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Europe

European Press Review: Dunkin’ Duncan Smith

European newspapers opine on a wide range of issues Thursday including the Wednesday resignation of British Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and the detention of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkowski.

Weighing in on the arrest of Russian billionaire Khodorkowski, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse wrote there is an imminent danger Russia will relapse into a dictatorship. "It’s not democracy, liberty and the rule of law that flourish in the shadow of the remand prison where Khodorkowsky is currently staying," the paper’s editors opined, but rather "pure ‘Putanism,’ an aggressive authoritarian rule." The paper concluded: "Not even in the gloomy days of Soviet rule did the Russian secret service have as much as much influence and authority as the Russian president and his secret service clique enjoy today."

The Austrian Kurier also evoked memories of Soviet times, arguing that Putin had crossed the rubicon by having Khodorkowski locked up in prison. "The West has ignored the most objectionable of human rights violations in Chechnya for too long already," the Vienna-based paper charged. "Now it should act -- not for Khodorkowsky’s sake, but in the interest of its own credibility."

According to the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, Khodorkowski was only the beginning. Putin’s chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, might be the next on the list. On Wednesday Russian media reported that the Kremlin’s powerful chief of staff had quit over the controversial arrest of the country's richest man. "So far, the pragmatic Russian president has understood how to appease the two centers of power within the Kremlin," the paper wrote, "but now he is in dangerous waters. The fate of Voloshin will ultimately also determine Putin’s own political fate."

Moscow wasn’t alone in facing scrutiny on Thursday – Washington also got its share of criticism. "No other American president has manipulated the media in such a brutal and cynical way as George W. Bush does," wrote the Danish newspaper Information. "The president, his ministers and his advisors have continually refused to give television interviews when there is only the slightest hint of a critical stance towards the Iraq war," the editors of the Copenhagen-based daily opined. "At press conferences, his media people carefully select those who are allowed to ask questions." However, the paper pointed out, in the past, American efforts to manipulate the press have always backfired.

Across the English Channel, the resignation of Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith featured prominently at Fleet Street’s top addresses. "Weak" and "wounded" were the two attributes most commonly used to describe the former Conservative leader.

"Duncan Smith is gone, but the hard work is just beginning," commented London’s Independent. "The Conservative party had no choice but to get rid of him, because in today’s world, elections can’t be won with a leader as wounded as Duncan Smith." He had his qualities, contended the paper, "but the problem was what he was not: Someone who could convince the public that he was able to run the country."

"Barely a year after Duncan Smith warned his colleagues to unite or die, they chose a third option: assassination," concluded the editors of the Guardian. But former Interior Minster Michael Howard, who has emerged as a front-runner to replace Duncan Smith, might not be a much better choice. "It’s difficult to see him in any other terms than as a caretaker who will nurse the party through a less humiliating defeat," the paper wrote.

"The Conservative Party will move on, leaving Duncan Smith to be little more than a historical footnote as one of the very few party leaders in British politics never to lead his troops into a general election," wrote the Financial Times. "However, the Tories can now do themselves a service by choosing a leader with proven competence. Duncan Smith, almost unwittingly, admitted his shortcomings here by pledging, again before his defeat, ‘to develop as a leader.’" But, the paper added, the party needs someone with that capacity already. "At some stage, the Tories will need a way of squaring up to New Labor, which has stolen so many of their traditional policies."

"Tony Blair should be thankful to the Conservative party," wrote Salzburger Nachrichten, an Austrian daily. "After the worst political season of the last years, his worst enemies are helping him out of a tight corner. That leads to the rather exceptional political situation that Britain is ruled without any real opposition." That’s bad for the country, the paper wrote. "While Tories go about their self-mutilation, Labor party will go down in mediocrity through a lack of a political challenge."