United Nations Declaration (Articles 1 - 30):

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Incoming UN chief names three women to top posts

Incoming UN chief names three women to top posts
Nigerian Minister of the Environment Amina Mohammed, seen in 2015, will be the UN's number two official (AFP Photo/Mireya ACIERTO)
Sustainable Development
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
"The Timing of the Great Shift" – Mar 21, 2009 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Text version)

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013. They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."
"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)
(Subjects: Who/What is Kryon ?, Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" Managed Business, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)


The Declaration of Human Freedom

Archangel Michael (Via Steve Beckow), Feb. 19, 2011

Every being is a divine and eternal soul living in a temporal body. Every being was alive before birth and will live after death.

Every soul enters into physical life for the purpose of experience and education, that it may, in the course of many lifetimes, learn its true identity as a fragment of the Divine.

Life itself is a constant process of spiritual evolution and unfoldment, based on free choice, that continues until such time as we realize our true nature and return to the Divine from which we came.

No soul enters life to serve another, except by choice, but to serve its own purpose and that of the Divine from which it came.

All life is governed by natural and universal laws which precede and outweigh the laws of humanity. These laws, such as the law of karma, the law of attraction, and the law of free will, are decreed by God to order existence and assist each person to achieve life’s purpose.

No government can or should survive that derives its existence from the enforced submission of its people or that denies its people their basic rights and freedoms.

Life is a movement from one existence to another, in varied venues throughout the universe and in other universes and dimensions of existence. We are not alone in the universe but share it with other civilizations, most of them peace-loving, many of whom are more advanced than we are, some of whom can be seen with our eyes and some of whom cannot.

The evidence of our five senses is not the final arbiter of existence. Humans are spiritual as well as physical entities and the spiritual side of life transcends the physical. God is a Spirit and the final touchstone of God’s Truth is not physical but spiritual. The Truth is to be found within.

God is one and, because of this, souls are one. They form a unity. They are meant to live in peace and harmony together in a “common unity” or community. The use of force to settle affairs runs contrary to natural law. Every person should have the right to conduct his or her own affairs without force, as long as his or her choices do not harm another.

No person shall be forced into marriage against his or her will. No woman shall be forced to bear or not bear children, against her will. No person shall be forced to hold or not hold views or worship in a manner contrary to his or her choice. Nothing vital to existence shall be withheld from another if it is within the community’s power to give.

Every person shall retain the ability to think, speak, and act as they choose, as long as they not harm another. Every person has the right to choose, study and practice the education and career of their choice without interference, provided they not harm another.

No one has the right to kill another. No one has the right to steal from another. No one has the right to force himself or herself upon another in any way.

Any government that harms its citizens, deprives them of their property or rights without their consent, or makes offensive war upon its neighbors, no matter how it misrepresents the situation, has lost its legitimacy. No government may govern without the consent of its people. All governments are tasked with seeing to the wellbeing of their citizens. Any government which forces its citizens to see to its own wellbeing without attending to theirs has lost its legitimacy.

Men and women are meant to live fulfilling lives, free of want, wherever they wish and under the conditions they desire, providing their choices do not harm another and are humanly attainable.

Children are meant to live lives under the beneficent protection of all, free of exploitation, with unhindered access to the necessities of life, education, and health care.

All forms of exploitation, oppression, and persecution run counter to universal and natural law. All disagreements are meant to be resolved amicably.

Any human law that runs counter to natural and universal law is invalid and should not survive. The enactment or enforcement of human law that runs counter to natural and universal law brings consequences that cannot be escaped, in this life or another. While one may escape temporal justice, one does not escape divine justice.

All outcomes are to the greater glory of God and to God do we look for the fulfillment of our needs and for love, peace, and wisdom. So let it be. Aum/Amen.



Pope Francis arrives for historic first US visit

Pope Francis arrives for historic first US visit
Pope Francis laughs alongside US President Barack Obama upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on September 22, 2015, on the start of a 3-day trip to Washington (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)


Today's doodle in the U.S. celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech on its 50th anniversary (28 Aug 2013)

'Love is love': Obama lauds gay marriage activists in hailing 'a victory for America'

'Love is love': Obama lauds gay marriage activists in hailing 'a victory for America'
The White House released this image, of the building colored like the rainbow flag, on Facebook following the supreme court’s ruling. Photograph: Facebook

Same-sex marriage around the world

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Merkel says Turkey media crackdown 'highly alarming'

Merkel says Turkey media crackdown 'highly alarming'
Reporters Without Borders labels Erdogan as 'enemy of press freedom'

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saudi asylum seeker flying from Bangkok to Canada: Thai official

Yahoo – AFP, January 11, 2019

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was stopped by authorities at the
Thai capital's main airport (AFP Photo/Handout)

Bangkok (AFP) - An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family seeking asylum in Australia will fly to Canada late Friday, the head of Thai immigration police said, in a surprise twist to a saga partly played out over Twitter.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was granted refugee status by the UN days ago after arriving in Bangkok over the weekend and amassing a large Twitter following as she made desperate pleas for help from the airport.

Australia was assessing a request to resettle her but hours after the young woman tweeted that she had "some good news and some bad news" earlier Friday Thai authorities said she was set to board a flight to Canada instead.

"She will fly at 11:15 pm tonight (1615 GMT)," Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP.

The woman's social media-driven fight for freedom was watched closely around the world after she arrived in Bangkok via Kuwait and barricaded herself in a hotel room posting live updates about her status.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was stopped by authorities at the Thai 
capital's main airport (AFP Photo/Handout)

She quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers with a #SaveRahaf hashtag that went viral and saw her delivered into the hands of the UN refugee agency in lightning speed compared to other asylum cases.

Rahaf said she was subjected to physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her family in Saudi Arabia and was once locked in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

Rights groups also say she was at risk for renouncing Islam.

Her father travelled to Thailand and denied mistreating her but she refused to see him during his trip.

Rahaf's quest also prompted online vitriol and death threats that made her deactivate her Twitter account after posting her last update.




Related Article:


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

US teen sex trafficking victim granted clemency over murder

Yahoo – AFP, Nova SAFO, January 7, 2019

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, pictured in Nashville in 2014, said Cyntoia
Brown had been given "too harsh" a sentence (AFP Photo/Jason Davis)

Chicago (AFP) - A US trafficking victim serving a life sentence for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was a teenager was granted clemency Monday following a celebrity-backed viral campaign for her freedom.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said Cyntoia Brown, now 30, had been given "too harsh" a sentence for the 2004 murder of a real estate agent in the city of Nashville.

Johnny Allen had picked up Brown, who was 16 at the time and a runaway under the influence of a dangerous pimp, and taken her to his home for sex.

The ex-Army sharpshooter allegedly showed off his firearms and "grabbed" Brown forcefully between her legs. She said she shot him in fear for her life.

A jury convicted Brown of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery, and she was given life with the possibility of parole after serving at least 51 years in prison.

Calling the case "tragic and complex," Haslam granted clemency under the condition of a 10-year parole. Brown will be released on August 7 after undergoing training on returning to society.

"Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16," Haslam said in a statement.

"Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life."

Without the governor's intervention, Brown would have remained in prison at least until 2055.

Kim Kardashian West, seen in New York in December 2018, has lauded Brown's
"courage" (AFP Photo/Roy Rochlin)

In a statement released by her attorneys, Brown thanked her supporters and the governor and promised to "do everything I can to justify your faith in me."

"My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been," she added.

Prison transformation

Brown earned a high school degree while incarcerated and was on track to complete her college education this year. The governor's office said numerous prison employees and volunteers attested to her personal growth.

"Her transformation, when given the opportunity, is nothing short of miraculous," her attorneys Charles Bone and J Houston Gordon said in a joint statement.

"She is truly a remarkable young woman with so much to offer this world and will now have that chance."

Brown's case was featured in a 2011 documentary, and was the subject of a social media campaign involving multiple celebrities who advocated for clemency, saying she should have been treated as a traumatized child victim of sex trafficking.

"Cyntoia never should have been sentenced so harshly to begin with, and we can't lose sight of the fact that she is still receiving an excessive 10 years' probation," the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted in response to the clemency news.

"The fight against harsh sentencing laws goes on."

Last month, actress Ashley Judd implored her home state's governor to grant clemency by saying Brown "deserves our empathy and your mercy."

In response to the governor's action, reality star Kim Kardashian, who has previously described Brown as a victim with "the courage to fight back," tweeted simply: "Thank you Governor Haslam."


US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal  Correctional
Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

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Woman who spent 23 years on US death
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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Iran says Afghan Taliban were in Tehran for peace talks

Yahoo – AFP, December 31, 2018

The scene of a car bomb attack in Kabul on January 27, 2018, which was
claimed by the Taliban (AFP Photo/WAKIL KOHSAR)

Tehran (AFP) - Iran said Monday that the Afghan Taliban have visited Tehran for a second round of peace talks in just a few days aimed at bringing an end to 17 years of conflict.

Iran has made a more concerted and open push for peace in neighbouring Afghanistan since US President Donald Trump indicated there would be a significant withdrawal of American troops.

"Yesterday (Sunday), a delegation of Taliban were in Tehran and lengthy negotiations were held with Iran's deputy foreign minister... (Abbas) Araghchi," said spokesman Bahram Ghasemi at a televised news conference.

That came just days after Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, visited Kabul and told reporters that talks had been held with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The Islamic Republic has always been one of the primary pillars of stability in the region and cooperation between the two countries will certainly help in fixing Afghanistan's security issues of today," Shamkhani told the conservative Tasnim news agency.

There have been reports in the past of talks between Iran and the Taliban, but they have typically been denied by Tehran.

Ghasemi said Iran's priority was "to help facilitate negotiations between Afghan groups and the country's government".

The current peace push will be viewed with concern by hawks in Washington, who fear that Trump's planned withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan will cede regional influence to Iran.

An American official told AFP on December 21 that Trump had decided to pull out "roughly half" of the 14,000 US forces from Afghanistan, but the White House has yet to confirm the widely-publicised move.

Senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham met with Trump on Sunday and urged him to delay any withdrawal from Syria to make sure "Iran doesn't become the big winner of our leaving".

Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, told ABC: "Iran has increased influence across the region now. If you pull American influence out, you're likely to have greater instability."

'Peace development'

The Taliban also met with the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the United Arab Emirates earlier in December, but refused to meet a delegation from Afghanistan.

Araghchi will travel to Afghanistan in the next two weeks, Iran's foreign ministry said, without giving further details.

"Considering our long border with Afghanistan and the cultural and historical ties, and our important role in the region's stability, the Islamic republic was interested... to enter and play a more important role in peace development in Afghanistan," Ghasemi added.

Iran and Afghanistan share a nearly 600-mile border, and have had a complex relationship in recent years.

Tehran has long supported its co-religionists in Afghanistan, the Shia Hazara minority, who were violently persecuted by the Taliban during its rule in the 1990s.

Iran worked alongside the United States and Western powers to help drive out the Taliban after the US-led invasion in 2001.

But there have been allegations, from Western and Afghan sources, that Iran's Revolutionary Guards have in recent years established ties with the Taliban aimed at driving out US forces from Afghanistan.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has made significant territorial gains this year as its fighters inflict record casualties on government forces.

Tehran welcomed Trump's announcement that he was withdrawing all US forces from Syria, but has not commented on the reduction in Afghanistan.

"The presence of American forces was from the very start, in principle, a wrong and illogical move and a primary cause of instability and insecurity in the region," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Saturday.

Monday, December 31, 2018

China's top court to handle intellectual property appeals

Yahoo – AFP, December 30, 2018

China is mulling a series of steps to strengthen protections against
IP theft (AFP Photo/CHANDAN KHANNA)

China's top court will rule on intellectual property cases for the first time from January 1, the government said, elevating the handling of an issue that has become a key complaint in the trade war with the US.

Washington and Beijing are currently in talks to resolve a bruising trade spat that has spooked markets worldwide. The two sides imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods this year, before agreeing to a 90-day truce on December 1.

The United States, along with the European Union, has long complained about lax enforcement of intellectual property rights in China. Forced technology transfers have been another major bone of contention for foreign companies operating in China.

Deputy Chief Justice Luo Dongchuan said Saturday that from the start of 2019 the Supreme Court would begin handling appeals on intellectual property rights cases, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Such cases were previously handled by provincial-level high courts.

The move will "help prevent inconsistency of legal application and improve the quality and efficiency of trials," Luo said.

China is mulling a series of steps to strengthen protections against IP theft. IP includes intangible creations like patents, trademarks and copyrights.

The country's patent law is being amended to increase the compensation amount by up to five times.

Another draft law presented at a recent meeting of China's legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, allows victims of intellectual property theft to sue for damages.

China's legislature also announced it is looking at a new law governing foreign investment that would prevent the forced transfer of technology and give foreign firms the same privileges as Chinese companies.

Chinese courts heard a total of 213,480 IP cases in 2017 -- 40 percent more than in 2016 and double the number heard in 2013, Xinhua reported.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

US, China talk 'progress' after phone call on trade

Yahoo – AFP, Ian Timberlake, December 29, 2018

China's President Xi Jinping (L) and US President Donald Trump discussed the
tariff war that has seen tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods
(AFP Photo/FRED DUFOUR)

Washington (AFP) - Both the US and China spoke of progress Saturday after telephone talks between their leaders over a trade war that has rattled global markets.

"Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China," US President Donald Trump said on Twitter after his chat with China's President Xi Jinping.

"Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!"

For his part, Xi told Trump that China places "great importance" on improving bilateral ties and "encourages and supports further talks between the United States and the Democratic people's Republic of (North) Korea, and hopes for positive results," state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

Washington and Beijing imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade earlier this year, locking them in a conflict that has begun to eat into profits and contributed to stock market plunges.

The leaders of both the United States and China want "stable progress" in ties, Xi said during the call, according to the state Xinhua news agency.

While investors have worried over the trade war between the world's two biggest economies, relations have thawed since Xi and Trump struck a 90-day trade truce in early December while the two sides work to ease tensions by March 1.

Xinhua quoted Xi as saying China and the US are working to implement the terms of that truce.

During the call, Xi expressed hope that "both teams can meet each other halfway and reach an agreement beneficial to both countries and the world as early as possible," according to Xinhua.

Relations between the world's top two economies are "now in a vital stage," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

"China attaches great importance to the development of bilateral relations and appreciates the willingness of the US side to develop cooperative and constructive bilateral relations."

China's President Xi Jinping (L) and US President Donald Trump discussed the 
tariff war that has seen tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods
(AFP Photo/FRED DUFOUR)

The US-China trade war has been among factors pressuring US and global markets in December, alongside worries over slowing growth, a partial US government shutdown, higher US Federal Reserve interest rates and Trump's attacks on the central bank.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last Sunday aimed to allay investor anxiety by announcing that he had held a conference call with major bank CEOs, but the comments were widely criticized by market watchers for raising new doubts.

Prior to Saturday's call, there had been small signs of progress -- and the absence of new threats from Trump.

China's customs administration announced Friday it had approved US rice imports, after Beijing's major state-owned grain stockpiler said it had resumed buying US soybeans, and China announced it would suspend extra tariffs added to US-made cars and auto parts starting January 1.

'Close communication'

China is also targeting intellectual property theft in the country -- one of the main sticking points in the dispute with the US.

Trump initiated the trade war because of complaints over unfair Chinese trade practices -- concerns shared by the European Union, Japan and others.

Trump is seeking a massive reduction in the US trade deficit with China and deeper reforms to open the economy to foreign companies.

Trade negotiators from China and the United States are planning to meet in January for talks, Beijing said on Thursday, but stopped short of confirming the exact date or location.

"The Chinese and US economic and trade teams have always maintained close communication," commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at a regular briefing.

Deputy US Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish will lead the US team for talks during the week of January 7, Bloomberg reported, citing two people familiar with the matter.

These would be the first face-to-face talks since the truce was agreed by both nation's leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires.

Last week, Beijing's commerce ministry said China and the US "made new progress" on the issues of trade balance and intellectual property during a phone call between officials from the two countries.

Resolving the bruising spat could help shore up confidence in the Chinese economy, which itself is bracing for a slowdown.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pope urges 'fraternity' in Christmas message

Yahoo – AFP, Catherine Marciano, December 25, 2018

Pope Francis appealled for peace in conflict zones such as Syria and
Yemen (AFP Photo/Tiziana FABI)

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis called for peace and "fraternity" and Queen Elizabeth II warned against "tribalism", as millions across the world celebrated Christmas on Tuesday -- after US President Donald Trump caused a festive furore by raising doubts about Santa Claus's existence during a call with a child.

Some 50,000 worshippers gathered at the Vatican to hear the pontiff's sixth "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World) message appealing for peace in conflict zones such as Syria and Yemen, which face humanitarian crises.

"My wish for a happy Christmas is a wish for fraternity," he told pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square on Tuesday, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

"Fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture. Fraternity among people with different ideas... Fraternity among persons of different religions."

Francis, the head of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics, had used his mass on Monday night to urge people to curb "insatiable greed".

The pontiff said he hoped a truce in conflict-ravaged Yemen would end a devastating war that has killed around 10,000 people since 2015 and pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of famine.

The pope also spoke of the war in Syria, which has forced millions from their homes and reduced swathes of the country to rubble.

He called for a "political solution" to the conflict "so that the Syrian people, especially all those who were forced to leave their own lands and seek refuge elsewhere, can return to live in peace in their own country".

Francis also said he hoped for renewed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians "that can put an end to a conflict that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love."

'Little town' celebrations

Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, located near Jerusalem but cut off from the city by Israel's separation barrier, has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian tourism officials and hotel operators have reported their strongest season in years.

"This year is much more calm, much better than last year," said Abeer Nasser, a Palestinian from the nearby town of Beit Sahour celebrating in Bethlehem with her son and daughter.

Beyond Bethlehem, Christians worldwide were marking Christmas, with services held from Indonesia to Iraq.

This year's celebrations come after a year of tumult, much of it coming from Washington, where the festive spirit was dampened when the national Christmas tree went dark due to a US government shutdown -- though it ultimately reopened thanks to private donations.

One festive service not affected was the military's annual Santa Claus "tracker", which sees North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deliver live updates on his international gift delivery route.

Fielding calls from children anxious to know if their presents would arrive on time, Trump risked a spell on Santa's naughty list by telling one child that believing in the jolly man in red at age seven was "marginal".

Entrenching the unfestive tone on Christmas morning, Trump used a news conference following his annual holiday call to US troops to reel off a laundry list of complaints, including his disdain for the US Federal Reserve and the opposition Democrats, whom he blames for the shutdown.

"It's a disgrace what's happening in our country. But other than that, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas," the president said.

Celebrations despite conflicts

In Bethlehem, visitors were able to view the Church of the Nativity's newly restored mosaics dating to the Crusader era after a major renovation.

Visitors from across the world gathered in the "little town" on Christmas Eve for midnight mass, queueing to see the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born and taking in a festive parade.

While for many who celebrate the festival Christmas is a time to gather with loved ones, many were struggling with unforeseen events and hardships.

At a little church just outside Indonesia's tsunami disaster zone, a few dozen congregants gathered on Christmas day to pray for the victims.

The tsunami, triggered by a volcanic eruption, left more than 400 people dead when it smashed into popular beaches on southern Sumatra and the western edge of Java, inundating tourist hotels and coastal settlements.

"This Christmas is different because we're celebrating it during a disaster," Rahmat Carita congregant Eliza told AFP.

"For me, it's a chance to contemplate. God's love is real, we must not forget that."

Queen Elizabeth II warned of religious "tribalism" in a Christmas message delivered against a backdrop of Britain bickering over its impending exit from the EU.

The tone of the 92-year-old monarch's annual TV appearances reflected a sombre mood sweeping the island nation as it ponders the perils of leaving the European project after 46 years.

"Even the power of faith, which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice, can fall victim to tribalism," Elizabeth said.

Spain's second-largest city Barcelona was meanwhile on alert after the US State Department warned of the risk of a terrorist attack during the Christmas holidays.

And in France, groups of "yellow vest" anti-government demonstrators are spending Christmas day at makeshift protest camps on roundabouts across the country, eating devilled eggs and foie gras with new friends they have made in weeks of rallies against the policies of President Emmanuel Macron.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Trump, Erdogan vow to avoid Syria power vacuum after US forces leave

Yahoo – AFP, Maggy Donaldson, December 23, 2018

President Donald Trump's sudden decision to withdraw troops from Syria sparked
 turmoil in his administration, prompting the resignation of Defense Secretary
Jim Mattis, as well as of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition
(AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Sunday to prevent a power vacuum in Syria after US ground forces withdraw, in a phone conversation days after the US president shocked global partners by announcing Americans would leave the war-scarred country.

Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump's momentous decision to pull the 2,000 US troops out of Syria, where they have been helping assisting in a multinational fight against IS.

"The two leaders agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria," the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Hours earlier Trump had tweeted that he and Erdogan "discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area."

Erdogan tweeted shortly thereafter, saying the two leaders "agreed to increase coordination on many issues including trade relations and the developments in Syria," dubbing the call "productive."

Syrian demonstrators in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli 
asking for the Syrian army's protection as Turkey threatens to carry out a fresh 
offensive following the US move to withdraw (AFP Photo/Delil SOULEIMAN)

US troops will leave under the auspices of a new Pentagon chief set to start next month, after Jim Mattis resigned from the post citing key differences, including on Syria, with the often-impulsive Trump.

An American exit would allow Turkish troops to move against Kurdish fighters in Syria who have played a key role in the war against IS but are deemed terrorists by Ankara.

Many US politicians and international allies fear the withdrawal is premature and would further destabilize the already devastated region.

A US withdrawal, said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst, will open the way "for Turkey to start its operations against the Kurds, and a bloody war will begin."

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he "deeply regretted" Trump's decision, and that "an ally must be reliable."

Several US politicians from both parties rejected Trump's claim that IS had been defeated, and many in the US military expressed alarm and dismay at the thought of suddenly abandoning Washington's Kurdish partners.

US President Donald Trump announced Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick
 Shanahan (R) would step in as the acting Pentagon chief to replace Jim Mattis 
(AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

And Trump's sudden decision sparked turmoil within his administration, prompting the resignation of Mattis as well as of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition.

New Pentagon chief

Plans for the troop withdrawal will now be overseen by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who Trump on Sunday said would replace Mattis starting January 1.

Mattis, 68, had said he would leave at the end of February to allow a smooth transition for the next chief of the world's top military power -- but a reportedly angry Trump accelerated his departure by two months.

Defense spokeswoman Dana White tweeted that Mattis would still assist in the handover, working with Shanahan to ensure the department "remains focused on the defense of our nation during this transition."

According to US media, the Republican leader voiced resentment over news coverage of Mattis' stinging resignation letter that laid bare his fundamental disagreements with the president.

The resignation letter addressed by US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to 
US President Donald Trump (AFP Photo)

"Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours," Mattis said in the letter, "I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."

"My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues," wrote Mattis, a decorated former general.

Days later, special envoy McGurk made a similar move, saying he could not support Trump's Syria decision that he said "left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered."

Unlike Mattis, Shanahan has never served in the military and has spent most of his career in the private sector.

He spent over three decades working for aircraft giant Boeing, including as vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, before moving to the Pentagon as deputy in 2017.

Until Trump finds a permanent defense leader, Shanahan will lead plans for US troops to leave Syria along with a significant drawdown in Afghanistan, both of which critics worry will leave war-torn regions at risk of continued and potentially heightened bloodshed.

Mick Mulvaney, who will soon leave his post as White House budget director to serve as Trump's chief of staff, told ABC on Sunday Trump will not change his mind about the withdrawal, despite this week's protest resignations.

"I think the president has told people from the very beginning that he doesn't want us to stay in Syria forever. You're seeing the end result now of two years' worth of work."

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Pope vows Church will 'never again' ignore abuse accusations

Yahoo – AFP, Charles ONIANS, 21 December 2018

The pope called on for anyone who has committed child abuse to hand
themselves over to justice

Pope Francis vowed Friday that the Catholic Church will never again treat abuse allegations without "seriousness and promptness", calling on abusers to hand themselves in to police.

"The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case," the pope said in his annual address to the Church's governing Curia at the Vatican.

"Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes".

A litany of child sexual abuse scandals has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, which has 1.3 billion followers around the world, with the pope as recently as Wednesday accepting the resignation of a US auxiliary bishop over his "misconduct" with a minor.

"It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due.

"That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church."

The pope on Friday also called on for anyone who has committed child abuse, including priests, to hand themselves over to justice.

'Prepare for justice'

"To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice," the pope told Curia.

Francis has struggled to resolve the problem as the steady drip of scandal corrodes the church's authority but fresh cases surface regularly against a background of sharp divisions in Rome over the issue.

The pope last week removed two prominent cardinals from his inner circle months after they were tainted by paedophile scandals and ahead of a Church-wide meeting on the "protection of minors" next year.

Australian Cardinal George Pell and Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz were both removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals, an international advice body set up by Francis himself, the Vatican said on December 12.

The last time the C9 met in September, Errazuriz, who is accused of ignoring reports of abuse in Chile, and Pell, who faces charges in Australia related to historical child sexual offences, were both absent, and the council said it was considering restructuring.

Despite being removed from the C9, Pell, 77, remains in charge of Vatican finances, the third most powerful position in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, with widespread allegations of cover-ups, including against the pope himself.

The pope told the Curia on Friday that there were still "consecrated men... who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion."

"They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgement, but only of being found out and unmasked."

"Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls."

Trump's foreign policy in spotlight after military withdrawals

Yahoo – AFP, Thomas WATKINS, December 21, 2018

President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (L) walk into the
Pentagon for a meeting with military leaders this year (AFP Photo/MARK WILSON)

Washington (AFP) - US politicians and international allies scrambled Friday to make sense of President Donald Trump's momentous foreign policy decisions for Syria and Afghanistan -- epic reversals that prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to quit.

Trump's historic moves to pull out of Syria and slash troop numbers in Afghanistan run counter to years of US doctrine in the region, and set the stage for a cascading series of events that could well result in more bloodshed across a scarred region.

While many Americans -- and not just his supporters -- lauded Trump's decision, fed up after years of costly and spiraling conflicts, politicians of every stripe were tripping over each other to voice their condemnation.

"Reducing the American presence in Afghanistan and removing our presence in Syria will reverse... progress, encourage our adversaries, and make America less safe," said Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry, a Trump ally who heads the House Armed Services Committee.

In the Pentagon, no one seemed to know what comes next.

"We are referring all questions to the White House," one spokeswoman said, when asked about the momentous Afghanistan withdrawal.

Mattis, who was seen as a voice of moderation and widely trusted by allies, resigned Thursday after telling Trump he could not abide the Syria decision.

It leaves vulnerable to a Turkish attack thousands of Kurdish fighters the Pentagon has spent years training and arming to fight the Islamic State group.

'No surprise'

In Afghanistan, the Taliban welcomed Trump's partial pull out, with a spokesman saying the group was "more than happy."

Bill Roggio, an Afghanistan expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told AFP the Trump administration's Middle East policy is in disarray.

"I do not know what its policy is, specifically with respect to what was known as the War on Terror," he said.

"Until Trump articulates a policy, it appears isolationism has won the day."

Trump campaigned on a pledge of "America First" and vowed to limit US engagement overseas, so his action on Afghanistan and Syria aren't bolts from the blue, and many observers were pleased with his actions.

US troops deployment and death toll in Afghanistan since 2001. (AFP
Photo/Gal ROMA)

Just weeks before Mattis announced a surge of troops in Afghanistan in August 2017, polls showed Americans were weary of war and lacked confidence that Washington had any winning strategy.

A Morning Consult-Politico poll at the time showed only 23 percent of people thought the US was "winning" in Afghanistan; 38 percent thought it was "losing."

"Trump ran on a platform of non-intervention, 'no more stupid wars,' and promised to get out of the nation-building business," Daniel Davis, a retired army lieutenant colonel and senior fellow at the Defense Priorities military think tank, told AFP.

"That, in general terms, is his policy, which is fundamentally sound."

In March, Trump said he wanted to bring troops home "soon" from Syria and last year, when he agreed to boost the US troop presence in Afghanistan, he said he was doing so against his own instincts.

"Getting out of Syria was no surprise," Trump tweeted on Thursday.

"I've been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer," he added, noting that it was "time to come home" and "time for others to finally fight."

'Strategic mistake'

Trump claims IS has been defeated territorially in Syria, even though thousands of fighters remain and still hold small pockets of land.

His withdrawal from Syria abruptly ends American influence in the war-ravaged country and gives the Turks an opening to attack US-backed Kurds.

Trump reportedly made the decision during a phone call last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

By ceding Syria, Trump is also yanking a keystone of his own administration's foreign policy: to push back against Iran, which supports President Bashar al-Assad and is seeking to expand regional influence.

"This is a huge strategic mistake that I hope the president will reconsider," Jack Keane, a retired general, told Fox News.

"If he does not, I believe with some degree of confidence that he will come to regret this decision."

Keane has been one of the names in the Washington rumor mill to replace Mattis.

He went on to warn that Trump was repeating the "mistakes" of president Barack Obama, who for years drew withering criticism from Republicans for pulling US troops out of Iraq, only to see the emergence of IS.

Trump's withdrawal orders, meanwhile, rattled Europe.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said there was still "has a job to finish" in Syria and called on the US to discuss its withdrawal with other members of a coalition fighting IS.

Britain's junior defense minister Tobias Ellwood had contradicted Trump on Wednesday, retweeting his message that the jihadists had been defeated in Syria with the words: "I strongly disagree.

"It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive," he wrote.

Brett McGurk reportedly said in his resignation letter that IS militants had not been
 defeated, and that pulling out US troops could result in the jihadists regaining
 strength (AFP Photo/AHMAD ABDO)

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