Reactions to the collapse of the Russian economy and President Yeltsin's sacking of the entire government, appointing Victor Chernomyrdin as the new Prime Minister
St Petersburg Times
THE TIMING is madness. Russia is in the middle of its worst financial crisis since 1991 but it now faces the prospect of weeks of horse-trading over a new Cabinet. Even if that can be quickly resolved, Chernomyrdin is not the man to lead Russia out of crisis. It is he, after all, who more than anyone else except Yeltsin created this mess by piling up a mountain of state debt. As one wit in the Duma put it, Yeltsin has replaced a man who could not do anything in five months with someone who could not do anything in five years. Yeltsin is now a lame duck whose influence and relevance will fade. Similarities to the last days of the Suharto regime in Indonesia are growing. It is hard to see what can now pull Russia back from the brink.
The Washington Post
THE PRESIDENT said his goal was "not to allow a step backward, but to maintain stability". But in Russia's crippled state, there can be no stability, only progress through difficult reform or continued decline. The debt moratorium has scared foreign investors away. Russia's young banks are teetering. There will be a huge temptation to save them by stoking inflation, which could lead to Weimar-like political instability.
WHEN PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin signed the decree appointing Chernomyrdin as Prime Minister, the ailing Russian leader could well have been playing out the last act of his remarkable political career. Giving Chernomyrdin unprecedented powers as the heir apparent could make for a more stable government but it will also slow attempts to take the fiscal measures needed to stabilise Russia's finances.
IF WESTERN assistance is to make any difference, it can only be if the new Government makes proper use of the opportunity afforded by default by tightening the public finances sharply. This will leave Mr Chernomyrdin balanced between destabilising political pressures at home and Western unwillingness to throw good money after bad. The prognosis for Russia is dire. A miracle is now needed.
THIS MERRY-go-round of politics has also sent a ripple of panic through the West. The rouble's difficulties were echoed in the plight of other national currencies, in Europe, the Americas and already-troubled Asia, and played a part in forcing the Australian dollar to a 12-year low against the US dollar. The financial markets' fears of a Russian collapse have led to demands that the West stop bailing Russia out, and instead insist that the Russians learn to solve their own financial problems. It is a solution as blind as the panic that spawned it.
IT TURNS out that President Yeltsin was not changing horses in mid- course, but changing parachutes during a jump - which, it goes without saying, is a risky matter.
NOT A day passes without more monetary, financial or economic bad news. After Russia, which will be the next country to founder? One very dark scenario could be possible: a Latin American recession which would horribly shake Wall Street and provoke mass panic and huge withdrawals in American households. What would happen then, nobody knows. Psychological phenomena have taken on such importance in contemporary economics that turnaround can never be ruled out. The world economy is now in the hands of the markets. The Asia crisis hasn't led to the general ruin which some predicted. But it has taught us that economic matter has become explosive gas.
The New Statesman
AS IT struggles to survive the worsening financial turmoil, the Russian government is likely to be guided by the interests of its corporate giants, and the occasional voice of a powerful regional governor, rather than by some abstract notion of the collective good. The general interests of the people will take second place to the need to bail out a few influential banks or to strengthen the position of exporters, such as natural gas producers, whose main income is in hard currency.
LEGACY OF DIANA
Opinions on the mood of the nation on the first anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales
IT SEEMED quite possible that Diana would, like Banquo, be more powerful dead than alive. Yet, just a year later, there can no longer be any doubt that, if one chooses to see Britain simply as a battlefield for a war be- tween CharlesWorld and DianaWorld, CharlesWorld is winning decisively. The Windsors have romped home 5-0 by an innings, in straight sets. The Monarchy has triumphed. (Paul Goodman)
PRINCE CHARLES has worked hard since Diana's death to be a good father, and make himself a more sympathetic person. The public recognises that, but people are far from being ready to forgive him. They continue to compare him unfavourably with her, and refuse to forget the way he treated her. Prince Charles still has a long way to go before a country that still reveres Diana's memory is willing to accept him.
WHATEVER THE truth about the body, the soul is even harder to assess. Was she a tempter or tempted; destructive, or a healer; a superb actress or a genuine possessor of moral depth? Would she have grown in stature if she had lived, or was her death a necessary sacrifice to her reputation?
I LIKE to think that the obvious truths about her, which most people have silently grasped all along, will eventually come to be accepted by everyone. She was a beautiful, rather mixed-up person, who loved her children and did some good and had some fun, and then died in a horrible accident which certainly didn't have to happen. Let's not always make her into someone she was not. Let's allow her in death to be herself.
AT LAST, a royal tribute Princess Diana would have treasured. The Queen admits she has changed the way she works after re-examining how her former daughter-in-law did things. That's why last month she went to McDonald's, where Diana regularly took her boys. And why she now devotes quality time to the people she meets. What a shame Diana had to die to be appreciated.
The Evening Standard
NO DOUBT in nearby Essex and those other areas where most women bleach their hair, Diana's status as the icon of fashion, charm and beauty will never be undone; but many a rational man will mutter to himself, and with unalloyed relief, that Diana's oddly suitable death solved many problems for church, state, constitution and the restless monarchy. (Brian Sewell)
THE DIANA effect centred not on the politicians but "the people". Suddenly the powerful had to catch up with the streets. The Royal Family even bowed to public pressure and returned to London. It was a crude display of people power, but that is where British politics now resides. Judging by the impact that she has had on our politics, Diana was, after all, the People's Princess. (Jonathan Freedland)
AMERICAN MISSILE ATTACKS
Verdicts on last weekend's American missile attacks on alleged terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan
BIN LADEN issued a fatwa, a declaration of war, against America. If Washington is serious, Congress should declare war in return against these trans-national terrorists. That formal declaration would allow more options, including targeting enemy leaders for death, something peacetime restrictions preclude. War will be costly, but so will inaction. And whatever it will be, Americans need to think it through.
The Jordanian Times
ALTHOUGH IT could be understood that Washington would wish to avenge the bombing of its embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, it is difficult to comprehend the punitive actions against targets which are not associated with these attacks. The US must not act as judge, jury and executioner. This is not the kind of new international order the world is going to accept and live with.
CARRYING THE fight to terrorists is only part of the necessary response to the deadly bombings of our embassies. Another critical response is improving the security of embassies and US offices around the world. There's no iron-clad protection against every imaginable terrorist attack. But there's no excuse for not taking all possible precautions.
The Straits Times
A WEEK after the United States armed forces ravaged targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, the world's Islamic governments are still locked in what seems to be unhappy silence. It could be that if they have any quarrel with such fanatical groups, it is over methods rather than aims, and that their profound misgivings - alas, not unjustified - of some aspects of US policy prevent them from taking a rational view of the threat to a civilised world order.
The New York Times
AMERICANS OF both parties rallied around President Clinton's decision to launch military strikes against alleged terrorist installations in Afghanistan and the Sudan. But the Administration's refusal to share more information about... targets and timing is disturbing. By its excessive secrecy, Washington only increases scepticism about its claim that the Shifa chemical factory in the Sudan was producing nerve gas ingredients, and thus had to be destroyed to prevent new terrorist attacks.
THE CONGO WAR
Comments on the dangerous situation in Africa as Congo's civil war threatens stability in the area
THE WAR situation in Congo is taking such a dangerous turn that one can only hope for a third-party country to get involved in finding a solution. Unfortunately, domestic problems in the US and the hunt for the fundamentalist terrorist bin Laden doesn't leave Clinton with time for peace missions abroad. South Africa alone is persisting in the diplomatic effort to get a cease-fire that could pave the way to negotiation. Western powers must embrace Mandela's work.
WITHOUT SOUTH Africa's support it is difficult to imagine any southern African task force getting off the ground, let alone being effective in a country as vast and complex as Kabila's Congo, where there are many dark days to come.
The Washington Post
WITH NEIGHBORING nations lining up on opposite sides, the conflict could pull Congo into pieces and widen into a regional affair... Mr Kabila has appealed to other African governments for help, and some of them are reportedly sending military aid. But Nelson Mandela is conspicuously not among them. His plea for negotiation... holds out more hope than any alternative.
MR KABILA'S response to his troubles has been to retreat into Congolese nationalism. Tutsis, regarded as suspect, have been sacked from the government or have fled to join the rebels. The state-controlled radio urges the slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis. All this may endear Mr Kabila to patriotic locals but... could lead to genocide.
PREGNANT SPICE GIRLS
Opinion on the news that Posh Spice and Scary Spice are both pregnant, apparently to the fury of their record company, Virgin
QUITE APART from the practical considerations of whether the girls will be able to make records and tour the world once they have children, surely their impending motherhood sends out the wrong signals to the band's fans, most of whom are teenage girls. Although the women are engaged, their pregnancies only confirm the collapse of traditional family values. They obviously feel no shame in their condition.
FAR FROM being the ultimate icons of pre-pubescent girls, the Spice Girls have finally proved what I always suspected - they're just ordinary lasses with the same down-to-earth aspirations as your average girl in the street. In the end, Victoria and Mel B were desperate for a way out. They also wanted the one thing money can't buy - a baby and a normal, settled life away from the spotlight. (Sue Carroll)
THE SPICE Girls' record company, Virgin, is reportedly "furious" at two of its artists' pregnancies, feeling that the "meticulously planned promotional campaign" timed to coincide with the band's Christmas single has been thrown into disarray. Although the Spice Girls make me feel ill, I feel more nauseated still by the idea of men in suits telling them what they can and can't do with their reproductive systems. I am going to buy their next single in the spirit of outraged sisterhood. (India Knight)
THE GIRLS each have a few squillion in the bank, so I doubt they give a tinkers what some record company minion thinks about them. But can you imagine this little remark being made about a male pop star facing parenthood? So much for Girl Power. (Jane Moore)
AT THIS time of joy, our thoughts should turn to the young infant safely ensconced in his mother's womb. What music shall it first hear, what strange and subtle rythms will guide the precious baby through its first days?
FILM OF THE WEEK
Reviews of Guy Ritchie's film `Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'
THIS IS a hugely confident debut picture. The dialogue sizzles with a demotic verve rarely found in English movies, and the labyrinthine plot slowly winds you in. The farcical pay-off and gaudy violence is Tarantino- esque, but Ritchie's film is original and witty enough to stand up as a counterpart rather than a rip-off. (Quentin Curtis)
THE MAKERS of the movie cast people with real-life criminal convictions for some of the roles, and treat their grotesque deeds and warped morals without the slightest moral judgement, as if they were simply the comic meat in a slice-of-life sandwich. It's a cold-blooded, artificial construct, feeding a tabloid appetite for brutality, and underwriting the mindless indecencies for violent halfwits.
THE SCRIPT has its share of smart lines, but offers little structural support. Scenes bulge with too many characters, and multiple plot threads. As the film charges ahead its callousness grows, and it becomes less a breezy romp than a mechanical exercise in bludgeoning audiences and being fashionable. (Geoff Brown)
Expect plenty of laughs and some edge-of-your seat sweats, but not a whole lot else. Attempting to marry Oliver Twist with Trainspotting, this ends up more like a bloody episode of Minder. (Charlotte O'Sullivan)
Stories from around the world
Sydney Morning Herald
THE FEDERAL government has been accused of running a "Viagra-led election", with claims that it has prematurely promised that the impotence pill will soon be available in Australia.
The Health Minister, Dr Wooldridge, created intense media interest yesterday with an announcement that the drug had been approved, subject to changes to its product information.
Speaking from an international impotence conference taking place in Amsterdam, a Perth specialist, Dr Bronwyn Stuckey, said colleagues had predicted that such an announcement would be made as part of an "erection election".
IS A half-eaten apple a deadly weapon? A San Francisco appeals court got to the core of that question when it considered the case of Gavin T, a student whose tossed apple knocked a teacher unconscious. The 1st District Court of Appeal said the assault by fruit wasn't a criminal act.
Gavin was eating lunch outside when he decided to throw a half-eaten apple at a wall to see it splatter. By accident, the apple flew through a gap in a door and hit a teacher who was conducting choir try-outs. The teacher was knocked unconscious for several minutes. Gavin was charged with felony assault. Although a lower court found that he did not intend to hit the teacher, the teen was found guilty anyway - to set an example to other would-be apple-tossers. The appeals court [later] overruled his punishment.
Chicago Sun Times
ALAIN AND Cheryl Doucet were divorced in 1995 after 20 years of marriage, but a judge ordered them to live together until their youngest child turned 18. For three years, the couple lived in a house divided. There were separate phone lines, separate televisions - everything separate all the way down to the refrigerator shelves. Apparently, the judge has either never been married or is locked in wedded bliss. Anyone who has ever gone through a divorce would know that the couple were lucky to get out of this ordeal alive.Reuse content