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Année d'épreuve en Afghanistan                         

Cette année l’administration américaine, en commençant par le secrétaire de la défense, a fait les frais de la pénible campagne en Irak. Mais alors que cet automne une commission bipartisane recommandait un changement de cap dans la stratégie à poursuivre, la recrudescence des violences en Afghanistan, la où la guerre au terrorisme avait été initiée, faisait deux nouvelles victimes canadiennes.

Pour le Canada, la guerre se passe au sud du pays, qui peu à peu et malgré les nombreux efforts des plus de 2000 troupes unifoliées et de leurs alliés de l’Otan, semble redevenir un fief taliban. Il faut dire que l’entente conclue entre le Pakistan et les tribues au nord du pays qui vivent en bordure de la frontière avec l’Afghanistan, ne semblent qu’avoir facilité les opérations des insurgés, agissant en toute impunité.

Au camp de Kandahar pendant ce temps, l’armée canadienne a essuyé ses plus importantes pertes depuis quelques générations, 44 soldats en tout, dont une trentaine cette année, en plus du diplomate qui fut la première victime canadienne de 2006, le 15 janvier.

Sous le nouveau gouvernement Harper, le Canada a réitéré son soutien des opérations militaires en cours au moins jusqu’en 2009, mais de nombreux stratèges parlent déjà d’une présence plus longue. C’est également le souhait du président Hamid Karzai, qui a fait les éloges du Canada lors de son passage à Ottawa cet été, tout en laissant entendre que toute présence à long terme du Canada serait bienvenue.

Le pays est divisé sur la question. Puis le Canada a cherché à obtenir davantage de soutien de ses alliés de l’Alliance Atlantique, reprochant à certains de limiter leurs opérations à des régions relativement stables du pays.

En cette fin d’année, qui a résonné au son des cornemuses marquant les décès, l’avenir de l’Afghanistan semble peu reluisant malgré tant de peine.

D'autant plus triste: le fait que cinq ans plus tard, l'Afghanistan fait encore la manchette.

China rising, nervously

It doesn't take long for the new rising China to make a strong impression, about seven minutes in fact. That's the time it takes the Maglev speed train to barrel down the countryside from Pudong's international airport to the newest part of the country's bustling metropolis of Shanghai, separated by some 40km. And in this city of contrasts home to 16 million, sometimes it seems everything is racing at 430 km per hour. The bullet train than beats Japan Rail's Narita express hands down (1 hour service to the airport 65km out of Tokyo) is out to serve notice that in this day an age China is out to compete with the best of Asia and beyond.

The economy seems unstoppable after yet another quarter of growth close to the double-digits, overshadowing Japan's own string of growth successes in the last quarters, and needs to stay that way, to feed the hunger for jobs of over a billion citizens all eager to take part in the giant's economic miracle, a term usually reserved for its insular neighbor.

But when the Maglev banks in one of its steep turns, one could feel the impulse of throwing one's hands in the air, as in a roller-caster. The comparison is fitting. While the economy keeps roaring, its effects are causing their ups and downs in society in general. Farmers protesting lands seized and unfairly compensated to make way for large-scale developments, such as was the case in Guangzhou last week, and miners dying in the country's desperate and often unsafe search for coal to power the mighty turbines, as was reminded last week during the sentencing of mining directors in Tongchuan city for one 2004 accident which killed 166 miners, are just some examples of the often heavy price paid for rapid development. The same day 11 more miners died in north-west China.

Elsewhere complaints from citizens protesting a worsening environment or evictions in old neighborhoods to give way to yet another gleaming skyscraper, are rising tensions in a country where the iron rice bowl has been held with an iron first despite the liberties of the new economy. Trying to keep a lid on excesses, the government has shown a growing concern for issues such as the environment and worker rights instituting a party policy of "socialist harmonious society" while attempting to crack down on corruption by targeting greedy party leaders in Beijing and Shanghai.

But some only see in the crackdown President Hu Jintao's attempt to remove officials of the old guard he never considered loyal anyways, while many Chinese fail to discern much "harmony", the need for policy in itself a reminder of the current "disharmony". And some of it is surprisingly seeping to the surface.

During a recent 10-day exhibition on "human rights", petitioners and protesters made it a habit of dropping by the exhibit in Beijing to voice their complaints on a variety of issues from corruption to unfairly compensated seizures, calling security guards' attempts to stop them an affront to the entire exhibit. Visibly embarrassed by the presence of curious journalists on location, officials would stop short of evicting the unheralded visitors, pleading for understanding. In itself the exhibit was an important step for a country which still resists the need to free its stranglehold on society as it has on the economy.

The arrest of a Hong Kong reporter accused of spying was just the latest sign Beijing is not ready to let its citizens enjoy the freedom of flowing capital. And even that has its limits. Last week's revelations that senior Chinese officials interfered in the sale of Hong Kong telecommunications group PCCW, in a special administrative region which should in effect remain independent for another four decades, was a sign both of Hong Kong's submission to the mainland and an indication that Beijing intends to be very much hands-on even when it comes to business, a reminder often made when state-owned Chinese companies take over firms in the West.

If the exhibit and even Hong Kong are for show, like the numerous Christmas decorations in a country officially atheist, then there are to be many more pretend acts of open-ness as China gears up for its coming of age parties in 2008, during the Beijing games, and two years later when Shanghai holds the world expo. Already the government has lessened strict rules on journalists in preparation for the games, while mock protests were even tolerated during a recent IOC inspection where Olympic officials reminded the future hosts that the spirit of the games had to strive beyond the tracks and the fields.

North of Beijing where the installations are going up in record pace, the same sea of cranes that dominates the Shanghai skyline; especially in the new city of Pudong built over old pastures and marshes. The changes in the last half a dozen years have been breath-taking says lifelong Shanghai resident Lewis, a Fudan university sociology student whose wealthy parents gave a Western-sounding name so he could strive and make a fortune abroad. "Development has brought some good and some bad, it's a balance," he explains. "There has been much development, but then there have been problems with the environment."

Howard, a student in his program but from a very different background, points first to "corruption" when describing the country's ills. A bright student from the poor country-side, he was able to attend the country's more liberal university with strong grades, which he hopes will enable him to become a civil servant and perhaps change the system from the inside. That's quite a hopeful thought process for someone who's father suffered under the current regime, and was reminded that in today's China, a variation of the old "it's who you know and not what you know" still rules.

What is also hopeful is that both share the same class despite their different backgrounds, and that Fudan, which like all colleges is government-run, allows for a healthy level of debate on anything from government corruption to current policies, granted "without inviting the subversive". Frequent visitors have seen noticeable changes in the country, such as tourists who no longer have to be tailed by government-minders. To be sure in Fudan's halls, criticism of Mao and other regimes has become a national sport, and copies of the little red book and Mao pins are more likely to be found on stalls of the city's open-air "antiques market" than homes. After all, all these pins and books for sale, cheaply, were once actually owned by people.

Locals also note the rise of religious rights, in a country where they are often seen as competition to the almighty party. Slowly freeing religious rights once banned under Mao has changed people's behavior Lewis claims. "It has made them more polite, now that they can express themselves." And in reopened Taoist, Buddhist and other shrines across Shanghai, the result is attendance that fills the air with incense and the tills with loose change.

But corruption seems to be on the minds of many we were surprisingly reminded, during a street show of young girls who bent their little bodies beyond the humanely possible for pennies, and would be quite suitable for Beijing's circus of the spine-deprived. "You see what we have been reduced to?" one man dressed in a suit approached us saying. "These are the poorest of the poor, look what they have to do to survive! Here the rich and corrupt grow stronger and the poorest suffer more and more!" The outburst, never before heard by our Chinese-Canadian companion, was yet one more sign of discontent bubbling to the surface on the pond of government-sanctioned "harmony". "Harmony! That's a joke," she tells us. Just like human rights exhibits and the country's apparent embrace of capitalism.

As with everything new to China, the realities are adapted to local tastes, at least those considered to be local tastes by the hierarchy, like the hot green bean pie offered at local McDonald's. The reason many cite, is the size of the nation's population, some 1.4 billion, but at that level really who is counting. Because of the numbers, different rules have to be obeyed, some officials argue, to keep the peace. An interesting observation considering that the day may come when China's population comes second to that of the continent's other giant, India, whose rising economy may not be as glittering, but where democratic values are quite in another league.

Population is important in China, it is the reason why it's so valued as a market by investors anxious to get in at any price, often by bending their own rules. Wal-Mart recently accepted that all its branches there could house unions, something viciously combated in Canada where it is considered anathema by the managers.

Google and other internet companies have also accepted to modify their products in order to obtain the seal of approval of a government anxious to keep its citizens' eyes away from "unsuitable" material. Which apparently includes the Northern Press web site, as inaccessible there as the BBC's. Not an ugly pedestal to be sharing. Occasionally even executives have a pang of consciousness, such as Microsoft exec Fred Tipson who said concerns over the repressive regime might force the company to "look again at our presence here."

Demographics also have everything to do with explaining why the country is where it is today under current policies, notes scholar Dr Pang, recently invited to Fudan to lecture foreign students. He points to the dramatic shift of birth and mortality rates in the late 50s as "the most significant period in modern Chinese history" which he says defined how the country would adopt a one-child policy and handle other domestic affairs.

Demographics, he says, may also herald the crises of tomorrow, such as the imbalance between men and women, the result of the policy. "I am looking at this with quite a degree of pessimism," he says. And what can't be good for over a billion Chinese may not be for the rest of us. Other projections point to a drop of the population, the result of growing urbanization, in a country still mostly rural, and its incidence on fertility, now below the reproductive level of 2.1. "If India becomes the most populous country, that's good news for us," says Lewis, repeating a popular opinion. But then it wouldn't be the world's largest market, and its old arguments of population control would survive serious scrutiny even less.

The notion that its large population is a problem, as large populations over-all were in Europe in the 1960s when theorists supported the notion of zero-growth, is largely based on the fears related to the country's growing inequalities. The gap is as visibly stunning as the climbing steel forest of the new area of Pudong.

While entire neighborhoods can be flattened to make way for the new city, there is no escaping the reality that a meal in the exclusive "new world" part of town, ironically placed near the site of the first ever Communist party national congress meeting, can be had for 5% of the national wage of 16,000 yuan (about $2300). Joining us for supper at the grill famous for filet mignon served on a hot plate, Howard was flabbergasted to his country-raised core. And on a scholarship which allows him to attend Fudan, he is among the wealthier Chinese citizens.

The state may even have to worry about his potential state of disgruntlement. Last week Tibet became the last province to remove job guarantees for graduates, and there is evidence that after years in which graduates were ensured good jobs, the number of degree-holders is outstripping the number of jobs. And nothing screams out protest like a jobless well-educated college graduate no matter where you live. Again the good of sustained growth, the rising number of well-educated citizens, must be balanced with the rest.

"The fruit of China's strong economic growth have been very unevenly distributed," Kim Eng Tan of Standard & Poors tells the Independent in a recent interview. In it, the paper points out that the country home to a quarter of the world's population only represents 4 percent of world household consumption, and that may leave its middle class no larger than Canada's level of population. All the rest can only stare in awe, sometimes fuming.

Behind the gleaming new towers, rapid growth and loud construction sites, there is a growing fear that "disharmony" will stretch the current system beyond the breaking point. Perhaps that's when the magnetic-powered Maglev comes off the rails. And at that speed, the consequences could be quite earth-shaking. Then again maybe there is some hope for a degree of equality down the road. The government is considering higher taxes on luxury goods to redistribute through social programs. and this year paper-recycling tycoon Zhang Yin became the first woman to top the list of China's richest people. A minority among the minority maybe, but some could still call it a little leap forward on its own.

Still a great game

Relics of the cold war era? It's hard for people, least of all Canadians, to imagine spies are still at work in their midst. After all it had been a good ten years since two of them had been arrested in Toronto. Friends and co-workers were stunned to learn at the time that Dmitriy Olshevsky and Yelena Olshevskaya, who went by the bogus names Ian and Laurie Lambert, were actually "sleeper" agents for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service when they were arrested and promptly removed from Canada in 1996.

A decade later the spy capers came in pairs as Canadian intelligence arrested a man on espionage charges, supposedly an elite Russian spy who had been collecting intelligence on Canada for more than a decade, while deporting a Chinese embassy official also suspected of playing the great game. Wang Pengfei, a second secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, was sent packing for spying on Falun Gong practitioners while posted in the nation's capital.

China and Russia, the two Eastern powers, are certainly very active in this country, agree intelligence experts, who note that Canada is an extremely interesting target due to its wealthy resource-rich power status, and proximity to the U.S. with which it shares delicate technology. "Although espionage is often thought of as a relic of the Cold war, in reality it has continued, and in many ways has intensified, over the past 15 years," reads a CSIS study dated July of this year obtained through access to information. "Canada is facing an increasing threat from economic espionage, which has had serious ramifications for Canada, including lost jobs, corporate and tax revenues, and a diminished competitive advantage."

The Russian bust certainly promoted Canada's counter-intelligence abilities, according to experts, at a time the conservative government is bullish on security and is pondering a foreign role for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. CSIS lined up interestingly detailed charges against the suspected spy, identified as Paul William Hampel, who was taken into custody by the Canada Border Services agency on Nov. 14 at Montreal Trudeau airport.

Documents filed in Federal Court said CSIS believed Hampel is a member of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, a successor to the KGB, and used a fraudulent birth certificate to obtain at least three Canadian passports. CSIS recommended that he immediately be deported. Ironically he was on his way out of the country when he was arrested, carrying a fraudulent Ontario birth certificate in a travel pouch under his shirt, $7,800 in five currencies, three cell phones, two digital cameras and a short wave radio. In short the full kit of the modern James Bond.

"Hampel's establishment of a legend based on Canadian documentation has provided him with the ability to covertly further the interests of the SVR for over a decade both within Canada and abroad," the federal summary reads, accusing him of being "an elite intelligence officer." For awhile last month it seemed hard to turn a corner without running into spy capers.

Across the Atlantic, Russia, whose officials refused to comment on Hampel's arrest, was busy denying any involvement in the poisoning of a former KGB agent who came in from the cold and died in a hospital bed in London, where British officials were giving the investigation top priority. Counter-terrorism police were called in to lead the probe into the incident which afflicted Alexander Litvinenko.

Friends were accusing the Kremlin of ordering the assassination of the man, who has become a fierce critic, by administering an odourless, colourless poison though his food. Initial reports were that thallium, a cancer-causing metal and deadly poison banned in Britain since the 1970s and historically used in assassinations because it dissolves easily and can't be detected by the person ingesting it, had been responsible for his death. Photos of the former spy showed him looking gaunt and hairless, hooked up to a bank of medical equipment.

Doctors later determined another radioactive material was responsible, traces of which were later found on planes and acquaintances of the former Soviet spook. As long as there are secrets there will be spies, observers say, and governments willing to silence turncoats.

Hampel's case goes to show that spies have been blending into society well before terrorists started doing the same, notably in preparation for Sept. 11. Still being able to do so for over a decade shows great abilities according to Martin Rudner of Carleton's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs "To survive ten years in a society, and to build up from a legend into in effect a persona, that is excellent tradecraft." It also shows a government's means and determination to see operations through in a prized market such as Canada, home to technology secrets that vary from the military and communications to the nuclear industry.

"Canada harbours a vast wealth of natural resources and human talent which continues to generate major technological advances," reads the CSIS study. "As such, Canada remains an appealing target for foreign powers whose goal is to steal secrets in order to advance their own interests." As an indication old habits die hard, SVR's capabilities abroad are the subject of praise domestically, CSIS notes in documents filed to the court obtained by the NPU.

"To Russian audiences, the SVR makes no secret of its continued high-level espionage and frequently boasts of its theft of Western financial and industrial secrets to aid the failing Russian economy", it reads. "To international audiences, however, the SVR prefers to speak of cooperation with the United States, Canada and other countries in the common fight against terrorism, organized crime and nuclear trafficking."

Canada can at least boast it caught one of Russia's finest. SVR "illegals" such as Hampel are "regarded as having considerable status by the SVR leadership and are deployed in particularly sensitive operations." The ambassador to Canada denied Hampel was a Russian agent, but he later confessed he was at least Russian, known under another name, and would gladly go back to Russia. As far as the government knows, he was never in a position to steal any secrets. Which would have been a fabulous waste of a decade.

Le cèdre en pleurs

Tant de larmes dans un si petit pays; dans la région, c'est une pénible règle qui unit Arabes comme Juifs. L'assassinat du ministre chrétien de l'industrie Pierre Gemayel perpétue une tragédie grecque, ou digne des Kennedys, emportant, à 34 ans, le quatrième membre de la famille; une pénible série qui remonte à attentat à la voiture piégée qui a emporté la vie de Béchir, tué en 1982 un mois après avoir été élu président, suivi par l'assassinat de deux grands de la presse anti-syrienne.

Pourtant le pays ne s'est même pas remis de la perte de Rafic Hariri, sujet discussion au sein du Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU, qui le jour du dernier coup de tonnerre approuvait le projet de création d'un tribunal international pour juger les assassins présumés du premier ministre.

Celui de l'heure était encore sous le choc, mais n'a pas manqué d'éloquence, alors que les Libanais descendaient dans les rues de la capitale pour pleurer leur dernier martyr. Faisant appel à l'unité, Fouad Siniora a soutenu que le Liban ne serait pas intimidé et appuierait davantage le lancement du tribunal.

Pourtant les divisions n'ont ajamais été aussi vives, les obsèques du défunt et contre-manifestations du hezbollah tournant le drame en affaire politique.

Aussitôt établie, la commission d'enquête de l'ONU sur l'assassinat de Rafic Hariri avait le double rôle de fournir une aide technique dans l'enquête sur le meurtre de Gemayel, répondant à une demande spéciale et urgente de Sinora.

Se sentant immédiatement dans la mire des regards perçants internationaux, la Syrie, qui avait fait face à la fougue internationale et avait retranché ses troupes après le meurtre d'Hariri, et qui tout récemment était accusée, avec l'Iran, de soutenir le hezbollah dans ses attaques à la rockette contre Israél, a immédiatement crié son innocence. Elle qui, avec l'Iran, avait cherché à poser un geste conciliateur dans la région en rétablissant les pourparlers avec Bagdad.

La crise risquait davantage de déchirer un Liban très divisé politiquement, après la démission d'une demi-douzaine de ministres pro-syriens et chiites du Hezbollah et du mouvement Amal du gouvernement, dans un pays ou les partis se définissent encore selon leurs relations avec Damas, malgré le retrait des troupes.

L'influence syrienne était d'ailleurs redoutée dans cette manoeuvre politique, alors que le puissant Hezbollah réclamait avec ses alliés chrétiens et prosyriens la formation d'un gouvernement d'union nationale dans lequel l'opposition aurait une minorité de blocage. Cette démission s'est faite à la veille d'un conseil des ministres extraordinaire destiné à examiner la dernière version du projet de création d'un tribunal international.

Avant même quelque procès, la Syrie est une fois de plus montrée du doigt puisqu'il s'agit bien du sixième assassinat d'une personnalité antisyrienne depuis la mort de Hariri. Faisant appel au calme, le père de Pierre, Amine Gemayel, précise n'avoir «pas encore de preuves ou de présomption» mais estime quand même que «tout prête à croire que c'est le comportement habituel de la Syrie».

Il n'en fallait pas plus pour mettre au placard tout éventuel rapprochement de Washington et Londres avec Damas, le président Bush réaffirmant son «engagement inébranlable» à soutenir la démocratie et à s'opposer aux ingérences syriennes et iraniennes. Pour l'heure les obsèques de Gemayel sont aussi celles des tentative de normalisation des relations entre Damas et l'occident.

Contestation au Congo

Un président à présent démocratiquement élu, le premier procès du tribunal international permanent du Congo, un air de normalité s'installe au coeur de l'Afrique, et
les signes précurseurs n'ont rien d'encourageant. Le rejet des résultats du second tour de la présidentielle, qui confirmait l'élection de Joseph Kabila, jusqu'à récemment président par héritage, par son opposant Jean-Pierre Bemba, n'a en rien calmé les tensions au Congo, ou l'on s'est dépeché de mettre dans les rues de nombreux soldats de la mission des Nations unies
(Monuc) et de l'Eufor.

Car l'ex-Zaire, qui a connu les guerres et les déchirements des armées étrangères sur son territoire, ne semble pas moins déchiré que durant les crises qui ont porté au pouvoir le père du
président-élu, que l'assassinat a porté au pouvoir après le 16 janvier 2001. "Je ne peux pas accepter ces résultats qui sont loin de refléter la vérité des urnes. Je prends l'engagement d'user de toutes les voies légales pour faire respecter la volonté de notre peuple", déclarait Bemba.

Comble du paradoxe, le vainqueur du scrutin s'avère en fait hautement impopulaire dans sa
propre capitale, avec moins du tiers des suffrages, et dans l'Ouest, sans parler de l'Equateur, fief de son rival, ou il a recueilli a peine 3% des suffrages. C'est l'Est cependant, de loin la région la plus troublée de ce pays de (parfois) toutes les misères, qui a sauvé le jeune prince de 35 ans, portant sa part des suffrages généraux à 58%, avec une différence de plus de 2,6 millions de voix.

La crainte que les violences ne replongent le pays dans la guerre, comme la plus récente qui à son terme avait directement ou indirectement (maladies, malnutrition) entraîné la mort de près de 4 millions de personnes, est palpable depuis les troubles de fin août, lorsque la proclamation des résultats du premier tour avait entraîné trois jours de violence entre les partisans de Kabila, arrivé en tête, et Bemba. Ces violences ne seraient à elles seules pas si dangereuses si les deux camps ne disposaient pas de milliers d'hommes en armés, et d'un profond manque de respect pour le rival.

Le secrétaire général de l'ONU, Kofi Annan lui-même faisait appel au calme après la publication des résultats, demandant "à tous les dirigeants politiques et au peuple congolais d'accepter les résultats dans le calme et de façon responsable, et de s'abstenir de tout recours à la violence et d'éviter de faire des déclarations qui pourraient menacer la conclusion des élections nationales
dans des conditions pacifiques".

Le debut du premier procès du seul tribunal pénal international permanent pendant ce
temps ne manquait pas de rappeler les pires crimes des milices congolaises dans le passé. En effet pendant ce temps une Française, Christine Peduto, était le premier témoin à comparaître au procès de Thomas Lubanga, le chef de l'Union des patriotes congolais (UPC), accusé d'engager des enfants de guerre: "La résidence était gardée par des enfants en armes et en uniforme", a-t-elle raconté, "ces enfants portaient des kalachnikovs".

L'enrôlement des enfants comme garde du corps "était une pratique systématique" selon elle: "Je
les ai vu, dans les différents bureaux et dans les résidences de l'UPC. (...) Ils ne quittaient pas les
commandants, protégeaient leurs résidences, on les voyait à l'arrière des pick-up armés de kalachnikovs et de fusils mitrailleurs, parfois même avec des bazookas", a-t-elle raconté. "Les enfants ont tous raconté des conditions de formation assez difficiles. Les conditions de vie étaient assez mauvaises, les enfants se plaignaient de la qualité de la nourriture, certains racontaient dormir dans des tranchées, les enfants se levaient souvent avant l'aube (....) Certains disaient
qu'ils devaient aller dans les villages environnants pour chercher de la nourriture," selon elle.

"Les enfants étaient menacés de représailles s'ils tentaient de s'échapper. (...) Les enfants étaient menacés de mort, menacés d'exécution. Et les familles qui s'opposaient au
recrutement d'enfants étaient elles aussi menacées," ajoute-t-elle, tandis que l'accuse decrivait les enfants a titre d'orphelins venus demander une protection dans les rangs de l'UPC. Dans certains cas les enfants formaient jusqu'à 40% de certains groupes armés, selon des ONG
et étaient souvent utilisés comme esclaves sexuels par les soldats adultes. Les milices de Lubanga sont par ailleurs tenues responsables de viol à grande échelle et les meurtres sommaires.

Les mauvais garçons

Quand le Canada a-t-il commencé à faire partie des mauvais garçons de l'environnement? Un an après avoir été l'hôte d'une conférence internationale sur les changements climatiques le Canada a radicalement changé de politique, présentant une délégation divisée à Nairobi, site de la conférence de cette année, tandis que le Premier ministre décidait d'éviter une conférence canado-européenne par crainte de faire face à la musique environnementale.

Il faut dire que depuis l'élection des conservateurs, qui n'ont jamais caché leur scepticisme en matière de réchauffement climatique, la politique environne- mentale du gouvernement a fait l'objet d'une révision considérable, similaire à celle que Harper entend faire subir au protocole de Kyoto à Nairobi, notamment dans la catégorie des cibles de réduction d'émissions de gaz à effet de serre.

Alors qu'il y a un an Paul Martin reprochait aux Etats-Unis de ridiculiser ces dernières, Ottawa les considère à présent irréalistes, une remise en cause qui va dorénavant à l'encontre de la majorité des pays de la conférence qui souhaitent faire avancer les choses dans les plus brefs délais.

La conférence suit la publication de trois rapport environnementaux, dont un canadien, qui mettaient en garde à propos de l'imminence et l'étendue des changements climatiques. Récemment le Stern Review, publié à Londres, avertissait que les changements climatiques pourraient avoir un effet aussi dévastateur sur l'économie mondiale que la grande dépression des années 30, en conservant les habitudes actuelles.

Changer ces habitudes pourrait pourtant améliorer notre sort, soutient l'auteur du rapport: "Il est encore temps d'éviter les pires impacts des changements climatiques, si nous agissons maintenant et de concert. Mais la tâche est urgente. Attendre avant d'agir, même une décennie ou deux, nous poussera en terrain dangereux."

Un second rapport faisait écho de tels scénarios tandis qu'un troisième, plutôt inattendu car issu du département de la défense canadien, résumait les implications internes alarmantes du réchauffement climatique, soit de faire du passage du Nord-ouest une voie navigable à l'année longue dans moins de dix ans.

Cette semaine encore l'ambassadeur des Etats-Unis au Canada rejetait la souveraineté canadienne des ces eaux plutôt convoitées: «Notre position est que le passage du Nord-Ouest doit être sous juridiction internationale», soulignait-il. Les problèmes de juridiction sont au coeur du rapport de la défense. «Même si le Canada revendique la souveraineté du passage du Nord-Ouest, les Etats-Unis le considèrent comme une route maritime internationale et soutiennent que les navires étrangers ont un droit de passage. Si le rythme actuel de fonte des glaces continue, le passage du Nord-Ouest pourrait être ouvert à une navigation plus régulière en 2015», écrivent les spécialistes militaires à l'intention du ministre de la défense.

Curieusement il s'agit de l'année choisie par le gouvernement  Harper pour commencer l'implantation des mesures obligatoires de réduction des gaz à effet de serre (GES), choisissant de fixer des objectifs plus sévères à long-terme au lieu de se vouer à ceux qui ont été fixés par Kyoto à court-terme, soit une réduction des effets de serre de 5% d'ici 2012.

Difficile d'ignorer, évidemment, que la fiche du Canada va plutôt dans le sens contraire depuis 1990. Les plus récentes données scientifiques indiquent qu'un réchauffement moyen du globe de plus de 2 degrés celcius mènerait à des changements climatiques dangereux et irréversibles. Certains scénarios voient cette augmentation se chiffrer à 5 degrés.

Pendant que le Canada fait figure d'enfant terrible côté environnement, à l'interne, Québec et Ottawa sont à couteaux tirés sur la question des changements climatiques, une division qui risque de paraitre au grand jour à Nairobi. Le gouvernement québécois maintient qu'il atteindra les cibles qu'il s'est fixées en vertu du Protocole de Kyoto et réclame du fédéral une somme de 328 millions $ pour financer les initiatives de son plan vert. Il s'agira d'une première occasion de tester la promesse du fédéral de laisser le Québec parler de sa propre voix dans les grands forums internationaux puisque la province a l'intention d'afficher sa position si elle n'est pas reflétée par celle d'Ottawa.

Pour rendre notre position encore plus complexe, une certaine confusion semble régner au sein du gouvernement, dont la ministre de l'environnement, Rona Ambrose, se montrait ouverte à la mise en place d'un marché du climat visant à échanger des crédits de gaz à effet de serre, une suggestion qu'elle avait pourtant rejeté dans le passé et qui contredit d'autres membres du gouvernement.

Tandis que le Canada se range tranquillement dans le camp des parias de la conférence de Nairobi, presqu'à même titre que les Etats-Unis et l'Australie,  qui ne souscrivent pas à Kyoto, la foi en Kyoto n'est cependant pas à son plus fort étant donné le non-respect des cibles par plusieurs signataires et le fait que plusieurs émetteurs importants de GES, notamment la Chine, qui en 2009 devrait dépasser les Etats-Unis au titre de pollueur champion, et l'Inde, ne sont pas contraints par ses engagements.

Autre fait troublant pour les partisans de Kyoto, la croissance des émissions des Etats-Unis entre 2000 et 2004 aurait été moins importante que celle de plusieurs pays européens qui ont signé l'accord.

Democrats sweep Congress in US mid-term vote

A system of government based on the principle of checks and balances was going to see plenty of both after the Democrats wrested control of the House of Representatives and the Senate from the Republicans in a repudiation of presidential policies that left George W. Bush facing the prospect of a congressional opposition led by the first female House leader in U.S. history following this year's mid-term elections.

"From sea to shining sea, the American people voted for change," declared Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who becomes House speaker. "Today we have made history," she said, "now let us make progress."President Bush called the night's onslaught a ''thumping.''

Americans had to wait late into the evening to find out the Democrats had reached the threshold of 218 seats, enough to control the House, also becoming the new gubernatorial majority. In fact early into the next day no Democratic incumbent had lost his seat.

Perhaps it was fitting this reversed the look of the House for the first time since the 1994 Republican revolution, as Americans expressed their strongest dislike of Congress since that mid-term election. A key republican win in Tennessee seemed to deny Democrats a  majority in the Senate until the very last race, in Virginia, gave them the 51 seats they needed, completing the sweep for an electorate that wanted to send a stern warning to the administration following the loss with two years left in the Bush presidency.

Bush wasted no time replacing the longest serving member of his cabinet, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, architect of the unpopular war; but he later said that win or lose, Rumsfeld, who had offered to resign in the past, would cede the post to former CIA director Robert Gates in any case.

Things seemed alarming early on for the president when a Florida Republican he was campaigning for failed to show up at a rally Bush was attending in the days leading to the vote, perhaps the most publicized case of allergy to the chief executive in a campaign Democrats advertised proximity to Bush as a handicap. By then the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war, which Bush himself went so far as to compare to Vietnam, and scandals highlighted by the indecent email exchanges of representative Mark Foley with a Congressional page, had compounded the unpopularity of the GOP.

Call it the scourge of the four-letter words. Growing U.S. casualties in Iraq and plummeting public support for the war have taken a toll on Bush's approval ratings, but Republicans in Congress could not pin everything on their commander in chief no matters how far they wanted to distance themselves from him.

Ethics was also on the voters' minds as representatives such as Tom DeLay, who was charged with participating in a campaign finance scheme and resigned from the House, and Bob Ney, who also resigned after pleading guilty in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, added to the list of pre-campaign casualties that preceded Foley's stepping down. Exit polls, in an election called a referendum on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq by some, revealed corruption in government as well as terrorism, the economy and Iraq were on the minds of electors.

The day was marked by heavy voter participation but also difficulties at the polls in a country where counties vastly differ in the way they conduct their votes, from pulling a lever to punching holes and pressing computer screens. Many of these key issues, in addition to a high participation rate usually favorable to the opposition, clearly favored the Democrats,  60% of respondents to one exit poll saying they disapproved of the way the president, who was not on the ballot despite the general mood, is handling his job.

A disgruntled electorate seemed to head to the polls after one of the meanest campaigns in memory. Polls leading to the vote warned of a backlash against Republicans, but the last surveys seemed to be showing some life for GOP hopefuls. Divisions between the veto-wielding executive and legislative could mean gridlock for the two remaining years of the Bush administration some fear, while others point to Bush's experience working with Democrats as governor of Texas.

While the administration is adamant it will stay the course in Iraq the Democratic majority comes with its own agenda, pledging to examine the administration's conduct on issues such as the war in  Iraq, now under new leadership, and surveillance of terrorist suspects without court warrants. Democrats also want an increase in the minimum wage, adoption of the 9/11 anti-terrorism recommendations and competition by Medicare for cheaper drug prices.

Regional initiatives on marijuana, gay marriage and oil and tobacco taxes were just some of the side issues Americans were also called to vote on Tuesday, but national issues seemed to largely determine how people would cast their votes. Humbled by the results, Bush called for a halt to the acrimonious bipartisan bickering, as he faced the final years of his presidency.

"I'm open to any idea and suggestion that will help us achieve our goals of defeating terrorists and ensuring that Iraq's democratic government succeeds," he said, showing rare level uncertainty on an issue which the Republicans had championed with success in the past but caused their defeat this time around. On Iraq, "We cannot continue down this catastrophic path," he said. That's the same general message he got from electors last week.

Le retour d'Ortega

Pour les Etats-Unis, l'ancienne bête noire qui a mené la lutte armée sandiniste dans ce petit pays d'Amérique centrale lors des années 80 se compare davantage à Fidel Castro ou Hugo
Chavez. Pourtant, veilli d'une vingtaine d'années, Daniel Ortega n'est plus le révolutionnaire de ses vieux jours, et semble parfois épouser des politiques bien plus proches de celles de Washington que d'autres dirigeants de la soi-disant "gauche dure" qui a pris le pouvoir dans certains pays d'Amérique latine ces dernières années.

Son élection lors du dernier scrutin présidentiel au Nicaragua avec 38% des votes n'a pourtant pas manqué de semer la panique chez les gringos, las de devoir à nouveau composer
avec un gouvernement gauchiste et populiste dans son pré-carré compromis. Washington ne l'avait pourtant jamais perdu de vue, seize ans après avoir quitté le pouvoir et après trois
échecs aux présidentielles précédentes. Ortega n'avait en fait jamais abandonné la quête du pouvoir, qu'avait également dans sa mire le conservateur Edurado Montealegre, diplômé de
Harvard et favori de Washington.

Les alliés d'Ortega n'ont pas attendu avant de se prononcer, le félicitant, avant la publication officielle des résultats, d'un succès qui, selon la Havane, saura mieux unir le continent. Son élection est avant tout saine pour ce petit pays de 5,7 millions d'habitants, diront ses partisans, après une période de révolte contre le président sortant Enrique Belanos, accusé
de corruption et mêlé à plusieurs scandales financiers.

Besoin d'assainissement cyclique peut-être, mais Ortega aura davantage profité de la division du camp opposant, entre Montealegre, qui a récolté 29% des suffrages, et Jose Rizo, représentant du parti au pouvoir, avec 26% des voix. Les autres candidats, tout deux d'anciens sandinistes, se sont partagés le reste. Parmi les observateurs, qui de manière générale ont approuvé la tenue
du scrutin, imparfaite soit-elle, la présence de Jimmy Carter, président américain lors de la saisie du pouvoir peu démocratique d'Ortega en 1979, ne pouvait pas passer inaperçue.

Celui-ci s'est déclaré stupéfait par la rapidité et la finalité du décompte. Selon lui, les rares ratés
de l'organisation de l'élection, qui s'est largement déroulée dans le calme, n'étaient pas suffisants pour remettre en cause les résultats comptabilisés. Le calme, c'est à présent ce que recherche l'ancien révolutionnaire marxiste, promettant la réconciliation au rythme du "give peace a
chance" qui fut son hymne électoral presque officiel.

Pour une importante partie de la population cependant, les sanglantes années de la lutte contre les Contras ne sont pas prêtes à être oubliées. Léchant ses propres plaies électorales,
George W. Bush voit réapparaitre le spectre qui avait disparu lors du mandat de son père. Il ne manquait en effet pas de fantomes puisque même Oliver North, conseiller à la Maison blanche mieux connu pour son implication dans l'affaire Iran-Contra, s'était déplacé pour encourager
l'éternelle lutte aux Sandinistes.

Tous les moyens avaient d'ailleurs été employés pour encourager l'union de la droite
afin d'éviter «la création du modèle Chavez» au Nicaragua, mais sans succès. Pourtant
Ortega a mis de l'eau dans son orthodoxie et s'estime à présent moins hostile au milieu des affaires, se réconciliant même avec l'église catholique, jadis l'adversaire le plus acharné de son régime communiste athée.

«La défaite d'Ortega aux élections de 1990 a mis fin à l'expérience sandiniste. Il a encore échoué en 1996 puis en 2001, résume au Figaro le politologue Emilio Alvarez Montalvan. Alors, il s'est adapté. Il a éliminé toutes les références révolutionnaires de son programme. S'il promet la fin du capitalisme sauvage, il assure aussi que les nationalisations massives ou le contrôle des prix ne sont pas à l'ordre du jour. Il va respecter le traité de libre-échange signé avec les États-Unis. Il se dit prêt à négocier avec le Fonds monétaire international.»

Alors qu'Ortega semble avoir tourné la page, il en est autrement à Washington, qui derrière ses
lunettes de guerre froide pâlit à fur et à mesure que la gauche enregistre des gains en Amérique latine, et prévient qu'avec Ortega le Nicaragua risque de "mettre en danger les relations commerciales entre les deux pays". Un accueil peu chaleureux.

A verdict on Saddam

In power for twenty four cruel years, perhaps the crimes against a dictator such as Saddam Hussein were countless to begin with. The roll call of atrocities committed by his regime are usually led by the infamous 1988 gassing of Iraqi Kurds and various acts of barbarism committed during the occupation of Kuwait. But in the end if was for the wave of revenge killings carried out in the city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against him that Saddam and his two co-defendants were on trial and ultimately sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity.

At the time one of the last expressions of opposition under Saddam, the underground Islamic Dawa party claimed responsibility for organizing the attempt on his life, but the entire city where the event took place ultimately paid in blood. Nearly a quarter century after the fierce retribution Dujail greeted the sentencing with celebrations, burning pictures of the former tormentor. In a show of division which did nothing to support the calls of unity across the scorched country, in his hometown of Tikrit, 1,000 people defied the curfew and carried his pictures through the streets, condemning the verdict and declaring the court a product of the U.S. "occupation forces".

The verdict sparked fears of further bloodshed in the midst of a sectarian crisis few are still hesitant to call a full-fledged civil war, enraging hard-liners among Saddam's fellow Sunnis but a
cause for celebration for the country's majority Shiites, who were persecuted under his rule but now largely control the government. After the fall of Saddam's regime in early 2003, and the arrest and trial of Saddam Hussein, hopes the verdict would unify the country by reminding its
citizens of past hardship were just the latest to be dashed, the sight of Saddam on television sometimes even reminding of times when suicide attacks weren't claiming so many civilian lives.

Fearing his client's statement would be viewed as a rallying cry and cue to launch widespread reprisal, his lawyer said the former dictator had called on Iraqis to reject sectarian
violence and refrain from revenge against U.S. forces. As the appeal process gets under way, possibly taking several weeks, one last outburst, in a court-room drama which lacked
none, saw the former dictator shout "God is great!" and "Long live the people and death to their enemies" and an American attorney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, get thrown out minutes before sentencing for handing the judge a memorandum in which he called the trial a

What some were calling the most anticipated sentencing since the Nuremberg trials certainly didn't appear to be like anything else in recent memory. The theatrical court-room drama was marked by defense team walkouts, boycotts and hunger strikes and alternated from
eliciting shock during testimony, to laughter, when one defendant appeared dressed in underwear, while always remaining the stage of Saddam's many tantrums.

Drama also unfolded away from the court house, where three of Saddam's lawyers were killed, a
fourth fleeing the country, all the while the judge was changed and a replacement rejected for being an ex Baath party member. But Saddam's many outbursts during the 9-month trial may have played a key part in his conviction according to some U.S. officials citing his admission in a March 1 hearing that he had ordered the trial of 148 Shiites who were eventually executed, insisting that doing so was legal because they were assassination suspects. "Where is
the crime? Where is the crime?" he asked, standing before the panel of five judges.

He later argued that his co-defendants had to be released because he was in charge
and he alone must be tried. The prosecution had recently presented evidence in the form of a presidential decree with a signature they said was Saddam's approval for death sentences for the 148 Shiites, their most direct evidence against him.

While some countries such as Canada hesitated to react, citing the coming appeals process,  U.S. President George W. Bush greeted the news favorably as "a landmark event in the history of Iraq" that would serve as "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law." But critics could not help pointing out the verdict came days before a U.S.
mid-term election where the unpopular Iraq war has been the rallying point of calls to loosen the Republican grip on both houses.

In addition the sudden end of proceedings, after they had been extended beyond October, as the defense was to continue its case, fueled suspicion the Iraqi high tribunal was pressured to pass judgment just before the elections, something U.S. officials rushed to deny, fearing this perception alone could be costly ahead of the vote. During the course of the trial its first judge had resigned halfway through, claiming he was being pressured for being too lenient on Saddam, and a replacement had been blackballed by Shiites for being formerly a member of the Baath party.
Others pointed out current Prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who collected praise for the sentence after a tense period of disagreement over policy with Washington, was himself A member of the Dawa party, now a major force in Iraqi politics.

In the Arab street, suspicion co-existed with the jubilation of the Shiites and condemnation of the Sunnis, observers claiming no trial could be fair under a U.S. occupation. Amnesty International was among a number of observers claiming the trial left to be desired, but while some U.S. officials conceded it was far from perfect, they stressed it remained a fair exercise of Iraq's new brand of justice.

In any event, jubilation or condemnation could lose out to just plain indifference in the end considering the rising level of violence in the country. One report estimated some 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the war while the death toll of U.S. soldiers neared 3,000, with over 100 killed last month alone, one of the bloodiest on record. Already sentenced once, Saddam wasn’t done appearing in a court-room, as he prepared for the case of the 1988 gassing of the Kurds which branded him a brutal tyrant in the court of world opinion. The country’s Kurds hardly needed to await that sentence to start rejoycing.

Conflicts and development

Reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan leave to be desired because of the surrounding violence which manages to undo much of the work. Canada's reconstruction efforts in the volatile south of Afghanistan is often overshadowed by the latest report of casualties, but the difficulties facing aid efforts are more than a matter of over-reporting the violence and under-reporting the development successes.

A major case in point in Iraq is that oil production was supposed to pay for the country's reconstruction, but remains barely higher than the 2 million barrels per day produced before the fall of Saddam Hussein, mainly due to the sabotage efforts of the insurgency. While some estimates are more optimistic, placing production above 2.5 million bdp, the insurgency is hampering the industry.

"Militant attacks against the northern oil pipelines have been relentless. Iraqi oil officials have said that, in the absence of such attacks, an additional 400,000 bpd could be exported from the northern fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan," noted a recent Stratfor intelligence report. The result is frequent blackouts in a country supposed to be an energy powerhouse. It doesn't help that the US military hasn't achieved its goal of handing primary security matters to Iraqis.

Securing the peace and matching development aid become particularly strong arguments in a recent British report on development aid which, by focusing on a number of African countries, found that the cost of just one conflict almost equals the value of global annual development aid.

This is the contention of the International Development Select Committee of British members of parliament, for whom government should make conflict a policy priority, lest it prefers pouring aid down a bottomless pit. The committee reported that one civil war in a low-income country could cost $54bn, roughly two-thirds of the 2004 worldwide aid budget of $78.6bn.

The British lawmakers also supported the notion that companies should not be allowed to benefit in conflict zones as trade could "intensify and prolong conflicts". The fact that the report, Conflict and Development: Peacebuilding and Post-Conflict Reconstruction was commissioned, was telling in itself as Britain questioned the effectiveness of its  peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction policies, especially in African countries such as Sierra Leone, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which could hardly qualify as examples of stability.

"Some conflict-prone states are rich in resources which can sustain warlords, encourage foreign adventurism and lead to the failure of the state and increased poverty for the many as the few get rich," cautioned committee chairman Malcolm Bruce. "If the government prioritised the link between conflict and development it would do more to create a climate for poverty reduction in these countries than any amount of costly aid programmes."

In September African officials meeting at the U.N. agreed the continent's hotspots, marked by protracted fighting or violent disputes, had undercut progress in development issues such as health, economic growth and governance, sometimes sparking large refugee flows. "For Africa, the most urgent challenge remains the resolution of conflicts and the sustenance of peace and security as the foundation for socio-economic progress," said Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister. African officials also stressed that development was not possible in some areas such as the border with the Sudan and Chad, until the endemic insecurity there was eradicated.

The linkage of aid and conflict resonates in Canada particularly after Josee Verner, the minister responsible for Canada's aid effort, completed a two-day trip to Afghanistan pledging $5 million for emergency food aid and another 6 million to finance reconstruction and repair of roads and bridges in Kandahar. ''Every Canadian wants to know: 'How do we spend the money in Afghanistan?''' Verner said from within the walls of Canada's fortified Kabul embassy. ''I'll be able to tell them I met officials here and I announced projects.''

Verner raised some eyebrows  when she claimed Canada built ''around 350 schools'' in the country in recent years as well as stressed that the CIDA-funded Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar had either begun or completed 93 projects, considering the rapidly deteriorating security situation in southern Afghanistan.

The trip was however aiming to remind Canadians the mission there was not only to fight the Taleban but help rebuild the country as well, a notion sometimes drowned out by the bag-pipes of 42 fallen soldiers. The insurgency has not only been targeting foreign troops but the fruit of their reconstruction efforts as well, notably schools and health clinics. ''There is no question that there are many more schools being burned than being built,'' John Watson, president and chief executive of CARE Canada, told the National Post. ''And that's because the military is engaged in the building of the schools. The schools are looked upon as part of the conflict.'' Watson is concerned that as a result aid agencies appear too close to the military.

In Sudan, only two UN agencies still operate and tend to millions of starving and homeless refugees, after a string of attacks against international organizations. The risks in southern Afghanistan, where CARE recently announced it would not bid on reconstruction projects in order not to appear too cosy with Canadian troops, is no less volatile.

Still Canada said it would spend some $1 billion over the next ten years to rebuild the country, boasting it helped national programs targeting working on 118 projects in 25 provinces. The irony is that sometimes the actions of Canadian troops themselves appear to run counter to reconstruction efforts according to CIDA's own estimates, which stress that the new food aid money would ''assist the World Food Program (WFP) to deliver food aid to 12,000 vulnerable families from Panjwai and Zherai Districts, who were displaced from their homes during the NATO-led Operation Medusa against anti-government groups.''

Another irony was that security concerns kept the International Co-operation Minister from actually inspecting any of the Afghanistan projects being funded by her department. Opposition leader Jack Layton said the money for the trip could have been better spent elsewhere, let alone the money spent on Canada's combat mission. "What we have are photo ops announcing funds for aid, but at the same time the government is spending the same amount in a week in a military operation as they're spending for aid," he said.

Getting serious about Darfur

When U.S. president George W. Bush addressed Darfur and warned Sudan about committing atrocities in its Western province, members of the Sudanese delegation openly smiled,
mocking his intervention, convinced any defiance would be left unpunished. Embroiled in two overseas conflicts and facing a bitter election campaign at home, the U.S. would
have no stomach to do more than uttering empty threats they reasoned.

After America's threats against Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons went unheeded, it's a safe bet Khartoum will remain defiant, even against a super-power which has accused it of "genocide", let alone the United Nations. Not satisfied by denying the entry of U.N. troops to calm a conflict which has claimed over 200,000 lives, Sudan's government ordered and obtained the removal of its chief U.N. envoy, branding him an enemy of the regime for his outspokeness on Darfur.

Sudan's foreign ministry accused Jan Pronk of demonstrating "enmity to the Sudanese government and the armed forces" and of involvement in activities "that are incompatible with his mission" after reporting that morale was low after government forces suffered defeat in a
number of  rebel attacks. "The SAF has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya. The losses seem to have been very high," he wrote in his blog. "The
morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The Government has responded by directing more troops
and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia. This is a dangerous development.

Security Council Resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are being violated." While Pronk describes the difficulty of dealing with an increasingly spintered rebel movement bent
on fighting itself as much as the regime, his last entry, dated three days before he was asked out of the country, described more positive developments in fostering dialogue with one of the rebel groups in Darfur, while rebels in the East of the country, fighting a separate conflict, signed a peace agreement. Of course peace agreements usually fail the first few times before holding on, and Pronk considered peace in Darfur a prerequisite for lasting peace in the East.

Khartoum's latest act of defiance comes as the U.N. is still hoping to inject 20,000 troops in Darfur, to foster a peace 7,200 poorly-equipped African union troops have been unable
to enforce, despite the best intentions of top troop contibutor Nigeria. As the U.N. was lauching its new session in September, the Security Council passed Resolution 1706 authorising the force, but it can only be deployed if the Sudanese government agrees.

In his speech, Bush even  considered Nato intervention to help with logistics and blamed Sudan for letting the fighting go on. "The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act." Bush named a special envoy on Sudan and this month Washington stiffened sanctions against the regime, targeting its lucrative oil industry, expanding on sanctions imposed by his predecessor which included a ban of defence exports and sales and controls over US exports to Sudan.

Special envoy Natsios however conceded America's relations with Khartoum was "complex", what some consider is an admission Washington can only do so much to criticize Khartoum because of input it may have on the war on terror, but still hoped to obtain Sudan's permission to bring in the blue helmets. The U.N. meanwhile has been partly embarrassed that Pronk's writings,
for which he has been criticized in the past, have made public such sensitive data about his acticvities.

His account of army  casualties in the hands of the rebels however seems to confirm the increasing boldness of factions which never signed on to May's peace agreement with the government, supplied with arms taken in successful raids against the army and handed by backers in neighboring countries such as Chad and Eritrea. With Sudan in turn reportedly supporting rebel movements in both Chad and the Central African Republic, while an islamist regime takes roots in nearby Somalia, the stakes are increasingly regional.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose country hosted the Darfur peace agreement and has the most troops in Darfur, recently  warned of a possible genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. “It is not in the interest of Sudan, nor in the interest of Africa, nor, indeed, in the interest of the world for us all to stand by and see genocide being developed in Darfur,” he said, adding he would be willing to provide more troops.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, said that 224,000 people were out of reach of food aid. Only a handful of UN agencies still operate in Darfur and one of the priorities of a blue-helmeted mission would be to ensure the safety of about 14,000 aid workers there, but Khartoum fears they would also be used to arrest officials likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, which is investigating possible war crimes.

Pronk's weblog

L'avenir c'est le canal

Pendant que des entrepreneurs canadiens polissent des rêves de voie maritime permanente dans le passage du nord-ouest et que le Canada répète haut et fort sa souveraineté du grand nord,
les habitants du Panama ont appuyé l'expansion du canal qui est devenu la raison d'être de leur petite nation d'Amérique centrale.

Autrefois partie de la Colombie, Panama a pris naissance comme moyen de facilitier le développement du canal qui allait sauver des jours de trajet maritime, et des fortunes au commerce international, au début du siècle dernier. Mais l'ampleur prise par ce commerce a avec le temps tracé le dessin de navires gigantesques incapables de suivre le chemin étroit des ingénieurs français et américains.

Propriété du gouvernment panaméen depuis 1999, le canal, dont les 80 kilomètres représentent à eux seuls 20% des recettes nationales et ou transige 5% du commerce mondial, doit par conséquent faire l'objet d'un agrandissement tellement conséquent, et onéreux, qu'il a été
soumis à un vote référendaire, puis approuvé par la grande majorité des électeurs de ce pays moins peuplé que Montréal.

En effet 78% des électeurs a approuvé les plans d'agrandissement, chiffrés à 5,2 milliards de dollars, écluses et tracé parallèle inclus. Il y avait un peu de fierté nationale à entamer un si grand projet, mais principalement il fallait y voir une politique économique et sociale essentielle pour ce pays dont 40% de la population vit sous le seuil de la pauvreté.

Le canal n'en est pas à sa première modification depuis les tracés originaux, mais il
s'agit de loin de la plus importante, lors d'une course aux parts du commerce planétaire qui ne manque pas de compétiteurs. Alors qu'un tracé polaire canadien, que certains prédisent avec le réchauffement terrestre, pourrait sauver des heures de trajet, et éviter les embouteillages de Paname, un projet similaire au Nicaragua, ne manque pas de susciter d'intérêt dans cette autre pauvre nation d'Amérique centrale.

Le canal projeté y serait plus profond, capable d'accueillir le 10 pourcent des navires
actuellement incapables de traverser celui de Panama, et sauverait une journée de trajet entre New York et Los Angeles, mais en revanche il serait presque trois fois plus long et coûterait 18 milliards de dollars à concrétiser. Un tel projet, rêve des explorateurs espagnols remontant de
plusieurs siècles, suscite également beaucoup d'intérêt en Chine, ou il pourrait sauver plusieurs jours de trajet et des centaines de millions aux armateurs desservant la côte est américaine.
Alors que le Nicaragua estime que le traffic galopant pourrait facilement faire grouiller les deux canaux, Panama y voit un rival inquiétant, motivant sans doute la décision des

Un passage canadien ouvert à l'année longue aurait aussi ses avantages, réduisant un trajet
Londres-Tokyo de 23 300 à 15 700 kilomètres par rapport à Paname (21 200 par Suez)
tout en n’imposant aucune limite de gabarit, mais pour ça il faut compter sur la fonte de la banquise canadienne et des ententes territoriales compliquées par le développement
d'une artère si importante. Et alors que ce projet peut à la longue assurer le développement du grand nord canadien, en attendant en revanche il laisse craindre le pire en cas de besoin de sauvetage. D'autres n'aiment encore mieux pas penser à la possibilité d'une catastrophe environnementale à la Exxon Valdez si près du pôle.

Loin de tout ça, bien au chaud et caressant des projets plus concrets, le Panama, qui n'a pour l'instant pas encore de quoi se payer le projet, estime avoir pris une décision historique.
"Aujourd'hui, nous avons posé la fondation pour construire ensemble un pays meilleur, estime le président Martin Torrijos, c'est probablement la décision la plus importante à prendre de cette génération". Les détracteurs, de leur côté, redoutent la fracture finale, et craignent que le projet ne creuse autant la dette nationale que la campagne du pays, tout en profitant davantage aux
utilisateurs du canal qu'aux Panaméens.

Comme avec tout grand projet d'infrastructure, on craint également la corruption qu'il pourra entrainer. Mais le camps du "oui" y voit de l'or à court comme à long terme, songeant aux 40 000
emplois créés par le creusement du canal, soit cinq fois le niveau actuel des employés.  

Dealing with a nuclear North Korea

With a broad smile the North Korean announcer described the event as "historic", praised it for "defending the peace and stability" and "making a great leap forward", but the country which coined the phrase, China, and many others that had warned Pyongyang not to go forward with a nuclear test, condemned the Nov. 9 act that effectively recognises the hermit kingdom as the world's latest nuclear power, putting to rest years of ambiguity about its true capabilities.

U.S. officials confirmed the nuclear test had taken place, recording seismic activity but casting doubts on the size of the blast, while the U.N. Security Council, whose warning against testing had been unheeded, prepared to confront the isolated communist regime by issuing non-military sanctions. The first country to conduct tests since India and Pakistan confirmed their nuclear status in 1998, North Korea is the great outsider of the nuclear club, at a time China had closed ranks with other countries to discourage the North's nuclear programme.

The timing was notable, coming days after North Korean guards had received warning shots for venturing into the demilitarized zone and as the U.N. was expected to elect a South Korean as Secretary general. Incoming Ba Ki-moon, who had criticized predecessor Kofi Annan for never visiting North Korea and not doing enough to stop its nuclear ambitions, therefore has his hands full with a major crisis he has intimate knowledge of, just hours into his new post.

The chorus of international condemnation was led by China and the U.S., which sought to consider at the U.N. how to impose new sanctions on what is already one of the most isolated countries in the world. Both failed after years of diplomatic full court press to dissuade the North from conducting tests. China, Pyongyang's closest ally expressed its "resolute opposition" to the "brazen" test.

Days before the threat from the peninsula had brought together rivals Japan and China as Tokyo heralded a new period of cooperation with its neighbors by making China and South Korea, as opposed to Washington, the first foreign visits of new Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. He and host President Hu Jintao of China agreed a North Korea nuclear test "cannot be tolerated", a development that left Pyongyang unfazed.

The crisis comes as the U.N. was also warning Iran against pursuing its own nuclear programme, with Tehran showing a now familiar defiance and threatening to retaliate if it were to suffer sanctions for maintaining a nuclear programme it claims is solely for peaceful energy needs. While Washington called Pyongyang's test a "provocative act", Tehran viewed it as "a reaction to America's threat and humiliation."

Last week representatives from the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany agreed to discuss sanctions against Tehran after it refused to heed a new deadline to halt uranium enrichment and said they would start drafting a sanctions resolution, a priority now being shaken by the tremors on the Korean peninsula. The test followed a provocative test of seven ballistic missiles in July, which also ignored worldwide warnings.

While the test in itself is no sign North Korea can successfully "weaponise" its bomb, it may point to Pyongyang's ability to spare one bomb to testing, indicating the possibility of other stockpiles. Experts especially fear North Korea is willing to disseminate its nuclear technology to compensate for current sanctions. Some analysts view the test as a sign of domestic weakness as the government attempts to deflect attention from famine and endemic poverty. But weakness and the successful testing of a nuclear weapon hardly seem to go hand in hand.

Divided about Afghanistan

As Canada reached yet another sad milestone in its afghan mission, recording its 40th military death, it became more and more obvious that the resurgence of the Taleban in a country where they had been routed five years ago was owed first and foremost to the increasingly visible cracks in the alliance against it.

While Canada mourned its latest victim, its defense minister did not hesitate to point fingers at Nato allies he claimed did not play their part in the fight to defend and rebuild Afghanistan. Gordon O'Connor said countries like Italy, France and Germany, who have troops in fewer number and positioned in safer parts of the country, were among  the countries of the alliance that were not pulling their weight.

After a recent call for additional troops, only Poland, a recently admitted country eager to please, volunteered extra troops. While Canada's losses pale to that of the U.S., a recent report said Canadian soldiers accounted for 43 percent of NATO coalition casualties in Afghanistan since February, when they took up position in the volatile south of the country. The impatience among some NATO members comes as the U.S. was trying to patch up another rift between Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have been mutually accusing each other of not doing enough in the war on terror.

While Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf has accused his neighbor of not doing enough to suppress the insurgency, president Hamid Karzai has stated allies had to look over his border to find the sources of the insurgency. The president's spokesman told the NPU it had to be "cut at the roots."

Musharraf himself has not hesitated to take shots at Washington, claiming in a recent book the U.S. threatened to bomb his country into the stone age if it did not cooperate in the war on terror right after Sept. 11 and calling Washington's decision to attack Iraq a mistake as it created ''more extremist across the world.''

Pakistan has been criticized for making a recent truce with Taleban leaders in border areas and a growing chorus of critics are accusing its security services of undermining efforts to eliminate the insurgents, remnants of Taleban and mujahedeen forces it helped equip throughout the years. Musharraft made no friends here when he said Canada should stop crying about losing ''four or five'' soldiers (36 had been killed at the time) while his country had lost 100 times as many.

The U.S. has also been vocal, gen. Janes Jones, the U.S. commander in charge, complaining that Afghan militants were moving freely in the Pakistani city of Quetta, near the border. Last week Afghanistan arrested seventeen suicide-bombers who admitted to being recruited and trained in Pakistan. But while growing rifts are causing concern between allies, the British commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Richards, warned that a rift may soon be created with the Afghan people, unless Nato troops can stabilize the country and make it more liveable.

Richards said the country was at a ''tipping point'' and warned that some 70% of Afghans could switch support to the Taleban unless their lives improved in the next six months. ''We have created an opportunity following the intense fighting that left over 500 militants dead in the southern provinces,'' he said, referring to the largely Canadian-spearheaded offensive. ''If we do not take advantage of this then you can pour an additional 10,000 troops next year and we would not succeed because we would have lost by then the consent of the people,'' he said.

As in Canada, British opinion has shown support for a removal of troops from the country, which has claimed an equal amount of lives for double the amount of troops. Britain is however also engaged in Iraq, and both countries' leaders have vowed to stay the course until the job is done. But their work may be increasingly undermined by a rift between allies that could extend into a rift with the local population.

Des soucis à Outremont

Dans les jours qui ont suivi la tragédie de Laval, les ingénieurs casqués s'affairaient autour de ce qui restait du viaduc de la Concorde, une partie en suspension à l'est du viaduc, des restes déchirés qui ont vite été supprimés. On se pencherait plus précisément sur l'armature de métal dit-on. Etrangement, à plusieurs kilomètres de là, certains citoyens faisaient leur propre inspection du viaduc de Rockland, inauguré par le maire Bernard Couvrette en 1966 et son homologue de Mont-Royal.

"Ingénieur?' demande-t-on à un homme d'Outremont et sa femme inspectant la structure du viaduc enjambant la cour de triage. "Non, ingénieux, mais intéressé" dit cet automobiliste qui prend le viaduc souvent et se fait du souci. "Hier ils l'ont fermé parce qu'il y avait un gros trou, il y a des fentes partout, surtout du côté Mont-Royal, c'est à se demander s'il ne faudrait pas passer par ailleurs".
Le viaduc a été fermé pendant deux heures pour une inspection d'urgence le lendemain du drame de Laval parce que des employés du coin avaient rapporté des chutes de béton. Deux nuits plus tard, il est à nouveau fermé pour travaux urgents, la chaussée s'étant affaissée du côté est.
Il faudra pardonner le maire de Laval, où un autre viaduc a été fermé et sera également détruit, s'il a osé dire qu'il essayait le moins possible de rester sous les structures lorsqu'il se déplace. Depuis la tragédie du Souvenir en 2000, également à Laval, c'est le réflexe de plusieurs Montréalais. En fait selon un récent sondage trois Québécois sur cinq craignent de passer sur un pont ou un viaduc de la province.
92 pourcent des répondants jugeaient que les autorités auraient dû interdire l'accès au viaduc de Laval après la chute des premiers débris tandis que près des trois quarts des personnes interrogées ont déclaré ne pas avoir été rassurées par les actions du premier ministre Jean Charest et du ministre des Transports Michel Després.
Certaines structures, dont l'échangeur Turcot, laissent à désirer même s'il a été déclaré hors de danger par la récente série d'inspections. Sur 19 structures semblables inspectées d'urgence depuis la tragédie, une seule exigeait des études dans le détail. Celles-ci ont révélé qu'il valait mieux s'en départir. Mais il faut noter que le viaduc de la Concorde était jugé en bon état après son inspection de mai 2005.
Une véritable armée d'ingénieurs a passé en revue dans les heures après le drame, les plans de 875 structures surélevées afin d'identifier ces viaducs, pour lesquels le ministre des transports a exigé un rapport d'inspection dans les 48 heures. Sur les 4900 structures au Québec, près de la moitié, 2200 sont en mauvais état. Cette proportion de structures en bon état a chuté de 58,7% en 2001-02 à 54,8% en 2004-05. Cette année-là 71 structures étaient corrigées, moins que ce qui est prévu par Transport Québec qui se dit traverser "une pointe de besoin de réparation". Au Canada 59% de l'inventaire des ports, autoroutes, rails et ponts a plus de 40 ans.
Alors que le viaduc de Rockland fête ses 40 ans, le viaduc de Laval en avait moins et devait durer 70 ans. A quelques heures du drame, on y notait des chutes de béton. Un inspecteur est même passé, a nettoyé les débris et rendu son rapport. Un ingénieur aurait été en route au moment de la tragédie.
Le pire cas visible de structure défaillante était celui de l'échangeur des Pins, récemment détruit et réaménagé, note notre visiteur intéressé. Il ne faut pas se prétendre ingénieur ou être alarmiste, mais les signes de rouille, les amas de débris au long de la structure de Rockland, et les dégoulis d'eau entre les fentes, laissent naitre certaines craintes.
Deux jours après le drame de Laval, l'ingénieur Michel Meunier grattait la structure de Rockland, qui s'effrite facilement par endroit et laisse choir d'importants morceaux de plusieurs dizaines de centimètres. Son rapport fera beaucoup d'intéressés, car c'est à se demander si Transport Québec n'a pas favorisé dans l'immédiat les plus importants axes, les viaducs au-dessus des autoroutes, plutôt que les viaducs de quartier.
Celui de Rockland trahit bien des signes de vieillesse, mais reste soutenu par plusieurs pilons et porte-à-faux, un dessin différent de celui de Laval. Le viaduc de la Concorde avait été conçu selon un modèle qu'on voit moins aujourd'hui selon la sous-ministre des transports. C'est «un type de conception qu'on a abandonné depuis plus de 15 ans», au profit de conceptions «plus performantes».
Aux côtés de M. Couvrette au moment de couper le ruban, à présent ingénieur lui-même, Michel Couvrette voit des signes alarmants à partir des photos NPU. "Inquiétant en effet. Le problème avec ces viaducs c'est qu'ils ont été construits avant l'ère des armatures avec epoxy et des éléments à protection cathodique qui empêche l'armature de rouiller à l'intérieur du béton," dit-il. A Laval les ingénieurs ne semblent pas s'attarder sur la rouille mais étudient en effet l'armature.
"Ce qu'il faut regarder c'est le dessous du tablier pour voir s'il y a infiltration d'eau et de sel et les appuis sur les colonnes, poursuit Couvrette. Sur la photo (Rockland) il semble y avoir de la rouille (le drain serait en cause). Il faudrait frapper avec un marteau pour voir si cela est en surface ou si ça sonne creux, il peut y avoir du béton démantelé en profondeur".  
L'ingénierie livre une féroce bataille aux excès de dame nature. Lors d'un comité exécutif de la ville fusionnée il y a trois ans, le viaduc Rockland était jugé avoir "subi les effets négatifs de son environnement: sels de déglaçage, cycles gel-dégel, carbonatation, etc" exigeant des travaux alors estimés à 2,5 millions, à une période où la cour de triage était encore dans la course au projet du super-hôpital. «Le viaduc Rockland a été construit en 1966, poursuit le rapport du comité, il comporte maintenant plusieurs déficiences et nécessite d'importants travaux de réfection.»
Trois ans plus tard, le projet de super-hôpital mort et enterré, les travaux, pourtant urgents à l'époque, n'ont toujours pas été complétés. Un «sommaire décisionnel» du comité exécutif de Montréal, adopté plus tôt en avril 2003, le citait à titre de priorité. Pourtant le travail n'a pas été fait en dépit d'avoir retenu les services de la firme BPR pour superviser les travaux et du fait que Division des ponts et tunnels de la ville estimait que son devoir d'assurer la sécurité des usagers - «était mis en péril».
Selon André Lazure, chargé de communications au Service des infrastructures, du transport et de l'environnement à la Ville de Montréal, des réparations étaient prévues sur le tablier du viaduc Rockland bien avant l'effondrement à Laval. D'autres opérations vont avoir lieu au cours de l'automne avant une reconstruction importante d'ici 2008, ça dépendra de la liste des travaux prévus en 2007 lorsque sera déposé le budget de la métropole, à la fin de l'année.
Malgré tout, le maire Harbour estime le viaduc solide pour le moment. «Je me fie au jugement expert des ingénieurs et ils m'assurent que l'intégrité structurale [du viaduc Rockland] n'est pas menacée». Mais c'est un avis pas partagé par tout le monde. «L'état de ce viaduc nous inquiète, commentait le porte-parole de Ville Mont-Royal Alain Côté. Nous ne savons pas pourquoi il n'a pas été réparé plus tôt. Nous avons fait plusieurs demandes à la Ville de Montréal, qui est responsable de l'entretien.»
Voilà qui résume bien le problème pour certains. "C'est un problème de maintenance ça," lance notre interlocuteur. "C'est à suivre" ajoute-t-il, un peu résigné avant de rentrer chez lui. On le crie haut et fort, l'entretien n'est pas à la hauteur malgré des millions de dollars en taxes à l'essence et autres taxes désignées à cet effet. La moitié des structures au Québec laisse à désirer.
"Je pense que le Ministère des transports préfère construire de nouveaux ponts que d'entretenir les anciens," estime Couvrette. Selon un estimé il ne faudrait pas moins de la totalité du budget actuel du Ministère des Transports, 1,8 milliard, rien que pour l'entretien du réseau actuel, soit dix fois le montant désigné aux structures annuellement.

Bisbille à Budapest

Des enregistrements honteux avouant au mensonge depuis des années, des semaines de manifestation et un revers cuisant aux urnes, pourtant il n'y a toujours rien, semble-t-il, pour déloger le gouvernement du Premier ministre socialiste hongrois Ferenc Gyurcsany, qui tient bon et s'est engagé à poursuivre les réformes et à mettre en oeuvre des mesures d'austérité en dépit des revers enregistrés lors des élections municipales de dimanche.

Gyurcsany a déclaré qu'il entendait poursuivre ses mesures de rigueur visant à ramener le déficit budgétaire vers un objectif de 3,2% du produit intérieur brut en 2009, contre 10,1% cette année. "J'aimerais rester le Premier ministre qui continue cette politique", a précisé M. Gyurcsany au siège du Parti socialiste après une journée où l'opposition a raflé 18 des 19 comtés et 19 des 23 villes, mais sans Budapest.

Le Premier ministre est au plus bas dans les sondages depuis son arrivée au pouvoir, lui qui a été le premier chef du gouvernement réélu, en avril dernier, depuis la fin du communisme en 1989. Signe de déception, il s'agissait du taux de participation (53%) le plus haut lors d'élections municipales depuis le rétablissement de la démocratie en 1990.

La divulgation des résultats a été suivie par une autre importante manifestation de 10 000 personnes devant l'imposant parlement qui surplombe le Danube sur le côté commercial de la ville (Pest). C'est une scène qui devient familière depuis les manifestations qui ont accompagné  la diffusion à la radio publique de propos tenus à huis clos où Gyurcsány évoquait ses mensonges proférés "matin, midi et soir".

Après les résultats de dimanche, la voix du président Laszlo Solyom est venue s'ajouter à celle des manifestants, semble-t-il. "Le Premier ministre refuse d'admettre qu'il a utilisé des méthodes inappropriées pour garder le pourvoir," estime Solyom, qui n'a pas plus réussi à obtenir la démission du chef du gouvernement.

Il faut dire que plusieurs Hongrois restent perplexes même après les derniers résultats, que la droite voulait transformer en plébiscite sur le gouvernement. Car si la popularité du Premier ministre a pris un coup, elle n'empêche pas certains de croire que le gouvernement actuel doit poursuivre les réformes en cours.

Puis les manifestations du 18 septembre des sympathisants de droite et d'extrême droite ayant viré à l'émeute, plusieurs hésitent à donner trop de pouvoir d'un côté ou de l'autre, d'autant plus que les politiques du gouvernement laissent paraitre un certain équilibre centriste.

"Les électeurs hongrois ont ce soir remplacé le Premier ministre en exercice", estime pour sa part le chef de l'opposition et du parti Fidesz, Viktor Orban, "nous appelons le Parti socialiste à s'abstenir d'aller contre la volonté du peuple et de mettre en oeuvre la décision des électeurs". Gyurcsany constate pour sa part toujours obtenir l'essentiel soutien de ses partenaires de coalition.

Thailand's friendly coup

In the land of smiles, there were to plenty to go around even as the tanks took position in front of key buildings in Bangkok as a bloodless palace coup ended the government of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The out-of-control insurgency in the south, which claimed 1,700 lives over the years, including a Canadian's just days before, compounded with corruption allegations, led to growing tensions that boiled over after largely boycotted general elections this year were annulled due to concerns about their legitimacy.

It wasn't long that rumors of a coup started circulating. Now one only needed to see both domestic and international reaction to the military presence in the streets of Bangkok to realise that while the martial means were generally condemned, the end results were less so. Countries such as the United States and Canada diplomatically condemned the coup and called for the restoration of democracy as quickly as possible, but the expressions of "disappointment" so much hardware was necessary were not accompanied by demands for deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to be returned to power.

Foreign governments urged the coup leaders, who made sure to obtain royal assent, to keep their promise to quickly hold democratic elections, as the junta named a new prime minister, retired general Surayud Chulanont, and unveiled an interim Constitution that gives them sway over the current government and extends draconian emergency powers for months. Army chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin said a general election would be held in October 2007.

In the streets of the capital Thais seemed to not only heed king Bhumibol Adulyadej’s appeal to “remain peaceful” but took amusement at the sight of tanks, often cordoned off to keep at bay the hordes of camera-snapping onlookers in what so far has been the friendliest coup in recent memory. In fact soldiers posing in front of their hardware with broad smiles made the troop presence seem more palatable to visitors than honey-roasted bugs on sale at various food stalls.

The death of Canadian Jessie Lee Daniel, 35, who was among at least four people killed in the attacks 950 km away that preceded the coup, was perhaps as close as it came to violence as Shinawatra’s government was being ousted. Media reports said the bombs were apparently remote-controlled, and were possibly the work of local Muslim militants celebrating the one-year anniversary of their founding and could have been a response to a state-organized peace rally held in the region previously.

The country’s first coup in 15 years, orchestrated while Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York at the U.N. General Assembly and which took place without firing a single shot, put the country under martial law in part to solve security problems in the south. Sondhi said on nationwide television that the overthrow was needed “in order to resolve the conflict and bring back normalcy and harmony among people.”

The approval of the Thai street, in part due to the blessing of the revered monarch, was note-worthy considering the last successful coup-plotter, when a military general toppled the civilian government in a bloodless takeover in 1991, was ousted a year later following street demonstrations. While the Bhuddist country has seen some 18 coups since independence 70 years ago, they have taken an increasingly blood-less nature.

“The armed forces commander and the national police commander have successfully taken over Bangkok and the surrounding area in order to maintain peace and order. There has been no struggle," the new leaders said in a statement on national television.

Thaksin had angered the military recently by alleging that senior officers had tried to assassinate him and also attempted to oust officers loyal to Gen. Sondhi from key positions in the military. 59-year-old Sondhi, a member of the Muslim minority, was picked to head the army last year because it was felt he could better deal with the Muslim insurgency in the south.

Ironically while military talks of democratic-friendly coup leading the way to much-needed reforms, what used to be the most popular leader in Thai history, after winning consecutive landslide elections, is being blamed for fomenting much of the growth in violence due to no-compromise military policies. Sondhi, who in March called military coups “a thing of the past” clashed with Thaksin over the handling of the conflict in the south, recently proposing negotiations with the separatists.

While the ruling military brass is promising elections, the coup pre-empted new elections scheduled for November which were expected to return the billionaire to office on the wings of widespread support amid the nation’s poor, and also due to the opposition’s relative weakness. To his credit, raising awareness of the less fortunate may become Thaksin’s legacy, now that his leadership in conjugated in the past tense.

The coup meanwhile has shown the military remains as much part of the South Asian landscape as pagodas and motorbikes. In the Philippines it was the military that cleared the way for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's rise to power, turning against Estrada. Even in Indonesia, where a fragile, democracy, has sprung following 32 years of dictatorship under Suharto, a former man in uniform, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has taken the helm after the years of disappointment under Sukarnoputri.

The generals now are more likely to be given flowers than feared. So long as they keep their promises of returning to the barracks. But even the Thais were reminded killing machines are not very apt at running democracy. Days after the coup the military brass prohibited all political activity, for an indetermined amount of time.

Gab-fest ends with apology

Words may hurt, but as long as people keep talking, the damage is contained. But does a page out of the book of Llewellyn Thompson, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union at the
heart of the Cuban missile crisis, always hold true?

Perhaps this is where open chatter warfare takes place. The giant room that can hold 1,800 people on the East side of Manhattan has increasingly been described as a spiritual
chamber. Last year Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad felt the "light" of God while addressing world leaders. Last week, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela saw the devil, in a television moment the New York Times called positively "Khrushchevian".

The man with the better tan won the battle of the ungrateful guests to the U.S. host,
trumping his Iranian counterpart, and friend of circumstance, who duelled with
U.S. president George W. Bush, speaking hours apart from the same stage. Speaking later, Israel tried to swing back the pendulum and spoke favorably of the U.S. while declaring Iran its gravest threat.

But neither the God-friendly world's most powerful man, nor a leader speaking for citizens who consider themselves the chosen people could come close to the Latino-accented rhetoric that rose across the hall to both gasps and giggles. “The devil came here yesterday, right here," Chavez said, speaking a day after Bush took the same podium. “It smells of sulfur still
today, this table that I am now standing in front of,” he said in a session he resorted to waving Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” rather than quoting from holy text.

Ahmadinejad on the other hand seemed to throw the book on the assembly. “The question needs to be asked: if the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom, who are permanent
members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the U.N. can take them to account? Can a Council in which they are privileged members address their violations? Has this ever happened?”

But while his intervention, which lacked no build-up due to the scheduling of his speech, received the usual polite, applause, Chavez got such loud and long-lasting applause and cheers that
officials had to contain the enthusiasm of the diplomats. Not to be outdone, Ahmadinejad, whose visit had been preceded by a much less hostile U.S. tour of his predecessor, reformist Mohammed Khatami, took his rant to another assembly, and squared off in America's Council on
Foreign Relations, where he politely spent 40 minutes questioning the evidence that the Holocaust ever happened.

“I think we should allow more impartial studies to be done on this,” he said after hearing the account of an 81-year-old member who saw the Dachau concentration camp as Germany fell. No
less had been expected by members of the organization who had reacted with a rare outburst when they learned of the decision by council president Richard Haas to invite the firebrand Iranian president to the session. The decision by the former head of policy planning at the State Department was met by disapproval by the current head of the department. “It’s fair to say that
Dr. Rice thought this was a bad idea,” a senior State Department official told the Times. “A really,
really bad idea.”

The Council reminded that other dictators such as Castro and Mugabe had also been guests in
the past. Truly to the hosts' credit, the invitations being extended could hardly be reciprocated.

But in a week of sulfuric incantations and flying vitriol, no address garnered the attention, and created the outburst, of the world's billion Muslims like pope Benedict's quotations of a
medieval passage calling Islam "evil and inhuman". None of the nearly two hundred leaders speaking before the U.N.'s general assembly had managed to send to the streets of
Mideastern cities, in scenes reminiscent of the protests against Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, thousands of irate protesters, some of whom burned the holy father's
effigy, fire-bombed churches and even killed a nun in Somalia.

Days later Benedict XVI said he was “very sorry” that his remarks at a German university
precipitated a storm of anger, before issuing a second expression of regret, stressing that his words, mostly about faith and reason and largely criticizing the West, had been
misunderstood. This Monday the apology tour continued as the pope told ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries that he respected Muslims and that, in a phrase borrowed from a
previous papacy which had professed a need for “reciprocity,”  “interreligious and intercultural
dialogue is a necessity.”

While Benedict stopped short of the full apology that some Muslim leaders demanded, the gesture, which was shown live on Al Jazeera and was held at the pope's Summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, seemed to satisfy some of the guests. “The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting,” Iraqi envoy Albert Edward Ismail Yelda said as he left the 30 minute meeting. “It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges.” It wouldn't have sounded more convincing in the thickest-layed U.N.-speak.

Dawson's familiar tragedy

Stringent gun laws, a mandatory weapons registry and cries of "never again" were no match for the acts of a lone gun-man who for fifteen long minutes spread panic and bloodshed through Canada's second-largest city, revisiting one of the darkest chapters of its modern history.

Again this month Montreal was sent reeling from the tragedy of a shooting at one of its schools
when 25 year-old Kimveer Gill targeted the students of Dawson college, re-enacting one of his disturbed fantasies and in the process killing one girl and injuring 19 others before turning a gun on himself.

That the attack had all the appearances of a Columbine copy-cat was not surprising, the
black trench coat-wearing murderer admired Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, killers of 13 Colorado students in 1999, and like them was captivated by weapons and the gothic arts and vowed to
fall in a hail of bullets.

While Gill did not live to tell about this darkest wish, which he kept from the few friends he had, let alone his parents, his personal blog on a goth web site was graphically eloquent about his disturbed state, featuring photos of him posing with a number of weapons, some illegal in this country, and speaking volumes of his hatred for "normal people".

"Work sucks ... school sucks ... life sucks ... what else can I say? ...  Life is a video game you've got to die sometime," he wrote in his profile for a Web site called The one videogame
which particularly captivated him enabled him to re-enact the Columbine High School shootings.

Sadly, Canada didn't need to look south of the border to recall previous gun-shooting incidents in school. A mere week later 14 year-old Todd Cameron Smith entered W.R. Myers High School and shot two students with a .22 calibre rifle, killing one and wounding another. In 1992 it was a college professor taking aim at his colleagues at Concordia university, a few blocks from Dawson, and killing four. But the darkest of all days was surely soiled by Marc Lepine on Dec. 6, 1989, who gunned down 14 women during the infamous Polytechnique bloodshed.

In the midst of these tragedies, important lessons are being learned, and may have prevented a much starker outcome. Gill carried three weapons with him, including an automatic weapon and a 12-gauge shotgun, all perfectly registered, and stashed in the trunk of his black Sunfire was enough ammunition to wage his own personal bloody campaign of terror. But the swift
response of officers already answering another call at the time of the shooting, and the rapid execution and strong coordination of emergency services, prevented a much graver
tragedy. Even if such practise tragically comes as the result of repeat incidents.

The 1989 rampage led to new tactics after Montreal police was criticized for waiting too
long outside Polytechnique as Lepine carried out his murderous attacks against women. Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme said the lessons learned from other mass shootings had taught police
to try to stop such assaults as quickly as possible.

"Before our technique was to establish a perimeter around the place and wait for the SWAT team. Now the first police officers go right inside." In fact the first respondents were quick to
corner Gill, who tried to shield his body with the friend of the only victim of the shooting, 18 year-old Anastasia De Souza, and left Gill no possibility of causing more carnage, but not before
causing mayhem and shutting down part of Montreal's downtown for hours.

Students ran out of Dawson screaming after hearing the gun-fire, some with clothes stained with blood; others cried and clung to each other once they were at a safe distance. "I was terrified. The guy was shooting at people randomly. He didn't care, he was just shooting at everybody," said student Devansh Smri Vastava. The attacker started firing outside the college before walking in the
front door. Much of the shooting was in the second-floor cafeteria, in another scene only too reminiscent of Polytechnique.

Police were not able to establish a motive for the attack, but his background alone meant that whatever the explanation, it would defy common understanding. In an exclusive interview with the NPU, his mother described in tears how she learned about her son's death from the media moments before the police came to the door to confirm the news. "What can I say after I have just
learned my son was killed?" she said. "He was a good man, just ask anyone, ask the neighbors."

These neighbors however painted the portrait of a solitary man with few friends who lately had taken to changing his appearance, adding to his usual dark line of clothing a freshly cut mohawk, which
unsettled some neighbors. "I feel horrible, when it comes so close to home, I have no words, I am numb, I am totally numb," one of them said.

The sentiment, despite previous incidents, is felt by many in a province, and across a country, which has once more dropped its flags at half staff and drawn international attention for all the wrong reasons.

Longs aurevoirs de Blair

Les Libanais l'ont conspué et traité d'assassin, les syndiqués l'ont chahuté en sortant bruyamment d'un congrès auquel il prenait part, même les membres de son parti lui font des signes de jeter un oeil à la montre: plus facile d'être Tony Blair par les temps qui courent.

En effet le Premier ministre britannique à l'origine de l'alliance progressiste trans-Atlantique, dont il est d'ailleurs le dernier membre, risque de faire l'objet d'autres remontrances au courant de la longue période d'adieux qui précède son éventuel remplacement par Gordon Brown à Downing Street.

Blair devrait abandonner son poste après avoir fêté sa dixième année en tant que Premier ministre en 2007, ce qui est plus que n'importe quel autre leader travailliste avant lui. Il aurait pu tenter de battre le record d'endurance de Margaret Thatcher en poussant son mandat à terme, mais en annonçant qu'il ne se présenterait plus après sa dernière ré-élection, il précipitait sa marche vers la sortie, un scénario pas tout à fait inconnu au Canada, où l'on a tant suivi la saga Chrétien-Martin, avec le dénouement qu'on connait.

Blair revient bredouille d'un voya ge au Moyen-orient où sa tentative de jouer un rôle de médiateur a été déboutée à deux reprises; à Beyrouth, où on l'a accusé d'avoir épousé une position trop pro-israélienne lors du récent conflit, et en Palestine, où le bagage historique de l'ancien empire, sans parler de la participation britannique en Irak, ont laissé chuter ses appels au dialogue israélo-palestinien sur des oreilles de sourds.

En effet rien n'a atteint la popularité de Blair comme la guerre en Irak, au courant de laquelle le premier ministre a préféré ignorer les manifestations monstres dans les rues de Londres et suivre les traces de l'Oncle Sam. Cette d'image, non de bulldog, mais de caniche boiteux suivant George W. Bush au pas, l'a même accompagné lors de son récent périple. «Il est le plus grand criminel et un esclave des Américains et nous ne comprenons pas pourquoi il vient», déclarait à l'AFP Hamzi Moussa, un manifestant de 15 ans.

Le ton avait même été donné à la veille de sa visite, lorsque le Premier ministre palestinien, Ismaïl Haniyeh, a critiqué la politique "partiale" de Tony Blair au Proche-Orient qui aboutissait, selon lui, à punir le peuple palestinien. Les appels de Blair à la levée conditionnelle des "sanctions économiques" contre l'Autorité palestinienne après la formation d'un gouvernement d'unité nationale très attendu n'ont rien amélioré son image. Et penser que les dirigeants politiques aiment trouver lors de passages à l'étranger de quoi se distraire des querelles domestiques.

Il faudrait d'ailleurs que Blair conserve un peu de la haute surveillance qui l'accompagne à l'étranger en rentrant chez lui, ou l'annonce de son départ l'an prochain n'a en rien fait taire ses détracteurs, notamment 17 députés travaillistes, habituellement loyaux au Premier ministre, qui ont signé une lettre l'invitant à démissionner. Parmi eux Tom Watson, secrétaire d'Etat à la Défense démissionnaire, a été particulièrement bruyant, écrivant récemment: "Je partage l'avis de l'écrasante majorité du Parti travailliste et du pays selon lesquels le renouvellement du parti et du pays passe nécessairement par celui de ses dirigeants".

D'autres ont emboité le pas et pris la porte de la sortie. Tandis que Blair se prépare à en faire de même, des proches collaborateurs parlent d'organiser une "tournée d'adieux" à leur "star", au courant de laquelle on voudrait véhiculer l'image de "la domination des idées du New Labour, sur le triomphe du blairisme". Un spectacle qui ne manquerait pas d'élever d'un cran le niveau de sarcasme, déjà flagrant, à Whitehall.

Of dust and ashes

After burning for 58 minutes the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at approximately 10:00 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, sending hundreds to their deaths and a dark cloud of smoke, dust and soot up into the air and across lower Manhattan, filling the spaces left between the buildings that shaped New York's financial district.

The smoke and dust wouldn't settle for many days. From heaping mounds to thin layers of it covered everything within a radius of many blocks, from building windows hundreds of feet up in the sky to pay phones in the street below.

For nearly three weeks the owner of Chelsea Jeans, David Cohen, kept his Broadway store open without selling anything. A tidal wave of dust had broken its way into his clothing store when the towers collapsed, covering every single item, from the shirts hanging on the walls to the neatly stacked blue jeans, with a thick layer of ash that left all his merchandise in the same color.

He would invite visitors in to look around and take photos, but they had to promise not
to touch anything. "I wanted people to see it as it was," he said at the time. Eventually Cohen started cleaning up his store, just as the rest of the shell-shocked city started sweeping up. It took him a month, but when he was done he left the wall of his store next to a window near the entrance untouched, and proceeded to encase it behind a glass panel, as a memorial for the victims. "I
wanted to preserve it just as it was, to freeze this moment in history," he said. "I knew that no one would remember how bad, ugly, how sad Sept. 11 was."

Cohen eventually closed his store in October of 2002, but not before entrusting the
New York Historical Society with preserving the 50 square feet of space that became known as the Chelsea Jeans Memorial. From Aug. 25 to next January, a Society exhibition entitled "Elegy in the Dust" showcases the memorial to mark the 5th anniversary of the terror attacks. It re-creates the
dust-covered shelves of jeans, shirts and other merchandise carefully preserved by Cohen, and is accompanied by photos drawing a timeline of the day's horrible events.

The dust-cloaked garnments are encased in a sealed exhibition case not only meant to protect them, but the viewing public as well. The World Trade Center dust has been described as hazardous by a number of studies conducted since 9-11 which have found them laced with sometimes toxic
and even cancerous building material, such as asbestos. Last week one study found that 70% of the first respondents who had worked at "ground zero" to look for survivors and clear the debris had developed respiratory problems and other ailments since, including 61% who had no health problems before.

The dust was deemed so dangerous that workers in chemical suits were used to seal and transport the Chelsea Jeans artefacts to the exhibition site. "I don't want to get near that thing," a member of the staff told the NPU at the gallery that faces central Park.

But for the families of the victims of 9-11, the dust has gathered a significance that has little to do
with health considerations, something Cohen and the society became quite aware of before the exhibit was prepared. For Cohen, the realization came the day, soon after Sept. 11, when one woman accompanying with a 10 year-old child asked if she could collect some of the dust he had left untouched in his store.

He acquiesced before understanding the deep connection they felt with the powdery substance caking every nook and cranny in his establishment. She then told him the boy had lost his father in the attacks and needed something to remember him by. The notion that the dust could be
comprised of more than pulverised construction material, computers and machinery was not lost on the victims' families. Nearly three thousand people had been killed when the towers came down in a puff of smoke, hundreds of them were simply recorded as "missing".

As a result transporting the exhibition meant looking out for more than health considerations, but bearing in mind some of the dust could contain the ashen remains of the victims. "We tried to treat the dust very respectfully, very reverently," explains curator Amy Weinstein, "We don't know what's in it, we know there have been many analyses of the dust and ash from Sept. 11 and we know that those analyses have shown different things at different times."

One account discussed during a panel at Pace university last week described it as a "toxic brew" consisting of components of construction, computer, furniture and jet fuel. Many of the cheminals included toxic dioxins and benzene, as well as materials such as asbestos, lead and mercury. "The sheer volume of the particles would overwhelm the body's ability to defend against exposure,"
explained panelist Dr. Jacqueline Moline. But despite the growing body of research, a direct causal link between the ailments and the debris isn't that easy to establish Moline concedes, a stance also being observed by mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In the lead up to this year's anniversary, as a congressional hearing was held in New York to address the issue, the city was being accused of not doing enough to protect the health of the first respondents by failing to provide filtering masks, even if an NPU reporter had been provided
one one week after the attacks, just to follow the activities at the site from a distance. It would not be the last accusations the city would face, years after the unity and harmony that marked the immediate aftermath gave way to impatience and accusations.

On the hallowed site where the towers used to stand, barges had criss-crossed the Hudson river for months to clear over half a million tons of debris and rubble to a Staten Island landfill. But while the clean-up efforts cleared what many considered an urban burial ground, the transfer helped
create what could in turn be considered the victims' urn, at the ghastly-named Fresh Kills landfill site in Staten Island, one of America's largest.

The sprawling site off I-278 started filling with the debris of the World Trace Center less than a day after the attacks and would eventually fill up a 48-acre area at the rate of 9,000 tons a day over the next ten months. Some 65,000 personal items were recovered there, not to mention over 20,000 body parts, half of which remain unidentified. In fact identifiable remains of 42 percent of the 2,749
victims have yet to be  found five years after the attacks, prompting authorities to consider new DNA technology to help with their investigations.

Some family members of the victims know the malodorous municipal landfill off the West Shore expressway, deceptively among green hills that used to be old dumps, as the only burial ground for their loved ones, and have obtained special permissions to visit the Fresh Kills to pay
their respects. Among them, the Hornings have made a habit of dropping by on holidays and whenever they can make it.

After coming to a checkpoint where they flash id cards issued by the NY medical office they wait to be escorted to hill 1/9, where the ashes of their 26 year-old son Matthew lie. The notion
their burial ground lies in the heart of the country's biggest garbage dump outrages them. Founders of the WTC Families for Proper Burial, one of many 9-11 related lobbies to have sprung up in recent years, the grief-stricken parents are fighting to have the ashes removed to a proper burial site.

They aren't alone. On Saturday their group gathered friends, families and supporters by the WTC path station to protest that the remains of so many 9-11 victims have been disposed of so unceremoniously. "This is morally reprehensible and emotionally unacceptable, and we
are going to fight it all the way," said Diane, who deplores the families were once promised they would obtain the return of the remains after they were sorted out.

Earlier this year the families seemed to have scored a victory in the state assembly in Albany where a bill requiring that the NY Port Authority remove the ashes from the landfill site was unanimously approved, but it is all window-dressing, members of the protest group tell the NPU where the towers used to stand. The large number of unidentified remains makes returning the ashes, and closing a very difficult chapter for hundreds of families, all the more difficult.

The group deplores that many families do not have any remains to reach closure with and are suing the city for improperly sifting through the wreckage of the towers, not for money, but to make sure
families get a proper burial, they insist. "Up until a month ago they were still finding new bone fragments," says Matthew's cousin Anna.

Matthew was eventually officially identified when bones and his wallet were found at ground Zero a full year after the terror attacks, she tells the NPU a day before president Bush toured the site, but by then family members had made their peace, knowing his floor was above the level struck by one
of the planes and that no one there had survived. In that sense, they were fortunate to know, she says.

Cinq ans en Afghanistan

L'offensive était une des plus importantes contre les forces talibanes depuis l'arrivée des troupes canadiennes en 2002, faisant plus de 200 morts et infligeant un dur revers à la guérilla, mais Operation Méduse a également ajouté cinq soldats canadiens au compte des victimes, et les
chiffres ne font que confirmer l'importance des forces en présence selon certains.

Cinq ans après le 11 septembre et le début de l'invasion qui renversa le pouvoir taliban à Kaboul, les hostilités sont loin d'être terminées dans ce pays souvent envahi et rarement conquis. L'offensive actuelle, dirigée en grande partie par les troupes canadiennes, pourrait durer plusieurs semaines, et prévoit déloger des forces talibanes solidement ancrées à l'ouest de Kandahar, ville principale du sud et centre de commandement de l'OTAN.

Pourtant on n'est pas à la première opération du genre dans la région, reconquise et à nouveau perdue par l'OTAN au courant de l'été. «Franchement, j'ai été surpris de la résistance qu'ils ont démontré, a déclaré le major canadien Geoff Abthorpe, commandant de la Compagnie Bravo. J'avais bien l'impression qu'on allait leur donner un solide coup de poing.»

Il faut dire que les insurgés ont eu le temps de se préparer à défendre leurs positions, les populations locales ayant été averties de fuir la région en prévision d'une offensive de l'OTAN, un avertissement qui tentait de limiter les victimes civiles mais a considérablement réduit l'effet de surprise sur
le champ de bataille. Ainsi cinq ans plus tard les éclats retentissent encore sur le territoire afghan, tandis qu'Osama bin Laden, l'homme le plus recherché au monde, manque toujours à l'appel.

En fait les combats actuels font état du regain des effectifs dans le camp taliban, un
regain sans doute en partie dopé par la croissance de la culture de l'opium dans la région, le produit à la base de l'héroine et de la morphine qui finance en partie la guérilla. En effet, selon le directeur du bureau de l'ONU sur le crime et les stupéfiants, Antonio Maria Costa, les derniers chiffres sont "alarmants": malgré les politiques d'aide au décrochage de la culture de l'opium dans la
région, la dernière récolte était de 49% supérieure à celle de l'année précédente. "C'est
une très mauvaise nouvelle, c'est hors de contrôle", dit-il.

Les chiffres ne le contredisent pas: la guérilla a de son côté tellement encouragé la culture de l'opium pour financer ses opérations que la production aghane représente à elle seule 92% de la production
mondiale et excède même la consommation de 30%. Plus d'un tiers du PIB afghan est en fait directement lié à la production de stupéfiants, particulièrement provenant des régions du
sud, ou les combats actuels suivent leurs cours. «Le sud de l'Afghanistan montrait des signes évidents et imminents d'éclatement, avec une production et un trafic de la drogue à grande échelle,
le terrorisme et la guérilla, la corruption et le crime» pouvait-on lire dans un communiqué peu reluisant des Nations Unies.

Les talibans ne sont pas les seuls à encourager cette culture illicite puisque certains anciens dirigeants locaux en font autant, mais de plus en plus, la guerre en Afghanistan, celle qui a lancé la guerre internationale contre le terrorisme, semble inséparable de la guerre contre la drogue.
Mais d'autres groupes blâment la pauvreté et la misère des camps de réfugiés, ou encore les politiques américaines, pour expliquer le renforcement des effectifs chez les talibans. A la veille de signer une accord de coopération durable avec l'Afghanistan, l'OTAN en fait de même en projetant de gonfler les rangs dans le sud à 23 000 soldats d'ici la fin de l'année. Selon certains porte-paroles de l'organisation, les troupes étrangères n'ont pas tout le temps du monde pour mettre fin à la menace talibane, en raison des tensions suscitées par les attaques tuant des civils.

La fronde contre l'uni-polarité

La multi-polarité, presque tous les pays hormis les Etats-Unis, la puissance hégémonique, y croient, mais les plus récents adeptes de cette vision du monde parlent ouvertement de fronde contre Washington. Cette idée est à l'origine de drôles d'alliances de circonstance, entre certains pays comme la Chine, la Syrie... et le Vénézuela.

Lui-même adepte de Fidel Castro, le président vénézuélien Hugo Chavez effectuait récemment une série de voyages à l'étranger qui, tout en aboutissant à la signature d'ententes économiques, semblaient unir les voix dissidentes contre Washington. Alors que le terme de "multipolarité" a
souvent été brandi par certains membres du Conseil de sécurité, comme la France et la Chine, Chavez, en effectuant ses récents périples à l'étranger, veut passer pour le champion des petits, qui en unissant leurs forces, veulent tenir les Etats-Unis en échec: "Quelque soit la force de
l'empire américain, il sera battu", déclarait lors d'une visite en Syrie le président Chavez.

Il faut croire que son message réussit à passer dans le monde arabe, ou on l'accueillait en héros à Damas la semaine dernière. Chavez promet de construire "un nouveau monde" et de "creuser la
tombe de l'impérialisme américain", ce qui, à la veille de son voyage au Moyen-orient, l'a mené à faire appel au retrait des troupes israéliennes au Liban, comparant les frappes du Tsahal dans le pays du cèdre à un génocide.

Si Chavez fait partie de l'axe contestataire Morales-Castro en Amérique, il ne se veut pas moins interventionniste au sein de l'alliance Iran-Russie résistant aux sanctions que veulent imposer à Téhéran les pays critiquant le programme nucléaire iranien. Le Vénézuela vient d'ailleur d'être admis
au sein de la Ligue Arabe avec le statut d'observateur. Mais Caracas pourrait davantage faire le poids en arrachant un des rares sièges non-permanents disponibles au Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU cet automne, d'ou les visites récentes chez deux de ses membres permanents, qui résistent à la fois à
la vision unipolaire du monde de Washington et aux appels aux sanctions contre Téhéran, soit la Chine et la Russie.

Alors que Chavez signait à Moscou des contrats militaires critiqués à Washington, il obtenait de Pékin une quinzaine d'accords commerciaux, notamment dans le domaine énergétique, mais surtout, le soutien de la Chine en vue d'obtenir un siège au Conseil de sécurité. "Nous sommes
reconnaissants du soutien de la Chine, affirmait Chavez, c'est très important, c'est un soutien politique et moral surtout parce que nous partageons les mêmes objectifs d'un monde de paix et de respect de la souveraineté des peuples".

Cette souveraineté passe par l'affirmation d'une multi-polarité, l'objet d'une conférence à Kazan, capitale de la république russe du Tatarstan à majorité musulmane, ou l'on visait à approfondir le dialogue entre la Russie et les pays musulmans et à défendre un "monde multipolaire" face aux Etats-Unis. "Un monde unipolaire sans système d'équilibre génère des tensions  et des guerres locales", y a déclaré le président du Tatarstan,  Mintimer Chaïmiev, à l'ouverture de la conférence.

Pour ce qui est du siège à l'ONU, Washington ne cache pas sa préférence  pour le Guatemala au Conseil de sécurité, alors que les relations se corcent davantage avec Chavez. En effet la CIA annonçait récemment la création d'une mission spéciale sur le Vénézuela et Cuba, tandis que Washington et Caracas échangeaient des missiles à boulets rouges après l'interception au Vénézuela d'une valise diplomatique soupçonnée de contenir du matériel de contrebande destiné
à l'espionnage.

Les voyages à l'étranger de Chavez ne sont qu'un échappatoire temporaire des divisions qui l'attendent chez lui, à quelques mois des présidentielles de décembre. Populaire chez les plus pauvres mais indésirable pour les riches, notamment la classe affaires, Chavez a semé la
consternation en engageant des réformes agraires radicales, largement inspirées du modèle communiste cubain.

Les politiques socialistes de Chavez créent parfois des divisions au sein de son parti, qui ne veut pas pour autant faire fuir les investisseurs. Chavez tentera de retrouver chez lui d'ici décembre une part du prestige qui l'accompagne lorsqu'il voyage dans certains pays à l'étranger.

The bush's 7-ton problem

Even for life-long observers of the bush like Neil Heron, the spectacle was unique and tale-worthy. The half-eaten impala left bloodied and dangling halfway up a small bush tree meant the leopard that left it there would surely return.

When he did however, some time around 10pm in the pitch dark African night, he wasn't alone. A young lion, drawn by the smell of fresh raw meat, also approached the tasty decoration hung up the three like a macabre Christmas ornament. For him only, being at the top of the food chain, would there be a holiday feast that night. After two charges amplified by loud echoing growls, he had won the battle of nerves against the young spotted predator, who left reluctantly a pray he had carefully stalked and defeated a few nights before.

Darwin's law rules in the bush of Kruger national park in South Africa, but the natural state of affairs has been transformed dramatically in the last few years, Heron says after a night spent listening to the grinding sound of impala bone against a lion's teeth as he polished off the remains of the small antelope common to these parts.

Scenes like these may simply disappear in time, he fears, because "the real kings of the savannah" are profoundly modifying a habitat limited and crafted by men. Some 12,000 elephants march triumphantly throughout the Kruger, while this may not seem like much in a park the size of Israel, it is an increase of 50% from a decade ago, a brisk pace that sparks fears saturation is nigh.

"It is simply becoming too much for the ecosystem," says Heron, who has lived most of his years in the bush and has been a Kruger guide for 13 years. "A new debate is necessary and it should address the conflict between eco-tourism and conservation," he says.

Heron has entertained the subject for years and fails to see an alternative to a solution which has led one newspaper to brand him "elephant killer". "We should forget about all the issues of morality, there is simply a need to cull elephants," he says, pointing to changes they have brought to their environment, which he refuses, but others do not hesitate, to call "destruction".

But the conservation area of nearly 2 million hectares, which may one day merge with areas in neighboring countries to form a unique international conservation zone, does not lack tell-tale signs of the pachyderm's transformation of the bush. These 5 to 7-ton "habitat modifiers" strip bark off acacias and other trees, if they don't knock them altogether, bringing changes to a vegetation other animals depend on to survive.

Elephants have little respect for international boundaries, let alone park fences, which they topple, leaving other animals to infiltrate the park, sometimes spreading diseases. In the worst-case scenarios, they destroy homes and kill people, a reminder they are quite more wild than their rather docile Asian cousins. To their credit their also have positive impacts on the park, but the negatives are starting to outweigh them.

Heron says he was there to witness the first vasectomy performed on an elephant, a measure he disapproves of because its spread as a measure to control their population would radically transform the creature's social structure. "You just have to observe them briefly to tell they revolve around the young elephants," he says.

What brought on this overpopulation scenario was a measure widely acclaimed as a victory for conservation only a decade ago, the end of all elephant poaching, eliminating, Heron says, the only predator elephants had to fear in their every day environment. "We need to reintroduce man to the ecosystem (the park) and not just as paying visitor, but as a living participant, who will be allowed to hunt in a limited way," Heron says. "Elephants need to once more fear a predator."

An unpopular statement among activists, it is a position gaining interest among conservationists, no doubt because it comes from someone with a passion and undeniable knowledge of the park's fauna. "I agree completely with Neil that culling is the way to go," says Tom Cohen of Conservation International, who has lived in South Africa for many years and now works in Washington.

"The opposition comes from animal rights activists who oppose any culling, and some who argue that the cull will somehow bolster the illegal ivory trade by making more ivory available. Maybe so, but the elephant population is too big for the Kruger environment, so something must be done."

For Heron, the need to kill animals is a difficult but necessary solution. "I love this country, I love this park," he says. "If I had to kill an animal I would probably have to drop my work, I would have failed my job." And yet his record is clean despite close encounters with everything from lions to elephants, as he led visitors on private tours of the park that is among the world's largest ecosystems. "People who have killed elephants often dropped their weapons and cried. Do you think it's easy?"

But changes are needed if South Africans and nature lovers from all over the world want to keep enjoying the park South African president Paul Kruger founded in the XIXth century. The park is after all about much more than flora and fauna he says. "South Africans need to come here, not only to spend their vacation and see the animals, but to visit their heritage, and learn their history," he says.

Sending in the blue berets

As a tenuous cease-fire holds between Israel and Hezbollah after a 34-day conflict which made over 1,000 victims, most of them Lebanese civilians, European countries are scrambling to fill the ranks of a UN force expected to stand between the belligerents, but 50 years after playing a historic peace-keeping role in the region, eventually giving its Prime minister the Nobel peace prize, Canada says it won't send troops to Lebanon.

Ottawa announced it was creating a $25 million Lebanon Relief Fund last week but made clear it would not commit boots to the ground, one Canadian UN observer having already been killed by Israeli air strikes and the armed forces having their hands full in Afghanistan where a 27th soldier was killed this week in a suicide attack, the 8th this month alone.

The US has similarly dismissed sending troops but said it would contribute some $230 million in relief and reconstruction aid. That didn't keep Washington, which partly brokered the cease-fire, from calling for a swift deployment of UN troops to southern Lebanon. Italy was the first to seriously answer the call, saying it would play a leading role in the peacekeeping force by committing 3,000 troops but seeking guarantees Israel would cease military action.

Over the weekend Israel conducted an incursion in the Bekaa valley and was widely condemned for violating the Aug. 11 resolution calling for "the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." The cease-fire took effect three days later.

EU foreign ministers meanwhile were preparing to meet with UN Secretary general Kofi Annan to discuss troop contributions but already plans to send some 15,000 soldiers to the region are being reconsidered. Half that number may end up heading to the region. Countries have expressed disappointment France, which helped broker the agreement and was expected to lead the force, limited its initial commitment to some 200 specialists, saying it was apprehensive about sending more without a stronger mandate to disarm forces.

One major concern is a repeat of the Bosnian UN experience, during which some 80 French soldiers were killed, a mission where blue berets were not allowed to use force and many were held hostage by Serbian forces. France is also wary of its history in the country where 58 of its soldiers were killed in 1983 by terrorists, the same year the US Marine barracks were hit, leading to the withdrawal of both armies from Lebanon. France eventually boosted participation to 2000 troops.

Israel meanwhile, which has not halted strikes in the Gaza strip, was accused of committing war crimes by Amnesty International, and is concerned about Iran's growing influence in the region. The regime backing hezbollah has been bolstered by the terror group's stronger image at the end of the conflict, a fact observers say was apparent this week when Tehran said it would seek serious negotiations over its nuclear programme but refused to promise to suspend the enrichment of uranium.

Hezbollah meanwhile, which has gained status for standing up to Israel and keeps its weapons but has not returned Israel's captured soldiers, is seen as the big winner in the crisis. Israel, disappointed it was not able to crush the group, fears it will rearm during the cease-fire, the eve of which Hezbollah had sent the largest amount of missiles into northern Israel. Hezbollah, meanwhile has sought to conquer minds upset by its instigation of the conflict by being a major source of aid and relief in the most affected regions.

Without apartheid to kick around

The boys are out to play after class in the courtyard of Belle higher primary school in Soweto township, south of Johannesburg. Dressed in their school uniform, a burgundy polo and dark pants with comfortable shoes not made for running around, they kick around a soccer ball in the dirt
near a wall that offers a stark reminder of South Africa's ills.

A painted on message reads "save sex for tomorrow" next to a now sadly familiar red ribbon, the symbol of the country's campaign against AIDS. "Hey mister, hello!" a boy screams out as a visitor observes them playing. That he chose English rather than Afrikaans to salute strangers is especially
significant in this township, where protests against government regulations to force students to learn Afrikaans thirty years ago sparked violent and often bloodied protests and became the milestone in the movement against apartheid.

One need only look across the street at the memorial of Hector Peterson, the first and youngest (13)
student to die in the uprising, and the museum inaugurated in his honor, to be reminded of the beginning of the end of the regime that institutionalised racism, viewed blacks as inferior and kept them out of cities. With the release of Nelson Mandela, in 1990, whose old home is now a museum a
few streets away, and the first non-racial elections that brought him to power four years later, blacks were no longer confined to the townships built to keep them away from white urban centers.

Now they are free not only to go where they please but run the country, currently under the presidency of Mandela protege Thabo Mbeki. Many moved to the city, doubling the population of some urban centers such as Cape Town in a mere decade, pouring in at the rate of 10,000 per day. But one need only travel the distance from the Cape's airport to the city, lining rows and rows of shacks made of old metal sheets - sometimes left-over billboards - stitched together in the
rusted canvas of the shantytowns, to be reminded that the divisions of apartheid would not disappear overnight.

Twelve years after the African National Congress took power, the old geography of apartheid remains and while divisions persist, some suspect that inequalities have in fact grown worse as the rich have become richer and the poor poorer. "Yes apartheid is over but there are the very rich and the very poor, nothing in the middle, and that's what we need, to elevate the middle," says Neil Heron, a former head of Penguin publishing South Africa which now runs a safari tour service in the world-famous Kruger national park.

Himself an opponent of the old regime, Heron points out the park was in fact one of the rare areas of the country, from its inception early in the last century, where blacks and whites could coexist without making a fuss. But as in the Peterson museum, most of the visitors are white, while most of the workers are black. The same observation can be said about patrons and workers at the trendy mall in the white suburb of Rosebank, which would not be out of place in Pasadena. One could say that as many whites take the popular packed omnibuses that are the terror of South Africa's roads as there are blacks who fly South African Airlines.

A precipitated reflection no doubt based on the snapshot of a flash visit, but echoing a reality
often splashed into the country's papers. Last week one major trade union charged prize-winning SAA was "lily-white on top and pitch black at the bottom" because 95% of top-level management belonged to the first category.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who still lives in Soweto, recently took issue with the racial divide when he told the BBC that ten years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its work, whites, who benefited from apartheid, did not appreciate the "magnamity" of the country's blacks, whom he noted still lived for the most part in poverty.

In fact while the government has maintained stability and sought to alleviate poverty, running some 90 consecutive months of economic growth, which averages 5% annually, its traditional political base of poor black South Africans have barely felt the impact of it all, leaving the country with an unemployment rate conservatively put at 27%.  

Such is certainly the view from the various levels of the Peterson museum, looking over shanty dwellings of corroded metal in the shadow of a power station which once fed white communities but not the millions of blacks surrounding it. Now the towers of the Orlando power station are decorated with paintings singing the praises of heroes of the struggle against apartheid, but some areas are still neither connected to electricity nor water.

Touring the area, Thebe, who was raised in Soweto, where his family lives, but moved out to live closer to work, takes time to say hello to his many friends in the old neighborhood. "The government is going to eliminate all this and build new houses," he says pointing to the worst areas. The government has indeed built some 2 million new homes and connected over 4 million households to power and nearly three times that amount to water. But in some areas of Soweto itself, the divergences are striking.

In one sector of Orlando, homes at the top of one hill would not be out of place in middle-class white suburbs while at the bottom lies a monstruous camp of rows of dirty grey connected flats once built to house miners, behind a fence of barb wire. While up the street Sowetans come home to sattelite TV in their SUVs, down below a girl fetches water at the local well, walking between piles of rubbish. Not very far, half-naked children run across the streets, and surprisingly beam to white visitors who tour the area in the increasingly popular township tours.

The phenomena of a divided township is growing evident in the real estate market, which did not exist at first but where homes can now fetch for fancy prices. Even some of the more run-down shacks can be snapped for some $20,000, a home buyer's market no longer limited to the higher and middle class. Some people that could afford to move indeed decided to stay, not only because they are exempt from taxes, as Natives living on reserves, but because this is home.

Yes there is poverty and squalor, but not mysery, Thebe says. "I love it here, I only moved to be closer to work but my heart is here, this is my home, the people are beautiful." Reports of violence across the country are largely exaggerated he says. After leading the fight against apartheid the people are leading the fight against crime. "It is getting better, the new Soweto is safer," he says despite guide books still warning against touring the areas unescorted. "If you rule out theft of commercial goods."

The townships are life itself, blink and you miss something, like girls jumping on a trampoline
in the middle of a park or a young man getting a hair cut in a makeshift barber shop on the sidewalk. In fact Mandiba himself, the revered elder leader Mandela, would still be living here if not for the invasion of the admiring hordes at all hours of the day and night when he returned from prison, guides in his museum say. Now he has four homes, one in a suburn north of the city near his foundation, another in his native Cape province. His second wife Winnie still lives in Soweto in a relatively well-guarded compound.

Segregation over all is coming down, Thebe says. While some whites may still be uncomfortable if blacks move into their neighborhoods, and some even elect to move out as a result, "things are getting better". The ANC has done relatively well in bringing people together, Heron agrees, but inequality has perhaps worsened, and growing corruption scandals are a sign the ANC should go. But what would replace it?

While South Africa has relatively well handled the transition into democracy, some transition issues, such as the transfer of white farms to blacks, remain racially charged. And "democracy" may lack the scientific meaning political scientists give it. According to some, a country living under dictatorship or other undemocratic regimes, becomes democratic after living through two peaceful transition periods.

While the first occurred in 1994, the ANC has been in power ever since and has to some become a one-party state. "That's the big fear," says Heron, whose work-place includes leopards, lions and elephants but says "people" are the worst predators of all. In fact the ANC's approach to politics is creating fears its race for leadership, for coming elections during which Mbeki will not be able to run again, involve too much the inner circles of the party and not enough the "people" so much in evidence in Soweto.

"Liberation now, education later," Thebe says the old cry goes in the townships. Living both, the boys of Belle-High keep kicking away chasing dreams of glory when the country hosts the World Cup in 2010. Massive stadium and other construction projects between now and then will no doubt create plenty of work and maybe drop unemployment slightly, but the work the government needs to do runs much deeper. In part because of the lack of skilled labor.

Officials were recently praising a policy of luring expatriates home, some 1,200 in the last two years, as a way to get that skilled labor back. Many fled when apartheid ended and blacks took power. Some are still not used to that. If they return however, it could go much further than helping the economy.

Industrie de la peur à Sao Paulo

Il était 2:30 du matin dans la nuit du 12 au 13 aout quand l'homme encagoulé présenté devant un mur couvert de slogans a pris l'antenne. La lecture de son manifeste a duré 3 minutes et 36 secondes, une éternité sur les ondes, surtout sur la chaine la plus importante du Brésil.

Pourtant TV Globo avait permis cette transmission inhabituelle, estimant ne pas avoir eu le choix apres l'enlèvement d'un de ses reporters. "Nous n'avions pas le choix, s'est excusé Globo lors d'un communiqué, apres ce qui s'est passé à Sao Paulo au cours des derniers mois, aucun doute n'était possible sur le point auquel pouvaient aboutir les actions des bandits: il suffit de dire que les morts se comptent déjà par centaines".

Un peu fort sur le chiffre, mais sinon, en effet, depuis le 12 mai, un genre de terreur règne sur la
mégalopole d'Amerique du sud de 20 millions d'habitants, date ou l'organisation criminelle Premier Commando de la Capitale a lancé des vagues d'attaques contre des cibles civiles et militaires à Sao Paulo, faisant environ 180 morts dont 43 agents.

Opérations menées depuis des cellules de prison, ou sont incarcerées les têtes fortes du PCC, celles-ci ont prises des millions de Paulistas en otage en attaquant les infrastructures de transport, comme les lignes d'autobus, en plus des postes de police et autres symboles de l'ordre et du pouvoir.

Dénoncant les conditions de détention dans les prisons, les membres du PCC passent pourtant leurs directives par téléphone cellulaire, et en cette nuit de la mi-août, passent leur message en onde télévisée. Le porte-parole au visage caché dénonce pendant ces longues minutes un nouveau régime disciplinaire imposé aux chefs incarcérés de "sanction cruelle" et réclame un "système pénitentiaire avec des conditions humaines et la fin des humiliations et passages à tabac".

Le message pourrait passer si les méthodes employees par le PCC ne faisaient pas souffrir une population généralement pauvre, nous explique notre guide lors d'un des légendaires embouteillages de cette jungle de béton et de bitume ou circulent tant bien que mal six millions de véhicules chaque jour. "Ce qui enrage les gens c'est que les criminels s'en prennent aux transports urbains (notamment en incendiant des autobus), que prennent la classe moyenne et les plus pauvres pour se
rendre au travail."

Car s'il y a beaucoup d'autos à Sao Paulo, il y a encore plus de pauvres, il n'y a qu'à voir les taudis des bidonvilles qui séparent l'aéroport et les banlieues telles Guarulhos du centre-ville. La banlieue de
Sao Paulo, c'est là ou a lancé sa campagne de ré-élection présidentielle Luiz Lula da Silva cet été, à Sao Bernardo do Campo, ou il avait participé au lancement du parti travailliste 27 ans plus tôt. Promettant d'aider davantage les plus démunis et les classes ouvrières, "Lula" a décrit les politiques économiques et sociales comme étant les "deux facettes d'une meme pièce".

Un discours bien équilibré pour la métropole financière du pays. Il y est revenu à aux moins deux reprises depuis, le weekend de la transmission du communiqué verbal, pour exiger l'intervention de l'armée sur le dossier, et la semaine suivante, à Osasco dans la banlieue, pour rehausser l'image d'un candidat local bousculé par l'insécurité.

Il faut dire qu'à Sao Paulo, l'insécurité, c'est déjà une grosse affaire comme laissent témoigner les concessionnaires de véhicules blindés dans les zones des plus riches, qui constituent une minorité de 15% de Paulistas. Si ce n'est pas pour éviter les embouteillages monstres, les cadres préfèrent également se déplacer en hélicoptère pour éviter les enlèvements fréquents qui financent les bandes criminelles, comme en témoignent les nombreux bâtiments munis d'héliports.

L'enlèvement c'est toute une industrie nous dit-on, avec un prix de rançon généralement fixé dans les 5 ou 6 millions de dollars. Pour s'en défendre, on estime à 70% la proportion des véhibules blindés dans les quartiers chics, qui sinon préfèrent mettre leur sûreté dans les mains des compagnies privées plutôt que les autorités policières.

Les premières sont d'ailleurs presque trois fois plus nombreuses dans leurs rangs, mais le manque de régularisation du milieu rend ces chiffres incertains, et sans doute sous-estimés. La crise qui secoue la métropole du pays, "une guerre civile non-reconnue" selon on expert sur le PCC, ne passe pas inaperçue sur le plan politique, et contribuerait davantage à la ré-élection de Lula en octobre croit-on, dont l'opposant principal, Geraldo Alckmin, qui accuse déjà plus de 20 points de retard selon un sondage, est gouverneur de l'état du même nom.

"Les gens de Sao Paulo ne méritent pas ce qui leur arrive, lançait Lula lors d'une entrevue radiophonique ou il dénoncait l'accès des prisonniers aux téléphones portables. Il y a tellement
de gens en libérté qui n'ont pas de cellulaire, pourquoi devraient-ils en avoir?"

Malgré les slogans gauchistes du président devant ses partisans, le thème de l'insécurité et
la nécessité de former des alliances en chambre, ou il pourrait perdre certains sièges, risque de glisser son parti vers le centre selon certains analystes. Des accusation d'achat de votes et d'escroquerie de plusieurs milliards de dollars ont secoué son gouvernement et son parti, ce qui
pourrait réduire sa majorité dans l'assemblée de 700 places de Brasilia.

Mais la réalité économique reste positive, soit un taux de croissance de 4%, des exportations à la hausse, un fort investissement étranger et une inflation sous contrôle. Ce qu'il faut c'est assurer l'appui d'une classe moyenne qui estime ne pas ressentir les retombées de cette croissance. "Notre prochain gouvernment va corriger ce que nous avons fait de mal et ajouter à ce que nous avons fait de mieux" lançait Lula son premier jour de campagne. Dans une ville d'inégalités et d'insécurité comme Sao Paulo, il y aurait de quoi remplir un agenda pendant plusieurs mandats.

Israel strikes deeper as world seeks compromise

Israeli troops drove deeper into Lebanon to hunt for Hezbollah militants who retaliated by firing rockets while the world seeks a compromise to halt the crisis in the Middle East.

The matter was expected to be presented to the UN Security Council as it seemed likely the US would be willing to press for the end of the air strikes even if Hezbollah is not eradicated so long as it renounced military action and remained strictly political.

Israel said it would halt its attacks when an international force is sent to southern Lebanon. Meanwhile it continued its objective of creating a buffer between Israel and southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is largely based.

Israel resumed exchanging fire with Hezbollah in Lebanon this week as investigators looked into the mistaken bombing of a building in Qana which killed over 50 people, mostly children.

On Sunday Israel said it regretted the deaths but added it was targeting Hezbollah fire originating from the area. Prime minister Olmert said there would be no ceasefire in the short term.

Prime minister Stephen Harper meanwhile said investigators looking into the bombing of a UN monitoring post last week confirmed it had killed Canadian Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener. Three other observers were killed.

Israel apologised for the bombing and said it there would be a joint investigation into the incident with the UN, which was outraged by the attack because the post's location was well-known to Israeli authorities. The UN said it had been alerting the IDF it was striking too close to the location of its observers and initially called the attack "deliberate" before accepting Israel's apologies.

Kruedener was aware of the constant danger of attack, writing in emails before his disappearance that "we have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our posiiton has come under direct or indirect fire form both artillery and aerial bombing," adding that "this has not been a deliberate targeting but has rather been due to tactical necessity" as Hezbollah fighters were operating close to UN positions.

Harper said the attacks were unfortunate but not deliberate, staying supportive of Israel's position in the crisis. This has apparently translated into a drop of support for his party in the polls.

Canadian opposition politicians criticized the government's position as well as a decision to end large-scale evacuations on the weekend and called for a ceasefire. They said Canada's pro-Israeli stance was undermining its ability to mediate in the crisis.

Israel says it wants to create a special security zone in South Lebanon, to protect itself from daily Hezbollah rocket attacks, one day after 8 soldiers were confirmed dead in a ground attack in Lebanon.

On Wednesday the UN Security council failed to agree on a resolution condeming the Israeli attacks in Lebanon which have killed over 600 people. China blamed the US, a veto-holding member, for preventing the resolution.

Meanwhile al-Qaida's deputy leader Al-Zawahiri said his organization would not "stay silent" during the attacks, threatening to hit Western targets in retaliation for Israel's strikes on Gaza and Lebanon.

While al-Qaida and Hezbollah have their differences due to their different religious allegiances, the threat heralds a possible alliance of circumstance against a common enemy, Israel, which kept targeting Hezbollah positions in Lebanon for a third straight week.

There are growing fears tensions in the Mideast may find their way across the Atlantic after a man proclaiming support for Arabs shot and killed one person and injured others in a Seattle Jewish center this week, prompting synagogues and other locations to boost security across North America.

Liban: triste rappel du passé

A nouveau, une tragédie s'abat sur la perle d'Orient. Un an après l'assassinat du premier ministre Rafik Hariri, un appel désespéré au cessez-le-feu du premier ministre libanais se fait à peine entendre sous les bombardements israéliens, des répliques pour certains "disproportionnées" aux attaques de militants du Hezbollah dans le nord du pays hébreu, après qu'ils aient capturé deux soldats lors d'une opération osée en mi-juillet.

Si l'assassinat de 2005 rappelait la forte influence syrienne, condamnée par la suite par les Nations unies dans cette affaire, la reprise des hostilités dans ce pays en reconstruction met à l'évidence l'insuffisance de ses institutions, une direction sous tutelle, aissant le pays du cèdre à la merci des autres.

Si ce n'est pas la Syrie qui mène le jeu, c'est l'Iran, en finançant les militants du Hezbollah, tandis qu'Israel domine le ciel et songe a ré-établir une zone tampon là ou ses troupes avaient été évacuées en 2000. C'est une réalité qui laisse planer la menace d'une crise régionale, une véritable étincelle dans la poudrière du Moyen-orient.

Alors que se multiplient les appels à la fin des hostilités, qui ont fait plus de 300 morts depuis une semaine, la très grande majorité au Liban, certains proposent l'établissement d'une force d'intervention, effaçant celle qui est symboliquement en place depuis plus de vingt ans. Car nous n'en sommes pas a la première fois qu'Israel intervient au nord de sa frontière pour riposter aux attaques de militants se cachant derrière une démarcation poreuse.

Elément déclencheur de la guerre de 1967, les forces isréalienes y sont intervenues pour contrer la menace d'Al-Fatah. En 1978 l'opération de la rivière Litani était une autre intervention de taille, inspirant par la suite l'implantation de la mission de paix de l'ONU, UNIFIL, toujours symboliquement d'office. Quatre ans plus tard l'utilisation du Liban par l'OLP comme base d'attaque a à nouveau mobilisé les forces israéliennes vers le nord, décidant d'y rester jusqu'en 2000.

Entre temps la naissance du Hezbollah, lors de la première année de cette intervention, n'allait en rien diminuer les tensions au long de la frontière. Obligé de lutter sur deux fronts depuis l'éclatement des hostilités avec la bande de Gaza le mois dernier après la prise en otage d'une soldat israélien, le pays hébreu ne retient pas ses tirs, détruisant de nombreuses infrastructures à travers le Liban, ou l'on ne soupçonne plus Téhéran et Damas de transférer d'armes de plus en plus puissantes dans les mains du Hezbollah.

La nature sophistiquée de ces missiles a surpris les stratèges israéliens qui ont vu des tirs terroriser Haifa et d'autres localités plus au sud de la frontière. L'attaque d'un navire israélien assurant le blocus du pays a également étonné le hommes de kaki, qui n'hésitent plus de parler de "guerre" avec les militants principalement positionnés dans leur fief du sud du Liban.

C'est là ou une famille Montréalaise a perdu onze de ses membres, huit Canadiens, lors d'une seule attaque aérienne. La tragédie a secoué le pays, qui compte environ 40,000 ressortissants canadiens sous le cèdre, dont certains ayant conservé leur passeport après être retournés au Liban depuis des années. Sept bateaux furent promis pour évacuer les Canadiens lors de l'opération du genre la plus importante de l'histoire du pays, mais les plans ayant eu du mal à se concrétiser en plain conflit, le gouvernement Harper a fait l'objet de reproches quant à la lenteur et l'exécution de l'évacuation.

Mêmes reproches de lenteur du côté américain, ou les dirigeants songèrent même à faire payer leur ressortissant de leur poche pour l'évacuation. Pour un congressiste démocrate, il s'agissait ni moins d'un nouveau "Katrina" La Grande-Bretagne de son côté ne ménageait pas les efforts, se lançant dans l'opération du genre "la plus importante depuis Dunkerke" selon un parlementaire britannique.

La franche position canadienne dans la région, un soutien sans équivoque d'Israel lors d'un discours moins équilibré que les précédents, avait déjà surpris plusieurs observateurs, Harper estimant les attaques israeliennes "mesurées" lors de son passage au G8 en Russie. C'était se rapprocher d'une position américaine qui voit les affrontements à travels le prisme de la guerre au terrorisme.

«Le Hezbollah [...] est financé par l'Iran et protégé par la Syrie. C'est de la dimension de la guerre contre le terrorisme, a déclaré un porte-parole de George W. Bush. Le groupe des plus puissants a d'ailleurs limité ses commentaires à la condamnation des attaques du Hezbollah et avec un appel à une certaine retenue d'Israel, un document  interprêté différemment par des dirigeants aux positions parfois opposées.

Alors que le président Jacques Chirac regrettait la nature "complètement disproportionnée" de l'opération israélienne, les Etats-Unis laissaient à Israel le temps qu'il fallait pour mettre fin à la menace du Hezbollah. L'appel des réservistes et les incursions furtives au sol dans le sud du pays laissent présager un long affrontement, promettant un bilan d'autant plus dévastateur au Liban, le pays à la merci des autres dont les dirigeants sont à peine maitres chez eux. D'autant plus que les infrastructures du Hezbollah pourraient s'avérer relativement intouchées par rapport à celles du pays hôte.

Le cabinet de sécurité israélien a autorisé la poursuite des opérations au
Liban «sans limite dans le temps» et aurait pu ajouter «dans les moyens». Impuissant et découragé, le premier ministre Fouad Saniora déplore les actions autant
israéliennes que militantes, mais condamne de plus en plus le pays hébreu, avertissant que la misère engendrée par la destruction de son pays lors des pilonnages risque de faire naitre des individus démunis et désespérés, encore d'autres, pour entourer Israel de voisins enragés avec bien peu à perdre.

Il y a même de quoi convertir des Libanais maronites, d'habitude ennemis jurés du Hezbollah chiite, bien qu'on se promet d'éviter les divisions qui ont déchiré le pays par la guerre dans le passé. Comme dans la bande de Gaza, ou les nouvelles institutions ont été rasées par les tirs nourris israéliens, on redoute à moyen terme une crise humanitaire d'envergure qui ne fera aucune distinction religieuse.

Doubts amid the fog of war
After initially supporting the war in Afghanistan and reluctantly putting aside their preferences for their traditional role of peace-keepers, Canadians are slowly starting to turn against the idea of an extended stay in the far away country, as the casualties start to mount and questions arise from the purpose of Canada's military mission.
A recent poll found that 41 percent of those surveyed, including 54 in traditionally war-wary Quebec, simply believe troops should be brought home now, while 34 percent believe they should stay for a limited period of two years or more, this as the military confirms its commitment to bulking up the war machine with new purchases and higher troop levels. 48 percent said the effort in Afghanistan was going worse than expected, and that was before two more  casualties brought Canada's death toll to 19 troops and one diplomat.
Meanwhile all the signs point to a possible extension of Canada's stay in the country, considering the resurgence of the Taleban in the south and growing needs for international troops local officials say should reach 150,000 to secure the country, five times current levels. Sadly, while playing its part defending the country and rebuilding it, the Canadian mission has seen a number of firsts it would rather have done without: from the first combat casualty since the Korea war to the first female casualty.
One of the latest also involved one of Canada's youngest fallen soldiers, Corporal Anthony Boneca, 21, a reservist killed in a firefight west of the city of Kandahar, but what he could be remembered for is raising the first internal objections to the war in Afghanistan.
While Boneca himself never publicly spoke a word of disapproving the mission, said he was disgusted by it, pushing him to the point of contemplating talking about suicide to get discharged early.
While Canadians have grown used to hearing about strong opposition to the war in Iraq from Americans, have seen consciencious objectors seek refuge in Canada, and in the more extreme cases, heard of US soldiers taking their own lives, it was the first time they were exposed to a vaguely similar reality over Afghanistan.
Friends of Boneca said the soldier considered his second tour of duty, which was drawing to an end, a "living hell", which deflated his spirit and led him to question Canada's role in the conflict.
"He was telling me no one wants to be there, no one knows exactly why they're there and why is Canada in a war zone when all we do is protect and peace-keep," Dylan Bulloch, one of his best friends, told reporters.
Bulloch said Boneca had recently complained of being overworked and seemed uncharacteristically drained of energy. "He's one of these people that are able to bounce back full of energy. And hearing him saying he was tired and his morale was down was a complete shock."
Boneca also listed a litany of complaints unfortunately common in the military, which included lack of training and equipment for the mission, leading him to look for ways of getting out.
"The second time out [his second tour], he was e-mailing and phoning here and just saying how much he hated it and he was scared for his life," said his girlfriend's father. "He just hated it over there."
On one occasion Boneca said a seven-day patrol stretched into a 22-day patrol which depleted rations causing him to lose weight. He jokingly referred to it as the Kandahar weight-loss program.
"Mentally they weren't ready for hand-to-hand battle and all this other stuff," he added. "I don't feel any reservists should be put on the front line like he was."
While reservists comprise 10-15 percent of the Forces in Afghanistan, they represent double that share of casualties. But Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor defended the military's decision to put reservist soldiers in combat roles, especially at a time of major overseas commitment, and dismissed suggestions Boneca felt "misled" and wanted out of the mission.
"You don't opt out once you're in," O'Connor said at a news conference. "You don't get a choice about what you do or don't do. This is the military."
The minister denied reservists were ill-prepared for such a mission. "Once they go to operations, everyone is trained at the same standard," he said. "There's no difference between a reserve soldier and a regular soldier. They take the same tasks, they take the same risks, and if you can imagine whatever the benefits are, they get the same satisfaction."
His father said Boneca had never made negative comments in discussions with him and said he was a proud soldier who understood the mission in Afghanistan. "He was proud to make a difference," he said. "Certainly Anthony wanted to come home, but I ask: what soldier wouldn't in that situation?"
Nineteen Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002, fifteen of them since the troops relocated from relatively peaceful Kabul, and the Forces have been warning they were expecting more casualties as they were taking an increasingly aggressive role against the Taleban in the south of the country.
US forces are soon to hand over control in the south of the country to NATO forces but Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on a flash visit to the country, said this week that did not mean the US would play less of a role in the country. The US and other NATO forces provide key logistics enabling Canadian troops to move about in the air.

Unshaken resolve

Four days after London marked the first anniversary of the transit bombings that shook the British capital, it was Mumbai's turn. Again a sprawling metropolis' transit system was targeted, again coordinated attacks suggested the work of the global jihad, again the victims were many. But for all those tragic similarities, a more uplifting one also holds true: the resolve of a nation too strong to be swayed by the bloody acts of the coward and incompetent who seek refuge in violence.

In Britain last year Londoners followed the lead of their inspirational mayor who defied the terrorists and declared that they would fail to change Britain's free way of life. "In the  days that follow, look a t our airports and seaports, and even after your cowardly attacks," Livingstone said. "you will see people from all over the world coming here to achieve their dreams. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."  

On July 12, Mumbai picked up the pieces after a series of devastating bombs on its rail line system, killing over 200 people  and injuring hundreds, and boarded once more trains which had been sent to their doom the previous day. The country's financial capital, which came to embody India's 21st century ambitions, shrugged and moved forward. While the bombs had targeted the country's well off by being placed in first class compartments, they rolled up their while collars and sent the Mumbai exchange rallying after the previous day's losses. The markets, were already no longer registering that day's rush hour calamity. In London, the City had rallied even before the markets had closed.

"No one can make India kneel. No one can come in the path of  our progress," Prime minister Manmohan Sing vowed in a television address. "The wheels of our economy will move on."
Police in Mumbai, who have arrested hundreds and charged two, were investigating possible links between the serial attacks and a Pakistani group with ties to many suspected terrorists recently arrested across the world, including Canada.

The Anti-terror squad of Mumbai police busted two suspected cells of Lashkar-e-Taiba after seizures of radio-enabled detonators in March but said it wasn't sure all possible plotters had been caught. They are now questioning whether people under custody knew of the attacks. Recent anti-terror arrests in Canada, Australia, the US and Britain had some ties to the group which emerged after 9-11 as a significant player among Islamic militants, with important ties in the West. Some suspect camps run by the group in Pakistan are serving as the new training ground for militant groups from across the world, as Afghanistan once did.

A Canadian arrested in Lebanon and was plotting to target New York said he planned to
attend one of these camps. A number of suspects arrested in the alleged Toronto plots are also thought to have links with groups in Pakistan. Al-Qaida recruiting DVDs handed out at some Toronto-area mosques were also said of referring to "our brothers" in Kashmir, the site of recent terror blasts, some coinciding with the Mumbai attacks, according to media reports.

Anonymous intelligence sources were telling the Times of India police thought LeT were behind the attacks with the support of the "Local student Islamic movement of India" in order to "trigger communal conflagration in the country's financial capital." L-e-Taiba denied the charges and Pakistan said it was dangerous India looked north of the border for answers, even though the suspicion is fed by both the sophistication of the attacks, made from materials foreign to India its police maintained, and the fact that the terror group had targetedMumbai 11 times in the last decade alone.

Mumbai is no stranger to terror attacks, Kashmiri separatists were blamed for a twin
car bombings in 2003 that killed 53 people there. In 1993 some 250 people killed when at least 13 bombs were sent off in a day known as "Black Friday". Some analysts think efforts to open the border between Pakistan and India in disputed Kashmir helped trigger the attack, some groups benefiting from the continuation of hostilities between the two countries.

Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf strongly condemned the attacks as a "despicable act of terrorism" but some blame his intelligence services for supporting groups such as LeT, which some see as frontline resistance fighters in Kashmir. Investigators say the military-grade explosives used in the blasts were favored by the militants. The attacks certainly created a chill between the two nuclear neighbors.

La Corée du nord s'essaie encore
Et si on avait apaisé l'Allemagne de 1918 et tapé sur celle de 1938 au lieu d'accepter le compromis de Munich? L'histoire est de nature révisionniste, mais on se pose aux Etats-Unis déjà des questions beaucoup plus d'actualité: si l'Irak n'en valait pas la peine faut-il laisser la Corée du nord poursuivre ses éssais stratégiques en toute impunité?
Washington n'a certes pas d'appétit pour un nouveau conflit, surtout contre un adversaire qui a l'habitude de faire des éclats aux allures stratégiques pour se faire remarquer, mais l'aveu l'an dernier selon lequel Pyongyang aurait développé l'arme atomique a donné un sens beaucoup plus sévère aux essais de missiles stratégiques récents, ratés ou non.
Alors que le régime hermite prétend avoir des missiles capables d'atteindre les côtes américaines, les essais de la semaine dernière se sont soldés par des échecs cuisants, aboutissant au fond de la mer du Japon. Ce qui n'a pas empêché le Conseil de sécurité de se saisir du dossier et de faire planer la menace de sanctions, peu efficace soient-elles envers un pays où il manque déjà de tout.
Alors que cette fois Washington s'engage à faire front commun avec ses partenaires internationaux, le président Bush n'a pas manqué l'occasion de soulever la menace lors d'une rencontre avec le premier ministre canadien Stephen Harper à la Maison Blanche, qu'il verrait bien participer au controversé projet anti-missile, qui connait de maigres succès: "Nous essayons de déterminer si le missile s'en allait chez vous" a lançé Bush à propos des essais coréens, bien que les côtes canadiennes soient à des milliers de kilomètres de la mer du Japon.
Harper n'a pas mordu, préférant ne pas ouvrir le dossier, mais  a laissé entendre qu'il pouvait très bien comprendre l'utilité d'un système anti-missile chez certains alliés. Washington a d'ailleurs dépêché deux navires équipés d'antimissiles en Asie, mais comme pour les essais du bouclier anti-missile américain, l'interception est loin d'être garantie.
Cette mise en place défensive est pour l'instant la limite des possibilités militaires américaines, l'option offensive étant écartée. Pourtant les tentatives diplomatiques au niveau du Conseil de Sécurité s'avèrent frustrantes pour Washington, malgré les cris de "provocation" qui ont suivi les sept tirs d'essais nord-coréens la semaine dernière.
D'une part Pékin et Moscou, qui détiennent un véto, résistent aux appels aux sanctions. Puis la Corée du sud, qui caresse encore des rêves d'union avec le nord, a fait état d'autres divisions en accusant le Japon de "faire des histoires" et d'être un brin alarmiste à propos des tirs en portant l'affaire au Conseil de sécurité. Il faut dire que le Japon tient en ce moment des propos qui lui sont d'habitude étrangers, allant jusqu'à songer à la possibilité théorique et constitutionnelle  de frappes préventives.
Voilà qui met des bâtons dans les roues de Washington, qui tient à ce que "le monde parle d'une seule voix" à  Pyongyang. Encouragé par cette situation, le dirigeant Kim Jong-Il a pu y aller d'une diatribe typique en menaçant les Etats-Unis de "guerre totale" en cas de "vengeance" américaine, refusant toute "concession" aux "ennemis de toujours".
Pourtant il y a dix mois les Etats-Unis et la Corée du nord participaient bien aux pourparlers à six censés conduire au désarmement nucléaire du pays hermite. Ce dernier doit cependant se demander pourquoi a réagi si différemment une communauté internationale qui a vu l'Inde procéder à son propre essai de missile balistique de moyenne portée à capacité nucléaire, ces derniers jours, sans la moindre réaction.
Le 29 avril, le Pakistan, autre puissance nucléaire régionale, avait procédé à son propre test. Pyongyang soutient que ses tests font autant partie des exercices militaires de routine. Même si la routine, en Corée du nord, c'est avant tout la famine...

L'Italie championne, après tout ça  

Pour un mondial qui suivait un fil bien ordinaire et sans histoire, celui d'Allemagne a connu une fin digne d'une mise-en-scène de la Scala. Les deux finalistes ne le sont devenus qu'à la suite de coups de théâtre étonnants.
Déjà ils avaient leurs récits bien à eux: les Italiens voulaient à tout prix oublier un scandale sportif touchant 13 des 23 joueurs sélectionnés et la France voulait marquer la fin de l'ère Zidane avec une certaine émotion.
Cette sélection française, qui n'avait rien démontré d'exceptionnel, a pris goût à trouver le fond du filet après deux matchs médiocres, battant le Togo 2-0 et éliminant l'Espagne 3-1.
Tout était en place pour souhaiter une retraite méritée au vénéré Zinedine Zidane en quarts contre le Brésil quand les bleus accomplirent le coup d'éclat des éliminatoires en éliminant la Séléçao 1-0. Le duo Zidane-Henry auteur de ce but allait montrer ses dents juste à temps pour faire de 60 millions de Français d'inébranlables croyants.
De leur côté, les Italiens, à peine mis à l'épreuve aux quarts contre l'Ukraine (3-0), allaient, comme à chaque douzaine d'années depuis la finale de 1970, s'assurer d'une participation au match ultime, en sortant les hôtes quelques minutes avant la fin des périodes suppémentaires, 2-0.
Comme s'il s'agissait de la culmination de ces moments cardio-vasculaires forts, la finale avait de quoi convertir même les Nord-américains friands de roman-savons. La présence italienne assurait une tragi-comédie indubitable, tandis que celle de la France, empreinte de sauce berbère, allait insérer un bonne dose de drame à la rencontre.
Les émotions fortes ne se sont pas fait attendre, Thierry Henry chutant après quelques minutes de jeu après un choc à la tête. Un moment de répit en touche mais rien de cassé.
Quelques instants plus tard, un premier carton jaune à la suite d'une faute sur Viera. Mais c'est à la septième minute que l'arbitre a vu rouge, ordonnant un pénalty contre l'Italie après faute dans la zone critique.
Comme lors du match précédent contre le Portugal, l'homme désigné ne laissait pas l'ombre d'un mystère, et Zidane parvint à déjouer Buffon sans même avoir à trouver le fond du filet lors d'un 'panenka' osé qui devait tout à l'effet de surprise. Sur le coup, le gardien italien méritait son nom.
Douze minutes plus tard les Italiens répliquèrent lors d'un but de Materazzi qui allait leur donner des ailes. Ils allaient en effet dominer le reste de la demie (60-40%) et frapper la barre horizontale avant les 45 minutes. La France  allait bien revenir dans le match en force mais sans changer le résultat.
C'est lors des périodes supplémentaires que le choc de la fin se préparait. Buffon effectua l'arrêt cette fois lorsque Zidane aligna une tête impardonnable, le genre de tête qui avait poignardé le Brésil à deux reprises en 1998. Puis à la 110ème minute, une tête inexcusable, sur la poitrine de Materazzi celle-là, à la suite d'une discussion à la teneur toujours pas très claire.
Pour la quatorzième fois de sa carrière Zizou allait être renvoyé par carton rouge, mais la dernière celle-là, l'excluant des tirs de pénalty qui allaient déterminer le sort de la rencontre, remportée par l'Italie 5-3.
L'ère Zidane prend fin inexpliquablement, son auteur une énigme et un génie, capable d'excès qui ont servi le pire comme le mieux, mais sans jamais laisser indifférent. On désigna Zidane vainqueur du précieux ballon d'or du tournoi, pour ce qu'il avait fait de mieux.
"Il m'a dit de choses très dures, commentera Zidane quelques jours par la suite, des choses très personnelles" entre autre sur sa famille. Zidane s'est excusé auprès des jeunes pour son geste mais sans exprimer de véritables regrets, considérant celui qui l'avait provoqué de coupable dans cette affaire. Pensez-vous, dira-t-il, qu'on pose un tel geste dans une finale parce qu'on en a envie? Il y a des mots plus durs que des gestes, dit-il.
La FIFA enquête présentement sur l'affaire et pourrait, en fin de piste, retirer le ballon d'or de Zidane, qui avait été décerné par la presse avant la finale. Materazzi fait également l'objet d'une enquête, puisque ses commentaires pourraient avoir été de caractère racial.

Setback for Latin left

The are limits to the leftward tilt Latin America has experienced, the last weeks have shown, as one of its most influential countries stayed true to its pro-business tradition while one of the architects of the socialist surge suffered a minor setback.
All eyes were on Mexico’s elections as conservative National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon appeared headed for a narrow victory in the divisive presidential election, but left-wing, former Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, promised he would not go without a “polling station by polling station” recount of the tally.
On election night, election officials abstained from declaring a winner due to the close results, but the late counts seemed to be in the former energy minister’s favor, signifying a continuation of the policies of the outgoing Vicente Fox. “There is an irreversible result, and it is in my favour The result gives me a very clear victory that cannot be reversed,” Calderon ventured, despite leading by less than 400,000 of the 40 million votes cast across the country.
The loss would keep socialist parties out of Mexico, stopping the leftist wave sweeping the continent for the last few years. While during recount results showed the tally tilting toward the leftist candidate at one point, further tabulations returned Calderon’s lead. Calderon offered his opponent a spot in cabinet but Obrador remained defiant, saying he would provoke massive demonstrations and challenge the results in court, citing irregularities.
After a review of the votes, Calderon of Vicente Fox’s PAN, took 35.88 percent of the votes to Obrador's 35.31%, separating the two by about 220,000 votes. Bearing very much the likeness of the new leaders of the Americas, Obrador is a populist and champion of the poor who promised massive spending on social programs and infrastructure projects.
The former mayor of the sprawling metropolis led in most of the polls, until recently, when his opponent staged an unlikely comeback. News of Calderon’s preliminary results alone jolted the Mexican markets by nearly 5 percent, fearing his opponent would work against the country’s embrace of free-trade policies. Markets across Latin America have been concerned about a string of recent elections which have brought to power leaders of various shades of leftist red.
Among the most radical has been Evo Morales of Bolivia who sent shockwaves by nationalizing energy and other companies in the last months. As Mexico was counting he suffered a setback of sorts, winning a narrow majority in a new assembly but falling short of the two-thirds majority he needed for full control to rewrite the constitution. At the same time four of the country’s nine regions, all rich in natural resources, seemed to back more autonomy, something Morales is personally opposed to.
“We want to be an exemplary country in Latin America with the participation of the people,” Morales said, trying to hide his disappointment. “That is what is historical about today.” Morales is determined to pursue radical reforms which have already included redistributing land and cutting public sector salaries. Morales also wants to give the indigenous population he belongs to more of a voice, tighten state control of the economy and make the political system more transparent through constitutional amendments he hopes to put to the people.
The lack of a clear majority in Mexico, where both candidates initially claimed victory, will also be an impediment to needed reforms on labor, judicial and energy-related fronts. At least the incident-free organization of the vote and multiple-party participation was a reminder of already entrenched reforms in the country which for seven decades was ruled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, now a shadow of its former self. International observers noted no major irregularities and thousands of striking teachers even postponed their protests to leave the polling places clear for voters.
But the flood of illegal immigrants to the U.S. remain a testimony to the weaknesses at home, a very divided land where few have profited from the growth brought on by free trade with Canada and the U.S. Heavy crime has also left a scar in some regions of the country, especially along the U.S. border, the crossing point of the lucrative drug trade.
Leading the hard left among Latin American countries is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, whose country was recently admitted into the Mercosur trade bloc and may be looking too far ahead in terms of integration, seeking to become a counterweight to Nafta. Soon after his country's admission Chavez called for the regional bloc’s Armed Forces to “merge”, a debate deemed premature by other leaders who noted it took Europe decades of integration to consider military matters.
A model and mentor for some, such as Morales, Chavez has however created a backlash of sorts across Latin America, where other leaders have been wary of upsetting the United States. Regardless, last week Venezuela celebrated its Independence Day with a massive military parade that served as a show of force to a Bush administration which has frozen the supply of arms and parts to the country.
Mexico’s results, at least as they stand now in what is still a very divided country, have shown that Washington can still count on at least a few remaining allies in the region that remains its precious back yard.

Israel creates buffer to repel attacks

Less than a year after abandoning the Gaza strip, Israel served notice it would not hesitate to cross the newly established border into Gaza to prevent attacks or rescue one of its own even if it involves assassinating elected officials.
In the last weeks Israeli forces seized control of former Jewish settlements in the northern Gaza Strip, effectively carving out a buffer zone after Hamas Islamist militants fired rockets into a major Israeli city. Since last week Israel massed tanks across the border while airstrikes hit targets where the rockets reportedly originated, in bloody clashes triggered by the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the abduction of another when Palestinian militants attacked an Israeli military post.
Since settlers have been caught in the crossfire and tens of Palestinians have been killed after what the UN condemned as the use of "disproportionate force." But Israel has spared no efforts to recover its soldier, arresting eight ministers and 55 elected officials while conducting flash incursions into Gaza.
Palestinian critics say Israel is only seeking to do away with a Hamas-led government it was helpless to watch win recent elections and that recent events have served as excuses to oust elected officials. The UN has pleaded for both sides to avoid all-out clashes and said an airstrike hitting Gaza’s only power plant risked creating a humanitarian crisis, while the U.S. cautioned Jerusalem about ousting president Abbas, who is said of being squeezed by militants in the Gaza strip.
Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, whose office was targeted by air raids, said Israel’s offensive is aimed at toppling the Hamas-led government, but maintained mediation was necessary to end the crisis over the now famous Israeli soldier, 19 year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit. “This total war is proof of a premeditated plan,” he claimed.
In addition to massing troops along the border and launching incursions, Israel sent undeniable messages, destroying the interior minister’s office and flying fighter jets over Syria, which it accuses of supporting militants in the Gaza strip. Israel said both were targeted because they were “a meeting place to plan and direct terror activity.”
A ministry spokesperson called on Palestinian security forces to mobilize to repel an anticipated Israeli invasion, but the security forces were stripped of authority by Abbas, the moderate leader of rival faction Fatah, in a power struggle following Hamas’ victory in January parliamentary elections. Fatah’s leaders have not been able to obtain the soldier’s release from Hamas and other groups which do not want to be seen capitulating.
In the continuing search for a compromise which Israel insists is not taking the form of negotiation, both sides have rejected each other’s overtures, Palestinians refusing to trade the ministers for the soldier, and Israel rejecting offers to secure the soldier’s return by releasing a number of Palestinians under custody.  “Surrendering today means inviting more extortion,” Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert insisted.
Egypt’s efforts to broker an agreement have been hurt by divisions within Hamas itself, split into parts in Gaza and in Syria, where its political leader Khaled Meshal lives. Abbas made his frustrations plain: “The Hamas leadership abroad says that the decision is in the hands of the military wing in Gaza,” he said. “While the military wing says that the decision must be made by the leadership abroad.”
The raids were the first into southern Gaza since Israeli soldiers pulled out last year after a 38-year occupation. Olmert ordered his military to do whatever was necessary to pressure militants to free the Israeli soldier. While putting the squeeze on Gaza, Israel did allow a limited opening of two border crossings to allow in basic supplies of food, fuel and medical supplies but U.N. Secretary general, Kofi Annan, said he was concerned Israel’s actions were casting into doubt the development of the impoverished Gaza strip. “I remain very concerned about the need to preserve Palestinian institutions and infrastructure,” he said.  “They will be the basis for an eventual two-state solution in the interest of all."
Concerns soon spread to Israel's other neighbor, Lebanon, when Israeli forces moved into the south of the country searching for two soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerillas.

The means to catch terrorists
They may not have had all the necessarily equipment, explosives, or sometimes even an official target, but they all had intent and their own motives, law enforcement officials say of some 40 people arrested worldwide in the last year for plotting terror attacks, including 17 in Toronto.

Rounded up in the count are seven men arrested last week in Miami planning attacks in that city and Chicago, a reminder that the U.S. remains an important target. While they may not have official ties to Al-Qaida, they have espoused its ideology of terror as their own, police say, developing their own networks through the internet and sometimes daring to meet face to face after crossing international borders.

In both Toronto and Miami's case, their undoing was a carefully crafted sting operation that some legal observers including lawyers of the accused say crosses the fine line of entrapment. In Toronto's case they sought to purchase enough ammonium nitrate to make a number of devastating bombs, in Miami's, a law enforcement officer posed as a representative of al-Qaida.

In both cases many of those involved, five of the seven in the U.S., were nationals, examples of the latest scourge decried by police officials: home-grown terrorists. In the U.S. the group, operating out of a Miami warehouse, took an oath to al-Qaida and plotted to create an "Islamic army" to attack the U.S., condemning the war in Iraq and other Bush administration policies. Critics were however quick to point out they neither had explosives nor necessary funds, and didn't pose an immediate threat to domestic interests. They were held in custody on conspiracy charges.

"While they may be bungling wannabes, they are potentially dangerous wannabes who, based on the allegations, were pursuing extremely dangerous plans," said former U.S. attorney Kendall Coffey. The same can be said of the 17 Canadians held in custody since last month's shocking arrests, as the FBI investigates other possible international links to the men, all Muslim.

In their efforts to untangle the global web of conspirators, which led to earlier arrests in Denmark and Bosnia, and other arrests in Britain last week, intelligence officials of all countries involved have been taking turns visiting various countries where suspects are held in custody to interrogate them, the Globe & Mail reported, citing the case of one suspect visited by US, Canadian, Danish, Swedish and British officials in Bosnia.

The arrests have revealed that the suspects were willing to imitate al-Qaida to the point of reproducing some of their attacks. The Miami suspects were allegedly planning an attack on the Sears tower in Chicago, in an effort to outdo the 9-11 attackers. Even al-Qaida supposedly attempted to re-enact its Sept. 11 attack by planning to hijack planes from Heathrow and run them into a Canary Wharf skyscraper, London's tallest being Canada Tower. This despite the emphasis on airport security since 9-11.

Other similar attacks were planned by al-Qaida in the U.S., Australia and Italy, nine in all according to a U.S. Homeland Security report dated June 16. It makes plain al-Qaida "likely desires a successful repeat of the 2001 suicide hijacking against the United States." Separately al-Qaida released a video purportedly showing a "20th hijacker" of the 9-11 attacks, killed in Saudi Arabia in 2004. Arrests of suspected terrorists were also made in the kingdom last week after a shootout.

The Miami arrests occurred as the U.S. was still reeling from reminders of an old al-Qaida plot to spread deadly cyanide in New York's subway system, a plan which was mentioned in a recently released book. Law enforcement officials say threats like these justify secret programs to collect intelligence against terrorists, after revelations the US government gained access to financial records from vast international databases, monitoring transactions of Americans and others on foreign soil since Sept.11 according to the New York Times.

This came as the smoke had hardly settled from revelations the National Security Agency eavesdropped on Americans without warrants. In a statement similar to how the Bush White House had responded to the NSA revelations, spokesman Tony Snow said the program complied "with the letter and spirit of the law". "Let me tell you why this is important: it works," he said.

As al-Qaida and Qaida-inspired individuals with international connections mount threats against governments, officials say they will try to keep one step ahead of those seeking to commit terror acts by using any tools necessary. But critics increasingly question the methods being used to monitor citizens caught between the war on terror and what some call the war on privacy, especially as House Republicans were planning to condemn the New York Times for breaking the intelligence stories.

Arrests of the last weeks in Miami and Toronto certainly  offer a glimpse into the sweeping monitoring powers at work in all countries. But as rights groups promised to fight the program giving the US access to financial data in Europe, Canadian groups were planning to fight a bill by Ottawa to increase internet snooping expected this Fall or early next year. This week the Supreme Court ruled the Bush administration had overstepped some boundaries in its war against terror on the right to try detainees held in Guantanamo by military tribunal.

Paix effacée au Sri Lanka
Qui peut bien tant en vouloir à la Suède, au Danemark et à la Finlande? Selon les rebelles tamoules qui revendiquent une large autonomie du nord du Sri Lanka, il s'agit de pays membres de l'Union européenne, qui vient de placer le mouvement des Tigres de libération de l'Eelam tamoul (LTTE) au compte des organisations terroristes, et par conséquent ne sauraient faire d'impartiaux agents de la paix dans un éventuel règlement du conflit qui perdure sur l'ile troublée.

Autant en dire de même du Canada, qui a cette année placé les Tigres sur sa propre liste noire. Qui reste-t-il donc pour faire régner le respect du cessez-le-feu de 2002? Ceux qui répondent encore à l'appel peuvent à peine se faire entendre sous les échanges de tirs biens nourris, car autant dire que quatre ans après les tentatives de pacification, la paix fait toujours défaut au large du sous-continent indien.

Ce mois-ci  de violents affrontements navals et terrestres ont fait au moins 52 morts dans le Nord-Ouest de l'île, le dernier décompte d'un conflit où l'on dénombre plus de 60.000 victimes depuis presque deux décennies et qui ne fait que se compliquer. En effet  des accrochages récents ont parallèlement eu lieu entre la rébellion tamoule et une faction dissidente des Tigres, faisant au moins une demi-douzaine de morts dans l'est de l'île.

Contrairement aux espoirs de solidarité au lendemain du tsunami devastateur de l'an dernier, les camps n'ont jamais été aussi au bord de la guerre depuis l'accord de cessez-le-feu signé en février 2002. Il faut dire qu'un an plus tard à peine, sa validité était déjà remise en question lorsque les discussions sur un accord de paix ont été interrompues en avril 2003.

De féroces batailles navales ont relancé les hostilités ces derniers temps, huit unités navales des Tigres ayant été coulées et 30 rebelles tués lors d'accrochages récents selon les autorités sri lankaises, des chiffres que contestent les guérilleros. C'est un attentat contre un autobus, au milieu du mois, qui a véritablement mis le feu aux poudres, faisant 64 victimes, l'attentat le plus meurtrier depuis 10 ans.

Le gouvernement de Colombo a attribué l'attaque aux Tigres, ignorant leur démenti et déclencheant des frappes aériennes sur des positions supposément controlées par le LTTE. Lorsque l'UE a exhorté les parties à "mettre fin aux violences, à revenir à la table des négociations afin de renforcer le cessez-le-feu et à s'acheminer vers un règlement politique durable pour mettre fin au conflit (...)" elle avait déjà perdu l'oreille des rebelles, outrées par la nouvelle liste des groupes terroristes de l'Union.

Alors que le processus de paix n'est pas mort, il est pour le moins haletant, deux réunions prévues entre les rebelles et le gouvernement ayant été annulées en avril et en juin après une réunion éclair en février. Il faut dire que le ton est nettement moins propice à la négociation depuis la campagne présidentielle de novembre dernier lorsque le président Rajapakse a orchestré une campagne plutôt dure rejetant les rêves d'autonomie tamouls et a remis en cause plusieurs aspects du processus de paix. Le dialogue n'a plus été le même depuis.

Les Tigres repensent cependant leurs relations avec l'extérieur en exprimant pour la première fois leurs "regrets" par rapport à l'assassinat de l'ancien premier ministre indien Rajiv Gandhi, tué en 1991, en soi presque un aveu d'avoir été impliqué dans sa mort. C'est ce macrabre assassinat qui avait transformé leur image de rebelles luttant pour l'indépendance en terroristes sanguinaires.

Indonesia's woes
If you didn't know any better, assuming you do, you would think the archipelago that is among the world's most populous nations was the land of the damned. In a matter of a few days the country battered by last year's tsunami captured world headlines for all the wrong reasons.

First there was the report of a suspicious cluster of avian flu deaths that suggested the country had seen the first cases of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus. Human bird-flu cases in Indonesia were caused by person-to-person transmission, the World Health Organisation confirmed last week, but added there was no evidence indicating the virus had mutated or that it had spread beyond the seven relatives involved.

While the scare was limited to a son transmitting bird flu to his dad, it represented a first, and WHO officials fear human-to-human transmissions could trigger a world-wide pandemic. The rising number of deaths (around 40) related to bird flu has secured Indonesia's spot as the second most afflicted country, after Vietnam, with all the momentum of overtaking it. The World Bank recently slammed the country's response to bird flu, saying it was disorganized and underfinanced while WHO said Indonesia was no longer even keeping track of most poultry outbreaks.

Then volcano Mount Merapi threatened to erupt and wash away entire villages, sending populations fleeing in central Java. All the while the former Indonesian island of East Timor was erupting into violence, requiring the presence of Australian troops to restore order and end riots and looting blamed on Pro-Indonesian militias. The troubles there were sparked after the dismissal of 600 army troops, who then launched a rebellion.

While a relative calm has gradually returned people have descended to the streets to ask for the removal of the leader of the former region of Indonesia which has become among the world's newest countries. East Timor’s former interior minister was put under house arrest for allegedly distributing weapons to a group whose leader has said he was ordered to assassinate political opponents of the country’s embattled prime minister, Mari Alkatiri.

Engaged in a political struggle with popular president and former rebel Xanana Gusmao, Alkatiri said he would resign if so were the wishes of his embattled party, and ultimately stepped down. The resignation however failed to stop the violence according to reports of fresh attacks this week. As the UN prepared to send more troops to the island, its Secretary general Kofi Annan suggested that the previous peacekeeping mission there had been ended too quickly. The violence left 30 people dead in the last month, a far cry from the archipelago's worse enemy: mother nature.

All the while a 6.3 magnitude quake killed over 5,000 people near Yogyakarta, threatening to further destabilize nearby Mount Merapi. Some experts say the state of the volcano and recent earthquake are related to the tsunami, an underwater earthquake that triggered killer tidal waves in a region covered with major fault lines.

Tragically and significantly, the presence of the Australian troops and resources stockpiled in preparation for the eruption of the volcano, provided much- needed early aid to the quake survivors  and rescue and recovery efforts, a starting point for teams overwhelmed by the needs of the disaster. Two days after the quake and a number of just as frightening aftershocks, significant amounts of aid began arriving in Bantul, the town hit hardest by the tremors.

Countries such as Canada promised emergency aid (Ottawa rushed some $2 million), as authorities tried to calculate the growing needs of the afflicted population. Preliminary reports put the damages from the quake at some $3 billion. Hundreds of miles from coastlines once swept by deadly tidal waves, the towns were no less in danger of facing other perils, events showed. Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, moved his offices to Yogyakarta and saw some of the quake's aftermath for himself.

As United Nations and Red Cross agencies met in Geneva to coordinate a mounting international relief effort for quake victims, Yudhoyono said it was time to draw from experience and be effective coordinating aid. "There were cases (in the past) when despite a large amount of aid supplies, distribution work often failed to reach those in need," he added, referring to aid work following the devastating Dec 2004 tsunami. "We don't want any assistance to miss the target -- not even a kilogram of rice."

As Indonesians were dealing with the aftermath of the quake there was increasing concern the tremors and aftershocks would massively set off Mount Merapi, which sits in the same central region of Java and has been giving worrisome signs of seismic activity for weeks. Volcanologists in Yogyakarta said the powerful quake had destabilized a fragile dome at the mountain's peak, which could trigger a large eruption of lava, rocks and hot clouds. Eruptions of searing hot gas and debris sent people fleeing just days after Indonesian authorities considered the threat lowered, hardly an encouraging sign in a landscape dotted with volcanoes and yet again calling into question warning systems.

While Indonesia could hardly take more bad news, damage to the important Hindu site of Prambanan also hurt the country's precious tourism industry. But nothing has hurt business and tourism more than the threat of terrorism since the 2002 Bali attacks. The release of Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group suspected in the Bali bombings, served as a reminder of that other stigma tied to terrorism.

Bashir, who served two years in prison for conspiracy in the 2002 attacks but was released despite cries of protest in Canberra and Washington, was hardly repentant and called the attacks "God's will." Millions of Indonesians hope the same expression can't be used to describe the ills striking their archipelago these last weeks.  

Was it Canada's turn?
In one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities they should have felt quite at home, and yet. The 17 Muslim men, five of them minors, arrested in Toronto for plotting terror attacks in Canada on June 2nd were of diverse backgrounds and origins, from countries stretching across three continents, but brought together by a  now familiar  ideology of hate that authorities described as  "inspired by Al-Qaida".

A doctor's son who had just finished college, a modest shift worker who had received basic military reserve training, and a volunteer at a local mosque who preached intolerance to the young men he accosted, all left the country stunned as court documents revealed a series of plots, as chilling as they might have once seemed unlikely.

Plans to detonate truck bombs fueled by fertilizer, gunning down pedestrians in a packed public space, or targeting the nation's parliament by taking hostages in exchange for releasing prisoners or  removing troops in the far East. Even threatening to behead Prime minister Stephen Harper. One idea more baffling than the next, all leading to the same puzzling question: Had Canada narrowly avoided its date with fate?

Sept. 11 2001, October 12 2002, March 11 2003, July 7th 2005,  scars on the face of modern cities that spilled the blood of the innocent. Not going to Iraq had not spared Canada it seemed, Afghanistan proved no more a safe substitute in the war on terror, neither did it feel safer back home than it did in the field. But more worrisome was the fact that the suspects were either residents or citizens of Canada, where multiculturalism was supposed to allow for the free expression of cultural identity steamrolled by other approaches to immigration.

"The arrests show the menace is real," officials said during a press conference on the day most suspects were to appear in court in Brampton, facing various security and terror-related charges such as participating in or contributing to the activity of a terrorist group, including training and recruitment; providing or making available property for terrorist purposes; and the commission of indictable offences, including firearms and explosives offences for the benefit of or in association with a terrorist group.

By then authorities were looking into ties with cells in a number of other countries such as the U.S., Britain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Denmark and Sweden, where arrests were also carried out. On Wednesday two men in Britain were arrested as terror suspects with possible connections but released soon after.

Police nabbed the Canadian men, who had been monitored for some two years, sensing they were about to act on their devilish plans, having trapped them in a sting during which they had ordered three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer  used to make explosives in the 1995 Oklahoma terror attack, but substituted by another substance for the operation.

"It was their intent to use it for a terrorist attack," said Mike McDonell of the RCMP. "If I can put this in context for you, the 1995 bombing... that killed 168 people was completed with only one tonne of ammonium nitrate. This group posed a real and serious threat."

Youngsters boasting their intentions in chat rooms over the internet triggered the investigation,  Canadian security services such as CSIS and the secretive Communications Services Establishment monitoring them until the RCMP launched a criminal investigation as the group picked targets and plotted attacks, sometimes meeting with suspects from other countries, including two Americans arrested in the U.S. earlier this year.

Some 400 agents in all swooped in as the group went from a theory supplied over the internet, to practise, some suspects, including the teenagers, having gone to Washago, some 150km North West of Toronto last Winter, to allegedly train for an attack and make a video imitating warfare. In this Ontario tourist community locals eventually complained about target-practise gunfire and called authorities, who monitored their every move.

Unfazed by threats on his life, Harper said the arrests reminded the country was not immune to the threat of terror and that its security services were effective. "It is a dangerous world one we cannot turn a blind eye on," Harper said. "We are targeted because of who we are and how we live; our society our diversity and our values, such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Values that make Canada great."

The arrests came days after a senior Taleban commander threatened Canada for contributing to the stabilization effort in Afghanistan, where Canada has some 2,200 soldiers. In 2002 bin Laden had included Canada in a list of countries targeted by his terror group for its support of the war on terror. In the week leading to the arrest, CSIS had set the stage by warning a Senate committee of the threat of home-grown terrorism.

The arrests, which gathered international attention as trails extended elsewhere, were not directly linked to Al-Qaida but sparked concern across the border where Canada's lax immigration policies have been a cause for concern. Some Americans have never shaken the flawed notion that some of the 9-11 hijackers came from the north, remembering the arrest of Ahmed Ressam who tried to cross into the US with a bomb in 1999.

But for administration officials, who have buried the hatchet with Ottawa, the sting and arrests were signs of good policing  and tightened security north of the border. In Congress there was more concern as the U.S. boosted inspections along the border and some lawmakers called for more focus on the northern border, which gets less attention than Mexico's, one even suggesting building a fence along it. But U.S. ambassador David Wilkins told the NPU this was not necessary, stressing the differences between the two US borders and praising the "swift, decisive heroic efforts" of Canadian authorities.

In Canada there were fears of strained relations with the Muslim community, despite words of support from the city's imams, after some of the suspects were found to have visited the same mosque of Al-Rahman in Mississauga. Some mosques were already vandalised the day after the much-publicized arrests, while authorities appealed for calm.

As the country entered a period marked by a number of high profile court appearances, authorities said they were monitoring other suspects, suggesting other arrests were possibly in the works. Canadians, most of whom now fear they will eventually be targeted by an attack, already can't imagine they will hear more mischievous plots than those they have already heard. Then again, many were probably not suspecting their country could be so fiercely targeted by the Qaida-inspired freelance guerilla waged on West.

Mort de Zarkaoui après tant de revers...
La mort du numéro un d'Al-Qaida en Irak, le militant jordanien Abou Moussab al Zarkaoui, lors d'un raid américain, c'était une rare bonne nouvelle au sein d'une guerre au terrorisme qui compte de nombreux revers. Mais elle fut de courte durée. Quelques heures après l'annonce de sa mort à peine, une autre bombe faisait des victimes dans la capitale.
Alors que le Canada apprenait de graves leçons sur la mouvance islamiste à l'intérieur de ses frontières et que les Talibans reprenaient du poil de la bête dans un pays pourtant conquis après le 11 septembre, la chute de Mogadiscio le 5 juin aux mains du clan des "tribunaux islamiques", constitué de chefs religieux, d'extrémistes, dont certains apparentés à al-Qaida, géographiquement entre les deux, semblait signifier une autre bataille perdue dans la grande guerre internationale au terrorisme.
Peu de monde avait vraiment fait attention à cette lutte acharnée de quatre mois de combat, dans un pays qui n'a connu ni gouvernement ni ordre à gouverner durant une guerre civile remontant à 1991, tandis que les caméras étaient plutôt tournées vers la lutte voisine au Darfour.
Alors que les nouveaux maitres promettent "une nouvelle ère sans les chefs de guerre" marquée par la paix et le dialogue, la défaite de l'alliance pour la restauration de la paix et contre le terrorisme, soutenue par Washington, fait frémir les observateurs qui craignent que ne s'imposent dorénavant des Talibans version africaine, dans une région déjà minée par tant de crises.
Les tribunaux nient toute association à la mouvance de ben Laden, mais le langage dont ils font usage, dont la déclaration de "guerre sainte" contre les chefs de guerre qui jadis se disputaient les quartiers de la capitale, ressemble trop à celui des maitres de l'Afghanistan, évincés après 2001, mais dont la remontée se fait sentir dans le sud du pays, où les soldats canadiens ont livré de chaudes disputes.
"Nous nions et rejetons catégoriquement toute accusation d'éberger des terroristes ou des sympathisants dans les régions que nous controlons", écrivait le cheik Cherif Ahmed dans une lettre adressée aux dirigeants américains. "Nous avons remporté la bataille contre les ennemis de l'Islam".
A Washington, ces mots ont été accueillis avec un certain malaise, mais certains sénateurs avouent que les Etats-Unis sont en partie responsables de la tournure des événements, n'ayant pas porté assez d'attention à la région tandis que la guerre fait toujours rage en Irak. D'autres au Departement d'Etat ont même critiqué le financement des chefs de guerre par la CIA, accusant cette politique d'avoir créé une situation contraire à celle qui était désirée.
Le chef du gouvernement transitoire, Abdullahi Yusuf, regrettait que Washington ait ainsi divisé son financement en Somalie. "Nous opposons toute aide américaine aboutissant à l'extérieur du gouvernement", dit-il. D'autres pays de la région, l'Ethiopie et l'Erythrée, ont également finance les éclats selon un rapport récent de l'ONU.
La mainmise des tribunaux sur la capitale pourrait éventuellement mettre au moins fin à la bataille la plus sanglante de la guerre civile, ayant fait plus de 300 morts depuis janvier, lorsque les opposants ont commencé à échanger des tirs d'artillerie lourde. La victoire pourrait clore un sanglant chapitre d'histoire remontant à la chute de Siad Barré, qui a été suivie d'une catastrophique intervention américaine (jumelée à une présence canadienne).
Alors que cette intervention se poursuivait par moyens financiers, elle aurait possiblement poussé la population de la capitale à se rallier aux tribunaux, elle qui a été épuisée par quinze ans d'un état de guerre quasi-permanent, même si dans les faits on parlait de paix depuis l'établissement du gouvernement de transition en 2004. Il faut dire que le pays a connu en moyenne un processus de paix par année depuis le début de la guerre civile.
Mais comme il se doit en Somalie, les divisions persistent, si l'on se fie aux manifestations populaires près de la capitale, contre l'imposition d'un gouvernement islamique d'une coalition qui prône l'instauration de la loi de la charia. "Nous poursuivrons notre lutte jusqu'à ce que nous obtenions un état islamique" déclarait pour sa part le cheik Ahmed, ne laissant pas entendre qu'il était prêt à négocier avec le gouvernement transitoire qui siège à Baidoa.
Ce dernier essaie tant bien que mal de lancer le dialogue avec les tribunaux, en commençant par renvoyer quatre chefs rebelles siègeant dans ses rangs. Autre revers pour les Etats-Unis, qui veulent avant tout éviter que le pays devienne un nid de terroristes, et se disent prêts à discuter avec les tribunaux.
Pour l'heure, la fin des tirs est la première préoccupation dans la capitale. "Les gens de Mogadiscio ont finalement obtenu la paix aujourd'hui, déclarait Ali Mohammed au New York Times, nous connaissons la guerre depuis si longtemps que nous en sommes devenus épuisés". Mais ce n'est pas sans craindre les lendemains. "Nous ne savons pas ce qui va suivre", dit le jeune instituteur de 32 ans qui n'était pas bien vieux avant la guerre civile.
Une mesure du nouveau régime taquine déjà les habitants de la capitale: l'interdiction de retransmettre les images de la Coupe du monde.

More humble US reflection of Commander in  chief
A year after Iran elected its most controversial leader since the Ayatollah, a confrontational figure who called for the elimination of Israel while fiercely seeking to develop the country's own nuclear program, the U.S. has made a major concession by reversing a diplomatic stance as old as the Iranian revolution and considering the first direct talks with Tehran since 1979.
True to himself, president Ahmedinejad initially refused the overture, calling it propaganda, but Iranian officials are plainly satisfied Washington has made the offer, in a week perma- nent members of the Security Council came together giving Tehran a few weeks to consider a package of incentives to drop its nuclear program.
Some of them would have surprised long-time observers of US-Iran relations considering they included helping Iran build new nuclear power plants, light water reactors not used to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel, economic incentives such as allowing Iran to buy US and European planes, and "guarantees of territorial integrity", if Iran agrees to stop enriching uranium. But some fear nothing prevents Iran from doing so in the future.
With an administration marked by political misfortune and shake-ups, a president facing record-low levels of support and a military embarrassed to explain incidents of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, the reversal of policy on Iran is the latest sign of a subduing of the world's super-power, three years into the Iraq war.
Maybe it's the presidential lame-duck label or the forecast for a swing of the pendulum in November's congressional elections, but the U.S. is on a bad streak reflective of its humbled president, who in a recent meeting with his old ally Tony Blair displayed nothing of the usual backslapping bonhomie. Both leaders, staunch defenders of the war on terror and in Iraq, appeared subdued during their latest Washington gathering, pressed by critics at home that include dissatisfaction within their own political ranks.
Quizzed on the usually ignored questions on the war, they acknowledged disappointments and mistakes on Iraq. "Not everything since liberation has turned out as the way we had expected or hoped," Bush ventured. "We've learned from our mistakes, adjusted our methods," he said, adding he regretted once using rhetoric calling for Osama bin Laden to be caught "dead or alive" or defying terrorists to "bring it on," while Blair regretted underestimating the strength of the Iraqi insurgency.
Trans-Atlantic political leaders of diverging political persuasions with little in common other than "using Colgate", Bush once mused, the two became close partners leading the charge in Afghanistan and Iraq, boasting early successes before running into hurdles both abroad and at home, where their leadership is sometimes being conjugated in the past tense.
While Blair is not facing elections this year, polls have his popularity numbers below Bush's as he is under pressure within his own party to step aside before the end of his mandate to make way for Gordon Brown. Entering a second mandate as recently as a year ago by promising to spend earned "political capital", Bush seems to have maxxed out his credit both at home and abroad, where war allies Berlusconi and Aznar lost political power.
That security carte blanche of the post 9-11 world seemed to have been voided recently when a European court struck down an agreement giving the U.S. passenger data on trans-Atlantic flights.
Signs the U.S. isn't pulling the weight it used to appeared much closer to home, in its own backyard, where analysts considered Washington's lack of response to the rise of hardline leftist Latin American leaders uniting around Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to counter regional free trade pacts with the U.S.
On the other hand the harsh rhetoric and actions used by some of the leaders, such as the nationalization of energy companies, have riled neighbors such as Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador, causing division in the Latin world. That's little comfort for a super-power which was glad to leave the talking to Britain's foreign minister when Security Council members convened to send Tehran a message it could avoid sanctions by taking their incentives to abandon its nuclear program. Iran said, it would eventually get back to them on that.
In the end America's dependence on oil, what some critics say triggered the war in Iraq, can at least partly explain both stances, the US and Venezuela having to maintain a relationship despite their dislike of each other because of the two-way benefits of the oil trade, while the US would rather not upset oil-producing Iran, which has threatened to disrupt production, in a tight oil market.

La nouvelle saison de l'immigration
Avec le retour du beau temps et des fleurs, la chaleur du contact humain, mais le rendez-vous annuel entre l'Occident et le tiers monde chaque printemps n'est pas particulièrement agréable. C'est un rendez-vous tendu qui prend de plus en plus des allures de choc violent.
Des deux côtés de l'Atlantique ce printemps, le débat sur l'immigration a connu une ampleur féroce, qu'il s'agisse d'immigrants clandestins chicanos aux Etats-Unis ou africains en Europe. L'immigration est devenue la première question interne d'importance aux Etats-Unis en cette année de législatives, étant le thème de trois interventions récentes du président George W. Bush, dont une allocution télévisée, la première sur une question interne, lors de laquelle il a annonçait le déploiement de 6.000 soldats de la Garde nationale pour renforcer la sécurité de la frontière américaine avec le Mexique.
Pendant  ce temps le congrès travaillait d'arrache-pied sur un projet de loi pour renforcer cette sécurité aux frontières tout en autorisant des nouveaux programmes de travailleurs provisoires, avec possibilité de régularisation pour la plupart des quelque 12 millions de personnes qui vivent illégalement aux Etats-Unis, la moitié des Mexicains. Le retour du temps plus clément était idéal pour l'organisation d'importantes manifestations d'immigrés à travers le pays, tandis qu'au large du vieux continent, il   signifiait le départ d'une nouvelle saison de tentatives d'infiltration d'immigrants venus du sud.
Les autorités en Espagne et en Italie ne savent déjà plus où donner la tête. Les dirigeants des Iles Canaries parlent d'une "avalanche" venue des eaux internationales, où se précipitent chaque année en nombre de plus en plus impressionnant les désespérés du continent noir. La semaine dernière le Sénégal arrêtait 1500 personnes dans 19 embarcations, tentant de prendre le large pour les Canaries. Il s'agit là d'un nouveau point de départ, avec le resserrement de la frontière marocaine.
Sans cette frontière terrestre où ils auraient pu planifier l'érection d'un mur semblable à celui de la frontière américano-mexicaine, les autorités supplient Madrid de fournir les moyens de mieux patrouiller les eaux territoriales.  D'un même souffle ils font appel à l'aide financière de l'UE, une aide humanitaire pour mieux accueillir les nouveaux venus. Il y a quelques jours il était question de mobiliser avions, bateaux, et équipes d'intervention rapide.Cette année quelques 7000 arrivants se sont déjà rendus sur les îles. L'UE discute également d'aide avec Dakar afin de contrôler les déplacements au large de ses côtes.
Devant ce flot sans ressac, Madrid tente désespérément de négocier des accords de réadmission avec une demi-douzaine de pays ouest-africains. En Italie, ce même cri au débordement après le retour de la haute saison à Lampedusa, tremplin insulaire préféré des immigrés pour le continent en raison de sa proximité: à 182 km seulement des côtes tunisiennes. La semaine dernière ils n'étaient pas moins de 800... en vingt-quatre heures.
Pourtant le nouveau gouvernement italien de centre gauche dévoilait alors ses projets visant à assouplir la législation sur l'immigration. "Il est pratiquement impossible d'entrer légalement en Italie avec l'actuelle législation", estimait le ministre de l'Emploi Paolo Ferrero, agissant presque en porte-parole aux masses déversées sur les îles italiennes de la Méditerranée. Le gouvernement de Romano Prodi a promis d'abroger la plupart des réformes adoptées en la matière par son prédécesseur, notamment sur le renforcement des contrôles aux frontières, les centres de rétention et les procédures d'expulsion accélérées.
Pourtant ailleurs la tendance est au resserrement, une politique qui a valu au ministre de l'Intérieur français Nicolas Sarkozy un accueil bruyant en Afrique. Avant son départ l'Assemblée nationale venait d'adopter son projet de loi sur l'immigration «choisie», dont il niait toute nature élitiste, même s'il affirme voir là le moyen de former des élites de pays du tiers-monde dans la perspective d'un retour. «Je vous propose donc de faciliter la venue d'étudiants et de personnalités qui pourront apporter à notre pays leurs talents et acquérir en retour une expérience utile à leur pays d'origine », a-t-il conclu.
Interrogé sur les manifestations hostiles qui l'ont accueilli au Mali, lors d'une tournée africaine consacrée à son plan d'immigration, il a lancé: "ne confondez pas une petite minorité manipulée et un peuple qui espère dans le développement et comprend bien que l'immigration ne peut être sans limite". C'est un rappel sans équivoque d'un certain "seuil de tolérance" qui se glisse annuellement dans le débat sur l'immigration, alors que les clandestins planifient leur prochain départ sur les eaux de la Méditerranée.
Politique d'ouverture ou resserrement, les Etats-Unis et les pays européens sont confrontés au problème de pauvreté de leurs voisins, des problèmes qui exigent une aide de développement à la source selon Miguel Becerra, expert du gouvernement ibère: «C'est l'heure de se rendre compte que ce qui se passe en Afrique touche l'Europe directement, dit-il. C'est l'heure d'une politique africaine sérieuse, une politique qui exigera des ressources militaires, médicales et socio-économiques. »
Le temps presse selon une étude du Royal Elcano Institute selon laquelle l'Europe est à l'aube de flots migratoires sans précédent des pays au sud du Sahara, un phénomène démographique lié à la maturité d'une population en âge de travailler mais dont les possibilités d'emploi sont minimes chez elle.

Une Turquie surveillée à la loupe
Presque 70 ans après le décès de Kemal Ataturk le débat sur la laïcité reste d'actualité en Turquie, et chaque argument est scruté à la loupe par les capitales européennes qui voient se pointer le moment de trancher sur le sort du pays qui pourrait devenir la frontière orientale de l'UE.
L'assassinat d'un juge du Conseil d'Etat par un tueur se proclamant "soldat de dieu", outré par une décision portant sur le voile, a donc retenu l'attention du vieux continent. Le juge Mustafa Ozbilgin a été abattu par un jeune avocat islamiste qui a fait irruption dans une salle du Conseil d'Etat, blessant quatre autres magistrats, avant d'être interpellé. La deuxième chambre du Conseil d'Etat traite de dossiers concernant l'éducation et avait déjà été l'objet de vives critiques de la part des milieux islamistes pour la rigueur avec laquelle elle applique l'interdiction du port du foulard dans les lieux publics.
En février elle avait débouté une enseignante portant le voile qui contestait le rejet de sa demande de promotion. La tuerie a aussitôt orienté le débat sur la situation de la laïcité, dans un pays dont le gouvernement islamiste modéré de Tayyip Erdogan est soupçonné de vouloir la remettre en cause.
Sujet d'actualité en Occident également, celle-ci n'est pas l'unique question turque matière à discussion à Bruxelles. Le traitement des communautés kurdes, dont Ankara rejette l'autonomie, fait également partie des sujets préoccupants. Récemment l'attaque d'un oléoduc dans l'est du pays par des rebelles kurdes rappelait la persistence des tensions deux ans après la fin du cessez-le-feu rebelle.
La reprise des violences dans la région est en partie due aux politiques d'Ankara, s'il faut croire une partie de la presse turque, qui accuse le gouvernement d'indifférence face au marasme économique qui rend les partis comme le PKK populaires. L'UE a également exigé de la Turquie qu'elle protège mieux les droits de cette minorité, tout en aidant son développement économique. En mars les tensions atteignaient Istamboul, suite à l'explosion d'une bombe par un autre groupe kurde protestant les violences dans la partie orientale. Ironie du sort, Ankara étudie pendant ce temps une plus grande ouverture de la frontière irakienne pour développer le commerce avec le kurdistan, possible soupape pour oxygéner une région de la Turquie traditionnellement proie à la guerre civile et au chômage.
Espérant sans doute calmer les tensions, deux paramilitaires turcs responsables d'excès contre un membre du PKK l'automne dernier doivent se défendre ce mois-ci lors d'un procès sans précédent. Pays de minorités, de frontières difficiles et d'histoire lourde, la Turquie reste également intraitable sur "la question arménienne", rappelant récemment ses ambassadeurs en France et au Canada pour consultation afin de protester contre des mesures prises dans ces deux pays qui reconnaissent le massacre des Arméniens comme un génocide.
L'ambassade de Turquie à Paris estimait que cette qualification était "complètement erronée", Ankara protestant que le nombre de morts est exagéré tout en insistant sur le fait que les Arméniens ont été tués ou déplacés alors que l'empire ottoman essayait de défendre sa frontière avec la Russie et mettre un terme aux attaques de militants arméniens. De leur côté les Arméniens affirment que 1,5 million des leurs ont été tués entre 1915 et 1923, et qu'il s'agissait à l'époque d'un génocide organisé par les dirigeants ottomans.
L’UE pour sa part fait pression sur le gouvernement turc pour la reconnaissance du génocide arménien. Rien que sur ce point, on voir mal comment les choses pourraient aboutir.

Last time Montenegro gets kicked around
There could be something historic about the June 21 World Cup game between Serbia-Montenegro and the Ivory Coast. If the former fail to make the second round of the tournament, it will be one of the last times the hyphernated team takes to the pitch. Perhaps the last time we see Montenegro on the World Cup circuit for awhile, owing to the Serb talent.
That's one drawback the supporters of unity with Serbia see in the recent vote for independence by the autonomous republic of the south. But their complaints were mostly drowned by the enthusiasm of the masses who celebrated a referendum win giving 55.4% percent in favor of Montenegro's independence.
"I congratulate you on your state," said the pro-independence prime minister, Milo Djukanovic. "Today, the citizens of Montenegro voted to restore their statehood." Supporters of a unified Serbia and Montenegro didn't hesitate to demand a recount however, bearing in mind the score was so finely over the EU-imposed threshold of 55% needed to validate the vote. After recount, support was 55.5%.
"I don't expect anyone to object to Montenegrin independence," Vladeta Jankovic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the BBC. "In Serbia proper there is nearly a million people who are either of Montenegrin origin or in other ways very closely collected to Montenegro, but there is certainly no bad blood about it."
The ties, especially economic and social bonds, are expected to remain and survive the split. Unlike the initial breakup of the old Yugoslav federation, which sparked the violent war of the 1990s after Bosnia announced its decision to go it alone, the final breakup is expected to be a rather amicable one, even if it ended a special relationship with Serbia established at the end of the first world war (which had been ignited in the Balkans) and denies Belgrade a precious coastline.
The two share the same language, culture and religion, Orthodox Christianity, a point made by the anti-independence camp, made up of a Serb minority that represents 30% of Montenegro's 700,000 people. But the bloody wars of independence and ensuing war crimes accusations bolstered arguments for the separation of the mountainous region extending inland from the Adriatic Sea.
While congratulating Montenegro for the result and praising an incident-free vote which drew 86% of electors, EU officials scratched their heads at the prospect of yet another small independent state within their future borders, joining the likes of Malta and Luxemburg. But Montenegro is already one step ahead, using the Euro as currency, and by severing its ties with Serbia, it avoids being slowed by the roadblock halting EU pre-accession talks, after Belgrade failed to hand over those wanted for war crimes.
Where the outcome in Montenegro carries weight is in the explosive region of Kosovo, a UN protectorate with its own independence ambitions and a much larger population, but also home to an important Serb minority and a number of sites of historical importance for Serbs. It once was the seat of the medieval Serbian state and the Serbian Orthodox Church, and is cherished as the cradle of Serb history and culture.
In Kosovo, Montenegro's vote is welcomed as a confirmation its time will come. "The international community should not apply two different standards when it comes to countries of the same region" one Kosovo newspaper wrote. For nearly two decades Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority has wanted independence from Serbia. "The concept of keeping Kosovo in Serbia is untenable. Montenegro's independence creates a precedent that is undeniable, and Kosovo's independence is now inevitable," said Dukagjin Gorani, an ethnic Albanian analyst.
Kosovo's leader seemed to be mapping his own road to independence. "Before the end of the year, Kosovo, too, will join Montenegro as a new state and these new countries will be an important factor for stability of the whole region," Prime Minister Agim Ceku said. Already the vote is about much more than Montenegro.

Un huard dopé?
Ces derniers temps les Américains ne se sentent plus tellement chez eux. Quand ils ne voient pas des milliers de Latino-américains envahir leurs rues, brandissant des étendards vert blanc rouge ou bleu blanc rouge, ils se battent pour les rares places de stationnement dans leurs centres commerciaux avec des véhicules portant des plaques canadiennes.
Plus discrets que leurs confrères latins, les Canadiens des villes frontalières ne se promènent pas moins avec un certain air hautain ces derniers temps, une démarche un peu prétentieuse, presque moqueuse. Depuis l'envolée du huard, qui a atteint 90 cents américains ce mois-ci, et que certains voient atteindre la parité avec le greenback dans un peu plus d'un an, les visiteurs d'un jour du grand nord se pensent tout permis.
Leurs pétro-dollars achètent nettement plus, même, ironiquement, l'essence meilleur marché des stations des états du nord, alors qu'il s'agit parfois des Husky et Pétro-Canada du Vermont. Ironique, car les richesses énergétiques du pays, très en demande, expliquent en partie cet essor du huard. Les surplus fédéraux, qui n'ont pas fait défaut lors du dernier budget, et la faiblesse du dollar américain, fournissent d'autres explications, en plus d'une politique internationale de réalignement des devises.
Pour les consommateurs qui se déplacent ou les importateurs au pays, les affaires sont bonnes; pour les exportateurs, notamment manufacturiers, moins sûr. Certains économistes craignent que la situation au Canada ne creuse davantage un clivage est-ouest si la parité, inconnue depuis trente ans, était éventuellement atteinte. De manière générale, le Canada sort gagnant avec son pouvoir d'achat accru, qui facilite les investissements, et ses richesses naturelles, mais alors que l'ouest vit un essor à l'image de son énergie, les provinces manufacturières de l'Ontario et du Québec essuient des pertes d'emploi importantes. L'engin économique ontarien est d'autant plus touché qu'il vit les déboires des manufactures automobiles américaines, que leurs propres citoyens échangeraient bien pour des modèles plus économiques.
Après des années d'un genre d'aide à l'exportation sous forme de monnaie faible, le dollar, qui a grimpé de 45% en quelques années, exigera davantage d'effort de productivité au Canada, qui malgré les améliorations récentes connait une productivité inférieure à celle des Etats-Unis.
Selon les dernières données officielles la hausse rapide du dollar canadien aurait causé la perte de 200 000 emplois au pays, mais le taux de chômage n'a pas pour autant grimpé. Car fort heureusement, l'économie roule au plein-emploi et adoucit le choc en proposant d'autres possibilités de carrière, mais à court-terme, l'industrie du tourisme ne semble pas la plus prometteuse.
Alors que les Canadiens gambadent de strip mall à strip mall aux Etats-Unis, les Américains, déjà incertains des documents qu'il leur faudra présenter à la frontière, savent que leur dollar achète moins de ces étranges billets colorés. Il faut dire que cette dernière hausse parait un peu déplacée: juste avant le début de la saison touristique mais trop tard pour les snowbirds.
Pour ce qui est de l'avenir, en fait, plusieurs analystes résistent à la thèse du dollar au pair avec la devise américaine. Pour le gouverneur de la banque du Canada David Dodge, le dollar n'atteindra sans doute pas ce plateau, les cambistes ont tendance à exagérer, dit-il. Pour une première fois depuis longtemps, le huard semble sur-évalué dans le discours de certains. Le Fonds monétaire international place son niveau naturel plus près des 82 cents US, ce qui laisserait présager une certaine rechute.
D'ici là, plusieurs consommateurs comptent bien faire quelques bonnes affaires. Ce n'est pas pour rien que la dernière version de la pièce d'un dollar montre un huard en plein envol au lieu de patauger dans la mare.

Nash ré-édite l'exploit
Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, et maintenant Steve Nash, des Suns de Phoenix. Le garde de six pieds Canadien de 32 ans fait partie de l'élite du ballon-rond en décrochant le titre de joueur par excellence de la NBA pour une seconde année consécutive.
"Je dois admettre que c'est un peu gênant de me retrouver parmi ces grands joueurs de l'histoire deux années de suite, a précisé Nash en conférence de presse, je dois me pincer. Je n'arrivais pas à y croire l'année dernière et le fait de gagner ce titre encore une fois est encore plus difficile à saisir pour moi."
Pourtant voilà quelques jours que la rumeur courait. Ce qui était nettement plus inattendu était le revirement de situation dans la série Suns-Lakers, que ces derniers menaient 3 à 1. Il ne suffisait pas de remporter trois parties de suite, les Suns ont éliminé les Lakers en les ridiculisant chez eux 121-90 et Nash a marqué 13 points, 9 passes malgré une blessure légère en première moitié, la veille de son couronnement.
D'une certaine façon cette série en disait long sur les exploits de Nash, qui le distinguent nettement de l'étoile de ses rivaux, Kobe Bryant. Car les Lakers n'ont pu poursuivre leur rêve de championnat malgré les 50 points de Kobe, lors du 6e match.
Pour les grands de ce sport de géants, comme Charles Barkley, rien d'étonnant, Nash sait relever le niveau de son club, en plus d'être un type d'une rare générosité: "Je suis chanceux de vivre à Phoenix: le soleil, le golf, et j'ai l'occasion de voir Nash jouer au magicien sur le court," écrit-il dans le magazine Time, ou Nash figurait parmi les 100 personnes les plus influentes du magazine, toutes catégories confondues.
Un gros prix, une grosse victoire, une presse conquise, que reste-t-il? Ah oui, un titre de la NBA, son plus profond désir. L'elimination des Lakers poursuit ce rêve malgré l'absence d'Amare Stoudemire. Et voilà qui illustre le mieux les exploits de Nash. Comme l'an dernier, le capitaine des revirements inattendus mène la charge, avec une moyenne de 18.8 points par match et 10.5 passes; c'est son talent, c'est ce qui lui vaut ces rares honneurs et d'une certaine facon rappelle les origines du sport. C'est une célébration qui sait même faire jaser dans la forteresse hockey appellée Canada, ou Nash a été sacré athlète masculin par excellence en 2005.

Making Washington unhappy?
When Brazilian president Lula da Silva came into power in 2002 he ushered in a revolution that swept his continent with left-wing leaders. Last week the red tide threatened to sweep away even the former revolutionary union leader that sits in Brasilia.
The Americas have indeed veered left since he took over the mantle of the region's largest country, marking popular disappointment with years of failed free-market policies, but some nations espoused such a hard line that they came to form an anti-American alliance, called Alba, tied to Fidel Castro's Cuba, and promoted the sort of nationalization of foreign companies that clearly makes the old revolutionary proud. Back when Castro rose to power they were fruit companies, this time they are resources-related, and even include Canadian mining companies.
When Bolivian President Evo Morales took control of the natural gas industry in his country and told foreign firms to leave if they did not comply this sparked quite an outcry, not only among Western companies but those based in the region as well. Last week da Silva was accused of passively looking on, possibly with some admiration, as his country's companies in Bolivia faced the same treatment, troops taking position outside Petrobras' installations.
In no time domestic pressures forced him to convene an emergency meeting of the region's countries that included Argentina, and Venezuela, home of Morales' closest ally, and Washington's local foe, Hugo Chavez. The two wealthy countries eventually accepted Bolivia's nationalization of its gas industry but wanted input on future prices and foreign involvement.
The man who got the leftist ball rolling across the continent was relieved he could still have a say about arrangements that provide cheap energy to his country, but he was one of few. "The important thing is that gas supplies for the countries needing them have been guaranteed and that prices will be discussed in the most democratic form possible between all parties involved," da Silva said following the meeting.
But Petrobras is already scrambling to find alternative sources of gas outside Bolivia while halting investments to the country, all the while contesting Bolivia's intentions to raise the price of the natural gas that the company imports beyond. As a big importer of Bolivian gas Brazil sees nuclear energy as a possible strategic alternative, and announced last week that it would start enriching uranium to fuel its two nuclear plants.
Bolivia's bold move is supported by Venezuela, where state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela is investing to help make Bolivia a small energy player. Venezuela meanwhile is caressing broad goals of developing a pipeline across the region to Argentina. But few others are supportive of Morales' actions. In fact Bolivia's plan to exert state control over all its natural resources has North American companies fretting about their prospects there.
Peter Munk of Barrick Gold Corp., one of the world's largest gold producers, said in fact that even Pakistan appears to be a much more palatable alterative after Bolivia's announcement. Bolivia's control would extend into other sectors such as mining and forestry, two areas where Canadian companies are involved. While some company heads see Morales' move as temporary grandstanding, others are more concerned: "I think one has to be nervous," said Newmont Mining's Pierre Lassonde. "This is an investor's nightmare."

Making Washington happy?
In its rush to end Canada's most contentious issue with its biggest trading partner did the new conservative government cave in for the sake of good relations? That is one version circulating after last month's agreement over softwood lumber, an issue causing cross-border tensions with the U.S. for years.
Mobilizing officials at the highest levels on both sides of the border, the matter was resolved by returning 80% of the $5 billion in trade duties collected by the U.S. since the row started and slapping export taxes if prices drop below a certain level all the while leaving Canada with a 34% share of the US market.
Because Stephen Harper did not obtain the full return of duties he vowed he would seek when he was campaigning, some claim the deal, reached a mere few months into the new administration, was caving in to settle the issue in the name of neighborly relations. For others it was being realistic about reaching a much-needed compromise.
The deal was "a good deal" that "resolves a long-standing dispute and allows us to move on," Harper said. The NDP's Jack Layton meanwhile called the move bowing to U.S. rather than Canadian interests. Some feared that nothing less than the next few years of US-Canada relations were hanging in the balance, and that the outcome heralds a series  of cross-border high-level visits, keeping one major campaign promise of improving ties with the U.S.
"I can tell you that at the highest levels in Washington, U.S. leaders and officials are eager to come to Canada to meet their counterparts," the U.S. ambassador recently said. This was a change of tone from six months ago when, in the heat of the softwood debate, he stressed "Friends negotiate, they don't retaliate."
While Harper went out of his way just days after his election in January to reassure he was no lap-dog of the U.S. and would fight for Canada's interests, Tory policies and reviews of previous policy are indeed espousing a conservative stance more in tune with the Bush administration. From banning the broadcast of images of the returning war dead to arming border guards, critics say the new measures have a distinctly south-of-the-border feel.
Whether or not that is the case, there is no doubt that from reconsidering decriminalization of small amounts of drugs and same-sex marriage to Canada's view on Kyoto, the minority government isn't shy to reverse sweeping policies of the previous liberal administration, especially as poll numbers show Canadians are warming up to the conservatives and would probably give them a  majority if elections were held today.
Even in Quebec, a province Harper has repeatedly courted as of late, Tories are reaching historic levels of support unseen since Mulroney despite the conservative agenda to sacrifice the Kyoto accord, which is strongly supported there, after a budget cutting spending on the environment.
Months after an accord on Kyoto reached in Montreal and quarterbacked by former cabinet minister Stephane Dion, Ottawa's position has turned on a dime on the issue and never seemed closer to Washington's. The Tories have never hidden their skepticism over Kyoto and instead back a small breakaway US-led group of nations that favor a voluntary approach to cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, stressing Canada cannot meet its Kyoto targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, targets it has in fact moved further away from since the agreement took effect.
The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which groups the United States, Australia, Japan, China, India and South Korea, prefers looking at how to develop technologies to reduce emissions rather than trying to respect specific reduction targets. One thing not helping Canada reaching its target is the potential for added emissions as a result of the developing oil sands in northern Alberta, the energy-rich province that is a Tory power base.
Environmentalists don't know what to be more upset about, a budget cutting funds earmarked for Kyoto or preferring a US-led alternative to the deal. "Canada is being enthusiastic about a meaningless public relations stunt by the U.S. government when it should be talking about the importance of working ... on a program that has real targets," one group told Reuters.
Last week a scientific report commissioned by the US government, which itself is skeptical about global warming, concluded there is "clear evidence" of climate change caused by human activities and trends seen over the last 50 years "cannot be explained by natural processes alone". This week, Environment Canada was predicting a long hot summer after the mild winter, its climatologists hinting that climate change can't be ignored as a factor.
Other policy shifts mark a break with progressive policies under the Liberals. Although they tend to be less vocal, supporters of cannabis decriminalization didn't take very long to notice the government's 360-degree turn-around on pot use. Harper has been unequivocal in his get-tough stance on drug crimes, and crimes in general, proposing mandatory minimum sentences.
He told the Canadian Professional Police Association that his government would not reintroduce legislation to legalize small amounts of marijuana. Alan Young, a law professor at York University and marijuana-legalization activist, said it's all about trying to mend fences in the U.S. "I think there's enormous pressure from the United States and I think Stephen Harper wants to mend fences with George Bush, and is quite willing to give up this issue," Young told CTV News.
South of the border, the scene is familiar as Mexican President Vicente Fox refused to sign a drug decriminalization bill just hours after U.S. officials warned the plan could encourage "drug tourism."
These two countries have their own contentious issues. Ottawa and Washington have had theirs for years, but now detente is in the air in everything from trade to drug laws, judging by the reaction of an international drug enforcement conference in Montreal this week, and the lumber deal may have just been the first silencing of the guns.

The rising Afghan toll
Until now, barring a now infamous friendly fire incident, Canadian casualties in Afghanistan came one at a time and were often the result of accidents. The death of four troops, two of them reservists, in a roadside bomb last week was no accident and became the single deadliest military loss since the Korean War.
Thousands of coalition troops gave Cpl. Matthew Dinning, Bombardier Myles Mansell, Lieut. William Turner and Cpl. Randy Payne a sombre send-off this week, as Canada's death count reached 16, including one diplomat, since 2002 when Canada first became involved in the country.
For weeks the Taleban had been warning they would seek to intimidate coalition troops in the country as they launched a Spring offensive which has left Canadians and other troops under repeated attacks. The day after the four died when their G-Wagon hit a buried explosive, Canada's base in Kandahar came under rocket fire. Days later Taleban insurgents told the BBC they would target and kill British troops starting a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, as if taunting from his lair which intelligence officials say is located somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistani border, al-Qaida head Osama bin Laden reminded the West he was still on the loose, issuing an audio tape that urged Islamist militants to "prepare for a long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan," where he was once based. While the government in Khartoum quickly distanced itself from the world's most sought-after terrorist, intelligence officials suspect the tape may have been a message to supporters to carry out attacks under preparation.
The following day over twenty people were killed when coordinated bombings rocked the Egyptian holiday resort of Dahab, the third time in 18 months deadly attacks were carried out in the Sinai peninsula. While no one claimed responsibility for the blast and the Egyptian government, an ally of the U.S., is reluctant to concede al-Qaida may have operatives within its borders, Islamic terrorists are widely suspected of being behind the blasts.
Israeli analysts say the bombings bore the hallmark of al-Qaida due to the magnitude and sophistication of the  devices, which were believed to have been triggered by remote-control.
In the Sinai or in Afghanistan, the bloodshed is a reminder of the continuing war on terror, at a time the Bush administration is coming under repeated fire for committing resources once used to put terrorists on the run to launch an offensive against Iraq.
Recently a phalanx of retired top generals questioned whether the U.S. administration had taken the right course of action in Iraq, and called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, accusing him of bungling war planning and the execution of its aftermath. Bush admitted that mistakes were made in the war planning, including the fact that the insurgency was grossly underestimated, but defended the troop levels he ordered in the initial strike, which was largely seen as successful.
Bush has seen his popularity plummet to historic lows in the 30s one month after the U.S. marked the 3rd anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. Canada largely sent troops to Afghanistan to avoid involvement in Iraq while supporting coalition efforts against terrorism, but after years Taleban insurgents who used to run Afghanistan were said of being on the run there are reports they may be reorganizing and are no longer intimidated by the protracted foreign military presence in the country. Increasingly bold threats and attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan seem to corroborate this.
And as Canada's death toll increases a fresh controversy has erupted over how to mourn and commemorate the dead after Prime minister Stephen Harper decided to halt flying the flag at half-staff for troops killed and blocked news coverage of the return of the flag-draped coffins. "I was told this is usually done for VIPs," Dinning's father wrote to Harper. "I would suggest to you that there is no more important VIP than a Canadian soldier who gave his life."

Népal: le roi plie
Déjà isolé par sa géographie et sa topographie à couper le souffle, le royaume himalayen du Népal comptait peu d'amis alors qu'il cherchait à faire taire la contestation des rues de plus en plus violentes de Katmandou.
Isolé au niveau international par la condamnation des émissaires qui regrettaient les morts causées par les soldats cherchant à faire respecter le couvre-feu, le roi Gyanendra comptait encore moins d'amis à l'intérieur de son royaume, où l'insurrection maoïste rejoignait un mouvement de contestation populaire depuis qu'il a limogé sont dernier premier ministre l'an dernier, supprimé les libertés individuelles tout en s'octroyant les pleins pouvoirs.
Vendredi Gyanendra a enfin plié devant l'opposition après des semaines de manifestations parfois violentes et de grève générale, mais sa décision de rendre aux partis les pouvoirs confisqués en février 2005 ne suffisait plus aux masses rassemblées dans les rues de la capitale.  
La semaine précédente le roi, dont l'ascension au pouvoir était elle-même contestée après un massacre sanglant au palais en 2001, avait une nouvelle fois promis de tenir  des élections d'ici avril 2007 mais l'opposition réclamait, d'une voix avec la rébellion maoïste, la création immédiate d'un gouvernement multipartite intérimaire, afin de préparer l'élection d'une assemblée constituante.
En fin de compte cette semaine Gyanendra a dû promettre le rétablissement du parlement dissous, une revendication clé des manifestants. Pour une rare fois, ces derniers ont accueilli une déclaration du roi par des cris de joie et annulé une grève générale prévue le lendemain.
Voilà des semaines que la fronde antimonarchique multipliait les manifestations importantes, dans certains cas de véritables marées humaines défilant des journées entières aux cris de «Vive la République! A bas la monarchie!» malgré le couvre-feu. Au nom de la menace maoïste, les autorités cherchaient à interdire les manifestations, même si elles étaient plutôt d'ordre pacifique:
«Quiconque violera le couvre-feu sera cible de tirs à vue», avertissait un administrateur. Dans certains cas des manifestants ont assisté à de véritables bains de sang. Selon des témoins, soldats et policiers ont déchargé leurs armes lorsque des dizaines de milliers de manifestants ont tenté de pénétrer dans le centre ville de Chandragadhi la semaine dernière, où les rassemblements publics étaient interdits, tuant trois personnes et faisait des dizaines de blessés.
L'opposition était généralement plus violente dans ses propos que par ses actes, appelant à la désobéissance civile en demandant à la population de ne plus payer ni impôts ni factures relatives aux services publics tout en poursuivant une grève générale responsable de pénuries dans la capitale.
Pour le roi, les cris de la rue étaient indissociables des refrains maoïstes, les manifestants réclamant parfois la fin de la monarchie. "C'est ce que les manifestants veulent, estime Brigitte Steinmann du CNRS à Libération. Les maoïstes bien sûr, mais, bientôt les classes moyennes aussi, qui réclamaient avec insistance la démocratie. Même les fonctionnaires participaient aux manifestations de masse contre le pouvoir."
Selon elle l'alliance entre sept principaux partis et les maoïstes est totalement conjoncturelle mais a permis de rapprocher la guérilla de Katmandou, dernier bastion du roi. Une certaine division s'emparait d'ailleurs de la rue après la victoire, la guérilla estimant les gains insuffisants en un premier temps. Par la suite elle a modéré ses propos, mettant un terme au blocus des régions et proclamant une trêve.
Alors que les maoïstes conservent une image assez négative qui pourrait les empêcher de prendre le pouvoir, une mainmise de l'armée, pas plus populaire en raison des victimes récentes, reste à craindre.
Mais certains sont d'avis que l'heure de la république a simplement sonné. "Finalement, le roi Gyanendra est à la merci du peuple, estime Ameet Dhakal, rédacteur du Kathmandu Post dans son éditorial de vendredi. Alors que le monde fait de la spéculation à propos du verdict, les Népalais attendent tout juste que l'inévitable se produise; pour eux le verdict ne tarde pas à se faire attendre. Il ne peut y avoir d'autre dénouement que celui de la république. Désolé monsieur le roi, votre heure a sonné."

Oil catches fire
Drivers had barely changed their Winter tires that they were seeing gas prices fit for the height of the driving season. There were no lack of reasons for the new surge in the price of oil, reaching $75 a barrel last week: From America's stretched refining capacity and infrastructure woes, which haven't recovered from hurricane Katrina, to its war of words over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
China's roaring economy is also maintaining a strong thirst for oil. Observers noticed that Chinese president Hu Jintao's recent visit to the U.S. had been preceded by his visit to Canada and followed by trips to Nigeria and the Mideast, where the rising power wants to secure much-needed fuel for its economic growth.
In Africa continuing shortages in Nigeria, where the oil industry is threatened by armed groups, were also raising fears.In the midst of all this another, usually more quiet, African nation also temporarily waved the threat of increased pressure on the oil market.
To this day Chad remains out of mind if not in the context of the contentious 2000 presidential elections, but the country sandwiched between Sudan and Niger has been going through a rough period only brought to light in the midst of the latest oil crunch.
Last week the government of President Idriss Deby waved the threat of halting oil production as rebels Chad accuses Sudan of supporting carried a failed attack on the capital Ndjamena. The declaration was an attempt to raise international awareness on the problems facing Chad, which has seen thousands of refugees pour in from the neighboring bloodied province of Darfur, sometimes chased by their Janjawid persecutors.
Khartoum has denied any involvement in the attacks, as it denies it backs the Janjawid's charge against Darfur's mainly black population. In the midst of fears of a worldwide squeeze on oil markets Chad's relatively puny production of 160,000 barrels a day commanded international attention as U.S. and other backers sought to mediate discussions between Chad and the World Bank after it froze millions in oil loyalties.
The Bank protested a parliament vote that would have cut oil revenues destined for health, education and infrastructure so they could be allocated to the country's growing security problems. The U.S. refuses to call its role mediation but is nonetheless sending its Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to bring government leaders closer to the political opposition and help resolve the oil dispute, which was reportedly the subject of an interim deal.
France meanwhile, the old colonial power, had received a request from the rebels of the United Front for Change to discuss the role of French troops in the country.  U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the fighting could have a domino effect in the region. "If you have another escalation in Chad you risk destabilizing the whole region, not just Chad but also the Central African Republic, a sort of domino effect that we have seen in the Great Lakes region," Annan said, referring to a recent and dark chapter in African history.
The Central African Republic closed its border with Sudan after the rebel attack, protesting what it called Khartoum's "aggression" on neighbouring Chad, but stopped short of cutting diplomatic ties with Khartoum. Triggering the latest rebel attack was the coming May 3 presidential election in which Deby, whom the Front wants to unseat after 16 years in power, is standing for re-election.
Meanwhile Chad severed relations with Sudan and pulled out of peace talks over Darfur, accusing Khartoum-backed mercenaries of trying to overthrow the government in Ndjamena. Khartoum in return accuses Chad of backing rebels in Darfur, where some 180,000 have died from three years of fighting and famine threatens 700,000 people there and in Eastern Chad according to the UN.
Critics of the government in Ndjamena stress that Deby is exaggerating the Khartoum connection to deflect attention from the many problems plaguing one of the poorest countries in the world. Oil-rich Chad does not have running water or electricity outside the capital or even a public education system, and more than half the population is illiterate.
Déby, a onetime rebel leader now fending off a rebellion, is fighting more than a faceless armed opposition, but members of his own family who have defected to the rebels to protest his lack of support for Sudanese rebels fighting the regime in nearby Khartoum. The land-locked country and region's internal struggles are weighing in on oil prices in their own way despite their modest relative size in the oil market.
The high prices may be making disgruntled drivers but oil prospectors are delirious, seeing once unaffordable exploitation projects come to life, from the oil sands of Alberta to the North Atlantic. But the times aren't without their highly criticized excesses. Among them Exxon Mobil Corp.'s just retired chief executive, Lee Raymond, came under fore and quickly became the new face of executive greed after securities regulators revealed the 67-year-old will receive a retirement package of nearly US$400-million.
Governments both in Canada and the U.S. warned of a "tough summer" ahead and conceded little could be done to ease pains at the pump, but Bush said he would support investigations into possible price-gounging. Adding stress to the usual transfer to Summer gas production are new regulations changing additives to gasoline in the U.S. this year.
Bush did manage to bring a little relief to the oil markets by saying Washington would delay the usual summertime deposits of oil into the U.S. Strategic Petroleum reserves while encouraging conservation and the development of energy alternatives. But it is the lack of alternatives that is leaving consumers fired up, as the Summer driving season comes up the road.

Prodi, dans les temps d'arrêts
Ce n'est pas pour rien que la formation politique de Silvio Berlusconi a pris son nom dans les estrades italiennes. Quand elles ne diffusaient pas les derniers propos du milliardaire-premier ministre, les chaines de télévision milanaises, dont il est le propriétaire, suivaient avec attention les derniers exploits de son club, l'AC Milan.
Lors d'un match récent de la ligue des champions, celui-ci luttait avec acharnement contre l'Olympique de Lyon. Tout roulait sur des billes pour les Français, jusqu'aux dernières minutes, lorsque l'AC a inscrit deux buts plutôt inespérés, mettant un terme aux espoirs lyonnais.
Traînant la patte dans les sondages, il faut penser que l'enfant terrible de l'Europe méditerranéenne a tout fait pour ré-éditer l'exploit lors des législatives de cette fin de semaine, y compris en faisant des beaux yeux à l'arbitre.
Vieux truc remontant à la dolce vita en Italie, où le mode de scrutin faisait tomber des gouvernements avec le changement de saison, Berlusconi avait récemment ré-instauré le mode à la proportionnelle de façon à limiter l'ampleur d'une éventuelle défaite. Ce n'est pas pour rien que Berlusconi, qui avait largement profité du système majoritaire mis en place après une période d'instabilité intenable à la fin des années 90, avait été le premier à terminer son mandat de cinq ans depuis la Seconde guerre mondiale.  
En voilà un qui avait des coglioni, diront certains, mais après toutes ces années et multes coup d'éclats, autant de malversations et encore plus de gaffes, les Italiens ont décidé de se départir du Buffone de Rome et d’élire un homme qui ne pourrait, à première vue, être plus différent de lui. Mais il ne manquait pas grand chose pour marquer dans les temps d'arrêts.
La coalition centre-gauche de  l’ancien premier ministre et président de la Commission européenne Romano Prodi, dit “il Professore”, a tout juste esquissé une victoire en chambre des députés, remportant 49,8% des votes contre 49,7%. Mais au sénat, une institution qui détient un certain pouvoir de blocage en Italie, la coalition de Berlusconi détenait un siège d'avance, en attendant le vote des expatriés de la rue St-Laurent au New Jersey. Ce n'est que le lendemain que Prodi a remporté la chambre haute.
Comme il se doit, il Cavaliere, qui avait traité de tous les noms ceux qui voteraient contre lui, n'avait pas dit son dernier mot, contestant les résultats. Voilà un résultat qui avait quelquechose de décevant pour les opposants de Berlusconi, dont le règne avait mis en relief le contraste entre l’enrichis- sement personnel du premier ministre, le plus important magnat au pays, avec les déboires économiques de la péninsule italienne.
Peu d'éloges semblaient surgir de la bouche de gens qui d'ordinaire se seraient rangés avec le patron de Forza Italia: «Ce qu’a fait Berlusconi? Pratiquement rien de ce qu’il aurait dû faire, estimait un diplomate américain. La dette vertigineuse est repartie à la hausse et sera à 108 % du PIB à la fin de 2006. Le déficit budgétaire sera à 4 %. Aucune vraie mesure économique n’a été prise pour préparer l’Italie à la mondialisation. Mis à part le fait que le “Cavaliere” a fait voter des lois qui le protègent des poursuites judiciaires, il n’y a presque rien. Son principal exploit a consisté à être le premier chef de gouvernement italien depuis l’après-guerre à avoir complété son mandat de cinq ans...» Etonnants propos quand on pense aux relations assez cordiales entre Washington et Rome, notamment sur l'Irak, que veut éventuellement quitter Prodi.
C’est peut-être le désir d'en finir avec l'hystérie berlusconienne plutôt que le désir d'élire le terne eurocrate qui a motivé une partie du vote contre Forza, un manque d'entrain qui a failli se traduire par le premier cas de majorité contradictoire dans la pénible histoire politique italienne.
Mais ils étaient plus unanimes sur le besoin de mettre un terme  à une campagne aussi désagréable, truffée d’insultes et d’invectives les unes plus cinglantes que les autres. Estimant que l’élection donnait lieu à “un choix fondamental entre l’Italie de la gauche, des taxes, du pessimisme, des insultes et des mensonges, et l’Italie des droits, de la tolérance, cette Italie qui sait par-dessus tout aimer” lors d’un des derniers rassemblement électoraux, Berlusconi n’a encore une fois renoncé à aucun cout d’éclat en lançant: “Allez vous confier votre avenir aux complices de la pire tyrannie de l’histoire, à ceux qui ont eu pour idoles Lénine, Staline, Mao et Pol Pot?”
S'agit-il des derniers propos dérangeants du Buffone?

Place à la Cour
Le décès de l’ancien homme fort Slobodan Milosevic était un coup dur au tribunal international de la Haye. Pourtant entre Saddam Hussein et Charles Taylor, on n’est pas à court d’anciens despotes devant faire face à la justice, seulement on a tout fait pour tenir le TPI hors du coup.
Récemment le Haut tribunal irakien a annoncé que des accusations pour génocide avaient été transmises au parquet, ouvrant la voie à un nouveau procès de l’ancien président irakien. Evidemment, sur une terre conquise par Washington, il n’est pas question de traduire quoi que ce soit en cour internationale, que rejette l’administration Bush. Officiellement, la raison invoquée est qu’il est nécessaire de faire juger Saddam par son propre peuple.
Aussi le cas étudié n’est pas banal puisqu’il s’agit pour les Etats-Unis de l’exemple qui illustrait bien l’intention du dictateur irakien de faire usage d’armes de destruction massives: en l’occurrence le gazage du Kurdistan irakien de mars à septembre 1988, qui aurait fait plusieurs milliers de morts. Saddam comparaît déjà depuis octobre dernier dans un premier procès pour la mort de 148 chiites en 1982 à Doudjaïl. Il est passible de la peine de mort.
Pour Charles Taylor, l’ancien dictateur du pays fondé par d’ancien esclaves américains, le procès passera par le Haye mais non pas le TPI. C’est devant le Tribunal spécial pour le Sierra Leone que sa comparution initiale avait lieu avant que le procès soit «dépaysé» à La Haye, après une résolution de l’ONU. Une fois le verdict rendu Taylor devra cependant être détenu dans un autre pays.
Pourtant le TPI ne chôme pas. 161 individus y ont été jugés, et la cour se penche actuellement sur les crimes en cours au Soudan dans la région du Darfour, pas une mince tache. Surtout quand on pense que Saddam Hussein a dû attendre 18 ans avant d’être accusé de génocide, soit 10 ans avant la création de la cour de la Haye, alors que les crimes au Soudan sont vieux que de quelques mois, sinon de quelques heures dans cette région encore proie aux atrocités.
L’Afrique est d’ailleurs le premier continent où des dirigeants ont été tenus coupables de génocide, lors du massacre des grands Lacs. Une liste de 51 Soudanais a été recommandée aux membres de la commission pour enquête. Mais certaines de ces personnes sont jugées “utiles” par Washington dans sa lutte au terrorisme dans la région, et les enquêtes du TPI font craigner l’avenir des efforts de paix dans la région, notamment celui qui a été conclu au sud Soudan.
Pourtant les enquêtes du tribunal de la Haye font de plus en plus fuir les criminels de haut niveau et sont toutes aussi efficaces pour faire pression sur les régimes recalcitrants. De plus en plus, éviter la Haye ne constitue non pas un revers pour le tribunal, mais devient signe de respect.

Justice for 9-11
With the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks less than six months away the families of the victims may soon start feeling justice is being served after a Virginia jury ruled that the lone man held in connection with the attack could face execution.
But it may not be his direct proven connection to the attack that may leave him a dead man walking _an event which took place while he was in prison but on which he claims to have withheld key information_ but rather his reaction to it and outbursts in court undermining his own defense.
Truly the mark of a delirious man, some agreed, perhaps a rare insight into the deranged psyche of a terror bomber who missed his chance. Instead the man once called the “20th hijacker”, arrested for having raised red flags by taking incomplete flying lessons that did not include take-off or landing a plane, could meet his maker following a lethal injection, hardly worthy of the usual flock of virgins promised to martyrs.
The Virginia jury found that Zacarias Moussaoui could be subject to the death penalty after concluding unanimously that the Moroccan-born French national had lied to federal agents after his arrest in August 2001 and that at least one victim of the Sept. 11 attacks died as a direct result of his deception.
Legal analysts say this puts to rest the toughest part of the government’s case against Moussaoui, as the jury of nine men and three women now moves into the next phase of the sentencing trial, a more emotional phase which will involve dozens of witnesses and graphic footage of the attacks, some never publicly shown before.
But the U.S. is aware there is often more to open and shut cases, especially in sensitive trials where critics, such as Moussaoui’s mother, charge a scape-goat is being made of him.
French authorities meanwhile have been watching the case closely, justice minister Pascal Clement reminding U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that France opposes the death penalty.
While hardly bringing an end to the proceedings, the decision is a milestone in a protracted case which saw its share of upheavals. Initially Moussaoui refused to enter a plea and regularly insulted his own defense attorney. Moussaoui eventually pleaded guilty to six conspiracy charges, three of which exposed him to the death penalty.
The government’s case faltered, reaching its low point when the judge considered a mistrial after a government lawyer was shown to have improperly coached several aviation officials who were to be key witnesses, a threat which still loomed over the case as the jury prepared to hand its verdict. There were indications  the government could seek a mistrial if the jury voted against the death penalty.
Moussaoui’s ultimate undoing was entirely his own, acting against his own counsel in an outburst it later sought to dismiss. Taking the stand Moussaoui said he rejoyced at the news of the terror attacks and claimed he should have taken part in them by crashing a 5th plane into the White House. This was disputed by other accounts which referred to him as  a participant in an eventual second wave of terror strikes. The outburst saved a government case which remarkably was on the verge of collapse.
In a watershed case, Moussaoui in fact could be executed for inaction rather than action: not telling, or lying to investigators about his knowledge of Al-Qaida plans to fly planes into buildings when he was arrested a month before the attacks, even if he said he didn’t know when and where this would take place. Had Moussaoui told the truth, the prosecutors charged, U.S. authorities would have taken quick action to thwart the plot.
Of course this assumes preventive measures would have been effective, a view in part undermined as the failure of senior FBI officials to act on requests to investigate Moussaoui were reiterated in vivid detail. True to himself, the unrepentant terrorist left the court-room vowing authorities “would never get my blood, God curse you all.”
Audience members, who included families of the 9-11 victims, were left relieved but speechless. “This man has no soul, has no conscience,” said Rosemary Dillard, whose husband Eddie died in the attacks. “What else could we ask for but this?” Some actually felt sorry, “But not enough to drop the possibility of him getting the death penalty,” said Abraham Scott, who lost his wife Janice Marie. “I describe him like a dog with rabies, one that cannot be cured. The only cure is to put him or her to death,” he said.
“No penalty or verdict could reverse the pain and horror inflicted by the 9/11 hijackers and their collaborators,” US Senate majority leader Bill Frist said in a statement. “However, Mr Moussaoui’s punishment is proof that our society is grounded in the liberating power of justice and the rule of law, which are our most valuable weapons in the War on Terror.”
In Spain meanwhile a judge charged 29 men a mere two years after its bloody March 11 attacks.

America's immigration woes
With thousands of Latino protesters taking to the streets in the U.S.  against a bill that would make illegal immigrants “criminals” as North America’s leaders gathered for their annual summit recently, you could be forgiven for thinking the U.S. had only one international border.
While protocol and politeness sought to avoid leaving the meeting dominated by a single issue, there is no doubt the immigration debacle dominated the event, which was the first and last to include Harper, Bush and Fox.
Flag-waving marchers have been taking to America’s streets in a show of Latino people power as support was being mobilized against tough legislation that passed the House in December, sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner, that would turn undocumented immigrants - estimated to exceed 11 million - into felons and make it a federal crime to assist them.
This is not the immigration reform many had expected. A compromise bill, authored by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy, sought to legalize the very same people in addition to opening the way for 400,000 temporary essential workers every year while beefing up border security, but it eventually collapsed. The bill would have toughened workplace rules for immigrants but created a “guest worker” programme favoured by President Bush.
The Senate bill had not been without its critics, branding the move as granting “amnesty”, a notion that got a bad name twenty years ago when some 3 million undocumented people were legalized, and to many sent the wrong signal about America’s tolerance for illegals. Illegal immigration has doubled every decade since, from nearly 6 million in 1996 to nearly 12 million today, 78 percent of it from Mexico.
Even if the numbers are nowhere close to the ones in the U.S., an increasing number of Mexicans are fleeing to Canada as well, more than any other nationality according to 2005 numbers, but relatively few of them are allowed to remain. Last year for the first time they surpassed Chinese, Colombians, Sri Lankans and Indians as refugee claimants to Canada, but only 19 percent of the 3,541 Mexican refugee-seekers who applied for refugee-status in Canada were accepted.
The rift among lawmakers in the U.S. meanwhile, so divided that they have even split republicans during a year the issue could dominate the elections, is reflected among Americans, 53 percent of whom said illegals should be sent home while 40 percent say they should be granted some sort of legal status. A great majority agreed the Bush administration wasn’t doing enough about securing the border.
Nor are all Hispanics rushing to the streets in protest, sizeable minorities of them believing illegal aliens hurt the economy by driving down wages. But 76 percent of them told one pollster they believed anti-immigrant sentiment was on the rise and growing, a sentiment perhaps exacerbated by an increasingly influential Latino media, one practically the size of Canada’s, a reflection of the growing demographic and political weight of what is now America’s largest minority. Religious groups have also spurred mobilization in the midst of this largely Catholic population. This reality is not lost on Republicans worried of losing crucial votes in the coming congressional elections.
All of the three North American amigos will have held elections by the time the year is over, Mexico possibly looking at a left-wing successor to Vicente Fox who could be far less accomodating on the border issue. Often accused of not doing enough to halt the northward flow of illegals, Fox said his country would seek to curb illegal immigration by promoting opportunity at home and making useless a wall he has often condemned, a long-term solution that lacks the necessary short-term political fix to some.
He reminded that the country was dealing with its own illegal immigration as clandestine migrants from Central America infiltrated Mexico’s southern border to head north toward the Rio Grande. Following his term this year the constitution dictates that Fox must step down and is prevented from running again, and polls are giving the leftist leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), former Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, consistent leads.
“If you hurt immigrants you are hurting America,” read a sign during one recent New York protest march. “We are your economy” said another. Perhaps this is truest in the country’s most populous state, California, which is one-third Hispanic.
In 2004 the movie “Day without a Mexican” spoofed the overnight disappearance of the state’s 12 million Latinos, leaving Californians scrambling for basic necessities and making the state consider their return a top priority after declaring a state of emergency. A comical b-movie Latinos would argue reveals some truth about how America operates, even all the way across the country.
“Talk to employers, owners of factories. What would be the impact of having these people become criminals? It would be very detrimental for individuals and also the economy,” said Sergio Paez, a Boston-area public school language program director. “How many Americans do you think are crouched on the ground cutting tomatoes?” Jorge de Leon, the owner of a Boston pizzeria asked rhetorically during a recent march. “Most immigrants are doing work that Americans don’t want. They’re working in plastic factories, painting, construction. We are an important source of labor.”
So it turns out, not only Europe has trouble with the integration of its immigrants, but in a country built by immigration, the debate is also a source of frustration for other newcomers who feel slighted despite using the legal route.  “What Americans are saying is ‘Yes, come here. But come here legally.’ And I think that’s the big problem,” one counter-protester said as hundreds of thousands of Latinos poured into the streets across the U.S. again this week in what some are comparing to a Latino march for civil rights. "We don't have a leader like Martin Luther King or Chavez, but this is now a national immigrants rights movement."

Getting hot in here
It may after all just be the year that's unusual. Looking over the sparse floes if the St Lawrence river from 1,000 feet up, helicopter pilot Martin Dufour is stunned by the lack of ice on the first weekend of Spring. "There's no ice, it's crazy," he says. "In some areas the snow cover is maybe 10 percent what it was last year." Humane Society member Kathy Milani puts it in perspective. "Last year you could walk for hours uninterrupted over the St Lawrence, now they're small drifting ice pans, you can't take two steps".
That's a bigger problem for Dufour who must set his chopper down on the ice to pick up passengers of a ship. There's a reason why there's so much traffic over and on the ice floes of the mighty Gulf, it's the first day of the contentious seal hunt season and those who are particularly miffed are the sealers, who rely on the hunt to make up for the failure of the coastal fisheries but considered waiting a bit, managing to get just 3,000 seals on the first day, whereas 5,000 would qualify more like a good day's work. One of the reasons why the seals are so scarce is because they fall through the ice before they have a chance to learn how to swim.
Maybe global warming isn't behind all this, but the evidence is becoming hard to ignore. As Canada recorded its warmest Winter since modern record-keeping began, warming waters were being blamed for a lack of ice in the Sea of Okhotsk off the coast of world's other large Arctic power. At the other end of the Earth, an iceberg shedding large masses of ice off the coast of Pantagonia was the cause of amazement and concern, while Sagarmatha National Park in the Himalayas and the Belize Barrier Reef were being listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites threatened by climate change.
Of course it wasn't necessary to stray very far from home to note the unusual Winter, which saw average temperatures 3.9 degrees above normal and all regions of the country, the biggest departure from typical winter weather being recorded up North where Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories converge, sometimes averaging eight degrees warmer than normal.
The temperatures were also warm further south where the Great Lakes remained ice-free in the middle of the winter. "Statistically, this is a one-in-a-100-years kind of event," said one climatologist with Environment Canada in Toronto, repeating what seems to be a growing refrain. The cold air that normally makes Canadian winters so character-building instead hurtled down to northern Europe and Russia, conjuring images of doomsday scenarios in usually temperate Europe, which is warmed by currents that keep it from freezing as badly as Canada despite being situated further up North.
While this may not be enough to convince the skeptics, the weird phenomenon is coupled with reports of record CO2 levels and fresh evidence that the enormous ice sheets covering both Greenland and Antarctica are showing a net loss of ice to the seas. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that scientists have recorded a significant rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, pushing it to a new record level. The chief carbon dioxide analyst for NOAA says the latest data confirms a worrying trend that recent years have, on average, recorded double the rate of increase from just 30 years ago. "We don't see any sign of a decrease; in fact, we're seeing the opposite, the rate of increase is accelerating," Dr Pieter Tans told the BBC.
The U.S. government may not be that worried about global warming, judging from its views on Kyoto, but Americans are. According to a recent survey 85 percent of them think there's something larger happening. That may be because America's own agencies, such as NOAA, are spotting the trends.
The U.S. Geological Survey says eastern North America is having snow melt and runoff into rivers earlier than it did in the first half of the 20th century. The study says flows in many rivers in the northern United States and Canada, like the St Lawrence, are occurring earlier by 5-10 days. NASA for its part has surveyed a net loss of ice from the combined polar ice sheets of both Greenland and Antarctica between 1992 and 2002, and a corresponding rise in sea level. According to reports some 20 billion tons of water melted into the oceans in each of those 10 years, which was accompanied by extensive thinning of Antarctica ice shelves. Eventually entire cities such as London, New York, Bombay and Tokyo could go the way of New Orleans.
Marco Fania, a Canadian sound recorder on a 10-month expedition to the frozen continent tells the NPU from the Southern pole that the warm weather and rising water has not been lost on the team working on various documentaries. "Apparently water levels have risen here drastically in the past five years and most of it is being dumped into the Atlantic. It's still raining here which is not usual.. We are not even sure if the Bay that we are anchored in will freeze over. Where has winter gone?"
In fact Earth could be headed for dramatic increases in sea levels in the next few centuries according to Science magazine. If greenhouse gases continue to rise at present rates Greenland could be as warm by 2100 as it was 130,000 years ago, when melting ice raised sea levels by 3-4m, it says. And while industrial countries account for a majority of emissions believed to fuel global warming poor countries that receive aid could face the brunt of mother nature down the road according to a UK government report.
It says droughts and floods fuelled partly by carbon emissions from countries such as the UK and Canada will hurt the world's poorest in Africa and Asia. Global warming, it forecasts, threatens to reduce India's farm output by as much as a quarter and undo more than half the development work in Bangladesh. In Africa, a continent with no shortage of difficulties, the report says the number of people at risk from coastal flooding could rise from one million to 70 million by 2080.
Closer in Canada's great north, the thinner cover on ice highways is threatening to isolate communities that rely on them to get around. The world may not agree what to do about this, if anything can be done, but it increasingly agrees there's a problem. Of course it may just be a bad year.

Nouveau chapitre en Israel
Presque trois mois après son hospitalisation Ariel Sharon reste dans le coma et son sort parait plus incertain que jamais, mais la formation politique qu'il a fait naitre, chamboulant la politique israélienne de manière considérable, se porte plutôt bien après l'élection de son protégé Ehud Olmert et du parti Kadima.
Ce dernier a ravi 28 des 120 sièges du XVII Knesset dans une période ou les tensions qui persistent entre Israel et ses voisins arabes, notamment la formation terroriste qui vient de former un gouvernement à Gaza, reste plutôt élevée, sans parler de l'Iran, qui souhaite toujours aussi ouvertement l'annihilation de l'Etat hebreu.
Pourtant avec cette élection Israel dictait, quoique timidement, son intention de poursuivre la politique unilatérale d'évacuation des colonies, cette fois en Cisjordanie, ou la grande majorité des colons a pignon sur rue. Pas moins de 31 listes se disputaient les suffrages, mais pour les partis traditionnels comme le Likoud, privé de son hégémonie, et le Parti travailliste qui, en portant à sa tête l'ancien chef syndicaliste Amir Peretz, a pris le risque de faire fuir nombre de ses fidèles, l'élection était un dur moment à passer.
Comme si on vivait en permanence l'enterrement de l'ancien soldat, la campagne a été plutôt terne, sans débats braillards à la télévision ou manifestations monstre des partis orthodoxes. Il faut dire que l'élection s'est distinguée par un taux élevé d'indécis et d'abstentionnistes, donnant davantage de place aux petites formations.
En déclarant que «les élections sont déjà tranchées» au courant de la campagne, Olmert a peut-être perdu un peu d'appui ou démotivé une partie de l'électorat. Mais la nature fracturée de l'électorat en Israel promet presque en permanence un gouvernement de coalition sur cette terre ou tous se considèrent "heureux élus".
Sous d'imposants portraits d'Ariel Sharon, le pragmatique Olmert a déclaré ouvert un nouveau chapitre dans l'histoire d'Israel, un chapitre qui devrait fixer les frontières de l'Etat hebreu d'ici 2010, après une pénible période d'évacuation de la Cisjordanie. "Durant la période qui s'ouvre, nous allons mettre en place les frontières définitives de l'Etat d'Israël, un Etat juif avec une majorité juive", a déclaré Olmert.
"Nous essaierons d'y parvenir par le biais d'un accord avec les Palestiniens", a-t-il ajouté en estimant qu'il était temps que la Palestine reconnaisse l'existence du pays hebreu. "Nous sommes prêts au compromis, à abandonner certaines parties de notre terre chérie d'Israël, à retirer la peine dans l'âme les juifs qui y vivent, à vous offrir les conditions pour réaliser vos espoirs et vivre dans un Etat en paix", a-t-il assuré en s'adressant au président de l'Autorité palestinienne Mahmoud Abbas.
Mais si les Palestiniens ne font pas les efforts réclamés par les Israéliens pour progresser vers la paix, "Israël prendra son destin en main", un avertissement pas passé inaperçu.

La tourmente du sous-emploi
Les manifestations qui ont viré à l'émeute et au remplissage de panier à salade, c'est du déjà vu à Paris, pourtant les mesures controversées qui devaient encourager l'emploi étaient en partie nées dans les cendres des automobiles incendiées dans les banlieues l'automne dernier. Drôle de manière de boucler la boucle.
Mais encore une fois, qu'une politique française avec but de créer des emplois en arrive là, c'est presque du déjà vu également. Mais après l'échec des 35 heures, qui à la fin des années 1990s promettaient presque le plein-emploi, peut-on déjà dire que le projet de CPE (contrat première embauche) soit voué à l'échec également?
L'intention, encore une fois, est louable, et a tout de suite été reconnue à la NPU, où un projet passé a, malgré son échec, clairement fait état de la situation de l'emploi dans l'hexagone. Il y a deux ans, lorsque la NPU a été approchée pour lancer un projet de magazine international dont le marché allait être en France, on n'a pas tardé à comprendre comment le projet avait rebondi sur nos berges. "Ici lorsqu'on embauche quelqu'un, c'est un mariage, expliquait le chef du projet à Paris, ça manque de flexibilité."
En gros, voilà les arguments du gouvernement français, en pleine crise de jeunes pour la seconde fois en moins de six mois. Le CPE, un contrat de durée indéterminée pendant lequel l'employeur a deux ans pour se décider sur l'embauche d'un employé, devait permettre une telle flexibilité. "Je pense que c'est la seule solution, entonnait le ministre des affaires extérieures français Philippe Douste-Blazy lors d'une visite récente au Canada, les jeunes doivent comprendre que c'est pour eux pas contre eux".
Ces jeunes, ce sont curieusement, non pas directement les étudiants qui manifestent dans les rues, mais les jeunes qui sont dores et déjà à la recherche d'un emploi. Autrement dit, ce sont plus les jeunes défavorisés des banlieues calcinées de l'an dernier que les grévistes des facs, vite soutenus par les syndicats et leurs appels à la grève générale. Une solution qui ne rassure pas plus certains économistes.
Ce n'est peut-être pas Mai 68, il n'y a qu'à voir le nombre de femmes au front qui n'a rien à voir avec la révolution machiste d'il y a presque quarante ans, mais ça brasse autant que durant la crise de la loi Monory il y a vingt ans.
Le rapprochement était d'ailleurs bien triste lorsqu'un des manifestants est mort et un autre a été plongé dans le coma lors des violences, le rappel du malheureux sort de Malik Oussekine à l'automne 1986, brutalisé par les forces de l'ordre. L'incident avait tout de suite fait plié le gouvernement, qui pour l'heure refuse encore de céder.
Le premier ministre Dominique de Villepin, dont les projets présidentiels pourraient se jouer au coeur de la crise, s'est pour sa part félicité du «vrai dialogue» lancé avec trois organisations étudiantes espérant pouvoir «très rapidement» développer le débat avec l'ensemble des partenaires sociaux. C'était il y a maintenant quelques semaines et avant plusieurs manifestations monstre.
Même si le gouvernement ne plie pas, une possibilité semble se dessiner: celle de conserver la loi, mais avec des modifications capables de plaire à tous. Du côté manifestant, flexibilité financière doit en partie accompagner flexibilité d'embauche, puisqu'ils constatent avec regret que plusieurs institutions financières ne sont pas à l'aise de couvrir le risque de prêter à des jeunes en situation de CPE.
Encore une fois, la crise n'a pas épargné le chef de l'Etat, Jacques Chirac, qui a de son côté appelé à maintes reprises les partenaires sociaux à «ouvrir un dialogue constructif et confiant» afin d'«améliorer» le CPE. Le gouvernement se penche semble-t-il sur une possible réduction à un an de la période d'essai. Mais rien qu'à ce niveau des différences se dessinent, le ministre de l'intérieur pronant une période encore plus courte.
Mais les Français restent pessimistes puisqu'ils estiment à 71% qu'il s'agit d'«une crise sociale profonde qui peut prendre de l'ampleur au cours des semaines qui viennent». Une pensée presque corroborée par les massifs mouvements sociaux dans les rues. Ils n'ont peut-être pas tort, la précarité du CPE c'est une faille dans l'édifice de l'emploi permanent, lourdement défendu par les intérêts publics et syndicaux dans certains cas, et la société chouchoutée des cinq semaines de loisirs.
De l'autre côté du Rhin l'allongement de la période d'essai des nouveaux embauchés est au coeur de la controverse également. L'accord de «grande coalition» du 11 novembre entre la droite (CDU) et la gauche (SPD) allemande, alors même que les banlieues flambaient en France, doit faire passer la période d'essai de six mois à deux ans maximum.
Il s'agit d'un premier grand défi également pour la chancelière conservatrice Angela Merkel, un autre coup contre le monolithe de l'emploi en Europe. Car le débat s'est embrasé en Allemagne notamment à cause de l'actualité française. Certains, comme le ministre de l'Economie, Michael Glos, estiment même que l'accord «ne va pas assez loin» pour faire baisser un chômage qui s'élève à 12,2% dans une économie germanique stagnante. Autant dire qu'à la confédération des syndicats allemands, on se dit «totalement solidaire avec les collègues français» selon Libération.
«L'Allemagne a déjà assoupli les conditions de licenciement pour les plus de 50 ans, et cela n'a pas créé un seul emploi supplémentaire. Nous sommes radicalement opposés à cette mesure», commente Hilmar Höhn, porte-parole du DGB. Bientôt les mêmes scènes à Berlin? Ce n'est pas la coutume, mais sur l'emploi il y a bien des habitudes qu'on se voit porté à changer.

Fortress Belarus
He's the last dictator of Europe and proud of it, and it seemed that he would get the last laugh again, for now. But while Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko ignored international obser-vers casting doubts about his Soviet-style 83-percent win as well as thousands of protesters in the streets of Minsk rallying behind an opposition leader's call for new elections, he may find it increasingly hard to ignore the chorus of condemnation which has followed an election widely considered as flawed and international calls for sanctions following a series of arrests.
Despite earlier arrests and a constant campaign of intimidation, protesters repeatedly demonstrated in the streets of Europe's harshest regime. The gatherings were the biggest the opposition had mustered in years, reaching at 10,000 according to reports, a victory in itself that many consider a "crack" in fortress Belarus.
While protesters had the immediate support of the U.S., calling the election results invalid, Lukashenko only had ears for long-time ally Vladimir Putin, a rare supportive voice that praised the strongman's re-election, adding that "Russia and Belarus are joined by the sturdy bonds of friendship." Sturdy for some but stubborn for others, for whom Lukashenko remains the continent's eyesore.
But like Lukashenko, the Russian president has been feeling rather isolated, increasingly surrounded by former Soviet republics more comfortable with Washington as partner than Moscow. Soviet-style intimidation and repression had marked the campaign, some 400 European observers said, making the few protests in the capital a victory of sorts for an opposition completely shut out of the campaign's political coverage.
"We will never recognise this election. It's not an election but an anti-constitutional seizure of power," the main opposition leader, Aleksandr Milinkevich, told crowds waving Belarus and Ukrainian flags. But despite scenes of protest reminiscent of the orange revolution, complete with tents set up in below-freezing temperatures, music and supporters who brought food and blankets, Ukraine's revolution has yet to breach Lukashenko's fortress.
"The revolution so many have talked about has failed," he said, alleging that the protesters were "children" who had been paid to show up, when he wasn't calling them outright "terrorists". The opposition is clinging to the slim hope international outrage and perhaps sanction will foster change.
Canada reacted rather quickly and strongly to the arrests of protesters, including a Canadian reported covering the demonstrations, putting diplomatic relations on the line. The risks of speaking out are not lost on Milinkevich who notes that 10 of his 30 campaign managers had been arrested and remained in jail during the campaign. But the EU said it would not use economic sanctions against the country, which was given some 17 million Euro in aid last year, by fear of hurting its people.
Not all of Lukashenko's support is fraudulent however, in a country where he can count on the support of poorly educated rural communities, or labor workers that like standing up to outsiders and consider an omnipotent State-run system better than many of the spun horror stories they have heard from neighboring republics. But observers noted a number of irregularities, including ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging.
That would hardly seem surprising since Lukashenko has orchestrated not only presidential and parliamentary elections, but also a constitutional referendum in 2004 that lifted the limits of him seeking a third term ever since he was elected in 1994, what is viewed as the last fair election in the country.
"The arbitrary abuse of state power, obviously designed to protect the incumbent president, went far beyond acceptable practice," observers reported. The White House meanwhile supported the protests and increasingly considered sanctions. "We applaud democrats in Belarus for their courage and peaceful stand to reclaim their freedom. We support their call for a new election."
Emboldened by foreign reactions, protesters promise the next round isn't far away. "There will be a second storming, but we won't wait five years for it," Milinkevich said, planning for a future protest in April and future elections he has officially been barred from participating in.
But as the Ukrainian revolution showed, even revolutionaries can be fickle. In the latest elections Ukraine's main opposition party, the pro-Russian Regions Party, was comfortably leading parliamentary results. Perhaps too early for a swing of the pendulum political scientists love.

No justice in death
For a man who kept defying the international community and thumbed his nose at a human rights tribunal he did not recognise his was a fitting exit. In death as in life, where he spent the last four years facing charges of war crimes and human rights violations, Slobodan Milosevic, remains the bete noire of prosecutors, evading justice one final time.
The "the butcher of the Balkans" who orchestrated a decade of wars that shattered his country, one that was still being dismantled as he sat in a Hague cell, would be judged by history rather than the international criminal court which saw in him its first great case.
Milosevic, who suffered chronic heart ailments and high blood pressure, apparently died of a heart attack according to his autopsy. Following his death his lawyer made public a letter in which Milosevic expressed fears of being poisoned.
Back in his country of Serbia, where the jury was still out on how good or bad he had been for the country, the news of his death was met with sarcasm and claims by the usually nationalist press that he had been "murdered" by the tribunal.
Fueling suspicions was that Milosevic's death came less than a week after the star witness in his trial, former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic, was found dead in the same prison, where he had committed suicide. Babic's testimony in 2002 described a political and military command structure headed by Milosevic in Belgrade that operated behind the scenes. Milosevic made it three times detainees held in the Hague died in prison.
The former strongman's death at times seemed to be as great a blow to Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who said she regretted Milosevic's death because she believed she would have won his conviction, than family members or Milosevic loyalists."I also regret it for the victims, the thousands of victims, who have been waiting for justice," Del Ponte said.
In the regions where he had made so many victims, including Kosovo and Bosnia, where he was accused of orchestrating a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs during the collapse of the Yugoslav federation while planning to create a Greater Serbia, his death was met with relief. "Finally, we have some reason to smile. God is fair," said Hajra Catic, who heads an association of women that lost their loved ones in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the eastern Srebrenica enclave by Serb troops.
"Justice was late," grumbled Hashim Thaci, the leader of ethnic Albanian insurgents against Milosevic's forces in 1998-1999 in Kosovo's capital, Pristina. "God took him." Before the conflict ended, the UN tribunal, under Canadian Louise Arbour, indicted Milosevic and four of his top aides for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Kosovo.
Milosevic became the first sitting head of state ever to be indicted for such crimes and charges against him later included that of genocide. Separately Bosnia also has sued Serbia, accusing it of genocide in the first case of a country standing trial for humanity's worst crime.
But his passing does not absolve Serbia of responsibility to hand over other war crimes suspects, the EU said after his death. It is now "more urgent than ever" to arrest and extradite Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader, and Ratko Mladic, wanted in connection with the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo, Del Ponte said.
The EU had recently upped the ante on the need to see him handed over as it told Serbia and Montenegro that talks on closer ties will be put on hold unless this happened. Reactions to Milosevic's death and the refusal by hard-liners to hand over war crimes suspects in the Balkans still showed the lingering divisions ten years after the conflict raged.

Afghan Canadian mission not your regular blue-helmet drill
It all happened within a few days. Canada's prime minister raised the troops' spirits in a surprise visit to Afghanistan, his first foreign visit since the January election, as Canada's military mission entered a dangerous stage of taking the fight to the Taleban in a region of the south where they have killed foreign troops.

A few days before Canada's top general was evacuated during an attack which caused no injuries, while a soldier recently returned home was being buried with full military honors.

From the early days of Canada's mission in Afghanistan there was a sense of entering unfamiliar and inhospitable territory. Canadian soldiers were after all involved in their largest combat operation since the Korean war, or in familiar terms, roughly the last time Canada had won gold in Olympic hockey.

The idea of Canadian casualties and fatalities, absent during the Gulf war despite a heavy military presence, were as foreign as Kandahar, let alone successive reports of incidents. Perhaps the perception was flawed to begin with because most Canadian fatalities since Korea occurred under the UN banner. According to UN figures between 1948 and 2006, Canada is the second country after India to have suffered the most casualties under the UN banner, 113 in all, twice the US number, showing its commitment to international roles.

But from the onset the Afghan mission, in the south of this country where normality barely exists inside the capital, Canadians were warned there would be casualties the likes of which they hadn't seen in generations. In just a few days of early March, the warning took all its meaning.

Two Canadians were killed and a dozen injured in repeat incidents of different and sometimes troubling nature. On March 2nd Cpl. Paul James Davis of Bridgewater NS was killed and six others injured, one later not surviving his wounds, when their 21-tonne armed vehicle smashed into a car and flipped over. Tragically the convoy carried investigators looking into the death of a Canadian diplomat in an earlier attack this year, a first in diplomatic memory.

The incident was the first deadly accident since the 2,200 troop contingent reached full strength in Afghanistan, leading a reconstruction mission in the volatile south. Davis was in the passenger cabin of the LAV III vehicle, the pride and current warhorse of the military, at the time of the accident. "I'm extremely proud of my saul Paul, very, very proud and 100 percent supportive of the military and what they're trying to accomplish," said his father Jim, adding his prayers were with the other families and soldiers of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

A few days later Mast. Cpl. Timothy Wilson, also injured in the accident, died of his wounds in a military hospital in Germany. It was the eleventh Canadian fatality since operations started in Afghanistan in 2002 and many have been the result of accidents or friendly fire and not from combat operations. But others were attacks that showed how tough-skinned the troops would have to be during this operation.

The two days following the accident were marked by attacks that caused casualties, five from a suicide-attack against a convoy, and another from more disturbing circumstances. On March 4 Lt Trevor Greene was badly injured after he was attacked by a man wielding an axe during a meeting of elders north of Kandahar.

In the ensuing firefight the attacker was killed by return fire but another threw a grenade at the Canadians, missing them. "Lieutenant Greene had removed his helmet as a sign of respect, as is common practice for military personnel involved in shuras (meetings)," the Forces statement read.

Canadian military officials soon concluded that the axe-wielding terrorist was a Taleban agent kicking off an orchestrated ambush, but other reports surfaced contradicting that claim. A village elder was quoted giving the attacker a name, Abdul Karim, 16, and stressing he was not a member of the Taleban, nor anyone in his family, but just helped his brothers working on their farm. "He was a very quiet boy and not talkative," the New York Times was told. None of his relatives had been arrested or killed, but American troops had searched the village several times, which could have caused him to resent them.

Earlier that week two soldiers injured in a suicide attack on Jan. 15 were finally released from hospital in Edmonton. And all this was just the first week Canada took over command of the multilateral mission in Kandahar. The news never looked so grim so often, every day bringing dread of more awful news from the distant Afghan front.

One newspaper assessed that Canada's presence had already cost over $2 billion in Afghanistan since 2002, and the country's top soldier, general Rick Hillier, warned that the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan could require a military presence of some ten years.

Polls showed Canadians were divided about the deployment. One survey by Strategic Counsel indicated 62 per cent of respondents were against the deployment. Another poll by Ipsos-Reid, with questions framed differently, found 52 per cent support for the mission, but that was down from 66 per cent in 2002. Many supported the idea their elected officials should debate Canada's mission in Afghanistan but during his flash visit Harper said this would only happen when the matter of extending it would arise.

Once in battle however, Canadians showed their support. Davis' death was marked with full honors before a nationally-televised hockey game. National coffee-maker Tim Horton's said it would consider regularly supplying troops hungry for a little taste of home. Even the Canadian Dental Assistants' Association sent care packages to the troops including words of support. "By supporting our military personnel in Afghanistan, dental assistants are reinforcing our commitment to oral health care," its president stated.

Few times in its history has Canada been at war like this and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, part of a government which has pledged billions in extra funds for the military, reiterated the importance of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. "This is the type of mission that is demanded in this day and age," MacKay said. "Terrorism, which has its roots in Afghanistan, is something that we have committed to fight with our allies."

Some politicians dreaded the type of mission Canada was getting itself into. "We certainly don't want to become involved in a protracted war," the NDP's Jack Layton said. "The goal of Canadians being in Afghanistan was in our more traditional role of peacekeeping, peacemaking." But this is proving to be much more pro-active than traditional peace-keeping from the onset.

These notions are outdated, Hillier told the Globe & Mail, stressing the Canadian public needs to gird itself for a long mission, one that will probably involve development work beyond the military's current mandate to post troops there until 2007. Also outdated however are some of the training techniques, soldiers told the Toronto Star, saying they had to do their own research on counter-insurgency techniques because they had been trained by old Cold war models of no use in these parts.

Sometimes the rhetoric of the general, who once pledged that his forces would kill terrorist "scumbags", matches that of the an Iraqi front that Canada had done everything to avoid, including committing to Afghanistan instead. Harper's flash visit itself was more reminiscent of so many visits by the American president to Iraq. "These are a great bunch of men and women who are doing a tough job and I'm going to make sure they understand their government (supports them)," Harper said.

"Your work is about more than just defending Canada's interests," Harper told about 1,000 military personnel on his second day of a surprise visit. "It's also about demonstrating an international leadership role for our country." Harper added Canada would not "cut and run" or shy away from its responsibilities in the war-torn country.

In further echoes of Iraq Hillier said there was no need to discuss an exit strategy because "That communicates a message to the Taleban, and the terrorists who want to wait out activities, that they could." Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, the head of Canada's Task Force Afghanistan, told reporters Canada was undeniably being "tested" in the last weeks but that its troops remained resilient and refused to be bullied by the insurgents. After just a few weeks of taking over command, this could only bring limited comfort.

Une Europe unie dans la division
Vieille Europe, nouvelle Europe, ancien débat: celui de la décentralisation, de l'autonomie régionale, et dans les cas extrêmes, la séparation. De la Catalogne jusqu'aux rives de l'Adriatique, cette Europe qui a subi tant de changements géopolitiques depuis quelques dizaines d'années, de l'éclatement du mur à celui de la Yougoslavie, poursuit la révision de ses frontières alors même que son unification reste le grand projet continental. Contradiction?
Alors que cet état des choses parait bien étranger à la réalité nord-Américaine, cela n'empêche pas quelques formules du discours politique canadien de surgir ça et là. La Catalogne en est le parfait exemple: les liens entre le Québec et celle-ci ont fait l'objet de multes analyses, mais si elle poursuit sa poussée autonomiste en Espagne elle n'est pas seule depuis l'initiative du gouvernement central de repenser les liens entre le centre et la périphérie.
En effet nul autre que président socialiste José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, petit-fils d'un officier républicain tué durant la guerre civile, a lancé ce projet d'"Espagne plurielle", avec l'encouragement d'un Pays basque dans la voie de la pacification et de la Catalogne. Pas moins que trois régions partagent ces rêves de dissolution si l'on compte la Galicie. Et les manifestations de cette mouvance ne sont pas si rares.
Le 18 février, une centaine de milliers de personnes, un nombre que l'on ne retrouve plus au Québec, défilaient dans les rues de Barcelone en scandant : "Nous sommes une nation, nous avons le droit de décider." C'est profondément remettre en question l'"Espagne des autonomies" datant de la Constitution de 1978, cet assemblage de dix-sept régions dirigées par des gouvernements et des parlements régionaux aux degrés d'autonomie variés.
Pourtant s'il est question de nouvelle division des pouvoirs on est bien loin des discours sécessionnistes. En Catalogne la coalition de gauche qui a supplanté l'ancien ordre nationaliste de droite, sans être moins nationaliste, cherche à augmenter les compétences et les ressources propres de cette région orientale, en renforçant son identité politique autant à l'intérieur de l'Espagne qu'à l'extérieur, notamment au sein de l'Union européenne.
La Catalogne aura le contrôle de 50% de l'impôt sur le revenu et une part de certaines taxes allant jusqu'à concurrence de 58 %. Mais reste à voir si au sein d'une Constitution qui réserve ce terme à l'Espagne, la Catalogne pourrait être considérée "nation".
A l'autre bout de la Méditerranée européenne on n'en est plus là car une frontière assez nette sépare la Serbie même de l'ancienne république la plus fidèle, le Monténégro, qui en mai tient un scrutin sur l'indépendance. Même si celle-ci a été plus discrète que le Kosovo, pour des raisons ethniques et religieuses surtout, elle n'est pas moins sur la voie du déchirement de ce qui reste du coeur de l'ancienne Yougoslavie.
Avec sa monnaie distincte et ses douanes, on est presque à parler du Monténégro en tant que pays, ce que voudrait une mince majorité qui devra se plier aux exigences européennes lors du référendum: une quasi-loi sur la clarté exigeant 50 pourcent de participation, et surtout, une majorité de 55% des voix pour l'indépendance, plus dur si l'on constate que celle-ci a l'appui de 43 pourcent de la population.
Il faut dire que la Serbie-Monténégro avait été créée en 2003 à l'instigation de l'Union européenne (UE) pour maintenir provisoirement les liens entre les deux, et une certaine stabilité dans une région qui en avait tant besoin. Quinze fois plus petite que son voisin, cette république de 650 000 hab. qui a à peine le double de la taille de l'Ile du Prince Edouard, se façonne des projets d'abri fiscal un peu à la manière d'un Liechtenstein de l'Adriatique.
Du coup, si la Serbie se voyait également privée du Kosovo, qui caresse des rêves d'indépendance moins bien tolérés à Belgrade, pour des raisons historiques, la Serbie perdrait cette chère côte d'orée. A peine élu au poste de premier ministre du Kosovo, l'ancien commandant de guérilla Agim Ceku a décrit ses rêves d'indépendance.
Mais on est encore loin de là car dans les deux cas la minorité serbe résiste aux discours indépendantistes. Les règles référendaires de l'UE sont d'ailleurs désignées à la protéger. Si celles-ci font penser au débat sur la séparation du Québec, que penser de la question référendaire, un exemple de clarté comme on en voudrait à Ottawa: «Voulez-vous que le Monténégro soit un Etat indépendant avec une totale légitimité internationale et légale?»
Ces rapprochements ne sont pas étrangers au vice-président du parlement monténégrin, Dragan Kujovic, récemment interviewé par le Globe & Mail: «Je porte une attention particulière au Québec, disait-il, et pas seulement parce que ma femme est professeur qui enseigne l'histoire du Québec, mais parce que nous sommes sur la même voie.»
C'est à se demander ce qu'il y a de plus invraisemblable, ces forces centrifuges au coeur de l'UE, les rêves d'indépendance d'une république d'un demi-million d'âmes... ou qu'on y enseigne l'histoire du Québec.
Canada brings in record haul... till Vancouver!
Perhaps Wednesday Feb. 22 summed up Canada's performance at the Games best: A mixed bag of emotions as Canada had both a banner day on the podium and shook its head in disbelief after Team Canada's early ouster.
A medal-filled day nevertheless, for a Winter Games that brought in a record amount of hardware for Canada, but one thing was particularly striking: The day's two gold-medal and two silver-medal performances were all won by women. Again and again Canada's girls raised the nation's spirit, as it stubbornly struggled to deal with the weakness of the defending champion men's hockey team.
Not only did the women's team come through by repeating as gold-medal winners, the girls in red would time and again meet and even surpass expectations, while their male counterparts often disappointed. In all only a third of Canada's 24 medals were won by men, that's just a few more than the girl with the golden skate, Cindy Klassen, who became Canada's most successful athlete in history at the Olympic games, and the most successful period of all athletes in Turin.
"Hey, can she play hockey?" mused the Toronto Sun on a cover that celebrated Klassen's latest medal, and mourned the ousting of Team Canada in the quarterfinals. Indeed everything she touched turned to gold, while Canada's hockey spirits reached the bottom. Canada's roster of $94 million hockey players couldn't buy a goal for all their riches, having been shut-out in 11 of their last 12 periods, by teams as unlikely as Switzerland.
It was Canada's worse showing since the pros started playing in Nagano. In stark contrast, Canada's perfect women's team was accused early in the competition for running up the score against its opponents, wo-manhandling the host team 16-0 for starters. The truth is hockey did generate its share of surprises and upsets at these Games, but the one comforting consistency was certainly the dominance of Canada's women's team.
Canada maintained that dominance heading into the gold-medal game against unexpected finalist Sweden as Gillian Apps and Caroline Ouellette scored in the first period while Cherie Piper and Jayna Hefford added two in the second on the way to a 4-1 win, their lowest score at the Games, where they outscored their opposition 46-2, missing a perfect record only in victories over Sweden (they haven't given up an even-strength goal in international competition since the 2004 world championships).
The top three scorers in the tournament, and four of the top five, were Canadian. As testimony to their strength the IOC will be making two changes: no longer making host nations automatically qualified unless they are within the top 10, and no longer considering goal differences for tie-breakers.
The IOC was busy busting cheats meanwhile as Austria's former nordic coach, Walter Mayer, was taken into custody after a car slammed into an Austrian police roadblock following a brief chase. Mayer had been banned from the Olympics under suspicion of performing blood transfusions at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and his presence at the Turin Games sparked raids by police on unsuspecting Austrian athletes on two occasions.
While next-day performances were obviously affected, Austria fared rather well at the Games, taking in 23 medals, and ending just under Canada overall. Canada met its expectations of improving on its previous medal count, ending 3rd overall with 13 4th place finishes, an important stepping stone to doing better than getting its first gold medal on home turf in Vancouver: ending n.1 overall.
As Hockey Canada ponders what went wrong in Turin, where its performance made Nagano seem like a relatively pleasant experience, and as even the Great One ponders his future with the sports program, it will be trying just as hard to regain the glitter of Salt Lake City, at a time it seemed Canada had regained its hockey supremacy. In the mean time the team is instructed to take it like a man, but play more like a woman.

La menace aviaire
La santé publique au Canada cherche quelques bons volontaires en cas de pandémie. Pourtant la grippe aviaire qui gagne de plus en plus de terrain, récemment dans le pays du foie gras et du pâté au canard, n'a pas encore débarqué chez nous, mais cet assaut de nos côtes semble aussi imminent que la pandémie elle-même, qui selon les estimés au Québec pourrait atteindre le tiers des effectifs de la santé, d'où l'appel aux renforts.
Il faut dire que les autorités sanitaires, de Québec à Bratislava, ne cherchent plus à stopper la progression constante du virus, mais à adapter leurs institutions afin de l'affronter. Evidemment on redoute encore le premier cas de transmission du H5N1 d'homme à homme, qui devient de plus en plus probable avec chaque nouveau foyer de contagion des volailles du Vieux-continent.
Bien que celui-ci ait été gagné par le virus ces dernières semaines, provocant un appel à la vigilance assez généralisé de ce côté de l'océan pour les voyageurs séjourneant entre Moscou et Brest, il n'est pas le seul à être visé par un virus qui se propage en Inde et en Egypte et compte dorénavant plus de 19 victimes humaines et Indonésie, sans parler de millions d'oiseaux et de poulets massacrés.
En fait si le tout a commencé il y a deux ans au sommet de la crise aviaire en Asie, il n'empêche que l'on redoute les cas de propagation dans les parties plus pauvres, notamment en Afrique, d'où pourraient provenir les premiers cas redoutés de transmission d'homme à homme.
L'absence d'un tel cas justifie pour l'heure les appels au calme alors que l'on redouble les mesures d'urgence de chaque côté de l'Atlantique, notamment en vue des migrations du printemps. Ainsi il faudra crainte bien plus que la propagation du virus du Nil occidental à la vue d'oiseaux morts dans nos parages lors des prochains mois.
Pourtant la propagation ne suit pas toujours les courants migratoires traditionnels, une constatation qui a été faite en France ces derniers temps. Près de Lyon, le premier cas de contamination de volaille sur une ferme, plus garve que celui des oiseaux migrateurs, a été acceuilli avec une grande inquiétude.
Ainsi l'élimination des oiseaux potentiellement infectés devra être accompagnée de compensations monétaires, soulignent les autorités sanitaires de Bruxelles à Jakarta, où l'on redoute que les plus pauvres éleveurs qui ne peuvent se le permettre tenteront de monnayer leurs bêtes au marché noir.
En Indonésie certains seront compensés de l'ordre de $1 la bête, tandis qu'à Bruxelles l'UE songe à payer une partie des frais des éleveurs atteints, alors que l'Allemagne devenait la semaine dernière un des pays les plus touchés d'Europe par la grippe aviaire après la découverte de 18 nouveaux cas d'oiseaux sauvages morts en une seule journée, portant à plus de 60 le nombre total de cas avérés dans ce pays.
A Bruxelles, les ministres européens de l'Agriculture se réunissaient pour étudier comment indemniser la filière volaille : «Nous sommes compatissants, mais, en terme de budget européen, il y a vraiment très peu de choses que l'on peut faire», a fait savoir Mariann Fischer Boel, commissaire européenne à l'Agriculture, surtout si une chute des prix suit la multiplication des nouveaux foyers.
En fait c'est à chaque Etat membre de l'UE de financer son programme de vaccination: rien que pour la France, où la contamination d'un élevage de dindes près de Lyon la semaine dernière fait craindre le pire, la note prévisible monte à 1,6 million d'euros.
L'hexagone a beaucoup à perdre, étant le premier pays de la volaille en Europe avec ses 50 000 personnes qui travaillent à l'élevage, à l'abattage et à la transformation des volailles pour un chiffre d'affaires de quelque 6 milliards d'euros. Déjà les appétits pour la volaille ne sont plus ce qu'ils étaient, enregistrant une chute de 10 à 20% depuis 2004 et les premiers grands cas asiatiques.
En novembre, la chute s'accélérait dans les grandes surfaces, par 30 % en moyenne, et ce malgré les appels aux calme des autorités sanitaires européennes. En Italie certains chiffres enregistrent une chute de 70%. La progression de la grippe n'a rien pour décourager ce phénomène, dont l'aggravation pourrait avoir des effets catastrophiques au niveau de la santé comme celui de l'économie mondiale, rappelle l'OMS.
Depuis 2003 près de 150 personnes ont été infectées, la moitié ayant connu la mort. Au Québec les pires scénarios envisagent quelques 50 000 morts et des dizaines de milliers d'infections, d'où les mesures pour remplacer le tiers du personnel de la santé qui pourrait tomber malade.
Mais le premier choc pour les pays atteints sera celui des exportations, alors que le plus grand marché du monde, la Chine, fermait sa frontière aux pays touchés par la grippe aviaire. Pourtant le pays est lui-même infecté, et reste susceptible même s'il a vacciné plus de la moitié du 14 milliard de volailles sur son territoire; comme si la perte de la raison devait précéder celle du sang froid.
Mais ces mesures, tout comme l'élimination des oiseaux contaminés ou les vaccinations massives, ne peuvent que retarder l'inévitable selon les autorités sanitaires, qui redoutent un seul cas de transmission d'homme à homme, qui engendrerait une pandémie généralisée. La planification d'urgence est par conséquent pleine de bon sens pour faire face à la crise redoutée.

Is West being bullied?
What do the aftermath of Haiti's election, the continuing Muhammad cartoons controversy and criticism that companies are collaborating with China have in common? Perhaps they reveal how democracies can be intimidated in the face of either fear of violence, or disapproval by a major power. It shows that everybody can be bullied, and that includes large corporations and international organizations one could argue.
In Haiti the aftermath of the elections held to replace ousted leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide yielded violence in the streets as supporters of front-runner Rene Preval rioted because they saw his lead slip under 50 percent as the vote count was taking place. Anything over that benchmark avoided a run-off in March.
Preval supporters took to the streets in massive numbers as the results slipped under 49 percent, and instead of calling for calm, Preval broke his silence and condemned electoral fraud. While one could be critical of election officials for gradually releasing the results instead of waiting for the final tally, and incidents of fraud were reported, fear of violence in a country where it has become only too familiar pressed international observers, including the Organization of American States, to foster an agreement that would retabulate the votes so as to avoid a run-off and declare Preval a winner after the first round.
While arguments at first pointed for the need to respect the electoral process, the need to avoid violence soon took over, as OAS officials looked at loopholes in Haitian electoral law to allow the government to discard an estimated 85,000 blank ballots included in the original tally. By excluding them, Mr. Preval's lead increased from 48.7 percent of the votes to slightly more than 51 percent, avoiding a run-off.
Irregularities were becoming obvious despite the initial assesment of elections officials, some of whom eventually fled the country. Authorities recovered a large number of missing ballots that were believed destroyed or stolen, some 8 percent of ballots in all, largely in Preval's favor, but the latter's unhelpful comments and fears of more violence have no doubt played a part to rush an alternative to holding a second round of voting, which initially had been widely expected.
Leslie Manigat, the runner-up in the election, was the most outspoken critic of the agreement that brought Preval to power. Manigat said he had looked forward to a second round, despite gathering just 12% of the vote, and his supporters deserved it. He described the agreement to declare Preval the winner as a "Machiavellian maneuver," and an "electoral coup," comparing it to the military takeover that ended his 1988 presidency only four months after he was himself elected, and added that Preval's presidency would be tarnished by a stain of illegitimacy.
"Violence has been rewarded," Mr. Manigat said during a news conference at his home Thursday morning. "As we did in the 1988 coup against us, we say good luck to the country."
The need for a rapid solution was first and foremost promoted by fear of violence, as the chief foreign relations adviser to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva conceded to the New York Times: "Considering the existing climate in the country, that would be the best solution."
Were the means justified to avoid necessary violence? The same question oddly reverberates in the aftermath of the cartoon controversy which evolved into a debate on self-censorship and freedom of the press. Few publications in North America decided to reprint the drawings lampooning the Prophet Muhammad which have inflamed the Muslim world, and when the Western Standard decided to do so it was even criticized by prime minister Stephen Harper.
Some said the decision was irresponsible, going so far as putting Canadian troops in danger in places such as Afghanistan. The magazine said the decision to print was justified in order to illustrate a story which has been splashed across cover pages the world over for weeks, a sentiment shared at the NPU which printed select images the previous week. One Montreal tabloid newspaper chose not to run the images, in the words of its news director, to avoid "adding fuel to the fire" as violent protest resumed across the world.
Last week the European Union's chief executive said that the EU now had to fight for its core European values, including freedom of speech. "We have to stick very much to these values," said José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. "If not, we are accepting fear in this society."
Not for the first time fear was referred-to as a form of censorship on the issue which has ignited passions, not to mention foreign embassies in Arab countries, as well as provoked deaths, since it grabbed headlines in February. Barroso referred to his youth when he grew up under a totalitarian regime in Portugal when he stressed that Europe had to defend its right to publish the cartoons, decried by many as being a provocation against the Muslim world.
"I understand that it offended many people in the Muslim world, but is it better to have a system where some excesses are allowed or be in some countries where they don't even have the right to say this?" he said. "This reminds me of my own country up to 1974. I defend the democratic system."
Yet sometimes even the product of democratic systems, such as large U.S. corporations, can be bullied into submission by less than democratic regimes. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco Systems have all come under fire in Washington for their "sickening collaboration" with China's communist regime.
At a House human rights hearing a subcommittee chairman said their agreement to bar access to certain sites and give user information to authorities, sometimes leading to arrests, was "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" in the country. The statements by New Jersey Republican Christopher Smith launched a much-anticipated session aimed at looking into the companies' dealings in China, where they are suspected of trading off human rights for the sake of scoring business in the world's biggest market.
Lawmakers are looking into the alteration of some of the companies' online services to conform with the requirements of the regime, changing anything from search engines to blogging tools, thus enabling authorities to improve their surveillance of citizens. This left Google in an uncomfortable stance because it had made these allowances to China while denying its own U.S. government the right to user information in its fight to deter pedophiles from using the internet. "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night," said California Democrat Tom Lantos.
While the companies argued that their services created more outlets for freedom of expression and that conforming with government regulations represented an acceptable compromise, this is something they did reluctantly explained Google's Elliot Schrage "This was not something we did enthusiastically, or not something that we're proud of at all."
In the end perhaps the best hopes for democracy lie in its invisible hand, argued one lawmaker. "China is not going to be any more successful at filtering and firewalling everything than we are. If you have them there, people will get through those firewalls and get information that they otherwise wouldn't, and I think we have to be mindful of that." Appropriately, his name was Adam Smith.

Haiti aux urnes  
Le jour où la plupart des 3,5 millions d'électeurs haitiens se sont présentés aux urnes n'était pas de tout repos, mais pour plusieurs les heures d'attente dans le désordre étaient un mal nécessaire pour redonner de l'espoir dans un des pays les plus pauvres du globe.
Il y a 202 ans Jean-Jacques Dessaline, un ancien esclave, s'était proclamé empereur d'un Haiti indépen-dant. Ces jours-ci certains diront que c'est bien ce dont Haiti a besoin, un empereur pour faire régner l'ordre, mais lors de cette longue et peu reluisante histoire, le chef revêtait souvent des allures de despote.
Même Jean-Bertrand Aristide, le petit prêtre du peuple, premier dirigeant élu démo-cratiquement porté par les urnes presque deux siècles après l'indépendance, n'a pas échappé à cette triste tradition politique haitienne.
Ce manque d'ordre explique que l'on ai repoussé à quatre reprises ces élections promises en octobre, période durant laquelle un ancien policier canadien venu entrainer les forces de l'ordre a été assassiné, suivi par le suicide du commandant brésilien de la MINUSTAH le 7 janvier. La mission de l'ONU a perdu neuf de ses soldats depuis son arrivée en juin 2004, dont deux Jordaniens tués dans Cité Soleil trois semaines avant l'élection.
Si celle-ci a bien lieu c'est notamment en raison d'une injonction du Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU et du Conseil permanent de l'Organisation des États américains (OEA) demandant au gouvernement d'organiser le scrutin pas plus tard que le 7 février. Les 9000 soldats et policiers de l'ONU ne suffisent pas à rétablir l'ordre deux ans après l'expulsion d'Aristide, d'autant plus qu'une bonne partie des policiers locaux sont corrompus, tandis que les soldats sont accusés de faire bien peu pour rétablir le calme.
Le Brésil a conservé le commandement de la mission malgré le choc du suicide, mais les soldats sous son commandement manquent parfois de sang froid ou de connaissances linguistiques et peuvent avoir la gachette facile. Ce qu'il faudrait, expliquait le chef de mission de l'ONU au Globe & Mail, c'est quelques soldats canadiens qui ont comme atouts l'expérience et la langue.
Pour l'heure l'ONU tente toujours de rétablir l'ordre et d'affaiblir les gangs dans un pays où les armes peuvent être plus accessibles que l'emploi. Même le candidat choyé de Cité-Soleil, le bidonville de 200000 âmes qu'évitent aussi les forces de l'ONU, le protégé d'Aristide, René Préval, favori au scrutin, a dû annuler des événements de campagne après avoir été la cible de tirs lors d'un événement prédécent.
Le seul président récent à avoir complété son mandat de 5 ans (1996-2001) estime qu'il faut de l'investissement et des emplois, mais avant tout, la paix. Les résultats préliminaires confirmaient son statut de favori des sondages pré-électoraux, du moins dans la capitale. Son adversaire, le riche homme d'affaires Charles-Henri Baker, obtenait 10% des intentions selon un sondage précédent. Le vainqueur n'aura pas vraiment une position enviable, étant à la tête d'un bien pauvre pays où 80% de la population est au chômage et où l'enlèvement contre rançon semble être la seule activité prospère.
Etant donné le nombre de candidats et de partis en lice, les vainqueurs auront probablement du mal à former une majorité stable. Des centaines de candidats se disputaient les 129 sièges du Parlement, dont Dany Toussaint, un garde-du-corps d'Aristide impliqué dans l'assassinat d'un journaliste selon des groupes humanitaires, et 33 personnes, dont un trafiquant d'armes présumé et un ancien chef de la rébellion qui a chassé Artistide en février 2004, briguent la magistrature suprême.
Après une journée électorale mouvementée, le lendemain, jour de décompte, paraissait beaucoup plus paisible alors que les organisateurs transportaient les urnes par hélicoptère, camion ou mulet, vers les centres de décompte. Quelques jours seraient sans doute nécessaires avant d'obtenir les résultats tant attendus par les candidats. Préval n'a pas perdu de temps avant de se faire voir en train de danser dans un village dès le 8 février.
Aristide lui-même, en exil en Afrique du sud, n'est sur aucune liste mais il reste dans le coeur de plusieurs Haitiens, notamment des classes défavorisées, dont il était le champion. Si Préval l'emporte, la question du retour d'Aristide, qui en est à son second exil depuis son élection en 1991, ne saurait tarder à s'imposer, et à diviser davantage cette ile partagée par deux pays.

Les dessins de la colère    Les dessins
Pour un bien petit pays, une bien grande polémique. La sirène de Copenhague qui jadis attirait les navigateurs de la Baltique s'attire désormais la fureur des Musulmans. La crise à retardement qui a suivi la publication de douze caricatures de Mahomet dans le journal danois Jyllands-Posten remontant à septembre a attisé une colère considérable dans le monde musulman, provocant des réactions allant de l'appel au boycott et du rappel des diplomates en poste aux menaces de mort, jusqu'à l'attaque des ambassades danoises au Moyen-Orient.
Alors que les Vikings voguaient jadis les mer indomptées sans l'ombre d'un doute, leur ministère des affaires étrangères recommande de ne pas visiter une douzaine de pays en raison des manifestations. Des Scandinaves interdits de séjour, du jamais vu depuis Eric le Rouge! Plusieurs personnes sont mortes lors de manifestations contre les caricatures en Afghanistan tandis que le ministre de l'intérieur libanais rendait sa démission après le saccage et l'incendie de l'ambassade danoise à Beyrouth.
Il faut dire que depuis la publication originale des caricatures, pourtant en général pas particulièrement réussies et de fort mauvais goût, celles-ci ont été reprises par plusieurs journaux occidentaux à la suite des colères suscitées par la reproduction des images dans un magazine norvégien le mois dernier. Les virulents appels dans le monde arabe à la rétractation et à la condamnation des publications concernées ont à leur tour provoqué le soulèvement de la presse européenne courant à la défense de ses droits.
Le Premier ministre danois croyait avoir mis fin à la crise avant qu'elle n'éclate véritablement lorsqu'il a fait circuler une lettre condamnant "toute action ou propos qui essaie de diaboliser certains groupes en raison de leur religion ou appartenance ethnique" par l'entremise de la Ligue arabe en janvier. Mais la tournée de certains imams danois munis des douze caricatures, et apparemment aussi de dessins plus insultants qui n'avaient jamais été publiés, a ravivé les flammes. Depuis de fausses rumeurs de destruction de Coran au Danemark se sont ajoutées au lot.
Les dessins furents repris dans plusieurs journaux d'Espagne, d'Italie et d'Allemagne, mais la décision du quotidien France Soir d'emboiter le pas, dans le pays européen qui compte le plus de Musulmans, a augmenté les tensions d'un cran, notamment au sein du quotidien dont le propriétaire, Raymond Lakah, a limogé son directeur "en signe fort de respect des croyances religieuses et des convictions intimes de chaque individu". Le geste de M. Lakah, un franco-égyptien catholique anciennement associé à la NPU lors d'un projet de magazine, a suscité un tollé au sein du quotidien ainsi que la réprobation de la classe politique.
Mais si certains politiciens s'avouaient "très choqués" par ce renvoi il n'empêche que des missions françaises dans le monde arabe ont redoublé leurs excuses, l'ambassade à Alger allant jusqu'à condamner la publication des caricatures. Il faut dire que les réactions du monde arabe, où la France se veut un interlocuteur, notamment dans les anciennes colonies, ont atteint un niveau qui dépasse l'interdit de distribution des quotidiens français.
Alors que des hommes armés s'en prenaient à la mission de l'UE à Gaza tout en menaçant les ressortissants européens de représailles, des Musulmans se sont attaqués aux ambassades du Danemark à Djakarta, pays musulman le plus peuplé de la planête, ainsi qu'en Syrie, au Liban et en Iran. En Turquie les autorités ne savaient pas encore s'il fallait relier l'assassinat d'un prêtre catholique aux images. En Jordanie un rédacteur qui avait choisi de reproduire les images et avait été limogé a ensuite été arrêté tandis que des enquêtes étaient ouvertes sur d'autres journaux qui avaient publié dans le monde arabe. Evidemment on ne compte plus les manifestations qui se sont emparées des rues de Kaboul à Rabat.
Pour certains l'écart entre la date initiale de publication et les manifestations démontre une certaine manipulation et récupération des mouvements islamiques. Certains proposaient d'ailleurs un concours pour dénicher la meilleure caricature sur l'holocauste, autre signe que les appels au calme de certains imams occidentaux sont tombés sur des oreilles de sourds.
Les incidents ne sont pas sans rappeler les violences entrainées par la publication d'un article de Newsweek qui avait faussement laissé croire qu'un Coran avait été détruit lors d'un interrogatoire à Guantanamo, ou encore les Versets Sataniques de Salman Rushdie en 1989, l'objet d'une fatwa contre l'auteur.
Pour certains en Europe, les incidents démontrent davantage les excès que dénonçaient les caricatures, des gestes d'intolérance qui dans le passé avaient mené à l'assassinat en 2004 du cinéaste néerlandais Theo Van Gogh. Ironie du sort, le suspect principal, également accusé d'être un leader terroriste, Mohammed Bouyeri, évoquait la semaine dernière le Coran et la théologie pour tenter de justifier l'exercice de la violence par les Musulmans lors de son plaidoyer.
La crise exacerbe les tensions entre Musulmans et Européens de souche sur le vieux continent où le port du voile, la question d'immigration, les attaques terroristes et la guerre en Irak ont créé des divisions allant aux affrontements. La polémique a atteint un niveau tel qu'une médiation internationale a été jugée nécessaire en quelque sorte. Le secrétaire général de l'Onu, Kofi Annan, a lui-même réagi à la controverse en estimant que la liberté de la presse doit s'exercer dans le respect des religions mais en appelant aussi à résoudre le problème par un dialogue pacifique.
En Amérique Le Devoir a repris une caricature pour fin d'illustration mais "non pas de se lancer dans une guerre avec le monde musulman" selon son rédacteur en chef, un rare cas. Le département d'État américain a de son côté déploré la publication des dessins dans la presse européenne, la caractérisant d'"offensive aux croyances des Musulmans". La chaine CNN a diffusé certaines images mais en brouillant leurs parties offensives. La BBC quant à elle l'a fait plus ouvertement mais en reproduisant des images des pages de journaux où elles avaient été publiées. Londres considère la reprise des images par la presse insultant.
Curieusement les deux pays ne manquaient pas d'ennemis musulmans quant ils ont lancé l'offensive en Irak. Les Etats-Unis ne sont pas restés spectateurs longtemps. Alors qu'ils donnaient leur appui au Danemark et qu'ils accusaient la Syrie et l'Iran d'encourager les manifestants, ceux-ci se sont tournés vers des intérêts américains.
Le Premier ministre du pays à l'origine de la querelle, le Danois Anders Fogh Rasmussen, estime de son côté que les enjeux sont désormais la liberté d'expression en Occident et les tabous de l'islam, la deuxième religion dans de nombreux pays européens. "Il s'agit d'une affaire d'une importance fondamentale concernant la façon dont fonctionnent les démocraties", a-t-il déclaré au quotidien danois Politiken. Il a refusé de s'excuser pour la publication d'images dans une presse libre et indépendante mais a redoublé les efforts diplomatiques pour encourager le dialogue avec le monde arabe.
La fureur des Musulmans, dont la religion juge blasphématoire toute représentation du prophète, s'est répandue dans plusieurs capitales, allant de l'indignation du président égyptien, Hosni Moubarak, à la justification d'imposer des limites à la liberté de la presse du Premier ministre turc Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Tandis que les caricaturistes à l'origine des dessins se sont barricadés et craignent pour leur vie, les autres 5 millions et demie de ressortissants danois ne pouvaient que regarder avec consternation le spectacle de leur drapeau incendié, dont la croix rappelle d'ailleurs ses origines de croisade. Un des plus vieux étendards au monde, le danneborg remonte en effet, ironiquement, au 13ème siècle, période où les croisades danoises cherchaient à christianiser l'Estonie.
Le monde arabe a-t-il pris ces illustration trop au sérieux? Comme pour rappeler que le christianisme avait rencontré de pareilles controverses, les Britanniques ont choisi cette semaine le pastiche de la vie du Christ, Life of Bryan de Monty Python, comme meilleure comédie jamais produite selon un sondage de Channel 4. Le film avait créé tout un tollé à l'époque, tout comme le numéro 2 au palmarès: the Holy Grail.

Even worse than you think
The gunmen left their weapons at the door and entered the Gaza strip polling station to cast their vote but judging by the international reaction to Hamas' victory in the Palestinian election they may as well have walked straight in.
For weeks the international community has urged the warring factions in the recently evacuated territories to drop their weapons and hold elections but when it got its wish it got a nasty surprise as well as militant group Hamas, better known for its hatred of Israel and terror attacks, won a majority of the votes. Earlier fears were it would form a large opposition, that proved just wishful thinking.
Hamas won 76 of the assembly's 132 seats in a vote seen by many as a protest vote to end four decades of rule by the corruption-riddled Fatah, but dealing the peace process a serious blow as well. Hamas initially said it wasn't interested in discussing its relations with Israel. Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia and his cabinet resigned to make room for the incoming government but international leaders reacted with shock and rejection, starting with Israel.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas members, as senior Cabinet officials held an emergency meeting to discuss the repercussions of the vote. Acting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asked the EU not to deal with a "terror government."
"If your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace, and we're interested in peace," U.S. President George Bush said in Washington while Prime minister Steven Harper said Canada would not deal with Hamas. The victory seemed to catch Hamas by surprise as well, offering to share power with President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, and going on the air to urge international observers not to "be afraid". The Arab world greeted the victory more enthusiastically.
But in the days following victory protesters urged Abbas to resign, while other demonstrations painted a worrisome image of post-electoral Palestine as political rivals battled in the streets. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said the group would extend its year-old truce with Israel if it reciprocates. "If not, then I think we will have no option but to protect our people and our land," he said. But another leader also vowed to "complete the liberation of other parts of Palestine." He did not say which territories he was referring to or how he would go about it. A division leaving a very troubling picture in Palestine.
While some optimistically point to the PLO of Yasser Arafat, which dropped the armed struggle before it gained political power, others fear Hamas' victory will embolden it to be more aggressive rather than moderate its tone.
The election was praised by controversial Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has also called for Israel's destruction. The election of Hamas and Ahmadinejad are a blow to Bush's goal of spreading democracy to the Mideast, say critics who point to other extremists gaining power by the ballot box, from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, to Lebanon's Hizbollah or Iraq's more radical Shiite candidates. Not that the alternative is appealing. After Algeria cancelled elections won by Islamists in 1991 the country plunged into a civil war which killed 100,000.
Palestine gets hundreds of millions of its budget from foreign aid, and Hamas rejected threats the aid could be halted unless it changed its stance on Israel and renounced violence. It decried "unfair conditions" that would hurt Palestinians. Earlier it had hoped to woo the US, EU and other countries not to halt the funds by promising they would not be used for weapons.
But after the initial shock positions started to soften. Israel reluctantly handed its latest tax payments to the Palestinians but warned future payments would be handled on a case by case basis forcing the Palestinian Authority to seek the financial assistance of Arab countries. Then in a change of tone Hamas leaders said the group may talk to Israel, but without changing its policy. Not ground-breaking, but a start.

Martin to resign as party leader after tories win minority                                                                                        
The winds of change that swept through Canada on a rather balmy Jan. 23 were hardly gale-force phenomenon. Perhaps all the ingredients for a violent overthrow of the liberals were gathered: an outrage of liberal mishandling of funds , the growing popularity of Tory leader Stephen Harper and a participation rate well above that of the last few elections, nearly 65%. But the nearly 15 million Canadians who did drop their ballot across some 60,000 voting stations nationwide barely gave Harper the cautious go-ahead they had denied him 18 months earlier.
The liberals had lost an opportunity to prove a wrong right, and so the conservatives would get their chance. "We will honor your trust and we will deliver on our commitments," he declared in his victory speech. The results of the election were true to polls showing the conservatives with a
36.3% to 30% lead, but the 124 seats, 21 more than the liberals, showed Canadians wanted a sample of a leader whose views many still consider extreme, rather than sweeping him into power.
The Tory win put an end to 13 years of liberal politics but secured less seats than the grits had managed to salvage in 2004 despite Harper's lucrative move to the center during the campaign. Harper sought to reassure Canadians and foreign viewers about the extent of the change ushered in. "The results tonight signal a change in government not a change in country. We will stay the course of balanced budgets, low inflation, economic stability. We will continue to defend our values and democratic ideals around the globe," he said.
The change for the liberals, who had suffered a loss less stinging than many would have imagined a week ago, but one hardly contemplated a month ago, was no less dramatic. The liberals maintained much of their support in the Atlantic provinces but it was all downhill from there. They suffered their worse score ever in Quebec, winning just 13 seats, while the Tories, substituting as new federalists, made enough inroads to deny the separatist Bloc either more seats or over 50% of the popular vote, a record endorsement for any sovereigntist option that seemed within reach.
While the Tories made some inroads into Ontario, they failed to make the break in Toronto that could have given them a majority, an were shut out of the other major urban centers of Montreal and Vancouver. Their expected sweep of the West, including Calgary and Edmonton, showed that the shift of economic power which had materialised in the last few years had finally translated into political power. "The West has wanted in, the West is in now," said the Toronto-born leader whose riding is in Calgary.
The liberals lost their only seat in that city, a loss Super Annie, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, would attribute to a need to back a national campaign gone terribly wrong. At the beginning of the long 56-day campaign which officially started when the liberals lost a vote of no-confidence in the commons in late November, polls indicated Canadians would probably re-elect a liberal minority government, possibly ending Harper's short tenure as party leader. Instead Harper's smart and discliplined campaign, limited to one announcement per day, starting with the appealing prospect of reducing the GST, clashed with a liberal campaign going from sand trap to sand trap.
On election night, Martin ended a 17-year drive for the leadership of the country when he announced he would be stepping down as party leader but would stay on as re-elected MP of Lasalle. "I will not lead the party in the next election," Martin declared. "In the coming days I will consult caucus and the party's leadership in order to come across with a good transition and ensure efficient leadership in the House of Commons."
Liberal strategists said the party would be a formidable opponent in the Commons and would rebuild, putting an end to Chretien-Martin internal squabbles that had marked the beginning of the end of the long reign of a party which has dominated Canadian politics since the second world war.
Perhaps a measure of how things had turned sour was signs of supporters and local candidates getting out of their way to distance themselves from the national campaign, and early talk of a successor to Paul Martin. Last week Buzz Hargrove, the labor leader who threw his support behind Martin instead of the usual NDP, became a liability when he urged people to stop Harper "any way they can" - even if that means supporting the separatist Bloc Quebecois, a statement he later retracted but not before embarras-sing Martin.
The daily snafus went deep into the party as well as McLellan's admission showed. She complained that having to play defense left little time to get out a positive message in the latter stages of the campaign. In fact little positive came out of the liberal campaign. The last-ditch massive ad campaign to recapture some of the support lost since the new year backfired when one of the ads had to be pulled, casting doubts on the others. One Western Liberal official heavily criticized the ad, which claimed Harper wanted to put troops in Canada's streets.
With a critical book on Martin's administration coming out the day of the final round of the televised debates, which Martin needed to win convincingly, there had been little room for error. Canadians even started to prefer Harper to Martin as leader, no longer seeing him as the bogeyman once painted out to be. What a difference a few weeks had made.
The holiday period which was supposed to signal a truce for the candidates during this extended campaign saw the liberals pile on the condemnations, led by a finance minister tied to accusations of leaks ahead of a major and now controversial announcement about income trusts. Within days of the new year the RCMP announced two investigations into affairs related to the Liberals. In addition to the income trust investigation the Mounties were looking into Option Canada which received $4.8 million from Heritage Canada in 1995 to defend federalism in Quebec.
The new charges, after a year of combatting the fall-out of the Gomery report, were too much for the spin doctors of the red machine to work around, handing the conservatives their first leads in the polls, and their leader the image of Mr Clean. Despite being exonerated by Gomery the charges perpetuated the stigma of backroom deals and corruption.
The liberals tried to run on their record, stressing budget surpluses that they insist will disappear under the Tories. But their record has also been tarnished by the scandals of millions of misspent public funds. Martin warned voters that Harper would renege on the Kyoto climate change accord, reopen a recent $5-billion deal with natives, scrap liberal plans for a national child-care program and stressed the election came down to one question: "Who do I think reflects my values?"
Harper is against gay marriage, which is legal in Canada, and is less critical of the U.S. ballistic missile program but would also seek to re-establish ties with the U.S. strained by Canada's refusal to send soldiers to Iraq. His election was greeted favorably in Washington, as the White House rushed to congratulate Harper on his victory.
Perhaps Harper's only campaign slip was trying to reassure voters there would be nothing to fear from a Tory majority government and that would be kept well in check. "The reality is we will have, for some time to come, a Liberal Senate, Liberal civil service - at least senior levels have been appointed by the Liberals - and courts that have been appointed by the Liberals."
The election results are another check, preventing the Tories from reading too much into their victory which was far from being a revolution or an endorsement of neo-conservative policies. But they at least get their chance to show their stuff.

Canadians increasingly targeted in Afghanistan

Another week another attack against Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan as the military presence there steadily increases to some 2,000 troops. After troops discovered and dismantled a major truck bomb last week another bomb went off this Monday, injuring none. Meanwhile the health of one of the soldiers injured two weeks ago was said of deteriorating.

Defense Department officials had been warning for months that Canada's rebuilding mission in Southern Afghanistan would be dangerous. Prime minister Paul Martin confirmed earlier this month one Canadian diplomat was killed and three soldiers injured in a suicide attack.

Defence Department officials say Foreign Affairs political veteran Glyn Berry was travelling near Kandahar when a vehicle-borne bomb exploded near the convoy of military G-wagons in which he was travelling. Three Canadian soldiers were also wounded in the blast — Pte. William Edward Salikin, Cpl. Jeffrey Bailey and Master Cpl. Paul Franklin. Afghan civilians were also killed.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I want to express my condolences to the family of the individual who was killed, and our prayers and best wishes to the family of the deceased and to the families of the injured," Martin said. "Our participation in the mission in Kandahar is essentially establishing peace and security. It's in a nation that is struggling to find its way."

The new G-wagons replaced the ageing Iltis military vehicles whose lack of armor were blamed for past military deaths in the past. So far no Canadian soldier has been killed in the reinforced vehicle despite a number of bomb attacks against troops in Afghanistan.
The attack came a few days after US forces conducted air strikes against Pakistani positions suspected of harboring al-Qaida members. Pakistan condemned on Saturday the deadly airstrike on a village near the Afghan border, which reportedly targeted al Qaeda's deputy leader, and left at least 18 people dead.

The south of the country remains the battle-ground of warlords and Taleban, whom the government in Kabul invited to take part in talks to stabilize the country.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, claimed responsibility, warning that "these attacks will continue for a long time. We have many more suicide attackers ready to go."

"We will continue this strategy until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan," he said.

There have been about 25 suicide bombings in the past four months in Afghanistan — a relatively new tactic for militants here and one that has reinforced fears that this country may see more assaults modeled on those in Iraq.

Canada has about about 650 troops in Afghanistan, nearly all in Kandahar. Ottawa plans to increase the Canadian military presence in Kandahar to 2,000 next month.

Violence across southern and eastern Afghanistan had spiked last year, leaving about 1,600 people dead, the most since 2001.

Under a multinational brigade led by a Canadian general, about half of the troops arriving next month will change Canada's role in the country, taking their fight to the enemy in remote villages and mountains.

They will venture far from the airfield base where a monument fashioned after an Inuit Inukshuk memorializes Canadians killed in Afghanistan.

Una mujer pas comme les autres
Le Chili a peut-être réussi à enterrer son passé martial, il lui restait néanmois à mettre fin à la dictature masculine au poste de président. L'élection de Michelle Bachelet avec 53 % des voix représente alors une révolution en soi dans un pays traditionellement très conservateur où l'avortement est encore un délit et où le divorce a été légalisé il y a seulement deux ans.
La socialiste anciennement exilée semble voguer sur le véritable tsunami gauchiste qui balaye l'Amerique latine depuis l'élection de Luiz Lula da Silva au Bresil en 2002, mais incarne une vision toute autre que la ligne dure du vénézuélien Hugo Chavez ou du bolivien Evo Morales, récemment élu. Elle se retrouve en revanche dans les propos plus modérés de Néstor Kirchner en Argentine et Tabaré Vasquez en Uruguay.
Bachelet aura certainement l'intention de corriger les inégalités qui sévissent dans ce pays relativement prospère du continent, mais sans pour autant renier le modèle libéral qui distingue le Chili depuis des années dans la région. Le parcours de cette mère célibataire et agnostique, dans un pays majoritairement catholique, n'a pas été facile. "Femme, divorcée, socialiste, agnostique: tous les péchés réunis", plaisantait-elle.
La pédiatre fait son entrée en tant que ministre de la Santé en 2000 avant de devenir la première femme au ministère de la Défense. L'époque était significative en raison des poursuites judiciaires lancées contre Pinochet. Alors qu'elle ne constitue pas la première femme présidente d'Amérique latine, elle se distingue en se faisant élire sans profiter du sillage politique d'un mari, comme Violeta Chamorro au Nicaragua ou encore Maria Peron en Argentine, qui a dans son cas succédé son mari après sa mort.
Si une vague de gauche balaye l'Amerique latine, il faut noter que cette vague au féminin fait des siennes sur l'échiquier international. Remportant son élection alors que la libérienne Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf prêtait serment lors de son investiture à la presidence, Bachelet perpétue en ce moment un mouvement de féminisation important qui a l'air de gambader de continent en continent.
En effet Sirleaf avait elle-même remporté son élection l'automne dernier alors que l'on procédait à l'investiture d'Angela Merkel en Allemagne. A quoi faut-il s'attendre d'ici l'investiture de Bachelet, à son tour prevue le 11 mars?
Même les Français se sont mis à rêver, depuis que Ségolène Royal s'est déplacé au Chili pour soutenir son amie Michelle Bachelet. En effet pourquoi n'éliraient-ils pas eux aussi une femme à la tête de l'État? Le «phénomène Ségolène» est une première puisque la présidente socialiste de la région de Poitou-Charentes caracole en tête des sondages en France. C'est peut-être pour plus tard.
Devant une foule en liesse rassemblée le soir de son élection Bachelet a pris le titre de «la présidente des citoyens» et promis de mener «un nouveau style de politique nationale, plus participative». «Mon engagement est qu'au terme du mandat de mon gouvernement, en 2010, nous ayons un système de protection sociale consolidé qui assurera aux Chiliens et à leurs familles la tranquillité d'avoir un emploi décent», a-t-elle déclaré dans un hôtel de Santiago.
Son adversaire Sebastian Pinera reconnut la signification historique de sa défaite. «Je tiens à féliciter mon adversaire, non seulement parce qu'elle devient la première présidente du Chili mais je veux aussi rendre hommage aux millions de femmes qui ont lutté pour parvenir à la place qui leur revient», a-t-il déclaré.

Rumble over Iran
While the U.S. may have led the charge against Baghdad, countries vocally opposed to the war in Iraq are recommending that Iran be referred to the U.N. Security council and are drafting document to reverse Tehran's decision to do research that could develop the technology to create nuclear weapons. Israel meanwhile says it will never accept Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Admitting failure in trying to reach a negotiated settlement with Iran, France and Germany, joined by Britain, made the announcement hours before the U.S. called on the United Nations to confront Iran's "defiance" and demand that Tehran halt its nuclear program.
"From our point of view, the time has come for the UN Security Council to become involved," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany said in reaction to Iran's decision to resume experiments at a nuclear enrichment plant in Natanz.
France, Britain and Germany began circulating a draft resolution that asks the U.N. nuclear watchdog to report Iran's nuclear programme to the Security Council, opening the door to possible U.N. sanctions. The draft has been distributed to key members of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, whose board of governors will vote on it at an emergency meeting of the 35-nation body.
Meanwhile Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not rule out military options in dealing with Iran but declined to say whether the United States has the necessary votes at the Security Council to punish Iran.
Rice stressed "a very important threshold has been crossed" adding Iran was now in "dangerous defiance of the entire international community."
Seeking to reassure the U.N., which stresses that negotiations are still ongoing, Rice later underlined that immediate sanctions were not yet an option at the Security Council. "Everybody wants to give the Iranians a chance to show us -- to reconsider their position," she said.
Long-time ally Russia meanwhile stressed it was counting on Iran's compliance with international regulations on nuclear development and said it would take part in a meeting with three European Union countries, the United States and China in London to discuss the situation surrounding Iranian nuclear development. China and Russia are reluctant to let the case get to the Security Council.
Moscow previously offered to enrich Iranian uranium re-exported it to Iran, a compromise which was rejected. It still hoped to use this as a solution to the escalating crisis but the UK in turn rejected the initiative.
"Iran has removed the seals from a uranium enrichment plant and therefore urgent consultations are needed," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Interfax.
"Canada deeply regrets that Iran’s confrontational actions have led to an impasse in the European trio’s diplomatic efforts and urges Iran to fully suspend all uranium enrichment activities, including conversion," Ottawa weighed in. "The involvement of the UNSC is now necessary in order to reinforce the authority of the IAEA and the credibility of the multilateral nuclear non-proliferation system, and to help facilitate a diplomatic solution."
Concealing a weapons of mass destruction program from inspectors in the Middle-east is becoming a familiar scenario. Iran says that its nuclear activities are aimed only at generating electricity, a claim some find surprising in an energy-rich country.
The claim is disputed by Americans and Europeans who point to years of clandestine nuclear activity by Iran later an unwillingness to accomodate IAEA inspectors.
Iran remained defiant, promising to stay the course in the face of international pressure. "Colonial taboos" will not keep Iran from developing its nuclear abilities, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani said, stressing the standoff with the West "has reached its climax."
Rafsanjani has rallied to the side of Iran's controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has made a number of controversial gestures and statements, some widely condemned, since taking over the presidency last year.
The morning after the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran was elected president in June, he made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to some heralding a new period of defiance with the West. Next he banned Western music from Iran's radio and television stations, reviving a cultural decree from the early days of the 1979 revolution.
He was just warming up. Ahmadinejad then caught everybody's attention calling for Israel to be "to be wiped off the map" or moved to Europe of North America, and referred to the Holocaust as a myth.
In a reversal of years of trying to end Iran's international isolation under former President Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad fired some 40 diplomats who looked favorably on ties with the West, while reformists were bumped in the regions.
While some argue the president is trying to consolidate his power internally by trying to isolate Iran again, many in the country are a bit worried by the rhetoric voiced by Tehran. Others fear a fundamentalist has taken the helm, believing in the return of the 12th imam that will herald the apocalypse, not in the distant future, but in a matter of years. This has brought Iran's dabbling in the nuclear industry under a blinding new light.
On Friday Iran said it would end voluntary cooperation with the United Nations over its nuclear program, including snap checks of atomic sites, if it is referred to the Security Council for possible sanctions, a move sure to ratchet the up pressure.
In the past it hinted it could wreak havoc on the oil markets if such a threat came forward. Present tensions have already returned oil prices well over $60. Iran's importance in the energy markets is causing concern sanctions may squeeze the industry and keep prices elevated.
World capitals brace for an international showdown on weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. designated intelligence managers for two world hot spots, North Korea and Iran, clearly indicating where the priorities lay in Washington.

Sharon sombre dans le coma
Il suffisait de voir l'embonpoint du premier ministre Ariel Sharon, à presque 78 ans le dirigeant israélien en exercice le plus âgé, pour se douter, malgré les rapports de santé reluisants, que les menaces qui le guettaient n'étaient pas uniquement politiques.
La deuxième hospitalisation du chef israélien suite à une attaque cardiaque en autant de semaines, plus grâve celle-là car marquée pas une importante hémorragie cérébrale, remet tout en question sur la scène politique nationale et régionale, à près de deux mois du scrutin qui devait mettre à l'épreuve la nouvelle formation politique du dénommé "bull-dozer". Dans la nuit du 4 au 5 janvier, l'ex-général n'était jamais paru si dépourvu de moyens, une légion de neurophysiciens s'acharnant sur son sort dans le bloc opératoire de l'hôpital Hadassah.
Après un bref retour en chirurgie vendredi pour stopper une nouvelle hémorragie les docteurs du premiers ministre constatent une stabilisation encourageante de son état de santé. Les efforts de réanimation graduelle lundi, en limitant l'anesthésie qui le préservait dans le coma, ont permis de constater que le cerveau du premier ministre était fonctionnel et que Sharon préservait une certaine motricité selon ses docteurs.  
Après des années de relative stabilité sur l'eccentrique scène politique israélienne, la crise au plus haut niveau du pouvoir plonge dans une zone inconnue l'Etat hébreu, dirigé dans l'intérim par le vice-premier ministre Ehoud Olmert, sans parler du processus de paix israélo-palestinien. Car la formation politique lancée par Sharon après son abandon du Likoud repose largement sur ses épaules et la popularité personnelle du premier ministre à elle seule explique l'avance du Kadima dans les sondages face à Benjamin Netanyahu, solidement opposé au retrait israélien des territoires occupés entamé l'an dernier.
Déjà les signes semblaient moins prometteurs dans la bande de Gaza, où le report des élections prévues pour le 25 janvier n'est pas exclu étant donné les violences qui opposent les différentes factions palestiniennes, minant l'autorité du président Mahmoud Abbas au risque de plonger les territoires dans l'anarchie. Les réactions palestiniennes à l'arrêt cardiaque du président ont fait état de ces divisions, Abbas lui souhaitant un prompt rétablissement, redoutant même les "dangers" de la situation actuelle, tandis que la ligne dure palestinienne fêtait son malheur.
Quoiqu'il advienne peu d'observateurs estiment un retour en politique possible pour Sharon s'il sort éventuellement de son coma médicamenteux, remettant en question le processus de la paix qu'il s'engageait à suivre ces derniers temps. Alors que son éventuel successeur devrait suivre la même voie, il parviendrait difficilement à rallier un pareil appui.

La fronde contre Washington
Pour déplaire aux Etats-Unis, Evo Morales ne pouvait guère faire mieux que de choisir Cuba pour effectuer sa première visite officielle en tant que président Bolivien. En fait l'ancien cultivateur de coca, élu lors d'un raz-de-marée inhabituel le 18 décembre, n'a même pas attendu son investiture, prévue le 22 janvier, avant de visiter l'île interdite.
Sans encore d'avion présidentiel, Morales a commencé une tournée qui devrait l'emmener sur les quatre continents à bord d'un aéronef de Cubana de Aviacion pour le transporter à La Havane. Qualifiée de rencontre de "deux révolutions", celle-ci réunissait le pire des mondes pour Washington dans l'hémisphère: le dernier ennemi communiste du pré-carré et un dirigeant risquant de compromettre les efforts boliviens contre le trafic de la drogue.
"Il semble que la carte (politique en Amérique latine) soit en train de changer, a déclaré Castro. Il faut réfléchir, beaucoup observer et bien s'informer." L'étape cubaine ne durant pas plus que quelques heures, le geste posé était néanmoins fort. Il ne manquait plus qu'aller dire bonjour à Hugo Chavez au Vénézuéla, dirigeant qui partage avec Morales une vision plus radicale de cette gauche qui depuis quelques années balaye le continent latino-américain au grand dam de Washington.
L'absence initiale de Chavez de la liste des premières visites étonnait d'ailleurs les observateurs, même si les deux pays connaissaient plusieurs différends. Le nouveau maître de La Paz modifia son emploi du temps en conséquent, ajoutant à sa tournée inaugurale la capitale de cet autre mentor également honni par les Etats-Unis.
"Nous adhérons à ce combat anti-libéral et anti-impérialiste," s'est lancé Morales à Caracas. Chavez ne pouvait être en meilleure compagnie, retournant une des formules de Bush contre lui: "C'est Washington, ce sont eux qui sont l'axe du mal". Le spectacle ne pouvait être plus alarmant à la maison Blanche, où l'élection de Morales par voie démocratique, et par raz-de-marée électoral de surcroît, constitue un double cauchemar.
Troisième producteur mondial de cocaïne, après la Colombie et le Pérou, la Bolivie prône sous ce nouveau chef la dépénalisation internationale de la feuille de coca et la mise en valeur des plantations existantes. Morales cherche également à retirer la tutelle des Etats-Unis, qui contrôlent la police chargée de la lutte au narcotrafic, tout en travaillant avec les principaux destinataires de la cocaïne bolivienne, le Brésil et l'UE.
L'élection mettait tout de même un terme à des années d'instabilité en Bolivie, où l'on ne compte plus les changements de président depuis quelque temps. Avec 54% des suffrages, Morales, premier président indigène de l'histoire, a remporté la victoire la plus convaincante en Bolivie depuis le retour de la démocratie en 1980.
Sa visite pré-inaugurale inclut plusieurs pays, à l'exception des Etats-Unis, qu'il a récemment accusé de terrorisme en Irak et dont il a reproché une "sale campagne" pour empêcher son élection. Les adversaires de Morales affirment quant à eux que Morales a bénéficié du soutient financier de Caracas, ce qu'il nie.
En quête de solution afin de résoudre les problèmes socio-économiques de son pays, la tournée est surtout portée sur l'avenir des réserves d'hydrocarbures, dont il a annoncé la nationalisation. Une autre notion à faire frémir le camp Bush.

Toronto dreads new year as 1st homicide ushers in 2006
A stretch of one of Toronto's busiest commercial streets stood empty on usually crowd-packed boxing week, cordoned off by yellow police tape as investigators poured over possible clues on the city's 52nd shooting death of the year. While the 78 homicides in Canada's largest city in 2005 were still well short of its record 88 over a decade ago, the number of gun deaths is nearly double the 27 in 2004, sparking outrage rather than fear in a city that prides itself as being North America's safest large city.
Now police officials tragically deplore incidents of "babies killing babies" in Ontario's metropolis. Soon a makeshift flower memorial marked the spot where 15 year old Jane Creba died after being shot in the head when a gunfight broke out between as many as 15 youngsters outside a Foot Locker store near Yonge and Gould. Six other people were injured on a day one police officials said "Toronto has finally lost its innocence". "It was a tragic loss and tragic day," Detective Sgt. Savas Kyriacou said. Judging by the political reaction you would think the same can be said of the country in general.
"What we saw yesterday is a stark reminder of the challenge that governments, police forces and communities face to ensure that Canadian cities do not descend into the kind of rampant gun violence we have seen elsewhere," prime minister Paul Martin said after giving his condolences.
In a year which saw four RCMP officers killed in Alberta by a lone gunman and more recently a young Quebec policewoman killed answering a routine call of public disturbance, politicians including Martin and Toronto's mayor have blamed the rising number of cases on weapons smuggled in illegally from the United States.
Others point to a growing gang problem in Canada's largest city, where some 73 street gangs are said of embracing gun culture, 25 of them related to organized crime. The crisis quickly became a campaign issue, following Martin's vow earlier in December to ban handguns if his Liberals win re-election in the Jan. 23 parliamentary elections. But ownership of such weapons is already severely restricted, and critics accused him of playing politics with the violence spree.
Paul Martin later supported a call by the mayor and Ontario's premier to keep those arrested for gun-related crimes behind bars until trial. This week the Conservatives, now neck and neck with the Liberals in the polls, launched their official campaign platform also promising to crack down on crime. "What happened yesterday was appalling. You just don't expect it in a Canadian city," said Toronto Mayor David Miller, who stresses that while almost every other type of crime is down in Toronto, the supply of guns has increased and half of them come from the United States. "The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto," he charged.
But governments are looking into creating new opportunities and programs for youngsters, an admission the problem may lie in urban and social problems related to poverty, lack of opportunity and funding cutbacks. "There are neighborhoods in Toronto where young people face barriers of poverty, discrimination, and don't have real hope and opportunity," Miller conceded. "The kind of programs that we once took for granted in Canada, that would reach out to young people, have systematically disappeared over the past decade and I think that gun violence is a symptom of a much bigger problem."
Canada had 172 gun-related homicides in 2004, but for all the outcry the national numbers are drastically down from 271 in 1990. Toronto beat out Montreal's homicide rate years ago, now with 1.8 cases per 100,000 people, versus Montreal's 1.74. But the cities could not be more different as last year Montreal saw a record-level drop of cases to 35 homicides.
Now some Torontonians dread a new year which could see a surge in gun-related violence. They didn't have to wait very long, Toronto saw its first homicide of the year 2006 on new year's day.

Bush spooked at year's end
Tough times and slipping polls for the Bush administration have led to a humbler tone at year's end, but nothing has been as scathing as security-related, specifically intelligence-related issues. First the administration came under attack in November for CIA flights ferrying prisoners of the war on terror to secret bases across the world, sparking concerns they were being tortured.
Next the U.S. president, in a rare back-to-back address to the American people, admitted for the first time last month that the U.S. had invaded Iraq based on faulty intelligence, but still justified the removal of strongman Saddam Hussein.
Just days before, a New York Times story which had been held up for a year for security reasons disclosed a change of policy since Sept. 11 allowing eavesdropping on internal communications without the required warrants. That was the last straw for U.S. lawmakers who initially refused to renew the controversial Patriot Act, also passed after Sept. 11, allowing law enforcement more tools and leverage to fight terrorism. In the aftermath of the WMD and Abu Ghraib controversies, fears grew that the administration was oversepping its bounds by regularly flouting legal conventions at home and abroad.
Bush was critical of the NYT report as well as reluctance to renew the Patriot Act. "Congress has a responsibility to give our law enforcement and intelligence officials the tools they need to protect the American people," he said, arguing that it "helps us connect the dots" of terrorist plots, tying together clues in a manner not possible before the Sept. 11 attacks. After 9-11 America's intelligence agencies were accused of failing to collect and translate intercepts aggressively enough to catch the plotters.
While the Patriot Act was eventually extended for a month, much less than what the administration sought, the controversy over the snooping would not go away. As congressmen called for an inquiry, a Justice Department probe was launched into the NYT leak by the end of December.
The wire-tapping warrants are a requirement going much further back than Sept. 11., to a 1978 federal law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for domestic surveillance under extreme situations, but only with court approval. It followed recommendations of the Church committee which investigated abuses by US intelligence agencies in the 1970s and the scandals of the Nixon administration.
Some intelligence observers point out that it was perhaps unnecessary to conduct wire-taps without warrants simply because the body that allows them hardly questions the requests. "The FISA court is as big a rubber stamp as you can possibly get within the federal judiciary," says James Bamford, who wrote two books on the National Security Agency, America's top eavesdropping agency. Indeed, according to USA Today, brief annual reports of the activities of the secret court show that from 1979 through 2004 it granted 18,761 warrants and rejected five. Fewer than 100 had to be modified.
Of course there were other ways not to break the law and still wire-tap Americans, a former Canadian spook wrote in a 1994 book that revealed Canada's role in the Anglo-saxon international snooping network known as Echelon. While Canada's eavesdroppers had long ago been outed, in a 1974 Fifth Estate program of the CBC entitled "The Espionage Establishment" suggesting that the Communications Branch of the National Research Council was engaged in Signals Intelligence (largely for use by the CIA), Frost, a former eavesdropper, shared juicy details on the workings of Canada's most secretive agency, especially its missions conducted outside the country.
Before the 1978 U.S. legislation but not long after the Nixon scandals, the NSA requested Canada's equivalent, the then nascent Communications Security Establishment recently placed under the Department of National Defense, to conduct operations on U.S. soil to monitor an American citizen suspected of spying for the Soviets, Frost says in Spyworld. "What NSA asked Canada to do, though, did not conform to what American idealists would consider the democratic way. But it appears all's fair if the referee is looking the other way."
Echelon involves the eavesdropping agencies of Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New-Zealand. While the U.S. request came before the 1978 law and seemed out of the ordinary judging by the reaction of Frost's superiors, this sort of agencies doing each others' dirty work to avoid breaking national laws seemed to be more than an isolated case.
What really caused a stir surrounding the release of "Spyworld" were claims that CSE also monitored two of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's dissenting cabinet ministers in London on behalf of Britain's secret service. More recently, in 2003 a translator in Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency was sacked for leaking memos in which the NSA asked British officers to tap phones of nations voting on war against Iraq at the United Nations, in New York.
Although bound by its own domestic laws, including the Criminal Code, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Privacy Act, the CSE has, as the NSA, seen its powers expanded after Sept. 11 to allow the interception of foreign communications that begin or end in Canada, as long as the other party is outside the border.
Some fear this too may in turn become a casualty of increased intelligence activity, at the behest of U.S. agencies that give Canada much more data under their agreements than they get in return. Frost also noted occasional cases of internal eavesdropping, including the accidental recording of a conversation by a former U.S. ambassador, detailing secret trade negotiation strategies over the phone, and purposeful monitoring of Margaret Trudeau, to find out if she smoked marijuana.
This was hardly Canada's lone incident according to reporter Andrew Mitrovica whose more recent disclosure that CSE had illegally intercepted the communications of Canadians - including discussions between a woman and her gynecologist - rushed the appointment of retired chief justice Antonio Lamer as watchdog over CSE. Unlike the NSA, the CSE does not need to go to a court to get authorization to eavesdrop, it only needs the approval of the Minister of Defense.
In recent years the CSE has increased staffing and extended operations to a new building, and is mentioned as possible launching pad for intelligence capabilities that would have an international outreach. "Accidental" eaves-dropping of internal communications have also occurred south of the border due to technical difficulties in establishing whether one end of a phone call was, as regulations require it, truly international. In some cases people the NSA thought were outside the United States were actually on American soil.
The new U.S. eavesdropping policy, which officially only targets communications international in nature, with or without a warrant, was enough to incense one of the federal judges usually giving warrants a green light. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, resigned after he expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work.
Meanwhile three Democratic and two Republican senators have sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate's Judiciary and Intelligence committees, asking for an "immediate inquiry" into President Bush's authorization of a secret wiretapping program. "In your public statements to date, you have not made a convincing legal argument for the authority to do so," the senators said.
Then again the NSA may not have waited for Bush's green light, some reports suggest.More trouble may be in the wings as a former NSA spook, Russ Tice, promises to come clean on "probable unlawful constitutional acts conducted while I was an intelligence officer".