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March 29, 2004

Top Shiite wants 'Passion of the Christ'

KUWAIT CITY, March 27, 2004 (AP) -- A top Shiite cleric on Saturday urged Kuwait to let Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ," be shown in this conservative Muslim state because it "reveals crimes committed by Jews against Christ."

"We have called on the information minister to show this movie," Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Mehri told The Associated Press. He heads the congregation of Shiite clerics in Kuwait.

Movie theaters in this small oil-rich state are owned by a state company, and the Information Ministry has to censor and approve films to be screened.

It is not known if the movie company had approached the ministry for permission to screen it.

Al-Mehri said Sunni Muslims, who control Kuwaiti politics, do not approve of personalizing prophets in movies, but many senior Shiite clerics do not object.

It was not immediately clear if the Kuwaiti government had banned the movie from Kuwaiti cinema screens.

Kuwaiti officials were not immediately available for comment. Religious Christian films are not shown in this traditional Muslim country, but pirated copies of Gibson's latest movie, which depicts the last hours Jesus' life, are being circulated.

Al-Mehri said he has seen the movie and believes it is "good and there is nothing wrong with it."

Jewish organizations, however, have denounced the film as anti-Semitic and expressed fears that it would cause attacks on Jews. Muslims view Jesus as a prophet, not as a messiah.

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