The Trials of Gulliver 

What the foreign papers are saying.
April 4 2000 3:00 AM

The Trials of Gulliver 

Despite U.S. press reports that the government long ago dropped its demands for Microsoft to be broken up, this specter continued to haunt the European press Monday. The threat of dismemberment topped the front page of Le Figaro of Paris, though in the body of its report from Washington, the paper only described it as "the most radical" of possible punishments for the corporation. La Repubblica of Rome said that only by submitting to "draconian" conditions could Microsoft avoid being split up into at least three independent companies. The paper's Washington correspondent, Vittorio Zucconi, writing on the front page, said that "the Gulliver of software is now at the mercy of the Lilliputians of the stock exchange." If they "tear him to pieces" without awaiting the judgment of the courts, "there will be many Lilliputians growing rich on the spoils."

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No British newspaper, not even the Financial Times, put the Microsoft story on its front page, though Monday's FT, in an op-ed by Richard Wolffe and Louise Kehoe, said, "As the markets open today, in a state of already raised concern about high-technology valuations, the lack of a settlement is something investors will have to live with for months—if not years—to come." The op-ed asked, "What went wrong in the talks? The full truth may never be known but immediate explanations point to an ubridgeable gap in the law, a deep lack of trust, and an undying faith in a final court victory for both sides." Both the FT and the Wall Street Journal Europe led on the purchase of the French bank Credit Commercial for more than $11 billion by Britain's HSBC Holdings, the world's second-largest bank after Citigroup of the United States. This is the first purchase of a Paris-listed bank by a foreign institution, the FT reports.

Much the biggest story in the British press Monday was the crisis in Zimbabwe, where a peaceful anti-government demonstration was broken up by a violent mob supporting President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF Party Saturday. The tension between Britain and its former colony is expected to reach a head in Cairo this week, where Mugabe will directly encounter British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook at a European Union-Africa summit. Faced with demands by Cook for free and fair elections, a halt to illegal squatting on white-owned farms, and safeguards for peaceful demonstrations, Mugabe "is expected to tell Britain that it is behaving like a colonial power and may repeat the accusations he has made that Tony Blair's government is controlled by homosexuals," the Times of London reported on its front page. In an editorial, the paper said that if parliamentary elections next month are canceled or rigged by Mugabe, Zimbabwe should be expelled from the Commonwealth.

The Independent of London said the only real deterrent to Mugabe "taking Zimbabwe down a spiral towards butchery is the threat of force," which, it added, could come only from South Africa. "For too long, Mr Mugabe hid his anti-white racism and his totalitarianism behind apartheid in South Africa," the paper said in an editorial. "Now a new multiracial and democratic South Africa should be encouraged to shoulder the moral burden of intervening to defend basic human rights, if it is possible to do so." In South Africa itself, the Cape Argus said that Zimbabwe is sliding into anarchy and that there is a growing consensus among analysts that there has to be a change of government in next month's elections if anything is to improve.

Japanese newspapers led Monday with the illness of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who has suffered a stroke at the age of 62. His temporary replacement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aiko, initially said he did not anticipate that Obuchi would return to work "for two or three days," but nobody believed him. Aiko later justified this disbelief by revealing that Obuchi was in a coma and that it was consequently "difficult for the premier to make his own decisions." Asahi Shimbun noted that lying about illness is an accepted Japanese political practice, since confession often ends a politician's career. Even so, there was anger in the Japanese media that Obuchi's stroke was kept secret for nearly a full day, the paper said. "That is an irresponsible response typical of Japanese officialdom," it quoted one leading journalist as saying.

Britain is gloating and France is in shock following the disclosure that Laetitia Casta, 21, the French actress chosen to represent Marianne, the bare-breasted symbol of the French Revolution, in millennium busts has moved to London as a tax exile. She is reportedly running away from French wealth tax. Although the story originally broke in February in the Sunday Times of London, neither British nor French newspapers will let it die. As Le Figaro reported on its front page Monday, it "circulates in a loop like a snake eating its tail." According to the Daily Telegraph of London Monday,  Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the French minister of the interior, warned Casta she will suffer for her decision. "If she gets sick, and I hope she won't, the health care in a British hospital will be far short of French hospitals," he said. "If she takes the metro [subway], she will realize that the London metro is nothing like the quality of the Paris metro." Le Figaro's London correspondent even warned her in his report that the British tax collectors will catch up with her in the end. 

Alexander Chancellor is a columnist for the Guardian.

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