World Watch

  • Share
  • Read Later

A packed British Airways jet flying from London to Nairobi plunged thousands of feet after an intruder stormed the cockpit and struggled with the aircrew. The autopilot disengaged during the melée, sending the craft into a dive as the pilot and first officer, aided by passengers, subdued the intruder and restored control. Nairobi police later described the intruder as a "mental patient." Four passengers and a flight attendant suffered minor injuries, and the captain was bitten on the ear and finger.

The management of state-run Czech Television stopped broadcasts as journalists staged protests and produced their own newscasts following the appointment of Jiri Hodac as director general. The journalists charged that Hodac was politically biased and that some decisions made by him when he was head of the news department were influenced by his close ties to the Civic Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. They were backed by the country's President, Vaclav Havel, a former dissident and playwright, who said Hodac's appointment may have followed the letter of the law but was "against its sense, its spirit." Hodac refused to resign, and suggested that force could be used to remove the journalists from the newsroom.

Less than three months after losing the presidential race, Slobodan Milosevic suffered another major blow as dos, the coalition led by his successor Vojislav Kostunica, took more than two-thirds of the 250 seats in the Serbian parliament. Milosevic's socialists, with only 37 seats, were pushed to the far margin as officials in Belgrade announced that criminal charges against the former dictator will be filed in coming weeks. Meanwhile, Serbia was plagued by severe power shortages caused by scarce water supplies and years of neglect, and by incursions of ethnic Albanian rebels operating in the buffer zone between nato peacekeepers in Kosovo and Serbia proper. Kostunica's cabinet asked the United Nations Security Council to clear the rebels from the area, warning that it would take action if the U.N. did not move quickly.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the West Bank and Gaza Strip sealed off after a pair of bomb attacks killed two Israeli soldiers and injured 15 other people. Palestinians from the West Bank were unable to enter the Old City of Jerusalem for Friday prayers, and all work permits to enter Israel were canceled. Earlier in the week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called off a summit with Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to discuss a peace plan put forward by President Bill Clinton. The cancellation reportedly followed a noncommittal response from Arafat to Clinton's proposal that Palestinians give up the right of return for refugees in exchange for sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The U.S. blueprint is widely seen as the last chance for a settlement before Clinton leaves office later this month and Barak faces a critical election in February.

The Algerian government broke its silence on the violent attacks by Islamic militants during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said there would be no leniency shown to those responsible. More than 250 people were killed in the bloodiest Ramadan since 1997, when 1,500 people died. The victims this time include 15 teenagers who were shot and killed in a boarding school dormitory and a young cabaret singer who had her throat slit with a sword at a discothèque where she was performing. The violence is mainly blamed on two well-armed rebel groups that rejected an amnesty offered by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to militants who handed in their weapons by a Jan. 13, 2000 deadline. More than 100,000 people have died since 1992, when the military canceled elections that a now-banned fundamentalist party was poised to win.

Kenya's ruling party suspended five members of parliament seen as fiercely critical of President Daniel arap Moi. The Kenya African National Union (kanu) has been angered at losing a number of critical parliamentary votes over the past year. The suspended M.P.s include influential former Finance Minister Simeon Nyachae, who has declared that he will run for President when Moi's term legally comes to an end in 2002. Suspension and expulsion of party members, once an oft-used means of muzzling dissenting voices, has been rare since Moi yielded to public pressure and allowed multi-party politics before elections in 1992.

As Filipinos prepared to celebrate the New Year, five bombs exploded in the capital, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than 90. The near-simultaneous blasts hit transportation links and a park near the U.S. Embassy. Officials blamed Muslim extremists, and police had earlier warned that Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist group, were planning grenade attacks over the holidays. An aide to President Joseph Estrada denied that the tragedy would be used as an excuse to declare martial law and thus deflect attention from his ongoing impeachment trial.

A phantom remark that the alleged speaker denies he ever made — and nobody can find evidence he did — sparked off the worst anti-Indian rioting in the Nepalese capital for more than a decade. Indian movie star Hrithik Roshan was alleged to have said in an Indian TV interview that he disliked Nepal and the Nepalese. Neither his vigorous denial nor the screening of the suspect interview failed to halt the wave of violence and arson that resulted in four deaths and at least 12 injuries, left cars, buses and Indian businesses in flames and inspired a ban on Indian movies. Another victim of the violence was Nepal's Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, who faced a vote of no confidence from rebels within his ruling Congress Party over his handling of the crisis.

In an incident that highlights the poor safety standards common throughout China's construction industry, 309 people were killed after fire swept through a dancehall packed with Christmas partygoers. The building had no fire or smoke alarms, and exits along a maze of corridors were blocked by boxes of goods piled up against the doors. Local media reports said the building had failed a safety inspection only a week previously. Four welders carrying out renovation work on a lower floor reportedly "confessed" to accidentally starting the fire, the worst such disaster since December 1994, when 324 people were killed in a concert hall in Xinjiang.

In the biggest cull of its kind in North America, Canadian health officials ordered more than 1,500 domesticated elk from six farms in the province of Saskatchewan to be slaughtered to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease (cwd). The malady is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (bse), better known as "mad cow" disease. Although the number of confirmed cwd cases is relatively small, there is no way to test live animals, so all those known to have been exposed to the disease are killed as a precaution. Elk are farmed for their meat as well as their antler velvet, which is used in alternative medicines, particularly in Asia. There is no evidence of cwd spreading from elk to humans or cattle, but the World Health Organization says no products from animals infected with any disease related to bse should be consumed.

A federal judge agreed to a request by convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh that he be executed in 120 days' time, the earliest date allowed under federal law. Judge Richard Matsch gave McVeigh until Jan. 11 to change his mind. McVeigh stands to become the first person to be executed under federal, rather than state, jurisdiction in 38 years. The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.

Mexico City
Popocatépetl, the volcano that produced its most spectacular eruption in 1,200 years on Dec. 18, released fresh puffs of smoke and ash to welcome home the 40,000 residents who had fled its slopes. But authorities who monitor the 5,465-m-high volcano, 65 km southeast of Mexico City, said the worst of its current phase of activity was over. The eruption caused no injuries or serious damage. The last evacuation occurred in 1994, when the volcano rumbled to life after nearly 70 years of inactivity.