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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
European press review

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's apparent victory in a referendum on changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in office in 2006 leaves several European papers distinctly unimpressed.

German papers scrutinise the government's foreign policy and a French daily accuses Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin of watering down a social reform bill.

'A relic from a bygone era'

The Belarus electoral commission announced on Sunday that the referendum had approved the lifting of the constitutional ban on a third consecutive third term for President Lukashenko.

For Germany's Die Welt, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

With the referendum, the paper says, "Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, has given his wish to be elected as president for the third time in 2006 a pseudo-democratic gloss."

The result was never in doubt, the paper argues, partly because of the mass appeal of "the ruler's primitive demagoguery".

Others shy away from freely voicing their opinions because they feel the fist of his secret service... in their necks
Die Welt

"Others," it adds, "shy away from freely voicing their opinions because they feel the fist of his secret service... in their necks."

The Europeans will have to continue "their patient attempts to soften the system", it concludes.

Der Tagesspiegel does not mince its words.

"The 50-year-old head of state seems like a relic from a bygone era," it says.

It predicts that Western observers will reject the referendum as undemocratic, "like all ballots of the last few years".

Europe can probably only "get rid" of Mr Lukashenko "through an arrangement which leaves Belarus in Moscow's sphere of influence", it suggests.

The French Le Monde describes Mr Lukashenko as a "cartoon populist who took advantage of the fears that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union by exploiting the themes of public order and security."

"His ten years in power", so far, the paper adds, "have been marked by the muzzling of the press, the disappearance of numerous opponents and the international isolation of Belarus."

It notes that Mr Lukashenko is the only European head of state banned from entering the US and the EU.

"The only supporter he has left is Russia," it says.

Schroeder's visits abroad

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's recent visits abroad show that the government is lacking a clear foreign policy strategy.

The paper rejects the chancellor's statement that Germany's standing abroad is excellent because of its opposition to the Iraq war.

This may well be true in Tripoli, Hanoi and Beijing but not in central and eastern Europe, the paper argues.

Germany's political capital has melted away
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"Here the political capital which had once been accumulated has melted away," the paper says.

The paper puts it down to foreign and European policies which "cause irritations with regard to both form and substance".

"It is difficult to perceive an idea which could resolve the contradictions and paradoxes and connect the parts to form a well-thought out whole," it says.

But the Frankfurter Rundschau disagrees.

"The most recent visits by the chancellor to Libya and Algeria have rounded off what has long been present in relations with Russia, China and Turkey, and in a way even with Iran," the paper says.

This, it continues, is "a strategy of embracing all those who can form a kind of buffer between the old European and the radical Islamic world".

The chancellor's policy is marked by pragmatism, the paper argues.

"Accordingly, interlocutors from Vladimir Putin to Muammar Gaddafi are influenced through their interests and not challenged too loudly with western European standards," it says.

Raffarin's trade union woes

Paris's Le Figaro says the government is to amend its draft social reform bill in response to "the general outcry" from four main trade-unions.

The main changes, the paper explains, include the dropping of "competitiveness reason" as a justification for sackings, longer deadlines for lodging appeals against dismissal, and authorization to the courts to order the reinstatement of sacked workers, as opposed to merely the payment of six month's salary, as proposed in the draft.

Raffarin is trying not to upset the unions
Le Figaro

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, it says, "is trying not to upset the unions".

But the paper adds that the employers' federation Medef has condemned the move as "a hasty retreat by the government " which it said "is giving up provisions which were essential for business competitiveness, economic growth and job-creation".

Trial of strength?

In France, the Paris-based International Herald Tribune ponders the implications of the European Parliament's rejection of Italy's Rocco Buttiglione as justice commissioner.

The paper believes that a meeting of parliamentary leaders and the Commission's incoming president, Jose Manuel Barroso, later in the week may influence the outcome of the final vote on the new commission by the entire parliament.

"The parliament can vote on the commissioners only as a bloc and will not be able to single out Buttiglione for a special veto," the paper notes.

Sticking with Buttiglione... would be another snub for Europe's downtrodden Parliament
International Herald Tribune

"Yet sticking with Buttiglione... would be another snub for Europe's downtrodden parliament," it says.

It is up to Mr Barroso "to decide whether a commissioner can hold views at odds with the majority of the Union", the paper says.

He "must also decide between a greater role for democracy at the heart of the EU" and "the continued power of the nation-state".

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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