Nineteen people were killed when two trains collided in one of the worst rail accidents in Norway's history. Both trains were traveling at over 80 km/h when one of the drivers may have gone through a red light. The crash occurred on one of the few stretches of rail line in the country that has not yet been equipped with an automatic braking system. Both trains were powered by diesel engines, and leaking fuel contributed to intense flames that hampered rescue efforts and increased the number of casualties.
Less than a month after President Franjo Tudjman's death, preliminary election results showed that most Croats opted for change by voting to end the decade-long rule of his nationalist party. In a landslide victory for the opposition, the center-left coalition of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals won 71 out of some 150 seats in the parliament, while Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union secured only about 40. Although respected for winning Croatia's independence during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, Tudjman was also resented for establishing a corruption- ridden regime which drained the economy and led to Croatia's diplomatic isolation. The designated new Premier, Ivica Racan, promised more democracy and economic reforms. There is, however, one more race to win: Tudjman's successor will be determined at presidential polls scheduled for Jan. 24.
Boris Yeltsin's abrupt resignation on New Year's Eve led to an early presidential race, with the Russian parliament's upper house voting 145 to 1 to bring forward the presidential election day to March 26. Acting President Vladimir Putin emerged as the virtually uncontested front runner. A political nobody just six months ago, Putin has attained soaring popularity with his ruthless war in Chechnya. However, Chechnya may yet become his undoing: growing losses among Russian troops forced Putin to halt his advance on Grozny late last week, although war continued in the southern mountains.
Namibian police mounted a search along the Angolan border for the gunmen who attacked a family of French tourists, killing three children and seriously wounding their parents. Heavy fighting has been reported recently between Angolan government troops and their rebel UNITA adversaries, who are known to have bases in the border area. Namibia blamed the attack on the Angolan rebel forces but UNITA said that Angola's government border patrol troops were responsible. The French Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory urging people to avoid the region, a popular destination for ecotourists.
Burundian government soldiers killed at least 43 people in a New Year's Eve massacre, according to an Amnesty International report. The human rights group said some of the dead--murdered in Kabezi, a rural district not far from the capital, Bujumbura--had been killed with knives and bayonets. The Burundian government denied the report, which said the killings appeared to be a reprisal for a Dec. 28 rebel ambush in which two soldiers were killed. About 200,000 people--many of them civilians--have died in six years of fighting between government troops and Hutu rebels.
Breaking a seven-week impasse, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed on terms for a further expansion of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank. Israeli troops withdrew from 5% of the territory, putting 39% of the West Bank under limited autonomy. Initially Arafat refused to accede to the 5% handover because Israel unilaterally chose which land to give up. For the next transfer, of 6.1% on Jan. 20, the Israelis have promised to consult the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, in Shepherds-town, West Virginia, Israeli and Syrian negotiators convened new land-for-peace negotiations. The talks hit snarls over who would make concessions first. The Syrians want to lock in Israel's full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 war. The Israelis first want guarantees of security arrangements that would compensate for the loss of the strategic plateau. At week's end, U.S. President Bill Clinton flew in to try to accelerate the negotiations.
Pakistani cleric Maulana Masood Azhar, freed from an Indian jail in exchange for 155 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane, appeared before a 10,000-strong crowd in Karachi and vowed to continue supporting the separatist movement in Kashmir. The crowd screamed "Death to India, death to America!" after Azhar urged Muslims to "not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India." The whereabouts of the hijackers who freed Azhar remained a mystery, but India's Home Minister L.K. Advani said four accomplices had been arrested. All five hijackers were from Pakistan, Advani alleged, led by Azhar's brother Ibrahim Athar (Azhar's father refuted this). "Pakistan is neck-deep in this dirty game of hijacking," he said. Islamabad denied the charge.
A suicide bomber killed 14 people and wounded 23 others near the Sri Lankan Prime Minister's office in the second political assassination attempt in three weeks. The female suicide bomber, believed to be a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, detonated explosives strapped to her body as police guards were questioning her. The attack followed a suicide explosion at an election rally last month which killed 26 people and wounded more than 100 others, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Prime Minister's daughter. Shortly after last week's bombing, prominent Tamil politician Kumar Ponnambalam was gunned down. An estimated 61,000 people have died since 1983, when the Tamil Tiger rebels began their fight for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east.
China's state-backed Catholic Church defied the Vatican by independently ordaining five bishops. Widely viewed as a snub to papal authority, the ordinations came just hours before Pope John Paul II ordained 12 new bishops at St. Peter's Basilica. The Vatican said the Patriotic Catholic Association's move would impede efforts to normalize relations between China and the Holy See which have been strained by the Vatican's ties with Taiwan, a renegade province in the eyes of Beijing. The Vatican cut ties with China in 1951 when the communists took power and Beijing has not allowed the official church to recognize papal authority since, forcing Catholics loyal to the Vatican to go underground.
Faced with the threat of deportation, Latvian-born war crimes suspect Konrad Kalejs left Britain for Australia and arrived amid renewed calls for his prosecution. Kalejs, 86, denies he was a senior officer in Latvia's notorious Arajs Kommando unit, which collaborated with Nazi forces during World War II and was responsible for the murder of more than 30,000 people. The Australian government said it could not block Kalejs' entry as he holds an Australian passport and a 1992 investigation had found insufficient evidence against him. The results of that investigation contributed to Scotland Yard's decision not to prosecute Kalejs, but the lawyer who headed the inquiry said last week that Kalejs was never fully investigated. The Latvian embassy in London announced that "Latvia will consider requesting the extradition of Kalejs" if a new Latvian criminal investigation finds enough evidence of his complicity in war crimes.
Miami's Cuban exile community erupted in protest at the decision by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to return 6-year-old Elian González to his father in Cuba. The dispute over custody of the boy, who was found floating in an inner tube off the Florida coast last November, has further strained relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Lawyers for the boy's relatives in Miami say his mother, who died during the boat trip from Cuba, intended Elian to remain in America, and that the INS ruling deprives him of his right to political asylum without a hearing. A subpoena requiring Elian to testify before Congress in February was issued at week's end and may block his immediate return to Cuba.
Ecuador's President Jamil Mahuad declared a state of emergency as angry protesters clashed with police, demanding his resignation over the handling of the country's economic crisis. Mahuad's government--which is struggling to control the highest inflation in Latin America and an unemployment rate of 17%--denounced "subversive movements" which it said were conspiring to undermine the President. Opinion polls show 45% of people believe Mahuad should resign.