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Europe

German Press Review: Wafer Thin Film of Human Dignity

Tuesday’s German newspapers commented on the continuing violence in Iraq, the tentative steps towards peace in the Middle East and allegations of police brutality in a trial of a German law student accused on murder.

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The U.S. may have destroyed terrorist structures, but not terrorism itself.

The Rheinische Post wrote the United States is a country of growing military strength but its reputation in the world is deteriorating. The Americans are hardly facing what they would term a worthy opponent, but across the globe they have become a target for terrorists and guerrillas, the paper stated. U.S. experts suspect that not Iraqis but foreigners are behind the attacks on U.S. troops. "The three letters ‘USA’ generate ill feeling that not infrequently turns into violence. In Afghanistan, the U.S. may have destroyed terrorist structures, but it has not destroyed terrorism," the paper concluded.

The Westfälische Anzeiger was optimistic that in spite of all reservations and in the face of some skepticism, it appeared that progress is being made in the Middle East peace process. Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon appears to be edging towards compromise, the paper wrote. It wrote, "The old hard-liner is making some surprisingly diplomatic noises. Rather less surprising is that he is making concessions ahead of his meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush. Contrary to their efforts in Iraq, the Bush administration is displaying some dexterity in dealing with this conflict." The paper suggested the Palestinians would be well advised to use this to advance the cause of peace.

The sluggish German economy received a welcome boost on Monday when a widely-watched industrial barometer showed growing confidence in a recovery this year. The Ifo Institute, Germany's best-known economic think-tank, said that its business climate index rose for the third month in succession, moving up to 89.2 points in July from 88.8 points. The Westdeutsche Zeitung cautioned about reading too much into the statistics. There are largely psychological factors at work, it said, and therefore it would be fatal for the German government to lean back and celebrate its tentative steps towards reform as the opening phase of sustained economic recovery.

"Hopes for the German economy rise" is the banner headline in the Financial Times Deutschland. Citing the Ifo Institute, the paper’s editorial commented that all of a sudden the German economy is showing signs of life. The FT then listed what it describes as the relatively good news - the euro slipping against the dollar, the weakening of the union’s ability to defend industry-wide agreements after the failure of the IG Metall strike in the East and a slight fall in the unemployment rate. The paper breathed a sigh of relief that Germany’s ability to halt the bad economic news is justified; but warned that excitement about the country's glowing economic potential would be irrational.

Increase in German business confidence was however not the main domestic story in the German papers, it was a gruesome murder case. In Frankfurt on Monday, law student Magnus Gäfgen was sentenced to life imprisonment for the kidnapping and murder of Jakob von Metzler, the eleven-year-old heir to a private banking firm. The Nürnberger Nachrichten noted that the defense lawyer for the student had been predicting that his client could be released within three years. Why, the paper asked. He is speculating that a higher court could declare the investigative proceedings in the run-up to the trial to be null and void because the police threatened to torture Gäfgen before they knew his victim was dead. "But these two aspects of the case, dubious police tactics and the guilt of the accused, should be kept quite separate from one another," the paper commented.

A German law student who kidnapped and murdered an 11-year-old heir to a private banking firm was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday. The case stirred controversy after the Frankfurt police admitted that they had threatened to use physical force, in other words, torture, to get the suspected murder to reveal the whereabouts of the kidnapped boy, Jakob Metzler. The Kölner Stadtanzeiger made the point that the current debate in Germany about relaxing the ban on torture was not triggered by terrorist violence, but by a crime punishable under the conventional penal code. "It is therefore all the more important we continue to press for the upholding of the ban on torture. This debate has shown how easily prepared we are to shed the principles of the rule of law," the paper argued and added, "The protective film under which we keep human dignity safeguarded as a cherished possession has proven itself to be wafer thin."