The Week Ahead: Yeltsin looks to avoid another bumpy landing

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The Independent Online
IN HIS first visit to the West since dealing with the little local difficulty of an armed uprising last October, President Boris Yeltsin flies to Spain today for a three-day visit. There are no burning political issues on the agenda, but the President will be seeking to dispel doubts in the West that he can keep Russia on the straight and narrow towards reform and democracy.

The trip will also give Mr Yeltsin a chance to quash continuing rumours of ill-health, which have dogged him over the past months. However, one of his engagements will be to meet doctors in Barcelona who in 1990 operated on his back - hurt when his plane made an emergency landing - and examined him in the Kremlin last September. His press spokesman was unclear as to whether the meeting would be medical or social - not a good sign.

The US Congress returns to work today in Washington after a two- week Easter recess. Top of the agenda will be crime - not on Capitol Hill but on the streets - and health care. There is bound to be more cross-party agreement on being 'tough on crime' than on reforms to the health care system.

Also in Washington, officials from Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia meet today in an attempt to resolve the political stand-off that has prompted a Greek embargo against its neighbour. The Greek move - over the new republic's name and use of symbols claimed by Athens - has angered its partners in the European Union. Unless Greece backs down by Wednesday, the European Commission will take Athens to the European Court of Justice.

Ministers from more than 120 countries will descend on Marrakesh tomorrow to sign the Gatt world trade pact. But the four-day meeting could be marred by the continuing trade friction between the United States and Japan, and North-South divisions.

It has been a long and tortuous road to agreement. The final signing, scheduled for Friday, will mark the end of the seven-year long Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. But as each minister will have several minutes to speak on the treaty, the process will take up the better part of three days.

European Union fisheries ministers meeting in Brussels tomorrow appear to have the bones of an agreement to allow Spanish and Portuguese fleets access to almost all EU fishing grounds from 1996. But that sticks in the gullet of the Irish, who are reluctant to end a fishing ban in their waters.

Negotiations on extending EU membership to Norway last month floundered over disagreements on fishing quotas. As part of a deal, the EU committed itself to allowing the Spanish fleet - the largest of the 12 member states - access to the fishing grounds six years earlier than planned.

Four German neo-Nazis, including two 17-year-old boys, go on trial in Dusseldorf on Wednesday charged with murder and arson, over the fire that killed five immigrant Turkish women and children last May. The attack, in the western city of Solingen, was the worst in a wave of right-wing violence against foreigners that followed German unification in 1990. It brought vociferous international protests, which pushed the German government to ban neo-Nazi groups and imprison racist thugs.