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Western Press Review: World Economy, China, Chechnya, War Crimes

  • Don Hill

Prague, 24 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators offer a variety of comment today on economic issues.


Guy de Jonquieres in Britain's Financial Times finds both economic interest and potential conflict in contemplating this week's annual gathering of the eminent and wealthy at Davos, Switzerland. He writes: "The 2,000 members of the international power elite converging on Davos for the start of the World Economic Forum tomorrow may be wondering whether they or rowdy opponents of global capitalism will be the stars of the show." The commentator adds: "As they discuss issues as diverse as the digital divide, executive stress and the ethics of science, they may face competition for media attention from protesters outside."

The commentary continues: "Unprecedented security measures are planned to repel threats by dissident groups, branded hooligans by the forum organizers, to infiltrate the Swiss Alpine village and disrupt proceedings." De Jonquieres writes: "Restoring world growth is among the headline discussion themes, along with bridging the rich-poor divide, the future of IT and biotechnology and the 21st-century corporation." He goes on: "The organizers hope for action-oriented outcomes to some sessions. However, as in previous years, the really big decisions are likely to be taken in private in hotel rooms, well away from the gaze of protesters and the media."


The Los Angeles Times' Robert Scheer says that former U.S. President Bill Clinton will be remembered in history for his economic successes. Scheer writes: "The center held, the economy flourished and those bent on a cultural civil war were kept at bay. If George W. Bush does half as well, the Republicans will hail him as a savior. The two previous Republican administrations created more red ink than all previous administrations combined, but the GOP (the Grand Old Party, the Republicans) still will not credit Clinton with putting the federal budget dramatically in the black."


Also writing in the Financial Times, analyst David Hale is less sure of Clinton's legacy, even in the first days of his successor. The commentator writes: "There is now so much downward momentum in the U.S. economy that it will be difficult to avoid a recession this year. The interesting political issue is whether the pundits and the public will regard the downturn as a Clinton recession or a Bush recession. If President George W. Bush fails to come up with a policy to end the recession, the Republicans will risk losing control of Congress in the mid-term elections of 2002."

Hales says, "At this point, one thing is clear. With so many policy options available for reviving the economy, the Y2K (that is, the year 2001) recession should not last longer than six to nine months. If the downturn extends beyond 2001 because of partisan conflicts, [it] should be reclassified as the Washington recession because only political squabbles over tax cuts and public spending can prevent a recovery."


A writer in the Wall Street Journal Europe, whose editorial page consistently has favored a tax cut of the kind proposed by President Bush, holds Irish Finance Minister Charles McCreevy up to the world as a model. Therese Raphael writes: "Until last week's inflation data came out, [McCreevy] was Europe's most berated public official. Other EU governments reproached Mr. McCreevy for budgets that repeatedly cut taxes, and policies that aggressively invited inward investment. Ireland was being reckless and inviting the inflation monster, they charged."

Raphael concludes: "The remarkable economic performance of a small European island will continue to be explained in terms that suit the political interests of those either lacking the wisdom or the courage to follow in its footsteps. Mr. McCreevy may not get the applause he deserves in London or Brussels -- but for sure the Irish are grateful."


In the current issue (dated 18 January) of the U.S. magazine Business Week, Christopher Condon writes: "Even [Slobodan] Milosevic's ouster may not be enough to save [Yugoslavia] from further instability and violence, as Kosovars and Montenegrins shake a fragile federation." The commentator adds: "On top of economic chaos, Yugoslavia may be about to dissolve once and for all. Just as the West is struggling to keep Kosovo within [Serbia], [Yugoslavia] may fall apart at another seam -- Montenegro."

Condon also says that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is seeking to work closely with the West.


But Germany's Peter Muench, writing in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, points to one overriding and sensitive area where Kostunica may be seeking to avoid any cooperation at all.

Muench says: "When the chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunal arrived in Belgrade [yesterday] for her long-awaited and hard-won first meeting with the new Yugoslav leadership, she was carrying some pretty explosive papers with her, among which were previously unpublished indictments against suspected Serb war criminals. Of course," Muench goes on, "she also presented her hosts with a freshly re-issued arrest warrant for Slobodan Milosevic, the most wanted man this side of Belgrade."

Muench writes further: "[Kostunica] has not missed an opportunity up to now to voice his distaste for [the UN's Hague war-crimes] tribunal and has categorically refused any extraditions to what he considers a biased court. Still, he did agree to meet Del Ponte in the end, after initially rejecting the idea on the grounds that she held no diplomatic status. But Kostunica should not hold his breath for a thank you. Del Ponte is anything but diplomatic."


In a New York Times news analysis today, staff writer Carlotta Gall says that the meeting between Del Ponte and Kostunica seems not to have eased tensions between the two. Gall writes: "[They] met for more than an hour, but the two appear to have disagreed on many issues. Mrs. Del Ponte left in some haste without handing over a sealed indictment for someone living in Yugoslavia whom she [had] hoped the government would help to arrest. And she left without the joint statement to the press that she had anticipated."


In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Florian Hassel writes from Moscow: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has transferred the command of operations in Chechnya from his defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, to the domestic Federal Security Services, FSB. At the same time, Putin also announced that the number of Russian army troops in Chechnya [will] be reduced. But," Hassel notes, "the president said these moves by no means signaled an end to the war."

The commentary goes on:" "Opponents of the 15-month-old war in the would-be breakaway republic, who were hoping that Putin would announce a change in the war's conduct, were disappointed." Hassel writes further that "Putin's friend and director of the Federal Security Services [Nikolai] Patrushev is meant to finish what the army either could not or has not wanted to accomplish since the beginning of the war in October 1999: To arrest or murder [Chechen separatist leader Aslan] Maskhadov and smash the rebels' military strike power."