Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s walk-out from the European security summit in Istanbul to protest against Western criticisms of the war in Chechnya provoked some gloomy comment in the European press Friday. Die Welt of Germany’s front-page lead lamented, “No hope for the Chechens.” The Guardian of London said in an editorial that Russia’s allowing a “token” visit by a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the embattled republic “will do nothing to halt the gut-wrenching mayhem in Chechnya, where there remains no prospect of a ceasefire or even of a de-escalation.” Noting that 66 percent of Russians support the war waged by “hawkish” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the paper warned there are real signs Russia is breaking away “from the fickle embrace of western economic and political neo-liberalism.”
“Men like Mr. Putin, harnessing nationalism, fear and prejudice, seem to promise a stronger, prouder, better future,” the Guardian added. “It is the Chechens who are presently paying with their blood for this illusion. But if the trend intensifies, post-Yeltsin, we may all pay for it.” The Independent of London took a hard editorial line. Saying that the Kremlin’s attitude toward human rights has scarcely changed since the time of Leonid Brezhnev, the paper said Russia should be threatened with expulsion from the OSCE if it doesn’t pull back from Chechnya. In Italy, however, La Repubblica of Rome reported Russia’s acceptance of an OSCE representative under the headline: “Moscow yields on Chechnya.” In Moscow itself, the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta said the Kremlin would only start peace talks after the military campaign has reached its “logical conclusion,” but that the country will be at a loss about whom to conduct them with, having branded the republic’s present leaders as bandits and terrorists.
Leaving Belfast after presiding over 11-week negotiations to rescue the historic Northern Ireland peace agreement that he brokered last year, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell received a lavish tribute from the Times of London Friday. The paper’s Ireland correspondent wrote: “To a province of naysayers, he brought proverbial American can-do spirit. Into a cauldron of recrimination and hatred he injected reason and calm. He was studiously neutral, utterly unflappable and unfailingly optimistic as bombs, killings and expulsions threatened to derail the peace process. Nobody else could have done what he has.” In Dublin, the Irish Times quoted Mitchell as saying that sharing meals had been the key to the new rapprochement between the Catholic republicans and the Protestant Unionists. The talks were “very tough” until the venue moved to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London, he said. “We sat in the ambassador’s living room. We shared meals together. … I insisted that there not be any discussion of issues at the meals, that we just talk about other things so that they could come to view each other not as adversaries but as human beings and as people living in the same place and the same society and wanting the same thing.”
As the new military regime in Pakistan began court proceedings against the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption and kidnapping charges–he is accused of refusing to let the military coup plotters land as their plane was running out of fuel–the Times of India ran an editorial Friday saying that Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf (yes, that’s his name, Mr. Bush) has “wiped out the last vestiges of democracy in Pakistan.” It said that his crackdown on corruption has put out of action not only Sharif and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the leaders of the country’s two main political movements, but also “almost the entire Pakistani upper crust.” Musharraf “has acted in a manner which suggests that Pakistan may undergo a quiet political decapitation,” the paper said. It also reported Friday that Indian Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi has asked her country’s president to commute a death sentence of one of four people convicted of assassinating her husband, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, because she was the mother of a small child. The convicted woman, identified only as Nalini, was the “back-up human bomb” who stood ready to kill herself with Gandhi if the first suicide bomber failed.
For the second time this week, Ha’aretz of Israel reported Friday that the United States refuses to take another Middle Eastern state off its list of countries that support terrorism. The first was Iran, and the second, Syria, a country with which Israel is poised to embark on peace talks. The Jerusalem Post ran an editorial speculating about the significance for relations between Israel and American Jewry of the decision taken in Atlanta to merge three American Jewish organizations into one, the United Jewish Communities. Without offering an answer, it said that both Israelis and American Jews face identity problems, though of different kinds. “Israelis have been temporarily spared the brunt of the American Jewish assimilation crisis, because secular Israelis remain Jews,” it said. “Yet Israel faces an assimilation crisis of its own, that of how to maintain an identity within the increasingly inviting outside world.”
Overriding all other stories in Britain Friday was the news that Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, is expecting her fourth child next May at the age of 45. This will be the first baby born to a serving British prime minister in over 150 years.