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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


On Sunday, October 10, 2004, eleven Christians with the Philadelphia-based Repent America were arrested, jailed, and charged under hate crimes legislation during an evangelistic outreach at the annual "OutFest" homosexual pride event held in the public streets of Philadelphia.

The six men and five women representing Repent America approached the event and were immediately confronted with unlawful opposition by a group of homosexuals. This group, the “Pink Angels”, was formed by homosexual attorney Chuck Volz, a senior adviser to Philly Pride Presents, organizers of the annual OutFest event which receives $22,500 yearly from the City of Philadelphia. The “Pink Angels” blocked access to Repent America by forming a human chain, refusing to allow the Christians to walk down the public sidewalk. Police intervened shortly thereafter, escorting Repent America through the human blockade.

While on the public sidewalk and street inside the event, Repent America began to open-air preach with the use of Scripture banners, and to distribute Gospel literature, as members of the "Pink Angels" blew loud whistles and carried large signs alongside the Christians to block their message and their access to the event attendees, while others screamed obscenities. The police refused to take action as the Christians were continuously followed, obstructed, and harassed.

Repent America obeyed all laws, and even the unlawful requests, to move by the Philadelphia Civil Affairs police officers in an effort of cooperation. Regardless of Repent America’s compliance, Chief James Tiano, head of the Civil Affairs Unit, without warning, ordered the arrests of the Christians and hauled them off to jail, where they spent 21 hours, before being released the following day. Ten Christians were individually charged with three felonies and five misdemeanors, while a teenager with the group was charged with a misdemeanor.

“This is one of the ! most remarkable and unlawful actions by police that I have ever witnessed. Their blatant disregard of the law by allowing hecklers to impede our way, block our message, and then arrest us, is inexcusable, especially by police officers who are specially trained to protect civil rights,” stated Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America. “Christians are now being labeled as ‘haters’ and any speech that homosexuals perceive to be intimidating, such as our Christian witness at OutFest, makes them a prime target for ‘hate crimes legislation’,” Marcavage continued.

The three felonies and five misdemeanors include: Criminal Conspiracy (Felony), Possession of Instruments of Crime (Misdemeanor), Reckless Endangerment of Another Person (Misdemeanor), Ethnic Intimidation (Felony), Riot (Felony), Failure to Disperse (Misdemeanor), Disorderly Conduct (Misdemeanor), and Obstructing Highways (Misdemeanor). “We are clearly ‘not guilty’ of these crimes, and with the help of our video footage, we shall be vindicated of these trumped up charges,” Marcavage concluded.

The Christians are scheduled to be arraigned on October 18, 2004 at 8:00AM in the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center.

Anti-Smoking Loonies Legislation

Pubs rocked by total ban on smokers

Australia has joined the world's toughest anti-tobacco nations, with NSW and Victoria announcing total indoor smoking bans in pubs and clubs by 2007.

The Australian Hotels Association claims it could cost 8000 jobs and half a billion dollars a year in gaming and alcohol tax revenue, but the anti-smoking lobby says the bans do not go far enough.

From July next year, smoking will be restricted to one room in licensed premises, and banned outright from mid-2007.

The Premier, Bob Carr, yesterday quoted Cancer Council of NSW research that found passive smoking is killing NSW bar staff at about half the rate of workers killed by mesothelioma, caused by asbestos inhalation.

But the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association said the delay in a total ban meant more bar staff would die unnecessarily. Its president, John Gallotta, said: "The Government has quoted figures showing that exposure to passive smoking in licensed premises causes between 73 and 97 [bar staff] deaths each year in NSW. That's between 192 and 256 needless deaths before this ban takes effect."

The NSW and Victorian governments made simultaneous announcements on the smoking bans yesterday, surprising Hotel Association members who were attending their national conference in Queensland. The bans bring the two states - and most others in Australia, which have already acted - into line with just a handful of overseas jurisdictions including three US states, New Zealand and Norway.

Smoking will still be allowed in outdoor areas, such as beer gardens, in NSW and Victoria.

Mr Carr denied that allowing pubs and clubs to keep one smoking room - which must be less than 25 per cent of the total indoor area - for three years was designed to protect pokie revenue and taxes.

It is understood the Treasurer, Michael Egan, opposed the bans. Mr Egan, a smoker, is already bearing the brunt of a bitter campaign by Clubs NSW, which is incensed at gaming tax rises he introduced last year. From that perspective, the bans have been seen by some as a significant win for Frank Sartor, the Minister assisting the Minster for Health, who joined the Government at last year's election.

But Mr Carr, announcing the bans at a smoke-free pub at Wolloomooloo, said: "There is one fact that influenced our thinking above all others. For a person working . . . for eight hours a day behind a bar, that is the equivalent of smoking half a packet of cigarettes. I don't do this out of zealotry - I recognise smoking is a personal choice - but we can't ask bar staff to smoke half a packet of cigarettes in a shift."

A NSW Health survey found 23 per cent of respondents would go to pubs and clubs more if smoking was banned. And the Premier's office released figures claiming that since the same ban was imposed in New York, the industry has employed an extra 10,600 workers and business receipts have grown by 8.7 per cent.

But the Hotels Association claims a consultant it sent to New York and Ireland six weeks ago, David Cass, found the bans to be "devastating". General bar take in New York had dropped by 20 per cent and in Ireland by between 15 and 25 per cent. It says the figures used by the NSW Government were comparing post-ban takings in New York with the period after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

All parties agree that in the year after Victoria banned smoking in gaming rooms, poker machine turnover dropped by 5 per cent.

The Hotels Association's president, John Thorpe, said Mr Carr had called him on Sunday to say the announcement was pending, but did not warn him how quickly he would act. "I thought I would come back next week and have some consultation. How can I have any faith in this?"

The NSW Labor Council secretary, John Robertson, dismissed the job concerns, saying "you don't need a job'' if you are dying.

The Government is yet to set penalties, for smokers or licensees failing to comply with the bans, but Mr Sartor said people ignoring publicans' orders not to smoke may be fined.


- Smoking to be restricted to a single room, 25 per cent or less of total indoor area, in pubs and clubs from July 1 next year.

- Gaming rooms expected to become smoking areas.

- Smoking indoors banned completely from July 1, 2007.

- Only exemptions to be private rooms, functions, high-rollers' room at Crown Casino.

Where NSW stands

Victoria announced identical ban to NSW's yesterday.

Tasmania Indoor ban from January 2006.

Queensland Indoor ban from July 2006.

ACT Indoor ban by 2007.

SA Ban phased in by 2008.

Nick O'Malley
October 13, 2004

Berlusconi Blasts EU Rejection

ROME, Italy -- An EU committee's rejection of an Italian nominee with conservative views on homosexuality has drawn a sharp condemnation by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's candidate to become the head of justice and security policy for the European Union, failed to get the support of a key parliamentary panel.

The civil liberties committee of the European Parliament rejected Buttiglione's candidacy by one vote on Monday. The 27-26 ballot was seen as a slap in the face for Berlusconi, who nominated Buttiglione.

The non-binding decision is unlikely to cost Buttiglione the post, but it has fueled a political storm in Italy: Politicians on the right have defended Buttiglione, while many on the left have attacked Rome's choice of candidate.

Berlusconi accused left-wing Italian lawmakers of using "coarse propaganda" against Buttiglione -- a Christian Democrat who is close to the Vatican.

"The very idea of disputing the freedom of conscience and opinion of a commissioner of Catholic faith, contesting his own secular distinction between morality and law, smells of fundamentalism if not obscurantism," Berlusconi was quoted as telling the conservative Il Foglio newspaper.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Buttiglione faced hostile questions over his conservative religious and moral views.

"I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime," Buttiglione said.

Northern League MP Massimo Polledri said the vote against Buttiglione was "a demonstration of the prejudice towards Catholics which reigns in parts of the EU," Reuters reported. The Northern League is a right-wing separatist party in Berlusconi's coalition.

However, Pierluigi Bersani, a member of the main opposition party the Democrats of the Left, called the vote "just the latest confirmation of the lack of credibility Italy is subject to in the European institutions because of choices made by Berlusconi."

And Sergio Lo Giudice, president of the Italian gay rights group Arcigay, said the decision showed the EU's strong commitment to human rights, including those of gays and lesbians, as well as its independence from the Roman Catholic Church, The Associated Press reported.

"We are pleased and reassured by the decision: The Vatican's backyard ends at the Alps," he told the ANSA news agency.

Buttiglione is the only commissioner-designate to be rejected by an EU assembly panel so far, AP said.

However, he won the support of another assembly panel, the legal affairs committee, and the full 732-member parliament cannot reject individual candidates -- only the entire incoming 25-member commission.

The situation could prove sticky for Jose Manuel Barroso, the former Portuguese prime minister who begins work as European Commission president on November 1.

If leaders of parliament approve the civil liberties committee's "no" vote against Buttiglione, Barroso would face a tough choice, AP said.

He could drop Buttiglione and embarrass the Italian government, accept him as EU commissioner despite misgivings in parliament, or move him to a less contentious post.

Copyright 2004 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

13 Reasons Not To Vote For Bush

1. Retired Diplomats and Brass Say U.S. Global Role Is a Shambles
An eminent group of 27 retired diplomats and military commanders believes that Bush must be replaced for the United States to regain credibility and strengthen valuable foreign alliances. “The Bush administration does not understand the world it faces and is unable to handle in either style or substance the responsibilities of global leadership.” “Our security has been weakened…. Never in our two and a quarter century history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted.” A consistent theme of the statement and the news conference at the National Press Club was that the Bush administration has taken steps that have alienated allies and undermined U.S. interests – ultimately making the world a more dangerous place for Americans. Bush from the outset “adopted an overbearing approach to America’s role in the world, relying on military might and righteousness, insensitive to the concerns of traditional friends and allies, and disdainful of the United Nations. Motivated more by ideology than by reasoned analysis, it struck out on its own.”

2. Global Poll Results
September 10, 2004 - If America’s allies have anything to say about it, John Kerry would be president. Among 35 nations polled for the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes, 30 preferred Kerry. Only three – the Philippines, Nigeria, and Poland - preferred President Bush. Two – India and Thailand – were evenly split. Thirty nations also said that Bush’s foreign policy made them feel “worse” about the U.S. – with an average of 53% of respondents saying it made them feel worse. Kerry was most strongly preferred by America’s most traditional allies.

3. Patterns of Global Terrorism at 20-Year High
The State Department had to revise its annual report on global terrorism issued April 29, 2004 to acknowledge that it understated the number of deadly attacks in 2003, amid charges that the document is inaccurate, dangerously outmoded and politically manipulated by the Bush administration. Representative Waxman, House Committee on Government Reform told Secretary of State Colin Powell that the number of significant terrorist attacks since 2001 hasn't declined as the department claimed, but had risen by more than 35 percent. And he cited an analysis by two independent experts who used the State Department’s reports own figures to conclude that significant attacks actually had reached a 20-year high in 2003.

4. Nobel Laureates Criticize Bush
June 21, 2004 – Forty-eight Nobel laureates denounced President Bush for “compromising our future” when it comes to scientific research and the environment. Many scientists have complained that the Bush administration has filled science advisory panels with conservative ideologues rather than individuals with sterling scientific credentials.

5. Scientists Criticize Bush Administration July 8, 2004 - More than 4000 scientists – including 48 Nobel Prize winners and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences accused the Bush administration of distorting and suppressing science to suit its political goals. The administration has been criticized frequently for misusing and ignoring science to further its policy aims. And the long list of signatures collected by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggested that the issue has become worrisome across the scientific community.

6. Taxes
Over the past three years, the Bush administration and its friends in Congress have enacted enormous tax cuts that benefit most those who need them least. In 2004 alone, millionaires in America will receive nearly $32 billion in tax cuts. In 2003 President Bush gained about $31,000 from his self-prescribed tax cut; Vice-president Cheney gained about $88,000.

7. Education -
Teachers and elected officials from both parties are condemning the Bush administration for failing to adequately fund and properly implement the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead of witnessing “a new era”, millions of American children try to learn in schools with outdated textbooks, crowded classrooms and buildings that are literally falling apart. Reforms without resources are like schools without teachers. They just don’t work.

8. The Bush Administration is Morally Deficient
Flag Draped Coffins – The government’s stated reasoning is that its photo ban protects the privacy of grieving military families. However, one is at a loss to understand how anyone’s privacy is infringed upon by photographs of anonymous coffins. The Administration’s true concern is transparent. Namely, that casualty photos will galvanize opposition to the war in Iraq. For all the administration’s claims that its photo ban honors the private pain of military families, the truth is that we honor those families more when we share, to whatever small degree we can, the loss they have sustained.

Fear Monger - The claim by Bush and Cheney that the American people must give them four more years in office or else be “hit hard” by another terrorist attack is a sleazy and despicable effort to blackmail voters with fear. They are going back to the ugliest page in the Republican playbook: fear. They know they can’t really convince you to vote for George Bush. Their only hope is to try and make you too afraid to vote for John Kerry. It’s the lowest sort of politics imaginable. It is not worthy of a presidential candidate.

Liar Liar - First, the White House admitted it concealed the true cost of its Medicare bill - $534 billion vs the $400 billion it told Congress – and now it has become clear the law will cost seniors more than understood. The Bush administration intentionally excluded from the 2004 report on Medicare information showing that a typical 65-year old will spend 37 percent of Social Security income on Medicare co-payments, premiums, and other related expenses in 2006.

9. Federal Budget Deficit -
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the estimated shortfall is $422 billion, a record in gross dollars! It’s even worse than it appears. The deficit is actually $574 billion but Washington masks it by using the surplus in Social Security trust fund to help pay for the operating budget. The bottom line: Our government is borrowing one out of every five dollars to pay for the $2.3 trillion it is spending this year.

10. GOP Corruption Helps Polluters
May 6, 2004 – The thirty companies that own most of the dirtiest power plants and their trade association have raised $6.6 million for President Bush and the Republican National Committee since 1999, and were given relief from pollution regulations that would have cost them billions of dollars. Once in office, the Bush administration overhauled a key Clean Air Act regulation, making it much easier for power plants to make major renovations and increase pollution without installing modern pollution controls.

11. Neglecting Domestic/Global Issues
Forced to pour its political capital into justifying and maintaining support for U.S. failing policy in Iraq, the Bush Administration has had less time, energy, and money to invest in other controversial issues. Plans to expand free trade with Australia and Central America have stalled, his proposal to liberalize immigration rules has gone nowhere. His program to promote economic and political reform in the Third World is expected to be under funded because of soaring Iraq costs.

12. Health Insurance
September 10, 2004 - Annual premiums for the most popular form of family health insurance blasted through the $10,000 barrier this year and more than 80 percent of employers expect workers will have to pay more for insurance next year. Over the past three years, employers have ended coverage for 5 million workers. The latest Census Bureau study showed that 45 million Americans have no health insurance.

13. Conservatives Are Critical of the Bush Administration –
- George Will, May 4, 2004: “This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts.”

- Robert Kagan , a neo-conservative supporter of the Iraq war, May 2, 2004: “All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters understand that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now.”

- Paul O’Neill (former Bush treasury secretary): “Bush is a blind man in a room full of deaf people.”

The 'Non-Negotiable Issues'

Galvanized by battles against same-sex marriage and stem cell research and alarmed at the prospect of a President Kerry - who is Catholic but supports abortion rights - these bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are blanketing churches with guides identifying abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among a handful of "non-negotiable issues."

Group of Bishops Using Influence to Oppose Kerry

DENVER, Oct. 9 - For Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic prelate in Colorado, there is only one way for a faithful Catholic to vote in this presidential election, for President Bush and against Senator John Kerry.

"The church says abortion is a foundational issue,'' the archbishop explained to a group of Catholic college students gathered in a sports bar here in this swing state on Friday night. He stopped short of telling them whom to vote for, but he reminded them of Mr. Kerry's support for abortion rights. And he pointed out the potential impact his re-election could have on Roe v. Wade.

"Supreme Court cases can be overturned, right?" he asked.

Archbishop Chaput, who has never explicitly endorsed a candidate, is part of a group of bishops intent on throwing the weight of the church into the elections.

Galvanized by battles against same-sex marriage and stem cell research and alarmed at the prospect of a President Kerry - who is Catholic but supports abortion rights - these bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are blanketing churches with guides identifying abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among a handful of "non-negotiable issues."

To the dismay of liberal Catholics and some other bishops, traditional church concerns about the death penalty or war are often not mentioned.

Archbishop Chaput has discussed Catholic priorities in the election in 14 of his 28 columns in the free diocesan newspaper this year. His archdiocese has organized voter registration drives in more than 40 of the largest parishes in the state and sent voter guides to churches around the state. Many have committees to help turn out voters and are distributing applications for absentee ballots.

In an interview in his residence here, Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion.

"If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" he asked. "And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes."

The efforts of Archbishop Chaput and his allies are converging with a concerted drive for conservative Catholic voters by the Bush campaign. It has spent four years cultivating Catholic leaders, organizing more than 50,000 volunteers and hiring a corps of paid staff members to increase Catholic turnout. The campaign is pushing to break the traditional allegiance of Catholic voters to the Democratic Party, an affiliation that began to crumble with Ronald Reagan 24 years ago.

Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate, and many conservative Catholics are concentrated in swing states, pollsters say. Conservatives organizers say they are working hard because the next president is quite likely to name at least one new Supreme Court justice.

Catholic prelates have publicly clashed with Catholic Democrats like former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York and Geraldine A. Ferraro, the former representative and vice-presidential candidate.

But never before have so many bishops so explicitly warned Catholics so close to an election that to vote a certain way was to commit a sin.

Less than two weeks ago, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis issued just such a statement. Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark have both recently declared that the obligation to oppose abortion outweighs any other issue.

In theological terms, these bishops and the voter guides argue that abortion and the destruction of embryos are categorically wrong under church doctrine. War and even the death penalty can in certain circumstances be justified.

But it is impossible to know how many bishops share this view, and there is resistance from a sizable wing of the church that argues that voting solely on abortion slights Catholic teaching on a range of other issues, including war, poverty, the environment and immigration.

Liberal Catholics contend that the church has traditionally left weighing the issues to the individual conscience. Late in the campaign, these Catholics have begun to mount a counterattack, belatedly and with far fewer resources.

In diocesan newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they are buying advertisements with the slogan "Life Does Not End at Birth." Organizers of the campaign say it is supported by 200 Catholic organizations, among them orders of nuns and brothers.

"We are looking at a broader picture, a more global picture," said Bishop Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles who is president of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace group that initiated the statement. "If you look at the totality of issues as a matter of conscience, someone could come to the decision to vote for either candidate."

In the presidential debate on Friday, Mr. Kerry discussed his religious beliefs. "I was an altar boy," he said. "But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever."

Alexia Kelley, director for religious outreach for the Democratic National Committee, said Mr. Kerry's policies reflected overall Catholic teachings.

The Republican Party is betting that many observant Catholics will disagree. The National Catholic Reporter reported that that on a visit to the pope this year Mr. Bush asked Vatican officials directly for help in lining up American bishops in support of conservative cultural issues.

For four years, the party has held weekly conference calls with a representative of the White House for prominent Catholic conservatives. To ramp up the Catholic campaign last summer, the party dispatched its chairman, Ed Gillespie, and a roster well-known Catholic Republicans on a speaking tour to Catholic groups throughout the swing states.

The party has recruited an undisclosed number of Catholic field coordinators who earn $2,500 a month, along with up to $500 a month for expenses to increase conservative Catholic turnout.

In an interview this week from Albuquerque, where he was rallying Catholic outreach workers, Leonard A. Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, who has taken the role of informal adviser to Mr. Bush's campaign on Catholic issues, said Republicans hoped that Mr. Bush could draw even more of the Catholic vote than Reagan, who attracted 54 percent when he ran for re-election in 1984. Mr. Bush received just under half of the Catholic vote in 2000. In a Pew Research poll this month, 42 percent of white Catholics favored Mr. Bush, 29 percent favored Mr. Kerry, and 27 percent were undecided.

"I can't think of another time in recent political history where a political party and a campaign have paid more attention to faithful Catholics," Mr. Leo said.

How the bishops' guidance or the new voter guides are playing in the pews remains to be seen. In a poll for Time magazine in June, 76 percent of Catholics said the church's position on abortion made no difference in their decisions about voting. But in a New York Times poll conducted over the summer, 71 percent of Catholics favored some restrictions on abortion, compared with 64 percent of the general public.

Republican strategists say Catholics and others who attend religious services at least once a week tend to be more conservative. Fifty-three percent of those Catholics supported Mr. Bush in 2000 compared with 47 percent of all Catholics, according to exit polls. The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life of Staten Island, N.Y., says priests with his group are going from church to church in swing states like Florida, giving fellow priests sample homilies for each Sunday in November, inserts for church bulletins and voter guides.

Father Pavone spoke by telephone from Aberdeen, S.D., where he said he was meeting with dozens of priests and nuns to teach them how to organize transportation to take parishioners to the polls. Addressing abortion, he said he told audiences, "One can't hold public office and say it's O.K. to kill some of the public."

In past elections, the main voter guide distributed in many Catholic churches was a questionnaire from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that listed candidates' stands on dozens of issues. This year, conservative Catholic groups sought to derail the questionnaire, because it appeared to give equal weight to each issue. When neither the Bush nor Kerry campaigns responded to the questions by the deadline, the bishops' conference abandoned the effort, a spokesman, Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, said.

Many parishes are having free-for-alls over what materials to use in helping Catholics think through their choices. Many bishops are using a document the bishops developed last year, "Faithful Citizenship." It tells Catholic voters to consider a range of issues and vote their consciences. Other parishes are instead using a guide from a conservative Web site, Catholic Answers, at www.catholic .com. The guide says it is a sin to vote for a candidate who supports any one of five "non-negotiable issues," abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and homosexual marriage.

Archbishop Chaput says he has had no contact with either campaign or political party. He says his sole contact with the White House has been his appointment to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The prelate acknowledged that his communications director, Sergio Gutierrez, had worked in the Bush administration, but Archbishop Chaput said he had known Mr. Gutierrez long before that.

It was only logical for the Republicans to view the church as a "natural ally" on cultural issues, the archbishop said. He said that would end if a Republican candidate supported abortion rights.

"We are not with the Republican Party," he said. "They are with us."

Mr. Kerry's Catholicism is a special issue for the church, Archbishop Chaput said. To remain silent while a President Kerry supported stem cell research would seem cowardly, he said. The Rev. Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St. Thomas More Church near here, said he agreed with the archbishop, but he acknowledged that parishioners sometimes accused him of telling them how to vote. He said his reply was: "We are not telling them how to vote. We are telling them how to take Communion in good conscience."

The New York Times

Exodus of Iraqi Christians in Full Flood as Targeted Killings Grow

It was midnight in Baghdad, not a time to be out in this place of violence. But the workers from the Baghdad Hunting Club had almost made it back home through the deserted streets when the tyres of their Kia minibus were shredded by a burst of gunfire.

The shots had come from a black Opel saloon which had tracked them from the club - a prestigious haunt of Iraq's new rich - after finishing the late shift. Four men, their faces covered by keffiyehs, slid open the door of the minibus and sprayed the occupants with Kalashnikov fire.

Their targets, seven Christians, were killed almost instantly. Two others were injured but survived. The dead were all breadwinners for their families in the close-knit Christian community in the suburb of al-Doura. These families now want to leave Iraq, joining the exodus of thousands of their co-religionists since the war.

The murders were the latest deadly attack against Iraq's Christians, a systematic and brutal campaign by Islamic extremists which began soon after the "liberation" by the United States and Britain. So far, 110 have been killed. In August, four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were blown up in a co-ordinated series of car bombings, killing 12 people and injuring 61 others.

In September, another Baghdad church was bombed. There have also been mortar attacks on community centres, shootings of Christian shopkeepers and kidnappings of businessmen for extortion.

The result had been a flow of Christians - mostly middle-class and members of the intelligentsia and entrepreneurs - out of the country, with a marked acceleration in the past few months. About 45,000 have gone so far out of a community estimated to be between 600,000 and 700,000.

Pascale Warda, the Iraqi interim government's minister for displacement and migration, who is herself a Christian, says there is no chance of halting the exodus while the attacks continue.

Christians in Iraq faced little religious persecution under the secular regime of Saddam Hussein. Senior members of the Baath party, including Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, were Christians. Now, they say, they receive scant protection from the US and British military in the face of the onslaught. Some of the early killings, mainly of shopkeepers, happened in the supposedly safer, British-run south of the country.

The interim government's national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, blames the church bombings on followers of the Jordanian-born Sunni militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Iraqi police say fighters from Muqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army could be responsible for those and other sectarian attacks. But whatever the truth, hardly anyone has been arrested.

Those killed in the minibus shooting worked as cooks and waiters at the hunting club. The expensive institution once used by the Baath elite has now reopened. Membership stands at 1,500 with plenty more willing to pay the annual $450 (£250) subscription to use its tennis courts, pools and restaurants.

Among the dead were Emanuel Markus, 42, and his 16-year-old son, Maradona. Another son, Elias, 17, who was shot in the arm, is so terrified and traumatised that he has now fled the family home.

Dressed in a black mourning gown, Kisno Markus sat at home clutching photographs of her husband and two sons. The remaining seven members of the family are all women. They now have to survive in an Iraq where work is scarce for all, and even more so for working-class women.

"I know it is going to be very hard, but I cannot think about that now," said Mrs Markus. "I have looked at the dead faces of my husband and my son, and that is what keeps on going through my mind.

"They were very close - my husband named my son after his favourite footballer. They used to laugh about that. My other son, Elias, has gone to Zakha, the last village in Iraq before you get to Turkey. That is how frightened he is. We are frightened as well. We must leave. We cannot afford to go abroad right now, but we are moving to stay with relations in another part of Baghdad. We are all very scared."

Across the street, 50-year-old Khuki Elias Kreto mourned her son, Nabin, aged 25. "He was my only boy - the only one - and they took him away," she said. "What kind of people are these? My son was so quiet that the neighbours said they did not even know when he was in the house. He has never harmed anyone."

Another victim, Emir Shabo Gorgis, supported his wife, six children, an elderly father and his sister on basic pay of $10 a week. "He had worked very hard all his life," said his widow, 27-year-old Ilhan. "We never got involved in politics. We have good Muslim friends and neighbours. I do not know why there is so much hatred."

The Iraqi police and American forces turned up at the scene of the shooting, but the families say they do not expect anyone to be arrested.

The director of the hunting club, Maksood Al-Sanjary, said: "What has happened is very sad. We would like to help in some way, but these people were the responsibility of a contractor to the club. We are living in very bad times."

Christians are often targeted in Iraq's thriving abduction industry because they are perceived as being well off. Samir Sajouri, 33, was kidnapped from his furniture shop and held for a week until his family paid a ransom of $35,000. Now he is taking his wife and three children to Jordan.

"We did not have the money," he said. "My wife had to sell stock and borrow to pay this. I was treated very badly by the men who had kidnapped me. They beat me and kicked me. There were always insults because I am a Christian. It is strange - 90 per cent of those I employed were Muslims," said Mr Sajouri.

At the Church of the Holy Rosary in Karada, Father Butros Haddad was seeing a parishioner seeking her son's baptism certificate. "It means they are leaving Iraq," he said. "Every day I hear about one or two families leaving from this parish and others. I have been a priest for 35 years and I have never seen the community face such a time of lawlessness.

"It is not bad just for the Christians: our fellow Iraqis - Muslims - are also suffering. But on top of all other troubles, the Christians feel they are being especially targeted. The problem is that the Americans don't seem to be able to do anything about security. There is a sense of terrible fear."

Kim Sengupta
12 October 2004 00:53