World Watch

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Britain's suspension of the two-month-old Northern Ireland government was intended to prevent the resignation of First Minister David Trimble and to force the Irish Republican Army to reconsider its reluctance to give up its weapons. In the event Trimble continued in efforts to rescue the peace accord agreed in April 1998, but the I.R.A. pulled out of talks with the disarmament commission of General John de Chastelain and withdrew any previous offers of compromise.

Spanish judicial authorities have condemned the leaking of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte's medical report after the High Court in London released it in strictest confidence. The leaked document says that the 84-year-old former Chilean dictator has suffered brain damage from minor strokes and is not currently fit enough to be extradited to Spain to stand trial on torture charges. Spain was the only country out of the four recipients--Spain, Belgium, France and Switzerland--to have broken confidentiality. Government spokesman Josep Piqué shrugged off the revelations as "good investigative journalism."

A spill of cyanide-laced sludge from the Baia Mare gold reprocessing plant in Romania left a trail of biological devastation in its wake. Along stretches of the Tisza River in Hungary, where concentrations of the poison reached 800 times acceptable levels, tons of dead pike, carp and bream were hauled from the water. Otters and white-tailed eagles--an endangered species--that consumed the fish perished too. Though the cyanide became more dilute as it drifted downstream and into the Serbian portion of the Danube, levels were still poisonous when it arrived at the Bulgarian border. Esmeralda Exploration Ltd., the Australian company that co-owns the reprocessing plant, said that reports of devastation were overblown, but environmental scientists predict that it will take years for ecosystems to recover.

In the worst outbreak of violence since the deployment of a 50,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo, ethnic Albanians exchanged sniper fire with Serbs, then turned their guns on French peacekeepers, killing one Albanian and injuring two French soldiers in Kosovska Mitrovica. KFOR soldiers launched a security sweep, arresting 57 locals, and increased patrols across the ethnically divided city during which they stopped an ambulance loaded with 14 anti-tank rockets, 183 grenades and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. Kosovo's U.N. administrator, Bernard Kouchner, appealed for an extra 400 peacekeepers for the area.

Six months of pounding by artillery and air force, and several weeks of brutal street fighting have reduced the Chechen capital to a heap of rubble. No house is left intact. Some 500 Russian engineer troops are working to remove booby traps left by the rebels, and unexploded Russian shells and bombs. The Russians claim that around 300 rebel fighters remain among 15,000 to 17,000 civilians in Grozny. Wary of a possible rebel counterstrike on Feb. 23, the anniversary of the Chechen people's deportation by Stalin in 1943, the Russians have closed the city. Meanwhile, Russian troops are bracing for a "final assault" at the Vedeno and Argun gorges in southern Chechnya, where the main rebel forces are entrenched.

Turkey's "Batman-gate" scandal deepened after allegations that Salih Sahman, the former governor of Batman province in the Kurdish southeast, set up a private militia in the mid-1990s at the height of the Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) insurrection. Many of the weapons are now believed to have found their way to Turkish Hizballah militants who opposed the Marxist-inspired P.K.K.. The suspicion is that Hizballah, with unofficial state backing at the time, may have been behind a reign of terror in the southeast. A month-long crackdown on the group has discovered 57 gruesomely tortured bodies in Hizballah hideouts and led to a Feb. 14 shootout, resulting in the deaths of five police and two Hizballah in the eastern city of Van.

So enthusiastic were Iran's voters to mark their ballot papers in Friday's elections to the 290-member Majlis that polling stations were kept open an extra two hours. The strong turnout among 38.7 million eligible voters gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the reformist policies of President Mohammed Khatami. Much of the election campaign focused on the youth population--more than half of Iran's population is under 25--who firmly supported Khatami.

Increased urban opposition to the government and an absence of support from his traditional rural areas resulted in a dramatic referendum setback for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. 55% rejected acceptance of a new constitution which would have entrenched Mugabe's autocratic power and allowed the government to seize white-owned land without paying compensation. Although opposition has been growing over the Mugabe government's policies, particularly the handling of the country's worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party is still expected to be returned to power in a general election scheduled for April.

After hijackers of an Ariana Afghan Airlines plane surrendered peacefully at Britain's Stansted Airport, 75 of the hijacked flight's passengers opted to seek asylum while 73 returned to Afghanistan on a chartered flight. Those who returned home were greeted with turbans and new clothing by Taliban authorities. The Taliban have asked Britain to deny asylum to the passengers who stayed and are urging British authorities to severely punish the plane's 13 hijackers.

As a controversial new law came into effect last Tuesday Bangladesh was once again paralyzed by protest strikes. The parliamentary opposition to the government of Sheikh Hasina has boycotted proceedings since the middle of last year and has called 55 national strikes since 1996. The new legislation, aimed at curbing crime, provoked violent protests, with one man killed and several wounded as some 40 homemade bombs went off in Dhaka. The protesters say the law, which may allow arrest without bail, could be used against political opponents.

Some 13 years after India tried to bring an end to Sri Lanka's 17-year separatist war Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek arrived in Colombo last week to bring together the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The peace effort came as violence continued with rebels attacking military targets in the north and east that left 57 dead. After talks with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, Vollebaek cautioned that starting direct talks would be difficult. "This will take time. It will be difficult and will require courage and sacrifices."

The Canadian government backed down on a threat to impose sanctions against Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc., eliciting a rebuke from the U.S. State Department. Ottawa's decision follows the release of a fact-finding report that said revenues from a Talisman-backed oil development in southern Sudan could be linked to government human rights abuses in the war-ravaged country. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said the situation would not change if Talisman quit the Sudan project, but added that he would push the oil giant to help monitor abuses in the country. The U.S government imposed sanctions against the oil project and Sudan's state-owned oil company.

Lucy Edwards, a former executive with the Bank of New York, and her husband, Peter Berlin, pleaded guilty to money laundering in Federal court in New York. The couple admitted that they had accepted $1.8 million from Russian mob figures to run a complicated scheme which allowed Russians to funnel billions of dollars through New York accounts controlled by Berlin. "We were paid substantial commissions for very little work," Edwards told the court. The couple, who are now aiding authorities in their investigation, have agreed to forfeit more than $1 million of the proceeds from their activities and could face 10 years in jail.

Argentina's State Intelligence Service (side) has been purged of around 1,200 agents, including a number of suspected participants in the "disappearance" of some 11,000 people during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. The new administration of President Fernando de la Rua is determined to rein in spending at the side, which ballooned from $34 million to $360 million during the 10-year administration of former President Menem. side chief Fernando de Santinbañes announced that the layoffs form part of a $160 million budget cut and a modernization drive to shift the agency's attention away from spying on internal political opponents to drug money laundering and tax evasion.