World Watch

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The international diamond industry adopted new guidelines to curb the trade in "conflict diamonds," or gems that fuel wars in Africa. Responding to pressure from human rights organizations and governments, the World Diamond Congress approved a series of measures, including certification for rough diamonds which proves their place of origin, to try to prevent "conflict diamonds" from entering the marketplace and African rebel groups from benefiting from their sale. Fighting in Sierra Leone galvanized global attention on the role that precious stones play in fomenting and financing wars on the African continent.

Textile workers who lost their jobs in early July moved out of the factory they had been occupying after the French government came up with a special package of redundancy measures. Earlier, the workers poured 5,000 liters of sulphuric acid into the River Meuse water system and threatened to blow up the plant if they did not get $21,000 payouts. While firemen worked to stem the pollution, state negotiators offered the workers two years at full pay and lump-sum payments of $11,400 each. The same day, workers in nearby Alsace threatened to blow up a brewery slated to close this year.

A heated debate erupted over whether Italy should allow its exiled royals, the Savoys, to return to the country. Even as Justice Minister Piero Fassino gave his support to a bill that proposes to overturn the 1948 article in the Italian constitution banning the male descendants of Italy's last king from entering the country, others fiercely opposed the amendment. Many Italians despise the Savoys, who reigned over Italy from 1861 to 1946, for ceding control of the country to dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 and standing by while Mussolini made his alliance with Hitler.

In another body blow to Media-MOST, Russia's most independent TV and media conglomerate, tax police and security officials seized the home and personal property of company founder Vladimir Gusinsky. Officials said they wanted to freeze Gusinsky's assets in Russia and abroad as part of an investigation into alleged fraud — a move that will make it even more difficult for Media-MOST to raise the funding it needs to keep afloat. The conglomerate, which has been outspoken in its coverage of issues such as the war in Chechnya, has been a special target of President Vladimir Putin.

Lofa County
Liberian President Charles Taylor declared a state of emergency in the country's northern areas, where government forces have been battling rebels for several weeks in the most recent spate of fighting. The Liberian government claims that the rebels, whom it believes to be former militiamen opposed to President Taylor, attacked Lofa County from a base in neighboring Guinea. Fighting has since centered on the provincial capital of Voinjama, with both sides claiming to have taken the town at different times.

Swaziland's government said it would ban the wearing of miniskirts in schools from next year as part of a national campaign against aids in the southern African kingdom, where one-quarter of the population of 1 million is infected with hiv. The ban aims to prevent teachers being enticed into sexual relationships with schoolgirls, said a government spokesman. An investigation last year into the impact of hiv/aids on the country's education found that in some areas one-third of the teaching staff was infected, and that there was a marked drop in school attendance because infected infants were dying before reaching school age.

A 20-year-old Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 crashed into a residential neighborhood near India's Patna airport, killing 51 of the 58 people on board and six others on the ground. An investigation to determine the cause of the accident is still underway, but the crash has raised questions about the safety regulation procedures for India's state-run domestic aircraft, sometimes called coffins in the air because of their bad record. In a separate incident last week, the landing gear of another Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 jammed, forcing the plane to circle the Indian city of Lucknow for an hour before the pilot managed to release the wheels. Pilots are now demanding that the old planes in the airline's fleet be replaced.

Ho Chi Minh City
After six years of false starts and ideologically induced inertia, Vietnam opened its first stock exchange, a move which financial industry insiders say signals a new era in economic reform. But trading will not start until the end of July and is likely to be thin for some time: so far only four companies have listed on the exchange, while a further 40 that are eligible still worry that exposure to the free market will do them more harm than good. But at least one foreign institution, the Hong Kong-based merchant bank Indochina Capital Corporation, has signaled its confidence in the bourse by setting up a $10 million investment fund to buy into listed companies.

Meeting at their annual summit, leaders of the world's seven largest industrial nations reiterated the need to release the world's poorest countries from the heavy burden of old debt. But while the leaders said that renewed efforts were needed to follow through on a 1999 pledge to write off $100 billion in Third World debt, they in turn called on poorer countries to implement policies that would reduce poverty. Before the summit closes, the G-7 and Russia are also expected to address other issues such as aids, education and Internet access for developing countries.

Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo delayed swearing in the country's new administration after coup leader George Speight objected to the cabinet line-up, which included only two of his close allies. Speight's supporters threatened to burn down the Parliament — which they had already trashed — if all of their nominees were not appointed. "We cannot go forward if we are divided along provincial lines," Iloilo said, explaining the delay. The military on Friday warned it might sack the President and reimpose martial law.

Coup leader George Speight freed the 27 hostages he had held in captivity for more than seven weeks. As part of the deal for their release, Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs met to elect a new civilian President, and appointed Ratu Josefa Iloilo, the former vice-president, who was a preferred candidate of the hostage-takers. Speight's gang was confident that the new cabinet would include several of their supporters and no Indo-Fijians, whom they have made the scapegoats for the grievances of indigenous people. A new constitution, to be promulgated in July 2001, is expected to exclude Indo-Fijians from political power.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to end restrictions on the sale of food and medicine to Cuba and agreed to stop enforcing rules limiting travel to the island. The measures will likely face serious opposition in the U.S. Senate, where the Republican leadership disapproves of concessions to Fidel Castro's government. But business and farm lobbies, eager to open new markets in the Caribbean, are campaigning vigorously for the end to sanctions. They are joined by liberal Democrats, as well as officials of the Clinton administration who believe the restrictions are unnecessary cold war leftovers.

Chile's Supreme Court began hearings to decide whether to strip General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte of his political immunity, which would free the way to have him tried on alleged human rights violations during his 17-year dictatorship. Currently, the general faces 141 criminal charges. The 20 justices may order medical checks, which the defense hopes will show that Pinochet is unfit to stand trial. He was allowed to go home in early March on health grounds after 16 months under detention in Britain, thus avoiding extradition to Spain to stand trial for alleged abuses during his regime.

Buenos Aires
Relatives of two Argentine sailors killed during the 1982 Falklands war threatened to sue Britain before the International Court of Justice after the European Court of Human Rights rejected their case as too old. The suit sought wrongful death damages from Britain for its May 2, 1982 torpedo-sinking of the Argentine Navy cruiser General Belgrano, killing 323 sailors aboard. Families of those victims reacted to the Strasbourg ruling by vowing to file a war crimes case against Margaret Thatcher — the British Prime Minister at the time of the war — whose extradition to Argentina they also seek.

A huge oil spill blackened 60 kilometers of the Iguazu and Barigui Rivers in southeastern Brazil, killing thousands of fish and birds and causing nausea and vomiting among people living along the rivers' banks. Brazil's worst spill in 25 years was caused when 4 million liters of crude oil escaped from a burst pipeline and into the river systems. State-owned oil company Petrobras, which was fined $28 million over the disaster, has said it will devote resources to repair any environmental damage. But the company has still not finished cleaning up its 1.3 million liter oil spill that blackened Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay last January.