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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 04:48 GMT 05:48 UK
European press review

Two high profile court cases in the Middle East stir Thursday's European editorial writers, and there is a chilling story on the lengths some will go to in Russia to get a drink.

Trials, tribulations

Germany's Berliner Zeitung agrees with the Iraqis' right to try Saddam Hussein, but stresses that "everything will now hinge on a fair trial".

The paper argues it will enable the Iraqi population to find out what actually happened under Saddam's reign.

The West will not come out of this whiter than white either
Berliner Zeitung
"The West will not come out of this whiter than white either," it warns, citing the West's "major role" in the Iran-Iraq war.

The point is echoed by Austria's Der Standard, which fears the trial may run into difficulties through lack of sufficient incriminating evidence.

"On the basis of which documents and witness statements is Saddam Hussein's direct involvement in crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide supposed to be shown?" the paper asks.

"Saddam and his helpers might provide details of an entirely different nature," such as "the co-operation formerly received from the USA and France".

Spain's El Pais says Saddam "deserves a trial with all the guarantees" that a justice system can provide, but rejects capital punishment.

"Were the former dictator to be executed, this would not only supply ammunition to the insurgents, who insist on depicting him as a martyr, but it would also be a waste of an excellent opportunity to show that a different and better order is truly emerging in Iraq."

Russians convicted

The conviction in Qatar of two Russians for the murder in February of former Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev prompts a mixed reaction in today's Russian papers.

For Novyye Izvestiya, there was relief that death sentences were not meted out.

The sentence passed should not be taken as the last word in this scandalous affair
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
"Judicial practice in Muslim countries shows that a life sentence instead of the death penalty is a kind of hiatus which leaves open the possibility of a reversal of the court's decision."

"In other words, the necessary conditions have been established for further horse-trading between Russia and Qatar," which, the paper says, will inevitably involve Washington getting involved as well.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta too thinks the Russians will eventually be released, commenting: "The sentence passed on the Russian intelligence agents should not be taken as the last word in this scandalous affair."

Moskovskiy Komsomolets describes the trial as a murky piece of political theatre.

"If Yandarbiyev's killing was 'to order', then so was the trial, according to a specific screenplay. The defence argument and testimony from defence witnesses was listened to but then almost demonstratively ignored," it says.

France's dilemma

Under the headline "Splendid isolation", France's Le Monde says the Iraq issue is confronting President Jacques Chirac with "a highly difficult diplomatic equation".

France found itself isolated in its refusal to accede to America's requests
Le Monde
The president, it says, has to work out a way of "maintaining his opposition to the war without appearing to be shamefully nostalgic for Saddam Hussein".

His dilemma is "how not to oppose the reconstruction of a 'sovereign' Iraq without reneging on his original position".

As a result, at the Nato summit in Istanbul "France found itself isolated in its refusal to accede to America's requests and in its blunt criticism of George W. Bush's public pronouncements."

Prague summer

Czech newspapers examine the political turmoil enveloping the government, as Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla steps down after poor results in the European Parliament elections.

He is incapable of striking either compromises or routine agreements
Lidove noviny
"The fresh resignation of Vladimir Spidla's cabinet is nothing dramatic, but still some may feel anxious about the times ahead of the Czech Republic," Hospodarske Noviny comments.

Lidove Noviny tries to think of a suitable new job for the outgoing premier.

"Spidla is an extraordinarily hard working and also intelligent man but with a fatal deficit in communication skills. He is incapable of striking either compromises or routine agreements. This in fact disqualifies him as a politician."

But he is the perfect candidate for National Inspection Office president, it says. "Spidla could crack down on imperfect state bureaucrats. Their life would become very difficult under him as the supreme inspector."

Last orders

Times are hard in Lipetsk, according to a story in Russia's Trud headlined: "To the morgue for a drink".

"In Lipetsk, four homeless people dug a tunnel under the local forensic mortuary looking for alcohol. They dug under the single-storey building from its yard and got inside."

"But they didn't find any alcohol there, so they started breaking up the cold storage equipment containing the corpses in order to sell the metals as scrap. All four have been arrested."

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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