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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Chavez declares ‘economic war’; Hong Kong marks Tiananmen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Consumer prices in Venezuela may rise 40 percent this year and President Hugo Chavez has declared “economic war” against private companies in an effort to rein in inflation, which is running at the highest rate among 78 economies tracked by Bloomberg L.P.

In January, Chavez devalued the country’s currency for the first time since 2005 and created a multi-tiered exchange system as he struggled to close a budget deficit and slow capital flight, according to the Bloomberg news service. The government shut down the unregulated currency market on May 18 and was planning to hand control over securities trading to the central bank. The government has taken control of 36 brokerages and jailed 10 brokerage directors.

Venezuela’s economy contracted 5.8 percent in the first three months of the year — the fourth consecutive quarter of declines — and consumer prices surged 5.2 percent in April alone, according to Bloomberg.

Chavez blamed Venezuela’s “bourgeoisie” for the country’s economic woes after business groups criticized his handling of the economy and the performance of nationalized companies, Bloomberg reported. Chavez said the government can’t lower inflation because private company price increases outstrip his adjustments in the minimum wage.

“As long as the bourgeoisie controls 90 percent of commerce, 80 percent of the banks and multinational companies, we won’t be able to lower inflation to one digit,” Chavez said, according to Bloomberg. “The only way to lower prices is having the workers take control of the factory. Those companies that want to work together are welcome. Those that don’t want to cooperate, we’ll expropriate them. … War is war.”

Chavez has nationalized oil, food, cement and metals companies in his push to build a socialist economy, Bloomberg reported. He pointed to Radio Caracas Television, an opposition network removed from the airwaves, as an example of what happens to companies that do not cooperate with his economic dictates.

MUSLIM TEENS CHARGED WITH RAPING 14-YEAR-OLD — Authorities in Pakistan have arrested and charged two teenagers with sexual assault in connection with the drugging and rape of a 14-year-old Christian schoolgirl.

Muhammad Noman and Muhammad Imran, both 17, are accused of abducting the girl from her school in Lahore on May 6 and drugging her prior to sexually assaulting her, a spokesman for the Christian Lawyers Foundation and officials of the National Commission of Justice and Peace told the Compass Direct news service. Muslims commonly commit crimes against Christians in Pakistan, assuming law enforcement officials will not prosecute them, Compass noted, but the two boys were arrested May 26. DNA samples taken from the girl linked both young men to the crime.

The father of the girl, whose name was withheld, is deceased and her mother, assisted by Christian neighbors, began a search for her when she did not return home from school on time. She was found unconscious on the road near the school gate and brought home, Compass reported. When she regained consciousness, she was taken to the police station and an application to register a case was filed. After investigating, police registered a case May 9 against the two young men for abducting “with intent to commit adultery.” A urine test indicated the girl was not pregnant.

HONG KONG MARKS TIANANMEN MASSACRE DATE — As many as 150,000 Hong Kong residents attended a candlelight vigil June 4 to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1989 massacre of democracy protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Citizens gathered in a large park, singing protest songs and holding candles and signs that read “Never Forget June Fourth, Give Us Democracy.”

The turnout was unusually strong for a politically sensitive moment for Hong Kong, which operates under a different set of laws than the rest of the country, The Wall Street Journal reported. Commemorations of the massacre were forbidden in mainland China and tensions in Hong Kong ran high over how to mark the anniversary. Administrators at Chinese University of Hong Kong rejected a student plan to erect a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that symbolized the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989.

Democracy advocates in Hong Kong are struggling with authorities over what they see as slow progress on promised direct elections, The Journal reported. Earlier this year, opposition lawmakers staged a mass resignation.

MILITANTS EXECUTE SOMALI CHRISTIAN LEADER — Islamic militants killed yet another leader of the underground church movement in Somalia on May 4. Yusuf Ali Nur had been on a list of people the al Shabaab Islamic extremist group suspected of being Christian.

Eyewitnesses said al Shabaab, which is believed to have links with the al Qaeda terrorist network, had been engaged in a two-hour battle with a rival rebel group and was conducting a house-to-house search for enemy fighters when they arrived at the house where Nur was living, Compass Direct reported. Upon finding Nur, one of the militants remarked, “Oh! This is Yusuf, whom we have been looking for,” and the group sprayed him with bullets at close range.

In 2009 Islamic militants in Somalia sought out and killed at least 15 Christians, including women and children. Three more Christians were murdered in the first three months of this year, Compass reported. Al Shabaab, which controls large parts of central Somalia, recently banned radio stations from playing music and outlawed bell ringing that signals the end of school classes “because they sound like church bells.”

Nur is survived by his wife, Muna Sheikh Farah, and three children, ages 11, 9 and 7.
Mark Kelly is a Baptist Press assistant editor.

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