Russian official calls on US and Europe to act against ‘terrorism’ – National

DAMASCUS, Syria – Russia’s deputy foreign minister called on the United States and Europe to take “serious” steps to combat terrorism during a visit to Damascus on Saturday, warning that several Middle Eastern countries are threatened.

“Russia will not stand idle toward attempts by terrorist groups to spread terrorism in regional states,” Sergei Ryabkov told reporters, apparently referring to the rapid advance of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

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Raw video: Truck bombing in central Syria kills 34


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Russia has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main allies since the start of an uprising against him in March 2011. Moscow has used its veto power four times at the U.N. Security Council to prevent international sanctions on Syria.

Both Russia and Assad’s government have portrayed the civil war in Syria as a struggle against foreign-backed “terrorists,” the word Damascus applies to all rebels fighting to end the Assad family’s four-decade reign.

Nearly two hours after Ryabkov’s comments, a car bomb exploded in a busy market in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, activists said. It was not immediately clear how many people were killed or wounded.

The activists said the market was crowded as many people went shopping a day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and feast in the evenings.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the explosion caused extensive damage. The Observatory and an activist in the nearby suburb of Saqba who goes by the name of Abu Yazan said the Islamic State is believed to be behind the blast, because of a rivalry with other rebel groups in the area.

“Hospitals are full of wounded people,” Abu Yazan said via Skype.

Douma, one of the most populous suburbs of Damascus, has been under rebel control for more than two years.

The Islamic State has been fighting against rival rebel factions, including al-Qaida’s official affiliate, the Nusra Front, since January in battles that have left more than 6,000 people dead, according to the Observatory.

Ryabkov called for confronting terrorism by “taking integral measures against radicalism and by searching for a solution to prevent the influx of fighters from abroad,” adding that terrorism will have “catastrophic repercussions” on the entire region.

Thousands of foreign fighters, including hundreds from the former Soviet Union, are fighting against Assad’s forces in different parts of Syria, mainly on behalf of the Islamic State, which has carved out a sprawling enclave astride the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Ryabkov praised Damascus’ “responsible” decision to give up its chemical weapons, saying that doing so has boosted Syria’s security.

READ MORE: Conflict in Syria

On Monday, Syria finished handing over to Western powers 1,300 tons of chemical weapons it acknowledged possessing, completing a deal reached last fall under threat of U.S. airstrikes.

Ryabkov held talks a day earlier with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his deputy, Faisal Mekdad.

According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, Ryabkov congratulated al-Moallem on removing “all chemical material” from the country.

©2014The Associated Press

Discrimination continues for seniors in LGBTQ community

WATCH ABOVE:  The celebration is bitter sweet for many visitors taking in the festivities. The acceptance and support a reminder of what life isn’t like back home. Cindy Pom reports.

TORONTO – For 85-year-old Alf Roberts, Canada’s largest gay pride celebration is a chance to celebrate an identity he only felt comfortable sharing in his old age.

“At last, after all these years I don’t have to be careful when people ask me if I’m gay,” Roberts said. “I just say yes, I am.”

VIDEO GALLERY: Word Pride 2014

WorldPride is this weekend and businesses along the parade route are gearing up for a massive party.


WorldPride is this weekend and businesses along the parade route are gearing up for a massive party.


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Mass wedding for same-sex couples at WorldPride


Toronto holds “Gay Family Day” as part of WorldPride

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    WorldPride is this weekend and businesses along the parade route are gearing up for a massive party.

    Mass wedding for same-sex couples at WorldPride

    Toronto holds “Gay Family Day” as part of WorldPride

Roberts came out when he was 80, shortly after moving into Fudger House, a long-term care facility for seniors in Toronto.

“I was a church organist for years and a music teacher, and you are very careful in those positions,” he said. “You don’t want everybody to know.”

For most of his life, Roberts would remain vague about his identity, responding “I am who I am,” when people asked him if he was gay.

Then, relief came when he realized that Fudger House touted a gay-positive environment.

Bill Ryan, a social worker and professor at McGill University, said it’s rare to be openly gay in a seniors home.

Ryan, who has conducted research on the elderly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for more than a decade, said stigma persists because residents in seniors homes lived in an era when homosexuality was considered a criminal act or mental illness.

Canada decriminalized homosexual acts in 1969.

“They grew up at a time when the only coping strategy that was allowed to them was to hide and camouflage themselves,” Ryan said, adding that most seniors don’t have the benefit of political activism over the last 30 years.

He added the baby boomer generation will be entirely different when they enter long-term care facilities.

“Those growing into their 50s and 60s would go to the courts and tribunals to claim their rights,” he said.

During his research on long-term care facilities, Ryan heard from one gay couple who would go into the senior centre’s bathroom to hold hands instead of showing affection in front of centre staff.

“He would visit during non-family visiting hours, and he would take his partner out of bed, help him into the bathroom and close the door behind him. Then they would hold each other for as long as they could and hug, and then he would open the bathroom door, put him back in bed, and not touch him again.

“It’s a powerful metaphor of what a lot of people experience,” Ryan said.

He added that the cohort of LGBT seniors in long-term care are particularly vulnerable, and are at higher risk of isolation and depression.

“The generation of those who haven’t had HIV or AIDS are dealing with a lot more isolation because many of their friends have died,” he said.

Donna Turner, spokeswoman for Rainbow Health Ontario–an organization that focuses on the health of the LGBT community –said changing the culture in seniors homes is an “uphill battle.”

Her organization is one of several that provides training to staff members in the hopes of quelling discrimination across Ontario.

“Long-term care facilities are particularly tough because there are some people who might already have pretty strong convictions, whether it’s residents or staff,” she said.

For the most part, care centres will ask for training after there has already been a “negative incident,” she said.

And while seniors homes in urban areas such as Toronto may be LGBT-friendly, she said, that’s not the reality across Canada.

Marie Robertson has been a counsellor and an activist for the LGBT community for more than four decades.

As a senior herself, Robertson, 61, said she has a “vested interest” in training staff to be LGBT-friendly at Canada’s senior care centres.

“So that when my generation needs care, we’re not going in the closet to access service,” she said, adding that she helps to train people in Ottawa.

Robertson said members of the elderly LGBT community lived most of their lives facing high risks of personal and professional discrimination.

“It was a very frightening time,” she said.

“Even in the last years of their lives, these people will die there and stay in the closet. That just breaks my heart.”

She added that while “some of this is their mind-set,” homophobia is still a problem in many seniors homes.

In the United States, this has led to the creation of centres marketed specifically to the LGBT community, however Robertson said in Canada that would be “a fantasy.”

She added that instead of isolating LGBT seniors, the answer is to address discrimination head on.

“I’ve been paying taxes all my adult life, and my taxes have gone into building the facilities that exist today,” she said.

With World Pride in Toronto wrapping up in a rainbow haze of revelry, Fudger House will be one of many organizations in Sunday’s parade.

Roberts — who has ridden in the parade since he came out at 80 — said it’s a chance to celebrate being true to yourself.

“If there are any young people who have someone they can talk to, they shouldn’t be afraid to come out,” he said. “That’s the message.”

©2014The Canadian Press

Survivor of fatal drunk driving crash shares her story

Getting into the car with a drunk driver behind the wheel almost killed 23-year-old Alyssa Alanis four years ago when the sedan carrying seven people she was in lost control, struck a light standard, flipped in the air and rolled over in Burnaby.

As Alanis copes with her decision to ride with a drunk driver, and struggles with her recovery, she wants others to learn from her mistake.

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“The consequences of one simple choice,” said Alanis as she broke down in tears, “can change not only your life but it can change others. Not only change it, but it can end it.”

The crash left the drunk driver, Baldip Chandi, uninjured, but two other passengers, including Alanis’s boyfriend died. He was sentenced on March 1, 2012, to three years in prison for drunk and dangerous driving. Alanis was thrown from the vehicle and was not expected to survive.

Corporal Robert McDonald, spokesperson for RCMP Traffic Services, was at the scene of the crash four years ago, and remembers being told that Alanis had a zero chance of survival.
“It took about a week before she finally changed her status from zero chance of survival to stable,” said Corporal McDonald.

February 2010 crash that killed two young men and injured three other youths.

Global BC

Alanis’s mother, Gigi, stands by her daughter’s side and desperately pleads for people not to drink and drive. She wants others to know about the struggles her daughter will face every day for the rest of her life.

“She may look normal physically but cognitively it’s very difficult for her,” said Gigi ” she can’t make decisions , she can’t go to school, she can’t go to work.”

“I used to be able to play the guitar,” said Alanis.

Alanis used to be a musician but her life has clearly changed forever.

“I used to be able to play the piano and I used to write my own music and perform it,” said Alanis “unfortunately I’ve forgotten all of that.”

RCMP officers across the province have launched their summer Counter Attack campaign, and both mother and daughter are using the occasion to warn others about the dangers of drinking and driving and the deadly risk of getting into a car with a drunk driver behind the wheel.

“It could change your life,” said Alanis “it could literally end people’s lives.”

Publisher looking to revive ‘Johnny Canuck’ WWII comic book hero – National

TORONTO – A Canadian comic book hero used as a morale booster during the Second World War could soon return to print – if he gets a boost of his own.

Johnny Canuck, a Second World War Canadian comic book hero who in one issue fought Adolf Hitler in hand-to-hand combat, has been silent for decades. But now Toronto archivist and publisher Rachel Richey has obtained the rights to reprint the collection of classic comics for the first time.

Richey is launching a crowdfunding campaign in the hopes of resurrecting Johnny Canuck.

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The character appeared in 28 issues of Dime Comics written by Leo Bachle and published from 1941 to 1946. He’s a “hero” but not a “superhero” – he doesn’t have superpowers. Instead, Johnny Canuck fights using his strength, quick wit and patriotism.

As a teenager, Leo Bachle lied about his age to enlist in the Canadian army, said Robert Pincombe, a Canadian comics historian. After his age was discovered, Bachle returned to high school in Toronto. The Johnny Canuck character is physically modeled after Bachle, and his teachers and friends were often written into the comics, said Pincombe.

“Leo was a kid himself, so he knew what kids wanted to see,” Pincombe said. “He wanted to see action, wanted to see clear villains. So he brought all that to the page.”

Johnny Canuck was a glorified personification of the Second World War effort, Richey said.

“He’s a two-fisted, aviator-type character,” Pincombe said. “Comics in general rely on caricature in order to make the ‘good versus evil’ more clear.”

As part of the “war at home,” the Canadian government restricted American imports of non-essential goods, including comics and pulp novels. This gave Bachle’s homegrown hero a market in which to flourish, Pincombe said. The comics cost 10 cents and were a popular source of children’s entertainment.

The original Johnny Canuck was a symbolic character from 19th-century political cartoons, a Canadian version of Uncle Sam. His name has been used and adapted over time, including as the namesake of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team.

“Uncle Sam: It will be too bad Jack, if our hired men, Taft and Laurier, get us heaving high tariff bricks at each other” [Caricature of Uncle Sam and Johnny Canuck commenting on the proposed Reciprocity treaty of 1911]

Newton McConnell/Archives of Ontario

In the comics and elsewhere, the Johnny Canuck character appears in various ways, said Richey. He might show up as a lumberjack in one story and a soldier in the next.

Reintroducing him to the public imagination, she said, creates opportunities for artists to recast him further.

“He’s a really adaptable character,” Richey said. “And yes, maybe (war) was the situation for him in the forties, and now he can be supplanted into something else that Canadians believe in, or something that is threatening the Canadian way.”

Goalie Roberto Luongo wore a custom Johnny Canuck helmet while playing for the Vancouver Canucks, pictured here on October 20, 2011.

Rich Lam/Getty Images

Richey has reprinted other comics from the early 1940s. Her latest book, a collaboration with fellow comics publisher Hope Nicholson, is a collection of reprinted comics starring Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a part-Inuit demigoddess who rides into battle on the back of a polar bear.

There’s plenty of blatant Canadiana there too, Richey said.

“CBC Radio is featured in one panel,” she said. “You just look at (the comic) and you see wolves and trees and landscape.”

These black-and-white comic books are entertainment, but they are also historical documents that contain elements of wartime propaganda, she said. In the Johnny Canuck series, modern audiences will find jarringly racist depictions of Japanese characters.

If Johnny Canuck had continued his adventures into the mid-20th century, Richey said, he would have changed with Canadian society.

“Maybe if he was around for those 70 years that he was kind of lost to the depths of the Canadian comics, then he could potentially have changed,” she said. “For now we have this image of Johnny Canuck as he was.”

Richey raised $50,000 as part of the crowdfunding campaign to reprint Nelvana, and hopes to fund this venture the same way. The Kickstarter campaign for Johnny Canuck will begin Sept. 1.

©2014The Canadian Press

Canada free trade agenda: Roaring success or hopelessly stalled? – National

OTTAWA – The Harper government’s vaunted free trade agenda is either a roaring success or hopelessly stalled – and given that government officials aren’t commenting, even experts in the field are having trouble deciding which.

Next week, the government would have reason to trumpet its free trade achievements when hundreds of negotiators from 11 Asia-Pacific countries descend on Ottawa as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, viewed as the next big deal after the European pact known as CETA.

WATCH: Canada reaches free trade agreement 

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But Ottawa is barely acknowledging the event is even happening; so much so that the Council of Canadians issued a release Friday wondering why the government is “setting (a) new global standard” for secrecy.

There may be good reason for the underwhelming embrace of TPP.

With more than 20 negotiating rounds to date, it’s beginning to appear that the countries vying to create one of the world’s biggest trading blocks are just going through the motions.

“Everyone is indulging in a charade where negotiations are going forward. It’s the biggest game in town, but I’m not convinced TPP will see the light of day,” says Lawrence Herman, a Toronto-based trade lawyer formerly with Cassels Brock.

The situation is not much more clear with Canada’s agreement-in principle reached with Europe last October. Officials say CETA is taking longer than anticipated to render into legal text, but observers believe the deal has run into substantive roadblocks.

Also perplexing is why Canada has not ratified the foreign investment protection agreement with China, called FIPA, when the two sides signed the treaty almost two years ago.

The one agreement that appears to have staying power is the free trade deal with South Korea, although that rates low in terms of significance next to the Canada-European Union pact, or even TPP.

Trade agreements aren’t usually big vote-getters for governments, but the consequences for the Harper government of failure on CETA – or having to announce further concessions to the hard-bargaining Europeans – could be a serious issue entering an election year.

The federal government has made free trade deals a central plank of its economic agenda, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper all but declared “mission accomplished” for CETA at a ceremony in Brussels last October.

“The Conservatives have made this such a high-level issue for them that, if they can’t close these deals, they will have problems and it’s not just closing deals, it’s closing good deals,” said NDP trade critic Don Davies.

“But I think their rhetoric has never matched the reality.”

Matthew Kronby, a former Canadian trade negotiator who is now a partner with the Bennett Jones law firm in Toronto, says there are still issues to be worked out before CETA can be completed.

“It’s very close, but getting over that last hump is a challenge right now,” he said.

One key issue, sources say, involves the controversial investor-state clause that allows private firms to sue governments if they feel they have been unfairly thwarted in their operations.

Several European countries, including Germany, are said to be balking at signing because they fear they will have to offer the same arrangement to U.S. companies, which are notoriously more litigious than those in Canada. As well, the Europeans are concerned U.S. firms would be able to piggy-back on CETA to sue in Europe through their Canadian subsidiaries.

Further complicating matters, committee chairs from 16 European parliaments sent a letter last week to European trade commission Karel de Gucht asking him to consider CETA, and the Europe-U.S. trade deal if it comes to fruition, “mixed agreements” that require ratification from all 28 member national parliaments.

Trade consultant and former negotiator Peter Clark says the difficulties show that Canada never really had an agreement with Europe and the haggling continues on several fronts.

If the Europeans are getting cold feet over CETA, Davies says he has been told it is Ottawa that is having second thoughts about the investment protection treaty with China.

Reports of a cabinet rift over the agreement have surfaced, although a senior government official told The Canadian Press that concerns about labour mobility issues were alleviated somewhat last week by Ottawa’s overhaul of the temporary foreign workers’ program.

A substantive problem, says Davies, concerns the non-conforming measures clause grandfathered into the FIPA that would allow China to frustrate Canadian firms seeking to invest in the world’s second-largest economy. Canada has the Investment Canada Act and a few other well-known restrictions, but barriers are far more numerous and, perhaps, more mysterious in China.

“There could be thousands,” said Davies. “I asked for a list in committee and they (government officials) couldn’t provide them.”

But perhaps the most problematic is the talks surrounding TPP, which seek to create a trading block among 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific representing 40 per cent of the world’s economic output and 26 per cent of global trade.

U.S. President Barack Obama has set his sights on the Asia-Pacific summit in November for arriving at an agreement-in-principle, although Australia’s trade minister said recently the first half of 2015 is more realistic.

Even that deadline may be too optimistic, say analysts, given that Obama has not secured fast-track authority to negotiate a deal from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, or even the Senate. The prospects that the mid-term elections in November will return a more friendly Congress appear slim, they note.

Fast-track authority gives the White House the green light to negotiate an agreement and send it to Congress for an up or down vote but, without it, any deal struck with the U.S. can be picked apart later by special interests in Congress.

“If I was negotiating I’d be quite skeptical about what can be delivered,” explained Kronby. “You make concessions and you make a deal and the U.S. comes back a year or two later and says it’s not good enough.”

©2014The Canadian Press

FX to remove graphic billboards for Toronto-shot series ‘The Strain’

TORONTO — Billboards promoting made-in-Toronto series The Strain are being taken down in the US following complaints from motorists.

Billboards for the show, which debuts on FX July 13, show a worm crawling out of a woman’s eye ball.

“We are in the process of replacing the key art for The Strain on outdoor media in several locations,” a FX spokesman said in a statement.

On social media, many people have been complaining about the marketing campaign for The Strain.

The 13-episode series from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, wrapped production in Toronto at the end of April.

It follows an epidemiologist (Corey Stoll) and his team as they investigate the mysterious deaths of passengers onboard a jet that lands at JFK in New York. They quickly realize a viral outbreak is threatening the city.

The Strain also stars Sean Astin and Canadian actors Kevin Durand and Robert Maillet.

BELOW: See the controversial image from the marketing campaign for The Strain.

Among critics of the billboards and posters is Kirsten Smith, writer of movies like Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You.

“Seriously, The Strain? I have to look at your disgusting eyeball billboard when I drive? Are you trying to make me crash and die?,” she tweeted.

“We can’t use the f word in a PG-13 movie but networks can put a giant bloody eyeball on Sunset Blvd.”

Smith added: “The bloody eyeballs are on buses too. So when you’re checking your blind spot, there’s an eyeball in it.”

Actor David Holmes (Reno 911) was more direct.

Here are a few more comments about the eye-worm billboards:

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Syrian clashes have left up to 7,000 dead since January: report – National

BEIRUT – Syrian activists say up to 7,000 people, mostly rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad, have been killed in infighting among rival Islamic groups across the opposition-held territory in the north.

WATCH: Violence in Syria

Raw video: Giant tunnel blast in Syria caught on camera


Raw video: Giant tunnel blast in Syria caught on camera


Raw video: Truck bombing in central Syria kills 34

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has documented 7,000 deaths as a result of the rebel-on-rebel violence since it erupted in northern Syria in January. The Observatory says its activists on the ground have the names of 5,641 rebels who have been killed in infighting. The names of another 1,200 dead fighters have not been confirmed, the Observatory said Sunday.

The death toll also included 650 civilians who got caught in the crossfire of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and its rival group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.


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©2014The Associated Press

R&B singer Bobby Womack dies at 70

Bobby Womack, a colorful and highly influential R&B singer-songwriter who influenced artists from the Rolling Stones to Damon Albarn, has died. He was 70.

Womack’s publicist Sonya Kolowrat said Friday that the singer had died, but she could provide no other details.

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With an incomparable voice few could match, Womack was a stirring singer and guitarist in his own right and a powerful songwriter whose hits like “Across 110th Street,” ”If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much” captured the imagination of future stars in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B.

“He had a style that nobody else could ever capture,” longtime friend, gospel singer Candi Staton, said in a statement. “I loved him and I will miss him so, so very much.”

In a statement, musician Peter Gabriel said: “I’m very sad to learn of Bobby Womack’s death … His songs and his voice have been so much a part of the fabric of so many musical lives. In recent years, it was great to see Richard Russell and Damon Albarn bringing his music back into our attention. He was a soul legend. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this time.”

Womack’s death comes as something of a surprise. Though he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago and overcame addiction and multiple health issues, including prostate and colon cancer, recently, he seemed in good health and spirits when he performed earlier this month at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

He told the BBC in 2013 the Alzheimer’s diagnosis came after he began having difficulty remembering his songs and the names of people he had worked with.

And there have been many. The soul singer cut a wide path through the music business as a performer and songwriter in a career that spanned seven decades.

“I must have listened to Facts of Life for months, what an influence, what a voice, so long Bobby!!” Rod Stewart said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, long after he’d lost his fortune and his career to addiction.

He spoke of kicking his substance abuse problems in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press and all the friends he’d lost to drugs over the years.

“I think the biggest move for me was to get away from the drug scene,” Womack said. “It wasn’t easy. It was hard because everybody I knew did drugs. … They didn’t know when to turn it off. So for me looking at Wilson Pickett, close friends of mine, Sly Stone, Jim Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and I can go on and on and on, and I say all of them died because of drugs.”

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, Womack was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and sang gospel music at a young age, performing with his brothers in The Womack Brothers. Under the influence of gospel and R&B legend Sam Cooke, who signed the group to his personal label, Womack moved into secular music. In the early 1960s his group recorded “It’s All Over Now,” which was covered and by the Stones and became the band’s first number-one hit.

His songs have been recorded by multiple artists, and he played as a session musician in Memphis in the 1960s.

Albarn and XL Recordings president Richard Russell helped Womack regain his career with 2012 comeback album The Bravest Man in the Universe. The album was a departure for Womack, full of electronic music and beats. But it was lauded by critics for a simple reason: That distinctive voice of his still brought chills.

“I don’t think he ever really thought that he would do anything again,” Albarn said of Womack in March. “Watching his rehabilitation and watching his ability to confront new material and new challenges was nothing short of miraculous at the time, and he still today continues to battle his demons and his illness. But he’s a beautiful person and when he opens his mouth and that voice comes out, it is something that is somehow touched by God.”

AP Music Writer Mesfin Fekadu in New York and Don Schanche contributed to this report.

©2014The Associated Press

Egypt to restrict Ramadan sermons, further stifling political speech – National

CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt will restrict Ramadan sermons to the topics of faith and morality, in the latest move aimed at limiting political speech in the deeply polarized country.

Religious Endowments Minister Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa said Sunday the decision should ensure that sermons during Islam’s holy month of fasting “unite people, not divide them.”

The measure, announced on the first day of Ramadan, is the latest attempt by the state to control religious speech following last year’s overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. In recent months Egypt has banned Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which it considers a terrorist organization, and passed a new law restricting protests.

The ministry had already restricted preaching in mosques to state-authorized clerics.

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©2014The Associated Press

2 directors detained and questioned for building collapse in India

WATCH: Rescuers pull woman from rubble of collapsed building

NEW DELHI – Police in southern India detained two construction company directors Sunday as rescuers using gas cutters and shovels searched for dozens of workers believed buried in the rubble of a building that collapsed during monsoon rains. It was one of two weekend building collapses that killed at least 22 people.

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The 12-story apartment structure the workers were building collapsed late Saturday while heavy rains and lightning were pounding the outskirts of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Police said 31 construction workers had been pulled out so far and the search was continuing for more than a dozen others.

Four of the workers died on the spot and another seven succumbed to injuries in a hospital, said police officer George Fernandes.

Fourteen workers remained hospitalized, while six others were discharged, Fernandes said.

Police officer Kanan said two directors of the construction company, Prime Sristi, have been detained for questioning as authorities began investigating the collapse. The officer uses one name.

WATCH: Rescue teams search for survivors after building collapse in India

Balaguru, one of the builders, said the structure collapsed possibly due to the impact of lightning.

“Usually, once the construction gets over we install the equipment to prevent the building from a thunder strike. It was nearing completion,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Balaguru, who uses one name, as saying.

Nearly 300 police and fire service workers worked overnight, looking for survivors in the debris. They used gas cutters, iron rods and shovels to reach those trapped in the rubble, after cranes lifted concrete blocks to clear the way for the rescuers.

“Removing debris is a major challenge. It may take two to three days to clear the rubble,” said S.P. Selvam, who is heading the rescue operation.

Earlier Saturday, a four-story, 50-year-old structure toppled in an area of New Delhi inhabited by the poor. Eleven people died and one survivor was being treated in a hospital, said fire service officer Praveer Haldiar.

Most homes in that part of the capital were built without permission and using substandard materials, police officer Madhur Verma said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the New Delhi collapse was triggered by construction work on an adjacent plot.

Building collapses are common in India, where high demand for housing and lax regulations have encouraged some builders to cut corners, use substandard materials or add unauthorized extra floors.

In April last year, 74 people were killed when an eight-story building being constructed illegally in the Mumbai suburb of Thane in western Maharashtra state caved in. It was the worst building collapse in the country in decades.

©2014The Associated Press

Despite large sockeye forecasts, Feds wary of repeating 2009 blunder

VANCOUVER – Predictions for this year’s salmon fishery on British Columbia’s Fraser River are so massive there’s no historical data to use to forecast the many millions of sockeye expected to return.

But no one involved in the fishery would dare celebrate early as the ghost of the disastrous 2009 Fraser River fishery continues to haunt their memories.

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Five years after the collapse of the run that prompted a $26-million federal inquiry, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is forecasting a summer return ranging from a low of 7.3 million to a high of 72.5 million, settling for planning purposes on 23 million.

In contrast, the department forecast that some 10 million sockeye would return to the Fraser River in 2009, but only about 1.4 million showed up.

Ken Malloway, grand chief of the Sto:lo Nation, which fishes a stretch of the river starting in Surrey, B.C., said federal officials have made some big blunders over forecasts in the past.

He said there have always been concerns, uncertainty and mistakes about sockeye predictions and returns.

“People remember it and people are concerned about it, but you know people don’t want to dwell on it,” he said of the 2009 season. “People are mostly optimistic.”

Malloway said he believes federal officials may even be too conservative by settling on 23 million.

Jennifer Nener, Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s area director for the lower Fraser River, said the figure of 23 million is based on what’s known as a 50-per-cent probability. At 23 million, there is a 50 per cent chance of the returns being higher and a 50 per cent chance of returns being lower, she said.

“The forecast is just that: it’s a forecast, and there is a lot of uncertainty in that forecast ” she said.

Complicating the forecast, though, are the facts that sockeye return to the Fraser in four-year cycles, and there was a large return in 2010 – almost 30 million.

“We had such high numbers of spawners in 2010,” she said. “We’re well outside the range of historical data that are used to actually model the forecast returns.”

Officials have broken the run up into four different management groupings.

The smallest group is known as the early Stuart run, named after the watershed from where they come, and the forecast is for 300,000, she said.

Nener said the early summer and the summer runs are next two groups and the predictions are for 4.1 million and 5.6 to 5.7 million.

The final group is the late run, and Nener said that forecast is set at 12.8 to 12.9 million.

While a test fishery began on the river June 20, there is no current commercial or recreational fishery on the Fraser, said Nener, adding it will be weeks before officials make a decision on when to open a fishery.

“Openings for First Nations’ food and social, ceremonial, as well as recreational and commercial fisheries really depend upon what’s actually happening out there in the environment,” she said.

Rob Morley of the Canadian Fishing Company, a firm that harvests, processes and markets seafood, said much has changed since 2009, and sockeye survival rates have improved in the past three years thanks to better ocean conditions.

Yet uncertainty is a constant in the industry, he added.

“Obviously, you’re always concerned that things can go wrong, and in the fish business you have to expect the unexpected, but, you know, we think those conditions are behind us at this point, given what we have seen.”

Even if 20-million sockeye return, it will still be a good fishery, he said, noting that in 2010 fish processors were scrambling to handle what was available.

This year, though, Morley said he’s concerned with the hype associated with the upper end of the forecast, the numbers past 70 million.

“If only 20 or 25 million show up … somehow people will say we’ve lost a bunch of fish again,” he said. “I think if we get a run of 20 or 25 million we should be very happy.”

Sockeye have dark red coloured meat and a high oil content. They range in weight from 2.2 to 3.1 kilograms, but can reach over six kilograms.

When the fish return to the river they’re know for turning a brilliant shade of red with green heads.

©2014The Canadian Press

B.C. government scores minor victory in teachers strike – National

VANCOUVER – The B.C. government has scored a victory in its dispute with striking teachers.

The provincial labour board has ordered teachers to show up for summer classes for high-school students who failed a course during the year.

The board says teachers must hold classes for students from Grades 10 to 12 who can’t take the failed course during the next school year.

The board is also asking the government to lift its lockout conditions, such as reduced pay, for teachers who work this summer.

But the board didn’t rule on a second government request concerning a small number of schools that don’t break for the summer and have classes year around.

It has put off a decision until a later date.

Teachers went on strike on June 17th, meaning an early summer holiday for more than a half million students.

Class size and pay are among the issues that remain unresolved.

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©2014The Canadian Press

Angelo Tsarouchas comes home for Just For Laughs – Montreal

TORONTO — Two weeks before he’s due to take the mic at the Just For Laughs festival, Angelo Tsarouchas is already in Montreal.

“I brought my family to Montreal because my mom is here and she wanted to see her granddaughter,” explains the L.A. resident, referring to his two-year-old with second wife Alina.

Tsarouchas says he has to “hit all the places I miss” when he is back in the city where he was born.

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“I go to Le Jardin de Panos because it’s got the best Greek food ever. And I will eventually hit Schwartz’s or Reuben’s. Definitely go to St. Viateur Bagels. I’ve got to bring four or five dozen on the plane when I go back.”

In addition to Montreal, Tsarouchas has called Ottawa, Toronto and London, England home before he settled in Los Angeles.

Tsarouchas says his act has changed because he’s got a different perspective. “I’m a Canadian who lives in America who’s got parents from Greece,” he says. “I still have that Canadian sensitivity, which is good.”

He says stand-up comedy is about relating one’s life to an audience of strangers.

“I always try to find the humour in everything. Most (comics) like it when there’s pain,” says Tsarouchas. “When there’s pain, there’s comedy. Now, I don’t feel like I’m in pain — unless you want to call marriage pain.”

READ MORE: Full coverage of Just For Laughs

The comedian says he hopes audience members will keep their mobile devices in their pockets and purses.

“I get it. We live in an age where everybody wants to take pictures, Instagram, 桑拿会所, Facebook, whatever and it’s cool,” he says. “But I always tell people if they try to tape at the show, ‘tape a couple of minutes but do me a favour and keep it for yourself or show it to your friends, but don’t post it on the Internet.’”

Tsarouchas says it’s difficult to try out fresh material if people are posting it online.

“Someone films your set and then all of a sudden it’s on YouTube. Well, that’s the new stuff I was working on. This is how we earn our living.”

At Just For Laughs, Tsarouchas is part of The Ethnic Show, which will be hosted by Maz Jobrani and will also showcase Elon Gold, Erik Griffin, Paul Varghese and Mike Marino.

“The common thread is that everyone is funny. Visibly, it’s an ethnic show but these are headliner comics who work all around the world,” explains Tsarouchas. “It’s easier to put guys together and say, ‘Hey it’s The Ethnic Show.”

He says he believes anyone can make an ethnic joke.

“Why not? We have to get over that,” he says. “By not saying that you’re making it seem like it’s dirty. It doesn’t have to be hurtful. It can be funny.”

Tsarouchas has, obviously, never hidden his ethnic background. He says he never considered changing his surname to make himself more marketable.

“My dad left the war in Greece to come here and build a life for us and I’m going to dishonour him by changing my name just because a couple of people in Hollywood can’t pronounce it? F*** them,” he says.

It wasn’t until the death of his father that Tsarouchas was able to visit Greece.

The result is a comedy special, One Night in Athens, that is set for a September release.

He’s also the subject of a documentary entitled Back To Sparta.

“I opened up my life for it. There was nothing hidden in that doc,” he says. “I exposed everything. I felt that was a story we needed to tell.”

In the film, he remembers finding himself inside an Ottawa jail cell.

“You’ll find out in the film why I was in jail, falsely accused. That doesn’t matter, I was still in jail. And whether I had a revelation or an epiphany — whatever you want to call it — I decided that I’m going to do what I want in my life. And I did.”

He also decided to make some life changes.

“I’ve dropped about 40 pounds. I’ve still got to drop more weight. It’s hard,” he admits. “I enjoy eating. A lot of people do. A Big Mac at 2 in the morning is f***ing delicious. It’s not good for you, but it is delicious.

“But yes, now being married and having a daughter I’m very aware of that and I’ve made an effort to eat much better. I have a two-year-old daughter. I want to be around to see her.”

The Ethnic Show, part of Just For Laughs, runs July 17-23 at Metropolis. Click here for ticket information.