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Europe

German Press Review: Tragedy in Britain

On Monday, German newspapers set their sights on a suicide drama in Britain that has thrown the Blair administration into deep crisis and internal bickering in Germany’s conservative Christian Social Union party.

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The apparent suicide death of British weapons inspector David Kelly dominated the editorial pages of most German newspapers on Monday. Police found the body of the former UN weapons inspector and advisor to the Ministry of Defense in a wooded area on Friday. The BBC confirmed over the weekend that Kelly was the main source behind a story alleging the British government had “sexed up” a report used to justify going to war that claimed Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The editors of Cologne’s Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper wrote that Kelly’s death was a “tragedy.” “The tragic end of David Kelly, the victim of the controversy between the government and the BBC, increases the ruinous deterioration in confidence in Tony Blair,” the editors wrote, adding that the suicide also detracted from Blair’s argument that the war in Iraq was justified even if no weapons of mass destruction were discovered. “To the citizens of Britain, the government looks more like a dubious used car dealer trying to jack up the price. Thanks to his war propaganda, the once so popular and self-confident premier is no longer.” The paper concluded that Blair must stick to his promise to submit to an independent investigation, and added that the scientist’s death may be the catalyst needed to bring a final close to what it termed “this dark chapter of the Blair era.”

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also took on the issue of using questionable intelligence information to justify the war. “Not only the attempt, but the ways and means that Blair’s government employed in its effort to set up weapons expert Kelly as a scapegoat go beyond the usual tricks of political spin,” the paper wrote. “In recent years, Blair has repeatedly lost advisors who were unprepared to stand behind his somewhat unscrupulous positions and lies. Now it is frantically being asked whether the breakdown is the result of the failure of a few individuals, or of the so-called 'Blair System.' The Prime Minister, who assumed a high moral tone in the Iraq Affair, now may find himself on the pillory,” the editors opined.

The Berlin-based Die Welt concluded that the latest scandal could destroy any of Blair’s remaining credibility. The paper’s editors wrote that Kelly’s death belonged to what the paper called “a tableau of crisis and unfulfilled or ill-advised promises that have long overshadowed the Blair project.” The paper went on to point out that “these weapons, which have not yet surfaced, may lead to the destruction of whatever credibility Tony Blair still maintains after six years in office.” The paper also pointed out that the failure to verify the accusations detracted from what it called the “legitimate reason for intervention: namely, Saddam’s failure to meet the 1991 UN resolutions.”

Down in southwestern Germany, the Saarbrücker Zeitung took a look at the Christian Social Union party congress in nearby Nuremburg, where party leader Edmund Stoiber was reconfirmed by a 97 percent majority. The paper characterized the event as a cacophonous battle between the self-righteous and the downright kitschy. “Even though the leadership of the Christian Democrats and the Christian Socialists show themselves as a tandem so tight that even a piece of paper can’t fit between them, the disagreements within the Union over the course of tax and health reform are unmistakable.” The went on to point out, somewhat sarcastically, that whatever is accomplished the next candidate for chancellor will not be selected at the CSU jubilee party congress.

In Bonn, the General Anzeiger opined that “Stoiber and his long-time close friend Theo Waigel, of the CSU’s sister party, the larger Christian Democratic Union, have delivered vouchers ensuring that serious differences exist. Stoiber repeatedly made an issue of the Union’s preaching regarding tax reform and his contention that what old Christian Socialist Waigel has proposed is not so devious. But his critics in the tax reform battle didn’t quite agree.” The paper concluded that the CSU would probably arrive at a generational change in leadership more quickly than it would like to.