Monday, September 21, 2015

Cuba: Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Havana

Standing in the symbolic heart of political Cuba, Pope Francis on Sunday began his first full day in the island nation with an outdoor Mass at Revolution Plaza attended by President Raúl Castro and other leaders, and later met with the country’s former leader, Fidel Castro.

At Revolution Plaza, Francis arrived at about 8:30 a.m. in his familiar open-air popemobile, which moved through the crowd of thousands of people before delivering him to a covered stage for the service. Francis praised the vibrancy of the Cuban people and urged them to pursue a Christian model of selfless service.

“Whatever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others,” Francis said during his homily.

The scene blended faith, politics and revolution: Huge portraits of two revolutionary heroes, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, overlook the square, which also had large banners of Jesus and Mother Teresa. Francis was scheduled for a private meeting later in the day with President Castro. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president of Francis’ native Argentina, also was in attendance.

In such a political setting, Francis made his most directly political remarks not about Cuba but on the Colombia peace talks underway here in Havana. Francis urged negotiators for the Colombian government and the FARC rebels to find a solution and end the decades-old conflict in their country.

“We do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation,” Francis said at the end of the Mass.

Afterward, the pope went to the home of Fidel Castro for what was described as informal visit with the leader of Cuba’s 1959 revolution. A papal spokesman said that Francis gave Mr. Castro a copy of his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” and several books. The meeting lasted about 40 minutes.

Francis’s trip through Cuba offers a telling look at unique challenges, and influence, that the first Latin American pontiff has obtained in his native region. He is part rock star, part diplomat and part politician — even as his overriding priority is spiritual, and focused here on the Cuban church.

His outsized profile has also lifted expectations and pressures that he takes public positions on charged issues, like political and religious freedom. Cuban dissidents are pushing for the pope to meet them.

At the outdoor Mass, Francis cited the biblical story of the disciples quarreling over their importance — and Jesus’ rebuke of them — as an object lesson against “those who would be chosen for privileges, who would be above the common law, the general norm, in order to stand out in their quest for superiority over others.”

A spectrum of Cubans, from the devout to the secular, turned out to see the Mass, filling the entire plaza. Waves of people cheered and snapped photographs as he passed.

Greece: Dramatic Victory for Syriza

When the first exit polls flashed up on the big screen in the same marquee at 7pm local time on Sunday, there were as many reporters, photographers and cameramen as there were party supporters. But as the night wore on and what had long looked the most uncertain of outcomes was steadily transformed into a dramatic, even a remarkable triumph, the crowd multiplied.

By the time the centre-right New Democracy leader, Vangelis Meimarakis, conceded defeat and Syriza and its leader, the outgoing premier Alexis Tsipras, seemed on course to win almost as many seats as it had nine months ago, the cheering, chanting, flagwaving and foot-stamping throng was in electoral ecstasy.

“It’s a great, great night,” Anastasia Giamali, Syriza’s candidate in Athens’s second electoral district, shouted above the strains of the anti-fascist anthem Bella Ciao belting from a loudspeaker. “Syriza suffered a major setback, there’s no denying it.

“But the people have shown as much responsibility as we did. They saw that we had done our best, that we had tried to help those who we defend – the poor, the unemployed, the bankrupt. This is a massive endorsement for Alexis Tsipras. He has won hearts and he has won minds.”

As if to prove her point, the tent erupted when Tsipras put in a brief appearance later, bounding onto the stage to tell his voters they had won a “great victory”. He had a “crystal clear” four-year mandate to “rid Greece of its corrupt old system”, he said, but warned of hard work ahead: “We won’t recover from the struggle by magic.”

There is, certainly, a long and very painful road ahead: the new government is already committed, under the terms of the cash-for-reforms rescue package, to undertake a root-and-branch overhaul of the shattered Greek economy, accompanied by radical changes to the country’s health, welfare, pensions and tax systems.

But on Sunday night it was hard to duck the euphoria. Giamali gushed that the victory really belonged to Syriza’s youthful, 41-year-old leader: “He was the first Greek prime minister to at least try to negotiate with the creditors. He was the first to admit he made mistakes.

“Above all, he was the first to really tell the truth: to say: ‘This will hurt, but it is necessary and we’ll do everything in our power to soften the blow for the weakest in society – not the strongest – whom we defend.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn – Stunning Victory

Election of backbench MP and anti-war campaigner means party now has one of the most leftwing, anti-establishment leaders in its history

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour party in the UK in a stunning first-round victory that was bigger than the mandate for Tony Blair in 1994.

Corbyn won with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who trailed on 19%, and Yvette Cooper who received 17%. The “Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall came last on 4.5%.

Minutes after his victory, Corbyn said the message is that people are “fed up with the injustice and the inequality” of Britain.

“The media and many of us, simply didn’t understand the views of young people in our country. They were turned off by the way politics was being conducted. We have to and must change that. The fightback gathers speed and gathers pace,” he said.

The north London MP is one of the most unexpected winners of the party leadership in its history, after persuading Labour members and supporters that the party needed to draw a line under the New Labour era of Blair and Gordon Brown.

Having been catapulted from a little-known member of parliament to leader of the opposition, he will now set about apologising for the Iraq war and strongly opposing cuts to public services and welfare. He will start off on Saturday with a speech to a rally in London in support of refugees.

Addressing the party’s new members who helped propel him to victory, he said: “Welcome to our party, welcome to our movement. And I say to those returning to the party, who were in it before and felt disillusioned and went away: welcome back, welcome home.”

Corbyn also launched a forthright attack on the media, saying its behaviour had been at times “intrusive, abusive and simply wrong”.

“I say to journalists: attack public political figures. That is ok but please don’t attack people who didn’t ask to be put in the limelight. Leave them alone in all circumstances,” he said.

In generous tributes to the other candidates, he applauded Burnham for his work on health, Kendall for her friendship during the campaign and Cooper for helping to shape the political narrative on Britain taking more refugees.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015