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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Baghdad Christians flee forced conversion; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Another six Christian families in Iraq were forced to flee their homes in Baghdad in mid-April after Sunni Muslim extremists threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam within 24 hours. A congregation in another part of the city took in the refugee families.

An armed gang told the families a fatwa had been issued against Christians in the Dora district by an amir, an independent Muslim ruler, according to the Compass Direct news service. “They called the Christians ‘infidels’ and told them, ‘If you don’t convert to Islam or leave your homes in 24 hours, we will kill you,'” a source told Compass Direct.

The Dora area of southern Baghdad once was home to a large Christian community, but church bombings in 2004 and increasing violence between Muslim factions has driven most Christians out. “Speak with the churches around the world and remind the brothers to pray for our churches in Baghdad,” a pastor in Iraq told Compass Direct. “Pray that the Lord would give us peace and good days to see what God’s will is in this violence.”

CHRISTIANS WARY OF NEW MUSLIM PRESIDENT — The election of a strict Muslim as president has Christians in Nigeria worried about increased persecution in the predominantly Islamic northern part of the country. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was elected April 21 in elections allegedly tainted by fraud.

Yar’Adua was handpicked by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, to be the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party in the elections, according to the Compass Direct news service. Only Muslims were nominated for the election because of an unwritten agreement that the presidency would alternate between candidates from the north and south. Nigeria is badly divided between the Muslim north and largely Christian south.

When Yar’Ardua was governor of northern Nigeria’s Katsina state, he imposed Islamic Sharia law, in violation of the national constitution. Churches were routinely denied land on which to build, and some churches were closed by government agencies without explanation, Christian leaders in Nigeria told Compass Direct.

VATICAN DENOUNCES HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE — A high-ranking doctrinal official of the Roman Catholic Church has declared abortion to be a form of terrorism and denounced homosexual marriage as evil. Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called abortion clinics “slaughterhouses of human beings” and criticized “parliaments of so-called civilized nations where laws contrary to the nature of the human being are being promulgated, such as the approval of marriage between people of the same sex.”

Amato labeled suicide bomber attacks as “abominable terrorism” before condemning abortion as “terrorism with a human face,” according to the Reuters news service. He said the media “hide the tragic reality of the facts” by using a term like “voluntary interruption of pregnancy” rather than acknowledging it as the killing of a defenseless human being.

Italian voters are about to go to the polls to vote on a proposal to give unmarried couples some form of legal status. Roman Catholic leaders and some politicians have criticized the plan as a “Trojan horse” for legalizing homosexual marriages.

INTENSE FIGHTING FORCES SOMALIS FROM HOMES — More than 320,000 residents of Somalia’s capital city have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting between Islamic rebels, government troops and their Ethiopian allies. Humanitarian aid to the refugees has been slowed because the government has been insisting on inspecting all food and medical shipments.

Nearly 1,500 people have been killed in less than a month by car bombs and street fighting in Mogadishu, a city of 2 million, according to the Associated Press. The United Nations says the country is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history, with disease spreading in unsanitary refugee camps where there is no shelter and little to eat.

Somali and Ethiopian troops drove the hard-line Council of Islamic Courts from power early in 2007, but the group has vowed to keep fighting until an Islamic regime is installed in the country. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on warring sides to end the violence and allow humanitarian assistance to reach the needy.

NORTH KOREA ATROCITIES FOCUS OF PROTESTS — A human rights group is calling for a week of international protests over continuing human rights atrocities in North Korea. Organizers hope North Korea Freedom Week, set for April 22-29, will bring together thousands of people from around the world for a weeklong series of hearings, panels, exhibits and special events.

Millions of North Koreans -– many of them Christians –- have died of starvation or in North Korea’s prison/labor camps under the rule of Kim Jong Il, according to the North Korea Freedom Coalition, a bipartisan coalition that draws attention to human rights abuses in North Korea. Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries like China, which forces them to return to North Korea, where they face imprisonment, torture, starvation and hard labor. The North Korean government strictly regulates speech, employment, travel and food rations as a means of controlling its people.

The week’s activities will include April 28 demonstrations outside Chinese embassies in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Houston and New York City as well as other cities around the world. Other North Korea Freedom Week events are listed at nkfreedom.org.

RUSSIA TIGHTENS CONTROL OF NEWS MEDIA — President Vladimir Putin’s control of Russian society continues to tighten as the new owners of the country’s largest independent radio network announced at least half its reports on the country must be positive in tone. In addition, the Russian News Service would not mention political leaders who oppose Putin and would portray the United States as an enemy.

“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” one editor at the network told The New York Times. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”

The country’s three national television networks already are under state control and lawmakers recently passed a measure banning “extremism” in politics, The Times reported. Prosecutors also have tracked down individuals who posted comments on the Internet that are critical of the government. Lawmakers are considering extending state regulation to Internet news sites, and police recently raided a nongovernmental foundation and seized computers used as servers for independent news sites.

Parliamentary elections this fall are expected to largely cement Putin’s hold on power since a supreme court March 23 banned one of the few political parties in Russia critical of the president.

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  • Mark Kelly