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PEOPLE : Banderas moves left to star in meaty role

No one would call Antonio Banderas a ham actor. Still, the film star has been accused by the centre-right Popular Party in Spain of making a film clip supporting the governing Socialists in exchange for a contract to promote Andalusian ham and olive oil in the United States.

In the clip, made for screening at local electoral meetings ahead of the general election on Sunday, Banderas asks voters to re-elect the Socialists, who are expected to lose power after 13 years.

But Manuel Chaves, the Socialist candidate in the Andalusia region, where Banderas was born, said the only payment the actor had requested was a bottle of olive oil and a leg of pata negra, the most prized of the raw hams for which Spain is celebrated. Banderas has been busy filming Evita in Buenos Aires with Madonna. The two recently met President Carlos Menem of Argentina, one of the most outspoken critics of Ms Ciccone's portrayal of Eva Peron in the Alan Parker film.

"Certain assurances were made by the cast that there would be no offensive scenes," a presidential spokesman said. Many Peronists fear Madonna might cheapen the name of their heroine.

As President of the United States, Bill Clinton has a chauffeur or two, so he doesn't get to drive much any more. That has not stopped him passing on his street smarts to his daughter, Chelsea, however. On recent trips to the presidential retreat at Camp David, in the hills of Maryland, Mr Clinton has been teaching her to drive.

Chelsea turned 16 on Tuesday, and when she passes her driving test she might take her pick of vehicles from the presidential fleet. Two telephoned offers of cars from publicity-hungry radio stations were declined by the White House, while a blue 1978 Oldsmobile that pulled up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was also turned away. With "Happy Sweet 16, Chelsea" emblazoned on it, the rust-bucket had been dispatched to the birthday girl by a station in Ohio.

While Mr Clinton admits to being uncomfortable about his daughter taking the wheel of a car, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the First Lady, says she has another fear: the President's teaching.

It wasn't his birthday, but Jacques Chirac got an intriguing gift from Carlos Menem on the eve of the Argentine leader's state visit to France: a pair of tango-dancing horses.

The Criollo thoroughbreds go with a set of silver spurs Mr Menem gave Mr Chirac in his days as mayor of Paris. "When you become President you can have a horse as well," Mr Menem reportedly told Mr Chirac during a 1992 visit.

Juan Archibaldo Lanus, the Argentine ambassador, presented the horses to Mr Chirac at the annual French farm show.

"Is it true they dance the tango? Mr Menem told me that," Mr Chirac asked the vet who flew from Argentina with the animals. Yes, he was assured. The horses were said to have tangoed at an agricultural show before leaving Buenos Aires.

A former court poet of Nicolae Ceausescu, who climbed up the fence of the US embassy in Bucharest to escape an angry crowd after the dictator was deposed in 1989, is running for president of his country. "I want to change despair into hope," Adrian Paunescu, the candidate of the Socialist Labour Party, told state radio. ''I'll try and put [Romania] on a third track, that of socialist democracy.''

Another of Ceausescu's court poets, the ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor, is running on the ticket of the Greater Romania party. The poets are among six candidates who have so far announced challenges to President Ion Iliescu in autumn elections, but neither of them is believed to stand a realistic chance of winning.

In his work, Mr Paunescu portrayed Ceausescu as ''the Danube of Thinking'' and ''the Genius of the Carpathians''.

Maryann Bird