The Week Ahead: Rats to lose their heads in space

TALKS ON the nuts and bolts of Palestinian self-rule open on Wednesday when senior representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel get together in Cairo and in the Red Sea port of Taba to discuss Israels' withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, and details of Palestinian autonomy.

The PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, has appointed Faisal al- Husseini to talk to the Israelis about the status of Jerusalem - a matter Israel will not discuss until broader peace talks are under way.

Giving the people a bigger say is an issue in Yemen, where parliament elects a new five-strong presidential council today. The decision to replace the team headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who steps down this month, comes as a surprise: it is part of a two- month struggle between the President and his socialist Vice-President, Ali Salem al-Baidh, over how to choose the next president.

Since Yemen's first direct parliamentary elections in April, there has been expectation that the next president would also be directly elected, and Mr Baidh wants the people to elect the council too.

The restoration and development of Angkor Wat, the 12th-century capital of the Cambodian Khmer civilisation, is the focus of a conference sponsored by France and Japan on Tuesday and Wednesday in Tokyo. Conservationist organisations from around the world will hammer out pledges of aid and projects to rescue the Bhuddist monument from centuries of erosion and decades of war. Apart from restoring the stone, irrigation work is needed to protect the area from flooding. The cost? Billions of dollars.

Air France ground-staff unions and two cabin-crew unions start a 24-hour strike tomorrow against plans to cut 4,000 jobs. And on Sunday, railworkers in Italy strike for improved working conditions.

A group of Scotland Yard detectives heads for Argentina on Thursday to investigate allegations that members of the 3rd Parachute Regiment killed seven prisoners during the Falklands war. They are expected to interview 40 former Argentine soldiers including the former chief of staff, General Martin Balza, and a cashiered colonel turned right-wing populist, Aldo Rico.

The space shuttle Columbia begins a two-week mission on Thursday to study the effects of weightlessness. As part of the experiment, five or six of 48 rats on board will be decapitated and dissected in orbit without anesthesia. Nasa is feeling twitchy about possible protests from animal rights campaigners.

Russia's President, Boris Yeltsin, is temporarily abandoning troubles at home for a trip to Japan from today until Wednesday. Also in pursuit of friendly relations to the east, Israel's Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, is in China from today until Thursday.

It is Nobel prize week: today the prize for medicine will be awarded in Stockholm; tomorrow the prize for economics; physics and chemistry on Wednesday; and on Friday in Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize. Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk are hot favourites.

In a symbolic move as stalled talks resume today between Britain and China over Hong Kong: new coins entering circulation in Hong Kong today will no longer bear the profile of the Queen.

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