NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Voters in Colombia handed a landslide ballot-box victory to conservative presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos in mid-June, in a resounding rejection of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, who had tried to influence the election with criticisms of Santos.
Chavez had called Santos a “threat to the region” and warned that “he could cause a war in this part of the world, upon instructions from the Yankees,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Santos and former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus had been running even in the pre-election polls but Chavez’ criticism — and a Mockus comment that he admired Chavez — resulted in a Santos victory by nearly 42 percentage points.
“Chavez had hoped to dissuade Colombians from electing a conservative security hawk. Yet his remarks backfired completely,” said Jaime Daremblum, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute in an op-ed for the Journal. “His attacks on Santos reminded Colombians of the radical autocracy that sits next door — a government that has sponsored drug-trafficking terrorists in Colombia, has massed troops along the border, and has repeatedly raised the possibility of war.”
On the first ballot, held May 30, Mockus received 21.5 percent of the vote and Santos 46.7 percent. In the June 20 runoff election, however, Santos routed Mockus 69.1 percent to 27.5 percent, the Journal reported.
SPAIN LAWMAKERS VOTE BURQA BAN — Lawmakers in Spain voted unexpectedly June 23 to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa or other garments that cover the whole body in public. By a vote of 131 to 129, Spain joined a growing movement in Europe that seeks to restrict the spread of radical Islam.
Belgium is considering a law that would make it a crime to wear in public “clothing that hides the face,” The New York Times reported. Switzerland banned the construction of Muslim mosque minarets in 2009 and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has endorsed a ban on the burqa, condemning the garment as “a sign of subservience” rather than religion. In 2004, France banned head scarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols from state schools.
Spain’s Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had been pushing for more limited restrictions on Islamic clothing but public sentiment about extremist Islam has been rising and a bloc of lawmakers suddenly switched their earlier stance to vote in favor of the ban.
The motion adopted by the senators calls on Spain to outlaw “any usage, custom or discriminatory practice that limits the freedom of women,” the Times reported.
4TH-CENTURY APOSTLE PORTRAITS FOUND — Portraits that may be the earliest known images of four apostles have been uncovered in a catacomb beneath the streets of Rome.
Vatican archaeologists used a newly developed laser to burn away 16 centuries of calcium deposits to reveal the images, which were part of a fresco in the tomb of a Roman noblewoman.
“The laser can be calibrated to remove certain colours, in this case the white of the calcium, which just fell away,” project director Barbara Mazzei told the Guardian newspaper. “We are used to finding faded colours, but here they are exceptional.”
Two of the four portraits uncovered on the fresco were identified as Peter and Paul, based on their similarity to other early icons, Mazzei said. The other two images were identified as John and Andrew because in that era they were considered the next most important apostles. The fresco also includes a representation of Jesus Christ.
The catacomb is located under a residential street near the basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls and is accessed through the unmarked basement door of a drab office building, the Guardian reported. Although the catacomb was discovered in the 1950s, it has yet to be opened to the public. The images were uncovered June 19.
MOROCCO EXPULSIONS CRITICIZED — A U.S. Congressman is calling for action against the government of Morocco after several dozen Americans and “scores of other foreign nationals” have been deported from the country, forcing the closure of “vital community services,” including an orphanage.
“Over the course of the last three months, approximately 49 American citizens and scores of other foreign nationals have been deported and denied re-entry into the kingdom of Morocco for allegedly proselytizing,” Rep. Frank R. Wolf said June 16 during a hearing held in Washington by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. “While proselytism is against the law in Morocco, authorities have refused to turn over any evidence or offer any explanation of the charges. Among the individuals who were deported or denied re-entry were businessmen, educators and humanitarian and social workers, many of whom had resided in Morocco for over a decade in full compliance with the law. Additionally, those deported were forced to leave the country within two hours of being questioned by authorities, leaving everything behind.”
Morocco was the first nation officially recognized by the fledgling United States and “the harsh and sudden nature of these expulsions calls into question the long standing friendship and mutual cooperation between the United States and Morocco,” Wolf said. “At a time when the U.S. debt is over $13 trillion, it is inappropriate for American taxpayer money to go to a nation which disregards the rights of American citizens residing in Morocco and forcibly expels Americans without due process of law.”
The U.S. State Department declined an invitation to testify at the hearing and Wolf said he was “disappointed” that the U.S. ambassador to Morocco and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “have not vocally advocated for U.S. citizens.”
SOMALI TEEN SUFFERS ABUSE — A 17-year-old girl in Somalia who professed faith in Jesus Christ was severely beaten and shackled to a tree for more than a month by her parents.
Nurta Mohamed Farah of Bardher village in southern Somalia began suffering the abuse May 10, when her family learned she had embraced Christianity, according to the Compass Direct news service.
When beatings failed to shake the girl’s faith, her parents took her to a doctor who prescribed medication for “mental illness,” but the medicine also failed to sway her faith, a Christian leader who visited the area told Compass. Christians in the community report the girl had been shackled to a tree by day and locked in a small, dark room at night.
PAKISTANI CHRISTIAN GIRL KIDNAPPED, RAPED — A 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was kidnapped and raped after her father refused to allow a Muslim man to marry her.
“They threatened that if I don’t get her married to Guddu, they would kill her,” the girl’s father, Lazarus Masih, told the Compass Direct news service. “One of them said, ‘We attended an Islamic religious convention, and the speaker said if you marry a non-Muslim or rape a non-Muslim girl, you will get 70 virgins in heaven.”
Five men kidnapped the girl, whose name was being withheld, May 29, Compass reported. Police recovered her June 6 in a raid on the home in Rawalpindi where she was being held, but the suspects escaped.
Family members told Compass the girl was traumatized and not speaking to anyone. “It is such a shame that the religious leaders teach inhuman acts,” said John Gill of Shamsabad Catholic Church. “This incident has ruined the life of an innocent child.”
Mark Kelly is a Baptist Press assistant editor.