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Europe

European Press Review: Slobodan’s Grim Marathon

European papers on Tuesday comment on the trial of the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which has been delayed yet again and the impact of Italy evading EU punishment for its budget deficits.

"The international trial of Slobodan Milosevic is turning into a grim marathon," observed the Financial Times from London. The danger, warned the paper, is that the trial – the most important since Nuremberg -- may prove both legally and politically counter-productive. "Milosevic for all his high blood pressure is a brilliant and devious political operator and has used every opportunity to grandstand back to his domestic audience," it wrote. And the paper added: "There is a fear that the whole procedure will descend into a farce, providing a dubious precedent for the trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."

According to Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung, Milosevic's high blood pressure is causing increasing stress for the Hague Tribunal. The paper noted that Milosevic has called for 1,600 witnesses to appear during his defense case, making it more difficult for the judges to reign in his tirades without appearing to be unfair. If the trial is abandoned early, the daily warned, the tribunal itself will become an "unfinished experiment, especially since indicted war criminals Radovan Karadic and Ratko Mladic remain at large."

The trial is dependent on Milosevic’s blood pressure, wrote the editors of Le Progrès, a French paper based in Lyon. However, the paper noted that "after two years, this individual is still playing with the legitimate hopes of thousands of families who want to see justice done." Though one can throw many failings at the court and its procedures, one cannot forget that the "responsibility for war crimes lies first and foremost with the criminal," the daily argued.

Another French daily, La Tribune, turned its attention to the decision by the European Union finance ministers to let Italy off the hook for breaching the bloc's deficit pact. "By not reprimanding Italy for it's too high budget deficit, the EU finance ministers have at least shown some consistency ... in being too lenient," the daily’s editors remarked. At the same time, the paper warned, the government will have a hard time reconciling the former economics minister’s goal of reducing taxes and stimulating economic growth.

One strong word from Brussels would have reigned in any political crisis in Rome, wrote the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, noting that the government is still planning billions of euros in subsidies for struggling Italian companies. At the same time, the paper asked: "Why should Italy not receive kid glove treatment for breaking euro zone rules when the notorious deficit sinners, Germany and France, were spared sanctions."

The Italian paper La Repubblica expressed more concern that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has personally taken over the finance portfolio following the resignation of Economics Minister Giulio Tremonti. "Never before in a civilized and democratic country has the leader of the government who is simultaneously an entrepreneur and businessman, ever taken control of the state treasury," the daily wrote. Berlusconi is now single-handedly responsible for the budget, fiscal policy, the state banks and their saving and the financial markets. "This is a gross violation of power," wrote the paper, "and unprecedented in western politics."

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