Sunday, April 20, 2014

France Has Info Syria Using Chemical Weapons; Says They Are Deadly, Being Used Near Lebanon

France has information that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is still using chemical weapons, French President Francois Hollande said today (April 20, 2014), according to the Times of Israel website.

"We have a few elements of information but I do not have the proof," Hollande said in a radio interview after he was asked about reports that Assad was currently using chemical weapons.

"What I do know is what we have seen from this regime in the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition," Hollande told the Europe 1 radio station.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the same radio station there were "indications, which have yet to be verified, that there have been recent chemical attacks." He said they were "much less significant than those in Damascus a few months ago but very deadly," and had taken place in the northwestern region of Syria, near its border with Lebanon.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Exclusive: Most People in Venice Prefer to Secede; Veneto Region Prepares Referendum to Leave Italy

Venice -- renowned for incomparable Gothic architecture and placid canals plied by gondolas that make it one of the most recognizable cities in the world -- may have had enough of Italy, as a vast majority of its citizens want to secede from the boot-shaped nation, the USA Today website reports exclusively today (April 19, 2014).

A movement for the Italian region that includes Venice to declare itself an independent state -- as it was centuries ago -- is gaining momentum amid chaotic national economic policies from Rome and local pride in the region's 1,000-year history of achievement in the arts and merchant class.

The region of Veneto -- one of Italy's richest and the country's fifth-largest with a population of around 5 million -- is preparing a formal referendum about whether to secede from Italy.

An informal online vote last month saw 89 percent vote in favor of breaking away. And last week, police arrested two dozen Veneto separatists on charges of terrorism for planning to take over Venice's iconic St. Mark's Square with a makeshift tank fashioned out of a tractor.

Venetians say they support the secession movement partially out of frustration at seeing their taxes used to support the underdeveloped southern part of Italy. Campaigners say they pay out nearly $30 billion a year more in taxes than they receive in government benefits. Moreover, Venetians are frustrated at the corruption pervading other parts of the country, as well as the significant influence of organized crime in southern Italy.

Egypt Mil. Commander al-Sisi Visits Pope Twadros; Gives Easter Regards to Coptic Orth. Church Head

Pope Twadros II of Alexandria and All Africa received Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Egyptian military commander) at the Mark Cathedral situated at the Headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Papal residence in Cairo, the Orthodox Church Info blog reports today (April 19, 2014).

Marshal al-Sisi congratulated Pope Twadros and conveyed greetings on the occasion of Pascha (Easter) and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This was the first visit made by Marshal al-Sisi to the Cathedral, since he became the head of Egypt's government last July.

The meeting was also attended by the Rev. Angelos Isaac, secretary of Pope Twadros, and the Rev. Paul Halim, spokesperson of the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as several high-ranking government officials. Marshal al-Sisi's visit with Pope Twadros illustrates that an important close and harmonious relationship exists between the Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church -- something that was not the case under Egypt's previous Muslim Brotherhood government.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pro-Russian Forces Ignore Peace Pact for Ukraine; Will Continue to Occupy Dozen Bldgs. in Ukraine

Pro-Russian militants -- boasting that they do not take orders from Washington or Moscow -- refused to end their armed occupation of a dozen government buildings across eastern Ukraine today (April 18, 2014), upending hopes for a quick end to the standoff, according to the Washington Post website.

The defiance came just hours after Russia, the European Union, Ukraine, and the United States sought to de-escalate the conflict with an agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland urging restraint on all sides and calling on the pro-Russia activists to lay down their arms and walk away from their barricades at the city halls and police stations.

Denis Pushilin -- a leader of a group calling itself the Donetsk People's Republic -- said today that he and his men had no intention of abandoning their positions as long as the new government in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, still stood.

"It is an illegal junta," Anatoliy Onischenko -- another separatist leader in Ukraine -- said of the Kiev government. "They should leave their buildings first."

Myriad Christians Mark Good Friday in Holy Land; Revere Jesus' Crucifixion at Jerusalem's Old City

Christians in the Holy Land today (April 18, 2014) are commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Good Friday prayers and processions through Jerusalem's Old City, the AOL website reports.

Thousands of Christian pilgrims filled the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City today along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the "Way of Suffering." 

They are carrying wooden crosses and following the 14 stations ending at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Tradition says the Church was built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. 

According to the Gospels, Jesus ate His last supper hours before He was betrayed. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tenn. OKs 2 Free Years of Com. College Tuition; All State's High School Grads Can Have Free Ed.

The Tennessee House and Senate have approved a measure that allows for two free years of tuition at community colleges or technical schools for all the state's high school graduates. The proposal not only has the backing of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, it was based on his idea, the Alter Net website reports today (April 17, 2014).

Moreover, the legislation passed by an overwhelming majority. The state's House of Representatives voted in favor of the legislation with an 87-8 margin.

When the plan -- called Tennessee Promise -- becomes law, it will provide free higher education for about 25,000 students in the state beginning in 2015.

It will only benefit incoming freshmen. College sophomores already attending two-year schools in 2015 will not be able to participate in the plan, but will still be eligible for other state financial aid programs.

Catholicism in Latin America Is Still on the Decline; New Survey: Many Switch to Vibrant Protestantism

A new survey shows that -- despite the ascension of the charismatic Argentine Pope Francis to the Holy See -- Catholicism in Latin America is still on the decline, the Christian Today (British) website reports today (April 17, 2014).

Chile-based pollster Latinobarometro released data yesterday showing that only 67 percent of Latin Americans identified as Catholics in 2013, compared to 80 percent in 1995.

Latinobarometro said: "In the recent data we don't see an impact in the number of Catholics following the arrival of Pope Francis at the head of the Church." However, they qualified the statement, saying that it was too early in the new pontificate to detect new trends in things like church attendance or religious affiliation.

"Latin Americans embrace another religion when they abandon Catholicism," Latinobarometro said. Vibrant and energetic services have been attracting large numbers to charismatic evangelical Protestant churches -- a stark contrast to the more traditional and sombre style of service seen in most Catholic churches.