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German Press Review: Implications of the Saddam Debate for Europe

German newspapers on Friday continued reflecting on the fate of Saddam Hussein and commented on the early release of East Germany’s last communist leader, Egon Krenz from a Berlin prison.

The Berliner Kurier predicted on Friday that if former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was to be tried before an Iraqi court, he could only expect the death sentence: "The Iraqi people’s call for justice is in fact a call for blood revenge", the paper wrote, demanding that Saddam must be guaranteed a fair trial, "just as the Rwandan mass murderers and the war criminals from former Yugoslavia were". A court dealing with such crimes already exists in The Hague, the paper said, suggesting that the U.N. war crimes tribunal would in fact be the right place to try Saddam.

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland from Hamburg considered the implications of the debate on Europe. "While the war against Saddam Hussein deeply split the European community, their unanimous "no" to the death penalty is welding them strongly together now," the paper wrote. The Europeans may be "outraged, uncompromising and a little arrogant, but their resistance against the ‘ultimate penalty’ for the Iraqi ex-dictator shows, how united they stand behind their basic rights," according to the paper. The paper pointed out that that’s why the capture of Saddam is not only "a triumph for the U.S. president, but also an opportunity for the European leaders to distinguish themselves as a stable community of rights and values."

The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung also alluded to the deep transatlantic gap in the debate, but urged Europeans and Americans to stick to the timetable. "First of all an Iraqi court must be established. Then witnesses must be heard, evidence must be scrutinized," the daily wrote. Only then, the paper argued, will it be possible to answer some of the most important questions: the cruelty of Saddam in murdering his opponents, the gas attack on Kurdish people in Iraq. The paper concluded that thoroughly investigating these questions will in fact help Iraq, while the political row between Europe and the U.S. will not.

Several German newspapers focussed on the premature release of East Germany’s last communist leader, Egon Krenz, from a prison where he was serving a sentence for four fatal shootings along the Berlin Wall in the 1980s. Krenz served almost four years of a six-and-a-half year sentence.

The Münchner Merkur reminded its readers of what they may have forgotten nearly 15 years after the fall of the wall: "For years Krenz had his place in the very center of a brutal dictatorship and the circle he belonged to was responsible for the suffering and deaths of many people at the wall." There is no indication that Krenz disapproved the "shoot to kill policy" against people trying to flee East Germany, the paper wrote. "If Krenz now leaves the prison striking the provocative pose of moral victory, then this ridicules all the people who have suffered under inhuman regimes," it concluded.

The Stuttgarter Zeitung was more sober in its verdict, showing some understanding for the decision: "Egon Krenz has served two thirds of his sentence. It’s the usual practice that at this point prisoners are released", the paper wrote. Therefore Krenz hasn’t profited from something like a "celebrity bonus", the daily said. According to the paper the court in Berlin has taken an acceptable decision and at the same time proved that there is no such thing as a "victors’ justice". One can only hope, the paper concluded, that Egon Krenz has realized this as well.