World Watch

7 minute read

Finally Caught in The Act: 17 November
Greek police made their first-ever breakthrough in the hunt for the country’s most elusive terror group, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November. Authorities named Savvas Xeros, a 40-year-old icon painter who was severely wounded June 29 in a botched bomb attack in Piraeus, as a foot soldier of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist group. Police later found a computer and weapons at 17 November’s main hide-out, a ground-floor apartment in the residential Kato Patisia district in Athens. A second weapons cache was later discovered in the district of Pangrati. This is the closest Greek police have come to tracking down the group that burst onto the scene 27 years ago, killing the then CIA station chief in Greece, Richard Welch. Since that time 17 November has claimed responsibility for another 22 killings. Its targets have included American diplomats and military personnel as well as Greek politicians, judges and businessmen. The group’s last attack came in June 2000 with the assassination of the British defense attaché to Athens, Brigadier Stephen Saunders.

The Vatican has sworn in the first non-white member of the Swiss Guard, the soldiers who protect the Pope. Private Dhani Bachmann was born in India and adopted by a Swiss-German family when he was five years old. The Swiss Guard has recently had problems finding people who meet its high standards. The soldiers of the Guard must have completed their Swiss military service — they also have to be practicing Catholics and of irreproachable character. But there are upsides. The Guards get to wear colorful garb and, when they have done their two-year stint, many leave for lucrative jobs with some of the world’s best-known security services.

Peace Reprieve
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia until July 15. The mission’s mandate had been due to expire after the U.S. refused to back a full renewal of the operation in order to protest the opening of the new International Criminal Court. The U.S. claims the court would subject innocent American soldiers serving abroad to malicious prosecutions.

AIDS Unbeaten
A new HIV/AIDS report from UNAIDS revealed that sub-Saharan Africa is still the region hardest hit, with 70% of the world’s infections. Nine percent of people there between ages 15 and 49 are HIV-positive or have AIDS. Botswana is the worst case, with 39% of the adult population infected — a rise of 3% from last year.

Lagging Behind
The U.N.’s Arab Development Report, prepared by regional scholars, said poor governance partly explains why the Arab world has squandered the advantages it derived from the discovery of oil. The U.N. report, which covers 22 Arab countries and their 280 million people, paints a picture of backwardness. Per-capita income growth has shrunk over the past two decades to a level little above that of sub-Saharan Africa. Productivity is declining. Political participation is limited, and the region is rated lower than any other for accountability and freedom of expression. Half of all Arab women are illiterate, and the maternal mortality rate is four times that of East Asia.

Al-Qaeda Attacked
Police shot dead four men, suspected to be members of al-Qaeda, in a remote region near the Afghan border. Two officers died in the gunfight, which came at a vehicle checkpoint near the town of Kohat, 75 km south of Peshawar. Pakistani officials said the heavily armed men of Arab appearance opened fire on officers at the checkpoint. Thousands of Pakistani police and soldiers stepped up their search for al-Qaeda fighters after a shoot-out that left 10 Pakistani soldiers dead.

Mine Deaths
More than 50 coal miners were feared dead after two more accidents in China’s notorious mining industry. Thirty-nine workers were killed after a huge gas explosion tore through a coal mine in the town of Songshu in the northeastern province of Jilin. Fifteen miners were trapped underground by floods in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. Chinese coal mines have an infamous safety record, with thousands of workers killed each year.

East Timor’s President Xanana Gusmão ended his first state visit to Indonesia by laying a wreath at the country’s “heroes” cemetery. The gesture was aimed at reconciling the former enemies. Gusmão, who spent seven years in prison for leading a resistance movement against Indonesia, was on his first official trip to the country since East Timor became independent in May. The two states established full diplomatic ties but failed to solve outstanding problems, including compensation for Indonesian property in East Timor and the return of thousands of East Timorese refugees from Indonesia.

Troops Busted
Respect for the armed forces of the U.S. has never been higher. But now more than 80 U.S. Marines and sailors have been convicted in one of the largest drug busts in U.S. military history. Investigators seized $1.5 million worth of narcotics, including ecstasy, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Of the 84 people charged, 61 were accused of distributing drugs and 23 were accused of using them. Another 99 people, all civilians, have been charged in connection with similar offenses following the operation.

Comet Bound
NASA launched a space probe that scientists hope will help explain how the planets were formed. The Contour mission will aim to take close-up photographs of at least two comets, relatively close to earth at 50 million km. Comet Encke is believed to be an old object that gives off comparatively little gas and dust. In contrast, Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 recently split into several pieces, lending scientists the hope that they will see unaltered surfaces and materials from inside the comet. Paul Mahaffy, a NASA scientist, described comets as “chemical fossils of processes that happened over 4 billion years ago when the solar system was young and the planets were forming.”

Attacks Shatter the Fragile Peace
Unidentified gunmen assassinated Abdul Qadir, one of the country’s three Vice Presidents, in Kabul. Qadir, a Pashtun, was also Minister of Public Works. Earlier, 44 people died and 120 were injured when a nuptial party was attacked by U.S. warplanes near the village of Dehrawad in Uruzgan province, according to Afghan officials. The incident occurred during an operation to capture Taliban commanders. The U.S. military denied that it attacked after mistaking celebratory gunshots for anti-aircraft fire.

Sacking Arafat’s Rivals In the Name of Reform
In a week characterized by confusion and rumor, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat fired three of his most senior officials, including Jibril Rajoub, who, as head of preventive security in the West Bank, was responsible for trying to stop Palestinian militants from attacking Israelis. Rajoub is seen by many as a serious contender to succeed the 73-year-old Arafat. The sackings came as Arafat, under pressure from the U.S., embarked on reforms to the Palestinian Authority’s security services, judiciary and financial institutions.

A Common Tongue?
British and North Americans are often said to be divided by a common language. Now it seems this split could apply to nature. Two Canadian otters have been put under 24-hour guard in Scotland for fear they will be attacked by local cousins unable to understand their accents.

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