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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Television, Iran, Armenia, USA, Activists, Hunger strikes, Eurovision, Panama, Sacramento Russians vs Gays, Blogs, Sports

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Belarus president encourages Vityas, Horizont to conquer new markets

From: Belta and the office of the president
Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko heard out a report on the state of affairs of the Belarusian electronic industry, in particular, TV producers Vityas and Horizont, on October 23.

The Belarusian president’s press service quoted Alexander Lukashenko as saying, “Today Horizont and Vityas have a hard time competing in the most complicated TV market. However, they continue developing, earning profits for the state budget and their personnel”.

The president noted, “The television industry market, the traditional Russian market is very complicated. Yes, we have to work hard to promote TV set sales in Belarus. There are enough hardships. Therefore these enterprises need effective support”.

“I would like to get more specific information about the state of affairs at Vityas, a normal company, which shows good promise. Using Vityas as an example, we will have to clear up problems of the TV industry”, said the head of state.

Alexander Lukashenko pointed out he had repeatedly addressed the problems of this particular company’s development. “Several instructions related to supporting the company were issued. Today I would like to hear what officials have done to fulfil the instructions issued earlier”, said the Belarusian leader.

“The television industry market is very complicated. Yes, we have to work hard to promote TV set sales in Belarus. There are enough hardships. Therefore these enterprises need effective support,” stressed the head of state.

According to the president, “Today Horizont and Vityas have a hard time competing in the most complicated TV market in any part of the globe. Instead of just existing, they continue developing, earning profits for the state budget and their personnel”.

Alexander Lukashenko added, the session will table a report about the situation “a normal promising company faces”. “Using Vityas as an example, I would like to clear up problems of the TV industry”, said the head of state.

The president noted he had repeatedly considered the problem of this particular company’s development. “Several instructions related to supporting the company were issued. Today I would like to hear what officials have done to fulfil the instructions issued earlier”, said the Belarusian leader.

Control over the fulfilment of the previously issued instructions was one of the key points on this session’s agenda.

During the report it was noted that Belarus had ever invested heavily in developing high technologies. Horizont and Vityas show positive trends. The quality of Belarusian TV sets is competitive. Not only Russia, but other countries as well, have a demand for the products. However, many foreign competitors, first of all, China, “are squeezing” the Belarusian producers with low prices. The latter are attributed to lower production costs abroad, which are partially accounted for by cheap workforce.

Summing up results of the exchange of opinions, the president underlined today it is important to retain traditional markets and conquer new ones.

In view of the goal the head of state issued instructions to consider prospects of the electronic industry development as a whole, paying special attention to TV set producers.

In the next few days the president is expected to receive an outlook for the government long-term efforts meant to build up the electronic industry.

  • International Affairs


    Martynov: Belarus and Iran see no political problems

    From: Belta
    There are no political problems able to distance Belarus and Iran, Belarus foreign minister Sergei Martynov told the press today when asked by BelTA to comment the level of the bilateral political co-operation.

    The foreign minister noted, Belarus and Iran are participants of the Non-Aligned Movement. “Respectively our countries have a similar outlook on the international agenda, global problems and ways to resolve them”, he said. Sergei Martynov noted, Belarus and Iran are among the states that work hard to build up the role of the Non-Aligned Movement in world processes.

    “Belarus-Iran political relations are in a good shape. Today we have to bring the level of the economic relations closer to that of the political relations”, the official said.

    The Belarusian party does not have grounds to doubt that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, foreign minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov told a briefing today.

    In his words, Iran’s authorities have repeatedly highlighted that they did not pursue the goal of creating nuclear weapons but wanted to poses nuclear technologies which were not banned under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons.

    According to Sergei Martynov, Iran is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons. “This is a very important factor which should be taken into account,” the minister said. He declared that “being a signatory to the Treaty Iran, like any other state, has the right to undertake any activities which do not contravene obligations under the Treaty”.

    Belarus President Lukashenko to visit Iran soon

    From: Islamic Republic News agency, Ria Novosti
    The president of Belarus will soon pay an official visit to Iran, the Belarusian foreign minister said Monday.

    "I hope Alexander Lukashenko's visit to Tehran will take place in the coming weeks," said Sergei Martynov, who is on a working visit to Iran October 22-23.

    Martynov said the countries will sign a number of agreements during Lukashenko's visit, including on legal assistance, and cooperation between their emergency situations ministries, information services and television channels.

    The minister said his visit has been very productive, having met once with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, several times with the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, as well as with the Iranian trade minister.

    Iran has been at the center of an international dispute over the past year over its nuclear ambitions. Some countries suspect the Islamic republic is pursuing nuclear weapons, but Tehran has consistently denied the claims, saying it needs nuclear energy for civilian purposes.

    Martynov said Belarus never doubted the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.

    "We have no reasons to doubt the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program," Martynov said, adding that Iran has always been a strong supporter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a meeting with Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov here Sunday referred to Iran-Belarus close and friendly ties and urged the need to expand such relations in various sectors such as energy, industries and trade.

    According to a report released by the Presidential Office Media Department, the president said that given the pressure exerted on all countries -- in particular the independent ones -- by the present unipolar system, friendly states are required to undermine such an unjust system through cooperation.

    "Iran is determined to sign bilateral and multifaceted agreements to this end with independent countries, such as Belarus," he said. “Cooperation among friendly countries to break this unjust system is a necessity. Belarus is prepared to cooperate with Iran and other independent countries to transform the world’s unipolar system into a multipolar one.”

    Turning to the upcoming visit of the Belarus president to Tehran, Ahmadinejad hoped that the tour will contribute to decisive measures towards strengthening bilateral relations and that Alexander Lukashenko's trip will be a turning point in expansion of such ties.

    For his part, Martynov said that grounds for cooperation between the two countries are quite favorable, calling for expansion of bilateral relations in various fields.

    He referred to the common views of the two sides on international developments and criticized the world unipolar system.

    Martynov declared the readiness of his country for cooperation with Iran and other independent states to change the world structure from the present unipolar system to a multipolar one.



    From: AZG, Armenia Liberty and Arka
    Prime Ministers of Armenia and Byelorussia Point out Number of Issues for Fruitful Cooperation

    The delegation of statesmen headed by Sergey Sidorski, Prime Minister of Byelorussia, is currently paying a working visit to Armenia.

    Before meeting with RA Prime Minister Andranik Margarian, the delegation of Belarus statesmen met with RA President Robert Kocharian. After the meetings, both delegations signed a number of memorandums.

    After signing the memorandums, the Prime Ministers of both countries touched upon the results of the meetings at a joint press conference. Andranik Margarian said that they have shaped stable legal grounds for fruitful cooperation between our countries. He added that the sides have signed about forty agreements.

    Sergey Sidorski stated that the goods turnover between our countries is gradually growing. As of January-July, 2006, it made $14 million, as compared with the indicator of the last year that totaled to $15 million. He added that after the last visit of RA PM to Belarus five years ago, the goods turnover between our countries grew by 6,4 times. At the same time, Mr. Sidorski stated that there are still great capacity for developing the cooperation between Armenia and Byelorussia, taking into account the fact that the total annual commodity turnover of Belarus surpasses $30 billion.

    "This is a good indicator, though we are not satisfied with the volume of the goods turnover. That is why we signed a specific protocol and gave an assignment to business representatives to intensify the goods turnover," he reported.

    The prime minister said that the overall goods turnover of Belarus totals $30bln while the growth of the foreign trade turnover amounts to 30%.
    He said that taking these indicators into account, the volumes of the goods turnover between Armenia and Belarus cannot be considered satisfactory, and we "seek ways increase them".

    Mr. Sidorski pointed out the spheres that his country is interested in. In particular, he mentioned the spheres of jewelry, brandy production, IT and machinery production. He informed that "Belshina" company is going to sign an agreement with its Armenian partner. Moreover, the office of Belarus producers of medical equipment and medicine are going to open their office in Armenia, soon. The Belarus "Belaz" tracks are used in the mining industry. The center for their technical service will also be opened in Yerevan. The sides are to cooperate in the sphere of energetics, as well. Mr. Margarian also emphasized the importance of the Belarus agricultural equipment for Armenia.

    The Belarusian governmental delegation, led by Prime Minster Sergey Sidorsky, arrived to Armenia on Sunday for a three-day official visit. It is planned to hold meetings with the general authorities of Armenia to examine the issues of humanitarian and regional cooperation, and also to expand the trade and economic relations.

    Sergei Sidorsky thanked Armenia on Monday for supporting his country, increasingly ostracized by the West for its poor democracy and human rights records, in the international arena.

    “Belarus supports Armenia in international affairs and we thanked Armenia for supporting Belarus in international affairs,” Sidorsky said after holding talks with Armenian leaders on the first day of his official visit to Yerevan.

    Although Sidorsky did not elaborate, he seemed to be alluding to Armenia’s refusal to join the United States and the European Union in condemning the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Official Yerevan has repeatedly sided with Russia in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international bodies to vote against resolutions criticizing Lukashenko.

    Belarus wishes to participate in realization of Millennium Challenges Program in Armenia

    From: Regnum
    Belarus is interested in the Millennium Challenge Program, realized in Armenia, aimed at reducing poverty in the country’s rural areas; Byelorussian Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky is quoted by Armenian governmental press office as stating during his meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan; a REGNUM correspondent informs.

    According to the prime minister, Belarus is going to participate in international tenders on realizing the program, and, thus, to try to be helpful to Armenia due to its abilities and experience in the sphere of infrastructural development and agriculture.

    It is worth reminding; memorandum on realization of Millennium Challenges Program was signed between Armenian government and US the Millennium Challenge Program Corporation on March 27, 2006. According to the memorandum, the American side will grant $235mln to Armenia, aimed at poverty’s reduction due to rural communities’ development and economic development. 75% of rural population, i.e. 750,000 countrymen, will become immediate beneficiaries of investments, realized in frames of the agreement. As a result of the program’s realization, poverty’s level in the country will by decreased by 6%. The program with the whole budget of $236.5mln is planned to be realized according to following directions: restoration of rural roads ($67.1mln), program of ‘irrigated agriculture’ ($145.67mln), including agricultural stability’s improvement ($32.42mln), monitoring and assessment ($5.08mln), the program’s managing and control ($17.19mln). Armenia is going to receive the first program’s allocations to the amount of $4.5mln in 2007.


    Lithuania asks EU to review visa policy on Belarus, Kaliningrad

    From: Itar Tass
    Lithuania seeks the entry into the Schengen zone in 2007 but asks the European Union to consider simpler visa formalities for the South Caucasus and make an uncustomary decision on Belarus and the Russian Kaliningrad region.

    The Lithuanian parliament has adopted a resolution “On EU Visa Policy” that urged Brussels to reduce Schengen visa charges on non-EU citizens. So far, it is planned to enlarge Schengen visa charges on citizens of Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia from 30 to 60 euros, while Kaliningrad residents will have to pay 25 euros for a Schengen visa starting from January 1, 2007.

    At present, Kaliningrad residents receive Lithuanian entry visas for free, while the charge on Belarussian citizens is five euros.

    “Russia and Belarus may also increase visa charges, following the Lithuanian accession to the Schengen zone,” bill author Vaclav Stankevic said.

    In the opinion of Lithuanian parliament deputies, higher Schengen visa charges on citizens of third countries do not meet the goals of the EU new neighborhood policy and humanitarian exchanges.

    “The European Union should take into consideration the opinion of the Lithuanian Seimas, as it is a question of Lithuania’s further cooperation with its neighbors,” Stankevic said.

    Belarus KGB accuses former Lithuanian diplomat of involvement in a plot

    From: Eurasian Secret Service monotor
    Albinas Januska, former Secretary (Deputy Minister) of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, who all of a sudden left his job just now, and has been pretty often called an architect of Lithuanian security policy, might become a target of pursuit by the Belarus security services, Latvian daily Diena writes. Already in spring Belarus brought an action on the preparation of the coup d’etat in the country; the names of Januska and another Lithuanian diplomat were among the suspects on the list. According to Diena, Belarus KGB chief Stepan Sukhorenko had announced that any attempts to destabilize the situation in the country would be classified as terrorism and all the persons involved, without reference to the posts they occupy in their respective countries, would be detained and put to trial when in Belarus.

    Belarus KGB also reports that it has managed to reveal an illegal organization Partnership, allegedly founded by the US National Democracy Institute. It is said that during the search some papers have been found proving that the Partnership had planned to realize a coup d’etat in Belarus and diplomats of Lithuania and Georgia were involved in the plot.

    In an interview to the Vilnius-based national daily Lietuvos rytas Januska did not deny the fact that an action had been brought against him in Belarus. He expressed his satisfaction that Lithuanian authorities understood the political pretext of the case.

    This April Januska’s name could already be heard in the context of Belarus developments; a Russian TV channel aired recordings of phone conversations among “a high-ranking Lithuanian diplomat” and Givi Targamadze, Defence and Security Committe head of the Georgian parliament, who reportedly discussed a possibility of killing of the Belarus opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich. Januska told later that he left the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic service as otherwise he could not defend himself without exposing state secrets.

    Diena writes that 46-year-old Januska was called the Grey Cardinal of Lithuania as he has had great influence also to presidential administration and security service, not speaking about the country’s foreign policy. As AIA already wrote, his name was often mentioned lately in the connection with the death in Belarus of the intelligence officer and diplomat Vytautas Pociunas. It has been rumoured that Januska and his friends had sent the highly-qualified security officer to a modest post in Belarus to get rid of him, as Pociunas had allegedly bothered influential people in Lithuania to realize their economic interests.


    Belarus' Lukashenko for dialogue with U.S. despite differences

    From: Ria Novosti
    Differences on a range of issues between Belarus and the United States must not hamper dialogue where mutual interest is concerned, the hard-line president of the former Soviet state said Tuesday.

    Relations between the post-Soviet state and the U.S. cooled in the mid-1990s over the slowdown of reforms and progress toward democracy under Alexander Lukashenko's predecessor and the incumbent president. Washington later dubbed Lukashenko Europe's last dictator and listed Belarus among rogue regimes, along with Iran, North Korea and others.

    But receiving credentials from a new U.S. ambassador, Lukashenko, known for strongly worded anti-American rhetoric, signaled an interest in more intensive cooperation with Washington: "Belarus wants an open and constructive dialogue with the United States on the basis of equality, mutual respect and account for one another's interests."

    Lukashenko said Belarus is open to cooperation with all countries which have good intentions and interesting proposals to make.

    Belarusian exports to the U.S. in the first eight months of 2006 stood at $293.7 million, and American imports to the republic at $160.4 million.

    The U.S. accounts for around 3% of the country's foreign trade turnover, according the Belarusian president's office. Belarus is subject to Normal Trade Relations status, or a standardized tax Washington imposes on imports from foreign countries.

    That status has been extended for another year, until June 2007, but Minsk would like it to be applied on permanent basis, saying the annual procedure to extend it hinders bilateral trade.

    The U.S. is also Belarus' largest investor in terms of charter capital for companies working in the country, which is strategically located between Russia and Europe and is a major transit route for Russian energy resources to Western markets.

    "We are simply working to consolidate peace and build a fair world community, where everyone would be able to live well. In that sense, all our partners are equally important to Belarus," the president told foreign diplomats.

    Belarus Rights Activist Sentenced for Calling President Demented

    From: MosNews
    A Minsk court sentenced a Belarusian rights activist to two years at a prison colony Monday for saying authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko needed a psychiatric examination, AP reports.

    In convicting Yekaterina Sadovskaya, the Leninsky District Court pointed to the unpublished statement by her organization Veche that also called for a boycott of the March presidential election and accused Russian special agents of supporting “the Belarusian dictator.”

    “In Belarus, they even try you for your thoughts,” Sadovskaya said after the sentence was handed down. “Lukashenko has turned human rights in Belarus into an empty sound.”

    Police found and confiscated the Jan. 21-dated statement during a search of her apartment even though she had not distributed it anywhere. During the trial, she confirmed she was the author of the statement.

    The court also fined her 4 million Belarusian rubles ($2,000) for moral damages that she allegedly inflicted against judges in the provincial town of Kirov during a trial of local residents.

    The 60-year-old activist has been arrested and fined several times in the past for trying to organize pickets demanding that Belarusian authorities respect human rights.

    Kozulin begins hunger strike

    From: The Peninsula
    Belarus opposition leader and former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, condemned to five and a half years in jail for “hooliganism”, began a hunger strike yesterday, his lawyer said.

    “He wants, above all else, to call to the attention of Belarus and international opinion the absence of Lukashenko’s legitimacy,” Kozulin’s wife Irina said, referring to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

    Irina Kozulin said she visited her husband on Wednesday for the first time since his arrest and detention in March.

    During the visit, she said, her husband announced that he would end his hunger strike “if the United Nations Security Council begins an examination of the situation in Belarus, or following any similar action which shows that the international community is paying attention to Belarus.”

    In a related story, the European Union has expanded its sanctions on senior Belarusian officials, adding four names to the list of those whose assets are frozen and are barred from traveling to EU nations.

    The four officials are judges and public prosecutors who imposed a five-year jail term on opposition leader and failed presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin.

    Thirty one other senior Belarusians are already forbidden from traveling to the European Union, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

    Iryna Kazulina: “They Would Have to Answer to Their Children, Conscience and History”

    From: Charter '97
    "Sanctions against judges and prosecutors who had passed politically motivated verdicts are certainly necessary. But a happy trait of my character is not to look back. I am already indifferent to those people. Sanctions are a trifle compared to the fact that those executioners would have to be answerable to their children, to their conscience and history,” Iryna Kazulina, a wife of a political prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin, said, commenting the visa ban of the EU to judges and public prosecutors who had imposed jail terms on former presidential candidate and on activists of election observation initiative “Partnerstva”.

    According to Iryna Kazulina, today the EU “should speak louder about Lukashenka’s illegitimacy, to make louder statements, so that common Belarusian citizens would be reached by that”.

    “We must act certainly. When everybody keeps silent, it means everybody has become reconciled,” the wife of the political prisoner said.

    As we have informed, Alyaksandr Kazulin, imprisoned in Vitsebsk colony, is on a hunger strike since October 20. His aim is to attract attention of the UN Security Council to “lawlessness in Belarus”.

    As said by the wife of the political prisoner, she called the director of the colony Vitsba-3 again, and asked about the state of health of her husband.

    “The head of the colony’s answers were dry and short. He told that everything is alright, that a doctor examines him every day. I asked to give me a phone number of the doctor, but he told that the doctor has only an interoffice telephone number, and it is impossible to reach him,” Iryna Kazulina said.

    On Thursday a lawyer Ihar Rynkevich is to visit Alyaksandr Kazulin.

    “Today the only possibility to learn about the health of my husband and of the other hunger striker, Syarhei Skrabets, is more often meetings of lawyers with them. The ceiling of relatives’ visits has been reached unfortunately,” Kazulina said.

    New Life Church Hunger Strike Continues

    From: CBS
    The fasting and hunger strike began Oct. 5 at New Life Church on the outskirts of the capital city Minsk. Believers from many other congregations have joined the protest.

    And the church's website - in both Russian and English - has been presenting daily updates on the status of the strike.

    The church has faced a lot since 2001. They have taken an old cow barn and turned it into a modern house of worship for a thousand parishioners. They sent numerous formal requests to city officials for acknowledgment of their rights.

    The church has also faced harassment from uniformed and plainclothes police on their property. Pastor Slava Goncharenko has appeared made appeals in court in to plead the justice of their situation. The church has staged peaceful protests of exorbitant fines levied by the city of Minsk.

    The bottom line: The city will take the property and pay the church 17,000 - a fraction of its value in what most observers are calling theft.

    Yet there is a sign of progress. Pastor Goncharenko was called in for an unprecedented meeting with a federal official of the Lukashenko government on Tuesday.

    While the government has suggested it will make concessions, it has not yet agreed to restore the church's property or religious rights. So the strike continues.

    The pastor is appealing to all Christians.

    "Brothers, we ask you, to pray for us, stand together with us now in this tense and difficult time," he said. "Also you can write letters of support for us to the administration of President Lukashenko. This could be done from individuals or churches."

    Whatever the outcome of the hunger strike, Christians in Belarus say that their efforts will produce more religious liberty and more freedom for all nation's citizens.
  • Note: Charter '97 reports that on October 24, one of the participants of the fasting and hunger strike, who had been recommended to stop the protest yesterday, has been urgently hospitalized. The reason is overall health deterioration, weakness and pulselessness.

    Natallya Ivanova, born in 1946, is the oldest participant of the hunger strike. Yesterday volunteer doctors of the Union of Evangelic Baptist Christians offered her to stop the fasting because of an acute cardiovascular insufficiency. She was diagnosed hypertension, brachycardia and ischemia.

    The fasting and hunger strike of the New Life Church started on October 6. Protesters demand to return the building of the church to them, which according to the ruling of the court had been bought by Minsk city authorities at a very little cost.

    Belarus to try again at Eurovision Song Contest

    From: ESCToday
    Belarus will select its next entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in a national final scheduled for 24th Feburary next year. Submissions from singers and songwriters are due by 20th November, after which a jury will select 15 songs to compete in a semifinal scheduled for 3rd February. As many as three songs from the semifinal will be selected by a combination of jury and televote in order to advance to the national final.
    A jury will select two finalists during the national semifinal broadcast on 3rd February; televoters will also be able to select one finalist to advance. If the televoters select a finalist who was not selected by the jury, then three finalists will compete on 24th February. A professional jury will decide which song from the final will represent Belarus in Helsinki.

    Belarus at the Eurovision Song Contest
    The 2007 national selection in Belarus will essentially follow the same format as 2006 , a fact which prompted the comment on one fan site "This worked semi-well for them last year, in the fact that they are in the Semi, again!" Belarus must take part in the 2007 semifinal, as Polina Smolova finished in a poor 22nd place at the Athens semifinal of 2006. Only Andorra finished below Belarus in that contest.

    The Helsinki contest will mark Belarus' fourth year of participation. Belarus first entered the contest in 2004, which was in fact the same year that the semifinal format was introduced. Unfortunately, the country has not yet been able to place a singer into the Eurovision Song Contest final, and to date, Belarus' highest finisher was Angelica Agurbash who placed 13th - a mere three positions short of making the big night.

    Belarus studies possibility of participating in expansion of Panama Canal

    From: NLIPRB
    Belarus is currently studying the possibility of participating in the modernization and the expansion of the Panama Canal, Sergei Martynov, foreign minister of Belarus, told BelTA.

    According to him, Belarus intends provide construction vehicles for this project.

    Speaking about the countries of Latin America, Sergei Martynov said that Belarus is becoming ever more interested in them.

    He recalled the words of Alexander Lukashenko voiced at the meeting with ambassadors of Belarus to foreign states that Belarus does not have geo-political ambitions but Belarus does have geo-political interests. “In reality this means that Belarus, as a country which largely hinges on exports, has economic interests in all the countries where there is an opportunity to profit in international markets,” the minister said.

    As he added, the countries which ambassadors presented their credentials to the president of Belarus on October 24 are from that category. BelTA would like to remind its readers that Alexander Lukashenko has received credentials from ambassadors of seven countries, including Bangladesh, Ghana, Mali, Malta, Mongolia, Panama and the United States. As Sergei Martynov said, “Belarus has rather high-profile relations with some of these countries and with some this country is only starting to develop relations; these are, first of all, the countries of Western Africa”.

  • Special

    For Gays, a Loud New Foe:
    Sacramento's large enclave of immigrant Slavic evangelicals is becoming a force on social issues. Their actions shock many.

    From: LA Times
    Organizers of the annual Rainbow Festival were prepared for trouble.

    The Q Crew, a local "queer/straight alliance," distributed cards telling people what to do if approached by hostile demonstrators. Sympathetic local church groups formed a protective buffer along the festival ground's cyclone fence. Mounted police were on patrol.

    Jerry Sloan manned a table for Stand Up for Sacramento, a recently formed gay self-defense organization.

    "So far, so good," he said. "No Russians."

    The festival, held last month amid the gay bars, restaurants and shops of midtown's "Lavender Heights" neighborhood, went off without conflict. But the elaborate security preparations reflected growing tensions between Sacramento gays and the city's large and vociferous community of fundamentalist Christians from the former Soviet Union.

    Over the last 18 months, Sacramento Russian-language church members have picketed gay pride events, jammed into legislative committee meetings when gay issues were on the agenda and demonstrated at school board meetings.

    Incited by firebrand Russian Pentacostal pastors and polemical Russian-language newspapers, the fundamentalists turn out en masse for state Capitol protest rallies.

    Last June, urging readers to attend a massive rally, the Russian newspaper the Speaker told them:

    "Make a choice. It's your decision. Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: 'Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?' "

    In most instances, the Russian-speaking demonstrators far outnumber representatives from all other anti-gay groups combined. Anti-homosexual rallies that a few years ago attracted a few dozen participants now regularly draw hundreds and sometimes thousands, many with a heavy Russian accent.

    Even in a state capital where impassioned public demonstrations are a daily event, the Slavic fundamentalists stand out. Elderly women in babushkas stand next to small children carrying signs stating: "Perversion is Never Safe" and "I Am Not Learning About Gay People."

    Speakers address the crowds fervently in Russian and Ukrainian.

    After a wave of religious refugees that began coming here in the late 1980s, Sacramento now has one of the largest Russian-speaking populations in North America: an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Slavic immigrants, community members say. They came primarily from the Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and the other southern Soviet republics, and settled mostly in Sacramento's northern and western suburbs.

    These immigrants are different from their Russian-speaking counterparts in New York's Brighton Beach, San Francisco's Richmond district or West Hollywood, all established Russian-immigrant enclaves that are mostly Jewish or Russian Orthodox and generally coexist with large gay populations.

    West Hollywood's 11-member Russian Advisory Board recently voted 8 to 3 to send a letter to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkov, asking him to reconsider his decision banning gay pride events in the Russian capital.

    "We want you to consider the unique partnership that has developed here in West Hollywood between the large population of Russian-speaking immigrants and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," the letter said.

    The Sacramento community, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly evangelical — Baptist and Pentecostalist. The charismatic Pentacostal church, introduced in the Ukraine in the 1920s by missionary and martyr Ivan Efimovich Vornaev, includes speaking in tongues and washing of feet. The churches' social views are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    "The main issues in the Russian community here," said Vitaly Prokopchuk, a Sacramento County sheriff's deputy, "are gay issues, abortion issues and family-definition issues. To these people, these issues are very cut-and-dry in the Bible."

    Sacramento has more than 70 Russian fundamentalist congregations. One of them, Bethany Missionary Slavic Church, has 3,200 members and claims to be the largest Russian-language church outside of Europe.

    "Sacramento is the No. 1 gathering place for non-Jewish, non-Russian Orthodox, fundamentalist Russian and Ukrainian immigrants," said University of Oregon geographer Susan W. Hardwick, an expert on the Russian immigrant community. Similar but smaller communities, Hardwick said, have established themselves in Portland and Seattle, where they also are beginning to flex their political muscle.
  • Complete text continues...

  • From the Blogs

    Let Your Light So Shine Before Men…

    From: TOL Blogs
    Heading to Saturday’s demonstration organized by the Protestants of the “New Life” Church, I had mixed feelings. Bangalore Square , the location where the Miensk City Administration usually allows opposition protests, is located far from downtown and is hidden in a huge park. Sadly, this space has never been graced by the hundreds of thousands of people which it could easily embrace. And I was afraid to see the Square full of only shadows again. On the other hand, I was excited to show my solidarity with these believers who, while not part of the “traditional opposition,” have shown to be very organized, dedicated and committed in fighting for the right to have their own church. I didn’t expect that this demonstration would spark mass protests, like in March, but I did hope that all of our democratic forces would use it as an opportunity to shine a light on the common struggle for the universal rights of freedom of association and worship.

    The regime allowed 700 people to gather for two hours. Perhaps this is why the event was not widely publicized. 700 were already there, including a few agents easily identified by their typical black leather jackets and hats, but, surprisingly, no police, when I reached the square at dusk, just after 6pm. The organizers had asked participants not to bring national flags or political materials, and appealed to coalition leaders not to make any statements, so that the demonstration would not be perceived as an “opposition gathering.” The crowd control, organized by the Protestants themselves, even asked people to take off their “For Freedom” pins, which I found strange, since many Protestants had participated in the March events and “For Freedom” campaign. Maybe because of this, or due to the setting sun, I didn’t see many politicians in the crowd. This was sad, because mutual reproaches (the Protestants claim that the opposition doesn’t support them enough and the political leaders complain that the Protestants choose to distance themselves from the opposition) again dimmed the impact on the democratic movement as a whole. If Milinkevich was not there, it would have been strange, because he has pushed hard for support for the Protestants since 2004.

    But the atmosphere at the demonstration itself was radiant. The sound was perfect–everybody could actually hear the speeches. The skilful orators, mostly pastors of different Protestant churches, spoke about freedom, justice, and an independent Belarus, and were able to light up the crowd, which responded enthusiastically with words of approval and “Amen!” rather than the traditional “Long Live Belarus!” Mikhas Skobla, poet and Vice Chairman of the Belarusian Union of Writers, reminded the crowd about another hunger strike in Miensk, 16 years ago. Then, it was the Catholics who were demanding the return of the well-known “Red Church,” which the Soviets had turned into a cinema house. And the Catholics won their struggle.

    The “New Life” Church also is hopeful. Last week, its pastor had a meeting with an assistant of our “Orthodox Atheist,” who claimed that the head of the state was concerned about the case and suggested that the Church file another court appeal. While many remain skeptical (yesterday two more people joined an on-going hunger strike), others are afraid that Lukashenka will use this case for his own PR purposes, to “divide and conquer” different Protestant groups, while the persecution of non-Orthodox confessions would continue. Perhaps in response, the demonstrators approved a resolution demanding an end to laws restricting all religious freedom.

    One pastor declared that the Belarusian nation was sick with the sin of indifference and passivity–bitter words, but true. Although the crowd visibly grew towards the demonstration’s end, most of the capital’s citizens didn’t care or didn’t know about the protest and hunger strike. Life goes on, and some local boys played games in the crowd as others held hands and prayed. But as the darkness was brightened by cell phones held high during the closing hymn, I had a feeling that every protest like this, every act of civic resistance, no matter how small, brings us closer to victory. And I prayed for more solidarity and the light of wisdom amongst all of those struggling for a free Belarus.

    No more Weissrusland - only Belarus: Foreigners will write Belarus names correctly

    From: Belarus News and Facts
    Experts of the United Nations discussed two days how to write names of Belarus cities, villages and the rivers on foreign maps. They decided to use names which were offered by Belarus. As a result there will be on the maps Homiel', Mahiliou and Viciebsk.

    The names are transliterated from the national form of spelling. This is the main rule. On the map of the world published in Germany, should not be Weissrusland. There should be name Belarus’, it is obligatory with an apostrophe, a sign of softness. It is necessary to write Navapolack, Narac as it is in Belarus language. While the Belarus names are often deformed, for example: Homyel’ and Vitsyebsk.

    Final variant of spelling of the Belarus names will approve at conference of the United Nations on distribution of place names in 2007.



    From: Jamiaca Gleaner
    Arsenal gave Reading a master-class in passing at the Madejski Stadium, taking the lead after 58 seconds when Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas provided the cutback for Thierry Henry to rifle home.

    Belarus midfielder Alexandr Hleb fired the second and then turned provider, unselfishly passing for Dutch forward Robin van Persie to score five minutes into the second half.

    Henry wrapped up the win by converting a 70th minute penalty after Fabregas was tripped by Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann.

    Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who celebrated his 57th birthday yesterday, told Sky Sports News: "I'm very happy with the performance. The team is really getting better - the understanding is better and the movement is better."

    Reading coach Steve Coppell paid tribute to Arsenal for "a fabulous was overpowering," he said.

    Kurt Fraser, named new national hockey team coach

    From: EuroHockey
    The Belarus Federation named American Kurt Fraser, 48, as its new national team coach. Fraser played 12 seasons in the NHL with Chicago and Minnesota (North Stars). As a coach, he worked with the IHL's Milwaukee Admirals and Orlando Solar Bears before moving to the NHL as an assitant coach with Atlanta, St. Louis and the N.Y. Islanders. Fraser's first major event behind the Belarus bench will be the 2007 IIHF World Championship in Moscow. He will be assisted by Eduard Zankovets and Vladimir Tsiplakov.

    Belarus were looking for a replacement after Glenn Hanlon's performances at the World Championship earned him a contract with the Washington Capitals. The federation hope another North-American can build on the recent success built.