World Watch

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Northern Ireland's 1998 Good Friday agreement passed its toughest test on the streets so far when moderate Protestant opinion turned against Orangemen insisting on their right to march through Catholic areas. Early in the week, clashes among the marchers, police and extreme elements of the province's Catholic community had brought parts of Northern Ireland to a standstill, but later the violence fizzled out, depriving the new power-sharing government's opponents of another chance to disable the peace process.

A powerful car bomb injured nine people and caused massive damage to the city's commercial center. Officials say the blast, which was caused by 20 kilograms of explosives concealed in a car, was the work of the Basque terrorist movement eta, which has killed about 800 people and maimed more in shootings and bombings over the past three decades. Last week's blast took place on the third anniversary of the murder of the young Popular Party local councillor, Miguel Angel Blanco, in the Basque town of Ermua. His death prompted some of the largest anti-eta demonstrations seen in Spain.

Two firefighters were killed and at least nine people were injured as 184 wildfires raged through Greece for a second week, prompting the government to mobilize the armed forces and request help from Israel, Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic. Fanned by gale force winds and exacerbated by the region's recent heatwave, the freak flames have razed thousands of acres of forestland, wiping out crops and livestock. Thick smoke has also driven tourists from resorts.

Former Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri will begin a three-year prison sentence on Aug. 13, after Israel's Supreme Court upheld his conviction for bribe-taking, breach of trust and fraud, but lopped one year off his original term. Deri, 41, a leader of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party, will also be barred from ministerial posts for 10 years. The court's ruling sparked controversy — Deri and his supporters accused the judges of discriminating against eastern Jews, noting that Ezer Weizman, an icon of the Ashkenazi, or European Jewish establishment, was not prosecuted, although he allegedly accepted undeclared gifts of more than $300,000 from businessmen while holding public office.

In a surprise operation, heavily armed United Nations forces rescued 222 peacekeepers and 11 military observers held captive by rebels in Sierra Leone since early May. The U.N. took the unusual step of launching a military operation after its request to send in urgently required food and medical supplies was turned down by the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.). The rebels offered no resistance as the captives were led out of their compound and airlifted by helicopter to the capital Freetown some 300 km away.

At the 13th International AIDS Conference, pharmaceutical companies came under fire for the high price of AIDS drugs. While activists and scientists presented papers on the latest drug research and studies into behavioral change as a way to decrease infection rates, most participants agreed that more money was needed to fight the disease, especially in Africa, home to 70% of the world's hiv-infected population. The U.S. government announced plans to increase its funding from $200 million a year to $300 million a year.

Sectarian violence forced authorities to impose an indefinite curfew in this Indian hill town and adjoining areas after three Buddhist monks were shot dead by Muslim extremists. The secessionist movement in the Muslim districts of India's Jammu and Kashmir state has been causing tension in Buddhist-majority Ladakh, of which Leh is the capital, and trouble erupted when a Buddhist leader made disparaging remarks about the Koran. Shops are now shut in the tourist town; police are patrolling the streets; and the army is on alert to prevent more violence.

Quezon City
At least 136 people were killed and 150 are still unaccounted for after a garbage dump caved in on shanty dwellings in a suburb of Manila. Officials said the collapse was caused by torrential rains that loosened the dump's foundations, and they expressed concern that the mountain of garbage may give way again. Poor weather caused havoc in the Indian city of Bombay, where at least 80 people were killed when part of a hill, weighed down by water after a 24-hour monsoon, came loose and crashed into a slum tenement below.

18 people were killed, many of them high school students, in a collision involving 12 vehicles on a motorway south of Seoul. The accident happened when seven buses carrying school students returning from a trip collided with a lorry during a heavy storm. Three buses caught fire after the collision, with one plunging off an embankment. A further 97 people were injured, some with serious burns.

Sogo, a major department store operator, went bankrupt with $17 billion of debt. Just two weeks ago, the Japanese government had approved a taxpayer-funded plan to save the retailer, but in the face of mounting public criticism the government abandoned the idea, departing from Japan's traditional approach of protecting big, ailing companies. The move is likely to worry other indebted Japanese corporations, which until the Sogo saga assumed the government would save them from bankruptcy.

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 British Columbia film commissioner ruled that the video game Soldier of Fortune is explicitly violent and should be classified as a "restricted adult motion picture" that cannot be sold to anyone under 18. Andrew Petter, the province's attorney general, said the government is considering a rating system for all video games — legislation that would be the first of its kind in North America.

After more than five years of negotiations, the U.S. and Vietnam completed a wide-ranging agreement designed to lower trade barriers between the two countries. Under the terms of the plan, Vietnam is to allow U.S. companies increased access to its traditionally closed markets, while allowing Americans, for example, to conduct banking operations and enter the retail market. The U.S. would reduce restrictive tariffs on certain Vietnamese goods. U.S. President Bill Clinton called the agreement "another historic step in the process of normalization, reconciliation and healing between our two nations." But he faces a tough fight to get the terms of the deal ratified by Congress before he leaves office next year.

Ecuador's Supreme Court issued an arrest order against ex-President Jamil Mahuad, deposed in a January coup. The court ruled that Mahuad and his finance minister, Ana Lucía Armijos, violated the constitution when the then government, facing an economic crisis in March 1999, partially froze bank accounts. The court claims that Mahuad tipped off several of his banker friends before the freeze, enabling them to transfer vast sums out of Ecuador. Both Mahuad and Armijos are abroad, but their lawyers insist they will return to face charges.

Venezuela's attorney general launched an investigation to find out how Venezuelan military weapons wound up in the hands of Colombia's biggest guerrilla group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (farc). The probe was prompted by last week's display by Colombian military officials of confiscated machine guns, rifles, revolvers, hand grenades, ammunition and other weaponry marked with the Venezuelan coat of arms, indicating that they are official military weapons. Authorities denied that they had supplied arms to rebels, but did not rule out the possibility of clandestine trafficking by military officials. Colombian officials also said they found weapons with Panamanian and Bolivian military stamps, as well as German and U.S. made arms.