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Western Press Review: Earth Day, Islamicism In Central Asia, And Croatia's EU Bid

Prague, 22 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- As the world marks the 34th annual Earth Day to raise awareness of environmental issues, several major dailies carry items assessing what is being done -- and what needs to be done -- to address global ecology concerns. An intelligence analysis today looks at what the late-March bombings in Uzbekistan indicate about regional Islamic activity, while other commentary looks at Georgia's plans to reassert control over Adjaria and Croatia's EU bid.


Geoffrey Johnson of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group "Green Life" says Earth Day 2004 is being sponsored "by petroleum powers, big-box developers, old-growth loggers and chemically dependent coffee companies trying to paint their public image green." Earth Day has been increasingly in the public eye since its inception in 1970, and several savvy companies have realized that they had better tint their image green -- and fast.

Ironically, the Marathon Oil company is Earth Day's Houston sponsor in the oil-rich state of Texas. But Johnson says, "Behind closed [doors], Marathon worked on voluntary emissions regulations that have helped give Houston some of the worst air quality in the country."

In New York and elsewhere, the popular and growing chain of "Starbucks" coffee shops is also promoting events -- and its image -- with an eye to being earth-friendly. Yet the company will neither label nor remove the genetically modified ingredients in its coffee products. And the line of coffees it promotes as being part of its commitment to sustainable farming accounts for "just a sliver" of the products it sells.

Johnson acknowledges that some might argue there is nothing wrong with corporate sponsorship of environmental events. But he says, "the reality is that sponsorship is often intended not as atonement for misdeeds against nature, but as a distraction from them. Through concerted marketing and public relations campaigns, these 'greenwashers' attract eco-conscious consumers and push the notion that they don't need environmental regulations because they are already environmentally responsible."


David Broder of "The Washington Post" says this Earth Day has brought with it some good news on environmental monitoring. A meeting this weekend in Tokyo will aim to approve a framework agreement on "a broad international effort to accomplish something that promises benefits for all nations and people."

Plans for an Earth Observing System are in the works and represent a wide-ranging cooperation between 46 nations, "from Algeria to Uzbekistan, and 26 international scientific organizations [in a] remarkable coalition of often-squabbling partners." The new plan will aim to integrate the separate monitoring systems of all its contributors to keep track of "changes in the oceans, the atmosphere and everything in between.

Broder says the potential benefits "include improving weather forecasts, reducing damage from oil spills and coastal storms, boosting the safety and economy of shipping and airlines, and raising the productivity of fisheries that huge populations depend on for food."


A former ambassador for Bosnia-Herzegovina to the EU and NATO, Vitomir Miles Raguz, says only a little over a year ago, Zagreb was told in no uncertain terms that its bid for EU candidate status was premature. But following a positive assessment of its readiness on 20 April, Croatia now looks set to receive candidate status in June.

Raguz considers what might account for this radical policy reversal. Zagreb has not complied with EU requests to surrender its indicted fugitive general, Ante Gotovina. Not much progress has been made on "judicial reform and bloated government," while the "much-maligned HDZ party” of former President Franjo Tudjman ascended to power last year, replacing Croatia's Socialist Party.

But a sea change occurred in Brussels, Raguz says, when the EU "realized that its options in the Balkans weren't good." Serbia is seeing a resurgence of nationalist parties, Bosnia is run by "a large neo-colonial administration" and Macedonia "continues in limbo," following the death in a plane crash of President Boris Trajkovski in late February. Meanwhile, Albania remains the poorest country in Europe.

Ragus writes: "With so much uncertainty in the region, Croatia can be used as an example for its neighbors. By recognizing its political and economic stability, coupled with a willingness to meet international obligations, Brussels sends a message to the lagging bunch that progress and cooperation with the West pays off."


Georgian affairs analyst Jaba Devdariani says when Georgia's new parliament convenes today, "its first order of business will be the [Adjaria] issue."

The 19 April mutiny led by General Roman Dumbadze "is fueling a sense of urgency" to resolve the situation and has "frayed the patience" of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Dumbadze renounced Tbilisi's central authority and declared his allegiance to Adjar President Aslan Abashidze. Tbilisi is "taking swift action to make an example of Dumbadze," and there are now indications that the largely pro-Saakashvili parliament will also "strive to act decisively to break Abashidze's choke-hold on power in [Adjaria]."

One option might be to call for early elections for the Adjar regional council. "[Adjaria] is notorious for holding rigged elections that gave Abashidze overwhelming majorities," Devdariani says. "But in Georgia's new political order, ballot-box stuffing has become increasingly difficult. Thus, fresh elections would stand to dilute Abashidze's authority."

Abashidze's political clout has already been reduced since the ouster of former President Eduard Shevardnadze last November. Abashidze's Revival Union party was a strong supporter of the former administration, which granted him some influence in Tbilisi. But in March elections, Revival did not receive the minimum 7 percent of the vote and thus failed to win any additional parliamentary seats; only six Revival politicians will sit in the next parliament.

Saakashvili has accused the Adjar leadership of involvement in drug trafficking and other criminal activity. Devdariani says these allegations may indicate that Tbilisi "is preparing an all-out political offensive to topple the [Adjar] leader." Many in Tbilisi "now believe that it is impossible to achieve a political compromise that would leave Abashidze in power."


An analysis by Central and South Asian affairs analyst Artie McConnell says the late-March bombings in Tashkent and Bukhara have refocused attention on Uzbekistan's two leading Islamic groups, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks and Hizb ut-Tahrir has publicly denied involvement.

Hizb ut-Tahrir espouses the creation of an Islamic caliphate throughout the Central Asian region. While it says it pursues its aims nonviolently, McConnell says the Hizb ut-Tahrir rhetoric "is similar to that of militant pan-Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda, advocating the overthrow of the Central Asian regimes, praising 'martyrdom' operations against Israel, and promoting 'action' against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan." While it previously relied on recruiting from low-income social sectors, the group is now looking to enlist businessmen, university students, and low-level officials.

But it is the IMU that is most likely responsible for the attacks, McConnell says. The use of "black widow" bombers -- female suicide attackers dressed in the traditional Islamic hijab --- might underscore the link between the IMU and Chechen militants.

The heightened activity of both groups "coincides with intense international scrutiny of the [President Islam] Karimov regime for its human rights record, particularly its harsh crackdowns against both Islamic and secular forms of political dissent." The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) recently decided to withhold funding based on Tashkent's lack of civic progress, and the U.S. government is currently debating whether to do the same. McConnell says many Uzbeks see the recent violence "as a government-orchestrated conspiracy, justifying Tashkent's failure to implement meaningful reforms under the pretext of anti-terrorism."


Writing from Washington, Patrick Jarreau says a year after the defeat of Saddam Hussein -- touted by the White House as the key to a new era in the Middle East -- the situation in Iraq seems worse than ever.

Anarchy reigns in the country, inflicting heavy casualties on U.S.-led forces and "paralyzing" Iraq's reconstruction. The scheduled 30 June date for a return of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi authority now seems impossible to meet. And the situation is such that the probability of the United States obtaining reinforcements from other countries, or even NATO, seems low. The impending withdrawal of Spanish troops raises the specter of other defections in Washington's so-called "coalition of the willing."

Assessments elsewhere in the Middle East are no more heartening, he says. U.S. President George W. Bush's support for the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in exchange for maintaining settlements in the West Bank infuriated the Arab world, including U.S. allies. The 17 April assassination of Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi was interpreted as the concrete manifestation of Washington's approval of Israeli policy.

Jarreau goes on to say that with regard to Bush administration policy, Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry criticizes the method, but not the foundation. When asked whether the Iraq war is justified, the Massachusetts senator circumvents the question by criticizing the way in which Bush took the nation to war.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kerry also agrees with Bush on the basic principles. Jarreau writes that Kerry congratulated the U.S. president for his support of the Israeli withdrawal plan, while expressing his misgivings over the security barrier being built in the West Bank.

For now, says Jarreau, U.S. public-opinion polls are favoring Bush, who apparently seems more authentic in his resolve than Kerry.

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