200 More American Toops Headed to Syria

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Two hundred additional American special operations troops are headed to Syria to help Syrian Kurdish and Arabic forces fighting ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Saturday at a security conference in Bahrain.

The troop increase will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Syria to 500.

A defense official said the additional troops will help train, advise and assist the growing number of Syrian rebel forces preparing to retake and hold Raqqa, ISIS' de facto capital city in Syria.

Carter, who made the announcement at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Manama Dialogue, said the additional forces will help "to continue organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise enabling capable, motivated, local forces to take the fight to ISIL, and also bringing down to bear the full weight of U.S. forces around the theater of operations like the funnel of a giant tornado."

He added, "This latest commitment of additional forces within Syria is another important step in enabling our partners to deal ISIL a lasting defeat."

The additional 200 troops being deployed to Syria will include special operations forces, trainers, advisers, and explosive ordnance disposal teams.

The 300 American special operations forces already in Syria mainly advise and assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of 45,000 Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel forces that have been fighting ISIS. A small number of the American forces have also been advising and assisting Turkish forces fighting ISIS in northwestern Syria.

With support from American airstrikes, as well as advisers on the ground, SDF forces have pushed ISIS out of strongholds in northern and eastern Syria and are now pushing towards Raqqa.

Carter said Saturday that SDF forces have fought their way to 15 miles north of that city.

Plans call for the SDF to envelope Raqqa with Kurdish fighters remaining outside of the city so Arab fighters can retake it from ISIS.

A U.S. defense official said the troop increase "is tied to the growing number of local forces now willing to participate in this fight, and our efforts to enable them."

The SDF has been a mostly Kurdish force with a smaller component of Arab fighters. But as the SDF has grown to 45,000 in number, the number of Arab fighters has also grown to 13,000.

The recruitment of local Arab fighters from the area around Raqqa has helped boost those numbers.

The push towards Raqqa began in early November, coming on the heels of the Iraqi offensive on Mosul in Iraq. Two months into that offensive Iraqi forces have met stiff resistance as they have pushed into the city's eastern limits.

5,262 American troops are authorized to be in Iraq to train, advise and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.

Carter restated during his remarks in Bahrain that after ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria, American troops will remain in that country to help with its training and advising mission to help Iraqi forces consolidate security over the rest of the country.

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South Korean Lawmakers Vote to Impeach President Park Geun-hye

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) — South Korea's national assembly voted Friday to impeach President Park Geun-hye over her alleged links to a corruption scandal.

Backed by overwhelming public support — evident from the millions of South Koreans who have filled the streets in recent weeks demanding her impeachment — the opposition-controlled parliament passed the motion by 234 votes out of 300.

The Constitutional Court now has up to 180 days to determine whether to formally end Park's presidency. Until then, Park is suspended, not removed, while all duties will be temporarily relegated to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn.

At a Cabinet meeting after the vote, Park apologized for her "negligence."

"I'd like to say that I'm deeply sorry to the people because the nation has to experience this turmoil because of my negligence and lack of virtue at a time when our security and economy both face difficulties," Park said, adding she's preparing for the court review of the impeachment.

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Gambian President Now Rejects Election Results After Conceding

iStock/Thinkstock(BANJUL, Gambia) -- Africa's smallest country, Gambia, held a presidential election on December 1. The country's president, Yahya Jammeh, received 36.7 percent of the vote, while property developer Adama Burrow won more than 45 percent of the vote.

The day after the election, President Jammeh, who has ruled the tiny nation of two million people since 1994, went on state television to wish Barrow well, calling him "the elected president of the Gambia."

On Friday, however, Jammeh took to the airwaves to take back his earlier concession, according to BBC News.

"I lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities which have reportedly transpired during the electoral process," Jammeh said on state TV. "I recommend fresh and transparent elections which will be officiated by a God-fearing and independent electoral commission."

In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner called the reversal "a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of the Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately."

The statement called upon all institutions in the country to reject violence and peacefully uphold the will of the people.

If the election results stand, Barrow is meant to take office in late January.

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Ghana Elects Opposition Leader as President

iStock/Thinkstock(ACCRA, Ghana) -- Celebrations broke out in Ghana's capital Accra after Nana Akufo-Addo, from Ghana's opposition New Patriotic Party, was declared the winner of the country's presidential election, BBC News reports.

The election, held Wednesday, was Akufo-Addo's third run for the presidency. The 72-year-old human rights lawyer had previously served as both justice and foreign minister, and ran a campaign largely focused on economic issues, including a promise to build more factories throughout the country.

"I will make this solemn pledge to you tonight: I will not let you down," Akufo-Addo told a crowd in front of his home Friday.

"I will do all in my power to live up to your hopes and expectations," he added.

Ghana's Electoral Commission said Akufo-Addo had received 53.85 percent of the vote, compared to current President John Mahama's 44.40 percent.

Mahama called Akufo-Addo to concede the election, a spokesman said.

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The Vatican's Nativity Scene Includes Quake-Damaged Church Spire, Refugee Boat

VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- The Vatican's yearly Christmas Nativity scene included a number of unusual additions this year, shedding light on some of the major events that shaped life in the region over the past year.

In addition to the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and farm animals inhabiting the traditional manger, a spire from one of the churches damaged in this year's central Italy earthquakes was prominently featured. The St. Benedict Basilica in Norcia lay next to the life-sized Nativity Scene, unveiled on Friday.

As a nod to the ongoing refugee crisis that has seen an unprecedented number of people attempt to cross the Mediterranean in unsafe vessels in hopes of reaching Europe, the Nativity Scene featured a Maltese fishing boat. 

Many migrants and refugees have attempted the crossing in similar boats, and the United Nations Refugee Agency said over 300,000 refugees had crossed the Mediterranean in 2016 as of September 20th.

The Vatican Christmas tree also featured ornaments made by sick Italian children throughout the country.

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Discovery of Dinosaur Tail Encased in Amber Sheds Light on Evolution of Feathers

ROYAL SASKATCHEWAN MUSEUM (RSM/ R.C. MCKELLAR)(BEIJING) -- A dinosaur tail preserved in amber has been discovered for the first time ever, researchers announced on Thursday in a paper published in the scientific journal Cell Biology.

The feather-covered tail is from a dinosaur that lived on Earth about 99 million years ago, according to a news release from Cell Press, which publishes Cell Biology.

Lida Xing, the paper's lead author and lecturer at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, chanced upon the "remarkable specimen" while perusing an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar, in 2015, Cell Press said.

The dinosaur tail originally could have just ended up "a curiosity or piece of jewelry," Cell Press said, "but Xing recognized its potential scientific importance and suggested that the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology buy the specimen."

The finding has helped provide significant insight into dinosaurs' feather structure and evolution, which can't be determined from fossil evidence, according to Cell Press.

"Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems, but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings," said Ryan McKellar, co-author of the paper and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.

Researchers have been using CT scanning and microscopic observations to get a closer look at the feathers, Cell Press said. The scientific journal publisher noted that hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen, was found in the amber.

Researchers said they are now "eager to see how additional finds from this region will reshape our understanding of plumage and soft tissues in dinosaurs and other vertebrates," Cell Press added.

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Hundreds of Men Missing From Battered East Aleppo, UN Says

iStock/Thinkstock(GENEVA) --   Hundreds of men appear to have gone missing after fleeing the rebel-held part of Aleppo for government-held areas, the United Nations said on Friday, expressing concern that the men may have been detained and mistreated by the Syrian government.

“Given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances by the Syrian government, we are of course deeply concerned about the fate of these individuals,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said during a press briefing in Geneva.

The men who have reportedly gone missing are between the ages of 30 and 50, he said.

Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad,have captured approximately 75 percent of east Aleppo and are continuing to bombard areas that remain under the control of opposition forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Several activists in Syria have said that men leaving east Aleppo for government-held areas risk being detained, killed or recruited to join the Syrian army. The U.N. said that some of the civilians who have been trying to flee are reportedly being blocked by armed opposition groups.

Wednesday night, nearly 150 civilians, most of them disabled or in urgent need of care, were evacuated from a hospital in the Old City of Aleppo. The hospital, Dar Al-Safaa, used to be an home for the elderly but it had lately been serving patients with mental health needs or physical disabilities. In addition, about three dozen civilians, a number of them injured, had also sought refuge there, said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

 "These patients and civilians had been trapped in the area for days because of heavy clashes nearby and as the front line kept drawing closer," the Red Cross' head of delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, who is currently in Aleppo, said in a statement. "Many of them cannot move and need special attention and care. It must have been terrifying for them. Our partners from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had been trying to reach and evacuate them since Tuesday."

Around 100,000 civilians may still be trapped in the shrinking amount of rebel-held areas in Aleppo, according to the U.N.

In Friday’s statement the U.N. voiced concern that the remaining civilians in east Aleppo have little access to health care, food, water and fuel for heating. In addition, approximately 500 people there are in need of urgent medical evacuation, the statement said.

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8,000 Miles Across the Atlantic, Chicago Aquarium Works to Save Abandoned Baby Penguins in South Africa

Shedd Aquarium (CHICAGO) --  A team from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has traveled more than 8,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on a mission to help save abandoned baby penguins on South Africa's coast.

Hundreds of endangered African penguin chicks are abandoned by their parents every year in South Africa, according to a news release this week from the Shedd Aquarium.

"The strandings are due to the species’ feather-changing process known as 'moulting,'" the aquarium said. "When moulting, the adult penguins are unable to go into the cold ocean to hunt for fish, so chicks that hatch late in the year are often left behind and face the risk of starvation."

Many abandoned baby penguins have been affected by "illness, oil spills, or injuries as a result of human activity," the aquarium added.

 Because the African penguin species is endangered, saving the baby penguins to help retain the species' population is "critical," the Shedd Aquarium said.

"Without organizations dedicated to assisting these animals," the aquarium added, "the population would continue to decline at a rapid and detrimental rate."

Throughout this month and January of next year, the Shedd Aquarium said it will be working with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to rescue, rehabilitate and eventually release the abandoned chicks.

 So far, nearly 500 abandoned African penguin chicks have been admitted to SANCCOB this year, according to the Shedd Aquarium.

The Shedd Aquarium team in SANCCOB's facility in Cape Town, South Africa, went live on Facebook this past Monday, Dec. 5, to show how they are caring for the penguin chicks that have been rescued so far.

The Shedd Aquarium said in a news release that rescued chicks "are first evaluated by experts and then placed in SANCCOB’s Chick Rearing Unit where they are kept in temperature controlled habitats and fed multiple times each day to ensure they are receiving proper nutrition."

 The babies then "continue to go through regular checkups with experts until they reach fledging age, which is approximately three months old," the aquarium added.

At that point, if the chicks are "deemed healthy enough, they are released back to the wild into an established penguin colony with a micro-chip to allow for continued health monitoring," Shedd said.

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Buzz Aldrin Departs New Zealand After Weeklong Hospital Stay

NASA/Bill Ingalls(NEW YORK) — Buzz Aldrin, prepare for lift off.

After spending more than a week at a New Zealand hospital, Aldrin’s assistant tweeted a photo Friday morning showing the legendary NASA astronaut on an airplane with the caption, “Bye bye New Zealand! Hope to see you again! (But next time for vacation and not evacuation).”

Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, had to be evacuated from the South Pole on Dec. 2 after a medical emergency. Aldrin later released a statement saying he “started to feel a bit short of breath” and, upon further evaluation, doctors discovered some congestion in his lungs.

The 86-year-old had been in Antarctica "to experience and study conditions akin to Mars," according to his website.

Prior to his medical evacuation, Aldrin became the oldest person to reach the South Pole.

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Duchess Kate Dazzles in Princess Diana's Beloved Tiara 

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) --  Duchess Kate stepped out Thursday night wearing the famous pearl-and-diamond-clad Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara, which was a favorite of Princess Diana, for the annual white tie diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace.

The Duchess of Cambridge looked regal in red, recycling the same dress by designer Jenny Packham that she chose for her first state dinner with the Chinese President. She accessorized the look with diamond chandelier earrings.

The Duchess of Cambridge has only worn tiaras on four previous occasions. She first donned the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara last year at the same event. The jeweled headpiece was given as a wedding present to the late Princess Diana by Queen Elizabeth II in 1981.

Kate borrowed the Lotus Flower Tiara for her first State Banquet with the Chinese President and the Cartier Halo Tiara at her wedding.

 The Queen wore her sapphire and diamond tiara and a dress by Angela Kelly. Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, dressed in a white, beaded, Bruce Oldfield gown with a Boucheron tiara, a pearl choker and diamond earrings.

The reception held by the Queen is attended by the most senior members of the Royal Family including Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Philip and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. More than 1,000 guests from 130 nations attend the event, which is known as one of the most coveted social invitation of the year for the diplomatic community.

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