The theft of a world famous painting and the price of oil are two of the diverse topics taken up by leaders writers across the continent on Monday. The latest developments in Iraq also took up column inches.
The editors of the British paper The Guardian believe that the outcome of the fighting in Najaf is of pivotal importance. "It has the potential to affect everything else," the paper wrote, "grows by the day, especially because it is the focus of so many eyes, Iraqi and non-Iraqi alike. Najaf is a place where the world outlook of Iraq's majority Shia population could be settled for perhaps a generation."
The German paper Münchener Merkur wrote that the Americans are paying the price, on a daily basis, for failing to work out in advance what they would do after their invasion of Iraq. "The hotbed of unrest from which al Sadr draws his strength is of their own making," the paper's editors wrote. "The shrewd cleric is now the stuff of nightmares for prime minister Allawi, who is about to lose the last vestiges of credibility, and for the US troops who cannot afford to turn all their fire power on al-Sadr. Unless, of course, they want the whole of the Shi'ite world up in arms against them."
The French paper Le Figaro said American indecisiveness has contributed much to the present impasse. In a reference to another Iraqi trouble spot, Falluja, the paper recalled that in order to extricate themselves from that "blood-drenched hornets' nest," the marines were forced to hand it over to a brigade of the old regime of Saddam Hussein. "Now jihad guerrillas from all over the Islamic world have converged on Fallujah and taken the law into their own hands in what has effectively become a mini republic," the paper concluded.
Another French paper, Les Echos, focused on the astronomic rise in the price of oil. It said economic growth will undoubtedly be affected by it, but will not be brought to a standstill. "In early times," the paper explained, "businesses absorbed the higher cost of oil by simply raising their prices. But these days new mechanisms are at work. In a globalized, highly competitive world, many companies are simply not in a position to charge more for goods or services." They either shave down their profit margins or shed jobs, the paper reasoned. Therefore an increase in the price of oil does not lead to inflation, but to deflation in certain sectors. It will take some time, though, for consumers, businesses, central banks and political decision-makers to wake up to this.
Papers across Europe treated their readers to front-page reproductions of the painting "The Scream" by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, which was stolen from a museum in Oslo by armed burglars on Sunday.
The Austrian paper Die Presse took issue with Norwegian museum directors who argued that it is impossible to protect works of art against armed robbery. Poor security encourages such lightening raids, the paper's editors wrote. "But if priceless paintings are kept behind bullet-proof glass, then they become less attractive targets," it wrote. "Nobody," the paper maintained, "would secure an antique gold treasure with a velvet cord."