European newspapers were dominated this weekend by the Saturday car bomb explosion in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The blast killed 28–including nine children–and injured more than 200 in the worst atrocity in 30 years of the “Troubles.”
Britain’s Sunday Telegraph reported that the town was crowded with back-to-school shoppers and people attending a carnival and parade. All the papers decried the misleading warning–police cleared the area named in a phone call to the media, only to have the explosion occur at the evacuation point. As the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary told London’s Sunday Times, “[m]en, women and children were led to their slaughter.”
The British Sunday newspapers were filled with grotesque eyewitness accounts of the carnage and unusually unanimous condemnations from politicians of all stripes. Ken Maginnis of the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party declared the bomb “a dreadful crime against humanity.” Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, blamed “those opposed to the peace process.” Even Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was moved to his first “unequivocal condemnation of a republican paramilitary action,” reported Dublin’s Irish Times.
The fragile peace settlement is another potential victim of the blast. The renewal of terrorist activity has rekindled demands that Sinn Fein comply with the Good Friday peace deal by turning in its cache of paramilitary weapons. Reflecting suspicions that the bomb was set by the “Real IRA,” a breakaway branch of the IRA (the initial telephone warning was made by a caller using one of that group’s code words, though official spokesmen denied responsibility Sunday), Ulster Unionist Party leader and Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble told the London Sunday Times that “this bomb would not have been made or detonated if Sinn Fein had handed over its explosives and weapons.” Peter Robinson, a Democratic Unionist Party MP, echoed this sentiment in the Sunday Telegraph: “We shouldn’t be sitting down with Sinn Fein at all until [there is] substantial decommissioning.”
While politicians urged that the bombing not be allowed to disrupt the peace process, several newspapers in both Britain and Ireland called for the return of internment–imprisonment without trial for suspected terrorists–which was recently removed from British law. An opinion piece Monday in the Irish Times said, “Internment will not merely put the Nazi wing [of the IRA] behind bars; it will also serve to strengthen the conciliatory Adams/McGuinness wing in their arguments with dissidents inside the larger Sinn Féin/IRA family.”
Financial panic struck Russia last week, the Moscow Times reports, after financier George Soros called, in a letter to London’s Financial Times, for Russia to set up a currency board and proposed a 15 percent to 20 percent ruble devaluation. According to the Moscow paper, some Russian banks experienced a “liquidity crisis,” some restricted U.S. dollar withdrawals, and the Central Bank “stepped in with emergency credits … to prop up several of the country’s biggest banks, which were in danger of default.” There was a slight rebound in the market Friday when Russian President Boris Yeltsin pledged to defend the ruble. The Moscow Times claims: “Devaluation would threaten the banking system with collapse. In June, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said that a fall in the ruble’s exchange rate would leave only about 30 of the country’s 1,500 banks still standing.” Nevertheless, Monday Russia’s Central Bank gave up its efforts to defend the ruble–a de facto devaluation. Toronto’s Globe and Mail suggested Saturday that the deepening Russian financial crisis could be Yeltsin’s undoing. It reported poll results that show that “his popularity has slumped to an all-time low” and that “[i]f an election were held today, only 4 per cent of Russians would vote for him.”
In South Asia renewed tensions are building around Pakistan’s support for the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Pakistani daily Dawn repeated a foreign office spokesman’s claim that the allegations of Pakistani complicity in Taliban military campaigns are “propaganda.” Meanwhile in India, an opinion piece in the Hindu called Pakistan “the breeding ground for religious extremism, terrorism, narcotics trafficking and money laundering.” It concluded, “One can only hope that in the wake of the brutal bombing of the U.S. Embassies in East Africa and the victory of a mediaevalist force in Afghanistan, the international community will recognise that the war against terrorism cannot be selective.”
With the Aug. 31 one year anniversary of her death approaching, British newspapers are drowning in Di, though Monday’s Guardian reports that more than 2,000 anti-monarchists are expected to march on Buckingham Palace in October. Among the protest’s promised attractions are a Princess Diana look-alike stripper and a homemade guillotine. On a more sober note, Britain’s Observer offered an exclusive report Sunday: “Diana’s legacy ignored in Bosnia landmine scandal” said that political and bureaucratic blunders have left equipment “desperately needed to clear Bosnia’s minefields … unused for months.” According to the story, the European Union “set aside £3.6 million to train and equip 230 mine-clearers, but made no provision to pay for clearing the minefields. As a result, 42 Land Rovers and 230 people have stood idle in Sarajevo since last December.”