Flat Earth

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The lady's memory is not for turning

I HESITATE to challenge Baroness Thatcher, 'Britain's greatest living statesman', as she was described to me once in Pakistan. But her triumphant account of the Falklands war in her memoirs cannot go unquestioned. It certainly caused surprise to our man who was in Port Stanley at the time.

Dick Baker, deputy governor of the Falklands until he was expelled in April 1982 with the governor, Sir Rex Hunt, soon after the Argentine occupation, is amazed by Lady Thatcher's statement: 'The truth is that the invasion could not have been foreseen or prevented.' She goes on: 'In spite of my unease, I was not expecting anything like a full-scale invasion, which indeed our most recent intelligence assessment of Argentine intentions had discounted.'

In fact, Mr Baker says, in the months before the invasion he and Sir Rex kept up a constant stream of messages about their mounting apprehension of just such an event. He even remembers a neighbour going to Buenos Aires for hospital treatment in October 1981 - six months before the invasion - and being told that he would be crazy to go back because Argentina was going to invade.

Early in 1982 worrying signs appeared on the islands of bellicose Argentine intentions. A pilot, who had been sent to Argentina to pick up the governor's Cessna, came back with reports of all kinds of troop movements. Soon afterwards, an aged Argentine Hercules transport aircraft was given permission to make an emergency landing at Port Stanley - and disgorged half a dozen top military brass who spent the afternoon doing a reccy of the town.

On the day of the invasion, a telegram from the Foreign Office arrived in Port Stanley, saying in effect: Well, you are right that there is a large Argentine fleet on the high seas heading in your direction, but this is a 'routine exercise' that has been planned for months.

Bang bang tick tock

NEW YORK'S latest monument, a Death Clock, will be unveiled in Times Square on New Year's Eve. The three-storey-high illuminated billboard will count the number of guns in circulation in the United States and update the number of people shot dead.

The man behind this festive addition to the most famous crossroads in the world is a New Jersey financier, Robert Brennan. He leads an anti-firearms group, Dehere Gunfighters of America, which takes its name from his champion colt, Dehere. The nag was a favourite last night to win one of America's richest races, the Breeders Cup Juvenile, at Santa Anita, California. Its winnings go to the gun control lobby.

You'll have to refer to the sports pages, I'm sorry, to find if the Death Clock will collect the winner's purse of pounds 344,000.

Out for the count

A REFERENDUM was held in Peru last Sunday to change the constitution, giving President Alberto Fujimori more power and allowing him to stand for a second term. Voting in Peru is compulsory: you are fined if you don't. But if you are an election official, you are fined 10 times the regular penalty. None the less, many polling booths were closed and the abstention rate was higher than usual.

My man in Lima reported seeing scores of voters idling outside polling stations, and not going in. Seeking an explanation, he discovered that, if a polling station president does not turn up, that duty falls to the first person in the queue. So all these voters lounging outside polling booths were busily pretending that they were not waiting to vote, in case they had to sit in the booth all day.

Mr Fujimori, by the way, got what he wanted.

Out of the oven . . .

DREADFUL news from Hanoi. The city's central jail, known as Hoa Lo (the oven) to the locals and the Hanoi Hilton to American prisoners of war, has had its death warrant. On Friday, the Vietnamese government handed over the prison in tree-lined central Hanoi to a Singapore developer, who is to turn the site into a 20-storey office and hotel complex in exchange for dollars 1.5m to build another lock-up outside town.

You would never have guessed that the jail's soft yellow walls hid such notoriety. But it is not so much the loss of the prison: what matters is that the development will put Hanoi on the ghastly slide that has turned Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and all the other capitals of South-east Asia into hideous glass and steel copies of a Mid-Western American city. Every building in Hanoi will be fair game now. American bombs could not destroy it. The developers will.

Desert swan-song?

FLAT EARTH'S correspondent on the Nile suggests that something may be afoot in Egypt that does not bode well for the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. Since Thursday, when he met President Mubarak at the border town of Sidi Barrani, Egypt's semi-official newspaper Al Ahram has virtually declared the colonel to be a non-person. All reference to his authority as leader of Libya has been discarded; he is no longer identified as president or head of government.

Our man wonders if this startling change means that Egypt has fallen in behind the Americans, who would like nothing better than a fresh face in Tripoli. Egypt always argued that it would be safer to leave the colonel in place.

(Photograph omitted)