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News Briefs

Croatians Choose Liberal Coalition Government Over Tudjman’s Party

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- ZAGREB, CROATIA

Ending a decade of authoritarian rule by the party of the late President Franjo Tudjman, Croatian voters on Monday chose an alliance between Croatia’s former Communist Party chief and a onetime dissident.

Tudjman’s once-powerful Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, conceded defeat early Tuesday after partial election results showed strong popular support for a center-left coalition led by the Social Democratic Party and the Social-Liberal Party.

Social Democratic Party leader Ivica Racan, 55, headed Croatia’s Communist Party in 1991. The Social-Liberals’ Drazen Budisa, 52, was jailed 20 years ago for his pro-democracy activism.

“Together with the other opposition bloc I think we will have a very stable majority,” Racan said after partial results were announced. “I am ready to become prime minister, and I am aware it is not going to be easy.”

Banks Returning Up to $50 Billion After Y2K Fails to Ignite Panic

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Up to $50 billion in cash is on its way back to Federal Reserve banks this week after the year 2000 rollover failed to trigger panic hoarding by consumers.

Banks nationwide are preparing to return the cash -- much of it never opened from its shrink-wrapped packaging -- in armored trucks to 37 Federal Reserve offices. In recent months, the Fed had pumped the cash into the banking system to handle any unusual cash demands at year’s end.

Fed officials said they didn’t know yet exactly how much consumers withdrew. But withdrawals, while slightly higher than normal for this time of year, weren’t nearly as high as expected, federal officials and bank executives said.

A few customers demanded large withdrawals that essentially emptied or would have emptied their accounts. A customer in Virginia wanted to withdraw $500,000 on Dec. 31 from one bank, which asked that its name not be used. The bank convinced him it wasn’t necessary.

“There was ample cash, and people didn’t take it out,” said Federal Reserve Board spokeswoman Lynn Fox. “That implies that people were very calm.”

Scandals Plague Europe

THE WASHINGTON POST -- BERLIN

The criminal investigation of former chancellor Helmut Kohl is the latest of several political financing scandals in Europe that indicate how a general clamor for greater openness in public affairs is strengthening the hand of prosecutors in many Western democracies.

Federal prosecutors Monday officially opened a legal process that will determine whether they bring charges against Kohl, the architect of German unification, who has acknowledged managing secret slush funds during his 16 years in office. Already, the case is a cautionary tale about the accountability of even the most respected statesmen.

Across Europe, a spate of corruption cases and legal woes afflicting powerful politicians in France, Spain, Britain, Belgium and Italy has reflected the rise of an activist judicial branch, perhaps the prime beneficiary of voter dismay over entrenched parties and political leaders.

“If the 19th century was regarded in Europe as the period of great legislatures and the 20th century the era of the powerful executive, then the 21st century could turn out to be the special time for the judiciary,” said Sergio Romano, a leading Italian political commentator.