Prague, 12 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics at issue in the press today are two high-court rulings on the legality of Israel's security barrier; the killing of Paul Klebnikov, editor of "Forbes" magazine's Russian edition; the U.S. administration's intelligence failures in the run-up to the war in Iraq; and Serbia's new president, Boris Tadic, who many hope will lead Serbia toward economic reform and eventual EU membership.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
An editorial in the Paris-based English-language daily discusses the two recent rulings on the Israeli security barrier being constructed in the West Bank. The Israeli High Court ruled on 1 July that Israel had the right to build the barrier but that certain sections of it caused undue hardship for Palestinians and so must be rerouted. The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled on 9 July that all of the sections of the security barrier built on occupied territory were unlawful "because it infringed on the Palestinians' general freedom of movement, employment, education and health."
Palestinians will no doubt welcome The Hague's ruling as a political victory, but the paper says the real victory lies in the similarities between the two courts' rulings. The Israeli court held that Israel is conducting a "belligerent occupation" in the West Bank and stated that the security barrier must not have a political motivation. The international court relied on similar reasoning in its decision.
The Hague found, moreover, "that 875,000 Palestinians, almost 40 percent of the West Bank population, would be directly affected by the barrier. That is unacceptable," the paper says.
"Finding a balance between security and human rights is, of course, an immensely complicated and contentious process," the editorial continues. But it adds that it is "encouraging" that two different courts "have forcefully reminded Israel that it is an occupying power in the West Bank."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
The Brussels-based edition of "The Wall Street Journal" says the fatal 9 July drive-by shooting of Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of the U.S. "Forbes" business magazine, was "the most dramatic display yet of the lawlessness that has Russia in its grip." The authorities have said they are taking a personal interest in the case, which the paper says is a sign that the Russian state "is finally conscious of its bad image in the world." But the paper adds that, "under its present leadership, the state is itself an important part of the problem."
The paper calls the slain magazine editor "a brilliant journalist" who was also a frequent contributor to the newspaper's editorial pages. Klebnikov had often written of the rise of Russia's oligarchs and the "kleptocracy" that sprang up in the wake of the post-Soviet privatization selloff of state assets in the early 1990s. Moreover, the paper says, Klebnikov "was not afraid to make powerful enemies in the interest of honest journalism."
The Committee to Protect Journalists cites Russia as a particular concern because of the way it treats its journalists and reins in the independent press. Crackdowns on free media outlets led by the former KGB, now the Federal Security Service, have been consistently documented. And even President Vladimir Putin still exhibits some of the authoritarian tendencies he developed as a onetime KGB chief.
"Yet Mr. Putin is welcomed to international parleys, such as G-8 meetings, as if he were the leader of a normal country," the ppaper writes. "The murder of Paul Klebnikov demonstrates that Russia is not a normal country. Perhaps it's time for the leaders of free democracies to ask Mr. Putin whether the rule of law exists in Russia."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
In the last several days, columnist Bob Herbert says, even as U.S. soldiers were dying "in the cruel and bloody environs of Iraq," the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington "was unfurling its damning unanimous report about the incredibly incompetent intelligence that the Bush administration used to justify this awful war."
The bipartisan committee "declared that the key intelligence assessments trumpeted by President [George W.] Bush as the main reasons for invading Iraq were unfounded."
Herbert writes: "Nearly 900 G.I.'s and more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians have already perished, and there is no end to the war in sight. The situation is both sorrowful and disorienting. The colossal intelligence failures and the willful madness of the administration, which presented war as the first and only policy option, can leave you with the terrible feeling that you're standing at the graveside of common sense and reasonable behavior."
The columnist's indictment of the U.S. administration continues as he says a government "with even a nodding acquaintance with competence and good sense would have launched an all-out war against Al-Qaeda, not Iraq, in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001."
After all, he says, "it was Al-Qaeda, not Iraq, that carried out the sneak attack on American soil that destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon and killed 3,000 people." You might think that would have been enough to provoke an all-out response from the U.S. Instead we saved our best shot for the demented and already checkmated dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
Staff writer Nicholas Wood calls Boris Tadic, the new Serbian president sworn into office on 11 July, Serbia's "first pro-democracy president since" World War II. The pro-European Union Tadic's victory over his ultranationalist challenger is now "heralding hopes of [a] new era of political and economic reform in the country after years of international isolation."
The 46-year-old leader of the country's Democratic Party managed to inspire Serbia's "notoriously divided electorate," which had failed to elect a president in three previous elections due to low voter turnout. Serbia had been without a president for the past two years.
But Wood says, "While Tadic's victory appeared to have given supporters of reform new hope, the powers of the president are limited, and his ability to initiate reform depends largely on a parliament dominated by nationalists."
Complicating Serbia's position is mounting pressure from the international community, as both the United States and the European Union "have issued repeated warnings that Serbia will continue to be denied much-needed financial aid until the government hands over war crimes suspects" indicted by the international court in The Hague.
"The Times" of London takes a look at a new report from the U.S. Senate that is highly critical of U.S. intelligence-gathering methods and the analyses used to inform the decision to go to war in Iraq. A similar inquiry into the intelligence provided by Britain's secret intelligence service, MI6, is due to be released in the United Kingdom on 14 July.
But the paper says, "While Britain and America rake over the minutiae of last year's decisions, there has been a curious failure to look closely at what is now happening in Iraq." Since the handover of power to the interim Iraqi government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on 28 June, "there has been a transformation of perceptions within that country. Where two months ago there was pessimism, bordering on despair, there is now a belief that a corner has been turned," says "The Times."
Where there was once "rancor at the presence of foreign troops, there is now hope that Iraqis themselves will have the final say on their security. And where there was cynicism that any administration would be merely a U.S. puppet, there is already a growing respect for the government in Baghdad, which appears to have both the confidence and the means to restore order and purpose to Iraq."
As world leaders meet in Bangkok for the 15th International AIDS Conference, London's weekly "The Economist" magazine (10-16 July edition) takes a look at efforts to fight the disease in Russia and Ukraine.
With roughly a million Russians infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the magazine says it should be good news that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector, and affected communities -- had granted Russia $120 million for the next five years to help fight the disease.
But Russia's biggest problem in its struggle against AIDS is not a lack of money, but ongoing conflicts between bureaucracies and clinics, "no agreed policies for testing and treatment, and no clear picture of how AIDS is evolving." There have also been few efforts to cut the cost of treatment, which tops the prices paid for similar medications in the United States. "Unless these things are sorted out," the magazine says, "the Global Fund's money could go down a black hole."
The only thing that can force prices down is competition from generic alternatives, says the paper. But many doctors in Russia remain skeptical of no-name drugs. And the controversy continues over whom to treat. Russia's official statistics over who and how many people are infected remain "clouded by bureaucratic rivalries."
"With its population already declining fast, Russia cannot ignore AIDS. A World Bank study two years ago predicted that, by 2020, the effect of AIDS on the budget and the workforce could [cut] a full percentage point off annual GDP growth. Yet President Vladimir Putin has given AIDS only the briefest mention in public." At this point, the "lethal epidemic" of AIDS hardly seems a top priority.
"The Economist" says Russians "tend to sneer at Ukrainians as poor, backward cousins; but unlike Russia, where AIDS risks being overlooked, Ukraine is taking the threat seriously."
The All-Ukraine Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS "is abuzz with energy," the magazine says. "[No] similar group in Russia has offices in half the country's regions. And because Russia's bigger cities have the money to buy antiretroviral drugs for everyone who needs them, there has been less of a direct motive for civil activism."
Part of the success of grassroots initiatives is due to help from the top. Celebrities and public figures, such as President Leonid Kuchma's daughter, Olena Franchuk, have posed with HIV-positive people in campaign posters. And "[before] Russia could even get its act together to apply, Ukraine had won a grant from the Global Fund."
But there have been problems, says "The Economist." Private donors have at times flown in with medicines because the Health Ministry could not provide the drugs in time. Only 137 people are in treatment, compared to the 2,000 thought to be infected. However, the magazine says the number of those being treated is several times higher than the original target, "thanks partly to lobbying by activists." And their Russian counterparts "can only dream of having that much influence over their government."