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Western Press Review: Varied Issues Generate Comment

  • Don Hill

Prague, 16 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary ranges over a number of issues, forming no pattern.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Latvia seeks way out of Russia crisis

The New York Times' Steven Erlanger and Frankfurter Rundschau's Hannes Gamillscheg write today about signals that Latvia is seeking to defuse its current confrontation with Russia.

Erlanger writes in an analysis: "The United States has been working quietly with other nations to defuse a growing confrontation between Russia and Latvia that threatens to damage Washington's already fraying relationship with Moscow." The writer says: "So far, Washington has tried quiet diplomacy, with Clinton writing the Latvian president, Guntis Ulmanis, on April 10, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright writing a sharply worded letter to Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov that was delivered in Moscow (yesterday)."

Erlanger says: "Moscow says Latvia is discriminating against non-citizens, while Latvian officials say that Russian speakers have been slow to apply for naturalization, and that more than 95 percent of those who do apply have been able to pass basic Latvian language and history tests required for citizenship."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Latvia prepared to back down

Hannes Gamillscheg, in a commentary, perceives a Latvian "backdown." He says: "Latvia is now prepared to back down in its dispute over citizenship for the Baltic state's large ethnic Russian minority community. A parliamentary majority is prepared to bend the strict rules for Latvian nationality and permit the integration of at least some of the country's roughly 680,000 mainly Russian non-citizens. The way in which the minority, which makes up over a quarter of the population, is treated has long been criticised by Russia and has latterly imposed a growing burden on relations with Western Europe."

He writes: "Children of non-citizens who were born after 1991, the year in which Latvia regained independence, are now to qualify automatically for Latvian citizenship as soon as they can demonstrate a knowledge of the Latvian language."

LONDON TIMES: Execution shows independence of U.S. state courts

Washington correspondent Bronwen Maddox writes in a news analysis today in The Times of London about the execution of a Paraguayan man convicted of murder in the U.S. state of Virginia. There had been international protest because the defendant had not been afforded contact with the Paraguayan consul as provided by a 130-nation treaty to which the United States is signatory.

Maddox says: "The state of Virginia has executed a Paraguayan man despite furious international protests and appeals from his government, the International Court of Justice in The Hague and Madeleine Albright, the (U.S.) secretary of state." The analyis says: "The case throws a spotlight on the contradictions of America's legal system, which gives state governors and courts enormous independence from Washington and federal courts. Although the government complies with the Vienna Convention, most arrests are by state, county and city police, who do not."

Maddox writes: "The case has also drawn more attention to appeals by the Honduran government for clemency for a Honduran sentenced to die in Arizona next Wednesday for murdering his wife."

The Financial Times, London, and Die Welt, Hamburg, publish today assessments of the lineup of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's political friends and foes since he dismissed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in March.

DIE WELT: Russian politicians find common ground against Yeltsin

Die Welt's Manfred Quiring comments: "The gentlemen don't particularly like each other. Their political views are incompatible. Nevertheless, communist Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, reform economist Grigory Yavlinsky and Alexander Shokhin, of the erstwhile presidential party Our Home Is Russia, have one thing in common: they lead the four strongest parties in the Duma and all blame President Boris Yeltsin for the crisis in Russia. They reject his politics, they mistrust him fundamentally, and they disapprove of his personnel decisions."

Quiring quotes Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying that for the first time in the seven-year existence of the Duma, the Russian lower house, the absolute majority of parliament is united in its judgement of the situation. Die Welt's commentator says: "By sacking Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin succeeded in welding completely opposing forces into a united front with a total of 301 parliamentary seats, the paper commented. The concrete expression of this new unanimity is that the determination to reject Yeltsin's candidate for the post of prime minister has so far remained unbroken."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin splits with Berezovsky

In an analysis, Financial Times staff writers contend that another united front has developed. They write: "Yesterday, for once, there was unanimity. All the (Moscow) papers suggested that President Yeltsin has split with Boris Berezovsky, the influential businessman and self-styled presidential advisor who claimed a hand in last months (Chernomyrdin) dismisal."

The writers say: "Mr. Berezovsky appears to have been conducting a rather unsubtle campaign to frustrate (Sergei) Kiriyenko's candiidacy (for prime minister) and have Ivan Rybkin, a deputy prime minister and former parliamentary speaker, installed in his place."

SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL: International arena is new front line of tobacco war

In the United States, the South Florida Sun-Sentinal publishes today an analysis by reporters Scott Gold and Jill Young condemning U.S. tobacco companies' export marketing practices, many of which are outlawed or inhibited in the United States. The article was nationally distributed by the Knight Ridder syndicate.

Gold and Young write: "In Poland, one advertisement promises nothing less than "the taste of freedom." Better yet, that taste is for sale at the corner store, captured in an L&M cigarette, a product that is 'prawdziwie amerykanski' - 'truly American.' In Hong Kong, smokers use empty packs of cigarettes as free passes into discos. In Spain, a Madonna concert is rebroadcast as a 'Salem Madonna' concert. In Romania, the Camel logo is silhouetted inside traffic lights, materializing each time the lights turn green. These are the new front lines in the tobacco war."

The writers say: "As health advocates insist the industry is exporting not only cigarettes but also disease, and tobacco executives defend their right to free trade, congressional leaders have launched an initiative to hinder the global expansion. Each year, according to the World Health Organization, 3.5 million deaths worldwide are blamed on smoking. Fewer than half, about 1.5 million, occur in developing countries."

They write: "Tobacco products will be blamed for 10 million deaths a year by 2030, according to Neil Collishaw, acting chief of the WHO's Tobacco Health Unit in Geneva. About 7 million of them will occur in developing countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and Asia.