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London fights back

and other news briefs

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

London fights back

After rioters torched a 140-year-old family business in south London during the city's worst riots in 25 years, the stunned owner of the House of Reeves described what assailants took from the landmark store: "No one's stolen anything," said Graham Reeves. "They just burnt it down." London rioters offered no unified reason for their early August rampage that burned buildings, looted stores, smashed windows, and wreaked havoc across London and surrounding cities. Though the first riots erupted after police fatally shot a 29-year-old man in a low-income neighborhood, even the victim's fiancé doubted that Mark Duggan's death spurred the widespread riots. "It's not connected to this anymore," said Semone Wilson. "This is out of control."

British Prime Minister David Cameron labeled the cause of violence "mindless selfishness" and recalled Parliament from its summer break to confront the upheaval. By Aug. 10 authorities had arrested 750 in five days' rioting in London alone, and Cameron said, "There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but frankly sick." News reports speculated that some rioters were protesting the government's recent austerity measures designed to make drastic spending cuts in a country with massive debt. But Twitter messages from rioters promoting the mayhem mostly described where to meet, not why. Meanwhile, another mob of citizens responded to a different kind of Twitter message: posts organizing local clean-up efforts. Hundreds of volunteers wielding brooms and rubber gloves cleared broken glass and dumped trash from London streets after finding clean-up locations next to hashtags like #riotcleanup and #prayforlondon.

'Catastrophic'

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Brad Phillips of the Persecution Project Foundation gave members of a U.S. House subcommittee a stark assessment of what's happening in the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan during a congressional hearing on Aug. 4: "The issue is genocide." The region that includes the Nuba Mountains lies just north of the disputed border between northern Sudan and the newly created Republic of South Sudan. (South Sudan formally gained its independence on July 9.)

Eyewitnesses and a UN report say that northern military forces are bombing and killing civilians suspected of loyalty to South Sudan. A leaked UN report in June described "aerial bombardments . . . significant loss of civilian lives, including of women, children, and the elderly; abductions; house-to-house searches; arbitrary arrests and detentions . . . summary execution . . . mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings; and attacks on churches." The report described photos of "mangled and mutilated bodies of civilians, some cut into halves, including women and children."

Phillips, also project coordinator for Voice of the Martyrs in Sudan, said during a 12-day visit to the region in July, Nuba residents told him that Sudanese troops particularly targeted churches and pastors, believing all Christians were loyal to the south: "Anyone fitting this description was either killed on the spot or arrested and never seen again." The UN estimates the violence has displaced at least 73,000 civilians, but local officials estimate the number at 500,000. "Whatever the numbers involved," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., "we can be sure that the suffering of the people in Southern Kordofan, especially the Nuba people, has been catastrophic."

Dying for the Cause

In the growing crackdown against unregistered churches, Chinese authorities sentenced house church leader Shi Enhao to two years of "re-education through labor" in late July. Officials charged the pastor and deputy leader of China's Christian House Church Alliance with holding "illegal meetings and illegal organizing of venues for religious meetings," according to the Texas-based ChinaAid. The high-profile detention came weeks after members of Shouwang Church-Beijing's largest unregistered church-began attempting to meet outdoors for worship. Authorities have blocked access to an indoor meeting space and arrested at least 400 churchgoers meeting outdoors. Zhang Mingxuan, president of the house church alliance, wrote to Chinese president Hu Jintao asking for Shi's release and calling for freedom of worship: "Even if you misunderstand me or even kill me or imprison me, I still have to tell you the truth," Zhang said in a letter translated by ChinaAid. "As long as Christians can freely worship God, I wouldn't mind dying for this cause."

Restricted

More than 2.2 billion people-or nearly a third of the world's population-live in countries where either government restrictions on religion or social hostilities involving religion rose substantially between mid-2006 and mid-2009, according to a study released Aug. 9 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Only about 1 percent of the world's population lives in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities declined. Government restrictions rose substantially in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Egypt.

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