Reporters on the Job

Baffled in Britain: If politics can be likened to sport, says correspondent Mark Rice-Oxley, then Britain's Conservative Party (this page) is the perennial champion of yesteryear that seems baffled at its sudden inability to win a match.

At least, says Mark, that's the way it felt behind the scenes at the party's annual conference in Bournemouth, a political pow-wow designed to stir the team for next year's electoral showdown. Few activists predict victory. "It's going to be difficult, though not impossible," one told Mark.

Mark says perhaps the real cause of the malaise can be gleaned from inside the auditorium. "There were few black and Asian faces. Not many under 30," he comments. "It was hardly representative of modern Britain. A distinct lack of buzz about the place. Neutral delegates are downright scornful. One said to me, 'It was like my old auntie's tea party. And they wonder why they're not in power.' "

Cooing in Khartoum: On his last trip to Sudan, says the Monitor's Abraham McLaughlin, he found a pleasant little cafe nestled in a park in downtown Khartoum (page 1). "It was an oasis in the midst of Khartoum's dusty, taxi-packed streets," he says. "And it served great pizza, so I went several times."

On one visit there, Abe's Sudanese acquaintance pointed out all the twentysomething couples cooing at each other at the tables around them. "That never would have happened a few years ago," he told Abe, referring to a time when sharia, or Islamic law, was aggressively enforced. Back then, a young man seen in a cafe with a young woman might be made to produce identity papers proving he was the woman's husband or brother. Casual dating wasn't allowed - at least in public.

Since then, however, the government of President Bashir has lightened up on sharia. "This is a tad ironic, because one of the reasons Mr. Bashir is said to have staged the coup that brought him to power was to prevent a peace deal with southern rebels that would have lessened or dropped sharia in parts of the country," Abe says. "It's evidence, some say, that Bashir has become more moderate since he got to power."

For the happy couples, at least, that appeared to be quite good news.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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