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Pursuit of prince draws fire from prime minister

The British government and Princess Diana's brother are increasingly concerned about the welfare of Prince William as a posse of paparazzi has descended on the Aegean Sea over the weekend to pursue the teenage prince's cruise around the Greek islands.

In scenes eerily reminiscent of the pursuit of Diana on the Mediterranean two years ago, hundreds of boats and 10 helicopters were scouring the Aegean in the hope of locating the yacht, Alexander, and catching a picture of William on it.

"The prime minister's views on the privacy of families in public life is well known and the fact that he took the Mail on Sunday (a London tabloid) to the Press Complaints Commission over intrusions into his children's privacy speaks for itself," a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

Earl Spencer, who ignited a debate at Diana's funeral when he vowed to protect the princes from the suffocating tradition of the royal family, has always insisted that hounding by the tabloid press drove his sister to an early death.

The Observer reported, quoting as associate of Spencer's whom it did not name, that he does not want his nephews to suffer the same kind of treatment Diana received.

Despite the insistence of some editors that they have no interest, all the major Fleet Street tabloids are believed to have dispatched teams to follow the progress of the yacht, lent to Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles by Greek shipping tycoon John Latsis for a two-week "family holiday."

Close to 300 foreign photographers are said to be pursuing in a flotilla of helicopters, ferries and fishing boats. Crews from the BBC, Reuters, and Associated Press are also said to be cruising the islands, posing as tourists.

Members of Parliament from both major parties condemned the frenzied scenes and the Press Complaints Commission braced itself for a complaint from St. James's Palace.

The press commission's code says no pictures of William or Harry can appear without their father's consent unless there is "exceptional public interest."

However, some media commentators argue that by leaking that it had been William's "idea" for his father to invite Parker Bowles, St. James's Palace risks undermining the princes' rights to privacy. Observers say the palace is playing a dangerous double game by using the princes when it suits them to get better publicity.