News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Friday, June 23, 2006

CSTO meeting in Minsk, Bush passes $anctions, Lukashenska says keep it, Russia, Ericsson, Milinkevich, Mirnyi

From the Top

President of Belarus Meets with General Secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Nikolai Bordyuzha

From: Belta and UZ Report

President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with the general secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Nikolai Bordyuzha. Nikolai Bordyuzha informed the Belarusian leader on the progress in preparing for the CSTO session at the level of the heads of state which is due to take place in Minsk on June 23.

Belarus has assumed all organizational and protocol responsibilities to prepare the meeting of presidents of the EurAsEC member states. “I should say the country is handling the job excellently”, Grigoriy Rapota, Secretary general of the Eurasian Economic Community has told reporters after the meeting.

The EurAsEC secretary general noted that the community is actively developing international contacts. Thus, it has recently signed a memorandum on cooperation with the Secretariat of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The EurAsEC is an observer at the United Nations. We have established close contacts with the World Customs Organization”, Grigoriy Rapota added.

One of the main issues on the agenda of the forthcoming Minsk meeting of the Interstate Council of the Eurasian Economic Community /EurAsEC/ is strategy and tactics of development of the organization. The EurAsEC heads of state will decide how the community will continue working, EurAsEC secretary general Grigoriy Rapota told reporters after a meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus offers seven programmes and projects to be carried out by the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) in order to intensify integration processes, Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko told a news conference on Wednesday.

The top priority is the programme to increase the efficiency of use of the transit potential of the community for 2006-2010.

"This is an essential project to develop the transport potential, as we incur high transport expenses now. The draft programme envisages the unification of regulations and tariff policies, especially in the railroad segment. The ultimate goal of the programme is to reduce the share of transport expenses in the cost of commodities supplied within the EurAsEC," Zaichenko said.

Minister said the Russian side is considering two more key programmes "Microelectronics of EurAsEC in the 21st Century" and "Biotechnology to National Economy".

Another project proposed by Belarus is the creation of a sales and service center for engineering products.

"The Industry Ministry and the National Price Environment Center have developed a joint project for the Belarusian segment: we prepare information about producers, distribution networks and tenders. This project is to facilitate access to information for EurAsEC partners," Zaichenko said.

Another Belarus' initiative is the programme aimed to enhance the material and technical base of agricultural companies of the EurAsEC by organizing the production and leasing of agricultural machinery.

Besides, Belarus' Health Ministry has presented to the integration committee a draft programme to struggle against poverty, reduce mortality and eliminate technical obstacles in provision of medicines.

The EurAsEC includes Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The EurAsEC creation treaty was signed in Astana on October 10, 2000. The organization aims at promoting the creation of the common customs and economic space in the CIS. The coordination of WTO accession efforts of the member countries is another priority of EurAsEC.

CSTO must quickly react to threats - Russia's defense minister

From: Ria novosti

The Collective Security Treaty Organization should be able to provide a quick and adequate response to all kinds of threats, not only military, the Russian defense minister said Thursday.
The heads of CSTO member states - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan - are meeting Thursday in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, to discuss sweeping reforms of the regional security organization and set priorities for future activities.
"The CSTO should be able to quickly react to all existing threats," Ivanov, who is also deputy prime minister, told a news conference.
He also said that the joint Russian-Belarusian exercise Union Shield 2006, currently under way in Belarus, was not aimed against any particular country or military bloc, adding that the organization conducted such exercises every year on a rotating basis.
Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the post-Soviet collective security group, said in May that the CSTO, founded in 2002, would form its own peacekeeping forces, collective forces to tackle emergency situations, and a number of auxiliary bodies to combat extremism and illegal migration.

US sanctions target Belarus president


The United States has imposed financial sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, in response to what it called a fraudulent presidential election in March.
On Monday, President George Bush issued an executive order banning US companies from engaging in transactions with Lukashenko and other top Belarusian government officials.
Tony Snow, a White House spokesman, said: "These persons will not be able to access any assets that they might have in the United States, and US financial institutions, wherever located, will not be able to provide any financial services to them."
The move comes a month after the US imposed travel restrictions on Lukashenko.
The Belarusian president was re-elected in an election denounced by Western governments as rigged.
  • Full Text

    Belarus says give "assets" away to US needy

    From: Reuters

    Belarus's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday dismissed as meaningless Washington's imposition of a freeze on its assets in the United States and suggested the "mythical funds" be sent to families in need.
    President George W. Bush ordered the sanctions in response to what the United States and the European Union denounce as Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's fraudulent re-election in March.
    The sanctions, adding to a visa ban imposed a month ago, target Lukashenko and top officials of his government, barred from gaining access to assets in the United States. U.S. companies and individuals cannot conduct transactions with them.
    "This decision pursues an old aim -- spreading false information about our country and discrediting its leadership," ministry spokesman Andrei Popov told Reuters.
    "We propose that the United States send the mythical funds to which they are referring to needy U.S. citizens."
    Western states accuse Lukashenko of hounding the opposition, closing down media and rigging elections since the mid-1990s.
    Bush's order on Monday applied to Lukashenko and nine other officials, including the justice minister, the head of Belarussian state television, the interior minister and the president's national security adviser.
    Belarus has already imposed retaliatory measures in response to the Western visa ban against Lukashenko and more than 30 officials, without providing any list of those affected.

    Russian Lawmakers Slam U.S. Sanctions against Belarus

    From: CRI

    Members of Russia's upper house of parliament slammed U.S. sanctions against Belarussian officials on Wednesday, calling the punitive measures "an echo of the Cold War".
    The chairman of the Federation Council's CIS affairs committee, Vadim Gustov, deemed such policy "ridiculous" as the Belarussian leadership is in no way connected with the United States and hardly has financial assets there, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.
    Vassily Likhachev, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee, was quoted as saying: "All kinds of declarations, sanctions, instructions against Belarus not only from the United States but also from Europe, smell of the Cold War times."
    Russian officials said democracy in Belarus can be among the most sensitive issues to be discussed at a summit of Group of Eight leading industrialized nations due to be held in St. Petersburg next month.

    Sanctions against Belarus officials unproductive - Ukraine

    From: Ria Novosti

    Ukraine's foreign minister said Thursday that sanctions on Belarusian officials imposed by the United States and European Union were unproductive and could not help the country's people.
    The EU in April approved a ban on entry to the EU against 31 Belarusian officials, after presidential elections in the country in March were declared fraudulent by international observers and opposition leaders. The EU also decided in May to freeze the accounts of President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington.
    "I think it's necessary to work with elements of civil society in Belarus, non-governmental organizations and at the same time continue develop relations with the country's government," Borys Tarasyuk told journalists.
    The minister said contacts between the governments of Ukraine and Belarus were ongoing and trade was increasing. He added that the two presidents were to have had a meeting in April but it was canceled due to reasons that had not hinged on the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

    Belarus: Former Political Prisoner Recounts Life Behind Bars

    From: RFE/RL

    Valery Levaneuski spent two years in a Belarusian prison for "publicly causing offense to the president."
    Levaneuski, a political activist, spent two years in prison on charges of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a 2004 May Day leaflet. The leaflet charged that the president had misused public funds to pay for a skiing holiday in Austria.
    He was sentenced and jailed in September 2004. In Hrodno prison, in western Belarus, Levaneuski staged a series of hunger strikes and spent long periods of time in solitary confinement.
    "The Hrodno jail is the place where even the walls and ceilings are depressing," he said. "It was built a long time ago and, as they say, many prisoners have died there, in those cells."
    He was released on May 15 and says conditions from the beginning of his sentence were tough.
    "There is a special [train] carriage to transport prisoners," Levaneuski said. "It has bars on the windows. This compartment houses some 18 prisoners. They are like herrings in a box. It has three tiers of beds. Practically, it is impossible to breathe. People are not allowed to go to the toilet. It is very difficult when you are being transported, when you travel for several hours or for several days."
  • Full Text

    Belarus/ MDC to buy $44 mln equipment from Sweden's Ericsson

    From: Cellular news

    Belarusian mobile phone operator Mobile Digital Communications (MDC) has signed an agreement on the supply and installation of equipment worth U.S. $44 million with Sweden's Ericsson, the latter said in a press release Wednesday.
    Ericsson will supply and install equipment allowing the operator to increase its network capacity to 3 million users and offer a wider range of services, Ericsson said, adding that the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
    MDC's subscriber base rose to 1.885 million users as of January 1 from 1.135 million users as of January 1, 2005.
    MDC offers GSM 900/1800 standard services under the Velcom brand.
    MDC was founded in August 1998. MDC's charter capital is divided between Cyprus? SB Telecom with 49%, Belarus? state-controlled fixed-line monopoly Beltelecom with 31% and Belarus? arms and weapons exporter Beltekhexport with 20%.

    BVelarus, Russia to mark Day of Memory and Mourn

    From: Itar Tass

    Russia marks Day of Memory and Mourn this Thursday. The Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945, started exactly 65 years ago on this day. Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union at the dawn of June 22, 1941. The country withstood that grueling battle, living through 1,418 dreadful days and nights. The victory was won at the price of 26 millions of human lives.
    This mournful date was put on the official calendar a decade ago by the decree of the Russian president of June 8, 1996. Nevertheless, June 22 lived in the memory of people all the past decades. The Great Patriotic War determined the destiny of many generations, changing the course of the recent world history. The memory of this day persists, evidently, at the genetic level: the blasted June dawn worries feelings not only of veterans, but also of those who have never known all trials and horrors of the war.
    Time is implacable to veterans. The present generation lives mostly with those who went to the front after graduation from general secondary schools. Present school graduates will honour veterans on this day. An agitating meeting between school graduates of 1941 and of 2006 will be held in the city of Saratov.
    In the Adygea Republic, youngsters will visit war veterans at their homes, while in Moscow, teenagers will hold the youth action “We are obliged to remember” on the night of June 22. Its participants, holding candles in hands, will march from one of the Kremlin towers across the Alexandrovsky Garden to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier so as to honour the memory of the fallen with a minute of silence. Candles in memory of the war will be lit up at 04.00 (time of Nazi air raids on Russia) near the Victory Monument in Nizhny Novgorod and other Russian cities.
    The minute of silence will be held in the Krasnodar Territory exactly at noon, and this action will be called Minute of Memory in the Sverdlovsk Region. Sirens and hooters will resound in many cities and villages.
  • Full Text

    Russia, Belarus can resolve gas price issue - Gryzlov

    From: Interfax

    Belarus and Russia should be able to find a mutually acceptable decision on the price of natural gas for Belarus, speaker of the State Duma Boris Gryzlov said.
    Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) has proposed a gas price system that is based on world oil prices, Gryzlov said on Thursday in Minsk.
    "Belarus should make a counter proposal if it thinks that the proposed prices won't provide for economic development," he said.
    "I'm confident that the parties will arrive at a mutually acceptable decision," Gryzlov said.

    “Being Jewish Not All That Bad”

    From: FJC

    The first session of Gan Israel Jewish Summer Camp is wrapping up in Mogilev, Belarus. The three-week-long summer experience for Jewish children was carried out under the auspices of the Ohr Avner Foundation. “This is the very first Jewish camp held in Mogilev and it was very successful,” said the Chief Rabbi of Mogilev, Menachem Mendel Alperovich.
    Dozens of students from the Ohr Avner School attended the camp together with other children, for whom this was a first ever Jewish experience. During the camp season, the children enjoyed a wide array of activities and Jewish instructional programs.
    One of the campers, Sergey, only knew that his grandmother was Jewish. When his family heard about a Jewish school being launched in the city, his mother didn’t want her son to attend, but preferred him to continue his studies at a public school.
    However, she agreed to send Sergey to the summer camp. At one camp activity, Sergey participated in a game teaching campers the different Jewish blessings. “You know what, mom? he said to his mother once back at home. “Being Jewish is not all that bad!”

    EU should block Belarus-Russia union, Milinkevich says

    From: EU Observer

    The EU and US should say at the G8 summit in July that any Belarusian referendum on a proposed state union with Russia would be illegal, Belarus opposition leader Aleksander Milinkevich told EUobserver on an impromptu visit to Brussels on Tuesday (20 June).
    "I really want democratic countries, especially the EU, to say they cannot and will never recognise any referendum in a dictatorship," he said. "I hope this subject will be raised in St Petersburg, not just by the European countries, but also Canada, Japan and the US."
    The current threat by Russian energy giant Gazprom to triple Belarusian gas prices in 2007 is an attempt to force president Aleksander Lukashenko to honour 1999 commitments to join Russia, Mr Milinkevich explained, saying "We see in this a danger
    of Anschluss [annexation]."
    Mr Lukashenko told Russian agency Interfax on 8 June "Our country would never merge into the Russian Federation," but denies any link between gas prices and a state union, while negotiating the sale of Belarus gas pipelines to Gazprom to help keep hikes at bay.
    Mr Milinkevich explained that a Belarus gas crisis would be bad for the EU and Russia, saying "There are some cool heads in the Kremlin who understand that a budgetary crisis in Belarus is dangerous for Russia and its neighbours, affecting their economies, creating migration."
    But with just 5 to 6 percent support among Belarusian people for joining Russia, the worst case scenario would be a Lukashenko u-turn followed by a fake referendum backing the move, he added:
    "This would definitely provoke very serious disturbances. There is a huge number of people, especially among the young, who could never live with the fact that their fatherland has ceased to be. The partisan resistance for which Belarus was famous in the past would not be good for anybody today, but it could rise up again."
  • Full Text

    International human rights committee facing closure in Belarus

    From: Ria Novosti

    The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group human-rights organization warned Wednesday that the group's Belarusian counterpart could be shut down following a probe from the country's Justice Ministry.
    Lyudmila Alekseyeva said the closure of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee would signify the destruction of the most prominent rights group in the former Soviet republic, which has come under heavy fire from the West over its record on human rights.
    "We can say that the most proactive human rights organization in Belarus will be destroyed with the closing of the BHC," Alekseyeva said.
    She said the Belarusian Justice Ministry had claimed the committee had not paid taxes under the Tacis cooperation program between Russia and the European Union, despite the fact that the committee was financed by EU taxpayers and was exempted from taxes and customs duties under an international agreement signed by Belarus.
  • Full Text

    Belarus government grants refugee status to several Azerbaijanis

    From: Azari press
    The Belarussian authorities have granted refugee status to 794 people from 13 states, including several Azerbaijanis (APA).
    Belarus Interior Ministry citizenship and migration department head Sergei Matus said more than 3,000 foreign citizens have applied for refugee status since 1997.
    Persons acquiring refugee status in Belarus are provided with 6 sq. meter of dwelling place and those living in the country for seven years can receive Belarussian citizenship.

    Belarus abandons massive TV tower project

    From: Reauters

    Belarus has failed to find funding to build Europe's second tallest television tower and has abandoned the project, officials said on Thursday.
    President Alexander Lukashenko had described the 425 metre tower as having both economic and political significance.
    But Deputy Communications Minister Vladimir Teslyuk, quoted by BelTA news agency, said no investor could be found to finance construction at an estimated cost of $170-million.
    "No money could be found in the budget," Teslyuk said.
    "And a search for a foreign investor produced nothing."
    Ostankino TV tower in Moscow, Europe's highest, stands at 540 metres. The highest free-standing structure in the world, Toronto's CN tower, is 553 metres tall.
    Another prestigious project backed by Lukashenko - a vast national library in the shape of diamond - was opened last week on the edge of Minsk.

    Belarus-Russia Union State's budget to be enlarged

    From: Ross Business

    The budget of the Russia-Belarus Union State has increased by one half since 2001 and become an effective tool for implementing union-wide programs, said Boris Gryzlov, the Chairman of the Union State's Parliamentary Assembly and the Russian State Duma Speaker. He delivered a speech at the opening of the Parliamentary Assembly's 30th session in Novopolotsk, Belarus. There are plans to enlarge the budget further in the near future, according to Gryzlov, and control over the efficiency of spending will be stepped up, as well. In his opinion, budget spending must be geared to sustaining innovative activity and stimulating the two countries' business. A recently signed agreement setting up the Union State's property regulation will help institute union property and will have a significant effect on budgeting. Speaking about the Union's results over the previous 10 years, the parliamentary head said the agreement package on equal rights of Belarusian and Russian citizens which was signed in January was a fresh step forward.
    As reported earlier, the Belarus-Russia Union State's budget was fixed at RUR3.1bn in 2006.

    Murray tames the 'Beast'

    From: Eurosport

    Andy Murray continued his progress in Nottingham on Wednesday with a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory over Max Mirnyi from Belarus after recovering from a slow start. Also, Frenchman Richard Gasquet moved safely into the next round with a 7-5 6-3 win over Italy's Daniele Bracciali.
    Murray seemed to be caught cold at the start of the match, broken in his first service game and unable to cope with the Beast's ferocious first serve, often swinging wide and out of reach, as the man from Belarus moved into an ominous 3-0 lead.
    However, from there the Scot made great strides as he gradually broke his opponent down.
    Mirnyi was always more comfortable at the net but this played into Murray's hands as this allowed him to use his best passing shots at will as well as a deadly drop shot on a number of occasions.
    Murray was able to break back and then show the greater consistency in the tie-break, taking it 7-2 before serve started to dominate in the second.
    But with Mirnyi serving at 5-4 down, the Beast stuttered, allowing Murray to take the match with a simple forehand volley after dictating yet another rally from the baseline.
    The Dunblane teenager will play Italy's Andreas Seppi in the third round.

    From: Washington Post

    MINSK, Belarus -- Military exercises between Russian and Belarusian forces _ the largest ever for the two former Soviet republics _ are not directed toward any nation, alliance or enemy in particular, Russia's defense minister said Thursday.
    Sergei Ivanov spoke as defense ministers from the six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization gathered in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on the sixth day of the military drills which feature about 7,000 Belarusian and 1,800 Russian troops.
    "This Russian-Belarusian exercise does not have an aggressive nature and is not directed toward anyone," Ivanov told a news conference.
    Ivanov also said Russia and Kazakhstan would stage another military exercise under the framework of treaty organization later this year.
    The exercises envisage a joint response to an unnamed, outside military threat. Russian MiG-29 fighter jets practiced intercepting enemy planes over western Belarus over the weekend, as part of the drills.
    Russia, meanwhile, has watched warily as former Soviet bloc countries bordering Belarus _ Poland, Latvia and Lithuania _ have joined NATO. Russian military officials have announced plans to set up a permanent air base in Belarus and deploy air defense missiles there.
  • Full Text