Alan Henning beheading, Jeremy Clarkson 'flees' Argentina and Lib Dem battles

Grim headlines fill newsstands as Saturday's later edition front pages report the apparent beheading of a second British hostage by Islamic State (IS).

Both the Sun and Daily Mirror note that Alan Henning appears to have been killed by a fellow Briton, an extremist nicknamed Jihadi John. Mr Henning had been captured in Syria while delivering aid to those affected by the conflict tearing apart the country.

The Daily Telegraph's profile of the Mancunian taxi driver quotes friends saying he was "never involved in politics or talked about current affairs or religion, and was a cheerful, happy personality, always eager to help others". It singles out a comment from his wife, who issued a video plea to her husband's captors earlier this week, in which she said: "Alan was volunteering with his Muslim friends to help the people of Syria. He was in the right place doing the right thing."

Meanwhile, the plight of another hostage is highlighted by papers including the Daily Express. It reports an appeal - delivered from a hospital bed - from the sick father of John Cantlie, who's been in captivity since November 2012. Paul Cantlie, 80, "told of his family's despair and helplessness after seeing his son in a series of cruel videos released by the jihadists", says the paper.

The Daily Mirror quotes David Cameron likening the battle with Islamist extremism to the fight against the Nazis during World War Two, in an address to British troops in Afghanistan.

Those service personnel will be returning home soon, leaving security to Afghan forces, and the prime minister insists UK forces will not be returning. However, the Sun asks: "Who's he trying to kid about the fighting prowess of the Afghan army?" It argues: "For a vision of the future we need only watch our "rebuilt" Iraqi army fleeing in terror from the marauding maniacs of Islamic State - and British warplanes back in action there years after we left."

As the Daily Telegraph puts it: "There are no easy answers in this global fight against radical Islamism. As the UK's operation winds down in Afghanistan, the world looks just as insecure today as it did when that venture began. The menace has moved to other battlefields, but it remains."


Car wars

Image copyright Sebastian Guzman

The hasty departure from Argentina of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson and colleagues, after they came under attack from protesters angry about a car registration H982 FKL they felt referred to the 1982 Falklands War, makes for dramatic headlines.

"Top Fear," was the Sun's initial effort, while the Mirror describes "Clarkson driven out."

Meanwhile Clarkson, a Sun columnist, tells the paper: "I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan, but this was the most terrifying thing I've ever been involved in. There were hundreds of them. They were hurling rocks and bricks at our cars. They were trying to attack us with pickaxe handles."

According to the Mirror: "Maj Gen Julian Thompson, the Royal Marine officer who led the land battle in the 1982 conflict, slammed the number plate blunder as 'stupid'." The paper's TV editor Nicola Methven wonders: "Is it possible for Jeremy Clarkson to go anywhere without sparking some sort of diplomatic incident?" The BBC insists the registration plate was a coincidence but Methven argues: "Many people are struggling to believe it."

The Mail lists a string of controversies involving Clarkson, such as an apology over claims he was recorded mumbling the N-word, an Ofcom ruling he'd deliberately used racist language during a Burma special and complaints over a joke about lorry drivers and prostitutes. The paper suggests he's a "serial offender".

A Times cartoon allows readers to use their imagination by picturing a Top Gear worker looking at the offending car and telling a workmate the BBC "have sent Clarkson a new numberplate", marked "DKHD".

"Perhaps sending political messages via driving plates will catch on," suggests the Telegraph. It envisages London Mayor and supposed Conservative leadership hopeful Boris Johnson using a "H4PPY 2 W41T" plate, Labour leader Ed Milband driving a car marked "D3F1C1T" and Nick Clegg, who leads the junior coalition partner Lib Dems, with a "D1V0RC3" registration.


War on drugs

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The Prince of Wales is to become an "unlikely new weapon in the war on drugs", according to the Daily Telegraph.

It says the prince, due to visit Colombia - one of the world's biggest cocaine-producing countries - later this month, has been asked by the Foreign Office to strengthen "co-operation in the fight against drugs and crime". Together with the Duchess of Cornwall, he will reportedly be shown "submarines and other equipment seized from drug smugglers by police and coastguards" in the northern city of Cartagena.

As well as examining drug paraphernalia, the royal couple will "find out how the humble Cornish pasty ended up in Mexico" during their nine-day trip to Latin America, reports the Daily Express. They'll apparently be taken to a Cornish pasty museum in the town of Real del Monte, where West Country folk arrived to work in the silver mines in 1825.

Pasties are a much-prized delicacy in that area, north east of Mexico City, but "there were early difficulties", according to the Express. "Customs officials confiscated swedes despite protests from one woman that they were an essential ingredient." The pasties have since been given exotic ingredients, such as peppers, pineapple and hot chilli sauce.


Political squabbles

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As Liberal Democrats gather for their party conference, there are further signs of strain between them and their senior coalition partners.

Conservative backbenchers are urging the prime minister "to break off the Coalition early after the Liberal Democrats were accused of hindering plans for English votes for English laws", according to the Daily Telegraph. Meanwhile, in the Independent, Home Office Minister Norman Baker is accusing the Tories of "suppressing" reports on drug abuse because of "prejudices" against reforms to create "less hardline" tactics.

However, the Telegraph's James Kirkup finds Lib Dem Care Minister Norman Lamb confident that "whoever wins next May will need Lib Dem support" to form a government. As the FT Weekend reports, polling currently suggests a tight finish between Labour and the Conservatives, with the Lib Dems losing a large number of seats. "In those circumstances, even a two-party coalition could fall short of a decent majority," it says, explaining why civil servants are planning for a hung parliament, with a second general election soon after next May's.

Image copyright Reuters

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg comes out fighting in the Times, saying "the Tories need restraining" in power. "If they get into government on their own, firstly the poor will get poorer, secondly there would be massive swingeing cuts to police, social care, all the public services - because they don't want to employ taxation."

And he finds an ally in the Guardian, which says: "British politics needs the Liberal Democrats for one thing above all. It needs them to provide the parliamentary nerve of outrage against an unreformed political system and against encroachments on civil liberties which is so often dulled in the other major parties."

Independent editor Amol Rajan says Mr Clegg's party "permanently lost" voters over their U-turn on a pledge not to increase tuition fees. But he adds: "What a delicious irony it would be if, thanks to an electoral system they oppose, first past the post meant that for the second election in a row the Lib Dems lost seats but still ended up as the kingmakers of British politics."


Toxic marriages

"Suburban noir, domestic suspense, the marriage mystery, psychological thriller, chick noir. Call it what you want," says author Erin Kelly in the Telegraph. "There's no escaping the current popularity of books, usually aimed at a female readership, about disappearing partners, toxic marriages, dark secrets and the lies we tell ourselves as well as each other."

The article comes on the back of the release of Gone Girl, a film based on such a novel. And the Times finds celebrated author Ian McEwan enduring trouble and strife at an event to promote his latest book, about a collapsed marriage. "His ex-wife began shouting at him from the back of the auditorium," the paper reports.


Making people click

Guardian: Hong Kong protesters beaten and bloodied as thugs attack sit-in

Times: Abducted, beaten, shot: my ordeal in Syria

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Mirror: 11 reasons Chelsea have got the title wrapped up

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