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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 05:47 GMT
European press review

In Sweden, the king's controversial comments while on a visit to Brunei reignite debate over the monarchy.

German papers express doubts about Franco-German unity after a meeting between the countries' leaders and the Russian press continues to reflect on the mysterious disappearance of one of the presidential candidates.

King under fire

There have been renewed calls in the Swedish press for the abolition of the monarchy after King Carl XVI Gustaf complimented Brunei on its openness during a visit there.

"In practice, the country is a dictatorship," says Malmoe's Sydsvenska Dagbladet. "The population of around 350,000 lacks civil rights. There is no freedom of the press and no political opposition."

"Unlike the population of Brunei," it says, "the king can clothe his thoughts in words without risk of reprisals. As head of state he should think about what he says."

The king's statements on Brunei show that he forgot his job description
Dagens Nyheter

"The question has been asked before and it must be asked again: Why a monarchy?"

"The king must abdicate," reads the headline of a front-page article in Stockholm tabloid Aftonbladet.

In it, a university professor writes that a constitutional crisis is occurring in Sweden and predicts the eventual fall of the monarchy.

An article in the country's top-selling broadsheet, Dagens Nyheter, claims that the king has exceeded the boundaries of his mandate as head of state.

The king, it says, "should know the rules well. However, his statements on Brunei show that he forgot his job description."

The paper criticises the government for not intervening, saying that it is not the first time that the king has made political faux pas.

But these, it contends, "cannot match the king's defence of the dictatorship in Brunei and his almost enthusiastic comments about the country's autocrat".

Stockholm's Svenska Dagbladet, however, reports that the king has stated that he had not "intended to enter the debate about Brunei's form of government".

Franco-German unity?

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung does not trust the show of unity by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac after informal talks in Germany.

The more tangible the transatlantic rapprochement over Iraq becomes, the faster the bond of the peace alliance will crumble
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The paper notes that the two leaders failed to offer any concessions in the dispute over institutional reform in the European Union.

It also warns of future disagreements over Iraq since, according to the paper, Germany's refusal to send soldiers to the country is "a matter of principle" whereas France is already looking for "a tactical way out".

"The more tangible the transatlantic rapprochement over Iraq becomes, the faster the bond of the peace alliance will crumble," it predicts.

Der Tagesspiegel also warns that it is not clear whether Jacques Chirac shares German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's scepticism about a possible Nato mission in Iraq.

"However, Schroeder and Chirac can count themselves lucky that a lot of water will flow under the bridge before Nato will really ask its members the crunch question of whether or not they want to provide troops for Iraq," it adds.

Russian disappearance

"What was initially a predictable election is becoming increasingly strange and controversial," notes the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, following the disappearance last Thursday of presidential challenger Ivan Rybkin.

"When Rybkin fell silent, this produced the impact of an exploding bomb," the paper says, pointing out that even President Vladimir Putin's campaign has been overshadowed.

The Gazeta daily, meanwhile, quotes a political consultant as saying that most analysts believe this disappearance may be "a PR move" to draw attention to his campaign, staged by the exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, to whom Mr Rybkin is said to be close.

But popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda says Mr Rybkin cannot profit from the disappearance whatever the outcome.

It says that even if he turns up unharmed, "Nobody will believe that he was kidnapped" or that "Putin's special services frightened him and let him go".

Flexible working

Austria's Die Presse welcomes a government proposal to grant parents the right to opt for part-time work.

It describes the plan to give parents of children up to the age of seven the right to work part time in companies of more than twenty employees as "almost a revolution imposed from above".

The paper admits that companies will be able to use an escape clause which allows them to refuse part-time work on organisational grounds, but says that the proposal has at least started the ball rolling.

"We take our hats off to a courageous decision, which will, however, first have to be accepted and implemented in real life," it says.

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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