The Week Ahead: Losing hope in a last hope

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A UN conference on Somalia which opens in Addis Ababa today until Thursday to secure the future of relief operations has been called the last chance for peace in the country. The omens are bad. Both Mohamed Farah Aideed, whose forces have been the scourge of UN troops and Ali Mahd, a bitter Aideed rival, refuse to attend. General Aideed objects that the UN holds eight of his men, and Chief Ali Mahd is furious that the UN called off its hunt for Aideed. An African diplomat admitted the hopelessness of the task: 'It's useless to continue talking about relief operations before achieving a political settlement.'

Mayoral run-off elections in Italy are to be held on Sunday in 92 towns following last week's poll in which the old ruling parties were crushed. In local elections in the German Land of Brandenburg on Sunday, there may be few candidates: political parties have been having trouble attracting people willing to stand.

Presidential and legislative elections in Venezuela on Sunday are being seen as a test for a democracy shaken by two coup attempts in the last year. A close contest is expected between the former president Rafael Caldera, an independent backed by the left-wing Movement towards Socialism, and Oswaldo Alvarez Paz of the Social Christian Party.

Kuwait's Defence Minister, Ali Salem al Sabah, is in Moscow today until Friday to sign a military pact and acquire some Russian military advisers and armoured vehicles.

The Argentine football star Diego Maradona appears in court in Rome on Friday charged with importing drugs into Italy in 1991. His former bodyguard alleged last month that he had unknowingly delivered a packet of Argentine newspapers to Maradona with cocaine hidden inside.

On Saturday, judges at the EuropaCinema film festival are to award the Felix Prize for lifelong contributions to and achievements in the European film industry to Michelangelo Antonioni at the Babelsburg Studios in Potsdam outside Berlin. Foreign visitors to St Petersburg will need a permit to stay more than three days after Wednesday, following a similar move in Moscow. San Francisco bans smoking in the workplace from Wednesday.

As the festive season approaches, there is something of of a clampdown on cheer. Peking, in the land that invented gunpowder, bans the lighting of fireworks on Wednesday after the Municipal People's Congress ruled that it was a public nuisance. And the Dutch town of Assen has banned all mention of Christmas and declared Santa Claus persona non grata for a week starting tomorrow.