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Elections Galore, Malaysia Mass Graves, Baguette Battles

Elections Galore, Malaysia Mass Graves, Baguette Battles


ISIS has killed about 400 civilians in Palmyra since overtaking the Syrian city last Wednesday, Syrian state TV reports. Activists also say that as many as 300 Syrian soldiers and people loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been hunted down and killed, Al Jazeera reports.

  • Speaking after what’s been a dramatic week for all ISIS opponents, including Assad and his allies, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged the people in Lebanon and the entire Middle East to “trust themselves and unite” against ISIS, an enemy that “threatens the entire region.”
  • Iraqi troops have regained some territory around the city of Ramadi, which fell under ISIS control almost two weeks ago, Reuters reports. Speaking to the BBC, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he hoped to retake Ramadi “in days” but called for more support from the U.S.-led coalition. Responding to criticism from U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that Iraqi troops had withdrawn despite outnumbering ISIS fighters, Abadi said he was “sure Carter was fed with the wrong information.”
  • ISIS is not just a threat to people but also to rare birds. According to experts, the northern bald ibis could soon be extinct after caretakers of a small Palmyra breeding colony fled ISIS.


Today marks the one-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 8,600 people in Nepal and made many more homeless. And the government now estimates reconstruction costs to reach $7 billion, one-third of the country’s GDP. Meanwhile, The Observer reports that Qatar refused to let Nepalese laborers, who are working in slave-like conditions to build stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, return home for their relatives’ funerals.


"Instability," reads today’s headline in conservative Madrid daily La Razon, after the strong showing of two upstart parties in Spain’s local and regional elections threatened the longstanding two-party duel between the Popular and Socialist parties. The conservative Popular party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suffered its worst local results in a generation, losing some of its support in Sunday's voting to the new center-right Ciudadanos party. The Popular party paid the price both for its economic austerity measures and for ongoing corruption scandals. Read more about the Spanish elections in our Extra! feature.

  • Poland’s incumbent president Bronislaw Komorowski conceded defeat to his challenger Andrzej Duda, who pledged to better distribute the fruits of Poland’s growing economy.
  • The results for Ethiopia’s first general election since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are not in yet, but his successor Hailemariam Desalegn appears certain to remain in office and to extend his party’s 24-year rule.


Though French bread and pastries have become popular across Asia, French chains have had trouble breaking in, Les Echos’ Yann Rousseau reports. And now one Korean boulangerie is opening in Paris. “The streets of Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Hanoi are jammed with bakeries with names such as Paris Gâteaux, Vie de France, Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours, almost always decorated with the blue-white-red flag and Eiffel Towers,” the journalist writes. “But none of these shops is actually French. ‘We’re lagging behind our Asian competitors,’ explains François-Xavier Colas, who's heading the new Asia strategy for the Le Duff group. ‘The Japanese and Koreans understood very early on the huge potential of the bakery market.’”

Read the full article, Asia's Paradoxical Battle For The French Baguette.


Greece will default on its debt and won’t be able to make a 1.6 billion euro ($1.75 billion) repayment to the International Monetary Fund next month if a deal with its creditors isn’t reached soon, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis warned Saturday. The money “will not be given and is not there to be given,” he said.

  • Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show Sunday that the ball was now in the creditors’ court. “We have met them three-quarters of the way,” he said. “They need to meet us one-quarter of the way.”
  • Greek newspaper To Vima writes in an editorial that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his government are running out of time. “Clearly the country cannot carry on living in such a state of general insecurity,” it writes, suggesting a new election could take place soon.


China finally removed its ban on the work of Shakespeare 38 years ago today. Find out more Memorial Day facts in your 57-second shot of history.


Malaysian police announced Sunday that they had found 139 grave sites where they believe Rohingya or Bangladeshi migrants were buried, as well as 28 human trafficking camps, The Malaysian Insider reports. The remains of some 100 bodies still need to be identified. At least 37 people have already been arrested across the country. The country’s inspector general vowed to identify all human trafficking activities and said that the police would investigate whether Malaysian authorities have been involved.


Photo: Jay Janner/TNS/ZUMA

At least three people were killed in Texas and Oklahoma after record rainfall Sunday created violent flash floods and swept away hundreds of homes. “We do have whole streets that have maybe one or two houses left on them, and the rest are just slabs,” CNN quotes one emergency management coordinator as saying. More heavy rain is forecast to hit the Midwest today.


“This was not a clash, it was a massacre.” This is how Victor Hugo Reynoso, whose brother was among 42 criminal suspects killed Friday in a gunfight with Mexican police, characterized the bloodshed after picking up his relative’s body at the morgue. Amid questions over whether the police could have planned the killing in advance, a woman told El Universal that the gunfight had been “savagery,” that “our relatives are unrecognizable.” Experts have noted that there were only 40 guns seized, fewer than the number of suspects killed.



More than 70 Communist Party officials in China have been given tours of prisons “to visit convicted officials and to raise their awareness of corruption” as part of Beijing’s pledge to end fraud, newspaper China Daily reports. “It’s a striking image to have watched the ex-officials’ showing their deep repentance while they serve their sentences in prison,” one of the visitors said.


Aries babies will be happy to know that “this week is backed by good energy and great enthusiasm,” but Geminis are in for a little tsk-tsking, according to Simon, our Roman astrologer. We dare you not to look.

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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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