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Protesters Defy Authorities in Islamabad; Egyptian President Vows Brute Force in Response to Mosque Attack; Flights Canceled after Bali Volcano Erupts; Pope Francis is First Pontiff to Visit Myanmar; Puerto Rico's Official Post-Maria Death Toll Underreported; Witnessing the Birth of Zimbabwe's New Political Era. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired November 26, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Islamabad braces for more confrontation as security forces are called in. Demonstrators accuse the government minister of blasphemy.

Three days of national mourning under way in Egypt. Burials have begun after the country's worst terror attack ever killed over 300 people.

Plus in bail, Indonesia, plumes of ash as Mount Agung continues to erupt. Thousands have been evacuated and airlines assessing whether or not they can fly.

Hello, everybody, thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier reporting live from CNN Headquarters here in Atlanta.


VANIER: Pakistan has called in the army but protesters in Islamabad are not backing down. Clashes broke out Saturday when police tried to remove them from a major intersection in the capital. At least two people were killed and the protests spread to other cities.

Protesters have blocked the intersection for more than two weeks now. CNN's Sophia Saifi is in Islamabad, joins me now with the latest.

Sophia, what is the latest?

Have the protesters been cleared or are they still there?

Have the troops been sent in now?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Cyril, the latest is that this protest, which started off as a very small protest early November, has now mushroomed across the country. So we saw protests happening at that interchange between the cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. But after the clashes yesterday morning we're seeing the situation in which we're seeing clashes with police and protesters in the cities of Lahore, in the city of Karachi, and these are major cities of the country.

At the moment there's some calm, compared to what was happening yesterday with tear gas and rubber bullets being pelted at the protesters and stones being pelted back.

But we're seeing a situation in which the operation is currently suspended and around 3,000 protesters just on the ground here in Islamabad -- Cyril.

VANIER: Sophia, yesterday we were hearing that the government was calling in the military, calling in soldiers, in what appeared to a serious escalation there. You mentioned police earlier.

SAIFI: Yes. We did see the police and the frontier corps (ph), which is a paramilitary organization under the interior ministry, trying to tackle with these protesters on the ground.

Late last night the interior ministry sent in a request to the military to call in troops. But what we're seeing at the moment, overnight, is that, even though the military has, according to some of our sources, secured major buildings in the capital, such as the prime minister's house, et cetera, we haven't really seen the military actually come in and tackle the protesters themselves.

They've actually sent in a letter, actually requesting the government to kind of explain why they should actually come in, in the first place. So there's a lot of confusion as to whether the military will actually come in to assist the civilian government or not.

VANIER: Is there still a media blackout over this in Pakistan?

SAIFI: Yes, very much a media blackout. This came out as a very unexpected notice that was sent in by the Pakistani electronic media regulatory authority, in which we saw all of the major, all of the news channels, actually, the local news channels, be completely shut down.

There's no news being broadcast locally in the country. Along with that we're seeing a complete social media blackout as well. So no Facebook, no Twitter, nothing.

VANIER: All right, Sophia Saifi, reporting there from Pakistan, thank you very much. We'll keep an eye on that situation and continue to monitor that. Thank you.

Staying in the country, Pakistan is being criticized after releasing this terror suspect. Pakistan said Friday that Hafiz Mohammad Saeed was released from house arrest. He's the man accused of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, which killed over 160 people. Six of the victims were American and the U.S. i demanding Saeed be prosecuted.

In a statement the White House said this, if Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes, its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan's global reputation. Let's turn to Egypt. The country's observing three days of mourning after the deadliest terror attack ever on its soil. Over 300 people were killed when militants set off explosives at a Sufi mosque during Friday prayer, then opened fire on the worshippers as they fled. More than two dozen children are among the dead.

There's been no claim of responsibility yet but several signs point to ISIS. The terror group had threatened Sufi Muslims before and Egypt's state prosecutor says at least one gunman was carrying an ISIS flag.

The Egyptian president vows to hunt down the attackers --


VANIER: -- and the air force says its warplanes already struck down several terrorist outposts and vehicles used in the attack. CNN's Ben Wedeman has more from Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The funerals are already underway for that attack on the Rawda mosque in Northern Sinai Friday afternoon. And Egypt is already responding with airstrikes, claiming that they have hit some of the vehicles that were used in the attack.

The Egyptian public prosecutor put out a statement today that was read on TV, providing a few more details about this attack. According to the statement, five SUVs drove up outside this mosque. And out of them got 25 to 30 armed men, some of them wearing combat fatigues.

They deployed around the mosque, including at the entrance. And at each of the 12 windows of the mosque they sent off an explosive, then opened fire. Now the Middle East news agency, the official news agency of Egypt, puts the death toll at this point at least 305, including 27 children, in addition to 128 people wounded.

Now this is just the latest in a series of attacks in Egypt that are connected, it's believed, to this militant group affiliated with ISIS. Last December, they attacked a church in Cairo on Palm Sunday. There were twin attacks, one on a church in the delta city of Tanta, another in Alexandria.

Of course it was also this group, the Wilayat Sinai, that claimed responsibility for the October 2015 downing of that Russian Metrojet liner as well.

Now Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president, said on Friday evening just hours after the attack, that Egypt would respond with brute force. It appears these airstrikes I mentioned earlier are just the beginning. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Cairo.


VANIER: There's been a factory explosion in China. At least two people are dead and two others seriously injured in a factory on the eastern coast. The blast happened around 9:00 am local time according to the state news agency and collapsed several buildings nearby.

More than 30 people were rushed to hospital. Emergency workers are on the scene; for the moment we have no word, however, on the cause of this explosion.

Staying in Asia, Indonesia is warning planes to steer clear of ash in the skies over Bali after this volcano, Mount Agung, sent giant plumes of ash and steam into the air Saturday night. And it's still erupting.

Indonesia raised its aviation warning from orange to red to signal the danger. Several airlines, including Qantas, Virgin and AirAsia, canceled or diverted flights late Saturday, leaving some travelers stranded at airports without much information at all.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had planned to go back to Adelaide in South Australia, this evening. We actually got here quite early. But now we found that the flights have been canceled.

Now we weren't notified by Jetstar (ph) in advance of us getting here, so we're very disappointed about that. I would have expected the airline to have had some idea as to when our flight was going to be canceled. To arrive here at such late notice and then not be notified and having had to wait is very disappointing.


VANIER: OK, we actually have volcanic activity on two continents.



VANIER: Coming up on the show, after the break, Pope Francis heading soon to Myanmar. Human rights groups want him to deliver a message to its leader about the killings and expulsions of thousands of Rohingya Muslims. I'll be talking to my guest about that.




VANIER: Welcome back.

Pope Francis has a delicate balancing act ahead of him. In the coming hours, he heads to Myanmar, not only is he the first pope to visit the predominantly Buddhist country but human rights groups are urging him to speak to Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, about the brutal atrocities being carried out against Rohingya Muslims there.

Kate Vigneswaran is the legal director of Fortify Rights and joins us now from Bangkok, Thailand. Kate, it's great to speak to you because there is a balancing act there for the pope.

What do you hope to hear from him?

KATE VIGNESWARAN, LEGAL DIRECTOR, FORTIFY RIGHTS: Yes, thanks very much for having me. It is a delicate balancing act. I understand that he's been (INAUDIBLE) Rohingya in these meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and we have the military there.

I think from our perspective we hope to see him take a strong stance on this issue. Pope Francis has been very strong on social justice and religion harmony and he's spoken out previously on this situation in relation to the Rohingya.

So we hope he won't take a soft approach now.

VANIER: On the issue of whether he should actually say that word or not, why is it so charged?

Why is it so politically --


VANIER: -- charged for him to use the word or not use it in that context, when he's standing there and speaking to the people in Myanmar?

VIGNESWARAN: The term "Rohingya" is a term adopted by the Rohingya themselves. The Myanmar authorities have refrained from using that term, instead calling this ethnic group "Bengali interlopers," essentially, from Bangladesh.

They do that to disavow them of citizenship and their Myanmar identity. So this is not the first time international leaders have been asked to not use that term, partly because the authorities don't want to give -- to recognize that group but also partly to avoid inflaming tensions.

So there is concern that, by using that term, the local communities -- so this is a government position that is well supported within Myanmar -- that, by using that term, the supporters of the government's approach will lash out and lash out partly against other minority ethnic Christians in Myanmar.

VANIER: Look, do you think the pope can actually have an impact on this issue by going to this country?

It's a majority, predominantly Buddhist country. So these are not people who look to the pope as their religious authority.

VIGNESWARAN: That's correct. But I think the pope has certainly some sway with Aung San Suu Kyi. She did visit him in May this year. And she formally invited him to Myanmar following the latest outbreak in Rakhine State against the Rohingya. I think she has, given his position on religious harmony and his

support of all religious groups, he has space there to have some influence over the leaders in the country and over other groups.

VANIER: I want to ask you about the deal now that's been struck between Bangladesh and Myanmar. We've reporting here on CNN, other international news outlets as well, more than 500,000 people, Rohingya Muslims, have fled Myanmar since August into neighboring Bangladesh.

Now there's been a deal signed between those two countries for them to return to their villages, at least officially, nominally. We don't really know the details of the deal.

Do you think that's a positive development?

VIGNESWARAN: I think it's premature to be talking about repatriation. This community has faced decades of systemic discrimination, including restrictions on their citizenship, restriction on their freedom of movement, restrictions on births and marriages. Since 2012, they've faced increasing attacks. 2012 it was intercommunal (INAUDIBLE), which is state sanctioned. Last year it was months of attacks carried out by Myanmar security forces leading to the displacement of over 90,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh.

This year we've seen mass atrocities against this group. We've heard talks of the Myanmar government building shelters and we understand that some of those shelters are starting to be built for the returnees. Rohingya land has been possessed by the government and their crops have already -- some of their crops have already been harvested.

There's no talk of returning the Rohingya to a situation that is different from this. So what we understand the return would be to possibly to further interment in squalid conditions, the same restrictions that they've faced previously and also a requirement return is going to be based on a requirement for them to demonstrate their right to reside there, which is very difficult when they haven't been given ID cards, citizenship or any rights previously.

VANIER: All right, Kate Vigneswaran, great to have your insights with Fortify Rights there, thank you very much for speaking to us.

VIGNESWARAN: Thank you so much.

VANIER: It's been two months since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. The official death toll is 55. But a CNN survey of funeral homes found a much higher number of lives lost. So Leyla Santiago tried to find out why there are two vastly different numbers.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So here's why the numbers are so important. Experts tell us that if you don't have a good grasp on how people died, where people died or why, then it could be a missed opportunity to protect people in the future. It's the reason we decided to look into the death toll and what we found, there are several reasons to question the accuracy of --


SANTIAGO: -- Puerto Rico's death toll.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): These are the images they'd rather remember, the ones kept during Jose Pepe Sanchez joking with his family. But there's another image his daughter Roxana cannot stop thinking about. The moment she opened the door and found him on the ground.


SANTIAGO: So she says if Maria had not passed straight through here she believes her dad would still be alive today.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): She believes his nerves, stressed during Hurricane Maria, led to a heart attack when Maria struck in September. He had had a heart attack in February but the family says he had recovered -- boarded up windows himself the day before the storm.

Just minutes before Maria made landfall, she tells us her father complained of breathing complications. When her uncle called 911, he says help was not available in the interior part of the island.

SANTIAGO: No one from the government has come to ask questions about the cause or the situation surrounding his death.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Over the same month last year, the number of deaths in Puerto Rico increased by 472. The government is reporting 55 people died at the hands of Hurricane Maria.

HECTOR PESQUERA, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, PUERTO RICO: It's accurate based on the factual information that we received, yes.

SANTIAGO: This is Puerto Rico's secretary of public safety, in charge of the death count.

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: It appears, for whatever reason, that the death toll is much higher than what has been reported.

SANTIAGO: Politicians, news outlets like CNN have raised questions about the accuracy of those numbers so we decided to count for ourselves.

CNN called 279 funeral homes. We were only able to reach about half of them. We asked how many of the deaths were believed to be related to Maria.

Despite the official death toll, they claim 499 hurricane-related deaths in the month after the storm. That's nine times the government's numbers.

SANTIAGO: Why the gap?

PESQUERA: Because as I said before I work on factual. I can't believe -- I can't work on I believe.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): So we described Pepe's case.

The gentleman is at home, he has a stroke. The person with him calls 911 and 911 says we can't get to him in time because 150 mile per hour winds are pounding us right now.


SANTIAGO: Is that a hurricane-related death?

PESQUERA: Absolutely.

SANTIAGO: OK. Allow me to introduce you to Jose -- Pepe. That was his case, a case not included in Puerto Rico's death toll.

The discrepancy begins here, the death certificate. A doctor marked Pepe's death natural. Cases marked natural aren't supposed to go to forensics and forensics says if they don't get the cases there's no way to investigate if it's related to the hurricane. On the certificate, doctors are not obligated to report if the hurricane contributed to the death.

PESQUERA: Quite frankly, they should, but you're right. Will they be obligated to do it by law? No, but I still submit to you that there's a moral and ethical responsibility to do that.

SANTIAGO: Pesquera plans on asking legislators to change the law and require doctors to flag natural disasters on death certificates. And that's not the only issue. He admits he needs people to flag cases, too.

PESQUERA: And you're the first person -- the first media outlet -- and I'll say it publicly -- that brings in information for us to verify.

SANTIAGO: But is that the media's job or is that your job?

PESQUERA: So it's our job to take care of 2,900 bodies doing every month to see that the doctor -- the doctor certified that the deaths occurred in the way that it happened.

SANTIAGO: Pesquera tells us he will investigate the multiple cases CNN brought to his attention.

SANTIAGO: Why is the government of Puerto Rico not double-checking this? Why isn't the government of Puerto Rico doing what CNN did, calling these funeral homes one-by-one, visiting these families one- by-one?

PESQUERA: Funeral homes, to begin with, are not the person to tell us what the people died or did not die of.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): He says families should be notifying the government if they believe Hurricane Maria is responsible for a death. Loved ones like Pepe's wife who tells us at the time, the priority was not to make sure their loved one was counted in a statistic. Rather, to make sure he had a proper goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

SANTIAGO: They were married when she was 20 and she misses him.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Families trying to make sense of tragedy and a death toll.

SANTIAGO: According to forensics, they sent people to funeral homes, to cemeteries, hospitals to look into suspicious cases. And forensics says every time they found --


SANTIAGO: -- false claims -- even called them rumors.

You heard the secretary in our piece say that he is willing to look into the specific cases that CNN brought to his attention. He gave us his word that he will investigate and, if justified, add to the death toll -- Leyla Santiago, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


VANIER: In Zimbabwe now, the country's high court has ruled that the military takeover was constitutional, capping an extraordinary two weeks that saw the ouster of Robert Mugabe. CNN's Farai Sevenzo was born in Zimbabwe and witnessed first-hand how the regime collapsed.


FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It took us seven days, seven days from the point I flew in from Nairobi, which is my usual patch, to this minor mini revolution, non-coup, apparent coup, to fall down.

Everywhere, they're coming from all over the place. Look at this. Look at this.

This is my home. This is where I went to school. This is where my relatives are. This is where my great-grandmother would tell me stories, which made me into a filmmaker, actually.

Oh! That's so heavy. That's so big.

This is my nephew, Neil (ph), with whom I'm most pleased.

NEIL (PH), SEVENZO'S NEPHEW: I want the new president to be better. I want him to be better, more better, 100 percent better than Robert Mugabe. I don't want him being corrupt. I don't want him to have polices just beating people for no reason, when they did nothing.

No tear gas in the city, just peace. No rubbish. No potholes. I want our environment to be better, more better.

SEVENZO: As we headed into town, it was obvious. It was in the people's faces, the drivers next to my car, that the hooters and the horns going off, you knew the moment had happened. Yes, that's right. (Speaking foreign language). Thank you, sir.

Thank you. And there you have it. I mean, people, (INAUDIBLE) it is absolutely incredible. (INAUDIBLE). The joy. (INAUDIBLE) Soldiers are sitting there. And they are trying to contain the people.

You could feel this electricity in the air. They said, that, you know, there is different feet in the same shoes but all they needed was change. But any change from what the country had is a positive step. Now is that how Emmerson Mnangagwa actually effects his government.


VANIER: Farai Sevenzo with excellent reporting there.

We'll be back with the headlines in just a moment, stay with us.