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Suspected extremists kidnap priest in Niger

International | Al-Qaeda and ISIS increasingly terrorize the region
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 9/25/18, 05:19 pm

Extremists likely carried out last week’s kidnapping of an Italian priest from southern Niger, state and religious officials confirmed. The kidnapping is the latest in a growing number of extremism-fueled attacks in the western part of the country.

The Rev. Pierluigi Maccalli was kidnapped on Sept. 17 from the parish house in the village of Bomanga, near the Burkina Faso border, government spokesman Zakaria Abdourahmane confirmed.

Residents saw the attackers arrive on motorbikes and break into the parish house opposite the church, Thomas Codjovi, communications chief for the Catholic Mission to Niger, said, adding, “There were also nuns there, but he was the only one they wanted to kidnap.”

Maccalli is a priest with the Society for African Missions from the Italian diocese of Crema. He worked in Bomanga for 11 years and previously served as a missionary to the Ivory Coast.

Abdourahmane said the abductors likely came from neighboring Burkina Faso, but no group claimed responsibility for the abduction. Authorities combed the area for the priest and warned religious workers that the region was dangerous. Many workers limited their travels and avoided night trips.

Niger’s border with Burkina Faso and Mali remains a hotspot for extremist activity by al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS). Earlier this month, armed men riding motorcycles abducted the mother of a national deputy official and demanded a $35,000 ransom. In April, suspected extremists kidnapped a German aid worker near the country’s border with Mali.

In response to the attacks, the government of Burkina Faso last week banned the use of motorbikes and bike carts in the troubled eastern region from sunset to sunrise. The country said it would also monitor cars and trucks in the area as extremists seek refuge in the border region.

Extremist groups in the region regularly adapt to the military’s response by moving to less secure areas following a crackdown, said William Assanvo, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.

“There needs to be a military response that’s driven by intelligence,” Assanvo said. “There’s also a need to improve the collaboration between security forces and civilian populations.”

Kieran O’Reilly, the archbishop of Maccalli’s diocese, called for prayers for the priest’s release. “It is a very worrying time as we wait in hopeful anticipation of our brother priest’s safe return,” he said.

Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila A protest Friday in Manila, Philippines

Philippines anniversary spurs anti-Duterte rallies

Last week’s rallies marking the 46th anniversary of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law were peaceful, police in Manila said, according to the Philippine Star.

Even competing rallies with 2,500 supporters and 3,000 opponents of current President Rodrigo Duterte in Rizal Park resulted in no incidents. Thousands of riot police were present as a precaution.

Church groups spearheaded separate protests critical of Duterte in Luneta Park, Manila. Duterte’s “blood lust has greatly impinged on the reputation and economic stability” of the country, activist Nardy Sabino of Promotion of Church People’s Response told UCA News. Sabino urged accountability for the president’s human rights violations.

Catholics and Protestants held separate services that day before walking to the “United People’s Action Against Dictatorship” rally.

“Now that the nightmares of the past are happening again, it is time to wake up to the truth that martial law will never be the answer to the country’s problems,” Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV told the Star.

UCA News reported that ahead of the protests, Duterte dared them to “go ahead, you band together,” suggesting critics intended to destabilize his government—an accusation church groups denied. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Mark Schiefelbein Associated Press/Photo by Mark Schiefelbein Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing

China and Vatican agree on bishop appointment

The Vatican said it accepted seven bishops that were ordained by China without the Vatican’s blessing in a “provisional agreement” after decades of severed relations.

In an agreement that was signed in Beijing, the Vatican said all bishops in China are now in communion with Rome. China cut ties with the Vatican in 1951 after demanding to approve bishop appointments in the country. The Vatican retains papal authority to appoint bishops.

“Pope Francis hopes that, with these decisions, a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics,” a Vatican statement said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it “will continue to maintain communications and push forward the process of improving relations between the two sides.”

Despite hopes for communion, the Chinese Catholic Church remains split between Catholics registered under the official Chinese Church and those in the underground church that remained faithful to Rome during the period of severed relations. In March, Chinese authorities arrested Bishop Guo Xijin, who heads an underground diocese, in the southern village of Saiqi. Authorities later released Guo but banned him from celebrating a Holy Week Mass. —O.O.

Japanese leader secures another three years

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on track to spend another three years in power after securing a landslide victory as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Abe garnered 533 of the 807 votes in a clear victory against his sole opponent, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba. Abe, who has served as the country’s prime minister since 2012, could become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in 2021. Abe said he will use his last term to reform his country’s social security program and seek policies to “sum up” the country’s postwar diplomacy.

But his highest priority remains revising the country’s pacifist post-war constitution, which was drafted by the United States. Many Japanese conservatives view the constitution as a disgrace for the country after it surrendered at the end of World War II.

“It’s time to tackle a constitutional revision,” Abe said in his victory speech. “Let’s work together to make a new Japan.” —O.O.

Rohingya probe begins

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is launching a preliminary investigation into forced deportations of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, also known as Burma, into Bangladesh. Fatou Bensouda said the investigation will determine whether the deportations constitute a war crime or crimes against humanity. The court’s judges authorized her to investigate earlier this month.

Myanmar’s military drew international condemnation after it staged a widespread crackdown on the Rohingya that led about 700,000 people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. Rights groups accused the military of rape, torture, and other human rights violations.

The investigation will look into reports of “a number of alleged coercive acts having resulted in the forced displacement of the Rohingya people, including deprivation of fundamental rights, killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, destruction and looting,” Bensouda said. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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