The World This Week

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The Independent Online
ROMANIA holds elections on Sunday for parliament and president, after months of political wrangling and mounting public disenchantment. President Ion Iliescu's popularity has plunged in comparison with Emil Constantinescu, rector of Bucharest University, who is the candidate of the 14-party opposition alliance, the Democratic Convention bloc. Mr Iliescu is now fighting for his political survival.

The ruling National Salvation Front (NSF) has split because of a rift between its founders, Mr Iliescu and the former prime minister Petre Roman. The NSF is loyal to Mr Roman, who accuses the President of 'neo-Communism'. The accusation carries all the more weight since the former Communists, the Socialist Labour Party, said last week they would support Mr Iliescu, who held several senior positions under Ceausescu.

The Democratic Front for National Salvation, the breakaway party created in April from the NSF, backs Mr Iliescu. To challenge Mr Iliescu for the presidency the NSF has fielded its own candidate, Caius Dragomir, who has been head of the government's information department since June last year.

Mr Iliescu faces another challenge from the fiercely nationalist leader, Gheorghe Funar. As mayor of the Transylvanian city of Cluj, Mr Funar has infuriated local ethnic Hungarians by banning Hungarian-language street names and publications. He has stoked fears that the large Hungarian minority is plotting to break Transylvania away from Romania and that Hungary has troops poised to invade. Last week residents of Timisoara booed Mr Funar and threw melon peel at him when he visited the city.

Romania and Germany find common cause tomorrow when they sign an agreement for the deportation of tens of thousands of gypsies back to Romania. The gypsies have been subjected to harassment by German neo-Nazis. Such sensitive matters of asylum and immigration will be discussed at a conference tomorrow at Gutterslo in Germany, by EC and Bonn government officials.

Another president under pressure, Fernando Collor de Mello of Brazil, presents his defence to a commission of 49 MPs tomorrow against a call for his impeachment for corruption. A multi-party congressional committee is to report on Thursday on whether there are grounds for impeachment and to vote on Saturday on whether to accept the report and on whether the Chamber of Deputies should vote on impeachment. Since most committee members have already backed Mr Collor's removal from office, his prospects look bleak. The Brazilian congress is due to debate the impeachment of the president on Sunday.

Chakufwa Chihana, Malawi's chief political dissident, goes on trial today in Blantyre charged with sedition. The government of President Hastings Banda has come under intense international pressure to improve its poor human rights record, and Mr Chihana has become a symbol of a mounting campaign.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, also under pressure to democratise, is expected to announce on Wednesday, Saudi national day, the members of a proposed advisory consultative council to advise and question the government. Despite this apparent concession to the trappings of democracy, the House of Saud intends to remain firmly in control.

Talks open in Algiers today between the Algerian presidency and the political parties. The talks are aimed at overcoming the gulf between the leadership and political parties, which has existed since the general election was cancelled in January.

In a referendum in Switzerland on Sunday, green campaigners strike an unaccustomed alliance with the automobile lobby against the construction of two railway tunnels through the Alps. The dollars 16bn ( pounds 9bn) project, the largest of its kind the country has seen, aims to divert the ever-greater volume of north-south freight traffic from road to rail.

Obstacles have been put in the way of a 106-mile canal linking the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, which is due to open to traffic on Friday. It will enable freighters to travel direct from Rotterdam to the Black Sea for the first time. But full use of the canal may be delayed by fighting in the former Yugoslavia.

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