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Europe

European Press Review: Italy Punches Below the Belt

Newspapers across Europe continued to take issue with Silvio Berlusconi’s Nazi remarks, one day after he apologized to Germany. Editorialists are speculating about a possible fall-out for Italy’s EU presidency.

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi doesn't appear to be taking his EU critics seriously.

'Whatever he does from now on, whatever he says will be proofread for its political substance," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ventured on the Berlusconi affair. "Of course his political enemies are trying to get as much political gain out of this as possible," it added. "Too bad, Mister Berlusconi- it’s your own fault. He now finds himself at the receiving end, dishing out apologies to Chancellor Schröder who, only a few months ago, pretended nothing was wrong when his justice minister slipped a similarly stupid remark", concluded the German daily.

Eastern Germany’s Lausitzer Rundschau, while pointing out that Berlusconi needed to be contradicted when he abuses old prejudices, urged diplomatic restraint. The paper suggested that the people have no choice but to leave it up to the Italians in all their wisdom to decide for themselves who governs in Rome. "After all," it wrote, "we wouldn’t like other people to tell us how best not to make fools of ourselves."

Le Monde from Paris pondered the implications for Italy’s six-month term at the helm of the EU: "It is now up to Italian diplomatic efforts to do some serious damage control and bail out the Italian EU presidency. Easier said than done. Back home, Berlusconi is at liberty to marry the country’s laws with his own personal interests. In Europe, on the other hand, there are partners to deal with. And they may not like his peculiar sense of humor and may have little time for amateurism that has embarrassed the entire European Union," the paper argued.

London’s Financial Times spared no punches it its criticism of the Italy. "Even considering the mercurial character of the Italian prime minister, it’s remarkable how quickly Silvio Berlusconi has lived down to his reputation. It always used to be said that in Europe, Italy punches below its weight. The danger is they will now simply say that under Mr. Berlusconi, Italy punches below the belt," the paper wrote.

Commentators on Friday were also concerned with the growing violence in Liberia, and a possible troop deployment by the United States to a country it founded more than 150 years ago.

On the increasingly volatile situation in Liberia, the Luxemburger Wort wrote: "Caught in a vicious circle of tragedy, Africa more than ever needs the help of the outside world, and its former colonial powers and the industrialized countries in particular. But a yet-to-be-confirmed troop deployment, and financial support tied to political conditions -- as is U.S. standard practice these days -- won’t do." The paper continued by offering suggestions for improving the African situation: "A strong African Union in collaboration with the International Court of Justice could go a long way in ridding Africa of its dictators and corruption. What Africa needs is a higher degree of political integration and economic autonomy, and protection from neo-liberal jungle laws that favor the economically powerful." And with a stick in the side to the European Union it concluded: "A reduction in agricultural subsidies at our end is more important than troop deployment over there. We need to get down to the roots of the problem. Dousing the flames will get us nowhere. But it’s highly questionable whether Washington is prepared to do just that."

On the same topic, Moscow’s Kommersant took issue with U.S. President Bush’s demands for Liberian president Charles Taylor to resign: "The U.S. is opening a third front. Liberia is in for the same fate as Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Bush’s demands will achieve anything but the resignation of President Taylor. So the U.S. will have to use force once again." The paper noted that It was the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan who pressurized the U.S. into taking action in the first place. "They want Washington to make up for Iraq when they ignored the international community," the paper theorized. "And that’s why President Bush is traveling to Africa next week to get a first-hand account of the problems there, the Kommersant concluded.

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