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Shun polarization, try dialogue to heal world, says Pope Francis in Christmas message

Pope Francis in his Christmas message on Saturday decried increasing polarization in personal and international relationships, saying only dialogue can resolve conflicts ranging from family feuds to threats of war.
In his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message, he called on individuals and world leaders to talk to each other rather than dig in their heels, a distancing he said has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried; there is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together,” he said from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on a wet and windy Christmas in Rome.
“On the international level too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue. Yet only those paths can lead to the resolution of conflicts and to lasting benefits for all,” he said.
Francis, who turned 85 last week, listed conflicts, tensions or crises in Syria, Yemen, Israel, The Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, Sudan, South Sudan and elsewhere.
“We continue to witness a great number of conflicts, crises and disagreements,” he said, speaking from the same balcony where he first appeared to the world as pope after his election on March 13, 2013.
“These never seem to end; by now we hardly even notice them. We have become so used to them that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence; we risk not hearing the cry of pain and distress of so many of our brothers and sisters,” he said, speaking to an unusually small crowd reduced by COVID-19 restrictions and the weather to only several hundred.
He asked God to “give serenity and unity to families”, praising those who strive to keep them and communities together in such divisive times.
“Let us ask him for the strength to be open to dialogue. On this festive day, let us implore him to stir up in the hearts of everyone a yearning for reconciliation and fraternity,” he said.
He used the word “dialogue” 11 times in a speech of little more than two pages as he spoke to people huddled under rain parkas and umbrellas.
Francis asked God to “prevent fresh outbreaks of a long-festering conflict” in Ukraine, which has accused Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops in preparation for a possible large-scale military offensive.
Russia denies planning any attack and accuses Ukraine and the United States of destabilizing behavior, saying it needs security guarantees for its own protection.
He asked people not to be indifferent to the plight of migrants, refugees, the displaced, political prisoners, and women victims of violence and urged leaders to protect the environment for future generations.
In his Christmas Eve Mass on Friday night in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis said that people who are indifferent to the poor offend God, and urged all to “look beyond all the lights and decorations” and remember the neediest.

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Security guard killed inside Qatar Embassy in Paris

A security guard was killed in the early hours of Monday inside the Qatar Embassy in Paris in an incident that does not appear to have any links to terrorism, a source close to the investigation said.
The incident took place at around 0630 (0430 GMT), the source said, adding that the suspect had entered the embassy and had a row with the security guard, who died after being punched.

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The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed the death and said one person had been arrested on the spot.
“I can confirm that an investigation was opened today on the count of murder,” the prosecutor’s office said.

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Sandstorm forces closure of Iraqi airports and public buildings

Iraq closed public buildings and temporarily shut airports Monday as another sandstorm — the ninth since mid-April — hit the country, authorities said.

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The capital Baghdad was enveloped in a giant dust cloud that left usually traffic-choked streets largely deserted, an AFP correspondent said.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered all work to cease in public institutions, with the exception of health facilities and security agencies.

He cited “poor climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms” in a statement issued by his office.

Iraq is ranked as one of the five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification.

The environment ministry has warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050.

Air traffic was suspended Monday at international airports in Baghdad, Erbil and Najaf, according to statements issued by each airport, before authorities announced later in the morning that flights were resuming at Baghdad and Erbil.

The previous two sandstorms killed one person and sent nearly 10,000 people to hospital with respiratory problems.

The Middle East has always been battered by sandstorms, but they have become more frequent and intense in recent years.

The trend has been associated with rising heat and water scarcity, overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

Oil-rich Iraq is known in Arabic as the land of the two rivers, in reference to the Tigris and Euphrates.

Iraq’s environment ministry has said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by increasing vegetation cover and planting trees that act as windbreaks.

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Oxfam tells Davos: Time to tax growing billionaire club

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new billionaire every 30 hours and now one million people could fall into extreme poverty at the same pace, Oxfam said Monday as the Davos summit returns.

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The international charity said it was time to tax the rich to support the less fortunate as the global elite gathered at the Swiss mountain haven for the World Economic Forum after a two-year Covid-induced absence.

Oxfam said it expects 263 million people to sink into extreme poverty this year, at a rate of one million every 33 hours, as soaring inflation has added a cost-of-living crisis on top of COVID-19.

By comparison, 573 people became billionaires during the pandemic, or one every 30 hours.

“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes,” Oxfam executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.

“The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them,” Bucher said.

“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” she said.

Oxfam called for a one-off “solidarity tax” on billionaires’ pandemic windfall to support people facing soaring prices as well as fund a “fair and sustainable recovery” from the pandemic.

It also said it was time to “end crisis profiteering” by rolling out a “temporary excess profit tax” of 90 percent on windfall profits of big corporations.

Oxfam added that an annual wealth tax on millionaires of two percent, and five percent for billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year.

Such a wealth tax would help lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world and pay for universal health care for people in poorer countries, it said.

Oxfam based its calculations on the Forbes list of billionaires and World Bank data.

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