Obama Holds Iftar Dinner at White House, Promotes Religious Tolerance
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke out against religious prejudice Monday at a White House dinner celebrating the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Several members of the diplomatic community, lawmakers and Muslim Americans were on hand for a traditional Iftar dinner, which follows daily fasting from dawn to sunset.
Mr. Obama said the Iftar dinner is a reminder of "the freedoms that bind us together as Americans," including the "inviolable right to practice our faiths freely."
He condemned a number of recent deadly incidents involving religion, including last week's mass shooting at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. "When our values are
threatened, we come together as one nation," the president said. "As Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, who they love, how they worship. We stand united against these hateful acts."
Democracy Group Says Freedoms Decline in Europe
A democracy advocacy group says that freedoms across Europe are increasingly under attack by authoritarian states.
In a report released Tuesday, the Washington-based Freedom House assessed 29 countries across Central Europe and Eurasia, and said nearly half suffered downgrades in their democracy scores.
Project director for the report, Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska, said "Eurasia's authoritarian regimes tirelessly warn their people that moves toward democracy as seen in Ukraine can only end in chaos, violence, and poverty."
She said to counter such measures, the EU and its allies must do more to uphold democratic standards within Europe.
Freedom House says Russia earned its largest rating decline in a decade in 2014 because of suppressing dissension at home and seeking to destabilize Ukraine.
In the Balkans, four out of seven countries registered declines, including Montenegro and Serbia for threats to media independence. In Central and Eastern Europe, the only country to register an overall score improvement was the Czech Republic.
Freedom House said conditions remain "dire" in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which had the lowest scores of the report.