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EARLY START

Crisis in Ukraine; Mystery of Flight 370: Search Expanded; "We'll Get Them Out"; Pistorius Trial Resumes; Shelly Sterling: I'm a Co-Owner

Aired May 5, 2014 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Mayhem in a key Ukrainian city. Militants attack a police station and set dozens of prisoners free. Protesters take to the streets with sticks and clubs, promising to defend their city, but can the government do anything to bring this country together again? We are live in Ukraine with what's happening on the ground this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Heading for the next phase. Nearly two months after Flight 370 disappeared, Australia, Malaysia, China now starting to plan for a wider search of the Indian Ocean. But what can they find? We're live with details of what could be many months, many more months under water.

BERMAN: We'll get them out. The new pledge this morning after hundreds of girls are captured by extremists and held hostage. Now, as thousands rally around the world, the U.S. is promising more help. We're live with what's happening right now this morning to get them free. That is such an important story.

ROMANS: It really is.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 29 minutes after the hour. It is Monday morning.

We begin this morning with a bloody struggle for Ukraine's third largest city, escalating dramatically now. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants storming a police station Sunday. They freed dozens of fellow militants. Nearly 50 people in Odessa dead after three days of violence. Ukraine slipping further towards civil war.

We want to get the latest this morning from Arwa Damon. She is live in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Bring us up to speed with, I guess, what has been an escalation in the crisis over the weekend.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the concerning thing about this escalation is that it really, Christine, underscores just how lawless the situation has become and just how potentially even more difficult it could be for the Ukrainian authorities to try to bring it back under control, not only with that jailbreak in Odessa, where the authorities were effectively helpless and unable to stop it from taking place. But also, here in eastern Ukraine, a number of incidences that saw the pro-Russian camp taking over additional buildings and even going so far in the city of Luhansk, for example, of issuing a deadline, telling the authorities that they had to evacuate certain locations.

There have been reinforcements that were sent to eastern Ukraine in some of these instances. The pro-Russian camp wanted to see them out. And at the end of the day, the pro-Russian side got what it wanted. It's absolutely clear who is in control here, despite the fact that the Ukrainian government has sent troops in, is saying that it is undertaking this so-called antiterrorism operation.

But we see very little sign of any progress on that front, very little sign of any sort of political talks being held, political negotiations taking place, and all of this, of course, heightening fears that Russia could possibly invade.

ROMANS: All right. Arwa Damon, thanks for that, Arwa.

BERMAN: This morning we're getting a closer look at a terrifying accident during a circus in Rhode Island. We've got to warn you, these images are graphic.

This cell phone video shows what happened at the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey performance when an apparatus holding acrobats by their hair failed. Saw it happen right there. Sent them crashing to the ground.

Eleven people, including all 9 of the acrobats, were hurt.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First, I thought it was the act. We see them, they were doing acrobats with their hair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was worried for the people, for their welfare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We asked everybody to, you know, pray for the girls and everybody on the act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This shouldn't happen, and we'll get to the bottom of why it happened and make sure it doesn't happen going forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Obviously, there's an investigation under way. The circus says it takes the health of its performers seriously and carefully inspects all of its equipment. They're now working with the city of Providence to try to figure out just what happened there.

ROMANS: Breaking overnight, severe turbulence leaving six people hurt on a U.S. Airways jet flying from Philadelphia to Orlando. This happened right after takeoff when the airbus jet was climb climbing. Passengers say, suddenly, they fell hard. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it was a crazy experience. We were just up in the air, lifted out of our seats, seeing things flying all over the place. I got sick from it. There was people injured, (INAUDIBLE) running all over the plane. It was really scary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Four passengers, two flight attendants were hurt. The airline not revealing the nature of the injuries, but a passenger says one woman hit her head on the ceiling. Most of the passengers continued on to Orlando.

BERMAN: The next stage for the search for Flight 370 coming into focus this morning. Officials say they need more sophisticated equipment to get a better look at the ocean floor. They are also dramatically expanding the search zone now, insisting they still believe they're looking for the plane in the right place.

So, let's go live to Kuala Lumpur and bring in Will Ripley.

Will, tell us about these meetings, tell us about these plans now to go forward.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first plan is going to happen on Wednesday in Canberra, Australia, the capital city, where this team of experts is going to get together, John, and take another look at all of the data they've accumulated so far. Now, this is going to include all of the calculations that led them to the specific spot in the southern Indian Ocean in the first place, because they want to make sure that they didn't miss anything, that they didn't miscalculate and they still believe they're searching in the right place.

And you know, it's a good thing they're doing that, John, because think about these numbers for a moment -- 4.6 million square kilometers have been searched. There have been more than 300 flights, more than 3,000 hours flying, 29 aircraft involved, 14 ships, and yet, not one single piece of the plane. That continues to fuel a lot of speculation about whether the plane is even there. There are even some conspiracy theories, including one that was brought up at the press conference. A reporter asked Malaysia's acting transport minister if the audio recordings from the cockpit had been doctored in some way.

Here was his response.

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HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIA'S ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: We have been very consistent in our approach. Any leads that there exists might have to be corroborated, they have to be verified. Any decisions that are made, it is done with advice from the experts. And I believe that when the inquiry and the panels of experts -- they are international experts -- sit down and look at how we have done this, this search from the beginning, and as we go on to the new phase, we will maintain that and learn from what we are going through in the past, I believe that it is not an easy thing to actually benchmark and find out whether we've done it right or wrong.

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RIPLEY: You get the sense from hearing these people talk that this truly is, as we all know, so unprecedented, John. And a lot of these questions will be answered when the biggest question of all is answered, and that is, where is this plane?

BERMAN: Will, it is interesting that while they keep insisting they believe they're searching in the right place, one of the first things they're going to do when they convene this meeting in Canberra on Wednesday is to go over their map and calculations one more time.

RIPLEY: And it seems like that's the responsible thing to do, considering the fact that this extensive search has turned up not one single piece of evidence. By the way, that potential lead in the Bay of Bengal also hasn't turned up any evidence. So, analyzing the data, one thing they're going to be doing. At the same time, they're also going to be looking at which technology they want to bring in to search this massive underwater area.

And can you believe it, John, there are only, you know, about a handful, you can literally count in one hand the technology that exists in the world right now to do this kind of a search. It's easier to search outer space than search that deep down in the deep ocean.

BERMAN: That's right, mapping this ocean floor which has never been mapped for, going to be a key step in this procedure.

All right. Will Ripley in Kuala Lumpur -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: To South Korea now, where this morning, rescue crews are hoping to recover more bodies from a capsized ferry. It's been 20 days since the ship sank. The death toll now stands at 260, 42 people are still missing.

On Sunday, South Korea's president met with family members awaiting word on their loved ones. Many of those on board were high school students. The investigation now focused on whether human error by the crew was to blame for the sinking.

BERMAN: In Afghanistan, authorities have ended their efforts to find victims from a devastating landslide. More than 2,000 people, some 300 homes are believed to have been buried when the land gave way in a rural northeastern province. Officials there have now declared that site a mass grave. President Obama has expressed his condolences to Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and offered continued American support.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, more than 200 girls, 200 girls being held by militants in Nigeria. Now thousands are rallying around the world, and the U.S. is promising more help, but is this response, this global response now too little too late? We are live with the very latest, next.

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ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back.

Fire crews in Oklahoma trying to get the upper hand on a deadly, wind- driven wildfire. This is north of Oklahoma City. So far, this blaze has burned through at least 20 homes and some four miles of rural farmland, killing one man who wouldn't evacuate. Ranchers are now racing to get their herds out of the way. Officials say the fire's growing so fast. It's hard to tell how many acres have been consumed.

BERMAN: We will get them out. In the face of international outrage, the president of Nigeria is now vowing to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants last month. And this morning he's calling on the White House for help.

Our Vladimir Duthiers is live in Lagos with the latest this morning.

And, Vlad, this has outraged so many people around the world. The question is, how has it taken so long?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that's the question that a lot of people across Nigeria and around the world have been asking, why it took so long for President Goodluck Jonathan to address the nation on this crisis that he is facing? In fact, it's been three weeks today since in the middle of the night, more than 200 girls trying to get an education in a remote village in Borno state in the northeastern corner of Nigeria -- it's one of the least educated regions in the country -- trying to get an education, sleeping in their dorm rooms. Armed attackers stormed the dorm room, shoot-out with security guards, burned down the campus and then cart these girls away deep into the bush, into an area that borders Cameroon and Nigeria.

This is the handy work, the authorities are saying, of the jihadist group Boko Haram. The name means "Western education is a sin." This is a group that has in the past burned churches, mosques, attacked schools. In fact, they are responsible for two attacks in the capital of Nigeria, Abuja just a few weeks ago.

But this is the latest atrocity, taking these 200 girls away.

In the past, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International say when they've abducted young girls, they force them into marriage. Last November, they rescued some of these girls, the girls that were taken last year. They found many of them were pregnant and many of them had children. No one knows what the fate of these girls are.

And whilst the president yesterday sounded confident in saying that he would find these girls, he also admitted that he didn't know where they are, John.

BERMAN: Vlad, you know, for Americans who haven't necessarily been paying as close attention to this story, I want everyone to think of a school with 200-plus girls. Everyone being kidnapped, taken away, carted away, and then having it last three weeks before you really hear from the president.

Vlad, now that you're in the middle of it all there, is this lack of urgency that seems visible from here, does it seem like there's that lack of urgency there that you might expect -- that you wouldn't expect, I should say?

DUTHIERS: Well, you know, we've spoken to the parents on the ground, parents who have their daughters still missing, and they said they've seen no real discernible effort by the military to bring these girls home. I think that at the end of the day, the president -- this is a country that there are a lot of challenges in Nigeria. You know, in America, when one child goes missing, we have an Amber Alert, and it feels like the entire country is looking for that one particular child.

This is a country of 170 million people, 45 percent of them live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, even though it's one of the wealthiest countries in terms of natural resources. I think that there's a lot of people who feel that what's happening up north to this particular ethnic group probably houses Muslims, for the most part, although there are some Christians, doesn't affect the problems of people in Lagos, which for example includes everything from people getting electricity to getting a meal on the table.

And so, it's very hard for people to connect, and I think that's what people are saying about the government. They also are finding it very hard to connect with what's happening up north. To give them credit, they say they have launched a search-and-rescue operation. They say they are doing everything to try and find these girls.

This area where these girls have been taken, John, it's the African bush, and it borders another country, Cameroon, and a further country, Chad. There are reports now from eyewitnesses on the ground that the girls may have been ferried into Cameroon, which would make it increasingly difficult for the military.

In addition to that, launching an offensive attack when you have hostages, as you know, John, that could lead to the death of those girls. So, very tricky situation for the president.

BERMAN: It is a dangerous situation. Vlad, just quickly, how are the families doing right now?

DUTHIERS: What we tried to do, John, in our reporting, since it is so difficult for us to get up there, because this is a Boko Haram stronghold, they are in agony. They are -- this story is simply about, you send your kid to school, just like parents do around the world, and then you wake up one morning and you're told that armed assailants carted your child away and you don't ever know if you're going to see them again. That's what this is about.

So, you don't need the pictures, you don't need the video, you don't need the sound bites. Just got to remember, for parents out there, for family members, if your child went missing in the dead of night, carted away to another country, perhaps, how would you feel? That's what we're talking about here, John. BERMAN: Vlad, thank you for your reporting on this story. It's what we all need to pay attention. I really appreciate your work on this. Vladimir Duthiers in Lagos this morning, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. This morning, an Irish political controversy's growing after Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was released from custody, following days in jail after being questioned over the 1972 murder of a suspected British informant named Jean McConville. British prosecutors are now reviewing potential evidence in the unsolved murder, but Adams denies he had anything to do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERRY ADAMS, SINN FEIN: Let me be very clear. I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs. McConville. I have worked hard with others to have this injustice redressed and for the return of the bodies of others killed during the conflict and secretly buried by the IRA. I will continue to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: The case has many worried it could reopen some old wounds and even jeopardize the power-sharing agreement that's been in place for 16 years.

BERMAN: This morning, Oscar Pistorius is back in a courtroom facing murder charges in the shooting death of his girlfriend. The case nearing its conclusion now with the defense, of course, arguing for innocence. We'll give you the latest twists and turns in this case, next.

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ROMANS: All right, after a two-week delay, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is back in session. The former Olympian's defense team trying to make the case that their client shot and killed his girlfriend last valentine's day by mistake.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is live for us this morning in Pretoria, South Africa.

Kelly, it seems that the defense has got a lot of work to do as it tries to counter Pistorius' own testimony. How are they doing?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so far, they've come out of the gates quite strong on the first day back. They've put Johan Stipp on the stand, who was the first person on the stand in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and therefore, has crucial evidence to share with the court. And so far, the evidence that he has given has substantially supported Pistorius' version of events.

Gerrie Nel has also begun his cross examination, and at the moment, he hasn't really managed to fundamentally shake Johan Stander from the essence of the testimony that he's delivered. So, so far, day one back a somewhat better day for the defense than when we last ended.

ROMANS: Do you expect the prosecution will be as thorough with these witnesses as it was with Pistorius?

PHELPS: Absolutely we expect that, because these witnesses that we'll see in the next two weeks are, in essence, the crux, the core of the defense case. Mr. Pistorius' testimony is, of course, in and of itself very important, but it will be considered by the judge in the context of the rest of the evidence and testimony put forward by the defense, and it is that principal context through which we can understand Mr. Pistorius' content -- sorry, testimony, that is occurring right now.

So, no doubt, Gerrie Nel will be as pedantic as detailed in cross- examining the following witnesses coming forward.

ROMANS: Kelly Phelps for us this morning in Pretoria -- thank you, Kelly.

BERMAN: Up next for us, her husband has been banned from the NBA, but Shelly Sterling says not so fast for me. We'll tell you what she's saying about the future of the Los Angeles Clippers, next.

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BERMAN: We're hearing now this morning from the wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, this as the NBA tries to force him to sell the team because of his racist comments. Shelly Sterling is making clear she's in it for the long haul.

Deborah Feyerick has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Shelly Sterling is not going away quietly. In a five-line statement Sterling released through her lawyers, she asserts her rights as a co-owner of the Clippers. She says she's been a co-owner of the team since 1981, and that since that time, she's wanted what is best for the team.

She also distances herself from her husband but maintains control at all times, saying that she spoke to the NBA commissioner, she supported his decisive action. She also agreed with him that they should find a new CEO, and she says, quote, "I welcome his active involvement in the search for a person of the utmost character, proven excellence and a commitment to promoting equality and inclusiveness." That line clearly designed to distance herself from her husband.

Now, the NBA has never had to deal with an issue like this. They have never forced someone to sell the team.

What Ms. Sterling is doing, essentially, is saying, look, take away his ownership, kick him off the board of governors, but this is our team, our property, and they're going to have to deal with it as such. A bold move, but this is a woman who has sued her husband's alleged girlfriend, saying she wanted to get back the gifts he'd given her because those gifts were community property and he didn't have the right to use their money to purchase those items. So, a bold move and it's one that could be a game-changer. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: There's a history of interesting legal action from that family, to say the least.

ROMANS: Yes. I think this is the first inning, to switch my sports metaphors.

BERMAN: You're switching metaphors, but I appreciate the effort.

ROMANS: Yes, the first inning.

All right. We're finding more this morning about what triggered a stampede after a boxing match in Las Vegas. Witnesses say they heard a gunshot after a Floyd Mayweather fight, but investigators say it was actually a partition that fell over, but the sound sent dozens of people scrambling to the MGM Grand. Twenty-four people were hospitalized after being trampled in the melee. Officials say most of the injuries were minor.

BERMAN: A new honor for former President George W. Bush -- that, of course, is George W. Bush, not George H.W. Bush -- nearly three decades after George H.W. Bush agreed to raise taxes, the JFK Library has given him its Courage Award. So, the decision that may have cost him the White House in his defeat to Bill Clinton, but the library says that President Bush made the right call, agreeing to put the country above party and politics. It says that he set the course for prosperity and budget surpluses in the '90s.

ROMANS: Interesting.

BERMAN: It's interesting. What's really interesting, I don't know if you remember Ted Kennedy at the convention in 1998 in Atlanta, doing his "where was George" chant. So, there's been some history of not- so-close relationships and attacks from the Kennedy family to the Bush family, but now an honor from the JFK Library to George H.W. Bush.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. The father of the person we showed you.

BERMAN: Exactly the father. But we just wanted to tell you about family relationships.

ROMANS: Happy Monday. A not so amazing opening weekend for "Spider- Man 2." The big budget superhero movie took in about $92 million in the U.S. and Canada this weekend. Sounds like a lot of money, but there were expectations that it would shatter records. Still, Sony Pictures thinks it will make back the initial $250 million investment, especially overseas, where results were much, much stronger. At least two more sequels currently in development.

BERMAN: The good news, though, is we had pictures of Spider-Man as opposed to Captain America, so it's a small victory.

ROMANS: It's Monday. Bear with us.

BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.

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