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Europe

European Press Review: Tony Under Pressure

The killings of six soldiers in Iraq have put increased pressure on British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At least one European newspaper editorial said it could be the last straw for Blair and dampen any reelection effort.

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The smiles have long since disappeared for Tony Blair's Iraq mission.

The headlines in Britain's The Guardian seemed to say it all on Wednesday. "Death and chaos in Iraq," read one. "Our soldiers should not pay the price," said another. "In the end," the paper's editors wrote, "the British forces, like those of the U.S., remain an occupying army whether or not they are wearing their helmets: their position is compromised by the chaotic administration imposed by Washington's envoys. "President Bush's obsession with catching Saddam," The Guardian continued "is not a solution." Instead, the paper called for a coherent plan to hand back control of the country to the Iraqis rather than the limping measures taken so far.

The editors of The Times of London argued that Prime Minister Tony Blair will have to explain his Iraq policy following the deaths of six British soldiers and the wounding of eight others on Tuesday. It showed that the relative popularity of the British forces didn't protect them from being targets of politically motivated attacks. Britain's presence was longterm, the paper wrote, and that truth had to be openly expressed.

The situation in Iraq has become precarious, unstable and dangerous, wrote Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It's a moot point and a bit arrogant to muse now whether Washington's post-war planning was sloppy or amateurish. Given the ethnic, religious and political complexities, the paper's editors wrote, even the most thorough planning probably couldn't have prevented the chaos. It's obvious that even the Bush administration needs partners, the paper added, before noting that in hardly coded words the secretary-general of NATO is recommending that it get a role.

Meanwhile Italy's La Repubblica wrote that it saw Tony Blair under similar pressure that befell Maggie Thatcher. The editors of the Rome-based paper wrote that Blair's Labor Party has thrown most of the blame directly at him and that almost half of the party's parliamentarians have never agree with his pro-Washington attitude. Now, the paper concluded, they no longer think Blair can win elections.

Russia's Nesavissimaya Gazeta took a look at Russian President Vladmir Putin's visit to Britain in the context of Blair's Iraq problems. It's unpleasant for Blair, the Moscow paper observed, that the visit at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth and the parliamentary inquiry over the arguments for going to war have come at the same time. Now, Blair has to put a brave face on it, and Putin has to show him sympathy.

Le Soir in Brussels opined Wednesday that Iraqi oil could cloud London's relationship with Moscow. During their meeting, Blair and Putin are sure to talk about the delicate issue of oil contracts in Iran, the paper wrote, recalling that at their last joint press conference, Putin openly made fun of Blair and his inability to deliver proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Kommersant in Moscow likened the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both countries, it observed, opponents of foreign military occupation are resisting in the same way. Like a phoenix from the ashes, Taliban leader Mullah Omar is calling for holy war in Afghanistan, while in Iraq the coalition troops are having to mount a large operation to extinguish pockets of resistance that are growing by the day.

De Morgen in Belgium wrote that it could see the seed of one of the biggest trade crises ever between the European Union and the United States in genetically changed foods. Enormous interests are at stake, the Brussels paper wrote, with American maize growers saying they lose $300 million a year because of a European import ban on genetically modified maize.

The Kronenzeitung in Austria criticized Israeli settlement policy. Before the country is ultimately split and borders are negotiated, it says, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is having the lines drawn to meet his strategic needs, the aim being to incorporate in Israel as many settlements on Arab soil as possible.

El País in Madrid wrote that it saw mismanagement, radical nationalism, corruption and crime flourishing in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro, which have been promised EU membership. If this "last black hole in Europe," as the paper called it, wanted to come in, these countries would need to be ruled by law, mercilessly fight organized crime and make no exceptions for notorious war criminals.

Aftenposten in Norway offered praise for the Belgian government's decision to change a 10-year-old law that allowed prosecution of war crimes committed by anyone, anywhere, to apply only to Belgian citizens or people living in the country. The U.S. had put Belgium under great pressure over the issue, noted the Oslo paper, deploring that Washington continues to deny any jurisdiction over American citizens by the International Criminal Court. War criminals and others who commit excesses in war, wrote the Aftenposten, have to know that they can be held accountable for their actions by the international community.

Le Monde in Paris lauded President Jacques Chirac's intention to change the constitution so that a French president can be removed from office. The paper wrote that because there needs to be national continuity, jurists don't want a president bothered by court proceedings, but political accountability needs to be strengthened by a proper procedure for removing a president. Doubtlessly, it added, Chirac's initiative will bring clarification and modernization to a decisive element of the constitution.