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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 03:45 GMT 04:45 UK


Crunch time for peace

For the Belfast News Letter, the moment of truth in the Northern Ireland peace process is approaching. The Times agrees, describing tonight's meeting of the Ulster Unionist executive as the most "momentous" in the party's history. The Daily Telegraph believes it is extremely unlikely that the Unionists will decide to sit in a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein.

The Irish News agrees. The paper, which tends to reflect nationalist views, says that given David Trimble's stance during last night's Commons debate, the Good Friday agreement could be on the "brink of collapse".

But the News Letter sounds a note of optimism. In an editorial, it argues that while Unionist leaders have been sending out negative messages about the joint British and Irish proposals, there is much stronger backing among the wider Protestant community. This level of support can not be ignored by those who face the "most difficult of decisions" over the next few days, the paper argues.

"It's a dream come true - better than winning the lottery." So says union representative Jamie Webster in the Glasgow Herald after learning that a deal had been struck which could save hundreds of jobs at the Govan shipyard. The paper says last night's agreement in principle between Kvaerner and Marconi sparked jubilation on Clydeside.

But The Scotsman is more cautious. It quotes the Scottish Secretary, Dr John Reid, as saying that while Marconi could place enough work to secure the yard's short-tem future, it would have to win more contracts to remain viable in the future.

The Times says it understands that British Airways will be fined millions of pounds by the European Commission today. The paper reports that the airline has been accused of illegal sales practices - the payment of fidelity bonuses to travel agents - and of abusing its dominant position in the market.

As pro-democracy demonstrations continue in Iran, many of the papers detect echoes from the Islamic Revolution 20 years ago. The Times says the security forces are being taunted with the same slogan used in 1979: "Army brothers, why kill brothers?"

It notes that many of today's protesters have the support of their parents, who helped to topple the Shah but who have "mellowed" over the years. Reporting on President Khatami's appeal for an end to the protests, The Financial Times says there's speculation that he is preparing to meet Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to try to restore peace between their rival factions.

There is widespread coverage of Conservative calls for an inquiry into the leaking of Foreign Office memos about the party's treasurer, Michael Ashcroft. The Guardian says Mr Ashcroft - who holds dual British and Belize nationality - is taking legal advice about the memos, which criticise his business operations in Belize.

The Times quotes the Tory Party chairman, Michael Ancram, as saying that the facts in the documents are "flimsy and insubstantial" - and that he believes the leaks are inspired by a political campaign against the treasurer.

The Telegraph has news of "baby blessing" ceremonies, which are to be offered by the Church of England to atheist and agnostic parents. The service is designed to avoid the "hypocrisy" of non-believers having their babies baptised in church, without any intention of returning there.

Instead of asking such parents to profess their faith, prayers will be said, asking that the child will, in due course, come to Christianity. Supporters of the new blessing say it has already been successfully tried out - and has been requested next month by a Christian father and Buddhist mother.

The Guardian focuses on what's thought to be the first primary school in the country to switch from a three to a five-term year. Woodlands Primary, at Grimsby in Lincolnshire, will make the switch from September.

The paper quotes the headteacher, Tom Wilson, as saying that the change will make better use of resources, reduce boredom during the long summer holidays - and allow teachers to pace themselves. Teachers are like athletes, Mr Wilson tells the Guardian - they need time to recover from one event before beginning another.

One man who will not benefit from a five-term year is Bob Morrell - who is retiring as a school caretaker after 38 years in the job. For pupils at the Arkwright Primary School in Nottingham, Mr Morrell is just someone who fires the boilers and retrieves footballs from the roof. But what they don't know - says The Express - is that he is one of Britain's leading scholars and could have taught both them and their teachers a thing or two.

The Daily Telegraph describes how Mr Morrell left school at 17 but went on to read voraciously in his own time, to become a founder member of the Thomas Paine Society - and to write on subjects from local history to religion.

The school's headteacher tells the paper that Mr Morrell is a marvellous role model and a true product of lifelong learning - and also a great caretaker.

The Daily Mail tells the bizarre tale of the landlord - who is fighting to shut down his own pub. Robert Medd sells just 16 pints a day in his Black Bull Inn at Thormanby in North Yorkshire - and says the pub is sometimes more like a morgue.

But residents oppose his application to convert the hostelry into a house, saying the village needs a focal point. In an attempt to prove that his local is anything but focal, Mr Medd has drawn up an attendance register showing that two thirds of nearby residents never set foot inside.

But the chairman of the parish council tells the Mail that he too has done some extensive canvassing - and what's needed is not a change of use, but a change of landlord.

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