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Europe

German Press Review: A Painful Break

German papers on Tuesday commented on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's victory in a referendum on his rule as well as on the Bush administration’s plans to call up to 70,000 US troops home from Europe and Asia.

The outcome of the referendum is an unprecedented triumph for Chavez, wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau. He’s now in a stronger position than ever before: personally approved, morally strengthened, politically confirmed. In contrast, the opposition is surrounded even more by an odour of illegitimacy and dirty tricks, claimed the paper: Its first attempt to get rid of Chavez in a constitutional way failed, and what remains is the strange memory of the coup attempt two years ago and of the months-long economic boycott. The opposition -- extremely fragmented as it is -- has not managed more than a no to Chavez. Its program is of interest to hardly anyone as long as it is unable to come up with anyone with leadership qualities, concluded the daily.

Munich’s tz newspaper wrote: "Venezuela has decided: President Hugo Chavez can remain in office. The points about him that his critics object to -- personality cult, inability to form alliances, polarisation -- remain. But the constitution drawn up under him is that of a democracy, not a dictatorship, which the opposition thinks Venezuela still is. If Chavez sticks to this constitution in the future and is able to rally majorities around him – he can and must continue to govern, however incomprehensible this thought may appear to the opposition."

The Cologne daily Kölnische Rundschau commented on the planned US troop realignment, saying that this painful break with a long tradition may be explained profusely in Washington with more flexibility and the “alleged compulsion to form smaller units.” But the political component of such a drastic step is obvious. Apparently along the lines of “those who won’t listen have to suffer the consequences”, those eastern European countries like Bulgaria or Hungary, which backed Washington without protest in the war on terror and above all in the Iraq campaign, are profiting from the realignments, while the “old Europe,” which was so severely reprimanded by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because of its criticism of America’s actions, has to foot the bill, the paper wrote.

The Rostock-based Ostsee-Zeitung thought that when Bush announces a troop reduction, he is killing two birds with one stone. Fewer military forces abroad -- that saves money and leaves the dollars in the United States. Such messages are well received in the US in an election year. On the other hand, the Bush administration is taking the changed scenario where the global threat is concerned into account, according to the paper. The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung was convinced there is no alternative to a US troop pullout and to a reform of the German army. It said that since the end of the Cold War there is no longer any reason to maintain gigantic tank units in central Europe. But the consternation in the southern German US bases is understandable, as thousands of people will lose their jobs, the paper continued. And unlike 10 years ago, the state is unable to make up for the losses, it concluded.