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Paparazzi chase over Harry and Meghan polarizes public

FILE PHOTO: Nelson Mandela International Day, in New York

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - To supporters, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan being chased through the streets of New York by press photographers brought back memories of the death of his mother Princess Diana and epitomised the media harassment and intrusion they endure.

For detractors, it was another show of the couple's over-the-top, publicity-seeking and self-aggrandizing behaviour.

As Britain's Duke and Duchess of Sussex make headlines around the world again, the response to the latest "near catastrophic" incident, as their spokesperson described it, shows what polarising figures they have become.

"I think that everything the Sussexes do is more or less framed by those who see them as the embodiment of 'woke'," said Ivor Gabor, professor of political journalism at Britain's University of Sussex, using the popular term for socially progressive attitudes on matters from race to gender.

"They're very good targets for those who wish to denounce what they see as their values."

Harry's spokesperson said that on Tuesday night after leaving an awards ceremony where Meghan had been honoured, Harry, Meghan and her mother were subjected to a two-hour car chase involving "highly aggressive" paparazzi photographers which had put their lives at danger.

Shaken though not hurt, the couple's experience was reminiscent of the events which led up to the fatal Paris car crash in which Princess Diana was killed in 1997, something Harry has often feared could be repeated.

However, while the New York Police Department (NYPD) confirmed the incident, its response made it sound less serious. Newspapers reported that one celebrity news agency involved had accused their security detail of themselves behaving in a manner "that could be perceived as reckless".

'CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME'

Taxi driver Sukhcharn Singh, who briefly had the couple and Meghan's mother in his cab as they tried to outwit the photographers, told Reuters they looked scared but did not think there would be an accident.

That has provoked accusations from the couple's critics, especially on social media, that they had milked the incident for their own ends.

"The first statement was laced with the sort of hyperbole we have come to expect from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when alleging media intrusion into their lives," columnist Camilla Tominey wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Right-wing former politician and broadcaster Nigel Farage was withering on Twitter: "NYPD do not know about 'near catastrophic' crash. Harry and Meghan are frauds."

The royal family, as is customary, have stayed silent on the incident, but outside Buckingham Palace as across Britain, the public view was mixed.

"I can't believe a two-hour car chase in New York. So I would doubt the veracity of Prince Harry's statement," said retired lawyer Nick Williams.

Others were sympathetic. "I've always loved them, so I feel for them," said legal administrator Paris Smith.

Many spoke of the similarity with the death of Diana, who for years had dealt with paparazzi following her wherever she went and from whom her chauffeur-driven car was trying to escape when it crashed.

The couple's representatives say Harry and Meghan expect attention and to be photographed at public events, and so had made a very public entrance and exit on Tuesday.

But the chase came about as they did not want to compromise the security of the friend's home where they were staying, forcing them to seek police help and throw photographers off the scent by using a taxi.

"It's a game to a certain extent you're never going to win," former royal protection officer Simon Morgan told Sky News. "We know how catastrophic that cat-and-mouse game can actually be when we look back to 1997 and the death of the Duke's mother."

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Natalie Thomas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)