The Week Ahead: Rice deal threatens Tokyo crisis

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The Independent Online
JAPAN'S Foreign Minister, Tsutomu Hata, promises to make an eagerly awaited announcement today on the opening of Japan's rice market over six years, after last-minute haggling in Geneva for better terms. 'From a standpoint of the world economy, now is the time for Japan to make a decision,' Mr Hata says. Japan's refusal to lift its ban on commercial rice imports has been a big stumbling block in concluding the Gatt Uruguay round.

So politically sensitive in Japan is the issue of rice imports that the matter could trigger the dissolution of the government this week and the calling of general elections. The Socialist Party, the biggest party in Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa's fragile coalition has threatened to pull out unless Mr Hosokawa rejects the Gatt plan.

The PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, is due to address the European Parliament today, when the Israelis were to have started withdrawing troops from the occupied territories. He is to visit Britain tomorrow and Wednesday for talks with John Major and other political and religious leaders before heading for Ireland on Thursday.

Just when we thought rail trouble was all on this side of the Channel, the French railway unions plan disruptions on Wednesday in protest against working conditions and wages. The action will coincide with a meeting of the executive board of the French railway network, SNCF. And in Spain unions are calling a general strike on Wednesday and Thursday.

Nasa expects fair weather for the homecoming of the US space shuttle Endeavour to Kennedy Space Center in Florida today and has advanced the expected touchdown by about 90 minutes because conditions could deteriorate later. Apart from rehabilitating the Hubble telescope, the 11-day mission has rejuvenated Nasa's sagging reputation, which is just as well, as on Wednesday Vice-President Al Gore visits Moscow to sign an agreement on building a joint US-Russian orbiting space station.

En route to Moscow, Mr Gore drops in on President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan. Both leaders are trying to rally political support as they struggle to implement economic reforms encouraged by the West.

Pity the former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello, hounded from his post for corruption. Now in limbo and chafing against the agony of political anonymity, he awaits a judgment before Friday on his appeal against an eight-year banishment from public life. Should he win, Mr Collor plans to run for congress in the state of Sao Paulo. But he faces a criminal trial in the new year that could put him in jail for eight years.

In the 'Rio against violence' campaign beginning on Friday, the entire Brazilian city will be asked to cease all activity for two minutes at noon in protest against increasing violence. It sounds like the triumph of hope over experience, as does the 'Train of Joy' between Fortaleza and Sobal in Brazil from Thursday until Saturday, giving out food and toys in a campaign against hunger.

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