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Death Toll in Brussels Attacks Rises to 35; Inside the Abdeslam Brothers' Inner Circle; Syrian Government Recaptures Palmyra from ISIS; Trump & Cruz on the Attack; China Detains Writers' Families over Critical Letter; Power Struggle in South China Sea; Easter Attack on Pakistani Christians. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 28, 2016 - 10:00   ET




LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ahead at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, new video of the third airport attacker in Brussels.

The death toll rises in the Pakistan bombing.

And Donald Trump says NATO is obsolete.


KINKADE: Hello and welcome, I'm Lynda Kinkade. We start with the terror attacks in Brussels. An increasing death toll, new arrests in Belgium and

beyond and a massive hunt for more suspects.

Belgium officials now say 35 people were killed in the attacks at the Brussels airport and a metro station. Four of the injured who died in

hospitals were added to the toll today.

For the first time, there's video of the so-called man in the hat, the third suspect seen at the Brussels airport before the bombs exploded last


CNN's Alexandra Field is tracking the developments for us from Brussels.

And Alexandra, more raids were carried out on Sunday, another three people charged with terrorist activity.

What can you tell us about them?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The manhunt obviously continues in all earnest across this city and beyond. That's why you have got these

significant developments like this video we are seeing for the first time of the man in the hat, one of the three suspected bombers at the airport.

We know that two of the suspected bombers died in the attack but this is the man who police had been looking for, the man that police were not able

to immediately identify. We had seen this still picture in the airport terminal of the three men together. But now we see this moving video of

the man in the hat, walking through the airport shortly before those two bombs detonated inside.

It was nearly a week ago and since then this city has seen just a number of raids happening really at all times. We've been told by authorities that

they need to have their police force, their security forces ready to go, ready to mobilize at all times as they continue to try and ferret out

anyone who was connected to this attack, anyone who had knowledge of it or anyone who could be plotting other attacks.

And, Lynda, to that end, we did see some developments over the weekend. We know that police carried out at least 13 raids just yesterday. They

brought nine people into custody for questioning. We now have learned that at least three of those people have been charged. Those charges are

related to terrorism but no details on what exactly the charges are or what type of plot those charges could be related to.

But police certainly continuing to do the work of carrying out these raids and trying to find out if they can identify anyone else with connections to

additional terror plots, Lynda.

We also know that French police made some headway with their investigation into terror-related activities this weekend, contacting Dutch police, who

took a Frenchman under arrest and also charged him with some kind of suspected involvement again in terror-related activities.

KINKADE: And Alexandra, looking at the victims, we know the death toll now has been revised to 35. Several more people have died from their injuries.

FIELD: Right. The grieving just continues here. And it's why in the Place de la Bourse behind me, this place that has become the memorial site

over the last week, you continue to see people filling in. Even this morning, nearly a week after the attacks, initially we understood that 31

people had been killed at the airport and at the metro station.

And now the death toll rises to 35, with four more people succumbing to the injuries from those bombings at hospitals over the weekend. It's

heartbreaking news. And it's the kind of fear that everyone holds, that some of the people who remain hospitalized will not recover.

As of the weekend, officials told us that 100 people remained hospitalized. More than 60 of them were in intensive care units. So this remains a

critical situation for so many survivors and so many of their family members who are really hoping, wishing, praying for the best at this point.

We are learning more about those who were killed. We now know that at least four Americans were killed in the attacks, Stephanie and Justin

Shults, a 29- and 30-year-old American couple, who had been living in Brussels. They had dropped off Stephanie's mother at the airport shortly

before the bombs detonated.

We're also being told that two other Americans were killed in the attack. They have not been publicly identified and authorities say that there are

still bodies of victims that they have not been able to identify at this point, Lynda. So more families bracing for the worst possible news.

KINKADE: OK, Alexandra Field for us, thank you for keeping us up to date with those developments.

And we are learning more about the man inside the alleged terror cell responsible for last year's Paris attacks, including Brahim and Salah

Abdeslam. Two friends in their social circle talked exclusively to CNN about the brothers' lives before the attacks and before they were

radicalized. Nina dos Santos has this exclusive report.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR (voice-over): This was life before ISIS.


DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Salah Abdeslam and his brother, Brahim, partying at a high-end nightclub in Brussels. The French rapper Lakim (ph) on

stage, it's February the 8th, 2015.

Just months later Brahim would blow himself up at a Paris cafe. Salah becomes Europe's most wanted man.

Two of their friends shot the video in the club. They talked to CNN on the condition we hide their identities. They can't understand what happened to

the brothers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't think things snapped in one go. It must have been little by little. They were nice people. They

had a lot of fun. They loved life.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): They remember two very different men.

DOS SANTOS: (Speaking foreign language)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Salah took care of himself. He was very neat, someone who was funny, who you could have a laugh with, a

bit of a ladies' man. It wasn't unusual for him to have a drink or two. But he didn't go out and get drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Brahim was a lot more intelligent. He was also better behaved.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Karim (ph) and Rashid (ph) speaking under assumed names, say that they first began hanging out with the Abdeslam brothers in

2011, when they took on beliefs (ph) to this bar, La Beguine (ph), which is now shut following a police raid. They say they came here to drink, to

play cards, to smoke marijuana and also to watch the brothers' favorite football team, Real Madrid, play on the TV.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Things could get boisterous. Here Brahim cheers on some drunken antics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I used to go there after work to have a drink and have a laugh with friends and play cards, anything that

involves betting with money really. It was a fun atmosphere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Basically you felt at home, among family.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Also among that family, Hamza Attou and Mohammed Amri, seen here in Rashid's (ph) photos. They were detained after driving

Salah back from Paris following the attacks and remain in custody. The friends say they were duped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was with Hamza Attou around 10:30 or 11:00 pm, he received a phone call from Salah, asking him to come

and pick him up in France because his car had broken down. He said he would cover the gas and the motorway tolls and that he'd give him some

money for the job.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Another of the Paris suicide bombers, Sheki Bakou (ph), went to school with Karim (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Oh, he was very happy, very funny, very well educated. I lost sight of him in 2012. I heard he was in Syria.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): The Abdeslam brothers changed, too. Not long after this party, they stopped drinking and became more religious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They prayed more at the mosque maybe only on Fridays; otherwise, it was praying at home.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Praying and plotting. No one, even their closest friends, knows why the Abdeslam brothers changed so much so quickly. And

that is the most frightening part of the story. I asked Rashid (ph) how this could happen.

He simply says he doesn't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Brahim got on with everyone. He didn't have any problems with black or white, from whatever race or


DOS SANTOS (voice-over): He didn't until this.


KINKADE: And our Nina dos Santos joins us now live from Brussels.

Nina, some great reporting there, incredible insight.

Do you know if authorities have interviewed these men?

DOS SANTOS: I'm glad you asked me that, Lynda. We're talking about two individuals who knew no fewer than six people implicated in the Paris

terror attacks, one suspect, Mohamed Abrini, still remains on the loose at the moment. He's accused of driving Salah Abdeslam back and forth to

France before the Paris terror attacks.

And as you could see inside that piece, no fewer than two suicide bombers were part of this circle of inner friends. These two individuals say that

they have not been contacted by the police, despite the fact that one of them has spent several months in jail and the other one was recently

arrested on suspicion of robbery but later released without charge.

And this again feeds into the picture of authorities needing, if they want to understand why ISIS is managing to infiltrate some of these young,

disaffected youths, often from Muslim backgrounds here in Brussels, they do need to speak to many more people who may have had closer ties to the

Abdeslam brothers because that could help to understand the links between Paris and also Brussels.

KINKADE: And Nina, we know from Abdeslam's lawyer that he's told police that he only played a minor role.

Does that suggest that he's not cooperating?

DOS SANTOS: At this point, I can't answer that question for you I'm afraid, Lynda. We really don't have a huge amount of information

forthcoming from what the police are discussing with Salah Abdeslam at this hour.

But I should point out of note, what is so interesting about getting the chance to speak to two of his former friends is that it does give you an

insight --


DOS SANTOS: -- into the only surviving known member so far of what is the most deadly ISIS terror cell to have struck here on European soil. We're

talking about some of the worst terror atrocities since the Second World War. The Second World War is a place that the people of Belgium know,

unfortunately, all too well, as do the French.

So speaking to Salah Abdeslam, getting an insight into Salah Abdeslam's mind and also his friends, how he and his brother were radicalized so

quickly it seems, just in the space of eight or nine months, that will also be crucial for investigators as they continue to try and piece together

what happened in Paris as well as what happened in Brussels as well.

And all the while, as you have been hearing from Alexandra, there are more people who have been arrested over the last few days and more raids that

have been taking place in Brussels and also beyond.

KINKADE: Absolutely. And more down to you and the team for getting those interviews, some great insight there. Nina dos Santos in Brussels, thank


And you can learn more about the emerging connections between the Brussels and Paris terror attacks on our website at

A Pakistani Taliban offshoot warns there will be more violence following a suicide attack against Christians on Easter Sunday in Lahore. It happened

at a crowded park near the children's playground; 69 people were killed and more than 300 people were wounded. Most of the dead are women and


In response, Pakistan's military has carried out several anti-terror raids. CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us now live from


Nic, this was an absolutely brutal attack. As I said, mostly aimed at innocent children and young women celebrating Easter. There have been some


What can you tell us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's not clear who has been arrested yet. The government is saying that they have carried out

a number of raids, not just in Lahore where the attack took place but elsewhere in Punjab province, Faisalabad, another big city that has

economic hardships, and Multan as well.

These are places where the Taliban are known to have roots, the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban and the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, as the group, this offshoot is

known, has claimed responsibility. They are saying that they are targeting here not just, if you will, Christians but this is a stronghold, Lahore is

a stronghold of the government. And this seems to be very much a strike at the government and a message to the government, which they say that they

will continue.

But the actual arrests themselves, facilitators and terrorists, that's how the government is describing them. But so far we don't have a list of

names. We don't know how many there are.

Broadly speaking, early this morning, the Pakistani authorities were talking about five different terror raids in these three different cities.

But the specific details beyond that, we're not aware of at the moment.

This is quite typical, I have to say, of Pakistani authorities, that, after an attack of this magnitude, they will arrest and they will round up a lot

of people. Many of those will be screened and then let go; some they will hold onto; some they will later charge. But oftentimes the numbers, when

they do emerge that we hear of people arrested, perhaps the lies, the true numbers of those responsible that we find out later on.

KINKADE: Right. And as you mentioned, this splinter group of the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed responsibility. These linked to Al

Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.

What else can you tell us about this group?

ROBERTSON: What we're seeing with the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, is a splintering and a fracturing. There are a number of reasons for this.

They have come under huge pressure from U.S. drone strikes. Key leaders have been killed. There hasn't been a comprehensive agreement, if you

will, over who the new leaders should be so that's allowed some of their members to leave and go and join ISIS inside Afghanistan for example. Some

groups remain loyal or supportive of the Taliban inside Afghanistan.

And there are those, the Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, who have roots in different parts of Pakistan, not just the -- what used to be called the

northwest frontier province, the border with Afghanistan, the tribal area where a lot of the training camps are, but also in Punjab. They have deep

roots in Punjab.

So what we have seen recently is the government have a military offensive against some of their strongholds in these tribal border regions and that

appears to be perhaps part of the backlash against what is seen as a government ruling party, a Pakistan Muslim linked ruling party stronghold

like Lahore.

That could potentially explain why this town in particular was chosen for the target and the Christians there on Easter Sunday.

KINKADE: Some great analysis for us. Nic Robertson in London, thank you very much.


KINKADE: The Syrian government has recaptured Palmyra from ISIS but the terror group's legacy remains.

Coming up, why Russia says its sending robots and engineers to the World Heritage site.

And Republican rivals in the U.S. are gunning for their next prize, the state of Wisconsin. Coming up, we'll take you into the center of their

brawl, which now invokes name-calling and even a threat of a lawsuit.




KINKADE: Welcome back. Russia says it will send robots and demining experts to Syria to clear explosives from the ancient city of Palmyra.

Syrian government forces retook the city from ISIS over the weekend. They are looking now at drone footage shot on Friday of some of the city's

historic ruins. ISIS captured Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, last May. The terror group went on to destroy many of its old temples and


CNN's Arwa Damon is in Istanbul and joins us now with the latest.

Arwa, I understand that Syria's antiquities chief carried out a survey and says it would take five years to restore the city.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Restore what they can restore, of course, because what ISIS has destroyed is irreplaceable,

things like two-millennia-old temples, hundreds of years old, other installations that existed there, historic sites.

You have the Gate of Palmyra, the Arc of Triumph, that most visitors would have looked upon as they were entering. That, too, has reportedly been

destroyed. So while they might be able to restore it to a certain level of its old grandeur, they will not be able to restore it to the state that it

was actually in pre-ISIS taking over.

And there had been as well in terms of trying to recapture Palmyra not just the ancient UNESCO heritage site of it but the city in and of itself, some

pretty heavy fighting that took place, a lot of intense bombardment by Russia that is what actually allowed Assad's forces to move in, along with

the militias, the various different militias, who have been supporting them on the ground.

But, yes, this is a strategic victory for the regime because of Palmyra's location that lies on the road between the western province of Homs and

then through Damascus onto the east towards the ISIS stronghold of Deir ez- Zor.

But it is also much more symbolic, just the fact that Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, then come out and say that his forces regained control

of such a historic and ancient --


DAMON: -- city is significant in and of itself.

And it's also allowing the Syrian president to take it one step further and say that the recapture of Palmyra is clear evidence at this stage that his

and Russia's tactic on the ground is working when it comes to defeating terrorism, juxtaposing that with what he is claiming to be the lack of

success of the U.S.-led coalition.

KINKADE: And Arwa, Syria, of course, claims this is a huge victory against ISIS.

What does this mean to ISIS and do you have any details on the actual battle, how many ISIS fighters may have been killed?

DAMON: Well, the government is claiming that they killed hundreds of ISIS fighters. We have absolutely no way of verifying that information and

other observers would say that that number does seem to be pretty high.

In terms of the fighting, well, it took the Syrian government a few weeks to push through and then a few days for the final decisive battles to come

to an end. But again, as I was saying, Russian fighter jets pounding positions, hundreds of strikes reportedly launched in just a span of a few

days, which is what eventually allowed the troops to move in.

And this is also another example of just how significant and vital Russia's support to Syria, to the Syrian government has been at this stage. In

terms of a loss for ISIS, it's a loss. And it should not be considered as the Syrian government is claiming it to be a mortal blow per se because

ISIS still controls significant swaths of territory, areas that it is much more entrenched in that it has established its fighters, its rule of law

and to a much more significant degree than it actually had.

Remember, it only took over Palmyra about a year ago, perhaps trying to push the boundaries of its so-called caliphate out even further. But this

is not necessarily going to bring ISIS to its knees, not by any stretch of the imagination.

KINKADE: OK. Arwa Damon for us, live from Istanbul, thank you very much for that analysis.


KINKADE: Now to the U.S. presidential race, where the battle over big states in the coming weeks is adding pressure. For Republicans, what may

have seemed off limits at the beginning of this race is now front and center. CNN's Phil Mattingly takes us into the middle of their fight.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the three Republican candidates left in the GOP field, Wisconsin, right here, should be where the focus of

the race is. Just a week from tomorrow, 42 delegates at stake. A crucial week of campaigning ahead and yet the focus is on three totally different

things: personal attacks, a potential lawsuit and Donald Trump's break with the party's orthodoxy on foreign policy.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think America is a safe place for Americans, you want to know the truth.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Donald Trump claiming Americans are unsafe. The day after laying out his controversial foreign policy world view in a

lengthy interview with "The New York Times," he calls into question traditional U.S. alliances, including NATO, describing his approach as,

quote, "not isolationist but America first."

He says if elected he might stop buying Saudi oil unless they commit ground troops to fight ISIS and opening the door to the notion Japan and South

Korea developing nuclear arms of their own.

TRUMP: He started it. I didn't start it.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Attacking spouses and children is off limits. It has no place in politics.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): This, as he and rival Ted Cruz ramp up the war of words over their wives, Cruz slamming Trump for hitting below the belt.

CRUZ: He sends tweets, attacking my wife, attacking Heidi, it is inappropriate, it is wrong, it is frankly disgusting.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The front-runner accusing Cruz of knowing about a super PAC ad targeting his wife, Melania, first.

TRUMP: Don't forget I call him Lying Ted. I call him that because nobody that I have known -- I've known a lot tougher people over the years in

business. But I've never known anybody that lied like Ted Cruz.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Trump threatening on Twitter to, quote, "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife, Heidi, and again on Sunday.

TRUMP: Well, there are things about Heidi that I don't want to talk about but I'm not going to talk about them.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Cruz calling Trump's actions "a deliberate distraction" and coming down hard on a salacious story in the tabloid,

"National Enquirer," which earlier this month endorsed Trump.

CRUZ: He's pushing these attacks and, by the way, he's been pushing them for many, many months online. These are complete, made-up lies. They're


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Trump also blasting Cruz for courting additional delegates in Louisiana's March 5th primary, issuing this threat on Twitter.

Quote, "Just to show how unfair Republican primary politics can be, I won the state of Louisiana and get less delegates than Cruz. Lawsuit coming."

MATTINGLY: Now Republican operatives with deep knowledge of how the delegate process works don't really see a basis for a Donald Trump lawsuit.

But what this does underscore is there are multiple battles going on in this Republican primary process. Obviously, the --


MATTINGLY: -- top-line state battles but also those battles for delegates going on behind the scenes, those could be crucial, crucial contests coming

up if there is an open convention. Right now, Ted Cruz, at least in Louisiana and also in a couple other states, looks like he has the

advantage -- Phil Mattingly, West Salem, Wisconsin, CNN.


KINKADE: It looks like there's a lot of new heat in the Republican race. For a closer look, let's go to Chris Moody, CNN Politics senior

correspondent. He is live for us on Washington.

Chris, Trump is never one to shy away from controversial topics. And now he's facing backlash on his foreign policy positions. He did speak to FOX

earlier today. And doubled down on his criticism of NATO, that it is ineffective.

Have a listen.


TRUMP: There's no emphasis on terror with NATO and, frankly, if there is, you need different countries because it involves different countries. It's

-- NATO is very obsolete.


KINKADE: Now of course Trump thinks that many people believe his position on this is genius.

What's been the reaction?

CHRIS MOODY, CNN POLITICS SENIOR DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course he thinks that. But it's not a stretch to say that Trump's views on foreign

policy in many cases don't fit into a traditional mold of either party, whether it's Democrats or Republicans.

There are a few things that he's said -- or there's a lot of things that he said that are just completely a departure from years and years of party

orthodoxy on foreign policy. And it shows that this is a topic that he has been criticized on as being kind of weak.

He was asked over the campaign who his foreign policy advisers are. Sometimes, he says, he learns about foreign policy by watching news shows

on television or by reading newspapers.

When pressed on it, he said his foreign policy adviser is himself, his gut. And I think that's kind of par for the course for Donald Trump. But

whether it's NATO or talking about nuclear armaments, Donald Trump has had a tough time on that issue, certainly.

KINKADE: And looking at nuclear armament, he said, with regards to nuclear weapons, that he's open to the idea of North Korea and Japan building their

own arsenal rather than allowing the U.S. to police the world.

MOODY: The United States has bases all over the world. And Donald Trump is one of the only people, certainly in such a high, prominent position at

this point, calling to pull those troops away and revoking some of the tenants of the alliances with those countries.

Now we should mention that Japan just -- leaders of Japan just released a statement earlier today, saying that they have no interest or no plans to

stop or to continue or to begin -- excuse me -- to begin building nuclear weapons of any kind.

So I don't think that you're going to see much of a shift from the other countries if Donald Trump gets his way.

But taking this back to the campaign trail, this is something that Hillary Clinton, who was the former secretary of state, who knows quite a bit about

foreign policy, is going to point to if she's the nominee and Trump is the nominee, as a way of contrasting herself with him and saying that she's

someone who knows these issues and Donald Trump is someone who does not.

You can bet that that is going to be part of the campaign debate in the coming months if that's how things pan out.

KINKADE: And no doubt the Clinton campaign is hoping that Trump will be the Republican nominee for that very matter.

Chris Moody, great to have you with us. Thank you very much.

MOODY: Thank you.

KINKADE: Still to come, we'll talk to one of the first responders on the scene after a suicide attack killed dozens of children in Pakistan.





KINKADE: Welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Lynda Kinkade. Here are the headlines we're following.


KINKADE: Now to China, where an anonymous open letter asking the president to resign has authorities cracking down. The government has detained

writers and their families in connection with that letter published online last month and critical of President Xi Jinping. CNN's Matt Rivers has



MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This latest series of crackdowns in China centers on a letter that was published online on a Chinese state media

website. Now though it was quickly taken down, the letter strongly criticizes Chinese president Xi Jinping on numerous fronts, including his

handling of the economy and his style of diplomacy.

Now the letter was written anonymously, signed only, quote, "Loyal Communist Party members" and, since then, Chinese authorities have tried to

figure out who wrote the letter in the first place.

Chinese human rights activist Wen Yunchao, living in exile right now in New York City, says although he had nothing to do with the letter, the

government thinks that he helped spread the post online. He says he didn't but that the government is trying to intimidate him anyway by targeting his

family that still lives in China.

He says his mother, father and brother have not been heard from since last week and thinks they have been detained by Chinese authorities.

WEN YUNCHAO, CHINESE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST (through translator): I believe that they are trying to put pressure on me by taking my parents and brother

away, forcing me to cooperate with them and offer the information they need or to get me to directly admit that I participated in disseminating the

open letter.

RIVERS: He claims no knowledge of who wrote the letter but says, as a political activist, the reality is that he expects some form of pressure

from the Chinese government fairly regularly. He says, though, this latest step of detaining his family is surprising and very unusual.

WEN (through translator): It's been common in the past for relatives of activists and dissidents in China to be harassed. But it's rare for family

members to be forced to disappear without a reason. I think it reveals that China perhaps is stepping up on crackdowns on human rights and the

persecutions are getting more unscrupulous.

RIVERS: In a similar incident, a Chinese journalist, Chang Ping, living in Germany right now, says his family was also detained in a way to pressure

him over an article he wrote on the same subject.

Also prominent Chinese journalist Jia Jia was detained by police in mid- March. His lawyer denied he had anything to do with writing or posting the letter and the journalist has since been released, though he's not

commenting on the reason behind his detention.

These latest high-profile crackdowns appear to be a part of President Xi Jinping's battle for complete control over any and all media in China. He

recently visited state news agency Xinhua, speaking about the importance of all Chinese media promoting the values of the Communist Party by acting as

its mouthpiece.


RIVERS: This letter is a direct attack on that policy and this crackdown is seen by many observers as a clear example of how far Xi Jinping is

willing to go to make sure media toe the line -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.


KINKADE: A power struggle continues to play out in the South China Sea. Several governments have long claimed different sectors and now a group of

islands -- rocks, really -- are at the center of that dispute.

Ivan Watson was invited to one of the contested islands, which is guarded by Taiwan but also claimed by China.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The contested waters of the South China Sea, seen from a Taiwanese military

plane. And this is what greets you when you land at Taiping, an island controlled by Taiwan.

WATSON: Taiping is a tiny island. It basically runs the length of this runway. The Taiwanese government first laid claim to this place more than

half a century ago. But this is the very first time, the government says, that journalists have been invited to see it first-hand. And it's at a

time when tensions are ratcheting up here in the South China Sea.

WATSON (voice-over): At least six different countries have competing claims for this body of water. But China claims almost all of it. And to

cement China's claim, Beijing has been building a series of manmade islands atop reefs and atolls in the hotly disputed Spratly Archipelago. It's

making the neighbors nervous.

BRUCE LANGHI (PH), TAIWAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: We are opposed to militarization or military expansionism in the area.

WATSON (voice-over): Enter the U.S. Navy. We caught up with the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis shortly after it sailed through the South China

Sea, performing an unmistakable show of U.S. force.

REAR ADM. RONALD BOXALL (PH), U.S. NAVY: Just being there in the South China Sea shows that we believe we have the right to operate in

international waters, all ships, not just military vessels but civilian vessels.

WATSON (voice-over): Washington calls this visits "freedom of navigation operations" and they clearly irritate the Chinese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): This is the Chinese Navy. This is the Chinese Navy. Please go away quickly.

WATSON (voice-over): Last year, CNN accompanied a U.S. Navy spyplane that flew over China's manmade islands.

Beijing expressed outrage, issuing formal protests and calling these operations "a very serious provocation."

So where do smaller claimants like Taiwan fit in?

On Taiping, officials showed off the island's chickens and goats as well as supplies of fresh water. If Taiwan proves Taiping can sustain human life,

then the Taiwanese can make the case for a potentially lucrative 200- nautical mile economic exclusion zone around the island.

WATSON: Amid the contest for control of the South China Sea, Taiwan is trying to demonstrate that it, too, is a player and should not be

overlooked. Meanwhile, other small countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are reaching out to the U.S. for help at counterbalancing China

as it continues to flex its naval muscle in this contested body of water.

WATSON (voice-over): A place that feels like a tropical paradise is instead becoming part of a much bigger regional power struggle -- Ivan

Watson, CNN, Taiping Island in the South China Sea.


KINKADE: We're going to take a quick break. The INTERNATIONAL DESK continues in just a moment. Stay with us.





KINKADE: Now to more on the Pakistan suicide blast. The death toll has now risen to 72 and more than 300 people remain wounded. Our next guest

rushed to the scene of the attack in Lahore after the explosion.

Dr. Saeed Elahi is chairman of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, joins me now live from Lahore.

Thank you so much for being with us. This was, of course, a massive explosion. Take us through what you saw when you arrived.

DR. SAEED ELAHI, CHAIRMAN, PAKISTAN RED CRESCENT SOCIETY: In fact, it was a horrible incident which took place yesterday in Lahore and it was very

horrible because more than 75 people have died and 368 (INAUDIBLE) today injured. So the Red Crescent was one of the responders and the rescue

teams especially from double one, double two (ph) and Red Crescent responded in five minutes.

And the first ambulance reached there within four minutes. But because the casualty was very high so we had to respond with doctors, paramedics and a

large number of volunteers. So they provided them the first aid and shifted to the different hospitals.

There were private and government hospitals, means public and private, so there was a large number. But anyhow, a large number of citizens and

volunteers of Pakistani Red Crescent have reached hospitals in minutes to provide blood.

So there are large number of people who have provided blood. As you know, that Pakistan is a hard country and the nation is resilient and we are

fighting against terrorism. So people re ready for such incidents although it was very horrible.

But people, volunteers, staff, doctors and paramedics, they have responded in a very, very appropriate manner and a courageous manner. So they were

good enough to respond to this emergency.

KINKADE: I did read there with so many people injured, more than 300, that there weren't enough ambulances and rickshaws had to be used to get some of

the injured to hospital. It must have been pretty difficult to cope in those circumstances.

ELAHI: I agree with you because the government had made sufficient arrangements last night because there are more than 10 to 15 tertiary

hospitals in the city, which are teaching hospitals. So good arrangements were made there in intensive care units in the wards.

And doctors were called, surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, trauma centers and different doctors were there and they have really served relentlessly and

with devotion, doctors, paramedics and nurses. They are working very hard to save lives, as I told you, because there are more than 368 people

injured and 75 dead.

So it was a really black day in the history of the country and people are mourning even today.

KINKADE: Just give us a sense of how hospitals are prepared for an attack of this scale. This was one of the worst attacks there in many years.

ELAHI: Because there were threats and normally threats are conveyed through the different departments, including health, Red Crescent and

rescue workers, so Pakistan is striving through against war and terrorism. So they are expecting such incidents and blasts.

So it has happened before also and especially on these days last year and from 2004 onward we had faced such blasts in Lahore and different

(INAUDIBLE) of the country.


KINKADE: Well, we wish you and everyone there all the best as you deal with the fallout from this and as hospitals worked very quickly to try and

treat those many injured. Thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

ELAHI: Thank you.

KINKADE: That does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Lynda Kinkade. But don't go anywhere. "WORLD SPORT" with Brianna Jones (ph) is

up next. And we'll have another edition of the INTERNATIONAL DESK in the coming hour.