- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

IRAQ

Government plans census in 2009

BAGHDAD | Iraq’s government announced Tuesday it will conduct a census next year in an effort to determine the real numbers of the country’s religious and ethnic groups.

The population count will be the first since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime five years ago and will take place in October 2009, according to a statement by the government’s media office.

The last census was conducted in 1997 during Saddam’s rule. But the three northern Kurdish provinces were excluded because they were beyond the control of the central government. The 1997 census put the country’s population at more than 26 million.

A new census would settle the controversies over the size of the country’s religious communities. Shi’ites claim to be the majority population at about 60 percent, a figure disputed by Sunni Arabs.

JORDAN

Archaeologists find ‘world’s first church’

AMMAN | Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed what they claim is the world’s first church, dating back almost 2,000 years, the Jordan Times reported Tuesday.

The church is believed to date from A.D. 33 to 70, the head of Jordan’s Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said. He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to A.D. 230, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

“We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians - the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ,” Mr. al-Husan said.

These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as “the 70 beloved by God and Divine,” are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Mr. al-Husan added.

He cited historical sources that suggest they both lived and practiced religious rituals in the underground church and only left it after Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers.

TURKEY

Erdogan asks court to explain ruling

ANKARA | Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday the Constitutional Court must explain its decision to overturn a government-led reform allowing students to wear traditional Islamic head scarves at universities.

Last week’s Constitutional Court ruling was the most serious setback for the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party since it came to power in 2002 and analysts said it increased the chances of the party being banned for Islamist activities, in a separate case.

Mr. Erdogan reiterated that the court was not authorized to examine the content of a constitutional amendment and should look only at the technical aspects of the reform.

The Constitutional Court normally gives reasons for its rulings after announcing the decision. The court’s chairman said in this case the justification would be announced, but not for the time being because of speculation surrounding the case.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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