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Friday, August 04, 2006

Lukashenka talks to ministers, US spending $, Embassy porn scandal, Russian oil spill, Belarus ok in index, not with Canada, internet, railways

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Lukashenko calls for stronger Belarus presence in Russia

From: Naveny

Relations between Russia and Belarus have become more pragmatic, Aleksandr Lukashenko said at Tuesday's meeting with the heads of Belarusian diplomatic missions who flocked to Minsk for annual consultations in late July.

"I'm sure that we will find a reasonable balance in relations with Russia, proceeding from the strategic importance of ally ties for both sides. Strategy is not traded," official information sources quoted him as saying.

According to the Belarusian leader, the union with Russia brings Belarus both political and economic benefits, including equal rights for Belarusians and Russians on the territory of both countries, an extremely high level of economic cooperation and a common defense space. Belarus and Russia also can maintain mutually beneficial cooperation in the space industry, he added.

Aleksandr Lukashenko has called for "active steps" to strengthen Belarusian companies' presence in Russia.

"We are solemnly marching to Venezuela across the ocean today, but we do not act just beside us where we have long been able to work and where people speak the same language as we," he said when meeting with the heads of Belarusian diplomatic missions on Tuesday.

He said that the international community was moving toward multipolar world and the trend was becoming increasingly more evident.

Now that new "centers of power" fight with each other for "a place in the sun" threatening to upset a fragile balance in the world, Belarus follows its own political course, he said, noting that it was the country's historic choice.

Mr. Lukashenko said that Belarus did not intend to act in the interests of the West in exchange for some "sops from the master's table" or become part of a larger state. "Our people flatly oppose such proposals," he said.

He said that the Belarusian cabinet was slow in carrying out joint projects with Russia, accusing it of reluctance to work. "What could be easier than to work in the Russian market? There are our people there and they have a great desire to cooperate. But we simply do not want to work," he stressed.

The Belarusian leader emphasized the need to make use of what he called a good attitude of Russian governors to Belarusian companies to strengthen the country's presence in the Russian market.

Aleksandr Lukashenko warned that a slowdown of Belarus' economic development pace could undermine public confidence in the government and damage the country's image in the international arena.

"Belarus has been developing at a fast pace and has been on the rise in the last few years. We shouldn't lose this pace as this would not be just a slower pace of growth, it would reduce the incomes of our citizens and lead them to lose confidence in the government. And, let's put it straight, this would weaken our international status," the Belarusian leader told the heads of the country's diplomatic missions abroad at Tuesday's conference.

Mr. Lukashenko said that fulfilling the "arduous but realistic" tasks set by the Third All-Belarusian People's Assembly this past March was vital to securing further economic growth, official information sources said. According to the Belarusian leader, the tasks envisage the drastic improvement of living standards through innovation-based economic development.

Mr. Lukashenko noted that diplomats should work to promote Belarusian goods in foreign markets and attract investments.

The head of state stressed that Belarus' foreign political and economic activities are aimed at raising exports, developing mutually beneficial international cooperation and pursuing a multi-vector and balanced policy. "We've done much to make strides in this sphere and achieve specific results," he was quoted as saying

Belarus is actively and consistently contributing to the creation of a "serious center of power" in the world, Aleksandr Lukashenko said on Tuesday when meeting with the heads of Belarusian diplomatic missions abroad.

Lukashenko Offers EU, U.S. Partnership, Wants Belarus Image Improvement

From: MossNews

The Belarussian president said Tuesday that his country offered the European Union and the United States a mutually beneficial partnership, but that it had no desire to join the EU, RIA Novosti news agency reports.

“Our strategic line in regard to cooperation with the European Union and the United States is clear — without any intention of joining the EU, we offer a mutually beneficial partnership with a strong neighbor. We offer the United States the same cooperation within our spheres of common interest,” the Belarussian leader said.

“People say that Belarus has, allegedly, the wrong values. If we are talking about respect for states, their independence and sovereignty, their rights to choose their futures, about the right to life and free labor, these are our values.” The U.S. and the EU do not have a monopoly on these rights, he added. “Our nation paid a far greater price for these values than the U.S. and the EU.”

As well as being blacklisted by the U.S., EU and 30 senior diplomats following the March presidential elections which international observers called flawed, the EU also decided in May to freeze the authoritarian leader’s accounts.

Lukashenko called on Belarussian diplomats to work on the promotion and protection of the country’s image abroad, and warned them against negative steps given the high level of international pressure on Belarus.

He added that the formation of a favorable image for Belarus would benefit the country’s economic development.

“Every German or Pole should know that [natural] gas came to their country via Belarus,” he said.

In June the Belarussian leader said his country would make “two or three steps” to meet the EU halfway if the union made at least one step.

Belarus democracy reauthorization act would authorize $55 million for democratization efforts, media broadcasts

From: Naveny

A bill extending the US' Belarus Democracy Act for further two years, 2007 and 2008, would authorize $40 million for democracy-building activities in Belarus, such as support for non-governmental organizations and international exchanges.

It also would authorize $7.5 million each year for radio and television broadcasting to the country, the press office of the US Department of State reported on Tuesday.

The Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 was introduced to the Congress this past month by a group of US lawmakers, led by Christopher Smith, co-chairman of the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Helsinki Commission).

It would continue and extend the provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, which provides assistance for Belarusian political parties, NGOs and independent media while prohibiting US government agencies from providing loans and investment to the Belarus government, except for humanitarian goods.

"Bordering on the EU and NATO, Belarus is truly an anomaly in a democratic, free Europe," said Mr. Smith when introducing the bill.

One of its primary purposes is "to demonstrate sustained U.S. support for Belarus' independence and for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures and personal risks they face from the anti-democratic regime," he said.

Sanctions in the bill range from a ban on entry into the US for Belarusian officials to a variety of economic and financial sanctions, including a request that US executive directors of international financial institutions vote against non-humanitarian financial assistance to the Belarusian government.

"I want to make it absolutely clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, whose desire to be free we unequivocally support, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of the people," Mr. Smith stressed.

Orest Deychakiwsky, staff advisor at the US Helsinki Commission, told BelaPAN that the situation in Belarus remains unchanged, with the authorities continuing harassing opposition activists.

He said that it was not yet clear when the Congress would debate the bill.

BELARUS: Government rejects UN criticism over Krishnas

From: Forum 18

Belarus has rejected the United Nations Human Rights Committee's conclusion that it has violated its citizens' religious freedom by refusing to register a nation-wide Hare Krishna association.

"Competent organs" of the Belarusian government repeatedly argue that the refusal was "justified" because it was in accordance with Belarusian law, they claim in a 13 January 2006 response to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Belarusian authorities had been requested by the UN to publish their response within Belarus, however Forum 18 has been unable to find any evidence that the authorities have done so (see F18News 24 November 2005 Hare Krishna devotees in Belarus were themselves unaware that Belarus had replied to the UN.

The one-page document, a copy of which has been seen by Forum 18, explains that a legal personality must indicate its physical location in its founding documents in accordance with the Civil Code. Also, the Living Code stipulates that living accommodation may be used for non-residential purposes only after approval by the relevant Fire Safety, Hygiene and Architectural departments. The legal address given by the Krishna devotees – a free-standing residential house in central Minsk – was found to be in violation of sanitation and fire safety norms, the submission states, so that the court which upheld the authorities' refusal to register the nation-wide association there "made the right decision."

In essence, the Belarusian government's formal response – sent some two months after the 90-day deadline set by the UN Human Rights Committee – merely reiterates submissions it made to the Committee in 2004. Notably, it fails to respond to the issue raised by the UN Committee – that Belarusian legislation's requirement for state-approved physical premises in order for a religious organisation's legal address to be registered has in this case amounted to "a disproportionate limitation of the Krishna devotees' right to manifest their religion under the ICCPR."

The UN Human Rights Committee's 23 August 2005 conclusion had found the decision to be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which entered force for Belarus in 1976. While noting that the requirement for premises adhering to relevant public health and safety standards is a reasonable limitation of the right of a religious association to carry out its religious activities, the Committee pointed out that there is no reason for such premises to be required for the act of registering such an association at a legal address: "Appropriate premises for such use could be obtained subsequent to registration" (see F18News 4 November 2005

Under the restrictive 2002 Religion Law, only registered nation-wide religious associations have the right to establish monasteries, missions and educational institutions, as well as to invite foreign citizens to preach or conduct other religious activity in Belarus.

On 17 July, Forum 18 visited the Minsk premises where Krishna devotees are denied both nation-wide and compulsory local re-registration by the Belarusian authorities. A spacious, three-storey building, it was constructed during the early 1990s from modern, western-style materials and is of a much higher standard than the traditional log dwellings surrounding it.

One of two Minsk Krishna devotees who filed the original complaint to the UN, Sergei Malakhovsky told Forum 18 that he has still not seen or been able to obtain any state response to the Human Rights Committee's August 2005 conclusion.

Local Krishna devotees have not been disturbed by police for at least the past year, Malakhovsky added, despite being denied the right to worship at their own premises. "We are now trying to follow what officials want. We realised that we were having problems because we were visible – distributing books and doing street processions right here where government is based. After we stopped doing all that in the city centre, Alla Ryabitseva [Minsk's top religious affairs official] urged us to value the fact that they weren't touching us, 'you tolerate us, and we'll tolerate you'."
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    Belarus Boots Out Latvian "Porn Dealer"

    From: Spiegle

    Belarusian state television on Sunday showed "a dirty homosexual orgy" during prime time. The country accuses a Latvian diplomat of starring in the video and distributing pornography. No way say the Latvians.

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko isn't worried about upsetting his neighbors.
    Gay pornography is not what one expects to see on prime time television in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko, the Eastern European country's Stalinesque dictator, after all has made it clear that pornography is high up on his list of dislikes. Right up there with homosexuality.

    But on Sunday evening, Belarusian state television showed what it described as "a dirty homosexual orgy." More than that, one of the men allegedly involved in the escapade was Reimo Smits, the second secretary of the Latvian Embassy -- and, according to the Belarusian news report, "pervert" and "porn dealer."

    The result has been a diplomatic fracas that has seen Smits head back to Latvia and Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks refuse to receive the new Belarusian Ambassador to Latvia, scheduled to present his credentials on August 9. Pabriks on Tuesday officially informed the European Union presidency of the diplomatic "violations" committed by Belarus according to a ministry press release.

    "We are very much hoping for an explanation by Belarus for this violation of diplomatic immunity and invasion of the private space of our diplomat," Foreign Minister Pabriks told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Up to today we haven't gotten anything whatsoever except for public accusations on the television."

    The case began last Tuesday when the Belarusian secret service, which still goes by the Soviet name KGB, stormed Smits's apartment in Minsk saying they suspected the Latvian of distributing pornographic materials. Some DVDs were confiscated -- with the Belarusians claiming they are porn videos and the Latvians countering that they are merely old recordings of Belarusian news programs. The Belarusian authorities say the video of Smits came from a camera hidden in his apartment.

    Belarusian Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov told journalists last week that a criminal case was being filed and insisted that pornographic material had been confiscated from the Latvian diplomat.

    The Latvians, not surprisingly, have a different explanation. "The idea is to show viewers, look this is a diplomat from one of the countries promoting democracy in Belarus," Pabriks said. The television show which aired the video is often used to discredit the Western system Pabriks claims. "The person who has now been accused (Smits) was one of the contact persons for the Belarusian democratic opposition."

    While homosexuality is not a criminal offense in Belarus, homophobia is widespread and the government has developed something of a tradition of smearing its opponents with charges of homosexuality. A similar case occurred in January of 2005 when a Czech diplomat was expelled from Belarus following accusations that he was courting a 16-year-old boy. A German diplomat and his Ukrainian partner were booted out of the country in 2004.

    Latvia Recalls Belarus Ambassador As Diplomatic Flap Worsens

    From: (Latvia) abd the Baltic Times

    A diplomatic flap between Latvia and Belarus worsened Thursday after Riga recalled its ambassador to Minsk.

    Moru Mairu, Latvian ambassador to Belarus, was "called home for consultations," said Andrei Popov, a Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman.

    Mairu's orders to return to Latvia, a NATO member state since 2004, came a day after Latvia's Foreign Ministry declared Belarusian diplomat Dmitriy Krayushkin persona non grata, and ordered him kicked out of the Baltic country.

    "We are considering the situation and possible measures to take in connection with it," responded Popov, when asked how Belarus might retaliate against Latvia.

    The recall of Mairu reduced retaliatory measures available to Aleksander Lukashenko, Belarus' authoritarian President, as with Mairu absent the anti-NATO Lukashenko cannot expel the Latvian ambassador from Belarus.

    Relations between Lukashenko and Latvia deteriorated sharply last week when Belarusian security forces raided the residence of a Latvian diplomat in Minsk, confiscating his possessions and accusing him of distributing pornography.

    Latvian officials have called the raid "a provocation" and the pornography charge invented.

    Latvia has frozen the accreditation of Belarus' new ambassador to Riga in apparent retaliation.

    Latvia and Poland are among the leading European states pressuring Lukashenko for his Soviet-style rulership tactics. Both countries' governments support opposition politicians in Belarus.

    In response to the diplomatic incident in Minsk, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks has said he would not meet with Belarus’ incoming ambassador, Aleksander Gerasimenko, on Aug. 9.

    Pabriks’ spokeswoman, Inga Saleniece, said the minister would agree to a meeting only after Belarus’ Foreign Ministry provided an explanation as to why law enforcement officials there unlawfully entered a Latvian diplomat’s apartment last week.
    Minsk responded by Pabriks’ statement by saying a refusal to meet the ambassador would not prevent the latter from carrying out his duties in Riga, since Gerasimenko has already handed his credentials to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

    Gay Pride Parade Banned in Riga

    From: MosNews

    Lawmakers in the post-Soviet Latvia banned a gay pride march in Riga, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. The Latvian authorities said the event was banned on public order grounds, claiming it is the “biggest security risk” since Latvia won its independence from the U.S.S.R.

    Riga’s city council explained the lawmakers had taken into consideration the opinion of the Interior Ministry, which said it feared violence and provocations.

    Earlier this week, U.S. ambassador to the Baltic State, Catherine Todd Bailey, urged Interior Minister Dzintars Jaundzeikars not to cancel gay pride celebrations in the city, Latvian media reported Tuesday .

    On his part, local Russian Orthodox leader Nikolajs Tihonirovs called on the government to interfere and ban the parade. Following the meeting with the minister, Tihonirovs told reporters: “The event should not be allowed to happen at all as it offends the morals of Latvia’s population and every Christian. It is a challenge and provocation against our religions.”

    Local neo-Nazi groups and nationalists threatened Latvian gays with violence, news agencies reported.

    Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage! who plans to join Saturday’s march in solidarity with Latvia’s beleaguered but defiant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, said: “It is scandalous that a member state of the EU is giving in to threats and blackmail by religious fundamentalists and the far right.”

    “It echoes the bad old days of Soviet tyranny,” added Tatchell. “The government of Latvia has a duty to resist threats of homophobic violence, protect its gay citizens and safeguard the right to peaceful protest. Riga Pride is a litmus test of Latvian democracy,” he said.

    Latvian police arrested a number of protesters at last year’s parade in the country.

    Last month, the European Union passed a resolution to combat homophobia.

    Gay activists in Moscow were attacked last May after the Russian Gay Pride was banned and attendees of the Warsaw and Bucharest Gay Pride were threatened with violence.

    Russia Halts Oil Supplies to Lithuania After Major Pipeline Leak

    From: MosNews

    Lithuania’s Mazeikiu Nafta, the only oil refinery in the Baltic states, is operating at minimum capacity after Russia’s pipeline monopoly halted supplies indefinitely when a trunk line to Europe ruptured, the Bloomberg news agency reports.

    “We’re not getting any crude by pipeline at the moment,” Mazeikiu CEO Nelson English said. “We don’t know that we won’t get crude, but we’re preparing in case we won’t,” English said in a phone interview yesterday from the company’s headquarters in Juodeikiai.
    Russia’s Druzhba oil link, which supplies an eighth of Europe’s crude imports, sprung a leak near the Belarus border on July 29, spilling crude over at least 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) and sending oil prices higher before it was partially repaired two days ago.

    Mazeikiu shares fell 6.1% to 7.88 litai on the Vilnius Stock Exchange yesterday, their lowest close in 14 months. OAO Transneft, Russia’s pipeline monopoly, posted a statement on its Web site yesterday saying exports won’t be affected. Mazeikiu says it hasn’t received an official delivery schedule for August, which normally would have arrived before the start of the month. The company couldn’t say when the pumping would be resumed. Exports in our direction have changed, Nelson said.

    The ruptured segment of the Soviet-era pipeline may take as long as a year to repair fully, Interfax reported yesterday, citing an official at the Natural Resources Ministry. A 70-kilometer section of the link must be replaced. The pipeline branches in several directions in neighboring Belarus, with one arm terminating at Mazeikiu near the Baltic Sea and two others carrying crude to eastern and central Europe. Mazeikiu is the main consumer of Russian at the northernmost section of Druzhba. English said Mazeikiu is scrambling to secure oil deliveries by tanker and hopes to increase output to 90% of capacity by the end of the month.

    PKN Orlen SA, Poland’ biggest oil refiner and fuel retailer, is buying Mazeikiu for $2.34 billion. Mazeikiu’s previous owner, OAO Yukos Oil CO., was forced to sell the company after Russia filed $30 billion in back taxes against Yukos and jailed the Moscow-based company’s CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

    ”We are told it’s due to technical issues, and it seems those issues do exist in reality,“ Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said in a press conference broadcast on the government’s Web site.

    OAO Lukoil, Russia’s biggest oil producer, said in June Orlen may have difficulty buying crude because Russian companies may find it more profitable to sell to other refiners. Poland is calling on the European Union to draft a common energy policy toward Russia, which US Vice President Dick Cheney accused in May of using energy to ”blackmail“ its neighbors.

    Lithuania Pipe Dry, Belarus Gets Oil Supplies

    From: The Moscow Times

    Russia is keeping Belarus well supplied with crude oil even though it shares a pipeline with Lithuania, which Moscow has cut off, after citing a leak, officials in Belarus said Thursday.

    Their comments may add to speculation that Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft used this weekend's minor leak as a pretext to cut flows to Lithuania as punishment for choosing a Polish buyer for its Mazeikiu refinery over Russian bidders.

    Mazeikiu was bought in May by Poland's PKN Orlen.

    Oil officials in Belarus said the Naftan refinery was receiving full volumes of Russian oil through a spur of the Druzhba pipeline that continues to Lithuania.

    Lithuanian oil officials said Moscow had given no clear indication of when their supplies would resume. The Baltic state is looking at increasing seaborne imports to compensate.

    Naftan and Lithuania's Mazeikiu refinery and Butinge oil terminal sit on the same pipeline that leaked over the weekend on Russian territory, long before reaching Belarus or Lithuania.

    "We don't have any problems at all and are working as normal. We are getting full volumes of crude," a senior official at Belarus' Naftan oil refinery said.

    A spokesman for state energy holding Belneftekhim, which controls Naftan, confirmed the situation. "Naftan is working as normal and will meet all its targets," he said.

    Market players have said the Kremlin might want to punish Lithuania by cutting supplies as it had hoped the Mazeikiu refinery would be bought by state firms Rosneft or Gazprom.

    The Kremlin used similar tactics several years ago when it completely stopped crude supplies to the Latvian port of Ventspils after saying Riga mistreated its Russian-speaking minority. Supplies to Ventspils have never resumed.

    One of the two mid-size spurs of the giant Druzhba oil pipeline to Europe leaked over the weekend, causing a jump in oil prices amid confusion whether the damage affected only the spur or the entire network. Transneft said exports were not affected.

    The Natural Resources Ministry said it had ordered Transneft to lower pressure in the pipeline. It said it could take up to a year to repair it or build a new one.

    Oil traders said Transneft had told them to divert volumes from Lithuania to the Black Sea in August.

    Mazeikiu and Butinge were supposed to receive around 1 million tons, or 250,000 barrels per day, in August, while Naftan is due to receive around 750,000 tons, mainly from Rosneft, LUKoil, Surgutneftegaz and Tatneft.

    Paul Nelson English, general director at Mazeikiu Nafta, which controls the Mazeikiu refinery and the export terminal at Butinge, said oil was still not flowing and that he did not know when supplies might resume.

    "We are preparing as if [the pipeline] may not return to operations over an extended period," he told reporters.

    "We can import all the crude we need through the terminal to run the refinery," he said, adding that Mazeikiu's margins would decrease but the plant would not become loss-making.

    Russian ministry warns of environmental catastrophe after oil spill from export pipeline

    From: Boston Herald

    The Natural Resources Ministry said Monday that an oil pipeline leak in western Russia threatened serious environmental damage, but the pipeline’s operator said the spill was far smaller than the ministry claimed and had already been cleaned up.

    The spill in the Byransk region near the border with Belarus and Ukraine, affected a 4-square-mile area and contaminated local water sources, a Natural Resources Ministry statement said.

    “Judging by information reaching the ministry from representatives of environmental organizations ... the consequences of the accident may be an environmental catastrophe in the region,” the ministry said.

    Ministry spokesman Rinat Gizatulin said that the leak happened on Saturday but only became public on Monday.

    However, an official from state pipeline operator OAO Transneft said the spill affected only an area of about 4,000 square feet and the consequences had been dealt with over the weekend.

    “It’s already all cleared up. Now there is no problem,” said Mikhail Sayapin, head of the Transneft unit that operates the pipeline.

    He said the pipeline had stopped pumping oil over the weekend, but that the flow had resumed Monday. The 2,485-mile-long pipeline has the capacity to ship over 1.2 million barrels a day to eastern and central Europe and generally works at or close to its full capacity.

    Gizatulin said ministry experts would arrive at the scene later Monday and he accused Transneft of regularly suppressing information about oil spills.

    “Transneft are prone to downplay the consequences of accidents on their pipelines,” he said.

    In January, Russian environmentalists complained about being barred from the site of a pipeline rupture in Udmurtia, about 625 miles east of Moscow, preventing them from determining how much oil spilled or investigating what caused the accident.

    The Natural Resources Ministry said at the time that at least 3,200 tons of oil had spilled, and at least half of that had leached into nearby waterways. But Transneft insisted that the figure was closer to one-eighth that amount.

    Oil spills occur regularly along Russia’s pipeline network,

    Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department, said spills of 1,000 tons of oil occur once every one to two years on average, while smaller accidents involving several hundred tons occur every two to three months.

    Ukraine posts lowest H1 inflation in CIS; Belarus 2nd

    From: Interfax
    Ukrainian inflation was 2.9% in the first half of 2006, which was the lowest among CIS countries, the CIS Statistics Committee said on Thursday.

    Moldova had the highest inflation in the first half at 7.4%.

    Tajikistan inflation stood at 6.6% in the first half, Russian at 6.2%, Azerbaijan and Georgia - 5.6%, Kazakhstan - 4.8%, Armenia - 4.3%, Kyrgyzstan - 4.1% and Belarus - 3.1%.

    The committee does not have information about inflation in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. rm

    For industrial indicators, Azerbaijan posted the highest year-on-year industrial output growth in the CIS in the first half of 2006 at 41.1%, the CIS Interstate Statistics Committee said Thursday.

    Industrial production increased 22.4% in Turkmenistan, 12.6% in Belarus, 6.3% in Tajikistan, 5.1% in Kazakhstan, 4.4% in Russia and 3.6% in Ukraine.

    Production fell 6.8% in Kyrgyzstan, 6.4% in Moldova and 1% in Armenia.

    GDP grew 6.5% year-on-year on average in the CIS in the first half of 2006 and industrial production was up 5.5%.

    GDP growth was highest in Azerbaijan at 36.3%. GDP went up 11.9% in Armenia, 10.1% in Belarus, 7.1% in Tajikistan, 5% in Ukraine, and 3.1% in Kyrgyzstan. GDP has not yet been calculated for the rest of the CIS countries.

    "The economic growth trend will continue to be restored throughout the CIS in 2-6. However, half of the countries will see a lower rate of growth than in 2005 and 2004 for many basic economic indicators. The CIS Statistics Committee predicts that GDP will increase by an average of 6% in the CIS, compared with 6.8% in 2005 and 8.1% in 2004, and average growth in EurAsEC countries is, respectively, 6%, 6.7% and 7.5%," the committee said.

    "The rate of GDP growth in Azerbaijan will continue to grow at a record high rate with continued increased oil production and the official launch in June 2006 of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline," analysts predicted.

    "For Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, GDP growth will be higher than the relatively low base from the previous years. Ukraine saw the lowest GDP growth in five years among all the CIS countries in 2005, while in Kyrgyzstan production remained virtually at the same level as the previous year due to reduced production at Kumtor," the analysts said.

    "GDP growth is expected to slow in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Russia," the committee said.


    From: Eurasia monitor

    Having attained through dubious means another overwhelming election victory last March, and having amended the Belarusian constitution yet again so that there are no limits to his term in office, President Alexander Lukashenka appears to be more firmly in power than ever before. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the so-called last dictator of Europe feels far from secure. He is seeking new friends and persecuting enemies, and his overriding mission is supposedly a foreign policy to create a multi-polar world that ultimately will succeed in developing a power base that can oppose the United States.

    This situation was illustrated by the recent visit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Minsk on July 23-25. The two leaders had already exchanged complimentary greetings earlier in the month on the official public anniversaries of the two states (July 3 and 5). Then Chavez arrived in Minsk, reportedly on the invitation of Lukashenka (although his subsequent visit to Russia casts some doubt on this statement) and the two presidents lavished praise on each other and their respective governments. Annual trade turnover between the two states is around $15.56 million, so, despite official rhetoric, the two countries are hardly essential to each other. But they both denounced "Western pressure" against their countries, allegedly intended to force them into adopting "an alien ideology" and "pseudo-economic reforms."

    Earlier in the month, at a workshop organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Russia and Belarus, Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau outlined the perspective from official Minsk. Both the United States and the European Union, he asserted, are elaborating various options for creating crises in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, with the goal of incorporating the countries into their own "system of global rule" and undermining prospects for integration within the CIS model. After the partial success of democratic "color revolutions" in some former Soviet countries, he claimed, the West wishes to build a "Baltic-Black Sea belt" around Russia. Thus far it has been unsuccessful because of the intransigence of Belarus. Therefore the West would like to see a change of regime in Belarus and the permanent committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has demanded a repeat of the March 26 elections. Belarus has responded to this pressure by improving its military cooperation with Russia and seeking to improve further the potential of the "Belarusian-Russian" regional group of forces.

    Why would the Minsk regime make constant references to such pressure if Lukashenka truly felt secure? Domestically, the petty and vindictive persecution of real and alleged opponents has continued without abatement. Following the savage jail sentence imposed on presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin, the authorities briefly detained democratic opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, and, in a ludicrous miscarriage of justice, arrested United Civic Party chairman Anatol Lyabedzka on July 17 and imprisoned him for ten days on the grounds that he swore in a public place! Meanwhile the trial of the unregistered civic initiative "Partnerstva," which has tried to monitor elections in Belarus, began on July 28 behind closed doors, with Judge Leanid Yasinavich presiding. The leaders of the initiative have been in detention since last February. One of the few remaining independent newspapers, Khimik (Navapolatsk), suspended publication in early July citing financial problems, while another, Komsomolskaya pravda v Belorussii, faces a criminal case and potential libel charges of R1 billion ($467,000) for its July 11 article about the personal finances of Hryhory Kisel, the head of the government's ONT television station.

    In what ways does the Lukashenka regime feel threatened? The United States and the EU have imposed a travel ban on the president and his leading associates, and they have frozen their foreign bank accounts (if such exist). In late July, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) proposed the renewal of the Belarusian Democracy Act, originally signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2004. The bill would authorize $20 million in assistance for each of the years 2007 and 2008 for NGOs, youth groups, independent media, and democratic political parties, and a further $7.5 million for the same two years for the creation of surrogate TV and radio broadcasts to the people of Belarus. Such measures might keep the opposition afloat, but they do not directly threaten the tenure of Lukashenka. Rather they are a sign that the United States fails to see any improvement in the harsh internal environment in Belarus.

    As for the implicit foreign policy mission to create a new power bloc, it is surely a lost cause. The Russia-Belarus Union, if and when it materializes in full, would be of more benefit to the geostrategic interests of Russia than Belarus. Lukashenka has few friends elsewhere, which is why Chavez was made so welcome. Isolation both in the world and in office perhaps breeds fear and paranoia. On the other hand, exaggerated foreign threats are also calculated to maintain an atmosphere of trepidation within Belarus, and the perpetuation of the image of a small, successful country surrounded by states intent on overthrowing the Minsk regime. In reality, there are no discernible external threats to the Lukashenka regime and for the moment the internal ones have subsided.

    Note: This same argument has been used by the opposition for 12 years now.

    Canada Cuts Trade with Belarus

    From: Embassy Mag (Canada)

    There's talk of making Canada's trade relations with Belarus as frigid as their bilateral relations, but exporters say the move is inappropriate and will only hurt Canadian companies.

    The government has taken steps to impose trade restrictions on Belarus after months of criticism over the former Soviet state's human rights record and the recent sentencing of the country's opposition leader to five and a half years in prison.

    If the government is successful, Belarus will join Myanmar–also known as Burma–as the only other country on Canada's Area Control List, which requires Canadian exporters to obtain a permit to export to the country. Permits for humanitarian goods, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says, will generally be approved.

    "Canada condemns the unreasonably harsh sentence imposed on former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin for exercising his right to protest," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement on July 14. "This is yet another example of the utter disregard of the Lukashenko regime for the democratic rights of the Belarusian people."

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election on March 19 has sparked numerous demonstrations and police have arrested dozens of protesters, including 30 earlier this month who gathered outside the Russian Embassy in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, to demand Russia stop supporting Mr. Lukashenko's government. Numerous prominent opposition figures have also disappeared over the years.

    The government posted its intention to place Belarus on the control list in the July 8 edition of the Canada Gazette, the government's official newspaper, and interested parties have until August 7 to deliver their support or opposition to the plan to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

    The Belarusian Embassy in Ottawa says Ambassador Nina Mazai is the only official who can speak to the matter, but that she is unavailable for comment until the end of August.

    Relations between Belarus and Canada have been all but frozen since Mr. MacKay summoned Ms. Mazai to his Ottawa office in late March to demand the release of Frederick Lavoie, a freelance Canadian journalist who was arrested while covering nationwide pro-democracy protests in March.

    Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Pamela Greenwell says Canada generally places countries on the control list "when working in concert with like-minded countries in reaction to specific situations requiring international censure.

    "Our action as regards to Belarus takes place in a similar context, in which gross abuses of democratic rights have triggered an international response. The addition of Belarus... was considered an appropriate instrument with which Canada could contribute to international efforts and complement measures taken by partners and allies," says Ms. Greenwell.

    In the past, the government has placed Libya, apartheid-era South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, and Haiti on the list, though all four countries have since been taken off.

    "Once the Government of Canada is satisfied that the issues that originally lead to the country's inclusion on the ACL have been addressed in a positive manner, the regulatory process to remove a country from the ACL can commence," says Ms. Greenwell.

    It was unclear what actions Belarus would have to take to be taken off the list if it is added.

    The amount of trade flowing between the two countries is extremely small; in 2005, Canadian exports to Belarus totaled $8.8 million, while Canadian imports from Belarus were recorded at $20 million.
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    Partnerstva trial continues; US charge d'affaires on hand

    From: Navany
    Timofei Dranchuk, Aleksandr Shalaiko, Nikolai Astreiko, and Enira Bronitskaya are facing a charge of running an illegal organization that "encroaches" on people's rights under Part 2 of the Criminal Code's Article 193. The article was added to the Code in December 2005 as part of amendments that introduced harsh penalties "for activities directed against people and public security."

    If found guilty as charged, the young persons may be sentenced to a prison sentence of up to three years.

    On Tuesday, Judge Leonid Yasinovich continued examining witnesses.

    Jonathan Moore, who currently serves as the US' charge d'affaires in Belarus, on Tuesday morning arrived at the building of Minsk' Tsentralny District Court to offer words of support to relatives of four independent election observers who are standing trial at the court.

    He promised that the United State and the European Union would continue following the trial of the four persons who are accused of running an unregistered organization called Partnyorstvo.

    The diplomat said that he was very much disappointed that neither reporters nor foreign diplomats had been allowed to attend the hearing, noting that he did not see any legal grounds for the trial to be held in camera. Normally, he said, a fair trial is open and relatives of the accused have an opportunity to observe it.

    President of Belarus: Belarus to be completely provided with bread

    From: Belta

    Belarus will completely satisfy its needs in bread if all grain-crops in the fields are harvested without loss and in the shortest possible time. That is why the question concerning allocation of funds for purchasing forage grain abroad is not raised. Today everything depends on the quality of the harvesting campaign and coordinated actions of officials in the regions, president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko stated on August 3 at the meeting on harvest campaign and provision of fodder in 2006, BelTA was informed in the presidential press service.

    “I do not see any problems: there are grain-crops in the fields; we should harvest them. I want to repeat once again: the country has enough grain to provide the population with bread, to feed the cattle and poultry. Granting loans for purchasing grain abroad is out of the question until you, governors, preserve your grain-crops, help your colleagues and redistribute your harvest. The answer to the question “Where can we take grain?” is “At home”, the head of state underlined.

    The president expressed satisfaction with the well-organized work of combine operators and the quality of services rendered to the people involved in the harvesting campaign. Alexander Lukashenko stressed the need to create maximum comfortable conditions for them.

    The government should exercise strict control over issues related to the accomplishment of open air grain storages and engine yards. Head of state Alexander Lukashenko gave the respective order during today’s conference on harvesting issues, the Belarusian president’s press service told BelTA.

    The Belarusian leader was informed, all open air grain storages will be put in order next year. 2,800 of the existing 3,300 open air grain storages have been accomplished already. Around 35 per cent of the operating grain dryers can use locally available fuel – peat and firewood.

    The president was informed, the government will do their best to complete the accomplishment of all engine yards in compliance with high standards by 2009.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out that grain reception centres should buy grain from farmers at acceptable prices and must not rob them.

    The head of state made clear, “Money should not be wasted. If something is done, it should be done well”. The Belarusian leader stressed once again, it is inadmissible to invest money in half-destroyed farms, which are of little use. It would be cheaper and more effective to build a new modern farm. The farm should have all state-of-the-art technologies, including cattle management and livestock raising ones.

    Krinitsa beer is looking to move into Russia

    From: Just

    Belarussian brewer Krinitsa is looking to move into Russia, according to reports.

    The company is reportedly set to open a representative office in Moscow later this year, Prime-Tass news service said yesterday (31 July). Citing a company administration official, Tass added that the move should see Krinitsa develop a distribution network in the country.

    Krinitsa hopes to start selling its beer in Russia in early 2007.

    Formed in 2001, the Minsk-based company was the subject of a petition for bankruptcy from Russian brewer Baltika in 2003. Two years earlier, Baltika had agreed with the Belarus government to invest around US$50m in Krinitsa in exchange for a controlling stake in the brewery.

    The Belarus government decided, however, to reduce this to a 30% stake after Baltika had already invested US$10.5m. A Minsk court refused to consider the petition.

    Belarus export to Russia to fall by almost 60% in 2006 - premier

    From: Ria Novosti

    The prime minister of Belarus said Tuesday the volume of the country's exports to its neighbor Russia would fall by almost 60% in 2006 to $6.5 billion, against $15.8 in 2005.

    Sergei Sidorsky said the decline would be largely due to the considerable decline in the export of crude oil to Russia.

    "Belarus is redistributing its exports of crude oil and petroleum products to other countries," Sidorsky said.

    The prime minister said Belarus intended to promote its exports in Russian regions. He said the construction of a Belarusian pavilion at the all-Russian Exhibition Center in Moscow was almost completed, and negotiations on the construction of a logistics center for Belarusian goods in the southwest of Moscow were in progress.

    "Belarus may lose markets without full cooperation and the forming of joint ventures with Russian industrial companies," Sidorsky said.

    Minsk (Belarus) ranks 49 overall E-Governance


    According to the Digital Governance in Municipalities Worldwide 2005 report, prepared by the E-Governance Institute at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Campus at Newark and the Global e-Policy e-Government Institute at Sungkyunkwan University 2005 Minsk (Belarus) took the 49th place in overall e-governance ranking list.

    The ranking list includes 81 world capitals. Seoul got the highest score of 81.70. Minsk with its score of 26.91 got the lowest position among its neighbor countries capitals (Riga 53.95; Warsaw 53.26; Moscow 34.62; Kiev 31.10; Vilnius 30.18).

    The results for Minsk as compared to other European cities are presented in the the table below.

    1 Privacy and security
    2 Usability
    3 Content
    4 Services
    5 Participation
    6 Overall

    Ranking(of 81)

    score of 100

    The Digital Governance in Municipalities Worldwide 2005 report replicates a survey completed in 2003 and evaluates the practice of digital governance in large municipalities worldwide. Both studies focused on the evaluation of current practices in government, and the emphasis of the research was on the evaluation of each website in terms of digital governance. Simply stated, digital governance includes both digital government (delivery of public service) and digital democracy (citizen participation in governance). The major criteria under survey were security, usability, and content of websites, the type of online services currently being offered, and citizen response and participation through websites established by city governments.

    Transport in CEE: Belarus, Russia, Poland, Germany to Set up Railway Cargo Logistics Center

    From: Railway Market
    Belarus, Russia, Germany and Poland are to establish an international logistics center, headquartered in Moscow, for the coordination of railway cargo transportation.

    The logistics center is expected to coordinate container cargo transportation. The founders are currently drafting the charter of the joint venture, in which Belarus is expected to have about 15%. Originally the founders planned to launch the joint venture this year, but they still have to settle certain questions, including those concerning Poland.

    Ukrainian coach says Belarusian biathlete Aidarov is unlikely to join his team

    From: BelaPan

    Yevhen Kolupayev, head coach of Ukraine's national biathlon team, said that Aleksei Aidarov is unlikely to join his team next season.

    Mr. Aidarov, Belarus' highest-ranked biathlete in the 2005/2006 World Cup standings and a bronze medallist at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, missed this year's Olympics Games in Turin over an altercation with the team's coach. He announced plans to join the Ukrainian team for the 2006/2007 season.

    "My team will stay at Raubichi [a Belarusian winter sports center] till August 12. Aleksei also is with them," Mr. Kolupayev said. "He is an athlete of such a level that I would definitely like to have him in the team. But I don't think they will let him leave."

    Regulations allow the Belarusian biathlon federation to bar the athlete from joining another ream.

    When asked by BelaPAN as to whether the Ukrainian team plans to lure away any other Belarusian athletes, Mr. Kolupayev responded, "We have not lured Mr. Aidarov away. It was him who has offered the move. I don't know why he wants this and what his relations with the Belarusian team's head coach are. As for other athletes in the Belarusian team, I like all of them."

    After prominent Belarusian biathletes Oleg Ryzhenkov, Vadim Sashurin and Vladimir Drachev announced retirement earlier this year, the 31-year-old Aidarov remains the oldest member of the national men's team.