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Western Press Review: Putin, Africa, 'Virus,' Balkans

Prague, 5 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries in the Western press address a variety of subjects today. Here's our selection of some of them.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The hard part begins on Sunday

With the inauguration of Russia's president-elect Vladimir Putin set for Sunday, two newspapers assess the country's future. Britain's Financial Times says in an editorial that, for Putin, "the easy part was getting elected. The hard part begins on Sunday when he will be inaugurated as Russia's second president."

The editorial notes that Putin's campaign for the presidency was "based on three broad but ill-defined promises: to give Russia stability, the dictatorship of the law, and greatness once again." It says: "It was a popular message. But none of these promises is enough to guarantee prosperity, which the country desperately needs to recover its self-confidence. "

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: It will no longer do to accept the one-man system

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Flora Lewis argues that as he takes power, Putin "faces a straightforward, mind-boggling dilemma." She says: "He must make some very basic, far-reaching, emotional as well as power-challenging changes in the way Russia runs, and quite soon, while acknowledging that the interests which support him and the foreign powers which worry about how to deal with him want, above all, stability."

For Putin to succeed, Lewis continues, the world community will have to change its attitude toward Russia: "It will no longer do to accept the one-man system and deal with Russia as though only the leader counted," she says. "Involvement with the rest of the world is necessary at all levels, in all parts of this vast country."

The commentary concludes: "The time has come to deal realistically and objectively, neither demonizing Moscow nor sugar-coating [its relations with other countries]. The burden of effort falls ineluctably on the Russians themselves. They need and deserve not patronizing condescension or blind indulgence but the respect of being expected to live up to their responsibilities."

Violence against United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone also attracts attention in the U.S. press today. Rebels in the African country -- led by warlord Foday Sankoh -- killed four peacekeepers this week and took at least 92 UN troops and civilians hostage.

NEW YORK TIMES: The UN must regain control of an unraveling mission

In its assessment, the New York Times says the incident "demonstrates the danger of sending a weak and inadequately trained peacekeeping force into a country where there is not yet a peace to keep." It adds that "The UN must quickly reinforce the 8,700 peacekeepers already there and regain control of an unraveling mission."

WASHINGTON POST: The United Nations must recognize that half-measures won't do this time

The Washington Post says that the hostage-taking raises questions "about the viability of UN peacekeeping in Africa as a whole." The paper asks: "If the operation in tiny Sierra Leone can be stymied by one warlord, what hope is there for the mission envisioned to help pacify Congo?" It argues that Sierra Leone "may be the last chance to show that international action still offers some hope to ravaged 'failed states' in Africa, despite awful failures in Liberia, Somalia and Rwanda."

The editorial ends with this advice: "The United Nations must recognize that half-measures won't do this time: Either the mission to salvage this brutalized little country is not vital to international peace and security, in which case it should cease before more peacekeepers' lives are lost, or it is -- in which case [the call from U.S. envoy to the UN Richard Holbrooke for a strong international response needs] to be swiftly acted upon, with a force to match."

DIE WELT: The virtual world is very real

The German daily Die Welt comments on a different sort of terrorism -- the "I Love You" Internet virus that shut down computers around the world yesterday. The paper says while the Internet started out as a system to exchange military information, it is now so widely used that it has become absurd. It writes: "[Best-selling U.S. novelist] Tom Clancy described years ago in his thriller 'Debt of Honor' how such a virus could lead to war. The attack yesterday served yet as another warning: The virtual world is not a parallel world." it concludes. "It is very real."

INFORMATION: Liberalization has been the driving force behind most of the capital-markets developments in Europe

Turning to financial matters, Denmark's daily Information comments on this week's announced merger of the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges, which will create Europe's largest bourse. The paper writes: "From an economic point of view, the logic of creating Europe's mega stock exchange out of the London and Frankfurt exchanges is clear. Size does make a difference."

The editorial continues: "Global-oriented national businesses feel they are too big for their national stock exchanges. The advent of the Internet has put additional pressure on traditional stock exchanges. It is liberalization that has been the driving force behind most of the capital-markets developments in Europe during the past few years."

Still, Information adds, there are some contradictions involved: "The grand fusion," it says, "has taken place against the background of an ever-sinking euro." The contradiction, it argues, "is that if the capital markets had not been liberalized in the 1980s, the wild variations of the exchange rates would not have occurred in the 1990s. And if there had been no wild variations in the 1990s, the euro itself might not have come into being."

FINANCIAL TIMES: If we can give up the cliches we may better serve the Balkans

Finally, in the Financial Times, historian Mark Mazower argues in favor of recent Western pledges to send reconstruction aid to the Balkans. Mazower acknowledges that the region "remains a synonym for violence and instability." But he rejects the notion that sending aid amounts to throwing good money after bad. Things in the region are changing, Mazower argues, not least in the economic sphere.

"A century ago," he writes, "Balkan states were primarily agrarian with very limited potential for trade or business. Today, societies are predominantly urban and inter-connected not only through e-commerce but also through new EU-financed infrastructure that will link the Adriatic with the Black Sea." He adds: "Roads between Greece and its northern neighbors are being improved, and Greece itself -- the one Balkan member of the EU -- is turning into a regional center of investment capital and business expertise." But, Mazower asks, "can international capitalism be made to work in a region where it has historically failed to do so?" His reply: "If we take the scale of organized crime as a barometer of an economy's ability to generate legitimate jobs, then we must be concerned." But he continues: "Western aid can make a difference here, just as European institutions can encourage the ongoing reassessment of the nationalist values and aspirations that have held sway in the last 200 years.: He sums up: "If we can give up the cliches that have clouded our understanding of the region in favor of a more practical and rounded approach, we may better serve its future as well as its past."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report)