- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FRANCE

Scientology could be banned

PARIS | The Church of Scientology could be dissolved in France if it is convicted in a trial that opened Monday in a Paris court, where the group and seven of its French leaders stand charged with organized fraud and illegal pharmaceutical activity.

The group, considered a sect rather than a religion in France, has faced prosecution and difficulties in registering its activities in many countries.

The trial comes more than a decade after one of the three plaintiffs originally filed a complaint against the Church of Scientology. A young woman said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of $29,400 on books, courses and “purification packages” after being recruited by the group in 1998. When she sought reimbursement and to leave the group, its leadership refused.

Investigating Judge Jean-Christophe Hullin spent years examining the group’s activities and, in his indictment, criticized practices that he said were aimed at extracting large sums of money from members and plunging them into a “state of subjection.”

FRANCE

Rail workers in 24-hour strike

PARIS | French rail workers launched a 24-hour strike Monday to demand pay raises and job security, the first and main event in a day of labor action planned by unions Tuesday to maintain pressure on the government.

Tuesday’s protests are expected to cause minor disruption to transport, education and other public services but are not intended to bring millions out into the streets, as on three previous national days of action this year.

The unions accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy of not doing enough to save jobs and defend wages. They have failed to persuade Mr. Sarkozy to meet demands such as a rise in the legal minimum wage, despite repeated mass demonstrations.

MIDDLE EAST

Muslim countries open to Israel ties

DAMASCUS | Muslim countries meeting in the Syrian capital criticized Israel on Monday but said they were open to better ties with the Jewish state if it took steps toward a “just and comprehensive” Middle East peace deal.

“We must not reward Israel for its crimes,” said a statement issued at the end of the three-day meeting of foreign ministers of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference. “It should be affirmed that any progress on ties must be linked to how much the Israeli position represents a commitment to a just and comprehensive peace that guarantees the restoration of rights and occupied land.”

CANADA

Jobless benefits to be expanded

OTTAWA | Canada’s minority Conservative government unveiled an expansion of jobless benefits Monday but rejected demands from opposition parties to relax eligibility rules or risk facing an election over the issue.

It was not immediately clear whether the initiative would be enough to keep the Liberals from trying to defeat the Conservative government, which holds only a minority of seats in the House of Commons and must rely on the support of at least one of the three opposition parties to stay in power.

Monday’s announcement, by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, entailed $442 million in spending to help laid-off workers with long tenure to upgrade their skills.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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