“How do you feel in the Holy Land?” Boris Yeltsin was asked. “Holy,” he replied. According to Le Figaro of Paris, which supplied this anecdote, the former Russian president, who resigned on New Year’s Eve, totally eclipsed all the actual heads of state from other Christian Orthodox countries–Greece, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, etc.–gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas. La Stampa of Turin noted that Yeltsin came to Israel with an entourage of 140 people and several black limousines. The Jerusalem Post noted that, despite reports of Russian military setbacks in Chechnya, Yeltsin said that Russia “will finish with the [Chechen] terrorists within a month.” Earlier in the day, he had predicted a Russian victory in two months, but after a festive luncheon held in his honor by Israeli President Ezer Weizman, he halved the estimate. The Post said his room in Jerusalem had been stocked with a selection of Israeli vodkas. When asked to sign a visitor’s book, Yeltsin “spent a few long minutes writing laboriously in the volume,” the Post said. “But all he left for posterity in Jerusalem was his signature and the date.” Ha’aretz, meanwhile, continued its campaign to persuade President Weizman to resign, after reports, which he has not denied, that he received nearly $500,000 in gifts from a French millionaire.
The Independent of London reported allegations Thursday that the Russian apartment-block bombings that ignited the latest war in Chechnya and propelled Vladimir Putin into the presidency were the work not of Islamic terrorists, as claimed by Moscow, but of the Russian special services. The paper’s Moscow correspondent claimed to have seen a video in which a Russian officer captured by the Chechens made the allegations. Identifying himself as Alexei Galitin of the GRU (Russian military intelligence service), the bearded captive said that the explosions last September in Moscow and Volgodonsk that killed nearly 300 people had been carried out by the GRU in collaboration with the FSB (the Russian security service). The Russian ministry of defense dismissed the video as a Chechen dirty trick. “The Russian armed forces protect the people. It is impossible that they would attack their own people,” a spokesman said.
From Providence, R.I., Sergei Khrushchev, son of the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, told the Moscow Times that he is “scared” by the transfer of power from Yeltsin to Putin. Khrushchev, a former Soviet missile engineer who became an American citizen last July, said he believes Putin launched the war in Chechnya to mask the fact that he has no economic program for Russia.
The Italian papers Friday fronted what they called a snub to Pope John Paul II by China, when it consecrated five “patriotic” Roman Catholic bishops in Beijing without his authorization. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong described the action as a severe blow to efforts to normalize diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican and said that “the timing of the ceremony at a Beijing cathedral appeared to be an open challenge to the Pope, just hours before he was due to ordain 12 new bishops from around the world at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.” The Vatican’s ties with Taiwan are a major obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic relations, the paper said.
The Daily Telegraph of London led its front page Friday with a report of an epic escape from Chinese Communist rule in Tibet by the teen-age head of one of the four great sects of Tibetan Buddhism. It said the 17th karmapa, a 14-year-old boy, crossed the Himalayas on foot with four attendants before stumbling into Dharamsala, the Indian seat in exile of the Dalai Lama, Wednesday. He had traveled 900 miles from his remote monastery home, 30 miles northwest of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. The South China Morning Post called his flight a “body blow” to Beijing, which recognized his enthronement as a living Buddha in 1992 and was suspected of wanting to manipulate him to drive a wedge between his sect and the dominant Gelugpa sect of the Dalai Lama. According to the Chinese media, the karmapa left behind a letter saying he was going abroad “to get the musical instruments of the Buddhist mass and the black hats that have been used by the previous living Buddhas.” Playing down his defection, the New China News Agency said that he “did not mean to betray the State, the nation, the monastery, or the leadership.”
For the second time this week, the Financial Times of London ran an editorial calling for the U.S. Federal Reserve to be made more accountable to politicians and the public. Praising Alan Greenspan’s record as he embarks on a fourth term as its chairman, the FT said, however, that “the concentration of so much policymaking power in the hands of one individual does not constitute international best practice. Nor does the Fed win first prize for openness and transparency in central banking.” The paper led its front page, as did the New York Times, with the inquiry into the U.S. auditing profession following revelations of rampant violations of share ownership regulations by partners in PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s biggest accounting firm.
The British tabloid the Sun reported “exclusively” Friday that Catherine Zeta Jones, the Welsh film star, has agreed to sign a pre-nuptial agreement forgoing any claims on Michael Douglas’ fortune if their marriage fails. Douglas announced Thursday on his Web site that they plan to marry sometime this year. The Sun said Zeta Jones didn’t want a Hollywood wedding but hoped to marry Douglas in a tiny chapel close to her childhood home in South Wales.