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What U.S. newspapers are saying

New York Times

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has waged a long Gandhian struggle against the dictatorship in Myanmar, the last 19 months under house arrest. Now the world's most prominent political prisoner is free. How free is an open question, however. No one should confuse her liberty with real democratization until she and the rest of Myanmar's political opponents can carry out a full range of political activities.

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Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi's release illustrates the persuasive power that diplomatic and financial isolation have had on the government of Myanmar, which is hoping the outside world will now resume aid and trade. ...

The State Department was right to say yesterday that Myanmar must democratize further for sanctions to be lifted. Myanmar has claimed that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi's liberty will be unconditional, but the government must prove that it is granting her and her political party full freedoms. ...

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If aid to Myanmar resumes, it should not flow without restrictions. The government has squandered its few resources on the military while spending just 28 cents a year to educate each child. It ranks second to last globally in the quality of health care. A third of children under 5 are malnourished, and AIDS is rampant and virtually ignored. Humanitarian aid is urgent, but should be administered by nongovernmental groups or by a committee that includes opposition leaders and government officials.


Washington Post

The paradox of Sunday's French election is that despite winning a record landslide, President Jacques Chirac has no clear mandate. The 82 percent of the electorate that backed him was motivated less by enthusiasm for his candidacy than by disgust with his opponent, the extreme rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Mr. Chirac, who now begins a second seven-year term in office, will soon have a chance to solidify his position in next month's parliamentary elections. A victory for his center-right allies would allow him to lead rather than merely preside over the country. A victory for the center-left would usher in another period of cohabitation, prompting calls from French critics of gridlock for constitutional reform.

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Whatever configuration emerges from next month's elections, its task will be to meet the challenge of the far right. ...

Since Sunday's election, Mr. Chirac and his advisers have promised to fight crime and cut taxes. But they should also rethink the way they talk about both kinds of challenge to French sovereignty. They must recognize economic globalization as inevitable and make a positive argument for it; otherwise politicians of both fringes will turn voters against it. And they need to go about European integration with more regard for public misgivings. If the error with economic globalization has been to pretend it isn't really happening and to neglect to defend it, the error with the European project has been to assert its inevitability and assume its popular acceptance.


Washington Times

France is breathing a sigh of relief that the country's national embarrassment -- Jean-Marie Le Pen -- lost his bid for president in a landslide victory to incumbent Jacques Chirac Sunday. The conservative president, who won 82 percent of the vote, should be congratulated for claiming by far the largest majority ever won in a French presidential race since 1965, and for being the conduit through which France was able to transcend, at least for the moment, the threat of a nationalist, anti-immigrant leader. But Mr. Le Pen is not the only nationalist awakening France, and Europe, to its darker side.

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Mr. Le Pen's strong showing last month is a harbinger that those who have an undemocratic way of looking at race, crime and immigration will not go away. In other countries -- Joerg Haider's popularity in Austria; the xenophobic policies of Friedrich Merz, the CDU/CSU leader for the parliament in Germany; the Danish People's Party capture of 12 percent of the vote last fall in Denmark and the race riots in London last year -- there is also testimony to that fact.

"We look to the future with great confidence, and we will meet again in the legislative elections," Mr. Le Pen warned, predicting that Mr. Chirac would lose some of his following by the June legislative elections. ...

It cannot be forgotten that the same anti-immigrant Mr. Le Pen appeared on the scene in the early 1990s, when unemployment was also at 9 percent. Mr. Chirac has a historic opportunity to address the discontent with crime and racial tensions in his country before they push extremists to positions of leadership. In the next several weeks before the legislative elections, the world will be watching to see if he is up to the task. But Mr. Chirac has one major advantage: The French have made clear that extremists are not welcome. As long as Mr. Chirac continues to hear them, Mr. Le Pen will be forced to take his boasts elsewhere.

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San Diego Union-Tribune

France will be taking a hard look at its constitution after Sunday's election. President Jacques Chirac easily defeated Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing rabble-rouser, but this was not the kind of runoff the constitution was designed to produce.

Le Pen sneaked into the runoff because of constitutional quirks that deserve to be corrected, but he represents views overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of French voters. The man who won 17 percent of the vote with 16 candidates on the first round two weeks ago won 17 percent with just two candidates on the second-round -- a horrible showing.

Chirac's win is a win for all of us, for all people who believe democracy is founded on the majority vote of an informed citizenry. His win is a repudiation of the racism, populism, nationalism and anti-European fanaticism which Le Pen brought to this unusual election. ...

Chirac has his work cut out for the next five years. Still popular despite corruption charges that linger since his time as the mayor of Paris, he allowed the presidency to be eclipsed by a Socialist-controlled parliament in his first term. His win Sunday may help his party's chances in next month's parliamentary elections.

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Whoever controls Parliament, France must address its constitutional problems if the president is not to turn into a figurehead, which is the problem the Gaullist constitution was meant to fix. There also should be a higher bar to run for president, keeping out marginal candidates like Le Pen, pseudo-Democrats capable of posing problems that go far beyond national borders.


Baltimore Sun

In France, the extreme nationalist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen lost his bid for the presidency Sunday but pulled in more votes than he had ever received and left no one in doubt that right-wing discontent is a force to be reckoned with in Europe.

In the Netherlands, Mr. Le Pen's counterpart was assassinated yesterday, just nine days before general elections there. European politics haven't looked this grim in a long time.

Pim Fortuyn, who was shot and killed as he was leaving a Dutch radio station, objected to the comparison with Mr. Le Pen. He was openly gay, for one thing, and he said he wanted to preserve the Dutch tradition of tolerance, not obliterate it. But his proposed means? Cut off immigration. Mr. Fortuyn was tolerant of everybody except anybody who wasn't Dutch.

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The right is resurgent in Western Europe. In country after country, the traditional political parties have been unable to address the often legitimate grievances of those who feel threatened by the loss of jobs and local control, by the blurring of national identity, by the rise in crime, by the idea of a remote "Europe" itself. New or formerly marginal parties, such as Mr. Le Pen's or Mr. Fortuyn's, have capitalized on resentment and fear among ordinary people -- and stoked it.

Old ideas of what it means to be French or Italian or German are under assault on many fronts. Either Europe will find a way to deal with these stresses or the world will have to deal with the consequences.


Boston Globe

Aung San Suu Kyi, the brave leader of Burma's democracy movement who was released from house arrest yesterday, made it clear in her initial public statements that the ruling military junta cannot pretend that allowing her to move about the country - with military security from the regime - satisfies its obligation to allow a true restoration of democracy.

Suu Kyi warned the generals' talk of a "new dawn" was hardly enough to lift their boots from the necks of her people. "We only hope the dawn will move forward very quickly into full morning," she said, expressing in metaphor the yearning of Burma's population to be rid of the narco-junta that has driven what was once a relatively prosperous, well-educated country from one calamity to another.

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The winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize left no doubt that she and her colleagues in the National League for Democracy -- who won 392 of 495 parliamentary seats in 1990 elections that the generals refused to recognize -- are not about to dilute their democratic aspirations merely because the junta released Suu Kyi from an unjust incarceration.

The prime minister of Razali's country, Malaysia, the authoritarian Mahathir Mohamad -- who arrives this weekend in Washington for a visit intended to enroll him in the Bush administration's war on terrorism -- played a key role in cajoling the junta bosses to display a little pragmatism. He has an interest in promoting Suu Kyi's release as a reason to justify a lifting of sanctions on the junta.

Yesterday, however, Suu Kyi, speaking as general secretary of the National League for Democracy, said her party still wants America and other democracies to suspend foreign investment in Burma, to withhold aid that can be squandered by the junta, and to refrain from tourism that helps keep the generals in power. As with South Africa under the apartheid regime, sanctions against Burma's junta need to be maintained until the generals accede to the majority's longing for a government of, by, and for the people.

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Chicago Tribune

Now that French voters have huffed and puffed and blown down the ultra-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen, it will be interesting to see if they're willing to follow the lead of the winner in the race for president.

That would be President Jacques Chirac. For all the attention lavished on Le Pen, it was Chirac who garnered 82 percent of the vote on a platform that calls for yanking France out of its economic lethargy by lowering taxes and relaxing the labor rules that stifle growth.

Will Chirac get his way? Don't bet on it. While so much public handwringing in Europe has centered on the rise of the ultra-right, the left has been up to a bit of mischief.


Dallas Morning News

The international community can take a lesson from the Myanmar military regime's release of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Although human rights activists caution against fully trusting the military's change of heart, its freeing the Nobel Prize winner to pursue political activities comes after concerted international pressure made the country ripe for change. The regime released her before, in 1995, just to arrest her again -- but this time, the country must accommodate international concerns.

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That's primarily because the economy of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has gone from bad to worse. This was due not only to government mismanagement but also, more pointedly, to international economic pressures. Countries have reacted to Myanmar's human rights violations and drug trafficking with restrictions on investment, removal of trade preferences and foreign aid cuts. ...

There's a lesson here. When things get bad enough, a government is willing to talk change. This time Ms. Suu Kyi's freedom may be more than just letting her talk. She reportedly is free to travel around the country. Also, the junta has let in foreign journalists. And Myanmar agreed to accept an International Labor Organization representative to help it end forced labor.

If Myanmar ultimately does change, its example should instruct the international community. Working together, the international community can change a nation's behavior.


Houston Chronicle

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in Washington on a mission: to convince President Bush that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is a terrorist and cannot be trusted as a negotiating partner in the Middle East peace effort.

President Bush, whose position against negotiating with terrorists and those who harbor terrorists has been made plain since Sept. 11, will not need much convincing on either of those points. (Both houses of the U.S. Congress -- some 535 secretaries of state without ultimate responsibility for the outcome -- recently passed resolutions making Sharon's argument for him.)

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Bush, however, will find the more complex and nuanced realities of the Middle East bumping up against this moral clarity.

The whole of the Arab world contends that Arafat is the man who must be dealt with.

Bush, not surprisingly, is finding it more difficult to balance the United States' role in the region these days.

He and Sharon reportedly have a healthy measure of respect for one another. They will need every ounce of it in the days ahead.


Miami Herald

A week before former President Jimmy Carter is to arrive in Cuba, Fidel Castro released one of the Cuban regime's best known political prisoners, Vladimiro Roca. That's how Castro, the master manipulator, operates.

Mr. Carter should know that well. He shouldn't be snookered into thinking that a change in U.S.-Cuba relation alone will improve human rights or conditions for most Cubans on the island. Nor will allowing U.S. firms to do business in Cuba improve the odds of a post-Castro democracy. Yet Mr. Carter's support greatly would aid Cuban activists working to strengthen civil society and find homegrown solutions. ...

Mr. Carter should listen to opposition voices. Ask Oswaldo Payá to talk of the Varela Project and its courageous attempt to stir democratic changes legally. Mr. Carter would do a great service to speak out about the Varela Project, Cuba's opposition and political prisoners -- both internationally and within Cuba itself.

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(Compiled by United Press International)

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