The growing likelihood that Austria's Jörg Haider and his far-right Freedom Party would help form a new government stirred alarm in capitals from Paris to Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak urged his European counterparts to form a united front to warn Austria of the dangers ahead. French President Jacques Chirac cabled his "deep concern" to Vienna. Germany's Central Council of Jews said the inclusion of the Freedom Party in government "would send an unbearable signal of regress." The Freedom Party entered into talks with the conservative mainstream party which then announced that a deal could be reached within a week. The arrangement follows the collapse of four months of talks between Austria's social democrats and conservatives.
Croatian presidential elections ended inconclusively with two pro-Western, center-left candidates facing a runoff on Feb. 7. Stipe Mesic of the Croatian People's Party won 42% of the vote, while Social Liberal Drazen Budisa came out second with 28%. Both candidates belong to a six-member coalition which defeated ruling nationalists at the parliamentary elections earlier this year. Mesic and Budisa promised to dismantle the corruption-ridden legacy of the late President Franjo Tudjman and to establish closer ties with the European Union and nato. They also pledged to facilitate the return of Serbian refugees driven out during the 1991 war for independence from Yugoslavia, and to cooperate closely with the Hague-based War Crimes Tribunal.
After a month of brutal house-to-house fighting and heavy aerial bombardment Russian troops claim to be on the verge of capturing the ruins of Grozny, capital of the breakaway republic of Chechnya. But Russian commanders admit to greater losses than expected, and say that the fierce battle for Grozny has slowed progress in the southern mountains. Official Russian military losses stand at 1,200 dead, but these figures are thought to be seriously understated. Reports that Russian forces in areas recently "liberated" from separatists are once again coming under guerrilla attack indicate that any claim of victory by Moscow will be hollow at best.
Turkish police continued their crackdown on Hizballah Islamic extremists after the discovery of 33 corpses buried in "safe houses" throughout the country. Among the evidence recovered were videotapes of the victims being tortured and killed. The group (no relation to the Lebanese Hizballah) appears to have targeted Kurdish businessmen who failed to pay extortion, but police also recovered the body of Konca Kuris, a controversial Islamic feminist who had been missing for two years. The gruesome discoveries led to a political row, with the pro-Islamic Virtue Party echoing press accusations that Hizballah was a Frankenstein's monster encouraged by state security in Turkey's southeast as a violent counter to the p.k.k. during the early 1990s. The military rejected this, saying that Hizballah was a warped product of politicized Islam, cultivated by the Virtue Party itself.
Israel's state comptroller slapped a whopping fine of $3.4 million on Prime Minister Ehud Barak's Labor Party for violating campaign financing laws in last year's election. Most of the other political parties were censured, too--including the main opposition group, the Likud, which was fined $122,000--but Barak's party took the biggest hit. The fines resulted from Labor's widespread practice of channeling donor money through non-profit organizations, which then sponsor Barak-friendly events and projects. The back-door funding was meant to circumvent election laws that limit how much parties can spend. The comptroller said Barak should have known about the financial manipulations, but the Prime Minister said he did not. Police announced the opening of a criminal investigation that will include other parties.
In a landmark human rights case in Africa, alleged victims of torture began testifying against Chad's former dictator Hissene Habre before a court in Senegal, where Habre has lived in exile since 1990. Calling Habre Africa's Pinochet, human rights groups filed criminal charges against him, detailing 97 murders, 142 cases of torture and 100 "disappearances." Habre's eight-year rule of Chad ended in a coup in December 1990. A commission set up by his successor accused Habre's administration of 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture in a country of 6 million people.
A former tea factory boss was sentenced to life in prison after the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape. Alfred Musema was accused of organizing and taking part in the murder of a group of Tutsi who had taken refuge at his tea factory in Gisovu in western Rwanda. Many of the victims were his own factory workers. It was the tribunal's seventh judgment but the first against someone who was not a government or army official. The U.N. court was established to try those accused of fomenting the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed by Hutu extremists.
In a blow to Pakistan's military regime, six Supreme Court judges, including the Chief Justice, were sacked after refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the government of General Pervez Musharraf. The oath was similar to one required in 1981 by military dictator General Zia ul-Haq, and the order for it came less than a week before the Supreme Court was due to hear the first of several cases challenging the authority of the military government. In all, 13 judges around the country did not take the oath. Critics condemned the government for clamping down on the judiciary, and expressed fears that greater repression could be in the offing.
The Sri Lankan army vowed to step up its fight against Tamil Tigers after a parcel bomb exploded in a post office, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 70 others. No one claimed responsibility for the blast in Sri Lanka's north--which took place as security troops waited to send money to their families--but the government said evidence pointed to the Tigers. The attack came as a Norwegian delegation was in Sri Lanka to help broker peace talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The rebels--who have waged a separatist campaign for 17 years--have also been blamed for three recent suicide bombings in Colombo, in which 50 people have died.
Thai commandos stormed a hospital in the western city of Ratchaburi before dawn, killing 10 Burmese rebels who had taken 700 patients and staff hostage. Some hostages said the rebels--whom they called "armed men with soft hearts"--were executed by the commandos after they had surrendered. The hostage takers were members of the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors--who seized the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok last October--and God's Army, a band of Karen rebels led by two 12-year-old twins named Luther and Johnny Htoo, who followers believe have magical powers. The rebels were demanding that the Thai army stop shelling their base in Burma, but the base fell on Friday to the Burmese army. The whereabouts of the twins were not known.
The U.N. Security Council nominated Swedish diplomat Hans Blix to head the new arms inspectorate in Iraq--and Baghdad promptly announced he would not be allowed into the country. Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was the unanimous choice after four months of haggling between council members. But Baghdad said Blix's appointment would not solve the deadlock over weapons inspection. Iraq does not accept the U.N. resolution from Dec. 17, which offers a possible easing of nine-year-old trade sanctions in exchange for Baghdad's cooperation with a new arms inspection commission.H
Elian Gonzalez was hailed in patriotic marches across Cuba as the country's latest "anti-imperialist" idol as the bitter international custody battle intensified and the boy's Cuban and American relatives took their fight to the U.S. Congress. The Justice Department said the six-year-old's return to Cuba was in the U.S. interest, but legal wrangling may draw out the matter. Elian's grandmothers, who had traveled from Cuba to visit him, said he seemed withdrawn and should be returned to his father, while the nun who hosted the Miami reunion said she believed the boy was better off in the U.S. The battle has raged since Elian was rescued after a boat smuggling him and his mother into the U.S. sank last November. His mother drowned.