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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 04:47 GMT 05:47 UK
European press review

Europe's press turns to the traditional conversational topics of weather and sport, with severe flooding causing concern among some commentators and cycling's latest doping row troubling others.

But for one French paper, the prospect of watching football in church is a story that cannot be ignored.

Schroeder's 'tidal wave'

Floods have hit southern Germany hard just weeks before the country's general election, reminding some papers of similar scenes along the River Elbe in August 2002, little more than a month before Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder won a second term in office.

"Three years ago," Die Tageszeitung recalls, "Schroeder's intervention in wellies during the Elbe flood turned the mood just before the election."

You can do politics with water
Berliner Zeitung

Then as now, the paper points out, the chancellor's coalition trailed in the opinion polls by a margin of around 10%.

"And just in time, five weeks ahead of the election, a tidal wave is rolling in," it observes.

The parallels are not lost on the Berliner Zeitung either.

The paper says that, while the chancellor scored popularity points with his prompt response three years ago, this time leading opposition politician Edmund Stoiber "immediately moved his election campaign into Bavaria's disaster region".

"You can do politics with water," it remarks, adding that this has been known since "pre-biblical times".

But the paper also notes that it is shortages of water rather than floods which normally turn the commodity into a political issue.

"In many countries," it says, "disputes over the price of water and its populist potential are at the heart of development policy conflicts and decide elections."

Call for action

Austria's Die Presse conveys the havoc wrought by the weather in rather more straightforward terms, reporting "record floods" in western parts of the country.

It says residents have had to be air-lifted from their flooded homes, building upon building has been damaged beyond repair and many road and rail links have been cut.

In neighbouring Hungary, Nepszabadsag blames successive post-communist governments for the "shocking amount of damage caused by floods" this year.

The climate has been thrown out of gear

"TV crews are followed by ministers promising emergency aid, which the ministries either hand over to the people later or not at all," it complains.

"The central budget no longer pays for the building and maintenance of the country's drainage and sewage systems - that's now the task of local government," the paper notes.

"Except," it adds, "they don't get any money for it."

For Norway's Aftenposten, meanwhile, climate change has now evolved into a "powerful opponent".

"Across Europe," it observes, "the climate has been thrown out of gear."

"It all calls for an even greater international effort to stop global warming," the paper concludes.

Doping claims

French sports daily L'Equipe reported on Tuesday that signs of blood-boosting drugs had been found in samples taken from seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong in 1999, claims which the cyclist has denied.

Liberation is also troubled by the latest allegations against Mr Armstrong.

"This would be very damaging for the Tour de France, the credibility of which is at stake," it says.

"Suspicion," the paper concedes, "is not proof, which is a great principle in the rule of law."

Doping is part of the very principle of professional cycling
Der Tagesspiegel

"But now that there is proof," it says, "a sanction is desirable."

Switzerland's Le Temps seems similarly convinced by L'Equipe's claims.

"Those, including us, who expressed scepticism" about Mr Armstrong "have no pleasure in seeing their fears being confirmed," the paper says.

"All the others have the painful feeling of being betrayed," it adds.

"A human being after all, not a machine," reads the headline in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Sport," it warns, "faces its biggest scandal since the exposure of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in 1988."

Der Tagesspiegel, however, tries to remain philosophical.

"Doping is part of the very principle of professional cycling," the paper says.

"This is regrettable," it remarks, "but not even the downfall of the best of the best - and this is what Armstrong remains despite everything - will diminish the appeal of this sport."

The new religion

But football's the name of the game as far as France's Le Figaro is concerned.

"We knew that football is a religion in the eyes of millions of followers, but the German Lutheran Church has now consecrated the idea," the paper reports. "It has just announced that World Cup games will be shown in places of worship next summer."

This could, of course, lead to some confusion.

"It will have to be explained to spectators that the man in black preaching in the middle of the pitch is not the referee but a pastor," the paper points out.

In Germany's favour, it adds, is that its national football team "already has a high-ranking supporter in the Pope", the eighth German to become pontiff.

"If Germany wins the World Cup," the paper mischievously concludes, "God will qualify for the next one."

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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