Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "Four horsemen of the apocalypse," Oct. 4, 2008

Zimbabwe deal

Addressing opposition leaders as "my brothers," President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on Sept. 15 signed a power-sharing deal with a rival he once arrested, Morgan Tsvangirai. Under the agreement, Mugabe continues as president and chairs the cabinet and national security council. Tsvangirai as prime minister will manage day-to-day running the country and become a member of the national security council. Mugabe's party may appoint 15 cabinet ministers, while Tsvangirai's may appoint 16. Tsvangirai called the agreement a "product of painful compromises" and said it did not provide "an instant cure." But, quoting from a 1980 Mugabe speech, Tsvangirai said, "It is time to turn our swords into plowshares."

Deadly rumors

As the eastern Indian state of Orissa entered its fourth week of violence, anti-Christian attacks spread to five more states across the country, furthering panic and calling into question the lackluster response by local and national authorities.

At least 45 people have died and more than 40,000 are believed to be hiding in forests, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC). The violence began when Christians in Orissa were blamed for the Aug. 23 assassination of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and four of his disciples. Maoists have since claimed responsibility for the death of Laxmanananda Saraswati, but Hindu extremist mobs have continued their attacks on Christians, destroying more than 4,000 homes and 115 churches, according to the AICC.

Violence has spread to 14 of Orissa's districts as rumors of forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity added fuel to the fire. In Orissa's Kandhamal district-the epicenter of the violence-20 houses were set on fire and 70 Christian families were forced to "re-convert" to Hinduism on Sept. 8. Reports circulated that Hindu extremists poisoned water in government refugee camps-home to an estimated 12,000 people. Local police also became targets after efforts to disperse a violent mob resulted in the death of one of the rioters. Extremists retaliated by killing a policeman and burning down a police station in Kandhamal district on Sept. 16.

"What we are witnessing in states like Orissa most recently is a carefully orchestrated ploy by the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and its sister organizations to inflame religious prejudices and passions," Indian Congress president Sonia Gandhi told her country's Supreme Court on Sept. 16. She accused the BJP, the VHP and other Hindu nationalist groups of instigating a campaign to "divide and polarize society, with no regard to loss of lives and livestock" ahead of elections.

Several VHP leaders accused Gandhi of covering for those behind the assassination of their leader. VHP Orissa State President Gauri Prasad Rath told Compass Direct News that he did not condemn the violence against Christians in his state. "You should ask me to condemn the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and his associates with AK-47s by Christians," he said.

Christians comprise 2.4 percent of Orissa's population-almost 900,000 people. -Jill Nelson

Orange crush

Ukraine's coalition government collapsed in September, a blow to its Western allies who championed 2004's Orange Revolution that brought President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to power. The coalition fell apart on Sept. 3 after Tymoshenko's party sided with a pro-Moscow opposition party to pass several laws curtailing Yushchenko's presidential powers. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko formed a successful alliance four years ago to stand up to Moscow's intervention in the election process but have since become rivals in the run-up to 2010 elections. The collapse comes as Russia is exerting its influence over former Soviet republics-of which Ukraine is one of the largest and most prosperous-following its August invasion of Georgia.

Shariah spreading

It looks like Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was accurate when he asserted earlier this year that it "seems unavoidable" that some accommodation for Islamic Shariah law would eventually find its way into British culture. The Sunday Times and Daily Mail reported last month that a little-known clause in the UK's legal system already allows Shariah courts to issue civil and some criminal verdicts that are legally binding.

Under the 1996 Arbitration Act, Shariah courts qualify as arbitration tribunals, the rulings of which are enforceable by county and high courts when both sides agree to use the tribunal to settle the dispute. Reports indicate such tribunals began levying Shariah judgments last summer and Shariah courts are already operating in five major British cities with the ability to rule on cases including divorce, financial disputes, and domestic violence. The revelation has ignited concerns about fair treatment for women and has drawn criticism over the prospect of a parallel legal system operating in Britain.

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