The New York Times leads with news that extreme right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen lost France's runoff presidential election by a huge margin. Incumbent President Jacques Chirac took 82 percent of the vote, while Le Pen got 18 percent. Turnout was also high at about 80 percent. The Washington Post, which fronts the election, calls it "an unprecedented popular outpouring that was far more a rejection of Le Pen than a show of satisfaction with Chirac." The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the WP, all lead with, news that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have almost finished inking a deal to end the standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
The papers all say that negotiators still need to agree on the details. But the deal basically entails Israel withdrawing from Bethlehem, while perhaps half a dozen men inside the church who are wanted by Israel would be exiled to Italy and another 35 would be forced to relocate to the Gaza Strip. While some Palestinians insisted that an agreement had been reached, Israeli officials refused to call it a done deal.
Everybody notes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in Washington and set to begin talks with President Bush Tuesday. The papers suggest that Sharon will not be coming with a particularly enticing peace plan.
The papers report that as Sharon arrived, Israel released about 100 pages of documents it says implicates Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority in terrorist activity. The NYT, which got a sneak peek of the docs and reported on them yesterday, is the most skeptical about Israel's claims: "The documents do not appear to show definitively that the Palestinian leader ordered terror attacks. In some documents, Mr. Arafat criticizes certain suicide bombings." (The Israeli army has posted many of the files on the Web.)
Everybody notes that the Israeli army killed a Palestinian woman and two children yesterday. The army said it shot them by mistake after a roadside bomb went off near a tank.
The WP stuffs a fascinating reconstruction of the Israeli Cabinet meeting during which ministers voted, nearly unanimously, to launch the operation last month into the West Bank. The article emphasizes that the offensive helped to realize some of Sharon's long-held desires. "Sharon is determined to fragment and ultimately destroy the Palestinian Authority, vestiges of the Oslo agreement and Arafat," said one Israeli intelligence analyst. "He wants to reestablish Israeli military supremacy throughout the West Bank and Gaza."
Meanwhile, a senior Israeli security official told the Post, "This was not the big one. We only went into six cities."
The NYT fronts a piece saying that the U.S. plans to launch "continuous counterinsurgency operations" on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border using small numbers of special ops troops. The paper says that raids are expected to last at least through the summer, and probably beyond. According to one defense official, "The goal here is to apply unrelenting pressure, so wherever they turn, they never can find any breathing space."
The papers front news that Burma's military government released the country's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after nearly two years of house arrest. According to various analysts, the government released Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, in the hopes that some sanctions against the country will be lifted.
The Post stuffs word that yesterday the Iraqi Cabinet voted (!) to end the country's short-lived oil embargo. According to the story, Iraq decided the embargo wasn't worth continuing since other Arab countries haven't hopped onto the bandwagon.
The WP fronts a solid investigation examining how Enron successfully lobbied a U.S. agency called the Overseas Private Investment Corp. to pledge "federal financing" to help build an environmentally destructive oil pipeline in South America.
Though the Post's piece focuses on that one pipeline, Today's Papers wonders if there's also another story in this: The 33rd paragraph of the Post's piece reports, "With $3 billion in OPIC loan pledges, Enron was the agency's largest customer in the 1990s."So what, exactly, is OPIC, and why has it been providing federal financing—essentially loan guarantees—to Enron and other corporations?
The WSJ reports that in "a boost for mining interests" the Bush administration has loosened a federal clean-water regulation that had banned the dumping of mining debris into rivers. According to the Journal, the revised rules "will adopt a definition of waterway 'fill material' that doesn't include a ban on mining debris." The WSJ never clearly explains the upshot of this: Has the ban has been effectively overturned?
The LAT fronts word that federal officials are investigating whether airline security guards at L.A.'s airport set up a smuggling ring to help get passengers without visas into the U.S. The paper emphasizes that part of the issue is a poorly managed program that allows international passengers without visas to stop briefly in the U.S., so long as they remain in the airport. The problem is, many of them don't.
The WP's"Style" section reports on the White House Correspondents' dinner, which was attended by the now-famously unintelligible Ozzy Osbourne, star of MTV's reality hit The Osbournes. According to the paper, when Ozzy was asked by a reporter what he wanted to say to the president, he responded, "I hengh heenth hunh president denngh hmmhmme heng."
USAT's infotainment graphics boxes are full of good stuff today. The one on the paper's front page shows the countries with the most home Internet users. Not surprisingly, the U.S. is first. But a free Today's Papers subscription goes to any reader who knows which country is second (see answer below). Meanwhile, the graphic in the "Life" section shows the stats from a poll that asked adults whether they have ever cheated on a partner. It's not so much the results that are intriguing (74 percent said no; 23 said yes), it's the poll's sponsor: "Adam & Eve," which according to the company's Web site is a division of PHE Inc., "the nation's largest marketer of adult products."