People: No meeting of minds in Nicaragua

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THE LEGENDARY bonds of friendship among Nicaragua's top families may have reached breaking point. President Violeta Chamorro, who embraced her defeated Sandinista rival Daniel Ortega 'like my son' when she trounced him at the polls more than three years ago, now says he has 'lost his mind'.

The elegant Mrs Chamorro says she finds Mr Ortega frightening, 'at least he frightened me when I saw him on television a few days ago arguing against the privatisation of public enterprises,' she told El Pais on a visit to Spain. Sounding more like a disappointed matriarch than a political adversary, she admonished: 'That boy has lost his head and now he's enjoying calling wildcat strikes in the street.'

Her country, she added, has been laid low by a succession of natural disasters - volcanic eruptions and tidal waves - and Daniel Ortega's strike calls. 'Nicaragua is a rich country. What's happened is all those disasters came at once.'

QUESTIONS are being asked about the long-serving African leader President Felix Houphouet- Boigny, of the Ivory Coast, who has been away from home six months convalescing in a Swiss clinic.

His spokesmen issue regular bulletins insisting that the President, 88, will be home soon, fully recovered from prostate surgery. The assurances are timed to parry increasingly frequent rumours in Abidjan and Paris that the old man is dying, or indeed, dead already.

Throughout his rule, since independence from France in 1960, Mr Houphouet-Boigny has been in the habit of recharging his batteries on marathon European holidays, and his long absences were vaunted as evidence of his country's political stability. But with the economy in a mess and unrest gathering pace, the President's rivals have their knives out for the succession.

AGE is catching up with another political veteran, Zimbabwe's Vice-President Joshua Nkomo. At a public meeting in Bulawayo he passed his speech to his secretary to read for him. 'At the age of 77 so many things happen. My English and memory is bad. I forget a lot,' he apologised. But, he told his surprised audience - which included the Danish ambassador - 'I want to assure the honourable ambassador that everything that the secretary reads is from me.'

SCANDAL rocked Colombia's beauty contest after 'Miss Amazon', representing a province of that name, turned out to be married. Catherine Sanchez Hernandez, tipped to win, was forced out of the running after copies of her marriage certificate were faxed to journalists.

Ms Amazon insisted she was single and spoke of allegations fabricated by a 'powerful economic group'. But a priest at the church where she was married testified that her wedding certificate was, in fact, genuine.

(Photograph omitted)