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Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, May 03, 2006

New Format edition; Civil rights, Iran is enriching uranium, Thousands rally at Mayday celebrations, More on Russian gas prices

(note: The BHTimes is experimenting with an alternative formatting today, one which allow for a more direct connection with the original news sources and also for a faster scanning of the events. Please drop us a line let us know your opinion on this format.)

From the top

Alexander Lukashenko: there is no political consolidation in Belarus after presidential election

From: Belta

When meeting with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin Alexander Lukashenko declared that there is no political consolidation in Belarus after the presidential election. The meeting between the two presidents is now being held in Konstantinovskiy Palace.
“Consolidation of political forces is a very important issue. We have not such a problem. Virtually all the population voted for the incumbent president even those who should have voted for the opposition. Therefore should the consolidation take place, there are no more than a thousand or two, mostly young people, to be consolidated,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“I cannot say that these two thousand are not important for us. Yet if they continue to be against us, we will manage without them. We will lead the country in the right direction. Neither Russia nor international community will be ashamed for us,” the Belarusian leader added.
In turn, Vladimir Putin said he was glad to hear the Belarusian president had a constructive attitude.

Council of Europe shows biased treatment of outcome of presidential poll in Belarus

From: Belta
It was with disappointment that Moscow learned about the tendentious statement made on April 26 by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe made in response to the PACE recommendation on Belarus, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The main thing is that the respond reveals a distorted and biased analysis of the recent presidential election in Belarus. Russia has repeatedly stated its attitude on the matter. In particular, a biased nature of conclusions drawn by the OSCE ODIHR was pointed out, the conclusions which in a number of cases served as a basis for far-reaching decision-making. We have no doubt that the outcome of the election is a manifistation of the people’s sovereign will which should be respected while the voting process has illustrated that the country is following the course of democratic development”, the statement ran.
The Russian foreign ministry points out with regret that adopting documents similar to the afore-mentioned report, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is continuing a faulty practice of the recent years which comes down to charging the situation around Belarus and attempting to keep it out of the European cooperation processes. A demonstrative denial of an equal dialogue with a legitimately elected leadership of Belarus does not fit the norms of civilized interstate relations, the statement stressed. This ought to become a subject of a serious consideration.
“We state with regret once again that the arguments we persistently advanced in the Cabinet of Ministers of the Council of Europe have not been heard. Of special concern is the fact that the decision of April 26 was made by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in breach of the standards of consensus as it demonstratively neglected the opinion of the party which did not agree with the position of the majority”, the Russian foreign ministry said.

UN rights expert demands release of political prisoners, dialogue in Belarus

From: UN News Center
A United Nations rights expert today demanded the immediate release of political prisoners in Belarus, called on the Government “to cease human rights violations” and urged the authorities to engage in dialogue with all sectors of civil society.
In a prepared statement released in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin, also called for the Government to allow him to conduct a fact-finding mission to the country as soon as possible.
“The Special Rapporteur demands the immediate and unconditional release of Aleksandr Milinkevich, Vintsuk Vyachorka, Aleksandr Buchvostau, and Sergei Kalyakin as well as of all other political prisoners of Belarus,” the statement said, highlighting Mr. Severin’s “grave concern” over the detention of these opposition leaders.
The Special Rapporteur demanded that the Government “give a clear and immediate sign of its readiness to cease ongoing human rights violations and bring their perpetrators to justice,” and that it invite him to conduct a fact-finding mission to Belarus at the earliest possible opportunity.
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    Iran says it has enriched uranium to 4.8%

    From: Ria Novosti
    TEHRAN, May 2 (RIA Novosti) - Iran has enriched uranium-235 to 4.8%, the country's vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organization said Tuesday.
    Gholamreza Aghazadeh told the Iranian news agency ISNA that Iran was not planning to enrich uranium to more than 5%, as this level was enough to produce nuclear fuel [for a power station].
    A report by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on the Iranian nuclear problem was presented in the IAEA board of governors and the UN Security Council in late April. It said Iran had managed to enrich uranium-235 to 3.6% at the Natanz research center 1,000 miles from the Israeli border, using a cascade of 164 centrifuges, and was building two more.
    However, experts said uranium should be enriched to at least 80% to create nuclear weapons.
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    Paris set to host latest meeting over Iran nuclear crisis

    From: Ria Novosti
    Negotiators from six countries will meet in Paris Tuesday in a bid to forge a common approach toward diffusing the crisis over Iran's controversial nuclear programs, the French Foreign Ministry said.
    Deputy foreign ministers of the trio of European Union nations tackling the issue - the United Kingdom, Germany and France - Russia, China and the United States will consider a report on Iran's nuclear developments that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, delivered to the UN Security Council Friday.
    Mohamed ElBaradei's report confirmed that Iran had failed to meet the UN Security Council's April 28 deadline to halt all uranium enrichment activities, which opened the way for the Council to take punitive actions against the Islamic Republic.
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    Air strike on Iran will cause extremism wave in Arab world

    From: Ria Novosti
    An air strike against Iran will cause a huge wave of extremism in the Arab world, a former prime minister and the head of the Russian Chamber of Industry and Commerce said Sunday in an interview with an Israeli newspaper.
    Iran broke a two-year moratorium on nuclear research in January for what it claimed were energy-generating purposes, arousing fears around the globe that the country could be secretly trying to create weapons-grade material.
    "An air strike on Iran would no doubt lead to very serious consequences in the entire region," Yevgeny Primakov, on a visit to Israel on the invitation of the Israeli Association of Industrialists, told the Jerusalem Post.
    "This could cause a huge wave of extremism in the Arab world and in this situation it would be very difficult for the current regimes in Arab countries to stay in power. That is why, Russia is full of resolve to take all possible diplomatic efforts to prevent this scenario and at the same time take steps so that Iran does not create nuclear weapons," said Primakov who is also a Middle East expert.
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    Thousands of Belarusians Rally For Solidarity With Political Prisoners

    From: Charter 97
    Several thousands of Belarusians have taken part in the rally of solidarity with political prisoners held on May 1 in Minsk. Protesters demanded to release Alyaksandr Milinkevich and dozens of opposition activists, arrested for their political views. Participants of the protest marched from the center of the city to Bangalore square under national white-red-white flags, scanning “Freedom!” A meeting and a concert of solidarity with political prisoners took part on Bangalore Square. After the meeting policemen handed in a writ to the chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada Stanislau Shushkevich. He is to come to the court of Savetski district of Minsk on May 3 at 10 a.m. The first leader of the independent Belarus faces the threat of arrest for holding a peaceful rally on May Day.
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    Belarus rally demands release of opposition chiefs

    From: Reuters
    More than 1,000 protesters carrying banned flags marched through Belarus's capital on Monday to demand the release of jailed opposition leaders who had pledged to work for the removal of President Alexander Lukashenko.
    Marchers were nominally marking the May Day holiday and among their slogans was a call to end short-term labor contracts they say allow employers to intimidate workers.
    But the thrust of the protest, authorized by city officials, was to press for the release of Alexander Milinkevich, the opposition's main leader, and other activists jailed for up to 15 days after a rally last week.
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    Russians Take to Streets to Mark May Day

    From: VOA News
    Tens of thousands of people have marched in Moscow and other Russian cities to celebrate May Day.
    Trade unionists organized a march that drew some 25,000 people in the Russian capital, where police were deployed to prevent violence.
    Communist supporters held a separate rally, shouting anti-government slogans and carrying pictures of Stalin.
    In Belarus, opposition supporters marched in the capital Minsk to protest the arrests of opposition party leaders. One of the rally's organizers, former President Stanislav Shushkevich, was summoned to speak with authorities about the march.
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    Chernobyl death toll 'could near 100,000'

    From: People and Planet
    The full consequences of the Chernobyl disaster could top a quarter of a million cancers cases and nearly 100,000 fatal cancers, according to a new study.
    The Greenpeace report involved 52 respected scientists and includes information never before published in English. It challenges the UN International Atomic Energy Agency Chernobyl Forum report, which predicted 4,000 additional deaths attributable to the accident as a gross simplification of the real breadth of human suffering.
    The new data, based on Belarus national cancer statistics, predicts approximately 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancer cases caused by Chernobyl. The report also concludes that on the basis of demographic data, during the last 15 years, 60,000 people have additionally died in Russia because of the Chernobyl accident, and estimates of the total death toll for the Ukraine and Belarus could reach another 140,000.
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    Russia May Triple Gas Price For Belarus

    From: RFE
    Russia's state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom is considering tripling prices for Belarus next year.
    Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said today Gazprom may in 2007 ask for a minimum of $145 dollars per thousand cubic meters of gas.
    Belarus, a close ally of Russia, currently pays about $47 per thousand cubic meters. It is the only former Soviet for whom the price of Russian gas has not risen in the past year.
    Kupriyanov said the decision to keep the gas price for Belarus unchanged was based solely on economic considerations.
    He said Gazprom was still waiting for proposals by Minsk before settling on a new price.
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    A Tangled Web of Pipelines

    From: Russia Profile
    Russia’s energy relations with Belarus took center stage throughout the month of April, with tensions escalating yet again at the end of the month on the eve of a meeting between the presidents of the two countries. Just prior to Friday talks in St. Petersburg between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, Gazprom press secretary Sergei Kupriyanov reiterated the company’s criticism of its Belarussian partners. Starting next year, Gazprom intends to shift toward market-based pricing of its gas exports. However, according to the Gazprom spokesman, the Belarussian leadership has yet to offer a new arrangement that will take the place of the current setup. The discussions over how the economic relationship will change are proceeding alongside the ongoing dialogue over the future of the political ties between the two states.
    With all international parties bemoaning the politicization of energy supplies, the past two weeks have seen some of the most intense efforts yet by major exporters and consumers of hydrocarbons to stake out their economic and political interests in the face of Russian energy dominance. After Great Britain appeared ready to erect legal obstacles to Gazprom’s possible takeover of Centrica, the country’s main gas supplier, and the European Union voiced fears about Gazprom’s expansion, Russian officials threatened to direct their energy routes to Asia and North America instead. Central to the intense volley of accusations has been the anxiety over the Russian gas monopoly’s dominant position in the European energy market, where it accounts for over 25 percent of supply. Meanwhile, the company seems ever more interested in acquiring a stake in the retail energy sector and boosting its profit margins by selling directly to European consumers at rates that occassionally exceed wholesale prices by a factor of seven.
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    Pipeline deal sits poorly with Poland

    From: Globe ane Mail
    A Polish minister compared a German-Russian gas pipeline deal to a notorious pre-Second World War Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact yesterday.
    Defence Minister Radek Sikorski said the plan to pipe gas under the Baltic Sea would cost $6-billion (U.S.) more than the overland route through Eastern Europe and was designed to enable Moscow to cut off supplies to Poland and Belarus.
    He said Poland had asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to scrap the deal, negotiated by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.
    "We asked. She refused," Mr. Sikorski told a conference in Brussels.
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    Belarus makes top 10 list

    From: Monsters and critics
    New York - North Korea tops the world's 10 most censored countries, which include three former Soviet republics, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Tuesday.
    'Communist North Korea is the world's deepest information void,' CPJ said in a report released at UN headquarters on the eve of the annual World Press Freedom Day.
    'There is not a single independent journalist, and all radio and television receivers in the country are sold locked to government- specified frequencies,' CPJ said.
    North Korea is followed in the list by Myanmar (Burma), Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria and Belarus.
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    Blogger gripes about wikipedia censorship

    From: BR23 Blog
    I have discovered Wikipedia more than two and a half years ago. Since then I’ve used it regularly as a quick reference, and I also used to contribute to it a little bit, mostly to the articles about Belarus. Since then several Russian contributors (who openly express pro-imperial, pro-Soviet, anti-Western, anti-Belarusian and anti-Ukrainian political views) removed a lot of important factual information from Belarus-related articles that showed Russia and USSR in a bad light and inserted information with a pro-Russian and pro-Soviet spin (”POV” as it’s called in Wiki-jargon).
    It was done slowly, in small chunks, here and there, by stealthily hiding edits or by stubbornly engaging in a reversal war. There are dozens of concrete examples. And the good thing about Wikipedia is that everything is documented. It’s possible to provide links to any version of a given encyclopedia article or a link to a web page that compares any two versions of the given article.
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    Canada concluded a four-day pre-World Championship training camp in Belarus on Tuesday night, with a 4-3 loss to Belarus’ National Men’s Team in front of a sold out Minsk Arena.
    Patrice Bergeron (Ancienne-Lorette, QC Boston, NHL), Kyle Calder (Mannville, AB Chicago, NHL) and Derrick Walser (New Glasglow, NS Berlin, DEL) scored for Canada while Andrei Skabelka, Dmitry Dudik, Oleg Antonenko and Mikhail Grabovski replied for Belarus. Canada’s three goaltenders each played a period, with Marc Denis playing the first, Alex Auld the second and National Junior Team goaltender Justin Pogge the third period.
    Canada’s roster for this game in Minsk consisted of nine NHL players (seven skaters, two goaltenders) already named to the World Championship roster, four Canadians who played in Europe this season and five members of Canada’s 2006 gold medal winning National Junior Team. The National Junior Team players will be returning to Canada on Wednesday, May 3rd.
    The 2006 IIHF Men’s World Championship will take place in Riga, Latvia from May 5-21, 2006.
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    From: The BHTimes
    It seems as though the small but persistent protestor community has decided that any and every opportunity to protest should be utilized. Of course they were there at the elections which everyone knows about, but now they have also made their point at both the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl and the Mayday celebration as well. At the Chernobyl rally several “professional protestors”, including leading candidate Alexander Milinkevich and Young Front activist Zmitser Dashkevich were arrested.

    Understanding that this sort of perpetual partisanism was going to be happening, president Lukashenka decreed that there would be no flags, symbols or protests allowed at the demonstration. This though not only did not deter the protestors who took the opportunity to utilize the crowd who had come out in support of the memory of the nuclear disaster, it seemed to inspire them to be even louder. Their arrests of course were well publicized by the western press who would seem to have no limit to how much negative news they can print about the country.

    Now on the one hand, we can look at this overt opportunism as a necessary part of being heard in a country which the state absolutely limits (suppresses, prohibits) non-supportive news. On the other hand, does all of Belarus need to suffer this kind of intrusiveness every time there is to be a public gathering of any kind?

    Obviously there is a lot of money in protesting these days. The west has allowed millions for radio broadcasting into Belarus and probably many millions more in support of political activism against the regime. And unfortunately, with the average Belarusian wage still only $250 a month (and probably that number should be lower), certainly many are drawn into this game for the money. And of course, when it comes to yelling, screaming and trying to get yourself jailed (and in the media), nobody in the west is questioning the real ethics of the protestor’s heart. Nor for that matter are they offering any real sympathy or support for the economic problems of the country as a whole.

    Perhaps a little slack should be called for on both sides. Does the regime need to wipe off the map every single news source that has a different opinion? Certainly a little moderation here would allow for a sense of normalcy and ideological breathing space. But also, can’t people who want to gather for cultural purposes be spared having to witness endless and tiresome staged public displays of political antagonism? And even if such displays are going to be made, can’t they ever have anything real to talk about other than that they don’t like Lukashenka?

    Redundancy never makes for clarity and doing the same things over and over again but yet expecting different results is the definition of crazy. Perhaps it is time to begin to take a more mature approach to this situation and to stop allowing Europe and its money to dictate policy in Belarus. After all, that was what all of this was supposed to be about from both sides of the political fence, wasn’t it?