Many papers around the world led Wednesday with the thousands dead in the Taiwan earthquake, and in London the Financial Times began to examine the quake’s possible economic effects. It quoted one financial analyst as saying that while Taiwanese domestic consumption will tumble at first, within four months, fiscal spending will make the net effect on the economy “hugely positive.” But the FT said that the earthquake might disrupt supplies of computer chips to the world market. Taiwan produces 12 percent of the world’s D-RAM chips, and the earthquake is expected to interrupt production for several weeks, the paper said.
In Beijing, China Daily led with an offer of assistance to Taiwan by President Jiang Zemin, who said “the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits are as inseparable as flesh and blood.” This remark may have rankled Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, who recently stirred things up by emphasizing his country’s separateness from China. But the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong welcomed Beijing’s change of tone from belligerence toward Taiwan to talk of blood ties. “How sad that it can take tragedy to make people recognise a common bond,” it said in an editorial. “Beneath the rhetoric, there is one nation. If Beijing’s offer of help can cool things down, then even amid such devastation Taiwan can expect calmer and happier days in the future.” According to Le Figaro of Paris, however, People’s Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, accused President Lee Tuesday of causing the earthquake with his separatist statements.
In Australia, whose army is heading the peacekeeping force in East Timor, the Sydney Morning Herald led Wednesday on the discovery by Australian troops of the tortured bodies of 30 people in a well behind the home in Dili of the East Timorese independence leader Manuel Carrascalao. On top of the stack of battered bodies was one of a woman who had been decapitated. The troops found dried blood and meat hooks in a nearby garden, and locals claimed the victims had been hung from the hooks before being dumped in the well, the paper said. It said Carrascalao’s house is only yards from the base of the Aitarak pro-Indonesia militia group whose leader Eurico Guterres in May ordered his men to go to war with the Carrascalao family. That same day, 100 of Guterres’ men stormed Carrascalao’s house and killed 12 people, including his 18-year-old son.
The Sydney Morning Herald also prominently reported the murder, allegedly by Indonesian soldiers, of 30-year-old Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes, who was the correspondent in Jakarta for the Financial Times of London and the Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland and who also wrote occasionally for the Christian Science Monitor. He was riding on the back of a motorcycle through the deserted Dili suburb of Becora when, according to his driver, who survived, six men in Indonesian army uniforms opened fire. Later Thoenes was found lying face down behind a gutted Becora house, “his notebook lying just in front, his body battered and apparently mutilated.” SMH correspondent Lindsay Murdoch said the killers cut off one of his ears “and took it away as some sort of bizarre souvenir.” Thoenes had arrived in East Timor only hours before he was attacked.
Still reporting from Dili, the SMH’s Murdoch said that East Timor might face a new wave of violence because of the collapse of Indonesia’s military command structure. Hundreds of Indonesian troops due to leave soon are already vandalizing buildings and loading furniture, food, and other goods onto trucks and ships bound for West Timor. He quoted Maj. S. Ahmed of the Indonesian army as saying on the eve of his 1,000 soldiers’ departure, “You just wait … all hell will break loose.” Murdoch also reported that the Australian military have received strong indications that Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, the Indonesian commander in East Timor, will not be able to stop last-minute revenge attacks by members of his forces.
In Israel, Ha’aretz criticized Prime Minister Ehud Barak for declining an invitation to address the German Bundestag during his visit to Berlin, the first by a foreign leader since the city regained its position as capital of a united Germany. It said a speech by Barak from the podium of the renovated Reichstag building, where the infamous Nuremberg Laws were passed, would have been “an opportunity to talk about the greatest of horrors, to commemorate the victims and to celebrate the victory of the rebirth of the Jewish people.” It said, “A speech of this type, had it been made, could have been a direct and frank appeal to those Germans who wish to confront their past and to Israelis who wish to preserve it in the annals of human history.” In an interview with Le Monde of Paris Wednesday, Barak reiterated his determination to achieve a Middle East peace settlement, but not at any price. Jerusalem “will remain unified as the eternal capital of Israel,” he said. In an editorial, Le Monde lauded him as the first Israeli leader to envisage the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel “without either weakness or fright.”
In an interview with Le Figaro, Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky–the man known as the “Rasputin of the Kremlin” because of his allegedly central role in all major political maneuvers in Russia–denied that he has ever supported the Chechen warlords and blamed them for the recent wave of terrorist bomb attacks. He also denied that he is working for former presidential candidate Gen. Alexander Lebed to succeed Boris Yeltsin. Berezovsky predicted that Yeltsin will see out his term until the presidential election of June 2000, and that there is “a very small chance” that Lebed might then succeed him. But the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, which is anti-Yeltsin, reported a rumor that next week President Yeltsin is to undergo a secret operation, which he may not survive. MK reporter Alexander Khinstein speculated that, if Yeltsin dies under the knife, the group of Kremlin insiders known as “the family,” of which Berezovsky is the reputed leader, “may not even make it on board the presidential airplane” to escape the mobs demanding their blood.
In contrast to their attitude during her lifetime, Russian newspapers paid warm tribute to Raisa Gorbachev after her death. Tuesday Izvestia likened her to a star that flashed for a short time, but for long enough to change the world–“our Soviet, gray, reinforced-concrete world.” Moskovsky Komsomolets said that her arrival on the Soviet political scene “had no lesser impact on Russia than the fall of the Berlin Wall on the West.” In the business daily Kommersant, Alexander Yakovlev, a reformer close to Mikhail Gorbachev, said, “Raisa Gorbachev turned out to be the first–and so far the last–lady in our country.” Yakovlev noted the rare closeness that existed between Russia’s former first couple. “They were always together, and time did not exhaust their tenderness,” he wrote. “I would not risk saying what love is. It is something absolutely indefinable. But I can say about Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev: They had it.”