World Watch

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French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin bowed to labor unions by abandoning planned reform of the country's Finance Ministry and sidestepping the thorny issue of public sector pensions. The Finance Ministry reform--which would have shed staff and modernized a tax collection system dating from Napoleon's time--was withdrawn after two months of industrial action. Finance Minister Christian Sautter, who piloted the reforms, was reported to have tendered his resignation. Jospin announced he would make no changes to France's increasingly costly pay-as-you-go public sector pensions scheme without union consent. A previous attempt to reform public sector pensions foundered in 1995, when strikes and mass demonstrations brought the country to a standstill.

In a parliamentary motion, Germany's governing parties demanded public acknowledgment of the suffering of gay men during the Third Reich. Following Paragraph 175 of the Nazi criminal code, officials convicted, imprisoned and forcibly sterilized about 50,000 gay men. The motion also called on parliament to apologize for the fact that the National Socialist version of Paragraph 175 remained in force in the Federal Republic of Germany until 1969. A parliamentary committee is to look into compensation and restitution for homosexual victims of the Nazi regime. This initiative follows an agreement to install a $5 billion fund in Germany to pay Nazi-era forced and slave laborers.

Three Bosnian Serbs went on trial at the U.N.war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the court's first case dealing specifically with sexual crimes. The three are charged with the rape and torture of Muslim women and girls, some as young as 12, in the southeastern Bosnian town of Foca, and two are also charged with enslavement--a legal first for an international criminal court.

Peacekeepers established a "confidence zone" around the bridge linking Serb and Albanian communities in Kosovo's divided northern town of Mitrovica. Demonstrations, and the possession of weapons and two-way radios, are forbidden, ensuring that civilians can cross without harassment. In recent months several people were killed and scores injured in clashes between Serb and Albanian gangs.

With the Israeli government planning to withdraw its occupation forces from Lebanon by July, a front-page editorial in leading Lebanese daily An Nahar called for Syria's 40,000 troops in the country to exit as well. While the Syrian forces presided over the end of the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war, many Lebanese fear a regional peace settlement will enable President Hafez Assad's Syrian regime to perpetuate its influence in Lebanon.

Authorities said they obtained a confession from Azad University chemistry student Saeed Asgar, who with five accomplices was arrested for the attempted assassination of reform strategist Saeed Hajjarian. But pro-reform politicians criticized the investigation, suggesting that details about the case were being withheld to cover up links to government security forces. Earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei complained the attempted assassination helped create an atmosphere of suspicion, and ordered the government to solve the case quickly. Doctors postponed surgery to remove a bullet from the gravely wounded Hajjarian, but were hopeful about his eventual recovery.

Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, resigned after tensions increased between him and other members of the Tutsi-led parliament. Bizimungu, 49, has led the country since the 1994 genocide in which majority Hutu killed some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. While real power in Rwanda lies with Vice President and Defense Minister Paul Kagame (a Tutsi), who will act as interim President, Bizimungu's presidency was a symbol of the post-genocide government's efforts to create political balance. In the days leading up to his resignation Bizimungu accused parliament of unfairly hounding an ally after accusations of corruption.

After months of promises, Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf has announced a program for devolution of power as the first step toward restoring democracy, absent from the country since the military coup last October. Local elections will be held, starting in December, and national elections are to follow "in due course of time," when electoral lists have been been updated. The program included other reforms, such as a reduction in the voting age, seats reserved for women and minorities in local councils, and special courts for women.

More than 2,600 inmates of three juvenile correction centers escaped over a four-day period. The boys, who rioted before busting out, complained of severe beatings by guards over minor misdeeds such as smoking. Most were quickly recaptured, but police said several hundred who had committed murders, rapes and thefts were still at large. Prison officials then sent around 1,500 boys home for five days so damage to the centers could be repaired, but by week's end 1,100 plus had not returned. Thailand's economic crisis and a steep rise in amphetamine trafficking have vastly expanded the country's prison population in recent years. All prisons are overcrowded and breakouts are now common.

Two years after signing a cease-fire with separatist rebels on the island province of Bougainville, the government of Papua New Guinea has agreed to the Bougainvilleans' demand for a referendum on independence. The Loloata Understanding provides for the election of an autonomous Bougainville government, followed by a referendum to be held after autonomy "can be fairly and properly judged."

The Northern Territory government has refused to review its laws on mandatory sentencing of juveniles, despite continuing national and international criticism. Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition government has resisted calls for federal intervention, while two federal private member's bills seeking to overturn the laws are still to be debated in the government-dominated House of Representatives. Despite his personal opposition to mandatory sentencing, which automatically sends N.T. teenagers to jail for 28 days upon a second conviction, Howard says the Territory must retain the right to make its own laws. Judges, churches, Aboriginal leaders, lawyers and youth workers have labeled the legislation immoral, while last week a U.N. committee expressed dismay at the laws and at the N.T.'s high Aboriginal incarceration rates.

The involvement of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte in the 1976 assassination of a political opponent in Washington D.C. is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. U.S. prosecutors John Beasley and John van Lonkhuyzen are in Santiago questioning more than 40 witnesses about the car bomb that killed exiled Chilean socialist Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffitt. The Justice Department reopened the case when Pinochet, now said to be suffering from brain damage, was arrested in Britain 17 months ago.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations plans to launch its own investigation into the cases of several native men found frozen to death outside Saskatoon. The group says it doesn't trust the ongoing Royal Canadian Mounted Police probe into allegations that Saskatoon city police officers were involved in the deaths. Tensions between aboriginal groups and police have increased since Darrell Night accused two officers of driving him to the edge of the city and abandoning him in freezing temperatures. Two other native men were found dead of cold in the same area earlier in the winter. Native groups are calling for an official inquiry into the justice system, but the provincial government will only consider it after reviewing the R.C.M.P. reports.

Police shot dead a hostage taker and rescued a 12-year-old captive, ending a four-day siege. Joseph Palczynski was released on bail after arrest for beating his girlfriend, Tracey Whitehead. He abducted her, killing three people. After Tracey escaped, he broke into the flat of her mother, Lynn, holding her hostage with her boyfriend and his son. Lynn Whitehead and Andy McCord jumped out of a window while Palczynski slept after drinking doped iced tea, and police broke in, rescuing Bradley McCord and killing Palczynski. Chief negotiator Lieut. Melvin Blizzard opined Palczynski was seeking "suicide by cop."