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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Puerto Rican ‘messiah’ preaches to U.S. Hispanics;

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A man who calls himself both “the Second Coming of Jesus” and “the Antichrist” is gathering followers among Hispanics in the United States after successfully spreading his no-sin, no-hell message through 30 other countries.

Jose de Jesus, a 60-year-old Puerto Rican now preaching in Houston, told ABC News, “Before the presence of God, there’s no more sin.” He preaches that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means sin no longer exists and people now can do no wrong in God’s eyes.

It’s not hard to understand why people would respond so readily to a message like that, but de Jesus does draw a behavioral line. While morals are loose by any biblical Christian standard, he forbids drunkenness and drugs.

Reared in a housing project in Puerto Rico, a teenage de Jesus stole to support his heroin addiction. He says two angels came to him in a 1973 vision while he was imprisoned, and the “spirit that was in Jesus of Nazareth” entered him. After release from prison, he came to the United States and began working as a youth minister.

According to de Jesus, Antichrist is not an evil being but is the next incarnation of Jesus on earth. His followers often get “666” tattoos to demonstrate their devotion. They ply him with expensive gifts and mariachi bands greet him at airports when he travels.

With substantial numbers of disciples -– perhaps a million –- in Venezuela, Columbia, Cuba and other Latin American countries, de Jesus believes the time has come for him to spread his message in the United States.

“Miami is the bridge for all nations,” he told ABC News. “That’s where Hispanics are, and then eventually I’m going to find a lot of beautiful English-speaking people who will want to believe in me and I’m going to have millions of them.”

HAMAS RECOMMITS TO ISRAEL’S DESTRUCTION — Criticized by Al Qaeda for joining moderates to form a Palestinian government, the militant group Hamas has reaffirmed its commitment to the destruction of Israel.

In an audio recording posted on the Internet, Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, said, “Hamas went to a picnic with the U.S. Satan, and has surrendered most of Palestine to the Jews,” according to the Voice of America news service. In reply, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said, “We will continue the path of Jihad and resistance until the liberation of all of Palestine.”

Recognition of Israel’s right to exist is a condition for Western governments to lift economic sanctions that are crippling the Palestinian Authority. Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is backed by the United States and Israel, and Hamas is unable to govern without his cooperation. Hamas officials said the unity government was necessary to avoid civil war among Palestinians.

CHINA CONDEMNS PLANNED US MISSILE SALE TO TAIWAN — The government of the People’s Republic of China has reacted sharply to the United States’ plan to sell hundreds of missiles to Taiwan, the self-ruled island off China’s coast that the PRC insists should be unified with the communist-ruled mainland.

The United States announced in early March that it had agreed to sell 218 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air missiles and 235 Maverick missiles to Taiwan. The Chinese foreign ministry warned the sale would threaten stability in the region and harm China’s relations with the U.S. “We solemnly demand the leader of the United States … immediately cancel this weapons sale (and) avoid harming the peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits and Sino-US relations,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, according to the BBC.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to use force if the island ever moved to declare formal independence. According to the Reuters news service, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian recently stepped up talk of independence, saying the island should move toward independence and change its official name, the “Republic of China.”

VIETNAMESE HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER ARRESTED — Nguyen Van Dai, a Vietnamese lawyer recently selected to receive a prestigious human rights award, was arrested in Hanoi on March 6, according to the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Dai and a colleague, Le Thi Cong Nhan, were charged with “conducting propaganda activities to harm the security of state” and temporarily incarcerated for four months pending further investigation, according to the WEA’s Elizabeth Kendal. The pair reportedly have begun a hunger strike.

Investigators who raided Dai’s law office “found many documents that proved that Dai and Nhan received instructions and financial support from overseas to open courses on human rights and democracy and to sponsor people who signed their petitions so as to lure forces against the State of Vietnam, as well as to collect Vietnam’s socio-political and religious information for parties abroad,” according to Viet Nam News Agency.

Under Vietnam’s criminal code, their four-month detention may be extended four times in national security cases, after which the government may apply “other deterrent measures.”

Dai was one of 45 writers from 22 countries selected by Human Rights Watch to receive Hellman/Hammett grants, which recognize writers who have been targets of political persecution. Dai is one of only a few human rights lawyers practicing in Vietnam. He has been the primary legal defender for the country’s Protestant churches, most notably the case of Nguyen Hong Quang, a Mennonite pastor and former political prisoner.

Dai previously was arrested in August 2006 and in November was placed under house arrest after six days of interrogation.

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  • Mark Kelly