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Western Press Review: Turkey's Troubles, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan's Referendum

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 15 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the subjects addressed in Western press commentary today and over the weekend are political turmoil in Turkey, weighing the use of NATO forces in Iraq, Azerbaijan's upcoming constitutional referendum, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today discusses the ongoing political turmoil in Turkey following a rash of resignations last week from the party of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Numerous legislators and government ministers defected, demoting Ecevit's party from the largest parliamentary grouping to the third-largest. The "Journal" says it is "obvious" Ecevit's government "has neither the coherence nor the credibility to do its job."

The editorial says Ecevit's two months of recurrent illness and "a governing coalition fractious beyond repair" has jeopardized Turkey's fragile economic recovery and its hopes of beginning EU accession talks. "Government disarray and continued economic difficulties have left Turks more than ever disillusioned with mainstream parties and increased the attraction of Islamic groups. Everyone it seems, except Mr. Ecevit, thinks this government has outlived its usefulness."

There is "little chance of the government surviving," the paper concludes. But despite the government's many recent setbacks, if Ecevit can manage to pass some EU reforms and call for new elections, he may regain some respect and legitimacy. But "it is more likely that he will be forced to dissolve the government before that," the paper predicts.


"The Washington Times" today carries an item by Alan Isenberg of the "Orbis" world affairs journal from the journal's fall edition. Isenberg says the issue of military intervention in Iraq is "a severe bone of contention in the already caustic trans-Atlantic debate." Europeans question the U.S. administration's claim that Iraq poses an imminent threat to the rest of the world. For its part, America suspects that Europe "could be of little help in the military realm" anyway.

But Isenberg proposes that if an upcoming military intervention in Iraq was a NATO operation, this would "strengthen the alliance and curb American unilateralism." Europe would gain a "far more decisive military voice," and "place itself in the best position ever to argue for a better division of labor" within the alliance. NATO would also "demonstrate its ability to perform out-of-area operations, reasserting its legitimacy and quieting the voices that now question the body's relevance."

Isenberg warns if America goes into Iraq alone, the trans-Atlantic bond will deteriorate further. Discussions of NATO's new global role would "fade as the alliance becomes too irrelevant to merit debate. America will cease to care about Europe improving its capabilities, and will seek to further compensate militarily for the practical loss of its allies."


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" daily today says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "has few if any legitimate military targets left in Afghanistan and cannot afford any more debacles." While the exact nature of the threat posed by remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces "is impossible to quantify, it is clear that it no longer emanates [from] Afghanistan. Why then is the U.S. military still there?" the daily asks.

"The Guardian" says the continuing U.S. presence in Afghanistan is becoming counterproductive, as the new priorities in Afghanistan are not amenable to military solutions. Hamid Karzai's Transitional Administration must now "strengthen his democratic base," in part by curbing the influence of regional warlords that still maintain effective control over much of the country. Karzai must also maintain the fragile balance of power within his administration between different ethnic and tribal factions, and oversee a massive refugee repatriation.

"These are not tasks for which the U.S. military is particularly well-suited," the daily writes. Unless the U.S. is prepared to join the International Security Assistance Force and extend peacekeeping operations, it says U.S. troops "should cease fire, pack up, and leave."


In "Eurasia View," Baku-based journalist Clare Doyle discusses Azerbaijan's constitutional referendum, scheduled for 24 August, which will cover 39 proposed constitutional amendments. Some proposals seek to strengthen the protection of civil liberties, in order to bring the nation's laws into line with Council of Europe standards. But Doyle says most attention is focused on two proposals: One that would alter the electoral framework from the existing proportional-representation format to a "first-past-the-post" system. The other would alter the presidential succession process so power devolves from the president to the prime minister, instead of to the parliament speaker as it does now.

Azerbaijan's opposition parties, the Council of Europe, and other observers have criticized the moves as "a step away from democracy and towards greater concentration of power in the hands of the president." Doyle cites Etibar Mamedov, chairman of the Party of National Independence, as saying that removing the proportional representation system effectively bars opposition parties from parliamentary elections. Other observers expect President Heidar Aliyev to appoint his son, Ilham Aliev, to the post of prime minister after the referendum, effectively ensuring his son succeeds him in office.

Doyle goes on to say that in spite of the criticisms, several political observers do expect that the proposed amendments will be approved.


France's "Liberation" daily carries an analysis by Arnaud Vaulerin, writing from Prijedor in northwestern Bosnia. He says that some citizens of Prijedor consider many of those indicted by The Hague for war crimes to be Serbian war heroes. Former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former army commander Ratko Mladic are two notable examples, as graffiti in the city reading "Radovan Karadzic, Serbian hero" attests. Vaulerin says former commander Mladic's "improbable" biography, on sale now around the city, is also unambiguously entitled "Hero." Both ex-leaders have been indicted by The Hague for war crimes, including the massacre of hundreds of Muslims and Croats at camps in the Prijedor area.

Vaulerin cites camp survivors who allege that many former camp officials now hold prominent positions in Prijedor -- sitting on the boards of the town's schools, companies, and cultural institutions. Other survivors are already resigned to the fact the not all who took part in running such camps during the war will be prosecuted. Only the main leaders stand a chance of being brought to justice; the average wartime official will not be indicted by The Hague.


In "The New York Times," former columnist Anthony Lewis discusses the motivation behind this week's shutdown of the offices of Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University and the Palestinian Liberation Organization's representative in Jerusalem. "Why would Israel shut down the office of the leading Palestinian moderate?" he asks.

Lewis says Nusseibeh "has been a voice for peace for many years. [He] is the perfect example of the new kind of leadership, peaceful and pragmatic, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and [U.S.] President George W. Bush have said the Palestinians must have before there can be political negotiations on an end to the conflict. Why target him?" asks Lewis.

Lewis says the answer is that "important elements in the Israeli government do not want a real two-state solution and do not want political negotiations with a reformed Palestinian leadership. They prefer the present situation: the West Bank occupied or tightly controlled by Israel, with an increasing number of Jewish settlers. The last thing they want is a respected Palestinian interlocutor," he writes.


In "The Washington Times," columnist Nat Hentoff says the climate of violence that is prevailing in the Palestinian territories does not bode well for a future of coexistence following a two-state solution. He says images of Palestinian parents celebrating the "martyrdom" of their children and the idol worship among young Palestinians of suicide bombers prompt the question: "Can a new Palestinian state live in peace, or will it nurture hatred for generations?"

Hentoff writes, "Clearly, there are Palestinian parents who, like Israeli parents, ardently want all the killing to stop; but they are, as of now, in a minority." He says a final peace will have to provide for what he calls a "therapeutic education," that can "begin to purge the Palestinian youths of such hatred of Israelis, [so] that they will no longer feel exalted by deifying suicide bombers and other killers in this holy war."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Veronique Kiesel looks at some of the reactions to what she calls the "inglorious compromise" that took place at the United Nations last week in the debate over the International Criminal Court (ICC). After prolonged controversy, the United States dropped its insistence on immunity from the court for U.S. citizens, instead agreeing to a one-year deferment of any such prosecutions.

Kiesel says France, a strong supporter of the court, was satisfied with the agreement, as it ultimately protects the authority of the court. But for Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, the decision was a big blow to the credibility of international law. Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Paul Heinbecker suggested that the adoption of the resolution agreement marks a sad day for the UN, arguing that the mandate of the Security Council does not include reinterpreting treaties that were negotiated elsewhere. Kiesel also cites Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch as saying the resolution indicated that the ICC will not be immune from political manipulations. The true victim of this resolution, he added, is the legitimacy of the Security Council.