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Men’s Basketball Set for Road Game at Ball State Friday

MUNCIE, Ind. (EMUEagles.com) – The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team returns to the road Friday, Feb. 3, and will look to keep its two-game winning streak alive as the Eagles are set to face Ball State University inside Worthen Arena. The game between the Eagles (6-16, 3-6 MAC) and Cardinals (15-7, 6-3 MAC), both of whom have won two in a row, is slated for a 6:30 p.m. tip.
The game will be broadcast live to a national television audience on CBS Sports Network with Dave Ryan and BJ Taylor on the call. Tom Helmer, the Voice of the Eagles, will have the radio call on WEMU (89.1 FM) and the Varsity Network app.

OPENING TIPS:
»  The Eagles are coming off a 90-79 home victory over Ohio, Jan. 31, giving Eastern back-to-back wins for the first time this season and its first since winning the final three home non-conference games in December 2021. The back-to-back wins are also the first in MAC games for Eastern since the 2019-20 season.
»  Eastern has scored 40+ points in the first half of its last two games, including 40 at Miami, Jan. 28, and a season-high-tying 47 against Ohio, Jan. 31. EMU previously scored 47 points against Detroit Mercy, Dec. 18, at home.
»  The 90 points scored against the Bobcats tie for the most this season with the 90 tallied by the Eagles in their 92-90 overtime loss at Oakland, Nov. 19. It also is Eastern’s highest point total in a MAC game this year, surpassing the 79 scored at Western Michigan, Jan. 10, and at Toledo, Jan. 24.
»  Tyson Acuff had a big game against Ohio, Jan. 31, as he set or tied career-highs in points (29), three-point field goals made and attempted (6-of-8), free throws made and attempted (7-of-9), and assists (6).
»  EMU has made at least one three-point basket in 572 consecutive games after draining 13 against Ohio.
»  It will be a family divided at Ball State, Feb. 3, as EMU’s Yusuf Jihad will square off his younger brother, Brasheer Jihad, a second-year player for the Cardinals.
»  Eastern’s game at Kent State, originally scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18, has been flexed ahead to Friday, Feb. 17, at 6 p.m. and will be aired on CBS Sports Network.

SCHEDULE UPDATE: EMU’s game at Kent State, originally scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18, has been moved ahead to Friday, Feb. 17, and will be aired live to a national television audience on CBS Sports Network, the Mid-American Conference announced, Jan. 31. The Eagles and Golden Flashes will tip at 6 p.m. inside Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center in Kent, Ohio. The selection is the fifth this year for the Eagles after being previously picked to appear on ESPNU twice and CBSSN twice. Earlier this season, the Eagles appeared on ESPNU when they faced then-No. 22 University of Michigan, Nov. 11, in Detroit, and have since played twice on CBS Sports Network, including games at the University of Akron, Jan. 13, and at the University of Toledo, Jan. 24. Eastern will appear on CBSSN for a third time later this week when the Eagles venture to play at Ball State at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3.

SCOUTING BALL STATE: The Cardinals enter Friday’s game with a 15-7 overall record and hold a 6-3 mark in the MAC after winning the last two games on the road, 87-69 at Northern Illinois, Jan. 28, and 69-60 at Bowling Green, Jan. 31. Ball State currently sits fourth in the conference standings at the half-way point and will play three of its next four and four of its next six at home where the Cardinals hold an 8-1 record.
Offensively, four players are averaging double-digit scoring, led by Jarron Coleman’s 15.2 points per game. Jaylin Sellers (13.0), Demarius Jacobs (12.0) and Payton Sparks (12.0), who also leads the team in rebounding at 7.9 carroms per game, round out the team’s top scorers. As a team, the Cardinals rank second in the MAC in shooting, hitting 46.8 percent of their shots, while also ranking second in three-point shooting percentage at 37.8.

OH, BROTHER: The game between the Eagles and Cardinals will also be a battle among brothers as EMU’s Yusuf Jihad will face his younger brother, Basheer Jihad. It will mark the third time the two teams will meet with a Jihad on each roster with the younger Jihad holding the bragging rights with wins in both games last year. Ahead of the game, Yusuf is averaging 4.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists, and 13.0 minutes while Basheer holds averages of 6.7, 3.5, 0.5, and 15.7, respectively.

CLOSE CONNECTIONS: The Jihad Brothers are not the only close connection between the two schools. Brad Caudill, the Associate Director of Athletic Communications for Ball State, is a 2001 graduate of Eastern Michigan University and spent time in the EMU Athletic Media Relations office as a graduate assistant. Caudill was hired full time at Ball State in January 2002 where he has worked since.

IN THE SERIES WITH BALL STATE:
»  Ball State leads the all-time series, 69-44, and holds a 33-20 advantage when hosting the game in Muncie.
»  The Cardinals won the last meeting, 78-72, Feb. 26, 2022, in Muncie to complete a season sweep of the Eagles.
»  BSU has won six in a row overall in the series and three in a row when playing host to the series. The last time Eastern secured a victory in the series was March 5, 2019, with a 68-61 home victory to close out the regular season. The last time the Eagles left Muncie victorious was Jan. 8, 2019, an 84-82 double-overtime win.
»  The Jan. 20, 1996, game between the two schools saw the Eagles win in overtime, 109-102, in Ypsilanti, marking the highest point total scored in a MAC game for Eastern and the highest combined score (211) in a MAC game involving the Eagles.

LONG STANDING: Since their first meeting, Feb. 9, 1947, a 73-32 win in Muncie for BSU, the Eagles and Cardinals have met 113 times in the history of the series, which is currently tied for the third-most meetings in EMU history with Toledo. With Friday’s 114th installment, the EMU-BSU series will rank as the third-most played series in Eastern history and the most outside the state of Michigan behind Central Michigan (205) and Western Michigan (118).

QUICK REVIEW • OHIO: The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team received a career-high performance in Tyson Acuff’s 29 points as the Eagles claimed a 90-79 victory over the Ohio University Bobcats inside the George Gervin GameAbove Center Tuesday, Jan. 31.
The Eagles (6-16, 3-6 MAC) had five players score in double figures, including Acuff, who also added six assists. Emoni Bates tacked on 19 points and Kevin-David Rice helped out with 11 points.
Eastern Michigan utilized impressive ball movement in the game, piling up 16 assists on 30 made field goals. Acuff’s career-high six assists were the most for the Eagles while Noah Farrakhan also added four assists of his own.
After jumping out to a 37-35 advantage, Eastern Michigan went on a 6-0 run with 3:04 left in the first half, culminating in a triple from Yusuf Jihad, to increase its lead to 43-35. The Eagles then lost some of that lead, but still entered halftime with a 47-40 advantage. The Eagles relied on its three-point shooting in the period, knocking down seven shots to account for 21 of its 47 points.
Eastern Michigan kept its lead intact before going on a 5-0 run, finished off by Bates’ three, to grow the lead to 61-52 with 10:22 to go in the contest. The Eagles kept expanding the margin and coasted the rest of the way for the 90-79 win. The Green and White shot well from three-point range in the half, hitting six shots from deep to score 18 of its 43 points.

QUICK NOTES • OHIO GAME:
» Tyson Acuff led the way to victory with a career night as he scored 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting that included a career-best six made threes, while adding a career-high-tying six assists, two rebounds, and one steal. Acuff, who also was 7-of-9 from the free throw line, scored 19 points in the second half to record his second game of 20+ points after scoring 25 against Winthrop, Nov. 23, in Cancun.
» The Eagles recorded 16 assists, the most in a home game this year and the second-highest total behind the 17 recorded Nov. 19 at Oakland. Acuff led the way with a career-high six helpers, which surpassed the four he recorded for Duquesne against UC Irvine, Dec. 19, 2021. His previous season best was three assists against Bowling Green, Jan. 3.
» Emoni Bates tallied 19 points in the game, marking the 18th time this year he has reached double digits and the 17th time he scored 15+ in a game. Additionally, he brought his three-game total to 79 points, which ties him for eighth-most in a three-game stretch with Noah Farrakhan (2021-22) and Ricky Cottrill (2001-02).
» Noah Farrakhan scored four points on the night to move up to No. 64 on the program’s all-time scoring ledger, passing Charles Thomas, who scored 710 points for the Eagles from 1987-91. Next up on the list are both Bill James (1970-72) and Anthony White (1979-83), who both scored 721.
» With four assists against Ohio, Noah Farrakhan extended his streak to recording at least one helper in 22 contests and has dropped at least one dime in 34 consecutive games dating back to last season. In fact, in his two seasons with the Eagles, Farrakhan has recorded at least one assist in 44-of-47 games played (93.6 percent) for Eastern and, when including his one season with East Carolina (2020-21), he has done so in 51-of-59 career games (86.4 percent). Farrakhan now ranks fifth all-time in program history for consecutive games with an assist.
» Kevin-David Rice connected on a three-point shot with 16:55 remaining in the opening half to help the Eagles extend their consecutive games streak to entering 573 in a row with at least one made triple. Eastern finished the game shooting 13-of-24 from three. The last time Eastern failed to hit a three-point basket in a game came Jan. 24, 2004, when the Eagles were 0-of-7 at Miami.
» Jalin Billingsley scored 10 points in the first half to record the fifth double-digit scoring performance of his career and his fourth this season. He finished the game shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor on the night.
» Kevin-David Rice made his second start of the season and the fourth of his career and finished with a season-high 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc while adding a pair of free throws and three rebounds. In his previous eight games, he was 0-of-6 from behind the arc.
» The Eagles scored 47 points in the first half to not only take a seven-point lead (47-40) over Ohio, but also tie for the most points scored in the first half this season. Previously, Eastern scored a season-best 47 points in the first half at home against Detroit Mercy, Dec. 18, and also scored 45 points against Michigan, Nov. 11. The 47 points also marks back-to-back games EMU has reached the 40-point mark after scoring 40 at Miami, Jan. 28. The last time the Eagles had back-to-back games with 40+ points in the first half was in the 2020-21 season when EMU scored 64 against Adrian (Dec. 9, 2020) and 52 against Olivet (Dec. 27, 2020).
» The Eagles made 13 three-pointers as a team for the game. The total marks a season-high for made three-pointers, breaking a previous mark of 11, done twice at Oakland, Nov. 19, and at Toledo, Jan. 24. EMU also shot 54.2 percent from downtown, which is the best percentage the Eagles have shot from the arc by seven percent, breaking a previous mark of 47.1 percent against Detroit Mercy. The last time Eastern Michigan shot better than 54 percent from three-point range was when they shot 56.3 percent (9-of-16) against Northern Illinois, Jan. 15, 2022.
» The 90 points are the most scored since EMU won, 94-80, March 12, 1988. The game was part of the Mid-American Conference Tournament played on the University of Toledo campus.

BACK-TO-BACK: The Eagles are coming off a 90-79 home victory over Ohio, Jan. 31, giving Eastern back-to-back wins for the first time this season and its first since winning the final three home non-conference games in December 2021. Those wins came against Northwood (Dec. 5, 2021), 79-57; Niagara (Dec. 8, 2021), 60-58; and Florida International (Dec. 11, 2021), 92-88 in four overtimes.
The Eagles also have won back-to-back Mid-American Conference games for the first time since the 2019-20 slate. That year, Eastern posted wins at Central Michigan (Feb. 11, 2020), 73-70; home against Western Michigan (Feb. 15, 2020), 69-51; and home against Kent State (Feb. 18, 2020), 70-49.

STRONG STARTS: Heading into last week’s game at Miami, Jan. 28, the Eagles had scored 40+ points in the first half of just two games when they scored 45 against then-No. 22 Michigan, Nov. 11, and a season-best 47 at home against Detroit Mercy, Dec. 18. In their last two games, the Eagles have equaled that total with 40 points at Miami, Jan. 28, and 47 at home against Ohio. The Eagles are 3-1 in those games with wins in the last three contests that followed a close, 88-83, setback to Michigan.

HEATING UP: While the Eagles have scored 40+ in the first half in four games, they have found their scoring touch in the second half as they have hit the 40+ mark 12 times in their 22 games, including twice in their last three with 44 in the second half at Toledo, Jan. 24, and 43 at home against Ohio, Jan. 31. Eastern has scored 50+ three times in the second half this year with a season-high 53 points to close out a road win at Florida International, Nov. 30.

HIGH OF 90: The 90 scored against the Bobcats, Jan. 31, tie for the most this season with the 90 tallied by the Eagles in their 92-90 overtime loss at Oakland, Nov. 19. It also is Eastern’s highest point total in a MAC game this year, surpassing the 79 scored at Western Michigan, Jan. 10, and at Toledo, Jan. 24.

BIG STUFF FROM ACUFF: Tyson Acuff had a big game against Ohio, Jan. 31, as he set or tied career-highs in several statistical categories. The sophomore guard scored a career-high 29 points, surpassing the 25 he scored against Winthrop, Nov. 23, at the Cancun Challenge, while his six made three-point shots and eight attempts from beyond the arc surpassed the four he made for Duquesne, Dec. 19, 2021, against UC Irvine, and the seven attempts at South Carolina, Dec. 30, respectively. From the free throw line, he equaled his career-best in both makes and attempts, going 7-of-9, that he previously set against Northern Illinois, Jan. 21. Finally, he dished out six assists, tying his previous best he set against Detroit Mercy, Dec. 18.

TEN OR MORE: Emoni Bates finished the game with Ohio, Jan. 31, with 19 points, running his total to 18 games with at least 10 points scored this year. Additionally, the team’s top scorer also reached the 15-point marker for the 17th time this year in his 21 games played. Bates is currently averaging 20.3 points per game, which ranks second in the MAC and 19th in the NCAA.

ADDING UP: On Jan. 24, the Eagles traveled to Toledo, where Emoni Bates went off for a career-high 43 points, the ninth-highest single-game point total in program history. He followed that performance with 17 points on the road at Miami, Jan. 28, bringing his two-game total to 60 points, the second-highest total in a two-game stretch behind the 71 Raven Lee scored in 2017. With his 19 points at home against Ohio, Bates has tallied 79 points in the last three games, a total that ties him for the eighth-best three-game streak at EMU. He joined Noah Farrakhan (2002-23) and Ricky Cottrill (2001-02) at eighth, one point shy of becoming just the fifth Eagle to reach 80 in three games.

20 AND OVER: With nine games of 20-or-more points this season, Emoni Bates ranks 11th for such games in a season for Eastern, dating back to the 1998-99 season. Should he reach 10 games with 20+ points scored, he would not only move into a tie for the seventh-most such games in a season with current teammate Noah Farrakhan (10 in 2021-22), but would give the Eagles back-to-back seasons with a pair of teammates reaching 10, 20-point games. The last time this happened came with Raven Lee and Elijah Minnie each tallied 13, 20-point games in 2016-17 and 2017-18, respectively.

MORE THAN AVERAGE: Emoni Bates is currently averaging 20.3 points per game, which ranks him second in the MAC and 19th nationally. He also is the highest scoring sophomore in the nation. If Bates is able to finish the year at or above 20.0, he would be the first Eastern player to average more than 20 points per contest for the season since the 2005-06 campaign when both John Bowler and Carlos Medlock accomplished the feat. If he is able to finish at 21.0 points per game or better this year, he would be the first Eagle to do so since Earl Boykins averaged 25.7 in 1997-98.

DOUBLE LEADER: Through the Toledo game, Jan. 28, Emoni Bates is leading the team in both scoring and rebounding as the sophomore is averaging 20.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. If he finishes the season leading both, it would mark the first time an Eagle has finished atop both categories in the same year since 2021-22 when Ty Groce averaged 15.2 and 6.9. Should Bates lead both categories and average over 20.0 points per game, he would be the first to do so since John Bowler averaged 20.1 points and 10.8 rebounds during the 2005-06 season.

CLOSING IN: Following the Ohio game, Jan. 31, Emoni Bates brought his season total to 426 points. Bates is now 28 points away from 454 points that would tie him with Kennedy McIntosh (1968-69) for the 10th-most points scored by a sophomore in program history. To reach the top five, he would need 83 points to tie Brian Tolbert (1993-95) for fifth place with 509 points and is 458 points away from equaling George Gervin’s sophomore after he scored 886 points in 1971-72.

CLIMBING HIGHER: Noah Farrakhan continued his climb up the program’s all-time scoring ledger as his four points against Ohio, Jan. 31, brought his career total to 713 points scored playing for Eastern Michigan (his overall career total is 749 points when including the 36 points he scored at East Carolina). With his 713 points, Farrakhan currently ranks 65th on the program’s all-time scoring list. Averaging 12.8 points per game this year, if Farrakhan were to maintain his current scoring average the rest of the regular season, he would reach the top-50 while surpassing 800 points.

NOT ALL SCORING: While Noah Farrakhan continues his climb up the program’s all-time scoring ledger, he also continues to assist teammates on their scoring. Through 22 games played this year, Farrakhan has tallied at least one helper in all 22 contests and has dropped at least one dime in 34 consecutive games dating back to last season. In fact, in his two seasons with the Eagles, Farrakhan has recorded at least one assist in 44-of-47 games played for Eastern and, when including his one season with East Carolina (2020-21), he has done so in 51-of-59 career games.

LOTS OF HELPING: Since the 1998-99 season, several Eagles have strung together streaks of consecutive games with at least one assist with Noah Farrakhan’s current streak of 34 games ranks fifth. Next on the list is Tim Bond with 44 games in a row that were built with assists in his final eight games of the 2015-16 season, all 33 games played in 2016-17, and the first three games of the 2017-18 season. Mike Talley holds the record as he assisted in all 72 games he played for EMU, including 37 games in 2013-14 and 35 games in 2014-15.

FROM THE STRIPE: Eastern Michigan has found great success from the free throw line this year with the Eagles converting 75.2 percent, which ranks second in the MAC and 40th nationally. Through 22 games played (Jan. 31), the Eagles have made their way to the stripe 20+ times in 12 games, including in seven of the last nine games, in which Eastern is converting at 77.2 percent in those games. In four of the 12 games EMU has shot more than 20 free throws, it has converted over 85.0 percent of their chances after shooting 18-of-21(85.7 percent) at Miami, Jan. 28.

MOVING UP: The Eagles are currently hitting at a 75.2 percent clip from the free throw line this season. As it stands, the current Eagles have the best shooting percentage from the line in program history with the 2020-21 team’s 74.5 percent shooting following its 18 game, COVID-shortened season just behind this year’s squad. When looking at teams that played full seasons, the 2007-08 squad leads the way at 72.9 percent following its 31-game slate.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: The Eagles have two stalwarts in the back court this year with both Tyson Acuff and Noah Farrakhan leading the way. Acuff, coming off a career game against Ohio, Jan. 31, ranks among the top 25 in several categories in the MAC, including 20th in scoring (13.1), 22nd in three-point baskets made per game (1.5), 14th in free throw percentage (77.8), 12th in assists (3.0), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and seventh in steals (1.5). Farrakhan, who continues to rise up the school’s scoring ledger, is 22nd in points (12.8), 18th in free throw percentage (75.4) and 22nd in assists (2.5). Overall, the duo has combined to record six, 20+ point games this year for EMU.

THE RICE STUFF: Entering the Jan. 31 game with Ohio, Kevin-David Rice was in a bit of a shooting slump as he was 4-of-16 on the season from beyond the arc, including 0-of-6 in the last nine games after opening the year 4-of-10. After getting the start against the Bobcats, Rice righted the ship as he was a perfect 3-of-3 from three in the first half and finished the game 3-of-4 from deep while adding a pair of free throws to score a season-high-tying 11 points which first came Dec. 4 at home against Florida Atlantic, currently the No. 19 team in the nation.

PAYING THE BILL(INGSLEY): For the third time this year, Jalin Billingsley had a perfect day from the floor as he converted all five of his attempts against Ohio, Jan. 31. Coupled with a 1-of-1 showing at Miami, Jan. 28, the big man has not missed an attempt in two games. His 5-of-5 showing matches his best performance, which also was a 5-of-5 night, against Purdue Fort Wayne, Nov. 22, in Cancun. Billingsley is currently converting at a 53.8 percent rate from the field, just behind the team-leading 54.2 percent shooting of Legend Geeter.

MANAGING WINS: Throughout the nation each year, the managers for the two teams playing will get together and play a game of their own. So far this year, the EMU managers have only been able to play five games, but are currently undefeated at 5-0 following their win over the Ohio managers, Jan. 30. According to Manager Games on Twitter (@ManagerGames_), EMU is currently ranked No. 17 nationally.

WAY DOWNTOWN: The Eagles connected on 13 triples against Ohio, Jan. 31, to extend the program’s streak to 573 games in a row with at least one triple drained. Kevin-David Rice connected on a deep shot with 16:55 remaining in the opening half against the Bobcats to extend the streak. The last time the EMU failed to hit a three was Jan. 24, 2004, when Miami held Eastern to 0-of-7.

HOME COOKING: According to the latest update from College Basketball Reference, Jan. 25, the Eagles currently rank fourth nationally in regards to points scored per game by in-state players with Eastern averaging 54.2 points per game from its Michigan-born players. Northern Iowa (68.5), Youngstown State (59.0), and Northern Colorado (54.3) rank just ahead of EMU. Additional research through 22 games played shows that those same in-state players have accounted for 74.3 percent of the team’s scoring with Michigan-born Eagles having collected 1,196 of the team’s 1,609 points.

UP NEXT: The Eagles will head to Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 7, to take on the Bulls from the University at Buffalo. The game is set for a 7 p.m. tip and will be streamed live on ESPN+. Tom Helmer, the Voice of the Eagles, will have the call on the WEMU (89.1 FM) and the Varsity Network app.

 

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Pope in Hungary meets with Ukrainian refugees, Russian envoy

Pope Francis plunged into both sides of Russia’s war with Ukraine on Saturday, greeting some of the 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the border to Hungary during a public prayer service and then meeting privately with an envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church that has strongly supported the war.

Francis maintained the Vatican’s tradition of diplomatic neutrality during his second day in Budapest, where he’s on a weekend visit to minister to Hungary’s Catholic faithful.

Starting the day, he thanked Hungarians for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and urged them to help anyone in need. He called for a culture of charity in a country where the prime minister has justified firm anti-immigration policies with fears that migration threatens Europe’s Christian culture.

Speaking in the white-brick St. Elizabeth’s church, named for a princess who renounced her wealth to care for the poor, Francis recalled that the Gospel instructs Christians to show love and compassion to all, especially those experiencing poverty and “even those who are not believers.”

“The love that Jesus gives us and commands us to practice can help to uproot the evils of indifference and selfishness from society, from our cities and the places where we live — indifference is a plague —- and to rekindle hope for a new, more just and fraternal world, where all can feel at home,” he said.

Hungary’s nationalist government has implemented firm anti-immigration policies and refused to accept many asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through its southern border, leading to prolonged legal disputes with the European Union.

The conservative populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has said that migration threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture. Orbán, who has held office since 2010, has hinged multiple election campaigns on the threats he alleges that migrants and refugees pose to Hungarians.

While Orbán’s government has consistently rejected asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa, around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing war in their country found open doors. Around 35,000 of the refugees remain in Hungary and have registered for temporary protection there, according to the U.N.

One who has chosen to stay was Olesia Misiats, a nurse who worked in a Kyiv COVID-19 hospital when she fled with her mother and two daughters on Feb. 24, 2022 — the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

First she went to the Netherlands, but high costs compelled her to move to Hungary, where she said she has found an apartment and given birth to her third daughter, Mila, who was in the pews Saturday with her mother and sister.

“Here it’s safe,” Misiats said of her new life. She said that she hopes to return to Kyiv one day, but for now she and her children are adapting. “I want to go back home. There it’s my life — it was my life,” she said. “But the war changed my life.”

Immediately after greeting and encouraging the refugees, Francis visited the Greek Catholic church next door, which has been providing aid to refugees. And then he met with the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative in Hungary, Metropolitan Hilarion, who developed close relations with the Vatican during his years as the Russian church’s foreign minister. The Vatican said the 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest was “cordial.”

The Russian church’s strong support for the Kremlin’s war has rankled the Vatican and prevented a second papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis and Kirill had a 2016 encounter in Cuba that marked the first between a pope and the head of the Russian church. They had planned a second one in June, but the meeting has been indefinitely postponed over Kirill’s support for the war.

In a statement, Hilarion’s office said that he briefed Francis on the social and educational activities of the Russian church in Hungary and its relations with the Catholic Church here. He said that he gave the pope an Italian translation of a six-volume opus on the life of Christ.

Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, is bringing him as close as he’s come to the front lines of the war. Upon arriving in Budapest on Friday, he denounced the “adolescent belligerence” that had brought war back to European soil and demanded the EU recover its values of peaceful unity to end

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As battle for Sudan continues, civilian deaths top 400

– Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.

With ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire, the civilian death toll jumped Saturday to 411 people, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties. In some areas in and around the capital, residents reported that shops were reopening and normalcy gradually returning as the scale of fighting dwindled after the shaky truce. But in other areas, terrified residents reported explosions thundering around them and fighters ransacking houses.

Now in its third week, the fighting has wounded 2,023 civilians, the syndicate added, although the true toll is expected to be much higher. The Sudanese Health Ministry put the overall death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 wounded. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people, the Doctors’ Syndicate said.

Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The outbreak of violence has dashed once-euphoric hopes for a democratic transition in Sudan after a popular uprising helped oust former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Foreign countries continued to evacuate their citizens while hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. The first convoy organized by the United States to evacuate hundreds of American citizens from the conflict reached the coastal city of Port Sudan Saturday after a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones.

Britain meanwhile was ending its evacuation flights Saturday, after demand for spots on the planes declined. The United Arab Emirates announced Saturday it had started evacuating its own citizens along with nationals of 16 other countries.

Over 50,000 Sudanese refugees — mostly women and children — have crossed over to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of regional instability. Ethnic fighting and turmoil has scarred South Sudan and the Central African Republic for years while a 2021 coup has derailed Chad’s own democratic transition.

Those who escape the fighting in Khartoum face more dangers on their way to safety. The route to Port Sudan, where ships evacuate people via the Red Sea, has proven long, exhausting and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks outside Khartoum, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.

“There’s an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF,” he said, referring to Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces. “They don’t have a supply line in place. That could get worse in the coming days.”

Airlifts from the country amid the chaotic fighting also posed challenges, with a Turkish evacuation plane even hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.

On Saturday — despite a cease-fire extended under heavy international pressure early Friday — clashes continued around the presidential palace, headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.

But in other areas, residents reported signs that the cease-fire had taken hold.

“We are not hearing the bombs as we did before, so we’re hoping that this means they will go back to a political process,” said Osman Mirgany, a columnist and editor of the daily al-Tayar, who assessed it was safe enough on Friday to return home to Khartoum after seeking refuge in a far-flung village.

But Khartoum residents are forced to live side by side with armed fighters. Many RSF militants have moved into civilian homes and taken over stores and hospitals in the capital. The paramilitary group even transformed Mirgany’s newsroom into a makeshift base, he said. Residents also must cope without sufficient electricity and running water, among other basic supplies.

“For the past 14 days we’ve suffered from a lack of everything,” Mirgany said.

Residents in the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, have been waiting at least three days to get fuel — complicating their escape plans.

The U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that U.N. offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. Genena’s main hospital was also leveled in the fighting, Sudan’s health ministry said.

“This is unacceptable — and prohibited under international law,” Griffiths said.

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Will you marry me?’ Bulgarian woman contacts News 6 to expose international romance scheme

A 52-year-old Bulgarian woman currently working in Ireland is the latest target of international imposters who use stolen photos of a handsome Carnival Cruise Line officer in an online dating scheme that steals victims’ money.

Alessandro Cinquini, 29, who is known on dating sites as “Alex the Officer,” first contacted News 6 in March 2022 when he discovered his photographs were being used to fool women from Florida to India.

Vanya Dimova contacted News 6 after seeing our reports about Cinquini on the web.

She said an Alex imposter sent her photos and videos of lavish gifts that included a shimmering engagement ring.

Alessandro Cinquini has gone public to warn women across the globe that imposters have stolen his photographs from social media platforms to create “catfish” style profiles that offer love but target money.

News 6 sent 15 questions to her in advance so Dimova could translate and prepare responses during a Zoom interview.

She said she met the Alex imposter on Instagram back on March 26. According to Dimova, the conversation went from casual to romantic very quickly.

“After two days, he told me he was in love with me,” Danya told News 6. “Every day, he tell me he want to buy a house in Bulgaria and live together.”

Cinquini told News 6 the imposters have never stopped using his photos and he assured us he never contacted Dimova.

They have my old pictures from my old life,” Cinquini said. “Most of those pictures aren’t on my Instagram anymore. I canceled them years ago.”

He told News 6 he currently works as a fleet operation center watch officer for Carnival Cruise Line.

Danya sent News 6 a voice message from a man claiming to be Alex.

“I love you, I love you,” the man said.

The voice sounded nothing like Cinquini

Danya said that voice recording was the only evidence she has. She never met the imposter face-to-face or spoke to him on FaceTime or Zoom.

Danya said she became suspicious when the imposter asked her to pay the shipping charges for her gifts. He sent her a Bank of America receipt to prove his account had been frozen.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams in the U.S alone netted an estimated $1.3 billion last year, impacting 70,000 men and women.

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