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Western Press Review: Focus - In Europe, The Balkans; In U.S., McCain

Prague, 9 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentary on European developments concentrates on a new flow of blood in the Balkans. In the United States, several commentaries focus on a flow of money to presidential hopeful John McCain.

DIE WELT: The terror in Mitrovica fails to surprise

German commentator Katja Ridderbusch, writing from Berlin in Die Welt, says nobody should be surprised by this week's outbreak of violence in Kosovska Mitrovica. As she puts it: "It is a familiar and sad picture, yet surprising it is not. For one, because it is happening in a region which has been the stage for centuries of bloodletting in the most archaic fashion, in which it is difficult to achieve a solid peace -- even with the most far-sighted conflict management strategy and with the world's best-trained and best-equipped troops."

In the writer's words: "The terror in Mitrovica fails to surprise for another reason: because divided cities, especially in the Balkans, always mark the front line of violence. It was the same in Sarajevo and in Mostar. It is no different in Mitrovica."

WASHINGTON POST: There will be no stability in the Balkans unless credible opposition parties can emerge

A Washington Post editorial ties together events in Croatia and Serbia under the headline, "Balkan Transitions." Some excerpts from the editorial:

-- "Croatia's turn toward a more democratic future continues. (Newly elected President Stipe) Mesic and new Prime Minister Ivica Racan both promise to foster greater civil liberties inside Croatia, including a more open posture toward Serbs wishing to return to their former homes, and to abandon (the late Franjo) Tudjman's support for the corrupt and brutal Bosnian Croat politicians who have obstructed the Dayton peace accords. The new leaders further pledge to support efforts to prosecute alleged Croatian war criminals."

-- "A rather different sort of transition is underway in next-door Serbia, where nationalist politics are also giving way -- to gangland politics."

-- "Albeit in starkly different ways, the events in Croatia and Serbia illustrate the same urgent principle: There will be no democracy, and hence no stability, in this part of the Balkans unless credible opposition parties can emerge, unite and, as peacefully as possible, take power."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: We hope that when the trapdoor drops only Milosevic and his cronies will fall through

The Wall Street Journal Europe labels its editorial on the assassination of Serbian Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic, "Serbian Endgames -- The vultures Are Circling Over Yugoslavia. Question Is, Around Whom?"

In the words of the editorial: "That is what we're led to wonder on news that Pavle Bulatovic, Serbia's defense minister, was gunned down Monday evening in a Belgrade restaurant. It's the third time in less than a month that a minion of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has been targeted for assassination."

The newspaper speculates that, earlier, either fellow gangsters gunned down the Serbian ultranationalist militia leader known as Arkan in a move to take over some of his profiteering schemes, or else Milosevic had him shot to keep him from turning world's witness in a war crime's trial -- or both. It says that Bulatovic presents an even more troubling case, in the words of the editorial, "for the defense minister was a native of Montenegro, and if there's going to be another Balkan war it likely will arise from efforts by that last republic still under Belgrade's control to secede from the Yugoslav federation."

The editorial also says this: "The possibility that the defense minister was gunned down by a pro-independence Montenegrin sounds unlikely to us. But given the way the state-run Serb media is describing the event -- a classic terrorist act -- we fear this is the way Milosevic will want to play it should he be hankering for an excuse to crack down, Putin-like, on the secession-minded republic (A reference to speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin used unfounded reports to Chechen terrorism as an excuse to Russia's military campaign in Chechnya)."

The editorial concludes: "We hope that when the trapdoor drops only Milosevic and his cronies will fall through."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Three differing reports are circulating in Yugoslavia

Bernhard Kueppers writes from Zagreb in a Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentary on Bulatovic's slaying that three differing reports circulating in Yugoslavia say, respectively, that the killing was related to:

-- the fact that "the Montenegrin Bulatovic had been defense minister since 1993 and belonged to the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic loyalists opposed to Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic, (and that) the case could lead to an escalation in the conflict between Belgrade and the pro-West leadership in Montenegro;"

-- another case, that of "shady businessman Darko Asanin, killed in the same way in 1998, (and who) was a close relative of Bulatovic;"

-- or to "the series of murders (that) had already claimed victims who were much closer to Milosevic and his family; and were (as a member of the opposition said) evidence of conflict at the top (of Yugoslavia's leadership)."

NEW YORK TIMES: John McCain surprised most U.S. election watchers

Former prisoner of war in Vietnam and U.S. war hero John McCain, now a right-leaning U.S. senator, surprised most U.S. election watchers by his evident popularity in the U.S. state of New Hampshire in a recent vote to select nominees to run for president. New York Times columnist Howell Raines says this of the outcome: "Mr. McCain is a hotter and, potentially, a more divisive presence than (General, then President Dwight) Eisenhower was in 1952. Yesterday (Texas Governor) George W. Bush's surrogates were condemning Mr. McCain as hotheaded and disloyal for airing commercials that accuse Mr. Bush of Clintonesque dishonesty."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Mr. McCain rides a bus called the Straight Talk Express

Former President George Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan, now a contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe, writes that the younger Bush comes across like "the boss's son" in a contest with McCain's "the flyboy." She identifies one of McCain's strengths as his contrasts with the incumbent president. In her words: "Bill Clinton dodged the draft and watched the war on TV; John lived it in the Hanoi Hilton (a notorious North Vietnamese prison). Mr. Clinton is big and glib; Mr. McCain is bantam-like and peppery. Mr. Clinton is smooth; McCain sputters. Mr. Clinton transparently lives by the polls; Mr. McCain relished telling Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they may have to close (its naval) base. Mr. Clinton is famous for lying; Mr. McCain rides a bus called the Straight Talk Express."

WASHINGTON POST: Hypocrisy on campaign reform does not seem to be among McCain's faults

The Washington Post, which editorially most often supports Democratic national candidates, writes this of Republican -- that is, opposition -- party member McCain: "His record on (campaign finance reform) suggests he wants as much reform as possible -- in fact, more. He has pursued change even when the cause was doomed." The newspaper goes on to say this: "What seems to us to matter most is, what he would do about the system if elected. Mr. McCain has his share of faults, but hypocrisy on campaign reform does not seem to be among them."