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As Russia prepared for Friday's controversial, low-key burial of Czar Nicholas II's remains in St. Petersburg, the English-language St. Petersburg Times reported that "as in life, so in death, Nicholas II has served only to divide Russia." It quoted a new opinion poll showing that only 47 percent of Russians believe that the remains, which a government commission has found to be those of the last czar, are in fact authentic. In an editorial, the paper said that "[b]etween rampant organizational chaos, a stingy funeral budget, sound and fury from the Russian Orthodox Church and a growing list of prominent no-shows, this proposed 'act of national repentance and reconciliation' is shaping up as one lousy historical event." Even if Boris Yeltsin were to have a last-minute change of heart and decide to attend, despite the church's refusal to accept the authenticity of the remains, the damage has already been done, the editorial said, and "[a] historical occasion which at the very least deserved both gravity and grace has been irrevocably reduced to pure spectacle."
Izvestiya's lead story Thursday claimed the Russian government is playing down the crippling effects of drought on the country's grain harvest because it knows it cannot afford to provide compensation to farmers. The paper rejected a government claim that the drought's cost to agriculture is around 2 billion rubles, saying that the drought has hit 35 regions and has caused a loss in the Volgograd region alone of around 1.2 billion rubles. The daily Egodnya predicted that the U.S. Congress would seek to attach strict conditions to the disbursement of the multibillion dollar credit recently agreed by Russia with the International Monetary Fund. Among the demands it expected the Republican majority in Congress to make were pledges by Russia not to place S-300 missiles in Cyprus, not to conduct trade with Iran, not to interfere with the blockade of Iraq, to reduce Russian gas supplies to Europe, and to give American companies greater access to Russian markets.
German newspapers led Thursday with an announcement by Interior Minister Manfred Kanther that he wants to get tough with Germany's football hooligans now to prevent further violence at the next international football tournament--the European championship--which is to take place in Belgium and Holland in two years' time. He proposed to place a travel ban on known German troublemakers, but to back this up with fiercer measures such as immobilizing their cars or, as a last resort, locking them up. The conservative Die Welt backed the proposals in a front-page editorial that urged German liberals to accept them in the interests of the country as a whole.
The French newspapers were also preoccupied Thursday with a sports problem--that of drug abuse by cyclists in the Tour de France. Following the arrest of the trainer of the Festina team, Bruno Roussel, accused of possessing large quantities of forbidden substances, there were several editorials Thursday about the potentially disastrous effects of this scandal on the world's greatest cycling marathon. Libération praised the Ministry of Sport for having apparently decided "to burst the boil" of drug abuse, which has overshadowed the tour since 1966, when competitors went on strike rather than submit to drug tests. Le Figaro said that the tour had been "poisoned" by the scandal.
The French press also gave heavy coverage to the visit to Paris of President Hafez el Assad of Syria who, Le Monde said, was seeking to advance the role of the European Union in the Middle East peace process at the expense of the United States. In an editorial Thursday, the newspaper said the French government might not be wrong to want to integrate the Syrian president into the process rather than exclude him, but asked, "All the same, can one tolerate the imprisonment of more than two thousand prisoners of conscience in a country which one is seeking to make one's 'strategic partner'?"
The conservative Israeli paper the Jerusalem Post published an opinion piece Thursday by Palestinian journalist Daud Kuttab attacking the United States for demanding new direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. "This is a cop-out," he wrote. "If the Clinton administration, which has been described by many Israelis as the most pro-Israel administration ever, is unable to press Israel, how will the weak Palestinians" fare.
In Britain, the London Evening Standard reported that British scientists were "coming forward in droves" to claim fatherhood of the impotence drug Viagra after two members of Pfizer's British research team had been recognized as its inventors by the British Patent Office.