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Western Press Review: Commentary Ranges From Olympics To Rural China

Prague, 4 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary ranges widely today, with topics including a free election in a Chinese village, Olympic scandal, strange international bedfellows and the flight of a "terrorist."

DIE WELT: The situation in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea could radically alter

Commentator Jens Hartmann writes today in the German daily, Die Welt, that a new "cold war between the United States and Russia is threatening in the Caucasus and the oil-rich regions around the Caspian Sea."

Writing from Moscow, Hartmann says: "As Moscow continues to extend its military base in Armenia, Azerbaijan wants to attract a western military base as a counterweight. Armenia and Azerbaijan have a common border." Then he quotes Vafa Gulusade, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev, as saying in an interview with a Moscow newspaper: "We need in any case a base in Azerbaijan, regardless of whether it's Turkish or American. That is the only way we can safeguard our security."

Die Welt's commentator says that Russia officialdom dismisses Azerbaijan's call for a Western base as exotic speculation, but, he says, "behind the scenes the talk is of a scenario that could radically alter the situation in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea." He points to Georgia, where, he says: "Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, is involved enthusiastically in talks with NATO, with the aim of making itself feel less dependent on its large neighbor. There is great pride in Georgia about a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in which Georgia is promised the 'absolute' support of the American people."

NEW YORK TIMES: The untreatied association is good for three democracies

In The New York Times, political columnist William Safire writes of what he calls a nearby "Phantom Alliance," linking Turkey, Israel and the United States. Safire says: "[The three countries] firmly deny its existence." But he says: "The more vociferous the denials, the more other nations become convinced that the Phantom Alliance is now a Middle Eastern fact of life."

These suspicions are right, Safire says. He writes: "Turks, unfairly kept out of the European Union by Germany and Greece, see America as making the world go round and Israelis as a key to American support. Israelis need a powerful friend in the Muslim world and the large Turkish landmass over which to train their air force. The Americans need Turkey as a base to strike Iraq, and recognize that keeping sanctions on Saddam Hussein also hurts the Turks."

This isn't an alliance likely to lead to spreading war, Safire argues. He writes: "No; this is not NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact. In a local fight, there would be much holding of coats. But the untreatied association is good for the three democracies of Turkey, Israel and America."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: It is little wonder that Turkey is angry

In London, the Daily Telegraph writes on what another commentary earlier this week dubbed "the Kurd UFO." The reference is to Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey. Since being expelled from Syria last October, Ocalan has sought refuge in Damascus, Moscow and Rome. He recently has been reported to be in Russia, then in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Lebanon, Holland and Greece.

A Telegraph editorial condemns Western governments for temporizing on Ocalan. It says: "The German and Italian governments routinely condemn terrorism and pledge co-operation in extirpating it. Yet their behavior over Mr Ocalan has exposed their words as so much hot air." The editorial concludes: "It is little wonder that Turkey, a NATO ally, is angry. To the rebuff over membership of the European Union has been added what amounts to condoning terrorism."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Europeans seem to the Turks to be hostile, cowards and false

Writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung , commentator Wolfgang Koydl joins in criticism of the Ocalan affair. He writes: "If one takes a look at Europe with Turkish eyes, then one doesn't see a very pretty picture of the Old Continent: it is irrelevant whether the issue is the restless flight of the Kurdish rebel Abdullah Ocalan or the uprising in Kosovo �- the Europeans seem to the Turks to be hostile, cowards and false."

TIMES: A concerted stand could rescue the Olympic movement from the mire

The Times of London expresses disgust with the Olympics. It says: "Hard evidence of corruption in the international Olympic movement has begun to emerge, in a trickle that is swelling to a flood. But what matters even more than the bribes, the geisha girls and spouse shopping sprees is the Olympic culture that has made these bribes an integral part of bidding wars by cities seeking to host events."

The Times says internal reform is unlikely and governments appear impotent. It's money -- such as from increasingly significant corporate sponsors of Olympic events -- that talks, The Times says. The editorial ends: "Then let money talk. Nagano taxpayers are suing their city and Toronto and Manchester are heading a small queue of failed contenders who want the IOC to reimburse them for the millions they lavished on fruitless bids. The only lethal weapons are, however, held by corporate sponsors -- who in Sydney's case are being asked to make up a ($139 million) shortfall in its Olympic budget. Sponsorship of events revealed to a disgusted public as riddled with venality and worse can only reflect badly on the corporate image. A concerted stand by those who pay the piper would trigger a crisis. But it could rescue the Olympic movement from the mire."

LE MONDE: Germany is grateful to the chancellor for keeping his election word

From Paris, Le Monde looks at the first 100 days of the Gerhard Schroeder government in Germany and reports that it likes what it sees. Le Monde says: "Following 16 years of Helmut Kohl�s rule, fresh air has been instilled with the Left's empowerment." It says: "Schroeder, who is close to the entrepreneurs, is eager to modernize Germany and in the process rectify Kohl's reforms which the majority of the people regarded as unfair. Germany is grateful to the chancellor for keeping his election word."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A municipal leader was freely elected for the first time

And from Beijing, Harald Maass comments with bemusement in the Frankfurter Rundschau on an outbreak of democracy, China style. He writes: "Forty-nine years after the founding of the People's Republic, the whole of China is held by the communists. All of China? No! A small municipality populated by 16,000 farmers somewhere in the Chinese hinterland resists and elects its own leader."

Maass goes on: "At the end of December, a municipal leader was freely elected for the first time in the municipality, which consists of 11 villages. Three candidates stood - without Beijing's knowledge - and over the weeks leading up to balloting, took part in a veritable competitive campaign. For China, where all important posts are still filled by the party, the courageous move of the farmers in Sichuan is outrageous."

But, Maass writes, there's a humorous twist to the rebellion: "Local officials in Buyun justified their move by saying they were merely taking the party leadership at its word. At the party conference in 1997, Jiang Zemin, as is usual in official speeches in China, had called for a 'spreading of democracy at the lowest level.' It is meanwhile being said in Buyun that no one need get excited at the election: the winner, Tan Xiaoqiu, is a deputy party secretary of the municipality."