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c. 1996 Religion News Service

Summit held on church arsons in wake of more fires

(RNS)-As the Christian Coalition held a summit Tuesday (June 18) to address potential solutions to arsons that have plagued black churches across the South, authorities were investigating fires that destroyed two rural black churches in northeastern Mississippi late Monday (June 17).

The two fires were reported 17 minutes apart on Monday night. Mount Pleasant and Central Grove Missionary Baptist churches, both in Kossuth, Miss., were destroyed, the Associated Press reported.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms met behind closed doors with local and state investigators to discuss the two fires.”This is getting disturbing,”said ATF agent James Cavanaugh.”It is getting disgusting.” Early on Monday, a rural black church was destroyed by fire in Rocky Point, N.C., and a former sanctuary of a predominantly white congregation in Pine Lake, Ga., was heavily damaged.

As a result of the fires in Kossuth, Alcorn County Sheriff Jimmy Taylor ordered patrols of all the other rural black churches in the county.

The Christian Coalition, a political network of 1.7 million members and supporters, held a summit in Atlanta Tuesday (June 18) for pastors of African-American churches to discuss possible ways to prevent future fires.

The coalition has established a”Save the Churches Fund”to provide financial help for the churches that are rebuilding and equipment such as alarms, motion detectors, floodlights and smoke detectors for churches that could be or have been fire targets, according to a statement by Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Reed also said coalition leaders would ask about 100,000 churches on their mailing list to take up a special collection on July 14 to raise about $1 million to help rebuild white and black burned churches.

President Clinton plans to meet with Southern governors Wednesday (June 19) to discuss the rash of fires in the region. At least 36 churches have burned in the last 18 months.

Australia church, medical officials challenge euthanasia law

(RNS)-Australian church and medical groups have begun a legal challenge to the Northern Territory’s euthanasia law, scheduled to take effect July 1.

They question the validity of the law, which would permit assisted suicide.

The Rev. Djiniyinni Gondarra of the Uniting Church and Dr. Chris Wake of the Australian Medical Association filed their complaint Monday (June 17), Reuters reported. It will be considered Friday (June 21), when the Northern Territory Supreme Court begins hearings on whether the law should be set aside until its validity is determined.”Killing patients is not a proportional or proper response to terminally ill situations.”Wake said.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was passed by legislators in February. It has stirred a national debate pitting supporters and opponents of euthanasia against each other.

Wake said the law would quickly lead to”unnecessary killings”of terminally ill patients who should be given palliative care instead.

Wake said the challenge to the law is supported by a number of churches in addition to the Australian Medical Association. The complaint claims that the law violates rights bestowed by the Australian constitution and is beyond the parliamentary power of the Northern Territory.

Gondarra, an aboriginal clergyman, said Aborigines in the Northern Territory are confused by the new law, which contradicts tribal laws.”Voluntary euthanasia in Aboriginal customary law is illegal,”said Gondarra. Aborigines comprise a quarter of the territory’s population.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Shane Stone said the government plans to fight the court challenge.

Prime minister of India calls Golden Temple army action”unfortunate” (RNS)-Indian Prime Minster H.D. Deve Gowda called the 1984 decision to send the army into the holiest of Sikh shrines to drive out armed militants an”unfortunate event.” But, in remarks made Tuesday (June 18), the prime minister stopped short of offering the formal apology that Sikh leaders have demanded for more than a decade, Reuters reported.

Deve Gowda made his statements during a visit to the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar in the predominantly Sikh-populated Punjab state.

In 1984, the army stormed the temple in Operation Bluestar to flush out armed guerrillas who had occupied the shrine during their fight for an independent state.

Sikh officials have sought an apology for the action from successive governments in New Delhi.

Deve Gowda said he would go no further than his previous statements.”I have already said that this was an unfortunate event,”he said.”I do not want to elaborate on this issue.” The late Indira Gandhi, the prime minister who ordered Operation Bluestar, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984. Her murder triggered riots that killed 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi alone.

Today, Sikhs comprise 2 percent of India’s 930 million people.

Vatican establishes diplomatic ties with Tajikistan

(RNS)-The Vatican on Saturday (June 15) announced it has established diplomatic ties with the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.

The predominantly Muslim Tajikistan, a nation of 5.7 million people, gained independence in 1992. Since then it has suffered clan and regional rivalries in which tens of thousands of people have been reported killed and 600,000 displaced. Another 300,000 have fled to Afghanistan and Russia.

Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) maintain a 25,000-strong peacekeeping force in Tajikistan.

On Friday (June 14), the United Nations Security Council extended its observer force for six months but warned it would review the mission”should the prospects for the peace process not improve.” In a June 7 report to the Security Council, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said he is”very concerned at the serious deterioration of the situation in Tajikistan, which is at its worst and most volatile since the end of the civil war of 1992″when Tajikistan became independent.

The Vatican announcement said that Tajikistan is the 162nd country with which the Vatican has formal diplomatic ties.

Quote of the Day: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan

(RNS)-Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan criticized the British monarchy in a recent speech to 12,000 Jamaicans at Kingston’s National Arena. The Associated Press reported that Farrakhan addressed Jamaica’s status as a constitutional monarchy with a figurehead governor general who acts as Queen Elizabeth’s representative:”The queen must not be a reminder to us of our days of colonial servitude to Britain. We must cut every vestige that reminds us of our slave past and we must ascend to our free present. How dare you-30 years or more into your independence from Britain, you are still bowing to the queen? Who is she that you must bow down to her?”

MJP END RNS

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