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Bashar al-Assad Belgium Biofuel Bulgaria DRC European press review European Union Muslim Syria

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European press review

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We start with one of the major front page stories of the week: the landmark conviction of rebel leader Thomas Lubanga for recruiting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Much of the press celebrated the guilty verdict - the first-ever handed down by the International Criminal Court in the decade that it's been in operation.

Britain's Daily Telegraph was among them, but says that it's about time too. The court has cost 900 million euros, and this conviction comes almost six years after Lubanga arrived in The Hague, where it's based. This is a textbook example of cumbersome,  foot-dragging international justice, the centre-right daily says.

The chief prosecutor's slap-dash approach to prosecuting the rebel leader almost resulted in his acquittal on a legal technicality. Still, in a largely justice free world, half a step forward is better than none at all, the paper says.

In other parts of Africa, the European Union stands accused of using up valuable food crop land to develop biofuels.

Italy's La Repubblica says that the EU's efforts to meet new standards on low carbon fuel emissions has seen it plant an area the size of Switzerland, right in the heart of Africa. Britain, Italy, Germany and France have sown the lion's share of around four million hectares of land to supply fuel for vehicles and power stations.

Europe does not have enough arable land. But Africa has 15 times more than the amount required to meet biofuel needs for 20 years, the centre-left daily says. However Brazil and China also want to exploit the land for these purposes, not to mention the African's themselves. One study shows that only 15 per cent of land is set aside for food crops.

The Syrian army's crackdown on its people continued to dominate the headlines this week.

Writing in Austria's Der Standard newspaper, French intellectual Andre Glucksmann lashes out at Europe over its hesitant diplomacy, and urges more European solidarity with Syria.

Europe must remember its anti-totalitarian roots and support those who try to imitate its example of the past, he writes. It can help by expressing its opinions more clearly, and exposing false excuses and pretexts on decisive matters, he says, referring to Russia and China's veto on UN Security Council efforts to help.

al-Assad arms himself to the teeth and these friends supply him with all the weapons he needs. Meanwhile those being oppressed are denied the means to defend themselves. Russia and China are trampling on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations, he says.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

In Belgium meanwhile, papers were focused on an arson attack on the largest Shiite Muslim mosque in the capital Brussels which killed the local imam. It was believed to have links to events in Syria.

The attack was allegedly carried out by a Sunni Muslim from Morocco who believes that the atrocities in Syria were committed by false Muslims. Le Soir newspaper urges the Belgian government to intervene and protect Muslim citizens from hatred stirred up by events abroad.

The failure of the Muslim Executive of Belgium to resolve disputes between communities is of great cause for concern, the liberal daily says. It says that Morocco and Turkey have influence over the executive, which represents around 600,000 Muslims. It claims that the Moroccan authorities have been formenting anger against Shiites there. It's up to the government to act, or face more violence like the arson attack.

And we end this week in Bulgaria, where one newspaper has welcomed calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a reform on the EU's Schengen border agreement.

The Sega newspaper sees the possibility of reform as a good idea for corruption-hit Bulgaria. It particularly likes the idea of having foreign customs officers standing guard on its frontier. Plenty of Bulgarians would support the plan, because it could reduce smuggling and bring more money into state coffers, the independent daily says.

But will the Bulgarian government be ready to make such a sacrifice so their citizens can finally travel freely around the Schengen passport-free area, it wonders? Smuggling is rife, particularly in the black-market cigarette trade.

Were it to join Schengen, Bulgaria could be obliged to submit to joint supervision of its border? A greater European presence there might help foster the rule of law within the country, the paper says.