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U.S., South Korea Stage "Max Thunder" Drills; Pence: U.S. Seeks Fairer trade with Indonesia; Syria Relocates Warplanes Near Russian Air Base; Bill O'Reilly Out After 21 Years at FOX News; Crackdown on Gay Men in Chechnya; Venezuelan Protests Turn Deadly Amid Economic Turmoil; Search Called Off in Deadly Sri Lanka Dump Collapse; Understanding the French Election Through "Boules". Aired 2-3a ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:01] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.


VAUSE: Hello, everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.


Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. is prepared to respond with overwhelming force to any attack by North Korea. And that military might is on display right now as the U.S. and South Korea are staging military drills named Max Thunder.

VAUSE: Pence is in Indonesia right now. He told U.S. servicemembers earlier in Japan the "The most dangerous and urgent threat to the region is North Korea. And right now, all options are on the table."

CNN's Mallika Kapur is following the vice president's visit, from Hong Kong.

But we start with our Paula Hancocks at Simpson (ph) Air Base in South Korea where the military drills with U.S. forces are under way.

Paula, clearly a display by the North Korea Security Alliance. Have we heard any comments from North Korea?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Isha, we have heard comments in the past as military drills have been ongoing. This is just one part of the drill today. But this has been going since the beginning of March and goes until the end of April. Two months of massive military drills, which every year North Korea is infuriated by.

At this point, given everything that has happened on the peninsula, we're hearing reaction from North Korea when it comes to what Vice President Mike Pence has been saying, that North Korea would do well not to test the resolve of the U.S. or the U.S. military. North Korea says they believe the U.S. has pushed the situation to the point that nuclear war could break out at any time. In some respects, the military drills are less what North Korea is

publicly focusing on right now. That visit by the vice president. Every year, North Korea believe this is an invasion practice, a dress rehearsal, if you like. The U.S. said that's not the case, they are defensive in nature. And that these were planned months and months ago.

Having said that -- we have a jet taking off. They say it's very important to have this on-the-ground forward position between the Koreas and the United States in peace time, so if war every happens, they know how to interact with each other.

SESAY: Paula, regarding comments Mike Pence made to Dana Bash regarding that failed missile test regarding whether or not the U.S. had a hand in bringing about the failure of that test, the vice president refusing to answer the question directly. How was that likely to go over with Pyongyang. Even those Pence didn't answer the question, it sends a message to North Korea that they're focused on Pyongyang in the days ahead.

HANCOCKS: Certainly, we've heard from North Korea official that's had there been cyber sabotage, does that make a difference to the missile tests. North Korean officials say they will continue with these tests no matter what. We've heard that from leader, Kim Jong- Un. He says he will continue with these tests and he will continue with nuclear testing. It's the state ideology, it's what Kim Jong-Un has built his personality credibility and changed the constitution for. So they will listen to the comments closely by the vice president and they've been reacting to different things that have been said. Certainly, some strong words from the vice president relatively compared to previous Obama administration officials and North Korea has been responding angrily to that.

SESAY: Paula Hancocks, joining us from South Korea. Paula, appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Live now to CNN's Mallika Kapur for the latest on Mike Pence's visit to Indonesia.

Mallika, the vice president met already with Indonesia's president. He's making commitments on security. At the same time, he wants concessions on the economic relationship.

[02:04:49] MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He talked about trade, saying the U.S. is committed to doing trade with Indonesia. This is key because U.S. said it's walking away from TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership. Mike Pence saying the U.S. is committed to continuing trade relations with Indonesia but he said there should be a more level playing field. By this, he's referring to the U.S. trade deficit that the U.S. facing when it comes to Indonesia.

With the first 100 days in office, President Trump wanted a review of all the country with which the U.S. has a trade deficit. Indonesia is one of them. And the vice president saying there should be a more level playing field so they can bridge the trade deficit. This was a key campaign promise of the Trump administration to do whatever they can to reduce the trade deficit.

It's also important to note he did say they will continue to do more trade with Indonesia and they look forward to more trade with Indonesia.

Indonesia is one of the largest economies in southeast Asia. It had robust steady growth of 5 percent to 6 percent over last several years and it has a growing middle class, a young population, and it could be a very important market for the U.S. But the message is they want level playing field and they want trade to be more fair between the two countries.

VAUSE: After all the talk for the vice president, he's heading off to the biggest mosque of the region, an outreach to the community.

KAPUR: Yes, that's another key symbolic gesture he's making. Very important because this is the first visit from such a high-level official in Trump administration to a Muslim-majority country and people are Indonesia are welcoming the move. Indonesia didn't react well to the travel ban, even though Indonesia it wasn't on the list, but it did speak out vocally about that ban. So they are welcoming this move and this effort to reach out to the Muslim community.

VAUSE: Interesting move, given the history of Trump during the campaign.

Mallika, thank you. Mallika Kapur live with the latest details. We appreciate it.

SESAY: Now U.S. Department of State says if Iran is left unchecked, it could travel the same path as North Korea. Rex Tillerson accuses Iran of trying to destabilize countries in the Middle East.

VAUSE: He reported to Congress on Tuesday that Tehran is in compliance with the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration, but he says the Trump administration is reviewing its Iran policy.


REX TILLERSON, SECERTARY OF STATE: The evidence is clear Iran's provocative actions threaten the United States, the region and world. As I indicated at the beginning, the Trump administration is currently conducting a comprehensive review of our Iran policy. Once we have finalized out conclusions, we'll meet the challenges Iran poses with clarity and conviction.


SESAY: Iran's supreme leader has warned Tehran will retaliate if the U.S. breaches the nuclear agreement.

VAUSE: The U.S. government says Syria has moved most of its war planes to a safer location. They are now at an international airport close to a Russian airbase.

SESAY: The defensive move following a U.S. missile strike on the Shayrat airfield two weeks ago.

We have the latest now from CNN's Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The April 6th U.S. Tomahawk missile attack at a Syrian base reverberated inside the Assad regime. The regime has now move the majority of its operational fighter jets to a coastal airbase, putting the Syrian jets under the protective umbrella of Russian's adjacent air base.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. MILTIARY ANALYST: It points to a much closer relationship than we thought they had otherwise and it may also be an indicator that they might want to protect some of the assets, potentially their weapons, fuel storage areas, and it could mean they may be facilitating the hiding of chemical weapons.

STARR: Something it worries about, given the Trump administration's willingness to use military force in retaliation for the regime's attack in northern Syrian using what international agencies now believe was most likely sarin, a finding now underscored by the International Inspections regime of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons.

The U.S. retaliatory response to the sarin attack took out 20 percent of Syria's operational fighter jets. 23 six-wing jets were destroyed, including seven SU22s and 16 MIG23s.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, traveling in the region, making the point the U.S. and Russian military are still talking about their combat air operations.

[02:10:05] GEN. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are deconflicted with the Russians and we will continue to deconflict with the Russians for safety of flight to avoid any kind of misunderstanding or any kind of inadvertent running into each other, frankly, in the air.

STARR: And while Syrian aircraft are looking for Russian protection, Russian aircraft are getting close to U.S. shores. For the second time in two days, two Cold War-era Russian Bear bombers were spotted flying off the coast of the Alaska, at one point, coming within 36 miles of the mainland, but carefully staying in international airspace. U.S. military aircraft conducted routine intercepts and the bombers turned back towards Russia.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


SESAY: Next on NEWSROOM L.A., as Bill O'Reilly's two decades at FOX News comes to an end, what the network is saying about the exit of its biggest star.



[02:15:03] SESAY: Hello, everyone. FOX News' top talent, Bill O'Reilly, is leaving the network amid claims of sexual harassment. 21s t Century FOX says, "After thorough and careful review of the allegations, O'Reilly and the company decided to part ways."

One of the women who came forward praised that decision.


DR. WENDY WALSH, FORMER FOX CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): For me personally I never had a dog in this race. I always said this is up to FOX News. It wasn't a vendetta against Mr. Bill O'Reilly however as a woman and mother to see a seismic shift for a company to put women's rights ahead of the bottom line is enormous.


SESAY: Bill O'Reilly released his own statement, saying, in part, "It is tremendously disheartening when we depart ways due to completely unfounded claims."

VAUSE: O'Reilly's exit is the biggest on-air shakeup every at FOX News. He had been a pillar of their primetime lineup for 20 years.

SESAY: For many, O'Reilly was the embodiment of FOX News.

CNN's Brian Stelter tells us more about his time there.


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST, O'REILLY FACTOR: Caution, you are about to enter the "No Spin Zone."

BRIANS STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES (voice-over): Bill O'Reilly is a FOX News original, who got his start as a local news reporter.

O'REILLY: Happy New Year, everybody. I'm Bill O'Reilly.

STELTER: And went on to report for CBS and ABC News. He joined "Inside Edition" in 1999 and anchored the show for six years. Known for his big personality even back then, he became known for his temper, on display in this video that later went viral.

BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: I can't do it. We'll do it live. No, we'll do it live. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) it. Do it live. Don't write it. And we'll do it live. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In five, four, three.

O'REILLY: That's tomorrow and that is it for us today. I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks again for watching.

STELTER: O'Reilly took a break from television in 1995 and enrolled in the John F. Kennedy School of Government and got a Master's in public administration.

O'REILLY: Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight.

STELTER: The following year he was hired by Roger Ailes to host a show at a startup network called the FOX News channel. The show was a huge hit. For a time, he also hosted a radio show, which, combined, gave him a massive audience for his outspoken conservative views.

But for all his fans, he earned nearly as many detractors. He was called a bully for his aggressive interview style. And at a book fair in 2003, Senator Al franken called him a liar to his face.

O'REILLY: All he's got is that I've misspoke and labeled a cult a Peabody. He writes in his book, he tries to make me out --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. That's --

O'REILLY: Shut up. You had your 35 minutes. Shut up.


STELTER: He was the chief inspiration for the bombastic character played by Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. The show routinely poked fun at some of O'Reilly's most controversial comments.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COLBERT REPORT: Pa Bear Bill O'Reilly found another reason she should be taken out of the not-yet running.

O'REILLY: There's got to be some down side to having a woman president, right, something.

STELTER: But his controversial comments wouldn't bring him down. Accusations about his behavior with women start in 2004 after a FOX News producer filed a sexual harassment suit against FOX News, alleging he spoke repeatedly about his sexual fantasies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last time, when these inappropriate conversations happened last time, he said it was going to be in person, and I felt extremely threatened for many reasons.

STELTER: O'Reilly vowed to fight the charge.

O'REILLY: This is the single most-evil thing I've ever experienced.

STELTER: And filed counter suit for extortion, and the case was settled for a reported $9 million.

But it didn't end there. In 2016, after accusations about FOX new founder, Roger Ailes, became public, some women also came forward with allegations against O'Reilly. FOX investigated Ailes and he stepped down under pressure. "The New York Times" started looking into accusations against O'Reilly as well. Just more than two weeks ago, a "Time" story detailed $13 million in settlements between Bill O'Reilly and FOX and the women who had accused him. The reaction was fierce. Advertisers pulled out of the O'Reilly show by the dozens. And just like that, the cable news king, who once seemed untouchable, is off the air for good, at least at FOX.


VAUSE: Thanks to Brian Stelter for that report.

Good way to end the story, at least at FOX, because the question is, where will he end up.

Joining us once again is radio host and political commentator, Mo Kelly.

Mo, we always talk to you about politics, we'll get to that in a moment.

You know the industry and the media.

[02:20:09] MO KELLY, TALK RADIO HOST & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And also Dr. Walsh. Her program abuts mine.

VAUSE: If you look at the future of O'Reilly, we've been speculating where he might end up. Maybe at Netflix. They have a ton of money and don't need advertisers but do need subscribers and he has a loyal following.

KELLY: Barring a non-compete clause, he could do whatever he wanted.


KELLY: Right. He doesn't need -- if anything, we know how people are cutting the cord and moving ago way from cable TV, no offense to CNN, but people are moving away.


SESAY: You believe he will move on with his FIX audience?

KELLY: He's such a proud man, that's the least he could do. I don't think he wants this to be his swan song. He didn't get a chance to sign off. It is obvious in his statement that he's very upset how this is going down. He didn't get to say good-bye to his audience and he's too proud to end like this.

VAUSE: The fact it did end like this, what does it says to you about what went on, they got Bill O'Reilly to leave and never come back.

KELLY: We're talking about this being Sexual Harassment Awareness Month. Talking about being post Roger Ailes and there's now allegations with Ailes and we're talking about Marines and Navy dealing with the nude photo scandal, and all of this coming together for FOX as they are losing advertisers. It's not just Bill O'Reilly, it's Bill O'Reilly and everything else.

SESAY: What changes after FOX after this? Does the culture change. We hear women say it's a seismic shift. KELLY: It's a change. It was at this point that Bill O'Reilly became

a financial liability where they were bleeding advertisers. That's what changed. That just means it's still a dollars-and-cents issue.

VAUSE: Bill O'Reilly has a loyal following and has friends in high police station places. We heard President Trump defending O'Reilly about two weeks ago. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a good person. Personally, I don't think he should have settled. I don't think Bill would do anything wrong.


SESAY: Friends in high places.

VAUSE: Given everything now, that was two weeks ago, so how does it reflect on the president.

KELLY: Two things. The president needs it learn he doesn't need to comment about everything and shouldn't comment especially about pending litigation, because this is still being worked out. And now he's going to have to answer to his comments he made previously. It's like now that Bill O'Reilly has been forced out, President Trump is going to have to answer for those comments when he should have said nothing at all.

SESAY: Speaking of the relationship between President Trump and Bill O'Reilly, and more speaking conservative popularize, a lot has been said about Bill O'Reilly and his view of the world created the space for the president. What now for that brand of conservativism.

KELLY: That brand is still very, very popular. Can't say President Trump and everything he represents and everyone he represents is somehow unpopular. It is now difficult to sell that going forward. But at same time Bill O'Reilly to your point has a tremendous audience and that doesn't disappear just because he lost his place on one network.

VAUSE: When I listen to President Trump talk during the campaign, he seems to be the conservative, talk-back radio president in so many ways.

KELLY: Absolutely. He's a reflection of the political angst and representation of people disenchanted with politics, and that won't change in the first hundred days of President Trump. There's a roll and space for Bill O'Reilly and I would expect him, again, to show up somewhere because he's too proud and he's too bold at the let this be his final signing off.

SESAY: Does anything change for FOX in terms of their on-air messaging. Bill O'Reilly was a signature star. Roger Ailes helped to create that. He's gone as well. What happens to the relationship between FOX and conservatives now. KELLY: Remember, Bill O'Reilly talked about the downfall of America

because of the rise of secularism makes it more difficult to make that case going forward when you have two big names, Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, have been forced out because of their personal proclivities.

[02:25:10] VAUSE: The replacement for Bill O'Reilly is a nice guy, working for Fox News, doing good in the ratings. But they replaced and this is an opportunity to replace an old white guy with maybe a woman or a minority or someone more than their traditional lineup.

KELLY: They're not trying to alienate their core base. It's still about business.

VAUSE: They are making a statement, I guess, is what you're saying.


SESAY: They're making a statement by staying the course.

KELLY: Right. They did as little as they could to maintain the image they already had. That's easier, forcing out Bill O'Reilly, then giving me a job.

VAUSE: Especially, giving you a job.

Mo, we're glad you're with us.

SESAY: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: Thanks for being with us.

SESAY: Time for a quick break here. "State of America" with Kate Bolduan is coming up next for our viewers in Asia.

VAUSE: For everyone else, we'll discuss the shocking allegations against gay men in the Russian province of Chechnya, next on NEWSROOM L.A.


SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

[02:29:46] VAUSE: I'm John Vause.

Here are the headlines right now.


[02:30:34] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Witnesses and victims are coming forward in Russia's province of Chechnya with chilling claims of a brutal crackdown on gay man.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: It includes mass arrests and torture. Activists say it's getting worse.

CNN's Matthew Chance has details.



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia has a checkered gay-rights record. Breaking up Pride marches. Even passing anti-gay propaganda laws. Now, shocking allegations much worse. Hundreds of gay men in Chechnya, in southern Russia, being rounded up and brutally tortured by the local authorities.

People like Akmen (ph), who spoke to CNN on the promise we hide his identity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): My car was stopped at a check point and they asked for my documents necessary. They looked at the them and said they are taking me.

CHANCE: For years, activists say sexual minorities have been targeted in conservative, mainly Muslim Chechnya. One recent victim shared this cellphone video. He recorded it as his friend was abducted and beaten just over a year ago.

Now activists say the problem is much worse, with hundreds of gay men detained in special camps, some subjected to horrifying abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): They started beating me with their fists and feet. They wanted to get maimed at my gay friends. Then they tied wire to my hands and put metal clippers on my ears to electrocute me. They have special equipment, very powerful. When they shock you, you jump high above the ground.

CHANCE: Chechnya is run by Ramsam Kadirof (ph), the Kremlin-backed strong man who regularly posts videos of himself working out in his private gym.

Kadirof's (ph) spokesman calls the allegations of a gay crackdown is an absolute lie, denying gay men exist there.


CHANCE: Chechnya clerics gave this fiery sermon, condemning the allegations and promising retribution.

A major Russian newspaper, which first reported the story, said it's entire staff is now at risk of reprisal.

But it's not the beating nor the torture terrifying the men we med. In Chechnya, just being gay is a death sentence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): If my family finds out I'm gay, then no authorities, no troops are needed. They will kill me themselves. Even if my parents will forgive me, someone like my uncle won't forgive.

CHANCE: And it's that fear of family retribution forcing many gay citizens to flee their homes.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


SESAY: Let's talk more about this with Tanya Lokshina, in New York, the Russian program director for Human Rights Watch, which is documenting the anti-gay violence there in Chechnya.

Tanya, welcome to the show.

One of the most heartbreaking stories is the gay men, who spoke to CNN, expressed fear of falling into hands of the authorities but also of fearing their own families. What more can you tell us about the reality of life for gays in Chechnya.

TANYA LOKSHINA, RUSSIAN PROGRAM DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: On one hand, authorities after them. They are facing brutal persecutions. On the other hand, they have family to fear. Unfortunately, authorities and police officials encourage family members of presumably gay people to carry out all the killings, to cleanse, quote, unquote, "family honor." This is a devastating situation and indeed a situation victims manage to escape to cities in central Russia do not feel safe. Because they told us that at any given day the security officials could come and get them or their relatives could come and get them. If not their fathers or brothers, then some distant cousins possibly affiliated with security services who would take it upon themselves to protect family honor.

[02:35:19] SESAY: Tanya, let me ask you this. You talked about an anti-gay purge. You use that phrase. Do you think that is the ultimate goal of authorities here, that they are doing this, rounding up these gay men with that intention of driving them out of state?

LOKSHINA: Well, it is a good question. It is appears, by launching as brutal a campaign. On the other hand, Moscow would not intervene. Because gay people are persecuted and discriminated in Russia as a whole but in fact he was wrong. Just today discussion on the anti-gay purge. You will see the meeting was supposedly devoted to mundane issues, talking about housing, budget, and, all of a sudden, Mr. Kadirof (ph) says and those reports of detention are not true. Well, does not talk any further. But the fact that the meeting's official protocol reflects that comment speaks for itself. The Kremlin did raise the issue with Kadirof (ph) and, frankly, this only became possible due to consolidates international pressure.


SESAY: You think the international pressure has pushed Russia to the point of launching a federal investigation. How confident are you that any such investigation will be credible and will ultimately ensure the safety and justice for gays in Chechnya?

LOCKSURE: I've been in Chechnya for 16 years, and unfortunately, we've never seen investigation into cases over abuse in Chechnya either by federal forces or by security agencies. SESAY: Tanya, this is a story we'll stay on. We'll check in with you

to see how the investigation is progressing.

Tanya Lokshina, from Human Rights Watch, thank you so much for your time.

LOKSHINA: Thank you.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break. And when we come back, there's turmoil in Venezuela. The so-called mother of all protests turns deadly and the president faces growing pressure to fix a country in crisis.


[02:42:03] VAUSE: Three people have been killed in protested across Venezuela, which is facing a devastating economic crisis. The critics of the government say President Nicolas Madura is eroding democracy and they blame him for severe shortages of food and medicine, but the president is rallying supporters and accusing the opposition of attempting a coup.


NICOLAS MADURO, VENTEZUALAN PRESIDENT (through translation): Julio Borjis (ph), you are the head of the coup. Later, don't complain when the law comes for you. Julio Borjis (ph), I'm telling you ahead of time, in defense of my motherland and of the people.


VAUSE: Hundreds of thousands took part in demonstrations Wednesday, including Maduro supporters who held counter protests in the capital.

SESAY: The prime minister of Pakistan faces uncertain future. The nation's Supreme Court expected to hand down judgment Thursday on alleged corruption charges against Nawaz Sharif. If the court rules against him, he could be forced to step down. But Sharif ruling party predicts the judgment will be in his favor. Now Sharif, as three-time prime minister, is one of the countries' richest and most controversial figures. First enlisted in 1990, dismissed and then reinstated, a d ultimately resigned several years into his term. He had a comeback in 1997, but two years later, was ousted in a coup by General Perez Musharraf. After being overthrown and facing life in prison, he was exiled and spent seven years in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Pakistan, and in 2013, he was elected prime minister for a third time.

The corruption allegations against Nawaz Sharif stem from a massive document leak, known as the Panama Papers, with more 11 million documents which revealed a clandestine network of crime and corruption among global power players. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a statement, reporting the records are connected to the Panama- based law firm and that the firm helped establish secret shell companies and offshore accounts. VAUSE: Search crews in Sri Lanka are being sent home after a deadly

catastrophe at a garbage dump late Friday. All this happened in the country's capital.

Details now from Amara Walker.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The search for survivors have been called off. Dozens were killed when a 90-meter- high wall of trash came down on Friday burying families and homes and taking from survivors what little they had to call their own.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a big nose. We heard people shouting. Houses were coming towards us, flying at us like a tsunami. Houses were cracked. My house is buried. Three of my neighbor's houses are buried, too.


[02:45:04] WALKER: Residents have been demanding the government do something about the dump for years but little came of the protests and the mountain of trash continued to grow.

This Google Earth street view gives a glimpse what they've been living with. The image was captured in 2015 before the collapse. These photos were taken after the collapse. The remaining peak of the dump still towering high above the neighborhood below it.

Sri Lanka's prime minister announced no more trash would be deposited at the site and promised survivors would be compensated for their losses.

The issue of solid waste management isn't exclusive to Sri Lanka or even to developing countries. 113 were killed when a landfill collapsed in Ethiopia last month and at least 58 were killed in China in a landslide of construction waste in 2015.

Amara Walker, CNN Atlanta.


SESAY: Time for a quick break. The first round of voting is days away. Coming up, we'll help make sense of France's presidential election.




[02:50:09] VAUSE: It is a close call for the planet, at least in astronomical terms. An asteroid the size of the Rock of Gibraltar speeding past earth at an uncomfortably close distance.

SESAY: This is flight path of the space rock dubbed 2014JO25, coming within 1.8 million kilometers to our planet. Astronomers say there is no possibility of the asteroid colliding with earth. But it is big enough and close enough that even amateur stargazers could see it with a telescope.

To more earthly matters. The field of candidates is large and the polls indicate about a quarter of voters are still undecided.

VAUSE: This is the most unpredictable presidential election in France in years.

For an explanation of what's going on and all of the complicated details, here's Jim Bittermann.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So I don't think there's any question French elections are complicated and very difficult to understand, especially if you're not French. I decided maybe one way to give you an explanation would be to show you through one of the games that's one of the most popular games in France. It is called bocce in Italy, Tag in the United States, and Boules here in France.

To help me to explain is the French Boules club from France. Some of their champions are going to help play this very special game of Boules. We called it Presidential Tank.

Aside here we have eleven balls that represent the eleven presidential candidates. Normally, you play with three balls per player but here we have eleven candidates. You might ask why so many presidential candidates in France. It has to do with the way presidential candidates are selected. You have to have 500 signatures from mayors or officials to be a candidate, and eleven people have gotten that. You might think that's a lot of choice. Even the French think it's way too many balls to have in the air at election time.

And now you may have noticed there's twelve balls. Here there's a small ball here, called a jack in English. It's the target, the goal of all Boules players to come as close to this as possible. This is the place, we've got photographed on here, and that's what all these presidential candidates would like to get close to. This is not big enough for the presidential palace, not for the presidency of France. So we got down here our rather large jack or goal that the presidential candidates will be approaching trying to get close to the presidential pass.

It's hard to believe that some of these people think they can win the election for presidency. But according to public opinion polls, we can eliminate some of those who will fall short. And we'll take them out and see how they do with our expert Boules players here in Bayou (ph).

For a long time, the Boules players had a hard time getting some of these candidates, who are an anti-capitalist worker, conspiracy theorists, a follower of Leon Trotsky, anywhere near the presidential palace.

Clearly, those first six really don't have much of a chance if the public opinion polls are correct. And the next president of France is right here among these five that are remaining. So I'm going to give these five to the president of the Boules club, and he'll distribute them, and we'll see how they do in the first round of the election.

Here, things get interesting. The left-leaning Socialist candidate, for example, who started the campaign strongly, has been knocked away by an even farther left-wing candidate for the Communist Party who is coming out strong. The mainstream right-wing candidate, who also started off strongly, has been knocked about by scandal, but he could make a comeback. Is it too late? Everyone is talking about the final two candidates, the leader of the National Front Party, who lands far to the right, and a former banker, who never ran for office before, and some say, wobbles all over the place.

Now, at this point, if we were really playing Boules, we'd get out the measuring tape to determine the winner. But in presidential tag, the only way to measure is with a public opinion poll.

Sorry, folks, that's not in the cards.

You didn't really think I was going to tell you which candidate Boules came closed to reaching the palace in the first round of the election, did you? No way. I wouldn't take that risk.

But the two candidates who actually do come closest on April 23rd, will then go on to the second round of the elections on May 7th. Only then will we know who the next president of France will be.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, France.


VAUSE: Hit me over the head with a cricket bat. I'm still confused.


SESAY: That can be arranged.