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Western Press Review: The Bijani Twins, PA Power Plays, And Was The Moscow Bombing Really The Work of Chechen Rebels?

Prague, 10 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In a review of commentary and analysis in the major Western dailies today we take a look at questions surrounding the allegation that last weekend's suicide bombing at a Moscow rock concert was the work of Chechen rebels, the fates of 29-year-old conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani who died on 8 July undergoing surgery to separate them, power plays within the Palestinian Authority, and the complexities of the Anglo-American occupation in Iraq.


Writing in "The Moscow Times," independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer questions the Russian authorities' contention that last week's double suicide bombing at a rock concert was carried out by Chechen separatists. Certainly there have been other suicide attacks perpetrated by Chechens, he says. "But the timing and the target of the one in Tushino do not match the pattern. There has been no claim of responsibility and the only hard evidence connecting the crime with Chechnya is [the] passport of a 20-year-old Chechen woman, Zalikhan Elikhadzhiyeva, found on the spot."

Confirmed Chechen suicide bombings include a December attack on a government building in Grozny; another aimed at a Moscow-appointed Chechen leader; and a second truck bomb in June that destroyed a secret service (FSB) office and a government building. "More than 200 people were killed and many more injured in these [and other] attacks, many of them civilians. But the main target was always military or government-connected."

In contrast, says Felgenhauer, the Tushino bombing "was a direct and deliberate attack against civilians who had no connection at all with the conduct of the war in Chechnya." He says the concert attack has more in common with the 1999 wave of apartment block bombings in Moscow, which also took place -- as today -- "in a run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections in Russia."

The 1999 attacks, which some claim may have involved Russia's own security services, "propelled the previously unknown [and now President Vladimir] Putin into the Kremlin on a wave of resurgent Russian nationalism and promises to 'wipe out' the Chechen rebels."


Writing in "The Boston Globe," Darin Strauss -- the author of "Chang and Eng," a novel about the conjoined brothers for whom the term "Siamese twins" was contrived -- discusses the deaths of conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani on 8 July while undergoing surgery to separate them. Observers all over the world followed developments as the two underwent a "groundbreaking 50-hour operation" to separate their skulls. The 29-year-old Iranian law school graduates eventually died when doctors were unable to control their blood loss.

Strauss says, "Though the surgery did not promise them longer lives or any change in their general physical well-being, the sisters, who were joined at the skull, had decided to undergo the awkward, brutal procedure even though they knew they had only a 50 percent chance of surviving it." He asks, "Who is to say whether, in their shoes, we'd risk death just to be alone, to be normal?"

Strauss goes on to discuss the phenomenon of conjoined twin births, saying "only one in every 200,000 live deliveries are conjoined." Such twins "are identical siblings who develop one placenta out of a single fertilized ovum. The twins are always the same sex, and they are more often female than male -- at a ratio of three to one."

As for the Bijani sisters, Strauss says, "After a life deprived of everything from romantic love to the choice of when to wake up in the morning [the] Bijani sisters [were] women who had to live a shared life of constant, quotidian sacrifice."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says there "seems to be a serious opportunity for peace" in the Middle East right now. But Islamic Jihad's claim of responsibility for a killing on 7 June in violation of a cease-fire struck a blow to recent progress.

However, a more serious setback came yesterday when Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas cancelled a planned meeting with Israel's Ariel Sharon. But the paper says this event may in fact reflect "positive developments in the dynamics of the Palestinian Authority."

On 7 July at a meeting of the Central Committee of Fatah, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat and his supporters accused Abbas of capitulating too easily to Israel. "In response to these accusations, Mr. Abbas resigned from Fatah, cancelled his meeting with Mr. Sharon, and reportedly offered Arafat his resignation as prime minister."

The "Journal" says "Abbas probably believes that at the moment, due to his international standing and the credibility he has given the PA, they can't afford to let him go. It is possible, although by no means certain, that Fatah will ask Mr. Abbas to return, and even concede more power to him for negotiating with Israel."

But the paper says Abbas should also "remember that until he produces real results on the ground, he only commands international favor because he isn't Arafat."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial says the threat to resign made by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is more evidence of his ongoing power struggles with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. But the paper says Arafat and his supporters "should realize that if Abbas quits, the Palestinians will lose their best chance in years to get direct financial aid and support from the United States."

For now, says the paper, Abbas and his cabinet "must be pushed to rebuild a security apparatus that will protect Israel from attacks." Israel, for its part, "needs to be pressured to dismantle settlement outposts in territories that it has occupied since the 1967 war."

Correspondingly, the United States, Egypt, and other nations involved "need to keep offering financial aid and their continued involvement in the peace process to overcome the years of violence, hatred, and distrust on both sides."

The "Times" says Abbas and Arafat have had a prickly relationship for several years, and Abbas "probably threatened to quit so he could get more flexibility in dealing with Israel without Arafat undercutting him." Now prime minister, "Abbas should get the freedom he needs; he has accomplished more in weeks than Arafat has in years."


A "New York Times" piece by Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University's Earth Institute, also published in the "International Herald Tribune," takes note of a recent report by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that says the 400 or so richest Americans had a combined income of $69 billion in 2000. "Incredibly," he says, this sum is "more than the combined incomes of the 166 million people living in four of the countries that the president is visiting this week: Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Botswana." Sachs says "America's richest individuals could actually change the course of Africa's history, and the president [should] urge them to do so."

Sachs says if U.S. President George W. Bush "gets beyond the typical rhetoric, [he'll] discover that poverty throughout the continent is a matter of life and death." According to a World Health Organization finding, Sachs says a total contribution from rich countries of $25 billion a year could prevent around 8 million deaths a year worldwide. The U.S. share would be approximately $8 billion.

Given that the wealthiest Americans just received a tax cut from the Bush administration worth $7 billion (in year 2000 dollar rates), Sachs asks, "Suppose the super-rich applied their tax savings toward Africa's survival?"

He says the world "is dangerously out of kilter when a few hundred people in the United States command more income that 166 million people in Africa -- with millions of the poor dying [as] a result of their impoverishment."


A "New York Times" editorial says it would have hoped that, "two months after the end of the war in Iraq, the situation would be neither this confrontational nor this dangerous."

It adds, "despite some limited gains under Washington's chief civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, exasperated Iraqis are increasingly blaming occupation forces for the excruciatingly slow progress in restoring vital services, rebuilding the economy, and returning governmental and police power to Iraqi hands."

The paper says, "what is needed is a realistic and workable recovery plan. The administration also needs to level with the American people, acknowledging that stabilizing and reviving Iraq will take many more months and could cost many more American casualties."

There must soon be "faster, more visible progress toward self-government" for Iraq, "The New York Times" says. "Beginning serious work on a new national constitution could ease the fears, now common among the majority Shi'ites as well as the minority Sunnis and Kurds, of being unfairly shut out of power by Iraqi rivals or foreign occupiers."


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor" newspaper, international affairs analyst Helene Cobban says the United States should hand over the administration of postwar Iraq to the United Nations. A UN administration would help improve the situation in several ways, she says. First, it would have "a degree of global legitimacy that the U.S. presence in Iraq totally lacks. The UN could mobilize peacekeepers and other peacebuilding resources from around the world, and would enjoy much more legitimacy than the U.S. with Iraqis themselves."

As the costs and casualties continue to mount, Cobban says Washington's focus should be on limiting the loss of U.S. blood while also making the situation better for Iraqis. "For that," she says, "only the UN can do the job."


France's leading daily "Le Monde" takes a look at the results this week (8 July) of a recent Pew Research Center poll in the United States. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans continue to believe that Washington made the right decision by going to war in Iraq, "Le Monde" notes.

However, the popularity of U.S. President George W. Bush has dipped sharply, apparently due to rising anxiety about the Iraqi occupation and the domestic U.S. economic situation. His popularity has fallen 14 points since the end of the war and rests at 60 percent today. According to 62 percent of those surveyed, he is not doing enough to boost the economy, up from 53 percent who felt that way in May. A full 70 percent believe the U.S. president is not concerned enough about the health-care sector.

As U.S. casualties mount in Iraq, less than a quarter -- or 23 percent -- consider events on the ground to be developing positively, while 21 percent feel it is not going well. "Le Monde" notes that during the war, only 10 percent of those interrogated had a negative perception of events in Iraq.

Opinions are also divided along party lines, as 88 percent of Republicans, members of the president's party, support the decision to go to war, compared to 48 percent of Democrats. The poll, which surveyed 1,201 adults nationwide, also found that large majorities of both parties -- 76 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats -- support efforts to reconstruct Iraq and establish a stable government in Baghdad.