The Week Ahead: Keating off to build bridges in Indo-China

AUSTRALIA'S Prime Minister, Paul Keating, tours Indo-China this week. He arrives in Laos tomorrow and Bangkok on Wednesday, and on Friday he attends the opening of the Friendship Bridge, which was built with Australian aid money to link Thailand and Laos across the Mekong river.

The King and Queen of Thailand are to open the bridge on Friday, then cross to Laos on what is thought to be King Bhumibol Adulyadej's first foreign visit in 27 years. The bridge will give Thailand a land route to Vietnam and China and offer landlocked Laos access to the sea.

On Sunday Mr Keating visits Vietnam, the first Australian leader to do so since 1968, when Australia was fighting alongside US troops against the North. His talks with the Prime Minster, Vo Van Kiet, will be on trade and human rights.

Also heading east, the Dutch Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers, visits Indonesia today until Thursday. And the US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, visits India on Wednesday and Pakistan on Friday. Both missions aim to reduce tension: between the Dutch and the Indonesians over a massacre in 1991 in East Timor, and between Washington and New Delhi over US plans to deliver 38 F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, visits Brazil from Wednesday until Friday and is expected to sign an extradition treaty - the previous one having lapsed earlier this century. The new treaty could be enforced retrospectively, thus firing hopes in Scotland Yard that handcuffs may finally close on the wrists of the Great Train Robber Ronald Biggs. Biggs fled to Brazil in 1970 after escaping from the prison where he was serving 30 years. On Friday Mr Hurd is to make his first trip to the Falklands.

Argentines vote on Sunday for a constituent assembly whose main purpose is to amend the constitutional requirement that the president can stand for only one term. The new constitution will allow a second term, enabling President Carlos Menem to fulfil his ambition to remain in power after his term ends next year.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performs at the Vatican on Thursday in memory of victims of the Holocaust.

Kansas City decides today whether to legalise riverboat gambling following a court ruling overturning a law that approved it.

From Friday US soldiers will have to step outside for a cigarette: smoking will be banned in all military workplaces. Does that include trenches, one wonders?

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