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Pope Francis arrives in Bolivia Despite Church-State Tensions

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Pope Francis arrives in Bolivia Despite Church-State Tensions

After wrapping up the Ecuador leg of his South American pilgrimage Wednesday, Pope Francis flew to Bolivia, where church-state tensions over everything from the environment to the role of the church in society are high on the agenda.

He was greeted on the tarmac with a hug from Bolivian President Evo Morales. The president then hung around the pope’s nect a pouch traditionally used by people in the Andes to hold coca leaves, which they chew to ward off the ill effects of extreme altitude.

Before leaving Ecuador’s capital Quito, Francis met with elderly residents of a nursing home and gave an off-the-cuff pep talk to local clergy, telling them to be humble and to never forget their roots. Then he was set to fly to La Paz and meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales,

The stop in La Paz was being kept to four hours to spare the 78-year-old pope from the taxing 4,000-meter (13,120-foot) elevation; the rest of his Bolivian stay will be in Santa Cruz.

Bolivian Communications Minister Marienala Paco said Morales decided to cut his speech before the pope to 5 minutes “considering the pope’s health,” state news agency ABI reported.

Francis and Morales have met on several occasions, most recently in October when the president, a former coca farmer, participated in a Vatican summit of grassroots groups of indigenous and advocates for the poor who have been championed by Francis. Their shared views on caring for society’s poorest, and the need for wealthy countries to drastically change course to address climate change have bumped up against Morales’ anti-clerical initiatives that have roiled relations with the local church.

As soon as Morales took office in 2006, for example, the Bible and cross were removed from the presidential palace. A new constitution in 2009 made the overwhelmingly Catholic nation a secular state and Andean religious rituals replaced Catholic rites at official state ceremonies.

“There are some challenging issues in terms of Evo Morales taking on a quite combative role against the church, which he sees as a challenge to his authority,” said Clare Dixon, Latin American regional director for CAFOD, the English Catholic aid agency. “The church is also questioning some decisions made about development in the country.”

Morales, who expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration, came to power championing Bolivia’s 36 indigenous groups and enshrined their rights in the constitution. But he has alienated lowlands natives by promoting a highway through a nature reserve and authorizing oil and natural gas exploration in wilderness areas. Cheered by environmentalists abroad for his demand that wealthy nations do more to combat climate change, Morales has been under fire at home from critics, including activists in the church, who say he puts extracting petroleum ahead of clean water and forests.

Mario Gutierrez, an environmental specialist in Bolivia with the Catholic charity Caritas, said the Morales government is poisoning indigenous communities and deforesting habitats important to them.

“We are, as the church, truly concerned,” he said.

Francis was expected to raise environmental concerns during his Bolivian sojourn, just as he did in Ecuador. And he’s likely to delicately insist on the Catholic Church’s right to have a voice in society, given its role in caring for the most marginal in South America’s poorest country. Other highlights of the trip include his visit to the notoriously violent Palmasola prison, where a battle among inmate gangs in 2013 left 30 people dead. As in many Latin American prisons, inmates largely control the inside of Palmasola, which teems with some 3,500 prisoners, more than four in five still awaiting trial.

But perhaps the most intriguing element expected Wednesday was the delicate diplomatic dance between Francis and Morales over the tensions with the church.

Morales considers the Catholic Church a powerful vestige of the colonial-era servitude from which the indigenous — more than 60 percent of Bolivia’s population — are still trying to recover.

The government made it obligatory to teach other religions in schools alongside Catholicism, the faith of nearly four in five Bolivians. But it lost a major skirmish when it tried to prohibit obligatory Catholic religious education in the 15 percent of schools run by the church.

In the heat of the dispute, Morales accused Cardinal Julio Terrazas, then head of the Bolivian bishop’s conference, of being aligned with the opposition and stripped him of his diplomatic passport.

All official ceremonies in Bolivia are now preceded by rituals venerating the Andean earth goddess Pachamama.

That doesn’t square with the Bolivian church hierarchy, which in a 2012 pastoral letter called school texts that refer to Pachamama as a divinity “erroneous and a deviation.”

Morales calls himself a Catholic and says he believes, as many Andean natives do, that there’s plenty of room for both Christianity and traditional beliefs.

“I remain convinced that we Bolivians have a double religion, double faith,” he said in January. “We are Catholics, but at the same time we have rituals of our own.”

Morales is never one to hide his opinions: When he met in 2010 with Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, he gave him a letter suggesting the church abolish celibacy and allow women to be priests.

“The church doesn’t have to deny a fundamental part of our nature as human beings and should abolish celibacy. That way there will be fewer boys and girls whose fathers don’t recognize them,” he said at the time.

Morales’ attitude toward the church changed radically when Francis became pope. He visited the pontiff twice and invited him to come to Bolivia.

Inaugurating a school in the central Chapare region last week, Morales said, “The truth is he and I coincide enormously in politics, the social and the economic.”

Entrepreneur, contributor, writer, and editor of Sostre News. With a powerful new bi-lingual speaking generation by his side, Sostre News is becoming the preferred site for the latest in Politics, Entertainment, Sports, Culture, Tech, Breaking and World News.

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International

Syria al-Qaeda Leader Attacked, Unsure of His Survival

An air strike struck Abu al-Khayr al-Masri in the Syrian province of Idlib on Sunday, based on unconfirmed reports.

The Egyptian is second-in-command to overall al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to BBC News.

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An air strike struck Abu al-Khayr al-Masri in the Syrian province of Idlib on Sunday, based on unconfirmed reports.

The Egyptian is second-in-command to overall al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to BBC News.

Syrian opposition forces, the Local Co-ordination Committees, posted a photo of the car which was targeted for the attack, as stated by them.

Car with roof shattered is shown in photo taken from Syrian opposition activists

The car, in the town of al-Mastuma, was targeted by “international coalition aircraft”, the group said.

Additionally, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that an al-Qaeda official was killed in a strike, but did not confirm it was Abu al-Khayr al-Masri.

The Egyptian, whose real name is Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abd al-Rahman, was reportedly released from custody by Iran in 2015 as part of a prisoner swap.

Last year, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was reported to have given his blessing to a decision by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front, to cut formal ties with the global jihadist network.

The Syrian jihadist with ties broken with al-Qaeda had renamed its name to Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, as reported by CNN.

According to Ahmad Hasan Abu al Khayr al-Masri, al-Qaeda has embraced the split. The man Masri would replace as an upranking to No. 2 of the leadership position in the terror group, is al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri expressed his opinion on the split in a supportive manner and called for infighting between jihadist groups to end.

Although Jabhat Fateh al-Sham was no longer linked to an external entity, the U.S. still kept it on its list of foreign terrorist groups and continued to target air strikes.

Therefore, in January, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham dissolved itself and formed an alliance with four smaller Syrian jihadist groups called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The move seemed to deem an attempt by the group to distance itself from al-Qaeda.

Tahrir al-Sham as since then fought rebel groups for control of the Idlib province in Syria, implying that it was them who had instigated suicide bombs on Saturday against the military in the government-controlled city of Homs.

Although the death of Abu al-Khayr al-Masri is uncertain, the Guardian has stated that he has been killed based off of what jihadists are stating.

The immediate circumstances of Masri’s death were unclear. Video online showed a tan four-door Kia sedan destroyed at a roadside with a large hole in its canopy but its windscreen mostly intact. The location of the attack was unusually far west for a US drone strike.

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International

Honor Killings are Never Justifiable, Not Ever or Anywhere!

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I have decided to shed some light on some insights about honor killings, amidst one that occurred in my parents’ home country, Pakistan, yesterday. An upcoming supermodel by the name of Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother in Multan, Paksitan while her parents were in their bedroom, asleep. The model was allegedly there to visit family or for other reasons. The brother who strangled her to death, reportedly after he drugged her, was interviewed and showed no remorse for his wrongdoing. Of course, what he did is inexcusable in all ways and is unsurpassable as a violation and a wrongdoing!

Baloch’s brother, who took her life, was embarrassed by his sister’s career as a supermodel and was aghast at her actions in this profession. This, however, can never justify the fact that he felt he had to end her life. Not only in this culture, mostly and especially in Pakistan’s rural areas, is this prevalent. It happens in other areas of the world and this is not attributable to Pakistanis or any type of Muslim or the religion itself, Islam. Anyway, surely you can recall the incident that was reported on television a few years ago. A man killed his daughter by running her over with a car, as well as her attempts to kill her boyfriend and his mother. He killed her because she had a boyfriend.

Oppressing women is not taught in any culture or religion, and is inexcusable in any way. A woman has the right to live however she pleases, at least I genuinely believe in this, and she should not have to fear for her life.

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Turkish Military Attempts to Overthrow President

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted to the nation Saturday that his government is in charge following a coup attempt brought a night of explosions, air battles, gunfire and unrest across the capital and left at least 90 dead, 1,154 people wounded and more than 1,000 military personnel detained.

In a press conference at Ataturk Airport, Erdogan said the architects of the coup attempt would “pay a heavy price” and vowed he would “not surrender this country to intruders.”

A senior Turkish official told the Associated Press that 1,563 military personnel have been detained in the coup attempt.

A Turkish lawmaker contacted by Reuters said he and his colleagues were hiding in special shelters in the bowels of the parliament building after at least three explosions near the complex in the capital, Ankara. Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman told the Associated Press a bomb hit one corner of a public relations building inside the parliament complex, injuring some police officers.

Elsewhere, troops also fired in the air to disperse a growing crowd of government supporters at the Taksim monument in Istanbul as military helicopters flew overhead. A nearby mosque made an anti-coup announcement over its loudspeakers.

Erdogan insisted that the coup attempt wouldn’t succeed.

“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people. The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge,” he said. “This government brought to power by the people, is in charge. They won’t succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything.”

In his TV address, Erdogan blamed the attack on supporters of Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan has long accused the cleric and his supporters of attempting to overthrow the government. The cleric lives in exile in Pennsylvania and promotes a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue.

Turkey’s allies, fellow NATO member nations and world leaders swiftly reacted Friday to an attempted coup Friday night, which could spur immense implications, not only in the Middle East, but also in the West.

“The United States views with gravest concern events unfolding in Turkey,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.

He said the State Department was “monitoring a fluid situation,” and “emphasized the United States’ absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions.”

The U.S. State Department urged U.S. citizens in Turkey to shelter in place during the attempted coup.

President Barack Obama had been briefed on the situation. “The president and secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected government of Turkey, show restraint and avoid any violence or bloodshed,” a White House statement said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote in a tweet that he spoke with the Turkish foreign minister. “I call for calm, restraint & full respect for Turkey’s democratic institutions and constitution,” Stoltenberg wrote, without saying what actions, if any, NATO would take. Turkey joined NATO in 1952.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for calm as the world body sought to clarify the situation, said a U.N. spokesman.

“The Secretary-General is closely following developments in Turkey. He is aware of the reports of a coup attempt in the country. The United Nations is seeking to clarify the situation on the ground and appeals for calm,” said spokesman Farhan Haq.

Britain’s government was also monitoring the turmoil. “We are concerned by events unfolding in Ankara and Istanbul. Our Embassy is monitoring the situation closely,” a British foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson also said he was “very concerned.”

The foreign minister of Turkey’s neighbor to the east said he was “deeply concerned about the crisis in Turkey.”

“Stability, democracy & safety of Turkish people are paramount. Unity & prudence are imperative,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet.

Slovakia, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said on Saturday it was following the events unfolding in Turkey with serious concern, and was coordinating appropriate reaction with EU partners.

“Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak has been in intensive contact all evening with EU high foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini and other European colleagues,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“He has also been in contact with partners in the Turkish government with the aim to clarify the situation in Turkey and discuss steps that the EU should take with the aim to maintain and support democracy and stability in the country.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “in constant contact with EU delegation in Ankara and Brussels from Mongolia.” She called for “restraint and respect for democratic institutions.”

The Kremlin said it was gravely concerned. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that President Vladimir Putin was being kept constantly updated on the situation in Turkey.

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