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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 05:49 GMT
European press review
Today's European newspapers - printed before the US launched its war against Iraq - are all preoccupied by the crisis.

There are concerns in some Spanish papers about the effectiveness of the military coalition and one Czech paper regrets Prague's involvement in a US-led attack.

Tony Blair's performance at the British parliament debate and worsening Franco-British relations are given wide coverage.

Many papers fear rifts over Iraq will cloud today's EU summit.

Time's up

Peace has ended. The unknown begins

"By the time this issue leaves the presses, the American invasion of Iraq may already have begun," says the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reflecting the widely-held feeling that war against Iraq was inevitable.

"Peace has ended. The unknown begins," writes Italy's L'Unita,

Another Russian paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, speculates over where Saddam would hide if he left Iraq once the war begins.

The paper cites circumstantial evidence that the Iraqi president would hide in Belarus. "The mayor of Baghdad has already visited and according to unofficial information was looking for accommodation for Saddam's family," the paper reports.

Coalition concerns

Several Spanish papers express concern about how the war will be fought. Madrid's La Razon has doubts that the smart weapons will be capable of "differentiating between combatants and civilians".

The military coalition is improvised and full of holes
El Mundo

"There must be no repetition of the pictures of thousands of bodies charred by napalm," it urges.

Barcelona's El Periodico thinks of two possible outcomes. The war "may prove either a triumphant and relatively bloodless campaign or the beginning of a widespread bloodbath with unforeseeable terrorist and economic consequences for the West".

El Mundo, for its part, has little confidence in the military coalition, describing it as "improvised and full of holes".

Indeed a commentator in the Czech Mlada Fronta Dnes regrets that the government has committed troops to a US-led war. "As long as Baghdad does not demonstrably use chemical and biological weapons, no Czech soldier should set his foot on the Iraqi soil," he writes.

Cross-Channel spat

Newspapers across Europe give their verdict on the British parliament's debate on Iraq, particularly Prime Minister Tony Blair's performance.

You cannot abandon all trace of diplomatic tact for weeks on end, fight with your neighbour and then simply proceed as if nothing had happened
Sueddeutsche Zeitung

The Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta feels that the cabinet "suffered light but entirely non-lethal injuries" during the debate. It describes Mr Blair as leaving Westminster "exhausted after a battle of many hours, but with a winner's smile on his face".

The view that Mr Blair came out of the debate much better than expected is echoed in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "News of his imminent political demise proved rash - Tony Blair is still alive," it says.

But the damage Mr Blair has done to relations with France means that he has not survived unscathed, the paper adds. "You cannot abandon all trace of diplomatic tact for weeks on end, fight with your neighbour and then simply proceed as if nothing had happened."

Indeed Paris' anger at remarks criticising France's anti-war stance made during the parliamentary debate is reported in Le Figaro. According to the paper, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin telephoned his British counterpart Jack Straw on Wednesday morning to let him know that Paris was "shocked and hurt" by the remarks, which he said were "unworthy of a friendly country and a European partner".

Dark skies

The division in Europe over Iraq hardly bodes well for the two-day EU summit starting in Brussels today and several papers are less than optimistic about its outcome.

Noises of war may bring about a search for consensus rather than an exchange of reproaches

La Vanguardia

The setting for the summit "could hardly be gloomier," writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "The imminent war in Iraq drives black clouds over the political and economic sky," it continues.

France's Le Monde says diplomats are calling for a short summit "fearing a set-to between Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair". But the paper feels this is unlikely to be a problem as Mr Blair won't be away from London for long "particularly if his troops are already engaged in battle".

A scandal in which bugging devices were found at offices used by several European delegations " simply adds to the almost general confusion" surrounding the summit, says the Swiss Le Temps.

A glimmer of hope can be seen in Spain's La Vanguardia, as the paper hopes that the noises of war "may bring about a search for consensus rather than an exchange of reproaches".

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


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