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A leaked report in the New York Times this week that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had secretly agreed with President Clinton to accept a consignment of highly radioactive weapons-grade material from the former Soviet republic of Georgia for reprocessing at the Dounreay plant in Scotland created heavy fallout in the British press on Thursday. Blair, who was forced to confirm the deal Wednesday, denied accusations of secretiveness, but editorials Thursday were predominantly critical of him. While most newspapers accepted the need for Britain to play its part in taking in eastern Europe’s dirty nuclear washing, they argued that this particular matter had been badly handled.
The conservative tabloid Daily Mail said that “the fact that the New York Times broke the story, rather than the British government, is a public relations disaster for Labour” and “an uncovenanted gift for the Scottish Nationalists,” who seek independence for Scotland. While there was “a respectable case for Britain doing its bit to stop surplus nuclear bomb kits being sold off by gangsters from the former Soviet Union,” the Daily Mail said, “the Prime Minister would have done better to trust the people with the truth in good time before this controversial assignment was due to arrive.”
The same view was expressed in the left-leaning Independent in an editorial headed “But they should have told us.” The Daily Telegraph said that while it was “obviously right” that radioactive uranium from Georgia should end up at Dounreay rather than be “made into nuclear weapons in Iraq or Iran,” Blair “should have allowed Parliament and the public to consider the issues involved before, rather than after, the event.” Only Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London was totally supportive of Blair, saying that he had nothing to be ashamed of and that even the charge of excessive secrecy had about it “an aura of manufactured outrage.”
After the rows in recent weeks over the Times’ alleged failure to report stories that might in any way distress its proprietor, the paper gave full coverage Wednesday to the separation of Murdoch from his wife, Anna, after 30 years of marriage. Its rival, the liberal Guardian, claimed in a front-page headline that “Murdoch marriage break-up shakes media industry,” because of its possible future effects on the leadership of News Corp. The Times led its front page Thursday with the headline “Mystery over where Linda McCartney really died,” following reports that she had died in Tucson, Ariz., and not in Santa Barbara, Calif., as the family had originally stated. Newspapers around Europe attacked France over the ticketing arrangements for this year’s soccer World Cup. When a telephone hot line was set up in Paris Wednesday, only 60 operators were employed to receive millions of calls–15 million in one day from Britain alone.
As articles to mark the 50th anniversary of Israel proliferated around the world, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz led its front page Thursday with the news that the event would be celebrated by a 10 percent reduction of the jail terms of all prisoners who had already served more than 60 percent of their sentences. In the International Herald Tribune, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, appealed Thursday for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court to try those accused of crimes against humanity. He said that the diplomatic conference to be held in Rome in June and July this year offered “an unprecedented opportunity to establish a court with real teeth” and that “the ghost of Pol Pot should be a reminder [to the delegations] of the importance of their work.”
In Algeria, the French-language daily El Watan recently splashed on its front page the news that “The populations of eastern Morocco desert their villages. Panic in Oujda.” The paper said an armed Islamic group in the Moroccan border town of Oujda had murdered about 10 peasants, and commented that “the appearance of Islamic terrorism in Morocco constitutes a grave danger for the stability of the Maghreb region.” In Paris, Le Monde reported that the Moroccan government had not commented officially on these reports, though a source in the interior ministry had described them as “fantasies.” Le Monde led its front page Thursday with an agreement that would lead to New Caledonia’s complete independence from France within 15 to 20 years.
In an editorial titled “Opening to Islam,” La Repubblica of Rome praised what it dubbed “the Prodi doctrine”–Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s call this week for intense dialogue with the Muslim world, including “rogue states” like Libya and Iraq, to avert the threat of a conflict between Islam and the West in the next millennium. In this he was profoundly at odds with the United States, the paper said. On its front page La Repubblica reported a warning Wednesday by Pope John Paul II that it was futile to try to predict the timing of the end of the world. It would end, he said, but Christ had not indicated when.
The Irish Independent of Dublin reported Thursday that the film Titanic had taken in about $11.5 million at the Irish box office over the past three months, making it by far the biggest-earning film in Irish history. The previous record holder, Michael Collins, took in about $5 million less.