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Western Press Review: Trajkovski Mourned As The 'Voice of Reason,' Debating Elections In Iraq, And The Kazakh Opposition's Challenges

Prague, 27 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the press today discuss the death of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski after his plane went down yesterday in mountains in southern Bosnia. Trajkovski is widely credited with having been a moderate voice of reform and reconciliation in a region torn apart by ethnic divisions. Other media commentary looks at Shi'a calls for direct elections in Iraq, Romania's lingering Cold War politics, U.S.-EU cooperation in stemming Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the trials and tribulations of Kazakhstan's opposition.


Harry de Quetteville of the London-based "Daily Telegraph" says the crash of a plane yesterday carrying Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in the mountains of Bosnia has silenced a prominent "voice of reason" in the sphere of Balkan affairs of state. Trajkovski was often viewed in the West as "a courageous voice of reform and moderation amid the often strident tones of Balkan politics."

Following the Bosnian war of the 1990s, Trajkovski was largely credited with avoiding more bloody inter-ethnic conflict in his own country as tensions simmered between Macedonian Slavs and the large ethnic Albanian minority. He played a crucial role "in bringing a seven-month ethnic Albanian uprising to an end. Instead of fueling a repressive, retaliatory policy, he appealed for calm and negotiated a cease-fire." The 2001 Ohrid Agreement called for Albanian separatists to hand over their weapons in exchange for increased rights in the Macedonian republic, including the recognition of Albanian as an official state language.

With Trajkovski's death, de Quetteville says the world has lost a "key peacemaker in a turbulent region."


The British daily's Ian Traynor says the Balkans "lost a tireless advocate of stability and reconciliation yesterday when President Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia was killed in a plane crash in Bosnia." The 47-year-old Trajkovski is presumed dead along with six aides and two pilots when their plane crashed in heavy fog on the way to an economics conference in Mostar.

Writing from Zagreb, Traynor says tributes have been pouring in from European, NATO, and Balkan leaders, all of which "prized the president's determination to pursue negotiation rather than conflict."

A ceremony in Dublin, at which Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski was to formally submit Macedonia's application for EU membership, was canceled upon news of the crash. Trajkovski had been an enthusiastic advocate of his country's aspiration to someday join the European bloc.


Writing in the British "Independent," Justin Huggler discusses calls by Iraqi Shi'a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani yesterday for direct elections to be held before the end of the year. This new timeline indicates a shift from al-Sistani's earlier demands that elections take place before the scheduled 30 June handover of power from the U.S.-led coalition to an interim Iraqi body.

Huggler says al-Sistani's statement yesterday is seen "as a way out of the impasse" that followed his condemnation of U.S. plans to hand power over to an unelected, largely U.S.-appointed, Iraqi administration. But his policy shift still "[masks] seething resentment among the Shi'a over the elections issue," and the extended timeline is still much shorter than the 15 to 20 months foreseen by the United States.

The Shi'a majority, estimated at 60 percent of the Iraqi population, believed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Baath Party "would finally give them their chance of power, and expected to win it in elections. But increasingly they see American reluctance to hold elections as dashing that hope."

Al-Sistani's calls for assurances yesterday from the United Nations that Iraqi elections would take place by December "brought vast crowds onto the streets," Huggler says. A UN report concluding elections would be impossible by the 30 June deadline may have prompted al-Sistani's policy shift, but it remains apparent that no government "could rule without his approval."


Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice opposition party "burst onto the political scene more than two years ago and rocked the establishment on its heels," "The Economist" writes. It began as a protest movement in November 2001 by "senior government officials and leading bankers," who were "disgruntled over the increasing power of the president's [Nursultan Nazerbayev] son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev."

"The Economist" says the "standing of the people involved and the financial resources at their disposal quickly made the movement a force to be reckoned with. The penniless traditional opposition -- longstanding democrats, old-style Communists and hard-up pensioners -- clambered gratefully on to the bandwagon."

However, two months after its birth, many moderate elements of the fledgling party broke away to set up Ak Zhol, another opposition party. Two Democratic Choice leaders were later sentenced to prison terms and last November the party had its official status as an organization revoked.

Last week it declared itself a full-fledged opposition party, and hopes to participate in elections this autumn. But the magazine says this move may be another "sign of its decline, rather than its strength." And whether it will be allowed to register in elections "remains to be seen."

In any case, says "The Economist," Democratic Choice "has already been overshadowed by the less confrontational Ak Zhol, which focuses on economic reforms and appeals to the growing middle class."


Ivo Daalder and Michael Levi of the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution say the European Union and the United States must pool their resources to come up with a long-term strategy for responding to Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions.

In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," they say a joint policy is "urgently" needed "to effectively deter Iranian [nuclear] violations and to keep the prospect of a diplomatic resolution open." Moreover, a common policy on this issue will help avoid the "disastrous fissures" that opened up across the Atlantic during the controversy over war in Iraq.

Daalder and Levi say a common policy on Iran should combine "Europe's preference for carrots with America's preference for sticks. They have to agree on a clear set of benchmarks and deadlines for Iran to give up its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities." Tehran's compliance with these criteria would ultimately "lead to the economic and technology cooperation that European leaders [from Britain, France, and Germany] promised last fall."

At the same time, say the authors, the United States and Europe "would have to draw red lines that Tehran could not cross. And they would have to reach a clear understanding on the kinds of coercive actions they would take in the event of further noncompliance -- from economic sanctions through, ultimately, the destruction by force of Iranian nuclear facilities."

The costs of trans-Atlantic disagreement are high, say Levy and Daalder. So it should be possible to outline a common approach.


Writing in "The Washington Times," Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at both the Washington daily and United Press International, says Romania "is dragging its feet on meeting the EU's economic, political and human rights criteria for membership."

He says unreformed and unrepentant Securitate agents -- holdovers from the Soviet-era secret police -- can "still be found as every level of the Romanian political establishment."

De Borchgrave specifically criticizes the authorities in Bucharest for failing to implement a 1999 Romanian Supreme Court ruling that rehabilitated the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected to the West during the Cold War. Ion Mihai Pacepa's rank of general and confiscated properties were to be restored, and he was to be free to return to Romania from the United States, where he has been living under the protection of the U.S. government since 1979.

But de Borchgrave says the Securitate establishment in Bucharest, "evidently nostalgic for their glory days of the Cold War, decided to wheel into action the heavy artillery of disinformation. Bucharest editors were told about a secret dossier that was never made public, even in the days of [former President Nikolai] Ceaucescu." According to the Securitate campaign, "Pacepa defected to the United States because he was about to be exposed as a 'liquor and cigarette smuggler and a homosexual.'"

But de Borchgrave says it is Pacepa's status as the highest-ranking Communist intelligence officer to have defected from the Soviet establishment that "his former colleagues find hard to forgive and forget."


Several items in France's leading daily eulogize Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski, who is presumed dead following a plane crash in the mountains of southwestern Bosnia yesterday. Elected to the presidency in 1999, the 47-year-old Trajkovski had studied law before becoming head of state. He is survived by a wife and two children.

Trajkovski entered politics in 1997 as an adviser to the mayor of Skopje. His political career moved with lightening speed, the paper says. Almost immediately following the legislative elections of 1998 and the ascension to power of his party, the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, Trajkovski was named vice minister of foreign affairs.

"Le Monde" describes the late president as pro-European and "a firm defender of ethnic tolerance in a country which, in 2001, was the theater of a serious war between government forces and Albanian guerillas." After several months of what the paper calls "fatal confrontations" that resulted in between 70-150 deaths, Trajkovski managed to reestablish a climate of inter-community confidence, working with the support of NATO and the European Union.