1997 L'année - the year

Markets tumble in Asia

It took the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan to get things going when he said the state of America's finances was inflated and unsustainable, and it took him to quiet things down, when he reminded the strength of America's over-all economy, as the Dow rebounded for a second consecutive day after the worst crash in NYSE history. Globally however the crash was much worse than that of 1987. President Clinton had also more recently expressed confidence the economic surge was strong and permanent, a sentiment echoed in Paris over France's state of affairs. The financial crisis hitting world stock markets seemed to be feeding on itself and promoting a cycle of losses in Europe, Asia and North America (even Latin America and Eastern Europe) before the Dow stabilized and regained some of its losses. But the calm took a while to set in and markets are still licking their wounds. In one day the Hong Kong market lost 13% while European markets started with losses of their own. Overall, losses in year to date market figures in Asia have been the worse, 12% in Tokyo, but most notably over 20% in both Jakarta and Hong Kong and up to 40% in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.The most feared scenario came true on Wall Street where financial markets kept tumbling , forcing a shut-down of trading after the Dow skimmed 7000 levels, losing 554.26 in one day, the largest single day loss ever.The Toronto Stock Exchange lost over 400 points. Analysts were however cautious to point out the loss in relative terms was only a third of the 22% market loss suffered in 1987. The shut-down was a measure put in place to halt panic after the previous crash ten years ago, one many hoped would not be used as indications pointed to a softer correction this time around. Many analysts however still insisted prices on Wall-Street remained inflated, and their analyses proved right. Markets all over in the inter-connected world, fell prey to jittersbattering currencies in East Asia for the past weeks, and in some cases months. The trend continued on the Hong Kong market early, losing another 200 points, before it posted a recovery. Markets in Europe also recovered from previous losses, but the Dow Jones dropped another 130 points, pushing losses to 320 in the two hectic days, and prolonging the uncertainty into the weekend. The combined 4-day loss for the Dow was 900 points. New regulations in place since the 1987 crash halt computerized trading for any loss of over 350 points for 30 minutes, an hour for losses of 550 points. Some analysts in fact blame the regulation for some of losses, feeding the selling frenzy after the break. The turmoil hit world markets after Hong Kong's index initially registered its largest one-day fall, losing 10%. Its combined 4-day loss was 16%. The general market environment in Asia is sluggish, as is the motor Japanese economy which will try to rescue the economies it is increasingly counting on for growth. Thailand and Malaysia were severely battered by currency traders which at one point drove the Malay ringgit down 30%. Consequently the region's economies followed, with Australia's also fearing the effects of torn partners, some of whom have sought assistance with the IMF. Investors have been shunning countries not respecting IMF guidelines for financial health, sparking the currency crises. Countries, such as the U.S., with strong economic ties to Asian companies, were then soon caught in the whirlwind, in a month marking ten years after the worst stock market crash in history. Oddly, this may only mark a return to the source: a higher U.S. dollar sparked by a booming economy had driven up East Asian currencies pegged on the greenback, making their export goods more expensive. The current-account deficit incurred brought on the feared attack of currency speculators whom Malaysian prime minister Mahathir - who had to hold back on grand projects for his country - blamed for the turmoil. Not everyone one dumped Malaysian or Asian stocks however, keeping events from spiralling. Analysts hoped cool heads and investor maturity this time around will limit the damage to a correction. In his country, the Malaysian "leader of the Developed world" survived the onslaught of the world press (including a cover on Time magazine pondering his successorship) but is still admired for propping up his nation's economy. The firy rhetoric used by M. Mahathir used to be used against him. Once the former Singapore prime minister described the Malaysian regime as one familiar with the use of violence. Police forces have in the past been used to disrupt NGO meetings and East Timor protests rallies there. The Malaysian government has also at times been tied with corruption, but the same can be said in nearby Thailand, whose crisis, partly structural, could also be blamed on mismanagement of funds, and has reached worse proportions. November 1996 elections brought to light new scandals which had their share in fueling already potent financial flames, and general instability. While current account deficits in Malaysia (-$4.4 bil. in the last year) and Thailand (-$10 bil.) as well as Indonesia (-$7.9 bil.) are high, growth in the region remains impressive (GDP up 6.7%; 8.4% and 6.1% respectfully) in the last year, even if the figures are down from the previous. Protesters marched in the streets of Bangkok to demand their prime minister's resignation in view of his handling of the crisis, which may have been exacerbated by the finance minister's threat to quit. The financial crisis spread around and hit Korea's stocks , as the market there registered a 5,5% loss, the worst single day ever. Nearby in China, authorities are experiencing the first crash since Hong Kong was turned over from British rule. Analysts fear Beijing may get the wrong ideas from the crisis, but authorities there have thus far resisted the temptation of intervening. Political scientists fear the crisis in East Asia may have long term ethnic considerations, if financial turmoil translates into trouble in the streets, where the economy is responsible for social shockwaves. This truly global crash hit markets everywhere from Brazil to Moscow.


Mère Teresa n'est plus

Quel cauchemar pour les oeuvres de charité à travers le monde qui, en une semaine, ont perdu leurs plus grandes stars, deux personnes assez différentes: La fille aux cheveux d'or à l'existence rendue misérable par la fortune, et l'octagénaire des pires bidonvilles de Calcutta, qui par sa capacité à venir en aide aux plus démunis se considérait la plus fortunée. Quelle fatalité, si l'on pense que les deux, qui s'étaient rencontrées quatre fois dont une en juin dernier, s'entendaient au point d'avoir de si bons liens d'amitié, et que mère Teresa avait été une des premières à faire l'éloge de la princesse. À l'autre bout du monde également, une grande dame quittait ce monde, et sera commémorée lors de funérailles d'État, après une semaine de répit, deux journées officielles de deuil national. La date de l'enterrement fut repoussée notamment pour permettre aux grands de ce monde, qui seront de la cérémonie (dont Hillary Clinton) de se rendre sur les lieux. Il n'est aucun doute cependant que ceux-ci ne seront pas les seuls à vouloir rendre leurs hommages à cette religieuse lauréate du prix Nobel prêchant, l'amour de Dieu <<qui créa l'homme à son image>>. Cette philosophie fit d'elle un être parfois impopulaire car extrêmement combattif, notamment contre l'avortement, même dans le pays surpeuplé que l'Inde. Plus jeune, mère Teresa se faisait rosser de coups pour avoir porté de l'aide aux plus misérables et pauvres de ce pays du Tiers-monde, enfermé dans le carcan des castes. Mais ses gestes, comme ceux de Lady Di envers les sidéens à une époque où personne n'osait les approcher, lui valurent les plus riches considérations de l'Église, qui pourrait canoniser celle-ci en un temps record. Les critères d'un tel geste exigent en général deux miracles et au moins cinq ans d'analyse intese de la personne, mais le procédé sera sans doute avancé dans le cas de mère Teresa. En Angleterre, le mythe de Diana a à sa façon, par sa fin tragique, fait d'elle une personne presque sanctifiée, à une époque où l'on est à larecherche de modèles plus contemporains. Mais les deux cas sont sans comparaison. Le parlement de New Delhi ne tarda pas à rendre hommage à la vieille soeur, en disant de la Mère qu'elle avait été <<le plus grand travailleur social>>. Elle avait en effet pris en charge de nombreux pauvres, mourrants, abandonnés par les autorités et le gouvernement. Peu surprenant qu'on la désigne en tant que Mahatma Gandhi de la fin du siècle; deux personnalités qui auront trouvé dans le simple amour de la vie et la volonté d'aider autrui, la richesse essentielle de toute existence. Cette richesse, c'est la dignité puisque mère Teresa voyait en tous ces pauvres démunis ou affligés par la maladie, l'image de Dieu.


Death of the Princess of Hearts

Elton John held back the tears as he sung `Candle in the wind' at Lady Diana's memorial service, a song rewritten for the occasion. The singer and Diana had most recently been seen in public standing side to side at star fashion designer Versace's service in Miami. Also in the crowd in London was Luciano Pavarotti, who declined invitations to sing because he feared he would not be able to do it without breaking down and crying. Emotions were running high all around as Lady Di's carriage made its way through the crowds, twenty and sometimes even one hundred-deep, in central London, and then later as her motorcade made its way to the burial site on her family's grounds just North of London, where she would be put to rest. England and much of the world had been mourning the death of the Princess throughout the week since her fatal car accident the previous weekend. The service was held a day after Queen Elizabeth countered accusations the royal family had treated Lady Di's death with indifference, in a televised statement in which she expressed grief and respect. Never had the royal family been as distant with the public as in the course of last week in the aftermath of the death. All across the Common-wealth including Australia and Canada, a growing number of people were questioning the relevance of the Monarchy, and whether it could adjust to the modern times. Diana herself was often seen as portraying modernism in the court, often acting in what was seen as less than royal fashion at times, in a manner much closer to the public which grieves her still, and after sustained demands, obtained a State funeral. And stately it was, as some said it gathered the largest crowds since the end of the war, others simply called it the largest single most televised event ever, with billions watching, 20 million in England alone and 50 million more in the U.S., some will admit, to their great surprise. Oddly enough, while in the first hours, upon hearing about the circumstances of her death, people were quick to condemn the photographs pursuing the speeding car, and the media in general, there is no doubt the scope of the commemoration was glamorized by the world's media, and particularly television establishments, as their senior anchormen made their way to London to cover what was quickly billed as one of the key events of the century, in the like of the JFK, Elvis Presley and other more flamboyant post-war ceremonies. The printed press was also quick to adjust to weekly magazine deadlines by publishing commemorative issues in record time, splashing pictures of her life now made famous while resisting the temptation of providing too detailed shots of the crash site. Monday September 1st, a holiday in North America, the world, and particularly Britain, woke up to the latest tragedy to have struck the British royal family, after Lady Diana's Mercedes crashed in a tunnel in Paris while fleeing photographers on motorcycles at high speeds, killing herself and millionaire companion Dodi Fayed. The incident occurred at midnight in Paris and while the car's driver, a Ritz security guard, and Fayed were killed immediately, Lady Di was rushed to intensive care in Paris' largest hospital, before she died at around 4 am local time. The first unconfirmed reports of her death were in at 11:45 East Coast time. Throughout the evening however, limited access to the crash site, barring all photographers, and new updates making the case of a worsening heath report, gave glimpses of the seriousness of Diana's condition. The first reports shortly after 10pm Eastern time spoke of Diana as being "hurt" in the accident, then 15 minutes later, that she was "seriously injured" until, shortly before 11pm, she was reported as being "rushed to intensive care" where attempts to reanimate her were futile. The presence of high-level French officials, including the Minister of the Interior, the first to make an official public statement on her death, indicated the graveness of the hour. Diana finally died of internal bleeding stemming from major chest and lung injuries according to her doctors. It took Buckingham palace well over an hour to ackowledge her death, in what would prove a first of many acts by the palace criticized for their lateness. Di and Fayed had been the subject of intense press scrutiny since pictures revealed the nature of their relationship a few weeks ago. They were fleeing photographers earlier in the evening and changed cars at the Ritz hotel for a quicker vehicle. Photographers taking pictures at the scene of the incident were immediately held into custody and an investigation has been launched into the cause of the incident, one which involves France's top terrorist crack squad. With two more arrests in the course of the week, nine in all were threatened to be held for various charges including fleeing the scene of an accident. World leaders expressed their shock upon learning about the incident and praised Lady Di for her Humanitarian work, including her efforts to bolster Canada's drive to ban the use of land-mines world-wide, an effort which was supposed to bring her to Ottawa later this year. Over 100 countries have agreed to the ban. Personalities expressing their sympathies included Mother Theresa, Jean Chrétien, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, and leaders from the world over. Diana's brother visiting South Africa possibly issued the strongest statement on the incident saying this only confirmed his beliefs the press would "kill her" in the end and pleaded for the press to respect the family in its moments of mourning. In Westminster Abbey where he presented his eulogy, Earl Spencer repeated his condemnation of the press in front of a world-wide audience and also criticized the Monarchy for denying his sister royal status after her divorce, insisting Diana proved she had no need for such a title to move forward. His speech was greeted by a thunderous applause. For Britons and admirers world-wide, she remained the most popular member of the royal family after the Queen. She leaves behind the heir to the throne, her two sons William and Harry, who looked pale as they arrived for Sunday church at Balmoral in Scotland where they and Charles were spending time. The royal family including the Queen mother was notably criticized for not cutting their vacation short upon hearing news of the incident, and in little time, hours following the accident in fact, royalty was Briton's favorite target after the paparazzi. Many claimed, the royal family would never be the same and that it was perhaps fitting the changes were becoming so blatantly obvious upon Diana's death, a personwhose actions had contributed so much to showing the great divide between the sovereign family and the people. Diana was also glorified for the time and efforts she had spent working for charity organisations world-wide. Singer Elton John, who has already recorded his Westminster Abbey song, originally written for Marilyn Monro, who had the same age of 36 Diana had when she died, said all the proceeds (the sales are estimated at around 20 million copies) would go to charities. Perhaps, in a bid of reconciliation with the people, Queen Elizabeth herself put it the best when she said in a public statement prior to the burial that Diana should be commended for having made so many people happy. Her legacy lives on in the goodness of the works she supported. As of this week a charity fund in her memory had raised $240 million.


Iran: a lot riding on Khatami

To the West's surprise, and probably his own, new Iranian President Khatami saw his 22-member cabinet approved by Tehran's le-gislature last week, despite criticism by fundamentalists that it was too Liberal; notably his choice for the position relating to culture (one he once held, with some controversy). For many in the West, Khatami's election promises to change somewhat what is viewed as the world's top rogue state, but few deny that much of the decision-making power rests with a legislative assembly loaded with hard-line Islamists, therefore the approval was well-received. Khatami's powers however do extend to foreign policy, where he may decide to tone down Iran's rhetoric with the West (albeit with some concessions on both sides), as well as the nomination of a vice-president, which he has kept for a Woman, a first. Is Islamism finally going to get a break from the image it has received in the Western media, rebroadcasting images of Taliban and Algerian massacres, rock-throwing Palestinians and Hamas bombings? The image which made Oklahoma investigators nearly reach damaging conclusions? An awful lot seems to rest on Khatami's shoulders. But change is occuring elsewhere - not only one of Western perception - which may have had a damning spiral effect. In Egypt the fundamentalist movements once blamed for targeting Cairo's important source of revenue, tourism, seems to have reverted to other more peaceful tactics of gaining recognition, such as the democratic process. Even in the former occupied territories, while Hamas is being blamed for the latest bomb attack in Jerusalem, leaders of the organization (one which understandably may have a credibility problem when making these claims) went to great length to deny involvement. Hamas is also known for doing social work in the economically poor territories; critics claim the movement is only feeding on the misery. But Israel's attitude of shutting down the territories after crises tends to exacerbate the situation, blocking access to thousands who regularly cross to go work in Israel. The hardship imposed is forcing double-talk from a squeezed Arafat, promising to crack down on terrorists within his jurisdiction (or else Israel will) to Shin Bet, and separately rallying behind Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Chances are Arafat is somewhere in the middle. The Jihad is an even more extremist organization, purely military, while Hamas may be closer to undergoing, one day, the changes the PLO went through: from an organization embracing the armed struggle, to one purely political. Arafat is however reconsidering the move, at least in rhetoric, to show some autonomy from Israel's strong hand, over matters pertaining to the Palestinian Authority. But this is largely rhetoric, everywhere else Islam's at times martial voice has given way to the sophism of politics, or the talk of the trade. One of the reasons Muslims may turn less against their own governments in Egypt, the secularists there fear, is that society has grown so conservative that Islamists can claim to have succeeded in getting the upper hand even without taking power. Such a development, if it proves acurate, is feared in Turkey, where prime minister Erbakan was tossed aside by the secular army brass. But even in that country, one which sits on a fault line between Europe and Asia, modernism is what increasingly characterizes the new Muslim militants. They are often economic. One of them is the pro-Islamic Kombassan Holding AS, one of several large companies moved onto the national stage known as the "Anatolian Tigers" according to the Wall Street Journal. Business among some of the finance houses there is run the same way it is anywhere else, except it sits atop alcohol-free restaurants and accounts run on Islamic "interest-free" principles. According to the WSJ: "These businessmen's moves parallel a broader shift by Islamists in Muslim countries from radicalism and violence to the mainstream." Khatami would agree.


Rétrocession de Hong Kong

Le bleu ayant cédé place au rouge, l'Union Jack à la fleur à cinq pétales, suivant le protocole exceptionnel car historique, le gouverneur de Hong Kong Chris Patten remplit la semaine dernière sa dernière fonction officielle en communiquant ces précieux mots à sa Majesté: <<J'ai remis l'administration de ce gouvernement. Dieu sauve la Reine!>> Celle-ci était en Ontario lorsqu'elle reçut le précieux message, et bien plus que le hasard voulait qu'elle soit alors en pleine visite au sein de la grande communauté chinoise du Toronto métropolitain où, comme partout ailleurs, les émotions étaient mixtes et vives sur la transition de Hong Kong aux autorités chinoises. La reine poursuivit alors sa tournée du plus gros pays de l'ancien Dominion, à l'autre bout du Commonwealth, jusqu'à Ottawa, où elle fut accueillie par une foule de 130 000 spectateurs sur la colline du parlement à l'occasion de la 130ème fête du premier juillet. Son message salua entre autre le haut seuil de tolérace de la société, paisible et mixte, canadienne, un message qu'elle aurait voulu faire retentir pour une dernière fois à l'autre bout de la planête. À Hong Kong, lendemain et surlendemain de la transition déjà, les engagements de Pékin du demi-siècle à venir étaient déjà mis à l'épreuve, alors que plusieurs petits groupes manifestaient contre la mise en vigueur d'une législature provisoire choisie, même si le nouvel homme de l'heure, M. Tung, promettait des élections dès l'an prochain (à la méthode pré-Patten, soit majoritairement chosie et minoritairement élue). Ils manifestaient aussi contre l'entrée de milliers de troupes de l'armée de libération, dont l'envoi au moment de la transition fut une décision regrettée par la communauté internationale; une communauté qui s'est engagée à surveiller de près l'évolution des choses à Hong Kong, sans rien promettre. Les États-Unis prétendaient de s'en tenir à une soi-disant clause Hong Kong dans leurs rapports, menaçant une ligne dure en cas d'attaque à l'autonomie de la région administrative, mais sans nécessairement mettre en jeu l'entente de réciprocité commerciale renouvelée régulièrement, même à travers les crises récentes. La Grande Bretagne pendant ce temps promettait aussi de ne pas oublier les habitants de son ancienne colonie, la plus grosse et certainement la plus prospère qui lui restait, sans cependant donner aux milliers de propriétaires de passeports britanniques outre-mer à Hong Kong le droit d'immigrer ou de travailler en Grande Bretagne, ce qui selon le magazine Economist constitue un échec de la couronne d'assumer ses responsabilités. Mais pendant que certains manifestaient contre l'entrée des soldats à Hong Kong, d'autres fêtaient , après plus de 150 ans, la restitution de l'autonomie chinoise, mettant un terme à plus d'un siècle d'<<humiliation>>. Fin de l'impérialisme, fin de la colonisation, et peut-être même, restitution de l'empire. Car plusieurs analystes ne doutent pas le sens de la politique extérieure chinoise après cette mise-en-scène: retrouver la grandeur de la Chine dans la tradition un pays <<aux deux systèmes>>, mais à la politique unique; ce qui vise Taiwan, autre fleuron économique autonome, tout en resserant l'étau dans l'ouest musulman ou tibétain. Washington, qui avait salé ses relations avec Pékin en invitant le président Lee Teng-hui il y a deux ans et avait l'an d'après dépêché deux navires de guerre près des côtes taïwanaises lors d'une guerre des mots virulente entre Taipeì et Pékin, avait fait preuve d'un interventionnisme symbolique qui a marqué la région, sans nécessairement promettre quoi que ce soit dans l'avenir en matière de sécurité. Faux espoirs? Disons plutôt que Hong Kong n'ose pas penser à de pareils scénarios, et que de toutes façons, même du point de vue économique, Taiwan (ou Singapour) ne constitue pas un modèle recherché par des citoyens. À titre d'anciens sujets de la couronne, les gens de Hong Kong peuvent cependant se réjouir de ne pas avoir connu les dures transitions toujours en cours en Irlande du Nord et au Moyen-orient, où les affrontements ont repris pendant que les processus de paix restent dans l'impasse. Il s'agissait bien d'anciens territoires d'un impérialisme si rejeté aujourd'hui. Mais plusieurs dirigeants de nations à présent libérées de cet ancien joug, notamment en Afrique, reconnaissent qu'on accuse trop souvent les populations locales de chercher dans ce passé colonial les raisons de trouble ou d'échecs actuels. Que dire alors de Hong Kong, symbolique de richesse et prospérité? surprenant qu'il ait été le dernier à être abandonné.


Mars calling

Nine days after a collision with a Progress ressupply craft left the Russian space station Mir in a frail but stable condition (meeting new crises every day and casting doubt on the future of Man's space program), the Mars Pathfinder probe landed on the red planet in working order, first sending a simple thumbs up signal back to NASA mission control on U.S. Independence day. The first images of the planet were expected on that day, opening new possibilities for the space program and leaving some scientists pondering similar missions to the closest star, Alpha Centaury, within the next 25 years. In the mean time however the probe is expected to bring unique information back to Earth, putting to rest a space decade mired by the Challenger explosion ten years ago last year and an often-failing Hubble telescope. The space programs, as characterized by the recent Mir difficulties, have also been plagued by funding woes. The crash of an unmanned Russian space vehicle against the Mir space station cast some new doubts on the capacities of the cash-squeezed Russian space program. Although there was no immediate danger to the crew there are fears the electrical capacities of the station have been weakened by the incident. The 11 year-old station suffered other difficulties this year: a fire, and technical problems affecting oxygen supplies. The station is double the age it was designed to remain operational in space. An international space station involving Canada is presently in the works but could be affected by any early plans to abandon Mir. Overblown costs elsewhere are making the Mars mission all the more successful: it cost taxpayers a mere $200 mil. compared to past failed missions priced over $1 bil. The craft landed at 15pm East coast time on Friday and started beaming pictures back, some in astounding colour, for the first time in over 20 years. After a moment of diminished enthusiasm, when the Sojourner Martian probe failed to respond or communicate with NASA mission control on Saturday, systems were go again on Sunday as the mobile unit took its first timid stroll on the rugged terrain of the red planet. Its primary target was a small rock centimeters away which might reveal a lot on the planet's past and possible living forms. Already some analysts have gathered, from the shape of some hills, that water once ran through the Martian landscape, leaving open possibility of some life forms in the past. They've concluded this from traces on the terrain of the desolate planet. The internet is abuzz with speculation on the day-to-day discoveries, leaving some of NASA's sites with one of the greatest hit ratios (i.e. access to site) of all time. From the first images transmitted to Earth, modem-equipped individuals have been able to access the same pictures, even a famous recent panoramic 3-D image, though traffic to some addresses has been slowed down to a crawl on even this light-speed medium. Perhaps, the Mars mission and future missions may change all this. The reasons for the cheaper NASA price-tag has been miniturization of the probe sent to Mars, making the Sojourner land module the size of a microwave oven. In time, scientists say, smaller microchips will lead to smaller computers and increasing power and speed on everyday personal models at cheaper rates. More profoundly, the missions may answer some questions on Man's place in the Universe in a year where technology has put fundamental Human principles, such as cloning, into question. Speaking of cloning, something Mars-mania will not do is limit the still popular Mars-inspired B-movies crowding the silver screens, even this Summer. The pictures from Mars were in fact being transmitted the week the Summer blockbuster Men In Black sci-fi movie was being launched, the sequel of last year's Independence Day; another box office blast where the planet is struggling to stave elimination from alien invaders. This was also the 50th anniversary of the mythical Roswell landing, a town in New Mexico made famous for its claim of flying saucer crashes and government conspiracies, in the prime of MacCarthysm.. So far however any correlation between Hollywood and reality is strictly limited, even if too much rapprochement was made during this Winter's clone-mania. The current Mars-mania may last just as long but there is no doubt, in what is appearing to be a break-through year for science at many levels (still short of a cure for AIDS or cancer however) Sojourner's discoveries will leave the scientific and other communities buzzing for times ahead. And as always, the images (and messages) being beamed back through the global, now universal news network (CNN has exclusive first rights), have at times profound significations: for if water did exist, and some say even flooded the planet by hundreds of feet of water, what happened? and could the same happen to Earth if say the polar ice caps melted? Then again, it is only Human nature to fear these things, or marvel.


Elections: incumbent battle, lose bet

The lesson of this week's two elections, in France on Sunday and Canada on Monday, was that early elections are no guarantee of success even when you lead. While both Jean Chrétien and Jacques Chirac have learned this the hard way, and will have to put up with strong opponents in government, the institutions of the two countries mean that the consequences vary. In France, prime minister Alain Juppé has borne the brunt of the defeat of the right, handing the Leftist coalition made up of Socialists, Communists and ecologists (even less hated by the extreme right wing than the center-right), a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. He will be replaced by someone whose quest for power has brought him in the number two seat in Paris, in Matignon, presidential candidate Lionel Jospin. For Jacques Chirac to have invited him to the Elysée Palace to form the next government is a sad image for a President who had called an early vote to lead France into closer European integration, including a single currency. Socialists in Parliament have promised to end obsession over integration, although they are bound by France's previous international commitments. The country had squeezed a (Quebec referendum-like) simple majority in favor of joining the Maastricht treaty before Chirac came into power, and is still hesitant today despite the aspirations of its leaders to make it one of the motors of deeper European integration. Yes, this vote in a way was about unity as well. But Chirac particularly paid dearly for France's high unemployment rate, and diminishing social programs, which many blame on France's attempt to adhere to tough European integration standards, something the Socialists have promised to relax. Chrétien faced none of France's economic hardship, but then again, if anything, John Major's collapse to Tony Blair in times of high growth and low unemployment served as lesson on such a positive scorecard is not enough. Some analysts suggest that staying away from those bread and butter issues and making the campaign a referendum-warmup may have served the Liberals by not exposing unglamorous economic figures; lagging high unemployment in some parts (such as the Maritimes which overwhelmingly rejected the Grits), despite a better than expected figures on the deficit. Reform's statuts as official opposition was cheered by the business community, hoping for a period of a increased fiscal awareness. But the unity debate did no wonders to the Liberals either, whose leader was weakened by promises of a sovereigntist rout in the last plebiscite in Quebec, and this time promised an easy re-elected majority, even expressing hopes of additional seats in Canada's additional ridings (the total is now 301). He failed on both counts and on top of that was the last of the party leaders to be re-elected, facing a tough battle in his riding of St-Maurice against long-time rival Yves Duhaime. One daily, Quebec's Soleil, has called for his resignation to allow the Ville-Emard winner, the most popular finance minister in decades, Paul Martin, to take the reigns of party leadership. Ironically, some critics argue it was Martin who precipitated the election call, to better fit into fiscal plans. It was perhaps the lack of reasons for calling elections, which both leaders failed to explain, which initially triggered skepticism towards their program. The elections have left both countries in political situations quite familiar to the countries surrounding them. While Ottawa has joined Washington as a capital embracing liberal values under another name, facing an uneasy legislature, Paris has joined other capitals in Europe swept by "a pink tide" according to French weekly L'Express. France joins most governments in Europe save Germany's, where leftist forces have taken over in some form or another. Chirac has also been facing pressure to step down, but remains determined to put up with five years of cohabitation if necessary, breaking all records in this domain the four times a president from one party had to endure the presence of a prime minister from a competing party. Of course, albeit difficult, the situations are workable, and hopefully both leaders have learned their lesson. They may want to take heed since they may be inspired to call an early vote again, because economic forecasts in both countries call for growth both will obviously want to call their own.


Zaire: a continent watches

With Zairian leader Mobutu indicating he may cede power to incoming leader Kabila, closing his grips on the capital Kinshasa, we're a long way from six months ago when the world contemplated intervention in central Africa. Then the situation was tenuous enough. The threat of war loomed as troops from the entire region seemed to be looking at rich yet ineffectively guarded and dismembring Zaire. A refugee crisis was already gripping the region, justifying any intervention to relieve the dispair of peoples displaced by the earlier Rwandan genocide. The powers considering immediate intervention were often old colonial powers, and good old Canada. Since then the forces ganging up on Zaire have become at the same time better defined, and more numerous. The anti-government tide united behind rebel leader Laurent Kabila and took over three quarters of the country, sparking a combination of jubilation among Mobutu's detractors, and fear among his allies, but most particularly among refugees caught in the fray, fleeing the violence of the rebel charge, giving succouring aid organizations a bit of a run-around. Kabila's charge is welcomed by the West in the sense that he promises to oust long-standing dictator Mobutu, but concern has been raised by reports of violence against the refugees, the aid of whom is being made more difficult by rebels barring access to international organizations; sparking concerns about the nature of a Kabila regime. Thus even the known parameters of the conflict contain confusing elements. Adding to the internal uncertainty, outside players have multiplied since last Fall. Last week fears spread that the weakening (both politically and physically) Mobutu Sese Seko sought assistance in the war-weary Western African country of Angola, and its Unita rebels, as he had sought the assistance of Serb Bosnian mercenaries. According to some analysts, the outside hiring is indicative of the caving in of Mobutu's inner circle, as the leader seeks more trustworthy troops to surround him. Ironically, the Angolan government had given support to Katangan gendarmes based in North Angola who joined Kabila's movement. Uganda and Rwanda were also told of supporting the rebels through arms shipments; an outside involvement justified in a way by Zaire's richness and central African politics. Among the outside powers, one seeking conciliation between the warring factions in the civil war, South Africa, has tried to broker a peace agreement and claim the status of regional powerbroker, matching the economic might of the First world with political might on the subcontinent. After a failed meeting, one expained by Mobutu's ill health, leader Nelson Mandela finally managed to gather Laurent Kabila and Mobutu Sese Seko around a negotiating table. While the regional African players have been many, the Western players so determined to intervene last year have limited their role to a humanitarian one (although it has been complicated by refugees fleeing scenes of violence and falling out of site of the Red Cross and UNHCR). The West, led by Canada, halted plans of intervention last year when the refugees started heading back to Rwanda. But not all returned. And the matter of what they stand to go back to is of concern to aid workers as well. A reluctant partner at the time was the U.S., and reluctant it remained after the Somalia disaster, until this year. The U.S. has been the unlikely true broker in the peace negotiations, while the former colonial masters in the region, Britain in France, which lept on the occasion to do well last year, look on. They have been notoriously absent from the peace drive on their former turf, which can only be explained in part by electoral considerations, more by their diminishing stature in the Third world. According to one intelligence report however, France may have been covertly attempting to bolster Mobutu, an effort which may have started within weeks of the rebel advance in January and may have involved three combat aircraft from the former Yugoslavia. America's willingness to claim a piece of the action there is surprising after the failed intervention in Somalia, which to many had not been fully justified in any case. But U.S. envoy Bill Richardson's role, although constructive, remains limited to discouraging Laurent Kabila from ousting the aging dictator by force and spreading violence to the capital, or simply providing Mobutu with a face-saving exit, one he may just be contemplating. All the rebels promised was slightly more than a week for Mobutu to resign, and to not forget too easily years under his rule which have reduced one of the world's most naturally endowed countries to poverty: "He has to choose to relinquish power and he is safeguarded, or he perishes with his power," Kabila said before joining the talks on a South African naval ship docked in Congo. After these talks Richardson was spreading his shuttling efforts to Botswana to speak to another regional player with vested interests, Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni. The power-struggle in one of Africa's largest countries leaves few nations there indifferent, but at least for now talks of a breakup of Zaire have calmed down. The rebels stand to win the entirety of the country over, standing 60 km outside of the capital, despite recent reports of government troops successes. But how the rebels decide to rule the capital and country once in power, and organize the elections they promise, if they hold them, could determine the stability of the country and region in the longer term. Also determinant is South Africa's role, which part from showing off its once derided diplomatic skills, is also acting against a potential security threat if trouble ever spreads from Zaire across central to southern Africa. But its brokerage role is also motivated by the will to take action on the continent it once looked at less than Europe, as it has done by joining the Organization of African Unity, brokering peace in Angola and put up cash for the African Development Bank. All in all, all of Africa will be watching these events which could profoundly change the continent for better or worse.


Blair ushers in "revolution!

Il fallut une attaque à la bombe de l'IRA et une menace terroriste lors du grand weekend de Derby britannique, pour rappeler au reste du monde que le Royaume Uni est en pleine campagne électorale. Il faut dire que la presse attend sans suprise le renversement pourtant historique de 18 ans de pouvoir Tory. D'après les analystes ceci s'explique par une fatigue électorale, car ce revirement cache un phénomène nouveau: l'échec électoral en plein boom cyclique économique. La popularité de Jean Chrétien, possiblement lui-aussi à quelques mois d'une élection, et la ré-élection de Bill Clinton l'an dernier, sont deux cas plus dévoués à la règle reliant portefeuille et satisfaction populaire. Pourtant les mesures économiques de John Major y sont quand même pour quelquechose après les déboires de la manipulation de la livre sterling il y a quelques années, qui força l'Angleterre à sortir du mécanisme des changes du système monétaire européen. Puis, mis à part l'usure de 18 ans au pouvoir, la faiblesse des conservateurs, en période économique d'apparence bonne, peut aussi être expliquée par l'étude de ces chiffres. Selon le livre d'un journaliste du Guardian , les chiffres cachent le faible salaire des nouveaux emplois et des problèmes structurels et sociaux. Le chef travailliste hautement populaire Tony Blair promet de remédier à cette <<crise>> suivant le modèle social et industriel allemand (même si celui-ci paraît également en crise, ce qui fait dire à Helmut Kohn qu'il pourrait chercher un nouveau mandat pour y remédier, s'attaquant au record de durée au pouvoir de Bismarck). Major quant à lui promet <<le changement>> à coup de coupures fiscales. Ironiquement, C'est bien une question de taxation qui entraîna le mouvement d'impopularité qui fit plier puis démissionner la dame de fer en 1990. À consulter le manifeste du party travailliste de Tony Blair, les Britanniques doivent penser que de toutes façons aucun grand changement se produira sinon celui du nom, après 18 ans de conservateurs, devenant sourds aux rappels Tory du passé, où le socialisme pouvait paraître le pire de tous les maux (la peur de 1992). Pourtant les mouvements en France et ailleurs sur le continent peuvent rappeler qu'une inspiration sociale ne figure jamais très loin outre-Manche. Voilà bien en fait quelquechose qui rapproche les trois cas Anglo-Saxons: la force d'un parti traditionnellement de gauche épousant des politiques de droite, ou vu d'une autre manière <<des politiques conservatrices sans des politiciens conservateurs>> selon un article du Globe & Mail du mois dernier. C'est le règne de la droite douce, des modérés. Des politiques de droite dans un discours dilué de gauche. Jean Chrétien ne vient-il pas d'admettre, lors de son premier passage officiel à Washington, que le libre-échange avait été une bonne idée et qu'il regrettait ses doutes initiaux? Pouvait-on s'attendre de Clinton, un démocrate, qu'il prononce la fin du <<big government>> et même <<du système social comme on le connait>>? Les partis se confondent dans un juste milieu (Major épouse aussi des idées de gauche), celui du monde après le crash boursier, et de l'Europe de l'Est après le mur. Après la fin de l'histoire, est-ce la fin des partis? Mais peut-être cette recherche philosophique est-elle trop pousser le besoin d'analyse dans le contexte d'une élection réduite à l'image et aux intonations, plutôt que le fond et la substance. Comme pour compenser ce manque de distinction idéologique propre, le manque de débat véritable, la priorité consacrée à la forme, encouragent des méthodes qui réunissent les trois cas Anglo-Saxons, dans la tradition Américaine. Voilà une des critiques de la campagne britannique, où circulent les publicités mensongères, et se multiplient les sondages spécialisés et les sites internet (Jean Charest ne lançait-il pas sa campagne avec une adresse www en sous-titre?). Le phénomène n'est lui-même pas uniquement lié aux seules puissances de l'Ouest ou Anglo-Saxonnes. On reprochait également au premier ministre Benjamin Netanyahu d'avoir mené une campagne très à l'Américaine lors de la dernière élection en Israël suivant l'assassinat de Yitzak Rabin. Bibi avait en effet passé tellement de temps aux États-Unis qu'on se demandait s'il n'en retenait pas la nationalité... Il était même question de débat télévisé entre les candidats en Grande-Bretagne, une inspiration qui lui serait plutôt venue outre-atlantique qu'outre-Manche, où les débats présidentiels parfois fulgurants auraient mal trouvé leur place dans un décor parlementaire et royal velouté. Il s'agissait peut-être de la meilleure chance de John Major d'effectuer même une mince remontée. Il faut dire qu'on avait dit la même chose des débats entre Dole et Clinton, où le second n'avait qu'à se tenir droit pour ne pas perdre face. Dans les trois cas cependant, on peut se plaindre de rencontrer des campagnes au sort prévisible, quelque soit la bonne volonté ou l'effort des défavoris. À moins que les sondages ne mentent à nouveau, comme ils l'avaient faits lors de l'élection de John Major, et de Jacques Chirac (à quelques mois du premier tour). Ainsi même les nouvelles méthodes qui font rage lors des campagnes dans l'Ouest ne sont pas sans défauts. Peut-être les trois cas se rapprochent-ils dans l'érreur. Deux le font en tout cas sur au sujet du financement, des campagnes qui aux États-Unis comme en Grande Bretagne ne donne pas lieu à une transparence évidente. Après l'élection de Bill Clinton en effet, les chiffres de financement soulèvent la controverse à l'aurore du nouveau mandat. Bientôt des rumeurs circulaient sur les contacts de financiers chinois. Les démocrates eurent en effet à rembourser des sommes d'argent de contributions internationales, surtout d'Asie, importantes. En Grande-Bretagne, la colonie de Hong Kong est également à la source de soupçons de financement illégal dans le rang des conservateurs, qui gardent leurs sources de financement en général bien floues. Aux États-Unis les soupçons et accusations volent de toutes parts, et dans les deux sens. N'est-ce pas la tradition même de la politique?


Le monde à l'heure du clonage

Les meilleurs exemples de clonage depuis l'avènement de Dolly, cette brebis qui tient son nom d'une chanteuse américaine aux jumelles corporelles bien connues, étaient ceux d'articles de périodiques et de journaux qui étouffèrent la presse mondiale depuis le début de la semaine dernière. Dans leurs pages, et d'un souffle, questions de morale et d'éthique fondamentales mêlées de références aux génies hollywoodiens qui produisirent les Blade Runners, Boys from Brazil et plus récemment Multiplicity, ce bleuet flétri du grand écran de 1996. Côté littéraire, Frankenstein, Le Meilleur des mondes et autres classiques de science-fiction venaient soudainement prendre place dans les savantes bibliothèques des chercheurs d'Édimbourg. Ces derniers sont à l'origine de la percée qui devait être révélée par le magazine britannique Nature. Or déjà le jour de parution du magazine scientifique britannique, de manière très - judicieuse, l'existence de Dolly ne constituait plus la nouvelle, mais qu'une confirmation: le confrère quotidien Observer ayant soufflé la réussite quelques jours plus tôt. Déjà, le succès de l'opération de clonage d'un mammifère adulte était à la source d'une hystérie de proportion médiatisée: l'homme une fois copié lui aussi, rien n'empêcherait le monde sportif de se doter d'une quantité sans limite de Shaqs, pour l'édition de maillot de bains, de Claudias, ou alors, pour amuser l'armée américaine, de Saddam Hussein; autant de sosies pour autant d'acteurs de films d'aventure! Tout le monde aurait son clône en cas d'accident (pièces de rechange) et il n'y aurait plus d'espèces animales en voie de disparition! Pourtant qu'y a-t-il de si nouveau là-dedans? L'hystérie permit, dans le tumulte, à plusieurs autres laboratoires de révéler leurs propres progrès en la matière. Quelques jours plus tard, un labo en Oregon annonçait qu'on y avait réussi le clonage de deux singes, au niveau embryonnaire cependant (et non pas comme dans le cas de Dolly, à partir de cellules d'un animal mûr, ce qui était précédemment impossible et ne fut en fait que réussi une fois sur 277!), quel pas reste-il donc à franchir? Un institut taiwanais révélait cette semaine le clonage de cinq cochons d'une race en voie de disparition (identique, hélas, qu'à 90% à leurs parents). La duplication reste-t-elle que physique? Un laboratoire de San Diego réussit cette semaine à faire chanter un poulet comme une caille suite à quelques manipulations génétiques dans les zones de cerveau relatives au chant... Puis il y a quatre ans, l'Université de Washington clonait des embryons humains à partir de 17 cellules embryionnaires defectives. Pour les scientifiques cependant, tout froidement, cloner des humains serait sans intérêt commercial, mais plus rien n'empêcherait des laboratoires de procéder à de telles opérations. Selon TIME, toute tentative de législation serait inutile. Pourtant le président Clinton ne perdit pas de temps à bannir le financement fédéral de toute opération visant à cloner des humains (après avoir banni le financement d'embryons humains, fédéraux seulement; de telles lois ne régissent pas le secteur privé), tout en lançant une commission consultative sur les conséquences éthiques du clonage. Aux États-Unis d'ailleurs un scandal fait rage à l'université de Californie où un docteur est accusé d'avoir implanté des embryons volés chez des patients infertiles. Ailleurs, le président Jacques Chirac, voulait <<s'assurer à ce que le dispositif législatif du pays est totalement adapté aux nouveaux champs d'applications ainsi ouverts>> en France, <<le premier (pays) à inscrire dans le droit positif (1994) un certain nombre de principes bioéthiques>>. L'Italie décida également d'interdire toute expérimentation de clonage animal ou humain. En Argentine, trois projets de loi prévoient des peines de prison pour toute tentative de clonage humain. Après le Vatican, la plus haute autorité religieuse d'Égypte interdisait le clonage au nom de l'Islam. Puis ce fut à la Commission européenne, l'Unesco, le Canada et autres pays, de s'interroger sur les implications éventuelles des nouvelles d'Écosse. Grande-Bretagne, Danemark, Belgique, Pays-Bas, Espagne et Allemagne ont déjà banni la pratique du clonage, même si le premier pays avait publiquement financé la recherche de l'institut Roslin (à présent remis en cause) et le dernier avait été à l'orgine des premières expérimentations de clonage. En 1938 en effet, le scientifique allemand Hans Spemann proposa l'expérience <<fantastique>> de retirer le noyau d'une cellule d'oeuf pour le remplacer par le noyau d'une autre: le premier embryologue. Mais les premières opérations de ce genre n'obtirent leurs succès initiaux que pendant les années 70 à partir de grenouilles, encore bien loin des mammifères. En 1981 les recherchistes Karl Illmensee de l'université de Genève et Peter Hoppe du Maine prétendèrent avoir réussi l'impossible à partir de souris, ce qui s'avéra frauduleux. Le monde scientifique fut choqué par la déception et plusieurs centres abandonnèrent leurs recherches en clonage. Personne cependant ne doute de la véridité des résultats de l'institut réputé de Roslin, qui a fourni plusieurs preuves (telles des empreintes d'ADN) et est ouvert à toute vérification. L'institut avait initalement été mis en place dans les années 40 pour nourrir une Grande Bretagne souffrant des années de guerre. Le problème agricole une fois comblé vingt ans plus tard, l'institut dut réorienter ses priorités vers la recherche biologique moléculaire et la biotechnologie. Le but était de faire de leurs brebis, dans une région où elles sont nettement plus nombreuses que les hommes, de véritables pharmacies ambulantes (pour par exemple secréter une protéïne dans son lait aux valeurs thérapeutiques). Le potentiel curatif de ces manipulations génétiques et trans-génétiques est important, et l'industrie elle-même, en est une de plusieurs milliards de dollars. Pourtant les marchés financiers, après un enthousiasme initial, sont rentrés dans l'ordre. L'histoire a connu plusieurs cas de compagnies biotechnologiques éphémères; de toutes façon selon plusieurs analystes, le clonage ne constitue pas nécessairement la meilleure manière d'obtenir des médicaments. Les mêmes protéïnes thérapeutiques peuvent êtres obtenues à partir de plantes à des coûts moindres. La compétition est féroce, les autres titres de la semaine l'ont révélé. Roslin est sans doute pionner, mais dans un marché qui ne manque pas de compétition.. Que la nouvelle n'en soit qu'une à moitié n'est pas nouveau dans le monde scientifique. Dolly a déjà plusieurs mois d'existence. Or le débat qui l'entoure risque tout de même de durer bien plus longtemps que cela.


A new sweep of Eastern Europe?

There is little doubt there are similarities, and for good reason; thousands of Bulgarians walking the streets of Sofia demanding new elections are taking their cue from Belgrade where Serb opposition supporters have been doing the same for over 50 days. Serbia's opposition has been making slow but steady progress after members of the military and religious community as well as some government members joined academics, students and other supporters of the Zajedno opposition movement to protest the cancellation of November's vote. Dissent has been growing within government and the judicial system since an OSCE study supported the opposition's claim of victory in local elections. The very instances which cancelled the votes are now admitting that the opposition's claim to victory was indeed justified, and a meeting held between government and opposition members over the weekend ended on a positive note "the will of the people will be respected", suggesting Serb president Milosevic is backing down. The opposition has rejected calls for a re-election and partial recognition of local election victories and has been increasingly pushing for the dismissal of Milosevic and his government and "complete reforms of the country". The regime has in this latest serie of demonstrations refrained from using violence to deter thousands marching in Belgrade's streets daily. In Bulgaria, a similar call has been made for elections after events quickly turned violent and led to the storming of Sofia's parliament where Socialist MPs (making half the government's elected officials) were being held captive before they were freed by police. Opposition members were protesting failed economic policies and the rule of Leftist politicians (part of the Communist old guard), after a new premier was nominated without calling elections. Much of the spectacle indeed has the feel of 1989's revolutionary sweep across Eastern Europe, an area experimenting with a new round of elections; still a relatively new phenomenon. Reformed Communists hung on to power in some of these countries but have been facing recent challenges, including in Romania where anti-Communists were recently elected. While being in the center of a strong political storm however, the opposition in Serbia remains far from united; its use as a role-model for countries still tenuously experimenting with Democracy is therefore fairly limited, and this unity is more against than in favour of something. In Belarus also, a strong opposition has yet to cristallize, despite protest on a recent referendum increasing president Lukashenko's powers in the former Soviet republic with strong ties to Moscow. There also a fact-finding mission is about to look into last Fall's vote, at the source of popular disgruntlement. The OSCE will for its part keep an eye on this month's vote in Chechnya, the first since the clash with Moscow, without however officially overseeing the vote, this will be the mandate of a local electoral commission. Refugees displaced by the conflict, which has halved the autonomous republic's population, could vote through polling stations in larger Russian cities and with the help of bus service from neighboring regions, according to the commission supervising the vote. Averting a tense post-electoral situation in Slovenia, the parliament of former Yugoslavia's richest republic, re-elected Liberal Democrat Janez Drnovsek in a knife-edge vote, ending two months of political deadlock after inconclusive general elections. One of the new government's priorities will be to "ensure political stability". In fact Slovenia is the ex-Yugoslavia's top candidate for EU membership into the year 2000, and could also be readily admitted into NATO. Its neighbor to the south meanwhile, Croatia, has also seen some unrest against the government of F. Tudjman last Fall, the ailing leader who oversaw the republic's access to independence a short while after Slovenia. Easily confused Slovakia, former member of the Czecho-slovak federation, is equally the scene of some bitter political discourse involving its architect of independence, Vladimir Meciar. The prime minister condemned a move by opposition parties to directly elect the presidency, in an effort they claim to prevent Meciar from taking over the position with strengthened powers without a vote. In much of East Europe ex-Communists have refurbished their image just enough to return to power, and one of the most obvious examples of this is the country formerly ruled by the princely Lech Walensa, trailblazer to change in the East in the 1980s, Poland. This year the ruling ex-Communist Democratic Alliance, sharing power with the people's party, will be facing the challenges of yet another fragmented opposition, after Union of Freedom members broke rank and said they would form their own right-wing group to fight Communist-rooted parties. Everywhere you look in Eastern Europe, Communism therefore remains a factor to be reckoned with, politically, even seven years after the tumbling of the Berlin wall. Elections, though often rigged in the fine East Bloc tradition (as they originally were in the mid-1940s, leading to the split of Europe), have been one means of keeping them alive. As a matter of fact, the fragmented state of parties across the board can be blamed on East Europe's unpreparedness to assume power after the Fall 1989 events, and disgruntlement with the at times draconian shock reforms which followed. Perhaps it is only fitting the lastest round of unrest is most fierce in the former Yugoslavia, where 1989 failed to create the momentous events seen elsewhere in the East.