International Papers

Glasnost in Iraq?

The German daily Die Welt reported “strong irritation” in Bonn over the arrangements for President Clinton’s visit to Germany. It quoted a source in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s office as saying: “We must make it clear to the Americans who the host is here.” The paper said in a front-page report that as late as Tuesday afternoon Washington still hasn’t provided Bonn with a proper presidential timetable. Government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye has frequently used the word “chaos” to describe the situation, the paper said. Die Welt’s main lead was about the German government’s decision to send 1,000 more troops to Albania to help with humanitarian relief.

Most British papers led Wednesday with a sudden volte-face by the British government on the number of Kosovo refugees Britain would accept. After being criticized, especially by the Germans, for only accepting 330 refugees so far (compared with the 10,000 now in Germany, 5,800 in Turkey, 2,354 in France, and 2,166 in Norway), the government announced Tuesday that from now on about 1,000 refugees a week would be flown to Britain from the Balkans. The conservative Daily Telegraph called the decision “overdue”; the liberal Guardian said the government’s response to the refugee crisis has been “slow and niggardly.” But the Guardian’s front-page lead, headlined “The Terror of the Twisters,” was about the tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas.

The refugee crisis also dominated the main Italian papers, which led Wednesday with the news that Italy has decided to take in another 10,000 refugees from the overcrowded camps in Macedonia. To prevent them dispersing throughout the Italian peninsula, 5,000 of them would be sheltered at the former U.S. cruise missile base of Comiso in Sicily, La Stampa of Turin reported. “Bad has been turned into good,” the paper commented on its front page. “The instruments of death have been replaced by ones of survival.” La Repubblica of Rome published a brief front-page comment by Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist, deploring the NATO offensive “because it doesn’t bring a solution to the horrors committed by Milosevic.” “But the terrifying aspect of the problem is that so many of us who believe this don’t have any other solution to propose,” she added.

All the French papers led not on Kosovo but on a domestic political crisis resulting from the jailing for the first time in French history of a prefect (provincial governor) in Corsica. The prefect, Bernard Bonnet, who was sent to Napoleon’s island by the socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to impose law and order on unruly Corsican nationalists, is alleged to have ordered his police force to burn down a beach restaurant as an example to them. Now France’s Parliament wants to know how much, if anything, Jospin knew about this illegal act. The Spanish papers led on a politically controversial decision by the Spanish government to commit ground troops to join an eventual NATO invasion of Serbia. El Mundo’s second front-page story was about the German couple killed by three tigers in a safari park in Alicante. The man had his throat torn out, and the woman was decapitated.

In Israel, Ha’aretz led Wednesday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s decision to postpone the declaration of a Palestinian state. It also noted his riducle of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election claim that this was his government’s achievement. “[Netanyahu] has no doubt in his mind that the sole causes of this outcome were the pressures and threats that Israel applied to Arafat and the crude hints about the possibility of annexing territories or re-occupying them,” the paper said in an editorial. But it pointed out that Arafat had merely postponed the declaration and that, meanwhile, he had won broad international support for the principle of Palestinian statehood. He has “surpassed Netanyahu in status at the White House,” the editorial said, while “Europe stands united behind him, and the Arab states are only waiting for the signal to send official representatives to the Palestinian state.”

Some Arab papers have been telling of “glasnost” in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein reportedly easing government restrictions on freedom of expression and political opposition. According to a piece in Monday’s edition of the Pan-Arab paper al-Quds al-Arabi, Saddam has approved a number of “specific political and security” measures to tackle the “political and social frustrations” caused by nearly nine years of U.N. sanctions. These included a new law on “political pluralism,” passed recently by the National Assembly, which would allow certain “active political groups” to hold meetings and form new political parties. Another was the decision to show “various degrees of tolerance” toward public criticism of the Iraqi government. The article was written by al-Quds al-Arabi’s Amman correspondent, Bassam Badareeen, who reported from Baghdad last week that ordinary Iraqis were becoming more openly critical of the authorities without apparently fearing retribution by the secret police.

Tuesday, Le Monde of Paris devoted its front-page lead and its one editorial to the first decline in 15 years of the power and influence of the French extreme right. An opinion poll conducted for the newspaper showed that a recent split between the right-wing leaders Bruno Mégret and Jean-Marie Le Pen has greatly reduced their popular appeal. Support for Le Pen’s ideas has fallen to 11 percent from 20 percent a year ago. The editorial said the bitter battle between the two men has “totally destabilized” their followers who have been raised in “the cult of the leader.” It has also opened the public’s eyes to “the true nature of these leaders and their methods.” Other factors in their diminishing appeal have been their defense of the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia and the economic recovery in France. In another front-page story Tuesday, Le Monde reported that, according to a British organization, Global Witness, Cambodian forests are being illegally destroyed to feed the garden furniture industry in Vietnam.

Tuesday’s Corriere della Sera of Milan reported that Geraldine Chaplin has written to Roberto Benigni, the Oscar-winning star and director of Life is Beautiful, to thank him for reminding her of her father, Charlie Chaplin, with “his elegance and class in every little gesture, his nobility of spirit, and, above all, his ability to be moved.” She said in an interview with the paper that during the Oscars she gave Benigni the original bowler hat that Chaplin wore in The Gold Rush.

The British press gave extensive coverage Wednesday to the putting up for sale of a London house for 35 million pounds (about $56 million), making it, according to the Daily Telegraph, “the most expensive house in Europe.” By grand mansion standards it is relatively modest, with 10 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, four reception rooms, a small garden, and a wine “cellar” that is “actually more of a cupboard.” But it is very close to Kensington Palace, where the late Princess Diana lived. The sale consists of a lease of only 99 years, and the purchaser will have to pay an additional 1.2 million pounds ($1.9 million) in taxes and an estimated $328,000 in legal fees, the Telegraph said.

In Japan, Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday that raccoons imported from the United States as pets have become an ecological and agricultural “nightmare” in Japan. Escaped or abandoned raccoons have been breeding in the wild for the past 20 years and have damaged corn crops, watermelon and melon farms, and rainbow trout hatcheries, the paper said. They have also driven native Japanese foxes and gray herons from their natural habitats. Raccoons, particularly baby ones, became fashionable as pets in the late 1970s because of a popular cartoon program on television called Araiguma Rasukaru (Rascal the Raccoon).