Newspaper headlines: Migrant tragedy and SNP 'ransom note'

"The EU's darkest day" is the Independent's headline to its story about a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean drowning an estimated 700 migrants attempting to reach Europe from Africa.

The story brings the ongoing saga of tens of thousands of migrants attempting to make the hazardous crossing to Europe onto the newspaper's front pages.

The Independent says that if the death toll from Saturday's sinking is confirmed, it will mean 1,600 people, mainly from East or West Africa and the Middle East, have died this year attempting to reach Italian shores in rickety boats.

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Image caption Italian authorities say the migrant crossing "season" has only just begun

"Countries across Europe, including Britain, have been accused of 'closing their eyes' to the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean amid growing outrage at the failure of European leaders to agree a new search-and-rescue mission," the paper adds.

The paper explains Britain was among the countries which opposed extending an EU-funded search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean claiming it "encouraged more migrants to make the hazardous journey".

The United Nations says the number of migrant boats attempting the crossing is up 50% on this time last year.

The Independent's comment says "what is shamefully and obviously missing is the political will on the part of the EU to face up to the scale of the challenge."

The Guardian writes of coastguards scouring the waters between Sicily and Libya for survivors clinging on amongst "human flotsam".

It says the tragedy is thought to have been caused when the would-be migrants rushed to the side of the overcrowded fishing vessel carrying them after catching sight of a Portuguese ship sent to reply to a distress flare from the craft.

The paper's foreign news editor Mark Rice-Oxley says it is Europe's antipathy towards migrant boat people that has been the "real killer".

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Image caption EU foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the problem

"Despite the steady drip-drip of death, the Mediterranean story has yet to resonate with a European public short on empathy: Guardian stories on migration on our website consistently attract very low numbers of readers," he says.

The Daily Telegraph's editorial says "campaigners pointing the finger of blame" at EU countries "need to say, precisely what they want to happen.

"If the EU were to signal some new status for people who risk their lives on the high seas that would simply make matters worse by encouraging thousands more to make the journey."

The paper says "improving the lives of people in the countries they are leaving" is the best long-term solution, but it argues that in the short-term a naval blockade to prevent the craft from getting out to sea is the most "compassionate" response.

The Times notes that Labour has called on the government to reverse its policy and reinstate the larger scale search-and-rescue operation which was in place until October last year.

It adds that estimates put the numbers of migrants still wishing to reach Europe from North Africa at between 200,000 and one million.


'Sworn to destroy'

The day's big political story is a row over the possibility that the SNP would block a future Labour government's military budget, if the Trident nuclear deterrent was not scrapped.

Stewart Hosie, the Nationalists' deputy leader said the party was looking into "voting against or making amendments to" the military budget, if it included cash for Trident's renewal. Labour has dismissed the statement as "posturing".

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Image caption Stewart Hosie has been accused of "posturing" by Labour

The Times notes that a Tory chief whip Ben Wallace has said that his party would not necessarily support a minority Labour administration in such a vote, even though the Conservatives want to see Trident retained.

Mr Wallace tells the paper his party would not vote for defence cuts or "support fantasy SNP-Labour economics".

The paper's editorial says the SNP could bring a "wrecking ball" to Labour's plans to put a "firewall" between its policies and the Nationalists' demands.

The SNP's price for not doing this, the paper suggests, would mean "the break-up of the United Kingdom".

It's a line repeated in a Daily Telegraph editorial, which begins: "wake up, the Union is in jeopardy all over again."

"Today, the SNP will publish its manifesto," the paper notes, "But it is not a programme that the bulk of the country whose government it seeks to influence can have any interest in since most people cannot vote for it.

"This complete absence of accountability is the antithesis of democracy."

Elsewhere in the paper, London Mayor Boris Johnson writes: "Can someone tell me why in the name of all that is holy there are some apparently rational people who are even contemplating the elevation of the Scottish Nationalist Party to a position of effective dominance in the government of the United Kingdom - an entity that they are sworn to destroy?"

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Image caption The leaders' debate: "a babel of voices seeking your attention"

The Daily Mail says the choice of language by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is "megalomaniacal" by issuing a "string of demands" on "everything from ending austerity to making Britain recognise Palestine as an independent state".

In the Guardian, columnist Matthew d'Ancona says the prospect of the UK being governed not by a formal coalition but by a loose political alliance, resembles the "messy" politics of many European countries.

"The debates have more closely resembled the political theatre of continental countries: a babel of voices seeking your attention and your votes with the specific intention of taming a Labour or Tory regime," he argues.

"In this country, we are used to single-party governments that more or less get their way until the electorate kicks them out. Yet that model may be approaching obsolescence - or at least a hiatus."

The Financial Times editorial suggests that minority government rule may not be ideal, but it would not cause chaos.

"Britain has not suddenly lost its ancestral gift for improvisation. It has a way of finding a way through political and constitutional problems," the paper writes.


Record high

Buried away from the election coverage is news that prospective first-time house-buyers could have told you: statistics show that in 2014 it became harder to get on the property ladder.

The Times says this happened despite some of the lowest mortgage rates on record, and government schemes to help people buy their first home.

The paper says estate agency Hamptons International found that soaring property prices have outstripped income meaning homes are more unaffordable.

The problem was especially acute in London and the West Midlands, the Times continues, with utility and childcare costs helping to make buying a distant prospect for many.

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The paper says that a working family with two children will have found their ability to buy fall by an average of 6% over the last year, leaving them 5% worse off than they were in 2010, according to Hampton's figures.

The Daily Telegraph says that property prices reached a record high last month, with an average 1.6% rise making the typical UK home worth £286,133.

The figures have been compiled by property group Rightmove.

The firm says that they are simply the result of record demand coupled with low supply.

"The lack of affordable housing will be high on the agendas of many voters," a spokesman said.

The Guardian notes the regional variations in Rightmove's figures, saying there has been a 50% rise in the price of London homes since 2010, but the equivalent in the north of England is 3.7%.

The average London property now costs £594,585, the paper adds.


Showery reputation

With a lack of hard news in Monday's press, let's look at the weather forecast stories.

The Daily Express tells us that the warm weather - which has encouraged the basking shark pictured on its page into British waters - is coming to an end with an "Arctic plunge".

The paper says meteorologists think we may have another week of glorious sunshine before "a shivery start to May".

Chilly winds could drop overnight temperatures in Scotland to as low as 1C (feeling like -6C when the chill factor is accounted for) and bring a 90% chance of snow in places.

The impending "plunge" spells bad news not just for basking sharks, but for colossal barrel jellyfish which have been drifting into mild Cornish waters in their thousands, the paper reckons.

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Image caption A basking shark: coming to Britain to enjoy the warm weather

"We tried to avoid them but they were everywhere," one south-western fisherman tells the Express.

It's precipitation levels rather than temperature that concern the Daily Telegraph.

The paper notes that, in a reversal of its usual showery reputation, this April has so far brought us one-third the usual rainfall for the time of year.

Britons will not be surprised to read that the paper reports the dry weather has raised fears "of a potential drought".

But with the Environment Agency reporting that lake and river levels in Britain are still "healthy", perhaps we can be glad we are not living in California.

The Guardian reports that the Sunshine State is facing its fourth consecutive year of drought conditions.

It says the state of affairs has brought desert conditions to the edge of residential areas such as Palm Springs and Beverly Hills.

The paper adds that Californians say Nestle and other bottled water producers are exacerbating the situation by depleting mountain spring water supplies.

Increased demands for almonds has also not helped.

The Guardian explains that the almond tree is "particularly thirsty" and 1.1 gallons of water are required to produce a single nut.

And with California providing 80% of the world's almonds, that's a lot of nuts and a lot of water.

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