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Western Press Review: Multiple Blasts In Istanbul Overshadow Massive Antiwar Protest In London

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 21 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The principal focus of analysis and commentary in the press today is on terrorism and related issues, as multiple bomb blasts in Istanbul yesterday left at least 27 dead and several hundred injured. The attacks -- which, according to Turkish officials, were carried out by individuals affiliated with Al-Qaeda -- have prompted much speculation as to whether the targeting of a secular Muslim country indicates a major shift in strategy for the terrorist organization. The blasts to some extent overshadowed yesterday's other big news story, the organized protest by an estimated 70,000 demonstrators in London against the decision by the U.S. and British governments to go to war in Iraq.

FINANCIAL TIMES:

Writing in the "Financial Times," columnist Philip Stephens says as reports arrived in London of the multiple bomb blasts in Turkey yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held forth with the "now familiar ringing declarations that, whatever it takes, global terrorism will indeed be defeated."

Their critics, in contrast, charged with equal vehemence that the victims in Istanbul "were paying the bloody price" for the British-American military adventure in Iraq. And this is the problem, says Stephens: "Everything has to be black or white, good or evil. The protesters and the politicians alike are so damn certain that they have the answer." But for the rest of us, the world seems increasingly dangerous and uncertain.

A "perverse" consequence of the Istanbul attacks was that it made things easier for Bush and Blair. "Instead of facing penetrating questions about last week's [dramatic] policy U-turn in Iraq [about turning power over to a Iraqi government sooner rather than later], the two leaders took to the podium to denounce the terrorists."

Stephens says a compromise must be reached between the American and European methods of dealing with crisis. "Bush's government is too eager to believe that America's enemies can be defeated by a combination of coercion and high-technology weaponry." But many European leaders "think it enough to apply a little gentle political or economic pressure" on rancorous nation-states.

He suggests a compromise plan that would combine what he calls "America's determination to strike back at the nihilistic forces whose only purpose is death and destruction" with Europe's preference for constructive engagement with states like Iran and its commitment "to a just settlement in the Middle East."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Craig Smith of "The New York Times" says yesterday's multiple explosions in Istanbul, coupled with bomb blasts last week (15 Nov) at two of the city's synagogues, seem to indicate that Turkey has become "a new battleground in the struggle over terror." Smith says the choice of targets in a secular but majority-Muslim nation "appeared aimed at disrupting the pro-Western secular axis many people in the Middle East believe the United States and Britain are trying to drive through the region with [the] Iraq war. Such an axis would create a swath of territory friendly to the West from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf."

Turkey has cultivated "a European-style secular political culture," says Smith. It is a longtime NATO member and is seeking to join the EU. "all of this has made the country suspect among Muslim countries," Smith says. At the same time, decades of economic hardship in these nations "have haunted a generation of frustrated, underemployed youth and turned many toward conservative Islam." And Smith says the war in Iraq "may have tipped the balance toward actual terrorism," although Ankara has only been "a reluctant player in America's Iraqi adventure."

Despite Turkey's misgivings over Iraq, it seems committed to the American vision for the region. But this willingness to aid Western interests "makes it a prime target for terrorists wishing to punish Muslim states that lean too closely toward the West."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" marks today's completion of U.S. President George W. Bush's three-day state visit to Britain. "What for some at least would have been a celebration of the 'special relationship' between the two countries has become a somber reminder, after the attacks in Istanbul, of the historic mission Britain and America shoulder together."

The paper praises British Prime Minister Tony Blair's public remarks in the wake of the bomb blasts in Istanbul in which he reaffirmed Britain's commitment to "utterly" defeating terrorism. President Bush, for his part, "described the bond between the countries as an 'alliance of conviction.'"

The paper says it was this same conviction "that defeated Nazi Germany, won the Cold War and gave Iraqis their freedom from a brutal dictatorship." The British-American bond "is an alliance that is alive and well and more needed than ever."

THE INDEPENDENT:

An editorial in Britain's daily "The Independent" says Prime Minister Tony Blair's public comments on the Istanbul blasts yesterday "failed to strike the right note." The "simplicities" of Blair's analysis of the war on terrorism reduced the "appalling bombings [to] an attack on everyone who is not a terrorist." The prime minister tried to link the blasts and the campaign against terrorism with the war in Iraq. But ultimately, he was left "[paddling] in circles in a sea of cliches."

"The Independent" says the war in Iraq was always "a side issue" to the campaign against terrorism and Al-Qaeda. The two have only become connected as a result of the war. "It is the invasion and occupation which is recruiting martyrs to the cause of hating the non-Muslim world in general and America -- and Britain, and Israel -- in particular. Only in that sense is there a link between the situation in Iraq and the bombs in Istanbul." The paper says the situation is "a little more complicated than that 'they hate freedom,'" as U.S. President Bush has repeatedly cited as a motive for terrorism.

The paper says it is reasonable to assume the target of yesterday's bombs was the state of Turkey, not the West. Turkey's "secular, democratic state offends the theocrats who peddle extremist perversions of Islam. It is not how they believe a predominantly Muslim country should be run. Yet it is precisely because Turkey is a democracy and separates religion and the state that it is so important to defend it."

JANE'S FOREIGN REPORT:

A "Jane's Foreign Report" says the 30 October arrest of Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, a trade unionist from Belarus, "has set in motion the cumbersome, but eventually effective system of sanctions to be used against governments that behave badly," such as the one in Minsk.

The UN's International Labor Organization (ILO) "is taking unprecedented action on his behalf," says "Jane's." President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has already received warnings from the ILO, but "to no avail." The UN body has warned that "arrest, imprisonment, harassment and dismissal of elected trade union leaders [were] grave violations of freedom of association, a vital human right."

Today, "inevitably," Belarus's economy is collapsing. "The equivalent of millions of dollars for workers' wages have gone unpaid. Thousands of workers [are] sent on obligatory holidays or not paid at all."

The ILO has now ordered an investigation into the Belarusian government's alleged violations of workers' rights, a decision "Jane's" calls "one of the sternest measures the ILO can take to fight abuses in a country."

Next, the EU must act. It is soon expected to announce launching its own inquiry into the alleged abuses. If found guilty, Belarus should no longer be able to export to EU markets at reduced tariff rates.

"Jane's" predicts the situation in Belarus "will become more and more dire." But there is a chance that Russia will "intervene and spend some of its oil money bringing this former Soviet Republic back" into its fold.

JANE'S INTELLIGENCE DIGEST:

An analysis by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" says Ukraine may be on the brink of a political crisis. Its ruling elite fears being ousted from power and President Leonid Kuchma is "becoming increasingly paranoid about the personal safety of his family and himself after he leaves office. Immunity from future prosecution is not guaranteed." Kuchma has been accused of "high-level corruption; ordering violence against journalists -- including the murder of Georgy Gongadze in Autumn 2000; election rigging; the illegal sale of weapons abroad and abuse of office."

Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine opposition bloc is the source of much concern within the Kuchma cadre. Kuchma and his supporters "are terrified at the prospect of Yushchenko inheriting the present extensive array of presidential powers, including control over the security forces."

"Jane's" says the realization that a Yushchenko victory would grant him Kuchma's wide-ranging powers "has made the executive all the more determined to block his path to the presidency." Kuchma's presidential administration has already resorted "to Soviet-style dirty tactics" to thwart the bloc's regional congresses.

But declaring a national state of emergency may prove to be Kuchma's only option for holding onto power, says the report. Yet this move "could lead to the cancellation of the 2004 elections -- and confirm the president's status as an international pariah. Sanctions could well follow."

"Jane's" speculates that Yushchenko's life might even be in danger, saying "Ukraine has a long record of suspicious road 'accidents' involving members of the opposition."

LE FIGARO:

In France's "Le Figaro," Pierre Rousselin says Islamist terrorism's war on the West is a war on the move. With two sets of bomb attacks in Istanbul within a week -- first (15 Nov) on two synagogues and then yesterday near the British consul -- the terrorists have brought the battlefield to Turkey, just as they did in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

But it is of little importance whether the attacks relate directly to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization or affiliated groups. The aim of the attacks is clear: to move the conflagration to territory where it is easy just to dismiss it as the work of Al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia and the Saudi royal family, the "fragile" guardians of the holy places of Islam, were priority targets cited by bin Laden as early as 1991. The Riyadh attack of 8 November merely served as a reminder.

In Turkey, the threat is much graver," says Rousselin. Istanbul is the only true model of secularism in the Muslim world, and thus is first in line. Regrettably, he says, the list of countries under attack is likely to lengthen. The "murderous nebula" is rapidly expanding. Whereas the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan brought a temporary respite, the "preventive" war in Iraq was immediately followed by a spate of attacks.
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