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Western Press Review: Ocalan, Slavic Union, WTO

By Brent McCann, Susan Caskie, and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 26 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In the Western press today, Europe reacts to the decision by a Turkish appeals court to uphold the death sentence on Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. Other comment focuses on the Belarus-Russia union treaty that was supposed to have been signed today, on upcoming parliamentary elections in Russia, and on China's entry into the World Trade Organization.

AFTENPOSTEN: Turkey has wasted a chance

On the death sentence for Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, Norway's daily Aftenposten expresses disappointment that it says the West shares. As the editorial puts it: "The international community is angry with the decision of the Turkish High Court to uphold the judgment to execute Abdullah Ocalan." The editorial continues: "Turkey had had the chance to show to the outer world and to the European Union that it was prepared to live up to the standards of EU membership, which Ankara so badly wants. It wasted that chance."

But the paper notes that Ocalan has not been executed yet, and Turkey still has a chance to do the right thing. In the editorial's words, "The current hopes are that the intricacies of the Turkish legal system would protract the actual execution of Ocalan indefinitely." And the editorial advises the Turkish court to consider again the opportunity at hand for its country. The editorial concludes: "Turkey had better allow for a broad debate about what kind of an outcome of the Ocalan case would serve its interests best: to take revenge on the Kurdish leader or else to manifest that Turkey is on the way to become an European country on the same footing as the other European democracies."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Those Turks knocking Ocalan are really taking aim at Europe

In Istanbul, Wolfgang Koydl, writing for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, called the reconfirmation of Ocalan's death sentence, in his words, "the non-event of the week." He goes on to say: "The decision had all the surprise and novelty value of the news that New Year's Eve is to be held on December 31." Still, Koydl says, Europeans reacted with surprise.

The Ocalan case is less about the fate of one man, Koydl says. Rather, it's a means for hardliners in Turkey to communicate with Europe. While Europeans have no great sympathy for Ocalan in particular, they do care about the Kurds and their fate. Turkey knows this, Koydl says, and those Turks opposed to membership in the European Community are acting deliberately. As Koydl puts it: "They know that each step which takes Ocalan closer to the gallows means, for Turkey, a step farther away from Europe." Koydl concludes: "Those Turks knocking Ocalan are really taking aim at Europe."

LE FIGARO: Ankara is turning a deaf ear

Writing from Istanbul for the French newspaper "Le Figaro", commentator Eric Biegala says the Turkish government has two good reasons to reconsider before executing Ocalan.

The first is to avoid transforming him into a martyr. In Biegala's words: "If a majority of Turks see Ocalan as their worst enemy, the some 12 million Kurds in Turkey are prepared to consider him their champion. To execute him would be to risk setting the Turkish and Kurdish populations in opposition, which for the moment has been miraculously avoided, despite certain slipups."

The second reason not to execute Ocalan is to avoid jeopardizing Turkey's chances of entering the European Union. The "Le Figaro" commentator points out that the German ambassador has told Turkey that if it executes the Kurdish leader, it can forget whatever promises the EU makes in Helsinki next month.

But Biegala says there is a larger issue at play. The problems facing Turkey's EU candidacy are bound up in the government's "dirty war" against the Kurds. It is this conflict that produces the human rights violations that make Turkey an unsavory candidate for union. Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party has declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawn from Turkish territory. Biegala laments that "For the moment, Ankara is turning a deaf ear."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Belarusians would never forgive Lukashenka if the union with Russia were to fail

Moving further east, the Belarus-Russia union treaty was supposed to be signed today, but Moscow announced the ceremony has been postponed due to the illness of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Writing from Minsk before the postponement was announced, Daniel Broessler of the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the treaty is far more important for Belarus than for Russia.

Broessler says Belarus is almost entirely reliant on Russia for fuel deliveries and as a market for its goods. At the same time, in the commentator's words, "the only real economic interest Moscow has in the union is its oil pipelines, which run through Belarus to the West."

Although Belarus would benefit greatly from the proposed union, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is dissatisfied with the treaty. As Broessler puts it: "He would, for instance, have liked to see the new union crowned with its own president and vice president, a novelty that would have ensured brand-new job opportunities opening up for the current ruler of Belarus's 10 million people. The thought of becoming ruler, or deputy ruler, of 160 million pan-Russians must be his highest goal."

The people of Belarus are eager for the union, Broessler says. In his words, "They apparently never regretted their lack of independence in Soviet days -- mainly because, apart from a few days after the First World War, they have never had any. Most Belarusians speak Russian, and many of them consider themselves Russian."

Broessler emphasizes the Belarusians are counting on their president. He concludes: "They would never forgive Lukashenka if the union with Russia were to fail."

WASHINGTON POST: The agreement is a calculated effort by both the United States and China to fashion the world order of the next century

Turning to the approaching summit of the World Trade Organization (WTO), commentator Robert J. Samuelson writes in the "Washington Post" that the latest trade agreement between the United States and China is about more than trade. The agreement paves the way for China to enter the trade body and it is, in Samuelson's words, "a calculated effort by both the United States and China to fashion the world order of the next century."

Through this agreement, China wants to accelerate economic modernization and become, in Samuelson's words, "a truly great world power." And the United States wants to ensure that prosperity, trade and a growing middle class give China an interest in "a stable world order and, gradually, democracy."

Samuelson frames the problem this way: "The obvious, and unanswerable, question is whether these national agendas are competing or complementary." He says China is risking more, as it will have to lower protectionist barriers and liberalize rules for investing in its major industries.

Samuelson continues: "Economics is statecraft. It sounds inspiring -- and may be America's best chance to influence China. But so much could go wrong. In Russia, the United States also hoped -- naively, so far -- that free-market policies would work wonders."

As he puts it: "If China's economy is strong, disputes might be minor irritants. In a weak economy, they could trigger nationalistic charges of interference. If China devalues its currency to spur its economy, Americans could feel betrayed. Bargaining gains could be lost."

In conclusion, Samuelson says the trade agreement should be supported, but not as a panacea that will automatically bring China democratization and the West riches. In his words: "There should be no illusions. Just because this is America's best bet doesn't mean it will work."