SAUDI ARABIA: President Barack Obama today travels to Saudi Arabia, where he hopes to repair frayed relations. Human rights groups hope the president will raise with King Abdullah the severe clampdown on dissent, while members of Congress want to see him confronted over the lack of religious freedom.
VATICAN CITY: President Obama and the Vatican gave distinctly different accounts of his audience with Pope Francis on Thursday. Obama stressed their common ground on poverty and inequality, but Vatican officials emphasized sharp differences over Obama’s healthcare law mandating contraceptive coverage.
PAKISTAN: Use of blasphemy laws is on the rise, and while Pakistan is the worst abuser of all, Bangladesh, Greece, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have all arrested individuals on blasphemy charges.
A court in Lahore on Thursday sentenced Christian Sawan Masih to death for blasphemy. Masih was convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammed during the course of a conversation with a Muslim friend.
SYRIA: Armenian towns in northwestern Syria have been attacked by al-Nusra Front and ISIS fighters during the last week in a new wave of targeted attacks by Islamic militants on Christians. An Armenian pastor said at least 80 have been killed and more than 3,000 Armenians have been forced from their villages and are taking refuge in Latakia, or fleeing to Armenia: “In taking over control, churches were desecrated, houses pillaged, and government buildings destroyed.”
The assaults are creating a humanitarian crisis in Latakia, where many of the displaced are showing up without food or clothing and taking shelter in already stressed churches. “It is a serious matter to call for urgent prayer globally,” said a Syrian Armenian physician delivering relief to the displaced.