UK

Newspaper review: Is North Africa the new battlefield?

Papers

"The next battlefield" is the ominous headline on the front of the Independent, which believes comments by David Cameron - on the hostage crisis in Algeria - "foreshadow a new focus on tackling terrorism in the region".

The paper says that, by calling for a "robust security response", the prime minister has signalled a new willingness to support international action against terrorist groups operating in North Africa.

The Times believes events in Algeria have crystallised fears that North Africa is the "new Afghanistan" - a lawless terrain where militants are free to launch attacks on Western targets at will.

For London, Washington and their allies, the paper says, that is nothing short of a "foreign policy nightmare".

The Daily Mirror agrees with Mr Cameron that "the threat posed by Islamists must not be dodged" - but it warns that Britain must ensure its response does not make a dangerous problem worse. Iraq and Afghanistan, it says, have taught us the limits of military action.

The Daily Telegraph believes the government's Strategic Defence and Security Review has left Britain "ill-prepared for this deadly new world".

The Telegraph says if Mr Cameron is serious about taking action against Islamist terrorists, he should make sure our armed forces have the necessary resources and manpower.

As the hostage crisis enters its fourth day, several papers report that the SAS is on standby to intervene.

The Sun says the special forces are part of a "crack British team" deployed to Algeria to "hunt down" the leader of the militants behind the attack.

According to the Daily Mail, UK intelligence services are examining the possibility that one of the gunmen is British. A man speaking impeccable English is reported to be among the hostage-takers.

There are gripping accounts from some of the survivors. The front page of the Daily Mirror features a tale of how at least three British men spent two days hiding from the gunmen in the space above a ceiling in a canteen.

Another British man had rung his wife, in Liverpool, to tell her he'd been taken captive and was sitting at his desk with Semtex strapped to his chest. He's reported to be among those now on their way home.

'Snowhere'

Pictures of children enjoying the snow feature on several front pages - alongside warnings that the disruption is likely to continue for days.

The Mirror says the weather brought "bedlam" to the roads, railways and airports; the Sun pictures a queue of stationary cars - in its words - "going snowhere".

The Daily Express says it was yesterday - as "Britain shivered under a blanket of snow" - that price rises announced by the energy company E.On took effect.

It reckons there's a "very strong case" for the government to ask firms to suspend increases in their tariffs until the cold snap is over.

The admission by the cyclist, Lance Armstrong, that he took performance-enhancing drugs, fails to impress the Guardian.

It brands his interview with Oprah Winfrey "cynical and calculating" - and it's astonished that, having looked up the word "cheating" in a dictionary, he'd concluded it didn't apply to him.

The Independent says Armstrong should now be required to name those who were complicit in his fraud - and the Sun reckons he should pay back £1m in libel damages and costs secured from the Sunday Times.

The Times believes that if Armstrong seeks atonement, "he has some way to go".

The Financial Times says that, after postponing his long-awaited speech on Europe because of events in Algeria, David Cameron now intends to deliver it on Monday.

The prime minister has previously joked of taking a "tantric" approach, given the long build-up to his speech, which was first reported in September. The FT reckons he must now be wondering whether the whole enterprise is cursed.

"Expectations have been ramped up beyond tantric levels," the paper says. "Reality can only be an anti-climax".

The FT has also spoken to the head of the company at the centre of the scandal over horsemeat in burgers.

In what the FT describes as his first interview in almost 25 years, Larry Goodman, the founder and executive chairman of ABP Food Group, denies that cost-cutting by his business was to blame.

He questions the validity of DNA tests which picked up the presence of horsemeat - and claims he's "disgusted" with some of the media coverage.

Champion

A cap on how much elderly people will have to pay for their care home nursing fees has been agreed by the government, according to the Telegraph.

It says the limit is likely to be set at between £65,000-75,000 - above which the state will pick up the bill. The Telegraph says the cap won't be implemented before 2015 - and may make little difference to many families.

Details of the plan will be announced by ministers as early as next week.

Another plan - this one to ban smoking in a number of prisons - has been postponed, according to the Times.

Senior prison officials had hoped a three-month pilot project would lead to all jails in England and Wales being smoke-free within a year. The idea has been shelved amid fears that it would provoke disturbances.

The Times says any ban would also have to take into account the role that tobacco and cigarettes play as a "currency" between inmates.

Finally, the Guardian says the author, Will Self, is "poised" to become BBC Radio 4's first writer-in-residence.

He's said to be in negotiations with the station's controller, the pair "thrashing out" what the job will entail.

That's likely to include writing for, and about, Radio 4 in a blog, and acting as a champion and creative figurehead for the station.

The paper believes that if BBC executives are nervous about giving creative freedom to such a "firecracker talent", they can reflect on Self's Reithian credentials.

"What other writer," it asks, "can be relied upon to send readers reaching for their dictionaries?"

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