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Vatican won't object to extradition of gunman

The Vatican has informed Italian authorities that it has no objection to the extradition to Turkey of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish terrorist who shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II 18 years ago, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said today.

In a statement issued in connection with a hearing on Agca's appeal for early release or extradition, Navarro-Valls disclosed a series of exchanges between the Vatican and the Italian Ministry of Justice on Agca in 1997. The parole board hearing is scheduled for May 30 in Ancona.

"On June 25, 1997, following a confidential request from the then minister of justice, Dr. Giovanni M. Flick, it was replied that there were no objections to handing Ali Agca over to Turkish authorities and that the decision was up to Italian authorities," Navarro-Valls said.

Christian homes burned in new Indian violence

New interreligious violence in India has led to the burning of more than 150 Christian homes in the Eastern state of Orissa.

Orissa officials said they presumed the homes were burned by extremist Hindus, although they lacked solid evidence. Thirteen people were injured in the violence -- three by gunfire -- and police arrested 29 people.

The violence reportedly occurred in late March in the village of Ranaloi in southern Orissa after Hindu symbols were painted over a Christian cross on a boulder outside the village. Some 157 of the village's 250 Christian homes were destroyed by fire.

While Christian-Hindu strife is not new to India, Christians say the violence has escalated since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party became head of a national coalition government last year. Hindus say the problem has been made worse by increased numbers of foreign-financed Protestant Christian missionaries working in India.

Hanoi rejects report critical of its religious control

As Vietnam and the Vatican inch closer to a papal visit, Vietnamese authorities say a U.N. report that criticized the Southeast Asian nation's tight control over religious expression was "not objective."

Msgr. Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's deputy foreign minister, said March 19 in Hanoi he was "kind of optimistic" following five days of talks aimed at establishing diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.

Vietnamese Bishop Bartholomew Nguyen Song Lan said that he was "astonished that this time on the Vietnamese side there is a more favorable attitude."

Pope John Paul II has indicated a desire to visit predominantly Buddhist Vietnam, which has about 8 million Catholics, the largest number in Southeast Asia outside the Philippines. However, relations between the Vatican and Hanoi have been strained. Wary of Vatican influence over Vietnamese citizens, Hanoi does not recognize papal religious authority over Vietnamese Catholics.

Earlier in the week, a U.N. report on religious freedom in Vietnam said Hanoi maintains tight control over religious groups and expression to prevent the development of a rival to the ruling Communist Party. The report said Hanoi interferes in the training and recruitment of clergy, the construction of houses of worship and the printing of religious books and other publications.

The Vietnamese government rejected the report March 18 as "not objective" and said it will no longer let foreign organizations enter the nation to investigate human rights or religious freedom.

Priest dies in Angola when rebels ambush trucks

Two small trucks carrying 15 priests were ambushed by Angolan rebels in mid-March, leading to the death of one priest and serious injuries to nine others, Vatican Radio reported.

It was the fourth attack since September on church workers traveling through zones where Angolan government troops and members of the UNITA rebel movement are engaged in renewed fighting. …