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Western Press Review: WTO Protests, Balkans, Britain, Ireland

Prague, 19 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press over the weekend and today focuses on several issues: the long-term impact of anti-globalization protests, continued fighting between Macedonian security forces and militant ethnic Albanians, Britain's approach to fighting hoof-and-mouth disease, and the use of Saint Patrick's Day as a business opportunity.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" criticizes the "militant anti-capitalism" which it says is the focus of protesters gathered for the World Trade Organization's current talks in Geneva on liberalizing trade in services. The paper says the protesters' "complaints that rich WTO members will bully poor ones into making concessions against their will [are] wrong-headed," and adds: "The rules-based trade system is the best defense the weak have against coercion by the powerful. That is why so many developing countries belong to the WTO." It says: "[Governments] need to argue robustly for liberalization and expose the protesters' scare-mongering as the self-serving nonsense it is."


"Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" commentator Reinhard Veser looks at the 8,500 German members of the Kosovo peacekeeping force, who share an installation with the Macedonian army, which is equipping the special police forces currently fighting in Tetovo. He writes: "German forces are not part of the increasingly violent conflict between Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces. But they are certainly close to it." He adds that Macedonian units have set up a mortar position next to the German base from where they can fire on positions held by the ethnic Albanian fighters who call themselves the National Liberation Army, leaving the Germans open to retaliatory fire. He writes: "This might even be what the Macedonian security forces have in mind. They have not been successful up to now and may be figuring on the Bundeswehr becoming their ally once it needs to defend itself."


An editorial in Britain's "Daily Telegraph" also discusses the latest wave of Balkan violence. The paper says: "Just as [Slobodan] Milosevic could rouse Serbs across the old Titoist federation, so can irredentist Albanians with members of their own ethnic group. Unless checked, they could make the position of the UN, NATO, and the non-governmental organizations in Kosovo impossible. [In] the worst of cases, other Balkan states such as Bulgaria, Greece, and even Turkey could get involved." The paper adds: "What is lacking among NATO allies is a coherent plan and the will to execute it. [Much] greater effort should be made to block the passage of the guerrillas between Kosovo and Macedonia."


Britain's "Times" daily carries an editorial that says the precautions being taken against the further spread of hoof-and-mouth disease lack consistency and therefore credibility. The paper says: "The range of precautions that the government has imposed has rightly baffled observers. On the one hand, farmers in [the district of] Cumbria face a harsh cull of a million healthy animals near areas of high risk. Within that cull, however, limited exceptions may yet be made for some specialist pedigree breeders and rare breed owners." The editorial goes on: "Meanwhile, restrictions on sporting events and tourist attractions remain patchy. Some [rugby matches] have been postponed. Yet, soccer games [attracting] spectators from the rural areas which have been listed as among the hardest hit by foot-and-mouth infection have gone ahead. [The] Government needs to ensure that its different policies form parts of a consistent whole, and take time to explain to the British public the logic behind every step along a hard road."


The "Irish Times" says in an editorial on Saint Patrick's Day -- celebrated on Saturday (17 March) -- that the holiday is as much about business opportunities as it is about drinking beer. The paper says: "As an open, trading society, [Ireland] depends to an increasing extent on developing and maintaining good relations with countries around the globe. It would be wrong to dismiss foreign trips by government ministers to mark St. Patrick's Day as mere junketing. The national holiday provides a chance for government representatives to meet Irish emigrants and their descendants in a range of international cities." The paper adds: "An estimated 70 million people of Irish descent can choose to celebrate the shamrock. Being Irish is, more than ever, something to be proud of."


Barbara Crossette, in a news analysis for the "New York Times," says the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas could be the most disturbing example to date of cultural annihilation, She asks: "Did the Taliban really have any idea what they were doing? The movement's leaders are mostly young sons of illiterate peasants, raised on mine-strewn battlefields and stark refugee camps, and educated in rote sectarian blinders. Do they understand that this act, more than anything else, will be how the world remembers them?" She quotes Barnett Rubin, a director at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, as saying: "'[The Taliban] has no idea what Buddhas are or what Buddhism is. We say they're destroying their national history. None of the Taliban went to schools where they were taught their national history.'"


An editorial in the "New York Times" says today's scheduled White House visit by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori "could scarcely be better timed." With mounting financial problems in Japan and the stock market crisis in the United States, the paper says, it is time for the United States to help reverse Japan's economic decline. The paper writes: "America and Japan are the world's two largest economies. If neither one is growing, much of the world will feel the pain." It adds: "No sustained Japanese recovery is possible without far-reaching bank reform that shuts down or sells off the weakest institutions. A full government bailout will not solve the problem unless it is tied to reform."

The editorial concludes: "[Tokyo's] politicians have little appetite for reforms that could increase government debt, hurt business interests, and boost unemployment. Washington should weigh making these changes more palatable by agreeing to let the yen decline against the dollar."


The "Washington Post" says in an editorial that Spain should not rule to extradite Russian media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky. It says: "Although Mr. Gusinsky, one of the 'oligarchs' of Russia's crude post-Soviet capitalism, is hardly a saint, the charges brought against him in Moscow are glaringly spurious. [His] real offense is that the NTV [non-state television network] has infuriated [Russian President Vladimir] Putin by reporting critically on the war in Chechnya." The paper adds: "If the [Spanish] court rules against [Gusinsky], the already slim chances for NTV's independent survival may disappear. [Should the Spanish government] send him back to Moscow, it would be choosing to join Mr. Putin's effort to use KGB tactics to silence his opposition, a choice that would damage Spain as well as Russia."


Columnist Jim Hoagland writes in the "Washington Post" that "George W. Bush has met President Putin's repeated appeals for an early substantive meeting by hanging out a sign that says: 'Don't bother us. We're thinking.'" He calls Putin's response -- presenting NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson with a plan for Europe to share Russia's S-300 missile defense system -- "chutzpah on a global scale." He writes: "So heavily conditioned as to be militarily meaningless, the Putin plan nonetheless carries political messages about Moscow's determination to develop alternatives to Mr. Bush's far more ambitious vision of U.S. missile defense."


Finally, a commentary in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" examines the nearly decade-long fiasco of Western aid projects in Russia. Janine Wedel, author of a book on the subject called "Collision and Collusion," writes: "U.S.-sponsored 'reforms' of the 1990s left many Russians worse off." The handling of the $350 million government aid package -- which the Clinton administration allowed to be almost fully controlled by Harvard University and a small group of Russian insiders -- "encouraged an opaque and unaccountable system. [Under] the guise of economic reform and in the name of democracy, the Clinton administration exported a form of politics that resembled the informal and powerful patronage networks that once ran the Soviet Union."