Yet those same polls show that Menem, 72, of the Peronist Party, is the surprising front runner in this Sunday's presidential election. Although his numbers are relatively small 18.3% vs. 16.8% for his closest competitor, Santa Cruz Governor Nestor Kirchner, another Peronist half of those polled say they think Menem will win. As bad as Menem may have been as President, say Argentine pundits,
Gulf War I Claimants: Frozen out?
U.S.A. Twelve years ago, during the first Gulf War, marine pilot Clifford Acree was tortured by Saddam Hussein's henchmen for 47 days. He was subjected to mock executions and systematically starved until he began eating the scabs off his own body. Along with 16 other POWs, Acree filed suit to claim compensation from Iraq's $1.7 billion in frozen assets. But they may never see the money. On March 20, President Bush confiscated Iraq's assets "to assist the Iraqi people and for the reconstruction of Iraq." Bush's order made an exception for cases in which the courts had already attached Iraqi assets, which meant that 188 American civilians including diplomats, engineers and businessmen held as hostages or human shields and their relatives were able to collect more than $120 million two weeks ago. But Acree and his fellow POWs, along with another 200 former hostages and human shields whose cases are pending in U.S. District Court, may be out of luck.
Last month former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson and 20 other high-ranking former diplomats and military officers argued in a letter to Bush that "it would be simply unthinkable to ask the American POWs tortured by Iraq to bear the cost of the reconstruction of Iraq." Will Bush come to the rescue? Treasury Department general counsel David Aufhauser says, "The first priority is to apply the money to a free Iraq to make sure there are no more victims." But with a draft POW Protection Act already circulating on Capitol Hill, he adds, "The President is committed to working with Congress to seek alternative means of redress."
Paying for Apartheid
SOUTH AFRICA Forty years of oppression aren't easily washed away. But last week South Africa may have missed a chance to come a bit cleaner on the legacy of apartheid. The final phase of the government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), set up seven years ago to report on human-rights abuses during the apartheid era, didn't satisfy all those claiming compensation for their suffering. President Thabo Mbeki made it clear that there would be no blanket amnesty for apartheid crimes, but he announced a one-time cash payment, amounting to less than $4,000, for each of some 22,000 victims identified by the trc. The commission had recommended a payout almost four times as high. Mbeki further rejected the trc's idea of a wealth tax on businesses for their role in supporting apartheid, and denounced the multimillion-dollar claims being instigated in U.S. courts against companies that allegedly benefited from apartheid. Former trc commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza, now counsel for an Apartheid Claims Task Force set up to represent victims filing lawsuits against some companies, said Mbeki's attitude was "completely misguided." The first court hearings will start in New York City next month, Ntsebeza said.
NORTH KOREA Pyongyang's surprise agreement to take part in talks with Washington and Beijing this week raised hopes of a peaceful resolution to the long standoff over its nuclear program. But evidence emerged that 20 scientists and military defectors may have been smuggled out of North Korea over the past six months suggesting that the U.S. intelligence might always have had the upper hand. The reported operation to spirit out the defectors was complex, involving the Pacific island state of Nauru and 10 other countries. Kyong Won-ha, one of Pyongyang's top nuclear scientists, defected in early October the same time that the U.S. was confronting North Korea with evidence that it had restarted its nuclear weapons program, precipitating the current crisis. There was one final hiccup late last week, when Pyongyang appeared to claim it had almost finished reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods which would produce enough plutonium for up to half a dozen nuclear bombs leaving officials scrambling to figure out if the North was intent on building a nuclear arsenal or just trying to build leverage ahead of the talks.
Killer's Wrist Slapped
THE NETHERLANDS Supporters of slain politician Pim Fortuyn expressed outrage at the 18-year jail sentence imposed on his assassin, Volkert van der Graaf; prosecutors said they would appeal for a life term. An outspoken, right-wing gay man who wanted to restrict immigration, Fortuyn has in death become an icon of modern Dutch life. Van der Graaf, who admitted shooting Fortuyn last May, might only serve 12 years.
Political Crime Wave
RUSSIA Sergei Yushenkov, a leading liberal Duma Deputy and critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot to death as he was entering his Moscow apartment block, hours after registering his Liberal Russia Party to compete in December's parliamentary elections. Yushenkov's colleagues accused the government of inaction in the face of a wave of politically motivated crime. He is the second senior party member killed in nine months.
NIGERIA President Olusegun Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party won a majority in both houses of parliament. Opposition parties rejected the results, claiming the election was marred by widespread abuses. The legislative elections and last weekend's presidential ballot which Obasanjo was favored to win are seen as a key test of Nigerian democracy, following 15 years of military rule that ended in 1999.
ZIMBABWE President Robert Mugabe lashed out at protests to his rule in a speech marking the nation's 23rd year of independence. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said that with the world's attention fixed on Iraq and SARS, Mugabe had clamped down on protest using violent repression. Reports of rape, torture and arson continued to surface following the arrest and detention of hundreds of MDC supporters over the past few weeks.
More Time for Anwar
MALAYSIA An appeals court upheld the sodomy conviction of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, sending him back to the jail where he had just served four years on a corruption charge. The decision, which means Anwar will spend at least six more years in prison, comes during a year of political transition in which veteran Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will retire. Anwar's continued detention widely decried as politically motivated sidelines the opposition's most charismatic leader in the run-up to general elections scheduled for November 2004.
meanwhile in the U.S....
A Bit Premature
CNN's slogan "Be the first to know" took on new meaning when the network's website accidentally posted mock-up obituaries for luminaries including Pope John Paul II, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope none of whom had actually died. CNN blamed human error, saying the obituaries were intended for internal review.