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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Venezuela’s Chavez pushes through 26 decrees

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has used special legislative powers granted him by lawmakers to push through a package of laws similar to his “21st-century socialism” proposals voters rejected in December. He made the move on the last day before those special powers were to expire.

The decrees include a provision that allows the government to control “the import, export, distribution, exchange or sale” of certain foods or agricultural products and “take over distribution activities when considered necessary,” according to the Associated Press. They also increase state control over commerce and services. Businesses violating the rules can be fined or forced to close indefinitely.

Chavez also decreed the formation of a new branch of the military — neighborhood militias made up of civilian volunteers. The plan for a new “National Bolivarian Militia” resembles Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which recruit citizens to spy on their neighbors for “counterrevolutionary” activities.

Business groups said they were not consulted before the decrees were issued and warned private investment and private enterprise would suffer. “We ask the president: Why does he fear democracy?” business leader Jose Manuel Gonzalez said at a news conference. “We are sure that this is nothing more than imposing the reform project that was rejected in December.”

KIDNAP, RAPE PRECEDE ‘MARRIAGE,’ ‘CONVERSION’ TO ISLAM — Two Christian girls, sisters ages 13 and 10, were abducted June 26 by three Muslim men in Pakistan’s Punjab province, raped and forced to convert to Islam, according to a statement released by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Church.

Saba Younas and her sister Anila live in the village of Chak, where 14 Christian families live among 158 Muslim families, the statement said. According to their uncle, Khalid Raheel, the kidnappers presented a statement to the local district court declaring that both girls “converted to Islam following their marriage with two Muslims.”

In Islam, a woman who is married to a Muslim automatically is considered as having embraced her husband’s religion, according to a report on the situation by AsiaNews. The family’s lawyer argues that the sisters’ ages make it impossible for them to “change faith or proceed with regular marriages without the authorization of a parent or guardian.” The “husbands” refused a judge’s request to see the two girls for himself.

“The local police and Ehsan-ul-Haq, a Muslim member of Punjab Assembly, are completely in favor of the abductors,” the uncle said, according to the report. “That is why we are not getting justice and are still struggling for the recovery of the girls.”

Christian girls in many countries are being forced to convert to “the religion of peace,” noted jihadwatch.org. “The Muslim majority, including the police, are either actively or passively aiding the abductors, a common phenomenon in Muslim majority countries such as Egypt, where Coptic girls are regularly abducted.”

The girls’ parents and Christian community in the village “have been knocking on all the doors” but no one seems willing to help them, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Church said. “The police, who have done nothing to restore them to their parents, are making themselves accomplices of the kidnappers.”

Reports of the kidnapping and “marriage” were immediately followed by the announcement of a study conducted by the Pakistan Security Research Unit at England’s University of Bradford that found perhaps 10 million Christians in Pakistan “are subject to violence, intimidation, torture, rape, false imprisonment, forced conversion, bonded labor, forced marriage, and child kidnapping.”

Attempts at reform under Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, “have either failed or have been watered down because of opposition from Islamist and conservative Islamic forces in Pakistan,” the report noted. “Law enforcement and legal authorities in Pakistan do little to protect Christians.”

TENSIONS RISE BETWEEN ORTHODOX CHURCHES — Tension over Ukraine’s increasing independence from Russia has spilled over into relations between those countries’ branches of the Orthodox Church.

On July 26, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, to bless the creation of an independent Ukrainian church, according to a report by the Associated Press. Bartholomew made a three-day visit to Kiev to celebrate the 1,020th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in the region.

Relations with Russia already were tense over Ukraine’s bid to join the NATO alliance and its demands that the Russian navy leave Sevastopol, a Ukrainian port on the Black Sea. Russia has made it clear that it controls natural gas deliveries Ukraine badly needs, the AP reported. Yushchenko, who claims pro-Russian opponents tried to poison him, snubbed the Russian Orthodox patriarch during the ceremony.

Many Ukrainians resented the domination held over them by the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, but many Russians feel Ukraine is part of Russia. The position of the Orthodox Church as the state church in both countries complicates matters, and Moscow’s patriarch has declared one of two breakaway churches in Ukraine to be a heretical schism.

Bartholomew stopped short of supporting or rejecting the independence movement, saying only that divisions in the church would have “problematic consequences for Ukraine’s future,” the AP report said.

SAUDI ARABIA DEPORTS CHRISTIANS — Fifteen Christians arrested by Saudi Arabian authorities in April are being deported for holding worship meetings in a private home. The action followed close on the heels of a four-day interfaith conference hosted by Saudi Arabia in Madrid, Spain, during which Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called for reconciliation among various religions.

On April 25, Saudi police raided a house where a prayer meeting was being held. The police confiscated resident permits and mobile phones, as well as an electronic drum set, a $130 offering, 20 Bibles and Christian books, according to the human rights group, International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org). After four hours at the house, the group was taken to a police station where they were interrogated and held for three days without contact from family or lawyers. The Christians, who are immigrants and not able to read or write Arabic, were forced to sign the confessions in Arabic before their release.

The police initially accused the Christians of preaching the Bible and singing, ICC reported, but later changed the charge to holding a “dance party” and collecting money to support terrorism.

“Deporting Christians for worshipping in their private homes shows that King Abdullah’s speech is mere rhetoric and his country is deceiving the international community about their desire for change and reconciliation,” said ICC President Jeff King. He urged Christians to contact Saudi Arabian embassies in their countries to register their opposition to the treatment of Christians in the country.

EUROPEAN ATTITUDES TURNING AGAINST ISLAM — “The tide has turned” in European attitudes toward the spread of Islam, says an ethnic relations expert at England’s University of Warwick. A planned nationwide referendum in Switzerland to ban minaret towers on mosques is just one indication of a new European resistance to the growth of Islam reflecting concern that Muslim immigrants reject Western values and pose a threat to security.

“It’s a visible symbol of anti-Muslim feelings in Europe,” Danièle Joly, director of the Center for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick in England, told USA Today. “Europeans feel threatened.”

Other indications of changing European sentiment include a decision in Italy to close one mosque in Milan because crowds of attendees spill onto the street and the city of Bologna’s decision to reject plans for a new mosque because Muslim leaders would not reveal the source of funding for the project, according to the newspaper report. Austria’s Carinthia province has effectively banned construction of mosques and leaders from 15 European cities have called for a halt to the “Islamization” of European cities.

“We already have more than 6,000 mosques in Europe, which are not only a place to worship but also a symbol of radicalization, some financed by extreme groups in Saudi Arabia or Iran,” said Filip Dewinter, leader of a Flemish separatist party in Belgium, according to the newspaper.

In the 1980s and 1990s, construction of large mosques was celebrated in many European cities. “I think the tide has turned,” Joly told USA Today.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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