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World watches as crisis engulfs the White House

Graphic January 27, 1998
Web posted at: 10:39 p.m. EST (0339 GMT)

(CNN) -- A strange paradox is emerging as the world reacts to developments in the alleged sex scandal surrounding U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Just as some people around the world are condemning the American media's handling of the story and the "puritanical" nature of U.S. society, members of the international press are closely following the allegations about Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

If nothing else has been proven yet, one thing is clear: International interest in the story is keen.

"It's growing day by day," said Stephen Sackur, Washington correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corp.

The international press has joined American media on the White House lawn, where a thick forest of television cameras and bright lights has sprouted since the crisis erupted last week with news that independent counsel Kenneth Starr was investigating whether Clinton and his friend, Vernon Jordan, urged Lewinksy to lie about an alleged affair when she was a 21-year-old White House intern.

Clinton has denied an affair with Lewinsky, now 24. He also denied he urged anyone to lie under oath.

European coverage

On Tuesday, European newspapers reported that Clinton had sharply raised the stakes by vehemently denying the allegations against him and adopting an all-or-nothing strategy in the fight to save his presidency.

"If the president lied on Monday, his fate is sealed," said Germany's Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger of Cologne.

"His word of honor will be tested in America, by the official investigators and the unofficial detectives and above all by a media business that has been programmed to carry out ruthless research since Richard Nixon's Watergate affair."

The European newspapers themselves were thorough in their reporting, scrutinizing every word, gesture and facial expression of the president as he denied having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky or urging anyone to lie.

"Bill Clinton appeared angry, tired, and almost desperate. ... He appeared to be perspiring, he had bags under his eyes, his voice was throaty and at one point seemed to tremble," wrote Mary Dejevsky in Britain's Independent.

A Dutch television crew is among those watching closely.

"Originally we came here because we wanted to do a piece on the circus ... on all the hoopla surrounding the story," said David Hammelburg, a producer for Netwerk, a Dutch television magazine that has run lengthy segments on the Clinton crisis.

The growing revelations persuaded his bosses to cover it on a daily basis and to dispatch extra correspondents and producers from the Netherlands, Hammelburg said.

"This story just doesn't go away," he said.

But some people apparently believe that it should.

A puritanical society?

Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes weighed in with a signed article dismissing the crisis as "sex, puritanism and trivialization."

The winner of Spain's prestigious Cervantes Prize said the attacks on Clinton were a sign of an intolerant puritanical streak in U.S. society -- which he traced to 17th century New England settlers.

Fuentes, whose works have been translated into 20 languages, drew a contrast with France, where former President Francois Mitterrand was buried in the presence of his wife and his lover.

In his column entitled "The first global soap opera" published in Mexico City's Reforma newspaper, Fuentes wrote: "There is a political agenda. The seal on the agenda is the ultra-conservative right."

Some CNN viewers and Internet users joined Fuentes in his disdain for the treatment the scandal is receiving.

The following appears on an AllPolitics message board: "I am writing from Canada and must say that the U.S. media are more involved with finding out if the president was sleeping around with some intern than the lives he is about to send into combat (Iraq). Is this really that important of an issue?"

And this came from a CNN viewer in Switzerland: "I am appalled by your priorities."

International ramifications

As they monitor its developments, members of the international media ponder the ramifications of the crisis -- for Iraq in particular.

In the United Arab Emirates, the Arabic daily al-Khaleej said the military scenario in Iraq was part of Clinton's plans to cling to office. An article in the newspaper said, "The military option is a low-cost card for Clinton to play in order to get breathing space from Monicagate."

Britain's Financial Times, in an editorial titled "Leaderless World," said Clinton may never recover the authority and credibility needed to push for such action as extra funding for the International Monetary Fund, the payment of U.S. arrears to the United Nations and congressional approval of the Kyoto global warming treaty.

"Even the vital decision to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia beyond June now looks less safe than it did," the newspaper said.

The Irish Times worried about the scandal's impact on Northern Ireland's peace process, which is now facing "its most critical phase" and stands to lose a valuable ally if Clinton should leave office.

The Irish Independent put it more strongly:

"The resignation or even the political emasculation of President Bill Clinton could be a serious threat to international stability but it would almost certainly be devastating for this country. A peace process already seriously undermined could totally collapse with his demise or any diminution of his authority."

Support for Clinton

As the scandal raged on, the U.S. president gathered support from disparate sources.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke to Clinton on Tuesday about the crisis, telling him, "I have been following events and I am thinking of you."

Clinton also won a nomination Tuesday for the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize from admirers of his foreign policy.

Three far-right members of the Norwegian parliament said they were naming Clinton for helping bolster democracy, human rights and peace in nations like the former Yugoslavia.

"Whatever problems Clinton has in the United States, you have to admit that in foreign policy he's done a great job," said Vidar Kleppe, deputy leader of the Progress Party and one of the three who nominated Clinton.

And, in Bulgaria, the daily Sega set up a Web site Tuesday where supporters can sign an appeal to leave Clinton in peace.

The site, entitled "The President is innocent," invites "believers in freedom on the Web" to leave their name and message of support for Clinton.

"We trust even a statesman's right to free choice in matters of private life should be respected and deemed as sacred as any human being's," it says. In the Balkan state, rumors of sexual misconduct by its own politicians elicit little public reaction.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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