Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Why the long face, Fidel?," May 1, 2004

Supreme Court Two cases facing the Supreme Court could set new precedents for how a president can prosecute a war or hold prisoners during wartime. At stake: the status of 600 prisoners rounded up in Afghanistan during the assault on the Taliban. Administration critics say the U.S. military may not hold prisoners without providing for them legal representation. The Bush administration argues the men were rounded up in the ongoing war on terror and should not be released until that war is over. Will 50 years of precedent supporting the president be scrapped and the commander in chief be forced to bow to the judiciary? Supreme Court watchers expect the decision in the case to be one of the last announced when the term ends for the summer (story, page 22).

United Nations Paul Volcker may have a name and a face, but the former Federal Reserve chairman will need the endurance of a marathon runner to finish well the UN investigation he has just been asked to chair. The 76-year-old Mr. Volcker must discover what happened to more than $10 billion, plus interest, in Iraqi oil revenues. Over seven years those legal exports passed through four European banks and nine UN agencies before delivering less than promised to Iraqis squeezed by UN sanctions. It took an Iraqi newspaper to crack open the scandal by publishing Oil Ministry documents that showed kickbacks to hundreds of friends of Saddam, including Security Council members France and Russia (story page 27).

War on terror Intelligence sources in Italy and Britain report that Iran's Shiite government is behind the rapid rise of 30-year-old Iraqi Shiite hardliner Moqtada Sadr, who has mounted successful attacks against coalition forces and his own Shiite rivals in recent months. The Italians found evidence that Iran, working under the guise of Islamic charity groups, is spending $70 million a month to infiltrate Iraq and arm and organize Mr. Sadr's troops-even as the Bush administration tries to negotiate a deal with Iranian leaders to capture the upstart cleric. Mr. Sadr, the Italians say, receives orders directly from Iranian head of state Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (story p. 28).

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India Voting began on April 20 in the world's largest democracy, a mammoth undertaking done over several stages into May. The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is milking what it calls the current "feel-good factor" brought by a booming economy and warming relations with archenemy Pakistan. Warming Indian hearts too was their national cricket team's series win over Pakistan four days before the polls, a match-up credited to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's diplomatic efforts.

But a BJP victory isn't a foregone conclusion: It already heads a 22-party coalition, and will likely have to build another and ally with other parties on the state level. Muslim and Christian minorities are also concerned that a strong BJP win would give free rein to Hindu extremists, who view other religions as non-indigenous invaders. They've launched hundreds of attacks on Christians in the last five years. Deadly clashes in 2002 in Gujarat also saw 2,000 Muslims killed. Local prosecutions have been slow and few (story, page 31).

North Korea Two trains loaded with fuel collided and exploded in the northern town of Ryongchon, reportedly killing up to 3,000 and injuring thousands more. One train carried gasoline and the other liquefied petroleum gas. The April 22 explosion happened just nine hours after President Kim Jong Il had passed through the town, returning from his first visit to China in three years. South Korean media reported that Pyongyang declared a state of emergency around Ryongchon, and cut off some international phone links to prevent news leaking out of the closed country. The railroad through the border town could interrupt much-needed supplies of fuel and food from China, the North's main trading partner. Early signs showed no evidence that the explosion was deliberate, but a paranoid Mr. Kim will likely be suspicious.

South Africa Few expected anything but victory for the ruling African National Congress in the country's third democratic election, and the party clinched its strongest landslide in 10 years. The ANC won almost 70 percent of the vote and nominated premiers to all nine of South Africa's provinces for the first time. The heir to the anti-apartheid white party, the Democratic Alliance, came in second with almost 13 percent. The small but respectable mixed-race African Christian Democratic Party retained its parliamentary seats, but saw only slight growth in the provinces.

Abortion trial More bad news for the abortion industry: U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said she would not issue a nationwide injunction halting the law banning partial-birth abortion. And while two separate trials over the ban move forward, another was delayed on a technical issue. New York District Judge Richard Casey halted his trial while he waits for an appellate court to decide whether a New York hospital will be forced to hand over medical records the plaintiff National Abortion Federation has cited but not shown. Medical records are rarely turned over, but the government says it needs the documents to prove its case (story, page 32).

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