VATICAN (CWN) -- A Catholic club in Khartoum has been closed and confiscated by the government of Sudan, after 40 years of existence.

      Comboni Press, an arm of the missionary Combonien Fathers, yesterday announced the confiscation, saying that government authorities ousted the Catholic owners on December 31. The authorities cited a secret government decree, signed on December 6, which was conveyed to the club only days before the seizure.

      The club, which has been shut down for several years, had once been a meeting place for various Catholic groups in the capital city. It had also housed some athletic facilities, and-- since the influx of refugees caused by the country's civil war-- a school for displaced youngsters.

      Since 1992, the club has been subjected to repeated threats that it could be closed. Police have raided the building and arrested students, and some of the club's property has been confiscated. The club has been closed to the public even during the Pope's visit to Sudan in 1993.

      Tensions surrounding the building reached a new level in 1996, with a government announcement that the lease would not be renewed; the Catholic bishops were "invited" to hand over the club, with the promise of a quick settlement for the property. Bishop Gabriel Zubeir Wako had responded by demanding an explanation for the forced closing of the club, and documentation of the government's legal authority to close out the lease.

      In November, a coalition of Christian groups had lodged a formal protest against the Sudanese government's policies, which have been persistently hostile to Christians. Some observers believe that the decision to close the club in Khartoum was, in effect, the government's response to that complaint.

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January 9, 1998 volume 9, no. 8          DAILY CATHOLIC