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Mogadishu Bombings Kill at Least 230 People; Iraqi Troops Approach Kirkuk in Standoff with Kurds; Tillerson: Pursue Diplomacy until First Bomb Drops; 31-year-old Conservative Set to Lead Austria; Weinstein Rape Investigation Stretches to U.K; Trump's Comments Unite Iranians; California Fires. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 00:00   ET


[00:00:10] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: An unprecedented number of civilians killed in a double bombing in Somalia and still no claims of responsibility in the attack.

In Austria, a 31-year-old conservative is set to become Europe's youngest leader but to actually rule he may need a far right alliance.

Plus, the scandal grows for Harvey Weinstein -- a British actress is the latest to bring sexual abuse allegations against the Hollywood producer.

Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church and this is CNN Newsroom.

Somalia's capital has endured decades of violence but officials say Saturday's terror attacks in Mogadishu are the deadliest the country has seen in years. The twin truck bombings left at least 230 people and hundreds more wounded. No one has claimed responsibility.

CNN's Farai Sevenzo has the latest now on what happened and a warning -- some of these images are graphic.


FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A massive truck bomb went off in the heart of Mogadishu's downtown K-5 Junction on Saturday shortly after 3:00 p.m. Somali security forces say they had been tracking the vehicle when it exploded, killing more than 200 people as they went about their weekend.

Ten minutes later a second truck bomb exploded but it was the force of the first blast that had the deadliest effect. People on buses, pedestrians, and many others at a nearby mall were killed.

Buildings within the scope of the blast were completely destroyed, including the Safari Hotel. And the concern now is for the missing and whether the frantic rescue efforts will reach them in time.

In the aftermath of the explosion, flames continue to burn as Mogadishu residents witness this latest devastation to their troubled city. The attack bore the hallmark of suicide bombings which had been regular occurrences here since an Islamic insurgency began in Somalia a decade ago.

As the day set on a tragic Saturday, it became apparent that this was the worst bomb blast to hit the Somali capital in scale and loss of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What happened yesterday was incredible. I've never seen such a thing before and the death toll is uncountable. Corpses were burned and no one could recognize them.

SEVENZO: A new government led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo since elections back in February say they had been taking the fight to terrorism with the help of Afghan Union troops and U.S. drone strikes.

The Somali president called for three day of national mourning as Somalis rush to hospitals to donate blood for the injured. Mogadishu's hospitals are now full of critically-injured people, many who have lost limbs and others were badly burned.

Terrorism in this East African country is far from over. And Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, is still firmly on the front line.

Farai Sevenzo, CNN.


CHURCH: And while Saturday's Mogadishu bombings are among the deadliest in the region's history, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a number of terror attacks in the past.

Other major attacks include the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The simultaneous blasts left 224 people dead. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility in that instance.

In 2013, militants from the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab stormed the West Gate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Sixty-seven people were killed in a siege that lasted four days.

And in 2015, at least 147 people, mostly students, died when Al- Shabaab militants stormed Garissa University College also in Kenya.

All right. We do want to turn now to Iraq. Two allies in the war against ISIS may be headed for a conflict of their own. Iraqi troops have neared (ph) the city of Kirkuk in a growing standoff with the Kurds. Tensions have mounted since the Kurdish independence vote last month.

Iraq's prime minister says he wants his forces to impose security in the city. He tweeted that he reiterates the priority of the Iraqi forces to protect the people and Kirkuk and calls on citizens to cooperate with them. The Kurds have reinforced Kirkuk with their own troops and say they are ready to repel any attack. A Kurdish official says he hopes it won't come to that.


NECHIRVAN BARZANI, IRAQI KURDISTAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We are ready to start a dialogue with Baghdad to solve problems between us. We reject the use of weapons.

[00:05:02] According to the Iraqi constitution, weapons cannot be used as means to solve internal problems. We hope that weapons would not be use in any areas including in Kirkuk.


CHURCH: The U.S. is urging the Kurds and the Iraqi government to avoid escalation.

And for more, our military analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona joins me now from Port Orford in Oregon. Always great to talk with you -- Colonel.

So we think here that Iraq's Prime Minister Abadi has given orders to his forces to impose security in the northern city of Kirkuk though they're not yet in that city. And then we hear the Kurds are preparing to repel any attack. What is your reading of what is happening here militarily, do you think?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. This is really a dangerous situation. And when Abadi says he's trying to impose security, what he means is he's trying to impose control.

Kirkuk has always been a tinder box. It's always been a source of friction between the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs. The Kurds believe this to be in a Kurdish city. Over half the residents are Kurdish -- that's true. But it's not in the area that has been designated part of the Kurdish autonomous region.

In 2014, when ISIS was making its sweep across northern Iraq, the Kurds moved in to Kirkuk to protect it and defend it. Now they're there, they don't want to give it back. They believe it should be part of the autonomous region.

And this was fine as long as the Iraqis needed the Kurds to do some of the fighting for them. They were instrumental in the retaking of many of the parts of northern Iraq.

But that's over. ISIS is almost defeated in Iraq. The Kurds are no longer that necessary to Iraq's military effort so the Iraqis want to re-impose control over the areas they believe to be part of the federal area. So that's what we're seeing and we're seeing the Kurds resist that.

Now, talking about the use of weapons -- nobody wants it to come to that. I know the Americans are also talking to both sides, you know, trying to ratchet this down. We don't need a confrontation between two Iraqi forces.

CHURCH: Yes. You mentioned that. And of course, Iraq's Kurdish regional prime minister says he rejects the use of weapons and he points out that Iraq's constitution states that weapons can't be used as a means to solve internal problems like this.

So what impact will that have on the outcome here do you think? And what will be the ramifications if weapons are used?

FRANCONA: Well, if weapons are used, this creates a conflagration in northern Iraq that we don't need, you know. Now, there's a long history of confrontations between the Kurds and the Iraqi government but that was the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein.

The Shia don't have that same desire to fight the Kurds. They were both repressed under Saddam Hussein. So they have a common ground there.

I think that Abadi and Barzani are going to -- that's the Kurdish president -- they're going to sit down and come up with some way where they can come up with a compromise they can both live with.

But in the end, and I hate to say this, but in the end Kirkuk is not part of the Kurdish autonomous region. And I think the Kurds are probably going to be fighting a losing battle here. They really can't stand up to the Iraqi army. They don't have the force to do it. And like I said, no one -- the Americans, the Kurds, nor the Iraqis want to see another war in northern Iraq.

CHURCH: Yes, understandably. And of course, Iraq's Kurdish regional prime minister is also calling for dialogue with Baghdad. How likely is it that that will happen or have they gone beyond that? And of course, is this a distraction because they are supposed to be fighting together against ISIS.

FRANCONA: Well, you know, the fight against ISIS -- ISIS is all but defeated. The Iraqis are quite capable of doing -- removing what is left of ISIS up in the Euphrates Valley on their own. They really don't need the Kurds.

Barzani's call for dialogue indicates that they really don't want to fight and they know they can't fight. The Kurds are very pragmatic people. You know, they've lived under the thumb of Baghdad for decades. They know what the Iraqis are capable of.

They do not want to get into a shooting war that they can't win. They're smart enough to know that. So Barzani, who is a pretty skilled negotiator, I've dealt with him in the past, and he'll probably come up with something that they can live with.

CHURCH: Rick Francona -- we always appreciate your analysis and your perspective on these matters. Thanks so much.

FRANCONA: Good to be you -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. I want to turn now from Iraq to neighboring Syria. ISIS appears close to losing all of its de facto capital Raqqa.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say 90 percent of the city has been freed. There are reportedly only a few hundred ISIS militants left in the city. This after a deal was reached to let some evacuate with their families. The U.S.-led coalition says it will try to protect civilians as the fighting rages on. [00:09:53] Well, even though there's been plenty of saber-rattling

rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea on Pyongyang's nuclear program, the U.S. Secretary of State insists diplomacy is President Donald Trump's preferred approach. Rex Tillerson told CNN the President is not seeking to go to war and his statements have been an effort to motivate action.

Take a listen.


REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: I think he does want to be clear with Kim Jong-Un and that regime in North Korea, that he has military preparations ready to go and he has those military options on the table. And we have spent substantial time actually perfecting those.

But be clear. The President has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He's not seeking to go to war. He's made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts which we are. As I've told others, those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.


CHURCH: And amid the heightened tensions, Washington and Seoul are conducting 10 days of naval drills in waters east and west of South Korea.

Alexandra Field is in Seoul and joins us now with the very latest. So Alexandra -- North Korea views these U.S.-South Korea joint exercises as a rehearsal for war and the drills invariably elicit a response from North Korea. How is Pyongyang likely to react this time?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, frankly Rosemary -- they're expressing their outrage even before the drills have started. State news over the weekend calling President Trump a war merchant and a strangler of peace, referring to the U.S. arms sales to both Japan and South Korea. It's going on to say something that they often say which is that the U.S. and specifically President Trump has pushed the region to the brink of war creating a hair-trigger situation. And they've gone so far as to renew a threat to launch missiles into the waters surrounding the U.S. territory in the Pacific, Guam.

You first heard that threat from North Korea earlier this summer. They are again putting out the threat they're capable of doing that in response to the rhetoric from the United States, in response to the increased tensions that they blame on the United States and in response to what they call high intensity drills.

Those drills kicking off today -- Rosemary; they involve both the South Korea and the U.S. militaries. Some 40 naval vessels in the waters participating in drills on both sides of the peninsula. A U.S. carrier strike group involved, guided-missile destroyers also involved. And you pointed it out, Rosemary, we see this every time. North Korea does perceive this as an offensive gesture, a preparation for invasion. The South Korean military had been very clear in saying that they are practicing this as response to North Korean provocation.

The U.S. military always clear that this is a defensive measure; that these are exercises that are important in order to maintain a readiness and preparedness. But you've got to put all this in a frame of what Secretary of State Tillerson is saying. He says that diplomacy is the main objective of the administration and the President himself. But that the U.S. continues to make clear to North Korea that it does have military options available.

So you can imagine that North Korea might could see these exercises as some sort of gesture of that, even if the U.S. maintains that these are purely, purely defensive exercises.

CHURCH: And we will be watching to see how North Korea responds in the next few hours and days.

Alexandra Field -- many thanks to you for that live report, joining us there from Seoul South Korea where it is 1:13 in the afternoon.

Joining me now is CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer. He's also the author of "The Fierce Urgency of Now" and he's an historian and professor at Princeton University. Always great to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.


CHURCH: So let's start by listening to an interview that CNN's Jake Tapper did with the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then we'll talk about it.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Is it true? Did you call him a moron?

TILLERSON: Jake -- as I indicated earlier when I was asked about that, I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo. And they feed on it. They feed on one another in a very destructive way.

I don't work that way. I don't deal that way. And I'm just not going to dignify the question. I call the President "Mr. President". He and I have a very, very open, frank and candid relationship. I see him often, speak to him nearly every day. I'm in the Oval Office a number of hours every week.

TAPPER: Either you didn't say it, in which case there are a whole bunch of administration officials telling the press and telling the President that you did and that's a serious problem.

Or you did say it and look, you're a serious guy. For you to say something like that suggests a real frustration with the commander-in- chief. So when you don't answer the question, it makes people think that you probably did say it.

But either way, whatever happened, it is serious. So can you please clear it up?

TILLERSON: As I said Jake -- I'm not playing. These are the games of Washington. These are the destructive games of this town. They're not helpful to anyone. And so my position on it is I'm not playing. I'm not playing.


[00:15:00] CHURCH: Julian -- Rex Tillerson says he's not playing but he still didn't answer the question. And for most of us that means he did call the President a moron. What's your reading of his answer?

ZELIZER: Right. The easy answer would have been to say no, I didn't say that. And he won't say that so it seems relatively clear from reporting and from his answer that he probably said that or something like it.

And it's relevant. It's more than Washington games because this gets to a bigger issue surrounding the Trump presidency. And that has to do with his competence, with his knowledge, with his understanding of the kinds of issues including North Korea with which he is engaged. And I think that's why people are fascinated with this statement rather than just simply being gossip and scandal.

CHURCH: You mentioned North Korea, and of course, Rex Tillerson and the President continue to appear to be at odds with their approach to Pyongyang with Tillerson saying the U.S. will keep up its diplomatic efforts towards North Korea right up and I'm quoting him here, "right up until the first bomb drops" despite the President tweeting that negotiations were a waste of time. So what's happening here?

ZELIZER: Well, the two scenarios -- one would be this is the famous good cop-bad cop. And you have the President articulating a more militaristic message to North Korea. We're not negotiating, we're preparing for war while other parts of the administration such as Secretary Tillerson continue to talk.

The other scenario is you have an administration at war with itself. And then there's a lot of evidence this is taking place meaning that President Trump is not interested in negotiation. He doesn't believe the State Department has a big role to play right now with North Korea, that no deal is sustainable.

And yet other parts of the administration don't see a path to military confrontation and don't see that as something that will be successful and are desperately trying to push back against their own president.

So it's one of those two scenarios and many people think it's the second.

CHURCH: Which one do you think it is?

ZELIZER: I think it's the second. I think President Trump is genuine when he says he doesn't believe that these agreements, whether it's North Korea or Iran work. And also I do think he has a certain passion for a more hawkish approach or at hawkish rhetoric.

And I think other people in the administration realize the dangers of this kind of military confrontation and are not clear it would be the best solution to the problem. So I think given the nature of this president, there are people who are actively working to try to stop some of what the President is doing.

CHURCH: All right. Julian Zelizer -- thank you so much for joining us. We always appreciate getting your perspective on these matters.

ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: And I'll continue my discussion with Julian Zelizer next hour.

But let's take a short break now.

And coming up -- a new era of right wing politics as anti-immigrant politician is set to become Austria's next chancellor. How he did it -- that is next.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Well, Austria is the latest European country to move toward the far right. Sebastian Kurz is set to become Austria's next chancellor following Sunday's election. Kurz gave his center right party a substantial anti-immigrant agenda. He's expected to form Austria's first far right governing coalition in more than a decade.


SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHAIRMAN, AUSTRIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY (through translator): Today is not a day of triumph against others. Today is our chance to make real changes for this country. Today we have a strong mandate for changing this country. And I thank you for making this possible.


CHURCH: And Sebastian Kurz will become the world's youngest head of state. He's just 31 years old. As Austria's foreign minister he tried to stop migrants escaping violence in the Middle East and Africa. He wants to limit the number of refugees entering Europe and cut benefits for E.U. migrants living in Austria.

Dominic Thomas is the chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and he joins us now via skype. Dominic -- thanks so much for being with.

So what does this shift to the right in Austria signal to you? And what does it tell us about where Europe stands now on the issue of immigration particularly and on right-wing politics? DOMINIC THOMAS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LOS ANGELES: Well, I think

that the first thing to say really about Europe in this particular question is that when the far right, in other words not Kurz's party but the freedom party that it looks like he'll go into coalition with entered the coalition in 1999 it had already in a coalition in 1983. The E.U. imposed sanctions on Austria.

And yet here we are today and a decade or so later and the European Union will most likely accept this new party which means that so many of these far right policies and positions have essentially been mainstreamed. They've become part of the DNA of the conversation in the European Union today. And that's quite a transition.

CHURCH: But it is interesting because just this year, we have seen a number of setbacks for far right parties, haven't we, across Europe. But now Austria, if it makes this far right alliance has been very successful.

Why are we seeing this? Why has it, as you say, become mainstream, this right-wing far right politics?

THOMAS: They are different electoral systems. We saw, for example in France that Emmanuel Macron was able in the runoff say to hold off the far right Marine la Pen. And interestingly enough in both say Dutch elections with the case of Wilders and the AFD in the German elections and both incumbents Merkel and Rutte in the Netherlands said they would under no circumstances enter into a coalition government with the far right.

And so what we have here is Sebastian Kurz, who of course, has been serving as foreign minister for the past four years, just recently took over the party and was able to galvanize the electorate by essentially repackaging the way in which he presented himself.

Now, of course, he's responding to see (ph) the voter demographics and so on, it's a bit of the same old but he was able to understand that the question of the refugee crisis, of immigration and what we may call, not so much populism but that nativism, the sort of taking care of one's own, taking care of the quote "real Europeans", and setting up this binary between the insiders and the outsiders, particularly around the question of Islam proved to be highly successful here.

And if he does enter a coalition with the Freedom Party, the two of them managed essentially on a similar platform to gain about 60 percent of Austria's vote, which really does mark quite a sizeable move towards far right politics.

CHURCH: Dominic Thomas -- thank you so much for joining us. We still have a lot more to learn about Sebastian Kurz. And no doubt we will learn it in the weeks ahead.

Many thanks to you for joining us. We appreciate it.

THOMAS: Thank you.

CHURCH: We'll take a short break. But coming up, the U.S. President hurled a lot of criticisms at Iran but there's one particular thing Donald Trump said that's striking a nerve in Tehran.

We hit the streets to hear what Iranians are saying.

And later, more women are speaking out against Harvey Weinstein, the latest sexual abuse allegations against the disgraced movie mogul.

We'll have that for you when we come back.


[00:30:00] CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Rosemary Church.

It is time to check the headlines for you this hour. A standoff is growing between Kurds and central government forces in Iraq. Government troops are nearing the city of Kirkuk and the Kurds say they are ready --



CHURCH(voice-over): Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Rosemary Church. It is time to check the headlines for you this hour.


CHURCH: When it comes to the Iran nuclear agreement, top U.S. officials say they don't want another North Korea situation on their hands. Basically if diplomacy couldn't stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions, they fear the agreement with Iran may not work with that country, either.

On Friday, U.S. president Trump threatened to back out of the Iran nuclear deal entirely but some of his top officials say U.S. is not ready to quit the deal though it needs some serious revisions.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We want to take the agreement as it exists today, as I said, fully enforce that agreement, be very demanding of Iran's compliance under the agreement and then begin the process of addressing these flaws that we see around not the actions of addressing ballistic missiles, for example.

The concerns we have around the sunset provisions, this phaseout of the agreement, we know what that looks like. We've seen this in the past in the '90s with North Korea, agreements that ultimately phase out. What happened? It's put us on the road where are with today North Korea. We don't want find ourselves in that same position with Iran.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: When you look at fact that 25 years of botched agreements and negotiations and accountability not kept by North Korea, that's the whole situation that got us to where we're having to watch day by day to see if they do an ICBM test going forward.

What we're saying now with Iran is don't let it become the next North Korea.


CHURCH: Iran says if the nuclear deal is canceled, it will stop allowing international monitors to carry out unannounced inspections of its facilities.

President Trump's words are generating furious reactions in Iran and uniting the country's deeply divided political factions in surprising ways. Our Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran with more.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Among the many criticisms President Trump hurled at Iran...

TRUMP: The regime remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): -- believe it or not, it was this one that most enraged Iranians.

TRUMP: It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf and in the Red Sea.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): At this Tehran market, folks were fuming at Trump saying "Arabian Gulf" and not Persian Gulf.

"I think some of what he said was OK but when he talked about the Arab Gulf, that caused the Arab countries to jubilate," this woman says.

"I got very upset with him because he insulted our history and our nation."

"It shows that he's not an educated person," this woman says, "and he doesn't know anything about how the world works."

Of course, Iranians are concerned after President Trump decertified the nuclear agreement that curbs Iran's atomic ambitions in return for sanctions relief but (INAUDIBLE) seems to be uniting Iran's various political factions.

PLEITGEN: There are deep division in this country between moderates, who want to open Iran up to the world, and hardliners, who are suspicious of the West. But after President Trump's Iran speech, both sides are coming to each other's defense.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): On the president's order, the U.S. Treasury also put new sanctions on Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guard or IRGC over its support for terrorist organizations, leading the moderate foreign minister Javad Zarif to tweet, quote, "Today Iranians, boys, girls, men, women, are all IRGC."

Hossein Shariot Madari (ph) is the head of the most influential hardline newspaper and an adviser to Iran's supreme leader. He says President Trump has helped conservatives by verbally attacking Iran.

"Trump made us realize that, if we don't stand together, the enemy will exploit the distance between us," he says, "a widespread unity was created among us."

President Trump's new and tough approach to Iran has disappointed Iranian moderates while hardliners are gloating, saying Tehran never should have negotiated with America in the first place -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


CHURCH: More women are coming forward with sexual abuse allegations against one of Hollywood's most powerful producers, Harvey Weinstein. British actress Lysette Anthony is one of the newest accusers. She says Weinstein raped her in her home in the 1980s. In an interview with the "Sunday Times," Anthony says she just recently reported the attack to police after spending years trying to forget what happened.

Police in the U.S. and U.K. are investigating multiple rape allegations against Weinstein, who has categorically denied any allegations of non-consensual sex. The scandal has blown up Hollywood's culture of secrecy around sexual harassment. Filmmaker Woody Allen calls the scandal, " sad for everybody involved," but he says he doesn't want this new openness about harassment in the industry to turn into a witch hunt atmosphere.

We'll take a short break but coming up we've seen a lot of powerful storms in the Atlantic but not many that reach Ireland. The latest on Ophelia's unusual path -- that is next. We're back in a moment.




CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Ireland doesn't get storms like this very often. Ophelia is moving toward the country with hurricane force winds and rain.


CHURCH: Some residents in Northern California are returning home to a lot of metal and rocks after dozens of wildfires scorched their neighborhoods over the past few days. At least 40 people are dead, nearly 88,000 hectares have burned throughout California but crews are starting to get the fires under control. CNN's Dan Simon has the latest now from Kenwood, California.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the first time in a week, firefighters are now striking an optimistic tone about these fires. That's because the winds have died down and with that the containment numbers have gone up.

That said, there still are some trouble spots. Take a look behind me; that is the Oakmont (ph) fire. You can see the smoke billowing. There's some flame there on the mountain but firefighters not too concerned because the fires are not burning towards any populated communities.

We've seen those, some airplanes making some drops just to make sure things don't get out of control.

Saturday night was a difficult night for the community of Sonoma, which is south of here; we did see some structures burn and there were some evacuations. But Sunday, a whole different story because the winds have died down. The area no longer under a red flag warning and with that we've seen a number of fires, including the Tubbs fire, which was most destructive fire in the community of Santa Rosa. The containment number 60 percent or more. So firefighters now think they're beginning to turn a corner -- Dan Simon, CNN, Kenwood, California.


CHURCH: That wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church. "WORLD SPORT" is coming up next. And then I'll be back with another hour of news from all around the world. You're watching CNN.