News for Religion --Thu Apr 24 06:36:44 EST 1997

  • No headline.
    WASHINGTON—Let me try to explain to Gentiles why some Jews are so roiled up at others this Passover. Israel is the Jewish state. Though most Israelis are ``secular'' (New York Times) (*)

    NEW YORK—There is an old joke Norman Mailer is particularly fond of about a man who is complaining to God. The man whines: ``You're not treating me fairly, God. Why not? Why don't you treat (New York Times) (*)

  • No headline.
    Not one multiple use group has challenged the National Park Service for banning recreational activities at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Nor has anyone claimed the government has

    TAMPA—Abe Brown's eyelids are so heavy that when he leaves them closed for a moment, you think he's asleep. But he's not. He's listening. He's 70. He's seen a lot. And he's tired. But he's  (*)

    JERUSALEM—Borne on the shoulders of his followers to the roar of thousands who chanted his name in a packed stadium under a baking sun, Aryeh Deri rode a victory lap Wednesday. (New York Times)

    SAN ANTONIO—Prayer is supposed to be a quiet talk with God, but when the kids are screaming or your husband comes home drunk, you may need some help jump-starting the conversation.  (*)

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Sheila Rauch Kennedy says that during her 12-year marriage to Rep. Joseph Kennedy, he often told her he was the star in the family and that she was a ``nobody.'' And when they (New York Times) (*)

    WASHINGTON—Ralph Reed announced Wednesday he is quitting his post as head of the Christian Coalition, the organization he built from scratch into the nation's premier conservative religious voice  (*)

    LIMA—Rev. Juan Julio Wicht became a volunteer hostage last December. A former Harvard graduate student, Boston University researcher  (*)



    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    WASHINGTON—Let me try to explain to Gentiles why some Jews are so roiled up at others this Passover.

    Israel is the Jewish state. Though most Israelis are ``secular'' (not that observant), Orthodox Jews have a monopoly on religious functions like marriage, and decide ``who is a Jew'' and therefore able to claim citizenship under the Law of Return.

    Israeli courts, at the urging of secularists and applauded by non-Orthodox Jews in America, have begun to challenge that monopoly. That triggered a fierce defense from Israeli religious-political parties: new laws are being passed to insure that only conversions by Orthodox rabbis, not Reform or Conservative, confer legal Jewish identity on people who want to become Jews.

    Many American Jews respond: Who are you fundamentalists to challenge the legitimacy of our modern religious practice? We celebrate diversity in our democracy and don't have to keep kosher to keep the faith. (And we send you guys a bundle, too.)

    The Orthodox counter: Your relaxed brand of Judaism has led to intermarriage and assimilation. As a result, in the 50 years that the U.S. population has doubled, the number of U.S. Jews has stayed the same or dwindled, with only the Orthodox segment growing. That proves our way is the only way to preserve the faith. (And we face terror daily, not you.)

    If either side totally wins this argument, everybody loses, but it's not enough to urge every demagogue to calm down. As a Conservative in Judaism and politics, I turn to the Book of Job to work out a position on who can best decide what the standard should be to make somebody Jewish.

    You remember the story: To prove to the Satan that a devout man's faith was not based on his worldly success, God unjustly afflicted Job. When his friends, representing organized religion, came to commiserate, they told Job that his suffering had to be the result of some sin. He exploded in anger at God's injustice, even wishing he could drag Him into court.

    The horrified religionists then accused Job of impiety, but the worked-up dissident maintained his ways until God engaged his challenger directly in his longest speech in the Bible. After slapping Job down for his impudence, God tells the friends they were mistaken all along and rewards Job.

    Among the messages in this near-heretical book: (1) suffering is no evidence of sin, (2) God does not distribute justice on Earth as seemingly promised in the Covenant, and (3) the individual believer, no matter how outcast from society or berated by co-religionists, is never isolated from his God.

    I take that last message to be directed at those who, in Nelson Mandela's phrase, ``think more with their blood than their brains.'' Jewishness combines clan with culture and faith, and faith is the central part of the mix.

    The faith of Judaism emphasizes congregation, or coming-together to worship, but requires no intermediary between believer and believed-in. A rabbi—no matter how strong a moral leader or profound an interpreter of Scripture—is a teacher, not a priest or a saint.

    Jews have no pope infallible on doctrine, no hierarchy to instill discipline as Catholics have. A local or national rabbinate can designate a ``Chief Rabbi'' for administrative purposes, but the individual Jew needs recognize no ``chief rabbi'' anywhere. Even as Jews congregate, each member of this far-flung tribe deals directly and quite privately with his or her Creator.

    And as Job teaches, we're encouraged to argue with any authority, which is why this controversy, if conducted civilly, can enliven and enrich Judaism.

    Non-Orthodox Jewish Americans can say to Orthodox Jewish Israelis, with no rancor: Our political circumstances are different. You live in a democratic state that is rooted in an established religion; we live in one that prides itself on forbidding such establishment.

    Accordingly, we don't recognize your power to recognize ``who is a Jew'' beyond your borders. We question your wisdom in using your political muscle in asserting that power inside Israel because it dissipates Israel's centrality to Judaism around the world.

    As we acknowledge how tradition deserves respect, you should consider how rigidity begets reform. Outsiders are not enemies. As a non-Jew likes to remind me, the Old Testament Job was a Gentile.

    < NYT-04-22-97 1919EDT<

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=@

    NEW YORK—There is an old joke Norman Mailer is particularly fond of about a man who is complaining to God. The man whines: ``You're not treating me fairly, God. Why not? Why don't you treat me fairly?''

    ``And the thunder comes down from heaven,'' Mailer said, anticipating the punch line with a boyish grin. ``And God says, `Because you bug me.'''

    Mailer told the joke this week to help explain his own religious beliefs—and the God in his new book, ``The Gospel According to the Son.''

    ``I've always been religious,'' he said. ``I just have a God that's a little different from others. It's not because I'm special. It's just that it's the only thing that makes sense for me: the notion I have of an imperfect God doing the best that He or She can do. I've found it immensely useful as a religion, because self-pity used to be one of my vices.''

    Hence the joke.

    This is a powerful God indeed if He (or She) is responsible for transforming Mailer from a self-pitying sort. Now 74, he is among the most ambitious, hubristic, audacious writers (and New Yorkers) of the past half century. In his journalistic and novelistic narratives, he has presumed to enter the minds of contemporary killers and ancient Egyptians, not to mention Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald and Pablo Picasso, among others.

    At the same time, he has led a public life of a celebrity-like nature, an odd type of self-aggrandizement for a serious writer. He has had six wives and has eight children. Among his famous forays into the headlines: a stabbing attack of his second wife, Adele, in 1960; an unsuccessful run for mayor of New York in 1969; his involvement, in 1982, with Jack Henry Abbott, a writer whose release from prison he helped secure and who subsequently killed a waiter in the East Village.

    So should anybody be surprised at his latest venture, in which he purports to retell what the writer Fulton Oursler called ``The Greatest Story Ever Told''? That is the story of Jesus Christ, of course, which Mailer has set about narrating by the Son of God himself. Finally, the true story of the virgin birth, loaves and fishes, walking on water, the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection, not to mention a coming of age story in which a young man comes to understand his demanding Dad.

    All this, from a Brooklyn Jew, may be the very embodiment of chutzpah, which Mailer acknowledges as a ``vulgar and endearing'' quality that is ``very much a part of New York.'' And though he is rounder than he was in his more physically pugnacious days, Mailer maintains his clear-eyed combative quality, his ease with self-defense.

    ``What people don't understand is the power of a novelist,'' he said. ``It doesn't surprise them at all if a surgeon can pull off a marvelous cure, if he cuts into a place in the heart that's never been cut before. They think if a guy's been a professional for 30 or 40 years, he should be good. Well, I've been a novelist for 50 years. I should be good. I should be able to try things that other people can't try.

    ``What people think is the largest dare of all I think was the only sensible thing to do, and that was writing in the first person. The negative side was obvious. `How dare Norman Mailer! Vanity is vanity, hubris is hubris, but this is passing the point of no return,' and so forth and so on. So let me just assure the New York world—the rest of America will never believe me—that I do not think of myself as Jesus Christ.''

    The new book, he said, was in part, a celebration of Jesus Christ as a radical with a conscience. ``Not as radical as Judas,'' said Mailer, who portrays Judas Iscariot as an unforgiving zealot who betrays Jesus for having a wavering, very human faith. ``But radical enough for me.''

    Sitting in the Brooklyn Heights apartment where he has lived since 1961, he lamented the demise of his view across the East River to lower Manhattan.

    ``It's gotten awful,'' he said. Once, he recalled, it was an urbanscape slowly ascending from the Battery shore north to a nest of spired skyscrapers, ``like foothills rising into mountains.'' He waved a dismissive hand. ``Now it's all these flattops.''

    His scorn for the profile of the financial district was not irrelevant to his new book; his Jesus is fiercely disturbed by greed, by the elevation of worldly goods above spiritual concerns.

    ``Jesus saw the horror of money,'' Mailer said. ``As I was reading the New Testament, I realized in a funny way that the message that Jesus had, the animosity he felt toward money, the sense that Mammon was scourging the world, is so applicable today. It's significant that at the end of the cold war, a huge greed, a huge passion to destroy the safety net in America came into being. There's something terribly ugly in capitalism, and what's happened now in America is all our values are being leeched out by the immense appetite for money.''

    ``The Gospel According to the Son'' is Mailer's 30th book, and by his standards, it is, at 242 pages, brief. Un-Maileresque, as well, is its language and tone, which is largely without the rambling, muscular sentences and grandiosity of personal pronouncement that have pleased or outraged his readers over the years. Instead, the voice of the book is muted, almost quiet, consciously suggesting the formally archaic sound of the St. James Bible, the voice of a man struggling with his power and his conscience for the proper measure of humility.

    ``Each day I came to understand a little more of why the Lord has chosen me,'' Mailer wrote. ``I could see how my Father's patience would be tried with His creation. We consumed His charity and kept repeating our sins.''

    In other words, Mailer's Christ sounds more like traditional Christ than traditional Mailer.

    Church officials have not weighed in on the book as yet—``We don't have a comment at this time,'' said the Rev. Paul Keenan, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York—though reviewers have. Publishers Weekly lauded the book as ``some sort of literary miracle,'' but in spite of Mailer's concessions to the style and point of view of the Son of God, many other critics were not persuaded to forgive the author his trespasses.

    ``It seems trite to dump on Mailer for having such a manifestly batty idea as retelling the story of Jesus with the son as first-person narrator,'' David Gates wrote in Newsweek. ``When Mailer's gone wrong before, it's either by overreaching or plotting. In this book he does both.''

    Mailer actually wanted the book published anonymously, but with an announcement that the author's identity would be revealed three months after publication, so that it could be reviewed without his baggage. Mailer said the plan was rejected by Random House, however, after the storm caused by a previous Anonymous, Joe Klein, who had lied to keep his authorship of another Random House book, ``Primary Colors,'' a secret. (Jason Epstein, Mailer's editor, said that was not the reason. ``It just didn't make any sense to me,'' Epstein said of keeping Mailer anonymous.)

    ``The book will get a fair share of bad reviews,'' Mailer said, ``but that I take for granted. I call a fair share between 65 percent and 75 percent bad reviews.''

    He added: ``There's an irritation factor I'm presuming. The `How dare he!' It's very much present in literary people.''

    In spite of his seasoned shrug, Mailer said he was angry at The New York Times, not so much for publishing a negative review, by Michiko Kakutani, but for doing so weeks before the official publication date. Such a treatment of his work, he said, unfairly sets the tone for reviews to come, and he was doubly upset because he has made this complaint to The Times before.

    John Darnton, The Times' culture editor, said that although the review was published early, the book was already in bookstores, and that Random House, which was already advertising the book, had called The Times to acknowledge that the book was ahead of schedule.

    Mailer said one reason he wrote the book was that after re-reading the New Testament, he was struck by how insufficient it was as literature.

    ``I found Jesus in the New Testament to be not available,'' he said, ``not present as a human being very much. The lines in the New Testament are exceptional, the great lines, and Jesus comes alive as a God with the great lines, but as a man he doesn't come alive at all.''

    ``The narrative has become the spiritual or psychological keel of western civilization,'' he continued, ``and no one really knows it because no one goes near the story. It is the greatest story ever told, and I thought there are easily 100 novelists in the world who could have done a better job, and I'm one of them, so I thought, I'm going to do this.''

    (Actually, asked a bit later to rate himself, Mailer said he was one of the top five novelists in America, naming as the others Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, John Updike and one other person whom he would not name ``so that all manner of men and women don't get angry.'')

    This kind of talk raises a number of questions, among which would be this: After the greatest story ever told, what is there to do for an encore?

    Mailer laughed. He could not say, really.

    ``Talking about what you're going to do, in my case, has proved a very bad idea,'' he said. ``Years ago I promised to hit the longest ball in the history of American letters, and on and on.'' Nonetheless, he does know what his next book is.

    Next year, 50 years after the publication of his first novel, ``The Naked and the Dead,'' Mailer will turn 75.

    ``Those are two nice numbers,'' he said. ``They commemorate each other somehow.''

    Random House will commemorate them by publishing a Mailer retrospective volume, maybe 1,500 pages of Mailer's own selections of his best writing, ``provided he delivers it on time,'' Epstein said.

    Perfect. What could be more appropriate after a fresh look at God's work than a fresh look at his own?


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    c. 1997 Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune<

    Not one multiple use group has challenged the National Park Service for banning recreational activities at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Nor has anyone claimed the government has violated the U.S. Constitution by establishing religion in declaring and protecting the cemetery as ``our nation's most sacred shrine.''

    Yet at a sacred site just as hallowed for Northern Plains Indian tribes, a sign that merely asks visitors to stay on the trail and away from the grounds near Devils Tower National Monument in northeast Wyoming, has been challenged as a violation of the Constitution.

    The Mountain States Legal Foundation out of Denver, Colo., representing a multiple use association and a commercial climbing guide, claims it is unlawful for the Park Service ``to ask visitors to act in such a way as to show respect for the religious beliefs of some American Indians,'' according to the brief filed at the U.S. District Court in Casper, Wyo. The hearing before federal Judge William Downes was held April 18.

    It's a strange notion to think our Constitution prohibits government from asking people to respect each other's religious beliefs.

    This legal clash pits a few rock climbers who use Devils Tower as a premiere crack climbing site and American Indians who have for centuries recognized the tower as a sacred site and worshiped there. The Northern Plains Indian tribes called the site ``Mato Tipila'' (Bear Lodge) or ``He Hota Paha'' (Grey Horn Butte) and traveled to the butte to gain sacred knowledge—long before it became a national monument.

    A few years ago, in a thoughtful move to accommodate the cultural needs of Indians, the National Park Service established a working group of American Indians, rock climbers, and others to try to reach a compromise on the use of the monument.

    The first climbing management plan was adopted after public hearings. It created a voluntary ban on climbing the tower during June so that tribal groups could worship there in privacy and without disruptions in that month. According to the plan, after the first year commercial climbing permits would not be issued for the month of June.

    Last year in federal court, Mountain States Legal Foundation challenged the climbing plan as an unconstitutional entanglement of government and religion. The foundation asked for a temporary restraining order to halt the mandatory ban on commercial climbing permits. And won.

    The Park Service capitulated even before the full merits of the case were argued, and it revised its climbing management plan to remove the mandatory ban. The June climbing ban was made voluntary for everyone.

    Now Mountain States Legal Foundation argues that the voluntary climbing ban is also unconstitutional—for essentially the same reasons. The foundation says the ban was created because of the religious beliefs of some American Indians and therefore it entangles government in religion.

    The foundation also argues that the Park Service's interpretative program to teach visitors about the religious beliefs of Northern Plains Indian tribes is government endorsement of religion and thereby unconstitutional. Teaching about religion has never been unconstitutional; proselytizing is.

    At the Tumacacori National Historic Park in southern Arizona, a traditional High Mass is held annually in a Franciscan church that was built in the 1700s. The church is part of Park Service land. Does that violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? Is the Park Service establishing a religion by allowing Mass to be celebrated in this historic church?

    A brochure at Tumacacori states: ``Visitors appreciate this special place for the opportunity to tour the mission church, cemetery and outlying structures and grounds in a peaceful and quiet atmosphere reminiscent of the period in which they were established.'' Should this be challenged by multiple use associations who might want to rev up their sand buggies around the church?

    Each year at the San Antonio Missions in Texas, the National Park Service sponsors a performance of a Christian morality play, ``Los Pastores.'' The play was apparently used by Franciscan missionaries to teach the local Indians the tenets of Christianity.

    Is this government endorsement of religion?

    The Park Service asks visitors to these missions to please be considerate: ``Parish priests and parishioners deserve your respect; please do not disrupt their services.''

    No one has claimed that when the National Park Service accommodates the religious worship of Christians it is unconstitutional.

    Why, then, is it unconstitutional when American Indians want to worship ``in a peaceful and quiet atmosphere'' at their sacred site and the National Park Service tries to accommodate these religious and cultural needs?

    Accommodation does not force anyone to participate in a religious activity; it simply makes room for religious worship where appropriate.

    The Park Service can ask visitors not to disrupt Catholic services in the San Antonio Missions, but a few rock climbers who use Devils Tower think it is unconstitutional to ask them not to disrupt the religious ceremonies of Indians worshiping there.

    The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Georgia where Martin Luther King, Jr. was a co-pastor with his father, is now a National Historic Site—managed by the National Park Service. The sanctuary may be visited and is open to the public—except during some special services. Not voluntary, mandatory—the sanctuary is closed. Closing a portion of a public historic site for religious services, isn't that government entanglement with religion? Yet no one has challenged the policy as unconstitutional.

    Is there a double standard working here? Government accommodation of Christian worship on federal lands is somehow legal but the accommodation of American Indian religious ceremonies is not.

    This is the paradox and the underlying issue that faces Judge Downes when he rules on the challenge to the Park Service.

    If Judge Downes decides against accommodating Indian religious ceremonies at Devils Tower, what—by his legal rationale—would he be saying about the religious accommodation of Christian worship at hundreds of sites on federal lands?

    Judge Downes' decision could have enormous repercussions.

    April 20, 1997

    < NYT-04-22-97 0848EDT<

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    c.1997 The Boston Globe


    TAMPA—Abe Brown's eyelids are so heavy that when he leaves them closed for a moment, you think he's asleep. But he's not. He's listening. He's 70. He's seen a lot. And he's tired. But he's buried too many of his young people to give up now.

    Besides, he says, the Lord works in these wonderful, mysterious ways, and it just so happens that on this sunny, breezy April day the Lord has sent this wonderful, mysterious brother down from Boston.

    ``I'm glad you're here, young man,'' Brown, pastor at the First Baptist Church of College Hill, says to the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a Boston preacher. ``What we got here is not a social problem, but a spiritual problem. The government can't solve a sin problem. Only the church can solve a sin problem.''

    ``You got it, doc!'' Rivers shouts, betraying his Pentecostal penchant for yelling affirmation. ``Amen to that, doc!''

    Rivers has come here, to the poorest section of Tampa, with his curious mix of hip-hop evangelism, grass-roots outreach and old-fashioned soul-saving.

    Earlier this month, Rivers and a group of ministers who founded an antiviolence outreach program in Boston in 1992 said they wanted to take their unconventional approach national. In Boston, they are credited with helping to reduce youth violence in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods. Getting the program organized nationally means coming to cities like Tampa, to places like College Hill, to preach to the unconverted, and, first and foremost, to convert the preachers.

    ``I'm here,'' Rivers tells Brown, the elder statesman of Tampa's several hundred black churches, ``to learn from you.''

    Rivers gives Brown his pitch. Rivers and the Boston-based Ten Point Coalition have an ambitious goal. They want to expand their program of reaching out to the most disenfranchised young people. They propose initially targeting a handful of cities _ Philadelphia, Louisville, Chester, Pa., and Tampa. But, over the next 10 years, they want to mobilize clergy and laity from 1,000 churches in 40 cities, to patrol the streets, to adopt a gang, to convince youngsters they are worth something, to preach The Word to the most dangerous, vulnerable youths in America.

    If that sounds like Bible-thumping proselytizing, so be it, says Rivers. This is a revolution, and this time, he says, the revolution will not be televised. As Rivers articulates it, the coalition wants to radically change the way adults intervene with the most marginalized group in America: black teenagers.

    The government, Rivers contends, hasn't been successful: welfare has created a cycle of dependency, children are having children, each generation of single mothers younger, each generation of fatherless children more violent and antisocial.

    ``Our community is the only community being held hostage by its children. It is time,'' Rivers says, ``for the black church to save our children.''

    Now, it's Abe Brown who is nodding and ``amen''ing his approval. As Brown sees it, the black church sustained its people through slavery, through their quest for civil rights, and the black church will deliver them from a bondage that he says is largely self-perpetuated.

    ``We've got drug dealing and killing and fatherless children in our community because our community tolerates it,'' Brown says. ``We blame the police, and the police are wrong sometimes, but it ain't the fault of the police. It's our fault. And only we can change it.''

    But, as Rivers tells individual and knots of ministers, in meeting after meeting, over orange juice, over soul food, over prayer, the black church cannot deliver its people unless it gets the resources. The coalition estimates it will take an infusion of $25 million to get the ball rolling.

    Not wanting to rely on government, Rivers says, the nation's major foundations are prepared to fund the effort, if black clergy in other cities can band together as they have in Boston, showing they are serious about using their ministry to combat youth violence. Rivers says that wealthy white evangelical movements need to kick in money, too.

    ``They talk about reconciliation,'' he says. ``If they want reconciliation, they need to put some money on the table.''

    Sitting at a table in Jermarc's BBQ in the middle of College Hill, the Rev. Curt McKay says he is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to prove Tampa worthy.

    ``I'll be on the street tonight,'' he says. ``I'm tired of burying our children.''

    Among the Ten Point Coalition's eight founders, Rivers is the most controversial. From some of the other founders, like the Rev. Ray A. Hammond, the pastor of the Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, and the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown, pastor of Cambridge's Union Baptist Church, there are more gentle, soothing tones and promises that The Word will save even the worst among us.

    But Gene Rivers is a different story. He is a self-styled revolutionary whose iconoclastic views on what ails black America has gained a diverse stable of supporters, from Senator Edward M. Kennedy to Arianna Huffington to William Bennett, even as his blunt missives have alienated many traditional civil rights groups. Off-putting to some, endearing to many, Rivers is a Harvard-trained Pentecostal evangelist who calls himself a hustler for Jesus. And make no mistake, Rivers has come to College Hill, a place so tough he calls it ``the hood 'hood,'' to hustle for Jesus and the coalition's national ambitions.

    College Hill is just a few miles, but seems light years, from the mansions that line Bayshore Drive overlooking Tampa Bay. It is a neighborhood that has suffered terribly from neglect. But, sitting in Jermarc's, his elbows resting on a red plastic table cloth, Rivers urges a group of ministers to look inward. As Rivers tells it, The Man—racism, red-lining and rednecks—can be blamed for only so much. The rest, indeed, much of what can be changed, lies within, he says, within a black community that has been dismissed, brutalized, ignored, placated and, perhaps worst, patronized by a white establishment that isn't interested in solving problems as much as, in Rivers' words, ``shutting them crazy Negroes up.''

    Rivers' brand of black nationalism is more hospitable to whites than the Nation of Islam's. He talks about making partnerships with police and other groups traditionally viewed as hostile to the black community. And yet he considers efforts by white evangelical groups to provide outreach services in places like College Hill patronizing, and ultimately useless in addressing the epidemic of violence in black neighborhoods. Still, his and the coalition's frank approach of self-help and personal and moral responsibility has struck a chord, attracting devotees of all colors and political leanings.

    Sitting near a painting of The Last Supper that shows a black Jesus breaking bread with his dark-skinned disciples, Rivers gives his rap to other ministers.

    ``This is where it's at, Jack,'' he begins. ``Over the next 10 years, we're going to see a 26 percent increase in the number of kids between 10 and 19, the kids who are causing trouble in the 'hood already. Now, we've got to get ahead of this. We've had a whole generation of kids who have grown up unchurched. We have got to get them back, resocialize them.

    ``Now, white people are scared because they know that unless something is done, these kids are going to destroy the cities along with themselves. So the white boys are willing to give us money, not because they love us, but because they're scared.''

    Rivers says younger ministers from small churches, some of whom, like him, a former gang member, consider the street corner their pulpit, will be crucial to the coalition's success. They will confront the gangbangers, offering the chance to reform, for their self-respect, for their community, for salvation.

    But it is preachers like Abe Brown who could give the movement wider credibility. Brown is one of the few people in College Hill who went to college. He became a teacher, and coached football on the side for free. One day he picked up the paper and read that one of his players, a good boy, had killed a taxi driver.

    ``It devastated me,'' Brown says.

    But it led him to enter a prison for the first time, to talk to his player, to talk to other inmates. For more than 20 years, Brown has visited inmates at least once a week.

    ``When I started,'' he says, ``there were 18 prisons in Florida, only one for women. Today there are 55 prisons and seven for women. Locking our children up won't work. Neither will killing them, because too many of them are hopeless, and when you're hopeless you're not afraid to kill or be killed.''

    Driving across town, Rivers says, ``Without Abe Brown, this thing ain't workin'. He has a moral authority. In every town, there is an Abe Brown, and we need them.''

    But, as Rivers later tells a group of young preachers, ``It's you young brothers who are gonna make this happen. You have to go out on the street, talk to them young hoodlums, smack 'em in the head if you gotta, because we're gonna save 'em.''

    The idea is to save them, literally and spiritually. Darryl Williamson, an aspiring minister who lives here and befriended Rivers when he attended Boston University in the mid-1980s, believes only a religious-based effort will succeed.

    ``If the motivation is not spiritual, this effort will be short-lived,'' says Williamson, a 31-year-old software manager.

    Rivers' entreaties here were greeted with some skepticism, but with wider enthusiasm. Within a few days, there was a steering committee of ministers established. Still, Rivers predicts that only true believers will stick with it. That's what happened in Boston. The coalition was forged five years ago after a young man was chased into a Dorchester church and stabbed in a melee that unfolded as stunned mourners attended the funeral of another young man killed by gang violence. That sacrilege led some 300 people to gather, but after a few weeks it was down to the few, the proud and the brave who walked Four Corners and dared to challenge the gangbangers.

    ``It's going to take a lot of time and work to get this up and running here and anywhere else,'' Rivers says.

    But that's all right. After all, Gene Rivers says, doing the Lord's work is a marathon, not a sprint.

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=

    JERUSALEM—Borne on the shoulders of his followers to the roar of thousands who chanted his name in a packed stadium under a baking sun, Aryeh Deri rode a victory lap Wednesday.

    Facing indictment in an influence-peddling scandal that has shadowed the Israeli government, Deri, who heads the strictly Orthodox Shas movement of Sephardic Jews, was greeted by the party faithful as the scapegoat of a secular establishment of Ashkenazic Jews of European background.

    The rally of more than 10,000 was a show of defiance against the Israeli justice system and a call for ethnic pride among Sephardic Israelis of North African and Middle Eastern origin, whose traditions spring from medieval Spain and Portugal.

    Resentment among Shas followers has been running high since a report by the Israeli attorney general and state attorney on Sunday found that Deri should be indicted while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials implicated in the political scandal could not be prosecuted.

    Evidence was found that Deri, a longtime political power broker, had pressed Netanyahu into appointing an attorney general who he hoped would help him gain a plea-bargain in a corruption trial.

    The decision not to prosecute other officials in the scandal has also been challenged by liberal Israelis. The leftist Meretz party has petitioned the Supreme Court to order indictments of Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, and a citizens group has formed to lobby for a state inquiry.

    But to many supporters of Shas, the decision to indict Deri alone was part of a decades-old pattern of discrimination against Sephardic Jews.

    Wednesday Parliament members from Shas brought their grievances to President Ezer Weizman, who cautioned them not to aggravate ethnic tensions. ``God forbid this case should be turned into a situation of anti-Sephardic discrimination and Ashkenazic supremacy,'' he said.

    But the resentment on display in the stadium Wednesday had distinctly ethnic overtones.

    ``Sephardic-haters, enough persecution,'' proclaimed a huge banner in the grandstand. ``An end to racism,'' said a sign. Many people held up posters resembling obituary notices that read: ``Aryeh Deri, the Passover sacrifice of the left, the media, the police and the state attorney's office,'' they said.

    After being lionized by a singer as a ``righteous man who lights up the world and suffers for all,'' Deri was swept onto a stage to rousing religious music pumped out through high-powered loudspeakers. He immediately began a spirited defense of his cause, asserting that the decision to indict him was part of a conspiracy to fight the growing popularity of his party and its success at the polls.

    ``This is not political persecution,'' he said, ``this is religious and ethnic persecution! The truth must be told. They are afraid that the Shasniks will change the face of the state, change the secular character of the state of Israel! For every indictment we will build another religious school, another synagogue and return another Jew to the faith.''

    Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, asserted in his speech that only Deri was ordered indicted ``because he is Sephardic, because he is God-fearing, and follows the Torah and the commandments.''<

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    c.1997 San Antonio Express-News

    SAN ANTONIO—Prayer is supposed to be a quiet talk with God, but when the kids are screaming or your husband comes home drunk, you may need some help jump-starting the conversation.

    Well in San Antonio, a number of churches are providing that help through 24-hour prayer chapels or telephone ministries.

    ``The Lord is everywhere, it's true, but when you're at home, the phone is ringing, the radio is on and cars are going by,'' said Dahlia Martinez, coordinator of the Blessed Sacrament ministry at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church.

    Martinez, who believes God deserves at least 30 minutes of silent prayer a day, said her church decided to open its door 24 hours a day to give people a chance to pray in peace.

    ``If you can do it at home, it's fine,'' Martinez said. ``But when you go to church, there's no noise and no interruption, especially in the wee hours of the morning. That time is between you and God.''

    For those who just can't afford to leave the house, some churches has set up telephone ministries manned by volunteers.

    The volunteers say that although the callers are not there in person, they can feel the callers' pain as they pour out the problems, such as marital strife, errant children, illness, the sudden death of a loved one and unemployment.

    ``They just have troubles and don't know what to do about it,'' said Mickey Stewart, a layman in charge of the prayer chapel at Castle Hills First Baptist Church.

    Pat Coventry, prayer ministry coordinator at Trinity Baptist, said it's difficult to refrain from giving advice to a person who has just poured out his or her heart, but the job of the person staffing the phones is not to counsel.

    ``God has called us to pray,'' Coventry said. ``He has not called us to fix their problems.''

    While some churches offer to pray ``with'' the caller, the telephone ministry of the Rev. Carolyn Gilbert, Missionaries With The Vision, exists solely to pray ``for'' people.

    The ministry has a 24-hour hot line that accepts prayer requests on an answering machine. Later, ministry volunteers take the messages and pray for the callers.

    The ministry also offer daily conference call for one hour _ from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m.—a time that lets working mothers pray before waking up their families.

    ``We believe in the power of prayer,'' said Gilbert, who started the phone ministry in December 1993 and hopes to develop it into an international mission.

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Sheila Rauch Kennedy says that during her 12-year marriage to Rep. Joseph Kennedy, he often told her he was the star in the family and that she was a ``nobody.'' And when they were divorced in 1991, she says, she ``kept quiet.''

    Not anymore. The divorce was one thing (in fact, she was the one who filed for it), but the annulment granted to Kennedy by the Roman Catholic Church in October has her fighting mad. ``It hit me boom, in the gut,'' she said.

    She is not only appealing the ruling, but with her new book, ``Shattered Faith: A Woman's Struggle to Stop the Catholic Church from Annulling Her Marriage'' (Pantheon, $23), she is publicly waging a battle royal: Kennedy vs. Kennedy.

    Ms. Kennedy, 48, is on a crusade against what she calls the ``hypocrisy'' and the ``nonsense'' of the practice of annulling marriages: since the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce, the only way for Catholics to be free to marry again in the church is to have the marriage declared invalid in the first place.

    As she takes up arms against annulment, Ms. Kennedy is an unlikely warrior: She is Episcopalian.

    Why, then, is she fighting so hard to prevent the Catholic Church from annulling her marriage? Ms. Kennedy said she sees annulment as a broad moral issue. She and Kennedy were married in a Catholic church by his family's priest, and an annulment would mean that in the eyes of the church, their 12-year marriage was invalid and, therefore, did not exist.

    ``How can anyone say this marriage didn't happen?'' Ms. Kennedy said during lunch recently just off Harvard Square, near her home. ``The annulment process is so hypocritical and so dishonest. It is important for children to know there are certain things you don't lie about simply because it's convenient. If you duck that, you send your children a very bad message.''

    Kennedy, 44, and her former husband are the parents of 16-year-old twin boys, Matthew and Joseph.

    ``Going public is a little scary, but annulment is a sick process, and you have to stand up to it,'' she added. ``If I didn't have the guts to do this, I'd really be a wimp. I didn't want to be a wimp for my kids.''

    Linda Pieczynski, the president of Call to Action, a national Catholic reform organization based in Chicago, called annulment a ``humiliating and demeaning'' process. ``It is very painful to be told that you never had a marriage,'' she said.

    The Rev. Andrew Greeley, the writer and a visiting professor of social science at the University of Chicago, said that to the church, annulment is an ``act of compassion.''

    ``Most Catholics are grateful when the church gives them a second chance for marriage,'' he added.

    Ms. Kennedy has a vivid recollection of the morning when she received a letter from the Archdiocese of Boston saying that her former husband was seeking an annulment. First, she ran into the bathroom to throw up. Then she vowed to fight, she said, ``with everything I had.''

    Greeley said that in his view, contesting an annulment is often a means of punishing a spouse. ``It's a way of getting back,'' he said.

    But Ms. Kennedy insisted that her intransigence ``has nothing to do with bitterness over the past. ``I'm not going to be dragged into something I feel is dishonest,'' she said in a firm, even tone. ``I have a right as a human being to be honest, and that should not be erased by either Joe or the church.''

    Kennedy declined to speak about the annulment or the marriage. He issued a statement through his press secretary in which he called the annulment ``a very personal matter.'' He also said, ``I understand Sheila's feelings, and I respect her right to express them.''

    Roughly 50,000 annulments are granted each year in the United States, according to the Washington-based Canon Law Society of America, the national association of canon lawyers.

    Kennedy, the oldest child of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, applied for an annulment in 1993, the year he married Anne Elizabeth Kelly, a former member of his staff, in a civil ceremony. Without an annulment, neither Kennedy nor his present wife, who is also Catholic, can receive communion or other church sacraments. Annulment has no bearing on Kennedy's children or any that he may have in the future.

    Kennedy was granted an annulment on the grounds of his ``lack of due discretion,'' meaning that he was found incapable of entering into marriage at the time of the wedding, in 1979.

    The Rev. Patrick Cogan, the executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society, said the ``vast majority'' of annulments are granted on similar psychological grounds. He said the church looks into a person's ``inability to consent to or carry out the responsibilities of marriage.''

    The Rev. James Provost, the chairman of the canon law department at Catholic University in Washington, said that lack of due discretion means there was ``something defective'' in a person's consent to marriage. ``A person may have been too immature, or lied at the altar, or suffered from some psychological factor,'' he said.

    Ms. Kennedy said that she and her former husband attended Catholic premarital counseling, which included discussion of the permanence of marriage. ``Both of us understood the principles on which we started our life together,'' she said.

    Ms. Kennedy writes in her book that her former husband urged her not to take the annulment seriously, but to go along with it as ``just Catholic gobbledygook.'' She also quotes him as saying: ``I don't believe this stuff. Nobody actually believes it.''

    The divorce itself was not a moral dilemma for Ms. Kennedy. ``I didn't object to getting divorced because we both realized it was over, and divorce recognizes that a marriage has broken down,'' she said. ``But annulment says you were never married in the first place, at least in the eyes of God.''

    The daughter of a Philadelphia bank president, Ms. Kennedy is a tall, athletic-looking woman. She is poised and reserved and clearly uncomfortable about being interviewed and opening her life to public scrutiny. She said she wanted to protect her children and her privacy and not contribute to ``the garbage heap'' of Kennedy gossip. But she is also bursting to tell the world what she thinks of annulment.

    Her book has a similar ambivalence. She writes mostly about the annulment process and how it has affected her, and five other women, whom she profiles, and little about her marriage itself. But she makes just enough swift surgical strikes against her former husband to create an unflattering portrait. She writes that Kennedy ``is not endowed with patience'' and ``has never been exactly an advocate for equality between the sexes.'' She also writes that ``by the end of our marriage I had simply become afraid of him.''

    Asked why she had feared her former husband, she replied carefully: ``Joe doesn't mince words. That's about as far as I can put it. Those who live in the Boston area know of Joe's temper.''

    She drew a deep breath. ``The annulment was the straw that broke the camel's back,'' she said. ``I have all the responsibility in terms of the children. The boys see Joe when he's here on weekends, but he's not here during the week. I wasn't going to do all this and agree to the fact that we were never married.''

    Ms. Kennedy said her marriage began to unravel when Kennedy ran for Congress in 1986. ``Joe wanted a home front like his parents', and I couldn't deliver it,'' she said. ``His mother always traveled with his father and was never home. I was unwilling to turn my children over to nannies. ``The prospect of being on my own with two children was scary,'' she said. ``But it was very clear that this was the way to go.''

    She picked at her omelet, hardly eating. She said that she and her former husband had agreed to raise their children in both of their faiths. But once the annulment battle began, she said, she ``went on strike'' and stopped taking the boys to Mass.

    She said she has often felt isolated living in Boston as the target of the combined power of the church and the Kennedy family. ``I stayed here for the kids, but I often wished that I had moved,'' she said. ``Here I was in Kennedyland. When we got divorced, our friends went with the better deal, and that was Joe. It wasn't easy. But I never wanted to give up. I was too angry to give up.''

    Ms. Kennedy did not ask for alimony and bought a house in Cambridge with a loan from her parents. She added that her divorce agreement did not allow her to go into details about its terms. Ms. Kennedy has a master's degree in urban planning from Harvard University and has worked free-lance in the field for clients like the state of Massachusetts, the city of Boston and Harvard.

    Provost of Catholic University said that if Ms. Kennedy's appeal is accepted for review in Rome, a church-appointed advocate will draw up the grounds for her case.

    Ms. Kennedy said she does not know if her book will have any influence on the appeal. ``They might be so angry at me for going public that the substance of the case will become irrelevant,'' she said. ``But I can't live a lie. Going to Rome is the best chance I've got.''

    What if her appeal fails?

    ``I'll know I did the best I could,'' she replied. ``I can live with that.''

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    c.1997 Hearst Newspapers

    WASHINGTON—Ralph Reed announced Wednesday he is quitting his post as head of the Christian Coalition, the organization he built from scratch into the nation's premier conservative religious voice on issues ranging from abortion to homosexuality to obscenity.

    Reed, 35, told reporters he would depart in September and form his own consulting firm to advise candidates who are ``pro-family pro-life and pro-free enterprise.'' He will divide his time between Washington and Atlanta.

    Reed downplayed speculation he was leaving to run for elected office, saying he expected to work as a consultant for elections in 1998, 2000 and beyond. Nevertheless, a political bid ``is something I wouldn't rule out or in,'' he said.

    Reed said he would continue to serve on the coalition's board. Christian Coalition supporters gave reporters copies of a written tribute to Reed from television evangelist Pat Robertson, the group's founder.

    ``The work of the Christian Coalition will never be done, and my work in the political arena is not over,'' Reed said. ``But my work for the Christian Coalition is done.''

    He listed the coalition's legislative victories and near-misses, including welfare reform, legislation to bar access by minors to sexually explicit materials on the Internet, and a law barring interstate recognition of gay and lesbian marriages.

    Last year, the Federal Election Commission filed a lawsuit against the coalition, charging that it violated federal law by funneling $1.4 million to Republican candidates, including nearly $1 million to Bush's 1992 campaign.

    Federal election law prohibits non-profit, non-partisan organizations from direct involvement in electoral politics.

    The suit also accuses the coalition of accepting $64,000 in 1990 from the National Republican Senatorial Committee to prepare voter-guide pamphlets critical of Democratic candidates. The FEC said the Christian Coalition's support of GOP candidates should have been reported as donations or in-kind contributions to the campaigns.

    The FEC lawsuit is still pending.

    The coalition was a key player in Senate and House passage of legislation barring late-term ``partial-birth'' abortions that was later vetoed by President Clinton .

    Reed's choir-boy good looks masked what even his opponents acknowledged were finely tuned political instincts. In its eight-year existence, the Christian Coalition has mushroomed into a high-tech network of 1.9 million members with an annual budget of $27 million.

    Beneath his aw-shucks demeanor and frequent references to Jesus Christ, Reed was a master at summoning conservative Christians to the political ramparts through a network of local chapters, churches and homes, wired together by telephones, fax machines, the Internet and cable TV broadcasts.

    ``Ralph Reed is one of the most talented people of his generation in public life,'' said prominent conservative thinker William Bennett.

    Even critics praised Reed's skill as a political field marshal.

    ``Pat Robertson just lost the most talented front man any politician could ever want,'' said Carole Shields, president of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group. ``Reed's real mastery was in being the angelic face on the Christian Coalition's extreme agenda.''



    In 1989 Robertson picked Reed, then just 27, to head the newly formed group. The coalition tied its fortunes to the Republican Party, but moderated some positions after Bush lost to Clinton in 1992, a defeat that was partly blamed on the ultra-conservative tone of that year's GOP convention. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, who lost the Republican nomination that year and in 1996, called opposition to Clinton and liberalism a ``cultural war'' for the ``soul of America.''

    Also in 1992, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Christian right, voting 5-4 to uphold its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.

    After Bush's defeat, Reed embarked on a campaign of softening the coalition's image as a lily-white, largely suburban and rural group committed to a narrow range of conservative social issues.

    He reached out to black and Hispanic ministers through the Samaritan project, which called on Congress to approve tax credits, scholarships, anti-drug programs and sexual abstinence education for inner city youths and families.

    Also, the coalition raised $750,000 to help rebuild black churches, primarily in the south, that were destroyed by arson over the past three years.

    Reed attempted to mend fences with Jewish religious leaders who were offended by a passage in a Robertson book dredging up old anti-Semitic imagery of a Jewish banking conspiracy to take over the world. Robertson apologized to Jewish organizations for what he had written.

    Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia government professor who co-authored a book on the coalition's voter guides, concluded they were rife with ``manipulations, distortions and outright falsehoods.''

    On Wednesday, Sabato nevertheless praised Reed's political ability.

    ``He's become a household word, if not a trademark in politics,'' Sabato said.

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    c.1997 The Boston Globe


    LIMA—Rev. Juan Julio Wicht became a volunteer hostage last December.

    A former Harvard graduate student, Boston University researcher and priest at the Corpus Christi Church in Newton, Mass., he was to be among hundreds of captives released near Christmas by the Tupac Amaru rebels. Instead, he asked to stay, ministering to hostages and guerrillas, reading Robert Ludlum novels and playing chess every afternoon with a Peruvian congressman.

    ``I'm simply a Jesuit priest who like most priests are prepared to help others,'' he said Wednesday morning in an interview after his release. ``I decided to stay to administer the sacraments...I'm glad I stayed because a lot of the hostages were able to get closer to God.''

    On April 18, Wicht's birthday, the rebels took him aside and told him that, despite their differences, they respected his decision. Then, Tuesday, during his daily chess game, Peruvian soldiers stormed the compound, killing all 14 guerrillas, and freeing the hostages, including Wicht.

    Wicht said that when a fellow hostage said that a rescue was imminent, he thought it was a joke, another example of the black humor that united the hostages. Moments later, as army commandos rushed the hostages to safety, he was thinking of administering last rites, but was prevented by the danger and confusion.

    ``Everything you see in a movie or on television is nothing compared to living through this: the dust, the smoke, the noise, the pieces of debris falling on you,'' he said.

    During the four months in captivity—a period without showers, decent food, and sleeplessness caused in part by mice that crawled through the residence—Wicht became a confessor to both hostages and rebels. One rebel, a teenage girl, cried to him about missing her family, another guerrilla complained to him about never having received his First Communion.

    ``I would have preferred a different solution but it seems that was too difficult,'' he said. ``I thank God the crisis is over but I regret the loss of 17 lives.''

    In addition to the guerrillas, two soldiers and a supreme court justice died during the attack.

    Wicht, 65, is Peruvian, but he has spent considerable time in the Boston area. He did his graduate work at Harvard in the 1970s and 1980s, preparing an unfinished doctoral thesis on population policy. While he studied, he lived for more than a decade in the rectory of the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Newton.

    During the hostage crisis, more than 200 parishioners sent his family in Lima a book containing handwritten messages of support for the priest. ``He is just an outstanding person. We became brothers,'' said Rev. Joseph McGlone, the church's pastor. `''When it came over that he had chosen to stay inside until all the hostages were released I was not surprised. That's his style...He's a great, great man.''

    McGlone said that early Wednesday he faxed Wicht a letter telling him that the parish was sending a round trip ticket for him to be next reunited with friends and colleagues at Corpus Christi.

    ``He loved it here,'' McGlone said. ``We're sending him a ticket so he can come up here for some R and R.''

    Shane Hunt, a retired economics professor from BU who worked three years in Peru for the Agency for International Development, said Wicht is ``a wondeful guitar player. I can just see him singing and playing Peruvian songs and saying mass and ministering to a captive flock.''

    Caretas, Peru's largest weekly news magazine, named Wicht as one of the country's ``heroes'' last year for his decision to remain with the hostages. Next to his picture the magazine ran the quote: ``A man's life is sometimes captured in a single act.''

    Inside the compound, Wicht was a confessor to both the hostages and the rebels, particularly the younger guerrillas who grew frustrated with the guerrilla commander, Nestor Cerpa, and urged him to give up the hostage-taking and return to the Peruvian jungle.

    ``About two months ago a young MRTA member wept as she peered out a window,'' he recalled. ``I moved closer and asked her what was wrong. She said she was thinking about her family. Her mother was ill and she missed her. She said she was told this would be over in a week and the poor girl just wept.''

    He said he often held mass for the hostages, but was forced to schedule the services around the guerrillas' daily soccer games. ``You heard the ball being kicked around in the large-room downstairs,'' he said. ``From 3 to 4 in the afternoon we didn't say rosaries or celebrate mass because of the noise.''

    The games ultimately contributed to the success of the army's attack. Knowing the rebels' routine, soldiers blasted through the floor of the game, killing eight of the rebels.

    Like the rest of the hostages, Wicht spent most of his 126 days in captivity filling time. The life of the hostages was several hours of down-time, interspersed with moments of terror. Each week for roughly 20 weeks, for example, the guerrilllas would rush into the second-floor bedrooms where the hostages were held, point their automatic weapons and warn that they would be killed if the Peruvian army attacked.

    Most of the time was more mundane, though. An avid reader of theology and economics, who once co-authored a book on Peru's economy called, ``Anatomy of an Economic Failure,'' Wicht said he often read ``New York Times bestsellers,'' and biographies on Napoleon and Winston Churchill.

    Every afternoon, he played chess with one of the hostages with a Peruvian congressman, Luis Chang. It was during this ritual that his voluntary hostage assignment ended explosively.

    ``We still have a long way to go in Peru to achieve an authentic peace not reached with bullets,'' he said.

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    By Roula Khalaf in London

    An ally of Algerian President Liamine Zeroual yesterday announced the formation of a political party ahead of legislative elections in May or June.

    Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, who heads the government-appointed National Transitional Council (CNT), said his new party, the National Democratic Rally, would draw support from union, veteran, peasant and women's associations. These organisations supported Mr Zeroual in 1995 presidential elections.

    Mr Bensalah stepped in to head the party after the murder last month of Mr Abdelhak Benhamouda, leader of Algeria's main union. Mr Benhamouda, also a Zeroual ally, had made public his plans to start a new party.

    The emergence of a ``presidential'' party is a clear sign of the disintegration of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the former ruling party which went into opposition in 1992, when elections the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) were about to win were cancelled by the army.

    The National Democratic Rally, by drawing on pro-Zeroual associations, aims to strip the FLN of much of its support.

    The FLN is already split between the pro-government leadership and the more respected anti-government reformist wing.

    The new party is also designed as a counter-weight to Hamas, the legal Islamist party which the government assumes will attract many former FIS supporters. The FIS, banned since 1992, is excluded from the upcoming elections.

    Hamas, considered a moderate Islamist party, has maintained an often cozy relationship with the army-backed government and is expected to emerge as a leading contender in the elections. Hamas' candidate won 25 per cent of the vote in the 1995 presidential elections, on the strength of FIS support.

    Hamas and Nahda, the other legal Islamist party, have been given two months to conform to Algeria's new laws, which aim to ban the use of religion in politics. The parties will have to strip any mention of religion from their titles and political programmes.

    After November's constitutional amendments diluted the powers of the next parliament, the CNT last week adopted a more restrictive law governing political parties and backed a voting system based on proportional representation.

    The measures are aimed at preventing a repeat of the first round of legislative elections in 1991 which saw the FIS poised to control the national assembly under the majority voting system. The army's cancellation of the second round of polling plunged the country into a cycle of violence which has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

    As the elections approach, the government has stepped up its campaign to root out Islamic militants. Criticised by Algerians for failing to prevent the recent wave of massacres and blasts blamed on FIS splinter groups, the army offensive has already led to 200 militants being killed this month, according to press reports.



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