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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    March 12

    IZVESTIA

    March 11, 2004 proved to be a shock and a watershed for Europe, the same as September 11, 2001 for the USA, Izvestia writes. The explosions in Madrid have fundamentally changed the views of people on the continent. At any rate, they should change. Until March 11, it seemed that the bombs that kill dozens and wound hundreds could go off in any place other than in the prosperous, democratic and politically correct nations of the European Union. It seemed that they could explode in the Moscow underground, on Stavropol trains (Russia's south), Jerusalem buses and in Baghdad mosques, or even in New York and Washington as the inevitable price the sole superpower would have to pay for its world leadership. Therefore, there seemed to be no reason to target Europe. However, it turned out that European terrorism was no better and no more humane than its Asian or Islamic form. The only difference was the method to set off the explosions. The Moscow underground attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. In Spain, however, the terrorists neatly stowed the luggage in the trains' shelves and safely left. The demand for suicide bombers is not as strong in the Catholic world as in the Muslim world. The methods are different but the essence is the same. The consequences are also the same: hundreds of innocent victims. The authorities show their helplessness and the secret services are at a loss. The most terrible thing is that there are no guarantees that the tragedy will not be repeated and that no other trains, buses, underground trains or aircraft will be blown up tomorrow (the day after tomorrow, in a week or a month), Izvestia writes.

    KOMMERSANT

    Today is the last day of electioneering permitted by law in the Russian media. Most scandals in the current campaign came when it had officially started, Kommersant notes. It is true, though, that the number of the scandals has not transformed into any form of quality because almost all the electoral claims were finally rejected. The lack of intrigue in the current presidential campaign has not reduced the "complaint activity" of its participants. The number of complaints submitted to electoral commissions and claims made during the 2004 elections is almost larger than in 2000 when the gap between the frontrunner and his closest rivals was not astronomic as it is today, Kommersant says.

    GAZETA

    Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Alexander Veshnyakov has shown journalists how the vote-counting system will operate during the presidential elections, Gazeta says. At several hundred polling stations in Moscow and St Petersburg, electors will insert their ballot papers into scanners with lamps and a display screen. The results of their automatic processing will have legal force. Veshnyakov also said that work was underway to develop a system of voting where electors could mark their preferences on a computer screen with the touch of a finger.

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Today President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili is beginning a two-day visit to Armenia where he will meet Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, the leaders of the Armenian government and the National Assembly (parliament), and representatives of scientific and business circles. Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that prior to his current visit to Yerevan, President Saakashvili spoke about the need of creating a single economic space in the South Caucasus during a meeting with Georgian business people shortly before his Yerevan visit. According to Saakashvili, Nezavisimaya Gazeta informs its readers, during his recent visit to Baku, he proposed to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that a joint commission be set up to eliminate customs and other economic barriers between the two countries. He is expected to propose the same to his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharyan. "Separately, without a common economic space, our states will not be able to develop," Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Mikhail Saakashvili as saying.

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