- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 25

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The looming U.S.-led war against Iraq is already causing damage to Morocco's film industry as Hollywood studios cancel important productions. Work on the U.S.-produced "The War of Troy" was halted because international insurance companies won't provide wartime cover. Filming has moved to Mexico. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox said it will delay the start of shooting of "Tripoli," its new production starring Russell Crowe, probably until after the war. Filming at Moroccan movie facilities and on location in the Atlas Mountains is a lucrative dollar-earner for the North African kingdom. The head of Morocco's main film center, Abdel Kader al-Halawi, said all U.S. productions are pulling out of Morocco and his fear was that European production companies might follow suit. Veteran international producer Dino de Laurentiis, however, has said he won't postpone the filming of his blockbuster "Alexander the Great" in the region of Warzazat in southeastern Morocco, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. But that isn't supposed to start until early 2004, and the war pundits say that by then, the conflict will long be over.

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The early months of World War II were called "the phony war" because military action was slow in gaining momentum. The Iraq war is likely to become known as the phone war because of the number of top-level phone calls. On Tuesday, Russian official sources released details of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's telephone log for the past week. Among his calls was a flurry more than 10 Iraq-related conversations with anti-war and pro-Bush leaders alike. Putin conferred with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and President Jacques Chirac of France, both opponents of the war. But he also conversed with supporters of Bush's hard line — Britain's Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul. There was no record of any call to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but Schroeder will be in Moscow Wednesday.

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The State Department has reminded American college students preparing for study abroad of the dangers of … too much alcohol and illicit drugs. State's latest fact sheet released Tuesday warns that a college student's stay abroad could "become a nightmare." But not because of war looming in Iraq, or the rising tide of anti-American rhetoric engulfing European and Arab capitals. It said: "A number of ruined vacations are caused by one or more of the following: drugs, alcohol and disorderly behavior." College students should be aware, for example, that on average 2,500 Americans are arrested every year and in some cases for possession of "very small amounts of illegal substances."

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The French newspaper Le Monde clearly doesn't believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The newspaper of the French intellectual left is considering pressing charges against the authors and publisher of a book that claims the paper has lost its critical edge and established a cozy relationship with the people it should be watching, such as the French power elite. "Using its power of intimidation, Le Monde has insidiously slipped from its role as a counter-force toward a permanent abuse of power," authors Pierre Paen and Philippe Cohen argue in "The Hidden Face of le Monde." They say: "The danger has been even greater for democracy in that Le Monde still benefits from the aura of its past, and it remains an influential, if not dominant medium." In an editorial Tuesday the paper said it accepted, and was even flattered "to be the object of so much criticism … questions … and debates." But it planned to sue anyway because "The Hidden Face of le Monde" was a work of "hatred, the cousin of envy."


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