The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with news that extreme right-wing politicianJean-Marie Le Pen finished second in yesterday's French elections, meaning he will face the incumbent President Jacques Chirac in a run-off. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin finished third. Le Pen, who ran on a "France for the French" platform, has long been considered a racist and once questioned whether the Holocaust actually happened. The Washington Post and New York Times lead with Israel's declaration that it's completed its military offensive in the West Bank. Israel pulled out of Nablus and most of Ramallah, only remaining there around Yasser Arafat's compound. Israel said it would continue to do that until Arafat turned over men suspected in the killing of Israel's tourism minister. Meanwhile, the NYT emphasizes that Israeli forces kept both towns encircled. The Los Angeles Times leads with what looks like a bit of a scoop: Citing two anonymous church officials, the paper reports that "America's Catholic bishops are all but unanimous" that the Cardinal Bernard Law must resign as archbishop of Boston. Law has been accused of covering-up various priests' cases of pedophilia. USA Today leads with word that two days before the arrival of 12 U.S. cardinals, Pope John Paul II told new priests in an ordination ceremony yesterday, Jesus "asks of you to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
USAT's lead doesn't explain what, in the context of the scandal, that statement means and why it's important. The Post, meanwhile, adds a bit of context: "Some Catholic activists in the United States have expressed concern that the pope seems to be casting the sexual abuse problem primarily as a matter of discipline and adherence to vows of chastity by individual priests, rather than as an institutional failure."
The Post also reports that one chaplain "said he believes the pope urgently called the American cardinals together because insurance experts have warned that lawsuits over priestly abuse could spiral out of control, somewhat like corporate liability claims over asbestos and tobacco."
Meanwhile, the USAT gets into the campaign against Law, but it does quote experts saying that nobody should expect big changes to come out of the meeting. "Anyone looking for fireworks will be disappointed," said one observer.
Regarding the French elections, the WSJ observes that the shock over Le Pen's showing has served to obscure "the fact it puts Mr. Chirac in an apparently unbeatable position for the second round, as mainstream voters on both right and left are likely to snap out of their apathy in reaction to the risks of an extreme nationalist winning power." (By the way, Today's Papers admits that it's totally fuzzy on the difference between France's president and its prime minister, and would have been overjoyed if the papers had lent a prominent helping hand.)
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was happy that Israel was pulling its forces back. But he added, "I would ultimately like to see those units back in their garrisons and not poised in the way they are. And I would like to see the cities opened up."
Citing Israeli TV, the Post says, "Israel might start relying on raids into Palestinian towns to find specific people rather than ordering broad incursions."
The LATreports,"Israeli soldiers apparently destroyed numerous Palestinian Authority offices during their weekend pullout from the West Bank, hobbling crucial civic functions such as education and public works. In ministry after ministry, computers, photocopiers and other electronic machines were heaped in piles, destroyed by explosions and fire. Important files were missing. Telephones were smashed. Pictures were ripped from the walls."
The WP also emphasizes the looting, and says that some of it occurred in private shops.
The Post stuffs word that according to an injured man who was evacuated from Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, two 10-year-old boys and dozens of "youths" are inside the complex. The man also said that food had nearly run out and that people were "dying of hunger." One 16-year-old did leave the church over the weekend. He said nobody was being held against their will: "The reason I left is because I was hungry and bored."
The NYT says that of the more than 200 people inside the church, about 30 are "armed fighters sought by Israel."
USAT fronts a lengthy and fascinating interview with a soon-to-be suicide bomber and herAl Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander. The paper notes that unlike most suicide bombers, the woman has not made a video or a living will. She explains she's afraid that the Israelis might find it first: "I don't want to do anything that will stop the operation."
One quibble with USAT's piece: The story says the Al Aqsa Brigades commander "confirmed that cash payments from Iraq and other Arab countries" go to the families of suicide bombers. Given that those "other Arab countries" may be American allies, the paper should have tried to name them.
Yesterday's WP, by the way, had a good story exploring how the Brigades and other Palestinian groups are already beginning to reconstitute themselves.
Everybody reports that a bomb exploded in the southern Philippines yesterday, killing at least 14 people. Before the bomb went off, somebody claiming to be from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group called a Filipino radio station and warned that it was coming. A spokesman for the group, though, said Abu Sayyaf wasn't involved.
A piece stuffed in the WP reports that "Afghan specialists and some administration officials" say that the White House is wrong to resist expanding an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's top diplomat in America says that without more peacekeepers, the U.S.'s goal of stabilizing the country "is bound to fail."
The WSJ's Max Boot writes a column today in support of the peacekeepers. He notes, "History is replete with examples of U.S. troops doing precisely such missions, and for the most part with considerable success." In our history lesson for the day, Boot reminds readers that U.S. sailors, protecting American businessmen and missionaries, successfully patrolled in China "more or less continuously for 100 years—from the 1840s to the 1940s."