Arafat takes flight to be with his baby

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The Independent Online
A two-month-old Palestinian baby called Zahwa is very much like her father, her mother says. ''When she wants something she gets it. She shouts, she doesn't cry.''

No surprise, considering that dad is Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The whole family flew to Washington together for yesterday's signing of the latest Palestinian-Israeli accord.

On the flight, Mr Arafat got acquainted with the daughter with whom he has spent only half an hour since her birth in Paris in July, according to his wife, Suha. "He saw her and he said she is very beautiful," she told the Associated Press. "For him, it's a new experience."

"His face was like sunshine," ventured the baby's British nanny, who gave her name as Suzie.

"I'm proud that her visit after France is to the US, to go to the ceremony of peace," said Mrs Arafat, who has big plans for the child.

While she wants her daughter "to live as a normal baby" and to be ''a modest person'', she would also like her to have an ''international'' education and a career as a lawyer.

No word yet on what Zahwa, a vision in pink during the transatlantic flight, thinks about all that. For now, she's content with her stuffed rabbit, cloth doll and a blue-and-white mirror shaped like a fish.

Doris Lessing is back in South Africa for the first time since 1956, when two policemen put her straight back on the flight she had arrived on. ''Never attempt to set foot in this country again,'' she was told.

This time, the welcome was much warmer. The author once shunned for her Communist Party membership and criticism of apartheid was hailed for her efforts to break down social, cultural, sexual and literary barriers.

Ms Lessing is in the country to see relatives, but her trip coincides with the publication of Under My Skin, the first volume of her autobiography, so a few interviews and speaking engagements are on agenda.

With nearly 40 major works in a range of styles to her credit, Ms Lessing was first published before she started school aged seven: her short poem about a sunset appeared in the Rhodesia Herald.

Why an autobiography? Because so many other writers got her life story wrong, she says. ''I thought at least I could get the facts right. Then I got very interested in the whole process, and it became rather more than just an exercise in getting the facts right.''

For someone who has been dead for more than 700 years, St Francis of Assisi is having a good week. First, the Pope invoked his name when he met Brigitte Bardot and other animal rights activists on Wednesday, telling the star of And God Created Woman: ''St Francis of Assisi cared for animals and poor human beings.''

Now comes word that clothing and other items that belonged to the animal- loving saint will be exhibited next month after being locked away for seven centuries in the basilica of Assisi, in central Italy.

The objects include a hunting horn, a patched grey cassock, sandals, a cape, a white blood-stained shirt and an embroidered linen cloth used to mop the saint's fevered brow in his final days in 1226.

Also on view will be 11 silver coins that were found next to his remains during an archaeological dig in 1818. They apparently were not the ascetic Italian's life savings, but gifts dropped into his tomb during his burial.

Ronald Reagan supposedly used to call his wife ''Mommy'', but Nancy Reagan has no plans to be a mother on film. She has just said no to the title role in Mother, a Hollywood comedy about a man's complicated relationship with his mother.

Mrs Reagan abandoned Hollywood 38 years ago when she married Ronnie. As Nancy Davis, she had minor success as an actress, appearing in 11 films from 1949 to 1956.

She was last seen on the silver screen in Hellcats of the Navy, a 1957 film in which she and the future president co-starred.

The actor-director Albert Brooks wanted Mrs Reagan to play his mother in his new comedy. ''Her schedule was such that she was unable to commit," he says, ''but yet she wanted to at least talk about it.''

Mrs Reagan was flattered to be considered and liked the script, but felt it was the wrong time, her spokeswoman said. In addition to caring for her husband, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, the former first lady is busy with charity work and other projects. Other Brooks films include Lost in America.