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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Christians in India celebrate Dalit’s election …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christians in India are celebrating the election of the first Dalit [“untouchable”] as speaker of the Indian parliament on the heels of a decisive defeat of a prominent Hindu nationalist party in nationwide elections. Meira Kumar also is the first woman elected as speaker.

Kumar’s election is both historically and politically important, Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan said in a press statement. “Traditionally, the most neglected people in the world are women, and the women who are treated the absolute worst are Dalit women,” Yohannan said. “Now the most despised people in the most abused people group have a voice in one of the world’s largest government bodies — the Indian parliament.”

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was routed at the polls in national elections as well as state assembly elections in Orissa, a scene of anti-Christian arson and carnage this past year, according to the Compass Direct news service. Hoping to gain from its hardcore Hindu nationalist image, the BJP made Narendra Modi, accused of organizing anti-Muslim persecution in Gujarat state in 2002, its star campaigner.

Of 543 seats in the parliament, the Congress Party won 206 seats and its coalition holds 315 seats. The alliance led by the BJP took only 160 seats.

“The election result is a statement against the persecution of non-Hindus,” political analyst Vijay Simha told Compass Direct. The Times of India quoted Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the victorious Congress Party, as saying the election result was a rejection of politics of caste and religion and acceptance of “clean and honest” policies.

CHAVEZ TAX BILL THREATENS CRITICAL TV STATION — Venezuelan tax officials delivered a $2.3 million tax bill to the last television station in the country opposing President Hugo Chavez on the open airwaves. The station director called it “judicial, fiscal and governmental terrorism,” but the state tax agency insists Globovision owes taxes on the revenue potential of airtime donated to Chavez’ opponents six years ago.

The tax announcement came the day after troops raided the home of Globovision’s president and owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, and charges were announced against him. He is accused of usury in connection with two Toyota dealerships he jointly owns, the Associated Press reported. He also is being investigated for “environmental crime” related to wild game trophies in his home.

Journalism advocacy groups have criticized “unwarranted accusations against the press” in Venezuela, the AP reported. Chavez, however, told state media: “We have to keep fighting against impunity, whatever those who are affected might say. They have to comply with the laws.”

State television now runs short ads that label Globovision as “sick” and urge viewers to “turn off the illness,” according to the AP. Chavez recently ordered the country’s attorney general and its telecommunications chief to take action against non-state media or resign.

The tax bill is for airtime donated to human rights groups and political parties during a strike six years ago that sought to oust Chavez from power, Globovision lawyer Ana Cristina Nunez told the AP. In 2007, Chavez forced another opposition channel, Radio Caracas Television, off the air by refusing to renew its license. That station, which now is carried on cable, also has been billed for back taxes like those levied against Globovision.

HEZBOLLAH LOSES IN LEBANON VOTE — Voters in Lebanon have handed Hezbollah politicians a stunning defeat in national elections, delivering a majority of seats in the national parliament to the Western-backed coalition of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Supporters of the winning coalition took to the streets to celebrate the victory, honking car horns and setting off fireworks.

Final results of the balloting, announced June 8, gave 68 of 128 seats to the winning coalition, while the Hezbollah-led alliance took 57 and independents claimed three, according to news reports. The division of seats is close to that of the last legislature.

Prior to the election, the head of the influential Maronite Catholic Church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, made a last-minute appeal to voters that Lebanon’s Arab identity was being threatened, indirectly referring to Hezbollah’s Persian patron, Iran, the Associated Press reported.

RUSSIA HONORS PROLIFIC PARENTS — With Russia’s population plummeting, the country’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, has launched a public relations campaign to encourage parents to have more children. On June 1, Medvedev honored couples with as many as 16 children with a Kremlin reception and awarded them the “Order of Parental Glory.”

Russia’s population has dropped drastically since the collapse of communism in 1991. Alcoholism, AIDS, severe poverty and serious pollution have reduced the average Russian male’s life expectancy to 60 years — far shorter than in other European countries, the Associated Press reported. Demographers warn that Russia’s population could decline another 30 million by 2050.

The families received a medal and a cash award equal to $1,630. The government has urged Russians to have large families as a marker of social progress. “We must strive to make the humane treatment of children and the aspiration to create full-fledged, big families measurements of the development of our society, our state,” Medvedev said, according to the AP.

EL SALVADOR INAUGURATES LEFTIST PRESIDENT — El Salvador’s first leftist president promised during his inauguration June 8 to remain friendly with the United States and restore ties with Cuba. Mauricio Funes won a March 15 election to replace Tony Saca, whose conservative government was a steadfast ally of the United States.

Funes, a journalist, represents the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, former Marxist guerrillas who fought to overthrow Salvadoran governments until disarming in 1992. During his presidential campaign, Funes kept his distance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who did not attend the inauguration. U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Funes on his victory and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the ceremony.

Clinton called Funes’ election a testament to the strength of democracy in the Americas, the Associated Press reported. “Since Mauricio Funes’ election earlier this year, we have witnessed a peaceful transfer of power between two formerly warring parties,” Clinton wrote in the Miami Herald.

Funes, a former television journalist, has no experience in government and is now faced with economic recession, widespread gang violence and a country polarized by the election, the AP noted. He has promised fiscal austerity and more money for education and health care.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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