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INT'L DIGEST: Chavez, facing cancer, grants health parole to opponent; ...
Posted on Aug 12, 2011 | by Mark Kelly

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--An opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was freed on parole July 20 after Chavez -- who is being treated for cancer -- called for clemency for prisoners with health problems.

Chavez, 56, said in mid-July that he expected to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment after surgery June 20 that was intended to remove a baseball-sized tumor, the Associated Press reported. Chavez did not disclose what sort of cancer was involved or where the tumor was located.

Alejandro Pena Esclusa, who needs cancer treatment, had been in prison a year while awaiting trial on what supporters called politically motivated charges of hiding explosives in his home, the AP reported.

Pena said he underwent surgery for prostate cancer one month before his arrest last year and needs additional treatment, the Associated Press reported. He will be required to appear in court every 30 days while awaiting trail and is barred from leaving the country or talking about his case in the news media.

Pena, who heads Fuerza Solidaria, a conservative organization that advocates free-market economics, was arrested July 12, 2010. At the time, his wife accused authorities of planting the explosives in their home.

Chavez said all prisoners who have shown that they have a serious illness, whether those singled out by the opposition or others, should be granted permission to return home for "all the medical treatment they need," the AP reported. Prosecutors said humanitarian paroles were being considered for 54 prisoners.

Chavez, who stands for re-election in late 2012, said his cancer diagnosis has prompted him to make lifestyle and work changes under strict orders from his doctors, the AP reported.

Chavez has appeared on television, leading a cabinet meeting, doing stretching exercises with aides and attending Mass, the AP said. He said the cancer led him to reflect about what he called "fundamental errors" in his lifestyle, such as drinking "40 cups of coffee in one day," carrying three cell phones, eating whatever was available and "not sleeping, not letting my ministers sleep." He also acknowledged it has been a serious mistake to be habitually "talking too much."

ARRESTS CONTINUE IN ERITREA -- Eritrean authorities have arrested 90 Christians over the past two months, continuing a campaign against believers that began in December 2010.

Six of the 90 arrested were later released, but the location of the other 84 is unknown, according to a statement released by the Voice of the Martyrs human rights organization.

Police arrested 26 college students from Mai-Mefhi College of Technology on June 2. Students were not given a reason for their arrest, but it may have resulted from their failure to participate in Eritrean independence day celebrations.

In May, 64 Christians in a village near the Eritrean capital of Asmara were arrested and detained. Those believers either remain at the police station or have been moved to Mitire Prison in northeastern Eritrea, a remote military prison notorious for torture and its harsh living and working conditions.

NIGERIAN SOLDIERS FIRE ON PROTESTING WOMEN -- Soldiers in Nigeria's Plateau State opened fire on hundreds of female farmers, wounding three of them, as they protested the lack of government protection from rival tribesmen who destroyed the villagers' ripening crops.

The attack was timed to cause both anger and hardship, said a statement from the Christian Solidarity Worldwide human rights organization. Not only was a bumper harvest anticipated this year, but the farmers had invested their savings in costly fertilizer and cannot replant because the rainy season is now at its peak.

"Not only have these women lost their harvest, which was both an investment and source of income and food for their families, in a calculated act of destruction, but they have also been let down by the security forces, who not only failed to intervene to protect them, but inexplicably opened fire on them," said Andrew Johnston, the organization's advocacy director. "This is inexcusable, and a dire dereliction of duty. We urge the Plateau State authorities to act swiftly to ensure effective protection for these and other farmers during this crucial season, and to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the shooting of unarmed protesters."

ATTACK ON IRAQ CHURCH INJURES 13 -- An Aug. 2 car blast outside a Syrian Catholic church in Kirkuk, Iraq, left 13 people wounded. Police also located and disarmed two more car bombs targeting churches in the city.

Video images of the attack against the Holy Family Church showed one of its walls blasted open and all its surfaces covered with broken glass, rubble and dust from the entrance, where the explosion took place, to the sanctuary at the far end of the building, the Compass Direct News service reported. The blast occurred on the second day of the month-long Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.

Nearby houses in one of Kirkuk's oldest quarters were seriously damaged, and cars on the street were left in twisted piles of metal, Compass reported. No terrorist or extremist group had taken responsibility for the attack at the time, and local church leaders said it seems Christians in Iraq are trapped in a senseless game of power and intimidation.

"Sometimes we feel there is some pressure over the Christians all over Iraq to make them leave their cities and go to the northern part of Iraq, to Kurdistan," a pastor told Compass, "but who knows? I can't say those who did this want us to leave our city."

More than 50 percent of Iraq's Christian community has fled the country since 2003, by some estimates, with about 600,000 Christians left in Iraq. Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk, said he hopes Christians will remain in Iraq.
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Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press.
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