International Papers

Miracle in St. Louis

The decision of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan to commute the death sentence on triple murderer Darrell Mease in response to an appeal by Pope John Paul II was splashed across the front pages of Friday’s Italian newspapers. “The Pope Stops the Hangman” was the main headline in at least two papers; and front-page cartoons included one in Milan’s Corriere della Sera showing the pope sticking his crook into the back of a black-hooded executioner with his hands up, and another in Rome’s La Repubblica with him unplugging an electric chair while telling the still strapped-in murderer, “I have commuted the death penalty to life imprisonment, so you will have all the time you need to repent.”

In a front-page comment in Corriere, veteran columnist Arrigo Levi marveled at the power of something as weak as one man’s voice to affect the governor’s decision, and he added that now “perhaps America and other countries still favoring the death penalty will be induced to reflect on the words and the reasoning of the pope.” However, the same newspaper also carried an interview with Geraldine Ferraro, who said that American Catholics believe in the death penalty. She also criticized the pope for his attitude to women. In a front-page comment by its Washington editor, Vittorio Zucconi, La Repubblica said that Lazarus was alive in St. Louis and that the governor’s act of clemency was “the flower that pushes up through the snow, the sign of a new spring after the long winter of the gallows.”

The British press was entirely dominated Friday by the first ever joint appearance before the cameras of Prince Charles and his mistress of 25 years standing, Camilla Parker Bowles. It lasted for 20 seconds as the couple left the Ritz Hotel in London together at midnight Thursday after attending a 50th birthday party for Camilla’s younger sister Annabel. Their decision to “come out” as lovers was broadly welcomed in the British press, with the country’s best-selling tabloid, the Sun, saying that “Camilla has been in the shadows for too long” and the Times saying that the timing of the photographs was “undoubtedly connected” with the June wedding of Charles’ younger brother Prince Edward. “The Prince of Wales and his companion would not wish to upstage the bride and groom, and it is probable that they will make a number of appearances together, so that by the time of the wedding they will appear perfectly natural as a couple,” the Times said. But, as several papers observed, they don’t look very natural in public yet.

A number of Arab papers carried headlines Thursday saying that a major objective of Madeleine Albright’s visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia had been to rally Arab support for moves to oust Saddam Hussein; but the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat quoted unidentified high-level Saudi sources as saying that even America’s closest Arab ally “does not believe in or support any foreign party undertaking to change the ruling regime in Iraq.” It quoted the sources as saying, “Such change should come about from within and can only be undertaken by the people themselves. Such action would not be helpful or worthwhile or have effective tangible results if it were organized from abroad.”

In Israel, newspapers expressed concern over the consequences of Jordan’s King Hussein’s new health crisis. Ron Ben-Ishai, Yediot Aharanot’s military analyst, said three factors are threatening stability in the Middle East: the trauma in the Jordanian regime, the war of attrition the United States is waging against Saddam Hussein, and the lack of political stability in Israel. “Any one of these three focal points of tension could spill over into other countries in the region,” he wrote.

The king’s sudden return to the United States left behind a “fluid and dangerous situation” in Jordan, Yosef Lapid commented Wednesday in Maariv. “The new heir to the throne, Crown Prince Abdullah, is a young, inexperienced man, who is now supposed to run the affairs of state with his father’s help,” he said. “Now he leaves him in a state of uncertainty. It seems that Hussein, who is known to be a careful and balanced leader, was this time impetuous and hasty.” Lapid wondered if Hussein’s American doctors had misled the king when they told him he had recovered. “The mistake could not only cost the king dearly, but his kingdom too,” he added.

But in Jordan, Mustafa Abu-Libdeh, editor of the business daily al-Aswaq, said that the prevailing calm in the country was testament to the stability of the state King Hussein had done so much to build. Jordan had emerged from a truly extraordinary week confident of itself and its leadership, he wrote. Although the king had rebuked his brother Crown Prince Hassan on a number of counts in the letter excluding him from the succession, Hassan had accepted that criticism graciously and loyally. “It is that kind of openness and adherence to legality that has given the Hashemites their leading role in history,” Abu-Libdeh wrote. “They have nothing to hide because they have no agenda other than service of the homeland.”

On Yemen, another Arab country in crisis, plagued by terrorist kidnappings, Egypt’s semi-official al-Ahram said Wednesday that the country is at a crossroads and must choose between the rule of law and the lawlessness of its tribal past. “Certain outside powers” that do not want to see a strong Yemen are using Yemeni tribes and extremist groups in the country to sabotage its modernization drive, the paper said.