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Arming Kurds, India's "Shame," Panama Canal Birthday

Russian aid trucks entering Ukraine
Russian aid trucks entering Ukraine

Aug. 15, 2014

European Union foreign ministers are in Brussels today for an emergency meeting about whether to arm Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga fighters against ISIS, which the U.S. and France are already doing, the BBC reports. A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that the UK would “favorably consider” supplying Kurdish forces with weapons if they requested it.

Writing in The Guardian, former high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina Paddy Ashdown explains that one of the downsides of arming the Peshmergas is that “intentionally or not, we will end up acting as handmaiden to Kurdish ambitions for full independence — and in so doing, effectively assist in the dismemberment of Iraq.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice praised yesterday’s decision from ousted Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to officially resign and back his nominated replacement Haider al-Abadi, describing it as "another major step forward in uniting the country."

"When we hear about these rapes our heads hang in shame,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during a public address today. Read more of his comments here.

British journalists from The Daily Telegraphand The Guardian claim they saw a column of at least 23 “armoured vehicles and military trucks” from Russia cross the border into Ukraine last night. If accurate, the journalists’ accounts would confirm that Moscow is arming rebels in eastern Ukraine, an accusation Russia has previously denied. This came as the Ukrainian army hit the center of Donetsk with shells for the first time. Both reports say that the separate humanitarian convoy of some 270 trucks from Moscow stopped short of the border. According to the BBC, Ukraine border guards are now inspecting the convoy, which Kiev fears may carry weapons for pro-Russian rebels.


The scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa responsible for 1,069 deaths as of Monday is “vastly underestimated,” according to the World Health Organization. “The outbreak is expected to continue for some time,” the organization said in a statement, adding that “extraordinary measures” are needed “on a massive scale.” Meanwhile, AFP reports that athletes from Ebola-hit countries have been barred from competing in some Youth Olympics events, with the competition due to open tomorrow in China.

The Panama Canal, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, celebrates its 100th anniversary today amid a difficult $5.25 billion expansion project that is expected to double the canal’s capacity when it is completed next year. Here are 12 important facts about the 50-mile waterway.

A new UN report entitled "Being LGBT in Asia" notes that 83 countries still criminalize homosexual behavior, and fewer than 50 countries have laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.

Israel’s military operation in Gaza has left the strip’s agriculture devastated, causing prices to increase sharply, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said yesterday. Reuters writes that the price of tomatoes jumped by 179%. Close to 30,000 Gazans rely on farming, fishing and raising livestock to live. The news was followed by an article on Haaretz estimating that Israel has fired 32,000 artillery shells on Gaza, four times more than during the 2008-2009 conflict. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that Palestinians are returning to “piles of rubble where their homes once stood,” as the five-day ceasefire reached yesterday seems to be holding.

The bank accounts of four passengers from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been drained of some $35,000, four months after their plane went missing.

— Crunched by Marc Alves

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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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