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Taliban Massacres Schoolchildren, Ruble Free Fall, Fry Shortage

Sydney remembers siege victims with "sea of flowers"
Sydney remembers siege victims with "sea of flowers"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

At least 126 people, including at least 84 children, were killed and another 122 wounded when Taliban gunmen attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, this morning, Dawn reports on its live blog. A rescue operation is still ongoing with more children believed to be held hostage inside the building. A Taliban spokesman said the attack was in response to recent army operations that have killed hundreds of their fighters, the BBC reports. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the massacre as a “national tragedy” and immediately left for Peshawar to oversee the operation personally. “These are my children, and it is my loss,” he said. Three days of mourning have been announced in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Thousands of people from all origins have laid flowers at a makeshift memorial in Sydney, Australia, near the café where a gunman and two hostages were killed yesterday. The Sydney Morning Herald describes the scene an “unwritten message” that “we as a community will not be cowed by a lone madman with mental problems on a vengeful mission against society.” The captor, who brandished an Islamic flag, had a history of mental health and violence. He grew angrier as the hours passed and forced the hostages to shoot videos to make his message public. His motive is still unclear.

Almost 200 fighters have been killed in the last 24 hours as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and other Islamist groups captured two Syrian army bases in the northeast Syrian province of Idlib, AFP reports. It’s a significant victory for the terror groups over the Syrian army, giving them control of most of the province.

AsSyria Deeply’s Jalal Zein Eddine writes, the magazine Zaytoun and Zaytouna — with games, stories and illustrations — has been a cheerful diversion for Syrian children living day in and day out with war. “The magazine covers subjects such as entertainment, culture, poetry, illustrated stories and English-language learning,” the journalist writes. “It also includes games, drawings and stories created by children. The only restriction on content is one that was set out from the start: no politics and no religion.”
Read the full article, An Unlikely Success Story For A Kid's Magazine, In Syria.

The Russian ruble fell to new record lows this morning despite a surprise decision from the country’s central bank to raise interest rates for the second time in less than a week, from 10.5% to a whopping 17%, the BBC reports. Meanwhile, the price of oil a reached five-year low with trading below $60 per barrel, Bloomberg reports, forecasting it may fall below $50 a barrel in the new year. Falling oil prices are bad news for the Russian and many Mideast economies, which rely on these revenues for their budgets and need an average price of $100 per barrel to balance the books, according to The Guardian.
For more on this topic, here’s a Die Welt/Worldcrunch piece, The “Dubai Omen” And The Global Risk Of Falling Oil Prices.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat today to argue that the delegation should not push ahead with a draft UN resolution demanding the end of Israeli occupation of their territories by November 2016, AFP reports. The Palestinian delegation said it would submit the Arab League-backed draft resolution tomorrow. France, meanwhile, is working on a separate draft text that sets a timetable to reach a peace agreement by the same date, but doesn’t mention the withdrawal of Israeli forces, according to Radio France Internationale.

Developing countries and emerging economies lost close to $1 trillion through crime, corruption and tax evasion in 2012 alone, more than they gain from aid and foreign investment, Global Financial Integrity said in a report published yesterday. Worse still, the trend is accelerating fast, at an average rate of 9.4% every year over the last decade. Read more from The Guardian.

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We all share the same sky, but each of us gazes up from a unique place on earth. Check out this week’s "O Luna Mia, the weekly horoscope of Simon, Italy's most trusted astrologer, translated by Worldcrunch into English.

Greek lawmakers will vote tomorrow to elect a new president, but the government is far from certain it can get the backing of the required 180 parliament members. Failure to appoint a new head of state by Dec. 29 would trigger a general election that the far-left party Syriza, which is currently leading the polls, is likely to win, Reuters reports. According to the BBC, the leftist party has abandoned much of its radical rhetoric as it draws closer to power, now vowing to keep the country in the eurozone and to repay its debts.

Japan’s fast food lovers will have to be content with smaller portions of French fries at McDonald’s after the company decided to ration them amid shortages.

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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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