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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March, 2005, 08:25 GMT
European press review

Wednesday's European papers reflect on the killing of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, and The Hague tribunal's indictment of Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on war crimes charges.

Questions are asked in France after the tax returns of six high-profile public figures go missing, and Austria's far-right Freedom Party considers reinventing itself.

Chechen rebel leader killed

The killing of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov by Russian forces in a village near the Chechen capital Grozny makes the front page in many Russian dailies.

"Arresting or eliminating Maskhadov was never an insoluble task from a military-tactical point of view", says Izvestiya, suggesting that his killing was "the result of a decision taken at the highest level" as part of "a fundamental change" in the Kremlin's policy on Chechnya.

"The weakening argument that there was nothing to discuss with Maskhadov, who controls nobody, has been replaced by the unchallengeable argument that now there really is nobody to talk to", the paper concludes.

The daily Gazeta agrees that the prospects for peace in the troubled Caucasus republic look bleaker than ever.

With Maskhadov, a negotiated solution for Chechnya has died too
Die Welt

"A flare-up of bloody internecine strife between field commanders who aspire to take the place he has vacated is virtually inevitable," the paper predicts.

The sense of foreboding in Russia's press is echoed around Europe, with Spain's El Pais arguing that Mr Maskhadov was "most likely the last plausible and respected negotiator" that Moscow might have been able to deal with in the region.

Chechnya specialist Anne Nivat, writing in the Swiss Le Temps, predicts that "the fighting will redouble in intensity".

Similarly, Germany's Die Welt says the killing has put paid to any prospect of the conflict being settled round the negotiating table.

"With Maskhadov, a negotiated solution for Chechnya has died, too," the paper says.

Kosovo premier

The resignation of Kosovo's prime minister Ramush Haradinaj after he was indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague is welcomed by Germany's Der Tagesspiegel.

The paper notes that the former commander of a Kosovo Liberation Army unit regards himself as innocent and therefore intends to travel to the Netherlands to defend himself.

"This step is good and necessary, not just for the purposes of the tribunal, which owes justice to the victims on all sides, but also for Kosovo," it says.

According to the paper, former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters are neither all criminals nor all heroic partisans, and "only judicial proceedings" can bring clarity.

It adds that the case shows that the international tribunal in The Hague is not "anti-Serb".

Germany's Berliner Zeitung is not so sure.

The paper notes that the tribunal has shown only "very limited interest" in prosecuting former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Nato and the EU would not like to see too many of their "former allies" indicted in The Hague, it suggests.

"The real reason for the fact that Haradinaj has now been served an indictment years later is probably rather that his case could hardly be ignored any longer," the paper says.

"The world praises Haradinaj," Serbia's Danas says, adding that "Belgrade must make the next move".

The Serbian daily Blic says that, according to its sources, there are two more names on the indictment.

"The question is how the Kosovo story will unfold now," the daily concludes.

Missing French tax returns

A criminal investigation has begun in France after the disappearance of tax returns filed by what the Paris newspaper Liberation calls "six super-VIP taxpayers".

The missing returns include those of President Chirac's daughter and personal adviser Claude, two former prime ministers and former finance minister Herve Gaymard, who resigned ten days ago in a row over his luxurious official Paris residence.

When it comes to tax returns, France has a long tradition of political shenanigans
Liberation

"The simplest possibility," the paper concedes, "is that some careless tax inspector may just have mislaid the documents".

But there is "a problem" with this theory, the paper suggests.

"When it comes to tax returns, France has a long tradition of political shenanigans", and with the presidential election two years away, "there is a temptation to look for the hand of a would-be candidate keen to secure an advantage over an eventual opponent".

The paper finds it "distressing" that, as it puts it, "bearing local customs in mind", this "should seem to be the most plausible hypothesis".

Austria's far right

Plans by Austria's far-right Freedom Party to purge its leadership of its more extreme elements in an attempt to claw back some of the suport it has lost will not improve its electoral fortunes, says Austria's Der Standard.

According to the paper, former FPOe leader Joerg Haider, who announced the plan to "shut down" the party and found a new one, is still its de facto head.

"Whatever he wants to be done is done," the paper says.

But it suggests that the party, which is a junior coalition partner of the Austrian People's Party, the OeVP, has a "basic problem" which won't be overcome by refounding it.

"The FPOe is simply a provider of majorities for (Chancellor) Wolfgang Schuessel's OeVP," the paper says.

The OeVP, it suggests, is able to govern with very little interference from its junior partner.

"To get such a result you don't vote for the FPOe, not even for a 'new FPOe'," the paper says.

Austria's Die Presse wonders whether the plans for a new FPOe could pose a problem for Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.

"Before he knows it the People's Party leader may in fact find himself without a coalition partner which is able to act," the paper warns.

In that case early elections would be inevitable, it believes.

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





EUROPEAN PRESS PROFILES
 

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