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George Mitchell and George Michael vied for stardom in the British press Thursday. On what is a make-or-break day for the Ulster peace talks, all the British broadsheets led with stories of British government optimism for a last minute settlement, despite the Ulster Unionists’ firm rejection of the draft agreement submitted by Mitchell, the former U.S. senator who is mediating the talks. The British tabloids, however, gave top priority to the arrest of pop singer George Michael for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom in the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper, dedicated its first seven pages to Michael’s misfortune, with a front page headline that read, “Zip Me Up Before You Go Go.”
In its main editorial, the Sun (which, on Murdoch’s instructions, supports Tony Blair) praised the British prime minister’s peace efforts but condemned Mitchell’s draft as “an appeasement of IRA terrorism” that would “sign away the sovereignty of a part of the United Kingdom to Dublin. It is like letting Argentina help run the Falklands, or Spain share control of Gibraltar.” But the Sun was at odds with most newspapers on both sides of the Irish sea. Although Northern Ireland’s Protestant Belfast Telegraph declared in an editorial that the creation of cross-border, north-south bodies was “asking too much” of the Ulster Unionists, the Republican Irish News in Belfast urged the Unionists to accept them as “a logical development.” Its front page headline on the talks was “So Near and Yet So Far.”
Dublin’s Irish Independent, reporting optimism in Dublin as well as London, said in an editorial that “the prize is within the negotiators’ grasp”: “If they fail to seize it, they will surrender to the sinister men lurking in the wings. At the moment of truth, they must not flinch.” The Irish Times carried no editorial on the talks Thursday, but its columnist Mary Holland wrote on the op-ed page that Blair had “failed, dramatically, to convince the unionist leader [David Trimble] of the need for radical change.” She added, “Perhaps, even at this 11th hour, Mr. Blair will be able to convince the unionists that embracing change is the best way to safeguard the Union. But the damage that has been done in the past few days is enormous.”
An op-ed comment by Simon Beck in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post Thursday expressed alarm that recent World Trade Organization rulings against the United States could encourage U.S. protectionism and lead to a loss of U.S. confidence in the organization. One of the rulings mentioned condemned a U.S. ban on imports of shrimp caught in Asian nets that could also kill rare turtles; another rejected a U.S. complaint that Japan was obstructing imports of American Kodak film. “A few more headlines proclaiming that the WTO is letting innocent turtles die at the hands of ruthless Asian fishermen, or allowing Japan to cheat U.S. workers out of jobs, will not create the climate for a clear-headed debate on the future of world trade,” the article concluded.
China’s accession to the WTO was one of the issues on which Chinese President Jiang Zemin hopes to make “substantial progress” when President Clinton visits Beijing in June, the SCMP reported, quoting diplomatic sources. Others were Taiwan and the resumption of high-tech U.S. exports to China. Chinese presidential aides had indicated they hope Clinton will promise to put pressure on Taipei to enter negotiations with China. The Chinese president also hopes Clinton’s visit will bolster his own prestige as a statesman, “upstaged” by new Prime Minister Zhu Rongji’s successful European tour.
The father of Dodi Fayed, who died with Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris last summer, told London’s DailyMail that he is sick of the British royal family. Mohammed al Fayed, who owns the former Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s house in Paris (which he had hoped to make Dodi and Diana’s home), recently sold its contents at an auction in New York. Now he says he plans to redecorate it. “I want to get rid of all the royal spirits,” he told the DailyMail. “They haven’t done me any good. To hell with the Windsors and the royal family. The house does not deserve to be preserved historically.” Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported fury among British POWs once held by the Japanese that the queen is to invest the emperor of Japan with the Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of chivalry, when he visits London next month.
Tammy Wynette, the subject of many large obituaries in the European press, was remembered on Le Monde’s op-ed page Thursday for her advice to “rester près de son homme, quoiqu’il arrive, car, après tout, ce n’est qu’un homme.” And George Mitchell, profiled in Milan’s Corriere della Sera, was described as “a great listener,” who, “first as a federal judge, and then as a senator, has spent his career trying to understand the point of view of his adversaries.”