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Western Press Review: Questions In The 'War On Terror,' Zakaev's Arrest, And The Onset Of Ramadan

Prague, 6 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the major Western dailies today look at moral questions and intentions in the war on terror; Yugoslavia's political rivalries; the arrest in Copenhagen of high-ranking Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev; the onset of Ramadan; and Israel's political crisis.


The leader in the British daily "Guardian" discusses reports that the United States assassinated six people in a car in the Yemeni desert. The six suspected terrorists were targeted by a U.S.-made Hellfire missile, fired by a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a "drone."

The "Guardian" says despite the impressive, spy-thriller-style technology, there are problems with this approach. "For a start," it says, "it is illegal." The attack in Yemen "violates basic rules of sovereignty. It is an act of war where no war has been declared." It targeted people who may have been planning attacks, but who will never have a chance to face trial.

The "Guardian" says the drone attack is, "at best, irresponsible extra-judicial killing," At worst, it was "a premeditated, cold-blooded murder of civilians." The paper calls this type of attack "morally unsustainable," and says those who authorized it "have some serious ethical as well as legal questions to answer."

But the editorial says those responsible in the U.S. administration will not answer these questions, and the international community will not demand that they are answered -- which the paper says "renders ever more appalling the moral pit which gapes and beckons."

It writes: "Stateless, gangster terrorism is a fearsome scourge. But state-sponsored terrorism is a greater evil, for it is waged by those who should know better, who are duty-bound to address causes not mere symptoms [and] who may claim to act in the people's name."


In the "Boston Globe," columnist James Carroll says "Confusion still reigns" over U.S. war aims in Iraq. And this week's debate at the UN Security Council underscores this, he says. To the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, the focus on "regime change" is "another way of saying 'unconditional surrender,'" Carroll writes. To Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, "the phrases must be synonymous."

But it may be a sign of progress "that the quite different, less absolute war aim of disarmament" is also mentioned at times instead of "regime change." Yet this apparent disparity in stated U.S. aims "may not reflect confusion," he says. "Perhaps the contrasting notes being struck by Washington [represent] a deliberate blurring of national purpose at the service of obtaining the UN Security Council endorsement this week. Once a resolution passes -- any resolution will do -- 'regime change' will surely resume its place of primacy."

As before, says Carroll, Washington "will hold to its stated purpose until the momentum of war trumps everything else, until even the White House, the Pentagon, and our shamefully pliant Congress are at last appalled by what such rampant absolutism actually costs in human life."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses current Yugoslav politics, notably the rivalry between President Vojislav Kostunica and Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. At present , it seems that both politicians "have put a brake on their animosities," which had hindered them both from making any political headway since last summer. Now, after a discussion through the night, Djindjic has agreed to tolerate Kostunica's party in his majority Serbian government. For his part, Kostunica has pledged to call new elections only after the adoption of a new constitution [Editor's note: the Serbian parliament announced today that presidential elections will be held on 8 December].

"Both can profit from this agreement," says the paper. For Kostunica this means an assurance that he will again be elected president in second-round elections in December. This entails eliminating the stipulation from the constitution that says a president requires at least 50 percent of the votes to be elected. Djindjic is also now at less risk that his crumbling ruling-party majority will disintegrate completely.

However, says the commentary, this rapprochement between the two rivals does not ensure compliance with the EU's project to preserve what remains of Yugoslavia as a union of Serbia and Montenegro. The third statesman involved is Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who, having again achieved a government majority in recent elections, is closely allied with Djindjic in their desire for only a very loose supranational structure binding the Yugoslav states.


In the "Wall Street Journal Europe," editorial board member Claudia Rosett looks at the recent visit to Washington of Ilham Aliev, the only son of Azerbaijan's autocratic president, Heidar Aliev. The younger Aliyev was honored at a dinner at which guests included U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, oil company barons, and other U.S. officials; Aliyev was in attendance elsewhere alongside former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Rosett says the Azerbaijani government "has so far offered citizens no chance for genuinely democratic change." She cites Human Rights Watch as saying that, regarding fair elections, Baku has failed "spectacularly." And the latest U.S. State Department World Report "charges the regime with strictures on free speech and elections, arbitrary arrests, torture, and deaths in custody."

"That's not what America's foreign policy is supposed to be encouraging these days," she writes. But Ilham Aliev's status as the "likely inheritor of an entire oil-rich nation [confers] a definite luster when he travels to Washington." Azerbaijan, located "beside the vast vat of petroleum that is the Caspian," has huge oil reserves and has already allowed U.S. warplanes to use its air space in antiterrorist operations.

But Rosett says while welcoming the younger Aliev, the U.S. should also have reminded him "of what is supposed to be a new axiom of U.S. policy: that true stability and friendship do not flow from dictators and oil, but from democracy."


The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" discusses the latest political developments in Israel, in the wake of President Moshe Katsav's announcement yesterday that Israel will hold early elections at the beginning of next year. This comes after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon failed to win the support of a far-right faction to broaden his support base following the collapse of the ruling coalition last week, when the Labor party quit the government in a dispute over funding for Jewish settlements.

The paper questions whether there is an alternative to Sharon. It says it is doubtful that in the short run up until the elections another party can win favor with the electorate. This would require a strong Labor Party with credible leadership, as well as a helpful political environment: no Palestinian suicide attacks, a sustained easing of tensions in the occupied territories and the entire Middle East, as well as international engagement in searching for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Initial steps in this direction are not apparent, says the paper. This means, as far as Sharon is concerned, the date of the election is favorable, as he presents himself as "the man unwilling to make compromises and who staunchly upholds his convictions as he steers toward his goal."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Asma Gull Hasan, the author of a book on the lives of American Muslims, discusses the onset of Ramadan. Hasan says when she was little, she was taught that when a Muslim is old enough, he or she keeps the fast once a year "to remember God, to experience suffering and to learn self control." She goes on to remember past Ramadans while a student at school, and her surprise at how accepting American non-Muslims were of her decision to observe the fast.

Yet Hasan goes on to say, "Ramadan begins tonight, but this year I don't have much enthusiasm for telling people I'm fasting," with the Reverend Jerry Falwell "referring to Muhammad as a 'terrorist' and the Reverend Franklin Graham calling Islam a 'very evil and wicked religion.'"

Hasan remarks that she now finds it hard to believe that she is nervous before entering airport security. "I have a hard time believing many things this Ramadan," she writes. "[That] my mother's donation to feed a Muslim family in Bosnia probably landed her name on a list at the [U.S.] Justice Department; [or] that my grandmother can't ask a relative to take money to the shrines of Sufi saints in Pakistan and India like she always does, for fear of coming under suspicion for laundering money for terrorist causes."


France's daily "Liberation" runs a piece today calling for the release of Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev from Danish custody. The signed appeal says it wants to call urgent attention to the plight of Zakaev, Chechnya's minister of culture and peace negotiator, who was detained at Russia's request and who the paper calls "one of the most eminent spokesmen of the Chechen cause." By allowing the convening of Chechen officials in Copenhagen last week, the Danish authorities had initially "refused to yield to Russian pressure," the paper says. Yet now, with Zakaev's detention, Denmark appears to be acting in allegiance with Russia.

The paper says an action as serious as Zakaev's detention is only justifiable if Denmark "is in possession of formal evidence implicating Mr. Zakaev in terrorist actions against civilians -- actions that he has never ceased denouncing." The paper says the Danish authorities must produce this evidence. If they cannot, it would appear that the European Union is allowing its territory to be used as a trap for those who defend "peoples whose rights are ridiculed," such as the Chechens.

A political solution is the only way to bring peace to Chechnya, the paper says.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)