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Kerry in Asia for Obama: Shutdown a ‘Momentary Episode’.

The shutdown of the U.S. government, which entered its fifth day on Saturday, is a “momentary episode” and does not change the U.S. commitment to Asia or elsewhere, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Kerry is acting as stand-in for President Barack Obama who canceled a tour of Asia, including a visit to the Indonesian resort island of Bali for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders, because of the stalemate in Washington.

“Do not mistake this momentary episode in American politics as anything more than a moment of politics. This is an example of the robustness of our democracy,” Kerry said. But he added that if the shutdown were prolonged or repeated, people would question the U.S. ability to “stay the course.”

In his meetings with foreign leaders in Bali, Kerry said he encountered an understanding of the problems in Washington.

“In the end nothing will change with respect to the issues that bring us here, nothing will diminish our commitment to Asia, we will continue to fulfill our responsibilities and our engagement around the world and I think people are confident of that,” he said.

“Everybody in the region understands … everyone sees this as a moment in politics, an unfortunate moment, but they see it for what it is,” said Kerry, a former U.S. senator and U.S. presidential candidate.

The political standoff over the U.S. budget has shut down non-essential government services and appeared likely to drag on for another week or longer. Another crisis looms in two weeks when lawmakers must decide whether to increase the U.S. government’s $16.7 trillion debt borrowing limit.

While Kerry dismissed any long-term impact from the shutdown, he said it would however delay payments for security assistance to Israel and funding support for a U.S.-led peacekeeping mission in the Sinai peninsula, which divides Egypt and Israel.

He said the U.S. Treasury department that oversees sanctions against Iran had been forced to furlough nearly all of its staff during the shutdown. This, he said, was coming at a time when the United States was trying to reengage with Tehran to find a solution to a longstanding dispute over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“I think it’s clear we cannot lose this opportunity to moments of politics, that deprive us of the opportunity to embrace larger and more important goals,” Kerry said of potential talks with Iran.

Obama had planned to leave on Saturday for a four-nation, week-long trip. He canceled visits to Malaysia and the Philippines earlier this week because of his budget struggle in the U.S. Congress and said late on Thursday he would not attend the regional summits in Indonesia and Brunei.

Kerry dismissed suggestions that the United States’ interests in the region were weakened by Obama’s absence at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

He said, however, that Obama’s absence undermined the president’s ability to have one-on-one conversations about global affairs with leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Two of Obama’s main aims would have been to discuss the Syria crisis with Putin and to hold talks on a maritime code of conduct for disputed territories in the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea.




© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Shutdown Deadlock Upends Obama’s Trip to Asia.

President Barack Obama canceled a key trip to Asia scheduled to begin this weekend due to the lingering government shutdown, the White House confirmed late Thursday.

A White House statement said Obama scrapped travel plans for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference on the Indonesian island of Bali, and then to Brunei for the Southeast Asian Nations summit, according to The Associated Press.

“Due to the government shutdown, President Obama’s travel to Indonesia and Brunei has been canceled,” the statement said.

“The president made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown, and his determination to continue pressing his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. delegation to both Bali and to Brunei in place of Obama, the statement said, AFP reported.

The purpose of the trip is to further U.S. interests in the rapidly developing region of Asia, White House officials said.

The president had originally scheduled a weeklong trip to four nations. He canceled part of the trip — to Malaysia and the Philippines — earlier this week,  administration officials said.

By Newsmax Wires

10 things you need to know today: January 22, 2013.

Prince Harry gives a TV interview at the British controlled flight-line in Camp Bastion last November in Afghanistan.
Prince Harry gives a TV interview at the British controlled flight-line in Camp Bastion last November in Afghanistan.

On Monday, President Obama used his inaugural speech to articulate a decidedly liberal vision for his second term. Drawing inspiration from the most important events in American history — from the Revolutionary War to the civil rights movement — Obama proclaimed that the Founding Fathers’ dream of equality and liberty would not be fulfilled until the country reduced income inequality, ensured equal rights for gays and women, protected the most vulnerable citizens from the inequities of laissez-faire capitalism, and found a better way to welcome “striving, hopeful immigrants.” [The Week]

Three U.S. citizens — Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan, and Frederick Buttaccio — were killed in last week’s hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in Algeria, while seven Americans made it out safely, the State Department said Monday. “The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. The desert siege began last Wednesday when Mali-based, al-Qaeda-linked militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repelled, and then seized the gas refinery. Algeria says 38 hostages of all nationalities and 29 militants died in the standoff. Five foreign workers remain unaccounted for. [CBS News]

Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday in an election that will almost certainly assure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another term. Polls in recent weeks have predicted a victory for Netanyahu’s ticket, a combination of his conservative Likud Party and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu. The polls have also shown the joint ticket declining in strength, from the 42 seats it holds in the current parliament to perhaps 32 or 35, and losing support to the Jewish Home, a party further to the right. [New York Times]

An Indonesian court sentenced British woman Lindsay June Sandiford, 56, a grandmother, to death for smuggling cocaine worth $2.5 million in her suitcase onto the resort island of Bali. Prosecutors had only sought a 15-year sentence. Sandiford — who had claimed in court that she was forced to take the drugs into the country by a gang that was threatening to hurt her children — wept as the sentence was read and declined to speak to reporters. Sandiford’s lawyer said she would appeal, a process that can take several years. Condemned criminals face a firing squad in Indonesia, which has not carried out an execution since 2008, when 10 people were put to death. [Associated Press]

Speaking for the first time about his nude romp in a Las Vegas hotel room last year, Prince Harry said he had “probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down.” Still, he said, “I was in a private area and there should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect.” Photographs of Harry in that hotel room went viral just weeks before he was set to begin his tour of duty in Afghanistan. The 28-year-old noted that his lack of judgment in the situation was “probably a classic example of me… being too much army and not enough prince.” [CNN]

Groupon, the largest daily deals site in the U.S., has suspended gun-related offers in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead. “The category is under review following recent consumer and merchant feedback,” Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based Groupon said. The suspension includes deals for shooting ranges and clay shooting. [Bloomberg]

The Philippines says it will challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea at a U.N. tribunal. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that the country had exhausted “almost all political and diplomatic avenues” to resolve the dispute with China. China claims a U-shaped swath of the South China Sea, claims which overlap those of several South East Asian nations. In a statement, China maintained its sovereignty over the disputed waters. [BBC]

A new study of health records by the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group suggests that rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have jumped by 24 percent since 2001. “That is a very significant increase,” says Darios Getahun, a research scientist with group. The apparent rise in diagnoses is likely caused by growing awareness of the condition among parents and doctors, he and other specialists say. The study looked at health records of more than 840,000 children, ages 5 to 11, who were diagnosed by an expert. It found that 2.5 percent of children were diagnosed with ADHD at the start of the study in 2001, vs. 3.1 percent in 2010. [USA Today]

New research indicates that Google search fell 3 percent in 2012, and growth in the Android mobile operating system is slowing. Meanwhile Microsoft’s Windows Phone is experiencing strong European growth, particularly in Britain and Italy, with shares hitting 5.9 percent and 13.9 percent respectively — up from 2.2 percent and 2.8 percent a year ago. Microsoft Bing search rose by 0.19 percent to 4.99 percent. [Telegraph]

Los Angeles police responded to a call alleging a domestic violence dispute at the home of singer Chris Brown, but the alert turned out to be false. (Brown was arrested in 2009 for attacking then-girlfriend Rihanna.) The call about Brown’s home is the latest so-called “swatting” prank that’s intended to get multiple officers, including specialized SWAT teams, sent to the home of a celebrity.  Last week, Beverly Hills police responded to a fake armed robbery call at Tom Cruise’s house. [Associated Press]


By Frances R. Catanio

Sympathy over US school shooting stretches globe.


LONDON (AP) — As the world joined Americans in mourning the school massacre in Connecticut, many urged U.S. politicians to honor the 28 victims, especially the children, by pushing for stronger gun control laws.

Twitter users and media personalities in the U.K. immediately invoked Dunblane — a 1996 shooting in that small Scottish town which killed 16 children. That tragedy prompted a campaign that ultimately led to tighter gun controls effectively making it illegal to buy or possess a handgun in the U.K.

“This is America’s Dunblane,” British CNN host Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter. “We banned handguns in Britain after that appalling tragedy. What will the U.S. do? Inaction not an option.”

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called Friday’s attack atSandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a “senseless and incomprehensible act of evil.”

“Like President Obama and his fellow Americans, our hearts too are broken,” Gillard said in a statement, referring to the U.S. leader’s emotional expression of condolence.

Australia confronted a similar tragedy in 1996, when a man went on a shooting spree in the southern state of Tasmania, killing 35 people. The mass killing sparked outrage across the country and led the government to impose strict new gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles.

Rupert Murdoch recalled that incident in a Twitter message calling the shootings “terrible news” and asking “when will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy.”

The mass shooting in Connecticut left 28 people dead, including 20 children. The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed his mother at their home Friday before beginning his deadly rampage inside the school in Newtown, then committed suicide, police said.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Union’s executive Commission, said: “Young lives full of hope have been destroyed. On behalf of the European Commission and on my own behalf, I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the “horrific shooting.”

“My thoughts are with the injured and those who have lost loved ones,” he said. “It is heartbreaking to think of those who have had their children robbed from them at such a young age, when they had so much life ahead of them.”

Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to President Barack Obama, saying she was shocked to learn of the “dreadful loss of life” and that the thoughts and prayers of all in the U.K. are with those affected by the events.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI conveyed “his heartfelt grief and the assurance of his closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all those affected by the shocking event” in a condolence message to the monsignor of the diocese in Connecticut that includes Newtown.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her “deepest sympathy” is reserved for relatives of the victims.

“Once again we stand aghast at a deed that cannot be comprehended,” she said in a statement. “The thought of the murdered pupils and teachers makes my heart heavy.”

But amid the messages of condolences, much of the discussion after the Connecticut rampage centered on gun control — a baffling subject for many in Asia and Europe, where mass shootings also have occurred but where access to guns is much more heavily restricted.

In messages to Obama, French President Francois Hollande said he was “horrified” by the shooting while Prince Albert II in the tiny principality of Monaco expressed sadness over the “unspeakable tragedy.”

Russian leader Vladimir Putin called the events “particularly tragic” given that the majority of the victims were children. “Vladimir Putin asked Barack Obama to convey words of support and sympathy to the families and friends of the victims and expressed his empathy with the American people,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Father Giuseppe Piemontese — an Assisi-based official of the Franciscan order, founded to further the cause of peace — lamented that there are “so many, too many” tragic shootings that “raise the question about the ease with which you can legally procure arms in the United States, to then use them in a murderous way.”

The attack quickly dominated public discussion in China, rocketing to the top of topic lists on social media and becoming the top story on state television’s main noon newscast.

China has seen several rampage attacks at schools in recent years, though the attackers there usually use knives and not guns. The most recent attack happened Friday, when a knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China.

With more than 100,000 Chinese studying in U.S. schools, a sense of shared grief came through.

“Parents with children studying in the U.S. must be tense. School shootings happen often in the U.S. Can’t politicians put away politics and prohibit gun sales?” Zhang Xin, a wealthy property developer, wrote on her feed on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service, where she has 4.9 million followers.

Some in South Korea, whose government does not allow people to possess guns privately, also blamed a lack of gun control in the United States for the high number of deaths in Connecticut.

Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s top daily, speculated in an online report that it appears “inevitable” that the shooting will prompt the U.S. government to consider tighter gun control.

In Thailand, which has one of Asia’s highest rates of murder by firearms and has seen schools attacked by Islamist insurgents in its southern provinces, a columnist for the English-language daily newspaper The Nation blamed American culture for fostering a climate of violence.

“Repeated incidents of gunmen killing innocent people have shocked the Americans or us, but also made most people ignore it quickly,” Thanong Khanthong wrote on Twitter. “Intentionally or not, Hollywood and video games have prepared people’s mind to see killings and violence as normal and acceptable,” he wrote.

Condolences poured in also from Baghdad.

“We feel sorry for the victims and their families,” said Hassan Sabah, 30, owner of stationary shop in eastern Baghdad. “This tragic incident shows there is no violence-free society in the world, even in Western and non-Muslim countries.”

Samir Abdul-Karim, a 40-year-old government employee from eastern Baghdad said the attack “shows clearly that U.S. society is not perfect and the Americans do have people with criminal minds and who are ready to kill for the silliest reasons.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his condolences to the American nation at the start of his remarks in Kabul on Saturday about Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

“Such incidents should not happen anywhere in the world,” Karzai said, adding that Afghanistan frequently witnesses such tragedies and can sympathize with those affected.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed those sentiments in a letter to Obama expressing his horror at the “savage massacre,” saying that his country knows the “shock and agony” such cruel acts can bring.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda sent a condolence message to Obama for the families of the victims.

“The sympathy of the Japanese people is with the American people,” he said. In Japan, guns are severely restricted and there are extremely few gun-related crimes.

In the Philippines, a society often afflicted by gun violence, President Benigno Aquino III said he and the Filipino people stand beside the United States “with bowed heads, yet in deep admiration over the manner in which the American people have reached out to comfort the afflicted, and to search for answers that will give meaning and hope to this grim event.”

Close to 50 people gathered Saturday on Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana beach to mourn the victims as part of a demonstration organized by an anti-violence group called Rio de Paz, or Rio of Peace.

Twenty-six black crosses were planted on the white sands of the beach — one for each victim at the school. Messages of solidarity written in English hung from some the crosses.

One of them read: “In Brazil we understand the pain of senseless violence. We grieve the pain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.”


Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok, Tais Vilela in Rio de Janeiro, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Malcolm Foster and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Charles Hutzler in Beijing, Sam Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Oliver Teves in Manila, Philippines, Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad, Don Melvin in Brussels, Jim Heintz in Moscow, Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Deb Riechmann in Kabul and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD | Associated Press

Jesus Bucking the Hindu Trend in Bali.

Bali for Jesus
Bali is an island country dominated by Hinduism, but some are slowly discovering Christ‘s love. (Murdani Usman/Reuters)

The nation of Indonesia consists of almost as many islands as there are languages and cultures. The island of Bali is one of these distinct societies, lying in the southern portion of this large and diverse country.

Known to many as the “Island of Hinduism,” Christianity has a distinctly small following in Bali. But despite comprising only 2 percent of the population, God is still working miracles through his Balinese Christians and University of the Nations base located on the island. Three recent testimonies gathered by University of the Nations staff make this evident.

Jesus Heals
While sitting and chatting with a group of Balinese men in a hut, a Balinese man turned to a University of the Nations staff member and began to speak in English in hushed tones. He said to the staff member, “I am healed. I believe in Jesus.” The staff member was startled and not sure how to respond, and so asked the Balinese man to explain more.

The man told how earlier in his life he had suffered from a sickness that he kept to himself. Then one late night while watching television he came upon a Christian program. The people on the program were inviting others to believe in Jesus while praying for the sick to be healed in His name. They were also inviting the viewers to believe in Jesus and pray for themselves. The Balinese man felt compelled by their invitation, and told the staff member that “I believed and I prayed for myself and Jesus healed me!” He looked at the staff member with a grin on his face and said it again, “I believe in Jesus!”

Leaning on Jesus
One late night, as a University of the Nations staff member was on the street, a Balinese woman whom he did not recognize came close and called him by name. She said to him “I believe in Jesus!” Confused, and a little shocked, he asked her to explain more.

Some time before, this woman’s husband had betrayed her. He left her and her 8-year-old son on their own, and the woman struggled with the pain and anger left in her husband’s place. Soon someone gave her an Indonesian Bible. She opened it, and from 2 Corinthians Chapter 11 the words “Jesus Christ is your husband” immediately stood out.

She wept, and told the staff member, “Jesus is my husband. I believe in Him.” She found comfort in Christ, even in her loneliness, shame and anger. Knowing then that Christ would always be with her, she told the staff member “Jesus is my husband. I believe in Him.” Even after her family ostracized her, she is still today finding comfort in the local church her son and her now attend with their fellow Balinese Christians.

Radical Salvation
Like many prisons throughout the world, Bali’s infamous Kerobokan prison is an area of special ministry for YWAM and the University of the Nations. Recently, a known Balinese gangster and drug dealer in Kerobokan was converted and became a Christian.

He went throughout the whole prison seeking and extending forgiveness. This radical change of heart shook the other inmates, and as he became a giving and caring person the inmates around him were deeply impacted. The reformed gangster soon died of an unknown sickness.

One inmate in particular was stunned and confused at these recent events. He realized how little we all understand the purposes of God. In a state of confusion and desperation he cried out to God, seeking truth and understanding in Heaven where Earth and his efforts had failed him. That night, Jesus appeared to him in a vision. This inmate is now a Christian and has changed just as radically as the former gangster did before him.

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Bali bombmaker pleads for leniency.

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Umar Patek, accused of playing a key role in the Bali bombings, insisted Thursday the attacks that killed 202 people were “against my conscience” and begged for a light sentence.

In emotionally-charged testimony, Patek, 45, maintained he played only a minor role in the 2002 bombings and had shown remorse by apologising to the victims’ families.

Prosecutors have recommended a life sentence for Patek, claiming he was a main bombmaker in attacks on two nightclubs on the Indonesian resort island which killed many tourists.

“I only helped to mix less than 50 kilograms of chemicals,” Patek said, reading from a lengthy statement with Koranic verses in Arabic. He added that others mixed a remaining 950 kilograms (210 pounds) for the explosives.

“I did it half-heartedly, only because the person who was mixing looked tired and tense. It’s not my soul’s calling and it’s against my conscience.”

“I will turn 46 in 50 days, which is considered old, and a long term behind bars will be too severe. I am yet to have children,” he told the West Jakarta District Court.

“I hope the judges will consider my plea and give the lightest possible verdict that is true and fair.”

He also urged the panel of five judges not to be influenced by “stigma surrounding my identity, theories, opinions and speculation in the mass media in making a final decision”.

He criticised prosecutors for not considering the points raised by witnesses in drafting the recommendation.

“All the facts uncovered in the trial specifically from witnesses and my statements were thrown aside,” Patek said, raising his voice.

“Their recommendation was simply made by copying and pasting from the indictment.”

Patek, part of the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, was arrested last year in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, four months before US commandos killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden there.

Indonesian prosecutors stopped short of recommending the maximum death penalty last week, arguing that Patek’s remorse should spare him from the firing squad. Three of the Bali bombers have already been executed.

At the trial which started in February, Patek has repeatedly denied any major involvement. He claimed he had a change of heart and tried to stop the attacks at the last minute.

The court is expected to announce its verdict in June.

Patek was once the most-wanted terror suspect in Indonesia and spent nearly a decade on the run with the US offering a $1 million bounty for him under its rewards for justice programme.



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