The Washington Post leads with Hezbollah's million-man march in the streets of Beirut. The New York Times leads with a controversial deal in southern Afghanistan that some fear will further empower the Taliban. The Los Angeles Times leads with an agreement by the Los Angeles Archdiocese to pay $60 million to 45 people who said they were abused by Roman Catholic priests. The Wall Street Journal leads its worldwide news box with an Iraq roundup, including Iraqi data showing civilian deaths up 44 percent in November.
The WP paints a vivid picture of hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah supporters, many of them Lebanon's disenfranchised Shiite Muslims, taking to the streets in a mood that was "more festive than angry" to demand the resignation of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who was taking refuge inside government headquarters. Siniora has said he will not resign. Hezbollah is threatening more demonstrations, strikes, and civil disobedience. The Post does a nice job up high of characterizing what have become, in effect, two Lebanons. There is an utter disconnect between the Western-style elite Siniora regime and Hezbollah's power-to-the-people appeal, its alliances with Iran and Syria, and its vision of Lebanon's future. The Post also notes the different images broadcast by the competing media; at one point, while Hezbollah's television station was showing minute-by-minute coverage of the protests, an anti-Hezbollah channel was airing a cooking show. The LAT fronts the story (with a large photo), as does the WSJ; why does the New York Times stuff its coverage on Page A8?
The unusual peace pact in Afghanistan outlined by the NYT is in one district of chaotic Helmand province, where there has been heavy fighting between British troops and the Taliban. Weary of months of death and destruction, and with the lucrative poppy-planting season upon them, tribal elders proposed a deal to the local governor: a cease-fire, followed by the withdrawal of both sides. It worked, and there has been relative calm there ever since. Many happy residents are rebuilding their homes and shops and replanting winter crops. (The WP today fronts Afghanistan's record-breaking opium crop, an illustration of the utter failure of eradication efforts by the United States.) Some say the peace deal could be a model for quieting other parts of the country. But others warn the deal sets a dangerous precedent by capitulating to the Taliban and undermines years of American efforts to build a strong central government in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has "mixed feelings." An elder quoted in the piece does not: "For four months we had fighting in Musa Qala," he says, "and now we have peace. What is wrong with it, if we have peace?"
The Los Angeles Archdiocese is the largest in the nation, and the settlement payout would be among the highest per person in the clergy sex scandal cases. Still, the 45 payments would dispose of only a fraction of the 570 claims filed against the church and could set the stage for further payouts totaling hundreds of millions more dollars. The LAT reports that Cardinal Roger Mahony personally called reporters to tell them about a "handshake deal" with the victims and was surprised when, a few hours later, their lawyers said he had jumped the gun and the deal was not done. The LAT does not resolve this discrepancy. Its story contains the stunning fact that three out of four parishes in the archdiocese have been served by a priest who at some time in his career was accused of sexual abuse.
Lots of Iraq elements in the papers today. U.S. and Iraqi forces launched six raids against insurgents Friday, including one that wounded an Iraqi woman who the U.S. command said was being used as a "human shield." The White House says President Bush, just back from his breakfast meeting in Jordan with "right guy for Iraq" Maliki, will meet Monday in Washington with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of one of the most powerful Shiite parties in Iraq, a party so closely tied to Iran that just a few years ago, the Bush administration wouldn't have dreamed of going near it. The Times says the flip-flop could be Mr. Bush's way of pre-empting the Iraq Study Group's expected criticism that he has been too slow to deal with Tehran. In any event, the Times says, the meeting risks being interpreted in Baghdad as yet another sign that the administration does not think Maliki is the right guy at all. A separate Times Reporter's Notebook deconstructs the hug between Bush and Maliki in an analysis of their relationship that feels at least 24 hours too old. The Post fronts a depressing assessment of the compromise forged by the so-called Baker-Hamilton group, whose report, released next week, is expected to recommend pulling back U.S. combat forces by early 2008 and shifting remaining troops into an advising and supporting role. Military and diplomatic veterans tell the Post that such a policy could "open the door to a broader and ever more brutal civil war between radical Shiite and Sunni forces competing for power in the resulting vacuum." And there's more. Read all the way to the bottom.
Also in the Saturday papers:
The new president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, was sworn in on Friday—quickly—and "it was not pretty." His political opponents jeered, tried to block entrances into the congressional chamber, and accused him of stealing Mexico's contested July election. There was pushing and shoving and chair-throwing. Calderon took the oath of office and was outta there in four minutes flat.
The plot thickens in that Cold War-esque poisoning mystery. The radioactive substance that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has now contaminated his wife and an Italian security consultant he met the day he fell ill.
China says it will temporarily dial back on restrictions on foreign journalists in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. But no break for the hometown crowd; the censorship and controls over Chinese journalists remain in effect.
House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi named Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, to chair the House intelligence committee, passing over the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jane Harmon of California, as well as ethics-challenged Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. The NYT sees the choice of Reyes, a Vietnam vet who opposed the Iraq war, as a sign that Democrats plan to confront the White House on national-security issues. The WP notes the selection may make Reyes the most visible Latino in Congress.
Everybody notes that the first big Midwest snowstorm of the season disrupted air travel, knocked out power, and killed as many as eight people. This is a picture story.
Free to Be: According to the NYT, non-gender-conforming children—"sissy boys" and tomboy girls and those who identify strongly with the opposite sex—are increasingly being encouraged by families, schools, and health professionals to be who they are, though it can often be a struggle for parents.
And finally: That's-a Spicy Meatball! The Washington Post reports that a recent survey found D.C. residents are tired of hot dogs. They're demanding more variety and flavor from their street food vendors. So now, Washington is gearing up to give New York City a run for its lunch money.