LISTEN: Vigil held in Tokyo for beheaded journalist; 20 killed in Ukraine as peace talks fail (UCNN Weekend Report #104)

1. According to VOA News, a vigil was held in Tokyo on Sunday for Japanese journalist Kenji Goto who was apparently beheaded by Islamic State extremists. As Japan mourned it loss, the relatives of Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh asked the government in Amman to be more open about its negotiations to secure the pilot’s release from the militants. An uncle of the pilot said “we want the government to tell us the truth.” The fates of the two hostages had previously been linked, but the beheading video did not mention Kasaesbeh, raising concerns for his life. Japan and the United States condemned the Islamic State jihadists Saturday after the grisly Internet video showed the execution.

2. According to ­Reuters, thirteen Ukrainian soldiers and at least seven civilians have been killed in fighting in the past 24 hours, as Kiev authorities reported widespread clashes with Russian-backed separatists a day after peace talks collapsed. Kiev’s military spokesman said, “Fighting continues across all sections of the frontline.” The civilian and military death toll has mounted in the past two weeks after rebels launched a new offensive. Hopes of de-escalation evaporated on Saturday with Ukraine’s representative and separatist envoys accusing the other of sabotaging negotiations.

3. According to Reuters, thousands of pro-democracy protesters returned to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in the first large-scale rally since demonstrations rocked the global financial hub late last year. Some 2,000 police flanked an estimated 12,000 protesters marching on the city’s glitzy shopping and financial districts, seeking to avoid a repeat of the so-called Occupy Central campaign that saw demonstrations shut down key roads for 2-1/2 months. Last year’s protests for a fully democratic vote to choose Hong Kong’s next leader were the most serious challenge to China’s authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

4. According to the Associated Press, the Islamic State group has acknowledged for the first time that its fighters have been defeated in the Syrian town of Kobani and vowed to attack the town again. In a video released by the pro-ISIS Aamaq News Agency, two fighters said the airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition were the main reason why ISIS fighters were forced to withdraw from Kobani. One fighter vowed to defeat the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units known as the YPG. On Monday, activists and Kurdish officials said the town was almost cleared of ISIS fighters, who once held nearly half of Kobani.

5. According to Reuters, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the house of a legislator in the northeast Nigerian town of Potiskum on Sunday, killing 10 people. The bomber walked up to the house of Sabo Garbu, a member of the house of representatives in the federal government, before detonating the explosives.

6. According to the Associated Press, a delegation from the European Union visiting Lebanon says the EU is providing $42 million to help the Arab country cope with more than a million Syrian refugees. Christos Stylianides, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, made the announcement on Saturday after meeting Prime Minister Tammam Salam in Beirut. Stylianides later traveled to the eastern Bekaa Valley to meet Syrian refugees living in small camps.

7. According to the Associated Press, the federal government is considering allowing those of Middle Eastern and North African descent to identify as such on the next 10-year census, which could give Arab-Americans and other affected groups greater political clout and access to public funding, among other things. The U.S. Census Bureau will test the new Middle East-North Africa (MENA) classification for possible inclusion on the 2020 census if it gets enough positive feedback about the proposed change by Sunday, when the public comment period ends. Arab-Americans, who make up the majority of those who would be covered by the MENA classification, have previously been classified by default as white on the census, which helps determine congressional district boundaries and how billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated, among other things.

8. According to Reuters, Islamist insurgents attacked the outskirts of northeast Nigeria’s main city Maiduguri on Sunday, engaging in a gun battle with soldiers that killed at least eight people. Militant group Boko Haram has killed thousands since it launched its revolt in Maiduguri five years ago and wants the city to become the capital of a separate Islamist state. Idris Abubakar, a resident of Polo on the western outskirts of the city said, “There is heavy gunfire going on. Everybody is panicking and trying to flee the area.” Growing violence by the insurgents is a major headache for President Goodluck Jonathan who faces elections on Feb. 14 that analysts say are too close to call.

9. According to Politico, President Barack Obama on Saturday denounced the “barbaric” beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In a White House statement, the president condemned the video, released Saturday, which reportedly shows Goto’s death at the hands of an ISIL militant, as “heinous.” Obama said in the statement that through his coverage of the conflict in the Middle East, Goto “courageously sought to convey the plight of the Syrian people to the outside world.” He added,” Standing together with a broad coalition of allies and partners, the United States will continue taking decisive action to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

10. According to the Associated Press, flash floods caused by heavy rains have submerged large areas in northwestern Greece, forcing authorities to evacuate hundreds of people from several villages in the Epirus region. By Sunday, at least four rivers had overflowed their banks. Near the city of Arta, a famous 18th-century stone bridge was destroyed by the flooding. No one was reported injured. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was at the Fire Brigade’s emergency command center in Athens, where he urged experts from the Infrastructure and Culture ministries to go to the flooded area and inspect the roads and monuments at risk there.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.”

As always, we want you to know that God loves you. He loves you so much that the Bible says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, why don’t you get to know Him today. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose by the power of God for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening. May God bless your day.

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