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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Orissa Christians fear violent Christmas; Chavez opponents win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christians in Orissa state are fearful the Christmas holy days will be marred by violence after Hindu extremists called for a statewide “bandh,” a forced shutdown of the entire society, on Dec. 25. Observers say the move could give Hindu extremists a pretext for attacking Christians who publicly celebrate the birth of Christ.

According to Compass Direct News, the chief minister of Orissa state has stopped short of prohibiting the Hindu extremist plan. Such forced shutdowns were outlawed by India’s Supreme Court in 1998.

On Nov. 15, the president of the Hindu extremist group SLSSS notified the Orissa government that the group would impose the bandh unless the state arrested the parties who murdered Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23. The murder of that swami was blamed on Christians, even though a radical Maoist group claimed responsibility, and months of violence against Christians has ensued.

CHÁVEZ OPPONENTS WIN FIVE STATES — Opponents of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez won five of 22 states in Nov. 23 elections that marked a significant failure for the man who has for 10 years sought to systematically consolidate his power over the entire country.

The voting marked the second major defeat at the polls for Chávez, who almost a year earlier lost a bid to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution to give himself more power.

The opposition won in some poor urban areas that had been considered bastions of Chávez power, as well as in more prosperous areas, according to The New York Times. They won the mayor’s race in Caracas, the capital, as well as ballots in states like oil-rich Zulia and agriculture center Táchira. Chávez had cast the elections as a referendum on his socialist revolution, but issues like inflation and violent crime seemed to concern voters more. Inflation, at more than 30 percent, is the highest in Latin America and the murder rate in Caracas has been estimated at 130 per 100,000, about four times the rate in Medellín, Colombia, according to the Times.

Prior to the election, Chávez called opponents “traitors” and “swine,” and nearly 300 candidates were prevented from running. The president also threatened to send tanks into Carabobo state if his ally there was defeated.

DEMOLITION OF CHRISTIAN HOMES THREATENED — Christian families in Lahore, Pakistan, have been ordered by the city’s development authority to vacate their homes so the houses could be demolished for a highway project. None of the 48 families had complied with the order because the government was not offering any compensation for the destruction of their homes.

The Lahore Development Authority issued the notice Oct. 28 and gave the occupants three days to obey, according to the human rights organization International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org). Their neighborhood in Quid-e-Azam was to be demolished to make way for a widening of the main road. Eminent domain law in Pakistan requires the government to offer families compensation for the loss of their homes.

“We will never allow the administration to demolish our houses, since the local government does not treat us as equal citizens, and we are not provided the basic civic facilities as well,” Mansha Bhagat, chairman of Pakistan Christian Unity, told ICC. “Our forefathers sacrificed for us and faced hundreds of hardships to build this colony and now it is impossible for us to leave this place for the ‘dacoits’ [notorious criminals].”

Bhagat urged the authorities to allot alternative plots with complete civic facilities and compensation to the affected families.

CHINA EYES RACETRACK BETTING — Gambling promoters in China hope a four-day experiment with racetrack betting could lead to a liberalization of Chinese laws forbidding gambling as an immoral pastime of capitalists. The government, however, is looking for an approach that limits the amount individuals can wager and lose in the process.

The races, held in late November at the Orient Lucky City racetrack in Beijing, were the largest since 1949, when the Communist Party banned gambling, according to USA Today. People were allowed to purchase “lottery” tickets on a winning horse or series of races, rather than betting specific amounts of money.

Legalized betting on horse races “could create 3 [million] to 5 million job opportunities, develop agriculture and animal husbandry, make the cities spur the rural economy and crack down on illegal gambling,” estimated to total at least $80 billion, economist Qin Zunwen told USA Today.

Chinese officials, however, “are trying to get the formula right on horse racing … [with] a lottery system where the man on the street can buy a lottery ticket but doesn’t break his bank balance doing so,” said Geoff Barton, an Australian who worked at a racetrack closed in 2005 because of illegal gambling. “And therein lies the problem. If they win, they want to bet more,” he told USA Today.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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  • Mark Kelly