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Final Voting Begins in French Presidential Race; 82 Kidnapped Girls Freed from Boko Haram. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired May 7, 2017 - 02:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The polls are now open. French voters electing their next president and the candidates could not be more different.

Also, joy in Nigeria as scores of kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls are finally released. The power of #BringBackOurGirls. Remember that? We will have more about this victory ahead here from Nigeria.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: We begin in France. Just about 35 seconds ago, the polls have opened for one of the most important presidential races in modern European history. Sunday's voting comes two weeks after a first round narrowed the field to two candidates, National Front leader Marine Le Pen and former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron. And there's one precinct there where people will be voting.

Our Isa Soares is in north of the country and Melissa Bell joins me also from Paris.

First to you, Melissa. You both have been traversing the country, talking with voters. It is their turn to talk with how they will vote.

Melissa, hello.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Natalie. Their turn to vote this time in the second round of the election and all across the country in polling stations like this one, where in the 18th District of Paris, the polls have just opened and people are beginning to come into cast their votes in what is now this very stark choice facing the country.

On one hand, the far right's Marine Le Pen; on the other, the independent centrist, Emmanuel Macron and there are two diametrically opposed visions of what France should become.

The first voters are just arriving in here to cast their ballots. The big question, Natalie, is how many people will turn out. What is the participation rate going to be, particularly important for Emmanuel Macron in this race on rainy weekend. It's raining outside here in Paris but also a long weekend.

Many people have left or gone away for the weekend. They are telling us here as far as they can tell, many have organized to vote by proxy. So that key question of participation rate will have a first figure by about midday and another one by 5:00 pm. Will be a really important figure in trying to work out precisely how this election is likely to go.

ALLEN: And that document dump, Melissa, that was reported one day before, any word on how that has affected people, if at all?

BELL: It has been a really strange story because, of course, that leak -- you refer to the Macron leak, those thousands of documents that were hacked from his campaign team and then leaked on Friday night, some of them, genuine; others, we are told by the election commission, false were leaked just before the period when these things could no longer be spoken about, the beginning of a media blackout that went from midnight on Friday and lasted through the day.

And that really prevents the press from going into the detail of what was inside those e-mails. So there is confused picture of whether or not this has been damaging for Emmanuel Macron's campaign. And I think in the minds of voters today, a question about what those e- mails and what those documents were. We simply don't know for the time being -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right.

So how will that began to affect your decision?

Part of it could have been fake. We just don't know, you're right. So let's go Isa Soares; she's in the northern part of the country, Marine Le Pen territory we could say.

You talked to a lot of people there, Isa, who will vote for her and she will be voting there.

Is that correct?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning to you, Natalie. The church bells have tolled in the last few minutes. We have seen about five or six people already going in to vote.

But let me give you a sense of the picture. The school behind me is a local school here. It is here where Marine Le Pen is expected to vote in about three hours or so, 11 o'clock. Local media are out here. We have also got police barriers are up.

The choice, as Melissa was saying, is extremely stark. Let me show you the poster just over my shoulder. It is about these two individuals, Macron and Le Pen. And this is Le Pen territory. It is here where she started eight months of campaigning. It is here where she will begin. She will vote here. She has a house here. Crucially this is France's Rust Belt. People here have given her

support. They like the fact that she is talking to them. They like the fact that she is listening to them, more importantly. And the first round in this town here, Henin-Beaumont, making up more than 46 percent of the vote.

Speaking to those yesterday, majority of people will continue to do that. Many expecting her to win in Henin-Beaumont -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Isa Soares and Melissa Bell, we know you will be in it all day for us. Thank you so much. We'll see you again. ?


ALLEN: Let's talk more about the critical nature of this election. I am joined now from Paris by Dominic Thomas. He's a professor at the Department of French and Francophone studies at the University of California/Los Angeles.

Thanks so much for joining us, Dominic. Remind our viewers why this presidential election in particular is so critical for France and beyond France's borders.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH & FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UCLA, CALIFORNIA: Hi, good morning, Natalie. As Melissa pointed out, these candidates could not be more different.

Emmanuel Macron is a pro-European Union neo-liberal, who is rather center right on fiscal economic policy but really center left when it comes to talking about social programs and welfare issues.

He is somebody who has embraced an open vision of France, a diverse, multicultural open society.

Versus Marine Le Pen who is inheritor of her father's party, the Front National. It is a far right extremist party and she has built her campaign around prejudice, around the question of Islam, border control, the terror attacks and so on and is of course determined, should she win, to force a referendum on the future of France's membership in the European Union.

ALLEN: She would take the country in a drastic, different way than Macron, the man who would be the youngest French president. And I think many there, sitting where you are, have been saying the real work will begin on day one, of course, after this election.

There is so much at stake here. Talk a little more about how this would affect the European Union -- Dominic.

THOMAS: Right. Well, for the European Union obviously a Macron victory would be a tremendous boost to them, after spending the past nine months or so talking about the Brexit divorce and the negative attention that has come through all of these European elections around these kinds of questions.

So, of course, a Macron victory would be a tremendous shot of adrenaline for the European Union that can then continue to think about the project and to build it in a new and exciting direction.

The turnout here is going to be the absolutely the key factor. Both Marine Le Pen, who has no path to victory and has abstention rates are very high and the likelihood of her winning is not very strong.

But for Emmanuel Macron, he has a movement, he does not have a political party. And as we head in five weeks' time to the legislative parliamentary elections, the turnout today, the percentage of the vote and also the number of people here who support him, will be very important for him as he launches into that legislative campaign and tries to build a government and an opportunity and a strength in the parliament that will allow him to enact this legislation.

ALLEN: And we know, Dominic, that there has been a one-day blackout leading up to this vote so the French people could just relax and have a baguette or two and think about what they were going to do.

What would you describe the mood of the voters?

Are they emboldened?

Are they weary?

I guess it depends on who you are talking with. But just help us understand what you have seen leading up to this.

THOMAS: Right. Well, it's been a very difficult and divided campaign. We have for the first time in history of the French republic, two non-mainstream political parties in the runoff stages.

The candidates that came in second and third were not that far behind at 19 percent and 20 percent, where there leaders were in the 20s. We have seen the Socialist Party virtually eliminated from the rest, scoring just above 6 percent. The Right is struggling to identify its identity right now.

There are divisions between the centrists and so on. And so as we go into this, unfortunately, folks aren't so much voting for a political candidate; they are voting against one, as we saw with Le Pen's father in 2002.

And I think that psychologically that changes things. There is also a lot of fatigue. There've been debates held in the first round, which is quite unusual here; the second debates and so on. And so I think folks are looking forward to seeing what the outcome of this will be and then preparing for five weeks' time, when the legislatives will kick off as well.

ALLEN: Dominic Thomas, we appreciate you joining us and your analysis as France goes to the polls. Thank you.

And to our viewers, stay with CNN for full coverage of the French presidential election from now until the finish. Sunday evening, we will have a special program from the heart of the French capital. We will bring you the results as they come in and that begins 7:50 pm local time in Paris.


ALLEN: Many of you took part in the social media #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Well, dozens of Nigeria's missing Chibok girls, we're happy to say, are now finally on their way home.

Officials say 82 were released through a deal between the government and the terrorist group, Boko Haram. They are believed to be from the group of schoolgirls --


ALLEN: -- stolen from their village in 2014, almost 300 of them. Here's CNN's Isha Sesay with more background.



ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: After more than three years in captivity, it is the news that people around the world, not to mention the families, have been waiting for. That 82 of the missing Chibok schoolgirls have been released from Boko Haram captivity.

According to tweets put out by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, this release came about as a result of lengthy negotiation and there was a swap of Boko Haram suspects that was done in order to free these girls who will be transported to the capital of Nigeria on Sunday, May 7th, where they will be welcomed by the Nigerian president.

The Nigerian president also in tweets goes on to say that the number of people were involved in this effort to free these girls. He thanks a number of individuals including the government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, local and international NGOs, alongside security agencies of Nigeria.

This really is a momentous moment. With three years having gone by, some had begun to doubt whether any more girls would be released.

As you may remember, some 21 were released in October of 2016. After that, there had been largely silence. We had heard no word of negotiations to bring about the release of more girls. But here we are on this day celebrating the news that 82 more girls have now been freed and will shortly be reunited with their families.

Of course amid the joy, amid the celebration, we must remember that there are still well over 100 girls who remain in Boko Haram captivity and there is no word whether negotiations continue to bring about their freedom. So that must be borne in mind.

But for the families, for the families that await news as to whether their children as part of this 82, this is just an incredible day filled with so much emotion as they look forward to being reunited with their loved ones. And we look forward to bringing you just more coverage of their entry

to normal life. These girls have been through so much in their three years in captivity. And we know that they've undergone tremendous hardship while they've been away from their loved ones.

And the road to recovery will be a long and a difficult one. But on this day we celebrate the fact that they are finally free and they will shortly be reunited with their loved ones -- Isha Sesay, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: #BringBackOurGirls. And it certainly spread around the world and now many are coming home.

Thanks for watching. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next.