FLAT EARTH

Don't mention the war

A BIG WEEK ahead for Boris Yeltsin, with Western leaders arriving in Moscow while he hopes nobody notices the rumble of war in Chechnya. It's true he announced a truce in the region, but no one seems to have mentioned it to the army: when five members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe turned up to inspect the ceasefire, Russian gunners opened up enthusiastically with machine gun and light cannon fire the moment they spotted the yellow OSCE bus, pinning down the hapless blazer- clad visitors for 10 minutes behind a wall.

Force of habit

SHRILL waters run deep. It's usually said that Silvio Berlusconi took the name for his party, Forza Italia, from the chant of Italian football fans at international matches. Now it seems the name has darker origins: in his book Naples '44, Norman Lewis, then an officer of the allied occupation force, reports his investigations into a "purposeful and sinister" party called Forza Italia which had sprung up and was suspected of neo-fascist leanings. The question Lewis had to settle was this: was Forza a serious threat, or just another "maniac right-wing movement run by a half-demented latifundista [land baron] who proclaims himself a reincarnation of Garibaldi". Plus a change . . .

Acid Tripoli

IF the vigilantes ever come for Bill Clinton, at least one safe haven is assured him. After the Oklahoma bombing, this thoughtful message arrives through the smoke from Colonel Gaddafi of Libya: "We would like to invite our friend Clinton and his wife; it would be better for them to come and live in Libya and leave the American hell behind."

Cairo practice

STILL in North Africa - this month's UN conference on crime in Cairo was thrown into uproar when banks of giant television screens transmitted lifesize pictures of a man kissing a woman in the back rows of the conference hall. "There was a fat man sitting next to a woman in a dress. First he put his hand on her leg and then he kissed her once. Then the camera moved away," one witness said. It is not clear whether Egyptian law allows a fat man to fondle a lady at a crime forum, but given the country's memory of King Farouk, I suppose the matter must be under careful consideration.

Sweet as a nut

OWNERS of female coco-de-mer palm trees in the Seychelles have been ordered to register them with the government, and I can't say I'm surprised. The authorities were forced into this action to stem an illicit trade in the female pods which, Reuters tells us brightly, "resemble a woman's thighs complete with sexual parts". If nuts are going looking like that, there's bound to be trouble, mark my words. Tourists have already distorted the market by paying $200 for the nuts and furtively bearing them away. It is too much to expect that the owners provide these surprising objects with, say, a modest raffia skirt, but the authorities are right to show a firm hand in this area.

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