, leading up to San Francisco all through the pandemic,

and here we are getting to the end of the pandemic in California and looking at how the numbers are improving. And now, eight of these people

have lost their lives. It's just devastating to see and we're still not clear on all of the angles of this, but this just gives you an idea of the

latest mass shooting in the United States, and you know, whether or not this will change, that -- a lot of people just don't have hope. That's what

I'm hearing people saying because we've seen so much of this and then nothing happening.

GORANI: It is true. You're hardly surprised when you hear news like this anymore. Stephanie Elam, thanks very much, live in L.A. Tragic story there,

thanks for bringing us up to date. Back to COVID and perhaps no one on the planet would envy the task of any world leader that was faced last year

with the pandemic, with the emergence of the pandemic.


But testimony today from the British Prime Minister's former top aide paints a picture of total dysfunction, chaos and incompetence at the

highest levels of government. Dominic Cummings, formerly Boris Johnson's right-hand man testified before members of parliament about the

government's handling of the crisis. Here's part of what he said.


DOMINIC CUMMINGS, FORMER CHIEF ADVISER TO BORIS JOHNSON: The truth is that senior minister and senior officials, senior advisors like me fell

disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most,

the government failed. Tell him like I almost said, I've come through here to the Prime Minister's office to tell you all, quote, "I think we are

absolutely -- I think this country is heading for disaster. I think we're going to kill thousands of people."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear him say like the bodies pile high in their thousands or it's only killing 80-year-olds?

CUMMINGS: I heard that in the Prime Minister's study.


GORANI: Bianca Nobilo joins me now, she's at Number 10 Downing Street, and what's been the response of Boris Johnson?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris Johnson had to conduct prime minister's questions today almost simultaneously with that testimony that

Dominic Cummings was giving MPs. That's because Cummings committee with MPs ran for seven hours, Hala. That's a lot of things for the government to try

and come up with a rebuttal for. So, when he was conducting prime minister's questions with his opposition Keir Starmer, he said that he did

accept full responsibility for the pandemic and expressed his sorrow for the pain that it's caused people. Let's take a listen.


BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: I take full responsibility for everything that has happened. And I've said -- as I've said before, and

you will recall both in this house and elsewhere, I'm truly sorry for the suffering that the people of this country have experienced. But I maintain

my point that the government acted throughout with the intention to save life and particularly in NHS and in accordance with the best scientific

advice. That's exactly what we did.


NOBILO: And Hala, the spokespeople from Number 10 akin not to be drawn on the individual things that Dominic Cummings had to say. The charges that he

laid against the prime minister. They don't want to get into the nitty- gritty with this. In fact, their approach seems to be not to confront it in so far as they can. Boris Johnson for example after Prime Minister's

questions, after that clip we just saw, I'm told was being so shocked in the House of Commons, he visited the tea room. So, he's trying to portray a

sense of everything being OK, and that's clearly one of the approaches that the government has taken.

But it is jaw-dropping to consider that a man that was at the heart of the government decision-making, the policy-forming, the most precious of close

adviser to the government during the period of the pandemic's early stages in that building behind me is now essentially political enemy number one

for the prime minister, Hala.

GORANI: Yes, and it's interesting because if you internationalize this story, many governments around the world are going to get to also to a

similar point where they will have to kind of do a "postmortem", quote- unquote, of how they handled the pandemic in the early days. Now, you said that the Johnson team does not want to get drawn on the nitty-gritty, but

there are a few lines that are jaw-dropping, that are holy-moly lines. For instance, Dominic Cummings said that Boris Johnson floated the idea of

getting injected with the virus on live television to prove to people that it wasn't harmless. Let's listen to Cummings.


CUMMINGS: In February, the prime minister regarded this as just a scare story. He regarded -- he described it as the new swine flu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell him it wasn't?

CUMMINGS: Certainly. But the view of various officials inside Number 10 was, if we have prime minister chairing global meetings, and he just tells

everyone this is swine flu, don't worry about it, I'm going to get Chris Whitty inject me live on TV with coronavirus, so everyone realizes it's

nothing to be frightened of. That would be -- that would not help actually serious planning.


GORANI: So, I mean, that is remarkable. It's a remarkable thing to hear today.

NOBILO: It is. And it speaks a key theme that Cummings was pressing throughout the day. And that's the fact that the government, according to

him took an incredibly casual, flippant approach to the pandemic especially during the critical planning stages of February 2020.

He claims key members of that decision-making were off skiing, that the prime minister went on a two-week holiday, and that's part of his criticism

of Boris Johnson in general. Who he said quite plainly when asked in the committee today, is he fit for office? Dominic Cummings said no.

I mean, it is truly jaw-dropping. We never in politics in Britain get to see this level of lifting the lid on the heart of government and how

Westminster and Boris Johnson's premiership works.


Occasionally, we hear from former Prime Ministers and ex-cabinet ministers, but never for seven hours, detail by detail. And at the heart of this all

is the heartbreaking revelation from Dominic Cummings, if he is to be believed, if it's to be corroborated that potentially tens of thousands of

lives, Hala, could have been saved, had the government in Britain acted faster and locked down earlier.

GORANI: All right. Well, here's his political enemies, so he may have his reasons for saying what he's saying. But still an absolutely fascinating

look into what happened in the early days of the pandemic. Thanks very much. Bianca Nobilo is at 10 Downing Street.

In Northern Italy, police have arrested three people, three men, in connection to Sunday's cable car accident that left 14 people dead.

Investigators say the men admitted to deactivating the car's emergency brakes as a stopgap repair because the brakes had been malfunctioning. The

car crashed into a wooded area after a cable snapped. Just a single person on board survived.

Still ahead, why critics of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza say it's turned the tiny strip of land into the biggest open-air prison on Earth.

We'll be right back.


GORANI: Well, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has just wrapped up a mission. The objective is to shore up that Israeli-Palestinian

ceasefire. He called the truce a beginning, not an end to peace efforts in the region. Blinken met with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman today, as well

as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Cairo. He thanked both men for helping broker the truce, calling them important and effective partners.

Blinken spoke to reporters just a short time ago.


ANTONY BLINKEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Our meetings today and in Cairo and Amman, indeed this whole trip reflect the fundamental reality.


If we want to avoid a return to the harrowing violence of recent weeks, the countries of this region need to help and support one another. In the

coming days, I'll be consulting broadly with Gulf countries and other partners to ensure we all contribute to recovery, stability, and the

reduction of tensions.


GORANI: All right. These are words we've heard many times before from many other Secretaries of State. Nic Robertson is following developments from

Jerusalem. There can be much optimism that this time will be different, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Not a huge amount to be perfectly honest, Hala. I met with one of the Palestinian political

activists today or human rights activists, rather, who met last night with Secretary Blinken. This was sort of where the Secretary of State was

reaching around the politicians to get an unvarnished view of tensions and sentiment from the ground.

And I asked them, you know, are you hearing anything from Blinken that's different? Are you hearing anything that gives you confidence? And he said,

look, you know, at a certain level, there are things that are good, you know. He said Blinken said that we're reengaging. We want to continue our

dialogue with the Palestinians. We want to improve it, all those things he said are good, but the real steps, he said, we need from the United States,

he doesn't see that political commitment at the moment. And those steps are essentially United States putting pressure on Israel to stop the expansion

of settlements, which is such a key issue for the Palestinians.

That way, you can create some trust, and you can create the space for the dialogue that might lead to the two-state solution that the United States

has been talking about. He didn't see that happening at the moment. And he said he gives this administration maybe six months, maybe a year to sort of

see if they're really as good as their word. But as you say, Hala, nobody here at the moment sees that big diplomatic push coming. No one feels it.

What's happened is a band-aid, a hugely important band-aid. But there is, as Blinken said, so much more to be done. But it's not clear that it's his

priority, or the U.S. President's priority, Hala.

GORANI: All right. Nic Robertson, thanks very much. During his trip, Blinken repeatedly stressed that Palestinians and Israelis deserve to enjoy

equal measures of security and freedom. But the reality is life in Gaza is nothing like life in Israel. CNN's Ben Wedeman shows us how many people are

literally trapped in the tiny, overcrowded strip by an ongoing blockade.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Gaza city's main square, Muhammad Abu Gammus and his friends show off their breakdancing skills. Muhammad's dream

is to compete outside Gaza, but there's a problem. "Travel from Gaza," he says "is almost impossible." His narrow strip of land on the Mediterranean,

home to two million people, has been under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Among other things, the blockade was

intended to isolate Hamas and prevent the militants from smuggling in arms.

But since then, Hamas and other groups have been able to manufacture and launch tens of thousands of rockets into Israel and Hamas, 14 years later,

is still firmly in control. In Khan Yunis, residents queue for food donated by Egypt, Qatar, and Malaysia. About half the population is dependent on

food aid. Unemployment is almost 50 percent. I asked the young people in the crowd the same question.


WEDEMAN: Have you ever, in your whole life, traveled outside Gaza?



WEDEMAN: Everyone gave the same answer. No, never. Like the others that Aida says, she's never stepped foot outside Gaza, never been on a plane or

a train not. Gaza is hemmed in by Israel to the north and the east. Egypt to the south. Israel in Egypt allow a limited amount of goods strictly

controlled into Gaza, but exporting is difficult. Israel bombed Muhammad Deban's plastic ware factory the day before the ceasefire went into effect.

His 12 employees are now without work. And even before the hostilities, try as he might, Muhammad never received permission to export his products via


"We met all their conditions," he says "but we never received an answer from them if we can export or not." People here, whether they support Hamas

or not, and many don't, they're all serving the same sentence, says analyst, Mkhaimar Abusada.



MKHAIMAR ABUSADA, POLITICAL ANALYST, AL-AZHAR UNIVERSITY: Gaza has become the biggest open-air prison on the face of the Earth.


WEDEMAN: If the blockade isn't lifted, this may be the closest to flying some of these children will ever be. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaza.


GORANI: Still to come tonight.


WAFA MUSTAFA, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: My dad is probably being tortured. Luckily, if he's still alive, while Assad is being elected.


GORANI: A family and a country ripped apart by civil war and the dictator responsible for it is holding an election. The latest from Syria next.


GORANI: In Idlib, Syria, hundreds of protesters turned out today to denounce the country's presidential election. Many experts and activists

are calling the vote of farce. They're calling it a sham. One rig for incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, who gained power in 2000, took over

from his dad. For the last 10 years, he's presided over a catastrophic civil war that's killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. More now

from CNN's Jomana Karadsheh.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's as if the last 10 years never happened. It defined Bashar al-Assad running for an

all but guaranteed fourth seven-year term in an election labeled a sham and illegitimate by the U.S. and other countries. Running against to obscure

government sanction candidates, no one's expecting any surprises. After all, Assad claimed nearly 90 percent of the 2014 vote during a civil war

that pitted his supporters against those who wanted to overthrow his regime.


JOMANA QADDOUR, HEAD OF SYRIA PORTFOLIO, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: The international community should treat this, as I said, a non-event. It's

absolutely not changing the economic conditions on the ground. It's not changing the political conditions on the ground. Syrians are just as

oppressed. They will be just as oppressed on Thursday as they are today.


KARADSHEH: After a decade of a war like no other the world has seen in generations, most of this broken country, with help from allies, Russia and

Iran, is back under Assad's control. But Syria today is a shadow of the country he inherited from his father more than 20 years ago. Syrians are

facing a hunger crisis, the majority living in poverty, more than half can't afford a basic meal according to the U.N. But through it all, Assad

continues to cling on.



QADDOUR: The Assad regime and its allies, they just want to continue to confirm that they will not budge an inch despite everything the country has

been through in 10 years, despite the fact that they're struggling to keep the country alive economically, they are still adamant about not changing a

single ting.

From Bashar al-Assad's perspective, this is an existential crisis. He will fight to the death. He said this many years ago, his supporters said this,

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE), said, oh, we will burn down the country.


KARADSHEH: And the country burned. Twelve million displaced, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, more than a hundred and twenty thousand like Ali

Mustafa vanished into the black hole of the regime's prison system. His daughter, Wafa, counts the days since she last saw her father. More than

2,800. That's nearly eight years, she's been fighting for his freedom, and for that of others forcibly disappeared by the regime.


MUSTAFA: I think of my dad, obviously, and I feel him every day. But now more than ever, it's just heartbreaking. My dad is probably being tortured.

Luckily, if he's still alive, while Assad is being elected for another term. It makes me feel very angry. Very sad, very disappointed. I'm feeling

helpless. And this is the point where I ask myself is everything I'm trying to do pointless? Just pointless.


KARADSHEH: Wafa describes the election as a silly play, but that doesn't make it any less painful or dangerous.


MUSTAFA: This is also a message to all dictatorships, and to all war criminals around the globe that, yes, you can commit more crimes, you can

use chemical weapons against your own people, and you can actually bomb your country, and detain millions and displace them and kill them, and you

can still get away with it. And you can still be elected for another term, and you can still be called a president.


KARADSHEH: This election, a clear message to the world, Assad has not only survived, he is here to stay.


GORANI: Well, Syrian officials have repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. And also that they that they torture

dissidents in prison. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins me now live from Istanbul. And the fact that, you know, Assad is obviously here to say, the

war turned in his favor. He got the help of Iran, he got the help of Russia. And now we're seeing Arab countries starting to normalize relations

with Syria, once again.

KARADSHEH (on camera): And that, Hala, is the, you know, the warning we are hearing from so many Syria experts, those who know the country very well,

saying that, you know, the international community has done nothing really for the Syrian people, very little that they have done, there's lack of an

international will to bring about change at this point. But what they can do, Hala -- and we've been hearing this now with this election, is that

they can stop this, you know, the Assad regime's attempt by the regime and its backers to try and what, you know, they describe as this attempt to add

this facade of legitimacy to the regime by trying to bring back the Assad regime into the fold.

This is something that, you know, these experts warn that this should not happen, that no olive branch should be extended to the regime and turn a

page on what's happened over the last 10 years like nothing has happened. This is really dangerous, Hala, but everything about this day has been so

symbolic. Clearly a message from the regime, the sort of a victory lap, you know. Assad and his wife, Asma, today cast their ballots in Duma, in the

suburbs of Damascus and Eastern Ghouta.

As you know very well, this was a part of Syria that was besieged for a very long time bombed and starved into submission. And it was the scene of

that horrific chemical attack back in 2018. And, you know, really this message of defiance, this message of he's here to stay, a message of, you

know, he won is what he is trying to tell the world and undermining whatever efforts there are in the background to try and bring some sort of

a political settlement through the U.N.-led process that has stalled over the past few years, Hala.

GORANI: All right, Jomana Karadsheh, thanks very much live in Istanbul. Mexico is days away from the largest midterm elections, in its history with

the hotly contested campaigns, have been marred by violence. Dozens of candidates have even been killed. CNN's Matt Rivers reports from Mexico




MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is Abel Murrieta, a candidate for local office in the Mexican municipality of Kaheme.

Crime was his number one issue. But just one day after filming this ad, he was dead, shot and killed May 13th in broad daylight on a busy street while

handing out campaign flyers. State authorities say Murrieta was deliberately targeted but don't know by whom. Suspects or not, though, it's

just further proof that in Mexico, politics can be deadly.

From September of last year through May 25th, at least 88 politicians or candidates have been killed according to Mexican consulting firm, Etellekt

Consultores. They're a part of the more than 565 politicians, or candidates overall, that have been targeted by some sort of crime, ranging from

murder, to assault, to threats, the firm says.

The government says it believes both numbers are actually far lower, though they don't say how they tally their numbers. But still it admits there's a

problem. "It's a difficult time for these campaigns," says Mexico's president. "We're going to keep protecting them." Though Mexico has

consistently failed to protect its candidates, political assassinations have been a problem for decades, but this year is particularly bad.


ANA MARIA SALAZAR, PUBLIC SECURITY EXPERT: I do think that this is going to be considered one of the most violent elections in Mexican history.


RIVERS: Security experts, like Ana Maria Salazar, says politicians are killed for a number of reasons, but it most often involves organized crime.

In many cases, she says criminal groups want their preferred candidate in office and so they might target others they don't like, especially

candidates who make crime a centerpiece of their campaigns.


SALAZAR: Candidates that talk the way Abel Murrieta speak clearly are going to run bigger risks.


RIVERS: Murrieta was known for challenging criminal groups and drug cartels. As a private lawyer, he was also representing the LeBarons, an

outspoken family with dual U.S.-Mexico citizenship that lost nine of its members when they were murdered by suspected cartel members in Mexico in

late 2019. Adrian LeBaron tweeted shortly after Murrieta was killed saying in part, "They have killed my defender. What do we call this? The rule of



RIVERS: Do you believe he was killed because of his opposition to the cartels?

ADRIAN LEBARON, FAMILY KILLED IN MEXICO: Yes, he was always exposing them. To me, he died a martyr.


RIVERS: Authorities have not identified any suspects or motive in Murrieta's murder, but the victim seem to know he was at risk saying this a

few days before he died.


ABEL MURRIETA, MAYORAL CANDIDATE, NORTHERN MEXICO (TEXT): I am serious and going in with no fear. To do this, you have to be very conscious of what

you're going to do and not be scared.


RIVERS: He went on to say the streets belong to the people, not the criminals. And some of those people turned up here to his funeral in

Kaheme. They gave him a standing ovation as his coffin was let out. Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.




GORANI: American movie star, John Cena, is professing his love for China as he walks back a comment about Taiwan. He had called the self-governed

Island a country and that sparked a backlash because China claims its sovereignty. But after apologizing, he's under fire again. This time for

what he didn't say. Will Ripley explains.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you have a brand that you want to be successful in Chinese market, it's a good thing to speak in

Mandarin to the fans, the fan base, and certainly the Fast and Furious franchise has a huge fan base in China. They've even talked about possibly

filming part of their finale there in China.

So, when John Cena gave promotional interviews, talking about the movie and talking about its global debut here on the self-governing island of Taiwan,

he said something that much of the world might view as a pretty innocent mistake. Perhaps he misspoke because Mandarin is not his first language

when he said Taiwan is the first country where you can watch the movie. Problem is in the mainland, it's a big no-no to call Taiwan a country

because they claim this island as their own even though Taiwan has been governing itself for more than 70 years since China's Civil War ended.

So John Cena went on Weibo where he has 600,000 or so followers, and he apologized profusely, saying he was very, very, very, very sorry, and that

he respects China. He really did say that many veries, but it wasn't enough for some in China who said that he should have gone on and actually

proclaimed that Taiwan is a part of China, but of course then that would potentially run afoul of some fans here in Taiwan.

So, in the end, he's kind of stuck in a no-win situation where some are calling for his movie to be boycotted, a movie that made $136 million just

in China over the weekend, propelling it to the biggest Hollywood pandemic box office debut to date. And that is why movie stars like John Cena, and

big brands, airlines, fashion moguls, hotel chains, why they all have to tread very carefully and avoid saying things that cross China's red line

like Taiwan independence, or supporting Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, or supporting the monks in Tibet, or the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Those

issues, if entertainment or business steps in, they could be out in China. Will Ripley, CNN, Taiwan.

GORANI: All right. Thanks for watching. I'm Hala Gorani. Stay with CNN. A lot more head. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is coming up.