In farewell address, Trump urges prayers for next administration

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, in a farewell address released on Tuesday, urged prayers for the new administration.

“This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous,” the Republican president said in the video remarks. “We extend our best wishes, and we also want them to have luck – a very important word.”

“The greatest danger we face is a loss of confidence in ourselves, a loss of confidence in our national greatness,” Trump said. “America is not a timid nation of tame souls who need to be sheltered and protected from those with whom we disagree.”

In the recorded remarks Trump sought to highlight aspects of his presidency.

“We did what we came here to do, and so much more,” he said. “I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices – because that’s what you elected me to do.”

Trump noted Middle East peace deals his administration brokered, and his foreign policy agenda.

“We revitalized our alliances and rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before,” he said. “I am especially proud to be the first president in decades who has started no new wars.”

Trump acknowledged the Capitol riots. “All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated,” he said.

“Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” Trump said.

“I go from this majestic place with a loyal and joyful heart and optimistic spirit, and a supreme confidence that for our country and for our children, the best is yet to come.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additionaal reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Israel imposing third national COVID-19 lockdown

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will impose a third national lockdown to fight surging COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, as the country pursues a vaccination campaign.

The restrictions will come into effect on Sunday evening and last for 14 days, pending final cabinet approval, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

They include the closure of shops, limited public transport, a partial shutdown of schools and a one-kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) restriction on travel from home, except for commuting to workplaces that remain open, and to purchase essential goods.

Such measures will cost Israel’s economy about three billion shekels ($932.6 million) a week, the Finance Ministry said.

The economy is expected to shrink 4.5% in 2020, though the Bank of Israel has said the contraction could reach 5% should the COVID-19 crisis prompt more curbs. In November, the jobless rate stood at 12%. The economy is projected to grow as much as 6.5% in 2021 and possibly faster – if the pandemic is contained.

With a population of nine million, Israel has so far reported more than 385,000 cases of COVID-19 and 3,150 deaths.

The number of daily infections approached 4,000 on Wednesday, rising from around 1,000 at the end of a month-long lockdown imposed in September that followed one that ran from late March to early May.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry said it had found four people infected with the new variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain.

With regard to Israel’s Christian minority, the Health Ministry said that during Christmas, prayers at houses of worship would be limited to gatherings of 10 people in closed spaces and 100 people in open areas.

The new lockdown comes with Israel’s vaccination drive already underway. Health workers and people over the age of 60 are the first groups to be inoculated in a campaign which the health minister said he expected to be completed within months.

But public anger has risen over the government’s perceived inconsistent handling of the crisis, and Israel will hold an election on March 23, its fourth in two years, after constant infighting in Netanyahu’s coalition.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Additional reporting by Steven Scheer and Rami Amichay; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Prayers and faxed letters: Texas woman buries husband who died of COVID-19

By Callaghan O’Hare and Maria Caspani

HOUSTON (Reuters) – As hundreds of thousands of people in Texas fled their homes ahead of Hurricane Laura on Wednesday, Michelle Gutierrez was in Houston burying her husband David, who died of COVID-19 on Aug. 14.

The couple would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary on Sept. 4, a few days after David’s 54th birthday. Michelle and David met at a mechanic’s shop in Houston in 2009, when he had stepped in as a translator to help her with a mechanic who only spoke Spanish.

He then offered to fix her computer, and the rest is history. They built a life together in Houston, where they raised five children and he worked as a software engineer.

In early July, David was hospitalized after his symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, worsened. His wife and two daughters had tested positive but showed no symptoms.

David would fight the virus for over a month at Houston’s St. Luke’s in The Woodlands hospital, where he eventually died of heart failure.

“It’s been a roller coaster, every day is different,” Michelle said on the day of his funeral, her voice breaking with emotion. “One day you’re fine and the next day, you walk around and memories flood your mind… You just wish this was all a dream.”

About a week after her husband was hospitalized, Michelle and her daughters gathered under his hospital window to pray for him.

“And then after that first night I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna come in every night, honey, I’m going to be here every night, praying for you and just being there in spirit’,” she said.

And so she did, until the Friday in August when David passed away.

Michelle said she kept trying to communicate with her husband as his condition worsened. At first, before he was put on a ventilator, they managed to text one another, she said. But once he was in a coma, she began faxing letters to the hospital, and nurses would read them aloud to him.

David is one of thousands who have succumbed to the coronavirus in Texas, where a spike in cases in June and July strained hospital systems as the virus engulfed many southern states.

Nearly 180,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the highest in the world, with 5.8 million cases recorded nationwide, according to a Reuters tally, also the highest in the world.

At David’s wake, a bottle of hand sanitizer and social distancing signs were prominently displayed as masked mourners walked to the casket to bid their farewells.

As for the future, Michelle said she was enrolling in a college nursing program. She had already planned to do so before her husband’s passing, but feels more motivated now.

“That’s more so now than before after seeing how these nurses took care of David and they were wonderful… And I could not have done it without them.”

(Reporting by Callaghan O’Hare in Houston, Texas and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Relatives of Thai soccer team trapped in cave turn to spirits for help

Fruits, desserts and drinks are placed as offerings to the spirits near the Tham Luang caves, where 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Chayut Setboonsarng

By Chayut Setboonsarng

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Distraught relatives of the teenaged members of a soccer team trapped in a flooded cave complex in Thailand turned to prayers on Tuesday as caving enthusiasts helped military rescue teams on the third day of the search.

The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, were trapped on Saturday after heavy rain flooded the cave complex in a forest park in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

Relatives placed fruits, desserts, sugary drinks and sweets on mats near the cave as an offering to the spirits which some people believe protect the cave and the forest.

“Come home,” cried one distraught mother. “Mummy is here to pick you up.”

The cave network stretches 10 km (6 mile) into the mountain and rescue workers believe the boys are stuck in a chamber of the network but efforts to find them have been hampered by rising waters.

Pumps have been brought in to try to drain some of the water from the cave but rain has been falling intermittently over the area.

“We must find the children today. We have hope that they are alive somewhere in there,” provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told Reuters.

Rescue teams are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Rescue teams are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Major General Nathawut Junhanandana, an army commander on the rescue team, said about 90 soldiers were searching the forested slopes of the mountain, looking for shafts or any other hidden ways into the caves.

“Our team is looking around the mountain for potential entrances,” Nathawut told Reuters.

“This will uncover more ways, possibly, for a rescue.”

Media reported that British caver Vern Unsworth, who has been inside the cave many times, had joined the search, while up to six Thai civilians who have explored the cave extensively were also helping, police at the scene told Reuters.

Thailand’s Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning described Tham Luang cave as “awaiting exploration from tourists because most have had to retreat when faced with many obstacles and difficulties in the cave”.

The cave is usually closed during the rainy season which runs from May to October, it said.

A sign posted near the entrance to the cave warns visitors that it is prone to flooding between July and November.

Among those waiting at the mouth of the cave for news were three team mates who skipped Saturday’s expedition to the cave after soccer practice, because their parents told them to come home, media said.

“I can’t concentrate at school knowing they are in there, so I came here,” said Sonpong Kantawong, 14, who missed the trip because his mother drove to pick him up after soccer practice, media said.

The boys’ bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the caves after they went missing. A 17-member navy unit including divers and underwater drones has joined the search.

Rescuers have covered about 6 km (4 miles) of the cave network, said Damrong Hanpakdeeniyom, the head of the park, adding that visitors are usually only allowed to venture in about 700 meters (2,300 ft).

 

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Robert Birsel)

Applause, laughter as wounded lawmaker Scalise returns to Congress

U.S. Rep Steve Scalise (R-LA) is applauded as he arrives in the House chamber after returning to Congress for the first time since being shot and seriously wounded in June. U.S. House TV/Handout via Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Members of the U.S. House of Representatives put bitter party divisions aside for a long standing ovation on Thursday as Representative Steve Scalise returned for the first time since he was shot and wounded in June.

Leaning on a cane but walking on his own, Scalise, 51, entered a packed House chamber to applause and loud cheers from his fellow members of Congress.

“You have no idea how great this feels to be back here at work in the people’s House,” said Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the chamber, standing at a desk in the Republican section after he was greeted with hugs and high-fives from members of his own party and Democrats.

He thanked the Capitol police officers he credited with saving his life, world leaders who had contacted him and members of his medical team, who were sitting in the crowded visitors gallery overlooking the House floor.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s voice cracked as he introduced Scalise. “The chair wishes to mark the return of our dear friend and colleague from Louisiana, Mr. Steve Scalise,” Ryan said. “Our prayers have been answered.”

Scalise gave an emotional speech, interrupted by frequent applause, thanking his family and referring to innate optimism he partly attributed to being from Louisiana, referring to the attitude of “joie de vivre” (joy of life) in a state with a heavy French influence.

“When I come back into this chamber today, just seeing the faces of all of you, it just means more than you can imagine,” Scalise said.

Scalise was among Republican lawmakers attacked June 14 in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, by a gunman who opened fire on them while they were practicing for a charity baseball game against Democrats.

He underwent repeated surgeries before being released from the hospital in late July.

Scalise was shot in the hip by a gunman who had a history of posting angry messages against Republican President Donald Trump.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Boy, 6, fights for his life after South Carolina school shooting

Sheriffs and officers at the scene of the South Carolina School Shooting

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – A first grader who was shot and wounded by a 14-year-old boy accused of killing his father before he opened fire outside a South Carolina elementary school is “fighting for his life,” a fire chief and the boy’s family said on Thursday.

Jacob Hall, 6, was struck in the leg on Wednesday afternoon during a shooting spree that also wounded another boy and a first-grade teacher at Townville Elementary School, about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Atlanta.

Police said the teenager crashed a pickup truck into a fence around the rural school’s playground after he fatally shot his father, Jeffrey DeWitt Osborne, 47, at their home about 2 miles (3 km) away. The teen, who has not been named, is in custody.

“I hate my life,” he said before firing a handgun at the school, the Greenville News reported, citing the aunt of a 6-year-old girl who was headed outside for recess at the time.

The incident was the latest in a series of shootings at U.S. schools that has fueled debate about access to guns in America. Many schools have beefed up security precautions since 2012, when a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Hall’s family said in a statement the 6-year-old was a “very sick little boy.” The message, provided through the Greenville Health System Children’s Hospital where he remains in critical condition, said a bullet tore through his femoral artery, causing massive blood loss that led to a “major brain injury.”

Billy McAdams, chief of the Townville Volunteer Fire Department, choked up on Thursday as he asked for prayers for “little Jacob,” whom he had helped treat at the scene.

“He’s still fighting for his life,” McAdams told a news conference.

Teacher Meghan Hollingsworth, who was shot in the shoulder, and the other boy, also 6, according to media reports, were treated and released.

McAdams credited fellow first responders and the school’s staff for taking action to prevent another school massacre. Hollingsworth shepherded students inside to safety and urged medical staff to care for the injured children before her, he said.

Jamie Brock, a 30-year veteran of the Townville Volunteer Fire Department, was unarmed when he confronted the shooter and pinned him down for police, McAdams said.

Brock has declined media interviews, saying he wanted the focus to remain on the victims.

“The true heroes of yesterday’s senseless tragedy are the teachers that put their lives on the line to protect the students,” Brock said in a statement read by McAdams at the news conference. “This will not take us down.”

Authorities said they did not know of any connection between the shooter and the school victims but had ruled out terrorism and ethnicity as motivating factors.

The suspect, who was home-schooled, was emotional when he called his grandparents Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

His grandmother “could not make out what he was saying because he was crying and upset, and so they went to the house, and that’s when she discovered her son and called 911,” coroner Greg Shore told reporters. The teenager was gone.

His mother offered no insight into his motive in a statement released to media on her behalf on Thursday.

“Our entire family is absolutely shocked and saddened by the senseless actions of our son and grandson,” the statement said.

(Additional reporting Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

Shooting at Umpqua Community College, 13 Dead and over 20 Wounded

A shooter opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon Thursday morning killing 13 people and wounding more than 20.

The unidentified suspect was killed in a gunfight with Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies.

At about 10:38 AM, the 911 center received a report of a shooting at Umpqua Community College. Police immediately responded.

Governor Kate Brown said the shooter was “a 20-year-old male.” She expressed her “profound dismay and unimaginable heartbreak. Our top priority now is the medical treatment of the victims and the security of the campus.”

Umpqua is a two-year school with about 3,300 full-time students and 16,000 part-time students. It started offering classes in 1961.
In audio of the emergency call, a dispatcher is heard saying that at the college’s Snyder Hall: “Somebody is outside one of the doors shooting through the door. A female is inside the computer lab. We do have one female that has been shot at this time.”

Our prayers are with the families of the victims in this horrible tragedy.

Christian Aid Mission Calls For Prayers For Kenya

The Christian aid group Christian Aid Mission is calling on the world’s believers to pray for the Christians of Kenya after a crackdown by the government on charity groups within the nation.

Amie Cotton with CAM says that al-Shabaab sympathizers had been using charity and non-profit organizations as a way to funnel money to the terrorist organization.  As a result, the government has banned all groups in the country.

A result of the ban is that churches in the region are closing down as terrorist groups intimidate those in the communities and the churches have no funding to try and fight the groups.  However, Cotton says God’s work is still going forward.

“Despite all of this, we still have reports that ministry is ongoing in multiple cities,” says Cotton.  “They go out every day, on the edge, knowing that terrorists have infiltrated. But they’re willing to go for the cause of Christ.”

Cotton says that despite the ban of NGOs, the group is still going to work through relationships with residents of the country.

“We have been in existence for over 60 years, and we have relationships with grass-roots Christian ministries that are indigenous to their cities and to Kenya as a whole,” Cotton answers.

Saeed Abedini Releases Letter From Prison

American pastor Saeed Abedini has released a letter from behind bars according to his wife and his legal team.

The American Center for Law and Justice says that the letter was given to a relative who visited Abedini last week.  The pastor was in great pain from internal injuries that the Iranian government continues to forbid Saeed medical treatment.

“Saeed continues to have severe pain and would appreciate your prayers,” his wife Naghmeh told reporters.

“These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep,” Abedini wrote. “The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion.”

“Brothers and sisters, the fact of the gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus,” the letter continues. “Today, we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the word of life and salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world.”

Abedini’s wife says that he treasures the prayers of those around the world and says that he can feel the comfort that comes from them.