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Ceasefire Hope In Gaza And Ukraine, Electric Sheepdogs

Children celebrating the open-ended ceasefire in Gaza.
Children celebrating the open-ended ceasefire in Gaza.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In a report following months of investigation in Syria, the United Nations said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that Syrian government forces had used chlorine gas, a chemical agent, eight times on civilian areas in April. The UN also denounced crimes committed by radical Islamic rebel group ISIS across the vast northern Syrian territory it now controls. ISIS is accused of forcing civilians, including children, to watch public executions as part of a campaign to terrorize locals. Read more from the BBC.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Washington is working to “mobilize a broad coalition of allies” that would support military action in Syria against ISIS. The terror group is said to be demanding as much as $6.6 million for the release of a 26-year-old American woman who was kidnapped a year ago in Syria.

The Ukrainian government will prepare a roadmap “in order to achieve, as soon as possible, a ceasefire” with pro-Russian rebels in eastern parts of the country, President Petro Poroshenko announced after a two-hour meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Minsk. Putin said Moscow “will do everything possible for this peace process once it starts,” Ria Novostireports.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, told a government meeting this morning that Kiev expected “practical help” from NATO, a statement that comes one day after the U.S.-led military alliance’s chief announced plans to deploy new bases on Russia’s borders.

The open-ended ceasefire reached yesterday by Israel and Palestinian groups was holding this morning, indicating that the 50-day conflict which left 2,143 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead may be drawing to a close. Under the agreement, Israel will open the crossings on its border with the enclave to allow humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter, after whole neighborhoods were destroyed. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza has warned that displaced residents in shelters are suffering from dangerous skin infections that could become an epidemic as a result of water shortage, Ma’an news agency reports. In Israel, polls suggest the population is deeply unhappy with how the conflict unfolded. According to The Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval ratings fell to 38% from a whopping 82% at the peak of the military operation, while the chairman of his party’s central committee said Israel ended the war “shamed and confused.”

Around 56 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been lifted out of poverty between the years 2000 and 2012, according to a new UN report.

With 40 days to go until the first round of Brazil’s Presidential election, the seven candidates held their first televised debate Tuesday night, with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff under pressure after a poll published in the newspaper Estado de São Paulo showed her coming second in a potential face-off with Marina Silva. A former environment minister and activist, Silva was appointed last week as the Brazilian Socialist Party’s candidate after the death of Eduardo Campos in a plane crash earlier this month. In yesterday’s debate, she accused Rousseff of seeing Brazil through “rose-tinted glasses,” as the country’s economy is showing signs of slowdown.
For more about Brazil’s presidential race, we offer this El Espectador/Worldcrunch piece: Brazil And The Great Electoral Expectation.

Chinese have looked skeptically at charitable organizations, for cultural reasons and a series of scandals. But as China's rich and famous join the ALS challenge, something may be changing, writes Chinese newspaper Caixin: “In the past, when a Chinese public figure donated a lot of money he would be criticized, either for showing off his wealth, or if he gave too little, for being stingy. Now, we see how pouring a bucket of water or donating $100 can also make a difference. Still, even if celebrity participation in the Ice Bucket Challenge is raising people’s awareness of ALS, there's the risk that the fundamental meaning of philanthropy will be lost if the movement remains little more than online comedy.”
Read the full article, The Ice Bucket Challenge, A Lesson For China's Philanthropy.

As many as 1,889 Europe-bound migrants from Africa and the Middle East are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, including 1,600 since the beginning of June, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Refugee Agency told reporters in Geneva. The organization estimates that more than 124,000 migrants reached Europe alive since January, a large majority of them in Italy, a figure that is already more than double that of 2013. Here’s a La Stampa/Worldcrunch piece on the 100,000th immigrant to arrive on Italy’s shores.

The political crisis in Afghanistan has escalated further after candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who claims the second round of the presidential election in June was rigged, pulled out his observers from a UN-backed vote audit. "We will not join the process today, and maybe we will not re-join the process at all," a spokesman for Abdullah’s campaign told AFP. A member of the other candidate Ashraf Ghani’s team accused Abdullah of “trying to make excuses” to hide his defeat. According to the UN, there is a risk of a new civil war in the country if this crisis is not resolved.

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Retired UK judge Mary Jane Mowat has claimed rape conviction statistics will not improve until women "stop getting so drunk."

Humans are not the only ones whose jobs are threatened to be replaced by robots … sheepdogs are next.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Russian Orthodox Church Has A Kremlin Spy Network — And Now It's Spreading Abroad

The Russian Orthodox Church has long supported Russia’s ongoing war effort in Ukraine. Now, clergy members in other countries are suspected of collaborating with and recruiting for Russian security forces.

Photo of Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Wiktoria Bielaszyn

WARSAW — Several countries have accused members of the Russian Orthodox clergy of collaborating with Russian security services, pushing Kremlin policy inside the church and even recruiting spies from within.

On Sept. 21, Bulgaria deported Russian Archimandrite Vassian, guardian of the Orthodox parish in Sofia, along with two Belarusian priests. In a press release, the Bulgarian national security agency says that clergy were deported because they posed a threat to national security. "The measures were taken due to their actions against the security and interests of the Republic of Bulgaria," Bulgarian authorities wrote in a statement, according to Radio Svoboda.

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These reports were also confirmed by Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, who told Russian state news agency TASS that the priests must leave Bulgaria within 24 hours. “After being declared persona non grata, Wassian and the other two clerics were taken home under police supervision to pack up their belongings. Then they will be taken to the border with Serbia" she said.

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