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With Zimbabwe in turmoil over fuel hikes, archbishop calls for restraint

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- After reports of multiple deaths in violent protests over steep fuel price hikes in Zimbabwe, Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare called for restraint by the security forces and protesters. "Mature political leadership and a recognition of the need to work together for the common good" are essential, he said in a Jan. 16 telephone interview from Harare. Three people, including a police officer, died in Jan. 14 protests that followed President Emmerson Mnangagwa's announcement of a more than 150 percent rise in the fuel price. "It's difficult to get a full picture of what's happening because the internet is still down and many people haven't yet been able to return to work," Archbishop Ndlovu said. Internet services were cut Jan. 15 as mobile networks in the southern African nation enforced a government internet shutdown. Catholics schools in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, were closed, along with most other schools in the country's cities, "because of parents' concerns for their children's safety," the archbishop said. Human Rights Watch said protesters burned a police station, barricaded roads and looted shops in Harare and Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo. Security forces used guns and tear gas in response, it said. Amnesty International condemned the military crackdown and said at least 200 people had been arbitrarily detained. Soldiers and police were pulling people out of their homes and beating them, reports said. Zimbabwe has experienced an acute shortage of U.S. dollars, which has hampered imports and caused steep price rises. The U.S. currency was adopted in 2009 to combat hyperinflation. "Poverty is dire, especially in rural areas where people can't access cash to buy food and other essentials," Archbishop Ndlovu said. "With so many people in Zimbabwe's cities unemployed, there is not much for people to send to family and friends in rural areas," he said. Unemployment is above 80 percent in Zimbabwe. "The effects of price increases not only to fuel, but to basic goods and services such as health, education and food have made many people angry and desperate," Zimbabwe's Council of Churches said in a Jan. 14 statement. Zimbabweans need to "address collective challenges through an open, inclusive and solution-seeking national dialogue in a climate of trust and national unity," it said, noting that the council is working to get all Zimbabweans to participate in a "national consensus-building process to find lasting solutions to the pressing problems." Many Zimbabweans accuse Mnangagwa of failing to keep pre-election pledges to improve the economy after long-ruling Robert Mugabe was forced out in a de facto coup in November 2017. The gap between political players has widened, Archbishop Ndlovu said, noting that churches "are trying to find a way to break the deadlock." "We are looking for ways to reach out to political leaders to get them around a table to dialogue," he said. "Although the situation here is difficult, we have not lost hope," he said. Problems include jobless youths being enticed to join demonstrations where looting occurs "as they have nothing to lose," and greed and profiteering, Archbishop Ndlovu said. At a gas station, there will be a mile-long line to fill up "and while you're waiting, people will come and offer to sell you fuel at three times the price," he said. "Where do they get all that fuel?"

English bishop: Britain in 'amazing political mess' over Brexit

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Britain is in an "amazing political mess" over Brexit, an English bishop said. Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth voiced his opinion on Twitter Jan. 16, a day after the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected the withdrawal agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union. The agreement sought to set out terms of a future relationship with the European Union following Britain's withdrawal from the bloc, something the British people approved in a June 2016 referendum. The 432-202 vote on the withdrawal agreement Jan. 15 represented the biggest government defeat in British history and left May fighting for her political life. "It's an amazing political mess after last night's vote in the House of Commons," Bishop Egan said in a tweet. "No one's clear on the right way ahead," the bishop continued. "Let's ask the Holy Spirit to direct us all, but especially our politicians and leaders, in finding the best plan to take us forward." Later, Bishop Egan told Catholic News Service by telephone: "This is a time of uncertainty, and I do think we should pray for our politicians and our leaders, that the Lord will guide them in order to find some kind of active plan and also that people will really get behind them in it." He said he thought Catholics should pray for the unity of the nation, "because I think it has been quite bruising, this whole debate. When you talk to people it (Brexit) often rouses quite strong feelings and passions." He noted that if Britain leaves the European Union, it is still part of Europe. "As Catholics we are related to all people of our continent and that peace project -- that led to the formation of the EU -- we are a link to that. We should pray for that peace." The government survived a Jan. 16 motion of no confidence introduced by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, by 325-306. But with May's withdrawal agreement effectively dead, it means Parliament must find another way to implement Brexit by the statutory leaving date of March 29. Mike Kane, a Labour member of Parliament and a Catholic, told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 16 telephone interview that he voted against the withdrawal agreement principally because he thought it was "bad for the country," but also because it would make his political constituency, which covers south Manchester, "much poorer." He said he was in favor of remaining in the EU partly because, he said, "Manchester Airport is on my patch, and 74 percent of its flights are to European nations." Kane, the founder of the Catholics for Labour group, said he also believed the EU was founded on the Catholic social teaching principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and that it has guaranteed decades of peace so "we are not sending our 18-year-olds to the trenches in wars year after year." A substantial number of politicians who voted against the agreement want Britain to remain within the EU and are seeking a second referendum, even though this is not provided by the terms of the 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Others, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative member of Parliament and a Catholic, opposed May's deal because they believe Britain would be better placed outside the EU and without a deal. "The problem with the House of Commons is that three-quarters of the members voted to remain," Rees-Mogg, chair of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, said on ITV news Jan. 15. "Therefore, you have got a 'remainer' House of Commons trying to implement a 'leave' that it doesn't want. That is why you have no agreement on the deal," he said. "From a 'leaver' point of view, it's very straightforward," he added. "We leave, and a deal is secondary to the issue of leaving." Catholic News Service contacted the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, whose representatives declined to comment. Clive Chapman, senior officer for mission and advocacy for the Caritas Social Action Network, an agency of the bishops' ...

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