People: Masked men have a ball in the jungle

DELEGATES heading deep into Mexico's Lacandon jungle last weekend for the Zapatista National Liberation Army's 'convention for democracy' were told to bring boots, anoraks and mosquito repellant. So who was the pudgy character in the gold lame cape, red body-stocking and mask? Surely not the group's charismatic leader, Subcomandante Marcos.

No, it was another popular masked man whose identity has not been revealed - the ex-wrestler and social activist known as Superbarrio. The self-proclaimed scourge of lying politicians and other evil-doers, who first appeared in defence of the poor and homeless after the 1985 earthquake, was there to show his support for a new Mexican order.

Despite the serious business of reshaping the country, it was the colourful images that echoed in the minds of participants: Superbarrio accompanied by Ecology Man, in a suit of green and yellow; the amphitheatre created by felled trees; the hundreds of tents and multi-coloured tarpaulin shelters; the impoverished Zapatista fighters with white ribbons on their rifles, symbolising peace.

As at the pop festival at Yasgur's Farm 25 years ago, the audience huddled together for warmth in the rain and mud, and sang. 'It was madness,' a happy Marcos said of his political Woodstock.

RUSSIA'S two most charismatic politicians have taken to the Volga in boats to meet the electorate. Boris Yeltsin boarded a cruise ship on Wednesday, followed hours later by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the hardline MP and presidential challenger.

President Yeltsin announced a few weeks ago that he would spend his holiday 'in traditional Russian style', by cruising down the Volga into the heart of Russia.

'Our trip was planned long ago,' insisted a Zhirinovsky spokesman, 'and if it coincides with that of Boris Nikolayevich then it is unintentional.'

Mr Zhirinovsky's boat will arrive before Mr Yeltsin's at most of the president's planned ports of call. The two will moor at Nijni-Novgorod and Samara; Mr Yeltsin will also visit Togliatti and Kazan, while his arch-rival will visit Saratov and Astrakan.

Mr Yeltsin intends to use his cruise to 'turn his attention to the social problems of the regions in the centre of the country', while Mr Zhirinovsky plans to hold 'political meetings' at each of his stops, as well as 'meetings with voters, businessmen and administrative officials'.

THE undersea explorer Jacques- Yves Cousteau has come off his boat to churn up the political waters. He accuses the French government of 'furtively' restarting the Superfenix fast-breeder reactor. Mr Cousteau said he had learned 'with disbelief and anger' that the controversial reactor in south-eastern France near the Swiss border was to be reactivated and demanded that President Francois Mitterrand reverse the decision. 'Nothing justifies such an aberrant decision,' he thundered. 'There have been accidents and there will be others.'

(Photograph omitted)

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