World NOTES

STEFAN LOVGREN March 15 1999

World NOTES

STEFAN LOVGREN March 15 1999

World NOTES

TROUBLE OVER LEBANON

Israeli warplanes attacked targets of suspected Hizbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon amid growing calls for a negotiated end to the fighting. The attacks were to avenge Hizbollah’s killing of a top Israeli general on Feb. 28. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected a call from Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon to postpone the May 17 elections so a national unity government could oversee a Lebanon withdrawal.

ANWAR'S ATTACKER

Malaysia’s top police official was responsible for the prison beating of sacked deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, according to testimony at a royal commission on the incident. Police Chief Abdul Rahim Noor, who later resigned, admitted slapping Anwar twice, but two police officers said Rahim had the jailed politician handcuffed and blindfolded before severely beating him on the night of his arrest. Anwar, who appeared in court with bruises, was charged with corruption and sex crimes after a falling out with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

CUBAN DISSIDENTS TRIED

Four prominent Cuban dissidents went on trial in Havana, charged with sedition. They were arrested in 1997 for publishing a document criticizing Cuba’s economic policies. If convicted, they could get up to six years in prison. The government refused to allow foreign observers to watch the trial.

FAULDER EXECUTION SET

Texas authorities set June 17 as the new date for the execution of Canadian death-row inmate Stanley Faulder. The 61-year-old former mechanic from Jasper, Alta., received a last-minute, temporary reprieve on Dec. 10 from lethal injection for a 1975 robberymurder. Faulder’s lawyer is still pursuing a court challenge.

BUSH STEPS CLOSER

Texas Gov. George W. Bush moved closer to declaring his candidacy for the U.S. presidency. While Bush, 52, stopped short of saying he will run for the Republican nomination, he formed a fund-raising committee for a possible campaign in which he is already seen as the favourite. Meanwhile, right-wing commentator Patrick Buchanan, 60, announced his candidacy-his third run for the presidency.

An uneasy path for Nigeria

Staging a presidential vote in a country whose 110 million people had grown accustomed to military dictatorship was already a task riddled with logistical problems. But the greatest challenge to the backers of Nigeria’s historic Feb. 27 election was how to transport the cash needed to buy votes. The largest bank note, 50 naira, is worth only about 84 cents. In the days leading up to the election, huge trucks packed with cash crisscrossed the treacherous roads of the arid north and the tropical south. In the dense forest village of Uvwie, deep in the troubled heart of the oil-rich delta region, agents from the People’s Democratic Party arrived the week of the vote, offering 200 naira to anyone willing to vote for the “umbrella,” symbol of the PDP.

The PDP candidate, former military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo, had the backing of Nigeria’s wealthy generals. He spent billions of naira, and—to no one’s surprise—won in a landslide. Voting irregularities were widespread, and ballot-box stuffing was especially common. Obasanjo’s only rival, former finance minister Olu Falae, called the election a “farce.” Foreign

observers, relieved the exercise went off without serious violence, seemed eager to overlook its inadequacies and concentrate on the future. “If this election puts the military back in the barracks,” said one diplomat, “it’s a step in the right direction.”

The irony is that Nigeria’s return to democracy is a victory for the same military that has held sway for the past 15 years. Obasanjo, a 62-year-old re^ tired general who ruled £ the country from 1976 to I 1979 before voluntarily " handing over power to civilians, is deeply unpopular among his own Yoruba people in the southwest. He is, however, favoured by the military establishment in the north. His critics dismiss him as an army stooge, but his supporters argue that he is the only person who can keep the military in check. Even so, there are troubling signs that some military men are scheming to cling to power, especially those who have yet to enrich themselves. “There is a strong possibility of another coup d’état by junior officers,” says one Western diplomat.

Still, Obasanjo’s political dilemma pales in comparison with his economic woes. Nigeria’s infrastructure is in ruins: telephones work fitfully, electricity is sporadic. Obasanjo has promised to rebuild the economy, but has not said how he intends to finance improvements in sectors such as education and health care. But more foreign help may come. Canada has ended most of the punitive measures it invoked after the 1995 execution of writer-activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy says he expects the Commonwealth to end Nigeria’s 1995 suspension later this year.

STEFAN LOVGREN

Italian outrage

Angered by the acquittal of a U.S. marine pilot, Italians demanded justice for 20 people who plunged to their deaths when the pilot’s jet ripped through a gondola cable at a ski resort in the Italian Alps last year. Capt. Richard Ashby, 31, was acquitted by a U.S. military jury of 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors failed to prove that Ashby was “flat-hatting”—recklessly

flying his EA-6B Prowler too fast and too low. The court at Camp Lejeune, N.C., accepted defence arguments blaming the incident on faulty equipment and bad maps. Ashby, however, still faces a charge of obstructing justice over the disappearance of a videotape his co-pilot made of the accident. Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema promised to try to pursue Ashby further in court. Meeting D’Alema, U.S. President Bill Clinton pledged to review safety measures.