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Western Press Review: Protestors Denounce IMF; Blair Embraces Putin

Prague, 18 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The meeting between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund attracts attention in the Western press today, with plenty of calls to reform both institutions. Newspapers also comment on Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin's meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

NEW YORK TIMES: With greater public understanding the institutions can help

An editorial in the New York Times notes that protestors in Washington failed to shut down the meetings of the World Bank and the IMF. "The numbers of people who descended on the capital were smaller than expected, and the Washington police engaged in pre-emptive arrests to stop disruptions," it says. Even so, it says the United States and other countries must keep up pressure to reform the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. "Without the support of people in donor and recipient countries, these institutions cannot continue to meet the challenges they face and bring about necessary improvements," the paper says. "With greater public understanding, they can help ensure that the global economy is not only strong but also fair and protective of human rights and the environment."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The IMF and World Bank must be streamlined

In the International Herald Tribune, two former World Bank officials, Gautam Kaji and Percy Mistry, also argue there is a compelling case for reform of both the IMF and the World Bank. They say that globalization cannot be stopped but will, in their words, "inevitably form the broad future agenda for both the international financial institutions and the regional development banks." But they argue that the IMF and World Bank must be streamlined in order to respond to the needs of poor peoples.

They write: "The World Bank and the IMF overlap. Both institutions overlap with the regional development banks. There is also excessive overlap with the United Nations and its various organizations. This is not synergy but waste; it is not coordination but competition. It leads to inefficient use of money and places undue burden on poor countries, often well beyond their capacity to manage it."

ASIAN WALL STREET JOURNAL: The World Bank and IMF have developed a bad case of clientitis

The Asian Wall Street Journal calls on the World Bank and the IMF to return to their original mandates, meaning that the IMF would grant only short-term loans and the World Bank would aid only truly poor countries. The paper's editorial says: "Since the end of the Cold War, the World Bank and IMF have sought to protect their empires and in the process have developed a bad case of clientitis. The World Bank has lent extensively to countries that are not desperately poor, countries which have access to international capital markets. The IMF has embarked on long-term aid programs when its original mandate was to provide short-term bridges through balance of payments crises." In both cases, the paper says, "the effect is to reduce market discipline" and discourage developing countries from making reforms.

The Wall Street Journal continues: "When a government doesn't have to convince someone that it's a good credit risk, it has a freer hand to invest in boondoggle projects, or just siphon off much of the money into private accounts. IMF programs encourage international bankers to disregard the risk of a default, since there is a lender of last resort in the picture. The cumulative effect is that borrower countries don't feel the need to do the hard work of reform required to attract foreign investors."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Competition has broken out to win Putin's favor

Turning to Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin's visit to London yesterday at the invitation of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an editorial in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung proclaims: "The new czar is here, and in the West a competition has broken out to win his favor. Thanks to diplomatic acrobatics, London has placed itself at the front." The editorial says Blair has abandoned his recently announced concept of "ethical foreign policy" by rolling out the red carpet for the man who is waging a bloody war in Chechnya.

The editorial notes wryly: "First he was allowed to hold court with industrialists, then he was courted by the prime minister, and finally there was an official welcome by the royal court."

It continues: "Of course, good contacts to the Kremlin's leader are not a bad idea. In Berlin, Paris, and Washington as well, nobody wants to jeopardize a relationship with Moscow by waving the banner of high morals. But," the paper says, "the Chechen war requires at least some caution."

The EU and the Council of Europe are the forums where these cautions are being administered, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung says. But in bilateral relations, the courtships continue.

NEUER ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: This was the first international presentation of Putin's economic policy

Switzerland's Neuer Zuercher Zeitung says Putin was engaged in a different kind of courtship -- courting foreign investment. "Regardless of the strong words about Chechnya and disarmament," the paper says in an editorial, "the main goal of Putin's trip was to build a relationship with British business." In his speech to business leaders, Putin said all the right things: he promised to tear down bureaucratic hurdles, push through market reforms, reduce business taxes, and raise efficiency. The editorial notes that Putin emphasized that the main hurdle to economic development has been political instability -- which he has thoroughly vanquished. The paper accepts Putin's words as sincere, concluding: "The meeting with British business leaders was the first international presentation of Putin's economic policy."

GUARDIAN: In welcoming Putin, Blair abandoned his ethics

Writing in London's The Guardian, commentator Hugo Young sharply criticizes Blair for welcoming Putin to London. "There is a case for getting on with Putin," Young writes. "He looks likely to be in power for some time. He may have a mandate for reform which brings legal order to a chaotic economic regime. Under him, Russia will be engaged in reassembling its presence on the world scene. By coming to London, he opens himself to Western influence." But he adds that in welcoming Putin, Blair abandoned his ethics and gave up the chance to pressure Russia to change its policy toward Chechnya. "The case for sticks not carrots, against the perpetrator of Chechnyan barbarities, goes unheard, just as it did with Jiang Zemin, and might, in the right circumstances, with Saddam Hussein," Young writes. "Instead, we get a lot of stuff about men of the same generation who are able to understand each other."

LE MONDE: Putin's aim is to split the Americans from the Europeans, and the Europeans among themselves

In the French daily Le Monde, commentator Daniel Vernet says Putin's courteous manners have served him well. "He began his offensive by charming the foreign ministers who visited him. This applies to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to Hubert Vedrine of France and to Joschka Fischer of Germany. Each time, he found words to please them." However, Vernet says, this charm offensive hides a darker motive: to divide the West. "His immediate aim is simple: to split the Americans from the Europeans, and the Europeans among themselves, by first attacking those who appear to be the weakest link in the chain of opposition to Moscow policy in the Caucasus: Great Britain," Vernet writes. "For Vladimir Putin, the visit to London, the cradle of parliamentarianism and the rule of law, is a consecration."

(Susan Caskie and Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)