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Monday, May 01, 2006

Happy May Day! Putin Lukashenka meet, Bucharest decries arrests, NATO/Russia conflict, Freedom House, Boxing, Planting season underway

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Alexander Lukashenko Meets with Vladimir Putin

From:The office of the president

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka
On April 28, President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made a working visit to the Russian Federation.

In St. Petersburg, Alexander Lukashenko carried on negotiations with Vladimir Putin. The subjects discussed included important issues of the union construction, bilateral trade and economic interaction, cooperation in energy sector, coordination of positions within the integration unions of the post-Soviet space and in the foreign policy scene, current situation in the region.

Welcoming each other, the two presidents expressed intention to discuss a broad range of issues in an informal atmosphere.

According to Alexander Lukashenko the agenda of the meeting contained very many items “due to very many common questions that we have, not because there are many unresolved problems.”

The Head of State pointed out that the situation in Belarus is quiet, just as it was before the elections. “People are working, economy is functioning,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

“We are working quietly despite some political muddles around us or someone’s attempts to position oneself as opposition. There’s a saying with us: it is too late to shake fists when the battle is over. Even before the election I was saying that we would conduct that political campaign very delicately and calmly so that you also could not be ashamed, because Russia has always been supporting us. Whilst those who had a negative attitude to us before the election, they, in any case, continue having such attitude,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

At the same time, in view of the President of Belarus, “the times of emotions are going away, there comes a time of pragmatism, of implementing the plans.”

“And we see on the part of Americans and Europeans, that, despite all the clamour, they positively opt for cooperation. And we do cooperate in vitally important areas, the areas of interest for us, especially in economy,” the Belarusian leader underscored.

Vladimir Putin asked his Belarusian counterpart whether it would be possible to succeed in consolidating the republic’s political forces after the election with a view to addressing the existing problems.

Alexander Lukashenko said that the matters stand differently in Belarus. “Consolidation of political forces is important indeed. But we do not have such a problem. Practically the entire population voted in favour of the current president, as well as a part of the electorate which was supposed to vote in favour of the opposition. Therefore, if there’s a need to unite I will refer to one-two thousand persons, regrettably underaged youngsters, who were attempting to, ostensibly, destabilize something while being paid for that, the President said. I cannot say they are not important for us. Two thousand are very important too. But if they adopt a different position we can manage without them.”

Vladimir Putin said he was glad to see Alexander Lukashenko after the completion of the election campaign in Belarus. “I am sure that all those plans we were working over will be materialized,” he said and expressed the conviction the available problems would be resolved.

Upon completion of the talks, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin hosted a working luncheon in honour of President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, after which the heads of state continued their conversation in an informal atmosphere.

On April 28 in the evening, the Head of the Belarusian State returned to Minsk.

May 1st is International Workers' Day

May Day is a name for various holidays celebrated on May 1 (or in the beginning of May), ranging from pagan festivals to International Workers' Day, its most famous action.
International Workers' Day (a name used interchangably with May Day) is the commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, and a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. The 1 May date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, inspired by labor's 1872 success in Canada, demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in a general strike and the riot in Chicago of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday. The May Day Riots of 1894 and May Day Riots of 1919 occurred subsequently.

Due to these left-wing overtones, May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. In some circles, bonfires are lit in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot usually right as the first day of May begins. [citation needed] In the 20th century, May Day received the official endorsement of the Soviet Union; celebrations in communist countries during the Cold War era often consisted of large military parades and shows of common people in support of the government.

The Red Scare periods ended May Day as a mass holiday in the United States, a phenomenon which can be seen as somewhat ironic given that May Day originated in Chicago. Meanwhile, in countries other than the United States and United Kingdom, resident working classes fought hard to make May Day an official governmentally-sanctioned holiday, efforts which eventually largely succeeded. For this reason, May Day in most of the world today is marked by huge street rallies of workers led by their trade unions and various large socialist and communist parties — a phenomenon not generally seen in the U.S. (which has a history of strong anti-communism) or the UK.

In most countries other than the U.S. and UK, May Day is often referred to simply as "Labor Day".

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand celebrate their Labor Day on different dates, which has to do with how the holiday originated in those countries; see also Loyalty Day and Law Day, U.S.A.

Head of State Congratulates His Compatriots on the Labour Day

From:The office of the president
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has congratulated his compatriots on the 1st of May – the Labour Day.

Specifically, the message of felicitation says: “On this spring day we glorify labour as a great boon to construction, as a means for achieving durable and stable position of the state and society, for ensuring a worthy and well-to-do life to every family.

In our country, the working people have real guarantees – the right to work and rest, free-of-charge education and medical assistance, social protection and steady rise in living standards.

I congratulate the veterans, the middle generation, which is the main contributor to the country’s economic development, our rising generation, which will have to be building a strong and prosperous Belarus, on the Labour holiday.”

Foreign minister condemns arrest of Belarus opposition leader

From:Bucharest Daily News
Mihai Razvan Ungureanu
The foreign affairs minister on Friday condemned the arrest of Belarus' main opposition leader as "unacceptable," according to a statement released by his office.

Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, who currently chairs the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe - the continent's top human rights watchdog, said Belarusian authorities were violating people's freedom of association and expression and had silenced the opposition.

Alexander Milinkevich, who has spearheaded the wave of unprecedented protests against the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko, was sentenced to 15 days in jail along with other opposition leaders after a protest rally Wednesday in the Belarusian capital.

Ungureanu urged the authorities in Minsk to "urgently free the opposition leader and respect international human rights agreements that Belarus has signed," the statement said.

NATO and Russia differ over Belarus, enlargement

From:China View
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
SOFIA, April 28 (Xinhua) -- The Belarus political situation and many other issues divided the alliance and Russia in Friday's informal discussions, said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

"There are many items and issues on which we think the same. But there are also issues -- they also were discussed, where we definitely do not see eye to eye," he told a press conference after a NATO-Russia foreign ministerial meeting.

On Belarus, he said, the 26 NATO member countries and Russia were "far apart."

Both De Hoop Scheffer and the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday condemned the arrest of the Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevic.

De Hoop Scheffer said the detention was unacceptable and another demonstration of "anti-democratic behavior on the part of the regime (of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko)."

Rice described the arrest as "reprehensible" and asked the Belarusian government to act in accordance with accepted international principles when it came to the treatment of political opposition.

In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said dialogue and engagement should be the approach to problems in Belarus, not isolation.

"We said (to NATO) isolation was counter-productive," he said.

De Hoop Scheffer and Lavrov held separate press conferences after the NATO-Russia informal meeting, in sharp contrast to the media treatment of the NATO-Ukraine meeting where the NATO secretary general and Ukraine's foreign minister held a cordial joint press conference.

Lavrov said the cornerstone of Russia-NATO cooperation was compliance with standards of international law and recognition of the primary role of the UN Security Council.

He hoped that the United States, which leads NATO, would exercise caution in its plans to station troops in Romania and Bulgaria, both NATO members.

"We hope the final decision will respect the alliance's legal undertakings of restraint and also will take into account the legitimate interests and concerns of the Russian Federation," he told reporters.

Lavrov said Washington and Romania had assured Russia they would not deploy "substantial military forces" in new NATO member states.

He said Russia had yet to seek answers from NATO regarding what "substantial forces" means.

On NATO's initiative to forge closer partnerships with Asia-Pacific countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, Lavrov demanded transparency from NATO so that Russia knows exactly what is going on and does not have security fears.

The two sides, however, did agree on cooperating to jointly fight narcotics in Afghanistan.

Putin voices optimism on Russia-Belarus union

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed confidence on Friday that problems arising in the course of building the planned Russia-Belarus union would be "easier to solve" now that the Belarussian presidential election is over.

"I am sure that work will start to put into practice all those plans that we made earlier - building a special relationship of alliance," Putin said at a meeting with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Very many problems have arisen in the course of implementing what we agreed on," but, "since there is a chance that the political situation will stabilize, those problems will be easier to solve," Putin said.

Putin also said he hoped plans for the union between Russia and Belarus, designed to restore the common political, economic, legal, defense, and humanitarian space of the two former Soviet states, which have largely remained on paper, would be implemented and persisting problems resolved in a new political environment in Belarus.

"Given political stabilization [in Belarus], we believe those problems will start to be resolved," Putin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday offered rare international support to Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko, whom he said had reached out to opponents following his contested re-election last month.

“It was nice to hear that you intend to work constructively with all sides,” Putin told Lukashenko, a pariah in the West, during a televised meeting in a Saint Petersburg palace.

The meeting, part of which was broadcast on Russian state television, came a day after a court in the Belarussian capital Minsk sentenced chief opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich to 15 days in prison for attending what police said was an illegal demonstration.

Milinkevich, came a distant second in the election was jailed along with three other opposition figures in the former Soviet republic.

"We are working quietly despite everything that is going on around us," Lukashenko said, adding that unlike Russia Belarus was not facing the problem of uniting political forces for addressing economic and other key issues.

Russia warns Belarus of market-level natural gas prices - source

From:Ria Novosti
Gasprom: "We warned (Belarus) that we will be setting standard terms of gas supplies to Belarus, which may be adjusted depending on market fluctuations,
Russia has warned Belarus about its plans to supply natural gas at market prices, a source in a Russian delegation at talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday.

"We warned them that we will be setting standard terms of gas supplies to Belarus, which may be adjusted depending on market fluctuations," the source said, adding that a single currency for the two counties would be an easier means of payment.

Belarus will buy 21 billion cubic meters of Russian gas at $46.68 per 1,000 cu m under a contract for 2006 signed in December with energy giant Gazprom. The rate is close to the heavily-subsidized prices Gazprom offers to Russian domestic consumers

Gazprom has consistently sought to raise prices for former Soviet republics to market levels, which led to a highly publicized spat earlier this year that saw supplies to Ukraine suspended when it refused to pay the new rate of $230 per 1,000 cu m up from the previous price of about $50.

Late in March, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said: "In 2007, Russia should provide natural gas to Belarus at European prices."

Russia-Belarus single currency to simplify gas payments - source

From:Ria Novosti
Introducing a single currency in Russia and Belarus will simplify mutual payments for natural gas supplies, a Russian delegation said Friday at the talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

"[Belarus] should back social programs out of its own funds rather than Russia's economy," a source in the delegation said.

A source said Belarus was technically ready to introduce the Russian ruble as a single means of payment, but that this was an issue of the Belarusian leadership's political will.

"Lukashenko was elected for five years," the source said. "He has a confidence mandate, and can make any decisions, including unpopular ones, if he wants to."

Former Soviet Union Media Still Under Assault — Freedom House

From:Mos News
Of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet states only Georgia and Ukraine, which are categorized as “Partly Free,” escape the Not Free designation. No country in the region achieves the designation of “Free.” The degree to which each country permits the free flow of information determines the classification of its media as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.”
Independent media in the countries of the former Soviet Union have come under further assault over the course of the last year, Freedom House said in its annual report. The political, legal, and economic environments in most of the non-Baltic former Soviet countries remain distinctly inhospitable to independent journalism, Christopher Walker, the organization’s director of studies, wrote in an article for Radio Liberty’s web-site.

Of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet states only Georgia and Ukraine, which are categorized as “Partly Free,” escape the Not Free designation. No country in the region achieves the designation of “Free.” The degree to which each country permits the free flow of information determines the classification of its media as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.”

The downward trend was particularly evident in countries with regimes that place a premium on controlling the airwaves. Among the Not Free states, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan experienced declines. Uzbekistan and Russia suffered the most dramatic backslide.

Russia slipped due to the Kremlin’s ongoing obstruction of journalists from reporting on sensitive topics and its tightening of control over news sources. According to this year’s report, the Russian “authorities continued to exert direct influence on media outlets and determine news content, as the state owns or controls the country’s three main national television networks —- Channel One, RTR, and NTV.” In 2005, Russian journalists continued to be subjected to detention or physical attack, ostensibly from coverage of sensitive topics such as corruption. The Russian government’s posture toward the media has also led to increased self-censorship. Critical coverage of the Kremlin on national broadcast media is virtually nonexistent today.

The government in Uzbekistan, which has crushed independent voices throughout society, paid particular attention to the elimination of independent media. The Uzbek press freedom rating for the last year dropped accordingly.

The Andijan massacre, which occurred one year ago, was the trigger for the further crackdown on the media in Uzbekistan. In the immediate aftermath of the events in Andijan, the regime of President Islam Karimov instituted a news blackout, preventing virtually any information about the violence in the eastern Uzbek city from reaching wider audiences.

Western-funded media in Uzbekistan drew particularly intense attention from the government. The Karimov regime refused to renew the agreement that allowed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to operate a bureau in Tashkent. It likewise forced other international news and media support organizations, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Internews, to close their operations in the country.

Manipulation of television news content in Uzbekistan, as in a number of neighboring repressive countries, reached new heights over the last year. The television medium was a favored tool in regime security efforts. The report on Uzbekistan in this year’s press-freedom survey cites the September trial of 15 men accused of involvement in the Andijan unrest, where “prosecutors charged that the BBC, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, and RFE/RL had advance knowledge that violence would break out in the city. State-controlled media gave prominent coverage to these unsubstantiated charges.”

In Belarus, the autocratic government of Alexander Lukashenko intensified its control over the country’s media, at least in part due to elections taking place this spring. Last year, among the measures taken by the Belarusian authorities was passage of broadly defined legislation that makes it a crime punishable by up to two years in jail to “discredit Belarus” in the eyes of international organizations and foreign governments. The same prison terms apply to those convicted of distributing “false information” about Belarus’ political, economic, social, or international situation.

Among the regulatory tricks relied upon by media-unfriendly regimes, the Belarus press-freedom report relates a May 2005 decree issued by Lukashenko that banned all privately owned, but not state, media from using the words “national” or “Belarus” in their names, forcing a number of publications to reregister.

In a region where good news on the news media is hard to come by, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were the only countries to register improvement. In Kyrgyzstan, given the larger questions concerning the country’s overall political direction, the durability of the positive press-freedom change was far from certain, however. Kyrgyzstan remains in the Not Free category.

Ukraine enjoys a wide range of state and private television and radio stations, as well as print and electronic news outlets. While Ukraine’s media ownership is diverse, it still confronts the challenges that accompany oligarchic ownership structures. Nevertheless, since the end of 2004 the media in Ukraine, while today still designated Partly Free, have achieved a degree of pluralism and independence that would have been unthinkable in the pre-Orange Revolution era.

Ukraine, now with the strongest press-freedom rating among the former Soviet states, therefore remains a critical media case study. Just 1.5 years ago, the country suffered from many of the same pathologies that continue to confront most of the media in the region today. In the run-up to Ukraine’s pivotal 2004 elections, for example, “temnyky” - editorial theme directives from the president’s office — were standard operating procedure. This practice was purged from the Ukrainian media landscape but remains a blight on many other former Soviet states’ media systems.

The significant yet incomplete progress in Ukraine should serve as a reminder that overcoming deeply entrenched Soviet-era habits and practices will be a trying, long-term effort for reform of the media, as well as for other key institutions that form the building blocks of democratic societies.

Another Belarus Opposition Leader Jailed

From:Houston Chronicle
A Minsk court sentenced Zmicer Dashkevich, head of the youth organization Malady Front, for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration.
Belarusian authorities kept up their pressure on government adversaries Friday, sentencing a youth movement leader to 15 days in jail a day after opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich and three of his deputies were handed similar sentences.

Meanwhile, Moscow exerted a different kind of pressure on Belarus, reportedly demanding the country increase what it pays Russia for natural gas by threefold. Cheap Russian gas is a key to the economic growth that is one of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's strong suits and a sharp increase in prices could undermine his support.

A Minsk court sentenced Zmicer Dashkevich, head of the youth organization Malady Front, for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration.

The charges against Dashkevich and the other jailed opposition figures stemmed from a Wednesday opposition rally that attracted around 10,000 people. It was the largest opposition gathering since Milinkevich spearheaded a March 19 demonstration to protest elections that handed Lukashenko a third term but were widely denounced as fraudulent.

That rally set off a week of protests unprecedented in a country where opposition forces and independent media are repressed and where unauthorized demonstrations are frequently put down violently by police.

Wednesday's rally, marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and opposition claims that Lukashenko's government is lying about how it is coping with the disaster's consequences, had received official approval. But officials later said it was illegal.

Western countries on Thursday condemned the jailing of Milinkevich. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called it "outrageous and reprehensible."

The sentences put almost all of the opposition's top figures behind bars, leaving in doubt the prospects for a planned demonstration Monday marking the May Day holiday. If that rally is able to attract a similar crowd to Wednesday's, it would be a significant indicator that the opposition has a solid, sizable core.

News reports have suggested Russia is preparing to exercise a clause in the agreement forming a loose union of Belarus and Russia under which Belarus would have to return to Moscow some of the profits it makes from refining Russian oil.

The prospect of economic troubles brought on by Lukashenko's Kremlin patrons has raised hopes among the opposition that this could weaken the president's grip on power.

"In 2007, the economic situation will get significantly worse ... and people will turn to the opposition," Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the opposition Belarusian People's Front, told The Associated Press this week.

Just a few hours after Vyachorka made his comments, he was arrested for taking part in Wednesday's rally.

Belarus opposition leaders being held in same detention cell

From:Ria Novosti
Four Belarus opposition leaders arrested for taking part in a demonstration Wednesday are currently in the same detention cell at a police precinct in Minsk, an opposition spokesperson said Friday.

A Minsk court Thursday handed down a 15-day "administrative arrest" sentences to main opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich and fellow oppositionists Communist leader Sergei Kalyakin, Labor Party leader Alexander Bukhvostov, and Vintsuk Vyachorka, who heads opposition Belarusian People's Front.

Opposition groups Wednesday organized a 3,000-strong rally timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst nuclear accident, which affected much of the country. Protesters held Ukrainian and EU flags, and chanted "Long Live Belarus!" and "Freedom!" and expressed support for Milinkevich.

Although the demonstration went ahead with official permission, police later said it deviated from the approved route and was therefore unauthorized.

Belarus to raise oil export duties in May

In May Belarus plans to raise export duties on Belarusian oil products following a similar move planned by Russia.

Belneftekhim concern deputy president Sergei Mishin told the press, the decision corresponds to Union State agreements, which stipulate that Belarus and Russia "should not set different game rules, including economic ones". He also noted, the decision should be agreed by both the sides, but it has not happened yet. "We lag behind Russia in introducing changes," duties change quite often, explained the official. In his words, the issue involves certain procedural and pricing aspects to be addressed.

"If Russia has an oil price, the price in Belarus is higher. In Russia an oil company can redistribute the profit centre all the way from the extraction point to the refinery or the sale point. It depends on the strategy Russia pursues. We receive oil at a high price and we cannot pay a higher export duty," said Sergei Mishin.

He also noted, "Logically Belarus should have duties equal to those in Russia, then we could have absolutely equal game rules". The reality is different in prices for energy resources, oil, and legislation.

Sergei Mishin also believes, the prices for energy have gone up to a level even economy of developed countries cannot bear. If the energy expenditure share goes up, the make will not be able to compete, stated Sergei Mishin.

Vasiliy Pavlovskiy: sowing of cereals to be completed by May 1

Wheat has been sown on 120 thousand hectares, 81 per cent of the plan. Brest oblast agricultural companies have expanded the wheat sown areas; last hectares have remained for Grodno and Gomel oblasts to complete the campaign. Some 11 per cent of wheat is left to be sown in Minsk oblast.
The sowing of grain-crops in the basic area (90 per cent) will be completed by May 1 in conformity with the schedule, deputy agriculture minister Vasiliy Pavlovskiy told BelTA.

According to him, the sowing campaign has been competed on 81 per cent of the area. Brest and Gomel oblasts have completed the sowing. By May 1 Minsk and Grodno oblast are expected to finish the campaign soon as they “have significantly enhanced their efforts” over the recent days, the deputy minister said. Some 6 and 18 per cent of the area is remained unsown yet in the two oblasts.

On the whole, wheat has been sown on 120 thousand hectares, 81 per cent of the plan. Brest oblast agricultural companies have expanded the wheat sown areas; last hectares have remained for Grodno and Gomel oblasts to complete the campaign. Some 11 per cent of wheat is left to be sown in Minsk oblast.

According to Vasiliy Pavlovskiy, the sowing of cereals in the northern regions of Belarus has been taken under special control recently. Vitebsk and Mogilev oblast still need to sow 44 and 46 per cent of grain-crops. They are breaking the schedule because the preparation of soil was very slow.

In this connection a meeting chaired by Belarusian premier Sergei Sidorskiy will be held in Sharkovschina region of Brest oblast on April 29. The session will analyse performance of heads of several districts and will take measures to accelerate the sowing progress in the region.

Vasiliy Pavlovskiy informed, farmers in northern regions are sowing almost round-the-clock, and they borrowed powerful tractors and drivers of industrial enterprises. However, the problem is that the northern regions were tardy to start sowing technical crops, corn, additional fertilizing of winter crops and perennial grasses, while in other regions the work is in full swing.

At present efforts are concentrated on sowing flax, sugar beet, extra fertilizing the winter crops and perennial grasses. As of April 28 flax has been sown on an area of 20,400 hectares, 30 per cent of the plan. Sugar beet plantations occupy 43,600 hectares, 40 per cent of the plan. By May 5 the sowing of the crops is to be completed.

Belarus has started corn sowing (over 4 per cent has been sown). By the way, this year domestic corn seeds make 70 per cent of the stock (Mozyr Corn Calibration Plant supplied 8,000 tons of corn seeds out of the required 12,000 tons). The sowing of vegetables and potato continues. The work is to be accomplished by May 10.

Belarusian farmers also started sowing fodder roots, annual forage crops and re-sowing winter crops and reseeding perennial grasses. The process uses grain crops and a mixture of annual forage crops.

Israeli ensemble Anahnu Kan to perform in Minsk

Some 80 artists, singers, dancers and Musicians from Israel will be in Minsk Tomrrow
The modern Israeli culture will be presented in Minsk on May 2, the Independence Day of Israel. The concert hall of the Belarusian state philharmonic will host a performance by Israeli ensemble Anahnu Kan, which means "We are here". The ensemble consists of some 80 artists: singers, dancers, musicians. They prepared a colourful and unforgettable show, which will get Belarusian viewers familiar with Israeli and Jewish folklore.

Anahnu Kan ensemble was created in Vilnius more than 50 years ago for the sake of preserving and developing the Jewish culture. Later most members of the ensemble went to Israel and renewed their performances there. For many years the ensemble has been the visiting car of the Israeli culture, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to Belarus Zeev Ben Arie told BelTA.

He also informed, the Israeli delegation will also include the director of Tel Aviv tourism department and her deputy. They intend to hold several meetings with Minsk city hall leadership to discuss prospects of tourism cooperation. A present of Israeli tourism opportunities is expected to be held as part of an official diplomatic reception, which will be dedicated to the Israel Independence Day.

Comment: Going nuclear? Think again

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

From:New Straights Times
It is difficult to arrive at the number of deaths caused by the early explosion of April 26, 1986 when Reactor Four collapsed after a failed safety test. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in the long-term, thousands will prematurely lose their lives due to cancer-related exposure to gamma-ray radiation.
TWO decades ago last week, the world witnessed its worst nuclear disaster at the Ukraine nuclear reactor site, Chernobyl, then part of the Soviet Union.

Twenty years on, the environment is still contaminated, especially in the so-called "exclusion zone", 30km around the plant.

This includes plants, animals, trees, groundwater sources and also hundreds of abandoned vehicles, ranging from Soviet-made Lada cars to helicopters that were used to fight the blazing reactors.

Today, they are the unofficial monument to the tragedy that serves as a reminder of what took place, alongside the official one in the shape of the fallen heroes who laid down their lives trying to save the situation.

Foremost were the firefighters, miners, soldiers and the so-called "liquidators" — the emergency workers drafted for the purpose.

It is difficult to arrive at the number of deaths caused by the early explosion of April 26, 1986 when Reactor Four collapsed after a failed safety test.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in the long-term, thousands will prematurely lose their lives due to cancer-related exposure to gamma-ray radiation.

Mutations have already been observed in plants and animals. Leaves are said to have changed shape and some animals were born with physical deformities.

Many inhabitants are still reeling from the fatal impact of the radiation.

One source claims that some three million people suffer from the after effects while hundreds of thousands were forced to evacuate.

In the town of Pripyat, 3km from Reactor Four, about 50,000 left within 36 hours of the incident.

Large territories of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were polluted by clouds of radioactive particles, including plutonium, iodine, strontium and caesium.

Plumes of radioactive debris drifted as far as western Soviet Union, eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Britain as well as the eastern part of the United States.

It has been established that more than 100 radioactive elements were released into the atmosphere.

While most were shortlived, that is losing their radioactivity in a few days, others such as strontium and caesium can last longer with a half-life of 29 years and 30 years respectively.

What’s worrying is that tragedies of this nature are usually never transparent. Rather, it is plagued by "distrust", giving the impression there are attempts to "whitewash" the impact of the event.

In the case of Chernobyl, the authorities were accused of covering up the accident by denying it on state television and radio. People were only evacuated several days after the explosion.

By that time, tonnes of the remaining radioactive gases and nuclear fuel particles in the reactor had been released, while thousands of "liquidators" were exposed needlessly as they joined plant employees in the clean-up work. Many were without adequate protective gear.

There is a dispute over the number of Chernobyl-related thyroid cancer cases. A United Nations study cited only 4,000 cases.

An estimate issued by the Greenpeace environmental activists earlier this month claims there were at least 10 times this number.

A European report entitled "The Other Chernobyl Report" estimated there were 30,000 to 60,000 premature deaths due to the nuclear incident.

A study by eight UN organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme and the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded that past estimates of a death toll in the tens of thousands were grossly exaggerated.

Instead, the September 2005 study put the number of past and future deaths attributable to Chernobyl at just 4,000. But then again, other organisations say as many as 93,000 people may die of cancer and other illnesses associated with Chernobyl.

Last week, a Greenpeace campaign group released another study by 50 scientists claiming 200,000 lives would be lost, nearly half from cancer.

Moreover, issues such as mass evacuation and displacement, involving anything between five million and nine million people, complicate the assessment.

What seems clear, however, is that the impact of the accident at Chernobyl is far more devastating than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

It is said to be 400 times more potent. And the number of A-bomb victims of Hiroshima have surpassed 200,000.

This does not include the intangible impact of Chernobyl, what the IAEA report dubbed as a "paralysing fatalism — negative self-assessment of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative and dependency on assistance from the state".

Some of these have caused the rates of divorce, alcoholism and unemployment to escalate.

It has been highlighted that the biggest challenge facing communities in the years to come would be the psychological damage.

Today, as the world contemplates new energy policies provoked by the unprecedented high oil price and campaigns for nuclear power stations, the Chernobyl fiasco must figure into the equation.

CIS experts approve draft agreement on wholesome conditions for exchange of printed matter

A CIS working group has approved a draft agreement on the creation of wholesome conditions for the exchange of printed matter. The experts’ meeting took place on April 27-28 in the CIS executive committee in Minsk.

The draft agreement is a result of strenuous efforts of both CIS experts and all the publishers of the Commonwealth, Chingiz Aliev, chairman of the meeting, head of the department for publishing activities of the ministry of culture and tourism of Azerbaijan, told BelTA. This document ensures the interests of all the parties in the best possible way.

According to Mr. Aliev, the adoption of the agreement will remove all roadblocks in the exchange of printed matter between the CIS members and allow for unhampered exchange of cultural values thus making the peoples closer to each other. “This document will benefit our readers most of all”, Chingiz Aliev is confident.

He reported that in line with the document, all the printed matter of the Commonwealth will be exempt from VAT when it is sold, produced, disseminated, transported and showcased at exhibitions and fairs. Neither VAT nor customs duties shall be levied on printed matter while transporting it across state borders. Privileged tariffs will be applied to its transportation and sending.

In the view of enhancing the collective market of printed matter in the CIS each member-state which appears a party to the document shall provide all the parties with in-depth information about the printed matter in stock and in production, the official said.

The agreement will be signed for five years.

The draft agreement is expected to be submitted for consideration to the CIS heads of government in the future, Chingiz Aliev reported.

Sergey Gulyakevich loses at Meadowbank in Edinburgh

From:scotland on sunday
Sergey Gulyakevich suffers his frist loss in Scottland
Manuel Medina, IBF World Super Featherweight champion won a controversial victory over brave but reckless challenger Sergey Gulyakevich at Meadowbank in Edinburgh last night.

What Arthur got was the champion of Belarus, a fighter who proved tough and awkward, although his rawness proved to be his undoing. The fight went to a technical decision after an accidental clash of heads in the fourth round.

Under European Boxing Union rules, when the cut on Gulyakevich's forehead worsened considerably in the seventh round and referee Massimo Barrovecchio called off the fight, the verdict went to the scorecards of the three judges, all of whom gave the fight by a substantial margin to Arthur.

The champion's cause was helped by the fact that only seconds before the accidental clash, Gulyakevich had deliberately head-butted the Edinburgh man on his chin, and the referee deducted two points for the offence.

Arthur was still groggy when he came forward, leading to the clash which left Gulyakevich with a gaping wound above his left eye. It was a hideous sight, and worsened from round four to seven as Arthur's jab repeatedly found his mark.

It had been a stirring fight until then. The unbeaten Belarusian had a reputation as a big puncher and was both tall and rangy - the type such as Ricky Burns who have given Arthur trouble in the past. Roared on by a far-from-capacity crowd at Meadowbank, Arthur opened the fight with a huge haymaker right which, if it had connected, would have ended the contest then and there.

From then on Arthur was cautious, and his usual slow start almost proved his undoing as the challenger found his range early. But the Commonwealth and European champion used all his experience to soak up the punches on his gloves and arms and very few of the Belarusian's blows found their target.

Gulyakevich bore a distinct resemblance to the character Spud in the film Trainspotting, and between rounds he did not rest his spindly legs.

He was proving every bit as dangerous as had been suggested, and raised a graze on Arthur's right cheek in the second round, though the champion upped his work rate and won the round

The challenger took the third, however, with an all action display which featured the first clash of heads between the two men. This opened a cut beside Arthur's right eye, but the clash was ruled accidental by referee Barrovecchio.

Arthur was scoring heavily with the left jab by that point, but kept trying to knock his opponent out when a more cautious approach might have paid dividends.

In the fourth came Gulyakevich's moment of madness, butting his head into Arthur's jaw in an uppercut fashion. He knew immediately what he had done, and tried to apologise to an incensed crowd.

His own head then took the punishment which eventually finished the fight, though he bravely fought on when his own corner seemed to be desperate to have the fight stopped.

In the fifth, Arthur overwhelmed his younger opponent who had won all 18 of his professional bouts, ten of them by knockout. He had no answer to Arthur's power and skill and the fight would have ended in the champion's favour in any case.

The ringside doctor was called as Gulyakevich's wound got wider and deeper, and eventually referee Barrovecchio had seen enough and called off the contest. All three judges gave it to Arthur by at least five rounds.

"I'm obviously happy with the victory," said Arthur. "He butted me quite intentionally and from there on in I was actually seeing stars a bit. I've never seen them before in that fashion.

"My equilibrium went afterwards but fortunately I got myself together and came back from it. I knew it was going to be tough but I've proved I've got a fantastic chin."

Tunisia to host tournament against Belarus

Lemerre will lead Tunisia to the World Cup in Germany
Tunisia are to prepare for the World Cup finals with a friendly tournament at home against Belarus, Libya and Uruguay.

The Tunisia Football Federation announced that the tournament will be played from 30 May to 2 June after having specifically selected their opponents.

"The invited teams were chosen because their style of play is similar to those of teams Tunisia will come up against in the first round of the World Cup," said football federation president Hamouda Ben Ammar.

The Carthage Eagles are in Group H with Spain, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia for the showpiece event that kicks off on 9 June.

The north Africans have also scheduled friendlies against Germany on 5 June and Kuwait on 7 June.

And as a final note, The BHTimes would like to point out some other blogs (All pro opposition, of course) who are out there gabbing about Belarus:

The Belarusian American Blog (Endru's Belarus)

TOL Blogs: Belarus

Rush Mush (Leninist?)

Right ways