From their own correspondent

On Christmas Day the BBC's foreign correpondents will get together to make their predictions for the coming year. What will they say? Here's a sneak preview
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The Independent Culture
Matt Frei

The Far East

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, will become more anarchic and bloody as the sprawling archipelago prepares for its first, free elections since post-colonial independence amid the region's financial crisis. Unless the generals intervene with a coup, the country's next president will be the daughter of its first president, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Indonesia will have joined Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and the Philippines as an Asian country that is, has been or could soon be ruled by the daughter or spouse of a former leader who met with a sticky end.

China will mark the 50th anniversary of its Communist Revolution in 1949 with the continuing agony of transforming 1.3 billion Chinese into capitalists. Japan will continue to degenerate as the country proves wholly incapable of reforming the rigid political system. And North Korea's illusive Kim Jong Il will burst onto the international stage with nuclear threats and bloodcurdling rhetoric.

Allan Little


Boris Yeltsin's health will give out, his political authority will disappear and, even if he manages to stay alive and in office, he will be no more than a figurehead president. His physical and political decline will mirror that of Russia's fast-fading aspiration to democratic and free-market reform. The temptation to print money to pay wage and pension arrears will intensify. It will become increasingly difficult to ward off hyper inflation and the further collapse of the rouble. Russia will enter a period of political and economic autarchy - it will be much more isolated, introverted and self-obsessed. Two pretenders to Yeltsin's crown - the Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the populist governor of Krasnoyarsk, General Alexander Lebed - will jostle for the succession. Each man wants 1999 to be the year that propels him into the Kremlin.

Jim Muir The Middle East

The one safe prediction is that there is bound to be trouble. May is, at least in theory, the deadline for the Israelis and Palestinians to complete "final status" negotiations on all outstanding issues. Needless to say, the most contentious have been left till last. These include the status of Jerusalem, of the Palestinian territories, the Jewish settlements in them, and other such fateful topics. Since the lesser steps which have been taken so far have been attended by so much deadlock, breakdown and violence, it would be naive to imagine that the bigger issues could go more smoothly. Other things: three of the region's key leaders, Mr Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and Hafez Assad of Syria, are not in the best of health. And the power struggle in Iran promises another lively year there.

Stephen Sackur Washington

The President will criss-cross the nation talking of his atonement for past sins. Hillary will consult a good divorce lawyer. Monica Lewinsky will launch her own TV talk show and a range of thong underwear ("as seen by the President"). Far from Capitol Hill, the first serious skirmishes of the 2000 presidential election campaign will begin. George W Bush, the "compassionate-conservative" Governor of Texas will endeavour to follow his father's footsteps all the way to the White House but, as the official Republican front-runner, he'll find reporters rooting around his "youthful indiscretions". Expect the US hi-tech sector to find ever more creative uses for the internet. Soon dentists will be able to floss your teeth using nothing but a modem and a keyboard.

Jane Standley


Nigeria could swap military rule for democracy; the Democratic Republic of Congo could swap war for peace. But the picture is still far from bright. The war in the Congo is becoming Africa's first "world war" - so many countries which can't afford it are being dragged into the conflict. Zimbabwe's involvement there could bankrupt an economy which is already in ruins. Growing discontent could force change on the 18-year rule of president Robert Mugabe. And I can't see Congo's Laurent Kabila surviving far into 1999. Expect former friends Eritrea and Ethiopia to battle across their disputed border again in 1999 - and the long-running conflicts in southern Sudan and Angola to continue. Many thousands of ordinary Africans who deserve better will know hunger and injury.

Caroline Wyatt Bonn

Next year may be much more exciting than usual, with sleepy Bonn shaken up by the new "red-green" governing coalition, led by the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroder. Until now the Green party - the junior coalition partner - has been extraordinarily well-behaved. But next year could see the Greens becoming impatient. Next summer, German bureaucrats will start packing up their filing cabinets to move from Rhineland Bonn to the Prussian capital Berlin. The move will doubtless bring home to officials the reality of 20 per cent unemployment in the former Communist east.