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EARLY START

Boko Haram: Kidnapped Girls for Sale; Intense Fighting in Ukraine; Circus Collapse Investigation; Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial

Aired May 6, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: al Qaeda-linked terrorists threatening to sell hundreds of kidnapped girls. The threats made in a terrifying new video. Now, the FBI offering to help bring these girls back. We are live in Nigeria with the latest this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Unrest in Ukraine intensifies this hour as the death toll rises in bloody fights between soldiers and pro- Russian protesters, this as diplomats from Ukraine and Russia prepare to meet in Vienna. Is civil war imminent or can this crisis be solved? We're live on the ground with what's happening right now.

BERMAN: And the show must go on. Ringling Brothers preparing its new performance as we learn what caused eight acrobats dangling 25 feet in the air to plummet to the ground.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, May 6th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East. Thanks for joining us this morning.

We begin with the disturbing, new developments in Nigeria, where armed terrorists are now threatening to sell more than 200 young girls they kidnapped from a school. It's been nearly a month since those girls were taken at gunpoint, loaded into trucks and driven into the African bush. The U.S. is now sharing intelligence with Nigeria, and with international pressure growing, here's new urgency to find these girls and free them.

Vladimir Duthiers is live in Lagos, Nigeria, for us this morning with the latest.

Vlad, let's start with this video from Boko Haram. How serious is the world taking what this leader has said about selling these girls? I mean, outrageous under any, any social norm, what this man is saying he's going to do.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine.

The world is taking it very seriously. Boko Haram was designated a terrorist organization by the United States back last year in November. This is a group that since 2009 has killed thousands of people, and it's not just Christians. They've targeted mosques, they've killed Muslims, they've killed women, they've killed children, they've blown up police barracks and government buildings. They've attacked the United Nations compound in Abuja in 2011, 20 people died during that attack.

This is a very serious threat. The fact that this supposed leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau in this video says that he will sell these girls in the market because in his distorted view of Islam, Allah's will, is terrifying. And right now, I can tell you the parents in Chibok, where this incident took place, are -- their worst fears have been realized, Christine.

ROMANS: Can't imagine what the parents are going through, and I know some of them have been concerned about even sharing pictures of their children with authorities because they're worried then about potential retaliation, their child being singled out in captivity.

The U.S. is pledging support, maybe possibly sending in the FBI to help.

How is Nigeria responding to the U.S. offer for support?

DUTHIERS: Well, in a speech to the nation several nights ago, President Goodluck Jonathan welcomed any kind of support that he could receive from the international community. He said he was reaching out to the United States. He said that he had reached out to neighboring countries, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, all in an effort to try to bring these girls home. He sounded confident in saying that he would bring them home, but he also admittedly said he didn't know where they were, Christine.

ROMANS: Unbelievable. All right, we'll continue to follow that.

Thank you very much, Vladimir.

BERMAN: It's strange. The president's wife there in Nigeria also ordering the arrest of several people who are arguing on behalf of the kidnapped students. A little bit strange, the government response there so far. We're hoping they can step up and take it as seriously as possible.

Moving now to Ukraine, where the government this morning is stepping up its efforts to force pro-Russian militants out of Slaviansk. Intense fighting in that city so far has left at least four people dead, many more injured. A government helicopter was shot down, and the streets right now a war zone.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live just outside Slaviansk with the latest.

Nick, give us a sense of the situation there this morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's calm so far this morning, John, but yes, it was the most violent, I think, we've seen in terms of clashes between Russian militants and Ukrainian forces since the town was initially surrounded. As you said, the army tried to move in down the main highway, came in and clashed with pro-Russian militants. Suggestions from the interior minister that dozens, potentially, of pro-Russian militants lost their lives. We saw one. It looked like he was probably dead, and certainly, the Ukrainians say they lost four of their own soldiers.

So, today also heightened tensions because Donetsk airport, the main city of the region where I'm standing, has been closed for the foreseeable future. No reason given. That feeds into the broader tension here that something is afoot. We have May 11th as the referendum that pro-Russian militants and protesters want to hold a vote on this region, effectively whether it becomes part of Russia or stays in Ukraine. I think seeing air space closed over this region by the Ukrainian authorities perhaps suggests they fear something more serious is coming -- John.

BERMAN: Nick, have Ukrainians effectively been able to move in and secure areas? Because for some time, you know, they were trying to take back some of these buildings, some of these cities that had fallen to pro-Russian sources to no avail. But now, it seems they're having more success or resolve in their efforts.

WALSH: It's very mixed results, if you can call it success at all. What we saw yesterday were clashes in the outskirts of town. They killed one innocent female bystander, possibly a stray bullet there. We saw her husband bring her into the hospital distraught, but really, no actual penetration into the city center at all. That's still very tightly held by pro-Russian militants.

And what it does is make the population get more angry. I mean, there are some aren't happy about what's going on, but a lot of them are, and that emboldens them, a lot of them manning posts out of fallen trees and things all over the road. We've seen the Ukrainian military go into a town, get into a fight with pro-Russian militants and then in Kramatorsk, a few days ago, south of where I'm standing, leave.

The interior minister claims they've taken key buildings, but they simply weren't there. So, a mixed response by the Ukrainian army. They have little combat, they have little counterinsurgency experience, and they're taking on this extraordinary difficult task of a lot of local hostility too backing up these pro-Russian militants, John.

BERMAN: Thanks for clearing that up, Nick, because the Ukrainian forces, even though they may be stirring things up, or at least going to meet the pro-Russian militants, as you say, having almost no success at all.

Nick Paton Walsh in Slaviansk -- appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. A major ruling from the Supreme Court on the rule of religion in private life. In a 5-4 decision, the justice said it is OK for towns to start board meetings with sectarian prayers. Two New York state residents argued their town was violating the first amendment because opening prayers were almost all Christian. The court disagreed, saying the prayers were ceremonial. Critics say their ruling sets apart -- minorities say it sets them apart as second-class citizens.

BERMAN: Happening today: the White House is set to release a key report on climate change, expected to show the impact the changing environment is having on Americans' daily lives. This has been in the works for years and will build on a draft first made public last year. Its authors say the weather extremes we've seen this year and last are some evidence that the country must take action before it's too late.

ROMANS: We could find out more today about the inner workings of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration. A former aide is set to testify this morning before a legislative committee investigating the bridgegate scandal. Christina Renna was Christie's director of government affairs, and worked closely with Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who wrote the e-mail believed to have triggered the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

BERMAN: New developments this morning in the investigation into the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other State Department employees in Benghazi. House Speaker John Boehner has chosen South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor and prominent critic of the Obama administration, to head up the House Select Committee, looking into whether the administration tried to cover up what happened in Benghazi.

Democrats say they have not received any details yet about the committee. They're pushing for a no vote on forming one and they're weighing options about even joining that committee when it is formed.

ROMANS: All right. New details this morning of just what Americans think of Donald Sterling and the future of his NBA team, the Los Angeles Clippers.

A new CNN/ORC poll finds the public split over whether Sterling should be forced to sell after being banned by the league for his racist comments. While 47 percent of the public supports a forced sale, 50 percent are against it. Those numbers change when you look at NBA fans. 60 percent of NBA fans say he should be forced to sell. Only 41 percent of non-NBA fans agree.

BERMAN: As for the Clippers themselves, they may have been distracted at first by the sterling scandal, but it doesn't seem like it anymore.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: They are on an incredible roll. There's Chris Paul, hitting one of his eight 3-pointers as the L.A. Clippers routed the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of the Western Conference Final, and that's being kind. The final was 122-105.

Chris Paul was just on fire! His eight 3-pointers one shy of a playoff record. He had 32 points.

The good news for the Thunder, they get to play again tomorrow night in Oklahoma City.

ROMANS: Look how much fun someone had writing her banner. BERMAN: That's pretty good.

ROMANS: I love it!

BERMAN: Well done.

ROMANS: Love it!

All right. Happening today: Ringling Brothers Circus arrives in the city of its next performance as investigators reveal what caused a human chandelier of acrobats to suddenly plummet to the ground.

BERMAN: And neighbors coming to Oscar Pistorius' defense. The Olympic athlete is accused of murdering his model girlfriend. The trial is happening right now. We'll take you live to South Africa with the latest right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Happening today, the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus heads for Hartford, Connecticut, and is promising a very close inspection and changes to the aerial apparatus that failed, leaving nine performers injured. Investigators now say it was a single metal clamp that broke, causing that accident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The apparatus was attached to a cable which then fed back to wench machine located on the floor. So, you can imagine it goes from the floor up to the rafters at the top and then comes down, grabs the chandelier apparatus that the performers are hanging from. It was a single piece of equipment that failed.

REPORTER: It snapped? The metal itself or --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It did, it snapped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The circus says it will replace all of those metal clamps before the next show on Thursday. Good thing, too. Eight of the performers remain hospitalized, two in critical condition, but the circus says none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening, which is good news.

ROMANS: The FAA says last week's air traffic control problem in Los Angeles that canceled 50 flights and delayed more than 450 was caused by a U2 spy plane. The U2 typically flies about twice as high as commercial airliners, but the computer misinterpreted the plane's flight path as much lower, causing it to overload. The agency says no flights were in danger and the problem has been corrected.

BERMAN: Blame the U2 spy planes. It's like an "X-Files" episode.

All right. We have an incredible scene to show you outside of Denver. A single-engine plane with an advertising banner crashed into a home and burst into flames. The pilot escaped with just minor injuries, and miraculously, no one was inside the home at the time. The owner of the plane said the engine lost power, but the cause not immediately known.

ROMANS: Fire crews in Oklahoma think they may have the upper hand now on a huge blaze north of Oklahoma City. The fire in Logan County left one person dead, damaged at least 30 structures and charred more than 3,000 acres. Dozens of firefighters were hurt battling this one, but it's now at least 75 percent contained.

The World Health Organization has declared a global emergency for a disease once nearly eradicated. Warning, a 25-year campaign to end polio will be lost without quick action. This paralyzing virus is making a crippling comeback in Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon and has spread to neighboring countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. The declaration recommends travel restrictions, including vaccination requirements on these three countries.

BERMAN: Happening right now at the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa, the defense again presenting its witnesses as it tries to make the case that the Olympic star shot and killed his girlfriend by accident. Two neighbors have already testified that Pistorius seemed frantic and was screaming for help. Question is, is that enough to overcome Pistorius' own testimony, the own heated exchanges with prosecution about what happened that night?

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is at the courthouse in Pretoria.

Kelly, give us a sense of who's on the stand right now and what the defense is trying to do today.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we have a very important witness on the stand at the moment. That is the immediate neighbor right next door to Mr. Pistorius' house.

And he has testified that in the early hours of that morning, he heard a man desperately crying for help. And we know that this contradicts the state's earlier neighbor witnesses who claim that they heard a woman screaming for help. And this is pivotal evidence in the state's case, because they have revolved their entire claim of intention to kill around the allegation that Reeva Steenkamp was screaming for her life, and therefore, Oscar must have known that it was her that he was shooting. And this neighbor now, who was very close to Oscar Pistorius' house, much closer than the previous neighbors who had been on the stand, is claiming that there was no woman screaming, it was a man screaming.

BERMAN: Give me a sense of Oscar Pistorius himself today, because for the first few weeks of the trial, we saw him break down repeatedly, extremely emotional. What's been his reaction today, yesterday, as court has resumed?

PHELPS: Today, he's been far more calm and composed. Yesterday, however, when we had the two first people on the scene in the immediate aftermath from the killing, we saw him become much more emotional again. He dropped his head into his lap and he covered his ears with his hands as he's done on a number of occasions.

And that corresponds with his responses in earlier parts of the trial, because the immediate responders yesterday were speaking about the graphic detail, the gory blood that they saw, and it had been when the testimony has moved to more graphic parts that Mr. Pistorius has tended to become less stable and more emotional, and we did see that continue yesterday in court.

BERMAN: Keep your eye on it for us, Kelly. We'll check back in a little bit.

Kelly Phelps in Pretoria. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. A new phase about to begin in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. In just hours, experts set to regroup and re-evaluate every piece of evidence they have in the plane's disappearance. What can they expect? We are live in Malaysia with the very latest on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back.

This morning, top officials from Australia, Malaysia and China are preparing for a critical meeting over the next phase in the search for Flight 370. They'll gather in Australia's capital to map out just what they know and what they still need to know about the missing jet so they can find it.

Will Ripley live in Kuala Lumpur with more on this meeting.

Really evaluating every piece of evidence, every big, outstanding question, and trying to reboot this investigation, Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, reboot is a great way to put it, because you know, it's Tuesday evening right now in Canberra, Australia. Wednesday morning, these meetings begin, and we're going to see two things happening, basically, simultaneously. We're going to see the team of experts, some of whom were right here in Kuala Lumpur in the initial days and weeks after the plane disappeared. They're going to be in Canberra going over the data, as you said, scouring over all of the information that's been collected thus far.

Obviously, more than eight weeks in, they now know more than they did even when they did their initial calculations based on the satellite handshakes, and then when they detected those possible pings under water. They're going to be looking at all of that just to be sure that they still feel they're looking in the right place. And then at the same time, they're also going to be discussing what resources they will be able to bring in to conduct this massive underwater search.

The Bluefin-21 has mapped out only about 154 square miles. They need to scan 23,000 square miles in the southern Indian Ocean, so they're going to be bringing in towed pinger locator devices with -- not towed pinger locator, I should say, towed side scan sonar devices. So, these are devices that will be dragged behind the ship and map out the ocean floor. Those can cover a bigger area in a shorter amount of time.

They'll also have submersibles similar to the Bluefin-21 working in certain areas, so lots to work out and lots to plan, Christine.

ROMANS: Lots to plan and lots to re-evaluate here two weeks in.

Will Ripley for us in Kuala Lumpur -- thanks, Will.

BERMAN: A big symbolic boost for the Syrian opposition coalition. The White House bumping its offices in Washington up to foreign administration status. This comes as the administration asked for Congress of an additional $27 million in nonlethal aid, bringing the total to $287 million. The new designation gives the group new privileges in the United States but falls well short of recognizing the coalition as an actual government.

ROMANS: Egypt's presidential front-runner says the Muslim Brotherhood is finished. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is accusing the Brotherhood of plotting to assassinate him and says Egyptians do not want the party behind ousted President Mohamed Morsy in politics anymore. The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful activism.

BERMAN: In South Korea, the search for the missing on a sunken ferry has cost a diver his life. Authorities say the man was on his first dive when he lost contact to shore and was pulled unconscious from the water. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. Right now, the death toll from the ship stands at 263 people have died, 39 people on board when it capsized are still missing.

This just goes to show how dangerous these missions are. We have people saying why don't you put more divers in the water, why did you send more help? Well, you have to be careful. It is a risky business.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right. This morning, a desperate search to find hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorists. We are live with the very latest on that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Happening now, a desperate search for hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Terrorists on tape threatening to sell them to the highest bidder. The U.S. now offering to help, but can anyone find these girls and bring them home before it is too late? We are live in Nigeria with the latest developments.

BERMAN: More deadly fighting in the streets of Ukraine. This morning, soldiers battling pro-Russian separatists, pushing this country to the brink.

We are live on the ground with what's happening right now.

ROMANS: And new information this morning on just what caused a circus stunt to go horribly wrong. What investigators this morning are revealing.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.