World Watch

6 minute read

Power Shift on Capitol Hill
President George W. Bush suffered his worst political setback since taking office when Republican Senator James Jeffords of Vermont quit the party, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats. “Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances in which I will disagree with the President on fundamental issues,” Jeffords explained. The Senator’s decision to stand as an independent, effective this week, will give the Democrats a 50-49 majority and control over committee chairmanships and the legislative agenda. The incoming Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Tom Daschle, said his party would work with Bush in a spirit of “principled compromise,” but analysts predicted the change could hamper several of Bush’s controversial programs, including the planned missile-defense system and his energy policies. The Democrats will now also influence the choice of judicial nominees, including Supreme Court justices, and the appointment of top government officials. “This isn’t about a single Senate seat,” said Democrat Senator Robert Torricelli. “This is an enormous shift of influence in the federal government.”

Gentleman’s Game
A report into matchfixing in cricket revealed that corruption is rife. Former London police chief Paul Condon was appointed to the International Cricket Council’s Anti-Corruption Unit six months ago, after former South African captain Hansie Cronje admitted taking money from bookmakers. Condon’s report confirms “at least 20 years of corruption linked to betting on international cricket” and asserts that cases so far publicized are “the tip of the iceberg.”

Impeach Chirac?
A parliamentary petition seeking the impeachment of President Jacques Chirac garnered a surprising 30 of the 58 signatures needed to request proceedings. The document calls for Chirac to face charges of alleged corruption during his 18-year reign as mayor of Paris. Last month judge Eric Halphen dropped his investigation since the President enjoys immunity from prosecution, but said he had substantial evidence of corruption.

Milosevic Evidence
Former President Slobodan Milosevic tried to cover up war crimes in Kosovo by attempting to hide the bodies of civilian casualties, says a police report released in Belgrade last week. Police were investigating a case of a refrigerator truck dumped into the Danube River in 1999, found to contain the bodies of some 50 ethnic Albanian victims, most probably killed by Milosevic’s police. The report indicates that Milosevic, already indicted for crimes against humanity by a U.N.-established court in the Hague, could also be charged for war crimes in his home country.

Coalition Threat
A coalition government forged in May to find a politicial solution to Macedonia’s deepening crisis neared collapse. Politicians representing Macedonia’s Slav majority rejected a peace deal signed by ethnic Albanian members of the new coalition and Albanian rebel leaders. The rebels demanded the power to veto government reforms affecting Albanian rights, in return for peace.

Journalist Targeted
Journalist and regional legislature member Olga Kitova was arrested for the second time in three months in Belgorod, 700 km southeast of Moscow. Kitova’s whistle blowing on financial machinations and police brutality has long annoyed local authorities. Kitova already was awaiting trial after police arrested her in March. She charged that police beat her during that arrest, and she was released after a public outcry. Kitova suffered heart problems during the latest arrest and was placed under police guard in a local hospital.

Powell Pledges U.S. Support
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was “moved” to be on his first official trip to Africa, which took him to Mali, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. The visit focused on regional conflicts and the aids crisis. Powell said the U.S. would support the efforts of regional organizations to end conflict in Africa, but admitted the U.S. was uncertain on its peacekeeping role. Problems in Zimbawe, the Congo and Sudan were also high on his agenda.

Reception Hall Reduced to Rubble
Survivors said it was like an earthquake. Hundreds of people celebrating a wedding in Jerusalem’s southern district of Talpiot felt the floor shudder and then give way, plunging at least 24 people to their deaths and reducing the reception hall to rubble. Police said it could take days to find those trapped underneath the debris in what was Israel’s worst civil disaster. Police said the building’s collapse was caused by a structural fault and detained eight people, including the hall’s owners and the builders reponsible for its construction. The bride and groom survived.

Campaigner Jailed
An Egyptian court convicted a prominent Egyptian human rights campaigner of defaming Egypt’s image and accepting foreign money without government approval. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who holds dual Egyptian and American citizenship, and 27 members of his Ibn Khaldun Center for Development, were arrested last June on charges that included spying for the U.S. Ibrahim and his co-defendants received sentences of between one and seven years.

Hindu I.D.s
With an edict that provoked memories of the Third Reich, the ruling Taliban militia ordered Hindus to wear a yellow badge. The head of the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Mohammed Wali, insisted that the badges would protect Hindus from the religious police. But international condemnation of the decree threatens to further isolate the war-torn country.

Aid for Lepers
In a surprise turnaround, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced that the government would not appeal a district court ruling ordering compensation for leprosy victims. The court ruled that the policy of confining lepers, which lasted until 1996, violated their human rights and was unconstitutional by 1960, since drug therapy had been long established. The government decided to widen the compensation to all former lepers and enact a law to give them about $150,000 each.

Spy Plane Twist
Shadowboxing over the stranded U.S. spy plane continued with Beijing’s announcement that it had agreed to allow the plane held at Hainan Island to be dismantled and returned. But U.S. officials denied that the issue had been resolved. China appeared to seek a calming of relations, despite the U.S.-transit visit of Taiwan President Chen Shui-Bian and Bush’s meeting with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Children Protest
Around 400 children marched on the capital, Buenos Aires, demanding jobs for their parents and food for themselves. The protesters, aged between two and 18, had journeyed for two weeks from the northern city of La Quiaca, some 2,000 km away. The march was organized by charities campaigning to help Argentina’s children, more than half of whom live below the poverty line. In recent protests, thousands of unemployed people blockaded roads into the capital demanding work or benefits.

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