This Week

Issue: "Beyond bread and circuses," Aug. 15, 1998

Losing witnesses?

Fighting and burning of Albanian villages in Kosovo continued, despite pleas for peace talks from Western leaders. The depopulation of large areas prompted renewed charges of ethnic cleansing on the part of Serb forces. One Bosnian Serb about to be charged with genocide died before facing his day in court. Milan Kovacevic, a hospital director and anesthesiologist from Prejidor, apparently had a heart attack in his Dutch jail cell. An indictment charged Mr. Kovacevic with playing a key role in forcibly relocating and killing large numbers of Muslim and Croatian civilians in Bosnia. International law experts said the case was significant because the judges were expected to set new definitions for the crime of genocide. Now the case will be dropped. Another Serb, the former mayor of Vukovar, Croatia, Slavko Kokmanovic, hanged himself in his cell in June just as the tribunal was set to begin deliberations against him for war crimes.

21 guns for Fidel

Cuban leader Fidel Castro received a 21-gun salute and cheers from Grenada's citizens nearly 15 years after U.S. troops invaded the Caribbean island and expelled Mr. Castro's communist soldiers. Mr. Castro's landing at Point Salines Airport, the target of the U.S. invasion, went beyond ironic. He shook hands with local dignitaries while a steel-drum band played "Guantanamera." He unveiled a plaque commemorating the Cuban government's hand in creating the Point Salines Airport, even though U.S. foreign aid was used to complete the project. Construction of the airstrip, by a military unit sent to Grenada by Mr. Castro in 1980, prompted the U.S. invasion. Then-President Ronald Reagan viewed the project as an attempt by the Soviet Union and its Cuban protégés to establish a military foothold in the eastern Caribbean. In 1983, after Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was killed in a coup attempt led by a faction of his own party, the United States intervened militarily, in part to protect American medical students studying at a university near the airport, and to halt construction. In the invasion, 19 U.S. soldiers died, along with 45 Grenadians and scores of Cuban soldiers. Despite the warm welcome, the Cuban leader's visit provoked controversy. "Castro is a dog" graffiti popped up along the main road from the airport to the capital. Prominent dissidents editorialized against the visit. "Cuba cannot offer us anything we can use," said attorney and newspaper columnist Lloyd Noel.

World in brief

  • Flooding on the Yangtze
    Waters on the Yangtze River reached levels not seen since floods in 1954 killed more than 30,000 people. The floodwaters burst through one sodden levee Aug. 4, causing what a local Chinese newspaper called "huge loss of life and property." A report said 150 soldiers and up to 1,000 villagers were swept away in the collapse near Wuhan, but local officials in flood areas have barred foreign journalists from visiting the disaster areas, and state-controlled media have provided conflicting reports of casualties.
  • Control in congo
    Rebel fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo reportedly took control of the eastern border towns of Goma and Bukavu. The government of Laurent Kabila, himself a rebel leader who ousted the former Zaire's long-time ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko, faces factional fighting from within and an erosion of support from neighbors. Government spokesman Didier Mumenge said Rwanda, which aided Kabila against Mobutu, has turned against him and is aiding rebels in the war-ravaged towns along the Congo-Rwanda border.

With you to the end

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After an energizing and profitable weekend raising campaign cash from Hollywood glitterati in the Hamptons in New York, President Clinton thrilled Democratic lawmakers in a series of closed-door pep rallies on Capitol Hill last week. According to congressmen who attended, Hill Democrats last week put the Monica Lewinsky mess out of their minds and cheered, whistled, and hollered for the president, who hollered back: "I'm going to raise issues, raise money, and raise Cain to help elect Democrats." In separate sessions with the black and Hispanic caucuses, the president was not pushed to come clean about Miss Lewinsky. Bronx congressman José Serrano argued that opinion back home has not changed, despite all the revelations: "It's still the economy, stupid." Polls backed him up. A Pew Research Center survey found that seven in 10 think the president's denials are phony, but 57 percent said they would have an unfavorable opinion of members of Congress who supported impeachment hearings. The scandals were perhaps having an effect on both international and domestic policy. Iraq, sensing White House distraction, broke off talks with UN negotiators over weapons inspections. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said the scandals were forcing Mr. Clinton to hug closely congressional liberals. "Whenever there's political controversy surrounding him he identifies with the left, his staunchest supporters," the son of the civil-rights leader told The Washington Post. The outward calm of the president was belied by off-the-record nervousness of aides behind the scenes. The New York Times reported, "Even some of the president's advisers have doubts about his truthfulness regarding Ms. Lewinsky." The paper also noted that White House aides pumped reporters for information about what they knew, if anything, about the results of the FBI lab's tests to determine whether the stain on Miss Lewinsky's dress contained presidential DNA. Sources last week said the tests were complete, but the results are a closely guarded secret. According to the Times, "One of Mr. Clinton's advisers said his team of political and legal aides was nervously awaiting the test results on Ms. Lewinsky's dress. If DNA testing links the dress to Mr. Clinton, this adviser said, White House thinking on his testimony may change." One thing won't change. As Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) put it in a heart-to-heart with the president during his visit to the Hill last week, "We will be with you to the end." That was supposed to be reassuring?


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