Prague, 23 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press today focuses on the looming political battle Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi faces despite a yesterday's vote of confidence. Commentators also praise Nigerian ruler Abdulsalam Abubakar for his first few months in power, but they say he needs to make political changes in the ethnically-divided country. Final commentary deals with military intervention in Kosovo.
FINANCIAL TIMES: An intense confrontation between Mr. Prodi and Fausto Bertinotti is certain
Last night Italy's Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, won a vote of confidence in the Italian Chamber of Deputies after three weeks of negotiations with the reconstructed Communist party (RC), on which he depends for a parliamentary majority. A news analysis in the Financial Times by James Blitz says that despite the vote, Prodi faces an uphill battle from the Communists in coming months.
Blitz writes, "Although the Communists gave the center-left government its support in the lower house vote - with 324 deputies backing Mr. Prodi and 269 against - an intense confrontation between Mr. Prodi and Fausto Bertinotti, the Communist leader, is certain in autumn when the budget comes before parliament."
IRISH TIMES: Threats to bring down the government must be taken seriously
An Irish Times editorial calls the "intense confrontation" a "political storm," and explains why Bertinotti's party threatens to bring down the government. It says, "Communist Refoundation (RC) is an unreconstructed remnant of the once-powerful Italian Communist Party whose majority strand, the Democratic Left Party (PDS), is the major partner in Mr. Prodi's coalition. RC's refusal to back NATO expansion into Eastern Europe brought about the re-appraisal of the government and the vote of confidence; its threats, therefore, to bring down the government on the paramount domestic issue of finances, must be taken seriously."
The editorial also says the disarray of the opposition signals more troubles for Prodi. It says, "All these difficulties - which face many governing parties in coalitions in Western Europe - are made more dangerous in Italy by the state of the country's opposition. The opposition leader, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, faces a jail sentence on three counts of corruption and is also being investigated for possible links with the Mafia."
"Mr. Berlusconi has consistently claimed that he is being set up and framed as part of a left-wing conspiracy. Had he allowed a measure of transparency in his own financial affairs and those of his major corporation Fininvest, he might have been able to make these assertions from a much sounder footing."
It continues, "His colleague, Mr. Roberto Maroni, who was interior minister in Mr. Berlusconi's government, was given an eight-month suspended sentence for the same offense."
It concludes, "All of Mr. Prodi's considerable political skills must be brought into play in the coming months if he is to steer his country away from crisis. It is greatly to be hoped that he will succeed."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Now comes a test that is crucial to most Nigerians
In Nigeria, the latest military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, faces a test from his own people. Western commentators say Abubakar is a breath of fresh air from the late despot General Sani Abacha, who left behind a broken, impoverished nation after his death in June. But commentators warn that democracy under Abubakar won't come easily and must be a product of the people.
A Los Angeles Times editorial says, "Now comes a test that is crucial to most Nigerians: whether the nation will move toward the democracy that became possible with independence in 1960 or slip further into the corruption that accompanied the development of great oil wealth."
It continues, "If Abubakar has the future of his country at heart he will deliver on his promise of free elections next spring and a return to civilian rule in May. Abubakar already has dissolved five government-sanctioned parties that fronted for the generals. The promised elections should be the springboard for a return to legitimacy and prominence for Nigeria, whose corrupt recent history has not diminished its clout and respect among Africans."
SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: Abubakar's way may really lead Nigeria to a better future
Commentary by Kurt Kister in the German publication Sueddeutsche Zeitung says Abubakar's plan to restructure the government should be taken slowly. Kister writes, "All new parties founded by March next year are to take part in free presidential elections, and Abubakar will hand over to the new president in May. Looking back at the history of Nigeria, which has been predominantly one of authoritarian rule, Abubakar's plans sound almost too good to be true."
He concludes, "It could be dangerous for the general to give way to a transitional civilian government right now. Too many members of the old parties supported the military dictatorship in order to feather their own nests. Turncoats of this kind would continue the rule of the few by other means. Abubakar's restructuring plans will progress step by step, and each one can be verified."
"If the new political parties are allowed to develop without hindrance, if returning exiles may even criticize the junta, Abubakar's way may really lead Nigeria to a better future."
WASHINGTON POST: General Abubakar must move quickly to include civilians from all regions and factions in the transition process
A Washington Post editorial says that wary Nigerians, who have heard promises from corrupt leaders "many times before, "will want "quick action." It says, "These suspicions make it all the more essential that General Abubakar move quickly to include civilians from all regions and factions in the transition process. Whether he should do this through a unity cabinet, a constitutional convention or an early handover to a transitional civilian government is for Nigerians to decide."
It concludes, "But given Nigeria's history, General Abubakar, no matter how sincere, cannot expect his compatriots to accept a constitution or an election process that they have no say in designing."
LE FIGARO: It is this indecisiveness that constitutes the biggest danger
Finally today, the French newspaper "Le Figaro" criticizes the international community as it ponders military intervention in Kosovo. Under the headline, "Indecisiveness," Le Figaro says NATO has been criticized for trying, "like the cavalry in a Wild West film, to intervene after the fighting had already begun. This is a bad way of trying to stop the outbreak of fighting."
The newspaper says more decisiveness is crucial at this moment to avert an escalation of the Kosovo conflict. It says: "this crisis can become a tragedy over night... the Serbs are convinced that NATO will not intervene. It is this indecisiveness from the world community that, at this moment, constitutes the biggest danger."