In a surprise announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he would resign and seek re-election in a vote to be held in 60 days. Barak, whose ruling coalition fell apart earlier this year over the issue of IsraeliPalestinian peace talks, said he needs a renewed mandate to negotiate an agreement with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Observers said that Barak’s sudden manoeuvre also appeared, in part, to be an attempt to undermine former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants to return to office and leads Barak in opinion polls. But Netanyahu does not hold a seat in the Knesset, and prime ministerial candidates must be sitting members of parliament.
Since peace negotiations broke off in July after the unsuccessful Camp David summit between Barak and Arafat, violence between Israelis and Palestinians has intensified. Last week, Arafat appeared in public wielding a
submachine-gun, while one of his lieutenants called for new “days of rage” to mark the 13th anniversary of the start of the Palestinians’ intifadeh uprising against Israel. The result, predictably, was fresh bloodshed, which by week’s end had left 10 people dead. A total of 308 people have died in sporadic fighting, the great majority of them Palestinian, since September.
Cheques and balances
The impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines began with prosecutors introducing as evidence a $4.5-million cheque they said helped finance the purchase of an estate for one of Estradas mistresses. The cheque, which prosecutors claimed Estrada signed with the fictitious name Jose Valhalla, was deposited to the account of one of the president’s cronies. Estrada has been accused of taking millions in bribes.
Convicted of espionage
Washington reacted angrily to the conviction of U.S. businessman Edmond Pope on espionage charges in Russia. Pope and an associate had purchased technical information on a Russian rocket-propelled torpedo from a Russian professor, having stipulated, Pope said, that no classified information be part of the package. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he would pardon Pope.
A doctor gives his life
The Ebola virus continued to claim lives in Uganda with the death of Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, one of the leaders of the fight against the deadly disease. Lukwiya first exhibited symptoms of Ebola on Nov. 30, and died six days later. He had been medical superintendent at St. Mary’s Hospital in Lacor, in the northern part of Uganda, where the epidemic has been raging. It has so far claimed 156 lives.
Taking aim at the Taliban
Russia and the United States joined to demand harsher United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan’s Taliban government. Under the joint proposal, the Security Council would impose an arms embargo and other sanctions against Afghanistan for a year. The goal is to force the country to close terrorist training camps and hand over Osama bin Laden, the alleged terrorist who is suspected of masterminding the August, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. The Taliban said more sanctions will only hurt ordinary people in the impoverished country, which is already under an air embargo.
New revelations about Dr. Death
Former Michigan physician Jack Kevorkian, known in the media as “Dr. Death,” claimed to have helped 130 terminally ill people commit suicide before being convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and jailed for up to 25 years. But a study of 69 of those deaths in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that 75 per cent of the victims were not suffering from a potentially fatal illness and five had no discernible disease. Instead, the smdy said, many of the suicide victims were depressed or suffered from psychiatric disorders.
The EU challenge
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at about 4,000 demonstrators who tried to disrupt a meeting of the European Union in the French resort of Nice. Leaders of the 15 nations faced some hard bargaining as they wresded with major reforms in advance of the proposed admission of another 12 countries to the union,
including former Communist countries as well as Cyprus, Malta and Turkey. The EU must overhaul its institutions and decision-making process to allow the organization to function effectively when new members are admitted, probably over the next decade. “It is the most important challenge facing the European Union today,” said Javier Solana, EU chief of foreign and security policy.
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