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Venezuela Parliamentary election: Nicolas Maduro wins total control of legislature

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The opposition boycotted the election and said the vote represents a “fraud.” The poll, which was slammed by international observers, was marked by a low voter turnout of just 31%.

President Nicolas Maduro won total control over the country’s legislature, the National Assembly (AN), and fully consolidated his regime’s grip on power in the country following Sunday’s parliamentary election.

Maduro’s party claimed almost 68% of the vote, in an election which was mostly boycotted by the opposition. The National Assembly was the last institution in the country not yet headed by Maduro. The opposition, parts of which participated in the election despite the opposition’s call for a boycott, received 18% of the vote.

Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and allied parties captured 67 seats in the National Assembly, said Indira Alfonzo, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council.

International observers like the EU and the Organization of American States (OAS) refused to send observers to Sunday’s election and said the conditions for a democratic process in Venezuela do not currently exist.

The EU on Monday said the election had “failed to comply with minimal international standards.”

“This lack of respect for political pluralism and the disqualification and prosecution of opposition leaders do not allow the EU to recognize this electoral process as credible, inclusive or transparent, and its results as representative of the will of the Venezuelan people,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

The country’s opposition, led by the current AN president and Maduro foe Juan Guaido, said the vote represents “a fraud.”

“The truth cannot be hidden,” Guaido said in a videotaped message, noting the low voter turnout of just 31%. “The majority of Venezuela turned its back on the fraud that began months ago.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the legislative elections, calling the process a “sham” designed by Maduro.

“What’s happening today is a fraud and a sham, not an election,” Pompeo said on Twitter.

The White House National Security Council also called Sunday’s vote fraudulent. “This election only serves to keep Maduro in power and does nothing to build a better future for the people of Venezuela,” the council tweeted.

Despite US President Donald Trump’s campaign of strict sanctions and high diplomatic pressure, Maduro has remained in power, backed by the country’s military and supported by Russia, Cuba, China and Iran.

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750 killed at Ethiopian Orthodox church said to contain Ark of the Covenant: report

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Around 750 people were killed in an attack on an Orthodox church, which is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, in northern Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region — home to thousands of churches and monasteries — according to reports.

Hundreds of people hiding in Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum amid an armed conflict were brought out and shot to death, and local residents believe the aim was to take the Ark of Covenant to Addis Ababa, the Belgium-based nonprofit European External Programme with Africa reported in this month’s situational report, released on Jan. 9.

“The number of people killed is reported as 750,” it said. The church, the most ancient and sacred of Ethiopian Christianity and also known as the Church of St. Mary of Zion, belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

“I’ve not heard more than rumours about the looting of the Arc from Maryam Tsion, but if it’s true that up to 750 died defending it, it is conceivable that the attackers didn’t stop there,” said Michael Gervers, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, according to The Telegraph.

“The government and the Eritreans want to wipe out the Tigrayan culture. They think they’re better than rest of the people in the country. The looting is about destroying and removing the cultural presence of Tigray,” Gervers explained.

Former BBC World Service Africa editor and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Martin Plaut, said that those who escaped the Aksum massacre had reported that the attack began after Ethiopian federal troops and Amhara militia approached the church, the U.K.’s Church Times reported.

“People were worried about the safety of the Ark, and when they heard troops were approaching feared they had come to steal it. All those inside the cathedral were forced out into the square,” Plaut was quoted as saying.

About 1,000 people were believed to be in the church complex at the time of the attack. The EEPA said the massacre was carried out by Ethiopian federal troops and allied Amhara militia that are fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The church and and the Ark have likely not been damaged, Plaut added.

The fighting began in Tigray since Nov. 4 when the region’s ruling political party Tigray People’s Liberation Front captured the Northern Command army base in the regional capital Mekelle as part of an uprising, after which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive. Abiy claimed on Nov. 28 that the Ethiopian National Defense Force had regained “full command” of Mekelle.
Sources:Christian Post

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Charges dropped against deacon arrested for singing hymns outdoors

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A court has dismissed all charges against a church deacon who was one of the three arrested last September for singing while not wearing a mask at a “psalm sing” outdoor worship service held in Moscow City, Idaho.

The Idaho District Court dropped charges against Gabriel Rench in the case State of Idaho v. Gabriel Rench. The deacon was arrested at an event hosted by Christ Church and held outside City Hall in response to the extension of a COVID-19-prompted mask mandate imposed by Moscow’s mayor at the time, the law firm Thomas More Society, which represented the church, said.

“We had done the Psalm sing in the past under the same [mask] resolution and we weren’t arrested, we weren’t warned … we were just taking our constitutional liberties to do what we’re allowed to do under the Constitution — worship,” Rench said, referring to the event that was attended by about 200 people.

The city of Moscow, “appears to have been so anxious to make an example of Christ Church’s opposition to their desired COVID restrictions that they failed to follow the mandatory exemptions articulated in their own laws,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Michael Jacques noted.

“The Moscow City Code allows the Mayor to issue public health emergency orders, but exempts ‘[a]ny and all expressive and associative activity that is protected by the United States and Idaho Constitutions, including speech, press, assembly, and/or religious activity,’” Jacques explained. “Mr. Rench and the other worshipers who were arrested had their constitutionally protected liberties violated and their lives disrupted — not only by the inappropriate actions of law enforcement officers, but also by city officials who did not immediately act to correct this unlawful arrest.”

After Rench and others were arrested in September, the church wrote on its Facebook page: “Yesterday Christ Church sponsored a flash psalm sing at city hall. We were going to appear there at quarter to [5 p.m.], sing three psalms or hymns, then the doxology, and then out. The songs were Psalm 20, Psalm 124, and ‘Amazing Grace.’ When we arrived, the police were waiting for us. One of them informed me that people either had to social distance or wear a mask or otherwise face a citation.”

Douglas Wilson, who wrote the post, added: “I told him that I would inform everyone of that, which I did. I said a brief prayer, and we began to sing. Over the following 15 minutes of singing, three of our people were arrested, and two others were cited.”
Sources:Christian Post

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