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Hindu extremists kill 6 Christians at Christmastime

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hindu extremists in India’s Orissa state killed six Christians, burned 400 homes and destroyed 60 church buildings during the Christmas holy days, according to a report from the All India Christian Council. An estimated 600 Christians took refuge in a church building after extremists tried to attack their village.

“Young and healthy Christians have left their villages to flee for their lives. Children, women, [the] old and sick, who could not flee for their lives, are in great danger,” John Dayal, the council’s secretary general, told International Christian Concern, a human rights group based in Washington, D.C. “Remnants are starving for the last four days, and sick are suffering without medical attention.”

Christians are being forced to convert to Hinduism in order to get food, medical attention and shelter, Dayal said.

Hundreds of Christians fled to government-run relief camps, where authorities were providing food, medicine and security, the Associated Press reported. Police officers were dispatched and curfews announced in an effort to stop the violence.

Although India’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Hindu nationalists often persecute the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities, especially if they believe efforts are being made to persuade tribal minorities to change their religion. Orissa state requires people to obtain police permission before changing their religion. Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were martyred in Orissa in 1999.

CRITICS SEE ‘BEGINNING OF THE END’ FOR CHAVEZ — Nine years after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was elected on promises of revolutionary social changes, many workers in the country are wondering when his “21st-century socialism” will arrive for them. Though Chavez remains popular and high oil prices are sustaining the country’s economy, even some Chavez loyalists admit problems like corruption, bureaucracy, crime, inflation and food shortages are dimming enthusiasm for his iron-fisted rule.

In February, Chavez ordered state confiscation of four projects run by foreign oil companies in the country’s Orinoco River region and nationalized Venezuela’s largest telecommunications company and its electricity company. In December, voters defeated a massive slate of constitutional changes that would have allowed Chávez to run for re-election indefinitely and given him broad powers to implement social changes.

“[People] feel disenchanted. There’s a feeling that for all the high-sounding rhetoric and lofty ideals, that there hasn’t been sufficient attention addressed to concrete issues,” Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Venezuela’s University of the East, told the Associated Press.

Chavez’ critics argue that significant inroads against poverty and homelessness have not been made. Some believe voters rejected his constitutional changes because the details of his plans for a socialist society are unclear.

Many Venezuelans don’t know what Chavez means by “21st-century socialism” and are not sure they trust him to deliver, Yoel Acosta Chirinos, a former Chavez ally told the Associated Press. The defeat of the referendum “is the beginning of the end for Chavismo … because it hasn’t responded to so many expectations created by (his) political project.”

AL QAIDA GROWING DESPERATE, EXPERT SAYS — More women are carrying out suicide bomb attacks in Iraq, and one U.S. military spokesman sees it as a sign the Al Qaida terror network is having a hard time recruiting men and resorting to desperate measures.

Women had accounted for only 2 percent of the 667 suicide attacks carried out in Iraq since May 2005, according to statistics provided by the Associated Press. In November and December, however, women carried out three suicide bombings.

Sunni Muslim tribal groups have turned against Al Qaida extremists and are helping American and Iraqi forces push extremists out of Baghdad and into more remote areas. That may be making it harder to recruit men for suicide attacks, Diaa Rashwan of Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told the Associated Press.

Islam takes a dim view of using women in combat, so the increasing use of women as suicide attackers reveals Al Qaida is facing “an abnormal situation,” Rashwan said. At the same time, women have an advantage in executing suicide attacks because Muslim cultural standards forbid physical contact between unrelated women and men, thus women often are able to clear checkpoints guarded by men without being searched.

Another sign the terror network is scrambling to find new sources of recruits is the announcement that video messages from Al Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri now can be downloaded to cell phones. Such videos, like the one of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s execution, are becoming more popular in the region. Cell phone owners download the files from militant websites, then transfer them to others through wireless connections between phones.

TAYLOR WAR CRIMES TRIAL RESUMES — As the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor resumes in The Hague, supporters in Liberia convened a prayer meeting.

Taylor, once a feared warlord, is charged with rape, murder, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers in a decade-long war that killed perhaps 250,000 people and drove 2 million people from their homes. He also is accused of trying to gain control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines and supplying rebels that fought to destabilize Sierra Leone’s government.

During the prayer service, which was held at First Baptist Church in Congo Town, supporters insisted that if Taylor is given a fair trial, he will go free and peace in Liberia would be reinforced. The war was “about one rebel taking power from another rebel” and justice is not served by focusing prosecution on one man when a dozen were guilty, said Joseph Gardea Johnson, senior pastor of the church. The church decided to stand by Taylor because “he is a son of the Liberian soil,” the pastor told the Monrovia newspaper, The Inquirer.

Camelle Grace, one of Taylor’s daughters, read a statement on behalf of the family that said the trial brings fear and distress but also is a defining moment for them. She affirmed their belief Taylor would be vindicated, saying they find consolation in Romans 8:31 and 1 Peter 1:6. “God sees all things,” she said.

Taylor was overthrown in 2003 and exiled in Nigeria, which later handed him over to a U.N.-backed court under international pressure. He entered not guilty pleas to all charges, but the trial was delayed when he insisted his defense team was not given adequate resources to insure a fair trial.

The trial is being held in The Hague, located in the Netherlands, because officials fear memories of the cruel conflict, in which soldiers killed, raped and maimed people, could cause instability if it was held in Sierra Leone.
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn.

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