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In Roseburg, the small western US town thrown into the national spotlight last week by the shooting of nine students, it was time to reflect and pray Sunday.

The tragedy was very much still present at New Beginnings Church of God.

Pastor Randy Scroggins's daughter, Lacey, survived the shooting by playing dead and hiding behind the dead body of one of her classmates.

"The God who was good for us yesterday is still the God who is good today, even if we do not understand what happened," Scroggins told the church.

The pastor paid tribute to the victims, aged 18 to 67, and in particular to Rebecka Carnes, whose grandparents were on hand for the service, and Treven Anspach, whose body knocked down and hid his daughter during the melee.

Before the service, Scroggins shared Lacey's story. He said that when the shooter, Chris Harper Mercer, first entered their classroom, Lacey thought it was a joke or a security exercise.

 

Then the shots started. Their instructor, Lawrence Levine, fell first, followed by students, one by one.

 

 

 

 

Dozens of runners donned snow goggles and braved icy temperatures to participate in the world's highest marathon in the foothills of Mount Everest on Monday, five months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal.

The annual Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon, which kicked off in 2003, is usually held in May to mark the anniversary of the first conquest of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953.

But organisers postponed this year's race to October after a massive earthquake hit the Himalayan nation in April, killing nearly 8,900 people and triggering an avalanche on Everest base camp that left 18 dead.

"We decided not to cancel the race entirely because we wanted to send a positive message about Nepal to the world and help revive our tourism industry," organiser Shikhar Pandey told AFP.

"Everest represents Nepal. We want to tell the world that Nepal is safe by successfully organising an event like this," he said.

 

 

 

 

Students at a US college in Oregon where 10 people were killed by a lone gunman on Thursday described scenes of panic and terror as they ran for their lives or hid in classrooms.

"I probably heard a good 35 to 40 shots," Cassandra Welding, who was in an adjacent room to the shooter, told local media.

She said a fellow student at Umpqua Community College in rural Roseburg opened a connecting door to check what was happening and was shot.

"Then we locked the doors, turned off the lights and ... we were all pretty much in panic mode and called 911 and our parents and (said) 'I love yous' because we didn't know what would happen, if those were our last words."

"We put our backpacks in front of us, chairs, whatever we could, to shield ourselves in case he came in," she added.

Student Brady Winder said he was in class on what was the fourth day of the school year when he heard a loud pop at around 10:40 am from an adjoining classroom in Snyder Hall. He said he initially assumed it was a desk or someone hitting the floor.

Winder said his teacher called out through the door to see if everything was OK and then further shots rang out.

 

 

 

 

Bare-chested and with leaves wrapped around their necks, a small group of voodoo worshippers emerges from a dense forest in southern Togo.

The oldest among them, a man in his sixties with decorative beads around his neck, carefully holds up a blue stone and closes his eyes.

"We started the ceremonies six months ago," says Nii Mantche, the high priest of the sacred forest, from his position on a wooden stool.

"Today is the climax -- the release of the sacred stone. I am the only person to take out this stone from the depths of this forest."

Voodoo has a special place in the life of the people of Togo.

The nature-based belief system emerged at the end of the 16th century in the town of Tado on the Mono river, which separates the country from Benin to the east.

Followers worship a single god, the Mahu or Segbo-Lissa, through more than 200 deities who are represented mostly by clods of earth.

 

 

The tiny West African nation may have only seven million people but 51 percent practise voodoo, which has multiple forms -- more than those who follow Christianity and Islam combined.

In the south, voodoo shrines dot the countryside where most Togolese live, guarded by high priests and priestesses.

In Lome, the fetish market is renowned across west Africa and is home to traditional healers using objects from skulls and dried animal skins to bones, features and statues to treat ailments.

- Voodoo new year -

For the Guin people of Aneho, Togo's second city some 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the capital, Lome, the annual Epe-Ekpe or Ekpessosso festival in September marks the start of the new year.

The traditional "taking of the sacred stone" ceremony was started in 1663 by settlers from the former Gold Coast -- modern-day Ghana -- and has now taken place 353 times.

It includes a major rite in all voodoo places of worship to beg the gods for forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

Three members of a group critical of Czech President Milos Zeman climbed onto the roof of the presidential palace in Prague and replaced his official flag with a huge pair of red underpants.

"The flag of a man who is a shamed of nothing flies at last from the Prague castle," the Ztohoven group of artistic pranksters said on their website and Facebook page.

For the group, the colour red of their boxer-short style protest flag symbolises the unhealthily close link they believe the head of state has with China and Russia.

Zeman's detractors also reproach him for his occasional use of bad language.

Dressed as chimney sweeps, the three men, aged from 33 to 41, clambered onto the roof of the presidential building on Saturday afternoon.

They have been arrested and could face two years in prison for their actions, police said.

 

 

President Barack Obama is weak, the United States needs a bold anti-politician not beholden to special interests, and the losers running Washington must be ousted once and for all.

So say a dedicated but seemingly growing band of voters who are shunning a Republican establishment desperate to regain the White House, opting instead for a brash, uncompromising and headstrong celebrity who can revive the nation's mojo.

"Donald Trump is standing up for what Americans want," said Kim Tyrrell, 35.

"He knows what's going on in America and he will do the best to protect us."

Tyrrell was first in line to see the real estate tycoon at a rally Saturday at Urbandale High School in Iowa, where a dozen supporters -- and a few voters who remain wary of the blunt billionaire -- shared their thoughts about the controversial candidate who has rocketed to the top of the Republican heap.

In interviews with AFP both at the rally and at another, faith-based event in nearby Des Moines where Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls spoke, most acknowledged he has been light on his specific plans should he win the White House.

 

 

But supporter Mary Butler said many conservatives, furious over Republican leadership's failures in Washington, are not concerned about that just yet.

"They want to see fresh blood. They don't want to see somebody that's been around the horn for how many years in politics," she said.

Butler is rooting for Trump, she said, "because he has the smarts, the know-how to run his businesses," and understands what is at stake: "Running this country, (defeating) the Taliban and ISIS. You know, that kind of thing."

 

 

Good luck getting a table these days at Atelier, a trendy Havana restaurant where four charter flights of American Catholics packed the dining room on the eve of Pope Francis's arrival in Cuba Saturday.

Ditto a room in a "casa particular" -- a "private house," the family-run hostels the communist island began allowing in 1997, in its first tentative free-market reforms.

Clients at the major state-run hotels meanwhile face prices that have been jacked up 50 percent or more for the wildly popular pontiff's visit to Cuba, which has become an "it" destination since Francis helped broker a rapprochement with its long-time enemy across the Florida Straits.

Since the historic thaw with the United States was announced in December, there has been a buzz in the air in Cuba, where tourist arrivals are up 17 percent since January compared to the same period last year, according to data from the tourism studies department at the University of Havana.

 

American visitors are up 57 percent, despite the fact that the US embargo still bans tourist travel to Cuba.

And the buzz has grown to a roar around the pope's hotly anticipated visit.

David Donn, who flew down with 186 other Catholics on the charter flights organized by the Miami archdiocese, said he decided to make the trip partly to see the pope and partly because of the new allure of an island that has been taboo for American tourists.

"All my friends are totally fascinated. They've been calling me all week. They think it's wonderful," said the 63-year-old accountant from Stuart, Florida.

"With the relationship between the United States and Cuba thawing, I thought this was a great opportunity to come here and see Cuba before things start changing and the cruise ships start coming," he told AFP.

That desire to beat the impending cruise ships as the White House steadily chips away at more than five decades of policy isolating Cuba is one factor driving the increase in international travel to the island, said Jose Luis Perello Cabrera, a tourism expert at the University of Havana.

 

 

 

The central US state of Oklahoma has gone from registering two earthquakes a year to nearly two a day and scientists point to a controversial culprit: wastewater injection wells used in fracking.

Located in the middle of the country, far from any major fault lines, Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes of a magnitude of 3.0 or greater in 2014. That's more than three times as many as the 180 which hit California last year.

"It's completely unprecedented," said George Choy, a seismologist at the US Geological Survey.

As of last month, Oklahoma has already experienced more than 600 quakes strong enough to rattle windows and rock cars. The biggest was a 4.5-magnitude quake that hit the small town of Crescent.

Sandra Voskuhl, 76, grew up in the rural oil boomtown and said she has never felt the earth shake like it did on July 27.

First came a thunderous boom. Then the red earth shook hard, Voskuhl said.

"You heard it coming," she said. "Everything shook."

She recalled screaming as framed pictures toppled over in her home.

Then, when things got quiet, she drove over to the town's Frontier Historical Museum to help clean up antique dishes that had crashed to the ground and shattered.

"We need the oil for our workers and our economy," she said. "But these earthquakes are a little scary."

- Could a 'Big One' hit? -

 

 

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of shooting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep into the earth to crack rock formations and bring up oil and natural gas trapped inside.

The process has unlocked massive amounts of oil and gas in Oklahoma and other states over the past decade.

But along with the oil and gas comes plenty of that brackish water, which is disposed of by injecting it into separate wells that are dug as deep as a mile (less than two kilometers) below ground.

The unnatural addition of the water can change pressure along fault lines, causing slips that make the earth shake, said Choy of the US Geological Survey.

There is debate among scientists over how large of a fault could be reawakened, and how hard that fault might shake.

One camp believes Oklahoma won't see bigger than a 4.0 to 5.0-magnitude earthquake, which would be enough to break windows and knock things off shelves.

Others believe a 7.0-magnitude earthquake could come about, which would be strong enough to topple buildings.

"What's at risk is that when you put water into the ground, it's never going to come back out. You're putting it in places it has never been before," Choy told AFP.

"The bigger the volume, the greater the area will be affected. And we don't know what the long-term effect will be."

- 4,500 injection wells -

 

The pace at which earthquake activity has increased has rattled many in Oklahoma, who are also worried about groundwater contamination brought on by fracking.

From 1975 to 2008, the state experienced anywhere from zero to three earthquakes a year which registered at 3.0 or higher.

Then the numbers jumped: there were 20 in 2009, 35 in 2010, 64 in 2011, 35 in 2012, 109 in 2013 and 585 in 2014.

"We are the only state where once this problem came up, we just kept going (with fracking)," said Johnson Bridgwater, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, a prominent environmental group.

 

 

 

 

The White House asked if US President Barack Obama really had to travel to Oslo to pick up his surprise Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a book due out in Norway on Thursday reveals.

In his memoir "Secretary of Peace", historian Geir Lundestad recounts some of the backstage goings-on inside the Norwegian Nobel Committee during his time as its influential, but non-voting, secretary from 1990 to 2015.

"No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama," he wrote.

The first black president was honoured with the prestigious award just nine months after taking office -- while the US was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The announcement was met with general astonishment, and some sarcasm, while Obama himself admitted his own "surprise".

At that point "his cabinet had already asked whether anyone had previously refused to travel to Oslo to receive the prize," Lundestad said.

"In broad strokes, the answer was no."

Obama ultimately made a lightning visit to the Scandinavian country to collect the prize.

According to Lundestad, then foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store tried the following year to dissuade the panel from awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident, fearing it would put a strain on Norway's relations with Beijing.

 

 

Halfway into a year in space -- the longest ever attempted at the International Space Station -- American astronaut Scott Kelly said Monday he misses fresh air but is adapting well.

Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko agreed to double the length of a typical astronaut's mission at the ISS in order to help the world's space agencies study how long-term space travel affects the human body and mind.

Such research is viewed as invaluable as NASA aims to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but it is not easy for the two men, who have been circling the Earth since late March.

"I feel pretty good overall," Kelly said in an interview from the ISS, broadcast on NASA television. Kornienko did not participate in the event, which was organized by the National Press Club in the US capital.

"What I am looking most forward to is just getting to the end of it with as much energy and enthusiasm as I had at the beginning," added Kelly, whose participation in the study could be particularly useful since his health can be compared to that of his twin brother Mark, a retired astronaut participating in the study from Earth.

Asked what he missed most about Earth, Kelly said "being with people you care about, family and friends, just going outside."

 

"This is a very closed environment, you can never leave," he added.

"The lighting is pretty much the same, the smell ... everything is the same. Even most prisoners can get out but we cannot."

 

- 'Baby feet' -

 

Kelly and Kornienko's mission is the longest at the ISS, which was first visited by astronauts in the year 2000.

But the record for the longest time spent in space is held by Russia's Valeri Polyakov, who stayed at the Mir Space Station for 14 months in the mid-1990s.

Living in space can have odd effects on the body, said Kelly, who has been to the ISS multiple times and previously spent a six-month stint there, the typical mission length.

"We do not really use the bottom of our feet much," he said.

"After five months you have baby feet."