International Papers

Was It Witchcraft? The Mystery of Flight 990

Despite the initial lack of any evidence of foul play in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts, European newspapers clung hopefully to that possibility Monday. The Italian newspapers were particularly interested in the mystery of “Luciano Porcari,” which, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, is the signature on a letter it received in September, warning that a bomb might be placed aboard an airliner departing from either New York or Los Angeles. The FAA noted that a man named Luciano Porcari hijacked a Spanish plane in 1977 and was sent briefly to prison for it. But, according to Corriere della Sera of Milan, the FAA “seems not to know” that the same Porcari, now aged 50, is currently in prison in Naples for a different crime. He was arrested in 1994 for stabbing his girlfriend to death in the central Italian city of Orvieto. “But if it’s not Porcari, who is hiding behind his identity?” the paper asked. “It is a mystery within a mystery.”

Another common urge was to associate the crash with Halloween. The Washington correspondent of La Repubblica of Rome began an overblown front-page article as follows: “On the night of American witches–Halloween–right in the nest of American witches–Massachusetts–the spell that swallowed up four aircraft in four years in the same stretch of sky and sea seems to have been beating its wings and to have consumed another 217 lives flying on an Egyptian Boeing.” He said the world’s media now regard that stretch of sky and sea as “cursed”–“another Bermuda Triangle ready for the new millennium”–but he went on to explain prosaically that the flight paths up the East Coast of the United States are in fact neither “bewitched nor cursed, but simply the busiest in the world.”

As President Clinton began talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Oslo, Norway, Monday, Ha’aretz said Israel still has no united policy on a Middle East peace settlement. In a front-page report, the paper said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak will offer statehood to the Palestinians in the “framework agreement” they are due to sign next February and in exchange will demand that the Palestinians recognize West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital; but the paper said in an editorial that “the parties have yet to deal with the heart of the conflict.” International confidence in Israel was restored following Barak’s defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu in the general election, but “[c]onfidence-building measures can no longer suffice at this stage,” it said. “The Oslo summit, therefore, is an important reminder of decisions yet to be made, without which the summit will remain only a ceremony, without any of the requisite diplomatic content to advance the process.”

The Jakarta Post marked the departure of the last Indonesian troops from East Timor by describing Indonesia’s 24-year war to keep control of the territory as “an historic error.” But in an editorial Monday, the paper was optimistic about the future. “With the kind of wise and democratic leadership that now exists in Jakarta–and hopefully in the near future also in Dili–there is every reason to believe that a rapprochement is possible.” The Jakarta Post also quoted East Timorese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta as ridiculing claims that East Timor would not be viable as a country on its own: “One does not have to be an Einstein to do slightly better than those incompetent, lazy, corrupt bastards who managed our country for 23 years. Sometimes I find it laughable that the Indonesian [authorities] keep telling us that East Timor cannot manage without Indonesia.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, which reported the Indonesian evacuation under the headline “East Timor’s Tormentors Slink Away,” ran a long editorial Monday extolling Australia’s peacekeeping role and expressing the hope that it might eventually lead to the Association of South East Asian Nations adopting a collective security role in the region. The SMH, which has been campaigning for a republican victory in this Saturday’s referendum to rid Australia of the British monarchy, published a pro-monarchy article Monday by Peter Slezak, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Slezak’s argument is that without the queen, Australia “would be a nation of jingoistic, sentimental flag-wavers. … [I]t may be the very irrelevance of royalty which has helped protect us from excesses of patriotic fervor,” he wrote–comparing Australians favorably with Americans, who “have a cloying sentimentality about their history, their flag, their president and their system.” An opinion poll published Monday in the Guardian of London found, surprisingly, that a large proportion of Britons think Australia should ditch the monarchy: Forty percent said it should become a republic and 34 percent that it should keep the queen as its head of state. The Guardian said its poll “could provide a much-needed boost” to Australia’s republican campaigners, who have been running slightly behind the monarchists in the latest polls.

The cyclone disaster in Orissa on the east coast of India prompted a breast-beating editorial in the Times of India. “Just what is it about us that we feel so helpless before a natural disaster?” it asked. “Our achievements are obviously world class in many spheres, science and technology and computers being among them. We have the almighty nuclear bomb and, yet, we despair when it comes to floods, droughts, cyclones and communicable diseases, many of them entirely avoidable man-made disasters. … It used to be said of the former Soviet Union that while it excelled in such complicated endeavours as space exploration, the smallest things would fox it–the tap would leak and the flush would not work. Perhaps because we modelled ourselves after that country, we seem to be affected by the same disregard for the smaller details, which, for all their apparent insignificance, matter the most in the end.”

The French press recovered from its gloom over the European ruling against France in its Mad Cow War with the British and found something to celebrate in France’s astounding semifinal victory over the New Zealand “All Blacks” Sunday in the Rugby World Cup tournament in Britain. “The Blues flatten the Blacks” was the four-column front-page headline in Le Figaro of Paris. Even the British press was generous. “All Blacks humbled by a French tour de force” said the Daily Telegraph, calling it “the biggest upset in the history of the Rugby World Cup.” The Independent called it “a blaze of gloire” and added: “In a year of remarkable sporting finishes, here was the most unexpected of victories for the most enchanting of underdogs over the most intimidating of favorites. And what, now, will they do for an encore?” The French meet the Australians in the final of the cup in Cardiff next Saturday.