Today's Papers

Belgrade Blues

Events in Turkey again capture front page headlines, but only USA Today leads with it. The official body count nearly doubled in the last 24 hours to 7,000, and conditions for the living have begun to deteriorate rapidly–no electricity, little food and water. The Washington Post leads with Gov. George W. Bush’s response to questions about his rumored drug use. Bush admitted to youthful mistakes but indicated that he has been drug-free for at least 25 years. The New York Times leads with a mass demonstration in Belgrade calling for Slobodan Milosevic’s prompt resignation. The Los Angeles Times goes with a local story on a national issue: The state assembly approved a ban on “unsafe” handguns, making California the second state to do so (after Massachusetts). The guns are considered unsafe if they do not meet standards designed to prevent misfiring.

Yugoslavia’s fragmented opposition pulled together for an evening of anti-Milosevic fervor before, er, a lot of demonstrators–more than 50,000 in the NYT, 100,000 in the LAT and the Wall Street Journal, and 150,000 in the Post. Neither bomb threats nor the isolated explosion of a tear-gas grenade early on could scare them away.  Speakers called for the president’s swift exit but disagreed on how best to approach it. After swearing he wouldn’t show up, Vik Draskovic, leader of the largest opposition party, matched the president’s suggestion for elections in November and was booed by the crowd: The opposition’s bickering and Milosevic’s control of the media and police would benefit the latter in the elections. The WP fronts the story, the LAT reefers it with an above-the-fold picture.

Gov. George W. Bush suggested that he would easily have passed strict government background checks into drug use at any time during Clinton’s or his father’s administrations. Checks under the Bush (Sr.) administration reached back 15 years, and that was ten years ago at the earliest. So, simple arithmetic yields that Bush has not used drugs in at least 25 years. The comments came after a journalist’s inquiry into whether or not Bush could pass a background check that might be given to members of his administration. The LAT, which also fronts the story, writes that Bush’s comments sparked curiosity into his activities as a young adult and debate over the press’ interest in probing such issues.

USAT leads with conditions in Turkey for the first time. The story cites a U.N. official in New York who said that up to 35,000 people may be buried in the rubble. The Post carries this figure as well but attributes it to an official government estimate made after flights over the  region. Unburied bodies pose great risks to public health as a source of disease, the papers report. The fire at Turkey’s largest oil refinery, which the LAT led with yesterday, was brought under control after fire fighting planes dumped 75 tons of chemicals on it.  Insult to injury: The NYT reports that in Golcuk relief workers now outnumber residents. They brought with them more bread and water than locals could consume, but no portable toilets, tents, or generators. The Turkish government opened a criminal investigation into contractors who built the apartment complexes that crumbled so quickly and thoroughly on Tuesday, according to a LAT front-pager.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church voted yesterday to unite with the Episcopal Church, two years after dismissing a similar measure. The two churches will recognize each other’s membership rolls and sacraments, and work together on missionary and social programs. The pact will have great resonance abroad, as related churches in Europe and Africa also start to bridge gaps in practices and programs. The Episcopal Church is expected to approve the union at its convention in July. The Post says in its headline that both groups have been losing members, but the NYT emphasizes cost-cutting needs: The churches can now combine resources and clergy in cash-strapped areas. Together, they have a combined membership of about 8 million. The LAT, WP, and NYT all front the story.

Three Japanese banks announced a possible merger that would create the world’s largest financial institution, worth $1.26 trillion. (Deutsche Bank AG holds the current title, weighing in at $868 billion.) The WSJ carries predictions that smaller competitors will lock arms as well, thereby reducing the industry’s dead weight. 

The NYT prints two corrections and a short news item to clear up a story and editorial from earlier in the week. On Tuesday, the paper’s lead story suggested that $1 billion in foreign aid had been stolen in Bosnia. As it turns out, $20 million of that sum is foreign aid, the rest was taken from Bosnian public funds or resulted from failed tax collection. At a press conference on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said the story was misleading.

History textbook or today’s front page?:  “The revolt of the serfs has sparked a backlash by the landlords, who are moving to crush the rebellion before it gets out of hand.”  Both. The LAT “Column One” article reports that the drive for freedom is rattling the world’s largest remaining holdout of feudal serfdom.  Thousands of slave laborers in southern Pakistan are rising up against landlords who have shackled and sold them for hundreds of years.