La Republica, Milan, March 21: The Rahman case, if confirmed, would highlight the evident contradiction between the theory of exporting democracy and its practical application. The Afghan legal structure still allows in its courtrooms to ask for someone to be sentenced to death for being "heretic." It is obvious that the weak side of forced democracy in Islamic countries is not the electoral process as much as the lack of rights and respect of human rights. (This) raises the question of what the pragmatic meaning of democracy is in that context.
Question for European Union
The (European) Union should ask itself what is the meaning of its presence in a country in which it is unable to ensure the respect of human rights, but that is presented on the other side of the ocean as the example of successful democratization of an Islamic country.
For this to be really the case, untying the knot of freedom of religion is one of the essential steps that need to be taken.
The Egyptian Gazette, Cairo, March 21: The Egyptian authorities did well by going public with the first death suspected of bird flu infection. A 30-year-old native of Qaliubia province, had died of the fatal H5N1 strain of the virus.
The villager had apparently contracted the disease from her domestically reared fowl. She had been in a close contact with the birds despite a stern warning from the health authorities against domestic poultry farms.
Second case reported
Last Sunday, authorities reported a second suspected human case of bird flu. The victim is a man, who was admitted to hospital on Thursday after suffering symptoms of the disease, and has since recovered. Further tests are being carried out overseas to confirm the virus in both cases.
This open and straightforward approach on the part of the authorities is bound to help bring the virus under control and protect humans from infections. A very important thing uncovered by the first death is that more efforts need to be exerted in order to educate the public about preventive measures. The woman had reportedly kept her infected hens for fear of having them culled by vets. They were apparently a source of subsistence to her. She ended up catching the deadly virus. A lesson should be made from this case in order to stave off more deaths.
Politiken, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 21: The Belarus election result Sunday was just about as exciting as an election result in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. As expected, President Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide election with more than 10 times the votes of the runner-up.
An impressive result. That is, if Belarus had been a democracy, or something resembling one. Unfortunately, it isn't.
The question is what to do about this sad situation. The European Union has threatened sanctions, which is a marvelous idea, if tailored not to harm the civilian population.
But sanctions probably won't be enough to bring a democratic summer to Minsk. Lukashenko's grasp on the presidency is too strong, mainly because Russia, for its own strategic interests, protects him.
The EU must put Belarus on the agenda each time it meets with Russia. It's unlikely that threats or pressure can force Russia to give up Lukashenko. But constant pressure can make it so politically, diplomatically and economical expensive for Russia to maintain its extremely tolerant policy toward Belarus, that (President Vladimir) Putin will hopefully change his mind.
Financial Times, London, March 20: Alexander Lukashenko has realized the worst fears of those who warned that Sunday's presidential election in Belarus would be anything but free or fair. Mr. Lukashenko, brightly dubbed Europe's last dictator, made sure he won by a margin unprecedented in the region since Soviet times. His 82 percent vote is an insult to Belarusans and a reminder to other Europeans that even their own continent is not yet free of the scourge of dictatorship.
Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found extensive shortcomings. If Mr. Lukashenko gives a fig about this judgment, he does not show it. At a press conference yesterday, he fielded questions for more than an hour and dismissed all complaints as absurd.
He also made light of the demonstrations staged by Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate, saying they showed to the world that Belarus was a democracy. But Mr. Lukashenko's defiant joke should be treated with caution. There is every risk that, once the caravan of foreign observers has moved on, he will turn on his opponents with a vengeance. He thinks his dictatorial regime is not only better than liberal democracy but superior to the semi-repressive administration of Vladimir Putin, Russian president.