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Don’t convert Muslims, Pope warns Catholics in Morocco during visit

Francis insisted trying to convert people to one’s own belief “always leads to an impasse”.

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RABAT, MOROCCO - MARCH 31: Pope Francis makes a speech during his visit at the St. Peter's Cathedral in Rabat, Morocco on March 31, 2019. Jalal Morchidi / Anadolu Agency

Pope Francis on Sunday warned Catholics in Morocco against trying to convert others to boost their small numbers, during a rare visit by a pontiff to the North African country.

Speaking in Rabat’s cathedral on his second day in the Moroccan capital, Francis insisted trying to convert people to one’s own belief “always leads to an impasse”.

“Please, no proselytism!” he told an audience of around 400, who greeted the pope’s arrival by ululating and applauding, while hundreds more gathered outside the cathedral.

Christians are a tiny minority in Morocco where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, with sub-Saharan Africans making up a large part of the country’s 30,000-strong Catholic community.

Islam is the state religion and authorities are keen to stress the country’s “religious tolerance” which allows Christians and Jews to worship freely.

But Moroccans are automatically considered Muslim if they are not born into the Jewish community, apostasy is socially frowned upon, and proselytising is criminalised.

“I protect Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco,” King Mohammed VI told crowds on Saturday, following the pontiff’s arrival.

There are a few thousand Christian converts in Morocco, who since 2017 have called openly for the right to live “without persecution” and “without discrimination”.

Francis is the first pontiff to visit the North African country since John Paul II in 1985 and the cathedral had been repainted for the occasion.

Waiting for the pope outside, a Nigerian man said the visit “shows that living together is possible in Morocco.”

But “there are things to improve, notably the question of migrants and that of Moroccan Christians,” said 36-year-old Antoine, who works for an association to defend migrant rights.

The need to support migrants was mentioned again Sunday by Francis, who has made the issue a focal point of his papacy.

On Saturday he visited migrants at a Caritas charity centre, where the pope criticised “collective expulsions” and said ways for migrants to regularise their status should be encouraged.

Morocco says it has a “humanistic” approach to migration and rejects allegations by rights groups of “brutal arrest campaigns” and “forced displacement” to the country’s southern border.

– Jerusalem declaration -Earlier on Sunday, Francis visited a social centre run by nuns and volunteers near Rabat, including a health centre where he met with unwell children.

The previous day he visited an institute which hosts around 1,300 trainee imams and preachers.

There they heard from a French and a Nigerian student of the institute, which teaches “moderate Islam” and is backed by the king.

The Moroccan monarch also welcomed Francis to the royal palace, where the two addressed the “sacred character of Jerusalem” in a joint declaration.

The city should be a “symbol of peaceful coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims, they said in a statement released by the Vatican.

“The specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem… must be protected and promoted,” said the text, which was jointly signed at Rabat’s royal palace.

The Moroccan king chairs a committee created by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to safeguard and restore Jerusalem’s religious, cultural and architectural heritage.

Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump sparked anger across the Muslim world when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

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Egypt’s renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry

Mnay have faulted repair works as being misrepresentative of the building’s history and materials to be of poor quality

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Egypt's renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry
Ongoing restoration works at the historic "Le Palais Hindou" (also known as the "Baron Empain Palace") built by in the early 20th century by Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, in the classical Khmer architectural style of Cambodia's Angkor Wat, in the Egyptian capital Cairo's northeastern Heliopolis district. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Egyptian authorities have defended renovation works at a historic Cairo palace after the site’s new look sparked mockery on social media.

The site, dubbed the Baron Palace, was built between 1907 and 1911 by wealthy Belgian industrialist Edouard Empain. 

The baron also spearheaded the development of the surrounding upmarket neighbourhood of Heliopolis.

Built in a style reminiscent of the Cambodian Hindu temple of Angkor Wat, the striking building set amid lush gardens has long since fallen into disrepair.

READ: Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs

But work to restore the building has sparked outcry.

Many have taken issue with white marble additions to the building’s rosy pink stone exterior, saying the materials are of poor quality and not in keeping with the original style.

One Twitter user asked:

“Who is the fool behind the restoration of Egypt’s palaces? Our heritage is being systematically destroyed.”

A Facebook page called Egyptian Historians chided officials for the “warped” restoration.

Egypt's renovation of Baron Palace sparks online outcry
Ongoing restoration works at the historic “Le Palais Hindou” (also known as the “Baron Empain Palace”) built by in the early 20th century by Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, in the classical Khmer architectural style of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, in the Egyptian capital Cairo’s northeastern Heliopolis district. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

“Be honest with yourselves and admit that you ruined it… you are literally demolishing our monument”, a post on the group’s page said.

READ: Tutankhamun gilded coffin receives restoration in Egypt

Antiquities Minister, Khaled El-Enany dismissed online criticisms as “fake news”.

“I didn’t hear one word of truth in all these social media comments,” he said in a statement.

His ministry said the colours of the palace had faded from weather damage over many years.

“The restoration is a real dream and we will breathe life into this abandoned landmark,” Enany added.

WATCH: Egypt begins restoration of Tutankhamun’s coffin

General Hisham Samir, who heads up the ministry’s engineering branch, said the colours were “correct and are backed up by historical sources.”

The works began in July 2017 in co-operation with the Belgian government and will cost 100 million Egyptian pounds (over $6 million), the statement added.

Samir told reporters that the work is expected to be completed by year’s end with plans to open the building to the public by early 2020.

Egypt’s multitude of historical monuments and buildings are a major draw for tourists, though the country has often faced accusations of neglecting these sites.

READ: Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

The government has recently launched various restoration projects to stimulate tourism, a key sector that has suffered in recent years due to political insecurity and sporadic jihadist attacks.

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Measles is a bigger threat in DR Congo than Ebola – NGO

Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization

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Measles has killed 2,758 people in DR Congo since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year, medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said, and called Saturday for a “massive mobilisation of funds.”

The disease, preventable with a vaccine, has infected over 145,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo between January and early August, it said in a statement.

“Since July, the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces,” said the NGO that goes by its French acronym MSF.

“Only $2.5 million has been raised out of the $8.9 million required for the Health Cluster response plan  — in stark contrast with the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country, which attracts multiple organisations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding,” it added.

MSF tweeted that without a “massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, the current measles outbreak in #DRCongo could get even worse.”

The NGO said it has vaccinated 474,860 children between the ages of six months and five years since the beginning of the year and provided care to more than 27,000 measles patients.

In the country’s east, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.

Measles is a highly-contagious diseased caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.

Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization, amid a rise in “anti-vaxxer” sentiment in some countries that can afford the vaccine, and lagging resources for the preventative measure in poor nations.

DR Congo declared a measles epidemic in June.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb

Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Libyan firefighters extinguish a fire at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on August 10, 2019. - "Two members of the UN mission, one them a foreigner, were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb" in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said. (Photo by - / AFP)

A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.

“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.

An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.

Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.

But bombings and kidnappings have continued.

A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.

A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.

Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”. 

On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. 

The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.

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