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Florence Heads for Florida; Osaka Upsets Williams in Controversial Final; North Korea Military Parade; Obama Unleashed; Far Right Populism on the Rise in Sweden; Racing against Trump in Georgia; U.S. Met with Venezuelan Officers Plotting Coup; More Deadly Airstrikes in Idlib Province; Thai Government Honors Boys and Rescuers. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 9, 2018 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:00]

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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The United States braces for a storm that could become a major hurricane and slam into the East Coast.

Controversial calls at the U.S. Open that have Serena Williams crying foul.

And this: North Korea stages a massive military parade but this time there were no long-range missiles in sight. We'll have a live report for you from South Korea.

Welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world, coming to you live from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm Natalie Allen. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: And we begin with tropical storm Florence. The window to safely veer away from the U.S. East Coast is closing. And already a number of states are bracing for possible impact.

The storm is getting stronger as it churns over the Atlantic. It's forecast to become a hurricane in the next few hours and a major hurricane on Monday. The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia already declared states of emergency.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are preparing for the worst and, of course, hoping for the best. But being prepared, being prepared is always the best strategy.

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ALLEN: Now we turn to the U.S. Open tennis championship. In case you haven't heard, where 20-year-old Naomi --

[04:05:00]

ALLEN: -- Osaka won her first grand slam title. She's the first Japanese player ever to accomplish the feat and she upset a heavily favored veteran, Serena Williams. But the match will be remembered for Williams clashing with the chair umpire and calling him a thief. Our Andy Scholes has more about it.

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ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Absolute chaos breaking out at the U.S. Open women's final on Saturday. It's going to go down as one of the most controversial matches in tennis history.

Serena Williams had already dropped the first set to Naomi Osaka. In the second set, chair umpire Carlos Ramos issued her a warning for receiving coaching from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, from the stands. That's when Serena approached Ramos the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERENA WILLIAMS, U.S. TENNIS PLAYER: I don't have any coaching. I know you don't know that and I understand why you may have thought that was coaching. But I'm telling you it's not. I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose. I'm just letting you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES (voice-over): The match continued. After Osaka broke Serena, she smashed her racket in anger. Serena was then hit with a point penalty for abuse of equipment.

Then during a changeover, Serena went at Ramos again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: I don't cheat, I would rather lose.

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SCHOLES (voice-over): Ramos then penalized Serena again. And since this was her third offense, she was penalized a game for verbal abuse. When Serena realized the penalty, she went at Ramos again and asked for the referee and supervisor, saying, in tears, the treatment was not fair.

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WILLIAMS: That is not right, ma'am, that's not right, this is not fair.

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SCHOLES (voice-over): Serena would go on to lose the match 6-2, 6-4 to Osaka. The fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium booing throughout all of these exchanges. And after the match, Serena said she was proud of the way she handled things.

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WILLIAMS: I can't sit here and say I wouldn't say he's a thief, because I thought he took a game from me. But I've seen other men call other umpires several things. And I'm here, fighting for women's rights and for women's equality and for all kinds of stuff.

And for me to say "thief" and for him to take a game?

It made me feel like it was a sexist remark. I mean, like how -- he's never took a game from a man because they said "thief." I mean, it blows my mind. But I'm going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal -- like Cornet should be able to take her shirt off without getting a fine. Like this is outrageous.

And I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman.

And they're going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn't work out for me but it's going to work out for the next person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: After the match, Serena's coach admitted that he was coaching; everyone does it, he does it all the time and has never been penalized for it in his career. This time he was. And it turned into one of the most controversial endings to a tennis match we've ever seen -- at Flushing Meadows, Andy Scholes, CNN.

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ALLEN: Christine Brennan is joining us, she is also a sports columnist for "USA Today."

Christine, thank you for talking to us. Everyone knew it was a historic match no matter how it ended. But no one knew quite how historic and what would happen. It was epic. I want to get your thoughts on how it went down.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: When they are in the heat of the battle, Natalie, all the players, we have seen it in every sport, obviously things can be said, emotions run high, people can get hot and certainly Serena was not happy and we know that.

I think it's the job of the chair umpire at that moment to take a deep breath and to say, what is at stake here?

And it's the grand slam final. It's Serena Williams going for her 24th, which would be historic, the most ever.

And you've got to step back and say, is this worth a game penalty, literally, potentially altering the outcome of a match, certainly changing the complexion of the match entirely and being a part of history basically for as long as people are talking about tennis? I think most chair umpires would have stepped back and said, you know what?

I'm going to let this athlete vent for a minute. And we know that they have done that with men for generations in tennis. But, no, this ump went right after Serena Williams and I believe she's correctly talking about the sexism inherent in that now.

ALLEN: I want to ask you about that, Christine, she immediately claimed men would have gotten away with calling the umpire a thief, which she did. And she pleaded her court to the referee and the supervisor, that men get away with far more.

Do you agree?

BRENNAN: I think the history of tennis shows us -- I'll throw out a few names for you: John McEnroe, Jimmy Conners, Ilie Nastase going all the way back, even Andre Agassi, misbehavior has been tolerated in a way that just is not --

[04:10:00]

BRENNAN: -- with a woman. And the greatest of all times, Serena Williams.

I'm not, by the way, advocating for everyone to lose their minds. I'm not at all. What I'm saying is that tennis is a sport that has never done this. Chris Evert said it on the broadcast. This has never before happened in tennis.

And the great Billie Jean King, saying when women have this kind of conversation or get angry, they are "hysterical." When men do it, they are "outspoken." It is time for the tennis world to really look at these issues, in my humble opinion.

ALLEN: Yes and just wipe that "hysterical" word off the map, period.

Will you answer my next question, which is going to be about Chris Evert making that point after the match. As the audience booed wildly during the trophy presentation, my son was there; he said he couldn't tell what was going on because of all the epic booing, Serena asked them to stop.

She hugged Naomi Osaka, who clearly, though a champion, was shaken by the whole thing. Serena right there, always a class act.

But how do you define this chapter for her and perhaps the pressure is even greater on her long comeback after becoming a mom?

BRENNAN: Well, there's no doubt about that. And what a story this has been. I think she was feeling the pressure and the emotion of it. Again, several have said, everyone coaches. Every one of these coaches is coaching these players. So it's time to -- why penalize Serena and not everyone else?

I think that's a very good point. And Serena has a good point. But what she did, how quickly she was able to pivot, and in her

emotions and twice telling the crowd, no more booing, cut it out, and hugging Naomi and basically saying, she deserves this, it was a classy moment. It was exactly what Serena should have done.

And I know there are people out there who are watching us, saying, wait a minute, Serena's behavior was so bad. Again, put it in the context of an athlete, don't just look at it as a female athlete but as any athlete and see all these tennis players who've been able to get away with that.

But then see that incredible turn where she was the one person who could control that crowd. And she did it. And she tried to capture the moment for Osaka, for her opponent and give her that moment.

Two athletes going at it. Fighting for every point. Having covered sports all these years, think of all the things that are said in the NFL, in the NBA, my goodness, obviously on a tennis court.

And this is what the referee decided to pick on at that moment, to make that statement and change history potentially. I think Serena did a nice job in recovering and capturing the moment for her opponent and, of course, the winner of the match.

ALLEN: She was certainly sticking up for herself and making her case, for the most part in a measured way. But it will be analyzed and analyzed. We'll see where it goes from here, won't we, as far as if there's sexism in the sport. And she will launch a dialogue for sure. Christine Brennan, we appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

BRENNAN: Natalie, my pleasure, thank you.

ALLEN: Lost in all the controversy was the fact that Naomi Osaka made history with her win. Andy Scholes talked to her after the match and asked if Williams' outburst distracted her.

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NAOMI OSAKA, U.S. OPEN WINNER: It felt like a dream. And emotionally, I was all over the place. I can't really pinpoint the exact emotion.

SCHOLES: What was going through your mind when all the chaos was happening, when Serena was arguing with the chair umpire and the officials, what were you thinking when all that was going on?

OSAKA: Well, I wasn't really noticing that anything was going on. I had my back turned and I was really just trying to focus on my game and stuff.

SCHOLES: Did all of the booing, did it ruin the moment for you at all?

OSAKA: No, it was more like I had Serena next to me, for me, that made me more emotional than anything else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is tweeting his congratulations to the tennis star.

"Congratulations, Naomi Osaka, for our victory in the U.S. Open, the first-ever Japanese champion. Thank you for energizing and moving us during this difficult time."

That difficult time could be a reference to the deadly earthquake that hit Northern Japan earlier this week.

And an important milestone for North Korea happening now. Coming up, we'll tell you how the country is celebrating seven decades since it was founded. It is a tad different this year. We'll explain.

Also, Democrats pull out their biggest gun ahead of November's midterm election.

What will the Obama factor mean to the November midterms?

We'll look into that.

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[04:15:00]

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ALLEN: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

North Korea's military might is on display as the country marks its 70th anniversary. This military parade is one of several events marking the date of the soldiers and military hardware on display, this celebration focused less on nuclear power and more on economic power. CNN's Will Ripley was in the middle of the parade with a closer look.

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WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: North Korea's military parades to celebrate its 70th founding anniversary left no doubt that this is still a military state. It has a standing army of more than 1 million and there were thousands of soldiers marching here along Kim Il-sung Square.

But one dramatic difference that I've seen, this parade versus the previous parades I've seen in this very square, the nuclear program was not included.

You didn't see the nuclear symbol and you certainly did not see the intercontinental ballistic missiles that are believed to pose a threat to the mainland United States. Those were kept away. The focus was on the soldiers themselves. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, did not give a speech. But his

right-hand man, Kim Yong-nam, did speak. One thing he said that I thought was particularly striking, he told soldiers they needed to be prepared to fight a war but they also needed to be prepared, simultaneously, to fight an economic battle, to build things like roads and bridges and buildings, to grow this country's economy, something that Kim Jong-un has --

[04:20:00]

RIPLEY: -- said is his priority moving forward, something that he hopes that the United States will be able to help with as he continues to work towards diplomacy with President Trump.

Denuclearization talks have been very difficult. Just because North Korea's not displaying its nuclear weapons doesn't mean it's getting rid of them. In fact, U.S. intelligence has stated that they don't believe North Korean leader Kim Jong-un intends to fully denuclearize anytime soon.

He was standing here alongside a special enjoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping and in less than two weeks he'll be meeting with South Korean, President Moon Jae-in. There was a letter exchanged from Kim to Trump, indicating that the two leaders, the U.S. and North Korea, want to keep the denuclearization process moving forward.

And this parade, certainly the imagery here suggests that North Korea is making a change when it comes to its nuclear program -- I'm Will Ripley, reporting at Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang, North Korea.

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ALLEN: Turning now to U.S. politics and the critical midterm elections this November. Former U.S. president Barack Obama was in California on Saturday, campaigning for Democrats hoping to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unlike his short critique of Donald Trump, Mr. Obama never mentioned the current U.S. president by name. But everyone knew exactly who and what he was referring to.

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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The biggest threat to our democracy, as I said yesterday, is not -- it's not one individual, it's not one big super PAC billionaires, it's apathy. It's indifference. It's us not doing what we're supposed to do.

When there's a vacuum in our democracy, when we are not participating, when we are not paying attention, when we're not stepping up, other voices fill the void.

But the good news is, in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: We have the chance to flip the House of Representatives and make sure that we have checks and balances in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Let's look at the Obama effect. Inderjeet Parmar teaches international politics at City University of London, he's a frequent guest here with his insights.

Inderjeet, thank you so much for coming and talking with us.

INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: Thank you.

ALLEN: Good morning to you. President Obama is traveling around the country. First Illinois, then California, next Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge Democrats to go to the polls.

Do you think he can have an impact?

PARMAR: He's certainly going to have an impact. The big question is, he comes at this issue in the context of "The New York Times" op-ed from right within the heart of the Trump administration. John McCain's week-long eulogies and so on and how he stood for a particular kind of vision of America.

And he comes just a day or two before Bob Woodward's book is being published. Of course, that is going on. So he clearly is going to have a large effect in trying to galvanize Democratic and other voters in the midterm elections. But we know that he's one of the big guns against Trump. But guns can backfire, too.

ALLEN: Right, I want to ask you about that.

Could he in some ways do harm rather than good for the Democrats because of the Trump loyalists, who might be emboldened with memories of an administration they did not support?

PARMAR: Right, there are two things. One is, generally speaking, in midterm elections, happy voters, those who are voting for the administration, tend to be not turning out in great numbers, certainly not as big as the opposition.

The fact that Barack Obama has been wheeled out could suggest they are likely to be galvanized by his presence and maybe turn out in a very much larger proportion than would normally be the case.

The other thing, of course, is that Barack Obama left the White House; wasn't really name checked by many Democratic candidates in the 2016 elections but now is being wheeled out in a way that this is a big glass throne. I'm not sure the Democrats have put forward a positive vision, which may galvanize their supporters or those who stayed home in 2016.

I don't see a very positive program other than one which says we are not Donald Trump and Donald Trump is a big threat to American identity. ALLEN: They have been criticized for that.

How are they going to rally?

How are they going to come together and crystallize something that the anti-Trumps will latch onto?

Are you surprised that Mr. Obama is getting this involved?

We don't normally see a former president criticize --

[04:25:00]

ALLEN: -- a current one but these are certainly unique times with the very unpopular president.

PARMAR: That's true. I've been racking my memory and it goes back to Woodrow Wilson around 1920. Most presidents, when they leave office, die quite quickly or leave with deep unpopularity. Therefore, nobody who succeeds them in the opposition or whatever tends to invoke them. And they tend to stay out.

George H.W. Bush criticized his son George W. Bush about Iraq just before he went into the Iraq War. And I don't see very much previous, if you like, forum on this question. This suggests there is a deep crisis and we see it.

"The New York Times" op-ed, the anonymous op-ed, reportedly from a senior administration official, suggests the cracks in the American sort of body politic go right to the heart of the government of the United States itself.

And, you know, President Obama is coming up the other end as well, if you look at the levels of street protests, the levels of mobilization outside of mainstream politics, those have gone right through the roof, approaching levels which have not been seen since the 1960s or 1970s.

And I think President Obama has brought in partly to relegitimize the Democratic Party. But without a positive vision, a lot of those voters, the young people, the minorities and others who stayed home, I don't think they will be back.

ALLEN: Fifteen seconds left, do you think the fact that there's a good economy, the jobs numbers just came out, they're still very strong. We just saw North Korea do a military parade and stand down on showing off its missiles.

Can that help the Republicans?

PARMAR: Both of those will help in some ways but first, the economic news, it's good.

But who gets most of what is the additional production?

All the rise in GDP? That level of inequality continues. Workers' wages are being depressed. And there's trillions of dollars stashed away abroad in tax savings by very wealthy people. That's a big problem.

ALLEN: That's true, too. Inderjeet, we appreciate your insights. Thank you very much.

PARMAR: Thank you very much.

ALLEN: The rise of right-wing populism in Europe is gaining ground in a bastion of liberalism. Recent polls show the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats Party is set to expand its footprint in parliament. We'll explain what is at stake in Sunday's election.

Also, one U.S. state could make history in the upcoming election. And that would be the state we're in right now, Georgia.

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ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. And I'm Natalie Allen with our headlines.

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ALLEN: And a landmark election is now underway in Sweden. Voting places opening a couple hours ago. Sweden traditionally is a very liberal country but polls show the far-right Sweden Democrats gaining strength, echoing the rise of right-wing populists across Europe. Atika Shubert is joining us live from Stockholm.

Hello to you, Atika.

Is there surprise in a country as welcoming as Sweden that a far right party is looking strong in this election?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly the most heated election we have seen in decades here in Sweden because there's so much at stake.

Now we're at a polling station here, polling stations have been open for a little bit more than two hours. All seems quite calm and organized, you can also see here we have the color-coded ballots that Sweden uses.

But there is, again, a lot at stake here because that famous generous welfare system that is the envy of many other countries is now being challenged by a populist breakthrough party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SHUBERT (voice-over): Rallying supporters ahead of Sweden's decisive election, Jimmie Akesson looks poised to translate nationalist policies into big electoral gains. Once denounced as neofascist, his party has broadened its appeal, largely with one issue.

JIMMIE AKESSON, SWEDEN DEMOCRATS (through translator): Our election manifesto is about a more responsible and less costly immigration and integration policy.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Sweden's first general election since taking in a record number of refugees in 2015, sharing its wealth with more refugees per capita than any other European country.

Akesson's far right party wants to freeze most immigration and have monetary incentives to persuade migrants to leave. Once unimaginable in progressive socialist Sweden, the Sweden Democrats are hoping to follow a trend of populist gains in several European countries as the right-wing policies gain more traction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have had very high immigration here. And I mean that puts a strain on everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think that the refugees coming here will make things worse for those who live here.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Also stirring anti-immigrant sentiment, some right-wing parties have linked an influx of foreigners to an uptick in violent crime, particularly in lower income neighborhoods.

Gang violence is another major area of concern. In August, a group of young people set fire to dozens of cars in Sweden's second biggest city and nearby towns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Security is very important. In the village, there's a lot of violence and drug trafficking. People of all ages, they just don't dare go out.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has toughened his stance on crime and immigration, walking back a once open-door policy for refugees. His Social Democratic Party has dominated Swedish politics --

[04:35:00]

SHUBERT: -- for decades, overseeing a thriving economy with low unemployment. But enthusiasm for the mainstream center left party may be slowing as immigration and violence add to a list of issues stoking concerns.

Unprecedented wildfires burned thousands of hectares around Sweden after record heat waves across Europe, bringing climate change onto the agenda.

Meanwhile, some Swedes are frustrated with a lack of access to health care as a shortage of nurses and doctors means outrageous waiting times. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): A patient who needs a checkup may have to wait for a while. And that could take four or five years.

SHUBERT (voice-over): All of those issues will come into the fold during this weekend's election. That could make for an unusual result in socialist Sweden. No one party a clear winner or loser.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUBERT: Natalie, we spent the day yesterday in Goteborg yesterday, Sweden's second largest city, and we asked voters what was the most important issue. I heard health care, immigration but also climate change. So many different things.

But the one thing everyone says they were concerned about was the Sweden Democrats. The rise of this party, whether positive or negative, that will be the party to watch this election. -- Natalie.

ALLEN: We know you'll be watching it for us, Atika Shubert, on what seems to be a lovely day to go to the polls. Thank you so much, Atika.

Brazil's far-right presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro is recovering from the stab wound he received while campaigning earlier this week. His son posted this photo of his father in the hospital. The tweet says Bolsonaro's condition continues to improve and that he has started physical therapy.

The state news agency says a 40-year-old man has been charged in connection with the attack.

And again now to the crucial midterm elections coming up in November in the U.S., the governor's race right here in the state of Georgia could make history.

If the Democratic candidate wins, she will be the first African American woman governor in the United States. Polls show the race, which some say is a referendum on President Trump, is too close to call. Fore more about it, here's Kaylee Hartung.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: We are writing the next chapter of Georgia's future.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Democrat looking to become the nation's first black female governor...

ABRAMS: Where you come from shouldn't determine how far you can go.

HARTUNG: -- versus ...

BRIAN KEMP (R), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: This is about fighting for literally, ladies and gentlemen, the soul of our state this fall. HARTUNG: -- a Republican using every page of the president's playbook.

KEMP: I got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.

HARTUNG: Georgia's gubernatorial candidates polar opposites on seemingly every issue from abortion to taxes, immigration to guns.

ABRAMS: We can repeal campus carry --

KEMP: I own guns that no one's taken away.

HARTUNG: But this race is about more than the future of the Peach State, it's become a microcosm of the political divide in America.

GREG BLUESTEIN, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": This is going to be something of a warm-up act for 2020 right here in Georgia.

HARTUNG: Greg Bluestein is a political reporter for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution."

BLUESTEIN: Democrats want to desperately prove that Georgia is a battleground state in a way that it hasn't been in a few decades. Republicans want to do everything they can to fortify Georgia to make sure it still stays in the red column.

HARTUNG: No Democrat has won a major statewide election in Georgia since 2000. Despite that fact, Abrams believes the math works.

ABRAMS: I'm going to talk to the millions of Democratic leaning voters and those disaffected Republicans who want to see something else and those independent thinkers who haven't quite decided.

HARTUNG: Important to her formula, Georgia's dramatic demographic shifts in recent years getting younger and more diverse in the former Republican stronghold of the Atlanta suburbs, proven by recent presidential elections.

In 2000, George W. Bush won Georgia by 12 points; in 2012, Romney by 8. The Republican margin continuing to decrease in 2016 when Trump won the state by just five points.

Still, President Trump's endorsement in a contentious GOP runoff helped Kemp win by nearly 40 points.

KEMP: That was like pouring gasoline on the fire that we had.

HARTUNG: But unlike her fellow Democrats across the country, Abrams rarely invokes the president's name.

ABRAMS: We are in a divisive moment and there is a great deal of concern about whether we're going to continue to stand for the values that have made us a strong country.

HARTUNG: Unspoken or not, there's no avoiding the president's imprint on the race.

If we're talking the first Wednesday in November and this state has turned blue, who will be responsible for making that happen? Who in the electorate?

BLUESTEIN: It will be -- well, Donald Trump will be partly responsible, either way.

HARTUNG: Kaylee Hartung, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Next here, Venezuela accuses the U.S. of a conspiracy and it may not be wrong. We'll tell you about that.

Also, giving thanks. The Thai boys rescued from a cave reunite with many of the men who saved them.

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ALLEN: Venezuela often accuses the U.S. of plotting against it. And new reports are adding fuel to that fire. Sources confirm to CNN that the U.S. met with Venezuelan military officers plotting a coup against the country's president, Nicolas Maduro. For more on it, here's Elise Labott in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: CNN has confirmed that U.S. officials met secretly with Venezuelan military officers who were plotting a coup against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.

That's according to a current and former U.S. official. American officials met with renegade Venezuelan military officers abroad several times over the last year after those officers made contact.

But sources told us that Washington ultimately decided against supporting the coup, didn't provide the Venezuelan officers with any support and plans for the coup ultimately fell apart.

Now the Trump administration's discussions with the Venezuelan military officers about that potential coup were first reported Saturday by "The New York Times." But the Maduro government has been concerned for some time that the U.S. was behind such a coup plot.

President Donald Trump has previously discussed the possibility of military option in Venezuela. Asked about the possibility of a military intervention in response to the mounting crisis in the country, the president said that certainly the U.S. could, quote, "pursue taking military action against Venezuela." It would be a dramatic escalation of the U.S. so far diplomatically

and sanctions focused response to the political and economic crisis rolling Venezuela. CNN has previously reported in August of last year President Trump asked several advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela. Those talks went nowhere and the chaos in Venezuela continues --

[04:45:00]

LABOTT: -- Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Venezuela's foreign minister is lashing out on Twitter. Translated from his original in Spanish, he wrote, "We denounce before the world the intervention plans and the support to military conspiracies by the U.S. government against Venezuela.

"The United States' own media shed light on new and crass evidence."

The White House declined to comment on the meetings but said this in a statement, "U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged.

"A lasting solution to Venezuela's worsening crisis can only arise following restoration of governance by democratic practices, the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms."

Well, more airstrikes were reported Saturday in Syria's Idlib province. They are the latest sign of a looming Russian and government offensive. The area is Syria's last major rebel stronghold and it is also home to millions of people. A full-scale assault could be devastating for civilians who are there. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more from the Syrian capital for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Less than 24 hours after the Tehran summit, the Russians, Iranians and the Turks, the opposition is reporting intense airstrikes in the province of Idlib, which is, of course, the last area in Syria that is still held by opposition forces.

It seems as though several people have been killed in those airstrikes. That's according to the opposition. So far all that has not been confirmed by the Russians.

But at the summit in Tehran on Friday, you basically had two sides to this equation. On the one hand, there was the Turks, who warned that any sort of offensive against Idlib province would bring a lot of bloodshed. They say that a cease-fire was needed.

The Russians for their part especially were saying they believe that fighting terrorism, as they call it, should be the highest concern. Now of course, the U.S. has warned both the Russians and the Syrians to take into account the civilians on the ground there inside Idlib province.

There are some estimates that say that is around 3 million civilians could still be inside Idlib province. But the reality of the matter is also that around Idlib province you do have a large scale force by the Syrian military, not just many troops out there but also some of the battle hardened forces that the Assad government has, many of them veterans.

For instance, the battles here of Aleppo and also the outskirts of Douma, which were some of the toughest of the Syrian civil war. So there's a great deal of concern about the situation around Idlib province, whether or not things might kick off soon, whether or not, maybe because of airstrikes reported in Idlib, they have already kicked off.

That's completely unclear. But certainly the international community keeping a very, very concerned and worried eye on Idlib province and what might happen there in the not-too-distant future -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Damascus.

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ALLEN: Iraqi officials posted a curfew in the city of Basra as an attempt to curb violent demonstrations. Iraq's second largest city has been rocked by five days of deadly protests.

People have been calling for better public services and jobs. Angry protesters stormed and burned the Iranian consulate on Friday. At least three people died, 50 others wounded in that incident.

A court in Egypt has upheld the death sentences of 75 people. That number includes Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters as well as journalists. They were among hundreds arrested in 2013 for protesting the removal of then president Mohammed Morsi.

Egyptian forces under the command of current president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi fired on protesters with automatic weapons and attacked them with bulldozers, killing hundreds. Human rights groups have condemned the trial and the sentences.

Well, ahead of a major climate summit next week, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and the water Saturday, demanding meaningful action against climate change.

An enormous shift in Australia's Sydney Harbor kicked off a full day of global demonstrations. The U.S. advocacy group organized the more than 800 protests across the world.

Some 50,000 people marched in Paris alone, according to one organization. And huge crowds marched to music in Bogota, Colombia, demanding an end to fracking, deforestation and pollution.

Months after being rescued from an underground cave, 12 Thai boys recreate that experience -- but only for a moment. We'll explain, next.

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ALLEN: It's been nearly two months since 12 boys and their coach were rescued from a cave deep underground in Thailand. This week, the Thai government held an appreciation day, as CNN's Ivan Watson reports. It's the first time the boys met the men who saved them in that dangerous rescue mission.

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IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Thai government threw a celebration for the 12 youth football players from the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach as well as for some of their rescuers.

They were brought in nearly two months after that remarkable rescue from the cave system on the border of Thailand to the Thai capital. For many of those boys, it was the first time they had ever set foot in Bangkok and they were greeted by the Thailand Prime Minister himself, some of the rescuers were there on hand.

Some of the remarkable team from around the world who helped to come together for what was at time a deadly operation, where one Thailand SEAL diver lost his life and one of them spoke to CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't do these things expecting them to happen, we do this because we want to help people and not for the recognition, all of this is not why we do the rescue operations, we just do it from the heart.

WATSON: The boys have largely been kept at --

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WATSON: -- arm's length by Thai authorities from journalists but this was an opportunity for basically photographs of them. And there were rather unusual moments.

The boys were asked to walk through a simulated cave tunnel to perhaps reenact some of their harrowing ordeal, for some three weeks underground. In some press conference with journalists, some of the boys said that they would like to grow up to become professional football players, they were happy to be back at school.

Now one boy said he would like to grow up to be a SEAL diver, clearly inspired by the heroic work that was done by some of the SEAL divers to pull them out.

But this was clearly an effort to celebrate also the combined effort that many people in Thailand, who were transfixed by the rescue effort -- and the escape is something that drew attention from around the world -- that was clearly being celebrated. In fact, the Thai government called this evening, quote, "united as one" -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

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ALLEN: I'll be back with the top stories right after this. Another hour of CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment. Please stay with us.