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News Wrap: Death toll in Australian wildfires rises to 17

In our news wrap Wednesday, New Year’s Day brought only slight relief to parts of Australia ravaged by some of the country’s worst-ever wildfires. The death toll rose to 17. Also, the Taliban staged a series of attacks on Afghan security forces, killing at least 26. Taliban officials had previously said they agreed to a cease-fire but gave no start date, and there has been no decline in violence.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Iraqi militiamen, supported by Iran, have withdrawn tonight from the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad. They pulled back after a second day of violent assaults on the U.S.' largest and most expensive diplomatic complex.

    The siege was sparked by U.S. airstrikes against militia sites over the weekend that killed more than two dozen fighters. We will have a detailed report after the news summary.

    In Afghanistan, the Taliban staged a series of attacks on security forces, killing at least 26. The attackers struck in Kunduz, Balkh and Takhar provinces, all in Afghanistan's north. Last weekend, Taliban officials say they agreed to a cease-fire, but gave no start date, and there's been no letup in the violence.

    A pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong that began last spring continues into the new year. Hundreds of thousands joined an annual march today that, by nightfall, descended into violence. Protesters vandalized banks and businesses with ties to mainland China and threw firebombs. Police fired tear gas and arrested about 400 people.

    New Year's Day brought only slight relief to parts of Australia ravaged by some of country's worst ever wildfires. But after flames cut off several coastal towns, the death toll rose to 17.

    John Ray of Independent Television News has our report.

  • John Ray:

    In the small town of Mallacoota, residents returned to their homes to find nothing left to salvage.

  • Jann Gilbert:

    All of my possessions have been totally incinerated. There is just simply nothing left, nothing more, except ash.

  • John Ray:

    There is now a brief lull in the winds that whipped up this firestorm that sent thousands of residents fleeing for their lives, and holiday makers trapped on the coast to shelter at sea.

    Firefighters have been reinforced by the military to bring emergency supplies to ravaged communities and to help count the cost in a toll of death expected to rise.

  • Gladys Berejiklian:

    Today is the day where it's safe to do so, that our police and emergency services could actually go through the properties that have been lost, and in some circumstances make some very, very horrible findings.

  • John Ray:

    Many of those who died had stayed behind in a doomed mission to protect homes and businesses. For now, in the towns, the fires only smolder. But in the hills, they still rage.

    And the calmer weather that has allowed Australia to take stock of this catastrophe may be only a brief reprieve.

  • Rob Rogers:

    There is s every potential that conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw yesterday.

  • John Ray:

    Searing heat in a country left tinder-dry by years of drought. Fire has tested Australia to destruction.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That report from John Ray of Independent Television News.

    Severe flooding hit Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, overnight, after monsoon rains dumped 14 inches during New Year's celebrations. At least nine people were killed and thousands forced from their homes. Rescue workers evacuated women and children in inflatable boats, while others swam through floodwaters, past submerged vehicles and homes.

    At the Vatican, in a New Year's message, Pope Francis denounced violence against women. He likened it to profaning God, and called for a greater role for women in world decision-making. He also apologized for striking out at a woman in St. Peter's Square last night.

    Francis was shaking hands when the woman grabbed him and yanked him toward her. He slapped her hand and turned away, visibly angry.

    Today, he said he had made a mistake.

  • Pope Francis (through translator):

    Love makes us patient. So many times, we lose patience, even me. And I apologize for yesterday's bad example.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The woman involved in the incident has not been identified.

    Back in this country, President Trump is again talking about cracking down on underage vaping. He said last night that sales of some flavored e-cigarettes might be halted. The Wall Street Journal reported the Food and Drug Administration will ban all flavors, except menthol and tobacco. The president promised a sweeping ban last September, but never followed through.

    And former National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern has died. The league said he passed today, about three weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Stern led the NBA for 30 years, and oversaw its huge growth for basketball in the U.S. and worldwide. In 2014, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    David Stern was 77 years old.

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