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Humane killers

The style of Chinese executioners, one learns, varies from region to region: in the north they favour a bullet in the back of the head, while in the south they prefer aiming at the heart, also from behind. There have been plenty of opportunities for practice lately, what with the "Strike Hard" campaign and the "winter action" against criminal activities.

But north or south, the Hong Kong newspaper Ping Kuo Jih Pao reports, the executioners have their professional pride. They are united against a new law which permits injections as a means of dispatching miscreants, arguing that a "strong anaesthetic" could be used to make a convict's heart stop beating temporarily, thereby permitting him to fake death and escape what is coming to him. Cardiologists have expostulated in vain that this makes no medical sense, but the authorities have decided to play safe and stick with the bullet.

You will be pleased to hear, however, that to improve its human rights image, China has decided not to parade condemned criminals through the streets before their demise. In future they will be taken straight from the court to the execution ground. That should sort out any public relations problems.

Ahh, bistro

FOR some reason Bernard Caussade decided to name his Paris restaurant "Chez Monsieur le President", and the result has been that he keeps getting letters intended for Jacques Chirac. Complaints about immigration problems, insurers who won't pay up, failure to obtain jobs or places on courses, they all come in, often accompanied by CVs.

Mr Caussade, a former journalist who could probably use the missives as fodder for a lucrative freelance career if he chose, sends them on to the Elysee Palace. He has also invited Mr Chirac to dine at his restaurant, which would give a spokesman the opportunity to announce: "Monsieur le President est chez Chez Monsieur le President."

Albanian for oops

IT'S hardly been an enviable time for Sali Berisha, the president of Albania, as pyramid investment schemes collapse right and left and the country tumbles into anarchy. But spare a thought for someone in an equally uncomfortable position: his English-language interpreter, who delights in the name Hamlet Bezhani.

In the best tradition of capricious potentates, Mr Berisha reduced his hapless sidekick into a nervous wreck at a presidential press conference in Tirana last week. As Hamlet stumbled over the precise wording of his boss's long, rambling sentences, he received a series of dagger-like glances. Then, horror of horrors, he made a mistake. "Not experts, EX-PO-NENTS," thundered the president in mid-sentence.

The poor translator's hands began to shake uncontrollably, he pulled his glasses on and off, and broke out in a sweat. In theory, Mr Bezhani is going to be the next Albanian ambassador in London: it's a toss-up, though, whether his career, or that of his beleaguered boss, is going to come to an end first.