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Western Press Review: Events In Iraq, Macedonia And Malaysia Prompt Commentaries

Prague, 4 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentators are focusing their attention on Iraq's latest defiance of the United Nations. Others analyze the recent elections in Macedonia and the trial in Malaysia of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, which began Monday.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Clinton had better act this time

The Wall Street Journal Europe today says that Iraq's announcement Saturday (Oct. 31) that it was ending all cooperation with UN weapons inspectors signifies what it calls "a real crisis." In an editorial, the paper writes: "(Iraqi leader) Saddam (Hussein) has drawn a line in the sand and dared the U.S. President (Bill Clinton) to step over it. Clinton had better act this time around or it won't be long before we are faced with a Saddam who can back his threats with missiles bearing nukes and nerve gas."

The editorial goes on to recall the February agreement with Iraq that was personally negotiated in Baghdad by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and endorsed by the Clinton Administration. It says: "The effect of the Clinton-Annan deal has been to give Iraq eight months of sham inspections; and to further decrease the likelihood of military action against an Iraq that, if intelligence reports are correct, still is hiding deadly poison gases and the missiles to deliver them."

The WSJ concludes: "Saturday's announcement was Saddam's boldest move since the end of the Gulf War, and the clearest evidence of Mr. Clinton's feeble policies up to this point."

WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. must respond with force

The Washington Post also calls on Clinton to respond strongly to Saddam's challenge. In an editorial , the paper says: "Absent a response from the Clinton Administration and the UN, nothing will now impede Saddam's ambition to maintain and rebuild the weapons of mass destruction he promised to give up."

The WP editorial continues: "The U.S. must respond with force if Iraq does not allow UN resume their work. It should respond as part of a UN-backed alliance if possible, alone if necessary. Its bombing campaign should not be symbolic but designed to destroy as much of Saddam Hussein's capability to make and use weapons of mass destruction as possible."

HANDELSBLATT: This time Saddam Hussein knows he has nothing to fear

The German financial daily Handelsblatt comments as well on the new Iraqi defiance of the UN. The paper says in an editorial that there is what it calls "a well-worn script" for crises of this sort: "Saddam provokes, the UN Security Council protests, Washington shakes a big stick."

The editorial goes on to say: "But this time Saddam Hussein knows he has nothing to fear. The U.S. is not going to risk military intervention because President Clinton's shaky domestic situation won't allow it."

GUARDIAN: Russia, France and China are just as unlikely to back UN-authorized military action as they were in February

In a news analysis in Britain's Guardian daily, the paper's diplomatic editor Ian Black says that opposition from three permanent members --Russia, France and China-- is preventing the UN Security Council from explicitly threatening force in its response to Iraq. Black writes: "All three countries have expressed alarm at the latest move by President Saddam but want swift moves to end (UN) sanctions (against Iraq). They are just as unlikely to back UN-authorized military action as they were in February."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Questions remain about Macedonia's relations with its neighbors

In an editorial entitled "Macedonia Needs Continuity," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today comments on the country's elections that were completed last Sunday. It writes: "The election results reflect a desire for change in Macedonia, and that could present the Balkans with new problems. year Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, who led this former Yugoslav republic to independence, is due to end his term in office."

The SZ continues: "(Gligorov's) ex-Communist Social Democrats have been defeated. A party of nationalist origin whose acronym VMRO recalls an old terrorist nationalist movement have taken their place. It's true that the winner of the elections, VMRO leader Ljupco Georgievski, has given assurances of 'continuity' in foreign policy. But questions remain about Macedonia's relations with its neighbors and the status of ethnic Albanians inside the country --and these questions could create new acrimony."

The editorial also notes: "Eight years ago, Georgievski sought to convene a congress of the newly established VMRO in the Greek city of Salonica, calling it 'the capital of Macedonia.' Little is left of such rhetoric. Now, Georgievski wants to lead his country into the EU and NATO. Of late, in fact, he has barely resisted the idea of stationing NATO troops in Macedonia to protect the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) monitors in Kosovo."

NEW YORK TIMES: Malaysia is restless for change

Turning to Malaysia's trial of Anwar Ibrahim, the New York Times today says that it is the country, rather than its former deputy prime minister, that is really on trial. In an editorial, the paper writes: "The trial of Anwar a battle for the future of Southeast Asia. Anwar, once Malaysia's...leader-in-waiting, faces four charges of interfering with investigations of his alleged sexual misconduct. More charges await him. They are all questionable."

The NYT goes on: "The more likely reason for his arrest is that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, worried by the fall of President Suharto in Indonesia, felt threatened by Anwar's popularity and reform agenda. But Mahathir has miscalculated. His attack on Anwar, the most important of a new generation of Asian leaders, is fueling support for reformist ideas across the region."

The editorial concludes: "Mahathir has kept power for 17 years by banning newspapers, dismissing judges and purging opponents. He apparently thinks he can buy himself a few more years with another purge. But this time it may have made his country, and parts of the region, more restless for change."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Anwar does not have the moral fiber to lead, says Mahathir

The U.S.'s International Herald Tribune today carries remarks by Mahathir himself. He says: "The perception of political differences between Mr. Anwar...and myself is over-emphasized in the foreign press. Actually, politics and economic policy had nothing to do with our split."

The Prime Minister also says "I discovered (Anwar) was involved in sexual activity...that is not acceptable in a leader of Malaysia. (So, after consulting) with the others in the cabinet, I removed him....It is just coincidental that this happened during (Malaysia's) currency crisis....(Anwar) does not have the moral fiber to lead."

Mahathir adds: "Mr. Anwar served in the cabinet only at my pleasure. And I withdrew my support. That is the system."