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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Venezuela loses record $19B in private capital in 2007; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Billions of dollars are flowing out of Venezuela’s banks in spite of President Hugo Chávez’s efforts to prevent it.

A record $19 billion in private capital was transferred out of the country in 2007, according to Central Bank of Venezuela statistics reported by the El Nuevo Herald. “This is only the official figure. There is an escape of [illegal] capital investments that the Central Bank cannot account for,” economist José Guerra told the newspaper. It was the largest withdrawal of capital since Chávez was elected president in 1998.

Investors were able to evade government currency controls by putting their money in Venezuelan dollar bonds, which help countries like Argentina and Ecuador lessen their foreign debt — and created a loophole for Venezuelans anxious to get capital out of Chávez’s reach, the newspaper reported. An estimated 60 percent of the money eventually wound up in U.S. banks.

The transfer of capital reveals “a strong mistrust of the national currency” and “a great uncertainty” about Venezuela’s future under Chávez, Guerra said.

HAITI HUNGER ON RISE — Residents of Haiti resorted to desperation measures to survive after a dock workers strike closed the country’s ports in March. People were selling individual pieces of gum and small quantities of sugar in an effort to make enough money to buy food.

Because shipments were not entering the country, food was scarce and prices rising, according to Mission Network News. One Christian ministry reported that goats given to families to improve living conditions were being eaten instead, as the price of the animals had risen from $65 to $115.

The food shortage has reduced some families to eating cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening because they can’t get enough food to prepare a regular meal.

ISLAMIC EXTREMISM TURNING YOUNG HEARTS — Constant violence in the name of Islam may be turning Iraqi youth against Islamic extremists, some observers in the country believe. Interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities over the course of two months revealed anecdotal evidence that young people blame Muslim clerics for ongoing violence and rules that limit their freedom in everyday life.

“I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,” a high school student in Basra said, according to The New York Times. “Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.”

Under strict Islamic law, young people caught smoking have had their fingers broken and young people with long hair have had it cut and force-fed to them, The Times reported. University professors reportedly are having difficulty recruiting students for religion classes, and attendance at weekly prayers appears to be down in some areas.

“When they behead someone, they say ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great], they read Koranic verse,” a moderate Shiite sheik from Baghdad said. “The young people, they think that is Islam, so Islam is a failure, not only in the students’ minds, but also in the community.”

“I used to love Osama bin Laden,” a 24-year-old Iraqi college student said. “Now I hate Islam. Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred. People are being killed for nothing.”

DURA LANGUAGE DYING OUT — An 82-year-old woman in Nepal is the last living person known to speak the Dura language, and linguists are working hard to preserve as many words, sentences, songs and folklore as possible before she passes away.

Soma Devi Dura, who lives in the hills of western Nepal, is ill and suffers from severely impaired vision and hearing. Medical treatment for Devi is being sought in Kathmandu. The only other person who could speak Dura died in August 2007.

Dura is one of more than 100 languages spoken in Nepal, a Hindu nation tucked away in the Himalaya Mountains north of India. Several of those languages have fewer than 100 speakers each.

A Christian missions worker with a heart for the Dura people lamented that people who speak minority tongues may never hear the Gospel in their “heart language” and called for prayer on their behalf. “Ask the Lord of the harvest to call out His workers to be witnesses to all the people of Nepal, giving every tongue the chance to receive salvation,” the worker said.

ZIMBABWE GETS $50 MILLION NOTE — For the third time in as many months, Zimbabwe’s central bank has issued a new, higher-denomination bank note to help residents of the country cope with an inflation rate no economy has seen before. The new bill, worth 50 million Zimbabwe dollars, was trading for US$1 on the black market.

With inflation estimated at a mind-numbing 100,000 percent, Zimbabweans have been paying 16 million Zimbabwe dollars for a single loaf of bread, according to the Associated Press.

The country’s economic condition was one reason President Robert Mugabe apparently lost a March 29 re-election bid, but his supporters were threatening violence unless he was allowed to remain in office. Militants resumed a process of occupying white-owned commercial farms –- a tactic used in 2000 when Mugabe also suffered a defeat at the polls. Speaking in Shona, he urged Zimbabweans to take land from the “mabhunu,” a pejorative term for whites, the AP reported.

Seizing white-owned land and giving it to political cronies was one reason Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed and the country has become dependent on international food aid. The country’s unemployment rate stands at about 80 percent.

The country’s election commission delayed a full report on results of the March 29 election. Mugabe’s party called for a recount and supporters of his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, filed a lawsuit to force publication of the ballot totals.

MALAY MEDIA IN TUSSLE OVER ‘ALLAH’ — A government official in Malaysia banned a Christian newspaper from using the Arabic word ‘Allah’ to refer to God, and efforts to reverse the Dec. 10 ban resulted in mixed signals from the country’s government.

A letter by the official to The Herald ordered the Catholic newspaper to stop using ‘Allah’ in articles written in the Malay language, according to Augustine Julian, secretary of Malaysia’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference. “The government does not want us [Christians] to use the word Allah,” Julian told the AFP news service. “But this is against the constitution that allows the freedom of religion.”

The newspaper’s publisher appealed the decision in January and says he was told he could continue to use the word, which Christians have used for centuries to refer to God. The prime minister’s office, however, told reporters the government decided restrictions on the use of the word were still enforceable. Then the Herald’s editor, Andrew Lawrence, told the BBC he had received a fax saying the paper would get its 2008 permit with no conditions about using “Allah.”

Andrew blamed an approaching general election for the ban. Malaysia’s population is 60 percent Muslim, and religious issues are sensitive.

The Catholic newspaper was joined in its suit over the issue by an evangelical church that had been banned from importing religious children’s books containing the word, according to the Press Trust of India. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the ban on non-Muslims using “Allah” was unlawful because Arabic-speaking Christians used that word “before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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