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Pop Star George Michael Dies at 53; Israel Suspends Ties With 12 U.N. Security Council Members; Russia: Terror Not Likely In Plane Crash; Obama Confident He Could Have Won 2016 Race. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 15:00:00   ET




[15:00:22] ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Zain Asher in for Hala Gorani. Live from CNN Center here in Atlanta and this is THE WORLD


All right, we begin here with a heavy heart as the music world has been left reeling by the death of pop mega star, pop sensation, George Michael,

who died on Sunday at the age of 53.

The British singer found early success in the 1980s as part of the pop duo, Wham, but it was really his solo career that shot him to worldwide fame.

George Michael's private life became public when he came out as a gay man in the exclusive interview on CNN in 1998. He then used his fame to

advocate for LGBT rights. Our Ian Lee reports on a career that spans almost four decades. Take a listen.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a familiar scene in 2016, fans grappling to with how to say goodbye to an icon. For many of them

never knew George Michael personally, they pay tribute as if they were old friends.

The pop superstar's sudden death at just 53 years old came as a shock to fans around the world. The singer reportedly died of suspected heart

failure at his home in Oxfordshire, England.

His death is being treated by police as unexplained but not suspicious. It comes after a close call in 2011 when he was hospitalized with acute

pneumonia. That's the time George Michael spoke movingly of his gratefulness at being alive. Now outside of the same home, his fans have

gathered to mourn.

(on camera): A lot of the heartfelt tributes talk about the impact George Michael had on their lives. For many people, he was a sound track of their

youth. Something they want to share with their children. What is your favorite George Michael song?


LEE: Why do you like it so much?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It is a bit new to us, really, because we're used to Bruno Mars and that, but dad has been saying listen to the '80s songs,

they're really good.

LEE (voice-over): These three sisters came to lay flowers. For them, it's like losing a family member.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are -- we liked him because he was just so great, he is our age, he is our idol, always will be. We'll never forget him and

his music will live on.

LEE: Over three decades and more than 100 million record sales later, the world now says its goodbyes to George Michael.


ASHER: Ian Lee joins us live now from London. Ian, you were out and about today talking to so many George Michael fans, and as I was watching your

piece, it sort of struck me that yes, I know that George Michael as you mentioned sold 100 million records. Yes, he was this massive pop

sensation, but it struck me how little I know about George Michael's private life, his personal life, what can you tell us?

LEE: He was a private man, but when we were talking to people out there, a lot of the people actually knew him. He was well known in that community.

He would stop in shops and buy things for a friend or meet some people, and everyone said that, you know, when they approached him, you always have

that trepidation about what your celebrity idol is going to be like.

And they said he was very warm and welcoming, and always there to take a picture and just be with his fans. So yes, he was private in the media,

but when it came to the individual fan, he was very welcoming.

ASHER: And when you think about his work beyond just the music industry, I mean, he did a lot for LGBT rights and also AIDS advocacy as well.

LEE: That's right. That's part of his legacy that we will be talking about for years to come is that he was an advocate for LBGT rights. He was

an advocate for AIDS awareness at times when these things were not mainstream. He was a real pioneer in that way.

[15:05:04]Also a philanthropist, he was donating money as well although he wasn't bragging about it. This is a man who was also quite humble about

what he was doing behind the scenes.

ASHER: Ian, I know that the details are sparse at this point, but are we learning any more in terms of a cause of death. I know that heart failure

may have played a role?

LEE: Yes, that is what we're hearing right now. And they will probably take a while, Zain, for them to get the exact cause of death, what played

into it, but you know, he was looking forward to doing another album. He had a documentary coming out so this was someone who had future plans and

his life was cut short so tragically and so early at 53.

ASHER: Right. Ian Lee live for us there. Thank you so much. Appreciate that.

Now to the fire storm over the U.N. Security Council's vote to condemn Israeli settlements. We've just learned that Israel is suspending all

working ties with 12 nations that approved the measure. That includes Britain, France, and Egypt.

Two other council members voted yes as well, but have no diplomatic ties with Israel to cut. Israel accuses the United States of orchestrating

Friday's vote and fears President Barack Obama could support further action at the U.N. before he leaves office.

The U.S. is defending its decision to abstain and not use its veto. It says the resolution helps the goal of a two-state solution. Israel's

ambassador to Washington says it will have the opposite effect.


RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: -- story that the United Nations gangs up against Israel. What is new is that the United States did

not stand up and oppose that gang-up and what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up.

I think it was a very sad day and really a shameful chapter. What this resolution just did is it gave the Palestinians ammunition in their

diplomatic and legal war against Israel. The United States not only didn't stop it. They were behind it.


ASHER: Let's talk more about Israel's concern. U.S. President Obama could support a fuller resolution at the U.N. before he leaves office. Elise

Labott is live for us in Washington.

Elise, I want to talk about the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Foreign Ministry, is suspending working ties, working relations with 12

countries, 12 members who actually voted in favor of this resolution. What more can you tell us?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. He suspended working ties. That is working activities with the embassies from

those ten countries that have relationships with Israel. It is not ending security and trade cooperation or cutting diplomatic ties, which would be a

much greater step.

But it certainly is a rare and significant move and shows how strongly Israel feels about these -- about what these countries did. These

ambassadors will not be welcomed at the Foreign Ministry. The foreign ministers will not be able to meet with Netanyahu, and travel by Israeli

ministers to those countries will be limited.

But you know, the ambassadors in these countries will be able to continue working. So it is not a full on cut of diplomatic ties. But it is

something that Israel did to signal their displeasure over it, Zain.

ASHER: Elise, standby. I want to bring in Oren Liebermann. So Oren, we've been talking about this today, the fact that the Israeli ambassador,

Ron Dermer, is basically that the U.S. orchestrated this resolution, what evidence is that based on?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They haven't put forward any evidence on this end that I've seen. We've asked for it, some sort of information,

some sort of proof. It was interesting seeing Dermer say they will give the evidence to the next administration, not to this administration.

And yet they're sticking by it without offering that evidence or information. They're sticking by the accusation, and now it has been made

at just about every level of Netanyahu's government.

ASHER: And I want to bring in Elise. Netanyahu said that he is pretty much done working with Obama. He is wanting to work directly with Trump,

even though Obama technically does have a month left in office. How unprecedented is that?

LABOTT: It is unprecedented, Zain, but nothing in this campaign is really -- has been really usual so and obviously, this prime minister feels that

the Obama administration has not protected Israel at the United Nations.

This goes back a long way. This is also about how they didn't feel that the Obama administration protected them by going ahead with the Iran deal.

The White House might argue with them over that.

But certainly they feel that they are going to get nothing done with this administration and they are looking forward to the next administration.

It's not Israel only. I mean, other countries are still dealing with the Obama administration as a courtesy at this point. They're really looking

to see how they can push their relationships forward with the incoming Trump administration.

[15:10:03]So I don't think that is unique to Israel, but I do think that after this move, which, you know, Israel really sees as a parting shot to

Prime Minister Netanyahu on the way out the door by President Obama feels that, you know, this president, this White House is not working in their


And so I think they are really looking to see how they can negate the harmful effects of this resolution with President Trump when his

administration comes in. They're already working with senators on Capitol Hill.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says he is going to lead a charge to defund the United Nations unless the U.N. Security Council overturns this

resolution and why?

This is an effort to give President-elect Trump some leverage and trying to work this situation. So it is rare. It is unprecedented for a president-

elect to be working the behind the scenes, but Israel -- Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his cabinet meeting yesterday he feels he has a friend in

President Trump and he wants to work with him.

ASHER: So he feels empowered by Donald Trump. Oren, so where does this all of this, this diplomatic mess, what does it all leave a two-state


LIEBERMANN: The last time there was a peace process was back in April of 2014. That's when the last round of peace talks fell apart. In fact, it

was Secretary of State Kerry that led those talks. Words that have been used to describe the peace process since have been words like comatose or


Both sides here pointing the finger at each other. We've heard both sides come on CNN, both the Israelis and Palestinians and say we are ready for

talks right now anytime, anywhere, and yet both sides point the finger right at the other gay.

It is obvious the intention of the resolution was to restart a peace process. The Israelis insist it will do just the opposite. In fact, it

will further the Palestinians as their accusation away from a peace process.

I don't think there is anyone here looking at this resolution, or anyone perhaps elsewhere looking at this resolution that thinks, wow, this

resolution is through, a peace process is about to start. That still seems like quite a ways away at this point.

Also, worth pointing out that there is an International Peace Conference on January 15th in Paris. That's 70 nations of the world coming together to

try to find some way to restart the peace process. Israel has said they absolutely will not attend. Seventy other countries will attend as will

the Palestinians.

The question is what comes out of that? Is there an attempt to advance some sort of parameters resolution, conditions upon which negotiations

could take place to try to address some of the more sensitive issues, Jerusalem, borders, Palestinian refugees. And yet getting Israelis and

Palestinians to sit down at the same table still seems a long way away.

ASHER: We'll have to leave there. Oren Liebermann, Elise Labott live for us, thank you both. Appreciate it.

Still to come, a Russian airliner heading to Syria plunges into the Black Sea. Now investigators are looking into how exactly it all happened.

Plus Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has left Tokyo for his stark visit to Pearl Harbor. All that and much, much more when THE WORLD RIGHT NOW




ASHER: Welcome back, everybody. Russia is looking for the reason behind a deadly plane crash near Sochi this weekend. Memorials all over Moscow are

remembering the 92 people who were killed. Authorities have recovered more than a dozen bodies so far, but they don't know what exactly caused the

crash. Many of the victims are part of the army's official choir heading to perform in Syria. Here is our Matthew Chance with more.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russian officials stressed that terrorism is not being considered as a likely cause of the

crash of this old Tupolev 154 aircraft, which plunged into the Black Sea shortly after takeoff on Sunday morning killing apparently all 92

passengers and crew on board.

Russia's Transport Ministry says mechanical failure or pilot error are the most likely causes, but this before the crash investigation has been

completed. In fact, recovery teams are still working to locate all the pieces of wreckage from the aircraft before they can piece together exactly

what went wrong.

What we know is that this was aircraft operated by the Russian Defense Ministry. It took off from a military airport outside of Moscow. En route

to Syria, and it stopped in Sochi on the Black Sea coast in Southern Russia to refuel.

It was transporting 64 members of the official choir of the Russian army, the so-called "Red Army Choir," internationally known for their

performances. They were meant to be performing a New Year's concert in Syria for Russian troops stationed there.

Russia held a day of mourning for the victims of the tragedy with entertainment programs on television canceled and church services held

across the country.

Meanwhile, that huge recovery operation continues around a deep water crash site with ships, submersibles, and teams of navel divers working around the

clock to locate what human remains they can and to salvage the wreckage of the aircraft so that investigators can finally determine why this aircraft

plunged fatefully out of the skies. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


ASHER: Just days after Syrian regime forces retook Aleppo, Christians gathered in the war-torn city to celebrate Christmas. Clerics led a mass

at the St. Elias Cathedral in the old city amid the rubble left behind by the conflict. They prayed for peace during the first Christmas mass in


Also offering his prayers was Pope Francis. He called for urgent assistance for Aleppo and its residents.


POPE FRANCIS (through translator): Aleppo, the sight of the most awful battles in recent weeks, it most urgent that assistance and support be

guaranteed to the exhausted civil populous with respect for humanitarian law. It is time for weapons to be still forever.


ASHER: It is time for weapons to be still forever, those words by Pope Francis. It is coming as Turkey reports that some 44,000 people have been

evacuated from Eastern Aleppo and were taken to Idlib.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is arriving soon in Hawaii for a somber visit. He is going to pay his respects at Pearl Harbor 75 years after the

Japanese attack there during World War II.

Remember U.S. President Barack Obama made a trip to the sight of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, Japan earlier this year. He'll join Mr. Abe for a

visit to the USS Arizona Memorial on Tuesday.

And with just a few weeks left in office, Mr. Obama sat down for an interview to share his thoughts about the 2016 election and the way

forward. He suggested that he would have won again if he could have ran in this year's election saying that Americans still back his vision of

progressive change. Mr. Obama talked about what exactly Democrats need to do to focus on rather now.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If we can't find some way to breakthrough what is a complicated history in the south, and

start winning races there and winning back southern white voters without betraying our commitment to civil rights and diversity.

If we can do those things then we can win elections, but we will see the same kind of patterns that we saw during my presidency, a progressive

president, but a gridlocked Congress that can't move an agenda ahead for us.


ASHER: Still ahead, when you think about 2016, it's certainly been a sad year for music, George Michael is just one icon that we lost in 2016.

David Bowie and Prince were others. Reflecting on the musical giants who are no longer with us right after the break.



ASHER: This week around the world, we take you to one of the most dynamic cities on earth, Hongkong. It is known for being high for modern,

superfast paced and very, very expensive, but as restaurateur, Allan (inaudible) tells us history can also be found around every corner. Take a



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Hongkong. We're in the (inaudible) Pavilion. Our scene in Hongkong is changing so rapidly. It is amazing to

see how in short four years how (inaudible) has, you know, accumulated such an amazing collection. It's practically the one major institution that

kind of encompasses art and design from all of Asia.

So it is almost like (inaudible) combined but very set in the Asian context. So we are in the fabric market, in the heart of (inaudible). As

you walk down these streets, it feels like nothing has changed in the last 34 years and (inaudible) is probably one of the last remaining neighborhood

that still has kind of that old Hongkong quality that is still largely untouched.

We are in Wan Chai Market, one of the best wet markets in Hongkong. As much as we're living in the 21st Century, I think that there is still kind

of that tradition going where there is still kind of that joy and routine of going to the market and buying your food.

You still have a crazy food street, but in the middle of this whole urban gentrification with luxury apartments, a block away, I think that is part

of the charm of Wan Chai.


ASHER: Britney Spears fans got a bit of a scare earlier today when the pop star was targeted in a hoax that claimed that she had died. Sony Music's

Twitter account posted, these messages sort of weird cryptic messages basically saying that Spears have died in an accident and then promising to

give everyone more information. A spokesperson for Britney Spears confirmed to CNN that she is alive and well. It is believed that Sony's

Twitter account was hacked.

George Michael, David Bowie, Prince, all icons of the music world with their own unique distinctive style and persona, all lost in 2016. CNN's

Samuel Burke looks back at the careers of the many talented musicians who passed away this year.


SAMUEL BURKE, CNN MONEY BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the final days of 2016, yet another passing of a music legend. On

Christmas day, '80s pop icon, George Michael, found dead in his home in England just 53 years old.

(on camera): If you feel like this year we lost an uncanny amount of revered artists, you're right actually. By September alone, celebrity

deaths had already outpaced previous years, the music world hit particularly hard. Leonard Cohen, Prince, and David Bowie also playing

their last songs.

(voice-over): In January, Bowie lost an 18-month battle with liver cancer. The British pop star had an incomparably sound and a chameleon-like ability

to reinvent himself.

[15:25:13]His parting gift to music was his 25th and final studio album released just days before he died at 69.

In April, Prince, a music legend who transcended genres, was found unresponsive in an elevator at Paisley Park, his home and recording studio

in Minnesota. Like Bowie and George Michael, Prince's theatrics and cultural influence went far beyond his songs. A medical examiner

determined Prince died of an accidental overdose of opioid Fentanyl. He was just 57.

Last month, Canadian singer, songwriter, Leonard Cohen died at the age of 82, known for his poetic lyrics. Among Cohen's biggest hits were

"Hallelujah" and "Suzanne." Just weeks before his passing, Cohen told the "New Yorker," "I'm ready to die, I hope it's not too uncomfortable. That's

about it for me."

With just a few days left in 2016, the Christmas lights still on outside of George Michael's home, the world turned to the songs his fallen stars to

remember the legends who are gone, but whose music will still play on. Samuel Burke, CNN, London.


ASHER: All of them singing with angels right now. They will certainly be missed. This has been THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. Thank you so much for

watching. "GOING GREEN" is up next. You're watching CNN.


[15:30:22] ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Zain Asher and this is CNN NEWS NOW. The music word is mourning the loss of pop superstar

George Michael. He died Sunday at the sage of 53. His manager tells the British Press Association that he likely died of heart failure. He rose to

fame in the 1980s with the duo Wham! before launching a huge solo career.

Israel is taking more retaliatory steps over the U.N. Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements. It's suspending all working ties with 12

nations that approved the resolution. Two other council members also voted yes but have no ties with Israel to cut. The United States abstained.

Searchers looking for a downed Russian military plane have recovered more than a dozens of bodies and 150 pieces of debris. It was headed to Syria

when it crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday with 92 people on board. The Kremlin says that terrorism is not considered a likely cause of the crash.

All right. That is your CNN NEWS NOW. "GOING GREEN" is up next. You're watching CNN.