Nine years in prison for Asia Bibi

June 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Pakistan, June 15, 2018: A Pakistani Christian woman who was imprisoned under her country’s blasphemy laws has been remembered on the ninth anniversary of her captivity.

British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) held a gathering on Thursday in honour of Asia Bibi and presented a narration of her arrest and the incident leading up to her blasphemy conviction.

Young boys held signs saying, “Asia Bibi Pakistani Christians are with you,” and “We are praying for Asia Bibi.”

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of BPCA told Premier’s News Hour Bibi has been the victim of intense persecution.

“She spoke about the wonderful sacrifice Christ made of his life for us and asked the simple question, ‘What has Mohammed done for you?’ For that, this torture, this beating, this isolation, attempts to assassinate her…

“We’ve never heard of such animosity that would result in, in essence, the whole country being against her. It has been really awful; she’s been separated from her five children for the whole period of that time.

Chowdry said it’s very unlikely she’ll be set free, but all her supporters are still praying for a miracle.

In an interview from 2015, Bibi’s husband Ashiq talked about her decision to stand firm in her faith.

He said: “Asia believes she will be set free and her face is unquestionable, unshakeable! She is extremely proud of her Christian faith and would never deny the God.

“We have received offers of asylum in several western nations, and I will not regret leaving Pakistan, the land of my ancestors, as we have seen too much animosity here. We will leave with no regrets.”

BPCA has launched a new petition in hope of bringing more awareness of the mistreatment of Bibi.

Chowdry added: “The nation of Pakistan must now release this innocent woman before her health fails her – she has suffered enough through no fault of her own.

“Moreover the pernicious blasphemy laws of Pakistan have to be terminated they serve no purpose in modern day society and are not even sanctioned by the Quran. Moreover what divine being would need man-made laws for protection?”

– premier

Police slow to register case after church burnt down by suspected Hindu extremists

June 17, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Puducherry, June 15, 2018: A church in Puducherry in southern India was set ablaze recently, after upper-caste Hindu neighbours had objected to worship services in the area.

Puducherry, formerly Pondicherry, was a French colonial settlement until 1954.

A church in Puducherry in southern India was set ablaze recently, after upper-caste Hindu neighbours had objected to worship services in the area.

Puducherry, formerly Pondicherry, was a French colonial settlement until 1954.

Pastor David Santosham and members of the Bible Presbyterian church in Karaikal District left for home after concluding fasting prayers on 25 May.

At around ten past midnight, he received an anonymous call informing him that the church was on fire. “My rented flat is about five minutes away. I rushed immediately. The church was in flames,” Santosham told World Watch Monitor.

“My daughter called the fire brigade; she passed word to church members also.

“[Some who came] complained to the police of strong-smelling gases, suspecting that it could be the cause of the fire, urging them to investigate… My wife and I had taken care to switch off the lights and turn off the electricity supply before we left as usual.”

The church’s roof, made of tar sheets and bamboo supports, was reduced to ashes. Christian literature and musical instruments costing the equivalent of around $4,500 were also burned.

Santosham said that, after ten days of persistent visits to police in local Neravy, they finally lodged a First Investigation Report (FIR) on 6 June, citing section 436 of the Indian Penal Code against “unknown miscreants” for torching the church.

“I submitted my complaint on 26 May, but the police [at first] refused to register it,” the pastor said. “I was told if there has to be a FIR in this case, there will also be a counter FIR against me.”

‘No concrete evidence’

Asked why the delay, Station House Officer Jerome Jesmond told World Watch Monitor: “Even the fire department could not ascertain the cause of fire. We waited for their report to decide whether to register an FIR.

“As per the preliminary investigation, we suspect some unknown person, but the investigation is still in the initial stage… Pastor Santosham named some suspects, but there is no concrete evidence to prove his allegations.”

Over the past two weeks, the church has gathered in the open air under a tent.

“I met the district collector [in charge of local government administration], higher police officials and the chief minister also; they gave us verbal assurances,” the pastor said. “We left the burnt remains untouched, hoping there will be an investigation, but how can we gather in open-air in this monsoon season?”

His daughter, Evangeline, 18, told World Watch Monitor her father’s church had been attacked twice before – first in 2012, and then in 2016.

“On 30 September [2012], a mob of 80 RSS [a Hindu nationalist group] activists circled the main entrance of our church. My dad and I went to unlock the church gate. It was Sunday… But our neighbour and his counterparts would not allow us inside the church.

“A representation was made to the National Commission for Minorities, and we believed the problem had been solved … only to be attacked again in 2016, when we decided to repair the roof.

“We bought all the material for the repairs and were arranging the iron rods to stand as pillars. But our neighbour objected to it and the work was forcibly stopped.

“We could only put a tar sheet on as a roof and set some bamboo as supports. It was a very simple church.

“Some boys on their way to offer prayers at the mosque were the first ones to see the fire, and they knocked [on our neighbour’s] door, but he did not answer. The fire had spread a small way by then. But the neighbours living in the front lane came out; they told them.

“[The boys] got our number from those neighbours and phoned my dad.”

Hay in their neighbours’ compound, adjoining the church, was also in flames, but Evangeline said the neighbours “did not care”.

“They came out of their house only after fire brigade officers asked them,” she added. “It’s very expensive to rent a tent every week – 5,000 rupees [$75] for a day – and now that rains are here, even the tent will not be of any use. Our only hope is God.”

‘The situation is worsening’

Established in 2008, the Bible Presbyterian Church had been functioning with permission from district authorities. “The piece of land was also registered in the church’s name, and we received approval from officials to conduct worship services,” Evangeline said.

Religious freedom advocacy group ADF India’s records show that in May 2017, construction of a church in the Malagapudi Pattu area of Puducherry was forcefully brought to a halt by hard-line Hindus.

Nehemiah Christie, Director of Legislations and Regulations at the Synod of Pentecostal Churches, said: “The burning of the church in Puducherry is a call for Christians … to come together, leaving behind denominational differences.

“The situation is worsening because of the federal [BJP – also Hindu nationalist] government’s silence. Also the inaction of the authorities emboldens the extremists to attack Christians. It’s sad to see the spread of Hindutva [Hindu nationalist ideology] extremism from Tamil Nadu [the Indian state where most violent attacks against Christians have taken place] to Puducherry.

“No action has been taken by the authorities in the past against extremists who, in Tamil Nadu this year, have disrobed Christian women, attacked pastors, and burned Bibles. Police conveniently register the case ‘against unknown assailants’, despite clear evidence of video footage, including where the victim states the suspect’s name.

“It is sad that police complicity also exists in Puducherry, where the secular Congress government is in power. Filing an FIR ten days after receiving the complaint, without mentioning the suspect’s name, clearly shows who is linked with anti-Christian elements.”

– world watch monitor

Christian community members fear communalism under BJP rule will polarise 2019 Lok Sabha elections

June 17, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, Jun 12, 2018: With the 2019 general elections around the corner, several in the Christian community feel that another tenure for the current government will legitimise crimes against them and other religious minorities.

Recently, Open Doors, a Christian mission, enlisted 50 of the most unsafe countries for Christians, in which India was ranked 11th. The report published by Open Doors reads, “Because Hindu radicals view Christians as outsiders, they are experiencing increased persecution. These radicals are intent on cleansing the nation of both Islam and Christianity and employ violence to this end. Usually, converts to Christianity experience the worst persecution and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism.”

The report further says, “Campaigns known as Ghar Wapsi (or homecoming) are used to get Christians to denounce their newfound faith. These converts are often physically assaulted and sometimes killed for refusing to deny Christ. The government continues to look away when religious minorities are attacked, indicating that violence may continue to increase in the coming years.”

Issue more about caste than religion?

Tehmina Arora, who hails from Delhi and is an Indian representative of the Alliance Defending Freedom, says, “Christians are often blamed for trying to convert people by force or inducement, even though we form a minuscule population. Many new converts don’t share their new faith because they fear violence, either from their families, society or anti-social elements.”

“Many Christians, especially those who live in smaller towns and villages, are vulnerable,” she adds.

A study on violence against Christians by ADF — which recorded incidents of physical violence, threats/intimidation and restrictions on religious assembly received via the United Christian Forum helpline — shows that between January and April 2018 alone, there were 155 incidents. Last year, 242 incidents were recorded, and 216 were recorded in 2016. This is only a fraction of what the community is experiencing, she says, as many cases don’t get reported.

Responding to the question about the insecurities Christian community have, Father of Immanuel Marthoma Church (popularly known as ATS Green Church) Abraham Mathew says that hate crimes against Christians are increasing. “This has been a reality since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or other fringe elements commit crimes, and feel safe under this government,” he says.

Adding to this, Father Mathew says that his community is in panic, and they are worried that the government won’t take care of them. “We have participated in India’s struggle for freedom, we were at the front during many agitations, take for example North East and Kerala. However, we are still seen as ‘anti-nationals’ — this is a serious problem,” he says.

Shibli Peter, who works with Dalit Christians through a platform called Centre for Social Studies and Culture, says, “Majority of the Christian population is Dalits and tribals, and they are being continuously threatened. Hindutva outfits are launching campaigns such as ghar wapsi to attack and threaten them and convert them to Hinduism against their will, since the basic agenda of the RSS is to go against conversion.” He further says, “Interestingly, the issue is political. If you look at caste structure, Dalits and tribals form the majority, and for the RSS, it’s important to retain them to continue their rule. I think this is more about caste than religion.”

Justy Alex, who is also from Delhi and is pursuing her Masters in social work, says, “The most affected are the Dalit Christians, who face double the discrimination.”

‘Deliberate attempt to demonise Christians’

Earlier in May, the archbishop of Delhi, Anil Cuotto, wrote a letter addressed to all the parishes and religious institutions under the Archdiocese of Delhi to pray for the country and its political leaders as the general elections inch closer. He wrote that the turbulent political atmosphere right now is threatening the principles of the Constitution as well as the secular fabric of the nation. This received a lot of backlash from the right wing, who called it religious interference.

Anil Barghese, a Christian resident of Kailash Colony, says, “The BJP and RSS wanted to create a fuss about the archbishop’s letter due to elections. They should know that in all churches in India, every Sunday, we pray for all our political leaders, it’s in our liturgy and written in our prayers. I think more bishops should come out with similar letters.” He adds, “People part of churches are also voters, and you cannot isolate them.”

Defending Archbishop Anil’s letter, Father Mathew says that it was a personal one, and people should be vigilant enough to see what is happening in India. “A believer in democracy will see how it’s unnecessary to say that churches are against the BJP. Why it is so that a temple priest can become a politician, but a Christian priest cannot have an opinion?” he questions.

Justy expresses her concern over the upcoming elections. She says, “Next year is a crucial one, especially when it comes to India’s much-celebrated secularism, which is at stake in the hands of the current government. Since 2014, there has been an evident rise in the crimes against religious minorities. From vandalizing churches to mob lynching — we have seen it all in the past four years. Another tenure for the current government will further legitimize atrocities against minorities.”

Shibi says it’s a deliberate attempt by the RSS and BJP to demonise Christians and present them as outsiders and enemies. “This is being done to polarise the majority for the 2019 elections. Wherever Christians are in significant numbers, they are being made into enemies,” he concludes.

– firstpost

Faith leaders pledge zero tolerance of child marriages

June 17, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Secunderabad, June 15, 2018: Leaders from various religions in Telangana have pledge to do all in their might to prevent child marriages after listening to severity of the social problem at a conclave.

“Around 15 million girl children are married off every year worldwide. This works out to a child marriage every two seconds,” said Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath, president of Interfaith Forum for Social Change (IFSC) that joined other NGOs to organize a state level interfaith conclave at Secunderabad.

The June 13 conclave focused on coordinated efforts of religious communities to prevent child marriage and promotion of secondary education.

“It is time religious leaders left their religious spaces to play their transformative role in society as changemakers to help humanity attain their fullness of life,” Brother Theckanath said while asserting that the leaders of faith communities must step in to change traditions and customs that come in the way of preventing child marriages.

The Brother promised that the Interfaith Forum will play an active role to bring together religious leaders of all hues to attain the goal of eradicating child marriages.

The conclave was the joint effort of Mahita and Plan India along with the IFSC under the aegis of Girls Advocacy Alliance.

Mahita is a team of individuals who formed a group in 1995 to initiate development interventions in the urban slums of Hyderabad. Plan India is a nationally registered not for profit organisation striving to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, thus creating a lasting impact in the lives of vulnerable and excluded children and their communities.

Speaking on the occasion Yerrola Srinivas Garu, chairperson of the Telangana State SC/ST Commission, asserted that the prevention of child marriage is responsibility of every individual.

“We should, individually and collectively as community, fight against this evil. Education is the best means to do it,” he said. He highlighted steps taken by the state government to prevent child marriages through schemes such as Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak that supports young girls from socially backward and minority communities to the tune of 100,000 rupees if they are married after attaining the legal age of 18 years.

Speaking on the occasion, Ramesh Sekhar Reddy, director of Mahita, stated that Girls Advocacy Alliance, an NGO Collective has been working in the different districts of Telangana with religious leaders to sensitize their communities on the issues of child marriages and education for girls.

But an event of such dimension at the state level is a first of its kind. He said society at large counts on the Interfaith Forum for Social Change to take the campaign forward so that before long the Telangana state will record zero level of child marriages.

The religious leaders who attended the conclave are: Harikishan ji of the Arya Samaj, Sister Anjali, head of the Brahma Kumaris, Ashish Barua, a prominent Buddhist leader, Brother K M Joseph, former assistant general of the Montfort Brothers, Moulana Syed Nasir Hussain Hyder Aga, senior Shia Muslim leader, Maneck Daruwala, leader of the Secunderabad Fire Temple, Raminder Kaur (religious preacher from the Sikh community), Jain Ratan K M Jhabak, chief priest of the Jain Temple, Bishop Pushpa Lalitha, first woman prelate of the Church of South India, and Sri Sri Seetharamacharyulu of the Shaivaite Community.

They promised their “total and unreserved commitment” to prevent child marriages in Telangana.

A poster on prevention of child marriages by faith leaders was released on the occasion.

– matters india

Seventeen detained in raid on prominent Chinese house church

June 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

China, June 13, 2018: Police raided a church in Sichuan province, China, detaining 17 Christians, including the pastor and his wife, prior to a memorial prayer session.

Dozens of officers stormed the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu on Monday 4 June, reportedly to prevent a service marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square shootings. Police said the church was not approved or registered and had no right to organise religious activities.

Up to 200 Christians, including children, had been detained in an earlier raid at the church on 12 May, prior a memorial for the 10th anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake which killed 87,600 people. The church had been a centre for aid for earthquake victims.

The US State Department said in a statement following the May raid: “We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s reported harassment of the Early Rain Covenant Church.” It added that the US government joined members in mourning the victims of the disaster.

The church is one of the most prominent “house churches” in China, with around 700 Christians meeting in a converted office space each Sunday. In 2009, the authorities attempted to clampdown on its services, but Pastor Wang Yi, a former human rights lawyer, appealed eviction charges, causing them to be withdrawn.

A church member said it was the first time the church had been raided on the day of the Tiananmen anniversary itself.

– global christian news

Two lynched over cattle ‘theft’ in Jharkhand

June 14, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Jharkhand, June 13, 2018: Two Muslims were beaten to death by villagers in Jharkhand’s Godda district on Wednesday after being accused of cattle theft, police said. Four people have been arrested.

According to police, Murtaza and his brother Chiraguddin were caught red-handed while stealing buffaloes at Bannkatti village of Godda, around 500 km from Ranchi, and villagers, who gathered at the spot, thrashed them brutally. Both died on the spot.

However, their father has claimed that they were cattle traders.

– ucan

Kandhamal tenth anniversary: Indian Church to pray for martyrs

June 14, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Bhubaneswar, June 14, 2018: The Catholic Church in Odisha plans to invite all cardinals, archbishops and bishops of India to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the persecution of Christian in the Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state.

The Church expects all prelates along with hundreds of priests and nuns from all over India at the solemn Mass on August 25 on the St Joseph’s School Ground in Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

“We are persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed,” says a message from Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, the chief organizer of the program.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India will also collaborate with the program, says the prelate in the June issue of the archdiocesan official circular.

Archbishop Barwa says the Church has experienced God’s powerful presence and accompaniment during all hardships and persecutions down the centuries. Everything happens for a purpose, said the Divine Word prelate, who added, “Let’s pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the persecuted Christians of Kandhamal and for their continuous growth in faith.”

Kandhamal, a district in Odisha, witnessed the worst anti-Christian violence in modern Indian history. The community experienced violence during Christmas season in 2007 and again in the second half of 2008.

Around 100 people lost their lives and more 56,000 people were rendered homeless in the violence that began on August 25, 2008, and lasted for a few months. Thousands of houses and hundreds of churches and Church institutions were destroyed in the mayhem.

“Let us rise up from the ashes of 2008 Kandhamal riot. As we complete 10 years of the Kandhamal violence, we are planning to pray in the name of the Kandhamal Church,” Archbishop Barwa said.

The prelate said at the commemorative Mass on August 25 the Indian Church will pay homage to the Kandhamal martyrs, who inspire and encourage Christians in the country to witness their faith at all times.

The program, the prelate says, will help bring spiritual renewal for the Odisha Church and produce more devout Christians from Kandhamal. After the Kandhamal violence, hundreds of young people from the region have joined seminaries and convents to dedicate their lives to serve society and the Church.

“I also urge you to pray unceasingly for the cause of the martyrs of Kandhamal. May St. Thomas, the patron saint of the Archdiocese intercede for us to be healed of our wounds and live in harmony and peace as brothers and sisters, children of the One God,” Archbishop Barwa prayed.

– matters india

Verbal divorce continues in India despite court ban

June 14, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Hyderabad, June 13, 2018: Eight months after India’s Supreme Court banned verbal divorce practiced by Muslims, the custom still continues in some states.

In August 2017, the Supreme Court called the practice of triple talaq “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional.” Following the court direction, the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced a bill to ban it that was passed in the lower house of parliament last December.

But it was stalled in the upper house after opposition parties were divided on several aspects of the legislation amid criticism that the government was targeting the Muslim community.

“The triple talaq issue is not about faith. It is about gender equality and justice,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told a function in Hyderabad city last week.

In several states, especially Uttar Pradesh and Telangala, the practice continues, the minister said as he called for support from opposition parties to help the bill become law.

The BJP, which initiated the bill, has accused opposition parties of opposing the bill for political reasons because they are afraid of losing votes from India’s 172 million Muslims.

The opposition has criticized the ruling party for not considering amendments to make the law milder in line with the sensitivities of Muslims.

Several local political parties have faced immense pressure from religious groups in their constituencies to turn down the bill, which stipulates a three-year jail term for offenders.

Reports say at least 22 Islamic countries have banned triple talaq, which was traditionally supposed to be done over a period of three to four months to allow married couples to attempt reconciliation.

However, it became common to complete the process in one go, saying the Arabic word talaq (divorce) three times to obtain an instant separation. Some people even used social media and email for such divorces.

Several Muslim groups, including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, have challenged the government’s authority to criminalize a religious practice.

Some groups also view the proposed law as an intentional attack on the religious freedom of Muslims by the pro-Hindu BJP.

“The government move is wrong,” said Mateenuddin Quadari, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in Telangana state.

He said the practice is now rare because “only some uneducated people do that.” Problems such as these should be resolved within the community, Quadari said

Rights activist Jameela Nishat of Telangana capital Hyderabad said several women divorced by triple talaq have approached her to seek help. “But since there is no law, we are helpless,” she said.

The chief quazi or Muslim religious body that approves marriages and divorces in Hyderabad has stopped considering triple talaq as a valid form of divorce, Nishat said.

Muslim men have reportedly even used postcards, newspaper advertisements and text messages to say talaq three times to get a divorce, in most cases without even giving any notice to their wives.

Nishat said surveys show that more than 90 percent of women do not get any compensation in such divorces. Most women are also opposed to the practice.

– ucan

Pakistan Christian girl kidnapped, converted and married to Muslim

June 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Pakistan, June 06, 2018: A teenage Pakistani Christian from Punjab has been kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to a 25-year-old Muslim man.

Local Muslim women known to Ribqa Masih’s family, tricked the teenager into accompanying them on a trip to Sahiwal on 9 April. Instead of returning within two hours, as they had claimed they would, they took Riqba to the town of Depalpur, around 30 miles east, where she was forcibly converted to Islam and compelled to marry a 25-year-old Muslim man, who is reported to be disabled.

Ribqa’s father, who works as a labourer, spotted his daughter being driven away in a car and tried to halt the vehicle. But two men traveling in the car got out and threatened him with guns. Ribqa’s abduction has been reported to police, but at the time of writing no arrests have been made.

Pakistani Christian girls are very vulnerable to kidnap, forced conversion and marriage, and authorities rarely intervene. A report compiled by a Pakistani NGO in 2014 estimated that every year, at least 700 Christian girls and young women and 300 Hindu girls and young women in Pakistan suffer similar abuse.

– global christian news

Modules to teach constitutional values released

June 12, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, June 12, 2018: The Office for Education and Culture under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India on June 11 released a 9-page module to teach the Preamble of the Indian Constitution in Church-managed schools.

“The CBCI Office for Education and Culture in fact has been directing the educational institutions to teach Constitutional Values to students all the while to foster true patriotism, National Integration and love for the Country,” says Salesian Father Jose Manipadam, national secretary of the office, who has circulated the module among bishops and heads of the Church educational institutions in the country.

The move is part of the Church’s efforts to help teach young generations the constitutional values.

The module is circulated two days after an archbishop in Kerala stressed the need for Christian schools to teach the Constitution. “Everyone should actively work for ensuring the secular values promised by the Constitution,” said Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Council.

The prelate termed as “highly dangerous” attempts by some vested interests to invoke hatred and fear among various groups as a shortcut to power. “Learned community and political leaders should come together against such practices,” Archbishop Pakiam added.

Father Manipadam says he felt encouraged to take the initiative after a number of bishops requested his office for help in inculcating the values of the Constitution in young people.

The Salesian’s circular is accompanied by the “lesson plans teaching the Indian Constitution” and a “My India Pledge.”

The priest suggests that the pledge be recited during assemblies in colleges and colleges to inculcate true patriotism.

The module on the Preamble was prepared by Father Sunny Jacob, secretary of the Jesuit Educational Association of South Asia, in 2016 to be taught in their schools in the first half of that academic year (July-November). It guides a detailed study of the 85-word Preamble in four stages.

In the first stage, the students are encouraged to memorize the preamble, use it in assembly for a month, recite in primary classes and prepare speeches with marks in the secondary classes.

The second stage stresses the significance of the preamble and suggests as activities group discussions, quiz contests, essay writing and poster competition.

The enacting words, “We the people of India,’ is the focus of the third stage. It wants students to stage skits and small dramas on celebrating unity in diversity through various examples. It wants to drill in the importance of “We feeling” or “ We Indians” to check divisiveness. In this stage, senior students are encourage to give to talk to juniors on the inclusivity.

In the fourth stage, the students familiarize with key words in the preamble: sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic and republic. The Constitution promises justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to all the citizens without discrimination. The module wants senior students to review how far has the country achieved these ideals and find out the roadblocks.

– matters india

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