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People: Aideed is out of son's line of fire

THE news that the United States has abandoned its manhunt against the Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed will doubtless come as a huge relief to his son, who is a US marine. Hussen Farah, a corporal in the Marine reserves, served in Somalia for two weeks at the start of Operation Restore Hope last December as one of the few marine interpreters able to speak Somali.

But since his father became the US enemy number one in Mogadishu, Cpl Farah, who trained as an artilleryman and joined the Marine Corps reserves in 1987, has been understandably avoiding the public eye and lying low near Los Angeles. He still quietly reports to his reserve unit for drills once a month, however, and must carry out his two weeks' active duty a year.

THE actress Whoopi Goldberg was surprised and shocked at the howls of outrage that greeted her boyfriend Ted Danson when he appeared at a party in her honour in blackface make-up with huge white lips. Danson, star of the late lamented Cheers, said 'nigger' several times and joked about the couple's sex life.

Such political incorrectness is common at the Friar's Club which, Goldberg says, owes its reputation to jokes about sex, bodily functions, religion and race.

Among those offended by Danson's act were the talk-show host Montel Williams and Mayor David Dinkins of New York. Goldberg says they should have taken the event for what it was: an opportunity for friends to show their love for her with tasteless, vulgar humour.

PANAMA'S salsa star with political ambitions, Ruben Blades, is banking on a wave of disenchantment with Panama's traditional politics to sweep him to the presidency in next year's elections.

Blades, who has lived in the United States for the last 20 years, has headed every opinion poll this year on Panamanians' favourite candidate for the presidency, and is confident of being nominated next month by his organisation Papa Egoro (Mother Earth). He promises 'something different from these dinosaurs over here'. He can hardly do worse than Manuel Antonio Noriega.

BUT being head of state has its price. President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines has dismissed as 'gossip' a reported romantic link between him and a former fashion model, the wealthy socialite Rose Marie 'Baby' Arenas, who is married to a Manila businessman. He hotly rejects the suggestion that she influences government decisions.

'I assure our people and leaders that my decisions are my own and are never influenced by extraneous factors,' Mr Ramos said.

INDIA'S 'bandit queen' Phoolan Devi, held in a provincial jail for more than 10 years, has gone to New Delhi for tests for suspected cancer, and such is her notoriety as a wild woman of the ravines that she has been clapped in maximum security. Devi gave herself up in 1983 after a three-year reign of terror in the central Indian badlands of the Chambal ravines, only after receiving assurances that she would not be hanged.

She took to the ravines after murdering 20 upper-caste men in apparent revenge for having been raped by one. The 'Queen of Chambal', said to be about 40, used to dress in khaki fatigues, tie back her unruly hair in a bandanna, sport a bandolier across her chest and swear like a trooper. But prison has taken its toll and she now looks quite respectable in her sari.

(Photograph omitted)