World Watch

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Traces of a uranium isotope suggesting radioactive contamination were found in munitions debris retrieved from NATO target sites in Kosovo. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology say the detected quantities of the isotope uranium-236 are minute. But the finding of U-236 indicates that some recycled (or "dirty") nuclear material, coming from nuclear reactors and reprocessed, may have been used in NATO's weapons. Nearly 20 European soldiers who served in the Balkan wars have died of leukemia and other suspicious illnesses. NATO maintained that there is no evidence that weapons containing depleted uranium — a toxic and slightly radioactive byproduct of nuclear fuel processing — can cause cancer.

E.U. officials appealed to consumers not to panic as evidence turned up that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow" disease, may be more widespread than previously thought. New cases of bse emerged in Spain, Germany and Belgium, as well as in an Italian slaughterhouse that supplies McDonald's restaurants. Meanwhile, U.S. officials moved to prevent new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of BSE, from entering the blood supply. A government panel urged that anyone who has lived or traveled in France, Portugal or Ireland for an extended time since 1980 be banned from donating blood.

Norwegian government officials invoked the ire of conservationists with their announcement that Norway will allow the export of whale products, a practice that previously had been banned. Norway and Japan are the only countries that engage in commercial whaling. Although Norwegians consume whale meat, there is no domestic market for whale blubber. In Japan, however, blubber is considered a delicacy, and Norwegian whalers have been pressing for licenses to export 500 tons of blubber they currently have in storage. In the mid-1980s, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on hunting the mammals. Norway complied until 1993, when commercial hunting quotas were reintroduced. The export of whale products continued to be banned until last week's decision, which Fisheries Minister Otto Gregussen called "the last step in normalizing the whale hunt."

An unrepentant President Saddam Hussein observed the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War with a televised speech that hailed Iraq's "triumph" over U.S.-led allied forces. Echoing Saddam's defiance, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told reporters that Kuwait deserved what it got in August 1990, when Iraq invaded and occupied its neighbor over a border dispute. Nonetheless, Iraq further broke out of its diplomatic isolation last week when Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan signed a free-trade agreement with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Bids in an auction for three Nigerian mobile phone network licenses passed $150 million as companies attempted to break into what promises to be one of Africa's most lucrative markets. All the bidders are consortiums of South African and Nigerian firms. A fourth license has been given to M-Tel, the mobile subsidiary of state-owned telephone company Nitel. The government plans to privatize Nitel, and analysts say a mobile license will make the hugely inefficient company more attractive to potential buyers. Nigeria has fewer phones than almost any country its size, and its fixed line network is close to collapse.

The International Monetary Fund delayed a loan payment to Kenya because the government had failed to implement promised reforms. The imf restarted loans to Kenya just six months ago. But since then an anti-corruption bill has stalled in parliament and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority was ruled unconstitutional. The government has also delayed the privatization of Telkom Kenya. The decision comes as Kenya suffers its worst economic crisis since independence. Crime in Nairobi, the capital, is soaring. The United Nations last week assigned Nairobi a worse place in its hardship ratings, citing staff safety and access to services.

Protests broke out in Indonesia's capital after President Abdurrahman Wahid declined to appear before a parliamentary committee investigating corruption allegations against him. Wahid, whose administration has been mired in a series of financial and political scandals, described the request as outrageous and countered by inviting some members of the committee to question him at the presidential palace. Police fired tear gas and warning shots against the thousands of students who converged on parliament to demand Wahid's resignation. A Muslim cleric and the country's first democratically elected leader in more than 50 years, Wahid came to power when student-led protests helped topple the regime of former dictator Suharto in 1998.

There was widespread jubilation as President Joseph Estrada was effectively booted from office after the Supreme Court declared the presidency vacant. The declaration followed Estrada's refusal to meet a deadline set by opposition leaders to resign. The crisis was sparked when all 11 of the prosecutors handling the corruption case against Estrada resigned after the Senate decided by a margin of one vote to deny them access to bank records they said would prove the President's guilt. Opposition leaders rejected Estrada's promise to call early elections and not to run and stepped up their protests as they were joined by police and army officials. Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sworn in as the country's leader, pledging in an emotional speech to wipe out corruption and poverty and restore dignity to the Philippine people.

In his second trip to China in just eight months, reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il paid a surprise five-day visit to Shanghai. Kim's foray into a region where the results of China's economic reforms are showcased included visits to the Shanghai stock exchange and a tour of a General Motors joint venture. Kim is thought to be looking to China's example for lessons to apply to his own country's desperately backward economy. The trip was shrouded in Kim's customary veil of secrecy. Although he was spotted at numerous points, his visit was not confirmed by North Korean and Chinese officials while he was there.

San Salvador
As aftershocks reverberated throughout the country, Salvadorans began the task of digging out from the rubble left by a massive earthquake that killed close to 700 people and left 45,000 homeless. International aid started to arrive in the ravaged country, but the damage will likely total more than $1 billion. The El Salvador government came under fire from local officials, who criticized relief efforts as ineffectual. Environmentalists blamed some of the deaths on unregulated construction practices that stripped hillsides of vegetation, which might have prevented deadly post-quake landslides.

In a renewed attempt to circumvent laws that bar gay marriages, two same-sex couples exchanged wedding vows in a Toronto church after following the tradition of publishing marriage banns announcing their intention to wed. If, as expected, provincial authorities refuse to register the marriages, the Metropolitan Community Church has promised to take the matter to court. Canada's Roman Catholic bishops jumped into the controversy by rebuking Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's titular head of state, for sending her best wishes to one of the couples in an e-mail message declining an invitation to attend the wedding.

New York
A funny thing happened to former Russian government official Pavel Borodin on his way to a U.S. presidential inauguration party: he was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy airport on an international warrant issued by Switzerland. Borodin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a top aide to Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, is accused of receiving $25 million in bribes from Swiss construction firms in return for lucrative building contracts at Russian government properties. Borodin had reportedly been invited to Washington by Vincent Zenga, a Florida lawyer and a top Republican Party contributor, though Zenga said he has never met Borodin. Moscow demanded the Russian's release, but a judge ordered he be detained until at least Jan. 25.