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Michigan Vigil Prays for Missionaries Kidnapped in Haiti

More than 100 people gathered Sunday in a small Michigan town to pray for the safe release of a local family among 17 members of a missionary group kidnapped by a gang in Haiti more than a week ago.

The vigil in the western Michigan community of Hart took place after a video was released Thursday showing the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang threatening to kill those abducted if his demands are not met. Haitian officials have said the gang is seeking $1 million ransom per person.

Those at Sunday’s vigil in a town park sang and prayed with pastors from several area churches for the safety of the missionaries.

Among those kidnapped were four children and one of their parents from a family in Hart, a town near Lake Michigan about 200 miles (321.87 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, their pastor told The Detroit News. The youngest from the family is under 10, said minister Ron Marks, who did not identify them. They arrived in Haiti earlier this month, he said.

Linda Dodge of nearby Hesperia, Michigan, said Sunday that her church congregation was shocked by the kidnapping.

“The best thing we could hope for is that this family will shine so bright for Jesus among their captors, that they will terrify the captors out of doing anything to them at all,” Dodge said. “That that love will shine through so much, that they are just afraid to touch them in any way.”

A spokesman for Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries has said the families of those kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada.  

The FBI is helping Haitian authorities recover the 16 Americans and one Canadian. A Haitian human rights group said their Haitian driver also was kidnapped.

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Calls to Ban Guns on Movie Sets Grow After Baldwin Shooting

Calls were growing Sunday to ban the use of firearms in movie-making, as Hollywood struggled to come to terms with Alec Baldwin’s fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

A memorial service will be held Sunday for 42-year-old Hutchins, who was struck in the chest when Baldwin fired a prop gun during the filming of the low-budget Western “Rust.” She died shortly after the incident Thursday in New Mexico.

Director Joel Souza, 48, who was crouching behind her as they lined up a shot, was wounded and hospitalized, then released.

 

Police are still investigating the shooting, which sparked intense speculation on social media about how such an accident could have occurred despite detailed and long-established gun safety protocols for film sets.

A petition on the website change.org calling for a ban on live firearms on film sets and better working conditions for crews had gathered more than 18,000 signatures by Sunday afternoon.

“There is no excuse for something like this to happen in the 21st century,” says the text of the petition launched by Bandar Albuliwi, a screenwriter and director.

Dave Cortese, a Democrat elected to the California Senate, put out a statement on Saturday saying, “There is an urgent need to address alarming work abuses and safety violations occurring on the set of theatrical productions, including unnecessary high-risk conditions such as the use of live firearms.”

He said he intends to push a bill banning live ammunition on movie sets in California.

The hit Los Angeles police drama “The Rookie” decided the day after the shooting to ban all live ammunition from its set, effective immediately, according to industry publication The Hollywood Reporter.

But some industry professionals said the use of weapons on film was not the problem.

Movie armorer SL Huang, writing on Twitter, said she had worked on hundreds of film sets without incident, thanks to the stringent safety protocols and the built-in redundancies.

“A tragedy happening in this particular way defies everything I know about how we treat guns on film sets,” she wrote. “My colleagues and I have been trying to figure out how this could happen when following our basic safety procedures and we keep ending at a loss.

“Which implies… that very basic, very standard safety procedures may not have been followed. And that nobody shut the production down when they weren’t,” Huang wrote.

Baldwin, who has spoken of his heartbreak after the killing, is cooperating with the police investigation.

The probe has focused on the specialist in charge of the weapon and the assistant director who handed it to Baldwin, according to an affidavit seen by AFP.

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UK Plans $8 Billion Package to Boost Health Service Capacity

British finance minister Rishi Sunak’s budget this week will include an extra $8.1 billion of spending for the health service over the next few years to drive down waiting lists, the finance ministry said on Sunday.   

The sum comes on top of an $11 billion package announced in September to tackle backlogs built up over the COVID-19 pandemic, the finance ministry said.   

The spending is aimed at increasing what is termed elective activity in the National Health Service (NHS) — such as scans and non-emergency procedures — by 30% by the 2024/25 financial year. 

The increase comprises $3.2 billion for testing services, $2.9 billion to improve the technology behind the health service, and $2 billion to increase bed capacity.   

“This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future,” Sunak said in a statement. 

Sunak is expected to set fairly tight limits for most areas of day-to-day public spending in his budget on Wednesday, which will seek to lower public debt after a record surge in borrowing during the pandemic. 

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Russians now Must Travel to Warsaw for US Immigrant Visas

Russians hoping to apply for an immigrant visa to the United States are now required to travel to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, the State Department confirmed Sunday, while blaming restrictions imposed by Moscow.

That development came amid unresolved U.S.-Russian tensions, and tit-for-tat expulsions that earlier led Moscow to limit the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia.

Russia condemned the U.S. visa move and it prompted a heated rejoinder from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

American diplomats, she wrote on the Telegram platform, had long been “destroying” the consular services system in Russia, turning what should be a routine, technical procedure “into a real hell.”

The State Department, for its part, pinned the blame squarely back on Moscow.

“The Russian government’s decision to prohibit the United States from retaining, hiring or contracting Russian or third-country staff severely impacts our ability to provide consular services,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement received by AFP. “The extremely limited number of consular staff in Russia at this time does not allow us to provide routine visa or U.S. citizen services.”

It added: “We realize this is a significant change for visa applicants,” and it cautioned them not to travel to Warsaw before booking an appointment with the embassy there.

The statement recognized that the shift to Warsaw, which took effect this month, was not an “ideal solution.”

It added: “We considered a number of factors including proximity, availability of flights, convenience for applicants… the prevalence of Russian speakers among our locally engaged personnel, and the availability of staff.”

Warsaw is about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Moscow.

On the State Department website, Russia has been added to a short list of countries where “the United States has no consular representation or in which the political or

security situation is tenuous or uncertain enough” to prevent consular staff from processing immigrant visa applications.

Most countries on that list have poor or no direct relations with the U.S., including Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

Amid a continuing dispute over how many diplomats each side can post in the other’s country, Russia has placed the U.S. on a list of “unfriendly” countries requiring approval to employ Russian nationals.

Russian applicants for nonimmigrant visas can still apply at any overseas U.S. embassy or consulate so long as they are physically present in that country, the U.S. statement said.

Meantime, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow will be able to process only “diplomatic or official visas.”

Successive rounds of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions by the two countries have left embassies and consulates badly understaffed, playing havoc with normal services.

This was a central subject of talks two weeks ago during a Russia visit by Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, but little progress was announced.

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Зеркаль: вимоги для сертифікації «Північного потоку-2» – «дуже чутливе для Путіна» питання

«Якщо в Росії буде ринок, вже не буде можливості диктувати ціни з боку Російської Федерації», – каже радниця міністра

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Orthodox Patriarch Hospitalized at Start of 12-day US Visit

The spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians was hospitalized Sunday in Washington on the first full day of a planned 12-day U.S. visit and will stay overnight, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said.

The archdiocese said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was preparing to leave for a service at the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in the nation’s capital when he felt unwell “due to the long flight and full schedule of events upon arrival.”

“His doctor advised him to rest and out an abundance of caution” go to George Washington University Hospital “for observation,” according to the archdiocese. Later Sunday, it said the patriarch “is feeling well” and was expected to be released Monday.

Bartholomew, 81, has a broad agenda spanning religious, political and environmental issues. His schedule includes a meeting Monday with President Joe Biden and various ceremonial and interfaith gatherings.

The patriarch is considered first among equals in the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope.

Making the latest of several trips to the country during his 30 years in office, Bartholomew is expected to address concerns ranging from a pending restructuring of the American church to his church’s status in his homeland, Turkey.

Bartholomew is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame on Thursday in an event highlighting efforts to improve Orthodox-Catholic ties, centuries after the two churches broke decisively in 1054 amid disputes over theology and papal claims of supremacy.

Just as his influence is limited in Turkey, it is also limited in the Eastern Orthodox communion, rooted in eastern Europe and the Middle East with a worldwide diaspora.

Large portions of the communion are in national churches that are independently governed, with the ecumenical patriarch having only symbolic prominence, though he does directly oversee Greek Orthodox and some other jurisdictions.

The Russian Orthodox Church, with about 100 million adherents, has in particular asserted its independence and influence and rejected Bartholomew’s 2019 recognition of the independence of Orthodox churches in Ukraine, where Moscow’s patriarch still claims sovereignty.

In addition to his scheduled meetings with top U.S. officials, Bartholomew also plans to hold a ceremonial door-opening at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City, which was built to replace a parish church destroyed during the 9/11 attacks, and to memorialize those killed at the nearby World Trade Center. 

A 2017 Pew Research Center report found that there were about 200 million Eastern Orthodox worldwide. It reported about 1.8 million Orthodox in the United States, with nearly half of those Greek Orthodox.

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Чоловік ув’язненої в Ірані волонтерки вдруге оголосив голодування з вимогою її звільнити

Коли п’ятирічний термін ув’язнення Назанін Загарі-Реткліфф добігав кінця, іранська влада засудила її до ще одного року тюрми