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A Mississippi couple got the shock of their lives when the pastor at the church they attended told them the wedding they planned could not be held there because they are black, ABC television reported.

Pastor Stan Weatherford told the network there had never been a wedding for blacks at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, since it was opened in 1883.

He said some of the white congregarion so virulently opposed the wedding of Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson, who are black, that they threatened to have him fired.

Weatherford, a pastor who is white, offered to wed the Wilsons down the road at a mostly black church, he told the network.

 

Syrian government troops using tanks and helicopters massacred more than 150 people in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while a rebel leader put the toll at more than 200.

Government troops bombarded the village of Treimsa using tanks and helicopters, according to the Observatory, which earlier put the death toll at more than 100.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone that the bodies of 30 villagers had already been identified following the sustained attack, which brought the day's total death toll in the conflict-torn nation to over 200.

Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, chief of a group based further to the north, told AFP early Friday that the attack using helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket-launchers had killed more than 200 people in the village.

Abu Mohamad said he had been in phone contact with a resident of Treimsa who told him that government forces were on hills a few kilometres (miles) outside the town.

The army and the Shabiha, pro-regime militia who are said to accompany troops to make sure they do not desert, started to bombard Treimsa "Thursday around 11:00 am (0800 GMT) and finished around 9:00 pm," Abu Mohamad said.

But a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi told AFP via Skype that regime troops started shelling the village earlier, at around 6:00 am.

"That was followed by clashes with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, but the FSA does not have a big presence in Treimsa and could not fight long," said the activist.

"The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bombs," Abu Ghazi added.

"But it is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it."

The village, which had a population of 7,000, he said, "is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away."

"Almost 30 army vehicles arrived, and surrounded the village completely. There wasn't a single way out," said Ibrahim, another activist from Treimsa. "Anyone who tried to escape through the fields was shot."

Pro-regime militiamen from neighbouring Alawite villages entered the village after the army raided it, Ibrahim told AFP via Skype. "After the shelling, the army came in with light weapons, and the shabiha (militiamen) followed, armed with knives."

Clashes inside the besieged village were vicious, he said, noting that "whole families were killed. There was a real street war for several hours."

Treimsa is located near Qubeir, where at least 55 people were killed on July 6, according to the Observatory. Like Qubeir, Treimsa is a majority Sunni town situated near Alawite villages.

President Bashar al-Assad belongs to the Alawite community -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- although the vast majority of Syrians are Sunni.

The state-run SANA news agency said there had been clashes between the army and an armed "terrorist" group in the village but made no mention of a massacre and gave no overall death toll.

"There were heavy losses among the ranks of the terrorists," said the report, adding that three government soldiers were killed.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdel Basset Sayda, voiced outrage about the latest killings and called for a tough UN resolution that allows for military intervention against the Damascus regime.

"This was a massacre perpetrated by the Syrian regime," he said, speaking to Al Jazeera TV.

 

Russia on Monday held a day of mourning for at least 171 people who died in its worst flooding disaster as questions mounted over whether officials did enough to warn of the impending calamity.

Flags flew at half-mast over the Kremlin and other official buildings and entertainment programmes were shelved as Russians asked how so many people lost their lives and property in the catastrophe in the southern Krasnodar region.

More than 25,000 people lost part or all of their belongings in the flooding, which overwhelmed the town of Krymsk after torrential rains and also caused significant damage in the neighbouring cities of Gelendzhik and Novorossiisk.

Several funerals took place at a cemetery outside the devastated town, where tractors had to be used to dig graves, while grieving relatives accused the authorities of failing to give a flood warning and lying about the true toll.

The embattled local governor described the floods as a "great surprise," but both pro-government and opposition newspapers showed rare unanimity in saying the authorities had badly failed to provide sufficient warning to the local people.

"The tragedy of Krymsk was a perfect demonstration of what slovenliness and hoping against hope brings about," said the pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily in a scathing assessment of the official reaction.

The Vedomosti daily said that flooding in the Krasnodar region was in no way a novelty and authorities were well aware of the risk, particularly after deadly floods in the summer of 2002 that also hit Krymsk.

"The catastrophe shows up the inability of the authorities to protect the population from natural disasters," said the opposition-inclined economic newspaper.

"People were not evacuated and were not warned about the threat," it said.

The staunchly pro-government Komosmolskaya Pravda asked simply in a stark headline over a picture of the Krymsk devastation: "Why so many dead?"

It noted that residents had received warnings about the severe weather through SMS messages and also information on the news ticker of local TV. "But, as the inhabitants of Krymsk say, most people knew nothing about this."

The Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper said tersely: "The Krymsk catastrophe could have been foreseen and averted.

 

Rolls-Royce has announced a £118 million order from the US Army.

M250 engines, which power the US Army's fleet of Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters, are to be serviced under the new contract.

Starting on July 2012 for a year, the contract will support 500 M250 engines on more than 300 aircraft, and the US Army has options to extend it for four additional years.

The new deal was announced as the Farnborough Air Show opened on Monday in Hampshire.

Rolls-Royce also unveiled the first jet engine to be made entirely from Lego.

The engine is a half-size replica of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 which powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Indian police have arrested a key suspect accused of co-ordinating the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 166 people were killed and more than 300 wounded, media reports said Monday.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency quoted unnamed police sources as confirming the arrest of Abu Hamza, also known as Sayed Zabiuddin, an Indian-born member of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Hamza was allegedly one of the handlers based in Karachi, Pakistan who issued instructions by telephone to the 10 Islamist gunmen as they stormed two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, a restaurant and a train station in Mumbai.

Hamza, who has used a string of aliases, was arrested at Delhi international airport on June 21 when he arrived from the Middle East and he has since been remanded in custody, PTI reported.

Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only gunman caught alive during the 60-hour assault on Mumbai in November 2008, was handed down a death sentence by the Bombay High Court last year.

PTI described Hamza as the 30-year-old "Hindi tutor" to the gunmen and said that he came from the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.

 

France's new Socialist government will need to find between seven billion euros (£5.6 billion) and 10 billion euros (£8.1 billion) for the 2012 budget to meet its deficit-cutting goals, the country's finance minister has said.

But Pierre Moscovici insisted the shortfall would not be made up by painful spending cuts.

"I object to all talk of austerity," he said on i-tele television.

The government will present a new budget on July 4 which is expected to include new tax measures.

President Francois Hollande has promised to cut the deficit to 4.5% this year.

 

Key players in the Syria crisis have reached agreement on the "key principles" of a way forward towards political transition in the troubled Middle Eastern state, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Crucially, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a long-time Syrian ally, had explicitly made clear that he was not "locked in" to Bashar Assad remaining president, said Mr Cameron.

And the PM said that a shipment of attack helicopters that was being tracked in the North Sea had now turned away from Syria, in a success for the international effort to deny Assad access to arms.

As well as Mr Putin, Mr Cameron spoke to the leaders of the US, Germany, France and Turkey about Syria during the two-day G20 summit in Mexico.

Mr Cameron said: "Syria is descending rapidly into a bloody and tragic civil war, with potentially irreparable consequences for its people and the future.

"There is little time left to resolve this, but we do now have clear agreement on the key principles - on the risks to Syria, on the need to stop the violence and the urgency of a political transition from the dreadful position of today to a future where its people can once again make their voices heard and choose their own government."

Mr Cameron added: "There remain differences on sequencing the exact shape of how the transition takes place, but it is welcome that President Putin has been explicit that he is not locked into Assad remaining president in Syria.

Chinese President Hu Jintao signed deals worth billions of euros with Denmark Saturday and got words of encouragement on his country's bid to expand its influence in the oil-rich Arctic.

Hu wrapped up his landmark three-day state visit to Denmark -- the first ever by a Chinese head of state -- meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and signing a raft of partnerships that included agreements on tariffs, environmental protection, cultural exchanges and agriculture.

"These are partnerships that have formed the basis for Danish companies to reach agreements with Chinese companies into the two-figure billions," Thorning-Schmidt told reporters.

Hu has declined to speak to reporters throughout his stay in Denmark.

Danish authorities have said Hu's visit has generated some 18 billion kroner (2.4 billion euros, $3.1 billion) in agreements, though specific details on the deals were not immediately available.

Thorning-Schmidt said Hu had also raised the issue of China's bid for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation among eight states, including Denmark, that border the mineral-rich region.

"I see no problem in that, provided that China fulfills the conditions," she said, without elaborating.

Thorning-Schmidt said talks with Hu and a 25-person delegation had been "good and constructive", and that she planned to visit China.

"I will be going to China this autumn. We have had very good talks and have been very happy with the entire visit," she said.

The talks also touched on the issue of human rights, Thorning-Schmidt said.

"There is no doubt that we in Denmark and the European Union are concerned about human rights in China. This is something we have discussed," she said.

She said she had pointed to Denmark's parliamentary decision to support a One China policy, "but we are urging China to discuss with the Tibetans in order to find solutions with them."

UN observers suspended their mission to Syria on Saturday, blaming intensifying violence as troops reportedly rained shells down on rebel strongholds, trapping more than 1,000 families in one city alone.

The unarmed observers have been targeted almost daily since deploying in mid-April to monitor a UN-backed but widely ignored ceasefire, and they were likened to "sitting ducks in a shooting gallery" by Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations.

Explaining the decision, mission head Major General Robert Mood spoke of an escalation in fighting and of the risk to his 300-strong team, as well as the "lack of willingness" for peace by the warring parties.

"There has been an intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past 10 days," General Mood said in a statement.

"This escalation is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects -- basically impeding our ability to carry out our mandate.

"The lack of willingness by the parties to seek a peaceful transition, and the push towards advancing military positions is increasing the losses on both sides: innocent civilians, men women and children are being killed every day.

"It is also posing significant risks to our observers.

"In this high risk situation, UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria) is suspending its activities," Mood said.

The observers "will not conduct patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice," he said, adding that "engagement with the parties will be restricted."

Mood said the suspension would be reviewed daily, and that "operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities."

As the decision was announced, a watchdog reported 31 people killed across Syria as government forces shelled rebel strongholds including Douma near the capital and the flashpoint central city of Homs.

Regime forces targeted several districts of Homs city -- including Bab Tadmur, Jourat al-Shiah, Khalidiyeh and Safsafa -- killing at least five people, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

More than 14,400 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in mid-March 2011, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

In the latest bloodshed, families were trapped in the Khalidiyeh, Jourat al-Shiah, Qarabees, old city and Qusour areas of Homs, an opposition stronghold, according to the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman.

"They have no food and no medical equipment," he told AFP.

The Observatory issued an "urgent call" to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "and all those with a sense of humanity to intervene immediately, in order to put a stop to the continuous shelling."

The watchdog also called for the "evacuation and protection of dozens of injured."

"More than 100 people are injured, many of them badly, and the lack of medical equipment means some of them will die," Abdel Rahman said, adding there was also a lack of medical staff.

Home to several Free Syrian Army bastions, Homs has been under intermittent attack by regime forces ever since the Baba Amr district was relentlessly pounded for a month earlier this year, according to the Observatory, and retaken by the regime.

An escalation of violence over the past week has engulfed several areas of the country, including Homs, and France's foreign ministry said Friday it was deeply concerned at reports of "an imminent, large-scale operation" by regime forces in the city.

The Observatory reported another 31 people killed on Saturday, taking the countrywide death toll to 169 in the past three days.

It said troops shelled a rebel bastion in the Damascus northern suburb of Douma overnight, killing seven people, while also among the dead was a family of three whose house in Irbin was hit by a shell, and a soldier who died in a blast.

Three other regime troops died in clashes in rebel bastion Rastan in Homs province, while two rebel leaders were killed near a regime checkpoint in the southern province of Daraa, the Observatory said.

Anti-regime activist Abu Rawan described the shelling of Rastan as "insane."

Japan Airlines, the flag-carrier that went bust in one of the nation's biggest-ever bankruptcies, is aiming to re-list its shares by September, the Nikkei business daily reported Friday.

The airline, whose shares were delisted in February 2010, will file an application with the Tokyo Stock Exchange this month with plans to have its stock publicly traded again on September 19, the report said.

JAL went bankrupt in January 2010 with debts totalling 2.32 trillion yen ($29 billion), but it continued flying during an overhaul that included massive cuts to jobs and routes.

It exited bankruptcy protection last year and logged an annual net profit of $2.3 billion in the fiscal year to March 2012.

The airline's market value after the float would be between 600 billion and 700 billion yen, vaulting it ahead of rival All Nippon Airways' market capitalisation of roughly 550 billion yen, the report said.