LISTEN: Urban Christian News Weekend Report #118

1. According to Reuters, Tunisian authorities have arrested more than 20 suspected militants in a nationwide security crackdown since gunmen killed 23 people, mostly foreign tourists, in Wednesday’s attack in the capital. Hundreds of people gathered for a mass in the cathedral in Tunis on Saturday, lighting candles to remember the victims in a ceremony attended by government ministers. Outside, there was a heavy police presence along the central boulevard. But Tunis was calm, with a music festival going ahead in the city center. The government said 10 of the 20 militants arrested are believed to have been directly involved in the attack on the museum.

2. According to CBC News, Plans can change in an instant. No one knows this better than David Wood. For weeks, the Canadian pastor and his family have been preparing for a trip to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where he would spend weeks teaching at a local church in the capital city of Port Vila. And then, Cyclone Pam came. On March 14, the cyclone devastated the islands of Vanuatu. Relief agencies are still taking full stock of the damage, as downed communications on some of the nation’s 83 islands make it difficult to get a full picture of the destruction. After it became apparent how much damage the storm had done, Wood considered cancelling the trip. After some thought, however, he decided to go anyway and help rebuild. His family put their house in Edmonton up for sale, and next week, they will fly out to Vanuatu and help assess the damage. Wood said the family will spend a couple weeks in Vanuatu, gathering information for relief organizations and determining which supplies are most needed. They will return to Canada for a short time before moving to the South Pacific nation full-time in the summer to help the rebuilding efforts.

3. According to the New York Times, President Obama said he has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Israeli leader’s remarks in the closing days of his re-election campaign had upended the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ran counter to the very nature of Israeli democracy, an unusually forceful and public condemnation of the top official of a vital United States ally. In his first public comments on the matter since Mr. Netanyahu’s victory in Tuesday’s elections, Mr. Obama said the prime minister’s pre-election statement that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch had all but foreclosed the chance for negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ignoring the prime minister’s attempts in postelection interviews to walk back his comments, Mr. Obama made it clear — as have senior members of his administration in recent days — that he believes Mr. Netanyahu is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

4. According to the Washington Post, Shiite insurgents called on supporters to attack institutions under the control of Yemen’s embattled president on Saturday amid reports that 100 U.S. troops were preparing to evacuate a base in the southern part of the country after al-Qaeda briefly captured a neighboring city. The call to arms by the insurgents, known as the Houthis, appears to have pushed the desperately poor Arabian Peninsula country into a state of civil war after months of mounting violence. It also comes as the widening chaos has undermined U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which uses Yemen as a staging ground for attacks against the West.

5. According to Reuters, Soldiers who liberated the Nigerian town of Damasak from Boko Haram militants on Saturday have discovered the bodies of at least 70 people, many with their throats slit. In what appeared to be an execution site for the Islamist group, the bodies were strewn beneath a concrete bridge on one of the main roads leading out of the town. At least one was decapitated. The bodies were partially mummified by the dry desert air, while grass had begun to grow around the corpses, suggesting the killings had taken place some time ago.

6. According to the Associated Press, about 600 high school students in eastern India have been expelled for cheating on pressure-packed 10th grade examinations this week. The incident has received widespread attention after Indian television footage showed parents and friends of students scaling the outer walls of school buildings to pass cheat sheets to students inside taking exams. More than 1.4 million 10th graders are taking the tests at more than 1,200 high schools across the state. They face tremendous pressure because they must pass the exams to continue their education.

7. According to Reuters, a federal judge ruled on Friday that the U.S. government must release photographs showing the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other sites. Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan ruled that his order would not take effect for 60 days to give the U.S. Department of Defense time to decide whether to appeal. The order is a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against the government in 2004 seeking the release of the photographs.

8. According to Reuters, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States on Saturday of using economic pressure and “bullying” to try to turn his countrymen against Islamic rule, underscoring his long-held mistrust of Tehran’s main negotiating partner in nuclear talks. Amid shouts of ‘Death to America’, Khamenei, who has the last word on all matters of state, reiterated in a speech in northeastern Iran that Tehran would not be pressured into giving in to Western demands in the negotiations with major powers. But the 75-year-old cleric also voiced support for the government of President Hassan Rouhani, which is conducting the negotiations, and urged any Iranians critical of its performance not to use insults, an apparent indication that the Supreme Leader continues to place confidence in Rouhani’s team.

9. According to Reuters, the Islamic State has posted online what it says are the names, U.S. addresses and photos of 100 American military service members, and called upon its “brothers residing in America” to kill them. The Pentagon said that it was investigating the matter. In the posting, a group referring to itself as the “Islamic State Hacking Division” wrote in English that it had hacked several military servers, databases and emails and made public the information on 100 members of the U.S. military so that “lone wolf” attackers can kill them. The New York Times reported that it did not look like the information had been hacked from U.S. government servers and quoted an unnamed Defense Department official as saying most of the information could be found in public records, residential address search sites and social media.

10. According to AFP, Hundreds of thousands of people waving Vatican flags on Saturday greeted Pope Francis as he headed deep into mafia territory, visiting jailbirds and the poor in Naples amid heightened security. The pontiff arrived in the poor, crime-ridden Scampia area of the city in a popemobile and immediately plunged into a crowd of children and young people, two of whom managed to pose for a selfie with the pontiff. Francis told residents, “Corruption stinks, corrupt society stinks,” adding that “we all have the potential to be corrupt and to slip into criminality”. Speaking to a crowd of some 100,000 people, he said, “Convert to love and peace. It is always possible to return to an honest life.”

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