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European Press Review: From Pariah to Politician

European editorialists commented Wednesday on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's reception at the European Union headquarters in Brussels and the challenges facing South Africa ten years after the end of apartheid.

Even more striking than his colorful taste in clothes and his female bodyguards is Moammar Gadhafi's sudden change of image, wrote Belgian daily De Morgen. In barely six months, it said, the Libyan leader has been transformed from an international pariah into a politician the West is keen to work with. Not bad, the paper commented, megalomaniac dictators would do well to follow his example.

"Gadhafi is a tough customer," wrote the French paper Le Journal de Haute Marne from northeastern France. The man who used to enjoy making grand gestures to mock the West got the European Union to invite him to Brussels with full pomp and ceremony. The smell of oil has the unequalled advantage of provoking memory loss, the paper remarked. We now hear the Libyan leader, who used to support murderous attacks, present himself as a herald of world freedom. This is both comical and shameless, the paper contended. Right now, Gadhafi needs the West, but we can be sure his fickleness and megalomania will mean he will turn to new friends later on. Gadhafi, warned the paper, is first and foremost an opportunist.

The Russian daily Kommersant reported that some European politicians doubt that Libya has made enough progress to be accepted fully in the EU’s partnership with Mediterranean countries. The paper highlighted the words of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who pointed out that cooperation on human rights issues was part of the program.

But Austria’s Kurier commented wryly that the main thing is that this desert son has seen the light with regard to weapons of mass destruction, so the West doesn’t have to deny itself business opportunities for moral reasons. The paper said these priorities were reflected in the title of the visit: “Trade and Aid.” The West certainly has no need to worry about payment, the paper wrote, the petrodollars will flow.

Other papers commented on the tenth anniversary of post-apartheid democracy in South Africa. The country has good reason to celebrate, wrote Belgium’s De Standaard. The apartheid regime ended in free elections and not a bloody civil war, and, it said, the social, economic and political achievements of the past ten years are huge. On the other hand, the paper warned, problems such as poverty, unemployment and AIDS are also enormous. The next five years will be decisive ones for South African democracy, it declared.

The French paper Le Monde said that the war in South Africa is still not won. It described the country as a universal microcosm containing elements of both the first and the third world. People of such different races and classes live alongside each other so that no reconciliation seems possible, it wrote. If they can find a common denominator, if compensation can be made for the injustice of the past, and if they can devote themselves to one future, South Africa would become a global model for better integration, greater justice and more democracy, Le Monde suggested.

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