World Watch

  • Share
  • Read Later

DARMSTADT
German police are expected to charge three American teenagers with murder for the deaths of two motorists killed by rocks hurled from a pedestrian bridge. The Americans, children of U.S. military personnel stationed in Germany, reportedly developed a routine of spending their evenings throwing rocks from the bridge onto traffic below. A 41-year-old woman and a 20-year-old woman driving with her grandparents were killed when rocks as large as loaves of bread smashed through the windshields of their cars. The younger woman's grandparents were seriously injured and three people in other cars also suffered minor injuries. The cases fall under the jurisdiction of German law, and the Americans could face penalties of up to 10 years in prison if convicted as juveniles.

VIENNA
In a surprise move, far-right Austrian politician Jörg Haider resigned as leader of the Freedom Party, but failed to allay concerns over his party's inclusion in the country's new ruling coalition. Haider, who did not hold a cabinet post, claimed his intention was to silence accusations that Freedom Party ministers were controlled by him. He said the move would also help the government, which has been the target of intense criticism since taking office on Feb 4, to function smoothly. But E.U. officials said there would be no quick thaw in the international freeze on relations with Austria, a stance underlined by the dearth of foreign dignitaries and celebrities at last week's Opera Ball, Vienna's social event of the year.

ABA
As many as 400 people were killed in rioting in southeast Nigeria as sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims, originally triggered by plans to implement Islamic Shari'a law in certain northern states, erupted for the second consecutive week. After an emergency meeting between President Olusegun Obasanjo and state governors, it was announced that all states would continue to adhere to a single federal penal code. However, two northern states subsequently announced that they would persevere with their implementation of Shari'a.

HARARE
Exasperated by the government's failure to fulfil its independence-era pledge to buy white-owned farms and distribute them to black families, former guerrillas invaded white homesteads across Zimbabwe. A government proposal to seize white-owned farms without compensation was defeated in a February referendum, but last week President Robert Mugabe said that he would change the constitution in spite of the vote. He condoned the invasions a "democratic right to demonstrate." By week's end, heartened by Mugabe's statement that the government would not move against them, the squatters were refusing to leave the more than 70 properties they had seized.

MAPUTO
Following the worst flooding in Mozambique in decades, exhausted South African Air Force helicopter crews rescued thousands more people stranded on rooftops and in trees in the southern Limpopo River valley, moving them to higher ground where overwhelmed international aid workers provided what shelter, food, clean water and medicine they could. The waters of the Limpopo were receding somewhat at the weekend, but experts expressed concern about potential danger from a new cyclone, dubbed Gloria, to the east. Thousands of people remained marooned in low-lying areas of central Mozambique, where relief agencies have had even less impact so far. Supplies are beginning to pour into Maputo's airport, but distribution is presenting a logistical nightmare. Officials say about 1 million people need basic assistance.

JERUSALEM
In a blow to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Israeli parliament in a preliminary vote supported a bill aimed at blocking ratification of any future withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a key element in a potential land for peace agreement with Syria. The Knesset bill, which passed its first reading 60 to 53, would require that any withdrawal be approved by a majority of eligible votes: 61 of 120 Knesset members and, in a promised referendum, more than half of all registered voters. The bill was sponsored by the right-wing Likud opposition, which objects to a Golan giveback, but was backed by three of the parties in Barak's own coalition. However, the most critical of them, the ultra-orthodox Shas, was mainly protesting the government's refusal to let it control funding of its education system. Shas has hinted broadly that a concession on this issue would return the party to the coalition fold.

BEIJING
During a visit to China last week, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson criticized what she called a deterioration in the Chinese government's human rights record. Robinson cited curbs on the freedom of expression, the freedom of religion and the freedom of association as her main areas of concern, and voiced particular worry over Beijing's crackdown on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. Chinese authorities responded to Robinson's remarks by saying the government had made "remarkable progress" in its human rights record. Robinson failed to secure Chinese agreement on a technical program that would facilitate ratification for two key human rights accords, and her remarks are expected to bolster support for a move censuring China at the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting that convenes later this month.

JAKARTA
Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid continued his consolidation of authority over the country's powerful military establishment by naming a key supporter as commander of the army's strategic forces. Agus Wirahadikusumah, an outspoken general who has defended the concept of civilian supremacy over the armed forces, was the first senior officer to support President Wahid's dismissal of General Wiranto from his cabinet last month. Wirahadikusumah's appointment was part of a wider military shake-up involving dozens of high-ranking officers.

FLINT
Even a nation as inured to violent crime as the U.S.was stunned by the Michigan shooting of a 6-year-old girl by a gun-wielding classmate, also aged six. The boy who killed Kayla Rolland the day after a reported playground squabble apparently found the gun in the dilapidated house where he and his eight-year-old brother had been staying. The boy's father is in jail and his mother was not living in the house, where crack cocaine was reportedly sold. Prosecutors have decided that the boy is too young to have formed the intent necessary to commit a crime, and have charged one of the men who lived in the house with involuntary manslaughter, for creating "an atmosphere of reckless circumstances." Less than 24 hours after the school shooting, a gunman went on a rampage in two fast food restaurants outside Pittsburgh, killing one person and wounding four.

HAVANA
A Cuban diplomat expelled from the United States for alleged espionage returned to Cuba after a diplomatic incident in which he holed up in the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa for four days. Washington accused José Imperatori of aiding a U.S. official charged with spying, but Imperatori said he was the victim of a campaign to discredit those fighting for the return to Cuba of Elián González, a six-year-old at the center of an international custody battle that has strained U.S.-Cuba relations. Canada granted Imperatori a 48-hour transit visa to facilitate his return to Cuba since there are no scheduled flights from the U.S. to Havana. But when he arrived in Montreal, he traveled to Ottawa and began a hunger strike, vowing to continue until he was allowed to return to the U.S. to clear his name. A deal was reached that the Cuban government says will allow Imperatori to return to the U.S. to take part in legal proceedings.

SANTIAGO
Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was welcomed by cheering crowds and senior military officials when he returned home last week after 16 months of detention in Britain. Pinochet was released when British Home Secretary Jack Straw decided not to extradite him to Spain to face torture charges under a Spanish arrest warrant. Straw cited the general's medical condition as the reason for his decision, saying that he believed a trial, "however desirable, was simply no longer possible." Pinochet was believed to be in extremely frail health, but surprised observers at the Santiago airport with his unexpectedly robust appearance as he stood and hugged members of the welcome party. The Chilean government criticized the festive nature of the welcome ceremony, and in a nationally televised address on the eve of Pinochet's arrival, President Eduardo Frei reminded listeners that "no Chilean citizen is above the law."