World watches in disbelief

EVEN the Pope followed the OJ Simpson case, writes Maryann Bird. He declined to reveal his own verdict, choosing only to praise the ''great mosaic'' of multi-racial America. But the Chinese-financed newspaper Wen Wei Po in Hong Kong said the trial should teach Americans to look at their own human rights record before criticising other countries. The trial, the paper said, ''made a joke of the unabated talk of human rights in the United States''.

In South Africa, the Black Lawyers' Association said the Simpson case showed that a jury system was preferable to trial by judges, and was needed in South Africa. The verdict, the group added, was ''a very strong signal to racist police officers ... that decent, ordinary human beings will not rely on the evidence of such people to convict others''. The introduction of juries, they said, would restore South African blacks' faith in the country's mostly white-run judicial system.

Australians calling phone-in programmes were stunned by the verdict and blamed Simpson's lawyers for obscuring the real evidence by alleging a racist frame-up.

European newspapers generally said the acquittal made a mockery of the US justice system and had left the country more racially divided than ever. The Italian La Stampa's US correspondent, Vittorio Zucconi, noted that President Bill Clinton ''felt he had to console a bewildered white America''. Berlin's Tagesspiegel said the trial ''was about whether whites and blacks can live together in America.''

Japanese papers, too, focused on the racial aspect. ''The people can see the real condition of a 'multi-racial state' suffering from racial confrontation and mutual distrust,'' said the Nihon Keizai.