Newspaper review: Flag row and Litvinenko murder 'evidence'

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Friday, and the accession to power of his successor King Salman are examined in depth in many of Saturday's papers.

But amid the obituaries of the late monarch and analysis of the challenges the new king faces, the prevailing tone of newspaper coverage reflects the anger felt by some that flags were ordered to be flown on UK government buildings on Friday as a mark of respect.

Image copyright Getty Images

The Independent's headline says "Britain mourns a tyrant". The paper continues "campaigners and MPs said the officially sanctioned show of sympathy for the oil-rich nation's ruling elite made a mockery of its dismal human rights record."

The paper notes flags are lowered on British official buildings for the deaths of Commonwealth leaders, but only on a "discretionary" basis outside of that.

Critics of the move - the Independent notes - include Labour's Ann Clwyd who said people were appalled by the "barbarity" of the Saudi justice system; Tory Ruth Davidson who said the decision to lower the flags was a "steaming pile of nonsense"; and UKIP's Douglas Carswell, who called the move "immoral".

The paper lists the Saudi human rights record, reporting: "In 2013, according to figures from Amnesty International there were at least 79 public executions, the fourth highest in the world. Most were by beheading.

"Sorcery, adultery and sodomy are among the 'crimes' that carry the death sentence."

The Daily Mail said the half-mast flags and "fawning" tributes to the late king from David Cameron and Tony Blair has "triggered a bitter backlash".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption King Salman

The paper highlights one reason for British official attitudes to the news from Riyadh, the "lucrative relationship" with £11.5bn of ongoing British joint-ventures in the desert kingdom.

The Guardian says Prince Charles, who has recently spoken out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, is to travel to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects "to a regime where Christians are banned from practising their faith openly" and there are no churches, despite a large population of expats from non-Muslim countries.

The Daily Express's editorial says Saudi Arabia is "not a nation that our royals and politicians should be trying to befriend and support. It is one of which we should be extremely wary."

The Sun's opinion says "King Abdullah's so-called modernisation was barely visible".

It asks "how long" will Britain "bow and scrape to one of the world's most sickeningly oppressive regimes".


'Behind screens'

Ahead of the start of a public inquiry into the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London eight years ago, the Daily Telegraph says it has seen evidence implicating Moscow in the death.

The authorities has long suspected that Mr Litvinenko's poisoning with a radioactive element had been ordered by the Kremlin.

The Telegraph says a source "familiar with the investigation" has seen American spy intercepts which provide "key evidence" that Mr Litvinenko was killed in a "Russian-backed state execution".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Alexander Litvinenko

The source tells the paper the intelligence material "would have been "inadmissible in court", but they have convinced the British government of Russian involvement in the killing.

The Telegraph adds that its investigations have revealed a tape made revealing an apparent link between the Russian authorities and an organised crime figure in Ukraine.

The paper says the inquiry, which replaces a formal inquest and begins its court sessions on Tuesday, will "examine whether the Russian state was behind the killing".

The FT Weekend notes the British government had initially opposed an inquiry into the murder, but "did a U-turn" in July, five days after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over Ukraine by what have widely been reported as pro-Russian militia troops.

Alex Goldfarb, a friend of the Litvinenko family, tells the paper the inquiry means "we will definitely learn the real facts about the police investigation" into the deaths, as well as scientific evidence.

In a Q&A on the case, the Independent notes inquiry chairman, Sir Robert Owen, has said "it is inevitable that at least some of his final report will remain secret".

It adds that "some of the witnesses will be hidden behind screens to protect their identities, and some evidence will be heard entirely in secret".

The paper adds: "Vladimir Putin has denied Russian state involvement in the death of a man that many commentators considered too insignificant to threaten the Kremlin".


'Flawed dream'

The possibility of victory for an anti-austerity party in the forthcoming Greek general election has led to more currency jitters in the eurozone.

That in turn has led Saturday's papers to write extensively about the threat to the European economy - and the bonanza for British tourists on the continent.

The FT Weekend leads on the weakness of the euro which the paper notes had hit 11-year lows on Friday against a number of currencies.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Greek voters will go to the polls on Sunday

The paper says the eurozone's biggest economy Germany remains in "visceral opposition" to the £834bn "quantative easing" package that the European Central Bank (ECB) has ordered to encourage economic growth.

The FT says the ECB's programme has "privately dismayed" Angela Merkel, who thinks it will "ease the pressure on profligate [eurozone] members to reform".

In an article in the Daily Express, the paper's political editor Macer Hall says, "a new financial crisis in the eurozone, triggered by the threat of Greece becoming the first nation to crash out of the single currency, is the biggest danger to the 'long-term economic plan' for Britain on which [Conservative] general election hopes hinge. "

Hall argues that consumer growth in the zone could be stifled and Britain's exports to it may fall, killing off the growth the economy has seen recently.

The ECB plan, he adds, shows "once again that the euro is the clearest example of the flawed political dream of European federalists in their obsessive drive to force the populations of Europe's nations into a vast super state".

Writing in the Daily Mail, BBC broadcaster John Humphrys says Greece could be on the brink of "a new economic hell" if it returns the left-wing anti-austerity party Syriza to power.

Humphrys writes that he understands the appeal of the party, which promises to renegotiate the country's debt repayments.

But he adds: "If Syriza were to get what it wants, within 24 hours a long queue would form of all the other indebted countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, demanding a cut in their debts, too.

"The European Union would collapse under the strain."

Image caption Tuscany: now more affordable, the Times notes

And he adds a Greek exit from the euro would be a gamble with the unknown.

The Guardian's editorial notes that most Greeks, even Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, want to stay within the euro and the eurozone, and the election outcome may not be as cataclysmic as some observers believe.

"The eurozone has stronger defence mechanisms than when the [2008] financial crisis broke out," it notes.

Mr Tsipras, a former communist, finds some surprising support in the Daily Telegraph, from former editor Charles Moore, who says if he was Greek, he would vote for the left-wing party.

"Greece has literally nothing," he writes, "little political freedom, a currency whose value it cannot affect and a deflation that makes its debt-to-GDP ratio unbearable.

"It is being told what to do by exterior powers, whose first interest is not the welfare of Greece."

But it's not all bad news.

The Times reports the failing euro has "Britons rushing to find a bargain place in the sun".

In its "what the eurozone stimulus could mean for you" section, the paper explains this could mean a £300 cut in the "cost of renting a large villa in Tuscany this year".

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