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Western Press Review: Belgrade Protests A Sign Of Awakening Serbia

Prague, 5 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The continuing massive street protests -- now in their third week -- against Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic continue to be the main story in much of the world's Western press.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: It is time for the West to speak loudly

In today's edition, Flora Lewis notes in a commentary: "The streets of Belgrade and most other Serbian cities offer the first glimmer of hope for a way out of ex-Yugoslavia's long crisis. Despite the Dayton accord, which ended the fighting in Bosnia, it has been evident for some time that the chance for real peace will come only when the war leaders have been ousted...It must be clear now to all that President Milosevic's days are numbered. The falsified elections were just the last straw. It is the years of war...the intense corruption, the destruction of the economy, the thuggery and abuse of power that people are finally insisting must end. No one doubts that Mr. Milosevic bears prime responsibility for the policies which led to disaster...If the change can be effected peacefully in Serbia -- suddenly a miraculous chance -- it will be felt then in Zagreb and Sarajevo. The whole vicious circle could be reversed in the direction of hope. It is too shining a chance to lose by passive indifference. It is time for the West to speak loudly, and then it won't need a big stick in the unhappy Balkans."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Those who want Dayton must show whose side they are on

In an article today, Laura Silber and Bruce Clark write that the opposition protests in Belgrade are forcing Western countries to rethink the Bosnian peace process. They say: "After more than two weeks of demonstrations in Belgrade, key figures in the Balkan peace process are concluding that reconciliation in Bosnia may be impossible without democracy in Serbia." They note the West has often overlooked Milosevic's authoritarian rule because the Serbian leader was a key force in the Balkan peace process. But the article quotes a senior German diplomat, Michael Steiner, as saying: "Those who really want the Dayton accord must show whose side they are on. One must stand on the side of the democratic forces who want election results implemented."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The president may not be able to count on all his police

Chris Hedges writes in today's edition that Milosevic seems to be setting the stage for a major crackdown on the demonstrators, which began with the shutdown of the last independent radio station, B-92, and the arrests of 32 student activists. But Hedges notes the opposition is using new tactics as well. "Opposition leaders...appealed again to the police and army to participate in the rallies and pleaded with Serbs from around the country to come out in force to back the movement...There were a few indications that the president may not be able to count on all of his police. When students passed the police (yesterday) they flashed them the traditional Serbian three-fingered salute and received a salute in return. The police also did not intervene when dozens of students sprayed the Parliament building with detergent, symbolic the students said, of the need to cleanse the government."

LE FIGARO: The Serb economy is in a catastrophic state

The paper's correspondent in Belgrade, Renaud Girard, wonders why it took the Serbs so long to begin opposing the policies which Milosevic has been practicing for eight years now. In the article, Girard says: "The Serbs haven't won anything concrete from the violent clashes in Yugoslavia, for which Slobodan Milosevic was largely responsible, along with Croat Franjo Tudjman, his ultranationalist counterpart...They were chased out of the Krajina, where they've lived for centuries. Their economy is in a catastrophic state after three and a half years of international sanctions. Even more serious is the fact world respect, for having said no to Hitler in 1941, has been destroyed by Milosevic's belligerent opportunism." That's why, Girard says, Serbs are now taking to streets by the tens of thousands in a bid to oust Milosevic.

Russia's Economy

In other issues, Russia's economy is gaining attention in the Western press, partly because of the impressive performance recently of the Moscow stock exchange, which has done better than any other emerging market in Europe this year.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Anyone who buys Russian weapons systems is taking a big risk

John Thornhill examines the resurging Russian arms industry in today's edition. The industry won what it calls "the contract of the century" this week after Russia signed a $1.8 billion deal with India to supply it with 40 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets. Thornhill notes: "Russia's arms industry does appear to be rationalizing its production facilities and successfully re-orienting itself to export markets. The Rosvooruzheniye arms export organization...appears to have done a good job in co-ordinating Russian sales abroad. After a 30-year lull, Russia has resumed arms exports to China, selling it equipment worth more than $2.5 billion since 1992. Russia has also pried open new markets in Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Perus is reported to have taken delivery of 12 MiG-29 jets. ..Cheap prices and flexible terms of trade have given Russian manufacturers a competitive edge." But Thornhill says: "Western experts believe that although much of Russian technology is of a high standard, it is far from clear that the industry has yet developed the expertise to manage big turn-key projects and properly service its customers." He quotes defense economist Digby Wailer as saying: "Anyone who buys new Russian weapons systems is still taking a big risk."

LIBERATION: Fiscal fraud has become a national sport in Russia

Moscow correspondent Veronique Soule focuses on the woes of Russian car manufacturer AvtoVAZ, the maker of the Lada, which was forced into bankruptcy recently. She writes: "there are many rumors circulating about the name of this (foreign) investor. In the last few days, the press has cited the Italian firm Fiat, which had taken part in the 1960s in the creation of AvtoVAZ, or the Korean Daewoo, which has a plant in Kazakhstan. Yesterday, the Interfax news agency indicated authorities were considering BMW, Opel or Ford." But Soule notes despite a potential infusion of hundreds of millions dollars, the foreign investors may not be enough to save the ailing industry. "The threat of bankruptcy is the direct consequence of the financial crisis in Russia. Fiscal fraud has become a national sport (in Russia). The state has found it impossible to honor its commitments, to pay its bureaucrats and fund its pensions' requirements."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: A protracted miners' strike could paralyze the nation

This paper also focuses on the fiscal disarray in Russia, specifically a nationwide miners' strike. The article by Uli Schmetzer says "unpaid salaries have become the biggest problem facing the government. State coal mining companies say they are owed nearly $2 billion in unpaid bills from consumers, mainly government power stations. Power stations say they have not been paid by consumers, particularly state concerns and so cannot pay the mining companies, which in turn cannot pay their workers...Aware that a protracted miners' strike could paralyze the nation, Yeltsin's government has repeatedly headed off a strike by using stop-gap funds to pay wages coupled with promises to upgrade the industry."

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO's southern command is a job no American president can yield

The Times, meanwhile, examines a deepening rift between France and the United States over who should hold the command of NATO's Southern region. In its editorial today, the Times says: "Citing traditional French interests in the Mediterranean area, (French President Jacques) Chirac has demanded the Southern Command. That is a job no American president can or should yield. The Southern Commander effectively directs the formidable naval and air resources the United States has based in the Mediterranean area. In addition to their NATO responsibilities, these units are used to project American power into the Middle East, where U.S. and French policies do not always coincide. Chirac must accept the impossibility of France's taking over the Southern Command. But there is no reason Washington cannot promote Paris' candidacy for an equally prestigious post."