Obama delivers ‘Amazing Grace’ at funeral of slain pastor


CHARLESTON: An impassioned President Barack Obama led thousands of mourners in singing “Amazing Grace” on Friday at the funeral of a slain pastor in Charleston and urged Americans to eliminate symbols of oppression and racism, including the Confederate battle flag.

In a speech likely to be considered one of the most memorable of his presidency, Obama paid an emotional tribute to the nine people shot to death at the church and pleaded for Americans to use the tragedy as a way to bridge racial divide.

The shootings last week sparked an intense dialogue over the legacy of slavery and its symbols after photos of the white man charged in the shooting surfaced showing him posing with the Confederate flag on a website that also displayed a racist manifesto.

Politicians and businesses quickly scrambled to distance themselves from the Civil War-era battle flag of the Confederacy amid calls for the flag to be lowered from the grounds of South Carolina’s State House.

Obama called the flag “a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”

“For too long we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens,” Obama said in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41, of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.

At the end of his speech, Obama launched into a rendition of the 18th century hymn, written by a former slave trader after his conversion to Christianity and often associated with African-American struggles. It was a poignant scene for America’s first black president who has often been reluctant to play up his racial heritage.

 

For a moment, he was alone on stage intoning the hymn before purple-clad ministers beside him smiled, stood up and joined him. Then a church organ kicked in and the mostly African-American crowd of about 5,500 people added their voices.

After the hymn, Obama called out the names of the Charleston shooting victims into the microphone. The crowd responded “Yes,” to every name. The cadence of his speech was more like that of a sermon than an address.

Obama made frequent reference to God’s grace and the failure of the Charleston alleged killer Dylann Roof, 21, to sow bitterness, as witnessed by the forgiveness shown by the victims’ families.

“It was a powerful, powerful speech,” said David Rivers, 68, a health professor who was in the crowd. “He had a little reverend in him too. Sounded like Reverend Obama,” he added.

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Iran makes red lines clear as nuclear talks get under way


Iran is making its red lines clear as talks on a final nuclear deal get underway.

US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are meeting in a Vienna hotel in the first of what should be several days of negotiations ahead of a Tuesday deadline.

The US and other world powers are pursuing an agreement that would curb Iran’s nuclear program for a decade in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Zarif says an accord is in reach unless there are ”excessive demands.”

He says UN sanctions must end immediately after a deal and all other penalties must be removed. The US and others say that won’t happen.

On the key question of inspections, Zarif says Iran won’t accept ”exceptional procedures.”

 

Islamic State storms Syrian city of Hassakeh


Thursday’s attack comes after the Islamic State group suffered several setbacks in northern Syria against Kurdish forces last week.

Islamic State militants in Syria have stormed the government-held neighbourhoods in the predominantly Kurdish north-eastern city of Hassakeh, capturing several areas of the city.

Thursday’s attack comes after the Islamic State group suffered several setbacks in northern Syria against Kurdish forces over the past weeks. The city of Hassakeh is divided between Bashar Assad’s forces and Kurdish fighters.

Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, says IS militants attacked government-held neighbourhoods on the southern edge of Hassakeh, and captured some areas.

Syrian state TV reported intense clashes inside Hassakeh’s southern neighbourhood of Nashawi.

Also Thursday, IS staged a new attack on the Kurdish town of Kobani, which famously resisted a months-long assault by the Islamic militants. The attack involved a suicide car bombing that wounded scores.

Mother and daughter killed by train at Ealing Broadway


A mother and her teenage daughter have died after being struck by a First Great Western train in west London.

The woman, 36, and her 16-year-old child were killed at Ealing Broadway station at 18:10 BST on Tuesday.

British Transport Police (BTP) said it was not treating the pair’s deaths as suspicious.

Heathrow Express services were suspended, while First Great Western said there were delays to and from Paddington on Tuesday evening.

BTP officers attended the scene along with the Met Police, London Ambulance Service and London Fire Brigade.

The force said the train was London-bound.

Supt Chris Horton, from BTP, said: “We can confirm that we are not treating the deaths as suspicious and we will assist in the compilation of a report for the coroner.

“Our thoughts are now with the family and we have specialist officers with them providing support and guidance at what is clearly a difficult and traumatic time.”

A spokesman for First Great Western said: “We are doing all we can to help the police with their investigation into this terrible incident.”

Scorching temperatures above 113 degrees kill hundreds in Pakistan


KARACHI — A severe heat wave has killed hundreds here in Pakistan’s largest city, creating a public health emergency that has been exacerbated by a lack of electricity and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Health officials in Karachi estimate that 500 to 600 people have died of heat strokes and related illnesses in Sindh province, the vast majority of them in Karachi.

With temperatures soaring past 100 degrees since late last week, hospitals in Karachi were at capacity Tuesday as officials struggled to open temporary health clinics and cooling centers. Thousands of patients have been pouring into hospitals seeking treatment. Some people said their relatives died in their cars as they drove for hours in search of medical attention.

On Monday afternoon, mortuary operators in the city announced that they had run out of freezer space for the bodies. They pleaded with victims’ families to quickly retrieve the bodies so they could be buried.

Heat waves are common in Pakistan, but the past few days have been especially brutal. The temperature in Karachi reached 113 on Saturday, making it the hottest day in the city in at least 10 years, according to Pakistan’s meteorological service. High temperatures nearing 110 were reported the next three days.

The heat has greatly strained Pakistan’s already sluggish electricity grid, resulting in widespread outages. On Tuesday, some Karachi residents said they had been without power for two days, leading to protests against the government and the city’s main energy supplier, the Dubai-based private company K-Electric.

Energy shortages force Pakistanis to scavenge for wood, threatening tree canopy

The heat wave coincided with the start of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. Some Muslims, particularly in conservative countries such as Pakistan, refrain not only from eating while they fast but also from drinking water.

Doctors have been pleading with residents, particularly the elderly, to consider breaking their fast by at least drinking water to avoid dehydration.
Last month, a heat wave in neighboring India killed more than 2,000 people.

In Pakistan, the crisis threatened to undermine two of the country’s largest political parties.

Karachi residents have accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of failing to live up to a promise made earlier this month that power cuts would be limited during Ramadan.

However, Sindh remains a stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party, not Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party, which is in the opposition in the provincial assembly. Although officials rushed to open cooling centers and water stations on Monday, residents said the measures should have been set into motion earlier.

With scores of angry residents wandering the streets looking for a place to cool off, one police official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that some neighborhoods were sliding toward an “anarchy-like situation.”

“The situation in Karachi is one of chaos and lawlessness with no visible writ of the government,” Imran Khan, leader of the Movement for Justice party, said in a statement. “The people of Karachi have been effectively abandoned by the provincial and federal governments, both of whom have failed to provide the basic necessities of life.”

China Protects Pakistan at UN Over 26/11 Mastermind’s Release; PM Narendra Modi Objects


NEW DELHI:  After China blocked action at the United Nations against Pakistan for freeing 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed India’s grave concern “at the highest levels” to Beijing, said sources.

Lakhvi, accused by India of planning and executing the terror attacks in Mumbai in which 166 people were killed, was released in April from a Pakistani prison.

The UN Sanctions Committee, which met earlier this month in New York at India’s request, was to seek a clarification from Pakistan on Lakhvi’s release; however, China blocked the move on grounds that India did not provide sufficient information.

Lakhvi, 55, was arrested in December 2008; he was a top commander of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Lakhvi is on trial, along with six others, for the worst-ever terror attacks in India, but the case has made no progress in five years in Pakistan, creating a major stress point in bilateral relations.

India’s permanent representative to the UN, Asoke Mukherjee, wrote to the UN’s Sanctions’ Committee terming Lakhvi’s release a violation of a UN resolution on terrorist organisations and groups, including the al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), wherever located.

The sanctions committee includes China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

China restores 800-year-old Buddha statue with 1,000 hands


Chinese experts have completed restoration of an 800-year-old Buddha statue, famous for its 1,000 hands, located in the country’s southwest province after
seven years.

The restoration of the important landmark in Dazu County in Sichun province had begun in 2008 and was completed at a cost of about 60 million yuan (USD 9.8 million).

Visitors could now see a new appearance of the “Qianshou Guanyin”, a statue with 1,000 hands in southwestern Chongqing Municipality, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It is the largest restoration project on the statue, which underwent repairs at least four times in history, it said.

Workers restored 830 hands and 227 instruments using one million gold foils while consolidating the dated pieces of the statue and thoroughly cleaning it.

The project is expected to help the Qianshou Guanyin keep glowing for at least 50 years, said Zhan Changfa, a researcher of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, who is in charge of the project.

The statue, 7.7 metres high and 12.5 metres wide, was carved during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279). It is a masterpiece among thousands of individual rock carvings in the grottoes in Dazu. The carvings date back as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were listed as major World Heritage sites by UNESCO in 1999.

Over the centuries, the sculpture’s colour had faded with some of the gold foils peeling off and cracks appeared.

Heritage authorities will continue to monitor the statue’s condition and take timely measures to prevent damage and pass its beauty to the next 800 years, said Tong Mingkang, deputy head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, at a ceremony marking the completion of restoration on Saturday.

– See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/world/asia/china-restores-800-year-old-buddha-statue-with-1000-hands/#sthash.yBsatLNs.dpuf

Islamic State suicide attacks on Iraq security posts leaves 13 dead


Coordinated Islamic State suicide attacks targeting Iraqi government security posts have killed 13 people north of Baghdad, as security forces repelled more suicide attacks by the extremists in Anbar province, authorities said on Saturday.

Four suicide bombers driving explosive-laden cars rammed into two security checkpoints and a military headquarters in the Al-Hajaj area within a 15-minute span, killing 13 Shiite militiamen and troops and wounded a further 24, according to the police.

Al-Hajaj lies on the road between Beiji and Tikrit in Salahuddin province. The key refinery town of Beiji has been the scene of fierce fighting between Islamic State militants and government troops who, backed by Shiite militias, seized control of the town’s center afew days ago.

Meanwhile, police said that security forces had repelled Islamic State suicide attacks near the town of Garma, which is east of the militant-held city of Fallujah.

The attackers used four suicide cars in the assault that left no casualties among the government forces, they said.

Recently received US anti-tank missiles were used to destroy the suicide cars, police and military officials there said.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures from the Salahuddin province attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to journalists.

Iraqi forces, backed by Shiite militias and US-led airstrikes, have been struggling to regain control of the vast areas lost to the Islamic State group during its victorious push into the Iraq last year.

Turkish mother ‘shoots dead pregnant daughter’


A Turkish mother, 36, shot dead her daughter, 17, after finding out that she was three months pregnant, media reports said on Saturday.

The mother, named as Emine A., found out that her daughter Meryem A. was pregnant during a visit to neighbours, the Hurriyet daily reported. She then went back home to find a gun and returned to shoot her daughter — who worked as a cashier in a market — five times, it said.

Bystanders outside the apartment block in the Selcuk district of the southern city of Nigde rushed to help and took Meryem to hospital but she died on the way.

The mother was detained by police but then had a nervous collapse and was hospitalised. The investigation is continuing.
Turkish authorities acknowledge there is a grave problem of violence against women in the country, although the vast majority of cases involving attacks perpetrated by men.

According to the non-governmental Platform to Stop Violence Against Women, 286 women were murdered in Turkey in 2014 and 134 so far in 2015.

Manhunt for two New York prison escapees focuses on nearby woods


Hundreds of law enforcement agents hunting for two upstate New York prison escapees focused their search on Thursday on a heavily wooded area just a few miles from the maximum security facility where they broke out last week, police said.

Convicted murderers Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York through underground pipes and a manhole. They were discovered missing early on Saturday.

More than 500 law enforcement officers, along with canine and aviation units, were involved in the manhunt, along with the FBI and other agencies, New York State Police said.

A stretch of highway in Dannemora just miles from the prison was off-limits to traffic and schools in the Saranac Central School District were closed due to the search, officials said.

A female prison worker questioned by police thought she had a romantic relationship with one of them and planned to drive the getaway car, NBC News reported.

However, Joyce Mitchell, an industrial training supervisor in the tailor shop got cold feet and checked into a hospital for nerves on Saturday, the day the inmates were discovered missing, NBC reported, citing unnamed senior government officials.

The older inmate, Matt, who has a history of escape attempts, wooed Mitchell for months and established a relationship in which she agreed to drive the getaway car, the report said.

“She thought it was love,” an official told NBC News.

The ground search was focused on a heavily wooded area east of Dannemora, along New York State Route 374, New York State Police said in a statement.

Search teams were following up on a lead developed on Wednesday, police said, without elaborating.

CNN, citing unidentified sources, reported that bloodhounds picked up the scent of the escapees about 3 miles from the prison.

Mitchell’s statements to police were incriminating enough to result in her being indicted for her role in the escape, The New York Times reported.

Mitchell, who is married to another prison worker and has an adult son, earns a salary of $57,700 for the state corrections department job she has held since 2008, the Buffalo News reported.

Police have declined to comment further on Mitchell, but State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said at a news conference on Wednesday: “She befriended the inmates and may have had some sort of role in assisting them.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)