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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Backlash from the protests, Poland, Canada, USA, EU against, Russia, Almond for. Ukrainian Elections pro-Russians back in power, Kozulin faces 6 years

From the Top

Foreign ministry: if US and EU respect Belarusian people they have to respect their choice


Belarus to West:To respond to the people’s choice by introducing restrictions is to make people live according to somebody else’s standards
The European Union and the USA are on the verge of anti-Belarus hysteria. "They either let themselves be deceived or deceive the European and American public", reads a statement by the Belarusian foreign ministry press secretary.

The Belarusian ministry of foreign affairs has already pointed out that commenting on the situation in Belarus, the European Union and the USA want to see what they desire. "The situation is obvious to objective observers: the situation in the Republic of Belarus is absolutely calm. Therefore, we earnestly urge the European Union and the United States to stop attempting destabilising the situation", reads the statement by the Belarusian foreign ministry press secretary.

The Belarus foreign ministry also calls upon the European Union and the USA to see large-scale use of force, including water-jets, tear-gas grenades, batons and other special means, by law enforcement bodies in the capital of a largest European Union country. "We earnestly suggest that the European Union and the USA should adopt common principles to assess actions of law enforcement bodies both in Belarus and their own countries", reads the statement by the foreign ministry press secretary.

If the USA and EU respect the Belarusian people they have to respect their choice as well, goes a statement of the foreign ministry in response to the US and EU travel restrictions imposed on some Belarusian officials.

“The European Union and USA have responded to Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election by imposing restrictions on Belarusian officials.

It is difficult to comprehend the reason of such actions. As both the EU and US did not doubt that Alexander Lukashenko was the most popular leader in Belarus leaving all his rivals far behind. It means that they dislike the choice of the people,” the statement goes.

“Along with that the US and EU repeatedly declare their interest in establishing friendly relations with the Belarusian people. The foreign ministry once again emphasizes: if the US and EU respect the Belarusians they have to respect their choice."

The foreign ministry’s statement also says that “to respond to the people’s choice by introducing restrictions is to make people live according to somebody else’s standards. This is not the best and far-sighted policy. The Republic of Belarus keeps for itself the right to take response measures.”

2 Belarus State TV Journalists Badly Beaten by Opposition

Moss news
Reporter of the First Belarussian State Channel Mikhail Kristin has suffered a concussion, and cameraman Dmitry Chumak has a spine injury
Two journalists of Belarus state television channel allegedly beaten by opposition forces during an unsanctioned rally in Minsk are currently in hospital with severe injuries, RIA Novosti said Monday.

Reporter of First Belarussian State Channel Mikhail Kristin has suffered a concussion, and cameraman Dmitry Chumak has a spine injury. Both are in hospital, the Belarussian State Television company said.

The journalists were injured during the Saturday unrest in the Belarus capital when some 7,000 people joined the rally to protest last week’s election of Alexander Lukashenko to a third term in office. The violence took place after the peaceful unauthorized rally, when some of the crowd attempted to march on a prison where hundreds of opposition supporters have been jailed in the past week.

Kristin and Chumak said they arrived in the Yanka Kupala park to film the rally, and the protesters attacked them.

“Several people approached us and when they saw we were from Belarus State Television they attacked us, and broke the camera into pieces,” one of the journalists said.

Note:(From BELTA) The Belarusian Union of Journalists has called for employees of all mass media outlets to return to normal and constructive work for the sake of Belarus, the statement of the union’s secretariat says.

The document also notes that on March 25 during an unauthorized meeting organized by the opposition members, who had lost the presidential election, the survey squad of the First National TV Channel was beaten up by hooligans in Yanka Kupala Square of Minsk.

“Such actions do not meet any standards of the international law and go beyond the national legislation. We hope that the law-enforcement bodies of Belarus will make a thorough investigation into the incident, find and punish the culprits,” the statement of the secretariat of the Belarusian Union of Journalists goes.

Court jails Belarus protesters as new rallies loom

Second opposition leader Alexander Kozulin, arrested at the weekend, could face six years in jail on hooliganism charges.
Belarussian courts on Monday jailed for up to 15 days more than 150 mostly young protesters detained when police broke up rallies against a presidential election judged unfair by the West.

The European Union, at loggerheads with Minsk over a poll it considers rigged, urged the protesters' release while a Polish diplomat was barred from entering Belarus.

Main opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich tagged the trials a farce and said his supporters would campaign nationwide to win more public backing and organize bigger protests.

Second opposition leader Alexander Kozulin, arrested at the weekend, could face six years in jail on hooliganism charges.

The opposition rallied up to 10,000 supporters for protests in the past week, demonstrations unmatched in recent years in a country where President Alexander Lukashenko rules with a Soviet-style authoritarian hand.

But the protests against his re-election with a landslide 83 percent a week ago came to an abrupt halt on Saturday when police broke up a march and detained dozens of demonstrators.

At the Leninsky District Court on Minsk's outskirts, a judge read out verdicts in a monotone, sentencing six young women to seven days in jail each in less than 30 minutes.

No defense lawyers were present and the verdicts for taking part in an unauthorized rally were rubberstamped irrespective of whether the accused pleaded guilty or not.

"This is a sheer farce, this is not a real trial," said Milinkevich, whose son was given a 15-day sentence by another court, according to a human rights group.

"The sentences must have been pre-written ... The judge was virtually ashamed to raise his eyes," he told Reuters.

Over 150 protesters had been sentenced to up to 15 days on public order offences

Another court sentenced a former Polish ambassador to Belarus, Mariusz Maszkiewicz, to 15 days in jail, while Polish journalism trainee Weronika Samolinska was jailed for 10 days.

Meanwhile on Belarus' western border, Ianusz Dabrowski, Polish consul in the city of Grodno, was barred from entering the country when he refused to let officers search his car.

"As I understand it, what is happening is, of course, connected to the situation in Belarus," he told Reuters.

Kozulin was being held in a jail in the town of Zhodino some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Minsk, his lawyer Igor Rynkevich told Reuters. The authorities had previously declined to reveal his whereabouts.

"I have demonstrated that the authorities are afraid of the people," the lawyer quoted Kozulin as saying from jail.

A local human rights body, Vyasna, said over 150 protesters had been sentenced to up to 15 days on public order offences.

"This is sheer lawlessness," said Yuri, 42, after his 19-year-old daughter was jailed. "All my friends say I must be proud of Nastya, and I really am."

Police said they only used force after Saturday's rally turned violent. They have not revealed the number of detained but the opposition said around 100 protesters were being held.

Milinkevich pledged to call new rallies.

"We need five or 10 times more protesters," he told Reuters. "We need a nationwide information campaign ... Half the country does not know what is really going on in Minsk."

The EU urged Belarus' neighbors to put pressure on Minsk.

"We urge also our international partners and, in particular, the neighbors of Belarus to really follow this same approach," said External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

But Russia, which views Belarus as an ally and rapidly congratulated Lukashenko after the election, looked unlikely to put pressure on its neighbor.

Interior ministry: Alexander Kozulin calls on unlawful violent actions March 25 in Minsk

Belarus is claiming that Kozulin was responsible for directing the protestors into the action
Alexander Kozulin was calling on unlawful actions resorting to the use of force during an assembly on March 25 in Minsk, the interior ministry of Belarus said in a statement received by BelTA.

According to the interior ministry, on March 25, at 12 p.m. a group of the opposition adherents made another attempt to get into the Oktyabrskaya Square to hold an unauthorized assembly. About 2,5 thousand people, many of whom were just strolling around taking a rest, gathered near the McDonald’s restaurant (Nezavisimosti Avenue, 23).

The militia officers promptly started to explain the people that unlawful actions were inadmissible, the interior ministry said. After the explanatory activities had failed to bring positive results, the gathering was pressed back. “The actions of the interior officers were highly professional. Their actions, under the consequences, were correct; no use was made of either physical force or special means”, the statement ran.

The dispersed groups of opposition followers directed towards the Yanka Kupala Park where they held an unauthorized assembly. In his statement Alexander Kozulin urged the gathered people to go to the special reception center to release people who had been arrested before on charges of partaking in unsanctioned rallies.

At 4:10 p.m. near the railway bridge, the Dzerzhynskogo Avenue, the rally was stopped by the interior officers. The officers tried to explain that actions of the members of the rally were unlawful but Alexander Kozulin who headed the column “engaged into an open conflict with the interior officers and purposefully, out of hooligan intentions, smashed the interior officers’ video camera”.

Most ardent activists of the unauthorized rally including Alexander Kozulin were detained by special militia officers.

According to the interior ministry, an investigation is underway to give a legal treatment of the actions of the participants of the rallies.

Canadian reporter in prison in Belarus after covering anti-government demo
A Canadian freelance journalist is being held in prison in Belarus after covering an anti-government protest.

Frederick Lavoie, 22, was arrested last Friday and quickly sentenced to 15 days in jail. Lavoie's brother, Jeremi, says Canadian diplomats have met with Lavoie and that he is doing relatively well.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay is demanding the immediate release of a Canadian freelance reporter imprisoned in Belarus.
His family say they want him released right away.

Lavoie, who was arrested in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, does work for Montreal La Presse and Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean Le Quotidien.

Canada limits ties with Belarus to protest vote
Frederick Lavoie
Canada froze most of its relations with Belarus on Monday to protest against a recent presidential election in the former Soviet state that many observers said was deeply flawed.

Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said he had called in the Belarus ambassador "to voice Canada's condemnation of the absolute affront to democratic principles" of the March 19 election, which President Alexander Lukashenko won.

"Canada will limit its official relations with Belarussian authorities to the areas of consular relations, human rights and democratic development, and efforts related to international security such as the destruction of land mines," MacKay said in a statement.

"Canada will continue to work with its friends and allies ... to promote peaceful democratic change in Belarus and to protect the rights of its citizens."

The United States and the European Union last week imposed sanctions on Belarus, where around 150 protesters have been arrested. MacKay also demanded the release of a Canadian freelance journalist who was detained in Minsk last week.

Belarus sentences Polish diplomat for opposition protest
Mariusz Maszkiewicz in 1998
A Belarusian court on Monday sentenced a Polish diplomat to a jail term as punishment for participating in violent demonstrations against the government of the former Soviet republic, the Interfax news agency reported.

Mariusz Maszkiewicz, a former ambassador to the country, will face spend 15 days in a Belarusian detention centre, the report said. Maszkiewicz told reporters he did not regret his part in the protests, saying in part "I am proud I was there."

Poland's Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz on Monday in Warsaw termed Maszkiewicz's detention "scandalous" and completely "illegal", according to local media reports. Poland also suspended consular activities in Grodno, Belarus, in connection with what it termed the illegal detention by Belarusian officials of two other Polish diplomats.

Polish Consul General to Grodno, Andrzej Kretowski and his deputy Janusz Dabrowski were stopped late Sunday at the Kuznica Bailostocka- Bruzhi border point between Poland and Belarus. No reason was provided for their detention.

Further sanctions against Belarus were being considered, Poland's Foreign Ministry said Monday. Belarusian police detained former ambassador Maszkeiewicz on Saturday after authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko ordered law enforcers to charge crowds protesting his re-election.

Lukashenko earlier this month in a lopsided vote was returned to office for a third term. The international community has criticised the poll as riddled with fraud. Maszkiewicz has been participating in an anti-Lukashenko protest at the time of his arrest. He served at the head of Warsaw's legation to Belarus from 1998 to 2002, and at the present runs an NGO promoting closer links between ethnic Poles in Belarus and Poland.

Lukashenko has accused the group of acting as a CIA front working to undermine his government.

Another Minsk court handed down a ten-day jail sentence for Polish newspaper reporter Weronika Samolinska on Monday. Samolinska came into police custody on Friday after law enforcers demolished a tent encampment erected by anti-Lukashenko activists on a central Minsk square, and found her in the vicinity.

Russian television reporter Pavel Sheremet, arrested and beaten by police during the Saturday street battles, was in contrast released with all charges dropped - but in possession of a government order expelling him from Belarus by the end of Tuesday. Courts throughout the Belarusian capital were reportedly jammed with hundreds of cases against other demonstrators picked up in street melees between police and anti-government marchers.

More than 500 detainees, most students, will face charges, an opposition spokesman said.
State retaliation against demonstration participants also was reported in Minsk area universities, where students known by authorities to have marched against the government were being expelled, the report said.

Poland introduces visas restrictions for Belarus officials

POlish Border Troops
Poland will introduce visa restrictions for some of Belarussian officials, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

It did not name the officials to be denied entry to Poland but said the restrictions would apply to those who “bear responsibility for the falsification of elections in Belarus and for repressions against the opposition.”

The ministry also asked the European Union to introduce similar measures.

Earlier in the day, the Polish Foreign Ministry has decided to temporarily suspend the work of its consulate general in Grodno, Belarus.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said the consulate general would not resume operation until the reasons that led to its closure are investigated.

He held Belarus fully responsible for the consequences of this decision for its citizens.

The work of the Polish consulate general in Grodno was suspended after Belarussian authorities had denied entry to Consul General in Grodno Andrzej Krentowski and his deputy Janusz Dombrowski on the border on Sunday.

In violation of international norms Belarussian authorities demand that their diplomatic cars be searched, the ministry said.

In another incident, former Polish Ambassador to Belarus Mariusz Maszkewicz was arrested for 15 days in Minsk on Monday.

Maszkewicz was found guilty of having participated in an unauthorised mass rally organised by the Belarussian opposition. On the night from March 23 to March 24, he visited the camp city set up by the opposition in central Oktyabrskaya Square. He was detained when police cleared the square of the tents.

Leaving the court after the verdict, the former diplomat said, “I am proud that I was there in Oktyabrskaya Square”.

BELARUS: Religious freedom lawyer jailed
The Belarusian police are simply not playing games these days
Eleven days after Baptist pastor Georgi Vyazovsky completed a ten-day prison sentence for leading unregistered religious activity, a second Protestant was detained and sentenced on similar charges. Sergei Shavtsov, who went ahead and organised a seminar of Christian business leaders in a private cafe in the capital Minsk after official permission was denied, was detained after police raided the seminar on 24 March. "The court offered Sergei a choice of a massive fine or ten days in prison – he chose prison," his wife Dina Shavtsova told Forum 18 News Service from Minsk on 27 March. "Why shouldn't they hold a seminar? All it was about was a Biblical view of history."

Dina Shavtsova said her husband's sentence – although on identical charges – is not directly connected with Pastor Vyazovsky's. "But the authorities are punishing the same kind of activity – unapproved religious events."

Vyazovsky was jailed for 10 days earlier this month [March] and there are fears that Pentecostal Bishop Sergei Tsvor of Minsk will be jailed on the same charges (see F18News 13 March 2006

Shavtsova said the Christian Business Initiative, a registered social organisation which supports Christians in business, had originally intended to hold the seminar in the Christ for the Nations Christian college in Minsk's Frunze district. Under the tight controls on religious meetings, the authorities claim such events need specific permission, so the organisers sought such permission.

Vitali Misevets, head of the Frunze district ideology department, who on 17 March refused official permission to hold the seminar at the college, said the organisers failed to meet all the requirements of the law, including providing written permission from the Internal Affairs Department and the Emergency Situations Department. "It's not absurd to deny permission for such a meeting," he told Forum 18 from Minsk on 27 March. "How do we know what 35 people were going to be discussing?"

Misevets insisted that in rejecting the application he was merely fulfilling the law on mass meetings and events. "We're a law-governed state – this is what the law demands so this is what I need to have before I can give permission." He claimed he had nothing against the holding of such religious meetings.

The seminar went ahead in a rented private cafe in Minsk's Lenin district from Wednesday 22 to Friday 24 March. "The first two days there was no problem," Shavtsova reported. But on the Friday three police officers and one KGB officer arrived, claiming the seminar was illegal as no official permission had been granted. The officers locked all 35 or so participants in the cafe for an hour, while two Protestant pastors present, who were suspected of being the organisers, were taken to the local police station for interrogation. Police took identity details for all the other participants, who were later freed.

Shavtsov – who was not present when the seminar was raided – soon arrived and said he was the organiser. The two pastors were then freed, but he was brought to trial later that day at Lenin district court under Article 167 part 1 of the Code of Administrative Violations. This punishes "carrying out unauthorised mass activities". Within 20 minutes he was found guilty and offered the choice of paying a fine of 4,650,000 Belarusian roubles (14,311 Norwegian kroner, 1,798 Euros or 2,162 US dollars) or serving ten days in prison. On choosing prison, he was immediately sent to the prison on Okrestina street, where many opposition political demonstrators are now being held. He is due to be released on 3 April.

No-one was available at the Lenin district police on 27 March to explain why a peaceful religious meeting was raided. Nor was anyone available to comment at Lenin district court as to why Shavtsov had been punished for organising the seminar.

Dina Shavtsova told Forum 18 she did not feel the harsh punishment for a peaceful religious meeting was related to current government nervousness in the wake of the 19 March presidential elections, which opposition activists claim were rigged. "The authorities in any case look at Protestants as an organised group that presents a danger."

Sergei Shavtsov is a Christian lawyer who has long been involved in religious freedom work. He helped compile the August 2002 "White Book", a collection of documents and articles about the adoption of amendments to the religion law in 2002 which brought in drastic restrictions on all religious activity. He also acts as legal consultant to several national Protestant Churches.

Several religious leaders who took part in or observed opposition demonstrations in Minsk in the wake of the election are among the hundreds who have been detained by the Belarusian authorities.

Belarus authorities, opposition should hold roundtable - Lytvyn

Volodymyr Lytvyn
The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament said Sunday that the newly re-elected president of Belarus and the opposition should hold a roundtable to ease tensions after the disputed presidential elections in the republic.

Volodymyr Lytvyn, who cast his ballot in today's parliamentary elections in Ukraine, said President Lukashenko and the opposition leaders should hold a roundtable to show each other what they deem should be done to overcome the complex situation in the republic.

"Ukraine wants the situation in Belarus, its closest neighbor, to be calm. Now time has come to think about a second step," Lytvyn said.

According to the Ukrainian parliament speaker, Belarus should be drawn into a dialog as soon as possible and the prestige of the Belarusian authorities will only increase if they show their willingness for such a dialog.

At the same time, Lytvyn said it was necessary to respect the choice of the Belarusian people.

Yesterday, crowds clashed with riot police on October Square in Minsk to protest the re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarus is insistently urging the European Union and the United States against interfering in the republic's internal affairs, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

According to the statement, the European Union and the United States "are trying to engage in wishful thinking on issues related to the internal political situation in Belarus.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the situation in the republic was calm.

The White House said Monday that Ukraine's parliamentary elections had been free and fair and that it was ready to work with the new Ukrainian government.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that all indications were that the elections had been free and fair, adding that they were in sharp contrast to last week's presidential poll in Belarus.

He said the United States would work with the new Ukrainian government when it is formed.

Belarus takes part in 4th world water forum in Mexico

The logo of the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico
Belarus’ representative took part in the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico, BelTA has been told in the Foreign Ministry.

Director of the Central Research Institute of Complex Usage of Water Resources of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus Mikhail Kalinin presented to the organizational committee of the Forum an address of the participants of the 2nd International Water Forum that took place March 1-2 in Minsk and also a report on the progress in the implementation of the UNDP Global Environmental Facility program on recuperation of the Dnieper River basin, informed about the measures taken in the county to develop water resources, improve the quality of drinking water and maintaine water eco-systems.

Mikhail Kalinin took part in four sessions of the forum on the issues of complex management of water resources on the national, regional and global levels and also in the regional presentations “America”, “Europe”, “Asia, “Middle East”, “Asia Pacific Region”. The representative of Belarus also held bilateral consultations with officials of the global water partnership, international center for assessment of underground water resources, delegations of Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, Canada, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Attending the Forum under the motto “Local Actions for a Global Challenge” were 13 thousand delegates from 121 countries.

  • Ukrain's elections

    Orange Revolution Put in Doubt By Ukraine Election Results

    New York Sun
    Viktor Yanukovych
    KIEV, Ukraine - A pro-Russia party won the largest number of votes in Ukraine's parliamentary elections Sunday, two exit polls indicated, dealing a stinging rebuke to President Viktor Yushchenko's West-leaning administration.

    Polling stations shut after 15 hours, with voters choosing from more than 45 parties that sought seats in the 450-member parliament.

    One exit poll said 33% of votes had gone to the Party of the Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally who lost to Mr. Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential election forced by the Orange Revolution street protests.

    The poll, by Democratic Initiatives, International Institute of Sociology and Razumkov Center, said former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc was second with about 23% and Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party was third at under 14%.

    A second poll, by the Ukrainian Sociological Service, gave the Party of Regions 28%, Ms.Tymoshenko's bloc 22%, and Mr. Yushchenko's party 16%.

    The polls predicted that three or four minor parties would also make it over the 3% threshold needed to earn seats.

    Ukraine poll sees splintered Orange camp ahead
    Yulia Tymoshenko
    Ukraine's Orange Revolution president Viktor Yushchenko has been beaten by his former ally Yulia Tymoshenko and pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych in parliamentary elections on Sunday (26 March), according to preliminary results.

    Official results based on 7 percent of the votes counted on Monday morning say Ms Tymoshenko is leading with 24.9 percent, closely followed by Mr Yanukovich’ Regions Party on 23.1 percent, newswires report.

    Mr Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party came in third with 17.6 percent.

    Ms Tymoshenko is a radical reformist who led the country’s Orange Revolution in November 2004 alongside Mr Yushchenko.

    But she was sacked as prime minister by Mr Yushchenko in September 2005 amid allegations of corruption and infighting, leading to a break-up of the orange camp.

    Now that she has taken the lead over her rival, she offered Mr Yushchenko co-operation in a pro-western coalition government in a bid to stifle Mr Yanukovych’s party, which seeks closer ties with Russia.

    "We clearly won,'' said Ms Tymoshenko according to Bloomberg. "The orange team has won and that proves that our society has decided on a strategy for development. I'll make every effort to reunite us."

    The Ukraine election results are closely followed by Brussels policy-makers as the poll is seen as a test for the country’s course towards closer ties with the EU and NATO, kicked off after the Orange Revolution and supported by both Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko.

    Ms Tymoshenko during her campaign played an anti-Russian card, announcing that she would delete a recent deal on increased prices for imported Russian gas which came after Russia decreased supplies in January.

    Mr Yanukovich, on the other hand, favours a more distanced approach to the EU, while opposing Ukrainian NATO membership and favouring friendly relations with Moscow.

    The key to coalition-building is held by smaller parties which recorded big gains in Sunday’s vote.

    The Socialist Party, which took 8.1 percent, could now help Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yushchenko to a parliamentary majority.

    The party was part of the orange camp until the cabinet broke apart in September, but is less enthusiastic about the goal of EU membership.

    Russian MP: Any government formed in Ukraine will have to establish relations with Russia
    Chairman of the Russian Parliamentary Committee on CIS Affairs Andrei Kokoshin
    Any government that will be formed by one or another coalition as a result of the parliamentary elections will face the task of establishing relations with Russia in economic and humanitarian fields, seeking formulae of real participation in integration processes within CIS, Chairman of the Russian Parliamentary Committee on CIS Affairs Andrei Kokoshin made the statement on March 27 commenting on provisional results of the elections to the Ukraine’s Supreme Rada.

    As a REGNUM correspondent reports, according to Kokoshin, “the time after the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004 has been practically a failure in Ukrainian-Russian relations through Ukraine’s fault.”

    As Kokoshin says, there has been given no alternative to the close, really mutually beneficial cooperation between Ukraine and Russia by those who came to power in 2004. The new government, new authorities are to do this, stressed the Russian MP.

    Revolution is reversed with a little spin from the West
    Yanukovych and Yuchshenko
    “WELCOME to the Blue Revolution!” joked a Russian reporter yesterday as staff at Viktor Yanukovych’s campaign headquarters celebrated their electoral comeback.
    Around the refurbished press room, aides in blue scarves networked slickly beneath plasma screens showing images of massive crowds waving blue flags.

    It is ironic enough that Mr Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of the Regions won a third of the seats in parliament with the sort of Western-style campaign that the Orange Revolution leaders used to unseat him in 2004. But a greater irony is that the spin doctors behind this image revamp were not Russian or Ukrainian but American.

    Last year the Party of the Regions hired Davis Manafort, a top US political consultancy and lobbying company, to help to shape its electoral campaign.

    Spearheading the project was Paul Manafort, a veteran Republican adviser who worked in the White House under President Ford and helped to manage campaigns for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

    Alongside him was Rick Ahearn, who was event planner for Mr Reagan and organised his funeral in 2004. They were hired to replace the Russians who managed Mr Yanukovych’s disastrous attempt to rig the 2004 presidential election.

    “What happened was that (Mr Yanukovych’s camp) felt ill-used and very aggrieved by what happened last time and clearly went in the opposite direction,” a Yanukovych campaign source told The Times.

    Critics say that the Party of the Regions is still a front for Russia-linked businessmen and criminals in eastern Ukraine, pointing to Mr Yanukovych’s criminal convictions as a young man. The man who called in the Americans is Rinat Akhmetov, a reclusive steel and coal tycoon who is considered Ukraine’s richest man.

    But the decision to bring in the Americans shows how the Orange Revolution forced the Party of the Regions to evolve into a more legitimate political force. It also suggests that Mr Yanukovych, while still pro-Russian, has become more independent and open to co-operation with the West. That, some analysts say, could lead to the biggest irony of all — a coalition between him and President Yushchenko. “There are areas where they could find a modus operandi,” said Markian Bilynskyj, deputy head of the US-Ukraine Foundation, “if the Orange team fails to resolve its differences.”

    Orange Revolution leaders are locked in talks on reforming a coalition but no decision is expected until after official results are announced today.

    The American advisers are wary of discussing their work — not least because of strong anti-Western sentiment in Russian-speaking eastern and southern Ukraine.

    When The Times asked Mr Yanukovych about them in February, he said only that he used a number of consultants from different countries. But their influence is unmistakeable. He has abandoned the funereal black suits and white shirts he wore for the 2004 campaign in favour of blue or grey suits with co-ordinated shirts and ties.

    He has given up addressing supporters in prison slang, and now speaks in Ukrainian as well as Russian. His wife, who accused Mr Yushchenko’s supporters of being high on “psychotropic” oranges, has been conspicuously silent.He still says that he opposes joining Nato, but now backs EU integration. “Ukraine must become a bridge between Russia and Europe,” is his new catchphrase. But importantly, he has made between 40 and 50 trips around Ukraine since January, meeting tens of thousands of voters. “He’s still the same guy,” said one Western diplomat. “but he is behaving like a real politician.”


    Preliminary results for parliamentary election with 45.85% of vote counted

    Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych 27.1%

    Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc 23.6%

    Our Ukraine (backs President Yushchenko) 16.3%

    Socialist Party 7%

    Communist Party 3.5%

    Lytvyn Popular Bloc 2.7%

    45 parties were on the ballot

    Parties must clear a 3% barrier to enter parliament, newly empowered under constitutional changes to name the prime minister on the basis of a workable governing coalition

    No. 2 Tymoshenko Prods Old Allies
    Tymoshenko is seeking (and is likly to get) Yushchenko's support in her bit to be prime minister
    KIEV -- Former Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on her estranged Orange Revolution allies to rejoin her in a coalition Monday, insisting it was the only option to protect the pro-Western and democratic ideals that formed the basis of the 2004 mass protests.

    Tymoshenko said President Viktor Yushchenko -- smarting from a third-place finish in Sunday's parliamentary elections -- had agreed to meet with her on Tuesday, when full preliminary results were expected to confirm that Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russian Party of the Regions was the top vote-winner.

    "I have not seen the president for a long time, and we have a lot to discuss," Tymoshenko said, adding that she believed they could reach an agreement that would pave the way for the two to reunite in some form.

    Yushchenko has said he would favor an Orange coalition, but he seemed reluctant to accept the idea of Tymoshenko returning to the No. 2 job. He fired her in September, accusing her of waging a behind-the-scenes battle for power that caused the much-vaunted Orange Team to implode in a volley of allegations and recriminations.

    With just more than 50 percent of the ballots counted Monday evening, the Central Elections Commission put the Party of the Regions ahead with 27.4 percent. Tymoshenko's bloc came in second, with 23.4 percent, and Yushchenko was a distant third, with about 16 percent.

    Yanukovych was dominating in the Russian-speaking east and south, and Tymoshenko led in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center. Yushchenko was ahead in only two of Ukraine's 25 regions.

    Trailing the trio were the Socialist Party (7 percent), the Communist Party (3.5 percent) and the Lytvyn Popular bloc (2.6 percent). Three percent was needed to make it into the parliament.

    Yushchenko's job was not at stake, but the newly elected parliament will enjoy vast new powers under reforms that give it the right to name -- and dismiss -- the prime minister and much of the Cabinet. With no party getting enough votes to dictate its will, the next step will be forming a majority of at least 226 of the parliament's 450 seats to form the government.

    Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych want the prime minister's job. Neither, however, seems to be a very inviting option for Yushchenko. Tymoshenko told Ukraine's Channel Five on Monday that Yushchenko's party appeared "to be in a state of shock."

    Analysts have suggested that Yushchenko might find it more palatable to strike a deal with Yanukovych, whose ballot-stuffing attempt to win the presidency in 2004 triggered the Orange Revolution. But they warn such a union could erode Yushchenko's support base -- handing more power and votes to the ascendent Tymoshenko.

    Tymoshenko challenged Yushchenko to act immediately. "We don't have another path," Tymoshenko, who wore her white campaign sweater adorned with a red heart emblem, said in televised remarks. "It's our only option."

    Yushchenko put Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov in charge of coalition talks -- a clear signal that the president was not ready to accept Tymoshenko's conditions, since Yekhanurov wants to keep his job.

    Yanukovych's strong showing will give him the dominant parliamentary faction, but he needs Yushchenko to partner with him if he hopes to return to power. "The Party of the Regions has won a convincing victory," Yanukovych said after three exit polls put his party in a comfortable first place. "We are ready to undertake responsibility for forming the Cabinet, and we are calling on everyone to join us."

    Oleksandr Stoyan, a Yanukovych ally, said the Party of the Regions would insist on naming him the prime minister and predicted that Yushchenko would eventually accept such a deal.

    International observers called the vote "free and fair," and said it showed Ukraine had strengthened the democratic course adopted after the Orange Revolution.

    "Ukraine has wonderfully passed this exam," Yushchenko said, adding that "in elections there is always one winner -- it's the people."

    Yushchenko -- who retains the right to set the nation's foreign policy and appoint the foreign and defense ministers -- said other conclusions would have to wait until the results were in.

    Victor Yushchenko’s Television Address
    Victor Yushchenko
    Dear fellow Ukrainians!

    On March 26, we will elect parliamentarians, deputies of local councils and mayors. We will together confirm our commitment to ideals of freedom and democracy. This day will determine Ukraine’s future. The configuration of forces in the Verkhovna Rada depends on your choice.

    This year’s election campaign convincingly proves that changes in Ukraine are irreversible.

    It is my obligation to conduct this election in accordance with democratic standards. My team has succeeded in ensuring greater transparency of the entire process. All political forces enjoyed equal rights but unfortunately we did not witness any competition of programs and ideas.

    I am convinced that political forces willing to determine the country’s future should offer their voters perspectives and demonstrate civilized competition.

    Ukrainian and international observers claim that Ukraine’s officials no longer abuse authority. Frankly speaking, there are some local problems but such officials are mercilessly prosecuted by law enforcement agencies.

    For the first time in our history, the majority of Ukraine’s population believes that the vote will be fair and objective. As President of Ukraine, I would like to thank you all for this positive evaluation of our efforts.

    Dear Ukrainians! We support different political parties but that must not divide us. We all love our motherland. We all strive to improve our life. We all respect our history and our ancestors. United, we will make Ukraine prosper.

    As President, I want to see Ukraine become a powerful, independent, and modern country where citizens can develop free and enjoy fair justice and freedom of speech.

    The choice we all face today is quite simple, for we choose between the past and the future. I am sad to hear those who rigged the 2004 election and pressured voters shout about their revenge. However, I believe our people are wise. I believe on March 26 we will all vote for the future.

    When you come to the polls, think what Ukraine you want to see in five years. Shall we advance or stand still wasting our time and losing chances?

    I am convinced the country can dynamically develop when its president, parliament and cabinet see the future identically. I want to cooperate with politicians that care about Ukraine.
    For the complete text, please click "HERE"

  • Opinion

    Belarus election result isn’t so bizarre

    By Mark Almond
    Mark Almond disagrees with the west’s view of the Lukashenka as an insane dictator
    MINSK: After the death of Slobodan Milosevic, the West did not need to look far to find another bogeyman. Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was on hand.

    Journalists routinely report on Belarus as a landlocked Stalinist theme park run by a Hitler-loving tyrant who makes his opponents disappear. Condoleezza Rice and her chief assistant for democracy promotion, Dan Fried, never tire of urging Americans and their Nato allies to sponsor civil-society projects in Belarus to foster true democracy there.

    The media, in the UK at any rate, have a split personality when it comes to these two guardians of democracy. On Belarus they are quoted like Old Testament prophets, but mention them in connection with Iraq and people recall that they were the only US officials with President Bush and Tony Blair on January 30, 2003, when Bush suggested provoking an incident with Iraq to get the war with Saddam going.

    Of course if you believed them about Iraq then you won’t choke swallowing their story about Belarus. But let’s avoid the slick argument that just because veterans of the US’s Central American policy under Reagan allege that Lukashenko has “disappeared” some vocal critics that cannot be true either.

    While unsolved cases cast a shadow over the government, the evidence is deeply contradictory: one of the “disappeared”, the former National Bank chief Tamara Vinikova, resurfaced in London months before the UK Foreign Office admitted she was no longer missing. The politicisation of the issue has obscured the hunt for the truth. Yet Lukashenko faced a question about the claims at his post-election press conference on March 20, when opposition journalists from newspapers widely reported as “banned” asked him questions.

    The issue isn’t unknown in Belarus, where people don’t live in an information black hole. But human-rights charges lack traction because the western-backed opposition has offered no economic platform, just echoes of these Western allegations against Lukashenko.

    Although the West has never batted an eyelid about accepting a 97% vote obtained by a favourite such as Georgia’s rose-revolutionary President Saakashvili, at first sight four-fifths voting for one candidate seems hard to credit. But if you look at the socioeconomic reality of Belarus and compare it with its ex-communist neighbours, as Belarussians do, then the result is not so bizarre.

    No communist-era throwback, Belarus has an evolving market economy. But the market is orientated towards serving the needs of the bulk of the population, not a tiny class of nouveaux riches and their western advisers and money launderers. Unlike in Georgia or Ukraine, officials are not getting richer as ordinary folk get poorer. The absence of endemic corruption among civil servants and police is one reason why the wave of so-called “coloured revolutions” stopped before Minsk.

    But even if the government in Minsk is not corroded by corruption, its opposition depends upon support from abroad. If people resent anyone for getting rich quick undeservedly they resent the opposition types who receive lavish subsidies from the West to promote civil society and flaunt the latest iPod.

    The irony of the West preaching civil society and shock therapy at the same time is that you cannot have both. Western advisers made economic transformation a priority, but wherever their advice was followed it was poverty, not pluralism, that resulted. Across the old communist bloc “shock therapy” enriched a few dozen oligarchs and their foreign economic advisers, but the mass unemployment it caused and the collapse of public spending it demanded smashed the foundations of the civil society emerging under Gorbachev.

    By protecting Belarus from the ravages of free-market fundamentalists and delivering economic growth and prosperity for the mass of Belarussians, Lukashenko has sown the seeds of a pluralistic society far better than by handing the state’s assets over to half a dozen cronies of western advisers.

    Belarus is far from perfect, but it is a country where masses of ordinary people are getting on with life and getting a bit better off. That is why Lukashenko inspires fear and loathing in the think-tanks and foreign ministries of the West. By saving Belarus from mass unemployment he set a terrible example. What if the neighbours tried to copy it? – Guardian News Service

    * Mark Almond is a lecturer in modern history at Oriel College, Oxford University UK.

  • Culture

    Japanese photojournalist Hirokawa Ryuichi to exhibit Chernobyl-dedicated photos in April

    Hirokawa Ryuichi
    An exhibition featuring works by well-known Japanese photojournalist Hirokawa Ryuichi will take place in Minsk and Gomel on April 19-20. The exhibition will be dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe and will be held as part of the events timed to the tragic date.

    The press service of the Belarusian Council of Ministers' Chernobyl aftermath committee told BelTA, the exhibition will showcase around 60 photos. The exhibition is supposed to remind the world one more time about the nuclear danger, attract attention of the international community to the Chernobyl problem in order to increase relief aid to the affected areas.

    The exhibition is initiated by the Chernobyl Children Fund of Japan. For many years the fund has been fruitfully cooperating with Belarus for recreation of children, who live in radiation-polluted areas and treatment of children thyroid cancer. The proposal to arrange the exhibition was voiced during the last visit of the Japanese fund representatives to Belarus.

    The press service noted, Hirokawa Ryuichi is one of the most famous Japanese photo masters. He always went to flash points, took photos of the war in Lebanon and clashes in Beirut, and made reports about emergencies at nuclear plants on Three Mile Island and in Chernobyl. He made and published over 40 books and photo albums, arranged over 700 exhibitions dedicated to Chernobyl and the Middle East, made around 30 TV broadcasts about nuclear catastrophes. The talented photographer sympathises with the suffering people and tries to aid them by working at various children funds and charity organisations.

    For his creativity Hirokawa Ryuichi has been awarded many prizes, including one Frantsisk Skorina medal.

    Yulia Schudlo from Mogilev wins bronze medal at photo contest in Korea

    The international federation of photographic art
    The young artist, student of the 10th grade of secondary school #5 in Mogilev Yulia Schudlo has won a bronze medal and a special diploma of the international federation of photographic art “Fiap”, BelTA has been informed in Mogilevkhimvolokno’s photo studio “Three Plus” which Yulia attends.

    Yulia was presented the prestigious award for the work “For Life” in the section of black and white photography. From the works presented by the Belarusian artists only the photos made by Yulia and her father made through the qualifying round. Their works are exhibited at the international photo salon in one of the cities of Korea. The photo made by Yulia’s father has been awarded a diploma.

    About 2,500 artists from 32 countries took part in the contest. Each of them could present five photos. The international jury panel selected only 204 works out from 12,500 photos submitted for the contest.

    Of particular note is that Yulia Schudlo is a permanent participant of similar international exhibitions and photo salons. For example, last year Yulia won the gold medal for the work “A Black Bird” in the section of colour photography. Yulia took up photography at the age of 10.

  • Sport

    Hewitt confirmed for Davis Cup tie against Belarus
    Lleyton Hewitt of Australia
    Lleyton Hewitt will return to Australia's Davis Cup squad for its quarter-final match against Belarus next week, team captain John Fitzgerald announced.
    Hewitt has been struggling on tour and earlier this month dropped three places in the world rankings to number 14.
    He missed Australia's first-round Davis Cup victory over Switzerland due to injury, but will replace Peter Luczak for the April 7-9 Belarus tie at Kooyong in Melbourne.
    Hewitt was named alongside left-hander Chris Guccione and doubles specialists Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley.
    Fitzgerald praised the Australian team's performance against Switzerland, but voiced relief at the return of Hewitt, even if the Australian number one has gotten off to his worst start on the professional tour in nine years.
    "I was so proud of all the guys in Switzerland, they all had a big role to play and really stepped up and did the job for us," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
    "Of course it will be great to have Lleyton back in the team, which will strengthen the mix and give us some more options," he said.
    Belarus has yet to name its squad for the quarter-finals, but it is expected to be led by Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov.
    While Belarus is currently ninth in the David Cup rankings to Australia's third place, Fitzgerald warned that next week's tie would be a tough one.
    "We can't underestimate the strength of the team from Belarus," Fitzgerald said.
    "Both Mirnyi and Voltchkov are experienced Davis Cup campaigners, and of course are also an excellent doubles pair.
    "I've always said you can't rely on rankings in Davis Cup, and any nation that can knock out Spain must be treated with a lot of respect," he said.
    Hewitt has a 13-7 record in tournament play so far this year, his worst record in nine years on the circuit.