The Week Ahead: Mexican talks aim to end revolt

TALKS in Mexico to end the uprising by Maya Indians begin today in the 16th-century cathedral of the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, where the Indians began their armed insurrection on 1 January. The Zapatista National Liberation Army was surprised by the speed with which the government conceded to its demand for talks, but it remains to be seen whether the ruling party is prepared to make real concessions or will attempt to paper over the cracks as it has done in the past.

However, the new dimension in Mexican politics, the country's entry - opposed by the rebels - into the North American Free Trade Agreement at the beginning of the year, means that many people across the Rio Grande are watching to see what happens.

European Union foreign ministers, under increasing pressure to reach a compromise with four prospective new members, meet today to sort out their stand on such basic issues as fisheries, farming and regional policy. The talks could make or break plans to expand the EU to 16 members, taking in Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Israel's ties with the EU and trade with Spain are likely to top the agenda as the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, flies into Madrid today for talks with his Spanish counterpart, Felipe Gonzalez.

The British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, will be in Paris today for talks with his French counterpart, Alain Juppe. The talks are expected to focus on Bosnia - in the wake of the Nato ultimatum - where the two countries are among the largest contributors to the UN peace-keeping force.

In Germany, the IG Metall union's leaders meet today to plan a strike vote among its 3.2 million members in western Germany. Without a fresh offer by management in the engineering industry, that vote - likely to be held in early March - could lead to the country's biggest strike in a decade.

Japan and Russia will resume talks in Moscow today and tomorrow on the disputed Kurile Islands. It will be the first bilateral meeting on the issue since the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, agreed in October for the Russians to prepare to hand back two of the four islands to the Japanese. But Mr Yeltsin finds himself constrained by the growing opposition in Russia to the returns, following the recent election victories of Russian nationalists.

Mr Yeltsin has more immediate problems. If he intends to scotch the rumours about his health, he ought to be in parliament on Thursday to make his state-of-the-nation address. Mr Yeltsin postponed his keynote speech last Friday, reportedly suffering from a 'bad cold'. The President has been absent from Moscow since his return from Georgia on 3 February, except for a brief meeting with John Major.

Georgia's former president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who committed suicide in December, will be laid to rest with full honours in the neighbouring self-proclaimed Chechen republic on Thursday. His body was exhumed last week in western Georgia, to confirm his identity, and flown to the Chechen republic's capital, Grozny, on Friday.

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