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Archive for Sunday, December 29, 2002

Despite some signs of hope …

Global conflicts open 2003

December 29, 2002

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Conflict holds center stage as the world begins a new year.

The United States and allies are mobilizing forces for a possible war in Iraq, while American and other troops are under fire in Afghanistan a year after the Taliban's fall.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai releases a dove during
Afghanistan's Independence Day ceremony in Kabul, in this Aug.19
photo.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai releases a dove during Afghanistan's Independence Day ceremony in Kabul, in this Aug.19 photo.

Israelis and Palestinians still shed blood. Ivory Coast, once the stable business hub of West Africa, is wracked by civil war. Political unrest threatens to escalate in Venezuela, Haiti and Nigeria. Tensions remain high between India and Pakistan.

The hunt for Osama bin Laden goes on, and al-Qaida bombers have staged deadly attacks in Asia and Africa, as governments press crackdowns on suspected terrorists.

Not all is grim. Long wars have stopped in three African nations -- Congo, Angola and Sierra Leone -- and in South Asia's Sri Lanka.

The Associated Press asked some of its correspondents around the world to assess the prospects for 2003. Here are their reports:

United Nations

All eyes will be on a report to the Security Council by U.N. weapons inspectors on Jan. 27, which is likely to play a key role in determining whether Iraq will face a U.S.-led war or be disarmed peacefully.

With inspectors back in Iraq after nearly four years, the question of whether Saddam Hussein can cooperate with them and stave off a new war will almost certainly dominate the United Nations' agenda.

But there are many other issues vying for attention: increasing support for the war on terrorism, ending conflicts in Ivory Coast and Burundi, helping implement an outline for Israeli-Palestinian peace, getting Greek and Turkish Cypriots to agree on a reunification plan, nurturing economic recovery and democratic government in Afghanistan.

War and peace aren't the only items on the U.N. agenda.

The World Food Program is tackling an unprecedented hunger crisis in Africa, where 38 million people face starvation. There are refugee and human rights problems in Africa, the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan. The United Nations is holding conferences on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in April and on small arms in July.

A U.N. vehicle stands at the entrance after United Nations weapons
inspectors entered the Al-Sajoud palace, one of Saddam Hussein's
presidential palaces in Baghdad in this Dec. 3 photo.

A U.N. vehicle stands at the entrance after United Nations weapons inspectors entered the Al-Sajoud palace, one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces in Baghdad in this Dec. 3 photo.

-- Edith M. Lederer

Middle East

The Middle East could see big changes if the United States launches a war to topple Saddam Hussein and manages to coax Israelis and Palestinians toward ending their 27-month-old conflict.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is favored to win Israel's Jan. 28 election. But the result could well be another "unity government" formed with the moderate Labor Party led by Amram Mitzna, who favors a speedy Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.

Sharon accepts the idea of Palestinian statehood but sets tough conditions and is mistrusted by the Palestinians because he oversaw harsh military measures against them and reoccupied the West Bank.

A Palestinian election planned for January will almost certainly be put off, but Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will still face pressure to reform his government and perhaps even an Israeli move to expel him if suicide bombings continue.

-- Dan Perry

Latin America

Venezuela is flirting with civil war, putting attention on the poverty-driven turmoil that is testing many Latin American democracies.

Populist-authoritarian President Hugo Chavez, having survived a coup, is fighting a new effort to unseat him as Venezuela's economy sinks. There's a constitutional catch: Chavez was elected, and his term runs to 2007.

An Indian security force soldier stands guard in Srinagar, India,
in this Oct. 10 photo.

An Indian security force soldier stands guard in Srinagar, India, in this Oct. 10 photo.

Brazil's government has taken a leftward turn with the election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as president. Millions are poor and jobless, and blame their condition on a free-market policy. Investors worry Silva will dump that policy -- and default on Brazil's $230 billion foreign debt.

In Ecuador, with 60 percent of people living in poverty, the poor have been heartened by the presidential election victory of a former coup leader, Lucio Gutierrez, over a billionaire.

Mexican President Vicente Fox's promise to overturn 70 years of autocratic rule will be tested with midterm elections in 2003. Fox also is working to get Washington to loosen border rules for Mexican workers despite the campaign against terrorist groups.

Argentina remains in its worst economic slump, hoping a presidential election in April will produce a leader who can win international aid.

-- James Anderson

Asia

A long and familiar list of problems dogs the world's most populous continent.

Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is believed on the loose somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan still face off over Kashmir. And North Korea is as unpredictable as ever.

While the U.S. military-led search for bin Laden drags on, echoes of terrorism reverberate through Asia.

Tensions that had India and Pakistan on the brink of war a year ago have cooled, but their dispute over Kashmir is unresolved and Indians are threatening action against Islamic militants operating out of the Himalayan region.

A cease-fire is holding in Sri Lanka as peace talks seem to be making progress toward ending a 19-year civil war.

In East Asia, the enigmatic communist rulers of North Korea upped anxieties by admitting they are developing nuclear weapons.

For Japan, another hard year lies ahead. After a decadelong slowdown, it hobbles into 2003 with its stock market near a 19-year low, its unemployment rate at a postwar high of 5.6 percent and its political leaders unsure how to rejuvenate the world's second-largest economy.

China, meanwhile, greets the new year with a new look. In November, the Communist Party marked the end of Jiang Zemin's 13-year career as the country's top party man. Successor Hu Jintao, 59, an owlish engineer, must complete market overhauls that have seen more than 25 million workers laid off since 1998.

-- Eric Talmadge

Africa

Two giants of Africa venture into 2003 facing fateful challenges: Ivory Coast, West Africa's economic hub, struggling with a once-unthinkable civil war, and Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, trying for its first democratic transfer of power.

A weak Ivorian government that had sought to cement its security by cosseting both pet ethnic groups and military branches lost on both counts. Northerners and army officers, the "outs" on President Laurent Gbagbo's in-and-out list, rebelled in September.

Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, now is pulling in mercenaries and looking to former ruler France and others for help.

In Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 ended 15 years of brutal military rule, is desperately appealing for calm as his faction-riven nation heads toward elections expected in April. Nigeria has never pulled off a civilian transfer of power, seeing the army take over in a series of coups.

Hopes are high that new peace will hold in Congo, Angola and Sierra Leone.

-- Ellen Knickmeyer

Europe

European leaders will likely be forced into a delicate balancing act in 2003: paving the way for the European Union to expand into the former Soviet bloc while reassuring voters fearful of job losses, an influx of immigrants and terrorism.

With Europe mired in an economic slowdown, the EU faces an uphill battle to garner popular support for expansion amid growing concern over the costs and a potential loss of national identity.

The 15-nation EU must also overhaul its rules to avoid paralysis in decision-making when it adds 10 more members by 2004. Deep divisions over a proposed constitution aimed at giving the EU a stronger voice in world affairs also need resolving.

Despite the smooth launch of the EU's common currency last New Year's Day, the austere budget rules anchoring the euro are drawing criticism as governments struggle to spur their economies.

Meanwhile, the threat of terrorism and war casts a gloom.

France and Britain have repeatedly warned of possible terror strikes, while the EU had its first-ever Europewide training exercise against attacks that use weapons of mass destruction.

Europeans are deeply divided over a possible war with Iraq. While France has set tough conditions for it to join any U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Germany has ruled out participation. Britain, Washington's closest ally, firmly backs the U.S. hard line.

-- Kim Housego

Russia/Commonwealth of Independent States

2003 brings two watersheds for Russia: a peak in the nation's foreign debt payments and parliamentary elections that will pave the way for the presidential contest the next year.

Payment of the more than $15 billion in debt will tax the state budget, which has maintained a small surplus the past three years thanks to high world prices for oil.

The parliamentary campaign can be expected to slow long-anticipated reform of the natural gas and electricity utilities, because candidates will be loath to back changes that would bring consumer price rises. The vote also is likely to return a solid majority of seats to supporters of President Vladimir Putin, who is up for re-election in 2004.

With the Chechen war in its fourth year, the Kremlin plans a referendum on a Chechen constitution in the spring, followed by the election of a regional president. The rebels, behind the recent seizure of a Moscow theater, are likely to continue hit-and-run attacks.

Political tensions are likely to grow in Ukraine and Belarus, where both presidents have shorn the parliaments of any power. Both are under intense diplomatic pressure from the West over alleged human rights abuses and for allegedly helping Iraq.

-- Judith Ingram

Caribbean

The new year promises possible trials for men held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and could bring a test of wills to Haiti as the government's opponents step up violent protests.

Nearly a year after hundreds of detainees began arriving at Guantanamo, they are still awaiting word on their fate. Washington says the men, accused of links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime and al-Qaida, could be tried by tribunals, released or held indefinitely.

In Haiti, crushing poverty has most people entrapped in a daily search for food. The opposition accuses President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of doing little to solve the country's problems and wants him to resign. His opponents and supporters are increasingly clashing in the streets, but Aristide says he has brought relative peace after years of repeated coups and says he plans to serve out his term, which ends in 2006.

Hotel operators hope for a rebound in tourism in the Caribbean, where economies have been hurt by a drop in the number of travelers since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

-- Ian James

Australia and the Pacific

The Australian government begins the year concentrated on protecting the nation from terrorist attack.

The country was put on high alert in October after terror bombs wrecked two nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali and killed more than 180 people, including 88 Australians.

Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government has said its only major spending initiatives in 2003 will be on defense.

The country's farmers will be hoping that the worst drought in a century to hit Australia finally will break after wiping out billions of dollars worth of exports in 2002.

After winning re-election in 2002, New Zealand's Labor Prime Minister Helen Clark looks set to push on with social reform. While economic growth is expected to slow, the center-left administration will push for lower trade barriers for its farmers and manufacturers at the World Trade Organization and in regional and bilateral forums.

Early in 2003, off the northern city of Auckland, the finals of the America's Cup sailing regatta could see a New Zealand group become the first non-U.S. team to win the competition three straight times.

Fiji, the South Pacific's hotspot the past 17 years with three coups, faces a fresh challenge to the legality of its indigenous Fijian-led government. The ethnic Indian-dominated opposition Labor Party is seeking a court ruling that it has the right to seats in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase under the country's multiracial constitution.

-- Mike Corder

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