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Monday
Dec052016

Japanese Prime Minister to Make Historic First Visit Pearl Harbor

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Pearl Harbor with President Obama later this month.

Abe will become the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the site of Japan's 1941 attack on the U.S. Naval base that prompted the United States to join World War II 75 years ago.

"The President will ... accompany Prime Minister Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those killed," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced Monday. "The two leaders’ visit will showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values."

Abe's historic visit comes after President Obama earlier this year visited Hiroshima, the site of the U.S. atomic bombing on Japan in 1945, in another first.

Abe's visit to Hawaii is planned for Dec. 27.

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Monday
Dec052016

Far-Right Candidate Loses Bid for Presidency in Austria

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Alexander Van der Bellen appears to have won the Austrian presidency, defeating Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer.

Austria's presidency is a largely ceremonial post, Hofer had won, he would have become Austria and Western Europe's first far-right head of state since World War II.


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Sunday
Dec042016

Italian PM Matteo Renzi to Resign After Referendum Defeat

Franco Origlia/Getty Images(ROME) -- Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Sunday he will resign after a referendum defeat.

Italians voted on a proposal that would attempt to streamline Italy's lawmaking process by reducing the powers of the Senate. Renzi had said the reforms would have cut the country's bureaucracy, but many saw the vote as a referendum on the prime minister's centrist government.

Renzi said he would offer his resignation on Monday at a cabinet meeting.

"Good luck to us all," he said according to BBC.

The Italian prime minister's resignation mirrors the exit of David Cameron, the former prime minister of United Kingdom, who stepped down when British voters decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. Cameron had heavily campaigned to remain in the EU.

The result of Italy's referendum also comes amid the rise of anti-establishment sentiment in the world. Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S. nearly a month ago and France's anti-immigration and anti-European Union National Front Party leader Marine Le Pen is gaining support in her country.

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Sunday
Dec042016

Austria Rejects Far-Right in Presidential Vote

iStock/Thinkstock(VIENNA) -- Austria has elected a former Green Party leader to be its new president.

Alexander Van der Bellen defeated far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer, who conceded within minutes of the first results being reported on Sunday, BBC News reports.

Van der Bellen said his victory was a vote for "freedom, equality and solidarity," and re-affirmed his country's desire not to close itself off from the rest of Europe.

He said Austria had sent a "signal of hope and change" to "all the capitals of the European Union".

French President Francois Hollande said Austria had chosen "Europe and openness," and European Council President Donald Tusk offered his "wholehearted congratulations." Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen of France's conservative Front National said the Freedom Party would be victorious in upcoming legislative elections.

The post of president is ceremonial in Austria, but the vote was widely viewed as an indication of how well populist candidates would fare in European elections following this year's Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

Sunday's vote was the country's second attempt to conduct the presidential runoff this year. An earlier vote in May was invalidated after vote irregularities.

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Sunday
Dec042016

What's Next for Cuba Following the Death of Fidel Castro

iStock/Thinkstock(HAVANA) -- With the death of Fidel Castro, the father of the Cuban revolution, many questions hang over the future of Cuba. President Raul Castro, Fidel's 85-year-old brother, has been leading the country since 2008 when Fidel stepped down. With the assistance of the Vatican and Canada, Raul Castro and President Obama announced negotiations toward thawing relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2014.

But with only a year left in Raul Castro's presidency, what happens next for the island only 90 miles from the U.S.?

Immediately


Not much is expected to change immediately for Cuba.

"Raul has been a reformist, pushing pragmatically for slow but steady change -- 'without haste, but without pause,' as he likes to say," Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and expert on Cuba, told ABC News. "There are others in the Communist Party politburo who oppose the range of his efforts to privatize and modernize the economy."

President-elect Donald Trump looms over whatever the future will look like. Whether he shuts down the island to business again, or allows more openings can play into the hands of Cuba's reformists or hardliners.

"If Trump pursues an arrogant imperial and threatening policy toward Cuba, the leadership will gravitate toward hardline security officials who will focus on national security," Kornbluh explains.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a private, not-for-profit, membership-based corporation, said it is "delusional thinking" that everything will immediately change with the death of Fidel Castro.

"The next months will be focused upon confirming for the 11.3 million citizens of Cuba that the 'Revolution' was not because of one man or only endured with that one man," he said. "It is the fabric that wraps the country and there will be no holes in that fabric."

Possible Election

The real change is expected come February 24, 2018 -- the day a Castro will no longer be running Cuba.

Raul Castro announced in 2013 that it would be his last five-year term as president. Come February 2018, it will be the first time since the revolution that a Castro will not be in power.

"President-elect Trump is focusing upon the requirements of the Libertad Act of 1996, which created conditions for the resumption of full commercial, economic and political relations with Cuba," Kavulich said. "President-elect Trump is sharing that he desires a 'better deal.' He may get one -- on 24 February 2018 when President Raul Castro retires and he will be the first United States president in 59 years to welcome a 'post-Castro Cuba' and preside during a 'post-Castro Cuba.' A provision of the Libertad Act requires that neither Fidel Castro nor Raul Castro be in government.”

The Libertad Act is also known as Helms-Burton Act, which states the embargo can be removed when Cuba holds "free and fair" elections and a Castro is not in power.

The expected successor is current vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 56, appointed by Raul Castro in 2013. He is the highest ranking Cuban politician born after the revolution. Díaz-Canel is an engineer by training and according to Americas Quarterly has spoken for an open press and more Internet access.

"Today, news from all sides —- good or bad, manipulated and true -— gets to people. They know [what's going on]," Díaz-Canel told a higher education conference, according to Americas Quarterly. "And what is worse, then? Silence?"

He would become the first civilian leader of Cuba since the revolution, but how he will come to power is still a question.

"Leadership has never been put to the people in Cuba. I'd be very surprised if that were to change," Ted Piccone, a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy and Latin America Initiative in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings Institute told ABC News. "We'd certainly not see elections as anything we would recognize. There would be a formal appointment coming out of the national assembly."

The Cuban government has taken steps toward more open elections, such as allowing two independents to run in the last election, and promises to decentralize the government and has an electoral law reform pending, Piccone said.

"Key question is his legitimacy and his platform. We've had the Castro regime had the revolution to empower them all these years," he said. "When the Castros are gone that generation is gone. What is their legitimacy? He'd have to deliver of economic quality of life reforms. That’s what they are going to be judged on by the Cuban people because they weren’t fighting in the mountains for the revolution ... he was born after the revolution.”

Future

What the future will hold for Cuba is dependent on whether Trump allows the relaxation and easing of relations to continue, according to Piccone.

"Whether or not you like the Castros or not, the Cubans are very proud, nationalist people and they will survive," Piccone said. "Trump is taking a completely backward approach. He’d just provoke them and hardliners in Cuba to repress people rather than open up."

It will also depend on whether Raul Castro will fully remove himself from power.

While he will step down as president, the question remains if he will exit entirely from government.

"They've talked about separating the roles of party leader and government leader so would have Raul in theory, as head of the party and Diaz-Canal as head of government for the more day to day activities of running the government," Piccone explained. "With Fidel gone and Raul in the background I think you have much more burden on the new generation to move ahead with reforms because the current status quo program is not going to lead them to economic growth.

"If they position Diaz-Canal as the face of the Cuban government to the world and the people and if Raul has been playing the role Fidel has the past eight years (a monthly column or photo opp with a visiting dignitary), if Raul steps back as far as Fidel has stepped back then I would say it's the end of the Castro era."

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Sunday
Dec042016

Vice President-elect Pence Says Trump's Phone Call With Taiwan 'Just A Courtesy Call'

State of Indiana(NEW YORK) --  President-elect Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan was "nothing more than taking a courtesy call," according to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

"Its' a little mystifying to me that President Obama can reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba in the last year and be hailed as a hero for doing it and President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from the democratically-elected leader of Taiwan, and it’s become something of a controversy," Pence told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on This Week on Sunday morning.

When asked whether the Trump administration would continue the "one China" foreign policy of the U.S. since 1979, Pence said, "We'll deal with policy after January 20."

Trump's phone conversation Friday with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen broke nearly four decades of sensitive U.S. policy toward China.

Although Taiwan has held that it is an independent nation since it split from the Chinese mainland in a 1949 civil war, the U.S. established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, and has since not recognized Taiwan as its own country but rather as a part of China.

Since 1979, no phone calls between a U.S. president-elect and a Taiwanese leader have been publicly reported, according to Center for Strategic and International Studies China expert Bonnie Glaser.

Pence told Stephanopoulos that Taiwan's leader called Trump. "They reached out to offer congratulations as leaders around the world have," he said. "He took the call, accepted her congratulations and good wishes."

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Saturday
Dec032016

Trump Organization Denies Reports of Planned Expansion In Taiwan 

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Trump Organization said Saturday that the company has no plans to expand in Taiwan and that “rumors” to the contrary are false.

After President-elect Trump spoke Friday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen -- breaking nearly four decades of sensitive U.S. policy toward China -- media reports surfaced saying that the Trump Organization is considering investing in Taiwan.

The Taiwanese and Chinese media reports said that a representative of the Trump Organization visited a city in Taiwan in September and expressed interest in the company's investing in a large-scale urban development project there.

The mayor of the city of Taoyuan reportedly said that the Trump Organization is considering building hotels and resorts in the city but that, as the large development project there is under review, the interest expressed by the Trump Organization representative during the visit was merely speculative.

But the Trump Organization's vice president of marketing, Amanda Miller, told ABC News in a statement, "There are no plans for expansion into Taiwan, nor are any of our executives planning a visit. The rumors of a planned development there are simply false."

Miller also responded to a recently surfaced Facebook post by Anne-Marie Donoghue, who is global director of transient sales and Asia at Trump Hotels. She posted a picture on her Facebook on Oct. 15 from Taipei and in the comments described her visit there as a "work trip."

Miller said Donoghue's visit had nothing to do with any planned development by Trump Organization in Taiwan.

"In terms of Anne Marie, she is not part of our development team which is overseen by our hotel company CEO," Miller said. "There have been no authorized visits to Taiwan on behalf of our brand for the purposes of development nor are there any active conversations."

The Trump transition team has not yet responded to requests by ABC News for comment on this issue.

The issue presents another thread in a story that has gained momentum as Trump assembles his administration, whether the interests of his global business could intertwine or affect his actions as president.

Trump said earlier this week he will be holding a major news conference with his children on Dec. 15 to lay out how he plans a "total" separation from his business while he is president.

In a Nov. 22 interview with The New York Times, Trump noted that the president is exempt from a conflict-of-interest statute that applies to other government officials. However, he also tweeted that it would be "visually" important to show the American people he can govern without any conflicts.

Trump's call with on Friday sent shock waves through at least part of the U.S. diplomatic establishment and led China to lodge a formal diplomatic protest with the U.S.

Taiwan has held that it is an independent nation since it split from the Chinese mainland in a 1949 civil war. But the U.S. has maintained a "one China" policy since establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, meaning that it has not recognized Taiwan as its own country and rather as a part of China.

Since then, no phone calls between a U.S. president-elect and a Taiwanese leader have been publicly reported, according to Center for Strategic and International Studies China expert Bonnie Glaser.

The U.S. does have a "robust unofficial relationship" with Taiwan and commits to defending it in the event of a Chinese attack, according to the U.S. Department of State's website.

According to a press release from the Trump transition team about the phone call, Taiwan's president offered her congratulations to the president-elect, and he offered the same to her for her election victory this year. They discussed the "close economic, political, and security ties between Taiwan and the United States," the Trump transition team said.

The Taiwanese president's office said in a statement that the telephone call lasted 10 minutes and that Tsai and Trump were joined by Taiwan's National Security Council secretary general Joseph Wu Chao-hsieh, foreign minister David Li Ta-wei, acting secretary general Liu Jianxi and spokesman Huang Yan.

"During the conversation, President Tsai and President Trump also exchanged views and ideas on the future governance, especially the promotion of domestic economic development and the long-term strengthening of national defense, so as to enable the people to enjoy a secure and better life," the statement from Tsai's office read.

Meanwhile, Trump appeared to seek to dismiss concerns about the call in a series of tweets on Friday night, saying that he was on the receiving end of the call and noted that the U.S. has recently approved major arms sales to Taiwan.

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Saturday
Dec032016

Iceland's Pirates Given Chance to Try to Form Government

iStock/Thinkstock(REYKJAVIK, Iceland) -- Iceland's Pirate Party has been asked to try to form a government after the country's two largest parties failed to do so, according to BBC News.

In October's elections, the anti-establishment Pirate Party surged to 10 seats in the small European island's 63-seat parliament. That is fewer than both the Independence Party and the Left-Greens, but those parties were unable to form a coalition with a majority of seats in parliament.

As a result, President Gudni Johannesson asked the Pirates to lead new coalition talks.

Pirates head Birgitta Jonsdottir said she was "optimistic that we will find a way to work together".

BBC News says the Pirate Party, founded in 2012, ran on a platform promoting increased political accountability, free health care and closing tax loopholes. Opponents say investors may hesistate to invest in Iceland's economy if an inexperienced political party is at the helm.

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Saturday
Dec032016

Syrian Government Retakes Half of Rebel-Held Areas in East Aleppo

iStock/Thinkstock(ALEPPO, Syria) -- Half of the rebel-held areas in east Aleppo have been re-taken by Syrian government troops, a military spokesperson tells BBC News. Gen. Samir Sulaiman said he hoped all of Aleppo would be under government control within the next few weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a humanitarian monitoring group in the region, said the district of Tariq al-Bab was seized by government troops after being under rebel control for four years.

The group said dozens of soldiers on both sides of the conflict were left injured or killed in the fighting, and at least 300 civilians have been killed in rebel-held districts since the government intensified its push to retake the city in November.

Stephen O'Brien, humanitarian affairs chief at the United Nations, said food was running extremely low in rebel-held areas under government siege, and UN officials on the ground told BBC News they were preparing for a wave of civilians fleeing the violence.

On Thursday, Russia (an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) said it was ready to discuss opening corridors into the city for humanitarian access. Approximately 250,000 people remain trapped in parts of the city that are under government siege, according to BBC News.

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Saturday
Dec032016

Stephen Hawking Released from Italian Hospital After Brief Stay

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(ROME) -- Stephen Hawking has been released from a hospital in Rome after a two-day stay.

Gemelli Hospital tells ABC News that the English theoretical physicist was discharged on Saturday after feeling unwell on Thursday evening.

Hawking was speaking at a Vatican conference on the origins of the universe. He suffers from a rare form of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

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