The World This Week

ONE OF the most extravagant commemorations of Christopher Columbus's arrival in Latin America 500 years ago takes place tomorrow in the Dominican Republic with the inauguration of a giant lighthouse from which 146 spotlights will beam into the sky the shape of a cross that will be visible for 150 miles. The inauguration will include the transfer to the lighthouse of the coffin said to hold Columbus's remains from Santo Domingo's cathedral.

The memorial lighthouse, built to a 1929 design of a British architect, has become an obsession of the blind 86-year-old President Joaquin Balaguer, and is said to have cost the Dominican Republic more than pounds 50m. It has become the focus for a mounting backlash against the Columbus celebrations and many cities were paralysed by strikes and protests last week in which two died.

Many complain that arrival of the great navigator in the Americas did not for them launch an age of discovery but the start of slavery and colonialism and the destruction of indigenous culture. Left- wing protesters plan to disrupt the celebrations. President Balaguer had hoped for a glittering array of international leaders to be present, but controversy surrounding the project caused many to cry off and only President Carlos Menem of Argentina and President Alfredo Cristiani of El Salvador are expected to turn up.

Critics fear that an intolerable strain will be placed upon the Dominican Republic's precarious power system. The capital is already convulsed by daily power- cuts, often for eight hours at a stretch. Inhabitants of the capital's poorer quarters expect to be plunged into darkness when the spotlights are turned on.

The Pope, who was to have attended the grand lighting-up ceremony, will now not arrive in Santo Domingo until Friday and is expected to sidestep government- sponsored Columbus festivities. He says he will celebrate instead 'the evangelisation of the Americas' at the Fourth General Assembly of Latin American Bishops which opens in the city on Friday.

Precarious, indeed chaotic, is the situation in the republic of Georgia where general elections are due to take place on Sunday. The elections were intended to seal a return to normality after the crisis of the first year of independence from Russia, but the serious fighting in Abkhazia has thrown everything into confusion. Eduard Shevardnadze, who is expected to stand for president in the election, says it is the biggest crisis he has ever experienced and he sees no solution to it.

Mr Shevardnadze seems powerless to prevent the heightening tension with Russia, caused by Georgia's threat to seize Russian military hardware on Georgian territory and turn it against Abkhazia.

The Commonwealth of Independent States, meanwhile, whose leaders meet in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Friday, will try to tackle the proliferation of conflicts between and within the former Soviet republics, including that between Russia and the Ukraine over the Black Sea fleet. The meeting was postponed from last month because of disagreement over the agenda, and the organisation, despite plans to set up a peace-keeping force, seems unable to exert any control over the region's rows.

Guyana's elections today could lead to the first change of government for nearly 30 years. The veteran leader of the opposition People's Progressive Party, Cheddi Jagan, finally stands a chance of winning against President Desmond Hoyte who leads the People's National Congress which has ruled since 1964. Strenuous international pressure persuaded Mr Hoyte to implement electoral reforms which may cost him his job.

There is little expectation of an upset in today's election in Kuwait in which men over 21 who can trace their roots in the emirate back to 1920 (about one in seven of the population) will vote for 50 MPs. Women cannot vote, parties are not permitted, and the parliament will act more as a watchdog than a legislative body.

The American presidential campaign enters a new stage on Sunday with the first of three debates between the presidential candidates George Bush, Bill Clinton and probably Ross Perot. The 90-minute debate before a live audience in St Louis, and two more next week, could be crucial to the outcome of the presidential race, and is considered to be Mr Bush's last chance.

The trial opens in Miami tomorrow of a white policeman William Lozano who killed a black motorcyclist in 1989. The killing sparked off serious riots in Miami. On Thursday the Nobel Prize for Literature is announced in Stockholm.

Letters and other documents belonging to George Washington and Immanuel Kant go under the hammer at an auction in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Saturday. And in remembrance of another revolutionary figure, celebrations are to be held in Cuba on Friday to mark the 25th anniversary of death of the guerrilla leader Che Guevara in Bolivia.

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