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Reporters on the Job

• Protest with a Carnival Touch: London protests take on a surreal edge these days, reports correspondent Mark Rice-Oxley (this page). The tendency for fancy dress, face masks, imaginative placards and ironic "happenings" brings a flavor of the burlesque to the otherwise sober streets. Some of it is vaguely relevant, like the pink 'love tank' or the protesters dressed as Guantanamo Bay detainees. But what, for example, has a giant crocodile got to do with George W. Bush? Or children blowing large soap bubbles? Or men with colanders on their heads, calling themselves the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army?

But the most surreal aspect was that none of the protesters got close to the man they didn't want here. George Bush and his detractors were occupying the same part of the same city, yet will only have seen each other on TV. It's an irony not lost on the protesters. "They talk of spreading democracy, but they don't even listen to their own people," said one. "All he has come to do is to have a cup of tea with the queen."

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• Bright lights, good food: Many of Russia's provincial cities are postindustrial wastelands, so staff writer Scott Peterson's journey to Kursk, 300 miles south of Moscow by overnight train, was a particular surprise (page 8).

Instead of the usually grimy reception at a dim shell of a Soviet train station, the Moscow express rolled into a well-lit colossus that appeared newly minted, and painted pink and white. The surprise continued in town. The roads seem to be in excellent shape, and there's clearly been substantial investment shops and other buildings, Scott says.

The final bright spot came after 10 hours of interviews, when Scott and his Moscow office manager settled into a restaurant decorated to look like a 19th-century Czarist study. They took in a five-star meal of seafood salad and stuffed duck. The damage: less than $30.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

Cultural snapshot