Live Coverage

Today's News: Dec. 4, 2016

Crucial votes in Austria and Italy, the deadly fire in California, Fidel Castro’s final resting place, and more from the United States and around the world.

A man takes his ballot during the referendum on constitutional reform, in Pontassieve, near Florence, Italy, on December 4, 2016. Reuters

—Austrians voted in a tight presidential race Sunday, electing Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent candidate backed by the Green Party, over Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the right-wing Freedom Party. More here.

—In Italy, voters participated in a referendum on constitutional reform. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has vowed to resign if the measure fails. More here.

—California officials say the death toll in a fire in Oakland Friday night could rise. Nine people have been confirmed dead. More here.

—The ashes of former Cuban President Fidel Castro were interred in a private ceremony early Sunday in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, ending a four-day procession across the country. More here.

—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


This live blog has concluded

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key Is Resigning

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

John Key announced Sunday he would resign as prime minister of New Zealand after eight years. “This is the hardest decision I’ve ever made and I don’t know what I’ll do next,” Key said at a press conference Monday afternoon, New Zealand Herald reports. Key, who won his third term in 2014, said he was leaving for family reasons. His wife spent “many lonely nights” without him and his children had been put under “extraordinary levels of intrusion,” he said. The decision is a surprise. Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is expected to take over the job. The National Party will meet next week to choose a new leader. Key is the second prime minister to resign in the last hour. Matteo Renzi of Italy recently announced he is stepping down after voters rejected his constitutional reforms in a national referendum Sunday.

Italy's Renzi Resigns After Voters Reject Constitutional Reforms in National Vote

Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

Updated at 6:49 p.m.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has resigned after the constitutional referendum he backed was rejected by voters. ANSA, the Italian news agency, said the “no” vote received about 60 percent of the votes cast while the “yes” vote got about 40 percent. In a public statement after the results, Renzi said “the Italian people had spoken clearly and unequivocally,” but, he added, he had no regrets in bringing the issue to a national vote.

Our original post at 5:26 p.m.:

The polls have closed in Italy in a referendum on constitutional reforms that could decide the political future of its prime minister, Matteo Renzi. Italians voted Sunday on proposed changes the prime minister says would streamline the country’s government, but his critics say is an attempt to grant the government more power. My colleague Krishnadev Calamur explains the changes would:

weaken the Senate, strengthen the central government in Rome, and, consequently, make decision-making in the EU’s third-largest economy more efficient. The proposal would also amend the country’s complicated electoral system for the Chamber of Deputies and result in Rome gaining more power over the regions.

Both chambers of the country’s parliament approved the changes earlier this year, but they didn’t get the two-thirds majority required in each, so Renzi called for a national vote. Renzi is confident voters will approve the measures and has vowed to resign if the referendum fails. His promise has prompted comparisons of Italy’s vote to the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom earlier this year that, against its prime minister’s urging, resulted in a surprise decision to pull the country out of the European Union. The BBC reports 60 percent of eligible voters participated in Sunday’s referendum, “very high by Italian standards.”

Federal Officials Say They Won't Grant Construction Permits for Dakota Access Pipeline

Native American protesters celebrate the decision by the U.S. Army to deny permits for the construction of a $3.8 billion oil pipeline in North Dakota. (Reuters / Lucas Jackson)

Federal officials said Sunday they would not approve permits for the construction of a proposed oil pipeline in North Dakota, where thousands of protesters of the project have been camped out for months. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will explore “alternative routes” for the Dakota Access Pipeline and take a “closer look at potential impacts” of the project, said Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The $3.8 billion pipeline would have carried oil from North Dakota and Montana to Illinois. Members of hundreds of different Native American tribes and their supporters have held demonstrations near the construction site since April, saying the pipeline encroaches on sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and threatens water resources. The decision to halt construction comes one day before a deadline set by state and federal officials for demonstrators to leave the area.

What's Happening at Comet Ping Pong?

Google Street View

Police responded Sunday to a report of a gunman at a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, D.C, according to a police spokeswoman. D.C. Police received a call about a man with a weapon at 2:58 p.m. local time at Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue. No shots were fired. The suspect was apprehended and is in police custody. He had an assault rifle, according to the spokeswoman.

Video from the scene shared with The Atlantic shows a man in a dark-colored T-shirt, his hands raised in the air, lie down in the street outside of the pizzeria. Officers then approach, and apprehend the man, lift him, and carry him toward police cars.

Comet Ping Pong is a family-friendly eatery known for its pizza, wings, and ping-pong tables. Last month, days before the presidential election, members of the so-called alt-right began circulating online a conspiracy theory that claimed the hacked emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, suggested Democratic Party members were involved in a pedophile ring operated out of the pizzeria. The theory was one of many fake-news stories propogated by Trump supporters that would make it into the mainstream media. “They ignore basic truths,” James Alefantis, the restaurant’s owner, told the BBC this week. The theory claimed the ring was run out of Comet Ping Pong’s basement, but “we don’t even have a basement,” he said.

Fidel Castro's Ashes Interred After Nine Days of Mourning

Cuban President Raul Castro salutes after placing the box containing the ashes of his brother and former President Fidel Castro into a boulder at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, in Santiago on December 4, 2016. (Reuters)

Fidel Castro's ashes were interred in a private ceremony Sunday morning, ending a four-day procession across the country and nine days of national mourning for the former president. They were placed in a boulder in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, next to the remains of Jose Marti, Cuba’s 19th-century independence hero. Castro died November 26 at the age of 90. His ashes, contained in coffin draped with the Cuban flag, were carried by a military vehicle for 500 miles from Havana to Santiago, tracing in reverse the route Castro took during his historic victory march in 1959. Thousands lined the streets to watch the procession go, some crying, waving flags, or shouting out "long may he live." A final public memorial was held in Santiago Saturday night. As my colleague Matt Ford reported, Raul Castro, brother of Fidel and Cuba’s current president, has prohibited the naming of streets or monuments after his brother, saying Fidel did not want to be “a cult of personality.”

Austrian Voters Reject Far-Right Politician in Presidential Election

Austrian elected Alexander Van der Bellen as president on December 4, 2016. (Heinz-Peter Bader / Reuters)

Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent candidate backed by the Green Party, won Austria’s presidential election Sunday, defeating Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party. The race was a close one, and a win by Hofer would have, as my colleague Krishnadev Calamur points out, sent a far-right politician to the country’s highest office for the first time since World War II. Van der Bellen and Hofer previously challenged either other in an election held in May. Hofer was favored to win, but Van der Bellen defeated him by 31,026 votes. The narrow win prompted the Freedom Party to appeal, and the country’s highest court ordered a second election. Austria had not had a president since July. The office is mostly ceremonial, but the outcome of this weekend’s election stood to serve as an indicator of the strength of the populist movement that is sweeping Europe and helped elect Donald Trump as the next U.S. president.

Death Toll in Oakland Fire Rises to 24

Flames rise from the top of the warehouse that caught fire during a dance party in Oakland, California, on December 3, 2016. (Reuters)

The death toll from a fire at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California, has risen to 24, officials said Sunday. Rescue workers are searching the rubble of the two-story building, where people had gathered Friday night for an electronic dance party. Workers have searched only 20 percent of the building, and expect to recover more bodies from the debris in the coming days. “We will be here for days and days to come,” Sergeant Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said at a press conference. The cause of the fire is not yet known. Officials said no fire alarms appeared to have been activated. Between 50 and 100 people were believed to have been inside the warehouse when the fire broke out, according to local fire officials.