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Russia to Close U.S. Consulate and Expel Diplomats; Trump Compares Mexico Border to DMZ; Protests After Funeral for Stephon Clark; Official: Blaze Kills At Least 68 People; Thousands Trapped Without Homes, Shelter In Afrin; Parkland Students Are Targets Of Smear Campaign; Disgraced Cricketer Steve Smith Faces Media. Aired 1- 2a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 01:00   ET




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour: tit-for-tat. Russia retaliates after the U.S. kicks dozens of Kremlin spies out of the country.

Plus a day of sorrow and protest following the deadly police shooting of an unarmed black man here in California.

And later, the students have gone from survivors of a school massacre to gun reform activists and now targets of a right-wing smear campaign.

Hello and thanks for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.


SESAY: Russia is making the latest move in the political back-and- forth with Washington and other Western capitals. The Kremlin says it will expel 60 American diplomats and close the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. That's the same number of Russians expelled by the U.S. after a former Russian spy in the U.K. was poisoned and London pointed the finger at Moscow.

CNN's Phil Black is in the Russian capital with the very latest.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been described here as the principle of reciprocity. Moscow says it will respond in kind against all other countries that have been kicking out Russian diplomats or suspected spies in recent days.

So around 150 diplomats in more than 20 countries are going to be asked to leave. The Russian foreign ministry is moving against the United States first. It says it will match the number of people expelled from America, so that's 60. Most of them are being asked to leave the U.S. embassy here in Moscow. They have got a week to leave the country.

And in addition to that, the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg must shut in just a couple of days. Moscow says this is the reasonable, measured response but it reserves the right to take further action if other countries move yet again against its interests.

Russia continues to stand by its position, insisting that it's the victim in all of this. It says it stands unjustly accused of using chemical weapons in Salisbury. It says its denials are being ignored; no evidence has been produced.

And now the U.S. and the United Kingdom have pressured their allies to gang up on Russia very publicly and expel so many of its diplomats -- Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.


SESAY: Robert English is the director at the University of Southern California School of International Relations right here in Los Angeles.

Robert, always good to see you. So Russia exercising the principle of reciprocity. But even in this move and even if it goes on and does the same in each and every country that has expelled their diplomats, they are still on the losing end of this in this moment.

ROBERT ENGLISH, DIRECTOR, USC: You know, I'm sort of cautiously optimistic that this will be the end of it, for a couple of reasons. One is that it's just these cuts are getting so deep that they are seriously impeding all kinds of diplomatic and consular work for both sides.

The second is that this moment, thanks to the mall fire tragedy and the loss of scores of innocent lives in Kemerovo, it's just too somber, too tragic a moment to play diplomatic games back and forth. You know, it's --


SESAY: I find that interesting that you think this would be the end of this moment, considering Russia's --


SESAY: -- public image.

ENGLISH: Here's why. If Putin has successfully and repeatedly used the image of everyone is against us, they're unfairly accusing us, it's Russophobia, circling the wagons, in other words, the enemy abroad, everybody in Russia knows, this time, the enemy is at home, the enemy is incompetence, corruption and just scandalous mismanagement that allowed this fire to happen.

And you cannot blame foreigners for this. It's not just the moment. SESAY: So you're saying there's not the appetite to see Russia go toe to toe --

ENGLISH: There's not the appetite and it simply won't go down to Putin's benefit. This is a time to turn inward, solve problems, apologize, address some of these fundamental structural flaws in the way Russia is managed and not point the finger abroad. It just won't work the same way right now.

SESAY: But the rhetoric coming from Moscow is unchanged from all the other moments.

ENGLISH: I'm not so sure. It's a little less loud and it's not coming so much directly from Putin as other ministers. I'm maybe looking for hopeful signs where they're not quite so obvious. But I think maybe this will be the end of the tit-for-tat, the escalation of this for both of these reasons. I could be wrong. But it's a very different moment.

SESAY: But even if Russia were in the position of wanting to hit pause and turn inwards, the very fact that they have expelled these 60 Americans would -- let me ask you as a question --


SESAY: -- will that garner a response from the U.S.?

In other words, keep it going?

ENGLISH: I think something similar on this side. When our ambassador Huntsman announced the 60 that we expelled, it came on the same day, hours after the tragedy. And he almost regretted. He almost explained, we have to do this, it's a move long in the works. We're not doing it to take advantage of this tragic moment.

In fact, we suffer with you. So the very fact that where it pains not to pile on in Russia's moment of tragedy suggests that the sensitivity there means we can be restrained, too. Of course, it all depends on Donald Trump, doesn't it, and he's unpredictable.

SESAY: But also this is about what happened in the U.K. This is an infringement of U.K. national security --


ENGLISH: Originally, but now it's simply tit-for-tat escalation --

SESAY: -- true but still driven initially by Theresa May.

What's to say that Theresa May, with her own considerations, which are national security and being seen, wanting to be seen as tough, that she will pull back?

Because, at the end of the day, this happened on U.K. soil. It impacted or had the potential to impact hundreds of people. She may feel, as long as Russia takes this stand, that maybe the message hasn't gotten through.

ENGLISH: She very well may but it may be more difficult for her to persuade all of her allies in NATO, in Europe, the United States, to go along another round. We're hearing from Germany, for example, and Italy deep concerns that they don't want this to keep escalating. They may not so easily go along in solidarity yet another time.

We can't know for sure. And again, what America does depends on a very unpredictable Donald J. Trump.

SESAY: So if it does end here, to keep your line of thinking going, what is the fallout?

Because, at the end of the day, there -- or what is the lasting impact here?

What do we see between the U.S. and Russia after this moment?

ENGLISH: A pause; we'll be at this low point for some time. But the same Donald Trump, who went along with these sanctions, these reprisals, is also the Donald Trump who, just a few days before, called Vladimir Putin, congratulated him on his election victory, did not even mention the spy incident.

So that's why I say unpredictable. That Donald Trump could take center stage again and decide, all right, we have got that --


SESAY: -- made our point.

ENGLISH: -- we've made our point and you'll never do what you did in England again, at least not for a while, and maybe we can get back to some -- at least laying the groundwork for some cooperation on who knows what?

Again, I keep saying, it depends on the unpredictable Donald Trump.

SESAY: Robert English, fascinating, fascinating take. We appreciate it. Thank you.

All right. Well, the White House is touting the Russian expulsions as evidence that it's not going easy on Moscow.

Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders released a statement, saying, "The expulsion of undeclared Russian intelligence officers by the United States and more than 2 dozen partner nations and NATO allies earlier this week was an appropriate response to the Russian attack on the soil of the United Kingdom.

"Russia's response was not unanticipated and the United States will deal with it."

President Trump didn't mention the issue during a speech in Ohio. Instead, he used the event to revisit some of those familiar campaign themes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That was I do, is I build. I was always very good at building. It was always my best thing. I think better than being president I was maybe good at building.


SESAY: Peter Matthews joins me now here in L.A. He's professor of political science at Cypress College.

Peter, thank you for being with us once again.

So what surprised you more, the fact that President Trump didn't bring up Russia or Stormy Daniels at the Ohio speech?

PETER MATTHEWS, PROFESSOR, CYPRESS COLLEGE: I think Stormy Daniels, although we know he's never brought her up, right, he's never tweeted about her. But Russia is interesting, going back to that.

This is -- the inflection points, too, at the beginning of the history, back in 1917, 1918, there was intervention in the Russian civil war from the West, as well. That's made Russia very paranoid about outsiders.

Then you have World War II. And after that, action more recently with the Cold War ending and you have NATO going after Russia's border. And this gave Putin some reason to say, wait a minute, what's going on here?

Is this encirclement again?

And it's a situation where Russia used to be a superpower, equal to the United States militarily. Now it's way down, it's -- in 1991, it became way down compared to the U.S. They're trying to gain back that stature. And that goes back to a historical precedents and action that happened.

SESAY: And very quickly, to pick up on what Robert was just saying, just briefly, do you think it ends here?

Or do you see this continuing, the tit-for-tat?

MATTHEWS: Again, I think it does depend on President Trump quite a bit. He is the top person who can change the atmosphere. And yet he's constrained by Congress, that is very suspicious of Russia's motives and Putin's motives right now, the sanction of the (INAUDIBLE) almost forced him to do it.

But it's very -- there's so many variables involved here, especially Trump himself.

SESAY: Speaking of variables, that speech in Ohio, which was freewheeling, it was wide-ranging, it was supposed to be about infrastructure.

MATTHEWS: You're being very kind.

SESAY: But it certainly wasn't about that. He wanted to talk about the wall, that familiar campaign theme. And he's not happy that he hasn't gotten the money to build it so far. So much so, he's even talking --


SESAY: -- about the DMZ, the border between North and South Korea. Take a listen to what he had to say.


TRUMP: Look at Korea. We have a border at Korea. Of soldiers. We don't get paid very much for this, do we?

You look at that, nobody comes through. But our own border we don't take care of it. Think of it. We spend billions of dollars in other countries, maintaining their boarders and we can't maintain our boarders in our own country.

Is there something a little bit wrong with that?


SESAY: Have at it, Peter Matthews.


SESAY: Where are we going with this?

MATTHEWS: Incomprehensible.

How do you compare the two situations?

When Korea is a situation that's something completely different, two hostile nations, one backed by us. Mexico has been our ally, it's been our neighbor. It's had cultural exchanges and -- with NAFTA going on.

And so really you should understand that the reason that a lot of folks came across the border is not because of the weather here or the food here, which is great, they came across the border because of what happened with NAFTA and with neoliberalism and exporting of our jobs to cheap labor in Mexico, keeping the Mexicans poor, not paying them enough, not even a fair NAFTA, a fair trade and some free trade would be higher wages, higher by most standards.

We didn't -- Bill Clinton didn't do that and Trump should be talking about raising wages across all borders instead he's like going after countries.

SESAY: But if you're sitting in Mexico and you hear that, if you're the Mexican government or the Mexico's president, you're thinking what?

Because it does frame how he sees Mexico and -- or does it?

Or is it just campaign rhetoric, is it just campaign trail talk?

MATTHEWS: I think the campaign trail has a lot to do with it. He has that base of 33 percent that are just completely not aware of the full issues.

In Europe, they tried fair trade and did quite well, for many decades. The Northern European countries allowed Greece to come in the common market. They insisted on higher wages, higher labor standards and higher environmental standards and then both sides could trade more fairly because the Greek workers had more money on their hands to buy the German products.

We could have done the same thing here. We didn't do it. Trump is not talking about that and that's the real reason for the poverty and the illegal immigration.

SESAY: Well, as we talk about trade deals, I want to talk about the deal that the U.S. just signed, just finalized with South Korea, just this week.

Good deal, the president was -- Trump was saying that deal. And then he said this in Ohio. Take a listen.


TRUMP: We're moving along very nicely with North Korea. We'll see what happens. Certainly the rhetoric has calmed down just a little bit, would you say?

Would you say?

And we'll see how it all turns out. Maybe it will be good and maybe it won't. And if it's no good, we're walking, if it's good, we will embrace it. But it's going to be very interesting over the next period of time. And South Korea has been wonderful. But we'll probably hold that deal up for a little while and see how it all plays out.


SESAY: Can you help me understand what the South Korean deal between the allies, South Korea and the U.S., has to do with getting the deal with Kim Jong-un of North Korea?

MATTHEWS: It's unfathomable that he doesn't connect the two properly. And really South Korea is the one who brought North Korea to the table, even had an invitation for Trump to meet come there and meet with him.

So I think that he has got to accommodate South Korea's concerns. I don't think he understands the picture fully at all. He doesn't understand the agreed framework under Bill Clinton, when there was actually negotiations going on to reduce the nuclear weapons procurement and production for 10 years or eight years at least, things were more stable.

We understand that negotiation should be that way and we shouldn't be provocative like he's been these last few months with North Korea and saying crazy things all the time. I wish he would just listen to his experts more. And I'm sure he has enough money to hire the right people. I know the government does.

SESAY: Well, hiring lawyers is proving to be difficult, so --



MATTHEWS: Exactly.

SESAY: Very quickly, before I let you go, I want to talk about Rick Gates, who, as you know, is in the crosshairs of Robert Mueller and the special counsel investigation. And now we learn that, from court papers, court filings and CNN's own independent reporting, that Gates is playing a central role with Mueller in terms of establishing this idea of whether there was contact, illegal contact, between the Trump campaign and Russia, even so far as to learn that he's had some contacts with a Russian that had some ties to the Russian spy agencies.

If you're in the White House tonight, are you trembling, are you quaking?

Are you suddenly very, very worried that this investigation is heating up, not cooling down?

MATTHEWS: This is a very significant direction in the wrong direction for the White House and the right direction for the rest of us I think because now Mueller is about to establish the connection between the Trump campaign through Gates, through his association with Manafort's partner and the Russian intelligence agent and the Trump campaign.

So that's really a big connection coming up here. Until now, we have seen that Mueller was --


MATTHEWS: -- spending more time on the obstruction of justice issue. Now it's more the so-called collusion issue that's being -- coming to the forefront. That's more dangerous for Trump actually.

SESAY: Well, we are still all just reading the tea leaves, because we're not getting all the details.


SESAY: We don't have it all. But Peter Matthews, we appreciate it, thank you.

MATTHEWS: My pleasure, thank you.

SESAY: Thank you.

All right. Well, at this hour, a high-level Chinese envoy is sitting down in Seoul with South Korea's foreign minister and he will meet later with South Korea's president. It comes ahead of two major Korean summits and after that surprise trip to Beijing by the North Korean leader.

Our own Alexandra Field joins us from Seoul.

So, Alex, what are the expectations for this meeting involving the Chinese envoy?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've already heard a window into what will be discussed because there's already a meeting with the national security adviser here in South Korea that happened yesterday.

We did get some briefings on what happened in that meeting. Basically it was related that the Chinese envoy had said -- recapped the meeting that happened between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un and talked about the importance of the fact that Kim Jong-un's message in Beijing underscored his willingness to talk about denuclearization -- with the important caveat adding with conditions.

It's interesting, if you step back, Isha, because just a few weeks ago, we were talking about South Korea sending out envoys to places like Japan, to places like envoy (sic) to discuss the meeting they had had with Kim Jong-un and they wanted to highlight the very same point that they had had a meeting with Kim Jong-un and that he had expressed his willingness towards denuclearization.

The big question now, of course, are what are these conditions?

We know that there are these two summits that are potentially lined up. A date is now set for North Korea and South Korea to come face- to-face. Their two leaders will meet on the 27th.

After that, we could see this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un himself. Everyone has agreed the topic is denuclearization. But now you have got everyone weighing in on what that means.

Is it a step-by-step approach?

And what kind of concessions will North Korea come asking for?

Could they ask for major concessions, like the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the end of protection from the U.S. for South Korea with the nuclear umbrella?

These could be major dividing lines here because there are a lot of ways to interpret this word, the definition here of denuclearization. So these are some of the threats conversation that will continue to happen until these summits happen.

SESAY: Many, many threads, Alexandra Field, we're grateful for the analysis. Thank you very much. All right. Quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., mourning in the streets of Sacramento, California. How protesters are keeping the memory of Stephon Clark alive.

Plus, families shed tears and get teargassed in Venezuela. The growing outrage over a jailhouse fire that left dozens of people dead.




SESAY: The family of the unarmed black man shot and killed by police in California is asking demonstrators to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and keep protesting peacefully. Over the past week, hundreds of people have blocked highways --


SESAY: -- and the entrance to NBA games. They're demanding answers and justice for Stephon Clark, who was killed in his grandmother's backyard.

And the response?

Well, that has been overwhelming. On Thursday, the church wasn't even large enough to hold all those who wanted to attend Clark's funeral. Ryan Young has more from Sacramento.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of emotion in Sacramento, as protesters took to the street once again to let their voices be heard about the death of Stephon Clark. We also saw his funeral on Thursday. So many people sharing their emotions, their anger. They're upset with police and the system. They want to see things change.

In fact, a brother actually walked out and asked protesters not only to (INAUDIBLE) the street but not to block the game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not block the arenas. Do not stop the streets. Do not antagonize the police. Protest peacefully.

YOUNG: The game between the Sacramento teams and the Indiana Pacers was not stopped this evening, as protesters remained away from it. In fact, there seemed to be a coordinated effort not only between them and police and stopped at the D.A.'s office.

But we were told by protesters there will be more protests over the next few days -- Ryan Young, CNN, Sacramento.


SESAY: I want to discuss all of this with Segun Oduolowu. Segun, always good to have you with us.

SEGUN ODUOLOWU, ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: Thank you. It's unfortunate that it's under these trying circumstances.

SESAY: Very, very, very unfortunate. The family of Stephon Clark asking people to stay calm, to keep it peaceful. But there's so much anger and there's so much hurt there, as you look at the scenes in Sacramento.

Do you think this is going to stay that way?

Do you think they can contain this?

ODUOLOWU: I hope they can, because, unfortunately, when it does stretch out from protests to anger and violence, then the police, we saw what happened on the streets of Ferguson and you saw how they brought in the National Guard and there were tanks rolling down American streets and people that were protesting were now painted as looters and as violent protests.

But I find all of this to be disgusting. I find it to be so shameful on the part of the police department that I'm so far past anger that I'm in anguish, because I don't feel that it's going to get any better.

How many times have we been on this set and talked about Philando Castile or an Eric Garner or so many other names that -- and what is so unfortunate and so dreadful is that the police that are committing murder -- please don't -- let's stop calling it a wrongful shooting. Let's stop calling it a mistake or a bad apples or one bad cop or a wrongful shoot -- whatever they want to call it, it is murder.

When you are shooting the citizenry in the backyard of their grandmother's home, unarmed, 20 times, what happened to Tasers?

What happened to warning shots?

SESAY: And these are questions that people demand be answered and be answered quickly.

What do you make of the way the authorities so far have spoken about the investigation and getting oversight to make it credible?

ODUOLOWU: I don't trust them.

I mean, as a black man in America, why would you trust them?

When you see an unarmed man choked to death on the streets of New York, when you see a motorist in Minnesota shot to death on camera, why would -- and none of those police men seeing the inside of a jail cell, why would you ever trust that blue wall that loves to encircle its -- those bad cops and keep them from the media?

Why would you trust an internal investigation by the same force that just murdered one of its -- murdered someone? SESAY: Take a listen to what the mom said at the funeral of Stephon Clark on Thursday. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The travesty that he had almost as many bullets put into him as years that he had on Earth should cause us all to reflect.


SESAY: And that's the thing, 20 bullets.

ODUOLOWU: Twenty bullets. It's almost 20 years ago that Amadou Diallo was shot on the streets of New York 40-plus times, OK, unarmed.

SESAY: Is there the reflection going on?

You heard the mom say, with that number of bullets, it should cause us all to reflect. I know the Sacramento Kings is calling for people to reflect, to recognize, to stand and seek accountability.

Do you feel anything, beyond the police, do you feel like people are paying attention?

ODUOLOWU: I think the Sacramento Kings are and they should be commended. God bless the owner of the Sacramento Kings, who spoke so eloquently and impromptu at a game that was being protested and said that this is a time for us to try and come together.

And it shows how forward thinking the NBA is. I think DeMarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes offered to pay for the funeral.


ODUOLOWU: And there are former Sacramento Kings themselves that are giving money to help pay for the funeral. And then you have the owner of the Sacramento Kings, who, by the way, is a nonwhite owner -- and maybe that's why --


ODUOLOWU: -- there's more heart into it. And the basketball and the team can actually be a force for good and for healing and take it past the T-shirts that they were wearing, saying that we're all in this together.

But the fact of the matter is that, when those basketball players step off that court and walk out that stadium, they know they face the same opportunity of getting gunned down.

You and I have had this conversation. I can take the suit off. I can take these earrings and these glasses off. When I walk out of this studio, none of those people care that I'm on television or we're talking about this. I fear every time a routine traffic stop and there's a policeman behind me because this is what we see. SESAY: And to that point, I want you to listen to what Reverend Al Sharpton said at the funeral on Thursday.


AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: The president's press secretary said this is a local matter. No, this is not a local matter. They have been killing young black men all over the country.

And we are here to say that we're going to stand with Stephon Clark and the leaders of this family.


SESAY: He makes the point, this is not the first time and we have been talking about it for a long time.

And as we talk about reflection, should we talk about how the White House does not appear to be reflecting?

Because Sarah Sanders said this was a local matter.

ODUOLOWU: How can it be a local matter when this is Sacramento, California; this is Baton Rouge, Louisiana; this is Minnesota; this is New York; this is Dallas, this is Houston. This is in almost every major U.S. city.

That is -- Sacramento is the capital of California. So this is not a local matter. This is a national matter.

And no, it doesn't surprise me that the White House is less than adequate with their response. All you have to do is look who is in it and look what they have been preaching.

But what I'm asking for all of those people on the streets of Sacramento, stay peaceful. Do not be victim shamed like they're trying to do to Stephon Clark now, bringing up his past arrests because whatever those past arrests were when they shot him 20 times, he didn't have a billboard on.

The only thing that they could distinguish was that he was black. And they shot him 20 times. And that's murder and it's an execution.

SESAY: Waiting for the police investigation, waiting for --


ODUOLOWU: You might as well wait for -- you might as well wait for Godot.

We can wait for anything -- you can wait for whatever you want.


SESAY: There is an investigation under way. And let's see what it turns up. ODUOLOWU: I will bet you dollars to donuts they will be acquitted. One of the policemen involved in the shooting is going on his third agency. What they do, what the police department is slowly becoming is like those priests that were pedophiles and moved from parish to parish. They are moving these cops from department to department and black people keep getting shot.

SESAY: It is an issue. The conversation must go on. We must also allow the investigation, whatever form it takes, to be completed and we need to see what turns up. And then we'll have you back.

ODUOLOWU: Absolutely, yes. I am ready for this one. Let's go.

SESAY: All right, Segun, always appreciate it.

ODUOLOWU: Thank you, Isha.

SESAY: A quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., living out in the open with only the clothes on their backs. Thousands of people in Northern Syria are in limbo. Ahead, a report that you'll only see here on CNN.


[01:30:58] SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour: high-level Chinese envoy meeting in the coming hours with South Korea's president. They're expected to discuss the upcoming summit between the leaders of North and South Korea. And the North Korean leader's surprise trip to Beijing earlier this week.

Dozens of U.S. diplomats have just a few days to leave Russia. Must have kicked them out in retaliation for the U.S. expulsion of 60 diplomats on Monday. Russia is also closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. The U.S., U.K., and other nations blamed Russia for poisoning of former Spy in Britain.

Well, the hospital treating the former spy's daughter Yulia Skripal says she's improving rapidly. She and her father Sergei have been in critical condition since their exposure to a nerve agent earlier this month. Police believe they first came into contact with the poison at Sergei's home in Salisbury, England.

Well, a deadly fire at a jailhouse is sparking outrage in Venezuela. An official says at least 68 people were killed and many relatives of the inmates don't know if their loved ones survived. CNN's Rafael Romo has more on this tragedy.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Tear gas, desperation, confrontation; these are not the familiar scenes of opposition protesting in Venezuela, but crowds of anguished relatives demanding to know if their loved ones are alive, dead, or injured.

CARMEN CALDERA, MOTHER OF INMATE (through translator): They have not told me anything. I want to know about my child. I don't have any information on him. I don't know anything. We want information about our family members. We need information. Look at how desperate we are.

ROMO: Carmen Caldera's son is an inmate at the Valencia Detention Center, which was part of a police station where Venezuela's head prosecutor says at least 68 people are dead following a massive fire there, Wednesday. Police were initially quiet about the details. Anger boiled over Thursday as some faced off with officers in riot gear, who shot tear gas at the crowd. Some simply wept.

ISETT GONZALES, SISTER OF INMATE (through translator): I came here because I haven't heard anything regarding my brother since 7:00 in the morning. They say a lot of people are dead, people got burned, people who are injured. They've taken out the injured. Where are these people? No one knows whether they are here or in a hospital or really where they are?

ROMO: Venezuela's chief prosecutor tweeted that officials will clarify these painful events that has dozens of Venezuelan families in mourning. And the United Nations has urged a prompt investigation into one of the deadliest incidents inside Venezuela's violent and notoriously crowded prison system in recent years. One Venezuelan watchdog group says the detention center in Valencia has a 40-person capacity, but housed nearly 200 inmates. "This is what the chaos that all of Venezuela is experiencing has led to," the group's director said in a written statement. Venezuelan officials have not made any comments on the NGO's claims. It's still unclear exactly how and why 68 people lost their lives at this detention center in Valencia, but their loved ones will anxiously wait to find out. Rafael Romo, CNN.


SESAY: Well, Russian officials say the fight to push rebel groups out of Eastern Ghouta is almost over. They say Douma is the last town in the region still held by rebel fighters. U.N. says nearly 1,600 people have been killed since the bombing offensive by the Syrian military backed by Russian warplanes began. Over the past week, thousands of rebel fighters have accepted deals for safe passage and tens of thousands of civilians have fled the area.

In another corner of Syria, the city of Afrin is overwhelmed by human suffering. Afrin just on the Turkish border, was once a Kurdish stronghold. But since Turkish forces invaded, more than 150,000 people have fled their homes. In this exclusive report, Ben Wedeman says, they are caught in Limbo with no end in sight.


[01:35:07] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hands stretch out for the most basic of creature comforts, a mattress, a blanket. These people fled Turkish troops and they're Syrian rebel allies now in control of Afrin. They're caught between the wrath of the Turkish invasion, and the hard place of the Syrian government checkpoint on the roads to nearby Aleppo. Muhammad's family sleeps in this bus. "We can't go back to Afrin, and even though the road to Aleppo is open," he says, "You'd have to pay 400,000 Syrian Lira (INAUDIBLE) $900 per person to pass." All their worldly possessions are on this bus. They've lost everything else.

"I wanted to die," cries his mother, Fatima, "everything was looted." Others were living in the open in schools and mosques. At night, bitter cold sets in, but the warmth in the flames isn't enough to ward off illness. "We all sleep on this blanket," says Fidan (ph). "There aren't enough blankets. We just want to leave from here. Our children are sick. This one has bronchitis, and we need to get him to hospital."

The World Health Organization estimates nearly 170,000 people are caught in limbo in this corner of Western Syria. Documented in this exclusive video obtained by CNN. Turkish officials insist civilians can return to Afrin, but say there is a danger from explosives and IEDs left behind. Ahmed (INAUDIBLE) is the leader of the local council and is desperate for outside help.

"We can't accommodate all of these people," he says. "Most are on the streets, on sidewalks, in parks, in open grounds, they left Afrin with only the clothing they were wearing." These two small bags contain everything this young father and his family own. "Our life has been destroyed, Syria has been ruined," says (INAUDIBLE). He and his wife, (INAUDIBLE) and baby son Ali, have nowhere left to go. Ali is sick.

"The future of my son is on the ground," says (INAUDIBLE) Every time I look at him, I cry. My heart burns." All they can do now is huddle on the street as night falls. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


SESAY: Awful. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., he calls for action and they responded. The company has pull ads from a Fox News show after a (INAUDIBLE) Parkland massacre survivor David Hogg. The details just ahead.


[01:40:32] SESAY: Hello, everyone. Now, to those teenagers who parachuted into the adult arena of politics. Survivors of the school shooting massacre in Parkland Florida are now activists, recognized nearly worldwide. But as their public profile rises, so do the insults, the lies and conspiracy theories. Randi Kaye has more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura Ingraham took aim then fired off this tweet, "David Hogg rejected by four colleges to which he applied and whines about it." Ingraham's tweet linked to a story from a conservative news site which described Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland Shooting as a gun rights provocateur. That was Wednesday morning. By Thursday afternoon, another tweet, and a wildly different tone from the Fox News Host. "Apologizing in a spirit of holy week to the brave victims of Parkland." Why the about face? Because Hogg, who has a 4.2 GPA, had been tweeting, too, calling for advertisers to boycott Ingraham's Fox News show. At least three brands now promising to cut ties with Ingraham.

After Ingraham apologized, Hogg tweeted he would only accept her apology if she denounced how her network has treated Parkland survivors. No response from Ingraham. Hogg also took heat from right-wing media like Breitbart and Infowars after his speech at the March For Our Lives.

DAVID HOGG, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: And we will change the world.

KAYE: That image led Hogg's critics on the right to falsely suggest it was a Nazi salute. Infowars actually edited in Hitler's voice over Hogg's. But Hogg wasn't the only student targeted by conspiracy theorists.

EMMA GONZALEZ, PARLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us.

KAYE: Parkland survivor, Emma Gonzalez, took heat from the right about the Cuban flag patch sown onto her jacket at the March For Our Lives. It represented her Cuban heritage. Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, posting on Facebook. "Your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp. After removing all weapons from its citizens, hence, their right to self- defense." Gonzalez was also accused of ripping apart the constitution. Turns out, the fake image was made from a picture of her in Teen Vogue, in which she ripped up a paper for target practice. It was promoted on Gab, the alt-right alternative to Twitter.

And the hits keep coming. The conservative blog red state questioned openly whether or not David Hogg had even been at school the day of the shooting. Even though this video of him hiding inside a closet at the time of the shooting had been widely available. Later, the writer admitted her story was incorrect. And an aide to a Republican Florida legislator suggested Hogg and others weren't actually students but crisis actors.

HOGG: I'm not a crisis actor. I'm somebody that had to witness this and lived through this.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


SESAY: Well, let's discuss this with Los Angeles Times Columnist Michael Hiltzik. He joins me now from Seal Beach, California. Michael, good to see you. Let's start with the Laura Ingraham episode, targeting David Hogg. What does it say about the woman herself and this moment we're living in?

MICHAEL HILTZIK, COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, I think it says a lot about Laura Ingraham, and I think it says a lot about the gun rights movement that she represents. These people are not accustomed to having to deal with opponents and adversaries who are serious, who are determined, who are not afraid of them, and when push comes to shove, they show that they have no argument. All they have is invective and insults of the most vicious and nasty variety. I think Laura Ingraham and her ilk really need to be a lot more careful, or they're going to lose whatever audience they had.

SESAY: Well, let's talk about that. Let's talk about David Hogg's call for advertisers to abandon Laura Ingraham's show. Three have done so far, which is incredible, bearing one how difficult it is to peel away advertisers from Fox News.

HILTZIK: Well, from what I've heard, I think the number is up to five, as we -- as we speak. Look, I think these kids, they understand social media, they understand the power of a mass movement. And they also understand that pitting these radio and T.V. hosts through their advertisers is hitting them where they live.

[01:45:11] I mean, look, we've had cases -- Bill O'Reilly lost his job because advertisers started to bail out on him (INAUDIBLE)

SESAY: But it took a while, Michael, before -- it took a while before that happened.

HILTZIK: Well, it does take a while, but once the snowball gets rolling downhill, it rolls. Rush Limbaugh who at one point was the most important radio host in the United States, is now sort of a footnote, because his advertisers bailed out. And I think Laura Ingraham understands viscerally, I think we can tell that from her response and her backing off, that when you start losing advertisers, you lose your power to command a microphone in radio or T.V., because your owners are going to bail out on you when you're no longer bringing them sort of money that advertisers bring.

SESAY: And to be clear, on the part of the brands, I'm not being cynical here, I'm just asking, truly, the brands that are severing ties with Laura Ingraham, is it about doing the right thing or is it just, you know, a calculated move?

HILTZIK: Well, I think it may be a little bit of both. But even if it's a calculated move, it's an important move. Look, advertisers flock to these programs because they want to reach a certain audience and they believe they can reach that audience in large. When it looks like the audience is turning away, when it looks like it's no longer socially acceptable to be associated with the Ingrahams, or the O'Reillys, or the Limbaughs, they will leave and so will the income of the host and of their employer.

SESAY: So, here's the thing, you know, people like Laura Ingraham and the like on those right -- on the right side of the aisle, if you will, right-wing media that are conservatives, they're Republicans targeting these children, I mean, supposedly, the Republican Party, it's a party of family values, right? These are people, you know, love the family and all the rest of it. Yet, somehow, that doesn't translate into how they're treating children.

HILTZIK: Well, I think we've seen certainly over the years that the Republicans, they preach family values, but at heart, they're exclusionary. They want to exclude LBGT people from the public debate. They promote and support white supremacists. This is not -- they talk about family values, but what they've done is, they've appropriated the vocabulary of family values, but they don't really honor those values in action. I think that's a lot of what we are seeing here in this pushback against the Parkland students. Let's not forget, what the Parkland students are calling for is by no means a drastic program of gun control. They're calling for a lot of reasonable, common sense changes in the law and enforcement of the law that most Americans we know from opinion polls, most Americans support. So, for this sort of nasty vicious, over the top response, it kind of really tells you I think a lot about the gun rights lobby and the people who represent them.

SESAY: Yes, and the moment we're living in. Michael Hiltzik, it's always a pleasure. Thank you so much for the insight.

HILTZIK: Happy to be here.

SEAY: Thank you. Quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., it's the scandal that's shaking a nation. The latest fallout from the Australian Cricket cheating debacle, ahead.


[01:50:21] SESAY: Well, for the next few weeks, CNN is telling the stories of young scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors in a new special series. Their innovations are truly inspiring. Will surely make a difference in improving our environment, health, and communities. We call these people tomorrow's heroes. Here's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When ink is disposed of in landfills, the heavy metals it contains can contaminate and wreak havoc on the environment. In spite tomorrow's hero, Shaima Alqassab, came up with a cleaner way to produce ink from a renewable material.

SHAIMA ALQASSAB, CNN HERO: I am really crazy about the environment. And you find this in any chemical engineer. We really strive to make this planet a better place, using more sustainable and renewable resources to make products. My name is Shaima Alqassab and I'm 32 years old.

Since 2016, it was the innovation week in the United Arab Emirates. And everyone was calling for thinking out of the box and creating new things. As chemical engineering student, we print a lot of lectures. So, we thought how about making a small, portable printer that's eco- friendly. We're developing the printer, and then we said, OK, how about the ink that the printer is going to use? We come to know that ink is really toxic. It contains something know as carbon black, which is the pigment, it gives like the black color on the paper that you print on. We thought, how about replacing that carbon black with something from nature. It's working good for my experiment. This one is toxic, another one is eco-friendly. So, what we are doing is we're replacing the carbon black with the

green algae as they have pigment. Here we have -- we grow our algae and we make them ready so that we can extract the pigments from the algae and take it to the next step. Then we dry it, and then when it's dry, we add some natural ingredients, and we test the products, and it goes through a certain process so that it's like nice and fine. And then we add it to the ink cartridge and we tested if it's printing or not. And it's having the same function, so we're moving towards the vision of sustainability and -- in the UAE, and algae life is moving along with us. We believe in that the future will give us with algae.


SESAY: Amazing. All right. Well, there's more fallout from the cheating scandal rocking Australian Cricket. Australia's fourth Tests against South Africa is hours away and it's set to be Darren Lehmann's last as coach. He's announced he's stepping down after three of his players were caught in a ball tampering scheme. He made this emotional announcement Thursday.


DARREN LEHMANN, HEAD COACH, AUSTRALIA NATIONAL CRICKET TEAM: I hope the team rebuilds from this and the Australian public finds it in their hearts to forgive these young men. And get behind the 11 who are going to take the field tomorrow.


SESAY: Well, three of his players have been suspended over the scandal. They're back in Australia and begging for forgiveness. CNN's Andrew Stevens has more on the cheating that shaming an entire nation.


ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Australia's champion Cricket captain is not used to this sort of homecoming.

STEVE SMITH, CAPTAIN, AUSTRALIA NATIONAL CRICKET TEAM: It's devastating and I'm truly sorry. And --

STEVENS: Steve Smith ranked the best batsman in the world, now banned for a year for cheating. On Thursday, he faced the media and the cricket mad nation that prides itself on winning fair.

SMITH: Cricket is the greatest game in the world. It's been my life, and I hope it can be again. I'm sorry, and I'm absolutely devastated.

[01:55:00] STEVENS: Staring at defeat against South Africa in Capetown, cameras caught Cameron Bancroft purposefully damaging the ball in a way that would make it more difficult for the opposition batsman to hit. Cricket Australia investigators say vice-captain David Warner was the architect of the plan and it was Warner who convinced Bancroft to tamper with the ball. It was on Smith's watch. He and Warner have been hit with one-year bans, up incoming young player Bancroft won't play for nine months.

CAMERON BANCROFT, BATSMAN, AUSTRALIA NATIONAL CRICKET TEAM: Not a second has gone by since last Saturday evening when I haven't wished to turn back time and do the right thing during the lunch break. It is something I'll regret for the rest of my life.

STEVENS: The cheating ploy was unlikely to change the final outcome of the match, but it's deeply affected an Australian public that have put the players on a pedestal.

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: How on earth could Australians have done this? Because we're seen as a fair-minded people who believe in the principles of fair play, and that image has now been violated.

STEVENS: Major sponsors of cricket in Australia are now dumping a team that once could do no wrong. Smith and Warner have lost their million dollar contracts to play in Indias domestically. Instead, Cricket Australia says the players must return to play and support the game and its grassroots, where they hope to earn back the respect of heartbroken cricket fans at home and around the world. Andrew Stevens, CNN.


SESAY: Well, an Italian journalist is in holy hot water with the Vatican. Eugenio Scalfari is a 93-year-old atheist who struck up a friendship with the pope. But when Scalfari reported that the pope told him that hell doesn't exist, well, the Vatican pushed back and in a statement it said this. "What is reported by the author in today's article is the result of his reconstruction in which the actual words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted. No quotations of the aforementioned, rather, article should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the holy father." In other words, hell does exist, is basically what they're saying. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay. Be sure to join us at Twitter @cnnnewsroomla for highlights and clips from all our shows. We'll be back with much more news right after this.