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1998 L'année - the year

World follows Clinton debacle

Diplomats are fearful for the Middle-East peace process, newspapers and other media are asking the president to come clean while the White House staff initially asked everyone to move on, before rallying to Clinton's support after allegations, in the midst of the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton, extra-marital affairs may have followed him into the Oval office. Monica Lewinsky, subpoenaed to testify in the Jones case, says she not only had a longstanding relationship with the president while she was an intern at the White House, but was also told to keep quiet about it under oath. The president's testimony last week in the Jones investigation is also put into question. The latest bombshell came amid reports the president acknowledged for the first time he had an affair with Jennifer Flowers in the 1970s, one he had denied ever existed during the 1992 campaign which led to his re-election. While the president's sustained popularity ratings have shown Americans aren't particularly interested in his private life, there is concern Lewinsky was asked to lie under oath, and that the president has been less than truthful under oath himself. The new scandals, now becoming as common as affairs rocking the Monarchy in Britain, forced back anchormen from America's top networks who had been covering the pope's historic visit to Cuba. On the island nation the pontiff lashed at America for imposing sanctions on the Caribbean nation but also attacked Communism. The visit had marked the return of Catholicism in Cuba, where it had been banned for years (LIRE) following the revolution, and in the West created hopes the papal visit would start a democratic wave down the road. The Clinton scandal also topped newspaper covers across Europe, particularly in Britain where tabloids speculated on the future of the presidency as well as the broadsheet Times and Guardian papers. In France however the stories were initially downplayed. In that country the media hardly attaches much importance to politicians' private lives, especially since former president François Mitterrand was notorious for having fathered a child with a mistress. Although under Clinton the media have not displayed the carnivorous hunger for destructive personal scandals seen in the 1984 campaign which cost Gary Heart his candidacy, they have started questioning the appropriateness of an image which, according to TIME, "painted the White House as a harem, the President as a lecher and the government as a hostage to his libido." The president's is an image which Americans prefer strong and unshakable. Even in Hollywood, in popular movies such as Air Force One, Harrisson Ford played the role of a heroic president saving his staff from terrorists set out to try to pry the release of their leader out of him. In another movie, Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, the president is framed for sexually assaulting and killing a member of the White House staff, but the president is found innocent. Of course there have been detractors. The popular show Saturday Night Live has for years made sketches of Clinton's escapades as Arkansas governor. More recently the movie Wag the Dog describes the work of spin doctors creating a crisis in faraway Albania to divert attention from a sexual a harassment case involving the president at home. Familiar? Meanwhile the sabres are rattling over Saddam Hussein's latest defiance to U.N. inspectors. Many analysts, academics and scholars have tied intervention in the Gulf to the present sex scandal. In 1991 Saddam Hussein's attack on Kuwait was also seen as a way to detract attention from troubles at home to focus on foreign action, and ultimately, make all common defenders against the allies which responded. But military officials, which have warned Iraq it had one last chance to comply to U.N. inspectors before a possible February attack, say the offensive has been in the works for weeks, ever since Baghdad stopped co-operating with the Unscom mission set up to assess the country's weapons capabilities. As a matter of fact, there are fears the present situation could have the adverse effect of making such an offensive difficult because of troubles at home. All the while Saddam Hussein has been emboldened by Clinton's entanglements and has been less flexible, bringing about the inevitability of a strike for which he has been preparing volunteers and regular forces. As the speculation mounted on the foreign policy front, much of the attention at home was turned to the rallying of Clinton's troops around the president,headed by Hillary, and Monday's firm denial Clinton had any sexual relations with Mrs Lewinsky or that he had asked her to lie about such an involvement. The annual State of the Union speech contained no words on the lingering scandal but did serve as warning America would not tolerate the development of new Iraqi capacities to use weapons of mass destruction: "Saddam cannot defy the will of the world". In the event of a strike against Irak, a bipartisan support will stand behind the president. The speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in a rare display of unity, said that "when it comes to foreign policy America is one". Republicans have been silent during the sex scandal, bearing in mind memories of the fallout of Watergate on this congressional elections year.The first month alone leading to the ballot has been quite eventful.

 

Storm question of patience

Quebec is reaching the end of its state of crisis but remains in a state of emergency as authorities are getting the upper hand on the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in Canadian history and organizing recuperation efforts. At one time the ice storm caused power failures in over a million homes, affecting three million inhabitants in Ontario and Quebec. Power was then gradually restored in most parts of the island of Montreal and in some communities of the south shore, but other areas could still be out for days, even weeks. All last week there seemed to be few safe places in communities across Quebec. Authorities urged their citizens to stay indoors, and for those without shelter, with relatives or in one of hundreds of shelters set up, supplying bed, food as well as entertainment. The streets were littered with trees, as dangerous as they were sparkling and beautiful, because of at times thick layers of ice which could makes branches snap under the weight, sometimes even split large treets in two or uproot them altogether. Falling trees damaged properties and vehicles, roads were icy, ice came off buildings from great heights and blowing transformers in some neighborhoods of the south shore of Montreal added to the dangers and completed the scene of a disaster area. Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, himself without power, toured the afflicted regions, as did returning mayor Bourque, who cut short a trip in Asia and Chretien. Bouchard called for the assistance of the military which sent initially 3,000 and then 6,000 more troops to support thousands of overworked Hydro and municipal workers, who themselves called for the assistance of out of province and out of country electric services. The storm also hit the Outaouais areas around the nation's capital and the Northeast United States, where Bill Clinton declared a state of emergency, but Quebec bore the brunt of the frozen rain which fell on the towns and cities last week, from Cornwall to the North shore, one of Canada's most densely populated areas. Warmer air, which some blame on El Nino, has been coming up from the states and raised on top of the cooler Canadian air, causing precipitations to turn into instantly freezing rain, as Quebecers woke up to a landscape of total ice cover. Trees, pillars and even power towers have buckled under the weight of the increasingly dense frozen mass. Many citizens have been treated for injuries after having slipped on icy sidewalks, filling emergency wards. After a few days some hospitals which were experiencing difficulties with their generators, such as Montreal's General, only accepted emergency cases. In addition there were cases of intoxication as half a dozen people died because of the storm, some in failed attempts to heat their homes as fears grew extended periods without power would cause water pipes to burst. There were many cases of food poisoning as citizens consumed foods left in idle fridges. Municipalities meanwhile were dealing with the growing flow of people abandoning their homes, as temperatures chilled, and headed for increasingly squeezed shelters. There is according to authorities no shortage of space or volunteers to assist the afflicted, it's only a matter of meeting demand with offers. For instance while in some shelters there were fears of overcrowding as tempers flared and patience grew thin (particularly in south shore areas not expecting power for days), in others occupants raved about the quality of food and entertainment. While in some centers they were hundreds in the same room with faltering generators and no hot water, others offered individual rooms, boeuf bourguignon, and karaoke... Homes, are last on Hydro's priority list after hospitals, clinics and businesses, and many were reluctant to leave their homes by fear of having their homes ransacked by intruders. In a city which could ill afford more bad publicity, and which only hoped to pull out of economic gloom this year, the power outages and travel warnings kept businesses closed, including half of the downtown core. Initial attempts to restore power in the center failed, taking other neighborhoods in the dark. When power was finally restored this week, authorities urged offices to remain closed until mid-week, and households to reduce consumption to a minimum by fear of causing other crashes. As power was gradually restored to the island, authorities could concentrate on the more heavily afflicted areas south of the city, but caution and moderation were the key operative words as the entire network feeding Montreal initially hung on a thread carrying 10% of the usual capacity. Because so much was initially riding on Montreal's recuperation, the Outaouais suffered powerlosses during peak consumption hours, around diner time, a time authorities preached moderation. Beyond preachings there were warnings directed towards businesses which rolled ahead at full capacity, which authorities threatened to shut down. But the general mood, besides patience, was more one of solidarity, preached and heeded in Quebec city where Laval university alone massed 500 beds into trucks heading down the 20 to the south shore (NPU photo, page 5), and practised massively around Montreal. Businesses unable to keep their fresh produce much longer offered it to shelters across the city. Response was overwhelming when Premier Bouchard and Quebec mayor L'Allier asked those with power to open their homes to strangers in need: two thousands did, but only hundreds were takers. Many elderly also refused assistance and had to be forced out of their homes by fear of hypothermia. At no time was food shortage ever imminent in Montreal, although power failure s at water treatment plants did require that citizens boil their water in certain areas. Access did represent problems in many areas including the city, as bridges remained closed for days for deicing, rail links were cut off altogether and airports took days to return to normal capacity. When they did, they welcomed thousands of troops sent from the Maritimes and Alberta to participate in the cleaning effort and to assist authorities in other functions. It became imperative to take advantage of balmy weather to de-ice buildings, trees and bridges before temperatures dropped again. The operation was the largest-ever mobilization of military personnel in peace-time in this country, bringing heavy machinery to clear paths, lift and clear obstacles, or fly over them, and most of all, know-how in how to deal with large amounts of displaced persons. As the days went on power was being restored to more than half the people who had suffered losses when the storm began, but for those who remain weeks may be left before they return home.

 

Abacha dies, soldiers keep power in Nigeria

Nigerian strongman Samuel Abacha's death, after the end of Suharto's rule in Indonesia, marks the second time in less than a month that a long-time dictator has been removed at the head of a regional power. Human rights activitists and exiled playwrights contend it will give Nigeria new hopes for change; by ultimately giving power to the winner of the annuled 1993 vote, Moshood Abiola. Political scientists and other analysts however fear the strength of Abacha's grip on power, in a country he ruled violently, and the lack of a clear successor, could start trouble in Africa's largest country, once torn by secessionist ambitions. Secession is also an issue in Indonesia, where suggestions to give East Timor a special status in the country has only wet the appetite for total independence of the former Portuguese colony. Secession is currently a hot issue elsewhere in Africa as well, as Erithrea and Ethiopia have been fighting a bloody border war, and in nearby Sudan which remains torn between Karthoum's Islamist regime and rebels in the South, to cite just two examples. (Secession is a hot issue from Burundi to Casamance) The countries are inextricably linked because of previous struggles between Erithrea and Sudan, the former having supported rebel movements against Karthoum. (nearby Somalia is also rattled by an internal struggle) Erithrean independence occurred the year elections were canceled in Nigeria, propelling general Abacha to power, in 1993. In both countries a semblance of democracy emerged then, but the Erithrea record remains with much to improve on. Nigeria's elections were effectively rigged in April when no candidate dared to come forward. As in Indonesia, the military is instrumental in deciding the future ahead, starting with a successor. Then again opposition forces may have their word. For now a 55 year old soldier has been chosen by the junta. Declaring himself ready to respect democratic principles, general Abubakar promised to hand power to civilian forces in October. The current head of the army, Ishiaya Bamaiyi, and former military rulers agree time has come for the military to step down. But the opposition, used to similar promises in the past and short on patience, has been trying to organise street protests, usually harshly dealt with. Abubakar, as Indonesia's Habibie, who has set elections for next year, is widely expected to be just a transitional figure before more change. Such are the hopes after the removal of yet another dictator. Late this week there were signs the Nigerian junta may be ready to make additional concessions by releasing Abiola.

 

Turkey: tensions over Europe, Cyprus

Russia's recent decision to postpone the scheduled delivery of a sophisticated missile system to Cyprus has been the most effective way of calming tensions over the divided island in the Mediterranean, despite a number of recent attempts from other parties. Just as soon as he was picked at the U.S.' ambassador to the U.N., jet-setting negotiator Richard Holbrooke started looking into one of the most contentious issues in the Mediterranean: the Chypriot crisis. Recent tensions rose as Turkey intercepted and checked chips going to the island which they feared would deliver Soviet missiles ordered to bolster the Republic of Cyprus' (south) military forces. In addition the Greek Cypriots fueled the fire by landing military jets at one of their most recent military installations, prompting Turkey to send their own aircrafts. The U.S. also has plans of delivering military warships to both Turkey and Greece, in an effort to reduce to size of its navy. A decision with potentially serious consequences in the Mediterranean or the Aegean, a sea where both countries have conflicting claims over a number of islands. Despite an improvement in ties between Ankara and the EU, after Europe refused to consider Turkey for membership any time soon while putting Cyprus at the top of their list (The Turks consider the Northern half to be an independent republic, only recognized by Ankara) of potential candidates. The EU finds Turkey's membership hard to swallow because of Greece's veto, and because of Turkey's poor human rights record. Last week Turkey recalled its ambassador to Paris because France had issued a recent condemnation of Turkey's Armenian genocide in the past. Then Turkey recalled its ambassador to Switzerland because the country refused to let is celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Lauzanne Treaty there. The treaty divided the Ottoman empire between Turkey and the WWI Allied powers. Recently a French journalist working at Liberation newspaper was sentenced to 10 years in jail for having written on the plight of the Kurds. Turkey was notably singled out by the 1998 Amnesty International report for its foul treatment of Kurdish populations. The Turkish military has also been pressuring prime minister Yilmaz, who announced his resignation and new elections at the end of the year, for not putting enough pressure on Islamic fundamentalists. Previous prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, an Islamist, was effectively ousted from power in a silent military coup last year. To bolster its negotiating chip meanwhile, Greece is trying to woo the U.N. into giving it one of the rare rotating seats at the Security Council.

 

La France fête un 14 grandiose

Évidence même de l'engouement de circonstance pour le football en France, le "Garden party" annuel organisé par le président Jacques Chirac le 14 juillet dernier était tout autre qu'une assez sobre réunion de diplomates, militaires, journalistes et autres dignitaires officiels. Les jeunes étaient à l'honneur, et la cocarde et le tricolore également, mais ce n'était pas le président et le premier ministre, malgré leurs records de popularité dans les sondages, qui étaient tant attendus, mais les héros du ballon rond de la dernière édition de la coupe du monde, qui venait de s'achever il y avait à peine deux jours, et dont on s'était pas encore tout à fait remis du champagne. Et pour les voir, tous les moyens étaient permis; remonter le bou bou pour mieux grimper sur les épaules d'un autre, jouer du coude, du genou ou de la tête, un peu comme Zidane, ou alors y aller d'un pousse brusque comme les parrages de Barthez. En revanche, tous les moyens pour éviter le désastre étaient aussi employés par les forces de sécurité, notamment lorsque président et entraîneur tentèrent de traverser la masse, un pressing qui s'avérait aussi difficile que la veille lorsque le car transportant les champions sur les Champs n'avait pas pu traverser toute leur longueur tellement la foule était dense. Il y avait plusieurs jours qu'on ne pouvait plus guère circuler à Paris, mais on ne s'attendait pas à ce que cette même vague populaire soit retrouvée à l'Élysée, dans cette foule "cravatée et habillée de noir comme à un enterrement" que les joueurs avaient reproché aux foules du Stade de France, monument dont on avait ridiculisé le nom mais qui soudainement retrouvait tout son symbolisme. Ainsi parmi ces Cartiers, Guccis et Yves St-Laurent la foule était aussi emportée par l'effet coupe du monde - plutôt l'effet victoire française - que la veille, lorsque des milliers avaient attendu en vain la sortie de l'équipe de France du Lido, où elle passait une soirée bien tranquille, ou un peu plus loin, en face de l'hôtel Crillon, où certains joueurs avaient passé la nuit. À l'Élysée comme dans les rues (et théoriquement dans le Stade); ce même regain d'intérêt pour le chant et la photo, où amateurs et pros se mêlaient à une cacophonie bien heureuse. Plusieurs jours encore après celui du sacre, lorsque la France blanchit l'équipe du Brésil 3-0 en finale, les Français fêtaient encore. 28 millions s'étaient levés les yeux rouges le lendemain, après une nuit de folie dans toutes les cités et villages de France; ils étaient près d'un million et demie sur les Champs Élysées uniquement. Surprise cette victoire? Elle était difficile à croire jusqu'au moment ou le capitaine Deschamps souleva le trophée, que les joueurs ne cessèrent de se passer entre les mains jusqu'à leur retour au lieu d'entraînement, à Clairefontaine, à trois heures du matin. Là encore la fête allait continuer, et après un bref sommeil, reprendre à nouveau le lendemain. Surprise? L'entraîneur Aimé Jacquet ne pouvait que répéter à quel point il avait eu confiance en son équipe, celle qui n'allait pas se satisfaire d'une seule présence en finale, malgré les détracteurs et "traîtres" qui avaient critiqué ses choix; il ne le pardonnerait jamais. La victoire était d'autant plus savoureuse qu'elle avait porté le "10" des "bleus" en triomphe, avec deux buts de Zinedine Zidane, jusque là le joueur vedette du club depuis les débuts, mais sans les points pour le montrer. Ses deux têtes, sur corners chaque fois, permirent à la France de rentrer dans la légende, et de faire fi des propos arrogants de l'entraîneur brésilien qui avait bien dit que de tous les joueurs de l'équipe de France, seul Zidane aurait le calibre d'être admis dans la Seleçao. Pourtant les jaunes étaient bien loins d'être impressionnants, même dans leurs moments de domination, parfois contrée par le solide Barthez. Qui se souvient qu'après une expulsion en deuxième demie la France disputait le match à dix! La France sortit du tournoi indemne, sans défaite, avec le plus de buts marqués, et le moins de buts alloués. Pas mal après une absence de deux coupes du Monde, et voilà qui renvoyait chez eux, la queue entre les jambes, les critiques qui avaient prétendu que la France s'était bien tirée d'affaires: elle était qualifié d'office en tant que pays organisateur, se retrouvait dans un groupe qu'elle ne pouvait que remporter, et évitait, en rencontrant le Paraguay et la Croatie, de jouer des clubs plus menaçants. Peut-être, mais seulement dans la logique de l'ancien ordre. Car celui-ci a beaucoup changé. Comme plus tôt aux Jeux olympiques d'hiver, l'équipe favorie a déçu, et le sport a vécu un renouveau. Maintenant la France est encore qualifiée d'office, en tant que championne en titre, et d'ici la prochaine coupe bien des choses pourraient se produire au pays, et non plus seulement au plan sportif. Après toutes ces années de crise, la France affiche finalement une croissance économique, retrouvée dans les chiffres de confiance de ses patrons, et parce que c'est l'été, une certaine harmonie sociale et politique paraît au travers des lunettes de soleil. La cohabitation n'a jamais été aussi agréable entre premier ministre et président, et le climat social n'a jamais été aussi détendu, dans l'environnement de champions. Il étaient 22, d'origine basque, maghrebine, arménienne, canaque et autre, et maintenant ils n'ont plus qu'à s'attaquer au chômage et aux problèmes de la sécurité sociale, selon un éditorial de Libération reprenant moqueusement une analyse du New York Times. Même la riche rivalité franco-américaine est au repos. Après tout, si les tensions entre les deux pays se devaient à la transition de statut de puissance, pour la France de premier ordre au second, et vice versa pour les Etats-Unis lors de ce siècle, la dernière coupe du monde à rappelé à l'aube du nouveau millénaire, qu'en "football" (comme il est appelé ailleurs qu'en Amérique du nord) la puissance tricolore ne porte pas d'étoiles.

 

Sweden's home & country elections

The little wooden homes are as charming a meeting place as they are an odd sight, at the foot of a huge department store on Klarabergsgatan. While marble is just as out of place in this setting, the atmosphere is very much that of the agora, as future voters, old and young, exchange concepts, theories, and occasionally disagreements, but in the relative disapproving silence that is fine Swedish fashion. The little cabins could be on an frozen lake in Winter, covering the hole that will feed entire families of blue-eyed blondes. They are cosy enough to have tea in, if you can take an earful of the party line: Centerparty, Party of the Left, Moderates and Socialists, as many little cottages neatly lined up, giving the impression pedestrians are entering a political theme park. If you think the scene has something of a country atmosphere you are right, it is just as pleasant slightly out of town by the Klubbensborg marina, where a picnic atmosphere has set in at the foot of a bed and breakfast made of 17th century houses overlooking the water running right into Stockholm. A band plays on between public announcements. Surrounding the stage are little stands, some held by girl-scouts cooking sausages on a grill, others by artisans laying their craft. Every second stand, just a coffee table really, represents a political party, distributing leaflets and balloons. While the Swedes may not be captivated by this election campaign, the parties are using the home and country subtle ways of putting their message across. Sometimes they're less subtle. Wall-to-wall campaign posters cover the main square of Sergetstorg, in the commercial center of Stockholm. The weekend's chief event during the NPU's tour, was a women's race bringing to town 30 000 young runners who did battle in the rain for a few hours. Political parties have long recognized the weight of the female vote in Sweden, as in other Scandinavian countries where MP representation of women is usually higher than anywhere else in the world (confirmed in a recent U.N. Development Program report). And this is increasingly true of minority groups parties are trying to appeal to. Although Sweden remains mostly homogenic, and little of a melting pot, society is changing. There is an increase in mix couples walking the streets, and greater tolerance of foreigners who have decided to settle here. The Center party is even promoting a Lebanese candidate who is trying to top his party's list in the local vote. Sweden is less and less exclusively blue-eyed blonde. An extremist party, the Swedish Democrats, supported by the French right wing Front National extremist party, failed to get more than a few thousand votes in the last elections. And none of its little houses are to be seen. But the ruling Social democrats realise there is a "segregation" problem in Sweden and are ready to put $100 million forward in 1999 to fight the problem targeting some of the million people born outside Sweden. Parties put forward the same platforms one could expect in North America, putting family values first, security, economic well-being and unemployment. Jabs are occasionally taken at other parties, but not with the aggressiveness sometimes seen in America. And increasingly the focus is being put on Europe, meeting some resistance still. Sweden resisted pressures to privatize the sale of alcohol for instance. And anti-Euro voices at times give the impression of monopolising the debate on European integration, embraced by the moderates, rejected by the Miljöpartiet (middle party) and given lukewarm support by the socialists, who realise they have to reluctantly go with the flow as Sweden nears its claim to presidency of the E.U. in 2001. Will the Krona one day become as little visible as the Öre today, the disappearing unit? Increasingly, the smorgasboard of issues being debated in little cabins or out in the country are no simple picnic. But some of the pressing issues of the day may be a little beyond public debate. On the suggestion board of a Socialdemocrats cabin, one request read: "more sun in the summer please."

 

Over 250 die in embassy blasts

The toll has reached over 250 killed, up to 15 Americans, and about 5000 injured, after two bomb blasts at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the first since the Dahran blast in Saudi Arabia two years ago.The magnitude of the blasts and their occurring against U.S. targets, one hour apart, led some intelligence experts to suspect some of the main terrorist organizations which has been targeting America for the last few years. Others weren't so sure and pointed to the two last blasts, both in Saudi Arabia, as examples: the groups were local and until then unknown. Those responsible for the earlier blasts have yet to be found. But according to U.S. president Clinton, all the means necessary will be put together so they will in this more recent attack. Unfortunately the rate of capture of terrorists wanted for such attacks isn't impressive. Initially, all the means were being assembled to aid the victims and search for survivors, as U.S. military jets with medical equipment and FBI labs quickly made their way to Africa from bases in Germany. Small and unprotected embassies, those were easy targets for the attackers, and specialists tried to understand the motives behind the blasts. A failed Mid-East peace process, tentative rapprochement with Iran or developments in the Congo and other parts of Africa are all areas where the sole superpower has been active, and where some groups could find grounds for an attack. Soon after the blast emergency wards in Nairobi were dealing with the immediate crisis on hand with great difficulty, facing a shortage of equipment and blood, in their attempt to save survivors, while American embassies, flying flags are half mast, were buffing up security, and intelligence agencies tried to reconstruct the horrific events of that Friday morning. The prime suspect, intelligence sources said before formal investigations, is Osama bin Laden, 44, a Saudi Arabian born Islamic fundamentalist zealot behind a wave of similar bomb attacks, who has good contacts in East Africa. To observers it has been a surprise that terrorist groups have not exploited the almost non-existent security at most African airport terminals and anarchic frontiers to unleash terror against American embassies. US and Saudi investigators believe that the millionaire scion of a wealthy Saudi family funded the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York and the murder of 19 American airmen in a petrol-tanker bomb attack in Dhahran in 1996. The attack on the embassy in Dar es Salaam included the use of an oil tanker. Both terror strikes were made using massive amounts of high explosive, which, intelligence sources said, were also hallmarks of a "bin Laden type operation". In Saudi Arabia as in Africa, the motive may have been to decry the presence of U.S. troops on holy Muslim grounds, such as Saudi Arabia, home to three of Islam's four holiest sites. Attacking U.S. embassies in Africa may have been a way of circumventing tough security measures in Middle East of European capitals. The recent bombings may put pressure in Congress to release additional funds for creating embassy fortresses, in certain key countries. Kenya's ambassador had been rebuffed twice by the State Department to increase security because of budget limitations, Kenya not being assessed a high risk country. But Sec. of State Madeleine Albright had to admit the U.S. didn't have the budget for securing all U.S. embassies of the sort, certainly not in smaller capitals. Already there is talk of moving certain embassies from downtown areas, a move the U.S. fears may symbolically isolate U.S. representatives abroad. For now high risk embassies have been evacuated, while others have seen their security doubled. In the investigation which has ensued, US embassies in Albania and Pakistan were being evacuated. The incident may bolster the U.S.' long-standing tough stance on countries it accuses of sponsoring international terrorism, such as Libya, Iraq and Iran. But one trouble with this is that if the current trail is accurate, a native of a U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, would be implicated, not an enemy country. CIA reports have confirmed the U.S. in fact foiled a number of embassy attacks in recent years. Fears for Canada are that it may get stuck in the security juggernaut. One man arrested for planning to blow up New York's Lincoln tunnel was found to have slipped into the U.S. through Canada, pushing some in Congress to support tougher access regulations for Canadians such as filling in visit papers. As the global investigation continues on the recent attacks, and the death toll mounts, fourteen suspects are being held in connection with the blasts. There is hope camera recording and further testimonies will help the investigation move on. The U.S. has also been using unusual methods, such as promising a $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of people responsible. The officials declined to specify the nature of the evidence connecting Mr. Bin Laden to the bombings. But according to one newspaper report a witness had identified a Bin Laden associate as having been in the truck carrying the bomb that damaged the United States Embassy in the capital of Kenya and killed more than 200 people. The Bin Laden link was confirmed by one suspect arrested in Pakistan who gave detailed accounts of the attack and pointed the FBI's investigation to a Nairobi hotel, where the bomb at the origin of the blast in Kenya was supposedly built.

 

Swissair crashes, all 229 onboard dead

There were no survivors among the 229 passengers of Swissair flight 111 from New York to Geneva after the MD-11 airliner went down near Peggy's Cove, N.S. last week. Canadian coast guard, RCMP, Navy and local fishermen looked in vain for survivors as the night turned into day and just confirmed the scale of the tragedy. The U.N. paid a special tribute to seven of its staff onboard this flight heavily used by businessmen and public officials. On Sunday other family brought in from across the world mourned their dead on the coast of Nova Scotia, as details were coming out on the last fateful minutes of the flight. The airliner was directed towards Halifax International airport Wednesday night after reporting smoke in the cockpit and attempted to dump fuel along the way, but it apparently didn't manage the emergency maneuver. U.S. NTSB have joined the search in the wreckage, as transport officials from both countries attempted proceeded to the analysis of the black boxes which could reveal what went wrong as the plane neared the Canadian coast. These boxes are for now failing however to give out any new information on the last crucial minutes of the flight.

 

Schröder elimine Kohl

Avec l'élection de Gerhard Schröder et des socialistes allemands, c'est toute l'Allemagne qui a basculé, comme elle ne l'avait pas fait depuis la chute du mur, et politiquement, bien avant. L'Allemagne vient de sauter de génération, celle des souvenirs de la guerre, et bientôt celle de la guerre froide, un moment historique pour une génération de jeunes électeurs qui n'a connu personne d'autre à la tête du moteur de l'Europe, depuis 16 ans. Tant de changement, mais parfois un changement purement vestimentaire, puisque le nouveau chancelier promet une certaine "continuité" tout en restant vague sur les grands projets d'avenir. Certes pendant que Kohl parlait d'histoire et de la nouvelle gloire de l'Allemagne, Schröder martelait l'impératif du "chömage", mais en se contrariant parfois, promettant responsabilité fiscale d'une part, et sociale d'autre part. Il n'y a nul doute qu'avec cette élection l'Allemagne vient de rejoindre une Europe nettement penchée à gauche, avec l'exception de l'Irlande et de l'Espagne. Schröder vient de faire campagne et de se comporter comme un vrai petit Blair ou Clinton, dans une course parmi d'autres, plus axées sur l'image que la substance, sans que tous y aient trouvé un avantage. N'avait-on pas représenté Kohl comme un éléphant, sûr et stable (ou trompeur)? Helmut ne verra malheureusement pas la dernière étape de l'unification depuis son trône presque impérial: la capitale à Berlin l'an prochain. Mais autant dire qu'il ne sera pas non plus celui qui aura abandonné le puissant Mark, pendant que tant de monnaies internationales s'écroulent. Mais cette unification, Kohl l'aura payée cher, comme l'Allemagne de l'ouest entière, qui déversait 4,3% de son PNB aux 16 millions de citoyens de l'est. Ceux-ci, atterrés par le chômage et réveillés de leur rêve de richesses, ont abandonné celui qu'ils avaient porté au pouvoir dans le passé. Pourtant, les derniers sondages permettaient encore un brin d'espoir aux chrétiens démocrates, même s'il relevait plutôt du miracle. Les 41% de Schröder, à la fin, devront s'associer aux 6,7% des verts, une coalition rare au niveau national, mais que le dirigeant de la Saxe connait déjà. Il faut dire que le paysage national n'est plus ce qu'il était et qu'il faudra bien faire. Le magazine Economist fait noter que pour une première fois tous les partis de la coalition au pouvoir ont été balayés, tandis que les anciens communistes balayaient l'Est en ramassant 5,1% des suffrages. Un journal de Munich reprenait dans la même voie: "Si l'on additionne toutes les voix récoltées par la gauche, on constate un revirement plus important de l'opinion que lors de la légendaire 'élection de Willy' (Brandt)". En effet, beaucoup de choses ont changé, y compris, selon certaines craintes, le rôle qu'envisage l'Allemagne en Europe, un moteur atteint par les dernières années de ralentissement. Voulant à tout prix assurer la solidité de l'axe franco-allemand, et de son rôle central dans le processus d'intégration européenne, le premier ministre Lionel Jospin, issu du même mouvement en quelque sorte, ne perdit pas de temps avant de rencontrer le nouveau dirigeant allemand. Il faut espérer que la rhétorique l'avait emporté sur le bon sens. La bourrasque de la campagne n'avait-elle pas forcé d'autres gestes regrettés, peut-être le premier, le plus gros: celui qui avait fait changer Kohl d'avis en se lançant dans la campagne, au lieu de laisser les rennes au bien plus populaire Wolfgang Schaeuble. Au lieu de battre le record de Bismarck, Kohl devint le premier chancelier destitué par un vote démocratique en république fédérale. C'est un renouveau mais aussi un plus pour la démocratie.

 

La souverainté au placard, pour l'instant

D'un certain point de vue, le duel de titans s'est soldé par plusieurs déceptions. D'une part la campagne peu soulevante des libéraux a laissé croire au ras-de-marée péquiste, malgré le mouvement de mé-contentement social contre le gouvernement dans le domaine de la santé et de l'éducation. Triste sort pour le jeune chef libéral qui avait fait un saut pourtant bien médité en politique provinciale. Le duel tant attendu devenait lors des dernières semaines de la campagne électorale provinciale, et particulièrement après le débat télévisé des chefs, un scrutin comme les autres. Les Québécois maintenaient la conviction qu'ils allaient bien élire un gouvernement, et non pas préparer un prochain référendum, une réalité qui ne pouvait plaire aux libéraux. Mais alors que les derniers sondages plaçaient parfois un écart de dix points entre les deux candidats, la déception, le soir du 30, allait frapper le camp péquiste, qui se préparaît à accueillir une vague bleue. Les électeurs allaient choisir d'envoyer un message double: aux médias et sondeurs, source de bombardements de chiffres et de statistiques incessant (qu'ils affirmaient la dernière version de la réalité des faits), puis au gouvernement ré-élu, qui va devoir se contenter d'une marge de manoeuvre plus mince qu'escomptée, perdant même le vote populaire 43,7% à 42,7%. Après toutes ces illusions, la réalité est un retour à l'ancien ordre, un gouvernement péquiste majoritaire, après un scrutin qui aura donné un spectacle sensiblement le même que le précédent, malgré Bouchard, malgré Charest. La réalité des faits dictait encore un résultat final bien serré entre les deux grands partis, tandis que le troisième, celui de Mario Dumont, qui présentait des candidats dans chaque circonscription, récoltait plus du vote protestataire qu'en 1994, doublant son résultat final avec presque 12% des voix; mais encore un seul siège, celui du chef. Comme lors du débat des chefs, l'effet ADQ, celui qui avait mêlé les cartes au début des années 90, allait jouer un tour aux partis traditionnels, juste assez pour être senti, mais sans cependant menacer leur suprématie. Comme il y a quatre ans, le soir des résultats, les perdants avaient l'air de gagnants et les gagnants l'air des perdants, et ces résultats provoquèrent une réaction immédiate à Ottawa, où l'on s'était efforcé à garder le silence pendant la campagne. Les libéraux fédéraux étaient catégoriques: si Bouchard espérait réunir les conditions gagnantes d'un prochain référendum avec un résultat retentissant, ce score espéré faisait défaut. Du moins c'était l'interprétation de sondages qui semblaient indiquer que les Québécois ne voulaient pas d'un autre référendum de ci-tôt. Était-ce l'accent libéral sur la séparation qui avait fait ba-lancer les chiffres le 30 au soir? ou le froid de début de décembre qui avait frappé les régions plutôt péquistes de la province? Le chef du PQ, qui a dû ré-écrire son discours, dut admettre que la population avait en effet repoussé l'étape référendaire qui devait suivre, la prochaine période, mais rajouta qu'il allait tout mettre en oeuvre pour rendre celle-ci palpable. Fédéralistes et journalistes hors-Québec calculent déjà que faire germer ces "conditions" passe par l'échec du projet d'union sociale au pays, le partage de pouvoirs entre Ottawa et les provinces en politique sociale; même si Bouchard entend y participer avec les meilleures intentions au monde. Selon des reporters qui ont suivi la question de près, la carte "union sociale" de Bouchard pendant la campagne lui aurait permis d'empocher quelques votes de nationalistes "doux", mais pas assez. Jean Charest quant à lui a laissé entendre qu'il devait la défaite au terme de cette "bataille de sa vie" au fait que les Québécois ne le connaissaient pas encore assez bien, et qu'il tâcherait de combler ces lacunes au poste de chef de l'opposition. Il faut dire qu'encore une fois le jeune candidat a été trahi par le système électoral, qui malgré la victoire du vote populaire, ne le laisse qu'avec 48 des 125 sièges de l'Assemblée, contre 75 pour le PQ. Au fédéral, voilà deux élections de suite qu'un résultat à la proportionelle aurait donné aux conservateurs fédéraux l'opposition officielle. Hélas le scrutin majoritaire joue de biens mauvais tours. Puni au niveau fédéral parce que son électorat était trop dispersé, Charest l'est à nouveau au niveau provincial car il est trop concentré sur Montréal, où deux nouveaux candidats ont été récoltés lors de courses décidées par quelques centaines de votes. Mais à part quelques personnalités académiques qui se penchent sur la question, et proposent un type de scrutin mixte, plusieurs sont d'avis qu'un changement du système électoral ne sera pas nécessaire. Pas autant qu'un changement de tactique de campagne libéral, si le jeune chef veut l'emporter la prochaine fois.