People: VIP treatment for landless leader

BARELY had Madonna set foot in Australia than she broke a taboo by handling a didgeridoo, a traditional instrument that, because of its phallic connotations, only Aboriginal men are allowed to play. The promoter of Madonna's Australian tour, Michael Gudinski, gave her the fivefoot didgeridoo on her arrival at Sydney airport. She is in town for several concerts on her 'Girlie Show' tour.

'In Aboriginal culture, women do not touch or play the didgeridoo. It is tribal law that a didgeridoo is only played by men,' explained Badangthun Munmunyarrun, an Aboriginal elder.

VICTIM of Franco's revenge, or the Black Tide? Whitney Houston disappointed 18,000 fans when she called off her scheduled concert in Barcelona. She and some of her band had, friends said, fallen ill after a seafood meal following her concert in Madrid. An oil spill off the Galician coast earlier this year - billed the Black Tide - badly affected the area's seafood, which is distributed throughout Spain. Houston has promised to sing in Barcelona next month.

STARTING as he means to go on, Yasser Arafat arrived in Madrid and, although still landless, received head of state treatment for the first time. He was having talks with King Juan Carlos, the Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, politicians and businessmen he hopes will invest in the newly autonomous Palestinian territories. Head of state or not, Mr Arafat's old habits die hard. Although his delegation was booked in at the luxurious Ritz Hotel, he was expected to fly out during the night to return to his base in Tunis.

THE star of Kojak, Telly Savalas, is suing Universal Studios for dollars 6.2m ( pounds 4.5m), claiming he had not received his fair share of profits from his starring role in the highly successful 1970s television series. Savalas says Universal, a subsidiary of MCA, which in turn is owned by the Japanese conglomerate Matsushita, had cheated him by cutting his share of profits from the agreed 25 per cent to 20 per cent. The lawsuit further alleges that the profit margin was cut when Universal charged expenses not related to the production, such as advertising costs, and overcharged for incidentals, such as props and paints.

THE brief but spectacular career of Antanas Mockus as head of Colombia's National University in Bogota came to an abrupt halt after he dropped his trousers in front of a group of students who were heckling him. It was sheer bad luck that a member of the audience had a video camera, and sold the tape to all the evening TV news shows. In the ensuing uproar he was forced to resign.

Mockus' successes in restoring order to Colombia's largest and most turbulent university were often overshadowed by his eccentricity and penchant for clowning. On one occasion he turned up at the presidential palace brandishing a red plastic sword, to demonstrate that he was going to fight every inch of the way for his university reforms. These included giving students and staff the right to vote for a new rector - a right they will soon be called upon to exercise.