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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 06:57 GMT
European press review

The Spanish press on Friday is decidedly unenthusiastic about a change in the law which could mean the jailing of the Basque prime minister, if he defies Madrid with a planned referendum.

Elsewhere there is a cautious welcome for Iran's return to the nuclear fold. And in Bulgaria, criticism of the government's anti-crime record.

'Go to jail' card

The Spanish opposition parties' boycott of the parliamentary vote on Thursday did not prevent the Penal Code from being amended.

The dangerous and avoidable reintroduction of the political crime
El Periodico

Madrid's El Mundo sees the banner held up by protesting MPs with the words "Everyone to prison!" as reflecting an opposition "driven to mockery in its impotence".

With this attitude, the paper says, "the opposition, far from punching the Popular Party into the ropes, exposed its own powerlessness against the government".

El Pais is unhappy about the government's "dubious amendment", saying it is "undoubtedly a novel idea, but not a good one".

Barcelona's El Periodico sees the amendment as an augur of the "dangerous and avoidable reintroduction of the political crime".

"It is true," the paper acknowledges, that the Basque prime minister's plan "encourages the hopes of the men of violence to see their crimes rewarded", and it "aims to bring about constitutional reforms by fraudulent means".

But all of this "can be countered with the democratic instruments of the law-based state", instead of which "the government has chosen to substitute mere threats for the debate of ideas".

Iran's nuclear file

Germany's Der Tagesspiegel welcomes Iran's signing of an agreement with the UN allowing tougher nuclear inspections, but it warns that much will depend on its implementation.

"Yesterday was a good day for the International Atomic Energy Agency," the paper says, "and for all those who want to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands."

Persistence paid off, the mediation mission was a success - and this time the hawks in Washington were on the outside.
Die Presse

However it points out that the Iranian leadership not long ago appeared divided on the issue, and that hard-liners may still be trying to build a nuclear bomb secretly.

Events in the coming months should clarify matters, the paper suggests, and "show", "whether the Iranians intend to use ploys, following the example of North Korea or Iraq, or instead are seriously interested in settling their differences with the West".

Austria's Die Presse hails the development as "a triumph for diplomacy", noting that the decision was preceded by visits of the British, French and German foreign ministers, the head of the IAEA and the European Union's foreign policy chief.

"In the end," it says, "persistence paid off, the mediation mission was a success - and this time the hawks in Washington were on the outside."

"When the Europeans pull in the same direction, they can make things happen," the paper concludes.

The Swiss Le Temps, however, warns that the good news should not be allowed to hide "the disturbing fact" that the whole non-proliferation system is suffering "from a crisis of confidence... with some American political officials challenging the very principle of such a system".

The paper points to the fact that Tehran has been shown to have benefited from foreign - and specifically Pakistani - technology.

"Particularly heavy suspicions fall on Islamabad," it says, "and some do not hesitate to regard" Pakistan "as the third member of the 'Axis of Evil', now that Iraq has fallen".

Le Temps wonders if Tehran will be willing to put a complete stop to its production of enriched uranium, and concludes that "the Iranian nuclear file" is "far from closed".

Making waves again

Statements made earlier this week by Austria's maverick Freedom Party figure Joerg Haider in which he appeared to liken President George W Bush to Saddam Hussein continue to make headlines in the country's press.

Mafia has infiltrated the State; Interior Ministry doesn't care
Douma

Vienna's Der Standard says Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has failed to come down hard enough on the controversial politician and coalition partner.

He could have demanded Joerg Haider's resignation from his posts, the paper suggests, and "placed the continuing existence of the coalition on the line in the event of a refusal".

"He is still on time to do so," it points out.

Crime worries

Bulgaria's Troud warns that the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has not given up the idea of calling "a no-confidence vote in the government over the crime situation in this country".

This lack of confidence in the government's crime fighting is echoed in Douma which, quoting the BSP leader, Sergei Stanishev, describes the updated government programme for combating crime as "inadequate".

"Mafia has infiltrated the State; Interior Ministry doesn't care," the paper laments.

Sega, referring to a statement by Mr Stanishev, says that there is "no organised body" to fight against organised crime and "the fight against offenders is led randomly as many efforts are spent on small problems".

And the government's latest initiative, the reintroduction of registering with the police when someone visits another city, is not welcomed by the paper.

The lifting of the requirement for such registration in the early 1990s was believed to be "one of the first achievements of Bulgarian democracy at the time," the paper points out.

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




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