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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Post elections woes, Sanctions, Protests, Accusations; Inauguration pushed back to April, Ukrainian elections, The New Cold War

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Belarus Prez: Gov´t Must Improve

From Prensa Latina (Cuba) and Belta

Alexander Lukashenko
Holding a meeting focusing on the issues of improving the state management system, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said he deemed it necessary to radically change the style and methods of operation of the state machinery.

According to the head of state the system of government in Belarus has proved effective – it brings good results. “This is why even prior to the election I stated that there was no necessity to break down anything and build up a new system”, Alexander Lukashenko said.

However, according to the president, this system needs being improved with far-sighted policy in mind. There should be a switch from administrative-command, “manual” to economic management mechanisms, the Belarusian leader noted.

Belarus´ President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that the confidence showed by the people in the elections should be accompanied by an improvement in government´s work.

During his first meeting with the government following March 19 elections, Lukashenko said that the confidence shown by the people should be justified with high government performance.

The president stated that though he is pleased with the increased responsibility shown by the government officials, he is convinced that there is a need to improve their work.

Lukashenko said that the Executive should achieve the complex and ambitious tasks committed by the Popular Assembly (Parliament).

"There is nothing extraordinary in that. Time imposes the search for new work systems in the current conditions", said the president.

The statesman also asserted that peace and order are prevailing in the country, despite some incidents in which the security forces had to intervene.

Citizens should be partners of the authorities, rather than their suppliants, president Alexander Lukashenko said today during a meeting focusing on the issues of improving the state management system.

“We have promised to build a country for its people and clear the government system from red tape”, he stressed. However, often government officials work as they used to denying the rigid instructions of the leadership of the country. “I warn you that no one will be left in his office if instructions will not be fulfilled in regard to making a normal country - comfortable for everyone to live in”, the Belarusian leader said.

The president has stressed that the issue is “a matter of principal” for him; an issue which in terms of its urgency stands next to the industrial performance set for the five-year term. “One must not let us to reach the production targets but leave the country as it is – overburdened with red tape”, Alexander Lukashenko explained.

He gave a task to toughen the control over implementation of the instructions to eradicate red tape. He gave an instruction to simplify the state management system and exclude any doubling of management functions.

According to the head of state, the record-high turnout at the presidential election showed “a stunning support” for the authorities. This is why the president deems it inadmissible to “expose to red tape people who give such immense support to the authorities”.

“We should provide people with a new quality of life”, the president said.

Belarus will get precise and stable business rules, which will worsen the status of neither state nor private commercial entities, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko told today's meeting on improving the state administration structure.

"We have undertaken the obligation and must meet it", he said.

Speaking about the state administration structure, the head of state stressed, the structure should correspond to present day requirements. "The most important requirement is prompt, effective resolution of our people problems without bureaucracy and formalistic approach and correspondence to the set macroparameters", said Alexander Lukashenko.

He reminded, the improvement of the state administration structure had been unearthed long before the election. Today's sitting is supposed to elaborate the optimum variant of the state administration structure, which will be then sent for consideration of the top-ranking officials, government members, and governors.

The Belarusian nation gave credence to the president of the country and the entire state administration system, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko told a meeting on improving the state administration structure.

"We should prove we are worth the trust by setting higher targets. Therefore, the responsibility rises, as it is the most important factor for me", said the president. He underlined, the authorities "have no right to fail to reach" the complicated and ambitious goals set by the 3rd All-Belarus People's Congress.

In view of the fact the first president-chaired post-election meeting is dedicated to improving the structure of state administration bodies. "It has nothing to do with emergencies. The time needs new practices for new conditions", explained Alexander Lukashenko.

Presidential inauguration in Belarus postponed until April

A ceremony to inaugurate the newly reelected leader of Belarus has been postponed until the beginning of April in connection with an apparent timetabling problem, an election official said Tuesday.

"The earlier date, March 31, did not fit in with the president's schedule," Secretary of the Central Election Committee Nikolai Lozovik said, adding the president had two months to take up his position under the law.

Incumbent leader Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected to his third presidential term on March 19 with 83% of the vote. Although Lukashenko is known to have genuine support within the country for marinating relative stability in comparison with some other former Soviet states, the opposition candidates, who finished with single digit returns, claimed the poll was rigged.

  • Post elections woes

    NATO reviewing Belarus ties after election

    The NATO spokesman said it was unclear what measures NATO allies might take but stressed there was broad dissatisfaction within the alliance at alleged vote-rigging and arrests of opponents.
    NATO has put an 11-year-old partnership pact with Belarus under review after a presidential election denounced in the West as flawed, an alliance spokesman said on Wednesday. Separately, United Nations human rights experts asked Belarus to disclose the names of the estimated 1,000 people held in detention after demonstrations over the March 19 poll.

    President Alexander Lukashenko's landslide victory has been branded fraudulent by international observers, the European Union and the United States, which said the vote took place in a "climate of fear."

    The NATO spokesman said it was unclear what measures NATO allies might take but stressed there was broad dissatisfaction within the alliance at alleged vote-rigging and arrests of opponents.

    "What is clear is that the allies are deeply concerned with the conduct of the elections and are looking carefully at the relationship with Belarus," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told a regular news briefing.

    The "partnership for peace" pact signed by Minsk in 1995 has led to modest cooperation in areas such as NATO funding for the disposal of old anti-personnel landmines on Belarussian soil.

    Any contacts have been limited to low-level meetings between military officials on matters such as civil emergency planning and border security, and did not involve any exchange of classified information, the spokesman said.

    NATO ambassadors in Brussels are due to study options in coming days, Appathurai said.

    The EU has said it is looking to launch sanctions such as a visa ban on Lukashenko and other top officials next month.

    Adrian Severin, special rapporteur on human rights in Belarus, and six other U.N. rights envoys said on Wednesday that Belarussian and foreign journalists were among those being held in the Minsk area after a police crackdown on weekend protests. "In most cases, family members are unaware of their whereabouts," the group said in a statement released in Geneva.

    Bern threatens sanctions against Belarus
    "If the political situation does not improve rapidly and durably, Switzerland will consider the possibility of targeted sanctions against Belarus. It could also impose entry bans on leading Belarus government figures."
    Switzerland has called for the immediate release of Belarusian protestors arrested during peaceful demonstrations after the recent presidential election.

    It added that if there was no improvement in the political situation in the country, it would consider imposing sanctions – following similar moves by other countries.

    In a statement released on Monday, the Swiss foreign ministry said it "reiterates the regrets that it expressed after the presidential election, which did not meet recognised international standards for free and fair elections".

    On Monday Belarusian courts jailed for up to 15 days more than 150 protesters detained when police broke up rallies that drew thousands to the capital, Minsk.

    The election on March 19, in which officials say authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won a third term with 83 per cent of the vote, sparked days of demonstrations.

    Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, who officially received 6.1 per cent of the vote, called the election a fraud and the trials a farce.

    The Swiss foreign ministry added that it was "seriously concerned about respect for human rights and the guarantee of democratic freedoms in the face of increasingly intimidatory behaviour by the Belarus authorities, which limits the free expression of civil society in an inadmissible manner".

    It added: "If the political situation does not improve rapidly and durably, Switzerland will consider the possibility of targeted sanctions against Belarus. It could also impose entry bans on leading Belarus government figures."

    The United States and the European Union have also said the election was undemocratic and have vowed sanctions and a possible travel ban against Lukashenko and other officials.

    The Swiss foreign ministry formally called on the Belarus authorities to respect their international commitments with regard to basic liberties and human rights.

    In particular it called for the release of another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, and requested an end to intimidatory measures and that democratic freedoms be guaranteed.

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

    More Cracks Evident Between Russia and West Over Belarus
    Belarus foriegn Ministry: "If the United States and the E.U. respect our people, they must respect their choice," it said.
    Belarus warned the United States and European Union against interfering in its internal affairs, as unhappiness persists over last week's landslide election victory of President Alexander Lukashenko.

    Russia welcomed the result, however, and declared the poll free and fair.

    The Belarus Foreign Ministry in a statement accused the West of "wishful thinking" -- an apparent reference to earlier popular revolts that brought down pro-Moscow regimes in other former Soviet states, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

    "If the United States and the E.U. respect our people, they must respect their choice," it said.

    Lukashenko has been officially declared the winner of the March 19 election, securing a third term in office.

    On Saturday, several thousand anti-government protestors wewre held back by police who prevented them from marching to a police station.

    The protestors were supporting members of the opposition detained after police broke up an unsanctioned opposition rally in the capital, Minsk, last Thursday.

    The opposition is refusing to accept the election results and is demanding a rerun.

    Belarus Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said Sunday that main organizers of the unsanctioned protest would face criminal charges.

    All key organizers, including former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, had been detained and would face criminal charges.

    Naumov accused Kozulin of calling for a change of government by force and the "physical liquidation of the head of state."

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov played down the police action in Minsk, saying that "protests like this have little chance of changing anything."

    "These people spent several days on the square but we didn't understand what they were hoping for," he said, accusing the OSCE of inciting the protests.

    "Unfortunately, we saw a situation where the OSCE observer mission began talking about illegitimacy well ahead of the elections with quite a bit of taking sides, thus playing a role of instigator," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

    Detained Belarus Opposition Go on Hunger Strike — Lawyers
    A young detainee at the detention center
    Some 20 detained opposition supporters have gone on hunger strike to protest conditions at a Belarus jail holding 400 opposition supporters, The Associated Press news agency reported quoting the protesters’ defence lawyers.

    Dozens of youth activists again flouted prohibitions on unauthorized demonstrations, rallying outside a Minsk jail where detained protesters were being held.

    Meanwhile, authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election to a third term was widely derided as fraudulent and sparked a week of unprecedented protests, commended police for “efficiently” maintaining the stability of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

    “Peace and order have returned and the country is just as it was,” he said in televised comments.

    Rights supporters said nearly 1,000 activists have already been sentenced or are behind bars awaiting sentencing for taking part in protests or supporting the opposition following the election. So many were picked up in Minsk that some were being sent to jails outside the capital.

    A court also sentenced several journalists to jail on charges of hooliganism or participating in demonstrations, said press freedom groups. They said the convicted journalists included citizens of Belarus, Poland, Russia and Georgia.

    Rights advocates alleged prisoners were being held in crowded conditions, and were denied water and the right to receive care packages. Up to 18 inmates were being squeezed into cells designed to accommodate five, they said.

    An 18-year-old student who was detained in the Minsk tent camp last week said detainees were subjected to psychological abuse. “We were told we would be taken into the forest and shot, and that girls would be raped beforehand,” Polina Denisova testified in court.

    Pro-Lukashenko youth activists, meanwhile, again staged rallies outside the American and Polish embassies in what apparently were government-sanctioned demonstrations.

    Freeze Deepens Between Canada and Belarus

    Belarusian envoy finds Canada's response to imprisoned journalist and election abuses to be "a bit exaggerated."
    Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay summoned Ms. Mazai to his Ottawa office this week to demand the release of Frederick Lavoie, 22, who was arrested while covering nationwide pro-democracy protests in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
    The Canadian government's decision to freeze most bilateral relations with Belarus after Western nations deemed the recent presidential elections flagrantly unfair and following the imprisonment of a Quebec journalist is "a bit exaggerated," says Nina Mazai, Ambassador to Canada of the former Soviet state.

    Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay summoned Ms. Mazai to his Ottawa office this week to demand the release of Frederick Lavoie, 22, who was arrested while covering nationwide pro-democracy protests in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Mr. Lavoie is serving a 15-day sentence. Police have detained as many as 100 anti-government protestors since demonstrations broke out after the March 19 disputed re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Ms. Mazai calls the public protests "illegal" and "unauthorized."

    Ms. Mazai says Mr. Lavoie, a freelance reporter, traveled to the country on a tourist visa that he obtained from her Ottawa office. She explained his arrest is due to Mr. Lavoie's failure to obtain the necessary accreditation for journalists, compounded by the expiration of his tourist visa the day before his arrest on March 24. She says on his form Mr. Lavoie claimed to be a student at Laval University in Montreal, and that he intended to visit friends in Belarus. "It was not very sincere or ethical," she says.

    Mr. MacKay is requesting that Mr. Lavoie be freed. "Surely the government would like to see its citizen free. That's normal," says Ms. Mazai, speaking in French. "But we have to also look at why he did this."

    Canada was quick in publicly stating that it shared the worldview that opposition candidates and election workers were abused and harassed. "I am shocked that a dictatorial and abusive regime, such as this one, can continue to exist in today's Europe," said Mr. Harper, in a statement released March 22.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to reporters yesterday, said the Belarusian government is responsible for the safety and well being of Mr. Lavoie while he's in its custody. Ms. Mazai says the building where Ms. Lavoie is detained is "warm" and he has access to food. Mr. Lavoie's family says that British diplomatic officials had to provide him with food and clothing, and that conditions in the prison are deplorable. The British Embassy in Warsaw was the first to make contact with Mr. Lavoie, as the Canadian office was reportedly closed, but has since become involved.

    Effective immediately, Canada restricted its diplomatic ties to consular relations (services to Canadians), human rights and democratic development and efforts related to international security such as the destruction of landmines. The suspension will continue until "progress is made," says Mr. Harper.

    Pressure will not accelerate Canadian citizen's release - Belarus official

    Frederick Lavoie
    Canada is putting political pressure on Belarus to achieve the release of one of its citizens who was arrested in relation to an authorized rally, Maria Vanshina, a spokesperson for the Belarussian Foreign Ministry, said.

    "Canada should know that, first, Belarus does not yield to pressure and, second, only a higher court, to which the Canadian citizen has every right to appeal, can make a decision on his release," Vanshina told the press in Minsk on Wednesday.

    The Foreign Ministry official said that a Belarussian court had sentenced Canadian citizen Frederic Lavois [transliterated from Russian] to 15 days of detention for attending an unauthorized rally.

    Lavois had no reporter's accreditation, she said.

    Vanshina also announced that the Canadian citizen had registered his stay in Belarus from March 7 to 23, 2006, but on March 24 he "joined the most active participants in the unauthorized rally in Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk."

    Europe and U.S. Consider Sanctions Against Officials in Belarus
    The European Union and the United States announced an intention to pursue punitive sanctions immediately after Mr. Lukashenko's landslide re-election victory on March 19, which the West and the opposition have denounced as a sham.
    The European Union and the United States are considering personal sanctions against more than 40 officials and state journalists in Belarus for their roles in election rigging and crackdowns on civil society there, according to Western diplomats and government officials.

    A list of officials under consideration for sanctions in Europe includes not only President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko and his top staff but extends to government ministers and security officials, as well as prosecutors and judges involved in trying anti-government demonstrators and sentencing them to jail.

    The European Union and the United States announced an intention to pursue punitive sanctions immediately after Mr. Lukashenko's landslide re-election victory on March 19, which the West and the opposition have denounced as a sham.

    The draft list of officials, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, reflects the work of diplomats in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in the days since the election, and after crackdowns against peaceful protesters on March 24 and 25. It includes 43 officials or state journalists by name, and four regional election officials by position.

    "We have drawn up a list, as the European Union heads of mission, and sent it to Brussels," a Western ambassador in Minsk said by telephone today, referring the European Union's offices in Belgium.

    The exact form European sanctions might take have not been determined and must be agreed upon by the entire union, but is likely to include bans on the officials' travel to the 25 European Union nations, the ambassador said. Other steps might be taken as well, including asset freezes.

    The ambassador spoke anonymously because deliberations about which Belarussian officials should face sanctions are confidential. He declined to discuss any officials by name.

    The list is expected to be reviewed, and perhaps adopted, when the foreign ministers from the union meet in Luxembourg on April 10.

    American and European officials said that although some names will probably be removed and others added, the speed of the list's creation and the collaboration between Washington and European governments reflects a resolve to try to apply pressure to Mr. Lukashenko's circle.

    The United States has already banned travel on several officials, and plans to add more. "We are thinking through the right people to target, and are doing this in very close contact with the European Union," David J. Kramer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said by telephone.

    He added that the list may grow: "There may be other names out there we want to put on."

    Unlike the European Union, which publicizes the names of people under sanctions, the United States is forbidden to disclose such names. But the United States has already brought sanctions against several officials in Minsk, and is steadily adding more, Mr. Kramer said.

    Before the election, he said, the number of officials was "fewer than a dozen, and it's going to go up significantly. It's going up pretty much on a daily basis."
    (For the complete text please click "HERE")

    Russian prime minister calls Belarus election fair
    Mikhail Fradkov
    Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on Wednesday said the protested presidential election in Belarus reflects the will of that former Soviet republic's people. "Our observers have followed the election and determined that the result of the elections speaks for itself: It was the will of the people," Fradkov told reporters during an official visit to Norway.

    The March 19 re-election of Belarus ' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to a third term with 83 percent of the vote has drawn protests at home and condemnation abroad. The European Union, the United States and the others have called the vote unfair, and many have threatened sanctions against the Lukashenko government.

    "We believe any effort to isolate Belarus is unreasonable and counterproductive," said Fradkov, whose remarks were translated from Russian into Norwegian. Russian and Belarus have close ties, and Moscow has generally supported Lukashenko during his 12-year rule. Hundred of opposition protesters have been arrested in Belarus since the election.

    "We will closely follow the developments in Belarus and what happens with human rights," Fradkov said at a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

    Russian ambassador to discuss detainees' release with Belarus

    Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov would hold talks with representatives of the Belarusian presidential administration.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday its ambassador to Minsk would discuss the release of Russian nationals detained for taking part in a protest against the results of Belarus' recent presidential election.

    Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov would hold talks with representatives of the Belarusian presidential administration.

    When asked what steps Russia was taking to secure the release of Russian journalists detained in Minsk, Kamynin said it would be wrong to divide the detainees into journalists and non-journalists.

    "Ensuring the legitimate rights and interests of all Russian citizens regardless of their professional status is a matter of principle to us," he said. "The Russian side is taking all measures to provide legal assistance to the detained Russians."

    Belarusian Prosecutor General Petr Miklashevich said earlier that 21 foreign nationals had been detained in Minsk between March 19 and 25 for participating in unauthorized rallies, including seven Ukrainians, six Poles, four Russians, two Georgians, one Lithuanian, and one Canadian.

    On Monday, a court in the Belarusian capital sentenced two Russians to 15 days in custody for taking part in a protest in Minsk.

    The Russians were detained under the country's Administrative Code on March 24. Five other Russians, including a prominent television journalist, could face similar action.

    Russian Embassy officials in Belarus said they had visited the Russians detained by police during unauthorized rallies in the country's capital.

    The embassy sent a note to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, and Russian diplomats have been in contact with the republic's law-enforcement agencies.


    Poll Taken in the former Soviet Republic seems to say that the rose revolution is is still functioning (Armenia)
    Mikheil Saakasjvili, the new pro-western president of Georgia
    The Russian Federation is the most hostile country to Georgia. According to Gazeta SNG online publication, this was revealed as a result of a public poll carried out by "Kviris Palitra" Georgian newspaper. 94,4 % of respondents state that Russia is the main enemy of Georgia. 33,7% of them thinks that Belarus is also one of their enemies. According to 28,1% of Georgian citizens, Armenia occupied the third place in the list of the enemies. The list also includes Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Iraq.

    Certainly the tense Russian-Georgia and Georgian-Belarus relations could shape such public opinion. As for the mutual statements of friendship and fraternity made by the Armenian and Georgian statesmen, they lose value in the context of this public poll’s results.

    It’s noteworthy that recently a printing misunderstanding of a public poll’s results held in Georgia roused indignation and criticism. The public poll referred to the issues of the national minorities. Thus, according to the preliminary data, the majority of the Georgians were for the return of the national minorities to their homelands. This was a disinformation. But what can we say in the case of this public poll. Even the supposition that Armenia and Georgia have good relations at personal level can be easily denied by the results of the recent public poll.

  • Oposition

    Belarus opposition leader takes his case abroad
    Alexander Milinkevich
    The main head of the Belarussian opposition, who led protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, said he was going to Poland on Wednesday to tell the outside world what was going on in his country.

    "In the Polish parliament I intend to say what is really happening in Belarus," Alexander Milinkevich told Reuters. He was heavily defeated in a March 19 poll denounced in the West as flawed.

    Alexander Kozulin, another opposition figure detained after street rallies against Lukashenko's re-election, was charged with hooliganism and faces up to six years in jail.

    Both men ran against Lukashenko whose landslide victory was judged fraudulent by the United States, the European Union and international observers.

    Lukashenko abruptly postponed his inauguration that had been fixed for Friday leaving observers puzzled. A Minsk-based diplomat described the move as "strange, very weird."

    Invitations for the swearing-in ceremony had been issued to diplomats when election officials announced on Tuesday it was being put back, possibly to some time in early April.

    Diplomats, who saw the 51-year-old leader in a brief appearance on television on Tuesday, said he looked pale and drawn. They suggested that the scale of the protests, which drew around 10,000 people at their peak, had shaken him.

    Milinkevich was due to meet Polish parliamentary speaker Marek Jurek on Thursday, a Polish parliament official said.

    Milinkevich said he planned to return early on Friday to chair a meeting of a coalition of opposition forces.

    Asked if he planned to emigrate to Poland, which has granted asylum to many Belarussian dissidents, Milinkevich said: "No."

    "I believe the authorities will try and fabricate charges against me, hoping that I will emigrate. But I've always said -- and I am saying this now -- I do not intend to leave Belarus, even if they threaten me with imprisonment," Milinkevich said.

    Belarus Opposition Maps Plan to Get Support

    Washington Post
    Belarus' opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his party's headquarters in Minsk, Monday, March 27, 2006. Opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will not tolerate five more years under the authoritarian leader, but must step back and gather broader support after a week of unprecedented protests over his re-election, the opposition leader said Monday.
    MINSK, Belarus -- The week of unprecedented protests that followed disputed elections was just a start, and the opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko need to step back and gather broader support, an opposition leader said Monday.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, Alexander Milinkevich likened the protests to a storming that made "cracks in the fortress" of the hard-line government.

    But he acknowledged they were not big enough to force change and said the opposition would now seek to get its message to more people in the former Soviet republic of 10 million.

    "A huge number of people have demonstrated that they do not want to be slaves, that they have overcome their fear _ they are ready to fight for their dignity and for the future of Belarus," he said. "This is a huge success."

    "But of course we need 200,000-500,000 people to come out, not 20,000," he added. "Only when we become the majority will we become a force with which the authorities will start negotiating; they won't have any other options."

    Milinkevich said the opposition must fight fear and apathy in the face of an "information blockade" by the government, which has virtually complete control over the media.

    "Our main goal remains: information, information, information," he said. "If people have information, the dictatorship will collapse like a house of cards."

    "We have made holes and cracks in the fortress. But if we keep on knocking against it with our heads, especially with few forces, we may lose. That is why we are taking a step back and beginning a siege of this fortress. The siege will be an information attack," he said.

    His remarks came two days after a week of protests over the March 19 election. The events culminated Saturday in a clash with riot police who beat demonstrators with truncheons.

    The opposition was determined to press ahead.

    "There will be a second storming, but we won't wait five years for it," Milinkevich said.

    He said the opposition will continue to seek a repeat vote in which Lukashenko would be barred from running and reiterated plans to hold the next large protest April 26.

    Milinkevich appealed to the European Union to press harder for the release of hundreds of people arrested in the protests, including another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin. Courts are trying some of the detainees, with many being sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 days.

    A spokesman for the prosecutor's office, Yegor Levai, said a criminal case against Kozulin had been opened, but he declined to say what charges he might face.

    "I ask the EU to be tougher in demanding (Kozulin's) release, as well as the release of other political prisoners," Milinkevich said. He thanked Europe and the United States for their solidarity and their criticism of the election, and stressed the need for Western help in making Belarus more open and educating Belarusian students expelled for opposing the government.

    "There are 10 million Europeans here ... and they must be helped,"

  • Planting season looms

    President: work on creating favorable conditions for (Agro) entrepreneurs to be continued in republic

    A very cold winter has made for a potentially difficult planting season this year in Belarus
    On March 29 president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with chairman of the State Control Committee of this republic Anatoliy Tozik to receive his regular report. Anatoliy Tozik informed the head of state about inspections of readiness of the agro-industrial complex for the forthcoming sowing campaign, BelTA was told in the presidential press service.

    According to the Belarusian leader, this sowing campaign will be of special nature: due to the weather conditions it should be held in the shortest possible time. Special emphasis will be placed on the following top-priority issues: provision of agricultural companies with fuel, acceleration of supplies of chemical fertilizers and plant protection means and equipping farm machines with repaired engines.

    In the course of the report Alexander Lukashenko and Anatoliy Tozik discussed possible increasing of the volume of certain crops in the republic. The government is expected to take corresponding decisions.

    Anatoliy Tozik informed the president about progress in fulfilling president decree #148 of March 24, 2005 “Urgent Entrepreneurship Support Measures”. The head of the state control committee stressed, “On the whole, the document is fulfilled”, however, several important issues are still to be addressed, by additional bylaws in some cases. He specified, these issues are the trade place rent assessment (which is still overstated sometimes), payments for additional services and legalityof it in some cases.

    Car parking lots near markets are another important matter. According to Anatoliy Tozik, it is inadvisable to charge market customers for their parking cars at an unguarded parking lot.

    The head of state okayed the proposals. It was noted, measures will be taken to resolve the mentioned problems for the sake of creating optimum conditions for private business.

    Anatoliy Tozik also reported to the president about the draft decree on rural tourism development in Belarus. This new activity can be very promising considering the unique Belarusian nature and climatic conditions.

    The president supported the initiatives. The relevant document adopted, Belarus will create favourable conditions to develop this business that will bring with it new working places. According to specialists, agro-tourism will appeal to both foreign visitors and urban residents of this country.

    The progress in the implementation of other president’s instruction has been discussed too.

  • Ukraine

    Ukraine's Former PM Calls for Coalition

    Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to the media in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 29, 2006. Tymoshenko appealed Wednesday to her estranged Orange Revolution allies to revive their partnership before the end of the week, warning that a delay would only benefit their pro-Russian opponent, whose party is trying to negotiate a return to power after defeating the pro-western forces.
    Ukraine's former prime minister appealed Wednesday to her estranged Orange Revolution allies to revive their partnership, warning that a delay would only benefit their pro-Russian opponent as he tries to negotiate a return to power.

    Yulia Tymoshenko, the blond-braided heroine of the Orange Revolution's mass protests over election fraud in 2004, said the former partners must work to defeat Viktor Yanukovych. His ballot-stuffing attempt to win the presidency two years ago triggered the revolution.

    But Yanukovych's opposition party was the top vote-getter in Sunday's election, while Tymoshenko's party came in second. President Viktor Yushchenko's party took an embarrassing third.

    With no party winning a majority in the 450-member parliament charged with choosing the prime minister and most of the Cabinet a majority can be reached only through a coalition.

    The president now must decide with whom he wants to govern: Tymoshenko, whom he fired six months ago after accusing her of abusing her office, or Yanukovych, his old adversary.

    Yushchenko was swept into power two years ago when tens of thousands into the streets wearing his campaign's trademark color of orange. Pictures of his face scarred by a still-unsolved toxin-poisoning were sold in every underpass.

    On Wednesday, Tymoshenko pressed for the revolution's allies to reconnect.

    "It is absolutely important to create a coalition urgently," Tymoshenko said after key members of the president's party swung their support behind a new Orange Team, calling it the best way to safeguard Ukraine's path toward European integration.

    The president's party Wednesday set out severe and possibly unacceptable conditions for any cooperation with the opposition party, such as agreeing to Ukraine's pro-Western course and rejecting the possibility of adopting Russian as a second state language, after Ukrainian.

    The demands could be deal-breakers for the opposition, which campaigned on calls to make Russian a second state language.

    Election losers in Ukraine demand ballot recount

    Even “free and fare” elections apparently have problems with the vote counting
    Political parties and blocs that failed to negotiate a 3%- barrier to take up seats in Ukraine's parliament after the recent elections demanded Wednesday that the votes be recounted.

    "We are filing suits to request a vote recount at all polling stations around the country and are asking the Central Election Committee to postpone the announcement of official results until the final review of all appeals and the vote recount," representatives of the bloc led by Supreme Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, the Veche party, the Pora-PRP bloc and the National Democratic party said in a joint statement.

    All the parties and blocs, except the Pora-PRP bloc, also said they were determined to start protests if the authorities failed to meet their demands, although they were not specific about what form their action could take.

    With 93.24% of Sunday's vote counted, former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych's party was leading the race with 31.26% of the vote, followed by former Prime Minister Tymoshenko's bloc (22.47%), the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc (14.48%), the Socialist Party (5.87%) and the Communist Party (3.63%)

    The results suggest the Party of Regions is likely to end up with about 176 seats of the total 450. Currently, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc would take up 130 seats, Our Ukraine 89, the Socialists 36, and the Communists 21.

    Ukraine and the Second Cold War
    The Second Cold War has already begun. If forced to be perfectly frank, every diplomat, spy or banker from Boston to Baku would acknowledge this.
    Ignore the broad smiles, firm handshakes, cheerful backslapping and toasts raised to “everlasting friendship” between well-dressed, smiling Russians, intense Germans, glib Americans and deceptive Brits.

    The Second Cold War has already begun. If forced to be perfectly frank, every diplomat, spy or banker from Boston to Baku would acknowledge this.

    Anyone who reads the press or watches television must have noticed by now that the most dynamic, aggressive and self-assured force in the world today is Russia. Daily reports in the media announce that Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom is buying a pipeline network here or a European gas company there. Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown pleased with himself in Budapest as he offers Hungarians “reliable” gas supplies - but only if they buy from Gazprom.

    It’s part of his fuel diplomacy strategy, which allows Russia to influence neighbors and more distant countries through energy supplies.

    There is more to Putin’s arsenal. Russia is the ultimate salesman, offering weapons to Algeria, gas and oil to Beijing, and nuclear reactors to Iran. By supporting ill-fated democracies and separatist movements in Trandniester, Ossetia and the dictator-ruled Belarus, Russia maintains a strong grip of influence over neighboring countries.

    Meanwhile, Russian television stations present Putin in a positive light, ensuring him stable support within his own country of 140 million. Western Europeans watch and worry, wondering whether they are doomed to cold winters if Russia cuts off their gas supplies. The leaders of the great Western alliance, in the meantime, assure their citizens that the war in Iraq is almost won. Have patience, the masses are told, all we need is for Jeffersonian democracy to ultimately triumph in the slums of Baghdad.

    Then there is Ukraine. With an indecisive chief executive who changes his views on policy issues all too frequently, the country seems to be not slipping, but tumbling back to its pre-Orange days. In Washington, London and Berlin the unpleasant little words that nobody wants to utter aloud are once again being whispered in the corridors of power – “A failed state.”

    Is there hope? Can Kyiv resist Putin’s “Drang nach Malorossiya” or will it be trampled under the patent leather shoes worn by Russian oil and gas executives, as they lead the Russian corporate state to battle? Things look pretty grim.

    Is there hope for peace anywhere?
    Ukraine might not be a failed state, yet, but it is certainly beginning to look like a failed dream. Recall the slogans shouted on the Maidan in December 2004: “We Want to Be in Europe!” “Crooks Belong in Prison”.

    Now that the hype is over, it might be appropriate to remind ourselves that:

    1) Europeans, for understandable reasons, are not ready to admit Ukraine into their club.

    2) The shadier elements of Ukraine’s elite are still at liberty, living very comfortably in penthouse suites.

    Furthermore, it should be very clear that Ukraine is not only a victim of its geographic location but of its inability to conceptualize what is in its own national interests. Apparently, each section of the country cares more about its own regional interests than the well-being of the nation as a whole. This will not do.

    Then there is the question of the northern neighbor.

    Every evil cannot be blamed on the Russians. This moth-eaten explanation has been offered up by too many Ukrainian leaders as an excuse to cover up their own inability to govern efficiently and honestly.

    Having said this, there is no doubt that many of Ukraine’s problems can still be tied to Russia’s imperial drive. Karl Marx, after all, once wrote that “the guiding star of Russia is world domination.” He may have been right.

    What awaits a vulnerable and embattled Ukrainian state during The Second Cold War? The stakes in this conflict are great - either Ukraine will survive as a nation-state or become a part of what Russian energy mogul Anatoli Chubais envisions as a "liberal Russian empire." Within this empire, Ukrainians would be allowed to keep the blue and yellow flag, speak Ukrainian, keep their embassies, have an army and control their own borders. But the real decisions, the hardcore work, would be done for them in Moscow by hard-eyed Kremlin bosses.

    During the First Cold War, Ukraine, by virtue of its membership in the USSR, was an active participant on the side of Russia and the other “socialist” republics in the ideological struggle with the West. They lost, and as a result of this defeat, Ukraine became independent.

    Independence became reality not as the result of a powerful national liberation struggle with masses of oppressed Ukrainian workers and peasants on the streets with pitchforks and clubs, but through a political deal made in a forest in Belarus between two high-ranking communist internationalists, Leonid Kravchuk and Boris Yeltsin.

    Suddenly, Ukrainians found themselves in charge of their own country, a role they were quite unprepared for.

    It is possible that had they shed some blood for their freedom, things might have worked out differently, but that is now only speculation.

    Today, as Cold War II heats up, Ukraine is virtually alone, in need of stronger leadership and without any meaningful friends, except Poland. The U.S. is preoccupied with terrorism, Iraq, and so on. The Europeans may look the other way as long as Russian gas keeps flowing.

    Ukraine must rely on itself to survive. Whether it really wants to survive as a sovereign nation is at the heart of the matter.

    Some people warn me not to “dramatize the situation.” Ukrainians often tend to say this when they are uncomfortable with the possible end result of a given problem. It is an escapist phrase; it soothes the intellect and tells the subconscious that a solution is out there somewhere and all one need do is to seek it out.

    Cold War II, however, is not only dramatic; it is a question of real survival.

    Ukraine’s political establishment does not seem to understand this. Maybe they don’t want to face the truth, and believe they can bluff their way out of doing something preventive, the way that former President Leonid Kuchma bluffed Washington for years by making promises to reform the economy.

    The time has finally arrived for Ukraine to begin behaving as a real state and not a playground for oligarchs. The victors of this high-stakes geopolitical game will not spare the losers, and the time may come when Uncle Sam will throw up his hands in frustration at the shenanigans played in the Ukrainian capital.