People: Unhappy returns for the Great Leader

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The Independent Online
HE TURNS 82 today, but Kim Il Sung's party looks set to be an unhappy affair compared to the pageantry of his 80th birthday bash. This year's celebration list is topped by little-known former heads of state. North Korea's only real ally, China, is sending no birthday delegation at all and even Kim's close friend King Sihanouk of Cambodia is otherwise engaged.

'The international scene is very bleak for Kim Il Sung at the moment,' said Yang Sung Chul, a political science professor at Kyonggi University in South Korea. 'When you look at the nuclear problem and the state of the internal economy, there's really nothing to celebrate.'

The official media appeared to be clutching at straws when reporting celebrations for the 'Great Leader' in Zimbabwe's West Mashonaland, at a hydropower plant in Mozambique and at a college in Mongolia. And Yasser Arafat sent a basket of flowers. The PLO leader's gift is apt. As Yang notes, 'Economically the country is a basket case.'

An Afrikaner former cabinet minister who made his career out of administering apartheid, Piet Koornhof, is optimistic about South Africa's transition to black majority rule after this month's elections. But his mixed-race fiancee, Marcelle Adams, is terrified at the prospect.

For Koornhof, a veteran of the hardline pro-apartheid Afrikaner Brotherhood, this marks something of a volte-face. He believes his country, under black rule, will see the development of an industrial miracle 'because we are achieving change without a bloody revolution'. Koornhof, 68, scandalised Afrikaner society in 1992 when he left his wife and went to live with Marcelle Adams, who was more than 40 years his junior and pregnant with another man's child.

Ms Adams is 'scared to death of what will happen here'. As she put it: 'The coloured people are scared of black rule. We have something now, but we are scared that the blacks will take it all away.' She plans to vote for the National Party while Koornhof won't say whom he backs. But, he concedes, 'Apartheid hurt whites in their souls . . . it was the greatest mistake ever.'

PONDERING his mistakes, Manuel Antonio Noriega spends his days in a Florida prison, poring over his trial transcript to help with his appeal against his 1992 conviction - and 40-year sentence - for cocaine trafficking.

When the appeal is heard this autumn, Oliver Stone will be shooting Noriega, starring Al Pacino. The film will cover Noriega's time as Panama's military ruler before his capture during the 1989 U S invasion. Warner Bros studios says it will explore 'complicated and unseemly inter-connections between government, intelligence services and the criminal underworld'. The movie will be out before the man.

THE MAN and his gun share a name, but Alexei Kalashnikov has his monthly Russian pension of dollars 80 ( pounds 54) all to himself. President Boris Yeltsin granted the designer of the Kalashnikov rifle the sum of 145,000 roubles, well above the Russian average. But it won't buy a Kalashnikov on the Moscow black market. There, he'd need dollars 300.