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The throwing out of Paula Jones' harassment case against President Clinton led the last editions of all the British broadsheet newspapers Thursday, but the tabloids preferred the theft of love letters from the late Diana, Princess of Wales, to her ex-lover, James Hewitt. These reportedly intimate letters, dated between 1989 and 1991, were offered for sale for $240,000 to the London DailyMirror by "Hewitt's spurned Italian fiancée," but the newspaper refused the offer and handed the letters to the executors of the princess's estate. The London Evening Standard reported Thursday that Hewitt was expected to take legal steps for their return.
The Jones decision came too late for the continental European newspapers and for editorial comment in the British ones, though the Financial Times, in an inside page feature, said that the affair had "damaged the Clinton presidency, perhaps irretrievably." "Even if the sex scandal subsides, the president has been tainted," the paper said. "He will not be remembered for his economic triumphs, his political agility, his visionary trade policies, his well-meant dialogue on race, and the dozens of other smaller initiatives. Already he is the subject of countless jokes, and he will be remembered as the president who could not keep his zipper zipped."
In France, the press was dominated Thursday by the conclusion of the country's longest trial, that of Maurice Papon, 87, accused of (and sentenced Thursday morning to 10 years for) crimes against humanity: deporting about 1,600 Jews to Auschwitz from Vichy France. The trial gave rise to a flood of soul-searching comment. It had served, said the daily Le Figaro, "to open our eyes."
"France loves to dwell on her past," it said in a front page editorial. "She even lives in it, fascinated by her navel. But until now, she has cared above all for her moments of glory, when she thought she could give orders to the universe. She preferred to skip the black pages in her history. But not for the past few years. One may call it masochism, or self-denigration, or self-hatred, but it's a good thing all the same that she dares, at last, to look herself in the face. With stains on her forehead." Le Monde published an article titled "France, the Universal Victim?" by writer Pascal Bruckner, who said France displayed "a unique combination of arrogance and self-hatred," and added, "We combine an unequalled vanity with a lack of self-confidence that is the symptom of nations in decline."
Le Monde devoted a front page article to a Los Angeles Times investigation of supposed breaches in the traditional wall between advertising and editorial in U.S. newspapers. Relying heavily on the L.A. Times, it included among its examples the censorship by the Chicago Sun-Times of a reference to Neiman Marcus in an article about the death of Gianni Versace because the store had not bought any advertising space in the paper.
Other leading topics in the European press were the political uncertainty in Russia and the crisis in the Middle East peace talks, exacerbated by the death Sunday in Ramallah of Hamas' Mohiyedine Sharif. The Guardian of London said in an editorial that the consequences of this could be "as severe as those which have almost destroyed the Middle East peace process since Israeli agents killed the No.1 of the Hamas terrorist organisation two years ago."
The London EveningStandard attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making "suckers of his people." It urged Israelis and the Jewish community abroad to "ask themselves what future there is for a country under a Prime Minister who seems determined to lead it into impasse and isolation." La Repubblica of Rome, in an editorial titled "Peace at Risk," said Sharif's death might deliver the coup de grâce to the peace process. "The fear is that Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, may be transformed into the funeral of peace," LaRepubblica said. "A new blood bath would play the game of the extremists on both sides who have always been opposed to peace." In Israel, the liberal Ha'aretz supported U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's call for direct Israel-Lebanon talks on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanese territory.
Under the headline "Dangerous Games in the Kremlin," LeMonde's editorial Thursday questioned the staying power of Boris Yeltsin. "The 'Russian miracle,' that of always avoiding catastrophes at the last moment, remains, however, fragile--more and more fragile," it said. "One day, soon perhaps, the public will have to stop gaping at the ability of Boris Yeltsin 'to be good at times of crisis.' " In a report from its Moscow correspondent, LeMonde said presidential hopeful Gen. Alexander Lebed was involved in a Mafia scandal in Siberia.
In London, the Daily Telegraph reported Rupert Murdoch had read a lesson at a memorial service for one of his former columnists at the London Times, Woodrow Wyatt. He read the parable of the talents from St. Matthew's Gospel, with its praise for those who get a good return on their investments. "Take, therefore, the talent from him [who had one talent] and give it unto him which hath ten talents," Murdoch read. "For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."