Japan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hatsuhisa Takashima, said here last week that his country had been active in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Takashima said in an interview that Japan had dispatched a team of 10 people to monitor Afghanistan's presidential election over the weekend. He also said Japan was pleased to see women actively participating in the election campaign and focused on guarantees that their views will be reflected in Afghanistan's nascent democracy.

Japan organized the first donor conference for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, held in Tokyo in 2002, and has been engaged in the planning and implementation of assistance through Sadaka Ogata, head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Ogata formerly held the position of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"What we have been trying to do is not only disarm and rehabilitate, but to train Afghans in community-building efforts with the United Nations," Takashima said. Eight schools for girls have been rebuilt, he said, and others are under construction. Japanese oil tankers and maritime defense forces have been supplying fuel to U.S., British, French, Australian and Pakistani troops, providing a kind of "free gas station on the Indian Ocean," Takashima said.

Bravery in Bangladesh

Morshed Khan, the foreign minister of Bangladesh, visiting here last week, sought to portray his country as dealing bravely with its recovery from the worst flooding in 15 years. News reports have said that at least 1,000 people were killed in the floods.

Khan said his compatriots, despite their meager resources, are among the "best disaster managers" in the world and that his nation tries to exhaust its own capabilities before asking for international assistance.

"It is an inherent characteristic of Bangladeshis to be able to stand up again," Khan said in an interview." On one side of the flooded regions, water is receding, and on the other, farmers are already working, trying to recover more than what they have lost," he said.

U.N. agencies, the Dhaka government and donor countries are still trying to assess the damage to the country's infrastructure -- its bridges, culverts and roads -- and losses have been estimated to be at least $1.6 billion, Khan added.

"We never saw such a flood," he said, asserting that only 45 to 50 had died from drowning while many perished from snakebites. The main problem, Khan argued, was the lack of coordinated flood control in the upper reaches of dozens of rivers flowing into Bangladesh.

Neighboring countries such as India, Nepal, Bhutan and China must create a better regional system of water management, not just flood control, he said. "We cannot address this issue bilaterally, but regionally," he emphasized, adding that he had already given a proposal on the subject to his Indian counterpart.

Meanwhile, Khan said his government had shut down some Islamic schools, known as madrassas, and has made it mandatory for mullahs to be schooled in English and the sciences, not just in the Koran. On the exile of writers and journalists who fear retribution from religious hard-liners, the minister said that if certain authors "start abusing the prophet, it will not be well taken and it is not acceptable."

"A democracy must be given its own opportunities. There is no perfect democracy. Every soil has its own dynamic," Khan said.

Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, a former prime minister and daughter of Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of the country, escaped a recent hand grenade attack on a rally of her Awami League party. Followers have vowed to step up strikes to unseat the government of her rival, Khaleda Zia, after the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in November.

Khaleda became prime minister after defeating Hasina in a 2001 election. Khaleda controls two-thirds of the parliament and is said to have strong support in the countryside.

Bugging the Europeans

According to a French-language book, "Chirac Contre Bush, L'Autre Guerre," or "Chirac vs. Bush, the Other War," by Henri Vernet and Thomas Cantaloube, a "quasi-Cold War" atmosphere of suspicion between Europeans and Americans existed before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. That prompted intense spying and the activation of hidden microphones on First Avenue in Manhattan, where offices of the United Nations are located.

During discussions of U.N. Resolution 1441, dealing with Iraq, European delegates said that as soon as they emerged from the European Union offices across the street, they found out that U.S. officials knew exactly what had transpired, according to the book.

The U.N. building, nicknamed "the House of Glass," was not deemed safe for private conversations, according to one diplomat quoted in the book. European opponents of U.S. policy began going to a building used by the German government, which had brought in its own construction workers to install "a glass cage in an isolated room," the diplomat was quoted as saying.

In Washington, "plumbers of French counter-espionage" began regularly visiting the French Embassy on Reservoir Road. A detailed inspection over three days indicated there had been no embarrassing discoveries, according to the French authors. "As a precaution, this vast modern building is also equipped with its own cage of glass," they said of the diplomatic mission.