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Western Press Review: A Stand in Armenia; A Collapse in Afghanistan

By Don Hill/Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 27 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Protests in Armenia following Sunday's troubled elections drew a sharp reaction from the government of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. In Afghanistan, the militant Taliban movement of Islamic traditionalists triumphantly entered the capital, Kabul. The Western press examines both centers of unrest.


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Rioting in Yerevan

Selina Williams writes in her analysis today: "Armenian authorities deployed tanks in the streets of central Yerevan and arrested opposition leaders yesterday after a night of rioting that left dozens injured and two dead. The security crackdown followed a melee spurred by angry opposition supporters who stormed parliament Wednesday to accuse President Levon Ter-Petrosyan of rigging Sunday's election to win a second term in office."

Williams writes: "An emergency session of parliament stripped immunity from prosecution for eight members of the opposition coalition headed by the defeated Vazgen Manukyan, suggesting the leadership intends to crack down on the populist forces that won a majority of the Yerevan balloting but were outweighed by less disgruntled rural voters."

She says: "Ter-Petrosyan, 51, has lost popularity recently due to growing frustration with the difficult economic conditions. The 8-year-old war with Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh triggered an economic blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey and left the country with a massive energy crisis."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Fierce crackdown leaves diplomats perplexed.

Steve LeVine says in a news analysis: "Government troops arrested and beat dozens of demonstrators and bystanders yesterday in an effort to end three days of protests against Armenia's presidential election, which was tainted by charges of fraud." He writes: "With the crackdown, Ter-Petrossian has now jailed, chased underground or forced into exile most of his key political opponents tried in what they are calling an attempted coup."

LeVine continues to say: "Near the concentrations of government troops, residents were openly bitter, angry and frightened," and he adds: "The ferocity of the crackdown has perplexed diplomats, who generally admire Ter-Petrossian, who rose to power in a wave of nationalism that began here in 1988." LeVine concludes: "It has been hard for some diplomats to reconcile the harsh local ruler with a president who is moderate on other matters like seeking better relations with Turkey."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Frustration expressed at all levels

Sander Thoenes and Alexandre Capello together write: "In a bad-tempered emergency session of parliament, which degenerated into a punch-up, MPs voted to allow criminal investigations of Mr. Vazgen Manukyan and seven other opposition MPs." They continue: "The riots highlight popular frustration with Mr. Ter Petrosian's reforms, which have revived the economy but left the poor worse off."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: People don't vote, they protest

Today's editorial says: "The Armenians don't go to the polls; they hit the street. That's how the events around the presidential election on Sunday can be described. Only 58 percent of the people entitled to vote went to the voting. But now there are mass protests in the capital Yerevan."


DIE TAGESZEITUNG: Taliban gain, Afghanistan's loss.

On the Taliban march through Afghanistan, the German newspaper editorializes today: "Afghanistan is making a turnaround. The extremely Islamic Taliban is just about to gain power. For the country this threatens a turn backwards. When the mysterious movement appeared in 1994, it was linked with the hope of an end of the war which had lasted for 15 years." The editorial continues: "But in the middle of 1995, after their first defeat in front of Kabul, the Taliban dropped their mask; they fired rockets on civilians, financed their war with drugs." The editorial continues: "In the regions which are occupied by the Taliban political opponents are liquidated. Islamic punishment -- amputations, stonings, public executions -- are part of everyday life. A victory of the Taliban would be a turn backwards for the Afghans."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Rabbani's government trying to hold on

John-Thor Dahlburg writes today: "As Afghan government troops fled their bunkers and posts under cover of darkness, the Taliban militia early today overran the capital city, Kabul, hanged former President Najibullah, the former pro-Soviet leader, and proclaimed the creation of a strict Islamic state." Dahlburg writes, "Taliban's lightning victory leaves them masters of about two-thirds of Afghanistan and probably dooms any remaining vestiges of President Burhanuddin Rabbani's authority. The Taliban, which has received logistical and training assistance from neighboring Pakistan, has steadfastly sought the overthrow of Rabbani's rump government, which now controls only a handful of provinces north of Kabul, and its replacement by a strict Islamic regime."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: The world will not help set up Islamic state.

In a recent analysis, Barbara Crossette wrote from United Nations headquarters in New York: "An Islamic fundamentalist army vowing to cleanse Afghanistan of squabbling warlords and install a strict Muslim government moved into Kabul, the capital." She said: "U.N. officials now have the job of persuading them that the world will not assist in setting up an intolerant Islamic state. Where Taliban forces have been in control for many months, they have imposed harsh restrictions on women, barring schooling for girls and ordering women to cover themselves. The Taliban movement is composed largely of Pathans, a Pashto-speaking people who make up about half the population of Afghanistan and a large part of Pakistan's population. Tajiks, Uzbeks and others in Afghanistan have not had the same close relationship with Pakistan, a factor that has led to assumptions about cross-border cooperation." Crossette wrote: "While the government is accusing Pakistan of assisting the Taliban, the Taliban accuses India, Iran and Russia of aiding the Kabul coalition."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The citizens are hostages of the Taliban

An editorial in yesterday's paper said: "The Afghan scholars have taken Kabul. What's important is that the citizens are hostages of the Taliban now." The newspaper continued: "The Taliban aren't equal to the administration of post-agrarian, modern city. . . . The cause of the calamity is not only the victory of the Taliban, but what preceded it -- the power fights and intrigues of the so-called liberators." The newspaper said: "The Taliban, rebels against the former rebels, have inherited all this, including a pigheaded, intolerant religious ideology. The people are dying because of them, and also because of their predecessors."