TIME Hong Kong

79 Days That Shook Hong Kong

Hong Kong's street occupations have ended, but many demonstrators say this is only the beginning of their fight for free elections

Hong Kong authorities on Monday began tearing down the last of the city’s pro-democracy camps, bringing a quiet end to two and a half months of street occupations that constituted the most significant political protest in China since 1989’s Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing.

By Tuesday, all three protest sites — in the Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay districts — will be gone. The streets will be tidied up and returned to traffic, office workers and shoppers.

The protesters are leaving the streets with few tangible results. Beijing has rejected their insistence that Hong Kongers should have the right to freely elect the head of the city’s government without a pro-establishment committee first handpicking the candidates.

The Hong Kong government has also made it clear that it sees itself as a local representative of the central government, and is unwilling to convey the democratic aspirations of many of its people to Beijing.

Yet what has appeared out of the political hothouse of the tent cities is something with much more potential to undermine the Communist Party’s control over this wayward southern city, already culturally estranged from the mainland — and that is a generation of Hong Kongers who have defied Beijing, who have vowed to defy it again, and whose actions have generated a collection of resonant images that will inspire Hong Kongers for a long time to come.

After police used tear gas against protesters on Sept. 28, tens of thousands rallied to the streets. Right by the walls of the People’s Liberation Army barracks and the Hong Kong government’s headquarters, demonstrators unfurled umbrellas to protect themselves against police pepper spray. The poignant image of ordinary Hong Kongers standing up to a foe like China with nothing but these everyday items gave birth to the movement’s name: the Umbrella Revolution.

By November, the protests had contracted. The weather turned petulant, the protest leadership sparred and splintered, and demonstrators camped in the streets began to wonder how long the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing were content to let them wait. Public opinion, too, turned against the protests, with commuters complaining of epic traffic snarls caused by barricaded thoroughfares — among them Hong Kong’s major arteries — and business owners in the occupied areas feeling the pressure of reduced takings.

In one of the last rites of defiance, more than 200 protesters, including leading democratic legislators, refused to leave the largest protest site as police and demolition crews approached it last week — except, those demonstrators said, under duress and in a police van. In a process that took hours and made for a dramatic scene, police escorted — and sometimes carried — protesters off the pavement, one by one, toward a waiting police bus.

Left behind in the streets, as the final demonstrators were shown out, were countless signs, chalked on the roads, posted on walls, hung as banners and even floated into the sky on balloons. They all promised the same thing: “We will be back.”

Here, in 30 photographs, is a record of Hong Kong’s political awakening, and proof that the threat to return to the streets is not an idle one.

TIME Middle East

Palestinians Will Present a Resolution to the U.N. on Israeli Withdrawal

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Moscow
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks to media about the peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not seen) in Moscow on Aug. 19, 2014 Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

But Israel wants the U.S. to use its veto to block it

The Palestinians are set to present a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, setting out a two-year time frame for ending Israeli control of the West Bank.

Israel wants the U.S. to use its veto power to block the resolution from passing, but Washington remains undecided, Reuters reports.

“We all want to keep open the hope of a two-state solution and we all want to prevent to the best of our abilities an escalation of the violence on the ground,” an unnamed senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome on Monday before flying to Europe to meet with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab League, to try and work out a compromise.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME Denmark

Denmark Claims North Pole via Greenland Ridge Link

The area is believed to hold an estimated 13% of the world's undiscovered oil and 30% of its untapped gas

(COPENHAGEN, DENMARK) — Scientific data shows Greenland’s continental shelf is connected to a ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean, giving Danes a claim to the North Pole and any potential energy resources beneath it, Denmark’s foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said Denmark will deliver a claim on Monday to a United Nations panel in New York that will eventually decide control of the area, which Russia and Canada are also coveting.

The five Arctic countries — the United States, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark — all have areas surrounding the North Pole, but only Canada and Russia had indicated an interest in it before Denmark’s claim.

Lidegaard told the AP that the Arctic nations so far “have stuck to the rules of the game” and he hoped they would continue to do so.

In 2008, the five pledged that control of the North Pole region would be decided in an orderly settlement in the framework of the United Nations, and possible overlapping claims would be dealt with bilaterally.

Interest in the Arctic is intensifying as global warming shrinks the polar ice, opening up possible resource development and new shipping lanes.

The area is believed to hold an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its untapped gas.

Lidegaard said he expects no quick decisions, with other countries also sending in claims.

“This is a historical milestone for Denmark and many others as the area has an impact on the lives of lot of people. After the U.N. panel had taken a decision based on scientific data, comes a political process,” Lidegaard told The Associated Press in an interview on Friday. “I expect this to take some time. An answer will come in a few decades.”

Between 2007 and 2012, Danish scientists with colleagues from Canada, Sweden and Russia surveyed a 2,000-kilometer- (1,240-mile-)long underwater mountain range that runs north of Siberia concluding that Greenland, a sparsely populated huge island that is a semi-autonomous Danish territory, is geologically attached to the ridge.

That prompted Danes to claim the right to exploit an area of 895,000 square kilometers (345,600 square miles).

“The Lomonosov ridge is the natural extension of the Greenland shelf,” ”said Christian Marcussen, a senior geophysicist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. “Coincidentally, the North Pole which is a tiny, tiny abstract spot lies in the area.”

TIME Australia

3 Dead After Police Storm Sydney Café to End Hostage Crisis

Hours-long standoff ends in chaotic scene

Heavily armed police in Australia stormed a Sydney café where a gunman had held more than a dozen people hostage early Tuesday, ending a tense standoff that lasted more than 16 hours and saw at least three people die, including the gunman.

Police could be seen entering the café at about 2:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, after a gunman held at 17 people in the central business district of Australia’s largest city. Gunshots could be heard ringing out on video feeds from the scene, and local media reports indicated injuries were sustained by both hostages and police.

The gunman died in the police raid, authorities said, and he was identified as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born man and a self-described cleric who has been on authorities’ radar in the past. A chaotic scene unfolded as police raided the café, with hostages running outside and an officer carrying out at least one ailing hostage.

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said the gunman had carried out “horrendous vicious attacks.”

“We are a peaceful society which is the envy of the world,” he said in a televised news conference. “Today we must come together like never before.”

Two hostages died, five escaped and six were uninjured, police said. At least one police officer suffered a minor gunshot wound to the face, but was alive. Police wouldn’t say whether the hostages were killed by the gunman or in crossfire during the raid, the Associated Press reports.

“They believed if they didn’t enter there would have been many more lives lost,” New South Wales Police commissioner Andrew Scipione said of the officers’ decision to raid the café. “Events that were unfolding inside of the premises led them to the belief that now was the time to deploy.”

It started Monday morning, when hostages were seen displaying a black-and-white flag in the window of the Lindt café in Martin Place — a major commercial precinct usually crowded with office workers and tourists and, at this time of year, Christmas shoppers.

The flag bore, in Arabic text, what was thought to be the shahada, or Muslim testimony of faith. The flag, which is commonly flown by Islamist terrorist groups, sparked fears that a terrorist attack was unfolding. But Sydney police had not said if it is a terrorist attack, and an official later described it as an “isolated incident.” Authorities confirmed earlier they had made contact with the perpetrator and were in negotiations. Several hostages had left the scene late Monday before the chaos that unfolded early Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed overnight on the crisis.

“This is a very disturbing incident,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a televised address earlier Monday. “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.

“We are a free, open and generous people, and today we have responded to this in character,” he added. “Yes, it has been a difficult day. Yes, it has been a day which has tested us, but so far, like Australians in all sorts of situations, we have risen to the challenge.”

Australia’s paramount figure on Islamic law, the Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, issued a statement “unequivocally” condemning the action. He said the Muslim community was “devastated” by the incident and said such actions are “denounced in part and in whole in Islam.”

Buildings in the area, including the famed Sydney Opera House and the U.S. consulate, had been evacuated, with office workers taken to nearby Hyde Park. Martin Place train station, one of Sydney’s busiest, was closed, as were major nearby roads.

“Sometimes here in Australia you think something like this would never happen so it’s pretty shocking to see,” Kristina Ryan, who works nearby at Circular Quay, said Monday. “It’s been really frustrating with the lack of information and how much longer can they expect us to just sit here without understanding why this is happening? I think that’s really adding to the fear people are feeling in the city.”

Ryan said that fear was amplified as she and her co-workers watched as authorities evacuated the Opera House.

“There are lots of government buildings around. It’s a very busy place, especially on a Monday morning,” Clarke Jones, a terrorism expert at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, tells TIME.

The unfolding hostage crisis comes more than two months after Australian authorities foiled a terrorist plot by local supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), who were reportedly planning to behead members of the public in Martin Place.

Days later, on Sept. 21, forces affiliated with ISIS released a 42-minute audio recording calling on followers to attack non-Muslims in Australia. The call to arms appears to have been made in retaliation for Canberra’s deployment of military personnel and fighter jets to the Middle East to fight in the international coalition against ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria and Iraq.

According to Jones, officials believe that up to 60 Australian nationals and residents are currently fighting in jihadist ranks in the Middle East. Dozens are believed to have already returned to Australia.

“They haven’t been prosecuted, but we don’t know at this stage if they’ve come back with an added intent to continue the fight here in Australia,” says Jones. “It’s hard to know.”

As darkness fell on Monday evening, a crowd of around 200 people remained milling around the scene. “Everyone was quite calm,” says Victor Domni, who works at Macquarie Bank directly across from the Lindt café and was among the first to be evacuated this morning. “I wasn’t in a position to do anymore work so I was ready to go home. I’m quite hesitant to go into work tomorrow because it’s quite scary.”

“We’ve seen this on the news happening in other places and it’s finally hit home so it’s a bit shocking,” he adds.

Abbott urged his fellow Australians to remain coolheaded.

“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society,” he said on Monday morning. “Nothing should ever change that.”

— With reporting by Courtney Subramanian / Sydney

Read next: Australians Use #IllRideWithYou Hashtag in Solidarity With Muslims During Sydney Siege

TIME Australia

Hostage Situation Erupts in Sydney Cafe

Images showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass

(SYDNEY) — A gunman took an unknown number of people hostage inside a downtown Sydney chocolate shop and cafe at the height of Monday morning rush hour, with two people inside the cafe seen holding up a flag believed to contain an Islamic declaration of faith.

Four hours after the incident first erupted inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe, New South Wales state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said police had not made direct contact with the gunman, did not know his motivation and were not sure how many people were being held inside.

“We have not yet confirmed it is a terrorism-related event,” Scipione said. “We’re dealing with a hostage situation with an armed offender and we are dealing with it accordingly.”

The cafe is located in Martin Place, a plaza in the heart of the city’s financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year. Many of those inside the cafe would have been taken hostage as they stopped in for their morning coffees.

Hundreds of police flooded into the area, streets were closed and offices evacuated. The public was told to stay away from Martin Place, home to the state premier’s office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away.

Television footage shot through the cafe’s windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass, and two people holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it.

Zain Ali, the head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland, said it was difficult to read the message because media images showed only the lower part of the flag. But he believed it was the Shahada, or declaration of faith, largely because a black flag with white writing in a contemporary context often contains that message. He said he could make out the word “Muhammad.”

Ali said the Shahada translates as “There is no deity of worship except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” It is considered the first pillar of Islam’s five pillars of faith, and has been used by groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State but wasn’t invented by them, Ali said.

“We don’t know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that it could be,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in the nation’s capital, Canberra. “We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm.”

A police spokeswoman said no injuries had been reported from the incident. Heavily armed officers were lined up outside the cafe, and a man with a backpack inside the cafe could be seen walking back and forth in front of the glass doors.

“Police have been in attendance and have controlled the situation from very early this morning,” said Scipione, the police commissioner. “We are at this stage continuing to secure and make sure that we are doing all we can to bring this to a peaceful outcome.”

Abbott said the National Security Committee of Cabinet met to be briefed on the situation.

“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves,” Abbott said. “Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society — nothing should ever change that. And that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”

__

Associated Press writer Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.

TIME Military

Where the U.S. Army Is Winless

Army v Navy
Army cadets cheer on their football team Saturday in their annual game against Navy. Rob Carr / Getty Images

Pall of football defeats hangs over West Point since 9/11

Thirteen years ago, two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. finally had something to celebrate. “We believe the Taliban appears to have abandoned Kabul,” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared on Nov. 13, 2001, a scant 38 days after the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban, who had given sanctuary to those who carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, were on the run.

Nineteen days later, in the warm afterglow that followed, Army beat Navy, 26-17, in the annual gridiron classic between the nation’s two oldest military academies. It was the last game they’d play at Philadelphia’s now-gone Veterans Stadium.

It was also the last time Army beat Navy (Navy leads the series with 59 wins, 49 losses, and seven ties).

History repeated itself again Saturday, as Navy beat Army 17-10 in Baltimore in their 115th clash. The sting hurts even more given Army’s pregame hype.

For more than a decade, as Army loss follows Army loss, it has been distressing to see the Black Knights of West Point, N.Y., lose to the Midshipmen of Annapolis, Md. If the Army can’t prevail on the gridiron, the thinking goes, how can it beat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)? Football, after all, is a game played in the dirt—the Army’s home turf—not in salt water.

The streak has led to stories like this from Duffel Blog, a website dedicated to fake news about the U.S. military, shortly before kickoff:

The Army’s record-breaking 12-game losing streak against the Naval Academy is actually an experiment to build officer resiliency for the military’s next impossible war, according to one senior West Point official. “We’re going to win this time!” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno is expected to exclaim to a crowd of crestfallen cadets in the locker room of M&T Bank Stadium, unconsciously echoing both William Westmoreland in 1971 and Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel last Friday…“Look at this way,” a leaked document of Gen. Odierno’s prepared remarks reveal. “Even at 0-12, we’ve still beaten Navy more recently than we’ve beaten any of America’s actual enemies!”

Football, with its goal lines, sidelines and referees, has a clarity that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lack. But few believe that the Army—the service that has done the bulk of the fighting, and dying in both (accounting for 4,955 of 6,828 U.S. military deaths, or 73%)—has achieved victories there.

Since 9/11, 95 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sixteen from the U.S. Naval Academy have made the ultimate sacrifice, including 2nd Lieutenant J.P. Blecksmith, Class of 2003. He caught a pass in the last game the Army won. Blecksmith was following in the footsteps of his father, who served as a Marine in Vietnam. As the Marines fought to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Nov. 11—Veterans Day—2004, a sniper killed him.

Granted, it’s foolish to link wars with games. Football no more resembles war than it resembles life. But the ethos of football—grit, self-sacrifice, playing through pain—isn’t foreign to those on the battlefield.

And the battle continues in Afghanistan. The Taliban once again are stepping up their attacks in and around Kabul, the capital. Early Saturday, a pair of men on a motorbike shot and killed a top Afghan court official, as he walked from his home to his car in a northwestern suburb of Kabul. Late Friday, a bomb killed two U.S. soldiers north of Kabul. A pair of attacks killed six Afghan soldiers and 12 men clearing clearing landmines.

But the U.S., more or less, has decided to pick up its ball and head home. “This month, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “Our war in Afghanistan is coming to a responsible end.”

It’s a lot easier to define end than it is to define responsible. Check back in a year to see if Army’s other losing streak has come to an end, too.

TIME

Deal Salvaged at U.N. Climate Talks in Peru

PERU-COP20-CMP10-KYOTO-PROTOCOL-PULGAR
Country representatives clap at the closure and approval of the proposed compromise document handed out during the marathon UN talks in order to meet the final goal of the UN COP20 and CMP10 climate change conferences in Lima on Dec. 14, 2014. Cris Bouroncle—AFP/Getty Images

(LIMA, Peru) — A compromise deal salvaged by climate negotiators in Lima early Sunday sets the stage for a global pact in Paris next year, but a consensus could not be reached on nations submitting to a rigorous review of their plans for greenhouse gas emissions limits.

In the agreement, reached more than 30 hours after talks were supposed to end, more than 190 countries agreed on what information should go into the pledges that countries submit for the expected Paris pact.

Although the Lima document does not oblige nations to provide that information — or even to set goals, they are feeling increasing domestic and international pressure to act on human-generated climate change blamed for more violent, damaging weather that has put 2014 on track to be the warmest year on record.

“I think there will be a lot of peer pressure for countries to put forward that kind of information,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute. “It is a new world.”

Even China — the world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas polluter and among resisters of transparency on measuring its emissions — is feeling the heat as its citizens endure health-endangering smog from coal-burning power plants.

Delegates argued all day Saturday over the wording for the watered-down deal, with developing nations worried that the text blurred the distinction between what rich and poor countries can be expected to do.

Many developing countries, the most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts, accuse rich nations of shirking their responsibilities to curb climate change and pay for the damage it inflicts.

The final draft of the deal alleviated those concerns with language saying countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to deal with global warming.

“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the conference chairman. He spent most of Saturday meeting separately with delegations.

In presenting a new, fourth draft just before midnight, Peru’s environment minister gave a sharply reduced body of delegates an hour to review it. Many delegates had already quit the makeshift conference center on the grounds of Peru’s army headquarters.

The approved agreement also restored language demanded by small island states at risk of being flooded by rising seas, mentioning a “loss and damage” mechanism agreed upon in last year’s talks in Poland that recognizes that nations hardest hit by climate change will require financial and technical help.

“We need a permanent arrangement to help the poorest of the world,” Ian Fry, negotiator for the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, said at a midday session.

However, the approved draft weakened language on the content of pledges on emissions limits, saying they “may,” instead of “shall,” include quantifiable information showing how countries intend to meet their emissions targets.

Also, China and other major developing countries opposed plans for a review process that would allow the pledges to be compared against one another before Paris.

In Lima, the momentum from last month’s joint U.S.-China deal on emissions targets faded quickly as rifts reopened over who should do what to fight global warming. The talks’ goal is to shape a global agreement in Paris that puts the world on a path to reduce the heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet.

The new draft mentioned only that all pledges would be reviewed a month ahead of Paris to assess their combined effect on climate change.

“I think it’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for the environmental group WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.”

Chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern acknowledged that negotiations had been contentious but said the outcome was “quite good in the end.”

He had warned Saturday that failing to leave Lima with an accord would be “seen as a serious breakdown” that could put the Paris agreement and the entire U.N. process at risk.

Though negotiating tactics always play a role, virtually all disputes in the U.N. talks reflect a wider issue of how to divide the burden of fixing the planetary warming that scientists say results from human activity, primarily the burning of oil, coal and natural gas.

Historically, Western nations are the biggest emitters. Currently, most CO2 emissions are coming from developing countries led by China and India as they grow their economies and lift millions out of poverty.

During a brief stop in Lima on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said fixing the problem is “everyone’s responsibility, because it’s the net amount of carbon that matters, not each country’s share.”

According to the U.N.’s scientific panel on climate change, the world can pump out no more than about 1 trillion tons of carbon to have a likely chance of avoiding dangerous levels of warming — defined in the U.N. talks as exceeding 2 degrees centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above 19th-century averages.

It already has spent more than half of that carbon budget as emissions continue to rise, driven by growth in China and other emerging economies.

Scientific reports say climate impacts are already happening and include rising sea levels, intensifying heat waves and shifts in weather patterns causing floods in some areas and droughts in others.

The U.N. weather agency said last week that 2014 could become the hottest year on record.

___

Associated Press writers Frank Bajak and Nestor Ikeda contributed to this report.

TIME South Africa

South Africa’s Rolene Strauss Named Miss World 2014

BRITAIN-LIFESTYLE-MISS WORLD
Miss World Rolene Strauss in center during the grand finale of the Miss World 2014 pageant at the Excel London ICC Auditorium in London on Dec. 14, 2014. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

Edina Kulcsar of Hungary was the runner-up

—(LONDON) — South Africa’s Rolene Strauss has been named the winner of the Miss World 2014 competition in a London finale televised in many parts of the world.

Edina Kulcsar of Hungary was the runner-up and Elizabeth Safrit of the United States took third place.

The winners were announced Sunday after a lengthy competition involving contestants from more than 120 countries.

Each had won the right to represent their country in a series of local and regional competitions.

This year’s contest was marred by the murder last month of Miss Honduras and her sister in that country.

The first Miss World contest was held 63 years ago in Britain.

TIME Japan

Japan’s Ruling Coalition Wins Big in Elections

Japan's Prime Minister Abe smiles during a news conference at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Dec. 14, 2014.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe smiles during a news conference at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Dec. 14, 2014. Toru Hanai—Reuters

Firming up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hold on power

(TOKYO) — Japan’s ruling coalition won a resounding victory in lower house elections Sunday, firming up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hold on power as he prepares to push forward on several politically difficult fronts.

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled for most of the post-World War II era, locked up a solid majority, and appeared headed to winning at least two-thirds of the House of Representatives together with its coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei party.

In a series of TV interviews from party headquarters, Abe said his top priority was the economy. “Economy first,” he told national broadcaster NHK, adding that he would also tackle other major issues, including national security.

The U.S. government hopes Abe will be able to win passage of a series of bills needed to expand Japan’s military role, so that it can play a bigger part in their alliance. A heated debate is expected when parliament takes up the legislation, likely after local elections in April.

With most of the votes counted, the Liberal Democrats had won more than 280 of the 475 seats in the lower house, and topped 310 with the Komei party, according to NHK. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, had won about 70 seats.

The big victory will give a boost to Abe’s agenda, including economic reforms, nuclear plant restarts and his long-term goal of revising Japan’s constitution. But opposition from vested interests and sizeable segments of the public could still stymie his plans.

“I believe the results show that we have received a public mandate for the Abe administration’s achievement over the past two years,” Abe said in a live television interview with Tokyo Broadcasting System. “But we should not be complacent about the results.”

Abe, who took office two years ago, called Sunday’s snap election last month, saying he wanted a fresh mandate for his economic revitalization program, known as Abenomics.

Share prices have risen and many companies have reported record profits, but the recovery has faltered in recent months, with the country returning to recession after a sales tax hike chilled demand among consumers and businesses.

“I believe this shows that voters gave the Abe administration a positive evaluation over the past two years,” said Finance Minister Taro Aso, who retained his seat in parliament. “Abenomics is still halfway through, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility to push it further.”

Despite weakening popularity ratings, a recession and messy campaign finance scandals, the Liberal Democrats were virtually certain to triumph thanks to voter apathy and a weak opposition.

The popularity of the Democratic Party of Japan, which held power from 2009 to 2012, plunged after it failed to deliver on campaign pledges and struggled in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

“I think Mr. Abe is the only choice we have considering from what I heard and saw in the reports,” retiree Hiroshi Yamada said as he came out of a downtown Tokyo polling station.

Abe’s agenda includes trying to carry out labor market reforms and secure a trans-Pacific trade agreement that faces stiff opposition from the farm lobby and others.

He also hopes to begin restarting some of Japan’s nuclear power plants, despite continued public concerns after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Kyodo news agency estimated voter turnout at 52 percent, a post-World War II record low and down 7 percentage points from the previous lower house election in 2012.

Many voters were perplexed over Abe’s decision to call an election.

“I think two years is too soon to decide whether his policy failed or not,” said Yoshiko Takahashi, a Tokyo businesswoman.

___

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi, Elaine Kurtenbach, Emily Wang and Kaori Hitomi contributed to this report.

TIME North Korea

American in North Korea Said to Denounce U.S.

A man who identifies himself as Arturo Pierre Martine, a 29-year-old American raised in El Paso, Texas speaks at a press conference in North Korea's capital Pyongyang on Dec. 14, 2014.
A man who identifies himself as Arturo Pierre Martine, a 29-year-old American raised in El Paso, Texas speaks at a press conference in North Korea's capital Pyongyang on Dec. 14, 2014. AP/Kyodo

His mother said he's mentally unstable

A Texas man who apparently entered North Korea illegally earlier this year has denounced American foreign policy in a lengthy news conference, according to a report Sunday, and plans to seek asylum in Venezuela.

The man, who identified himself as Arturo Pierre Martinez, 29, claimed he ventured into the reclusive country to provide what he described as “very valuable and disturbing information” regarding the U.S. to authorities in the isolated country, according to Reuters, citing footage of the statement released by North Korea’s state-run news agency. Martinez, who said he has been living in a hotel, thanked authorities for treating him well.

Martinez’s mother, Patricia Eugenia Martinez, told CNN that her son is mentally unstable and had attempted to enter North Korea before.

The State Department acknowledged Sunday that it was aware of the situation and was ready “to provide all possible consular assistance.” A statement from Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf neither confirmed Martinez’s identity, nor noted his comments.

[Reuters]

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