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TOUGH TALK OR IDLE THREAT? "From the rebellion, I am shifting the war toward another enemy: graft and corruption. This is my promise. This I shall fulfill." Exalted words from Philippine President Joseph Estrada, delivered in his July 24 state of the nation address. Having successfully attacked the headquarters of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) two week's earlier, Estrada is looking for new turf to conquer. So why not corruption? Constant allegations of sleaze linked to the president's office apparently led him to promise a seven-point "comprehensive approach that would reduce opportunities for corruption." As for the Muslim secessionists in Mindanao, Estrada's message was succinct: The MILF must accept three demands: "drop secession, drop your criminal activities and drop your arms." It was a particularly noteworthy stance coming two days after the latest burst of violence in the south. About 20 MILF rebels ambushed a truck carrying mostly Christian plantation workers and killed 13 people and wounded 14 others. As for the war on corruption: On July 23, three journalists from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism released a lengthy two-part report on "the complex ethical issues — such as conflicts of interest — posed by the many and varied business involvements of his various families." A number of women have given birth to several of the President's children.

HEY, IT COULD'VE BEEN LIFE If you look at it that way, deposed Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif's July 22 sentence of 14 years in jail and a $380,000 fine on a charge of tax evasion seems benign. The conviction also bans Sharif from political activity until 2021 — a moot point, given that he is serving two concurrent life sentences on charges of hijacking and terrorism. He claims he is being victimized by Pakistan's military rulers led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. That might be. The junta needs some sort of victory — their nine-month-old government is faltering badly. Pakistanis are frustrated with the military men's inability to manage the floundering economy but are also incensed by its attempt to collect taxes which have gone ignored for years. Worse, after the proposed budget failed to meet IMF standards, foreign investment has all but disappeared. And if that isn't enough, the parties of former PMs Benazir Bhutto and Sharif are regaining political momentum. For now, being behind bars in Pakistan might be the safest place for a politician to be.

BOMBAY IS RUMBLING But will it explode? The July 25 arrest of right-wing Hindu leader Bal Thackeray sent tremors of civil unrest that drove political seismographs off the chart. Thackeray, leader of the Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena party, faced prosecution in the Supreme Court for inciting riots after the Babri mosque was demolished by Hindu radicals in Ayodhya in northern India in December 1992. The case was dismissed because the charges were brought too late — a decision the government says it will appeal. Thackeray's anti-Muslim editorials in the Shiv Sena newspaper Saamna (Confrontation) helped escalate the 1992-1993 unrest which left 900 people dead in Bombay and 1,100 more in other cities. A 1998 judicial report that said Thackeray was partly responsible for the violence was rejected by his party, which then ruled Maharashtra state (Bombay is its capital). Before this arrest, over 100,000 troops moved into the city to quell possible disturbances. As Thackeray's role in national politics wanes, the maverick has become an easier target for the federal government. But Bombay residents fear Thackeray can still use his power base in volatile poorer neighborhoods to rekindle rioting if the government pushes him too hard.


TO BE HANGED Hashimoto Satoru, 33, a member of the Aum Shinrikyo religious group, was sentenced on July 25 to die at the gallows by the Tokyo District Court for 10 gassing and strangling murders. Hashimoto took part in a 1994 sarin attack outside an apartment block in Matsumoto which killed seven people — a precursor to the infamous March 1995 gassing in the Tokyo subway system which left 12 dead and thousands injured. In 1989 he strangled an anti-Aum lawyer, Sakamoto Tsutsumi, and his wife and baby son. Hashimoto was chosen for those murders because of his karate skills, prosecutors said.

ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT FOILED On Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina Wajed, hours before she was to speak in Kotalipara, on July 21. A bomb, near a helicopter pad where she was scheduled to land, was defused shortly before she arrived. A similar device was found two days later, near the site of the first bomb.

WITHDRAWN Charges of khalwat (being with a person in a situation which can create suspicion of committing immoral acts with one who is not your spouse) against Idrus Ibrahim, 57, and his wife Che Som Hashim, 43, were dropped by the Shariah High Court in Kuala Lumpur, on July 20. The judge verified the authenticity of Idrus (brother of jailed former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim) and Che's marriage certificate, proving that they were permitted to be with each other when they were arrested in October 1999.

PARDONED Sandra Gregory, 35, a convicted heroin smuggler, by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok, on July 20. Gregory was sentenced to 22 years in jail after being caught in 1993 with 87 grams of heroin when she arrived at Bangkok airport. She was repatriated to Britain in 1997 to serve the remainder of her sentence at Cookham Wood jail in Kent.

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