FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Blair's Chianti - corked

Tuscans are used to hosting the British who flock to the region's white shores and rolling hills for the summer. They are kind and gracious hosts. But when Tony Blair starts his regular summer sojourn he may find he has a welcome party of a sort he would rather do without. New Labour is not welcome there.

Communists, pacifists and environmentalists in the region are threatening to make the seaside holiday of the Prime Minister and his family distinctly less restful than they would wish. They are angry with him because of his support for the recent Nato campaign against Yugoslavia.

"Maybe there will be a demonstration in front of the villa ... or something more symbolic to draw attention to Tony Blair so he knows his vacation is not totally appreciated by all the residents, said one of the local Communists.

The oddest twist in this tale though is that there have been local reports of British fox hunting supporters, angered by Mr Blair's pledge to ban their horrid little hobby, threatening to travel to Italy to join the commies et al in an attempt to disrupt his trip.

A half-street named Bill

As a nation obsessed with renaming every airport, street and building after those in public service they consider to be worthy of remembrance you would expect nothing less than for the city fathers of Little Rock, Bill Clinton's home town in Arkansas, to dream up something suitable for their famous son.

In a flurry of enthusiasm two years ago plans were drawn up to rename an 11- mile-long street in his honour. Markham Street was due to be called Clinton Street as of 1 January.

But Little Rock has decided against the trend of renaming everything in sight and has decreed that a change is not on. Their excuse? It would be inconvenient to local retailers who would have to go to the expense of changing their stationery and mailing lists.

So now a compromise has been agreed; only two blocks of the street will be renamed, not the entire 21 blocks of the busy thoroughfare.

"The people who've contacted me say they're interested in preserving the city's historical legacy and want the street to stay as Markham Street," said a member of the town's board. But he acknowledged that historians have not even been able to identify who the original Markham was. Perhaps the same fate awaits our Bill Clinton.

King Abdullah's 007 act

Jordan's King Abdullah II is taking a hands-on approach to his new job. Last week he even went undercover in an attempt to investigate the kingdom's duty-free zone.

Looking a like Santa Clause in his false shaggy white beard, traditional white robe and red headdress, the king took a trip to the city of Zarqa where he talked to unwitting businessmen and traders in his guise a a TV journalist.

It was only when the city officials got wind of the fact that a TV crew was filming without a special permit that the king was forced to reveal his true identity.

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