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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, January 15, 2006

Belarus and the WTO, Ukrainian government dismissal, Energy issues, Elections: Issues and scandals, Tatsiana Khoma

  • From the Top


    from the office of the president & Belta

    Alexander Lukashenko and Ms. Amina Mohamed
    On January 13, President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with the chairperson of the General Council of the World Trade Organization Ms. Amina Mohamed.

    The Head of State believes that, generally, the process of joining the WTO by Belarus is moving forward successfully. “We have come to an agreement with many states, we have entered the negotiation process with many others, and the process is moving on successfully.”

    Alexander Lukashenko tendered thanks for the fact that “the WTO working bodies assist with involving our country in an active dialogue with the WTO member states so that it could tackle the problems which must be tackled in joining the World Trade Organization.”

    At the same time, in view of the Belarusian leader, the negotiation process on Belarus’ accession to the WTO is not devoid of difficulties. “You know why and, you know what states I mean. I would like to underscore again – due to their policy of double standards, it is very difficult to talk to Western Europe and the United States of America.”

    The President emphasized that “Belarus is an absolutely open, transit country, with an open economy. Actually, we are pursuing that kind of policy which is required for the WTO members. Nonetheless, due to various political reasons, the negotiations with Western Europe and the USA are being stalled.”

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out that “we are looking forward optimistically and will be persistently moving forward, working in the directions we need to follow in joining the WTO, and we count very much on the support of the WTO leaders.”

    Ms. Amina Mohammed said that “the process of joining the WTO is very complicated”. For some countries it took 12-15 years. In the opinion of the high guest, “the reason is not that the process is more important than the accession itself. A country which is seeking the WTO membership should meet its rules even before the accession to the organization”.

    The WTO General Council chairperson highly valued the work of the Belarusians side on joining the WTO. Ms. Amina Mohammed said that “she is optimistic” and hopes that the process of Belarus’ joining the WTO will not take much time”.

    “We have had an open, constructive and very friendly exchange of opinion. The two main issues which we have discussed today were Belarus’ accession to the WTO and bilateral cooperation with my country Kenya," Ms. Amina Mohammed stressed. "As for Belarus’ accession the WTO we have agreed to establish close cooperation with each other to ensure that the process of Belarus’ acceding the WTO will be constructive and will finish as soon as possible”.

    The WTO General Council chairperson underlined the importance of the work done within the last two days of her stay in Minsk. “I will be looking forward for the February meeting and would try to make sure that the information presented by the Republic of Belarus correctly analyzed by the WTO member-states”.

    A regular unofficial sitting on Belarus’ accession to the WTO will be held in the second half of February.


    Charter '97

    The issue of the continuation of Belarus as an independent state has been in question now for almost a decade
    Alexander Lukashenko ruled out Thursday the possibility that his country might become part the Russian Federation. "We cannot become a part of Russia," Lukashenko said in the run up to presidential elections in March. "We created our own country and despite all the fluctuations in the world we will exist as a sovereign state."

    He said Belarus and Russia could live as a single whole on the principles of the Union State, an idea that initially emerged in 1997 to foster political and economic integration, in particular by standardizing taxes and tariffs, but has largely remained on paper. Belarus was to have adopted the Russian ruble as a single currency for the state in 2005, but the move has been postponed.

    However, Lukashenko, said that both countries should move within the union toward integration on economic and social issues.

  • Ukraine and its latest “revolution”



    On January 10 the Ukrainian parliament, the Supreme Rada, voted in favor of dismissing Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's government. The Ukrainian government came under pressure after the signing of an interim agreement with Russia on the supplies of its natural gas to Ukraine at $95 per 1,000 cu m for the next six months. The agreement followed three-day cuts of Russia's gas supplies to Ukraine after talks over gas prices - which had lasted nine months - broke down amid Russian demands for a price rise from about $50 per 1,000 cu m to as much as $230. The Rada has the right to dismiss the government and appoint a new cabinet under amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution that came into force on January 1, 2006.
    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko demanded Thursday that the country's parliament rescind a resolution to dismiss the government, condemning the move as "unconstitutional."

    "The country has a legitimate government centrally, as well as locally," the president said.

    The Supreme Rada, Ukraine's parliament, made a decision Tuesday to dismiss the government over the gas agreements signed with Russia on January 4, 2006, which critics said were economically damaging to Ukraine, and ceded too much leverage to Moscow. The agreements ended the long-running dispute between the two countries over gas prices, which came to a head with Russia cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine for the first days of the year.

    The vote was backed by 250 of the Rada's 450 members.

    Yushchenko also said that Prime Minister Yekhanurov's government would continue to perform its duties until the formation of a new cabinet, to be named after parliamentary elections in March.

    The president said he had signed a letter to the heads of regional administrations with instructions on how to carry out their work in the wake of the no-confidence vote against the government.

    The acting government should have clearly defined policies, Yushchenko said. And it needed to come to an understanding with parliament, he added, given important bills to be passed by the Supreme Rada, including 11 bills required for Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization.

    Rada member Yaroslav Kendzor, a member of the pro-Yushchenko People's Union Our Ukraine party, Thursday proposed dismissing parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn.

    Kendzor claimed that Lytvyn had displayed poor knowledge of the constitution by allowing parliament to vote to dismiss the government.

    The Rada voted against the motion, however. With 226 votes needed, only 67 parliament members voted in favor of Lytvyn's dismissal.

    Lytvyn said that he was ready to hold an open public discussion with Kendzor about his knowledge of the constitution.

    Yushchenko, also Thursday, announced his withdrawal from a memorandum of cooperation with the political opposition. The agreement was signed in September 2005 in a bid to prevent political crisis and economic collapse following a split in his government and the dismissal of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, once his main ally.

    The deal was signed with Viktor Yanukovich, leader of the Party of Regions and Yushchenko's main rival in the 2004 presidential campaign, when disputed election results led to mass protests in Kiev, eventually bringing Yushchenko and his supporters to power.

    The parties to the memorandum pledged to reform the political system, and hold democratic elections without using their positions to achieve their own ends.

    The president said the Party of Regions had breached that agreement by supporting the no-confidence vote against the government.

    Yushchenko also said that a "fifth column" consisting of two or three political parties were working together in the Rada towards what he said was "the betrayal of the nation's political and moral interests."

    The political forces behind the decision - supporters of Tymoshenko and Lytvyn, as well as the Party of Regions and the Social Democratic Party - were seeking to provoke instability in the country, the president said.



    Javier Solana
    European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana pledged the European Union's support to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in a telephone conversation Friday, following the recent dismissal of the country's government, Ukraine's presidential press service said.

    Solana "gave his assurance of the European community's support in the Ukrainian leadership's steps to stabilize the situation in the country, and in its reform progress," the press service said.

    He also congratulated the president on the successful completion of Russian-Ukrainian talks on over Russian gas supplies to its neighbor and the signing of agreements.

    The Supreme Rada, Ukraine's parliament, made a decision Tuesday to dismiss the government over the gas agreements signed with Russia on January 4, 2006, which critics said were economically damaging to Ukraine, and ceded too much leverage to Moscow.

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has declared the Supreme Rada's move "unconstitutional."

  • Belarusian Energy Issues


    A map showing the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster
    The government of Belarus has approved the state program on mitigating the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe for 2006-2010. The decision is contained in resolution #29 of January 11, 2006 of the Council of Ministers.

    As the Council of Ministers told BelTA, the state program and financing resources should be accurately defined in the annual undertakings on mitigating the Chernobyl consequences.

    A similar program was implemented in 2001-2005 featuring large-scale projects to minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. At the same time incommensurability of the effect of the catastrophe and the opportunities of the country to mitigate it communicated a necessity to continue advancing in this direction. The idea is to provide socio-economic and radiation-ecological rehabilitation of the contaminated territories. The new program is a logic continuation of the government policy to minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

    The success of the previous program made it possible to map out the targets for the upcoming five-year period. There is a need to set up conditions to do business without any radiation restrictions and keep on scaling down health risks.


    from Belta

    Though launching a new facility for its production in Dokshitsy, Lukashenka warns Belarus to be frugal with its use of natural gas
    On January 12, President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took a working tour of Vitebsk region. The Head of State got familiarized with the socio-economic situation in the region. An important part of his visit’s agenda was participation in the solemn ceremony of launching natural gas transmission facilities in the town of Dokshitsy.

    The Belarusian leader underlined that the access to the environmentally friendly fuel was provided for Dokshitsy ahead of time. 840 apartments and more than 1500 individual houses will be receiving natural gas instead of liquefied gas. 22 industrial and social facilities will be given the opportunity to use natural gas as fuel. The gas pipeline to Dokshitsy is equipped with modern systems of technical communication and remote control thus meeting the necessary conditions for a reliable and uninterrupted “blue fuel” supplies.

    The President underscored that he deems it necessary “to switch over to a more intensive and efficient use of local kinds of fuel” while saving on the natural gas and using it thriftily and economically.

    “We buy natural gas - we do not extract it. We see “the gas wars” which occur in the post-Soviet space. There will be no cheap gas, its price is constantly growing, Alexander Lukashenko said. – This year we have managed to keep the level of prices as it was last year. The rates for public utilities will not increase because the provision of natural gas is cheaper than that of liquefied gas.”


    From RFE/RFL

    On 8 January, RFE/RL's Belarus Service held a roundtable discussion on Russian gas supplies with five presidential candidates. The participants in the discussion were: Syarhey Haydukevich, leader of the Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party; Alyaksandr Kazulin, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada); united opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich; Zyanon Paznyak, the exiled leader of the Conservative Christian Party; and former General Valery Fralou. The following is selected excerpts of the transcript.

    RFE/RL: For you as presidential candidates, what lessons do you take from the Russian gas row with Ukraine?

    Zyanon Paznyak
    Zyanon Paznyak: We have possibilities [to affect Russia] that Ukrainians lack. Namely those which are provided by interdependency between Belarus and Russia. I have in mind [Russian] military bases, which exist in Belarus practically free of charge and their price should be included into the price [Belarus pays] for gas. However, Belarus is losing this game. Very cheap and practically free-of-charge transit should also be included into the price and there are some other possibilities, which Ukraine lacks. However, Ukraine has one very important resource -- it has a national government and, largely because of this powerful and critical resource, it was easy for Ukrainians to stand up to this insolent and silly [Russian] blackmail and to win. We do not have such a resource and our first aim is to acquire such a resource. The Belarusian problem is that we have a pro-Moscow government and this is the biggest curse for the Belarusian people.

    Syarhey Haydukevich: I don't think that [the gas crisis] threatens Belarus in the upcoming decade. My opinion is based on facts. I often visit Russia and have serious meetings there. I can make one point: Belarus will not find itself in the Ukrainian situation because Belarusian interests are based on other grounds than Ukraine's. It is completely not objective to say, as Ukrainians do, that Russia wants to increase the gas price because Ukraine seeks to join NATO. I do not think that Ukraine did the right thing -- you should not forget that you cannot choose neighbors and should be friends with your neighbors. In this sense [Ukrainian President] Viktor Yushchenko has disappointed me.

    Alyaksandr Kazulin
    Alyaksandr Kazulin: We can make several conclusions and I think that all of them are evident. Anything that comes for free has strings attached. We should understand that nothing is ever for free. Secondly, to deal with any crisis we need to have a steady legal base. Agreements, which can be interpreted in different ways, earlier or later, end in misunderstandings and provoke conflicts as a result. That's what we have seen. If Yushchenko fulfilled the obligations taken by the former government the price would have been different from the one we have now. I should say that I do not fully support this quick rise to $230, but Russia offered $160 to Ukraine and Ukraine refused -- and did it in a bad way. You should not behave this way with a great country.

    Alyaksandr Milinkevich
    Alyaksandr Milinkevich: I think that Russia has demonstrated once more that it seeks obedience from its neighbors, first of all from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Concerning gas prices, the main lesson for us is that we should be ready for the new prices, especially bearing in mind that in the near future Russia will join the World Trade Organization and will also have to increase gas prices for us. Unfortunately, the Belarusian economy is not ready for that.

    Valery Fralou
    Valery Fralou: I do not think that the Belarusian authorities are eager to learn lessons from the crisis or learn any economic lessons as their only purpose is to stick to power. Concerning economists, they have learned their lesson long ago -- our economy, which is totally dependent on cheap energy, is not able to adapt to free market conditions. It only makes the situation, which exists in Belarus, worse. The economy is being ignored by politicians who only have one aim -- staying in power.

    RFE/RL: As potential candidates, what gas prices would you agree with Russia?

    Kazulin: I can guarantee that the price for gas would be as low as possible and would not increase as rapidly as in Ukraine. Of course, we all understand that, as world gas prices go up, prices in Russia will also increase. Of course they will go up in Belarus, too. It is clear that we should plan our politics according to world tendencies. But it is clear that the gas price in Belarus will not be so high....

    Milinkevich: I was not sitting at the negotiating table and it is very difficult for me to talk about the prices. But of course the prices should not be around $200. The prices should go up gradually. Gas prices will reach world levels in a year or a year and a half, but moving to the world prices now will mean a collapse for the Belarusian economy. The new Belarusian authorities will be better partners for Russia. I think that the new Belarusian authorities will show Russia that it is easier to deal with them, that it is possible to talk openly about everything and sign new agreements. But in no way will we cancel old agreements. We will honor them until they expire. We will fulfill those obligations, which Belarus is currently taking, though sometimes they are unfavorable.

    Fralou: I think it will be very difficult to build new economic relations with Russia keeping in mind that we depend from Russia very much. Now I am not ready to give the price, which we might be able to agree during the negotiations. Probably we should find some other means, which would allow the Belarusian economy to stay aloof with prices going up considerably.

    Paznyak: The price of gas, which is agreed between Minsk and Moscow, is advantageous for Russia. Otherwise, this price wouldn't exist. It is useful for them not only politically but also economically. By the way, the world price is neither $160 [per 1,000 cubic meters] nor $230 dollars -- these figures reflect the price of blackmail. If the French and Germans are getting the gas for $160, in our case, one should remember the 200 kilometers distance [to transport the gas to Belarus.] The price of the gas for Belarus, bearing in mind the proximity, shouldn't be higher that $80. The price of the Russian military bases in Belarus should also affect the price Belarus pays for gas.

    Haydukevich: Every candidate should explain to the people, to pensioners, what prices we will have to pay for the Russian natural resources. The Belarusian economy depends on that. I have no doubt that the gas prices will not go up if I am elected the president of Belarus. For me personally it is clear. Gas prices do not belong to the sphere of economics but to politics. If for instance Syarhey Haydukevich would declare that he wants to be a strong ally of the EU; if he and his entourage would start making declarations that irritate the neighbors, I have no doubt that the attitude towards me will be completely market based. In this sense I completely support [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. I completely support President Putin in the row with Ukraine.

  • Elections and Politics


    Charter '97

    The president is assuring everyone that there will not be any mass protests in or around the presidential elections in March
    Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday he was convinced the March 19 presidential elections, which see him stand for a third time, would be held fairly and without incident.

    "You can be absolutely sure that the authorities won`t let the situation become destabilized," Lukashenko told journalists during his visit to the Vitebsk region of Belarus.

    "We do not need to falsify the elections. On the contrary, we will do everything possible not to be accused [of doing so]," he said.

    "We want everyone who wants to become president to stand in the elections, and we want the people to decide," Lukashenko said.

    It was not necessary for the country`s leaders to use force to cling to power, he added. "People have enough confidence in us," he said.


    According to RFE/RL and Charter '97

    In any case, political humor is still not an acceptable art form in Belarus [Cartoon from -see below]
    The police brought a criminal case against the leader of Zhodzina branch of Malady Front, the activist of the initiative group of Aliaksandr Milinkevich Pavel Krasouski for alleged insult of duty officials. Before that the police searched his flat and took away all information carriers. The reason for the criminal case became the publication in Naziralnik – the newspaper that Mr. Krasouski issued. The last numbers of this newspaper, the circulation of which is 299 copies (maximally allowed circulation for unregistered editions) were devoted to the upcoming presidential election.

    Pavel Krasouski is the leader of the regional department of unregistered youth organization “Young Front” and the head of the campaign headquarters of the oppositional candidate A. Milinkevich. The case of Krasouski is investigated by Minsk regional police, and not by Zhodzina one. The ground for initiation of a criminal case was cartoons showing local officials, published by Pavel Krasouski in the newspaper “Nabludatel”, which has 299 copies. According to the Belarusian law, it is allowed to print 299 copies of a periodical without its registration. The latest issues of the newspaper were dedicated to the elections. In particular, the newspaper informed the readers that every citizen has a right to submit signatures in support of several candidates’ nomination. Management of the largest Zhodzina enterprise, BelAZ, not only makes its employees to sign for Lukashenka under different pretexts, stating that they do not have a right to sign in support of any other candidate, but also forbid them to participate in nomination of other candidates.

    Pavel Krasouski stated that the real reason for the criminal case was his political activity, not the cartoons the police found. Krasouski’s case has become the first incident of criminal prosecution of Belarusian citizens for cartoons. Last year Minsk prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal case for insult of Lukashenka in animated cartoons at the internet-site of the organization “Tretsi Shliakh” (the Third Way) .


    From Viasna

    Alexander Milinkevich, the main oppositional contender for Presidency of Belarus
    On 11 December in Polatsk three policemen paid a visit to the member of the initiative group of Aliaksandr Milinkevich Alena Som. They explained their visit with a telephone call of the neighbors who allegedly informed them it was too noisy in the flat. The owners didn’t let the police in. They advised them to listen through the open door whether there were any noises.

    Then one of the policemen said they had a telephone call informing the police somebody took bags with fly-sheets to the flat or out of it. The talk with the police lasted for an hour. During this time they demanded from the flat owners to let them in and questioned the neighbors. Alena Som considers it to be psychological pressurization on her as an activist of the electoral campaign.

    On 11 January in the town of Bialynichy (Mahiliou region) the police detained the opposition activist Mikola Miatsialitsa and accused him of handing out calendars with Aliaksandr Milinkevich’s portraits.

    On 11 January in Kastsiukovichy the police detained the member of the initiative group of A. Milinkevich Uladzimir Papkou. The policemen stated they wanted to check whether his certificate of the initiative group member wasn’t forged.

    At 7.30 a.m. on 12 January the police came to the house of the member of the initiative group Barys Vyrvich, who lives in the village of Mashchanitsa (Bialynichy district). They stated the chair of Bialynichy District Executive Committee ordered them to take Vyrvich to him “for a talk”.

    On 12 January in the town of Masty (Hrodna region) the police detained the member of the initiative group of A. Milinkevich A. Skarabutan when he got out of the train. The policemen said they wanted to examine his personal belongings, stating that a mobile phone was allegedly stolen from a passenger.



    Anatol Lyabedzka, perhaps the most outspoken Belarusian oppositionist, has never been a favorite of the regime
    (Belarusian opposition leader Anatol Lyabedzka today claimed that authorities have barred him from leaving the country.

    Lyabedzka told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that migration officers had refused to stamp his new passport, thus effectively preventing him from leaving Belarus.

    He said authorities gave no reason to explain their decision.

    Soviet-era exit visas remain mandatory under Belarusian laws. Although Belarus' Constitutional Court has declared them illegal, their abolition has been put on hold at the request of the Interior Ministry.


    Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko signed decree #21 “Arranging the Third All-Belarus People’s Congress” on January 12.

    To implement the citizens’ constitutional right to take part in discussing state and public life issues, the president decided to call the third All-Belarus people’s congress in Minsk on March 2-3, 2006, the Belarusian president press service told BelTA.

    The Congress is expected to discuss issues related to the implementation of the Republic of Belarus Social and Economic Development Programme for 2001-2005, a draft Republic of Belarus Social and Economic Development Programme for 2006-2010 as well as other important problems of the state and public life.

    The decree set up a national organisational committee chaired by Belarusian premier Sergei Sidorskiy and head of the Belarus President Administration Gennadiy Nevyglas for preparing and holding the Third All-Belarus People’s Congress. The document set the number of Congress participants at 2,500 people and defined the most important organisational measures needed to prepare and hold the Congress.


    Charter '97

    The elections in Belarus, though almost all already agree to what the outcome will be, will nevertheless be monotored
    At least 3,500 volunteers are to become observers at the imminent presidential elections in Belarus. It was stated by Mikalay Astrejka, one of the organizers of the independent observation in e previous election campaign, in his interview to the newspaper “Belorusy i rynok”. At the same time, as said by him, “However, a discussion had been taken place for rather long time, if the observation should be held at all. Many have doubts that the observers would have a possibility to be present at the votes counting, which makes the effectiveness of this work disputable. But rather many young people joined us in this last year and a half. They are very active, and they are ready to monitor the development of the presidential elections,” Astrejka said.

    However, unlike the organized elections observation at the previous parliamentary elections, coordinated by an unregistered civil initiative “Partnerstva”, the work during the presidential elections has some of the finer points.

    “There won’t be a single network of observation; there won’t be a centralized direction. Regional branches would act independently, proceeding from the developments, to react to the situation in an expeditious manner,” M. Astrejka said.

    “The elections were appointed so quickly, that to organize observation equal to the observation at the parliamentary elections in 2004 would be rather difficult. There is no possibility to deploy a long-term observation. We have already missed observation over nomination of territorial election commissions’ members, for instance,” M. Astrejka said.

  • Student Activism


    From Viasna/According to

    The Belarusian State University is playing hardball hith Tatsiana Khoma
    In November 2005 the administration of the Belarusian State Economic University remanded Tatsiana Khoma after the student visited France and was elected to the council of the ESIB (the National Units of Students in Europe).

    On 1 December 2005 she sent a letter to the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Belarus, complaining against the expulsion from the university.

    Recently she has received the answer from the ministry, signed by the vice-minister K. Faryn. In this letter it is stated that the reason for the expulsion of the student was “violation of the internal regulations of the educational establishment Belarusian State Economic University”.

    The ministry of education referred to paragraph 18 of the internal regulations and explained that “students must attend all classes that are included into the schedule. A student must inform the deans office about the reason why he/she missed the classes in a day after the incident and present the documents confirming he had a good excuse for it on the day he/she comes back to the university. In the case the student presents no documents, it is considered he/she didn’t have a good excuse to miss the classes irrespective of the explanations.”

    The Ministry of Education also referred to Instruction #192 about the order of transfer, restitution and remand of students of higher educational establishments that was signed by the Minister of Education on 1 July 1999. According to it, students are expelled for systematic violations of discipline and the internal regulations of higher educational establishments.

    The letter also enlisted the number of missed hours: the fifth semester, 2004/2005 curriculum year – 28, the sixth semester – 46, the seventh semester, 2005/2006 curriculum year – 22 hours.

    In the rectors order it was written “to remand the student from the university for gross violation of the internal regulations of the BSEU which manifested in visit to France during the classes without the permission of the university administration”. On the other hand, the ministry explains my expulsion with systematic truancy, which differs from what was said in the order. I have consulted a defense lawyer and will soon complain to court, -- said Tatsiana Khoma.

    Note: Charter '97 adds that for a student to go abroad for a trainee job or studies, one needs permission of the Education Ministry now. However, these documents are hard to obtain in practice. Internship of students – philologists from the Belarusian State University in the Czech Republic, for instance, is likely to go wrong. Even visits in the Eastern direction are banned: students-physics have not received permission for internship in Dubna (Russia), the “Nasha Niva” informs.