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2023: Pope Says Homosexuality Not A Crime

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VATICAN CITY, Italy — Pope Francis called homosexuality laws “unjust,” saying God loves all his children exactly as they are and urging Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome L.G.B.T.Q. People into the church.

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” Francis said in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

Francis acknowledged that some Catholic bishops worldwide support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against L.G.B.T.Q. people and he referred to the issue as “sin.” But he said that these ways of thinking were rooted in culture and that bishops in particular needed to change in order to see the worth in everyone.

“These bishops must go through a conversion process,” he said, adding that they must show “tenderness, please, as God has for each of us.”

Francis’ remarks, which gay rights activists hailed as a watershed moment, were the first made by a pope about such laws. They are, however, consistent with his overall approach to L.G.B.T.Q. He believes that the Catholic Church should welcome all people without discrimination.

The Human Dignity Trust, an organization that works to get rid of these kinds of laws, says that 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Eleven of these countries or jurisdictions can or do give the death penalty. According to experts, even when laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma, and violence against L.G.B.T.Q. People.

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Antiquated Laws To Justify Harassment

Despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional, more than a dozen states still have them on the books. Gay rights activists say the antiquated laws are being used to justify harassment, and they point to new legislation, such as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of ongoing efforts to marginalize L.G.B.T.Q. People.

Homosexuality is not a crime, according to Pope Francis.

The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws that criminalize homosexuality outright, claiming that they violate the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a violation of countries’ international legal obligations to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Francis called such laws “unjust” and said the Catholic Church could and should work to end them. “It has to do this. “It has to do this,” he stated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that gay people should be welcomed and treated with respect. They should not be pushed to the side or treated badly.

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“God Loves All” Pope Says

“We are all God’s children, and God loves us for who we are and for the strength with which each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis told the Associated Press in the Vatican hotel where he is staying.

Francis’ remarks come ahead of a trip to Africa, where such laws, like those in the Middle East, are common. Many are from the British colonial era or are influenced by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops strongly supported them as being consistent with Vatican teaching, while others called for their repeal as a violation of basic human dignity.

In 2019, Francis was expected to say something against making homosexuality a crime during a meeting with human rights groups that studied the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”

In the end, the pope did not meet with the groups after word of the audience leaked. Instead, Vatican No. 2 reaffirmed “the dignity of every human being and the prohibition of all forms of violence.”

There was no indication that Francis was now speaking out against such laws because his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, died recently. The subject had never been raised in an interview before, but Francis eagerly responded, citing statistics about the number of countries where homosexuality is illegal.

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A Difference Between Crime And Sin

Pope Francis said on Tuesday that there should be a difference between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality. According to church teaching, homosexual acts are sinful or “intrinsically disordered,” but gay people must be treated with dignity and respect.

While joking with himself, Francis stated, “It’s not a crime. True, but it is a sin. Okay, but first, let’s define the difference between a sin and a crime.”

“It’s also a sin not to be charitable to one another,” he added.

Francis has not changed the church’s teaching on homosexuality, which has long enraged gay Catholics. However, he has made reaching out to L.G.B.T.Q. People a hallmark of his pontificate.

Although the pope’s remarks did not specifically address transgender or nonbinary people, only homosexuality, advocates for greater L.G.B.T.Q and inclusion in the Catholic Church hailed the pope’s remarks as a watershed moment.

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A Message To World Leaders

“His historic statement should send a message to world leaders and millions of Catholics worldwide: L.G.B.T.Q. People deserve to live in a world free of violence and condemnation, with more kindness and understanding,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and C.E.O. of the G.L.A.A.D. advocacy group in the United States.

According to New Ways Ministry, a Catholic L.G.B.T.Q. Advocacy groups and the church hierarchy’s silence on such laws have had disastrous consequences, perpetuating such policies and fueling violent rhetoric against L.G.B.T.Q. People.

“The pope is reminding the church that how people treat one another in the social world is far more morally important than what people may do in the privacy of a bedroom,” said the group’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, in a statement.

One of the cardinals recently appointed by the Pope, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, is among those Catholics who want the church to go even further and fully welcome L.G.B.T.Q. People, even if they are sexually active.

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No Room For Hatred

“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities,” McElroy wrote in the Jesuit publication America on Tuesday. “In the face of bigotry, the church’s primary witness must be one of embrace rather than distance or condemnation.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly and publicly ministered to the gay and transgender communities, beginning with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a purportedly gay priest. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated for legal protections for same-sex couples rather than approving gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.

Despite such outreach, the Catholic gay community chastised Francis for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrine office that stated the church could not bless same-sex unions.

In 2008, the Vatican refused to sign a United Nations declaration calling for decriminalizing homosexuality, claiming that the text went beyond its original scope. The Vatican urged countries at the time to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and to abolish penalties against them.

SOURCE – (AP)

 

 

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Ukraine War: Zelensky Says 31,000 Troops Killed Since Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion

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Volodymyr Zelensky claims 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers were killed during Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The Ukrainian president stated that he would not disclose the number of wounded because it would facilitate Russian military plans.

Typically, the Ukrainian government do not release casualty counts, and other estimates are significantly higher.

The defence minister said half of all Western aid to Ukraine had been delayed, costing lives and land.

Mr Zelensky said on Sunday that he would provide an updated death toll in reaction to Russia’s inflated estimates.

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Ukraine War: Zelensky Says 31,000 Troops Killed Since Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion

“31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have killed in this conflict. Not 300,000, 150,000, or whatever Putin and his dishonest circle claim. But each of these losses is a significant loss to us.”

Speaking about the war’s overall losses, Mr Zelensky stated that tens of thousands of civilians had been killed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, but the exact figure was unknown.

“I don’t know how many of them died, how many were killed, how many were murdered, tortured, how many were deported.”

Ukraine rarely reports a military death toll, and other estimates suggest a far higher figure.

In August, US officials estimated that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, with up to 120,000 injured.

In terms of Russian losses, Mr Zelensky stated that 180,000 Russian soldiers were killed and tens of thousands more injured.

BBC Russian, in collaboration with the Mediazona website, has identified the names of more than 45,000 Russian servicemen who have perished. However, it thinks that the total number is larger than that.

In February, the UK military ministry claimed that 350,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured.
President Zelensky’s speech came after his defence minister, Rustam Umerov, chastised the country’s

Western partners for delays in military assistance.

“At the moment, commitment does not constitute delivery,” he added.

Ukraine is currently facing several setbacks in its efforts to expel Russia from its land.

Mr. Umerov stated that the lack of supplies put Ukraine at a greater disadvantage “in the mathematics of war”.

“We do everything possible and impossible but without timely supply it harms us,” he told reporters.
Germany warned in November that the European Union’s (EU) promise to provide a million artillery shells by March would not be met.

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Ukraine War: Zelensky Says 31,000 Troops Killed Since Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion

In January, the EU stated that little over half of these would reach Ukraine by the deadline, but the promised total would arrive at the end of 2024.

President Zelensky stated that a lack of armaments was one of the reasons Ukraine’s much-anticipated counter-offensive last year began later.

That counter-offensive was mostly unsuccessful, one of several failures for Kyiv following early victories in repelling Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Last week, it was revealed that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from the strategic eastern town of Avdiivka, Moscow’s largest victory in months.

Mr Zelensky further blamed the situation on dwindling Western military shipments.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has claimed that the hold-up in Congress over a $60 billion aid plan for Ukraine led to the town’s fall.

Western leaders travelled to Kyiv on Saturday to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine as it marked two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

There was an announcement that Italy and Canada had inked security agreements with Ukraine, increasing support until the country could join NATO.

Canada’s agreement comprised more than three billion Canadian dollars (£1.7 billion) in financial and military assistance.

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Ukraine War: Zelensky Says 31,000 Troops Killed Since Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion

It is not only Ukraine that is having difficulty funding its military activities. Western diplomats say Russia is also straining to send ammo and weaponry.

“Russia’s domestic ammunition production capabilities are currently insufficient for meeting the needs of the Ukraine conflict,” according to a Western diplomat.

They also stated that Moscow has only been able to augment its supply by exploring alternative sources of ammunition and weaponry, which provides a short-term answer.

Meanwhile, the director of Ukraine’s security service stated on Sunday that 47 Russian spy networks operating within Ukraine were discovered last year.

Vasyl Malik further stated that around 2,000 suspected “traitors” have been arrested since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

SOURCE – (BBC)

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RUSSIA: The Kremlin Has Never Been Richer – Thanks To A US Strategic Partner

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Russia is entering its third year of war in Ukraine with an unprecedented amount of cash in government coffers, bolstered by a record $37 billion in crude oil sales to India last year, according to a new analysis, which concludes that some of the crude was refined in India and then exported to the United States as oil products worth more than $1 billion.

This cash flow, which ultimately benefits Moscow, stems from India raising its purchases of Russian crude by more than 13 times its pre-war levels, according to a study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) shared exclusively with CNN. According to the study, it amounts to US strategic partner New Delhi stepping in to replace crude purchases by Western purchasers, which have been decreased due to sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the fact that Russian crude sales to India are not subject to sanctions and are entirely legal, experts’ examination of shipping lanes indicates that this significant amount of shipments may involve the Kremlin’s so-called “shadow fleet” of crude tankers, which Moscow specifically created to try to conceal who it is trading with and how while also maximizing the Kremlin’s profits.

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RUSSIA: The Kremlin Has Never Been Richer – Thanks To A US Strategic Partner

CNN spotted a possible component of that intricate exchange off the Greek port of Gythio earlier this month. Two oil tankers, one large and the other smaller, sat next to each other for a ship-to-ship transfer, which entails transporting crude oil between vessels, often to conceal its origin and ultimate destination.

The two tankers have a colourful history. Both had departed from Russia weeks before. According to shipping tracking agency Pole Star Global, one is owned by an Indian corporation accused of sanctions violations, while the other was previously controlled by a person subject to separate US penalties.

“Transfers are (sometimes) done legally, but they’re also used as an illicit tactic to evade sanctions,” said Pole Star Global’s David Tannenbaum. “You’re adding multiple layers to the shell game of vessels as they try and confuse authorities as to where this oil is coming from and who’s buying it at the end of the day.”

Analysts claim dozens of identical transfers occur each week in Greece’s Laconian Gulf, a convenient stop on the way to the Suez Canal and Asian markets.

Earlier in February, the US Treasury imposed a new set of penalties on ships and organizations suspected of assisting in the movement of Russian oil in violation of US sanctions to impede the operation of Russia’s shadow fleet.

In late 2022, the United States led a coalition of countries that agreed to a “price cap,” promising not to buy Russian crude for more than $60 per barrel. These countries also prohibited their shipping and insurance companies, which are major players in global shipping, from assisting the movement of Russian crude beyond that price.

“The price cap was the real trigger for the creation of the shadow fleet,” stated Viktor Katona, head of crude oil analysis at trade research firm Kpler. “The longer the supply chains, the more difficult it is to disentangle ship-to-ship transfers, the more difficult it would get… to determine the real cost of a Russian barrel.”

Some oil trading between Russia and India is open and transparent. Windward, a maritime artificial intelligence company, analyzed global shipping movements for CNN and discovered 588 direct voyages by oil tankers from Russia to India last year.

However, some trade between the two countries is more complicated, as CNN discovered off the Greek coast. Pole Star Global investigated the same route last year and discovered over 200 journeys by Russian ships that made a transfer in the Laconian Gulf to another ship that continued to India.

Tannenbaum of Pole Star Global stated that the business “suspected” that the primary motivation for these transfers was to avoid sanctions because “almost all of these vessels” had ties to the United States or the European Union and would be subject to the price cap. “The bay is fenced. It is out of the way. And so they can carry out this activities in a pseudo-anonymous manner.”

Windward CEO Ami Daniel concurred, saying, “That is part of a Russian methodical, systemic effort to just make everything much more complicated.” He described the motive for Russia and oil dealers to avoid sanctions as “gigantic,” saying: “You really needed to have a reason to transfer 60-plus million barrels in the middle of the ocean and export them to India because it’s much easier not to do that – to sail directly.”

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RUSSIA: The Kremlin Has Never Been Richer – Thanks To A US Strategic Partner

The shadow fleet has allowed Russia to establish a parallel shipping network that can withstand Western sanctions’ shifting tactics and focus, with hundreds of tankers owned in secret and operating on convoluted routes. Windward estimates that the fleet increased to 1,800 vessels last year.

India’s crude purchases have had the overall effect of lessening the burden of oil sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia’s federal revenues soared to a record $320 billion in 2023 and are expected to increase even further. According to some estimates, around one-third of the money was spent on the Ukrainian war last year, and a larger part is expected to be spent on the fight in 2024.

The funds at the Kremlin’s disposal place Moscow in a better position to sustain a long war than Kyiv, battling to retain the urgently required flow of Western funding.

According to RAND economist Howard Shatz’s examination of public statistics from the Russian finance ministry, Russian government revenue and expenditure reached all-time highs in 2023. However, Moscow has yet to balance its books, indicating the war’s high cost and the impact of sanctions on oil earnings.

“Despite the jump in revenues, the federal budget deficit was at its third-highest… larger only in 2022 and 2020,” added Mr. Obama. “Tax on domestic production and imports are both high and effective, which means they are taxing their population to pay for this war,” he said.

India has defended its purchases from Russia as a way to keep world prices down by not competing with Western nations for Middle Eastern oil. Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, told CNBC this week that if the country starts importing more Middle Eastern oil, the price will be less than $75 or $76. “It will cost $150.

India’s intricate involvement in global oil trading is reflected in the fate of the oil products produced from Russian crude. Some crude is converted into oil products at refineries along India’s western coast before being transported to the United States and other nations that have imposed sanctions on Russian oil. Sanctions do not affect products refined outside Russia, which critics call a “refinery loophole.”

The CREA estimated that the US was the largest consumer of refined products from India derived from Russian crude last year, worth $1.3 billion between early December 2022, when the price cap was implemented, and the end of 2023. The projections are based on publicly available shipping and energy statistics.

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RUSSIA: The Kremlin Has Never Been Richer – Thanks To A US Strategic Partner

The value of these oil product exports increases dramatically when US partners imposing sanctions on Russia are added. The CREA anticipated that these countries would buy $9.1 billion in oil products derived from Russian crude oil in 2023, a 44% increase over the previous year.

Moscow has developed a way to profit from the refining and export process. One of the Indian refineries and ports that handle Russian crude is in Vadinar and is operated by Nayara Energy, a 49.1 %-%-owned subsidiary of Russian state oil major Rosneft. The CREA anticipated that the US will import $63 million in oil products processed in Vadinar in 2023, with Russian crude accounting for roughly half of the crude utilized in the plant. Everything is above board.

However, the organization’s assessment stated that exports from Vadinar “lead to significant tax revenues for the Kremlin in the form of taxing the exported Russian crude oil” and profits Rosneft gained from refining and reselling to Moscow’s Western opponents.

Nonetheless, researchers say the profits that may be earned from even the tiniest evasion of sanctions against Russia are enormous, given the large sums involved in selling a single oil tanker’s cargo. “You’re talking about something which is amazingly lucrative,” remarked Daniel at Windward. “Traders face significant temptation to engage in such behaviour.” They earn $10 to $40 million in four or five months. I don’t think there’s any other opportunity in the world to achieve it.”

SOURCE – (CNN)

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Macron Says Recognizing A Palestinian State Is Not A Taboo For France

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PARIS — As worldwide displeasure with Israel’s activities in the Palestinian territories deepens, French President Emmanuel Macron believes recognising a Palestinian state is not a ”taboo”.

France and the EU have long advocated for a two-state solution in the Middle East but as part of a negotiated settlement. With talks long deadlocked and Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza intensifying, some European countries are expressing support for recognising a Palestinian state sooner.

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Macron Says Recognizing A Palestinian State Is Not A Taboo For France

“Recognising a Palestinian state is not a taboo for France,” Macron said Friday at a meeting in Paris with Jordan’s King Abdullah. “We owe it to Palestinians, whose aspirations have been trampled for far too long.” We owe it to Israelis, who endured the biggest antisemitic massacre of our time. We owe it to a region striving to rise above those who incite disorder and sow resentment.

Macron should have specified when or under what conditions France could recognise a Palestinian state, and France is unlikely to make such a move unilaterally. However, France has significant diplomatic power as one of just five permanent United Nations Security Council members.

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Macron Says Recognizing A Palestinian State Is Not A Taboo For France

“Our regional partners, particularly Jordan, are working on it, and we are working with them. “We are ready to contribute to it, both in Europe and at the Security Council,” Macron added.

He also called for a cease-fire in Gaza and warned that an Israeli offensive on Rafah, near Egypt’s border, would result in a “humanitarian disaster without precedent.”

British Foreign Minister David Cameron stated earlier this month that his country may officially recognise a Palestinian state following a cease-fire in Gaza.

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Macron Says Recognizing A Palestinian State Is Not A Taboo For France

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects Palestinian statehood, and there have been no real talks for a two-state solution since 2009. Some of Israel’s important allies may recognise a Palestinian state, putting pressure on Israel to resume negotiations.

SOURCE – (AP News)

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