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Western Press Review: Japan, Russia And Cyprus Under The Shadow Of Unstable Situations

By Elizabeth Weinstein and Dora Slaba

Prague, 15 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses on the unstable political, economic and social situations in Japan, Russia and the Greek-supported part of Cyprus.

TORONTO STAR: The Japanese parliament should rise above partisanship

Canadian and American papers speculate on who will lead Japan next. In an unsigned commentary, The Toronto Star says the Japanese people want "strength, not swagger" in the leader who will replace resigning Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The commentary says, "The two leading candidates to replace Hashimoto, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and senior legislator Seiroku Kajiyama, both lack economic expertise. This, plus the prospect of a messy succession battle, militates against concerted action."

It continues, "No matter who takes over from Hashimoto, Japan's shaky banking system has to be shored up. Before the election, the government introduced a reasonable plan to bail out the country's failing financial institutions and reinforce the rest. The Japanese parliament should rise above partisanship and implement it as rapidly as possible."

NEW YORK TIMES: The key maneuverings are by the factions

In an article in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof talks about the behind-the-scenes leaders who will exercise the most power when Hashimoto's successor is chosen. The leaders are the elders of the Japanese party factions, and they're often called Japan's 'shadow shoguns.'

Kristof writes, "These kingmakers, like former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, rarely say much in public but command great influence in the negotiations. He continues, "The new party leader will be chosen by the Liberal Democratic members of Parliament, but the key maneuverings are not by individuals but by the factions - or "former factions" as they are sometimes called. All but about 26 of the 366 Liberal Democrats in Parliament belong to one of the five factions."

But Kristof says that these powerful factions may be the downfall of both Obuchi and Kajiyama since they control two of the largest factions in Japan. He writes, "In the end, this may be the weakness of Kajiyama's candidacy, for members of the Obuchi faction seem more inclined to support Obuchi than to back Kajiyama. While the party leaders have the greatest influence and seem inclined to pick someone like Obuchi, this prospect is making some junior members of Parliament very nervous."

"They worry that when general elections are called some time in the next couple of years, Obuchi - generally regarded as about as uncharismatic as a politician can be - would make a feeble campaigner with short coattails, jeopardizing their own political futures."

WASHINGTON POST: Some parts of the Russian equation are very much the country's responsibility

As Japan makes the transition into new leadership, Russia is looking to its leader, President Boris Yeltsin, to bail the country out of its economic crisis. The commentary in The Washington Post says Russia's shaky track record on previous loans makes it hard to believe the country will make good on the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) current $22.6 billion loan.

It says the lenders - the IMF, World Bank and U.S. Treasury - must look at the loan as a balancing act: "The best case that can be mustered for the new $22.6 billion in low-interest loans that Russia is being offered over the next 18 months is that some of the factors contributing to its economic slump are not of its own making. The Asian economic turmoil, for instance, and the falling world prices of oil and gas, Russia's big exports.

The commentary continues, "But other parts of the Russian equation are very much the country's responsibility. The slowness in boosting tax revenues, for instance, the hesitation to trim the budget deficit, the tardiness of a list of internal reforms, including an inexcusable failure to provide legal protections for private foreign investment. These items are caught up in a bitter internal Russian political struggle not likely to be resolved soon."

It concludes by saying that ultimately Yeltsin and Western leaders will have only one source to answer to - their own taxpayers. "The IMF bravely promises to make its economic judgments "in light of whatever decisions the Duma makes." The Duma, of course, is notorious for the resistance of its resident communists and nationalists to Russian cooperation with the international lenders. Boris Yeltsin went right to Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl and the others to induce the lenders to put up. These Western leaders are under a great burden to show they are serious about getting their taxpayers' money's worth."

HANDELSBLATT: There can no longer be any talk about credibility

A commentary by Klaus C. Engelen in the German daily Handelsblatt raises the issue of credibility as the IMF distributes the loan. He writes, "There can no longer be any talk about credibility with regard to the Moscow reforms in speaking about the important figures behind the Monetary Fund and behind those Western governments that are pulling the strings. For years experienced IMF emissaries such as the Euro chief John Odling Smee - as it is so nicely phrased were 'against tough reforms' while pouring billions in credit for the ailing Russian economy.

He continues, "Yet it seems that in the last five years, important rich kernels of the market economy have appeared while the collection of taxes following the breakup of state monopolies and a drastic improvement of the investment climate for foreign investors have remained terra incognita. Those who were looked upon with hope such as Yeltsin's deputy Anatoly Chubais and Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, who should now collect the taxes, embody the failure of the reform process. They have lost all their credit in the game."

LA TRIBUNE: The IMF must put up a tough fight

An unsigned commentary in the French economic paper, La Tribune, predicts struggle ahead for Western lenders. "In order that IMF receives its share back it must put up a tough fight. And it must watch carefully from the very beginning as return payments are directly dependent on an effective implementation of the reforms."

NEW YORK TIMES: Cyprus is the flashpoint of Greek-Turkish tension

Finally today, New York Times columnist William Safire addresses the latest move by Russia to sell surface-to-air missiles to Greek Cypriots. Safire says that Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov's economic interest in Cyprus will inflame tensions in the region. He writes, "Cyprus is the flashpoint of a Greek-Turkish tension that extends into the Balkans. Here was Mr. Primakov's way to retaliate at NATO expansion by breaking apart the southern flank of the alliance." He concludes, "As a result of Mr. Primakov's maneuvering and European anti-Turk bias, we now have (1) Ankara more adamant than ever about a separate Turkish Cypriot republic; (2) the United Nations passing resolutions blaming Turks for everything; (3) Greeks lurching into a foolish missile provocation"

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Cyprus could become a model for the amelioration of ethnic and international conflicts

In commentary in the International Herald Tribune, Retired Israeli ambassador Michael Elizur makes his case for a Turkish-Greek 'condominium' over Cyprus and Turkish accession to the European Union. He couples his proposal with enosis - the union of Greece and Cyprus. He writes, "With the active support of the international community, the basic vital aspirations of all parties can be satisfied: a reunion with Greece for the Greeks of Cyprus, and a similar association of the Turkish Cypriots with Turkey. The island of Cyprus would be under the joint sovereignty of Greece and Turkey."

He concludes, "Both communities would be better able to cooperate on the numerous common matters that do not impinge on their communal identities, such as roads, telecommunications, tourism and much else. In time, Cyprus could become a model for the amelioration of ethnic and international conflicts."