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Western Press Review: National Intransigence In Belarus; International Intransigence In UN

Prague, 20 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues attracting attention from Western commentators, two are a constitutional showdown in Belarus and a leadership struggle in the United Nations.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Kremlin gave a signal of displeasure to Belarus

Matthew Kaminski and Chrystia Freeland write in a joint commentary today in the British newspaper: "Time might be catching up with sleepy, impoverished Belarus. The country at the heart of Central Europe managed to avoid the political convulsions that brought down the Soviet system, but now is embroiled in a crisis over an attempt by its president to enhance his powers."

The writers comment: "As the tension has risen in Belarus, the outside world has become increasingly anxious about the prospects of instability or entrenched dictatorship in a nuclear-armed state."

They say: "The president (Alexander Lukashenka) wears Western condemnation as a badge of pride," and add: "but the Kremlin, a steadfast supporter of the president, gave a strong signal of its displeasure at the mounting political conflict."

LONDON TIMES: Lukashenka controls key institutions

In today's edition, Richard Beeston writes from Moscow in an analysis: "President Lukashenka of Belarus yesterday ignored the growing clamor of protest at home and abroad over his attempts to acquire dictatorial powers, labeling his opponents 'lackeys of the West.' with days to go before his referendum scheduled for Sunday, Mr. Lukashenka showed no signs of tempering his language or his policies in a bitter dispute with parliament, which many fear could escalate into bloodshed."

Beeston says: "Observers believe that the protests are unlikely to make much difference. Mr. Lukashenka controls key institutions, in particular the security forces and the media, and has much public support in rural areas."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Lukashenka may be willing to compromise

Phil Reeves writes today from Moscow in a news analysis: "A small ray of hope last night shone through the political storm that has engulfed Belarus amid reports that its hard-line president, Alexander Lukashenka, has said he is willing to compromise over plans for a referendum which would turn his 10-million-strong nation into a near dictatorship."

Reeves says: "If the deal is confirmed and survives, then (members of parliament) seem certain to drop their plans to move to impeach the maverick president, who had been seeking a tranche of autocratic powers." He writes: "The possible breakthrough came after Britain, France, Germany and Italy added their voices to the chorus of international condemnation of Mr. Lukashenka, whose referendum had been declared illegal by his parliament and constitutional court -- bodies which he has routinely ignored."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Russia invited all the parties in Belarus to a meeting

The paper carries today an analysis by Jonathan Steele in Minsk, who writes: "The Russian government stepped into the fray yesterday as the long-simmering struggle between President Alexander Lukashenka and the Belarusian parliament reached boiling point. Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian prime minister, invited the president, the leader of parliament, and the chief justice of the constitutional court to a meeting in the western city of Smolensk today."

Steele says: "The surprise Russian move came after Mr. Chernomyrdin telephoned Mr. Lukashenka to call for concessions. Russia and Belarus signed a treaty of union this spring."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The U.S. vetoed Boutros-Ghali's re-election

From the United Nations, Craig Turner writes today in an analysis: "The Clinton administration vetoed the re-election of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali today, fulfilling a promise that has isolated the United States in the world body and alienated America from some of its closest allies here."

Turner goes on: "His refusal to withdraw raises the prospect of a protracted wrangle over succession, with his supporters repeatedly submitting his name and the United States exercising repeated vetoes. His term expires December 31, and some UN delegates have predicted gloomily that the succession battle could continue to that day. The United States is not openly backing a successor, largely because the American delegation is so unpopular now at the United Nations that its support would doom any candidate to defeat by Boutros-Ghali's many adherents.

"But there seems to be wide agreement that preference should go to an African because Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian, was the first secretary general from that continent and also would be the first denied a second five-year term. 'We are waiting for the African countries to come forward with a list of viable candidates,' Albright said. The African nations, who often act in concert on such issues, now must decide whether to stay unified behind Boutros-Ghali or submit the names of other candidates. Meetings on that question began today at the New York office of the Organization of African Unity."

LONDON GUARDIAN: The identity of the next secretary general is unclear

"So it is farewell Boutros-Boutros Ghali," The London Guardian says today in an editorial. The Guardian contends: "But the identity of the next secretary general of the United Nations, and the prospects for the world body as it enters the 21st century, are very unclear."

The editorial says: "BBG's rudely truncated tenure means that it will be politically impossible to elect a non-African, thus automatically excluding possible worthies such as Ireland's Mary Robinson or Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway. The irony is that if BBG had survived, or even accepted a compromise one-year extension, this unjustified practice might have died a natural death. Better procedures are certainly possible." It concludes: "(They) now may be delayed for another five years."

NEW YORK TIMES: The United States stood alone in its opposition

Barbara Crossette wrote yesterday in an analysis: "The United States stood defiantly alone yesterday in its opposition to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as the Security Council began the process of selecting the secretary general who will lead the United Nations into the next century."

She wrote: "Already the quiet search for some compromise has begun -- subtle pressures on Boutros-Ghali to step down and the discussions of possible consensus candidates. Ms. Albright has ruled out a compromise that would allow Boutros-Ghali, who is now 74, to remain for a partial term of two or three years. Earlier this year, he turned down a Clinton administration offer of one more year, calling it 'ridiculous.'

The writer said: "There are persistent rumors around the United Nations that support may be weakening for Boutros-Ghali in his native country, Egypt. On Sunday, Mohammed Heikal, a leading commentator in the government-run newspaper al-Ahram, asked Boutros-Ghali to say 'without hesitation or sorrow' that he would step aside." Crossette's analysis concluded: "It could take weeks to find a consensus candidate. Meanwhile, Egypt would be under intense pressure -- not only from Washington but also from Africans who want keep the seat for their continent -- to abandon Boutros-Ghali."