|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
10 - 16 May 2001
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Following a long tradition of examining strategic, political and economic transformations in different parts of the world an Al-Ahram delegation, headed by Ibrahim Nafie, embarked on a fact-finding mission to Eastern Europe.
Romania was the first stop in an Eastern European tour that will also take the mission to Poland, the Czech Republic and Yugoslavia.
In a frank interview with Ibrahim Nafie, Romanian President Ion Iliescu highlighted the key role played by President Hosni Mubarak in the quest for stability in the Middle East. President Iliescu expressed support for the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative aimed at re-opening channels of communication between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Of all the Eastern European countries that laboured under the Soviet orbit, Romania found it hardest to adjust to the rigours and demands of the post-Cold War era, and the Romanian uprising of 1989 that led to the collapse of communism was bloodier and more vicious than any in the other former Warsaw Pact nations.
On the political front Romania has made remarkable advances economically, though the country has found it extremely difficult to transform itself from a centralised to a free market economy. Half the Romanian population of 22 million live below the poverty line, but Romanians dream of joining both NATO and the European Union. Ironically, the income of a jobless person in Germany is twice that of the Romanian president.
The first of several interviews and reports to appear in Al-Ahram over the next four weeks, the full text of Nafie's interview with Iliescu will be published tomorrow.
Swimmer of the century
Egypt's legendary Adel-Latif Abu Heif has been unanimously named the long-distance swimmer of the century. The International Swimming Federation will present Abu Heif with an award for his achievement at a gala ceremony in the US state of Florida tomorrow. Abu Heif's contenders for the title were American Beni Dian, whose 1978 record swim of the English Channel is yet to be broken, and Groidet Eilsdar, the first woman to cross the English Channel in 1926.
Abu Heif was the first swimmer to cross the English Channel three times. He was also named World Swimming Champion for five years and, in 1963, was nominated the best swimmer in history by the International Professionals Long-Distance Swimming Federation.
No offenceTEAMS of US defence officials are gearing up to head east and delicately defuse the bomb dropped by US President George W Bush last week that his administration is considering a heftier version of Clinton's controversial National Missile Defence (NMD) system. The bigger, more elaborate programme would dissolve the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), the principal agreement that nuclear disarmament has relied on for the last three decades. Dubbed "son of Star Wars," the $100 billion plan breathes new life into the Republican dream of blasting nukes in space and points accusing fingers at US-appointed rogue states like North Korea and Iraq as potential keepers of long-range ballistic missiles pointed at US targets.
Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will lead perhaps the most significant diplomatic mission on 14-15 May to China, which is not an ABM-signatory. Two other missions will be dispatched to Europe and other parts of Asia, apparently to sell the unsaleable: no offence guys, but we just can't trust you. To critics claiming the threat is exaggerated, Bush can point to one notable programme: North Korea's ongoing missile programme, tested as recently as 1998.
Fly me to the moonFULL of smiles and superlative praise, American businessman and former space scientist Dennis Tito returned to Earth on Sunday after the successful completion of mankind's first space holiday. Tito, probably the only modern traveller proud to be identified as a "tourist," paid a staggering $20 million to the Russian space programme for an eight-day vacation of a lifetime as a guest on the International Space Station.
NASA grumbled that the presence of Tito hampered work on the station, but Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin praised the 60-year-old Tito's strength and camaraderie. The capsule touched down on Sunday in the Kazakhstan desert near Arkalyk -- "a great landing, a soft landing," Tito enthused. The three men were whisked off for a meeting with Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who told Tito that he had brought science fiction to life as an ordinary man in space. For Russia's financially impoverished space programme, Tito was a real gift, but NASA is clearly uncomfortable about the space tourism age. Package tours aren't exactly around the corner, but the US agency that brokered Tito's trip says it has a list of paying customers ready for their turn.
Overstaying his welcomeFOLLOWING long-building rumours that Zambian President Frederick Chiluba would seek an unconstitutional third term, lawmakers gathered last Thursday to start impeachment proceedings by calling an emergency parliamentary session. A slew of ministers from Chiluba's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) were dismissed last week for their refusal to accept a third term and on Friday, the cabinet was dissolved altogether. Evidently rattled by the threat of impeachment, Chiluba, Zambia's first democratically elected president, announced that he would not run for a third term, but said that the central African country needed ministers who could adequately serve the government and people.
Chiluba, who came to power in 1991 on the platform of building a strong democracy in the former British colony, called stepping down a "bitter pill to swallow" but adamantly denied that he would seek a third term. Evidently unconvinced by the president's assurances, a crowd of some 5,000 protesters gathered in Lusaka, but were ordered to disperse. When the demonstration persisted, police fired tear gas into the crowd and chaos erupted as people fled the scene. Chiluba could still hold a referendum on changing the constitution.
Unaccounted forVILLAGERS digging in the remote Andean town of Capaya, Peru, were dismayed to uncover the remains of some 20 bodies piled into a mass grave -- so dismayed that they cancelled the project to expand their local church and told no one for three years. But a team of Peruvian forensic anthropologists were on their way to Capaya on Saturday after authorities were finally tipped off by a villager.
The site, which is believed to contain three other similar graves, was once used as a military post during the late 1980s, when government forces were fighting a guerrilla war with the notorious Sandero Luminoso (Shining Path). The smaller Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement -- best known for its 126-day siege of a party at the Japanese ambassador's house in 1996 -- was also active in the area. Should the bodies turn out to be missing civilians, the discovery could deal a fatal blow to the campaign of former President Alan Garcia, who was president at the time in question and is running for president again against popular opposition leader Alejandro Toledo.
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