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In our news wrap Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced he is ending a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing. He also said his military will soon unveil a new strategic weapon, and that his country will not give up its nuclear program unless the U.S. changes policy. Meanwhile, dignitaries in Seoul, South Korea, rang the peace bell at midnight as crowds waved lights.
In the day's other news: North Korea leader Kim Jong-un announced he is ending a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing. He also said his military will soon unveil a new strategic weapon. Kim warned, the country will never give up its nuclear program unless the U.S. changes policy, including easing sanctions.
Against that against that backdrop, state TV showed an elaborate New Year's Eve celebration in the capital, Pyongyang, complete with fireworks and stage performances.
Elsewhere around the world, the new year entered with pageantry and pyrotechnics. Dignitaries in Seoul, South Korea, rang the peace bell at midnight, as crowds waved lights. In Dubai, fireworks shot from the sides of the iconic Burj Khalifa tower.
And, in this country, New York City stepped up security as it geared up for tonight's celebrations. Police in Times Square patted down visitors as they entered. Many in the crowd came from around the world to witness the ball drop firsthand.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We come from Canary Islands. It's a little, little bunch of islands from Spain.
And this is just something you have to do in your life at least once. And despite everybody has told us, don't do it, it's crazy, it gets hectic, it's so cold, we're just going to make it once.
Other cities have their own midnight drops, including Key West, Florida, where a giant prop key lime wedge falls into a giant martini glass.
But, in Atlanta, the peach drop of an 800-pound fiberglass fruit was canceled, as officials look for a new location.
For thousands in Australia, fear of wildfires overshadowed the festivities of New Year's. Over Sydney Harbor, the annual fireworks spectacle went ahead under a pall of smoke from fires burning outside the city.
And in Victoria state, the town of Mallacoota had a narrow escape.
Sejal Karia of Independent Television News reports.
Pitched darkness at 9:20 in the morning. When daylight eventually punched through, the fires had turned the skies blood red and forced the entire town to evacuate; 4,000 people huddled on the wharves and beaches, while hundreds of others escaped by boat from the flames that were racing to the shore.
We got all our boats out. We just jumped on them. We didn't even bring anything.
Every one of Australia's states is experiencing wildfires, unprecedented temperatures, combined with strong winds and a sustained dry period, bolstering the flames.
These fires, particularly in East Gippsland, overnight and throughout yesterday were creating their own weather. That's how fierce, that's how active those fires were.
And while there have been lucky escapes, with this car emerging just seconds before huge flames jumped this major highway linking Sydney to Melbourne, the fires have so far also claimed 12 lives. Four others are currently missing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison:
And so in the days and weeks and I fear months ahead, it will continue to be difficult. I wish we had better news on New Year's Eve. But one news we can always take comfort in is the amazing spirit of Australians.
The prime minister will now send military aircraft and navy ships to assist with the firefighting efforts, but, with another two months of summer to go, Australia isn't out of the woods yet.
That report from Sejal Karia of Independent Television News.
Thousands of people in Hong Kong opened the new year with new protests, calling for democratic reforms and less control by mainland China. They formed human lines that stretched for blocks and spilled onto key roads. Later, riot police chased them away using pepper spray.
Meanwhile, in a New Year's message, Chinese President Xi Jinping appealed for stability in Hong Kong.
Lawmakers in Taiwan voted today to block China from meddling in its elections, now less than two weeks away. The Parliament banned foreign political interference, amid allegations China is secretly backing the opposition Nationalists, considered more pro-Beijing. Today, that party staged a sit-in, but ruling party legislators hailed the bill.
Chen Ou-Po (through translator):
Infiltration and efforts to sow divisions are everywhere. Only the destruction of Taiwanese democracy will satisfy China.
Taiwan is on the front line and urgently needs the anti-infiltration law to protect national security and the people's rights.
Taiwan's government calls itself an independent state, not a renegade province. Beijing has responded with stepped-up economic and military pressure.
President Trump says the U.S. and China will sign the first phase of a trade deal next month. He announced on Twitter today that it will happen on January 15 at the White House with high-level Chinese officials. U.S. officials say China will buy more U.S. farm products, but haven't revealed the exact text of the agreement.
A key Republican now says, if there's a Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, she is open to calling witnesses. But Susan Collins of Maine also said today it is premature to decide who should be called. Democrats want to hear from White House officials who didn't testify before House committees.
The Supreme Court of Israel began deliberations today on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political future. He has been indicted on corruption charges. Good governance groups want to bar him from forming a government if he wins reelection in March. That would be Israel's third election in the last 12 months.
The former head of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, has turned up in Lebanon, after jumping bail in Japan. He had been awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct. In a statement today, he said he's a victim of injustice and political persecution. Ghosn is of Lebanese descent and grew up in Beirut. Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.
And on Wall Street, stocks closed out a big year with modest gains. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 76 points to close at 28538. The Nasdaq rose 26 points, and the S&P 500 added nine.
The S&P and the Nasdaq had their best year since 2013, up 29 percent and 35 percent respectively. The Dow was up 22 percent.
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