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From the United States to China and Britain to New Zealand, the world gasped with disbelief at O.J. Simpson's acquittal on double murder charges in "The Trial of the Century."

People virtually everywhere waited with tense anticipation for the verdict in the true-life soap opera that began on June 12, 1994, with the murder of the former American football star's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.Only in a very few places, notably France, were the trial and the verdict treated with indifference. No TV or radio station interrupted regular programming to carry the verdict live; instead the all-news LCI television channel and the all-news radio France-Info carried full reports on the verdict well into their regular newscasts.

News of the acquittal jolted America, prompting both relieved cheers and incredulity. It surprised both those who believed Simpson innocent and those convinced he was guilty - opinions that often divided along racial lines.

In Britain, during the 15-minute courtroom verdict sequence, power consumption went down sharply as domestic chores were postponed.

Britain's best-selling tabloid newspapers were skeptical about the acquittal. "What a farce - Circus sets O.J. free to make millions" said Today newspaper's headline. The Daily Star declared: "O what a sick joke. Money talks - O.J. walks."

The Sun, devoting its first three pages to the case, called the verdict "the biggest surprise in legal history."

Vienna's daily Die Presse, Austria's most reputable broadsheet, pushed its deadline back by more than an hour to include the verdict in Wednesday morning editions. "Triumph for O.J. Simpson - he's free!" it blared on the front page.

"It's a story that the whole world has followed," the paper's evening copy editor Alexander Fieber said. "It doesn't involve Austria in any way and a year ago hardly anyone knew who O.J. Simpson was. Now everyone knows."

New Zealand morning radio and television led on Simpson, virtually a complete unknown in New Zealand before his trial, although the verdict came too late for morning papers.

Former Prime Minister and opposition Member of Parliament, David Lange, a lawyer, said the case appeared to conform with an old British jury saying that it was better to let a guilty man go free than convict an innocent man.

Most Australians were asleep when the verdict came, leaving them to wake up to radio bulletins dominated by reports of the acquittal and then a deluge of talk-back calls from mostly astounded people.

Callers said they could not believe the verdict and blamed his well-paid defense team for using the race card to obscure the evidence. One caller to Australia's most popular talkback show was so angry she began crying during the phone call.

While Hong Kong's three English-language papers gave the O.J. Simpson verdict front-page treatment with extensive coverage inside as well, the Chinese press neither gave it their front pages nor their sympathy.

If anything, several major Hong Kong Chinese papers ridiculed the entire affair - Simpson, the nine-month televised trial, the numerous witnesses and the surprisingly brief jury deliberations.

In China, Shanghai's Liberation Daily described the trial as a long-running television soap opera.