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Worshippers armed with AR-15s celebrate their marriages and weapons at a church in Pennsylvania

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Around 250 couples armed with assault rifles have exchanged or renewed their wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at a US church – angering locals and forcing a school to close.

Scores of brides clad in white and grooms in dark suits, who had been asked to bring their AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, attended the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania.

A church official throws holy water on an AR-15-style rifle
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A church official throws holy water on a woman holding an AR-15-style rifle

Some worshippers wore crowns made out of bullets.

The congregation drank holy wine and lined up with their weapons to be splashed with holy water by church officials dressed in flowing bright pink and white garments.

The Unification Sanctuary’s leader, the Reverend Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, is the son of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, which has been accused of being a cult.

A man wearing a crown of rifle shells takes communion
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A man wearing a crown of rifle shells takes communion

Rev Sean Moon believes the AR-15 symbolises the “rod of iron” mentioned in the Bible’s apocalyptic Book of Revelation and that not only every American, but all mankind, has the right to self-defence and to use it to protect “God’s children” in the “satanic kingdoms of this world”.

The church leader insisted the ceremony was not for “blessing weapons”.

Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service
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Worshippers at the event hold their weapons during the service

However, it outraged some members of the local community who gathered to protest outside the event, holding up posters that read “Worship God, Not Guns” and “God Does Not Bless Guns”.

Lisa Desiena, from Scranton, said she owns a gun but added: “I don’t need a freaking assault weapon to defend myself.

“Only thing they’re good for is killing. Period. That’s all that weapon is good for: mass killing. And you want to bless it? Shame on you.”

Anti-gun protesters outside the church
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Anti-gun protesters outside the church

“It’s scaring people in the community,” another demonstrator told a church member. “Are you aware of that?”

Students from a nearby school were relocated for the day to distance them from the gun-toting couples at the ceremony, according to the Wallenpaupack School District website.

All weapons were inspected before the service
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All weapons were inspected before the service

The event also fell on the same day students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, for the first time since a 19-year-old used an AR-15 to kill 17 students and staff on Valentine’s Day.

But those in the congregation believe US school shootings do not justify stricter gun laws.

 A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during the blessing
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A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during the blessing

“I don’t think restricting gun ownership has proven that where there are less guns, there will be less violence,” said, Andrew Kessler, a lawyer from the affluent suburb of Westchester, New York.

Sreymom Ouk, 41, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Sort Ouk, said they owned an AR-15 to defend the family against “sickos and evil psychopaths”.

Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, the church's pastor, leads the ceremony
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Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, the church’s pastor, leads the ceremony

Rev Moon said in a statement on Facebook that the staff of the Florida school should have been armed.

“If the football coach who rushed into the building to defend students from the shooter with his own body had been allowed to carry a firearm, many lives, including his own, could have been saved,” he wrote.

The Pennsylvania church is a staunch supporter of the constitutional amendment that protects the right to bear arms.

A woman has her gun inspected before the ceremony
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A woman has her gun inspected before the ceremony

It runs a group called Rod of Iron Ministries, which hosted a “President Trump Thank You Dinner” at the weekend to raise money for Gun Owners of America, a grassroots gun rights lobby group.

Wednesday’s blessing was planned months before the mass school shooting in Florida.

All weapons brought along were unloaded, secured with zip ties and checked at the door.

A man holds aloft his gun during the ceremony
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A man holds aloft his gun during the ceremony

Those who did not own an AR-15 were advised to “purchase a $700 gift certificate from a gun store”, as evidence of their intent to purchase one in the future.

To not take part in the ceremony “would be a sign of great disrespect”, the church’s website said.

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Afghanistan: Youngsters protest online against order telling girls not to go to school | World News

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Afghan girls and boys have joined a social media protest against a decision by the Taliban to prevent young females going to school.

Putting their own safety at risk, many have created makeshift banners to make their points, opposing an edict by the Taliban government that female middle and high school students should not return to school for the time being, while boys of the same age can resume their studies this weekend.

It comes as the interim mayor of Kabul is telling female city authority employees to stay home, with only those whose jobs cannot be done by men allowed to work.

Banner reads: "What is our crime that we are prevented from education?"
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Banner reads: ‘What is our crime that we are prevented from education?’

The moves are further evidence the Taliban, which overran Kabul last month, is enforcing its harsh interpretation of Islam despite initial promises that it would be tolerant and inclusive.

Among the slogans on the banners displayed by the youngsters are statements like: “What is our crime that we are prevented from education?” and “I won’t go to school without my sister. I support my sister. We are equal.”

Sky News has blurred the faces of some of those protesting, as there are fears they could be at risk in a country that appears to be clamping down on the right of expression.

Banner reads: "You took our holy land, so don't take our education from us"
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Banner reads: ‘You took our holy land, so don’t take our education from us’

On Sunday, just over a dozen women staged a protest outside the new ministry, holding up placards calling for the right of women to participate in public life.

The protest lasted for about 10 minutes before a short verbal confrontation occurred with a man and the women got into cars and left, as members of the Taliban watched from nearby cars.

Kabul’s new interim mayor, Hamdullah Namony, told his first news conference that, pending a further decision, most of the 1,000 or so female city authority employees would be required to stay home.

He said exceptions would only be made for women who could not be replaced by men, including some in the design and engineering departments and the attendants of public toilets for women.

The Taliban flags are seen on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan
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The mayor of Kabul has told many female employees of the city authorities to stay home

Mr Namony added: “There are some areas that men can’t do it, we have to ask our female staff to fulfil their duties, there is no alternative for it.”

During its previous rule between the mid 1990s and 2001, the Taliban had forbidden girls and women from schools, jobs and public life.

In recent days, Taliban officials told female university students that classes would take place in gender-segregated settings, and they must abide by a strict Islamic dress code.

Banner reads: "We won't go to schools, until our sisters are allowed to go to school"
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Banner reads: ‘We won’t go to schools, until our sisters are allowed to go to school’

Under the previous US-backed administration, before it was deposed by the Taliban in August, men and women had sat alongside each other in universities, for the most part.

On Friday, the Taliban shut down the ministry for women’s affairs, replacing it with a government department responsible for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice”, with the job of enforcing Islamic law.

Amid deteriorating conditions for ordinary Afghans, many of whom previously relied on international aid, witnesses said an explosion targeted a Taliban vehicle in the provincial city of Jalalabad, the second such deadly blast in as many days in an area where Islamic State militants are said to dominate.

Banner reads: "I don’t go to school without my sister. I support my sister. #We are equal"
Image:
Banner reads: ‘I don’t go to school without my sister. I support my sister. #We are equal’

The Taliban and IS extremists are enemies and battled each other before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month.

Initial reports said five people were killed, with a child among the two civilians said to have died. The Taliban were not immediately available for comment.

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Boris Johnson tells world leaders he is growing ‘increasingly frustrated’ at their efforts to tackle climate change | Politics News

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Boris Johnson has criticised other world leaders over their efforts to tackle climate change, telling them he is growing “increasingly frustrated” that their commitments are “nowhere near enough”.

Speaking during a meeting at the United Nations in New York, the prime minister said the gap between what has been promised by industrialised nations and what they have so far delivered remains “vast”.

Co-hosting a discussion on the issue at the UN General Assembly, Mr Johnson urged fellow leaders to renew their efforts to meet a key financing pledge to help developing nations.

The PM wants to get countries to commit to giving $100bn (£73bn) a year in support to developing nations to cut their carbon emissions and shield themselves against climate change.

But he earlier told reporters there was only a “six out of 10” chance of this target being met before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November – which he then said will be “a turning point for the world” and “the moment when we have to grow up and take our responsibilities”.

He told Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby: “We have been here before, we have all heard lots of positive noises, let’s see where we get to.

“We are not counting our chickens.”

However, Joe Biden’s climate envoy sounded upbeat when questioned by Sky News.

“I think we’re going to get it done by COP and the US will do its part,” John Kerry said.

Asked if the US president will announce more money this week, he replied: “I’m not hoping… I’m telling you to stay tuned into the president’s speech and we’ll see where we are.”

Chairing the climate discussion on Monday, Mr Johnson noted that “everyone nods and we all agree that something must be done”.

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Kerry ‘confident’ of $100bn climate target

“Yet I confess I’m increasingly frustrated that the ‘something’ to which many of you have committed is nowhere near enough,” he continued.

“It is the biggest economies in the world that are causing the problem, while the smallest suffer the worst consequences.

“And while progress is being made all over the world, the gulf between what has been promised, what is actually being delivered, and what needs to happen… it remains vast.

“Too many major economies – some represented here today, some absent – are lagging too far behind.”

And the PM warned countries there would be consequences if the financing target is not met, saying: “If you say that the lives of their children are not worth the hassle of reducing domestic coal consumption, will they vote with you in fora such as this?

“Will they work with you, borrow from you, stand with you if you tell the world that you don’t care whether their land and their people slip below the waves?

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“To be merely a bystander is to be complicit in their fate – yet that is exactly what you will be if you fail to act this year.”

Ahead of the UN meeting, Downing Street said developed countries had “collectively failed” to meet the target.

Figures released last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that $79.6bn was mobilised in 2019, more than $20bn off the target.

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 6.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.

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Serbians block roads in Kosovo in protest over license plate restrictions | World News

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Protesters have blocked roads in northern Kosovo after authorities stopped cars with Serbian plates from entering the country.

Police in Jarinje, Kosovo are forcing drivers from Serbia to remove or hide license plates and use temporary registration details that are valid for 60 days and cost €5 (£4.30).

Serbia, which lost control of Kosovo in 1999, does not recognise Kosovo and has stopped cars with Kosovo license plates from entering the country.

Kosovo's special force deployed armoured vehicles as hundreds blocked the roads in Jarinje, Kosovo
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Kosovo’s special force deployed armoured vehicles as hundreds blocked the roads in Jarinje, Kosovo

Almost 50,000 Serbs who live in the north of Kosovo and share a border with Serbia, refuse to recognise Pristina’s authorities and as restrictions came into force on Monday, cars and trucks blocked roads in protest.

Police in Kosovo deployed riot gear and armoured vehicles as the blockades built up and Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, said the move was not taken to harm drivers but was a retaliation measure against Belgrade.

“Today there is nothing illegal or discriminatory,” Mr Kurti said in parliament.

“Just as yesterday, today and tomorrow, Serb citizens will move freely and safely.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the situation is very “serious and difficult”.

“When you are dealing with people who are not responsible, it is difficult to find a solution,” Mr Vucic said.

Drivers waved a Serbian flag as they protested against the government ban on entry of vehicles with Serbian license plates
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Drivers waved a Serbian flag as they protested against the government ban on entry of vehicles with Serbian license plates

The two countries began talks in 2013, mediated by the European Union, to resolve the issues, but little progress has been made.

Kosovo is recognised by around 110 countries, including the United States, Britain and most western countries, but Russia, Serbia’s traditional ally, does not recognise it.

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