German Press Review: An Austrian Failure of Justice? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 20.02.2004
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German Press Review: An Austrian Failure of Justice?

On Friday, German papers commented on an Austrian court’s decision to acquit suspects in a cable car fire that killed 155 people. They also criticized calls for a tax raise by a German state premier.

The Austrian court handed down a ruling, said the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, but is it justice? In principle, yes, said the paper, as the defendants could not be proven guilty, and security regulations were not breached. However, the paper wondered if the suspects had not noticed some of the defects in advance. The paper said this is what the victims’ relatives contest, arguing that those responsible didn’t do what was humanly possible to avoid such a catastrophe. The list of mistakes made is long, ranging from a malfunctioning warm air heater to a tunnel that turned into a death trap due to a lack of escape routes, the daily wrote.

The wave of public outrage following the acquittal is understandable, said the Münchner Merkur. But it is hardly understandable, the paper added, that what was described as “unforeseeable circumstances” -- actually a small problem with a warm air heater – could have such awful consequences. Why was the heater installed right next to an oil hose, the paper questioned? And why did the burning train stop in the middle of the tunnel? Why couldn’t windows and doors be opened, and why were there no fire extinguishers? According to the paper, the offhand answer was: Everything was according to regulations. But was it really, the paper wondered?

The Westfälische Nachrichten from Münster said it is understandable that the victims’ relatives view the acquittal as a scandal, an embarrassment and a miscarriage of justice. But, the paper continued, there is another scandal inherent in the verdict. If the defendants really didn’t violate any laws, the paper asked, what are these laws worth? They apparently don’t give the people enough protection, the paper stated.

Other papers comment on a call for tax raises by the premier of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Heide Simonis (SPD). Politicians and taxes -- they can't get enough of each other, said the Hamburg daily Bild. At the beginning of the year, the parties promised Germans fundamental tax reform -- lower rates and simpler rules, wrote the paper, and compared the promise to an alcoholic's claim that he will never drink again. Especially now, the paper said, when the economy is slowly recovering, higher taxes are like poison.

The Neue Westfälische Zeitung from Bielefeld also pointed out that this is a bad time to call for a tax increase. Right now, when the Chancellor and the Finance Minister in Berlin are trying to give every impression that they are taking burdens away from the taxpayers, Simonis' call for higher taxes are very cavalier -- as if she never heard the alarm bells by opinion researchers in the election year of 2004. So much ignorance, said the paper, should be punished.