World Watch

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There were angry scenes in the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly as the Russian delegation walked out in protest after the 41-nation body, Europe's top human rights organization, suspended Russian voting rights over its six-month military offensive in Chechnya. The assembly also voted in favor of suspending Russian membership of the Council unless Moscow agrees to a cease-fire in Chechnya and begins talks with rebel leaders immediately. The suspension would be the first in the Council's 51-year history. Undeterred, Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the decision a result of "cold war stereotypes and double standards" and said Russia would continue its campaign in Chechnya.

A soccer match was marred by tragedy when two English fans were stabbed to death during a scuffle on the eve of a UEFA Cup semifinal game between the English club Leeds United and the Turkish team Galatasaray of Istanbul. The match, which Galatasaray won 2-0, concluded without further incident as squads of armed police massed inside the notoriously intimidating Ali Sami Yen Stadium, which Turkish fans refer to as "hell." Security arrangements are expected to be tight during next week's return game at the Leeds United home ground and during the forthcoming Euro 2000 tournament in Belgium.

The European Commission moved swiftly and in unison to counter reports in the German press that its president, Romano Prodi, faces a palace coup from his own commissioners. A spokesman dismissed as "total rubbish ... not worthy of a serious newspaper" an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested that Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock had "ambitions" to replace Prodi. But the next day the rumors seemed to gain weight when the 20-member Commission met in a lengthy, closed-door session without the usual coterie of aides and translators. A statement that the Commission had confirmed its "unity" succeeded only in fueling further speculation of dissent among the ranks.

Israel is preparing to withdraw from southern Lebanon in June, one month ahead of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's self-imposed deadline, despite misgivings among senior army officers and growing anxiety among Israeli border communities. The unilateral pullback has the unanimous support of Barak's cabinet, but military commanders caution that it is going to be extremely difficult to guarantee security without maintaining a foothold inside Lebanon. The Lebanese government is setting stringent conditions for any new international buffer force. Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy is lobbying the U.N. and friendly governments to help ensure that the evacuation does not lead to a bloodbath.

Iranian authorities say they have intercepted and impounded an Iraqi oil tanker attempting to smuggle 2,500 tons of oil out of the Gulf in contravention of the U.N. embargo on Iraq. This is the first time that Iran, which publicly recognizes the embargo, has reported such a seizure. The U.S. has repeatedly accused the Iranian navy of turning a blind eye to oil smuggling, now running at record levels partly owing to the sharp rise in world oil prices. Late last week a U.S. warship detained a Russian tanker after it came out of Iranian territorial waters carrying tens of thousands of tons of contraband oil.

U.S. drug giant Pfizer has offered to provide its antifungal treatment, fluconazole, free of charge to poor hiv and aids patients suffering from cryptococcal meningitis, a serious infection of the brain. The drug, which trades as Diflucan, costs around $15 a day and turns a terminal disease into a chronic but treatable illness. The unprecedented move comes in the wake of heavy lobbying by aids activists, who have called on other drug companies to follow suit. South Africa has the fastest growing rate of hiv infection in the world. Nearly 5 million of South Africa's 40 million citizens are believed to be infected, and around 8% of them contract cryptococcal meningitis every year.

Western governments have frozen millions of dollars in aid earmarked for land reform in Zimbabwe in response to a constitutional amendment which allows the government to seize white-owned farms without compensation. The bill places responsibility on the U.K., as the former colonial power, for compensating landowners. The British government has said it will not be bound by the new provision. The occupation of over 800 white-owne
d farms by government supporters turned violent last week as a policeman was shot dead while investigating the assault on a white landowner.

Yoshiro Mori was appointed as Japan's new Prime Minister after his predecessor, Keizo Obuchi, lapsed into a stroke-induced coma. Mori, who was previously secretary-general of the governing coalition's dominant Liberal Democratic Party, quickly reappointed Obuchi's entire cabinet, who had resigned en masse after their leader fell ill. Mori has pledged to continue to pursue Obuchi's economic stimulus policies in a bid to revive the country's sluggish economy and win over voters before the next election, due by Oct. 19.

In China's worst outbreak of industrial unrest in several years, more than 20,000 miners and their families rioted in the streets at the news that the molybdenum mine, the town's only major employer, was to be declared bankrupt and that workers would receive severance pay of just $70 for every year worked. The rioting, which occurred in late February, was suppressed by the army and only came to light last week. The World Bank estimates that up to 50 million jobs could be at risk as China continues radical reform of its state enterprises before it joins the World Trade Organization later this year.

Indian security forces shot and killed eight Kashmiri demonstrators and injured 20 others in the town of Anantnag, 65 km south of the capital Srinagar. The protesters had been calling for the release of the bodies for "honorable burial" of five Muslim youths killed a week earlier by police because of their alleged involvement in the massacre of 35 Sikh villagers in Kashmir three weeks ago. Three Kashmiri separatists have been released from an Indian jail in an apparent attempt to defuse tension in the Kashmir Valley, which at week's end remained paralyzed by a general strike called in protest at the latest shootings.

The long international custody battle over Eliàn González, the shipwrecked six-year-old Cuban boy, appeared to be drawing nearer to a conclusion with the arrival of his father, Juan Miguel, in the U.S. from Havana. The elder González received assurances from U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, an ally in the custody fight, that she would take every step "to ensure that a transfer occurs in a fair, prompt and orderly manner." In Cuba, President Fidel Castro said in a four-hour televised speech that he expected a reunion between father and son to take place within days. Meanwhile, around 300 Cuban-American protesters gathered to form a human chain around the Miami house where Eliàn has been staying with relatives who want to keep him in the U.S. They are seeking a guarantee that if they turn the boy over to his father, the pair will remain in the U.S. until the Federal Appeals Court rules on their petition for U.S. asylum for Eliàn.

In the latest step in Ecuador's move toward "dollarization," bank cash machines began dispensing dollars in place of sucres. The Ecuadorian government passed a law in March to phase out the sucre, which lost two-thirds of its value last year amid a severe recession brought on by the ravages of violent storms in 1998; the low price of oil, the country's key export; and an unsustainable debt burden. But opinion polls indicated that only one in five Ecuadorians knows what a dollar bill looks like. The government has since launched a public-information campaign to address fears that unfamiliarity with the U.S. currency could lead to a massive influx of counterfeit dollars.

Following revelations of extensive graft and corruption in the public sector, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana Arango announced plans for a referendum on congressional reform. Independent polls show strong support for the reform, which would include such measures as a reduction in the number of seats in Congress from 263 to 173, changes to campaign financing laws to prevent the influence of special interest groups, and stiffer sentences for corrupt officials. The President's plans first have to be approved by Congress, which has until June to decide on the referendum, which could be held as early as July of this year.