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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 06:42 GMT
Papers analyse politics of hunting

The Daily Mail says Tony Blair went to ground while MPs voted to outlaw foxhunting - by starting his visit to Northern Ireland.

The paper argues that the Prime Minister's absence was inspired by nothing more than the anxiety of his spin doctors to spare him embarrassment over the increasingly bitter hunting furore.

According to The Guardian, Mr Blair's surprise arrival in Belfast was designed to show that he does not regard the hunting ban as a priority.

The Mirror's columnist, Paul Routledge, is highly critical of the amount of time that the Commons has devoted to the issue of hunting, when, he says, so much still needs to be done for the people of Britain.

He believes the reason is clear: with a general election looming, MPs are heartless in their bloodthirsty chase for the support of animal lovers on polling day.

Blair visit welcomed

Among the Belfast papers, there is a whiff of optimism about the Prime Minister's presence.

The Irish News, which reflects nationalist opinion, detects that a serious effort is under way to break the deadlock on the key issues of decommissioning, demilitarisation and police reform.

The pro-unionist Newsletter says there are suggestions that Mr Blair would not have embarked on the latest round of talks if his private contacts had not pointed to a good chance of progress.

According to the Financial Times, Mr Blair is seeking to exploit a window of opportunity before positions harden ahead of the election.

Tories' boost

Both The Daily Telegraph and later editions of The Guardian give prominence on their front pages to the 5m donation to the Conservatives from the betting tycoon, Stuart Wheeler.

The Telegraph contrasts the immediate announcement of the donation by Mr Wheeler and William Hague with the recent row over the identity of Labour's big donors.

Profiling Mr Wheeler, the paper says the tall, urbane, impeccably dressed old-Etonian had not always been in a position to be so generous.

He is quoted as saying that there were times when 100 had been "absolutely crucial" to his life.

Waugh remembered

There are many tributes to the writer and journalist, Auberon Waugh, after his sudden death aged 61.

For The Times he was the arch debunker of pomposity.

In the paper's words, even those on the receiving end of his withering scorn joined in paying tribute to a man who was as courteous in person as he was caustic in print.

The Telegraph - for which Waugh worked as a columnist - says all prigs and puritans will sleep easier in the knowledge that he is no longer there to persecute them.

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