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Rest of World Yawns Over Clinton Drama

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  • By Charles Trueheart
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, December 12, 1998; Page A15

    PARIS, Dec. 11 – As the first vote on a U.S. presidential impeachment in nearly a quarter-century loomed in Washington, the rest of the world was barely stirring from a slumber of indifference and ennui.

    "We know how the story is going to come out: Clinton won't lose his job," declared Benoit Laporte, news editor of France's all-news television channel LCI, as he explained why most of the French news media were devoting only perfunctory coverage to the conclusion of this saga. "If Americans aren't interested, why should I be interested?"

    That elementary grasp of the conventional wisdom in Washington was reflected in slender to nonexistent coverage of the story around the world in recent days and weeks. Five of Russia's leading daily newspapers today ignored the story. None of the major Russian television news broadcasts this evening even mentioned it.

    The tepid public interest suggested that the November midterm elections, widely regarded as having saved President Clinton's political hide, had lulled global opinion into thinking the drama was over. And constitutional procedures and legislative wrangling were, to far-flung spectators, understandably less titillating than the warm-up of the Monica S. Lewinsky revelations and the Kenneth W. Starr report.

    Kenyans, for instance, were showing far less curiosity about the impeachment process than they did about the salacious details that prompted it.

    Anne Wambui of Nairobi said she paid pretty close attention to "the trial on Monica." But, she said, "after that, I lost interest."

    In China, too, the autumn fascination with Clinton's troubles has cooled. A few months ago, the Chinese appeared fascinated that Americans expect their political leaders to at least try to adhere to the law. Chinese would also often express amazement that a U.S. political leader might be forced out of office by a congressional vote, rather than a hidden political struggle. Chinese magazines ran dozens of stories about Clinton's sex life. Although officially banned as "pornography," a pirated version of the Starr report found an avid market.

    But those days are over. "Is that case still going on?" said Wang Guoqiang, a bartender in the southern city of Shenzhen, as he served an American a draft beer recently. "Didn't the Democrats win something recently and the whole thing was finished?"

    The central European press seems bored, if not exhausted, by the impeachment proceedings. Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's leading daily, had no report or commentary on the matter this morning. And other dailies in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary had only brief, straightforward news reports. The region's one lengthy report today, on Slovak public radio, was marked by a tone of bewilderment that impeachment was still a possibility.

    Elsewhere it was much the same. "For us, it has been little more than background noise," said Diana Hanna, a teacher in Caracas, Venezuela. "People know something is going on with President Clinton, but they are not paying attention to the details. I think most of us think it is silly . . . and there have been other more important things for us to worry about."

    Germans over the past year were amused, mortified and ultimately disgusted by the Starr inquiry. But now that the case is reaching its conclusion in Congress, it is evoking a nationwide yawn.

    The obscure reports and analyses that are making their way into the public eye, in Germany as elsewhere in Europe, have been largely critical of the Republican Party and the major American media for trying to hound a national leader from office for offenses that are considered routine habits among politicians in the cynical Old World.

    "This process against Clinton has gotten totally out of control," lamented Ulf Goettges in the Berliner Zeitung, Berlin's leading newspaper. "The Grand Old Party needs a Grand Old Leader who can guide it through a therapeutic course until these politicians understand how to do their work."

    "Don't the House Republicans remember what happened to them a month ago in the election?" asked Sky News anchor Jeremy Thompson in Britain, where the media have continued daily to follow the case against Clinton.

    Britain's national newspapers have struggled to explain why the case has come to this point, and most have taken the line that the charges against the president are disturbing but do not warrant removing him from office. With predictions that the full House, at least, might vote for impeachment, the media are perplexed.

    David Joseph Amukoye, a taxi driver waiting for a fare on Jomo Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi's sun-splashed main street, asked: "Why couldn't he just declare that he's marrying a second wife, so that the case would be between him and the first wife instead of between him and the public?"

    Rueben Ondego concurred. "To me, an African, I don't see what Clinton did was wrong. He did what a man can do. And the girl was beautiful," he said.

    "We regard Clinton as an African," put in Elias Kisia, a third driver. "Pure African."

    Correspondents William Drozdiak in Berlin; Serge F. Kovaleski in Caracas, Venezuela; David Hoffman in Moscow; John Pomfret in Beijing; Karl Vick in Nairobi; and T.R. Reid in London contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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