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Dutch Voters Head to the Polls; Erdogan Blames the Netherlands for Bosnia Massacre; Some of Trump's Tax Returns Leaked; Europe's Top Court Favors Employers Banning Headscarves; Tillerson's First Asia Visit Comes at Tumultuous Time; Syrian Civil War Enters Its Seventh Year; Disney Movie Backlash in Malaysia; Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 02:00   ET

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


[02:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: The ruling Party Five to fend off a challenge from an anti-immigrant party.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a rare look into Donald Trump's tax returns, just as a few pages leaked but it shows how his tax reform could end up saving him tens of millions of dollars.

VAUSE: And later Europe's highest court has ruled employers can ban workers from wearing head scarves. But critics say that is discrimination.

SESAY: Hello, and welcome to our viewers from all around the world. I am Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Great to have you with us. This is now the third hour of NEWSROOM L.A.

SESAY: Well, the polls open in about 30 minutes in the Netherlands for an election with huge implications for the country's future. Far- right leader Geert Wilders is promising a referendum on EU membership if he becomes prime minister. Two-term incumbent Mark Rutte is hoping to keep the post.

VAUSE: Wilders is playing to voters' sense of nationalism. He says he will stop immigration from Muslim countries, ban the burqa and close mosques. But Mr. Rutte says he's already keeping immigration in check.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): In 2015, the Netherlands faced a very big problem, a big migrant flow into the Netherlands of Syrian refugees. At the end of last year I succeeded to reach agreements. We've reached one with the Balkans, and the Balkans are now closed. We've reached an agreement with Greece, and now Greece is closed. We also reached an agreement with Turkey, resulting in the number of Syrian refugees decreasing by more than 95 percent.

GEERT WILDERS, DUTCH PARTY FOR FREEDOM (Through Translator): The Netherlands is not for everyone. Netherlands is for the Dutch. Do you hear me well? People who have chosen 10 percent for our country, your party, they make sure that people feel like foreigners in their own country, second class citizens. That's why they don't vote for your party anymore. The people do not want this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Even if Wilders' party wins the most number of seats in parliament that is no guarantee he will become the next prime minister.

SESAY: That's right. Because other parties have vowed not to cooperate with him and Mr. Rutte stands a better chance of forming a coalition government.

CNN's Hala Gorani is there in Amsterdam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dutch politics is defined by its extremely long list of parties. This is anything but a two-horse race. A full 28 parties are on the ballot in this year's election. This huge choice splits the public vote many ways, meaning no one party ever reaches the magic number of 76 seats for a majority in parliament. Instead, they always have to build coalitions.

So despite the fact Geert Wilders has been doing well in the polls in the run-up to this vote, at some stages even leading them, he needs the support of other parties to become prime minister. Even if he wins 30 seats, which is at the upper end of what he's predicted, he is still a long way off.

Almost all major parties have ruled out being in government, with Wilders' PVV party. The current prime minister, Mark Rutte, is one of those who have said categorically that he will not join a coalition with Geert Wilders. His center-right VVD party will need to seek out different partners if he is to retain his leadership position.

The process of forming a government to sit in this parliament building in The Hague is notoriously longwinded. It took 54 days last time there was an election in 2012 and that was considered quick.

So even once the votes are counted and we have a preliminary result, expected on Thursday, it could just be the first step on a long road to deciding who governs here in the Netherlands.

Hala Gorani, CNN, Amsterdam.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, CNN senior international correspondent Atika Shubert is following the Dutch elections and she joins us now live from Volendam.

Atika, good to see you. The Netherlands stands at a crossroad with this vote. What are the expectations for turnout?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, turnout is expected to be quite high, actually. It typically is in elections here and here in the town of Volendam there's about 23,000 people and we just spoke to the voting station manager behind us here. And he told us that he expects maybe 70 percent to 75 percent turnout and about 2,000 people to show up at this station so I think it is an election that has really energized people. They are expecting people to come out.

SESAY: Yes. With the Netherlands and their current spat with Turkey, do we expect that to be on the minds of voters as they go to the polls? I mean, what are our senses, that driving force for people as they cast their ballots?

SHUBERT: Absolutely. I spoke to one voter who described what happened with Turkey as a game changer. It was an opportunity for the prime minister to show -- really to draw a tough line with Turkey and in that voter's opinion when I asked her she said that she would vote for Rutte precisely because he had acted like the prime minister she believes the country needs.

[02:05:11] But that's not every voter. In fact a lot of voters I spoke to said they're still undecided and that was even as late as last night. In the town we're out here, in Volendam, the last election more than half actually voted for the Freedom Party, the PVV, that's for Geert Wilders, and it will be interesting to see how that turns out this election.

This election, it's been a little bit more divisive and actually Wilders has fallen slightly in the polls. But he's still neck and neck with Rutte. So it will be a very tight race.

SESAY: Yes. And Atika, there's an added complication at least for Wilders supporters in that other parties have already said they would not go into a coalition with him.

SHUBERT: Yes, and this is -- Rutte has very clearly said that he will not enter into a coalition with Wilders, so have other parties. So even if he does get a large chunk of the votes, it's very unlikely that he will become prime minister. He's sort of become this very -- this permanent opposition voice driving the agenda further and further to the right. Further against immigration. And more skeptical of the EU. And we actually had a chance to speak with Wilders last weekend and he basically said, listen, even if I do slip in the polls, I have already won the election simply by changing the agenda. People are now talking about immigration and identity and his party was the first to be talking about that.

SESAY: Yes. We shall see how today plays out. As we said, the Netherlands stands at a crossroads and the question is, is this a bellwether for Europe.

CNN's Atika Shubert joining us there from Volendam. We appreciate it. Thanks, Atika.

Well, the Dutch vote comes right in the middle of a worsening diplomatic feud between Turkey and the Netherlands. On Tuesday Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, blamed the Dutch for failing to prevent the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.

VAUSE: Eight thousand Bosnian Muslims were killed when Bosnia's Serb forces overran their town. Dutch peacekeepers were on the ground at the town.

Over the weekend, Mr. Erdogan compared the Dutch government to Nazis.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is following all these developments from Istanbul. So, Jomana, these comments about Srebrenica would indicate Turkey's president at the very least has no intention of taking the heat out of this dispute.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, despite all these called that we've been hearing over the past few days from the EU and different countries calling for calm, to deescalate the tensions in this diplomatic crisis, it really doesn't seem that Turkish government and officials here are ready just yet to put this behind them and move on.

As you mentioned yesterday President Erdogan -- he was holding a speech on healthcare in the capital Ankara and he again brought up this issue with the Netherlands saying that an apology was not enough. That he's not going to accept an apology. And he went on as you mentioned to accuse the Dutch of failing to prevent one of the worst massacres in European history since World War II, the Srebrenica massacre, and here's what he has to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRIME MINISTER (Through Translator): Even in battle no one can open fire on medics. Actually, if you are Dutch you can. We know the Netherlands and the Dutch from the Srebrenica massacre. We are familiar with how their morality and character is corrupted, how they have massacred 8,000 Bosnians there. Nobody can give us civilization lessons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARADSHEH: And that was in reference to the Dutch peacekeeping force that was part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission there. Because we heard from the Dutch prime minister after that, calling these comments a disgusting falsification of history, John.

VAUSE: So, Jomana, beyond these two countries trading some harsh words with each other, what are bigger implications beyond their borders?

KARADSHEH: Well, right now, John, it has been a war of words and we've heard modest threats from Turkey. They have been threatening different measures. We've seen them announcing some measures over the weekend saying that the Dutch ambassador will not return to Turkey, that they are closing their airspace to diplomatic flights from the Netherlands. And that they will, you know, be taking other measures like taking this issue to international organizations but perhaps the most worrying here for the EU is going to be this rising tensions with different European countries, with the EU. And you're hearing the threats from the Turkish government here to

reassess their deal with Turkey, their migrant deal. A very critical and controversial deal by which Turkey will help the EU stem up the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.

[02:10:05] But of course Turkey has a lot to lose there, too. They do have a lot of incentives coming out of that deal including billions of dollars in aid. So Turkey and the EU both need each other and we're going to have to wait and see how much of this is tough talk and threats and how much they're actually going to do -- John.

VAUSE: OK. Jomana, thank you. Jomana Karadsheh live this hour in Istanbul.

SESAY: All right. Well, turning to U.S. politics now, and throughout his campaign Donald Trump consistently refuse to release his tax returns. But now returns for one year are public.

VAUSE: The White House says the president more than $150 million in 2005 and paid $38 million in taxes.

SESAY: Most of that was paid under the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is designed to make sure the super wealthy paid their fair share. It's a tax Mr. Trump wants to abolish, raising questions about how he would benefit from this tax reform proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, JOURNALIST: Under the regular tax system when we have two tax systems, well-to-do people, you and I, file effectively -- calculate our tax twice. The regular tax system and the alternative minimum tax. If we didn't have the alternative minimum tax and Donald Trump in writing wants to end the alternative minimum tax he would have paid taxes at a lower rate than the bottom half of taxpayers, the poor in this country who make less than $33,000.

Now think about that. $153 million almost of income he would have paid a little over $5 million, less than 3.5 percent less than the half of taxpayers who make under $33,000. As it is, because of the alternative minimum tax, he paid $36.5 million, not the $38 million the White House statement says. They're counting his self-employment tax, which is payroll taxes. $36.5 million, he paid 24 percent.

You know who pays 24 percent in this country? Married couples with two incomes like my wife and I who make about $400,000 a year. Donald Trump and his wife that year made $418,000 a day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Well, joining us here now in Los Angeles. Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas. Also with us CNN's senior reporter for media and politics Dylan Byers.

Good to have you all with us.

SESAY: Welcome, everyone. VAUSE: OK. So, John, first to you. The breaking news here is that a

rich guy made a lot of money and then paid a pretty decent amount of tax on it about at a rate of around 25 percent, which is actually more than President Obama paid in 2015. His effective tax rate was 19.6 percent.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: And more than Bernie Sanders I think at 13 percent or 14 percent.

VAUSE: Yes.

THOMAS: And more than a lot of corporations. I mean, look, I don't know if the president's audit is over, but clearly he had reasons that he didn't want to release it before. And guess what? He pays taxes. It's amazing, like every other American. I think we just need to go back and say maybe I'm sorry?

(LAUGHTER)

SESAY: Hey, listen, before we get any further on down this road because you're gloating practically --

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: One year, though. There's still a lot of years to come.

SESAY: Practically levitating.

J. THOMAS: And undoubtedly as a real estate developer, he's had years where he paid less taxes and more taxes depending upon his business.

SESAY: OK. Let's read the White House statement because they effectively killed the story before MSNBC released the details. And this is what they said, "Mr. Trump paid $38 million even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction on an income of more than $150 million, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes. And this illegally published return proves just that. Despite the substantial income figure in tax paid, it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda while the president will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans."

Dave, is this story dead on arrival?

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Not necessarily. I think it could potentially be the tip of the iceberg, right? And I think the fact that the White House proactively had this sort of knee-jerk reaction after they saw Rachel Maddow, the host of MSNBC that ran the story earlier, after they saw the tweet, they proactively went out, jumped the gun and issued the statement.

And I think it really undermines their argument, right? They've been saying this whole time throughout the course of the campaign oh, well, the president is under audit by the IRS. Well, clearly they're not if they're going to jump the gun and issue this statement. I think it's going to raise real questions at the podium tomorrow for press secretary Sean Spicer on like why they're hiding the other tax returns and whether or not there is any real information that we can get in the weeks and months ahead in terms of other years, other tax returns. And what's exactly like under audit? Like is it one year? Or is it like a decade? Like what is it?

VAUSE: OK. Dylan, to you, in terms of how this story was reported by MSNBC, as Dave mentioned, it all started with that tweet from their main anchor, Rachel Maddow. She tweeted this, "We've got Trump tax returns tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern MSNBC. Seriously." That tweet went out at 7:36 p.m. Eastern Time. There was a countdown clock on the network leading up to the big reveal. Maddow then spent about 17 minutes posing some very good questions. We had a commercial break, and then finally we got to this moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[02:15:08] RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: What I have here is a copy of Donald Trump's tax returns. We have his federal tax return for one year, for 2005. I believe this is the only set of the president's federal taxes that reporters have ever gotten a hold of. What we have are these two pages, front and back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Dylan, it seems the only problem here is that Rachel Maddow actually did not have the tax returns. She had a summary of two pages. And they did not answer any of the questions which she posed in the lead-up.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Right. That's absolutely right. And look, I would agree with Dave when I said that this could indeed be the tip of the iceberg. But the way that it was handled by MSNBC, you know, frankly was a little bit irresponsible because what it ended up doing is it ended up giving -- it disappointed first of all everyone who thought that Rachel Maddow had found, you know, the sort of Holy Grail of research on Trump.

It also gave fodder to Republicans to go after legitimate inquiries by the media into Trump's tax returns. I mean, all you have to do is look at a tweet from Hillary Clinton's campaign press secretary after Rachel Maddow announced that she had this breaking news when he said this is the Holy Grail. And then his tweet after she actually revealed what she had and he said, look, Democrats shouldn't get distracted by two pages of tax documents. They should back to focus things on other more significant questions.

I mean, look, having these tax documents is a good thing. Releasing them, showing them to the public is a good thing for journalists to do. What's not good is to hype this up so much that it becomes a huge distraction when you don't actually have the goods. And that is the mistake that MSNBC and Rachel Maddow made tonight.

SESAY: Dylan, staying with you, the issue of how they got them. I know that it came by journalist David Cay Johnston. The fact that as he pointed out they appeared it was effectively a leak. What do you make of that and the timing here?

BYERS: Well, the timing is beneficial to Donald Trump. And that's other thing I should mention is that, you know, this is ultimately, as even CNBC, the sister network to MSNBC, said this is ultimately a victory for Trump -- handed to Trump by Rachel Maddow. I think the Trump folks are celebrating. And I think, look, David Cay Johnston, the journalist who got these two pages, acknowledged that these could very well have come from Trump himself because at the end of the day, they -- they distract from all of the other important issues out there that we should be talking about. And they actually show at least one year in which he did pay taxes. And as you said, a tax rate that was higher than that of President Obama's in 2015.

VAUSE: OK, we'll leave it there. Thanks again to our panel. Dylan Byers, John Thomas and Dave Jacobson.

SESAY: Time for a quick break. A landmark ruling from Europe's top court could make an expression of faith and the workplace a fireable offense. That story is just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:20:25] SESAY: Europe's highest court has ruled that employers can ban workers from wearing head scarves.

VAUSE: The European Court of Justice says it's OK for companies to ban any visible political, philosophical, or religious signs. Many rights groups and religious leaders call it discrimination.

SESAY: Yes, well, Edina Lekovic joins us now. She's communications director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Edina, it's good to have you with us again.

EDINA LEKOVIC, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Thanks for having me.

SESAY: You have said that you feel that this decision by the European Court of Justice exposes a double standard in the European law. How so?

LEKOVIC: Well, it's out of line with other rulings that have happened in European courts. But let's back up. I think that it's important that this -- that we realize that this is -- it's the wrong approach to a problem. If we're talking about integration, we need to create opportunities for inclusion, not exclusion. And I think that that's exactly what this ruling gets wrong. And it's out of sync with a European Court of Human Rights ruling a couple of years ago, which I want to get this right, said sometimes an employee's right is to manifest freedom of religion.

And so there is this contradiction, this gap between these two European courts. And I think that it exposes the way that many of these decisions are becoming more and more political for obvious reasons.

VAUSE: There is a shift under way in Europe where they are sort of leaning towards the secular. So part of the case before this European court, it involved a Muslim woman in Belgium. She's a receptionist. She asked her employer if she could wear a head scarf. The company said no. They then issued a rule banning all clothing which -- you know, which was religious in nature. And the court said this is OK. And this is what they said. "Because the rule thus treats all employees of the undertaking in the same way, notably by requiring them generally and without differentiation to dress neutrally."

So on the surface that would seem to be quite fair, everyone gets treated the same. But you know, Christians, compared to, say, Jewish men and Muslim women, they don't have the same obligations to display their faith, right? So this isn't quite fair if you look at it that way.

LEKOVIC: They do and they don't. I mean, every faith has its forms of religious practice. Some of those are more liberal, some of those are more what we might consider orthodox. And you know, and so -- you know, and I consider my own situation, I see women who are wear a niqab and I cringe a little bit as a Muslim because that certainly reflect my understanding of Islam. But that's that woman's understanding of Islam and that's the kind of diversity that we're trying to negotiate in our societies.

But there's, again, a contradiction because European courts have also allowed for women to wear crucifixes whether it's in corporate settings or educational settings. And so it just -- this gives further fuel to the idea that this is targeting Muslims and that Muslims are being disproportionately targeted at a time when -- again if we want to create integration we have to create opportunities for inclusion where people can see the intersection between their faiths and their civic identity and their citizenship. There's a different way to go about this where Europe can benefit and appreciate its European -- its Muslim immigrants.

SESAY: So that being said, effectively where we're at is Muslim women being asked to choose, effectively, between their faith and their employment. But what will they choose?

LEKOVIC: Well, I think that when we put people's identity on the line, we're creating a false choice. First of all, we're saying to them, you can either be a Muslim woman who covers her hair or you can be a professional woman. That's a false choice. You can be a professional Muslim woman. And as an American-Muslim woman, I know this today, I'm once again grateful that my country's laws value religious freedom and that our laws are set up to protect different forms of expression.

Nobody should be proselytizing, nobody should be, you know, pushing their faiths out in any of these settings but to simply reflect your own identity in the way that you feel comfortable I think should be something that we all agree on.

VAUSE: You mentioned the difference here between the United States and Europe because in the U.S. there's a strong bias towards, you know, freedom of religion. In Europe, though, there's always been this sort of bias towards freedom from religion. So right now that freedom from religion in Europe seems to be clashing with the surge of Muslim immigration.

LEKOVIC: It sure does. But I think that this is -- I don't think it's actually about religion in most cases. I think we're talking about immigration. We're talking about who is seen as being a foreigner versus being a native. This is something that we're seeing in the United States with the white nationalist movement as it's being called. So we're seeing this rise in many countries and I think that many of these European countries are going to have to grapple with immigration in different ways.

Here we have, in the U.S., the valued idea of being a melting pot, that we take in immigrants and this is what we're fighting for today under the current administration, how to retain those rights and freedoms.

[02:25:08] And I think that Europe in some ways sends us a warning signal of going down a path that disenfranchises people again instead of creating opportunities for them to be integrated. They came to this countries because they want better lives so we should be creating paths where they get better lives and society to introduce as a whole.

SESAY: Yes. And to that point of warning signals, the European court making this decision, you know, some have said, is a warning signal that they're pivoting away from protecting minority rights. What is your sense of where this road takes us?

LEKOVIC: I think that it's very disappointing that Central European values, just like Central American values, are about inclusion and about space for multiple people, these ideas, these ideals have continued to evolve. Europe today, European nations today need to look deeply at their national character.

My parents left Yugoslavia. They lived in Austria for eight years. They realized they were never going to be accepted as truly being Austrians and so they decided to reinvent their lives again by becoming Americans because they knew that here they could become Americans. That's something that we're still striving for certainly. But I think that many European countries need to evolve to create space for others in ways that are different than they have in the past.

VAUSE: It seems that they were moving in that direction in the last couple of years.

SESAY: Its pivot. Yes.

LEKOVIC: Which -- yes. And I pray for the best in the Netherlands tomorrow because I think that we -- democracy is on the line here. There is nothing less than democracy on the line and the western ideals that so many of us cherish.

VAUSE: Edina, good to speak with you. Thank you.

SESAY: As always good to speak to you. Thank you.

LEKOVIC: Thank you. VAUSE: And with that, time for a quick break. "STATE OF AMERICA"

with Kate Bolduan is next for our viewers in Asia.

SESAY: For everyone else, Dutch voters are getting ready for a crucial parliamentary election. Just ahead, we'll go live to Amsterdam to see why this man could lead the country away from the rest of Europe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:30:17] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour.

U.S. lawmakers says FBI director James Comey promised to tell them Wednesday whether the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says he and fellow Senator Lindsey Graham met with Comey on March 2nd and he told them that he'd be able to say whether there was an investigation by the 15th.

VAUSE: South Korean prosecutors have ordered ousted leader Park Geun- hye to answer questions next week about the corruption scandal which led to her impeachment. She denies any wrongdoing and says the truth will come out. The election for a new president is slated for May 9th.

SESAY: The polls is just now opening in the Netherlands where voters are picking a new parliament. Far-right leader Geert Wilders is hoping to win enough seats to make him prime minister. But analysts say incumbent Mark Rutte is more likely to be able to form a coalition government.

VAUSE: Well, Dominic Thomas is the chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. He is live in Amsterdam. And from Volendam, CNN's senior international correspondent Atika Shubert.

So, Atika, we'll start with you. Just explain to us how will this election day play out, when are these results expected to come through?

SHUBERT: Well, polls have only just opened. In Volendam here, we've seen about two or three people go in and they'll close at 9:00 tonight. They're open late so that people can come in after work as well to vote.

And I just want to show you quickly, how many parties are going to be contesting this election. I'm struggling with this. This is actually not the ballot but it's almost the same size is a ballot itself. 28 parties and it's quite a task to choose from one of these but of course the number one parties were expecting at the top here, the VVD and also the PVV. These are the parties and that the Labour Party is well up there. These are the parties that won the most votes last election. They are polling so quite well.

This election at least the Freedom Party and the VVD, which is the party of the incumbent prime minister, so it will be interesting to see how recent events have played in but what the overall trend we have been seeing is that voters have been turning away from the mainstream parties such as that of Mark -- Prime Minister Rutte, and also the Labour Party, and turning to more fringe parties like the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders.

Whether or not recent events like the Turkish diplomatic spat has actually changed voters' minds we'll have to wait until results come in roughly around 9:00 p.m. is when the first exit polls are expected.

VAUSE: How hard is this decision by the mainstream parties not to form a coalition government with Wilders? If his PVD party does well, you could see some of those center-right parties breaking ranks, so there are enough sort of fringe parties in there maybe to put him over the edge.

SHUBERT: I think it's certainly possible but unlikely. So many parties have come forward saying his statements have simply been too extreme and they won't form a coalition with him. But I think again it really just depends on when the voters come out, how fragmented the vote is going to be. And Mark Rutte has made a specific point to this, saying, you know, we can't be complacent. We can't just sit back. Remember Brexit. Remember the US election. We don't want to make the same mistake, specifically saying that if we vote Geert Wilders in this is what we're going to get.

There is still a possibility that he becomes prime minister. That is, it has been one of the main points of his campaign so it will be interesting to see if voters actually listen to him on that.

VAUSE: OK, Atika. Thank you. Atika Shubert live there with a very big long ballot that the Dutch will be grappling with in the coming hours. Thanks, Atika.

SESAY: All right. Well, Dominic Thomas, to you, let me ask you this. As we talk about Netherlands being at the crossroad, is the outcome of this vote a bellwether for the rest of Europe?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UCLA: It's a great question. I think what's going to be very interesting is precisely to see how well, of course, Wilders, does. This election has gotten a tremendous international interest precisely because of the Brexit election, the Trump election, and the rise of influence and visibility of far-right populist parties in Europe, and the real election to turn to, of course, is going to be the first round of the French election during the month of April.

There are radical differences, though, between the Dutch election, and let's say, the French election. The French election is a two-stage, runoff presidential election in which a winner will eventually take all and in which you have two nonmainstream political parties. The center and the far right who look like it will be in the second round. The Dutch election will bring together 28 different political parties and it's estimated at about 8 to 10 of them will have seats in the parliament and will have to sit down and begin the process of negotiating a coalition. [02:35:05] It is absolutely impossible, it has never happen that one

political party wins 76 seats and ends up ultimately winning the election. All that's going to happen in the next two days is we're going to see how many people have voted for each of the 28 political parties that have been running and how the seats in parliament are going to be divided up. And the negotiations for the coalitions will begin at that particular time in a country where the average time it takes to form a coalition government has been about 72 days.

SESAY: Wow. It's a long road ahead before we get to that end point of a government.

No one expects Geert Wilders to be able to form a coalition. We've already discussed that. But what about the issues he has championed and the sentiments he has unleashed there in the Netherlands? Is it realistic to expect those elements to simply disappear after this vote?

D. THOMAS: Right. No. They will not disappear. In fact they've been part of it. They have been as important, one could argue, is the fundamental social issues that invite education, healthcare pension reform, and equality, tax revisions and so on but they have shaped this election.

The VVD party under Rutte has made all sorts of statements about integration, immigration and so on, took an extremely forceful position during this diplomatic crisis with Turkey and they will continue to shape the outcome. It all depends on how well Wilders does. Political parties have said they will not form a coalition with him. But this is working on the principle that he attained somewhere around 20 to 24 votes. If he really outperforms that it's going to be very difficult to ignore him and his voters are going to be extremely upset if they don't feel adequately represented.

Now this wouldn't be the first time that a party comes out ahead. It's happened to the Labour Party, the PPVA, three time historically. But nevertheless it does mean that the coalitions will be further complicated depending on how he performs in this particular election.

SESAY: Yes. Dominic Thomas, always fascinating to speak to you there. We must leave it. We appreciate the analysis.

Dominic Thomas there in Amsterdam. Thank you, Dominic.

D. THOMAS: Thank you.

VAUSE: The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will touch down in Tokyo in about six hours from now. He has a busy itinerary with stops in South Korea and China after Japan.

SESAY: The biggest issue hanging over the trip is an increasingly bold North Korea but political upheaval in South Korea and the meeting between President Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are also on the agenda.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held his annual news conference ea few hours ago. It's the only time all year that he answers questions from reporters.

VAUSE: He addressed relations with the U.S. saying he wants to avoid a trade war. He says improved dialogue will be the key to bridging the two countries' differences.

Let's go to Beijing now and Matt Rivers standing by live. So, Matt, you know, it was scripted, it was very much what you'd expect, but nonetheless some positive comments coming from Premier Li when it comes to the U.S.-China relations.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. He stuck to the line that we've heard from Beijing before even Donald Trump was elected and very much so since he was elected and that both China and the United States have more to gain when they work together than they had to lose when they are apart so basically he is trying to continue to extend that olive branch to the United States and say there is an interdependent relationship between these two countries, between their economies, specifically Premier Li Keqiang's formal role is to be in charge of the Chinese economy here.

And so he did discuss China's economy beginning to slow down a little bit and the fact that China really needs the U.S. as a trading partner and the U.S. benefits from having China as a trading partner, so this is all in advance of Secretary of State Tillerson's visit here. Very much a friendly tone coming from the premier and one that we have heard from him a lot about in the past.

VAUSE: And it's also coming ahead of a meeting between President Trump and President Xi so is there significance there as well?

RIVERS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there's a lot of significance in the way that this sets the tone for that meeting. You know when Donald Trump was a candidate we all remember that China was enemy number one a lot of the time. Unfair trade practices. He said that he would label China a currency manipulator on day one. He said that he would impose tariffs on Chinese imports. A lot of us were expecting once Trump took office after he was elected that there were going to be a major confrontation between the United States and China, but the Trump administration has backed off or ignored literally every single one of its major threats against China.

That has made the Chinese very, very happy, and so this upcoming meeting really will have a tone right now that is, well, things are OK between the two countries. There haven't been any big confrontations and so this press conference from leakage on today really just kind of push that forward and said, for now things are OK. Let us see where we go from here.

[02:40:01] VAUSE: I does sound like business as usual as has been not just for the Obama ministration but also the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, so we'll see, as you say, where they go from here.

Matt, thank you. Matt Rivers live in Beijing.

SESAY: Now about 2,000 earthquake victims in Nepal are homeless once again. Authorities bulldozed what was left of their makeshift camp in Kathmandu.

VAUSE: Survivors have lived there since a massive and deadly earthquake struck two years ago. Officials say they did this to force dwellers to return to their home villages. Nepal is being criticized for a very slow rebuilding effort after the quake.

SESAY: Quick break now. And the Syrian civil war is entering its seventh year. Next, we look at the staggering toll the war has taken and the struggles aid groups are still facing after all these years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello, everyone. Wednesday is the sixth year anniversary of Syria's brutal civil war. What started as political protest turned into a multinational battleground. More than 300,000 people have been killed so far including many women and children. Russia tilted the power balance in favor of the Syrian regime and in the process Syria, Russia and other fighting groups had been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

VAUSE: Peace talks and U.N. resolutions have come and gone. And as the war now entered its seventh year, the U.N. says half of Syria's population needs urgent humanitarian assistance.

SESAY: Well, Sahma Hadid joins us from Beirut, Lebanon. She is a deputy director of campaigns in the Middle East for Amnesty International.

Sahma, thank you so much for joining us.

This conflict to hit the sixth year mark, give us some perspective on the humanitarian situation in the country at present.

[02:45:01] SAHMA HADID, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CAMPAIGNS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL MIDDLE EAST: Well, as you've rightly mentioned, this conflict has impacted the Syrian population in significant ways. We're seeing close to five million refugees. Nearly five million refugees seek refuge outside of Syria. Close to millions or 13 million people internally displaced. And as you mentioned, more than 300,000 people have been killed by this conflict.

We have both sides committing war crimes and the Syrian government also accused of committing crimes against humanity. So this conflict and the population has been marked by violence. And six years on, it's time to end that cycle of violence. And in short, that accountability for victims can be a reality.

SESAY: Yes. I mean, efforts to secure a lasting peace continue, stopping and starting. But a few days ago, we've got word that aid group, Mercy group -- Mercy Corps, I should say, had had its registration revoked by the Turkish government. We know they were doing significant work there in Syria.

Talk to us about the impact of this development on the already suffering civilians and just generally the situation when it comes to getting aid in Syria right now. HADID: Well, it's absolutely essential for all aid groups as well as

U.N. agencies to be given access into the hardest to reach areas and ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered. And there have been various U.N. resolutions and decisions by the U.N. Security Council ensuring that aid must be delivered. However, it's up to the parties to the conflict to respect that. But I think it's also important to reflect now six years on after the start of this crisis on the need for accountability and justice for victims.

A lasting peace deal is absolutely essential. But what is also a crucial element of that is justice and accountability. And that's why Amnesty is calling for the need for accountability and for justice to become a reality for the Syrian population. And to ensure that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity do not get away with their crimes and that these crimes do not go unpunished.

And so now there's a glimmer of hope, whilst there has been conflict for six years. Last year, the U.N. General Assembly voted to set up a new mechanism that would investigate crimes and this would lead to the prosecution in the future of perpetrators of war crimes in the Syrian conflict. So we're calling on governments who voted for that to support this new U.N. mechanism, to investigate crimes in Syria. Ensure that it's fully funded and ensure that the U.N. now sets it up and get on with the job of making justice a reality.

I think there's also another opportunity for justice in Syria with governments now pursuing cases of prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes. So I think what we need to see moving forward is obviously a lasting peace deal, but one that includes justice so that we can prevent atrocities from being committed in the future.

SESAY: Sahma Hadid, thank you so much for joining us from Beirut, Lebanon. We appreciate the insight. And of course, our hopes and prayers with everyone in Syria right now and the hope there will be lasting peace and accountability. Thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you.

VAUSE: Seven years it is hard to believe.

SESAY: It is indeed.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

[02:52:36] SESAY: Well, Disney's new retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" is expected to be a blockbuster in theaters around the world except in Malaysia.

VAUSE: Robyn Curnow explains the tale old as time came with a modern twist which apparently did not impressed government censors in Kuala Lumpur.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Beauty and the Beast" backlash. A live action remake of Disney's animated classic is set to open in theaters around the globe this week, but not for moviegoers in Malaysia. Controversy erupted after the film's director announced "Beauty" would feature a gay character played by actor Josh Gad, prompting many conservatives to call for a boycott.

Homosexuality is still considered illegal in Malaysia. Malaysia's official censors cleared the film what they called a gay moment was cut announced but now cinema chains there have pulled the film from release due to, quote, "unforeseen circumstances." That sparked an outcry among Malaysian film fans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is just a story. It's just a movie. Nothing else matters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quite disappointed with the postpone.

CURNOW: A representative for Disney Malaysia told CNN, "The movie release dates are being postponed. "We are reviewing the dates again and will update accordingly once there's more information available."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think it shouldn't be banned. It shouldn't be an issue but of course (INAUDIBLE) is a concern and I think people also overreact a little bit.

CURNOW: At least one theater in the U.S. is refusing to show the movie. And Russia has also restricted the film to moviegoers aged 16 and up. Despite the backlash, "Beauty and the Beast" is still expected to be monstrous at the box office, predicted to pull in more than $100 million in its opening weekend.

Robyn Curnow, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: The reviews coming from the movie are pretty awesome.

SESAY: Yes. I actually want to see it.

VAUSE: I don't.

(LAUGHTER)

SESAY: Why am I not surprised you said that. Anyway, as television anchors we certainly can appreciate what happened to an expert on Korea when his children invaded his room during a live TV interview.

VAUSE: OK. So at this point just about everybody has seen the video. Here he is, Professor Robert Kelly with his children breaking in, running roughshod while he was on television, having a discussion with a BBC journalist. Now he and his wife are talking about what happened and how they struggled to manage their rambunctious children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [02:55:03] ROBERT KELLY, ASSOC. PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, PUSAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Some surprise and embarrassment and amusement. Actually it was terribly cute. I saw the video just like everybody else. It's really funny.

KIM JUNG-A, WIFE OF PROFESSOR KELLY: It happened all the time for us but not like in interviews and stuff. That is the first time it happened, right? It happened the first time for us.

KELLY: Yes, we haven't had that. Yes.

KIM: Fifteen years?

KELLY: Yes. I've been doing TV for a while and I don't (INAUDIBLE).

KIM: Yes, most of the time he locks the door.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

VAUSE: Lock the door.

SESAY: Always. The professor and his wife say they have watched the clip multiple times and totally understand why the world thinks it's so funny. Do you see the way she came running through that door?

VAUSE: Actually a lot of people thought that, you know, when she came through the door to sort of, you know, coral the kids, you know, a lot of people made the assumption that because she -- you know, Robert's wife is Asian -- that she was the helper or the nanny. They were wrong. She is his wife. So, you know, a lot of discussions about her running as well.

SESAY: Very interesting.

VAUSE: Another point here, apparently this clip has been watched at least 17 million times.

SESAY: Yes, on YouTube.

VAUSE: Which is to say more than anything that have ever been seen on BBC World News ever before. So that's one plus for us.

SESAY: Massive boost in ratings there.

VAUSE: Absolutely. They've never seen those kind of numbers.

(LAUGHTER)

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

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. The news continues next with Rosemarie Church in New York and inside for the next hour.

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