Scientists with the World Health Organization announced Thursday that an experimental Ebola vaccine was highly effective. The drug, which was developed by the Canadian government and licensed by an American company, could prevent the spread of outbreaks in West African nations. A major outbreak in 2013 in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone killed 11,300 people. The vaccine now needs approval from regulators in the U.S. and Europe in the coming year. A stockpile of 300,000 doses has already been developed in case of another outbreak. Leaders at the WHO say if there is another outbreak, “we will not be defenseless.” The vaccine was tested on 5,800 people in Guinea last year who had made close contact with an Ebola patient with near perfect results. Scientists are now attempting to develop a second vaccine for the Sudan strain. The Zaire strain, which this latest vaccine attacks, has been around since the first outbreak in 1976.
—The Syrian government said Thursday it has retaken the entire city of Aleppo. More here
—Scientists with the World Health Organization announced Thursday that an experimental Ebola vaccine was highly effective. More here
—The Christmas market in Berlin where a truck driver plowed into shoppers on Monday, killing 12 and injuring 48 others, has reopened. Police are still searching for the perpetrator, who they say could be armed and dangerous. More here.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Scientists Unveil Successful Ebola Vaccine
Australian Police Thwart Christmas Day Terrorist Attack in Melbourne
Australian police arrested five men who were plotting a terrorist attack in Melbourne on Christmas Day. Police say the attack would have involved explosives, knives, and firearms. The attack would have targeted prominent locations in the city like Flinders St. Station, Federation Square, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which are on the corners of an iconic intersection. Police say four of the men were in their 20s, born in Australia, and of Lebanese heritage. The fifth man was an Australian of Egyptian origin. All of the men were self-radicalized through ISIS propaganda, and were under police surveillance for several weeks. There is currently no threat for Christmas, police now say, though they are taking extra precautions for a Boxing Day cricket match between Australia and Pakistan, where 100,000 people are supposed to attend.
The Fall of Rebel-Held Aleppo
The Syrian government said Thursday it has retaken the entire city of Aleppo, according to state media. The news marks a turning point in the five-year-long civil war and a major loss for rebel groups, which had held the city since 2012. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had increased bombing raids and ground operations in recent weeks. That time also saw brokered pauses in fighting to allow civilians to evacuate, and as of Wednesday, more than 30,000 people chose to leave during the cease-fires. More than 4,000 rebel fighters also evacuated this week under a deal made between Assad’s government and the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The government has destroyed all the hospitals in the area, and efforts to deliver food and aid fail often. The rebel capture of Aleppo four years ago had been the opposition’s biggest victory in the Syrian conflict, which has left nearly half a million people dead and displaced more people than did World War II. Now that the rebels have fallen back further east, their chances of toppling Assad are even less likely.
Japan's Prime Minister Approves Record-High Defense Budget
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed off on a record defense budget on Thursday, increasing spending on military equipment, including fighter jets and submarines. The $43.6 billion represents a 1.4 percent increase over last year. If Japan’s parliament approves the budget for 2017, it would be the fifth straight year Abe has increased defense spending. The budget process comes at a time of growing tension over territorial disputes with China, and as North Korea claims it is nearing the development of a nuclear warhead. In a separate bill, Abe proposed increasing funds for the country’s coast guard to cover costs for 200 additional maritime-law enforcement staff, and five large ships, which are often used to patrol a string of nearby uninhabited islands claimed by both China and Japan. Japan also plans to upgrade its missile defense system.
Nigeria's Plastic Rice Problem
Nigerian authorities arrested a suspect accused of smuggling more than 100 bags, about 2.5 tons’ worth, of fake plastic rice, which the person planned to sell as the real stuff, the AFP reported Thursday. Food prices typically rise near the holidays, and the suspect is believed to have smuggled the plastic rice into the country from China in bags branded “Best Tomato Rice.” The bags were found in a store in the county’s capital, Lagos, after authorities received a tip. The plastic rice looked so convincing that despite a slight chemical smell, a Lagos customs chief said it was only after officials boiled the rice that they were certain. “It was sticky and only God knows what would have happened if people consumed it," customs controller Mohammed Haruna said. Rice is the most popular food staple in Nigeria, and while phony rice is rare, the country has a serious problem with the sale of fake pharmaceutical drugs.
Russia Pays Tribute to Slain Ambassador in Moscow
Russia held a memorial service Thursday for Andrey Karlov, the ambassador to Turkey who was fatally shot at a photo gallery in Ankara this week. Family, diplomats, and others streamed past the open casket in the marble lobby of the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow, paying their respects to Karlov, who was 62. Mourners included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Karlov worked in diplomacy for 40 years and became Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in 2013. He was delivering a speech at the opening of a photo exhibition in Turkey’s capital on Monday when an off-duty Turkish policeman fatally shot him. The gunman, who shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo!” after Karlov went down, was killed in a shootout with police soon after. The attack came after days of protests in Turkey against Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and the violent bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Berlin Christmas Market Reopens After Attack
The Christmas market where a truck driver plowed into shoppers, killing 12 people and injuring dozens, reopened Thursday, three days after the attack. Police have installed concrete barriers around Breitscheidplatz, an open-air market, to prevent a similar assault, the BBC reports. Berlin police tweeted photos of the market, and said officials had completed their work at the crime scene. “We are returning #Breitscheidplatz to the Berlin public. #WeAreBerlin,” they said.
German authorities are carrying out raids in search of their main suspect, Anis Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian man who arrived in Germany last year and requested asylum, but was denied. Police believe he may be armed.