Brazilian President gets down to basics

IF there was any country where a politician's heterosexual enthusiasms might do him or her some good, one would have thought it would have been Brazil. Not so. The President, Itamar Franco, is in trouble for cavorting during the carnival with a woman who was clearly not wearing any knickers.

Photographs of Mr Franco kissing a samba dancer, Lilian Ramos, 27, and of Ms Ramos raising her arms and so lifting her thigh-length T- shirt and exposing her pubic hair, were widely published on the front pages of reputable newspapers.

Churchmen, politicians, business leaders and newspaper columnists accused the divorced 63-year-old father of two of sullying the country's image, and even called for his impeachment. Ms Ramos, who had earlier appeared bare-breasted in the parade, said: 'When I took my panties off I didn't know I was going to meet the President.'

'Nobody got involved in any kind of libidinous action,' Mr Franco said yesterday. Of the 'adorable' Ms Ramos's apparel, he added: 'How was I to know? I wasn't going to ask if she was wearing panties or not, or if they were green, black or pink.'

One unlikely defender of Mr Franco was Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva, the leader of the Workers' Party, who is currently the front-runner in the presidential-election race. 'I don't think any Brazilian objects to Itamar flirting with anyone,' he said.

REMOVING their clothes for good causes, rather than in pre-Lenten excess, were several actresses and models more famous than Ms Ramos. Playboy magazine is publishing a pictorial display in its March issue to promote safe sex. The photographs, by the Swiss Michel Comte, will also be included in two large books and in a series of auctions in Europe and the United States, with all proceeds going to benefit Aids research.

Among the unclothed who donated their time were Sonia Braga, Mariel Hemingway, Shannen Doherty, Helena Christiansen and Carla Bruni.

Kim Basinger, meanwhile, followed Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington in baring her skin to save the hides of animals. A poster of Basinger, bearing the slogan 'Beauty is not about wearing someone else's coat,' was on display at a private vegetarian dinner at which she and her husband, Alec Baldwin, helped to raise funds for anti- fur activists.

WHILE Brazil's leader was parading, his Swedish and American counterparts were cruising along the global information superhighway. Carl Bildt and Bill Clinton exchanged the first electronic mail messages between national leaders.

Mr Bildt sent 'Bill' an E- mail message congratulating him on lifting the US trade embargo against Vietnam. Mr Clinton sent a message back thanking 'Carl' for his support and sharing his enthusiasm for 'emerging communications technologies'.

Since Mr Clinton introduced electronic communications to the White House in June 1993, more than 125,000 messages have been received.

(Photograph omitted)