The World This Week

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The Independent Online
INDIA elects a president today - or more precisely its MPs and state legislatures do. The ruling Congress (I) party has nominated Vice-President Shankar Dayal Sharma, 74, as its candidate. Mr Sharma is also supported by the Communist Party. The opposition National Front is backing a former diplomat, George Gilbert Swell, who hopes to become India's first Christian president.

With that out of the way, Indian MPs will concentrate on a no-confidence motion due to be debated on Wednesday and Thursday following a huge Stock Exchange fraud that led the commerce minister to resign last week.

Voting for another president, that of Czechoslovakia, opens tomorrow after an inconclusive vote among MPs 10 days ago. The problem is not that Vaclav Havel faces keen competition for the job. On the contrary, with the federation possibly on the verge of dismemberment, the presidency is seen as something of a poisoned chalice, which has few takers. But a bloc of Slovak MPs voted against him last time. If he fails to stand again, or to obtain a majority, then Mr Havel would have to step down, and presumably out of political life, in October.

The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, visits the Balkans on Wednesday for five days and hopes, if the security situation permits, to include a quick trip to Sarajevo. It is his first visit to the region. Mr Hurd is not planning an ambitious peace initiative. He says he just wants to talk to people 'on the spot'. He will visit Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia and make the first visit to Albania by a British minister since before the Second World War.

Italian mediators have called a meeting on Wednesday in Rome for talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh. The Armenians suspended talks last week in protest at the Azeri offensive on northern Karabakh. The Armenians say they will decide whether or not to attend on Wednesday according to the situation on the ground.

Some Armenians seem to be coming round to the need for a negotiated peace, and may be prepared to scale down their conditions for ending the conflict from a demand for self determination in Karabakh to one for Azeris to respect the enclave's 'cultural autonomy'. But the fighting in the region is at its worst for four years, and many in Karabakh have little confidence the Azeris will leave them in peace. Some may prefer a merger with Armenia.

Wednesday is the deadline in Kuwait for residents to hand in the weapons seized in the aftermath of the Iraqi occuption, or they face up to seven years in prison and a pounds 3,000 fine. The ultimatum comes in the wake of an upsurge of armed incidents in Kuwait in the last two months.

It follows a visit by Kuwait's Defence Minister, Sheikh Ali Sabah al Salem al Salah to France today at the head of a top-level delegation to promote military co- operation. The two countries are interested in a possible defence agreement calling for joint military manoeuvres, but the Sheikh says the pursuit of such an accord is not the purpose of his visit.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati is to visit Germany tomorrow until Thursday. Talks are expected to focus on German investment in Iran and a possible visit to Germany by President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. There has been speculation that the visit is the quid pro quo for the release recently of two German hostages in Lebanon.

Talks about Cyprus resume on Wednesday in New York. The Cypriot President, George Vassiliou, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, have agreed to a attend a number of meetings on territorial and refugee matters.

The new impetus to solve the long-running dispute over the divided island follows an initiative by the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who is keen to find a solution to the problem. Mr Boutros-Ghali will supervise the meetings.

Tackling another island dispute, junior ministers from Russia and Japan are to hold talks on Wednesday and Thursday in Tokyo about the Kurile Islands, which both countries claim.

Women in Canada are being urged to go topless in public from Friday until Sunday. The call has been made by Gwen Jacob who was convicted of committing an indecent act after strolling down the street without any upper body clothing.

Convinced she was discriminated against, she has organised a rally in Canada's Waterloo Park for Saturday to see whether police arrest only topless women, while ignoring bare-breasted men. 'If anyone is arrested, it will be obvious why,' she says.