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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Turkish court vetoes election of Islamic president; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Eleven days after three Christians were sadistically murdered in southeastern Turkey, as many as 1 million people flooded the streets of Istanbul April 29 to protest parliament’s election of a Muslim as the country’s president. Two days later, Turkey’s highest court invalidated the election on the grounds that a quorum of lawmakers had not been present for the vote.

Necati Aydin, 36, Ugur Yuksel, 32, and Tilmann Geske, 46, were tortured and murdered April 18 in the offices of a Christian publishing house in Turkey’s Malatya province, according to the Compass Direct news service. The five attackers tied the men up and, over the course of three hours, stabbed and cut them, disemboweled them, and then slit their throats when police arrived at the door. The killers had been talking with their victims about the Christian faith for months, pretending to be seekers. All five carried identical notes claiming nationalist and religious motives for the murders.

When the ruling AK Party, which is rooted in Islam, announced plans to nominate Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for the presidency, hundreds of thousands of protestors poured into the streets of Istanbul, according to news services. Gul refused to withdraw from the election, despite warnings from the army, which has in the past ousted governments that seemed to pose a threat to the country’s secular democracy. Gul was elected, but the court nullified the vote because two-thirds of Turkey’s 550 legislators were not present.

Because the ruling party does not have a two-thirds majority, another presidential election was seen as unlikely. A government spokesman, however, said the party would not agree to a general election unless the voting age was lowered from 30 to 25.

EGYPT TELLS HAMAS, ‘STOP ATTACKS ON ISRAEL’ — While opponents of Israeli President Ehud Olmert are attacking him over the conduct of this past summer’s 34-day war in Lebanon, Egypt has threatened to cut off relations with the Hamas faction of the Palestinian government if it does not stop its rocket attacks on Israel.

Palestinian Authority officials said Egypt’s intelligence chief, Gen. Omar Suleiman, told Hamas leaders the attacks could prompt Israel to invade the Gaza Strip and warned that Egypt would not side with the Palestinians if that happened, according to the Jerusalem Post. Another official said Hamas was trying to use its attacks as a bargaining chip to force Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to give Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal a senior position in the government.

Israeli President Olmert was defying calls for his resignation after a 232-page report on the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon this past summer harshly criticized him of “a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence,” according to the Reuters news service. Popular mistrust of leading politicians means Olmert has no clear challengers for the presidency, and he said he intends to fix problems in the government “thoroughly and fast.”

The war was launched because Hezbollah had captured two Israeli soldiers and was launching rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon. The two soldiers were not freed, but Hezbollah was driven northward and a cease-fire brokered by the United Nations put peacekeepers in a buffer between the opposing armies. Israeli intelligence officials say Iran and Syria are re-arming Hezbollah.

MEXICO CITY LEGALIZES FIRST-TRIMESTER ABORTIONS — Mexico City lawmakers voted April 24 to legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in city-run hospitals and private clinics, prompting pro-life organizations to promise they would publicly display the names and photographs of council members who voted for the measure. Government officials disagreed over whether doctors in those hospitals could be forced to perform the procedures.

Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said doctors at city-run hospitals could not refuse to perform elective abortions, but the city’s health secretary, Manuel Mondragon, said doctors could not be forced to perform strictly elective abortions, according to the Associated Press.

Abortion in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s health and severe fetal deformity are legal in Mexico. While some doctors have defied that law, most have cooperated. The new city ordinance does not apply to doctors in federal hospitals in Mexico City, but private clinics may now perform first-trimester abortions.

Mexico’s National Union of Parents told Notimex, the government news agency, that it hoped to overturn the law by displaying posters of city legislators who voted for the ordinance. Human Life International of Front Royal, Va., said American organizations funneled millions of dollars into Mexican abortion and radical feminist groups to promote the new law.

IRAQI CHRISTIANS FORCED TO PAY ‘PROTECTION TAX’ — Some Christians in Iraq are being forced by local Muslims to pay a “protection tax,” in accordance with an Islamic tradition that requires non-Muslims to pay for being allowed to practice their faith.

Christians in Dora, an area of southern Baghdad where churches have been bombed and believers killed for their faith, have been told they must pay the jizya, an injunction in Islam’s holy book, the Koran, under which non-Muslims may be forced to pay for “Muslim protection,” the Assyrian International News Agency reported.

An Iraqi Christian now living in Syria said another Iraqi Christian family from Dora had arrived in the country after being told to either pay the jizya or convert to Islam, according to Mission Network News. They were told that if they didn’t comply within 24 hours, they would be killed. Churches in Baghdad and Basra have been bombed, and a 14-year-old boy recently was crucified and stabbed in the side in an imitation of Jesus’ death.

The “ethnic cleansing” against Iraq’s Christian minority has raised calls for a Christian autonomous district in the country, said Nina Shea of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom. She has taken the plight of Iraqi Christians to the highest levels of the American government, including President Bush, as a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

‘UNTOUCHABLE’ CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS MARCH FOR EQUAL RIGHTS — Members of India’s Dalit people group demonstrated in the national capital May 1, demanding that Christians and Muslims of the “untouchable” castes be granted the same social, economic and educational rights guaranteed Hindu Dalits by the Indian constitution.

Many Dalits who accept Christ refuse to register their decision with the government, fearing their children will be denied access to higher education and jobs. Affirmative action laws designed to combat the prejudice against “untouchables” are applied only to Hindu Dalits.

In March, India’s National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes denied those benefits to Dalit Muslims and Christians, according to Mission Network News. Thousands of Dalit Muslims and Christians, led by National Council of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslim Liberation Movement, marched in protest, urging lawmakers in New Delhi to overrule the decision.

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  • Mark Kelly