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iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory against ISIS after three years of war.

In an announcement in Baghdad on Saturday, the prime minister said Iraqi forces were in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

"Our enemy wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination," Abadi said according to the BBC. "We have triumphed in little time."

In January 2014, Iraq lost control of Fallujah and Ramadi to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In June, the liberation of Mosul marked a turning point in Iraq's war against ISIS.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement after the announcement, offering "congratulations to the Iraqi people and to the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS."

Nauert added that the prime minister's announcement "does not mean the fight against terrorism, and even against ISIS, in Iraq is over."

"The United States, along with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, will continue to partner with the Iraqi Security Forces, advising, training, and equipping them," she said in the statement. "Together, we must be vigilant in countering all extremist ideologies to prevent the return of ISIS or the emergence of threats by other terrorist groups."

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Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived at the Vienna airport this week, he was greeted on the tarmac by three deputy chiefs of mission from the U.S. embassies in Austria.

Of the three U.S. missions in Austria – the U.S. embassy to Austria, the embassy for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations embassy – there isn’t a single ambassador leading the foreign offices 10 months into Tillerson’s term.

The State Department has also not yet put forth a name to the White House for nomination to eventually serve as ambassador to the European Union, a major international organization that represents 28 European countries and the largest single market in the world with 200 million consumers.

A White House official said they are still in the process of selecting an EU ambassador and it should be announced soon.

There are 20 ambassadorship postings — both political appointee and career — still open across Europe.

Tillerson's tensions with the White House have only exacerbated the slow pace of the White House's nominating and the Senate's confirming ambassadors, according to a State Department official and a White House Official.

“I think it’s a shame,” former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner told ABC News about the comparatively small number of ambassadors in Europe. “Some of these posts are quite important, particularly now.”

A State Department spokesperson referred questions about political-appointee ambassador vacancies to the White House Office of Personnel, which submits its selections to the State Department.

“We have worked closely with the State Department to get ambassadorship positions filled and have had great success in getting some of the most qualified and credible individuals in place to serve as representatives for our country,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.

Nomination process slowed to a crawl

Before taking office, President Donald Trump told all politically-appointed ambassadors that they had to vacate the posts by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 He made clear there would be “no exemptions,” according to The New York Times.

This left a vacuum at embassies that has yet to be filled, as a third of ambassadors are political appointees.

The process for nominating and confirming ambassadors is an arduous one that takes three months at best. It starts with the White House Office of Personnel submitting its list of nominees to the State Department, which sends back its approvals to the White House to then nominate the ambassadors to the Senate for confirmation.

Nominees must go through a rigorous, FBI vetting process after they’ve been approved by the White House. They must also go to ambassador school for training.

For career ambassadors, the State Department offers selected names to the White House for approval, which are then put to the Senate for confirmation.

But State Department sources say the process has slowed to a crawl.

One White House official complained that Tillerson has been reluctant to approve ambassador recommendations from the White House because they are more ideologically aligned with Trump than the secretary of state's “establishment” positions.

But a State Department official countered that the agency has been stifled by severe political filtering of potential career appointees.

The official said the White House is shutting out nominees seen as too politically aligned with the Obama administration or too deeply involved in policy decisions that Trump has vowed to repeal, like the Iran nuclear deal.

'Working through the process'

All of this has had a big impact on U.S. diplomacy, sources tell ABC News.

“The ambassador gets access that’s hard to replicate. For sensitive negotiations, there’s no alternative to having someone on the ground to have those conversations," said Gardner, the former envoy to the EU who, before Trump took office, was working on sensitive issues like privacy shields and trade.

At Tillerson’s first stop in Brussels, he gave a pep talk to U.S. diplomats based in Belgium working in the NATO, European Union and Belgian missions.

At the residence for the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, where no ambassador is currently living, Tillerson noted the elephant in the room.

"We're still awaiting a lot of nominees to clear the processes and be confirmed," Tillerson said. "I get a little criticism for that from time to time."

He added, "The State Department is not missing a beat because we're still working through the process.”

Tillerson was introduced by NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the only political appointee carrying out her term from the three embassies in Belgium.

After Brussels, he stopped at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany to be briefed for his upcoming trip to Africa in 2018. But again, he was not greeted by an ambassador.

In Germany, there is a nominee for ambassador, Richard Grenell, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt, a businesswoman from California, was confirmed by the Senate in November along with four other ambassadors to European countries including Spain, Croatia, Switzerland and Denmark.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson was confirmed in August.

In addition, Wess Mitchell was recently confirmed as the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. He’s based in Washington, D.C.

A sharp contrast

The empty ambassador posts in Europe contrast sharply with the status of similar positions in other parts of the world.

Trump was quick to name his ambassadors to Israel and China, two countries he made a priority on the campaign trail. He said he could solve Middle East peace and fix China’s currency manipulation.

Traditionally, the European Union has been a close ally of the U.S.

But Trump in July tweeted his support for the U.K. breaking away from the EU.

“Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!” Trump tweeted.

Brexiteer and anti-EU politician Nigel Farage has been a friend and surrogate for Trump with a similar populist message.

A White House official said the timing of ambassador appointments has nothing to do with priority, but more to do with the length of the background check process and the acceptance of the nominee by the host country.

And, one senior EU diplomat said vacancies in U.S. embassies are the not the most important concerns in dealing with the new administration.

“It doesn’t matter who the ambassadors are, it’s the policy,” the diplomat said.

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Torsten Laursen/Getty Images(MADRID) -- The world's best sand sculptors come out each December to help build a giant nativity scene on the Las Canteras Beach in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

The tradition was started by Canarian artist Etual Ojeda in the early 1980s, when he began creating sand sculpture works centered around the nativity scene, featuring the traditional imagery of the Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Ojeda continued for a number of years, adding a new element to the Christmas scene each year, with other sculptors joining in.

Today, the sand sculpture nativity scene has grown into the largest open-air sand sculpture in the world.

Built by artisans from nine different countries, the sculpture uses over 2000 tons of sand, according to the Gran Canaria Tourist Board. It was visited by over 200,000 people in the last year alone.

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Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON) -- During his week in Europe, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to shoot down any perceptions of distance between him and Trump while answering questions from allies at every turn about the president’s most controversial decisions, including his bombshell midweek announcement that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

But Tillerson defiantly made his way to Europe on Monday, telling reporters he’s here to stay.

“You all need to get some new sources,” he said.

On Tuesday in Brussels, he stood next to the European Union’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, while she condemned the U.S. for abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. The next day at the NATO headquarters, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, ahead of walking into a meeting with Tillerson, called the U.S.’s Jerusalem decision a “grave mistake.”

After that, the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stepped away from Tillerson to insist that the U.S. implement their Middle East process immediately.

Throughout the week, Tillerson faced questions from the press about whether the U.S.'s European allies will still stand with the U.S., given that the new administration has abandoned the Europeans on agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

But Tillerson seemed to suggest that the door is still open on issues that Trump has wholly dismissed.

The "truth of the matter is, we’ve not disengaged from the climate discussions,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Vienna. He noted that the U.S. still sent a representative to the United Nations' Climate Change conference. In the past, Trump has seemed skeptical of climate change.

And though the president has called the Iran deal an “embarrassment,” Tillerson said this week that the U.S. is still a part of the deal.

“We are using that agreement and working with our European partners in particular to truly hold Iran accountable to its responsibilities as to its nuclear program,” he said.

Tillerson had a short break from rebukes at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Ukraine was top of the agenda. He sought to rally European allies to be more aggressive with Russia, calling it the “biggest threat to European security.”

He also came seeking commitments from Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to protect peacekeeping forces in Ukraine and to ultimately halt Russian aggression in the region.

On Thursday, when asked what type of progress came of meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said, “We get progress. That’s what we get.”

"We get dialogue. We get cooperation,” he added. “We don’t have it solved. You don’t solve it in one meeting."

Tillerson called Ukraine the "single most difficult obstacle to normalizing relations with Russia," omitting any mentions of election interference or cyberhacking.

For his part, Lavrov was one of the few leaders who did not publicly condemn Tillerson for the Jerusalem announcement. In fact, when pressed, he claimed he couldn’t hear a question on the matter twice shouted by ABC News.

The next day in Paris, Tillerson faced pushback on Jerusalem from the French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while he sat in the front row of the French foreign minister’s office watching their statements.

Tillerson also weighed in on Saudi Arabia's blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, saying, “I think we would encourage [the Saudis] to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- The White House called on the Saudi-led coalition Friday to allow aid and commercial goods into Yemen, as the humanitarian crisis there continues to escalate.

Two weeks ago, the coalition -- which has been fighting Yemeni Houthi rebels for almost 3 years -- eased an air, land, and sea blockade of Yemen that had been in place for three weeks, putting millions at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

The White House praised Saudi Arabia for opening one seaport and airport, but had called for "additional steps" to ensure an unfettered flow of humanitarian aid.

When that didn't happen, President Donald Trump increased his pressure on the country, directing his administration to call the leaders of Saudi Arabia "to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it."

"This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately," Trump said in a statement on Wednesday.

Now, the White House is repeating its call for the coalition to facilitate aid and goods through all Yemeni ports and allow commercial flights to resume out of Sana’a Airport.

"The Iranian-backed Houthi militias must allow food, medicine, and fuel to be distributed throughout the areas they control, rather than diverted to sustain their military campaign against the Yemeni people," Friday's statement reads. "This humanitarian aid must be allowed to immediately reach all points of need."

Last weekend, the chiefs of several United Nations agencies and other top humanitarian officials said millions of Yemenis depend on supplies that can't get through the Saudi blockade, and many cities are already out of fuel, which means health and facilities can't operate.

Nearly 400,000 Yemeni children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and more than 8 million Yemenis “could starve without urgent food assistance coming into Yemen,” they said.

The most recent White House statement also condemned the killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salih by the Houthis on Monday, as well as "their reckless missile attacks" against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Salih had ruled Yemen for over three decades before being ousted during the Arab Spring in 2012.

"The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its partners are arming, advising, and enabling the Houthis’ violent actions, which accelerate the cycle of violence and human suffering, obstruct the flow of humanitarian aid, and disrupt efforts toward a political resolution," the White House said on Friday.

Separately, the U.S. military announced on Friday that U.S. airstrikes had killed five al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants on Nov. 20.

AQAP continues to operate in southern areas of Yemen in the midst of the country's years-long civil war.

The U.S. military regularly strikes AQAP targets, and more recently in October, struck ISIS training camps in the same area.

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Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi announced that it will soon be home to a rare, privately owned work by Leonardo da Vinci that recently sold for $450.3 million at auction.

The museum tweeted Thursday, "Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi is coming to #LouvreAbuDhabi."

The painting of Christ — the title means "Savior of the world" — is believed to have been painted sometime after 1505 and is the only Leonardo work thought to be privately owned.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the world’s newest, having opened its doors on Nov. 8.

When the painting was sold at Christie's auction house in New York last month, both the seller and buyer of the painting were kept anonymous.

But the New York Times reported Thursday that the painting's owner is Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family.

According to the New York Times, the prince is a "friend and associate" of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince and heir apparent to the Saudi throne who recently led a purge against corruption in the kingdom.

Christie's confirmed in a tweet that the Louvre Abu Dhabi would be the painting's new home.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that al-Saud had been a “proxy” buyer for bin Salman himself, citing U.S. government intelligence and a Saudi art-world figure familiar with the purchase.

Christie's would not confirm the identity of the painting's owner to ABC News, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the matter.

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Racide/iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- Palestinian protesters and the Israeli military faced off in the West Bank Thursday -- separated by a line of burning tires spewing black smoke into the air -- a day after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and started the process to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

In a familiar scene, at a checkpoint in Ramallah, protesters chucked homemade Molotov cocktails and used slingshots to send rocks flying across the makeshift front line toward the Israeli military.

The Israeli military tanks crept up the road to fire tear gas canisters at the protesters, sending them into retreat. The same back and forth continued for hours, amid the burning grey haze of tear gas.

"We're out here to show that Jerusalem will always be the capital for Palestine," Hussein told ABC News. The 25-year-old living in Ramallah had a red and white keffiyah scarf wrapped around his mouth, making only his eyes visible. "We have a state too, look around you, Mr. Trump."

At least 104 people were injured in the protests and clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including four by live bullets, the Palestine Red Crescent said. Israel occupies much of the West Bank, while the Palestinian militant group Hamas controls Gaza.

For days, Middle East leaders and diplomats have been warning about a violent backlash following Trump's announcement that the U.S. now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The violence Thursday, in Gaza and across the West Bank, was relatively small but significant. For the young Palestinians the anger was palpable, and raw. The protesters are of a generation that has never known the hope of the Oslo Accords, but only of the failed peace talks of the last two decades.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned Wednesday night that Trump's announcement will lead "to wars without end."

On Thursday, his deputy in the Fatah Central Committee, Mahmoud Aloul was at the protests to show solidarity. "Call it whatever you want, an intifada, a resistance," he told ABC News, "but Palestinians will never stop the struggle for their rights."

The Palestinian national and Islamic factions called for three days of rage, and Thursday served as a warmup for Friday.

In Lebanon, the leader of the militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech that he supported the call for an intifada after "Trump fired the last bullet at the peace process."

“Palestinians shouldn’t stand alone in defending Jerusalem," Nasrallah said. "The whole Arab and Muslim world should support it.”



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iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- A large storm system named Caroline is moving to the north of the United Kingdom Thursday, with fierce and possibly life-threatening winds that are gusting more than 90 mph.

The U.K.'s national weather service, The Met Office, issued Amber National Severe Weather Warnings from Scotland to northern Ireland.

"Storm Caroline is well on its way across northern parts of the U.K.," Met Office meteorologist John West said. "There will be devastating winds in some parts. More broadly across Scotland there will be 60 to 70 mph gusts, but in exposed areas we could see 90 mph."

So far, the highest wind measured so far was in Scotland's Shetland Isles, at 93 mph. Winds are expected to ease in the west, with the strongest winds confined to the Northern Isles in the evening, The Met Office Chief Meteorologist Steve Ramsdale said.

The strong winds may affect Scotland’s road, rail, air and ferry services.

“We would urge people to check with their operators before they travel, especially if they are planning a ferry journey," Scotland's Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said. "There may also be bridge restrictions, particularly for high-sided vehicles, and we would urge road users to check the latest information on wind thresholds on the Traffic Scotland website."

Flying debris could be an issue and damage to buildings, such as tiles blowing off roofs, is possible. Some short-term loss of power and effects on other services is possible and some coastal routes, sea fronts and communities are likely to be affected by spray or large waves.

Snow is expected as Storm Caroline moves away from the U.K. later on Thursday and through Friday, allowing winds from the northwest to spread across the U.K., bringing much colder air.

Thursday evening, snow showers will become increasingly frequent and heavy across northern Scotland.

Friday will bring severe snow and ice conditions. The Met Office has also issued a Yellow National Severe Weather Warning for snow and ice for much of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and parts of northern and western England for Friday -- 1-3 inches of snow is likely fairly widely, with 4 to 8 inches in more northern areas. Icy surfaces are also likely to be an additional hazard, especially overnight and during the morning. Strong northwest winds may cause some blizzard conditions across northern Scotland.

By Saturday, the heaviest and most frequent of the snow showers will become more confined to northeast Scotland.

Storm Caroline will be the third named storm of the season for the U.K., following Storm Brian that affected southern and western parts of Britain and Ireland on Oct. 21.

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NHK News(OKINAWA, Japan) -- The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, a unit of the U.S. Marine Corps, is investigating reports that an object from a U.S. military aircraft fell onto the roof of the Midorigaoka Nursery School in Okinawa, Japan, Thursday morning.

A staff member at the school told NHK, a Japanese public broadcasting company, that a cylindrical object fell on the roof right after an American military aircraft passed over. The nursery school is located about 2.5 miles from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Local police said the clear plastic tube-like object is about 4-inches long and 3-inches wide. A label on the object says in English to “remove before flight.”

Sixty-one children and 10 staff members were at the school when the object fell, Takehiro Kamiya, the school's director, told NHK. No one was injured, he said.

In a statement to ABC News, a United States Marine Corps spokesperson said, “We take this report very seriously and are investigating this incident working closely with local authorities. We care deeply about the safety of our friends and neighbors in the communities around which we live and operate. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”
 
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iStock/Thinkstock(SYDNEY, Australia) -- Marriage equality is now a reality in Australia. The country's parliament voted on Thursday to allow same-sex marriage in the commonwealth country.

The House of Representatives passed the bill to change the definition of marriage from solely between a man and a woman to "a union of two people."

"The House of Representatives has passed the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017," tweeted the Australian House of Representatives. "The bill now goes to the Governor-General for Royal Assent."

The Equality Campaign, which had been campaigning to have the definition of marriage changed, tweeted, "It's a YES! Simply and fairly, #MarriageEquality is now law! Today our country can be truly proud. We did it together!"

The House had been widely expected to approve the historic bill after the Senate approved the same legislation last week. The Senate passed the legislation last Tuesday with 43 votes to 12.

An overwhelming majority of Australians endorsed marriage reform in a postal ballot last month. The majority of voters indicated that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, with 62 percent responding “yes” and 38 percent responding “no.”

Nearly eight out of 10 eligible voters participated in the survey, according to the government.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had supported legalization, tweeted support for the measure after its passage.

Gay rights advocates celebrated outside of Australia's Parliament House on Thursday ahead of the final results.

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Photo by Richard Pohle - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- A British national accused of encouraging extremists to target Prince George at school pleaded not guilty to the charges against him Wednesday.

Husnain Rashid was charged with one count of preparing acts of terrorism and one count of assisting others in the preparation of terrorism.

Prosecutors allege that Rashid used the encrypted service Telegram to post a photo of Prince George next to an ISIS militant's silhouette, warning "even the Royal Family will not be left alone."

Prosecutor Rebecca Mundy said Rashid's alleged threat included "a photograph of the young Prince George at the beginning of his school term, next to a silhouette of a jihadi fighter," according to the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper.

"Next to that was a caption, 'school starts early'. It provides an address in Battersea for a school to which the young prince attends,” Mundy added.

Rashid was also accused of providing information to would-be terrorists preparing attacks on potential targets including sports stadiums in the United Kingdom.

The 4-year-old prince, who is third in line to the throne, has royal protection officers with him at all times.

In September, a woman was arrested inside his school grounds in a separate incident. She was later released under caution after it was determined she was not a threat. The school works with the Metropolitan Police's Royalty Protection Unit, which provides security for members of the royal family.

Rashid was remanded into custody. His next court appearance will be Dec. 20.

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Bunyos/iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the country's authorities will not stop its athletes competing under a neutral flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics, ending the prospect that Russia might boycott the games in response to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban the country from them on Tuesday.

Putin also seemed to make an unusual mea culpa, saying Russia had been partly to blame for the ban, though he quickly suggested it was unfair and was based on unproven allegations.

On Tuesday, the IOC’s executive committee barred Russia from the Olympics that will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February, as punishment for systemic doping. That decision means no Russian athletes will compete in their national team colors and their anthem will not play.

But the IOC also said it would allow some individual Russian athletes to take part as neutrals, provided they were able to pass a specially created IOC anti-doping panel.

Ahead of the decision, Russian officials had previously suggested that scenario would be unacceptable, and indicated Moscow might declare a boycott, telling its athletes to skip the Games. Putin himself had suggested it would be “humiliation” for Russian athletes to compete without their national symbols.

But on Wednesday, Putin said that Russia would not block its athletes from competing, saying each person should choose for themselves.

“Undoubtedly, we will not declare any blockade, will not prevent our Olympic athletes from participating, if anyone of them wants to participate in their personal capacity," Putin said while talking to workers of the Gorky Automobile Plant in remarks aired on Russian television.

“They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them it’s very important,” he said.

Putin also said that Russia also bore responsibility for the ban, though suggesting the greater fault lay with its accusers and his meaning was ambiguous.

“We have to say straight out, we ourselves are partly to blame, because it gave grounds for this,” Putin said. But he went on, “I believe that this grounds was used in not a not quite honest manner, to put it mildly.”

Putin described the IOC’s punishment as unfair and “collective punishment,” adding that the evidence for the accusations was largely unproven. He also noted that the IOC had not found evidence that the doping cover-up had been overseen by the Russian state.

“What matters is that the commission wrote in its conclusions that there was no system of state support of doping in Russia. This is an important conclusion," Putin said.

An IOC commission headed by the former Swiss president, Samuel Schmid, while saying there had been a system for concealing doping in Russia, said it had been unable to find any evidence that “highest state authority” had been aware of it.

Schmid’s commission said it had confirmed a system described in the investigations conducted by the Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency, that found the head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory had secretly switched out dirty samples from Russian athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with the help of the country’s FSB intelligence service.

The IOC’s president, Thomas Bach on Tuesday described that scheme as an “unprecedented attack” on the Olympics. The IOC has stripped 11 medals from Russia’s tally in Sochi so far over the doping. But 22 Russian athletes this week appealed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against their disqualifications from Sochi over their alleged role in the cover-up.

Those Russian athletes that agree to compete under a neutral flag will wear special uniforms with the name "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR).” Only athletes with no doping record will be permitted to compete. Russian athletes will have to deemed eligible by a panel headed by Valerie Fourneyron, the chair of the International Testing Association, and that includes a representative from WADA, as well as another anti-doping body.

The IOC’s decision was met with an eruption of irate denunciations from Russian officials, who attacked it as unfair and as part of a Western plot.

“They are always trying to put us down in everything – our way of life, our culture, our history and now our sport,” Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, wrote in a Facebook post.

Ivan Melnikov, First Deputy Speaker in Russia’s parliament on Tuesday called the ban “unthinkably harsh”, the news agency Interfax reported.

There were indications though that certain elements of the IOC decision had been sufficient sweeteners to make the ban palatable to Russia.

The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Aleksander Zhukov, who himself was suspended by the IOC on Tuesday, told reporters after the decision, that it contained “positive and negative sides.” Zhukov said that it was positive that Russian athletes could still participate in Pyeongchang. He also noted that it was “very important” that the neutral uniforms that Russian athletes would wear would still have the word "Russia" on them.

He also pointed out that the IOC suspension would potentially only last until the final day of the Games and that Russian athletes may yet participate in the Olympics’ closing ceremony under their own flag. The IOC decision contained a clause that should Russia comply with all of its requirements the suspension could be lifted for the ceremony.

Zhukov had said the formal decision on whether Russian athletes will travel to Pyeongchang would likely be made at a gathering of its Olympic committee and its squads next week.

It is now likely that a number of Russian champion athletes will compete. Before Putin’s statement, Victor An, the Korean-born short-track speed-skater said that he would go unless Russia boycotted the Olympics.

“I have prepared for this for 4 years. I can’t just throw it all away,” he said, the Russian-language news site Meduza reported.

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Purestock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The driver of a London bus who witnessed a jogger shove a woman in front of his bus last May is speaking out about the incident.

“Maybe he had a bad day, and the first lady he saw in his way just decided to push her?” Oliver Salbis told Sky News, referring to the jogger.

He said he didn’t realize how close the woman was to his bus until after watching surveillance video. A man can be seen jogging on Putney Bridge on May 5 in London and then suddenly pushing a woman into the bus lane.

Salbis said he stopped the bus to see if the woman was hurt. Although she was in shock and crying, he said he was relieved to see that she could move.

“I thought everything for her was OK, so I just went to the garage and reported the incident to my managers,” Salbis said.

He has not spoken to the victim but hopes the individual who pushed her is held accountable.

Police still not have found the jogger. Two men were arrested in August but later released without further action, according to police. Police have not named the victim.



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wellphoto/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The oldest near-complete fossil of a human ancestor ever found in southern Africa was unveiled to the public for the first time Wednesday.

"Little Foot," named after the small foot bones, dates back 3.67 million years and is the most complete Australopithecus fossil discovered yet, scientists say.

Ron Clarke, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, first came across the fragile foot bones in 1994 while sorting through boxes of other fossils recovered from the Sterkfontein caves.

Clarke and his team found more bones in 1997, and the rest of Little Foot was found deeply embedded in ancient, calcified deposits about 25 miles from Johannesburg. The painstaking process of excavation, cleaning, reconstruction, casting and analysis took 20 years.

"The process required extremely careful excavation in the dark environment of the cave," Clarke said in a statement Wednesday. "My assistants and I have worked on painstakingly cleaning the bones from breccia blocks and reconstructing the full skeleton until the present day."

Clarke says Little Foot belongs to a second human-related species, Australopithecus prometheus, which was named from fragmentary fossils in 1948.

The landmark discovery reinforces the belief that South Africa was a major cradle of humankind.

"This is one of the most remarkable fossil discoveries made in the history of human origins research and it is a privilege to unveil a finding of this importance today," Clarke said.

Little Foot made its highly-anticipated public debut today at the Hominin Vault at the University of the Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Studies Institute.

Clarke and a team of international experts will soon reveal results from the decades of studies in a series of scientific papers.

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Creatas Images/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday that he will indeed run for re-election as president of Russia in March.

Speaking with workers at a factory, Putin said that he would "put forward my candidacy for the president of the Russian Federation." Putin had long been presumed to be preparing for re-election, but the announcement ends Kremlin efforts to create suspense around the election.

It is considered a foregone conclusion that Putin would win a fourth term as president, given the Kremlin's moves to block popular members of the opposition from running. That would keep him in office until 2024, making him president for 20 years -- the longest ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin.

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