Monday, July 11, 2011

Syrian Protestors Attack U.S and French Embassy In Damascus

EIRUT - Syrian government supporters smashed windows at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus on Monday, raised a Syrian flag and scrawled graffiti calling the American ambassador a "dog" in anger over the envoy's visit to an opposition stronghold, witnesses said.

French Embassy guards in the Syrian capital fired in the air to hold back loyalists of President Bashar Assad's regime who also attacked that compound to protest the French ambassador's visit last week to the same restive city, Hama, in central Syria. Protesters smashed embassy windows and shattered the windshield of a diplomatic SUV outside the compound. The French Foreign Ministry said three embassy workers were injured.

Both the U.S. and France accused Syrian security forces of being too slow to respond to the attacks. And France said Syria was not living up to its international commitments to protect diplomatic missions and allow envoys freedom of movement.

"The people want to kick out the dog," read graffiti written on the wall of the U.S. embassy, along with another line cursing America. The protesters smashed the embassy sign hanging over one gate.

Assad's regime called the French and American ambassadors' visits to Hama last week interference in the country's internal affairs and accused the envoys of undermining Syria's stability.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford on Thursday visited Hama where he was greeted by friendly crowds who put flowers on his windshield and olive branches on his car, chanting: "Down with the regime!" The State Department said the trip was to support the right of Syrians to demonstrate peacefully.

The protests erupted after Ford harshly criticized the Syrian government's crackdown on a popular uprising that has raged over the past four months.

The U.S. said no embassy personnel were hurt in the melee and there was no immediate word on any other casualties.

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Fast Food Chains Burger King and Sonic To Offer Alcoholic Drinks

Some fast-food chains are now offering options beyond burgers, salads, and soft drinks. In some locations, customers will soon be able to get an adult beverage with their meals.

Burger King recently opened "Whopper Bars" in Miami, Las Vegas, and Kansas City. Beginning this summer, Sonic will offer beer and wine at new locations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Rev. Mark Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League and president-elect of the American Council on Alcohol Problems. He believes this is an irresponsible decision that goes against the whole concept of fast-food restaurants.

"Fast-food restaurants have long been about providing families with quick and inexpensive food in a family-friendly environment," he notes, adding that "alcohol always has considerable potential for diminishing that kind of atmosphere."

Creech mentions Chuck E. Cheese's as one example. The pizza party chain, which is geared toward children, voluntarily stopped serving alcohol in Milwaukee after the city requested its beer and wine license be revoked because of repeated problems. Chuck E. Cheese's also took alcohol off its menu in Flint, Michigan, after a fight of more than 80 people.

"We also know that the best studies done of late reveal that underage drinking is the number-one drug problem among our nation's youth," the reverend notes. "And the more alcohol ads adolescents are exposed to, the more they drink."

A spokesman for Sonic tells USA Today that the chain has no plans to expand alcohol sales outside of South Florida and that the Miami location will only serve alcohol to customers eating on the patio. Further, the Fort Lauderdale location will only serve beer and wine inside. Even so, Creech says, "You still have the same opportunity for problems."

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South Sudan Officially It's Own Country After Years of Civil War With North

Messages of solidarity and felicitations from religious freedom organizations have poured in for the newly created nation of South Sudan that broke away – partly on religious lines – from its northern counterpart Saturday, even as the nation takes stock of its challenges.

he Institute on Religion and Public Policy congratulated the world’s youngest nation and assured its support.

In a statement issued Friday, the IRPP chairman Joseph K. Grieboski said that the institute “reaffirms its commitment to their peace, security, and development, and guarantees its ongoing partnership to build a free, open and transparent system in South Sudan."

Grieboski, the founder of Alexandria, Va.-based institute, has been involved in both Muslim-majority north and Christian and animist south Sudan.

Over 2 million have died in two long civil wars that pitted the north against the south, on issues ranging from more regional autonomy for the southern Sudan region to resistance to imposition of Shariah law there.

In 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the warring groups, which also stipulated a referendum. On January 9, 2011, nearly 99 percent southern Sudanese voted in favor of a new nation.

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Copper Thefts In U.S Costing Churches Millions In Losses

MANASSAS, Va., July 11, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- The theft of copper has hit epidemic proportions in this country and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates losses of over $1 billion a year.
Christian Security Network (, an organization with a mission to assist churches and ministries to become safer and better secured is warning churches that the number of incidents is increasing and gives advice on their website to reduce risks and ensure monetary losses are limited.
Criminals have stolen from churches items such as downspouts, gutters, bells, pieces of cemetery markers, and crosses - basically anything made of copper. Construction sites of churches have been hit with plumbing and wires being stolen. And air conditioning units are being taken at an alarming rate, in some areas dozens of thefts a week in almost every area of the country.
"Unfortunately a.c. units are the main targets and we have seen everything from small window models to large units weighing as much as five tons stolen from churches," stated Jeff Hawkins, executive director.
Hawkins continues, "This has hit epidemic proportions and churches are losing millions of dollars each week and having church services disrupted and sometimes even halted because of these thefts."
Why churches? Hawkins explains "Because of the reason churches are targets of every other crime: they are predictable, they have what every other business has (such as a.c. units), and because churches generally do not have security measures in place (surveys show over 75% of churches do not have security)."
"All churches are vulnerable and the price of copper has not even peaked, so these thefts will only increase. There are measures that churches need to do immediately to help curb this nationwide trend," said Hawkins.
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Drug Wars Kill 40 In Mexico In Just 24 Hours

MEXICO CITY — Battles between the vicious Zetas gang and other drug cartels killed more than 40 people in a 24-hour span, a government official said Saturday.

At least 20 people were killed when gunmen opened fire in a bar late Friday in the northern city of Monterrey, where the gang is fighting its former ally, the Gulf Cartel, said federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire.

Eleven bodies shot with high-powered rifles were found earlier Friday, piled near a water well on the outskirts of Mexico City, where the gang is fighting the Knights Templar, Poire said. That is an offshoot of the La Familia gang that has terrorized its home state of Michoacan.

He said another 10 people were found dead early Saturday in various parts of the northern city of Torreon, where the gang is fighting the Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"The violence is a product of this criminal rivalry ... surrounding the intent to control illegal activities in a community, and not the only the earnings that come with it, but also with transporting drugs to the United States," Poire said in a news conference.

He repeated the government insistence that the criminals, not the government's crackdown on organized crime, are causing the violence. More than 35,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon stepped up the attack on organized crime in 2006, according to official figures. Some groups put the number at more than 40,000.

"The violence won't stop if we stop battling criminals," Poire said. "The violence will diminish as we accelerate our capacity to debilitate the gangs that produce it."

Federal authorities apprehended La Familia's alleged leader in late June, claiming the arrest was a debilitating blow to the gang. Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas was alleged to be the last remaining head of the cartel, whose splinter group, the Knights Templar, continues to fight for control of areas La Familia once dominated.

Mexican authorities also arrested Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, a co-founder of the Zetas drug cartel who is suspected of involvement in the February killing of a U.S. customs agent.

Poire provided no more details on the killings in Torreon in the border state of Coahuila.

In Monterrey, 16 people died at the Sabino Gordo bar in the worst mass killing in memory in the northern industrial city, where violence has spiked since the Gulf and Zetas broke their alliance early last year. Four others died later at the hospital and five were injured, said Jorge Domene, security spokesman for the state of Nuevo Leon, where Monterrey is located.

Other downtown businesses closed earlier than usual after news of the massacre broke.

In Valle de Chalco, a working class suburb southeast of Mexico City, a man was found alive among the dumped bodies and was taken to a hospital, said Antonio Ortega, a spokesman for the Mexico State police.

He said some of the bodies were blindfolded and had their hands tied.

State officials said police found another body nearby a few hours later but could not confirm it was related to the mass attack.

Ortega said he didn't know if the victims were shot at the scene or were taken to site.

The capital region has been largely spared the widespread drug violence that grips parts of Mexico.

But some poorer areas of the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people have begun to see killings and decapitations committed by street gangs that are remnants of splintered drug cartels.

Christian VS Atheist In New Movie Thriller

Atheists Rally Behind New Movie Thriller:

HOUSTON - It’s Christian vs. Atheist in a new thriller released Friday.

Except the Christian is the bad guy. And atheists are saying this film could be their “Brokeback Mountain,” which broke down barriers for gays six years ago.

The atheist director of “The Ledge” is hoping to start a similar conversation on behalf of non-believers.

“Really, The Ledge is at the beginning of a movement toward more open discussion of atheism and agnosticism,” says Matthew Chapman, who also wrote the film.

In Chapman’s cliffhanger, Christianity is wielded as a weapon. And the hero may be Godless but he’s not gutless.

There’s a lot to like, for the organizer of Houston Atheists.

“I'm just excited that it's going to be showing an atheist in a positive light,” says Staise Gonzalez. “Films don't do that. Ever.”

But the film is taking flak from religious groups, including the Catholic League.

“People of faith, especially Catholics, are used to being trashed by Hollywood,” said Bill Donohue, the organization’s president. “But they are not accustomed to films that promote atheism."

Gonzalez says, she can relate to having her belief – or lack thereof – “being trashed by Hollywood.”

“Usually the atheist, or the person that's not the Christian, usually ends up being the villain,” she says.

For Chapman - a Brit - the real villain in American culture is the elevation of faith over reason.

His great-great-grandfather was none other than Charles Darwin, who sketched out the foundations of evolutionary biology back in 1859.

“I never really thought about being Darwin's great-great-grandson,” Chapman told FOX 26 News, “until I came to America and saw that creationism was still at war with evolution.”

In any case, it’s a war that won’t be decided on celluloid, points out Staise Gonzalez.

Presbyterians Officially Allow Gay Clergy

(RNS) Presbyterians who support gay rights are prepping sanctuaries this Sunday (July 10) to celebrate the passage of a new church policy that allows gay pastors to serve openly for the first time in the denomination's history.

As the new policy for the Presbyterian Church (USA) becomes official that day, several left-leaning churches "will mark the moment with prayer and rejoicing" in their Sunday services, according to a press release from More Light Presbyterians, which advocates for gay rights in the church.

"The Presbyterian Church enters a new era of equality on Sunday," said Michael Adee, the group's executive director. "It is a historic moment. It returns us to ordination standards that focus on faith and character rather than one's marital status or sexual orientation."

The new policy removes language from the denomination's constitution that had barred homosexuals from serving as church ministers, elders and deacons. It allows each presbytery - or regional governing body - to decide what sexual standards to place on ordination.

The resolution, which had failed in different forms in recent years, needed approval from both the PC(USA) General Assembly as well as from presbyteries; 97 of the denomination's 173 presbyteries voted to approve the new policy.

But despite Sunday's celebrations, gay ordination remains a contentious issue for many within the church.

"In passing (the policy), the denomination removed all sexual behavior standards from its constitution," said the Rev. Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus of the conservative publication The Layman, which actively opposed the change. "Scripture is very clear that there are standards relating to our sexual behavior ... but this denomination has decided it doesn't have any standards."

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Somali Pirates Charged By U.S In Yacht Murder Of Christian Missionaries

THREE Somali men have been charged with kidnapping, hostage-taking and murder in the deaths of four US citizens during the hijacking of a yacht off the coast of Oman.

The Justice Department said a superceding indictment adds to the charges already filed of piracy against a group of Somalis and one Yemeni in the February 22 attack on the S/V Quest.

The owners of the yacht, Jean and Scott Adam, were Christian missionaries based in California who were sailing around the world at the time of the hijacking.

They were shot to death, along with their companions Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay from Seattle, Washington, several days after being taken hostage and as negotiations were taking place with US Navy officials.

Named in the indictment were Ahmed Muse Salad, 25, Abukar Osman Beyle, 20, and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 29.

The indictment contends that they were part of a group armed with firearms and a rocket-propelled grenade which boarded the Quest on February 18 and took the four American citizens as hostages before killing them.

"Today's superceding indictment charges three men from Somalia with brutally murdering four American citizens held hostage for ransom," said US Attorney Neil MacBride.

"This past March, the grand jury returned an indictment against these defendants, and others, with piracy in the armed hijacking of a US-flagged yacht.

"The superseding indictment accuses these three men of summarily executing the hostages - without provocation - while the military was attempting to negotiate their release."

With the additional charges, the defendants now potentially face a death sentence if convicted.

To date, 11 of the 14 defendants charged in connection with the attack on the Quest have pleaded guilty to charges which call for mandatory life in prison.

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