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Western Press Review: Focus On Southern Europe

  • Don Hill

Prague, 6 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary focuses on Southern Europe, where conflicting reports describe tension between the military and Islamist-leaning government in Turkey and where a near-civil war embroils Albania.

WASHINGTON POST: Has Turkey's Erbakan agreed to curb government-sponsored Islamic fundamentalism?

From Ankara, correspondent Kelly Couturier reports today that a top general claims that Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan has signed on to a military-backed plan to curb government-sponsored Islamic fundamentalism. In a news analysis, she writes: "Erbakan's pro-Islamic Welfare Party, which heads the eight-month-old coalition government, in recent weeks has stirred concern within the armed forces, which have staged three coups in the last 40 years." She says: "Included in the military plan, which was leaked to the press and confirmed by (a) government official, are calls for a stricter application of existing laws -- including the secular dress code that outlaws Islamic dress in government buildings -- designed to protect the secular principles enshrined in the constitution."

Kelly's report of Erbakan's bow to the military hasn't been carried widely by other media and she herself notes that the prime minister didn't show any signs in a news conference yesterday that he would give in. She reports: "At (the) news conference, he challenged the authority of the Security Council." But she also says: "Erbakan's defiant stance stirred little support from other political parties, however. Several opposition leaders and even a lawmaker from Erbakan's party publicly called on him to sign the plan or resign."

DIE WELT: Six European leaders intend to block Turkey's entry into the EU

In today's issue of the German newspaper, Evangelos Antonaros notes with approval that six conservative European government leaders have declared their intention to block Turkey's entry into the European Union. He comments: "In terms of Turkey's domestic politics, (the decision) comes at an unfavorable moment: a decisive political debate on Turkey's future political orientation is under way in this strategically important country, which constitutes NATO's southeastern flank. But while the rejection is bound to boost the message of the Islamists, the secular forces -- both political and military -- have (mistakenly) assumed that their tattered secular faith was sufficient to guarantee their country would move to the front of the line and win early acceptance as a full EU member."

The commentator says: "It is not (Western European governments), but the Turks themselves and especially the Turkish establishment which must take responsibility for the dead-end in which their country is now stuck. For them, to close their eyes to their responsibility and attempt to paint the Europeans as the guilty party will do nothing to solve Turkey's problems."

WASHINGTON POST: Washington should drop any ideas about taming Islam and fight for secular democracy

Commentator Lally Weymouth wrote Tuesday that elements of the U.S. government are misreading Turkey's Islamist movement. Weymouth said: "Last week, Washington rolled out the red carpet for Abdullah Gul, one of the leaders of Turkey's radical Islamic Welfare (Refah) party. In spite of his party's well known anti-West and anti-Israel pronouncements, Gul tried to convince Clinton administration officials and think tank experts that it's possible for Washington to do business with the Welfare-led coalition government. Unfortunately, there are some in Washington naive enough to hold this view."

She concluded: "Since the Welfare party is composed of radicals who are staunchly anti-West and anti-Israel, Washington should immediately drop any ideas about taming Islam in Turkey. Indeed, it would do well to send a clear message that the United States stands firmly with those who fight for Turkey's secular democracy -- even if they happen to be generals."


WASHINGTON POST: A dividing line is emerging in the former communist world

In an editorial today the paper ironically labels Albanian President Sali Berisha, "Our man in Tirana." The Post says: "Last year, when Albanian leader Sali Berisha won a tainted parliamentary election and then cracked down on peaceful opposition, neither the United States nor the European Union complained much. President Berisha, first elected in 1992, was an anti-communist, after all, who had promised reform and support for U.S. efforts in the former Yugoslavia nearby. The West opted for stability over democracy. This week, with Albania spinning closer and closer to civil war, it's becoming clear once again that stability without democracy often isn't worth much.'

The editorial says: "The unrest in Albania underlines an emerging dividing line in the formerly communist world. Even as northern countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic embrace democracy and become more prosperous, southern states such as Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia fall behind." The Post says: "Bulgaria and Romania now are working hard to right themselves, having finally elected pro-reform governments, and they deserve Western support. Mr. Berisha is going the other way, imposing censorship and limiting democracy. The West is now pressing him to open a dialogue with the opposition. That should be a first step toward coalition government and a legitimate election."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: President Berisha presumably rigged elections last May

In the U.S. newspaper, Lara Santoro writes today in a news analysis from Tirana: "Albanians' resolve to continue an all-out confrontation with the government and its army seemed to waver as tanks rolling into the southern city of Gjirokaster met with little or no resistance from the previously insurgent local population yesterday. President Sali Berisha appears staunchly set against any attempt at forming a broader-based government, which would include parties from the opposition."

She writes: "While the latest violence was set off by the loss of life savings, many say Berisha went too far last May when he presumably rigged elections. Polls had him at 35 percent, but when votes were counted, he came in first with 90 percent of the reported ballots."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Berisha refused the helping hand of Western mediators

Correspondent Tracy Wilkinson writes in a news analysis today from Tirana: "Albanian President Sali Berisha, parts of his country in open revolt, deepened his own diplomatic isolation (yesterday) by refusing the helping hand of Western mediators. (His) Foreign Minister Tritan Sehu said the timing was wrong for an international peace mission, even as a military assault appeared imminent against Albanians in revolt in three southern cities." She says: "A protest that began as outrage over collapsed pyramid investment schemes has escalated into chaotic lawlessness in some areas, and, in others, political demands for a new government."

The writer quotes a spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as saying the OSCE was preparing to dispatch a fact-finding mission headed by Austria's former chancellor, Franz Vranitzky, when rebuffed yesterday. Wilkinson writes: "The OSCE would have pursued issues of human rights, use of force and the need for talks between the disputing parties. Although the West generally has turned a blind eye to Berisha's abuses, the OSCE last year condemned fraudulent elections that gave Berisha another mandate. The organization probably isn't viewed with great favor by the besieged president."