(Bloomberg) 21 August 2013 - Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian Boko Haram group that’s waging a violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in Africa’s largest oil producer, is probably dead, the country’s military said.
(RT) 20 August 2013 - Authorities in Egypt have arrested Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie at an apartment in Nasr City in Cairo’s northeast. Badie had already been charged with inciting the murder of protesters in June.
Confirmation of Badie’s arrest came through various international wires which cited Egyptian state media. The news was later followed by a post from the country’s interior ministry to its Facebook page which included an image of Badie at the time of his arrest, flanked by two men in black body armor sitting in a vehicle.
"Carrying out the decisions of the public prosecutor to arrest and bring forward the 'general guide' of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, and through collected information and observation of movements, it was possible for the criminal search apparatus under the direction of Cairo's security [services] to arrest him," the Facebook post said.
Badie, 70, was due to appear in court on August 25 - along with two of his deputies - to face charges involving an incident that occurred in the wake of former President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office by the country’s military. The prosecutor’s office charged the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in July of inciting violence that resulted in the deaths of 55 members one week after Morsi’s ouster.
Security forces located and arrested Badie close to Rabaa al-Adawiya square, where Islamist supporters of deposed President Morsi had held a sit-in that was subjected to a bloody crackdown on Wednesday after refusing orders by the military to disperse.
Badie remained defiant despite the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. In July, the party leader described the president’s overthrow as an act that was worse than destroying one of Islam’s holiest shrines, the Kaaba.
“I swear by God that what [Gen. Abdel-Fattah] al-Sissi did in Egypt is more criminal than if he had carried an axe and demolished the holy Kaaba, stone by stone,” Badie said.
Last weekend saw the dramatic storming of a mosque in Cairo’s Ramses Square, which had also doubled as a field hospital for pro-Morsi protesters. Badie’s son, Ammar Badie, was shot and killed during protests near the mosque on Friday.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has indicated that legal dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood is possible.
“It is being studied currently,” said government spokesman Sherif Shawky on Saturday, according to AP.
(Aljazeera) 16 August 2013 - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has asked supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president, to take part in a nationwide "millions' march of anger" in protest against the recent violent clearing of protest sites by security forces.The announcement came a day after hundreds of people were killed in the military action that ended two sit-ins in Cairo that began after the army toppled Morsi on July 3."Anti-coup rallies tomorrow will depart from all mosques of Cairo and head towards Ramsis square after Jumaa prayer in 'Friday of Anger'," Gehad el-Haddad, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, saidon Twitter.
In a separate statement on Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood said: "Despite the pain and sorrow over the loss of our martyrs, the latest coup makers' crime has increased our determination to end them."
The Health Ministry said that at least 578 people were killed in the clearing and subsequent clashes nationwide on Wednesday, and more than 3,500 injured.
Muslim Brotherhood members have said the true death toll was far higher, with a spokesperson saying 2,600 people had been killed in the "massacre".
The group accuses the military of staging a coup when it toppled Morsi. Liberal and youth activists who backed the military see the move as a positive response to public demands.
Egypt spent its first day under emergency rule and curfew on Thursday, with Cairo remaining tense and bracing for further unrest.
Although the night-time curfew ended at 6am local time on Thursday morning, few dared to venture out.
'No more violence'
Police were out and busy removing the debris from the camps at Rabaa Square and Nahda Squares, where thousands of pro-Morsi supporters were driven out and hundreds killed in Wednesday's crackdown.
Morsi supporters remain defiant while rallies supporting the Brotherhood continued on Thursday. The Interior Ministry said the headquarters of the Giza governorate was stormed and set on fire by Morsi supporters.
They also gathered at Al Amin Mosque, two streets away from Rabaa Square, to mourn those lost on Wednesday and to pledge revenge.
On the other side of town, police mourned their colleagues killed during the same clashes.Families had hoped to bury their dead on Thursday, but several of them said they were unable to obtain the proper permits.
The Health Ministry wanted them to accept death certificates that said their relatives committed suicide, they said.
The interim government has defended the crackdown, saying authorities had no choice but to act.
Residents say they are tired of the violence.
Human Rights Watch, the US-based rights monitor, has condemned the violence in Egypt, saying it holds the government responsible for the Cairo killings.
The state of emergency is set to run for a month, despite the Muslim Brotherhood calling for yet another mass demonstration on Friday.
(Bible Society of Egypt) 16 August 2013 - Dear friends, I have just received the sad news of the complete burning and destruction (by Muslim fundamentalists) of our Bible Society’s bookshops in Assiut & Minia (the largest cities in Southern
Similar incidents are taking place across the nation and to date 15 churches and 3 Christian schools have been attacked and some set on fire.
Dispersal of Sit-ins
Most of you know by now that the Egyptian police, supported by the army, have dispersed the demonstrators from one of the big sit-ins of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) protesters and are working now to evacuate the other, larger one.
In retaliation for the government dispersing the sit-ins, this morning Muslim Brotherhood leaders called for nation-wide protests. In response to these calls, Muslim fundamentalists all over Egypt have gone on a rampage of violence; some of it aimed at Christian targets, but also targeting government institutions, police stations and private property especially parked cars.
One of the reasons why the government has been so reticent in dispersing the sit-ins was precisely because of the MB’s many threats of retaliation. So most Egyptians expected the violence. Nevertheless, it is heartbreaking to watch on TV this bloodshed between fellow-Egyptians unfolding before our eyes.
Trusting God for the future
It is important to underline that -- while some Christian properties have been the victim of this violence -- they are by no means the only ones targeted. This is an attack against the State by a violent minority in an attempt to destabilize the Nation.
(Aljazeera) 15 August 2013 - Egypt's army-backed interim prime minister has defended the government's decision to order the crushing of camps of supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, saying the authorities had no choice but to act.
The streets of Egypt's second city Alexandria were almost deserted on Wednesday night as security forces enforced a curfew.
The government imposed a month-long state of emergency after riot police backed by armoured vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters swept away two encampments of pro-Morsi supporters, setting off running street battles in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.
Security forces shot dead scores of people in their assault on the camps, defying international pleas to show restraint after a six-week stand-off with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei resigned saying peaceful means could still have been found to end the confrontation, but other members of the government have rallied behind the decision to use force.
Beblawi said the state of emergency would be for the shortest period possible, adding that the government was committed to an army-backed road map to restore democracy.
The measure, scheduled to last for a month, imposes a curfew in Cairo and several other provinces between 19:00 local time (17:00 GMT) and 06:00.
"There was a need for the state to intervene with an extraordinary measure which is the emergency law. God willing, we will continue. We will build our democratic, civilian state," he said.
At least 238 civilians were killed nationwide, many of them in the crackdown on the protest sites.
Forty-three members of Egypt's police force were among those killed, the ministry said.The death toll continues to rise, with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood saying the actual number of dead is more than 2,000.
Thousands of Morsi's supporters had been camped at two major sites in Cairo since before he was toppled by the army on July 3, and had vowed not leave the streets until he was returned to power.
Police are reported to have arrested key Brotherhood leaders.
There have been calls for pro-Morsi supporters to head back out onto the streets of Cairo, despite an overnight curfew.
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said: "We are seeing people being stopped at checkpoints, IDs being checked... If they have no reason being on the streets they are being taken to the side."
Armoured bulldozers moved into the two protest camps in Cairo shortly after dawn on Wednesday morning, firing bird shots and tear gas.
Snipers fired on the square from surrounding buildings while helicopters hovered overhead and armoured bulldozers ploughed over the protesters' makeshift defences.Masked police tore down tents and set them ablaze.
"They smashed through our walls. Police and soldiers, they fired tear gas at children," said Saleh Abdulaziz, 39, a secondary school teacher clutching a bleeding wound on his head.
Police took full control of the Rabaa al-Adawiya camp by Wednesday afternoon, according to the state news agency.
Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson, said smaller groups had been congregating in squares and streets after the protest camp was cleared out.
"Just because they're leaving Rabaa Square doesn't mean that they're leaving protests altogether," she said.Two journalists were killed during the violence. Mick Deane, a cameraman for the UK-based Sky News channel, and Habiba Abd Elaziz, a reporter for the UAE-based Xpress newspaper, died from bullet wounds.Violence spread beyond Cairo, with deadly clashes in the cities of Alexandria, Fayoum and Suez.
International condemnation of the violence was swift, with the US Secretary of State John Kerry calling it "deplorable".
The US did not initially criticise the overthrow of Morsi, and has avoided using the term "coup," which under US law would have halted some $1.3bn in annual military aid to Cairo.
The United Nations, the European Union, Britain, France, Iran, Qatar and Turkey strongly denounced the use of force by the military-backed interim government.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on security forces to "exercise utmost restraint".
(Aljazeera) 12 August 2013 -Groups of pro-Morsi protesters, who have been demanding the reinstatement of Egypt's deposed leader for over one month, are preparing for a security crackdown which aims to disperse them.
Egyptian security forces are preparing to besiege supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi who are gathered in Cairo protest camps.
Security sources told Al Jazeera that police would launch action against the protesters early on Monday.
In preparation, the protesters have fortified their camps in Cairo.
Measures to protect themselves against armoured patrol vehicles and possible force include building concrete and wooden barriers, and buying gas masks, goggles and gloves.
Al Jazeera's Simon McGregor-Wood, reporting on Sunday from the pro-Morsi Cairo suburb of Nasr City, said that the police action would not be a full-scale assault."It will simply be a very comprehensive encirclement of this encampment to try to put the squeeze on," he said.
"They will let people out, but they won't necessarily let them or vital supplies back in."
The decision to take action came after a meeting between the interior minister and his aides, a security source said.
"State security troops will be deployed around the sit-ins by dawn as a start of procedures that will eventually lead to a dispersal," another source said.
The pro-Morsi camps are the main flashpoints in the confrontation between the army, which toppled Morsi on July 3, and the ousted president's supporters who demand his reinstatement.
Thousands rallied on Sunday to demand Morsi's reinstatement, amid last-ditch efforts for reconciliation ahead of the threatened crackdown.
Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, meanwhile, announced a last-ditch effort to resolve the tense political standoff and called for reconciliation talks between the rival sides.
A large convoy of cars carrying pictures of the deposed president beeped their horns as they drove through a neighbourhood in east Cairo.Hundreds of women marched in central Cairo against army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, shouting: "Sisi is a traitor, Sisi is a killer."
Morsi loyalists have said that nothing short of the deposed president's reinstatement would persuade them to disperse, despite several warnings by the interim leaders that the camps would be dismantled after the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Al Jazeera's D. Parvaz, reporting from near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, said a pro-Morsi media centre issued a text message announcing plans to occupy Tahrir Square if the sit-ins are broken up.
"Youth against coup issued a statement after their meeting today stating that after threats of breaking up sit-ins in Rabaa n Nahda and after we took all necessary precautions and measures, we are fully alert and in the case of sit-ins being broken up, ALL youth who are not in sit-ins will move to Occupy Tahrir," said the text message, issued late on Sunday.
In a sign of the mounting tensions, a brief overnight power cut at the main sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque struck panic among the pro-Morsi demonstrators, with some taking to social media to announce that an assault had begun.
(CharismaNews) 06 August 2013 - Every Sunday after the service, Chinese pastor Samuel Lamb (also known as Samuel Lam) invited foreign guests into his office and immediately began to tell the story of his life, which he summarized in the one "holy principle" of "more persecution, more growth."
He experienced Communist oppression and spent more than 20 years in prison. He also experienced God's response: an amazing growth of the church in China, now estimated at 80 million. Lamb became a hero of the Christian faith for millions of believers inside and outside China.
He passed away on Saturday at the age of 88.
Lamb (Lin Xingiao in Chinese) was born in a mountainous area overlooking Macau. His father pastored a small Baptist church, and he was raised as a Christian. Lamb was arrested during one of the first big waves of persecution in Mao's China and was held in prison from 1955 to 1957.
The Chinese authorities sentenced him a second time in 1958. He spent 20 gruesome years in labor camps, where he mostly worked in coal mines. Despite the harsh punishments, Lamb continued to teach.
The main reason Lamb was targeted by the government was his refusal to merge his illegal house church into the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-led Protestant Church. The government used to forbid Christian leaders to preach about the second coming of Christ and to teach minors under 18 years old. China basically made the state church evolve around the state and not around God.
In 1979, Lamb restarted his house church in 35 Da Ma Zhan in Guangzhou. Attendance grew quickly, and he moved his congregation to a bigger building in the same city. Now his urban house church is still unregistered but tolerated by the authorities. The church has over 4,000 attendees each week with four services.
Lamb's theology challenged the government, the attendees of his church as well as other believers inside and outside China. He taught that Christians should obey the government unless those leaders directly oppose God with their law enforcement. "The laws of God are more important than the laws of man," he said.
Suffering played an important part in many of Lamb's sermons. He repeated "more persecution, more growth." That phrase had not only to do with numbers of believers, but also with spiritual growth.
"I can understand Job's victories and Job's defeats," he often said. "It taught me that grumbling does not help—not against God and not against those who persecuted me. My dear wife died while I was in prison. I was not allowed to attend her funeral. It was like an arrow of the Almighty, until I understood that God allows the pain, the loss, the torture; but we must grow through it."
Lamb always remained cautious about the government. Even though his congregation is still illegal, it hasn't been raided in years. He always warned, "We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested. Before I was sent to prison, I already prepared a bag with some clothes, shoes and a toothbrush. When I had to go to the police station, I could just pick it up. I was ready.
"People are still being arrested. You don't know what will happen tomorrow. Today the authorities are not bothering us. But tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm."
In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Lamb proved to be a reliable partner for Open Doors' ministry. Through his network, over 200,000 pieces of Christian literature were delivered to Chinese believers.
"The death of Samuel Lamb leaves a hole in the Chinese church," says an Open Doors spokesperson. "Together with other heroes of faith like Wang Mindao and Allen Yuan, he symbolized the brave faith of a church that grew at an unprecedented speed in world history. Long after his passing, it will be said in many churches that more persecution only has one outcome: more growth."
(Aljazeera) 31 July 2013 - Heavily armed riot police have been deployed in potential election flashpoints in Zimbabwe, as an estimated 6.4 million people eligible voters begin to cast their votes.
Long queues of people braved a bout of unseasonably cold weather to stand in line from well before dawn on Wednesday.
Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from the capital, Harare, said that some people had queued since 4.30am to cast their votes because they said it was such an important election.
Mutasa said that people were concerned about the voters roll, which was only made available to the public on Monday.
"They haven't had the chance to check and see if their name's actually on that voters roll," our correspondent
"They are concerned about duplication of names, they're concerned that a certain number of people are supposedly deceased on that voters roll.
Mugabe said before the polls opened at 05:00 GMT that he would step down if he lost and that the army, long the bulwark of his rule, would also respect a win for Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai, who was forced out of the race in 2008 after 200 of his supporters were killed, said that he took Mugabe's promise "with a pinch of salt".
As voting opened in one polling station in the western province of Manicaland, a key swing region, the queue stretched for a kilometre.
State radio said thousands of officers had been sent to the central Midlands province on Tuesday, while trucks of police carrying automatic rifles and grenade launchers patrolled in the restive Harare townships of Highfield and Mbare.The run-down districts of the capital are hotbeds of support for Tsvangirai and were at the centre of several weeks of post-election violence in 2008, in which 200 people linked to his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were killed.
This year's presidential and parliamentary elections have been marked by allegations of threats and intimidation by security forces, but there have been no reports of violence.
About 6.4 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections.
With no reliable opinion polls, it is hard to tell whether 61-year-old Tsvangirai will succeed in his third attempt to unseat his 89-year-old rival, who has run the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980.
The MDC and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party have predicted landslide victories. However, it is possible neither candidate will emerge an outright winner, triggering a September 11 run-off.
Mugabe's rivals have submitted what they claim is evidence of his plans to rig the vote to regional election observers.
Allies of Tsvangirai presented a sample list of about125 duplicate or questionable voters on the electoral roll to observers from the Southern African Development Community.
Speaking at the news conference in Harare, Mugabe said that if someone lost the competition that person should surrender to those who won it.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Harare, said Mugaba was confident of winning the election and believed that there will not be a power sharing deal with MDC.
“He refused to talk about succession plans or say if this is his last election," our correspondent said.
"He dismissed allegations of intimidation of people in rural areas ahead of vote.
"He said he did not have the power to interfere in the voting process adding that elections had always been democratic and he had never cheated."
Given the irregularities and problems that have dogged the election process, including failure to publish an electronic voters' roll, any result is highly likely to be contested, raising the prospect of another long political stalemate.
In 2008, South Africa and other countries in the region negotiated a unity government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai to break a deadlock caused by the MDC's withdrawal from a second-round runoff because of the violence and killings.
Western election observers have been barred, leaving the task of independent oversight to 500 regional and 7,000 domestic monitors. The final results must be released within five days, but may come sooner.
(RT) 30 July 2013 - Israeli and Palestinian teams have arrived in Washington to resume the Middle-East peace process after nearly three years of deadlock. Though optimism is in short supply ahead of the talks, with none of the sides eager to back down on its demands.
The two delegations began their meeting at the Iftar dinner breaking the Ramadan fast to be served on Monday evening at the Washington home of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered the talks.
The meal was thought to be relatively informal and intended primarily to establish a friendly atmosphere between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
Prior to the meeting, Kerry named former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as Washington's envoy overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“He knows what has worked, and he knows what hasn’t worked,” Kerry said in the Monday announcement. “And he knows how important this is to get this right.”
Indyk previously served as ambassador to Israel under US President Bill Clinton and, as Kerry told reporters, understands the “art” of negotiating in the region. He is currently a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.
“Going forward, it is no secret that this is a difficult process – if it was easy it would have happened a long time ago,” he continued. “It’s no secret therefore that many difficult choices therefore lie ahead for the negotiators, and for the leaders, and as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues.”
Indyk told reporters that the goal of the meetings is to have “two states, living side by side, in peace and security” - a task he deemed a “daunting and humbling challenge.”
The US State Department said the aim of the current talks is to try to come up a work plan for the broader negotiations.
"The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks," Kerry spokeswoman Jen Psaki said."They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months."
Israel is represented by chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and veteran Netanyahu adviser, Yitzhak Molcho, at the negotiations, with the Palestinian team consisting of chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Abbas aide Mohammed Shtayyeh.
The Israeli and Palestinian teams will meet with Kerry again in the State Department building on Tuesday. The joint press statement will be read out by the Secretary of State afterwards that will officially declare the start of negotiations.
The actual talks are to be held later in the region. They’re expected to last from six to nine months.
Before her departure for Washington, Livni told Haaretz newspaper that she approached the talks“cautiously, but also with hope.”
Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi noted that the current talks are being held under more difficult conditions than previous negotiations.
She cited the Palestinian political split between moderate President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas, as well as the more hawkish positions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in comparison with his predecessor.
“But I think there is a recognition of the urgency,” Ashrawi said. “If we don't move fast and decisively, things could fall apart.”
A major faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization has rejected the peace talks just hours before the Israeli and Palestinian delegations’ meeting in Washington, AFP reports.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said that the resumption of negotiations was “an individual move” by president Abbas, which did not have the backing of the PLO as a whole.
One of the party's leaders, Khaleda Jarar, spoke out against the American involvement in the talks, saying that “we went to the UN precisely to take our case out of US hands."
The resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine comes after half-a-year of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry. The announcement that Israel and Palestine had laid groundwork for the revival of the peace dialogue was made by the Secretary Of State on July 19 in Amman, Jordan.
The peace process in the region was stalled for nearly three years as Abbas saw no point in talking to Netanyahu, fearing the hard-line Israeli leader would reject what the Palestinians consider “minimal territorial demands.”
The Palestinians want the borders of their future state approximating the boundaries of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem – the territories, which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
But they have accepted the principle of limited land swaps to allow the Israelis to annex some of the dozens of settlements it has built on war-won lands.
Abbas had repeatedly stated that he will begin negotiations only if Israel either freezes settlement building or recognizes the 1967 lines as a starting point for drawing the border of a state of Palestine.
Abbas seemed to undercut the hopeful tone just before the talks began, telling reporters that no Israeli settlers or border forces would be allowed to remain in Palestine under a truce agreement.
“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” he to a contingent of mostly Egyptian journalists on Monday. “An international, multinational presence like in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria – we are with that,” he went on, referring to United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Palestinian officials said on Monday that they received assurances from Washington that the US sees the 1967 lines as the basis for border talks.
However, a senior Abbas aide, who talked to AP on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the Israeli side hasn’t signed on to that principle.
In recent days, senior Israeli officials have also repeated that settlement construction on the disputed land would continue.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its capital – despite that status not being recognized internationally – and wants to keep its settlement blocs in the West Bank under any peace treaty.
Israel left Gaza in 2005 and that enclave is currently ruled by Hamas Islamists organization, which considers the Jewish state its prime enemy and opposes Abbas's peace strategy.
Resuming negotiations “is a dangerous step and the only beneficiary is the occupation [Israel], which uses it as a cover for its continued crimes,'' Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said on Monday.
The Israeli government also denies the right of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 War, which saw the Israeli state foundation, to return to their original homes, calling it a “demographic suicide.”
Netanyahu says any peace accord must safeguard Israel, being concerned that Hamas could gain new ground in the West Bank, with Kerry has described the security of the Jewish state as "paramount".
Meanwhile the Palestinians accuse Tel Aviv and Washington of discussing security without including them into the process.
"This is a big shortcoming in the Israeli and the American behavior because they are not discussing their bilateral security, they are discussing a central and a fundamental issue of ours and it concerns our future as a whole," Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official in Abbas's umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.
The Palestinian official said the expected prisoner release of the prisoners played a huge role in persuading Abbas to give negotiations another chance, even without Israel meeting his long-standing demands on the terms of such talks.
The Israeli cabinet’s decision to free 104 long-held Palestinian inmates, who had been behind bars since before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, has drawn some angry reactions in Israel.
Palestinians tend to view the prisoners as heroes, who sacrificed for the struggle for statehood, while many Israelis seem them as cold-blooded killers.
The list of prisoners eligible for release includes those, who murdered or wounded Israelis or killed Palestinian informers.
“The murderers will be released,” the front-page headline of Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily read on Monday.
Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett was among those opposed the prisoner releases. He warned against re-starting talks with the Palestinians, saying the two-state concept is “fundamentally wrong.”
Despite opposition in his cabinet, Netanyahu still pushed the Sunday's approval through with a comfortable 13-7 vote, with two abstentions.
Netanyahu wrote an open letter to Israelis on Saturday, telling them that while it will be difficult to accept the freedom of former prisoners, “prime ministers from time to time make decisions that go against public opinion, when it is important for the country to do so.”
“This moment is not easy for me,” he told cabinet members over the weekend. “It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.”
“There’s a steep price to this decision, but not launching the diplomatic process carries a heavier price,”Netanyahu is cited as saying by Haaretz. "Launching the process will help Israel's strategic interests. A team under my leadership will approve the names of those to be released, and if the Palestinians commit provocations during the process, we will stop the releases immediately.”
(Aljazeera) 29 July 2013 - Egypt's National Defence Council has warned supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi that security forces would take "decisive and firm" action if protesters overstepped their rights, as thousands stood their ground at multiple demonstrations across the country.
The council called on protesters "not to exceed their rights to peaceful, responsible expression of their opinions", warning that they would face "decisive and firm decisions and actions in response to any violations".
The warning from the council, which includes interim president Adly Mansour, army chief General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the prime minister and interior minister, came in a statement published by state news agency MENA on Sunday.
The council also called on Morsi loyalists gathered at two sites in Cairo to "immediately announce their clear and categorical rejection of violence in all forms, and the immediate cessation of violence, terrorism and the verbal and physical abuse of citizens".
The statement came after at least 72 Morsi supporters were killed in violence at the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest site in Cairo early on Saturday.
The protesters accused security forces of using live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators, but the interior ministry said forces had fired only tear gas.
On Sunday, the interim presidency said it was "saddened" by the deaths but described Rabaa al-Adawiya as a "terror-originating spot" and said the bloodshed came in the "context of terrorism".
Earlier, in a thinly veiled warning to pro-Morsi protesters, the country's interim interior minister pledged to deal decisively with any attempts to destabilise the country."I assure the people of Egypt that the police are determined to maintain security and safety to their nation and are capable of doing so," Mohamed Ibrahim told a graduation ceremony at the national police academy.
"We will very decisively deal with any attempt to undermine stability," said Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police.
Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Cairo, said his comments come off the back of events over the past week, beginning with the "popular mandate" given to the army to "fight terrorism".
"By association, the police also got the same mandate. We've already seen them co-operating on the ground, and we've already heard they will be co-operating together in the coming days."
However, in one of the first signs of doubt from within the interim cabinet installed after the military takeover, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Ziad Bahaa El-Din said the government must not copy the "oppressive and exclusionary policies" of its foes.
"Our position must remain fixed on the need to provide legal guarantees not only for the members of the Brotherhood, but for every Egyptian citizen. Excessive force is not permitted," El-Din wrote on Facebook.
In another sign of unease, the Tamarud youth protest movement, which mobilised millions of people against Morsi and has fully backed the army, expressed alarm at an announcement that the interior minister was reviving the feared secret political police shut down after former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled.Earlier on Sunday, supporters of Morsi pledged to press ahead with their protests, a day after the bloody clashes at in Cairo.
Sporadic violence was also reported nationwide overnight, including in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, where two people were killed.
Gehad El-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said demonstrators were angry but "hugely defiant" after Saturday's deaths.
"There are feelings of agony and anger, but also a very strong feeling of determination," he said. "People are hugely defiant. [...] For us, if we die, we meet our creator and we did so for a just cause. Either we die or we succeed."
Pro-Morsi protests continued in nine cities, including mass sit-ins at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, until late on Sunday night.
(Aljazeera) 26 July 2013 - Supporters and opponents of Egypt's deposed president are preparing for mass protests called for by the army chief, and later by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a struggle over the country's future.
Egyptians are expected to join street rallies on Friday, with many heeding a call earlier in the week from General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the head of the army, who urged them to strengthen a military "mandate" to stop "violence and terrorism".
More are also expected to join thousands of Morsi supporters who have been rallying against his overthrow and holding demonstrations since July 3. The Muslim Brotherhood has called on its supporters to help fill the streets in solidarity.
Confrontation appeared inevitable following a month of clashes in which close to 200 people, mainly supporters of Morsi, have died.
The army has threatened to "turn its guns" on those who use violence, while the Brotherhood has warned of civil war.
"We will not initiate any move, but will definitely react harshly against any calls for violence or black terrorism from Brotherhood leaders or their supporters," an army official told the Reuters news agency.
On Thursday, rival protests filled Cairo's main squares, with Morsi supporters camped in Nasr City and those who supported the decision to remove him from power hold demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
"Tomorrow we will cleanse Egypt," said Mohammed Abdul Aziz, a spokesman for the Tamarod ("Rebel") youth movement that helped rally millions in anti-Morsi street protests before the army moved against him.
"There are men carrying guns on the street," he told Reuters. "We will not let extremists ruin our revolution."
Friday's rallies are expected to grow after the first evening prayer which will mark the end of the day's Ramadan fast.
Witnesses said army helicopters had dropped flyers at the Brotherhood vigil calling on people to refrain from violence.
The interior ministry has said it will take "unprecedented measures to protect citizens and their property".
The country remains deeply split oover the overthrow of Morsi, who was Egypt's first democratically elected president.
The Brotherhood accuses the army of removing him in a long-planned coup, while its opponents say the army responded to the will of the people.
On Thursday, Washington said it did not intend to decide whether to class the removal of Morsi as a coup, in a move that avoids the cut-off of US aid.
William Burns, the US deputy secretary of state, told members of Congress that the administration was not legally bound to draw any conclusion, and doing so would not be in the interests of the US.
"We believe that the continued provision of assistance to Egypt, consistent with our law, is important to our goal of advancing a responsible transition to democratic governance," the official said.
(RT) 23 July 2013 - The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill sees the recognition of same-sex unions by Western countries as a portent of doom. He called upon Russians to ensure that sin is never formalized by the rule of law.
"We face enormous temptations when countries start approving sin and codifying it into law in order to justify it,” Itar-Tass quoted the patriarch as saying after the Sunday service in the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square.
Those who follow their conscience and “fight such laws imposed by the minority are subjected to repressions,” he added.
Kirill urged Russians to ensure that sin is never formalized in the rule of law.
“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction,” Kirill stated.
The patriarch pointed out that people have been convinced that the only value is the freedom of choice and no one has the right to infringe on that “even when a person chooses evil or a socially dangerous behavior.”
The Patriarch called upon Russians to fight for freedom from sins. “Where sin is elected through freedom, there comes death, terror and dictatorship,” Kirill said.
He asked people to pray for the future of the country to prevent “the slavery of sin” that leads to the“self-destruction of the nation”.
The topic of same-sex unions has been heatedly debated in Russia. On June 30 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law strengthening the penalties for “propagating homosexuality among minors”.
The so-called ‘gay propaganda’ introduces fines for propaganda of non-traditional sex relationships to minors, including in the media, on the internet and via viral adverts.
Under the controversial law, holding LGBT rallies is now prohibited, as well as the distribution of information aimed at informing children of non-traditional sexual concepts. The bill also prohibits the“obtrusive spreading of information about non-traditional sexual relationships that may arouse interest in such relationships.”
Gay rights activists in Russia and abroad deemed the bill “anti-gay”. In a statement on GayRussia.eu, a Russian gay-rights activist wrote that Putin violated Russia’s international obligations by signing the law.
Earlier this year, in April, Vladimir Putin faced hundreds of protesters ranging from gay rights activists to a topless feminist group during his visit to Germany and the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, over a thousand gay rights activists picketed outside his meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
However, according to a recent poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center (VTSIOM) in June, 88 per cent of Russians supported the amendments to the law; only 7 per cent said they are against. 54 per cent staid that homosexuality should be banned and be criminalized.
(BBC) 17 July 2013 - The conflict in Syria has caused the world's worst refugee crisis for 20 years, with an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day in 2013, the UN says.
UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said refugee numbers had not risen "at such a frightening rate" since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
He was speaking to the UN Security Council, which also heard that 5,000 people are being killed each month.
UN aid chief Valerie Amos said at least 6.8 million Syrians needed urgent help.
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are locked in a fierce battle with opposition fighters for control of the country.
There has been deadlock at the UN Security Council over the crisis, with Russia and China refusing to back action against Mr Assad proposed by the other veto powers, the US, Britain and France.
Mr Guterres said two-thirds of the nearly 1.8 million refugees registered with the UN had fled Syria since the beginning of the year - an average of 6,000 a day.
"We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago," he told a rare public briefing to the Security Council.
Mr Guterres said the impact of the refugee crisis on neighbouring countries was "crushing", but said the acceptance of Syrians by countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq was "saving hundreds of thousands of lives".
And he said the "danger that the Syrian conflict could ignite the whole region" was "not an empty warning".
The UN last month said nearly 93,000 people had been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
The UN's assistant secretary general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, told the meeting that some 5,000 lives were being claimed each month, demonstrating "a drastic deterioration of the conflict".
"In Syria today, serious human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity are the rule," he said.
Ms Amos said $3.1bn was still needed to provide aid in and around Syria for the rest of the year, and she accused both sides in Syria of "systematically and in many cases deliberately" failing in their obligation to protect civilians.
"We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people," she said.
Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, said his government was doing "everything possible... to meet the humanitarian needs and basic needs of its citizens".
(Aljazeera) 15 July 2013 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Iran is moving "closer and closer" to building a nuclear weapon and warned that his country may have to act against Tehran to curb it from achieving its goal before the United States does.
"They're edging up to the red line. They haven't crossed it yet," Netanyahu said on Sunday on CBS News's "Face the Nation."
"They're getting closer and closer to the bomb. And they have to be told in no uncertain terms that that will not be allowed to happen."
Netanyahu went on to say that Israel had a more narrow timetable than Washington, implying it may have to take unilateral action to halt Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
"Our clocks are ticking at a different pace. We're closer than the United States. We're more vulnerable. And therefore, we'll have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does," he said.
Netanyahu said Tehran has been building "faster centrifuges that would enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate -- that is, within a few weeks."
No change of policy
Netanyahu said Iran's nuclear policies were unlikely to change under its next president, moderate cleric and former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, who will assume power on August 3.
"He's criticising his predecessor (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) for being a wolf in wolf's clothing. His strategy is be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Smile and build a bomb," Netanyahu said.
He urged the United States to make clear to Rowhani that it will not allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon, and that military force "is truly on the table."
"We've spoken many times, President Obama and I, about the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.
"What is important is to convey to them -- especially after the election -- (is) that (the) policy will not change," he said.
"If sanctions don't work, they have to know that you'll be prepared to take military action -- that's the only thing that will get their attention," he added.
Iran for years has been at loggerheads with world powers over its nuclear drive, which Western nations believe is aimed at developing an atomic weapon capability.
Tehran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, but the sanctions imposed over the standoff have isolated it internationally.
(Aljazeera) 12 July 2013 -Egypt is bracing for rival rallies between supporters and opponents of deposed president Mohamed Morsi.
Factions on both sides have called for a day of demonstrations after prayers on the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan as tensions within the country continue to escalate.
On Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's power base, had vowed to keep protesting until he is reinstated, despite the fact that much of the group's leadership has been detained by the army, calling into question its ability to mobilise effectively.
The anti-Morsi camp has also called for rallies, including a mass iftar, the breaking of the Muslim fast, in Tahrir Square which has been the epicentre for demonstrations against the ousted president.
Egypt's new prime minister said on Thursday he does not rule out Muslim Brotherhood members in his cabinet, even as the group vowed to keep defying the military action that resulted in Morsi's fall from power.
Hazem al-Beblawi, who was appointed on Tuesday, said he was still considering the make-up of his interim government.
"I don't look at political association... If someone is named from [the Brotherhood's] Freedom and Justice Party, if he is qualified for the post he may be considered," Beblawi said.
"I'm taking two criteria for the next government. Efficiency and credibility."
The Brotherhood has already rejected a Beblawi offer to join the new government, and called a mass rally for Friday against what it called "a bloody military coup".
In Cairo, the bloody run-up to Ramadan has marred the onset of the holy month.
In the bloodiest incident, clashes around an army building on Monday left 53 people dead, mostly Morsi supporters.
Police were hunting for the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie, after a warrant was issued for his arrest on Wednesday.
Morsi is currently being held in a "safe place, for his safety," foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the former Egyptian leader had not been charged with anything to date.
Military and judicial sources have said the ousted leader may face charges eventually.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon raised concerns about the detention of Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders during a telephone conversation with the country's foreign minister, a spokesman said.
Ban reaffirmed that there must be no "retribution" against any party, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters after the telephone talks between Ban and Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamal Amr.
(Aljazeera) 05 July 2013 - Top judge Adly Mansour has been sworn in as Egypt interim president, hours after Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in a military coup following huge protests against his one-year rule.
Mansour took the oath of interim president on Thursday, as his democratically elected predecessor,Mohamed Morsi, was held in an unspecified military barracks along with senior aides.
Before the constitutional court, Mansour said: "I swear by God to uphold the Republican system and respect the constitution and law... and safeguard the people and protect the nation."
"The revolutionaries of Egypt are everywhere and we salute them all, those who prove to the world that they are strong enough, the brave youth of Egypt, who were the leaders of this revolution."
Speaking to journalists after being sworn in, Mansour said the Muslim Brotherhood were part of the people and were welcome to help "build the nation".
"[...] Nobody will be excluded, and if they responded to the invitation, they will be welcomed," he said.
Separately, Mansour was made head of the supreme constitutional court - a position he was due to take on June 30, when protests against Morsi's one year in power began in earnest.
Brotherhood rounded up
Egyptian judicial authorities opened an investigation into accusations that Morsi and 15 other Islamists had insulted the judiciary, investigating judge Tharwat Hammad said, imposing a travel ban on all of them.
The Brotherhood's top leader, Mohamed Badie, and his deputy, Khairat el-Shater, were among those investigated, judicial and army sources told Reuters news agency.
Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officials were also reported to have been arrested, with many senior leaders being held in the Torah prison in Cairo - the same prison holding Hosni Mubarak, who was himself deposed in the 2011 revolution.
A senior Muslim Brotherhood leader said on Thursday that the Islamist group will not take up arms in response to the coup.
"This is a military coup. We will remain and deprive it of legitimacy until it is corrected," Mohamed El-Beltagy told reporters at a pro-Morsi sit-in outside a mosque in Cairo.
In a televised broadcast, flanked by military leaders, religious authorities and political figures, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisieffectively declared the removal of Morsi.
Sisi called for presidential and parliamentary elections, a panel to review the constitution and a national reconciliation committee that would include youth movements. He said the roadmap had been agreed by a range of political groups.
Islamist supporters of Morsi who have gathered in a Cairo suburb reacted angrily to the announcement by the army.
Some broke up paving stones, forming piles of rocks. Muslim Brotherhood security guards in hard hats and holding sticks formed a cordon around the encampment, close to a mosque. Men and women wept and chanted.
Denouncing military chief Sisi, some shouted: "Sisi is void! Islam is coming! We will not leave!"
At least 14 people were killed when opponents and supporters of Morsi clashed after the army announced his removal, officials said. Eight of those died in the northern city of Marsa Matrouh, including two members of the security fources.
Three people were killed and at least 50 wounded in Alexandria, state news agency MENA reported; a woman stabbed in the stomach, and two men killed by birdshot.
Three people were also killed and 14 wounded in the southern city of Minya, including two police, MENA said.
Speaking shortly after Sisi's announcement on Wednesday evening, liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said the "2011 revolution was re-launched" and that the roadmap meets the demand of the protesters.
Egypt's leading Muslim and Christian clerics also backed the army-sponsored roadmap.
Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Church, said the plan offered a political vision and would ensure security for all Egyptians, about 10 percent of whom are Christian.
Egypt's second largest Islamist group, the Nour party, said in a statement that it agreed to the army roadmap in order to avoid further conflict.
Morsi came under huge pressure in the run-up to Sunday's anniversary of his maiden year in office, with his opponents accusing him of failing the 2011 revolution by concentrating power in Islamist hands.
The embattled 62-year-old proposed a "consensus government" as a way out of the crisis.
That was not enough for the army, and Mansour, a previously little known judge, was installed as the country's interim leader.
(Aljazeera) 05 July 2013 - Mass protests are expected in the Egyptian capital Cairo after a coalition of Islamist groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood called for demonstrations in response to the military coup that led to theouster of Mohamed Morsi as the country's president.
The coalition on Thursday urged people to take part in a "Friday of Rejection" protest following weekly prayers. The call is being seen as a test of whether Morsi still has a support base in the country, and how the army will deal with it.
Morsi, who was Egypt's first democratically elected president, belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
While the military coup came in the wake of mass protests seeking Morsi's dismissal, the ex-president's supporters are angry and have denounced the army's intervention.
Dozens of people were wounded in clashes in Morsi's home city Zagazig on Thursday, raising fears of more violence.
Meanwhile, Egypt's military has appealed for conciliation and warned against unrest, as police rounded up senior Islamists ahead of the planned Brotherhood protests on Friday.
Army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, released a statement later on Thursday on its Facebook page, saying that everyone had a right to peaceful protest, but that right should not be abused.
Excessive protests, the army warned, could lead to civil unrest, while reiterating that it was not targeting any political group.
"Wisdom, true nationalism and constructive human values that all religions have called for, require us now to avoid taking any exceptional or arbitrary measures against any faction or political current," the statement said.
Even the newly sworn-in interim leader Adly Mansour, who replaced Morsi as the president, used his inauguration on Thursday to heal the relationship with the Brotherhood.
"The Muslim Brotherhood are part of this people and are invited to participate in building the nation as nobody will be excluded, and if they respond to the invitation, they will be welcomed," he said.
Among the top Brotherhood leaders arrested were the group's supreme leader, Mohamed Badie.
He, and his powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shater, were wanted for questioning on their role in the killing this week of eight demonstrators in clashes outside the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters.
A judicial source said the prosecution would on Monday begin questioning members of the group, including Morsi, for "insulting the judiciary" as the charges begin to pile up.
Morsi is reportedly being held at a military detention centre.
Other Brotherhood leaders would be questioned on the same charges, including the head of the group's political arm Saad al-Katatni, Mohammed al-Beltagui, Gamal Gibril and Taher Abdel Mohsen.
Morsi and other senior leaders have also been banned from travel pending investigation into their involvement in a prison break in 2011.
(Aljazeera) 03 July 2013 - Cairo, Egypt - An ultimatum given by Egypt's military to end a political deadlock has raised the risk of bloodshedspiralling out of control in the troubled country, with supporters and opponents of beleaguered President Mohamed Morsi flooding the streets.
As time ticks down to Wednesday's military deadline for Morsi to resolve the impasse, the outbreak of further deadly violence now looms large.
“Violence is expected to pick up," George Ishaq, a senior member of the opposition bloc National Salvation Front, told Al Jazeera. “We're expecting Islamists to challenge the army and the people, which will fuel violence."
However, it was Morsi's supporters who bared the brunt of attacks on Tuesday. Unidentified gunmen opened fire on crowds of pro-Morsi demonstrators at a night rally in the capital Cairo, killing 18 people and wounding more than 200 others, the Health Ministry said.
The attack came hours after Morsi made a speech on national television rejectingcalls for his resignation, and vowing “to give my own life" to defend the “legitimacy" of his rule.
Elsewhere, security forces used armoured vehicles to contain clashes in the northern coastal city of Alexandria between both sides. In the Giza governorate, one person was killed and 72 were wounded, and another 14 Egyptians were injured in the southern tourist city of Luxor.
Tensions have simmered between Islamist supporters of Morsi and the mostly young, liberal and secular groups that orchestrated the 2011 revolt, which led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The strife culminated when an opposition group Tamarod, or rebellion, started collecting signatures for a petition demanding that Morsi step down a year after he came to power. Organisers say the petition now has more than 22 million signatures.
It remains to be seen what the military will do as its deadline expires. Egypt's Defence Minister Abdel-Fataah al-Seesi, who was appointed by Morsi in August in an attempt to constrain the army's powerful political role, said a military “road map" will be imposed to end the year-long polarisation.
With the army presenting itself as the guardian of the “people's will", Morsi's opponents were reassured and have flooded Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 revolt, as well as other areas across the country for the fourth day in a row, pressing for early presidential elections.
The military warned Wednesday “it was more honourable to die than to have the people of Egypt terrorised", said a statement titled “The Final Hours" that was posted by army officers.
"We swear to God that we will sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against all terrorists, extremists and ignorant" groups, it said.
|Morsi and Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Seesi [EPA]|
The army's intervention has triggered fear among Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood from whose ranks Morsi hails, prompting them to mobilise for marches in support of the “legitimacy" of his rule. They say dialogue is the only solution to the political crisis.
The opposition's Ishaq said the military deadline puts the ball squarely in the court of Morsi's government.
“I pray that today passes by in peace," Ishaq said, adding the looming deadline “is casting pressure on the presidency to make concessions, which it isn't yet willing to accept."
Six of Morsi's ministers, including Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, have resigned over the past two days, adding more pressure on the president.
The UN's high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, called on Morsi to engage in "serious national dialogue" with his opponents.
Government spokesman Ayman Ali said Tuesday talks were underway, but "the results of these negotiations have not crystallised yet".
"[The government is] currently holding constant talks to achieve national reconciliation and find a way out of the current political crisis," Ali said.
Yasser el-Shimy is a Cairo-based analyst at the International Crisis Group. Shimy said the president is holding steadfast against the opposition's demands and the military's threat. He described the army's intervention as a “coup statement".
“He's [Morsi's] not backing down and it's obvious that the army has been waiting for this opportunity," he told Al Jazeera. “If the army decides to press ahead with an unconstitutional solution, Islamist groups too will resort to unconstitutional reactions."
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagy urged his supporters on his Facebook page to “seek martyrdom in standing against this coup, which is the least that could be offered to the former martyrs" of the 2011 revolution.
Repeated calls to Beltagy rang unanswered when contacted by Al Jazeera.
‘Lost his mind'
Meanwhile, the opposition Dustour Party - led by former UN nuclear chief Mohamed el-Baradei - said the military's moves were not a coup, but an effort to save lives.
"We ask the army to protect the souls of Egyptians after Morsi lost his mind and incited bloodshed of Egyptians," Baradei said in a statement Wednesday.
Government opponents overflowed Tahrir Square in central Cairo on Tuesday, waving the country's flag and singing songs with occasional fireworks lighting the sky and army helicopters hovering above.
Less than 25 kilometres away, across from historic Cairo University, thousands of Morsi supporters waved white flags and chanted Islamic slogans in favour of his rule. Gunfire reverberated as violence broke out between the two sides.
Khaled el-Sherif is a spokesman for the Islamist group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. He said it was imperative for government supporters to demonstrate peacefully.
“This is why it is essential that the army stands at equal distances from everyone. We are not advocates of violence and have given our orders to stick to peaceful expression of opinions," Sherif told Al Jazeera.
|Follow spotlight coverage of the struggling young democracy|
Several Muslim Brotherhood offices have been attacked across the country in recent days, similar to what happened when the uprising against Mubarak's National Democratic Party took hold in 2011.
"This is an extremely dangerous time," Paul Sullivan, Middle East expert at Georgetown University told Al Jazeera.
“One could hope that each group would just put the weapons down and help Egypt move forward - but I do not see that happening. Ideas and ideologies have hardened. The time for compromise and the real give-and-take of democratic development seems to have passed for now."
(Aljazeera) 01 July 2013 - Protesters seeking to force Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office are gearing up for a second day of action, after large crowds thronged the streets of Cairo and cities around the country and marched on the presidential palace.
In the capital, the seat of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi belongs, was set ablaze before people stormed and looted the building, an AFP correspondent there said.
People were seen leaving with petrol bombs, helmets, flak jackets, furniture, televisions and documents.
Some preparing for rallies on Monday spent the night in dozens of tents pitched at Cairo's central Tahrir Square and the palace, positions organisers say they will hold until Morsi resigns.
In fewer numbers, supporters of the Egyptian president came out on Sunday to show their support and defend what they called the president’s "legitimacy".
As anger against Morsi swept the streets, at least six people were killed and more than 600 wounded in clashes between the pro and anti-Morsi groups, the Reuters news agency reported.
The main opposition Tamarod - Arabic for rebellion - movement, which led the demonstrations, gave Morsi a deadline of Tuesday to quit, threatening a campaign of civil disobedience if he stays.
The number of people who joined in protests on Sunday, the anniversary of Morsi's first year in office, was between 14m and 17m people, the interior ministry told Al Jazeera.
"It is absolutely fair to say that an unprecedented number of Egyptians went to the streets accross the country," said Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Cairo.
She added that a statement from Morsi during the protests was not welcomed by many, as it did not offer anything new.
In the message released on Sunday, he said: "I believe we can come together and find a way that builds our country," and he could "engage in national dialogue."
In its statement, Tamarod urged "state institutions including the army, the police and the judiciary to clearly side with the popular will as represented by the crowds."
The group also rejected presidential calls for dialogue, saying: "There is no way to accept any halfway measures.
"There is no alternative other than the peaceful end of power of the Muslim Brotherhood and its representative, Mohamed Morsi."
A few kilometres away from the presidential palace, thousands of Morsi supporters also staged their own sit-in to show support for their president.
"If we are saying that we have a majority, and the opposition are saying that they have a majority, how can they decide?" asked Nader Omran, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"What is the other solution for this dilemma, except the ballot box?"
Presidential spokesman Omar Amer said Morsi was serious in his repeated calls for national dialogue.
"[Morsi] announced to all of Egypt's people he made mistakes and that he is in the process of fixing these mistakes," Amer told a late-night news conference.
The duelling rallies on Sunday only further highlighted the deepening political polarisation in Egypt.
Morsi supporters are full of praise for his first year in office, insisting that the president has strengthened civilian rule in Egypt and done his best to manage a failing economy.
Many of them dismissed Sunday’s protests as the work of ex-regime figures and “thugs”, fuelled by a hostile media and Western governments.
Anti-government protesters, on the other hand, dismissed Morsi’s first term as a failure and described him as a dictatorial leader. Many accused him of backing the Palestinian group Hamas and other armed groups; one well-dressed man in Tahrir insisted that Morsi planned to cede the Sinai peninsula to Hamas.
But their main complaint was the worsening economy, which has been in free-fall since Morsi took office, with the Egyptian pound losing nearly 20 percent of its value and industry crippled by fuel and electricity shortages.
"He's borrowed money from everyone in the world," said Said Ahmed, referring to $11bn in loans Egypt has received from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to prop up the economy. "Who's going to pay for that? Our children."
(Aljazeera) 28 June 2013 - Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi are set to begin an open-ended demonstration on Friday, two days before planned rallies against him, setting up a showdown in the streets in the coming days.
With the start of Egypt's weekend, people began to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square, site of the uprising of January 25, 2011, and at venues in other towns.
Morsi's legitimacy is at the heart of protests both for and against him.
His supporters say he derives his authority from the first free presidential election in Egypt's history, and that the challenges he faces - corrupt and inefficient institutions, economic troubles and religious tensions - were inherited.
But his critics see him as a Muslim Brotherhood delegate, favouring Islamists in key positions and returning the country to authoritarianism.
The Islamists accuse the opposition of being remnants of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime and of seeking to sow chaos.
That accusation was repeated by Morsi in a televised speech on Wednesday, when he warned that political polarisation threatened to "paralyse" Egypt.
He pledged to look into constitutional reforms and also reached out to the opposition again for talks.
But late on Thursday, the opposition National Salvation Front coalition rejected the appeal for dialogue and called instead for an early presidential election.
Since taking office a year ago, Morsi has squared off against the judiciary, media, police and even artists.
In his speech on Wednesday, Morsi threatened legal action against several named prominent figures. He said some judges and civil servants were obstructing him, and accused liberal media owners of bias.
Hours after he publicly accused one TV channel owner of tax evasion, the businessman, Mohamed al-Amin found he was under investigation and barred from leaving the country. Amin's channel notably airs satire modelled on that of US comic Jon Stewart.
Separately, officials ordered the arrest of a talk show host on another channel known for his anti-Islamist diatribes and ordered that station to be shut down for inciting mutiny in the army and for insulting the armed forces and the police.
An anchor on state television resigned dramatically live on air in protest at what he said were attempts by the information minister, an Islamist, to control his programme.
Egypt's powerful army, which has been on the sidelines since Morsi's election, warned it would intervene if violence breaks out.
It has brought in reinforcements to key cities in order to protect vital establishments in case unrest erupts, security officials said.
In Cairo, residents are withdrawing cash and stocking up on food, and many companies have said they will close on Sunday, the first day of the working week in Egypt.
Fuel shortages have seen cars queueing overnight outside petrol stations, bringing parts of the city to a standstill and adding to the tension.
(YemenPost) 27 June 2013 - Yemen local NGO, Gift of the Givers announced on Tuesday it is assisting the Yemeni officials in securing the release of a South African couple who was kidnapped in the southern city of Taiz on May 27.
Pierre , an English school teacher and Yolande Korkie, a pre-primary teacher came to Yemen four years ago from South Africa to pursue Pierre's ambitions. The couple traveled to Taiz to oversee the development of an hotel, whic project they have invested money in.
Several weeks into their kidnapping, officials are looking at how best to approach the situation, the breakthrough came by way of Gift of the Givers, the largest disaster response NGO of African origin on the African continent. Gift of the Givers has delivered life saving aid in the form of Search and Rescue teams, medical personnel, medical equipment, medical supplies, medicines, vaccines, anti-malarial medication, high energy and protein supplements, food and water to millions of people in 37 countries, South Africa included.
GOTC explained in statement, “Anas al-Hamati, Gift of the Givers Yemen project manager, contacted the Yemeni president's office and the foreign ministry and has been granted full co-operation by these and all government institutions ...Given our extensive humanitarian activities in Yemen since August 2012..”
Anas al-Hamati has already met with South Africa Ambassador to Saudi Arabia as his portfolio includes Yemen.
While very few informations so far have been made public, it was established that Pierre and Yolande were abducted by al-Qaeda operatives and transported from Taiz to Ibb (central province of Yemen situated south of the capital, Sana'a).
“It appears that Pierre and Yolande were abducted by nine members of Al-Qaeda. The information received points to the hostages being held in Ibb province in one of the villages there,” the NGO told the press.
“Anas is on his way there today (Tuesday) to meet the head of security. The Yemeni government has extended all facilities and personnel to us in areas where they are in control," it added.
GOTC is now using Anas al-Hamati's tribal connection to broker a deal with al-Qaeda and arrange for the couple's earliest release.
(ChristianPost) 25 June 2013 - A court in Egypt sentenced a Muslim cleric, who is known for his hate speeches against Coptic Christians, to 11 years in jail for tearing up and burning a Bible during a protest against an anti-Islam film outside the U.S. embassy last year.
(Aljazeera) 16 June 2013 - Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani has called his defeat of conservative hardliners a victory of moderation over extremism and pledged a new tone of respect in international affairs.
Thousands of jubilant Iranians poured onto the streets in celebration of the victory on Saturday, chanting: "Long live reform! Long live Rouhani!", according to witnesses at the scene.
"Ahmadi, bye bye!" they added in reference to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
Many were dressed in purple, Rouhani's campaign colour, and others in
green, the colour of the reformist movement.
Rouhani will take up the presidency, the highest elected office in Iran's hybrid clerical-republican system, in August.
"This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill-temper," Rouhani told state television, promising to work for all Iranians, including the
hardline so-called "Principlists" whom he defeated at the poll.
"I warmly shake the hands of all moderates, reformists and Principlists," he said.
Rouhani is a former top nuclear negotiator who has championed more constructive engagement with world powers.
He won outright against five conservative candidates with 18.6 million votes, Interior Minister Mohammad Mostafa Najjar said.
That was enough to ensure there would be no run-off against the runner-up, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who came a distant second with 6.07 million votes.
Saeed Jalili, Iran's Chief nuclear negotiator received four million votes and Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of the elite Revolutionary Guard, was also backed by close to 4 million people.
Matters of national security remain the domain of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but the president runs the economy and wields broad influence in decision-making in other spheres.
Friday's vote was the first since the disputed 2009 re-election of Ahmadinejad triggered massive street protests by supporters of his rivals, that were crushed in a deadly crackdown.
The 2009 protests that followed Ahmadinejad's re-election led to the eventual house arrest of opposition candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and the widespread suppression of reformists.
Rouhani seemed to strike a new tone in the way he talked about Iran's relations with the rest of the world.
He said there was a new chance "in the international arena" for "those who truly respect democracy and co-operation and free negotiation".
Though an establishment figure, Rouhani was known for his nuanced, conciliatory approach when he was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator.
He inherits an economy that has been badly hit by EU and US sanctions targeting the key oil and banking sectors because of its nuclear programme.
In 2003, when Rouhani was top nuclear negotiator under former President Mohammad Khatami, the republic agreed to suspend its controversial enrichment of uranium.
That programme resumed two years later when Ahmadinejad was first elected.
In campaigning, Rouhani pledged to move to ease the sanctions, which have hit hard. Inflation is more than 30 percent, the rial has lost nearly 70 percent of its value and unemployment is rising.
Rouhani is a representative Khamenei on the Supreme National Security Council, Iran's top security body, and was its secretary for 16 years until 2005.
Emphasising political continuity, Khamenei congratulated both the people of Iran for the high turnout in the polls and
Rouhani for his electoral success.
"The true winner of yesterday's election is the great nation of Iran that was able to take a firm step with God's help," Fars news agency quoted Khamenei as saying.
As Iranians celebrate, other countries have been giving their reaction to the election result.
Israel said Iran must abide by the demands of the international community to stop its nuclear programme, and cease the dissemination of terror throughout the world.
"After the election, Iran will continue to be judged by its acts, in the nuclear field as well as that of terrorism," an Israeli foreign ministry statement said.
The US said it stood ready to engage with Iran to reach a "diplomatic solution" over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is intended to produce nuclear weapons - something Iran denies.
Iran's rial strengthened about four percent against the US dollar on Saturday after partial vote tallies pointed to an easy Rouhani victory, web sites tracking the currency said.
(Aljazeera) 14 June 2013 - The United States is boosting military support to the main Syrian rebel group after determining that the government has used chemical weapons against the opposition, a top White House official has said."The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition, that will involve providing direct support to the [Supreme Military Council], that includes military support," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.
"This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the SMC than what we have provided before."
The Supreme Military Council is the military wing of the main civilian opposition group.
The US working with European allies concluded that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against the rebels killing up to 150 people.
The White House said on Thursday that the casualty data was likely incomplete and that it had no reliable, corroborated information to suggest that the Syrian opposition in the country's civil war had acquired chemical weapons.
"Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year," Rhodes said.
He said that the "intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date."
Rhodes said in a written statement that the Syrian government’s refusal to grant access to the United Nations to investigate credible allegations of chemical weapons use had prevented a comprehensive investigation as called for by the international community.
The White House said in a statement issued late on Thursday that the use of chemical weapons "violates international norms and crosses clear red lines".
Earlier, the United Nations said the number of those killed in the Syrian conflict had risen to close to 93,000 people.
President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and constitute a "game changer" for US policy on Syria, which until now has focused entirely on providing the opposition with nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.
"The president has been clear that the use of chemical weapons - or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups - is a red line for the United States," Rhodes noted.
(Aljazeera) 14 June 2013 - Millions of voters across Iran are due to cast their ballots in the country's presidential elections, four years after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Polling stations opened at 8:00am local time (03:30 GMT) on Friday and close 10 hours later, although if there is a massive turnout the interior ministry can extend voting until midnight. At the same time as choosing a new president from six candidates, voters will also pick municipal councillors.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a large turnout but not publicly stated his preference for any single candidate, will vote early. If no candidate secures 50.1 percent or more of the votes to win outright on Friday, a second round will be held a week later.
The first results are expected on Saturday. With the conservative camp divided, reformists seem confident of a good showing by moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani, who has emerged as a frontrunner with a real chance of forcing a run-off, analysts say.
The election will decide a successor to outgoing
A group of three heads the conservatives: former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and the Islamic republic's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.Both sides, reformist and conservative, have appealed for the electorate to turn out in high numbers - the first hoping for change and the other to show the power of a regime accused of seeking to ensure victory for a Khamenei loyalist.
For both reformists and conservatives, the key on Friday will be to mobilise abstentionists who demonstrated against Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009, alleging massive electoral fraud.
The authorities cracked down hard on deadly street unrest sparked by that result, leading to the eventual detention under house arrest of two reformist candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
Campaigning this time has been dominated by two issues: Iran's controversial nuclear ambitions and a devastated economy hit hard by international sanctions because of those ambitions.
Inflation is raging at more than 30 percent, the rial has lost nearly 70 percent of its value, and unemployment is rising.
Both Western powers and Israel accuse Tehran of seeking to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy programme, a charge Iran denies.
But neither the United States nor Israel has ruled out taking military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Regional tensions have also soared over Iranian support for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally whose regime has faced an uprising for more than two years.
(Aljazeera) 12 June 2013 -Riot police using tear gas and water cannon have removed protesters from Istanbul's Taksim Square, reoccupying the heart of Turkey's biggest city, just hours after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, demanded an immediate end to 10 days of demonstrations.
Coinciding with the crackdown in Istanbul, riot police clashed with protesters in Kizilay, the government quarter of the capital, Ankara, firing tear gas. The police intervention on Tuesday night came as up to 5,000 people took to the streets in Ankara's business district chanting: "Government, resign!"
Earlier, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, Istanbul's governor, appeared on television declaring that police operations would continue day and night until Taksim Square - focus of the ongoing demonstrations against Erdogan - was cleared.
Police fired volleys of tear-gas canisters into a crowd of thousands - people in office clothes as well as youths in masks who had fought skirmishes throughout the day - scattering them into side streets and nearby hotels.
Water cannon swept across the square targeting stone-throwers in masks.
The protesters, who accuse Erdogan of overreaching his authority after 10 years in power and three election victories, filled the steep narrow lanes that lead down to the Bosphorus waterway that divides Istanbul into Asian and European quarters.
Many drifted gradually back into Taksim Square and lit bonfires, only to be scattered by more tear gas.
Erdogan had earlier called on protesters to stay out of the area, where a heavy-handed police crackdown on a rally against development of the small Gezi Park abutting the square touched off a wave of protest.
Gezi Park has been turned into a ramshackle settlement of tents by leftists, environmentalists, liberals, students and professionals who see the development plan as symptomatic of overbearing government.
The protests, during which demonstrators used fireworks and petrol bombs, have posed a challenge to Erdogan's authority and divided the country.
Concern over troubles
Protesters accuse Erdogan of authoritarian rule and some suspect him of ambitions to replace the secular republic with an Islamic order, something he denies.
Western allies have also expressed concern about the troubles in an important NATO ally bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Victor in three consecutive elections, Erdogan says the protests are engineered by vandals, terrorist elements and unnamed foreign forces.
Despite the demonstrations, he remains unrivalled as a leader in his AK Party, in parliament and on the streets.
His critics, who say conservative religious elements have won out over centrists in the AK Party, accuse him of inflaming the crisis with unyielding talk.
Erdogan, who denies accusations of authoritarian behaviour, declared he would not yield.
"They say the prime minister is rough. So what was going to happen here? Were we going to kneel down in front of these [people]?" Erdogan told a meeting of his AK Party's parliamentary group on Tuesday as action to clear Taksim Square began.
"If you call this roughness, I'm sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won't change."
In an indication of the impact of the protests on investor confidence, the central bank said it would intervene if needed to support the Turkish lira.
The lira, already suffering from wider market turmoil, fell on Tuesday to its weakest level against its dollar/euro basket since October 2011.
The cost of insuring Turkish debt against default rose to its highest in 10 months, although it remained far from crisis levels.
"A comprehensive attack against Turkey has been carried out," Erdogan said in his speech.
"The increase in interest rates, the fall in the stock markets, the deterioration in the investment environment, the intimidation of investors - the efforts to distort Turkey's image have been put in place as a systematic project."
The police action in Taksim Square came a day after Erdogan agreed to meet protest leaders involved in the initial demonstrations over development of the square.
"I invite all demonstrators, all protesters, to see the big picture and the game that is being played," Erdogan said.
"The ones who are sincere should withdraw ... and I expect this from them as their prime minister."
Mutlu, the Istanbul governor, said 30 people had been wounded on Tuesday.
Turkey's Medical Association said that as of late Monday, 4,947 people had sought treatment in hospitals and voluntary infirmaries for injuries, ranging from cuts and burns to breathing difficulties from tear-gas inhalation, since the unrest began more than 10 days ago.
Three people have died.
(Aljazeera) 10 June 2013 - The US and China have agreed that they cannot accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and pledged to work closely to end Pyongyang's weapons programme, a senior US national security official has said.
Tom Donilon said the US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached "quite a bit of alignment'' on the subject of curbing North Korea's ambitions during a meeting on Saturday.
"They agreed that North Korea has to denuclearise, that neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and that we would work together to deepen co-operation and dialogue to achieve denuclearisation," he said on Saturday, at the end of two days of meeting between Obama and Xi at an estate in the California desert.
China is Pyongyang's ally but has become increasingly concerned at North Korean threats of war against South Korea.
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi told a separate news conference that Xi had told Obama that China and the United States were "the same in their positions and objectives" on the North Korean nuclear issue.
(Christian Post) 10 June 2013 - Mohamed Abu Hamid, former Egyptian Member of Parliament, said that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to placate the Egyptian people after a series of public demonstrations called on citizens to overthrow the regime.
(WorldWatchMonitor) 07 June 2013 - Pakistan’s Christians appear to have thrown some of their political support to Nawaz Sharif in the May 11 national election, even as they have reason to be wary of his return to power.It is a remarkable comeback for Sharif, who was ousted by a military coup in 1999 and spent seven years’ exile in Saudi Arabia and Great Britain. On June 5, he took office as prime minister, Pakistan’s top executive position, for a third time.
(Aljazeera) 06 June 2013 - North Korea has proposed official talks with South Korea to normalise commercial projects, including the Kaesong industrial zone that had been shuttered at the height of tensions between the rivals in early April.
More than 50,000 mostly North Korean workers lost their jobs when the jointly run business park shut down.
Kaesong was the last remaining symbol of cooperation between both nations.
North Korea's state-owned KCNA news agency also said on Thursday the government would restore severed communications channels if the South accepts the offer of talks.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification said in a statement that they take North Korea's offer of government-level talks positively and hope to build trust between the two nations positively. The ministry added that they will announce a date and agenda regarding the talks.
The North, in a statement by its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea which handles ties with the South, also proposed discussing the reopening of tours to a mountain resort and family reunions as well as to hold events to mark the 2000 summit of their leaders.
"We propose holding talks between authorities of the North and the South for the normalisation of the operation in the KIZ (Kaesong industrial zone) and the resumption of tours of Mt. Kumgang on the occasion of the anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration," the committee said.
The June declaration refers to the outcome of the 2000 summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the North's Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.
South Korea has previously proposed to hold talks with the North on reopening the Kaesong zone, but Seoul has been reluctant to link those talks with the summit commemoration, saying Pyongyang would try to use them for propaganda.
Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul said that North Korea's proposal carries a very different tone compared to its views in March. He said a possible explanation could be the number of North Korean jobs that were lost during the shutdown.
"This was a big economic hit for North Korea to take," Fawcett said.
He said that this dramatic offer for talks adds to South Korean President Park Geun-hye's policy to build trust on the the peninsula, which she mentioned during her Memorial Day speech on Thursday.
From the beginning of March, North Korea has threatened to attack the South and US military bases in the Pacific using its missile and nuclear arsenal, driving tensions to the highest point in decades.
The daily barrage of threats and steps to cut off communications channels with the South and the US-led forces guarding the Korean border ceased in late April, timed with the end of annual military drills by the South and US forces.
Experts said the threats may have been designed by the North to reinforce leader Kim Jong-un's stature as a military leader and to beef up his grip on the country's nearly 1.2-million strong army.
(Aljazeera) 03 June 2013 - Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Turkey's four biggest cities and clashed with riot police firing tear gas for a third day in the fiercest anti-government demonstrations in years.
The din of car horns and residents banging pots and pans from balconies in support of the protests has been resonating across neighbourhoods in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, and the capital, Ankara, late into the night.
For much of Sunday, the atmosphere in Istanbul's Taksim Square was festive, with some people chanting for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, to resign and others dancing. There was little obvious police presence.
But in the nearby Besiktas neighbourhood, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to keep crowds away from Erdogan's office in Dolmabahce Palace, a former Ottoman residence on the shores of the Bosphorus.
There were similar scenes in Ankara's main Kizilar Square, with police raiding a shopping complex in the city's centre and detaining several hundred.
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from near Erdogan's office in Istanbul late on Sunday night, said: "The demonstrators took a mechanical digger and used it to break through police lines, right up to a government building. They took large trucks as well, one of which was filled with paving stones.
"But the police came back and redoubled their efforts to contain them, pushing the protesters back. I have not seen any evidence of live fire, but some have been seriously injured by gas canisters fired at them."
Muammer Guler, Turkey's interior minister, said on Sunday there had been more than 200 demonstrations in 67 cities around the country, according to the Hurriyet newspaper.
A doctors' union in Ankara said that more than 400 civilians were injured there including some with serious head injuries.
Rights groups have complained about what Amnesty International, the UK-based rights organisation, called a "disgraceful" heavy-handed response by police to the demonstrations.
The unrest erupted on Friday when trees were torn down at a park in Istanbul's main Taksim Square under government plans to redevelop the area, but widened into a broad show of defiance against the governing, Islamist-rooted AK Party.
In comments on Sunday, Erdogan accused the main secular opposition party of inciting the crowds, whom he called "a few looters", and said the protests were aimed at depriving the AK Party of votes as elections begin next year.
He renewed his calls for an end to the disturbances, saying: "If you love this country, if you love Istanbul, do not fall for these games."
Erdogan said the plans to remake Taksim Square, long a rallying point for mass demonstrations, would go ahead, including the construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
He said the protests had nothing to do with the plans.
"It's entirely ideological," he said in an interview broadcast on Turkish television.
"The main opposition party which is making resistance calls on every street is provoking these protests ... This is about my ruling party, myself and the looming municipal elections in Istanbul and efforts to make the AK Party lose votes here."
Turkey is due to hold local and presidential elections next year in which Erdogan is expected to stand, followed by parliamentary polls in 2015.
Erdogan's policies blamed
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) denied orchestrating the unrest, blaming Erdogan's policies.
"Today the people on the street across Turkey are not exclusively from the CHP, but from all ideologies and from all parties," Mehmet Akif Hamzacebi, a senior party member, said.
"What Erdogan has to do is not to blame CHP but draw the necessary lessons from what happened."
The protests, started by a small group of environmental campaigners, expanded when police used force to eject them from the park on Taksim Square.
As word spread online, the demonstrations drew in a wide range of people of all ages from across the political and social spectrum.
The ferocity of the police response in Istanbul shocked Turks, as well as tourists caught up in the unrest in one of the world's most visited destinations.
It has drawn rebukes from the US, EU and international rights groups.
Helicopters fired tear gas canisters into residential neighbourhoods and police used tear gas to try to smoke people out of buildings.
Footage on YouTube showed one protester being hit by an armoured police lorry as it charged a barricade.
Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its once crisis-prone economy into the fastest-growing in Europe.
He remains by far Turkey's most popular politician, but critics point to what they see as his authoritarianism and religiously conservative meddling in private lives in the secular republic.
Tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection in recent weeks have also provoked protests.
Concern that government policy is allowing Turkey to be dragged into the conflict in neighbouring Syria by the West has also led to peaceful demonstrations.
Erdogan, appearing on Sunday on television for the fourth time in less than 36 hours, justified the restrictions on alcohol as for the good of people's health.
"I want them to know that I want these [restrictions] for the sake of their health ... Whoever drinks alcohol is an alcoholic," he said.
Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister, warned in a Twitter message: "The continuation of these protests ... will bring no benefits but will harm the reputation of our country which is admired both in the region and the world."
Guler, the interior minister, estimated the cost at more than 20 million Turkish liras ($10m).
(FOX) 31 May 2013 -A staggering 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith, according to the Vatican -- and several human rights groups claim such anti-Christian violence is on the rise in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt.
(BBC) 28 May 2013 - The leader of the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group fighting in Syria, has pledged allegiance to the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said the group's behaviour in Syria would not change as a result.
Al-Nusra claims to be have carried out many suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks against state targets.
On Tuesday, al-Qaeda in Iraq announced a merger with al-Nusra, but Mr Jawlani said he had not been consulted on this.
Al-Nusra has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the US.
Debates among Western leaders over whether to arm Syria's rebels have often raised the concern of weapons ending up in the hands of groups such as al-Nusra.
"The sons of al-Nusra Front pledge allegiance to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri," Mr Jawlani said in a recording released on Wednesday.
But Mr Jawlani said al-Nusra had not been consulted on the merger with al-Qaeda in Iraq and insisted his group would not change its stance in Syria.
The al-Nusra statement assured Syrians that the "good behaviour" they had experienced from the front on the ground would continue unchanged, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from neighbouring Lebanon.
Mr Jawlani said that the oath of allegiance to Zawahiri "will not change anything in its policies", our correspondent adds.Controversial ties
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State in Iraq, which is the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda, had said on Tuesday that his group would be joining with al-Nusra under the name The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
But Mr Jawlani said he only heard about the announcement from media and had no prior knowledge of it.
Even though Mr Jawlani said in the statement that al-Nusra had received help from the Islamic State in Iraq group, correspondents say al-Nusra clearly does not want to highlight those ties.
Al-Nusra is seen as trying to win the support of the population in rebel-held areas, and also to keep the goodwill of the other opposition groups who do not want to be associated with al-Qaeda.
Spokesmen for the Free Syrian Army, considered the main armed opposition group in Syria, reacted to Wednesday's statement by distancing themselves from al-Nusra.
"We don't support the ideology of al-Nusra," FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad told the AFP news agency.
"There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra," Mr Meqdad went on, while admitting that there had been co-operation between FSA brigades and al-Nusra on "certain operations".
Also on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the crisis in Syria will be at the "top of the agenda" when G8 foreign ministers meet in London this week.
Activist groups reported that more than 70 people had died in violence in Syria on Wednesday. More than 60,000 people are estimated to have died since the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
(Aljazeera) 28 May 2013 - Far-right protesters marched through the streets of central London chanting anti-Muslim slogans as part of the backlash of the killing of a British soldier last week.
Anti-Islamic sentiment has been spreading through the UK after 25-year-old Lee Rigby was hacked to death in a south London street by two men claiming religious motivations for the murder.
About a thousand protesters, spurred on by leaders of the far-right English Defence League, gathered in London shouting slogans such as "Muslim killers, off our streets."
In the tense, but largely peaceful demonstration, marchers rallied outside Prime Minister David Cameron's residence waving placards and shouting anti-Islamic obscenities.
"Islamic extremism is probably the number one threat to Britain," one protester, Ben Gates, said.
Since Rigby's death, mosques have been attacked and two men were arrested overnight on Sunday for throwing firebombs at an Islamic cultural centre in Grimsby, in the northeast of England.
'Very aggressive attacks'
Faith Matters, a charity working to defuse religious tensions, said it had registered a spike in reports of Islamophobic attacks in calls to its hotline, describing incidents as "very focused, very aggressive attacks".
Nearly 2,000 people marched at a similar demonstration in the northern city of Newcastle on Saturday.
As anti-racist groups warned there could be more reprisals, Cameron came under intense pressure on Monday for going on holiday, with pictures of him relaxing in Ibiza prompting newspapers to question his leadership at a time of unease.
Two war memorials in London were vandalised with red graffiti overnight, including the word 'Islam' spray-painted onto one monument.
In an attempt to counter the right-wing rally, anti-fascist group Unite Against Racism held its own demonstration nearby but was heavily outnumbered by EDL protesters.
A handful of far-right demonstrators threw bottles and coins at the anti-fascist rally. Police vans and officers blocked the two groups from approaching each other.
"They are a minority and a very scary growing minority," an anti-EDL protester who gave her name as Clara said. "I feel
ashamed to be a Londoner today. This is disgusting."
(WN) 27 May 2013 - Islamic militants launched a "reign of terror" against Christians in the Central African Republic after Seleka rebels took control of the country in a March 24 coup.
Armed with a "hit list" of pastors and places of worship, Seleka rebels systematically looted church property, even seizing monies from collection plates.
This month, Human Rights Watch released a report citing severe violations committed by the Seleka rebels against civilians that involved rape, pillage and execution, including the death of a church leader after the rebels fired upon a funeral procession on the Ngaragba Bridge in Bangui on April 13.
As a result, many Christians have fled into the countryside: more than 200,000 people were displaced while nearly 50,000 others crossed CAR's borders into neighboring nations, according to BarnabasAid.
Last week, UN envoy Margaret Vogt urged the Security Council to debate deploying a security force to contain the anarchy in CAR.
Vogt said there was a "total disregard for international law, as elements of Seleka turn their vengeance against the population".
(Aljazeera) 27 May 2013 - Members of the ultra-right National Front have led dozens of protesters in a march against the Greek government's plans to build the first state-funded mosque in Athens, the capital.
The government has budgeted about one million euros ($1.3m) to build the mosque at a reduced price because of the country's economic crisis, which has delayed the process. However, construction was expected to begin next year.
The protesters, including a woman dressed in nun's clothing, waved Greek flags at the rally on Sunday as they shouted: "We don't want sharia, we want Greece and Orthodoxy" and "No to mosques, give money to the schools."
Emmanouil Konstas, the National Front general secretary, said that plans to build the religious centre were unacceptable and that the government should refrain from catering to the religious needs of immigrants while the country faced an economic crisis.
"It is unacceptable in every way," Konstas said.
"The religious needs of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants shouldn't be a matter of concern for the government; they should be deported since they came here illegally. And for the rest who are here legally, there are enough places for them to pray,” Konstas said.
"Also, during this harsh economic crisis, it is unacceptable for so much money to be spent on the building of a mosque."
Athens is the only European Union capital without an official Islamic mosque or cemetery.
Local residents who had joined the demonstration said that they were scared of Muslims coming into their working-class neighbourhood.
Some Athens citizens have blamed immigrants they say have entered the Mediterranean nation illegally for crime in their neighbourhoods.
"I am scared because many things have happened here in the area with the Muslims and secondly, why are they building it here and not in the rich neighbourhoods of Athens? Where they think we are racists and they are okay," said 45-year-old Smaragda Taladianou, who has lived at the neighbourhood all her life and attended the protest.
"They can build it but we will tear it down," said another local resident, 49-year-old Chrysoula.
The only mosque in Greece exists in the northern border town of Thrace, near Turkey, where another Muslim community of about 100,000 live.
More than 100 makeshift mosques are found in basements around the greater Athens region.
Without an official mosque for the Muslim population prayer must be held in these spaces or in sports stadiums during holidays.
(EN) 27 May 2013 - The defeat of the Sudanese army in a battle with rebel forces last week has prompted concern that the government will retaliate by increasing its already intense pressure on the country's minority Christians.
The rebel army is made up of groups, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), factions which Sudan's President Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said are Christian, World News Net Daily has reported.
However, Stark said this portrayal of the rebels is not true.William Stark, an Africa specialist for International Christian Concern (ICC), told WND that Bahir has attempted to paint the rebels as Christian troublemakers.
"In Sudan, the SPLA-N situation is primarily a political conflict that has some religious elements," he said.
SRF consists of three rebel groups from Darfur, a region where there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths and close to three million people displaced due to fighting according to human rights organizations.
SPLA-N sided with rebels from the south during the civil war, which began in 1983 and ended in a peace agreement in 2005.
Despite the flimsy connection with Christianity, Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dysktra said that the Sudanese government is calling for a war against those who do not believe in Islam, or a jihad and turning the teeth of its attacks on Christians, WND reported.The agreement resulted in the creation in 2011 of landlocked South Sudan, the world's newest nation that is made up mainly of black Africans who are either Christians or followers of tradional African religions.
In a press release Dykstra said, "Since the Sudan Revolutionary Front's successful taking of Um Rawaba in North Kordofan, the government of Sudan has embarked on the mobilization of people and have called for support to jihad."
The government reportedly lost 400 soldiers in its unsuccessful attempt to retake Um Rawaba. In addition, 40,000 people have fled the fighting in central Sudan, Reuters news agency has reported.
Open Doors says the rebel victory comes as the pressure on Christians in Sudan has increased in recent months.
Churches have been closed and foreign workers accused of proselytizing expelled.
Most recently, an Islamic leader in Sudan has blasted the government for going soft on Christians, according to Mission Network News (MNN).
Ammar Saleh, the chairman of the Islamic Center for Preaching and Comparative Studies, called on the government to take action against what he called "Christianization", the Sudan Tribune newspaper reported.
Saleh claims that 109 people have converted from Islam to Christianity in Khartoum, and says that when compared to the efforts of Christian missionaries, the government's actions have been timid.
Dykstra told MNN that Saleh's remarks "come as no surprise".
"This is rhetoric we have been hearing quite a bit lately", he said. "It's just more of the same."
Dykstra noted that there is a "good news-bad news" factor to Saleh's comments. The bad news, he said, is that Saleh is calling for a crackdown on Christian missionaries.
The good news is that many people are coming to Christ, he said, although Dykstra noted that he does not know where Saleh got his statistics concerning those who had become Christians.
In any case, Dystra said, "It seems like the Church in Khartoum can expect renewed scrutiny and accompanying pressure."
Stark said that ever since South Sudan and Sudan officially split in July, 2011, the government has been seeking to become more Islamic.
"Shortly after the separation of the two countries, President Al-Bashir told his supporters that he would make sure that Sharia was an influential part of the new government," he said.
Bashir is the first sitting head of State to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. The ICC has issued a warrant for his arrest, charging him with genocide.
He is accused of directing a campaign to destroy ethnic groups in Darfur, an area the size of France inhabited mainly by black Africans rather than people of Arabic descent .
More recently, Bashir has been allegedly persecuting Christian Nubians living in the mountains of Sudan.
(Aljazeera) 24 May 2013 - President Barack Obama has defended his country's controversial drone attacks as legal, effective and a necessary tool in an evolving US counterterrorism policy.
But addressing an audience at the National Defence University on Thursday, he acknowledged the targeted strikes are no "cure-all" and said he is haunted by the civilians unintentionally killed.
Obama framed his speech as an attempt to redefine the nature and scope of terror threats facing the US, noting the weakening of al-Qaeda and the impending end of the US war in Afghanistan.
"So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and the scope of the struggle, or else it will define us," said Obama, saying that threats to diplomatic facilities must be dealt with as well as "homegrown extremists".
His speech came a day after his administration revealed for the first time that a fourth American citizen had been killed in secretive drone strikes abroad.
Guantanamo Bay a 'glaring exception
The speech also reaffirmed Obama's 2008 campaign promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects have been held.
Obama said the US is is committed to "capturing terrorist suspects" and prosecuting them, but that "The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay".
"When I ran for president the first time, John McCain supported closing Gitmo. No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States," said Obama.
"Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offences, including some who are more dangerous than most Gitmo detainees....there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened," said the president, who was heckled by a person in the audience on the issue of forcefeeding hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Indeed, he was interrupted repeatedly by a woman who shouted "I love my country, I love the rule of law. The drones are making us less safe".
The White House said on Wednesday that Obama's speech coincided with the signing of new "presidential policy guidance'' on when the US can use drone strikes.
Drafts of the guidance reviewed by counterterrorism officials gave control of drone strikes outside Pakistan and Yemen to the US military, enshrining into policy what is already common practice, according to two US officials briefed on the proposed changes.
Obama has pledged to be more open with the public about the scope of the drone strikes. But a growing number of legislators in Congress are seeking to limit US authorities that support the deadly drone strikes, which have targeted a wider range of threats than initially anticipated.
"America cannot take strikes wherever we choose," said Obama, saying that such strikes "save lives."
He acknowledged civilian deaths as "a hard fact" that will "haunt us as long as we live."
The speech comes amid growing impatience in Congress with the sweeping authority it gave the president after the September 11, 2001, attacks in light of the targeting of suspected terrorists with lethal drone strikes.
Republicans and Democrats fear that they have given the president a blank check for using military force worldwide.
Shifting the responsibility of some of the drone programme from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military has given Congress greater oversight of the secretive programme and members say they want even more.
Under the draft guidance, the CIA drone programme would remain up and running, to target al-Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas, with US troops drawing down in Afghanistan and concern rising that al-Qaeda might return in greater numbers to the region.
The military and the CIA currently work side by side in Yemen, with the CIA flying its drones over the northern region out of a covert base in Saudi Arabia, and the military flying its unmanned aerial vehicles from Djibouti.
(MD) 23 May 2013 - Today in Woolwich, England, a man reported to be a British soldier was cut down by two Anglo-African Muslims wielding knives and a machete. One of the killers, speaking in a home-grown English accent, is heard on video to say:
"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don't care about you."
Eyewitnesses said that the victim had been wearing a 'Help for Heroes' t-shirt. Help for Heroes is a charity to help British soldiers wounded in current conflicts.
Eyewitnesses also reported that the killers attempted to behead the soldier, and that they asked bystanders to call the police, and moved towards the police as if to attack them, as soon as they appeared.
While some said the killers were crazed, the contrary seems to be the case. They appear to have been acting in accordance with a theologically determined logic which can be understood on the basis of Islamic teachings. In the midst of perpetrating this carnage, they found time, calmly and clearly, to explain their motivations on camera.
The killer captured on video was referencing passages from Islamic sacred texts. "We must fight them as they fight us" is a reference to a phrase found repeatedly in the Koran:
"fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you ... And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for fitnah (oppression, persecution) is worse than slaughter; ... if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. " (Sura 2:190-9)
"fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together" (Sura 9:36)
"Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory" (Sura 22:39)
The Arabic word for 'fight' used in the Koran in these passages is qātilū which literally means fighting to kill. (See here for an explanation of the meaning of Sura 2:190-91, a passage used by Muslim jurists to justify killing.)
The reference 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' is also from the Koran (although ultimately borrowed from several passages in the Mosaic law):
And We prescribed for them therein: The life for the life, and the eye for the eye, and the nose for the nose, and the ear for the ear, and the tooth for the tooth, and for wounds retaliation. (Sura 5:54)
The Muslim killers here are invoking a religious ruling that it is permissible to fight and kill people who wage war against Muslims. As Bin Ladin put it in his letter to the American people:
"It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge."
The belief which seems to underly the Woolwich attack is that because the British government is fighting a war against Muslims in Muslim lands, it is therefore legitimate for Muslims to wage jihad against the British. British people, who voted the government into power, are also considered to be personally culpable, which is why they 'will never be safe' and are told to 'remove your government'.
The killer's language is strikingly reminiscent of Bin Ladin's November 2002 letter to the American people, in which he not only spoke of 'removal' of governments (in Muslim lands), but also explained that it was legitimate to attack American civilians because they are the ones who voted their government into power:
"... the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. ... The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want. ... the American army is part of the American people. ... This is why the American people cannot be not innocent of all the crimes committed by the Americans and Jews against us. ... Allah, the Almighty, legislated the permission and the option to take revenge. Thus, if we are attacked, then we have the right to attack back. ... whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs.
The phrase 'you people will never be safe' is reminiscent of Muhammad's instruction to his followers to invite non-Muslims to Islam by telling them aslim taslam "Accept Islam and you will be safe" (see here). The implication is that non-Muslims are not safe because their blood and property can be taken until they convert. Thus Muhammad said to his cousin Ali, on the eve of the attack against the Jews of Khaibar:
"Fight (qātilū) until they bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger [i.e. until they convert to Islam] and when they do that, then their blood and their riches are inviolable [safe] from your hands." (Sahih Muslim. Book of the Merits of the Companions of the Holy Prophet 4:29:5917).
It seems the killers desired martyrdom in accordance with their beliefs, because they asked bystanders to call the police and immediately moved to attack the police when they arrived on the scene.
This slaughter on the streets of Woolwich has all the hallmarks of a theologically motivated attack, and keys to understand it can be found in the Qur'an and the teachings of Muhammad.
Whether the views adopted by the killers are 'legitimate' interpretations of the Koran and Muhammad's teachings may be disputed. What cannot be disputed is the source where they found their inspiration.
(Aljazeera) 22 May 2013 -Iran's electoral watchdog has barred former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a close aide to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running in the June 14 presidential election, state media has reported.
Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei were disqualified by the Guardian Council which approved a list of eight candidates announced by the interior ministry late on Tuesday, Fars news agency reported.
There have been wide speculations that Mashaei would be excluded from the list. But not Rafsanjani, a two-term president and current head of the Expediency Council, a position appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.
Their exclusion from the June 14 presidential ballot gives establishment-friendly candidates a clear path to succeed Ahmadinejad, who has lost favour with the ruling clerics after years of power struggles.
It also pushes moderate and opposition voices further to the margins as Iran's leadership faces critical challenges such as international sanctions and talks with world powers over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Rafsanjani or Mashaei did not immediately comment on the decision.
|Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, is also running for president.|
The official ballot list, announced on state TV, followed a nearly six-hour delay in which the names were kept under wraps.
That raised speculation that authorities allowed some time for appeals by the blackballed candidates and their backers to Khamenei, who has final say in all matters.
Other candidates who were approved were Hassan Rowhani, a close Rafsanjani ally, and Ali-Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister.
Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran since 2005, is also included in the list, as well as Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, the speaker of parliament, and Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who came third in the 2009 presidential election.
Female candidates excluded
All female candidates were also excluded.
|Presidential candidate Ali Akbar Velayati once served as Iran's foreign minister.|
On Thursday last week, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a member of election watchdog, said women cannot be presidential candidates, effectively killing the largely symbolic bids by about 30 women seeking the presidency.
Yazdi said that the "law does not approve'' of a woman in the presidency and a woman on the ballot is "not allowed".
A total of 686 people had registered to replace Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for a third mandate because of term limits.
Any of the choices would create a possibly seamless front between the ruling clerics and presidency after years of political turmoil under Ahmadinejad, who tried to challenge the theocracy's vast powers to make all major decisions and set key policies.
Iran's presidency, meanwhile, is expected to convey the ruling clerics' views on the world stage and not set its own diplomatic agenda.
While the election is not expected to bring major shifts in Iran's position on its nuclear programme - which Tehran insists is peaceful despite Western fears it could lead to atomic weapons - it could open opportunities to renew stalled talks with a six-nation group that includes the US.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said Iran's nuclear stance will "not change either before or after the election".
(BNL) 21 May 2013 - Minority Christians were among those suffering Sunday, May 19, after at least 140 people died during four consecutive days of violence in Iraq, raising fears that sectarian conflicts could lead the troubled Middle East nation into civil war.
(IOL) 20 May 2013 - Maiduguri/Yola, Nigeria - Nigerian forces attacked Islamist strongholds in the north-east on Thursday, security sources said as an offensive got under way to wrest back territory from increasingly well-armed Boko Haram insurgents.
Soldiers raided areas in the Sambisa Game Reserve, a remote savannah of about 500 square kilometres in Borno state where Islamists have established bases, said two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. They gave no further details.
Preparing for possible further action across three frontier states where President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, the armed forces also deployed jet fighters and helicopter gunships to the region.
Rights groups said they feared for the safety of civilians from combatants on both sides, but Jonathan's move enjoys widespread public support after more than three years of trying to contain the insurgency without notable success.
It follows an upsurge in violence against government and Christian targets in the north-east by Islamists who want an Islamic state in Nigeria. Africa's most populous nation's 170 million people are split evenly between Christians, who dominate in the south, and Muslims, who are the majority in the north.
Little detail was available from Sambisa. Nigerian forces have attacked Islamist bases in the area of the game reserve before, as recently as February, to rout militants seen as the biggest security threat to Africa's top energy producer.
The emergency affects the semi-desert states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which variously border Niger, Chad and Cameroon and cover about 150 000 square kilometres - an area similar to England or Illinois, but with a population of only 10 million.
A Reuters reporter saw two Alpha light attack jets land at Yola in Adamawa state. Air Force spokesman Air Commodore Yusuf Anas confirmed that “air assets”, also including helicopter gunships, had been sent to support ground troops. A military source said there could be air strikes on Islamist bases.
In the 1980s, military leaders used air power to put down religiously inspired protests during a crackdown that left some 5 000 people dead, according to state media at the time.
Telephone connections to Borno and Yobe were almost completely cut on Thursday. In Adamawa, where a new, 12-hour overnight curfew was declared - the other two states were already under curfew - some cautiously welcomed the offensive.
“This state has been under the control of gunmen for so long, it's been long overdue,” said Audu John, a market trader.
But another man, Ahmed Usman, feared civilians would become targets for killings or torture by a military notorious for abuses. His family was evacuating as soon as possible, he said.
The Islamist insurgency has cost thousands of lives since it began in 2009, when a crackdown killed 800 people, including Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody.
Because it has mostly happened far from economic centres such as the commercial hub Lagos or political capital Abuja - and because it is hundreds of miles away from oilfields in the southeast - it has not been a priority for the establishment.
The offensive ordered by Jonathan, a southern Christian, may answer critics who had accused him of failing to address the crisis: “The federal government has come to terms with the bleak reality that what we are facing is ... terrorism in its most horrific form,” the Punch newspaper said in an editorial.
“Nigeria is teetering on the precipice of disintegration.
“It is time to act decisively.”
But the United States expressed concern about a worsening “cycle of violence” on Wednesday, a view echoed by human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Thursday.
Both have documented cases of abuses by Nigerian forces, including summary executions and random shootings.
At Human Rights Watch, Eric Guttschuss said: “If the military continues its practice of targeting civilians, there is a risk of massive abuses during this offensive.” - Reuters
(Aljazeera) 17 May 2013 - Amman, Jordan - Al-Zaatari refugee camp near Jordan's northern border with Syria is the second largest refugee camp in the world. On days when violence in Syria worsens, between 2,000-4,000 Syrians flood into Zaatari, and the stories they tell are horrific.
"Things are happening in Syria that our minds couldn't even imagine," 65-year-old Nada Salim Abdullah, who has been in the camp four months, told Al Jazeera. "People were being captured and they were slaughtering them like chickens."
Abdullah, who fled his home in Deraa with his family, spoke of atrocities committed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Other refugees told Al Jazeera of atrocities carried out by opposition forces.
Nearly half a million Syrian refugees have crossed into Jordan since the conflict began, and according to Jordan's interior ministry, the Zaatari camp is now the fifth largest population centre in the country.
|Jordan's Hussein Majali (left) and UNHCR's Andrew Harper|
(2nd left) said the country needed more help
[Dahr Jamail/Al Jazeera]
If the trend of violence in Syria generating this number of refugees continues, Zaatari will become the largest refugee camp on Earth by the end of the year.Dadaab, near the Somali border in Kenya, is often referred to as currently being the largest, and is estimated to be hosting nearly 500,000 refugees.
"We need the UN's assistance, and we need it immediately," Jordanian Minister of Interior Hussein Majali told Al Jazeera at a press conference.
Majali, was speaking alongside UNHCR head Andrew Harper, and had nothing but high praise for the UN's efforts, but said more still needed to be done.
"We could see two million refugees in Jordan by the end of the year," Majali added. "This crisis is affecting Jordan on every level, healthcare, economically, education, all our sectors are being stressed."
Meanwhile, the rate of killing in the Syrian conflict has reached a new high.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an average of 196 people died each day in April, which is an increase from 190 per day in March.
The opposition group said there had been an increase in civilian deaths, as nearly half of the nearly 6,000 people killed last month were civilians.
Meanwhile, the refugee population of Zaatari continues to grow - with new refugees arriving from both outside and inside the camp.
"Sources tell us there are now up to 66 births daily inside Zaatari," Majali added.
Jordan already has a large refugee population. Aside from more than 300,000 Palestinians living in refugee camps here, many Iraqis remain in Jordan as a result of the US-led invasion and occupation of their country.
|Saleh al-Kilani said Jordan was desperate for more international|
support in the refugee crisis [Dahr Jamail/Al Jazeera]
According to the refugee affairs coordinator for Jordan's ministry of interior, Saleh al-Kilani, his country already hosted 750,000 refugees before the Syrian conflict began, and now has more than 1,250,000.
"53,000 refugees entered here in April alone," Kilani told Al Jazeera. "We also have thousands of what we call double refugees, which are Palestinian refugees who were in Syria who had to come here, in addition to Iraqi refugees in Syria who had to flee here."
Kilani said the refugee crisis is costing the Jordanian government 2,500 Jordanian Dinars (approximately $3,500) per refugee per year, and his government has already spent $826 million on the current crisis.
"We never turn any refugee away, but we've not been fully compensated by the international community for these costs," he added.
While Jordan's policy of welcoming Syrian refugees is commended by the international community, the government here has its critics as well.
Jordan as proxy
"The Jordanian government is under immense pressure from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This coupled with the economic problems here has pressured Jordan to pursue policies that are in line with the Gulf states, the Americans, and the West," Jordanian writer and political analyst Labib Kamhawi told Al Jazeera.
Kamhawi believes that the Jordanian government has intentionally "overblown" the refugee figures in order to gain sympathy in the West "towards policies aimed to be militarily involved and get rid of Assad".
"The Gulf states want to show that Syrians are being ravaged and killed by their own regime and they had to run away," he said. "And the west was trying to address the human rights emotions to create a case against Assad. Meanwhile, the Jordanian regime has an interest in overblown figures to attract more aid money to Jordan."
With the Syrian conflict in its third year, its implications have been increasingly felt across the region.
Chuck Hagel, US defence secretary, says Washington is deploying up to 200 troops to Jordan with the aim to contain the violence on the Syrian border. He also spoke of the possibility of setting up a buffer zone across the area.
The Jordanian government says that designating a safe corridor in the Syrian province of Daraa would help reduce the growing number of refugees pouring into Jordan. The area could provide shelter and protection for displaced Syrians and a base for the opposition. But some people say it could also be used to launch an international military intervention.
Some analysts are convinced that if the buffer zone had not been Washington's idea, Jordanian officials would not be talking about it.
"It will be part of a wider plan to control Syria, especially after the collapse of the regime, because the US does not make such decisions based on humanitarian needs of Syrians or to protect the Syrians," Lamis Andoni, a writer and analyst, told Al Jazeera. "It wants to make sure that an area that close to Israel is under control."
"We have to understand that the first priority for the West and the US is the well-being and security of Israel. Jordan is viewed by the Israelis as an extension of their national security. What happens to and in Jordan is thus seen as a matter of national security for Israel. So the Jordanian government has always held its special relationship with Israel as something sacred, and they will not allow others to influence this. Jordan is keen not to upset Israel."
Kamhawi believes that if Jordan were ever pressured into taking a position, it would never take a position that would jeopardise its relationship with Israel, "even if it was negative for the Syrian people".
For solutions to Jordan's dilemma, he offered several.
"Jordan should not allow any state to use Jordanian land or skies to attack Syria in any way," Kamhawi said, alluding to the recent Israeli air strikes in Syria. "Second, it should not also be part of general policies aimed towards fuelling this civil war in Syria. Third, it should work more positively towards creating a peaceful platform to reach a peaceful settlement for the Syrian crisis, and not leave it like this - draining the country into partitioning it or killing and destroying everything there, which is happening now."
But as things are now, Kamhawi, like many other analysts, doesn't see any of these solutions coming to pass. Kamhawi sees the conflict in Syria as what could be a pre-cursor for a later attack against Iran.
"Why did the Americans want to change Assad? He was a good partner with the Israelis. The Golan Heights, it was quiet for 40 years. But I think that the US could not attack Iran directly, so I think they want to dismantle the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance that is helping Iran, and by doing so they think Iran will be isolated. For every major event that happens in this region, one must always look towards Israel for the reason."
|Save the Children runs programmes to help thousands of Syrian|
children each day [Dahr Jamail/Al Jazeera]
"So it's a proxy war, in preparation for a bigger war against Iran," he continued. "They [Israel and the West] are reorganising the region. Not to forget the immensediscovery of gas in the Mediterranean off the Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese coasts. So this area is gaining more strategic importance than anytime before."
Meanwhile, the violence in Syria continues each day, and the refugees continue to flow into Jordan.
Most of the world's major refugee NGOs and organisations now operate in the ever-expanding Zaatari camp.
While the crisis is at present overwhelming, one of the few silver linings can be found in some of the programmes run by Save the Children.
"We have classrooms for the kids, and we assist via psycho-social support for kids through the parents," Save the Children's Dima Hunaiti told Al Jazeera. "We help teach the parents how to deal with their children under these traumatic circumstances."
The NGO currently serves roughly 3,300 children daily across their facilities here, and offers children a safe environment to spend time, learn, play, and express their feelings.
However, even Hunaiti would be quick to admit that more needs to be done, given that estimates show that, of the approximately 160,000 total refugees in the camp, at least 60 per cent of them are under the age of 18.
|A Syrian girl draws in a Save the Children programme.|
The script under the crying eyes reads Syria'
[Dahr Jamail/Al Jazeera]
"We were the first here at the camp," she added. "We hire Syrian refugees to work in the kindergarten, as guards, and in our multi-activity centres. All this is good, yet the camp still needs more water, and better solutions for the latrines and washrooms. These are ongoing issues."
One of the Syrian volunteers, who asked to be referred to as "Maher", told Al Jazeera that he was grateful for the opportunity to work with the NGO.
"I was in a very bad psychological situation before," he said. "But this has helped my mood. But it's difficult to see the kids who are often so tired, because they are always busy hauling water for their families."
And, daily, more families and children are coming into the camp, desperate for assistance and support.
The stories refugees are telling of what was happening in Syria when they fled have many similarities.
"We ran from the random shelling," 39-year-old Ali told Al Jazeera. He and his family, from southern Syria, left their farm when the fighting broke out around them.
|At least 60 percent of Zaatari camp residents are under 18|
[Dahr Jamail/Al Jazeera]
"We've been here six months now, and all we want to do is have security and to be able to go back to our homes."
Most refugees were asking for more water, more food, and solutions to the hygiene problems and water-borne disease problems within the camp.
A young girl named Delaa, whose skin was sunburned, politely asked for sun cream. While she would not complain about the aforementioned problems, her understatement about her situation spoke volumes.
When asked why she and her family fled, she replied: "We ran from the shelling on our houses. It was not good. It's not good here either. I just want to sit in my own home in safety and security."
Like most of the refugees Al Jazeera spoke with, Abdullah and his family from Deraa also just wanr to be able to return home.
"We only want peace," he said. "But the whole world now seems involved in this conflict."
(Aljazeera) 16 May 2013 - Hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh and neighbouring Myanmar have been evacuated, as Cyclone Mahasen approached one of the poorest countries in Asia with winds of around 100km per hour.
The United Nations said that more than 4.1 million people could be at risk from the cyclone, which started crossing the country's low-lying coast on Thursday.
Mahasen first hit Khepupara on on the southern coast and has started bearing down on the ports of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar.
Eyewitnesses told the Reuters news agency low-lying coastal areas were covered in waist-deep water as the storm crossed and trees were uprooted and houses damaged. Two people were reported killed, one crushed by a falling tree and another as he made his way to a shelter.
Bangladesh evacuated more than 700,000 people living in low-lying areas to thousands of cyclone shelters on Wednesday, while Myanmar announced plans to relocate about 166,000 people on its north-west coast.
The port in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong and the airport in Cox's Bazar were closed on Wednesday as the storm was likely to intensify and bring a storm surge of up to 2.1 metres, authorities said.
The country has raised its storm warning to seven, on a scale with a maximum of 10.
The storm has already killed at least seven people and displaced thousands in Sri Lanka as it tracked across the Bay of Bengal towards Bangladesh.
However, in Myanmar's state of Rakhine, many Muslim Rohingya made homeless by communal bloodshed last year said they were too scared to move, reflecting their deep mistrust of the authorities and of local Buddhists.
"We could die here, we have no place to go," said Yu Sut Taw, a Muslim man living in a camp on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe, one of several in Rakhine which are home to a total of about 140,000 displaced persons.
AFP reporters who visited two camps on Wednesday saw few signs that a mass evacuation had begun.
Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the region last year left about 200 people dead and whole neighbourhoods burned to the ground.
The danger faced by those trying to flee was underlined on Monday when 58 Rohingya were left missing after their boat capsized as they tried to escape by sea to higher ground along the coast.
About 30 million of Bangladesh's 153 million people live along the coast.
Mohammed Kamruzzaman, a government magistrate in charge of a Rohingya camp in the Bangladeshi town of Cox's Bazaar, said they used loudspeakers to warn people of the impending danger.
"We've also stockpiled dry food, kept medical teams and ambulances on standby and shifted the sick and pregnant women from the camps to hospitals," he said.
In Chittagong's export processing zone, all factories had been ordered closed as the cyclone approaches, Al Jazeera's Nicolas Haque reported.
Operations at the local airports in Chittagong and Cox Bazar's were suspended.
Local officials said 113 medical teams had been mobilised to deal with the impact of the cyclone and leave had been cancelled for all government employees.
Experts said Bangladesh was better prepared to handle cyclones than authorities across the border in Rakhine, where tens of thousands of Rohingya made homeless by communal unrest last year languished in flood-prone camps.
(Aljazeera) 15 May 2013 - Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, has imposed a "state of emergency" in three states in an attempt to curb the increasingly violent attacks by armed group Boko Haram, saying the level of violence called for "extraordinary measures".
The decision comes after a spate of attacks on security forces and government targets by Boko Haram in its northeast stronghold this month.
In a televised statement on Tuesday, the president said, "I hereby declare a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states."
Jonathan said more troops would "immediately" be deployed to the areas.
He made a similar move in January 2012 following a spate of Boko Haram attacks, but in that case the decree only applied to specific local government areas in four states.
Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Nigeria said the president's declaration was being made "to restore public safety and security".
"This move does to some extent fly in the face of much of the rhetoric we have been hearing about the government's efforts to broker a peace deal with Boko Haram," our correspondent said.
"They have been saying in the last few weeks that things are going well, that many Boko Haram fighters have surrendered, but clearly this decision to declare a state of emergency in these states and to send more troops there does seem to bring the success that the government have been talking about in to question."
'Declaration of war'
In seeking to impose the measure across a whole state, Jonathan must first secure the approval of Nigerian legislators, which he pledged to do.
The enhanced powers that come with the measure are unclear.
When former president Olusegun Obasanjo invoked the measure twice in 2004 and 2006, he removed democratically elected governors and installed appointed administrators to manage the states, both former military officers.
Jonathan vowed that he would not employ that measure.
"The governors and other political office holders in the affected states will continue to discharge their constitutional responsibilities," he said.
Boko Haram, an armed group, has been fighting the government aimed at creating an Islamic state in the country's mainly Muslim north, and the resulting violence has cost about 3,600 lives since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
But a series of recent brazen attacks have raised concerns that fighters have become emboldened, with the Nigerian president saying that the latest violence amounted to "a declaration of war".
(Fox) 08 May 2013 - Religious freedom is in short supply in the Middle East, according to the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has issued a report finding Iran chief among the nations where spiritual beliefs can bring prison sentences or worse.
(AsiaNews) 07 May 2013 - At least 22 people were killed in Bangladesh in clashes between police and hundreds of thousands of Islamists. Since late yesterday afternoon until this morning, supporters of the fundamentalist group Hefajat-e-Islam marched through the streets of Dhaka, the capital, demanding the introduction of a law against blasphemy. On arriving in the city center they engaged in a real urban warfare with the police: the Islamic extremists attacked with machetes, bricks and stones at police who responded by firing tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.
So far, 11 bodies have been brought to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. They include many Islamic militants and a policeman, wounded in the head with a machete. The other 11 victims were transferred to three clinics close to the epicenter of the clashes.
It all started yesterday afternoon, as tens of thousands of Islamists blocked the main streets of Dhaka, isolating the city from the rest of the country. Then they marched to the center of the capital, demanding the introduction of a law on blasphemy and burning cars and shops were on their way.
Hefajat-e-Islam ("Protector of Islam") is one of Islamic fundamentalist groups that has sprung up like mushrooms in recent months and born within the numerous madrassas (Koranic schools) dispersed throughout Bangladesh. Supporters of theJamaat-e-Islami (Islamic Party) and its struggle against the verdicts of the war tribunals, since February these Islamists are the protagonists of hartal (strikes) and violence, which have fostered a climate of tension among the population an nation that shows no sign of abating amid general government indifference.
(BNL) 03 May 2013 - Christian missionaries say they have stepped up efforts to spread the "Gospel pf peace and hope" in Russia's volatile North Caucasus after revelations that the suspected Boston Marathon bombers arrived from that region.
(FOX) 03 May 2013 - Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to “rape” and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is calling on the Air Force to enforce a regulation that they believe calls for the court martial of any service member caught proselytizing.
(WND) 02 May 2013 - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was arrested and held for seven hours Monday and warned to keep his mouth shut about matters detrimental to the Islamic regime before he was released, according to a source within the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence unit.
(ICC) 25 April 2013 - Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan called on the federal government of Nigeria to set up a committee to consider whether Boko Haram should be granted amnesty for crimes the group has committed across Nigeria’s northern states. The announcement came on the heels of a suicide bombing of a bus station in a Christian neighborhood likely perpetrated by Boko Haram. As deadly attacks continue, Christians are left dumbfounded and wondering why the government is considering granting amnesty to the extremist group.
Boko Haram’s Latest Attack
Amnesty Granted to Murderers, Justice Denied to Victims
Will Amnesty Actually Bring Peace?
A statement released by Boko Haram in January casts doubt on whether amnesty would even bring peace to northern Nigeria. “We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to its knees… You don’t put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside.”
The group’s purported leader also released a statement rejecting any potential amnesty deal, insisting that the group has “not committed any wrong to deserve amnesty.” This statement was made with full knowledge that Boko Haram is responsible for over 3,000 murders in northern Nigeria, many of whom were private Christian citizens killed in attacks much like the suicide bombing at the New Road Bus Station last month.
Boko Haram’s radical ideology, coupled with its fractured and shadowy nature, indicates that an amnesty deal would do little to stop the violence in northern Nigeria and would just put an official stamp on the denial of justice Boko Haram’s victims have so far endured.
(ICC) 25 April 2013 - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Supreme Ulema Council in Morocco published a fatwa this week calling for the death penalty for Muslims who abandon their religion. Christians are concerned that the edict, which has sparked controversy in the country, will be used to “harass” and “harm” the church if approved.
The Supreme Ulema Council (CSO), a body of Islamic scholars headed by King Mohammed VI,published a fatwa in the Arabic-language daily Akhbar al-Youm on Tuesday declaring that Muslims who renounce their faith “should be condemned to death,” Agence France-Pressereports. The CSO, the only institution entitled to issue fatwas in Morocco, reportedly drafted the edict in April 2012, but only recently published it.
Mahjoub El Hiba, a senior human rights official in the Moroccan government, denies that the government received a fatwa on apostasy, as Akhbar al-Youm had claimed. Yet media reports on the fatwa have provoked strong reactions from rights activists and religious minorities, including Christians, in the country.
“There’s a lot of confusion and discussion in Morocco right now about the fatwa,” said a pastor near Marrakech who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. “We fear that if the fatwa is approved, the government will use it to harass us and even arrest us during our meetings and the fundamentalists will have an excuse to harm us.”
While apostasy is illegal in many Muslim countries and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, Moroccan law does not directly prohibit it. Article 220 of Morocco’s Penal Code does state, however, that “attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion” is punishable with six months to three years in prison.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We are deeply concerned about the proposed fatwa which would warrant the death sentence for Muslims accused of apostasy. The Moroccan government lost credibility among international human rights groups in 2010 when it deported more than 70 foreign Christian aid workers on charges of proselytizing without granting due process rights to a hearing. Moreover, a Moroccan Christian, Jamaa Ait Bakrim, continues to languish in prison to this day after being arrested in 2005 and given a 15-year sentence for allegedly sharing his Christian faith with a Muslim. The deportations and arrest blatantly violated Morocco’s pledge to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, in Article 18, upholds an individual’s right to choose one’s own religion or belief. We urge the Moroccan government to safeguard the religious freedoms of all Moroccans and to reject edicts that would constitute a breach of the country’s international human rights obligations.”
(Aljazeera) 24 April 2013 - France's foreign minister has condemned what he called a heinous attack on his country's embassy in the Libyan capital and said everything would be done to find the perpetrators.
"This was a terrorist act ... aimed at killing," Laurent Fabius said after he flew in to Tripoli to inspect the damage caused by a car bomb attack that left two French guards injured.
"The terrorists who wanted to attack France and Libya and undermine the friendship between them will pay" for the attack, he said.
President Francois Hollande called on Libya to bring the bombers to justice and Fabius said Paris was dispatching a counter-terrorism magistrate to help with an investigation.
Libya's government, struggling to exert its authority, said it was a "terrorist act" aimed at destabilising the country.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited the scene with Fabius, viewing the wreckage and the charred and damaged facade of the embassy.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. However, al-Qaeda's north African arm, AQIM, had threatened retaliation for the French intervention in Mali as recently as last week.
Westerners in the region have been on alert since January's bloody mass hostage-taking at the In Amenas natural gas plant in Algeria, close to the Libyan and Malian frontiers, during which fighters demanded Paris halt operations in Mali.
The United States said on Tuesday that it stood ready to assist Paris on the case if needed.
Patrick Ventrell, a state department spokesperson, said that the United States condemned the attack, which caused extensive damage to the French mission, and extended sympathies to the two guards who were injured.
The UN Security Council and UN leader Ban Ki-moon also strongly condemned the bombing.
A Security Council statement "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack against the embassy of France in Tripoli." Council members "expressed their deep sympathy to the families of the victims of this heinous act."
"The secretary general condemns, in the strongest terms, the attack on the French embassy in Tripoli," added deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey. "The targeting of diplomatic missions and their staff is not acceptable and never
One resident living less than 100 metres from the embassy said his windows shook when the first blast occurred.
A witness who lives near the embassy, Asad Naeeli, told Al Jazeera that the bomb went off around 7am (05:00 GMT).
"This is a big concern as a Libyan. You hear about things happening in different cities and now it is close to home," he said. "It is a big concern for the security of Libya, it will delay many things."
Diplomatic missions have been targeted in Libya, most notably an attack on the US mission in the eastern city of Benghazi last September that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.
However Tuesday's attack is the first such serious assault on an embassy or foreign mission in the capital, Tripoli.
(NYT) 18 April 2013 - A wrenching national search for solutions to the violence that left 20 children dead in Newtown, Conn., all but ended Wednesday after the Senate defeated several measures to expand gun control.
In rapid succession, a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines all failed to get the 60 votes needed under an agreement between both parties. Senators also turned back Republican proposals to expand permission to carry concealed weapons and to focus law enforcement efforts on prosecuting gun crimes.
Sitting in the Senate gallery with other survivors of recent mass shootings and their family members, Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot at Virginia Tech, and Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the mass shooting in Arizona, shouted together, “Shame on you.”
President Obama, speaking at the White House after the votes, echoed the cry, calling Wednesday “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Opponents of gun control from both parties said that they made their decisions based on logic, and that passions had no place in the making of momentous policy.
“Criminals do not submit to background checks now,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. “They will not submit to expanded background checks.”
It was a striking defeat for one of Mr. Obama’s highest priorities, on an issue that has consumed much of the country since Adam Lanza opened fire with an assault weapon in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
Faced with a decision either to remove substantial new gun restrictions from the bill or to allow it to fall to a filibusternext week, Senate leaders plan to put it on hold after a scattering of votes Thursday. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader and a longtime gun rights advocate who had thrown himself behind the gun control measures, is expected to pull the bill from the Senate floor and move on to an Internet sales tax measure, then an overhaul of immigration policy, which has better prospects.
More than 50 senators — including a few Republicans, but lacking a handful of Democrats from more conservative states — had signaled their support for the gun bill, not enough to reach the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.
Democratic leadership aides said the effort could be revived if a public groundswell demanded it. “The world is watching the United States Senate, and we will be held accountable,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who helped lead the gun control effort.
(Aljazeera) 16 April 2013 -Security has been stepped up around the US after twin blasts near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon left three people dead, including an eight-year-old boy, and at least 139 injured.
A White House official said the explosions occurred just before 3pm (18:50 GMT) on Monday and would be handled as an "act of terror". The FBI has taken over the investigation into the attacks.
Police officials said mobile phone service have been shut down in the Boston area to prevent any potential remote detonations of explosives.
A senior US intelligence official said two more explosive devices had been found near the scene of the explosions and were being dismantled.
Ed Davis, the Boston Police Department (BPD) commissioner, said that powerful devices had caused the blasts.
"We are questioning many people but there is no suspect in custody," he said. “The BPD is on high alert. All sworn personnel working around the clock. Twelve hour shifts in effect. Days off cancelled.”
A fire at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library also took place several miles away from the explosions more than an hour later. However, Davis said investigators had not linked the fire to the blasts.
Barack Obama, the US president, said it was unclear who was behind the explosions but vowed to hold accountable whoever carried out the blasts. The president said he had directed his administration to increase security around the country.
"We still don't know who did this or why," Obama said, adding, "Make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this".
The White House was cordoned off with tape after news of the explosions broke.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said security was being stepped up at "strategic locations and critical infrastructure, including our subways".
"We have 1,000 members of the NYPD assigned to counterterrorism duties, and they, along with the entire NYPD and the investments we have made in counterterrorism infrastructure, are being fully mobilised to protect our city," Bloomberg said in a statement.
"As law enforcement authorities investigate today's explosions in Boston, I ask all New Yorkers to keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers."
(BosNewsLife) 11 April 2013 - TEHRAN, IRAN- As the world watched the impact of a deadly earthquake on Iran's only known nuclear station Wednesday, April 10, Christians urged prayers for Iranian believers trapped in prisons or facing harassment.
(M&G) 9 April 2013 - Margaret Thatcher transformed Britain and inspired conservatives around the world by radically rolling back the state during her 11 years in power.
Britain's only woman prime minister, the unyielding, outspoken Thatcher led the Conservatives to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990, the longest continuous period in office by a British premier since the early 19th century.
A grocer's daughter with a steely resolve, she was loved and loathed in equal measure as she crushed the unions, privatised vast swathes of British industry, clashed with the European Union and fought a war to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.
She struck up a close relationship with US President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War, backed the first President George Bush during the 1991 Gulf War, and declared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could do business with.
"Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast," said Tony Blair, Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007.
"Some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world," said Blair.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Europe to return to Britain after the death was announced and British flags on government buildings and royal palaces across London were lowered to half mast.
US President Barack Obama said: "America has lost a true friend." Mourners began to lay roses, tulips and lilies on the doorstep of her house in Belgravia, one of London's most exclusive areas.
One note said: "The greatest British leader" while another said to "the iron lady". Thatcher died peacefully on Monday morning at the Ritz hotel after a stroke. She had been in poor health for months and had declined into dementia in her final years.
Lord Bell, a spokesperson for the family, compared her to her hero Winston Churchill, while Cameron said she would go down as Britain's greatest peacetime prime minister. "We've lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton," Cameron said.
"The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country." The British government said Thatcher would have a ceremonial funeral with military honours at London's St Paul's Cathedral, which falls short of a full state funeral, in accordance with the wishes of her family.
(MNN) 9 April 2013- North Korea ―North Korea is setting a megaphone in front of the saber it's rattling.
On Friday, the North Korean government said it would not be able to guarantee the safety of embassies after April 10, and suggested that Russia, China, and Great Britain consider evacuating their diplomats.
Tensions have been on the rise since the United Nations imposed harsher sanctions following Pyongyang's third nuclear test on Feb. 12. The rogue state expressed fury over ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises and threatened a nuclear strike against the U.S. It also scrapped the Korean War armistice, began moving missiles, and restarted a plutonium reactor capable of producing more fuel for nuclear bombs.
One concern is that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, has something to prove. He's still tightening his grip on power and is something of a military unknown.
While the situation appears to be serious, governments are playing down the rhetoric from North Korea, assuming it represents yet another tantrum by a regime starving for attention, legitimacy, and economic aid. Spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton describes the typical pattern. "The world community makes some concessions. They deliver some food or they lower the sanctions or they deliver some oil, and the crisis magically goes away until the next time North Korea needs something."
Nettleton connected on Friday with their contacts working with North Korean Christians. According to them, "When North Korea needs something, when they need concessions, they create a crisis. They do a lot of saber rattling and a lot of press release about how terrible it's going to be for all the aggressors against them."
The situation is still fairly rhetorical. Nettleton says they're taking their cues from their national partners, some of whom are North Korean defectors. He goes on to say that because the poverty and hunger situation is desperate, it's unlikely the threats are little more than talk. He explains, "The surrounding nations are comfortable with the status quo. Maybe at times it's a little irritating, but it is seen as a better alternative than to see the regime fall and North Korea fall into complete chaos with those surrounding nations left to clean up the mess."
North Korea is the worst perpetrator of persecution against Christians in the world. Christians are tortured, imprisoned, and murdered. Private, non-state-sanctioned religious activity is prohibited. Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity is subject to arrest, torture, or even public execution.
As many as 100,000 believers are thought to worship secretly. Possessing a Bible, saying the words God or Jesus, and meeting together are all offences punishable by death. VOM reports estimate that of the hundreds of thousands incarcerated in labor and concentration camps, about 30,000 are Christians.
Yet there are still requests for help. VOM supports Gospel radio broadcasts into North Korea and participates in balloon launches that carry the hope of Christ into the country. "Pray that North Korean Christians will remain faithful, that they will remain encouraged. The other thing we can pray is for the delivery of Gospel materials, for the these balloons, for these radio broadcasts, for other Gospel work that is going on into North Korea, that the Gospel message will get in there, that it will be received, and that there will be fruit."
(Aljazeera) 02 April 2013 - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has vowed "strong retaliation" to any provocation by North Korea.
"If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat
without any political considerations," President Geun-hye told the minister of defence and senior officials at a meeting
on Monday after Pyongyang declared it was formally at war with Seoul.
|Spotlight coverage of tension in Northeast Asia|
In a meeting with senior military officials and Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, Park said she took the near-daily stream of bellicose threats emanating from the North "very seriously".
"I believe that we should make a strong and immediate retaliation without any other political considerations if (the North) stages any provocation against our people," she said.
Park, a conservative who had advocated cautious engagement with the North during her election campaign, has taken a more hardline position since assuming office in February, shortly after the North conducted its third nuclear test.
Military tensions between the two neighbours have been running high for weeks, with the North stepping up its hostile rhetoric against Seoul and Washington.
In protest at joint South Korean-US military drills, North Korea last month declared it was ripping up the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War void and threatened a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on South Korean and US targets.
On Saturday, it announced that it had formally entered into a "state of war" with South Korea.
Seoul and Washington have warned of severe repercussions in the event of any aggression, with the US deploying nuclear capable B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers, as well as F-22 stealth fighters over South Korea as a "deterrence".
(FoxNews) 27 March 2013 - Islamic hard-liners stormed a mosque in suburban Cairo, turning it into torture chamber for Christians who had been demonstrating against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in the latest case of violent persecution that experts fear will only get worse.
(AP) 21 March 2013 - JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States is investigating whether chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria, but he's "deeply skeptical" of claims by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime that rebel forces were behind such an attack.
Both the Assad regime and Syrian rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons in an attack on Tuesday that the government says killed 31 and wounded more than 100. But Obama suggested it's more likely that if the weapons were used, the Syrian government was behind the attack.
"We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks," Obama said. "We know that there are those are in the Syrian government who have expressed a willingness to use chemical weapons if necessary to protect themselves. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition that used chemical weapons. Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapons stockpiles inside of Syria as well as the Syrian government capabilities, I think, would question those claims."
"Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer," Obama said in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama said he wouldn't announce what the next steps would be while the investigation is unfolding. But he echoed his statement over the summer that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" for the United States.
"When you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation and mass casualties and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we've already seen in Syria. And the international community has to act on that additional information," Obama said.
"We have been clear that the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would be a serious and tragic mistake," Obama said.
Obama said the U.S. policy not to intervene militarily thus far is based on his desire to solve the problem as a global community. "It's a world problem ... when tens of thousands of people are being slaughtered, including innocent women and children," Obama said.
Netanyahu said the two leaders discussed Syria during their private meeting earlier. He said the two countries share a goal of preventing Syria's weapons arsenal from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Obama said the United States shares the concern that the weapons could be transferred to a group like Hezbollah and used against Israel. "The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists," Obama said.
The president's first comments on the reports came shortly after the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, told Congress of an untenable situation in Syria as the civil war grinds into its third year. The United Nations has estimated 70,000 have been killed, more than 1 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries and 2.5 million have been displaced internally.
The Syrian people "face a new level of ruthlessness from the Assad regime, which is raining Scud missiles down on residential neighborhoods, destroying hospitals and schools, and sending its thugs rampaging through the streets to terrorize their fellow citizens. The carnage is appalling," Ford said.
He insisted that the ideal outcome is a "negotiated political transition" to the crisis without Assad.
Ford said the military balance is turning against the Assad regime, which has lost some critical strategic locations such as the borders with Turkey and Iraq. The ambassador also said there has been heavy fighting in Damascus "right up close to where the president lives."
Ford said Iran is increasing its military assistance to Assad's regime and the outside help has persuaded him that he can prevail.
"I think today he still thinks he can win militarily with help from Russia, from Iran, from Lebanese Hezbollah," Ford said. "But I think he also must understand as his windows rattle, because the fighting is getting closer, he must be thinking about whether or not his calculations are correct."
Ford was pressed repeatedly about what military action the United States might take but declined to speculate at the public hearing. Lawmakers uneasy with military involvement — or even the prospect of arming the opposition — reflected a war-weariness after more than a decade of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who noted the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this week, repeatedly tried to get Ford to elaborate for Congress and the American people about what could happen next in Syria if chemical weapons were used.
Ford declined. Perry, alluding to Iraq, said, "We don't want the current administration making the mistake of past administrations."
In fact, no consensus has emerged in Congress about what further steps should be taken to break the stalemate in Syria. Some, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, favor strikes on Syrian air defenses, establishment of a no-fly zone and arming the opposition.
Others, like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Wednesday that providing weapons to the Syrian opposition risks having the weapons fall into the wrong hands.
"The unknown can be dangerous and the vetting of the opposition is not enough when it comes to providing lethal aid that could be used against our allies, such as Israel, or the United States in a post-Assad era," she said.
Aericle by MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press
(Aljazeera) 20 March 2013 - Five explosions at a bus park in the northern city of Kano kill at least 41 people.
At least 41 people have died in a suicide car bomb that struck a bus station in the city of Kano, northern Nigeria's busiest commercial center, in the most deadly attack in nine months that is blamed on Boko Haram rebels, officials say.
The blasts on Monday destroyed several buses filled with passengers who were waiting to leave the station in Sabon Gari, an area mostly inhabited by immigrants from Nigeria's largely Christian south, according to Reuters news agency.
Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from Nigeria, said a car laden with explosives rammed into buses and detonated.
"The area has been surrounded by security forces and evacuations and investigations continue," he said.
Meanwhile Al Jazeera's West Africa correspondent Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abuja, said neither the emergency or security services have confirmed details of the blasts or the death toll.
"There was a huge blast at the New Road motor park," said area mechanic Tunde Kazeem. "The blast was followed by billows of black smoke and there was a lot of confusion with people rushing out of the motor park, some of them with blood on their clothes."
Kano, in the country's mostly Muslim north, is among the cities attacked repeatedly by the Boko Haram, a group blamed for killing hundreds in Nigeria since 2009.
"I saw three buses on fire. One of them was fully loaded with passengers waiting to leave the station at the time of the blasts," a rescue official who requested anonymity told AFP news agency.
The station was attacked in January of last year in a blast which wounded several people and was blamed on Boko Haram.
"I ran for my dear life and managed to get out of the park after the second blast. Many people are lying dead. See, my
clothes are covered in blood," said Ibrahim Bello, holding up a blood-soaked shirt.
No group has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack so far.
The National Emergency Management Authority said: "Rescuers and security personnel are yet to determine the source of explosions that occured this evening at a motor park," in a statement. "While casualty figures are not available at the moment, the seriously injured have been taken to hospital and bodies evacuated."
(TC) 18 March 2013 - Tanzania, Dar es Salaam. Is it still safe for a Muslim and a Christian to eat together? Is it safe for an elderly woman with red eyes to live without fear for her life? Can rallies and demonstrations be held peacefully without interference? Responses to these questions may hint a little bit on the state of security in the country.
“We have lived for more than 50 years without having quarrels related to our beliefs, as Muslims and Christians; we have lived peacefully and helped each other at times of need. So, we should ask ourselves, why now,” President Kikwete made the emotional remarks last week, when speaking to ruling party, CCM, supporters in Dodoma.
He made the remarks amid religious tensions at Buseresere area in Geita Region, where one person was killed and several others injured when groups of people believed to be Muslims and Christians clashed over the right to slaughter animals.
Christians in the area, who normally don’t slaughter animals meant for public consumption, wanted to be allowed to do so like their Muslim counterparts.
Last year, at least seven churches were set ablaze and properties were destroyed at the Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) Mbagala Kizuiani area.
During the fracas, which is also linked to religious tensions between Christians and Muslims at least one car was torched and eight others had their windows smashed by rioters.
The violence that led to the arrest of at least 122 people was allegedly caused by a 14-year-old boy who desecrated the Holy Koran, sparking anger among Muslim youths in the area.
“I think the police mishandled the matter. They failed to take appropriate actions when the boy was initially sent to them. Muslims were enraged by police laxity,” Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, secretary of the Council of Islamic Organisations, who was among those arrested by police for inciting public disorder and violence, said.
The situation in Zanzibar also turned ugly when people believed to be members of the Association of Islamic Awareness and Public Discourse, popularly known as Uamsho, reportedly torched two churches and destroyed other properties, including a motor vehicle.
Violent clashes in Zanzibar have already claimed a number of lives and the law enforcers there have accused followers of Uamsho leader, Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed, of executing the murder.
Speaking with The Citizen on Sunday, Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) executive director, Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, said the government was to blamed for the increasing hostile relations between Muslims and Christians in the country.
Dr Bisimba said that the government was slow when early signs of religious intolerance started and that has resulted in the current predicament.
She called upon the government to form an independent team to probe the tensions. “Clerics from both sides shouldn’t be included in the team,” she said.
Speaking with this reporter, Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) executive director, Ms Usu Mallya, argued that women insecurity is neither prioritised nor reflected in the implementation of objectives set to limit women oppression.
“Women are not safe in their homes where they are expected to find refuge. Sexual violence and vulgar name calling are all seen in our societies. On top of that, they are sidelined in economic activities,” said the TGNP boss.
According the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS) of 2010, two in every five Tanzania women experience physical violence from their partners and 20 per cent of women experience sexual violence from their current or ex-partners.
The TDHS statistics indicate that acceptability of wife beating is higher among women than men where 54 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men believe that a husband can beat up his wife.
The survey indicates that 15 per cent of Tanzanian women have been forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Manyara Region (with 71 per cent) leads in this barbaric and inhuman practice, followed by Dodoma (64 per cent) and Arusha (59 per cent).
Ms Mallya say that in the wake of civil unrests in different parts of the country; women and children suffer the most, but those charged with handling the matter do not take it seriously.
Elderly women with red eyes live in fear and hiding due to a great danger posed by people reportedly masterminding their killings for witchcraft grounds. The LHRC 2011 survey notes that an average of 500 elderly people, old women with red eyes in particular, are killed in Tanzania annually over suspicion of being witches.
The survey points out that, red eyes are believed to be signs of witchcraft and ignite many of these tragic neighbourhood witch-hunting. Apparently, many Tanzanian women possess red-coloured eyes after being exposed persistently to the cow dung fire smoke when cooking. “242 people were killed due to witchcraft beliefs in Shinyanga alone from January 2010 to June 2011. This is also supported by police statistics which show the growing trend of killings due to witchcraft beliefs from 579 in 2010 to 642 in 2011,” states the report.
Speaking at a symposium to commemorate the World Human Rights Day last year, Dr Bisimba said, the figures on record cover the period between 2004 and 2011. “We only started getting the numbers in 2003,” she said. “We don’t really know the number of incidents that aren’t reported.”
The LHRC 2011 survey reports that witch-hunting in Mwanza and Shinyanga regions claimed 3,769 lives between 2010 and 2011. According to the report, about 2,584 were killed between 2004 and 2009.
Speaking with this reporter, Ms Mallya explained that women are the most affected in the persecution against witches, saying that takes away the little dignity that women have in the society.
“When young, they are seen as important in their reproductive role, but when they attain the old age, they are seen as of no value, unlike men who are given more respect when they get older,” she said.
She added: “women in rural areas do countless chores, starting at a very young age. Due to economic difficulties in these areas and the role in their families and communities, these women become targets of the attacks.”
The TGNP executive director points an accusing finger at the legal and law enforcement systems in the country, saying that the two services are not spread in the rural areas where the killings occur.
Public as ‘killing machine’
“The public has been turned into a killing machine,” comments Justice Robert Mihayo. Over 600 people lost their lives in the country due to mob violence between 2010 and 2011. The most common modes of killings are burning (49 per cent) and stoning (50 per cent), according to the LHRC report of 2011.
The report further states that mob killings “shows the state of apathy and lawlessness which is increasingly the order of the day in Tanzania”, where there has been reports of groups of angry men invading and setting ablaze police stations demanding suspects to be surrendered to them.
With continued increase in theft-related cases, unfairness in the legal and administration of justice and negative public perception over police officers and other law enforcement machinery, people increasingly take the law into their hands.
Chief Justice (CJ) Mr Mohammed Chande Othman called for enactment of a new law that will make failure to offer help in the event of mob justice and other attacks an offence. The CJ said, the “Good Samaritan” law would put a brake on killings by the public. “The law aims at ending mob justice and shall deal with those who take the law into their own hands when there are established organs to do so,” he said.
The gas transportation saga from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam that ignited chaos and paralysed activities in the region is yet another example of incidents signalling that the country is becoming more insecure.
Commenting on the Mtwara crisis, University of Dar es Salaam lecturer, Mr Bashiru Ally, said the violence was caused by secrecy that surrounded the government and the sidelining of citizens in decision making process that boiled the people’s anger.
“It is an indicator that citizens are losing trust in the government because they feel sidelined, and if not addressed as soon as possible, this may spark further clashes in the near future,” he warned.
(Aljazeera) 14 March 2013 - Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected the 266th pope, making him the leader of the 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.
Francis was elected on Wednesday on the second day of the conclave in Vatican City, after receiving the required two-thirds majority, or at least 77 votes of the 115 cardinal electors from 48 countries.
The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Jesuit and the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years.
The Jesuit order, which was founded in the 16th century, has a strong educational focus and takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to Christ and the pope.
Pope Francis appeared on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel to signal his election.
"Pray for me," the new pontiff, dressed in the white robes of a pope for the first time, urged the crowd.
The news of announcement was met with cheers from hundreds of thousands of crowd gathered under the rain at St Peter's Square in Rome.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the protodeacon, made the announcement with the Latin words, Habemus papam, meaning "We have a pope".
Francis succeeds Benedict XVI, who stepped down on February 28, the first pontiff to do so in 598 years.
The Vatican said his inaugural mass would be held on March 19.
As a sign of the election of a new pope, the Vatican also reactivated the Twitter account @Pontifex.
Francis spoke by phone with Benedict XVI after his election and plans to see him in the coming days, the Vatican said.
Jubilant Argentines poured into churches, some crying and praying, after the announcement at the Vatican.
"This is a blessing for Argentina," one woman shouted on a Buenos Aires street.
"I hope he changes all the luxury that exists in the Vatican, that he steers the church in a more humble direction, something closer to the gospel," Jorge Andres Lobato, a 73-year-old retired state prosecutor, said.
Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from Buenos Aires, described the reaction in the Argentinian capital as "absolute shock".
"Noboby expected him to become pope," our correspondent said. "People here are crying".
Father Robert Gahl of Holy Cross University told Al Jazeera that the name Francis was "indicative of something historical".
Gahl described as "striking" the reaction to the new pope, which he said is "way superior to what occured eight years ago, which may be a surprise to some".
Barack Obama, the US president, said the election of Francis "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world".
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said that the UN and the Holy See share many common goals for the promotion of peace, social justice and human rights to irradiation of poverty and hunger.
Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine President, also wished the new pope success. Kirchner, however, does not have a warm personal relationship with the pontiff.
With the election of the new pope, Vatican now faces several key challenges.
Experts said the new pope's response to those will give us a significant indication of what Catholics can expect from his time as the head of the church.
One key priority is reaching out to his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics and rebuilding the relationship between the Vatican and churches around the globe.
"Much was made about whether the new pope would be one who focused on pastoral care - speaking to the faithful around the world or would he be one who tries to reform the Vatican," Jack Valero, director of the Catholic Voices organisation, told Al Jazeera.
"In reality, he needs to do both."
(TheNational) 13 March 2013 - CAIRO //Fifty-five Egyptian Christians arrested last month in Libya for allegedly seeking to convert Muslims have been freed, while four others are still behind bars, the Egyptian foreign ministry said yesterday.
(Aljazeera) 11 March 2013 - Hundreds of Christians in Pakistan protesting against the burning of their homes by a mob over alleged blasphemous remarks made against the Prophet Muhammad have clashed with police in at least two cities.
Police fired tear gas canisters and used batons to disperse almost a thousand demonstrators who had gathered in Karachi and Lahore, and took six protesters into custody, police said.
In Lahore, hundreds of protesters, some carrying large crucifixes, blocked a main highway as they pressed their demands for better compensation payments from the government following the destruction of their homes, police official Malik Awais said.
Smaller demonstrations were held in the capital, Islamabad, and the adjoining city of Rawalpindi.
The protesters called on Pakistan's government to better protect minorities.
Local Christian pastor Khalid Masih said it was "quite clear that [the] government of Pakistan has failed to protect the rights of the minorities."
Police in Lahore said that they had arrested around 150 people accused of setting the Christian homes on fire after a non-Muslim was accused on Friday of making offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad.
On Saturday, a group of Muslims burned about 170 houses in the Christian neighbourhood of Lahore.
Police said that those accused of rioting are being investigated for alleged arson, robbery, theft and terrorism.
Christians are often the target of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which rights activists say are frequently used to persecute religious minorities or settle personal disputes.
Politicians have been reluctant to reform the laws for fear of being attacked by religious groups, as has happened in the past.
Police usually make arrests following rioting in blasphemy cases to calm down public anger and most of those detained are never convicted.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law.
(Telegraph) 11 March 2013 - Screenshots of a video purporting to show the dead hostages were uploaded to a jihadist website with a statement in Arabic and English, the SITE Monitoring Service reported.
Ansaru, a fundamentalist outfit with a rising profile in the area, claimed responsibility for the kidnap, saying it was in response to European countries’ operations in Mali and Afghanistan.
“(We) announced the capture of seven Christians foreigners and warned that should there be any attempt by force to rescue them will render their lives in danger,” Ansaru said in its statement.
“The Nigeria and British government operation lead to the death of all the seven Christians foreigners.”
British and Nigerian officials separately denied that there had been any mission to rescue the hostages, from Britain, Italy, Greece and Lebanon.
“There is nothing that is true about that, we have not attempted any operation and these people are spreading lies to win support from disaffected young people in our country,” a Nigerian government spokesman said.
Five British military aircraft reportedly seen at the international airport in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, last month were in the country for “routine military-to-military engagement” and not for any reason connected to the kidnap, the British High Commissioner in Abuja told Nigerian media last month.
The seven foreigners were kidnapped last month from the compound of their employer, a Lebanese construction contractor, in one of the worst attacks on international workers in Nigeria.
The country’s majority-Muslim north has experienced a wave of such incidents, carried out by fundamentalists campaigning to impose strict Islamic law on the region.
Chris McManus, a British contract worker for an Italian company, died on March 8 last year in a failed SBS mission to rescue him.
He had been held hostage in northern Nigeria for 10 months, and it is believed that Ansaru were also behind his abduction.
Since McManus and his Italian colleague were kidnapped, at least other 15 foreigners are being held hostage in northern Nigeria, including a French family with their four children seized in neighbouring Cameroon last month.
Days earlier, attackers killed three North Korean doctors in Potiskum in northern Nigeria.
Ansaru is a splinter of Nigeria’s best-known fundamentalist group, Boko Haram, and is believed to have close ties to Islamists in northern Mali.
The group, which emerged in June 2012, said it kidnapped a French engineer in December in an area close to Katsina, a border city in northern Nigeria.
A spokesman for Setraco, the company that employed the seven hostages reportedly killed, gave no comment about the claims of their deaths.
The firm was understood to have won the contract to upgrade major roads in northern Nigeria, and has residential and construction compounds in other towns in the region.
International security sources in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, said that there had been little to suggest that Ansaru would execute its valuable hostages.
One said that there were no reports of an attempted rescue mission.
The British government has a strict policy of neither paying nor facilitating ransoms for citizens kidnapped overseas.
(Aljazeera) 07 March 2013 - A million Syrians have fled their country since a deadly civil conflict erupted two years ago, the UN refugee agency says.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Wednesday thousands more continued to flee Syria where an uprising began in March 2011 and has since escalated into a civil war.
"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster," Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.
"We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped."
The UNHCR said the one million figure comprised both registered refugees and those awaiting registration.
The count was based on fresh data received from its offices in the Middle East, the UNHCR said.
The agency previously had estimated that numbers would reach 1.1 million by June but said that it would adjust that figure.
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El Shamayleh, reporting from the Kilis refugee camp in Turkey, said the host country has paid a "very heavy" price to host the Syrians who fled their country.
Turkey has so far spent more than $700m on refugees since the beginning of the conflict, she said.
Of that amount Turkey has received $89m in foreign aid.
The are more than 186,000 registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, with over 100,000 staying elsewhere, and 40,000 more stranded along the border between Syria and Turkey, our correspondent said.
The exodus has intensified this year, the UNHCR said, with 400,000 Syrians fleeing their country since January 1.
Only a year ago, the UN agency had only registered 33,000 refugees.
Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, have been battling armed factions that have seized part of the country's north in a conflict that the UN estimates has killed 70,000 people.
Most of the anti-Assad rebels are Sunni Muslims, while the ruling clan and many of its most fervent supporters are from the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The UN said the latest refugees "arrive traumatised, without possessions and having lost members of their families". Around half of the refugees are children, the majority under the age of eleven.
The refugees have fled primarily to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, but increasingly they are trying to reach North Africa and Europe, the UNHCR said.
"This number translates into one million people who are dependent on the generosity of host countries, the response of humanitarian agencies and the financial support of governments and individuals," said Guterres.
He underlined the impact of the numbers, with Lebanon's population having increased by as much as 10 percent and Jordan's energy, water, health and education services being strained to the limit.
Iraq, already struggling with a million internally displaced people, has received over 100,000 Syrian refugees in the past year.
"These countries should not only be recognised for their unstinting commitment to keeping their borders open for Syrian refugees, they should be massively supported as well," said Guterres.
The UNHCR chief is due to travel to the region later this week to visit the agency's operations in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.
(ICC) 05 March 2013 - The Indonesian government is failing to protect the country’s religious minorities from growing religious intolerance and violence, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should respond much more decisively and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for attacks on religious minority communities.
The 107-page report, “In Religion’s Name: Abuses against Religious Minorities in Indonesia,” documents the government’s failure to confront militant groups whose thuggish harassment and assaults on houses of worship and members of religious minorities has become increasingly aggressive. Those targeted include Ahmadiyahs, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Indonesian monitoring groups have noted a steady increase in such attacks, one group finding 264 violent incidents over the past year.
“The Indonesian government’s failure to take decisive action to protect religious minorities from threats and violence is undermining its claims to being a rights-respecting democracy,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “National leadership is essential. Yudhoyono needs to insist that national laws be enforced, announce that every violent attack will be prosecuted, and map out a comprehensive strategy to combat rising religious intolerance.”
(AsiaNews) 04 March 2013 - "The Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Churches have declined the invitation to the eighth session of the dialogue organized by President Mohamed Morsi." This was confirmed to AsiaNews by Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church. The meeting was held on 26 February in Cairo. It was attended by some opposition leaders. The talks are part of attempts by Islamist leader to seek consensus among the representatives of the Christian minority and the non-Islamic opposition.
In a statement published in the Egyptian newspaper Le Messager delegates of the three Churches "apologize for the lack of participation in the session of meetings, but for now want to avoid any active role in political life and as requested by the President offer fasting and prayers for the success of the dialogue. " Fr. Greiche, author of the press release explains that the Christian minority does not "want to boycott the offer of the President", but are using their right not to participate in the sessions, which in the past produced"no useful ideas" for a real dialogue between the parties.
The meetings organized by the Islamist president began in September 2012 after the oceanic demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood accused of wanting to establish a new regime, Islamizing society and allowing the Salafis, but also common criminals, to carry out abuses against the Christian community. The last case concerns a shooting yesterday in front of the church of St. George in the Christian quarter of Dishna in the city of Qena (Upper Egypt). A man fired an automatic weapon against the religious building filling it with bullets. For the moment, there have been no reports of any injuries, but the case has triggered panic among Christian residents. He had previously been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. (S.C.)
(WorthyNews) 26 February 2013 - Dozens of Sudanese Christians were thought to be trapped in a Sudanese prison as violence raged in renewed fighting between two Arab tribes, killing scores of people.
At least 55 Christians were detained by the government of Sudan over two weeks ago on "false accusations" of allegedly receiving money from foreign countries, including Israel, according to Christians with close knowledge about the case.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said the group, which has no political affiliations and includes church leaders, was jailed as part of a wider crackdown on Christians in the volatile Islamic country.
“CSW is deeply concerned at these arbitrary arrests" of 55 Christians and the wider news "of an escalating crackdown on Christian citizens in Sudan," explained CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston.
"We urge the Sudanese government to release these prisoners and end its campaign of harassment against the Christian community," he told Worthy News in a statement.
It came amid reports that 60 people died Saturday, February. 23, in what the state news agency called "the worst" since a cease-fire was reached between rival Arab tribes fighting over mining rights in the northern Darfur region.
The United Nations said fighting broke out last month in the Jebel Amir area, leaving 100 dead in January and forcing 70,000 people to flee their homes.
Saturday's fighting broke out when a group of armed tribesmen in vehicles and riding camels attacked the El-Sireaf area in North Darfur, news reports said.
The violence added to concern about detained believers and other minority Christians, many of whom were forced to flee Darfur and other areas of Sudan because of clashes and Islamic pressure by the government, church groups say.
Besides detaining church leaders and other devoted Christians, authorities reportedly closed down several Christian-affiliated schools, colleges and training centers.
Additionally, some 100 foreign workers were deported in recent weeks, including Christians, according to aid groups.
The repression has been linked to a state-run media campaign against “Christianisation” of the country.
CSW said it has been concerned about increasing pressure on churches in Sudan, since the creation of South Sudan as a separate state in 2011.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir had reportedly pledged to make his African nation's new constitution 100 percent Islamic.
He was quoted as saying that "all parties, religious sects and Sufis” would be represented in the constitutional drafting committee, but CSW cautioned no further details have been given about its progress.
CSW has urged the government to once again undertake "broad consultations" during the drafting of the new constitution and to ensure that it recognizes the rights of all Sudanese citizens.
The group said that should include freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a signatory.
(MissionNetworkNews) 22 February 2013 - 23 days ago, Nigeria's Islamist faction, Boko Haram, offered a truce.
The government responded with a 30-day "wait and see." Their cautious optimism came in light of the intensified 42-month multi-prong attack strategy. It seemed that under the "Western education is forbidden" motto of Boko Haram, everyone was fair game: military, police, security facilities, schools and churches.
The goals of the extremist group were two-fold: instill Sharia law throughout the country, and create an Islamic state. A subset goal was the eradication of Christian presence.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs USA, notes confusion over the ceasefire offer. Violence was supposed to stop, but "there are news reports that since the announcement was made, 53 Nigerians have lost their lives in violence. Not all of those have been claimed by Boko Haram. but they are assumed to be Boko Haram, so it doesn't seem like there's been a significant change of direction."
That reveals two things, observes Nettleton. First, the ongoing violence could signal a rift within the leadership of the Boko Haram sect. That's evidenced by the hallmarks of unclaimed violence. Several of the recent attacks have been dismissed as the work of a criminal gang, while others are blamed on extremists. Nettleton says that because of the confusion, "It is hard to look at the situation and clearly identify who the player is in a particular incident or a particular attack, because they're just not a united organization."
Second, it indicates the country is still a long way from bidding terrorism good bye. "Boko Haram is not really a united organization. There are different factions and different groups and different sub leaders under the overall Boko Haram ‘umbrella.' Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathon believes the spread of the Islamist extremist group could eventually undermine the region."
Nettleton explains, "There has also been this group called ‘Ansaru' that kind of split off from Boko Haram; they apparently are more focused internationally. They're focused on Mali, they're focused on the rest of Africa."
Boko Haram provides al Qaeda with an avenue to expand in Africa since they share ambitions and causes within Nigeria, greater Africa, and throughout Asia and Europe.
What does that mean? Fragmentation usually manifests in all groups trying to make a name for themselves. That means more attacks and more violence. Nettleton says, "We may start to see more connections between those different groups, and that obviously is a frightening prospect for Christians in Africa. It's also a frightening prospect for the government in these countries that would like to put a lid on this violence."
The prospect of a blood-tainted future can be daunting, but VOM workers continue to come alongside believers in Nigeria to encourage them. A recent distribution of 37 bicycles, 15 motorcycles, and 50 megaphones will help pastors and Christian workers in the north. These simple tools will help them share the story of Jesus Christ in northern Nigeria.
Despite the near weekly attacks on churches, 2,500 believers in Gombe state gathered for a worship service. Gombe is one of the hardest-hit states in the north. "One of the significant opportunities for spreading the Gospel is the way that the Christians respond to persecution and even to those who are persecuted."
Widows, orphans, pastors and entire families from all over Gombe came together to hear a pastor preach about loving their neighbors. The pastor reminded worshipers that they must not hate their attackers and that martyrs like Stephen forgave his attackers. That message is the crux of the work VOM does, says Nettleton. "If Christians respond with forgiveness, with grace, and love, that can be an incredible testimony of the truth of the Gospel."
Pray that Muslims there will be reached with the Gospel. Pray for Christians in Nigeria to remain confident in the Lord. Pray for many others in Nigeria to come to know Christ and for church leaders to advance their ministry.
(ChristianityToday) 20 February 2013 - China's Christians felt a noticeable rise in persecution in 2012 as the Communist government began the first of a three-phase plan to eradicate unregistered house churches, a new report says.
Incidents of persecution of Christians rose by about 42 percent last year compared with 2011, according to the report by human rights group China Aid. Many of these incidents involved groups of Christians. In total, the number of individual persecuted Christians rose by roughly 14 percent and total individual detentions increased by nearly 12 percent. China Aid said overall total persecution in six categories was about 13 percent worse than in 2011—though China Aid termed its statistics just "the tip of the iceberg."
At least 132 incidents of persecution affecting 4,919 Christians—442 of whom were clergy—were reported in the country last year, according to China Aid's annual report. The Texas-based group tracked detention of at least 1,441 Christians, the sentencing of nine of them, and the abuse (verbal, mental and physical, including beatings and torture) of 37 Christians.
Beijing, administered directly under the central government, witnessed the highest number of persecution cases, at 62, affecting 934 Christians; Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China followed with at 11 cases involving 382 Christians. Persecution was also high in central China—comprising Henan and Hubei Hunan provinces—where 1,056 Christians were affected, and in east China, which includes Shandong, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Jiangxi provinces, which witnessed harassment of 750 Christians.
The report also notes that persecution last year was 61 percent worse than in 2010; 85 percent worse than in 2009; 120 percent worse than in 2008; 308 percent worse than in 2007; and 372 percent worse than in 2006.
The recent appointment of Xi Jinping as the new leader of China's Communist Party has made no difference in treatment of Christians, said a member of the Shouwang Church in Beijing, a congregation authorities have harassed for more than two years.
"I recently went to see the founding pastor, Jin Tianming, and his wife [under house arrest since April 2011] in their rented apartment in west Beijing," the source told Morning Star News. "I was not allowed to enter their home, and the pastor was not allowed to go outside. We chatted for a while at their home's doorway, as two plainclothes police officers watched."
Pastor Tianming was granted the right to do his workout outside his apartment every afternoon from November 2011 to early January this year. But since he attended a Shouwang weekly evening prayer meeting in the rented facility of Xinshu (New Tree) Church, a sister congregation of Shouwang, after jogging on the afternoon on Jan. 9, Tianming has not been allowed to leave his home.
The continued rise of persecution is not the only dynamic raising serious concerns; authorities have targeted unregistered house churches in a planned manner, according to the China Aid report. In 2008 and 2009, officials "targeted house church leaders and churches in urban areas," China Aid notes. In 2010, they "attacked Christian human rights lawyers groups and using abuse, torture and mafia tactics." The focus in 2011 was on increasing the intensity of attacks against Christians and house churches.
In 2012, a new three-phase approach was adopted to wipe out unregistered house churches, which the government saw as a hostile group of dissenters, and force them to join the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church system. In the first phase, from January 2012 to June, the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) secretly investigated house churches across the country and created files on them, the report says. This was followed by a wave of crackdowns on house churches, which has continued into 2013, as part of the second phase. The second phase will also entail strongly encouraging unregistered churches to become part of the TSPM—at which point they would become known as "house gatherings," with the government banning the term "house churches."
(BBC) 19 February 2013 - Ethnic Hazara women in the Pakistani city of Quetta are refusing to bury the bodies of scores of people killed by a huge bomb in a Shia commercial area.
Shia Muslim Hazaras are furious at what they see as a lack of protection from local and national forces, in the face of repeated attacks.
Saturday's bomb ripped through a busy market district, killing at least 84 and injuring some 169 people.
The huge attack - the second this year - was carried out by Sunni militants.
As many as 4,000 women began a sit-in in Quetta, in south-west Pakistan, on Sunday evening.
The blocked a road and refused to carry out the traditional ritual of burying the Hazara dead until action was taken against the bombers, the AFP news agency reported.
One local Shia leader, Qayyum Changezi, told AFP the protesters "will not bury the dead until a targeted operation is launched".
Reports said thousands of angry Hazaras moved the bodies to a local mosque but then began chanting and protesting instead of proceeding with the burials.
Strikes and protests were reported elsewhere in the country as well, including the commercial capital Karachi.Deadly 2013
Sunni militant group Laskhar-e-Jhangvi said it had carried out the bombing, which hit a largely Hazara area of Quetta.
The attack was the second highly destructive bombing in Quetta in the space of a month. In January bombers targeted a snooker hall in the city, killing some 90 people.
Another bomb at a Shia mosque earlier in February killed 24 people, raising the Shia death toll to more than 200 in less than two months of 2013, according to reports.
On Sunday, Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfikar Magsi - given greater powers after the recent blasts - said local security forces were either "too scared or too clueless" to act.
He said he had given security forces a "free hand" to take action against extremist groups, but that this had clearly failed.
He said: "It's their job to pre-empt such attacks. That's what they are paid for."
BBC Afghan's Imran Ali says the inaction has come as no surprise to the Hazara community, and frequent targeted killings and bomb explosions in Quetta mean many Hazaras are living in a state of fear.
Many are apprehensive to leave their homes and those who work in areas that are deemed dangerous are told by their employers to stay at home, our reporter adds.
Quetta is the capital of Balochistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, and has been plagued by a separatist rebellion as well as sectarian violence.
Hundreds of Shia Hazaras in Quetta have been killed in attacks over the past few years.
(M&G) 12 February 2013 - North Korea conducted its third-ever nuclear test on Tuesday, a move likely to anger its main ally China and increase international action against Pyongyang and its new young leader, Kim Jong-un.
South Korea said the size of the seismic activity indicated a nuclear explosion slightly larger than the North's two previous tests at 6-7 kilotons, although that is still relatively small. The Hiroshima bomb was around 20 kilotons.
The US Geological Survey said that a seismic event measuring 5.1 magnitude had occurred on Tuesday, with North Korea later confirming the nuclear test.
"It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment," Korean Central News Agency said.
The test prompted the United Nations Security Council to call for an emergency meeting later on Tuesday and came as China celebrated the Lunar New Year, potentially increasing embarrassment for Beijing, the North's sole major economic and diplomatic ally.
"I think it will be proven to be a self-defeating and self-suffocating blunder on the part of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK]," said an Asian diplomat to the UN told Reuters in New York.
"They have chosen the worst timing to conduct this testing ... This will also be an open invitation to the international community to up the ante to corner the DPRK."
It may take days to ascertain whether North Korea used highly enriched uranium for the first time in the nuclear test, a move that would give it a second path to a nuclear weapon.
North Korea has used plutonium in previous tests and needs to conserve its stocks as testing eats into its limited supply of the material that could be used to construct a nuclear bomb.
The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation, the international atomic test monitor, said the event had hallmarks similar to the North's previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
"This act would constitute a clear threat to international peace and security, and challenges efforts made to strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation," it said.
Japan immediately called for sanctions against North Korea whose December long-range rocket launch prompted new UN sanctions that Pyongyang said earlier would push it to undertake a third nuclear test.
South Korea's defence ministry said additional nuclear tests and rocket launches by the North should not be ruled out.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Pyongyang had informed China and the United States of its plans to test on Monday.
When new leader Kim Jong-un took office after his father's death in December 2011, there were hopes the youthful leader would bring economic reforms and end his father Kim Jong-il's "military first" policies that have seen the country declare itself a "nuclear weapons state".
Since taking office however, he has purged the military, pushed ahead with two long-range rocket launches, which critics say breach UN sanctions.
Tuesday's action appeared to have been timed for the run-up to February 16 anniversary celebrations of Kim Jong-il's birthday, as well as to achieved maximum international attention.
But options for the international community appear to be in short supply, as North Korea is already one of the most heavily sanctioned states on earth.
Significantly, the test comes at a time of political transition in China, Japan and South Korea, and as US President Barack Obama begins his second term.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bedding down a new government and South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, prepares to take office on February 25.
China too is in the midst of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition to Xi Jinping, who takes office in March.
But the longer term game plan from Pyongyang may be to restart talks aimed at winning aide for its impoverished and stricken economy that is smaller than it was 20 years ago.
Its puny economy and small diplomatic reach means North Korea struggles to win attention on the global stage – other than through nuclear tests and attacks on South Korea, last made in 2010.
"Now the next step for North Korea will be to offer talks. They will either offer to restart six-party talks or military talks – any form to start up discussion again to bring things to their advantage," said Jeung Young-tae, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. – Reuters
Failure to resolve the situation "could lead to grave repercussions if the political forces do not act" to tackle it, Sissi said on Tuesday, in comments posted on his Facebook page.
"The continuing conflict between political forces and their differences concerning the management of the country could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations," he said.
His comments were excerpted from a speech he gave to students at a military academy.
Sissi, who is also the head of Egypt's military, further said that the political, economical, social and security problems facing Egypt constitute "a threat to the country's security and stability".
His comments will be seen as a warning to Egypt's political class, which has done little to end the unrest.
The army took power in Egypt after longtime president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, and it governed the country until presidential elections last June.
According to the healthy ministry, 240 people were wounded in Cairo, Port Said and nearby areas, with 178 arrested in Tahrir Square alone.
Sissi's remarks come after five days of nationwide unrest that left 52 people dead, hundreds wounded, and major cities paralysed.
The violence started primarily in Cairo and the eastern city of Suez on Friday, the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled Mubarak.
It spread on Saturday to Port Said, after a court sentenced 21 people to death in connection with a football riot there last year. Families of the defendants tried to storm the prison where their relatives were held, and 32 people were killed in the ensuing violence.
Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president, imposed a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew in Suez, Port Said and Ismailiah.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets on Monday night in defiance of that curfew, chanting "down, down with Mohamed Morsi." The army did little to enforce the curfew.
In Suez, meanwhile, hundreds of prisoners at a city jail made a failed attempt to escape during chaotic protests.
Powers of arrest
Egypt's upper house of parliament on Monday ratified a law that would grant the armed forces powers of arrest.
Morsi invited his allies and rivals for talks on Monday to try to resolve the political crisis. But the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, which had already rejected a similar call for dialogue last year, dismissed Morsi's offer as "cosmetic."
"We will not go to the dialogue today," Mohamed ElBaradei, the group's leader, said on Monday.
"We will send a message to the Egyptian people and the president of the republic about what we think are the essentials for dialogue. If he agrees to them, we are ready for dialogue."
The coalition's conditions included a demand that Morsi accept responsibility for the bloodshed and agree to form a government of national salvation, echoing previously unmet demands by the opposition.
(Aljazeera) 28 January 2013 - Police have fired tear-gas at protesters in downtown Cairo, just hours after President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emegency and a curfew in three Suez Canal cities.
Monday was the fifth consecutive day of street violence in Egypt.
Protests began last week to mark the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak; nearly 50 people have been killed so far.
Morsi delivered a televised address on Sunday night and announced the emergency measures in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez.
A curfew will take effect on Monday from 9:00pm local time (19:00 GMT) to 6:00am (04:00 GMT); he warned that more action would be taken to stem the violence.
"I have said I am against any emergency measures but I have said that if I must stop bloodshed and protect the people then I will act," he said.
He also called for dialogue with leading politicians starting on Monday to resolve the situation.
Seven people were shot dead and hundreds were injured in Port Said on Sunday during the funerals of at least 30 people killed during clashes in the city on the previous day.
"Down, down Morsi, down down the regime that killed and tortured us!" people in Port Said chanted as the coffins of those killed on Saturday were carried through the streets.
In Port Said, Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh said military helicopters that had been overhead during the funeral could also be heard during Morsi's speech.
"I dont see how these decisions will instil any confidence in the people," Rageh said, referring to the president's decision to impose a state of emergency.
She said that immediate reaction in Port Said was one of mockery and scepticism with many asking why the three canal cities had been singled out.
"The people [in Port Said] feel that there was a complete state of collapse especially after riots today, particularly with tear gas being fired into the funerals," she said.
Several hundred people protested in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said after the announcement.
Activists in the three cities pledged to defy the curfew in protest at the decision.
On Sunday night, Morsi’s office issued a statement inviting political supporters and opponents for a national dialogue on Monday at 6:00pm (16:00 GMT) at the presidential palace in Cairo.
The spokesman for Egypt's main opposition coalition said after Morsi's speech that the move was "expected" and said he wanted more details about an invitation for dialogue with top politicians.
"Of course we feel the president is missing the real problem on the ground which is his own policies," Dawoud told the Reuters news agency.
"His call to implement emergency law was an expected move given what is going on, namely thuggery and criminal actions."
Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist politician and opposition leader, said that he would not attend any negotiations "unless the bloodshed stops and the people's demands are met".
Mohamed ElBaradei, a leader of the NSF, said in a statement on Twitter that the dialogue was "a waste of time".
Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch in Cairo said a state of emergency reintroduced laws that gave police sweeping powers of arrest "purely because [people] look suspicious".
"It is a classic knee-jerk reaction to think the emergency law will help bring security," she said. "It gives so much discretion to the Ministry of Interior that it ends up causing more abuse which in turn causes more anger."
(WT) 28 January 2013 - Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi apologized in December for “mistakes” in rushing the country’s new constitution to ratification, and said he would “bear responsibility” for them. But he has offered no plan for fixing the document, which retains its Islamist goals and enshrines Shariah law while depriving Christians and other religious minorities of constitutional protections.
“There are dangerous articles in this constitution,” Coptic patriarch Pope Tawadros II told The Christian Post on Jan. 10.
Although Egypt’s constitution passed with more than 70 percent of the vote after its second referendum on Dec. 22, many citizens protested the rushed ratification process for such a profoundly Islamic document. Gangs of men loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood reacted swiftly to put down the protests. YouTube videos captured the anguished cries of beaten, bloody protesters as they tried vainly to repel the gangs of Islamist thugs who attacked them in Cairo's Tahrir Square, shouting, “Islamic law is fundamental in Egypt!”
Emboldened by their new constitution, Muslim Brotherhood members reportedly are raping Coptic women on the streets and using military tactics to intimidate protesters. Two women wearing niqabs cut off the hair of two Christian women on Cairo's subway on Dec. 11, according to the Egypt Independent, which described the attack as the third such incident in two months.
A diverse team of Islamists, secularists, Christians and other minorities was supposed to craft Egypt’s constitution together. Most of them resigned in protest over Islamist domination of the process. The remaining Islamists hastily finished the constitution in an overnight session on Nov. 30. The next day, Mr. Morsi issued an executive order calling for a national referendum on a document Egyptians barely had time to read.
This new constitution imposes a more Islamic system of governance on Egypt, according to the National Salvation Front, Egypt’s opposition umbrella group. It emphasizes specific tenets of Shariah law and declares that Al-Azhar University, an ancient Islamic institution in Cairo, will serve as sole interpreter of that law. It also gives greater powers to the president, who had already granted himself sweeping executive, judicial and legislative powers in a Nov. 22 decree.
Since then, Egypt has increasingly split into two factions: Islamists, and everyone else.
“A lot of the people who thought he was too soft — like the Salafists — are now going with Morsi,” said Raymond Ibrahim, a fellow with the David Horowitz Institute. “All they care about is one thing: Shariah.”
Most versions of Shariah law forbid Muslims to convert to other religions. In some interpretations, the penalty for such apostasy is death. Jews and Christians receive “dhimmi” status, under which they must pay a special citizenship tax. Mr. Ibrahim expects religious minorites will soon face a new blasphemy code, as well. Seventeen Coptic Christians have already been arrested for various forms of blasphemy, he said. Some received six-year prison sentences.
December’s referendum is more likely to affect Copts than Egypt’s secularists, Mr. Ibrahim said, because secularists can hide more easily. Coptic garb, crosses and churches compromise their anonymity. Their persecution will only deepen under Shariah law.
“The Muslim Brotherhood will control Egypt, will continue persecution, will control elections for Parliament, will control everything,” said Magdi Khalil, a Coptic political analyst and executive editor of Watani International, a weekly newspaper published in Cairo.
Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Khalil both think Egypt is likely to descend into civil war. They said anti-government protests are not going to stop — especially now that the new constitution has passed. The Muslim Brotherhood will continue using force to try to stamp out the opposition. The streets will be filled with demonstrators, blood and violence. But without support, Mr. Khalil says, the opposition will weaken.
If the Muslim Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi succeed in silencing dissent and retain control of Egypt, it could have significant implications for the entire region. Mr. Khalil believes it will usher in a “Muslim Brotherhood era” in the Middle East. The Brotherhood already has a foothold in Jordan, Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. Egypt would make a perfect kingpin.
“All these guys have one and the same agenda: the establishment of Shariah law, which is Draconian and medieval,” said Mr. Ibrahim. He believes the Brotherhood would strive to build an Islamic caliphate obligated to attack any non-Muslim state. The implications for relations with Israel and the West are worrisome.
Yet the United States has thus far been supportive of Mr. Morsi. Delegations from the Muslim Brotherhood have visited the White House. President Obama voiced “deep concern” about Mr. Morsi after violent protests on Dec. 6, but he has done little to curb the Egyptian leader’s power grabs.
“We need to change our direction,” Mr. Khalil said. “We can’t let them control the entire Middle East, Israel, and then spread to the West. The Muslim Brotherhood … has prepared for this moment — they hate the West, hate the Jews. Why do we help these people?”
(Aljazeera) 25 January 2013 - The US has denounced North Korea for threatening a third nuclear test, calling the warning "needlessly provocative".
North Korea, which put a satellite into orbit last month, made the threat on Thursday after an unanimous vote at the UN Security Council that expanded the number of entities on an international blacklist.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said he has seen no outward sign that North Korea will follow through soon on its plan to conduct a test. But that does not mean preparations are not under way.
"They have the capability, frankly, to conduct these tests in a way that make it very difficult to determine whether or not they are doing it,'' Panetta told reporters.
He added that the US administration was "prepared to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans".
North Korea's National Defence Commission said a nuclear test was part of "upcoming" action directed against the US, but did not say exactly when or where it would take place. The commission, led by leader Kim Jong-un, also made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry warheads aimed at striking the US.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said a nuclear test "would only increase Pyongyang's isolation".
"North Korea's statement is needlessly provocative and a test would be a significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,'' he said.
North Korea insists that its December 12 launch was a peaceful scientific mission. Outside experts agree that Pyongyang succeeded in putting a satellite in orbit, but US officials charged that the launch was aimed at developing a ballistic missile that could reach the US.
The US, supported by Japan and South Korea, spearheaded the new UN resolution. China, North Korea's main ally, supported the bid after lengthy negotiations in which it agreed to expand the number of entities under existing restrictions rather than create a new set of sanctions.
"North Korea will continue to face isolation if it refuses to take concrete steps to address the concerns of the international community over its nuclear and missile programmes," the State Department said in a statement.The United States added names to a blacklist that freezes any US-based assets of designated individuals and groups
and makes it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist them.
The State Department blacklisted the Korean Committee for Space Technology, which carries out Pyongyang's rocket launches, and two related individuals.
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a Hong Kong-based trading company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading Ltd, which it accused of assisting shipments for North Korea's main arms dealer.
It also blacklisted two Beijing-based representatives from the Tanchon Commercial Bank, which it said was the financial arm of Korea's Mining Development Trading Corporation, accused of missile transactions with Iran.
North Korea's sole major ally China urged "all relevant parties" to show restraint .
"All relevant parties should refrain from action that might escalate the situation in the region," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing.
(MissionNetworkNews) 16 January 2013 - The jihad in Somalia seems to have spilled into Kenya now where tensions between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority are building.
Even as the Muslim hardliners connected to al-Shabaab (subsequently al-Qaeda) gain influence, the economic plight in Kenya seems only to add fuel to the fires they're stirring.
As a result, attacks on churches, specifically designed to provoke communal anxiety, have been on the rise in Kenya. Last October, Kenyan military forces entered Somalia to engage the al-Shabaab.
At first deemed a successful operation, it's now thought that the militia responded with a recruitment drive of Kenyan youth, offering cash incentives for the families of would-be martyrs. Jihadists are also thought to be targeting nominal Christians.
Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA.First, he says, take this issue: "The unemployment rate in Kenya is said to be about 40%. Among out -of-school youth, it is thought to be as high as 75%. A lot of young people are out of school; they can't find a job."
Then, inject disillusionment: "Into that situation comes a radical Muslim recruiter who says, ‘Come and work for us. It's a regular paycheck. We'll take care of your family if anything happens to you. Why don't you come and join the fight?' That becomes an enticing offer when there are no jobs to be found."
What you wind up with is an escalation in tensions in Kenya, swelling numbers of Kenyan Muslims currently in al-Shabaab's ranks in Somalia, and even some nominal Christians. Nettleton explains, "In Kenya, there is a tribal identity that most people have. If your tribe is a majority Christian tribe, then somebody who meets you on the street just sort of assumes that you are a Christian."
Those young people make the perfect recruit because the Kenyan government isn't looking at the Christian tribes as a threat, notes Nettleton. "That gives them an opportunity to have more freedom of movement. It gives them an opportunity to conduct surprise attacks. Really, al-Shabaab is going for these people who can fly under the radar from a security standpoint, because people who see them assume that they are Christians."
Recruiting "Christians" to attack churches reveals the insidious nature of the jihad in Kenya, he adds. Churches are now putting in security measures similar to those used in Nigerian churches. Nettleton says, "When we think about church, we think of it as a refuge, a place of peace, a place where everyone is welcome. When you put armed guards and when you start frisking people when they come in the door, it's hard to maintain that openness."
Kenyan pastors are on high alert, but keep praying. Nettleton says there is a vibrant Church body in Kenya. "When you are nervous about having new people in your church because they could be bombers, that affects how you reach out; that affects how you welcome visitors; that affects everything about how you conduct the service and how you do things. I think the other side of that coin, really, is a reckoning of your faith."
Still, the strain on Christians is wearing, Nettleton adds. First, "We want to pray for their protection because there is a growing risk. There are more and more of these attacks that we see, so we need to pray that the Lord protects them."
Then, consider other ways you can support Kenyan believers. We'll connect you directly at our Featured Links Section.
(MissionNetworkNews) 14 January 2013 - A pepper of gunfire continues to play back and forth between Islamic rebels in Mali’s north and the Mali army in the south.
On Wednesday, Mali’s military attacked the rebel Islamic group called Ansar Dine with heavy weapons along the north-south dividing line, according to Mali officials. Rebels boasted of capturing soldiers in the attack.
Earlier on Tuesday, Islamist fighters reportedly pushed toward Mopti--the last government-controlled city in the north--and the army held them off with “warning shots.”
Peace talks were scheduled between the Mali government and Ansar Dine group members in the neighboring country of Burkina Faso on Thursday.
The potential for rebel forces in the northern territory--an area the size of France--to push south is troubling. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said to BBC News, “Obviously we are very concerned about the situation, and the development of essentially an entire terrorist region is of grave concern to everybody in the international community.”
While most of the world is fixated on radical Islamic presence in countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, Mali has kept a low profile. Muslim extremists didn’t rise up until March 2012 in a coup that led to their north takeover. The Taureg insurgents wanted to make their own country in the north.
Paul Estabrooks with Open Doors USA says, “The first thing they did was a kind of religious ethnic cleansing. They began to do house-to-house searches. They literally warned Christians that if they didn’t get out of this new country in the north part of Mali, they would kill them--and they weren’t joking. Many Christians were killed; others were injured severely.”
The Open Doors World Watch List tracks the top 50 countries that carry out persecution of Christians and restrict religious freedom. When the 2013 World Watch List was released January 8, the results for Mali were shocking.
According to Estabrooks, “Mali was not even on the World Watch List last year, and because of all the challenges there, [Mali] has suddenly jumped to 7th place out of 50 countries. It is a significant factor.”
Members of the group Ansar Dine are applying Islamic law in their north region, even punishing moderate Muslims. There have been reports of public amputations, executions, and whippings. Several people fled to neighboring countries and are living in refugee camps.
“It’s been a fairly quiet country, so [Christians] haven’t had a strong history of persecution,” says Estabrooks. “So when it comes suddenly like it has in Mali, it’s a real challenge for believers because they haven’t really prepared for what’s going on. The fear factor is an extremely difficult thing for them to deal with.”
Estabrooks says, “It’s a highly speculative situation at the moment. I mean we just don’t know what’s going to happen. Is it possible that things could be returned to some kind of normalcy? Or if not, will the north just literally overrun the south which is what they want to do? We’re in a wait-and-see kind of situation.”
Please pray for Christians to stand strong under persecution. Pray also for their safety. Pray that they would be ambassadors for Christ and bring hope to others living in fear.
(MorningStarNews) 11 January 2013 - Sudanese authorities rang in the new year by bulldozing a church building outside Khartoum because it belonged to Christians of South Sudanese origin and lacked a permit, a source said.
South Sudanese have been ordered to leave the country following the new republic’s secession from Sudan in July 2011, but thousands are reportedly stranded in the north due to loss of jobs, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan.
The source told Morning Star News by telephone that officials from the Khartoum State Ministry of Physical Infrastructure accompanied by police on Jan. 2 demolished the building of the Sudan Pentecostal Church in Soba Al Aradi, a Khartoum suburb that began as a refugee camp for South Sudanese. The destruction came without warning as part of a government survey of the area, he said.
“We are surveying this area because it was not officially demarcated,” a civil engineer surveying the area told area Christians, the source said. “We are bulldozing this building because it belongs to a church whose members are South Sudanese, but they are no longer citizens of Sudan.”
Officials said South Sudanese in the area are there illegally, but Christians said the government is targeting churches in its stated objective of making Sudan a purely Islamic country.
A Presbyterian church building in Soba Al Aradi also is slated for destruction, and authorities have already demolished a pastor’s house that was attached to it, the source said. Officials told pastor Mubarak Hamad of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, an Arabic-speaking congregation, that he needed to apply for a property permit. Pastor Hamad is from the Nuba Mountains, an area of Sudan populated by many of South Sudan origin.
The Pentecostal church building that was reduced to rubble was also lacking official permission, officials told church members. The church had erected the building on land donated by church members, who said they are victims of selective enforcement.
“I saw staff from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure of Khartoum state with policemen in plain uniform, and a bulldozer destroying the church building,” the source said.
Harassment, violence and arrests of Christians have reportedly intensified since the secession of South Sudan, when Sudan President Omar al Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
Church leaders say the government is targeting missionaries and expelling them from the country. Last month Sudan arrested two Coptic priests for baptizing a woman who had converted from Islam to Christianity. The whereabouts of the priests remain unknown, and security organs have refused to allow their families to visit them.
(InternationalChristianConcern) 11 January 2013 - Amid a campaign to arrest Christians, Vietnam’s communist government has implemented a new decree, giving authorities greater control over people’s religious lives in an apparent move to emulate China.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is believed to be leading a campaign with a set number of Christians to be arrested, according to AsiaNews.
The latest to be convicted are 14 political activists – most of them Catholics aged between 24 and 39.
Deutsche Welle reports that the 14 were convicted by a court in the central province of Nghe An on Dec. 9 under Article 79 of the penal code for “plotting to overthrow” the communist state. Three of them were sentenced to 13 years in prison, while the others were given between three and eight years.
Article 79 carries death penalty. The court said the “convicts” –and mostly students and bloggers – had links to the banned US-based opposition group Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, classified as a terrorist organization by the Vietnamese government.
“There is nothing to indicate the defendants intended to overthrow the government,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch was quoted as saying. “This trial is in the middle of a deepening crackdown that’s been gradually picking up speed in the past year, year and a half. They’re mowing down the ranks of activists in Vietnam.”
It is believed that the communist government in the single-party state wants to restrict civil rights in general and religious rights in particular to pre-empt any attempts by the people to oppose authorities. AsiaNews says some of the 14 arrested were picked up randomly during church services.
The convictions came about a month after a court in the north-western province of Lai Chau jailed four Christians from the Hmong ethnic minority after finding them guilty of “plotting to overthrow the government.”
One man was sentenced to seven years, while the other three received three years each, BBC reported on Dec. 13. The four were among the thousands of Hmong people who attended a religious gathering on a remote hilltop in May 2011, but the authorities called it a separatist uprising.
The Hmong ethnic minority allied with the United States during the Vietnam War. They are routinely attacked and discriminated against by the government, which still holds it against them.
In July 2011, security forces beheaded pastors and shot to death other Hmong Christians who gathered to await Christ’s return in Dien Bien province bordering Laos and China after a false prophecy by American preacher Harold Camping, according to Moriel Ministries.
The arrests can be read together with the coming in force of a new law, termed as “Decree 92,” from Jan. 1. It supersedes the decree of 2005, which was already highly repressive.
“Under the norm, religious will be forced to undergo to an ‘educational program’ on the history of Vietnam and its legislation, sponsored and held by representatives of the ministries of Interior, Justice and Education,” explains Nguyen Hung of AsiaNews. “Members of the clergy are required to prepare a specific request in the case of foreign travel for conferences and ask authorities’ ‘permission’ in the case of transfers to a different area of the country.”
Apart from retaining repressive provisions of the 2005 decree, Decree 92 also carries requirements for full legal recognition of a religious group. It says the group must have operated for 20 years without violating the law, including “infringing of national security.” This provision clashes with the existing ban on operating without legal recognition.
At a recent meeting between Chinese and Vietnamese government officials, Vice Chairwoman of National Assembly of Vietnam, Ms. Tòng Thị Phóng, said his country would increasingly model itself on China in matters of religious policies, according to AsiaNews.
Evangelicals are about 1.8 percent of the 89 million people in Vietnam, while other Christian groups account for 9.4 percent, according to Operation World.
Ryan Morgan, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “With Decree 92, the government of Vietnam has shown once again that it is not committed to creating anything like true religious freedom for the Vietnamese people.”
Any government that forces churches to be registered, then blocks churches from registering, and then intimidates those who lead or attend unregistered churches is a government determined to control the free expression of worship despite its protections under international law, Morgan said. “We call on the government of Vietnam to repeal any law that gives local authorities the power to persecute religious minorities and to immediately begin a more inclusive, transparent, and rapid church registration program.”
(WorthyNews) 09 January 2013 - Beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to deliver a speech on Sunday, January 6, a day after rights activists said a shell hit a Christian area of Damascus and a car bomb exploded elsewhere in the Syrian capital.
Syria's official SANA news agency said Assad was to speak about "developments in Syria and the region" amid new United Nations warnings that over 60,000 people have died in the 21-month old conflict between government forces and rebels opposed to the president's rule.
Assad has not spoken publicly since a June 3 address to parliament, observers said. His speech was expected to do little to ease minority Christians, who have been in the cross fire with both government troops and rebel Islamic militants attacking them.
"A shell was fired on Bab Tuma," a Christian quarter of Damascus's old city where 13 people died in an October car bomb blast, explained the Syrian Observatory for Human rights. It did not say where Saturday's shell landed or where it was fired from.
Syria's 1.8 million Christians make up some five percent of the population.
Church officials and rights groups say that many Christians have tried to remain neutral in the country's escalating conflict. Others have taken President Bashar al-Assad's side, for fear of Islamists who oppose their faith and accuse them of supporting the regime.
Foreign fighters have reportedly joined rebels as violence spreads.
"Foreign fighters are coming to Syria to impose their religious and political views in our country," French news agency AFP quoted Maryam, who lives in central Damascus, as saying. "These armed terrorists might force me to wear the veil, stop working and stay home," Maryam added, using only one name for apparent fear of repercussions.
A growing number of domestic and international Islamic militants have joined the Free Syrian Army, the main but fractured opposition force, or set up their own groups, according to Christian and Western officials.
Just ahead of Christmas, Syrian rebels warned two Christian towns in the central region of Hama they will be attacked if they do not evict pro-regime fighters.
Video footage released by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and entitled 'Warning mainly to Christian cities in the province of Hama', shows seven Islamist fighters armed with Kalashnikovs.
"We issue this warning so that you expel gangs of [President Bashar al-] Assad and shabiha [pro-regime militia] from your towns and convince them not to bomb our villages and families," said a fighter who identified himself as Rashid Abul Fida, head of the Al-Ansar Brigade in Hama.
"If not, we will immediately attack the hideouts of Assad's gangs and shabiha."
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told reporters that the towns of Mharda and Al-Sqilbiya to which the rebel video was addressed both had pre-war populations in the tens of thousands but most of their residents had already fled, taking refuge in the coastal province of Tartus.
Additionally, at least tens of thousands of Christians have fled the war-torn nation. However aging Christians remain holed up in often troubled areas, including a retirement home in the devastated northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
Reporters visiting the building said the Christians have no light, no telephone lines, and little idea of what is happening in the outside world.
The St Elie Rest Home, founded in 1863, is behind a black metal door on a street strewn with debris and rubbish a short way from the front line where rebels and regime forces face off against each other.
Many Syrian Christians have fled the war-torn nation, but others remain behind.
"We welcome everyone who has been abandoned or is in need," said Sister Marie, 75, the Mother Superior. "This is a place where life can be enjoyed," she told AFP, gesturing to the 20 rooms adjoining a cloister and courtyard with a fountain and greenery.
Fellow Christians and rebel fighters still ensure they do not go hungry, bringing the dozen or so residents whatever food they can every day.
"If we're hungry, there's always something we can eat," said resident Evan Wehbe, 66, who arrived at the home nine years ago because she could no longer pay her rent.
Yet, festive spirit remains a distant memory for Syria's Christian minority this New Year after it already faced a second Christmas in the grip of fear of daily violence and rising Islamism.
"We [were] in no mood to celebrate Christmas this year. Everyone around is me is so sad, and the situation is terrible," said George, a 38-year-old accountant from Damascus. "How am I going to celebrate now that many of my relatives have fled, and we have lost our loved ones? This Christmas [didn't] look anything like a celebration."
However, Syria’s Greek Orthodox leader has urged Christians to remain in Syria, despite its bloodshed which the UN called “overtly sectarian.”
Patriarch Yuhanna X Yazigi also appealed to warring parties to renounce violence and to start a process of dialogue.
“We Christians are here in the country and we will stay here," he said during his first press conference in Damascus since replacing Ignatius IV Hazim, who died on December 5.
"We believe that Christ is always present in this region, which is where Christianity was born."
(CSMonitor) 09 January 2013 - Egypt swore in 10 new ministers on Sunday in a Cabinet shake-up aimed at improving the government's handling of the country's ailing economy ahead of talks this week with theInternational Monetary Fund over a badly needed $4.8 billion loan.The reshuffle, which President Mohammed Morsi had promised in response to public anger over Egypt's economic malaise, affected two key ministries, the interior and finance. It also solidified Islamist control of the government, putting three portfolios in the hands of members of the president's Muslim Brotherhood.
The dire state of Egypt's economy was punctuated Sunday by new central bank figures that put December's foreign currency reserves at $15.01 billion, down $26 million from a month earlier. The reserves have dropped by more than half since the uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The central bank said last month that current reserve levels represent a "critical minimum."
Morsi met with the new ministers after their swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo where they discussed ways to revive tourism and attract foreign investors, a presidential official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, meanwhile, said he stressed in his first meeting with the new ministers the need for immediate action to stabilize the economy.
At the heart of those efforts lies the $4.8 billion loan that Egypt has requested from the IMF. Cairo says the funds are needed to bolster confidence in the country's economy and attract foreign investors.
Egypt asked the IMF for a delay in the talks on the loan after a wave of political turmoil erupted in December over a contentious new constitution. Mass protests and street violence tied to the constitution dealt yet another blow to major foreign currency earners, including tourism and foreign investment.
The opposition, a coalition of liberal, secular-leaning, and leftist groups, was not offered any seats in the new Cabinet and has said that any government shake-up that doesn't replace Mr. Kandil falls short of what is needed.
The two most important changes affect the finance and interior ministries.
El-Morsi Hegazy, a professor of public finance at Alexandria University, takes over the Finance Ministry, replacing Mumtaz el-Said, who was appointed by the country's transitional military rulers and widely viewed as being at odds with the Brotherhood.
Mohammed Ibrahim, meanwhile, will lead the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the police force. He previously was in charge of prisons and prior to that was director of security in the province of Assiut, which has a large Coptic Christian population and has also been home to a number of Islamic militant groups.
Mr. Ibrahim said his priorities will be to fight a rising wave of crime and restore stability to Egypt.
"We will strike with an iron fist against anyone that threatens the security of the nation and Egyptians," Ibrahim told the state news agency, pledging to clamp down on cross-border weapons smuggling. Egypt has been flush with weapons smuggled from Libya andSudan.
Three of the new ministers are from the Brotherhood, according to the spokesman for the group's Freedom and Justice Party, Ahmed Subaie. They take over the ministries of transportation, local development, and supply and interior trade, giving the Brotherhood a total of eight Cabinet posts.
Also included in the reshuffle were the ministries of civil aviation, environment, electricity, communication, and parliamentary affairs.
Karim Ennarah, a researcher on police and security reforms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the previous interior minister, Ahmed Gamal Eddin, was likely replaced because Brotherhood leaders were upset with the police's handling of attacks against the group's offices and supporters during clashes with the opposition last month over the constitution.
"It seems like it is a clash of egos. It's obviously not a reform of any kind," Mr. Ennarah said.
With the new Cabinet set, Kandil told reporters he will meet with IMF officials Monday "to reassure them about Egypt's situation and economic recovery in the coming period."
An IMF statement said the purpose of the visit is "to discuss with the authorities the most recent economic developments, their policy plans for addressing Egypt's economic and financial challenges, and possible IMF support for Egypt in facing these challenges."
Egyptian officials have said that the country's budget deficit is likely to reach 200 billion Egyptian pounds ($31.5 billion) by mid-2013.
The implementation of austerity measures, many of which are believed to be linked to conditions attached to the IMF loan, was also delayed last month due to the political situation.
Kandil's government is expected to announce tax hikes and cuts in subsidies soon. Talk of restructuring the current system is sensitive in a nation where nearly half of its 85 million people live just at or below the poverty line of $2 per person a day.
* Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed.
(Christianity Today) 08 January 2013 - Barnabas Fund has transported over 2,300 Christians from Sudan since the start of its rescue mission four months ago.
The Christians are being evacuated because of increasing hostility in the majority-Muslim country.
After South Sudan gained independence in 2011, the largely Christian Southerners living in Sudan lost their citizenship rights and were ordered to leave.
There is little sign of conditions improving as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to bring in a fully Islamic constitution and strengthen sharia law.
The Christians in the Barnabas evacuation programme are being taken to South Sudan, which is largely Christian.
The evacuees, who include women and children, are being transported by bus in partnership with Africa Inland Church Sudan.
There are plans to rescue another 1,500 from Sudan.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said: "It has been wonderful to see the Lord’s hand at work in the Exodus mission.
"There have been many difficulties and setbacks, but each time He has opened the way and has made this endeavour more fruitful than we could have asked or imagined.
"We pray that He will continue to bless this work so that many more Christian women and children trapped in Sudan can be helped to safety."
(MSN) 07 January 2013 - When Iran’s holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaims, “Israel must be wiped off the map,” the United States rightly takes the threat of genocide seriously. President Obama, like his predecessor, is committed to preventing the eradication of the people of Israel. Conservative U.S. Christian leadership, as reflected by Christians United for Israel, has strongly backed this commitment.
There is, however, another threat of genocide in the Middle East. It is the religious cleansing of Christians and other religious minorities from the Sunni-dominated Middle East. This danger remains unacknowledged by President Obama and has received little attention, with few exceptions, from U.S. Christian leadership on both the right the left.
Not so abroad. Already, last year, former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy drew the attention of the international community respectively to acts of “genocide” and “a perverse program of religious cleansing” directed at the Middle East’s 10-12 million Christians. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly appeals for prayer and action on behalf of the region’s endangered Christian communities.
Today, the crisis of religious cleansing is particularly acute in Syria. The general chaos and confusion of civil war harms all Syrians irrespective of religion. But members of religious minorities – roughly 25 percent of the population – are targeted for murder, abduction, displacement and humiliation with increasing frequency and ferocity. Religious cleansing proceeds under the publicly proclaimed slogan, “Alawites [a branch of Shia Islam] to the grave, and Christians to Beirut!” – a proclamation, like President Ahmadinejad’s, of genocidal intent.
Evidence of the ascendancy of Muslim supremacy and jihadist ideology within Syria’s armed opposition grows more visible. The Islamist-dominated militias, with the lethal support of the United States’ closest regional Sunni allies – in particular Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – strive to overthrow the secular dictatorship of Bashar al Assad and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state to serve as a barrier to Shiite Iran.
It is a tragic irony that Syrian religious minorities feel compelled to cling to the brutal Assad dictatorship – not out of love for the regime, but for survival in the face of religious cleansing from the side of U.S.-supported Islamists. The failure of the Syrian opposition and its foreign patrons to gain the confidence of minorities has prolonged the life of the Assad regime and condemned all the Syrian people to still more death and destruction.
In November 2011, aid and advocacy group Christian Solidarity International issued a Genocide Alert for the Islamic Middle East. Since then others have sounded similar alarms. Speaking recently at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, former Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith – the bearer of impressive anti-genocide credentials – predicted: “The next genocide in the world will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”
Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, elaborated in a New York Times article entitled “The World’s Next Genocide”:
“Growing numbers of foreign Sunni extremist fighters are battling not just to rid Syria of Mr. Assad, but to religiously cleanse it. As a result, many Syrian Christians now fear that their fate will mirror that of Iraqi Christians, who were largely forced out of Iraq by war and sectarian terrorism. The city of Homs was once home to 80,000 Christians; there are now reportedly fewer than 400.”
Less than two weeks ago, the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued an alarming report, confirming that the revolution in Syria “has become overtly sectarian.” The commission concludes:
“Entire communities are at risk of being forced out of the country or of being killed inside the country. With communities believing – not without cause – that they face an existential threat, the need for a negotiated settlement is more urgent than ever.”
While the current crisis of religious cleansing is most acute in Syria, we now see in Egypt – ruled by a new U.S.-financed Islamist autocracy – an upsurge in anti-Christian hate speech, pogroms against Christians, and the religious cleansing of the pyramid village of Dahshour. Conditions for anti-Christian acts of genocide currently exist in Egypt.
Employing the refrain “Never again!” President Obama pledged on April 23 at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to use the many instruments at his disposal to prevent genocide. He furthermore announced the establishment of a new instrument – the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board, headed by Samantha Power – and unveiled tough U.S. sanctions against the Syrian and Iranian regimes. But the existential threat to Syria’s Christians was left unaddressed.
U.S. Christian leadership cannot credibly allow religious cleansing in the Middle East to proceed unchallenged. As President Obama prepares his State of the Union Address, the time is ripe to urge him to reveal a Middle East genocide prevention plan.
At the Holocaust Museum, President Obama reiterated a fundamental principal of U.S. foreign policy: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United State of America.” U.S. Christian leadership, if it has the will, can help prevent the eradication of Christian communities in the Middle East by encouraging President Obama to defend this vital tenet of sound foreign policy.
(Morning Star News) http://morningstarnews.org/2013/01/religious-cleansing-in-the-middle-east-a-growing-threat/
(CSW) 04 January 2013 - Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is deeply concerned about the vague and restrictive nature of a new “decree” in Vietnam relating to freedom of religion or belief that came into force on 1 January.
The document, entitled “Decree No. 92: Specific provisions and measures for the implementation of the Ordinance on Belief and Religion” was issued on 8 November 2012. The decree supersedes “Decree 22”, which was issued in 2005.
The new decree sets out the conditions for registration of religious activities and practitioners and includes a wide range of limitations on religious practice. Although parts of the decree are similar to the 2005 decree, some new stipulations and conditions are introduced, including new requirements for “foreigners” organising religious conferences and events in Vietnam.
Nguyen Hung of AsiaNews believes the decree follows the Chinese model of control of religions. Nguyen’s report cites Catholic priests and parishioners who believe this “backward” decree is a sign that the government is “looking for a way to control and restrict the freedom of religion”.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA), Head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Quang Do, who is currently under house arrest, warned that the new decree will “seriously curtail religious freedom” in Vietnam. The 84-year-old leader claims that the decree is more restrictive than previous decrees. The International Buddhist Information Bureau has also expressed concern that the decree increases state control of religions and further undermines religious freedom in Vietnam.
CSW’s Advocacy Director, Andrew Johnston, said: “Whilst welcoming the Vietnamese government’s recognition of the need for new guidance on the implementation of laws relating to religion in Vietnam, CSW is deeply concerned about the restrictive nature of Decree 92. Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), however this decree appears to restrict religious activities in a manner not consistent with its obligations under the ICCPR, and Article 18 particularly, relating to freedom of religion or belief. CSW urges the Government of Vietnam to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is fully guaranteed by law.”
(NYTIMES) 03 January 2013 - GENEVA — More than 60,000 people have died in Syria’s 22-month-old civil war, the United Nations’ human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said on Wednesday, expressing dismay at the findings of an analysis that far exceeds previous estimates of casualties.
“The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” Ms. Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement that condemned the government of President Bashar al-Assad for the scale of the carnage and sharply admonished the United Nations Security Council for failing to act.
"The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the bloodletting, shames us all,” she said.
An “exhaustive analysis” of casualties in Syria documented 59,648 killings between mid-March 2011 and the end of November, Ms. Pillay reported. “Given there has been no letup in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” she added.
Ms. Pillay’s comments coincided with reports that an airstrike on a gas station in Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Wednesday may have killed dozens and injured many more, while heavy fighting around the northern city of Aleppo had forced closure of its international airport.
The analysis of deaths in Syria, described by Ms. Pillay as the most detailed and wide ranging to date, was based on a study of seven data sets, including one from the Syrian government, conducted on behalf of the United Nations human rights office by Benetech, a nonprofit technology company whose three earlier analyses of Syrian casualties used fewer data sets.
The analysis, which took five months to complete, drew from a combined list of 147,349 reported killings. Duplicate listings were excluded, as was any report that did not include at least the first and last name of the victim and the date and location of the death. In the end, the analysts came up with a unique record of 59,648 conflict-related deaths as of Nov. 30, 2012. Given that the total excluded reports with insufficient detail, the true toll could easily be higher.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a rebel group that tracks the war and is based in Britain, reported two days earlier that more than 45,000 people, mostly civilians, had been killed. The United Nations said its data could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but, like the observatory, it concluded that the rate of killings had accelerated. The death toll had climbed from around 1,000 a month in the summer of 2011 to more than 5,000 a month since July, the report for the United Nations said.
“This massive loss of life could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians,” Ms. Pillay said.
Most of the killings occurred in Homs (12,560), Damascus and its environs (10,862) and Idlib (7,686), with those three areas accounting for about half the total, followed by Aleppo, Dara’a and Hama. Around three-quarters of those killed were male, the analysis found.
“Unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict, I fear thousands more will die or suffer terrible injuries as a result of those who harbor the obstinate belief that something can be achieved by more bloodshed, more torture and more mindless destruction,” Ms. Pillay said.
Her comments echoed warnings in the past week by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League mediator for Syria, that Syria must achieve a political solution or face “hell,” with the danger that 100,000 people could die in 2013 if the conflict was not halted.
Mr. Brahimi spoke after visits to Moscow and Damascus at the end of last month in his latest push to kick-start stalled negotiations on a transitional government based on the formula agreed to in Geneva in June 2012, but his efforts have attracted scant support from Syrian opposition groups.
(CharismaNews) 03 January 2013 -North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas, technically still at war in the absence of a peace treaty to end their 1950-53 conflict, in a surprise New Year speech broadcast on state media.
The address by Kim, who took over power in the reclusive state after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011, appeared to take the place of the policy-setting New Year editorial published in leading state newspapers.
But North Korea has offered olive branches before and Kim's speech does not necessarily signify a change in tack from a country which vilifies the United States and U.S. ally South Korea at every chance it gets.
Impoverished North Korea raised tensions in the region by launching a long-range rocket in December that it said was aimed at putting a scientific satellite in orbit, drawing international condemnation.
North Korea, which considers North and South as one country, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests.
"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the north and the south," Kim said in the address that appeared to be pre-recorded and was made at an undisclosed location.
"The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war."
The New Year address was the first in 19 years by a North Korean leader after the death of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un's grandfather. Kim Jong-il rarely spoke in public and disclosed his national policy agenda in editorials in state newspapers.
"(Kim's statement) apparently contains a message that he has an intention to dispel the current face-off (between the two Koreas), which could eventually be linked with the North's call for aid (from the South)," said Kim Tae-woo, a North Korea expert at the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification.
"But such a move does not necessarily mean any substantive change in the North Korean regime's policy towards the South."
The two Koreas have seen tensions rise to the highest level in decades after the North bombed a Southern island in 2010 killing two civilians and two soldiers.
The sinking of a South Korean navy ship earlier that year was blamed on the North but Pyongyang has denied it and accused Seoul of waging a smear campaign against its leadership.
Last month, South Korea elected as president Park Geun-hye, a conservative daughter of assassinated military ruler Park Chung-hee whom Kim Il-sung had tried to kill at the height of their Cold War confrontation.
Park has vowed to pursue engagement with the North and called for dialogue to build confidence but has demanded that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, something it is unlikely to do.
Conspicuously absent from Kim's speech was any mention of the nuclear arms program.
(AINA) 02 January 2013 - Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Iraq in a show of opposition against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Demonstrators upheld a blockade of the main road to Syria and Jordan for a sixth day.
Protesters from Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority poured onto the streets after Friday's prayers in the latest of a series of demonstrations against the Shi'ite Muslim premier.
Near the central city of Falluja around 60,000 people keep up an almost week-old blockade of the main highway. Demonstrators set fire to the Iranian flag, shouting "out, out Iran! Baghdad stays free" and "Maliki you coward, don't take your advice from Iran."
Demonstrations were also held in the northern city of Mosul and in Samarra, where protesters chanted "the people want to bring down the regime."
Many Sunni's have called for the prime minister to step down, accusing him of refusing to share power and favoring Iraq's Sh'iite neighbor Iran.
Speaking on Friday the al-Maliki condemned the protest action. "It is not acceptable to express something by blocking roads, inciting sedition and sectarianism, killing, or blowing the trumpet of war and dividing Iraq," he said at a conference broadcast on state television.
Protests erupted on Sunday after troops loyal to the prime minister detained at least nine bodyguards of Iraq's Sunni finance minister on terrorism charges. In daily protests activists have called for an end to the marginalization of Sunnis, the abolition of anti-terrorism laws they say are used to target them, and the release of the bodyguards.
Their arrest came almost exactly a year after Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's guards were also arrested on terrorism charges. An arrest warrant was later issued for Hashem who has since been handed multiple death sentences in absentia on charges including murder. His guards have also been given death sentences.
Days before voting began on the hastily completed charter—which, despite only 33 percent turnout and accusations of fraud, passedDecember 25 with 64 percent of the vote—more than 10,000 Christians gathered at an interdenominational prayer vigil in Cairo's famous "Cave Church."
"Some of us see demonstrations and conspiracies. Some say this country is being destroyed or being stolen," said Andrawus Iskander, a Coptic Orthodox priest from the Nile Delta, to the gathered crowd. "But I say God is coming, and he will not be late. This year will be the best ever for the church. The heavens will open and we will be united. We will be freed from fear and learn to love."
But many Christians fear the worst. "There will be violent threats coming against Copts, because the whole political scene has become sectarian," said Hani Labib, a Coptic political analyst. "No matter the issue, it is the Copts who are put in the limelight for their opposition [to the Islamist agenda]. Since most are unable to emigrate, this pressure will result in them returning to their isolation within the church."
Many Christians joined liberal activists and hardened revolutionaries to take to the streets prior to the referendum, demonstrating against the proposed constitution. With many others, Christians feared the limitation of rights and freedoms due to the wider scope of shari'ah law and the requirement to consult with unelected religious scholars on legislation.
President Mohamed Morsi's Islamist allies turned the Christian presence into a campaign slogan. They accused the opposition of treason and implied that the vast majority of protestors were Copts
"I say to the church, yes, you share this country with us," said Safwat Hegazi, an Islamist preacher and presidential appointee to the National Council for Human Rights. "But there are red lines, and our red lines are the legitimacy of Dr. Morsi."
He then employed a colloquial, but dangerous expression: "Whoever splashes it with water [discredits it], we will splash him with blood [spill his blood]."
"Morsi has not kept his promises to be a president for all Egyptians when he had a chance to do so, and he is losing credibility," said Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt. "When the leader is not working for consensus, it makes it very hard for anyone else to do so."
Yet Atallah still advises Christians to remain politically active while grounding their expectations in the necessary dual perspective of Christianity.
"We must be good citizens," he said. "This panic is not justified in our faith, even if it may be justified in terms of politics.
"I am impressed that Christians, like all Egyptians, are more politically aware now than ever before—this must continue," Atallah said. "But we must never feel God is against us because we prayed for something and did not get it. It is very dangerous to connect the two."
Others place even more hope in political activism, despite the setback of failing to stop the new constitution from being approved.
"We have to work very hard to prepare for the parliamentary elections, because this is where all legislation will be fleshed out," said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Coptic newspaper Watani. Important religious rights and liberties promised in the constitution threaten to be restricted by other Islamist-friendly clauses, he said.
(CP) 28 December 2012 - A recent survey performed by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has found that the Christian population in the country is growing, and currently comprises two percent of the total population.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country in a Christmas message that the country's Christian communities are "strong, growing, and wholly integrated into the life of the country," according to Catholic Culture.
The survey, conducted by the CBS and reported on by The Jerusalem Post, found that currently, 158,000 Christians live in Israel, the majority of which, at 80 percent, are Arabs living in the north of the country, while the remainder are mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who returned to the country to seek citizenship.
The Jerusalem Post also noted that the Christian population holds a growth rate of 1.3 percent, compared to 1.8 percent for the Jewish population and 2.5 percent for Muslims.
Additionally, the CBS report found that 64 percent of Christian high school students receive a graduation diploma, the highest of percentages compared to Muslim and Jewish citizens.
Although the CBS report proves promising for Israel's Christian population, critics contend that it does not shed light on the intense internal struggles among religious factions within the county.
For example, in early December, the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem's Sacher Park was vandalized with graffiti messages which condemned Christianity and touted Judaism.
The vandalism was reportedly done by a group of right-wing extremists, according to Haaretz.
Similarly, a late-December article published by the Guardian indicated a growing fear among Christians in the Israel and Palestine territories who fear growing Israeli settlements will further tear apart the historical Christian community in these areas.
"For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a Christmas address.
As Catholic Culture points out, many local Christians dispute the claim that their population is growing in Israel, arguing that it continues to diminish as the years pass.
Still, many Christians continue to see the Israel and Palestine areas as the Holy Land of their religion.
For example, on Monday, Dec. 24, thousands of Christians embarked on a pilgrimage from Jerusalem's Old City to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Manger Square.
-----------------------------------------------Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/christian-population-in-israel-growing-mostly-among-arabs-87266/#GqjcBfR7u27ztZjA.99
(AllVoices) 24 December 2012 - According to reports, Egyptians have endorsed a controversial draft constitution in a two-stage referendum. The approved charter gives Islamists the mandate to decide the future of Egypt, which has a considerable Christian population and other minorities.
The new constitution, drafted by a predominantly Islamist group to exclude the aspirations of Christians and liberals, is expected to come into effect this week. The final endorsement of the constitution by Egyptians has crystallized the fears of liberals, religious minorities and women that all is not well in the state of Egypt.
The new constitution may provide Egypt’s transition period an ostensible closure. However, with violence, lawlessness and disapproval simmering from a large chunk of Egypt’s minority, there are apprehensions that the Arab world’s most populous nation is sliding into a state of civil strife.
Ever since the constitutional draft was passed without any consensus from secular groups and liberals, the Coptic Christians have taken an unprecedented approach in the constitutional struggle. The Coptic Orthodox Church withdrew six of its members from the Constituent Assembly as a mark of protest, and later declined to join the “national dialogue” staged by President Mohamed Morsi.
Despite the protests and violence that engulfed the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, theMuslim Brotherhood has managed to sustain its will in influencing the Egyptians, especially the conservative, uneducated and traditional sections to vote in favor of the new draft.
The manner in which supporters of Muslim Brotherhood swept down on anti-Morsi protesters on Dec. 5 outside the presidential palace—trying to dismantle the protests with violence—predicts a new Egypt that stretches beyond the politics of the constitution itself.
There’s no doubt that the draft constitution finalized by the Islamists has polarized Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, accuses liberals of attempting to curtail a right to bring Islamic law, which they earned with election victories the past year.
According to a report in the Washington Times, the new constitution now openly seeks to “establish dictatorial arrogance with a blatant disregard for religious freedom” within Egypt.
The new legislation can now endorse religious discrimination, and there are apprehensions that that once the constitution takes effect, Egypt will witness a new phase of repression. Sharia, or Islamic religious law, will be the basis of legislation, and some of the doctrines in the constitution essentially relegate non-Muslims to a position of second-class citizenry.
Coptic Christians are among the major casualties as Morsi’s constitution insists on Egypt’s religious identity and not the nation’s secular identity. The legal framework meant to ensure equality for all Egyptians, including the Coptics who comprise nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s population, has been severely compromised.
The single largest Christian community in the Middle East now looks at a future that is uncertain, unstable and filled with peril. The apprehension is that it will be worse with the Islamists who have dominated Egypt’s political landscape since the dismantling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
For the rest of the world, it is crystal clear that the despite the Muslim Brotherhood emerging victorious in the referendum, the new constitution displays a sharper dichotomy between democratic groups and Islamists.
The Islamists have definitely gained legitimacy by operating anti-democratic forces during Egypt’s transition, and the world has no reason to endorse the victory just because the Muslim Brotherhood gained acceptance through elections.
(AINA) 17 December 2012 - The Lebanese city of Zahle sits high the Bekaa valley, on the ancient highway that connects Damascus to Beirut and the world beyond it across the Mediterranean.
To reach it from the coast by road in December you climb sharply through a series of hairpin bends - every few minutes you catch a glimpse of the steep highland scenery as a gap appears in the raw, foggy air.
Zahle - a Christian city - has known dark times.
It became a dangerous frontline as the armed forces of Syria intervened in Lebanon's long, complex and bitter civil war in the 1980s.
In a very similar conflict in the 1860s it was torched by besieging Druze and Turkish fighters after its Christian defenders were defeated. Civilians were massacred in the bloody aftermath. Return and rebuild
These days, Zahle is a place of safety.
Christian families fleeing the violence and chaos of Syria's civil war just a few kilometres further down that ancient highway are arriving in the city where Christian aid agencies care for them.
The question is - will be they be able to return to their homes once the fighting dies down or will they become the latest chapter in the long story of the how the Christian population of the Middle East is continuing to decline?
For now, the refugees I met in Lebanon were optimistic; the talk is of returning and rebuilding.
But the omens are not good.
At moments of crisis in the Middle East, Christians have tended to pack and leave to build safer and more peaceful lives for themselves elsewhere - think of Palestine in 1948 or Iraq in our own turbulent times.
The statistics are striking. A hundred years ago it's thought that around a fifth of the population of the Middle East was Christian, although it's hard to be certain. These days the figure is probably closer to 5%.
Christians are no longer a majority in Lebanon which was once a political and cultural stronghold - and they're even in a minority in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, the very birthplace of Christ. Christian flight
In an age where we tend rather arrogantly to see Christianity as a phenomenon of the developed world - the faith that colonising Europeans took to the territories they conquered - it's worth remembering that the Middle East is the cradle of the faith.
St Paul was travelling to Damascus when he was blinded in a moment of conversion, after all. The street where he stayed as he recovered is still there now.
If current trends continue, then soon Christian influence in the Middle East may dwindle to nothing.
At the moment Egypt is something of a stronghold - about 10% of the population are Copts - descendants of the ancient pre-Muslim inhabitants of the country. But modern Egypt is overwhelmingly Muslim, and many Christians are worried that under an Islamist government, the country will become for them an increasingly cold house.
The new Coptic Pope Tawadros told us that the battle over the nature of the country's new constitution would play an important role in determining how comfortable the new Egypt would be for its original inhabitants.
"We hope that in future there's equality for all Egyptians," he said. "But in the past Christians have not shared completely in social and political life. The constitution has to be under the umbrella of citizenship, not the umbrella of religion."
The fate of the Copts under Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak was interesting.
They weren't persecuted but they lived under heavy restrictions which made it clear the country belonged more to the Muslim majority than it did to them. Building a new church or even repairing an old one required absurdly high levels of official approval (up to the president). Building or repairing a mosque was infinitely easier.
And one of the reasons why the flight of Christians from Middle East in general is a difficult story to tell is that it is in general not a story of persecution but of subtler demographic factors. Underprivileged
There has been anti-Christian violence - most notably in Iraq in recent years.
But the Christian population is falling in statistical terms partly because it has a much lower birth-rate than the Muslim population around it.
And it has a high propensity to emigrate.
Not all Middle Eastern Christians are affluent or well-educated - some of those who fled the violence in Iraq were poor and under-privileged.
But many are well educated, with good language skills learned at religious schools and strong international support networks - many Christian churches are international. So in hard times, it's simply easier for them to leave.
Even in Lebanon, which once had a Christian majority, numbers have dwindled.
In Beirut I met Fadi Halisso, a Roman Catholic former engineer from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo who's now studying for the Jesuit priesthood in the Lebanese capital.
He said Christians tended to want to live peacefully in a turbulent region and were quick to leave as soon as that peace was threatened - he quoted for me the example of an Armenian Orthodox community in his own home city who had left as soon as the shadow of violence threatened. It's not clear when, if ever, they will return.
"We can't say that Christians are targeted," he told me. " In Iraq they were caught in the middle of war and I don't think they were targeted more than other groups. In general Christians are not numerous, they don't carry weapons and they prefer to retreat."
When I asked Fadi whether Muslim hostility towards Christians, or the rise of political Islam were factors in the declining Christian population, he told me that individual incidents like attacks on churches in Alexandria or Baghdad could have a disproportionate effect.
"We cannot say that Muslims are hostile towards Christians," he told me. "There are some, but of course when you have a few people making troubles, they can affect the whole region. After those church attacks, the Christians of the region felt threatened even though it was in another country or far away. It's an overall impression that we are not welcome anymore even if we have good relationships with our neighbours." Fear of persecution
Fadi told me he thought it was inevitable that the Christian population of the Middle East would continue to decline because of its own demographic characteristics.
Which leaves the question of what will happen to the Christians who have fled the fighting in Syria so far.
Some of the refugees we met in Lebanon were supporters of the Assad regime - believing in the official line that it has protected religious minorities - and others had worked actively in the opposition movement to bring it down.
Those young activists are optimistic, believing that a new, tolerant Syria can eventually be built on the ruins of civil war, in which Christians and Muslims will be able to live side by side.
The Christian refugees who believe in Assad seem to feel they'll only be able to go back if he somehow eventually prevails over the rebellion, however unlikely that now seems. If he loses, they believe an Islamist state will be created in which minorities will be persecuted and forced out.
An image stays with me of one father living with 25 members of his family in an apartment in Zahle in the Bekaa Valley - their home in Homs was destroyed in the fighting in Syria.
His two-year-old son has sad, wise eyes and soft, long hair.
By local tradition his hair won't be cut until he's baptised and his parents won't have him baptised until they can have it done back home in Syria.
As we sat and chatted, the father absent-mindedly stroked his son's head. You couldn't help but wonder how much more waiting they face before that baptism can eventually take place.
By Kevin Connolly
(AINA) 17 December 2012 - Baghdad -- An Advent of light and shadow for Iraq's Christians, who are celebrating the reopening of the cathedral of Baghdad but at the same time subjected to new - and heavy - threats from a radical Shiite Muslim leader. From studies of a television broadcaster based in Egypt, an Iraqi Ayatollah launches a fatwa against the religious minority on the eve of Christmas: "Conversion to Islam or death." However, strength of faith overcomes the fear of violence as witnessed by celebrations for the "rebirth" of the Syrian Catholic cathedral in the capital, the scene of a bloody attack at the end of October 2010 (see AsiaNews 31/10/2010 Al Qaeda attack on Baghdad church ends in massacre)
In an interview last December 13 on Egyptian television Al Baghdadia, the Shiite ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi issued a fatwa against Christians in Iraq. Labeling them as "polytheists" and "friends of the Zionists", the extremist leader stressed that they must choose "or Islam or death," while "their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims." Al Baghdadi is known for his "jihad" positions and for attacking Americans in the past during their presence in the country, and today he lives in Syria, supporting the armed opposition.
Catholic sources in the capital tell AsiaNews that it is "a very serious fatwa," but "it is unlikely that people will be upset too much." The government pays "attention" to these proclamations by extremists, however it is possible that such words could "create panic in some areas of the capital," where there are now "very few" Christians.
This morning meanwhile Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, presided over the rededication ceremony of the restored Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The place which reopened yesterday to worship and to the faithful, was the scene October 31, 2010 of a massacre carried out by a group of al Qaeda, which killed about 50 faithful and two priests.
During the homily, the cardinal immediately recalled the "testimony offered by many of our brothers and sisters" who "preceded by two young and heroic priests" united forever "their lives to Jesus Christ." He highlighted the "honorable sacrifices" that have allowed the reopening of the cathedral and pointed out that, through the comfort and hope "the Lord encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to communion and testimony." Bringing the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sandri invoked the Lord, so that "the tears shed in this sacred place, become the good seed of communion and witness and bear much fruit."
The Vatican cardinal is in Iraq for a five-day official visit, which began on December 13, in addition to the consecration, Cardinal Sandri took part in the Christmas concert organized for the Year of Faith in the Armenian cathedral in the capital, while over the next days he will visit Kirkuk and Erbil in the north.
(net.news) 17 December 2012 -Iran: Patriot missiles in Turkey threaten world war. Iran's army chief of staff warned NATO on Saturday that stationing Patriot anti-missile batteries on Turkey's border with Syria was setting the stage for world war.
General Hassan Firouzabadi, whose country has been a staunch supporter of President Bashar Assad throughout the 21-month uprising against his rule, called on the Western military alliance to reverse its decision to deploy the defense system.
"Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war," Firouzabadi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency. "They are making plans for a world war and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself."
Despite the warning, Firouzabadi did not threaten any action against Turkey in his speech to senior commanders at the National Defense University in Tehran. "We are Turkey's friend and we want security for Turkey," he said.
NATO's US commander said on Friday the alliance was deploying the anti-missile system along Syria's northern frontier because Assad's forces had fired Scud missiles that landed near Turkish territory.
Damascus denies firing the long-range, Soviet-built rockets. But, forced on the defensive by mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, Syria's 47-year-old Alawite president has resorted increasingly to air strikes and artillery to stem their advances.
NATO military commander Admiral James Stavridis said a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria in recent days towards opposition targets and "several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome".
It was not clear how close they came. Turkey, a NATO member once friendly toward Assad but now among the main allies of the rebels, has complained for months of artillery and gunfire across the border, some of which has caused deaths. It sought the installation of missile defenses some weeks ago.
"Syria is clearly a chaotic and dangerous situation, but we have an absolute obligation to defend the borders of the alliance from any threat emanating from that troubled state," Stavridis wrote in a blog on Friday.
Batteries of US-made Patriot missiles, designed to shoot down the likes of the Scuds popularly associated with Iraq's 1991 Gulf War under Saddam Hussein, are about to be deployed by the US, German and Dutch armies, each of which is sending up to 400 troops to operate and protect the rocket systems.
Damascus has accused Western powers of backing what it portrays as a Sunni Islamist "terrorist" campaign against it and says Washington and Europe have publicly voiced concerns of late that Assad's forces might resort to chemical weapons solely as a pretext for preparing a possible military intervention.
In contrast to NATO's air campaign in support of Libya's successful revolt last year against Muammar Gaddafi, Western powers have shied away from intervention in Syria. They have cited the greater size and ethnic and religious complexity of a major Arab state at the heart of the Middle East – but have also lacked UN approval due to Russia's support for Assad.
Forty thousand people have now been killed in what has become the most protracted and destructive of the Arab revolts.
(CIC) 17 December 2012 - A sophisticated media campaign was launched last summer to reverse the trend of Muslim conversions to Christianity in Indonesia.
(AsiaNews.it) 13 December 2012 - Taking advantage of the chaos connected with the upcoming constitutional referendum, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took control of Egypt's central bank. In a single act, he reduced the number of members of the bank's governing board from 14 to six. At the same time, he has unilaterally assumed the power to appoint the bank's governor and its two deputy governors. Meanwhile, about 100 protesters broke through the barricade set up around the presidential palace, but were pushed back by soldiers.
The new board of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) will include only nine members: governor, deputy governors, the president of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority, a representative of the minister of finance and four experts in monetary, financial, banking, legal or economic affairs chosen by Egypt's president.
The president's action violates the current law of 2003, which restricted the government's power over the CBE.
The changes have already been partly approved by the cabinet. And in the absence of a parliament, they should come into effect in the coming days.
The new decree is the result of the president's temporary takeover of the country's legislative, executive and judicial powers.
Meanwhile in Cairo, hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators are back in Tahrir Square near the presidential palace to protest against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they accuse of trying to impose a Sharia-based constitution in the upcoming referendum, one that is not representative of Egyptian society. For their part, Islamists have organised rallies in support of the president.
Security forces are out in great numbers occupying Cairo's sensitive spots. The military has been given the power to detain civilians without a warrant.
This morning a group of unknown assailants threw Molotov cocktails against activists who had camped out in Tahrir Square; nine were injured.
(AlJazeera) 06 December 2012 - At least four people have been killed in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, as supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi clashed near the presidential palace, the health ministry says.
Fighting continued into the early morning on Thursday with fires burning in the streets where the opposing sides threw stones and petrol bombs at each other.
"No to dictatorship," Morsi's opponents chanted, while their rivals chanted: "Defending Morsi is defending Islam."
Riot police were sent in to break up the violence on Wednesday, in which about 350 people were injured.
The opposition is demanding Morsi rescind a decree giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelve a disputed draft constitution that the assembly passed hurriedly last week.
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said hundreds of protesters remained in the streets before dawn on Thursday, but that most of Morsi's opponents had retreated.
A small group of opposition activists had been camped outside the palace since Tuesday night, when tens of thousands rallied against the presidential decree.
Supporters of Morsi marched to the palace on Wednesday and tore down the opposition's tents. Witnesses said they threw stones and used clubs to attack demonstrators.
Thirty-two people were arrested on Wednesday, according to a statement from the interior ministry.
Protests spread to other cities, and offices of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood in Ismailia and Suez were torched.
Both sides blamed the other for starting the clashes: Opposition leaders said Morsi was responsible for the bloodshed, while senior Brotherhood officials accused the opposition of "inciting violence".
Morsi did not make any public appearances on Wednesday, but his prime minister, Hisham Qandil, issued a brief statement calling for calm "to give the opportunity for the efforts being made now to begin a national dialogue".
Hours after the clashes began, a spokesman for the Brotherhood called on protesters to leave. Mahmoud Ghozlan said both sides should "withdraw at the same time and pledge not to return there, given the symbolism of the palace".
Our correspondent said the main message now was a call for dialogue.
"What's really significant and saddening, and very worrying for a lot of people in this country watching their TV screens, is that these are Egyptian civilians fighting Egyptian civilians," she said.
"The country is so divided and polarised. That has been the situation for many months, but it was made all the more intense two weeks ago when Morsi issued this constitutional decree giving himself sweeping powers."
The crisis continues to divide Morsi's government. Three of Morsi's advisers resigned in protest on Wednesday. One of them, Saif Abdelfattah, quit during a live interview with Al Jazeera, blaming the "mummified" political culture in Egypt for his departure.
Two other top Morsi aides resigned last week, including Samir Morcos, a prominent Coptic Christian scholar.
The decree issued by Morsi on November 22 barred the courts from dissolving the controversial 100-member constituent assembly which has been drafting a new constitution. A final draft of the document was sent to Morsi last week, and it is scheduled to face a public referendum on December 15.
'Must be consensus'
While protesters battled outside, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki held a news conference inside the palace and tried to calm the situation.
He urged the opposition to rein in street protests, and said political groups could agree on a plan to amend contentious articles after a new parliament is elected in 2013. He called for "communication between political forces" on the document.
"There must be consensus," he said. "There is real political will to pass the current period and respond to the demands of the public."
A group of prominent opposition leaders, including Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, held a press conference in Cairo on Wednesday night and dismissed Mekki's offer. ElBaradei said the opposition is open to dialogue, but not until Morsi revokes his decree.
All three men blamed Morsi for the violence outside the presidential palace. "He has lost the moral legitimacy to lead Egypt," said Sabbahi, who placed third in the presidential election earlier this year.
But the Muslim Brotherhood quickly turned around and blamed their opponents for the clashes. Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Freedom and Justice Party, accused the three opposition leaders of "inciting violence".
"It's very sad to see opposition leaders such as ElBaradei, Hamdeen and Amr Moussa to resort to such levels of talk," he told Al Jazeera. "Such disrespect to the sanctity of peaceful protesting, within the context of democracy, is very alarming."
(MorningStarNews) 07 December 2012 - THIMPHU, Bhutan (Morning Star News) – While Bhutan’s government has quietly enacted an “anti-conversion” law that Christians fear will be used against them, a proposal to grant Christians the right to construct church buildings and form organizations remains stalled.
The government of Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley – the first democracy after the Buddhist nation’s bloodless transition from 100 years of monarchy in 2008 – brought in the law against conversion involving coercion or allurement last year. Few Christian leaders here knew that the country’s penal code now includes the stipulation, Morning Star News found.
Christians in South Asia believe laws regulating conversions are aimed at thwarting Christian preaching and are based on the assumption that Christians use money and force to convert others.
Christians in Bhutan, who number close to 15,000 in the nation of 708,484 people, agree that pressure and allurement are uncalled for in conversion. They deny using force or allurement to convert others and fear that the law could be misused to target them.
“Christians share the gospel only with their friends and pray for the sick who are brought to them – that’s how Christianity has grown in Bhutan,” said a pastor of a congregation of about 170 people in Thimphu.
Christians fear that the terms “coercion” and “inducement” have not been defined in the penal code, and that therefore even an act of legitimate charity can be misinterpreted as seeking to convert someone. In neighboring India, where some states have laws regulating conversion, Christians are routinely arrested on spurious complaints filed by Hindu nationalists.
Such abuses could be worse in Bhutan, said the Thimphu pastor, as Christians here lack the backing of any organizations.
“On the other hand, Buddhists and Hindus have organizations and function with legal identity, while Christians are not allowed to form associations,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Another Christian leader said local officials try to give the impression that Christian practice is illegal.
“Local authorities often tell Christians that it is illegal to gather for worship on Sundays, and that they need permission from higher authority for such gatherings, when Bhutan’s constitution clearly provides for religious freedom for all,” he said. “If officials are not clear – or do not care – about the constitutional provisions, they can easily misunderstand, and also misuse, this penal provision.”
Section 463 (A) of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2011 states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offense of compelling others to belong to another faith if the defendant used coercion or other forms of inducement to cause the conversion of a person from one religion or faith to another,” according to Bhutan’s official website.
Section 463 (B) adds, “The offense of compelling others to belong to another faith shall be a misdemeanors,” which in Bhutan is punishable by one to less than three years in prison. The law, enacted on May 24, 2011, came into force on July 5 of the same year.
The “anti-conversion” clause was inserted into the penal code as fulfillment of Article 7(4) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which states, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”
About 75 percent of the people in Bhutan practice Mahayana Buddhism, the state religion of Bhutan and protected in the constitution as the nation’s spiritual heritage. It is estimated that 22 percent of the Bhutanese follow diverse forms of Hinduism. The Religious Organizations Act of 2007, the only legislation that provides for legal existence of religious groups, states that its main intent is to “benefit the religious institutions and protect the spiritual heritage of Bhutan.”
Bhutan has numerous monasteries and a few Hindu temples, but no church building. Christians are generally allowed to meet in homes or private halls to worship on Sundays. And the Christians who insist on burying their dead, as opposed to cremation, have little option but to go to cemeteries in India.
In 2010, the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the body regulating religious organizations under the 2007 Act, decided to consider the possibility of registering a Christian confederation as a legal entity, according to Business Bhutan newspaper. The proposal, however, remains unapproved. The government apparently does not want Christians to have a distinct, visible presence.
Bhutan focuses on preserving its unique culture, which is seen as a national priority owing to the tiny nation’s geographical position between two Asian giants, India and China. Bhutan asserts and protects its sovereignty by showcasing its unique culture.
Even if a Christian organization is registered with the Chhoedey Lhentshog, independent church construction with crosses atop will not be allowed in the country, Dorjee Tshering, the regulating body’s secretary, told Business Bhutan in January 2011.
“Churches with spires, and mosques with domes, should not be allowed, as it will blemish the architectural, cultural and heritage landscape of the country,” he said.
Most Christians, however, maintain that their legal recognition will not undermine the nation’s culture. Issues like cemeteries and crosses atop church buildings are negotiable, but what is most important is the right to function legally and with dignity as Christians, said the Christian leader.
Prime Minister Thinley’s Peace and Prosperity Party is likely to get reelected in the next election, around April 2013. Christians haven’t lost hope of equal rights during its second term.
(AsiaNews.it) 04 December 2012 - Christian and Buddhist religious leaders and faithful, are "concerned" about the consequences of Decree 92, which has been approved by the Vietnamese Government and will be in force as of 1 January 2013. It legislates "severe restrictions" on freedom of worship in the country. As pointed out by a senior government official, the leaders of the Communist Party seem to be following the "Chinese model" for future decisions in matters of faith. A radical departure from the policy promoted until the recent past - one that included dialogue between the Holy See and Hanoi - that had also met with Vatican approval in the context of regional diplomacy (see AsiaNews 13/11/2012 Vietnam-Holy See relations, a model for China-Vatican talks).
A young Catholic from Hanoi, who has asked to remain anonymous, points to a recent meeting between the Chinese delegation and senior officials of the Vietnamese government. At that time, the Vice-President of Parliament, Tong Thi Phong stressed that "Vietnam will increasingly model itself on China in matters of religious policies." And, adds the faithful, "I do not understand the meaning of these statements," given that Beijing's legislation in matters of worship "is the most draconian in the world."
A priest based in the capital also voices concern, who describes Decree 92 as "backward" and calls on the government to "respect the rights of citizens", starting from the principle of religious freedom. His words are echoed by Peter Sang, a faithful of the parish of Thai Ha, who believes that the executive "is looking for a way to control and restrict the freedom of religion." He also recalled the practice, often used in the past to recruit violent thugs to target anyone who affirms their faith and desire to practise their faith.
Decree 92, which has already alarmed the Buddhist community, consists of five chapters and 46 articles. The third rule of the "religious organizations" and the fourth the "religious activities": these are the two elements of particular concern among the faithful. They have in fact "vague" terminology and express "ambiguous" concepts, which leave a wide margin for interpretation and can be exploited to launch "generic" accusations. Under the norm religious will be forced to undergo to an "educational program" on the history of Vietnam and its legislation, sponsored and held by representatives of the ministries of Interior, Justice and Education. Finally, members of the clergy are required to prepare a specific request in the case of foreign travel for conferences and ask authorities' "permission" in the case of transfers to a different area of the country.
So far there has been no official comment from the Vatican regarding these regulations that will come into force next year in matters of worship. What is certain is that they represent a backward step in the progress of the recent past that had caused the prefect of Propaganda Fide to include the Holy See - Hanoi model as a basis for future dialogue with China. Cardinal Fernando Filoni (see AsiaNews 25/10/2012 Card Filoni: Pope's Letter to the Church in China still waiting for an answer) called for " a new way for dialogue, a dialogue that is even more open and carried out on a more equitable basis" with Beijing "for example, the Holy See and Vietnam - said the cardinal - have found a modus operandi et progrediendi."
(NewsNow) 29 November 2012 - Last year, South Sudan voted to secede from Sudan. Eventually, Christians in Sudan were told to leave the country. William Stark of International Christian Concern tells OneNewsNow many have been migrating toward South Sudan, but the border has been blocked due to conflict in the area.
"So a lot of these Sudanese Christians in the North who are ethnically from the South are unable to get there and are facing increased levels of persecution within the Republic of Sudan," he reports.
The Christians are either trapped along the border or in refugee camps outside Khartoum, the capitol of Sudan, where they only have plastic sheeting over their heads. Aid groups have arranged for transportation to the south for some.
"The most recent chartered flights have focused on the most vulnerable people, so widows and young people have been transported down to the South Sudan," Stark says. "But there are still, I think, something like 500,000 people who are stuck in Sudan who want to get out."
Prior to the two regions separating, the Muslim-dominated north waged war against the mostly Christian south, killing approximately two and a half million Christians and animists over a 25-year period.
(CP) 28 November 2012 - Angry mobs in Egypt have torched the offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood government in several cities, protesting against President Mohammed Morsi's decision to give himself sweeping new powers.
On Thursday, Morsi announced that under the new decree, his decisions cannot be revoked by any authority in the country, the judiciary included. Many have called this a "coup," sparking a new wave of protests in a country that has seen great violence in recent years.
Egypt's state TV reported that offices were torched in the cities of Port Said, Alexandria and Ismailia, while three people have been admitted to a hospital in Cairo after they were injured in street clashes in the nation's capital.
During the 2011 uprising, which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, mobs regularly clashed with government forces, and hundreds of Coptic Christians demanding religious freedom were killed by authorities and Muslim mobs.
The democratic election earlier this year, which saw Morsi elected to power, had people hoping it would bring some stability and peace to the African nation, but some, like Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, have said the president has appointed himself "Egypt's new pharaoh," and called the decree "a major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."
Morsi was recently praised by the international community after he helped spearhead a truce between the Israeli government and the Palestinian party Hamas, which have been exchanging rockets since last Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of hundreds. The truce, which came into effect on Thursday, has so far held up and there has been a cease-fire between the two-sides, though tensions on the borders remain high.
Morsi issued the decree to Egypt on that same day, sparking some to accuse him of using the occasion for other plans. Besides giving himself almost unlimited power, his decree also allows him to appoint a public prosecutor for a fixed term of four years, and supporters of President Mubarak who played a role in trying to suppress last year's revolution will be brought to trial.
The BBC noted that the decree also allows Morsi "to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve the revolution, to preserve national unity or to safeguard national security."
President Morsi's supporters have reacted positively to the decree, and thousands were celebrating in front of the Egyptian High Court in Cairo on Thursday night, reportedly chanting "the people support the president's decisions."
Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood party, said that the decree was "revolutionary and popular."
However, many did not agree. "This is a coup against legitimacy... We are calling on all Egyptians to protest in all of Egypt's squares on Friday," said Sameh Ashour, head of the lawyers' syndicate and a leader of the liberal opponents.
Morsi is expected to make a direct statement to the people of Egypt about his decree in the coming days.
(GloriaCenter) 27 November 2012 - The French press agency headline says it all: “Egypt’s [President] Morsi assumes sweeping powers, branded new pharaoh.” Mursi has issued a decree giving himself virtually dictatorial powers and contradicting the assumption that he—and his Muslim Brotherhood organization—intend to rule democratically. Opposition forces said this constituted a coup.
Mursi’s spokesman explained the decree in these terms: the president can issue any decree he wishes to protect the revolution. “The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.”
It seems apparent that this is another step in the process toward the fundamental transformation of Egypt into an Islamist, Sharia-ruled state. If one views the 2011 revolution as a democratic one, then Mursi is destroying it. But of course he and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists see it as an Islamist revolution, parallel to the 1979 Iranian revolution — though in Egyptian terms, of course. Lest there be any illusions about what this means, note that Mursi is one man whose legitimacy is not established in practice–despite having won an election–and who cannot depend on the country’s institutions to obey him. The power behind Mursi is not that he is president but that he has the support of the country’s strongest group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and can generally count on the Salafists as well.
The timing of this takeover is ironic since it coincides with an all-time high for the Obama administration’s regard for Egypt, following that regime’s brokering of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, including a continuous insistence from the U.S. government and mass media that the Brotherhood was now moderate and pro-democratic. In a normal universe, a U.S. president would be furious at Egypt for being made to look foolish after lavishing so much praise on Egypt and its insistence that the Brotherhood was moderate and democratic. Of course, that will not happen with this administration.
It is true that Mursi acted “pragmatically” on the ceasefire issue. But what does that mean? He took into account his own regime interests and didn’t just howl “Alahu Akhbar!” repeatedly. Westerners seem to think that for someone to be a radical Islamist they have to be a wild man. If Osama bin Laden wore a suit and tie, he’d still be alive today.
But of course Mursi wants to stay in power and strengthen his regime. He’s not going to throw away $10 billion in aid (U.S., EU, IMF) for some wild adventure in the Gaza Strip that Hamas began without asking him. He doesn’t yet control the country or the army. There’s no constitution and no functioning parliament. If the Muslim Brotherhood has proven anything, it is that it has patience.
Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.
“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”
But the main problems Mursi is focused on is how to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in power, how to get lots of money from the West, and how tomake Egypt into a radical Islamist state. Enforcing quiet in the Gaza Strip right now is part of that effort.
Being the main sponsor of Hamas, a terrorist group, used to be called “state sponsorship of terrorism,” now it is to be admired as being, in the New York Times formulation, Hamas’s “most important international ally.” Another interesting parallel is that Hamas, like the fellow Brotherhood branch in Egypt, won an election and then seized power completely. Things in Egypt have not yet gone that far, but Mursi has taken a big step in that direction.
At home, it has taken only a few weeks for Mursi to return to dictatorship. The decree comes as secular-minded groups demonstrate in the Tahrir Square area while the Islamists call for suppressing them.
Mursi’s offensive seeks to give him the power to purge existing institutions and put supporters in control.
Perhaps the highest priority is to take over the court system by appointing Islamist judges. During the late Mubarak regime, judges were among the most courageous of dissidents, issuing decisions the government doesn’t like. After the revolution, judges gave rulings against the Brotherhood’s goals, for example, saying that the election of parliament—which is three-quarters Islamist—was illegal. Mursi wants to reverse this ruling by decree rather than face new elections where Islamist vote totals will probably plummet.
The other key institutions are the armed forces, where top generals have already resigned, and the religious establishment. While the chiefs of Egypt’s religious system, including the powerful mosque-university al-Azhar, are hardly liberal, they are also not systematic Islamists or Brotherhood supporters. Once such people are replaced with loyalists, the Brotherhood will have the power to define Islam itself.
Given the international authority of al-Azhar, which trains clerics for many different countries, Sunni Islam from Morocco to Indonesia would be closer to becoming thoroughly in line with revolutionary Islamist, anti-Western, antisemitic thinking. That is not to say it is open, liberal, and tolerant now. But the situation would be far worse and destabilizing. For example, mainstream clerics would issue a stream of rulings justifying terrorism and condemning anyone who cooperated with the West.
The Egyptian regime’s cooperation on a Gaza ceasefire, then, was in large part intended to defuse any reaction against its movement toward dictatorship at home. It is doubtful, for example, that the Obama administration will condemn the new decree giving Mursi total power in the country. And Egypt will get almost $10 billion in aid from the United States, European Union, and International Monetary Fund, even as it becomes a repressive, Islamist state.
(CT) 23 November 2012 - Christians have started fleeing Iraq in large numbers again, warns Canon Andrew White.
The 'Vicar of Bahdad' said in his latest update that the situation in Iraq has "really deteriorated".
"The violence is so terrible and once again we are seeing so many of our own people fleeing to Turkey and Lebanon," he said.
Mr White said people in Baghdad "have nothing", as he told of a churchgoer who was found begging on the street by a member of the church staff.
"He asked her why she was doing this. She said all the food she had from church has run out and she has no money to pay her rent.
"We will give her everything she needs today but another example of the terrible needs. All may have left us but our Lord is still here."
Mr White said he had not seen so many people fleeing for several years.
"Iraq is no longer a news issue," he continued.
"We cannot blame the media for this. So many of the journalists have been targeted here and many killed, especially locals. The media have moved to the traumas elsewhere in the region."
(ICC/CDN) 23 November 2012 - As politicians wrangle ahead of an early December deadline over the still-disputed status of the oil-rich region of Abyei, straddling the border of Sudan and South Sudan, local church leaders appeal for help in the face of a potential humanitarian crisis.
Both governments have been asked to approve an African Union proposal to resolve the status of the Abyei region. Sudan is stalling, keen to avoid the proposed referendum next year on self-determination for an area the size of Lebanon, a referendum which has already been previously postponed.
While arguments over nationality drag on, thousands of people face near-starvation in villages devastated by the conflict – particularly since May 2011 when a combination of northern militias, led by tanks and 5,000 Sudanese Army troops, destroyed roughly 90 percent of Abyei town.
Now a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding as people displaced by fighting start to return to desolate villages, where even water boreholes have been badly damaged, following the withdrawal of Sudanese government troops in June 2012.
Displacement camps en route, already home to thousands and hugely over-stretched, are unable to feed them. Many are left to dig for roots and forage for edible leaves.
In Abyei town and its surrounds, a frequent flashpoint for violence, people are returning to find there is nothing left of their villages – as occupying Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) destroyed almost all buildings and infrastructure. Abyei is still a “no-go” area for most aid agencies, due to tight restrictions imposed by Khartoum and security concerns.
Humanitarian needs grow worse by the day, according to church leaders. They estimate that up to 20,000 people have arrived in the Abyei area already, with 2,000 reportedly arriving in Abyei town in a single week recently.
One of the most appalling situations is to be found in 60 km from Abyei town in Agok, a major staging post for returnees and the biggest centre for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area.
With their own church premises and compounds almost completely destroyed too, church leaders formed an Inter-Church Committee (ICC), representing Roman Catholic, Episcopal Church of Sudan and Pentecostal congregations, to co-ordinate relief. Their work recently received a boost when international partners managed the difficult logistics to deliver a convoy of 40 tons of sorghum, 1,500 mosquito nets and medicine to Agok.
A team member involved in this delivery in late October described the situation as “shocking.” “Occupation by the SAF has left the area in complete shambles,” he said. “The infrastructure is completely destroyed. Is Abyei important only because of its oil . . . and not because of its indigenous people?”
The ICC is providing food, water, shelter and education, as well as peace-building initiatives and trauma-healing; in the longer term, it wants also to extend its areas such as healthcare and rebuilding livelihoods.
Church leaders say the few aid agencies still working in Agok, such as the World Food Programme, give IDPs priority over returnees in food distributions; even then, they say only half of IDPs are receiving food. Many of the IDPs in Agok have been there since the Sudanese troops invaded in May 2011, displacing up to 150,000 people. Many had also been displaced in earlier violence between SAF and Southern troops, in 2008.
People still shelter under emergency plastic sheeting and grass mats – and now it’s the rainy season, which brings rampant malaria and other water-borne diseases. One of the model church schools in Agok caters for up to 4,000 children – in space intended for 400.
The team member said he was struck by “a pervading sense of despondency. A great injustice has passed almost unnoticed before us. Displaced people feel they have been deserted by their own, and failed by their government who are there to protect them and create stability, and to uphold their word and promises.”
The ICC says local churches have been one of the few organisations to offer consistent support to IDPs since 2011, opening up their homes, building and compounds. ICC Chairman Father Biyong says: “They lost all their worldly belongings in the carnage that took place there. Due to the nature of the conflict, they were targeted because of their ethnic identity and religious affiliation.”
An independent advocate for Abyei’s population Tim Flatman, who’s visited the area several times, reports: “I doubt whether the community could have survived during the period of displacement without the influence of the Church. It gave people hope when it would have been easy to lose hope, and for the community to be scattered across South Sudan. When INGOs failed to get assistance to Agok, where 90,000 of the community were based, the Church was the vehicle by which surprise donations were made which replenished supplies for the most vulnerable as they were running out.”
There’s been widespread praise for the mainly Ethiopian peacekeeping troops with the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), tasked with verifying the demilitarisation of Abyei, protecting the oil infrastructure and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid for six months from June. Yet, even UNISFA’s presence has not prevented pro-government of Sudan militias in Abyei from intimidating returnees, according to the ICC.
The churches are keen to preserve a strong Christian witness in an area so close to Sudan, where President al-Bashir has promised to extend Sharia law. The aid delivery included bibles and three motorbikes to enable church staff to travel between Agok and Abyei.
For now, the church’s efforts are focused on meeting urgent humanitarian needs, says ICC, but its witness is strong. Pastor Santino of the Episcopal Church of Sudan reports: “The church has grown in Agok, with more coming to faith as they realise God is the only one they can rely on.”
Abyei was described as a “historical bridge” between North and South Sudan in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended decades of civil war, yet it has become a political football. Its strategic location and mineral deposits make it important to both sides.
Tensions between Sudan and South Sudan brought them to the brink of all-out war earlier this year, prompting the UN to set a deadline for both sides to reach agreement on all outstanding issues.
On Sept. 27, both sides ratified agreements on trade, oil and security, facilitated by the African Union High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). Yet, there is still no agreement on Abyei and five other disputed border areas, which most observers see as vital for securing lasting peace between the two nations.
South Sudan has agreed a Sept. 21 African Union proposal by chief mediator Thabo Mbeki to resolve the Abyei question. Sudan, however, has so far rejected it, due to ongoing concerns about the proposed referendum in Abyei and associated voting rights. Sudan was dismayed that Arab Misseriya nomadic herdsmen, who are loyal to the North, were not included as eligible voters; these nomads graze cattle for part of each year on land that is home to the Ngok Dinka, who are mainly Christian and closely linked to the South. Khartoum insists a political solution is preferable to a vote.
The AUHIP has given both sides six weeks from Oct. 24 to reach consensus on the status of Abyei. If they do not, the AU will endorse the proposal as “final and binding” and will seek endorsement by the UN Security Council.
ICC also has made an urgent appeal to the worldwide church for prayer. “Pray for the security situation, for peace and stability. Pray that those who make decisions will make them in favour of the people of the land, that those who sit there will remember we are a people as they are.”
(Monitor) 22 November 2012 - Fears of religious violence in Kenya are on the rise today following a weekend bus bombing inNairobi’s predominately Somali neighborhood, the third explosion there this month.Eyewitnesses said a male attacker, disguised in a Bui-Bui, a shawl often worn by Muslim women, threw an improvised explosive device into the minibus, tearing it apart and flattening its tires.
“The terrorist’s intention is to cause friction between Christians and Muslims…. I urge for calm,” said Kenya’s Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.Youths armed with machetes and stones targeted civilians of Somali origin in revenge attacks, accusing them of carrying out the Sunday bombing of a minibus, which killed 10 people and injured another 30. Using grenades and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), terrorist blasts have targeted churches and the police in the past, and now for the first time, public transport. There were warnings of an imminent terrorist attack, The Standard, a daily newspaper reported, but police focused on churches as potential targets.
Initial reports from Eastleigh show scores have been injured in the revenge violence thus far, focused primarily in the suburb popularly known as “little Mogadishu.” Many people of Somali origin, who fled the prolonged conflict back home, have settled here. Since their arrival, the once nondescript neighborhood has transformed into a thriving business enclave.
“This is very bad. To isolate the Somalis and target them because of the blast is very deadly. If we don’t arrest it, it may backfire into a religious war,” says Rev. Wellington Mutiso, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.
Many Kenyans are suspicious of Somali activities here, and now accuse the immigrant and refugee community of shielding Al Shabab, the Somali Islamists who promised to attack Kenya after the country sent its troops into Somalia in pursuit of militants in October 2011.
“We know Al Shabab recruited many Kenyans from all tribes and we believe the recruits have returned and [are] carrying out the attacks,” Reverend Mutiso says, despite urging people not to target members of the Somali community with retaliatory violence.
Yesterday evening, clashes between groups of youth left about 18 people nursing multiple machete and stone injuries after getting caught up in the violence. The violence broke-out soon after the Sunday afternoon attack on the minibus.
After a tense night in the suburb, the violence returned mid-morning today, with youths blocking roads and engaging riot police in foot chases.
“It is criminals who committed the crime, not a particular community. We must stop accusing people in a blanket manner,” Moses Ombati, Nairobi area police chief, told journalists at the scene of the violence.
“My brothers and sisters in Eastleigh, let us please maintain peace and calm. We cannot allow terrorist activities to divide us – Terrorism has no religion or community. By turning against one another, we are let[ting] terrorism win. The foundation of our prosperity is unity,” said Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s deputy prime minister on his Twitter Account.
(CP) 20 November 2012 - Churches are going to federal court to reclaim their freedom of speech after the city of Santa Monica, Calif., decided to end a nearly 60-year tradition of having Christian displays of the nativity in a public park due to an uproar caused by atheists' anti-God signs.
"It's a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested," The Associated Press quoted Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee, as saying.
The committee, comprising churches that are behind the nativity display, is suing in federal court, claiming the city violated their freedom of speech by stopping the holiday tradition. A court hearing is scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Behind the trouble in Santa Monica is a member of the American Atheists, Damon Vix, who applied for and was granted a booth in Palisades Park alongside the nativity display three years ago. He erected a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson: "Religions are all alike -- founded on fables and mythologies." Another sign read, "Happy Solstice."
Last Christmas season, there were 13 individuals that entered the race for the 21 spaces available at the park rather than the usual three. The sudden high demand for spots, especially by atheists recruited by Vix, prompted Santa Monica's City Hall to implement a random lottery system to determine who would have access to the spots. This left the Nativity Committee with only two spaces on which they were able to put up only three of the usual 14 scenes.
The atheists used half their spaces, displaying anti-God signs, most of which were vandalized. This led the city to effectively end the tradition that began in 1953.
However, the Nativity Committee says in its lawsuit that atheists' right to protest must not trump the Christians' right to free speech. "If they want to hold an opposing viewpoint about the celebration of Christmas, they're free to do that - but they can't interfere with our right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum," committee's attorney William Becker was quoted as saying. "Our goal is to preserve the tradition in Santa Monica and to keep Christmas alive."
Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner, on the other hand, maintains that the city hasn't banned churches from caroling in the park, handing out literature or staging a nativity play, and churches could set up a nativity on private land. The ban on the displays saves the city time and money while preserving the park's aesthetics, she adds.
The atheists' move in Santa Monica marks a shift in their strategy. "In recent years, the tactic of many in the atheist community has been, if you can't beat them, join them," Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and director of the Newseum's Religious Freedom Education Project in Washington, stated. "If these church groups insist that these public spaces are going to be dominated by a Christian message, we'll just get in the game - and that changes everything."
(CDN) 19 November 2012 - China introduced its new Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party to its people and the world Thursday. The seven-man team sits at the very top of the government that will run the world’s most populous country for the next 10 years.
The team is the product of backroom deals made among Communist Party elite and China’s powerful families. The previous Standing Committee had consisted of nine men until Thursday morning, when only seven emerged to stand on a deep-red carpet in the Great Hall of the People, near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. To those watching for clues to China’s new direction, if any, under new leaders, the elimination of two positions within the Standing Committee was a significant sign, indicating the new team intends to spend less time deliberating and more time acting. Still, by most news accounts, the new Standing Committee members are a conservative lot known more for their party orthodoxy and loyalty than for reformist tendencies.
That the power transfer happened at all is notable. For a country whose legacy has been built on dynasties and strongman leaders, Thursday’s peaceful transition to new leadership is evidence of normalcy and continuity, autocratic as it may be.
As expected, Xi Jinping emerged from the secretive politicking within the underlying Central Committee as the general secretary of the party, the top leadership position. In his introductory remarks, he stressed the need to improve education and income, and to root out government corruption.
The once-a-decade transition is important to China’s 80 million Christians, who have enjoyed greater openness and toleration during the past 20 years, yet still must navigate a complicated relationship with the government, which has no tolerance for competition. To discuss what the new government leadership means for China’s Christians, Open Doors News turned to Brent Fulton, Ph.D and president of China Source, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit formed in 1997. China Source collaborates with hundreds of China-oriented churches and organizations through conferences, publications and consulting.
What follows is an edited version of the conversation. It began with a recollection of the previous leadership transition.
Open Doors News: Take us back 10 years. What were the conditions in China in 2002 that were of most concern to Christians?
Fulton: In the '80s and '90s, really the spiritual stronghold of the church was the countryside, rural house-church movement. But with urbanization, which really moved ahead rapidly in the late '90s, early 2000s, even to today, there was concern about the future leadership of those little house-church movements. Many of the people who would have moved into leadership in those movements were moving to the cities. And there was a struggle, in a sense, throughout the house church: Are we going to “sell out,” as they saw it, and go to the cities? Or are we going to stick with what the Lord is doing here in the countryside?
The second would be the emergence of what we would call the urban professional church. . . I know of one leader who 10 years ago was in the process of starting a seminary in a major city, specifically to train church leaders, and that has grown and developed and become quite a force at this point. At that time, 10 years ago, Christians in the cities — intellectuals — were thinking about what was their future going to look like? And what would their churches look like in the cities? We've seen them really develop and flourish during the last 10 years.
Open Doors News: Year-to-year change can be difficult to discern. Over the span of 10 years, however, changes can be more visible. What have been the most significant changes for Christians in China since 2002?
Fulton: I would say it is the growth of the urban church. There are a number of dimensions to that. You've got the emergence of what we probably would call NGOs, but they're not really official. Entities like publishing entities, counseling centers, schools started by Christians, organizations that are trying to help families. And then of course, kind of the catalytic event in all that was the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, which rallied Christians from across China to go to Sichuan to get involved in the relief efforts, and some of them are still there. That galvanized the energy within the urban church to reach out and touch their society. And so I would say a major component of the growth of the urban church has been the development of these sorts of parachurch entities.
Another development has been related to that function. There has been a groundswell of Christian material published in China legally, within the last 10 years. I don't think in 2002 people could have imagined how much material would have been published by now, and that continues.
Then there's the whole returnee element, where people have gone overseas to study, become Christians and come back to China, and now are playing a role in the emerging urban churches in the ministries I've just described. If you look at who's doing these things, there are a very high proportion of returnees involved. So these have all contributed to the phenomenon of the urban, professional church.
Open Doors News: Looking to today’s unveiling of the central leadership, I have a few questions related to that. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to catch up on the news today, but —
Fulton: I haven't seen the news this morning. How many are on the Politburo Standing Committee, is it seven or nine?
Open Doors News: It is seven, and I was going to ask you straightaway, what does the number seven indicate to you?
Fulton: It had been seven. When Hu (Jintao) came into power, [he] had to compromise, and in order to do that they had to move it up to nine because there were certain people [others] really wanted on the Standing Committee. So it grew in size.
Getting back down to seven, I think the key word here is manageable. The leaders are realizing they need an efficient way of governing, and the fewer people on that Standing Committee, the easier it's going to be to reach consensus. It's important because China no longer has a strongman leader. Deng Xiaoping was the last strongman leader. And China of course has a tradition of thousands of years of emperors, and some people would say Mao was just another one of them who wielded absolute power. Well, now there's no one man in China who can really call the shots, so it has to be leadership by consensus. It's easier to reach consensus with seven people than nine. And I think the leadership is realizing they need to be more rational, more efficient in the way they operate.
Open Doors News: It appears that the internal-security apparatus, formerly led by Zhou Yongkang, no longer is among the portfolios of the Central Standing Committee, perhaps demoted to the larger Politburo. Is that also your understanding, and if so, what importance does this development have for the church in China?
Fulton: It could be a positive development for all of society. China is basically a police state. And the whole security apparatus, which would include both the public-security bureau inside China but also ministry of state security, which is sort of like the FBI, has grown immensely in its power. This year the budget of the whole security apparatus was larger than the budget of the military.
With the whole Bo Xilai scandal [he faces corruption charges, and his wife was jailed in connection with the murder of a British businessman], and then Zhou Yongkang's involvement in who-knows-what [the security chief was seen as a Bo defender with a fondness for Maoism], but it became apparent that the whole security apparatus had really become a behemoth and had amassed incredible power. So it's significant that they're seeming to be wanting to put that in its proper place.
The problem with that is that the security people know more than anybody else about the lives of all the top leaders. And it's very hard to put them in their place when they know — I mean . . . they have the goods on everybody. It would be very easy for another scandal to be blown open. It would be very easy for the corruption of yet another top leader to be publicly known. And of course none of the top leaders want that to happen. I think they have to tread very carefully as they deal with the security apparatus.
Open Doors News: The portfolio of the propaganda ministry appears to remain in the new Standing Central Committee. It was not one of the two positions removed as the total size of the committee was reduced by two people. What significance for Christians is to be found in the survival of the position of propaganda czar?
Fulton: It's not surprising. The fight that the party has domestically right now is very much a battle of words and information. As social media in China has proliferated, people are being more vocal about their complaints, and the government is feeling more and more of the pressure to respond to that . . . . They have to figure out how to continue to tell the Communist Party story in a compelling way that is going to keep the majority of people in China on board with them, because there is, frankly, growing discontent in the society.
At the same time freedom of expression in China, within certain limits, has continued to grow — as long as people don't directly attack the party, as long as people don't get involved with politics or do something embarrass a leader — it's quite remarkable how much freedom there is to talk about a variety of issues in China. And for the Christians, that has translated into not only what I mentioned before — publishing — but also on the internet, there's just an amazing amount of Christian-generated material that is largely uncensored. . . .[Y]ou can expect the party to continue to try to maintain the upper hand in the dialog within China because they need to continue to tell their story, but at the same time there are many other stories being told, including by Christians.
Open Doors News: Have Christians figured out how to avoid that bright line? Or is this something likely to be tested?
Fulton: Most Christians are not political in the sense of wanting to organize, to oppose the party, or to start some other political movement outside of the party. They just don't have that ambition. What they have organized, of course, are alliances among different churches, for example the whole network of leaders that got together a few years ago and tried to go the Lausanne conference in South Africa. And there are other networks, of Christian teachers, Christian counselors, Christian lawyers, a lot of Christian businessmen's groups now in China. So, they are organizing for purposes of trying to extend the Kingdom in different ways. But they're not organizing vis-a-vis the government or to oppose the government. They really don't have that agenda.
Open Doors News: I suppose the issue, then, is making sure the government doesn't misinterpret their agenda as a political one.
Fulton: That's always a fine line.
In a sense, the definition has changed over the years. Back in the '80s or '90s, simply gathering in a legal gathering might have been considered as political. But now there are many gatherings in China that are pretty much left untouched. Where they would cross the line would be, for example, the Shouwang [Church] in Beijing, where they tried to go head-to-head with the government and they say "You've got to allow us to register. You've got to allow us to be legal." The government simply wasn't prepared to do that. And they suffered the consequences of that.
But I think for the most part, believers are pretty savvy when it comes to doing this dance, to make sure they're not perceived as having political motives. I would say that one exception to that would be the lawyers. Several years ago there were a number of Christian lawyers basically put out of business, because they were trying to handle human-rights cases in China, and that was seen as crossing the line. That was seen as a direct threat to the party, unfortunately.
Open Doors News: In his opening remarks today, Chairman Xi said the goals for the next 10 years include improvements to education, higher incomes, environmental protection and others. Religious freedom tends to correlate with education levels. Is there cause for Christian optimism in Xi's remarks?
Fulton: I think so. In particular, the area of education, for example. There's a lot of discontent among young families about the whole education system in China, which is very tech oriented and is not very holistic in its approach. Many families [seek] alternatives to that, including Christians. You've got Christians now setting up schools -- you know, primary schools, kindergarten, setting up home-schooling networks. There's a movement of Christian families even sending high school students abroad for study in a Christian high school. And so, I think as education re-forms . . . the Christians are going to be there. They're going to be involved.
As incomes have increased in China, and certainly urban incomes are projected to continue to increase, that has given people more power. . . People with resources are beginning to travel, [there are] more opportunities in a lot of ways, and that of course has been a factor in the whole growth of the urban church. So I think the overall direction of society, if the party leaders keep their word, does have some good things in it as well for Christians.
At the same time, the direction of society has moved toward being increasingly materialistic and increasingly high-pressure. [There is] a lot of pressure to do well, to succeed. You have Christians having discussions about How do you maintain your walk with the Lord when there's so much pressure to work all the time, and make as much money as you can? Whereas the countryside church, a decade, a couple decades ago, they had a lot of time to seek the Lord, to equip themselves to ministry. The urban church is a totally different animal in that respect. I see as society continues to develop, one of the big questions is: Will the materialism and the desire for success crowd out the church and really dilute its influence?
Open Doors News: Among the critiques of China's power transition is that its political system remains closed, and that a tightly controlled political system stands in the way of economic and social advancement. Do you think religious freedom in China is at least partly a function of political reform? If the new leadership does little during the next 5 years, 10 years, about political reform, what will that mean for religious freedom and the rights of Christians?
Fulton: That's a good question: Can you have an autocratic government and allow religious freedom?
The whole question of how they're handling religion was discussed at the Party Congress [which concluded Wednesday]. So they have been, and they continue to think about, how to do this better. They know their current religious policy didn't work. But as soon as you get into the details, it becomes very messy. Even if they recognize the Christians are basically very helpful people, and if they were just to be given more freedom they would do good things, what do you do about the other faiths, the other religious groups? For example the . . . Muslims out in the West, who are seen as an active political threat. Or, what do you do about cults that are active in China that . . . haven't been recognized to date? So, how to open up things, but yet maintain stability, has always been a really thorny issue for them.
How motivated party leaders are to really do something about it kind of depends on what else in on their plate. There's a lot going on. But . . . if political reform is able to move ahead, it should bode well for the church. It should result in greater freedom and legal recognition.
Open Doors News: To the degree that China's diplomatic ties and trade agreements extends its influence into other nations, do you expect that what happens in China with respect to minorities and Christians can have influence on the fate of Christians persecuted in other countries?
Fulton: I don't think so.
Unlike the U.S., China does not see itself as having a cultural mandate, if you will. It goes into other nations to do business. And that's pretty much the extent of it. . . . Now, of course, it may seek to have political influence as well, in terms of getting other nations to vote its way in the U.N., or participating in some political initiative on a global scale. But the Chinese don't really seek to change in any way the cultures of the nations that they go into.
Open Doors News: Is it a question, then, of the degree to which other countries look to China as model, and not so much to what degree does China expect to impose its model?
Fulton: So far, I don't see a lot of evidence of that.
Open Doors News: What have I missed? What's the element of the transition we need to be aware of?
Fulton: The fact that a leadership transition has taken place is something so obvious that we might overlook it. And it seems normal in every other country, particularly in the West. But this is only the second orderly leadership change. . . . Suddenly, we're at a place where . . . there's no dynastic connection any more. That, in and of itself, is very significant. The fact that they're having this Party Congress and moving toward a more orderly, more rational way of governing the country is significant. I think it bodes well for Christians and everybody in China, if they're able to really follow through on what China's trying to do.
The other significant thing is the (Bo Xilai) corruption scandal that erupted before the party congress really forced their hand to . . . face the corruption issue, the graft issue head-on, which it seems like they're taking moves to do. It's not business as usual. . . .[S]uddenly these things blew up in their face, and I think it has forced a good bit of introspection, and obviously some reshuffling as a result. In that sense, it's been a good thing.
Open Doors News: It sounds like overall, your take on this transition is fairly sanguine.
Fulton: I don't see any huge negatives in it. Of course, we don't know a lot about Xi Jinping or (propaganda chief) Liu Yunshan or the other people. So who knows what they have up their sleeves? Who knows what they're thinking?
That's not to say there are not people in the party, or especially the military, that could tip the balance the other way, but overall I think it is a moderate leadership.
In a meeting with a delegation from the syndicates of journalists and lawyers at the Monastery of Saint Bishoy yesterday [Nov. 12], Tawadros threatened to withdraw church representatives from the Constituent Assembly, should the extremist atmosphere within the committee continue to prevail. He also explained that the church is coordinating with Al-Azhar University on the constitution.
Karem Mahmoud, secretary-general of the Syndicate of Journalists, said that the syndicate has postponed its Extraordinary General Assembly meeting until Nov. 25, as the previous date coincided with the papal inauguration ceremony.
Mohammed Abdel Qoddous, rapporteur of the Freedoms Committee at the Syndicate of Journalists, conveyed greetings from the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and added that there were three fundamental problems that the pope hoped to solve. These include the equal rights of Egyptian Copts and Muslims to hold positions of public office — a national, not sectarian, demand — the freedom to build churches and the prevention of sectarian incidents.
The pope met with Mukhtar al-Hamalawy, the governor Beheira governorate, and said that he believes that the situation in the country changed following the January 25 Revolution, since Copts began to resort to the government and the parliament — rather than the church — to demand that their problems be resolved.
(CNN) 13 November 2012 - Thousands of supporters of various Egyptian Salafi groups gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday calling for the immediate implementation of Islamic law.
Before midday prayers, speakers called on the government of President Mohamed Morsy to move quickly to implement Sharia. Morsy won the office as the candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.About 10,000 demonstrators advocating for Sharia filled the square, chanting in unison, "The people want God's law applied.
"Egypt is formulating a new, post-revolutionary constitution, and Sharia's place in the process is highly contentious -- dividing Islamists and secularists, and even Islamists themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood is in favor of gradual implementation of Sharia, while the Salafis want it imposed immediately.Many Egyptians complain that the country should focus on cutting poverty and unemployment, reviving the flagging economy and fighting corruption.
Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up between 8% and 10% of the population, is adamantly opposed to the demands by the Salafis and their allies for Sharia's implementation.The recently elected Coptic pope, Tawadros II, has expressed his opposition to Egypt's adaptation of a religious constitution.Demonstration organizers set up a large stage and sound system overnight.
Residents in the neighborhoods around Tahrir slept fitfully as the sound system blasted religious songs and prayers starting at midnight.The two main organizers are the Gama'a Islamiya, which fought against the security forces of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and the Salafi Front, which was founded after Mubarak's departure. Earlier this week, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party declared they would not participate in the event.
Such demonstrations, by groups across the political spectrum, have become an almost weekly occurrence since the ouster of the Mubarak regime in February 2011.
(algemeiner) 12 November 2012 - As the conflict in Syria continues to escalate, there are growing fears of an increasing radical jihadist role in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s government—complicating options for the West and presenting new threats for Israel.
Syria’s beleaguered Christian community, which comprises 10 percent of the population, is witnessing the growth of radical jihadists firsthand.
“They wanted to kill us because we were Christians. They were calling us Kaffirs [infidels], even little children saying these things. Those who were our neighbours turned against us,” one Syrian Christian told the UK’s Independent.
Syrian Christian religious leaders blame recent influx of Islamic radicals. Responsibility for the attacks lay with “an influx of jihadists in the rebels in the last six, seven months,” Archbishop Issam John Darwish said.
Another prominent and widely respected Arab Christian leader, Mother Agner-Mariam, claims that many of the jihadists are affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood and are veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. And now, “their cause is being recycled to kill Syrians,” she said.
But Syrian Christians are not the only ones detecting the rising tide of Islamists in Syria.
Jackson Diehl, in a recent column in the Washington Post, pointed out that as the Syrian conflict drags on, “the more likely it is that what began as a peaceful mass opposition movement would be hijacked by extremists, including allies of al-Qaeda.”
Diehl highlighted the growth of an al-Qaeda linked group called Jabhat al-Nusra, which has grown from 50 members last spring to over 1000 today. According to Diehl, they can be seen at the forefront of the recent battles against Assad’s forces in Aleppo.
So what options are there for the West and Israel? Assad, given his alliance with Iran and support for terrorist groups, has been a traditional foe. However, the al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups present a new threat and enemy.
Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum, told JNS.org that he believes Israel and the West prefer to let the conflict play out, as it restrains both Assad and the Islamists.
“From Israel’s (as well as generally the West’s) point of view, protracted internal Syrian conflict is optimal, for it hobbles the aggressiveness of the Assad regime while keeping the mainly Islamist opposition out of power,” he said.
Recent estimates by activists have more than 36,000 dead in Syria since the conflict began in early 2011. This only increases calls for the West to do more; however, history has shown that Western involvement in that region can have serious repercussions and consequences. During the Lebanese Civil War, a suicide bomber linked to Hezbollah and Iran killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers, who were there as part of a peacekeeping force. And nobody needs to be reminded of the recent Iraq war.
But Israel may have little choice, especially if it faces attacks emanating from an unstable Syria. On Nov. 3, Syrian tanks entered the Golan Heights demilitarized zone.
The day after the Syrian incursion, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz toured the border region and instructed the IDF to be on high alert in the area. Gant warned the soldiers, “The Syrian affair could turn into our affair.”
IDF soldiers also told Gant that they could hear tank and automatic weapons fire as well as shouts of “Allahu Akhbar” from the Syrian side, according to the Jerusalem Post.
An IDF jeep was also reportedly hit by stray bullets from rebel forces.
However, for the time being, the IDF believes that the incursion was part of the ongoing civil war and not direct aggression against Israel.
Nevertheless, Israel faced a similar situation from Lebanon 30 years ago. Israeli forces invaded to root out the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and to support its beleaguered Christian allies. But that conflict eventually became highly unpopular in Israel. Hundreds of Israelis were killed, and that eventually led to an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that some believe contributed to the rise of Hezbollah.
Israel, like the West, faces no good options as this point, especially as the Syrian conflict devolves into sectarian chaos tainted with Islamic extremism like Iraq, and Lebanon before it. But as Archbishop Darwish warned, doing nothing might only lead to greater consequences.
“I have raised this with officials in the West, they must bring peace,” he said. “The jihadis will not stop here, the war will spread to Europe. What will England be like in ten or 15 years?”
6 November 2012 - Assist News
According to the BBC, the 60-year-old succeeds Pope Shenouda III, who died in March aged 88. He takes over as attacks on Copts are on the increase, and many say they fear the country's new Islamist leaders.
"His name was selected from a glass bowl by a blindfolded boy at a ceremony in Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral after three candidates had been shortlisted," said the BBC story.
The other two candidates were Bishop Raphael and Father Raphael Ava Mina. They were chosen in a ballot by a council of some 2,400 Church and community officials in October.
"In God's hands"
"Their names were written on pieces of paper and put in crystal balls sealed with wax on the church altar," added the BBC story. "A blindfolded boy - one of 12 shortlisted children - then drew out the name of Bishop Tawadros, who until now was an aide to the acting leader, Bishop Pachomius.
"Bishop Pachomius then took the ballot from the boy's hand and showed it to all those gathered in the cathedral."
The BBC went on to say that strict measures were in place to make sure there was no foul play during the televised ceremony: the three pieces of paper with candidates' names were all the same size and tied the same way.
"Copts say this process ensures the selection is in God's hands," the BBC story continued. "Bishop Tawadros will be enthroned in a ceremony on 18 November 18, 2102.
The new pope has studied in Britain, and has also run a medicine factory, the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo reports.
"He is a man of broad experience and with managerial skills," Lyne said, adding that he will need all those talents to lead the Copts as they face an uncertain future in a country now debating the role of Islam following last year's revolution.
Leyne went on to say that "no-one in Egypt expects the new pope to introduce radical changes to the deeply conservative church."
Pope Shenouda died in March. Under his leadership, the Coptic Church expanded significantly, including outside its traditional Egyptian base.
"He was a passionate advocate of unity among the Christian churches, and also clashed with then President Anwar Sadat, particularly over their conflicting views on the future of Egypt's relationship with Israel.
"Coptic Christians have long complained of discrimination by the Egyptian state and the country's Muslim majority," said Leyne.
In October 2011, 25 people died in clashes with the security forces after a protest march in Cairo over the burning of a church and since that time, there have been numerous other attacks on Coptic believers and churches.
But when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year and succeeded by the Muslim Brotherhood, their fears grew.
The Media and Public Relations Office of the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre UK, has provided the ASSIST News Service with a report on the ceremony from St. Mark's Cathedral from His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of The Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
Bishop Angaelos said, "The atmosphere was wonderfully joyous in the Cathedral, as people not only here but all over the world raised their hearts asking God's selection for our new Pope and Patriarch. There was such a euphoric reaction when the name of Bishop Tawadrous was announced, and we now shift our prayers from God's selection to God's guidance and grace upon him to lead our beloved Coptic Orthodox Church as it continues its mission to be light and salt in Egypt and throughout the world."
Estimates of the number of Coptic Christians in Egypt range from 5.6m to 11m and they are descended from ancient Egyptians. The
Coptic language is derived from ancient Egyptian.
(BosNewsLife) 29 October 2012 - The Bishop responsible for Maronite Christians in Europe warned the Western world Thursday, October 25, that recent deadly attacks in Christian districts of Beirut and Damascus could "unleash" a massive "new wave" of Christian refugees.
In remarks published by the 'Aid to the Church in Need' (ACN) group, Bishop Maroun Nasser Gemayel said Christians in the Middle East were longing for freedom and security and could therefore "be tempted to emigrate" to Europe or the United States, "despite their great love of their homeland."
Bishop Gemayel said the situation in Syria's capital Damascus already was dramatic, and "now many, including those in [Lebanon's capital] Beirut, will believe that they can no longer live in safety even in the Christian quarters" despite their "great love of their homeland."
Anti-Christian attacks last Friday, October 19 in Beirut and on Sunday, October 21, in Syria's capital Damascus killed eight and ten people respectively while over a hundred were injured, according to church sources.
It comes as another setback for Maronites and other Christians who the bishop said remained truth to their faith despite being scattered across the region.
The bishop, who was recently appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to oversee the Maronite Christians, said schools and other facilities are being set up to accommodate the expected growing number of Maronites.
There are already some 150,000 Lebanese living in Europe, including 80,000 Maronites, according to church estimates.
Bishop Gemayel said it was his task "to keep alive the spirit of the Church of Antioch, one of the oldest in Christianity, as well as to cultivate the unity of Lebanese Christians in Europe."
ACN said it supports various Christian projects in Lebanon and Syria, following the outbreak of civil war there.
The charity claimed it has given aid to refugees from Syria and Iraq who arrive in Lebanon "completely destitute and have found initial asylum there, often having escaped with their bare lives."
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says Lebanon has become the third country in the region to see its population of registered Syrian refugees and people waiting for registration exceeding the 100,000 mark.
In Turkey, a similar number is reported while officials in Egypt said as many as 150,000 Syrians are in the country, though most have not yet been registered as refugees.
It comes amid concerns that Christians will be once again be in the middle of a civil war outside Syria itself, amid ongoing deadly clashes in Lebanon.
Before he was killed in the October 19 car bomb blast in Beirut, General Wissam al-Hassan, the intelligence chief of Lebanon’s internal security forces, warned that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad wanted to spread the conflict.
“It will take a couple of years and more than 100,000 killed,” he said in an interview. For the Assad regime, he added, “one of the solutions of the Syrian conflict is to move it outside Syria. He survives by making it a regional conflict.”
(NCR) 29 October 2012 - Political leaders in the small Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of its upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation’s constitution, which says that “religion shall remain above politics.”
(Assist) 26 October 2012 - Tanzania's population is 31 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, although church attendance is only about eight percent (Operation World 7th Edition). According to the Catholic Bishop of Kondoa Diocese, Bernadin Mfumbusa, Islamisation is advancing. Since the mid-1980s, itinerant preachers from Saudi Arabia and the Sudan have been entering the country and spreading intolerant, fundamentalist Islam. Consequently, Muslims are becoming more assertive with their political demands and more aggressive with their verbal attacks. Demands are growing louder for Sharia Law and Kadhi (Islamic) Courts, for Fridays to be public holidays and for Tanzania to join the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). Bishop Mfumbusa recently told the Catholic Charity, Aid to the Church in Need, that there has been a marked increase in veiled women and Qur'anic schools (madrassas), adding, 'In the church schools, which are also attended by Muslim children, we must be very sensitive and cautious to avoid any undesirable incidents.'
As in Kenya, US-mandated anti-terror laws enacted post 9/11 have fuelled division along religious lines. Christians are generally supportive and Muslims strongly object, claiming the laws purposely target them. In the lead-up to the 2005 elections the Christian-dominated Revolutionary Party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), successfully wooed the Muslim vote by promising to establish Kadhi (Islamic) courts. However, after winning the election CCM shelved its promise. Religion has since come to dominate Tanzanian politics. Tensions are rising.
On 10 October Zakaria Hamisis Mbonde (12) was walking home from Qur'anic school, carrying his Qur'an, when he came across his Christian friend, Emmanuel Mwinuka (13). When Emmanuel asked Zakaria if he could see his Qur'an, Zakaria warned him that the Qur'an had the power to turn anyone who defiled it into a dog or a snake. An argument ensued, prompting Emmanuel to disprove Zakaria's claim by urinating on his Qur'an. Naturally Zakaria's parents wanted to know what had happened to his Qur'an. As word spread through the Mbagala Ward of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city, tensions soared.
To appease the mobs police arrested Emmanuel, taking him to the police station for questioning and keeping him there for his own safety. After Friday prayers on 12 October masses of enraged Muslims laid siege to the police station, demanding Emmanuel be handed over to them so they could behead him. When the police refused, the Muslims rioted, setting fire to Mbagala's Agape Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. Over the next few days more churches, including an Anglican and a Church of Christ, were attacked: two in Kigoma and one in Zanzibar. Cars were also smashed and burnt. Subsequently, 86 were arrested for rioting and 32 for destroying church properties. Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, the secretary general of the Council of Islamic Organisations, was arrested for inciting the violence which he blamed on the police, saying that if the police had given the matter 'its due weight' then Muslims would not have felt so 'sidelined'.
But is it a crime in Tanzania to blaspheme, defile a Qur'an or hurt a Muslim's feelings? I don't think so! Yet on 23 July 2012 a judge in the coastal town of Bagamoyo sentenced Christian teen Eva Abdullah (17) to two years in prison after Islamic fundamentalists falsely accused her of defiling the Qur'an. Eva, who had been driven from her home after converting to Christianity, had been resisting pressure from Islamic fundamentalists to return to Islam. After falsely accusing her, these radicals allegedly bribed the judge to punish Eva. Fear of the Muslims reportedly has kept local Christians from getting involved. Eva thanks the Lord that he has provided her with kind and sympathetic prison guards who are caring for her and protecting her.
23 October 2012
We received the following plea from a Pastor from Zanzibar about their persecution as Christians in a Muslim dominated country.
For all our prayer support and for those people who love Zanzibar, please it’s a time that we really need your prayer for what is happening on the island. Things are not good.
For two days now the life of some of the Christians who live in Zanzibar are at risk. We are living but we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.
A Muslim group (Uamsho) has been declaring the following:
“ZANZIBAR IS NOT TANZANIA, We are Zanzibarian … we will never allow this country to be a Christian nation. It’s the time to destroy the church."
Up to now, just over the past 2 days, 4 people have been murdered, 2 policemen have been killed and 3 churches were burnt. We are living not knowing what will happen tomorrow, especially for our children’s sake and those churches leader on the island.
We need your prayers.
22 October 2012 By Dan Wooding: Founder of ASSIST Ministries
SHIRAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- Two members of the Church of Iran, who belong to a house church that was raided on Friday October 12, 2012, by security forces, were arrested today in the city of Shiraz in Fars Province. Their arrest came after they were summoned to the Intelligence Ministry’s detention centre, Pelak (Plaque 100), where seven other members of their house church are currently being held.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Afsar Bahmani, a middle aged woman in need of specialist medication due to heart and kidney complications, was detained at around 1pm along with a man named Massoud Rezaie, after responding to the summons.
Both are converts and long standing Christians. Mrs. Bahami was present during the raid of their house church on 12 October which resulted in the arrest of seven members, but was not detained at that time.
These arrests are occurring against the backdrop of a sharp upsurge in the harassment and persecution of Christians, particularly converts.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has received reports of a significant increase in arrests during recent weeks.
CSW has also been informed that another member of the Church of Iran, Pastor Benham Irani, remains in critical condition in Ghezel Hesar Prison, where he has been denied adequate treatment for severe stomach ulcers and colon complications.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW is deeply concerned about the arrests of Mrs Bahmani and Mr Rezaie, which appear to be part of a renewed wave of arrests of house church members in Shiraz. We are particularly concerned for Mrs. Bahmani’s health and for Pastor Irani, whose condition continues to deteriorate. The harassment and arrest of religious minorities solely on account of their faith contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to ensure that Mrs. Bahmani and Pastor Irani are allowed access to specialist medical care. We also urge the Iranian government to uphold the rule of law and to release all who have been detained on account of their faith immediately and unconditionally.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
22 October 2012 - By Jeremy Reynalds: Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
KAZAKHSTAN (ANS) -- Two unrelated Protestant churches in different parts of Kazakhstan were raided in early October, reportedly over a criminal case launched 15 months ago.
Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
According to a story by Mushfig Bayram of Forum 18 News Service, the case follows a complaint by the mother of a member of Astana's Grace Church that it harmed her health. These allegations were denied by church members to Forum 18.
Forum 18 reported masked police searched the church, and seized computers, valuables and religious books they insisted were “extremist,” although they were unable to explain what was extremist or who had said they were. Police requested church members to give blood samples, so they could see if the church uses “hallucinogenic” substances for communion.
Nine days later the unrelated New Life Church in Oral (Uralsk) was raided in the same case.
Asked by Forum 18 why masked police broke into Grace Church in a manner church members found threatening, Senior Investigator Vyacheslav Glazkov adamantly denied the charge. He said, “We did not threaten anyone; we just made a search.”
Members of both churches fear the authorities will use the case to prevent them gaining the mandatory re-registration for religious communities to be allowed to continue operating after Oct. 25.
For more information go to www.forum18.org
22 October 2012 - By Jeremy Reynalds: Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) -- At the prompting of Islamic extremists, authorities in Indonesia's Aceh Province have forbidden nine churches to worship, saying they are “illegal.”
According to a story by Morning Star News, Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal, deputy mayor of Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh Province, called pastors of nine churches and five Buddhist monasteries for a meeting on Oct. 15, said Veryanto Sitohang, head of rights group United North Sumatra Alliance.
Representatives from five of the nine churches attended the meeting. Morning Star News reported they were forced to sign an “agreement” saying they would stop all activities because they did not have official permits.
Those permits are obtainable only by meeting very difficult requirements from local governments, Sitohang told Morning Star News. The other four churches will also be told to sign the agreement soon, he added.
Sitohang said that the Aceh official told the church leaders that if they did not sign the agreement, the government would not be responsible for their security.
“The agreement was projected as a measure to protect the safety of the religious minorities,” Morning Star News reported Sitohang said.
All nine churches were registered with Indonesia's Department of Religion, Sitohang said. However, officials in Aceh also require local licensing that is difficult to obtain and selectively enforced, thus providing a pretext for local Islamists to close down churches.
Morning Star News reported that even compliance with local regulations does not guarantee that a church will be allowed to function. However, authorities and extremist groups also cite 1979 and 2001 agreements between Muslims and Christians stipulating that only one church be built in each district. Those agreements were cited when Aceh Singkil closed down churches in May.
Morning Star News reported the Aceh official said on Oct. 15 that the nine churches should take their congregations to the four “official” churches in the city for Sunday services.
“But this is not feasible, because these congregations come from different backgrounds,” said Sitohang.
Morning Star News said on Oct. 12, a prominent Muslim cleric, Teungku Usman Kuta Krueng, a.k.a. Abu Kuta Krueng, asked the mayor of Banda Aceh to stop the activities of “illegal” churches and Buddhist monasteries, according to the local newspaper Serambi Indonesia. The cleric had been briefed about the churches and monasteries by the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (locally known as the FPI).
After Monday's meeting, Morning Star News reported, the Aceh division of the FPI said its members would keep an eye on all the "illegal" churches to prevent them from violating the "agreement."
The closed churches had been operating for years.
“The religious atmosphere in the city is tense, and we do not know where we will go on Sunday for worship,” a pastor speaking on condition of anonymity told Morning Star News. “We are confused. The government must provide us with some solution.”
Aceh is a special region that has the highest proportion of Muslims in Indonesia and is partially governed by sharia (Islamic law). Gubernatorial Regulation No. 25/2007 makes it extremely difficult for non-Muslim groups to get permits for building a new house of worship. A petition must be signed by at least 150 worshipers who must provide copies of their identity cards. It must also be supported by 120 other local residents.
Morning Star News said among the churches closed were the Surabaya Pentecostal Church (Gereja Pentakosta Pusat Surabaya); Bethel Church of Indonesia (Gereja Bethel Indonesia); the Pentecostal Church of Indonesia (Gereja Pentakosta di Indonesia); the Christian Congregation of Indonesia (Jemaat Kristen Indonesia); the Holy Christian Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kristen Kudus Indonesia); the Victory of Faith Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kemenangan Iman Indonesia); and the Tabernacle of David Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud).
About 98 percent of the population in the city of Banda Aceh is Muslim. Aceh Province has 4.4 million Muslims, a little over 50,000 Protestants and about 3,300 Catholics, according to the Central Statistics Agency.
In May, Morning Star News reported, 17 churches in Aceh's Singkil Regency were closed down by the local administration. These closures were ordered by Regent Razali A.R. in a letter signed on April 30, which asked members of the congregations themselves to tear down the church buildings. The order came following a protest by members of the FPI at the regency office the same day.
Morning Star News said Aceh turned more intolerant after the election of a hard-line Islamic governor in April. The FPI has said authorities in all areas in Aceh should close down “illegal” churches.
Morning Star News said closures of and attacks on churches are not uncommon in other parts of Indonesia either. The Gereja Kristen Indonesia (the GKI Yasmin Church) in the city of Bogor and the Philadelphia Batak Christian Protestant Church in Bekasi, both near Jakarta in West Java Province, remain sealed by their respective authorities for months despite Supreme Court orders in their favor.
Morning Star News said with about 210 million Muslims, Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population. While the majority of the Muslims are from the Shafi'i school of the Islamic jurisdiction, which is considered fairly moderate, Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood approaches to Islam took root in 1942 during the Indonesian War of Independence from the Dutch Empire.
Morning Star News is currently at the website of International Christian Response (ICR), http://christianresponse.org/index.php?page=news.
(UCA News) 19 October 2012 - A new Catholic report on minority religious freedom in Asia said persecution of Christians continued or worsened in many countries in Asia last year.
Issued yesterday in Rome by Aid to the Church in Need, a Vatican foundation charged with helping Catholics in poorer countries spread the faith, the report singled out a “terrible year” for Pakistan following the killings of two top politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who opposed strict blasphemy laws.
China saw “tremendous violations of religious freedom,” it added, while Vietnam looked to be following its northern neighbor by promoting patriotic religious groups in opposition to the Church.
Myanmar was seen as making little headway towards tolerance of minority religions despite its recent political reforms, while in North Korea religious freedom continued to be “totally denied.”
Meanwhile, India witnessed growing enforcement of anti-conversion laws which coincided with a rise in attacks against minorities, the report said.
Speaking at the Rome launch yesterday, John Dayal, secretary-general of the All India Christian Council, said the recent rapid rise of extremist Hindu groups in opposition to what they perceive as an Islamic threat was the main factor behind worsening religious persecution during 2011.
“India is in a state of denial,” he said. “It refuses to acknowledge that there is such violence taking place.”
With the lowest group in India’s now-discredited caste system now comprising 60 percent Christians, the possibility that ‘untouchables’ could unite under Christianity and pose a threat “to the politics of the upper castes” had prompted authorities to slowly strip away their right to choose a religious faith, said Dayal.
Elsewhere, attacks by Muslims on Christians continued in the southern Philippines last year, according to the Aid to the Church in Need report, while in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka intolerance between different religions was noted on numerous occasions.
Thailand was seen as one of the few bright spots as one of the first countries in Asia to make “progress in inter-religious dialogue,” it said.
(AllAfrica) 12 October 2012 - Mogadishu — Somali National Army (SNA) have detained at least 300 suspected Al Shabab members in Mogadishu, the biggest mass arrest for months in the capital, police official said.
(ICC) 11 October 2012 - Thousands of Egyptian protesters marched Tuesday to mark one year since nearly 30 people were killed in a Coptic Christian demonstration that was violently crushed by security forces.
Demonstrators carrying posters of those who died during the violence walked solemnly down a main Cairo thoroughfare in the working class district of Shubra towards Maspero, in the city centre.
Some waved flags, others held posters of officials they want to see put on trial.
Groups of them chanted against Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the military ruler who took charge of the country following the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, and whose forces are accused of killing the protesters.
"Either we get justice, or we die like them," they sang.
The march was organised by the Maspero Youth Union, a group of Coptic activists formed in the wake of last year's deadly protest that left Egypt's Christian community deeply scarred.
"The only political demand on this day is to seek justice for the martyrs and for the criminals implicated in the massacre be tried," the group said on Facebook.
Tuesday's procession followed the route taken a year ago by the Coptic protesters.
On October 9, 2011, thousands of demonstrators marched from Shubra to Maspero to denounce the torching of a church in the southern province of Aswan.
The protest was attacked and violence flared when the army and riot police charged at the protesters, leaving 26 Coptic Christians, one Muslim man and one policeman dead, says Amnesty International.
Graphic videos that were subsequently posted on the Internet showed army vehicles ramming into protesters at high speed.
(AINA) 01 October 2012 - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohammed Morsi, arguably the foremost exponents today of Sharia rule, both spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, and their speeches together amounted to an Islamic supremacist wish list for the world.
The foremost item on their list, not surprisingly, was the destruction of Israel, although both knew better in the glare of international media than to state their aspirations quite so baldly.
Ahmadinejad drenched his address in Islamic piety, beginning with a traditional Islamic invocation: "In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All Praise Belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and May Peace and Blessings be upon the Greatest and Trustworthy Prophet and His Pure Progeny, His Chosen Companions, and upon all Divine Messengers. Oh, God, Hasten the Emergence of Your Chosen Beloved, Grant Him Good Health and Victory, Make us His Best Companions, and all those who attest to His Rightfulness." And then: "I thank the Almighty God for having once more the chance to participate in this meeting. We have gathered here to ponder and work together for building a better life for the entire human community and for our nations."
And how can we work together for building a better life? Ahmadinejad ticked off a list of things that he posited had interfered with international brotherhood and harmony, including "egoism, distrust, malicious behaviors, and dictatorships," as well as the Dark Ages and the Crusades (although he didn't mention the centuries of murderous jihad warfare all over the globe).
His list culminated with his principal bogeys, the chief things he believed interfered with global peace: "the occupation of Palestine and imposition of a fake government"; Saddam Hussein's "invasion" of Iran; 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a host of others. Among them, he complained about the supposed denial of "the right to criticize the hegemonic policiesand actions of the world Zionism." It was hard not to wonder at such moments in his speech what planet he was on, since the Palestinian jihadist propaganda machine has had such success in demonizing Israel in the world media; but of course a linchpin of that success has been to complain that the situation is exactly the opposite, and so that is what Ahmadinejad did in New York Wednesday.
In a speech that was heavy on Islamic proselytizing, after his survey of the world's ills Ahmadinejad asked: "Does anybody believe that continuation of the current order is capable of bringing happiness for human society?" And further: "Who is responsible for all these sufferings and failures?" He left that question unanswered at that point, although at another point he railed against the "uncivilized Zionists," and he went on to delineate his prescription: "There is no doubt that the world is in need of a new order and a fresh way of thinking." Foremost this would be "an order in which man is recognized as God's Supreme Creature, enjoying material and spiritual qualities and possessing a pure and divine nature filled with a desire to seek justice and truth." Consequently he called upon the nations to "place our trust in God Almighty and stand against the acquisitive minority" -- in other words, to adopt Sharia and stand against Israel.
Morsi, for his part, was less subtle. "The first issue which the world must exert all its efforts in resolving," he declared, "on the basis of justice and dignity, is the Palestinian cause." He labeled it "shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence." About the many Israel peace offers and chances to establish a state that the Palestinian jihadists contemptuously cast aside he was, of course, silent, retailing Palestinian propaganda talking points as he called for "immediate and significant measures to put an end to colonization, settlement activities, and the alteration in the identity of Occupied Jerusalem."
Morsi also added an additional item to Ahmadinejad's laundry list for global harmony: the eradication of "Islamophobia." "We must join hands," he said ringingly, "in confronting these regressive ideas that hinder cooperation among us. We must act together in the face of extremism, discrimination, and incitement to hatred on the basis of religion or race….We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred." How could this be done? Egypt, he said, "respects freedom of expression," but only such expression that is "not used to incite hatred against anyone" and that is "not directed towards one specific religion or culture" -- a freedom of expression that "tackles extremism and violence," not the kind that "deepens ignorance and disregards others." In other words, he was calling for international restrictions on speech that Muslims find objectionable.
Destruction of Israel and of the freedom of speech, both couched in high-flown terms that eluded most of the hearers and much of the international media. But the intentions of both of these Islamic supremacist presidents was clear. More's the pity that there was no voice of freedom to stand up and defend free states, free speech and free people in terms just as clear. And because of that lack, Ahmadinejad and Morsi may well get what is on their wish list.
(CouncilOnForeignRelations) 20 September 2012 - Anti-American rioting recently erupted in the Middle East, and has spread from Indonesia to Tunisia. But, with the exception of Sudan-Khartoum, a borderland between Africa and the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa has been blessedly free of violence associated with the obscure video of American origin, The Innocence of Muslims that defames Islam. (According to al-Jazeera, an Egyptian Christian Copt and a pornographic film director played leading roles in its production.) The absence of a popular, violent reaction to the film is particularly noteworthy in Mali and Nigeria, two countries in which radical Islamic movements pose a direct threat to the state.
(CharismaNews) 17 September 2012 - Record rainfall is making a bad situation even worse in southwest China.
Earthquakes hit a mountainous region late last week, killing at least 80 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Now, massive rains are triggering flooding and landslides in the quake zone, and survivors' "trauma tolerance" might be pushed to the limit.
"After a traumatic event like this, you're always gonna have questions. You're always gonna have fears," said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR).
The ministry has already sent more than $25,000 of supplies to the area. BGR teams are on the ground, pointing stressed survivors to the only One who can calm their anxiety.
"Our teams are equipped to do some trauma counseling in a way that also points them to a greater hope, which of course is in Jesus Christ," Palmer says.
On Monday night, about four inches of rain fell over the course of a few hours. It reached nearly six inches in the town hit worst by last Friday's earthquakes. Flooding in the quake zone forced refugees to flee temporary shelters in droves; rescue workers evacuated 2,000 people. Flood waters have also damaged a drinking water supply pipeline and an alternative water source. BGR has water filters and filtration systems that they'll begin implementing to provide fresh, clean water for survivors.
"A big issue…is going to be water," Palmer explains. "We've already approached government officials and local communities about how to help with the water systems."
Chinese officials haven't always welcomed help from Christians.
Four years ago, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake rocked the Sichuan province, killing more than 70,000 people and leaving millions homeless. Relief aid and support was allowed at first, but as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games drew closer, the scene shifted. National believers trying to help earthquake survivors began to face heavy persecution.
Now, Palmer says, the Chinese government is cooperative and open to working side-by-side with BGR and other Christian relief organizations.
"They've been very open to aid," Palmer says. "They learned from the 2008 earthquake that it was good to mobilize all sectors."
Palmer says BGR also learned important lessons from the 2008 earthquake. They began training response teams in China, enabling them to assist the government with disaster response. Having national teams allowed BGR to "hit the ground running" when earthquakes hit rural Yunnan and Guizhou last week, some of China's poorest regions. BGR teams are working diligently among survivors, providing food, temporary shelter and water.
"Within 24 hours, we were already responding in some areas," Palmer explains. "We were able to find those cracks and hidden areas with people who needed help and weren't getting help."
Palmer says that recent quakes didn't just take a physical toll; they damaged other areas.
"Not only were [survivors] physically shaken, but they were spiritually and emotionally shaken, too," he says. BGR ministers to these deeper needs by pointing survivors to the hope of Christ. They'll be dealing with a lot of traumas, a lot of fears, and just trying to figure out how to put their lives back together."
(AhramOnline) 13 September 2012 - In Egypt - Egyptian protesters on Tuesday took down the American flag from the walls of the US embassy in Cairo during a thousands-strong demonstration held to condemn a short film produced by California-based American-Israeli Sam Bacile, which critics say demeans Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
The film was initially thought to have been produced by members of the Coptic Diaspora. Maurice Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian living in the US, and controversial Pastor Terry Jones, who is known for his burning of the Quran, are believed to have been promoting the film but were not involved in its production, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.
A number of protesters managed to climb atop the walls surrounding the embassy, while others were able to breach the embassy's garden, where they removed an American flag and replaced it with another one bearing the Islamic declaration of faith: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah."
Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said on Tuesday that the group planned to call for a million-man rally on Friday to register their opposition to the anti-Islam film.
Ghozlan also said that the US administration should issue a formal apology for the film to the Muslim world, adding that the US government should prosecute the "madmen" whose activities were harming Washington's relations with Arab and Muslim countries.
He further stressed that all demonstrations should remain peaceful in nature.
In Libya - The US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, has died from smoke inhalation in an attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, the country's interior ministry and security sources have said.
An armed mob attacked and set fire to the building in a protest against an amateur film deemed offensive to Islam's Prophet Muhammad, after similar protests in Egypt's capital.
The ambassador was paying a short visit to the city when the consulate came under attack. A group calling themselves the "Islamic law supporters" carried out the attack in response to the release of the film, Al Jazeera's El-Dressi reported.
(AlMonitor) 10 September 2012 - Followers of the Ansar Dine movement in northern Mali began imposing their rules by force on anyone who violates their fanatical Salafist doctrine. They recently tortured a number of Malians under the pretext of applying Islamic law. The victims included Christians who fled toward the Algerian border to escape from this hell.
The fanaticism of the armed groups controlling northern Mali has reached a level that neither religious nor non-religious people can handle. Christians are suffering so much that many have decided to leave permanently, seeking asylum in Algeria. The Ansar Dine movement, led by Iyad Ag Ghali, has decided to represent armed terrorist groups that are active in northern Mali and help impose their approach in the region. This differs from the actions of the Group of Monotheism and Jihad in West Africa, which has focused its objectives on Algerian interests.
Add to this al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which made the application of its doctrine in the region one of its duties, in compliance with the orders of the central command in the tribal region. This is the area where followers of Ag Ghali got involved in a number of crimes which claimed the lives of residents of northern Mali under the pretext of applying Islamic law. Also, they carried out massacres which were similar in nature to those carried out by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria.
The first victim that El-Khabar found yesterday [August 27] in the Bordj Badji Mokhtar market was ''Mama," who fled a month ago from the violence of Ansar Dine. These fighters are chasing their opponents regardless of their location, in order to enforce their fanatical Salafist doctrine, which they have imposed on the population, thus disregarding freedom of religion.
The woman we interviewed, who left her home and fled with her baby to the house of relatives who live in Bordj Badji Mokhtar, said that the situation in Mali is no longer bearable, and that it is no longer about a war or a conflict. Insurgents took control of the region, and they have made the imposition of their doctrine on citizens their top concern, depriving people of any kind of liberty or of the right to live in dignity.
"Mama'' added that her relative had thrown a party after the group had banned the organization of any wedding or celebration. This had worried her, especially since they apply their beliefs without regard to the convictions of others. She said, ''we cannot get rid of the fear they have instilled in our hearts; they keep getting increasingly insolent.”
Another displaced individual echoed that life in northern Mali has "become unbearable." Young Christians are afraid of dying and some have even claimed to have abandoned their religion after witnessing hell with their own eyes. Some reported having to choose between Islam and death. Extremism, which did not even spare Muslims, led more Christians to leave their homes and flee to the neighboring countries, especially Algeria and Mauritania. The armed group has imposed — under the authorization of Blaour — their rules on all opponents of their interpretation of Islamic law.
They have already stoned an individual to death after accusing him of committing adultery. They whipped others accused of distributing illicit drugs. They have banned a number of actions they deem heresy and contrary to Islam, such as "indecent" clothing. They even attacked an unveiled woman, beating her until her baby fell to the ground. This infuriated citizens who were watching helplessly, according to a number of Christian youth roaming in the border region.
(Leadership) 28 Aug 2012 - As the federal government grapples with the spate of insecurity in the country, Former governor of Lagos State and Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has declared that Nigeria is fast becoming one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Tinubu who spoke on the state of insecurity in the country at the Dusable Museum of African America History, in Chicago, United States, said “the result has been that Nigeria is becoming one of the most dangerous places on earth. Not only do we have Boko Haram, there is growing insecurity and blatant unchecked criminality in other parts of the nation.”
He also alleged that people in government were benefiting from the elongated activities of Boko Haram, adding that until they are dealt with the menace of the sect would not go away.
While he noted that the opposition was ready to work with the government over the security challenges, he, however, stated that the federal government had monopolised internal security because it intended to amass power and not lose any.
“This centralised structure would be fine if it were not ignorant, reactive and inefficient. The roots of these security challenges have mostly local origins. A centralised structure, however, tends to deploy security officials and units with sufficient knowledge and understanding of local issues. Instead of helping, the security personnel often worsen the situation owing to ignorance.
“The central government has tried to monopolise control of internal security. Because it wants to accrete power and not lose any, the national government has adamantly opposed any decentralisation of internal security.
“Community policing has proved effective in many different social conditions around the world. It is an idea whose time has come for Nigeria.
Tinubu added that Nigeria had been unable to progress towards economic development and consolidate on democracy due to slack in adherence to good governance which had resulted in individuals fighting the system.
He stressed that at a time Nigerians expect “great transformation in their lives they now have to deal with political Boko Haram, economic Boko Haram and religious Boko Haram.”
Describing Nigeria as being placed on indefinite hold, the former governor noted “we are like the ambivalent person, standing half in the light, half in the shadows.”
He continued “Everyday, we hope her great potential will dawn in its fullness, but what transpires is the opposite. Those entrusted with her governance connive to pull her back into the night.”
He further warned that the proposed amendment of the constitution being spearheaded by the PDP was an attempt to undermine the states.
He decried that the amendment would make local governments dependent on Abuja, stressing that the federal government increased its powers at the expense of states which perverted the sequence of power and division of labour natural to a federal system.
“The ruling PDP entertains a proposed constitutional amendment severing the fiscal relationship between state and local government. The amendment would transfer the passage of funds to local governments from the states to the national government in Abuja,” Tinubu said.
He also criticized the bloated central government which he said no longer worked to serve the people but forced the people to serve it, thereby plunging the nation into authoritarianism.
(INcontext Ministries) 23 Aug 2012 - On 24 Augusts 2012, Secular Muslims and Egyptian Christians will take to the streets protesting against the recently elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood back government.
Religious decrees or Fatwa's by leading Muslim clerics were recently voiced against such protests and called for the killing of any person who stands against the Muslim Brotherhood and it's elected President, Mr. Morsi. Reports have been received that suggest that Christians are among those who have already been murdered under the mentioned Fatwa's.
The Egypt Independent quoted a Muslim Brotherhood lawyer, Abdel Moneim, saying that the Muslim Brotherhood rejected these Fatwa's calling for the killing of protesters on 24 Augusts. Monein said that peaceful demonstrations is a guaranteed right to all Egyptians.
AFP reported that Egypt's interior ministry on Wednesday warned organizers planning a campaign of protests against President Mohamed Morsi on August 24 that it would respond "decisively" to any violence. Police "will decisively and legitimately confront any attempt to storm or attack any public or private installation, detain workers in them or cause chaos," the ministry said in a statement.
Whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood will allow peaceful demonstrations to take place on 24 Aug or not, the reality remains that for Christians in Egypt, who now live under constant threat of attack by Islamic extremists, everyday could be their last day.
Christian are especially vulnerable in Upper Egypt where the brotherhood has its stronghold. Christians in these rural areas have been forced to stay indoors and various Christian shops have been attacked and destroyed in the process.
The Church in Egypt needs your prayer now. Please pray for the following:.
Pray that Egypt will not fall into a cival war like Libya and Syria. Pray that the planned protest will be peaceful. Pray for the leadership of Egypt, Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
(AINA) 20 Aug 2012 - Last week in Egypt, when Muslim Brotherhood supporters terrorized the secular media, several Arabic websites--including Arab News, Al Khabar News, Dostor Watany, and Egypt Now--reported that people were being “crucified.” The relevant excerpt follows in translation:
A Sky News Arabic correspondent in Cairo confirmed that protestors belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others. Likewise, Muslim Brotherhood supporters locked the doors of the media production facilities of 6-October [a major media region in Cairo], where they proceeded to attack several popular journalists.
That there were attacks and violence--both in front of Egypt’s presidential palace and at major media facilities--is well-documented. An August 9 report by El Balad, a widely read Egyptian website, gives the details:
Last Wednesday, August 8, “thousands of the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters” attacked 6-October’s media facilities, beat Khaled Salah--chief editor of the privately-owned and secular Youm 7 newspaper--prevented Yusif al-Hassani, an On TV broadcaster, from entering the building, and generally “terrorized the employees.”
El Balad adds that the supporters of Tawfik Okasha, another vocal critic of President Morsi--the one who widely disseminated the graphic video of a Muslim apostate being slaughtered to cries of “Allahu Akbar”--gathered around the presidential palace, only to be surrounded by Brotherhood supporters, who “attacked them with sticks, knives, and Molotov cocktails, crucifying some of them on trees, leading to the deaths of two and the wounding of dozens.”
Far from condemning these terrorists, Al Azhar, Egypt’s most authoritative Islamic institution, has just issued a fatwa calling for more violence and suppression, saying that “fighting participants in anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations planned for 24 August is a religious obligation.”
Most of the aforementioned Arabic sites point out that these attacks are part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign to intimidate and thus censor Egypt’s secular media from exposing the group’s Islamist agenda, which Youm 7, On TV, and Okasha do daily. [Note: the latter's channel was recently shut down, despite Morsi's previous reassurances that "no station or media will be shut down in my era."]
These threats are not new; back in April, an organization called the “Jihad Group to Cleanse the Country” threatened these media with “painful and severe punishments.” Apparently now that Morsi has become master of Egypt, threats are becoming reality, just as promises are being broken.
And the threats are taking their toll. Sky News, which was first to report about the crucifixions, has taken down its original article (though the URL still appears in the address box with the Arabic words “protesters-crucified-in front of-egypt’s-presidential-palace”).
While one may argue that Sky News removed the article because it was found false, one can equally argue that it censored itself for fear that it would be next in the terror campaign against the media.
In reality, there is little reason to doubt this crucifixion story. Militant Muslims crucifying their opponents is a regular feature of the Islamic world--recent cases coming from the Ivory Coast, where two Christian brothers were crucified, similarly by supporters of a Muslim president who ousted a Christian; Indonesia, where Islamic separatists crucified a fellow Muslim for being a military informant; and in Iraq, whereMuslim militants crucified Christian children.
Moreover, those alleged to have been crucified in Egypt certainly fit the Koran’s description of who deserves to be crucified. According to Allah, “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this: that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off…” (Koran 5:33).
“Making mischief in the land” is precisely what the secular media is being accused of, by constantly exposing the Muslim Brotherhood and prompting the people to protest. Even the Jihad Group to Cleanse the Country, which threatens to “liquidate” many secular media, accuses them of “creating chaos to implement the American and Zionist agenda.”
Finally, it is telling that only a few months ago, and for the first time in Egypt’s modern history, an Egyptian MP proposed to institutionalize Sharia’s most draconian punishments--including crucifixion.
Under the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the bottle has been uncorked and the Islamic Genie set loose. Expect much worse to come.
By Raymond Ibrahim
(VOA) 15 Aug 2012 - The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor recently released the 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom. The annual report is mandated by Congress and describes the status of religious freedom; government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals; and U.S. policies promoting religious freedom.
According to the report, the Chinese government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom deteriorated in 2011. Although the People’s Republic of China’s constitution provides for freedom of “religious belief,” protections for religious practice are limited to “normal religious activities.” According to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom, the Chinese government applies the term “normal religious activities” in a manner that does not meet international human rights standards for freedom of religion.
In China, only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations,” are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. The Chinese government does not recognize the authority of the Vatican to appoint bishops, and some local authorities have reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce ordinations approved by the Vatican.
Proselytizing in public or unregistered places of worship is not permitted, and some religious and spiritual groups are outlawed. Chinese Communist Party members are required to be atheists and are discouraged from participating in religious activities.
The Chinese government’s repression of religious freedom remained severe in Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
There were reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, ethnicity, belief, or practice. Both Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists reported increased societal discrimination.
Since 1999, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated China as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On August 18, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again designated China a Country of Particular Concern. “The absence of religious freedom,” Secretary Clinton said when the 2011 report was released, “can create a climate of fear and suspicion that weakens social cohesion and alienates citizens from their leaders.”
(MohabatNews) 13 Aug 2012 - She is the first Saudi-Arabian woman to become Christian. This has made Saudi officials extremely angry. It is to the extent that they called to take necessary measures to deal with Christian evangelism in Saudi Arabia.
(CatholicOnline) 10 Aug 2012 - Boko Haram is demanding that Nigeria's Christian president convert to Islam or resign, a stance that again calls into question the Obama administration's playing down of religion as the primary motivation for the radical group.
Terrorists are threatening the Christian President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan.]
(Salem-News) 06 Aug 2012 -The streets are most dangerous that is, unless it’s a Friday, when a few Syrian Christians dare to step outside of their homes amidst the persecution of Syria’s Christians by the Islamic rebels of the ‘Free Syrian Army.
The Christians in Syria (10% of its population) could be facing a bloodbath. The signs are there right now, and only Russian and Chinese resistance to ‘the West’ is keeping the Syrian church from complete extermination.
In many Syrian towns, lawlessness has become the norm. When government forces aren’t present, Muslims have been known to rob churches and kidnap, rape, or even kill Christian women. Innocent bystanders simply making trips to the store have been gunned down. Curfews have done little to make anyone feel safer or less fearful, so the Christian community simply bands together and prays.
Hundreds of these Christian residents have watched their lives and their very freedoms slip away right before their eyes. Homs, a city which has been occupied by both government and rebel forces for weeks, is now alone the site of more than 1,500 violent deaths. As the Arab Spring continues to rage throughout Syria, thousands more people have lost their lives in a movement that seeks to strip President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of its power. And as Islamic protesters clash with government forces, Christians have become hopelessly tangled in the crossfire.
The most recent fighting has left over 50 Christians dead. One victim, a young Christian boy, was killed by rebels who filmed the murder and then blamed the act on government soldiers.
Another victim, a Christian man, was taken captive by rebels before being cruelly asked by them, "How do you want to die?" The man suffered a complete breakdown before he was eventually released. But the ever-present fear of persecution and violence is only part of the problem for Syria’s Christians.
Read full article here http://www.salem-news.com/articles/august022012/syrian-christians-pk.php
(ICC) 01 Aug 2012 - Religious freedom is deteriorating in Eritrea resulting in serious violations of human rights for the country’s persecuted Christians.
According to the report by the United States State Department released yesterday, the government of Eritrea “demonstrated a trend toward deterioration in respect for religious freedom…The government subjected religious prisoners to harsh conditions and held them for long periods of time without due process.”
Eritrea is one of the top persecutors of Christians. The country’s security officials have detained more than 3,000 Christians for practicing their faith. The prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions in metal shipping containers, military barracks and underground dungeons.
The harsh conditions of the prisoners is confirmed by the State Department’s report which stated, “Some religious prisoners were hung from trees in painful positions for several weeks until they could no longer move their arms and legs, requiring other prisoners to feed and bathe them. Religious prisoners also reported being forced to walk barefoot on sharp rocks and thorns for one hour per day, beaten with hard plastic and metal rods in order to extract ‘confessions,’ and threatened with death if they did not recant their faith.“
Eritrea is a small country located in East Africa. The communist leaders of the country are notorious for restricting religious freedom and other fundamental rights.
(AINA) 31 July 2012 - As Christians face the threat of violent persecution in Syria, Nigeria, and other countries, speakers at a rally in Rome called on governments to explicitly condemn the violence, and to grant the persecuted full refugee status.
Called "Salviamo i Cristiani" -- Save the Christians -- the demonstration on July 18 highlighted that, globally, no other group is more persecuted.
The organizers noted that during the course of history, an estimated 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith, including 40 million in the 20th century alone. They said, each year, 105,000 Christians die as martyrs -- one new martyr every minute -- killed by Islamic terrorists, Hindus in India, or communists in China, North Korea and Vietnam.
"We're told about a triumph of democracy and peace," said Roberto de Mattei of the Lepanto Foundation, a non-profit organization defending the principles and institutions of Western Christian civilization.
"After Sept. 11, they said, Don't worry, because the politics of dialogue and interreligious peace will prevail. Today, we're told about the health of the Maghreb, that it is a model of the Arab Spring, showing hope and promise," the Italian historian said. "But the reality of what is before our eyes is tragically different. Today, we are here to cry out our indignation, and launch our appeal for persecuted Christians."
In a July 25 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, a Christian charity, the Catholic bishop of Aleppo said fear was widespread that Christians there will be attacked. "If they come in around our churches and round our bishopric, just as they did in Homs, it will be disastrous for us," said Jesuit Bishop Antoine Audo. "What can we do to protect the people? We do not have any possibility to do that."
A message from German observers of the Knights of Malta, a Catholic charity, reported July 25 that thousands of Christians were fleeing Syria "not just because of the violence of civil conflict but because they are suffering from attacks by the rebel forces, elements of which are radically Muslim."
Magdi Cristiano Allam, an Egyptian-born Italian politician who was received into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, used his address at last week's rally to call on all governments to offer full refugee status to persecuted Christians.
He noted that around the end of the seventh century, 95 percent of the populations on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean were Christian; today they make up just 6 percent of the population, numbering 12 million people. That figure is expected to halve by 2020. "Only if we are strong and certain of our roots, faith, and values can we be respected," he said.
Asked why governments and the media tend to ignore the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide, Allam told Newsmax it was because they are afraid of Islam and too preoccupied with finance and materialism.
He also criticized President Obama for playing "a fundamental role in the legitimization of radical Islam." As examples, he cited the administration's negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Obama's use of Koranic verses to portray Islam as a moderate religion during his speech in Cairo in 2009.
The rally speakers also noted that Christians not only face violent persecution but also subtler forms in the guise of growing restrictions to religious freedom.
Asked about the Obama administration's threats to the religious liberty of U.S. Catholics, Allam said: "Obama is undoubtedly an expression of relativism, as we have seen recently in his support for same-sex marriage, his support for abortion." He added: "[Obama] is aperson who wants nothing to do with anyone who puts the person at the centre -- the natural family, local communities, values, rules for the common good. Obama represents a danger for our civilization."
De Mattei acknowledged that in view of Christians' countercultural witness to the world, persecution is to be expected. But he also stressed that it should be confronted. "The Church has lived with persecution since its origins, also during communism, but the persecutors are bad and we have to resist, to fight," he said.
Despite Rome being the home of Catholicism, with many monuments to martyrs who died in hatred of the faith over the centuries, the rally only drew about 300 people. But Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, described the event as having "extraordinary importance" and argued that religious freedom should be placed above an emphasis on other civil and political rights.
De Mattei said the event was of "symbolic importance." If there were no such protests, he said "it would be a scandal."
By Edward Pentin
(ACN) 30 July 2012 - CHRISTIANS in Damascus and Aleppo are terrified of being targeted and driven away, according to a senior bishop.
Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo SJ of Aleppo said the Church was frightened of a repeat of the catastrophe in Homs in the spring when the Christian quarter came under fire, forcing a mass exodus of almost all of the faithful – more than 120,000.
The bishop reported that as conflict deepened in Aleppo and Damascus, people were turning to him, desperate for help after leaving their homes and all their belongings and fleeing for safer towns and villages.
Speaking from Aleppo on Monday, 23rd July in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Audo said: “What we are afraid of is that in this situation of anarchy, armed people will come into Christian areas as they did in Homs.
“If they come in around our churches and round our bishopric, just as they did in Homs, it will be disastrous for us.”
He reported that at his Sunday Mass in Aleppo yesterday, the church was half empty because people were too afraid to come.
(Aid to the Church in Need) http://members4.boardhost.com/acnaus/msg/1343095677.html
(CBN) 27 July 2012 - A large portion of India still lives in tribes, and one of the largest of these communities is witnessing a Christian revival.Hundreds of men, women and children who used to follow Hinduism are now embracing Christianity.
Ask Dinesh Shur why so many tribal people are accepting Jesus Christ and he gets teary-eyed."When you do God's work for years and begin to see the fruits of your labor, it is overwhelming," Shur told CBN News."You see the changed lives, you see the eternal happiness on the faces of people, and how can it not move me," he said.
Here, in a corner of Rajasthan where the majority follow Hinduism, a Christian chorus is rising."The transformation is almost immediate," Shur said. "Families stop praying to their ancestors, they stop drinking, they stop their witchcraft practices. Their entire life is turned upside down when they accept Jesus."
Shur is part of the reason why so many are turning to Christ.For 10 years, Shur, known as Pastor Dinesh, served in a big city. But then God tugged on his heart and told him he had to go back to his village, go back to his roots, to his own people and share the good news of Jesus Christ."I was like Jonah in the Bible," Shur said. "I didn't want to live in my village. I wanted to serve God in the city where things are easier. I wanted to reach others with the gospel, not my own people."
Shur pointed to Sohan Lal's life as fruit of his decision to return."One day Pastor Dinesh told me about Jesus Christ," Lal, who recently converted to Christianity, said. "He told me that if I put my trust in Him, I would be healed, that my life would be different. I did.
Lal joined 178 of his tribe's people recently at the edge of this river not too far from their village. Here they were baptized by Pastor Dinesh."I know all these men and women personally. I know what their lives were like before they met Christ. And now to be part of this spiritual milestone in their lives is an enormous privilege," Shur said.Theru Bhai has been waiting for this day a long time. Like Lal, Bhai too is a recent Christian convert.
"After I accepted Christ I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking, and I stopped getting into fights," Bhai said. "Getting baptized was my way to show the community that I am a changed man. Today Jesus Christ is my savior."Mannu was among the dozens of Hindu women who also got baptized in the river that day."I feel very happy after my baptism and thankful that I received Christ in my heart," she said. "I will now follow Him the rest of my life."
Mannu's husband, Shantu, and children also decided to follow Christ after Pastor Dinesh spent several occasions with them."My family is blessed today because of Christ and because someone was willing to come and share the gospel with us," Shantu said.
Pastor Dinesh is a member of the Bhil community, one of the largest tribes in the central states of India.The Bhil are mainly farmers. They are very poor and still follow centuries old-practices. In many ways they live a life far different from those in the cities," he explained.Shur said foreign missionaries have ministered to this area for more than 135 years and have never seen the results he's witnessing today.
Christians are still a minority within a minority in these parts. However, there are reports that as many as 300,000 people have become believers in just the last 10 years, many of them from among the Bhil tribe.
"We have 42 house prayer groups meeting in about 22 villages. We also have 32 workers from our church going from village to village as evangelists sharing the gospel," Shur said."In the coming year my goal is to send out missionaries to neighboring states to reach other Bhil villages," he added.Jeevani Karadi, a church leader in a remote part of Rajastan, is one of those who travels from village to village.
When she's not on the road, you'll find this spry 65-year-old helping lead a house group with Pastor Dinesh. On the day CBN News met her, she and dozens of believers were having church under a tree."Our group is getting so large I don't have enough space in my house to fit all these people so we come here," she said.Karadi's testimony is the reason this meeting is even happening.
About six years ago, she used to roam the streets of this remote village, in essence, as a mad woman, even walking around naked.Then she had an encounter with Jesus. Today she leads a thriving church in Rajasthan."The village used to make fun of me. They would shout nasty things as I walked on the streets," Karadi recalled. "People said I was cursed."
"Then I met Pastor Dinesh, and he prayed for me, and I was healed," she continued. "I was delivered. Jesus set me free."Her healing led many to receive Christ and helped start the first house prayer group in the village.Shur said these testimonies are just another reminder for him of how important it is to obey and trust God.
"Today I'm living the fruits of my decision to come back to my village. Is it easy? No. Do we face challenges? Yes," he said. "But we have Christ to lean on. He is all we need to see change among my people."
(CP) 25 July 2012 - Christians in Syria are caught in the middle of an ever-growing conflict between government troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebel fighters who want to bring down his regime.
"If Assad falls, Christians in Syria are fearful of what will happen when a new government – probably a radical Islamic one – will come into power," Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller said in a statement. "Will their freedom to worship end? Will persecution increase? Will they have to flee Syria with their families as have thousands of believers in Iraq?"
Conflicting reports put the number of dead in Syria since the violence began last year from anywhere between 10,000 and 17,000 people – with many of the casualties being Christians from the city of Homs who have been stuck in the crossfire. It is estimated that there are around 1.5 million Christians in the nation.
Last week, the top Christian official in the country, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, a former army general, died in a blast in Damascus that targeted several government officials. This prompted a number of political analysts to express fears about the stability of the Syrian capital, seeing it as a sign that Assad's regime may be in serious danger of conceding power to the rebels.
While the rebel groups attacking the government have not yet detailed a plan of how they will run the country should they be successful in their mission, many fear they might make use of Sharia law and impose a radical Islamic agenda on the country. Some sources have even tied Syria's rebels to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida-style jihadists.
"Already thousands have been targeted and have fled Syria. Some have been forced to flee from cities like Homs and seek shelter and help from Christian churches in the area. Christians who supported Assad could face reprisal from the rebels. There is just a tremendous fear for their future," Moeller added.
"Pray that if the rebels overthrow the Assad regime, that they will not retaliate against Christians, forcing a mass exodus of believers from Syria," he urged. "Pray for an end to the chaos and violence. Pray that Syria will allow freedom of religion for all minorities. And pray that Christians will continue to reach out to Muslims who are also suffering from the violence."
The Christian organization has been helping send emergency relief packages to Christians in Syria, but has said the international community needs to step up to provide more food and medical supplies to those in need.
"The aid will help them survive. And it will be enhanced by the other work that Open Doors is doing in Syria, such as providing biblical training, trauma counseling and discipleship training," Open Doors has said.
ICC - 19 July 2012 - Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) — There is a mass exodus of Christians, including a group evacuated from the besieged city of Homs last week, fleeing Syrian cities for safety. Caught in the middle of a showdown between opposition forces and the Syrian army, many Christians fear the prospect of an Islamist-led government if President Bashar al-Assad is deposed.
On July 11, Maximos al-Jamal, a Greek Orthodox priest, negotiated a deal between armed rebels and the army to evacuate 63 Christians caught between the crossfire in the bombed-out city of Homs, The Associated Press (AP) reports. Al-Jamal feared that rebels were keeping Christians in the city as bargaining chips while army attacks intensified.
“Gunmen have told the besieged people that if you go out of these areas, we will die,” al-Jamal told AP.
Thousands of Christians lived in Homs before Syria’s uprising began early last year. Today, however, al-Jamal said that only 100 Christian civilians remain, the result of which is more likely contributed to rebel attacks against Christians than the army’s bombardment of the city.
“The armed [rebels] in Syria [have] murdered more than 200 Christians in the city of Homs, including entire families with young children. These gangs kidnapped Christians and demanded high ransoms. In two cases, after the ransoms were paid, the men's bodies were found,” a priest in Homs told Barnabas Aid.
The evacuation of Christians from Homs is only the latest occurrence in a mass exodus of Christians from Syrian cities. In June, nearly 10,000 Christians fled Qusayr after being given an ultimatum to leave the city by a rebel commander, reported Barnabas Aid. The threat was reportedly echoed in the city mosques: “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, ending Friday (June 8).” Rebels, however, denied the accusations, claiming that Christians began fleeing months earlier when the army shelled the city.
Many Syrian Christians, considered loyal to President Assad, are afraid that rebel groups—widely led by Islamists—will persecute non-Muslims and stifle religious freedoms. Historically, Christians have been granted a higher degree of freedom in Syria than in most other Middle Eastern countries. Despite reports of massive violence initiated by the regime, many Syrian Christians still believe that Assad is their final hope for a peaceful existence.
“Christians are increasingly being targeted and driven out of their homes and districts,” Elizabeth Kendal wrote for the Religious Liberty Prayer bulletin. “Some 138,000 Christians have fled Homs, where Christians have been terrorized and churches have been looted and occupied by rebel forces…. In areas under rebel control, intolerant, hard-line Sunni fundamentalism is making Muslim-Christian coexistence impossible. For the jihadists, neutrality is not an option, and Christians (and Muslims) refusing to support the jihad are being tortured, expelled and murdered.”
Like in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, the uprisings in Syria—initially calling for democratic change and greater freedoms—provided a platform for Islamists long-suppressed under authoritarian rule to rally behind a fundamentalist agenda.
“For the newest generation of Sunni jihadists, Syria has become the latest front in the struggle to wrest control of the region from rival religious sects and foreign occupation,” Daniel Brode, Roger Farhat, and Daniel Nisman, intelligence analysts at Max-Security Solutions, wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. “Many of these fighters hail from the vast reaches of North Africa and the Gulf, arriving in Syria with weapons, funds and a radical ideology.”
Asia News, quoting Kuwait’s Arabic-language newspaper Al-Qabas, reported that “jihadists” from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Pakistan “crossed the Syrian-Turkish border to fight in the jihad alongside [opposition forces]… against the regime of Bashar el Assad.”
Moreover, Agenzia Fides, the official Vatican news agency, reported that, “armed opposition… is gradually radicalizing towards Sunni extremist ideology.” In another report, Agenzia Fides stated that Syria’s Salafis—who follow the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Islam found in Saudi Arabia—are carrying out “brief executions” against Christian “infidels” while initiating a “sectarian war.” These Christians are given a choice to either join the opposition or face “harassment, discrimination, [and] violence.”
As war continues without resolution, there is grave concern that Syrian Christians will follow the path of other ancient Christian communities throughout the Middle East. In Iraq, more than half the Christian population—caught between Sunni and Shia sectarianism—has fled the country following the US-led invasion in 2003. In Egypt, reports indicate that at least 93,000 Christians have sought visas to western countries since March 19, 2011 following the political rise of Islamic parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The endangered status of Christians in Arab countries is so severe that Ken Blackwell, a human rights expert and board member of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, wrote that “Christians are being ethnically cleansed throughout the Middle East.”
“Look at what happened in Egypt and Iraq,” a Syrian church leader who asked to remain anonymous told ICC. “Christians want to peacefully go out and ask for certain changes, but Islamist groups are sneaking in with their goal, which is not to make changes for the betterment of Syria, but to take over the country with their agenda. Christians will be the first to pay if this happens.”
International Christian Concern, article by Aidan Clay
18 July 2012 - By Michael Ireland: Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- Canon Andrew White, the popular 'Vicar of Baghdad', says in his latest update from the Middle East, where he serves at St. George's Church in the Iraqi capital, that "Things are getting worse by the day in Iraq, and most of us do not even know."
Writing for The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) http://frrme.org , Canon White said: "There were 90 killed the other day in a truck bombing in Baghdad and it was not even on the news. There are very little media left in Iraq: they have been threatened, killed and made to leave Iraq by the Government."
White says that a recent article by Ned Parker, "one of the best journalists reporting on Iraq in my opinion," gives an excellent insight into the reality of Iraq now. Parker's most recent article appeared in the prestigious American magazine, "Foreign Affairs." He also writes for the Times.
In 'Foreign Affairs,' to quote briefly, he wrote: ''Nine years after US troops toppled Saddam Hussein and just a few months after the last US soldier left Iraq, the country has become something close to a failed state.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population. The law exists as a weapon to be wielded against rivals and hide the misdeeds of friends. The dream of an Iraq governed by elected leaders answerable to the people is rapidly fading away."
Parker writes: "The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity in summer, clean water and decent health care; meanwhile, unemployment among young men hovers close to 30 percent, making them easy recruits for criminal gangs and militant factions.
"Although the level of violence is down from the worst days of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the current pace of bombings and shootings is more than enough to leave most Iraqis on edge and deeply uncertain about their futures. They have lost any hope that bloodshed will go away and simply live with their dread. Acrimony in the political realm and the violence in the cities create a destabilizing feedback loop, whereby the bloodshed sows mistrust in the halls of power and politicians are inclined to settle scores with their proxies in the streets.''
Canon White says this article "shows the sad reality of the present situation, despite being written before the recent upsurge in violence."
He adds: "Sadly, this catastrophe has meant that I must forgo my time in the UK with my family and return to Iraq. Urgent work is needed to try and deal with the present crisis. It is going to be very difficult. The temperature is so hot, in the high 50's [Centigrade]. Parliament has even stopped meeting because of the heat and Ramadan [the Muslim Holy Month] is about to begin. The key people who will be working with me on this are the very people who won our peace prize last week."
Canon White asks for prayer "as we take on this huge challenge.
"Before I return, I am meeting with the Israeli Ambassador, to talk through our much needed work there. The sad fact is that there is so much to do there, not least the revitalization of the Alexandria Process which we began there,' he said.
"I ask prayers for the family of our closest friend and colleague in Israel, Rabbi Michael Melchior. His dear son, father of four boys, is literally on his deathbed dying of cancer in his 30's. Please pray that our Lord G_d will comfort them in this time of tragedy."
Canon White said when he next writes, he will be back in Baghdad.
Donations to Andrew's work in Iraq may be made at http://frrme.org/get-involved/donate.
CP - 18 July 2012 - The Constituent Assembly committee tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution has revealed articles of the document, which declares that "Islam is the religion of the state" informed by Islamic Sharia principles. However, those statements seem to contradict an included provision for Christians and Jews to be governed by their own religion, according to observers.
The draft for Article 1 reads, according to Egyptian newspaper Ahram: "The Arab Republic of Egypt is democratic, consultative, constitutional and modernized; based on the separation of powers and the principle of citizenship. Egypt is part of the Arab and Islamic nation, with strong ties to the African Continent."
Article 2's draft reads: "Islam is the religion of the state; Arabic is the official religion of the state; and principles of Islamic Sharia are the major source of legislation. Al-Azhar is the major reference on interpreting the principles of Islamic Sharia and that non-Muslims, especially the followers of Christianity and Judaism, should refer to their religions on personal matters, religious affairs, and the selection of their religious leaders."
The proposal for Article 3 reportedly reads: "Sovereignty is for the people alone and they are the source of authority. The people shall exercise and protect this sovereignty, and safeguard national unity in the manner specified in the Constitution."
The Egypt Independent reported this week that drafts of the first two articles of the new constitution had been agreed upon by various religious members of the Constituent Assembly. Those involved in crafting the drafts were reportedly careful to appease those concerned with the direction of the country after the removal of former President Hosni Mubarak, and the installation of Mohammad Morsi.
Evangelical leader Safwat al-Bayady was cited by the Egypt Independent as backing the draft articles, as were representatives of the Catholic Church and the Coptic community, the largest Christian group in Egypt.
The only dissension seemed to be among the committee's ultra-orthodox Salafists, who took issue with Article 2 stating that "the principles of Islamic Sharia are the major source of legislation." According to Amrah Online, which reported on the assembly meeting on Thursday, Salafist assembly members have been aggressively pushing to implement Islamic Sharia law as more than just a guiding principle in legislative matters.
"They also believe that Sharia law, not its principles, should be the main source of legislation to ensure that the hudood, or the ordinances of God – such (as) stoning non-believes and amputating the hands of thieves – be applied. The imposition of hudood, according to most Islamist conservative forces, is a necessity so that Egypt does not become a secular state and that it is committed to implementing God's laws," the publication reports.
This aggressive push for Sharia in the draft of the new constitution, being framed around Egypt's 1971 constitution, has been interpreted as a warning sign among some observers who believe a reference to the Islamic religious code contradicts provisions for Christians.
Middle East affairs expert Barry Rubin, commenting on what these proposed changes could mean,writes:
"Finally, Christians, it is implied, will be governed by their own religious laws. But this is a peculiar formulation. If Egypt is not governed by Sharia law then why would Christians need to be exempt from it? If this provision is restricted only to matters of personal status (principally marriage, divorce, and inheritance) then Christians would mostly be living under Sharia law in any state court. And what does this constitutional provision mean for example regarding the status of women, where Egyptian law has granted more rights than Sharia would do? Another important issue will be the appointment of future judges since many of the current magistrates oppose Sharia law as that of the state."
Expressing skepticism over the appearance of a moderate Egypt emerging, Rubin adds: "No doubt though the Constitution will be interpreted by many Western observers of proof that the Brotherhood and Salafists have moderated."
Although newly instated President Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, vowed that the new Egypt would be democratic and more inclusive of its minority segments, doubts have persisted among some observers who believe the new president could be overpowered by hardline Islamists.
Insisting last week that "Egypt is an Islamist state," David Schenker, also an expert in Middle East affairs, suggested that what was most important is understanding what kind of Islamic state Egypt would become.
"Already, the Salafis have threatened to withdraw from Morsi's presidential team if he follows through on his commitment to include a woman and a Coptic Christian among his six vice presidents," he wrote.
"In his victory speech, Morsi spoke about reconciliation. But going forward, nervous about being outflanked on its right, the Muslim Brotherhood will see little alternative to adopting the positions of its Salafi rivals, including a stricter interpretation of Islamic law," Schenker concluded.
The Constitutional Assembly's present suggestions are not set in stone and will likely be debated further as the full body of representatives from among Egypt's population gather to decide what powers the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government will hold.
But even the assembly, which fell apart earlier this year amid protests from Christians, moderate Islamists, liberals and other groups claiming unfair representation, is in danger of being dissolved again. The current committee tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution is facing the same accusations, with several lawsuits filed challenging its legality.
Christian Post, Article by Nicola Menzie
TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is well-known for his denial of The Holocaust.
Now, in a speech during the Women and Islamic Awakening Summit held in Milad Tower in Tehran, Ahmadinjead has claimed that God has never sent any religion into the world called Christianity or Judaism, “But He appointed the prophet of Islam, Mohammad, as the prophet for all mankind, from Buddhists to Christians and Jews.”
According to Mohabat News, www.mohabatnews.com , Iranian domestic media has reported that during his speech Ahmadinejad addressed the necessity of edification of the world and awakening of people and said, "All the great prophets have come to edify the world."
He added, "Islam is a universal religion and God has not sent any religion but one. God has never sent any religion called Christianity and Judaism. Abraham was the proclaimer of Islam and so were Moses and Jesus."
He continued, "God has sent only one religion, and that is Islam. Our dear prophet belongs to the whole world and he is the last of all prophets. He is also the prophet of Americans, Europeans and Asians. He is the prophet of Buddhists and has come to save all!”
Ahmadinejad went on to say, "Our dear prophet does not only belong to the Muslims as so does not Quran. The Quran belongs to all mankind.”
Mohabat News goes on to report that, in his statement against Israel, Ahmadinejad said, "The sharp tip of all revolutions and uprisings should point to the Zionist regime of Israel, for it is the base of all arrogance. Until the dominance systems and Zionist regime exists, Nations won't see the face of peace. This is why they should be destroyed.”
In earlier speeches, Ahmadinejad had denied The Holocaust, the massacre of Jews by the Nazis. Ahmadinejad had said that The Holocaust is a myth.
Also, Mohabat News reports, Iranian vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, said in his remarks some days ago that drug trafficking is rooted in the Jewish book of Talmud.
The news agency says authorities in other countries, as well as UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, have reacted against these statements.
(Al - Arabiya News) 09 July 2012 - From east to west Africa, a rise in Islamic extremism has led to a surge in deadly attacks and kidnappings by groups linked to Al-Qaeda, sparking fears of a new “arc of terror” on the continent.
While these groups are mostly occupied with domestic issues, their anti-western rhetoric and targeting of foreigners pose a wider challenge. So too does growing evidence of ties between armed groups from the Sahel and east Africa and Nigeria, observers say.
The three main al-Qaeda-linked groups are Somalia’s Shabaab in the Horn of Africa; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is active across the Sahel; and Boko Haram, which has sharply increased its attacks in Nigeria since 2010.
“We do have enough evidence of some communication between Boko Haram and AQIM and affiliated groups,” a Washington DC-based analyst focused on the Sahel told AFP.
(BikyaMars) 06 July 2012 - Egypt’s Coptic Christian community announced on Thursday that they had established the “Christian Brotherhood,” aimed at being a parallel organization to the Muslim Brotherhood in the country.
Initially discussed in 2005 by the Director of the Center for Human Rights Mamdouh Nakhla, it was formally launched by Coptic activists Michel Fahmy and Amir Ayyad aiming to push a nonviolent message, al-Masry al-Youm reported on Thursday.
According to the report, the new group has staff and offices in 16 governorates of Egypt as well as in four countries abroad.
They said they will be organizing their first conference in the near future to announce the public launch under the title “Copts of Egypt under Religious Rule.”
Fahmy told al-Arab that “the timing now is to activate only, although the founders had taken the idea of founding [the organization] in 2005, because of the rise of religious movements and after the arrival of [President Mohamed] Morsi to power as the first civilian president.”
Fahmy added that all members “have agreed to push the idea to face the tide of religious Islam” in Egypt.
The opposing Salafist Islamic Front praised the move, saying there is room for Coptic organizations to grow in Egypt’s future.
Khalid Said, a spokesman for the Front, was quoted by al-Masry al-Youm as saying “there is nothing wrong with the Copts founding such a group, which will be along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
But he warned the group to work with the legal confines of religious organizations in the country.
“As long as the Christian Brotherhood will work in the legal framework, and be consistent with their religion and their faith, and aims to boost the interests of the country, there is nothing wrong in it,” he added.
Christians groups inside and outside Egypt have become worried and fearful that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could be sign of worsening conditions for the minority community, which account for approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million population.
(BosNewsLife) 04 June 2012 - Thousands of Christians have fled their homes in Syria where news emerged Tuesday, July 3, that intelligence agencies run dozens of torture centers where detainees are beaten with batons and cables, burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and have fingernails torn out.
(persecution.in) 29 June 2012 - GCIC condemns the recommendation by the Indigenous People’s Forum to introduce the Manipur Freedom of Religion - the anti conversion law in Manipur. Various national and international human rights forums have already termed Anti Conversion laws as draconian laws that violate the fundamental and constitutional rights of fellow citizens in a country.Past experience of Christians in the country shows that it has been used as a licence for the Hindutva forces to persecute the Christians without any rhyme or reason
This Anti Conversion law, we understand, was recommended during a one-day workshop on Lure and Proselytization and Constitutional Interpretation of Freedom of Religion, organized by the Indigenous People’s Forum at Imphal, the capital of Maniour on June 24.
As we know that Manipur has already suffered enough from the draconian law for six decades and the state at any cost cannot afford to have another draconian law. The Christian Council will oppose any forces attempting to turn Manipur into another state where the Hindutva forces would start operating without any restraint.
The Anti Conversion Laws in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh have been misused by the Hindutva forces to harass the minorities. The innocent members of minority religions have been harassed under these draconian laws. Now the religious fanatic groups in the State of Manipur are targeting to harass the innocent members of minority communities.
The Christian Council believes that the hidden tactics of the Hindutva forces could be behind the ideology of the Indigenous People’s Forum attempting to bring the anti conversion law in the state. The Christian Council cautions the people of Manipur to be alert against such tactics of the Hindutva forces attempting to destroy the peace and harmony that prevails now among the different communities in Manipur. The Hindutva forces have already poisoned very successfully the social fabric destroying peace and harmony among the different communities in the states of Gujarat and Orissa.
The freedom of religion is the fundamental and constitutional rights of every Indian citizen, which is also guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of the United Nations on fundamental rights. Everybody has the right to choose or reject the religion he or she likes or dislikes. The Christian Council also condemns any individual or groups involved in luring or forcing and fraudulently converting people from one religion to another.
(WND) 27 June 2012 - Syrian Christians are being given ultimatums by military commanders of the nation’s opposition movement to leave their homes, prompting what observers say is a form of ethnic cleansing, according to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.The demands come from the Sunni opposition, whose leaders are seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is Alawite, an offshoot of the Shiites, G2Bulletin has learned.
(AINA) 22 June 2012 - Syrian rights activists say violence across the country Wednesday has killed at least 53 people, after the head of a United Nations monitoring mission says his team is committed to staying in the war-torn country.
Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told VOA that he fears Syria will become "the new Somalia or the new Afghanistan."
The Observatory has a network of contacts in Syria including rebels, activists and state security members. Abdelrahman said at least 28 Syrian soldiers, one army defector and 24 civilians and rebels died Wednesday.
He said clashes, shelling and bombings killed Syrians from north of Aleppo, to the southern city of Daraa, to the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and the northwestern province of Latakia. Abdelrahman also reported deaths from attacks in Hama, Idlib and Damascus provinces.
The latest violence comes hours after the head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said the "suffering of the Syrian people" is getting worse and that questions about canceling the monitoring mission are premature.
"I remain committed with the mission in the positions we are currently in. We're not going anywhere."
Major General Robert Mood told U.N. Security Council Tuesday that attackers have targeted his 300-strong unarmed observer team several times in the last few weeks. He says at least nine U.N. vehicles have been damaged.
Mood and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the mission in Syria was suspended on Saturday because of escalating violence, but team members did not leave the country. The decision was the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan has collapsed.
Meanwhile,U.S. President Barack Obama said in Los Cabos, Mexico, on Tuesday that Russia and China have "not signed on" to any plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's removal from power, but that both countries' leaders recognize the dangers of an all-out civil war.
Mr. Obama said the Syrian leader has lost all legitimacy and that it is impossible to conceive of any solution to the violence that leaves him in power. The U.S. president acknowledged the lack of any breakthrough with the leaders of Russia or China, despite intensive talks.
Moscow and Beijing are long-time allies of Syria and have shielded Mr. Assad from U.N. sanctions sought by Western and Arab powers who oppose his nearly 12-year autocratic rule.
The Security Council agreed to send the observer mission to Syria in April to monitor government and rebel compliance with a U.N.-backed cease-fire agreement, but the truce never took hold. The observers' 90-day mandate expires in mid-July.