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US State Dept Photo(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — Saudi state television reported on Thursday that King Abdullah had passed away and Crown Prince Salman would become king.

King Abdullah was born in 1924 and ascended to the throne in 2005.

Crown Prince Salman, just 11 years younger than Abdullah, will become king, with Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin expected to follow his older brother as the new crown prince. Abdullah, Salman and Muqrin were all sons of King Abdulaziz al-Saud, who founded the kingdom in 1932.

President Obama issued a statement on Thursday expressing his “personal condolences and the sympathies of the American people to the family of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and to the people of Saudi Arabia.” He called the kingdom of Saudi Arabia “a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations,” and praised King Abdullah.

“He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region,” Obama said of the king. “As our countries worked together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship,” the president added. “As a leader he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions…one of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

Obama called the strength of the relationship between the two nations part of King Abdullah’s legacy.

Vice President Joe Biden, who will lead a presidential delegation representing the U.S. to pay respects to King Abdullah in the coming days, called his death “a great loss for his country.”

“It is hard to distinguish [King Abdullah] from Saudi Arabia itself,” Biden said, “over many decades, he played an outsized role in building his country.” The vice president praised the king for “his frankness, his sense of history, his pride in his efforts to move his country forward, and his steadfast belief in the U.S.-Saudi relationship.”

Secretary of State John Kerry called Thursday “a sad day,” praising King Abdullah as “a man of wisdom and vision.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in his own statement, called the late king “a man of tremendous character and courage” and “a powerful voice for tolerance, moderation, and peace — in the Islamic world and across the globe.”

Former President George H.W. Bush called the late king his “dear friend and partner” and praised him as a “wise and reliable ally” who helped the two nations “build on a strategic relationship and enduring friendship dating back to World War II.” He also highlighted the cooperation of the two nations during the invasion of Kuwait, calling it “unparalleled.”

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he and his wife Laura were “saddened by the death of a man I admire and with whom I was honored to work.” He also recalled fond memories of both his visits to Saudi Arabia and of King Abdullah’s visit to his Crawford, Texas ranch.

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SweetBabeeJay/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Family Dollar stockholders voted on Thursday to approve a merger with Dollar Tree, a deal months in the making.

Family Dollar said in a news release about 89 percent of the total shares voted were voted in favor of the merger. “We are pleased with the outcome of today’s vote,” said Howard Levine, Family Dollar’s chairman and CEO.

The merger remains subject to the approval of the Federal Trade Commission, which the Family Dollar release said will be given four weeks’ notice before the companies close on the merger.

Dollar Tree CEO Bob Sasser said in a statement that the merger means that the company “will soon operate 13,000 stores in 48 states and five Canadian provinces with annual sales exceeding $18 billion.”

The merger has been in the works since July 2014. Bloomberg News reports that the deal is worth more than $8 billion.

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RobertCrum/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released their annual report on Thursday on loopholes in highway safety, pointing out the laws they say should be changed to minimize fatalities.

The report focused on topics including occupant protection, child passenger safety, teen driving, impaired driving, distracted driving and speed enforcement. They also included a ratings chart grading the states on the implementation of traffic laws.

Click here to read the full report.

Ten states and the District of Columbia received a “green rating,” meaning they have implemented 11 or more of the 15 laws recommended by the group, or nine or more while also enforcing additional laws, such as an all-rider helmet law. Those states include California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

Nine states — Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming — received a “red rating,” signifying that they complied with seven or fewer of the recommended laws and did not mandate primary enforcement seat belt laws.

In total, the group recommended 327 new laws that “need to be adopted in all states and the District of Columbia to fully meet the Advocates’ recommendations for basic safety laws.”

In 2013, the group said, there were 5.6 million crashes, resulting in more than 32,700 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries. The fatalities figure was actually down from 2012, though automobile crashes remain a leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of five and 34.

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Mitt Romney Photo: ABC/ DONNA SVENNEVIK / Rand Paul Photo: US Congress / Ted Cruz Photo: Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Three of the most talked-about potential GOP presidential candidates will appear together this weekend at a panel sponsored by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, in this year’s first forum of presidential hopefuls.

At the group’s winter meeting Sunday in Palm Springs, California, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will participate in a panel discussion on domestic economic issues, including health care and energy policy. ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl will moderate the discussion.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Freedom Partners is a not-for-profit advocacy group affiliated with Charles and David Koch, two of the country’s best-known conservative mega-donors.

The hour-long “American Recovery Policy Forum” featuring the senators is a first of its kind for the organization. It’s an attempt to have the organization play a more active role in shaping the national political dialogue, according to James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners.

“Our members care deeply about the future of our nation and we’re honored to host some of today’s most influential and respected leaders in shaping public policy,” Davis said. “We hope that this panel will give each participant the opportunity to lay out their vision for a more free and prosperous society.”

Cruz, Paul, and Rubio are considering 2016 presidential bids. The winter retreat is expected to draw close to 450 attendees who are members and supporters of Freedom Partners and allied groups.

The panel discussion will take place Sunday at 8:30 p.m. PT, and an ABCNews.com livestream will feature the event. In addition, Karl will report for ABC News platforms from the event.

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eric1513/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The government issued a warning Thursday for Americans to be on high alert for tax-season scams that feature fake IRS agents.

Lois Dilibero said a fake IRS agent left a voicemail on her phone recently.

“They said, ‘You need to call us right away. You’re being sued for $5,000 by the IRS,’” Dilibero told ABC affiliate WPLG-TV in Miami. “I thought, ‘Yeah, really?’ … I knew I didn’t owe any money to anybody.”

In Dilibero’s case, she said she knew immediately that it was a scam.

Tim Camus, a top investigator with the U.S. Treasury Department, said even he got a call demanding that he pay $750 or get arrested.

Nearly 3,000 people have already fallen victim, scammed out of more than $14 million, officials said.

And half of that money has come from these five states: California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania.

The scammers, often overseas, disguise their phone numbers to make people think they’re calling from the IRS and then make serious threats of jail time and even deportation.

The IRS says it would never call demanding immediate payment and would never make a person pay with prepaid cash cards or ask for credit card information.

The agency said it also would not threaten to arrest you.

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luiscar/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Top officials from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a press conference on Thursday to offer an update on the testing of Ebola vaccines.

During the call, four different vaccine candidates were discussed, including one developed by the NIAID and Glaxo Smith Kline and one developed in a partnership between Canadian health authorities and Merck, both of which are in Phase 1 of studies — the earliest studies involving human subjects. Such testing is meant to assess safety for use, rather than the efficacy of the vaccine.

Officials also discussed two potential vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson.

A larger phase two and three study is planned in Liberia to help determine how effective the vaccines are. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH, the study would involve about 27,000 subjects and could begin “in a couple of weeks.” The study could take nine months to a year to conduct.

A separate trial of the same vaccines is planned for Sierra Leone with a different study design. That trial could include an estimated 6,000 subjects.

Officials also discussed ZMapp, the potential Ebola therapeutic treatment, saying that health agencies and the government of Liberia are working to evaluate ZMapp in studies in both the U.S. and Liberia.

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry both said on Thursday that the U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have taken out “thousands” of ISIS fighters.

“We are doing everything we can possibly do to help the Iraqis,” Hagel said during a press conference on Thursday, in response to complaints from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the pace of U.S. and coalition weapons shipments and training has been slow. “We do know that thousands of [ISIS] fighters have been killed,” Hagel noted, “and we do know that some of [ISIS]’s leadership have been killed.”

“I…disagree with the prime minister’s comments,” Hagel said. “I would say even further, I don’t think they’re helpful. We have a coalition of over 60 countries that have come together to help Iraq. And I think the prime minister might want to be a little more mindful of that.”

Along similar lines, Kerry said that while the exact number was not clear, coalition strikes “are taking out [ISIS’s] fighters in the thousands thus far — single digits, but thousands.” Further, about 50 percent of the group’s top command has been eliminated, according to Kerry.

“We are destroying [ISIS]’s refining capacity, which destroys their revenue. We’re denying it revenue from oil trade. There are growing signs that our initiatives are, in fact, restricting [ISIS’s] operations,” Kerry said Thursday.

Kerry acknowledged that the U.S. and coalition “can do better with respect to the supplies and other things,” but that “there is an enormous amount that is happening, and that is all of it happening in a matter of months.”

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry both said on Thursday that the U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have taken out “thousands” of ISIS fighters.

“We are doing everything we can possibly do to help the Iraqis,” Hagel said during a press conference on Thursday, in response to complaints from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the pace of U.S. and coalition weapons shipments and training has been slow. “We do know that thousands of [ISIS] fighters have been killed,” Hagel noted, “and we do know that some of [ISIS]’s leadership have been killed.”

“I…disagree with the prime minister’s comments,” Hagel said. “I would say even further, I don’t think they’re helpful. We have a coalition of over 60 countries that have come together to help Iraq. And I think the prime minister might want to be a little more mindful of that.”

Along similar lines, Kerry said that while the exact number was not clear, coalition strikes “are taking out [ISIS’s] fighters in the thousands thus far — single digits, but thousands.” Further, about 50 percent of the group’s top command has been eliminated, according to Kerry.

“We are destroying [ISIS]’s refining capacity, which destroys their revenue. We’re denying it revenue from oil trade. There are growing signs that our initiatives are, in fact, restricting [ISIS’s] operations,” Kerry said Thursday.

Kerry acknowledged that the U.S. and coalition “can do better with respect to the supplies and other things,” but that “there is an enormous amount that is happening, and that is all of it happening in a matter of months.”

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luiscar/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Top officials from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a press conference on Thursday to offer an update on the testing of Ebola vaccines.

During the call, four different vaccine candidates were discussed, including one developed by the NIAID and Glaxo Smith Kline and one developed in a partnership between Canadian health authorities and Merck, both of which are in Phase 1 of studies — the earliest studies involving human subjects. Such testing is meant to assess safety for use, rather than the efficacy of the vaccine.

Officials also discussed two potential vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson.

A larger phase two and three study is planned in Liberia to help determine how effective the vaccines are. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH, the study would involve about 27,000 subjects and could begin “in a couple of weeks.” The study could take nine months to a year to conduct.

A separate trial of the same vaccines is planned for Sierra Leone with a different study design. That trial could include an estimated 6,000 subjects.

Officials also discussed ZMapp, the potential Ebola therapeutic treatment, saying that health agencies and the government of Liberia are working to evaluate ZMapp in studies in both the U.S. and Liberia.

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Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the United States Conference of Mayors on Thursday that border security and efforts to fight domestic terrorism could be hindered if Congress doesn’t fund his agency by the end of next month.

The Department of Homeland Security is operating on a continuing resolution which runs out at the end of February. Johnson says he wants lawmakers to pass a complete appropriations bill to fully fund his department.

“I can’t print money and I can’t appropriate money,” he said at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. “If I don’t have a bill I cannot pay for all the things I’ve put in place for border security.”

Johnson also said other Homeland Security programs including fighting homegrown, lone-wolf terrorists and reforming the Secret Service could be at risk.

“As long as I’m operating on a CR I cannot fund new initiatives. I cannot fund new grants,” he told the elected officials.

Johnson spent most of his speech discussing immigration reform and President Obama’s executive action in November that made it easier for about four million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.

Johnson told the mayors that when it comes to deportation, the Obama administration wants to concentrate on illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.

“We want to remove criminals as a matter of public safety,” he said.

He noted there are an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “We can’t deport all those people,” he said.

But he believes under the president’s executive order more of those immigrants will come forward. “It will encourage people to come out of the shadows, get on the books and pay taxes,” Johnson told the mayors. “From my perspective it’s a good thing. I want as many of them on the books as possible.”

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