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UN Chief Warns of Rise in Religion-Based Violence

FILE - U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers his speech at the opening ceremony of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing, April 26, 2019.

The U.N. secretary-general warned Monday of a "disturbing groundswell" of intolerance and hate-based violence aimed at followers of many faiths, and he called on world leaders to stop it.

"Houses of worship, instead of the safe havens they should be, have become targets," António Guterres said in a statement.

He pointed to the attack Saturday on a synagogue in California and on Sunday on a Protestant church in the African nation of Burkina Faso. Last month, 50 Muslim worshipers were killed by a lone gunman during two consecutive attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

"Such incidents have become all too familiar," he said. "Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Jews murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Christians killed at prayer, their churches often torched."

Guterres attributed the rise in such violent acts to inflammatory rhetoric; xenophobia especially targeting minorities, migrants and refugees; white supremacy and a resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology. He said there is, "venom directed at anyone considered the "other."

Guterres voiced concern that parts of the internet are becoming "hothouses of hate" where "like-minded bigots find each other." He noted that what were radical views of a few have now migrated into the mainstream.

"I am profoundly concerned that we are nearing a pivotal moment in battling hatred and extremism," the U.N. chief said. "The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement."

He said political and religious leaders have a special responsibility to promote peaceful co-existence.

For his part, Guterres said the world body is leading two initiatives. One will focus on tackling hate speech and will be led by his special representative on genocide prevention. The other will center on what role the United Nations can have in ensuring the safety of religious sanctuaries and will be directed by the high representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.