The World This Week: Too close to call in Australian poll

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIANS are going to the polls on Saturday, choosing in a general election between Paul Keating's governing Labor Party and John Hewson's Liberal Party.

Two opinion polls showing a swing back to the ruling Labor Party in key marginal seats confirm indications that up to one- fifth of voters have not made up their minds. One poll yesterday in the Sun-Herald, a Sydney newspaper, gave the government 50.4 per cent against 49.6 per cent for the opposition.

On Wednesday, Russia's Congress of People's Deputies will have another attempt at curbing the powers of President Boris Yeltsin. The battle between Mr Yeltsin and Congress is a result of the failure to create a new political system, spelling out the powers of each branch of government in post-Communist Russia. It is also a trial of strength between Mr Yeltsin, elected by popular vote, and Ruslan Khasbulatov, Chairman of the Russian parliament and a relic of the Communist system.

Malawi is in the throes of preparing for a referendum on multiparty democracy. President Hastings Banda is surely bound to feel a twinge of unease, therefore, when the opposition leader Chakufwa Chihana appeals in the Supreme Court today against his sentence of two years' hard labour for sedition. Mr Chihana was convicted last December of importing banned literature - which defended multi-party democracy.

The fate of the flamboyant Mr Chihana has become a symbol of democratic opposition to Dr Banda's 27-year one-party rule.

Mr Banda agreed to the referendum after Western donors suspended aid in protest at human rights abuses, but then he tried to rush it through so that the aid could be speedily restored. But the aid donors and UN observers who have been advising Mr Banda on procedure for the referendum made it clear to him they are concerned with the referendum process rather than its result.

In Poland, Czeslaw Kiszczak, a former interior minister, also faces trial, on Wednesday, for involvement in the killing of nine miners by police at the start of martial law in 1981. General Kiszczak, then the Communist interior minster, is charged with authorising riot police to fire at miners who were striking in protest against the crackdown on the Solidarity movement.

General Kiszczak denies the charge. He says he did not authorise the use of firearms and the shots were fired at the initiative of the policemen. He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Miners may be working in a declining industry, but they continue to fight. Workers in more than 48 coal mines in Siberia strike on Wednesday. They want index- linked wages to protect themselves against the diving rouble.

In Germany, the board of Ruhrkohle, the country's leading coal producer, meets tomorrow to conclude a plan of pit closures designed to shed 5,000 jobs from the company's 82,000-strong workforce. The job losses follow the drop in demand for coking coal due to the decline of the German steel industry.

Keeping all thoughts of decline firmly at bay the French President, Francois Mitterrand, visits Washington for talks with President Bill Clinton tomorrow. Mr Mitterrand will assure Mr Clinton that even if the conservatives win France's general elections this month, foreign policy will remain firmly controlled by the Socialist President. Wide constitutional powers give him the whip-hand in foreign policy, even if his opponents in parliament should win by a landslide.

The United States Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, announces defence cuts on Friday which are expected to include a sweeping shutdown of military bases. 'This is going to be the mother of all base closing lists,' Mr Aspin said yesterday.