What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 24 1997 3:30 AM

The suicide of the famous Japanese film director Juzo Itami, who leapt to his death from an eighth-floor window this weekend, has been compared in newspapers around the world to the death of Princess Diana--to the extent that both have been seen as victims of the tabloid press. According to Asahi Shimbun, Japan's biggest-selling daily newspaper, a weekly gossip magazine called Flash had been about to publish a photograph of Itami in a restaurant in Kyoto with a 26-year-old woman with whom, it said, he had been having an affair for three years. Itami had denied this and stated in one of several suicide notes that "only through my death can I prove my innocence."


By coincidence, the publication of such a photograph, taken inside a restaurant on a private occasion, would have been specifically forbidden in Britain under a tough new code of conduct agreed upon by all British newspapers last week in the wake of the princess's death. At the same time, the charge made most memorably by her brother, Earl Spencer, at her funeral in Westminster Abbey, that paparazzi were responsible for her death, has been implicitly rejected by her executors, who, according to the Sunday Times of London (quoting "senior royal sources"), are preparing to sue Mohamed al-Fayed's Ritz Hotel in Paris for at least $13 million for allowing the hotel security man Henri Paul to drive her when he had three times the legally permitted amount of alcohol in his blood.

Other Diana news includes reports in the Times of London that, according to an opinion poll, Queen Elizabeth's annual Christmas Day broadcast is expected to have its largest-ever audience this week, despite years of declining interest; and that the names William and Harry, those of the princess's two sons, "rocketed in popularity" among Times readers naming their babies immediately after her death, while the popularity of the name Charles "dipped dramatically."

Also on Sunday, the Sunday Times published another "princess scoop," which reverberated around the world to almost the same extent as the one about Diana's executors' lawsuit. This scoop was about the late Princess Grace of Monaco, who, it claimed, had been initiated into the sinister Order of the Solar Temple--which was engulfed by mass murder and suicide in France, Switzerland, and Canada in 1994--shortly before her own death in a car crash in the south of France 12 years earlier. According to the Sunday Times, the cult's leader, a con man called Joseph di Mambro, had made her a "high priestess" in a ghoulish quasireligious ceremony with strong sexual undertones, and got her to pay nearly $10 million into a Swiss bank. "There is no mercy for the dead," commented the Italian newspaper La Stampa about this story.

The "chicken flu" epidemic, from which a third child has died in Hong Kong, continued to dominate the pages of the South China Morning Post, which by way of light relief reported on Monday that Hong Kong had "reclaimed part of its heritage" by setting the record for "the world's largest dancing dragon." It had lost this record to the Netherlands in 1992 but had got it back again by getting 3,760 people inside a 2,696-meter dragon to dance for the minimum two minutes required for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records. The event was inaugurated by the territory's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, who "dotted the dragon's eyes."

Meanwhile, according to the Johannesburg Star, South Africa banned imports of Chinese poultry to keep out chicken flu, but was threatened with a European ban on its ostrich-meat exports unless it could wipe out a poultry disease of its own within six months. Eighty percent of Europe's ostrich-meat imports are from South Africa. In an editorial, the Star noted that police in the British city of Leeds had sent Christmas cards to convicted thieves warning them they were being kept under surveillance but said this couldn't happen in South Africa because "the overwhelming number of those qualified to receive such cards would make the cost prohibitive."

The Star published another editorial about the 50th African National Congress convention, at which President Nelson Mandela attacked the foot-dragging of South African whites in a speech. The paper said this speech would be taken by his critics as evidence that he was "hungry for power, self-serving and determined that the interests of his party should prevail." According to the Star, the ANC had supported the government's responsible economic policy; rejected Winnie Mandela and her followers; reaffirmed the principle of "non-racialism"; and, "unusually for Africa," presided over a smooth transfer of power from Mandela to Thabo Mbeki. These, it said, were all "real advances."

An investigation carried out by the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera revealed that in Jalandhar, Punjab, little girls aged 10 to 12 were engaged in what is virtually slave labor, sewing leather footballs printed with the legend "Guaranteed produced without child labor" for export to Italy, France, and Britain.

In Paris, Le Monde published an attack on Ireland, "the country of emigrants," for its reluctance to assimilate immigrants into its own territory. New Irish President Mary McAleese, it reported, had told her fellow citizens that they had a duty to give immigrants the same welcome that Irish emigrants had always received abroad, but despite this, their hostility to immigrants was increasing. The problem wasn't large, Le Monde said, for in 1997 only 4,000 foreign immigrants entered Ireland, one-third of them from Romania. But the number was still 100 times higher than that of only five years ago.