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Prince gives Keating a hand

IT'S official: that infamous hand on the back by the Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, did not insult the Queen.

The incident, in March 1992 in Canberra, when Mr Keating put his arm around the Queen to ease her through a crowd, created an uproar. British tabloids screamed 'Hands off our Queen, Cobber,' and 'The Lizard of Oz'. But according to Prince Charles, the Palace's reaction was 'no worries'.

In his last Australian television interview before leaving for New Zealand, the Prince of Wales was asked whether he was insulted by the episode. 'No. Nor was the Queen,' he replied. He continued: 'This is the problem. They (the media) use these things as a stick to beat someone with if they want to.'

It's all very well blaming the media in order to boost one's republican credentials, but the performance must have been missed by the rabid New Zealand anti-monarchist lying in wait for Prince Charles in Auckland.

Shouting that he wanted to 'remove the stink of royalty', the man sprayed air-freshener at the Prince. Castislav Sam Bacanov, a 58-year- old Yugoslav immigrant, has a record of direct action in the republican cause. In 1986 he threw horse manure at a car carrying the visiting King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. Police said Mr Bacanov was an eccentric who was 'certainly no threat' to the Prince. But what about the ozone layer?

MEANWHILE, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, has had to come to the rescue of another embodiment of the British imperium, the Governor of Hong Kong; only this time it is his own side that has been beastly to him.

Sir Percy Cradock, who negotiated the 1984 treaty to return Hong Kong to China in 1997, took none too kindly to Chris Patten's democratic reforms. Britain, he says, would be indefensibly reckless and risk a vicious backlash from Peking if Mr Patten were allowed to implement reform unilaterally.

So blunt have been his attacks that Mr Hurd has been provoked to deliver a public rebuke. In an interview with a Hong Kong daily, Mr Hurd accused Sir Percy of being out of touch with recent changes in the colony. 'His view was formed at a time when there was no strong political feeling in Hong Kong and when the overwhelming wish of the people in Hong Kong was for a quiet life and agreement with China,' he said.

It certainly looks as if life will continue to be exciting for the colony - a third reform bill, containing Mr Patten's most controversial reforms, is expected in March.

MR PATTEN can at least expect a reasonably warm welcome home after handing Hong Kong over in 1997. Not so the exiled Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who is gloomy about the prospects of returning home after 20 years. Mr Solzhenitsyn says he expects fierce resistance, even physical threats, against his intention to serve as a 'moral compass' for his country.

He told the weekly New Yorker magazine that he was returning, with his literary work now behind him, to fulfil his duty to Russian society, but not to play an overt political role.

(Photograph omitted)