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Voting Underway in Historic Presidential Contest; National Day of Mourning in Afghanistan; Funding Deadline Looms to Keep U.S. Government Running; Tempers Rise on Another Aircraft; Scientists, Supporters Rally On Earth Day. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's decision day for France. Polls for the presidential election opened an hour ago. We'll be live from Paris.

Also a gesture of comfort after a day of horror. Afghanistan is in mourning as the death toll from Friday's Taliban attack on an army base continues to climb.

And caught on camera, another heated confrontation on a U.S. airliner.

Thank you for joining us everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.


VANIER: So voting is now underway across France in the presidential election there. The polls opened just about one hour ago. This is the first round of voting ahead of next month's expected runoff.

The final outcome has the potential to profoundly transform the political landscape in Europe and beyond. More than 45 million voters are expected to cast ballots by the time polls close. CNN Paris correspondent Melissa Bell joins from us a polling station in the French capital.

Melissa, a lot of voters are still undecided.

What do you think is going to factor into their decision when they make their decision today?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, France has this very particular electoral system. You alluded to it a moment ago, Cyril. There is this first round of voting. The second one, if none of the candidates reach 50 percent, which is the expectation here today, the second one will see the two leaders of today's vote face off on the 7th of May.

And that two-round system means that traditionally what the French have the luxury of doing is voting with their heart in the first round and then with their head in the second round. That is traditionally how things have gone since it becomes a calculated vote once you get to the second round about who you would rather not see in power.

This time though, the cards have so been reshuffled by this extraordinary campaign, by this vast change in France's political system just over the course of the last few months that these 11 candidates prepared to face off today.

It's very difficult to work out how to vote tactically and I think that's probably what explains the undecided voters. They simply cannot work out the best way of ensuring if not that their favorite candidate wins, the one that they're most worried about doesn't.

I think right up until the very end, right up until today and over the course of the next few hours, there will be plenty of French people out there, working out exactly how they're going to come and cast their votes in polling stations like the one just behind me -- Cyril.

VANIER: And of course voters are wondering who they want as their leader. This is their national choice, this is going to be the next leader of France but this has repercussions beyond the borders of France. We know European leaders are watching this with a degree of concern because France, depending on who wins, may change really its attitude towards Europe.

What in your assessment is the general feeling towards the European Union?

BELL: Well, there is -- it has become an issue and I think almost unexpectedly because two of the candidates that are standing, Marine Le Pen for the far right, Jean-Luc Melenchon for the far left, would both hold referendums on whether or not to stay in Europe, which if you imagine a Frexit, very difficult to see how European Union itself could continue, having lost one of its founding members and one of the motors of its progress over the course of the last few decades.

That is one of the big factors and, of course, even beyond Europe, I think, internationally, the way France votes will have important consequences. France is, after all, one of five permanent members of the Security Council. There are three of the leading candidates out of the 11, who, if they made it to the Elysee Palace would mark an important shift towards Moscow and within the Security Council that would have a consequences.

So I think that this is a poll that goes way beyond the borders of France in its significance, in its potential consequences and it is also perhaps finally -- and this is one of the reasons that the foreign press have been watching it so closely -- much more closely than previous French elections, it is also, Cyril, a measure of the continuation or not of the populist wave that we've seen sweeping the Western world since the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.

VANIER: All right, Melissa Bell reporting live from Paris city center, thank you so much.

Results expected about 11 hours from now; of course, you'll be part of CNN's live coverage for those. We'll check back with you.

Joining us now from Paris also is a friend of CNN NEWSROOM, Dominic Thomas, he's the chair of the department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA in California.

Dominic, after all that's happened in this campaign, the changing fortunes of the candidates, the last-minute terror attack, the corruption scandals, how would you describe the general --


VANIER: -- mood, if that's even possible?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH & FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UCLA, CALIFORNIA: Well, the general mood is really what we've got our pulse on right now. We're talking about four parties, there are four candidates that have a chance realistically now to go through to the next round.

In fact, one of the candidates that we know people have been talking about is this fifth candidate, which is the candidate that doesn't vote. We have talking there's a possibility that abstentions could be very high. People don't know who to pick.

They're disillusioned by so much of the campaign rhetoric and divisiveness that I think the turnout will be absolutely key as we -- and we may know about this a little later during the day. And I think that will be a strong indication. In 2012, voter turnout had dropped down and, of course, the last time that there was a real decline in voting was in 2002, when Marine Le Pen's father shocked everybody by making it through to the second round runoff stage.

VANIER: The far left and the far right were both doing well in the polls when the official campaign ended.

Do you remember a time when the extremes -- both extremes were doing so well in French politics?

THOMAS: Well, I mean we have -- we have to go back to -- I mean, let's take one example, 1969, where there was a sort of real shock election where the Left -- the Socialists at the time, scored just over 3 percent and, in fact, the Communist Party came in third with just over 20 percent.

So that really shook things up. And it took 12 years for the Socialist Party to reorganize itself and to finally win an election again with Francois Mitterrand. As we go into the election today, there is a very good chance that not only will there not be a mainstream political party in the second round, which has not happened in the whole history, the 59 history of the Fifth Republic but there is also -- and excuse my play on words here -- there is a possibility that there will be no Left left in the second round.

In other words that Melenchon's far left party will be gone and, of course, among Socialist Party looks like it has no chance of getting through because it's currently polling at 7 percent to 8 percent. So we are seeing throughout Europe, we saw it in the Dutch elections

with the Labour Party there going from being the second to the seventh party. And we also know that Theresa May's motivate in launching a snap election is precisely to capitalize on the divisiveness that exists within the Left and within the Labour Party in Britain today.

VANIER: But, Dominic, why?

Why are mainstream parties in France doing so poorly?

Why are they struggling to appeal, to reach out to voters?

THOMAS: Right, well, it's not just in France. I think that, you know, around the world we're seeing indication that traditional political parties are less attractive to people. Back to the Dutch election, well, the Green Party did well and other parties have emerged.

I think here there is profound disillusionment with this sort of constant shift from the Right to the Left, that the same kinds of lingering solutions have characterized the last 25 years in France; problems with unemployment; questions of morale; questions of whether or not to be in the European Union; engaged with globalization; the question of immigration and so on.

And all of these things have been confused around the question of terror and Islam in France and Europe today. And people aren't finding solutions in these mainstream parties and they're trying to turn or trying to sort of find inspiration in new political ideas and new movements.

And party loyalty has disappeared. In many ways, the Right and Left are becoming increasingly blurred. There are candidates on left who are very tough on law and order and there are candidates on the right who are a little bit more centrist. And so the electorate no longer feels that kind of same loyalty as they maybe felt 10, 15 years ago.

VANIER: All right, Dominic Thomas, thank you very much. Always appreciate your insight, Dominic speaking from CNN's Paris bureau.

I'll be speaking to you soon again, I'm sure, thanks.

Stay with CNN full coverage of the French presidential election. Join us Sunday evening French time for a special program. It'll start just minutes before 8:00 pm French time when the results are expected. That's 2:00 pm Eastern time. Hala Gorani will be bringing you those results from Paris as they come in, along with our correspondents, Melissa Bell and Jim Bittermann. Stay with CNN for that.

Moving on now, it's a national day of mourning in Afghanistan to honor the soldiers killed in Friday's attack by the Taliban. Sources say as many as 140 died even though official figures haven't yet been released. The victims weren't armed. They were praying.

Journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen joins us now from the Afghan capital, Kabul, via Skype. Sune, the Taliban were able to launch an attack by putting on military

uniforms and passing themselves off as soldiers. It seems like a pretty crude tactic.

How vulnerable is the Afghan military?

SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN, JOURNALIST: Well, the Afghan military has been increasingly been taking the lead in the fight on the battlefield against the Taliban and a lot of militant groups since May 2014, when the international forces withdrew their combat troops, the majority of their combat troops.

That obviously made them more vulnerable. We've also seen the Taliban grow in strength and grab more territory --


RASMUSSEN: -- over that period of time. And Mazar Sharif (ph), the city where this particular attack took place, is normally one of the safer areas of country. So it's pretty spectacular for a lot of people that it happened here. The Taliban says the attack was revenge for killing of some of their commanders in the north.

But I think a lot of people were surprised that the biggest base in the north, normally a peaceful area, was this vulnerable. And people are speculating that this attack as well as a couple of previous attacks recently, have been conducted with (INAUDIBLE) insider help and I think the intelligence services will be taking a hard look at this incident to what can be done differently or what can be done to prevent attacks like this in the future.

VANIER: And, Sune, to some extent, the fighting in Afghan is seasonal.

Is this part of a wider spring offensive?

RASMUSSEN: It's partly seasonal. It's less the case now than it was in the past. It's definitely true that when trucks come out and (INAUDIBLE) and fighters can hide more easily and they can move through passes in the mountains without snow, that fighting picks up.

And normally the Taliban at this time would have announced a spring offensive. They haven't done that yet. But I think we can see this as part of the spring offensive they're getting underway.

Six weeks ago, there was a big attack in Kabul against a military hospital, which killed more than 50 people. That wasn't the Taliban, they say, but definitely part of this spring offensive that comes with warmer weather. I think we can expect more attacks or the Taliban will make more attacks like this over the coming months.

VANIER: All right, live from Kabul, journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen, thank you so much.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq are fleeing Western Mosul and the ongoing battle against ISIS. One of those rescued is this 11- year-old Yazidi girl. Iraqi forces say she was captured by ISIS more than two years ago. Remember thousands of Yazidis fled Sinjar. That's a town west of Mosul when ISIS took control there back in 2014.

The terror group considers the religious minority to be devil worshippers and has killed or tortured thousands of Yazidis.

The opposition in Venezuela marched in silence on Saturday in memory of those killed in anti-government protests. At least 22 people have been killed this month; the government says nine of them were electrocuted when they tried to loot a bakery. The opposition is calling President Nicolas Maduro a dictator and blames him for the country's brutal economic crisis.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I, for example, am here. I'm 24 years old and I refuse to leave the country. My entire family is here. My debt (ph) are here. My future is here and I want it to be so. That is why I am here and I will continue to be here until we see change or at least until one of the points that we are demanding is fulfilled.

And we have been in the streets for more than 20 days, making demands of the authorities.


VANIER: The opposition also says President Maduro is blocking efforts to hold regional elections.


VANIER: U.S. politics now; President Donald Trump is about to reach 100 days in office. That benchmark happens next Saturday. Mr. Trump tweeted that he will hold a big rally that day in Pennsylvania.

He previously tweeted that 100 days is a ridiculous standard by which to measure his presidency. The rally will be on the same day as the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which Mr. Trump has declined to attend.

And there are some other key events happening in Washington this coming week. Congress returns from recess and it will have to scramble to avoid a partial government shutdown. For more on this, here's Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. A big week ahead here in Washington. House Republican leadership held a brief conference call with the entire caucus today to talk about this coming week and made it clear that passing a bill to keep the government running is the top priority and will be the primary focus of this coming week.

We know a couple things the White House wants to see included in that funding measure. One is money for the hiring of more immigration agents; another is money for the border wall the president promised on the campaign trail.

Senate Democrats, though, say that the border wall money is a nonstarter. They do not want to see that in this bill. They are also opposed to including the money for immigration agents in this spending bill.

So the big question is, will the president sign a bill to keep the government running that doesn't include money for the border wall?

My colleague, Dana Bash, spoke with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about this. Watch.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with the border wall with Mexico and how it relates to keeping the government open.

If Congress doesn't send President Trump a government funding bill by midnight on Friday, the government will run out of money and a shutdown would begin.

So will the president go to the mat and insist on funding his border wall as part of the stopgap government funding measure?

JOHN KELLY, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SESCURITY: With that, I think it goes without saying that the president has been pretty straightforward about his desire in the need for a border wall.


KELLY: So I would suspect, you know, he'll do the right thing for sure, but I will -- I will suspect he will be insistent on the funding.

JONES: So there you heard Secretary Kelly, sounding pretty certain that the president would insist on border wall funding. But the president himself sounded a bit less definitive about that in an interview he gave to the Associated Press.

He told the AP, "I want the border wall, my base definitely wants the border wall."

But asked whether he would sign a bill that doesn't include that funding, he said, "I just don't know."

So to use one of the president's favorite turns of phrase, "We'll see what happens on the border wall funding issue next week."

I should mention that one GOP source who was on that conference call said Republicans were still in negotiations on the final points of the spending bill and hoped to get it on the floor Friday. Friday, by the way, is the deadline. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: A U.S. soldier has received the Purple Heart from President Trump. Sergeant First Class Avaro Garientos (ph) lost part of his leg after being wounded in Afghanistan. He attended the ceremony, accompanied by his wife. The Purple Heart is awarded to service members wounded or killed in combat.

And this was the president's first trip to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center near Washington.

In a few hours the U.S. Defense Secretary arrives in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa as part of his Middle East tour. While there, James Mattis will visit the only permanent American military installation in Africa.

Before that, Secretary Mattis was in Israeli, where he defended the U.S. position that Syria has kept some of its chemical weapons. The U.S. launched an attack on a Syrian airbase after accusing the regime of carrying out a chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children women and children. The Syrian government denies those accusations.

Vice President Mike Pence, for his part, is wrapping up his trip to Australia. He's taking in the sights in the city, including right here, the Opera House. Pence announced on Saturday that the U.S. would, in the end, honor a refugee resettlement deal with Australia.

That deal was done by the Obama administration. It sends some refugees held in offshore detention centers to the U.S. Reuters News Agency is now reporting that Australia, in turn, would resettle refugees from Central America.

And President Trump has called the deal "dumb."

We're taking a very short break. When we come back, thousands marching in cities around the world, all in the name of science. We'll take to you the demonstrations.

Plus another airline is in the spotlight after a video of a confrontation goes viral.

So what happened that left a mother in tears?

Stay with us.




VANIER: American Airlines is apologizing for what happened on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas on Friday. Much of the aftermath of that was caught on video.

Witnesses say what while passengers were boarding, a flight attendant had violently taken stroller from a mother and apparently narrowly missed the baby that the mother was holding.


VANIER: Another passenger got involved and things got heated. Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just give me back my stroller, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, bud, you do that to me and I'll knock you flat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You stay out of this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know what the story is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care what the story is. No one's hurts a baby there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You keep looking at me and it's still --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you did to that lady.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, I can see exactly what you did. Maybe you'll get videotaped, too, and get all over the news.


VANIER: Yes, "No one hurts a baby," we can agree on that.

American Airlines says the flight attendant has been removed from duty while they investigate the incident. And remember the context of this, just two weeks ago, United Airlines made its own headlines when police violently dragged a passenger off a plane.

All right, protestors on all seven continents marched in defense of science on Earth Day on Saturday. This is Berlin here, one of several major cities, where scientists and their supporters demonstrated to counter what they see as a growing disregard for evidence-based knowledge. In other words, science.

And this was the scene in London. One protestor held a sign reading, "Wake up, world," while a girl donned a lab coat and blew a whistle to show her support.

In Washington, thousands marched from the National Mall to Capitol Hill. Their protests were partly fueled by opposition to President Trump's threats of budget cuts to agencies that fund scientific research. And their message was echoed in New York City's March for Science, where demonstrators filled the streets.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We grew up during the '60s, when science mattered, when science made this country great. It ended with the landing on the moon and that all happened because an American president inspired this nation, right. John F. Kennedy promised this nation that by the end of the '60s, we'd land on the moon. Now almost 50 years later, we have an American president disparaging

the facts, denigrating science and we're here to tell him that science matters.


VANIER: President Trump has not mentioned the March for Science protests directly. But he did tweet this on Saturday.

"I am committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection. Jobs matter."

And President Trump may have tweeted his support for the environment but critics say there is much more that he needs to do. Polo Sandoval reports.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest wave of climate change demonstrations were set off by a stroke of the president's pen on several executive orders seeking to end Obama-era climate regulations.

TRUMP: I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job- killing regulations.

SANDOVAL: The commander in chief reversed a three-year moratorium for coal mining on federal lands. He also quashed his predecessor's executive orders meant to curve carbon emissions. Then he approved the Keystone XL pipeline, previously blocked by the Obama administration.

TRUMP: French Canada will finally be allowed to complete this long overdue project.

SANDOVAL: The White House approved that controversial oil project following years of intense debate. It also reversed its position on the Dakota access pipeline, delivering a blow to the protesting Standing Rock Indian tribe.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its plan to reduce its workforce through the use of buyouts and early retirements. This comes as the agency maintains a hiring freeze. The White House claims the best way to protect the environment is to strengthen the economy.

MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: The question to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward, said, we aren't spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money.

SANDOVAL: At stake today is the U.S.'s role in the Paris climate agreement. The president continues to threaten to pull the U.S. out of that accord. He's also open to drilling for oil in national parks, something not sitting well with environmentalists, taking their message to the streets this weekend -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Atlanta.




VANIER: And before we wrap up the show, remember those moments when you're struggling to find a gift for Mom or Dad or Grandma, for that matter?

Well, imagine Grandma is the Queen of England. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have precisely that problem. They talked about shopping for Queen Elizabeth during a visit to the BBC Radio One studios.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's your grandmother's 91st birthday.

Do you still get her a present?

PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE: It's quite hard to give the queen for her 91st birthday --


CATHERINE, DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE: You're very good at making things.

WILLIAM: Yes, we'll probably make a few things. (INAUDIBLE). They can make stuff and (INAUDIBLE) done really well there. It doesn't matter what it looks like. It's just (INAUDIBLE) really well.



VANIER: And the busy royals also opened up about how they feed their growing family. It turns out they often order takeout for a quick dinner and their favorite is curry.

There you go. You have the information. Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm done for now. I'm Cyril Vanier. I am back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.