Obama in Berlin for landmark church assembly

Former US President Barack Obama addressed the church congress saying “we can not hide behind a wall.” This year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is the featured topic, with many big names making an appearance.

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Merkel, Obama debate faith and politics

Former US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke in front of tens of thousands of people before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Thursday to discuss God, faith and the state of the world.

Speaking on a panel on the first day of Germany’s Protestant Church Assembly, Obama praised Merkel’s “outstanding work” and described her as one of his “favorite partners” during his eight years in office. He lauded Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis, while at the same time reflected that he “didn’t always have the tools” to end the war in Syria.

“Despite our best efforts, there is a vicious war,” Obama said.

The former US president warned of succumbing to nationalism and a closed world – an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump.

Reports: Obama warned Trump about Flynn’s Russian ties

Obama makes first public speech since leaving office

“In this new world we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves, we can’t hide behind a wall,” he said before the gate that once separated East and West Berlin.

Obama has made few appearances since leaving office. He said he spent time with his family, working on his foundation for youth and catching up on lost sleep.

Obama is the most famous guest among the approximately 140,000 expected participants at the four-day “Kirchentag.”

It is a star-studded occasion: 2,500 events, 30,000 contributors and guests from all over the world celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the Protestant culture of debate.

More than 100,000 worshippers attended three open-air services on Wednesday evening in central Berlin to mark the start of the Protestant gathering.

Those attending include Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, philanthropist Melinda Gates, German singer and songwriter Max Giesinger, German climate change researcher Ottmar Edenhofer, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and Israeli author Amos Oz.

A new movement

The German Protestant Church Assembly, or “Kirchentag,” which has been held every two years since 1949, is an international and yet typically German event at the same time. It was founded by the East Prussian politician Reinold von Thadden, a member of the Confessing Church, which opposed the Nazi regime. Von Thadden was active in the resistance during the Nazi era and later acted as president of Kirchentag until 1964.

“Apart from the Confessing Church branch, the Protestant Church did not play a laudable role in National Socialism,” says Protestant Church Assembly spokesperson Sirkka Jendis. “That is why dedicated lay people said, ‘We need to create a forum to help ensure that something like that cannot happen again.'”

From the “Protestant Week” in Hanover in 1949 emerged a Protestant lay movement that deliberately set itself apart from the official church and held regular congresses. “The broad scope and public relevance is unique,” says Jendis. In view of the numerous panels on subjects including the flight of refugees, migration, war, tolerance and integration, she says it is clear to her that, “this Church Assembly may become political.”

Reinold von Thadden-Trieglaff (picture-alliance/dpa)Von Thadden launched ‘Kirchentag’ in post-war Germany

Controversial guests

Current Protestant government leaders in Germany will participate in this year’s congress: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble will discuss what is holding Europe together, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chancellor candidate Martin Schulz will talk about credibility and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take part in the holiday church service in Wittenberg.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere’s whirlwind participation will see him make seven Kirchentag appearances, including one together with Al-Azhar’s Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib. “I think it is great that he is coming to join the discussion,” de Maiziere told the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. “Controversial guests like him are a gain for the Church Assembly.”

But Protestant debate culture also has its limits. There was great opposition to the invitation of 43-year-old Anette Schultner, the national spokesperson of “Christians in the AfD,” a Christian organization of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing populist political party. She wants to explain to visitors why their faith and their membership in the AfD are compatible with each other.

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DW exclusive with Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Head of the Protestant Church in Germany

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Manchester terror attack suspect identified as Salman Abedi

British authorities on Tuesday identified the suicide bomber who launched a deadly attack at a Manchester Ariana Grande concert, hours after the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the blast.

Salman Abedi, 22, was identified as the man who detonated an improvised explosive device at about 10:30 p.m. local time Monday, killing more than 20 people, some of them children, and injuring dozens more, Manchester police confirmed in a news conference on Tuesday. At least 12 children under the age of 16 were injured, emergency responders said. An 8-year-old girl was among the dead.

A European security official told the Associated Press that Abedi was British. No additional details about Abedi were immediately available.

TIMELINE OF RECENT TERROR ATTACKS AGAINST THE WEST

It was previously reported that Abedi was 23, but police clarified that another 23-year-old man was arrested. Two warrants have been issued at two separate residences. Officers used a police-controlled explosive device to gain entry into one home.

ISIS claimed on Tuesday that “a soldier of the caliphate planted bombs in the middle of Crusaders gatherings” then detonated them, but Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that the U.S. had not yet verified that the terror group was responsible.

The explosion unfolded outside Manchester Arena as Grande’s concert was coming to a close. The pop star, who wasn’t injured, reportedly suspended her Dangerous Woman Tour following the attack. She wrote on Twitter, “broken. from the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words.”

Officials believe the device was packed with shrapnel, built to inflict as much human damage as possible, according to U.S. law enforcement sources. Manchester police said one of their priorities is to investigate whether the attacker acted alone or had some kind of support.

Politicians both at home and abroad condemned the attack. British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attack “appalling, sickening cowardice.”

MANCHESTER ARENA WAS PACKED WITH ARIANA GRANDE’S YOUNG FANS

“We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage,” she said.

President Donald Trump slammed those responsible for the attack as “losers.”

“I won’t call them ‘monsters’ because they would like that term… I will call them, from now on, ‘losers’ because that’s what they are, they’re losers.”

Fox News’ Jake Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trump: ‘I now have responsibility’ when it comes to Syria

Story highlights

  • Trump made the comments alongside King Abdullah of Jordan
  • Trump spoke in the Rose Garden

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, said the chemical attack against Syrian civilians “crossed a lot of lines for me” and changed the way he views Syria and leader Bashar al-Assad.

“I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” Trump said responding to a question about a White House statement Tuesday that blamed the attack in part on President Barack Obama.
“It is now my responsibility. It was a great opportunity missed,” Trump said.
Trump did maintain that Obama’s failure to respond to his red line threat “was a blank threat (that) set us back a long ways, not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world.”
The President condemned the attack as “heinous.”
“Yesterday’s chemical attack, a chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies, their deaths were an affront to humanity,” Trump said from the Rose Garden. “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack and all other horrific attacks, for that matter.”
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Video shows gas attack aftermath 01:23
World leaders expressed shock and outrage Tuesday at reports of the suspected targeted attack in northwestern Syria that killed scores of civilians, with one UK official suggesting the incident amounted to a war crime.
Activists said the Syrian regime was responsible for killing dozens of people, including many children, leading the United Nations to replace a scheduled Security Council session for Wednesday morning with an emergency meeting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for the carnage. Russia, Syria’s strong ally, said it had no warplanes in the vicinity.
Earlier in the day, Trump had left the door open to new action in Syria in his first on-camera comments in response to a deadly suspected chemical attack in the Middle East.
“You will see,” Trump said when asked if he would take new action, according to pool reporters present when Trump welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah to the Oval Office.
“These are very troubled times in the Middle East, and we see what happened just recently yesterday in Syria — horrible. Horrible, horrible thing. Unspeakable,” Trump said, later calling it a “terrible affront to humanity.”

Intelligence official who ‘unmasked’ Trump associates is ‘very high up,’ source says

The U.S. intelligence official who “unmasked,” or exposed, the names of multiple private citizens affiliated with the Trump team is someone “very well known, very high up, very senior in the intelligence world,” a source told Fox News on Friday.

Intelligence and House sources with direct knowledge of the disclosure of classified names told Fox News that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., now knows who is responsible — and that person is not in the FBI.

For a private citizen to be “unmasked,” or named, in an intelligence report is extremely rare. Typically, the American is a suspect in a crime, is in danger or has to be named to explain the context of the report.

“The main issue in this case, is not only the unmasking of these names of private citizens, but the spreading of these names for political purposes that have nothing to do with national security or an investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election,” a congressional source close to the investigation told Fox News.

The unmasking of Americans whose communications apparently were caught up in surveillance under the Obama administration is a key part of an investigation being led by Nunes, who has come under fire from Democrats for focusing on that aspect.

Nunes has known about the unmasking controversy since January, when two sources in the intelligence community approached him. The sources told Nunes who was responsible and at least one of the Trump team names that was unmasked. They also gave him serial numbers of reports that documented the activity.

This was long before Trump sent out his now-infamous March 4 tweets claiming then-President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

Nunes had asked intelligence agencies to see the reports in question, but was stonewalled.

He eventually was able to view them, but there was only one safe place to see the documents without compromising the sources’ identities — the old executive office building on White House grounds, which has a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) required to view classified or top secret reports. The White House did not tell Nunes about the existence of the intelligence reports, but did help him gain access to the documents at his request, the source said.

The White House, meanwhile, is urging Nunes and his colleagues to keep pursuing what improper surveillance and leaks may have occurred before Trump took office. They’ve been emboldened in the wake of March 2 comments from former Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas, who on MSNBC suggested her former colleagues tried to gather material on Trump team contacts with Russia.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday her comments and other reports raise “serious” concerns about whether there was an “organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes.”

“Dr. Farkas’ admissions alone are devastating,” he said.

Farkas parted ways with the White House in 2015 and defended herself on Twitter, saying she didn’t personally “give anybody anything except advice” on Russia information and wanted Congress to ask for facts.

The communications collected from Trump team associates apparently were picked up during surveillance of foreign targets. But an intelligence source familiar with those targets said they were spied on long before Trump became the GOP presidential nominee in mid-July.

In addition, citizens affiliated with Trump’s team who were unmasked were not associated with any intelligence about Russia or other foreign intelligence, sources confirmed. The initial unmasking led to other surveillance, which led to other private citizens being wrongly unmasked, sources said.

“Unmasking is not unprecedented, but unmasking for political purposes … specifically of Trump transition team members … is highly suspect and questionable,” an intelligence source told Fox News. “Opposition by some in the intelligence agencies who were very connected to the Obama and Clinton teams was strong. After Trump was elected, they decided they were going to ruin his presidency by picking them off one by one.”

Nunes first revealed on March 22 in a press conference that the U.S. intelligence community “incidentally collected” information on Trump’s transition team, putting the information and names into various intelligence reports. His committee had been investigating whether Russia interfered in the U.S. election as well as how names of private citizens from these reports were leaked.

House Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., criticized Nunes for his handling of the investigation, claiming he should never have briefed Trump. Nunes apologized the following day, but said he briefed the president because the information he found was not related to Russia.

The minority members on the House Intelligence Committee were expected to visit a National Security Agency facility on Friday to view the same reports Nunes has seen, an intelligence source told Fox News.

Malia Zimmerman is an award-winning investigative reporter focusing on crime, homeland security, illegal immigration crime, terrorism and political corruption. Follow her on twitter at @MaliaMZimmerman

Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.

Republicans revamp U.S. health bill, boost benefits to older Americans

By Susan Cornwell and Valerie Volcovici
ReutersMarch 19, 2017
Paul Ryan understands health care bill needs changes to pass
Paul Ryan understands health care bill needs changes to pass
CBS News Videos

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By Susan Cornwell and Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Republicans are working on changes to their healthcare overhaul bill to provide more generous tax credits for older Americans and to add a work requirement for the Medicaid program for the poor, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Sunday.

Ryan said Republican leaders still plan to bring the healthcare bill to a vote on the House of Representatives floor on Thursday. Speaking on the “Fox News Sunday” television program, he added that leaders were working to address concerns that had been raised by rank-and-file Republicans to the legislation.

“We think we should be offering even more assistance than the bill currently does,” for lower-income people age 50 to 64, Ryan said of the tax credits for health insurance that are proposed in the legislation.

Ryan also said Republicans are working on changes that would allow federal block grants to states for Medicaid.

Republicans remain deeply divided over their U.S. healthcare overhaul, which is President Donald Trump’s first major legislative initiative and aims to fulfill his campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, the healthcare program of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

Trump has been wooing lawmakers to vote for the bill. He won the backing of a dozen conservative lawmakers on Friday after an Oval Office meeting in which the president endorsed a work requirement and block-grant option for Medicaid.

But there are still holdouts. While Ryan said he felt “very good” about the health bill’s prospects in the House, a leading conservative lawmaker, Representative Mark Meadows, told the C-Span “Newsmakers” program that there were currently 40 Republican “no” votes in the House. Republicans hold a majority in the chamber but cannot afford to have more than 21 defections for the measure to pass.

Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, told C-Span’s “Newsmakers” the changes being considered for the Medicaid program would not go far enough, if they left it up to states to decide whether to put in place a work requirement.

Even if the healthcare bill were to pass the House, it also would face significant challenges in the Senate.

Senator Tom Cotton, a conservative Arkansas Republican, said that the bill would not reduce premiums for people on the private insurance market. “It’s fixable, but it’s going to take a lot of work,” Cotton said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Moderate Republicans have also expressed concerns about the bill, and their worries are often not the same as that of conservatives.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine worried the bill would harm older Americans, and shift Medicaid costs to states — something critics say a block-grant approach would only make worse.

Collins said coverage issues must also be dealt with, citing a report from the Congressional Budget Office that said 14 million people would lose health coverage under the House bill over the next year and 24 million over the next decade.

Affordability has been one of the bigger concerns that insurers and hospital groups have raised about the legislation. To the extent that a change in tax credits makes healthcare more affordable for some people, insurers and hospitals could stand to benefit.

When the draft of the health care bill was released earlier this month, the BlueCross BlueShield Association, which represents BCBS insurers that cover the vast majority of the about 10 million people enrolled in 2017 Obamacare plans, emphasized the need for the replacement to be affordable.

(Editing by Sandra Maler and Phil Berlowitz)

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