NORTHERNPRESS ONLINE

Subtitle

2001 L'année - the year


 

MORE INSTABILITY IN CONGO

Congo's bloody recent history is made of series of turn-arounds and unexpected turn of events. In this sense the assassination of president Laurent Kabila fits the central African country's violent rule.

Reports of gun-fire at Kinshasa's presidential palace last week were first explained by officials as a failed coup attempt which they claimed the Congolese strongman had survived. But ensuing reports quickly sought to disprove them on both points.

Louis Michel, foreign minister of Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo's former ruler, said he had assurances from his sources that Kabila had been killed. This was backed by officials in other countries, including Ugandan intelligence, which may suggest Kampala's involvement in the killing.

The incident reportedly occurred during a violent argument between Kabila and military officials he had just dismissed, some of whom had become increasingly disgruntled. Kabila would have been shot twice by someone hired to protect him, his bodyguard.

Meanwhile Congolese officials persistently denied widespread reports of President Kabila's death but said his son, Joseph, had taken over the government and the armed forces. By the end of the week the news of Kabila's death was finally confirmed and Joseph's succession ratified by his father's hand-picked parliament.

This wasn't the first time an attempt was made on Kabila's life. There were a number of previous attempts, including one in 1998, the year he turned on Rwanda, a country which had helped him take power. This marked a new chapter of fighting in the chaos which ensued the genocide of Africa's Great Lakes region in 1994.

Kabila, whose rebels seized power after ousting strongman Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, came under attack the following year by guerillas supported by his former allies, Uganda and Rwanda. This only prolonged one of Africa's longest-running conflicts in one of the continent's largest countries.

The conflict, unsettled after years of failed diplomacy and broken ceasefires, involves half a dozen countries at the heart of Africa, with anti-government rebels holding most of the Eastern portion of the country. There have also been signs of disgruntlement among Kinshasa's current allies, Angola and Zimbabwe, who were unsatisfied by their end of the bargain, usually mineral rights in the resource-rich country, and were growing impatient after recent failed bids to bring peace to the region.

This, and the fact those countries have mounting internal preoccupations of their own, may have pressed the country formerly known as Zaire to rely on mercenaries to wage battle, according to Africa Confidential, an intelligence newsletter.

Kabila, who was embraced by the West when he swept into power but quickly raised controversy by remaining quiet about the killing of thousands of refugees and ruling his country with an iron fist, not unlike his predecessor, was often blamed for scuttling peace overtures, including a key agreement reached in Lusaka last year.

Kabila was considered a diplomatic obstacle to peace in the region, and blocked the deployment of U.N. troops in the Congo scheduled to mediate the crisis. He was expected to attend a summit of French-speaking African countries in Cameroon, where discussions were to focus on other countries dealing with instability, the Ivory Coast, the site of a recent coup attempt, and Guinea, infiltrated by Liberian and Sierra Leonian fighters.

Home to 51 million inhabitants, the 2,3 million square kilometers country is financially ravaged by inflation reaching some 520%, its Gross Interior Product having fallen by 11%.

Kabila had also made enemies among the world's financial organizations, refusing to restart payment on the national debt after coming into power. His isolation amid the financial community scuttled many reconstruction plans.

Despite conflicting reports about events taking place in Congo, Canada's foreign affairs ministry quickly issued a statement condemning the incident. "We deplore the reported death by violent means of President Laurent Kabila," said spokesperson Marie-Christine Likoff, "This will further complicate the search for a peaceful solution to the tragic conflict."

Soon after the strongman's death, there were signs some efforts were indeed being made in this direction. Leaders of Kabila's allies, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, met to discuss issues relating to the Congo, and diplomatic sources said South African was considering a full summit in Mozambique. Observers pointed out there were encouraging signs from Joseph Kabila, who indicated he may seek to pursue the peace efforts with more vigor.

But some question whether Kabila's son will do more than just ensure the transition in the troubled country, before giving way to someone from the top brass, and not ne-cessarily Congo's.... As a matter of fact there are already reports of troop buildups in various regions of the country, Kinshasa's allies readying themselves to defend the country in times of crisis, and the rebel opposition buffing up its own ranks in response.

Kabila's death occurred on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his mentor, prime minister Patrice Lumumba. In the course of his struggle among the rebels, Kabila also came across Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, whose meetings with Kabila were in his words "disappointing".

In Che Guevara's "Congo Journal", recently published, the Argentina-born Che describes his attempt to export the revolution to Africa as "the history of a failure" which he blamed on disorganization, rampant infighting and frequent drunkenness amid Congo's guerilla movement.

Decades later, and on the eve of a tense transition of power, the situation in central Africa seems to have changed little.


 

QUESTION MARKS IN MIDDLE EAST AFTER SHARON WIN

The Middle-East peace process appears to have become entirely undone following the landslide win of Likud party hawk Ariel Sharon in this month's Israeli elections. Coincidence or not with the new spiral of violence inflaming the region, Jerusalem's hard-line stance does not augur well for the return to dialogue, which Sharon says he will not consider before the violence stops.


 

Even if the polls largely predicted the extent of the victory, with Sharon raking in 62% of the vote, observers were at a loss to foresee the road ahead, especially given the at times contradictory message emanating from the new prime minister's acceptance speech.


 

While Sharon called for a broad government of national unity, with the full participation of the Labour party, one which may be in the offing after all, and for Palestinians to resort to dialogue rather than violence, he hammered in the importance of Israeli security in his government's mandate, as well as the sanctity of a united Jerusalem under Israeli control. In effect, he signalled the death of the 1993 Oslo peace accords.


 

Earlier in the evening, outgoing prime minister Ehud Barak had stunned his Labour head-quarters audience by announcing his resignation as party chief and member of the legislature. He however left open the possibility of forming a government of national unity.


 

The resignation was perhaps less of a surprise when read in the context of one of Israel's most severe electoral beatings, during a vote where the low level of participation seemed to indicate a rejection of past government policies rather than an endorsement of the incoming hardliner.


 

Barak's support quickly eroded in view of his mismanagement of the new Palestinian uprising many have blamed his rival for instigating, costing Barak the all-important Israeli-Arab vote. Internal demonstrations in the Fall resulted in the shooting of a dozen Israeli Arab protesters. Late in his campaign, Barak sought forgiveness for the incident, a move which was deemed too little too late.


 

Barak's final campaign strategy also included warnings a Likud administration could kill the peace process and launch the region into a bloody conflict. But Palestinian officials had already started considering dealing with a new right-wing government, a shift which all but sealed the fate of the Labour party, because it was no longer seen as the only party capable of dealing with Israel's Arab neighbors.


 

Still little is known about the approach considered by the incoming government, which would struggle to form a broad coalition without some support from the Labour party. The day following the election, Sharon made a point of visiting Jerusalem's holy Wailing Wall and dismissing Palestinian claims to the capital. "I am visiting Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years," he declared, "and the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel, with the Temple Mount at its centre for all eternity."


 

The following day tensions ignited anew after a massive car bomb exploded in central Jerusalem. This week a Palestinian bus driver delibe-rately crashed into a bus shelter where Israeli soldiers were waiting, the dayafter one of Arafat's military attachés was killed by Israeli rocket attacks.


 

U.S. president George W. Bush was quick to intervene after the Jerusalem bomb, possibly faster than he had expected, urging Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "give the newly-elected prime minister of Israel a chance" in an attempt to "urge calm". Washington had voiced its support for Israel security and the peace process almost immediately after the polls closed.


 

In his opening remarks during his victory speech, Sharon mentioned he had spoken to president George W. Bush and that the latter had remarked that not so long ago few believed either of them would lead their respective nations. Norway however, the site of secret negotiations which led to the 1993 Oslo peace accord, was more reserved in its message to Israel, fearing the outcome of peace in the Middle-East unless Sharon moved away from the hardline stance he espoused during the election.


 

But a tougher Israeli line is just what some hawkish Palestinians may be seeking in order to isolate Israel among the community of nations and justify a unilateral declaration of independence. Others Arabs, still determined to engage in peace but uncertain about the road ahead, said that with Sharon at least there could be little ambiguity about Israel's stand, following a Barak government many had criticized for zig-zagging around the issues, much in the way he had conducted his campaign.


 

While the campaign was less of an uphill battle for Sharon, government-making is proving to be a more intricate matter, especially following Barak's resignation, someone he sought to head the defence ministry, an offer he repeated more than once.


 

In any case, Sharon will have to make do with the current fractured Knesset, since for the first time Israelis voted for a prime minister alone and not a new legislature. Failure to gather the mosaic of groups which either united behind him or failed to rally in favour of Barak could bring on new elections, this time including the Knesset, within the year.


 

This could signal the end Sharon's short stint as PM since popular right-wing rival and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated he may seek to run if elections were held for a new Knesset, knowing full well about the dificulties of the current one.


 

If there is any certainty it is that since the beginning of the peace process under the Oslo accords, the Israeli political scene has become clearly more unstable. With his election, Sharon has become Israel's 11th prime minister, the sixth in the course of the last decade alone.



 

LA CALIFORNIE DANS LE NOIR


 

Fraichement débarqué de Montréal, Brian a accueilli sa première bouffée d'air californienne avec optimisme. L'avenir semblait prometteur pour ce diplômé en informatique reçu dans une grande entreprise de la région de San Francisco.


 

Après la galère de chercher un appartement conve-nable dans cette région surchauffée par internet, il pensait pouvoir souffler dans son trois et demie pendant quelques minutes avant de s'attaquer aux premiers dossiers. Jusqu'au moment d'appuyer sur l'interrupteur. Rien. La noirceur, le néant lumineux, et pas plus de chauffage. Un saut temporel à l'âge de la pierre dans le voisinnage des Cisco systems et Intel de la nouvelle économie. L'accueil au bord du Pacifique avait des airs de tempête du verglas.


 

En fait c'est une bonne partie de la Californie qui subit le même traitement depuis une semaine, les coupures occasionnelles étant sensées éviter la panne totale alors que les réserves en électricité frôlaient des niveaux de 1,5% de la demande.


 

Sans cataclysme physique, tellurique ou autre qui soit visible, le gouverneur de l'état le plus riche des Etats-Unis se voyait obligé de décréter l'état d'urgence étant donné une crise énergétique qui, le 18 janvier, privait Brian et un million d'autres habitants de la région de San Francisco de courant pendant quelques heures. Sans parler des géants de la dernière révolution industrielle, technologique, à Silicon Valley.


 

Après les avertissements de ralentissement économique des dernières semaines, qui ont précipité un abaissement des taux d'intérêts surprenant de la Federal Reserve, le blackout énergétique et économique dans l'état responsable de 14,6% du PIB américain laissait entrevoir des scénarios rocambolesques pour les mois, et peut-être les années à venir.


 

Car, on en convient, il n'y a pas de solution immédiate à ce problème de longue date, dont les racines sont nées avec la déréglementation partielle du milieu des années 90. Dans la frénésie de la privatisation de l'époque, le vent du marché s'est emparé de l'industrie énergétique californienne, mais à moitié, laissant flotter le prix des producteurs d'électricité aux aléas de la main invisible, mais pas celui des distributeurs.


 

Suivit le boum économique d'internet et des compagnies informatiques gloutonnes en énergie, sans parler de l'arrivée de quatre millions de nouveaux habitants, comme Brian, dans le Golden state, alors que l'industrie énergétique, plus préoccupée par la guerre des prix que par la planification, n'a pas assuré les investissements nécessaires du réseau californien, alors même si celui-ci accusait déjà un certain âge. Les besoins en énergie ont grimpé de 25% depuis.


 

Résultat, les distributeurs d'électricité, dont Pacific Gas & Electric et Southern California Edison (qui porte honte à son nom), qui alimentent 24 millions de consommateurs, ne fournissent plus en courant, accusent des pertes de 12 milliards de dollars, et titubent au bord de la faillite. La crise énergétique de la sixième économie du monde laisse à présent planer la menace d'une réaction en chaine sur les établissements financiers, étant donné leurs engagements auprès des deux électriciens.


 

De plus certains joueurs de la nouvelle économie, impuissants face aux coupures, prévoient un déménagement: "ce n'est pas une menace, c'est tout simplement ce qui est en train de sa passer", expliquait Carl Guardino récemment, le président du groupe des industriels de "la vallée". Vingt des cent plus importantes compagnies de la nouvelle économie y sont représentées.


 

Dure première leçon pour le président Bush, qui avait mis l'énergie au coeur de sa campagne. La nouvelle administration prévoit un plan national de déréglementation d'ici peu.


 

En attendant, la crise au sud de la frontière ravit le premier partenaire énergétique des Etats-Unis, le Canada, dont certaines compagnies électriques, comme BC Hydro, font des affaires d'or. La Californie importe le quart de son énergie de l'extérieur. Les pénuries ont par conséquent fait gonfler les profits de Hydro de plus d'un milliard selon certains estimés.


 

Le cauchemar de la première véritable déréglementation énergétique sur le continent ne décourage pas l'expérimentation ailleurs en la matière cependant. Vingt-quatre autres états ont tenté la même aventure, mais avec des modalités différentes. Au Canada l'Ontario pourrait suivre le pas, tout en retenant les dures leçons de la côte pacifique.


 

INTOUCHABLE INTERNET?


 

Intangible donc intouchable la toile électronique? Plusieurs années après avoir été rendue accessible au public, certains cas laissent la question sans véritable réponse à propos de l'invention d'Al Gore (...). A moins que l'on considère "oui mais" ou "non mais" à titre de conclusion définitive.


 

Une cour d'appel en Californie se penchant sur le dossier Napster - un site internet permettant aux usagers d'échanger de la musique gratuitement - a donné raison au jugement préalable de la justice américaine selon lequel le site "encourage et aide sciemment ses utilisateurs à violer les droits d'auteur des maison de disques" et par conséquent, la loi. Ainsi Napster risque de disparaître sous sa forme actuelle, soit gratuite; sans exclure la possibilité de reparaître plus tard sous une formule payante, ce que rejette pourtant ses propriétaires libertins.


 

La justice sévit et tente de donner une leçon au site populaire, ainsi qu'aux autres exemples de générosité flagrante sur internet. Mais en bout de ligne il faut mettre en doute l'efficacité du geste, étant donné la multiplication des sites alternatifs cherchant à imiter une formule qui a attiré 50 millions de visiteurs réguliers.


 

Rares sont ceux qui sont véritablement intimidés par de tels avertissements. A titre d'exemple, la fermeture du site internet canadien Icravetv pour violation des lois américaines, parce qu'il rediffusait sur internet des postes de télévision des grands réseaux du sud de la frontière, ne décourage nullement un autre Canadien de tenter l'aventure de la télévision sur internet, le pari prochain du site Jumptv.com.


 

D'autres cas de violation des lois par internet laissent entrevoir, dans le sens inverse, une apparente impuissance de sévir: les autorités canadiennes ne savent que faire d'un site internet originant hors de leur aire de juridiction, qui publie les détails de l'accident d'Air India, bannis de la presse canadienne car matière au procès en cours.


 

Pourtant l'origine d'un serveur publiant des informations indésirables outre-frontière n'a pas empêché la justice d'étendre son bras, même à travers les océans, pour sévir. C'était la leçon à retenir du cas du site des enchères de Yahoo, l'automne dernier, qui a dû retirer des articles relatifs à l'Allemagne nazie des transactions, pour se plier à une loi française -plutôt rigoureuse en la matière- un précédent qui n'a pas obtenu l'attention qu'on lui doit.


 

Peut-être parce que la décision a été symbolique plutôt qu'autre chose, et fait la sombre affaire des rivaux, dont le site eBay, tout à fait accessible aux Français. Curieusement, certains articles de l'époque, biens empreignés du swastika, sont toujours disponibles sur Yahoo, sous forme de pièces de monnaie et timbres de collection.


 

De pareilles, et pires violations trans-frontalières sont fréquentes en raison de la nature peu territoriale d'internet; on a donc tenté de faire un exemple des coupables qui ont pu tomber dans les maillons de la justice. Celui de Mafiaboy, ce jeune Montréalais qui a plaidé coupable à une cinquantaire de chefs d'accusation pour avoir mis hors de service d'importants sites internet américains l'an dernier, n'a pas manqué de faire parler de lui au courant du mois de janvier.


 

Mais, manquant parfois de précédents, ou de législation propre à ce genre de délit, comme dans le cas du virus Iloveyou qui a illustré l'inexpérience des tribunaux philippins l'an dernier, la justice peut hésiter à intervenir dans des cas où le délit a lieu même à l'intérieur des frontières. D'où l'inaction des autorités au Canada lorsqu'un citoyen a décidé de publier les résultats des dernières élections fédérales alors que les bureaux de vote n'étaient pas encore clos dans l'ouest du pays, remettant en cause l'utilité des dernières réformes électorales.


 

Consolation, ceux qui ont tenté de faire de même aux Etats-Unis ont été brûlés... non pas par la justice mais par une information souvent trompeuse car incomplère qui a plongé la plus grande puissance de la planête dans un imbroglio électoral assez total pendant plusieurs semaines.


 

La justice existe, mais la forme qu'elle prend peut être aussi diverse que la toile informatique que les autorités aimeraient tant régir.



 

A FEU ET A SANG A BORNEO


 

Grand et complexe l'archipel indonésien, un peu comme les crises intestines qui rongent la plus grande puissance islamique de la planète. Il s'agit d'un détail important car c'est la carte islamique qui a permise au président Abdurrahman Wahid de survivre à une motion de censure plus tôt cette année, et ce sont les crises religieuses et sectaires qui enveniment le pays depuis si longtemps.


 

Dimanche dernier, la violence a atteint un nouveau sommet, faisant 118 victimes d'un coup à Bornéo, une région ordinairement reconnue pour ses splendides paysages. C'est sur un terrain de soccer qu'a eu lieu le plus sanglant épisode des affrontements entre autochtones dayaks et migrants madurais dans la partie indonésienne de l'île.


 

Des dizaines de Dayaks armés de machettes se sont attaqués à un convoi de réfugiés, et après avoir pris le soin de séparer les Javanais des Madurais, ont abattu ces derniers sans pitié. En dix jours environ 400 Madurais ont connu un tel sort, et certains observateurs craignent que le manque de rigueur du gouvernement pour mettre un terme à la crise ne signale aux nombreuses autres ethnies, certaines tout aussi virulentes, que la violence est tolérée.


 

C'est un brillant exposé de la faiblesse de l'appareil d'Etat, dont les agents de l'ordre se tirent parfois même dessus, quand ils ne se contentent pas de patrouiller quelques routes sans danger.


 

Pourtant la politique de peuplement du gouvernement indonésien est responsable de l'exode des Madurais, chassés d'une région où ils avaient été forcés de s'établir pour alléger la pression démographique ailleurs. A présent nombre des 200 000 réfugiés de la province de Kalimatan sont entassés dans des camps où ils sont très vite rattrapés par un ennemi aussi terrible, la maladie.


 

Aussi la violence n'est-elle pas limitée à la grande région javanaise, puisque les provinces séparatistes voient dans la volonté de Wahid de dialoguer une faiblesse méconnue à l'époque des dictateurs. C'est justement le manque de rigueur, et de fermeté parfois, du président actuel, qui pour une fois menace l'Indonésie d'explosion.


 

Plus tôt cette année la présidence elle-même était à l'échec, lorsque M. Wahid n'a pas pu faire taire les rumeurs de corruption au sein de son gouvernement. Et tout porte à croire que Wahid est bien loin d'échapper à ses peines.


 

Pendant qu'il était en visite officielle à l'étranger cette semaine, un millier de manifestants sont retournés dans les rues de la capitale Jakarta pour exiger le retour au bercail du chef d'Etat afin qu'il mette un terme à sa présidence. Plusieurs lui en veulent de ne pas avoir écourté sa visite en Afrique et au Moyen-orient pour calmer le jeu à Bornéo, où la vice-présidente Megawati Sukarnoputri était justement en visite pour constater d'elle-même l'ampleur de la dernière crise.


 

Plusieurs voient en celle qui a remporté le dernier vote populaire (mais non le concours de stratégie politique) le successeur naturel de Wahid. Il ne manque pas de parallèle avec le pays voisin, les Philippines, où une femme au poste de vice-président a remplacé un chef d'Etat entaché par la corruption avec l'appui des manifestants, le people power.


 

Les relations entre Wahid et Sukarnoputri ne ressemblent pourtant en rien aux querelles venimeuses entre Joseph Estrada et Gloria Arroyo, et les nombreux foyers de la violence en Indonésie compliquent encore le jeu de la stabilisation, surtout après l'épisode du Timor, qui a lui aussi permis aux autres régions séparatistes (comme l'Iryan Jaya ou l'Aceh) de contempler une foule de possibilités.


 

Evidemment voilà depuis déjà un moment que les rumeurs de sécession persistent, mais il n'y a rien de mieux que l'incertitude au sein de l'Etat pour leur donner raison.



 

LA CROISADE DE MARCOS


 

Le sous-commandant Marcos, dirigeant des forces zapatistes, a fait son entrée triomphale dans la capitale méxicaine au terme de son "zapatour" de quinze jours, mais l'accueil ne sera pas aussi chaleureux dans les arènes du Congrès.


 

La première rencontre de Marcos avec une dizaine de députés du Congrès ce lundi a été plutôt tiède, malgré l'appui incontestable du président Vicente Fox à la mission émancipatrice du chef indien. "Le gouvernement et les zapatistes sont du même camp sur le plan des revendications indigènes et des réformes constitutionnelles," soutenait Fox.


 

Pourtant Marcos est bien à Mexico pour tenter de convaincre les élus, qui pour la plupart ne sont pas du parti de M. Fox, du bien-fondé de sa campagne, acclamée sur la place du Zocalo par plus de 100 000 spectateurs la fin de semaine dernière. "Il est temps que ce pays cesse d'être une honte. C'est l'heure des peu-ples indiens!" s'était écrié le fumeur de pipe cagoulé au délire des spectateurs dimanche dernier.


 

Mais après la période de tournée et de spectacle vient une négociation qui s'annonce longue, malgré les promesses du président de régler les contestations autochtones "en quinze minutes". Depuis ces déclarations de lendemain électoral, où Marcos avait d'ailleur indiqué son intention de marcher sur Mexico sans les armes, les trois conditions qui doivent constituer le fondement du dialogue entre zapatistes et gouvernement ont à peine été effleurées.


 

Le gouvernement n'a que partiellement retiré ses troupes du Chiapas, tandis que plusieurs prisonniers politiques restent toujours incarcérés. Puis rien n'indique encore que les élus du Congrès se précipiteront pour faire ratifier l'accord de San Andres sur les droits et la culture autochtones, une question qui traîne depuis plus de quatre ans.


 

Puisque Marcos a déclaré son intention de rester à Mexico tant et aussi longtemps que les accords n'auront pas été ratifiés il faut penser qu'il a songé à apporter le nécessaire en prévision d'un long séjour.


 

Si le sous-commandant a plus confiance au président qu'aux députés qu'il a pu rencontrer jusqu'à présent, il n'empêche que les deux sont loins de se retrouver pour partager le Téquila. Même s'il a hésité à attaquer M. Fox lors de son discours du Zocalo, Marcos estime que le chef d'Etat manque toujours de "sensibilité humaine", entre autre en raison de sa vocation de libre-échangiste invétéré.


 

Alors-même que Marcos entrait dans la capitale, le président lançait son ambitieux projet Puebla-Panama, destiné à intégrer le sud du Mexique à l'Amérique centrale en améliorant les infrastructures pour multiplier les échanges. Le projet a beau avoir pour but de faire partager les fruits de la croissance aux régions du sud défavorisées, il prend une saveur commerciale trop riche au goût du sous-commandant, qui l'a déjà condamné à titre de menace sur la culture indigène. Là-dessus Marcos devra reconnaitre les limites de la contestation.


 

BACK TO THE BALKANS?


 

Just when everything carried the promise of stabilization in the Balkans, talk of the old tinderbox is brewing anew in light of recent clashes on the Macedonia-Kosovo border. Macedonia is now joining Belgrade in expressing its frustration with Albanian guerillas operating from within the buffer zone established to protect returning Albanian refugees from Serb troops two years ago.


 

For a week now, the Nato troops guarding the border with the former Yugoslav republic have been involved in clashes with Albanians fighting for an independent Kosovo. The Macedonian border area has traditionally been a hostile area for US troops, some of whom were kidnapped when Serbia was defying the Nato ground advance in 1999. Now these troops and other Nato units are engaged with members of a population they were sent to protect when hostilities with Belgrade stopped.


 

Since there has been a transition of power in Yugoslavia, leading to a withdrawal of the economic embargo. The new leadership, headed by former opposition member Vojislav Kostunica, even hints it will try former strongman Slobodan Milosevic for atrocities. But Nato and the West is less pleased with the attitude of rebel Albanians who would rather have an independent homeland, or see Kosovo merge with neighboring Albania, than live in the protectorate it has become. This week Nato even entrusted Serb troops with the task of defending the buffer zone between Serbia and Kosovo to keep the area from being a launching pad for Albanian guerilla attacks.


 

After decades of hardline Communist rule, instability in the Balkans has been a recurring theme since the crumbling of the Berlin wall, which coincided with the rise of Serb nationalism. But the present instability is a result of past tensions rather than new Serb aggression.


 

Montenegro, which is home to a large Serb minority and technically still part of Yugoslavia, is still driven to formally separate from the federation rather than reconcile with Belgrade. More recently changes of leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina have also contributed to the new Balkan instability.


 

An example of communal understanding since the Dayton accords - save some expected bickering - the Croat member of the three-person presidency was ousted recently by Bosnia's top international administrator after the Croat faction announced it would abandon its alliance with the Muslims. Croat nationalists say they want to create their own state in Bosnia, in violation with the 1995 Dayton peace accord, which administrator Wolfgang Petritsch has the role to oversee. The Croats have complained that recent election changes mean they won't be able to retain positions they have held since Dayton.


 

But the clashes on Macedonia's border, a former republic which has discreetly separated from Yugoslavia during an otherwise troublesome breakup, is of greater concern to neighbors, which include Bulgaria. Clashes in recent days killed half a dozen gunmen on both sides, including Macedonian soldiers. Bulgaria offered its western neighbor assistance, unsatisfied by the OSCE and Nato's role monitoring the border area, spreading fears the clashes could grow into a regional crisis.


 

While Macedonia has ordinarily been spared the decade's convulsions in the region, it has been embroiled in a bitter conflict with its southern neighbor, because the Greek region bordering it bears the same name. But this time around neighbors from all parts, which have traditionally made territorial claims on Macedonia, are pulling together against Albanian "terrorists" who spread the risk of inflaming the region anew. Responding to aggression is doubly touchy since a third of Macedonia's population is Albanian, and therefore is included in nationalist plans to create a greater Albania (revived after the Nato intervention in the region).


 

Some Albanian nationalists are upset a change of government in Belgrade has undermined their claim to more autonomy from Serbia, and possibly, independence, an option rejected by Nato. The clashes are also undermining Yugoslav efforts to negotiate a peace package in the buffer zone of southern Serbia, offering reform and greater representation to Albanians in exchange for a return of the Yugoslav army and police there.


 

Nato was separately allowing for a return of Yugoslav forces in parts of the buffer zone where the borders of Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia meet, to quell the recent clashes. The irony isn't being lost on anyone that this time the West could end up being sucked in a Balkan clash, on Belgrade's side.


 

Kosovo leaders, who have otherwise condemned the attack of Albanian guerillas, say inviting Yugoslav soldiers back in is "a provocation, making possible an open conflict that would include the entire region."


 

Yugoslav prime minister Zoran Zinzic meanwhile called for an open dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, without which there is "no basis for building a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious society in Kosovo." It isn't lost on anyone either that this is how cooperation in Bosnia, presently in a state of confusion, was once promoted.



 

APRES LA VACHE FOLLE


 

Comme la crise de la vache folle avant elle, celle de la fièvre aphteuse est issue de Grande-Bretagne et aura vite gagné l'Europe, dans l'hystérie comme dans les faits. Les premiers cas de cette maladie très contagieuse sur le contient, malgré les contrôles draconiens aux frontières, traduisent à la fois le triomphe de l'unification européenne, et son dernier désastre agricole.


 

C'est avec une telle optique, selon les observateurs, que la Suisse aura, dans une grande proportion, rejeté toute suggestion de se joindre à l'Union européenne dans un avenir proche, lors d'un référendum tenu la semaine dernière. Puisque la contagion a bien gagné le contient, à l'origine sous forme de germe, même les hallebardiers les plus vigoureux ne pourront faire grand chose pour empêcher la fièvre ravageuse de s'attaquer au cheptel alpin.


 

Evidemment les raisons du rejet suisse sont avant tout historiques, mais les proportions du "non", un 77 pourcent retentissant, laissent penser que les dernières crises européennes, qui ne se sont pas encore répandues en Suisse, y seraient sans doute pour quelquechose. Les remontrances européennes vis à vis du système bancaire suisse sur le dossier du blanchiment de l'argent, ont également fait de la question européenne "la mauvaise question à poser à l'heure actuelle". La Suisse tarde toujours à ratifier un accord de libre-échange avec l'Union, chose qui parait également de mauvaise augure à l'heure du resserrement des barrières sur le plan agricole.


 

L'UE n'avait pourtant pas tardé à bannir les déplacements de bétail, laissant songer à l'inutilité du geste. Les cas de fièvre aphteuse sur le continent laissent planer le spectre d'une contamination désastreuse de la maladie, inoffensive encore chez les hommes mais ravageuse chez les bêtes (et donc pour l'économie) car intraitable.


 

Alors que les départements français en bordure avec le voisin du nord ont resserré la frontière, plusieurs partagaient l'avis du secrétaire d'État à la santé, Bernard Kouchner, selon lequel "on pourra considérer qu'il s'agit d'un véritable miracle" que l'épizootie ne gagne pas l'Hexagone. Pari tenu et gagné cette semaine lorsqu'une ferme de Mayenne enregistrait les premiers cas de maladie sur le continent, déclencheant un plan d'urgence qui selon les autorités justifiait les mesures draconiennes des dernières semaines, sans aller jusqu'à la vaccination générale cependant.


 

Alors que la campagne anglaise brûle, l'hystérie, comme l'épidémie, gagne l'Irlande du Nord, où les rassemblements de la Saint-Patrick seront limités afin d'éviter une contagion qui pourrait s'avérer terrible pour troupeaux locaux. Des cas de contamination en Iran, en Asie et en Amérique latine, ne laissent plus de doute quant à la facilité de répandre la maladie à l'heure des vols trans-continentaux et des échanges internationaux. Au Canada, où le dernier cas de fièvre aphteuse remonte aux années 50, les visiteurs du Royaume-uni sont accueillis avec tapis désinfectant.


 

Cette dernière crise alimentaire ne vient que donner plus d'étoffe au débat de l'alimentation en Europe, qui gagne des proportions propre à l'hystérie générale. Un récent éditorial du journal Libération en dresse un témoignage alarmant: "L'horreur alimentaire est à nos portes! Il est en effet tentant de ramasser sur les étagères de l'actualité récente un bœuf aux hormones, un poulet à la dioxine, une vache folle, un mouton aphteux, un pâté à la listeria, un épi de maïs génétiquement modifié... et d'en faire un panier garni d'imprécations antimodernes. Si l'homme est ce qu'il mange, alors nous sommes tous des héros pour avoir vécu si longtemps".


 

Hystérie à part, en France, où les autorités ont immédiatement agit comme si le pays était officiellement atteint par la maladie, la crise est venue gâter les préparatives en vue des jours sacrés du calendrier musulman. Le gouvernement français et les autorités religieuses ont conseillé aux fidèles de renoncer aux sacrifices rituels de l'Aïd el-Kebir, "la fête du mouton". Pourtant plusieurs craignent que l'Europe continentale n'en soit pas à ses derniers sacrifices sur le plan alimentaire.



 

ISLAM'S HOLY PERIOD


 

It was the holiest period in the Muslim calendar, and this year in particular, a time of devotion and prayer which includes practices not always understood in the West, and not helped by current events.


 

From the trial of terrorists with plans to target the America with links to the so-called Groupe Islamique Armé of Algeria, to the iconoclastic intolerance preached by Taleban clerics in Afghanistan, it doesn't matter that the subjects are unrelated and that the branches of Islam involved vary; just that the actions are taken under Islam's name, to merit the traditional Western brand of fanaticism. This year again, a religion too often associated with the Islamic Jihad or bloody-handed vigilantes in separatist parts of Indonesia, is getting no break from world opinion.


 

The charge seems doubly unfair. Not only does it single out a specific religion, it does so, in the case of the Taleban, not for day-to-day violence and intolerance toward its people, but for a new turn in policy separate from civilian targeting: the destruction of religious monuments, centuries old. After years of alarming human rights reports and recent United Nations sanctions against the regime, little had until now created a greater outcry than the destruction of some of Afghanistan's giant stone Bhuddas, by decree of Taleban clerics.


 

This came at a sacred time in the Muslim calendar, the annual Feast of Sacrifice period of Eid al Adha, marked by the ritual killing of sheep which symbolizes Abraham's sacrifice of the ram as a substitute for his son. In this time of animal herd crisis in Europe, the lack of sheep in some parts of the old continent has sparked a deep crisis within some religious circles, even if the Koran permits the substitution of lamb by other animals.


 

In Istanbul, the large Turkish metropolis at the doorstep of both Islam and Europe, this year's event has not failed to create a crisis with health authorities and animal activists, who decry aspects of the practice in a country which is 98 percent Muslim and seeking full European Union membership.


 

Another practice related to the holy period, the "stoning the devil" ritual by pilgrims, who by the thousands took part in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, has also come under scrutiny following the death of 35 who were suffocated in a crowd crush. Similar incidents related to lack of crowd control have caused hundreds of deaths in the past.


 

But while these events elicit sometimes shock but certainly curiosity in the West, the Taleban offensive against historical sites in Afghanistan has created the loudest reaction, and has been criticised by other Muslim nations alike, including one of the country's rare friends, Pakistan.


 

But just as Afghanistan's history is that of not bowing to outsiders meddling in internal affairs, the establishment has chosen to ignore the cries of other countries, some willing to buy the sculptures to save them from annihilation because they represent objects of religious infidelity to the strict Taleban. The country's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has brushed aside repeated international appeals to spare the statues, saying the figures are un-Islamic and people should be proud of destroying them.


 

Across the world it was rare moment of unity perhaps, as hard-line Kashmiri separatists alone voiced support for the policy, but one not without its backlash. Hindu radicals in India burned copies of the Muslim holy book and called for the destruction of Islam's holy sites, while a German minister compared the attack on the statues to the book-burning purges of the Nazis.


 

While such calls can easily get out of control and just further the lack of understanding between cultures, even the holy Muslim gatherings aren't only about sending messages of goodwill to all. As some 250,000 of the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia crowded the Namira Mosque to listen to a sermon from the country's top religious cleric, Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheik, some prayers went beyond worship of God. "Where are these people who speak of rights, whose mouths spread venom on Islam?" He asked. The cleric went on claiming that Jerusalem was in the hands of "the raping Jews who are bullying our Muslim brothers in Palestine under the eyes of those protecting human rights."


 

The Taleban meanwhile temporarily put a halt to the destruction of the monuments as a show of respect for the Muslim holiday. But some Muslim leaders are furious they are proceeding with the destruction of cultural symbols in the name of Islam.


 

Observers find hope that in the divisions of the Muslim world lie divisions within various Taleban factions as well, opening the door for more moderate elements who seek the international recognition of Afghanistan and the end of recent economic sanctions.



 

LE MUR: PROTECTION OU PROVOCATION?


 

Au terme du branle-bas parfois violent en bordure du périmètre de sécurité du Sommet des Amériques à Québec, les forces policières, et le ministre de la sécurité publique du Québec Serge Ménard en premier, se félicitaient tant pour avoir défendu le site que pour leur stratégie.


 

Selon le ministre, la nécessité du mur ne laissait plus de doute en tant que première ligne de défense, sinon soulignait-il, les gestes de certains manifestants auraient été perpétrés ailleurs, soit contre le lieu des rencontres, ou les délégations elles-mêmes. Mais ce bilan ne satisfait pas tout le monde. En effet la barrière de 3,8 kilomètres autour du site du sommet était-elle vraiment justifiée?


 

Etonnant qu'une rencontre qui ait pour but la libre-circulation des produits commerciaux porte une telle atteinte à la libre circulation des personnes à Québec, soulignaient les organisateurs du sommet parallèle "des peuples" dans la basse ville de Québec. Ou encore qu'une rencontre qui devait adopter une clause démocratique, porte atteinte au droit de manifester et à la libre expression.


 

Sur les rues en bordure du périmètre l'ironie crevait les yeux. Alors que le sommet dessinait un projet de libre-échange des Amériques d'ici 2005 pour encourager le commerce et la prospérité, les boutiques et magasins en bordure du périmètre fermaient, leurs vitres placardées. La coquette rue St-Jean, qui se prolonge au coeur de la vieille-ville, faisait plutôt figure de site de dépression économique.


 

A quelques jours du sommet un juge de Québec reconnaissait que l'érection du mur portait atteinte aux droits et libertés, mais justifiait son existence par le niveau de risque dont certains ont été témoins ailleurs lors de la tenue d'événements semblables, dont Seattle, et plus récemment Prague.


 

Pendant ce temps, la police arrêtait une demi-douzaine d'individus pour complot, armés d'explosifs de niveau militaire, de bâtons de baseball et de lance-pierres pour billes métalliques. Selon les autorités, la lourde présence policière et l'érection du mur ne devaient alors plus donner lieu au débat.


 

La clôture, un grillage monté sur une base de ciment, représente alors encore un point de curiosité chez les citoyens comme les touristes. Certains posent à côté pour une photo, d'autres lisent les nombreux messages qui y sont inscrits. Car le "mur de la honte" fait aussi figure de babillard gigantesque, et de mur d'exposition, où sont posées fleurs artisanales en plastique et autres décorations symboliques.


 

A la veille du sommet cependant, le mur devient de moins en moins drôle, et puis avec la fermeture progressive des points d'accès, l'"obstacle" que plusieurs redoutaient. Bientôt, alors que le plus puissant des 34 invités officiels du sommet survole le centre de Québec à bord de son hélicoptère présidentiel, le mur devient la "cible" dessinée dans les plans des manifestants les plus réactionnaires.


 

Au moment-même où George W. Bush fait son entrée en ville la clôture tombe, comme un fil à linge coupé, à quelques rues de l'hôtel de la délégation américaine et du centre des congrès. Les projectiles volent et le gaz lacrymogène fait irruption. Lors de certains affrontements on comptera une soixantaine de cas d'utilisation de gaz par heure. Son utilisation deviendra tellement intensive qu'elle forcera la fermeture du restaurant de l'hôtel Royal Palace, près d'un des deux sites importants des affrontements, par crainte de contamination des aliments.


 

L'emploi massif des gaz prendra également les policiers eux-mêmes au dépourvu peu après l'arrestation, en fin de semaine, de 230 personnes lors d'incidents qui eurent lieu dans la basse ville. Le besoin de décontamination des personnes arrêtées causera des retards importants dans le traitement de leurs cas. Puis on apprendra plus tard qu'à force de tirer des centaines de grenades lacrymogènes en air, les policiers se sont presque retrouvés à sec.


 

Mais le sommet aura également été marqué par un changement de tactique policière, faisant l'utilisation de balles de caoutchouc (une d'elles touchant à la jambe le député nouveau-démocrate sympathisant, Svend Robinson) et de cannons d'eau. La fréquence de leur utilisation attira la fougue des observateurs de la Ligue des droits et libertés qui dénoncèrent les actions policières.


 

Mais les policiers, qui employèrent la matraque rarement, furent applaudis pour leur comportement et leur patience aux plus hauts niveaux. Le premier ministre Jean Chrétien lui-même félicita leurs actions, faisant remarquer que mêmes ses invités, les 33 autres chefs d'Etat des Amériques présents, "ont été impressionnés".


 

Malgré le retard initial des cérémonies, la rencontre des dirigeants se déroulea largement comme prévue, et aboutit à une réaffirmation du projet de libre-échange pour 2005, tout en exigeant de ses membres le respect des normes démocratiques. Les "trois grands" du traité de l'ALENA, sur lequel s'inspire le projet de la Zone de Libre Echange, ont même étudié la question d'une entente sur l'énergie, dont les Etats-Unis se veulent marché principal. Certaines divergences internes existent cependant, sur l'étendue du libre-échange comme sur la clause démocratique.


 

Succès de l'opération policière et du sommet ou non, les événements laissent un goût bien amer dans la bouche des citoyens de la ville, le maire L'Allier en premier. Plus jamais, semblait en effet dire celui-ci lors de ses commentaires de lundi. Les retombées économiques n'en vaudraient pas la chandelle, puisque les affrontements les plus laids depuis quelques temps à Québec ont entaché l'image de la ville quelque peu.


 

Le lendemain du sommet, on s'empressait d'effacer ces laids souvenirs, procédant à une élimination rapide des traces du périmètre, au retrait des grilles de protection sur les commerces, et à la décontamination des lieux, dont certains étaient encore couverts de poudre blanche lacrymogène.


 

Deux jours après le largage des dernières bombes à gaz, leur odeur stagne encore dans l'air, emportée par les vents du printemps. Plusieurs milliers de citoyens se posent avec raison la question des autres retombées de ces trois jours tumultueux qui ont exigé trois ans de préparation, et dont les conséquences pourraient se faire tout pareillement, sentir, pendant quelques années encore.



 

SPY VS SPY, AGAIN


 

 A spy crisis which envenomed an already tense situation with a former Cold war foe? The scenario was all too familiar and recent for the United States, which has been hopping from foreign policy crisis to foreign policy crisis as time goes by, betraying an untested leadership perhaps, and a lack of policy cohesion undoubtedly.


 

After a tense stand-off with Russia over the expulsion of tens of so-called "spies" on both sides, the collision of a U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea, causing the latter to be lost, proved to be another rapid test of the new administration in Washington; yet another distraction from an internal agenda otherwise focused on selling tax cuts to avert a deep recession of the economy.


 

The internal imperative had already caused tensions with countries the U.S. is a traditional ally and business partner with, such as Canada and Europe, over softwood lumber and gas emissions, measures to protect U.S. industry from external constraints at times of cyclical slowdown.


 

But a diplomatic row with another major power, and a nuclear one at that, by far monopolized the efforts of policymakers, and drew the attention of political observers, if only because both sides seemed unremittingly anchored in their positions.


 

While the Chinese asked for a formal apology for loss of both pilot and plane, Washington did not go beyond expressing "a formal regret", but pressed on for the return of the 24 crew members of the U.S. plane, which was forced to land on the Chinese island of Hainan for technical reasons following the collision.


 

The incident once more threatened to inflame an already delicate state of relations between Washington and Beijing. To start with the latter is still uncertain about the new leadership in America, following years of warmer ties under the Clinton presidency. Among the things it is certain about, is that under George W. Bush, the security of Taiwan will remain high among American foreign priorities, leading to the possible sale of missiles to the island nation in the near future.


 

In addition The U.S. is set to introduce a motion citing China for human rights abuses, something the previous administration seemed more likely to overlook in the past. In some sort of pre-emptive move, China this week lauded its human rights record, but while observers have noted some improvements, few share Beijing's own optimistic assessment.


 

As with a number of other powers, including Western allies, China and the U.S. are not seeing eye to eye on the issue of missile defense, and Beijing has probably been making the strongest statements about the possible ramifications of an American decision to go ahead with the project, something, again, a Bush administration seems more inclined to do than the previous one.


 

Finally, the spy caper, which was the second one in as many weeks after an American of Chinese descent was held in China under suspicion of espionage, would under extreme scenarios throw up in the air a great many things which rely on good relations, from trade deals to support for China's Olympic bid. President Bush's planned trip to China could also be reconsidered.


 

"If this problem does not get resolved fairly soon - in a matter of days - then there's no question that this episode is going to spill over and affect my colleagues' views of our relations with China," said Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, "And it's not going to be positive."


 

While other U.S. lawmakers said the incident proved Taiwan would be better served by strong American weaponry, such as the Aegis missile system under consideration, others pointed out the commercial implications of a prolonged standoff. "We have now given Communist China most favored nation status," reminded California Representative Duncan Hunter, "and they have treated
American citizens in the last several days in what I would consider to be a most unfavorable way."


 

Once more however, the statesmen involved tried to reassure worried observers that the incident was in fact a temporary "episode", and that it should not be allowed to fundamentally alter relations between China and the United States. Lately Bush had been trying to caution Americans "diplomacy sometimes takes a little longer than people would like."


 

But the state leaders, notably Chinese president Jiang Zemin, were coming under pressure not to cave in. The Chinese leader, who did not interrupt a planned trip to Latin America, where he is currently touring, was increasingly being pressed by his senior military brass to hold his ground on demanding nothing less than a full apology.


 

On Wednesday morning news the Chinese would release the American crewmen, without necessarily putting an end to the crisis, seemed nevertheless to usher a period of calm after the storm.


 

But the incident served as a warning shot for the new Republican administration, which was being scrutinized by other leaderships and observers throughout this, its first major international crisis.


 

The London Guardian was quick to point out the incident showed "just how easily Bush's concept of 'strategic competition' with China could turn nasty."


 

The message as clear: even with its allies, especially with them perhaps,  America was learning it may have to make securing good relations more than just a part-time job.


 

OUSTING CORRUPT MEN IN ASIA


 

Judgement day seemed to be nearing for two major Asian public figures who stand to face lady justice for alleged corruption and be replaced by women waiting in the wings, but neither seems willing to go peacefully. Although only one of the two is still in power, the other still weighs heavily on national politics.


 

In the Philippines a "state of rebellion" was declared last week after police and troops battled thousands of protesters, leaving four dead. The demonstrators condemned the arrest of former president Joseph Estrada, currently detained on corruption charges. Some officials, including successor Gloria Arroyo, said the mob's actions verged on a coup attempt. The authorities arrested some of Estrada's allies to try to calm the crisis, which erupted a few weeks before a crucial vote is expected to mark the transition of power in the Philippines.


 

This week Arroyo lifted the state of rebellion but the army remained on alert nevertheless. Mrs Arroyo took on a much more aggressive stance as the opposition demonstrations went on and degenerated. She said of herself that "this wisp of a girl can be so tough" but is accused by some political opponents of trying to use intimidation on the eve of the May 14 elections by jailing them for conspiracy.


 

In nearby Indonesia, President Abdurrahman Wahid has been clinging to power despite a second censure motion by the parliament last week. The 61 year old partly blind cleric maintains he can still negotiate a deal with rivals despite the setback and the looming threat of impeachment for alleged corruption. This week however top Indonesian officials were pressing him to hand substantial power to his deputy.


 

Wahid ended up heading Indonesia for a five-year term in 1999 despite scoring less than popular vice-president Megawati Sukarnoputri (see RETRO), the daughter of the founding dictator who stands to succeed Wahid if he is removed from power, in national elections.


 

Instability at the top may there also lead to widespread violence given the separatist and sectarian tensions on the rise in various parts of the heavily populated and diverse peninsula. Aware of the potential for clashes, the army has been warning Wahid not to dissolve parliament, saying it would only compound the crisis facing the country.


 

Megawati in the mean time has been silent despite still coveting the top job. "Our culture discourages her from being as brash as Gloria Arroyo," said one political analyst putting both cases into perspective. While rallies in support of Wahid have remained peaceful, 63% of respondents in a recent poll agreed he should have stepped down after the second censure motion.


 

Estrada and Wahid are but two of a number of statesmen and former state leaders under investigation on corruption charges. Similar cases have arisen lately in Argentina, Peru, and more recently in the former Yugoslavia, where authorities have brought into custody former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic.


 

ALGERIE: LA KABYLIE S'EN MELE


 

Les marches des derniers jours dans les rues d'Alger, des manifestations qui ne s'étaient pas vues depuis plusieurs années, avaient beau avoir un catalyseur bien précis, leurs revendications n'étaient pas moins divergentes.


 

La mort d'un lycéen dans une gendarmerie de Kabylie, et l'interprellation brutale de trois autres jeunes, en pleine commémoration de l'anniversaire du "printemps berbère" de 1980, ont vite embrasé cette région traditionnellement rebelle d'Algérie.


 

Après deux semaines de confrontation avec les forces de l'ordre les morts se comptaient dans les dizaines. C'était se rappeler les manifestations sévèrement réprimées en Kabylie il y a 21 ans qui furent le catalyste du Mouvement culturel berbère.


 

C'est ce groupe qui a à nouveau organisé le défilé de jeudi dans la capitale algérienne, mais le MCB n'était pas seul à conspuer le pouvoir. Se joignaient à lui des groupes représentant autant de revendications qu'il n'y ait de crises dans ce pays pauvre du Maghreb juste aux portes de l'opulente Europe.


 

Revendications culturelles, économiques et sociales, autant de contestations que de promesses non tenues ou du moins de mirages évaporés selon certains. L'espoir Abdelaziz Bouteflika était-il inespéré ou trompeur?


 

Certaines réactions du régime suite aux violences laissent penser au second qualificatif. "Le pouvoir, par la voix du président de la république relayé par le ministre de l'intérieur, avait été catégorique en identifiant, aux lieu et place de la justice, les commanditaires des évènements de la Kabylie tapis, selon lui, à l'intérieur et à l'extérieur de l'Algérie" écrivait en éditorial le journal El Watan cette semaine à la veille d'une nouvelle manifestation populaire.


 

Le pouvoir, selon le journal et une bonne portion de la population, se sert d'un "argumentaire récurrent" pour analyser la situation et brandir le spectre "du complot ourdi de l'extérieur" pour reprendre la formule de l'Etat.


 

L'instauration d'une commission d'enquête nationale sur les évènements n'a en rien calmé la rage des contestataires qui soulignent que de pareils gestes dans le passé ont rarement connu de suivi digne de mention. "C'est à se demander s'il a bien saisi l'ampleur de la révolte qui s'exprime depuis quelques semaines et de la grogne qui monte dans tout le pays," disait du président Bouteflika un jeune algérien au journal Libération.


 

Pourtant l'élection du chef d'Etat il y a deux ans n'avait-elle pas donné lieu d'espérer de meilleurs lendemains dans ce pays rongé par la violence? Pourtant ce n'était pas la source habituelle des effluves de sang qui rassemblait autant de manifestants dans les rues, soit les confrontations entre les forces de l'ordre et les militants islamiques, mais, à l'origine, des évènements singuliers et isolés qui révoltèrent le public, dont les manifestations furent par la suite sévèrement réprimées.


 

Puis la crise prit même un tranchant diplomatique lorsque le ministre des affaires extérieures français, Hubert Védrine, estima inacceptable que la France reste silencieuse face à "la violence de la répression" en Algérie, ce qui a aussitôt été qualifié d' "ingérence" par les autorités algériennes.


 

L'intervention ne pouvait pas tomber à un moment plus délicat, puisqu'elle précédait de quelques jours à peine la parution du livre d'un général français confirmant l'utilisation institutionnalisée et "privilégiée" de la torture en Algérie lors de la guerre de libération, un sujet matière à tabou autant en France qu'en Algérie.


 

Alors que plus de la moitié des Français sondés désiraient un pardon officiel de Paris pour la torture, le mutisme des autorités d'Alger est à nouveau paru retentissant. "Devant le silence des autorités algériennes, la France défend l'honneur des Algériens" s'indignait un autre journal maghrébin.


 

Autant de crises pour faire des déclarations de Bouteflika des litotes flagrantes, surtout lorsqu'il affirme, à propos de la démocratie en Algérie, qu'elle est "imparfaite dans son application".



 

THE NEW SPACE FRONTIER


 

Space, that final frontier, may become a very different place sooner than one would like to think.


 

Slowly inhabitated by man on the billion-dollar space station, it is already no longer a zone limited to a few privileged scientists. Although being privileged could remain a prerequisite for many years ahead.


 

But as humanity brings a little more of itself in the great blackness with every new shuttle mission, some of it could become distinctly less scientific and more martial, if there arises a space application to U.S. president George W. Bush's missile defense pet project.


 

In a matter of days, marked by Canada's great metallic handshake in space, in the year that the fictious "Hal" made famous, the possibilities have become less of the realm of science fiction. Increasingly, the "fiction" can be left back on Earth.


 

While astronaut Chris Hadfield completed Canada's first, and second, spacewalk in history after decades of long and difficult studies coupled with personal sacrifices, American businessman Dennis Tito made his life-long dream of space travel come true, snapping pictures and listening to opera on a $20 million trip to the stars, after devoting much less time to the preparation.


 

And space's first tourist may have only opened the flood gates of inter-stellar commercialism, as Russia's cash-hungry space program takes orders of future high-paying visitors to the milky way. There are even rumors of future quarters on the space station devoted to such visitors, a hotel more exclusive than lavish.


 

Back on Earth Tito said he's ready to promote the idea of space tourism and at least one Canadian, film director James Cameron, says he wants to be the next to go.


 

Space Island Group's Robert Laird says space travel for the masses is only a matter of time. "It'll be very expensive for the first travellers but this will slowly put in place the infrastructures which will make future space travel much cheaper down the road. Let us not forget that millionaires opened up similar activities to the public in the past, such as aviation."


 

The producer of TV's hit reality show Survivor has even been negotiating for ways to make future space missions not a subject of scientific feat, but the prize of future TV contests.


 

While previous space missions have shown the ability of elderly astronauts to survive space travel, the recent mission involving Tito similarily has shown untrained humans could be rather easily adapted to zero-gravity conditions, barring the occasional space sickness.


 

These events clearly herald new possibilities along with new discoveries in space, involving probe missions to Mars which may one day yield the red planet's innermost secrets. Some U.S. scientists say a first manned mission to Mars is only decades away.


 

But amid all the exploits are also the fears the future of space developments will become more martial before they become martian, starting with the possible militarization of space.


 

The notion is circulating as the current U.S. administration pursues its plans to launch a missile defense which may have a space application going further than simple warning and tracking systems.


 

Although U.S. officials are being cautious about supplying the details of these plans, there are concerns the notion of arming space can't be totally eliminated, in a environment where a loose screw alone can become a lethal projectile.


 

Bruce Blair from the Center of Defense Information told the Washington Post in December that missile defense could be used "as a wedge to accelerate our activities in space."


 

An American report in January endorsed "U.S. control of space, including defending U.S. satellites and engaging those of any enemy" and spoke of the need for "power projection", understood by some as ultimately putting offensive weapons into space.


 

This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who until December's election led a Congressional Commission which recommened that the Pentagon increase spending on military space technology, stopped just short of advocating putting weapons in outer space.


 

"More than any other country the United States relies on space for its security and well-being," he said, "It's only logical to conclude that we must be attentive to these vulnerabilities and pay careful attention to protecting and promoting our interest in space."


 

Plans also call for creating a new position staffed by a four-star general whose job will be to run Air Force operations within the U.S. Space Command, and possible prototypes for a "space plane" to transport weapons rapidly around the globe.


 

And when you thought potential space rivals could ill afford such an expensive confrontation amid the stars Russia announced its newest armed forces, to be launched in June, would be called Space Forces, primarily to ensure and protect space communications.


 

Meanwhile in February, the China Daily was quoting Chinese military sources saying the country should prepare for a military confrontation with the U.S. in space. "The consequences will be a dangerous arms race in space," said armed forces official Yao Yunzhu of America's plans for missile defense.


 

Last month over 80 countries took part in a conference to keep space arms- free in Moscow, an initiative of Russian president Vladimir Putin coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the first manned flight by Yuri Gagarin.


 

Those were more simple and innocent times. Indeed, the great milky way may never be quite the same again.  



 

NEW HOPES FOR JAPAN UNDER KOIZUMI?


 

No longer the symbol of the economic mi-racle of the post-war years, Japan is in search of leadership to rise once more among the powerful nations of Earth. Is the new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi the right man for the job?


 

Seen as a dangerous maverick by the elders of his own party, Koizumi definitely distinguishes himself from the usual pack, appearing younger than his 59 years of age and bringing new thinking to the land of the rising sun.


 

And much of it is needed, after years of economic slump which may yield yet more, a downgraded Yen making imports more expensive, and a debt burden that leaves Japan a far cry from the booming 80s where it was a major creditor.


 

But while much-needed reform hangs on Koizumi's lips, it comes accompanied with radical twists for the Liberal Democratic Party which has dominated the post-war electoral map, as it heads into a crucial parliamentary vote this year. The measures contemplated by the new leader include privatizing the post office and seeking a more interventionist military, boosted by renewed Japanese nationalism, something which isn't music to the ears of its neighbors.


 

With "Change the LDP! Change Japan!" as his rallying cry, Koizumi wants more than just doing away with the old ways of the LDP (partly by seeking a more urban-based support as opposed to hanging on to the old rural roots of the party). According to some, this isn't only winning him votes inside the party, but among the masses as well.


 

But reviving the party's hopes should be enough for now, following the debacle of his predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, whose year-long tenure was marked by blunders, corruption scandals and a sluggish economy scarred by high unemployment and rising bankruptcies.


 

Still the effects of Japanese shock therapy would be felt deeply by the economy: "If we do the reforms that are needed, and the economy contracts, that's just too bad," he said, "but if we are prepared to accept that, then as a result there will not be minus growth." The first signs of where he wants to take Japan will be reflected in his government. "I want to appoint those who are zealous about reform," he said as he was elected prime minister this week, becoming the 11th PM in 13 years.


 

How long Koizumi retains his post will depend on a blend of party politics and performance, but his actions could alter the way Japan has been doing things for decades.


 

For instance Koizumi said he favored revising the clause in Japan's constitution renouncing the right to wage war. "We should have a constitution which recognizes the Self Defense Forces," he said soon after his election. Japan's constitution still bears the mark of American occupation after the war, which imposed the renunciation of the right to use arms to settle international disputes.


 

Some analysts have credited the lack of an expensive military in Japan and Germany after the war for their ensuing economic miracles. But any talk of militarization is sure not to sit well with Japan's neighbors, eager to stress that Tokyo has not fully repented for its wartime misdeeds.


 

However Koizuma also stressed he seeks closer ties with these countries: "I will aim to promote friendly relations with neighboring countries," he said.


 

But potential clashes with one of these countries, China, has always been one way to justify similar changes to the constitution and militarization.


 

Despite his youthful appearance and attempt at making a fresh start, Koizumi must still confront old mefiances about how things are run in East Asia.


 

BLAME IT ON CALIFORNIA


 

This time of year is when the fog really rolls into northern California, but the millions of Americans who live there are hoping there will soon be a silver lining to the recent misfortunes of the Golden State.


 

Compounded to the hi-tech fallout which is still making thousands lose their jobs every month is an energy crisis which is leaving glum Californians in the dark. It is hard to believe this could happen in the state blessed with fortune, sunshine and surf.


 

In a recent poll 52 percent of respondents said they expected the next 12 months to bring grim economic times to America's richest and most populous state. That's a sharp contrast with the 62% who, in January, thought the state was headed in the right direction.


 

"In my 20 years of conducting polls, it's hard to find a time when people have turned so abruptly negative," says the pollster, from the Public Policy Institute of California. In January of course many Californians were just starting to learn about the worsening shape of the state's electrical infrastructures, leading to rolling backouts which have now become commonplace as temperatures grow steadily warmer.


 

As a matter of fact last weekend much of the interior took in temperatures in the triple digits fahrenheit, some 30 degrees warmer than coastline figures. And many dread the humming of all those air conditioners like roaring thunder.


 

It isn't enough that the crisis has become a national priority, since Californians feel president George W. Bush's recently proposed energy plan, seeking to boost production, drilling, and improve the power grid's capacity, will do little to alleviate their immediate concerns any time soon.


 

As a matter of fact, the energy issue is giving signs of becoming personal, a Texas oil-patch versus California energy-glutton affair personified by the sparring between governor Gray Davis and vice-president Dick Cheney, whom Bush has designated to head the energy campaign. Before Bush's announcement last week it was Cheney who had made the administration's first major speech on energy policy, in Toronto, at the annual meeting of the American newspaper association.


 

"I urge you to stand up to your friends in the energy business and exercise the federal government's exclusive responsibility to ensure energy prices are reasonable," said Davis commenting of the president's weekly radio address, a jab at Bush's obvious home-state contacts in the oil patch business.


 

Davis' position is slowly being espoused by Californians who increasingly think Washington isn't taking necessary measures, such as putting caps on soaring energy rates, because it blames the state of managing the crisis poorly under a Democratic governor. The energy issue has taken a fully partisan angle with state Democrats decrying the grid's deterioration as a legacy of former Republican governor Pete Wilson.


 

Outside politics, large power companies are also coming under scrutiny for trying to benefit from the shortage. According to a San Francisco Chronicle investigation some of the companies are alleged to have been driving electricity prices up by "throttling their generators up and down to create artificial shortages," something regulators promise to seriously look into.


 

For the first time this month, the energy supply and pricing question has become the major preoccupation of Californians, who in the Bay area are also being hounded by the slowdown in the high-technology sector. In that area as well the lessons have been painful.


 

According to one report up to 80% of ".com" companies set up in the rush to get online will have been gone by the end of the year, causing some tens of thousands of jobs to be lost. Some "tecchies" who have been able to hang on insist that the market is still hot for e-business even if raising the money isn't as easy as it used to be.


 

"It was a bubble, it burst, but now that the tourists have gone the potential is even more there. The internet revolution lives on." It just hasn't lived up to its impossible expectations.


 

For instance new assessments of business-to-business exchanges are a long way off the $2 to $7 trillion's worth once estimated by analysts (B2B software IPOs once drove the Nasdaq stock market into a frenzy). And in sharp contrast with the past, recruiting parties now give possible employers a choice of quality candidates, some of whom are considering leaving the Valley to return home. "It's a good time to be an employer again," said one of the recruiters.


 

Among last week's crop of university graduates, which in Berkeley include one of the school's youngest, a 16-year old from Taiwan, there are concerns about finding a successful career that just weren't there before. Of course the .com boom also created a number of careers that didn't exist before the internet revolution.


 

While the crash has been felt across the entire country, it resonated in few places like it did in Silicon Valley. Some even find a connection between the two booms that went bust, the energy and hi-tech crises, since many of the internet companies consisted of plants made of impressive rows of computers that may havecontributed to draining the power supply.


 

But Californians can't understand why they should suffer most for all the ills that seem to have been striking at America. After all, the state is one of the most efficient users of energy per capita in the United States, in addition to having the most rigorous emission standards.


 

If matters are to be personal, in at least one respect the issue is being taken to court, the basketball court that is. And after two games in San Antonio, Texas in the Western Conference final of the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers lead the series 2-0.


 

Maybe after this one is settled, the fog will finally give way and the sand will once more shine on the state's alluring and much-envied beaches. There's a lot riding on the fortunes of the Golden state.



 

L'EUROPE AUX URNES


 

On aurait pensé qu'à l'aube du troisième millénaire les Européens auraient voulu élire du sang nouveau pour diriger leurs Etats-nations, mais ça ne semble pas toujours être le cas.


 

En Italie du moins, le retour de Silvio Berlusconi en tant que premier ministre aura soulevé plus d'une controverse, soit pour ses démêlés avec la justice, son emprise sur les médias privés du pays ou ses alliances avec l'extrême droite italienne.


 

Mais c'est l'homme d'affaires en lui que les Italiens retournaient au pouvoir après son court séjour en 1994. Cette fois le chef de Forza Italia et baron incontesté de la télévision italienne promet de compléter une véritable "révolution" qui rendrait l'Italie à nouveau compétitive sur la scène mondiale, alors même que l'Europe, dont l'euro poursuit toujours sa chute, entre dans une période économique plutôt incertaine.


 

Cette semaine les moteurs de l'économie continentale, la France et l'Allemagne, qui passent aux urnes plus tard cette année, ont fait état de rapports économiques ne laissant plus de doute quant aux effets du ralentissement de la plus grosse économie du monde et de ce partenaire commercial choyé, les Etats-Unis.


 

"Il faut reconnaitre les liens étroits entre le ralentissement américain, le ralentissement asiatique et biensûr celui de l'Europe. Il s'agit de liens non seulement commerciaux mais financiers et corporatifs, c'est une question de confiance financière également," faisait noter Horst Koehler le mois dernier, un gestionnaire au Fonds Monétaire International.


 

Cette semaine à Paris l'Insée rapportait une croissance d'à peine 0,5% en France au début de l'année, tandis que le bureau des statistiques allemand enregistrait la croissance la plus faible depuis 1999 lors du premier quart de 2001.


 

De plus l'inflation européenne, responsable en partie de la glissade de l'euro, est à ses plus hauts niveaux depuis l'apparition de la monnaie unique, dont on verra circuler les premiers billets dans sept mois à peine.


 

Berlusconi quant à lui, à la tête d'une Italie encore moins performante que ses voisins, promet de faire usage de ses qualités de gestionnaire pour assainir les finances de l'Etat, tout en allégeant les charges des contribuables. "Vous avez demandé un gouvernement qui fonctionne comme une machine efficace au service des citoyens, je vous assure que vous ne serez pas déçus", lançait-il à la nation après son élection.


 

Son rival libéral, Francesco Rutelli promettait pour sa part de suivre le nouveau chef de l'exécutif à la loupe et d'agir sans pitié face à "une extrême droite à laquelle nous ne faisons pas confiance et dont on sait qu'elle ne gardera pas ses promesses électorales".


 

Ce qui donne au 59ème gouvernement à Rome en 54 ans en partie ce cachet d'extrême droite, c'est la participation du nationaliste Umberto Bossi, dont le désistement avait été fatal au gouvernement de Berlusconi il y a sept ans. Alors que celui-ci n'a plus le même poids au sein du gouvernement italien, l'Europe n'a pas pu s'empêcher de penser au phénomène Joerg Haider, dont l'appui à Vienne avait soulevé biens des boucliers à Bruxelles.


 

Ailleurs, les extrémistes ont accusé un sérieux recul lors des élections régionales basques. S'engageant à "résoudre la question de la violence", le parti national basque, modéré, a remporté 33 des 75 sièges du parlement régional, au soulagement des autorités de Madrid.


 

Les radicaux d'Euskal Harritarrok, qui n'ont récolté que 10 pourcent des suffrages, ont encaissé le ras-le-bol populaire lié à la reprise de la violence dans le pays basque depuis plus d'un an. A la veille des élections encore, le bras armé des radicaux, l'ETA, avait été porté responsable d'une attaque à l'auto piégée et de la mort d'un candidat qui s'était opposé aux méthodes extrémistes.


 

La campagne électorale britannique pendant ce temps se poursuit avec beaucoup moins d'éclat. Les travaillistes de Tony Blair restent de loin les favoris face aux conservateurs de William Hague.


 

Les réapparition de la "dame de fer", Margaret Thatcher, pour donner un coup de vent dans les ailes des Tories montre d'ailleurs à quel point ceux-cis sont au bout du désespoir, même si la recrudescence des cas d'épizootie en Grande Bretagne peut s'avérer embarrassante pour le gouvernement. C'est d'ailleurs l'apparition de la crise, en février, qui aurait retardé l'appel aux urnes, qui se tiendra le 7 juin.


 

Mais les derniers sondages, plaçant Labour avec une avance de 25 points (55% contre 30% pour les Tories) laissent peu de doute quant au report au pouvoir du premier ministre britannique.


 

Celui-ci semble en être confiant également, puisque certaines facettes de son programme électoral de 44 pages intitulé "Ambitions pour la Grande Bretagne" semblent s'étendre jusqu'en 2010...




 

EVENEMENTS D'UNE RARE VIOLENCE EN ASIE


 

Deux incidents en Asie sont venus marquer d'une rare violence les sociétés plutôt pacifiques du Japon et du Népal.


 

Loin des tensions extrémistes aux Philippines ou régionales en Indonésie, ou encore des crises frontalières entre Inde et Pakistan, le Népal pouvait compter sur l'isolation que lui procuraient géographie et topographie et qui faisaient du royaume montagnard un oasis de sérénité sur ce continent parfois tendu.


 

Or cette image a vite été changée après un incident dont on a contesté les faits. Le 1er juin dernier, selon une première version du récit, le prince Dipendra aurait fait irruption dans la salle où dînait entre autre le roi Birendra avec une arme automatique, assassinant le monarque et huit autres membres de la famille royale avant de tourner l'arme contre lui-même.


 

Mais à peine procédait-on à la cérémonie des funérailles de Birendra que cette première version était corrigée par le palais, qui introduisit l'étrange récit du déclenchement par "accident" de l'arme mortelle, assainissant ainsi l'image du nouveau roi, l'assassin de la première version, qui restait dans un coma profond.


 

Bien avant la mort du prince Dipendra, et la seconde cérémonie funèbre royale en quelques jours, des témoins vinrent corroborer la première version des faits. Le prince aurait bien selon cette version assassiné neuf membres de la famille royale dont le roi, après avoir jailli de ses appartements ivre avec une arme automatique qu'il aurait tourné vers lui-même à la fin du massacre.


 

Le motif, chez certains douteux, d'un tel acte: l'opposition familiale à son mariage à une jeune fille née de mère indienne.


 

Un récit qui mêle parricide et drame passionnel d'une rare violence dans le royaume himalayen, même si le Népal est déjà proie aux attentats de rebelles maoistes qui veulent en finir avec la royauté.


 

Un des chefs rebelles appelait d'ailleurs l'armée à se révolter contre la monarchie quelques jours après l'accession au trône du nouveau roi.


 

Pendant ce temps le compte des blessés s'est aggravé en raison des émeutes qui ont trahi l'incrédulité de la population quant à la version corrigée des autorités.


 

L'appel à la transparence était entre autre l'héritage du roi Birendra, qui en 1990 avait abandonné certains de ses pouvoirs et introduit le multi-partisme afin de promouvoir la démocratie dans son royaume.


 

Des émeutes ont gâté l'accueil du troisième monarque népalais en trois jours, Gyanendra, frère de Birendra, qui s'est empressé à lancer une enquête sur le massacre du 1er juin qui a par la suite confirmé la culpabilité du prince.


 

Cette initiative ne semble pourtant pas avoir rendu le dernier roi plus populaire au sein des masses survoltées, qui doutent entre aure de son engagement démocratique. Son fils, Paras, est par ailleurs très contesté pour avoir tué dans des conditions obscures in chanteur populaire.


 

Loin des montagnes, bien que l'incident au Japon n'ait pas eu de comparables répercussions gouvernementales, la tuerie de huit jeunes écoliers par un individu armé d'un couteau la semaine dernière a tout de même ébranlé la société japonaise comme un séisme d'une rare gravité dans cette société où l'école était considérée comme une zone sacrée, mais où des incidents du genre, à l'arme blanche, semblent se multiplier.


 

"Ces jeunes enfants sont à l'âge de l'innocence, commentait le premier ministre Junichiro Koizumi après le massacre, comment faire face à la réalité que notre société soit en train de s'effondrer?"


 

L'auteur des crimes, Mamoru Takuma, qui a déjà connu l'asyle psychiatrique, semblait souffrir de nouveaux troubles mentaux, qui l'auraient poussé au suicide. "Je veux mourir, semble-t-il avoir déclaré aux policiers, en tuant des enfants je savais qu'on allait me donner la peine de mort".


 

Les instincts suicidaires de l'homme de 37 ans, lui-même ancien employé d'une école élémentaire avant son congédiement, auront des conséquences qui iront au-delà de sa simple personne, plongeant le Japon dans une période de réflexion et de désillusion profonde sur la criminalité.




 

LA CRISE EN MACEDOINE


 

Il y a une semaine, l'Otan était vue à titre de solution à la crise qui embrase la Macédoine depuis maintenant plusieurs mois, mais ces derniers jours, l'organisation militaire est accusée de plonger ce petit pays des Balkans au plus profond du marasme qui a suivi le soulèvement de ses rebelles albanophones.


 

Peu après un accord négocié et appliqué par l'Otan et l'Union Européenne permettant à un groupe de rebelles de quitter le village d'Aracinovo, une foule furieuse de Macédoniens hostiles à la politique gouvernementale envers la guerilla albanaise a fait irruption dans le parlement de la capitale Skopje. Trois des envahisseurs, des réservistes armés de kalachnikovs, sont même pénétrés dans la législature en tirant des rafales en l'air. Le mouvement de protestation a pris de l'ampleur lorsque  s'est propagée la nouvelle de la mort d'un policier à Tetovo.


 

Une semaine auparavant pourtant, l'organisation trans-Atlantique prévoyait de jouer au rôle clé suite à un accord politique, vite compromis, entre Albanais et Macédoniens. Une brigade spéciale de l'Otan aurait été dépêchée pour y désarmer la guérilla albanaise, dont la révolte secoue depuis le début de l'année cette région de l'ex-Yougoslavie jadis épargnée par la violence des dernières années.


 

L'architecte de cette violence, Slobodan Milosevic, est d'ailleurs devenu le premier ancien chef d'Etat à devoir rendre des comptes au tribunal international de La Haye, où il vient d'être transféré par les autorités serbes à la surprise générale.


 

Mais plus loin de la côte Atlantique, rien ne laissait supposer la fin du pénible chapitre des Balkans, sinon l'ouverture d'un autre. Les combats se poursuivaient à Tétovo, dans le nord-ouest du petit pays, laissant craindre une véritable guerre civile en Macédoine, malgré les efforts de pourparlers entre les divers dirigeants des communautés impliquées. Puis des manifestations anti-albanaises gagnaient la ville de Bitola, à présent aussi imprégnée par la contagion des quatre derniers mois malgré les tentatives récentes de cessez-le-feu.


 

Le président Boris Trajkovski, désemparé, craint la guerre civile et possiblement le renversement après les appels à la démission scandés dans les rues de Skopje. "Je comprends la colère, mais pas les coups de feu" disait-il à la télévision le lendemain de l'assaut contre la législature.


 

A Luxembourg pendant ce temps, l'UE s'empressait de nommer un représentant à Skopje, l'ancien ministre français de la défense François Léotard, tout en se penchant sur la rédaction d'une nouvelle constitution qui réserverait une place plus importante à la minorité albanaise révoltée. Mais ces efforts ne semblent, à voir la réaction des foules à Skopje, que provoquer la colère des nationalistes macédoniens, qui rejettent les concessions du gouvernment actuel.


 

La crise se développe malgré les efforts de l'UE et de l'OTAN dans la région. "Il n'y a qu'une solution," a lancé le chef de la diplomatie française Hubert Védrine à la veille du départ de son émissaire, les Albanais de Macédoine doivent renoncer à la violence et les autres doivent accepter un dialogue qui doit déboucher sur de vraies réformes". Une proposition, qui à l'heure actuelle, tombe sur des oreilles de sourds.


 

Les Albanais sont également révoltés par la disparition de certains de leurs dirigeants, qu'ils attribuent aux policiers principalement slaves du ministère de l'Intérieur. Rien pour gagner la confiance, alors que les tirs retentissent dans la campagne macédonienne.



 

RACISM CONFERENCE BUST?


 

Considering the issues drawing and certainly separating over 150 nations participating in a U.N. conference on racism, it is perhaps without surprise the process of dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s of the final declaration was so tedious and painful.


 

First enough nations were disenchanted by the tone of the conference to dilute the outcome of the gathering, in part because of charges by some countries, many refusing to send top-level diplomats, that the conference showcased racism rather than condemned it. Then because some participants sought to add to the already complex issues initially under consideration, such as the Middle East at slavery reparations, a panoply of condemnations of a collection of world ills, drawing their own detractors each. In short it became a conference on everything against everything which could hardly draw a decent consensus at all save an unsubstantive watered-down smallest common denominator.


 

Again the United States distinguished itself by leaving the conference early, although for once it wasn't alone. Israel joined it in protest because of draft wording and resolutions which declared Israel a "racist apartheid state", which did not go unnoticed in the country that made the term a household word, and other unmistaking declarations targeting Israel. Members of the Israeli delegation were often intimidated according to some reports. Some participating countries, such as Syria, went as far as to deny the existence of the Holocaust. The dramatic and theatrical declaration by U.N. Human rights commissioner Mary Robinson that she was "a Jew" in front of the assembly did nothing to calm the mood.


 

The conference was being held as tensions flared anew in the Middle East, one week after the Jewish state took the unprecedented measure of temporarily reoccupying handed over parts of the occupied territories in pursuit of snipers targeting Israeli settlements and other communities. A series of suicide bomb attacks against Israel did nothing to defuse the tensions. Neither did the firy speech of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who attacked Israel as a racist colonial power during the conference. The speech undermined efforts to restart peace talks with Israel which parties were desperately trying to engage still.


 

Canada, which refused to send its foreign minister but decided to stay, in an effort to tone down the wording of the final declaration, came under fire by lobby groups at home for not imitating the U.S. and Israel. But Chrétien was blunt "It's not a useful conference at all," he said, calling it a forum "just to protest". The PM also objected to Indian Chief Matthew Coon Come's public criticism of Canada's treatment of its Native populations.


 

It seemed the European Union, led by France, would be next to leave the conference, having its own qualms about the wording against Israel, and compensations for slavely and colonialism. While ganging up against the developed world at times seemed to be the ordre du jour, other more country-specific issues were also raised. Kurdish participants tried to get their voices heard through tearful testimonials and said their bid was being blocked by the country they accuse of oppressing them, Turkey.


 

Members of India's untouchable castes were critical of Delhi' s efforts to remove indirect references to discrimination "on the basis of work and descent" amid new caste-related clashes at home. Then there were countries and groups that sought to add protections less directly related to the initial issues at hand, such as Canada and the EU's efforts to add protection on the basis of language and religion, and the lobbying of gay groups angry that references to discrimination based on sexual orientation are still under attack.


 

Amid the deluge of griefs only greater misunderstanding and rifts between rich and poor threatened to emerge as the mandate of the conference took new shapes. Despite the number of issues raised, others, possibly more faithful to the mandate, were hardly mentioned, if at all, such as the controversial land distribution policies of Zimbabwe's government, an issue only raised at a latter Commonwealth conference, or the persistence of slavery in African countries such as Sierra Leone and Niger.  


 

Secretary-General Kofi Annan defended holding the meeting on racism against detractors calling it a "mistake" and insisted it was an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues and to get governments to act on them. "If it were a mistake, then by implication we are saying that racism and intolerance do not exist," Mr. Annan said in response to a reporter's questions during a visit to Sweden. Israel had pulled out of the Durban conference calling it a "farce". "Look around you. It's very much an issue. It is unfortunate that the Member States could not organize themselves to discuss it in a calmer and more constructive manner without all the divisions," said Annan.


 

But it seemed increasingly likely the final wording would accomplish little else than pursue vaguer goals and generalities of good intentions all too familiar with past U.N. meetings and all the more distant from the current reality. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, despite his eloquence, only reaffirmed this suspicion before the final lines were being written. "The family of God knows no strangers," he said, "it has but members, black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, gay, heterosexual, brown, all members of a same family... such will be the declaration of this ! conference." An eloquence perhaps of little comfort to the suffering.


 

In the end the participants did come to some agreement. But the main achievement, a statement condemning modern slavery as a "crime against humanity" and expressions of "profound regret" for past slavery, failed to remove the bitterness left by the Middle East debate, which many found to be either exagerated or out of context.


 

A compromise statement, condemning anti-Semitism and "Islamophobia" and expressing concern over "the plight of the Palestinian people", by definition had its many detractors, among them Canada. "Canada registers its strongest objections to, and disassociates itself from, all text language referring to the Middle East," saide Canadian delegate Paul Heinbecker, "We are not satisfied with the conference." Neither were Arab countries whose efforts to keep the anti-Israeli wording were narrowly voted down. Ironically, Israel said it was satisfied "the clauses full of hate and incitement" were removed from the final document.


 

But there were fears either a great divide had been made worse, or, more likely, little would ultimately arise from the tense debates in Durban. "If governments really put in place what they agreed to here, the world would be a much better place," said a hopeful director of Human Rights Watch.



 

RESOUDRE LA CRISE EN MACEDOINE


 

Objectif précis, mandat défini, forces limitées, rien ne semble avoir été laissé au hasard alors qu'est déclenchée l'opération "Moisson essentielle" de l'Otan en Macédoine, pourtant les signes avant-coureurs n'avaient rien d'encourageant.


 

A peine les premiers soldats occidentaux arrivés, on assistait aux dernières violations du cessez-le-feu, et la veille du début de la collecte d'armes, à la mort d'un soldat britannique, tué lorsqu'un bloc de ciment a été projeté contre son véhicule par un groupe de jeunes. L'accueil a été pour le moins inhospitalier. D'autres cas isolés d'agression ont également été signalés cette semaine.


 

Les Macédoniens, qui parfois regrettent déjà d'avoir conclu l'entente de paix du 13 août, reprochent entre autre à l'Otan d'avoir de la sympathie envers la guerilla albanaise, et trouvent ridicule l'objectif de l'organisation atlantique de ramasser 3 300 armes lors des 30 jours de l'opération. "C'est trop peu, il faudrait plutôt parler de 60 000" faisait remarquer un politicien nationaliste macédonien.


 

Parmi les concessions de l'accord de paix il faut compter des réformes menant à l'élargissement des droits de la minorité albanaise, dont celui de l'enseignement en Albanais, qui devient langue officielle dans certaines régions. Mais alors que certains dirigeants albanais parlent de résolution de la crise de sept mois, parmi les noyaux durs de la guérilla encore, on refuse de se satisfaire des gains acquis.


 

"Il est impossible d'avoir confiance aux Slaves" lance un membre de l'UCK qui souhaiterait une présence prolongée de l'Otan en Macédoine pour en faire le dernier protectorat international dans les Balkans. Voilà qui concrétiserait une séparation administrative du reste du pays. C'est pour éviter un tel dénouement que l'Otan limite ses engagements à un seul mois et quelques milliers de soldats, majoritairement britanniques mais aussi français, grecs et même canadiens. Ces nombres viennent se joindre aux dizaines de milliers déjà à l'oeuvre en Bosnie et au Kosovo.


 

Les Américains pour leur part on pris un engagement beaucoup plus subtil car limité au soutien logistique, ayant opté pour une présence plutôt symbolique que substantielle. Plusieurs membres du Congrès ne voulaient d'ailleurs aucune implication en Macédoine lors de cette opération, la première du genre sous le nouveau régime de Washington.


 

Mais pour plusieurs Slaves, c'est l'opération toute entière de l'Otan qui revêt un caractère symbolique, une thèse que rejette les porte-paroles de l'organisation militaire pour qui elle représente le dernier fruit de la profonde pensée diplomatique. "Le but est de réduire les rangs des extrémistes dans les deux camps, soutient l'assistant au secrétaire-général de l'Otan Daniel Speckhard, si vous suivez cette formule pas à pas, de semaine en semaine, vous réduisez le problème de manière à le rendre plus maniable".


 

En quelques jours l'Otan déclare avoir atteint son premier objectif, ramasser le tiers (1400) des armes cherchées. Faute de quoi le parlement macédonien, dont l'aval est indispensable pour entériner le plan de paix, menaçait de reporter l'ouverture de ses travaux. La veille de la session spéciale, des manifestants se sont regroupés dans la capitale pour afficher leur désaccord avec les concessions du régime. L'objectif final de la mission reste d'autant plus difficile à atteindre que Skopje et Bruxelles ne s'entendent pas sur le nombre d'armes de la guérilla, qui varie d'estimé en estimé.


 

Mais le président Boris Trajkovski se dit être prêt à accepter ce différend et se déclarer entièrement favorable au processus en autant que les pays industriels seront d'accords de poser un geste d'aide financière. "Ce document est une bonne occasion de rejoindre les normes démocratiques européennes", a-t-il déclaré la veille de la session parlementaire. La ratification pourrait prendre un mois à compléter.


 

Le président espère aussi obtenir une reconnaissance internationale étant donné le conflit qui oppose Skopje à la Grèce, dont la province avoisinante porte le même nom, mais voiilà qui est moins sûr. Le pas à pas se poursuit donc avec un certain optimisme, si l'on pense à l'histoire récente des Balkans, renforcé par la mise en liberté d'une quinzaine de prisonniers par les rebelles.



 

SPAIN OVERWHELMED BY THIS YEAR'S FLOOD OF ILLEGALS


 

For the immigration authorities in the Iberian peninsula, the end of the Summer can't come quickly enough this year it seems. Although Spain has two neighboring countries, it has just one true border, which it shares with neither of them. Spain is one of half a dozen (and growing) signatories of the Schengen Agreement - freeing travel between member countries such as Portugal, France and Germany - leaving the only border to properly speak of naturally delimited by the Mediterranean.


 

Spain's only physical border in fact separates its autonomous areas in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, from the hordes of African asylum seekers who seek to enter. The fortresses of old are now serving to keep a whole new set of invaders at bay. But the new assailants aren't looking to occupy it per say but continue their march all the way to continental Europe. Doubled mesh fences and barb wire running along a road frequently patrolled by police isolate the two towns (combined pop. 125,000).


 

The water constitutes the other great border, and Spain cannot cope with the flood of thousands of intercepted asylum-seekers, 800 in one weekend alone in August, ready to take the risk. For them, the heavily patrolled waterway is only one of many barriers they have had to cross. Mainly coming from sub-Saharan countries which have no deportation agreements with Spain, most refugee-seekers have gone through the desert to get to the Moroccan shore, within sight of the promising Spanish coastline. That coastline itself is increasingly protected, but the new radars planned won't be enough to deter illegals from riding rickety boats to Europe's promising gold coast.


 

For those who get caught, thousands every year, the next stop is crammed refugee centers rather than deportation, since Spain has deportation agreements with few countries other than Morocco. Coastal cities such as Tangiers are a good launch pad to the EU. Once in Spain, the illegals are in "Schengenland", meaning they travel freely across much of continental Europe, until they reach Calais in France, where many try for England, with at times dramatic results.


 

Meanwhile Spain is losing patience with Morocco, summoning its ambassador earlier this month to stress the situation has become "unsustainable", "unacceptable", and criticizing Morocco, and not for the first time, for not doing enough to stem the flow during this, the period of the year when the fine weather makes it easier to cross the strait of Gibraltar. Spanish Interior minister Mariano Roy insisted it was time for Morocco to put some real effort into stopping illegal immigrants, especially after Spain agreed to facilitate the flow of Moroccan workers in July.


 

Not only are the unexpected visitors overflowing welcome centers, especially in Tarifa, a mere 14km from Moroccan shores, their presence in the south, where many choose to remain because of the climate, have caused xenophobic incidents in the recent years. Since the beginning of the year the flow into Tarifa has doubled compared to 2000, reaching 10 000 arrests, not accounting for those who slip away.


 

So authorities there are setting up a new $130 million radar system, consisting of infrared and heat-sensing devices installed on three towers, the first of which should be up and running. The system will seek to be an effective line of defense in the fight against drugs and organized crime, including those who strive from the plight of desperate refugees who seek to enter one of EU's southernmost frontiers. But the effectiveness of these measures may be limited some critics of the project argue. Spanish member of parliament, Salvador de la Encina, is one of the skeptics, pointing to massive investments in the wall surrounding Ceuta, at a cost of over $30 million. "It didn't do anything," he claims, noting all the traffickers would have to do is circumvent the coverage area of the radar devices, making the trips more perilous. Over 50 bodies have already been recovered from the waters since the beginning of the year.


 

Such is at times the cost of trying to enter Shengenland. Spain, of course, wasn't always part of the cross-border agreement, neither was it a part of Europe, which it joined in the 1980s. When it did, it was the poor cousin of the richer countries to the north, sending its own legions of workers to seek riches in countries such as Germany and France.


 

Now Spain shares and enjoys much of the EU's wealth, and illegal immigrants flocking to its shores are a greater part of its economy. According to EU figures illegal immigrants account for a tremendous $100 billion economy in Spain, a fifth of the gross domestic product. So it is a bit unsurprising that Madrid is sometimes at a loss on how to deal with them, allowing most to be granted work permits, while passing tougher legislation to rid itself of unwanted elements at the same time. A selection often commonplace in industrial countries.


 

Of course the country's attention this Summer is also focused on corruption charges reaching high levels of the government and a renewed campaign of terror by Basque separatists. But if Spain were the U.S., the Mediterranean would be its Mexican border. The same could be said in Italy where many of its islands know the same flood year after year. In all, over half a million a year across all of Europe.


 

Meanwhile the world hardly stirs, except in the case of spectacular incidents, such as this week's standoff between a boatful of Afghan refugees and Australian authorities reluctant to let them reach land. But as Schengen widens continentally, the issue will do everything but go away in Europe, leaving the opportunity for desperate people to take desperate measures to enter.



 

LE GRAND DEBAT SUR LE CLONAGE


 

Le débat sur les cellules souches et le clonage humain forme un tel battage médiatique et engage tant de passions que la France et l'Allemagne ont fait appel aux casques bleus pour séparer les camps. Du moins ils ont fait appel au secrétaire général Kofi Annan.


 

Peur d'obscurantisme scientifique ou de leçons moralisantes? Ironique tout de même qu'au centre de questions si sérieuses repose un culte fondé par un personnage qui dit avoir discuté avec des extra-terrestres dans les années 1970, l'inspirant à ouvrir un parc thématique au Québec à Valcourt, le Ufoland.


 

Ce n'est pourtant pas un astrologue ou un scientifique amateur de fond de garage que le chef spirituel à la tête du mouvement raélien, un ancien journaliste français, a envoyé à Washington pour joindre d'autres scientifiques en faveur du clonage humain. Brigitte Boisselier est professeur de chimie et affirme que la machine est en marche et ne relève pas de la science-fiction. Les préparatifs ont lieu dans un laboratoire installé dans un ancien lycée de Virginie opéré par la firme Clonaid, où le clône est présentement en spécial pour la modique somme de 300 000$.


 

Egalement venu s'adresser à l'Académie américaine des sciences, le gynécologue italien Severino Antinori, qui a annoncé le lancement se son propre projet très sérieux de clonage humain. Une procédure selon lui "destinée à aider les couples stériles" qui repose sur une version plus raffinée de celle qui a été utilisée à la conception de la fameuse brebis Dolly, elle qui en 1997 faisait déjà circuler les premières rumeurs de clonage humain.


 

Depuis les législatures ont été saisies par le débat, notamment aux Etats-Unis où le congrès vient tout juste d'interdire ce genre d'activité. Le Canada pour sa part n'entrevoit pas une telle législation avant l'an prochain. Un représentant du laboratoire britannique où a été conçue Dolly a d'ailleurs émis plusieurs réserves quant aux techniques utilisées à l'époque, faisant remarquer les nombreuses anomalies notées chez les animaux clonés depuis.


 

Dans la cacophonie qui a caractérisé la rencontre où la clique pro-clonage devait justifier ses positions devant un panel peu réceptif de scientifiques américains, Ian Wilmut a rappelé que 275 essais avaient été nécessaires pour créer la brebis. "Il va falloir s'attendre à des avortements tardifs, des enfants morts et survivants mais anormaux", a-t-il déclaré à l'assemblée non sans le sens du dramatique.


 

Comme le laboratoire de Clonaid est aux Etats-Unis, où la nouvelle loi entre en vigueur, il pourrait être démantelé arbitrairement. Il s'agirait alors d'un second revers pour la firme, qui avait été chassée des Bahamas suite aux pressions internationales.


 

Sa raison d'être est d'ailleurs en question actuellement puisque l'avocat américain qui avait initialement accepté que Clonaid "crée un double" de son fils décédé, a retiré son soutien financier après s'être plaint que Mme Boisselier soit plus souvent devant les caméras que dans son laboratoire. De toutes façons Boisselier avait assuré la Food & Drug Administration que ses expériences attendraient qu'une décision soit rendue sur leur légalité.


 

Cette semaine les questions juridiques restaient à l'honneur lorsque la France et l'Allemagne ont fait appel à la tenue d'une discussion sur une éventuelle interdiction universelle du clonage à la prochaine session de l'assemblée générale des National Unies en septembre. Ils ont notamment fait appel à la médiation du secrétaire général sur la question, condamnant le clonage humain de pratique "contraire à la dignité humaine".


 

La France soutient que la déclaration universelle sur le génome humain de 1997 interdit effectivement de telles pratiques. La condamnation du Vatican fut de loin la plus virulente, comparant le clonage humain aux expériences d'eugénisme de l'Allemagne nazie.


 

L'autorité du pape n'a pas empêché le président américain de déclarer qu'il financerait la recherche de certaines cellules souches embryonnaires cependant, une question sur laquelle il s'était entretenu avec Jean Paul II. Pour Bush c'était trancher entre ses convictions conservatrices et le besoin de faire avancer la science, qui voit dans ces recherches la chance de faire de véritable percées contre les maladies comme le cancer et l'alzheimer.


 

Alors que cette fois ce ne sont pas principalement des adeptes de science-fiction qui attachent beaucoup d'importance aux recherches sur les cellules souches, de nombreux acteurs hollywoodiens ont pris part aux débats aux Etats-Unis sur la question, montrant encore une fois qu'il n'appartenait pas seulement aux égreneurs de chapelets ou aux énergumènes en chemise blanche.




 

BURUNDI'S CRISIS CONTINUES


 

While Burundi's leader was desperately trying to close the ugly chapter opened during one of Africa's darkest months in 1993, a second coup attempt this year in the capital Bujumbura showed how divided his country remained.


 

President Pierre Buyoya was in Arusha Tanzania taking part in a regional summit on the future of Burundi over then weekend when a group of mutineer Tutsi soldiers tried to take over a radio station and prison, where comrades of an earlier coup attempt were being held since April.


 

Buyoya was also outside his country when a first failed coup attempt took place three months ago, showing how deeply plunged in civil war the central African country remains years after the Great Lakes genocide which started when a plane carrying the leaders of Burundi and Rwanda was shot out of the sky in 1993, sparking months of bloody strife between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus.


 

Years later, the ethnic divide remains sharp in Burundi, where an elite composed of Tutsis drives a country where a majority of Hutus live. As trouble was brewing in Burundi leaders gathered in Arusha under the guidance of former South African president Nelson Mandela, were able to agree on a framework of power-sharing which would leave Buyoya in power for the next 18 months starting nov. 1st. He would be assisted by a Hutu vice-president until a Hutu takes the helm, seconded by a Tutsi vice-president, for the following 18 months, before elections are held in 2004.


 

But by then few doubt there will be new coup attempts, Buyoya among them, fueled by developments in nearby Congo. Indeed the peace process involving the giant next door will do nothing to lessen the tensions in both Burundi and Rwanda, because of the expected return of Hutus who have been taking part in the fighting in the former Zaire, and not always peacefully.


 

Many have already returned from refugee camps in Tanzania, where slightly under half a million Burundian Hutus live, areas that Burundian official suspect serve as bases for rebels planning further attacks. Over 200,000 Burundians have died in the 8-year conflict, 50 in the last month alone.


 

The head of the rebel forces, Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye says his Forces for the Defense of Democracy were fighting in three provinces of Burundi and intend to spread their offensives in three more. Rwandan Hutus, or Interahamwe, were similarily fighting their way back home, battle-hardened from years of fighting along Congolese forces against troops sent from Ugandan troops and even compatriots. Hardly a case of many happy returns.


 

Meanwhile Buyoya, who seized power twice through coups himself, was unfazed by the fact that he faced both the opposition of Hutu rebels, and members of his own Tutsi ethnic group fearful of a power-sharing agreement which would see Hutus return to power.


 

"We are in a framework of a reforming process and when you are reforming, such kinds of events can happen," he said. "Maybe there will be another (coup) attempt, but it will fail also."


 

WAHID FINALLY SIDELINED


 

The current generation of Indonesians couldn't recall a time when power was transferred peacefully in their country, and it seemed for awhile that the outgoing president didn't want to disappoint them.


 

Already defiant after a collection of parliamentary censure motions this year, it wasn't likely Indonesian president Adburrahman Wahid was simply going to walk away when he was dismissed by lawmakers in Jakarta on Monday, but he clearly had run out of survival cards in his deck.


 

Over the weekend he had declared a state of emergency, dismissed parliament and called for new elections, all of which were rejected nearly unanimously by the lawmakers and ignored by the military and police despite his own dire warnings about the implications of his removal on national unity. He said he would consider his ouster an act of "treason" and one which could provoke unrest across the archipelago.


 

But out in the streets fewer protesters than expected rallied in support of the cleric, once viewed by some as a national hero and saviour. Wahid's image had long changed in the 21 months since his rise to power, leading to impeachment procedures for his involvement in corruption and mismanagement scandals.


 

Waiting in the wings since then, the person who gathered the most votes in that 1999 election, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was sworn in as successor during a special session of parliament to the applause of lawmakers.The swearing in of the daughter of the country's founding father, Sukarno, was also greeted warmly by international leaders who had criticized Wahid's persistence.


 

But some Indonesians privately question the enthusiasm with which the military apparatus is welcoming the leader, a rather inexperienced politician more likely to rely on her advisors, including those wearing medals. While Megawati has learned much during her tenure as vice-president, collecting responsibilities and improving networking skills, the lack of which had cost her the top job two years ago, there are fears the transition of power may signify no less than the return in strength of a military heavily criticized following the ouster of Suharto from power. With "Mega" serving as puppet, some fear the brass would be eager to crack down on separatism and sectarianism, which claimed 70 lives when bombs went off at Christian churches over the weekend.


 

The security forces had kept a strong presence of some 42,000 men in Jakarta to oversee the transition, but the army may still lack the morale to mount an actual coup, choosing to stick to the constitutional script instead. Alas the constitution can be a guiding document or in some cases a complicating one.


 

Under its texts Wahid could cling to his post because his ouster was fast-tracked most unconstitutionally, and so he remained locked up in the presidential palace for days before finally turning the keys over to the new tenant.


 

But hardly has Mega put down her bags that she is already deep into the kind of political wrangling that made last weekend's united opposition stand unique. The National Assembly chose for vice-president the leader of a conservative Muslim party who once said women are not fit to be president. And to think that Wahid and his former second in command were once strong allies...



 

GENES: TOUJOURS PLUS IMPORTANT... LE DISPOSITIF


 

A quelques jours du Sommet des Amériques ce printemps, dans les petites ruelles coquettes de la vieille ville, un vendeur de tableau, sentait le vent des grandes manifestations venir. "Ca va être gros, c'est toujours de plus en plus gros," faisait-il remarquer. A la veille du sommet du G8 à Gênes, ces sages paroles étaient déjà confirmées.


 

Après le choc de la paisible ville portuaire de Göteborg lors d'un sommet européen récent où l'on avait fait l'usage de vraies balles, le sommet de Gênes annonçait un choc sans précédent entre manifestants et forces de l'ordre. De quoi faire passer les événements marquants de Seattle en 1999 pour un pique-nique en quelque sorte.


 

16,000 policiers mobilisés, encadrés par quelques milliers de soldats "observateurs" allaient avoir la tâche de "défendre" le site où se réunissaient les huit hommes les plus puissants de la planête, assiégé par des dizaines de milliers de manifestants. Encore ce même paysage étonnant de ville historique couverte de grillage, derrière lequel veillaient canon à eau et fusil à gaz lacrymogène. Pas seulement plus gros, mais plus intense, et plus sanglant.


 

Après Göteborg il ne restait malheureusement qu'un niveau à franchir sur l'échelle de la violence, et le jour de l'ouverture du sommet c'était fait. Carlo Giuliani, vingt-trois ans, tombait sous les balles d'un carabinieri encore plus jeune que lui. "J'ai tiré parce que j'ai eu peur de mourir", expliquait Mario P., 21 ans, à la justice italienne. Appelé à faire son service au sein des carabiniers, il est désormais inculpé pour homicide volontaire ainsi que son collègue Fillipo C, le conducteur d'un véhicule attaqué par un groupe de manifestants.


 

La bande patrouillait la "zone rouge" près du site officiel du sommet depuis six heures du matin. Mais les autorités étaient déjà sur le qui-vive depuis quelques jours suite à l'explosion d'une série de lettres piégées, dont une dans une gendarmerie. Le ton était donné. Puis les menaces ne se limiteraient pas, selon les renseignements, aux anarchistes et aux casseurs, puisqu'il s'agissait également d'une cible de choix pour terroristes, d'où le déploiement d'un système anti-missiles sans précédent.


 

A l'intérieur, les chefs d'Etats des nations les plus puissantes au monde, dont le Canada, devaient entrecouper leurs discussions de déclarations contre la violence qui s'emparait de la ville portuaire. Le dernier jour du sommet, l'hôte de l'an prochain, Jean Chrétien, confirmait la rumeur selon laquelle il ne considérait plus Ottawa comme candidate idéale pour accueillir les membres du G8 pour le prochain sommet.


 

Il allait choisir, pour organiser un sommet modèle réduit, un site difficilement accessible et isolé dans les rocheuses: la communauté pittoresque de Kananaskis en Alberta. Mais dans l'ouest, où les "verts" ont depuis longtemps perfectionné les mouvements protestataires contre les compagnies de coupe d'arbre, se dessinent déjà les plans de mai 2002.


 

Le lendemain des émeutes, qui ont fait plus de 500 blessés et plus de 200 interpelés - la plupart lors d'une brusque descente dans un forum de manifestants - même certains parmi les plus engagés remettaient en cause ces rassemblements gigantesques qui permettaient à une poignée de casseurs de tourner le tout au vinaigre. La police italienne fait de son côté aussi l'objet d'une sévère critique.


 

"On craint pour nos vies" avait confié un manifestant à la veille du sommet en déclarant que son groupe allait chercher à faire dérailler le sommet et pénétrant dans le périmètre de sécurité. A la veille du sommet la déclaration pouvait paraître drôlement dramatique. A présent c'est moins le cas.


 

Malgré les déboires, les dirigeants s'entendaient à poursuivre leur rencontre annuelle. Ce sommet avait bien eu quelques succès. Une déclaration annonçant une offensive contre la pauvreté en Afrique, à développer d'ici le sommet du Canada, prévoyait à long terme quelquechose de l'ordre d'un "Plan Marshall de l'Afrique", mais sans l'annulation de la dette des pays les plus pauvres désirée par les manifestants.


 

Puis un réchauffement des relations Russo-américaines en vue de nouvelles ententes sur les armes stratégiques. Les dirigeants ont également mis en place un fonds de 1,3 milliards destiné à combattre le SIDA.


 

Moins évident, ils ont également approfondi leurs rapports personnels, surtout un président américain qui a peu voyagé et le nouveau président italien. Inutiles ces contacts personnels? Les premiers grands sommets, lors de la guerre froide, n'avaient-ils pas permis d'importants rapprochements américano-soviétiques? Un sommet russo-américain en 1987 n'avait-il pas permis de réduire l'arsenal nucléaire de manière considérable? Peu surprenant que les réflexes actuels soient du même genre.


 

Moins dramatique, la rencontre à Québec entre George W. Bush et Jean Chrétien a peut-être également contribué à classer une dispute commerciale concernant la pomme de terre, enterrée quelques jours après le sommet des Amériques. Mais pour l'environnement c'est à Bonn où se déroulait une rencontre internationale sur les changements climatiques, où 178 pays se sont entendus sur les procédures d'application des accords de Kyoto, y compris le Canada, mais moins les Etats-Unis. Là-dessus du moins, l'utilité de la rencontre du G8 pouvait laisser à désirer.


 

Tout comme le retour aux sources "de Rambouillet" annoncé par Jean Chrétien en confirmant que le sommet de l'an prochain aurait lieu dans les rocheuses canadiennes. Après la muraille de fer, l'isolation dans un site privilégié ne fera que confirmer le besoin de transparence demandé par les manifestants, en plus de faire de la visite chez les grizzlis.



 

MARCHONS, QU'UN SANG IMPUR...


 

C'est la saison des marches au Royaume-uni. Après tout c'est l'été, la pluie s'estompe un peu et c'est les vacances. Mais il ne s'agit pas de simples promenades du dimanche.


 

En Irlande du nord les parades protestantes revêtues de sectarisme vieux de plus de deux siècles font parfois avancer l'intolérance au rythme des tambours, si bien qu'à nouveau un rideau de fer a dû empêcher les orangistes de manifester dans les enclaves catholiques.


 

Le choc des deux camps n'a pas eu lieu mais pour une quatrième année de suite, la défilé de Portadown s'est arrêté aux barbelés, surveillés par plusieurs milliers de soldats britanniques, où le chef de claque en chapeau melon a dû se contenter de remettre une lettre de protestation.


 

Un spectacle qui traduit en quelque sorte l'immobilisme du processus de paix en Irlande du nord, où la crise reste centrée sur le désarmement de l'IRA, causant la démission du premier ministre du territoire David Trimble, et la naissance de groupuscules qui ne veulent rien entendre de la paix entre catholiques et protestants.


 

Spectacle à présent tristement familier et répétitif, mais pourrais-ton en venir là en Angleterre? Depuis le début de l'année les divisions y sont peut-être moins religieuses que raciales, mais pas moins explosives. Après Oldham, Leeds et Burnley, c'est à Bradford cette semaine où se sont affrontés nationalistes xénophobes et jeunes asiatiques d'origine indienne, pakistanaise et bangladaise.


 

Ce qui a mis le feu au poudre était une marche d'un autre genre, organisée par le parti d'extrême droite National Front cette fois. Bien que le Home Office ait interdit la manifestation, une association antinazie locale s'était préparée pour une contre-manifestation, une rencontre qui dans l'environnement actuel n'aurait pas pu se limiter aux débats et aux injures.


 

Plus d'une centaine de policiers ont été blessés tandis que deux jeunes étaient victimes de coups de couteau. Des dizaines d'autres jeunes ont été interpellés, et ce n'était que le solde préliminaire d'une nouvelle série de soirées marquées par cette violence qui donne aux rues des petites villes appauvries du nord des airs de champs de bataille.


 

Cette semaine un rapport préparé bien avant les événements remettait en cause la ségrégation qui persiste dans ces régions d'Angleterre. Le British National Party, un mouvement qui prône la suprématie blanche, a remporté 16 % des suffrages aux dernières élections à Oldham et 11 % à Burnley.


 

Tandis que le sud du pays connaît le plein emploi, Oldham, Burnley ou Bradford enregistrent des taux de chômage de 15%. C'est la vieille Angleterre industrielle qui bouillonne. Près de Burnley le mois dernier les affrontements avaient été d'une telle sévérité qu'une famille asiatique a failli périr dans l'incendie criminel de son domicile.


 

Dans la confusion de cette violence même la police ne fait pas toujours figure d'intermédiaire. Au début de juin des Asiatiques s'en étaient pris aux forces de l'ordre après des information selon lesquelles la police aurait malmené l'un d'entre eux. A tort ou à raison le Home Office exigera des mesures policières plus sévères dans l'avenir.


 

L'Angleterre a connu des événements semblables il y a vingt ans mais dans un environnement socio-économique et racial différent. A l'époque les jeunes étaient descendus dans les rues des villes appauvries du sud et du Midland. "Des progrès réels ont été faits au niveau des relations raciales depuis, note le journal Independent dans un éditorial récent, mais ils ont été trop lents et de nouveaux groupes ont fait surface depuis".


 

Une réalité peut-être pas aussi visible près de Whitehall ou ailleurs dans Londres, une des villes les plus multi-ethniques du monde. Mais selon Downing Street, les tensions raciales ne suffisent pas à expliquer les troubles.


 

"Il y a peut-être eu initialement des provocations de l'ultradroite durant la journée de samedi, mais les éléments dont nous disposons suggèrent plutôt l'action de casseurs et une volonté de s'en prendre à la police", a déclaré un porte-parole du Premier ministre. Tout porte à penser cependant que les tensions xénophobes du continent ont traversé la Manche.


 

THE MILOSEVIC PRECEDENT


 

Precedents being an important part of international jurisprudence, the extradition and imminent trial of former Serb leader Yugoslav Milosevic is a memorable one.


 

For the first time ever a former head of state will have to answer for his actions in an international court of justice. Even if fears of economic penalties may have precipitated Belgrade's move, which has caused its government to come under strain, the decision was an important one for the image of international justice.


 

Former International human rights chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, who initially indicted Milosevic at a time when it was simply unheard of, said it represents an important stage in bringing to justice those held responsible for atrocities in the Balkans, but many remain on her wish list still. Well that too may change.


 

Soon Bosnian Serb authorities, who had until now refused to cooperate with the international war crimes tribunal as some Serb officials had, said they were willing to arrest indicted suspects that include people on Arbour's black list, such as politician Radovan Karadzic and senior military official Ratko Mladic.


 

The announcement came just as much as a surprise as the handover of Milosevic to The Hague by the Serb government, bypassing the wishes of reluctant nationalist president Vojislav Kostunica. The possibilities that are opening up are creating a new hunger at The Hague, where Serb Bosnian leaders are being criticized for acting only now to bring to justice those guilty of crimes going back further than events in Kosovo.


 

Then Croatian police announced they were detaining 10 war crimes suspects whom they believe committed atrocities against Croats during the 1991 war against Serbia, but there also not everyone is enthusiastic about cooperating with The Hague.


 

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte had to visit Zagreb after officials there rejected extradition requests made by her tribunal months ago. The Croat government finally bowed but not without causing a serious stir within its ranks. The indictments involve Croatian generals who are viewed by some members of the population as heroes, a problem also encountered in Serb Bosnia. Reluctance aside this has been a banner year for international justice.


 

Long gone seem the days when the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia lacked teeth, despite the refusal by Milosevic to enter a plea during his 12-minute court session, where he claimed the tribunal was a farce and had no authority.


 

Long gone seem the days when former state leaders could escape impunity for that matter. While a Spanish judge failed to have former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet tried for crimes against his countrymen, another judge in Chile has been pursuing him for crimes in Santiago. The 85 year-old was deemed unfit to stand trial because of his failing health this week.


 

In nearby Argentina this week a judge charged former dictator Jorge Videla for his alleged role in Plan Condor, an alleged scheme to crush opposition in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s. Former statesmen are facing increasingly daring justice systems for less serious crimes, but crimes nonetheless.


 

Last week former President Carlos Menem of Argentina was indicted and ordered to stand trial on charges that he led a conspiracy and falsified documents to smuggle arms to Croatia and Ecuador between 1991 and 1995.


 

The unexpected decision was a serious blow to the legal immunity that senior Argentine political leaders have traditionally enjoyed. This is the first time a democratically elected president is detained and indicted while another elected government governed in Argentina, a country which has known the hard rule of many military juntas.     


 

Immunity is becoming something increasingly harder to hide behind even in France, long democratic but also deeply attached to the tradition of immunity, where president Jacques Chirac may finally have to answer to allegations of corruption during his years as mayor of Paris.


 

Immunity isn't even an issue in at least one country which sets no limits on whom and where it can prosecute: Belgium. This is something prime minister Ariel Sharon, recently touring Europe, feared he could find out first-hand if courts in Brussels exercised their extended jurisdiction, allowing them to prosecute anyone in the world for war crimes wherever they are committed.


 

Prosecutors are in fact pondering whether there is enough evidence to try Sharon on charges of genocide for his role in massacres perpetrated in Lebanese camps when he was minister of defense. The first case to be tried under Belgium's unique and sweeping war crimes law led to the convictions last month of four Rwandans for their role in the 1994 genocide.


 

Sharon is far from being alone in Brussels' sight in fact. Belgium has an extensive list of people it would like to prosecute, a veritable who's who of outcasts, from Saddam Hussein to Pinochet, and Belgian investigators are also looking into allegations against the presidents of Chad, Guatemala and the Ivory Coast.


 

At least one name had to be scrapped off the list however. Congolese leader Laurent Kabila was dropped when he was assassinated. Soon this may remain the only refuge of the guilty.



 

TWENTY YEARS AFTER AIDS


 

The annual gay pride parade which drew some 750,000 in the streets of Toronto last weekend contained the usual flamboyance of pride week parades which have been tradition for the past twenty years. It also carried the scars of the thousands of members of the Canadian gay community lost to the ravages of a once mysterious illness first mentioned in an obscure medical journal at around the same time the first parade took place.


 

On 5 June 1981 the first mention of what later became known as AIDS pointed to the unexplained death of five young gay men in Los Angeles. Today gay communities world-wide are torn by the loss of many of their members to the virus, even if new medical research means it isn't an automatic death sentence.


 

As a matter of fact some radical gay activists in Toronto are trying to press the message that the AIDS and HIV scare of the last decades is nothing short of a hoax by pharmaceutical companies. While their message isn't convincing many people, there are fears within the gay community that some advertising generated by pharmaceutical companies is not only raising the hopes of those afflicted by the disease but is in fact diminishing fears of the threat that it represents, and undermining campaigns to promote safe sex. In other words, promoting the idea that the worse of the AIDS epidemic is over and that a cure is only a matter of time.


 

AIDS of course has presently no cure, and the ongoing ravages of the disease was finally acknowledged by the United Nations this week, which held a first special session of the General Assembly devoted to the spread of AIDS. After twenty years of infection, Secretary general Kofi Annan said the world was finally starting to "wake up" to the ravages of AIDS, as he called for members to "act" in support the fight against the pandemic by drastically boosting current spending levels of $1.8 billion five-fold.


 

Helping set the tone of the meeting, the US and Brazil said they had resolved a patent dispute over the local manufacture of US-patented AIDS drugs, a crucial issue as a majority of the 36 million AIDS cases are found in developing countries, and particularly in Africa. According to the U.N., AIDS has killed 22 million people since it was identified, making this nothing short of "a time of plague" according to U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who expressed his concerns over the spread of AIDS during a recent visit to Africa.


 

While U.N. members promised to do everything necessary to combat the epidemic, many controversies dodged the conference. Negotiators struggled to agree on whether a final declaration would include a list of AIDS-vulnerable groups, including homosexual men, prostitutes and intravenous drug users.


 

This was opposed by a coalition of Islamic countries which also objected to an invitation to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which counts openly-gay Canadian MP Svend Robinson, to join discussions. The group, backed by Canada, got to attend, but not without protest, and reference to gay men was dropped in the final declaration.


 

Surprising considering the fact that the sickness was once, incorrectly, seen as a new form of herpes developed between gay men. "We cannot deal with AIDS making moral judgements, or refusing to face unpleasant facts," said Annan, who was nominated for a second term as Secretary general this week.


 

In addition the president of the African country with the largest numbers of AIDS cases, South Africa, did not attend the session despite visiting Washington the same week. According to a new UN report released in time for the special session, by the end of 1999 4.7 million South Africans were living with AIDS.


 

Last year president Thabo Mbeki caused a stir when he disputed the notion that HIV caused AIDS. This week however, Powell did not leave room for such interpretation. "This is not the Middle Ages, back then people did not know what caused the pestilence and how it spread," he said, "We know that a virus causes AIDS."


 

While meeting with U.S. president George W. Bush, Mbeki considered AIDS only in the light of the broader issue of poverty. "In many instances, these are diseases which are not only caused by poverty, some of them, but also cause poverty."


 

While the leader of the U.S. delegation said the U.S. would lead the world in financing the fight against AIDS, his country, France and Britain pledged little more than $500 million, with a few hundred million more coming, a long way from the billions Annan is hoping for.


 

Privately, some U.S. officials are concerned about making funds available to countries without the infrastructures to distribute and dispense the drugs adequately. Others questioned whether the session would really change anything in the way the U.N. has been responding to similar crises. "We use up enormous energy in arguing at great length over texts that provide few, if any, follow up mechanisms or assurances that governments and U.S. agencies will carry forward the declarations that are agreed," said British secretary of state for international development, Clare Short.


 

More generally, there are fears that if the fund is run by the U.N., it will disappear in the gut of the world's largest bureaucracy. Once again, intentions are not sure to develop into substance, but the U.N. has set a few goals to keep it motivated. Such as cutting by 25% the number of HIV infections among young men and women in the most afflicted areas by 2005. Countries have until 2003 to identify the factors contributing to AIDS in their area and until 2005 to put in place a number of measures to limit the spread of AIDS.


 

Nothing Earth-shattering except for the framing of the disease, which is less seen as a medical catastrophy than a growing political and economic problem, something the world body can finally relate to.


 

THE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS


 

Perhaps it's no wonder Canadian companies primarily invest in one market, the overly familiar United States. While investing elsewhere may yield promising returns, it has to be worth the risk involved in the ventures, particularly in developing countries. Canadian companies can end up targeted by turf-hungry local interest, and sometimes even their own elected officials in Ottawa.


 

One popular case in point involves Canada's largest energy company, Talisman, for what critics call its indirect involvement in the long-standing conflict in the Sudan. Critics, who include parliamentarians in Ottawa, accuse the company of funding the Sudanese government's efforts to crush rebels in the south of the country, embroiled in a bloody civil war against the leadership in Karthoum. Recent efforts to restart peace talks collapsed, leaving one of the continent's largest countries once more in a state of conflict.


 

This week the U.S. Congress voiced outrage at Sudan's government for its involvement in human rights abuses by voting to bar from the U.S. stock market oil companies like Talisman that do business in the African country. A company spokesman argued that Talisman was pushing for positive change in Sudan, something it would be unable to do if it left. "Talisman leaving does not stop oil production in Sudan," said David Mann, "We play a role in trying to improve the situation there," he said, citing company investments in hospitals, education and making clean water available.


 

He said the Talisman reading of the amendment is that it applied to companies directly operating in Sudan and not through subsidiaries, like Talisman. But those in support of the legislation say companies like Talisman are the precise target.


 

While the threats against the company there have come in the form of legislation and verbal protest by international organizations and particularly human rights groups, some Canadian companies have been dealing with much more direct action and violence.


 

In Kazakhstan for instance, Hurricane Hydrocarbons took a giant leap into the unknown by basing all its operations in the former Soviet republic, and has the scars to show for it. After nearly being driven to bankruptcy by a local rival, it saw its refinery stormed by commandos acting on behalf of a former disgruntled employee accoding to the New York Times.


 

Then last month the Calgary-based company faced a hostile takeover; just another day in a regional tug-of-war over the dominance of the Kazakh refining industry. Showing the company was in the country to stay under its current form however, Hurricane took the fight to the would-be predator by issuing a dividend which took company shares above the takeover bid price.


 

Increasingly however, Canada's publicly-supported ventures, not only private enterprises, are coming under scrutiny in the developing world. And a number of them involve dam developments in various continents, partly financed by Canadian agencies.


 

The Canadian International Development Agency's financing of the Manantali dam on the Senegal river has come under scrutiny for ignoring environmental warnings about the development of the dam and focusing instead on potential contracts for Canadian companies, including Hydro-Quebec International and Tecsult.


 

Increasingly it is becoming harder to distinguish between development aid and good old hard-ball private sector business in the developing world. Over the decades Canada has spent 80$ million to develop the dam, despite reports the money was a bad investment and created an environmental disaster. While half the money has gone to contracts for Canadian companies, running the operation hasn't been without its perils either.


 

Some of the companies were caught off-guard by local fighting involving groups whose water- sharing agreements were upset by the dam. Hydro-Quebec's investment in the dam initially gave it a lucrative foothold in the Senegalese electricity market when former president Abdou Diouf sought to privatize the industry, according to documents obtained by the Montreal Gazette. But his successor, Abdoulaye Wade, campaigned against privatization, and Hydro was left in the cold, with a loss of $10 million to show for.


 

Under the banner of Team Canada, the country's close ties between government and industry (Jean Chrétien personally switched on Hydro's plant in Senegal during his 1999 trip) in foreign ventures will only grow, but so will the scrutiny and probes into the doings of Canada Inc. in developing countries.


 

More recently Canada's Export Development Corp. has come under fire for helping finance another project, the Urra dam in conflict-ridden Colombia. It seems that business in dangerous zones isn't only unhealthy, it's a possible political casualty if the federal government is involved.


 

The project has raised controversy by displacing thousands of Natives of the Embera-Katio tribe. In addition Canadian companies are also being accused of fueling the conflict between the government and right-wing paramilitary groups.


 

Officials admit "In some areas of the country" doing business without indirectly fueling the fire is impossible. An all-too familar refrain in many parts of the world where Canadian companies have dared to do business.



 

RIDING THE AUSSIE ELECTORAL WAVES


 

In Australia the international outrage caused by the government's decision not to let a boatload of refugees reach safe harbor on Aussie shores is proving to be good internal politics.


 

After receiving 1,700 asylum-seekers on its shores last month alone, the largest number in about two years, Australia decided to put its foot down a refuse entry into Australia of a boat of 433 Afghan and Pakistan refugee seekers traveling on the Norwevian ship Tampa.


 

The ship had rescued the refugees from their sinking vessel but soon found itself navigating into the troubled waters of pre-election Aussie politics, as the restriction proved successful with the masses, including those not expected to vote for twice-elected prime minister John Howard. 44 percent of voters surveyed by the Sydney Morning Herald said they would more likely vote for the incumbent because of his handling of the issue in fact, that's more than the 39,2% who said their vote would not be affected by it.


 

Many seemed to agree with Michele Foord, 48, who told the paper "at least he had the guts to stand up and take a stand," a key ingredient of success in the land of Mick Dundee. But U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees Mary Robinson, already in over her head dealing with the international racism conference in South Africa, was not amused, expressing concern amendments to Australia's Migration Act closing back-door routes to Australia would undercut the country's obligations under the Refugee Convention.


 

Nevermind that the country's national anthem, heard thundering a number of times during last year's Sydney Games, contains the lines "For those who've come across the seas/We've boundless plains to share", the country is multiplying agreements with neighboring countries to take similar loads of boatpeople, more recently Nauru in exchange for economic aid.


 

Not sooner was the deal agreed to that a second boat was headed toward the tiny island nation, increasing the number of claims to be processed to 521, including 284 from the Tampa. The rest would go to New Zealand.


 

Among the countries which initially agreed to take the Tampa's load, in a symbolic sign of goodwill, was the tiny nation on East Timor, anxious to "give back" to the international community, as its people were heading back to the polls peacefully to re-elect the independence Fretilin party. This was a reminder that despite the tensions of industrialized countries on the issue of refugee-seekers, the countries welcoming the greatest numbers of them are poor and often struggling with the numbers themselves, starting with Pakistan, where many of the passengers on board the Tampa claimed to be from, followed by Iran, with nearly 2 million each.


 

In addition to not showing by example, there are fears industrial countries making use of such drastic measures to keep refugees at bay could impose new conditions shipping companies would find unbearable to deal with. Under international law, ships are obliged to aid those in distress at sea. But Australia's refusal to let the rescuing Tampa enter its waters, leaving it to care for the refugees for eight days, could showcase expenses linked to such mercy operations.


 

"What happens the next time a merchant vessel comes across people in need of rescue?" Asked a spokesman for Robinson's office in Geneva, "It could be that the duration of the difficulties faced by this very heroic crew may convince people to think twice the next time this happens."


 

This time the operators of the Tampa, one of the world's largest container ships, hope to recover some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost through its insurers. Such is the cost of financing politics in Canberra, where the government has drawn the line against people smugglers, or people trying to skip the usual immigration methods, decisions which has proven popular in a country that intercepted 4,000 illegal immigrants coming by boat this year alone.


 

But even in Australia the measure wasn't so well greeted by all. "This is a knee-jerk, policy-making-on-the-run reaction from the government, which is yet to outline any kind of medium to long-term strategy dealing with asylum-seekers," says one political opponent.


 

Upon visiting the U.S. recently, the prime minister was greeted less kindly by the Los Angeles Times which wrote rather acerbically "Good thing Australia's Aborigines didn't control the docks" when the Europeans arrived.


 

LA DESILLUSION A MONTREAL


 

La bataille la plus importante de la jeune carrière politique du maire d'Outremont Jérôme Unterberg est sans doute celle qu'il oppose aux fusions municipales. Il n'aurait ôsé imaginer que sa petite bougrade de 35 000 habitants, au coeur de l'île de Montréal, se retrouve confrontée au fléau du terrorisme international.


 

"Cela démontre bien que personne n'en est sauf," déclare le jeune maire sortant du futur quartier de la méga-ville. "Le 11 septembre a changé nos vies qu'on le veuille ou non - et ceci traine (le terrorisme) au plein coeur de nos communautés". Impensable le scénario rendu public récemment. Le Canada est mieux connu comme case d'envoi du terrorisme international que cible, mais quelques documents rendus publics par le FBI la semaine dernière sont venus fracasser cette vision innocente de la réalité.


 

Un document rendu public dans le dossier d'un Algérien soupçonné de complot terroriste qui aurait collaboré avec le terroriste inculpé, Ahmed Ressam, ancien Montréalais, a révélé que les deux énergumènes avaient bel et bien la métropole québécoise dans leur mire en 1999, l'année de l'arrestation de Ressam au poste de frontière américain de Port Angeles, dans l'état de Washington.


 

Le complot prévoyait une attaque au centre-ville de Montréal, sur la rue Ste Catherine, où il y aurait le plus de monde, et, contre toute attente, le dans paisible quartier outremontais. Le coin chic de Laurier et de l'avenue Parc notamment, parce que la probabilité de tuer des juifs était plus grande selon ces macabres documents.


 

Ces révélations n'ont pas seulement coupé le souffle au maire, qui est juif, mais au gouvernement canadien lui-même, pour qui le niveau de risque au pays était négligeable, même depuis les événements du 11 septembre. Ces rumeurs floues de complot contre Outremont, où résidait un homme accusé d'appartenir à une organisation terroriste en France, étaient ainsi confirmées sur ruban.


 

Un attentat potentiellement sanglant au coeur d'une ville qui traîne depuis quelques années une sale réputation dans les milieux du renseignement, surtout depuis l'arrestation de Ressam. Logés à Outremont et au centre-ville, les membres de cette cellule terroriste locale se retrouvaient souvent, au milieu des années 90, dans un triste bloc appartements de la rue Malicorne, à Anjou, dans l'est de la ville. Un de ceux-là opérait d'ailleurs un commerce sur la rue St-Laurent, dans le quartier du plateau Mont-royal.


 

Depuis, le service des renseignements canadiens, le SCRS, a publié de nombreux rapports décrivant le Canada comme une passoire pour terroristes préparant des attaques aux Etats-Unis, ou venus au pays collecter des fonds pour des combats lointains. Certains spécialistes du milieu parlent même de "Club Med pour terroristes", mais même de ceux-là, peu admettront qu'ils imaginaient le jour où le Canada lui-même serait visé par des attentats.


 

Les documents révèlent également plus de détails sur la nature de certains avertissements flous, qui depuis 1999 plaçaient les intérêts israéliens en état d'alerte au pays. Samir Ait Mohamed, détenu à Vancouver, et Ressam, inculpé pour complot contre l'aéroport de Los Angeles, prévoyaient de nombreux mauvais coups à Montréal et aux Etats-Unis, jusqu'au moment où un douanier américain vigilant a fouillé le véhicule du second il y a deux ans, y découvrant assez d'explosifs pour réduire en poussière "un objectif important".


 

Depuis, la sécurité à la frontière est sous examen, les deux pays parlant même d'établir un périmètre nord-américain unique. Cette semaine, le Canada et les Etats-Unis ont d'ailleurs signé un accord important portant sur la sécurité à la frontière, prévoyant notamment une meilleure coordination et un meilleur partage de l'information. On veut également réduire les délais, puisque depuis le 11 septembre, le resserrement des inspections a créé des embouteillages monstres notamment entre les Etats-Unis et l'Ontario, ralentissant le train des exportations entre autres automobiles entre les deux régions.


 

Alors que l'accord récent a surtout été mis en place pour rassurer ces Américains concernés par le niveau de sécurité de la ceinture nord, Ottawa soutient qu'il n'y a aucun lien entre les terroristes responsables des attaques du 11 septembre et le Canada, malgré les rumeurs initiales qui voulaient que certains terroristes soient venus du nord. Mais les documents du FBI établissent tout de même certains liens entre Ressam, Mohamed, et l'organisation al-Qaida de ben Laden. Un des documents stipule que Ressam et Mohamed ont tenté de faire l'achat d'un ordinateur portable à Montréal, en 1999, pour Abu Zoubeida, qui selon le FBI dirige un des camps terroristes en Afghanistan. "Zoubeida est un collaborateur connu de ben Laden" rapporte un des documents de l'agence américaine.
Ressam serait d'ailleurs passé par un des camps d'al-Qaida.


 

La semaine dernière, embarrassée de ne pas avoir fait la lumière sur ces faits mettant en question la sécurité du territoire, la GRC a tenté de minimiser l'importance des documents du FBI, parlant d' "allégations". En fait, aucun corps policier canadien n'était au courant de tels plans, ce qui laissait bouche bée le ministre de la sécurité québécois Serge Ménard. Celui-ci fit aussitôt appel à une meilleure collaboration entre les services policiers. Selon la GRC, le niveau de risque au Canada reste encore "faible".


 

Mais entre temps d'autres détails de complots jadis inimaginables nous parvenaient de France, lors d'un procès qui s'est soldé par l'inculpation de non moins de dix-neuf hommes accusés d'armer le groupe terroriste algérien GIA. Plusieurs d'entre eux tenaient chez eux les détails d'un complot contre des rames du métro montréalais. "Sur chacune des lignes de métro se trouve une bombe. Si nos écrits ne sont pas transmis à la radio ou à la télévision internationale, les trois bombes exploseront simultanément" décrit le document dans les détails.


 

Le Canada comme cible, c'est passé bien près de ne plus être qu'un cauchemar. Et même si les Etats-Unis ont entre temps découvert que les vagues récentes de terrorisme, du 11 septembre et depuis (sous forme d'attaques au charbon), sont de nature plutôt domestique qu'étrangère, le Canada restera pendant bien longtemps encore un pays où collera trop bien l'étiquette de "Club Med".



 

AFTER THE TALEBAN...
What a difference a week makes. Not so long ago U.S. administration officials were pleading for the patience of their coalition partners ahead of what promised to be a long and protracted struggle against terrorism. Days later, they were pleading northern alliance forces, which had dealt a series of crushing battlefield defeats to the Taleban, not to form a government right away, fearing it may lack the representation of all peoples of Afghanistan.
The topple of Mazar-i-Sharif last week not only signalled the beginning of the end of the Taleban, it was the catalyst of an unexpected rout which swept through Kabul before the coalition could brace for the change of leadership or put a number of soldiers on the ground. Days before the American holiday of Thanksgiving, the remaining Taleban strongholds of Kandahar and Konduz were slipping like the rest of the house of cards the extremist regime built since it took power in 1996.
The speed of the transition has nourrished worries in the West not that a power vacuum would follow, but that rival local warlords would lay claim to their pieces of land, before ultimately locking horns as they have so many times, with grave results in a land which had known little peace these last years. Transition plans are taking place amid the fury and flurry, giving the U.N. a leading role to create a stable government in Afghanistan, with the possible use of troops from coalition countries which could include Britain, Canada and Turkey, amongst others.
Afghan leaders of all walks of life will meet in Germany next week to work out an agreement on a transition multi-ethnic government which would include the Pashtun populations that backed the Taleban. The country's former King, Zahir Shah, expected to play a unifying role, will send a delegation to the talks. But already, as the soldiers are gearing their ration packs for the trip, confusion has set in on the nature of their role and theatre of operation, one which reflects the confusion on the ground where the dust has hardly settled. Some members of the alliance the U.S. helped take over are openly rejecting any large foreign military presence in this country which has seen many.
Promises by northern alliance officials that a new transition government would include all Afghans and that there would be a renewed sense of freedoms in the land were heard amid a backdrop of reports of atrocities and summary executions in recently conquered towns such as Mazar-i-Sharif.
Meanwhile as the holy period of Ramadan started, the U.S. strikes changed tactics somewhat, targeting the remaining areas where the Taleban still offer resistance, while refocusing efforts, so recently deemed futile, to track down and bring to military justice suspected terrorist Osama bin Landen. News that the man expected to ensure his succession, second in command Mohammad Atef, died in recent clashes, bolstered American hopes of scoring more strikes against high-level al-Qaida officials. While the U.S. administration cautioned the latest successes in no way meant an end to the war on terrorism, there was a noticeable shift from previous statements facing the reality Osama bin Laden may very well never be found.
In addition to signalling a positive shift in the fight against terrorism, Thanksgiving also meant freedom for eight aid workers arrested for spreading Christianity before the beginning of the U.S. strikes. Moved from one location to the next as U.S. air strikes were taking their toll on the Taleban, the workers were finally abandoned by their fleeing captors.
The Taleban retreat left heavy artillery and armor behind, to be collected by northern alliance troops, undermining possibilities of a strategic retreat. But analysts say the Taleban could still represent a formidable foe if they engaged in guerilla warfare while the alliance united to remove them from power resumed age-old infighting.
As a reminder of the dangers of the land, four journalists were reported killed on Monday travelling between two cities unescorted. Some fear the departure of the hard-line Taleban may only return the country to the days when disorder and chaos ruled and enemies were many.
But as the noose is tightening on bin Laden, there is no doubt the options are becoming few for the Taleban, whose leader, Mullah Omar, has been trying to avoid facing the consequences of sheltering al-Qaida by trying to negotiate his escape from a remaining stronghold, something which only tested America's patience.
In another one, Konduz, there are reports of inter-Taleban fighting between local Afghan fighters and so-called Afghan Arabs, fierce fighters who have come to support the Taleban, vowing to "fight to the death". While U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday he didn't necessarily think the Afghan Arabs should all be killed, he hinted he would prefer they not be allowed to flee to other countries to stage attacks there. He also hinted he would personally prefer bin Laden be killed rather than tried "after all he has done."
Documents left behind by the Taleban revealed the extent of their ties to bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization, and instructions on how to commit future atrocities and even develop programs of weapons of mass destruction. Documents which the U.S. says, are further proof of guilt, and reason enough to spare no efforts to track bin Laden.
This week there were more subtle signs the U.S. may be looking beyond Afghanistan to stretch the fight against terrorism. President Bush told troops "Afghanistan is only the beginning of the war against terror," and that the U.S. could assist the Philippines in fighting terrorism there. Earlier a report also criticized seven countries accused of developing biological weapons, with the focus firmly placed on Iraq.


 

 LA PROCHAINE BATAILLE


 

Avant la crise actuelle, avant même la prise du pouvoir par les Talibans, l'Afghanistan était reconnu pour une exportation particulière, celle de millions de réfugiés répartis à travers le monde, notamment chez les voisins, le Pakistan et l'Iran.


 

La crise actuelle n'a fait qu'approfondir ce déficit humain, dont la plus récente manifestation constitue la fuite de milliers d'habitants de villes pilonnées par les bombardements Américains, dont la précision n'atteint pas toujours les objectifs les plus appréciables.


 

Cette semaine les premiers journalistes réussissaient à visiter les derniers bastions du régime Taliban, où ont tenté de se réfugier des milliers d'Afghans qui, du jours au lendemain, ont érigé une cité-champignon de 100000 tentes dans le désert au sud-est du pays.


 

Confrontés à cette situation, les organismes d'aide humanitaire tentent tant bien que mal de rétablir leurs activités vitales en Afghanistan, mais vu qu'ils parviennent déjà bien mal à le faire dans des régions dites stabilisées il ne faut pas songer aux coins plus violents, où la crise est pourtant la plus aigüe. Plusieurs camionneurs ne voulaient rien savoir de devoir livrer les vivres dans certaines régions en raison de l'instablité régnante. En même temps, les autorités ouzbèkes procédaient à un blocage des frontières qui ralentissait notamment l'aide humanitaire française.


 

Dans plusieurs régions, on craignait que la situation n'allait s'aggraver bien avant qu'elle ne s'améliore. Parmi elles, Mazar-i-Chérif, pourtant géographiquement plus accessible, qui commence à peine à se remettre des dernières semaines de bombardement. Mais certaines ONG, dont l'Agence d'aide à la coopération technique et au développement, rapportent plusieurs incidents de pillage, d'abord par les Talibans, mais aussi par l'Alliance du nord. Pourtant la situation s'améliore avec la multiplication des rencontres avec les nouvelles autorités, d'où les premiers convois humanitaires venusdes pays voisins. En plus des besoins alimentaires, l'approche de l'hiver multiplie les besoins d'abris.


 

Graduellement, les convois font du chemin, mais sans nécessairement répondre aux prières de tous. Les livraisons de nourriture du Programme alimentaire mondial prévoient un ordre de distribution aux populations les plus démunies, ce qui donne lieu parfois aux scènes désolantes de convois de riz entourés de gens affamés suppliants, à qui l'on ne donne rien sinon des coups de crosse pour les éloigner. Certaines distributions à Kaboul se sont faites dans le désordre le plus complet, telle est l'ampleur du drame Afghan au sortir de la plus récente guerre, qui ne faisait que suivre une période de sécheresse des plus sévères.


 

L'ONU en connait l'étendue pourtant, se précipitant pour venir en aide aux quelques 120 000 enfants menacés par la famine, la maladie et le froid. La nouvelle étape de cette guerre est principalement humanitaire. Loin de là le Japon et les Etats-Unis ont convié plusieurs nations à une rencontre pour préparer l'avenir de ce pays qui, en 1979 déjà, était parmi les plus pauvres au monde. C'était avant vingt ans de guerre dont trois doublement damnés par la sécheresse.


 

DEFENDING THE FREEDOMS
In the flurry of measures taken to combat terrorism in the light of the Sept. 11 attacks, one may have come as a surprise to Canadians. When the government awarded $47 million to intelligence agencies recently, the better known one, CSIS, got the smaller share of the emergency funds. The larger share went to the Canadian Security Establishment, a secretive branch of the Defense department little known to Canadians, it got $37 million.
The agency is responsible for monitoring telephone, fax and email conversations out and into Canada, and may have been a key player leading to last week's warning that terrorists could be about to strike U.S. interests at home or abroad, when a coded phone conversation to Afghanistan was intercepted.
The agency is Canada's eyes and ears in a global network of signal intelligence run jointly with the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Australia called Echelon. Up until recently the network was being criticized for infringing the rights of individuals and has come under close scrutiny by the European Union. But now it is on the front lines of the fight against terrorism.
This is criticized by some who say more human intelligence, agents in the field, are necessary to complement conversations captured on tape (and often sorted with great difficulty because of the volume of data, and sometimes too late). Canadians may have found out something else they may have not been aware of. CSIS revealed publicly it also has the mandate to conduct operations overseas.
According to CSE whistle-blower Mike Frost, recently touring New Zealand to take part in conferences on democracy and security, the CSE also routinely conducted monitoring operations outside Canada, sometimes at the behest of allies in the intelligence field. While the agency is prohibited from easedropping on Canadians, new legislation may allow this in some cases.
In any case, the author of the 1994 book Spyworld says this would not be unprecedented. "There is no distinction made whether you're a foreigner or not," said Frost on intercepts caught well before the latest legislation. "Never will the Canadian government or the American government admit that they can circumvent their legislation by asking other countries to do what they can't do for themselves."
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the legislation has been the subject of revision, and many social groups fear their rights are coming under fire. They are concerned the legislation may identify as terrorists protesters such as those who gathered at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City or who are expected to attend next week's G-20 and IMF meetings in Ottawa by defining terrorists according to their ability to disrupt public order.
Rights watchers are also concerned about the arrest of (mainly Arab) suspects in the U.S., over 1,000 of whom are still under custody, most being held on immigration charges. Similar numbers weren't available in Canada where police are reluctant to rely on racial profiling. Separately, suggestions by some pundits that torture be used on suspects in the investigation were met with outrage.
Tough anti-terrorism legislation will facilitate such arrests in the U.S. as well as wire-tapping and other measures deemed necessary to fight terrorism on the home front, but many observers admit, few of these measures would have been of great help on Sept. 11. Rights groups say all this will do is suppress freedoms they are claiming to defend.
The controversy isn't limited to the United States. While many countries, such as Britain, France and Germany, are considering tough anti-terrorism legislation, the measures would be mostly temporary, involving a so-called sunset clause, one the government in Canada is rejecting on the basis that it may impede future investigations by suddenly changing the rules.
But objections by many Senators, backed by groups including bar associations are asking for a serious revision of legislation the government wants passed before Christmas. September 11 has changed the world, but from a legislative point of view many fear it has changed forever for the worse.


 

MEANWHILE, ARE THEY WINNING?
An anthrax scare shuts an entire 6-block area of downtown Montreal, 4 buildings in Paris and a major skyscraper in New York housing the studios of NBC. A plane is quarantined on the tarmac of an airport after reports a white powder was found onboard, another delayed after a passenger opening a birthday card released confetti, sending passengers into a state of panic. The recent scares involved both the halls of Congress, where tourist tours have been restricted, and Parliament hill in Ottawa, where security measures have been enhanced. Meanwhile the sales of gas masks are skyrocketing as are ordinances to acquire the subscription drug Cipro, an antibiotic used in the treatment of anthrax.While allied jets pound Taleban positions, are the terrorists winning even as president George W. Bush seeks to "smoke them out of their holes?"
At least they say they are winning. First by pointing out the economic crisis which has further stricken the world economy since the attacks. Usually robust sales figures for early Fall were well below expected figures. They may also claim they are winning because many aren't heeding the president's message to "go out and fly on planes," and live one's life free of fear. And because both the president and vice-president have only been seen together a handful of times since the Sept. 11 attack.
The new state of alertness and consciousness has scored undeniable points for al-Qaida, even though the organization has yet to be linked to the string of cases of anthrax which have surged in the last weeks, leading to one death at American Media in Florida and two others in postal stations where mail contaminated with anthrax was handled. The latter initiated an investigation which led to the admission that health authorities had been too slow to react to the anthrax attacks.
The fear does not abate when al-Qaida releases further statements threatening further strikes, without actually confirming its involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, if the strikes on Afghanistan go on and continue make further civilian victims, as was the case when occasional missiles missed their targets and killed civilians. The new threats have only come weeks after the first mailings of letters laced with anthrax, at least three of them marked with the fateful Sept. 11 date.
But for all the cases of anthrax and bioterror scares, just over a dozen people have actually been infected by the disease, and few have died while most who contracted the bacteria were quickly and effectively treated, at least barring for now scenarios of a widespread bioterror attack infecting thousands. Just to be sure, the U.S. government wants enough antibiotics to treat 12 million people, and other countries such as Canada and Britain have also boosted efforts to fight biological or chemical attacks.
"People are obsessed with anthrax when there are so many other lethal bacteria," Laval medical center technologist Francine Garneau tells the NPU. "The problem is the media are telling the bad guys how to use anthrax effectively as a weapon," she said of TV and print coverage of the anthrax scare. A technologist at Laval university's germ bank for 25 years, she says the bank stopped making anthrax available to students for study in the 1970s when Health Canada slapped new regulations. "Before that there were hardly any safeguards," she says. "These days, apart from the army, which is working on a vaccine, hardly anyone handles anthrax in laboratories anymore."
Others are concerned medical authorities have lost focus on the real short-term dangers ahead altogether. "Two thousand Canadians are going to die this winter from influenza," reminds Dr. Donald Low of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, "That is a preventable disease. we have to put (the anthrax scare) into perspective."
Still reports that some of the anthrax mailed was high grade is alarming. U.S. authorities have established links between a letter sent to NBC and the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, opened by his staff, and have launched a criminal investigation. Both addresses received envelopes containing threatening letters praising Allah and suggesting that persons coming in contact with the letter seek medical attention. Both letters were postmarked in Trenton, NJ., where further cases have developed since.
The FBI has handled thousands of anthrax threats, most of them hoaxes or false alarms, prompting the attorney general to warn pranksters will be prosecuted federally. The FBI and Postal service plan to reward $1 million to anyone with information about people mailing anthrax leading to a conviction. CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, whose assistant was diagnosed with anthrax and is taking antibiotics, stressed America's most important problem wasn't anthrax per se, but fear.
Coming amid warnings of possible new terrorist activities and a hysteria on anthrax which has reached Australia and Europe, it isn't surprising authorities are gearing up for more anthrax cases. U.S. authorities also claim to have foiled at least 4 terrorist attacks abroad, since the Sept. 11 attacks. Now they're on the trail of some 25 individuals who took crash courses to drive large rigs that can carry dangerous substances.
The rise of fear, is indeed a victory for terrorism. Leaving its trace from Florida to the Congressional offices on the Hill in Washington, shut down for nearly a week while their staff were being screened for anthrax.
Could al-Qaida have also won a few points bringing one cause back into the spotlight at a time it seemed to have disappeared off the map, especially in Washington: the Palestinian cause? The new emphasis on settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was never more obvious than recently when, after a tour in the Middle-East to gather support among Arab leaders, prime minister Tony Blair welcomed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to 10 Downing street. The PM's staff refused to even link the invitation to the need to shore up Arab support, let alone say it may have been in response to a position publicly held, at least seemingly so, by al-Qaida. In any case the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister has made sure the conflict there kept alife of its own regardless.
Could al-Qaida also be winning a few points in the propaganda battle, prompting a rare ban on running video taped statements in their entirety on television networks? Meanwhile the veil of secrecy surrounding operational military information is keeping in the dark any successes in the air war against terrorism, while fiascos such as missiles gone astray capture headlines and are the subject of the rare Taleban-organized field trips. The hope is, when the war is won, minor battles will matter less.   


 

SPAIN ON THE FRONT LINES
The patrols are long and monotonous along one of the few borders between Western Europe and Muslim North Africa. The vehicle of the Spanish Guardia civil slowly makes its way between two long lines of mesh fences topped with barb wire on another hot October day in the autonomous city of Melilla, Northern Morocco. On the other side of the fence, a border station defiantly flies the red flag struck with green star of the surrounding country.
DAILY RETURN FLOW OF MOROCCAN TRADE WORKERS, BEN ASNAR, NPU PHOTO
The "great wall" of Melilla, as that of Ceuta, the other tiny Spanish enclave more to the West, has always been about keeping illegal immigrants out, but recently it has taken on a new role as Madrid tries to stamp out its reputation as a transit station for terrorists operating in Europe.
With every new air strike on Afghanistan, tensions grow between the West and Muslim world, despite America's attempt to forge a sustainable coalition against terrorism, and there are few places where this could prove as palpable as where the two worlds share a single border. Melilla is also only a few hundred kilometers from Algeria, home to a number of alleged members of terrorist cells who have been arrested since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Already the city has come under scrutiny after young Arabs attacked a synagogue and desecrated a cemetary, requiring police reinforcements from Malaga, an 8-hour ferry ride across the waters. Nearly half of the city's 60 000 inhabitants are Muslim.
MAN PRAYS JUST FEET FROM BORDER MESH FENCE, FARKHANA, NPU PHOTO
Since the attack on the U.S. and again with America's counterstrike over the weekend, the city's two borders crossings, a crossroad of resellers, smugglers and asylum-seekers, have been tightened, but without ever interrupting the busy flow of Moroccans stocking up on goods to resell across the border into Farkhana, to the north, or Ben Ansar, to the East, or the larger city of Nador, a crowded shared cab ride of a few dollars away.
There, an industrial and hardly touristic city of 250 000, many of the goods make their way to the local bazaar, stocked up to the rafters with the latest Nike track shoes or cell phone models. Author David McMurray describes Nador as a duty-free smugglers' cove/migrant frontier boomtown that thousands of Moroccans living in Europe descend upon annually, in his book In & Out of Morocco. Moving in and out seems to be a local sport there since the local web portal features a link to the Immigration Canada web site...
But it isn't always as easy getting through the border. A young Moroccan girl walks casually, bearing nothing in hand, towards the border crossing and submits to a first check by Moroccan authorities. The simple laminated red ID card with photo seems to do the trick until she gets to the Spanish border check point where she is turned away. Not today, maybe another time.
In any case getting to continental Europe would have meant another check either at the sea port or airport. But sometimes it seems harder to get into Morocco, where visitors who aren't trade regulars must fill out a first application to get in and another to get out, requiring a stamp each way. Still a speedier process than crossing the border by car, the route being limited to a single lane both ways.
These days the process is growing even more tedious, as border guards add to the usual immigration concern, the dimension related to the Sept. 11 bombings and ensuing American counterstrikes. On the Spanish side of the Farkhana crossing, within plain view of Moroccan guards on the other side of the fence, is a reminder of the usual border issue.
FAMILY OF REFUGEES IN ROADSITE SHACK, MELILLA, NPU PHOTO
The grounds of the immigration processing center are crowded with shacks made of boxes and wood crates, a slum for 400 immigrants Melilla has currently no housing to welcome. Last week authorities and private companies descended on the small community to fumigate the dwellings by fear they could grow into breeding ground for pests. If only the answer could be as simple to stamp out terrorism.
Police reports have called Spain a back door for terrorists who want to operate in Europe, putting its autonomous cities in Northern Morocco under increasing scrutiny. Authorities may have paid less attention to this reputation as a transit point until now because of their main concern over basque separatism, and because Islamic terrorists seem to use Spain as a transit point, not a target. Not unlike Canada to some U.S. representatives.
Just as Spain is pressuring Morocco to crack down on illegal immigration, it is feeling pressure by the rest of the EU to act against terrorism. This week a Spanish antiterrorism expert said security forces have uncovered an Islamic group in Madrid suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations. Police say the cell is very similar in structure to the Spanish wing of the Salafi Group, which has ties to bin Laden, six members of which were arrested on Sept. 26.
Spanish police say they have information on approximatively 200 suspected terrorists currently operating within 17 networks, according to El Pais. So understandably the pressure is also coming from all the way across the Atlantic. Last week the FAA prohibited flights out of Madrid's Barajas airport for security concerns, forcing at least one jet on way to Chicago to turn back.
But to show its resolve Madrid has firmly supported the U.S. strikes of Afghanistan, offering to provide military assistance if necessary. That may be for show but expectations will not lessen with regards to the monitoring of its borders to keep the good sales people of Ben Asnar and Farkhana flowing through, while keeping would-be terrorists out.


 

A NEW DAY OF INFAMY
On a new day which will live in infamy, the United States was the target of a horrific coordinated terrorist attack which started shortly before 9am on Sep. 11th as a first hijacked U.S. commercial plane crashed into the north Twin tower of the World Trade Center, a symbol of U.S. might and capitalism.
What appeared to be a freak accident would turn out of be the first salvo of a day of devastation in New York City and Washington. A second plane soon slammed into the south tower with deadly precision, in front of live cameras covering the first incident. In the following minutes, both towers would topple to the ground carrying with them thousands of office workers trapped inside. A third tower of the complex would also collapse later in the day, forever changing one of the world's most notable urban skylines, and devastating a nation's soul.
In the mean time another hijacked jet crashed into the Pentagon building of the Department of Defence in Virginia. Investigators now say it may have been targeting the White House instead. A fourth hijacked flight which investigators think may have been targeting a key building in Washington, went down in Pennsylvania after an apparent struggle on board the jet. When the dust cleared, Americans were deep in shock, failing to make any sense of these acts of inhumanity, swaying from disbelief, sadness to anger.
With near unanimity, experts quickly pointed the finger to one of the few figures capable of financing and orchestrating such a minute and large-scale terrorist operation, Saudi millionaire and Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden. But the terrorist at large, said of being in hiding in Afghanistan, denied the charges. ``The terrorist act is the action of some American group. I have nothing to do with it,'' a Pakistani newspaper quoted him as saying through ``sources close to the Taliban.''
Far from the Middle-east, days after the initial incident, the devastated sites of the Twin Towers and Pentangon were still smoldering. Casualties had involved the passengers of all four jets, over 190 victims in the Pentagon building and countless others trapped in the Twin Towers, some jumping from skycraper windows to their death before the 110-storey buildings ultimately collapsed. Some 20,000 could have been in the towers at the time. As of Thursday, New York City officials said 4,700 were missing, but few doubted the catastrophic toll would keep climbing.
By the end of the first day, the shock had already given way to defiance, as hundreds of members of government gathered on the steps of Congress to chant "God bless America". The anger was quickly welling up in an ambushed, but not cornered, dangerous America. A U.S. far from being subdued or humbled by the terror. Nearly 90% of Americans told a Usa Today poll they considered the attacks an act of war. Another poll determined an overwhelming majority would want the U.S. to retaliate militarily once the culprit were determined, even if it meant whole-scale war. But it seemed the world was already there.
"America is at war" agreed Secretary of State Colin Powell in day-after TV interviews, "a long-term conflict, and one not only against the U.S. but against civilization." He reiterated president George W. Bush's address to the nation considering all countries that harbor terrorists enemies of America who would face a legal, intelligence, diplomatic and military "full press court". And more likely than not, the latter.
The strike, at the heart of America's financial district, rattled markets in Asia the following day, driving the slowing global economy even deeper into crisis. US exchanges remained closed all week. But if this was to be a war-time economy, the plunging of stock markets and purchasing morale would matter little in relative terms.
The analogies to "Pearl Harbor" did not seem exaggerated. The death count and shock would prove more considerable, and the ensuing crises, involving shut down of stock markets and air space for days, dramatically historic. But businesses went out of their way to show the attacks would not disrupt their affairs any more than they should, while the government would go out of its way to make sure their perpetrators would not go unpunished.
Could it have been avoided? And how could a plan of such magnitude fail to make a blimp on America's sophisticated global intelligence radar screens? Experts and government agreed there had been an intelligence failure. "In this case we did not have intelligence notice of something of this magnitude," admitted Colin Powell, while former NATO commander Welsey Clark described the attacks as "a scenario outside of all models".
Such was the new model of terror in the 21st century. Such was, in the president's own words, the first war of the century. Turning a country's technology, wealth and success against itself. Nonetheless, with the rhetoric of retaliation slicing the air, the incidents did manage something which could have seemed extraordinary just a week ago at the Durban conference on racism, uniting the countries of the world, along with the U.S, in shock, grief and outrage.
There were some odd exceptions. The Iraqi leadership issued a hardly sympathetic press release reading: ``Notwithstanding the conflicting human feelings about what happened in America yesterday, America is reaping the thorns sown by its rulers in the world.'' A group of Palestinians celebrated in the West Bank.
But their chief, Yasser Arafat, condemned the attacks and offered his condolences. The following day he donated blood in a sign of solidarity. In Canada blood drives have also been held nationwide in anticipation of shortages in New York. Flags were lowered at half mast across the country, which planned to join others on Friday, in a day of global mourning.
But Canada, which has also welcomed flights bound for the US once American airspace was shut to civilian aviation, came under scrutiny for painfully familiar reasons. Investigators think at least some of the terrorists who comandeered the hijacked planes, all of whom have been identified and were trained as pilots in the US, may have entered the States through Canada. Ottawa, which tightened security at the border without shutting it but closed its own airspace, denied the allegations.
Ironically, on the same day there was a subtle reminder of past border-crossing alerts. A U.S. court announced the sentencing of Ahmed Ressam, convicted of plotting to bomb targets in the U.S. after being stopped at the Washington-BC border in 1999, would be postponed. The incident had caused some concern about the safety of the longest undefended border on Earth. Ressam had been working for someone close to Osama bin Laden.
The name just won't ever go away, and for good reason. The elusive figure hasn't been caught years after having been declared U.S. enemy n.1, a title all but insured after he was tied to the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. Wasn't president Bush, whose Secretary of state called bin Laden a prime suspect, only the latest U.S. leader to promise his removal?
While the U.S. government hoped a new $5 million bounty on bin Laden's head would make the suspected terrorist nervous of his entourage, it was also taking action to prepare its allies for possible war on terrorism on a new scale. The White House and Congress agreed on a $40 billion emergency spending measure to combat terrorism in addition to aiding recovery efforts.
This week, in a rare show of support, Nato members decided Tuesday's attack against the U.S. was an attack against the Alliance, a point insisted on by prime minister Jean Chrétien, committing them to respond militarily if deemed necesary. The coalition sought to fight terrorism would call for a long-term enlistment, and could involve once unthinkable allies, such as Russia, concerned about its own crisis in Chechnya.
In the U.S., it wasn't premature to talk about being on a war footing. The U.S. administration pressured Pakistan, which pledged its support to fight terrorism but is one of the rare countries to recognise the Taliban regime, to impress on Afghanistan the urgency of handing over bin Laden, efforts which were deemed unsuccesful. The diplomatic breakdown between the two neighbors sent the Afghani leadership into hiding after a final plea that the U.S. not strike its "already suffering people." But nothing could stop the rumors of contingency plans involving air strikes and possible ground troops.
Before any of this, a president some saw as an unlikely general, is surveying the collateral damage done. After visiting the Pentagon this week, Bush visits New York City on Friday. In the two cities were constant reminders that a return back to normalcy was unlikely in the short term. Structurally unsound buildings in New York make streets unsafe. Bomb threats keep both cities on edge, a false alarm forcing the unprecedented evacuation of the Capitol on Thursday, while the skies are far from being safe enough to fly still.
In the 80 minutes which separated the first attack from the last on Tuesday America was changed for the short and long-term. What it will become, where this will lead, is anyone's guess.