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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Political opposition to Zimbabwe government mounting; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Political turmoil in Zimbabwe is reaching crisis proportions as opposition to the government of President Robert Mugabe mounts after an anti-government activist was killed March 11 during a political prayer rally. The United States’ ambassador to the country says resistance in the country is intensifying because people believe they no longer have anything to lose.

One person was killed and more than 35 people were arrested in Harare when hundreds of riot police armed with shotguns and teargas broke up a meeting called by church and civic groups to pray about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, according to the Associated Press. Organizers had focused the rally on prayer because public political demonstrations against Mugabe’s rule are banned. Police warned organizers on Saturday the meeting would not be permitted.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell said growing numbers of government and ruling party officials want the 83-year-old Mugabe to step down and Zimbabwe’s security forces are divided, according to the AP. With inflation at 1,600 percent -– the highest in the world –- the country’s economy is in a tailspin and food shortages have become acute. Foreign travel by Mugabe critics has been banned.

The family of Gift Tandare, the militant killed during the prayer rally, said government agents seized his body from a funeral parlor and forced them to bury him at their rural home 95 miles from the capital. In the days after his death, police dispersed mourners who were blocking streets and beating drums in Tandare’s home town, an opposition stronghold.

TERRORISTS USE CHILDREN AS DECOYS IN BOMBING — Terrorists in Iraq used two children to get a car bomb through a Baghdad checkpoint before detonating the explosives March 18, a senior United States military official. American soldiers stopped the car for inspection, but allowed it through when they saw the children in the back seat.

“Children in the back seat lowered suspicion. We let it move through,” Major General Michael Barbero told the AFP news service. “They parked the vehicle, and the adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back.” Three other people besides the children were killed and seven were injured in the explosion, which occurred in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district, a mixed neighborhood next to the predominantly Shiite area called Sadr City.

It was the first time children had been used as decoys and attributed it to tighter security in the capital, according to Barbero. Attacks on Iraqi civilians have dropped more than 30 percent and sectarian murders are down 50 percent since U.S. and Iraqi forces began moving into Baghdad in mid-February.

U.S. CHARGES BRAZIL TV PREACHER, WIFE, WITH MONEY LAUNDERING — Brazil’s best-known TV preacher and his wife were arrested in Miami in early January and charged with illegally smuggling cash into the United States. Customs agents seized $56,467 family members were secretly carrying, including $9,000 hidden in a Bible.

Pentecostal celebrities Estevam and Sônia Hernandes have been likened to America’s Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for their affluent lifestyles and “prosperity gospel” message, according to the New York Times. Family members say the money laundering and fraud charges leveled against them by Brazilian authorities are inspired by tensions between Brazil’s traditional Roman Catholic power structure and the rapidly growing evangelical Pentecostal population.

Hernandes, 52, and his wife, 48, founded Rebirth in Christ Church in the 1980s. Their holdings now include, according to the Times, more than 1,000 churches, a television and radio network, a recording company, real estate in Brazil and the United States, a horse-breeding ranch and, reportedly, even the Brazilian trademark on the word ‘gospel.’

Brazil has the world’s largest Pentecostal population, according to the World Christian Database. An estimated 24 million Brazilians belong to Pentecostal groups, while 138 million are identified as Roman Catholics. More than 10 percent of Brazil’s national lawmakers are members of an evangelical caucus. The country’s vice president was selected from a party led by Pentecostal groups.

RUSSIA PULLS WORKERS OUT OF IRAN NUCLEAR PROJECT — Iran’s nuclear ambitions hit another major roadblock in mid-March when Russia announced its technicians and engineers have been withdrawn from Iran’s unfinished nuclear reactor site near the southern city of Bushehr. The Russians said Iran has not kept up payments on the program and also complained about Tehran’s refusal to observe United Nations’ demands to freeze enrichment of uranium.

Approximately 2,000 Russian workers were involved in the project at Bushehr, according to the Associated Press. The Russians also were to supply fuel for the project. The reactor project is eight years behind schedule but 95 percent complete.

But Russia said this month that further work on the $1 billion project would be delayed because Iran had failed to make monthly payments since January. It said the delay could cause “irreversible” damage to the project.

Iran denies falling behind in payments and accused Russia of stopping the project “for political reasons.” The U.N. Security Council voted in December to impose limited sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium. Iran’s response was to expand enrichment activities.

‘GAY FAIRYTALES’ PROTESTED IN ENGLAND — Christian and Muslim activists in England are protesting a government-backed program that uses fairytales to teach children as young as 4 about homosexual relationships. The “No Outsiders” project uses stories like “King & King” –- in which a prince spurns three princesses to “marry” another prince –- “to help schools adjust to new rules on promoting homosexuality as a lifestyle,” according to the Reuters news service.

“This is tantamount to child abuse,” Christian Voice director Stephen Green told Reuters. “The whole project is nothing more than propaganda aimed at primary school children to make them sympathetic to homosexuality.”

“Why are we introducing these ideas to such young children?” asked Tahir Alam of the Muslim Council of Britain. “A lot of parents will be very concerned about the exposure of their children to such books, which are contrary to their religious beliefs and values.”

Leaders of the “No Outsiders” project say it was inspired by a quote attributed to South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Everyone is an insider, there are no outsiders — whatever their beliefs, whatever their colour, gender or sexuality.” In 2003, England repealed a law that banned promoting a homosexual lifestyle.

SUDANESE WOMEN SENTENCED TO DEATH BY STONING — A judge in Sudan has sentenced two women to death by stoning after they were convicted of adultery under Islamic Sharia law. The pair had no lawyer during the trial, which was conducted in Arabic, a language the two did not understand well.

Sadia Idriss Fadul and Amouna Abdallah Daldoum were sentenced Feb. 13 and March 6, respectively, and the sentences could be carried out at any time, according to a spokesman for the human rights group Amnesty International quoted by Reuters news service.

The man in Fadul’s case was let off for lack of evidence. Under Sudanese law, married people convicted of adultery are to be executed by stoning; unmarried people are whipped.

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  • Mark Kelly