World Watch

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Investigators of last month's Air France Concorde crash said it appeared likely that a 40-cm metal strip found on the runway at Charles de Gaulle Airport started the chain of events that brought down the plane, killing 113 people. The Bureau of Accident Investigation said the piece of metal appeared to match a gash in one of the plane's tires. Debris from a blown tire is thought to have damaged the jet's fuel tanks, starting a fire that crippled the aircraft. Air France's Concorde fleet remains grounded.

A Polish court investigating the political pasts of candidates for election has cleared both President Aleksander Kwasniew-ski and former President Lech Walesa of alleged links to the country's communist-era secret police, clearing the way for both men to again seek the presidency. Kwasniewski, an ex-communist, is expected to be easily re-elected in the voting, set for Oct. 8. He defeated Walesa, founder of the anti-communist Solidarity movement, in the 1995 election.

President Slobodan Milosevic's strong chances of victory in forthcoming Yugoslav elections got a boost as the political opposition failed to unite behind a single candidate. The Serbian Renewal Movement, the country's biggest opposition party, chose Belgrade's Mayor, Vojislav Mihajlovic, while most other anti-Milosevic parties have endorsed Vojislav Kostunica, head of the center-right Democratic Party of Serbia. In the run-up to the Sept. 24 election — which is being boycotted by the pro-Western government of Montenegro, Serbia's partner in the Yugoslav federation — Milosevic has sought to create a siege atmosphere. As Western governments worried that he might act militarily against Montenegro, Yugoslavia holds eight foreigners whom it accuses of terrorism. In New York, meanwhile, a jury ordered Milosevic's Bosnian war ally, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, to pay $745 million in damages for atrocities committed by his soldiers.

For the first time in 22 years, Lebanese security forces moved into the villages of southern Lebanon, symbolically filling the vacuum left after Israel withdrew from the occupied zone more than two months ago. The deployment establishes the state's presence in villages where Christians who cooperated with Israel's proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army, fear reprisals from the Shi'ite Muslim Hizballah movement. The move follows the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers along the border, the force now actually responsible for security along the frontier.

Becoming the first head of state to visit Iraq since the Gulf War of 1991, Venezuela's maverick President, Hugo Chávez Frïas, met with Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader. Ch├ívez incurred the wrath of the U.S. over the trip — criticism he shrugged off, saying his country was sovereign. Respecting the U.N. ban on flights to and from Iraq, he entered the country by Iranian government limousine at the border town of al-Mundhariya. Chávez was on a swing through the Gulf states ahead of a September summit, in Caracas, of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, challenged the legislative power of the country's new reformist parliament, banning debate on a bill that would have eased restrictions on the press. Threats to "national security and people's faith" could result, he asserted, "if the enemies of the Islamic Revolution control or infiltrate the press." Scuffles broke out in the Majlis and 60 reformists walked out in protest when Khamenei sided decisively for the first time with conservatives. His exercise of absolute power came in the same week as the judiciary closed the last major pro-reform daily, Bahar.

President Robert Mugabe went ahead with moves to implement his controversial seizure of mainly white-owned farmland in Zimbabwe. As the government began moving landless families onto the first of up to 3,000 farms earmarked for expropriation, the country's banks warned that they might have to refuse loans to the farming community. The land grab has disrupted the agricultural sector — Zimbabwe's economic backbone — and production has already been cut by 25%. Many farmers are not planting for the next harvest, foreshadowing a serious food crisis.

A unilateral cease-fire called by the militant Kashmiri organization Hizbul Mujahedin collapsed — even before formal talks opened with India — over the terms of dialogue. The group promptly exploded a car bomb in central Srinagar, killing 12 people. Hizbul had sought three-way negotiations that included Pakistan — a demand rejected by India.

Because of insufficient support in Parliament, Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga was forced to defer a vote on changing the country's constitution. Provisions in the draft document would have put in place a devolved political structure granting limited autonomy to the country's provinces, including the Tamil-dominated north and east, where the government has been fighting a 17-year war with separatist guerrillas.

Following harsh legislative criticism of his erratic leadership over the past 10 months, President Abdurrahman Wahid handed over control of the government's daily affairs to his deputy, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri. The move was followed a day later by the resignation of Kwik Kian Gie, a Megawati ally who was Wahid's senior Economics Minister and architect of the government's economic policy. In a progress report to the People's Consultative Assembly, Wahid apologized for his administration's failure to improve the economy and to reign in the violence tearing apart the Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia. A sweeping cabinet reshuffle is expected on Aug. 21.

Saying they had not proved their case, the Australian federal court dismissed the case of two Aborigines who contended that the government was liable for stressfully removing them from their families as children. Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner, members of the "stolen generation," were placed in children's homes under laws that allowed the government to take Aboriginal children from their parents in the belief that saving the young of a doomed race was a humane act. About 100,000 were taken from 1910 until the 1970s.

"It's not the end of the world — no one is dead," retired General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte told his supporters after Chile's Supreme Court announced that it had voted 14-6 to strip the ailing ex-dictator of his political immunity. Currently, he faces more than 150 criminal charges for human rights violations. The court determined that Pinochet could still be tried for some of the atrocities that occurred in Chile during his 17 years in power.

A team of 86 U.S. advisers, including a group of Green Berets, has begun training a second Colombian anti-drugs battalion. They are part of a $1.3 billion aid package that includes military hardware as well as funding for crop substitution and judicial reform. One battalion already is in place in southeastern Colombia. The second, being trained in the Amazon basin, is to be deployed by year's end.

In the worst outbreak of U.S. forest fires in 50 years, blazes continued to rage across the west, where an estimated 18 million hectares of forest have been destroyed. Firefighters from Canada, New Zealand and Australia were joining the battle against the flames in Montana, where the state's southwestern Bitterroot Valley has been devastated. Lightning ignited new blazes that have burned through some 120,000 hectares in the state. California, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming are among the states that have experienced severe fires.

New York
The U.N. Security Council agreed to allow Sierra Leone's government to begin certifying diamonds as soon as possible, approving the Freetown government's proposed program for the legal mining and export of the stones. Since early July, diamonds from Sierra Leone that have no certificate of origin have been banned in an effort to stem the guerrilla Revolutionary United Front's ability to finance civil war by selling stones mined in areas under its control. And, in the first step toward prosecuting rebel leaders for the war's worst atrocities, the council agreed to set up a special criminal tribunal.