The Sydney Morning Herald reports Portuguese lawyers' plans to extradite former Indonesian President Suharto and charge him with mass killings in East Timor. Human rights groups claim that as many as 200,000 Timorese have been killed since Indonesia invaded and annexed the Portuguese colony in 1976. The United Nations still recognizes Portugal as the area's administrative authority, and the lawyers behind the move say it was inspired by Spain's attempts to try former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The Suharto case has better legal standing, the Herald points out, because "the crimes he is accused of were committed on territory still recognised by the UN and international law as being Portuguese."
The Pinochet specter is also raised in the Hong Kong Standard, which questions the possibility that Cambodian leader Hun Sen might grant amnesty to two prominent members of the Khmer Rouge: "Why should these killers be let off?" The paper reports that Hun Sen promised the United Nations that he would help apprehend Khmer Rouge leaders and bring them before an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. "Can Mr Hun Sen now justifiably refuse to hand them over to an international tribunal, particularly at a time when war criminals from the former Yugoslavia have been indicted and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is under siege?"
Pessimism pervades papers' seasonal stories around the world. Under the headline "Not a Merry Christmas For Everyone," the Moscow Times, while recognizing that residents of the capital were better off than the rest of Russia, writes that "even here in the showpiece of Russian society, tens of thousands of people have lost their savings in the collapse of the country's banking system. Still more have become unemployed or had their salaries slashed as the banking, media and consumer-goods businesses have switched from boom to bust." Meanwhile, Britain's Sunday Times names the Cuban trade union weekly Trabajadores "Scrooge of the week" for its lack of Christmas spirit. After a hiatus of 30 years, Christmas Day was restored as a public holiday in Cuba, but Trabajadores attacked state-run shops for stocking Christmas decorations and denounced Santa Claus as "the leading symbol of the hagiography of US mercantilism."
In a season when Americans can only be envious of their overseas counterparts' more generous vacation packages, the Age of Melbourne reveals that Australians "have lost the will or can't find the way to take that annual break." The decline can be explained in part by workers trying to keep up with their American counterparts in an increasingly global economy. "American leave provisions (20 days in total) are among the lowest in the world--slightly more than Cambodia (16), slightly less than Japan (25 days) and Singapore (26 days) and substantially less than the world's best holiday practitioners, Sweden and Greece (a whopping 38 days each)."
The Statesman of Calcutta announces that "[t]ourist traffic in Jaisalmer, the Rajasthan desert district where nuclear weapons were tested this year, decreased alarmingly, apparently due to the alleged Western propaganda against the Pokhran nuclear tests." According to the paper, India's first nuclear test in 1974 gave the area a tourism boost. "This time, though, things are different."
A comment in the Independent on Sunday deflates entrepreneur and balloonist Richard Branson. The paper challenges Branson's spin that the balloon, piloted by Branson, Steve Fossett, and Per Lindstrand, had ditched in "shark-infested waters." "There are, needless to say, sharks in the Pacific Ocean but Oahu, home of the capital Honolulu, is about as savage a place as Weybridge [a British seaside resort]. There are coral reefs off the island which are dying because the millions of Americans on holiday there urinate in the water so much that, at peak flow, the ocean surrounding the reefs becomes toxic. That wasn't mentioned in the reports. 'Branson ditches into urine-rich ocean' doesn't sound quite as good, does it?"
Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun declares that "[g]loom and despondency sum up 1998, according to the kanji chosen by the public to symbolize the year now drawing to an end. In an annual poll ... the kanji for 'doku' (poison) was the overwhelming favorite." Apparently, the summer's "curry-poisoning sensation," when someone added arsenic to food that was served at a summer festival, and media stories about dioxin poisoning and environmental hazards account for doku's popularity. Previous years' kanji have not been much cheerier: In 1995 "earthquake" took the honors; in 1996 a mass food poisoning scandal led to the victory of "food"; and 1997 was represented by "bankruptcy."
In Britain, where betting is legal, the Sunday Times lists some of the "unusual bets for the next year" accepted by a leading bookmaker. William Hill has offered odds of 10-to-1 that Bill and Hillary Clinton would announce divorce proceedings during 1999, 20-to-1 that the controversial "Millennium Dome" would be scrapped, 100-to-1 that Prince Charles would marry his sons' former nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke, and 1 million-to-1 that the world would end in August.