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European Press Review: Saddam the Prophet?

Papers in European capitals also looked at Saddam Hussein's appearance in court with mixed reviews, with some suggesting it could even harm the United States.

The Swedish Dagens Nyheter said that Saddam Hussein has already succeeded in casting the legitimacy of the court into doubt. In this, he’s no different from other such men facing trial ranging from Slobodan Milosevic to Hermann Göring. They claimed to be the victims of "victors’ justice." But, the paper wrote, it’s important that the trial be seen to be fair. "If it works, it will show the people how important it is to have a state based on a functioning legal system," the paper concluded.

That’s the main issue for most of the commentators. The editors of France's Libération said the trial will have to convince the people that the regime really is different and really does have power.

And the Italian paper Il Messaggero described the trial as a double-edged sword. "It’s not just the trial of a man, it’s the trial of a regime that was in power for decades, and thus indirectly the trial of the whole Iraqi people," the paper's editors wrote. How will the people, which currently lacks a sense of direction, react to the trial? asked the paper.

Another Italian paper, La Stampa, viewed the trial as "dangerous" for the United States. Saddam Hussein’s behavior at his first appearance could have a big effect on Iraq and on the Arab world as a whole. "He’s stopped looking like a dictator and has started behaving like a prophet," it commented. If the war were really over, "then he would be simply laughable, concluded La Stampa, "but with the war still continuing, he could become a new political focus."

The German papers also deal with Saddam Hussein’s first appearance in court, but they are more interested in Horst Köhler, who’s now been sworn in as Germany’s new president.

Die Welt wrote that he surprised once more with his inaugural speech. It was "cheerful, serene," the paper wrote. His message, says the paper, was clear: "We’re in a mess, we’ve got to get out, but let’s not go over the top." He spoke as a serious man speaks about serious things, but in a way which it was a pleasure to hear, wrote the paper's editors.

According to President Köhler’ view of the world, Die Tageszeitung wrote, "We all sit in a boat called Germany, and we all have to take hold of the rudder instead of waiting for a favorable wind." But President Köhler’s idea that we all have to pull together in the same direction fails to see the importance of new ideas which may often lie contrary to accepted opinion, it told its readers. "He doesn’t accept that in a democratic society, the conflict between different social interests must be expressed and that there’s always a need for tough arguments, in order to get to a social consensus." The paper’s verdict: too much harmony.

The British business daily the Financial Times also commented on the new German president. The post is a mainly ceremonial one, it pointed out, but it’s always been possible for the president to raise discussion on issues that the party political establishment has forgotten about. That’s what Roman Herzog did between 1994 and 1999, when he pushed the need for economic reform into center-stage. President Köhler says he, too, wants to make economic reform a theme of his presidency. "But," opined the paper, "reform is no longer an obscure political issue in need of promotion, it is already at the top of the domestic political agenda." The problem now is that the government fails to explain its policies properly. "It’s difficult," concluded the Financial Times editors, "to see how a president who has been elected with the support of the opposition can fill that gap."