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North Korea Committed to Nuclear Development; Trump Presidency; Assaults Targeting Egyptian Coptic Community; Animals Evacuated from Syrian Amusement Park; Prep for New Year's Celebrations; Liberia Election; Top International Stories of 2017. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired December 30, 2017 - 05:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korea says it won't be scaling back its nuclear weapons program in the New Year, even boasting about its capability to strike the heart of the United States.

Plus, the White House responds to anti-government protests in multiple cities in Iran, warning that Iran's government, the world is watching.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: It's 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. We start this hour with the blunt new message from North Korea to the rest of the world: don't expect any changes come 2018.

A report in North Korean state media says, as long as the United States and its allies remain a threat, that country remains committed to developing its nuclear capabilities in 2018.

Pyongyang also boasted it can strike the U.S. with world class nuclear power but it calls itself a, quote, "responsible" nuclear weapons state. At the same time, there are troubling signs that North Korea may conduct another weapons test sometime at the New Year's. Our Barbara Starr looks into that.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are now telling me they are watching for the very real possibility that North Korea may launch another ballistic missile in yet another weapons test.

It is not imminent. The signs are still very preliminary. But right now, they don't think it's a satellite launch; much more likely to be a missile launch, if North Korea were to proceed with this. Now in an end-of-the-year meeting with Pentagon reporters, Defense

Secretary James Mattis said he was still very much on the page of diplomacy, buttressed by economic sanctions, trying to underscore that diplomacy will not be just words, that there will be real economic pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons program.

But, of course, no sign at this point that Kim Jong-un has any intention of doing that. So if there is a missile test, it comes at a very sensitive time after the New Year, when secretary of state Rex Tillerson is headed to Canada for meetings with the allies about North Korea.

And, of course, just weeks away from the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, a time when everyone is looking for a little stability and no drama in the region -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOWELL: Barbara, thank you.

China insists it is abiding by U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea despite questions over whether it is providing Pyongyang with oil. Last month, South Korea seized a Hong Kong-registered ship that it says transferred oil to a North Korean vessel.

The U.S. released these satellite images of two ships allegedly showing a transfer in October. China denies any wrongdoing -- listen.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): A series of recent reports do not accord with the facts. China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfills its international obligations.

We never allow Chinese citizens and companies to engage in activities that violate Security Council resolutions. If through investigation this confirms there are violations of Security Council resolutions, China will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations.


HOWELL: In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council is now denying international port access to four ships for breaching sanctions on the regime. Three of those ships fly North Korean colors, the flag of the fourth ship, still not clear.

There are some rare scenes to show you in Iran, where political protests are happening around the country. Take a look.


HOWELL (voice-over): Scenes like this, well, there are similar demonstrations taking place in six other cities, the kind of anti- government frustration that hasn't been seen for nearly a decade, not since the Green movement of 2009 in that country.


HOWELL: There have been contrasting shows of support in the capital city of Tehran. Thousands gathered there on Saturday to celebrate the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

The U.S. president also took aside, tweeting as well, quote, "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad.

"The Iranian government should respect their people's rights including the right to express themselves. The world is watching," says President Trump.

Certainly a lot to talk about this hour in the world of geopolitics and to do so, let's bring in Steven Erlanger to help unpackage it, Steven the chief diplomatic correspondent for "The New York Times," live for us via Skype in Brussels.

Always a pleasure to have you, Steven.

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you, George. And Happy New Year to you --


ERLANGER: -- by the way.

HOWELL: Happy New Year to you, my friend, as well. Let's talk about the U.S. president here. He has made his dislike of Iran and the nuclear deal quite clear. He has shown closer ties to Israel and grown closer to Saudi Arabia.

What effect would you say this is having across the Middle East as a whole?

ERLANGER: Well, it's destabilizing things to be honest his support; for the young Saudi prince is shaking things up there, in some ways liberalizing, letting women drive, opening cinemas but also acting in a very aggressive way in foreign policy, in terms of its war in Yemen and its kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister, trying to get him to resign.

There are things that are bubbling and, of course, with Russian support, Syrian President Assad seems to be taking that back control of the broken country. There's a lot of shame to go around.

But Israel is also getting nervous about that because its Golan Heights, which it connects, took from Syria in 1967, is still a bit unstable. They're very worried about the border; the issue of Jerusalem roils Palestinian politics, to be sure. So it's a very busy time. And in Iran, which is really fascinating, you have these

demonstrations which are, to some degree, against Iranian involvement in Syria and other places, saying we can spend more money at home.

But they seem to be being fomented by the opponents of Rouhani, who is a liberal in the Iranian context and who also was a supporter of the Iran nuclear deal, on the promise that sanctions would be lifted and life would be better for all Iranians.

Now that's been very difficult, partly because of the Trump administration's opposition and partly because it's very difficult to work with the American banking system. Their countries' companies are very anxious about being punished if they do deals with Iran. So that the payoff hasn't been real yet for the Iranians.

And there is talk that Mr. Trump will find some way of decertifying, of ending the Iran deal, which has his European allies very, very upset. So in general, it's very messy. We call it the Muddled East for a very good reason.

HOWELL: Steven, we're talking about the Middle East. It's kind of -- reminds me, you're ticking through all these things like that Billy Joel song, "We Didn't Start the Fire," a lot to package in there. That's just the Middle East. Now let's talking about North Korea.

Over the past year, the president has called the leader of that nation "Little Rocket Man." He's threatened to unleash "fire and fury." North Korea has responded by launching more missiles and another nuclear test.

Are there signs, though, that the president's tactics are having a positive effect or are they not working?

ERLANGER: Well, I think it's too early to say. But I wouldn't say they're having a negative effect. I think they are having a somewhat positive effect, particularly on China's willingness to go through with new sanctions.

There have been new sanctions passed through the U.N. Security Council. They're very much designed to punish North Korea and China's been supportive of them.

Now clearly there have been cases of contraband oil getting to North Korea. I think Reuters is reporting some Russian tankers gave oil to North Korea or sold it. It's not clear that the Russian government knew anything about it.

But one thing is clear, Kim, it's -- for him, it's about pride. But there is a big debate going on inside the United States and everywhere about his real intentions. The people who say it's all right, he'll be OK, he's not irrational, say that he's someone who is using the nuclear program as a deterrent not just against the United States but also against China, because China can't control it, either.

But there are others who argue, including many in the Trump administration, that Kim's real intention is aggressive, to use pressure to reunify the two Koreas. And, hence, this isn't a classic deterrence case. And one has to think about preemptive warfare.

So the sanctions matter. The pressure matters. And you know, we'll see how the Trump administration, in the end, comes out. But I wouldn't say so far there's been any negative impact --


ERLANGER: -- from Trump policy. I think it has helped put the pressure on North Korea.

HOWELL: And as the New Year approaches, we see where things take us from here. Steven Erlanger, it's been a pleasure to have you on the show, as it has been throughout the year. Happy New Year to you. And we'll stay in touch with you.

ERLANGER: Thanks, George. Cheers, all the best.

HOWELL: Same to you.

More on North Korea now, that nation has defied U.N. sanctions and restrictions in the past. And now a North Korean defector tells CNN that the regime has a sophisticated smuggling network and that it can easily trade in banned goods. CNN's Brian Todd has this report for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have new information tonight from this defector on exactly how Kim Jong-un's regime gets weapons and other banned material out of the country to sell on the black market.

This man knows how Kim gets his cash and helped him get it, funneling tens of billions of dollars a year to the young dictator.

TODD (voice-over): August 2016: a freighter called the Jeshun (ph) is intercepted, heading to the Suez Canal. Underneath 2,000 tons of iron ore on board, around 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades made in North Korea, part of what a North Korean defector describes as a spider web of smuggling to line the pockets of Kim Jong-un.

TODD: How do North Korean smuggling operations work?

Are there people with false names?

Are there ships with false names being moved around?

RI JONG HO, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (through translator): The smuggling is conducted by any and every means you could imagine. Larger items are mostly done using ships; for example, by filing a cargo list where what's written is different from what is really being shipped.

TODD: For decades, Ri Jong Ho was a top wrangler of cash for Kim Jong-un's regime. He says he would sometimes hand bags of cash to ship captains, leaving from China, where he was stationed, for North Korea. Ri defected in 2014. He says he worked mostly in legal imports and

exports but also gave us insight into North Korea's smuggling operations, which he describes as being almost unstoppable.

RI (through translator): On the open sea, the Yellow Sea, there are hundreds of fishing boats, both from China and North Korea. And all the smuggling is done by these so-called fishing boats. Instead of fishing, they are involved in smuggling. And it is very difficult, even for China, to stop these hundreds of fishing boats.

TODD (voice-over): According to the U.N. and outside analysts, Kim's regime sells weapons on the black market, uses its diplomats to move illegal drugs, like methamphetamine. They've trafficked in counterfeit American dollars, fake Viagra, even endangered species.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong-un really sits atop a criminal network that would make Don Corleone or Tony Soprano proud.

TODD (voice-over): New U.S. sanctions are aimed at tightening limits on North Korean shipping to stop the flow of illicit goods leaving and arriving in North Korea. Those might include luxury items for Kim and his inner circle, like that well-known Mercedes limo, which the Supreme Leader is often seen stepping out of.

LI (through translator): The Mercedes-Benzes, for example, provided for the leader, they're not legally imported. They're being smuggled in.

TODD (voice-over): The cash that Ri was so good at getting to his boss, experts say, pays for Kim's weapons and buys off top generals and others to keep them from turning on him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to maintain political loyalty and so he needs walking around money to hand out.

TODD: North Korean officials at the U.N. have denied that their government engages in smuggling. As for our interview with Ri Jong Ho, a North Korean official says the defector is telling lies to make money and save his own life.


HOWELL: Brian Todd, thank you for the report.

We now know more about the deadliest fire in New York City to take place in decades. We know that it started with a 3-year-old boy who was playing with the stove at his first floor apartment, this according to officials.

His mother didn't realize there was a fire until the child screamed. They are both fine but in their hurry to escape, they left the door open. That open door allowed the flames to spread throughout the building; 12 people, including four children, were killed in that fire on Thursday.

We're hearing from the former attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, slamming the U.S. president Donald Trump for saying that he has the, quote, "absolute right" to make the Justice Department do what he wants it to do.

Holder, who ran the agency under President Barack Obama, called Mr. Trump's comment, quote, "wrong and dangerous." He said the Justice Department officials there are loyal to the U.S. Constitution, not loyal to a man.

Mr. Trump made the remarks in an interview with the "The New York Times" and he also told "The Times" he's confident that he will be re- elected in 2020. We get more now from CNN's Sara Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump in full vacation mode and hosting Coast Guard members for golf at his Palm Beach club.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said to come use my course. I didn't know I would be flooded, but that's OK. You guys go have a good time.

MURRAY: But pressing pause long enough to rail against the Russia investigation in an interview with "The New York Times." While he didn't call for an end to the special counsel's probe into potential collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials --


MURPHY: -- the president insisted it's damaging.

"I think it's a very bad thing for the country," he told "The Times," "because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better it is for the country."

In the impromptu interview at his golf club, Trump insisted 16 times that no collusion has been uncovered in the various Russia investigations, reiterating the frustration he's aired publicly.

TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication. There has been absolutely no collusion. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?

MURRAY: Trump also lamenting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, insisting such a move wouldn't have happened under former Attorney General Eric Holder.

"I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that I will say this. Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him," Trump said.

But even as more Republicans take aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump predicted he will get a fair shake. "There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the

Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I will be treated fairly."

Despite the swipe at Democrats, Trump appeared uninterested in trying to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e- mail server.

"I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter," he said of Clinton's e-mails.

Turning back to his legislative agenda, Trump said he is hoping to work with Democrats on health care, infrastructure and immigration, tweeting: "The Democrats have been told and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration et cetera. We must protect our Country at all costs!"

But Democrats may see little reason to cooperate with a president with a 35 percent approval rating, according to the latest CNN poll.

Even amid those low ratings, Trump is already gearing up for his reelection campaign, telling "The New York Times" he's sure to win another term because of his accomplishments in office,

"But another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because, without me, their ratings are going down the tubes."

MURRAY: President Trump also took to Twitter to express his displeasure of the media's coverage of his approval ratings, insisting that his numbers are on par with where President Obama's were at the end of his first year in office.

But if you look at nearly every reputable poll, you can see that President Trump's numbers trail behind nearly every one of his predecessors, including President Obama -- Sara Murray, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.


HOWELL: Sara, thank you.

Still ahead in Syria, there's a race to save some zoo animals caught up in the civil war in that nation. The mission that brought them to safety -- ahead.



[05:20:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM, I'm George Howell.

In Egypt, ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Coptic church. This took place near the capital city of Cairo. Nine people were killed on Friday when a gunman opened fire, as people left church service.

It's left many families there grief-stricken. They came together to hold a joint funeral service for the victims. This is just the latest in a string of attacks on minority Coptic Christians in Egypt this year.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has the latest for us.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER: Egypt is reeling after another attack on its Christian minority today in Cairo. Let's go through what happened.

Shortly after Friday services ended at the St. Mina (ph) Coptic Church in Idlan (ph) in Greater Cairo, as worshippers were leaving the church, two gunmen opened fire on the crowd; armed with machine guns police fired back. A gun battle ensued between them that lasted for about 15 minutes according to the archbishop of the church.

Nine people were killed. Among them, one police officer and separately one of those two gunmen was killed as well. The second one was arrested. He is the man that authorities have described as a known terrorist, one who has been involved in previous attacks.

And they say he had a bomb with him and he had intended to enter the church and detonate this explosive device.

Still, the attack was bloody and brazen, taking place during the day in Cairo. It is absolutely terrifying for residents but it is of particular concern to the Coptic Christian community in Egypt. Remember this is a minority group that makes up about 10 percent of the country's population. And they have long said that they're treated as second class citizens in Egypt.

But the past few years have been particularly bloody for the Coptic minority in Egypt. As President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has waged war on his opponents, as ISIS has taken a hold in the Sinai, as terrorism has been on the rise in the country, more and more of these types of attacks on Coptic Christians have taken place.

Remember one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in Egypt's history happened this year on Palm Sunday. That was in April; two churches were bombed, almost 50 people killed.

But it's important to remember that it's not just Egypt's Christian community that is suffering terrorism. Just last month, a mosque was attacked by ISIS. Almost 300 people lost their lives. The entire country really reeling from terrorism. President Abdul

Fattah al-Sisi has issued his condolences to the victims of this attack. He has said it will only strengthen the country's resolve in the face of terrorism.

But during this holiday season, when people are on edge, of course Christmas for the orthodox community will be coming up in January. During these times they want to feel safe. But they're going to point to attacks like this one to say the state isn't doing enough to protect them -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, Paris.


HOWELL: Salma, thank you for the report.

The president of Turkey is resuming a war of words with the Syrian government. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Tunisia on Wednesday and said this about his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): About Syria, first of all, it is impossible to continue with Assad.


How can we embrace the future with a Syrian president who has killed close to 1 million of its citizens?

Let me say it clearly, Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism. We cannot say this person can do this job. If we say that, it will be unfair to nearly 1 million Syrians who were killed.


HOWELL: Mr. Erdogan's comments come as Syrian forces tighten their grip on the Damascus countryside. State media reported on Friday that anti-government rebels evacuated the Beit Jin area. Now that's part of a government deal to let some rebels and their families go to Idlib province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says many of the Beit Jin rebels are part of an Al Qaeda-linked group.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Syria's long bloody civil war but they're not the only casualties. CNN's Hala Gorani has more now on a group of zoo animals threatened by fighting and what's being done to help them.


HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Originally modeled after Disneyland, the sprawling theme park is now a war zone on the outskirts of Aleppo. Like much of the city, Syria's --

[05:25:00] GORANI (voice-over): -- long conflict has laid waste to the Magic World Zoo. And to the helpless animals inside, unable to escape when bombs began to fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apparently, there was over 300 animals in the zoo and only 13 survivors. So that tells you the horrific conditions that they had to exist in.

GORANI (voice-over): Violence, starvation and disease claimed most of the lives inside here. But help came for the few animals who survived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very happy that the animals are here. But we still have very large (INAUDIBLE).

GORANI (voice-over): In July, Dr. Emir Kal (ph), an animal rescue organization For Paws (ph) conducted what was essentially a military operation. Across hundreds of kilometers to one of the world's most dangerous war zones, they moved the traumatized animals to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a mission that was planned for several months in advance because it was so dangerous. And people literally risked their lives for these animals.

Once all 13 animals were retrieved, then the trucks started rolling through Syria, through different checkpoints, until the borders were open for them in Turkey.

GORANI (voice-over): Arriving safely to Turkey from Aleppo was a nearly miraculous feat. The animals were safe there until they could be airlifted to their new home, a wildlife reserve in Jordan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The physical wounds that they arrived with were really hard to see. They were just totally dehydrated. They were malnourished. They were very, very skinny.

GORANI (voice-over): Months later, their physical wounds have healed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sayid (ph), hello, hello.

GORANI (voice-over): But the scars from suffering years of conflict don't fade as quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The emotional attributes they bring with them, they don't display that as obvious as the physical wounds. Sometimes, we see, if we just raise a broom sometimes around Sayid, he will react.

One of Asian black bears that, when he hears a military helicopter fly overhead, he will immediately run into the night room.

GORANI (voice-over): These four-legged refugees can now recover in peace, owing their lives to the small, dedicated group that dared to save them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we want to call ourselves civilized, we have to be able to share this planet with these magnificent beings. And that's part of my work.

GORANI (voice-over): Hala Gorani, CNN.


HOWELL: Hala, thank you.

2018 is just around the corner, still ahead, we'll show you how the world is getting ready to celebrate and how police plan to keep revelers safe.

Also, prepare to bundle up if you're celebrating New Year's in the United States. It's going to be cold as arctic air invades much of the country. And just wait until you see what the cold is doing in Niagara Falls. A lot of ice. Stay with us.





HOWELL: A warm welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: Fair to say, it is deeply and dangerously cold across much of the northern United States, cold enough for a sizable part of Niagara Falls to -- look at that -- freeze up. Wow.



HOWELL: So New Year's celebrations, they're fast approaching. But fun aside, Europe is on alert, especially in light of recent terror attacks. For instance, police in London are urging revelers to be vigilant. They say that there's no specific threat but people should be ready.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they come into the footprint, they will see an effective search and secure regime. They'll see they'll see physical barriers. They will see uniformed officers. They will see visible uniformed private security contractors.

What they won't see say is a number of covert resources, that are also working alongside us, to keep this event safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOWELL: People to stay vigilant, police will be ready, they say, in London. And in Paris, the city beefing up its security as well. And top of mind there after a gunman killed a police officer on Champs- Elysees last April, temporarily shutting down that famous boulevard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The measures we'll be putting into place will be based on a very strong mobilization of our means, which I will outline. There will be over 10,500 men and women, who will be deployed in and around Paris to ensure the safety of Parisians, Paris suburban residents and tourists and visitors, which are always plentiful in the capital for this occasion.

The main contrast is the one we know, a context with the threat of terrorism, which remains high, let us not forget. This simmering threat, this endogenous threat of which we often speak regarding these individuals, who are susceptible to carrying out an attack singlehandedly with means that can be very basic.

But that does not stop them from being dangerous. That's the reality we face.


HOWELL: Also in Berlin, 1,600 extra police officers are being deployed in safe zones. And Red Cross tents are being set up for women who feel harassed. The measures are being brought in two years after hundreds of women were robbed or sexually assaulted in the German city of Cologne.

There will also be stepped-up security in New York City as well in Times Square, including snipers on rooftops, vapor-sniffing dogs and radiation detectors. CNN's Athena Jones has this story for us.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there. The New Year's Eve celebration here in Times Square is an iconic event. It's also a massive security challenge. This is something the NYPD has been preparing for since the last confetti was being swept up after last year's celebration. That's according to the police commissioner.

We will see a stepped-up police presence here in and around Times Square this year. That means more uniformed police officers, more police officers carrying heavy weapons and more dogs.

Where I'm standing right here, including several blocks north, south, east and west, it's going to shut down to vehicular traffic starting relatively early on Sunday morning. There will be 12 access points for spectators, who want to come in and enter this area to view the ball drop, ring in 2018.

Those spectators are going to see teams of police officers, they're going to see metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs. They're going to see police who are able to detect radiological material. And they're going to have to go through two checkpoints, two screenings of their bags and of their persons in order to enter the pins to celebrate the New Year.

Also for the first time, "The New York Times" is reporting that, for the first time, police will be attaching reflective material to the outsides of some of the buildings in and around Times Square and that is so they can help -- those -- that reflective material can help them locate any gunman or shooter, should there be one. That, of course, is a lesson from the Las Vegas shooting.

Among the other stepped-up efforts, there will be rooftop observation and counter sniper teams; 125 parking garages --


JONES: -- in and around this area will be sealed and police officers are also undergoing a special suicide attack training, training to try to help prevent any sort of suicide attack.

We're also going to see the familiar sanitation trucks, filled with sand and cement blocks to help block off this area to prevent any sort of vehicular attack.

Now authorities from the mayor, the police commissioner on down say there is no credible threat to this New Year's Eve celebrations here in Times Square, no credible threat to New York City in general but they want everyone to remain vigilant.

They say that there's some 2 million people they expect to come out on Sunday night, so all remain vigilant and, as they say, if you see something, say something. Back to you.


HOWELL: All right, Athena. No credible threat there in New York but police certainly on the lookout.

Fair to say there were a multitude of major headlines in the year 2017. After the break, we review some of the biggest stories that dominated the news over the past year.




HOWELL: There is rising hope among people in West Africa that the New Year will bring change to Liberia. A favorite son hero from sport will be inaugurated as the president of that nation next month. Melissa Bell looks at why many Liberians are so happy that George Weah is about to assume power as president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For years, they celebrated his wins on the football pitch. Now George Weah's supporters are cheering another kind of victory: his election as Liberia's president.

With nearly all the rah (ph) votes counted, a visibly emotional George Weah appeared before his supporters, successful at last after his third run at the presidency.


BELL (voice-over): On the pitch, victory had been more easily grasped with clubs like AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea and individually as the only African player ever to have won football's highest honor, the Ballon d'Or.

A stratospheric ride for a child of Monrovia's slums, his promise as he prepared to vote in the delayed runoff on December 26th, the one thing all Liberians want.

GEORGE WEAH, PRESIDENT-ELECT, LIBERIA: A measure of peace (INAUDIBLE) our country. Today, Liberia will make the choice, they will choose their leader.

BELL (voice-over): The country is still scarred by not one but two successive civil wars, the last one ending only in 2003, when the former rebel-turned-president, Charles Taylor, was forced out of office and later sentenced at The Hague to 50 years in jail for war crimes.

By 2005 Ellen Sirleaf Johnson became Africa's first female president. Her 14 years in office brought peace and stability. But poverty, corruption and the Ebola epidemic dashed the hopes that had brought her to power.

Her vice president, Joseph Boakai, was the face of continuity in the runoff election. But it was George Weah's promise of change that won the day although, for many, the country's first peaceful democratic transfer of power since 1944 was cause enough for celebration.

George Weah's vice president will be his running mate, Charles Taylor's ex-wife, who celebrated alongside him. Weah has yet to show whether his relative political inexperience can be overcome.

But for his supporters, the very fact of his victory provides change enough and some much-needed hope for the future -- Melissa Bell, CNN, London.


HOWELL: Melissa, thank you.

As we prepare to ring in the New Year, well, maybe you're wishing for a quieter 2018. That's understandable. This past year has brought an avalanche of shocking headlines. CNN's Phil Black recounts some of the stories that made 2017 one for the record books. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Terrorism, conflict, natural disasters. 2017 was a turbulent year. Dominated by politics, it saw a U.S. president unlike any we've seen before.


BLACK (voice-over): Donald Trump became known for his controversies.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: This controversial travel ban.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Calling the Russia investigation a witch- hunt.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: -- blaming both sides for the violence in Charlottesville.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another controversial tweet.

BLACK (voice-over): Name-calling.

TRUMP: Rocket Man.

They call her Pocahontas.

BLACK (voice-over): And internal battles.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean Spicer is stepping down.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is out.

BLACK (voice-over): But through all the chaos, he reshaped the White House and the world's perception of America.

Across the Pacific, North Korea stepped up its rhetoric and its nuclear missile testing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea claims it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. Claims it tested a hydrogen bomb.


BLACK (voice-over): In Iraq and Syria, ISIS was driven from key cities and villages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mosul finally liberated from ISIS.

DAMON: Raqqa fully-liberated.

BLACK (voice-over): And a slew of terror attacks hit at the heart of cities around the world. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were hiding upstairs and there's just gunshots going everywhere.

BLACK (voice-over): The U.K. suffered the highest number of attacks since the IRA bombings in 1992. And New York City experienced its deadliest terror event since 9/11.

Myanmar and Yemen, saw some of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in decades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yemen is on the brink of collapse.

BLACK (voice-over): Sarin gas was used against the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

TRUMP: That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.

BLACK (voice-over): America reacted, launching its first military strike against the Syrian regime since the civil war began.

Back at home, the U.S. suffered some of the deadliest mass shootings in its modern history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was panicking, of course, girls screaming, people fainting on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just opens the door and we just keep hearing the gunshots.

BLACK (voice-over): Across the globe, separatist movements pushed to independence, new leaders were elected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: France's youngest President --

BLACK (voice-over): Some gained more power than ever.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Seismic shift in Turkish politics.

BLACK (voice-over): And others exited after ruling for decades.

2017 also experienced a mind-bending litany of natural disasters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my neighborhood in flames.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so panicked.

BLACK (voice-over): An urban fire raged through a London building, bringing death and destruction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can hear people screaming, "Help me. My baby, help me."

BLACK (voice-over): Yet amidst the chaos, people spoke out against sexual harassment.

GORANI: Women coming out in their millions with the #MeToo. BLACK (voice-over): A CNN report exposed slave auctions in Libya --


BLACK (voice-over): -- sparking outrage around the world and prompting investigations.

Away from the darkness, there was some light. Astronomers found new planets. Australia voted yes to same-sex marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- a day for love, for equality, for respect.

BLACK (voice-over): An epic mix-up at the Oscars went viral.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: "La La Land" was announced as the best picture winner, but it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Moonlight" was the actual winner.

BLACK (voice-over): A royal wedding was confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was so sweet and natural and very romantic.

BLACK (voice-over): And America got to see its first nationwide solar eclipse in 99 years.


HOWELL: 2017 in the review and the question, what will 2018 bring?

NEWSROOM, right back after the break.




HOWELL: The former U.S. President Barack Obama was on Twitter on Friday, reflecting about the good things that he sees happening in the United States. Mr. Obama tweeted this.

"As we count down to the New Year, we get to reflect and prepare for what's ahead. For all the bad news that seemed to dominate our collective consciousness, there are countless --


HOWELL: -- "stories from this year that remind us what's best about America."

Then he highlighted examples of people across the country donating their time and their money to help others, like pro football player Chris Long. This year, the Eagles player donated his paychecks from the first six games of the NFL season to fund scholarships in Virginia. The former president wrapped up his tweet by saying, "All Americans

can help others and ought to try."

China is welcoming the Year of the Dog and the mall (ph) and there is drawing the occasion with a very interesting thing there. You see this, this larger-than-life canine bears a striking resemblance to -- well, who do you think there?

The red scarf that even looks a little like one of the famous red ties of the U.S. president.

It's not the first time that the mall has paid tribute to Mr. Trump. Just last year, it marked the Year of the Rooster. And, well, you be the judge of who that looks like.

Two iconic figures from the world of music have been awarded knighthoods in Britain. The U.K. government said that Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb will be honored by the queen for his contributions. He had founded the '70s disco group with his late brothers.

Also The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, he is being knighted as well. Starr joins his fellow Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, who got the honor in 1997.

Good news for good people there.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For viewers around the world, "AMANPOUR" is ahead. Thank you as always for watching CNN, the world's news leader.