The government of Venezuela has banned the activities of the Unification Church after a long-festering controversy. Officials say that the church's followers held invalid visas that made their presence illegal.

Similar steps have been taken recently by Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. The deportations in Central America followed calls by Protestant and Catholic churches troubled by the growing presence and influence of the Unification Church.

In Venezuela, church officials have denied allegations that illegal immigrants have been imported and charges that it encourages youths to leave home.

The decision came after months of controversy and allegations in local newspapers that church members practice polygamy and abduct children.

Vice Justice Minister Kurt Nagel says the main reason for the ban is because missionaries and members are foreigners on tourist visas who really have no tourist intentions.

More than 100 Japanese women, all of them followers of the Korean-born Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, had entered the country in recent months using short-term tourist visas.

Jesus Muchacho, president of the Venezuelan Federation of Families for World Peace, a Unification organization, says missionaries have only been promoting "marital fidelity."

Unification members in Honduras have accused that government of launching a campaign against its followers.

"The expulsion of the Unification Church is an attack against the constitution," church members wrote in an open letter to Minister of Government Efrain Moncada that appeared in newspapers as a paid advertisement. The letter referred to the deportation of 120 Japanese women who belonged to the church and had overstayed their three-month tourist visas.

The church ...

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