NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Venezuela President Hugo Chavez appears to be strengthening his hand prior to a 2012 re-election campaign by nationalizing the country's gold mining industry and moving to bring $11 billion in gold reserves back to Venezuela from U.S. and European banks.
Chavez announced his plans Aug. 17 in a telephone call broadcast live on state television, the Associated Press reported. Chavez' announcement could damage international confidence in Venezuela's ability to repay its debts and prompted a flurry of speculation about his motives, Reuters news service noted.
An opposition lawmaker, Julio Montoya, said Chavez plans to move almost all the country's $11 billion in gold reserves held abroad and up to $6.3 billion in liquid reserves to banks in China, Russia and Brazil, Reuters reported.
"For some time there has been a decision ... that monetary gold, counted as a reserve, would come to the country, to the central bank vaults, on the basis of security, transparency and protection of an important component of the reserves," Rodrigo Cabezas, a former finance minister under Chavez, said on state television.
Critics, however, see political motives in the move. If Chavez fails to win re-election but refuses to leave office, controlling all Venezuela's cash strengthens his hand for survival.
"There are no technical motives, only political ones," said Asdrubal Oliveros, of the Venezuelan think-tank Econanalitica, according to Reuters. "The government looks at Libya and sees itself in the mirror."
Chavez, who is recuperating from cancer treatment, has nationalized much of Venezuela's economy and courted anti-Western regimes such as Iran and Libya.
PAKISTAN POLICE BLAME TALIBAN FOR BHATTI MURDER -- A police official in Pakistan has publicly acknowledged that the Taliban terrorist movement was responsible for the March 2 assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minorities minister and campaigner for reform of the country's blasphemy laws.
Islamabad's most senior police officer, Bani Amin Khan, in a government committee on interior affairs hearing Aug. 24, blamed the Taliban for the murder, a reversal from previous claims that a "family dispute," not religious extremism, was involved, International Christian Concern reported Sept. 3. Aftab Alexander Mughal, of Minorities Concern of Pakistan, said police had identified two suspects, but they had fled to Dubai before they could be arrested.
Bhatti had been campaigning to reform the country's blasphemy laws, which had been in an international spotlight since a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, had been sentenced to death for "insulting" Islam. Bibi remains imprisoned.
IRANIAN PASTOR RELEASED -- A pastor in Iran has been released from prison after nearly 12 months in detention.
Vahik Abrahamian, an Armenian-Iranian Christian who has dual Dutch-Iranian citizenship, was one of nine members of a house church arrested in September 2010, according to a report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. While five of the individuals were released, Abrahamian, his wife Sonia Keshish Avanessian and Arash Kermanjani and Arezo Teimouri, a married couple belonging to his house church, were held and tried. After their acquittal in April, Abrahamian continued to be held without charges and was released from Hamadan prison in late August.
"We welcome the news that Pastor Abrahamian is now reunited with his family," said Andrew Johnston, advocacy director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide. "He and his wife remain in our prayers as he recovers from the deprivations he suffered during his long incarceration."
IRAN PRESIDENT THREATENS ISRAEL -- If a Palestinian state is created, Israel will no longer have a place in the Middle East, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a Tehran rally Aug. 26.
Addressing the United States, Ahmadinejad said: "You and the Zionist regime will have no base in the Middle East," according to the Mohabatnews.com news site. Ahmadinejad dismissed the idea of a two-state solution as a tactic meant "to save" Israel and said "the Zionist regime is the axis of unity among all thieves and criminals of the world."
Ahmadinejad's comments came as part of an annual demonstration called Quds Day, an occasion when Iranian officials show their support for Palestine and condemn Israel, Mohabatnews.com reported. Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem.
Iran faces increased pressure from the West over its controversial nuclear program that Israel, the United States and others contend will be used for making nuclear weapons, the site also noted. The Islamic Republic denies the charge, insisting the program is for peaceful purposes only, such as generating electricity.
CHILDREN BANNED FROM RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES -- A controversial law that bans most children under 18 from participating in religious activities went into effect in Tajikistan Aug. 31 at the end of Islam's Ramadan holy month.
The Law on Parental Responsibility for Education and Upbringing of Children was passed by parliament on July 21, Mission Network News reported. While it is unclear what religious activity by children is permissible, the new law prohibits children under 18 from participating in religious activities, ostensibly to help parents protect their children from extremist religious groups.
"It looks like indeed this controversial Law of Parental Responsibility has actually entered the force," said Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association. "The president did sign it. It does appear also that this particular law was the personal initiative of the president."
Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press.
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