A socio-political aftershock rumbles through Turkey. The Aug. 17 earthquake "sent tremors rippling through Turkey's political and social world, triggering a backlash against the traditional Turkish faith in an all-powerful state," reported Toronto's Globe and Mail. Although it is unlikely that the current government will be brought down by the crisis, the paper says it could lead to "the grassroots development of Turkey's fragile democracy. The thousands of volunteers who poured into the earthquake zone will not easily forget the power they were able to mobilize."
Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand called for "massive economic-political support, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan." Referring to Turkey's longstanding application for membership in the European Union, Birand said, "A special fund needs to be established to get the Turkish economy up and running, not under the leadership of the United States but this time with a campaign led by the EU. It is urgent that the European Union formally grant Turkey candidate status."
Meanwhile, Britain's Independent reported that the PKK Kurdish separatist group has started to withdraw its forces from Turkey into northern Iraq a week earlier than previously announced. A statement issued by the group declared, "To unilaterally stop the war at this time of heavy disaster is the greatest support to the state and people of Turkey," since money spent fighting the PKK should instead go to earthquake-recovery efforts.
After 25 years of comparative neglect, East Timor has found its way into the world's papers this week (see Monday's column). Writing in the Globe and Mail, Marcus Gee said that of the two options in the Aug. 30 referendum--autonomy within Indonesia or independence--the most likely outcome might not be the best. "Becoming independent may end their oppression; it will not end their troubles. In fact, it may only make those troubles worse." He added, "The independent nation of East Timor would be a flyspeck on the world map." Without Indonesian subsidies East Timor would be at the mercy of the international aid community and susceptible to civil strife.
Another referendum is scheduled to take place Sept. 16 in Algeria, where voters are being asked to approve or reject a presidential reconciliation effort that offers amnesty to people convicted of actively supporting violence as long as they did not actually commit acts of violence. To enhance Algeria's chances of peace, Pakistan's Dawn said in an editorial that the recent upsurge of political violence--at least 130 people have been killed by armed extremists in recent weeks--must "not be allowed to weaken or derail" the peace efforts. At the same time, the paper said, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika "must concentrate his efforts on removing one of the primary causes of popular discontent and strife, namely, economic mismanagement which has led to a high unemployment rate and declining living standards."
The kidnapping of four Japanese mining engineers in the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan has caused a crisis in Japan. According to Asahi Shimbun, the hostage takers are Islamic rebels from Tajikistan. Mainichi Shimbun speculated that jealousy might have been a motive for groups within Tajikistan or other neighboring countries envious of Japan's generous aid program to Kyrgyzstan. One commentator suggested that "the culprits may well have deliberately targeted the Japanese knowing that Japan places top priority on human lives in settling [hostage] cases. ... Taking hostages could be aimed at getting a ransom as well as weapons, water and food." Another pundit questioned the Japanese aid agency's decision to declare the area safe. Lax security has been blamed for other hostage-taking incidents involving Japanese nationals, such as the four-month seizure of the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru, in 1996, and this may have led to a perception of Japanese as easy targets, Asahi Shimbun said.
The Hindu of Madras reports that India's hottest Web site is www.soniagandhionline.com. Normally thought of as reclusive, the leader of the Congress Party is now accessible "with a vengeance." Stung by accusations that it has fallen behind in the online competition, Congress' main political rival, the BJP, said that it prefers a chat format for online discourse and will have a site up and running soon.