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Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is ending the year on a rather thoughtful note.

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Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. It is the first visit to the country by the president or vice president under the Trump administration, and comes four months after Trump unveiled his strategy for the United States' role in the country.

"I bring greetings from your commander in chief," Pence told troops at the Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. "Before I left the Oval Office yesterday, I asked the president if he had a message for the troops.

"He said, 'Tell them I love them,' " Pence said.

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Let's go to England now to the city of Leicester, where a municipal parking lot has been crowned a protected monument. That's because of what was found underneath it five years ago - the remains of King Richard III.

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Forget the party dresses and uncomfortable shoes. Toss the fussy canapés — and instead, simmer the soup.

At writer and radio producer Anne Ford's holiday party this year, it's all about comfort. "I like the idea of having some kind of holiday celebration, but not the kind where you have to wear sequins and high heels and drink champagne cocktails. I want to sit ... with a blanket and eat latkes and just be chill about it."

Updated at 8:20 p.m. ET

Nearly three months since Catalans cast their votes for independence from Spain, setting off a weekslong showdown between their regional government and Madrid, Catalonia opened its polls again on Thursday — and promptly put pro-independence parties back in control, by a very slim margin.

The 2017 news roller-coaster did not just hit the United States. From North Korea's missiles to Russia's maneuvers to the fall of one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, major events have come to a head this year, each posing challenges to the world order and the new U.S. administration.

Here, NPR international correspondents take a look at some of the global figures who finished a tumultuous year on top.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly rejected the Trump administration's decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. By a 128-9 vote Thursday, the diplomats gathered in New York City ignored U.S. objections and approved a nonbinding resolution calling on countries to avoid moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

Susan Adolphus James has one vivid memory of childhood Christmases on the island of Beaulieu, Grenada: black cake.

"Christmas don't feel like Christmas if you don't have a piece of black cake," says James, who moved to the U.S. as a teen.

It has been roughly eight months since cholera first took hold in war-torn Yemen. In that brief span, the waterborne disease has exacted a staggering toll on the country's population — and that toll only continues to rise by the day.

The number of suspected cases of cholera has crossed one million, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Thursday. Of those who have contracted the disease since April, the World Health Organization believes more than 2,200 people have died of it — almost a third of whom are children.

The Royal Australian Navy's first submarine, which went down with all hands more than a century ago, has been located off Papua New Guinea in about 1,000 feet of water.

HMAS AE-1 vanished off Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, in the Duke of York islands on Sept. 14, 1914, less than three months after the start of World War I. The vessel had 35 crew aboard — Australians, British and one New Zealander.

Twelve previous government-funded searches over the years had failed to locate the submarine.

A fire in a large commercial building in central South Korea killed at least 29 people on Thursday, after flames raged through the structure that houses a sauna, a gym, and other recreational facilities. The blaze struck in Jecheon, in central South Korea.

"The fire engulfed an eight-story building and trapped dozens inside," NPR's Elise Hu reports from Seoul. "At least 15 of the dead were trapped in a second floor sauna, fire officials told reporters on the scene. This single fire represents 10 percent of all fire deaths in South Korea annually."

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All right. We want to turn now to a situation that has been unfolding this morning in Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMERGENCY SIRENS AND CHATTER)

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined human rights groups and multiple governments Wednesday in calling for the release of two detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been detained since Dec. 12 for allegedly violating a 1923 law called the Official Secrets Act and could face up to 14 years in prison.

Updated at 6:50 a.m. ET

A ferry in the Philippines carrying 251 passengers and seven crew capsized and sank off the northeastern province of Quezon, killing at least four people. Authorities said seven people were still missing in rough seas.

The Philippine Coast Guard says the Mercraft 3 inter-island ferry operating between Infanta and Polillo island, sank about 40 miles east of the capital, Manila, in heavy seas and strong winds.

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It's not every day that surgeons develop a new brain surgery that could save tens of thousands of babies, even a hundred thousand, each year. And it's definitely not every day that the surgery is developed in one of the world's poorest countries.

But that's exactly what neurosurgeons from Boston and Mbale, Uganda, report Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The European Union has taken unprecedented steps toward punishing Poland for a series of laws that have upended the checks and balances of Polish government. Through a never-before-implemented process, Poland could face sanctions, potentially including a loss of voting rights within the EU — although Hungary is expected to block the worst of the repercussions.

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Officials in the Quintana Roo state say that eight Americans are among those killed in a bus crash Tuesday in eastern Mexico.

Twelve people died after the tour bus they were riding in flipped over en route to Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. Two Swedes and one Canadian were also confirmed dead, The Associated Press reports. A Mexican tour guide was also killed.

The United Nations will vote in an emergency session Thursday on a draft resolution that criticizes President Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

But as the Trump administration is making clear, any country that votes in favor of the resolution could face retaliation from the U.S.

The MacArthur Foundation will give $100 million to Elmo, Big Bird and their buddies to massively scale up early childhood development programs for Syrian refugees.

Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee won a global competition by the MacArthur Foundation seeking solutions to what the judges called "a critical problem of our time."

In the winter of 2006, the unthinkable happened. There was a shortage of aquavit, the Scandinavian spirit that's flavored with caraway and other botanicals like dill and anise. For Scandinavian-Americans who relied on aquavit to accompany the traditional julbord, or holiday buffet, it was a tragedy.

Days after Barry and Honey Sherman were found strangled in their basement, police are investigating what they call their "suspicious" deaths. The case has sparked speculation and debate in Canada, where the billionaire couple were famous both for their ties to the pharmaceutical company Apotex and for their philanthropy.

Russian athletes who compete in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics must wear a simple logo that reads "Olympic Athlete from Russia" — and their uniforms can't include other words or references to their home country, an International Olympic Committee panel said Wednesday.

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