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Obama to attend service for victims of Texas blast

President Barack Obama will attend a memorial service this week for the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, in what will be his latest foray as the country’s comforter in chief.

Obama, who spoke at emotional services for victims of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and the bombing at the Boston Marathon, will participate in a ceremony on Thursday at Baylor University in Waco. He will travel there after attending the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum outside Dallas on Thursday morning.

At least 14 people were killed when the West Chemical and Fertilizer Co. plant exploded on Wednesday night in West, not far from Waco. Most of the dead were firefighters or other emergency responders. About 200 others were injured.

Carney declined to discuss whether safety was adequate at the plant. “This is currently obviously an active investigation,” he said. “The cause is still unknown. And it is still too early to point to specific violations, if any.”

—Peter Baker, The New York Times

China sentences 7 Christian preachers to prison

BEIJING_Chinese authorities have sentenced to prison seven underground church leaders who were arrested last April and charged with belonging to an illegal cult, according to a U.S. Christian rights group.

The preachers, who officiated illegal Pentecostal congregations in China’s central Henan province, were given terms ranging from three years to 7 1/2 years, according to court documents released by ChinaAid, an organization based in Texas.

The verdicts were issued by the Ye County People’s Court on April 1 but lawyers for the four women and three men said they were not notified about the court’s decision until last week.

Although the Chinese government frequently harasses members of unauthorized Christian congregations, Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, said the sentences were the longest in more than a decade. “Such a heavy punishment for peaceful church leaders is very worrisome,” he said in an interview.

—Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times

Kerry to meet with officials of Afghanistan and Pa

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State John Kerry will host a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday with top Afghan and Pakistani leaders to try to foster cooperation over the stalled reconciliation process with the Taliban and other thorny issues, American and Afghan officials said Monday.

The meeting will be held the day after NATO foreign ministers gather to discuss the alliance’s role in Afghanistan after 2014, among other issues.

President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi will represent the Afghan side. Pakistan will be represented by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, and Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s foreign secretary.

“This is the year of transition,” Kerry told a gathering of U.S. diplomats here, referring to NATO’s plans to progressively hand over the responsibility for security by the end of 2014. “This is the critical year in Afghanistan.”

He added, “We are going to have a trilateral and try to talk about how we can advance this process in the simplest, most cooperative, most cogent way so that we wind up with both Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s interests being satisfied — but most importantly with a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Karzai has complained that Pakistan is not helping to bring the Taliban into the political reconciliation process, a charge Pakistan denies.

—Michael R. Gordon, The New York Times