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A Nation in Mourning After Explosion in Mexican Fireworks Market; Massive Manhunt for Berlin Attacker; President Obama Bans Drilling in Parts of Arctic, Atlantic; Tight Security; Knife Attack on Wimbledon Star; Futuristic Ear Buds. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:00] MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: A powerful explosion at one of Mexico's most popular fireworks markets, kills dozens of people and injures many more.

And banned. Barack Obama uses an obscure law to permanently block drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Max Foster. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Here in Germany, authorities are hunting for the person who drove a truck into a crowded Christmas market. The man police arrested near the scene on Monday night was later released for lack of evidence.

ISIS claims a soldier of the Islamic state carried out the attack.

Chancellor Angela Merkel joined thousands of mourners honoring the 12 people who were killed here. Police are urging Berliners to be alert.


KLAUS KANDT, BERLIN POLICE CHIEF (through translator): It is possible that there is still a dangerous perpetrator on the run, and of course people are worried. I believe people who live in this city should be vigilant.


FOSTER: Fred Pleitgen now has details so far of the investigation.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A massive manhunt underway across Germany after the horrific truck attack on a Christmas market in the heart of Berlin. ISIS now claiming to have inspired the attack.

The suspect or suspects still at large and armed and considered dangerous. As investigators release the man arrested after the attack.

Captured on cell phone video, the immediate aftermath of the attack that left 12 dead and more than 45 injured. A truck with Polish registration and loaded with 25 tons of steel plowing into the outdoor market. Dragging some pedestrians 50 to 80 meters, stopping only after knocking over a Christmas tree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truck just jumped the curb and took a wrong turn and barreled through the crowd.

PLEITGEN: Inside the truck the body of the truck's Polish driver. Berlin police say he was not at the wheel during the attack and appeared to have been shot to death.

The truck company's owner says his driver appeared to have fought with the attackers. Within an hour of the attack police arrested a 23-year- old Pakistani immigrant.

And a somber Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing a stunned nation seized on the suspect's nationality.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We must assume that this was a terrorist attack. I know that would be especially hard to bear for us if it was to be confirmed that the person who committed this act was given protection and asylum in Germany. This would be especially disgusting.


PLEITGEN: But police released the Pakistani man after prosecutors could not link him to the truck or the scene. Merkel is facing a political backlash after Germany has taken in nearly 900,000 immigrants this year even as terror attacks are on the rise.

Now investigators are in a race against time, fearful that whoever is on the run could launch another attack.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.

FOSTER: As -- and as Fred mentioned there, the attack has put Chancellor Angela Merkel in a very difficult position. A political reporter Janosch Delcker joins me now.

Do you think she jumped the gun yesterday a bit when she was talking about this idea of an asylum seeker when that person was effectively released without charge? So, causing a bit of a storm when it wasn't necessary.

JANOSCH DELCKER, POLITICS REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I think what Merkel was trying to do was anticipate criticism that she thought was inevitable to emerge afterwards. Lest we forget, we have an election coming up here in Germany next year. It's a big election year.

There's the national election in the fall. There are three regional elections leading up to that. And Merkel is preparing herself for her political opponents, particularly on the far right, to capitalize on the strategy of Monday.

FOSTER: Which they were already doing yesterday, saying that these people were Merkel's dead. DELCKER: Yes, it's true. I mean, if you look at the far-right anti-

immigrant Alternative for Germany, AfD, from what we know, their strategy for next year's campaign already ahead of this attack was really to stir provocations that will trigger nervous reactions in the other mainstream parties. And this is something that we already could see yesterday.

FOSTER: So, that political damage has almost already been done because they're jumping on any moment like this. And it's going to stick with people until they have new information about a new suspect.

DELCKER: Well, I guess you could say so. And what Merkel Christian democrats are discussing now, this is what I hear from the parliament from the ministries, is how can we react to this? You know, how can we sort of make sure that this is not happening?

FOSTER: How is she managing to counter this narrative, that she hasn't put people at risk by allowing lots of refugees in?

DELCKER: Well, to be fair, she has toughened up on a lot of security issues since the onset of the refugee crisis here. And I'm sure she's going to stress this.

[03:05:04] At the same time I am fairly certain that her Christian democrats will push for even further tougher laws on security such as a better information exchange between the Polish -- the police and the security apparatus, the Secret Services, or more video surveillance.

FOSTER: In terms of how this affects the election that you were mentioning there, I don't think any of the polling suggests that the far-right are going to get into power. But they are being empowered through this process. They're going to have a bigger say, aren't they, in the next government inevitably if the trends continue.

DELCKER: Yes. Well, I mean, from everything that we see now in polls they're at around 12 percent, which means that they will get above the 5 percent threshold necessary in Germany to enter the parliament, which means that they will enter the national government.

And this is the first time that we have a far right party on the right of Merkel's own conservative bloc that is on the German parliament. So this will change the political landscape basically from bottom up. Yes.

FOSTER: And if Angela Merkel is weakened it actually weakens the European Union, doesn't it? She's the de facto head of the European Union. She's a great believer in the European Union. And that will be weakened in some way.

DELCKER: Yes. I guess that's the fear of a lot of people. I would guess you can say so, yes.

FOSTER: So, we'll find out today possibly some more details about the new suspect. If it does turn out to be a refugee it's one thing. We've seen how that played out yesterday. But if we found out it's someone from a neighboring country or a

German how does that affect Angela Merkel's messaging, do you think?

DELCKER: Well, I think today is really going to be about discussing political consequences. Yesterday was very much about that shock, mourning after this tragedy of Monday evening.

But today it's going to be discussing political consequences. And you know, I don't want to speculate on who could be that perpetrator, who's apparently on the run now.

But no matter what, her party, her own party and the political sort of like scene in Germany will demand for like tougher security measures in Germany and I think this will dominate the debate.

FOSTER: One quick word. There's lots of talk about CCTV footage and whether or not that's played in. Actually, Berlin doesn't have that many cameras compared with other capitals around Europe, does it? So that might be something that comes out of this.

DELCKER: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. And we've already had a regional state interior minister from Merkel's own Christian democrats demanding for more video surveillance. So, I'm sure this is going to play a role in the next couple of days.

FOSTER: OK. Well, thank you very much indeed for joining for your insight today.

Meanwhile, a huge explosion tore through a crowded fireworks market north of Mexico City, shooting plumes of smoke in all directions and sending people running for their lives.

That blast on Tuesday killed at least 29 people and injured dozens in the town of Tultepec. This is the third time an explosion has rocked the market since 2005.

And CNN's Ed Lavandera has more details for you.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The video images of the fireworks explosion in the town of Tultepec, Mexico which is just north of Mexico city, are simply staggering and horrifying to watch.

The video images showing the area where this explosions, a series of explosions went on and on. Nearly three dozen people killed. More than 70 others injured. The governor of the state where this town is tells CNN that three young children will be transported by plane to a hospital in Texas where they will be treated for their extreme burns.

So, you can imagine that many of the other victims still grappling and dealing with these same types of wounds as well. The burns could be a very serious issue for many of the victims and survivors of these explosions.

But the video images really capturing the drama and the intensity of the moment as people rushed to the scene to try to help what they could. Video images from the ground also showing the scorched fireworks stand.

This is an open air market in the town of Tultepec in a town that is basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico. This is a huge industry in this town, and extremely popular, especially this time of year as you head into the holiday season and New Year's festivities and that sort of thing.

So, it will be very common for thousands of people to be walking through this open air market to see all of the elaborate fireworks displays and fireworks pyrotechnics that were on display.

The governor of that state also tells CNN that they are looking to determine whether or not this was deliberately set. The exact cause has not been determined as emergency crews are still trying to sift through the scene looking for any kind of survivors and perhaps more victims of this -- these explosions that just seemed to go on and on. A horrifying scene in Mexico.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.

[03:10:01] FOSTER: Now, a Russian team is now in the Turkish capital investigating the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey. The body of Ambassador Andrey Karlov arrived in Moscow.

On Tuesday, a solemn ceremony was held to honor him. His widow and the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey were there in attendance were there as well.

Our Nic Robertson has more into the investigation of the 22-year-old attacker. Nic also spoke with the photographer who captured the horrific shooting. We have to warn you, his report contains graphic images.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: New video shows an apparent stunning security lapse Ambassador Andrey Karlov's killer standing behind him unchallenged for several minutes before he pulls his gun.


BURHAN OZBILICI, PHOTOGRAPHER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: My very first photo the man gunman was standing behind ambassador. And like he was part of ambassador's staff or somebody from the art gallery but very calm.


ROBERTSON: That's Ozbilici moments before the attack taking photos of the ambassador. Seconds later, this, Ambassador Karlov dying on the floor.


ROBERTSON: The gunman shouting defiantly "God is greatest, and "Do not forget Aleppo. Do not forget Syria." But chose not to shoot anyone else.


OZBILICI: People were screaming, crying. They ask people to go away. People obey. They were rolling in panic.


ROBERTSON: According to Turkey's interior minister the lone gunman is a 22-year-old police officer, born in Turkey. State-run Anadolu news agency reported his parents, sister, and other relatives and some close friends have been detained.

And state media is also reporting that he had books on Al Qaeda and the group the government blames for last summer's coup at his apartment. Russian investigators accompanied by their Turkish counterparts visiting the murder scene to check evidence for themselves.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Karlov's body driven to Ankara airport for a brief ceremony before repatriation to Russia. His assassination unprecedented in recent Turkish history. Leaders of Turkey and Russia are uniting, calling it a provocative terrorist attack.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): I describe this attack on Russia's embassy as an attack to Turkey, Turkey's state and nation. After the incident during the talk with Mr. Putin we agreed this is a provocation and there isn't any dispute.


ROBERTSON: Nevertheless, the Kremlin spokesman says it's Turkey's responsibility to protect Russian diplomats and they want more guarantees going forward. Even so, Russia's foreign minister hosted his Turkish and Iranian counterparts in Moscow to discuss the conflict in Syria.

Unthinkable, a year ago, when Russian-Turkey relations were at boiling point on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war.

For now it seems Russia and Turkey have their eyes far down the road. As outrageous and regrettable as the assassination of the ambassador undoubtedly is, they are joining forces to freeze the conflict in Syria and lock in gains for themselves.

Nic Rrobertson, CNN, Ankara, Turkey.

FOSTER: Well, despite the ambassador's assassination the three countries with the most influence in Syria met in Moscow. The foreign ministers from Russia, Turkey, and Iran said they will try to find a political solution to the brutal Syrian civil war.

For that to happen they pledged to first secure a wider cease-fire so that aid can be delivered. Russia's foreign minister says their plans will be most effective in dealing with the crisis.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I am sure that as we reach success in fighting terrorism, as we start the political process between Syrians with our help, as we reach success at these directions we will be able to formulate our common approach which will definitely be based on declared goals.

To win over terrorism, to restore territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, and unity of Syria-Arab republics. We are united in that.


FOSTER: There a glimpse of hope, meanwhile, for thousands of Syrians trying to save their lives. Turkey says evacuations from Aleppo could be completed sometime on Wednesday.

It's been a painful week for those stranded in freezing temperatures. And with almost no food. The evacuations have been suspended multiple times this week. Turkey now says around 37,000 people have been rescued so far.

Now, Donald Trump is being forced to confront some tough foreign policy challenges. We'll see who's giving him advice on how to handle things.

[03:15:04] And a two-time Wimbledon champ says she's lucky to be alive after a knife attack. Just ahead, details on a doctor's efforts to save her ability to play.


DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: I'm Don Riddell with your CNN World Sport headlines.

The tennis star Petra Kvitova is recovering from a very serious knife attack at her home in the Czech Republic. According to police spokesman a man was masquerading as a maintenance man when the attack occurred.

And in trying to protect herself the left-handed player suffered cuts to all five fingers on her left hand, also sustaining damage to nerves and tendons. Late on Tuesday night, Petra's management team released an update saying she's recovering from a three-hour and 45-minute surgery as well as can be expected considering the damage.

In football news, struggling Premier League champions Leicester City will be without their striker Jamie Vardy for the next three games. That's after the football association upheld his red card against Stoke City.

Vardy was prolific in Leicester's title run last season and he was returning to form but he'll now miss the games against Everton's West Ham and Middleboro.

In Germany, the mood is understandably tense after the terror attack in Berlin on Monday which saw a truck crash through a Christmas market killing 12 people.

But this week's Bundesliga Games have gone ahead as scheduled. Moments of silence were held before all four games on Tuesday, and they will be held ahead of the top of the table clash between Bayern Munich and Leipzig on Wednesday.

That is a quick look at your sports headlines. I'm Don Riddell.

FOSTER: The Brandenburg Gate, symbolic of course here in Germany, and there washed in the colors of the German flag in solidarity for the victims and families of those killed in the terror attack, which struck just behind me.

The truck's been taken away now. And there are efforts, so very big efforts are being made to get the market back up and running again. Try to get back to some sort of normalcy here in the city.

Just going -- just past 9 in the morning, people back at work trying to be as normal as they can.

The terror attack here in Berlin has major U.S. cities stepping up security as well, especially at public places like malls and outdoor holiday events like the one behind me.

Police in New York are getting ready for New Year's Eve celebrations, and in Washington, Donald Trump's inauguration is just a month away.

CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez explains what police are doing there to secure soft targets.

[03:20:05] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESONDENT: Critical response teams in New York, the New York Police Department, as well as police departments here and around the country have been moved to these locations of these public markets.

These festive Christmas markets. And other big public gathering places around the country. These are very hard places to secure. I took a walk around the Christmas market, and I noticed there was more police, but I did -- we didn't see any additional barricades.

These places are located around transit points, in places where people are gathering for a reason, so they can attract shoppers and so on. And so, it's really hard to secure them.

We keep hearing from law enforcement as look, we've increased security, we want people to come and enjoy these places, but keep an eye out for things that are unusual.

FOSTER: Well, Donald Trump's response to this week's attacks in Germany and Turkey is a telling sign of how he met or he might handle at least global crisis.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more on that.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The quick detention of a suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack had all the hallmarks of terrorism. Soon after, Donald Trump issuing a statement blaming Islamist terrorists, saying "Their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated."

Trump reacting to the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey and an attack on a mosque in Switzerland, tweeting, "It is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump has made it very, very clear he understands the threat that radical Islamic terrorism poses to our nation and frankly, to our friends and neighbors around the globe and that we've got to be able to call it what it is and then root it out.


STARR: But hot spots facing Trump may only grow, and there are questions if he is ready for it. Trump's spokesman says he's getting briefed by his, quote, "national security team," but will not say if he has agreed to start briefings from government intelligence officials.


BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: This is not the business world. And you know, he is going to get that call at 3 in the morning with a crisis and he's going to have to act. He's the president of the United States.


STARR: Trump now getting a sense of what it means to deal with the Taliban. On a disturbing new video, an American woman and her Canadian husband held hostage by the group since 2012 appear with their children, begging both Trump and President Obama to free them.

Some say as threats grow the president-elect needs to consider turning down his rhetoric because terrorists can appear to win with little effort.


JON ALTERMAN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES The fact is there's nothing the United States can do to prevent one guy from getting in one truck once a year and trying to kill people.


STARR: And in another potential hot spot, China now returning that drone to the U.S. navy that it took out of the water several days ago. (TECHNICAL PROBLEM)


RIDDELL: ... will wear a cast on her hand for six to eight weeks and will be unable to bear weight for three months. The circumstances are very different but it is hard not to think about

Monica Seles right now. She was in the prime of her career when she was brutally knifed in the back during a match in Germany.

Seles recovered two years later and in fact, she won another major title. But honestly she was never the same again. Today's news really has sent shock waves through the tennis community.

Martina Navratilova who Kvitova idolizes wrote on Twitter, "Just finding out about Petra Kvitova and the awful stabbing and injury to her hand. Pulling for you, Petra." And Caroline Wozniacki said, "Just heard what happened. All my thoughts are with her today. So scary. One of the nicest people I know."

For sure the tennis community and sports fans worldwide are spending their best wishes to Petra Kvitova. It remains to be seen just how serious there is -- this is going to be. But we do wish her the very best. Back to you.

FOSTER: Yes, we wish her well. Just ahead, U.S. President Barack Obama moves to preserve his legacy on the environment.

Plus, a nation in mourning. Germans come to grips with the violence in Berlin just days before Christmas.


FOSTER: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Max Foster, live in Berlin.

ISIS claims a soldier of the Islamic state carried out the deadly truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market.

Police are now searching for the driver who plowed into the crowd killing a dozen people. A suspect was released on Monday because of a lack of evidence.

At least 29 people have been killed and dozens injured in an explosion at a fireworks market north of Mexico City.

Authorities are investigating if the blast was deliberate. It is the third big explosion at this market since 2005.

Anti-terror police in Indonesia have killed three suspects in a raid near Jakarta. A fourth person is being detained. Police say the suspects had an active bomb described as quite big.

CNN Indonesia reports they're planning -- they were planning a New Year's Eve attack.

Now Germany is in mourning as its shocked citizens try to make sense of Monday's deadly rampage.

Erin McLaughlin has more on that from here on that in Berlin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the scene of unimaginable horror a 25-ton tool of terror is slowly driven away leaving behind unanswered questioned and a country in shock.

Nearby, a makeshift memorial grows (TECHNICAL PROBLEM)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... hijacked on the outskirts of Berlin between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. The driver killed. His body later found inside that cab.

How do they know it was this period of time? The shipping company back in Poland says this truck was outfitted with a sophisticated GPS system. They told the Mirror newspaper that basically they saw odd behavior in this period of time.

[03:35:01] Someone trying to start the truck twice and failing and then when it got rolling again erratic driving up toward Berlin, as if somebody else was behind the wheel, not the regular driver.

By 5 o'clock, they say nonetheless it had reached the Christmas market up here near Berlin. They tried to call the driver numerous times, no answer. What happens next is also a mystery.

For a few hours it simply goes missing as it gets darker here, the foot traffic gets bigger, and then the truck reappears down in here, a holiday market, highlighted up here in red.

And according to eyewitnesses, it begins accelerating up to about 40 miles an hour, jumping the curb. This is where all those stalls and all those people would have been. And plowing through people for about 250 feet before finally coming to a stop down there.

Why did it stop? We don't know. It didn't hit any kind of major barrier, we don't think. The police don't seem to have challenged it or to have rammed it. And there are no witnesses saying that they saw somebody get out and run away as far as we know at this point. Only the murder victim found inside the cab and an awful lot of questions for the investigators.

FOSTER: There really are a lot of questions. I want to bring in Sudha David-Wilp, she's the director at the German Marshall Fund Berlin office. So, you look at Trans-Atlantic relations last year, don't you?

But what's been interesting to you I know is the lack of cameras here in Berlin. So the sort of evidence that we we're just talking about there is actually quite hard to gather in this city.


FOSTER: What's the background to that?

DAVID-WILP: So as you know, because of historical reasons Germans are quite skittish when it comes to privacy and security. Because of the DDR past, and of course the Nazi regime.

But more and more, I think more Germans are starting to realize that surveillance is important because the authorities here need to provide order and security for its citizens. FOSTER: And this is something the security services no doubt have

been pushing for in recent years.

DAVID-WILP: I'm sure that Thomas de Maiziere, the Interior Minister would like to have more powers, but you know, this is a democracy here and it is a very sensitive issue finding that correct balance between privacy and security.

FOSTER: I mean, what this attack has done, as it does in any country where it occurs, is makes people look at themselves, particularly when you look at this very traditional event. It's an attack on the culture, an attack on the people.

But then you have to consider these issues as well and balance them and if something is so integral to our city, but it's more of a Berlin issue as I understand it than a national issue, the CCTV footage.

DAVID-WILP: Well, I think -- I think it will possibly I'm sure that it is particularly a city issue. This is a federal country of course, and there are differences between the different states and regions within Germany.

But I think altogether there is a national sentiment where people here are proud of their way of life and they want to have freedom in society ,and part of that freedom is also meaning the right for privacy.

But they also do realize that there are threats out there that are getting closer and closer to the German borders and are within the German borders as well.

FOSTER: These are common threats to western society. These Islamic- related threats. And this is, as I understand it, the line of investigation now after the ISIS claim of responsibility. So, how are the western nations coordinating on dealing with this ideology?

DAVID-WILP: Correct. I mean, I think this is one of the big challenges here for the west, to preserve the liberal order. It seems to be under siege both in Europe and the United States. And also becoming not just from -- no, it's extremists from other outside of Europe and the U.S. but also within societies in Europe and the United States.

FOSTER: And heightened levels of nationalism as well.

DAVID-WILP: Correct. Populism on both sides of the Atlantic.

FOSTER: And what's interesting, so right-wing, you know, uprisings in the U.K. and France are quite different actually from the one you've got here in Germany because you're talking about the far-right doing extremely well out of this and potentially in the election next year.

DAVID-WILP: Yes. The AfD, the Alternative for Deutschland, is probably going to make it into the parliament next year. But, you know, I don't believe that they will be in government because they just don't have the votes to form a coalition and none of the consensus or the established parties would form a coalition...


FOSTER: But they'll have a voice, a formal voice.

DAVID-WILP: Certainly. They would be a strong opposition and then institutionalized. But I see them as a disruptive force.

Because you know, Franz Josef Strauss of CDU, a famous politician from the German conservatives once said, never allow a party to form to the right of the CSU, and this has happened.

FOSTER: And as you say, you alluded to sort of the Nazi past and it's something that haunts Germany. And whenever they're making these sorts of changes it is something they consider. Just describe how that sort of -- the sort of privacy issues really play into so much of the policy debate here.

[03:39:57] DAVID-WILP: They do. And I mean, haunt is perhaps not the right verb. I think that Germany has come a long way and certainly this country does not forget its past. The history is all over.

I mean, even where this happened, this horrible incident happened in front of the memorial church, which stands as a symbol for the atrocities of war, right?

FOSTER: But it haunts defense policy though, in many ways, doesn't it? This apprehension.


DAVID-WILP: Yes. But even Germany -- this is true. But even then Germany has come a long way and realizes it's the power that is a responsible power in Europe and beyond, and for example, the Green Party voted to give arms to the Peshmerga most recently, which is, you know, kind of a first.

FOSTER: OK. Well, thank you very much indeed. There are so many sort of bigger issues coming out of this attack. Focused very much right now, though, on finding the culprit.

Now, the U.S. President Barack Obama needing to protect his accomplishments meanwhile, as a Trump presidency gets ever closer.

Plus, listen up. With Apple's newest accessory, a review of their futuristic ear buds is coming up.


FOSTER: Barack Obama's days in office are winding down, but he's still wielding the powers of the presidency to make changes that his successor may not like all that much.

CNN's Athena Jones reports on that.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Obama moving to secure his legacy on the environment and beyond before he hands the presidency to Donald Trump.

Tonight, new measures to bar offshore drilling indefinitely in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, in part to prevent environmental disasters like the B.P. oil spill.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I share people's concerns about offshore drilling. I remember the B.P. spill in the Gulf of Mexico all too well.


JONES: It's an issue that has been front and center for the president, who sees climate change as the greatest threat facing future generations and believes the U.S. and the world must do more to combat it.


OBAM: We're not moving fast enough. And for the sake of our kids we've got to keep going.

[03:45:04] America has to lead the world in transitioning to a clean energy economy.


JONES: President Obama's last-minute move is based on a 64-year-old law, not an easily reversible executive order, creating a legal hurdle for the incoming president. A climate change skeptic who has vowed to pull out of the Paris climate accords and to increase domestic energy production.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every energy dollar that isn't harvested here in America is harvested instead in a foreign country. Often foreign countries not very friendly to us.


JONES: And the president isn't just taking action on the environment. He's also preparing to transfer an additional 17 or 18 inmates from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to other countries, according to the New York Times, slashing the remaining population there by nearly a third.

Though, stopping short of fulfilling his 2008 campaign promise to close the prison.


OBAMA: It will be judged harshly by history. And I will continue to do all that I can to remove this blot on our national honor.


JONES: President-elect Trump has promised to not only keep the prison open but to fill it up with quote, "some bad dudes."

Obama also this week granting clemency to 231 people, mostly drug offenders, the most ever in one day, bringing the total number to a new record for any presidency.

The White House signaling there are more acts of clemency to come. All part of a broader criminal justice reform effort. These final moves aimed at solidifying his agenda.


JULIAN ZELIZER, PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: They're all issues that he's talked about a lot and that he's attempted to get action on but all three are issues where he's been extraordinarily frustrated and unable to really move Congress.


JONES: The president running through the tape and presenting a series of direct challenges to Trump.

FOSTER: CNN correspondent Athena Jones reporting for us there.

Now, nearly two dozen cities in China are choking on extreme smog for another day but there could be some relief in sight.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is at the International Weather Center with more on that for us. Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hello, Max. Yes, we take a look again. It's not just been a short-term problem. This has been a long- term problem.

Take a look at some of the images coming in out of Beijing. Again, it just looks like incredibly dense fog that we've been experiencing in many of these areas. Protests also taking place. You can see placing masks on a lot of the statues in and around the region. It's kind of the symbol for this area

Numbers are finally starting to get better in the southern regions. And that's because we've had not only some rain move into this area but the wind direction is changing and that's been a big improvement.

Take a look at some of these numbers south of Beijing. We're now talking somewhere between 50 up to the 200 range, which again is still high, we are still talking the very unhealthy range when you're in that purple color.

But it's an improvement upon where some of those numbers have been which in a few areas have exceeded 500.

So, again, that's going to be the trend going forward. In fact, if you take a look at the forecast for Beijing not only one set system moves through. It will drop temperatures back but it changes the wind direction (TECHNICAL PROBLEM)



CHINCHAR: This is CNN weather watch. I'm meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Well, the cold air is finally going to retreat for some folks in the U.S. It's going to begin to retreat, so areas of the northeast and the Mid-Atlantic will actually finally start to get some temperatures back up a little bit compared to where they have been.

Now, that system that moved through portions of southern Canada into the northern plains of the U.S. and into the Midwest not a big snow maker and it's already starting to finish most of its trek and continue off to the east.

What we're really paying attention to is this next system that is starting to make its way into the southwestern region of the United States, bringing some much-needed rain to areas of southern California and also into Arizona.

Now, here is a look at the forecast. Cloudy conditions for Los Angeles. High temperature right around 21. Already starting to see those clouds building in from the next system. New York, high temperature of 6, mostly cloudy skies.

But as we talked about the warming trend, maybe getting back close to double digits by the time we approached the weekend. Dallas, a high of 19 degrees with mostly sunny skies, likely to maintain relatively nice weather, even into Thursday and Friday.

Kingston looking at mostly sunny skies. High temperature right around 30 degrees. Mexico City nice partly cloudy with a high temperature right into the low to mid -0s where it will remain through the week.

FOSTER: Well, the wait for Apple's wireless ear buds is over. Air pods as they're called were first announced in September but the company pushed back shipment dates until now.

CNN Money's Samuel Burke checked them out for you.

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: To try out Apple's new AirPods let's take a listen to the 10 most streamed songs of the year. And this really is what they've all been waiting for.

After an unusual two-month delay from Apple. As soon as they went on sale, though, they sold out quickly. So, good luck getting your hands on any. These wireless ear buds stay in my ears fine but not all ears are created equal.

So, they could fall out and leave you just like number 9 by Twenty One Pilots, "Stressed Out."

When it comes to maintaining a connection, though, they don't let you down. They stay synced to your phone or tablet much better than a lot of their competitors.

Number 7, Justin Bieber, "Love Yourself."

With a price tag of $159, you should go and love yourself. Treating yourself might be the best option because who knows if someone wants to spend that much on you.

And you'll want to keep them closer because without a wire these are easy to lose and Apple charges you $69 to replace just one.

Number 5, Lucas Graham's hit "Seven Years."

[03:55:00] The AirPods' charge definitely won't last you seven whole years.

Not even seven whole hours. Five hours is more like it. But the case just charge while you're on the go.

Play the music too loud, too soft it really doesn't matter. The quality is pretty much like the wired headphones before. Nothing spectacular but good enough.

Number 3, Rihanna. Headphones with the wire got all twisted and made us. AirPods are tangle-free.

Number 2, "Can't Stop That Feeling." Justin Timberlake says he's got that sunshine in his pocket.

But you won't even have to reach into your pocket to use Siri anymore. Just tap the air pods to talk with her and there's a microphone built into these ear buds.

And the most streamed song of the year, Drake's "One Dance."

But not everyone likes your style, AirPods. Online memes have already picked that up they look a lot like an electronic toothbrush head.

FOSTER: Samuel Burke trying them out in his own unique way. Now, if you've ever been lucky enough to hold an Olympic gold medal, you'll know they're pretty heavy. So imagine holding 23 of them.

Only one man in the world gets to do that, and that's Michael Phelps. The American swimming sensation retired after the Rio Games, of course last summer.

And Sports Illustrated magazine asked him to pose with all of his medals to mark the occasion. Total weight, more than 18 pounds. That's eight kilos. That's a lot of tugging from your neck, isn't it? But a price worth paying probably.

That is it for this edition of CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining us. I'm Max Foster reporting from Berlin.

Early Start is next for our viewers in the United States. But for everyone else there will be another edition of CNN NEWSROOM after this very short break. [04:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)