World Watch

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In the toughest election contest since democracy was restored in 1974, Greece's governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won its third term in office, beating the conservative New Democracy Party by just one percentage point. Although Prime Minister Costas Simitis described his victory as "greater than the numbers," it was not the ringing endorsement he wanted when he called an early election, saying he needed a new mandate to negotiate Greece's entry into European Economic and Monetary Union later this year. New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis claimed the result gives his party new leverage in Parliament. "It's obvious the government cannot proceed without our consent," he said.

The funding scandal surrounding former Chancellor Helmut Kohl deepened after it was revealed that the Stasi, East Germany's infamous secret police, recorded telephone conversations of West German politicians, including the former Chancellor, for 14 years. The taped conversations allegedly include calls in which illegal secret bank accounts maintained by Kohl's Christian Democratic Union were discussed. Kohl, who faces a criminal prosecution in connection with the accounts, has denounced using illegally wiretapped conversations as part of the investigation and has threatened to sue the Gauck Authority, the government agency which houses the Stasi historical records, if details are released. The agency says that so far, it has found no Stasi files on Kohl, but an unidentified source told Berlin's Tagesspiegel that it was "absolutely realistic" that a damaging 9,000-page dossier covering Kohl's years as Chan- cellor from 1982 to 1989 exists.

At the behest of President-elect Vladimir Putin, the lower house of the Russian parliament ratified the START II treaty between the U.S. and Russia by a vote of 288 to 133. The long-delayed arms reduction agreement calls for halving the number of nuclear warheads on both countries' ballistic missiles to 3,500 each by 2007. Approved by the U.S. Senate in 1996, the treaty is likely to soon be approved by Russia's upper house. But last week's vote has only strengthened Moscow's hand in the fight over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. favors amending to allow for limited defense against missile attack from "rogue nations" like North Korea. Putin gleefully announced it was now Washington's turn to advance arms control. "The ball's in [our partner's] court," he said.

Around 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war returned home from Iran in what the authorities there called a "humanitarian gesture." An emotional crowd gathered at the Al Munziriya border post to greet the returnees, many of whom had been in captivity for nearly two decades. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has supervised the release of nearly 100,000 pows held by both sides since the outbreak of the eight-year war in 1980, said it was the biggest repatriation of Iraqi pows since 1998, when more than 5,000 were freed. The Iraqi authorities say that 9,000 of its soldiers are still in Iran, but the icrc believes that at least half of them are not being detained against their will. Tehran refutes Iraq's claim that it no longer holds any Iranian prisoners.

Saudi Arabia is to permit foreigners to own their investments and property in the kingdom without a Saudi partner. Until now, foreign investors who wanted to do business in the Middle East's biggest economy had to find a local partner who would hold at least a 51% stake in a joint venture. The new law, which also offers tax incentives, is designed to attract more foreign investment and create jobs for a rapidly growing population. The easing of restrictions should also help the country in its bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi defended his government from charges of letting the border conflict with Eritrea undermine the famine relief effort. His remarks followed a meeting with the U.N. Special Envoy to Ethiopia, Catherine Bertini, who made a new appeal for international aid during a visit to the region. Western diplomats believe that the conflict costs Ethiopia around $1 million a day. The Ethiopian government blames the West's slow response to a widely predicted disaster. It estimates that 1 million tons of food are needed to give up to 8 million people a chance of surviving the drought.

Zimbabwe's High Court again declared the occupation of some 1,000 white-owned farms by war veterans illegal and ordered the police to evict the occupiers. Vice President Joseph Msika, acting for President Robert Mugabe who was in Cuba at a summit of developing countries, said the war veterans should leave and that Zimbabwe should seek help from Britain for orderly land reform. However, the police refused to act, saying they did not have the resources to carry out evictions. Attorney General Patrick Chinamasa had asked the High Court to rescind the eviction order, saying that left unresolved, the conflict over land would "be explosive." Three violent attacks on white farmers and their properties were reported, including one in which war veterans trying to burn down a house were thwarted by farm workers.

North and South Korea took a historic step toward resolving the world's last major cold war conflict with the announcement of their first bilateral summit since the Korean peninsula was divided in 1945. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung will travel to the North Korean capital Pyongyang to meet his counterpart Kim Jong Il in mid June. While the main item on the agenda will be economic aid for the impoverished North, the two Kims will also discuss how to reunite families that were split during the Korean War, in which some 3 million people died. But sudden reunification is unlikely after half a century of mutual distrust. Despite Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" of constructive engagement, the two sides remain technically at war, having never signed an armistice after 1953.

Sri Lanka's powerful Buddhist clergy postponed a key meeting with President Chandrika Kumaratunga amid growing opposition to moves toward peace with the Tamil Tigers. Many of the clergy are at variance with the government's controversial devolution plan, which seeks to grant greater autonomy to the minority Tamil community. They also object to the involvement at the negotiating table of Norway, which they believe is biased in favor of the separatist rebels. Demonstrations by hundreds of Buddhist monks on the streets of the capital coincided with heavy fighting between government forces and rebels in the north of the country, where over 400 people are estimated to have died in the last two weeks.

After relatives of Elián González, the six-year-old boy at the center of a diplomatic row between the U.S. and Cuba, defied a court order to return him to his father, a Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta issued a temporary order banning Elián from leaving the country in an attempt to delay a final showdown for "three or four days." The move came a day after the release to the media of a video of Elián asking to stay in the U.S., in which it was not clear to what extent he had been coached. His father, Juan Miguel, who has been waiting in Washington for over a week to be reunited with his son, has reportedly been offered $2 million to stay in the U.S.

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, running for a controversial third term in office, was forced into a second round run-off against his close rival, shoe-shine boy-turned-US-educated economist Alejandro Toledo, after he narrowly failed to win a simple majority of 50% plus one vote. Independent monitors said that a second round was necessary to restore confidence in an electoral process that had been marred by accusations of irregularities. Allegations that the government planned to rig the vote to secure an outright win for Fujimori had sparked demonstrations across the country, and Toledo threatened to reject official results if they did not lead to a second round, which is likely to be held by the end of May.

A boat carrying up to 220 suspected illegal immigrants thought to be from the Middle East may have sunk en route to Australia from Indonesia, according to immigration officials. The vessel, which left Java in late March and has not been seen since, is believed to have been headed for Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean that is a common stop for so-called boat people who are targeting the country in increasing numbers. In the second half of 1999, 2,894 boat people illegally bound for Australia were picked up, compared to 200 in the whole of 1998. Those convicted of "people smuggling" face up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to $130,000.