European Press Review: Hostages Free at Last | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.08.2003
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European Press Review: Hostages Free at Last

Europe's newspapers on Tuesday focused on the end of the German hostage crisis in the Sahara, America's woes in Iraq and the mounting criticism on the French government scores of heat-related deaths.


The 14 German hostages are due to fly home from Mali on Wednesday morning.

With the 14 European hostages now free after six months held in the Sahara by Islamic militants, Switzerland‘s Neue Zürcher Zeitung was disappointed at the way the Algerian forces had handled the affair. “There is every indication that a ransom was paid,” the paper wrote, “which leads to the conclusion that the Algerian armed forces were not willing or able to undertake another operation to free the hostages along the lines of the one launched in May. Whatever the reasons for this, the Zurich-based paper concluded, “their inactivity bears testimony to the fact that they are not exactly distinguishing themselves where fighting crime effectively and under no circumstances giving in to blackmail are concerned.”

Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger praised the apparent part played by Libya in securing the release of the hostages, which it said was all part of Libya’s endeavours to shake off its reputation as a rogue state supportive of Arab terrorists. It wrote “unreserved gratitude” should be expressed to the mediators from Muammar Al-Ghaddafi’s regime and recalled the key role played by Libya three years ago in the freeing of westerners kidnapped in the Philippines. The paper went on to voice the hope that now as then Ghaddafi’s envoys made it clear to the hostage-takers that their criminal actions were doing more harm than good to their common religion.

Commenting on the situation in Iraq, Spanish daily El País wrote that in view of the numerous attacks, skirmishes and now wave of acts of sabotage against oil installations, the “Iraq adventure is threatening to get out of control for the US.” The Madrid-based paper advised the Americans to rethink their policy on Iraq as quickly as possible to avoid the country becoming a trouble spot in the region.

Denmark’s left-wing daily Information was also damning in its assessment of the situation, commenting that it was the “almost boundless arrogance of influential conservative circles in Washington that got the U.S. into this quagmire.” It said Washington is now paying the price for conducting a war without UN backing and without listening to its own allies.

Conservative French daily, Le Figaro focused on issues closer to home and picked up on the mounting criticism on the French government for reacting too late after some 5,000 died during this month’s record heat wave. “Today governing is all about communication. And on this front the government has failed," the paper wrote. "Visits to hospitals by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei right at the beginning of the heat wave would not have prevented the widespread deaths, but they would have calmed people’s fears.”

The Independent believed it would be wrong to rush to judge the deaths in France however. “The government's response may have been tardy,” the British daily wrote, “but there were individuals there --including the head of the emergency services -- who drew attention to the scale of the crisis and a system in place that allowed at least preliminary figures to be calculated, which is more than could be said for Britain, for example.”