NORTHERNPRESS ONLINE

Subtitle

2003 L'année - the year

                                           

SADDAM CAPTURE IN TIME TO HEAL WOUNDS BEFORE CHRISTMAS?
Looking haggard and grubby with a long salt and pepper beard, Saddam Hussein appeared like a hobo look-alike rather than Santa Claus, but the sight of him in U.S. custody meant Christmas came early near Tikrit, where he was finally tracked down by the 4th U.S. Infantry Division and arrested on Sunday, dug into a spider hole.
Speaking after the capture of one of the world's most wanted men, Tony Blair hoped the arrest of the ex-strongman would unite Iraqis until now divided by Sunni, Shia and Kurdish affiliations. The arrest came during a bloody weekend where insurgents killed 17 Iraqis in a single attack. "Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq," Blair said soon after the arrest, kept under wraps for more than half a day, was made public.
Paul Martin, in his first foreign policy address, also spoke of reconciliation. But both probably hoped it would unite allies as well as Iraqis. For a while on Sunday, it seemed to do just that. Leaders of countries critical of the war in Iraq such as France and Germany congratulated the U.S. for its catch. Not only had they disagreed on the war, they were disagreeing on the peace.
At issue as recently as last week was Washington's infuriating list of countries that would be allowed to bid on some $18 billion worth of reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Canada, France, Russia and Germany were among some of the major countries not on it. It was no secret the White House was infuriated by the release of the Pentagon's list of approved "coalition bidders", the likes of which included Ethiopia and Tonga. But the administration was less upset about its content, as it turned out, than its timing; just as the U.S. was asking allies to consider scrapping outstanding debts owed by Iraq.
In Ottawa, in the midst of the transition of power from Jean Chrétien to Paul Martin, the controversy was fuelled by general confusion. In his farewell phone call from U.S. president George W. Bush, Chrétien insisted he was told to "not worry", that Bush was shocked by Canada's omission and would seek to correct it.
The same day in Washington however, the U.S. president reiterated that welcome bidders would only include nations which had sent soldiers to Iraq and into harm's way. His press secretary echoed this, but did hint "if countries want to participate in the coalition efforts in Iraq, then circumstances can change."
The U.N. Secretary general called the U.S. stance divisive and other countries left off the list were similarily outraged, all the while a U.S. firm formerly headed by the vice-president getting the lion's share of contracts in Iraq was accused of price gouging. It was becoming apparent the U.S. was using the bidding process as bargaining chip, further unsettling its allies, Canada among them.
Martin had after all become the poster-boy of outrage over the Pentagon's list, primarily because his English language reaction had been captured by major international and U.S. TV outlets, just days before first speaking to Bush, whom he will meet in Mexico next month and will probably end up meeting one on one soon after.
Surely, there were better ways of restarting a new cross-border dialogue, one wanted by both Washington and Ottawa since the Iraq debacle. Chrétien had made it a point in his last days to repeat that one of the best decisions he had made during his entire tenure was to stay out of Iraq, a recollection which had also earned him a standing ovation from the crowd in last month's Liberal convention in Toronto. Perhaps it was only fitting his last blurb concerned U.S. relations and Iraq.
The day following the convention in Toronto, the leader crowned that night, the new prime minister, said he would very much focus on putting Canada-U.S. relations back on track. But the contract issue has placed a first bump on the road after he said Bush's decision on the bidding was "difficult to fathom," and that he would raise the issue with American officials.
On Monday, in his first phone conversation with Bush, Martin did just that, after congratulating the U.S. on their capture. The White House said it was keeping the lines of communication open on the issue until their coming meeting, hardly a major development for America's neighbor. Despite Martin's emphasis on security in his cabinet, Washington remains unmoved by plans to boost defence. Martin also spoke of plans to try Saddam.
The U.S. wanted to avoid further divisions by quickly agreeing Saddam should be tried publicly by an Iraqi-led tribunal, but some organizations questioned whether the country was ready for such a task and feared a possible death sentence.  Iraq has barely agreed to set up a tribunal to bring members of his regime to justice. In his Sunday TV address, Bush said Saddam would "face the justice he denied to millions."
As he was telling his U.S. audience this didn't mean the end of violence in Iraq, a blast echoed across central Baghdad. By some estimates, given the location and circumstances of his capture it appeared unlikely that Saddam was managing the insurgency and that he had very little control or influence. But for now the U.S. was willing to chalk one up for the arrest of the symbol of defiance, and a day of peace with its allies, just in time for the Holidays.


 

WHO'S AFRAID OF THE MIGHTY LOON?
Importers, Canadian hockey teams and snowbirds are cheering; exporters, some macroeconomists and visiting tourists are gnashing their teeth. Last week's announcement by Bank of Canada governor David Dodge that he would not hesitate to nudge, or lower, interest rates, if the rising currency hurts growth, showed to what degree the Canadian dollar is under scrutiny, nationally and internationally.
Since the beginning of the year its value has increased over 20 percent against the U.S. greenback, which has been slumping against major currencies all year, especially the euro. Thankfully, econo-mists concerned that a high dollar is going to batter further an export-dependent country previously hit by SARS and mad cow crises, are told by finance minister John Manley than the country would have a surplus of $3 billion at the end of the fiscal year - drawing further investor confidence in the country's finances - and growth projections were boosted to 3.25 percent for next year, banking on growth south of the border.
Economists say sluggish growth so far in the U.S. has encouraged the Federal reserve to be less bullish on the dollar, to open the floodgates of business-boosting cheaper cash. Largely under-valued for years, the Canadian dollar has simply made up for lost time some economists argue, projecting an 80-cent dollar by the end of the year which some say would be an appropriate level for the most overlooked currency among g-7 countries.
The rise is stubborn in view of the Bank's last interest rates slip, which barely registered. The rate was cut twice this year as inflation eased, but Canada's 2.75% rate is still more attractive than the 1% rate of the Federal reserve, something that has also helped keep the dollar rising.
But many are getting jittery after a series of recent business forecasts by major companies that were updated downwards because of the strength of the loonie. Major exporters like Alcan and Abitibi-Consolidated in part blamed recent quarterly earnings on the loonie. A recent CIBC survey revealed 25% of small to medium-size companies in Canada would suffer from the hike. The rising dollar makes their products more expensive and less competitive on the U.S. market, though investment in performance and productivity-boosting technical imports are cheaper.
Trade differences on everything from softwood lumber to beef with Canada's largest export market, the U.S., added to uncordial relations between its two leaders, who failed to meet one on one at last week's Apec summit in Bangkok, have also been hurting the economy.
But the dollar's quick rise has changed the economic environment like little else in the course of this year, and investors banking on better relations under Paul Martin - who has promised to improve relations with Washington - are keeping the rally going. A higher dollar also means a reduction of America's gaping trade deficit with Canada, a subject of concern for U.S. officials.
The business community isn't unanimous greeting the power-loon with disdain. Importers are projecting a banner year as Canada continues to take in 23% of the U.S.' exports, and even Canada's hockey teams, so recently pleading Ottawa for cash infusion or tax breaks, are finally getting a break to pay their U.S. dollar salaries. The Montreal Canadiens can add to their early successes on the ice a more healthy pocketbook as the rising dollar slashes some $16 million off their payroll, according to a projection by La Presse. Not just Canadian teams, but entire cities, want a break .
Anything that draws revenue is good news after a summer of lost tourism revenue, a side-effect of the SARS outbreak, and a rising dollar. Film and production centers like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are also worried that a higher dollar means U.S. production may stop coming to Hollywood north, especially after a Hollywood actor who wants to keep movie production in the U.S. has been elected governor of California.
Like California under Arnold Schwartzenegger, Canada is entering uncharted waters with such a quick currency growth. "We don't really have a model for such a rapid rise," conceded Manley.
That's leaving economists scratching their heads, considering the Bank of Canada estimates the economy takes a 2-3% slip for every 10% rise in the loony against the U.S. dollar. Then again that slip can be spread over as many as two years. In the mean time the U.S. economy may rebound, something that boosts Canada by 0.7% for every 1% in U.S. growth. It isn't easy math and sounds a bit voodoo-ish.
Then again a volatile exchange rate and trade and current account imbalances like the ones the U.S. is facing, can hurt U.S. forecasts and hurt Canada as well. Some economists are not seeing any U.S. rally continue beyond mid-2004.
Good or bad, the rising dollar is sure creating some excitement over the currency Americans once derided as the colorful monopoly money north of the border. If anything they seem to be coming along, after the introduction of a new U.S. $20 bill with subtle color changes that are closer to what has been common for years north of the 49th.


 

LE MICROCOSME BOLIVIEN
Un dirigeant latino-américain conspué par la rue, une crise économique soulignant la problématique de la drogue, le tout pour une poignée de dollars dont le gouvernement a tant besoin. Colombie? Vénézuela? Pendant quelques semaines la Bolivie a traversé une crise complexe qui a fait d'elle un microcosme de l'Amérique latine et qui s'est soldée par la démission du président Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.
Il y avait même un petit air californien à toute cette affaire. Renvoyé un an à peine après sa ré-élection, le financier millionnaire s'est vu montrer la porte à la suite de manifestations qui ont mortellement viré à l'émeute.
Le plus récent argument principal de la plebe, notamment issue des quartiers pauvres dont le bidonville de 750 000 âmes d'El Alto qui surplombe La Paz, était qu'en ouvrant les vannes des ventes de gaz naturel à l'exportation, le gouvernement vendait le pays aux gringos. Voilà depuis les premiers mois de son court nouveau mandat que Sanchez se butait aux manifestations qui ont rejeté ses projets de réforme et d'austerité, mais les derniers rassemblements ont viré au drame, faisant environ 70 victimes en quelques jours.
Ce n'est que le dernier pays latino-américain à mal vivre sa crise de réformes nécessaires, qui passent souvent par le développement des exportations de ressources naturelles aux mains de multinationales; tel était le cas au Vénézuela et en Equateur.
Le nouveau président Carlos Mesa promet des élections qui pourraient d'autant plus gâcher les relations avec les Etats-Unis, déjà démunis d'une source de gaz naturel en Amérique du sud. L'an dernier, celui qui avait terminé second dans la course à la présidence était nul autre qu'Evo Morales, dirigeant de la fédération des producteurs de coca, dont l'élection serait mal reçue à Washington et pourrait compromettre l'aide financière au pays, tout comme la lutte anti-drogue dans la région.
La feuille de coca représente une production lucrative en Bolivie comme ailleurs dans les Andes, où les gouvernements ont de la difficulté à convaincre les agriculteurs de faire pousser autre chose, quand ils font un effort. En Colombie et au Pérou, cette culture finance la lutte armée contre le gouvernement, on explique ainsi le retour du Sentier Lumineux.
En Colombie, les rebelles ont d'ailleurs lancé une série d'attaques sanglantes le jour d'un référendum sur les réformes conservatrices du président Alvaro Uribe, qui devaient entre autre libérer des fonds pour combattre la guérilla. En Bolivie, un des pays les plus pauvres d'Amérique latine et grand producteur de coca - où elle est tolérée dans des quantités limitées, réservées à la production de thé et à la mastication - cette production assure la survie de milliers de cultivateurs qui ne savent plus où se tourner.
Plusieurs fermiers, en grande partie indiens, déménagent d'ailleurs à El Alto, où ils retrouvent la même pauvreté qu'ils ont laissé à la campagne. C'est leur participation aux manifestations, qui regroupaient ensuite syndicats et autres groupes sociaux, qui ont fait vibrer la terre à La Paz.
Peu étonnant que Mesa ait choisi El Alto pour faire sa première déclaration publique. L'ancien journaliste y a salué les sacrifices récents au nom de la démocratie lors des émeutes. Il a également créé un ministère des affaires indigènes et a promis de lutter contre l'exclusion sociale des indiens, qui représentent les deux tiers de la population.
L'exclusion est aussi financière en raison de l'écart entre riches et pauvres qui s'est creusé suite aux réformes qui ont redonné confiance aux investisseurs après la crise financière des années 80. Craignait-on pire plus récemment? Mesa veut mettre de l'ordre dans les finances publiques mais avoue que ce ne sera pas seulement un défi de taille, mais une certaine affaire de chance.
Impatient, Morales lui donne un mois pour améliorer les condition des pauvres sinon il menace de relancer les manifestations. Le pari de Mesa est pour le moins risqué et sera suivi par les populations indigènes du reste du continent, les Etats-Unis, les cultivateurs de coca, et tant d'autres pour qui la Bolivie pourrait devenir l'exemple à suivre, ou à ne pas suivre.


 

FROM JUNK TO SPACE JUNK?
For centuries the Chinese looked at the skies and used the stars to guide them across the globe in ways it would take others years to learn, leading them to discoveries few had the imagination to fathom. Now that they can almost touch them, what could they discover next?
China's success in sending its first astronaut in space, and back safely, is just the beginning, the leadership of the world's most populous nation assures. A next voyage may ensue in a few years, possibly followed by a space walk, even the launching of a small-scale space lab and giant telescope. The sky's barely the limit.
If it sounds like everything others have done before many years ago it doesn't stop there. Mars can't stay out of reach forever. Some Western military analysts are also seeing the nuclear power positioning itself for an eventual space arms race.
While the technology remains vintage by Western standards and didn't even inspire more than a yawn at the European space program, which stopped short of sending a man to space, the Chinese mission inspired Indian and Japanese space programs under development.
At a time the pioneering American and Russian space programs are rethinking their objectives, especially manned flight, China's Schenzhou 5 mission looks bold and visionary. The technological progress and development the awakening economic giant is accomplishing on Earth it slowly wants to bring to the stars.
A reflection of China's soaring economy, the great space leap forward may however test the country's economic foundations, like the ground under Shanghai's sinking sky-scrapers. Is a vibrant space program, as the Economist magazine mused, not a sign to take China off the dole of foreign aid?
China's relatively robust economic growth has in fact deepened the gap between rich and poor, countryside and cities, and for signs of this one need look no further than the home province of a hero some revere as the great space chairman. Mission "taikonaut" Yang Liwei, 38, soon to have his own stamp, is a native of the country's north east Liaoning province, a region of dying smokestack state-run industry marked by violent social unrest last year.
The manned program leading to and including the historic voyage cost $2.2 billion, thrifty by Western standards but in itself slightly more than the country's entire annual space program budget. But who's counting when one is redeeming oneself after centuries of falling behind Western countries or when one is slated to become the world's next great power?
1,000 years ago China invented gun-powder, in XVIIth century it sent a first rocket into the air. And it is no stranger to voyages of discovery. In fact a recent book by former British submariner Gavin Menzies entitled "1421 the year China discovered the world" recites compelling evidence that the Chinese were the first great maritime explorers, and not the Europeans.
In 1421, China possessed the largest fleet the world, including huge junks nearly 500 feet long, which were sent to the ends of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. Their journey would last over two years and circle the globe, the record of which was lost because by the time they came back, China was beginning its self-imposed isolation and had destroyed the records of the voyages. Lost was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America 70 years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan, claims the author after years of investigation and map study.
They had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia 350 years before Cook, and solved the problem of longitude 300 years before the Europeans. They accomplished the latter by looking at the stars. Now they are practically playing amid them.
"The scenery was very beautiful," said the former fighter pilot of his 21h expedition. "But I did not see the Great Wall," he added, of the man-made creation said to be visible from space. Perhaps only because China no longer sees any boundaries to what it can accomplish.


 

A FAMILIAR SCENARIO?
Canadians were forewarned fighting another country's war to protect a defenseless population would come at a price. After some weeks of settling in the Canadian troops based in Afghanistan paid it when two of their own were killed by a mine which injured three others.
Reaction to the incident was not dissimilar to that of last year's friendly fire incident, including a political reaction which this time remained internal. Initially at the heart of the incident was the choice of light military vehicles sent to conduct operations in Afghanistan.
Officials insisted the size of the blast would have severely damaged any vehicle, but the use of the open-air Iltis jeep to patrol Afghanistan was questioned by the U.S. military which provided Humvee transport during Canada's 2002 mission reports the Globe & Mail. In a similar incident involving a Humvee in the past, the vehicle was severely damaged but its occupants unhurt.
The Canadian Forces do not possess the Humvees so common to the U.S. that their civilian models are popular to those who can afford them. Canada's contingent is one of the largest of the 5,500-strong NATO-led force, which it will fully command next year.
The choice of sending troops to Afghanistan had been controversial when it was disclosed at the time because Ottawa was then being asked by the U.S. to commit to the Iraq theatre of operations instead.
But this week Canadian military officials said the explosion wasn't an accident but a terror attack, its perpetrator currently in coalition custody. Officials had been uncertain about the precise nature of the blast as investigators looked into whether the explosive device had been there for some time or had been laid recently to target members of the international security force operating in Afghanistan. The path chosen by the ill-fated Iltis has recently been declared cleared of mines.
"There is a strong possibility it was a deliberate attack," said Major Kevin Arata, a spokesman for ISAF, commenting on a preliminary report in Kabul. He said the blast was almost certainly caused by a Soviet- made TM-57 anti-tank mine that may have been linked to two other mines.
Afghanistan remains peppered by mine fields from the war against the Soviet Union and a violent country in general, especially outside Kabul, where coalition troops are fighting remaining pockets of al-Qaida fighters. Last week the Pakistani military killed 8 fighters and arrested 15 more on the wild and untamed border with Afghanistan.
At the same time U.S. soldiers died engaging the enemy in the south of the country. This week warlords in the north agreed on a frail truce only after the worse fighting in the country in months, killing dozens.
The deadly Canadian incident occurred soon after Afghan president Hamid Karzai had visited Ottawa, thanking Canadians for their troop contributions but asking for more and a possible extension of military activity outside the capital.
This week he seemed to have obtained that from NATO, but this came amid reports by a U.S. envoy in Kabul that warned of larger Taleban attacks. "There are indications that they are planning even larger attacks, more spectacular attack perhaps," said envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Danger had struck near the Canadian camp before, three weeks ago when rocket fire shook the camp, but without making casualties. The incident was an eerie reminder of the first Canadian combat casualties since the Korean war, last year, following a friendly fire incident by U.S. jets.
At the time of the latest incident, the U.S. military was releasing a report which deplored the frequency of friendly-fire attacks among allied troops. "Even one death due to fratricide is too many," U.S. Admiral Edmund P.Giambastiani commented on the report.
The bodies of Sergeant Robert Alan Short and Corporal Robbie Christopher Beerenfenger from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (3 RCR) Battalion Group, arrived in CFB Trenton on Sunday to a ceremony attended by prime minister Jean Chretien, who insisted "We have to honour them as heros." He was still pondering whether to visit Afghanistan, something deemed a tremendous morale-booster by military officials, following a coming APEC meeting in Bangkok.
Defense minister John McCallum, who also attended the ceremony, said the mission would not be undermined by the tragedy. Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie echoed that the mission would go on. "The Taliban and al-Qaeda want us to retreat to our camps or run away," he said. "And neither, of course, is an option for out soldiers." Former general Lewis MacKenzie said the incident was a clear reminder Canada was not in a peace-keeping operation but had a much more active role.
Foreign Minister Bill Graham told Maclean's magazine that role also includes aid, which Canada has pledged to the tune of $250 million in Afghanistan. "What's required is actually getting in and helping rebuild the society," the told the magazine. "In Afghanistan we have a cooperative effort between defense, foreign affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency."
Two year after military strikes in Afghanistan, it remains questionable that the country, divided between ruling warlords outside the capital, can ever be fully rebuilt. But Canadian soldiers say they owe it to their fallen comrades to try.


 

A NEW LEVEL OF VIOLENCE
Even by its extraordinary standards, this was ratcheting it up a notch in the Mideast conflict, after a month which saw the Palestinian Authority change prime ministers, Israel agree to the ouster of chairman Yasser Arafat, further extension of the settlements and of a protective wall supposed to defend Israel against terrorism.
Israel's aerial attack on a Syrian camp suspected of training Palestinian "terrorists" soon after the deadly suicide bombing of a popular Haifa hangout for both Arabs and Jews, killing 20, caused outrage not so much for the damage done, limited, or casualties, inexistent, but the symbolism. The last Israeli attack deep in Syrian territory goes back thirty years to Yom Kippur in 1973.
Syria had been only indirectly targeted in 2001 when Israeli jet fighters bombed a radar in Lebanon, killing three Syrian soldiers. The country being under Syrian control, Lebanon was also involved in the skirmishes this week
On the eve of this year's Jewish holiday, the Syrian delegation at the U.N. called for an extraordinary meeting to condemn the attack, weeks after the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a non-binding resolution calling on Israel to lift its threat to exile Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
But any condemnation would fail to obtain the support of the U.S. judging by president George W. Bush's assertion that Israel "must not be constrained in defending the homeland", something to further drive a wedge between the U.S. and Arab countries who feel Washington is biased towards Israel.
This was reinforced by a House committee's vote in Washington to impose sanctions on Damascus, dropping prevfious opposition to punitive steps. The new tactic of targeting would-be suicide bombers at the perceived source in a separate country is not foreign to America's previous actions in Afghanistan and Iraq in the war against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. As a result of its stance, the U.S. may now face a tougher time obtaining an already uneasy resolution securing U.N. and international help in Iraq.
In addition to Arab countries being offended, the Palestinian Authority says it will push for its own resolution against Israel's "security wall". In a meeting held days after the attack, the Arab League warned the strike on Syria could "drag the whole region into a violent whirlpool".
Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad condemed the attack as "military aggression" and his country threatened to retaliate. Israel continues "to flout the Charter of the United Nations to the point that Arabs and many people across the globe feel that Israel is above law," Mekdad said.
The session was called on a day Syria released a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was held in detention for 374 days for being a "security threat" supposedly tied to al-Qaeda. The case was a subject of tension between Ottawa and Damascus, as well as the U.S., which deported Arar when he was in transit at JFK airport over one year ago.
Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman accused Syria of providing "safe harbour, training facilities, funding, logistical support" to terrorist organizations. Prime minister Ariel Sharon said Israel would continue to defend itself as it saw fit, but promised not to shut the door to peace altogether, even if the two seemed at odds.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the air strike, and said he was concerned that the "escalation of an already tense and difficult situation has the potential to broaden the scope of current conflicts in the Middle East."
In the face of all this, calls by the man appointed to head an emergency Palestinian cabinet, an attempt to reduce the likelihood of Arafat's ouster in itself, to peace and ending "chaos", seemed quite out of place. Ahmed Qurei was named prime minister by Yasser Arafat to run the new cabinet for a maximum term of two months following the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas after a power struggle with Arafat.
Arafat meanwhile was declaring a state of emergency in the Palestinian areas and installed his new government by decree. The suicide bombing rekindled efforts by some Israeli officials to oust Arafat.
But the PA's shuffle did not end simmering internal tensions which nearly led to Qurei's own decision to quit. Much closer to Arafat than his predecessor, Qurei is for now being given the benefit of the doubt by the U.S. after he declared he was committed to implementing the US-sponsored "roadmap for peace". A roadmap that has never seemed more driven into a minefield.




 

SWEDEN CHASING DOWN LATEST UNSOLVED MYSTERY
For years Stockholm citizens have been leaving flowers in the middle of a sidewalk of the busy Sveavägen avenue. On the ground lies a plaque commemorating one of the saddest and darkest days in modern Swedish history. It reads "On this spot Sweden's prime minister Olaf Palme was killed."
Seventeen years ago Sweden was shocked, and with it much of the world, when someone assassinated its prime minister strolling in Stockholm after taking in a movie with his wife. For a brief moment the world was reminded that for their peaceful image, Swedes were descendant of Vikings, and murderous violence did not spare Scandinavia for all its embrace of Valhalla.
After the recent killing of Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh, shock was quickly followed by the anger of normally restrained Swedes. Had the lessons of the 1986 assassination not been learned?
There was a strong sense of deja vu. The knifing of the minister occurred a few blocks away from the site of the 1986 murder, and a lone and deranged man was quickly singled out as the main suspect.
For years Swedes have believed the man responsible for the Palme killing was Christer Pettersson, a self-confessed drug addict and alcoholic, first convicted and jailed, and then released after a higher court found the evidence used to convict him too circumstantial.
The initial arrest of an individual following a tip in the Lindh killing was shrouded in secrecy as police said little other than his description matched that of a man caught on tape near the site of the killing. But police are not excluding other trails, over a dozen of them.
What they are quick to discount is that the murder had anything to do with Sweden's referendum on the Euro. Lindh was a strong advocate of Sweden's adoption of the European currency and soon after her assassination a slight jolt in voting intentions was noted, but the referendum was still soundly defeated by a marging of 56% to 42%, leaving Sweden on the sidelines of European monetary unity.
Swedes, who have not been too keen on monetary union, did not let their emotions carry the day, but they had tough questions on the security of their public officials. Why was the mother of two unprotected when she was shopping at the downtown department store of NK the day she was stabbed? Save the king and prime minister, no other public officials benefit from blanket security protection in Sweden.
The loss of Lindh is not only one for the political class, but possible Swedish history, as the attractive cabinet minister represented the hopes of seeing a woman become prime minister, in a country proud of strong female representation in government.
As a nordic country, Sweden is aware of the competition is faces with regards to female representation. In 1980 Iceland elected as president Vigdís Finnbogadottir, the world's first popularly elected female head of state. One year later Gro Harlem Brundtland became Norway's first female prime minister. This year Finland chose a woman as prime minister for the first time and became the first European country to have women heading both the prime ministry and presidency.
Solving the Lindh case will be about trying to do away with unwanted reputation for unsolved mysteries. Palme's unpunished killing contributed to this odd legend of sorts, in the finest tradition of the Wallenbergs, whose diplomat son was lost under still unclear circumstances to the Russians in the darkest rounds of the great game. But this week police were confident they had caught the right suspect, after releasing their initial catch. Expressen tabloid newspaper reported the 24 year old's DNA was believed to match hair samples found on the site of the crime.
The tragedy of the moment will be that another plaque will appear on the streets of Stockholm, landmark to the loss of yet another public figure.


 

UN SCENARIO QUI DEVIENT FAMILIER
Un moment de répit pour les Canadairs, ces avion-citernes alignés au sol de l'aéroport Marignane en Provence. Parfois loués comme "ange-gardiens" par la presse française lors des périodes d'incendies annuelles, leur place dans le coeur, et la religion n'est pas en doute même dans la basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde de Marseille, où un modèle réduit pend du mur pour louanger les efforts des guerriers des flammes, près des bannières d'anciens combatants.
Les flammes gagnent certaines régions du sud du pays avec une telle régularité, surtout dans le massif des Maures, que tout bon guide en consacre une bonne page. Mais cette année les chaleurs et la sécheresse qui provoquent ces étincelles dévastatrices se sont étendues au reste de l'hexagone faisant un nombre de victimes toujours croissant. Cette semaine les autorités françaises portaient à près de 15,000 le nombre de victimes mortes lors de la canicule qui s'est emparée du pays en août, dont la majorité dans les grandes villes, surtout Paris.
Les gens du sud, qui ont plus l'habitude des hautes températures, ont également souffert, mais ont survécu pour plusieurs raisons "Certainement on a plus l'habitude mais je crois que nos moeurs sont plus attachées à la famille", souligne Mme Dubruel, une artiste qui retouche diverses oeuvres d'art pour des antiquaires dans son atelier, à domicile en banlieue d'Aix en Provence.
Cette femme du troisième âge s'est réfugiée chez des membres de sa famille lorsque la température est devenue insupportable. Puis il y avait la piscine pour se rafraichir, en face de son domicile, qui sert également de bed and breakfast confortable. "Il y avait des jours où c'était impossible de travailler à l'atelier tellement il faisait chaud, dit-elle dans son sous-sol, entourée de pièces d'art auxquelles elle donnera des retouches de couleur, ou pour lesquelles elle confectionnera des bras ou jambes manquants. Même s'il fait d'habitude plus frais à la cave qu'à l'étage."
Pendant que les autorités tentent d'expliquer les raisons du nombre élevé de morts, soulignant l'abandon des ainés pendant l'été, pour enrayer la prochaine crise, ils peuvent déjà prévoir deux tendances dangereuses: que l'avenir prévoit à la fois de nouvelles canicules et une pyramide démographique qui s'inverse.
En effet les météorologues sont de l'avis que l'avenir réserve des températures plus élevées, en France comme ailleurs, apportant des chaleurs méditerranéennes dans le nord et des températures africaines dans le sud. Puis le nombre de Français de plus de 60 ans, comme Mme Dubruel, va tripler dans les 50 prochaines années, passant de 12 à 24 millions, soit plus d'un Français sur trois, donnant lieu à ce que Le Monde baptise un véritable "Papy-boom".
Si ceux-ci représentent une classe plutot aisée et de plus en plus active et consommatrice, parcontre ils sont également plus susceptibles de tomber victime aux maux de santé, surtout en période de grande chaleur. "Il y a encore de la misère et de la solitude derrière les volets clos des chambres sous les toits ou le long des couloirs des maisons de retraire" suggère le journal.
Certaines images ont choqué beaucoup de Français, notamment les couloirs d'hôpitaux, bondés de patients lors de la crise, un phénomène moins rare au Québec. Par conséquent des efforts importants dans un système de santé jugé "inadapté" s'imposent, en commençant par un remède immédiat: assurer au moins une salle climatisée dans les hopitaux et maisons de retraite.
Un début de solution qui doit également passer par la reconnaissance de l'importance des ainés dans la société, si l'été français ne veut pas être reconnu pour ses victimes annuelles comme il l'est pour ses incendies de forêt dans les guides de visite.


 

FEELING SAFE AS A TRAVELING CANADIAN
There is an enduring myth of sorts surrounding the Canadian passport. In the early days of the Iranian revolution it helped bring American embassy officials to safety. Ever since many Americans have declared themselves Canadian when traveling, just in case something should go wrong. At least that's what some U.S. schools are instructing students to do.
In the lead up to the last referendum on sovereignty, former prime minister Brian Mulroney mimicked tearing up a Canadian passport as to represent what it meant to separate from Canada, to some the message echoed loudly. The passport was prized by all, even, unfortunately, Israeli agents seeking a cover for their activities. In time, the value of the great blue booklet has been diminished, diluted, in part following the multiplication of forgeries on the black market. Now we are told it could become a passport to commit acts of terrorism.
As some Canadians traveling overseas have found out, it doesn't offer the protection it used to, something akin to a private personal Mountie on every shoulder. And these Canadians have cried out in despair loud and clear. A Canadian citizen held in Saudi Arabia for years facing the threat of execution, terrorist or spy suspects held in Damascus and Lebanon for weeks without formal charges, and a photojournalist killed in Iranian custody, all these recent cases have shown the risks of travel to the region apart from those already related to the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The incidents have tested Canada's diplomatic relations with the Mideast all the while sparking outrage among passport-holders who say their government doesn't do nearly enough to help them overseas.
Among them, the son of a Canadian photojournalist beaten to death after having taken pictures of a prison in Iran has been especially vocal. The day Iranian authorities confirmed in July that 54 year old Iranian-born Zahra Kazemi had been beaten to death during 77 hours of interrogation, her son Stephan Hachemi lashed at the Canadian government for being too soft on Tehran. "The government didn't defend her rights as a Canadian citizen," he told a news conference, "(Government officials) chose not to implicate themselves so as not to jeopardize their interests."
But Iran had barely taken note of the Canadian passport, one Iranian government spokesman being quoted as saying "Mrs. Kazemi had been an Iranian citizen with double nationality and the event took place in Iranian territory, and therefore Iranian officials would themselves follow necessary legal procedures with the case." Ottawa eventually recalled its ambassador after Kazemi was buried in her home-town, contrary to her son's wishes of patriating her body, but still it did little to diminish the disappointment, the helplessness. It wasn't an isolated case.
Following his release from Saudi custody after 31 months of being a suspect in a bombing case, William Sampson said he considered renouncing his Canadian citizenship and becoming a British citizen because he felt the Foreign Office was doing more to help his plight and that of other Britons in Saudi captivity. In the end he and the Britons were released following an appeal by the British royal family, in the name of good relations with the house of Saud.
Foreign Affairs came under criticism for being silent about the harsh treatment it knew Sampson was enduring in Saudi captivity, but minister Bill Graham justified Ottawa's stance on the grounds doing otherwise could imperil Sampson's situation. Sometimes it seems there is no lack of Canadians being held abroad crying out to a government which promises to do "everything it can" to help provide legal assistance but otherwise limited in its ability to assist them.
3,013 Canadians are in prison across the world, most in drug-related cases, and they are subject to the laws of the lands they visit, whether they may seem fair or not.
The wife of another Canadian citizen reportedly being tortured in a Syrian jail called on the federal government to recall its ambassador in Damascus last month. Monia Mazighi quoted a rights organization that said that her husband was being mistreated by Syrian intelligence officials. "He has been beaten on the soles of his feet and his body with shredded cable," she said.
Maher Arar was deported to Syria from the United States, raising diplomatic tensions between Ottawa and Washington some ten months ago. Graham said his officials assured him he was being well treated while awaiting a civilian trial for allegedly being part of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a suspected terrorist group. But these assurances are leaving Canadians uneasy, increasingly aware Foreign Affairs can withhold the truth if it deems it could jeopardize a passport holder's security. Arar was denied receiving visitors or meeting privately with a Canadian diplomatic official for weeks.
In a more bizarre case, a tree-planting Canadian missionary spent weeks in a Lebanese cell facing charges of collaborating with an enemy state, Israel. Bruce Balfour, a 52-year-old Calgarian claiming to be on a mission from God, was arrested at Beirut airport on July 10 and was being charged with "collaborating" with Israel, a country Lebanon is still technically at war with. Lebanon does not permit entry to travellers carrying a passport stamped by Israel and usually fines offenders and sends them home on the first flight. "What's the crime here? Travelling to a country?" his sister Laura Mackenzie said from her home in Clearwater, B.C.
Balfour was eventually released this week, but his sister's question isn't entirely out of line. While the war on terrorism has made traveling more perilous, the perils have taken odd shapes and forms, especially in the Middle-East, where Canadians could be forgiven for thinking it's open season on those bearing the maple-leaf.
With times like these, soon Canadians won't have to be asked not to smile on their passport photos, as is presently the case under a strict new government guideline that promises a mugshot in every document. Nobody will feel like smiling.


 

SECTAIRE ET SANGLANT
Assassinat d'un chef spirituel musulman à Najaf en Irak, double attentat à Bombay attribué aux islamistes, ces attaques à la bombe piégée semblent poursuivre d'anciennes rivalités sectaires par d'autres moyens, plus dévastateurs. Dans les deux cas, l'intervention d'une filière internationale n'est pas à douter selon les autorités.
L'attentat en Inde le 25 août, survenu le lendemain de la publication d'une étude démontrant qu'un temple indou ait pu exister sur l'ancien site de la très controversée mosquée d'Ayodhya, aurait fait usage d'un genre d'explosif, le RDX, introuvable localement. "On peut dire sans risque qu'il y a eu une aide extérieure", déclarait le chef adjoint de la police de Bombay trois jours après l'attentat qui a fait une cinquantaine de morts dans la capitale commerciale du pays.
Comme l'attaque de l'immeuble du parlement à New Delhi en 2001, cette attaque a été attribuée à des groupes venus du Pakistan et soutenus par le régime lors d'une période de relative accalmie entre les deux rivaux nucléaires du sous-continent asiatique. Cette semaine, quatre suspects de confession musulmane soupçonnés d'avoir des liens avec un mouvement panislamiste du Pakistan, le Lashkar-e-Taiba, étaient inculpés par la police indienne. Les explosions surviennent lors d'une période de recrudescence de la violence au Cachemire, faisant 20 morts en quelques jours.
En Irak l'attaque au véhicule piégé contre la mosquée de l'imam Ali dans la ville sainte de Najaf, tuant le haut dignitaire chiite Baqr-al-Hakim, a porté un coup non moins sanglant au processus de stabilisation irakien, faisant environ 100 autres victimes et lançant une série de manifestations contre l'administrateur américain, sensé assurer la stabilité dans le pays et protéger cette minorité chiite tout récemment émancipée.
Les premiers soupçons ont été portés contre les anciens du régime bassiste, des sunnites, mais l'ampleur de la déflagration laisse également penser à une participation de groupes liés à la mouvance islamiste internationale. Lors d'un message télévisé, Saddam Hussein a bien clamé son innocence face à cet acte. Les division chiites sont aussi soupçonnées. Pourtant l'hypothèse d'une collaboration entre des fidèles de Saddam et des disciples de ben Laden reste la plus courante. Quelques jours après l'attaque du 29 août, l'arrestation de deux fidèles de l'ancien régime et de deux Saoudiens qui auraient avoué que l'explosif serait le même que lors de l'attentat contre l'ONU dix jours plus tôt, semble confirmer cette piste.
L'attaque a rappelé de mauvais souvenirs à une population abandonnée à son sort par les Etats-Unis après la première guerre du Golfe, eux qui sont depuis incapables d'empêcher des attaques de plus en plus sanglantes contre des cibles vulnérables car civiles. Les Américains voyaient en al-Hakim d'ailleurs un des chefs religieux, bien que sceptique à l'origine, les plus engagés à soutenir leurs efforts de normalisation. Un terme qui peut paraître utopique de ces jours.
En effet depuis la fin de la guerre, Bagdad est devenue la capitale la plus meurtrière de la planête. Mais l'attentat de Najaf vient apporter la violence dans une région du pays qui avait jusque là été épargnée des conflits sanglants d'après-guerre. A présent plus de GIs sont morts depuis la fin officielle des combats, le 1er mai, que durant la guerre elle-même.
La multiplication des engagements américains à l'étranger, dans des coins encore chauds comme la ligne de démarcation des Corées et l'Afghanistan, ainsi que l'hostilité grandissante des Irakiens pour les GIs, pousse Washington à chercher à élargir le rôle de l'ONU en Irak, pourvu que le commandement reste américain; ce qui ne convient pas à certains membres du Conseil de sécurité. Le Conseil national qui doit progressivement assurer la gestion irakienne du pays forme peu à peu son gouvernement de transition et a nommé son ministre de l'intérieur afin d'accélérer le transfert du pouvoir aux mains des Irakiens.
Mais les attentats ont l'effet inverse de ralentir la transition, en raison de l'incertitude, et de prolonger le règne américain. Alors que des troupes polonaises devaient d'ailleurs prendre le contrôle de la région en question, elle restera sous contrôle GI encore quelques semaines. Ce qui ne plait à personne.



 

FROM BLACKOUT TO BLACK EYE
The following weekend it was hard to tell the cities had just been hit by the worse blackout in North American history, shutting down over 20 power plants in minutes, plunging 50 million people into darkness and sending governors, mayor and premiers screaming for moderate power consumption.
Large electronic bulletin boards and neon signs lit city centres again, from Time Square to Yonge street, making downtown cores a neon kaleidoscope of power madness and insatiable energy gluttony. As soon as they had reappeared in the urban night sky, the stars disappeared, and authorities warned that if consumers and businesses did not moderate their consumption, a new crisis could have its own astronomic consequences.
To get to the point of bringing their citizens in line, the authorities had to stop initial quarrelling amongst one another. American and Canadian governments which exchanged blame regarding the blackout the moment the lights went out reconciled by launching a bi-national inquiry into the blackout of 2003. The agreement was reached after a rare discussion between George W. Bush and Jean Chretien, who realised that for all their political, foreign policy and even trade differences, geography united them, a reality reminded by a shared power grid which had failed miserably near Cleveland, creating a cascading effect which blacked out cities from Detroit to Ottawa within minutes.
While painstakingly restoring power couldn't be done at the flip of a switch, it seemed turning the power off could. Coming at 4:10pm, not long before the height of rush hour, the crash forced people to scramble out of elevators, subway cars and entire highways which had ground to a halt, leaving some New Yorkers to sleep on city side-walks and seek basic necessities like water and food.
Reassuringly light started returning less than 24 hours later and by the following evening, most cities like Toronto, New York, and Ottawa had their power restored. But not entirely. Officials quickly turned their message from one urging patience to moderation. Consumers were asked to unplug major appliances, especially air-conditioners, and governments asked non-essential public servants to stay at home the entire following week.
The blackout had been a sign of the failings of an aging grid, one which required major investments and upkeep. As if making this point, one separately powered region which had learned important lessons and made necessary investments and renovations, Quebec, was able to help the Northeast in its darkest hour. While American leaders blamed the crisis on an online economy running on an antiquated or "Third world" power grid, Quebec's Jean Charest had reassuring words. ``Hydro Quebec is able to power them," said the man who quickly became best friends with New York governor Pataki and NYC mayor Bloomberg.
Quebec's grid operates independently of the Northeast grid which blacked out cities from New York and Cleveland to Ottawa. Along with Texas, Quebec is the only other independently operated grid in North America, a decision it made in 1963 because the distance between generators and stations made building substations too costly. In the hours that followed the blackout, Hydro Quebec supplied 1200 MW to New York, 1000 for New England and another 1100 for Ontario.
It was returning the favor after an ice-storm which had left 3 million people without power in the cold of Winter 1998, some for as long as 35 days. So after Hydro-Québec spent some $1.6 billion to strengthen its distribution network it was able to help its neighbors, west and south. Charest said more sustained upkeep and development was necessary to make sure the same thing didn't happen in Quebec. Just earlier Quebecers were disappointed to find out Hydro Quebec was going to charge them 5% more for power in the years to come. After blackout weekend a few of them may think that's a good thing in the long term.
Investing in the grid seems to be topping the list of priorities in Ontario and the Northeast U.S. Some blame earlier failure to do so on Ontario's on-off approach to privatizing the electricity market, something which didn't look appealing in the light of the California crises. In Washington meanwhile, could the administration's priorities be shifting back inwards, especially with an electoral year looming? If so some interesting parallels are to be drawn with the war on terror. Just as North Americans have come to learn to live under the threat of attack at all time in all places, so they may have to learn to live with habits that include careful energy consumption.
As a new business week started it looked as though the worse, a repeat blackout, remained a threat as Ontarians, still under a state of emergency, consumed close to the 20,000MW made available. At one point one week after the incident the province had to import from Quebec and New York to avoid rotating blackouts, some Ontarians being too eager to return their disrupted lives to normal, especially as temperatures rose anew. The economic cost was notable as it required many industries, especially the car building sector, to remain shut down. The automaker DaimlerChrysler shut an assembly plant and two research laboratories in Windsor, while General Motors canceled a shift in that city, costing the region millions of dollars in lost payrolls and production.
The costs and losses added to a dreadful annual tab for the cursed city of Toronto, making international headlines like rarely before but for all the wrong reasons. After SARS and mad cow, Canada's metropolis was wrestling with a new crisis sure to hurt the national bottom line and a suffering tourism industry just recently wooed by a Rolling Stones concert drawing some 500,000 fans. So far the Ontario government says its economy suffered losses totalling half a billion dollars.It may not have been a worse-case scenario, a terror attack which was dismissed in the first hours of the crisis, but with all this, it sure felt that way.


 

LA FRANCE COMPTE SES MORTS
Pour la pollution il y a bien l'alerte orange, mais cet été lorsque les aînés tombaient par centaines au coeur de la canicule qui s'est emparée de la France, des jours ont passé avant de sonner l'alarme. Un gouvernement français qui pensait avoir au moins les vacances pour se remettre de séries de grèves importantes contre son projet de réformes de retraite a dû lancer sa cellule de crise avec la démission du directeur général de la santé Lucien Abenhaïm.
Le ministre de la Santé Jean-François Mattei a dit apprendre que son directeur général n'avait pas pris note de la "surmortalité" causée par la canicule, qui pourrait atteindre les 10 000 victimes, après avoir constaté que «d'un côté j'avais un message provenant de la Direction générale de la santé qui me disait que la situation était maîtrisée et que, de l'autre, j'avais des lignes directes aux urgences des hôpitaux et la directrice générale de l'Assistance publique qui me disaient que la situation était vraiment intenable.»
Pourtant le gouvernement a vite souligné que la responsabilité ne se limitait pas aux instances publiques, qui ferment d'habitude des sections entières d'hôpitaux pendant les vacances, mais est partagée avec une population moins attentive à l'égard de ses aînés pendant la saison estivale. Les décès sont après tout survenus en grande partie hors des hôpitaux, se défendait le premier ministre Raffarin, pour qui la négligence des familles était également responsable de cet état d'alerte. Ancien ministre de la Santé, Bernard Kouchner, fondateur de Docteurs Sans Frontières, était tout à fait à l'aise avec ces arguments: "Il faut s'occuper des personnes âgées, dit-il, nous sommes tous coupables dans une certaine mesure".
La canicule a apporté des températures allant au-delà des 40 degrés, battant des records de chaleur dans plusieurs régions d'Europe, dont celle de Londres, mais c'est en France où les victimes ont été les plus nombreuses, grimpant dans les quatre chiffres par rapport aux centaines de victimes enregistrées en Italie et en Espagne, des pays certainement plus habitués à ce genre d'excès de chaleur. Ce n'est qu'après qu'un grand nombre de victimes ait été enregistré, que le premier ministre a décrété l'état d'urgence pour rappeler les fonctionnaires du bord des plages; ce qui fait dire qu'il manque en France un système d'alarme pour pouvoir prévenir ce genre de crise.
La démission du Dr. Abenhaïm survient 11 jours après les premiers signes d'anormalité. En effet les patients victimes d'hyperthermie commencent à affluer dans les hôpitaux à travers la France le 7 août. Le 10, la Direction générale de la santé nie qu'il y ait eu 50 victimes et estime que les «difficultés rencontrées sont comparables aux années antérieures, en dehors de cas ponctuels». Quelques jours plus tard la gravité de la situation parait de plus en plus évidente. L'Institut de veille sanitaire établit le nombre de morts à près de 200 à Paris pour cette seule journée.
Deux jours plus tard l'armée et la Croix-Rouge se préparent à venir en aide aux services d'urgence débordés puisqu'avec près de 250 morts cette seule journée l'épidémie touche à son comble. Les horaires des cimetières sont alors étendus pour accélérer les inhumations. Bientôt un plan d'urgence pour réorganiser les services hospitaliers est étendu à la France entière, la gravité de la situation n'est alors plus en doute et la rentrée estivale, comme le début des vendanges, a lieu plus tôt que prévu, tandis que l'automne s'annonce politiquement chaud.
De retour de vacances, un premier conseil des ministres prévoit d'ailleurs l'approbation d'un projet de loi consacré à l'organisation des hôpitaux, un hasard puisque l'agenda avait été fixé bien avant la crise. La rentrée risque d'être chaude pour le chef de l'Etat également, le président Jacques Chirac, n'ayant pas écourté ses vacances au Québec pour s'adresser à ces concitoyens, un fait qui n'est pas passe inaperçu par ses opposants. "Bush s'est adressé aux Américains alors que l'énorme panne d'électricité qui a touché New York n'a fait qu'un seul mort (deux à Ottawa), soulignait le président des Verts. Chirac, lui, face à une surmortalité de 3 000 a 5 000 décès, n'a même pas dit un mot."
Lors d'un passage à Shawinigan pour y visiter un musée en présence de Jean Chrétien, Chirac avait pourtant exprimé sa tristesse par rapport aux feux qui ravageaient l'ouest du pays, estimant qu'il s'agissait d'un phénomène de réchauffement terrestre qui touche la planête entière et qui constitue un défi important pour l'avenir. "Je voudrais exprimer une solidarité totale avec toutes les victimes, directes ou indirectes, et à tous ceux qui contribuent à lutter avec un courage et une détermination formidables contre les incendies, que ce soit au Canada, notamment en Colombie-Britannique, ou que ce soit en Europe, et notamment en France ou au Portugal", avait déclaré Chirac.
Même si une déclaration similaire n'a pas été faite immédiatement par rapport aux décès en France, l'Elysée soulignait le 14 août que Chirac "suit précisément l'évolution de la situation et les mesures que le gouvernement prend pour y faire face". On a pu noter un détachement similaire par le premier ministre canadien par rapport aux pannes électriques en Ontario, les deux dirigeants séjournant à l'extérieur des régions respectives touchées.
Lors de son premier discours officiel sur la question, Chirac a demandé que "soient analysées en profondeur" les causes de la crise, mais déjà la rentrée a fait monter la température à sa façon dans l'arène publique, au sein de laquelle on demande "une solidarité plus forte".


 

THE CHURCH'S NEW CRISIS
One year after the Christian church was rocked by a series of scandals from which it has hardly recovered, it is wrestling with a divisive matter which touches different denominations. Indeed while the Vatican has condemned governments pushing the recognition of gay marriages and encouraged priests to sermon against it in mass, the Anglican church is facing a major schism some say, following the election of gay Reverend Gene Robinson by bishops of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 80-million strong global Anglican Communion.
Now some more traditionalist Anglican communities are threatening to break from the U.S. church, especially in Africa, where homosexuality is widely scorned. In Asia opposition is just as fierce, and bishops say they may meet soon to discuss cutting ties with the 3.2 million members of the U.S. Episcopal Church: "Practicing homosexuality is culturally and legally not acceptable here," Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, leader of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia told The AP.
Could the parting shot have come from Ottawa? A summer recess called soon after Canada stepped towards recognizing gay unions, the third country to do so, has turned into a noisy and conflict-ridden period marked by presidential condemnation and threats falling just short of ex-communication.
One bishop said prime minister Jean Chrétien, a Catholic, could burn in hell for allowing same-sex marriages. Bishop Fred Henry was unrepentant after saying "I pray for the Prime Minister because I think his eternal salvation is in jeopardy."
South of the border, the U.S. president, in a rare press conference, condemned gay marriages using wording that leaves no question where the administration stands on the issue. "I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other," Bush told reporters at a White House press conference.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration was unwavering on the issue. "This is a principle he will not compromise on," he told reporters, adding that Bush believes marriage is a "sacred institution between a man and a woman, and he will defend this institution."
Even potential Democratic presidential candidate and Senate leader Tom Daschle backed Bush, telling a press conference he opposes moves in Congress to amend the US Constitution to enshrine the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.
A month after the US Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling knocking down laws that banned gay sex in 13 states, including Florida and Texas, the American public is divided on recognition of gay unions, while in Canada support has been slowly slipping since the government handed the issue to the Supreme Court.
Soon after Robinson's confirmation, the Episcopal church even broached the matter of gay marriages, tolerated within some of its parishes, including Robinson's home state of New Hampshire. The House of Bishops voted to reject a proposal to draft an official liturgy for the ceremonies, but overwhelmingly approved a document saying: "We recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions."
The confirmation of Reverend Robinson alone however constituted another landmark ruling for gays he hoped would be "the first very big step" to the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. But others predicted trouble ahead.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned of "difficult days" ahead and admitted it would have a significant impact on the Church worldwide. "It is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response," he said, calling for a rare summit of Anglicans on the matter.
Robinson's partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew, attended the turbulent confirmation process - which was suspended briefly so church elders could investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, of which he was cleared. Considered an attempt to discredit Robinson by supporters, the allegations were a painful reminder of the troubles the church has had to fend off in the last year. And some of them are far from simply going away.
Last week CBS News produced a scathing document from the Vatican's secretive archives which it said supported a policy of pushing reports of sexual misconduct under the rug, by penalty of ex-communication. The policy was written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and focuses on the "worst crime": sexual assault committed by a priest" or "attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals." Bishops are instructed to pursue these cases "in the most secretive way...restrained by a perpetual silence...and everyone {including the alleged victim) ...is to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office...under the penalty of excommunication."
Larry Drivon, a lawyer who represents alleged victims, said the text constitutes proof he had been looking for. "This document is significant because it's a blueprint for deception," he says, calling it "an instruction manual on how to deceive and how to protect pedophiles."
But clergymen are saying it is taken out of context. "The idea that this is some sort of blueprint to keep this secret is simply wrong," said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the the U.S. Conference of Bishops. "This is a system of law which is complete in itself and is not telling the bishops in any way about how to handle these crimes when they are considered as civil crimes." But a former priest who has written about sex abuse and secrecy in the church, Richard Sipe, says the document is at very least damning. "This is the code for how you must deal with sex by priests. You keep it secret at all costs."
Canadian gay MP Svend Robinson says the church is no more the right institution to pass judgement on gay marriage after its year of scandals. Last week the Boston catholic archdioses offered $55 million to settle claims of sexual abuse. In a year SARS made church communion rites dangerous, tests of faith abound.


 

QUATRE ANS DE TERRORISME TCHÉTCHÈNE
Par moments, de sanglants éclats rappellent l'incapacité de Moscou d'en finir avec le conflit tchétchène, soit militairement, soit politiquement.
L'automne dernier, la saisie d'otages spectaculaire dans un théâtre de Moscou avait constitué l'opération rebelle la plus osée dans la capitale. A la fin du compte, le nombre de victimes, 129, faisait état de la virulence des moyens de rescousse utilisés par les autorités russes, le gaz, plutôt que la barbarie des attaquants.
Cet été, la mort de 15 Russes assistant à un concert rock extérieur de Moscou se devait entièrement à la tactique employée par les Tchétchènes, l'attaque suicide portant à nouveau un coup sanglant à la capitale.
Puis dernièrement, les victimes étaient plus nombreuses et militaires après l'écrasement d'un camion bourré d'explosifs contre un hopital militaire russe d'Ossétie du Nord, à dix kilomètres de la frontière tchétchène; un dernier démenti aux assurances de Moscou, qui affirme contrôler la situation dans la république autonomne. L'attaque n'était pas moins osée puisqu'elle survenait au coeur d'une cité militaire hautement fortifiée et sécurisée.
La Russie poursuit donc toujours sa propre guerre au terrorisme pour une 4ème année, alors-même que le président Vladimir Poutine, élu pour régler le conflit par tous les moyens nécessaires, affirme que la situation se stabilise, à deux mois d'une élection présidentielle presque forcée en Tchétchénie.
En mars, Moscou avait fait adopter par les Tchétchènes un référendum constitutionnel scellant le retour de leur République dans le giron russe, comme pour imposer un processus démocratique avec une main de fer. Voilà qui a l'air d'avoir peu d'effet sur le terrain dans cette région de la fédération russe où les troupes ont fait leur entrée il y a presque dix ans pour combattre le séparatisme tchétchène.
En fait les attaques ont l'air de se multiplier. En mai un autre attentat au camion suicide a fait 72 victimes, et une femme kamikaze couverte d'explosifs a causé la mort de 18 autres personnes lors d'une opération séparée. Aussi la semaine dernière 19 policiers tchétchènes et soldats russes ont connu la mort lors d'attaques multiples dans la région d'Argun.
Tout cela constitue donc une normalité qui donne au vote à venir un côté de douce folie électorale. Les Russes n'ont plus d'appétit pour ce conflit responsable de 100 000 morts. Alors que 64% d'entre eux appuyaient un retour des troupes en Tchétchénie après une série d'attentats sanglants dans les complexes appartement à Moscou en 1999, autant le rejettent dans la capitale de nos jours.
Près de la place Pouchkine ils sont bien une vingtaine à se promener chaque jour avec des pancartes exigeant la "fin à la guerre". Ce n'est pas grand chose, mais pour une Russie sinon indifférente, ce n'est pas rien. Plus loin la place Rouge frustre les touristes depuis sa fermeture pour 'raison de travaux' qui en fait est une mesure symbolique contre le terrorisme.
Il est dur d'estimer si les attaques récentes ont l'effet d'encourager les appels à la paix ou redoublent les appels à la guerre, mais elles sauront peser sur les élections russes qui pointent à l'horizon, soit les législatives de décembre et présidentielles de mars.


 

LE TEMPS DE PRENDRE DE L'AIR
Cloîtrés chez eux pendant des mois à cause de la crise du SRAS, les hongkongais sont descendus dans la rue en grand nombre juste à temps, en juillet, pour marquer leur opposition à un projet de loi "sécuritaire" remettant en cause leurs libertés.
Les manifs ne sont rien de nouveau dans cette bulle de démocratie que Beijing a un demi-siècle à digérer, mais des mouvements comme ça, ça ne s'est pas vu depuis Tian An Men. Leur portée a d'ailleurs été stupéfiante dans le genre puisqu'elle a conduit au départ de deux des principaux ministres du contesté chef de l'exécutif, Tung Chee-hwa. Celui-ci n'a pas perdu de temps à puiser conseil à Beijing, sous prétexte d'y parler économie.
Voilà qui était sans doute une bonne idée puisque Hong Kong se distingue toujours de la grande Chine non seulement avec son système particulier, mais sa croissance inexistante et son taux de chômage grimpant. Mais la démission du chef de sécurité Regina Ip, qui avait fait campagne pour cette loi qui exigeait la plus grande priorité, l'Article 23, et d'Antony Leung, secrétaire financier, ne laissait pas de doute quant à la teneur des discussions.
Tung n'a eu que le temps d'affirmer qu'il ne quitterait pas son poste, dont le mandat a été renouvelé à huis clos l'an dernier, mais plusieurs doutent qu'il ne porte son prochain mandat à terme, une gifle on ne pourrait plus insultante pour Beijing. Puis c'était au tour du chef du parti libéral de quitter, James Tien; sans ce parti le passage de toute loi devient techniquement plus compliqué dans le conseil législatif.
L'appui de M. Tung est à son plus bas à la fois dans le territoire - où la Basic Law pourrait permettre à la population d'élire son propre chef exécutif dans quelques années - et Beijing, déjà insatisfaite de sa gestion à la fois de la crise du SRAS et de l'économie, la seconde étant nullement aidée par la première.
Mais le renvoi de Tung, ou la victoire de la rue, pourrait propager une contagion plus importante que celle qui a emporté des centaines de vies lors des derniers mois: une contagion démocratique qui pourrait surpasser celle de 1989. Du moins dans la province avoisinante de Guangdong, ironiquement, le point d'origine de la crise du SRAS.
Encore à l'intérieur des zones hertziennes qui permettent de capter les postes indépendants de Hong Kong, les citoyens des villes comme Guangzhou peuvent suivre au compte goutte et sans censure les développements de l'autre côté de la frontière la plus achalandée de la planête. Certains y tiennent d'ailleurs des propos non moins que révolutionnaires: "Hong Kong est une société libre où les gens peuvent exprimer leur point de vue librement, confiait un joaillier au New York Times, ici les gens gardent tout à l'intérieur, mais à un moment donné ça pourrait faire éruption comme un volcan". Un autre industriel se livre: "A Hong Kong, les gens disent tout haut le genre de chose qu'on voudrait bien dire ici, si on avait l'occasion."
Ce que demandent les hongkongais est bien plus que le rejet d'une loi rigoureuse, mais une réforme démocratique complète, en commençant par le rejet d'une administration imposée, qui en plus de faire la loi de Beijing, est économiquement inepte. Dans la rue les deux plaintes peuvent se confondre, mais c'est seulement parce que depuis 1997, administration non-élue et anémie économique se confondent également.
"Nous avons droit à un meilleur gouvernement, faut-il endurer 10 autres années comme ça?" demande le directeur de la Fondation démocratique de Hong Kong, Alan Lung, au magazine Review. Hélas cela ne fait que six ans que la colonie a été transférée à la Chine et que les marchés se sont écroulés, mais le temps peut paraitre bien long depuis. Si bien que la cité des gratte-ciel et du business, la porte de commerciale de l'Asie, recrute de plus en plus d'activistes et de manifestants: 500 000 dans les rues le premier juillet pour marquer l'anniversaire de la "région administrative spéciale" en 1997 (ou SRAS sans le premier "S")
"Nous sommes sensés avoir plus de démocratie en 2007, mais d'où viendra-t-elle" demande-t-on en citant la date qui doit signaler le passage au suffrage universel. Mais, patience, selon ce calendrier la moitié du conseil législatif sera élue directement l'an prochain. Dans le sens où vont les choses, Beijing risque de trouver les quatre prochaines années plus longues que les six premières.


 

AVANT L'AXE DU MAL, LE LIBÉRIA?
Situation de crise exigeant des troupes françaises en répu-blique Centrafricaine, en Côte d'Ivoire et au Congo, des troupes britanniques au Sierra Leone, tentative de putsch en Mauritanie ou menaces rebelles au Libéria et au Burundi... dix ans après le dernier engagement militaire américain en Afrique on ne peut pas dire que l'accueil y soit plus chaleureux. C'est d'ailleurs ce sentiment de crise qui fait que la présence américaine soit en demande, notamment dans ce pays bâti par des esclaves américains affranchis, vingt ans avant la confédération canadienne, le Libéria.
Cette destination ouest-africaine n'était pas sur l'agenda du président américain lors de sa tournée africaine de cinq pays, mais elle était au coeur des préoccupations, alors que des experts de l'armée américaine étaient dépêchés à Monrovia - du nom du président américain James Monroe - pour faire un estimé du besoin militaire sur le terrain.
Quelques heures plus tôt, l'homme fort du Libéria, Charles Taylor, avait confirmé qu'il pensait très sérieusement à s'exiler au Nigéria, mais seulement les GIs une fois sur le sol libérien, vu les rebelles aux portes de la capitale. Il semble à première vue de l'exemple de changement de régime le moins difficile depuis l'adoption de cette doctrine dans l'après 11 sept. Mais les rebelles qui menacent la capitale promettent de s'en prendre aux GIs s'ils foulent le sol libérien avant le départ de Taylor. Et celui-ci, qui a été inculpé de crimes de guerre et contre l'humanité, parle aussi d'effectuer un éventuel retour, la situation une fois calmée, ce qu'exclut Washington qui n'hésite plus à le comparer à Saddam Hussein.
La rue cependant ne cache pas son appui à une présence armée américaine, qui serait la première en Afrique depuis les incidents de Somalie qui ont fait battre les GIs en retraite et causé Washington par la suite de fermer les yeux sur le génocide Rwandais. Presque dix ans plus tard, la femme de l'ancien president Bill Clinton, la sénatrice Hillary, écrit dans son dernier livre qu'il s'agissait là d'une erreur à propos de laquelle elle ressentait un "profond regret". A
lors que le général canadien Maurice Baril fait naitre des espoirs de paix face à la menace qui pèse toujours dans la région des Grands Lacs et du nord-est du Congo, les Etats-Unis semblent plus que jamais prêts à intervenir en Afrique, passant pour une fois à l'acte dans une région du monde où ils déclaraient autrefois avoir peu d' "intérêt stratégiques".
La possibilité d'à nouveau envoyer des troupes à l'étranger divise le Congrès, qui pourrait procéder à un vote sur la question. Alors que des soldats américains sont toujours sous les feux en Afghanistan et en Irak, Bush semblait plus à l'aise de contourner la question, du moins géographiquement, en incluant dans son voyage des destinations moins intempestives, comme le Sénégal, le Botswana et l'Afrique du sud. Le Nigéria et l'Ouganda, également sur l'agenda, sont nettement moins paisibles, mais devenus de grands alliés américains, le premier baignant dans le pétrole.
Les conflits armés ne monopolisaient pas l'agenda de la tournée puisque d'autres menaces, la maladie - dont le SIDA - et la famine, font plus de victimes chaque année que les guerres. Il s'agissait de la première visite en Afrique d'un président américain depuis celle de Clinton en 1998, l'année qui avait été marquée par les attentats des ambassades au Kenya et en Tanzanie et qui avait mis ben Laden sur toutes les lèvres.
Toute intervention militaire américaine sur le continent a également la double mission de développer les ressources de renseignement pour traquer le réseau al-Qaida. Bien avant de s'embarquer pour l'Afrique Bush avait d'ailleurs dévoilé un plan anti-terroriste de 100 millions de dollars pour renforcer les mesures de sécurité entre autre aux aéroports au Kenya, en Ethiopie, en Ouganda et en Tanzanie. L'an dernier, une autre attaque terroriste au Kenya, faisant des victimes israéliennes, avait été attribuée à al-Qaida.
En détaillant son ambitueux agenda sur l'Afrique, quelques mois après un agenda tout aussi ambitieux sur le Moyen-Orient, Bush a également parlé du besoin de changement de régime au Zimbabwe, et de l'envoi d'émissaires pour régler la guerre civile au Soudan. Une longue liste, destinée à éviter que se répande le réseau al-Qaida dans la région, pour un président qui a déjà parlé de l'Afrique à titre de "pays".
Lors du G8 au Canada l'an dernier Bush avait tout fait pour réduire la place de l'ambitieux agenda sur l'Afrique préparé par l'hôte Jean Chrétien, en faveur de discussions sur le Moyen-orient. Mais les sujets alors abordés, comme le commerce préférentiel avec les pays faisant des efforts de développement, ont pourtant refait surface lors de cette visite.
Alors que les discours préparatoires laissaient croire à un nouvel agenda africain, Bush souligne cependant que toute intervention américaine sera somme toute limitée, notamment au soutien, alors que les pays africains sont eux-mêmes encouragés à mettre fin aux crises qui frappent le continent. Ce que souhaite également le Secrétaire-général de l'ONU, Kofi Annan - lui-même Africain - selon une récente déclaration.
Ainsi au Libéria, toute intervention aurait nécessairement lieu avec l'aval de l'ONU, que recherche cette fois les Etats-Unis en Afrique autant qu'en Irak, et serait formée principalement de contingents de pays africains.
Engagement limité mais tournée rare tout de même pour Bush, qui la veille d'une année électorale songeait sans doute également à faire mieux que 10% des intentions de vote auprès de la population noire lorsqu'il se présentera à nouveau pour la présidence l'an prochain.


 

GAMES BACK IN CANADA!
"It feels great. We just won the first gold medal of the 2010 Games," said Gordon Campbell, premier of British Columbia following the announcement Vancouver won the bid to host the 2010 Winter Games. An interesting statement considering Canada has yet to win a single gold at the Games it has hosted. An afterthought now, this will be a hurdle to over-come when the Maple leaf-clad athletes enter BC Place during the opening ceremonies on Feb. 5, 2010.
In the mean time it was another victory for our beloved Captain Canada, Wayne Gretzky, who after having helped Canada win Olympic gold in hockey for the first time in 50 years in 2002 - an event Quebec city had competed to host - said that what the IOC decision did to the city and the country was immeasurable. In a language only a true Canadian could understand, 99 went on: "As Jari Kurri, who is now an IOC member, told me, he was the 54th vote. I feel like I'm always feeding him the puck."
Gretzky's presence was important to the bid, as one IOC member from Australia noted that while ice hockey is little known down under, the name Gretzky is well established. A trick quickly turning old but still obviously successful, a Canadian loonie had been planted in a flower pot in the meeting room where the vote took place, emulating the mystique of the Salt Lake city hockey gold medals and this year's gold at the World championships.
For Canada this means the Games, the second Winter edition - appropriate for a country of snow and ice - stay out West, and may not return out East for awhile. It may have killed a 2012 Toronto bid for the Summer games, let alone a floated joint Winter bid between Montreal and upper NY state. But the third Games in Canada, after the drought of the 1990s, means the country is back on the map, probably with the help of a little European strategy which should land the old continent the Games in the Summer of 2012, in which five European cities are competing. That venue will be determined in two years.
Noticeably this time, the underdog among the three cities won the first round ballot of the 133 IOC members 51 to Vancouver's 40: Pyeongchang surprised, and so did the early elimination of Salzburg. But in the second round ballott the Euro vote went massively to Vancouver, edging South Korea 56-53, to the dismay of fans still feeling the glow of last year's successful World Cup co-hosting with Japan.
The news there was welcomed with gloom but some hope the Asian city, which hardly registered on the Winter Games map, could be a contender again in the near future. Vancouver's bid was also met with disappointment by the minority of opponents who say Canada could better spend its billions helping the under-privileged rather than hosting an international event, but they were hard to find on the day of the announcement as cheering Vancouverites spilled into the city as if to celebrate the Stanley Cup that got away in 1994, minus the riot.
One reason to cheer is also that Heritage minister Sheila Copps wasted no time announcing she would seek extra funding for amateur sport within weeks, perhaps a first crucial steps to put a Canadian athlete on the top of the podium at its own games for the first time. That's a sign of things to come.
Organizers and their sponsors will need a lot of money, especially for infrastructure improvements that include linking the two cities of the bid, Vancouver and Whistler. The Calgary Games may have been a financial success, the spectre of Montreal, which still carries in its books what it initially thought its Games would cost, some $120 million (which turned into $1.2 billion), still lingers like a bitter aftertaste. But if one is to believe the prime minister, lessons have indeed been learned since.


 

IRAN SOUS SURVEILLANCE
Leurs gestes fendent l'air, ils promettent de poursuivre la lutte, mais les manifestants savent que la dernière bataille contre le gouvernement a été perdue. Tandis que les Français, furieux des réformes des retraites de leur gouvernement, promettent de remettre leurs manifestations massives à l'automne, les étudiants de Téhéran, bien plus modestes dans leurs nombres, sentent que le mouvement de protestation contre le régime religieux, qui à l'origine contestait la privatisation des universités, s'est essoufflé après l'arrestation de centaines de leurs confrères.
Il faut dire que sous ce régime de fer où même les politiciens réformistes ont peur de se prononcer, l'invective avait fendu l'air, appelant à la fin du régime, sinon la mort, de l'ayatollah Khamenei, chef spirituel et incontestable de la république Islamique. Lors de leurs nombreuses nuitées de manifestation, au courant desquelles ils tombaient proie aux miliciens islamistes du régime - armés de chaines et de barres de fer -, les manifestants ont également critiqué Khatami, disant avoir été trahis par le président, un réformiste qui ne parait plus être le Gorbatchev perse célèbre d'il y a six ans.  
Le régime a sans faute résisté à cette dernière ronde, mais il sait qu'il y en aura d'autres, dans un pays où une part majoritaire de la population a moins de 25 ans, où plusieurs sont pauvres et sans emploi, et où la plebe féminine n'est pas sur un pied d'égalité avec les hommes. Fait d'une extrême rareté, 248 personnalités ont même défendu les droits des Iraniens à critiquer, dans une lettre publiée la semaine dernière déclarant: "Le peuple a le droit de superviser entièrement l'action de ses dirigeants, de les conseiller, de les critiquer, de les faire démissionner s'il n'est pas content d'eux. Exercer du fait de sa position un pouvoir divin et absolu... et inspirer la peur aux gens, est une hérésie envers Dieu et opprime la dignité humaine".
Les manifestants ont l'intention de tenir le coup et promettent de marquer, malgré les avertissements du régime, le quatrième anniversaire de l'intervention de la police et des milices le 9 juillet 1999 sur un campus, qui s'était soldée par la mort d'un étudiant de une vingtaine de blessés. A son tour cette attaque avait donné lieu aux plus grandes manifestations depuis le renversement du pouvoir du Cha en 1979.
Les arrestations massives plus récentes, et la fermeture des universités avant les examens de fin d'année, veulent tuer dans l'oeuf tout mouvement de contestation important en juillet, et viennent à un moment où Téhéran fait l'objet de nombreux reproches de l'extérieur, notamment de Washington, qui accuse le régime de vouloir se procurer l'arme atomique. Le président Bush a également fait connaitre son soutien aux manifestations, chose qui a été condamnée à titre d'ingérence par Téhéran.
Certains étudiants, interrogés par les autorités suite à leur arrestation, auraient d'ailleurs été questionnés sur ce qu'ils feraient si les Etats-Unis attaquaient l'Iran, un des trois pays de l' "axe du mal" de Washington. Alors que certains politiciens réformistes disent appuyer les étudiants, dont quatre parlementaires qui ont manifesté contre les arrestations le weekend-end dernier, ils dénoncent à leur tour toute intervention américaine dans le débat.
Le climat actuel tendu avec Washington semble également avoir écourté le flirt diplomatique qui plus tôt cette année laissait croite à l'éventualité de créer des liens diplomatiques entre les deux pays. Il faut dire que Washington ne fait pas de grande distinction entre Khamenei et Khatami, et les ambitions nucléaires de Téhéran ont sonné l'alarme, surtout après le rejet des autorités iraniennes de l'appel européen à une surveillance plus rigoureuse des inspections. Mais la menace américaine, et l'appel de certains politiciens américains au changement de régime à Téhéran, est parvenue à unir dans une certaine mesure des Iraniens de tendances parfois opposées.
La crainte n'est pas exagérée puisque selon un sondage récent 56% des Américains interrogés se disaient favorables à une intervention militaire en Iran pour empêcher ce pays d'acquérir la bombe nucléaire. Pendant ce temps, l'arrestation de centaines de membres d'un groupe moujahidine basé à Paris a créé des manifestations dans la capitale française de la part de la diaspora iranienne, qui rejette tout lien entre l'organisation et le terrorisme.
Certains manifestants, dont une canadienne qui a succombé à ses brûlures, se sont même immolés dans le feu en guise de protestation contre les autorités françaises, qui accusent le groupe de vouloir s'en prendre aux intérêts des autorités iraniennes en Europe. Etant donné la contestation interne et externe, Téhéran n'a pas manqué de considérer ce geste comme un appui du gouvernement français.


 

THE NEW MATRIMONY
"In my case, it doesn't make that much of a difference," joked Laurent McCutcheon following a landmark June 10 Ontario court decision. But in reality the president of the Fondation Emergence de Gaie Ecoute in Montreal had great difficulty concealing his enthusiasm as a provincial judge overturned the ban on gay marriage. In the 32nd year of a same-sex relationship, and having closely followed legal developments for years, McCutcheon knew the provincial decision would have national repercussions.
The next day couples all over Canada's largest province were lining up to put to paper a marital status until now denied in Canada. One week later, the federal government decided it would not appeal the court decision, opening the way to the legalization of gay marriages and making Canada only the third country, following the Netherlands and Belgium, to do so.
In McCutcheon's Quebec, one of the country's more liberal provinces where the government had exactly one year earlier recognised a third social status, that of civil union, the recent decision puts to rest a division within the gay community which opposed those who embraced the new status to those who criticized it as coming clearly short of marriage.
Last year a Pointe Claire couple, Roger Thibault, 56, and Theo Wouters, 60, became the first to take advantage of Quebec's new Civil Union Act by signing the register of a Montreal courthouse and exchanging rings during a brief ceremony. The latest ruling, specifically that "same-sex couples are capable of forming long, lasting, loving and intimate relationships" was the next logical step and made front page news in the U.S., which with the decriminalization of marijuana also in the works could soon feel all roads north point to Amsterdam, and that eventually euthanasia will follow next.
In an editorial, the New York Times lauded the legislation. "Canada's choice of a clean break with the past is a stirring moment," it wrote, noting that "In contrast to Canadian jurists, our Supreme Court is only now considering a ban on the antediluvian Texas law criminalizing intimate relations by homosexuals in the privacy of the home."
The lifting of that ban only last week, sparking celebrations in the gay community and outrage in the far-right, was a reminder of the more conservative elements of U.S. society, for whom Canada's decision amounts to a "warning" for the U.S. The decision is not embraced all across Canada however, especially in the West, where Alberta premier Ralph Klein said he would invoke the notwithstanding clause to keep the ban on gay marriages. The conservative tone is clearly noted in the province, where a recent gay pride parade in Edmonton did not get the stamp of approval of the city's mayor.
Nor is the gay community itself unanimous on marriage. The executive director of Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism, John McKellar, called the move by the federal government to legalize same-sex marriage "selfish and rude," and condemned the country's gay community for endorsing it. "Federal and provincial laws are being changed and traditional values are being compromised just to appease a tiny, self-anointed clique," he said, noting only 2-4 percent of Canada's population is gay, and that within that minority only 1 percent is interested in marrying a same-sex partner.
Even the federal Liberals are bitterly divided, becoming unsuspecting trailblazers following a series of court rulings striking down marriage laws in Quebec and B.C. as well as Ontario, which ruled that the exclusion of gays and lesbians unjustifiably violates equality rights. As it turns out one of the year's more controversial and sweeping bits of legislation was allowed to progress rather matter-of-factly. Some could even claim that the federal government has been doing anything but leading on the issue, following the lead of the courts not to ban gay marriages, and then leaving local churches the decision whether to carry on with the ceremonies.
Prime minister Jean Chretien said that in fact he didn't expect to have to deal with same-sex marriage, that the courts only dropped the matter on the government's lap ahead of Summer recess. Ottawa was already preparing its response to the provincial decisions when the ruling in the Ontario Court of Appeal was made public and forced the government to either fight the ruling in court or move to re-write the traditional laws governing matrimony.
Chretien opted to fast-track the decision process. "We don't want there to be a long period of uncertainty," he said. "We want to complete this file and deal with it as quickly as possible, and as soon as we have the reference then the House of Commons will vote." A same-sex marriage bill considering the union of two individuals, regardless of gender, would, despite its suddenness, amount to a substantial legacy for Trudeau's disciple, nearly to the point of becoming Chretien's own notorious omnibus legislation.
Trudeau's 1969 legislation on abortion, while being revolutionary and shaping the famous 'the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation', never broached the subject. In fact the historic view of marriage as a heterosexual institution was thought to be so obvious that it was never explicitly included in federal statutes until recently and only became enshrined in federal law in recent years, including a 2000 bill that extended full federal tax and social benefits to same-sex couples.
If same-sex marriage is indeed carried on the wings of the Canadian Charter, it would make legislation not only historic, but ahead of the times, even compared to the traditionally hip silver screen. This year's Canadian block-buster "Mambo italiano" after all still makes comedy out of the apparent contradiction of being gay in the macho Italian community.
As for McCutcheon, the legalization of gay marriages would bring an important "re-evaluation" of his long-standing relationship he admits. A relationship which, into its fourth decade, already extends beyond the duration of most, currently legal, marriages.


 

TERROR UNITED ITS VICTIMS, OLD AND NEW
Standing next to the world's most powerful man in a Washington visit made possible by her country's close alignment with American foreign policy, Philippines president Gloria Arroyo said that over the last months her country's ties with the U.S. had grown stronger in recognition of the fact that America's war on terror meant Manila didn't have to battle terrorism alone anymore.
The previous week, her country's southern region had been rattled by just the latest attack by Islamic insurgents. The Philippines needn't feel alone. And the same can be said about an increasing amount of countries as a new surge of deadly al-Qaida activity has brought the war home to a number of new countries, and threatens to bring it back home to the United States as well. Perhaps a wake-up call so soon after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last week the U.S. returned its homeland security terror threat level to the second-highest position, "high", or "orange", after increased intelligence chatter and a string of terror attacks overseas. The surge in terror attacks across the world, not all linked to al-Qaida, reached dramatic levels in recent weeks. Two attacks in the Russian region of Chechnya killed scores, while five suicide bombings in Israel in 48 hours threatened the recently touted peace process to the point of making the U.S. administration consider a visit by president George W. Bush to the region necessary.
But most dramatic were attacks in the Arab world, one on a court trying gunmen in Yemen, and two strings of coordinated bombings that made Arab as well as Western victims in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, both killing over 20 people each, not counting the suicide bombers. The terror had touched home in the Arab world, and Saudi Arabia in particular, a country criticized in Washington as not doing its share in the war on terror, and which may have again fallen short.
The bombing of foreign compounds in Riyadh on May 12 closely followed intelligence warnings, specifically urging increased levels of security at one of the targeted compounds. But U.S. officials said Saudi Arabia had once more been slow to respond. Saudi Arabia has been raising concerns in Washington since most of the 9-11 hijackers were found to be Saudis. Five years earlier, Saudi interference in the investigation of the Khobar towers blast in Dhahran had also frustrated U.S. officials who noted poor cooperation by the authorities despite American help defending the kingdom in the 1991 Gulf war. This deterioration seemed to have reached a peak prior to the Riyadh attack, when the U.S. said it was pulling its military out of Saudi Arabia in favor of more cooperative Gulf states.
Now the U.S. hopes the latest attacks will jolt the house of Saud to a new level of cooperation. Already they have noted better cooperation by Saudi officials, without doubt wary of the impact of the blast on their regime. Following the Khobar towers bombing, U.S. investigators were frustrated the Saudis had executed the culprit before a full interrogation. This time officials hope the arrest three Saudis tied to al-Qaida will yield many secrets about the extent of their immediate network.
In Morocco officials feel the same way about the arrest of two of the would-be suicide bombers following the attacks. Moroccan and U.S. officials feel the extent of the attacks point to external involvement, and local authorities wasted no time tying the attacks, which targeted Jewish and Belgian targets, to al-Qaida. A U.S. counterterrorism official said that "there is a strong suspicion" al-Qaida coordinated the Moroccan blasts. While a domestic group is largely suspected to have carried out that attack, all the bombers being Moroccan, it may have developed links to al-Qaida as in the case of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian group blamed for the near-simultaneous bombings at two Bali nightclubs on Oct. 12 of last year.
If this link proves correct, it will mark the highest level of Qaida activity since the 9-11 attacks, a concern as leader Osama bin Laden remains on the run and may have played some part in the Saudi attacks according to reports. The network may be regrouping according to officials citing various efforts to recruit attackers. Leaders and operatives of Al Qaida have reorganized bases of operations in at least a half-dozen locations, including Kenya, Sudan, Pakistan and Chechnya, according to senior U.S. counterterrorism officials.
Others point to Iran, where Qaida operatives responsible for the Saudi attacks may be located, a possibility dreaded by Tehran which is on America's "Axis of evil" list and only too aware of the dramatic changes in Iraq since the toppling to Saddam Hussein's regime.
The end of that regime, and a much publicized address by president Bush from aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California, already seem ages ago. In his speech announcing the end of major military operations in Iraq, Bush declared, "The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide." Even this careful assessment may be off the mark.
If the tide has turned, to some it doesn't seem in America's favor. Its intelligence agencies concede the U.S. is powerless to end "small-scale" attacks such as those seen in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, attacks of limited scale that have nonetheless shattered these countries' innocence. "There may not be much we can do," US officials conceded to CNN. The attacks are smaller but just as devastating, and more widespread geographically. To some this indicates the U.S. and West have been doing a good enough job defending themselves to force al-Qaida operatives to hit soft targets elsewhere, but this isn't reassuring in the least to others who point there is no lack of soft targets, especially in the U.S.
The raising of the terror level in the U.S. may point to increased surveillance, still America was reminded of the limited effectiveness of even the highest state of alert, within the borders of its top Mideast partner, Israel. As soon as Israel was struck by a new series of terror attacks it raised its security level even higher, shutting off the Palestinian territories in an attempt to prevent further attacks, but this did not keep suicide bombers from making three more victims in a shopping mall in northern Israel, a typical soft target. Once again the attack was relatively small-scale, but shattered any sense of security in Israel.
The U.S. and Britain meanwhile temporarily shut their embassies in Saudi Arabia. Britain had come under criticism for cancelling flights to Kenya in an extraordinary effort to avoid terror attacks in a region of Africa some reports had spotted al-Qaida terrorists entering.
Morocco is as close as they've got so far. "We are proud to be a country of tolerance of our people, of foreigners and of the three major religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, that are practiced here," Ahmed Charai, a political analyst and publisher of L'Observateur, told the New York Times. "But we are paying a price for being a friend of the United States."
The Philippines has been paying the price for years but has only increased its military cooperation with the U.S. in its efforts to counter Islamic insurgents in the south. Allies such as Washington and Manila don't necessarily agree on everything and don't have to. Morocco, the site of a recent al-Qaida trial, did not support the war on Iraq itself but is known as a staunch U.S. ally. Other sympathetic governments include Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, the Gulf states, and any administration the U.S. is planning for Iraq. By no means an exhaustive list of potential targets.
The attacks may not deter countries in the war on terror but, as seen in the Mideast, are having a profound impact on policy. Mrs Arroyo reacted to the latest attacks in her country by postponing indefinitely peace talks that had been due to begin on May 9th.
East Africa and parts of south-east Asia have been the subject of U.S. intelligence warnings following the triple suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia which killed seven Americans and other Westerners but also 7 Saudis. Other possible soft targets overseas are many. In the past weeks, the Lebanese army has arrested suspected members of a terrorist network that allegedly planned to assassinate the American ambassador and attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and other western targets.
But if new attacks come home to the U.S. for the first time since 9-11, what intelligence agencies increasingly fear after new al-Qaida threats on tape, it will make it difficult to feel safe anywhere in the world. Already Americans are telling pollsters their fear of future attacks have increased since the war in Iraq, the last time the country was in an orange state of alert.
This is not what most expected after winning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rogue regimes may change, but the vulnerability seems to be here to stay.


 

ACEH, MAUVAIS SOUVENIRS DU TIMOR
Alors que le Timor oriental fête tant bien que mal le premier anniversaire de son indépendance, certains craignent le développement d'un chapitre comparable à celui qui avait causé l'intervention internationale dans l'ancienne colonie portugaise.
L'armée indonésienne poursuivait cette semaine son offensive dans la province séparatiste d'Aceh, avec pour ordre "d'exterminer" les rebelles qui refuseraient de se rendre. Ce genre de langage a fait bondir Amnistie internationale, qui se dit particulièrement préoccupée étant donné la réputation de l'armée indonésienne.
Il s'agit de la plus importante offensive menée par l'Indonésie depuis l'invasion de l'ex-colonie portugaise du Timor oriental, en 1975, au coût initial de 200 millions U$. L'armée, qui a une présence de 28,000 hommes dans la province, a annoncé que son offensive pourrait durer six mois. La loi martiale a aussi été instaurée pour six mois dans cette province.
L'offensive a été lancée quelques heures après l'échec de pourparlers de paix à Tokyo. Jakarta avait alors exigé que le Mouvement Aceh libre (GAM) renonce à son objectif d'indépendance et commence immédiatement à désarmer. Les affrontements à Aceh ont déjà fait plus de 10 000 morts en 26 ans de conflit, en majorité des civils.
La présidente Megawati Sukarnoputri, qui avait regretté l'indépendance du Timor oriental, une nationaliste proche de l'armée, a demandé aux Indonésiens de soutenir l'opération militaire. "J'espère que cette action sera comprise et soutenue par tout le peuple indonésien, y compris ces groupes qui opèrent au nom de la démocratie et des droits de l'Homme", a-t-elle déclaré, le coeur lourd.
La majorité des Indonésiens sont d'accords, mais la brutalité avec laquelle les forces indonésiennes ont parfois traité les séparatistes n'a que renforcé la détermination du GAM. Plusieurs pays regrettent cependant un scénario qui semble familier à celui qui avait noyé le Timor dans le sang il y a cinq ans.
Les Etats-Unis, qui ont encouragé Jakarta à participer aux pourparlers, ont reproché au gouvernement et aux rebelles d'avoir laissé passer "une rare occasion" de paix, après l'échec des pourparlers. Lors de ceux-ci le gouvernement a refusé de parler d'indépendance, ce que cherchaient précisément les séparatistes.
La loi martiale à peine déclarée, les transporteurs Hercules ont procédé aux premiers envois de paras alors qu'une flotte de 15 navires de guerre guettaient la côte de la province du nord-est de l'archipel indonésien. Prises entre les combattants, quelques 180 écoles font déjà les frais de cette guerre après avoir été incendiées.
La province n'en est pas à sa première bataille d'indépendance, but qu'elle recherche depuis la retraite coloniale néerlandaise dans l'après-guerre. Des concessions du régime de Suharto lui ont donné un statut autonome en 1959, ce qui n'a pas satisfait les indépendantistes très longtemps. Le prédécesseur de Sukarnoputri a bien essayé de décentraliser le pays, mais les efforts dans ce sens de la nouvelle administration ont été pour le moins mitigés, victimes de la bureaucratie et la corruption.
La fin des brefs pourparlers indique que Jakarta est désormais déterminée à utiliser la force pour faire régner l'ordre dans cette région éloignée, une solution qui n'a pourtant pas porté fruit au Timor, bataille que l'armée indonésienne a perdu. Selon le chercheur du Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Kusnanto Anggoro, l'armée a une tâche difficile car elle doit gagner la bataille sans totalement tourner la population locale contre elle. Rien que remporter la phase militaire, contre un GAM qui opte pour des tactiques de guérilla, sera difficile pour une armée dont on dit qu'elle est "capable de tout, sauf gagner une guerre".
Au Timor, cette guerre avait divisé milices et populations, plutôt que militaires et rebelles. Mais pour plusieurs le sanglant sac du Timor ne constituait pas un incident strictement isolé, mais plutôt un message d'ensemble destiné aux mouvements séparatistes des autres coins de l'Indonésie, en vue de mettre en quarantaine la contagion indépendantiste qui gagnait déjà l'Aceh, à l'ouest, et l'Irian Jaya au nord, où l'on a fait mention du Timor plutôt à titre de précédent que d'exception. L'archipel aux 17 000 îles semble à nouveau engagé dans la voie de la balkanisation.


 

BRITAIN'S ISLAMISTS
Like the 9-11 hijackers, they were well-educated, Wester- nized and seemingly well integrated. Like shoe-bomber Richard Reid, they were Britons who became involved with the more extreme elements of England's Muslim community. Now they are also the first foreign sympathizers to have committed acts of terror in Israel since the start of the current uprising.
The moment was striking because their planned suicide attack, which killed three, closely followed the swearing in of new Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, considered someone America is willing to talk to in its plan for peace in the Middle-East. Was it a message by militant groups that defied calls by the new leadership to drop their weapons? The question resonates to this day around the world, as it does in Britain.
Asif Muhammad Hanif, 21, from Hounslow, west London, and Omar Khan Sharif, 27, from Derby had more in common with American Taleban John Walker Lindh than West Bank suicide bombers born in poverty. They were representative of the new Britain they came from: college-educated, urban and ethnic. And a reminder that America's best ally in the fight against terrorism, can also be a breeding ground for terrorist activity. Some now fear this first attack is only the beginning of a new deadly trend of imported terror in a region already saturated by violence. For Britain, a country scarred by IRA terrorism for decades, it creates a fear death will become one of its newest exports.
After Reid was neutralized by vigilant airline staff and passengers as he was trying to light the explosives hidden in his shoes, the chairman of the London mosque he attended said he feared hundreds more were willing to do the same, having been in touch with the radical elements of the country's forms of Islam.
Abdul Haqq Baker, chairman of Brixton mosque in south London said he thought there were as many as 1,000 extremist Muslims in the UK, of whom at least 100 were ready to become suicide bombers. "Those propagating the extreme views are relatively few in number but in the last four or five years we have witnessed that number grow quite frighteningly," he once told the Boston Globe. Reid came to his mosque to learn about Islam but soon fell in with what he called "more extreme elements".
The same may have happened to the two more recent cases, one of whom died in his attack, killing three and injuring 55 at a critical time; right as the U.S. produced a road-map to peace, seeking the end of hostilities in its early stages. The other fled after his bomb failed to detonate and is being hunted by police forces. Israeli authorities called the attack the first case of attack by foreign sympathizers and want the U.K. to do more to crack down on Islamists there. "The British need to do more," said Yoni Fighel, an Israeli terrorism expert. "The British Islamic radicals are very active. It really stands out."
In the past, British anti-terrorist investigations have also focused on the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and its fiery cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is fighting a deportation order. The radicalization of some of the youth is sparking concern in Britain's parliament. Khalid Mahmood, Britain's first and only Muslim member of Parliament, warned that England's Islamic youth are vulnerable to exploitation by violent militant groups. "There is a lot of concern among Muslim parents in the city about the way extremists are luring and exploiting vulnerable students within our colleges and universities," he said.
But the affluent duo, one educated in private schools, didn't seem vulnerable to their neighbors, unlike Reid who had converted to Islam serving time in jail for minor offences. Hanif, who died in the blast, did spend some time in Syria to pursue Muslim studies, a country increasingly being fingerpointed by Washington as a source of terrorism. But some say Britain's harsh anti-terror measures are only fanning the flames of hatred, in a country with its share of racial tensions.
Some groups which have yet to be associated with terrorism may also be responsible for implanting the "basis for Islamic extremism" in the Western world says Algerian-born political scientists Morteda Zabouri. The Montreal-based analyst told the NPU, in the heyday of U.S. criticism of its loose borders with Canada, that the U.S. had more to fear from itself than its northern neighbor in terms of being a breeding ground for terrorism, because it has a tradition of activist islamic movements, inexistent in Canada, that represent a support base for islamic extremists.
One group in particular is the Nation of Islam, which has its own British chapter since the 1990s, after leader Louis Farrakhan was temporarily banned from entering the U.K. after making racist remarks against Jews. NOI, whose well-dressed preachers are regulars of Speaker's corner in London's Hyde park but rarely make statements to the press, says it is against the bloodshed in the Middle-East.
But its radical stand on the division of Blacks and Whites is just one representation of Muslim movements preaching extremist values and creating a basis for radical groups in the West, Zabouri says. As with other similar groups, NOI is effective attracting mainly disaffected youth, but as the latest attacks have shown, they are no longer the sole source of concern.
As the new peace drive pains to get off the ground foreign involvement is a disturbing new development, even for the Middle-East, where calls for peace have often fallen on deaf ears. This week Israel has reimposed a total closure of the Gaza Strip, less than 24 hours after relaxing restrictions on Palestinian travel, responding to a plea by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on both Israel and the Palestinians to act immediately towards ending the conflict. Israel says the measures were justified in view of warnings of new suicide attacks.
"Just as I have urged you [the Palestinians] to move quickly... to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure...I have underscored to Prime Minister Sharon and his government the need for Israel to do its part in improving the daily lives of Palestinians," Mr Powell said.
The U.S. road-map, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005, is off to a rough start but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas plan to meet before Sharon's scheduled trip to Washington later this month according to officials. They won't necessarily see eye to eye since Sharon refuses many of the peace points, including ending the settlements. Whether they do meet will in large part be determined by the ability of Abbas to halt the terror attacks against Israel, something any foreign involvement would make much harder.


 

W.H.O. LIFTS ADVISORY AFTER SARS MAKES PARIAH OUT OF TORONTO
Canadians like to snicker and poke fun at Toronto, but lately Canada's metropolis has officially been branded pariah-city by a number of countries and organizations. The economic fall-out of the SARS epidemic, which has killed 23 people in Toronto and forced thousands into quarantine is such that some are calling it hogtown's Sept. 11.
It started with a cancelled psychiatric convention as the first Canadian cases of SARS were becoming public and soon international bodies such as the World Health Organization and governments such as Britain's were calling for the postponement of non-essential travel to the city. Canadian officials were furious and condemned the WHO travel advisory, which they said did not consider the containment efforts being made in Toronto. "The actions of the WHO are wrong and they are irresponsible," Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said. "The decision is not based on scientific fact." "They don't know what they're talking about," said colorful Mayor Mel Lastman referring to the WHO. "Who did they talk to? They've never even been to Toronto. They're located somewhere in Geneva."
On Tuesday, one week after the advisory was issued, it was lifted because Toronto had seen no new cases of the respiratory illness in twenty days. But in that time five other Ontarians had died from SARS and the economic damage has already been done, hurting business and travel sectors alike and making Toronto travelers the object of suspicion.
Within the city, Asian communities have been feeling the brunt of the epidemic, as business in Chinatown has been plummeting because the illness originated in Asia, where it is responsible for over 300 deaths. Recently city and government officials dined in Chinatown to show risks associated with the so-called atypical pneumonia have largely been exaggerated. Premier Eves briefly visited one of the affected hospitals on Friday.
Provincial and federal governments have come under criticism for being slow to react to the crisis. Ottawa indicated it would launch a special task force on SARS only last week, and Prime minister Jean Chretien, criticized for not coming home early from vacation to deal with the crisis, announced his cabinet would meet exceptionally in Toronto this week, instead of Ottawa. His government pledged $10 million in support for the crisis, after the Ontario government offered $25 million to deal with immediate health care needs. Toronto is even hosting an international conference on SARS to show the city is safe.
But critics say this is far from being sufficient. The fact that some international cases of the illness stemmed from recent travel to Toronto caused the World Health Organization to initially consider the epidemic had not come under control in Ontario, prompting its advisory. Canadian officials upset by the advisory urged WHO to rescind it immediately, saying its assessment was incorrect and that the number of cases had been steadily falling for weeks. But the illness remaining without a cure, some health officials concede SARS may become a fixture in the long-term. While the illness was not as infectious as estimated, it carried a high death rate, especially in Toronto.
South of the border, the Center for Disease Control issued a travel alert to raise awareness on SARS but did not discourage travel to Toronto because all cases of SARS could be traced back to original cases and were not spreading sporadically within the communty. CDC officials meanwhile have been assisting Health Canada officials to analyse and contain the crisis. Soon after the Iraq war which divided Canada and the U.S., Ottawa's wrath against a U.N. agency, while it is supported by U.S. health authorities, represents a refreshing turn of events.
In the mean time the crisis is taking an economic toll, especially on tourism. Ontario Premier Eves says the province stands to lose some $10 billion from the outbreak and has called for emergency assistance by the federal government. JP Morgan Canada, a branch of the big US investment firm, said it had lowered its growth prediction for Canada for April, May and June to 1 per cent, down from 2.5 per cent.
Even Major league baseball has asked that teams visiting Toronto for scheduled games limit their contact with the public, holding off on writing autographs and riding public transport. But MLB refused to move home games out of the city. The Bank of Canada says the outbreak in a city responsible for a 5th of the national output would hurt the economy but it was too soon to assess to what extent. The World Bank has issued similar estimates for the Asian economy.
In addition Toronto is Canada's main airline hub and the country's airline, Air Canada, has filed for bankruptcy protection soon after the SARS outbreak. Health advisories have drastically affected the business of Asian airlines, prompting Cathay Pacific to consider grounding all flights from its hub in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has been one of the cities most affected by SARS and China has recently come clean on a number of undeclared cases of SARS, boosting the numbers of cases nine-fold. Earlier cover-ups led to the sacking of China's Health minister and the mayor of Beijing, another city rattled by SARS and virtually shut down because of it. Chinese authorities have since become more aggressive to combat the disease, shutting down two Beijing hospitals and restricting access to and from the capital.
But for all the uproar about the WHO's decision, at least one Torontonian says Canadians are getting a taste of their own medicine. "When I watched the Canadian news and saw all of the local complaints and worries about the WHO warnings for travel to Toronto because of SARS, I was not pleased by the duplicity that is so apparent," says Indonesian-born Erwin Sasmito. "Bali has suffered economically since the October 2002 bombing because of countries such as Canada issuing harsh warnings to travel to the area. In fact the chances of a bombing occurring in Bali would be just the same in Niagara Falls, or even Toronto (...) For a place like Bali and its main economy being tourism the advisories are devastating."
But one U.S. state official sympathises with Toronto after having dealt with his own crisis when his state was closely associated with the spread of the West Nile virus last year. "What we found out, as Torontonians are finding out, is that the facts were a lot less scary than the rumours," wrote Louisiana Tourism secretary Philip Jones in the Globe & Mail. "Fear spreads quickly. News organizations hungry for 24-hour coverage reported on the spread of the disease before they knew the facts of how minor the chances of becoming infected and then sick really were."


 

THE UNLEASHING OF THE MULLAHS
Where there was chaos they brought some semblance of order. In the vacuum of post-Saddam Iraq, they organized the defense of neighborhoods and local security, called for the return of looted goods and even helped organize traffic. There was no denying Islamic leaders exercised the kind of power envied by any incoming administration.
The lifting of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein allowed the expression of religious movements long suppressed in Iraq, and nowhere was this more evident that on the road to Karbala, one of the holiest sites of the Shiite religion, which represents a majority of Iraqis. Thousands marched to the holy city in a once-forbidden pilgrimage to mark the anniversary of the slaughter of Imam Hussein, grand-son of the Prophet Mohammed, carrying flags and punishing themselves because ancestors failed to protect the religious figure from death to the hands of Sunni soldiers in the 7th century.
It was a strong reminder of the power of religious movements in the region. There had been earlier signs Iraqis would prove more loyal to religious leaders than former strongman Saddam Hussein. While war was still raging, American GIs met strong resistance in Nasiriyah when they considered inspecting a mosque suspected of sheltering attackers; they were turned away in a potentially explosive confrontation with a large crowd enraged by the prospect of seeing foreign troops occupy a religious site.
During the first Gulf war, coalition commanders in part stopped short of changing the regime of Saddam Hussein because of fears of the collapse of the regional balance of power. A weak Iraq would not be able to defend itself against a powerful neighbor such as Iran it was estimated, then just three years after the end of a bloody regional war. While the U.S. was less sensitive to these issues this time, regional and Iranian influences are very much a concern in a post-Saddam Iraq after reports Iranian intelligence officers may be stroking the flames of religious fervor in predominantly Shia Iraq.
All this has raised questions about the nature of future governance in Iraq, one the U.S. administration would rather like to steer early. Some demonstrators in Iraq, particularly from the Shiite Muslim majority, have called recently for an Islamic republic similar to Iran, where top Shiite clerics known as ayatollahs have the final say. Some of the country's major Shia groups did not take part in preliminary U.S.-backed talks on the post-Saddam transition. The U.S. hopes some form of government will be in place following another meeting in four weeks.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently said a religious government would not be truly democratic. "There should be a country that is organized and arranged in a way that the various ethnic groups and religious groups are able to have a voice in their government in some form," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference. "And we hope (for) a system that will be democratic and have free speech and free press and freedom of religion."
But that freedom comes with the freedom to choose a government Washington would be less comfortable with. How would the U.S. react to an Islamic government? In this respect, Iraq's neighbors offer two choices, one, ally Turkey, that would represent a model says Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Why cannot an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam not be democratic?" he asked. "There are some people who say, well, because you're practicing Islam you can't allow people to choose how they will be governed politically. I don't think Islam presents that," he said.
But the lines are clearly drawn along the Iranian border. "If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen," Rumsfeld insisted. "We've made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside interference in Iraq's road to democracy," said White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer. "Infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shiite population would clearly fall into that category. That is a position we have made clear to Iran."
But if Iraq's Islamic neighbors are divided on the type of Islam in government, so do different factions of Iraqi Muslims, divided among Sunni and Shia, and even among the latter. Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, the Iranian-based Iraqi opposition leader who has close ties to the Iranian government, called on his followers in Karbala "to oppose a U.S.-led interim administration and defend Iraq's independence." But the White House is hopeful Iranian agents would have a hard time making their case in more secular Iraq. "Any efforts by the Iranians to create an outsider's view" of the form of government that takes shape in Iraq, Fleischer said, "is not likely to have much success."
To some the concern lies elsewhere: that now that Shiites are no longer persecuted in Iraq they will initiate an Islamic power struggle with Tehran because they hold the sacred site of Najaf, the center of the Shiite world for 1,300 years. The Iranian government is itself having a hard time trying to steer its own people, often critical of the rule of the mullahs. The United States expects an eventual government of Iraq to be a democracy where the rights of minorities are guaranteed, not a theocracy run by clerics such as in neighboring Iran, Rumsfeld said, adding the United States will not keep its military forces in Iraq longer than necessary to stabilize the country.
The presence of U.S. troops in a country holding holy Muslim sites such as nearby Saudi Arabia was decried by fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden, promising to wage holy war against the U.S. Some Iraqi clerics have already started talking about such a war to send U.S. troops away. While the memory of a 7th-century slaughter still stirs passions, the more recent memory of U.S. encouragement in the 1991 uprising against the regime, which was unsupported by the U.S. and led to the killing of hundreds by Saddam's Republican Guard troops, has left much bitterness among Iraqis.


 

DES ÉLECTIONS TENDUES AU NIGÉRIA
Quatre ans après la transition du pouvoir à l'administration civile de l'ancien général Olusegun Obasanjo, la ré-élection du président yoruba au Nigéria n'a pas entrainé la même effervescence. Bien au contraire la confirmation de la victoire du chef de l'Etat sortant par la commission nationale électorale, avec 62% des voix, a vite été accompagnée par la grogne des partis de l'opposition, notamment du rival hausa Muhammadu Buhari, estimant que "tout gouvernement formé sur la base de cette élection frauduleuse serait illégitime."
Lui-même un ancien général ayant saisi le pouvoir suite à une élection contestée il y a vingt ans, Buhari a promis des "actions de masse", estimant que "de tels raccourcis politiques sont de courte durée au Nigéria". Les observateurs, américains et européens, sont unanimes, les élections ont été "entachées de sérieuses irrégularités et de fraude": bourrage et vol d'urnes, intimidations, etc... "Nous avons de sérieux doutes sur la légitimité de ces élections dans certaines circonscriptions", a déclaré l'Institut national démocratique américain.
De leur côté les observateurs de l'Union européenne ont compté des cas de "fraude massive" dans six états, et des "fraudes importantes" dans six autres. Le parti démocratique populaire d'Obasanjo a d'un coup remporté l'élection des gouverneurs dans les trois quarts des 36 états du pays. "Je connais l'argument selon lequel il faudrait abaisser les critères de la démocratie dans les pays africains en raison de leur manque de moyens ou d'expérience, a déclaré Max van den Berg, observateur européen. Je le refuse. De plus, je connais les Nigérians: vous êtes compétents, vous avez des ressources, et vous parvenez à faire très bien tout ce que vous désirez, pour peu que vous le désiriez."
Il n'y a nul doute cependant que l'environnement tendu à travers la fédération faisait de l'organisation du vote un exercice pénible et parfois dangereux. Au cours des deux dernières semaines une cinquantaine de personnes ont été tuées à la suite d'affrontements ethniques. Ces derniers ont été responsables de 10,000 morts depuis l'élection d'Obasanjo en 1999, dont la tendance moins militariste serait selon certains responsable des instabilités régionales sanglantes dans le pays le plus peuplé d'Afrique, divisé entre sud chrétien et nord musulman.
Les divisions sont d'ailleurs d'autant plus déchirantes que se dévelope dans certaines régions la charia ou loi musulmane, notamment dans 12 états du nord. Elle pourrait même gagner certains états du sud, ce qui ne se ferait pas sans effusion de sang selon certains.
Alors que la violence sévit, la ré-élection d'Obasanjo, qui a pourtant graduellement démocratisé le Nigéria au cours des années, n'était pas l'occasion de célébrer une saine gestion de l'économie, parmi les plus corrompues, souffrante et trop dépendante du mazout. Les troubles régionaux se sont d'ailleurs fait sentir dans la chaine de production nationale, laissant grimper la pauvreté dans un pays qui baigne pourtant dans l'or noir.
Mais pour certains observateurs, l'aspect positif de cette élection est qu'elle ait tout simplement eu lieu, même si un parti civil n'a pour l'heure toujours pas assuré d'alternance politique de manière pacifique en quarante ans d'indépendance. Selon les politologues, deux alternances sont nécessaires afin de confirmer la transition de tout pays à la démocratie. Même de ce point de vue les progrès sont péniblement lents, mais au moins vont-ils de l'avant; si l'opposition met une menace de "révolte massive" à exécution cependant, ceci pourrait avoir des conséquences grâves. Pour l'heure elle a décidé de recourir aux institutions en place pour contester le vote.
Et puis, même s'il reste d'importants ajustement électoraux, un peu d'histoire a tout de même été écrite, considère le ministre des Affaires étrangères, M. Bill Graham, notant que pour la première fois, le pays est passé d'un gouvernement civil à un autre: "Même si ce processus sera long et souvent difficile, ces élections en constituent une étape importante."


 

LE SPECTRE DE PARIZEAU DANS LA VICTOIRE LIBÉRALE
C'était le jour-même du grand débat télévisé. Loin de la campagne électorale en cours, l'ancien premier ministre Jacques Parizeau rencontrait des jeunes collégiens pour donner au Parti Québécois un petit coup de pouce dans les régions. L'assistance du promoteur de la ligne dure sur le thème de la souverainté avait été à l'origine de certaines craintes, mais jusque là sa contribution avait été notable sur le terrain.
Parizeau avait donné son appui à la marche lente du PQ vers la souveraineté, sans garantie de référendum sous un nouveau mandat. Il appuyait une plate-forme qui parlait même d'union confédérale plutôt que de souveraineté-association. Et puis que pouvait-il se produire au niveau collégial pour mettre le bâton dans les roues d'un PQ en vitesse de croisière pour la ré-élection?
Le soir-même du débat, celui qui jouait l'avenir du chef libéral, Jean Charest avait jeté les gants, mais sans knock-out. Bernard Landry, gardé sur la défensive, avait défendu la performance de son gouvernement, et surtout, n'avait pas laissé son humeur légendaire l'emporter malgré les attaques des autres chefs. Le dernier thème de la soirée allait évidemment être celui ou le fils de Sherbrooke devait ramener vers lui une partie du vote francophone, majoritairement péquiste.
A Trois-Rivières plus tôt, un étudiant avait demandé une question qui aurait pu aussi bien être posée lors du débat: "Pourquoi le dernier référendum n'a pas marché et pourquoi le prochain marcherait?"
"Le dernier référendum, quand vous le perdez par 50 000 voix sur 5 millions, vous cherchez des causes et des explications. Euh.... moi un moment donné, dit Parizeau en ricanant, j'en ai sorti une que j'ai traînée avec moi longtemps. En parlant du 'vote ethnique et de l'argent'.
Sans s'en tenir là, il poursuit: "C'était deux choses différentes. L'argent, c'est important parce que la grande manifestation d'amour à Montréal, ç'a impressionné les gens. Il s'est dépensé dans cet après-midi _ par des organismes fédéraux ou d'autres provinces sur lesquels la loi québécoise ne s'appliquait pas _ ils ont dépensé deux fois plus d'argent cet après-midi que le camp du Oui et le camp du Non ensemble pour toute la campagne. Ça, c'est ça l'argent.
"Et puis, le vote de communautés ethniques, qui traditionnellement donnait aux souverainistes 7, 8, 9 pour cent du vote, et qui là sont ramenés à 3 pour cent... Y'a une grosse diminution de ce côté-là. Dans certaines communautés, ça été presque l'unanimité. Ça s'est beaucoup amélioré ça."
Le texte brandi en l'air par le chef libéral lors du débat, un résumé d'article racontant les faits, s'était limité à dire que Parizeau avait réitéré ses propos suicidaires de 1995, mais il a suffi pour causer le choc de la soirée et garder un chef péquiste, peu renseigné, sur la défensive. Internet avait-il fait sa première victime électorale? En effet si l'article a pu faire son effet au long de la soirée c'est parcequ'il avait été posté sur la toile électronique, avant de paraître dans les journaux du lendemain.
Le lendemain, Parizeau était sacré star de la soirée, et le chef libéral, qui avait été ferme sur plusieurs autres points, gagnant du débat. Non seulement ça mais il remportait la faveur des francophones (40%) autant que des partisans de l'ADQ (40%), dont le chef n'a pas connu une soirée mémorable. Charest avait bientot réduit l'écart entre lui et Bernard Landry de quelques points sur la popularité des chefs, et les libéraux reprenaient l'avance dans les sondages.
La vague a été impossible à arrêter. Alors que les péquistes avaient été à leur plus fort au moment d'annoncer la tenue du vote, les libéraux atteignaient leur sommet à temps pour le jour du scrutin. Avec le temps les libéraux ont fait d'importants gains dans le vote francophone tandis que le PQ, sur la défensive et rapé par l'usure d'une campagne libérale parfaite, voyaient s'effriter le rêve de remporter un troisième mandat de suite, après un gouvernement pourtant plutôt réussi.
Le soir du 14, il n'aura fallu que 40 minutes après la fermeture du vote pour que Bernard Derome confirme un gouvernement majoritaire, avec 45% des voix et 76 sièges, et plus remarquable, un taux de succès auprès des francophones à égalité avec le PQ, à 37%. C'était bien plus que le vote ethnique.


 

AFTER VICTORY, AN UNEASY PEACE
Just when did Baghdad fall exactly? When one of a number of monuments to Saddam's grandeur collapsed to the cheers of hundreds of Iraqis? When the GIs made their first incursion into the city, barely hours after having rebaptised the capital's airport? When they washed their hands in the gold sinks of Saddam's opulent but dusty palaces? Or did a war started with an unsuccessful decapitation attempt against Saddam end with a successful one on the 19th day? Had Baghdad been standing at all, considering the prompt collapse of its defenses?
Amazingly, the sight of American soldiers, and absence of Saddam, who has neither been seen nor heard from since the push into Baghdad, sent thousands of Iraqis to the streets in the capital to celebrate their country's regime change. Most surprised, if not incredulous, were many Arabs, especially Palestinians, who could not believe a regime which had been so defiant, would give up practically without a fight.
Quickly the authorities which had just days ago completed their first incursions into Baghdad and taken over its streets, meeting with occasional pockets of resistance and little more, were confrontred with questions they thought they would have time to ponder: what do to next. In fact no sooner had they answered the critics fearing a long war that they were faced with new critics questioning a slow transition. The question became pressing as the lack of civil authority gave way to widespread chaos and rampant looting in recently freed cities.
Perhaps the leaders of Britain and the U.S., meeting in Northern Ireland for their latest summit, sought to show the coalition was ready to ensure the transfer of power. Prime minister Tony Blair and president George W. Bush said an interim authority composed of Iraqis from both inside and outside the country would be set up as quickly as possible. Both leaders chose Northern Ireland to meet to show that as in Belfast "Habits of hatred and retribution can be broken", according to Bush. "It's the same vision we need in the Middle-East". Despite differences between the two leaders on the administration of a post-Saddam Iraq, Bush sought to reassure world leaders that the United Nations would have "a vital role to play in this task". But Bush says the U.N.'s role would be rather humanitarian and advisory, leaving major decisions to the coalition. America's choice as interim administrators, retired general Jay Garner and Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, were contested in various parts of the world as well as Iraq.
No sooner had the celebrations started, as cities in north such as Mosul and Kirkuk fell, soon followed by Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, that early worries peaked on the horizon: would it turn to bloodletting between former regime supporters and foe or various factions, and how fast could much needed humanitarian aid be rushed in various parts of the country?
With the lack of civic order came protest over the lacking of basic services, especially electricity and water. A U.S.-backed meeting of exiles and opposition leaders sought to limit the impact of the power vacuum by launching preliminary talks on the country's transition, but a major Shiite group did not attend and demonstrators took to the streets protesting U.S. influence and claiming that the gathering did not represent them. The participants are themselves divided between exiles and those who persevered through Saddam's regime.
The U.N. meanwhile warned of widespread anarchy, and charged coalition troops of not protecting hospitals, which have also been the target of looters. The organization was planning to send a special advisor to oversee the transition of the situation on the ground and play a key role in post-war talks. Amid the street chaos of freed cities, incidents were strong reminders of the volatility of the situation in Iraq. Two clerics recently returned from abroad were killed in the south, and a checkpoint suicide attack in Baghdad injured four GIs. Two Canadians were killed, one working for the Red Cross, another a Marine fighting for the U.S.
The instability meanwhile is worrying neighboring Turkey. The Speaker of Ankara's Parliament, Bulent Arinc, said that the government and Turkish Armed Forces would take necessary measures against "geographical changes" in neighboring Iraq after Kurdish fighters took Iraq's oil-rich city of Kirkuk under control, which Ankara sees as a first step to an independent state that could spark separatism among Turkey's own Kurds. U.S. troops however quickly moved into the city to quell Turkey's fears.
Meanwhile a number of countries critical of the war in Iraq, such as France and Germany, were slowly changing their tunes, expressing their satisfaction of Saddam's removal from power, but at the same time called for the U.N. to play a leading role in a post-war Iraq, and cautioned the U.S. about extending its actions to neighboring Syria, increasingly isolated by Washington which accuses it of assisting Saddam's regime. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the U.S. has concerns about two of Iraq's neighbors - Syria and Iran - but that "there is no war plan" to attack other countries.
Other countries on America's "Axis of evil" list started paying attention however, as North Korea, once aggressively defiant about its nuclear programme, offered an overture for talks on the matter. French President Jacques Chirac and President Bush spoke by telephone for the first time in more than two months Tuesday, in a possible sign of warming ties after their bitter dispute over war in Iraq.
On the ground at least, all the indications were that the major phase of operation was drawing to an end. "Major combat operations are over," said Maj-Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Two major carrier groups were also called away from the war zone. While the peace will remain a challenge to secure it will leave Iraqis in charge of their affairs, Bush told Iraqis in a special TV message. "The goals of our coalition are clear and limited," he said, "The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over."
But for some proof of Saddam Hussein's fate remains key to putting a dark and long chapter of Iraqi history behind them. Once that's settled, they want the coalition liberators to kindly leave Iraq.


 

BLOOD IN THE CONGO
The news received by Congolese president Joseph Kabila as he was being sworn in as head of state told him he had his work cut out in terms of consolidating his grip on power. The jury is still officially out on the culprit and how many people were slaughtered in the north-east region of Ituri on April 3rd, but it is in the hundreds, and factions loyal to two countries very much involved in Congo's internal matters are suspected of being behind the bloody event which threatens an already much-delayed peace process.
The bloody incident took place as the Ituri pacification commission promised to settle differences, not scores, between various communities and militias in the gold-rich region. Witnesses say Lendu-speaking attackers killed hundreds of members of ethnic Hemas in a matter of hours that day, and suspicion immediately fell on neighboring Uganda, which supports ethnic Lendus against the Rwanda-backed militia in the region.
Uganda denied the claim, but promised to withdraw all its forces at a South African summit called to defuse violence along Congo's eastern borders. "We will be happy to withdraw," said Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who claimed his forces had already achieved its goals of hunting down rebels. This carried the hope of ridding Congo of two former allies which had bitterly turned on each other in recent years: Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo's civil war started in August 1998 when the neighbors sent troops to back rebels in their effort to oust then-President Laurent Kabila, father of the current president. The conflict, the extension of earlier tensions resulting from the ouster of Zaire strongman Mobutu, have directly killed some 50,000 people and indirecly millions more, from disease and starvation.
One group says the war has killed more people than any conflict since World War II. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has completed a mortality study that estimates the number of dead caused by the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo at more than 3.3 million, the largest toll of any conflict in recorded African history. "This is a humanitarian catastrophe of horrid and shocking proportions," said George Rupp, IRC's president. "The worst mortality projections in the event of a lengthy war in Iraq, and the death toll from all the recent wars in the Balkans don't even come close."
One day before the April 3rd massacre, parties to an Inter-Congolese Dialogue met in Sun City, South Africa, where they established a constitution and a transitional government. Hema representatives soon threatened to pull out of the talks, but Uganda's decision to withdraw its troops from Congo may have saved the day and helped defused the tension.
Uganda had previously promised to withdraw its troops but reoccupied parts of the region citing attacks by Rwandan-backed rebels. Rwanda itself threatened to reinvade after it officially withdrew in October but has maintained rebel proxies. Congo would like nothing more than finally ridding itself of outside influences.
Following the 1994 Great Lakes massacre tiny Rwanda invaded its vast neighbour to try to flush out the Hutu extremists who had committed the genocide. The corrupt and disorganised Zaire army fled before the Rwandan soldiers who pushed all the way to Kinshasa together with anti-Mobutu rebels.
Yet one solution may involve throwing a new country into the mix. Under a U.N. proposal Angolan troops could step in to separate the belligerents in a transition period, but this is creating more skeptics in Kinshasa about the fate of current peace efforts. There is no doubt however that the region is in dire need of solution to substitute weak U.N. forces in the area, especially as some of them try to fill the vacuum left by departing Ugandan forces.
Days after the Ituri massacre other conflicts erupted around the familiar hot spot of Bukavu, something international aid agencies attribute to Rwandan plans to keep the region, in fact Congo itself, divided. In one of Africa's largest countries, few things have ever been so easy.



 

BUMPS IN THE SAND ON WAY TO THE CAPITAL
In the age of instant live news reports and constantly breaking stories it didn't take long, less than a week in fact, for serious questions to be raised about the handling of the war in Iraq, questions not necessarily unfounded. And then it didn't take long for some of those concerns to go away.
Cases of over-streched supply lines, insufficient numbers of coalition soldiers, mounting casualties and civilian tragedies such as the bombing of Baghdad markets, all made the case for a smooth operation hard to sell it seemed, even before the most difficult chapter of the war was about to begin: the coalition's entry into Baghdad.
A turning point in the early smooth-running of the coalition campaign, insignificant in the overall scheme of things but nonetheless symbolic, was a string of events occurring just days after the beginning of the campaign. The first weekend of the war, a dozen Marines were captured after their convoy strayed and was ambushed, perhaps a testimony to how thinly some forces were being stretched. At around the same time, one member of the 101st Airborne still in Kuwait opened fire on members of his unit and tossed three grenades in the camp in the middle of the night, killing two and injuring a dozen more.
A trouble-some weekend also marked by the first of a number of incidents of friendly-fire only led to a week of questioning as secured areas of the south turned out to be legitimate targets once more and front-running convoys, challenged by guerilla tactics of soldiers emboldened by members of Saddam's Republican Guard, sparked fears of a rupture of supply lines. Suicide bombings tested soldiers' nerves, some eventually killing innocent Iraqis at checkpoints. Mother nature didn't help either, as the most severe sandstorms in years ground coalition movements to a halt.
Sometimes when it rains sand, dunes become a real bump in the road. The U.S. military insisted it was still very much on target, but the call for 130,000 extra reinforcements, purported to have been the plan all along, somehow reinforced in itself the notion things weren't going as smoothly as estimated, perhaps in the excitement of the initial remarkable days of the campaign.
Long-simmering tensions between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army commanders erupted in a series of complaints from officers on the Iraqi battlefield that the Pentagon did not send enough troops to wage the war as they want to fight it, according to the New York Times. Some officers compared Mr. Rumsfeld to Robert S. McNamara, an architect of the Vietnam War who failed to grasp the political and military realities of Vietnam. Itself a reference that suggested a sorry state of affairs.
One colonel criticized decisions to limit initial deployments of troops to the region. "He wanted to fight this war on the cheap," he said. "He got what he wanted." For once it wasn't the media but the military brass that raised its voice. In comments made earlier, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the V Corps commander, said the military faced the likelihood of a longer war than many strategists had anticipated.
Suddenly a George W. Bush rallying his troops on the home front was cutting out the notion of being "ahead of schedule" in a speech, a small but notable omission. Still, Bush insisted, judgement day was nearing for Saddam Hussein, whose existence is still being questioned by many in the administration. "The war is far from over," Bush cautioned, saying the U.S. would take as long as it takes to bring Saddam down. A day earlier Rumsfeld had looked at his watch and quipped the campaign was closer to the "beginning than the end".
But the U.S. is hoping for a quick war, if only because its policy is unprecedented, fighting a pre-emptive war, and largely unsupported. This even by its northern neighbor, which may have been wooed by a mission to disarm Saddam's regime, but chose to drop its traditional support of the U.S. after Washington made it clear it wanted regime change in Baghdad. Canada has been openly criticized by Washington for staying out of the war, more recently by its U.S. ambassador who delivered a critical speech directly from high levels of the Bush administration.
But to make sure its stance wasn't misinterpreted, parliament una-nimously passed a motion calling for the indictment of Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi officials for "genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes." But all the while it was defending its stance, Ottawa was trying to explain how Canadian soldiers sent to the Gulf to take part in operations it initially said were separate from the conflict were in Iraq and in some way contributing to the war effort. With ships, troops and even planes in the region, the U.S. ambassador quipped Canada had more military in the region than most partners in the "Coalition of the willing".
Canada wasn't thinking in military terms, announcing $100 million would go to U.N. humanitarian agencies, the Red Cross and CARE Canada to help provide clean water, food, shelter and health care to people in Iraq. But the U.N. and U.S. are at odds over how reconstruction and humanitarian efforts will take place when the conflict eventually ends, and extension of earlier quarrels. And end to hostilities, both at the U.N. and in Iraq, is yet to be near.
The Arab world meanwhile has been the scene of a number of anti-war demonstrations, some violently turning towards the regime in Cairo, traditionally a U.S. supporter. A bit overwhelmed, president Mubarak feared U.S. action would create "100 bin Ladens".The bombing of two Baghdad markets the U.S. said it is investigating especially enraged viewers of a number of Arab news networks broadcasting images of the dead and wounded across the world.
One young suicide bomber who blew himself up in Israel was said of being the very first driven to it by TV images. Israeli officials fear more harm will come, not from Scuds in the sky, but suicide bombers in the streets, after some terror groups vowed to redouble their efforts to cause carnage after the beginning of the war in Iraq.
Iraq's neighbors meanwhile were accused of being more than bystanders by Washington, which cautioned Iran and Syria about providing assistance in any shape or form to Saddam's regime. Soon after Syria said it was supporting Saddam. In nearby Jordan many self-professed martyrs crossed into Iraq, some having fled Saddam's regime in the past, to defend their homeland. Kuwait meanwhile was the site of a first Iraqi missile landing, causing damage but no casualties as it crashed near a mall in the middle of the night.
Bush's first meeting last week with British leader and coalition partner Tony Blair since the beginning of the war seemed to be an opportunity for reflexion rather than planning too much ahead. Yet the two leaders discussed the reconstruction of Iraq and humanitarian aid, even as the flow was barely trickling into the southern ports of Iraq, some still being swept for mines.
Perhaps they realised that for all the setbacks, military watchers agreed the drive into Iraq was rapid by any measure in history. After all, coalition forces not only confronted the Republican Guard around Baghdad causing severe destruction, but captured Saddam international airport, having already secured other key air fields and opened a "second front" in the north even before Turkey agreed to facilitate U.S. activities in northern Iraq. Even some oil wells set ablaze, which require weeks to control, were successfully extinguished.
Perhaps there is more to symbolism than one would think. The successful rescue of one of the POWs captured that fateful weekend, young Jessica Lynch, 19, had marked another turnaround and somehow made the case for a quick victory believable again. It may have been wrong to question the commanders so early in the first place, but such are the demands of the information age, at a time accurate information is itself a casualty.



 

MORE THAN A NASTY COLD
People everywhere, even school-children, walking around town with surgical masks, thousands of others keeping themselves in quarantine and the discoverer of a deadly form of yet to be determined respiratory problem dying from contact with patients, the apocalyptic images were not those of the aftermath of a bioterror strike but of the spreading of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome on four continents by unwitting passengers thought to be nursing a bad cold.
By the time Nanfang hospital in China's Guangdong province had been sealed as ground zero in an outbreak which stretched halfway across the world into Toronto, it was too late for a number of victims. Thirteen Canadians have died from the illness, all in Toronto, over 100 are infected in Canada alone, making it one of SARS' hotspots. The U.S. even issued a travel advisory to those travelling north of the border. In all over 100 people have died from SARS world-wide so far.
The two Canadian cities being major hubs, health authorities added controls to people coming off long-haul flight and leaving the airports. Some have reconsidered flying to Asia altogether, especially the hub cities of Hong Kong and Singapore, as a result. A women's hockey tournament in China was cancelled because of the apparent outbreak. Two Buffalo Sabres players were also put under observation and missed a recent game against Montreal. Isolated cases of SARS have also emerged in Ottawa, the prairies and New Brunswick, stretching the problem from coast to coast.
Meanwhile two Toronto hospitals were sealed, hundreds of patients having gone through them recently were asked to confine themselves to their homes for 10 days. "We realize this is a substantial number of people," said Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer of health. "It could be in the thousands. "This is a pretty unusual step for us to be requiring healthy individuals to be under quarantine," she said.
"The concern with SARS is we do not know when people become contagious and we want to take an extra step of precaution." Most of the patients who died of SARS in Canada recently visited Scarborough Grace hospital. "We can't say that it's under control," said Dr. James Young, Ontario's commissioner of public safety. "We can say we're taking more vigorous controls to ensure no new cases come out."
Growing numbers of cases prompted Premier Ernie Eves and Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement to declare a health emergency. "It means that we have set up a command centre that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week in ministry offices, and that there are dedicated staff to this issue," Clement said. The last time the Ontario government declared such an emergency was Sept. 11. The West Nile virus wasn't declared one.
The draconian measures came after it was found that of those who got sick in Hong Kong most had been in contact with employees of the Prince of Whales Hospital. Partly to blame in the outbreak, some suspect, were the actions of Chinese authorities to sweep the problem under the rug, until it turned up in more transparent Hong Kong, where health authorities rushed to contact the World Health Organization.
Last weekend, the first doctor to realize a new disease had hit the world, died of SARS in Thailand. Italian Dr. Carlo Urbani, 46, became infected while working in Vietnam. He was an expert on communicable diseases with the World Health Organization. The magnitude of the spread became apparent when an entire apartment block was quarantined in Hong Kong while a number of airlines cut travel to Asia, the subject of a WHO travel advisory.
Health officials admitted they don't have a cure for the potentially deadly disease. "The global epidemic continues to expand," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We recognize this as an epidemic that is evolving."
Just as officials said SARS seemed to have been largely contained in Canada, Vietnam and Singapore, three more deaths were reported in Ontario. Meanwhile an American airlines jet carrying passengers with symptoms of SARS was grounded in San Jose sending medical crews into action before all were declared safe after tests. The U.S. has until now surprisingly been spared by the epidemic.


 

ONTO BAGHDAD
U.S. officials hoped it wouldn't have to come to this, but after much delay it happened. After days of suspense, the much advertised "shock and awe" campaign of mass bombing over Iraq was underway. On Friday March 21 blasts erupted in and around Baghdad sending massive plumes of smoke in the air while bursts of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire illuminated the capital. And that's just what TV cameras captured.
The capital seemed engulfed as if dealing with a terrible string of forest fires. In eerie contrast, once the thunderous explosions died, a call to prayer could be heard echoing across the city. Perhaps most revealing about the strength and control of U.S. military power so early in the conflict was the fact that as surely as the bombing had started, it ended, leaving silence to coincide with the beginning of a Pentagon news conference.
But not everything went America's way in the first days of the war and the eventual launching of the shockwave of attacks was perhaps a sign of this. Iraq didn't surrender after the first shots, not even in the south, where pockets of resistance defied the impression that this is where the GIs would have the least trouble. The fight lasted days before the border town of Umm Qasr was secured, and fighting was fierce around Basra and other areas.
Thousands of Iraqi soldiers did throw their hands up in he air to surrender, but others fiercely resisted, even tricking U.S. soldiers into thinking they were surrendering before opening fire, perhaps a taste of what's to come. While some armored columns secured parts of the south, others raced towards Baghdad. But the emphasis seemed to be more on rushing to the capital than eliminating all pockets of resistance in the south.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said military objectives were many: to end Saddam Hussein's regime, eliminate the country's weapons of mass destruction, search for terrorists, collect intelligence, secure oilfields, end sanctions and distribute relief while helping Iraq through its transition. "The regime is starting to lose control of their country... it is history," he said, hoping Iraqi officers would see their interests lied not in supporting the regime but helping rebuild Iraq. But the "awesome" display may not have been enough for some. "Apparently what we had done so far was not sufficiently persuasive," he said of contacts with Iraqi officers pondering whether or not to give up.
The beginning of massive aerial bombardments came after more than a day of ground action, in contrast with the first Gulf war where the ground war started only after over a month of air strikes. Live TV coverage of U.S. tanks racing across the southern Iraqi desert not only made for remarkable television, but bore witness to the quickness of an at times uninterrupted ground invasion supported by air cover.
That protection came at a price however, as one helicopter crashed killing 8 British and 4 American servicemen on the first full day of action. The following day two Marines were killed in actual combat, which still left the British, the main coalition partner, suffering the most casualties in a mainly American campaign. For awhile it seemed, as in 1991, that most casualties came from friendly fire or accidents, but the killing and capture of over a dozen Marines in Nasiriyah showed the resistance could be fierce.
British prime minister Tony Blair gave his condolences to the families after the first chopper incident and said that tragedy notwithstanding, the campaign was going well, a sentiment shared within the coalition. "The course of action we are taking is the right one and we will see our mission to the end," he said.
Just hours after the beginning of the ground war, which had started merely a day after the first air strikes against Baghdad were fired, columns of tanks were stirring the sands of southern Iraq, turning the heads of bedouin tribesmen on the backs of camels and leaving the carcasses of Soviet-built tanks destroyed in earlier wars in the dust.
By then already the invasion wasn't just taking place from the south, but from the West, and despite the lack of a Turkish base of operations, the north as well. Blasts were soon heard around the key towns of Mosul in the north and Basra in the south just hours into the ground offensive. All had taken place with great speed, especially the beginning of hostilities.
On Wednesday March 19, less than two hours after the passing of a 48 hour deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war, the U.S. launched a first salvo of aerial attacks against Baghdad. Speaking to a television audience, the U.S. president said these were the "opening stages of a broad and concerted campaign" to disarm Iraq.
Causing the jump on operations that took ground units deep into Iraq in little time, and postponing the much anticipated massive bombardment at the same time, were major changes to finely-tuned military plans brought about by unexpected developments. U.S. intelligence had located Saddam Hussein spending the night in one of his many compounds with one or both of his sons according to reports, putting the dictator and possible successors in the same area at a time the U.S. could conduct a surgical strike; a "target of opportunity" of incredible importance.
Dozens of cruise missiles and the fire of F-117 stealth fighters then rained on precise sites of the capital, hoping to "decapitate" the country of its leadership before the actual fighting had actually begun. While U.S. officials aren't sure of the actual standing of the Iraqi leadership following that attack, they agree it was seriously affected in the very first instants of the conflict, and hoped its demoralizing effect would be enough to obtain an early capitulation. But they were soon disappointed.
The morning following the initial salvo, Saddam Hussein, or possibly someone posing as him, appeared on Iraqi TV and called the attack a "crime against humanity", and Iraq reportedly launched Scud attacks against Kuwait that either crashed harmlessly into the desert or were shot down by Patriot missiles.
Iraq had told weapons inspectors it didn't have any more Scuds in the diplomatic phase of the crisis. They are illegal as they far exceed the 90-mile reach permitted by the U.N., and to some justified the use of force. But in his first briefing to reporters over the weekend, Gen. Tommy Franks indicated that coalition forces had not located any banned biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Those in charge of locating them were by then long gone.
While U.N. inspectors and journalists were being evacuated from Iraq earlier in the week, U.S. president George W. Bush had issued his ultimatum to Saddam: seek exile or face the fury of the U.S. military. The U.S. had by then all but given up on the diplomatic process after deciding not to table a second resolution backing war at the U.N. for lack of support. On the eve, following a brief summit of Spain, Britain and the U.S., France had indicated it was holding firm on its decision to veto such a resolution.
The ultimatum came days after the latest round of peace protests, including a major rally of 250,000 people in Montreal. The announcement in parliament Canada would not participate in a war not sanctioned by the U.N. was met with thunderous applause, and won the approval of the Canadian public. Ottawa stressed troops sent to the Gulf were part of an ally exchange and would not take part in the conflict. Canada had been very active trying to bring a diplomatic solution to the crisis and vowed to play a humanitarian role after the war.
Ottawa's move hardly registered in Washington. "Before it is too late to act this danger will be removed," Bush said to a television audience Monday evening. Bush said the U.N. had not lived up to its responsibilities. "The tyrant will soon be gone," he said of Saddam. He warned Iraq against destroying oil fields or making use of chemical weapons."  "Every measure was used to avoid war," he said, "and every measure will be used to win it." It didn't take long for Iraq to reject the ultimatum.
Meanwhile the British government handily defeated an anti-war motion.While Tony Blair's own party has been divided by the campaign for war, at the cost of top cabinet members, conservative support for backing the U.S. limited the political damage. A poll following the Monday evening address showed over 60% of Americans backed the war and U.K. polls also registered higher support.
Americans were also fearful as the U.S. announced it was returning its security threat level back to orange, the second highest, fearing terror attacks at home. But so far the only adversity on the home front for the administration has come in the form of loud anti-war protests and not terrorists. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and not always peacefully, the city by the Bay seeing over 1,000 protesters taken into custody after one protests. This was a small-scale version of the opposition seen in other cities around the world, especially in Arab capitals.
Among the most concerned countries are those bordering the conflict. Iran found itself in the receiving end of a missile that was at first thought to be a stray U.S. missile but that turned out to be Iraqi according to Tehran. Turkey and the U.S. were also investigating the harmless explosion of a missile on Turkish soil. But Ankara has been less willing to sit idly by and has given repeated signs of wanting to rush troops into northern Iraq, something dreaded by Iraq's Kurdish populations. Something that would add an extra dimension to an already complicated equation.


 

CHANGEMENT DE DIRECTION MAIS MEME CAP EN CHINE
Quelques heures à peine se sont écoulées entre les premières frappes chirurgicales contre Bagdad et la réaction de Béijing, qui s'était rangé avec la France et contre les Etats-Unis sur l'Irak; elle ne s'est donc pas fait attendre. Béijing demandait la cessation immédiate des attaques contre Bagdad, même si à ce moment là selon plusieurs rapports, des missiles Scuds irakiens s'écrasaient contre le Kowéit, justifiant chez certains la position américaine. Voilà qui constituait une arme interdite dont l'existence avait été entre autre au centre des débats déchirants aux Nations unies.
Telle était donc la première déclaration du nouveau gouvernement de la plus peuplée des nations de la planête Bush, et la crise avait laissé l'administration autre qu'indifférente: "Mon enfance a connu les troubles de la guerre, affirmait le nouveau premier ministre Wen Jiabao, devenu gestionnaire d'une bureaucratie de 100 millions de fonctionnaires, ma maison a été complètement dévastée par les feux de la guerre, tout comme l'école primaire construite des propres mains de mon grand-père."
Une parenthèse et une perspective personnelles sur le conflit en cours qui laissait paraître un côté humain à la bureaucratie maoesque et parfois sans visage de Béijing. Le regard inquiet sur le Moyen-orient, le nouveau gouvernement ainsi que le nouveau président Hu Jintao, étaient également préoccupés par une crise interne qui figurait parmi les priorités: calmer la crise sociale qui s'emparait de la campagne chinoise.
A l'ordre du jour, comment réduire les clivages sociaux en gardant à la fois le contrôle absolu et la voie de la modernisation qui a fait du pays une des grandes puissances économiques du monde. Mais qui dit modernisation dit crainte de perte de contrôle également, dans un pays où les nouvelles technologies comme internet sont contrôlées et surveillées à la loupe.
Malgré tout, la nouvelle administration, qui fait l'objet de la transition la plus importante depuis la mort de Mao en 1976 selon certains, prône une certaine transparence du gouvernement, notamment après les ravages notables de la corruption, et veut répondre aux besoins du nombre grandissant de pauvres qui pourraient à eux-seuls ébranler le monolithe du parti communiste.
Les platitudes déclarées par Hu et Wen devant l'assemblée inaugurale manquaient malgré tout de verve révolutionnaire, annonçant un chagement à petits pas. Il n'y aurait donc pas de thérapie de choc à l'horizon en perspective. Ainsi ceux qui espéraient trop, à coup d'articles plutôt courageux déplorant les conditions sociales, se sont vus rappeler à l'ordre. L'état normal des choses même si une certaine liberté de la presse est parfois tolérée par un régime qui voit en elle une des solutions pour apporter une certaine transparence et pourchasser la corruption.
Fallait-il réellement espérer autre chose sous le règne de celui qui aura survécu aux purges opérées suite à la crise TianAnMen, ayant été le protégé de l'aventureux Zhao Ziyang (qui avait été plutôt sympathique envers les manifestants?) Wen devait cette rare survie à une stricte obéissance. Ainsi celui qui jadis proposait les réformes les plus osées du régime a épousé la "stabilité" comme devise; pas très prometteur pour faire avancer des dossiers en manque de réforme. Les grondements occasionnels dans la campagne rappellent pourtant ces faits.
Deux-tiers de la population y vit encore et fait face à une bureaucratie tentaculaire dont la fiscalité compliquée enrage des fermiers d'habitude laissés à leur propre sort par les autorités. Mais ces grondements ont tout de même retenu l'attention du Congrès du peuple, notamment celle de Wen, qui promet également de se pencher sur le clivage est-ouest en Chine; donc ces problèmes internes qui ont souvent été sacrifiés par l'importance des rapports externes, principalement sur le plan du commerce.
En matière de politique extérieure cependant, l'ancien secrétaire général du parti communiste, resté chef des armées, Jiang Zemin, conservera une nette influence, garantissant une certaine continuité, pour le meilleur comme pour le pire.


 

OTHER BLOODY CONFLICTS
Some countries may be opposed to war against Iraq, or unmoved by the war against terror, but the war against organized crime is hitting home in a number of countries. The assassination of the reformist prime minister of Serbia-Montenegro by sniper bullet attributed to the mob is the most recent example that old battles continue being waged in even unsual times of international tension. From the latest mega-biker trial in Montreal to the streets of Bangkok and, more notoriously Colombia, there is no shortage of examples of governments involved in a bloody conflict that's well within their borders.
When one particular leader takes on the drug cartels or murderers wanted for crimes against humanity, the risks are certainly heightened. The assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic, who ushered in regime change in Yugoslavia and delivered former strongman Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, spread fears of creating turmoil in the international judiciary arena as well as in the streets of Belgrade. Djindjic was active in continuing to bring wanted criminals to international justice.
A statement on the day of the assassination by the Serbian Cabinet blamed Milorad Lukovic, a warlord loyal to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and an underworld network known as the "Zemun clan" after a Belgrade suburb, for allegedly organizing the killing. "Their aim was to trigger fear and chaos in the country," the statement said. "The assassination ... was an attempt by this group to crush the fight against organized crime and help its individual members evade arrest."
Djindjic, who was of the troika which ushered in change in that toppled Milosevic in 2000, had many enemies, including former political allies, because of his pro-reformist and Western stands and his crackdown on organized crime, which is rampant in Serbia and across the Balkans. Only last month, Djindjic dismissed a previous assassination attempt as a "futile effort" that could not stop democratic reforms.
Half a world away, another world leader says organized crime is targeting him for attempting to clean up the country. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that drug barons who have been targeted in a government crackdown are threatening his life and even put a bounty on his head in retaliation for a war on drugs which has killed more than 1,000 people since it began on 1 February.
The mob isn't stricly local either. "Reports have come from our intelligence units that a group of international mafia bosses want to kill me," Mr Thaksin said. "This is not a mere threat, they are real," he added. His administration has already been criticized by human rights groups of pursuing a shoot to kill policy against perceived drug dealers. Thaksin's security has been tightened as he now travels in an armoured van rather than his usual sedan, and that sniffer dogs were scouring Government House.
One country notorious for high-level killings related to the drug world is at least breathing a little easier after a major drug lord was re-arrested following his controversial release. Colombian authorities have taken in the former head of the Cali drug cartel who walked free in November amid much controversy after serving only seven years in prison.
Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela was released last year for good behaviour - much to the disgust of the government and the horror of the United States. In their attempt to find reasons to return Orejuela behind bars, prosecutors have unearthed old charges. The Cali couple - Orejuela and his brother Miguel - had been involved in the smuggling of 150 kilograms of cocaine to the US via Costa Rica in 1995. But the arrest has also exposed Uribe's government, and it may too have to fear reprisal.
At a pre-summit meeting of G8 interior ministers in Quebec last year, officials feared the worst form of partnership: organized crime working alongside terror groups in a lucrative and devastating relationship. Sometimes tackling the mob alone is a daunting task.


 

QUELLE SOLUTION POUR CHYPRE?
Au sortir d'Ankara, Kofi Annan sait que le temps presse avant la date-butoir. C'est "l'heure de décision" dit-il pour motiver les partis. Voilà un scénario bien familier, mais pourtant le saut du Secrétaire général des Nations unies permettait d'oublier quelques jours la crise irakienne pour se concentrer sur une crise qui n'est pas à ses premières heures.
Cela fait en effet presque trente ans que la crise chypriote dure, et se retrouve à quelques jours d'une date importante: celle qui était fixée afin que l'île entière signe son adhésion à l'Union européenne le 16 avril. Or quelques heures avant l'échéancier, il semble que seule la partie grecque (sud) de l'île accédera à l'UE, un fait qui promet de créer des représailles de la partie turque, qui menaçait même de fusionner avec la Turquie.
Pourtant, le nord a bien refusé le dernier plan Annan, un projet de fédération helvétique de la Méditerranée qui selon les Turcs est aussi inacceptable que les précédents: "C'est l'esprit du plan qui n'est pas bon. Kofi Annan, malgré le respect que nous avons pour ses efforts, traite Chypre comme un Etat grec. S'agissant du statut d'une minorité, son plan est le meilleur au monde, mais pas pour les confondateurs de la Republique de Chypre - établie en 1960 entre Turcs et Grecs - que nous sommes", explique Rauf Denktash, le dirigeant immortel de la partie nord - non-reconnue-, au journal Le Monde.
Pourtant c'est du sud que l'on craignait le rejet du plan, depuis la défaite de l'ancien dirigeant Glafkos Clerides, le 17 février lors d'une élection, par Tassos Papadopoulos, adepte de la ligne dure. Celui-ci n'est certes pas plus encourageant, estimant "quasi inexistantes" les chances de parvenir à une entente avant la date-butoir, mais dit-il, ce n'est qu'en raison de l'intransigeance des Turcs. Le message de l'électorat n'est pas à ignorer, puisqu'il a élu au premier tour, soit avec plus de 50 pourcent des voix, un candidat dont il connaissait la pensée sceptique par rapport aux slogans unificateurs de Clerides.
Etant donné la gravité de l'heure, Annan ne pouvait que hausser le ton: "Si nous ratons cette chance il n'est pas clair qu'il y en ait une autre de ci-tôt", rappelle-t-il. Chypre a déjà eu quelques jours de plus pour arriver à une décision puisque les documents (signés) d'adhésion devaient en principe être à Bruxelles le 19 février. Mais le pessimisme règne même si la date-butoir est à nouveau reportée, au début mars, de quelques jours. Les deux parties devaient en principe soumettre le plan à un plebiscite avant la fin mars.
Mais le sort de Chypre ne se joue pas entièrement sur l'île. Il faut dire que le nord épouse une dure ligne qui semble plaire à la clique militaire turque, à l'heure où la Turquie est en pleine réflexion sur le rôle militaire qu'elle veut jouer dans une éventuelle guerre en Irak. C'est un conflit latent que le Secrétaire général a décidément de la difficulté à fuir une seule minute. A Ankara pourtant, Recep Erdogan, élu aux dernières élections, semblait plus optimiste, estimant tout à fait convenable la dernière proposition de Kofi Annan, même avant d'avoir lu le document dans les détails. Voilà déjà longtemps que la capitale veut mettre au rancart l'épineux problème insulaire. Puis ce serait pour les Turcs une façon de rejoindre l'UE d'une manière ou d'une autre, même si le continent reste exclu du club.
Mais d'autres différends, proprement chypriotes, rendent la tâche difficile, notamment en ce qui a trait à l'éventuel retour dans la partie nord des populations grecques déplacées lors de la séparation de l'île. C'est un reflux que veut absolument limiter ce vieux routier de Denktash; fondateur des unités paras contre la guérilla grecque avant la séparation et seul dirigeant Turc depuis.


 

ANOTHER DIVISIVE WAR?
As the US and Britain introduce a new resolution against Iraq in the U.N. Security Council and war looms, so does division in Canada. In a recent poll sharp nation-wide differences were revealed on support for military action in Iraq, as Quebeckers indicated they would reject intervention even if it is backed by the UN, by 61%. 35% would approve in Quebec versus 63% across the country. If there is no resolution, Quebec support drops to 9%.
The writing was on the wall perhaps. When Canadian protesters joined in the massive anti-war global demonstra-tions, the Montreal rally by far turned out the greatest numbers. According to most media reports up to 150,000 people braved Siberian temperatures on Feb 15, making it one of the largest protests in North America and one of the largest in the French-speaking city's history.
Seeking to seize the moment and stir separatist sentiment in an election year, Quebec premier Bernard Landry said the fact so many had turned out compared to other Canadian cities showed Quebec was unique and deserved to be a separate nation. "I am very proud, relatively speaking, that it was our metropolis of Montreal that accommodated the biggest demonstration of all. That means that there really are two nations in Canada," Landry said. Rallies in Toronto and Vancouver meanwhile drew closer to 10,000 protesters. Landry warned any move by Canada to join a U.S-led attack on Iraq will increase support for sovereignty in Quebec.
It didn't take long for his comments to draw criticism. In addition to being opportunistic, Landry wasn't accurate because little more than a matter of degree differentiates Quebeckers from other Canadians on Iraq says columnist Don MacPherson. "Using Landry's standard, if disagreeing with the Canadian mainstream on a U.S. war with Iraq is proof of separate nationhood, the he should recognise a nation of Alberta," he wrote in the Montreal Gazette, noting just 46% of Albertans disapproved unilateral U.S. attacks, compared to 83% in Quebec in a Feb. 4 poll. The national average was 67%.
But Quebeckers are less flexible about eventually accepting war down the road, says Jack Jedwab, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian studies. "Quebeckers are more consistent in their opposition," he notes, pointing out people from outside the province would be more willing to support a war if the U.S. eventually attacked Iraq. "Historically in Quebec there is a greater opposition to the idea of war." He says the anti-war movements in Quebec are more vocal, tend to me more left-learning and have an added anti-American dimension, which he notes was evident in the crowds marching on Saturday. "There was a lot of messaging that America was out for blood," he says describing one blood-soaked American flag in the march.
One pollster says he was puzzled by some of this anti-US sentiment, because it used to be more widespread in the rest of the country. Usually Quebeckers are less anti-American because "they feel less threatened culturally" than English-speaking Canadians says Christian Boucher of Ekos polling.
Ties to France may be another reason for not backing war. It may also explain why francophone communities in another bilingual country, Belgium, tended to be more supportive of their government's anti-war position than the Flemish population.
In addition Quebeckers have been viewing the U.S. less favorably than the rest of the country Jedwab says, notably over the war against Afghanistan. "On the effects of American foreign policy, Quebeckers are more inclined to think that it has a negative influence on the country than do other Canadians." "The Canadian linguistic divide on the Iraq issue is even more apparent when the question of military intervention arises," Jedwab writes in a recent study.
Canada's two solitudes clashed in the past over foreign wars. In 1942 the country was bitterly torn between French and English-speakers in a national referendum on conscription for WWII. Overall 64% of Canadians voted in favor, but Quebec voted 3-1 against it, sparking a bitter division that left conscription hanging for years. Landry himself however concedes any current rift in opinion is nothing like the one which tore the country apart 60 years ago. Jedwab concurs "there isn't a comparison to be made there."
Quebeckers' opposition to the war is reflected in the stand of their federal representatives as well. The federal Bloc Quebecois, whose officials are exclusively elected in Quebec, have been outspoken critics of Ottawa's middle-road position, and have tried to get it to state clearly it will not join a coalition of the willing against Iraq. "We are expressing what people feel, you have seen it on Saturday," says BQ foreign affairs critic Francine Lalonde. History and Quebeckers' viewing habits partly explain their reluctance to back war she says. "During the XXth century Quebeckers participated in wars they had strong sentiments against."
Columnist Michel Auger agrees one of the reasons francophones in Quebec oppose the war in greater numbers is because of the news they follow. "I would say this comes at least in part from exposure to a larger number of sources when it comes to international news," he says. "Quebeckers have more access to European sources and, even when it comes to the news produced by local media, do not get the "unfiltered" US news directly through US media."
Landry may want to be careful about jumping on the anti-war bandwagon Jedwab says, considering the possible consequences of defying a country so important to provincial trade. Lalonde tells the NPU she hopes the U.S. will be good-neighborly about its differences with Quebec on Iraq, and that rising US duties of Canadian softwood lumber, which have cost thousands of jobs in the province, aren't a form of retaliation.


 

FOR U.S. IRAQ HARDLY ONLY COUNTRY TO WORRY ABOUT
Already confronted by allies reluctant to join the war against Iraq and anti-war rallies in the streets of major US cities, the Bush administration may be following more than a plate-full of international crises: dealing with the remaining members of the "axis of evil" and possibly a revolutionary rebel group that may have deepened America's involvement in violent Colombia. It's not easy being a super-power.
First and foremost the rant coming out of Pyongyang is making previous U.S. verbal exchanges with France seem like serenades in comparison. The North Korean regime is increasing its defiance of Western calls for it to abandon developing nuclear weapons by firing up one of its reactors and threatening to abandon the armistice that ended the Korean war five decades ago.
The U.S. in turn threatens sanctions,  including cutting off key money transfers from Koreans living in Japan, following the news the regime will seek to build more nuclear reactors, soon after its decision to restart a formerly mothballed reactor in Yongbyon that can produce weapons-grade plutonium. North Korea, which has said it would consider any sanctions a declaration of war and is nervous about joint military exercises south of its border, says it is confident it would win the current standoff with the U.S.
Recently the CIA revealed North Korea's rocket program could hit America's West coast. The U.S. is however careful to play down the Korean threat, despite missile tests and border over-flights, mindful it would be challenged by fighting major wars on two fronts, and careful not to upset Asian allies who would reject sanctions. The U.S. is even restarting food aid, although in smaller volume.
China regretted the fact weapons inspectors referred North Korea's non-compliance to the U.N. Security council, where Beijing holds a veto. Other countries in the area, such as Russia, Japan and South Korea, were equally unwilling to support a cutoff of trade with the already isolated hermit kingdom.
But the U.S. may eventually have to deal with North Korea in the long run some fear. "I see North Korea as a threat as a proliferator more than I see them as a nuclear threat on the peninsula," said Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "Unless the world wakes up and says this is a dangerous thing and creates a set of regimes that will in fact get cooperation to stop those weapons, we're going to be facing a very serious situation in the next five years."
The U.S. is also monitoring the third member of the "axis of evil" as it toys with the idea of developing nuclear technology for purposes of electricity, a puzzling decision considering Iran is energy-rich in oil production. Iranian president, Muhammad Khatami, said his country was determined to develop nuclear technology to produce electricity with the help of Russia.
Unlike North Korea however, Iran has shown no sign of undermining the nuclear non-proliferation pact, which it signed, and invited the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to visit and inspect its facilities. Again, this is in contrast to North Korea, which expelled its IAEA inspectors in December last year.
According to reports Iran may just be trying to appear more transparent about its nuclear program as Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, visits Tehran. Not only is Iran seeking to please the agency, it is careful not to upset the U.S. with the threat of war looming in nearby Iraq. Many in government and amid the population fear Iran could be next in line to deal with the U.S., even if Korea, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike, seems more likely a target.
Iran has been going out of its way to appear it is not harboring al-Qaida terrorists, recently reporting it had captured some 500 sympathisers and that it is cracking down on the porous Iran-Afghan border, which U.S. intelligence suspects has been an exit door for terrorists fleeing U.S. military action. Iran is equally careful about its stand on Iraq, wishing a peaceful settlement to the crisis but reprimanding its foreign minister for recently meeting an Iraqi envoy seeking Tehran's support in the crisis. A parliamentary impeachment motion accuses Foreign minister Kharrazi of "adopting an active neutral policy that turned into a unilateral support for Iraq."
But the "axis" isn't the only concern to U.S. interests, as the crash of a U.S. government plane in increasingly violent Colombia, and the capture of three Americans by rebel guerillas, raised the possibility of a deeper American involvement in one of the world's most volatile countries.
The three were taken captive by a battle-hardened unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. They have been identified by American officials as Defense Department contractors backing the Colombian government's 30-year campaign against the rebels. "This probably does draw the United States in," Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy told the New York Times. "Probably the change you'll see if the FARC adopts a belligerent strategy on the United States is that the United States will be more willing to put its personnel in situations there where there is combat."
The rebels are believed to have killed a fourth American and a Colombian army sergeant who were also on the plane. It was a first for a group that had never before harmed or taken prisoner a U.S. government employee. The United States has provided $2 billion in aid since 1997, providing military hardware and training and helping crack down on rebel revenue by destroying coca crops. Rebel leader Manuel Marulanda may consider he has gained leverage in pressuring President Álvaro Uribe to agree to a prisoner exchange of 23 politicians and 45 soldiers and policemen they have been holding.
The capture comes after a particularly bloody period in Colombia, following a Feb. 7 car bomb killing 33 people at an exclusive Bogotá club and another explosion which killed 18 people in a working-class neighborhood in the city of Neiva. Some are fearful the capture of the Americans only heralds greater U.S. involvement in the region.
"I think this is all a result of the increased intervention of the United States in the Colombian conflict," said Gustavo Petro, a Congressman and former rebel from the disbanded M-19 guerrilla group. "They have taken them as war prisoners, and it is because they are part of the conflict and that is how the FARC sees them."
In the U.S. the mood certainly seemed to indicate the incident had enraged some lawmarkers. "I don't think there's any question that this precipitous action by the FARC is going to meet with very strong retaliation," said Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Democrat and member of a visiting Congressional delegation. "Precisely what happens is being discussed as we speak, but they've made a very grave error."
Colombian government officials are trying to gather international support by tying the rebels to terror groups. With 1,500 U.S. troops heading to the Philippines to help fight rebel groups, Bogota may just be on the right track.


 

LA FRANCE DE CHIRAC
Tout comme son premier mandat présidentiel, le second de Jacques Chirac commence sous un certain tollé international impliquant des armes stratégiques, or il ne s'agit pas des siennes. Les essais nucléaires qui avaient marqué l'arrivée de Chirac à l'Elysée avaient pourtant ceci en commun avec la situation actuelle, il s'agissait de conserver la force de frappe, jadis militaire, présentement diplomatique.
Un gaulliste pas comme les autres, Chirac s'est servi avec calcul de la place qu'a reprise la France au sein de l'OTAN sous son mandat. Trente ans avant son arrivée au pouvoir, le fondateur du gaullisme, le général lui-même, avait retiré la France du commandement intégré de l'Alliance atlantique, chassant les soldats Américains de la métropole, eux qui s'y étaient installés depuis la libération. Souveraineté et politique nucléaire étaient la cause de cette déchirure, puisque la France disposait alors elle-même de la bombe.
Mais il s'agissait d'une déchirure plutôt cosmétique, la France ne laissant aucun doute quant à son engagement au creux de la guerre froide. En 1996, Chirac a réintégré la France au sein de l'Otan à une époque où l'Alliance était en pleine période de crise existentielle, et avant ses premières missions dans les Balkans.
Le schisme actuel n'est pas moins grâve et va se creuser si les Etats-Unis décident d'aller de l'avant à l'extérieur de la structure de l'OTAN. Alors que la France ne laissait que flotter la menace d'un véto au sein du Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU, celui qu'elle a déposé au sein de l'OTAN pour éviter qu'une "logique de guerre" ne s'empare des efforts de régler la question irakienne a fait grimper l'impatience de Washington avec Paris.
Les jurons n'étant plus suffisants dans les coulisses du Congrès, certains laissent même planer la menace d'un boycott commercial ou touristique américain. La France a beau ne pas être seule à faire face à Washington, les Etats-Unis n'y voyaient que du feu. "Nous autres Français sommes profondément lâches, "munichois" dans l'âme, singulièrement vénaux, passablement antisémites et, cela va de soi, antiaméricains avec acharnement. On oublie : nous sommes "vieux" aussi. C'est ainsi qu'une certaine presse américaine voit les Français", reprenait Le Monde, sans citer pour faire poli au sein de tant de `francophobie'.
"Et sans doute vain de relever que deux des éléments-clés de la position de Paris méritent au moins d'être débattus : 1. l'Irak ne présente pas un danger tel qu'il mérite une guerre ; 2. une guerre contre un pays arabe est exactement ce que souhaite Oussama Ben Laden." Il n'y a pas qu'à l'OTAN ou l'ONU d'ailleurs que France et Etats-Unis ne voient pas d'oeil à oeil.
Paris avait jusqu'à tout récemment raison de croire que Washington bloquerait l'élection d'un juge francais à la cour pénale internationale, où un des 18 magistrats sera Canadien. Peu chaude à l'idée de la Cour, l'administration Bush avait entrepris une vaste campagne contre la CPI, accusée de porter atteinte à la souveraineté nationale américaine. Pour limiter sa portée Washington avait finalement obtenu une résolution de l'ONU accordant l'immunité, pour un an, devant le tribunal, à tous les ressortissants américains prenant part aux opérations de maintien de la paix. Depuis, la Maison Blanche poursuit ses pressions pour retarder le fonctionnement de la CPI, qui doit sélectionner son procureur en avril.
Les organismes génétiquement modifiés sont un autre sujet de dispute, commerciale celle-là, puisque la France observe un moratoire qui empêche l'importation et la vente de ces produits. Dans ces deux cas, les Etats-Unis se retrouvent isolés devant un bloc européen uni.
Une unité qui fait défaut au sein de l'ONU et de l'OTAN à une époque où l'UE, elle-même divisée, tente de s'affirmer en matière de politique extérieure. Avec la signature de huit pays membres appuyant la politique de Washington, et allant à l'encontre d'une alliance franco-allemande célébrant ses 40 ans, rien ne semble moins sûr.
Quel tourbillon pour tant de nations européennes qui viennent de se joindre à la fois à l'OTAN et à l'Union, un ensemble qui garde de moins en moins bien son nom. Mais si une chose unit bien l'opinion européenne, c'est le rejet de l'option militaire.
L'audacité de Chirac se doit-elle à des chiffres de soutien publics de l'ordre des chiffres gonflés du second tour des présidentielles-choc? Certaines hésitations paraissent déjà au sein de la tout-puissante droite, chez ceux qui songent aux conséquences à plus long terme.
De son côté, lors d'une réunion explosive à Munich entre Francais, Allemands et Américains la fin de semaine dernière, le ministre des affaires étrangères allemand Joschka Fischer justifiait sa réticence de la sorte: "Je ne suis pas convaincu; je ne peux pas convaincre le public allemand si je ne suis pas moi-même convaincu !", s'est-il exclamé.
Ce public allemand trouve à 57% aux Etats-Unis un caractère un peu trop belliqueux. De manière générale la guerre est rejetée en majorité en Europe, jusqu'en Angleterre, où 40% des répondants lors d'un sondage récent rejetaient l'option militaire de manière absolue. Les manifestations géantes de cette fin de semaine à Londres comme ailleurs le démontrent. Une unité absente pourtant au niveau politique.



 

AMERICA MOURNS LOSS OF SPACE SHUTTLE
Before it was revealed to be anything else, a rare meteor shower or string of shooting stars in a clear blue Texas sky, it was an eerie thing of beauty. That first impression wasn't wrong, space travel still is.


 

The tragic end to the mission of space shuttle Columbia, carrying six Americans and the first Israeli cosmonaut in history, curiously reminded us of the remarkable achievements in the name of science, even at a time rockets usually have military applications, and science can raise serious ethical questions, on matters such as cloning.


 

The mission was carrying seven world-class scientists, and a number of experiments, two of them Canadian, which could have ramifications in the health sector. One Canadian experiment for instance was to better the understanding of proteins. "A precise knowledge of protein structures helps design more efficient medication, with fewer side effects. Protein crystal growth has applications in the fight against cancer and diabetes, as well as in research to control antibiotic-resistant bacteria."


 

The other was studying osteoporosis and other forms of bone disease -- taking advantage of the peculiar effects of space travel wherein astronauts tend to lose bone mass.


 

But the horror of what happened over America's southern states on Saturday, where authorities are trying to gather the most debris they can to reconstruct those fateful events, did not fail to quickly become apparent, from the moment the space center lost contact with the returning shuttle in mid-sentence, and Texans were reporting loud crashes, sometimes sounding like a freight train running through their fields.


 

A NASA communique declared a Space Shuttle contingency. "Communication and tracking of the shuttle was lost at 9 a.m. EST at an altitude of about 203,000 feet in the area above north central Texas. At the time communications were lost. The shuttle was traveling approximately 12,500 miles per hour (Mach 18). No communication and tracking information were received in Mission Control after that time."


 

Again America woke up to tragedy, its nerves already rattled by the prospect of going to war in Iraq. The tragedy made fewer victims, but touched as many people as condolences came in from different parts of the world. Again, an American tragedy was touching the world not only because of its dreadfully spectacular nature, but because those killed were a microcosm of the planet.


 

An Indian-born woman, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, who had moved to America but was considered a hero back home, on her second mission. Michael Anderson, a role model in the black community being one of a handful of African-American astronauts. An Israeli colonel, Ilan Ramon, bringing his country into the space age. Those countries mourned their losses deeply, and countries with their own space programs empathized as well. A rare moment of unity often shared in tragedy, before the world moves on as it always does.


 

In Canada, three-time space mission crew member Marc Garneau, our first man into space, mourned the loss of the astronauts, six of whom he knew personally. "Shuttle flights with humans on board will never be a completely safe undertaking," said the veteran who heads the nation's young space agency. The incident halted shuttle missions for now, including two which were to include Canadian astronauts this year alone.


 

The missions will eventually go on, president George W. Bush made sure of that in his short heartfelt address. "Our journey into space will go on," he said, noting the astronauts knew they were taking great risks to serve all of humanity. "They had a high and noble purpose in life."


 

In a statement, the families of the victims concurred. "Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo 1 and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on," they said through a NASA spokesperson. "And once the root cause of this tragedy is found and corrected, the legacy of Columbia must carry on for the benefit of our children and yours."


 

"They dedicated their lives to scientific research on Earth," said Sean O'Keefe, a NASA administrator. But the sacrifices, the risks, were seemingly forgotten by the general public, a former astronaut deplored. "After 113 flights people have a tendency to look at it as something routine, but I assure you it is not," Bill Readdy told the day's major news conference.


 

"We're devastated," Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said in the news conference. "We have lost seven family members." But the best way to move forward is to take up the job at hand, all agree, and foremost working on the investigations launched soon after the incident. While NASA would not speculate on the causes, a number of sensor breakdowns in the minutes preceding the breakup, as the shuttle reentered the atmosphere, were the first clues into the incident.


 

First the loss of temperatures data, then tire pressure, the subject of the last audible communication between the ground and the crew. The shuttle seemed vulnerable dealing with the incredible heat of re-entering the atmosphere. The failures seemed to originate from the side of the shuttle hit by a chunk of insulation which came loose upon takeoff, a small event that NASA initially dismissed, but which eventually became one of the main leads of the investigation.


 

In the mean time the shuttle program has been put on hold, and the development of the space station along with it. How it is all becoming painfully familiar. Seven astronauts lost in the critical stages of space flight on a picture-perfect day in the cold of Winter. The similarities with the 1986 Challenger disaster don't end there, they just begin.


 

Then as now critical questions were raised about reports of minor damage to the spacecraft before the disaster. In the case of the Challenger, it was a small accident which may have damaged insulation on the external fuel tank days before takeoff. In Columbia's case, small derbis hitting a wing upon takeoff.


 

Then as now many were lamenting the fact the disaster had jolted a country which had grown perhaps complacent with regards to space shuttle missions. Then as now, the U.S. was fighting terrorism and staring down an Arab country it threatened with military strike.


 

While this time George W. Bush made his presidential condolences to a grief-stricken nation, then Bush Sr., vice-president, was chosen by then president Ronald Reagan - who postponed his State of the Union speech -, to head the inquiry into the disaster. At the time, as now, the U.S. president had his mind focused on the Arab world, threatening to strike Libya for fostering terrorists targeting Americans abroad.


 

As the Challenger disaster made international headlines, so too did Libyan leader Ghadafi's promise to the U.S. he would demand a halt to terrorist activities in Europe if Uncle Sam promised not to strike. But less than three months later, the U.S. president he called "power mad" did just that, familiarly, to the dismay of America's European allies who had been appealing for restraint.


 

There was no doubt the disaster would prove no distraction to the usual carrying out of business, then as now. But it did shake the U.S. out of its lethargy. The space shuttle program was only half a dozen years old when Challenger exploded upon liftoff, and already then some were lamenting how space exploration was being taken for granted.


 

"By now everyone has seen the terrible videotape, but most Americans  weren't watching when it happened," wrote a columnist in the next morning's Miami Herald. "The shuttle program had become routine, and we had lost interest."


 

"We've grown used to the idea of space and perhaps we forgot that we've only just begun," Reagan said in his 1986 address, "We're still pioneers." Saturday Bush acknowledged it has become "easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket." Perhaps this is best exemplified by the space industry's willingness to cater to wealthy space tourists.


 

Would the space program go on? Both presidents left no doubt, and the facts have already shown this. A few months after the Challenger disaster, in the deep of the Cold war, the most important space endeavor in years took place when the Soviet Union set up the first permanent space outpost in Mir.


 

In 1967, what was probably the space program's darkest year, both American and Russian astronauts lost their lives trying to conquer the stars, and in particular, Earth's satellite. But two years later the moon's craters were no longer just being observed with telescope, but hopped over by American astronauts.


 

Then just this Sunday Russia carried on with its scheduled takeoff of an unmanned rocket to replenish the international space station. The old space race NASA was created to win, has become a global space program that serves the entire human race. If only it knew how much.


 

"I've been through three of these and each time you see the community come together," Chief flight director Milt Heflin said of past tragedies. "Sometime it's a shame that it takes things like these for the country to pull together." And the rest of the world too.



 

 ELECTION DAY IN HAVANA
It’s 8 am on election day in Havana, but the children of the revolution that just celebrated its 44th year of defiance in the face of the giant American neighbor are lining up to get their ration of bread, not to cast their votes.
Across town the biographies of the 609 candidates, who are running unopposed for parliament, are plastered prominently in streets often lined with Cuban flags, on a day that authorities say will prove once more that the socialist revolution strives still.
By the end of the day over 8.1 million voters will have cast their votes according to the official newspaper Granma, some 97,6% of the listed electors, slightly down from the 98% seen in previous votes. This is the third time Cubans are called to the polls to elect their representatives, forming a largely rubber-stamp body that approves every whim of the Council of State headed by the leader maximo himself, Fidel Castro, which opponents say makes a mockery of the "electoral process" on the island nation.
Never before have elections been held with such enthusiasm, nevertheless exclaimed the Commandante himself on voting day, proclaiming the democratic process in Cuba an example for the world, something the NPU had a hard time backing up with what it heard from the masses in its week-long stay in Havana.
During the day, the voting stations hardly seemed busy, not more than three or four voters showing at a time, but even reluctant voters such as Rafio, a 29 year-old who keeps a guest house for foreign visitors, eventually turn up to do their duty, albeit with utmost indifference. "Yes I voted, but who cares who it was for," he says, "they’re all hand-picked by the guy upstairs anyways," he says pointing to the heavens as if to a Cuban deity that needn't be named.
Part from the bio sheets wallpapered across town, voters know little about the candidates because they get little air time and are generally unknown. Rafio’s girlfriend Nataly, 18, voting in elections for the first time, says she knew the candidate she cast her vote for only by name.
On this day at least one will have benefited from a general notoriety: Juan Miguel Gonzalez, father of Elian, the Cuban boy that made international headlines and nearly created a diplomatic incident after surviving a dangerous crossing to Florida in 2000 but eventually repatriated home.
Alfredo, 30, a Martinique-born immigrant happy to occasionally speak French with visitors says he doesn’t care too much who he’s voting for, as long as he votes. "If you don’t you can get into a lot of trouble," says the rumba instructor, walking around the Capitolio where candidates will soon take their seats. That may be a little dramatic a statement, voting isn’t mandatory per say, but there is pressure for voters to show up, especially newly-arrived immigrants who are told they should be thankful for being allowed in. Of course they are few, as for many years the number of emigrants has been much greater than that of immigrants, let alone those who want to leave.
Over a mojito, the drink Hemmingway made famous during his stay on the island, Alfredo explains he left his home country in search of security because of the growing violence in Martinique. His father refused to follow, "he doesn’t like Fidel," he says.
Those seeking security could not have picked a better place than the country that could well have coined the phrase "a cop on every block". In every neighborhood of town police, in uniform or plaine-clothes, watch ever so diligently, occasionally carding nationals who mingle with visitors. A few steps into the city’s Chinatown, where locals dress in traditional Chinese clothes but where few Asians have been seen since many left following the revolution, Alfredo is asked to show his identification, which must be carried at all times, for no reason other than walking with an obivous visitor. "That’s all right," he says grinning afterwards, "It comes from living in a city of two million where one million are policement. It’s nothing to me."
But for others the constant surveillance is taking its toll. "You don’t notice it much because they leave visitors alone, but they are watching everywhere," says Rafio, "I would like the freedom to walk with whomever I want without being harassed." he says from his apartment overlooking the Malecon boulevard linking the upscale neighborhood of Miramar to Old Havana along a shore often whipped by waves and heavy winds. Perhaps Rafio has the right to be paranoid. Across the street lies a police station out of which a steady stream of officers flows at all hours. Down the street, young school children are taught the grandeur of the revolution and how to handle arms, amongst the usual curriculum, at the "escuela de los guerilleros".
On the other hand there also lies a 24 hour medical clinic down the street, the health sector being an object of pride for revolutionaries, including Castro himself, who doesn't miss the opportunity to bring up Cuba's medical prowess in a major election day speech. On television that evening, four of the five channels in the capital are rebroadcasting the latest of many famously lengthy speeches by Castro, but Rafio is  leaving the TV on just for the amusement of visitors he is lodging for U$20 a night. "Things have to change," he says, "we don’t starve here, but everything is in short supply, and what there is you can only pay for in U.S. dollars." At 20 pesos a dollar, 26 on the street, that makes many products otherwise not available in stores selling in moneda nacional prohibitive, considering the average Cuban makes just U$10 a month. If Castro goes "it could be better, or worse," Rafio says unsure.
The greenback has been official currency for ten years now, along with the Cuban Peso and convertible Peso, another national currency at par with the dollar but just in Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet Union having dealt a severe blow to the island nation, the tight-fisted regime allowed for a "special period" creating some free enterprise to keep the population from stirring, and sought foreign investment, which Canada leads, in the form of tourism and the exploitation of national resources, which may now be 100% foreign-owned; a long way from the nationalizations which marked Castro’s coming into power in 1959.
But for all the measures, average Cubans are still left scrounging for much-needed dollars, which they are eager to exchange their pesos for, lining up in banks for hours. Prohibited from having two jobs, many however engage in some on-the-side activities to make ends meet. One of them is Maria Victoria, 36, a native of Santiago de Cuba and reporter for the online edition of Granma. "If I could count the times people ask me about Cuba after Fidel," she says, "Frankly I don’t think much will change. His brother, Raul (now  vice-president) will simply take over (...) But things do have to change, especially with all the shortages we are having," she says before pleading for help buying milk for children she may or may not have.
One street-smart tactic for approaching visitors is to distance oneself from nationals seeking money or trying to sell (fake) cigars but pleading for help to buy (expensive) milk for family members for which kickbacks will be paid. But there is no doubt there are shortages if only by considering the number of nationals seeking a free meal in exchange for services.
While most Cubans dare not raise their voices on these issues some have voiced the need to bring dramatic changes to the regime in place. Organizers of the Cuban opposition's Varela Project petition drive, seeking major reforms and initiated by dissient Oswaldo Paya, said they would not participate in elections for parliament deputies but were not calling on others to abstain from voting. "We announce that we will not participate because we consider the process to be undemocratic." In its communique, the Varela Project committee also repeated earlier demands that the government respond to its petitions, signed by 11,020 registered voters and delivered to the National Assembly.
The petitions ask for a referendum on several proposed laws that would guarantee civil rights such as freedom of speech, assembly and the right to own a private business. Those proposals also include electoral reforms and an amnesty for political prisoners. But other Cuban opposition groups opposing the Varela Project say government opponents could protest the elections more effectively in one of three ways: by not voting, by annulling their ballot, or by depositing the ballot blank. They disagree with Varela project’s willingness to seek reform from within the current system rather than trying to throw it out altogether.
"The rights that Paya wants to take to a referendum are inalienable, this Rights and Freedoms are not to be taken to the voting booth, they are recognized on the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights, of which Cuba is a signer," they say, adding the Varela project "legitimizes the tyranny",  "discriminates the political prisoners in its Amnesty" and "forbids the Exiled community including the newcomers to participate in the political."
Meanwhile leading up to the vote, Miami’s influential exile community conceded the removal of Castro would not end all the island’s woes, during a conference. Panelists sought to dispel the notion that Cuba's communist regime is set to crumble once Castro is no longer in power, the Miami Herald reported. Upon his death, they said, control over the island likely would pass to Castro's brother and, in the event of Raul Castro's death, the military.
"It is important that we understand that `No Fidel, no problem' is just a slogan," one speaker said. Another pointed out that after the Soviet Union fell apart, only some of the newly independent countries were able to establish free societies. "The end of communism does not automatically lead to capitalism."
Near the well-guarded U.S. Special interests building that can be seen from Rafio’s balcony, a billboard pokes fun at America’s policy of isolating the island nation. "Dear capitalists, we are not afraid of you at all" it says depicting a gun-clutching Cuban thumbing his nose at an enraged Uncle Sam. There is no lack of contradiction in that so staunchly anti-American a country uses the greenback as national currency, or that a movie theatre right across the street from the Capitolio shows U.S. block-busters such as Tom Cruise's "Minority report" in rotation. Eventually change will come, many think, but the electoral process displayed Sunday is clearly not the solution.
Some are clearly not holding their breath before drastic transformations come to Cuba. "They’ve been saying that for a while now," an Californian travelling illegally says about all the talk of change. Like many who defy America’s ban on the island nation, he couldn’t wait to see the country Uncle Sam has been railing about much longer.
Meanwhile in the parks and public squares of the city, children of all ages engage in the national past-time of baseball, which by far outweighs soccer in popularity. One group has set up camp in front of one of the many monuments to the grandeur of the revolution. Incidently every time one of the youngster swings and misses, the Che takes it in the chin. But for now, the revolution lives on, under the stare of the ever-watchful umpire.


 

IS IT ABOUT OIL AFTER ALL?
A little like the coastline of northern Spain, now spreading into France, the world is awash with an oil slick, sometimes rhetorical sometimes real. From North Korea to Venezuela through the Middle East, the black gold can serve as pretext or direct cause for confrontation in more ways than one.
In the hermit kingdom, the regime in Pyongyang says America's decision to stop oil aid shipments caused it to reopen nuclear facilities to supply the country with energy, sparking a crisis over the country's observance of the non-proliferation treaty. In the Gulf, oil has everything to do with America's obsession with Saddam Hussein critics say, while in Venezuela, the sustained strikes crippling the country's economy and boosting international crude prices started with a power struggle at the heart of the state-owned oil company, and have forced the exporting country to start importing oil.
Like oil oozing out of a sunken tanker off the coast of Galicia, the oil crisis, combining the threat of war in Iraq and unrest in Caracas, is dirty and out of control. No wonder North American power gluttons and gas-guzzlers are crying all the way to the pump, or bank to pay their heating bills, this Winter.
What is good news for the few involved in the oil patch business is bad news for consumers and a global economy unused to crude prices remaining over 30$ a barrel for too long, sparking fears of inflation when the economic engine seems in need of a boost. Soon it may need an overhaul.
In the U.S. the lethal mix in Latin America and the Mideast could mean much higher gas prices and depleted strategic oil reserves some fear, with little short-term help in sight, as supplies from Venezuela, the world's 5th largest producer which accounts for 13% of U.S. oil imports, dry up, and longer trips are needed for tankers to cross the Atlantic with their messy cargo.
OPEC is holding emergency meetings to do its share, despite the fact that the cartel controls a dwindling share of world production. The fact is it still controls a quarter of world production, and has promised to step up and honor its target range of $22-28 per barrel, which has been exceeded for well over the 20 tolerated days. It is not so much the collapse of Iraqi capacity that is worrisome, but potential disruption in the Gulf region as a whole during a prolonged and possibly messy conflict.
In Venezuela, the crisis is the government's to settle, and on this there are varying opinions. Venezuela's stoppage has helped push oil prices to two-year highs as US stockpiles have fallen to 26-year lows. President Hugo Chavez, the target of current anti-government protests which have called for early elections if not his outright ouster, has vowed to restore production in weeks, something critics say won't be accomplished in less than a few months.
Now Chavez is proposing to end the crisis by splitting Petroleos de Venezuela largely to purge the state oil giant of executives and workers opposing his rule, something some fear may bring an end to a model oil business in a country so dependent on the black gold. As the strike lingers and freezes the country's main exports, the government has threatened to impose a state of emergency in the capital, sparking fears of elevating the level of confrontation and danger, which has already claimed lives in street clashes. While the world was exchanging gifts over the holidays, protesters and police were exchanging gas canisters. A teary-eyed way of ushering the new year in itself.
Meanwhile it was yet another cold lean Christmas in Pyongyang where the Communist regime is accused of playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship to obtain concession from industrial countries, especially the U.S. While Washington was firm this would not stand, it has responded to the flying North Korean rhetoric with appeasement, offering possible talks to clear the air.
A proposal to ease tensions over Pyongyang's decision to restart its nuclear program could result in a thawing of relations and improved commerce, including better fuel supplies to the energy-hungry nation, in exchange for abandoning its program. Diplomacy is the solution with North Korea, U.S. officials and their South Korean and Japanese counterparts agree.
On the other hand the West has displayed distinctly less patience with Saddam Hussein, sending their armies into high gear while weapons inspectors gave Baghdad a preliminary clean bill of health. That's normal, war in the Gulf remains in the mid to long term the crisis with the greatest impact on oil prices, some critics say.
For others, the real problem lies at home and not overseas. Lobby group Americans for Efficient Cars is launching a campaign inspired by the U.S. administration's linking of drugs to the financing of terrorism. In the same way, the group argues, gas-guzzlers also arm terrorists by enriching regimes that support terror, making a fill-up of the SUV a crime in itself. Considering the recent hike in gas prices that would make consumers taken to the cleaners money launderers at the same time.


 

UNE NOUVELLE ÈRE AU KENYA
Le micro ajusté à sa faible hauteur, assis comme il l'était dans une chaise roulante lors de son discours d'inauguration, le nouveau président du Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, agé de 71 ans, projetait l'image d'un vieux combatant trônant tant bien que mal au plus haut de sa gloire, et de celle de l'histoire démocratique de ce pays parfois turbulent.
Pourtant il fait figure de sang nouveau, et pour une fois ce n'était pas la violence électorale habituelle qui le confinait à cet état en ce grand jour de célébration, mais un accident d'automobile. Le manque de violence lors du scrutin historique qui a marqué la transition kenyane était d'ailleurs un des fait notables de ce référendum du régime corrompu de Daniel Arap Moi, dont le parti, dirigé par le fils du fondateur de la nation Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru, a été réduit considérablement avec à peine 31% des voix lors du vote du 27 décembre (contre 62%).
Même s'il ne pouvait plus se présenter à nouveau pour la présidence en raison de la constitution, Arap Moi a lourdement fait les frais de cette élection qui pour une première fois depuis l'indépendance assurait une alternance démocratique et pacifique du régime à l'opposition, la coalition nationale arc-en-ciel (NARC) de Kibaki, un ancien du régime qui après avoir fait cavalier seul a rallié les forces du changement nécessaires. Et quelles forces, la coalition nationale regroupe un grand nombre d'intérêts et de partis divergents qui, comme l'électorat réuni, ont fait campagne avec l'objectif principal de mettre fin au régime de corruption du parti KANU.
Alors que l'économie sombre dans la récession, Kibaki a promis de mettre sur pied "une commission anticorruption à laquelle nous donnerons le pouvoir de poursuivre en justice" sans qu'il ne soit question de chasse aux sorcières cependant. Il a également promis de choisir un gouvernement, à l'image de son électorat, d'union nationale. Avec 125 des 210 sièges du Parlement, la coalition, mêlant opposants de longue date aux transfuges de dernière minute, a une majorité absolue.
D'autres promesses électorales seront plus difficiles à garder cependant, dont celle de rendre l'éducation gratuite immédiatement, selon le Sunday Nation, en raison du manque d'argent. Mais là-dessus Kibaki risque d'avoir plus d'assistance que son prédécesseur, dont la mauvaise gestion et la corruption avaient serré les robinets du Fonds Monétaire International et de la Banque mondiale.
Ceux-ci pourraient donner un immense coup-de-pouce à l'administration entrante de l'ancien ministre des finances en ouvrant les vannes afin de faciliter grandement les réformes promises. A en juger les réactions internationales après l'élection de Kibaki, le nouveau gouvernement aura facilement accès à de meilleurs crédits des bailleurs de fonds internationaux.
C'est entre autre cet espoir qui a massé tant de gens, des centaines de milliers de spectateurs, en ce jour de serment à Nairobi. "C'est une libération, c'est comme gagner l'indépendance une seconde fois", s'écriaient certains. De telles foules, réunies en grand nombre le sourire aux lèvres et sans grande bousculade, ça aussi ça ne s'était pas vu depuis l'indépendance. Un spectacle aussi rare que celui de l'écoute impassible d'Arap Moi lorsque Kibaki s'est écrié: "J'hérite un pays qui a été durement endommagé par des années d'administration inepte."
On pourra tout de même dire de Moi, conspué jusqu'à la toute fin en quittant la foule sous les huées et les jets de détritus, qu'il aura tenu sa promesse de laisser l'élection prendre son cours, un fait parfois rarissime en Afrique. "Le temps où le president était tout appartient maintenant au passé" déclara Kibaki, "l'humble serveur" auto-déclaré de la nation.
L'histoire le jugera, mais en attendant plusieurs reprennent le refrain de Raila Odinga, premier ministre potentiel: "C'est le début d'une ère nouvelle".