Obama speaks at Newtown vigil
NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- President Obama went to Connecticut Sunday to console the families of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Speaking at the vigil in Newtown High School, the president drew sobs and tears from the packed auditorium when he solemnly read the names of all 20 children who were among those killed in the Friday attack. Lighted candles in tumblers placed in front of the podium represented the shooter's victims, which also included six adults.
But Obama also elicited laughter when he spoke about how the school children were "dutifully following instructions as young children sometimes do" and again when he told how one small child said, it was OK because he knew karate.
People stood and applauded loudly when Obama finished speaking and the president stood at the side of the stage and waved his hand several times before exiting alone from the back of the stage.
At quiet points during the service, the hush was broken by the cries of restless small children and babies.
Outside the school, an overflow crowd of people, huddled in blankets and holding candles, listened to the service on a speaker.
The service was multi-faith, and included a pianist playing "Amazing Grace," "Lord of the Dance" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."
First responders who attended were greeted by a standing ovation and some cheers from the crowd as they filed into the auditorium.
The White House, according to custom, did not reveal any details of the president's private meetings with first responders and families of the victims.
Syrian V.P. suggests unity talks
DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Syria's vice president, in an interview to be published Monday, calls for an end to the country's civil war with negotiations to form a unity government.
"The solution has to be Syrian, but through a historic settlement, which would include the main regional countries and the members of the U.N. Security Council," the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar quoted Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa as saying in excerpts posted on its website Sunday.
In the exclusive interview, which was al-Sharaa's first public statements since July 2011, the vice president said "military and political solutions get further away" every day.
"The way events are heading will lead to an uncomfortable place where things will definitely go from bad to worse," he said.
"We must be in the position of defending Syria's existence. We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime."
Al-Sharaa said neither side can achieve outright victory.
"The opposition forces combined cannot decide the battle militarily, meanwhile what the security forces and the army units are doing will not reach a conclusive end," he said.
CNN said Syrian rebels have said they were open to the idea of al-Sharaa leading an interim government. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu floated the concept in October.
The vice president's interview came as The Sunday Times of London reported Syrian President Bashar Assad is drawing up contingency plans to flee Damascus and make a last stand on the Mediterranean shores.
Abe poised to lead Japan
TOKYO, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Shinzo Abe was poised Monday to come back as Japan's next prime minister after his party and an ally won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, which had continuously ruled Japan for over 50 years until its defeat in 2009 by the Democratic Party of Japan, regained its status by winning at least 320 seats in the 480-seat lower house of Parliament along with its ally New Komeito in Sunday's elections, the Mainichi Daily News reported.
The defeat of outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Democratic Party of Japan, which had led the country for three years, as well as the return of nationalist Abe to the prime ministerial post he held in 2006-07 had been widely predicted in polls.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Abe "on his party's success in the elections."
"The U.S-Japan alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and I look forward to working closely with the next government and the people of Japan on a range of important bilateral, regional and global issues," said Obama's message released by the White House. "I also extend my appreciation to Prime Minister Noda for his many contributions to U.S.-Japan relations."
N. Korea commemorates Kim Jong Il's death
PYONGYANG, North Korea, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- North Korea held a mass rally Sunday to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il, officials said.
The event was held at a stadium in Pyongyang and was attended by Kim Jong Un, the late leader's youngest son who took over as head of the Communist country, and other top officials, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported.
"A national memorial service was held with solemnity here to mark the first anniversary of demise of leader Kim Jong Il," the North's Korean Central News Agency said in an English dispatch.
"He strengthened the Korean People's Army into the matchless revolutionary army of Mount Paektu, led the unprecedented standoff with imperialism and the U.S. to one victory after another and made the Democratic People's Republic of Korea a world-level military power and legitimate nuclear weapons state," Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, said during the ceremony.
Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on Dec. 17, 2011.
The ceremony commemorating his death came just days after the North's successful long-range rocket launch on Dec. 12.