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- The New York Police Department is responding to reports of an explosion in Midtown Manhattan at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, according to its official Twitter feed. The origin of the explosion is unknown and has not yet been confirmed. “The A, C and E line are being evacuated at this time. Info is preliminary, more when available,” said the tweet. The New York Fire Department also confirmed that there has been one non-life-threatening injury at the scene. Local news channel WABC reported that police sources described a possible pipe bomb that detonated in a passageway below the Port Authority bus terminal and that one person is in custody.
- Vladimir Putin ordered Russian military leaders to begin withdrawing troops from Syria, according to a statement from the Kremlin. Putin, who is Supreme Commander of Russia’s armed forces, made the announcement on a brief visit to Syria, where he met President Bashar al-Assad. As AP notes, this was the first visit by any head of state to Syria since its civil war began. Russia became directly involved in Syria’s civil war in support of Assad in 2015, in its most significant intervention in the Middle East in decades. Russia announced last week that the Syrian army, with Russian air support, had driven Islamic State out of Syria. On December 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared final victory over Islamic State.
- Bitcoin futures trading began in the United States with a $3,000 surge on the contract that opened at $15,000 and heavy traffic that overwhelmed the Chicago Board Options Exchange website. The exchange’s futures don’t involve actual bitcoin, one of the best-known virtual currencies, but are securities that will track bitcoin prices on the Gemini exchange, which is owned by the Winklevoss brothers, a pair of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs. Bitcoin prices have surged all year (Forbes). (Read more WikiTribune coverage on cryptocurrencies.)
Major Venezuelan opposition parties are banned from next year’s elections, says President Nicolas Maduro. He said only parties that took part in Sunday’s mayoral polls would be able to contest the presidency. Leaders from other parties boycotted that vote because they said the electoral system was biased. Maduro insists the Venezuelan system is trustworthy. Venezuela’s 30 million people are enduring one of the worst economic meltdowns in Latin American history. This backgrounder from Al Jazeera explains the crisis.
- The EU will not follow President Trump in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to Federica Mogherini, the bloc’s top official on foreign affairs. Israel’s president, Benjamin Netanyahu, visits Brussels today in the first trip to the EU capital by an Israeli premier in 22 years. He had earlier said he was hopeful that EU leaders would follow Trump’s move but foreign ministers from France and the Czech Republic echoed Mogherini, saying that they would respect the international consensus that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated. (Read more: our coverage of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.)
- Saudi Arabia will lift its ban on cinemas early in 2018, according to a statement from its Ministry of Culture and Information. Movie screenings have been prohibited in the kingdom for 35 years. The de-restriction is being touted as part of a sweeping reform agenda spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Read more: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince battles on every front but Islam is first.)
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- Rohingya women fleeing Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh faced rape by security forces that was both “sweeping and methodical,” according to an investigation by The Associated Press. The survivors, refugees who ranged in age from 13 to 35, described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September. AP reported their accounts bolstered a contention by the U.N. that Myanmar’s armed forces used rape as “a calculated tool of terror” against the Rohingya people. – Jodie DeJonge
- One of the less obvious consequences of the chaotic condition of Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro is a shortage of contraceptives and basic pharmaceuticals. According to this Washington Post report, there has been a spike in HIV cases, and even “penicillin — the cheapest antibiotic in the world — can’t be found in the country,” says one health professional. – Angela Long
What the WikiTribune community’s up to
- Journalist and community member Michael Field has been writing about the Pacific for three decades. More recently, his investigations have led him into a dark world of foreign-flagged vessels fishing the waters of New Zealand, other Pacific nations, and the Southern Ocean. He has uncovered brutality, misery and death – as well as impending ecological disaster: the destruction of the last great southern schools of fish. Here WikiTribune consulting editor Charles Anderson interviews Field about his latest investigation — “Murder and abuse: the price of your sashimi.” It details another, largely unreported, aspect of the murky high seas — the mysterious disappearance of observers tasked with ensuring maritime law is observed and helping preserve the planet’s fish stock.