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2002: UNE ANNÉE DE FIERTÉ
Après l'année-choc 2001, dont les répercussions n'ont pas cessé de se faire sentir tout au long de 2002, l'année qui vient de se terminer a vu renaître un phénomène inattendu: le patriotisme.
L'année a commencé à Salt Lake où le Canada a connu ses meilleurs Jeux d'hiver, surtout, en remportant les médailles d'or au sport national, fait parfois oublié avec la saga Salé-Pelletier. Un autre record a été établi, celui du plus grand nombre de médailles remportées par un seul athlète aux Jeux d'hiver, celui qui figure sur notre couverture, Marc Gagnon, qui a depuis annoncé sa retraite et s'est engagé en affaires.
Le patriotisme a pris plusieurs formes: politiques, économiques, et parfois tragique. La mort de quatre soldats canadiens tués par feu ami a provoqué la consternation et l'indignation; une des formes de l'envenimement des relations avec le voisin américain. Mais ce patriotisme ne s'est pas fondé sur le rejet de qui que ce soit, mais sur les performances observées, autre fait qui peut nous rendre fier.
La performance économique par exemple, qui faisait l'envie de ces mêmes voisins d'une part. Mais politique aussi, une évolution qui a confirmé la mise au placard de la sacro-sainte question de l'unité nationale au Québec, pour le moment.
Certains diront que le parti fédéral au pouvoir aura parfois présenté certaines occasions de se sentir honteux plutôt que fier, mais ne serait-ce pas voir la vie en politique? Des enjeux fort plus importants nous le rappellent, ce qui nous ramène aux événements de 2001.
L'Afghanistan à peine remis de ses émotions, la guerre au terrorisme se poursuit, avec son double effet sur les populations: les victimes directes, à Bali et au Kenya, et les lois plus rigoureuses.
Puis une autre guerre semble planer, contre l'Irak celle-là, au moment où se pointe aussi une menace nord-coréenne. Tristes rappels de réalités déconcertantes.
THE INSPECTIONS GAME
Men of arms, soldiers or commanders in chief, can't always convince audiences they really want peace. At an information session at NATO headquarters in Brussels some years ago, when the world was yet again on the verge of a strike against Iraq, a communications officer used an old military saying on an NPU reporter: men of war want peace most of all because they know the deadly realities of armed conflict.
Last week U.S. president George W. Bush said something of the same thing when he insisted the U.S. really had no desire to strike Iraq and wanted peace most of all, but not all seemed convinced. Now that Iraq has handed over its long-awaited weapons program report, few expect the U.S. to be satisfied with the 12,000-page document, especially because it declares Baghdad has no weapons of mass destruction.
Even before the report, which will take weeks to sift through by the U.N., was released, the Bush administration was set to declare Iraq in violation of the U.N. resolution requiring Baghdad to give up weapons of mass destruction. "It is going to be 'material breach,' not as a casus belli [cause for war] but as a basis to begin hammering Unmovic to do more," an administration official told The Washington Times.
Critics charging the U.S. is ready to go to war against Iraq regardless of U.N. weapons inspections wouldn't be surprised that on the day the monitors were allowed into one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces and U.N. Secretary general Kofi Annan called Baghdad's stance encouraging, U.S. president George W. Bush said Saddam was still not coming clean on his weapons program and Turkey allowed the use of its U.S. bases in a possible war against Iraq.
The United States will soon have enough heavy tanks, warships, aircraft, bombs and troops in the Persian Gulf region to enable it to begin an attack against Iraq sometime in January, a time of the year usually seen as the most favorable for war in the desert according to military planners. About 60,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, as well as about 200 warplanes, are in or near the region. Soon no less than four aircraft carriers will be poised to strike Iraq on short notice, with a fifth in Southeast Asia ready to steam to the gulf in a crisis.
Meanwhile the inspectors have completed their third week of surveying for possible weapons of mass destruction or traces of a weapons program, scrutinizing military bases and the once off-limits sprawling and opulent presidential palaces. While the inspectors say the Iraqis have been compliant, the Bush administration claims Baghdad will have to admit to some illegal weaponry in order not to contradict intelligence reports. Critics fear this would be enough to justify a U.S. offensive against Iraq.
For Baghdad the task is daunting: how does one prove one doesn't have something? Intelligence has it Iraq does have a weapons program, one on wheels that is constantly being shifted around, or hidden deep underground beyond the reach of spy satellites. Some intelligence analysts grant that the U.S. has yet to produce the smoking gun it needs. Or does it?
The inspectors meanwhile have been coming under fire from both sides. First from an administration that can't see what a few dozen individuals can do to find weapons in such a large country, and Iraq itself, which says their role is no less to spy and prepare the groundwork for war. Last week Bush considered the initial reading of Saddam's cooperation "not encouraging". While the inspectors have been satisfied of the level of Iraqi cooperation, they admitted at least once they were concerned with "a number of pieces of equipment" they said was missing from one of the sites.
Meanwhile India and Russia agreed to oppose unilateral US attack on Iraq during a visit by president Vladimir Putin to Delhi. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, upon receiving his Nobel peace prize, urged both the U.S. and Iraq to come to a peaceful solution, calling the U.N. role important.
But tensions have been rising in the Gulf region, which is bracing for possible war. Countries surrounding Iraq realising their neighbor could ultimately come under attack are starting to discuss the conditions under which this should be carried out rather than calling against it as they once did.
The U.S. has been building up Gulf bases outside of Saudi Arabia, a major base of previous Gulf war operations, for a possible attack that would include invasion according to reports. Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to play a large role in any attack against Iraq and has come under scrutiny when it was revealed a portion of the financing for the Sept. 11 attacks may have been channelled through the accounts of Saudi representatives in the U.S. who contributed to a charity organization. Riyadh has since said it would crack down on such charities and may in the end agree to allow the U.S. to use its bases there in an eventual attack against Iraq. But the U.S., which is moving central command operations out of America for the first time, is developing military infrastructures in nearby Qatar and Kuwait at a furious pace.
In addition to the sabre-rattling, Britain, a staunch supporter of the U.S. on Iraq, released a dossier of evidence arguing Baghdad has been engaged in a "regime of unique horror" that includes systematic rape, torture, gassing, public beheadings and mass executions. As the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council sift through the pages of material, fear of war is gripping the world anew, one week before Christmas.
Sensing the foul mood, Washington has been trying to tone down the war rhetoric by saying it will not rush to judgement on the Iraqi report. Besides it may have a more urgent problem on its hands. Illegal military weaponry was found, not in Iraq, but on a ship heading to Yemen carrying North Korean Scud missiles. Something that will in no way smoothe relations between Washington and Pyongyang, a regime much more advanced in its weapons programme which has refused any inspections teams. Eventually the U.S. recognised it had no right to keep Yemen from purchasing weapons, even from a member of the "Axis of evil". A reminder that in the war against Iraq as in the war against terrorism, strange bedfellows have emerged.
THE EXPANSION SIDE-SHOW
The drumbeats of possible war in Iraq drowned out a rare spectacle in Prague last week: countries formerly part of the Soviet Union's Baltic outreach joining the military alliance created to deter Soviet aggression on the European continent; a formidable outcome turned into a negligible sidebar. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania along with Slovakia and Slovenia will have obtained both EU and NATO membership two years from now.
As if to lay the rest of their divided history to rest, Russia and Europe even agreed on the status of Kaliningrad recently, a Russian enclave lodged between Lithuania and Poland, which will soon abide by EU border rules. Under the agreement Russians travelling to and from the enclave will need only a cheap, multi-entry obtainable "facilitated transit document". But there is no love lost between Russia and the Baltic states, where a historic trial in Estonia is currently pursuing Soviet agents responsible for deportations under the occupation.
Other former Soviet bloc members and now EU candidates, Romania and Bulgaria, are also about to join NATO, beaten into the economic club by Cyprus and Malta, who have little interest in military alliances, unlike Albania, Macedonia and Croatia, main players of the Balkan upheaval of the last decade, who are future NATO candidates. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech republic, who joined NATO 1999, are also about to enter the EU, the fomer perhaps causing the most concern because of its large agrarian population.
Two question marks remain on the continental checkerboard: Turkey, a NATO member deemed too "un-European" by some outspoken EU critics, and Russia itself, a partner with NATO since 1995 but geographically more non-European than European. Many of the new members, some of whom had not found such common cause since the Austro-Hungarian empire, are already being recruited by U.S. president George W. Bush, seeking support against Iraq as weapons inspectors begin their work, all the while UK and US jetfighters surveying Iraqi no-fly zones are coming under fire.
But even among the current 19 NATO members, united behind a strong condemnation of Iraq which may draw some of them into a war, divisions persisted on Saddam Hussein. Germany broke ranks by saying it was opposed to taking part in any war against Iraq, a largely politically-motivated position. But Berlin did indicate it was willing to grant U.S. forces unrestricted overflights and use of their bases on German soil in case of war against Iraq, in an effort to limit divisions with Washington. Germany's general reluctance still makes any official NATO participation unlikely in a possible war against Saddam Hussein, and suggested a more ad hoc participation of individual countries.
While their role would be inexistent militarily in such a conflict, the Baltic states were perhaps the most enthusiastic supporters of a strong U.S. stand against Iraq, and were praised in return by Bush. "The Baltic countries know what it means to live under fear and the lack of freedom," he said.
Meanwhile, more traditional U.S. allies, such as Germany and Canada, were more reluctant, especially behind the scenes. A Jean Chrétien aide, who later submitted her resignation, reportedly criticized the U.S. president as "a moron" for, in her view, hijacking the enlargement summit to enlist countries against Iraq.
Canada was also critical of persistent U.S. pressure on Ottawa to increase its military budget, something officials said was a matter of internal policy and decision-making. Despite the disgruntlement, Chrétien said the future budget probably holds military spending increases, which can't come soon enough for military planners.
For the Alliance, the Prague summit was again a time to ponder its raison d'être, in view of the unconventional face of modern day threats, notably terrorism, something the U.S. has tied to Iraq. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, NATO members had dramatically invoked article 5 of the trans-Atlantic treaty which calls an attack against one of its members an attack against all.
But while no NATO involvement ensued in the war on terror, U.S. military cooperation with Russia, a mere partner of the Alliance, drastically improved to the point of allowing the stationing of U.S. troops in former Soviet republics around Afghanistan. The recent hostage-taking in Moscow drew Russia even closer to the U.S. on terrorism. Following the Prague summit, Bush even rushed to Moscow to assure president Putin Russia should not see NATO expansion so close to its borders as an affront, before visiting some of the new members and publicly speaking against Saddam, the new enemy.
Ironically NATO's military significance and relevance seems to be decreasing as it is expanding, representing a badge of honor for new members but little more than a political club for anyone else. In an effort to create some semblance of military unity, the established members pushed for the creation of a rapid-reaction force, an idea hardly new since it was largely circulated during NATO's last true mission, in the Balkans. Even 1999, a year of great upheaval in Europe, seems ages ago.
PAS VOLÉE CETTE 90ème COUPE GREY
Le dernier défilé de football à Montréal remontait plusieurs décennies, un monde de différence dans le sport professionnel nord-américain. Les Canadiens étaient alors champions répétitifs tandis que les Expos déménageaient du stade Jarry au Parc.
Entre-temps les Alouettes ont eu le temps de mourir et de renaître, une équipe de roller-hockey et de crosse de naître et de mourir, le Canadien d'être acheté par un Américain et les Expos de s'effriter. Il était temps de remettre les pendules à l'heure, surtout que le club hérité de Baltimore était déjà champion au départ.
La coupe Grey a bien fait un tour à Montréal l'an dernier mais elle n'était que de passage. Le rendez-vous manqué de novembre 2001 était dans l'esprit des Montréalais qui ont rempli le stade Olympique le 17 novembre, en cette année du 25ème anniversaire du dernier championnat du club, au stade contre Toronto.
Pour la neuvième fois de leur histoire, les Eskimos rencontraient Montréal en grande finale, la 90ème coupe Grey, un duel fréquent lors des années 70; les Alouettes tentaient d'équilibrer quelque peu une fiche de victoires-défaites de 2-6 à l'occasion.
Il était également question de vaincre les doutes, après la défaite des Alouettes en finale il y a deux ans, et l'écroulement d'un club qui était pourtant parti en lion l'an dernier. Le quart Anthony Calvillo, à un cheveu de gagner le trophée du joueur par excellence cette saison, a dû essuyer toutes ces déceptions, mais il a lui-même semé le doute en boîtant vers la ligne de touche à la fin de la finale de l'est contre Toronto. Serait-il à 100% lors du match du 24 novembre?
Douteux aussi, l'état du porteur de ballon Lawrence Phillips, l'enfant terrible pourtant pas si mauvais du ballon ovale, et du porteur de ballon d'Edmonton John Avery. Mais ce qui était douteux à l'extrême c'était cette météo plutôt clémente de fin de novembre au nord du 55ème parallèle. En effet alors qu'on s'attendait au gel et à la neige sur la seule pelouse de gazon de la ligue, les deux formations se sont entrainées par des journées plutôt ensoleillées et chaudes tout au long de la semaine.
A qui l'avantage? Au club qui n'a pas raté son rendez-vous de finale ou à celui qui a le plus faim, n'ayant pas remporté de coupe depuis Brejnev? L'entraineur des Alouettes Don Matthews, congédié par les Esks l'an dernier et membre de la direction offensive d'Edmonton en 1977, devait bien vouloir se la mettre sous la dent, cette cinquième coupe un peu revancharde.
Fidèle aux traditions de la grande joute, le match s'est décidé à la toute fin. Montréal a empêché une tentative de converti de deux points et retourné le botté court d'Edmonton pour un touché pour remporter la coupe Grey 25-16 au stade Commonwealth. Une fin dramatique qui achevait un match sinon gâté par l'état du terrain et la faiblesse des attaques.
Comme la renaissance de la ligue, la victoire des Alouettes était toute canadienne: elle tenait sur le seul point marqué lors du premier quart lorsque le ballon a dépassé le fond de la zone des buts d'Edmonton, un règlement qui n'existe pas au football américain. Ce point a fait toute la différence, exigeant des Eskimos non seulement un touché in-extremis, mais une conversion de deux points. C'était trop en demander, même devant une foule si partisane, et Montréal a pu enfin célèbrer un sixième titre, trop attendu; un exploit d'autant plus remarquable qu'il était simplement impossible il y a dix ans, lorsque le football était mort et enterré dans la deuxième ville du pays.
Avec la création de deux nouvelles équipes collégiales au Québec et la participation de McGill en semi-finale de la coupe Vanier, on vient de confirmer la renaissance du football au Québec, et surtout à Montréal. Une renaissance distincte, avec diner à la baguette et au fromage dans les gradins et bérêts aux couleurs des Alouettes.
Le meilleur exemple du succès populaire du club, sans doute, c'est que ses partisans importent leurs chants au centre Bell des Canadiens, et adaptent les mieux connus, substituant sans honte le "Go Habs go!" pour le "Go Als go!" En effet, avec cette victoire il n'y a plus de doute "les Alouettes sont là", comme le veut la nouvelle version du refrain des tricolores.
Pas surprenant qu'on ait fait tout un plat de la décision initiale du comité de la coupe Grey de ne jouer l'hymne national qu'en Anglais. Correction faite, les visiteurs ont du coup servi une leçon de football et d'étiquette aux favoris locaux.
LE SUCCÈS INESPÉRÉ DE BUSH
Le président américain le plus contesté depuis des décennies vient pourtant de réunir sous la bannière des républicains Maison blanche, chambre des représentants et sénat, de manière historique aux Etats-Unis. Du coup George W. Bush, qui avait remporté la présidence après un chapitre de recomptage sans précédent il y a deux ans, devient seulement le troisième président de l'histoire à enregistrer des gains à mi-chemin de son mandat en 100 ans, après Roosevelt et Clinton.
Celui que l'on condamnait initialement de président à mandat unique, et qui semblait parfois plus attentif aux développements internationaux que domestiques, ne s'est pas seulement contenté de suivre la campagne de ses candidats puisqu'il a lui-même traversé le pays d'un bout à l'autre au secours de la victoire républicaine lors des deux dernières semaines, alors que l'ex-président Bill Clinton et un ancien adversaire, Al Gore, en faisaient de même pour l'autre camp.
Le GOP a signé des victoires notables sur toute la ligne, augmentant son nombre de sièges dans la chambre à 227 et rafflant la majorité au sénat, tenue par les démocrates depuis le passage du sénateur républicain James Jeffords dans le rang des indépendants en juin 2001. Traditionnellement ces élections de mi-mandat se traduisent par des pertes pour le parti qui tient la Maison blanche. Il s'agissait de la toute première fois que les républicains enregistraient des gains dans la chambre alors qu'un des leurs était à la présidence.
La victoire est d'autant plus délicieuse que le premier appel de félicitations de Bush était à son frère Jeb, le premier gouverneur républicain à garder son poste en Floride. Pour une fois le 13 aura porté bonheur puisqu'il s'agit du nombre de fois que le président aura visité la péninsule ensoleillée depuis son élection. Les démocrates avaient fait de la défaite de Jeb une priorité rancunière puisque c'est en Floride que s'est joué le sort de la présidentielle qui a porté Bush fils au pouvoir. Ainsi même le seul gain démocrate de la soirée, celui du compte des gouverneurs, connaissait un bémol.
D'autres gains républicains notables, lire déceptions démocrates, ont eu lieu au Maryland, au Massachusetts, en Géorgie et au Minnesota, un état qui n'a pas cessé de faire les manchettes nationales depuis la mort, en pleine campagne, du sénateur Wellstone dans un écrasement d'avion; par la suite remplacé par Walter Mondale, un ancien vice-président apprécié d'un côté comme de l'autre.
Que faire alors que le 11 septembre a contribué à garder la président populaire et que les coffres républicains étaient mieux garnis, trouvaient à dire les démocrates désemparés. La guerre au terrorisme a en effet donné un coup à la sécurité et à la défense nationale, sujets aux allures très républicaines. Mais dorénavant l'administration n'aura plus à chercher les bouc-émissaires si son agenda manque de fermeté, après tant de contestations partisanes dans les dossiers de la guerre au terrorisme et des coupures fiscales.
C'est le prix d'avoir plus que survécu à une revanche démocrate qui n'a jamais vu le jour. Il faut dire que le taux de participation, environ 33%, n'avait rien de revanchard, si bien que le chef des démocrates à la chambre, Dick Gephardt, n'a pas tardé à faire les frais de cette cuisante défaite en renonçant à son poste.
Mince consolation pour les démocrates; un des leurs vient d'être ré-élu président dans la populaire série télévisée Maison Blanche, ironie du sort, le lendemain même du vote moins fictif au Congrès. Décidément, les espoirs ont été décimés, à deux ans de la prochaine présidentielle, dont la campagne commence aujourd'hui-même.
L'INCONNU, LE FRISSON ELECTORAL
Témoignages de tradition démocratique, les résultats d'élections peuvent néanmoins faire trembler ceux qui craignent l'incertitude de leurs conséquences, même si le gagnant peut sembler connu d'avance. Tel était le cas dans deux coins du monde ces derniers jours, où des puissances régionales attentivement suivies rendaient leur verdict électoral.
Dans les deux cas, pour certains, le pire était à craindre, une tension qui se sentait lors des derniers jours de campagne. L'élection du candidat travailliste Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, au second tour du scrutin présidentiel brésilien, confirmait les craintes des financiers qui depuis bien avant le premier tour annonçaient un branle-bas sans précédent à Brasilia.
Pourtant il s'agissait d'une élection qui s'est fait attendre, penserait l'ancien chef syndical simplement appelé "Lula", qui n'en était pas à sa première candidature mais bien à sa quatrième. Dans un sens les sceptiques n'ont pas tort: l'élection de Lula, le jour de ses 57 ans, portait la gauche au pouvoir pour la première fois en 113 ans de république - longtemps dominés par la junte militaire - dont 13 depuis le suffrage universel.
Mais si l'ordre a été renversé ce n'est pas seulement à cause d'un ras-le-bol généralisé, après des années Cardoso qui ont laissé le pays le plus important d'Amérique latine dans une crise économique, mais aussi en raison du changement de rhétorique du président désigné, plus modéré et donc sensible aux craintes de certains Brésiliens de la classe moyenne qui ne voyaient en lui que la dure image réactionnaire du passé en tant que chef du Parti des travailleurs.
Cet élargissement d'électorat, alors qu'il gagnait déjà la faveur des plus démunis inspirés par sa transition de la misère du Nordeste et ses antécédents ouvriers, fut capitale, même si ses réflections sur l'arme nucléaire peuvent faire trembler une administration américaine qui a déjà les mains pleines avec l'Irak, et plus récemment la Corée du nord.
A l'autre bout du monde, c'est une image également plus modérée que veut faire passer le parti conservateur musulman Justice et développement en Turquie, dont l'orientation pourrait mettre à l'épreuve, en théorie, une tradition laïque datant du début du siècle dernier. Cette crainte était tellement prononcée durant la campagne que le chef du parti, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a été banni de la course, même s'il reste très actif pour promouvoir les idées de son parti.
Le parti de l'ancien maire d'Istanbul a causé la surprise en rafflant 34% des voix et une majorité absolue (pour la première fois en Turquie en 15 ans), après avoir tempéré son discours - lui qui jadis rejetait l'UE et faisait appel au "soulèvement" musulman du pays - pour ne pas effrayer les gardiens habituels du régime, notamment l'armée et la classe politique traditionnelle.
Erdogan ne doute pas, entre autre, qu'un parti musulman pourrait démontrer la place que mérite la Turquie au sein de l'Union europénne avec le temps, elle qui vient d'annoncer des plans d'expansion qui l'excluent toujours. La Turquie tente non seulement de jouer un rôle symbolique pour l'UE, mais à travers la planète, étant donné les tensions religieuses qui suivent les attentats attribués aux islamistes militants en Russie et en Indonésie.
Ce n'est peut-être pas tant la tendance religieuse du parti qui mobilise les foules que le rejet du gouvernement passé, accusé de corruption et de mauvaise gestion du pays, dont les partis ont attiré moins de 10 pourcent des voix individuellement. C'est du moins ce qu'espère l'armée, qui ne se gênerait sans doute pas de répéter son intervention d'il y a cinq ans en mettant fin au gouvernement musulman du Refah, au besoin.
Ce dernier constituait d'ailleurs l'antécédent du parti de la Justice, un parti qui soutient avoir retenu d'importantes leçons, et qui donc à sa manière, un peu comme Lula, n'en est pas à sa première élection.
AFTER WASHINGTON, URBAN TERROR GRABS MOSCOW
Washington and Moscow, capitals of super-powers that used to stare each other down from behind the barrel of nuclear guns, held hostage by a few men using conventional weapons.
It's the price of being a major power. London and Paris faced Islamic and IRA bombs in the last decade, and Moscow has already been the target of Chechen rebels in a 1999 campaign of terror targeting apartment buildings.
For Washington, the murders of a sniper and his young associate, killing ten and injuring three more in three weeks of hunting humans, capped a violent year scarred by the Pentagon attack and anthrax scares. This time the threat was vicious in its own way, targeting lone victims, one at a time regardless of age and gender, and sending an entire community running for cover, literally.
That crisis barely over, with the arrest of the suspects whose bloody trails are now being uncovered across the country, that another urban terror ordeal began, an ocean away, with the hostage-taking of some 800 Moscow theatre goers. Soon after one of the worse terror acts in recent Asian history in Bali, the worse over-all since 9-11, the largest case of hostage-taking in recent memory was a cause for questioning the direction of civilization in the XXIth century.
In both cases the assailants had far-reaching demands, $10 million for the Washington sniper, disgruntled at the American government after serving in the military, and the end of war in Chechnya for the armed, explosives-strapped terrorists in Moscow. But the takeover in Moscow, unlike the act of a lone mad-man, sparked fears of a new reign of terror in Russia, fighting a war once considered over by president Vladimir Putin, who came to power vowing a return to security. He cancelled a meeting with George W. Bush to handle the crisis.
Among the 50 captors were women on a martyr mission, seeking to avenge the death of their sons to Russian soldiers during the war. Two days after the beginning of the ordeal, after one hostage was shot trying to join others fleeing, and tens were selectively freed by their captors, the increasingly wary belligerents gave Moscow seven days to comply or lose every hostage, which they threatened to start executing over the weekend.
Unlike the Bali blast which mainly sought to kill foreigners, the attack singled out Russian nationals. Outside the theatre, circled by a small army of special forces and snipers held at bay by the captor's extensive collection of explosives, relatives of the captors pleaded for the return of the hostages by protesting against the war in Chechnya. But the protest failed to move the captors any more than Russian promises to ensure their safe exit if they freed the hostages. The captors said they were willing to die for their cause.
Foreign Ministers of the G8 condemned the hostage taking as part of a global terrorist campaign. "The Moscow hostage taking is another in a series of recent terrorist acts throughout the world. We will not allow such events to go unchecked. We are united in combatting terrorism," a statement said. "We are determined to fight terrorism decisively and unconditionally in all its forms and manifestations." "This enemy is strong and dangerous, inhuman and brutal. This is international terrorism," agreed Mr Putin himself after the ordeal was over.
The third morning of the ordeal troops finally stormed the besieged theatre after two hostages were killed and two injured after loud blasts and shots were heard. According to Russian officials the captors had started executing hostages causing many others to start fleeing, but by some other accounts the troops moved in before the captors brought their plans to execution.
Special forces stormed the building making use of knock-out gas. The Chechen leader was killed as well as most of the hostage-takers but some of the gun-men may have escaped according to authorities. But the operation had a heavy toll as nearly 130 of the hostages were also killed during the rescue, with many more injured.
A defiant Deputy Interior minister promised soon after the end of the operation to "clean not only Moscow but Russia", vowing military action. Soon after Russian troops launched a new offensive in Chechnya.
As daylight broke the first questions started to emerge about the extent of the casualties, 170+ - including the hostages. A majority of the dead hostages were found to have been poisoned by the gas used to knock out the captors to prevent them from triggering their explosives. Moscow hospitals were ill equipped to treat incoming flood of poisoned victims. Many remained incapacitated from the gas.
Criticized for showing little emotion after the Kursk tragedy, a particularly moved Putin this time apologized for the death toll on television. "We could not save everyone. Please forgive us," he said, but stressed the special forces had saved many lives.
Later in the week authorities identified the gas as an aesthetic, not an illicit nerve gas as early feared, and attributed the many deaths to the poor condition of hostages running on little food and exercise for days. Russia was soon criticised for pumping too much of the gas, which is many times more powerful than heroin in its effects, and neither informing doctors of the proper measures to take nor supplying them with antidotes in time.
Officials later hinted this was because they feared more attacks in the following hours. Authorities also claim not knocking out all the captors would have left some able to detonate their explosives and cause more deaths, making the mission one to limit, not avoid altogether, any casualties.
Unlike the Washington crisis, which ended with a whimper when the suspects were arrested sleeping in their car, the Moscow stand-off ended with a bang. There are also fears this was just the first round of a new string of terror attacks and military reprisals in Russia
NORTH KOREA'S SHOCKER
With so many signals recently pointing in the other direction it is perhaps no surprise the news North Korea continued its nuclear program regardless of international agreements sent shockwaves on diplomatic and intelligence fronts.
Just last week the return of Japanese abductees kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s to their homeland seemed to signal a diplomatic thaw between Pyongyang and Tokyo that to some confirmed the hermit kingdom's willingness to warm ties with the international community from which it had been isolated for decades.
Now the U.S., which had been so focused on attacking Iraq because of fears it may get half-way where North Korea is standing in its nuclear program, will have to reconsider its attempt to forge ties with the country it is guarding the world's best-known de-militarized zone against. A statement by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as the news was breaking indicated an early shift in positions. "The United States was prepared to offer economic and political steps to improve the lives of the North Korean people," he said, "provided the North were dramatically to alter its behavior across a range of issues."
There seemed to be few signs of that, as North Korean officials showed no willingness to admit weapons inspectors, who are also at the heart of the Iraqi dispute. They did however indicate they were willing to discuss with Washington. Washington is now confronted with two potential crises related to possible development of weapons of mass destruction after the revelation, made by North Korean officials when pressed by new U.S. intelligence data nearly three weeks ago.
At the time of the 1994 agreement, which promised North Korea oil and proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors in exchange for halting its nuclear program, U.S. intelligence assessed Pyongyang already had produced enough plutonium to manufacture one or two weapons. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference that he believes the Koreans not only have a weapons program but already have produced some weapons. He cited the intelligence report and concluding: "I believe they have a small number of nuclear weapons."
While President Bush acknowledged the development was "troubling, sobering news," some say the U.S. is not expected to confront North Korea too aggressively, which Bush has labeled as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, so as to avoid becoming overextended internationally. "The United States and our allies call on North Korea to comply with its commitments under the nonproliferation treaty and to eliminate its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable manner," simply stated one official when the news was made public.
Similarily South Korea and Japan, who are in the midst of elections, are concerned but tried to limit the fall-out from the announcement insisting it would not alter their plans to try and improve ties with the secretive North. A presidential aide even said Seoul viewed North Korea's apparent confession as an indication that it was keen to pursue dialogue. "This frank confirmation of nuclear suspicions... as a sign North Korea is willing to resolve this problem through dialogue," the official said. Japan also reacted calmly, and pledged it would still go ahead with talks to normalise relations with North Korea this month. China simply stated "The nuclear issue of North Korea should be settled through dialogue and negotiation, and should be settled peacefully."
By some accounts it was hard to see what all the fuss was about after all. But other countries such as Canada and Japan have warned North Korea it risks losing precious aid money if it doesn't drop its nuclear program. The U.S. sounded the same bell, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly calling on Pyongyang to fully disarm or face "maximum international pressure." Something Pyongyang is not unused to.
Tourmente dans un ancien modèle de développement africain, entrée des GIs Américains en Afrique, des soldats qui quittent le Congo tandis que d'autres prennent les rues de la Côte d'Ivoire; c'est le monde à l'envers. Et pourtant il y a bien longtemps que la terre d'Houphouët-Boigny n'est plus synonyme de prospérité dans la bosse occidentale du continent noir.
Alors que le monde se donnait des sueurs froides en combattant le bogue informatique il y a trois ans, la Côte d'Ivoire traversait une des plus pénibles étapes de son histoire avec la première de plusieurs tentatives de coup d'Etat. Ces jours-ci, il ne s'agit que du dernier relent, mais plus violent celui-là, faisant 270 morts dont le ministre de l'intérieur et causant la fuite des étrangers sous protection militaire, dont de jeunes élèves canadiens pris entre les feux. « Le Canada appelle à la retenue et réclame la fin des effusions de sang, a déclaré le ministre des Affaires étrangères Bill Graham. Nous encourageons toutes les parties à respecter les droits de la personne et à entamer un dialogue pacifique afin de résoudre la crise. »
Ces derniers jours, des affrontements entre les forces gouvernementales et des troupes rebelles ont secoué plusieurs régions du pays et on connait encore mal le fil exact des événements qui a fait parachuter des troupes américaines, britanniques, et surtout françaises dans ce qui jadis était le coin le plus paisible d'Afrique CFA.
Des rebelles se seraient emparées des rues de trois villes dans la nuit du 19 septembre alors que le président Laurent Gbagbo était en visite en Italie. La réplique des forces de l'ordre fut terrible, causant la mort du général Guei, auteur du coup d'Etat de 1999 qui a fait basculer la Côte d'Ivoire dans l'instabilité. La presse fait également l'objet d'une censure sévère. L'opposant Alassane Ouattara, jadis accusé de complot, a trouvé refuge dans l'ambassade de France, et Henri Konan Bédié, ex-président et toujours un poids lourd de la politique ivoirienne, dans celle du Canada. Des manifestants pro-gouvernementaux se sont rassemblés devant l'ambassade de France pour réclamer qu'on leur remette Ouattara, accusé d'être impliqué, tandis que d'autres se sont rendus devant le consulat du Burkina Faso, pays voisin soupçonné d'avoir joué un rôle dans cette affaire.
Le Canada, qui a fait de l'Afrique un point important au dernier sommet des dirigeants du G8, a rappelé son soutien pour les efforts africains en faveur de la paix, de la sécurité et de la bonne gouvernance. "Les derniers événements survenus en Côte d'Ivoire mettent en relief l'importance pour les dirigeants africains de venir à bout de ces problèmes qui ne font que contribuer à l'instabilité et retarder le développement social, politique et économique du continent" déclarait un communiqué des Affaires étrangères.
Des raisons multiples expliquent cette descente au purgatoire. Du côté économique il y a eu la pénible chute des cours du cacao et la dévaluation du franc CFA, puis les crises majeures en Sierra Leone, en Guinée, et les tensions au Nigeria ont rappelé l'isolation de la Côte d'Ivoire au chapitre régional. Mais les tensions internes sont avant tout responsables des troubles, un dirigeant après l'autre ayant décidé de jouer avec le feu régional dans ce pays divisé entre sud animiste et chrétien et nord musulman et Sahéliens, un schisme remontant à l'indépendance qui avait pourtant someillé depuis.
La division est palpable à Bouaké, au centre du pays, lieu de l'évacuation de plusieurs ressortissants étrangers, où la population est descendue dans la rue pour appuyer les rebelles. Un représentant de ces militaires, dont certains sont en exil, aurait rappelé leurs revendications, soit une réintégration dans une armée nationale qui les aurait evincés. Quelques jours plus tard, eau et courant étaient coupés dans la ville, faisant fuir une population épeurée. La division ivoirienne aura marqué les dernières présidentielles également, baignées dans le sang de plus de 150 victimes, principalement du nord, de manière à faire parler d'une «Côte-d'Ivoire au bord de la sécession», un terme d'habitude réservé au marasme soudanais.
Le mythe de la stabilité et de la prospérite n'est plus, la Côte d'Ivoire figure à présent au même titre que multes autres conflits régionaux d'Afrique. Les offres d'assistance du Nigéria et du Ghana, tandis que le Burkina et le Mali font figure d'instigateurs, laisse le pays dans un scénario peniblement familier en Afrique, où plusieurs conflits intestinaux ont un caractère régional.
ALREADY ONE YEAR
Tributes for the victims of Sept. 11 started going up while the dust from the collapsed towers was still falling over Manhattan. For days a column of smoke emanating from ground zero could be seen, and in that time the owner of Chelsea Jeans, right across the street, had reopened his business and decided a soot and dust-covered corner of the store would be left untouched and turned into a glass-protected memorial.
Others soon followed across the country. Jet fighters streaking over Afghanistan were painted with "Let's roll", the words of the brave passengers on flight 93 who, knowing by then their fate was sealed, decided they were going to limit the casualties on the ground by wrestling the controls of the 4th hijacked plane away from the terrorists. Everywhere, "In God we trust" seemed to be accompanied by a new motto "United we stand".
Nearly one year after the tragedy which killed hundreds whose remains were never found, Americans still fly their flags in memory of this generation's day of infamy. Recently the families of the dead wanted to add a more financial and legal gesture, by symbolically seeking a trillion dollars in damages from two regimes they accused of having helped finance the terrorists, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. That the former, staunch Gulf-war allies, be targeted, shows how things have indeed changed since Sept. 11.
For a while this spring, a very special tribute shone over the stricken skyline of lower Manhattan. Two powerful beams of light soared well above the tip of the old towers. Ground zero itself awaits the most important tribute, one which is still far from being settled: what to do with the 16 acres of real estate now cleared all the way to the subway level. Six designs submitted for study were turned down, criticised as displaying too little imagination and placing too much focus on commercial real estate, at the heart of a commercial space so dense it had its own zip code.
Desperate to find a combination of commercial spaces and area of tribute, the city is reaching to the four corners of the earth to find a suitable vision of a rebuilt ground zero. An area which will have to transmit to the ages tragedy, pain, loss, but also courage, determination and triumph over evil. A space rebuilt but never really undone. Most of all, the architects will have to convey the message that America recovers, and moves on.
A message conveyed this week in Washington where office destroyed by the plane which hit the Pentagon reopened. The move was rife with symbolism, never mind they were still unpacking boxes and waiting for the arrival of furniture. The plan now is for all the reconstruction work to be completed by the end of the year.
But many other things will not be so easily undone, such as race relations, some people fear. In a country once torn by segregation between whites and blacks with wounds still running deep, this is no trivial matter. Civil rights groups say the war against terror has created a suspicion of immigrants, in particular Arabs, and point to the latest policies on border crossing as examples.
New visitors to America, coming in by air, land or sea, will undergo a thorough screening process, especially if they are from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Syria. The Justice Department has chosen Sept. 11 as the starting date for a new program that will require tens of thousands of foreign visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed at the border, mostly affecting those from Muslim and Middle Eastern countries, hardly compatible with the welcome usually extended to "your poor, your tired..."
Human Rights Watch in a post Sept. 11 report published last month had little praise for the policies espoused under George Bush's war against terrorism. "Unfortunately, the fight against terrorism launched by the United States after September 11 did not include a vigorous affirmation of ... freedoms. Instead, the country has witnessed a persistent, deliberate, and unwarranted erosion of basic rights against abusive governmental power that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law. Most of those directly affected have been non-U.S. citizens. Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Department of Justice has subjected them to arbitrary detention, violated due process in legal proceedings against them, and run roughshod over the presumption of innocence."
To this day hundreds of Americans remain under detention in the U.S., and recently a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration does not have to immediately reveal their names, not to mention the fighting combatants held in legal limbo on Guantanamo bay, Cuba, whose numbers are scheduled to grow before they diminish. None of them have been charged thus far and half a year after their captivity tens have attempted suicide. As Sept.11 wades into the history books the U.S. National Education Association is suggesting to teachers that they be careful on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks not to "suggest any group is responsible" for the terrorist hijackings that killed more than 3,000 people.
This criticism of the war on terrorism, extends well outside the United States. Recently Iran, which had reacted to the terror attacks with rare demonstrations of support, was back to its old ways of bad-mouthing the U.S. for "misusing the war on terror" by planning an attack on Iraq. Saddam Hussein as target is being built up as the natural extension of the war on terror, which, after the ouster of the Taleban in Afghanistan, also reached various regional hot spots such as Yemen and the Philippines, directly or covertly.
There is nothing cover about the threat Saddam Hussein in facing, despite the lack of international support to take on the dictator in Baghdad. Even leaders of Kurdish populations, once gassed by Hussein's own army, didn't seem to support U.S. plans for a strike against Baghdad. In fact leading Republicans from Congress, the State Department and past administrations have broken ranks with President Bush over his administration's high-profile planning for war with Iraq, saying the administration has neither adequately prepared for military action nor made the case that it is needed.
Other critics say the Iraqi agenda is stricly personal, because of Bush Sr's inability to end Hussein's reign during the Gulf war, or are concerned the first, rather successful stage in the war on terror, could become undone before America even attacks Iraq. Such are the fears in Afghanistan, where many parts remain under the control the old regional warlords, as they once were, and where fears about the future of the administration of Hamid Karzai have prompted to U.S. to provide the Afghan leader personal protection. It may be some time before the U.S. entirely withdraws from Afghanistan, a surprising outcome for a president both more concerned about homeland issues and a reluctant nation-builder anywhere else.
Then there are those who wonder whether America can even afford to go to war, which could further rattle already battered markets. Nearly one year after the attacks, the industry already weakened and then made the first economic casualty of Sept. 11 remains frail despite billions of dollars in federal assistance. This month US Airways sought bankruptcy protection, while United Airlines considered a similar path. American Airlines meanwhile had to cut 7% of its work force. With America's major carriers racking up over a $1 billion in losses Air Canada looked radiant in comparison. The markets have followed the tech stumbles with added ferocity in view of the scandals plaguing major companies.
But the war on terror, which has taken a local resonance overseas in places such as South Asia's line of control, separating India and Pakistan, and the Middle East, is something America decided it was willing to wage at all costs, visibly with some success. No other acts of terrorism, despite so many terror alerts, were perpetrated in the U.S. since Sept. 11, and while Osama bin Laden's health and whereabouts are the subject of much speculation, his Al-Qaida organization has largely been dismantled.
How long can the U.S. keep its guard up, and has it already let it down? For all the talk of missed signals leading up the Sept. 11, the U.S. would like to think it's done a much better job protecting the country since, and has certainly been spending a lot of money trying. It's arrested one man, Richard Reid, who had possibly planned to lead a follow-up attack since, and will try the first man directly charged in relation to Sept. 11, the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, next year. Whether the world is truly safer from terrorism, unfortunately remains a largely separate matter.
JEAN CHRÉTIEN JETTERA L'ÉPONGE EN 2004
Le p'tit gars de Shawinigan en a eu assez. Après des mois de tiraillement intestinal au sein du parti libéral, le premier ministre Jean Chrétien a fait savoir aux candidats pour la chefferie du parti qu'ils pourront dorénavant s'entre-déchirer sans lui.
A deux ans de la fin son mandat et plusieurs mois avant la révision qui devait l'opposer au populaire Paul Martin, c'est du jamais vu. Après quatre décennies de jeter les gants dans l'arène politique, Jean Chrétien jette l'éponge, causant la consternation chez ses fidèles, visiblement émus, et lançant une campagne dans laquelle l'ancien ministre de la finance a plusieurs longueurs d'avance.
Expliquant qu'il avait décidé de ne pas solliciter un nouveau mandat il y a deux ans mais qu'il avait voulu garder cet agenda secret, Jean Chrétien avoua lors d'un discours télévisé qu'il n'était plus possible de tolérer l'état d'un gouvernement "qui ne fait pas son travail" au vu des nombreuses querelles qui le laissaient "mal à l'aise".
Plus tôt cette semaine ses supporters avaient allongé une réplique au camp Martin en rendant publique une liste de parlementaires appuyant sa chefferie, mais cette tactique n'eut pas l'effet désiré, semant le doute davantage lorsqu'il s'avérait que quelques noms avaient été inscrits par erreur, réduisant la marge de supporters comme une peau de chagrin.
Un sondage précédent avait également laissé comprendre que plusieurs électeurs se détourneraient d'un parti libéral dirigé par Jean Chrétien lors de prochaines élections. "Si c'est encore Chrétien la prochaine fois je ne vote pas," nous avait confié une jeune électrice.
Pris à court par la bombe, le camp Martin prit du temps avant de réagir publiquement. Celui qui avait perdu le concours de la chefferie du parti en 1990 lors du retour de Jean Chrétien sur la sellette politique allait enfin avoir la chance de diriger le pays, un rêve que son père n'avait pu atteindre à l'heure de la Trudeaumanie. En fin de compte, Paul Martin n'eut que des éloges pour le premier ministre, lui qui doit dorénavant préparer une bataille à la chefferie qui pourrait l'opposer à un protégé du premier ministre.
Jean Chrétien a rendu sa décision publique après en avoir informé son caucus, réuni à Saguenay pour préparer la saison parlementaire. Il espérait ainsi mettre fin aux "chicanes" pour gouverner sans distraction, mais pour le bloquiste Gilles Duceppe et certains autres, cette annonce, si longtemps avant la fin de son mandat, fait de lui un dirigeant "en tutelle", sans autorité, un peu comme les derniers mois d'un second mandat présidentiel américain, puisqu'un troisième est interdit.
Il y a un peu de vrai là-dedans. Alors que plusieurs fidèles réagissaient comme si on venait d'annoncer une mort, certains réseaux de télévision diffusaient déjà des rétrospectives presque funestes.
CONTAGION IN THE AMERICAS?
Slightly more than a year after countries of the Americas agreed to embrace free-trade by 2005, there are signs of a backlash against the free market economics that many view as having proven disappointing these last few years. Economic troubles in South America's largest countries, Brazil and Argentina, account for much of the backlash, trickled down to small neighboring economies.
The latest example of this is Uruguay, where the value of the peso has plunged after banking operations were suspended to try to stem a crippling run on deposits. If it sounds like the financial scourge recently responsible for riots in Argentina, that's because the crisis is in large part due to the aftershocks of the nearby earthquake in Buenos Aires. There is no lack of other examples.
In Brazil, South America's largest country and its economic engine, revulsion with American-led market orthodoxy has fueled strong support for the labor leader Luiz Inacio da Silva, known as Lula, who is now the front-runner in the October presidential election, to the dismay of worried financial markets.
In Paraguay, protests last month blocked the $400 million sale of the state phone company by President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, whose government has been dogged by a dismal economy and corruption charges. Recently deadly demonstrations led the president to declare a state of emergency.
In Bolivia the country's political landscape was redrawn weeks ago when Evo Morales, an indigenous leader who promised to nationalize industries, finished second among 11 candidates for president. This spring, the sale of 17 electricity distributors in Ecuador fell through in the face of political resistance, a blow to a country that has adopted the dollar as its currency and is heavily dependent on foreign investment. In Peru, protests have been shaking cities like others across Latin America recently.
Finally, in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez's left-leaning government has been intent on scaling back reforms, exacerbating the divisions that led to his brief ouster in April, still the source of violent battles in the streets. The backlash in many of these countries gathered momentum after the economic meltdown in Argentina that forced a change of leadership and resulted in widespread rioting. Today that country remains in a perilous state of flux.
Across Latin America, a popular and political groundswell is building against the decade-old experiment with free-market capitalism it seems. The reforms that have shrunk the state and opened markets to foreign competition have enriched corrupt officials and faceless multinationals, but failed to better their lives, many agree.
Some good did arise from the experiments. Sky-high inflation rates were scaled back in many countries and bloated state bureaucracies were replaced with efficient private companies that created jobs in many industries. The formula gave Chile the most robust economy in Latin America and boosted exports in Mexico significantly in the last dozen years. In Bolivia, poverty dropped from 86 percent of the population in the 1970s to 58.6 percent today.
But much of this is easily forgotten in the face of the current backlash. In Uruguay it wasn't long before the lack of confidence, now contagious in view of the crises next door, stripped hundreds of millions of dollars from the country's financial system as the economy suffered from the knock-on effects of the meltdown in neighbouring Argentina. A painful reality in a country where banking is one of the mainstays of the economy.
Latin America has never really seen sweeping support for free market economies. While free-trade with Canada and the United States has been beneficial to Mexico since it was gradually introduced ten years ago, it immediately found a voice of protest in native Chiapas populations that resonates today among anti-globalization demonstrators. "The most worrying reading is that perhaps we have come to the end of an era," said Rafael de la Fuente, chief Latin American economist for BNP Paribas in New York. "That we are closing the door on what was an unsuccessful attempt at orthodox economic reforms at the end of the '90s."
Sensing the foul mood in the hemisphere so soon after last year's optimistic prognosis, and fearing an even deeper Brazilian mess sweeping much of South America, the Bush administration reversed its policy of non intervention by injecting a much-needed infusion of cash in Uruguay, all the while the health of America's own economy remained questionable at home amid financial scandals and fears of an economic double-dip.
The Bush administration announced a temporary loan of $1.5 billion to the tiny economy lodged between Brazil and Argentina, as the familiar cash restrictions led to violence in the streets. Earlier Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had sparked tensions when he said he would not loosen the purse strings on his crucial visit of Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, fearing capital flight. While the slump in Brazil is perhaps the least related to the crisis in Argentina and mostly home-grown, it no less is potentially the most damaging in terms of regional repercussion. The prospect of a presidency less friendly to the markets in the coming election has hit its currency hard.
Brazil's failure to have an economic Ronaldo to call upon leaves it at the mercy of international financiers such as the IMF and United States. The former eventually agreed to lend Brazil an extra $30 billion, in an effort to put the country's finances in order. All must be quite aware of the drag on the global economy of yet another regional crisis.
JEAN PAUL II A RASSEMBLÉ
"Le pape ce n'est pas seulement une statue, une effigie que l'on bouge de gauche à droite, de pays en pays. Il a un véritable message à passer aux jeunes et il est très adapté aux réalités d'aujourd'hui," explique avec clarté Eric Jeanvillier, un jeune catholique martiniquais, dansant et chantant, en chemin vers les terrains de Downsview, ou les Jeunesses mondiales allaient fracasser l'ancien record de participation à un événement religieux au Canada. 800,000 jeunes y ont participé en tout malgré l'alternation de temps pluvieux et venteux ou accablant de chaleur.
A la fin de la messe du dimanche, cette remarque de pélerin est matière à reflexion, tellement le pape est au bout de ses forces et doit être déplacé sur roulettes, tandis que plusieurs jeunes volontaires tentent de le toucher au passage, espérant arracher une bénédiction dont ils se souviendront toujours. Un spectacle un peu triste mais passager seulement, puisque le lendemain Jean Paul II a voulu poser un dernier geste courageux en remontant, avec peine mais détermination, les marches de son avion au lieu d'utiliser l'ascenseur papal, comme il l'avait fait à son arrivée.
Entre les deux événements, le pape aura reçu des jeunes sur son ile de Strawberry island, accueilli les hordes sur le terrain Exhibition place, puis le surlendemain à nouveau lors d'un vigile sur les terrains de l'ancienne base militaire de Downsview, une veillée tardive qui a duré jusqu'à dix heures du soir pour le pape, des centaines de milliers de fidèles attendant son retour le lendemain pour une messe très spéciale. "Ce sera le plus beau moment, explique la jeune Martina Zanetti de treize ans, presque en pleurs, c'était déjà tellement incroyable de le voir en personne au lieu de regarder un écran télé. On se dit qu'on tiendra le coup sans brailler, puis les émotions nous gagnent et les larmes coulent abondamment."
Malgré la masse humaine, un rapport très personnel s'est développé entre ces jeunes venus d'un peu partout dans le monde et le Saint Père, fondateur des JMJ, auxquelles il invite d'ailleurs tout le monde en 2005 en Allemagne... Ce corps porté par l'âme, comme on l'a si souvent décrit ces derniers jours, "ce vieux pape un peu fatigué" comme il se décrit lui-même, ne manque pas de lucidité cependant, voyant le besoin, avant la clôture des JMJ, d'adresser quelques mots à propos des scandales qui secouent l'église.
"Ne vous découragez pas devant les fautes et les manquements de certains de ses fils ! Le préjudice causé par certains prêtres et religieux à des personnes jeunes et fragiles nous remplit tous d’un profond sentiment de tristesse et de honte, a-t-il declare. Mais pensez à la grande majorité des prêtres et des religieux qui vivent généreusement leur engagement, et dont l’unique désir est de servir et de faire le bien ! Aujourd’hui, il y a ici beaucoup de prêtres, de séminaristes et de personnes consacrées: soyez proches d’eux et soutenez-les!" Des centaines de prêtres, spécialement invités dans les sections V.I.P., écoutent avec attention et lui donnent une ovation pour marquer leur appui, une adulation de jeunes scouts en fait. Même si selon les manifestants, qui maintienne une présence dans le silence, c'est trop peu trop tard. Le fiasco de relations publiques survient la veille de la messe lorsque deux prêtres du New Jersey sont accusés d'avoir été impliqués dans un réseau de pédophilie montréalais, une enquête qui se poursuit toujours.
Les mots du pape, que plusieurs n'espéraient plus, ne pouvaient plus attendre. "C'est bien qu'il en ait parlé, mais je suis content qu'il l'ai fait le dernier jour et qu'on n'en ait pas fait tout un plat lors de ces JMJ, explique un jeune américain du même état que les prêtres impliqués, je suis heureux qu'on n'ait pas essayé de tout régler ici et qu'on ai pu s'amuser un peu."
Ah ca oui. Les jeunes pélerins ont veillé tard la veille, plusieurs chantant et dansant au plein milieu de la nuit torontoise. Minuit passé commence même un spectacle dont l'éclat, qui a bien duré jusqu'à trois heures du matin, en a surpris plusieurs près des haut parleurs. "A cette heure là on ne s'y attendait pas", raconte Teressa Savok, installée près de la scène, une position privilégiée si l'on pense aux centaines de milliers qui ne suivront les événements que sur écran géant.
Le matin de la messe, une pluie diluvienne met la foi à rude épreuve et retarde le début de la messe. A ce moment là, les vents se calment, la pluie disparaît, et le soleil baigne la congrégation de ses chauds rayons. Car rien ne résiste très longtemps a Jean Paul II. Même une jeunesse, qui supposément, ne va plus a l'église.
A CLASH OVER THE STRAIT
Two countries at odds over a smorgasboard of issues for decades, even centuries. One of them, in a daring move rift with symbolism, sends a few bold soldiers plant the national flag on a deserted islet claimed by the other in heavily contested waters. The other responds by sending a fleet of warships. Greece and Turkey have entered a new crisis? Remarkably not. The tension flared near the strait of Gibraltar, not the Aegean sea, and Spain and Morocco initially insisted there was more swaggering and symbolism at stake than lives.
Then the tension rose markedly. Both countries after all shared more than a few contentious issues. Spain lost patience with Morocco over clandestine immigration last year, when the number of asylum-seekers reached new highs, and summoned its ambassador to stress the situation had become "unsustainable", "unacceptable", and criticizing Morocco, and not for the first time, for not doing enough to stem the flow during the period of the year when the fine weather made it easier to cross the strait of Gibraltar. In October Morocco unexpectedly withdrew its ambassador to Madrid.
The countries also share fishing disputes and Rabat disagrees with Madrid's insistence that a long-delayed self-determination referendum be held on the Western Sahara, a territory formerly controlled by Spain but abandoned in 1975. Then relations between the two countries became even more strained when Spain sent warships to reassert its sovereignty after 12 Moroccan soldiers landed on Perejil ("parsley") island, a barren rock just off the Moroccan coast that Spain says it has controlled since the 17th century but which has been sitting empty for decades.
The Moroccans planted their country's flag claiming the football-field size island ``has always been an integral part of Moroccan territory,'' according to Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa. He said policemen, not soldiers, were sent there for a ``simple surveillance operation in a sensitive zone'' and would remain for ``for the time being.''
But that could not stand for too long. Spain's Deputy Interior Minister, Pedro Morenes, flew to the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to reassert his country's claim to nearby Perejil Island and seek support from allies, especially the EU, in pressuring Morocco. He told reporters that Morocco should "understand that its attitude is truly inadmissible." Moroccan Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi meanwhile promised to "avoid making the conflict more dramatic," as his Spanish counter-part, Jose Maria Aznar, warned "Spain will not accept these facts on the ground," in a speech to parliament.
After nearly a week of a dialogue of the deaf, Spain decided it had had enough and took back the island without firing a single shot. It didn't take long before the Spanish flag was flying again on Perejil, and before Morocco responded by saying the provocation was akin to an act of war and risked further escalation. The ball in its corner, Spain offered to withdraw its troops if Morocco stayed off the island, and so far that agreement is holding.
The incident came as Morocco began several days of celebrations for King Mohamed VI's wedding, a ceremony boycotted by Spain, suggesting the bold military move may have been a cheap wedding gift, but amid the symbolism lied real stakes and issues. Morocco insists it has had authority over Perejil since it gained independence in 1956. It claims to want the rock to fight terrorism and illegal immigrant trafficking. Spain's reaction "has surprised us a lot," said one Morocco government spokesman, "It's disproportionate."
The tensions mobilized Spanish warships, submarines, surveillance planes and even attack helicopters, as well as brought stricter controls at borders crossings to the enclaves, where the true issues lie. Border guards there had to add to the usual immigration concerns, tensions with the neighboring government.
Last September's attacks in the U.S. also made the border a sensitive subject. At least one arrested Saudi al-Qaida operative who planned to attack U.S. and British warships with zodiacs full of explosives made it a habit of freely moving between the Spanish enclaves and Morocco. The small crisis out of the way, observers point out it is just a glance into the potential nightmare of Spain and Morocco eventually clashing over the two Spanish enclaves in Northern Morocco.
When Spain relinquished its protectorate in Morocco it retained Ceuta and Melilla as well as the islets associated with them, notably Perejil island, a rare islet that's isn't occupied by the military. The two city enclaves are duty-free areas that have been granted the status of autonomous regions in 1995. Moroccan claims dominate political life there, as well as the extension of Spanish nationality to the non-Spanish (Muslim), who make up nearly half the population in Melilla. Changing the demographics is lack of job opportunities which is sending many young Spaniards to the mainland. But while those who remain are among the poorest in Spain, Melilla is relatively opulent by local Moroccan standards.
Like that of Perejil Island, the status of the Spanish enclaves has been contested for years by Morocco. In 1999 Prime Minister Youssoufi said it was time to rethink the status of the two cities in the spirit of "de-colonization" seen with the handover of Hong Kong. But a spokesman for the Spanish government made it clear the issue would not be on the table during a visit by the Spanish prime minister to Rabat that year: "The situation of the two pockets (the two cities) is determined in the constitution and therefore there is nothing to be changed."
Morocco's claim to the islet to fight terrorism or smuggling may have been opportunistic, the main message remained unchanged: Morocco is insistent on the turnover of local Spanish territory. Spain meanwhile maintains the cities and islands were Spanish for centuries before Morocco existed as a country. The last weeks may have been just a opening salvo.
DOLDRUMS IN THE COUNTRY OF ATATURK
Turkish politics became undone this month with the resignations of dozens of members of parliament protesting the refusal by Bulent Ecevit, the prime minister, to step down despite his ailing health. Last week Ecevit put a temporary end to the crisis by throwing the towel and calling for November elections that could put the secular country in the hands of an Islamic party, but for awhile even that suggestion seemed up in the air.
The crisis reached considerable proportions when both the foreign and economy ministers temporarily left the political scene. Turkey's economy is still struggling to end a crisis in which it shrank 9.4 percent last year, with vast layoffs and is in dire help of funds from the IMF. The economy minister Kemal Dervis, eventually returned, a key player considering his close ties to the International Monetary Fund, which backed his recovery plan with $31 billion in loans.
But the departure of tens of lawmakers considerably reduced the number of crucial seats in Ecevit's party, just short of the number needed for a vote of no confidence but leaving the Democratic Left Party (DSP) at the mercy of other coalition-builders. Nationalists took over as the biggest party in Parliament. The Turkish Daily News reported that with the aftershocks of the political quake that shattered the ruling DSP, almost all of the leading actors on the Turkish political scene were busy waging a "tactical war" against each other.
Contributing to the deep divisions within the crackling, ruling coalition, were reforms demanded by the European Union. The political confusion harmed Turkey's ties with the union as European Commission president, Romano Prodi, canceled a visit to Turkey scheduled for this month, citing the government crisis. Before Turkey can join, the Union, the country must first begin contentious reforms, including abolition of the death penalty and wider rights for the country's Kurdish minority. The lack of an agreement on Cyprus, and the possibility the Greek half of the island would enter the EU alone is also a potential flashpoint with the Union.
The turmoil also disturbed what is regionally America's closest military ally, a NATO member, and this wasn't going unnoticed by U.S. military planners. Helena Finn Kane, the director of Turkish studies for the think-tank, the Washington Institute, claimed that the "unpredictable and slippery" developments in Turkish politics threatened to create a paralysis in Turkey's relations with the European Union, and U.S. efforts to topple the Saddam regime in Iraq."
In the midst of the turmoil U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was joining the top U.S. military commander in the region and a State Department official in Ankara for the talks with Turkish political and military leaders. Previously a Turkish government official said his government was warned by U.S. intelligence about a biological or chemical attack, resulting from substances smuggled into the country to be used against the U.S. and Russian embassies.
Aware of the importance of good relations with the U.S., Turkish lawmakers were in a difficult position on the issue of Iraq because of fears the toppling of Saddam Hussein would lead to the creation of a permanent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which could prove a boost for Turkey's own Kurdish minority. But other more hawkish elements, on the contrary, saw an opportunity for a land-grab in northern Iraq if Saddam were removed. Most Turkish lawmakers lie somewhere in between. Ecevit himself said he preferred a "non-military settlement to the Iraqi question" but also told the BBC discussing the use of bases there for strikes on Iraq could not be made in the open. But he also warned the U.S. could become bogged down military if it decided to take Iraq on.
Kane claimed in her report that it would be difficult for the United States to persuade the Turks to dethrone Saddam Hussein under present conditions, but the need for financial support to prop up its economy may prove convincing. Early elections might bring a pro-Islamic party, currently the country's most popular party, into government, and this has made Ecevit hesitant to stick by decisions for a Nov. 3rd vote.
Such an electoral outcome would dismay not only Turkey's Western allies, but also secular generals in the vast Muslim land straddling two continents that was Westernized by Kemal Ataturk. But the last few years have seen a resurgence of Muslim militancy in Turkey, so delaying such an election may have its own consequences.
LA NOUVELLE AFRIQUE
Après le changement de relations avec les pays riches envisagé au sommet du g8 au Canada, l'Afrique veut changer les relations entre ses pays membres, en lançant une formule qui a la témérité de se calquer sur celle de l'Union européenne. Le moins bien nantis des blocs mondiaux, celui de l'Afrique, s'engage dans tout un défi si la volonté d'effectuer le rapprochement économique et politique prescrit reste sincère.
Il y avait tout à ce 38e sommet de l'Organisation de l'Unité Africaine à Durban, également le premier de l'Union africaine, pour illustrer la mosaïque africaine, puisque presque la totalité des chefs d'Etat du continent y étaient: A la présidence, Thabo Mbeki, côtoyé par Nelson Mandela, symboles de l'Afrique du sud emancipée et du moteur économique; également présent, le désespoir personnifié avec Robert Mugabe, dont le pays croule sous la ruine économique, la famine, et pratique presque un apartheid inversé.
Dans un sens, il y avait bien peu de raison de croire à quelconque changement, sinon celui du sigle, avec quelques bonnes intentions en prime: "nos peuples ont besoin de démocratie, de bonne gouvernance, d'une corruption éradiquée, de droits de l'homme, de paix et de stabilité". Une longue liste de principes sur un bien grand continent.
Comme l'UE, l'UA se veut un modèle d'intégration de niveau économique et politique sans tenir compte des différences entre membres, ce qui n'est pas toujours facile en l'occurrence. Kofi Annan, le secrétaire-général de l'ONU a servi un avertissement aux convives de Durban: "Gardons-nous de prendre nos espoirs pour des réalités (...) d'imaginer qu'une fois proclamée, notre Union deviendra une réalité sans plus d'efforts de notre part."
Car alors que l'UE divise les membres de la monnaie unique ou de la zone Schengen des autres, l'UA divise les dictatures des démocraties en voie de développement, un degré de différence appréciable. Alors que l'UE se penche sur les problèmes de l'immigration et du chômage, l'UA doit agir encore plus impérativement contre la famine, les conflits et le épidémies. Difficile de mentionner les deux ensembles d'un même souffle.
Kofi Annan reposait sur de vastes généralités lorsqu'il a évoqué l'expérience euro-péenne en guise de repère, notant qu'il faudra "beaucoup de vigueur et une volonté politique de fer, ainsi que la patience voulue pour se prêter à des négociations et des compromis qui paraissent interminables", une phrase qui malgré son allure comportait, dans le contexte africain, un message d'espoir.
Comme l'UE, l'UA sera dotée d'un Parlement, d'une Commission, d'une Banque centrale, d'un Fonds monétaire africain, d'une Banque africaine d'investissement et d'une Cour de justice. Une liste déjà pas facile pour l'UE, dont les institutions législatives fonctionnent avec une complexité parfois kafkaesque, sans parler du manque de coordination au niveau des relations extérieures.
Sur ce point, l'UA a peut-être manqué une occasion de partir du bon pied en refusant de reconnaître le nouveau président du Madagascar, un des rares absents des 53 membres de la nouvelle organisation. L'UA a tout de même innové sur le plan des relations entre membres, en se dotant d'un Conseil de paix et de stabilité inspiré par l'ONU (également composé de 15 membres, mais sans veto) pour gérer les nombreuses crises. Un geste bien pragmatique peut-être, maisqui démontre bien les embûches à franchir pour aboutir à ce modèle d'UA, encore si richement utopique.
WHY WORLDCOM SUDDENLY MATTERS
"Capitalism Kills" and "The Enemy is Profit," the cries of the reactionary fringe and protesters heard during international meetings of world leaders such as the recent summit of g8 ministers in Calgary may be finally touching a chord in the midst of the accounting scandals at mega corporations such as Enron, ImClone, and more rencently Worldcom.
Following the latest investigation of book-keeping fraud at the former bright star of the technology boom, U.S. president George W. Bush intervened for the first time to voice his worries the scandals could rock "American confidence in free-enterprise". The intervention came as world leaders were gathered in Kananaskis, Alberta, their minds focused on other issues such as aid to Africa, terrorism, arms of mass destruction and the Middle east, and passed unnoticed even among protesters who had a hard time getting their message heard in the oil-rich conservative town.
To stem the flow of bad business news, which has sent the once recovering markets sliding again, Bush announced new policies to protect shareholders and punish unethical executives. Incidentally, as he recommended criminal penalties for executives who file misleading reports with the Security Exchange Commission, Bush himself tried to downplay reports of an internal SEC memo dating back to 1991 citing his failure to file timely reports of his own business interests and transactions, well before he was elected Texas governor. Furthermore there were fears the administration would seem hypocritical waging its new war against "cooking the books" in view of the lawsuit against vice-president Dick Cheney dating back to his involvement with Halliburton, an energy company with its own accounting irregularities. Few are immune it seems.
Neither sexy nor at times apparently relevant, stories of high finance rarely gathered such attention, usually revolving around insipid subjects such as takeovers, mergers and acquisitions. Intrisically complicated and awash with platitudes, they may have been the lead of specialised cable channels but otherwise failed to touch base with the general public. That was before Enron, which wiped away millions of dollars in life savings for thousands of employees and initiated a rippling effect which brought down the company's accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, one of America's largest, soon shredded to pieces itself like so many documents it had handled.
Interest was soon on the rise, in tandem with the popularity of stocks which were once backed by what some thought to be relatively trustworthy brokers; until they were found to privately trash the stocks they were urging investors to gobble up. In retrospect it seems that while corporate America reconsidered its priorities after the illusory rage of the dot.coms - which somehow suggested the old business models based on companies actually paying dividends didn't apply anymore - a large sector of the old business environment was thriving with irregularities.
Now as America dreads at the scope of its latest scandal, which could lead to the greatest bankruptcy in U.S. history, the importance of the news phenomenon is illustrated in the ratings boost of the once fledging CNBC business channel. The day it broke the story Worldcom inflated earnings by hiding nearly $4 billion in expenses, the cable network had 29 percent more viewers than on a typical day this year. A boost CNN usually experiences during major events such as the Gulf war and war on terrorism.
Somehow the main business stories managed to make their way into the mainstream. While not sexy in themselves, the scandals did lead to a few racy sidebars as wives of former Enron employees posed for a special issue of Playboy called "The women of Enron", enabling even financial collapses to make their imprint in American pop culture. Then came the new alphabet barbs of Chief Embezzlement Officers (CEOs) and Corporate Fraud Officers (CFOs). Some even wrote poems on the fall of the mighty, such as France's aggressive media mogul Jean-Marie Messier, dumped by giant Vivendi: "The media burns what it once adored; Said Monsieur Messier, then fell on his sword; His entire career turned into kindling -; Not by greed, corruption or swindling; But by something worse in a CEO; That all-devouring monster: Ego."
The bottom line however is serious, and has resulted in a slip of the markets affecting everyone with mutual funds or a retirement plan, and a slowdown of what should really be a resurgent U.S. economy. And all this has already shown signs of moving overseas. Many eyebrows have been raised by the sudden downfall of Vivendi, whose books could be facing similar scrutiny. Meanwhile in the U.K., Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt is floating the idea that executive directors in that country could be stripped of the power to appoint company auditors, in an effort to prevent accounting scandals. She said it would be unreasonable to think such scandals could not cross over the Atlantic quickly. The Swedish prime minister urged similar caution. Now, what was viewed as a model system for a number of regional tigers, is also being reconsidered under the microscope.
Canadians themselves, half of whom have lost confidence in the stock market, don't have to be reminded of the unusual accounting practices which left the top echelons at Nortel claiming their usual extraordinary bonuses, before massive losses were announced at the telecom giant, sending its stock plummeting, a practise condemned, amongst others, by Bush in his announcement on "ethic responsibility". As he was airing it, Worldcom's CEO, Edmonton-born Bernard Ebbers, hid behind the 5th U.S. amendment to the Constitution to save himself from further embarrassment. Hardly Wall Street's proudest moment.
EVERY COURT ITS PRINCE?
It is referred to by some as the most significant international development since the United Nations charter, but it has also become just the latest about face between the United States and many of its traditional allies, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
At one point the U.S. threatened to veto the extension of U.N. peacekeeping in Bosnia in the U.N. Security Council just to mark its opposition to the International Criminal Court, unless its demand for immunity for American peacekeepers was met. The extension issue is symbolic because it makes Americans in Bosnia subject to the court's jurisdiction. Such are the stakes and such is the controversy as the ICC opened its doors last week, following ratifications by over 75 countries, well ahead of schedule, despite a failed U.S. campaign to discourage them.
That position could seem strange from some angles because the court was largely inspired by specific tribunals on war atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, whose ex-strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, formely America's enemy n.1, sits in a cell in the Hague in the midst of a lengthy and historic trial. The early inspirations were the Nuremberg trials, which tried Nazi officers at the end of the Second world war, under the watchful eye of U.S troops in occupied post-war Germany.
But this is old history, as the U.S. contemplates a future as the sole-superpower where it fears cases it could potentially face in front of such as potent international court could be politically motivated. While the ICC will function with or without U.S. support, to some this is a reminder of other long-forgotten initiatives of global reach, such as the League of Nations which preceded the U.N., but failed for lack of U.S. support.
To many, Washington's position is simply seen as its latest snub in international affairs, from treaties banning land-mines to trade policies embracing protectionism. On more than a handful of these issues the U.S. defiantly stands alone, especially its position on Iraq, over which Washington is still seriously considering military action despite president George W. Bush's insistence there is no plan on the table to target Saddam Hussein, sometimes viewed as the natural extension of the war against terrorism. Recently the New York Times revealed that, in fact, detailed plans of action against Saddam Hussein, from land, sea and air, have been in the works for quite some time. Meanwhile, as joint U.S. and U.K. jet patrols continue their patrols over Iraqi skies, the U.N. and Baghdad are at an impasse over the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq.
Past military action, including slip-ups, notably in the war against Serbia, have hardened the U.S. position against the ICC, especially the incident which involved a miguided attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Further slip-ups in Afghanistan have also spread the fear U.S. soldiers or officers may be held accountable for war-zone accidents.
But court supporters claim many of these worries have already been addressed, leading to checks on politically motivated prosecutions, and point out countries that have ratified the ICC include a number of powers, such as Britain and France, that share many of the same worries, and who have a great deal many more troops in peacekeeping operations that the U.S. (involving less than 1,000 GIs worldwide). The court, which will probably have one sitting Canadian judge, will prosecute those responsible for genocide, crime against humanity and war crimes only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice, another point which court supporters says, makes the U.S. and unlikely target.
Some U.S. generals, such as gen. Wesley Clark, who recalls his orders were investigated in the former Yugoslavia, agree the U.S. has to operate under international law and don't see American soldiers pulling out of peacekeeping. But other U.S. officials say they allowed the current extension of Bosnian peacekeeping not because they reconsidered their stance, but because they project some Security Council members moving closer to their position, which would allow all veto-wielding members, including China, another country which has yet to ratify the ICC, provide immunity for peacekeepers.
If it does not get its way, America is threatening not just to withdraw the small number of troops and officials it has working under U.N. mandates, but to veto all 15 U.N. peacekeeping missions as they come up for renewal. Canadian Foreign affairs minister Bill Graham said the U.S. was threatening to kill peacekeeping with its actions, while U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, warned "The whole system of U.N. peacekeeping operations is at risk." This week the controversy spilled onto the floor of the United Nations, where the Canadian ambassador did not mask his criticism of Washington.
Peacekeeping, like multilateralism, hasn't been America's forte, but the U.S. is being asked to reconsider its stance in view of its need for support in waging the war against terrorism, an effort it concedes, cannot be led without a certain coalition of allies currently insistent that the world has a place for an international court of justice.
KANANASKIS: UN SOMMET POLITIQUE
Les manifestations féroces et tant attendues la semaine du g8 n'ont pas eu lieu à Calgary comme on pouvait le craindre, mais dans les rues de Buenos Aires. Ironiquement, alors que la crise économique qui sévit dans le pays avait de quoi préoccuper les dirigeants des nations les plus prospères de la planête, réunis pour la première fois en 1975 pour discuter de la crise économique qui secouait le monde à l'époque, l'Argentine ne figurait pas parmi les priorités de ce sommet, férocement dédié à l'Afrique mais occasionnellement tourné vers la Russie et parfois le Moyen-orient.
En effet la déclaration du président américain George W. Bush sur sa nouvelle politique vis à vis de l'autorité palestinienne et la remise en question de la présidence d'Arafat, la veille de la tenue du sommet à Kananaskis, ne pouvait passer inaperçue. Malgré ses meilleurs efforts cependant, le président Bush n'a pu voler la sellette, le second jour des travaux ayant été, comme prévu, dédidé à l'Afrique, représentée par les dirigeants du Sénégal, du Nigéria, de l'Afrique du sud et de l'Algérie, joints par le secrétaire général des Nations unies Kofi Annan et le dirigeant dont le pays assure la présidence actuelle de l'Union, José Maria Aznar.
Ce dernier fut d'ailleurs le seul à soulever la crise argentine, encourageant l'Union à tisser de meilleurs liens avec l'ancienne colonie espagnole, qui traverse une tourmente économique et financière depuis l'hiver dernier. Ce sommet tenu presque à huit clos dans les hauteurs des rocheuses canadiennes a été dominé par de nombreuses questions, notamment politiques et diplomatiques, qui effleuraient à peine le domaine économique.
L'Afrique, pas vraiment à l'agenda à Rambouillet, mais d'actualité depuis le sommet de Gênes l'an dernier, et qui sera encore à l'avant-plan l'an prochain selon les propos du président Jacques Chirac, bénéficie d'un nouveau plan d'action. Le NEPAD aura peut-être été signé par M. Bush, moins concerné par le continent noir, il n'aura néanmoins pas plu à tout le monde.
Aussitôt conclue, l'entente qui promet de transformer "assistance en partenariat", a été critiquée par de nombreux groupes selon lesquels elle ne constitue que la dernière tournure d'anciennes idées en matière d'aide au développement. Une réaction qui, à en juger les activités plutôt pacifiques mais parfois bruyantes de manifestants, ne surprenait pas vraiment.
La surprise cependant est venue du camp russe, qui non seulement obtiendra près de 20 milliards de dollars pendant les dix prochaines années pour combattre la prolifération des armes de destruction massives, mais sera l'hôte du sommet du g8, dont il fait partie de manière à présent officielle et intégrante, en 2006. C'est en effet toute une année pour l'ancienne super-puissance de Vladimir Poutine, devenu partenaire privilégié dans la guerre au terrorisme l'automne dernier.
L'intégration russe ne faisait que confirmer le côté plutôt politique de cette réunion, où la Russie est pourtant de loin le pays le plus pauvre. Cela promet de raviver la flamme d'un ancien débat: celui de l'agrandissement du sommet pour intégrer soit des géants régionaux, soit économiques. Mais l'hôte ne pouvait pas s'en plaindre pour autant. Car le voisin polaire, protégé du géant américain, était en effet le dernier pays à intégrer le groupe des grandes puissances, malgré l'hésitation initiale des Européens.
AFGHANISTAN'S BLOODY LEGACY
When Canadian troops leave Afghanistan this summer after nearly half a year of fighting the war on terrorism on the front lines, they won't be alone to go. British troops will follow them, both from commando units fighting alongside U.S. and Canadian troops and peacekeepers defend-ing the capital Kabul, home to chosen and now confirmed leader Hamid Karzai.
This will probably mean more work for the remaining GIs. While one U.S. Lt. general was indicating America will probably be busy in that part of the world for another year at least, its staunch Anglo-Saxon allies are leaving after a tour of duty which over-stretched their military capabilities around the world and will require full-fledged military review. Both Canada and the U.K. will also soon be withdrawing troops from the Balkans, as their armed forces restructure and reconsider international military commitments.
More than ever, the U.S., whose troops are as careful monitoring the home front as they are busy fighting terrorism around the world, appears to be the only super-power able to sustain a strong overseas military commitment for extended periods of time approaching one year. But sometimes even their reach is being examined, and controversy has swirled around their continued presence.
Accidents in Afghanistan have caused casualties among U.S. troops, allies, and even civilians as recently as this week, after U.S. military planes mistakenly bombed a village where a wedding was taking place, killing tens of locals. According to one version, the pilots may have mistaken gunshots of celebration for anti-aircraft batteries.
How familiar. Just last week U.S. and Canadian reports into one of the worse friendly fire incidents of the war, which killed four Canadian troops in April, blamed U.S. fighter pilots for the error as they overflew a nighttime live-fire exercise. They dropped a 500-pound bomb on the troops thinking they were shooting at them and were blamed for not taking time to assess the threat properly before striking. The pilot who dropped the bomb, Maj. Harry Schmidt of the Illinois Air National Guard, and the lead pilot in another plane, will face America's judicial process for their involvement in the incident. Military officials said a 1,500-page report recommended that the two F-16 pilots face an Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, and recommended changes in the squadron of the Illinois Air National Guard's 183rd Fighter Wing.
The multiplying incidents involving civilians are fostering growing Afghan resentment, this week's being the latest accident killing civilians in recent months. Afghan president Hamid Karzai called for more vigilance and an explanation.
While the April incident did not deter the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, over-stretched units accumulating tours of duty after tours of duty overseas have. According to studies recent budget increases and enrolment drives haven't done enough to ensure future growth and technical survival of the Forces. Military ombudsman Andre Marin's latest report says quality of life issues are the top reason people leave the Forces, and longer missions in faraway lands put "immense stress" on individuals, families and resources. In addition he added the military was "rife with discrimination and prejudice in its treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder" and said the top brass didn't appreciate his scrutiny and wanted his monitoring post abolished.
As the Canadian troops leave their base in Kandahar, there is some recognition the Canucks contributed to the war against terrorism in a unique way. In addition to providing communications and base surveillance, the military was credited for supplying water to all coalition forces, in an area of the world where clean water, needed in large quantities to satisfy over-worked and quickly dehydrated troops, is a luxory.
Not only was engineer Sgt. Mark Pennie's water plentiful and clear of diseases, it was also credited as tasting good, something which seemed to surprise him. "Holy smokes, if this is good, I don't want to see what bad looks like," he said jokingly. His feat was to set up what is considered to be the most advanced water purification system in South Asia, a $1 million Canadian-made reverse osmosis purifying machine that supplies 1,300 gallons of pure water an hour, or about 15,850 gallons in the 12 hours that it runs per day. Using huge rubber containers appropriately called 'bladders,' he has enough water on stock for three days. "Dehydration is the big problem. You can't do anything without water," he said.
His was a small but significant contribution which may be indicative of the kind of military support Canada could be limited to providing in the future.
LOTS OF NOISE FOR AFRICA
Africa may have been at the top of the agenda at the g8 summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, it didn't seem to move many industrial countries in the previous world conference on famine held in Rome where few rich countries sent their most senior officials. Even host Silvio Berlusconi, one of two Western statesmen to attend, reportedly shortened the final meeting so he could watch Italy play in the World Cup. Other delegates at the U.N. World Food Summit didn't complain and left early to go shopping. Without Senegal in the quarter-finals, it would be a wonder Africa came up at all perhaps.
In the end, the Food and Agriculture Organization conference was declared a bust, yielding little substance but calling for more open markets with the developing world to foster development, in essence setting up the g8 summit's ambitious development plan. There were fears that if the Rome summit was any indication, Kananaskis was up to become a terrific upset, and to some it did. But host Jean Chrétien did manage to keep Africa and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, a plan developed by African leaders to recognize Africa's own key role in eradicating poverty, bolstering sustainable growth and development, the focus of the last day of talks.
Earlier this year Chrétien completed a sweep of a half-dozen African countries to work the final touches of NEPAD. But while some were calling for freer trade to help Africa out of misery, Canada's position at the g8 summit, in Rome the U.S. defended its new farm subsidies, one of the latest protective commercial measures taken by Washington in this electoral year. "There's a contradiction on the part of the Americans in their policies," Chrétien didn't mind saying in the lead up to Kananaskis, "They raised their contribution to developing countries by five billion dollars but raised their agriculture subsidies, which makes the situation more difficult for farm workers in Africa. Their production can't expand if they don't have access to markets."
The use of biotechnology in agriculture also dominated discussions in Rome. Some African countries dismissed the U.S. idea that a lack of technology in food processing was to blame for world hunger, saying there's more than enough food to go around and laying the blame on distribution. "The main causes of food shortages in the world are really three: wars, protectionism in agricultural products in Europe, the USA, China, India and Japan, and protectionism in value-added products on the part of the same countries," said Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni.
This was echoing opening remarks in Rome by U.N. Secretary general Kofi Annan, who said many countries who can't afford to feed their population cannot afford to import enough either. Canada took advantage of the forum to slam recent U.S. subsidies, a recurrent theme at the meeting of g7 finance ministers in Halifax, the final preparatory meeting before Kananaskis. "The high level of subsidies depresses prices and effectively shuts out producers from developing nations, and we are concerned that recent decisions in the United States are moving in the wrong direction," Canada's agriculture minister, Lyle Vanclief said, finding an echo in the European delegation. Even when the debate in Rome could have turned to the developing world's use, it focused more on chiding the U.S. than achieving anything substantive, a worrying sign as Africa's southern nations face their worse drought and famine in years.
Currently an estimated 12.8 million people in six southern African countries are at risk of starvation because of drought, floods, government mismanagement and economic instability. The FAO has food emergency appeals under way for much of the stricken region as well as for Afghanistan and North Korea, a situation its officials say nonetheless fails to move major industrial countries. "How many OECD heads of state and government have made the journey to this summit of the poor? Two out of 29," protested Jacques Diouf, the Senegalese director general of the Rome-based FAO, "a good indication of the political priority that is given to the tragedy of hunger," he added bitterly.
In Kananaskis, French president Jacques Chirac said Africa had to remain the main topic, not only of this year's g8 summit, but next year's as well, which he will host, to make up for the Rome fiasco. Ironically one leader who did attend in Rome, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, is blamed for food shortages affecting millions of people in his country following the takeover of white-owned farms by loyal militants.
The plight of African countries seems to be coming across for at least one U.S. official recently engaged in a totally separate and unique mission. On the last night of his two-week trip to Africa, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill suggested that he was returning home a changed man. "If you didn't learn something, you're a piece of wood or something," he said at the end of his journey with pop star Bono. Having started the trip convinced that a half-century of aid to the developing world had produced little in the way of results, O'Neill finished it saying there could no longer be any excuse for failure to address the basic needs of the world's poorest people, especially for clean water. "If we approached it in the same way we did the need to beat fascism in the Second World War, in two or three years' period of time, we could bring clean water to all of those people," O'Neill proclaimed, stopping short of declaring war on thirst in the year the U.S. is already fighting the war on terrorism.
For a rare time, his rock star traveling companion and he seemed on the same track: "I like that kind of talk," Bono said. "We're going to lose millions of lives unless there's a significant jump in aid from the United States and Europe," the singer said, turning to the purse string-wielding O'Neill. "The only reason people won't be prepared to make that jump with us is actually the reason why this man is the right man for the job: They need to believe the money will get to the people, and I think he's the best insurance policy I've ever met that the money will be well spent."
The U.S. was the major aid donor to Africa present at the g8 summit, which will be more about changing the way the West donates to Africa than how much will be handed over to alleviate the developing continent's ills. The Bush administration has already put an additional $5 billion a year on the table for helping poor countries, and O'Neill is drawing up the criteria for how that money will be distributed. Diouf says helping developing countries is all about setting the right priorities. "We say, before you go and have a special meeting of the G-8 to discuss the digital divide, you need to look at the three elements you need to live, which is to breathe, to drink and to eat," he said prior to the Rome meeting.
The latest crisis in southern Africa comes from a host of connected problems, from late rains and terrible harvest, to sharp price increases and government corruption. Aid agencies warn that more than 20m people could need help if donors are slow to respond or conditions worsen. Hopefully the World food Programme, which drastically revised its dreadful estimates for the region, says donors are responding well, and have already given $60m of food aid to Africa.
But that won't be enough, and like some African leaders, protesters at a recent bio-technology conference in Toronto say GMOs and biotechnology is still too risky to represent a viable solution. "The science is so immature, we don't know what we are doing," said genetics professor David Suzuki. "If you took Bono out of U2 and stuck him in the Toronto Symphony and said make music, noise would come out but you have no way of knowing what it would sound like." Sometimes it seems Africa is making a lot of noise, but one wonders if it all makes any sense to the ears indeed.
CHECKING YOU AT THE DOOR: NEW MEASURES UNHELPFUL IN CASE OF NEW SUSPECT
On the heels of an Amnesty International report criticizing the U.S. for human rights violations as it leads its war against terrorism, especially on the home front, civil rights leaders are concerned new regulations putting an emphasis on racial profiling and looser FBI investigative powers herald a new round of abuse by authorities. A recent arrest has already put into question the new border measures.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said last week his government will now fingerprint, photograph and register about 100,000 foreign visitors during the first year alone of an anti-terrorism effort that outraged lawmakers and Arab and immigration groups who say Middle Eastern men will be targeted. "This system will expand substantially America's scrutiny of those foreign visitors who may pose a national security concern and enter our country. And it will provide a vital line of defense in the war against terrorism," Ashcroft said.
Visitors subject to the increased scrutiny will be from countries considered by the United States to be sponsors of terrorism and other unspecified nations that critics said are likely to be Middle Eastern. The measures didn't take long to cause mixed reaction, especially following the arrest of Jose Padilla, also known as Abdullah Al Mujahir, a U.S. citizen of Latino origin who is accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in Washington.
A success for intelligence agencies in a hurry to put recent criticism behind them, the arrest nonetheless raised questions about measures intended to stop terrorists at the border, when they may already be operating within the U.S. states. "Al-Qaida officials knew that as a citizen of the United States holding a valid U.S. passport, al Muhajir would be able to travel freely in the U.S. without drawing attention to himself," Ashcroft said. It was fortunate the terrorist suspect left a messy trail of his comings and goings however.
In addition, worries terrorists would have to bring bomb material into the country, as Ahmed Ressam tried to do in 1999 when he was arrested near Seattle, are being replaced by fears they may just try to get them in the U.S. In this light, the new border measures threatened to be more effective alienating Americans than defending them some critics argued. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, denounced the system as employing racial and ethic profiling. "Rather than helping to protect our citizens, these registration rules will only serve to further alienate the American Muslim community and our Muslim allies abroad, two crucial allies in our fight against terrorism," he said.
The plan "smacks of the sort of tactics" used by totalitarian regimes like Iraq, said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized Ashcroft's latest measures as "discriminatory" and likely ineffective. It was just the latest counterterrorism plan from Ashcroft to spark criticism from civil liberties groups and others. Recently he gave the FBI broad new powers to spy domestically at places such as mosques and political rallies in the wake of reforms at the bureau.
Accusations of racial profiling are nothing new to the U.S. The U.S. government uses a program called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System to root out potential terror suspects. Program defenders say it avoids racial or ethnic profiling, though some Arab-Americans have complained.
This Winter a bloc of nations including Saudi Arabia, China and India urged a halt to racial profiling as part of enhanced airport security measures at an aviation security meeting in Montreal, something Washington would not subscribe to. "Such unacceptable practices ... only succeed in causing insult and injury," said a statement by 17 countries presented to a conference of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The U.N. body endorsed an action plan that includes mandatory audits of aviation security in member countries and other measures to combat terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
These latest measures follow efforts to keep tab of visitors who tend to overstay their visit in America and, regulations reducing the number of days visitors can stay. This sparked alarm in Canada, home to millions of snow-birds, but U.S. authorities tried to calm fears Canadians would be kept from making their annual visits, some for as long as six months.
Tighter immigration rules have also been the norm in a number of European countries lately. Last week Italy approved legislation that will require immigrants to show proof of employment, limit their stay to the duration of the contract and make it easier to expel them for breaking the law. This followed stricter immigrations measures put in place in Denmark and England.
Last month Amnesty International said this was a sign of things to come and charged the United States for using the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism to erode human rights and stifle political dissent. In its annual state-of-the-world report, the organization said emergency antiterrorist legislation and changes in trial and detention procedures have contributed to an atmosphere of repression and undermined universal principles of human rights.
The organization's secretary-general, Irene Khan said "in the days, weeks and months that followed, governments around the world eroded human rights in the name of security and antiterrorism." Among the worrying developments, Amnesty said, are a U.S. proposal to try some terrorist suspects before military tribunals and new laws in several countries -- including Canada, Britain and the United States -- making it easier to deport or detain foreign suspects.
Another group, Human Rights Watch, criticized the legal limbo of Afghan detainees on Guantanamo base, in Cuba, and that of detained suspects still held in custody after Sept. 11 in the U.S. "The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) continues to refuse to disclose basic information about people detained after September 11," the group reported earlier this year "Although the INS permitted Human Rights Watch and other groups to visit two New Jersey jails agency officials refused to answer fundamental questions about the detainees and in one of the jails would not allow Human Rights Watch to see where the detainees were living."
Advocates for stronger anti-terrorism measures point out that among the detainees U.S. authorities arrested presumed 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, and say regulations such as the new tighter border controls are necessary. But rights groups are even more doubtful of these tactics after the arrest of Abdullah Al Mujahir, a U.S. citizen, which is once again changing the profile of potential terrorists.
AFTER THE WARNINGS
After struggling to defend its actions leading up to Sept. 11 by insisting that any information it may have had on the imminence of an attack was not of intelligence value, or vague at the time, and while it was unreassuringly warning of future unspecified terrorist attacks, the FBI conceded that the hijackings may have been prevented if its officials had responded in another way to all the information it had collected.
This admission by Director Robert Mueller this week came after the emergence of internal bureau memos which showed that while the agency had collected precious leads, it was inefficient in connecting the dots or pushing the investigation further despite the sometimes desperate attempt of agents who had separately established that Osama bin Laden was planning to send operatives to U.S. schools to prepare terrorist attacks, and that Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker currently in custody, was a suspect worth investigating.
Mueller admits there's a possibility the trail could have led to the hijackers. But centralized authority without centralized analysis and lack of coordination with the CIA, the intelligence agency which took up the FBI's foreign capabilities when it was born, created enough doubts, in hindsight, to launch an overhaul of Hoover's agency, one initially not founded to fight terrorism.
While the reforms, including the hiring of more agents, change of priorities and dramatic overhaul of organization, structure and psychology, will take time, they will have to beat the clock considering the latest, unsubstantiated, warnings of future attacks. Again the nature and timing are familiarly uncertain, what isn't, officials are convinced, is that new attacks will ultimately occur. "In my opinion the prospects of a future attack against the US are almost certain. It's not a matter of if, but when," said vice-president Dick Cheney in one Sunday morning interview. As evidence, officials point to increased al-Qaida communication traffic, similar to that which preceded the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tenants of apartments living in the Western U.S. and Washington were recently shocked to find memos in their mail boxes warning them suspicious characters may try renting units in apartment buildings with the intention to blow them up, something U.S. intelligence also says it picked up along the terrorist grapevine.
Meanwhile the latest videotape to feature n.1 suspect Osama bin Laden surfaced as another one of America's most wanted men, the leader of the former Taleban regime, Mullah Omar, reportedly told an Arab newspaper that Osama bin Laden was alive and well. Intelligence agencies fear Al-Qaida is already regrouping, having claimed responsibility for the bombing of North Africa's largest synagogue, in Tunisia last month, which killed 19. French Intelligence officials meanwhile were linking al-Qaida to a bomb in Pakistan which killed 14 other people, mostly French citizens. After Britain last week, the U.S. and Canada may urge their citizens to leave Pakistan, clearing non-essential embassy staff by fear of bomb attacks.
These sort of attacks could happen in the U.S., and authorities are helpless to prevent them Mueller also recently admitted. Walk-in suicide bombers like those who have attacked public places in Israel will hit the United States eventually he conceded. "I think we will see that in the future, I think it's inevitable (...) I wish I could be more optimistic.'' U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested a worse-case scenario involving the use of weapons of mass destruction, including so-called dirty bombs.
Amid the new warnings, and to some the two are not unrelated, signs are growing that the bipartisan unity which marked post-Sept. 11 politics in the U.S is starting to erode as November congressional elections near. Democratic opponents of the administration were shocked that the Republican party used photos of President George Bush on the phone on Sept. 11 in a campaign ad, reminding the administration it promised not to exploit the attacks. Republicans retorted that making too much of the picture was doing just that. Some Democratic lawmakers also called the latest terror warnings attempts by the administration to detract the attention from criticism of its handling of information it may have had prior to Sept. 11, something unimaginable a few months ago.
Mueller himself was facing heat for limiting access to an Aug. 6 memo from an agent in Phoenix who warned that flight schools were seeing suspicious students. His new plans to reform the FBI and improve ties to the CIA have not deterred Democrats who have proposed an independent commission to investigate the attacks, even as the chairmen of Congressional intelligence committees have announced hearings on them in June.
While current warnings remain just as unspecific as those leading up to Sept. 11, Mueller cited Northern Ireland as one example of law enforcement successfully combating acts of terrorism, by developing sources that provide information about terrorist plans and by using electronic surveillance. But the FBI director admits the difficulty of getting informants inside terrorist groups targeting the United States makes it much harder to obtain advance information. Al-Qaida members didn't just walk up to a recruiting booth, they were chosen.
The U.S. is partly relying on information provided by prisoners at Guantanamo base in Cuba for some of their inside track, even if these individuals have been out of touch with their superiors for months and are sometimes suspected of just wanting to keep the U.S. on edge. Still any information they reveal is seriously investigated, some leading to the recent tightening of security measures at New York City landmarks before Memorial day.
Intelligence officials concede that so much data, whether by fax, phone or email, is intercepted every day, that sorting it in time to prevent an attack is sometimes extremely difficult. A case in point is that according to the New York Times U.S. intelligence is still scrambling to decipher intercepts which indicate preparations for an operation on the scale of the devastating attacks on New York and Washington. It doesn't help when the equipment malfunctions, such as a glitch with the FBI's Carnivore data collection operations which ended up deleting precious data on bin Laden.
Even America's largest intelligence agency, the 38,000-strong National Security Agency mandated to intercept data transmissions, doesn't have enough man-power, especially linguists, to handle the load. If the email communications are encrypted, the difficulty of deciphering the data increases dramatically.
Terrorism was at the top of the agenda at a recent G-8 meeting of Justice and Interior ministers held in advance of this year's G8 summit in Kananaskis. Ministers expressed fears that their countries were doing such a good job cutting funds to terror groups that they would seek the help of organized crime to get financing. The ministers also promoted ways to curb terrorist communications in cyber-space, this as cyber-chatter raises red flags in the U.S.
Canadian intelligence had also heard vague warnings before Sept. 11 that some kind of attack was coming, but nothing detailed enough to guard against, Canada's spy chief said this week. "I think that everybody had warnings that something was coming. Nobody had any specific warnings and certainly we didn't," according to Ward Elcock, director of CSIS.
The latest annual report on global terrorism by the State Department praised Canada's cooperation with the U.S. in the aftermath of Sept. 11, which it termed as "excellent", since it "stands as a model of how the U.S. and another nation can work together on terrorism issues" and echoing much of Attorney General John Ashcroft's praise at the G8 meeting.
But the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in Congress was more critical, saying Canada wasn't doing its share in the fight against terrorism, and calling Montreal a hotbed for terrorists. Wisconsin Congressman, F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. told a Quebec newspaper Canada could be more "pro-active" in the fight against terrorism. "Al-Qaida gets a lot of its financing from Montreal. We greatly encourage the Canadian government to be more aggressive on the matter," he said.
One week later Canada announced it was going to withdraw its ground troops from Afghanistan this Summer, ending a major part of its contribution to the war on terror overseas. But tracking down terrorism at home continues. Last week the Ontario government said an al-Qaida cell was recently driven out of the province by law enforcement officials. The public safety minister described the group as a "sleeper" cell, but wasn't able to say where the terrorists may have gone. Federal officials were sceptic about this information.
Meanwhile a Montreal man suspected of teaching convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam how to create bombs was told he would be deported to his native Algeria. It's plain to see that Jean Chretien won't find it easy to keep terrorism from hijacking the g8 leaders' Summit, which he wants devoted primarily to aiding African nations. As a sign perhaps, unprecedented security measures at the summit will make the government spend as much money as it intends to give Africa in its aid package.
TOUJOURS LE CACHEMIRE
Il vient de remporter un référendum confirmant son mandat avec 98% des intentions de vote mais le president pakistanais Pervez Moucharraf reste un homme bigrement préoccupé. Voilà qui en dit sans doute long sur la signification ou la légitimité du vote.
Il dirige il faut l'avouer un pays tiraillé par de nombreux intérêts, plusieurs divergents, au coeur de la région la plus dangereuse du monde. Et puis ce n'est pas facile d'être le Pakistan, un pays partageant un nombre de frontières hostiles, sans pour autant être à court d'indésirables au sein de ses propres frontières. Encore, faut-il empêcher ces fâcheux éléments de se marier, de métastaser comme un cancer géopolitique et social.
Non le référendum du mois dernier remporté par le chef de l'Etat, n'a en rien assuré sa survie ou sa quiétude et ce pour quelques raisons qui le portent en partie responsable. Depuis l'attaque il y a deux semaines d'un camp militaire indien par des militants pakistanais près de la ligne de démarcation, où sont massées plus de 1 million de troupes dit-on, Inde et Pakistan sont au bord de la guerre.
Rhétorique fulgurante, sourdine diplomatique et essais de missiles stratégiques n'allègent en rien cette lourde atmosphère guerrière, surtout dans cette région déchirée depuis l'indépendance. Lieu d'origine des kamikazes de l'attaque contre le parlement de Delhi selon les Indiens, territoire occupé et lieu de maltraitement de la majorité musulmane selon les Pakistanais, l'étendue de pics himalayenne divisée qu'est le Cachemire fait à tort ou à raison trembler la planète. Car de plus en plus, les craintes stratégiques les plus effroyables s'y sont deplacées.
L'entente américano-russe sur le démantèlement d'une bonne partie de l'arsenal stratégique et le nouveau partenariat à égalité de Moscou au sein de l'Otan éloignent les pires craintes associées à la guerre froide du continent européen. Mais elles renaissent avec une vitalité farouche sur le sous-continent asiatique, même si l'option nucléaire y est largement extrapolée.
Comme si cette situation ne suffisait pas pour préoccuper le militaire qu'est Moucharraf, il faut se rappeler les autres, celles qui sont reliées au conflit afghan et à la guerre au terrorisme; une crise externe et interne. La passoire qu'est la frontière pakistano-afghane, notamment les régions dominées par les chefs tribaux, met Islamabad bien mal à l'aise, notamment les rumeurs d'infiltration taliban et d'al-Qaida au Pakistan.
En fin d'année encore, Moucharraf refusait de croire aux théories de survie en clandestinité de bin Laden sur son territoire, jusqu'à affirmer la mort certaine du suspect n.1 des attentats aux Etats-Unis. Mais cette semaine des anciens du régime taliban prétendaient confirmer la survie de bin Laden et des haut-placés de l'ancien régime de Kaboul, ainsi que le regroupement du réseau terroriste - assisté des groupes islamiques militants opérant au Cachemire - en prévision de nouvelles attaques. Les renseignements pakistanais confiaient au New York Times qu'il y avait raison de croire à l'existence de ces alliances et ces infiltrations, malgré l'entêtement de Moucharraf.
Ce dernier nie également que son pays exporte des militants terroristes ciblant l'Inde, mais là encore l'auditoire international reste extrêmement sceptique.Sans parler de Delhi, qui refuse tout dialogue tant que le Pakistan n'aura pas démantelé ses "camps d'entraînement" dans la partie du Cachemire sous son contrôle. "Laissons le monde reconnaître qu'aujourd'hui, l'épicentre du terrorisme international se situe au Pakistan", a declaré Jaswant Singh, chef de la diplomatie indienne.
Si le chef d'Etat pakistanais dort si mal c'est parce qu'il a une part notable des responsabilités dans la situation, en commençant par son jeu de l'autruche, sans oublier l'appui aux groupes islamiques militant pour la cause nationale au Cachemire et pas moins de trois essais de missiles lors des derniers jours. Washington est d'autant plus embarassé que Moucharraf est devenu un allié fidèle et téméraire dans la guerre contre le terrorisme, même si les résultats sont moins qu'exemplaires dans les régions du pays où le régime taliban et bin Laden comptent de nombreux sympathisants.
Washington, Londres, et même Moscou redoublent les efforts diplomatiques pour éviter le choc, qui selon les estimations les plus prudentes pourrait causer des millions de morts. Sans être une crise internationale comme celle qui a été déclarée contre le terrorisme, le conflit regional pourrait être à l'origine de scènes apocalyptiques selon le ministre des affaires extérieures britannique Jack Straw: "morts, destructions, maladies, ruine économique, touchant non seulement la zone immédiate mais plusieurs régions du sous-continent, et ce pendant des années". Assez pour ne plus jamais fermer de l'oeil.
EAST TIMOR'S MOMENT TO CELEBRATE
The birth of the world's 192nd nation was a moment of triumph for the United nations which came three years after it had stood helpless as a referendum it had sponsored led to bloodshed in the streets. Still the celebrations, on May 20th, that marked the end of successive Portuguese and Indonesian occupations on the Eastern half of Timor island, are but a brief moment of respite before the arduous task of rebuilding resumes. The troubles had indeed affected many of the infrastructures which leave the population of under a million among the poorest, least-educated and least employed in the world.
The participation of the United nations is giving the country a head start in some departments however, by putting in place the institutions of government, while international financial organizations and donor countries are helping provide the start-up funds that could one day lead to true Timorese independence. So far $2 billion has gone into restoration of peace and the country's reconstruction.
Since 1999, Canada's share has been $12 million, including the training of police forces expected to keep the rule of law after some of the U.N. contingents have started withdrawing. Canada's foreign affairs department warns Canadians against venturing outside of the capital, Dili, especially along the Western border. "Services elsewhere are limited or non-existent. International calls are possible only from Dili," the latest country report states. The capital itself isn't devoid of all risks: "The crime rate is high. Violent attacks against foreigners have occurred. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and theft has increased, especially in the market area in Dili. Do not travel alone, especially at night." But the border area remains the riskiest: "Travellers are not permitted to travel to Belulik Litan, Nanu, Tilomar, or Fato Mean due to militia activity in western border regions." Solicitor general Lawrence MacAulay was Canada's representative at the independence ceremonies which were presided by the recently-elected Timorese leader, Xanana Gusmao, a poet and former guerilla commander whom many see as the necessary conciliator that will preside over the much needed period of reconciliation.
The country remains after all just the half of an island, the other, still part of Indonesia, being where hundreds of militias responsible for the bloodshed of 1999 have sought refuge. The U.N. is helping ensure the long-term healing, in part by organizing a series of reconciliation meetings, and by setting up the trials that will bring to justice some of the most brutal instigators of violence. At the highest levels, the presence of Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri at the ceremonies, someone once critical of East Timor's search for independence, has sent the signals that the newfound independence has been sanctioned by the former, the most recent, ruler of East Timor.
Human rights trials meanwhile are to tackle some 650 cases related to the post-referenda violence. On March 18 a landmark court date saw 18 Indonesian officers and pro-Jakarta militiamen stand trial for rights abuses in East Timor. Last December another landmark trial resulted in the conviction and jailing of 10 suspects wanted for 13 murders and other atrocities, putting temporarily to rest disappointment over the slow pace of proceedings. The Catholic church meanwhile, highly influential in this predominantly-Christian country, is spearheading reconciliation hopes by staging town meetings where violators have been seeking pardon from their victims. For the lesser offenders, community service is also being considered as a means to heal the wounds.
Other matters are also showing promise. Australia signed the first treaty permitting East Timor to tap offshore oil and gas reserves, one of the country's great energy and hard-currency prospects. And much is being done to compensate in areas where the country is seriously lacking. "The ratio of spending on health and education is the highest for all countries - developed and developing - in the Asia-Pacific region," said Sarah Cliffe, the World Bank's chief of mission in East Timor. "The East Timorese have made huge efforts to put forward a sensible national development plan." This unprecedented investments in health care and education holds promise for future generations that will hopefully grow up without having known the carnages of war in East Timor.
And it owed it all to the United Nations. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Timorese independence day "marks a signal success for the United Nations." Australia's U.N. Ambassador John Dauth said the U.N. effort in guiding East Timor to independence in 2 1/2 years "shows what the U.N. and the Security Council are capable of achieving with the right mix of political will and flexible and creative decision-making, on the basis of sustained international support (...) We all owe it to the people of East Timor and to the United Nations to ensure that the success story continues," he said. In its first act, East Timor's legislature voted to sign the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and join the 189-member United Nations later this year.
CHIRAC RE-ELU DANS LA CONTROVERSE
Les résultats du premier tour, dont ne se remet toujours pas la France malgré une cure de manifestations massives, auront au moins accompli une bonne chose: mis un terme au moins temporaire à l'indifférence des Français vis à vis de la politique, une vague qui pourrait se prolonger jusqu'aux élections législatives, que certains entameront avec des airs de vengeance, ou alors où l'on pourrait assister à une triste confirmation des faits récents.
Les résultats du second tour, par leur taux de participation (80%, soit huit points de plus qu'au premier tour) autant que par le nombre de voix portées pour Jacques Chirac (82%), ou contre Jean-Marie Le Pen (18%), ont marqué le réveil de la société civile française, à l'heure où la nouvelle révolution prenait des accents d'intolérance.
"J'ai compris votre appel" a lancé le président ré-élu. Il a promis d'effectuer un important rassemblement, de se pencher sur "des problèmes longtemps négligés" et mettre la France sur un "nouveau chemin de croissance et d'emploi", tout en menant la lutte contre l'intolérance et l'extrémisme. La France vient d'effectuer "un grand élan" pour "réaffirmer son attachement aux valeurs républicaines, dit-il, votre choix est un choix fondateur".
Le Pen, voyant des complots de toutes parts, préparait déjà la défaite en ces derniers jours de campagne, ses rêves de deuxième coup de tonnerre volatilisés comme les partisans qui n'osaient plus se présenter aux événements sanctionnés par la Front National, et ce même dans leurs bastions du sud. Le soir du vote il s'est tout de même déclaré satisfait de son score, même si les résultats étaient bien en deçà du 30% qu'il espérait, ayant fait face à un front commun qui avait selon lui utilisé des "méthodes soviétiques".
Malgré le résultat final, et historique, le nouveau mandat du président ré-élu Jacques Chirac laisse plus à désirer que le précédent, lui qui n'a pas véritablement dû faire campagne depuis le 21 avril, où il n'avait récolté qu'un cinquième du vote, soit moins que le quart conféré à George W. Bush en novembre 2000. Un sondage le soir du vote donnait un portrait plus transparent de la politique: 49% des Français disaient faire confiance à Chirac, contre 48% qui ne lui faisaient pas confiance.
Succédant à Lionel Jospin en tant que premier ministre, jusqu'aux législatives de juin, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, un modéré, mettra temporairement au placard la cohabitation, mais son règne sera de courte durée puisque d'ici le prochain scrutin le gouvernement ne pourra pas passer de nouvelle loi.
Le Pen quant à lui, qui à 73 ans devait participer à sa dernière présidentielle, aura laissé une marque indélébile sur ces élections de 2002, année au courant de laquelle il aura soulevé plusieurs tabous traditionnels, et coincé le Français moyen dans l'exercice d'une cynique léthargie. Alors que les Français parlent d'accident de parcours, il n'y a nul doute que les sujets inattendus de la campagne, l'insécurité et l'immigration, préoccupent plus que l'Hexagone.
Quelques jours avant le vote du 5 mai, les élections régionales en Grande-Bretagne, où la critique avait été si cinglante, ont donné de nouveaux sièges au British National Party nationaliste, un parti dont on peut parfois confondre la rhétorique anti-immigrante avec celle du FN. La réaction de plusieurs électeurs avait été comparable à celle des frontistes déclarés: "on vous dit que le National Party est d'extrême droite et raciste, mais ce n'est pas le cas, dit Sharon Kenyon, une travailleuse sociale dont le mari a récolté un siège dans Burnley pour le BNP, ai-je l'air de ce genre de personne? Je suis une personne normale de tous les jours qui travaille et paie ses taxes".
Là également, les politiciens de tous les niveaux avaient fait appel à un vote pour faire blocage au BNP. "Je leur demande de voter pour un des partis principaux pour exclure le BNP, a dit en vain le premier ministre Tony Blair, le BNP préconise des méthodes qui ne constituent pas des solutions aux grandes questions, elles divisent les communautés, donnent de faux espoirs et ne font que livrer la haine et la division". Encore heureux que le BNP n'air pas récolté d'autres sièges à Oldam, là où la division et la violence raciale avaient fait les titres l'an dernier.
Lors du premier tour en France, c'était aux régions allemandes de crier leur mécontentement, comme au Danemark et en Italie avant elles, où l'extrême droite est devenue essentielle au fonctionnement d'une coalition gouvernante par définition morcelée. Aux Pays-bas, Rotterdam tombait également aux mains d'un extrémiste xénophoble qui voulait en faire une plateforme lors des prochaines élections. Mais à quelques jours du scrutin qui devait lui donner plusieurs sièges au sein du parlement néerlandais, Pim Fortuyn a été tué lundi par un inconnu qui l'a criblé de balles à Hilversum, un rare assassinat déploré par la population hollandaise entière.
La réaction internationale après le deuxième tour en France était teintée d'un certain soulagement. Tony Blair a vite réagi au rejet de Jean-Marie Le Pen et à la ré-élection de Jacques Chirac en qualifiant les résultats de "victoire pour la démocratie et une défaite pour l'extrémisme et la politique répugnante que représente Le Pen". "Tel que l'avaient indiqué plusieurs, il s'agissait d'un référendum sur la démocratie autant qu'une élection, a déclaré pour sa part le chef de la diplomatie canadienne, Bill Graham, le peuple français a clairement indiqué qu'ils rejetaient la xénophobie et la forme radicale de l'approche que préconisait Le Pen".
Plus sobres de leur expérience, les Français sont-ils au bout de leur calvaire? Pas ceux qui redoutent ce qui pourrait se passer dans un mois lors des élections parlementaires, où selon notre collaborateur, l'auteur et journaliste engagé Marc Armengaud, les législatives promettent un menu de droite qui pourrait rendre la prochaine cohabitation ingouvernable. "Ca sent mauvais pour la sixième république, nous dit-il estimant que cette élection aura été du vrai gâchis, Chirac sera élu mais fragilisé, jusqu'à l'absurde, la gauche a perdu son meilleur chef de gouvernement, et le racisme et la haine sont devenus des actes citoyens... j'aimerais arriver à être vraimant marrant ou sinistre, mais il y a du grotesque macabre dans cette histoire." Dimanche, comme plusieurs de gauche, il aura voté, contre son gré, pour Chirac.
Incapable de voter car en voyage constant, notre correspondant Benoit Levaillant dit que la nouvelle a facilement réussi à le rejoindre aux fonds de l'Asie: "J'ai déjà pris quelques remarques de la part de voyageurs qui m'ont interrogé sur quelle sorte de démocratie était la France." Des plus anciennes, elle n'a toujours pas fini d'apprendre de précieuses leçons.
FREE AT LAST IN BURMA
To counter the well-circulated but ill-conceived notion that no news is good news and that if it bleeds it should lead, the NPU is pursuing its recent series of positive news spins, started with the prospects of peace from Angola to Sri Lanka, by reviewing Myanmar - the country formerly known as Burma - where the freeing of Nobel-prize winning pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 56, this week after 18 months of house arrest is a move the autocratic government of Rangoon hopes will "mark a new page for the people of Myanmar".
It was the second time in a decade the leader who massively won 1990 elections was confined to her home, a detention that prevented her from visiting her dying husband in England by fear of not been allowed back in the country to lead pro-democracy forces.
Educated in England after her family fled Burma and the tyranny of the autocratic leader which headed the country since 1962, part of her stature stems from the fact that she willingly left the comforts of the West in 1988, after the military crushed a popular revolt, to lead the struggle for democracy in her homeland.
Stoic as ever, she insisted in her first public appearance however that her release should not be looked at as a major breakthrough for democracy, "For all people in Burma to enjoy basic freedom - that would be the major breakthrough," she said in front of thousands of cheering supporters who greeted her as she arrived at the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy.
But she stressed her release was unconditional. "I hope to be able to carry out all my duties for my party and my country in the best possible way," she said, pointing out that talks between the military government and the opposition started in 2000 had finally progressed to the stage where they could begin to tackle policy issues.
UN envoy Razali Ismail brokered the talks, polishing the image of the world body at a time of stalled peace talks in the Middle-East and irrelevance in Afghanistan. "I'm very grateful for the role that the UN has played and for what Mr Razali has done. I am cautiously optimistic," Aung San Suu Kyi said. "Most of the changes over the past 18 months have benefited the NLD, but it is not for the NLD but for the people of Burma that we are struggling for freedom," she said, pointing out the slow pace of release of political prisoners.
The junta came to its senses partly because of international pressure, as Burma has faced international isolation and economic sanctions over the issue and over its human rights record. The government began secret talks with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000 - a move hailed as a breakthrough. But in recent weeks, the international community has been voicing its impatience at the lack of progress.
Aung San Suu Kyi is just the latest Asian daughter of an independence hero, Aung San, to be looked upon to lead her nation, but while the junta is expressing hopes of a new public involvement in the political process, little concrete has been said of improving freedoms in the short term, let alone a potential transition of power to the leader elected twelve years ago.
"We shall recommit ourselves to allowing all of our citizens to participate freely in the life of our political process, while giving priority to national unity, peace and stability of the country as well as the region," said a government spokesman announcing her release.
The government has made a series of conciliatory gestures, including the releases of what human rights groups say are about 250 of an estimated 1,500 political prisoners.
The United States has made it clear that any relaxation of its economic sanctions — which have been joined by the European Union and international donor agencies — would require the unfettered freedom of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.
The democracy leader was freed as relatives of Myanmar's former dictator Ne Win, were arrested last month on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the military government, are going to be tried for high treason. Ne Win's regime came to an end after popular protests in 1988 which were met with a violent military crackdown, inspiring Aung San Suu Kyi to return home.
According to reports, the government announced her release in a deal under which she would co-operate with the junta in administering humanitarian work in fields such as health and education, which are severly ailing in the country.
Some democracy activists remained cautious however. "The release by itself means very little," said Jeremy Woodrum, director of the Washington office of the Free Burma Coalition. "It's important to remember she was released in 1995 after six years and nothing changed. We don't want her release to be just her moving to a bigger cage."
NEPAL: A LONG WAY FROM HOME
On his way to the usually idyllic and etheral Kathmandu, capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, globe-trotting correspondent Benoit Levaillant wanted to fulfill a life-long dream of visiting the naturally endowed and protected city of timeless Hindu temples but so far his journey has been a dangerous trek and struggle to get from point a to point b rather than a truly enchanting journey that dreams are made of.
He arrived in the capital "under a huge storm," he writes, a political as well as a weather-related comment. "It took a long 22 hours bus ride to get there, and about 50 police or army checkpoints. The political situation is very tense because of the Maoist rebel movement."
The country made headlines last year amid the flurry of violence which saw one Nepalese king assassinated and another commit suicide before a highly controversial one took over. Popular King Birendra and other royals were mowed down by a drunken crown prince who then shot himself in June. And that was just a break in the usual lingering violence that generally goes unreported and that squashes traveller dreams.
A journalist, one would think Benoit would cherish the opportunity to be on the front-lines of a little-known history in the making, but the threat of violence is often enough to make one reconsider. "A terrorized Israeli shouted: 'don't take the night bus, you're going to be shot down!," he recalls, saying it was enough to pursuade him not to head for the mountains by himself. He hired a guide instead for an eight-day trek in the Annapurna region, hoping to escape some of the violence inspired by Maoist rebels who contest the rule in Kathmandu.
The rebellion wants to replace the constitutional monarchy with one-party communist rule, and was seen as generally benefiting from the uncertainty that reigned in the capital during the bloody royal transition. It didn't take Benoit long to see what he was getting himself into when he tried to leave the tea-rich region of Darjeeling, in India, to cross the border. A Maoist strike initially prevented him from reaching Kathmandu, throwing many of his plans in the air, not to mention stretching his shrinking rupee budget.
The Maoist insurgency is now six years old and has left thousands dead, dozens in recent weeks alone, and the Maoists in control of about a quarter of the country. The government has slowly lost ground and has been embarrassed by recent attacks such as the destruction of the prime minister's country home. The attack came two weeks after 3,000 rebels attacked two rural police posts, killing over 80 policemen and capturing their equipment.
Needless is it to say that the government is desperate for foreign financing for much-needed military equipment such as night-vision equipment for helicopters, automatic weapons and rocket launchers, among other items. According to the New York Times, the U.S. administration hopes to send $20 million in military aid to help Nepal fight the Maoist insurgents, what some call a likely precursor to further military involvement.
The country's strategic location, sharing borders with China and India, makes it a small but significant presence where the U.S. is considering some level of involvement, a message felt during visits by Nepal's foreign secretary to Washington last month and a trip by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to Kathmandu in January. Any U.S. military aid, which could lead to some sort of American military presence, would be sure to raise eyebrows in India and China, leaving the tiny country more than ever in the wake of major regional powers.
But the Nepalese government is busy enough trying to figure out a domestic solution to its problems than to start meddling into international affairs, a role is usually shies away from. The government is seeking to extend a state of emergency to help fight the bloody rebellion following a violent, five-day general strike sponsored by the rebels, the one that left Benoit and countless others stranded at the border. The Himalayan kingdom first put emergency measures in place five months ago, giving the army sweeping powers to crush the Maoists. According to reports 16 rebels who launched a string of violent attacks to enforce the strike were killed by security forces, before the strike fizzled out. The death count has been heaviest amongst the rebels, 2,000 of whom have died since the kingdom imposed the state of emergency. That quickly doubled the death count of six years of rebellion.
While rare adventurers have sought to enter the kingdom, many others are scrambling to exit the other way. Officials said some 1,500 Nepalis have fled to neighbouring India, terrified that Maoist guerrillas would force them to hand over their children to join the rebel fight. In February, Nepal's parliament extended the emergency by three months, until May 25th, unless extended again by parliament. "The emergency has helped improve the security situation and the government plans to request the parliament for another extension," Information and Communications Minister Jayaprakash Prasad Gupta said. "Extension of the emergency is required to further improve the situation."
The government is holding consultations with opposition groups to drum up support to get the emergency rule extended in parliament, a constitutional requirement. But the measures can't be extended indefinitely, and the insurgency could continue for as long as 10 years, according to some estimates. This has become a long time in royal history in the Himalayan kingdom.
Recently the rebels have extended an olive branch, saying they were ready for talks to try to end the bloody rebellion. The offer came amid calls by mainstream political parties for them to end their violence and resume dialogue and as a defense ministry spokesman said 22 rebels had been killed in fighting across the country since Wednesday evening.
"Key political parties, the intellectual community and people are stressing (the need) for talks and dialogue for a positive political solution... We welcome the initiatives and are ready to take any step to that end," the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) said in a statement repeating earlier offers to talk.
"We urge everybody not to mistake this sense of responsibility of ours to the country and people as a weakness or that we are desperate for talks." But Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been rejecting any talks until the rebels surrender. "We have to crush the Maoist terrorists," he said recently. In the mean time the blood is yet to dry in the land of the Yeti.
FIRST CANADIAN COMBAT CASUALTIES SINCE KOREA
War is a dirty business. Its officers practice and train for missions and duties they would rather not have to accomplish. They sprint into action often when the worst-case scenario is on the horizon. That's why soldiering, especially in Canada, is a break in the usual practice of preparation, management, and especially, budgeting.
Recent weeks illustrate the point. All the action surrounding the Defense Department occurred leagues away from Afghanistan, nearly an afterthought, where Canadian soldiers are involved in their first combat operations since the Korean war. The federal Auditor-general's stinging report on government spending pointed out insufficient funding to the military and lack of good administration practically in the same breath. Then America's plan for a newly structured North American defense, sort of an extension of NORAD to cover all branches of the military over the continent, sparked fears Canada would lose some of its of sovereignty in the House of Commons.
Only hours later would the true realities of warfare emerge, casualties. Canada lost the first soldiers under its flag in combat since the Korean war, four infantrymen killed, one from every region of the country, and eight injured, some severely, not in hot pursuit of al-Qaida fighters, but in a friendly fire incident during a training exercise when a U.S. F-16 fighter not taking part in the training mistakenly dropped a precision-guided bomb on them, thinkling it was coming under attack. It wasn't the first incident of friendly fire in the war in Afghanistan, which has now been going on for more than half a year.
As a matter of fact, an echo of the Gulf war, more soldiers have been killed by friendly fire or accident than by the enemy. On Dec. 5, a B-52A dropped a bomb on U.S. and Afghan forces near Kandahar, where the latest incident occurred, killing three Americans and at least seven Afghans, and slightly wounding Hamid Karzai, now Afghanistan's interim leader. The investigation isn't complete, but officials have said there were errors in transmitting target coordinates to the B-52. On Dec. 22, U.S. aircraft struck a convoy near Khost, killing dozens of Afghans. Some Afghans say the convoy was carrying tribal leaders to Karzai's inauguration, but U.S. military commanders insist it was a legitimate target.
Then last month an American fighter pilot reported that he had identified enemy on the mountain and wanted to "light 'em up," according to military sources. His commanders later realized it was a mistaken identification of Canadian troops as enemy, and the bombing was called off just five minutes before it was to begin. Just earlier four American soldiers were killed while blowing up unexploded rockets, also near Kandahar.
To the concerned number-crunchers, these rare cases of Canadian casualties alone are enough to raise further worries about the future of the military. When prime minister Jean Chrétien off-handedly suggested recently that Canadian soldiers could eventually be sent in a peace-mission to the Mideast if the situation called for it, defense critics pointed out the Forces can barely manage to keep a steady rotation in Afghanistan and the Balkans, where the greatest concentrations of Canadian troops overseas are located. The suggestion wasn't necessarily a worry-free one in the present context, since 53 of the 106 blue-helmeted Canadian troops killed since 1948 were struck in Egypt, trying to separate Israeli troops from their enemies in the Sinai.
Despite a recent quadrupling of the advertising budget, the military loses more people than it hires the Auditor-General report says, adding it could take 30 years for the military to build a stable population. And of those who are in uniform, fewer are much-needed qualified experts the report goes on, since many have been lured by the private sector in recent years. The situation is expected to get worse in the next several years as more soldiers finish their mandatory terms of service.
The report cites how the Canadian military had to store away $164-million worth of satellite equipment partly because it would have had trouble getting the 50 people needed to run it. The Auditor-General described the organization as so short on expertise that it had to leave a destroyer idling at anchor because it didn't have the skilled sailors to put to sea. The Forces also can't find soldiers to fill posts with NATO and NORAD, as the U.S. goes ahead with its plan to create a new military structure called Northern Command to defend North America.
The accident occurred as the two countries are increasing their military, security and intelligence cooperation, and Canadian officials clearly wanted to avoid any public backlash against the United States. Something hard to avoid when the backlash comes directly from the public. "We have so many questions to be answered," Mr. Chrétien told the Commons. "I want to assure the families and the people of Canada that these questions will be answered."
As both countries launched their separate inquiries, "military cooperation" seemed to be an oxymoron. Furthermore some Canadian politicians fear Canada would militarily come under U.S. command under the new structure, which is the reality in Afghanistan, citing as example the fact that NORAD, the joint air command, would fall under the command of the new structure. "The sovereignty of Canada cannot be taken away by this decision made by the administration of the United States," Chrétien told the Commons to reassure nervous politicians. "This decision by the American administration about their own defense, it is their own business. The defense of Canada will be assured by the Canadian government."
As president George W. Bush offered his condolences to the prime minister and Canadian families, combat had brought a pause to the usual carrying out of business, like the commemorative moments of silence. An infrequent reminder that a distant war rages on still. On the day former Afghan king Zahir Shah returned to Kabul after a long exile, the sacrifices that made those joyful moments in the Afghan capital possible couldn't be more apparent near Kandahar.
Another pause beckoned, echoing in the great halls of the country and four funeral services in particular. How could this ever be allowed to happen?
LA FATIGUE QUI USE L'APPUI PEQUISTE
A trente deux ans, il s'agit d'un des membres les plus jeunes de l'Assemblée nationale, ayant quelques mois de plus à peine que son patron, Mario Dumont, jusqu'à récemment le seul et unique membre de l'Action Démocratique du Québec. Dans le Saguenay, François Corriveau, c'est un p'tit gars du coin qui personnifie l'esprit de jeunesse et de changement qui s'est emparé des élections partielles récentes.
Le changement, ça c'est un mot que redoute le Parti Québécois, vieilli de ses huit ans au pouvoir et du cumul d'échecs qu'il traîne avec lui. En perdant les trois éléctions partielles d'avril le compte était à six échecs lors des huit votes qui ont suivi l'ascension inattendue de Bernard Landry au pouvoir. La tendance des sondages en dit long, plaçant les Libéraux de Jean Charest en avant par environ 14 points, une avance qui ne semble que se creuser, tandis que le degré de satisfaction avec le gouvernment glisse près de la barre des 40%.
Landry se dit avoir été bien au courant du défi qui l'attendait en prenant le gouvernail, mais le fait qu'il ait eu a déclarer qu'il ne lacherait pas prise avant les élections en disait déjà long sur les chances du PQ, terrassé par les chiffres et l'histoire, qui enseigne qu'il n'y a pas eu de troisième mandat de suite au Québec depuis les années 50. Puis il y a eu l'histoire des clacages de porte, deux intimes du pouvoir sortis pour une affaire de lobbying et deux autres insatisfaits du remaniement ministériel qui devait rajeunir l'équipe.
Pourtant tout le monde semble avoir les traits plutôt vieillis avec l'approche d'une éventuelle élection qui devra avoir lieu d'ici l'automne 2003. Que l'économie au Québec se porte mieux qu'ailleurs n'a rien à voir, selon Louis-Philippe Barbeau de la firme de sondage CROP, les Québécois son tannés du gouvernement actuel et lui en veulent beaucoup pour sa gestion du système de santé: "les gens veulent goûter aux plaisirs de la vie, au confort, et ne veulent pas être malades", dit-il, ajoutant que des problèmes d'intégrité semblent aussi se poser au sein du parti de René-Lévesque.
Puis il y a la chute libre de la souveraineté, la raison-même du PQ mais dont le prochain référendum reste lointain selon le ministre des affaires intergouvernementales Jean-Pierre Charbonneau qui affirme qu'"il n'y existe pas d'échéancier référendaire à court terme". Ou même à plus long terme. La souverainté, c'est après tout un rêve qui était cher à Lucien Bouchard, lui qui a dû avouer son échec en tirant sa révérence l'an dernier, et selon Barbeau les intentions de vote sont de retour à ce qu'elles étaient en 1980, guère mieux.
Puis il y a l'essoufflement de la rhétorique nationaliste. A titre d'exemple plusieurs athlètes auraient ressenti un certain malaise lors d'une cérémonie célébrant leur performance à Salt Lake City en entendant Landry parler du regret de ne pas avoir vu hissé le fleur-de-lysée ou de ne pas avoir entendu un hymne national québécois. "Des athlètes m'ont dit que, malgré leur sympathie pour le parti de M. Landry, ce n'était pas la place pour faire ça, a affirmé le député libéral Norman MacMillan. C'est hors contexte."
La souveraineté elle aussi paraît de plus en plus hors contexte, mais un détail constitutionnel fait de sorte qu'elle ne s'effacera pas complètement. La semaine dernière en effet l'Assemblée nationale a été unanime en condamnant le rapatriement de la Constitution sans l'accord du Québec, un événement que Landry a qualifié de "jour sombre dans l'histoire de la démocratie canadienne et québécoise". Selon lui, le "coup de force" d'il y a vingt ans justifie encore l'appel à l'indépendance.
Mais Barbeau n'en est pas si sûr: "Ce qui s'est passé en 1982, franchement, ça commence a être de la vieille histoire", dit-il. Corriveau en est bien d'accord, lui qui a pourtant voté Oui en 1995, mais qui se dit prêt à passer à d'autres priorités. Après tout, il n'avait même pas le droit de vote en 1982.
CHAVEZ GETS A SECOND CHANCE
Violent protests in the streets of Latin America, a tense game of political musical chair leaving the direction of a country in disarray, it all sounded too familiar, but as the weekend ended and a new week began in Caracas, so did a second chance for Venezuela's president, former military man Hugo Chávez, restored to power two days after being forced from office.
Determined to show he had learned a serious lesson of humility in the hands of his own men in uniform, Chávez avoided vengeful criticism of his opponents and pledged to help reconcile the deep political divisions that ignited the most serious political crisis in his tumultuous three-year presidency. "I am issuing a call for understanding," he said after he resumed his presidential powers. "I, too, have to reflect on many things. And I have done that in these hours."
The country Chávez returned to after 48 hours in the hands of his military captors remained a profoundly divided country, as seen by the massive rallies both calling for his resignation on Friday after some of his supporters had shot protesters rallying in the streets of Caracas against his policies, and over the weekend in the massive demonstrations calling for his return, mostly composed of the poorer elements of society who still see him as a national hero. At one point divisions within the military itself spread fears of a shootout between different branches.
Chávez remains criticized by business and military leaders who attempted to oust him for his heavy-handed policies. They're skeptic when Chávez says he's prepared to ``make corrections." "I do not come with hate or rancor in my heart, but we must make decisions and adjust things," the returning president said.
The U.S. meanwhile, which had not considered Chávez's ouster much of a loss because of his heavy-handed socialist policies and close links with Fidel Catro, remained stern it its criticism of the leader. "I hope that Hugo Chávez takes the message that his people sent him: That his own policies are not working for the Venezuelan people, that he has dealt with them in a high-handed fashion," said National security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. In his most extensive comments on the situation, U.S. President George Bush later admonished Chávez to follow through on his promises of reconciliation. At the same time however questions were being raised about a possible U.S. implication in the attempted coup when it became clear some U.S. officials had been in contact with the coup plotters.
Chávez's return, halfway into his six-year presidential term, was greeted more enthusiastically by worried Latin American neighbors, concerned about the historic implications of a military-led coup, even while power had momentarily been turned over to a civilian who promised elections. Leaders from Mexico to Paraguay had raised questions about the circumstances of Chávez's removal and threatened to impose sanctions on the leaders of the coup. The Organization for American States passed a resolution condemning the "alteration of constitutional order" in Venezuela and called for a return to democratic rule.
The interim government had in its short time in power dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the government and sent others into hiding. The president's aides said several people involved with the plot were under investigation, including Pedro Carmona Estanga, who had been appointed president of the interim government, however they insisted the president would not conduct a political witch hunt.
Still some of his opponents aren't so sure about this apparent act of goodwill, expressing skepticism about gestures of reconciliation and worrying Chávez would ultimately persecute dissenting military officers and other political opposition leaders. Prominent business leaders say their attitude is "wait and see. His words sound conciliatory and in the right direction. Let's hope it lasts. The wounds are very deep."
The country's major cleavages are social, dividing Venezuela along class lines. Poor people on the west side of Caracas, who helped Chávez get elected in 1998, had propelled his return to power. But business leaders, the Church and scholars see his return along the lines of dictatorship. As a round-table on national dialogue is set to begin, so is an investigation with important ramifications into the deaths of at least a dozen people during the initial protests. Anti-Chávez forces accuse the president of sending armed thugs to attack protesters calling for his resignation. In all over 40 people were killed in the course of the furious events, over 300 others injured.
Chávez's initial conciliary gesture at least seemed to head into the right direction. After saying he wouldn't be vengeful in his return he announced that a board of directors opposed by executives at the state-owned oil monopoly had resigned. An internal power struggle in the company had swelled into the popular rebellion which led to bloodshed that in turn ousted Chávez from power. Further actions will determine whether his return will be as short-lived as his ouster
LA PAIX EN ANGOLA?
Du fond de la jungle angolaise, ou il est parfois facile de se perdre et de ne plus être trop sûr si la guerre froide se poursuit toujours, les rebelles de l'Unita, émanciés et désorientés depuis la mort de leur dirigeant et de son second, font l'appel a la trêve apres une guérilla de plusieurs décennies. Ce n'est pas la première fois, des accords de paix ont déjà été trahis, comme il y a huit ans, par Jonas Savimbi, le chef rebelle tué le 22 février par l'armée gouvernementale. Mais plusieurs, rebelles ou non, sont pressés de croire à cette nouvelle réalité, tant d'années après le retrait des Cubain, Sud africains, Americains et mercenaires qui jadis alimentaient le conflit.
"La guerre est terminée et la paix est revenue pour toujours", a déclaré, dans une adresse à la nation le président angolais Eduardo dos Santos, promettant "des élections libres, justes et transparentes", sans toutefois avancer une date pour leur tenue. Un détail sans importance à première vue quand on se souvient qu'une trêve antérieure avait été violée suite aux résultats de l'élection de 1992, qui plaçaient Savimbi second. Cette reprise des armes valut aux rebelles de perdre le soutien de Washington.
Dix ans plus tard, la mort de Savimbi a donné lieu à une ascension inattendue, celle d'une guerrier farouche jadis opposé à toute trêve ou entente de paix devenu, avec l'âge et les circonstances, créateur de consensus et promoteur d'une nouvelle paix. Jadis terroriste, le général Paulo Lukamba a même été reconnu à titre "d'homme de substance" par des émissaires des Nations unies qui louent ses tentatives d'unir derrière lui une Unita désemparée et meutrie.
"L'Angola ne sera plus comme avant, déclare-t-il, nous nous engageons dans une nouvelle ère, une ère de cooperation. La confrontation militaire est déjà du passé." Tant mieux, pourvu que Lukamba puisse compter sur le soutien des différentes factions des rebelles, ce qui n'est pas toujours le cas. Mais le vieux général demeure quand même le meilleur interlocuteur en vue des pourparlers de paix qui planent à l'horizon.
Après le bâton, la carotte. Les rebelles une fois rapiécés par la machine militaire de dos Santos, Luanda propose tout de même l'amnistie de jadis, ainsi que des plans d'intégration des guerriers d'Unita dans les rangs de l'armée nationale. Washington ainsi que d'autres capitales louèrent l'entente signée la semaine dernière, la quatrième lors de ce conflit qui aura bien fait un demi million de victimes depuis l'indépendance en 1975. Un tiers de la population de 12 millions a été déplacé par le conflit dans un pays qui compte une mine antipersonnel pour chaque habitant.
IT'S TOUGH BEING A ROYAL SUBJECT
The empire the late Queen Elizabeth once ruled is slowly ebbing away. Five years after the hand-over of Hong Kong and twenty since the Falklands war, it's still not easy being a British colonial possession.
Spanish authorities are trying to calm fears of joint sovereignty amid the residents of Gibraltar, many of whom took part in street protests against the idea last month on the 'Rock', at the southern tip of the European continent. Thousands of miles away meanwhile, the few thousand residents of the long disputed Falkland islands, a population ten times smaller than Gibraltar's, living leagues further away from the motherland, watch on nervously as the debate rages on, in a backdrop of Argentinian claims to the islands off the coast of South America.
They may have been a fair attempt to distract the population from Argentina's painful economic collapse by the part of president Eduardo Duhalde, but the comments made in a ceremony paying tribute to lives lost fighting Britain for control of the 'Malvinas' in 1982 have left the citizens of Port
Stanley in no mood to celebrate Britain's last major naval victory. "It's called liberation day but it isn't quite like that. For the islanders too many people died for it to be a celebration," said British governor Donald Lamont. Meanwhile, 3,000 kilometers north, in Buenos Aires, Duhalde made his claims of the islands clear. "The Malvinas are ours," said Argentina's president in an event marking the country's 648 casualties suffered during the 74 days of battle two decades ago, "soaked with the tears and the blood of our heroes. (We'll claim them) not by going to war but with solidarity and the support of our sister nations that have long supported our claims."
Meanwhile few events were scheduled to mark Britain's victory, which came at the cost of the lives of 255 Britons. It wasn't lost on some that the architect of Britain's defense, which forged her image as the "Lady of steel", Margaret Thatcher, the usually outspoken former Tory prime minister, had just been barred from public speaking due to illness. Twenty years later in fact, Britain was more in a state of mourning than joy, following the passing away of the beloved 'Queen Mum', who in her lifetime had seen the might of Britain's imperial reach being chipped away little by little.
And so it remains still, five years after the hand-over of the pearl of the colonies, Hong Kong, to China. Yet it hardly seems easier to let go of the remaining possessions. "Better dead than Spanish" read signs in the streets of Gibraltar, where according to Spanish officials, reactions have taken an 'anachronistic' turn. Josep Pique, Spain's foreign minister, said Gibraltarians should stop resisting change, describing the territory's colonial status as "unsustainable".
But feelings understandably run deep in what has been a British possession for nearly 290 years. It was only 120 years later, in 1833, that the Falkands, which had once been a French possession, were also passed from Spanish to British hands, the defense of which was assured at great cost after Argentinian troops stormed the island in the early hours of April 2nd 1982. Argentina could claim the World cup of soccer in those days, but not the few sparse islands off its coast, sending the British armada into high gear thousands of kilometers away. For the invading troops would not hold the richly sought-after 'hand of God' claimed by Maradona.
While unmoved by events to mark the victory, which occurred on June 14th, the British subjects of the islands have much to be thankful for, especially compared to their continental neighbors. While the latter suffer in economic misery, the islanders are enjoying a resurgence felt in greater prosperity as well as higher population numbers. The official Falklands web site celebrates the fact that the islands constitute "a dynamic society and the per capita income among the highest in the world due to the small numbers and prosperous fishing industry". If anything, the fishing prosperity, which has replaced the islands' old sheep-herding base to the point of making Atlantic Canadians severely jealous, is also a testament of the cooperation between Argentina and the islands which has been forged since 1982 in the fisheries industry.
But the ostentatious wealth is enough to make Argentinians uneasy, not to mention the islanders' assertion that Argentina may owe its democracy to Thatcher, who has a number of streets named after her in the islands, and who's victory in the 1982 war is viewed as having more than just coincided with the end of military dictatorships there.
The rhetoric in Gibraltar, a defiance laced with undeniable effrontery to some Spaniards, can prove no less inflammatory to the eyes of the local Latin power. It's not easy being a British subject be it in the 20th or 21st century, and the Queen Mum, walking amid the rubble in her rich classic attire then, wouldn't have had it any other way.
LA FOI À RUDE ÉPREUVE
A la veille d'une des périodes les plus sacrées du calendrier chrétien, la foi catholique semble mise à rude épreuve si l'on se fie aux scandales qui secouent la deuxième religion aux Etats-Unis. A quelques heures de route de Montréal c'est à Boston que le plus dur de la crise a été ressenti, lorsqu'ont été révélés des crimes sexuels commis au sein des communautés religieuses qui avaient été défendus par la hiérarchie.
Tout a commencé en janvier alors que s'ouvrait le procès du père James Geoghan, 66 ans, accusé de trois cas d'abus sexuels pendant les années 80 et 90. Après le procès, des documents ont démontré que le cardinal Bernard Law, la plus haute autorité catholique du pays, et plusieurs autres dignitaires religieux, connaissaient le passé trouble de Geoghan. Au lieu d'intervenir, le cardinal Law s'était contenté de déplacer le curé de paroisse en paroisse. Depuis, de nouveaux cas surgissent tous les jours dans les médias, ainsi que les appels à la démission du cardinal Law.
Comme si ce n'était pas assez, un prêtre de Baltimore tombait récemment dans le filet du FBI, qui a confirmé qu'il faisait partie des plus de 80 personnes arrêtées dans le cadre d'un réseau baptisé Candyman et qui échangeait de la pornographie enfantine sur le Web. "Pour résumer, il s'agit de la crise la plus importante traversée par l'Eglise catholique moderne américaine, estime Thomas Groome dans Libération, professeur de théologie au Boston College, rarement l'Eglise a été secouée comme cela. L'impact est d'ores et déjà dévastateur."
Après un certain silence incomfortable, le pape Jean Paul II est intervenu publiquement sur la question en condamnant les scandales et dénoncant les prêtres qui avaient "trahi" leurs voeux. Le silence était bien lourd à juger les résultats d'un sondage américan selon lequel les croyants et non-croyants reprochaient à l'Eglise en général (75%) d'être plus préoccupée par son image que par la résolution de la dernière tempête qui mêle pédophilie et autres sévices sexuels aux sacrifices du célibat.
Et ce n'est pas seulement aux Etats-Unis. En janvier l'Eglise irlandaise a déboursé 175 millions de dollars aux victimes d'abus sexuels. L'archévèque de Vienne a dû quitter ses fonctions après avoir été accusé de sévices, tandis qu'un autre en Pologne subira sans doute le même sort pour les mêmes raisons.
Pendant ce temps, dans la métropole aux cent clochers, certains groupes n'ont pas tardé à prédire l'étalage en public d'un nombre de cas similaire lors des mois à venir. A Montréal la formation du Comité des enfants victimes d'abus sexuels et physiques dans des établissements québécois s'alliait au Mouvement Action Justice pour lancer une double offensive concernant d'une part les causes encore pendantes des orphelins de Duplessis, et d'autre part d'autres victimes potentielles des frères et curés.
Estimant que la province à grande majorité catholique est "une bonne dizaine d'années en retard" sur la question, le MAJ trouvait que "la cause des orphelins de Duplessis a retardé l'ouverture d'autres fronts de lutte de la part des victimes des communautés religieuses", dont ceux concernant le maltraitement des jeunes autochtones. "Une chose est certaine: nous allons voir apparaitre au Québec des scandales comme ceux qui touchent les Etats-Unis en ce moment" a-t-on déclaré ouvertement.
Par moments, la crise a même l'air d'affaiblir le Saint Père physiquement, lui qui n'a pu compléter la première d'une série de messes et célébrations importantes annonçant la fin de la période du Carême et les festivités de Pâques. L'itinéraire de Jean-Paul II, qui souffre en fait d'arthrite au genou nécessitant une chirurgie, est d'ailleurs à nouveau chargé cette année et comprend plusieurs déplacements à l'étranger, dont un séjour au Canada pour fêter les jeunesses mondiales en fin juillet à Toronto. Plus qu'avant sans doute, une attention particulière sera portée au message transmis à la prochaine génération de prêtres, emportée dans le tourbillon médiatique actuel.
Une reforme en profondeur comparable à celle du concile de Vatican II guette-t-elle l'Eglise catholique? Ce n'est pas exclu étant donne la remise en question de la nécessité du célibat chez les prêtres, qui les distingue nettement des autres religions, ou de l'intégration les femmes. Deux suggestions que Jean Paul II rejette encore avec tout ce qui peut lui rester de force.
L'AUTRE PAIX D'OSLO
Dites Paix d'Oslo, et dans le contexte Israélo-palestinien actuel voilà une théorie qui relève de la pure utopie. Les derniers affrontements, en marge d'une visite de l'ambassadeur américain Anthony Zinni dans la région, ont même fait échouer de simples pourparlers pour aboutir à un cessez-le-feu. Personne ne parle encore de paix.
Pourtant le petit pays nordique du Prix Nobel a connu de meilleurs succès en Asie en ouvrant le dialogue au Sri Lanka, ou il n'y a pas si longtemps les rebelles essayaient de s'en prendre directement au président Chandrika Kumaratunga. Si cette dernière a pu garder une certaine amertume, il en est tout autrement pour le chef du gouvernment.
Le premier ministre Ranil Wickremesinghe revient d'ailleurs d'un périple étonnant puisqu'il est devenu le premier dirigeant Sri Lankais à visiter Jaffna, la capitale au coeur du pays des "tigres" tamouls, en vingt ans, soit juste avant le début du conflit sanglant qui a emporté plus de 64 000 vies. Cette semaine, au lieu de se battre pour l'indépendance à coup de fusil, la partie nord de l'île se battait pour se faire entendre aux urnes à coup de slogan, avec le déroulement de la suite du vote régional qui doit servir de référendum au processus de paix.
Alors que ces élections ont été marquées par une certaine violence, les observateurs ne doutent pas qu'il y a eu une nette amélioration depuis l'exercice précédent l'an dernier, qui a formé l'assemblée actuelle. En fait l'élection a plutôt été marquée par les divisions entre le parti du président Kumaratunga, qui est soucieuse du cessez-le-feu, et celui du premier ministre, qui a connu un succès retentissant aux urnes, mais selon l'opposition, un succès entaché d'irrégularités.
Pourtant le gouvernement ne se gênera pas d'interpréter ces résultats, doublement bénis par la faiblesse de la voix des rebelles marxistes, comme un appui au processus de paix. Il y a quelques semaines qu'un cessez-le-feu dure avec les Tigres de libération d'Eelam, mais alors que les autres trêves étaient plutôt éphémères dans le passé, certains signes permettent de croire au miracle cette fois-ci.
La visite historique du premier ministre a été suivie par une annonce toute aussi significative, soit la décision du chef des rebelles, Velupillai Prabhakaran, de rencontrer la presse pour la première fois en dix ans dans les semaines qui viennent. Les Tigres sont tout aussi soucieux des interprétations de la situation actuelle qui peuvent circuler.
Le secrétaire d'Etat canadien David Kilgour, en visite dans la région, avait pour sa part l'intention d'exprimer "le ferme appui du Canada à l'égard du progrès réalisé actuellement en vue d'un règlement pacifique du conflit au Sri Lanka". Alors que la situation peu paraître bien différente de celle du Moyen-orient, la logique du processus de paix reste la même en quelque sorte, puisque le premier ministre n'a pas exclu des incidents au cours des prochains mois, alors que les pourparlers seront engagés, tout en ajoutant qu'ils ne devraient pas remettre en cause le cessez-le-feu.
Un mélange de patience et de courage sans doute rendu possible par le capital de confiance qui découle du vote, au résultat inespéré même pour le premier ministre. Un capital qui pourrait cependant très vite fondre si les attentats devaient reprendre. "Ce ne sera pas une promenade de santé", a déclaré Wickremesinghe.
Mais si le premier ministre semble moins penché vers la confrontation et plus prêt à chercher le consensus, il rejette parcontre la création d'un Etat tamoul : "L'intégrité territoriale de ce pays doit être préservée. Nous voulons un Sri Lanka uni ; ensuite, une fois cette idée acceptée, nous pourrons progresser, car nous voulons tous la paix", a ajouté le premier ministre, en proposant une plus grande autonomie aux régions à majorité tamoule. Parfois, la cohabitation entre président et premier ministre peut paraître plus difficile que celle entre Cingalais et Tamouls.
POST-ELECTORAL FEAR IN AFRICA
If there was any surprise following last weekend's election in Zimbabwe it was that the results, re-electing long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, didn't spark riots in the streets. Troops helped insure calm as the opposition contested the outcome as "illegitimate".
U.S. and Britain rejected the closely-watched vote while South Africa and Nigeria defended its results. Their observers' notes on the vote clashed with those from Commonwealth observers who called it "seriously flawed".
Observers weren't the only ones divided, there were signs of division amid the army and ruling party as well in the last days of polling. In a surprising statement revealing a split in the party, ZANU PF founder Eddison Zvobgo said Mugabe should accept blame for Zimbabwe's mess and prepare for a dignified exit from power. "I would not want to see him living in exile," he said, referring to Mugabe. "I would like to see him remain here in the role of an elder statesman and see Morgan going to his house for advice, the kind of role that Nelson Mandela has, a father of the nation," he said in reference to Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
"People can never say goodbye to their history. Mugabe is part of the history of this country. I would wish him well if he would accept it." Zvobgo told The Scotsman newspaper the party's official position is that it will abide by the result of the presidential election and will not tolerate attempts to subvert it. He acknowledged risks of an abortive coup attempt, but appeared confident that few within the armed forces would actually join it.
"People are angry," he said, "I believe that because of the magnitude of the problems we face and also because of the squeezing and fracturing of society which these problems have caused, that a government of national unity would make matters easier."
As it turned out, there were no immediate needs for such elaborate and revealing worries. Not yet. As troops patrolled the streets, MDC opposition leader Tsvangirai called on his supporters for calm. Many were already enraged that police arrested numerous supporters, including a top party official, Welshman Ncube, the secretary general of the MDC, when the polls were still open. State television said Mr Ncube was trying to flee the country with his family and was likely to be charged with high treason - an offence punishable by death under the recently-introduced security laws.
Some of those arrested had simply been frustrated by long lineups at polling stations, which forced a third day of limited voting. The low numbers of voting stations in the capital Harare, where the opposition is widely supported, made the extra day necessary.
Generally unfazed, and in fact emboldened by the division of Commonwealth leaders, who in a meeting in Australia had refrained from imposing sanctions on his country pending a formal observers report on the elections, Zimbabwe's president was viewed as pulling all the stops to make sure he didn't fail to be re-elected. Just days before polls opened, Mugabe unilaterally reinstated controversial election laws that had been earlier struck down in court.
Opposition law-makers had complained the laws disenfranchised many of their supporters and whites, and would make it easier to rig the election. The reinstated laws gave state election officers sweeping powers, restricting vote monitoring, identity requirements for voters, campaigning and voter education.
The Commonwealth, which is expected to issue a final report on the vote, was depending largely on those monitors to make a critical judgement on the fairness of the election. The International Crisis Group called on the international community to take measures to ensure that the Zimbabwean authorities realise that a fraudulent result in the election would not be accepted, even before the polls opened. The message would prevent the risk of widespread domestic unrest and regional instability, said the hopeful ICG, a private multi-national organisation with offices on four continents which works to prevent and contain conflict.
Mr. Mugabe's decree also restored a ban on absentee voting by as many as half a million Zimbabweans living abroad. It wouldn't be far from the truth to call all those measures desperate. The economic ravages of the country, driven down further by the violence which has spooked investors, and rising unemployment, is making the population clamor for change despite efforts to intimidate opposition supporters, who were often chased by pro-government thugs.
In fact doubts about Mugabe's re-election were growing to the point that even some in the military were positioning themselves for a post-Mugabe future, and the possibility of more violence. According to the Daily News, a rare independent newspaper, the Commander of the Air Force, Marshal Perence Shiri, approached the MDC opposition in January to seek the party's position on the future of President Mugabe, should he lose the presidential election, and how the party would be likely to treat perpetrators of the Matabeleland massacres that followed independence. Shiri commanded a North Korean-trained brigade held responsible for 20,000 deaths there in the 1980s.
Earlier this year the country's generals suggested they would not support Tsvangirai if he was elected because he didn't participate in the struggle against white rule. In fact one of Mugabe's senior officials reportedly said the ruling ZANU-PF party would support a military coup if Mugabe lost power after the vote, in which he faced the greatest challenge of his 22-year rule.
Indeed, the years when Mugabe was swept into power and praised by millions as a nationalist determined to break the country's colonial grip were long gone. Two years ago this realisation, after he failed to win a referenda consolidating his powers, launched a highly controversial policy of land reform blamed by critics for ensuing ravages to the country's agriculture and rising racial tensions.
The government's land-grab from wealthy white farmers, operated under the banner of anti-colonialism, was largely seen as a good way to collect votes among rural blacks. During the campaign Mugabe said he would intensify these efforts, worrying white farmers and opposition supporters alike.
Shiri said he was approached to pacify the army if the MDC won, not before the election as alleged by a documentary shown by the State-owned TV on the alleged plot to kill Mugabe by Tsvangirai. The tape was largely believed to have been doctored to show Tsvangirai plotting to kill Mugabe during a visit at a Montreal consultant company. It was believed to have been forged to charge the MDC leader for treason, a charge which can carry the death penalty, but without success.
It wasn't the first time the government claimed it was being targeted to gather popular support. Last year Mugabe accused the British government of involvement in a terrorist plot whose 'brutal outcome' was the murder of a war veteran whose body was found in a shallow grave.
In the lead-up to the polls Tsvangirai tried to appease parties caught in a violent pre-electoral campaign which has resulted in over 25 political killings this year, promising to create a truth commission that would investigate them if he won. "The tragedy of our liberation struggle is that the so-called liberators, the ruling elite which amassed power itself, betrayed the objectives and the dreams of that liberation stuggle," he said.
Hotly contested election results are nothing new to Africa. Last year the largely peaceful country of Ivory Coast erupted following elections largely suspected of being rigged. In Congo-Brazzavile the incumbent ran unopposed last week after the opposition leader pulled out of the race saying Congo's military ruler, Denis Sassou Nguesso, had rigged the vote in advance.
A recent vote in Madagascar meanwhile has effectively split in half this normally peaceful country off Africa's east coast which has never been rocked by coup. The main candidates in December's presidential election have set up their own governments in different capitals following the challenger's refusal to participate in a run-off after an inconclusive first round vote.
Opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana declared himself president after uttering claims of fraud instead, sparking tensions across the island nation. Last week the governors of six provinces rallying in favor of previous president, Didier Ratsiraka, designated the city of Toamasina as "their capital".
SIX MONTHS LATER
This week the U.S. marked six months since the terror attacks which struck New York and Washington, with memorials promising to repair, rebuild and never forget. But somewhere along the way someone must have forgotten something.
On March 11 the two terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, were post-humously approved for student visas by the INS. An incredible administration blunder which raised serious questions about other key matters possibly slipping under the radars.
But while ceremonies near ground zero, where the towers were temporarily replaced by two towers of light reaching to the sky, were generally mournful, discourse was rather sharp and defiant on the lawn of the White House, where president George W. Bush warned against letting the guard down and not finishing the job to root out international terrorism.
One question was on everyone's lips: would the next stage of the war against terrorism take the form of combat against a sort guerilla activity such as the one waged in Afghanistan with Operation Anaconda (or Canada's Operation Harpoon), or of a more open conflict such as a strike against Saddam Hussein's regime?
While this was being considered, one of two key envoys out of Washington set out to try to weigh support for the latter. Vice-president Dick Cheney obtained a rather lukewarm support from Britain, a fierce ally, and clear rebuttal in Jordan, in the Mideast stretch of his tour. "A strike on Iraq will be disastrous for Iraq and the region as a whole and will threaten the security and stability of the Middle East," King Abdullah said unequivocally. He pointed out the need for reducing tensions in the Middle-east, on the eve of a summit of the Arab League which will discuss a Saudi peace plan.
Getting Israelis and Palestinians, engaged in the most bloody campaign in the 17-month uprising, to talk is the work of other envoy, special diplomat Anthony Zinni. On the eve of his visit, one prompted by a new Israeli willingness to engage in dialogue without requiring a lull in the fighting, the territories have been rocked by a massive campaign of Israeli incursion, engaging over 150 tanks and 20,000 soldiers, a third of the size of the Canadian Forces.
U.N. Secretary general Kofi Annan scolded both sides in the conflict for the "horrifying carnage", calling Israel's an "illegal" occupation. Interestingly, while president Bush spent Sept. 11 hinting about a link between the fight against terror and stopping Saddam Hussein, who has not been linked to the terror attacks, from supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, America's emissaries are hearing about another linkage tied to the Mideast crisis.
Former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd warned America would not get Arab support for a military strike on Iraq unless the bloodshed in the Middle East was stopped. That concern was echoed in the British House of Commons by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell.
Violence in the Mideast has reached dangerous levels in the last few weeks, with over 160 Palestinians and 60 Israelis killed in March alone, half of them Israeli soldiers, raising the spectre of the bloody southern Lebanese campaign. It hasn't been lost on some that a military man particularly active during those difficult battles is heading Israel today. "Never before has the country sustained so many casualties from terror attacks as it has during the days of Mr. Security," wrote an analyst in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper referring to Sharon.
In the midst of all the violence, back in New York, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Tuesday night endorsing a Palestinian state for the first time, supporting a U.S. measure that also calls for an immediate cease-fire. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte considered it ``is a strong resolution on the Middle East (...) Our intent in doing this was to give an impulse to peace efforts and to decry violence and terror.''
Zinni's arrival has had the added impact of promoting an immediate Israeli withdrawal from the territories, after an offensive criticized by Bush as "unhelpful". Much has changed after Sept. 11, even America's ties with Israel, now more critical, and even with the UN, which warned Saddam against refusing the entry of its weapons inspectors, or else.
SUISSE: IL ETAIT TEMPS!
La seconde fois a été la bonne. Déjà le quartier-general des Nations unies en Europe, la Suisse a abandonné un peu de son isolation pour faire peser sa voix sur la scène internationale en adhérant à l'ONU, mais sans plus que la majorité nécessaire.
Une certaine réticence était palpable au bout du 54,6% qui a engagé le pays alpin dans la voie onusienne lors d'un référendum, le second sur la question en moins de vingt ans. Quel changement avait eu lieu pendant ce laps de temps? La fin de la guerre froide peut-être, et une nouvelle auto-critique suisse selon le Journal de Genève. "Quel est alors ce changement? Dans son essence, il s'agit probablement de l'abandon progressif du 'cas particulier' suisse. L'acceptation que nous ne sommes ni meilleurs ni pires que les autres. Ou, exprimé plus positivement, que nous autres Suisses pouvons exister sans rester à l'écart. Que nous pouvons nous mêler carrément aux affaires du monde, sans craindre pour autant pour notre cohésion nationale." Sans oublier les affaires de fonds nazis et autres sujets qui ont pu ternir l'image du pays récemment.
Le porte-parole du rejet, le milliardaire nationaliste Christoph Blocher, a, en essuyant ce dernier revers, tout de même remporté la majorité du vote chez les siens, les germanophones, qui ont rejeté l'adhésion en majorité. Selon Le Temps, les 45% qui ont voté contre resteront une force qu'il ne faudra pas ignorer: "une bonne part de l'opposition reposait sur la volonté opiniâtre de rester différent. A bien écouter les chantres d'une irréductible neutralité, on n'est plus Suisse si l'on renonce à être une exception. Cette peur de disparaître, cette angoisse à l'idée de se fondre ou de se confondre, dont la psychanalyse politique pourrait peut-être nous entretenir utilement, ne peut pas être ignorée ni même être prise à la légère."
Mais le vote francophone a été déterminant, même si le calcul a été juste au niveau des cantons, avec 12 en faveur et 11 contre (dont certains remportés par moins de 2000 voix). L'appui des villes principales, Zurich, le centre des affaires, et Genève, qui abrite de nombreuses agences internationales, a été determinant lui aussi, mais laisse paraitre un certain clivage entre ville et campagne.
Malgré l'exception Blocher, c'est le milieu des affaires qui a porté la cause onusienne, enregistrant du fait un deuxième succès après le refus de limiter les heures de travail a 36, un objectif que l'on retrouve chez certains voisins européens (les 35 heures en France). Mais alors que la Suisse s'engage à faire sentir son poids au sein de l'ONU, elle résiste encore à l'attrait de l'Union européenne ou a celui de la monnaie unique.
Mais avec le temps les opinions peuvent changer. Il y a neuf ans les Suisses votaient contre l'idée d'envoyer des soldats en mission de l'ONU, l'an dernier ils ont cependant décidé d'envoyer des soldats armés à l'étranger. Comme les résultats du dernier référendum, l'adhésion de la Suisse à l'ONU se fera au compte-goutte.
Les chiffres du référendum, à participation élevée, ont été accueillis avec plus d' "humilité" que d'alégresse par un des architectes de l'adhésion, John Dupraz: "Je n'oublie pas que la recolte des signatures a été très difficile", souligne ce dernier. Les changements, depuis le référendum de 1986, rejeté aux trois-quarts, ont tout de même été notables. Rien qu'à Genève, on est passé de 70,2% contre, à 66,9% en faveur de l'ONU. "La Suisse était simplement mûre pour ce changement", commentait un autre politicien.
A l'issue de ce plebiscite, cette manière toute suisse de décider de l'avenir d'un pays, un nouveau débat va engager le 190eme membre de l'ONU d'ici l'automne prochain: quelle politique extérieure épouser avec cette nouvelle voix? Un débat qui ne devrait pas s'avérer facile après un votre qui a effectivement divisé en deux ce qui est déjà un des plus petits pays du continent.
MON PAYS CE N'EST PAS QUE L'HIVER...
Comme celui de l'équipe olympique en général, le parcours d'Equipe Canada n'a pas été facile au long des 17 jours de compétition à Salt Lake City. Le départ difficile a donné lieu à des tensions, accompagnées d'accusations de toutes parts. Surtout après la défaite cuisante de 5-2 face à la Suède, qui en quelques heures remettait presque en question tous les aspects de la vie nord-américaine.
Puis avec le temps les choses glissèrent en place comme un bon meuble IKEA.Tout un concours de circonstances, digne d'un véritable partage des eaux en fait, a voulu que le Canada n'ait pas à affronter une grande puissance comme la Russie avant de se rendre en finale. Pas mal après un début douteux, cette fiche initiale de 1-1-1, de quoi faire sortir Wayne Gretzky de ses gonds. Une performance qui initialement laissait douter le mérite de cette formation de millionnaires. Scénario télévisuel de rêve ou non, une finale Canada-USA était rendue possible en raison du calendrier dans lequel les deux clubs évoluaient, les plaçant dans des sections différentes.
Alors qu'au début une telle finale paraissait inespérée chez les hommes, tout autre dénouement n'était pas envisageable au hockey féminin, en raison de l'écart entre le niveau nord-américain et européen. La finale chez les femmes mettait aux prises deux clubs qui se sont disputés multes finales de championnats du monde, un monopole canadien, et celle des Jeux de Nagano, remportée par surprise par les Américaines.
Cette fois-ci, pour une rare fois, les hôtes étaient favories en raison de leur série de huit victoires consécutives contre les Canadiennes. Mais ces dernières eurent leur revanche en arrachant un gain de 3-2 marqué par plusieurs punitions controversées, et devenant la première Equipe Canada à gagner l'or aux Jeux en 50 ans. Une source d'inspiration pour la troupe de Gretzky sans doute.
Le lendemain, les joueurs du Canada ont infligé une bien pénible correction au club cendrillon du tournoi, le Belarus, responsable du "jour le plus noir du sport suédois" en battant un des clubs qui avaient le plus impressionné au départ. La Suède avait connu son Kazakhstan comme le Canada à Nagano. A Salt Lake le Canada allait disputer la finale contre les hôtes, après un gain contre la Russie qui avait marqué jour pour jour le 22ème anniversaire du "miracle on ice".
Or la finale avait lieu le jour de l'anniversaire, d'or, de la dernière conquête canadienne masculine au hockey olympique, et la formation disputa un match propulsé par le souffle historique d'une nation à présent confiante, et un peu de superstition. Le jour de la finale, on apprit que les constructeurs canadiens de la patinoire avaient placé une pièce d'un dollar canadien dans le centre de la glace, une pièce qui va à présent faire partie de la mythologie canadienne au temple de la renommée. Pas mal pour du métal qui vaut 63 cents américains.
A tort ou à raison, la suprématie nord-américaine au hockey s'est dégagée des jeux de Salt Lake, où l'on a assisté à une partie d'étoiles hors de l'ordinaire. De quoi faire momentanément croire à la théorie du complot nord-américain de la sélection russe, qui n'oubliera jamais l'or partagé en patinage artistique, et la disqualification de champions pris la main dans la pharmacie. Sans parler d'un déficit de médailles plaçant la Russie derrière le Canada, et bien loin d'une équipe américaine qui avait majoré son record deÁ 21 médailles! (34)
L'affaire Salé-Pelletier, à voir la réaction de l'équipe coréenne qui contestait aussi une décision des juges allant jusqu'à traîner l'affaire en cour, avait ouvert une boîte de pandore simplement olympique. Tant de complications pour cette première médaille d'or, dans la cave d'Ali baba des unifoliés. Enfin presque.
Alors que l'or au hockey est la médaille qui se dégagera de ces jeux, il s'agissait tout simplement des plus réussis de l'histoire des JOs d'hiver pour le Canada. 17 médailles en tout, soit deux de plus qu'à Nagano, dont plusieurs historiques. La première défense d'une médaille d'or gagnée aux jeux précédents, par exemple, par la patineuse Catriona Lemay Doan au 500m sur la longue piste. Un exploit imité par les patineurs de courte-piste canadiens, dont l'un des deux olympiens canadiens les plus médaillés de tous les temps, Marc Gagnon, avec deux médailles d'or et une de bronze à ces jeux (5 en tout).
Et pas toujours besoin d'or car deux médailles de bronze prirent une signification particulière également, dont la première au ski de fond par une nord-américaine, Beckie Scott, puis celle de Carla Hughes au 5000m en patin, premier athlète canadien, quatrième athlète en tout, à remporter une médaille aux JOs d'été (vélo) et d'hiver. Sans parler des doublés sur le podium, en saut aérien féminin (argent et bronze) et patinage de courte piste au 500m chez les hommes (or et argent).
Bref, malgré la déception de ne pas avoir atteint l'objectif de 20 médailles, une réussite néanmoins. Même si c'est une réussite qui camoufle le fait que plusieurs médailles étaient dans des disciplines nouvelles. Le Canada saura-t-il mieux défendre ses titres dans l'avenir?
Encore une fois, celui du hockey masculin, l'ultime suprématie sur glace, sera l'objet des plus grandes attentes. Faut-il se le rappeler, pendant quelques heures les rapports Canado-américains en avaient été transformés. Quelques jours après l'attaque du 11 septembre, 100 000 Canadiens s'étaient rassemblés pour montrer leur solidarité sur la colline parlementaire. Dimanche ils fêtaient la victoire contre les Etats-Unis à la chaleur de la flamme éternelle.
Le jour-même de la finale, soldats canadiens et américains combattaient côte à côte à Kandahar contre des ennemis munis de rockettes. Puis au soir les Américains, dégoûtés, quittaient plutôt tôt la tente où était diffusée la partie aux petites heures du matin. C'est de bonne guerre. Après tout notre pays ce n'est pas seulement l'hiver, c'est le hockey. Ou encore "Notre jeu" selon Jean Chrétien.
OFFENSIVE CONTRE LES GUERILLEROS COLOMBIENS
Fini de tendre l'autre joue en Colombie. Si le président Andres Pastrana a été élu comme le candidat de la paix en 1998, il passerait plutôt comme celui de la confrontation face aux rebelles en mai lors des prochaines présidentielles, s'il pouvait se faire élire.
Après trois ans de tentative de processus de paix sans succès, Pastrana a rompu le dialogue et fait tonner ses cannons la semaine dernière après l'enlèvement du président de la Commission de paix du Sénat, Jorge Gechem, lors d'un détournement d'avion.
Dimanche, les Forces armées révolutionnaires de Colombie, ou FARC, se sont également engagées dans la spirale de violence en enlevant une candidate farouchement opposée aux rebelles, dans cette même région qui a servi de "laboratoire de paix" où le gouvernement reconnaît s'être fait avoir.
En 1998 la région du Caguan était laissée sous contrôle rebelle pour les inciter à gagner la table de négociation. Grâve erreur en rétrospective, selon le gouvernement, car elle a permise aux rebelles de renforcer leurs capacités militaires et préparer leurs plus récents coups, alors que ceux-ci refusaient de faire avancer les pourparlers.
L'armée a depuis réoccupé la zone. Pourtant il y a quelques semaines à peine tout laissait croire à une percée dans ce processus auquel s'était dévoué Pastrana, qui accuse le Farc de détourner le processus de paix à la suite de ses plus récents enlèvements, un sport préféré chez les guérilleros.
Après 38 ans de guerre civile et des échecs constants dans les pourparlers, la nouvelle fermeté du président laisse penser à un repositionnement politique autant qu'à l'exaspération de l'échec, puisque la population semble généralement avoir perdu confiance au processus de paix.
Un candidat farouchement opposé au processus, l'indépendant Alvaro Uribe, semble s'attirer la faveur populaire. Les chances de succès avaient semé le doute dès les premières tentatives de rencontre pacifiques, où les rebelles n'ont pas daigné se présenter.
Puis le détournement de M. Gechem aura été la goûte qui a fait débordé le vase, sur fond de guérilla urbaine, même si certains observateurs notent que les préparatifs du gouvernement laissaient penser que l'enlèvement pouvait servir de prétexte. "Les Farc n'ont fait que se moquer du pays" affirme Pastrana, qui peut compter sur l'appui des Etats-Unis, de la Commission européenne et des Nations Unies, qualifiant le plus récent enlèvement d' "acte évident de sabotage".
Le voyage d'Ingrid Betancourt la fin de semaine dernière avait également des motifs politiques puisque la candidate, qui recueille 2% du vote populaire, voulait être la première à visiter l'ancien fief des guérilleros depuis la réoccupation de l'armée, et aurait effectué ce voyage malgré les avertissements de son entourage.
Le ministre de l'Intérieur a fait appel à sa remise en liberté immédiate mais connait les habitudes rebelles, qui détiennent à présent six parlementaires qu'ils veulent échanger contre des combattants emprisonnés. La reprise des hostilités fait aussi craindre que les autorités laisseront carte blanche aux forces paramilitaires de foncer sur les positions rebelles.
Malgré la perspective des pires scénarios pour les mois qui viennent, Pastrana dit qu'il croit toujours à "une solution politique" plutôt que militaire, bien qu'elle ne soit pas encouragée par la prise en otage constante d'une partie de l'élite de la classe politique colombienne.
Mince consolation, leur captivité ne leur empêche pas de se faire élire selon les lois du pays, tristement adaptées à ce genre de situation.
SALÉ ET PELLETIER: LE DÉBUT DE TOUTE UNE HISTOIRE
La saga de ces jeux d'hiver a enfin touché à sa fin. Le couple de patinage artistique de Jamie Salé et David Pelletier a reçu une médaille d'or bien méritée. Une de deux médailles d'or accordées aux patineurs de la compétiiton de style libre, donnant lieu à des rumeurs de revanche. Or cette semaine le couple rejettait une invitation de $1 million pour aller défendre leur médaille contre le duo russe lors d'un duel sur glace.
Malgré tout la controverse n'était pas au point de s'essouffler. Jeudi la fédération russe menaçait de se retirer des Jeux à moins qu'elle n'obtienne des excuses du CIO après plusieurs décisions controversées contre ses athlètes selon elle. La plus récente: la disqualification d'une athlète que l'on accusait de dopage. La décision d'accorder une médaille au couple canadien a également été mentionnée par les Russes, qui ont qualifié ces Jeux des plus "sales" de tous les temps. Vladimir Poutine a lui-même déploré ce qui selon lui était un favoritisme nord-américain, mais a rejeté l'idée d'un boycott. Une notion de favoritisme sans doute renforcée par la finale de hockey chez les homme. Avec la décision coréenne de contester une disqualification en cour de justice, l'affaire Pelletier-Salé semble avoir commencé toute une histoire.
Ce n'est pas la première fois qu'une équipe olympique canadienne à propos de laquelle on disait tant de bien tenait un début déroûtant. Chute en planche à neige la tête la première ou enfargement d'un champion du 500m en patin haute vitesse dès la seconde enjambée, les déboires initiaux de la sélection canadienne n'avaient rien d'extraordinaire par rapport aux autres Olympiades, même après un total de deux podiums en presque six jours. Certains parlent même du spectre de Sydney.
Mais la médaille d'argent du couple champion du monde de patinage artistique de Jamie Salé et David Pelletier aura soulevé un véritable tollé international. En grande finale de style libre, les deux Canadiens avaient exécuté une performance rigoureuse sans faute alors que leurs rivaux, les russes Elena Berezhnaya et Anton Sikharulidze, malgré quelques ratés visibles, avaient trouvé la faveur des juges.
Consternation dans la salle, les réactions furent telles que la Fédération internationale de patinage artistique dut demander presque immédiatement, un événement rarissime, la tenue d'une enquête sur le résultat hautement controversé. Elle commandait cette enquête en raison des réactions de la foule et de la presse internationale à la suite de la finale. Les juges ont été critiqués sans équivoque après avoir départagé 5-4 en faveur des Russes, soutenus par les juges russes, chinois, français, polonais et ukrainiens, alors que les officiels américains, canadiens, allemands et japonais ont opté pour les Canadiens.
Le monde du patinage artistique du coup paraîssait tellement entaché, que Globe & Mail prédisait déjà les résultats de la compétition de danse, selon lesquels certaines ententes spéciales entre juges, loins d'être les premières, ne donnaient aucune chance à cet autre couple canadien.
Puis des propos de la juge française qui faisait partie du panel, au réseau ESPN, auraient été tout autres que spéculatifs. Celle-ci admettait en effet avoir été forcée de voter en faveur de la Russie par sa fédération, qui prévoyait de se faire rendre la pareille pour la danse. Il est notoire que les juges européens ont tendance à voter en bloc. Pendant ce temps la juge chinoise, qui a également voté en faveur des Russes, n'était pas présente le lendemain lors d'une autre compétition de patinage qu'elle devait également arbitrer, en raison d'un malaise.
Soudainement les juges étaient introuvables. La juge française écourta même son séjour à Salt Lake city. La fédération internationale de patinage dut reconnaître en conférence de presse qu'il y avait eu allégation d'irrégularité, chose qu'elle promettait d'étudier la semaine prochaine, mais a du coup rappelé qu'elle n'était pas en mesure de renverser la décision du panel des juges. "C'est la pire chose qui se soit produite en patinage artistique depuis longtemps, estime l'entraîneur américain Frank Carroll, un vétéran, je peux comprendre que le comité olympique songe à retirer le patinage artistique comme discipline après ça, personne ne le leur reprochera."
Puis c'était au dirigeant de l'équipe française d'admettre que la juge en question ait pû être influencée, un nouveau témoignage sur lequel espérait compter l'Association olympique canadienne en faisant appel à la décision des juges. L'AOC ne voulait rien enlever aux russes, mais tout juste faire partager l'or avec les siens.
Face au premier baptême de feu du CIO depuis le début de son règne, le président du comité olympique, Jacques Rogge, a rappelé à la fédération du patinage le besoin de passer aux actes "dans les plus brefs délais" pour régler la question. Les Canadiens n'ont peut-être pas gagné l'or initialement, mais ils ont gagné le coeur des hôtes et des médias américains, un fait potentiellement lucratif à long terme, et à court terme, difficile pour les autorités du sport.
Après être devenue le premier athlète canadien à défendre avec succès une médaille d'or olympique, la patineuse du 500m Catriona Lemay Doan a dit qu'elle considérait sa médaille la deuxième médaille d'or canadienne des Jeux, un geste au couple médaillé d'argent. Selon Rogge, distribuer une deuxième médaille d'or devenait vite une façon de mettre fin à la controverse. Voilà qui a déjà un précédent: la médaille d'or décernée à Sylvie Fréchette après l'erreur technique d'une juge à Barcelone. Celle-ci leur espérait la médaille d'or avant la fin des Jeux.
Vendredi, à la fin d'une semaine mouvementée, on mettait enfin fin au long roman -savon de ces Jeux en accordant une deuxième médaille d'or au couple canadien. A son tour, le sport olympique avait un peu redoré son blason. La juge française, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, a fait l'objet d'une suspension immédiate.Certains parleront de bouc-émissaire du scandale.
"C'est un point tournant" dit Jamie en entrevue à la CBC quelques moments plus tard. "C'est le temps d'aller de l'avant" d'ajouter David. Malgré la controverse, les derniers instants du programme long restent pour eux les meilleurs moments des derniers jours. Les deux encouragent la poursuite de l'enquête en cours afin que "justice soit faite".
Plus tard en conférence de presse générale le couple regretta que d'autres athlètes n'aient pas eu la même attention, dont les médaillés d'or et de bronze canadiens des dernières heures. David refusa de parler de vol de médaille et acceptait l'or au nom des personnes "qui se sont battues" pour la médaille. "Nous espérons obtenir le bronze également pour avoir toute la collection" rigola David.
Selon Jamie le meilleur commentaire est venu de la mère de David qui lui a dit "cette médaille d'argent c'est du platine". Un seul regret selon elle: que leur moment de recevoir la médaille et d'entendre leur hymne leur ait échappé. Mais il viendra. Les deux sont pressés de tourner la page et d'aller encourager les autres athlètes, et selon David "d'aller voir des games d'hockey".
La représentante de Skate Canada dit qu'on lui a parlé de changer le système d'arbitrage des compétitions de patinage. Cette affaire sera-t-elle au patinage artistique ce que Ben Johnson était au dopage? Encore une fois le Canada s'est retrouvé en plein coeur d'un grand scandale aux Jeux, d'hiver cette fois. Fort heureusement, le dénouement n'avait rien de comparable au précédent.
THAT COALITION HONEYMOON
The spat over the branding of three countries as "Axis of evil" in U.S. president George W. Bush's State of the Union speech confirmed the end of the honeymoon between the U.S. and its coalition partners, who had already expressed concern over the treatment of Taleban and al-Qaida prisoners on Guantanamo base in Cuba.
Apart from the countries directly implicated in the branding, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, America's European allies have also accused the U.S. of "Unilateralism" during a recent conference. Britain's Chris Patten, in charge of EU foreign policy, criticized as "absolutist and simplistic" Bush's latest call to arms against terrorism.
British officials meanwhile have been among the few to express support for Washington's hard line against terror But even Britain had some qualms about the treatment of British Taleban prisoners held at Guantanamo base. Countries have decried America's characterization of the prisoners taken there as "unlawful combattants" because it deprived the prisoners of protections under the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.
Then for the first time Washington discerned a difference between Al-Qaida and non-al-Qaida prisoners, giving the latter the assurances of protections under the convention. Canada had been supportive of a review of the handling of the prisoners especially after word got out that Canadian Special Forces units had been arresting and handing in Taleban prisoners to the U.S. while a debate was still raging in Ottawa over Canada's policy on the prisoners and other rules of engagement.
The man at the center of the storm, Defence minister Art Eggleton, who failed to notify prime minister Jean Chrétien as soon as he heard about the arrests, emphasized however that "the U.S. has given us assurances that they will follow fair and humane treatment in accordance with international law."
But Afghan prisoners captured by American forces in two night raids last month and held in Afghanistan reported some acts of brutality, claiming they were beaten and abused by American soldiers despite their protests that they supported the leader of the interim government Hamid Karzai. The men were among 27 Afghans who were released after 16 days' detention in the American base in Kandahar, which is also the base of operations of Canada's contingent.
The Pentagon acknowledged that the raids were conducted in error, apparently because of flawed intelligence, and that the prisoners were neither members of Al-Qaida nor Taleban fighters. The accounts of harsh treatment from four of the prisoners, the district police chief among them, offered some disturbing insights into detention in the hands of U.S. troops and came on the heels of protests over the handling of Guantanamo prisoners, kept in cages under a constant cover of light. In addition Afghans say men slain in a CIA attack were peasants gathering scrap metal and not suspected al-Qaida terrorists.
Any reports of wrongdoing could only harden opinions against U.S. treatment of its prisoners, and one of particular interest among them. Defense lawyers of American Taleban, John Walker Lindh, will try to get his confession thrown out of court by bolstering their client's case of coercion according to Newsweek magazine. They plan on calling to the stand military witnesses who kept him under captivity and reportedly abused him in the days prior to his confession, the magazine reports.
"If the confession is suppressed then large parts of the government's case would fall," says Eugene Fidell, a Washington lawyer who specializes in military-justice issues. Walker pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, terrorism and weapons charges stemming from his time fighting as a Taliban warrior in Afghanistan. His lawyers charge that their client was blindfolded, stripped naked, and shackled hand and foot to a cot inside a freezing metal shipping container when he was taken into custody by U.S. soldiers. There, his lawyers say, U.S. military guards hurled obscenities and threats of violence, even death. When his blindfold was removed, he found himself sitting in front of a man who said he worked for the FBI. He waived his right to remain silent and wouldn't see a lawyer for six more weeks.
Bush's State of the Union speech has meanwhile inflamed passions in Iran and Iraq to the point of bringing the two foes closer than ever. Tehran was the scene of the first anti-American protest since Sept. 11, an event which had triggered a rare pro-US rally in the Iranian capital.
Even in Washington, Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle said President Bush was wrong to label Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," the first major criticism from a leading Democrat about the war on terror. Daschle said the comment has had repercussions around the world. "I think that it's important for us to look at each of these countries as threats to this country clearly, as problems that we've got to address clearly," Daschle said. "But I think we've got to be very careful with the rhetoric of that kind. We've already seen the moderates in Iran scramble to draw distance between us and them, and I think we've got to be very careful with how we approach all three countries."
Daschle later retracted his comments, but by then coalition partners were openly criticizing the U.S. stance. The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, warned the Bush administration Tuesday not to treat its allies like satellite states in some new empire or move unilaterally against states like Iraq. Fischer thereby added a prominent German voice to a new wave of anxious continental criticism of Washington's post-Afghanistan foreign policy.
During his latest Team-Canada visit to Russia, prime minister Jean Chrétien and his host Vladimir Putin concurred that they would not go along with U.S. plans to remove Saddam Hussein from power, which according to some reports are already in the works. A further sign even America's staunchest allies are ready to draw a lign in the sand.
ARAFAT'S HI-WIRE ACT
It is something for Israel to say it will cut ties with Arafat's Palestinian leadership, and quite another for the United States to consider doing so. Even prior to the suicide attack which killed one and injured some 125 in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and their senior aides were reportedly advising President Bush to suspend relations with the Palestinian Authority according to the U.S. media.
But in his most recent visit to Washington Israeli premier Ariel Sharon didn't manage to convince Bush to do just that despite his best efforts. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in true diplomat-like fashion, had sustained, on the contrary, that ties were important now more than ever.
It isn't the only thing Powell and some of the administration's high-level advisors have disagreed on. The division was coming after some of Bush's harshest comments yet on Yasser Arafat, after he suggested that the Palestinian leader was "enhancing terror" with a boatload of smuggled arms intended for use against Israel.
Already then the president and top advisers had met to consider ways to isolate and punish Mr. Arafat, who is being held under virtual house arrest. "I am disappointed in Yasser Arafat," Mr. Bush had told reporters. "He must make a full effort to rout out terror in the Middle East. Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror, that's enhancing terror, and obviously we're very disappointed in him."
That amounted to the administration's most direct and explicit criticism of Mr. Arafat yet. It also appeared to be the first time the president, or any other American official, had accused the Palestinian leader of personal involvement in the 50-ton shipload of heavy weapons that the Israelis seized and accused the Palestinians of smuggling from Iran last month. But in the end officials said it was unlikely that the administration would sever all ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization or Mr. Arafat, if only because doing so would leave no clear alternatives. One senior official said, "The fact that we're even considering such things shows you how low his stock has sunk, but the agenda he has to do is still clear."
The Palestinians' chief representative in the United States, Hassan Abdel Rahman, said he doubted "very much" that the administration would sever ties with the P.L.O. Arafat says he is confident that Israeli attempts to replace him as a partner in future peace talks will fail. In an interview with the BBC, Mr Arafat said the Israeli Government could not defeat the Palestinian people and must deal with him because he is their elected leader.
The comments came as Israeli tanks made a brief incursion into the Palestinian city of Nablus in the West Bank, shortly after Israeli aircraft pounded Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip injuring more than 30 people. The strikes came after Palestinian gunmen killed two female soldiers and wounded up to 30 others near an army base in southern Israel.
As a further sign recent events in the Middle East, compounded with America's own war against terrorism, may be making easier for the U.S. to side with the Israeli view of Arafat's leadership, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush "understands the reason that Israel has taken the action that it takes, and it is up to Chairman Arafat to demonstrate the leadership to combat terrorism."
But the official Israeli view isn't circulating unopposed despite these attacks. More than 60 Israeli Army reservists, half officers and all of them combat veterans, have publicly refused to continue serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the ground that Israeli occupation forces there are abusing and humiliating Palestinians. Meanwhile the European Union has reiterated its support of "the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat."
One year after Sharon, who once referred to Arafat as "irrelevant", came to power, 43% of Israelis said they were unsatisfied with their government, and 54% with its handling of security. Behind the rumble of conflict, Israeli officials have held high-level talks with Palestinian officials, in an effort to limit the damage of the latest terror attacks on Israel which Arafat, again, promised to bring an end to.
This week Arafat sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell suggesting that he was ready to take a more aggressive stand against attacks on Israelis by Palestinians and to take action against those responsible for smuggling a shipload of arms last month. "We did find it to be a positive letter, and we now look for action along the lines that he indicated in his letter," said State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher.
But meanwhile Israel unleashed another airstrike on Palestinian offices in Gaza City on Monday, while the defense minister declared that Palestinian militants had raised the stakes in the Mideast conflict by firing new, longer-range rockets.The Islamic movement Hamas sent a pair of Qassam-2 rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, digging large craters in two farm fields. Israel viewed it as a serious military escalation, because rockets launched from the West Bank and Gaza could reach some Israeli cities.
Then on Thursday for the first time Palestinian militants destroyed an Israeli tank, using a powerful mine to punch through the armor, killing three soldiers. An escalation of the means of war is a nightmare scenario for Arafat, whose lack of grip on power may have been illustrated in a freak incident this week when he pulled a gun on his security chief for failing to prevent the storming of a jail by a Palestinian mob which freed suspected terrorists.
A sorry regional scenario after the first year of a prime ministerial term in Israel marked by the worse violence in the Jewish state in a generation.
The riots of last month, which killed 28 people, were neither the first nor the most recent in economically troubled Argentina. Particularly violent clashes occurred when Buenos Aires hosted the ministerial meeting which served as a prelude to the Summit of the Americas.
Lost in the brouhaha which usually accompanies world gatherings was something more than a simple anti free-trade message, something Argentina's leadership paid dearly for not heeding.
The financial crisis, into the third year of a major recession, peaked a few days before Christmas, when riots over cash withdrawal restrictions and other austerity measures forced president Fernando de la Rua from office. This was only the beginning of a long game of musical chair many hope ended when Senator Eduardo Duhalde, hardly a venerated character himself, became the fifth president of the South American country in less than two weeks.
Chosen to put an end to the social unrest which had paralysed the country, Duhalde represented everything de la Rua was not when the latter signed Argentina's commitment to hemispheric free-trade by 2005 in Quebec City. Indeed many fear the protectionist populist leader, who has repeatedly attributed his country's woes to U.S.-backed free-market policies, may deal a blow to President Bush's free-trade dream at the tip of Tierra del Fuego.
Many suspect his promised "new model" to attack the crisis will increase state intervention, a total reversal from the policies of de la Rua, who selected a free-marketeer finance minister with plans to slash tariffs that Argentina charges on capital goods from outside its trading bloc, the Mercosur.
The new peronist president, who replaced a week-long caretaker, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, unable to gather the support of his party, in fact seems to have more in common with the protesters who rejected April's ministerial gathering, and this may be just what is needed to calm the social revolt, for a time.
Some analysts suggest not only that he will ditch Saa's plans to create a new currency to alleviate the cash crunch, but go so far as to drop a decade-long peg on the U.S. dollar blamed by many for making the country's products uncompetitive. Duhalde, who came into office declaring the country "broke", said his immediate measures will include devaluating the peso, something the cash restrictions sought to avert. He envisioned a dual currency system dropping its value by nearly 30% for government and international transactions while leaving the currency floating for others.
This dual system doesn't have a great record elsewhere and it was feared too serious a devaluation could spark a new series of crises altogether. More clashes followed news of the coming devaluation on Monday, since the peso is expected to free-fall when trading resumes. Established to fight the country's once-catastrophic hyperinflation, the peg to the U.S. dollar was blamed for bringing economic growth to a crawl despite lowered trade barriers and contribute to raising the country's unemployment levels to 18%, not to mention sending the country into the largest national default in history. The economy has contracted by 11% since last summer.
For a change, supporters were rallying in front of the Argentinian congress as Duhalde was being sworn in. But clashes with some opposed to his nomination were a reminder that his performance would be closely watched and judged as severely as that of his predecessors.
In addition to high expectations, Duhalde carries a weighty personal baggage which may make him popular with the labour unions but not with many middle-class Argentinians. His term as governor of Buenos Aires was marred by allegations of corruption, a familiar charge which puts him in the lot of tainted politicians Argentinians have grown to hate. According to polls, this makes one of his priorities surrounding himself with "honest" people, as if to balance his own leadership. In addition he left his provincial administration broke, putting into question his ability to manage a financial crisis of the current, or any, magnitude.
But he also held important posts, including the vice-presidency under Carlos Menem. And his finishing a second in the last elections (with 38% of a vote with a participation rate of 80%), ending a decade-long rule by the Peronists and ushering in de la Rua's presidency, gives a sense of legitimacy to his presidency, which he will carry for two years until elections are held.
As Duhalde engages in talks to draw his "programme of national salvation", it is hoped he will have contained the damage by then and put Argentina on a more hopeful path to economic recovery. But meanwhile not everyone is giving him a vote of confidence. The long lines waiting outside foreign consulates and embassies of people planning to leave the country are back. In the last two years, a quarter of a million people fled Argentina. This week protesters were back in the streets when the governments didn't eliminate but unveiled new account restrictions, to avoid a free-fall of the peso when trading resumed.
Meanwhile Duhalde's plans have won him the confidence of neither the international financial community nor U.S. officials who fear his measures may undermine the efforts of the IMF, which has frozen over $1 billion in aid money. In fact some fear that Argentina's pulling back from the hard to swallow directives of the financial body may spread a "political contagion" across Latin America.
Has the dream of continental free-trade by 2005 died in the last few weeks? Analysts pointing to the desperate state of the Mexican finances just a few years ago would optimistically claim the contrary, but could spend quite a great deal of the year convincing people of this.
THE UNFINISHED WAR
America may have routed its Taleban foe with unexpected success, much work remains to be done in the war against terrorism, and recent events back these American claims. The arrest of 15 men in Singapore authorities say planned to commit acts of terrorism against American targets and internal threats some British-based Taleban may come back to attack their adoptive country are but a few examples of the continuing struggle. More fundamentally, top al-Qaida leaders remain at large, the capture of whom could be the mission of Canadian troops soon to be dispatched to the region. Then there was the suicide mission of a 15-year-old boy who crashed a Cessna into a Tampa office building, a note found on him indicating he supported Osama bin Laden and that the act was deliberate. Of all things, a copycat.
Even as a tragic year came to a close the incident on board American Airlines flight 63 over the Atlantic, vaguely reminiscent of that of flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, was a reminder that the war on terrorism is far from being over. Was this apparent terror attempt the act of a lone madman or organized reprisal after the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan? U.S. government officials initially said they believed the man, whom they identified as a British citizen named Richard C. Reid, was acting alone when he tried to light explosives hidden in his shoes, and may have been mentally unstable when he caused all the commotion on board the flight with 197 passengers and crew.
But charging he was acting at the behest of a terrorist group was never out of the question, and this became increasingly likely as investigators found he had been worshipping at the same London mosque as indicted Sept. 11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, with other trails also linking him to al-Qaida. The latter faces trial in October on charges of conspiring to kill thousands in which he has entered a not guilty plea.
As light was being shone on the Reid matter Newsweek magazine revealed that the "American Taleban", John Walker, was closer to bin Laden's inner circle than originally thought and had once earned the trust of his al-Qaida superiors to the point of meeting with bin Laden. This may prompt authorities to take a closer look back at the warnings Walker had issued upon his arrest that plans were in the works for other more terrible acts of terror in the future. These warnings, some of which were indeed outrageous, were initially discarded because Walker wasn't considered likely to have be in on any of al-Qaida or bin Laden's plans.
Was the attempted explosion on flight 63 a follow-up heralding many more? Rudy Giuliani, the now former New York mayor named Time magazine's man of the year, said he's been getting ready for other attacks ever since September 11. U.S. officials believe they have thwarted some terrorist attacks with intelligence gathered during the military campaign in Afghanistan and have said some of the captured Taleban have been quite cooperative in sharing information.
To what extent have al-Qaida's resources been diminished? If anything, the attempt on flight 63 was alarming not only in that it occurred on the eve of the busy holiday travel period, as the world was starting to feel comfortable about flying again, but in that it showed security, no matter how tight since the Sept. 11 attacks, remains one step behind. After making planes free of cardboard cutters and other tools used in the 9-11 attacks, terrorists concealed explosives in their shoes. Soon airports around the world asked that shoes be removed and x-rayed before boarding, what will they think of next?
And while the method and materials used by Reid, explosives identified as part military and part homemade, suggest an organization was behind the attempt rather than a suicidal individual, how do we know it was al-Qaida? Last month former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani warned that Palestinian suicide bombers might target U.S. assets. He talked "of a day when exhausted Palestinians, embracing martyrdom, decide to hit [American] vital interests all over the world," according to Agence France-Presse. Crucial questions remain unanswered as the world rings in the new year.
Et crac! Des millions de tirelires ont sauté dans la grande ruée à la conversion des conversions. Et pouf! D'un coup des millions de millionnaires Italiens sont disparus. En revanche, certains trouveront qu'il est moins pénible d'étudier un solde bancaire négatif en Euros qu'en Pesetas.
Dans la nuit du 31 décembre au 1er janvier le mythe est devenu réalité, non seulement celui d'une monnaie jadis réservée aux financiers, dont on attendait depuis longtemps l'apparition, mais d'une Europe qui est de moins en moins le monopole des bureaucrates de Bruxelles. L'Euro, en fait, c'est pour une première fois une Europe presque politique que l'on peut toucher, que l'on peut mettre dans sa poche, mais que l'on peut sans doute aussi perdre dans des trous de pantalons usés.
Douze pays sur les quinze qui forment l'Union Européenne, ont adopté une monnaie unique à présent palpable. "L'Euro n'est pas une fin en soi, a expliqué le président français Jacques Chirac lors de son discours télévisé annuel, c'est une victoire pour l'Europe". 300 millions de citoyens se sentiront bientôt plus chez eux dans chacun de ces pays, mais seulement après une certaine période d'adaptation durant laquelle ils se sentiront "étrangers chez eux", selon un de nos correspondants.
Après tout une génération de Français compte toujours en Anciens Francs. "Comme tout le monde, j'ai mis quelques Francs de côté, en souvenir, nous écrit Karine Margouillat depuis Paris. Pour le moment on ne se rend pas vraiment compte que les Francs, c'est fini. C'est un peu comme un jeu mais je pense que dans quelques semaines, ça va faire vraiment bizarre..." Et comment, le Franc existait depuis plusieurs siècles.
Il en faudra également du temps pour oublier une monnaie datant d'avant Jésus Christ, la drachme, ou celle de la renaissance économique et politique allemande, le nouveau Mark. Nouveau car les précédents sont mémorables pour des raisons que 80 millions d'Allemands aimeraient mieux oublier. Eux qui s'étaient à peine habitués à la monnaie de la réunification.
La transition ne sera pas seulement mentale mais évidemment technique, puisque le transfert de ces devises en Euro, un événement unique dans l'histoire mondiale de la monnaie, exigera quelques mois de transition, des distributrices bancaires italiennes (dont les deux tiers, le 1er janvier, versaient encore des Lires; causant un émoi qui a écourté la carrière du ministre des affaires extérieures) aux parcmètres des plus petites bougrades. Puis il faudra se buter aux manifestations aussi françaises... que le Franc, les grèves, qui risquent de retarder l'épanouissement de la monnaie unique.
Les premiers signes ont quand même été encourageants de manière générale, malgré la confusion dont peuvent profiter les faux-monnayeurs, signes qui sont suivis avec intérêt de l'autre côté de la Manche. Car même si la Grande Bretagne a été reléguée au titre de simple spectatrice, la presse de Fleet Street a fait de l'Euro un sujet presque national.
Le débat s'anime, et alors qu'il n'est plus question d'éviter un référendum sur la monnaie unique, les manifestants pro-Pounds frappent aux portes de la City pour défendre l'honneur de la reine, qui pourrait très bien ne paraître que sur les pièces des anciennes colonies d'ici quelques années. Défendre une livre forte également, puisque l'Euro, qui doit théoriquement livrer une chaude lutte au dollar américain, a perdu 25% de sa valeur par rapport au greenback. Il s'agira de la première véritable mise à l'épreuve de Tony Blair, ré-élu l'an dernier, qui se moque de l'hostilité que réservent toujours ses opposants conservateurs à la monnaie unique.
Pound ou pas, il était évident que Britannia, reine des vagues, a un peu raté le bateau cette année, déchirée comme elle l'est toujours, entre ses intérêts européens et trans-atlantiques. Elle ne pensait jamais se retrouver dans l'autre camp de l'Europe à deux vitesses.
L'Euro marque une date historique du processus d'intégration européen. Alors qu'il n'a pas encore remplacé les couronnes danoise et suédoise, il s'étend dans deux fois plus de pays que l'Europe de Schengen, ce rêve de frontière unique. Pour plusieurs, l'Europe a cessé de ne prendre de que l'ampleur en janvier, elle a aussi pris un sens.
CRITICIZING U.S. JUSTICE
America's allies may have muted initial grumblings on the strikes against Afghanistan but they have been more vocal criticizing U.S. justice in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Recently France became just the last country to voice concern over the justice awaiting those charged with the attacks because they could face the death penalty, a bone of contention between Europe and the U.S. well before Sept. 11.
The issue was most recently brought to the forefront by the indictment in the U.S. of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent who was accused of being part of the conspiracy ring that hijacked airplanes on Sept. 11. Prosecutors have not indicated they would seek the death penalty ahead of the Jan. 2 arraignment date, but it is an option in the state of Virginia where Moussaoui will face U.S. justice.
France is refusing that the suspect be executed if found guilty, especially since in theory he could seek consular protection. Other countries, including Spain, attached conditions to the extradition of suspects to the U.S. under fear they could face the death penalty. Madrid made its reservations plain when asked to extradite suspects it had arrested on Nov. 18. More recently, the U.K. even hinted it would have reservations about handing over prime suspect Osama bin Laden to the U.S. if captured, because he could face the death penalty there. Britain is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights which bars it from extraditing people to countries where they could face capital punishment.
Countries are also concerned about the fate of captured Taleban supporter John Walker, an American who could be tried for treason and face the death penalty. Although he has been collaborating with U.S. authorities, he could potentially still face the death penalty in his home state of California.
Upon the release of the home-made video-tape showing a gleeful bin Laden telling an Islamic cleric he never anticipated the extent of the damage of the Sept. 11 attacks, outgoing New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Time magazine's man of the year, said he hoped the broadcast would convince other countries of the use of the death penalty in prosecuting terrorist suspects. An opinion widely shared among a number of New Yorkers incensed by bin Laden's display on video that week. The Republican mayor, who leaves office at the end of the month, said the same fate should await Walker, a statement which makes other nations uncomfortable.
The international concern over human rights was also plain when many leaders questioned George W. Bush's decision to authorize military tribunals for non-U.S. criminals accused of terrorism. The concern was abated somewhat when the U.S. decided Moussaoui would not face military justice. Some in the U.S. however questioned the use of such tribunals if someone suspected of take part in the Sept. 11 attacks could avoid them.
America's allies have also been spooked by remarks by the U.S. Defense Secretary in which he said he would prefer bin Laden be killed rather than captured, especially after the U.S. denounced so-called target killings of Islamic militants by Israel recently. Further statements to the effect that the U.S. would not be in position to arrest al-Qaida fighters, and hopes that the Alliance would not let them run free suggested a "no quarters" position in violation of the Geneva convention. Matters of utmost importance as al-Qaida and Taleban fighters are about to face justice in Afghanistan.
THE WIDENING WAR
The war against terrorism claimed more victims but also jolted more determined governments into action recently. An attack on India's parliament by five gunmen, who died along with nine others in a shootout, prompted the Indian government to consider declaring its own war on terrorism. Islamic militants from the troubled Kashmir are suspected of being responsible but denied responsibility. They conducted a similar attack against the legislature of Jammu-Kashmir in October killing over 30 people.
While modern Indian history has been marked with a number of attacks against the leadership since independence, it was the first time parliament itself came under fire. Despite Pakistan's quick condemnation of the attacks India says it has credible evidence Islamic Kashmiri militants from north of the border were responsible and called for authorities to arrest terrorist leaders and cut funding to the suspected organizations. Furthermore Indian authorities suspect Pakistani intelligence services had knowledge of the plans to attack.
The incident is just the latest to create new fears of war between south Asia's nuclear powers. The crisis is putting the U.S. in the uncomfortable position of pressuring Pakistan, a staunch ally in the coalition against terrorism, to curb the activities of the militant groups. Washington would be doing this bearing in mind the potential for pursuing the fight against terrorism in Pakistan, should al-Qaida leaders and bin Laden seek refuge there. The U.S. is also urging India to use restraint as it leads its investigation.
But the Nationalist BJP party urged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to follow the lead of the US strikes on Afghanistan in responding to the suicide attack on the Parliament complex. "The way the United States went into Afghanistan, the government should also take similar steps," its leader said. India's home minister, Lal Krishna Advani, suggested that India would be within its rights to send troops across the border to chase Islamic guerrillas. "If one country attacks its neighbor or sends its people to indulge in sabotage and killings, hot pursuit is regarded as a legitimate response," he told Star News television.
President George Bush has offered services of the FBI and State Department counter-terrorism groups to investigate the attack on the Indian Parliament and cracked down on funding tied to the suspected groups. Secretary of State Colin Powell offered condolences and expressed "our determination to co-operate with India in its fight against terrorism." In a strong condemnation of the terrorist strike, the U.S. administration described it as "a brutal assault on the heart of Indian democracy" and said it was tantamount to "an attack on all democracies." As both countries massed troops along their border, the recalling of India's ambassador signalled tensions would rise before they let up.
In the Middle-east meanwhile, Israel cut its own ties with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat after yet the latest attack against Israeli civilians. Cabinet members said they held Arafat "directly responsible" for the ambush of a bus by Palestinian gunmen that killed 10 and wounded 30. Analysts say the tactics used, of targeting the emergency workers after an initial attack, reminded them of the techniques used by the terror group Hizbullah in the past. Previous bloody terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa were claimed by other groups, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
After initially rounding up suspects, Arafat shut down the headquarters of the two groups, which wasn't enough to avert further Israeli airstrikes against Palestinian Authority buildings. Arafat claimed the Israeli attacks against his security forces only make his job of rounding up militants harder. After the attacks on Jerusalem and Haifa, which killed 25 people, Israel said that it would emulate America in striking terrorism with all the resources in its arsenal. It has since sent troops into the Palestinian territories to round up suspects.
Arafat called for an end to the terrorist attacks in a special television appearance last week, but also charged Israel of leading "an unjust war" by attacking Palestinian positions. Hamas leaders initially responded defiantly, saying they would not halt attacks, showing once more the limits to Arafat's authority. But after much pressure and even a firefight with the PA, Hamas declared it would bring a temporary halt to the attacks, something which failed to move Israel but which may win Arafat enough points to keep mediation alive.
While many countries are suspicious of U.S. intent of widening the war against terrorism last week marked the first time authorities launched military action against al-Qaida outside Afghanistan when police and military struck against supporters of bin Laden in Yemen. The impoverished Middle East country has often been referred to as a strong base for the organization, it was the scene of the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors. U.S. officials believe bin Laden was behind the suicide bombing. Ties have since improved between the U.S. and Yemen. The attack occurred on a day U.S. authorities reiterated warnings to nations not to harbor al-Qaida members, some of whom may seek to flee Afghanistan.
Pressure on the Somali government has also resulted in the arrest of persons suspected to be tied to al-Qaida. By cracking down the interim government of Mogadishu may have tried to avert possible U.S. strikes after it was branded as a probable hotbed of terrorist activity by Washington. Prime Minister Hassan Abshir Farah protested "We are not Talibans, we have never invited terrorists. There are no more al-Qaeda bases, no more al-Itihaad bases, they were dismantled in 1997-98."
While Bush said 2002 would be marked by the continuation of the war against terrorism, at least some officials think this will not necessarily involve U.S. ground troops if enough local cooperation can be found. As peacekeeping troops enter Afghanistan and an interim government takes over in Kabul, some fear the U.S. may feel emboldened enough by its success against the Taleban to go against an old foe, Iraq, something which would have dramatic consequences on the coalition.
AN ISLAND OF TRANQUILITY SHATTERED
Tourists leaving Indonesia's major temples are greeted by a flock of vendors selling everything from ceremonial pipes to small replicas of the monuments. A little army of insistent natives ready to take a nod or a wink as a transaction gone down. Parking lots around most of these major sites are surrounded by huge markets brimming with businesses of all types and spilling into the car spaces, where someone will expect a few rupiahs for washing your car while you're gone visiting.
They are all fighting for a rare commodity: tourists. Until recently at least one part of the country was notable for drawing millions every year as well as the rich and famous, but now even that haven of tranquility has been shattered by the violence rocking the rest of the archipelago. The paradise island of Bali lures tourists from across the globe with its white-sand beaches and unique Hindu culture, and until now has been immune to the violence that has wracked Indonesia over the past few years.
The huge bombs that destroyed two bars in the popular Kuta district killing over 180 people will be a devastating blow to cash-strapped Indonesia's tourism industry and Bali's economy. Bali is Indonesia's top tourist destination with a total of 1.42 million tourists entering the country directly at Bali's international airport in 2001. But many of the 3.7 million other tourists who entered the country from other destinations in Indonesia that year also visited Bali.
Indonesian officials have repeatedly insisted Bali was safe to visit, despite raised fears of terrorist attacks in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States. They cited the island's Hindu culture which had no links with Muslim radicals blamed for much of the violence in other parts of the country.
Bali has long been a popular world tourist destination with its sprawling beaches, scenic rice terraces and its culture which dots the island with hundreds of temples. Many of the world's jetsetters have residences in Bali, home to three million people and much less crowded than nearby Java. Even before the attack, Bali had already been suffering from decreasing numbers of tourists visiting the country. Just as it was slowly recovering from a slump in response to violence in other parts of Indonesia, the September 11 attacks caused more foreigners to stay away.
The tourism industry is the backbone of the economy in Bali and the private Metro TV quoted a local tourism official as saying that the bombing would sound the death knell for the industry. In the week following the attack arrivals were down to a third the usual 5,000 per day, and hotel occupancy halved from the usual 70%.
Now the once peaceful green island lush with rice-fields is stirring with police and military vehicles hunting for people responsible for the blasts, the result of three home-made bombs. "This is unbelievable, Bali has always been the safest place," a German diplomat told The Jakarta Post.
Most of the victims were foreigners who were reveling at Sari Club discotheque in Kuta area. The club is exclusively open for foreigners. The explosion in front of Sari Club, believed to have come from a car bomb, was heard from as far as 12 kilometers from the area. Another blast near the U.S. consulate made no injuries but heightened fears after earlier threats closed the embassy in Jakarta on Sept. 11.
"That's it, no one is going to want to invest in Bali now," lamented the promoter of Bali Camp, a software developer based in a resort-like compound of northern Bali over-looking rice terraces. The company did not waste any time to issue a press release to business partners to attempt to calm their fears. "We would like to inform you that the situation in Bali is stable now. BaliCamp, as it is located in the rural area of Pacung, has not been affected by the incidents and our operations are continuing smoothly. All project milestones remain unchanged since no infrastructure important to us has been damaged nor any of our people is harmed." The company, which employs some 150 people, regularly busses some of its staff from southern points of Bali, closer to Kuta.
But others are already dreading the losses to come. Travel agent Irma, who handled the flock of tourists stuck in airports following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks which left many flights to the U.S. grounded, says this will only make it harder on a travel and tourism industry already hit by 9-11.
The blast, which sent tourists fleeing to airports, didn't scare away all travellers being asked to reconsider plans to visit the island however. Expatriate Tardan Sasmito says she's going ahead with plans to visit Bali in January anyways. Her brother plans to visit Jakarta, noting the sliding rupiah may make his trip more affordable.
A German tourist recently arrived said he feels safe nonetheless and that people should come back to Bali. "My wife is still in Germany and she phoned to tell me to come back but I did not see any reason to end my holiday," he said. An Australian tourist thought that by leaving tourists were letting terrorism win. Meanwhile Indonesians are trying to cope with the aftermath of the tragedy. "Why does this have to happen?" asked a Java student who first thought Bali, a place she was hoping to visit for the first time to go surf-boarding, had been struck by an earthquake.
Authorities were quick to attribute the worse terrorist attack in Indonesian history to al-Qaida despite earlier resistance to the notion the country was infiltrated by Osama bin Laden's organization. President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who visited the site of the tragedy, signed an emergency decree giving the military broad powers to crack down on terrorism and making the culprits punishable by death. The army has vowed to bring those responsible to justice within a month.
Pressed to be seen as rounding up terrorist suspects and cracking down on extremists, authorities arrested cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who is wanted by authorities in Malaysia and Singapore. Preaching for the establishment of an Islamic state but denying any link to al-Qaida, Ba'asyir has been uniting homegrown militant groups in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar with a known al-Qaida member now in custody according to intelligence reports.
But authorities say Hambali, a 36-year-old Islamic scholar wanted by the same countries in connection with a series of bomb attacks in the last two years, is South-East Asia's true most wanted man. Hambali is believed to be the operations mastermind of Jemaah Islamiah, a terror group named as suspect in the 12 October Bali bombing, which Ba'asyir is also accused of having extensive links to.
Some commentators feared economic interests have become al-Qaida's latest targets, citing the earlier attack on a French oil tanker off Yemen, also attributed to al-Qaida. Recent attacks against U.S. servicemen in Kuwait were also linked to Osama bin Laden's organization by local authorities. Meanwhile the Philippines have been rocked by a string of deadly attacks attributed to Islamic groups sympathetic to al-Qaida.
These attacks as well as the emergence of new threatening messages by al-Qaida leave analysts thinking the terror network is regrouping and planning future attacks against Western interests, possibly in the U.S. as well. Intelligence agencies are even starting to look into the possibility al-Qaida may be involved in the string of sniper killings terrorizing greater Washington, DC. "I believe that this is the beginning of a lot more (that) we're going to see, perhaps in the U.S., although we hope not," said a pessimistic Senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, the top ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence commenting on the Bali blast.
CIA director George Tenet warned that the number of recent terrorist activities indicate al-Qaida is in an "active phase" and is preparing to strike American targets in the U.S. and overseas. He called the threat level as high as it was right before 9-11. While some claimed the attack in Bali opened a new front in the war on terrorism, the site of charred night-clubs and young victims are only too familiar to the citizens of Israel, whose night-spots are often targeted by suicide bombers.
Australia meanwhile, where most of the Bali victims originated, considered the attack "terrorism touching home", as headlined in the Sydney Morning Herald. The day of the attack, referred-to as Australia's 9-11, saw the largest loss of Australian lives since the second World War. Prime minister John Howard called for a day of mourning before visiting the site of the bombing to comfort the families of victims. Reportedly he told one of them: "We'll get the bastards who did this." This week, while an international investigation continues, the Australian intelligence service opened an office in Jakarta.
Indonesian authorities meanwhile tried to downplay the extent of the economic damage brought about by the attack. Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti maintained that the bomb blast had not hindered economic activities in the country. According to him, the government will provide extra services at the airports for the victims of the bomb blast and their families. "We are going to contact the organizers to give them a guarantee that conditions in Bali will soon return to normal to allow the convening of the events," he said.
A guarantee is however what the Balinese thought they already had from the Indonesian government, which portrayed the island as peaceful in part because of its Hindu culture. Some experts now think this religious distinction made it a target of choice for fundamentalists seeking to avoid Muslim casualties while targeting Westerners in Indonesia.
The Washington Post further reported that the CIA had issued a warning two weeks prior the incident of a possible attack in Bali, reinforcing the notion that the blast had been an intelligence failure. All information gathered by United States and Australian intelligence agencies is usually shared between the countries but Prime Minister Howard said he had no knowledge of the US report.
One week after the blast London's Sunday Times tied the attack to al-Qaida. One of Osama Bin Laden's senior lieutenants told CIA interrogators that money from an account controlled by Bin Laden was used to buy explosives by the Islamist group suspected of the attack, the paper reported.
Some lament Indonesia is damned to wallow in mysery for some time. "Indonesia has been in a state of crisis since 1998, this is just another in the latest to deal us with a blow," Jakarta Post Deputy Editor Endy Bayuni tells the NPU. " We thought we were in the process of recovering, but now this. Can't say we've never been there before, but this is just prolonging the crisis unnecessarily." More than that it opens a new front in the war on terror.
A LAND OF DIVERSITY, AND TENSION
It is 6 am on a Sunday and the chant of Christian rock music resonates from the halls of a church adorned by a large mural depicting Jesus Christ. The packed congregation and the full band, with drums and saxophone, are just warming up with a full hour of chant before mass, as the panthing and embarrassed late-comers are greeted by the priest at the entrance. There is little room in the parking lot, cluttered by motorbikes. On one of the seats sits a helmet with a sticker which reads "Jesus inside".
The scene is an unexpected one in the central Java metropolis of Yogyakarta, largely Muslim and home to some fundamentalist groups, and some may see this little enclave of Christianity as a testimony to Indonesia's religious tolerance in this country where diversity is sometimes marked in blood. But the guards at the entrance gates are a reminder of the occasional risks.
Across the country there are other more visible examples of cohabitation between the faiths and origins. In the capital, Jakarta, the sprawling Istiqlal mosque casts its shadow on a protestant cathedral. This is one of many attempts to display national unity, Jakarta Post Deputy Chief Editor Endy Bayuni says, it is no coincidence. North of the capital a theme park was even created to celebrate the country's rich cultural and religious diversity with a series of displays from every region. Longhouses from Borneo, Hindu temples from Bali and other exhibits were erected side by side along with a Roman catholic church and mosque, a display of religious as well as ethnic diversity.
But diversity and harmony don't necessarily go hand in hand. In the course of the last weeks, religious intolerance in the troubled province of Aceh, so neatly represented in the theme park, have caused bloodshed practically every day. Tolerance may be in display, but the world's fourth largest country is home to divisions which may spark more widespread acts of intolerance and violence if the economy performs poorly, Endy says, and right now he admits "things aren't very good". He cites the national media's obliteration of any news from the former province of East Timor, now the world's newest country, as example. "We have our own problems," he says.
In addition to having violent separatist factions, the country is home to fundamentalists seeking to impose the Sharia Islamic law. The government's failure to pass a relevant bill in parliament was the cause of disruptive protest in the streets. Endy says the country's form of Islam is peaceful and tolerant, but admits a small but vocal minority of hard-liners have been taking a lot of space in the media, including his own newspaper. "They are a minority, we will probably give them less coverage in the future," he says of the English-language newspaper's editorial policy.
But news events may decide otherwise. On Sept. 11, the anniversary of the terror attack in Washington and New York, the U.S. embassy in the capital and a consulate of East Java were closed after what U.S. ambassador Ralph L. Boyce termed as a "credible threat". Dismayed by the fact the missions had been closed without warning, the government required explanations from the diplomat, all the while erecting a concrete barrier, cutting traffic and placing military and police vehicles on the street running along the embassy.
The media and Islamic groups raged about the U.S.' attempt to "embarrass" Indonesia. Earlier Boyce had cautioned businesses to stay out of Indonesia until the country stabilizes. Then this week, a failed grenade attack against an empty embassy depot sparked more concern Indonesia was indeed a possible target of terror attacks.
Much of the terror information and warnings were provided by Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti citizen arrested by Indonesian police this Summer where he allegedly had been working to unite terrorist groups from several countries in southeast Asia. He was sent to the U.S.-held Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where the CIA has been questioning him. Authorities say al-Faruq was sent to southeast Asia in 1995 by senior al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, who is also now in U.S. custody, and add he worked closely with Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who is wanted by authorities in Malaysia and Singapore. Ba'asyir lives freely in Indonesia, where he continues to campaign for an Islamic state but denies any link to al Qaeda.
According to leaked reports Ba'asyir and al-Faruq united at least nine homegrown militant groups in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. The same reports allege the two men -- helped by at least three other al Qaeda operatives in the region -- set off simultaneous bombing attacks in the Philippines and Indonesia in December 2000, plotted to assassinate Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and planned suicide bomb attacks against U.S. and Western interests in the region.
Indonesia is seen as a possible rallying point for sympathizers, including a group with proven links to al-Qaida, rather than a potential hot spot for Islamic activity, but this may be changing. In any event there may be more than a few outlets for these dark rallies. The northern Java road between Jakarta and Cirebon is littered with signs pointing to local madrassas, the schools of Islam which came under a bad light for fomenting violence and hatred of the West along with furthering the teachings of Islam. "Madrassa means schools, they are not all breeding grounds for terror," a former Indonesian diplomat tells the NPU. Many members of Afghanistan's Taleban, which means "student", attended such schools however.
In Pakistan, one of America's closest allies in the war against terrorism in Asia, president Pervez Musharraf made a point of cracking down on madrassas preaching extremism, while defending the social value of others. "One has to understand that there are many positive aspects about them, including their humanitarian efforts relating to poverty alleviation and welfare. And this must be recognized. At the madrassas, the children of the poor get free room and board. Altogether, the madrassas form one big welfare organization that no NGO in the world can match."
Indonesia's higher education system may encourage diversity, the official policy, it nonetheless may foster divisions some say. Students in the college city of Bandung, three hours south of Jakarta say the system doesn't encourage students to take a variety of religious courses. "You can attend classes on various religions, but can only register and get marked for exams in courses of your own religion," explains one graduate student. Similarily movies with religious themes, even the highly popular U.S. blockbuster movies which regularly play on Indonesian screens, are either edited or banned, such as Arnold Schwartzenegger's "Judgement Day".
Indonesia may be a larger mosaic of peoples and religions, it nonetheless has a history of inter-ethnic and religious violence, both recent and old. A brutal testimony can be found on the site of the world's largest Bhuddist temple, Borobudur, less then an hour's drive West of Yogyakarta. The IXth century temple, reconstructed with the help of UNESCO, is notable for its symmetry, spiritual sunrises, and headless bhuddas, many damaged only a few decades ago by Muslim fundamentalists. And some of them aren't very far away. Yogyakarta is reportedly a base of the Laskar Jihad, a militant Islamic group whose leader is on trial for inciting violence against Christians, and last week warnings of possible attacks against Westerners were issued in the city, though they were played down by police.
Hasyim Muzadi, the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, the 40-million strong moderate Muslim organization, warned the tough U.S. stance in South-east Asia could cause a backlash in Indonesia. "If Indonesia is continuously bothered, certain parties, including moderate elements, may take adverse action against the U.S.," Muzadi said, calling Washington's declarations on the alleged plot to assassinate Soekarnoputri and U.S. claims of threats to Westerners in central Java "various propaganda tricks." "We greatly deplore these moves because they amount to U.S. interference," he said.
This is an accusation the U.S. faces world-wide, but especially in South East Asia, where it has decided to cast it latest anti-terrorism net. U.S. plans to blacklist Jemaah Islamiah risks fuelling anti-American feeling in the region according to analysts. Further, Endy says if the U.S. attacks Iraq it will send violent protests to the streets, not for the first time, but with the added passion of feeling victimized.
SLUGGISH EAST ASIA
The sprawling work site on the Indonesian island of Bali stretches out into the distance. For now the sole bust of Vishnu rises above the horizon, the national symbol, the bird-like Garuda, a few meters behind it. When the monument is over, it will be taller than the statue of Liberty, a giant tribute to Indonesia's cultural richness. But the privately-backed mega project is well behind schedule, and won't be ready for another few years, just one of the many casualties of the economic downturn which hit South East Asia during the crash of 1997.
Five years later the pains linger. On the nearby island of Java restoration of the massive Hindu and Bhuddist temples of Borobudur and Prambanan have also been slowed to a trickle, and the slowdown lingers well beyond Indonesia. Hong Kong is still in the midst of an economic downturn. It was doubly affected five years ago when the markets crashed the day after it had reverted to Chinese rule, sending worried investors scrambling overseas.
The 1997 crisis first struck Thailand's currency, the Baht, which collapsed, triggering a domino effect across the region which soon spread to the rest of the world. Today, although nursing a 4% growth recovery, Thailand's markets still bear the scars of the night the lights went out in Bangkok five years ago. The Thai government and central bank are still unveiling plans to share the burden of the massive liabilities of the bailout of companies following the 1997 crash.
In general looks can be deceiving in "Asia's world city". Started two years ago, amid the economic morass, Hong Kong's Two International Finance Center, soon the tallest building in a city of tall buildings, will house the regional offices of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A massive project planned for brighter days which nevertheless lost little rythm in its step. Across the water from the glittering skyline, in Kowloon, shoppers in the borough of Mong Kok pack streets limited to pedestrian traffic in a mad shopping frenzy.
But this may be more noise than music to the ears of economic watchers. The latest job numbers, with unemployment soaring to a record 7.1%, indicate the city, the embodiement of China's one state two systems mantra for at least the next 45 years, still has some way to go despite its many cranes and furious activity. Prices have also been falling for over 40 consecutive months, something which at times goes unnoticed in the world's most expensive city.
Another massive undertaking - the largest since the construction of Hong Kong airport - is the construction of a highway connecting Hong Kong and nearby Macau to the Chinese mainland. But this project, intended to improve integration between the mainland and its special administrative regions, is spreading fear the link will only precipitate the outward flow of people and business not to but from Hong Kong to booming China, now a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organization which boasts more direct investment than the United States. "Hong Kong has been gradually losing its quasi-monopolistic advantage as a gateway to China," says HSBC economist George Leung, "Despite the increasing number of foreign establishments in Hong Kong, the net amount of FDI (foreign direct investment) is heading south."
What a difference a few years make. For starters Hong Kong enjoys little of the 7% growth seen in nearby China. Another financier says Hong Kong may one day become little more than a "Chinese Monaco" in the years to come, hardly an endorsement. Tycoon Li Ka-shing is more optimistic about Hong Kong's future, seeing Chinese growth foster new prosperity in the future. "With its entry in the World Trade Organization, the opportunities in mainland China are abundant," he says but adds, "It's not only good for China, it is also good for Hong Kong," saying the city offers more opportunities than others.
In Singapore, the other city-state and economic tiger which raged in the 1980s and early 1990s, an entire generation of influential inhabitants seems to agree. According to an opinion poll an increasing amount of professionals say they want to look elsewhere for business opportunities, like Australia and Canada, sparking fears of a "brain drain". In a nine-month period the number of Singaporeans wanting to permanently leave rose from 14% to 21% according to the ACNielsen poll. The numbers upset prime minister Goh Chok Tong to the point of calling those wanting to leave "quitters" in a National Day speech, hardly an embracing tactic.
It doesn't help that the region's usual economic catalyst, unlike booming South Korea, is in the midst of the longest-lasting slump since the post-war boom. Japan's financial crisis deepened when a government bond auction failed to attract enough bidders for the first time ever. Confidence in the Bank of Japan had already been weakened by its surprise announcement that it will buy shares directly from commercial banks in an attempt to stabilise the country's troubled financial system. The move does not address many of Japan's most pressing economic problems.
But some problems in Southeast Asia's economies are home-grown. In Indonesia, corruption remains endemic and saps the morale of both consumers and investors. Not far from the Garuda and Vishnu work grounds, another incomplete project bites the dust. A large two-way paved road starting from an imposing statue-guarded gate winds up in the middle of nowehere in the Balinese country-side. Where rich home-owners were supposed to live now only cows graze. This is where "Tommy" Suharto, the former despot's notorious son, now in prison for fraud, planned a 700-hectare exclusive community for the wealthy and foreigners. A monument to failure and rampant corruption, holding back what should otherwise be one of South East Asia's more vibrant economies.
Just recently a Jakarta tribunal found House of representatives speaker Akbar Tandjung guilty of graft. But while many lawmakers have clamored for his immediate dismissal, he is hanging on to his post while awaiting an appeal. The verdict, at a time the Indonesian justice is timidly trying to bring corruption on trial, was yet again decried as light by critics who point out it was far below the 20-year maximum imprisonment sentence. "Notorious for their corrupt ways, the country's judiciary sprang another surprise" trashed the Jakarta Post on its cover page.
Indonesians complain that corruption is upsetting them, from the money handed over to police officers to avoid a fine, to the millions of dollars playing into the country's natural resources business, to the dismay of "exploited and disgruntled local peoples," decries Bali restaurateur Mas Ardun.
According to a recent Transparency International survey, Indonesia dropped down a few notches further, to rank 96th out of 102 countries, a few spots from the bottom of the most corrupt in the world. "We only have a few more to go," jokes an Indonesian expatriate. Investment disaffection, corruption and sluggish trading partners all contribute to the lingering East Asian economic morass five years after the 1997 crash.