Ukraine crisis: Rebels advance on Mariupol in south

Pro-Russian rebels have opened up a new front in south-eastern Ukraine.

Reports say they have taken the town of Novoazovsk, on the Sea of Azov, and are heading for the key port of Mariupol.

Ukraine says Russian forces have crossed the border and are supporting the rebel attack, but the Moscow government has repeatedly denied arming or covertly supporting the rebels.

There are suspicions that Russia wants to divert Ukrainian forces from the besieged cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
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Ebola outbreak: US official says epidemic will worsen

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, according to the top US public health official.

Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the epidemic would need an “unprecedented” response to bring it under control.

Health ministers from across West Africa are due to meet in Ghana to discuss the growing crisis.

The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed 1,427 people.

The health body says it is the largest ever Ebola epidemic and has infected an estimated 2,615 people.

Liberia has been hardest-hit of the affected countries, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year.

MH370: Indian Ocean search for missing plane refined

Australia says the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will focus on the southern part of the search area in the Indian Ocean.

Officials said further refinement of satellite data found the plane may have turned south earlier than thought.

The announcement came as Australia and Malaysia signed an agreement on the search’s next phase, which will see the two countries sharing costs.

The Beijing-bound plane disappeared on 8 March with 239 people onboard.

Based on analysis of satellite data, it is believed to have ended its journey in seas far west of the Australian city of Perth.

Investigators do not know what happened to the flight and finding its “black box” flight recorders is seen as key to understanding the factors behind its disappearance.

‘Interest and priority’

Australia, which is responsible for search and rescue operations, has been looking for the plane in an area about 1,800km off its west coast.

The latest detail on the plane’s possible flight path came from an analysis of a failed attempted satellite phone call from Malaysia Airlines to the plane, said Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

“The search area remains the same, but some of the information that we now have suggests to us that areas a little further to the south… are of particular interest and priority,” he told reporters in Canberra.

A Dutch contractor, Fugro Survey, will kick off the next phase in the search in September. Three vessels towing underwater vehicles will scan for the plane.

The search will focus on an area of about 60,000 sq km and is estimated to cost about A$52m (£29m, $49m).

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai signed the memorandum of understanding with Mr Truss.

The two were also briefed on search efforts, together with China’s Transport Vice-Minister He Jianzhong.

Most of the passengers onboard the flight were Chinese. The ministers issued a statement saying they “remain cautiously optimistic” that the plane will be found.

‘Colonial-era mass grave’ found in Potosi, Bolivia

A grave containing at least 400 people has been unearthed in the Bolivian city of Potosi, with the remains thought to be those of colonial-era miners.

The grave was found by workers carrying out excavations for the construction of a new building.

The mine at Potosi became the world’s biggest after silver was discovered there by the Spanish in 1545.

African and indigenous slaves worked the mines – it is estimated as many as eight million may have died.

The mines at Potosi were a source of huge riches for Spain until the end of colonial rule in the 19th Century.

“We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 metres (5.9 ft), and the human remains are scattered over an area of four by four metres,” Sergio Fidel, a researcher at a museum belonging to Potosi’s Tomas Frias University, told AFP.

The university intervened when it learnt that construction workers were piling the bones in a heap while work continued.

Last month the UN’s cultural body Unesco put Potosi on its list of World Heritage Sites in danger because of “uncontrolled mining operations in the Cerro Rico Mountain that risk degrading the site”.

Israel resumes Gaza offensive after Hamas rockets

The Israeli military says it is resuming air, ground and naval raids on Gaza as Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets after rejecting a humanitarian truce.

Israel had accepted a UN request for a 24-hour ceasefire, but warned it would act if it was breached by Hamas.

Hamas said it would not accept a truce unless Israeli troops left Gaza and the displaced were allowed to return home.

More than 1,000 Palestinians and 46 Israelis have been killed.

A majority of those killed in Gaza are civilians, Palestinian health officials say, while 43 soldiers and three civilians have died on the Israeli side.

On Saturday, many Gaza residents used the truce to gather supplies and retrieve bodies buried under rubble.

The extended ceasefire had been due to expire at midnight local time (21:00 GMT).

‘Incessant rocket fire’

“Following Hamas’ incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window, which was agreed upon for the welfare of the civilian population in Gaza, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will now resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip,” Israel’s military said in a tweet on Sunday morning.

Israel’s cabinet had decided to extend the humanitarian truce, which began on Saturday, until the end of Sunday.

Dutch experts head to eastern Ukraine site

Dutch experts are heading to the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, officials say.

It follows an agreement between international observers and pro-Russian separatists, the Ukrainian justice ministry says.

Separately, Malaysia says it has struck a deal with the rebels to allow international police at the site.

MH17 crashed on 17 July, killing all 298 people on board. The rebels have been accused of shooting it down.

Russia has suggested the plane could have been shot down by the Ukrainian military – an allegation Ukraine denies.

Investigators have struggled to gain access to the rebel-controlled crash site, despite a truce between Ukrainian troops and separatist forces.

Fighting has continued just 60km (35 miles) away from the crash site near the town of Grabove.


The Dutch authorities say the first of the 298 people killed in the MH17 disaster has been identified, without revealing any details.

A total of 227 bodies have been sent for identification to the Netherlands, which is leading the crash investigation.

The atmosphere around the crash site is tense as a group of 30 Dutch forensic experts make their way there from the rebel-held city of Donetsk, says the BBC’s Tom Burridge.

Rebels have prevented journalists going to the crash site and Ukrainian government forces are said to be nearby, he adds.

A Dutch justice ministry spokesperson has told the BBC that the team’s priority is to bring back the bodies.

The Social Strategy

Love it or hate it, social media has become an important element to business and despite the fact that it’s a difficult area to calculate return on investment, the SocialTimes is reporting that social media marketing budgets are projected to double in the next five years.

Many businesses and entrepreneurs are left wondering if it’s worth the time and how these new mediums can work for them. Brand exposure, increasing web traffic and gaining market insights are the top reasons businesses are investing in the platforms, according to Social Media Today, which are important aspects to success in any business, including within the travel industry.

Whether you’re a travel agent looking to engage with your client base, a travel agency wanting to connect with a specific community, a supplier trying to determine how to move forward with your social strategy, here are a few tips to consider:

1. Establish a plan: It’s not enough to create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, etc… and simply start posting. Decide with your team: What is the purpose of having a social media presence for your personal brand or business? What do you hope to achieve? What are your goals for engagement? How does this tie in to your overall strategy? From there, you can establish which platforms work best in achieving those goals. Remember, not every platform works for every business so leverage the ones that suit your strategy best.

2. Establish a voice: Social media is all about engagement and is really a way to create or enhance a brand personality. Dedicate a small number of people to be the voice of your social platforms. Your social media team should understand the brand and the goals of your strategy in order to best portray this in online communications. With that in mind, each employee should be a brand ambassador. Some businesses (Contiki, for example) call on their staff to brand their online presence. Of course, if this is the route you decide to take, make sure guidelines are clear and everyone understands that their account is professional, not personal.

3. Engage! Be mindful of the type of content you share on social media. Remember, you want to create conversation. Ask questions and share images, videos & links that not only connect to your brand but also invite followers or friends to share their opinions and feedback. And when people do comment, keep the dialogue open by responding to them. By doing so, you form relationships with the consumer, which can translate into brand loyalty.

4. Be open and transparent: Like in any relationship, honesty is the best policy. There’s nothing worse than when businesses ignore mistakes or challenges that affect their clients. Acknowledge and own up to problems. By doing so, it eliminates the desire for your network to be confrontational and from there, the conversation can immediately be based on solutions – a positive message – versus putting you on the defensive.

5. Don’t forget about the customer service element: Gone are the days of handwritten letters, and to some extent, even the scathing e-mail is now taking a backseat. Social media platforms are quickly becoming the primary method of communication between brands and consumers, especially when it comes to complaints. If your social media team consists of marketers, ensure they have a dedicated customer service person on hand to draft responses to these particular posts or messages. Remember, in most cases, your entire network can see the problems other people bring forward, and also how you respond. Be sure to put your best foot forward.

Jeremiah Loves God’s Word – Riveting Stuff!

This reading contains some incredibly convicting passages, with insights on HYPOCRISY, LOVE, COMPASSION, JUDGMENT, and LOVING GOD’S WORD.

Picking up from where we left off yesterday in Jer 15, in the middle of God’s rant, Jeremiah expressed a bit of self-pity, cause he knew he was so hated!! But God comforted him and told him that one day his enemies would beg him for mercy…Jeremiah continued to focus on his own predicament for a moment, and verse 16 is an upward call to all of us: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (And God promised to take care of him…) Wow, what a great attitude. Jeremiah loved God’s word so much. This is a beautiful passage. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 15, “who can stand on God’s holy hill? The one who keeps his oath even when it hurts…” That can mean many things, but it certainly could be applied to preaching the word, even if it hurts! If we try to put ourselves in Jeremiah’s place, can we even imagine what it would be like to be almost killed for the gospel? I have some friends who have been in that predicament, but God has always come through so far…

Chapter 16 begins in the opposite way we might think it would…just after Jeremiah has sought reassurance from God, Jehovah told him, “by the way, you can’t marry or have kids…” Oh man, he already sacrificed everything else…now God was telling him he couldn’t even have a family? God also told Jeremiah to not attend funerals or weddings. And when the people asked why God would be so cruel, Jeremiah was to tell them that firstly, their fathers had not obeyed God, and secondly, that the people themselves were even worse than their fathers had been: “But you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. See how each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me.” God then promised Jeremiah about a remnant in the future….One of the beautiful qualities of God is the ability to see things as they should be…I appreciate that!

Perhaps chapter 17 is a better-known section of Jeremiah because of the passages on trusting God and the deceitfulness of man’s hearts. When read in context of chapters 12-16, and the strong opening section of chapter 17 where God rails against Judah’s love of idolatry, v5-10 pack even more punch!!! I love this part so much I will copy and paste it here:

5 This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, 

       who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

 6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. 

       He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

 7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.

 8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. 

       It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. 

       It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

 9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

 10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, 

       to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

The sermon by James Lloyd (delivered in London in the mid-80s) entitled “Are You A Tree or A Bush?” is a classic. It was a truly convicting sermon on the need to take our relationship with God seriously. The sermon used Jeremiah 17 to call us to make sure our prayer times were regular and were helping us to get closer to God, and that our personal Bible study was deep and sustaining us in our Christian walk. Very memorable, considering I heard it back in 1986 – almost thirty years ago! How are you doing in this area? Some years I have felt more like a dried up Texas tumbleweed than a flourishing tropical bougainvillea… I know that all it takes is me getting back into my positive routine (not that I want to have “routine” QTs) and I am back on track…Lack of discipline is usually my nemesis…

But honestly, our whole Christian life and personal happiness is related to how close we become to God and how much we trust in His promises. We can choose to be a flourishing, flowering, fruitful tree or we can choose to be a withering, weather-beaten bush…as the song said, “If I don’t read my Bible, it is nobody’s fault but mine…”

In the context of depending on God, no wonder Jeremiah wrote that the heart is deceitful. Our own opinion is often diametrically opposed to God’s point of view…that is why we are supposed to use the Bible to guide our thinking, not our own “logic”. The warning here is strong: ignore God’s word at your own peril! God is watching, and there is a judgment day!

After this challenging delivery, Jeremiah prayed an interesting prayer – he asked God to make sure that he was vindicated in front of his mockers. How I have often felt that way…and amazingly, God always does bring out the truth. Now, sometimes I was the one in the wrong, and then the other person needed to be vindicated! How wide was my smile, however, either inwardly or on the outside, when I was the one who was vindicated…of course, gloating is also a sin (smile). But no matter who is right or wrong, with God, the truth will out! No wonder patience is a virtue…The chapter ends with God telling Jeremiah to rebuke the people specifically for not following the Sabbath. We can only assume that the people were breaking that law for the sake of greed or being comfortable. If that is the case, then we might examine why we break certain laws. I know that sometimes it seems ok to break the speed limit, but is it really? What about copyright laws? Buying pirated goods? I have done those things before, but I am not so sure that God doesn’t care about them…

The first half of chapter 18 reminds us of the chapter from Isaiah about the potter and the clay. The second half sees Jeremiah, the weeping prophet turn into the angry prophet! He is incensed over another plot against him, and he cries to God in anger. God ignores the plea, at least he doesn’t address Jeremiah’s prayer directly, and instead, in chapter 19, sends Jeremiah out to prophesy again to the people. This time it is a message of destruction related to the idol worshipping practice of sacrificing children in the fire to Molech, which was done in Topheth.

The result of his trust in God and continued preaching? Chapter 20 tells us that he was beaten and imprisoned! Not many of us have been treated like that for sharing our faith or taking a stand as a Christian. (Some of you have. Wow! You are great example!) But that didn’t stop Jeremiah from telling the truth to his persecutors! Amen! In the midst of feeling full of self-pity (it would be hard not to!), Jeremiah uttered what has become one of the most well-known passages from his writings: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot!” (I can’t read these verses aloud without getting tears in my eyes…)Jeremiah ends his prayer with praise and more trust. Lord, let us have his heart and conviction.

JULY 20 Introducing Daniel, the Bravest High-Achieving Teen Ever! Daniel 1-2

This is the first entry to feature Daniel, one of the most inspiring characters in the Old Testament, and hits on topics such as TAKING A STAND AT WORK, STICKING TO YOUR CONVICTIONS, and TRUSTING GOD IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES.

When you read the book of Daniel, remember that you are not reading a “story”, but true exploits of your spiritual brother who is waiting for you in heaven – it is very emotional and encouraging!

The following is quoted from Dr F LaGard Smith’s narration:

While Jeremiah is having his problems with Jehoiakim, several captives in Babylon are being singled out for duty in the king’s service. The requirements for their selection are unusually demanding, and to be chosen would be considered an honour even under normal circumstances. Among them is a young man by the name of Daniel, who distinguishes himself by refusing to eat food or drink wine from Nebuchadnezzar’s royal table. For this act of faith, Daniel and three others with him are exceptionally blessed by God. After three years of special training, they enter the king’s service and are found to excel in understanding whenever the king inquires of them.

Wow! Isn’t it great right from the start? Daniel and his friends were the equivalent of what in Singapore would be called “President’s Scholars”. In America, we might look at these guys as potential “Rhodes Scholars”. In Britain, they would be the students who get top marks at Eton, Harrow, and Winchester.

They would have been born sometime during Josiah’s reign and presumably would have heard the preaching of Jeremiah. They might have been Jeremiah’s best disciples, because it appears that they may have already learned the language of the Babylonians by 605 BC. When Josiah died in battle, and the spirituality of Judah began to go down the toilet with the sinfulness of the new king, perhaps these intelligent young men smelled the coffee and were only too ready to go into exile as part of what they perceived to be their purpose.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were in a country that had been overrun by the reigning super power of the day, and if the king told me to jump, I might say, “How high?” And if I were chosen by said king to be in his pool of advisors, I think I would be completely flattered and there would be no way I would consider rejecting anything (especially the nicest food from his table, which tends to be my weakness anyway!)  And if I were a teenage boy who had never turned down food before – well you get the picture…talk about self-discipline!

An American Olympic swimmer visiting Singapore said the biggest trial he was facing was figuring out how to ignore the buffet breakfast every morning before his training! (He confessed that after the first morning he sank to the bottom of the pool!) Honestly, Daniel and his friends had to have tremendous faith in God and an immense amount of self-control to be able to make this decision. I guess it helped that they were together. And of course, God didn’t let them down – they benefited in every way from their decision to not defile themselves with the possibility of eating unclean foods from the king’s table. Daniel and Co are incredible examples of what we all need to do as disciples of Jesus!

Amazing how Daniel was ready to make a stand for something that might not have been sure was a sin but that could possibly be one. That reminds me of the admonition Paul gives us in Ephesians 5:3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” 

(I have some friends who use this passage to show that being a vegetarian is healthier. However, it is not certain whether the diet helped them or God was miraculously sustaining them just for taking a stand. I certainly believe that eating vegetables and fruit of all varieties is healthy, and nowadays, there are so many additives to the meat that it might not be a bad idea to cut down, but I digress…)

I do think it is fun when God-fearers excel in the world because it brings glory to God. Paul tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we strive for God’s glory at work, at school, and at other pursuits, we are truly being lights that shine. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.  “…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…” Philippians 2:15

I suppose the lessons from this story are that when you stand up for God, you will be blessed (in some form or other), that having great spiritual friends really helps, that being righteous causes us to shine like stars, and that denying your self-indulgent nature is always a good thing! 

The next section of the story is almost comical as it highlights the bizarre character of Nebuchadnezzar and the amazing way that God brought glory to himself through Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was a classic Narcissist, but I will explore this more in a future entry, when we look at the fourth chapter of Daniel (the one where the king has to live like a wild animal.) Nebuchadnezzar was completely unreasonable and asked his coterie of wise men to interpret his rather involved dream – with a twist – the wise men had to first tell him the dream! Now I have heard of irrational despots, but this takes the cake! And yet the Bible tells us how this once again brought glory to God. Please remember this story the next time you are in a desperate situation. In fact, the whole first half of the book of Daniel is filled with stories of a righteous guy trying to shine at work who kept getting put into desperate situations, and how God always saw him through. I love it!

Back to the story – what did Daniel do when he heard that he was about to be killed for no discernible reason by a maniacal ruler? He clarified the situation, remained hopeful, (didn’t get hopeless), asked for more time, told his spiritual friends about it, and prayed to God! Lessons here – when others are manic, do not panic! When Satan threatens the day, keep your head and pray! (OK these sound corny – I’ll move on!)

Daniel didn’t use his wisdom to glorify himself, by the way. He shared the glory with his friends who had prayed with him. He got the vision, but they had prayed, so he shared the credit as he thanked God. (“you have made known to us the dream of the king.”) Not doing things for personal glory is an important lesson for us to remember – God gives us our gifts. “…but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…” When we take the credit, we are missing out on an opportunity to glorify God (not to mention probably getting all the glory we are going to get here on earth and missing out on any glory in heaven). Remember what happened to King Herod when he didn’t give glory to God? If you are so inclined, check out the story in 12th chapter of Acts…

Back to Daniel…Now if we look into the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had, it is fascinating! The dream, which was a vision of a statue made of different kinds of metal, illustrated how the Babylonian kingdom (gold) would be followed by the Medo-Persians (silver), followed by the Greeks (bronze), followed by the Romans (iron and clay). And how God would set up HIS everlasting kingdom during this time. That kingdom would be built on a rock, not cut from human hands, which would smash all of the other kingdoms. Wow! What a dream! Most of our dreams are probably a result of indigestion…but look at this one! No wonder the king made Daniel his chief advisor. Perhaps God engineered this in order to have loyal and God fearing Jews overseeing Babylon so that the captives wouldn’t be too mistreated. In any case, God lifted up Daniel and his friends and used them for His own purposes. When we submit to God and trust him, whether it be with an unreasonable boss or in any situation, God is watching and He is able to bring glory to himself through our righteousness. (Reading this always makes me think of Peter Smith, the American brother who helped us so much in Jakarta because he was a “Daniel”. Thanks, Peter!)

Stay tuned for more of Daniel in the months to come. However, for next few weeks, we make our way back to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to learn more from these awesome prophets.

Romania is for the first time amongst Knight News Challenge winners with a consortium of & RISE Project – OCCRP

The Romania-based project “Who are the gatekeepers of the Internet, cable and satellite infrastructures in Eastern Europe? Mapping and investigating media distribution providers” was among the nine projects selected for funding by the Knight News Challenge. The Knight Foundation organized on June 23 the MIT-Knight Civic Media conference “The Open Internet and Everything After”, in order to present this year’s granted projects of Knight News Challenge. 704 applications have been submitted, with nine projects selected for funding.

The project “Who are the gatekeepers of the Internet, cable and satellite Infrastructures in Eastern Europe? Mapping and Investigating media distribution providers”, initiated by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, in partnership with European Actors Association ( and RISE Project from Romania is among the winners. The team consists of: Paul Radu (project manager), Dan Tapalaga (senior data analyst), Manuela Preoteasa (senior researcher), Ramona Diaconu (advocacy campaign coordinator), Andrei Schwartz (junior consultant).

  • See a summary of the project here

The Knight News Challenge Announcement took place in Boston during MIT-Knight Civic Media conference, “The Open Internet and Everything After”. The Romanian proposal awarded with a grant was presented on stage by Dan Tapalaga, from, on behalf of European Actors Association (