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Western Press Review: Pinochet, AOL Merger, Ocalan And More

  • Brent McCann

Prague, 13 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today considers an assortment of topics for commentary, including the fate of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, what to expect from the AOL-Time Warner merger, Turkey's increasingly delicate situation regarding Abdullah Ocalan, and freedom of information within the EU.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Pinochet's case has promoted the idea of an international legal order

Britain's Financial Times in an editorial agrees with British Home Secretary Jack Straw's intention to halt the extradition of Augusto Pinochet to stand trial in Spain for human rights violations. Straw said this week that a panel of doctors had pronounced the former Chilean leader too ill to stand trial. As the editorial puts it: "Mr. Straw is right to let Mr. Pinochet go, just as he was right, before the latest medical assessment, to allow the extradition proceeding to go ahead." Pinochet, the editorial says, should be at least mentally fit before he answers to such grave charges.

Even if Pinochet never stands trial, the paper says, his case has already set a precedent. In the editorial's words: "It has promoted the idea of an international legal order to which dictators, including former heads of state, are answerable. At the very least, it has underscored that such men can no longer travel the world with impunity."

The paper describes the legal proceeding with Pinochet as, in its words, "drawn-out" and "clumsy." But, the editorial says, "[it] was a reminder that the abstraction of a universal morality -- even though it has growing legal force -- still needs the useful reinforcement of concrete statute law." The editorial concludes with this: "There are some crimes so heinous that all mankind has an interest in their repression."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The concept of 'universal jurisdiction'... is a recipe for legal chaos and political havoc

The Wall Street Journal Europe has an editorial, titled "Pinochet's Vindication," that also agrees with the probable halt to the extradition. But this editorial takes a different view of the allegations of human rights abuses during Pinochet's 17-year rule and the idea of Pinochet's extradition.

The paper puts it this way: "[Chile], as anyone who hasn't been living in a cave these last 20 years should know by now, is the success story of South America, thanks largely to the Chicago-school, free-market economic policies General Pinochet initiated during his tenure."

The paper continues: "None of this is to suggest that the general is necessarily innocent of many of the crimes for which he stands accused. Ugly things happened in the civil war that was forced upon him by Cuban- and Soviet-supported Marxist agents."

The paper says the most important lesson of the Pinochet extradition case is, in its words, "that the concept of 'universal jurisdiction'... is a recipe for legal chaos and political havoc."

WASHINGTON POST: Margaret Thatcher has much to account for

In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen is facetious in his commentary titled "Forget Pinochet, Extradite Thatcher." Cohen criticizes former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's support of Pinochet and her assertion that human rights abuses took place on both sides of Chile's political divide and that it was up to Chile to come to terms with its past.

Cohen says that Thatcher is defending Pinochet because he was an ally to Britain during, in Cohen's words, "its silly little war with Argentina over the Falklands." Allies meant something during the Cold War, Cohen says, but in his words, "the Cold War is over and much of the world is trying to establish a new principle of law: Thou Shalt Not Torture and Murder Innocent People." Cohen continues, "It's not all that hard to grasp. It is being applied to Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, who is charged with crimes against humanity."

In Cohen's words, "The old brute [Pinochet] must be silently laughing. He didn't let prisoners go for medical reasons. On the contrary, he inflicted those reasons." Cohen says Pinochet fought with Britain in the Falklands because Argentina was his enemy and that he had no interest in democracy during his reign.

Cohen concludes by saying let Pinochet go, but, in his words, "bring out the victims of torture, collect the gruesome photos, let the 3,000 dead howl from their graves and put Margaret Thatcher in the dock. She has much to account for."

WASHINGTON POST: This is an apples-and-oranges merger

The Washington Post also addresses the recent AOL-Time Warner merger. In the words of a Washington Post editorial, "So far AOL's shareholders don't seem thrilled about swallowing Time Warner: Since Monday, when the two companies proposed what would be the world's biggest ever merger, AOL's shares have tumbled." The editorial continues, "But the questions for consumers, if the deal is consummated, go beyond the stock price." The editorial poses these questions: "Might the merger dull diversity of the media? Might it drive up the price of Internet access?" And the paper answers with one word: "Relax."

The editorial goes on to say, "This is an apples-and-oranges merger: AOL and Time Warner occupy different bits of the media-internet world, and joining the two companies together does not create new concentrations of power in any particular market."

"For the foreseeable future," the Washington Post continues, "there is likely to be enough competition in the dial-up market to ensure that Time Warner's rivals get fair exposure on the Internet and that AOL is not tempted to raise dial-up subscription prices too high."

The paper concludes by saying, "Down the road, there may be reasons to fear the muscle of AOL Time Warner, assuming that the deal does go ahead. But our sense is that in the near future the new company does not endanger consumer choice or competition."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Progress in technology and media should be welcomed

The Christian Science Monitor has an editorial relaying a similar view on the merger. The editorial says that although the merger could amount to $350 billion, people shouldn't be overly impressed by what it means or worry about the future of the Internet.

The editorial puts it this way: "This mega-merger only shows the desperation of big Internet and media companies. They each need to build a Noah's ark against the possibility of being flooded by the next technological wave. And they're chasing after increasingly smart consumers with an expanding wealth of options in very fluid telecommunications markets."

In the editorial's words: "This quickening pace of progress in technology and media should be welcomed."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The economic consequences promise to be the most dangerous

In German commentary, Wolfgang Koydl writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung about the difficult negotiations within Turkey's government over the decision to postpone the execution of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and the senior governing alliance decided last night to suspend plans to execute Ocalan after seven hours of talks.

In Koydl's words, "The argument over Ocalan's fate has soured relationships within the coalition since the beginning of the year." Koydl says Turkey's recent acceptance as a candidate for EU membership weighs heavily when dealing with Ocalan. As Koydl puts it: "Leading European politicians have already stated that the recently improved relations between Turkey and the EU would deteriorate drastically were Ocalan to be executed. The status of candidate for EU membership could be jeopardized in such a case."

Koydl also says an execution of Ocalan could mean repercussions within Turkey as the Kurdistan Workers Party that Ocalan led could induce an unprecedented wave of terror and this in turn could have an effect on Turkey's economics.

Koydl concludes by saying, in his words, "The economic consequences promise to be the most dangerous. Turkish analysts have warned that foreign investors could rate involvement with Turkey as too risky in the face of new political instability, and the reform package which the government recently agreed with the International Monetary Fund depends to a huge extent on foreign investment."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Public discussion of official reports and draft legislation is still missing on an EU level

In more Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentary, Christina Rathmann looks at freedom of information from the European Union's headquarters. She says that a draft decree that, in her words, "will provide future EU citizens with access to the information or documents they desire within just one month," may be a superficial measure. She says the European Commission intends to approve the draft at the end of January and then pass it on to the European Parliament. Rathmann says people currently wait a lot longer than one month before they receive desired information from the EU's headquarters in Brussels. The draft decree's purpose is declared to be to shorten that time period. But Rathmann says the decree is worded in such a way that documents will not be made publicly available until they have been formalized, and documents for internal would be exempt.

The commentator says people who currently try to get access to EU documents through official channels describe the process as "a detective game."

Rathmann says although getting access to public information has improved in the past few years, in her words, "public discussion of official reports and draft legislation -- as is possible in Germany -- is still missing on an EU level."