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Western Press Review: Bulgaria, U.S. Political Asylum, Middle East

Prague, 23 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Today's survey of Western press commentary finds attention spread among a variety of issues. From London, where Czechoslovakia once was dismissed as "a little country far away about which we know nothing," The Times ardently rises to the defense of what it calls "the little Balkan nation" of Bulgaria. In the United States, the Washington Post and a New York Times columnist call for justice for an imprisoned Egyptian asylum seeker. And a commentator for Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau critiques favorably the first steps of Pakistan's new military rulers.

TIMES: It is to be hoped that Western nations, too, will offer more help to Bulgaria

"Bulgaria deserves better than snubs from the West," The Times declares in an editorial. In its words: "President Clinton's visit to Bulgaria, during a tour of southeastern Europe, is an occasion for two different kinds of praise for the little Balkan nation. Bulgaria's courage in opposing Yugoslavia, its long-time regional partner, during hostilities in Kosovo this spring -- by letting NATO use its airspace -- should be gratefully recalled by Western partners whose successful intervention relied in part on the support of local states. Equally, the almost miraculous turnaround in the Bulgarian economy brought about, over the last two years, by the current pro-market government, must be warmly commended."

For all the talk since the war over Kosovo of a Balkan Stability Pact and international aid for the region, little has occurred, the newspaper says, insisting that Bulgaria deserves better,

The Times contends, in its words: "For now, Mr. Clinton is promising American economic, political and military backing "in the long term," and aides say $25 million in American aid is in the offing. It is to be hoped that this specific promise prompts other Western nations, too, to offer more help to a small ally which was brave enough to help them."

WASHINGTON POST: It is time for the government to let Mr. Ahmed go free

The Washington Post denounces what it says is the "poor quality" of the US government's case for incarcerating Nasser Ahmed. In an editorial, the newspaper says that Attorney General Janet Reno should promptly free Ahmed, at least temporarily. American immigration authorities already have held him for three-and-a-half years.

An immigration judge determined early on that Ahmed probably would be subject to torture if he were forced to return to his native country, Egypt. But the US Immigration and Naturalization Service has fought to keep the Egyptian in custody, alleging that he would be a security risk if released in the United States. The government agency, however, refused to say what evidence it had for its mistrust of Ahmed. Now it turns out that the even the U.S. FBI lacks faith in the secret evidence.

The newspaper contends, as the editorial puts it: "It is time for the government to let Mr. Ahmed go free while it proceeds with its appeal. It also is time to rein in the use of secret evidence, [which] has been shown to be so [easily misused] and unreliable."

NEW YORK TIMES: The facts of his case demonstrate the dangers of secret evidence

On the same case, legal affairs specialist and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis says that Janet Reno has been what he calls "an admirably independent attorney general." But, he says, she has not been a very strong defender of civil liberties.

In the Ahmed case, Lewis writes, in his words: "Ms. Reno faces a pointed test of her commitment to a basic concept of due process of law -- the right of an accused person to see the evidence against him."

Here's how the columnist summarizes the case: "Immigration courts have ordered the release of an alien imprisoned for three and a half years on secret evidence charging him with connections to terrorism. Ms. Reno will decide whether to accept those rulings or order his imprisonment continued. The prisoner is Nasser Ahmed, an Egyptian who seeks asylum in this country. The facts of his case dramatically demonstrate the dangers of secret evidence."

The columnist observes that an immigration judge has granted Ahmed's request for asylum and has ordered him released from detention while the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service appeals the ruling. Last week, the board upheld the judge's order.

Columnist Lewis concludes: "Commissioner of Immigration Doris Meissner asked Attorney General Reno [to set] aside the decision to release Mr. Ahmed, keeping him in prison. The intention, it was said, was only to preserve the status quo. Nasser Ahmed has already spent more than three years in solitary confinement. Is that now the status quo? I thought freedom was. And the right of anyone in this country to confront his accusers."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The construction of a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey is a prudent insurance policy

The Los Angeles Times -- in an editorial reprinted today in the International Herald Tribune -- described US financial help in the proposed construction of oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan to Turkey as, in its words, "a prudent insurance policy." The paper said there are two negative trends that these pipelines might help to prevent. These are, as the editorial put it: "Russian dominance in Central Asia, and penetration of revolutionary Islamic ideology from Iran."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Nouri may pay a heavy price for his daring

The Washington Post says the drama arising from a court proceeding in Iran is a sign of the freedom of expression that may develop when state controls loosen. Iranian officials have charged Abdullah Nouri -- a former cleric with conservative roots who is now a popular reformer -- with apostasy and treason. Nouri has insisted in the trial on his right to, as the Post puts it, "speak, criticize and name taboo figures of the recent past." The editorial notes Nouri has used his appearances in court to air his dissident views, and the court has responded by limiting him to written, rather than oral defense. In The Post's words: "Mr. Nouri may pay a heavy price for his daring."

MIAMI NEWS: Serbians could do no wrong in the minds of the protesting Athenians

Columnist Howard Kleinberg comments in the Miami News on the Greek demonstrators who protested U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit last week to Athens. The protesters were described in many news accounts as leftists and, in Kleinberg's words, as "anarchists and communists." Kleinberg writes ironically that U.S. laws forbidding burning or desecrating the U.S. flag would have no effect, as he puts it, "in Athens, Baghdad or even Belgrade." He jokes that non-U.S. protesters burn so many American flags, he'd like to have the business of supplying them.

More seriously, the writer, former editor of the Miami News, offers this conclusion about the Greek protests last week: "The anti-American protest in Athens had to do more with ethnic bonding than anything else. The Greeks are close to the Serbians, just as are the Russians. No matter the ritual slaughter of Albanian Kosovars at the hands of the Serbians, which brought the U.S. into the melee, the Serbians could do no wrong in the minds of the protesting Athenians. Clinton's visit simply inflamed the fringe of Greek politics."

Returning to humor, the writer adds this: "And it did wonders for the flag salesmen."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A cynical move by Saddam may sabotage a more humane and sensible sanctions regime

The British financial newspaper Financial Times says in an editorial today that the UN Security Council has been crawling at the speed of a snail toward what it calls "a more humane and sensible sanctions regime" on Iraq. But, what the editorial calls "a cynical move by Saddam" may sabotage the effort just as a consensus seems to be emerging.

As the editorial puts it: "It is bizarre for the Iraqi leadership to shut off all exports simply because the present sanctions system has been renewed for another fortnight." The newspaper says that Saddam Hussein seeks to put pressure on the Security Council by, in the editorial's words, "squeezing [his own] downtrodden people once again." The newspaper says that a Dutch-British proposal now under consideration, as the Financial Times puts it, "offers a worthwhile chance of breaking the impasse without rewarding Saddam's intransigence."

NEW YORK TIMES: For one side to win, the other need not lose

On another Mideastern topic, The New York Times editorializes that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, as a former general, understands that he faces a critical and fleeting moment of opportunity to wage peace between his country and the Palestinians. The Times says this: "Several factors combine to make this moment so crucial. After 100 years of bitter and unforgiving conflict, Israel and the Palestinians now have leaders with the vision to see that for one side to win, the other need not lose. Barak and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, have come to understand that their own fates, and those of their peoples, are now intertwined in a potentially positive way."