The world hasn't changed a bit since Sept. 11, judging from this weekend's papers. In Northern Ireland, three and a half years after the signing of the landmark Good Friday Agreement, only a weekend of frantic deal-making kept the peace process alive after two dissidents blocked the re-election of David Trimble as first minister of Northern Ireland on Friday. Although Trimble was supported by 70.6 percent of the entire legislative assembly, he also needed a majority of unionist members, but because two members of his own party voted against him, he fell .8 percentage points short. (The Independentof London explained that this requirement was put into place to ensure that first ministers had cross-community support, but since only about half of the Protestant community supports the Good Friday Agreement, pro-agreement unionist politicians are "shackled by the rejectionist tendency.") To avoid new elections, which would almost certainly return a more polarized assembly, the British Northern Ireland secretary postponed the decisive vote until Monday and then persuaded the non-sectarian Alliance Party to designate three of its five members as unionists for the purpose of the leadership election.
Spain's El País said, "The Northern Ireland peace process is like a soccer match in which the referee enjoys almost unlimited power to change the rules and make decisions that benefit the team he considers most worthy of victory." An op-ed in the Sunday Telegraphtook a harsher tone, declaring: "The Good Friday Agreement is now dead, no matter what fraudulent number crunching might have occurred last night to maintain the fiction that David Trimble has the support of the Unionist people. He hasn't. When a shepherd visibly counts goats as sheep, who will do business with him in the market place when he comes to sell his flock?" The Belfast Telegraph expressed concern that unionists were feeling alienated from the peace process, but declared the voting system unfair: "The system, ironically designed to protect the integrity of the office, is plainly flawed in that it disenfranchises a significant section of the population who are in the middle ground and among the firmest supporters of the Good Friday Agreement."
No Singaporeswing: In Singapore, Saturday's general election was decided before anyone went to the polls because the People's Action Party, which has ruled since Singapore became independent from Malaysia in 1965, faced no opposition for 55 of the 84 seats. According to the Financial Times, "Some analysts had predicted opposition gains among disaffected voters after blaming the government for the faltering economy, rising unemployment and recruitment of foreign workers, who account for 20 per cent of the island's 4m population," but in the end, the PAP did remarkably well—taking 75.3 percent of the vote—up from its 1997 share of 65 percent. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post noted: "The PAP may be one of Asia's most consistently successful electoral machines, but its years in power appear to have only accentuated its desire to hound those who seek to undermine its support base." During the recent campaign, an opposition leader was threatened with legal action after he asked pointed questions of the PAP leadership.
Anniversary schmaltz: The Irish Times reported that although Turkmenistan and war-torn Afghanistan share a 500-mile border, Turkmenistan's egomaniac president has declared a 10-day public holiday to celebrate the country's 10th year of independence. (For more on President Saparmurat Niyazov's spectacular self-aggrandizement, see the final item in this August 2000 "International Papers.") With no competition from independent newspapers or broadcasters, the state media make little mention of the war or any other foreign events: "On the third night of the US strikes on Afghanistan, for example, the evening news show began with an account of the president's movements that day, then came a report on the cotton harvest, then a piece on the upgrading of a desert pipeline. Afghanistan was not mentioned." Although Turkmenistan has refused to allow U.S. forces to use its bases, it is a key hub for U.N. agencies sending aid into Afghanistan. After the war, Turkmenistan could find itself in a good position to open lucrative pipeline routes through Afghanistan, allowing it to market its oil and gas reserves to India and China.
"Remember, remember the 11th of September." On Nov. 5, Britons traditionally celebrate "Bonfire Night" by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot, a 1605 Roman Catholic conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament. This year, a Sunday Telegraph op-ed suggested that after almost 400 years, it's time to put a new villain's feet to the fire: "[I]n much the same way that President Bush and Tony Blair have been burnt in effigy from Quetta to Islamabad, from Gaza to Peshawar," young Brits should substitute Osama Bin Laden for Guy Fawkes atop their bonfires. Meanwhile, an Observerwriter was disturbed that a village that incinerates a contemporary villain along with its Guy chose Weakest Link presenter Anne Robinson as this year's scoundrel: "[A]n entire town has spent the last two busy months scouring the papers for a putative twenty-first-century simulacrum of evil and somehow settled on a mildly noxious teatime quizmistress: apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?"
Hugh Grant should play him in the movie version: In an innovative piece of psychometric profiling, a Sunday Timesjournalist established that "by his upbringing, lifestyle and aspirations," Osama Bin Laden is a "Trustafarian." According to Giles Coren, Trustas "pretend to a sort of bohemianism by living quite close to areas once populated by black people and never, ever, have jobs." Among the many Trustafarian traits Bin Laden exhibits: He spent time studying in Oxford (at a language school; Trustas are too dim to get into the university), attended a "dodgy foreign university," and fought with the mujahideen ("[e]very Trusta does a stint in the army; two years in the family regiment is generally a condition of the trust"). Coren advised against threatening Bin Laden with death or prosecution, should he be captured: "That would be playing into his hands. We must respond in the only language he understands, with the only punishment he truly fears: we must offer him a job."