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Monday, January 6, 2003

De Telegraaf, Amsterdam, Dec. 31: When the year 2002 is gone tomorrow, few will miss it. The year was horrible for the state and for the country, with the exception of the marriage of Crown Prince William Alexander and his Argentine bride Maxima.
Prince Claus, the husband of Queen Beatrix, died.
It was also the year that for the first time in centuries, a successful politician, Pim Fortuyn, was murdered: an attack on a man, but also on Democracy. The disturbed loner who shot him down presumed to deny people their say at the ballot box.
Electoral defeat
Two governments collapsed before their time. The old parties were handed an electoral defeat of unheard of proportions, but the new parties failed their voters utterly.
Prominent leaders received death threats, causing some to retreat from public life.
The rest of the world looks on in amazement at how the Netherlands, once a harmonious model for the world, was shaken to its foundations.
Expressen, Stockholm, Dec. 30: Today, Mwai Kibaki will be inaugurated as Kenya's new president. This is a big and important event for Kenya, for Africa and for African democracy. The most important thing with the transfer of power is that the people have decided the matter.
Kenya is a large and influential country and its political development has great influence on both Eastern Africa and the rest of the continent. If Kenya can manage this, Tanzania and Zimbabwe should also manage. The often unconstrained open support which the aging presidents have given each other when they have bungled their elections, will not be possible any more.
The surrounding world and aid cannot put African politics in order. The election in Kenya is an example of this. The people have cast their votes, changed the government and taken their destiny in their own hands. It usually ends well when the people themselves decide.
Berliner Zeitung, Berlin, Dec. 31: 2003 is a normal year ... we don't have to get used to the euro this time, there is no (soccer) World Cup. The year 2003 is free of spectacular prospects.
If, in 365 days' time, that turns out to have been accurate, we would be lucky.
There is no shortage of political and economic risks hanging over the coming 12 months, at home and abroad; but there is a shortage of chances that 2003 will end up better than expected.
The pessimistic scenario almost forces itself upon us -- at the beginning of February, the U.N. Security Council, chaired by Germany, will give in to pressure from Washington and give George W. Bush a blank check for his campaign against Saddam Hussein.
America will lead the campaign and win -- militarily, at any rate. But politically, the second Gulf war will have fatal effects.
Political instability
Even if it is possible to put in place a post-war Iraqi government that is more or less accepted internally and is diplomatically predictable, there will not be more political stability in the Middle East, but less. The world won't become safer, rather the reverse.
Daily Telegraph, London, Jan. 1: Seldom since the Second World War has a new year promised to be as grim for Britain as this one. The long-threatened war against Iraq now looks almost certain to start in the spring. The risk of attack by terrorists has never been greater. Share prices seem likely to go on falling, while taxes and water levels rise. Nobody sees any hope of improvement in the public services.
What comfort can we offer our readers, as we wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2003? Only this: that new-year predictions almost always prove to be wrong. And at least 2003 cannot be much worse than we all expect.
Straits Times, Jan. 1: Happy New Year. Seasonal greetings are offered more in hope than conviction these days (but hope had better spring eternal). The United States-Iraq confrontation is being framed by the U.S. in pious hues of light shaded by darkness.
But the world at large is right to be troubled as the major players remain in denial about the economic reverberations that a questionable war could bring. Might it not be smarter to consider other means of dealing with one murderous dictator than to incinerate whole swaths of economies for disproportional reasons? This is the big imponderable of 2003.
Terror attacks
Then there are the will-o'-the-wisp terror attacks. Mombasa and Grozny have been early sequels to New York, Bali and Moscow. Countless other attempts have been thwarted, security services claim. While governments have a duty to their citizens to not take chances, what the world does not need is to have provincial politicians hawk terror as Gotterdammerung.
Helsingin Sanomat, Helsinki, Dec. 28: "The fundamental problem of Israel has remained the same since the 1967 occupation. It is the inability to decide what Israel values most: A tolerable solution to the Middle East, or the freedom to grab more of biblical Palestine for Jewish settlements. One government after the other has lulled itself into the belief that no real decision has to be made. Of Israeli Prime Ministers, only Ehud Barak has tried to acknowledge the contradiction. Still, settlements were built during his time as well.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has from the beginning acted as if the entire problem didn't exist. And -- for the time being -- the Bush administration has given him free reign.
Moderate candidates
Democratic developments in the occupied territories do not bring the solution any closer unless moderate candidates have something to offer to support the moderation they claim. Sharon does not offer anything in this respect. Most likely, he will continue as Prime Minister in January, and chances for a solution will remain nonexistent during the next government."