The Week Ahead: Clocks given a second chance to align with Earth

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The Independent Online
DO YOU ever feel that time is running out? Take comfort from an instant of respite offered on Wednesday, when the day is to be lengthened by a second. A 'leap' second will be added at midnight to the super-accurate atomic clocks of the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

The extra beat in our lives will enable the clocks to keep in time with the rotation of the Earth. The Earth's rotation, the institute explains, is accurate only to within one-thousandth of a second per day.

Such split-second precision may prove elusive at the summit of the Organisation of African Unity which begins a two-day meeting in Cairo today. Some 30 heads of state are to discuss the continent's economic problems and how to resolve its armed conflicts. African leaders criticise the United Nations for its inability to end bloodshed in Liberia, Angola and Somalia.

South Africa will not attend. OAU members say Pretoria's transition to democracy has not yet gone far enough. South Africa will, none the less, try to ensure its own economic prosperity by hosting a conference in Brussels today and tomorrow on opportunities for EC investors, the first such conference to be held.

Following Malawi's recent endorsement of multi-party democracy, a cross-party working group reports today on the formation of a proposed National Consultative Council. The country's parliament is to be recalled tomorrow to amend the ban on multi-party politics and other restrictions. Burundi holds its first free legislative elections tomorrow.

The Czech Republic introduces visas on Thursday for visitors from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Tajikistan to try to stem the tide of refugees. Also on Thursday, the Interior Minister, Jan Ruml, threatens to close the border with Slovakia unless Bratislava introduces measures to guard its entire length. This is to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing Czech territory into Germany. The measures coincide with the imposition of tighter new asylum laws in Germany. The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, visits Slovakia on Thursday and will try to smooth over any wrinkles.

In Romania, the former Securitate boss Alexandru Draghici goes on trial before the Supreme Court in Bucharest today for a single murder charge dating from 1954. On the same day a Romanian parliamentary commission presents MPs with a report on corruption following an inquiry into a big scandal involving the head of the financial police and top politicians.

Tomorrow in Bucharest a court hears the case of Prince Paul of Romania, who is suing to claim the right of succession to the Romanian throne through his kinship with the exiled former King Michael.

These events may well be covered by Romania's first private television channel, Canal 31, which goes on the air on Thursday. But those wanting to observe the shenanigans first-hand can now take the plane: flights between London and Bucharest resume today after a 12-year gap. President Ion Iliescu will miss all the excitement: he leaves tomorrow for a month in Uruguay.

Talking of trials, the treason trial of the former Latvian Communist party leader Alfred Rubiks and of the central committee secretary Ojars Potreki resumes in Riga on Wednesday. It was adjourned last week after Mr Rubiks protested at being frogmarched to the court and of being stripped of his parliamentary immunity. A Moscow court tomorrow hears the case of the disputed ownership of a theatre: the director Yuri Lyubimov and the former Soviet minister of culture Nikolai Gubenko both claim they own the Taganka Theatre.

The US state of Vermont imposes sanctions on Thursday when it bans smoking in public buildings, offices, restaurants and hotel rooms. And the Muslim-ruled Malaysian state of Kelantan is stricter still. From Thursday you will be prohibited from buying beer, spirits or wine in coffee shops, night clubs, discotheques and karaoke lounges. Only soft drinks will be sold.