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President Yeltsin met with the Pope early in the evening and the two talked for nearly an hour. Only two interpreters were present for the conversation-- an indication not only that the meeting was private, but also that both parties wished to choose their words quite carefully, since Pope John Paul speaks adequate conversational Russian.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls said the conversations took place in a climate of "lively cordiality." Yeltsin repeated an invitation--first issued by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989--for the Holy Father to visit Moscow. Such a visit is unlikely to take place in the near future, however, because the Russian Orthodox Church has said that a papal visit would only increase tensions between the two Churches.
While the Pope spoke with Yeltsin, the Russian foreign minister, Evgeni Primakov, had a meeting with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the chief foreign-policy official at the Vatican. Their conversation included some discussion of the new religious laws in place in Russia, and their impact on Catholic parishes. They also spoke about "the threats to peace in the Middle East" and in particular the situation in Iraq.
Yeltsin was accompanied on his visit by 45 people, including his wife Naina and their daughter Tatiana. As a gift for the Pope, he offered a specially bound Russian-language translation of the Pope's own poems.
The indictments -- brought in the US, but arranged though US-Mexico cooperation -- allege the young men were recruited by the Arellano Felix drug cartel of Tijuana. Officials said the gang members were ordered to kill a rival drug kingpin at the Guadalajara airport in 1993, but they killed seven people including Cardinal Juan Jesus Posada Ocampo who was sitting in a car parked near Guzman's limousine.
Law enforcement officials of both countries worked together on the indictments, agreeing to charge the men in the United States where three of the men were already in custody. Two more are in custody in Mexico and five more are fugitives. Ramon Arellano Felix is on the FBI's Most Wanted List. A reward of $2 million has been offered for information leading to his arrest. His brother, Benjamin, also is a federal fugitive.
In a related story out of Cuernavaca, a Mexican bishop has excommunicated three members of an elite anti-kidnapping police squad who were arrested after they tried to dump the body of a badly-beaten man, church officials said on Tuesday.
Bishop Luis Reynoso of Cuernavaca in Morelos state levied the strongest punishment possible against Commander Armando Martinez, the squad's chief, and two of his agents. Other members of the unit may also be punished, the diocese said, if investigations prove they were involved. "The severity of the crime of kidnapping and its alarming growth oblige me to impose this punishment of excommunication, which can only be applied in cases of the most serious crimes and with utmost discretion," the bishop said in a statement.
Prosecutor have opened an investigation into the unit's involvement with drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder. Fifteen of the squad's 38 agents have been called in for questioning, while news reports say the remainder have gone into hiding.
Thirty-one percent of voters turned out for the referendum, outstripping state officials' predictions that only 25 percent would cast ballots. With nearly all precincts tabulated, 52 percent favored repeal of a homosexual rights bill passed by the Legislature last year, while 48 percent favored retaining the law. Maine lawmakers enacted a bill last spring adding sexual orientation to the protected classifications in Maine's 25-year-old human rights act. Opponents led a successful petition drive to allow voters a chance to veto the law.
Ten other states and the District of Columbia have laws barring discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians as a protected minority. "I think you're going to continue to see these issues pop up across the country because it seems a defining issue for liberalism going into the 21st century is granting special rights based on one's sexual preferences behind closed doors," said Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition.
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday condemned proposed city ordinances that would extend city employee health and pension benefits to same-sex partners.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua said the proposed legislation is "destructive to our city's moral and social structure." He called on the mayor and city council to reject the measures. "The marital relationship shared by husband and wife constitutes the only true and lasting life partnership," he said. The legislation would add the term "life partner" to existing laws governing pensions and other benefits. The cardinal said "life partner" is a code word designed to lower objections to legalizing same-sex marriages.
Mayor Ed Rendell supports the ordinances, last year having extended some benefits to partners of homosexual city workers appointed by his office. Council President John Street, a likely 1999 mayoral candidate who opposes benefits for same-sex partners, warned that the legislation could pose fiscal problems for the city if workers were encouraged to form relationships of economic convenience. "It carries the government in the wrong direction," he said.