The top British story is a massive strengthening of the country’s anti-racism laws. As a result of a report on the 1993 case of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man whose murder was poorly responded to and inadequately investigated by the police, Home Secretary Jack Straw declared all-out war on racist government action. Calling the Lawrence case “a catalyst” and “a watershed,” he announced that the police and government officials will now be personally and criminally liable for any expressions of the “institutional racism” common in British life. Nevertheless, the reforms are less aggressive than those sought by the independent commission that investigated the case. The Times reports that those recommendations would make “racist language or behaviour” criminal and would allow racial attacks to be defined by the victim not the police (if the victim says they’re racist, they are).
Despite calls by Lawrence’s parents for his resignation, the London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon is staying in office. He conveyed his “sense of shame” and vowed to make the police into “an anti-racist force.” The Guardian stresses the drama and context of the changes: It’s the first major anti-racist legislation in 20 years and will cover “any long-established, white-dominated organisation which is liable to have procedures, practices and a culture which tend to exclude or to disadvantage non-white people.”
The London Evening Standard relays an embarrassing postscript to Straw’s announcement: He had to withdraw a thick chunk of the already published report Thursday because it contained the names and addresses of witnesses and informants who assisted investigators. The paper calls the information “the most sensitive that could be imagined to be involved in any police investigation” and surmises that those mentioned could already be in danger. The Standard also reports that hours after the report was published, a memorial to Lawrence was defaced with paint. The vandals were not caught because a security camera trained on the memorial was not loaded with videotape.
European papers keep a troubled eye on yet more avalanches in the Alps and the rescue attempts they are delaying. Just as rescuers were digging out victims of Tuesday’s avalanche in Austria, another hit Wednesday, decimating four buildings. The death toll is still climbing, but all agree that this is the worst avalanche season in generations. The Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung nervously watches smaller, and so far nonlethal, avalanches in the Swiss neck of the mountains. Most of the accounts are morose, but a British writer in the Times opines that the Alps are exacting revenge on greedy tourists for exploiting their natural beauty.
In Middle Eastern news, fresh ripples and rumors about Yasser Arafat’s future plans: Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports that Arafat appears to have dismissed Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian official responsible for Jerusalem affairs and, until now, a name high on his list of potential successors. Husseini denies that he’s been ousted, but Arafat has already cut off his funding and handed his portfolio to another minister. The paper mentions “disputes” between Arafat and Husseini but gives no specific reason for his dismissal. The Jordan Times quotes Arafat as saying that his successor will be chosen by the Palestinian people in an election.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram reports that Arafat is giving new consideration to the prospect of an official Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Given the recent transfer of power in Jordan, the upcoming Israeli elections, and his self-imposed May 4 deadline for declaring a Palestinian state, the link with Jordan could help Arafat consolidate ever-slippery support among his various constituencies, Israel, and the United States.