NORTHERNPRESS ONLINE

Subtitle

L'année 2004 - The year

DEATH CAME FROM THE SEA
 
Across Indonesia, the threat of terror attacks had been looming, especially against Westerners. Wherever parishioners, many expatriates, met for Christmas mass on Dec. 25, throngs of policemen stood watch, surrounding churches as if under siege.
Terrorism had already left its bloody imprint in the age where all horrors were possible, killing 202 in the October 2002 bombing of nightclubs in Bali and striking twice since in Jakarta. But the looming catastrophe was beyond terrorism, and a savage reminder of the fierce and brute forces of nature. This terror would come from the sea.
When the earth moved off the coast of Sumatra on Dec. 26, it created a tsunami that would kill over a hundred thousand souls, a devastation that spread across the Indian sea and as far as the coast of Africa, whipping some 20 countries.
Indonesia bore the brunt of the calamity, alone losing over 80,000 lives as the massive wave swept entire villages from the map of the archipelago. Across the Indian sea, hundreds of kilometers away, the disaster was no less massive, killing over 50,000 in India and Sri Lanka.
A second wave threatened like a looming time-bomb of disease and epidemic that could afflict survivors with dysentery, cholera and other water-born ailments. Leaving many times more injured in its wake and millions homeless, the ripple of the 8.9 quake, recorded as the most massive in forty years, left broken families, and in the communities that avoided obliteration, devastated economies.
Many foreigners were also reported as missing as the region boasted one of the world's great tourist paradises, now torn beyond recognition as the unyielding waters receded, leaving wrecked homes, buildings and communities. In some areas, only the more sturdy edifices, such as religious buildings and army barracks, were left standing. At some gathering points in India, walls were covered with gruesome pictures of the dead in the hope they could be identified by families, forming a macabre mosaic of human tragedy.
The disaster did not discriminate, taking thousands of Asians but also over 2,500 Swedes, and left hundreds of Somalis homeless hundreds of miles away. Over 150 Canadians were reportedly missing. Truly a disaster of epic proportions.
As always devastation sometimes brought once divided communities together, at least for a short while. Pakistan came to the aid of nuclear rival India in its hour of need. Tragedies tend to bring out the best of people sometimes. When disaster struck in Turkey in 1999, a traditional hellenic adversary came to the rescue offering aid.
The region hit by the tsunami, home to millions of poor and suffering, as well as violent rivalries tearing communities from Sri Lanka to Southern Thailand, needed all the humanity it could spare. The usually fierce Tamil Tigers rebels based north of Sri Lanka made a rare appeal for help and organized their own aid efforts but there was some violence when the Prime Minister toured area and families grieved their concerns. The Tigers did not stop their practise of shutting their self-defined border at times, hampering aid efforts. In Indonesia people were left scavenging for food as aid initially failed to reach the most remote corners of Banda Aceh, home to an insurgency quieted by the disaster.
Downed infrastructures and bureaucracy at times complicated the distribution of aid, but at least an abundance of donations was flowing from various countries, some $2 billion from 40 nations, notably $500 million from Japan, $350 million from the U.S. and $80 million from Canada. The numbers ballooned after U.N. officials berated some unnamed Western countries for being too stingy on aid at a time of need.
Taking personal affront, the U.S., which had offered $15 million initially, then $35 million, multiplied its aid by ten, promising more. In what became a race for aid supremacy, Japan topped its earlier offer of $80 million by procuring half a billion dollars in aid. But America needed to make this gesture more than others, being richer, more technically able and in need of a PR overhaul. After leading a handful of countries, some reluctantly, in the coalition of the willing in Iraq, it was leading a coalition of aiding countries, whose core group also included regional powers Australia and India.
But what the U.S. offered that others did not have were tactical and technical capabilities, including some 15,000 troops backed by planes, choppers and even aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. The image of Apache helicopters bringing aid instead of firepower, and U.S. troops being thanked by desperate survivors getting their first food in days, was one the Bush administration needed to launch its new mandate that promised to re-establish strained ties.
"Aceh has drowned," one survivor told the first soldiers to deliver food aid to a stricken and remote village of northern Indonesia. In some areas the first troops to deliver aid were American, not Indonesian. "The sailors are dying to come to shore to help," a Navy official told CNN. The disaster made even grown men of war weep. On shore an Indonesian Colonel cried as he showed a video of villagers running from the tidal wave to President Yudhoyono. U.S. president George Bush announced former presidents Bush and Clinton would lead a nation-wide charity drive to aid the victims.
Both the U.S. and Canada started flying flags at half-staff to mourn the victims of the disaster. Canada, just as it was closing its doors to refugee-seekers under the Third Country agreement with Washington, sending hundreds rushing to the border to beat the deadline from the U.S. - which has stricter immigration policies -, said it was opening its doors to thousands of victims of Asia's deadly tsunamis, pledging to expedite immigration requests from disaster-stricken foreigners with relatives in this country.  Ottawa's DART disaster-relief unit was readying for deployment.
Meanwhile officials monitoring tsunamis in the Pacific started working on the gap in their system which prevented an early alarm that could have saved thousands of lives around the Indian ocean, which is not equipped with a monitoring device because of the rarity of tsunamis there. The size of the task, like all else which involved the disaster, is tremendous.
Ahead of a major conference on the disaster in Jakarta, U.N. officials, much more pleased by the new aid contributions, said it would probably take a decade of continuing "the greatest aid effort in the world" and relentless support for any rebuilding to take place. Countries, especially in the West, would need to show much resolve to undo what nature had done in just hours.

A RISE IN THE EAST
Canadians were reminded they would soon have a business leader as prime minister when, barely sworn in as Liberal leader just over a year ago, Paul Martin saw the sun rise in the East. "Within a generation, the United States will not be the lone economic super-power", he told the national convention in Toronto, "China and India are already accelerating global competition, shaking the foundations of the world economy."
A year later the ripples of those transformations have been felt, contributing to everything from the export of jobs to India to the rise of the dollar and surge in commodity prices. And China isn't only buying Canadian products and resources, it is increasingly looking to buy the companies that make and treat them. In fact securing China's access to key commodities is a national priority according to a Chinese official speaking in an interview with the Globe & Mail.
In late October Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told the paper that the controversial $7-billion takeover of Noranda Inc. being pondered at the time was a small element of a major strategy of investment in Canada's resources sector to feed China's appetite for raw materials. "Given our rapid economic growth, we're facing an acute shortage of natural resources," the Foreign Minister said. "No matter how plentiful our natural resources, when you divide them by our population of 1.3 billion, the figure will be very small."
Martin welcomed the Chinese proposal at the time despite some unease about the country's human rights record. "These are issues which we obviously, in any discussion, will take into account," the prime minister commented at the time. Just this week Chinese police detained three leading intellectuals in what many feared was a crackdown on public dissent. But concerns about human rights don't necessarily prevent improved ties with China. Recently French and German officials called for an end to a 15-year-old European arms embargo on China imposed after the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square, a move later judged premature by the EU's leadership. Stil the end of restrictions is in sight and both countries signed billions of dollars' worth of contracts with China.
Talks on the takeover of Canada's biggest mining company by China Minmetals Corp., a state company which sparked concerns it wouldn't play by traditional rules of the market, cooled off after a period of extensive meetings, but it proved to mark the beginning of other Chinese takeover attempts here. The latest involved discussions on the possible acquisition of Calgary-based oil and gas giant Husky Energy, hardly the first time the company - already owned by a Hong Kong businessman - faced a takeover.
Statistics of Chinese investments abroad have usually been overshadowed by the flow of foreign investments towards the world's largest market, but China's pockets will become deeper and deeper in time. By some assessments Chinese bank assets would surpass those of the United States well before 2050, as the country gradually becomes the world's largest producer and market for many goods and services, while largely remaining a source of cheap labor.
That makes China both a threat to developing and industrial countries. This week much of the Third world expressed a sigh of relief when China said it would impose tarriffs on its own textile exports to level the playing field with other countries. But concerns still rattle the leader of the country most associated with cheap labor in North America, Mexican president Vicente Fox, who recently called for closer economic integration within Nafta to challenge the rising red tide. "All three of us are losing jobs to China," said in an interview during a recent visit to Canada. "We, in a way, have a destiny that is common to the three of us."
While Ottawa was cool to the offer of closer ties, it fully understood the scope of Mexico's concerns, sharing most of them. The takeover threat is new coming from China, where companies were usually told to keep their assets at home by the leadership in Beijing.
A deal over Noranda would have dwarfed other Chinese acquisitions overseas, generally remaining under $1 billion. But Chinese companies have been multiplying high-profile acquisitions, and not only here or in the resource sector, as seen following the takeovers of everything from South Korea's fourth automaker to that of a major Japanese drug company. Then I.B.M. announced last week the sale of its personal computer business to Lenovo, China's largest personal computer maker, a deal that made plain China's economic rise while giving I.B.M. solid footing in the world's largest market. In all China made some 44 acquisitions in the first nine months of the year to the tune of some $1.4 billion. A modest sum compared to the $55 bil. invested in China, but a 40% rise from 2003.
As recent mining tragedies in China have shown however, the country's voracious appetite for raw materials have made everything including worker security second to securing China's access to resources. China's growth is largely built on coal, the source of two thirds of the country's electricity, but digging out that coal has cost the lives of 15 miners a day in the first nine months of this year, according to official figures. In fact so much for the workers' revolution: China abruptly blocked a meeting of global union and business leaders aimed to press Beijing to do more to protect workers' rights.
China was an oil exporter until 1993 when its consumption rose and in time made it a glutton of the other black gold. According to some projections China will double imports in the coming decade, making acquisitions such as Husky's a matter of national priority. It is this thirst for oil which largely contributed to this year's surge in gas prices according to many analysts.
With a sustained growth that is the envy of G-8 countries, Canada is hardly disappointed the overseas interest isn't helping shed its image of a country living on its natural resources. "Clearly, commodities are back in demand," Martin recently said, speaking at the annual meeting of the Canada-China Business Council ahead of a trade mission to China next month. "And while prices are going to fluctuate, the remarkable consumer and industrial growth that is taking place throughout Asia means that Canada will continue to benefit enormously from our natural resource wealth."
While Canada's growth may be nothing to snicker at, China's, three times larger, will mean some quick catching up. "It's not that far off that its economy will be greater than that of the United States," Martin said, noting Canada was in a good position to increase its business owing to a large Chinese immigrant community, an educated workforce and the ever plentiful natural resources.
The coming trade visit will try to balance what is becoming a one-way street, Chinese investment flooding Canada while Canadian businessmen respond with a trickle. At the conference a vice-president of Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration confirmed his company was looking at Canada's oil resources for the good of the motherland, pointing out the country with 21 per cent of the world's population only has 1.8 per cent of the world's oil supply. "China therefore cannot develop its country relying on its own resources," he said. Of particular interest is Canada's oilsands region, reportedly home to the world's second-biggest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia. On the other hand Sinopec's head is also a member of the Communist party central committee.
Martin insists promoting trade with Canada will not prevent him from lobbying China to improve its human rights record. "Our advocacy does not stand in contradiction to our trade and economic agenda," he said. China was recently reconfirmed as the world leader in carrying out executions.
Martin will also seek to correct a trade imbalance with its second largest trading partner that is in part fueling the buying spree. Between 1995 and 2003 Canada's exports to China grew by just under 40% while Chinese imports quadrupled, boosting the trade deficit from $1.2 billion to $13.8 billion in that period, not unlike the one China shares with the U.S., selling America five times the products it imports. Joining the World Trade Organization three years ago, which forced it to cut tariffs on imports, only appears to have made these imbalances greater.
But surprisingly for all this wealth, Canada continues to offer development assistance to China, some $67 million in 2002, making Canada China's eighth largest donor country. But those days may be coming to an end. This week the UN asked that China become a bigger donor instead of a recipient of its aid. Indeed begging for a larger piece of Canada's resources pie seems to have replaced simple begging a long time ago.

KIEV DESCENDS INTO THE STREETS
While they send observers across the world to monitor ground-breaking elections, Europeans are constantly reminded that some ground-breaking needs to be done much closer to home, in nearby countries that the revolutions of the last decades forgot. They are the former republics of the Soviet Union, looking enviously as the rest of Eastern Europe joins Western military and economic alliances.
While they could once only dream of such concepts, they can now turn dreams of democracy to reality, belatedly in the foot-steps of protests which toppled East European dictators one by one, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not, in late 1989.
Among those aspiring such heights Georgia came first last year, replacing Communist-era leader Edward Schevardnadze - a popular figure in the West where he once personified a changing regime but grew increasingly despised at home, and was ultimately toppled from power. While all of Georgia has yet to enjoy total peace, some parts where Moscow wields influence daring to confront authorities, there is a sense of notable transition.
On the other hand in Belarus, small popular protests were quickly dealt with and failed to deliver a similar transformation. This left the former Soviet republic intimately tied to Moscow in the hands of a repressive regime accused of rigging a referendum permitting president Lukashenko to stay in office. Parliamentary elections held at the same time saw pro-Lukashenko parties sweep all 110 seats. Election monitors widely derided the referendum as falling well short of democratic standards. Similar flawed votes were held in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In the Ukraine, by far the largest of the former republics, one with a rich community of expatriates, street protests hope to obtain results closer to Georgia's than Belarus', as protesters, backed by international monitors disputing results that gave the corrupt pro-Russia regime the win, hope to bring to power the European-minded Viktor Yushchenko.
Pitching tents in the Kiev cold and bundling up for a long fight, protesters fearing a repeat of the tampering seen in the first round of voting heeded calls to stage a disobedience campaign and defied recent declarations by former ruler Leonid Kuchma, whose protege Viktor Yanukovich received just under 50% of the run-off vote, that mass protests would not be tolerated. There was a sense that the largest protests in Ukraine, since 1991 demonstrations calling for independence, needed to finish the job started then. "We will stay here as long as we can to show the power elite that there are many of us," said one protester. "To victory!" yelled others.
In the dark and cold of Kiev, they hardly stood alone as international observers including Canadians described widespread voting abuses from vote rigging to intimidation at the voting polls. U.S. envoy, Senator Richard Lugar, accused the Ukrainian government of supporting a "concerted and forceful programme of election-day fraud and abuse".
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the run-off vote fell far short of European democratic norms. The observers had conducted their own exit polls of some 20,000 voters, giving Yushchenko a comfortable lead in the double digits. "It's terrible what we're witnessing; it's fraud," Edmonton MP Peter Goldring said.
The second day of protests, one year after Georgia's tumultuous events, Yushchenko declared himself winner and took a symbolic oath of office. ``Ukraine is on the threshold of a civil conflict,'' he told lawmakers gathered for an emergency session. ``We have two choices: Either the answer will be given by the parliament, or the streets will give an answer.''
Outgoing President Kuchma meanwhile called for negotiations in the spiraling political crisis, but tensions flared anew the following day when the electoral commission defied the international community by certifying the vote. This was quickly rejected by observers, which in turn encouraged Yushchenko to organize a general strike and blockades. The Bush administration had urged the Ukrainian government not to certify results from the runoff election.
Border states, some of whom were recently admitted into the EU, meanwhile condemned Brussels' lack of strategy on Ukraine, revealing a split between Europe's new and founding countries over the integration of former Soviet republics. The countries, including Nordic, Slav and Baltic states, criticized the Union for lacking a united foreign policy, a common criticism, but something EU foreign ministers nevertheless tried to display as they called on Ukrainian authorities to review the election results.
The EU has also tried to make up for lost ground saying it plans to plunge Belarus further into isolation by banning officials responsible for "fraudulent elections" and violence against opposition supporters from its territory. Warsaw and other capitals meanwhile said measures on Ukraine weren't enough, fearing a lack of common purpose could spell instability on the border it shares with the country of nearly 50 million.
The U.S. issued a stronger message, threatening to review its relationship with Ukraine and take punitive steps if the Ukrainian government failed to investigate allegations of fraud and abuse in its election. Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the certified results giving the current prime minister the lead "illegitimate" while Canada referred to it as "massive fraud", some of many international rejections of the vote that emboldened the Supreme Court of Ukraine to question the validity of the results. In the end it could determine the fate of the nation once called the breadbasket of the USSR.
At stake is also a bit of Europe's relation with Russia, whose president Vladimir Putin rushed to congratulate the Moscow-backed candidate even before results were made official. Moscow fears losing a major ally in the former Soviet republic. It has been successful to some degree reuniting some of them, including Belarus, and Kazakhstan - none of them beacons of democracy - in a special union formed since the 1991 breakup. But more than a key element of the "near abroad", Ukraine holds the roots of early Russian history, its nationalism and religion. Joining Putin in offering congratulations was President Alexander Lukashenko, often called the last dictator of Europe.
In a flashback to Cold-war days, Moscow fears NATO will have a new member on its door-step, further eroding a large buffer between North-Atlantic alliance members and Russia that shrunk with the recent membership of the Baltic states. Little could embody the Iron curtain throwback more than the presence of former Polish leader Lech Walesa at a Yushchenko rally while the Russian president, a former KGB head, provided political star power for the other side. Many see Russia's involvement going beyond active cheerleading for Yanukovich and reaching into tampering with its electoral process.
An electoral map of Ukraine showed a bitterly divided country made of a nationalistic, Yushchenko-backing pro-European West and a more militarized PM-backing Russophile East. But in time things were firmly rolling the opposition's way, as parliament declared the election results void, making a new vote likely. In the streets policemen and soldiers switched allegiances to Yushchenko, as did state-run media outlets, showing images of the protests for the first time.
But the regime's party did not lay down its arms, bringing its own protesters to the streets while regional leaders in the East warned the crisis could split the Ukraine. Yanukovych, who lost a confidence motion, finally agreed the vote should be annulled. The struggle could determine what direction 50 million citizens will take in the coming years. Consequences that could be felt well beyond Ukraine's borders.

TENSIONS AUX PAYS-BAS
Deux assassinats politiques en un an ont ébranlé les Pays-bas, et certains diraient arraché une partie de leur innocence. Dans cette petite nation dont on connait pourtant l'énorme appétit de tolérance, qu'il soit question de cannabis, de mariage gai ou même d'euthanasie, une vague d'intolérance semble se lever, portrant parfois le nom de Geert Wilders.
Le député de droite qui plaide pour la suppression de certains droits civiques pour les musulmans connait un gain de popularité tel que son parti pourrait facilement gagner près de 20 sièges si des élections avaient lieu. L'assassinat du réalisateur Theo van Gogh au début du mois de novembre par le Maroco-néerlandais Mohamed Bouyeri, agissant au nom de l'islamisme radical, a semé d'importantes tensions au coeur de ce pays de 16 millions d'habitants, dont un million est musulman, et ce au point de remettre en question les politiques d'immigration multi-culturelles.
En effet certains politiciens sont à prêcher une approche plus intégrationiste des étrangers, nombreux et divers dans cette ancienne capitale coloniale. Les tensions inter-communautaires sont survenues suite au meurtre du réalisateur, dont un court-métrage récent critiquait le traitement des femmes au sein des communautés musulmanes. La profanation de mosquées et l'attaque à la bombe d'une école islamiste ont donné lieu à des représailles contre certaines églises, mystérieusement prises par les flammes.
C'est une douce image de pays de canaux coulants et de pistes cyclables bondées qui part également en fumée. La montée en popularité de Wilders, qui estime qu'on a été "trop tolérant envers les intolérants", a à son tour créé des ondes de choc au coeur d'une communauté musulmane qui se sent de moins en moins chez elle. Le jeune imam de 25 ans, Abdul-Jabbar van de Ven, a dû prendre la fuite après avoir créé un tollé en déclarant à la télévision qu'il ne serait pas mécontent si Wilders venait un jour à disparaître.
Après l'assassinat de van Gogh, un ancien-petit-neuveu du fameux peintre qui montait un film sur la vie de Pim Fortuyn, le populiste plutôt xénophobe tué par un non-immigrant l'an dernier, c'était de trop. "Comment notre pays a-t-il pu ainsi s'enfoncer?" se désolait la ministre de l'immigration Rita Verdonk, elle qui projette de nouvelles mesures d'intégration des immigrants, dont l'obligation d'apprendre le Néerlandais.
Les meurtres ont suscité une certaine levée des boucliers d'une part et d'autres. Selon un sondage 40% des Néerlandais souhaitent que les musulmans se sentent moins chez eux dans le royaume. Les Pays-bas ne devraient par ailleurs pas hésiter à imposer leurs valeurs, estime la députée libérale Ayaan Hirsi Ali, une immigrante somalienne anciennement musulmane pour qui la supériorité des valeurs occidentales ne laisse pas de doute. Ce genre d'affirmation lui a valu de se retrouver sur le pamphlet laissé par l'assassin du réalisateur, menaçant plusieurs personnalités néerlandaises, dont Wilders, deux personnes qui évitent les foules.
Mais la piste n'est plus exclusivement criminelle. Les autorités néerlandaises classent d'ailleurs l'assassinat plutôt sous la rubrique du "terrorisme islamiste", contre lequel tout un dispositif a été mis à l'oeuvre. Selon les services de renseignement hollandais entre 100 et 200 extrémistes islamistes, dont d'anciens combattants d'Afghanistan et de Tchétchénie, seraient actifs aux Pays-Bas. On recherche par ailleurs un Syrien qui aurait à la fois "joué un rôle" dans l'assassinat et préparé des attentats "contre des bâtiments publics".  
Les autorités reconnaissent toute la complexité de la lutte au terrorisme - soit le besoin de traquer les suspects sans enfreindre les droits civiques - puisqu'ils talonnaient Bouyeri, avant même qu'il ne commette son crime. L'appartement de celui-ci fut un temps le lieu de rencontre d'extrémistes, dont un Syrien connu sous le nom D'Abou Khaled, un jihadiste violent selon les renseignements néerlandais. Un membre du groupe était d'ailleurs supposémment en contact avec un Marocain recherché pour les attentats de Casablanca de 2003.
Depuis cet étalage de faits troublants, la loi néerlandaise a été modifiée pour faciliter la lutte au terrorisme, des changements qui ne sont pas toujours sans creuser certaines divisions sociales quand ils sont accusés de cibler certaines communautés. "Tous les Marocains sont à présent pointés du doigt, fait remarquer Mohamed, qui vit au pays des moulins à vent depuis une trentaine d'années, on faisait déjà l'objet de discrimination, mais la situation a empiré depuis le 11 septembre, et à nouveau depuis".
 90% des Néerlandais approuvement le resserrement des mesures anti-terroristes, même au détriment des libertés individuelles. Le paradis des cyclistes perd peut-être un peu de son charme, mais pourvu seulement qu'il ne devienne pas le paradis de l'islamisme radical.

LA CÔTE D'IVOIRE DANS LA CRISE
Qui a besoin de l'Irak quand on est embourbé en Afrique jusqu'aux oreilles? La fragile paix de Marcoussis qui devait mettre un terme aux affrontements en Côte d'Ivoire a violé en éclats le 4 novembre à la suite de raids de l'aviation ivoirienne sur des positions rebelles.
En plus de faire des victimes ivoiriennes, les raids ont emporté la vie de neuf soldats français de la force d'interposition Licorne, entraînant une riposte qui n'a pas tardé d'anéantir l'aviation gouvernementale. Au lieu de mettre un terme aux éclats, cet acte n'a que multiplié les manifestations contre la présence française et les attaques contre les ressortissants de l'Hexagone.
Dans l'engrenage de la violence, des tirs ont éclaté sur des manifestants la semaine dernière, faisant environ 10 morts. Selon un communiqué du ministre de la Défense, les troupes françaises n'étaient pas responsables du carnage: "les forces de sécurité ivoiriennes qui s'interposaient" entre les manifestants et Licorne "ont été malmenées et ont riposté". La riposte verbale du gouvernement ivoirien n'a pas tardé: "C'est l'armée française qui les a tués, nous n'avons pas encore fait le bilan qui sera plus lourd", affirmait un responsable du ministère des affaires sociales, parlant de trente morts depuis le raid.
La crise survenait alors que le président sud-africain, Thabo Mbeki, mandaté par l'Union africaine pour tenter une mission de la dernière chance, se réjouissait d'un entretien fructueux avec le président Laurent Gbagbo et préparait un sommet de la paix. Mais pendant ce temps les pillards continuaient à s'en prendre aux intérêts économiques de la capitale, tandis que dans plusieurs coins du pays ressurgissaient les divisions nord-sud, éclipsées par les affrontements franco-ivoiriens.
La tourmente a du fait halté les exportations de cacao, dont la Côte d'Ivoire est le plus important producteur, en faisant un enjeu important au sein de la crise. Depuis la reprise des violences, plusieurs centaines d'Ivoiriens ont fui vers le Libéria, cherchant refuge dans le pays qui a sans doute été le plus important symbole de l'instabilité en Afrique de l'Ouest lors de la dernière décennie.
Les réfugiés de ce pays qui fut longtemps le modèle d'une Afrique stable et moderne cherchent également une certaine assistance puisque les Nations unies ont suspendu leurs activités humanitaires en Côte-d'Ivoire, une décision non sans conséquence car elle touche directement quelques 800 000 Ivoiriens qui dépendent de l'aide internationale. Les quelques milliers de Français expatriés sont également en quête de soutien, peu convaincus par les dires du président Jacques Chirac selon lesquels "tout est mis en oeuvre pour garantir" la sécurité des Français (environ 14 000) en Côte d'Ivoire, "unique objectif" du gouvernement.
Pourtant la France a dépêché 700 hommes en renfort des 4 500 soldats français et des 6000 casques bleus sur le terrain. Quelque 1000 étrangers ont été mis en sécurité dans des camps de l'Opération des Nations unies et 1 300 autres ont été hébergés à la base militaire française d'Abidjan.
Alors que le spectre du Vietnam est évoqué par les uns pour intimider les ressortissants français, il n'y a nul doute que les scènes d'opération de secours par hélicoptère opérés sur les toits de la capitale constituent des images retentissantes. Sans parler des parallèles avec les actions américaines en Irak tant condamnées par Paris.
"Presque personne en France ne comprend vraiment quelle est la politique à court, moyen et long terme de notre pays en Côte d'Ivoire. Voulons-nous réoccuper notre ancienne colonie pour y imposer la démocratie, l'Etat de droit et la concorde nationale, à l'image de ce que les Etats-Unis ont promis de réussir en Irak ?" s'interrogeait le Figaro. "Voulons-nous, plus modestement, consolider une ligne de cessez-le-feu, à l'image de ce que l'ONU a fait à Chypre pendant près de trente ans ? Voulons-nous nous contenter de protéger ce qui reste des 'intérêts français' dans le pays natal de Félix Houphouët-Boigny? Nul ne le sait, même dans le public français cultivé qui s'intéresse aux affaires africaines."
Se retenant bien de faire la morale à Paris, les Etats-Unis ont quant à eux condamné le raid aérien et menacé la Côte d'Ivoire de sanction, un Américain ayant également été tué par les tirs de l'aviation. Mais d'autres ont ouvertement qualifié la politique française d'hypocrite. "C'est égocentrique de la part des Français de critiquer les efforts américains d'apporter la stabilité dans une région du globe quand ils font essentiellement la même chose", estime James Carafano du Heritage Foundation au réseau CNN.
Après avoir initialement rejeté une telle initiative, le gouvernement français a affrêté des avions pour rapatrier de Côte d'Ivoire les Français en détresse qui le souhaitent et ravitailler ceux qui en ont besoin, un témoignage en soi de la gravité de la situation. Pendant ce temps le Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU imposait un embargo sur les armes à destination de la Côte d'Ivoire en menaçant d'autres mesures à moins que les partis impliqués ne rouvrent le processus de paix d'ici décembre.
Celui-ci n'a été que plus profondément enfoui par les raids aériens puisque les deux camps ont vite refusé de prendre les mesures nécessaires afin de rendre d'éventuelles élections présidentielles possibles, menant au retrait des rebelles du gouvernement d'union nationale et à la reprise des hostilités.
A présent la France, pour qui l'ancienne colonie pouvait constituer une vitrine en Afrique, ne prétend que vouloir protéger ses ressortissants et éviter la guerre civile, niant toute intention de renverser un gouvernement Gbagbo "contestable". Celui-ci a ouvertement accusé les Français de vouloir son départ, et nommé à la tête des armées celui qui a dirigé les offensives récentes, une décision 'purement administrative"..: "La France vient et, prétextant la mort de ses soldats à Bouaké, elle détruit tout ce qui faisait notre supériorité absolue. Objectivement, elle a pris parti pour les rebelles."

BUSH WINS STRONGER MANDATE
It was perhaps overly optimistic to expect, with all the divisions and the rancour, the passion and the stakes in this bitterly disputed campaign, that America was going to find out who would occupy the White House for the next four years on election night. In what seemed to be a displaced replay of the 2000 hung election, Americans went to bed wondering who was going to steer the country, with Ohio's crucial 20 electoral votes hanging in the balance in an election too close to call. But they had an idea.
After winning Florida, one of three states said to be crucial to take the White house, Bush was over 130,000 votes ahead in Ohio, another key state. While John Kerry resisted conceding the election on Nov. 2, a little number-crunching the next morning told the challenger he had little chance of making up the lost ground. Hours later, he avoided a repeat of the weeks of uncertainty seen four years earlier and conceded the election to the incumbent in a phone call, avoiding a state of limbo that threatened to become the norm in U.S. elections. "We cannot win this election," he told Bush.
If Americans are as divided as ever four years later it is because they are divided over Bush, but at the end of the night, the former Texas governor, who accomplished what his father had failed to do in 1992 and taken America through one of its most dramatic presidential mandates had improved his electoral fortunes. With 51% of voting intentions, Bush had won a popular vote he had lost in 2000, by a lead of some 3.5 million votes over Kerry. He improved his standing among minorities and took Florida, which he won by a mere few hundred votes in 2000, by over 130,000 votes. Republicans increased their majority in both houses of Congress and defeated a party leader, Tom Daschle, for the first time in half a century. Compared to four years earlier, this was a clean sweep.
But despite their political advantages, which included a majority of governorships, Republicans stood to keep the helm of a bitterly divided country. In his acceptance speech the president re-elect acknowledged the divisions and vowed to unite Americans. "To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support and I will work to earn it," he told Democrats. "When we come together and we work together there is not limit to the greatness of America," he added, stressing "the voters delivered a historic victory." "Today I hope we can begin the healing," Kerry said in his concession speech. "I'm sorry we got here a little late and a little short."
The concession, made before two states filed their final returns, left bush with 274 electoral votes, four more than needed, to Kerry's 252. The voting had begun on a clearly more cheerful note for Kerry and the Democrats. With millions already on the tally in early voting, Americans continued to rush to the polls and put up with long lines and the occasional glitches on election day, a promising scenario for any challenger. Wait times were some 2 hours at polling places near ground zero in New York City, in some other places wait times were twice as long. A high turnout usually means trouble for the incumbent and exit polls seemed positive.
The turnout could be as high as 120 million, a record and could translate to a participation rate better than Canada's 60% this year. In addition polls reported that a majority of new voters, especially young voters, would favor Kerry. But the incumbent could call upon a strong conservative base, church-goers and a public concerned about security. While voters concerned about health care, the economy and the war in Iraq tended to vote for Kerry, Bush collected the support of those concerned about terrorism and moral values."I have made the differences as clear as possible as to why I am the best leader," Bush said in Crawford, Texas as he voted. Bush said he would prefer the outcome to be known before the end of the evening. "No matter what, our country will be stronger, our country will be united and we will move forward, because that's who we are," Kerry predicted as he voted in Boston.
In the end Americans decided to return to power the president who was at the helm during one of the nation's most challenging mandates since the end of the Cold war. Democrats who criticized Bush's response to 9-11, the war in Iraq and economic difficulties of the last four years may only have pointed out the challenges the Bush presidency had to put up with. National security was a major issue of the campaign, one largely championed by Bush, whose at times controversial security measures were credited by some for keeping the country safe from a repeat of the terror strikes in New York and Washington. But the surfacing of a tape by Osama bin Laden a few days before the vote was a reminder both of the enduring threats and that the man responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks was still running free.
While the worlds had rallied behind America after 9-11, the Iraq war bitterly divided allies, a fact reminded in an international survey of ten countries including Canada held weeks before the vote. Among them only in Israel did respondents claim relations with the U.S. had improved under Bush's tenure. In Canada, fearing a repeat of the faux-pas in the 2000 election in which Canada's ambassador to Washington voiced his support for Al Gore during the campaign - starting a slippery slope that muddied relations with the new administration -, Paul Martin asked his MPs to keep their opinions to themselves. But by then already a few cabinet members, including Stephane Dion, who praised John Kerry's intellect, had crossed the political line.
"The world is watching," noted John Kerry the final day of campaigning, which certainly was no exaggeration.The prime minister wanted Canada to stay out of the vote, yet it has garnered more attention now than during large stretches of the Bush presidency. In the third electoral debate between the two candidates Bush said the U.S. was working with Canada to help during a time of major shortages of flu vaccine, a seasonal issue that took incredible proportions with just days to go before the vote. Kerry called Bush's approach hypocritical since he argued the president has campaigned against letting states acquire cheap drugs from Canada to help seniors that can't afford them, another major issue as the parties target the country's growing legions of the elderly.
Over 60 percent of Canadians favored Kerry in domestic polls, but for all the support, non-Americans would not necessarily bow to Kerry's every whim should he win the vote. Kerry has been arguing he would manage to bring countries alongside in Iraq if he were the Commander in chief, but allies such as Canada made clear they would not rush troops in if he won. In fact analysts feared the issue could spark a new round of tensions with allies, expected to contribute more in Iraq under Kerry.
In most of the countries polled Kerry was often a favorite if only for the fact he was not Bush. In the end, this could be a factor behind the potential Democrats' failure to rally the troops. Democratic supporters were more certain about the party than Kerry, which made the vote more about ousting Bush than electing the Senator, a fact which haunted him throughout the campaign. "If the election were non-Bush against Bush, non-Bush would beat Bush," pollster John Zogby told the Daily Show last week, "and probably Kerry as well."
Kerry emerged a favorite of the primaries after Democratic challenger Howard Dean failed to woo the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire, a surprise to some extent, which left the challenger of a president leading a country in time of war as an unsolved enigma. The slight boost given to the Democrats during the primaries, at a time the selection of a Democratic front-runner dominated the headlines, and during this Summer's convention in Boston, faced the strong organizational skills of the Republican party, and so-called third-party mobilizers which called into question Kerry's Vietnam-war record. The Swift-boat episode, meant to undermine Kerry's decision to make his war-record an issue at the convention, heralded one of America's nastiest season of tv ad campaigns in memory.
Even outside of the realm of television ads candidates played on the electorate's fears on many levels. Democrats charged the Bush-Cheney camp sought to make voters believe the US was more likely to be attacked under a Democratic mandate, while Republicans blamed the Kerry camp of scare tactics, claiming Bush hid a "secret agenda" that possibly included privatizing social security in his second mandate. Kerry did get a temporary boost from the debates, which he was largely expected to win, but still failed to pull away with a lead, both candidates running into a statistical dead heat in most polls leading up to Nov. 2.
Fears of a repeat of the 2000 electoral debacle soon emerged, especially as Florida was proving to be a key battle-ground once more, one where the technical aspects of holding ballots remained questionable in the early voting, marred by computer glitches. Legions of lawyers were being recruited on both sides for what could be a very litigious vote count. The lawsuits, like the early voting, did not wait for election day, starting well ahead of the official fireworks.
Many Americans agreed this was one of the most important elections in a generation, a claim that boosted registration in some states, especially among Democrats. Some feared a return to 2000 in other regards, that one party would win the popular vote but lose in the electoral college. Critics charge that media focus on key states, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, accountable for 68, a fourth of the 270 necessary votes in the electoral college, is however making voters elsewhere feel their vote was less important.
But smaller swing states got plenty of attention, among them tiny New Hampshire. Recently first Lady Laura Bush was campaigning there for her husband (NPU Photo), accompanied by daughter Jenna, with Kerry close behind, campaigning in Dover. President Bush followed days later in Manchester. Both candidates campaigned in the state of 1.2 million citizens half a dozen times. Voting there, and the U.S., opened at midnight, as has been tradition for half a century, when a few dozen citizens of Hart's Location cast their votes. Bush and Kerry both got 15 votes. In the end the state chose Kerry, making the early sample quite more accurate.
The candidates had visited other key states such as Wisconsin and Ohio many more times. It was a rare opportunity for supporters to get close to the candidates, before they disappear, one to the annals of history, the other behind the beltway, left to deal with divisions that will survive a bitterly fought election.

ARAFAT'S HEALTH
The leaders of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aren't unacquainted with adversity, but they may have come to a critical junction, one for seeking to abandon the Palestinian territories and the other bed-ridden with illness, developments that could pave the way to peace or spark new internal clashes.
As an emanciated and frail-looking Arafat boarded a jet to Paris on Friday, reluctantly leaving his compound, let alone the territories, for the first time in years to seek medical treatment in France, there was a sense of transition around the man most closely associated with the Palestinian struggle. Palestinian officials, doctors and family members from abroad had rushed to his side after he collapsed and briefly lost consciousness, as a persistent, two-week illness - at first reported as being the flu - took a sudden turn for the worse.
Aides urgently summoned doctors from Jordan, and the 75-year-old Palestinian leader's wife headed to his bedside from Paris. Mr Arafat's doctor, Ashraf Kurdi, confirmed that the leader was suffering from low blood platelets and needed further tests, a condition that can be the result of lupus, viral or bacterial infections. Although there were fears Arafat had developed leukemia, a possibly fatal blood-related cancer, his doctor reported "no evidence whatsoever so far of any leukemic process."
To get Arafat out by helicopter, a path had to be cleared in the sandbagged, rubble-littered and partially demolished compound where he has been confined for 2 1/2 years, barricaded by fear Israel would remove him by force. "We are preparing ourselves for everything possible," one Palestinian official said, which remains the case as Arafat recuperates in Paris.
It was fear he would not be allowed back into the territories once evacuated that initially led Arafat to reject being sent elsewhere for treatment, but Israeli officials said they would not impede his return, acting on humanitarian grounds. The Israeli leadership has been in a conciliatory mood, facing its own dilemma concerning the evacuation of Israeli settlements in the territories.
Settlers are outraged Israeli Prime minister Ariel Sharon, considered to be an architect of the settlements, a hawk doves feared would derail any peace process, has made unprecedented moves to take them out of the territories they have occupied since the 1967 war. Soon the barricades meant to protect settlers from Palestinians may serve to protect them from Israeli troops.
Sharon recently secured approval by the Knesset to carry out the disengagement from Gaza, something that hardly secured his position, putting his right-wing support in jeopardy. Still Sharon is rejecting widespread calls for a referendum on his disengagement plan. Four ministers, including former prime minister Binjamin Netanyahu, have threatened to leave his cabinet unless he seeks popular approval for the plan. Sharon has already sacked two ministers for voting against the plan, which calls for the withdrawal of all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and a small number from the West Bank.
"My position on the referendum is unchanged - I am opposed because it will lead to terrible tensions," Sharon said. The Knesset voted 67-45 in favour of the proposal, with seven abstentions. Sharon had to rely on the support of the main opposition Labour party but may have to shake up his coalition as a consequence. The move marked the first time the Israeli government had voted on the principle of removing settlers from occupied Palestinian land.
The US meanwhile hailed the vote as a step towards making peace with the Palestinians. "This disengagement plan has the potential of being historic, and we see it as an important step in fulfilling President Bush's vision of two states living side by side in peace and security," a White House spokesman said.
The proposed evacuations are to be carried out in phases - and each phase will require approval with a cabinet vote. According to the latest opinion poll, 65% of Israelis are in favour of the pullout, but religious settlers are fiercely opposed to the move, believing the territories were given to them by God. Pursuing an aggressive population policy for years, Israel has settled about 400,000 Jewish citizens there, among a 3.5-million-strong Arab population, not recognising international laws that considered the settlements illegal.
Now Arafat's illness launches the question of succession and the need for an interlocutor in any ensuing peace process. Israel, followed by the U.S., has come to consider the Chairman, a highly symbolic figure of the Palestinian struggle, as someone unfit to sit at the peace table.
Sharon sees in a change of leadership an opportunity to renew efforts under the road map to peace. Arafat has resisted talk of a successor. Current and former prime ministers Qurei and Abbas have generally been seen as the most likely candidates, but both are in their 60's and have had their own health problems.
Polls show that the most popular Palestinian leader after Arafat is Marwan Barghouti, a leader in the Fatah movement in his early 40's who is presently in an Israeli prison. Any transition would not necessarily be peaceful, running the risk of bringing clashes between Palestinian factions, especially within Fatah, jostling for position. Such clashes occurred earlier this year as Arafat chose his security minister.
A new Palestinian head would also have to strike a deal with the most contentious and popular militant group among Palestinians, Hamas. As Israel marks Yitzhak Rabin's assassination by an Israeli extremist in 1995, there is a reminder neither change of leadership not bold policy shifts, even in the name of peace, have always occurred peacefully.

CANADA'S POOR SUBS
There is no shortage of chronicles of stormy seas on the North Atlantic, epic battles waged at the height of war that determined the fate of the earth. Under every crashing wave, a tale of varying degrees of heroism on the high seas.
This is where the Dreadnought ruled the waves, and where the dreaded u-boats stalked their prey. Rarely victimeless were the wars carried out on and in these waters, and perhaps even more rare, were warless victims. But on October 5 tragedy struck Canada's newest used submarine, the last and oldest of a series of four Victoria-class vessels acquired by the Canadian government from Britain in 1998, in a purchasing Bonanza which is losing more of its radiance every day.
Controversy has dogged Canada's search for submarines from the very beginning, to replace its 60s-old fleet of Oberon subs. Some defence analysts asserted that a post-Cold War navy did not need submarines to begin with. Ottawa then waded into the waters of purchasing nuclear submarines, the only ones able to go under the Polar ice cap and therefore assert the full scope of Canada's sovereignty in the great white north.
But the mothballing of that project left Ottawa looking for better deals in the more traditional diesel-class of vessels, and ultimately Scotland. The choice of the decommissioned British vessels hardly ended the controversy. In time it was becoming obvious Canada's "great deal" with the country it once shared the Union Jack with was a "bargain" with strings attached, the kind used to hold together leaking pipes a few hundred feet below the surface.
Leaks, wiring problems and all sorts of corrosion and tear required the navy to make repeated modifications and improvements until it launched the last of its subs the first weekend of October, some three years behind schedule. But like the Wasa and Titanic on their maiden voyage, the initial mission under the maple leaf, a trip to home base in the Maritimes, would prove short-lived.
At around supper time some 140km off the coast of Scotland began the hunt for October, and with it the latest embarrassment of Canada's dilapidated Armed Forces. Through the ship's wiring, separate fires spread in the electrical equipment room and the captain's quarters, on separate decks, sending smoke in all nooks and crannies of the ship just as it was going to dive.
Commodore Tyrone Pile, the chief of the Atlantic command, said the fire caused "extensive damage" to compartments on the two separate decks. Gen. Ray Henault later praised the actions taken by the crew to limit the damage. "They [the crew] took the initial steps to bring that fire under control," he said. "That's a credit to their training and also their discipline."
They quickly made use of the experience they had little time to acquire, on an inaugural trip where many, operating in the dark and covered with soot, were already relying on reflexes the voyage was supposed to develop. "A fire at sea . . . is always a very traumatic and dramatic event," Gen. Henault later remarked.
Standing outside the sub, Lt. Sebastien Latulippe said he saw the ship start to billow smoke like a chimney, and feared the worse: "I thought everybody was dead," he later recalled. Running on backup generator, the crew tended to its burn victims in the barely-lit cool ship, rocking at the mercy of 8-meter waves and other nasty weather conditions that made the rescue effort a difficult one.
Limited in its means to communicate by the lack of power, a frail cell phone connection kept the crew in touch with the hovering rescue party. When help did arrive in the form of British helicopters and vessels, it became obvious HMCS Chicoutimi could not return to port under its own power, and that the scope of the incident was much larger than originally thought.
The smoke from the fire had incapacitated nine of the 57 crewmen, and three of them were later airlifted, a strenuous transfer which unfortunately caused the death of Lt. Chris Saunders, succumbing to his injuries. An autopsy later found that the 32 year-old sailor, who had been found unconscious and without a gas mask, had died of smoke inhalation. This was Canada's first marine death since the 1950s.
No sooner had the terrible news hit Ottawa, which had earlier said the injuries were limited and non-life threatening, that the House of Commons, earlier rocked by accusations the government had taken chances with the lives of Navy personnel by purchasing the subs, fell into silence. For a very short while. Afterwards the government and Defence Department weren't only coming under fire for letting a less than seaworthy ship take on the Atlantic, but faced questions as to why they had severely underestimated the scope of the disaster at sea that left the sub crippled and effectively dead in the water, and killed one sailor, with over half a dozen others injured.
Canada's reputation was no less scalded by the incident, so soon after the bands had died down after the christening and sendoff of Chicoutimi. "He gave his life saving his country, and we pay him our profound respects and his family our deepest condolences," said prime minister Paul Martin of the sailor, making the announcement of his death in parliament. A painful refrain which once echoed in the hills of Afghanistan.
Only days later, as a full inquiry was being launched into the disaster, did the possibility emerge that the submarine program could face the same fate. Vice-Admiral Bruce MacLean decided to put all vessels of Canada's submarine fleet out of service following reports a fire had earlier struck another sub, HMCS Corner Brook. Critics who had claimed Canada had gotten a raw deal from Britain redoubled their charges, asking for compensation from the Brits, something defense minister Bill Graham, who toured the stricken ship personally after it had been towed back to port, said he would only consider after the board of inquiry had made its conclusions. "I would rule nothing out at this time," he said, including the possibility the sub program may be scrapped altogether.
While Canada's Defence Department seemed less certain about the source of the accident, Britain's ministry denied responsibility , saying the ship it had handed over was fully operational. In Canada the incident became a politically-charged affair for the government of Paul Martin, just days into the new parliamentary session. One retired sub commander who had trained on Chicoutimi claimed Canada had rushed submariners into service before they had received adequate training.
For retired Maj.-gen Lewis Mackenzie, the problem was more systemic. "If you go through a decade without repairing or replacing, then all of a sudden you run into this brick wall," he said, criticising Canada's general underfunding of Defence. "That's exactly what happened. It's an implosion they're already into." As Canada announced it was beaching its subs, Ottawa revealed it had amassed an $8 billion surplus it would use to finance the debt, four times the amount estimated.
A preliminary report looked into whether a deadly combination of leaking water and faulty high-voltage connections was responsible for the sparks. While officials hinted sailor error may ultimately be to blame, the crew pointed to a design flaw, an argument only momentarily quieted by the sound of bagpipes mourning Canada's latest military casualty.

LES EXPOS: LE DÉPART  Voir notre page photo souvenir
Après toutes ces fausses alertes, la journée des amateurs avait une signification particulière, voire terminale, à l'occasion du dernier match des Expos à Montréal. Le jour-même, le 29 sept., le baseball majeur annonçait une nouvelle vieille de plusieurs années, le secret le moins bien gardé du baseball majeur: les Expos déménageaient du stade Olympique pour le District de Columbia.
L'annonce ne coïncidait pas seulement avec le dernier match à domicile du calendrier mais l'anniversaire du départ des Sénateurs de Washington 33 ans plus tôt. La date ne manquait pas de symbolisme à Montréal non plus: elle marquait le 10eme anniversaire de l'annulation de la meilleure saison enregistrée par les Expos,une grève qui a annulé les séries mondiales pour la première fois depuis 1904. En pleine période de lockout du hockey professionnel, et à la veille sans doute d'un hiver sans Canadien, c'était donner une certaine dimension à la nouvelle.
Comme s'il fallait verser du sel sur la plaie, il se trouvait que le dernier club à affronter les Expos à Montreal était nul autre que les Marlins de la Floride, champions en titre dont le propriétaire, Jeffrey Loria, est devenu le personnage le plus détesté jamais associé avec les Expos. Les spectateurs qui sont venus assister aux obsèques dans la première ville non-américaine du baseball  majeur, celle qui avait ouverte la voie aux joueurs noirs et aux gérants latinos, ne savaient pas trop comment réagir à la cérémonie qui commémorait la meilleure édition de l'histoire du club, les Expos de 1994. Une banderole proclamant "1994: meilleure équipe du baseball" y était dévoilée. Après cette date fatidique, le déluge.
Les joueurs étaient également perplexes, déçus du départ de Montréal mais rassurés que leur calvaire d'incertitude, depuis l'acquisition du club par les 29 autres villes - et surtout le double calendrier à domicile -, tirait à sa fin. Ce départ laisse aussi le stade Olympique sans formation professionnelle pour la première fois; une époque vient de se terminer sur bien des plans.
"C'est un jour bien triste, j'ai grandi ici, confie Tim Raines à la NPU en signant des autographes. Il était important que les partisans aient la chance de voir du baseball". Certes quelques-uns suivront l'évolution du club à Washington, comme ceux qui arborent encore le chandail des Nordiques, mais la majorité pousseront un ouf de soulagement après les années de disette et de misère. On venait de débrancher un patient en phase terminale, c'était d'ailleurs la caricature du jour dans le Journal de Montréal.
Malgré cette mort annoncée, les partisans les plus dévoués étaient aux larmes: "J'ai passé ma jeunesse dans le parc, c'est la fin de mes loisirs", dit Katie Hynes, partisane depuis 1969, en sanglotant. Pourtant le rouge de ses yeux devint féroce en se souvenant de l'équipe de 1994. "Il fallait voir l'émotion des gens après la grève, même moi j'ai failli tout lâcher!"
Pour les irréductibles, la détresse est accompagnée d'une colère palpable. "Après tout, peut-être que vous vous dites, dans votre fond intérieur, finalement, caisse que ça donne? Qu'ils partent donc les vlimeux une fois pour toutes, et que ça saute! On nana assez, on nez tannés," se plaignait Francis Brière dans son bulletin régulier sur le site web du club.
"Vous faites comme les amateurs de biseball de Montréal font depuis quelques années, les quelques années qui nous sont restées : rien. Vous comprendrez ma révolte cybernétique quand vous entendrez l'explication qui suit. Les peu nombreux courriels que je reçois me proviennent du Mexique, de la France, de l'Australie, d'Afrique occidentale et de Papouasie." Même si le baseball risque de devenir aussi exotique que ces points géographiques, les dernières manifestations n'ont guère attiré d'enthousiasme.
A peine quelques centaines de personnes s'étaient déplacées le weekend précédent lors d'un rassemblement pour garder les Expos à Montréal. Les foules de deux des trois derniers matchs étaient de moins de 6 000 spectateurs. Pendant ce temps les autres sports au Québec enregistraient des records: les Alouettes attiraient plus de 50 salles combles consécutives (dont quelques rendez-vous dans ce même stade), l'Impact des foules de plus de 10,000 spectateurs au stade de soccer Claude-Robillard, et le Rouge et or de Laval, au football universitaire, 34 000 personnes lors de ses deux premières rencontres à domicile.
Evidemment, il s'agit d'équipes championnes, comme les Expos il y a dix ans, alors que plus de 40,000 spectateurs s'arrachaient les billets de dernière rangée. Mais l'évolution de la formation, de jeunes champions affamés en club-école des autres villes, y était pour quelquechose. Tout comme le manque d'intérêts financiers locaux, qui laisse depuis quelques temps toutes les formations sportives de Montréal aux mains de propriétaires étrangers, lire américains.
Les Expos vont écoper pour les leçons que les dirigeants du baseball majeur vont tirer selon les uns, le Canadien n'est pas moins à l'abri de la spirale salariale selon les autres. Plusieurs ont depuis belle lurette tourné la page comme on a retourné la terre sur le terrain vague où devait être construit un stade de baseball du centre-ville, à présent le site de nombreux condominiums pleinement aménagés. En 2005 le stade aurait dû être fini. L'an prochain les Expos évolueront en effet dans un nouveau domicile, mais il ne sera pas à Montréal.

THE PASHTUN VOTE
Afghanistan is where Iraq would like to be, having held perhaps not uncontested but relatively peaceful elections despite the threat of attacks in the lead up to the historic vote held on Oct. 9. The result was a foregone conclusion, unlike the way ahead in a country still largely governed by warlords outside the capital.
Like Afghanistan, Iraq has parts beyond the reach of government, but the latest hand-over of weapons by at least parts of Shia leader Moktada Al-Sadr's militia, and the crackdown on the militant opposition in the hot zone of Fallujah following major U.S. offensives, seemed to point Iraq somewhat on track, with a few months to go before the much-anticipated January elections.
If the Afghan scenario could at times seem rosy by comparison, it wasn't the case in the days before the polls opened, when the running mate of the man widely expected to win the vote, transition leader Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed member of the Pashtun ethnic majority which has ruled Afghanistan for most of its history, narrowly escaped a car bomb attack.
Vice-presidential candidate, Ahmed Zia Massoud, brother of the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary northern resistance fighter, was not hurt in the attack, in the northeastern province of Badakshan, but at least one other person died in the blast, show-casing the risks of campaigning away from the capital. Karzai himself ventured just once to reach the masses away from Kabul, a feat in view of the volatile security situation in various parts of the country. Karzai had survived a rocket attack himself in the course of the campaign.
The election process itself wasn't uncontested, as all opposition parties threatened a boycott following a vote many feared would be rigged. That threat gradually evaporated as the main challenger to President Karzai said Monday that he had accepted a proposal by the United Nations and the American ambassador to start an independent inquiry into complaints of electoral fraud.
Yunus Qanooni had been among 15 presidential candidates who cried foul over the conduct of the election, citing in particular the failure of an ink marker, which could have allowed multiple voting. Even he however did not want to downplay the event which had taken place rather without violence on Oct. 9, Afghanistan's first-ever democratic election. "We want the feelings and happiness of the people to be appreciated; we don't want to boycott," he said. "We have proved that the interests of the people are more important than other interests."
Besides independent observers had called the vote free and fair despite some irregularities. With official results not expected for weeks, an early survey financed by the United States Agency for International Development showed that Mr. Karzai had received a very strong majority of votes, leading his next closest rival, Mr. Qanooni, by more than 40 percentage points, certainly enough to avoid a runoff.
The ballot boxes, some arriving to election counting centers by mule and all clumsily sealed by stretches of thick tape, were nonetheless the sight the U.S. administration hopes will bolster a sense of mission accomplished in the country which once openly welcomed the man responsible for the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The hunt for Osama bin Laden is something Democratic candidate John Kerry insists was compromised when the U.S. attacked Iraq, a charge he repeated in the presidential debates in the final stretch of the U.S. campaign.
But even before the vote was held United Nations officials said conditions for the election were adequately free and fair "to allow the will of the Afghan people as a whole to translate at the polls, and the next president of Afghanistan to claim to represent the nation." Officials said the popular mobilization generated by voter registration, the range of candidates and continuing disarmament and the security effort by international and Afghan forces were all promising developments for the country.
Threats of violence failed to depress turnout in the vote. The number of political party and independent candidate representatives grew to about 65,000, with 26,000 of these representing a single candidate, Yunus Qanooni. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe endorsed Afghanistan's first presidential election, rejecting opposition calls to annul the poll as "unjustified". Sights are now set on parliamentary elections, which were supposed to have been held simultaneously with the presidential ballot but are now set for April, when regional groups hope to hold sway.
Over 10 million Afghans registered to vote in the election. Canada contributed close to $24 million to the democratic process, including a recent allocation of $3 million to the United Nations Development Programme to help establish and staff safe polling centres, not to mention contributing troops to keep the peace in Kabul.
The local Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan said the presidential poll was "fairly democratic", and perhaps, optimists muse, the same can be said for the country as a whole. In comparison women may neither vote nor run in Saudi Arabia's first country-wide elections. Factional fighting may have flared, government ministers may have been killed and a Taliban insurgency may still be killing citizens, Afghanistan is relatively united and peaceful, a welcome change after 23 years of war and an eternity of foreign invasions.
Still corruption and lawlessness, in some areas, demonstrated by the surge of opium production, rule many parts of the vast country whose border with Pakistan is largely suspected of being bin Laden's hiding place. Reminders of the threats that endure came days after the vote on Monday when at least three rockets slammed into the capital, Kabul, not far from the U.S. Embassy, injuring one person.
But many hope the election marks a point of no return for Afghanistan, a sense the president-to-be is certainly enthusiastic to share with observers. "The numbers and enthusiasm both were very, very great. It was unbelievable. A day of celebration, really, for the Afghan people," Karzai told NBC. "People braved attacks by terrorists and went to the election. ... This is really a victory of the Afghan people over terrorism."

LE MALADE À LA PORTE DE L'EUROPE
Ankara peut presque renifler les choux de Bruxelles, se marient-ils bien avec le thé à la pomme siroté en pleine négociation d'achat de kilims sur les rives du Bosphore? Pour la Turquie l'accession à l'UE est un ancien rêve kémalien, et alors qu'il était refusé depuis toujours, l'expansion de l'Europe, rendue aux portes de la grande Russie, et les gestes d'Ankara, pourraient mettre fin au paradoxe qui voulait que le malade de l'Europe, n'en soit même pas un membre à part entière.
Les gestes de concession du gouvernement, déterminé à modifier sa politique kurde et de mettre au rencart les projets incendiaires comme la criminalisation de l'adultère, et le changement de climat en Europe, dont le retrait progressif du veto grec, pourraient créer une situation plus qu'inattendue: l'entrée en Europe d'une Turquie dont le gouvernement est de tendance musulmane, et ce avant l'entrée de la partie turque de Chypre, tout récemment le laboratoire de l'expérience européenne d'Anatolie.
On n'en est pas encore là, certes, mais les dirigeants turcs comme les médias se félicitent du verdict positif de la Commission européenne en faveur de l'ouverture de négociations d'adhésion à l'UE, un pas de géant pour celui qui deviendrait effectivement, avec l'Allemagne, un colosse de l'expérience communautaire. Mais de toute évidence cette première étape n'a pas été franchie sans condition, ni sans opposition.
D'une part il serait possible pour l'Union de «suspendre les négociations» en cas «d'infraction sérieuse et permanente» de la Turquie aux normes démocratiques européennes. Puis, drôle de coïncidence, l'annonce avait lieu le 6 octobre, au moment de célébrer l'anniversaire de la libération d'Istanboul, occupée par les Britanniques, les Français et les Italiens à la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale.
Or parmi eux, les seconds expriment encore une certaine hésitation. D'une part un sondage révélait qu'une large majorité des Français s'oppose à l'entrée de la Turquie en Europe. Ensuite, le président Jacques Chirac rappelait l'éventualité d'utiliser son véto pour bloquer les aspirations d'adhésion turques, au besoin. De toutes façons cette adhésion n'est pas pour demain, quelque soit le calendrier envisagé.
Une décision finale reviendra aux 25 chefs d'Etat et de gouvernement de l'UE qui se prononceront sur l'avis de la Commission le 17 décembre lors d'un sommet européen à Bruxelles. Les négociations entamées par la suite pourraient prendre une quinzaine d'années. Dans une "étude d'impact" encore en cours de finalisation, le commissaire européen à l'Elargissement, l'Allemand Gunter Verheugen, estime que "la Turquie remplit suffisamment les critères politiques (...) pour commencer les négociations d'adhésion".
Pendant de nombreuses années même ce premier pas était exclu, notamment en raison de l'opposition d'Athènes, mais le réchauffement des relations entre les rives de la mer Egée a progressivement assoupli la position de la Grèce. Puis une révélation plus récente aurait donné un caractère un peu hypocrite au rejet grec: une étude comptable des données économiques présentées aux membres de l'Union au moment de l'adhésion de la Grèce, il y a déjà plus de 20 ans, révélait une créativité hellénique assez extraordinaire, un dopage des chiffres presque olympique qui a duré plusieurs années.
Voilà qui est de l'histoire ancienne diront certains. Mais pour d'autres la Turquie reste capable de produire un cheval de Troie qui pourrait nuire à l'UE pendant de nombreuses années. Le commissaire Verheugen serait le premier à rappeler les étapes à franchir puisque: "des carences persistent et il est clair que les réformes politiques devront être encore consolidées et amplifiées" rappelle-t-il dans le rapport préliminaire. "Il est de l'intérêt de tous que l'actuel processus de transformation se poursuive. Si elle est bien gérée, (l'adhésion) offrirait d'importantes possibilités pour les deux (parties)"... mais un important casse-tête également dans la mesure où "l'accession de la Turquie constituerait un défi autant pour l'UE que pour la Turquie".
Chirac pour sa part calme le jeu en insistant qu'"à tout moment, la France peut se retirer, ou peut mettre un veto, ou peut refuser (...) Et à ce moment-là, la négociation s'arrête. Nous sommes donc totalement libres", rappelle le président français. Celui-ci s'est par ailleurs employé à "rassurer les Français": "en toute hypothèse, ce sont les Français qui auront le dernier mot par la voie du référendum, le cas échéant. Et c'est une affaire qui sera discutée pas avant dix ou quinze ans, au plus tôt. Si elle l'est", a-t-il dit.
En Turquie, où, après tant de rejets, on ne compte plus les chants de muezzin qui ont retenti dans l'attente, le scepticisme des uns ne gâche en rien l'enthousiasme des autres, en commencant par le premier ministre. «Ce que nous attendions est ressorti» dans le rapport de Bruxelles, a estimé le Premier ministre Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ainsi que la perspective d'une Europe franchissant même le seuil de l'Asie.

A NATION WITHOUT HOCKEY
Team Canada fans clutching jerseys and markers, eagerly awaiting their stars' arrival at the Corel Centre for the World Cup pre-tournament game could tell you that for every car or bus bringing Team Canada players in, there were more than a few large busses unloading their cargo of arena staff. Concession stand, info booth and security personnel, ushers and programme sellers, all entered in steady waves.
It takes a lot of staffers to make it all happen on game night, people who have now been left out in the cold, along with millions of fans, when the National Hockey league started its lock-out in mid-September. On the outside, sports bar and souvenir shop owners, not to mention some sports commentators, including love-him-or-hate-him Don Cherry, were all feeling the pinch. "This is the biggest thing to happen to the NHL," says the hockey hot-head.
The public TV broadcaster, unofficial host broadcaster CBC, stands to lose $60 million if the entire season is lost, not to mention a severe programming void for the publicly-funded broadcaster. But surprisingly most other stations, including TSN, RDS, not to mention US channels, will cut losses by not broadcasting hockey. In fact while no-one is dancing on the NHL's grave, some are suddenly feeling a boost of attention.
A commentator on local Montreal cable channel Vox boasted "we're the only ones showing hockey!" during a televised game that launched the Quebec Junior major league's season in Gatineau, Quebec. Junior teams like the OHL's Ottawa 67s, the only game in town before the Senators returned in the 1990s, have been seeing their ticket base rise for seats in rinks like the old Civic centre, dug deep in the bowels of Frank Clair stadium. The Civic temporarily served as the home of the Ottawa Senators before they moved to Kanata.
Meanwhile the launch of the World Hockey Association this year was owed to more than circumstance. Though the WHA has been shying away from NHL players to some degree, not knowing how the current lock-out affects their contract status, and wary star players signing with the expansion league could skate back to the NHL if a collective bargaining agreement were to be negotiated this Winter. In the mean time however the league's status remains in doubt. Dallas Americans owner Rick Munro said he and co-owner Ed Belfour will probably make a decision soon as to whether their team will play in the World Hockey Association. Allan Howell, co-founder of the WHA, also says he would have to determine who remains committed to the Detroit Gladiators, who had hoped to play at the Silverdome.
Financing and arena issues are concerns for some of the seven franchises currently on board. There have been other hiccups in the league which hopes to put 8 or more teams on the ice by November. One month after Quebec revealed its logo, the founders of the WHA terminated the franchise operating agreement with Jean-Paul Boily and the Québec Nordiks. That leaves just Halifax, Toronto and Hamilton among the six teams listed in this year's draft. Miami and Vancouver are other possible teams, but the latter would face competition from the WHL's Giants, who are already reaping benefits from the lock-out and seeing their ticket base surge from 2,500 to 4,000 this season.
The WHA may look shaky now but if players get restless the ball could eventually get rolling. "I couldn't tell you that I wouldn't consider it," said Martin St. Louis commenting on the WHA this Summer. Each team stands to sign a marquee player that could make up to $5 million under the teams' $15 million cap. Initial rules stated that NHL players would have to play the whole season if they signed on, but they were being amended to allow more flexibility. Wouldn't that be the irony, NHL players that embrace free-market rules settling for a league operating under a strict salary cap, which is actually half the one proposed by NHL owners.
Meanwhile foreign-born players are already wowing the crowds back home. More than 40 National Hockey League stars have signed up with Czech teams to play in the local league during the NHL lockout, including two-time MVP winner Jaromir Jagr, who starts playing for his native Kladno once he recovers from a muscle strain. Scandinavians who got a taste of playing in front of home crowds during the World Cup also return to play back home.
Finn players are bound to be welcomed enthusiastically since the national team performed admirably against favorite Canada in the World Cup final, losing only 2-1. Unfortunately this may not be the case in Sweden, whose Tre Kronors were showered with boos after being humiliated at home by the Czech
Republic in the first game of the knock-out round. Leagues in Germany and Switzerland are also buying, and so is Russia, apparently interested in Habs goalie José Théodore. In all over 150 NHL players will play in Europe, the majority in the Czech republic and 33 in Russia.
Back in Canada the six-team Original Stars Hockey League featuring some NHL players promised to bring four on four hockey to smaller towns across Canada, but seemed to be running into scheduling problems early on. Another league featuring some NHL talent, the North American Hockey League, also directly marketed itself as an alternative to the pros, but playing closer to people's hearts were those playing for charity, such as a group of Quebec players including Habs stay-at-home goalie Théodore, touring local arenas for the McDonald's foundation.
That may help the players' image a little because as the lockout took effect a majority of fans were siding with owners calling for a salary cap, and feeling a healthier league could arise from the ashes of work stoppage. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman depicts a league essentially on economic life support, losing $224 million US last season and $1.8 billion over the 10 years of the existing collective bargaining agreement.
The two NHL markets that run the most operating profits in the course of a season, Toronto and Minnesota, were incidently the venues of most of the World Cup games, which ended with the final held a day before the lock-out took effect. Of the two, Toronto is the team with some of the highest player expenses, some $105 million for 2002-3 according to Forbes magazine. However the team owned by Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky suffers the second-highest operating deficit for the same period, some $21 million.
While the Edmonton Oilers stand to lose $13 million if the lockout lasts the full season, in an ironic twist that shows the desperate state of the league, the Senators say they would manage to actually cut their losses. Ottawa team president Roy Mlakar stated that owner Eugene Melnyk would indeed lose less money by shutting down for a year than playing under the old collective bargaining agreement as other owners have previously stated. ''I don't feel as though the league had any choice than to announce what they did,'' he said. ''The system is clearly broke.''
Unfortunately, so is the heart of young recruits hoping to launch their careers, and young hockey fans looking forward to a sport that makes months of snow and cold actually fun. More cynical, older fans are persuaded they'll manage to ride it out, somehow. Days after the strike came into effect, many players and owners had their options laid out in front of them. The general public seems to have its choices too, but somehow it comes out suffering the most from the lack of a national passtime at the pro level. A whole season without the one sport where Canadians can't stand not finishing number 1 is hard for everyone to swallow.
"I have for some time been thinking," wrote Canada's sixth governor general, back in 1892, "it would be a good idea if there were a challenge cup which could be held from year to year by the leading hockey team in Canada." Decades later, it still sounds like a good idea.

LE CANADA AU SOMMET DE SON SPORT
Quoiqu'on dise des chandails noir et jaune/or/moutarde portés lors du premier match de la Coupe du monde de hockey contre les Etats-Unis, le ton était donné. Les couleurs commémoraient la première équipe canadienne à avoir remporté l'or aux Jeux d'hiver, les faucons de Winnipeg, en 1920. C'était rappeler à Gretzky et à sa troupe les glorieux moments de 2002, mais aussi qu'ils pouvaient encore passer à l'histoire en remportant la première coupe du monde du Canada.

Contre les champions en titre le duel n'a pas été facile, mais convaincant. L'équipe allait faire preuve tout au long de la compétition d'une adhésion de plus en plus importante, d'une rare discipine et d'une richesse de talent à forcer les comparaisons avec les glorieux des Jeux de Salt Lake, dont dix seulement se mêlaient à cet alignement plutôt rajeuni. Notamment lors de la demi-finale disputée contre la République tchèque, où deux remplaçants se sont démarqués.

D'abord Roberto Luongo dans les buts, ayant repoussé 37 tirs parfois étonnants des opposants tchèques, lui qui venait remplacer le gardien partant blessé, Martin Brodeur; une lourde tâche vu l'opposition et le fait qu'en 100 tirs ce dernier n'avait accordé que trois buts. L'autre était Vincent Lecavalier, qui malgré avoir soulevé la coupe Stanley au printemps n'avait été glissé dans l'alignement qu'en raison de l'absence de Steve Yzerman. Son but à la quatrième minute de surtemps sauvait la peau d'un Canada qui paraissait débordé en fin de match. Il n'y a rien comme un champion pour marquer lors des grandes occasions et les juges de la compétition firent éventuellement de lui le joueur par excellence du tournoi.

Dans l'autre demi-finale, Saku Koivu a aussi joué les héros en arrachant la victoire aux Américains, largement favoris, en toute fin de match. Ce n'était pas la finale rêvée, mais c'était la réunion logique des seuls clubs invaincus du tournoi, créant des duels parfois fascinants. Soudainement le gardien finlandais Kiprusoff ne comptait plus Iginla comme coéquipier, alors que ce dernier jouait dorénavant aux côtés de St-Louis, Richards et du brillant Lecavalier, les rivaux de la coupe Stanley. Pour l'histoire, Jari Kurri avait aussi l'occasion de sortir de l'ombre de Gretzky, tous deux observant le match avec leurs vestons.

Ceci dit David se butait à un goliath trop imposant. Les Finlandais restèrent dans le match jusqu'à sa fin, mais sans répéter l'exploit qui avait chassé les Américains de la compétition. Il y avait simplement trop de talent sur l'équipe adverse. Car si Sakic démarra la soirée à 52 secondes de l'engagement, c'est Niedermayer, un des défenseurs rescapés, qui marqua le second but et Shane Doan, un inconnu dans cette marre de super-vedettes, qui enfila le but gagnant 34 secondes en troisième période. Pas de Lemieux, Iginla ou même de Lecavalier.

Et ce n'est pas pour rien. Niedermayer est le champion silencieux de toutes les occasions, ayant des trophées de championnat mondial junior, coupe Mémorial, coupe Stanley, championnat du monde, l'or de Salt Lake et à présent la coupe du monde, dans sa collection. Même les joueurs d'arrière-plan étaient de trop pour ces adversaires blonds.

Le Canada, champion sur tous les fronts, Olympique, champion du monde et vainqueur de coupe, est au sommet de son sport. C'est une perfection reflétée tout au long de la compétition, où il n'a jamais tiré de l'arrière. Ceux qui prétendent que le lock-out imminent de la ligue nationale avait de quoi gâter les célébrations n'ont qu'à penser à la sélection canadienne que pourrait afficher le Canada aux championnats du monde au printemps. De quoi faire monter la moutarde au nez de leurs adversaires.

ANOTHER RUSSIAN HORROR STORY
They could be seen running around, stripped down to their underwear, dirty and clutching water bottles, some of them crying, all of them dazed, the children of the ordeal. Those were the lucky ones. Others fled the site of the tragedy bleeding, others didn't, their bodies lying under a pile of rubble from a collapsed wall.
The scene of a calamity, of the bloody end of a long siege. But some wondered, whether the entire country wasn't under siege, and if so when would it end. The denouement of the Beslan school hostage-taking of over 1,000 adults and children by bomb-strapped gunmen and women sparked the kinds of questions Moscow rarely answers, especially as Russia dealt with the aftermath of a third major terror act in one week.
The memory of the two downed jetliners still fresh, a bomb had gone off in a Moscow subway station, killing nine, just days before some 30 attackers, including two women seeking independence for Chechnya came down on school-year launch festivities and began Russia's latest terrorist ordeal. It seemed Russia could hardly put out the fires of brutality before new flames were sparked anew.
And how special forces tried to douse the blaze rekindled painful memories of past hostage-takings ended in death and blood. The similarities with the three-day siege of the 2002 hostage-taking of 800 Moscow theatre-goers were many, starting with the silence of Russian authorities which had claimed they had not launched a rescue attempt, after promising to rule out the use of force the previous day.
Similar statements had been made in 2002, a crisis which ended in the killing of the Chechen hostage-takers but also over 120 of the hostages, fatally incapacitated by knock-out gas used in the operation. As then, authorities said they had been forced into action by the assailants, surely this time it had to be true. Troops surrounding Beslan Middle school n.1 were caught off guard when blasts were heard around noon on the third day of the siege, the clearest sign yet that negotiations which had taken place during the night had come to an abrupt end.
Concern was raised at the time on the state of the hostages, which included many small children, as the armed men refused to allow food and water to be brought to them. In addition, testimony from some of the 26 hostages released on the eve described a much larger number of hostages than originally revealed, sparking concerns about heat and sanitation in the gymnasium where they were being held. Also of concern was the state of the bodies of the victims of the original assault by the attackers. It is an attempt to retrieve the dead which may have started the tragic series of precipitated events that ended in disaster.
As the retrieval vehicles made their way to the schoolyard blasts went off, either accidentally or in a moment of confusion among the hostage-takers. Panic ensued, sending many of the children fleeing while the gunmen shot at them. One of the suicide bombers detonated, bringing down part of the structure, the beginning of a long bloody ordeal which ended many hours later after running battles in the streets of the city with Russian forces.
In the end Russian officials said they killed all the attackers, but the losses were unbearable all the same, as the death toll of the hostages rose over 300, with twice as many people lying in hospital, half of them children. As Russian president Vladimir Putin toured hospitals and called for national unity and a harder line against terrorism, protests rose among the distraught families, many still looking for their children days after the ordeal. The lucky ones found them alive, but knew they had a lifetime of dealing with the traumatic events of the last days, including the mass burial of over 100 children.
It has become cliché to say that countries that fall victim to large terror attacks have met their 9-11, but Moscow's response to the Sept. 3 crisis has come closest to America's after the World Trace Center attacks. Putin responded with defiance and likened dialogue with Chechens as negotiating with Osama bin Laden, while his administration waved the threat of pre-emptive strikes against terror targets anywhere in the world, all the while offering a $10 million reward for the killing or capture of those ultimately seen as responsible for the Beslan attacks, two Chechen leaders long wanted by Moscow.
Russians even organized a telethon for the victims inspired by America's "Tribute to Heroes", after a mass rally in Red Square gathered tens of thousands. Officials meanwhile pushed for additional legislation to introduce broad security measures such as metal detectors on the subway, in department stores and in theatres. In fact U.S. officials expressed some reservations on new political measures that would allow Moscow to choose regional leaders, a centralization measure feared by some as a step backward by the former Communist superpower. In times like these, the old days of stable Cold war stare-downs can trigger bouts of nostalgia in Russia.
An inquiry into the attack will be launched but few people believe it will be entirely transparent about the government's actions, an environment of doubt cultivated by the Kremlin's firm hand on the country's news media, and frequent attempts to keep the lid on many details of the attack while cracking down on publications offering a critical view of how the crisis was handled. The telethon was therefore a rare opportunity to speak out publicly on the Beslan attack, a discourse which featured candid criticism of Moscow's handling of the Chechen war and Beslan crisis.
A mix of anger and thirst for revenge followed days of mourning, sparking concern of vigilante action against neighbors in Muslim Ingushetia, where some of the attackers came from and largely seen as being supportive to the Chechen struggle. In parts of Russia some Chechens have since been targeted by locals.
This is the last thing the region needs considering the spiral of violence which has spilled over its borders. Russians were also marking the 5th anniversary of a string of deadly bombings in Moscow in 1999 that fired off a new offensive in Chechnya, a cycle of violence that is only creating more victims on one side, and more martyrs on the other.

RUSSIA: THE TRACES OF TERROR
About two weeks before the anniversary of Sept. 11, there was an eery feeling on August 24 when Russian media reported simultaneous incidents on two passenger planes which had left Moscow's Domodedovo airport about a half and hour apart. The emergency ministry soon confirmed that all 43 passengers and crew aboard a Russian Tupolev Tu-134 airliner which crashed some 180 kilometers south of Moscow, were killed.
Air disasters are nothing new to Russia, but a busy night for aviation authorities soon became much busier, and instinctively dreadful. A few minutes after traffic control reported that the plane had vanished from radar screens, an alarm, at first reported to be a hijacking alert, went off pointing to a second plane, a Tu-154 aircraft with 46 passengers on board flying near Rostov-on-Don, before it too dropped off radar screens. The planes, both heading for southern Russia, crashed leaving no survivors.
Simultaneous plane incidents, a hijacking, no survivors, the scenario was nearly unmistakable. Red flags started going up in Russia's security services which rushed to take emergency measures, tightening security at airports and other transportation hubs and launching a full federal investigation into the incidents. What were the odds that two incidents would happen minutes apart after having left the same point of origin within the same hour?
Russia was already in a state of alert, mindful controversial elections in the breakaway republic of Chechnya were just days apart, a vote Chechen separatists promised to disrupt by intensifying their insurgency against the Russian military. Earlier in the day a bomb had gone off in a bus station not far from the airport.
With terrorism impossible the rule out, president Vladimir Putin cut his vacation short and called on federal security forces, the FSB, to investigate the crashes, something required only under suspicious circumstances. Mr Putin has also ordered the government to draft legislation to hand over responsibility for airport security to the interior ministry.
Yet as crash site investigators engaged in the unenviable task of collecting body parts and those of the mangled fuselage, they immediately failed to confirm any terrorism theory, reverting instead to the once unlikely scenario that two accidents may indeed have occurred simultaneously, some 500 miles apart. Even the plane black boxes, which had shut down immediately, failed to unshroud the mystery of this double airline tragedy.
The hesitation was a painful admission that the accident-prone Russian airspace is among the most dangerous in the world. In the past five years a total of 764 people have been killed in airplane accidents in Russia, 60 percent linked directly to lapses in safety regulations according to a government study. But the timeline of the incidents left aviation experts baffled, many remaining convinced that the deadly events had been more than accidental.
At least one eye-witness account had reported an explosion before the first plane crashed, but this did not dispel the possibility that an explosion of a non-criminal nature had taken place onboard. Then accounts diverged on the nature of the emergency call received before the second plane disappeared and whether it had indicated a mechanical or terror-related incident, such as a hijacking.
There were many reasons why the Chechen trail, and the possibility of sabotage at the airport, was hard to dismiss. Shamil Basayev, a prominent rebel commander had recently threatened more attacks. As a measure of the decade-long Chechen conflict's growing intensity with the election approaching, Russian artillery strikes killed 12 rebels earlier that very day, outside Chechnya's capital Grozny. The previous weekend some of the deadliest fighting there in months had taken place, with reports of over 30 people killed in attacks on police stations and patrols. Other reports put the death toll even higher.
A week before Chechen elections to elect a successor to Akhmad Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow leader who was assassinated in May along with 24 other people in a stadium attack, Putin visited the region, including the grave of the slain leader. He had been just the latest in a string of Chechen leaders assassinated well before the end of their term.
Russian forces pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 after a devastating war against separatists that left the southern region out of Moscow's reach, but returned in 1999 after rebels raided a neighboring province and were suspected in a deadly string of apartment-building bombings in Moscow. Moderate separatists rushed to deny their involvement in the plane incidents, accusing Moscow of wanting to demonize them ahead of the election. But it is lack of evidence on the ground that made the government back-track on the terror angle, as it awaited further analysis of the recovered black boxes that may or may not solve a tragic enigma.
Until evidence of hexogene explosives surfaced on the second crash site, a well-guarded but often stolen military-grade explosive previously used by Chechens, notably in the apartment-building bombs. Almost at the same time an islamic group with possible ties to Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attacks on a web site. "We in the Islambouli Brigades announce that our holy warriors managed to hijack two Russian planes and were crowned with success (...) the first blow which will be followed by a series of other operations".
According to some reports at least one passenger on each plane whose bodies had not been claimed had been Chechen women. After downplaying terrorism, which would only underline the government's failure to quell the decade-old insurgency and protect its citizens, officials admitted the plane crashes were acts of terrorism. Worse, the attacks may bolster government claims the Chechens are being supported by outside groups in their struggle.

DÉCEPTION AUX JEUX
A force de l'utiliser, qu'il soit enterré dans le sol sacré d'Olympie ou produit en quantité industrielle par la Banque du Canada, le huard chanceux s'en est retrouvé réduit comme une peau de chagrin. La pièce avait été glissée sous la glace aux Jeux de Salt Lake city, puis dans l'aréna des championnats du monde de hockey, deux médailles d'or gagnées par le mérite plutôt que la chance, ou alors toute superstition digne de gardien des séries éliminatoires. Mais déjà à la veille des JOs on sentait sa puissance faiblir lors de compétitions internationales où il semblait avoir perdu un peu de sa magie.
En Grèce, la pièce de 1$ enterrée par la jeune Albertaine de 17 ans Brittany Edworthy au pied d'une colonne à Olympie - poursuivant une tradition qui relève du vodou canadien - n'a pas tant porté bonheur à la sélection canadienne, qui a d'enregistré sa pire prestation depuis Séoul en 1988 (10). Eh oui, les Jeux de Ben Johnson.
Déjà après une semaine de compétition où on avait fait la maigre récolte de trois médailles, le Comité olympique canadien avait baissé la barre, à l'origine placée plus haut que celle de Sydney (14). En envoyant 267 athlètes, soit 42 de moins qu'en 2000 (309), on augmentait les chances de succès par athlète, estimait le Comité olympique selon une arithmétique propre aux juges de patin artistique, car un peu tordue.
Bref, autant d'athlètes canadiens qui n'auront pas bénéficié de l'expérience de la compétition internationale à son plus haut niveau, et surtout de l'ambience propice et motivatrice qui découle d'un tel niveau d'excellence. Et pas plus de médailles au total, car on se serait bien contenté d'égaler le niveau de Sydney après tout.
Un problème bien familier est venu hanter les Canadiens, notamment la difficulté des champions du monde dans plusieurs disciplines, dont le judo, l'athlétisme, l'aviron et le plongeon, d'assurer lors de ces Jeux. Le porte-drapeau Nicolas Gill a été le premier exemple, perdant son premier combat, une maladresse sans merci qu'il explique par une absence de stress le matin de la compétition, une notion purement athlétique qui échappe un peu au plus commun des mortels. Puis il y eut celle qui devait être la reine canadienne des Jeux, Perdita Felicien, tombée lors de la finale des haies.
Heureusement il y eut quelques surprises, à la trampoline comme en gymnastique, la première médaille canadienne dans cette discipline, et en cyclisme sur piste et sur sentiers. Des médailles historiques pour racheter le fait que le Canada n'avait pas été blanchi au chapitre des médailles en natation depuis quarante ans, provocant des appels presque immédiats à la démission de l'entraîneur de l'équipe.
Oui, quelques surprises, mais en fin de compte, pas assez pour remplir des bulletins télévisés, dédiés à la déception plutôt qu'à la gloire, aux espoirs bientôt anéantis plutôt qu'aux podiums; et toujours ces mêmes photos d'athlètes, la tête baissée ou les yeux implorant les cieux, auxquelles il suffisait de changer les vignettes répétitives: "a dû se contenter de la Xe place".
Alors que l'on entamait la deuxième semaine de compétition, le ministre des sports et loisirs au Québec, Jean-Marc Fournier, estimait qu'on s'était trompé en envoyant moins d'athlètes à Athènes, limitant le voyage à ceux qui s'étaient classés parmi les 12 meilleurs au monde. Que se passe-t-il, en effet, quand les favoris ne livrent pas la marchandise? "Ce n'est pas en empêchant à nos athlètes de venir aux jeux Olympiques qu'ils vont se développer", affirmait-il, sans pour autant vouloir s'en prendre au comité Olympique.
Celui-ci, dit-on, avait alors déjà remis en question sa philosophie, comme d'autres remettaient en question le mythe devenu sortilège du huard. Mais Sport Canada estime tout de même qu'il vaudrait mieux dépenser davantage dans des disciplines "payantes" plutôt qu'en répartissant les fonds à travers le sport amateur, une stratégie tout aussi discutable. Là-dessus même le président du CIO Jacques Rogge est catégorique, le Canada devra dépenser davantage pour s'assurer une bonne prestation aux Jeux de Vancouver.
Pendant ce temps, la sélection américaine, minée par le scandale du dopage au courant de l'année, ne s'en portait pas plus mal, atteignant son objectif de plus de 100 médailles (103, soit 6 de plus qu'à Sydney) et capturant les disciplines prestigieuses comme le sprint du 100m. Seule la Dream Team au basketball a vraiment déçu, ne disputant pas la finale, le Nagano américain en quelque sorte.
Par ailleurs, si la torpille américaine du nom de Michael Phelps n'a pas réussi à reproduire l'exploit de Mark Spitz datant des Jeux de 1972 (7 médailles d'or), il n'aura pas moins, de ses 19 ans, obtenu 8 médailles (égalisant un record), dont 6 d'or. Bref à lui seul il faisait bien mieux que la sélection canadienne, qui a dû attendre le 14e jour avant d'en avoir autant au total. Mais se comparer à son voisin dix fois plus gros était presque se consoler: l'Australie avec le tiers de la population du Canada en a gagné 49!
Résultat, il ne fallait pas badiner avec un pays affamé de médailles, surtout pas dans le cadre d'une nouvelle controverse de juge. L'impression artistique des juges en général était d'ailleurs assez mauvaise au long des diverses compétitions. Du cheval sautoir aux barres parallèles, les juges ont été critiqués, chahutés, et certains suspendus pour leur évaluation des performances. Bref pour le Canada, c'était du déjà vu.
Après Salt Lake et la saga Salé-Pelletier, ''On en a assez'', s'est exclamé l'entraineur du jeune gymnaste prodige Kyle Shewfelt, médaillé d'or sur le tapis mais arrivé quatrième au cheval malgré la chute d'un Roumain qui a tout de même arraché le bronze, assez de jouer les gentils Canadiens dociles qui se font rouler. Même si ces mêmes juges avaient choisi le Canadien champion en gymnastique au sol au lieu de ce même Roumain, Marian Dragulescu, suite à un rigoureux calcul arithmétique.
Le jour-même d'autres juges de gymnastique se faisaient chahuter, deux autres ayant été suspendus précédemment pour avoir erré en évaluant le concours général individuel, laissant l'or à un Américain au lieu d'un Coréen. Et ce n'était pas seulement en gymnastique, une demi-douzaine de pays ont protesté des décisions en natation, en escrime et aux avirons, entre autres. Pour certains observateurs, la saga Salé-Pelletier avait peut-être ouvert la boite de Pandore olympique de la contestation après tout.
Ces Jeux ont beau avoir été épargnés par le terrorisme et plutôt réussis en général, les cas de dopage, les erreurs d'arbitrage et la piètre performance de nos athlètes laissent un goût amer dans la bouche des Canadiens, en attendant les prochains Jeux d'hiver. Pour cette fois c'est un peu raté, Brad Snyder, le seul Canadien qui participait au lancer du poids, seule compétition disputée à Olympie, n'a pas plus que d'autres profité du geste d' Edworthy.
Autant déposer ces huards dans la boite d'assistance aux athlètes canadiens. Pour le plongeur médaillé Alexandre Despatie il faudra faire bien plus que de lancer des piastres au sport amateur: "Il faut cultiver l'amour du sport chez les jeunes, il faut que ça intéresse les gens en général (...) voyez la réussite des Australiens". Un rappel aussi cruel qu'instructif.

ATHÈNES, À LA LIGNE DE DÉPART
Ces jeux d'Athènes, nous y sommes enfin, mais quelle galère a précédé le coup d'envoi, des incidents parfois attristants pour le mouvement olympique. D'abord il y a eu le rejet, par deux fois, privant Olympie des célébrations du centenaire de ses jeux, puis ceux du millénaire.
Se sont vite succédés les scandales de dopage qui ont fait des ravages au sein de l'Association olympique américaine, elle qui se remettait à peine des affaires de corruption des Jeux de Salt Lake city. Selon un reportage de la télévision britannique, ceux de l'avenir ne s'annoncent guère mieux, un membre du CIO ayant déjà été exclu pour avoir accepté des pots-de-vins devant la caméra.
De plus les Grecs eux-mêmes ont servi de mauvais exemple, devenant parmi les premiers à être bannis des Jeux pour dopage, des joueurs de baseball - un sport aussi étranger que l'Inukshuk - dont certains évoluant aux Etats-Unis. Ensuite un sprinteur champion sensé porter la flamme ne s'est pas présenté au test de dépistage obligatoire, il s'est plus tard retiré des Jeux, le sujet d'une vraie tragédie grecque.
Puis il y a eu les retards de la construction, devenue un modèle d'échec pour les organisateurs des Jeux de Béijing, qui vont déjà bon train et promettent de tout finir, un an avant l'ouverture. Au Canada, la sélection nationale n'a pas été épargnée par une certaine controverse, les athlètes étant confrontés à des objectifs exigeants allant même au-delà des niveaux d'excellence internationale, et ce pour éviter les déceptions comme celle de Sydney selon l'Association olympique canadienne.
Entre les tribulations des craintes d'attaque terroriste, sans oublier les groupuscules locaux qui aiment faire sauter des pétards, et la chaleur suffocante de la capitale hellène, qu'évitent même ses habitants à cette période de l'année, voilà des obstacles à faire hésiter la championne canadienne Perdita Felicien, déjà avant le coup d'envoi.
Un vrai décathlon de la distraction. Mais pendant ces quelques semaines, ou les Athéniens qui n'ont pas fui vers les îles se sentiront certes un peu étrangers chez eux, ou alors drôlement surveillés par ces caméras, soldats et gardes de sécurité - surtout ce dirigeable qui a semé des craintes d'intrusion à la Big Brother dans le berceau, un peu cacophonique, de la démocratie - tous pourront oublier ces pépins sous le chaud soleil de la Méditerranée. Jusqu'au moment de recevoir une facture aussi salée, dépassant déjà les 7 milliards de dollars, soit deux fois les coûts de Sydney et 30% au-dessus du budget initial prévu. Imaginez le montant s'ils avaient gardé la drachme.
Mais, enfin de bonnes nouvelles, à deux semaines de la cérémonie d'ouverture les organisateurs des Jeux ont pu crier victoire, tous les sites et les infrastructures de transport ayant été déclarés opérationnels. Enfin presque. Il restait bien quelques caméras de sécurité à fixer, quelques lignes de métro à électrifier et un engrais à appliquer pour faire grimper les arbustes fraîchement plantés d'environ deux mètres, en quatorze jours, mais sinon le gros était à vos marques.
Concrètement ceci se traduisait par l'inauguration du village olympique, situé dans le nord-ouest de la capitale, dont les premiers des 10 500 athlètes originaires de 202 pays commençaient à s'installer.
Comme les Jeux de l'époque ancienne, ceux de 2004 ont une signification qui dépasse la simple compétition sportive. Même si la Grèce est membre de l'Union européenne depuis plus de vingt ans, et décidément plus 'le petit nouveau' du groupe, certains estiment que cet événement, plus que tout autre, parviendra enfin à convaincre les autres anciens de l'UE que les Grecs sont membres à part entière du club. '
'Ces Olympiques seront décisives afin de finaliser notre transition, prétend le directeur de la Fondation hellénique pour la politique extérieure, on peut finalement donner l'impression d'être un pays européen normal.'' Sans doute, mais d'une drôle de manière.
Les coûts exhorbitants de l'organisation et de la sécurité des Jeux risquent en fait de mettre la Grèce dans une catégorie assez particulière de l'Europe, rejoignant la France et l'Allemagne: le déficit budgétaire grec risque d'excéder les normes européennes à cause des JOs, passant au-delà des 3 pourcent du produit intérieur brut. ''A voir la manière ou vont les choses, le déficit budgétaire se dirige vers les quatre pourcent, et peut-être même plus'', estimait le second plus haut placé au ministère de la finance.
Il faut dire qu'après les nombreux avertissements du CIO, certains vieux de seulement quelques mois, les Grecs sont passés à la vitesse supérieure afin d'éviter tout retard supplémentaire, ce qui s'est traduit en véritable aubaine pour les syndicats menaçant de faire pression pendant la compétition. ''Nous n'avons dit 'non' à personne, reconnait Fanni Palli-Petralia du ministère de la culture au New York Times, tout ce qu'ils voulaient, on l'a fait.''
La présentation d'un événement comme celui-là n'a vraiment pas de prix pour les plus petits pays, comme pour certains des grands, ce qui met les membres du CIO dans une position exceptionnelle, et parfois embarrassante pour le mouvement olympique.
A quelque semaines des Jeux le vice-président sud-coréen du CIO, rien de moins, a reçu une sentence de deux ans et demi pour corruption, après avoir reçu 700,000$ en pots-de-vins. Son implication remonte au scandale des Jeux de Salt-Lake city.
Quelques semaines plus tard c'était au Bulgare Ivan Slavkov de se faire prendre devant les caméras de la BBC à négocier les termes d'une entente frauduleuse entourant l'achat de votes dans la sélection du site des Jeux de 2012, que se disputent farouchement New York, Madrid, Paris, Londres et Moscou. "Je ne suis pas seulement déçu, je suis fâché", a laissé entendre le président du CIO Jacques Rogge.
La trêve olympique aura-t-elle lieu avant tout au sein du CIO ou sera-t-elle bafouée à la manière des Spartiates? A partir du quatrième siècle les athlètes pris à mentir, tricher ou accusés de corruption, devaient verser une amende utilisée afin d'ériger une statue de Zeus pour le chemin menant au stade, le monument de leur honte en quelque sorte. Il y a décidément de bien belles traditions qui se perdent.
En attendant, main dans la main, Nikis, déesse de la victoire, et Athéna, suivent les festivités avec le sourire.

AIDS AND WAR
As a major AIDS conference was ending in Bangkok calling for greater efforts to prevent the spread of the sexually-transmitted disease and urging large drug companies to lead in this effort, Amnesty International accused pro-government militias in Sudan's Darfur region of using rape and other forms of sexual violence "as a weapon of war" to humiliate black African women and girls as well as the rebels fighting the government in Khartoum.
An extreme aspect of the battle against AIDS, this served to show the difficulties of tackling a virus responsible for nearly 3 million deaths in 2003 alone, especially in Africa. It isn't the first time sex is being used as a weapon on the continent where AIDS claims most of its victims every year. Ten years ago sexual attacks were rampant during the Rwandan genocide, leaving survivors with unwanted births and disease, the infected children of one of Africa's darkest hours. Years later the virus spread when rape was once again used as a weapon in Congo's civil war. The spread of HIV is much higher through rape than it is through consensual sex and some health organizations estimated that the rate of infection among Congolese soldiers at the time was as high as 60 percent.
Amnesty International called for the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for sexual violence against the women of Darfur, in a country where admitting to rape is still subject of taboo. "Rape has a devastating and ongoing impact on the health of women and girls, and survivors now face a lifetime of stigma and marginalization from their own families and communities," the report went on. "Five to six men would rape us in rounds, one after the other for hours during six days, every night," one woman, who was identified only as S., told Amnesty researchers. "My husband could not forgive me after this; he disowned me."
The toll of AIDS in Africa is climbing according to a report by the United Nations Development Program which stresses the continent is getting poorer and hungrier as life expectancy continues its steep decline in the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. It said infants born now in seven nations with high rates of H.I.V. infection could expect to live less than 40 years. Not only are people living shorter lives but they are living further below the poverty line, the sub-Saharan African region as a whole facing the prospect that rising numbers of Africans will subsist on less than $1 a day in the years to come.
An estimated 38 million people are infected with H.I.V., 25 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa and experts say nearly half are women and their infection rates are climbing much faster than men's in many regions. The Bangkok conference warned that with 7.2 million people infected, Asia, as well as Eastern Europe, could face explosive epidemics unless they dealt with AIDS severely.
Yet few countries' leaders chose to attend the 15th international AIDS conference, a meeting first held in Atlanta just four years after the discovery of the new syndrome, then a venue more for scientists than world leaders and entertainment stars. In Bangkok some 17,000 delegates took part in conferences for six days where some would argue that the science has taken a back seat to heated debates and exchanges on social and economic matters.
While there were few Western world leaders, some leaders who attended left a mark on proceedings. U.N. Secretary general Kofi Annan, using terms that recently galvanized attention, described AIDS as a "weapon of mass destruction" and urged George W. Bush's administration to battle H.I.V. as fervently as it has terrorism, his country being the world's top financial contributor for AIDS. But eventually the turn-out of leaders was so disappointing that the host government had to cancel a summit meeting because of 10 heads of state the Thais invited, only Uganda's Yuweri Museveni accepted.
Over twenty years and after as many million deaths after the discovery of AIDS, condoms are finally being widely accepted as a way of dealing with the disease, but in the case of rape or sex crimes, prevention doesn't come under consideration. With regards to treatment, while there was general agreement generic drugs were just as efficient as high-cost brand names to treat the disease, there was no breakthrough on research, as hopes that the conference would feature the announcement of a vaccine to fight AIDS were dashed.
With only about 7 percent of the 6 million people in poor countries who urgently need antiretroviral treatment getting it, according to the U.N., the conference's theme of "Access for all" showed the difficult and long road ahead to eradicate the killer syndrome.

UNE ODYSSÉE DU FOOT
L'Euro 2004 a terminé comme il a commencé, avec une rencontre opposant deux clubs sur lesquels peu auraient gagé, une bouffé de fraîcheur dans un sport de millionnaires puisque ni la Grèce, ni le Portugal, jadis les deux pays pauvres de l'Europe des douze, n'avaient gagné une compétition internationale.
Dès cette première rencontre en fait, l'Ouzo a coulé à flots, puisque les héllènes ont causé la consternation en arrachant une victoire de 2-1 face à l'hôte du tournoi. Exécutant un foot à la fois nerveux, parfois agressif mais étrangement soporifique pour les opposants, l'équipe de l'entraîneur allemand Otto Rehhagel a causé surprise après surprise, se qualifiant en quarts, y éliminant les champions en titre 1-0, les coqs, puis l'équipe parfaite du tournoi, la Tchéquie, après un 1-0 arraché lors de la dernière séquence de la première période supplémentaire, un but d'argent qui préparait un exploit tout en or.
Car quelquechose de surnaturel jaillissait de ces Spartiates increvables, tantôt à l'apparence désorganisée, mais maîtres à la fois d'un chaos pas si différent du trafic athénien. Souriant depuis son temple du haut de l'Acropole, Athéna insufflait un courage peu ordinaire mais aussi une endurace marathonienne, qui préparait une véritable catharsis face au rouge et vert.
A la mi-temps, le score vierge laissait planer comme une odeur de calmar frit tout à fait grecque. Puis consternation, comme après chaque but inattendu, lorsque Angelos Charisteas, celui qui avait brisé les rêves français, enfonça d'une manière qui devient familière, une tête, sur un tir de corner comme celle qui avait anéanti les Tchèques, à la 57ème minute.
Personne n'était parvenu à remonter une avance grecque, une pente abrupte comme celle qui descend des monastères des Météores, et la finale fut sans exception malgré les efforts frénétiques des Portugais en fin de match.
La Grèce peut déjà célébrer, quelques semaines avant d'accueillir la compétition sportive qu'elle a légué au monde, un exploit digne d'une Odyssée des temps modernes. Un message plein d'espoir pour tant d'autres pays qui n'ont pas la foi de remporter un titre international au foot.

MARTIN CALLS LIBERAL MINORITY "STABLE"
Elections, especially bitter and divisive ones, may not appeal much to Canadians, but they can help answer important questions: Who makes the speech in front of the crowds of parliament hill on Canada Day? Making his way through the crowd on July 1st, Paul Martin was beaming, and visibly relieved. "Canadians needed a party," he said, and this Canadian foremost.
Punish the liberals for spending their dollars foolishly they did, but not by risking the untested conservative alternative offered by Stephen Harper. Canadians returned the liberals to power, fulfilling a long-time prime ministerial ambition in the Martin family, but with the short leash of a minority government that could leave third parties as kingmakers.
As of the day following the election, the liberals had 135 seats to the conservatives' 99. The New democrats' 19 can only serve to form a left-wing government if the remaining seat, that of Surrey BC independent Chuck Cadman, is added to the tally. The would-be kingmaker is actually a lone man, originally from Ontario, who has devoted his life to social issues and Canada's youth, since the tragic murder of his son in 1992, and didn't like the merging of the right that led to Harper's conservatives. A useless calculus if Martin, who calls his minority "stable", stands by his plan to deal on a vote by vote basis, a complex but flexible solution.
Crushed to the point of considering stepping aside as party leader but appreciative of the inroads made by his conservatives, Harper promised to hold the liberals to account. Martin meanwhile promised to make integrity and the respect of taxpayer dollars the mantra of the government he has yet to shape.
After decades of successive majorities, a minority government is certainly a major change in Canada's political landscape. It is perhaps fitting that the outcome be unusual, after one of the most irregular, some would add nasty, electoral campaigns in a while. Perhaps it fits the political landscape, made of ageing liberals and perhaps precocious conservatives, reborn New democrats with old ideas, and a Bloc which remains popular despite being past due.
The transition hasn't been easy either from old to new conservatives, Chretien to Martin liberals, or sovereigntists now so wary of waking up Canada to new constitutional troubles that they promised the vote wasn't about separation. But as he collected the praise of militants following his 54-seat win on Monday night - matching a previous BQ record - Duceppe seemed to walk away from the careful campaign script and reach out to hard-core nationalists Bernard Landry and Jacques Parizeau, possibly setting the stage for a future referendum.
"We are not beginning the process of sovereignty this evening, that much is clear. We are beginning to undertake a vigorous defence of Quebec's interests, " he said. One which in good time should lead to a country of Quebec he continued, picking up on Landry's campaign outburst which had put the BQ on the defensive as the liberals charged that Duceppe wanted nothing more than a new round of constitutional wrangling.
While the liberals were relieved they managed to eke out a minority, despite the electorate's fury, they were doubly relieved they didn't seem to need the support of Quebec sovereigntists to form a coalition government. "Don't let us return to the instability, the uncertainty and the division of older days," Martin had told a crowd of several hundred liberals on St-Jean-Baptiste Day just days before the vote. "Those days are finally behind us and that's where they belong, that's where they should remain."
During the campaign Duceppe had to check the enthusiasm of former premier Landry and the BQ's Outremont candidate, who were openly saying that a strong BQ showing could pave the way to a new referendum.
Division among party ranks was nothing new to the nascent conservatives either, still fighting the bitter battles that supposedly ended in the so-called united alliance to defeat the liberals. Right up until the day of the vote, divisive or controversial comments put a runner-up supposed to be continuously on the attack, on the defensive. Not to mention a mud-slinging ad campaign being waged on both sides.
One ad claiming Martin's votes in parliament made it appear he supported child porn was slammed by critics from all sides who recalled past ads that backfired, one notably poking fun at Jean Chretien's facial features.
Some former conservatives, such as Joe Clark, the last prime minister of a (short-lived) minority government, in 1979, supported a liberal candidate rather than a conservative one. Another went further by saying that the new Conservative party led by Harper has carefully wiped out all its progressive elements to create a "reprehensible" right-wing movement. Senator Lowell Murray said that the old Tories were "a moderate, centrist influence on Canadian politics (...) But the longer this campaign goes on, the more we are seeing that the new Conservative party is not any of those things."
Hours before the vote, this did not fail to fuel conspiracy theories that the conservatives were hiding a "secret agenda", one even circulated by prominent US activists and even a presidential hopeful. Both film-maker Michael Moore, whose last movie has set box office records for a documentary and is deemed so politically-charged that its ads can't appear on tv in the run-up to the national conventions, and independent candidate Ralph Nader, urged Canadians not to vote the conservatives in.
Fanning the flames were suggestions by a former Reform Justice critic that the new Tories could alter the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to better protect their social values. This demonizing Harper's party seemed to have cut short his chances of scoring even a minority government.
There is no doubt Harper and his team were coming under close scrutiny since the two televised debates, which were followed by numbers that suggested that his Tories could form the next government. In other words, the conservatives faced the scrutiny of the front-runners, one which had not spared the Martin liberals.
The liberals were after all still digesting their own restructuring of sorts, having weeded out Chretien backers leading up to the election call. During the campaign, realization that winning the next government would be an up-hill battle brought some gestures of reconciliation from the Martin camp, but to no avail.
Some of the bitter battles of the past had simply been too bloody. In Hamilton, backers of the former liberal candidate Sheila Copps refused to back the grits once again and walked over to support a local NDP candidate. Up until the very end, Harper made sure the sponsorship scandal stayed on everyone's lips, stressing it was unconscionable that a former finance minister who insisted "he knew the numbers" had missed tens of millions of dollars gone to ad agencies backing federalism in Quebec. The ads left Quebecers fuming, not hesistating to trade seats of possible cabinet ministers in a liberal government for Bloc protest voices.
But the battle would largely be played in Ontario, home to a liberal sweep that could not be sustained in 2004, and particularly Toronto, home to the NDP's Jack Layton and birthplace of Harper, as well as a 905 area code belt said of being willing to trade in liberal votes for conservative tax incentives. But the sweep of the 905 did not materialize, the liberals hanging on to 75 of the province's 106 seats, and crushing the conservatives' chances of forming a new government.
The liberals on the other hand failed to convince voters of the risks of a minority government, the first in half a century, despite stressing that it made for the type of constant political bargaining that at times left promises unmade.
Glad to be left standing on election night, Martin welcomed the new challenge of minority government however, while promising to deliver more to Canadians. "Canadians expected, and expect, more from us and as a party and as a government we must do better, and we will - I pledge that to you tonight," he said.
It has been some time since all four parties stood for something that politically mattered in Ottawa, making literally every vote and riding count. Third parties registered a record amount of seats, 74, making something perhaps not so good for stability quite good for democracy. Which is much-needed good news as fewer and fewer Canadians go to the polls. Despite a tight race, only 60% of Canadians chose to do so on June 28.

PHILIPPINES ET INDONÉSIE AUX URNES
A l'autre bout du monde, deux femmes espéraient également garder le pouvoir, un pari pour le moins difficile. Aux Philippines Gloria Arroyo a finalement gagné sa présidence, mais seulement plusieurs semaines après la clôture des heures de scrutin.
En effet c'est le 10 mai que 43 millions d'électeurs de l'archipel étaient appelés aux urnes et lui ont donné une victoire fortement contestée par l'opposition. Pour Arroyo il s'agissait d'obtenir un premier véritable mandat, ayant été portée au pouvoir après l'abandon de Joseph Estrada en 2001.
Les partis de l'opposition on pendant plusieurs semaines crié au vol et à la magouille, reportant son investiture à la semaine dernière. Tout au long des six semaines du décompte, l'opposition s'est battue bec et ongles, affirmant que son candidat, l'ancien acteur Fernando Poe Junior, était victime d'une fraude électorale massive.
Ce n'est finalement que le 24 juin que le Congrès philippin a formellement proclamé la victoire de la présidente sortante, par 1.1 million de votes, un résultat qui ne devait pourtant pas surprendre puisqu'elle est assurée d'une majorité à la Chambre comme au Sénat.
Mais lorsque la cérémonie d'investiture a finalement eu lieu, c'était sous la garde de blindés militaires dans la peur que les manifestations passent à l'émeute, ou encore, dans la crainte d'une attaque à la bombe. La police de Manille dit déjà détenir quatre suspects qui auraient planifié un acte terroriste qui devait coincider avec son inauguration et aurait démantelé plusieurs bombes qui devaient exploser.
L'appel solennel d'Arroyo pour l'unité nationale devait par conséquent venir du fond du coeur. "Plus de choses nous unissent que nous séparent" a-t-elle entamé. Si seulement les Philippins pouvaient s'unir pour lutter ensemble avec l'esprit combattif qui a caractérisé la féroce campagne, a-t-elle proposé.
Pourtant l'opposition n'a pas grand chose à lui envier s'il faut penser aux dures réformes économiques qu'elle devra entamer sous son mandat. Parmi les engagements du nouveau gouvernement, la propreté de l'eau, l'électricité à bon marché, plus d'écoles et un million d'emploi pour chaque année de son mandat. Mais fiscalité, dettes et corruption pourraient mettre le bâton dans les roues de cet audacieux programme et alimenter les pressions de l'opposition. Comme si ce pays qui a connu deux révolutions populaires et neuf coups d'états en 18 ans avait besoin de plus de raisons pour descendre dans les rues.
Cette image d'une présidence arrachée derrière une rangée de tanks cela rappelle plutôt l'histoire troublée de l'archipel qui domine la région du sud-est asiatique, l'Indonésie, qui choisit son président directement pour la première fois cette année. Le 5 juillet Megawati Sukarnoputri tente avec difficulté de défendre son mandat face à la montée, pacifique cependant, de deux ex-militaires.
L'ex-général Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono détient une avance de 20 à 30 pourcent dans les sondages mais malgré tout ne parviendra peut-être pas à obtenir une majorité lors du premier scrutin. Un second tour pourrait donc être envisagé, à l'automne, le mettant aux prises avec soit Mega, soit un autre homme vêtu de kaki, l'ex-général Wiranto.
Certains sont prêts à parier à un duel entre deux militaires, mais la démocratie n'en souffrira pas pour autant estime notre correspondant à Jakarta. "Certes ce sera sans doute une bataille de militaires, mais ça n'indique pas un retour au passé, estime Endy Bayuni, rédacteur au Jakarta Post, là-dessus l'Indonésie a tourné une page, on n'est plus à l'heure des dictatures".
Plusieurs s'étonnent cependant qu'on en soit rendu là, non seulement à une bataille de militaires - l'un, Wiranto, ayant servi Suharto et fait face à des accusations de crimes de guerre au Timor oriental et l'autre, ancien chef de la sécurité de Megawati - mais déjà loin du mouvement qui a porté la fille de l'ancien dictateur Sukarno au pouvoir, elle qui devait entraîner l'agréable embrun de la démocratie après les années dures.
Mais la médiocrité de son mandat, entre autre sur le plan du chômage et du combat de la corruption, ne lui donne pas grand chose afin d'inspirer les électeurs. Pour l'heure, elle ne peut que rêver d'une victoire à l'Arroyo, même s'il lui faut plusieurs mois avant de la confirmer.

APATHIE EUROPÉENNE
Si c'est ça l'avenir de l'Europe, on est au bord du désastre estiment les dirigeants de l'UE après le taux risible de participation aux dernières élections parlementaires. Plus de la moitié des électeurs européens n'ont pas daigné se montrer aux urnes le weekend du scrutin, qui coincidait avec le début de l'Euro 2004. L'autre a voté non dans une perspective continentale, mais nationale, punissant souvent les gouvernements respectifs.
Tel fut le cas en France, en Allemagne et en Grande-Bretagne. En Espagne cependant, les électeurs ont a nouveau choisi la gauche, le gouvernement de Zapatero ayant depuis le dernier scrutin, celui qui avait été ébranlé par les attentats du 11 mars, tenu ses promesses de retirer les troupes ibériques d'Irak. Mais la participation n'était pas plus brillante, à peine 46% des électeurs choisissant de se déplacer aux bureaux de vote.
Les pays fondateurs avaient des taux de participation légèrement plus élevés que les dix nouveaux d'Europe, récemment si enthousiastes de rejoindre l'UE. La verve communautaire s'est vite essoufflée, un peu comme les espoirs espagnols à l'Euro. En France le taux de participation de près de 42% était encore plus bas que la moyenne européenne, 44%, l'UMP de Jacques Chirac n'enregistrant que 16% des voix contre le double pour les socialistes. Il s'agissait d'une nouvelle sanction après le revers lors de régionales aussi cuisantes en mars dernier.
En Allemagne les sociaux-démocrates de Gerhard Schroeder ont guère fait mieux, remportant 21% des voix (contre 30% il y a cinq ans) et enregistrant le pire résultat du parti de l'après-guerre. Euroscepticisme? Les partis gagnants en Grande-Bretagne partageaient bien ce trait, vu les succès du U.K. Independence Party, qui avec 16% et sa plate-forme anti-Europe, s'est rapproché des conservateurs et travaillistes, (26% et 22%). Bien que ce parti ait coûté plus cher à la droite britannique qu'à la gauche de Tony Blair, ce dernier n'a pas fini de faire les frais d'une guerre en Irak largement impopulaire.
Vers l'est cependant, l'apathie gagnait les plus hauts rangs de la grille des partis. A peine 29% des électeurs ont senti le besoin de se rendre aux urnes, et un vote non-moins eurosceptique s'est partagé la part du gateau. Autant noter qu'il y a des votes annulés par ce niveau de taux de participation. Les autres anciens membres du Bloc soviétique ont guère fait mieux. Un taux de chômage important à l'est, voire 20% en Pologne, alimente sans doute le mécontentement et le rejet des institutions, qui jouent pourtant un rôle de plus en plus important dans la vie des 25.
Certains attribuent ce désengagement aux faibles connaissances en matière communautaire et à une certaine fatigue électorale après une ronde de référendums sur l'adhésion. Exceptions à la règle, les micro-états de Chypre et Malte, les jeunes nouveaux du sud, où la participation a atteint 70% et 82% respectivement. Dans le premier le vote est obligatoire alors que le second connait une tradition de taux de participation élevés.
Au moins cette indifférence n'aura pas créé de boulversement particulier: le parti populaire européen a conservé la plus grosse part du parlement européen avec plus de 270 sièges, contre les quelques 200 du parti socialiste européen. Des gains des partis d'opposition ont également été notés en Italie, aux Pays-bas, au Danemark, en Pologne et en Irlande. Les euro-sceptiques quant à eux ont enregistré des gains en Suède, en Pologne et en Tchéquie également.
Ce n'est pas ce que l'on espérait du deuxième exercice démocratique du genre (après l'Inde) où 350 millions d'électeurs étaient éligibles pour choisir les 732 sièges du parlement. Pourtant il ne manquait rien pour faire un spectacle de cette élection répartie sur quatre jours. Une star de la porno tchèque, une top-modèle des pays baltes, on se serait cru en pleine élection californienne, peu surprenant peut-être que les taux de participation soient presque américains.
Et pourtant l'UE n'a pas son Schwartzie, le terminator qui fait toujours courir les foules. Le manque de candidat-étoile au parlement, et une confusion latente sur le rôle des institutions européennes, entachées de scandales peu reluisants ces dernières années, n'ont pas réussi a faire sortir le vote, pourtant le premier des dix nouveaux membres de l'UE. Evidemment lorsque même Dolly Buster, dont le parti prêche l'érotisme en Tchéquie, se fait interdire le droit de vote par faute d'enregistrement, que faut-il penser...
Conséquence de tout cela, la double hésitation des dirigeants en vue d'une constitution qui doit concrétiser l'agrandissement, et passer à la phase d'approfondissement des institutions communautaires. Celle-ci a fait l'objet d'un accord historique, mais comporte de nombreux vétos restrictifs.
Par ailleurs les dirigeants s'entendent guère pour trouver de successeur au président de la commission sortant Romano Prodi. Puis il reste à ratifier la constitution dans près d'une demi douzaine de pays, un nouveau retour aux urnes.

CONGO INSTABILITY SPREADS FEARS
A second coup attempt in Kinshasa this year and a growing humanitarian crisis in one of Africa's largest countries are spreading fears about the central government's ability to maintain order in Congo.
On June 2nd the temporary capture of the Eastern town of Bukavu by General Laurent Nkunda's rebels sent tremors that slowly led to the capital. Days later, in a supposedly separate incident, renegade soldiers took over state television and announced that the army was in control. They did so in the dead of night and were quickly dealt with by troops loyal to president Joseph Kabila, but this latest sign of instability, in a country where more than 10,000 U.N. troops are posted, has shaken the confidence of a population unsure of the power-sharing government set up last year to end five years of war.
In the streets Congolese workers and students demonstrated against the impotence of the government and the United Nations' peacekeepers in the face of rebel fire, according to Africa Confidential, shaking the popularity of Kabila's year-old transitional government. He assumed power three years ago when his father, strongman Laurent Kabila, was assassinated by security guards. Some have always doubted his abilities to hold together a country torn by regional conflict and outside powers for years.
In Kinshasa on June 3rd, tens of thousands of demonstrators brandished the old flag of Zaire, sang the Mobutist national anthem and chanted the late President Mobutu Sese Seko's name, smashing the offices of Kabila's Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et le Développement (PPRD) and denouncing what they saw as the incompetence of the President and his four vice-presidents.
The rebel insurgency was a stark reminder of the way a corrupt and disorganised Zaire army fled before Rwandan soldiers who pushed all the way to Kinshasa together with anti-Mobutu rebels after the 1994 crisis in the Great Lakes region spilled into the Congo. While stability returned to both the capital and the regional centre of Bukavu, recaptured by the army after having been under rebel control for a week, aid organizations decried a humanitarian crisis in the East they say is even worse than the ethnic cleansing taking place in Western Sudan's Darfur province.
"Access wise, it is even worse than Darfur in western Sudan, where aid groups recently were permitted to enter," Jan Egeland, an emergency relief coordinator told a U.N. Security Council meeting last week. Of 10 million people in 20 countries in conflict areas with little access to aid, the largest numbers are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, numbering some 3 million in the East alone, he said. In one area alone, 4,500 malnourished children in special feeding centers cannot be reached, Egeland added, and about a third of the people out of reach to humanitarian workers were estimated to be children.
One reason for this is the relocation of some 130 international aid workers from various areas in the northern and southern Kivu to the city of Goma, leaving hundreds of thousands, mostly in the Bukavu area, without food aid, health care, water and sanitation. Those left behind are also victims of sexual violence, both against women and children, a phenomenon seen not just in Congo, but in other African countries such as Liberia, Uganda, the Ivory Coast, and in Darfur. "Rape continues to be used as a brutal weapon of war," Egeland said. "There has been a marked deterioration since Bukavu fell and it has been spreading. The world has not understood how deep the crisis has become and what is at stake," he told Reuters, refusing to limit the blame to the rebels.
Factions loyal to neighbors once massively infiltrated in the Congo and still seeking to destabilize Kabila's government are also to blame for the tensions. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says that recently rebellious factions of former rebel groups in Ituri and the Kivus have used violence to oppose integration into the new Congolese army and challenge the authority of the fragile transitional government in the capital Kinshasa.
Leaving no doubt as to the scope of the task of governance ahead, Kabila's swearing in last year was carried out as reports of massive slaughter were streaming out of the north-east region of Ituri in April of 2003, involving factions loyal to two neighboring countries, Rwanda and Uganda, very much involved in Congo's internal matters and threatening the tenuous peace process.
The latest tensions in the East surfaced when Brig. Gen. Nkunda threatened to resume Congo's 1998-2002 war over what he says is military persecution of his Congolese Tutsi minority. He and a fellow Tutsi commander held Bukavu until June 9 to stop what they claimed were atrocities against Tutsis there. The U.N. found no evidence of mass atrocities but reported that doctors registered 143 civilian casualties, including 66 dead, in the takeover of Bukavu, and is wary of Tutsi-Hutu rivalries in this area so close to the Rwandan border. Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996 and again in 1998 to try to neutralize Rwandan Hutu fighters, thousands of whom had fled to Congo after carrying out Rwanda's 1994 genocide of more than a half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Today still there are occasional reminders of this dark chapter in African history. Last week former Rwandan mayor Sylvestre Gacumbitsi was sentenced to 30 years in prison for organising the slaughter of 20,000 people during the 1994 genocide. He notably led the massacre of thousands of people sheltering in Nyarubuye Church, one of the most macabre events in the genocide. The 1998 invasion, and Rwanda's backing of Congolese rebels, touched off Congo's five-year war which embroiled the armies of six African nations and killed an estimated 3 million people, most through famine and disease.
Since the latest flare-up in tensions, more than 22,000 refugees have fled into neighboring Burundi to escape the violence, a flood it is having difficulties to contain. This as the number of refugees and displaced people around the world has fallen by 18% to just over 17m - the lowest level in a decade according to the U.N.'s refugee agency.
Southern African countries such as Angola and Namibia are so concerned about a return to full-fledged war in Africa's third-largest, and most centrally-located, country, that they are weighing the need for a new intervention to avoid a new bloodshed. Even the U.S. sent a top envoy to avoid what could become an escalating crisis.
This is a growing possibility as the military's efforts to stabilize the East by deploying thousands of troops there, despite recent assurances by Gen. Nkunda that he didn't want to start a war, have unnerved Rwanda to the point of fearing an invasion.

CHECKING YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE AT THE PUMP
As most Americans, Californians largely ignored the screaming late May headlines warning of future terror attacks by al-Qaida in the United States, but another more distant attack in Saudi Arabia hit right at home, and into pocketbooks.
The world's leading oil producer and exporter, home to one-quarter of the world's oil reserves, the Saudi kingdom reeled after a series of attacks killed 22 foreign workers at its oil producing plants, sending oil prices rocketing to new records.
Soon the barrel reached over $42 as speculators feared the vulnerability of oil fields, refineries and ports in the Gulf. In the Golden state, the U.S.'s highest gas prices only climbed higher, some nearing $3 a gallon, making pain at the pump a major issue in the lead up to this fall's presidential election.
The reality of high oil prices seems unreal in a car-mad city of Angels that pumps its own oil. Soon once much-prized SUVs were seeing their sales slip, while back orders for fuel-efficient hybrid cars required half a year's wait.
On the ever-flowing freeway 101 slicing through Hollywood, a Toyota Prius bearing plates that read GASBUST slithered its way through traffic, an increasingly common sight. Once the conversation piece on four wheels of movie stars, the vehicle of modest proportions has seen its popularity rocket along with the price at the pump, defying the once unmistakable American adage that bigger is better.
For those still living by these words, like a commercial pledge of allegiance, the future bears gifts in the form of an gas-electric SUV, and behold, even a Hummer. But while U.S. car-makers have yet to begin production of their own hybrid cars, the Japanese model is the little darling of the industry, its 10% higher tag value (compared to gas-only models) now appearing to be a bargain after oil prices shot up 39% this year alone in the U.S. Toyota boosted its production in April by a third but still can't keep up with demand (from 7,500 rolling out each month to a clean 10,000 now).
More than a third of Americans, who hit the roads in droves during the Memorial day holiday - the beginning of the high travel season - say the rising price of oil is pinching their wallets. And with the pinch comes trouble for the economy, forced to endure higher transport and other oil-related costs. The airline industry said its hopes to post a surplus this year, after three consecutive years of losses following Sept. 11, were dashed by the rising prices, noting the industry barely breaks even at $33 a barrel.
In fact a full tank of gas is now so valuable that it has become a draw to some Nevada casinos, who usually rely on cheap drinks and copious food to bring gamblers to the smooth green tables and blinking coin machines.
The threat of an economic slowdown tied to high energy prices, accountable for a lion's share of first quarter inflation, has however not been shaking the determination of the Bush administration not to tap into the country's strategic reserves, despite pressure by various groups claiming that strict policies committing oil production to the reserve instead of the marketplace is in part responsible for the scarcity that is raising prices.
In Canada the price of oil, reaching $1 a litre at some pumps, is slowly creeping into the election campaign. The governing Liberal party, seeking to stay in power when the ballots are counted at the end of the month, has been toying with the idea of giving cities a share of gas taxes. Already just over one week into the campaign, some candidates have been parading behind the wheel of electric cars.
But oil prices have made Britons across the Atlantic simply irate after the gallon settled at just under $6 U.S. at some pumps, leading truck drivers to threaten massive strikes. In 2000, protests across the country with some of the highest prices in Europe blockaded refineries and fuel depots, all but paralyzing Britain for days.
Meanwhile in the volatile Middle-East, members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries were committing to an increase of oil production to reduce upward pressure on prices. This succeeded in taking the price of crude under $40 a barrel, the agreement promising to increase oil production by 11%, the equivalent of 2 to 2.5 million barrels a day starting next month.
But other concerns remained, one being that just two Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are the only OPEC members with capacity to spare. OPEC, which accounts for a third of the world's oil output, said last week it may not be able to control the market like it used to. The latest attacks against the former also caused concerns about the ruling family's ability to control a wave of Islamic insurgency across the desert kingdom.
Some analysts warned not to expect too much from the announced production hike because the world's biggest gas-guzzler, the U.S., is facing an oil shortage that will keep prices high. This is supplanted by the fact that China's economic boom has given the world's most populous country and unquenchable thirst for the black gold.
Further terror strikes on oil targets would do nothing to lessen the pressure on oil prices which are trickling down to all levels of the economy, from the energy to transport and other more loosely related sectors. That may be just one more thing to fume about on highway 405 in the bumper to bumper ride from San Diego to Los Angeles during the Spring's most traveled days.

SONIA'S TOUGH CHOICE IN DELHI
Increasingly the world was becoming divided about India. The world's largest democracy had become both popular with companies outsour-cing services for cheaper labor, and unpopular with wor-kers who were handed their pink slips as a result.
In Western countries such as Canada and the U.S. thousands of jobs were lost to outsourcing, largely gone to India. Less developed coun-tries were not spared. Even low-wage coun-tries such as Indonesia couldn't match the strong competition of a high number of qualified and English-speaking workers available at a bargain.
But this dichotomy has been spreading within India's borders as well, and caught up with the Hindu government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was convinced he would return to power after having created a boom in the country's hi-tech industry, filling millions of jobs to the delight of the middle class. But in a country of over a billion, that still may not have been enough.
This week's election results suggest his government may have been too eager to court business and overseas finance while paying little attention to millions of rural workers who didn't share the wealth and flocked to opposition parties, led by Congress, in protest. In the country whose spiritual founder, Mahatma Gandhi, was known for living with modest means and fighting the battles of the poor and destitute, the cry of the less fortunate resonated loudly, handing Vajpayee a shocking defeat.
Signs of the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party's demise came early when one of the men most credited for championing the hi-tech boom, Chandrababu Naidu, lost in Andhra Pradesh, a region which had largely benefited from the IT boom. The loss was a setback for Vajpayee and his reform-minded economic policies friendly to business interests, initially sending stocks reeling in a way that surpassed the crash following Sept. 11.
On the other hand it threw a new lifeline to the old guardian of power in India, the Congress party, which had once made the country practically a one-party state from independence on until some ten years ago. While its leader Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, created little enthusiasm during the election, people in part flocked back to more familiar party ground, and followed other members of the refreshed Gandhi-Nehru dynasty with interest.
Among them, Sonia's daughter, Priyanka, 32, who campaigned for her mother in areas where Comgress was struggling. Another member of the family had been gathering interest as her brother, Rahul, 34, contested and won his first seat, in Amethi, a traditional family bastion where his mother was once elected. As the national results in general, the local vote did not disappoint Congress members by giving him a wide margin of victory, and opening the door to a new generation of Gandhis. Their campaigning in Uttar Pradesh was touted as one of the reasons for Congress' gains there, a state whose capital is Vajpayee's own constituency.
Tormented at home, Vajpayee scrambled in the days leading to the final vote count for new partners to form a coalition, the familiar look of Indian governance for about a decade. But despite leading India in a period which made it the world's second-hottest economy, helped by the rare stability on the subcontinent made possible by his peace proposal with neighboring Pakistan, Vajpayee saw his fortune collapse as the Gandhis' rose beyond their greatest expectations.
In her first comments after her party's stunning result, Sonia promised the peace process and reforms would continue, but was non-committal about becoming prime minister. "The Congress party will take the lead to ensure that our country has a strong, stable and secular government at the earliest," she said. Suddenly she was the one scrambling to form a government, which she failed once before.
In the end however she bowed to nationalist pressure and declined the post of prime minister, choosing the architect of India's reforms, Manmohan Singh, for the post, a move which didn't fail to upset her supporters. While the move prevented the first foreign-born PM from taking office in India, it did celebrate national diversity by bringing the first Sikh to the post, putting to rest dark days twenty years ago when a Sikh body guard killed Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

The victory of the opposition came to the delight of millions of some of the world's poorest people, who turned out in great numbers to celebrate in the streets, as they had at the polls, besmirching BJP's slogan of "India Shining", which boasted economic success. "What 'India Shining' are we talking about?" one farmer was quoted by Reuters are saying, "We are dying hungry here."

CRISES RELIGIEUSES EN AFRIQUE
Le penchant conservateur et pieux du président des Etats-Unis et les appels à la guerre sainte des islamistes opposés aux politiques américaines ont beau faire circuler des notions de guerre religieuse, c'est une version qui colle assez mal à la réalité. Surtout s'il faut la comparer à celle qui déchire musulmans et chrétiens aux différents coins du continent africain.
Le gonflement du nombre de victimes de massacres de nature en partie religieuse au Nigéria et au Soudan ces dernières semaines, des conflits de longue date, rappelle cette triste réalité souvent éclipsée par le bourbier des lendemains de guerre en Irak. Au Nigéria, le lieu de massacre de centaines de musulmans par des miliciens chrétiens dans le centre du pays, ce gonflement a décuplé le nombre de victimes en vingt-quatre heures au début du mois, lorsque la Croix-rouge a fait passer les chiffres de 67 à 600.
Les autorités, qui ont dépêché des troupes après la tuerie, ont à nouveau été incapables d'éviter ce drame dans l'état du Plateau, une faille pourtant bien connue séparant musulmans du nord et chrétiens du sud, point de chocs inter-ethniques depuis plusieurs années. Il y a trois ans on comptait par centaines les victimes d'une série d'affrontements qui avait oblitéré mosquées, églises et autres édifices religieux.
Cette fois le village de Yelwa a été la scène du massacre d'hommes, de femmes et d'enfants au fusil et à la machette pendant une journée entière, des représailles après la tuerie de cinquante chrétiens en février dernier. Le coeur géographique du pays, cette région réunit toutes les tensions qui peuvent animer la cohabitation des deux solitudes religieuses, exacerbées en 2000 lorsque les douze états musulmans du nord ont instauré la loi islamique au grand dam des chrétiens du sud.
Après Yelwa, des dizaines d'autres Nigériens sont morts lors de violentes manifestations musulmanes condamnant le massacre. En tout, il faut compter par milliers les victimes d'exactions ethniques et religieuses depuis 1999 au pays.
Dix ans après le génocide rwandais, les guerres inter-ethniques restent une triste réalité en Afrique. Au Soudan, on ne compte plus les victimes d'un conflit toujours ravageur qui divise les Noirs du sud et de l'ouest en bonne partie chrétiens aux Arabes musulmans du nord.
Le dernier épisode sanglant a déplacé des milliers de personnes fuyant les massacres de milices à cheval appuyées par le gouvernement de Karthoum. Certains chiffres conservateurs parlent de 10 000 morts lors des quatorze derniers mois dans la région principalement musulmane du Darfour, le plus récent chapitre d'une guerre civile plus vieille que la crise des Grands Lacs encore. Pour dire vrai, le Soudan n'a connu qu'une dizaine d'années de paix relative depuis l'indépendance en 1956, tandis que deux millions de personnes ont été directement ou indirectement (famine) tuées par ce conflit qui a déplacé près de quatre millions de personnes.
On ne compte même plus, depuis quelques semaines, le nombre de rapports de l'ONU et d'autres organisations qui condamnent la politique d'épuration ethnique et de crimes contre l'humanité du gouvernement. Le dernier rapport de l'ONU, rendu public la semaine dernière et obtenu par la NPU, accuse les milices de s'adonner à une politique d'inanition, en pourchassant ceux qui ont pu fuir les massacres.
"Ils racontaient que leurs villages avaient été brûlés, disait une infirmière de Médecins Sans Frontière des Noirs déplacés par les milices, les Janjawid. Nous avons vécu, à ce moment-là, une situation de 'prison virtuelle' : les déplacés arrivés à Mornay avaient un besoin urgent de protection, alors qu'à l'extérieur les milices semaient la terreur et brûlaient les villages, éventrant les sacs de nourriture, forçant les gens à fuir... Des hommes et des enfants qui essayaient de sortir de Mornay pour trouver de la nourriture ou nourrir les animaux ont été blessés, des femmes violées."
Des dires vite confirmés par les observateurs de l'ONU dans leur rapport sur le village de Kailek, lieu de rassemblement de populations fuyant les massacres. "Une stratégie systématique et délibérée de famine" y est appliquée par les milices, écrivent-ils, sans faire de distinction entre milices et agents de l'ordre du gouvernement.
L'ONU a beau s'en prendre à la politique de Karthoum, elle n'a pu empêcher la ré-élection du Soudan en tant que membre de la Commission des droits de l'homme, qui a vite été suivie par les appels du ministre des Affaires étrangères Moustapha Ismaïl contre les sévices des prison américaines en Irak, tout en réclamant la fin de l'occupation. Faisant écho de la condamnation musulmane générale du traitement des prisonniers en Irak, cette déclaration n'avait pas moins l'intention d'éclipser les massacres du désert du Darfour.
Il n'y a pas qu'en Afrique où des problèmes sectaires ont connu une recrudescence ces derniers temps. En Indonésie une quizaine de personnes sont mortes dans l'archipel des Moluques lors d'affrontements entre chrétiens et musulmans en fin avril. Une manifestation par des séparatistes chrétiens à Ambon a viré au drame qui a ajouté au compte des 5000 décès lors d'affrontements inter-religieux que connait la région depuis 1999. Les efforts de pacification entamés en 2002 sont là aussi loin de mettre fin au conflit.
Eclipsées par le conflit irakien ou la guerre au terrorisme, ces crises sont parfois inspirées par eux. Selon un chef religieux musulman de Kano au Nigéria, les musulmans font face "à une guerre calculée comme en Afghanistan et en Irak". Selon le gouverneur de la ville, la mort des musulmans en Irak ne peut que donner davantage de courage. Par conséquent "les musulmans doivent être prêts à verser leur sang". Un refrain à présent douloureusement familier.

A PERVERSE PHOTO WAR
In a testosterone-filled environment thick with male machismo, two young women have come to play a symbolic, though not always endearing, role in the U.S. intervention in Iraq.
The first was symbolic in many ways since her capture and release coincided with sweeping developments in the ground war. When Private Jessica Lynch, 19, was captured in a convoy ambushed by Iraqi soldiers which killed nine members of her unit last year, doubts briefly emerged in the ground operation leading to Baghdad. The offense stuttered, supply lines were getting stretched and questions were raised about whether enough troops had been sent to do the job.
Lynch, a clerk who had joined the ranks of the military to pay her way into college, was eventually rescued just as U.S. troops entered Baghdad, secured the airport and took control of its streets. The capital fell without a land stand many feared would be bloody.
A little older and still in Iraq one year after the end of combat operations, Private Lynndie England, 21, was dealing with the aftermath of the American victory, at a time doubts have perhaps never been so persistent. She didn't fall into Iraqi hands, they were at her mercy, and to many Arabs the young private showed none as she tormented naked prisoners on the cover of newsmagazines and newspapers, and especially on Arab television screens, around the world.
Others were involved in the prisoner abuse scandal which sparked a worldwide outcry, but she stood out in her own way, as a young uneducated woman from West Virginia in a war run by legions of men. To Arab eyes, that a woman be seen subjecting naked Arab male prisoners to obscenities that have grown beyond description, is the ultimate humiliation. The battle for the hearts and minds seems irretrievable as a result.
Before long, an administration notable for standing behind tough decisions that never said sorry, apologized to anyone who would hear it, in whatever language was necessary. Storming Rummy himself, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was troubled to find words before a congressional panel.
Meanwhile president George W. Bush, whose words to Arab viewers in television interviews were deemed not apologetic enough by critics, was openly apologizing, Jordan's supportive king by his side. Days later, coalition partner and British prime minister Tony Blair laid out his own apologies for alleged abuses by British guards in coalition prisons, British tabloids having splashed Britain's own shameful acts soon after the American pictures emerged.
While Canada stayed out of Iraq, it still could understand the scope of the controversy. Eleven years ago pictures of the mistreatment of prisoners at a military camp in Somalia sparked a sweeping inquiry of so-called "trophy photos" showing Canadian soldiers posing over a bloodied young Somali. The inquiry led to the disbanding of the Airbone regiment based in Petawawa, as the country's head hung in shame.
Democracies should know better, the cry went. Especially democracies that want to bring freedom to a part of the world that has seen little of it for ages as the U.S. is trying to do in the Middle-East.
After partly ducking the matter of weapons of mass destruction, and facing mounting casualties, America had met its match with a few digital photos sneaked away from the battlefield. Questions soon turned to America's secretive treatment of prisoners of dubious status at Guantanamo naval base, where hundreds of suspected al-Qaida operatives are still under detention. After losing some of its allies and friends over Iraq, the U.S. was losing carte blanche, and some would say moral authority, to act unilaterally in the name of the homeland.
The most fearless defenders of a controversial administration were left looking weak. In a rare display of disharmony in the inner circle which led the war, Rumsfeld was chastised by Bush, who found out about the scandal watching television, for not telling his commander in chief how bad the allegations were and that the story was going to break.
Later before irate members of Congress, some of whom asked for his resignation, the defense secretary conceded, "I failed to identify the catastrophic damage that the allegations of abuse could do to our operations in the theater, to the safety of our troops in the field, to the cause to which we are committed."
National newspapers called for Rumsfeld's resignation, including the Army Times, read widely in the US military, but Bush remained supportive of his defense secretary on a number of occasions despite not having been forewarned about the impending crisis. In a war which has gone from shock and awe to shock and outrage, Rumsfeld defended the use of interrogation techniques in U.S. prisons by stressing they had been approved by Pentagon lawyers.
The more cynical critics of an administration which hardly lacks any could argue that what perhaps brought the house down on the commanders was failure to prevent the release of the photos rather than the acts themselves. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden accused Bush of being "tone deaf" to the outcry and was critical of the handling of the scandal. "There seems to be more concern about political damage control than international damage control," he told CBS.
Months before the scandal broke, the International Committee of the Red Cross told top Washington officials it had problems with the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, charging they were the subject of systematic abuses by their captors. Those caught on film didn't mind blaming superiors in the scandal.
Three women are among the seven facing charges including prisoner abuse. Among them, 26 year old Sabrina Harman said she and others took direction from Army military intelligence officers, CIA operatives and civilian contractors who conducted interrogations. ``They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time already hooded and cuffed," she said. "The job of the military police was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk."
The image of agents of a democracy comitting such acts could perhaps be rescued by the notion that far from having been buried, the scandal broke into the open violently, to the point of threatening the head of the defense secretary. Furthermore, in one of the most expeditious administrations of justice in recent memory, the U.S. military announced, just over a week after the story broke on CBS, the first court-martial in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse allegations, ordering a reservist to face trial in Baghdad on May 19.
Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits is believed to have taken some of the photos that triggered the scandal when they were broadcast on April 28. Officials will have to convince Iraqis that the U.S. does not tolerate torture reminiscent of the darkest days of Saddam Hussein and hopes to dispense quick justice.
England, showed in one picture holding a naked Iraqi at the end of a leash and nicknamed by some as "anti-Lynch" and "sex sadist of Baghdad" could follow. In her hometown of Fort Ashbyher portraits of her once prominently displayed in public places have come down. Unlike Lynch, whose own story of rescue was peppered with fabricated tales of heroism, she will not emerge as a celebrity soldier, perhaps an infamous one, but friends are defending she is being made a scapegoat for abuses ordered from above.
She claims she was asked to pose for the photos and was in fact congratulated for them. If only she had looked less smug in the various frames perhaps.
In a televised war brought live into tv rooms every night, simple still photos, most captured by inexpensive digital cameras and sent through the internet, have caused the most shock. The uncleared photos of returning casquets covered by US flags caused a stir and got the amateur photographers discharged from the US military.
A special Nightline show reading all the names of the US soldiers killed in the war along with their picture also caused a controversy after one chain of stations pulled the show by fear it was sending an anti-war message. Soon after the abuse scandal surfaced with images some fear make good al-Qaida recruiting posters.
The US military had been hoping for something more in the spirit of Pat Tillman, the young ranger killed in action who had forfeited a lifetime of wealth and fame playing pro football to lead America on the perilous front lines.
It was only followed by the most gruesome images yet, a video posted on the internet of an American contractor being beheaded by his captors in revenge for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. There is no winner in a nuclear war the saying went, nor in this battle of images, certainly radioactive politically.

L'OCCASION MANQUÉE
Le dernier chapitre de l'élargissement de l'Union européenne a été clôturé avec un brin de tristesse. Parmi les dix pays qui se joignent au club continental ce 1er mai, la majorité d'anciens pays du bloc de l'Est, il faudra compter une demi-Chypre après le rejet par la partie grecque de l'île des plans onusiens d'unification sous forme de confédération, le fruit de longues périodes de labeur de la part du secrétaire général Kofi Annan, visiblement déçu à l'issue du référendum de samedi, qui a été rejeté par 75% des Grecs.
"Une chance unique et historique pour résoudre le problème chypriote a été ratée," estimait Annan lors d'un communiqué. La déception semblait aussi importante dans le camp de l'Union, dont le commissaire chargé de l'élargissement, Guenter Verheugen qualifiait le résultat du vote de "tragique".
Gagnante malgré ce rejet, la partie turque au nord de l'île, qui a voté "oui" à 65% au projet de réunification malgré un accord de retour des populations grecques déplacées par l'intervention armée turque de 1974 et le "non" du dirigeant nationaliste Rauf Denktash, vivra sans doute un assouplissement de l'isolement commercial dont elle fait l'objet, un sujet abordé par les ministres des affaires extérieures de l'Union quelques jours plus tard.
Intéressée intimement par la débat chypriote, la Turquie promettait également son engagement diplomatique afin de faire tomber l'embargo économique du nord de l'île, dont le seul partenaire est Ankara. Il faut dire que si ce bémol communautaire avait une odeur bosphoreuse ce n'était pas par hasard, c'était une préparation au véritable débat d'envergure: l'accession de la Turquie à l'UE.
A l'opposé des nouveaux membres de l'Union, qui pourraient s'imposer en bloc à Bruxelles, la Turquie d'elle-même pourrait devenir une force politique redoutable, car elle serait le deuxième pays le plus peuplé de L'UE après l'Allemagne. Ankara, pour qui le rejet chypriote constitue "l'événement le plus réussi de la politique étrangère turque en cinquante ans" a même fait appel à la suspension de la partie chypriote grecque au sein de l'UE.
Mais ce rejet référendaire n'est rien par rapport à celui qui pourrait éventuellement faire vibrer les fondations de l'UE, un 'non' à un éventuel plebiscite britannique proposé par Tony Blair sur le processus constitutionnel de l'Union. Membre des douze pays fondateurs de la communauté, elle-même sensée éviter tout retour à la guerre en Europe, la Grande-Bretagne reste néanmoins à l'extérieur de l'espace Schengen des mouvements des personnes, et de la zone Euro. Avec l'élargissement elle parle même de resserrer ses frontières davantage.
Mais M. Blair semblerait déjà regretter l'annonce du référendum après un sondage révélant la force du camp eurosceptique: un quart des britanniques seulement voterait en faveur d'une question portant sur l'adhésion britannique à une nouvelle constitution européenne.
Il y a quelques semaines pourtant, il y avait lieu d'espérer un dénouement dans l'épineuse question constitutionnelle lorsque le nouveau gouvernement espagnol a déclaré son intention d'approuver le processus. Pour le commissaire britannique Chris Patten le plebiscite risque d'aboutir au rejet de l'UE par la Grande-Bretagne: "Quel est l'intérêt d'y rester et sans cesse mettre la pagaille?"
C'est une famille bien grande et peu harmonieuse que viennent rejoindre les dix nouveaux membres. Déjà plus pauvres que la moyenne de l'UE en majorité, certains même rongés par la corruption, les nouveaux membres pourraient peser sur la balance diplomatique également, la plupart épousant des positions pro-américaines, dont la participation à la guerre en Irak, qui avait été rejetée par les poids lourds que sont la France et l'Allemagne. Dommage que ceux-ci soient également des poids lourds financiers ne respectant pas les règles communautaires sur les déficits publics.
Les nouveaux membres comme la Pologne, la Tchéquie et les pays Baltes, sont néanmoins ravis de se joindre à ce qui a été le coeur démocratique de l'Europe lors des divisions du siècle dernier, tandis que la division chypriote constituera une cicatrice bien laide sur le dos de l'Union.
Le regret est d'autant plus notable à Bruxelles que la partie grecque avait été acceptée après avoir promise de faire avancer les plans de paix sur l'île, dont la division aura dorénavant quelquechose de physique et même de continental. Il faut dire que lors du scrutin chypriote grec l'an dernier, le scepticisme du gouvernement entrant paraissait moins évident que le rejet du plan de l'ONU par Denktash.
En fin de compte, c'est la population grecque qui a tranché, rejetant en partie les conditions du retour des réfugiés du nord, et estimant n'avoir rien à perdre avec cette adhésion européenne assurée. Le vote aura tout du moins porté une tache à cette nouvelle adhésion, et attristé la fête qui devait célébrer une unification continentale historique.

NEW FRONTS IN IRAQ INSURGENCY
The toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein that marked the fall of Baghdad and the proclaimed US domination in Iraq a year ago was both symbolic and judicious. Its collapse marked the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, but hardly the end of hostilities in Iraq.
One year later in fact the interim US administration is dealing with an insurgency on as many fronts as there seemed to be at the height of combat operations. The hydra which has risen from the ashes of the short ground war not only symbolizes a number of geographic flashpoints, but a number of different opponents as well.
While the horrific images of the killing and mutilation of four American security guards in Fallujah displayed a new level of obscenity, at least they portrayed a familiarily hostile terrain, the notorious Sunni triangle which was the long-time base of Saddam Hussein's support. It is there also that U.S. officials suspected external elements of the insurgency, fighters smuggled into the country from other countries to combat the U.S. presence in Iraq, prepared their bloody operations.
But the uprising of parts of the Shia population, inflamed by the vitriol of young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, once passed over as a member of Iraq's governing council, has divided a segment of the Iraqi Shia majority which is only too keen to display to was extent the U.S. has been wearing out its welcome.
While the Shia majority was never perceived as a single homogeneous block by U.S. administrators, distinguishing between moderate and more extreme elements, never had the opposition been so sweeping and fierce. Descendant of a family of clerics silenced by Saddam Hussein's ruthless regime, Sadr has become the voice of a segment of the Iraqi population disgruntled by conditions in Iraq one year after the war, and recent actions by the interim administration.
The first major rallies occurred the day the U.S. shut down a popular newspaper they said was inciting violence. This was followed by the arrest of a top Sadr aide suspected of being behind the slaying of a Shia cleric. The protests soon became violent. Soon after the Fallujah slaying, new warnings by U.S. officials that Iraqis has "crossed a line" were sounding like a broken record.
But by the time an arrest warrant was issued against Sadr, the self-proclaimed "enemy of the occupation" had taken extreme steps to "terrorize the enemy" by bringing into the Iraqi equation two terror organizations of renown, Hamas and Hezbollah. That the groups responsible for the bloodiest attacks against Israel in the last decade decide to ally themselves with the 30 year-old cleric certainly seemed to simplify the references of the new battle-field: The U.S. crackdown on Fallujah to seek and destroy the culprit of the killing of the U.S. guards had all the feel of Israel's military sweeps of the occupied territories in search for terrorists, as did the thunder of U.S. helicopter gunships firing at targets in a Shia Muslim district of Baghdad. Sadr's Mahdi army of thousands of black-clad militiamen would neatly fit in a parade of Hamas suicide bombers in the West Bank.
Members of Iraq's own U.S.-backed governing council were shocked by the military charge into Fallujah, some threatening to quit as a result. The scope of the new multi-headed insurgency became apparent quickly, as protests of Shia supporters of Sadr led to clashes and death on both sides during a bloody week which claimed the lives of some sixty coalition troops, mostly from the U.S., and ten times more Iraqis, in clashes in half a dozen cities, some falling completely out of coalition control.
The Sadr rebellion spread south early on, as dozens of supporters occupied the governor's office in Basra, leading to clashes with British troops. The Kurdish-strong north hardly resembled an oasis of tranquility either, after the earlier killing of British and Canadian contractors when their car was ambushed in Mosul.
With the new terror alliances came new tactics, such as the kidnapping of over a dozen civilians, including one Canadian working for UNICEF. But what coalition troops feared most, a marriage of convenience of Sunni and Shia groups, was most on the minds of military planners. Until recently their disharmony was more of an issue. There was concern as well that former members of the Iraqi army had once again taken up arms.
Meanwhile U.S. president George W. Bush's determination to stay the course three months from the expected transition of administration in Iraq was met with the skepticism of a growing number of U.S. officials who question the feasibility of the June 30 transfer of authority, and whether more U.S. troops should be sent to Iraq to deal with the rising tensions.
Already the U.S. military, which has suffered over 450 of its more than 620 casualties in Iraq since Bush declared the end of hostilities last May, is digging into its part-time reserves to meet current obligations. According to one military official, the U.S. is simply running out of troops to send to Iraq. Recent attacks have even strained established supply lines to Baghdad.
Events in Iraq did not fail to register on the political map in the U.S. in this electoral year. Senator Edward Kennedy said it was time for a change of administration and touched a nerve by referring to "George Bush's Vietnam". Scholars would argue that closer to reality is the aftermath of the British occupation of the country in the 1920s which also led to a violent uprising. Joseph Biden, another influential senator on US foreign policy, warned that Iraq was threatened by nothing short of civil war after the June 30 transition but didn't share Kennedy's view on Vietnam, which claimed hundreds of times more lives and lasted years.
But the battle to capture the hearts and minds one year later, was visibly undermined. As testimony, some pointed to the crowd which had gathered around the site of the attack in Fallujah, which included a majority of civilians. Others fear even America's accomplishments, such as creating an embryo of security force, is holding by a thread, citing reports some Iraqi policemen shied from their obligations and occasionally joined insurgents by shooting at U.S. soldiers.
The U.S. needs the U.N. and NATO to play a larger role in Iraq, Biden told a U.S. TV network. But the latest clashes in Iraq are hardly making those options attractive to either. Countries whose troops found themselves in the crossfire at times questioned their future role in Iraq. Others were deciding to tough it out, such as Japan, participating in its first military mission since WWII, despite the kidnapping of three of its citizens and threats to kill them if its troops were not removed.
The hostage-taking curiously puts things into perspective in Iraq. Prior to the 1991 Gulf war they were called "guests" and held by Saddam Hussein's regime, which paraded them before the media glare in its own way. In a very different Iraq, things very much remain the same.

MA CHINE ARRIÈRE
Après la prospérité, la démocratie en Chine? Ce sont parfois les arguments des commerçants occidentaux, voyant des affaires d'or dans le plus grand marché du monde dont la croissance dicte à elle seule le cours de nombreuses matières premières et ressources naturelles. Mais à quelques semaines du quinzième anniversaire du massacre de Tian An Men, ces espoirs peuvent paraître bien lointains.
Le droit à la propriété privée, révolutionnaire, et l'amendement de la constitution pour reconnaître les droits de l'Homme, sont une chose, mais que signifient-ils vraiment dans les faits? Sur le plan régional du moins, Béijing reste aussi intransigeante que jamais, surtout lorsqu'il s'agit de ses protectorats. Pour le gouvernement chinois, les violentes manifestations lors du scrutin contesté à Taiwan sont une preuve du "chaos" que peut entraîner la démocratie.
Sur le continent même, Hong Kong, à qui on promettait cinquante années d'autonomie il n'y a pas dix ans, n'a qu'à bien se tenir après la décision du parlement chinois de s'adjuger un droit de véto sur les réformes politiques à Hong Kong. En fait, Béijing a toujours voulu ce véto, et pensait l'avoir par l'entremise de l'administrateur de la "région administrative spéciale." Mais par les temps qui courent, Tung Chee-hwa a l'air de plaire aux dirigeants de Béijing autant qu'aux masses, qui osent encore manifester dans les rues à l'ombre des grandes tours et faire appel à sa démission sans gêne. Et si ça donnait des idées aux autres?
Ces manifestations n'étaient pas sans rappeler les rassemblements monstres de l'an dernier lorsqu'un demi-million de citoyens, d'habitude trop occupés à s'enrichir pour marcher au nom de la libre expression, sont descendus dans la rue pour condamner un projet de loi éventuellement abandonné. C'est une expérience que Béijing ne veut plus revivre. Déjà on note un changement dans l'air. Le nombre de manifestants diminue car on craint le nouveau ton moins tolérant du grand frère, ainsi que l'incertitude que garde l'avenir. "C'est triste, dit un manifestant, les libertés d'expression semblent s'effriter de jour en jour".
L'état de santé de l'ancien chef communiste Zhao Ziyang, que l'on dit guetté par la mort, ne manque pas d'ajouter un côté symbolique et dramatique à cet état des choses. En effet celui-ci avait été destitué pour avoir désavoué le massacre de la place Tian An Men.
Quinze ans plus tard, c'était lors des manifestations de la campagne électorale à Taiwan que l'on faisait circuler une copie de statue de la liberté. Mais l'après-vote donne lieu à un certain désordre politique alors que les partis principaux ne s'entendent pas pour précéder à un recomptage.
En effet l'élection a reconduit au pouvoir celui qui rend Béijing tellement nerveu, le nationaliste Chen Shui-bian, que la Chine a appuyé le parti du kuomintang, celui-là même qui avait mené l'exode vers Taiwan après la révolution rouge, pour le déloger. Chen Shui-bian avait l'air perdant pendant la campagne, jusqu'à la tentative d'assassinat un peu surréelle menée contre lui la veille du vote du 20 mars.
Depuis, ses opposants soupçonnent qu'il s'agissait d'un coup monté spectaculaire pour attirer la faveur populaire, puisqu'il a tout juste remporté le vote avec un écart de 0,2%. Les appels à la tenue d'une enquête ont aussi été violents.
En attendant Chen Shui-bian ne s'est pas gêné pour estimer qu'il a reçu un mandat pour pousser l'indépendance, un geste qui serait reçu de manière sans équivoque par Béijing. L'élection comportait pourtant une question référendaire parallèle allant un peu dans ce sens mais elle a suscité si peu d'intérêt, moins de la moitié des électeurs ont répondu, qu'elle a été invalidée. Chen Shui-bian a cependant l'intention de ré-écrire la constitution, malgré le manque d'appétit de la population, ce qui rajoute aux tensions internes.
Les tensions externes ont à leur tour été ravivées par l'achat de radars américains pour alerter l'île d'une éventuelle attaque de missiles chinois. Washington ne faisait que respecter d'antérieures obligations et fait appel au maintien du statu quo. Un message qui s'adresse surtout à Chen Shui-bian. En brassant la cabane à Hong Kong, la Chine lançait un message indubitable à l'île au large de ses côtes. La séparation, après tout, n'est que géographique.

INVESTIGATING EUROPE'S 9-11
In the hours of disbelief which followed the March 11 bombings in Spain, another date etched in painful memories, outgoing Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar pledged Spain would soldier on and that the culprit would be brought to justice. Judging by the experience of Sept. 11, where investigations have yet to hold a single person criminally responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington, that would seem a difficult promise to make. But as the Madrid investigation focused more on Islamist terrorism and less on Basque separatists, notable differences arose.
Unlike the 9-11 hijackers, the 3-11 bombers did not sacrifice their lives and chose to blow up ten bombs on commuter trains by remote-control. Cell phones were programmed to set off the detonators at the height of rush hour instead. When one of them failed to detonate the explosive charges contained in a backpack, that considerably helped investigators, not to mention eye-witness accounts of terrorists who wanted to live to commit other acts of murder.
One of the five first men arrested soon after the Madrid attacks, who was later charged, not only had links to al-Qaida, but is related to people arrested in Spain facing accusations of having a direct link to Mohammed Atta, the apparent ringleader of the 11 September attacks. A 2003 indictment calls Jamal Zougam a "follower" of Imad Yarkas, the alleged leader of Spain's al-Qaida cell who was jailed for allegedly helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks.
Zougam, 30, the first to be identified by a passenger, also has ties to two brothers who have been charged in connection with the Casablanca bomb plot and possibly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who has been blamed for attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. Increasingly Spanish investigators were looking into a link between the Casablanca (2003) and Madrid attacks.
Meanwhile the launch of a new offensive to capture Osama bin Laden on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border showed how unfinished the legal business remained in the first salvo of the war against terror. Not only is the suspected headmaster uncaptured, but the prosecution of those who have been caught has not yielded the results U.S. officials would have wanted.
The hundreds still under detention in Guantanamo Bay have at times been more of a nuisance diplomatically with the countries they originated from (Canada, France and the U.K. to name just a few) than helpful to the investigation. While there have been some leads, most inmates aren't cooperating, and some leads have not exactly set the intelligence services on the right track either and may have only supplied information on a terrorist structure that has changed.
In the mean time two major figures in the 9-11 investigations which have made it to the courts have been frustrating U.S. officials more than they have yielded leads. The most recent example is the case of the only man to be convicted in the Sept. 11 attacks, Moroccan Mounir et Motassadeq, after a German appeals court ordered a retrial because the U.S. would not make a key witness available. This means that two and a half years after Sept. 11 no one has yet to be found criminally responsible for the attacks.
Only two other men have been charged in the sweeping investigation, one of them is bin Laden. The other is French national Zacarias Moussaoui, whose own trial has stalled because of America's reluctance to make some evidence public, as in the Hamburg case, for security reasons.
Guantanamo's 600-plus detainees meanwhile remain for the most part in legal limbo. Two of them have recently been charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes and are suspected of belonging to al-Qaida, but the charges are unrelated to 9-11. The first military tribunal dates are scheduled for this summer. In a case which has raised trans-atlantic emotions, five Britons recently released from the island prison camp after two years in captivity without trial have returned home where they were detained only briefly before being freed. Their release was partly obtained after severe criticism of U.S. policy which for now leaves a military tribunal to decide on the fate of all detainees once a year. They could in theory be held indefinitely.
The US says that in all, 119 detainees have been released and 12 have been transferred for continued detention, including one to Spain. According to some reports two-thirds of the detainees may be released this year, casting doubts on the need for their detention. But some fifty "hard-core" detainees may remain there for a long time.
America's allies, no matter how victimized they may have been themselves by terrorist strikes, are reluctant to be as sweeping in their methods. While Indonesia has faced the deadliest terror attacks since 9-11, it has been reluctant to pursue the Islamists responsible with such vigor because of fear of backlash, being the world's most populous Muslim nation heading for elections.
While some of the plotters have been sentenced to death, a spiritual leader suspected of having ties to al-Qaida and heading the group blamed for the Bali attacks, Jemaa Islamiyah, is to be freed early next month after his sentence of three years was halved. The decision to free Abu Bakar Bashir, whom the U.S. believes had a deep involvement in the attacks, dismayed Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, visiting Asia at the time, as well as Australian officials.
Indonesia, which did not heed warnings it was threatened by terrorism prior to the Bali blasts in 2002, has resisted U.S. pressure to charge Bashir directly in the terror attack, charging him with treason and on immigration charges instead. Once again access to key witnesses blocked by the U.S., which is holding two Indonesians Jakarta would have wanted to have access to, may have led to the lighter sentence by Indonesia's Supreme Court.
Even as they are toughening their stance on terror America's European allies remain reluctant to use stringent security measures that they believe infringe on civil liberties, that includes allowing for a process shrouded in secrecy. While Spain may decide on a more open legal process to bring the culprit to justice, it bears in mind the long legal road ahead in its attempt to make the authors of March 11 pay. In part because it shares a continent with a number of countries with their own set of laws and regulations.
So far some 15 people are in Spanish custody, 11 of them facing charges, five for mass murder and belonging to a terror group, six for collaborating; all short of formal indictments. While some officials called the investigation at a critical junction after arrests barely one week after the attacks, at least one police official considered the investigation in its early stages, insisting it would be lengthy.
Analysts point out cases are getting more complex as Al-Qaida becomes more an ideology uniting the will of loosely-knit Islamist terrorists than a single organisation, changing the modus operandi sometimes considerably. That leaves the war on terrorism as difficult to wage in the court-rooms as it is on the ground.

EUROPE WAKES UP TO NEW TERROR
As European and other world leaders gathered for this week's state memorial service for the victims of the March 11 bombing of four Madrid commuter trains, a stark reality was still settling in. With the investigation shifting from ETA to al-Qaida, Europe seemed to wake up to the reality of mass indiscriminate terror on its soil, no longer only the more limited attacks of so many extremist groups seen in the last decades.
Countries quickly tightened security and convened emergency conferences on terrorism one week after the attack which killed 190 people and injured over 1800. France even made a point of stressing its efforts in the war on terror on the ground in Afghanistan by claiming it had come close to capturing suspect n.1, Osama bin Laden.  In Britain meanwhile reports of plans to erect a wall around the parliament buildings were circulating, a reminder of Israel's own plans to build a barrier to ward off terrorism.
But as Europe as a whole saw a need to toughen its stance on terror, there were fears the spectacular reversal of fortune of the right-wing government in Spain, defeated by socialists who accused it of fudging the truth on the early investigation and making Spain vulnerable by sending troops to Iraq, was sending the wrong message to terrorists. The day following his party's surprise victory, prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said joining the U.S. in Iraq was a mistake and that he would pull his troops out unless the mission came under a U.N. mandate this year. "The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster," said the man who opposed his predecessor's foreign policy, calling for an end to America's stance of "unilateral wars".
Indicating how quickly relations had deteriorated with its once-close Iberic ally, the U.S. fired back that America's own resolve would not be shaken, accusing Spain of "weakness" in the face of attacks. Some U.S. officials called Spain's stance "appeasement". Even countries which did not support the war in Iraq cautioned the ramifications of an overnight change of policy after the terror attacks. "It is important that terrorism doesn't dictate the behavior of our countries," said Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister.
Spain later said it would send troops to Afghanistan to reassert its commitment to the war on terror, but all European countries, especially America's staunchest ally, Britain, and to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's admission Italy as well, the lesson was that Europe was a target no matter what stance countries had taken on Iraq. The head of Scotland Yard said an attack on London was sadly inevitable. When Villepin was asked in a radio interview whether France was safer for staying out of the war in Iraq he replied, "No, I don't think anyone is safe." In fact less than a week after the attacks France received threats of attack unless it overturned recent regulations banning head-scarves in public schools.
The bombings and electoral reaction had given the opportunity to the tiniest groups to make sweeping claims. While Spaniards may have voted against their former government rather than out of fear for al-Qaida, the message of the election heard by some extremists was loud and clear. A group which had claimed responsibility for the bombings said it would put on hold further attacks in Spain in view of the change of government and plans to recall troops from Iraq. It said it would focus attacks on other countries with a role in Iraq, such as Japan, the U.S., U.K., Italy and Australia. But intelligence analysts had reservations about whether the group had the ties to Al-Qaida it claimed.
Emergency conferences held soon after the Madrid attacks would first attempt to establish a new trust with the incoming Spanish government, some European officials feeling, as Spain's population in general, that the previous administration had not been forthcoming enough in its investigation. Senior European officials complained that their governments and the United Nations felt misled by the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar in the way it initially blamed the Basque separatists.
El Pais newspaper, which initially attributed the attack to ETA in a same-day special edition, revealed on the eve of the election that Spanish diplomats were instructed to blame ETA for the bombing with every opportunity. On the day of the bombings, at Spain's insistence, the Security Council passed a resolution attributing responsibility to ETA, all contributing to the notion that Aznar's government misled both its own people and other governments for political purposes; fearing an al-Qaida trail would raise criticism for having made Spain a target by participating in the unpopular war in Iraq.
Also on the day of the attacks, Javier Solana, a Spaniard who is the European Union's top foreign policy official, gave television interviews blaming militant Basque separatists for the attacks because the type of explosives and the tactics used were those of ETA. But to allow Spain to split the coalition in the war on terror would also be playing into al-Qaida's hands. An internet message board document dated months before the election revealed al-Qaida planned to separate Spain from its allies by carrying out timely terror attacks. "We think the Spanish government will not stand more than two blows, or three at the most, before it will be forced to withdraw because of the public pressure on it," the document says. "If its forces remain after these blows, the victory of the Socialist Party will be almost guaranteed -- and the withdrawal of Spanish forces will be on its campaign manifesto." A sadly accurate description of what transpired.
As European officials gathered to weigh future terror threats they considered how an attack of this magnitude could take place without a single, even general, intelligence warning. At least one European agency, Europol, which coordinates police action, was closed early on the day of the attacks instead of burning the midnight oil, sparking suspicions Europe's police and intelligence agencies fell asleep at the switch. But some note Europol was never allowed to be given the sweeping powers it needed to fight terrorism continentally because of national divisions.
That the main suspect in the investigation, Jamal Zougam, was scrutinized by three countries prior to the attacks showed a lack of cooperation vital to fight terrorism, and in the word of one official, how Islamic terrorists could be more European, or indifferent to borders, than the agencies supposed to track them. "There is an enormous amount of information, but much of it gets lost because of the failures of cooperation," said Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish investigative judge, in an interview. "There is a lack of communication, a lack of coordination, and a lack of any broad vision."
Other tasks during the EU meetings involved appointing a special anti-terrorism Czar. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country holds the EU presidency and is no stranger to terrorism, stressed countries needed to appoint a security coordinator to boost cooperation between EU bodies and streamline the fight against terrorism. Even before EU leaders were to meet in talks where terrorism is likely to overshadow scheduled talks on economic reforms, interior ministers, foreign ministers, and some EU leaders, had held their own separate meetings to improve cooperation on terror. EU Commission and industry leaders also recommended a massive increase in security research spending to fight terrorism which would put Europe on a par with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A declaration outlining Europe's determination to combat terrorism was eventually due to be approved by EU leaders. But plans for a unique European intelligence agency were leaving many skeptic a European CIA would eventually see the light of day. Coordination is becoming the buzzword however as new terror threats loom, the latest based on fear Islamic militants will avenge the killing of Hamas' spiritual leader beyond Israel's borders.

LE MASSACRE DE MADRID
Après le 11 septembre 2001 aux Etats-Unis, les attentats de Bali en 2002 et du Maroc en 2003, le 11 mars 2004 passera comme le jour noir du terrorisme européen et espagnol. Mais l'attaque synchronisée de trains et de stations madrilènes en pleine heure de pointe, faisant plus de 190 morts et plus de 1000 blessés, a-t-elle plus de rapport avec l'attaque contre le métro de Moscou le mois dernier, attribuée aux extrémistes nationaux, ou le terrorisme international?
Les autorités étudiaient toutes les pistes après le pire acte de terrorisme de l'histoire espagnole, à quelques jours d'élections législatives. Des membres du groupe terroriste ETA, particulièrement surveillé durant la campagne, avaient été interceptés en décembre dernier en train de comploter une attaque du système ferroviaire espagnol.
Mais la coordination des attaques de cette semaine - dix explosions sur le site de trois stations de Madrid en vingt minutes d'intervalle - et le nombre élevé de victimes, soit au-dessus du solde de la pire année du terrorisme basque (118 victimes en 1980) laissaient présager soit une nouvelle phase sanglante du terrorisme basque, soit le plus récent chapitre meurtrier de l'intégrisme islamiste.
Le jour même de l'attaque, les autorités découvraient une camionnette contenant des détonateurs ainsi qu'une cassette avec des versets du Coran en arabe. Un pays où la présence de la filière al-Qaida n'était plus à démontrer, l'Espagne s'était notamment distinguée ces dernières années en appuyant solidement les politiques américaines à la fois sur le terrorisme international et l'Irak, une décision impopulaire qui cependant n'avait pas l'air de menacer les chances de ré-élection du gouvernement de droite.
Peu après l'explosion, les partis politiques ont mis fin à leur campagne, alors que le pays entrait dans une période de deuil national de trois jours. Le roi Juan Carlos fit même une rare intervention télévisée appelant ses compatriotes à l'unité et à la fermeté contre le terrorisme.
Comme les attentats du 11 septembre 2001 et de Moscou, les attaques ont ciblé le transport civil, difficile à entièrement protéger. Les systèmes ferroviaires européeens étaient pris d'assaut ces derniers jours alors que les autorités françaises recherchaient les membres d'un groupuscule accusé de poser des bombes sur le système de la SNCF pour espérer y tirer une rançon. Mais plus de peur que de mal, rien de comparable au "massacre" de Madrid.
La journée de l'attaque les autorités ainsi que la presse ont vite désigné ETA responsable du carnage, malgré le démenti des séparatistes. ETA a été pourchassé par le gouvernement Aznar ces dernières années, avec l'aide d'une importante coopération française.
En fin de journée cependant, la découverte de la camionnette ainsi que la revendication de l'attaque par un communiqué plus ou moins fiable attribué à Al-Qaida, lançaient de nouvelles pistes dans l'enquête. "L'Escadron de la mort a réussi à pénétrer au coeur des Croisés européens et à infliger un coup douloureux à l'un des pilliers de l'alliance croisée, l'Espagne" déclarait le texte.
Une autre déclaration annonçait l'immimence d'une nouvelle attaque d'envergure contre les Etats-Unis, également en campagne électorale. Deux ans et demie exactement après les attaques contre New York et Washington, l'occident doit à nouveau composer avec une menace terroriste tenace.

MARATHON, VERSION 2004
Un ancien ministre d'expérience ayant tenu plusieurs portfolios et contribué autant au rapatriement historique des jeux d'Athènes qu'aux négociations de la réconciliation chypriote, George Papandreou semblait avoir quelques longueurs d'avance en vue du scrutin électoral en Grèce à quelques mois des jeux d'Athènes.
Une économie des plus performantes d'Europe (croissance du produit domestique de 4,3% en 2003)... sans parler du nom, celui d'une dynastie remontant à la dernière grande guerre: Que fallait-il d'autre? Or le manque d'expérience relative de son rival, un simple avocat mais au nom presque aussi célèbre (Karamanlis; il s'agit des familles fondatrices des partis en lisse), n'a pas eu l'air de faire de tort au parti Nouvelle Démocratie, qui aura occupé le pouvoir que trois ans lors des vingt trois dernières années.
En fait des complications liées aux succès de Papandreou sont en partie responsables des déboires du parti socialiste. A quelques mois de l'ouverture des jeux olympiques, à peine la moitié seulement des installations sont terminées, et si elles devaient toutes l'être, ce serait à la toute dernière minute.
Puis une partie de la population grecque n'est pas enchantée par les conditions de la réunification de Chypre, où les partis insulaires doivent s'entendre sur un nombre de sujets avant l'intervention de leur métropole le 22 mars. Un échec ferait intervenir les Nations unies, anxieuses de mettre fin au conflit qui divise l'île depuis trente ans, à la veille de l'entrée de la partie grecque de Chypre au sein de l'Union européenne.
Autant de dossiers pour occuper le premier ministre entrant, Costas Karamanlis, neveu du premier ministre qui a restauré la démocratie après le règne de la junte militaire qui a précipité la crise sur l'île et entraîné l'invasion turque du nord de Chypre en 1974. A 47 ans Karamanlis est le plus jeune premier ministre de l'histoire du berceau de la démocratie et ce manque d'expérience politique a un caractère plutôt attrayant après un gouvernement accusé d'"incuries", de népotisme - et dans une certaine mesure, de corruption - qui, après dix ans au pouvoir, a eu de la difficulté à faire passer un message de "changement" sous la bannière presque ancestrale de Papandreou.
En effet celle-ci remonte bien à la dernière grande guerre, lorsque George, grand-père, fut premier ministre et éventuellement président. Revenu d'exil, son fils Andreas Papandreou gravit les échelons de la politique grecque pour éventuellement devenir premier ministre à son tour en 1981. Dernier de cette ligne, George, en partie instruit en Ontario, a tout de même livré une chaude lutte à son rival (45% à 40% des suffrages); au "jeune" âge de 51 ans, voilà qui ne devrait pas être la dernière de Papandreou.
Mais alors que les socialistes du Pasok ont gardé le pouvoir presque continuellement depuis l'entrée de la Grèce dans l'Union en 1981, le pays de 11 millions d'habitants est devenu le plus pauvre des quinze, titre qui appartenait jadis au Portugal.
Karamanlis aura donc du pain sur la planche s'il veut améliorer un taux de chômage de l'ordre de 8,8% - temporairement réduit par les travaux des jeux - et un produit domestique brut par habitant qui représente 75% de la moyenne de l'Union. Mais, il faut le dire, c'est une nette amélioration par rapport aux 12% de chômeurs de 1999, tandis que la richesse personnelle a grimpé de 15% depuis: le Pasok a plutôt été évincé par l'usure.
Lors de son discours inaugural, Karamanlis a déclaré l'éducation, la création d'emplois et la réforme agricole - un domaine encore sur-développé - parmi ses priorités. Puis il y a le rendez-vous d'août. D'après Karamanlis, dont le portfolio culturel sera directement responsable du dossier, les Jeux de 2004 vont être les plus réussis et disputés en toute sécurité, des mots d'une grande importance étant donné les attentats de Madrid quelques jours plus tard. Le jour du drame des manifestants ont d'ailleurs pris les rues d'Athènes pour condamner les exercices anti-terroristes en vue des JOs qui comptaient des soldats américains. En effet la sécurité - puisqu'il s'agit des premiers jeux d'été depuis le 11 septembre 2001 - serait en partie assurée par l'OTAN qui compte de nombreuses bases sur le territoire grec.
Advenant un début de spectacle à l'heure prévue, évidemment. Alors que Karamanlis promet des jeux qui montreront le "visage moderne" de la Grèce, l'image d'un stade olympique qui attend toujours son toit fait plutôt figure de vision des années 70 de ce côté de l'Atlantique.

L'IRAN PRESQUE AUX URNES
Vingt-cinq ans après avoir soulevé les foules, la révolution iranienne est le domaine de l'apathie généralisée; jamais durant cette période la société civile n'a-t-elle été aussi indifférente au sort du pays. A quoi bon après tout à la suite de l'invalidation de plus de 2000 candidats en marge d'élections qui dans le passé avaient promises tant que choses jamais concrétisées.
De pareils scrutins avaient laissé croire aux promesses de réforme, en 1997 avec l'élection de Mohammed Khatami à la présidence, puis trois ans plus tard avec la victoire des réformistes aux élections parlementaires, un raz de marée sûrement prometteur, rafflant 210 des 290 sièges. Or voilà deux institutions qui allaient démontrer leur parfaite impuissance face au conseil des Gardiens.
Qu'avaient apporté ces victoires sinon désillusion et résignation; l'an dernier déjà, le taux de participation aux élections régionales avait nettement chuté chez les réformistes, alors que les conservateurs faisaient toujours aussi efficacement sortir le vote. Il semblait en l'occurrence à peine nécessaire d'initier le dernier coup de théâtre du conseil, soit l'invalidation de candidats considérés infidèles au chef spirituel.
Après des mois de sit-in et des lettres publiques au caractère presque sacrilégieux pour l'Iran, les réformistes ont choisi le boycott en guise de dernier geste, malgré les appels de certains d'assurer un minimum de représentation dans le nouveau Majlis, qui sera majoritairement conservateur (plus de 140 sièges).
En fin de compte, près de 50% des électeurs se seront présentés aux urnes pour le scrutin du 20 février, selon les estimés les plus optimistes du gouvernement. Il s'agit d'un des taux de participation des plus faibles depuis la révolution, bien en-deçà du 67% des élections de 2000. La population ne croit plus à ses institutions, un peu comme il y a 25 ans mais sans la force de conviction et de mobilisation rassemblées pas Khomeini; ce qui signifie une victoire totale pour les théocrates de l'omnipotent conseil des Gardiens.
Lors des grands jours de la révolution d'ailleurs, Mohammed Reza Khatami, frère du président et membre de l'assemblée sortante, avait 19 ans. Il était monté aux barricades de l'effondrement du régime du Cha, s'attaquant à l'ambassade américaine et initiant une crise d'otage de 444 jours en partie résorbée par une participation canadienne. Plus tard il participa fièrement à la guerre contre l'Irak, où il fut blessé à une jambe. Comme s'il fallut davantage prouver son allégiance à la révolution, il maria une petite fille du guide spirituel à son retour aux études.
Mais avec la mort de Khomeini en 1989 et l'emprise du pouvoir de Khamenei, sa révolution prit un autre sens. Il y a quatre ans, les électeurs le surprirent, ainsi que plus de 200 autres candidats réformistes, en lui désignant un siége du Majlis. "Nous voulions faire usage de cette élection en tant que plate-forme et répandre nos idées sur la démocratie et la société civile", confiait-il récemment au New York Times, sans véritable intention de prendre le pouvoir.
De toutes façons leurs sièges ne se sont pas traduits en véritable pouvoir puisque les projets de loi prometteurs introduits pas les réformistes, qu'ils parlent de liberté de la presse, de convention contre la torture ou contre la discrimination sexuelle, n'ont jamais vu le jour, déchirés un après l'autre pas les Gardiens moyen-âgeux.
Le 20 février, jour du dernier vote, le bureau du parti de Reza Khatami, le Front de participation, était barricadé par les autorités, étant un des candidats - initialement des milliers - invalidés par le conseil suprême. La société civile que Khatami voulait transformer, comme son frère aîné, tout aussi impuissant malgré sept ans de présidence, ne sait plus où se tourner. Que le président ne soit pas exclu de l'appareil politique iranien aussi sèchement porte à croire qu'il ne représente aucune menace au conseil et à l'ordre du régime islamique.
Pourtant il n'y a guère longtemps, une lueur d'espoir semblait briller encore. "Le peuple iranien, particulièrement ces dernières années, a démontré qu'il était de son droit de participer aux affaires publiques, déclarait la première femme musulmane à remporter le prix Nobel de la paix, Shirin Ebadi en décembre, il veut être le maître de sa destinée."
Autant dire que ses paroles sont tombées sur des oreilles de sourds en Iran, le président lui-même ayant minimisé le Nobel en tant que prix "politique", d'autres parlant même de complot externe contre Téhéran. Mêlée à l'indifférence de la société civile, cette paranoïa institutionnelle promet de tristes jours pour la république islamique.
Faut-il espérer que les paroles d'Ebadi soient plus écoutées lorsqu'elle représentera la famille de la photojournaliste canadienne Zahra Kazemi lors d'un procès en juillet? Le décès de Kazemi aux mains des autorités iraniennes avait provoqué un tollé international et domestique, devenant l'objet d'une lutte entre conservateurs et réformistes.
Ces derniers étant moins représentés à présent, la politique étrangère iranienne risque peu d'évoluer dans les mois à venir selon Washington, préoccupé par le programme nucléaire iranien. Il faut dire que les réformistes exerçaient déjà peu de pouvoir dans ce sens, mais au moins y avait-il encore de l'espoir. A présent il ne reste que de la résignation.

TRISTE BICENTENAIRE
C'est un bien triste bicentenaire sur ce que les Indiens, ses premiers habitants, appelaient jadis "Terre des hautes montagnes". Dix ans après le début de la transition démocratique qui allait mettre fin au régime de la dictature, le chaos qui règne en Haïti semble enseigner une triste leçon à la population de cette petite moitié d'ile des Caraïbes, car quels avantages par rapport au régime de Raoul Cédras?
Celui-ci avait en 1991 renversé le populaire petit prêtre Jean-Bertrand Aristide, mais de St-Marc à Montréal, celui qui fut acclamé il y a dix ans, à la veille de son retour sous escorte américaine, aux cris de "nous voulons le retour d'Aristide" est conspué comme le nouveau dictateur de Port-au-Prince.
Les troubles, initialement provoqués par les fidèles de Cédras, puis par une opposition qui contestait l'élection qui a reconduit Aristide au pouvoir en 2000 , ont lentement pris une ampleur quasi-révolutionnaire, après l'abandon de plusieurs villes de région à diverses factions de rebelles, certaines luttant entre elles. Depuis deux mois se succèdent des manifestations parfois durement réprimées dans la capitale; à un moment la seule ville sous contrôle gouvernemental. Corruption, malnutrition et misère - bref le portrait d'il y a dix ans - font craindre un retour aux images d'alors, soit la fuite en mer de milliers d'Haïtiens prêts à tout risquer pour atteindre les côtes américaines.
Tant Washington que Paris et Ottawa font part de leur inquiétude vis à vis des troubles qui secouent Haïti, jadis sauvée par l'intervention de l'ancien président Jimmy Carter et des troupes nord-américaines puis onusiennes. Dix ans plus tard, quelques uns, dont un chef policier entrainé par des confrères canadiens, craignent le pire: "on est au bord d'une guerre civile" lance-t-il à un journaliste canadien.
L'opposition, qui refusait toute association avec les troubles, tient pourtant un discours similaire, et insiste sur la démission d'Aristide. "Je crois que Jean-Bertrand Aristide a déclaré la guerre au peuple haïtien", estime Paul Evans, un membre de l'opposition. C'est une position qui l'implique dans la violence selon le gouvernement. "Cette violence est en connexion avec une tentative d'un coup d'Etat", a déclaré le Premier ministre haïtien Yvon Neptune à la chaîne de télévision nationale. "Si l'opposition veut participer à la construction d'un Etat de droit, elle doit jouer son rôle pour arrêter la violence". Le gouvernement soupçonne d'autant plus l'opposition que les derniers troubles coïncident avec le regroupement de vingt partis, le Groupe des 184 et la Convergence démocratique, pour réclamer la démission d'Aristide.
Pourtant le mouvement insurrectionnel a été lancé par des gangs rebelles sans coordination particulière, issus des quartiers populaires. Certains sont même d'anciens supporters d'Aristide qui ont tourné leur veste après l'assassinat de leur chef. Plusieurs éclats opposent partisans et opposants du président. Le dernier bilan fait état de près de 50 morts au courant des derniers jours, dont la majorité dans la seule ville de Gonaïves, abandonnée par la police et l'administration locale.
Le durcissement de la contestation a symboliquement débuté dans cette ville où il y a 200 ans avait été proclamée l'indépendance d'Haïti. Lorsque Christophe Colomb a inscrit dans son journal que sur cette terre fertile où il avait plongé l'ancre on trouvait "tout ce que l'homme peut désirer au monde" il est fort à parier que ceci n'incluait pas les scènes d'émeute, de pillage et d'échange de feu ou d'attaque à la machette qui se sont répandues dans près de dix villes du pays au plus fort de la crise.
La région de San Nicholas, nommée par l'explorateur, est d'ailleurs une des plus pauvres du pays; autrefois la plus prospère des colonies fran-çaises. Le bicentenaire marquait la défaite des forces coloniales par une armée d'anciens esclaves lors de la bataille de Vertières.
Mais ceux qui craignent le pire pensent à cet autre pays, fondé par des esclaves libérés, le Libéria, dont le président n'a démissionné que beaucoup trop tard, après effusion de sang. C'était le scénario à craindre alors que la coalition des forces d'opposition se réunissait afin de décider si elles devaient rejoindre ou non le mouvement rebelle. Fort heureusement on n'en est pas encore rendu là.
A la télévision canadienne, un des dirigeants de l'opposition, André Apaid, a estimé que le président Jean Bertrand Aristide, qui refuse de quitter avant la fin de son mandat en 2006 et estime que 32 coup d'états est bien assez, est "la source du chaos" et "l'obstacle à la démocratie" en Haïti, et appelle à son départ du pouvoir. "M. Aristide est un être troublant, en fait il est un dictateur et un despote". Selon Apaid le président a trompé la population après son retour triomphal au pouvoir en 1994. "Il a promis la démocratie mais a mis en place une machine criminelle occulte".
Pourtant on est loin des 5000 morts de la répression sous Cédras entre 1991-94, mais les grouillements d'estomac ont tendance à être suivis par des trous de mémoire. Les humanitaires sur le terrain, dont le Canadien Guy Gauvreau du Programme alimentaire mondial, sont unanimes pour dire que la crise actuelle annonce une catastrophe humanitaire. "Ces gens dépendent de cette nourriture. Elle sauve des vies," dit celui dont les convois ont été souvent attaqués dans le chaos qui règne.
L'été dernier l'organisation de l'ONU pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture parlait déjà d'une crise alimentaire qui affamait 3,8 millions de personnes à Haïti, la moitié de ses habitants. Dix ans après le retour d'Aristide, Etats-Unis et ONU parlent à nouveau d'intervention.

ONE MORE CASUALTY IN AFGHANISTAN
Once again there were calls for more Canadian and European participation in international peacekeeping operations, but by all measures it was supposed to be the last major Canadian deployment overseas for some time, which made the death of a Canadian soldier during a suicide attack in Kabul all the more tragic.
One week after Canada's 2000 soldiers in Afghanistan started taking replacements from Quebec for a new and possibly final six-month mission as part of an international security force in Afghanistan, Cpl. Jamie Brendan Murphy, 26, days from being sent home himself, became the seventh Canadian casualty since the armed forces joined the war on terror in Afghanistan.
The soldier was onboard an open-top light Iltis military jeep when a suicide bomber attacked the last vehicle of a Canadian convoy and set off the blast. Three other soldiers were also injured in the attack. The Iltis, which Canadian troops in Afghanistan have been using to patrol Kabul's streets, had been at the center of a storm after it was involved in the death of two Canadian soldiers as their vehicle went over a mine last October.
A new storm may rise from the latest involvement of the light military vehicle, which offers less protection than armed personnel carriers or American humvees used by other international troops. Military officials denied another vehicle would have been safer because of the nature of the attack, but others decried that a much-needed replacement for the Iltis will only be available next month. In the mean time, troops were asked to limit patrols and stop using the Iltis.
Canada's armed forces are facing other technical and material difficulties, from the loss of their last spy drone to the incompatibility of military trucks with the fuel used by other NATO members in theatres of action. Things aren't easier back home where reserve units, some of whom are expected to supplant regular troops overseas, are said to be "starving" for bullets to practise shooting. One reservist told the NPU using real bullets is a luxory rarely experienced.
But it's not just equipment the armed forces are missing, but personnel. As a new administration under Paul Martin promised to make defence among its priorities, which includes looking into a possible Canadian role in the development of a missile shield over North America, new defence minister David Pratt hinted Canada may be less active in international missions for the foreseeable future. "There comes a point when you have to say, for the sake of your troops, that we're going to take a rest for a while," Pratt told troops as he took over his portfolio.
Defence analysts in Canada say the armed forces have been overstretched and under funded for decades and need to be completely restructured. A government review of the military is due to be published by the end of 2004.
The transition of troops in international missions includes the replacement of troops in Bosnia, which are expected to be withdrawn indefinitely. Analysts say Canada's troops are so exhausted from its international missions that down time is necessary and soon a mere 500 soldiers may be available for deployment.
Last weekend the U.S. called for European nations and Canada to increase their troops deployed in international operations, decrying the fact that for their hundreds of thousands of troops under arms, roughly 55,000 were on duty internationally.
The Royal 22nd Regiment, commonly known as the Vandoos, is replacing the Royal Canadian Regiment based at Ontario's CFB Petawawa, which accounts for 40 per cent of the 5,000 contingent from 34 countries in Afghanistan. Canada will take over command of ISAF from Germany in a formal ceremony slated for Feb. 10.
Recently, Canadian troops had been involved in more aggressive action than the usual patrolling, after netting terror suspects and drug runners in a major operation. At Camp Julien, some soldiers considered the suicide attack, the bloodiest in months in Kabul, a form of retaliation for a night-time raid last week in which 16 suspected terrorists were apprehended. The Taleban later claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to the Associated Press.
The continuing violence in the country - more than two years after the Taleban were removed from power - has killed more than 60 people in the past three weeks, most of that violence occurring outside Kabul. Afghan President Hamid Karzai hoped signing the post-Taleban constitution into law Monday would eventually bring an end to the reign of violence in Afghanistan. International troops aren't so sure. As a ceremony was being held for Murphy another similar suicide attack, later also claimed by the Taleban, killed a British soldier.

A DIVIDED HOUSE
It wasn't picture perfect for a State of the Union speech but it presented a perfect picture of the State of the Union in this electoral year. During his annual speech in Congress, moved one week early so it wouldn't fall on the day of the first primary of the 2004 campaign, those in attendance punctured the Commander in chief's address by rising and applauding in unison.
At least half of them did. Republicans rose to cheer everything from Bush's record fighting terrorism and tax cuts to medicare, while only a faint response could be drawn from the Democrats in attendance. At least those not on the campaign trail. And so it began, perhaps not the great battle of our time, but at least the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, with barely ten more months to go.
While the State of the Union may have had the political bonus of showing the U.S. president, and Republican candidate-in-waiting, looking presidential as he addressed international and domestic matters by reviewing his past agenda and heralding the next, it still came short of stealing the thunder of a surprise in Iowa which humbled the initial Democratic front-runner and revitalized the race for Bush's future challenger.
It even managed to draw more participants than the average, which says everything in the U.S. where electoral participation is low. The ensuing New Hampshire vote, which also saw high levels of participation, confirmed that the momentum had shifted from the governor of Vermont Howard Dean to the Senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry.
Weakened by constant sniping by the competition and media coverage depicting an unpresidential anger - or bellicose exuberance - Dean's fortunes, which had been boosted by embracing the internet as the medium of the future in electoral campaigns, deflated like a tech stock bubble.
Even the funds, which had been raised at a record rate online and once helped turn him from a contender to a front-runner, may start drying up as a result eventually. By the time the snow-bound New Hampshire train came around advisors steered Dean to a more TV-friendly image, but perhaps too late to avoid the deer in the tracks. Apparently appearing on the cover of the conservative National Review, which urged Democrats to "please nominate this man", had not been a blessing for the green mountain boy.
An over-adrenalized and frenetic caucus-night speech topped by a screeching yell fit for the range only made for more fodder for fake journalists on comedy news shows and internet music remixers. "We're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma (...) and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House. 'Yaaaaaaaaaah!' " uttered Dean in his outburst after the disappointing third place results in Iowa. If the point was to clash with a polite evening Bush was giving a dull State of the Union speech, to the extreme, it couldn't be made more firmly, but perhaps the exuberance tapped into the hip crowd the wrong way.
"Those of you who came here intending to be lifted by (...) a lot of red meat rhetoric are going to be a little disappointed," a more subdued Dean told a New Hampshire crowd the next day. Soon he had lost his voice, to a cold he swore, which critics would argue is better than losing one's mind.
For all the disappointments heading into the New Hampshire primary, one which like Iowa, for all its symbolism, still weeds out the undesirables and flushes from the race those failing to end second or third, observers still maintained Dean could count on superior national organization.
But gone were the days when ranting against the war, one America won, or appearing as the outsider, seemed to make it for American voters, half of whom truly care to bother showing up at the polls. Gone also was Dean's campaign manager, fired after New Hampshire. And gone seemed to be a certain financial security backed by media and other endorsements.
Meanwhile Kerry's financial and fortunes took a turn for the better as he received the backing of not only the ceremonial press, such as the Concord Monitor or Nashua telegraph, but the Boston Globe and Herald as well. Heading into the South Carolina primary, he can already count on the support of a popular six-term Black congressman there.
Of course he's only too aware front-runners can come and go during the length of a campaign, having been a front-runner in the early stage of the Democratic race. But for now the momentum seems to carry the rolling presses of the Northeast at least, as Americans shift from choosing a Democratic candidate, to someone who can keep Bush from staying in the White House.
The term they use is that of "electability." For the first time, polls on the day of the State of the Union showed Bush slipping, losing a comfort zone supporters thought would improve with the capture of Saddam Hussein, barely a month before, and promising economic numbers.
While the U.S. president retained the support of nearly six in 10 Americans, the numbers led to the belief Democrats would do a better job on domestic issues, such as the economy, prescription drugs for the elderly, health insurance, Medicare, the budget deficit, immigration and taxes.
Not to be outdone, the Republican camp was already hard at work campaigning as well, with a proposal to offer illegal immigrants - most of whom are Hispanic - a more legal working status in areas where they take jobs unwanted by Americans. In his State of the Union speech Bush's "prisoner-entry-initiative", aimed at the majority of prisoners - who are Black -, may also in hindsight have been an attempt to make up for a visit to Martin Luther King's grave decried by African-American groups as being entirely and tastelessly political, Bush not having visited the site at any time in the past.
The president's slump is making believers of the remaining Democratic candidates, including the youthful and charismatic Senator from North Carolina, John Edwards, who placed second in Iowa, tied for third in New Hampshire, and enters the home stretch where it takes a Southerner to defeat one it seems, especially if one is to beat a Republican candidate. Another Southerner, Gen. Wesley Clark, also remained hopeful. They may be hoping for their ship to come in and peak at the right time, but if history is any lesson, it probably won't.
The national division meanwhile is symbolic but quantifiable, which nearly makes it palpable. One Newsweek poll gave Kerry a slight 49-46% lead over Bush heading into New Hampshire. Another poll reversed the numbers.
But it may just be a tad early to match the veteran turned war protester against the current Commander in chief. In the mean time the national dichotomy seems fitting somewhat, as the administration tries to disprove Democrats who still refer to 2000 as the year Republicans stole the election. A year, it seemed, the country had never been more divided. Until now.

LA FRANCE ET L'INTÉGRATION
Pays d'accueil à la fois des plus importantes minorités arabe et juive en Europe, victime aussi, comme d'autres anciennes puissances, du fardeau de l'histoire, la France laisse paraitre les difficultés de son intégration sociale. Dans le passé ce genre de problème de société a permis à l'extrême droite de faire des gains surprenants; celle-ci n'était-elle pas seconde au premier tour des présidentielles de la honte?
Deux ans plus tard, le projet de loi sur les signes religieux à l'école au nom de la laïcité d'une part - à la défense d'une version dure du républicanisme - et la sélection du premier préfet arabe, l'application d'une "discrimination positive" et ses conséquences, ont mis à l'évidence le malaise français face à l'intégration des immigrants.
La bataille politique sur la question du voile, ou du port de tout symbole religieux "ostensible" dans les écoles publiques, s'annonce longue et difficile, en cette année d'élections régionales. L'interprétation de ce qui constitue un tel symbole, laissée aux directeurs d'école, devient d'autant plus délicate que la notion même de "symbole religieux" a déjà évolué, quelques semaines seulement après l'explosion de la polémique.
Pourraient être considérés symboles religieux - car tentatives de détourner les règlements déjà flous - coupes de cheveux et barbes particulières, bandanas et autres foulards. Si le monde entier ne riait pas déjà du berceau de la révolution, voilà qui est fait.
Hilarité chez les uns, rage chez les autres, dont le monde musulman, qui louait pourtant la position française contre la guerre en Irak il n'y a pas longtemps. A présent, les menaces volent contre Paris comme contre Washington: "Les autorités françaises ne réussiront pas à interdire le voile islamique dans les écoles et, si elles y parviennent, des millions de musulmans les maudiront!" déclarait récemment l'ex-président iranien Rafsandjani.
Le monde anglo-saxon ne comprenait pas plus l'attitude française, à juger les propos du chef de l'Eglise anglicane pour qui le "laïcisme dogmatique du gouvernement français devient très provocateur et très destructeur".
Est-il responsable de divisions au plus haut niveau du pouvoir aussi? Lors d'un séminaire gouvernemental, le chef de la diplomatie Dominique de Villepin aurait fait remarquer que le projet de loi mettait la politique étrangère "en porte-à-faux vis-à-vis des pays arabes, mais aussi des Etats-Unis, qui sont pour le respect des libertés individuelles". "C'est une position extrêmement difficile pour la France", aurait dit le ministre, qui a effectué au début du mois une tournée de quatre jours dans les pays du Golfe pour expliquer le projet de loi. Ces déclarations furent cependant démenties par la suite, de peur de créer de porte-à-faux avec le président Jacques Chirac.
Le projet de loi a provoqué de nombreuses manifestations en France comme à l'étranger. Mais dans l'Hexagone les problèmes d'intégration internes sont déjà littéralement destructeurs.
Celui qui devait devenir le modèle de l'intégration française, le premier préfet "issu de l'immigration", Aissa Dermouche, n'a pas eu le temps de se pencher sur ses dossiers avant de devenir la victime de deux attentats, l'un contre sa voiture, carbonisée après l'explosion d'une bombe, et l'autre contre le portail de l'établissement dont il était le directeur, l'école de commerce de Nantes; des attentats sans victime ni blessé, sinon les tentatives d'intégration.
Faire peur plutôt que mal, ou alors servir d'avertissement, à en juger l'explosif "de faible intensité" plutôt rudimentaire. Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, Dermouche, comme la laïcité, se retrouve sous la protection de l'Etat, qui doit employer les grands moyens. En tant que préfet, Dermouche devra d'ailleurs assurer le respect des nouveaux règlements interdisant le port du voile à l'école.
A part le voile, les croix "démesurées" et les kippa juives font également partie des restrictions. Mais si en France certains rabbins français déconseillaient récemment le port de la kippa dans les lieux publics c'était par crainte d'agression, non pas d'atteinte à la laïcité. En effet en novembre dernier, c'était la communauté juive qu'il fallait défendre après une série d'attentats qualifiés d'antisémites.
De récentes statistiques montrent qu'alors que le nombre d'incidents antisémites a baissé dans le monde de 1 979 en 2002 à 983 en 2003, en France, en revanche, ces incidents sont passés de 77 à 141 durant la même période, ce qui dérange les autorités israéliennes.
Certains craignent que la nouvelle réglementation ne fasse davantage "monter les affrontements communautaires". Le président du parti de l'UDF François Bayrou craint "de voir monter les tensions" avec ceux qui vont "se prendre de passion acharnée les uns contre les autres" tout en craignant "de voir la position de la France affaiblie dans le monde".
Celui-ci ainsi que d'autres disent qu'ils ne voteront pas en faveur de la loi "en l'état actuel des choses" lorsqu'elle sera présentée à l'Assemblée. Déjà faut-il voir comment cette confusion réglementaire sera retranscrite sur papier.

PAIX SUR TERRE?
Avec des résolutions du nouvel an comme ça faudra-t-il encore prier pour la paix sur terre dans quelques années? Alors que touchait à son terme une année marquée par une guerre en partie justifiée par le combat contre la prolifération des armes de destruction massive, plusieurs nations "paria" ont eu une inspiration presque divine allant dans le sens de la normalisation des relations avec l'Occident. S'il fallait que ça dure.
Parmi les déclarations les plus surprenantes, l'annonce du colonel Kadhafi que la Libye renonçait à son programme d'armement chimique et nucléaire a confirmé les efforts du régime de retrouver sa place au concert des nations, s'étant tout juste engagé à débourser 2,7 milliards de dollars en compensation aux victimes de l'attentat de Lockerbie en 1988.
Selon certains analystes, ces deux gestes voulaient transformer la conjoncture économique en Libye, minée - malgré le pétrole - par plus d'une décennie d'isolation. Mais la transformation ne se limiterait pas à la Libye s'il faut croire l'intention de Kadhafi de faire passer le message à l'Iran, qui a tout juste signé un protocole additionnel au traité de non-prolifération qui autorise l'Agence internationale de l'énergie atomique à effectuer des contrôles inopinés et renforcés des activités nucléaires du pays.
Le message de Kadhafi se serait rendu jusqu'en Syrie, autre pays sur la liste noire américaine, dont le président Bachar el-Assad a suggéré que le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies décrète le Proche-Orient libre de toute arme nucléaire, notamment Israel.
Ces résolutions sont rarement gratuites. Le Premier ministre libyen avait initialement déclaré que si Washington ne renonçait pas à ses sanctions d'ici le 12 mai, Tripoli ne se verrait pas tenu de verser les six millions de dollars restants (sur dix millions) promis à chaque famille des victimes de l'attentat de Lockerbie, qui a fait 270 morts. La condition fut vite retirée, car si la Libye visait à mettre fin aux nombreuses sanctions dont elle fait l'objet, l'argument n'a pas plus ému Washington, qui a approuvé le geste initial et l'ouverture aux inspections sans pour autant retirer ses sanctions.
Car renoncer au programme nucléaire en échange de concessions économiques ou autres n'a rien de nouveau, surtout dans la péninsule coréenne où Pyongyang s'adonne à ce dangereux jeu diplomatique depuis plusieurs années pour soutirer un maximum d'aide internationale.
L'annonce selon laquelle la Corée du Nord s'engageait à mettre en suspens sa production et ses tests nucléaires tout en accueillant les premiers experts atomiques depuis le renvoi des inspecteurs de l'ONU a donc été accueillie avec un grain de sel par la communauté internationale. L'agence officielle ne s'est pas gênée d'appeler ce geste une "concession courageuse" du régime communiste, alors que des experts américains visitaient le complexe de Yongbyon, au coeur même des tensions diplomatiques et militaires depuis plusieurs années. Les experts ne faisaient pas partie d'une visite officielle cependant, en attendant les réunions des six nations, dont la Chine et les Etats-Unis, du mois prochain.
La réduction des tensions sur la péninsule est cependant bienvenue, sans parler de celle qui a eu lieu sur le sous-continent asiatique, alors que deux puissances nucléaires se disaient prêtes à rouvrir les pourparlers de paix sur le Cachemire, une crise vieille de plus de cinquante ans qui a mené le Pakistan et l'Inde au bord du gouffre plusieurs fois.
Le mois prochain doit avoir lieu la première réunion officielle destinée à rouvrir le dialogue entre Delhi et Islamabad depuis l'attaque d'un commando appuyé par le Pakistan contre le parlement Indien en 2001. Le Pakistan s'est d'ailleurs engagé à cesser son appui aux militants islamistes du Cachemire, eux qui pourtant se disent toujours prêts à combattre malgré la "trahison" du gouvernement.
L'annonce de pourparlers survient à la suite de deux attentats contre le président Pervez Moucharraf, devenu la cible de groupes islamistes après avoir mis son appui derrière la guerre américaine contre le terrorisme, un pari non sans risque. Ce partenariat pakistano-américain n'exonère pas Islamabad de devoir expliquer son rôle dans la prolifération des connaissances d'armes de destruction massive, puisque les programmes nord-coréen, iranien et libyen étaient empreints de traces du projet nucléaire Khan, l'objet de fierté nationale au Pakistan depuis les essais nucléaires de 1998.
Puis ces risques, ces concessions à demi-coeur, et ces conditions - de Tripoli à Pyongyang - risquent de faire d'elles de véritables résolutions du nouvel an, soit éphémères. Pourtant il se dégage un certain optimisme de ces engagements au dialogue, qu'ils soient sincères ou non.

MAD ABOUT CANADA
What do international terrorism, last year's power blackout and this year's mad cow have in common? They seemed like an opportune time for Americans to play a cross-border game of blame Canada, only this time we may have had it coming.
Since Algerian-born Montrealer Ahmed Ressam was caught trying to cross into Washington state with a car-load of explosives to attack U.S. targets in the name of al-Qaida in 1999, Canadians haven't heard the end of it. Every threat of future terror attack points north some lament, even though none of the Sept. 11 hijackers had been based in Canada. Early rumors at least some of them had crossed in from north of the border had a great deal of difficulty going away, leading to dramatic changes along the world's largest undefended border, a notion which in itself now elicited worry rather than partnership and accomplishment.
Again, when the power went out in Northeastern North America last summer, the terrorist scenario once out of the way, U.S. officials also pointed north as the source of the massive power failure which plunged major U.S. cities such as New York and Philadelphia into the dark. Few could imagine a power plant in Ohio could trigger a grid shut-down so massive it turned the lights out on tens of millions in minutes.
Then when America's first case of mad cow disease surfaced suspiciously near the 49th parallel in Washington state in December, it didn't take long for the trail to lead up north, to the country with the only other case of mad cow disease in recent history. It didn't matter that the cows were of different nature - the reason must surely have been found up north, a claim made by U.S. officials before DNA analysis confirmed the origins of the animal.
While the U.S. declaration may have been premature, lab tests in both countries quickly confirmed the Canadian origin of the cow. Canadian officials have also tentatively suggested a link between an Edmonton rendering plant and the infected Holstein found in Washington state. The plant may have provided contaminated materials to mills that mixed feed for the Alberta farm where U.S. officials believe the cow was born - as well as to another farm in the province where a case of mad cow disease was discovered in May. But this has yet to be confirmed.
The owner of the plant denies the charge and says any contamination must have come from somewhere, and that probably points to Europe's massive mad cow scare in the 1990s. Soon after in fact, in December 2000, the World Health Organisation expressed fears that BSE, or mad cow disease, may have already spread beyond Europe. May's was the second reported case in Canada after a cow that had been imported from Britain tested positive for the disease in 1993, leading to the rest of its herd being slaughtered.
U.S. officials have been slowly changing their tune on the latest case by recognising the problem as a North American one, given the cross-border integration of the beef market. But others called for "Born in USA" labels to identify beef in the U.S.
The news could mean a prolonged stiff sentence for Canadian cattle producers who were hoping to see restrictions along the U.S. border ease. Canada, which exports as much as it can consume, sends most of its beef exports south, and has lost over $1 billion in sales since the mad cow case of last May.
The U.S. case did not spare American producers however, obligated to improve their cattle screening process and ban the use of certain feeds - i.e. borrow from the measures Canada put in place last year - in the hope of reopening the doors of their export market. Three farms were quarantined and recently 450 calves in a herd containing one of the offspring of the infected cow were ordered slaughtered.
While the U.S. consumes 90% of what it produces, and therefore depends more on domestic consumption and U.S. confidence in the safety of burgers and steaks, major importers of U.S. beef in Asia, such as Japan and South Korean, and over 30 other countries, quickly shut their doors to U.S. beef products, costing millions in lost revenue. Canada shut its doors to certain products only, in an effort to show more understanding and not to appear to be retaliating, but this also has come at a price.
Oddly, this is producing shortages of pet food, about half of it imported from the U.S., which has alarmed owners who have ransacked pet stores to build supplies for their cats and dogs. But for Canadian producers including ranchers, feedlot operators, the trucking industry, packing plants and farm implement dealers all hurt by the first mad-cow case and now struck again by the second, news the United States will wait before it considers reopening the border and allowing certain live Canadian cattle and beef to cross may spell the death knell of the industry - despite a year which saw Canadian meat consumption grow, largely as a measure of sympathy to suffering producers.
And this hasn't made other meat producers too happy either. Pork producers say Canadians can only eat so much meat, and that sympathy for beef producers is costing their industry plenty. But reaction to U.S. measures have found a sympathetic ear across the board. "We tend to be the scapegoat," said the leader of Quebec's pork producers federation as the U.S. prematurely declared its case of mad cow came from north of the border.
In his first one on one with president George W. Bush in Mexico, prime minister Paul Martin will have the uneasy task of seeking an improvement to relations with the U.S. while giving Canada's position on mad cow, all this as the U.S. heads into an electoral year where internal concerns matter most. Meanwhile Canadian border guards are asking visitors if they are carrying U.S. beef into Canada, the new weapon of mass terror which surfaced in the West.