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BRITAIN



Published: Mon, April 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



BRITAIN

Daily Telegraph, London, March 30: The ousting of Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan is not as clean-cut as many in the West might wish. The uprising against him was accompanied by arson and looting, some of it aimed at businesses owned by Chinese, Uighurs and Turks.

The looting has stopped. The country no longer has two legislatures, the one defying the other, and the main rivals for power, Kurmanbek Bakiev and Felix Kulov, the acting security chief, have temporarily buried their differences. Although the situation is calmer than it was, the transition is proving messy.

And yet little Kyrgyzstan could still be the yeast in the despotic dough of Central Asia. That will require a clean presidential election on June 26, and thereafter a more even distribution of power between the winner and the prime minister than under Akayev.

Classic choice

Regime change in Bishkek apparently presents the West with a classic choice between acquiescence in despotism for the sake of stability and support for political liberalisation whose outcome is uncertain. Yet, to take Uzbekistan as an example, is the authoritarian rule of Islam Karimov inherently stable? Does his disastrous human rights record not push opponents towards radical organisations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, designated as a terrorist movement by America in 2001, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir?

Washington has bases in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It naturally wants to retain both as instruments against global terrorism. But it should not sacrifice its concomitant commitment to democracy to the likes of Karimov. In Central Asia, however hesitatingly, Kyrgyzstan is showing the way forward.

LEBANON

Daily Star, Beirut, March 30: Mahmoud Abbas' bold efforts to coax Islamist militants into joining the Palestine Liberation Organization demonstrate a firm commitment on the part of the Palestinian president to implement the agreement he forged in Cairo with the leaders of militant factions.

The effort also marks a badly needed attempt to consolidate a fragmented Palestinian community. There are naysayers who claim that the Islamic factions cannot be incorporated into the mainstream, but this is tantamount to saying that democracy just won't work in the Islamic world.

Popular support

The stark reality on the ground is that Islamist factions enjoy popular support among the Palestinian people. But Islam or Islamist parties needn't be synonymous with violence. While it is true that these factions have waged a war against a brutal occupying force, this war is not the be all and end all of their existence. These movements represent the dynamism of human nature, and as a result, they can evolve.

Now that the world is showing a more serious commitment to the peace process, it is the equivalent of a national duty for the Palestinian parties to forge an agreement among the factions. The time is ripe for reconciliation and peace and the Palestinians must capitalize on America's open door.

ISRAEL

Jerusalem Post, March 29: The defeat of the proposed referendum law was another watershed event on the long road to disengagement. If the referendum law had passed, the government's days might have been numbered. If the budget does not pass by March 31, the government falls automatically.

The situation is clear: If this government stands, it will implement disengagement. If it falls, the election itself would become a referendum on disengagement, which would then take place, or not, depending on the election's outcome.

Our point is that those who sincerely promoted the referendum campaign under the slogan "Let the people decide," now that they lost, must ask themselves whether the people, through their elected representatives, have in fact decided.

Referendum

Politicians rarely hurry to cut the branch they are sitting on. But it is difficult to argue that Knesset members are holding on to their seats despite a clamor to bring down the government, for there is no such clamor. And though polls indicate that a majority of the public favors holding a referendum, the same polls show majorities for disengagement and against holding new elections.

In other words, as messy as the process of approving disengagement has been, the Knesset seems to be roughly reflecting the popular will, and in any case can still send the government and disengagement packing whenever it wishes. Given this situation, it behooves those who are not just paying lip service to democratic legitimacy to admit where the popular will seems to lie.




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