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Western Press Review: Commentary Ranges Far And Wide

Prague, 3 May 2000 (RFE/RL) --With no single issue dominating international news today, Western press commentators chose several topics for their opinion pieces and analyses. Here's our sampling of what they say.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Freedom is freedom, and that is that

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende welcomes the first annual celebration World Press Freedom Day with an editorial that seeks to define a truly free press. The paper first writes: "There is no doubt that freedom of the press means next to nothing in many countries, especially those that lack democratic structures and traditions. In China the concept is unknown, in Iran the government has just shut down a large group of newspapers, in Russia and in Africa freedom of the press has meanings the West finds contemptible."

The paper then says: "No-one can be serious about freedom of the press and at the same time try to set rules for the press to follow. Freedom is freedom, and that is that." In a democratic country, the paper concludes, "the press serves society. It does so by revealing the truth about the world in which we live and by keeping the door open for free debate on all issues. [Nothing] should be taboo."

DIE PRESSE: The fight for press freedom and free media is far from over

In the Austrian daily Die Presse, Beate Winkler -- head of the Vienna-based European Observatory on Racism and Xenophobia -- writes of press freedom: "Without free and critical media, the horrors of war and the shamefulness of tyranny and dictatorship would never be revealed. In many places," she continues, "reporting is censored and each day journalists risk their lives in the fight for truth and free expression of opinion."

She concludes: "Today, as the international press celebrates the first World Press Freedom Day, we all must realize that the fight for press freedom and free media is far from over."

TIMES: The holding of the trial is immensely important.

The Times of Britain directs its attention to The Netherlands, where the trial of two Libyans accused of blowing up an U.S. airliner over Scotland more than ten years ago begins today. "Little is routine about this murder trial," the paper says in an editorial, noting that it may last more than a year, will cost about two million dollars a month and that prosecutors may have difficulty proving their case.

Despite all that, The Times says, "the holding of the trial is immensely important. It allows Britain and America to reveal, for the first time, all the intelligence they have on the outrage and the plot leading up to it. Until now, none of this could be communicated to the relatives for fear of prejudicing any future trial."

What's more, the editorial says, "[The trial] gives the [victims'] relatives themselves a cathartic opportunity to confront the evil of what happened with all the commitment and resources that justice can bring to the case, unhampered by diplomatic wrangling. And it demonstrates to all would-be terrorists that Western societies will spare no effort or expense to hunt down men suspected of mindless mass murder." Equally important, the paper concludes, the trial "shows the world that, having caught such men, the West is prepared to give them a fair trial, in open court and humane conditions, as befits our open societies."

NEW YORK TIMES: The weakness of the euro is not a verdict on the EU's economy

Comments in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Europe today take opposing views on the recent drop in the value of the European Union's common currency, the euro. In the New York Times, writer Paul Krugman begins his commentary with this declaration: "So this is the way the euro begins -- not with a bang but with a whimper." But he argues that the weakness of the euro in unjustified, since the Western Europe's economy is growing.

Krugman says: "If you look at what is actually happening in Europe, you discover that in the last couple of years quite a lot of job creation has in fact taken place. The result is that while unemployment is much of Europe is still extremely high by U.S. standards, and especially so among the young, it is finally starting to come down." He concludes: "The weakness of the euro, then, is not a verdict on the [EU's] economy. It's just one of those things that markets do now and then; and it, too, shall pass."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The decline in the value of the euro is more than simply a matter of economics

But an editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe disagrees with those who argue that the declining euro won't necessarily harm the 11 EU countries that have adopted the currency. "Ultimately," the paper says, "the decline in the value of the euro is more than simply a matter of economics, important as that is. For the euro can be one of Europe's greatest accomplishments in a century, an instrument of its prosperity and a guarantee of its peace."

The paper sums up with this warning: "The euro's decline and potential failure [a possibility we can no longer wholly rule out] would not only deprive Europeans of huge efficiencies, it could also fracture the Continent along old lines, spell an end to EU enlargement, and give rhetorical fodder to economic nationalists and their bigoted fellow travelers. Any European leader who blinks this scenario away must be held to stringent account if, on account of his indifference, it comes to pass."

NEW YORK TIMES: The challenge for the U.S. and its allies is to devise a combination of diplomatic and economic pressure to induce a fight against terrorism

The New York Times offers some advice on how the United States should deal with countries in south Asia, in the light of a recent U.S. State Department report that identifies the area as a new center of international terrorist activity. The paper writes: "The challenge for the U.S. and its allies is to devise a combination of diplomatic and economic pressure that will induce the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to join the fight against terrorism." But, it goes on, "Washington cannot rely on methods that have helped to reduce terrorist threats elsewhere. In South Asia, unlike the Middle East, peacemaking does not offer the prospect of ameliorating underlying inequities that fuel terrorism."

Instead, the editorial says: "The terrorist problem in south Asia involves privately sponsored groups motivated less by political grievances than by religion and ideology, which are not amenable to negotiation. The most notorious of these organizations is lead by Osama bin Laden [a suspected terrorist leader who is sheltered by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban]" The paper concludes that, since Pakistan is a key source of support for the militantly Islamic Taliban, the U.S. may have to go beyond imposing sanctions on Pakistan and resort to what it calls "stronger measures."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: By doing nothing Mbekiby the may weaken his ability to enforce the rule of law in his own country

Two comments in the Wall Street Journal Europe scold African leaders for failing to intervene in the current crisis over land reform in Zimbabwe. Jonathan Stevenson, an analyst with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, directs his criticism at South African President Thabo Mbeki for his failure to mediate the crisis effectively: "Mr. Mbeki," he writes in a commentary, "has been noticeably shy about chiding [Zimbabwe's] President Robert Mugabe for his actions. Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Mbeki went so far as to call Mr. Mugabe 'a champion of the rule of law.'"

By doing nothing, the commentator says, Mbeki may weaken his ability to enforce the rule of law in his own country. But by taking a stand, he could help ensure long-term economic stability in southern Africa: "South Africa," Stevenson writes, "is the only regional power with the moral and economic weight to play this role. It can still seize the moment," he adds, "by recognizing Zimbabwe's crisis as a strategic catalyst [for the area] and taking an unequivocally principled stance in support of systematic justice and against the desperate measures of an aging despot. The whole region would stand to benefit."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Zimbabwe's lawless land grabs threaten to metastasize

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe calls on a-l-l African leaders to push Mugabe to end Zimbabwe's violence over land reform and hold fair elections next month. If they don't, the paper says, all of southern Africa will suffer as foreign investment flees. The paper warns that "Zimbabwe's lawless land grabs threaten to metastasize." It says: "African leaders who do not foment mob violence against whites may think that they have nothing to fear from the threat of the Zimbabwe option. But global fund managers might not agree. If African leaders do not speak up soon for peace, property, and human rights, they may pay a steep price for their silence."

CHHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Only tough intervention by Washington, London and Pretoria can prevent Zimbabwe from collapsing

An analysis in the U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor by analyst Robert Rotberg urges not only South Africa but the U.S. and Britain to intervene in Zimbabwe. He writes: "Africa has its many natural disasters, but Zimbabwe's collapse is entirely man-made. The acute danger now is that Mugabe will persist in violently trying to forestall defeat." Rotberg concludes with these dire words: "Zimbabwe has descended into the abyss of decay. Only tough intervention by Washington, London and Pretoria can prevent Zimbabwe from collapsing."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)