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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Drug lords’ tie to Mexico Catholic churches probed; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new chapel built by a notorious drug kingpin has sparked a government investigation of Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church and its relationships with drug traffickers.

The chapel in Pachuca, Mexico, bears a bronze plaque honoring the commander of the Zetas crime syndicate, a man known as “the Executioner,” The New York Times reported March 7. Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church was impoverished by the government’s seizure of church properties in 1917 and over the years church leaders have accepted gifts from wealthy patrons without questioning the source of the money they donate.

Since the investigation began, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Mexico has issued public pledges to reject donations from narcotics traffickers and several bishops have condemned both the drug cartels and the government’s militaristic efforts to stop them, The Times reported. Joseph Palacios, a sociology professor and Catholic priest at Georgetown University, said more must be done: “This is an endemic problem. If they just issue statements and don’t analyze the roots of the situation, they aren’t going to change anything.”

‘MULTICULTURALISM’ FEEDS EXTREMISM, BRITISH PM SAYS — “State multiculturalism” in England has resulted in increasing Islamist extremism and steps must be taken to reverse course, the British prime minister, David Cameron, told a security conference in Munich Feb. 5.

Cameron said his government would closely examine Muslim groups that get public money but do little to tackle extremism, BBC News reported. Such groups should be denied access to public funds and barred from spreading their message in universities and prisons, he argued.

“Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,” the prime minister said, according to the BBC. “Let’s properly judge these organizations: Do they believe in universal human rights — including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organizations.”

Cameron drew a distinction between the religion of Islam and “Islamist extremism,” the BBC reported. In addition, he said a democratic country “believes in certain values and actively promotes them: Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality.”

Under the “doctrine of state multiculturalism,” different cultures have been encouraged to live separate lives, Cameron added.

“We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values,” Cameron said, according to the BBC. Building a stronger sense of national and local identity holds “the key to achieving true cohesion” by allowing people to say “I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, but I am a Londoner … too,” Cameron said.

PERSECUTED LAOTIAN CHRISTIANS IN CRISIS, WATCHDOG DAYS — Sixty-two Christians driven from their village into the jungles of Saravan province in Laos are at a “critical stage” from lack of food and water, a human rights group has warned.

“The wells are drying up as they are going into the dry season, and their food supplies are exhausted” after other villagers thwarted the Christians’ attempts to plant new crops, a source from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom told the Compass Direct news service Feb. 24.

In January 2010, officials marched 11 Christian families at gunpoint out of their village after they repeatedly refused to give up their faith. The officials confiscated the Christians’ homes, livestock and essential registration documents, Compass reported. In late December, when the families planted rice out of season on commonly-owned village land, local officials and former neighbors destroyed the crop. In spite of the persecution, another seven families professed faith in Christ and were forced out of the village Dec. 23 to join the first group.

“Villagers overheard authorities saying that the hardships caused by lack of food will eventually force the Christians to abandon their faith,” the human rights group told Compass.

ZIMBABWE CHARGES DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS WITH TREASON — Police in Zimbabwe charged 46 people with treason for watching videos of protests in Tunisia and Egypt that resulted in the overthrow of their governments.

Those arrested were attending a Feb. 19 meeting advertised as “Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia: What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa?” According to London’s Guardian newspaper, prosecutors said participants watched video footage and took turns making speeches that called for an uprising against the 31-year rule of Zimbabwe’s authoritarian president, Robert Mugabe.

Those arrested, including 11 women, were shocked when they arrived at a Feb. 23 court appearance and learned they were charged with treason, the wife of one arrested activist told The Guardian.

“No one thought it would be a charge of treason. It’s clearly being driven by a political agenda,” said Shantha Bloemen, wife of Munyaradzi Gwisai, a labor activist and former lawmaker. “I think the strategy of the regime at the moment is to stall it for as long as possible for propaganda value, to instill fear in people.”

Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch, condemned the “politically motivated charges.”

“The Zimbabwe authorities should immediately free the activists and drop these outrageous charges,” Bekele told The Guardian. “Arresting people for watching a video on the historic events in the Middle East is a transparent pretext to block peaceful criticism of the government.”

Mark Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist Press.

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