World Watch

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Little more than two weeks before general elections, a bomb blast rocked Spanish politics. It was the second since the Basque separatist group ETA ended a 14-month truce. Socialist politician Fernando Buesa and his police bodyguard Jorge Diez Elorza died in the Basque city of Vitoria when a car bomb was detonated near the regional parliament. Around the country demonstrators took to the streets in protest and Prime Minister José Marí Aznar called for the isolation of ETA's political allies. Its main one, the Euskal Herritarrok party, claimed the murders stemmed from "collective failure" to find an answer to calls for independence. A majority of Basques do not support the calls, but that has not stopped ETA from killing nearly 800 people over the past 30 years.

Hundreds of NATO peacekeepers from eight countries fanned out across the town of Mitrovica to hunt for weapons and ammunition in the biggest show of force since troops arrived in Kosovo nine months ago. The search followed a standoff Monday between an estimated 50,000 ethnic Albanians and NATO troops as the Albanians attempted to cross the Ibar River into the Serb-populated north side of Mitrovica. U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, called for 2,000 reinforcements to cope with the rising threat of clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the troubled sector.

Film released by a German television station last week seemed to support long-running allegations of torture and war crimes by Russian soldiers in Chechnya. The footage showed dozens of bodies, some tied at the ankles with wire and mutilated, piled into a mass grave and another dead man being dragged across a muddy field tied to a Russian truck. Russian officials dismissed the film as "propaganda" and said the tape actually showed the burial of rebels killed in combat.

Six members of a Bulgarian medical staff, a doctor and five nurses, go on trial this week in Libya accused of wilfully infecting 393 children with hiv at the Al-Fateh Children's hospital in Benghazi in 1998. Libyan authorities arrested the medics in February last year along with 15 colleagues who were subsequently released. The North African country, which is desperately short of qualified personnel, employs thousands of medical and engineering workers from Bulgaria and other former communist countries.

Pope John Paul II appealed for Christian-Muslim harmony during the first visit by a Roman Catholic pontiff to Egypt. More than 20,000 faithful gathered in Cairo for the first Mass of a three-day trip. The Pope denounced a recent outburst of sectarian violence in Nigeria and called on Christians and Muslims everywhere to "consolidate peace." Before a visit to the ancient St. Catherine's Monastery near Mount Sinai, where biblical tradition says Moses received the Ten Commandments, the Pope reinforced his message of religious tolerance by meeting the heads of Egypt's main religious communities, Muslim Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi and Coptic Pope Senouda III.

Religious clashes between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria's northern city of Kaduna left over 300 people dead. Groups of Muslims and Christians, armed with sticks and cutlasses, clashed in the streets as Christians marched to protest the planned introduction of Islamic Shari'a law, which bans alcohol and punishes thieves with amputation. The Roman Catholic cathedral and nearby central mosque were both set ablaze. Troops were called in to end the fighting and impose a 20-hour-a-day curfew on the city. Last month the state of Zamfara became the first to introduce Shari'a law, followed last week by the states of Niger and Sokoto. Despite assurances from Muslim leaders that Shari'a will not apply to them, Christians are unconvinced.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe strongly denied reports that the 180-member central committee of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front had asked him to resign following his defeat in the referendum on a new constitution which would have given him greater autocratic power. Meanwhile two journalists and a newspaper executive were arrested and charged with criminally defaming the government-appointed commission that drew up the draft constitution, by publishing a story that the document had been printed before the referendum. Last week Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled that Mugabe may be forced to release secret reports about the alleged killing of up to 20,000 government opponents between 1980, when the country won independence from Britain, and 1988.

Two weeks of flooding had already killed 67 people and displaced 211,000 before Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique last week. The tropical storm brought further misery to the East African country with at least another 70 deaths and disease threatening up to 800,000. As international agencies began to organize emergency relief the first cases of cholera were reported. Mozambique's government, which estimated that over 23,000 hectares of crops had been lost and 30,000 cattle drowned, appealed for $65 million in aid while the U.N. asked for $13 million of fresh funds to provide food, medicines and temporary housing.

The eastern Indian state of Bihar lived up to its reputation for political violence, with 43 people killed in poll-related brutality during voting for the 324-seat state assembly. More than half the deaths occurred on the first day of polling, when the state's well-armed and organized communist groups, known as Naxalites, attacked an election booth, set off a land mine and looted weapons from policemen deployed to maintain security. At least 19 policemen were killed in the attacks. The police hit back at another kind of well-armed group--gangs of mercenary thugs who specialize in taking over voting booths, stuffing ballot boxes with bogus votes and ensuring the victory of their candidate-patron. Some 14 "booth grabbers" were shot dead by police.

Chinese attempts to dissuade Taiwanese voters from supporting President Lee Teng-hui in the 1996 election backfired. Then the mainland government staged menacing war games near the island and Lee Teng-hui won a landslide victory. In advance of this month's elections the Chinese issued a policy paper warning that it would invade the island if talks on reunification were delayed indefinitely. Though Taipei stock market prices fell sharply the island's Mainland Affairs Council denounced "China's belligerent nature and hegemonic thinking."

Violence throughout the Malaku island chain, once known as the Spice Islands, has claimed an estimated 3,000 lives, displaced thousands and left hundreds of houses, mosques, churches and buildings burned or destroyed since January 1999. The violence returned to the island of Bacan in North Maluku province Tuesday, ending two weeks of calm in the region, with 12 people reported killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians. At least 30 people were injured, one church was burned and more than 90 homes were destroyed.

An exceptionally harsh winter in Mongolia has killed over 800,000 head of livestock, creating desperate hardship for nearly one third of the population whose livelihoods depend on them. The Mongolian Red Cross appealed to the international community for food aid. It estimated that at least 238,000 people were short of food, with 30,000 of them in dire need.

A former Los Angeles policeman who alleged that colleagues had framed scores of innocent people was sentenced to five years in jail. Rafael Perez was convicted of stealing 3.6 kg of cocaine from an evidence room in the Los Angeles Police Department. His relatively light sentence came from a plea bargain in which he revealed information about police corruption in the poor Rampart area of the city. Perez's testimony has led to the dismissal or suspension of 20 former colleagues, while 40 tainted convictions have been overturned since the scandal became public in September.

At least 20 people were beheaded by members of a right-wing paramilitary death squad as political violence worsened throughout Colombia. The massacre took place during a three-day rampage by about 200 members of an ultra-right paramilitary group operating in the north of the country. News of the killings came a day after the government said it was preparing to start negotiations with the National Liberation Army, Colombia's second-largest leftist rebel group. Meanwhile, a 14-member delegation of government negotiators and Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia representatives continued a tour of Europe to discuss the kinds of different social and economic models that might be applied in Colombia.