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Migrants Seek a Way through Croatia; U.S. Stocks Open Lower after Fed Decision on Rates; Pope Helped Foster Closer U.S.-Cuba Relations; Pope Begins Cuba Visit Saturday; FIFA's Number Two Man Suspended over Alleged Ticket Scheme; Wife Lobbies for Release of Imprisoned Saudi Blogger; Blankets of Smog Cover Southeast Asia; Aired 10-11 ET

Aired September 18, 2015 - 10:00:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hello, welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

Now we start the show with new obstacles and hardships for thousands of refugees and migrants trying to reach Western Europe. They're stuck in

virtual no man's land with no clear idea of where they'll go next.

And chaotic scenes have played out across Europe. Take a look at this.


CURNOW (voice-over): Anger boiled offer in a Croatian border town where some hoped to board a train or a bus to the capital, Zagreb. Croatia

started allowing refugees in from Serbia on Wednesday. But officials say the flood of new arrivals, 14,000 so far, quickly overwhelmed small towns.

The government closed seven border crossings with Serbia Thursday.

Refugees began diverting to Croatia after Hungary sealed off its borders and completed a fence on the Serbian border to keep people out.

Those who have made face another potential roadblock.

Slovenia appears ready to follow Hungary's lead and seal off its borders with Croatia.


CURNOW: For now the main goal of the people stuck at these border towns is to get out.

Ben Wedeman is on the Croatian side of the border with Serbia and he describes the miserable conditions faced by the refugees and migrants as

they want to leave.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hundreds of people are lined up in the burning heat of the afternoon here as they wait to

board buses, provided by the Croatian government to take them away from this town on the Serbia-Croatian border to the capital, Zagreb, and

elsewhere, where they have been told they'll be provided with shelter, food and water, all three things which are in dire short supply here.

Most of the people have been here overnight, if not two nights, sleeping in the rough. There are no public toilets, no public showers,

very little in the way of anything provided for them.

In fact, local shop keepers are telling us that they've run out of bottled water. It's all been bought up by the refugees.

Now, as they wait for these buses to come, they come occasionally, they have a capacity for perhaps 50-75 people. They're sitting out in the


And I spoke to one woman who had fainted because of this, was taken away by medics; while she was away, her 6-year-old son was boarded on a bus

and driven away. She doesn't have any idea where he may be.

Also there are others who say that as a result of this journey, which has already been expensive and difficult and much longer than they

anticipated, they've run out of resources, they've run out of money.

And this is the problem, this is a journey that's difficult as it is. But with this situation, where one country after another in Europe closes

its borders, Hungary's closed its borders, now Croatia has closed its borders, they find themselves moving from place to place with no indication

if they will ever reach their final destinations. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, on the Serbian-Croatian border.


CURNOW: OK. Thanks to Ben for that report.

But I want to talk more now about the migrants who are in Croatia. Let's go to Zagreb, where Drago Suparich (ph) is a research assistant at

the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies.

Thanks for joining us on the phone.

Two days ago Croatia welcomed the refugees. Now there seems to be a change of attitude.

Why the mixed messages?


Could you repeat it once more?

CURNOW: Why has Croatia sent out mixed messages about whether or not people are welcome?

SUPARICH (PH): Well, definitely it's a very complex question. But let me tell you there's basically not even Croatian government and

especially the -- all the services and the offices that are back there in terrain in East Slovenia, in Croatia, were prepared for the -- such a kind

of mass influxes.

Let me give you just information that in the last 48 hours, more than 40,000 (ph) of the refugees -- 14,000 of refugees actually arrived at the

Croatian border. So after the initial reception, when the Croatian government basically proclaimed that all of the capacities, reception

capacities are full, I think that they decided last night, basically to close the border just in order to ease this kind of the pressure of the

border. Even though the people are still entering the country from --


SUPARICH (PH): -- the eastern border and in that sense, they (INAUDIBLE), Zagreb to the capital and to some other cities and towns,

where the -- basically the shelters for those people, for the refugees, are being put.

So mixed messages, the first one, the first day what we saw the welcoming atmosphere, now it's strained to be a little bit more into the

rhetorical. You know, over bound by the refugees, what -- by the refugee base and we are not even sure how many of the accommodation facilities we

could still longer sustain.

But according to my opinion, I think that only the better coordination the terrain would solve this kind of problem. And that Croatia still do

have a capacity to accept more refugees.

CURNOW: Better coordination, this has been a journey well documented.

Do you think Croatia was ill prepared, Eastern Europe ill prepared to deal with this, that more should have been done?

What else does Croatia need, not just from Europe, but the outside world?

SUPARICH (PH): Well, yes. That's a good question. I mean, according to the other states in the region, we saw the situation in Hungary and but

here in Croatia, it's quite interesting that we actually -- we started our preparations basically a month ago or even so. But still, you know, some

of the people, for example, the officials, they actually developed lots of different scenarios.

Some of them maybe basically thought that the -- most of the refugee flow would turn to Romania and then from Romania trying to (INAUDIBLE) or

staying in territory.

There was some information in the immigration public that, according to the office for dealing with the crisis situation, we do still have

capacity to, let's say, accept almost 50,000 of people because of the -- and we would be able to provide them food, basic accommodation, drink of a

water, whatever.

But still the situation is that many of them -- majority of them don't wish to stay in Croatia. So you have a situation where those who are put

or placed in these shelters are even now trying to self-organize themselves and try to continue their journey further west to Slovenian borders as well

as to the south Hungarian borders.

And maybe, according to your question, what is the most basic need?

It would definitely be kind of humanitarian help as well as financial help to the Croatian government. I don't know whether it be from the

asylum refugee migration and immigration (INAUDIBLE). But what (INAUDIBLE) but still the capacities aren't so big and the needs are more and more to a

greater extent needed. And lots of different (INAUDIBLE) initiatives and humanitarian charity initiatives are being organized in order to help

refugees feed those who at the border itself or those who are already in the capital, those who are trying to trespass further on to Slovenia.

CURNOW: OK. Drago Suparich (ph), thank you so much for giving us your perspective from Croatia, underscoring the sheer scale and timing of

this exodus, just overwhelming countries like Croatia.

Well, I want to take you now to Wall Street. We're seeing the negative reactions to the U.S. central bank's decision on Thursday to leave

interest rates unchanged.

Our Maggie Lake is now live from New York with that.

Hi, there, Maggie.

Can you explain the numbers?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're seeing quite a sharp selloff, Robyn, even weaker than we expected early in the morning. If you

take a look, we're down over 200 points. We had been threatening with losses of almost 300 points just a short time ago. And basically investors

waking up, saying, gee, if the Federal Reserve, if Janet Yellen is worried about global growth slowdown in China and what that will mean for the U.S.

economy, we ought to be more worried about it, too.

That's why you're seeing the reaction. Before, when the Fed would leave interest rates unchanged, you would see maybe a relief rally and a

celebration that that cheap money was going to stay in place, maybe it would make its way to equities.

This time it's really about that global economy, what will that do to corporate profits.

I should point out that the data, when you look at the data for the U.S. economy right now, it is showing that the U.S. is looking like it's in

pretty good shape. So it's less about what's happening right now and more about what's happening down the line, seven years after the global

financial crisis, are we at risk for the global economy to slide back into recession?

Those are the worries that we are hearing from the trading floors today reflected in the Dow. Add on to that, that we are in a period --

once you start to see a wave of selling, it sometimes feeds on itself. That does not appear to be happening right now. We're going to --


LAKE: -- watch that closely, especially heading into a weekend, just how nervous are investors. So a negative mood here for this last trading

day of the week in the U.S. -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. Maggie Lake, as always, thanks much.

You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Ahead, more corruption allegations involving world football. The allegations that led to FIFA's number two

man being suspended.

And a wife's plea for her husband's freedom. We'll revisit the case of Saudi blogger sentenced to prison and flogging.

All that and more here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK.




CURNOW: Pope Francis will be heading to Cuba on Saturday and the Roman Catholic faith there are preparing for his arrival. Papal visits to

Cuba are rare. The Communist country was officially declared atheist and lasted as being atheist until 1992. But its people and the church have

always been close.


POPE FRANCIS (through translator): Dear brothers, there are a few days before my visit to Cuba. For this purpose, I want to send you a

brotherly greeting before we meet personally. I'm going to visit with you to share faith and hope with you so that we shall strengthen each other

mutually in following Jesus.


CURNOW: Words there from Pope Francis.

Well, Francis's trip comes amid a historic thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States. Our Patrick Oppmann has more from Havana.

Hi, there, Patrick. Tell us about those secret negotiations and specifically how the Vatican seemed to play a central role in all of it.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, more of a role than previously reported. Something out of a spy thriller, really, Robyn. But

let's just set the scene where we are, because it really is something incredible.

Right behind us there is the altar where Pope Francis on Sunday will deliver mass. We are in Havana's Plaze de la Revolution, Revolution

Square, a place where you usually can't film much less be live from. But already apparently the pope is working some small miracles here for us.

And let's go back to the months and months of secret negotiations, 18 months before the breakthrough occurred. We're hearing now that the pope

played a much greater role than previously reported.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of

pursuing the world as it should be.

OPPMANN (voice-over): On the day of the breakthrough in relations between Cuba and the United States, Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama

both paid homage to Pope Francis for his role in the landmark agreement.


OPPMANN (voice-over): Not mentioned was this man, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the pope's --


OPPMANN (voice-over): -- eyes and ears in Havana, who is at the center of parts of the secret diplomacy.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Ortega revealed that at the pope's first meeting with President Obama, Francis lobbied to change U.S. policy

towards Cuba. Obama surprised the pope by agreeing with him.

"The president's response was very clear," he says, "that these measures were all made before his birth and that he wished to change them.

This encouraged the pope and he made the important argument that would benefit the Cuban people, who had suffered under these measures."

The cardinal said the church was not directly involved in the negotiations but acted as a back channel to keep lines of communication

open between the Cold War adversaries and push for an agreement.

OPPMANN: One of those back channels, Ortega says, was how to arrange a prisoner swap between the two countries. Cuba wanted to exchange jailed

State Department contractor Alan Gross for three of their captured intelligence agents.

The United States wanted a better deal.

OPPMANN (voice-over): The cardinal thought he knew how to break the deadlock. He had received a letter from a man he had prayed with while

ministering to inmates in Cuban prison. His name was Rolando Sarraff, a Cuban intelligence official condemned to lengthy prison sentence for his

spying for the CIA.

"He wrote me as letter as someone who could be exchanged," Ortega says. "It was something separate from the pope's contribution. He wrote,

saying he could be traded."

At secret meetings at the Vatican and in Canada, where sources involved with the negotiations say, Cuba was represented by this man,

Colonel Alejandro Castro, Raul Castro's son.

The prisoner swap was struck. After the trade, U.S. officials called Sarraff one of the most valuable spies the Americans ever had in Cuba.

Having helped broker ties with the U.S., long strained relations between the church and state in Cuba were also improving.

"The desire that Raul Castro expressed toward the U.S. was that we can live with our differences," he says, "but in a civilized manner. That's

the desire that the church has also expressed to the government. The church is not the enemy."

A message of reconciliation and new beginnings that Pope Francis will bring with him when he arrives in Cuba.


OPPMANN: And Robyn, the question becomes now, does the pope continue his campaign to improve Cuban-U.S. relations? And the answer seems to be


One papal biographer told me that Pope Francis looks at the Florida straits as being the Berlin wall of his time, something a barrier to bring

down if he's going to be successful in bringing together a community, the Cuban people, that has been so long divided -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed. This is a pope who is not scared of sharing his opinion and getting involved, getting his hands dirty in global politics.

OPPMANN: Absolutely. And we were on hand yesterday when, for the first time, he talked live with five Cuban students. And it was

fascinating. He talked about leadership.

And he said that a leader is somebody who instills leadership qualities in other people and that a tyrant is someone who holds on to

leadership just for themselves, interesting comments on the eve of his visit to Cuba -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed. Great reporting there. Thanks so much, Patrick Oppmann in Havana, thank you.

Back now to the story that we've been covering on Cuba. I want to bring us and have a conversation with Ann Louise Bardash. She is a Cuba


And I must say, I'm a bit of a fan, I've been reading all your books, fascinating stuff. Just give me some sense -- I don't know if you heard

some of Patrick's report there, but this relationship between Fidel Castro -- the Castros in general, Fidel chased the church off the island, banned



CURNOW: -- to get over here.

ANN LOUISE BARDASH, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Yes, indeed. But it's even more interesting than that because the -- Fidel and Raul Castro were

raised by a family that had some money but were not an educated family. They were a farm family and they worked very hard and they lived in

Oriente, the eastern side of Cuba.

But the mother had great aspirations for her sons and she sent all the sons to Jesuit schools because Jesuit schools were known in Cuba as the

best schools. And she knew if her sons had this education, they would be more likely to succeed.

Fidel Castro really took to his Jesuit education and became very, very close to a priest when he was quite young, named Father Llorente. Raul

Castro was not an intellectual at that time and he could barely get through some of these schools and eventually dropped out of Belen.

And when they took power, though --


BARDASH: -- and they declared it a communist state, well, God was banned basically. And the Communist Party, as part of its charter, was an

atheist country. And this was part of the charter.

And in fact, the church was viewed quite suspiciously by the Castro brothers. And soon enough priests were arrested. In fact, most

interestingly, the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega, was arrested during the sweeps of the 1960s to root out dissidents, homosexuals and Catholic

priests and other Masons.

And he actually did 10 months in a very unpleasant work camp. And so he knows firsthand what it's like to be on the wrong hand of the Cuban


But now we have, 50 years later, Jaime Ortega's evolution as a power broker because he played a very important role in bringing Francis in and

allowing the Vatican to play a very important role in the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba.

CURNOW: What does this tell us about Raul Castro in particular?

His son, as our correspondent mentioned, was involved in these negotiations. This is now not about being particularly holy. The Castros,

and Raul in particular, being more pragmatic.

BARDASH: That's exactly right. I think they came to a realization somewhere in the '90s, what was called "the special period" that we are

unable to eradicate Catholicism.

Now people may want to know, why would they want to do this in a deeply Catholic country?

Well, because the Castros, as they tightened their grip on power, realized that groups of people together could pose a problem. And

therefore the only group that was allowed to have large congregations was the Cuban Communist Party. They became very wary of what priests would be

telling congregants.

And not without some cause; the dissident movement in Cuba has always been embraced around the church. Oswaldo Paya, who started the Varela

Project -- the Varela Project is named for a very famous Cuban priest, Felix Varela.

And the ladies in white, what do they do, this dissident group?

Every Sunday they walk down 5th Avenue, dressed in white, silently holding white flowers and they walk into a church to demonstrate their

distress over all the political prisoners, of their relatives that are in jail.


CURNOW: Sorry.

My question is, what then does this new rapprochement mean for Cuba?

Because how will this government deal with a more active, a more open, more present Catholic Church?

BARDASH: Well, they're moving slowly. Everything about this negotiation, whether it's with the U.S. and with the church, has been

slowly. The Cubans are ferocious negotiators. They do not give up points easily.

Now remember, the church is coming to Cuba with an agenda. A lot of church property was confiscated by the Cubans -- important Catholic

schools, cathedrals, major sites that were church property were made into, say, military barracks in one case.

The church, to this day, is not allowed any Catholic schools on the island, they're not allowed a TV station or a radio station. All the

privileges that the church has, in most other countries, they do not have. And so they have an agenda, let us back in, let us have our property.

Same as the U.S. agenda, we want to reclaim the property you confiscated.

But the Castro brothers also realize they're not going to get very far if they don't embrace the church, so they're in this for practical reasons.

And also this makes them look good. This is a very popular pope.

And remember, this is the first Jesuit pope and as Raul Castro said to him when they met, you know, I, too, am a Jesuit, because he went to

Jesuit schools. And he said, I like what this pope is saying.

You know, a lot of people say the pope is talking what used to be called liberation theology. Well, one could argue -- again, he's pointed

out the problems he has with capitalism but he's also very pointedly talked about the problems with socialism and Communism and how it eclipses the

spiritual part of man. He wrote --


BARDASH: -- a very interesting book about his impressions. And this is -- so this is going to be an interesting tango.

Now, we also know that Pope Francis has made a request -- or the Vatican did -- for him to meet with Fidel Castro. Everybody wants to meet

the movie star dictator.


BARDASH: The response, however, was, we'll put it in our books but pencil it in because we do not know if he'll have the health to actually do

this. We can't guarantee how he will feel after the mass.

But after John Paul's mass in 1998, where I was there, the Castro family, all of them, all the surviving siblings had private audiences with

John Paul. And several members of that family have remained devout Catholic. Fidel and Raul's older brother, Mongo; the sister, Agustina.

So it's quite an interesting story because members of that family have never forsaken their faith --


CURNOW: -- ties with the Vatican, despite the fact that the Castros essentially banned the church.

Lots to talk about. You've also written a great article on "Politico," which I urge our viewers to go and read because it really

breaks down this relationship between the Vatican and the Castro government.

Ann Louise Bardash, thank you so much for joining us here at CNN. Appreciate it.

BARDASH: My pleasure.

CURNOW: We'll be back after this break. You're watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK.




CURNOW: More trouble for FIFA. Their number two man is suspended. He's accused of profiting from a scheme to sell World Cup tickets on the

black market. This comes on the heels of nine top FIFA officials being indicted on corruption charges in the U.S.

CNN "WORLD SPORT" anchor Amanda Davies joins us now from London with more on this.

This is particularly interesting because Jerome Valcke s always seemed to stay above the fray.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Robyn. There were the allegations surrounding Jerome Valcke into his alleged role in that alleged

bribe that was paid from the South Africans to CONCACAF vice president Jack Warner around the 2010 World Cup allegations that Jerome Valcke, Sepp

Blatter's number two, as you said, the general secretary, very strongly denied when the initial raft of corruption allegations came out around that

explosive FIFA Congress that we saw at the end of May and then everything that followed into June.

But what is interesting about this case is that these are allegations that have been made by a former footballer turned consultant. They

specifically talk about Jerome Valcke and his alleged role in this ticket scam.

Valcke himself absolutely vehemently denies these allegations. They are in no way connected to the two legal cases that are ongoing at the

moment, the one being conducted in Switzerland; the other, of course, being conducted by the United States federal police into the wrongdoing and

corruption within world football's --


DAVIES: -- governing body. FIFA has itself taken the decision to stand up and suspend Jerome Valcke with immediate effect. They've removed

him from any of their duties. A lot of people saying that whilst FIFA has had a lot of mud slung at it in recent times, this perhaps is a sign that

they really are trying to step up, be seen to be doing the right thing, to be leading the reforms forward.

There's obviously a vested interest from the current FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, he's made it his mission to try and recover some kind of

credibility in his remaining couple of months in charge before that election, where he'll step aside in February.

But there is also the added pressure here, the FBI case led by the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who we saw in FIFA's own back yard in

Zurich just earlier this week, threatening of a further wave involving arrests in these FIFA corruption cases.

They're very much putting pressure on world football's governing body to be seen to be doing the right thing, to be taking action.

And then if further action is taken by the FBI, perhaps they will be dealt with more leniently.

CURNOW: OK. It is all complicated. Many people saying the beautiful game has been ruined. But indeed, you're going to have lots more on all of

this in 'WORLD SPORT" coming up in just a few minutes.

Also we'll have Alex Thomas live from the rugby World Cup. We'll be back after this break.




CURNOW: Welcome back to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here's a check of the headlines.


CURNOW: Chaotic scenes in a Croatian border town as refugees and migrants try to board buses to leave. Some have spent up to two nights

without shelter or toilets; 14,000 arrived in Croatia after it opened border crossings with Serbia on Wednesday. The government has since closed

seven of those crossings.

Cuba's Roman Catholics are preparing for the arrival of Pope Francis on Saturday. Here you see musicians rehearsing for the papal mass, which

will take place in Revolution Square on Sunday.

His visit comes amid a historic thaw in relations between Communist Cuba and the U.S.

Heavily armed Taliban militants raided an Air Force base in Pakistan's northwest on Friday. They killed 16 people --


-- who were praying inside a mosque on that base. Pakistani security forces returned fire, killing 14 militants.


CURNOW: We're now going to revisit the story of a Saudi blogger who has been in prison for nearly four years. His crime: criticizing powerful

Saudi leaders on his website.


CURNOW (voice-over): For that, Raif Badawi was fined and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. You're about to see what a 50-lash

flogging looks like. It's disturbing to watch but important for the context of this story.


CURNOW: Now this happened to Badawi back in January; the rest of the lashes have been delayed. But could resume at any time.


CURNOW: Badawi's wife has been in Washington this week, lobbying U.S. government officials to get more involved in the case.

I got the chance to speak to her about her efforts and her husband's situation. I started off asking how he was doing and as you'll hear, we

had the help of a translator.


ENSAF HAIDAR, RAIF BADAWI'S WIFE (through translator): His physical health is very bad. His mental health is not good, either. He has been

away from his kids for four years and he has not been able to see them. They are growing up away from him.

His health is really bad. He is suffering from high blood pressure and the food he receives is awful.

CURNOW: You've spoken to him on the phone, I understand.

Has he described what it was like being flogged in that square?

What does he say?

HAIDAR (through translator): Raif does not speak to me about his situation or about the lashings or scars. But, of course, I'm his wife. I

understand from his voice he's not doing well. He received 50 lashes in a public square. His health is really bad and he's suffering from physical

pain and mental anguish.

CURNOW: So what is your message, what is his message?

Why are you in Washington?

What are you trying to achieve?

HAIDAR (through translator): My message to Washington and the whole world is to support Raif's case and to demand his release because, overall,

Raif is a peaceful man. He did nothing but express his opinion in a peaceful way, in a different way. I hope governments from around the world

intervene in his case.

CURNOW: Prince Charles, John Kerry, the Canadian government, in various ways, either personally or diplomatically, have spoken out or

spoken for your husband.

If they haven't been successful, what more can be done?

What are you suggesting?

What are you asking for in Washington?

HAIDAR (through translator): Honestly, I really want to thank them all and I'm happy to be here in Washington but I'm still asking them to

support Raif and demand his release.

CURNOW: Are you hopeful?

Do you think you'll see him again in the next 10 years?

That's the sentence he was given.

HAIDAR (through translator): Of course I have hope. I have never lost hope. Raif did nothing wrong. He is man of peace. So there's

nothing that would let them think otherwise.

I have hope every day that he will be freed soon.

CURNOW: You've had these conversations with your husband, you've got three children.

What has been the most emotional or the most distressing part of all of this for you?

HAIDAR (through translator): Our life has completely changed. My kids have been waiting for their father for more than four years. Every

day they ask me the same question. They need their father both in the sad and happy moments. Even though they are speaking to their father over the

phone twice a week, they need him around. They need to hug him and touch him.


CURNOW: All right. Badawi's sentence and flogging ignited an international outcry. The Amnesty International human rights group has

called on Saudi authorities to overturn his conviction and release him immediately.

The group also want the U.S. to take action.


SURJEEV BERY (PH), AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: It's time for the U.S. government to take a step forward and move beyond simply looking at the

Saudi government as a geopolitical ally in a regional game of chess.

The people of Saudi Arabia need to know that allies of the Saudi Arabian government are standing up for human rights inside Saudi Arabia.

Far too many people are sitting in jail cells in Saudi Arabia for doing nothing wrong, simply for peacefully engaging in their basic human rights,

freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of thought. Raif Badawi is a blogger is one of many who are sitting in jail today and they all

deserve to see the light of freedom.


CURNOW: Well, CNN has made repeated attempts to reach the Saudi Arabian justice ministry for comment but we've never gotten a response.

Coming up, the annual land burning continues in Sumatra, breaking the law and coverage Southeast Asia in smog. We'll have more on how the region

is dealing with the environmental health risks.





CURNOW: Seven executives have been arrested in Indonesia in connection to the fires that are plaguing Southeast Asia. The companies

are accused of burning land to clear it for new crops. Those agricultural fires are banned by the government because they create thick smog, posing

serious health risks.

Hospitals have been inundated with people complaining of chest pains and trouble breathing. People have been told to stay indoors; 2,000

schools have been closed across Indonesia and Malaysia, sending 1.5 million students home.

The Chinese dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, is in London and hanging out with the founder of WikiLeaks. Ai had posted this selfie on Instagram

after he visited Julian Assange. The two men posed with their middle fingers raised. We've blurred that bit out.

The artist has only recently been allowed to leave China following a four-year travel ban. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy

in London since 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face rape allegations.

Well, that does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Don't go away. "WORLD SPORT" with Amanda Davies is up next.