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March for Our Lives; Brexit Campaign Claims; Conflict in Syria. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is not just a moment, the students say. This is a movement. Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets, demanding action on gun control in the U.S.

Plus a whistleblower tells Britain's Channel 4 that the Vote Leave Brexit campaign violated campaign finance rules. The reporter who spoke with him is standing by.

And later, a one-hour blackout of major landmarks across the globe. We'll bring you the story behind the darkness.

Hi, I'm Cyril Vanier from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta and it's great to have you with us.


VANIER: A group of defiant teenagers managed to grab the world's attention on Saturday, spearheading a march in Washington and other cities in the U.S., demanding tougher gun laws.


VANIER (voice-over): Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were in Washington, a show of force, standing with the Stoneman Douglas high school students who survived a mass shooting just last month when a gunman opened fire at their school, killing 17 of their peers.

Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzales closed out rally. She is becoming known for firing of a crowd with her words. But on Saturday she made her point with just a few of those. Ryan Nobles highlights that moment and more from rallies around the country.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a day filled with loud cries...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We want change. We want change. We want change.

NOBLES: Powerful songs. And energizing speeches. DELANEY TARR, STONEMAN DOUGLAS STUDENT: We are not hear for bread crumbs, we are here for real change.

NOBLES: -- it may have been the sound of silence that best captured the moment.

Emma Gonzalez, a young woman who has become one of the most recognized faces of the movement borne out of the massacre that took place in the halls of her school, stood stone-faced and silent.

EMMA GONZALEZ, STONEMAN DOUGLAS STUDENT: Six minutes and about 20 seconds and a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us.

NOBLES: Gonzalez and a cadre of her fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students took their pain and turned it into action that culminated in marches and rallies all over the world. From Boston. To Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The violence that they experience every day.

NOBLES: Denver. To Los Angeles. And back to Parkland, Florida, where the shooting took place. While they may have only had each other when those shots rang out, they had the support of hundreds of thousands. Including celebrities.

PAUL MCCARTNEY, MUSICIAN: One of my best friends was killed in gun violence right around here. So it's important to me.

NOBLES: Pop stars. And even the granddaughter of a civil rights icon.

YOLANDA RENEE KING, MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR'S GRANDDAUGHTER: I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.

NOBLES: Their hope is to do much more than march. They want action. Specifically stricter gun laws. Something the federal government has been reluctant to do.

KASKY: Stand for us, or beware, the voters are coming.

NOBLES: And the debate over guns remains divisive. Counter rallies were held in cities like Boston and Salt Lake City, but these students are hoping this movement is different, that common ground will be reached and they are warning their leaders they won't be giving up until they get the change they are looking for.

For many of these students that marched in these rallies across the country, this fall will be the first time that they'll be able to participate in an election and many of them are running to the ballot boxes.

Like many of the Parkland students have said, that before this tragedy, they never even thought about politics -- now it's become one of their most important priorities -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: And some of the most powerful scenes of protest actually happened in Parkland, Florida. That's where the March for Our Lives was born from the students who survived the massacre last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Those students are hoping that their school will now become the launching point for change. Kaylee Hartung has more.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Pine Trails Park, this is a park many Douglas students grew up playing soccer in or maybe baseball in the fields next door. Then this park became a memorial site following February 14th, where people would come to pay their respects to the 17 victims.

This park took on a new significance in their lives. It became the rallying --


HARTUNG: -- point for the change they were demanding. There was an energy and a passion in the air here but also very raw grief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was shot in the knee in my fourth period classroom. My classmates and I lay helplessly on the floor, hearing and feeling rapid gunfire. As I am aware that the horrific tape that replays in my head will never be rewinded, I am also aware that the need for change is overdue.

HARTUNG (voice-over): The program concluded with 17 Stoneman Douglas students on stage, each stepping forward to say one of the victims' names, one of their best friends. Then with the line, "This is why I march." The crowd then left this park and marched about a mile to the high school. And as marchers approached campus, they were asked to be silent to honor the victims of February 14th.

They were also asked not to stop but to continue walking to signify the forward movement they want to see as they continue this fight and continue to honor the 17 lives lost that day -- in Parkland, Florida, Kaylee Hartung, CNN.


VANIER: And U.S. president Donald Trump was not in Washington while the march was going on. He is at his resort in Florida. The White House said he supports stronger gum background checks and other measures.

Part of that statement reads, "On Friday the Department of Justice issued the rule to ban bump stocks following through on the president's commitment to ban devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns. A bump stock is a gun accessory that makes it easier to fire rounds quickly from a semiautomatic weapon, mimicking automatic fire."

One student who survived last month's school shooting in Florida told CNN's Erin Burnett that a ban would be a good start but only a start.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's giving us an inch with that bump stock ban, just tiny little bread crumbs. But obviously we're going to take a lot more than that. We're not going to fight the bump stock ban because that is a step. It's a very small step but it's still a step.

We're so much going to keep fighting. We're not just taking this. We have so much more that we need and that's what we're going to keep doing.


VANIER: So what's the NRA saying?

Well, the powerful gun lobby seized on this march as a fundraising opportunity. It posted, in fact, a promotional video on Saturday that criticized the marchers. Here is part of their message.

"Gun hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to destroy the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones."

Earlier I spoke with CNN political analyst Josh Rogin about whether the March for Our Lives movement will have staying power beyond just Saturday. Here is some of what he said.


JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There will be no real change in the short term but that the change in the long term is inevitable and that we're building an entire generation of new voters who are not beholden to the political process and structure that people of the older generations have bought into.

And they're very clear-eyed about why Washington isn't working. They're very clear-eyed about what they want to do about it. And their strategy is a long-term strategy and it's not that this is a time bomb that will go off at any one time. It's a slow but generational evolution but it's that -- it's a glacier. But that glacier is only moving in one direction.


VANIER: That was CNN political analyst Josh Rogin with me earlier.

People all over the world marched in solidarity with gun violence victims in the United States and rallies were held on every continent except Antarctica. In Berlin, people gathered in front of the U.S. embassy; protesters in London lay down in a moment of silence to honor the Florida victims. And in Sydney, Australia, supporters held up signs that read,

"America, love your children, not your guns."

Let's move on now. A whistleblower accusing the Brexit campaign of violating campaign spending rules. After the break, we will ask the Channel 4 journalist who brought this story to light what does this mean for the legitimacy of the Brexit referendum?

Plus Turkey claims another victory in Syria. The latest on its campaign against Kurdish fighters. Stay with us.





VANIER: A former volunteer for the official Brexit campaign Vote Leave is accusing them of breaking campaign finance rules ahead of the Brexit referendum. The whistleblower tells Britain's Channel 4 that Vote Leave used a separate campaign group called BeLeave to deliberately spend more than the authorized campaign limit.


SHAHMIR SANNI, FORMER BREXIT CAMPAIGNER: In effect, they used BeLeave to overspend and not just by a small amount, by two-thirds of a million pounds they overspent.

And the impact of that, the difference between people -- the difference between Leave winning over Remain was just a few percentage points, you know. And that almost a two-thirds of a million pounds makes all the difference. And it wasn't legal.


VANIER: The majority of that money allegedly went to the Canadian data firm, Aggregate IQ or AIQ. That firm has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, which is accused of misusing Facebook user data to target voters.


SANNI: I know that Vote Leave cheated, that people had been lied to and that the referendum wasn't legitimate. Now we're going on a path. We're going on a path to Brexit based on lies, based on cheating, based on what is essentially a scam.

And what does that mean for our democratic process?

The decision I agree with. Leaving the European Union I agree with. But I don't agree with losing what it means to be British in that process. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: A lawyer with Vote Leave said it has twice been cleared on this matter by Britain's electoral commission but that the group will investigate the new allegations nonetheless.

And the Canadian data firm we were just telling you about, AIQ, they deny any wrongdoing. The firm says it has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica.

Meanwhile Stephen Parkinson, who was then the national organizer for Vote Leave, also denying the allegations. He is now the political secretary for Prime Minister Theresa May. And he said this to Channel 4.

"I had no responsibility for digital campaigning or donations on the Vote Leave campaign and I'm confident that I stayed within the law and strict spending rules at all times."

Let's talk to the reporter who brought all of this to light, Channel 4's political correspondent, Michael Crick.

Michael you're in London. You spoke -- we saw parts of that interview just now. You spoke with the former volunteer who was bringing all of these allegations. This is a pretty complicated story so just run us through one more time what it is the Vote Leave campaign is accused of.

MICHAEL CRICK, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Well, in the referendum two years ago, each side the side for Remain, the side to Leave the European Union, had a designated campaign group which was allowed to spend a maximum of 7 million pounds.

Now the allegation here is that the Vote Leave were approaching their maximum limits and what they did is that they channeled the extra money to an offshoot group, which was within their control. And they got around the spending limits in that way.

Because it was a complicated system during the referendum. You had the main designated group with a maximum of 7 million. But there are all sorts of other little groups that were also allowed to spend money but nothing like as much, only 700,000.

And really, the allegation is that Vote Leave channeled money to one of these groups and told one of the groups concerned how they could spend that money, told them they had to spend it with --


CRICK: -- this Canadian data firm, AIQ.

VANIER: So the allegation is they got around the spending limits and you got reactions from all the people who are accused in this story.

What do you make of their reactions and, in particular, Stephen Parkinson's reaction was striking to me. He referenced the fact that he'd been in a romantic relationship with the whistleblower.

CRICK: Indeed, an extraordinary response. You don't normally hear somebody saying that kind of thing.

He is in a very senior position in Downing Street, working under Theresa May, one of her longest standing advisers. And he said he could only defend himself on this issue by pointing out that Shahmir Sanni, who you saw just there, and he were in a gay relationship for about 18 months during and after the referendum campaign.

Mr. Sanni says that it's terrible that Mr. Parkinson has outed him in this way, that his family didn't know about him being gay, that it's endangered some of his family in Pakistan, where he originates from. So you have got that argument going on at the same time that this whole argument about --


VANIER: Do you feel Mr. Parkinson did that on purpose?

CRICK: Well, Mr. Parkinson says he can only defend himself by explaining this relationship. But it certainly muddies the water here. It raises the question as to whether Mr. Sanni was motivated by feelings other than his professed horror at what the Vote Leave campaign in his opinion did.

I mean, it is interesting that Mr. Sanni and two other whistleblowers, who have also come forward last week and given evidence to the electoral commission, are all still supporters of Britain leaving the European Union.

VANIER: Yes, but he explains that in the interview that we did, the part of the interview that we just showed. He says he doesn't -- he still thinks the rules need to be followed and they weren't in this particular instance.

Can any of this have an impact on the actual result of the referendum?

CRICK: I don't think so. There's no way in which the electoral commission, which governs elections in this country, can overturn the results on the basis of this. All they can do, really, is fine Vote Leave, which --


VANIER: Are they going to investigate this?

CRICK: Well, they have been investigating it for more than a year now. They've now got a whole pile more evidence, lots and lots of documents, the testimony of these whistleblowers. They could refer matters to the police. There could be a prosecution.

But it's not going to overturn the referendum result. But what it does do is helps the other side say, well, Vote Leave cheated. The result was close. It was a fraud. And so it gives, it helps the other side claim the moral high ground

in the arguments, which, of course, are continuing over quite how Britain should leave the European Union or, indeed, whether there should be a second referendum.

VANIER: Yes, that's interesting, because those voices, there are voices that want a second referendum on leaving the E.U. or that would even want to cancel the first referendum. And so you're telling us, you feel this would embolden those voices.

CRICK: It will. It will help them say, well, that the other side cheated and here you have people who worked for the other side who still support the principle on the other side, who are coming forward to say that there was cheating. I don't think, actually, this is going to stop Brexit going ahead in a year's time.

VANIER: Michael Crick, thank you for coming on the show. Congratulations on that interview and your solid reporting. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

CRICK: Thank you.

VANIER: A French police officer is being hailed as a hero for his actions in Friday's hostage standoff in Trebes. The lieutenant colonel died after offering himself in exchange for a female hostage.

On Saturday French President Emmanuel Macron led a Defense and Security Council meeting and police have arrested also two people that are said to be closely connected with the gunman. CNN's Melissa Bell has more on the investigation and the series of attacks that left four people dead.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was here that Radouane Lakdim's killing spree came to an end. This Super U in Trebes remained cordoned off on Saturday, the scene of the hostage taking brought to an end by the heroism of this police officer. Arnaud Beltrame offered to take the place of a female hostage and then by leaving his phone on allowed special forces to bring the standoff to an end.

Beltrame is the fourth person to die in a series of attacks that began with a carjacking in Carcassonne just after 10:00 am on Friday, a carjacking that left one person dead. Radouane Lakdim then attacked a group of police officers on their way back to their barracks after a jog, injuring one. From there he made his way to Trebes, taking hostages and killing two people inside the supermarket.

FRANCOIS MOLINS (PH), FRENCH PROSECUTOR (through translator): The perpetrator entered the Super U store, shouting, "Allahu akbar," and indicated that he was a soldier of the Islamic State, saying he was ready --


MOLINS (through translator): -- to die for Syria. He asked for the liberation of brothers before shooting a customer and an employee of the store, who died on the scene.

BELL: Francois Molins (ph) also confirmed that Radouane Lakdim had been identified by authorities as possibly being radicalized as early as 2014 although he said there had been no suggestion that he was preparing to act.

The question now at the heart of the investigation, whether he did so alone or not -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Trebes.


VANIER: Just two days before Egypt's presidential election, a bombing targets a local security chief. The blast happened in Alexandria Saturday. It killed two police officers. State media report that it targeted the city's security director who was traveling in a convoy at the time.

Now he survived but several of his bodyguards and other police officers were wounded in the attack. So far no one, no group has claimed responsibility for this. And it comes, as we were telling you, as Egypt's presidential vote is set to start on Monday.

In Syria, the Turkish military says it is now in complete control of the Afrin region, along with allied rebels. That's according to Turkish state media. Turkish-led troops reportedly seized Afrin town center a few weeks ago. A week ago they launched an offensive against groups like the Kurdish YPG back in January and that fighting is taking a toll on civilians.

The president of Turkey's Red Crescent says it is doing everything it can to deliver aid.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our mobile kitchens are here and our crews are in the villages. We are working on opening dialysis centers and also working on the transfer of sick people.

There are problems in the dams providing fresh water to here. We are working on that issue as well. We are trying to bring life back to normal in the short and medium term here.


VANIER: Also in Syria there have been more evacuations from the enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Activists say buses loaded with thousands of people reached a rebel-held town near Hama on Saturday. Some rebels and their families have been allowed to leave Eastern Ghouta in a deal with the Syrian government and with Russia.

Let me turn to something totally different. Now landmarks and monuments in cities around the world went dark for an hour on Saturday. From Paris to Mumbai -- here you go. Here is Paris' Eiffel Tower going dark. You don't see this very often.

We've got meteorologist Derek Van Dam here to explain to us what's going on.

Is this is a weather phenomenon?

What's going on?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: (INAUDIBLE). I think that it is incredible to see places like the Eiffel Tower but how about this in Greece, the Acropolis in Athens. That also went dark and incredible to see these landmarks just go dark in support of a good cause. We had the India Gate war memorial in Mumbai, Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

So what is it?

What is Earth Hour?

Well, it's a gesture that began in Australia, the WWF back in 2007. It's meant to raise awareness, to draw attention to climate change. There are give this over 7,000 cities across the globe, over 180 countries participating and over 1 billion people who take part and actually turn off their electricity.

VANIER: It is partly part due to you.

Before you get a right of response, everybody look at this.


VAN DAM: Hi, I'm Derek Van Dam. On the 28th of March I'll be saving the planet. What will you be doing?

Join me and 1 billion others as we take a stand against global climate change. At half past 8:00 on March 28th, turn off your lights. We'll also make it rain on you.


VAN DAM: I'm a much younger Derek Van Dam there.

VANIER: This was nine years ago. I love the punchline, "He'll make it rain on you."

VAN DAM: He can. He knows what he's talking about.

VANIER: So tell us about this. You've been involved with this.

VAN DAM: Yes, I was actually an ambassador for the WWF's Earth Hour back in 2009, cool campaign to work on and obviously it's more than just turning out the lights, Cyril. This is more a conservation effort, bringing attention to climate change. A lot of our resources that we use come from the environment. So why not protect it.

This is really what we're trying to aim for. So really pushing proactive environmentally friendly laws, policies, trying to crowdfund a better future for all of us here on planet Earth. We've only got one Earth. We got to take care of it and it goes beyond just turning off your lights. It's all about friendly living here on the planet.

VANIER: And your work is all about that and your reporting in the past and in the future it's all about that as well?

VAN DAM: We often have a climate change angle within our weather reports and this ties in quite nicely, thank you.

VANIER: We love having you on the show, my friend, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Before we go, we will leave you with some of the more -- some of the powerful words from the students taking on Washington.





WIND: -- that the youths have no voice. When Joan of Arc fought back English forces, she was 17 years old.


WIND: When Mozart wrote his first symphony, he was 8 years old.


WIND: To those who people that tell us that teenagers can't do anything, I say that we were the only people that could have made this movement possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time for the nation to realize gun violence is more than just a Chicago problem or a Parkland problem but it's an American problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My friends and I might still be 11 and we might still be in elementary school but we know, we know life isn't equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Look around. We are the change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody here is standing with the future of our society and, for that, I thank you. My generation, having spent our entire lives seeing mass shooting after mass shooting has learned that our voices are powerful and our votes matter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This needs to change. We've been fighting for this way too long and nothing has changed and we need change now. Yes, I'm a Parkland survivor and an MSD student. But before this, I was a regular black girl and after this I am still black and I'm still regular and I will fight for all of us.



VANIER: Some powerful voices there, some eloquent teenagers and even pre-teens in that particular instance.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier and I'm back with the headlines in just a moment.