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Friday, January 27, 2006

Media, Union State, WTO, EU radio, PACE blasts Belarus, Milinkevich in Europe

From the Top



The president of the Republic of Belarus speaks out against the coming media "attacks"
Television is one of the main ways to address political and economic issues in the country, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has reported today while awarding state prizes to employees of the Belarusian TV-channels.

The head of state has stressed that “television and radio are a great resource of influence on society and processes which take place in it”. This is why the state pays so much attention to the mass media and, first of all, to electronic mass media.

According to Alexander Lukashenko, no country can effectively function today unless it cultivates a wholesome environment for the press, radio and television. The president has underlined that “the Belarusian radio and television is an inseparable part of the state policy and ideology and a powerful channel of connection and communication in the society”. “Today television and radio shape the public opinion and constitute an effective mechanism of political influence on the society”, the head of state added.

The information area in Belarus is open for mass media outlets of any property form if they abide by the Belarusian laws. Pursuing such policy, the country navigates by the interests and constitutional rights of its citizens, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said while awarding state prizes to employees of Belarusian TV-channels.

According to the head of state, good competition will only benefit television and radio and make them pursue international standards.

Alexander Lukashenko has noted that today television in Belarus can be proud not only of its half-the-century-long history but also by its three powerful national channels, satellite broadcasting, a family channel, a host of TV stations and local TV companies. One can state with confidence that the Belarusian television dominates in the Belarusian TV field, the head of state said.

However, the information space of Belarus has come recently under growing external pressure. However, the national system of TV and radio broadcasting is ready to rebuff information attacks, to take counter-propaganda actions, president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko stated at a ceremony of presenting state awards to the professionals of the Belarusian TV channels.

The head of state stressed that Belarus is not losing the information battle. According to him, the Belarusian TV channels and radio stations have not lost the sharpness of the information “weapon”. They learn to present the material and learn to do it smarter without being sugary and without “flirting” with the audience and authorities”.

According to the president mass media perform several important functions in the society. In particular they provide a feedback between the authorities and ordinary people. The head of state believes that the state of affairs in the society depends, in many things, on how unbiased the journalists are in presenting the developments in the country.

Alexander Lukashenko noted that the state renders all possible support to the state-run mass media. “This is a worldwide practice and it is justified. Only in this way the authorities can perform its most important functions: to keep political stability, counteract internal and external threats”, the president said.


Charter '97

Its about access and distribution of information
Initiative groups of opposition contenders for the presidential race demand equal access to TV. After yesterday’s appearance of the head of Lukashenka’s initiative group Viktar Shejman in the TV program “Panarama” of the Belarusian state TV, heads of other initiative groups wrote to the Belarusian TV and to the Central Election Committee and stated their wish to appear on the state TV channel with their comment on the election campaign developments, and with estimation of the situation differing from Shejman’s, the Radio Svaboda informs.

Viktar Shejman said that more than a million and a half of the Belarusians without any administrative pressure have signed in support of Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a candidate for presidency.

The head of the HQ of the united opposition candidate, Syarhei Kalyakin, has sent an address to the Central Election Committee and to the TV administration. He wants to argue with Viktar Shejman.

“As for his statement that they have collected signatures honestly, I think that the majority of Belarusian citizens who signed could have told how they had been pressured and under a threat of firing and other repressions forced to sign,” Kalyakin said to the Radio Svaboda.

Milinkevich’s initiative group has submitted many protests to the Central Election Committee and prosecutor’s office related to such incidents, Mr Kalyakin said.

The Union State

Presidents of Russia, Belarus hail progress in union state


Lukashenko and Putin
The presidents of Russia and Belarus discussed on Tuesday issues in building the long-planned union state between their countries and hailed the progress in the development of the union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had "a detailed and frank discussion of a broad range of issues in the strengthening of the Russian-Belarussian integration" with his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko at the meeting of the Russia- Belarus Union Supreme State Council in St. Petersburg.

Leaders of Russia and Belarus agreed to build a union of their countries in 1997, which envisaged close political, economic and military ties.

A number of legal accords were signed at Tuesday's meeting, including agreements on union property, social and medical services and easing of travel.

The two leaders also ordered their governments to draft a program of joint actions in foreign policy for a new period.

"We confirmed the common wish for energetic progress in the union development," Putin was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying after the meeting.

Lukashenko said the two countries signed agreements giving people of the two countries equal rights in taxation and public health services and similar issues in education had been solved earlier.

"The conclusion is simple: by adopting those decisions, we can definitely say now that Russians and Belarussians are not foreigners on the territory of either country, as they enjoy full freedom of travel," he said.

The Belarussian president said the two countries made the right choice when they formed a union 10 years ago. "There is no alternative to the union," he said.


That the Union State will be a reality must come as a shock to many inn the west...
MOSCOW, January 25 (Itar-Tass) - Ten years after Russia and Belarus announced a plan to set up a union state, a sluggish integration is still in progress, while the solution of such major problems as the approval of a single constitution and the introduction of a single currency are still as a remote future as back in 1996.

Many Russian analysts blame it on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. As for the Russian leadership, they say that it has no clear stance on relations with Minsk.

A session of the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union State on Tuesday brought together not only the presidents and parliament speakers of both countries, but almost the entire Russian leadership.

Far from all expected decisions were adopted. A package of agreements was signed, including on equal rights and the freedom of movement for the citizens of Russia and Belarus. The sides also signed a social security cooperation treaty and an intergovernmental agreement on medical aid to Russian citizens in Belarus and to Belarussian nationals in Russia. The two presidents also issued a joint statement on mutual understanding regarding the access to the World Trade Organization.

However, the major issue of a draft single constitution was not on the agenda, as it is not yet ready. Meanwhile, a few days ago Russian State Duma speaker and chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State Boris Gryzlov said Russia and Belarus will have a referendum on the Constitution already this year.

The Rossiyskaya Gazeta government newspaper quoted the state secretary of the Union State, Pavel Borodin, as saying that the Constitution may be approved in November 2006.

The online periodical gives the latest version of the draft Constitution, which the commission still fails to approve. Under the document, the structure of the Union State will be similar to that of the European Union. Russia and Belarus will maintain their sovereignty, and will be presented in the United Nations and other international agencies separately. However, the Constitution also envisages traditional state symbols - a single currency, the state flag and the coat of arms, the national anthem and common citizenship (nationals of Russia and Belarus will be considered citizens of the union state).

The Supreme State Council, bringing together the presidents and the prime ministers of the two countries as well as the speakers of two parliaments, will govern the new country. The presidents of the two countries will chair the Supreme Council in turn, rotating every two years. The Constitution also envisages a nationwide elected union parliament.

Many officials in Russia, including Borodin, have repeatedly called to institute the posts of the Union president and vice president. However, State Duma member Anatoly Lokot told the, both posts have been deleted from the draft. “Actually, the Kremlin has not much interest in that project,” Lokot was quoted as saying.

Independent deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov believes it is the Belarussian president who is not interested in the unification.

“Lukashenko gets non-repayable loans, which are written off,” he said. Belarus gets the Russian gas “at 46 dollars (per 1,000 cubic meters), we open markets for Belarussian enterprises, in fact subsidizing the Belarussian economy,” he said. “Lukashenko promises unification in return, but no progress is made,” Ryzhkov stressed.

The head of the Belarussian department at the Russian Institute for CIS Studies, Alexander Fadeyev, agreed. “Russia continues integration efforts, but Belarus will not make any moves in that direction until a crisis in the ruling elite or in the economy breaks out,” he told Itar-Tass. Fadeyev believes there are no prospects to have the Constitution adopted this year.

“The Belarussians don’t accept the Constitutional act, they simply don’t want it,” the Kommersant daily quoted Borodin as saying in despair, which confirms Fadeyev’s point of view.

A thorny issue of the introduction of a single currency, the Russian ruble, also remained unsolved at the Tuesday session. The Kommersant quoted Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as saying the talks on a single currency are in a deadlock. “Belarussian negotiators estimate direct damage from the introduction of a single currency for Belarus at 1.8 billion dollars, and want Russia to annually compensate the amount to Belarus,” the newspaper quoted the minister as saying.

“Belarus has buried the idea of a single currency, Minsk does not want to meet Russia halfway in that issue,” Fadeyev echoed.

Many observers are pessimistic about the fate of the Union State. A comment of the online newspaper is entitled The Union State is Moulding. “The Union State has been under construction for already ten years, and there is no end to that sluggish process,” it writes. “Within these years, Russia has failed to define its priorities in respect to Belarus, which profits from this uncertainty as it provides an opportunity to get non-repayable loans, cheap gas and trade preferences,” the newspaper stressed.

Belarus is the only CIS state that buys natural gas from Russia at a record low price of 45 US dollars per 1,000 cubic meters at the time when the price for Ukraine, for example, has been upped to 230 dollars.

In return, Belarus should have calculated the price of its gas transportation system Beltransgaz, whose controlling interest formally belongs to Russia. However, negotiations have stalled. “Sources from the Russian delegation said that Russian negotiators failed to reach any progress in that direction yesterday,” the Kommersant said.

Fadeyev reminded that a similar agreement between Minsk and Moscow was reached at the intergovernmental level already several years ago, but has failed to be implemented. “Therefore I would not trust Lukashenko’s latest promises,” he said.



The agreements between Belarus and Russia, first of all, an agreement on formation of the Union State, will be fully implemented after accession of any union member to WTO, runs the joint statement of the presidents of Belarus and Russia on mutual understanding in regard to issues of accession to the World Trade Organization adopted after the Union State Supreme Council meeting in St. Petersburg, acting head of the information department of the Belarusian foreign ministry Andrei Popov told BelTA.

In particular, the countries have agreed not to worsen the regime of bilateral trade after one of the countries or both of them join the WTO, the foreign ministry official noted.

“We have agreed that we will take measures to establish a bilateral trade regime no less favourable than the regime each of the countries creates for third countries. It is important that the regime will cover the trade in both in goods and services”, Andrei Popov stressed.

Belarus and Russia have agreed that the state who joins the WTO first will not lay down the claims to the other state during the accession to the organization.

Andrei Popov noted that Belarus is the only state among the CIS countries seeking WTO membership Russia has signed such agreement with. “This shows that Belarus has been rigorously upholding the integration agreements with Russia, despite the claims which are put forward by the WTO”, the foreign ministry official has added.

Belarus and the WTO


And it should be noted that there is not a hint of protest anywhere in Belarus for the WTO
MINSK, January 26 (Itar-Tass) - A regular round of talks on Belarus accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be held in Geneva in the second half of February, a Belarussian Foreign Ministry official announced on Thursday.

An understanding on the timeframe for the talks was reached on January 25 during a meeting between Sergei Aleinik, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Belarus at the Offices of the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, and Arif Hussein, Director of the WTO Secretariat's Accession Department.

The Foreign Ministry official pointed out that the Belarussian representative had delivered detailed information to the WTO Secretariat about the application of the so-called Gold Equity Share in the republic and about the coutnry's current customs control system.

During the negotiating process, a number of Western countries that are WTO members suddenly began to put questions to Belarus about the operation of the institution of Gold Equity Share in the republic and the confiscation of commodities on the western border.

The emergence of these new demands prompted the European Union, the United States and several other countries to state at the end of last year that it was premature for Belarus to formulate final obligations concerning its accession to the WTO, the obligations that must be set out in the form of a report prepared by a working group.

Opositionist media


RFE and EU Politix

The “Polish Left” are trying to talk the Belarusians to reason via radio, just as FDR did during the “New Deal” time of the US depression.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry today accused Poland of interfering in Belarus's internal affairs.

A German media consortium won a tender for broadcasting radio and TV programmes to Belarus, the European commission announced on Thursday.

The €2m project is designed to increase access to independent sources of news and information.

The EU executive said radio and TV shows will start in February - before the March presidential elections in Belarus.

The accusation came after a visit to Warsaw by Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who is running against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 19 March presidential election.

Belarus says Warsaw's support of Milinkevich amounts to interference.

Relations between Poland and Belarus have been strained for some time.

Last year, Minsk and Warsaw became involved in a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions that started after Lukashenka accused Poland of interference.
“The EU is committed to doing all it can to support democratisation and human rights in Belarus,” EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrerro Waldner said in a statement.

“Increasing the possibilities for Belarusians to obtain impartial information about their own country, and giving them a window on the outside world is crucial.”

The EU insists its “broad-based consortium” will offer a variety of experience and independent information.

But observers have called for confirmation that broadcasts “designed to increase understanding of the EU” will not become a medium for European-propaganda.

“The journalists will be completely independent,” a commission spokeswoman hit back on Thursday.

“Journalists will operate freely following their normal journalistic instincts.”

EU Belarus radio deal goes to German-Russian duo

By Andrew Rettman EUOBSERVER

...and so more noise than usual will be flooding into the streets of Minsk.
BRUSSELS - The European Commission has chosen a German-Russian consortium to broadcast news into Belarus for the next two years, but doubts remain over the suitability of the Russian firm in the contract.

The consortium comprises German public relations firm Media Consulta and Russian terrestrial TV station Centre TV, with Belarusian opposition NGO Democratic Belarus calling the choice "surprising."

"It is a well known fact that CTV has lucrative contracts with president Alexander Lukashenko's national media agency. The commission has been well informed about this," Democratic Belarus' Brussels chief Olga Stuzhinskaya said.

Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin explained that Media Consulta will run the project using subcontractors while Centre TV will be a sleeping partner "playing no active role."

She added that Centre TV effectively handed over its role to another Russian firm, RTVi, which is based in Germany and has satellite broadcasting capacity, to make it harder for Minsk to cut off broadcasts from day one.

The terms of the €2 million commission contract are confidential however, with Media Consulta relaying all questions back to Brussels.

The other subcontractors will be staff from Polish and Lithuanian radio, independent Belarusian journalists as well as Belarusian and European NGOs.

The consortium will use TV, radio and internet to broadcast "independent, reliable and balanced" information about Belarus and the EU for two years starting February, in time for special shows covering the March presidential elections.

Half of the programs will be in Belarusian and half in Russian.

The commission's Ms Udwin said that Brussels will set out "guidelines" on what kind of themes the programs should cover and how frequent they should be, with the contract coming under review before the two years are up.

But she stressed that the commission will not interfere with editorial content leaving reporters free to "follow their journalistic instincts."

Minsk has in the past called the project a waste of time, objecting to what it sees as Cold War type pro-western propaganda directed against Mr Lukashenko.

NGOs and MEPs have also cast doubt on the effectiveness of the scheme, saying it comes too late and will not penetrate into Lukashenko's rural heartland, where there is no satellite TV or internet.

"It is a waste of money," Polish conservative member Bogdan Klich said, explaining that any broadcast coming with an EU label will be spun by the Minsk regime to earn mistrust.

Belarus opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich indicated in Warsaw on Wednesday that he "really regrets" the station has not started broadcasts yet as "every day counts" in the run up to the vote, Polish daily Rzeczpospolita writes.

The paper also quotes commission official Claude Veron-Reville predicting the EU might in future add names to the visa ban list currently imposed on six Belarus politicians and freeze Belarus financial assets in the union.

But she explained that Belarusian politicians don't tarvel to the EU anyway and Minsk keeps very little of its money in the bloc.

"We cannot go any further, because in that case the Belarusian people will turn away from Europe," she said.

Lidziya Yarmoshyna: “Misuse of Internet Is a Problem…”

Charter '97

"At the moment participants of the election campaign “who use internet as a means of agitation, cannot be punished”, but “in due course the situation here is to change as well”, told the head of the Belarusian Central Election Committee Lidziya Yarmoshyna said in an interview to the Zvyazda of January 26.

The head of the CEC also warned that a wide dissemination of underground press could have “repercussions” for contenders.

“Misuse of Internet is a problem, which is more characteristic not of Belarus, but of other counties where Internet is spread wider. These countries are inventing technologies which would allow preventing a fully uncontrollable campaigning via Internet. I think that we shall use international experience in this sphere. If not during this election campaign, then during the next one,” L. Yarmoshyna said.

To the question of a journalist whether a wide spread of underground press could have repercussions for candidates (A. Milinkevich was meant), the chairperson of the CEC replied in the positive. “He does not have a right to publish anything independently,” L. Yarmoshyna said. “However, we can punish only in case it was his initiative group who disseminated illegal press. If such facts would continue further before the beginning of the agitation, and if we would have reliable proofs, our approach to the question of registration or non-registration of Milinkevich would be more well-founded”.

Milinkevich in Poland



Alexander Milinkevich says his people must fight for their country
Alexander Milinkevich says his people must fight for their country

Poland has openly backed Belarus' main opposition candidate by allowing him to address the Polish parliament.

Alexander Milinkevich is the first opposition politician from Belarus to address the chamber since Alexander Lukashenko came to power in 1994.

Belarus opposition groups have chosen him to run against the president in elections in March.

He warned of protests if the polls were not fair, adding that people wanted transparent elections, not revolution.

"The people of Belarus have to fight for their independence, honour and their country... Only the openness of the Western World can help us," Mr Milinkevich told MPs.

"We will not give up our hopes and our dreams. Belarus is tired of humiliation."

Polish parliamentarians from all parties cheered his speech.

Belarus opposition leader faces awkward EU reception

By Andrew Rettman EUOBSERVER /

Mr Milinkevich is an ethnic Belarusian and a physicist
BRUSSELS - Belarus opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich will get an awkward but top level reception in Brussels next week, with Minsk fuming that the EU is taking sides before the country's presidential elections on 19 March.

The 58-year old physicist will between Monday (30 January) and Wednesday meet with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana and MEP leaders Josep Borrell, Hans-Gert Pottering and Graham Watson.

Lithuanian diplomats have also arranged a room to be set aside for chats with interested member states on the fringes of an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday.

In contrast, six senior Belarusian government officials currently face a travel ban to the EU for alleged human rights violations, while most member states refuse to meet with Minsk authorities at minister level or above.

The European Commission is playing down the importance of the trip, with external relations spokeswoman Emma Udwin saying "This is just to discuss the situation in Belarus. It is not intended to interfere in the elections. It is not a campaigning meeting."

EU diplomats under Mr Solana indicated "the man is in town, he wants to meet, what are we to do, refuse him?" while admitting the pre-election timing is "awkward" for the external relations chief.

Some Polish politicians see the visit as a campaigning triumph however.

"The bare fact that he is meeting with the VIPs, this warm reception is a huge political sign. It shows the EU believes that the Belarusian democratic and free market movement has a realistic future," Polish conservative MEP Bogdan Klich indicated.

He also expressed fears Mr Milinkevich might not be allowed back into Belarus after the Brussels visit.

Minsk likewise sees the trip as a political manoeuvre, saying it could damage EU-Belarus relations and calling into question the EU's integrity as an election monitor.

"If this is true, it proves once again the truly biassed opinion of the EU toward Belarus. The EU is clearly acting in favour of the opposition," a Belarus diplomat told EUobserver.

"In this case, one can even doubt the sincerity of the EU's analysis of the election results if the result is something other than what the EU expects," he added.

The contact said any worries Mr Milinkevich might not be allowed back home from Brussels are "absurd" and "designed to paint a grim image of our country."

Meanwhile, Warsaw showed no qualms about hosting Mr Milinkevich today (25 January), with the Belarusian flag flying in the Polish parliament and members greeting his speech with noisy applause, PAP reports.

"We don't want a revolution. We want transparent elections in line with the constitution. If the authorities don't guarantee this, I think people will come out on the streets," the Belarusian opposition leader indicated.

He added that the EU is portrayed in Belarus media as a sink of capitalistic excess, awash with homeless beggars and with people killing each other in broad daylight.

But western analysts do not share his optimism about Belarusian people's readiness to come out on the streets in March, with EU estimates placing his current level of support at 20-25 percent compared to president Alexander Lukashenko's 60 percent.

Some EU diplomats even fear Mr Milinkevich could "mysteriously" step out of the presidential race in the run up to 19 March.

One official said nothing short of an "Iraq-style regime change" can shift the current government.

Russia asks Belarus to confirm acceptability of new ambassador

MINSK. Jan 26 (Interfax) - Russia has asked Belarus for confirm the acceptability of its new ambassador Alexander Surikov, a Belarussian Foreign Ministry source told Interfax on Thursday.

"Surikov has received approval of the Russian parliament. The request was made to Belarus yesterday," he said.

A decision will be made "within a couple of days," the source said.

PACE voites against Belarus



The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) today called for the international isolation of the authoritarian regime of the president of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. while supporting the country's democratic opposition. The session in the French city of Strasbourg was the site of heated debate and a call of support for Belarus' political opposition ahead of the country's presidential elections on 19 March.

The call came in a resolution adopted today by PACE after parliamentarians discussed the human rights situation in Belarus ahead of the elections.

PACE stressed the need to more actively support the "consolidation of the democratic opposition."

Representing that group was Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the united opposition candidate in the March presidential vote.

Milinkevich told the assembly that "there is no democracy" in Belarus, and that Belarusian society is "paralyzed by fear."

"Can the election be free in a situation where criticism of the authorities is considered to be an attack against the state? And, since January this year, it is considered a criminal act," Milinkevich noted. "Can [the election] be free in a country where independent radio and television do not exist?"

"Can the election be free in a situation where criticism of the authorities is considered to be an attack against the state?" -- Belarusian presidential candidate MilinkevichMilinkevich has already cleared the first hurdle toward registering as a presidential candidate by collecting more than 100,000 signatures of support.

He is unlikely to beat the incumbent, Lukashenka, who last year organized a controversial referendum giving him the right to run for an unprecedented third term.

But Milinkevich told AP that Belarusians were ready to take to the streets if the March vote appears to be rigged.

Not so, according to Uladimir Kanaplyou, the speaker of the Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of the Belarusian parliament. He told the assembly the people "simply will not support" a revolution of any kind in Belarus.

Kanaplyou also lashed out at the gathered officials for their critical stance toward Belarus and Lukashenka.

"We cannot understand -- or probably, we can understand -- why you are attacking the Belarusian Republic," Kanaplyou said. "The situation in our country is no worse than in other regions -- it may even be better. Maybe it's because we're not getting down on our knees before the [United] States? And what if we do get on our knees, what would Europe gain in such a case?"

PACE remained unmoved by the argument. It called on other international organizations -- including the European Union and the OSCE -- to come up with joint strategies to assist the democratization processes in Belarus.

One such strategy took a step forward today, with the European Commission announcing its decision to award 2 million euros ($2.45 million) to a German-led consortium to begin independent media broadcasts into Belarus ahead of the elections.

Belarus is the only European country that is not a member of the Council of Europe, the body that acts as the primary guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The country has been barred from membership because of its failure to observe rule of law and its poor record on human rights.

Belarus is the only European country that is not a member of the Council of Europe.Authorities this year enacted a law criminalizing behavior deemed critical of the state. And observers claim the Lukashenka regime continues the practice of "disappearing" journalists, activists, and other critics it finds politically inconvenient.

Christos Pourgourides, a rapporteur of the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, today called on Belarusians to provide information about such "disappearance" cases.

"I take this opportunity to strongly urge all the Belarusians who have evidence or information concerning the disappearances [of people] to make it available to me or to the secretariat of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee," Pourgourides said. "We need to safely store this evidence and keep it for the appropriate time. Lukashenka is bound to follow the path of the dictators in many other countries."

Lukashenka was not without his supporters in the audience. Outspoken Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky told the assembly he would support Belarus and its president "regardless."


The Minsk/Moscow connection is becomeng more real every day
STRASBOURG. Jan 26 (Interfax) - The Russian delegation to the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will ask that
Belarus be granted the status of a 'specially invited' country.

"Our delegation speaks in favor of constructive cooperation between
the Council of Europe and Belarus," first deputy head of the Russian
delegation to the PACE Leonid Slutsky told Interfax on Thursday.

In particular, "we will insist on reinstating the status of a
specially invited country for the Belarussian delegation at the
Assembly," he said.

A Thursday morning PACE session will begin with the discussion of
the situation in Belarus, while Chairman of the Belarussian parliament
Vladinmir Konoplyov and Belarussian opposition leader Alexander
Milinkevich were invited for the discussion of the issue. Slutsky said.

The report on the situation in Belarus [its author is an
Azerbaijani representative] contains an appeal to isolate "Lukashenko's
regime," the Russian delegation said.

The rapporteur proposes concentrating efforts on supporting the
development of civil society and democratic forces in Belarus.




Belarus wows them in Petersburg
Belarusian students have been featured among the best at the recent 3rd international guitar festival in St. Petersburg “Guitar Virtuosos”, senior instructor at the string instruments department of the Belarusian Music Academy Evgeniy Gridyushko told BelTA.

According to him, student of Molodechno musical school Igor Dedusenko was the recognized the best “classical guitarist”. The third place in that nomination was shared by students of the Belarusian Music Academy Nikita Maksimchik and Pavel Kukhta.

The supervisor of the young Belarusian talents said, it was the first time students of the Belarusian Music Academy performed at that contest and straight away were highly praised. The audience at the festival was treated with all kinds of guitar music: classical melodies, lute plays, acoustic performances, flamenco, electric guitar riffs and bass-guitar magic.

The 3rd international guitar festival featured more than 200 students of musical institutions and professionals from Russia, Europe and Asia.



FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk
With the winter break beginning to draw to a close, clubs in Belarus are returning to training in preparation for the new season.

Early return
Title-holders FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk have been back in work since mid-December as they took part in the Commonwealth Cup in January - the tournament contested by champions of all the former Soviet republics.

Cup disappointment
However, Shakhtyor failed to reach the play-offs in Moscow after losing 2-0 to Armenia's FC Pyunik and drawing 1-1 with Lithuania's FBK Kaunas. "The cup was very valuable because it showed us our real place and how good we actually are," Shakhtyor coach Yuri Vergeichik conceded.

Changing players
Shakhtyor have made several changes since last season with midfielder Aliaksandr Hrankou moving to Ukrainian side FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih and Mikhail Patsko's contract expiring. However, Vergeichik has signed Belarussian international Pavel Shmigero from FC BATE Borisov with another midfielder, Aleksandr Bychenok, set to follow from FC Dnepr-Transmash Mogilev.

Talent departing
Silver and bronze medallists, FC Dinamo Minsk and FC MTZ-RIPO Minsk are also easing their way into the new year having resumed training a week ago. Attacking midfielder Andrei Razin, Belarus's Player of the Year for 2004, has left Dinamo for Russian first division team FC Anzhi Makhachkala. MTZ-RIPO may suffer a similar setback with playmaker Hamlet Mkhitaryan expected to join Scotland's Heart of Midlothian FC.

Gomel busy
FC Gomel have been busy in the transfer market following last term's disappointing seventh-placed finish. The 2003 champions have signed Valeri Stripeikis and Roman Kirenkin from FC Naftan Novopolotsk, Igor Balin from FC Slavia Mozyr, Denis Karolik from FC Torpedo Zhodino, and Vitali Nadievski from FC Neman Grodno.

Torpedo becalmed
Zhodino, fourth in 2005, should be able to start the new campaign after their directors and sponsors finally reached agreement over the club's financing for the season. For several weeks, Zhodino had seemed on the verge of collapse.

New coaches
Elsewhere, FC Dinamo Brest and Neman will look to improve on bottom-half finishes in 2005 after appointing new coaches. Sergei Borovski has replaced Mikhail Markhel at Brest while Vladimir Kurnev has come in for Sergei Nefyodov at Neman.


goalkeeper Vasily Khomutovsky
BUCHAREST, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Steaua Bucharest's Belarus international goalkeeper Vasily Khomutovsky has signed a three-year deal with Russian premier league club Tom Tomsk, the Romanian champions said on Wednesday.
"The deal was concluded for half a million euros ($614,900)" Steaua spokesman Sorin Cojocaru said.

"We are now looking for a good goalkeeper to replace Khomutovsky", Cojocaru added.

Khomutovsky had been Steaua's regular keeper for the past season.

Steaua travel to Dutch club Heerenveen in the first knockout phase of the UEFA Cup on Feb. 15. The return leg in Romania is on Feb. 23.

Biscayne Landing Sponsors Weekend of Competition, Activities with USA Boxing vs. Belarus

Press reliece from Biscayne Landing:

Belarus' olympic hero Magomed Aripgadjiev
What: As part of its commitment to chartering and building an
Olympic Training Center for the Combative Sports in North
Miami, Biscayne Landing is sponsoring a weekend of
competition and activities with the U.S. boxing team and the
national boxing team of Belarus. Headlining the weekend will
be Team USA facing off with Belarus in an exciting
Olympic-style boxing competition. The two Olympic boxing
teams are holding the competition comprised of eleven bouts
in different weight classes as part of their joint training
for the 2008 games and other international tournaments. A
complimentary pre-competition meet/greet and autograph
signing with all of the athletes is also planned by the
developer at the property's sales center.

When: The boxing matches take place Sunday, January 29, 2006
The first match begins at 3 p.m.

A pre-competition meet/greet and autograph signing with the
athletes is planned for Friday, January 27, from 5 - 7 p.m.

Where: The boxing matches will take place at the North Miami Armory
13250 N.E. 8th Avenue in North Miami

The pre-competition meet/greet with the athletes will take
place at the sales center of Biscayne Landing at 15045
Biscayne Blvd. in North Miami.