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Ban Ki-Moon, Annan Up Pressure On Syria As Alleged Massacre Probed


PARIS - Syria appears set to descend into all-out civil war, as pressure from the international community heightens following allegations of a new massacre in the central province of Hama.

United Nations observers are attempting to reach the town of Al Koubeir to investigate the latest alleged massacre, which may have killed 55 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said observers were prevented from accessing the town on Thursday after being shot at.

Protests agains Bashar al-Assad's regime continue today. The regime has denied reports that it was responsible for the Al Koubeir massacre. Meanwhile, exclusive Al Arabiya footage from yesterday showed repeated bombing of the city of Homs.

Diplomats expressed their growing concern about the Syrian crisis, according to France's Journal de Dimanche. Ban Ki-Moon stressed the seriousness of the situation in a press conference with special envoy Kofi Annan on Thursday night. "The danger of a civil war is imminent and real," said the U.N. Secretary General.

Annan told the U.N. General Assembly that he was "horrified" by the massacres but he also indicated that a "contact group" to negotiate with the regime was being formed. Annan is meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington D.C. today to discuss the situation.

A spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said that China "strongly condemns' the death of innocent civilians and calls for perpetrators to be brought to justice, but stopped short of blaming Damascus specifically. Russia and China have repeatedly opposed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the ruling regime's violence.

Evidence of past massacres in the Deir Baaba neigborhood of Homs have also surfaced through French television network France 24, which is in contact with activists on the ground. A series of experts interviewed by French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur offered potential solutions to the conflict, ranging from reinforcing the existing Annan peace plan to arming the rebel Free Syrian Army.

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How 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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