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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Peru seeks stability
after leader resigns

Bullet The issue: Alberto K. Fujimori abandoned the Peruvian presidency and then was fired during a visit to Toyko.

Bullet Our view: The Organization of American States should help Peru attain stability while fair elections are planned for next spring.

ALBERTO K. Fujimori tendered his resignation and then was fired by the parliament as president of Peru. Fujimori said he was visiting Japan, but he looks increasingly as if he has taken political asylum in the nation of his ancestors. His resignation followed months of corruption scandals and has created at least a brief period of instability while Peruvians decide who is in charge. However, international assistance should result in a peaceful and democratic transition.

During his decade as president, Fujimori was popular for defeating a guerrilla movement and introducing economic reforms, but his dictatorial nature caused his reputation to plummet. He was re-elected in May to a third five-year term, but the election was criticized for voter fraud and government corruption. His popularity was eroded further by a scandal surrounding his spymaster, Vladimiro Montesinos.

In September, Fujimori pressured Montesinos to resign and vowed to reduce his term to one year, thereafter turning power over to a new president to be elected next April and inaugurated in July. Montesinos fled to Panama but returned last month to Peru, where he is being sought by authorities linking him to foreign bank accounts containing nearly $60 million.

Fujimori says he plans to stay in Japan "for a long time" but denies seeking political asylum there. He insists that his decision had nothing to do with the scandal. He declined to say why he had resigned except "to open a definite political path that will permit an orderly transition, and no less important, preserve the solidity of our economy."

To the contrary, Fujimori's departure left an immediate power vacuum. First Vice President Francisco Tudela had resigned last month, and congressional negotiations led to the withdrawal of Second Vice President Ricardo Marquez from the line of succession.

That allowed Valentin Paniagua, a political moderate aligned with the opposition that dominates Congress, to become interim president. At his inaugural, Paniagua offered a bold government of national reconciliation and promised to investigate corruption from the Fujimori reign.

Coinciding with Fujimori's exit from the presidency, a delegation from the U.S. State Department arrived in Lima for a long-planned visit and, along with the Organization of American states, seemed to support Paniagua's transition presidency. The OAS has taken a leadership role in Peru since the flawed elections and will be needed to help maintain stability until fair voter tallies can be conducted.

Internet censorship

Bullet The issue: A Parisian judge has ordered the American Internet portal Yahoo to make auction Web sites offering Nazi memorabilia inaccessible to French Web surfers.

Bullet Our view: Yahoo should ignore the attempt at censorship and American courts should refuse to enforce the ruling.

THE Yahoo Internet search engine has been given three months by a French judge to find ways to prevent Web users in France from using its services to find auction sites offering Nazi memorabilia. The judge's ruling is a clumsy gesture that, if allowed to be enforced in the United States, could spawn a myriad of lawsuits by people offended by material distributed on the World Wide Web.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit brought by anti-racism groups that accused the California company of violating French hate law. The listing on Yahoo's subsite includes auctions that feature nearly 2,000 Nazi-related objects, including swastika-emblazoned flags and daggers.

The order by Jean-Jacques Gomez, a Parisian judge, needs to be taken more seriously than other futile attempts to censor the Internet across international borders. Gomez focused his ruling on France and asked three experts to assess Yahoo's argument that it was technically impossible to identify users of its directory of Web sites by national origin.

Yahoo is aimed mainly at U.S. citizens but is recognized as the Web's most popular portal to sites throughout the Internet. Gomez ruled that Yahoo is able to recognize many Internet users from France and select them for French-language advertising banners. The suggestion is that Yahoo could just as easily select them for censorship.

"The French approach would lead to a lowest-common-denominator world where the most restrictive rules of any country would govern all speech on the Internet," said Alan Davidson, staff counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C. "What happens when the government of China decides to prosecute a human rights group in the U.S. for publishing dissident materials that are legal here but illegal there?"

Other European judges have rendered even more onerous Internet rulings. A Belgian telecommunications company was ordered by a judge to make a copy of its Dutch telephone directory inaccessible to Dutch Internet users. The company eventually removed the directory from its Web site.

The French ruling conforms with an earlier European Court decision that a judge can prohibit Internet distribution only in that judge's country and not in member states. However, that makes it no less impractical considering the scope of the Internet and the limitations on shackling the Web.

Gomez imposed a fine of $13,000 for each day that Yahoo violates his order after the deadline, but Yahoo plans to ignore it unless a U.S. court were to enforce it. American courts hopefully will not recognize decisions by foreign judges to censor the Internet.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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