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Friday, January 06, 2006

Lukashenka Takes the Ice, New legislations, Milinkevich, Union State news, Ukrainian Gas Scandal, Caviar Issues, EU slams Belarus (What else is new?)

From the Top


From the office of the pesident

It is hoped to curtail the bureaucracy involved in the passing of new legislation. (In the photo, the president takes the ice in 2005. See below story about the upcoming tournament in sports)
On January 4, President of the Republic of Belarus signed into action Decree No 5 which approves the plan for drafting laws in 2006. In preparing the Decree due account was taken of more than 140 proposals from the government bodies concerned.

Generally, the plan of drafting laws in 2006 aims to eliminate gaps in the legal regulation in various domains of life, to bring laws in conformity with the decisions of the President of the Republic of Belarus, international treaties of the Republic of Belarus, and to ensure harmonization between them.

The Decree envisages preparation in 2006 of 15 integral draft laws (new ones and new wordings of them).

Some of the bills are included in the plan following the prospects-oriented analysis of public relations development which proves the importance of regulating the issues of elaboration and adoption of a fundamentally new centralized system of registration – population register, state material reserve formation, mortgage lending, rapidly developing informatization sector.

The planning of law making activities for 2006 has been carried out in pursuance of the specific directions by the Head of State. In this connection, the Decree provides for the preparation of the draft laws “On Professional Pension Insurance,” “On Labour Protection,” “On the Population Register,” “On Introducing Amendments and Additions to the Law of the Republic of Belarus ‘On State Registration of Immovables, on Rights to Immovable Property and Transactions Therewith’ ” (practice-based improvement of the Law provisions).

In other presidential news, Under the Decree by the Head of State, Viktor Sheiman is relieved of the post of the Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus. He will be the head of the election headquarters of Alexander Lukashenko.

Gennady Nevyglas has been appointed the Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus and has been relieved of his post of State Secretary of the Security Council.

Anatoly Rubinov has been appointed First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus. Prior to his appointment, Anatoly Rubinov was Chairman of the Higher Certifying Commission of the Republic of Belarus.

Alexander Popkov has been transferred to the post of Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus.

Oleg Proleskovsky has been relieved of the post of Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus due to his transfer to another job.

And Vladimir Garkun is relieved of the post of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus in the Republic of Lithuania due to his transfer to another job.


From Charter '97

Alyaksandr Milinkevich
The "democratic forces"candidate for president, Alyaksandr Milinkevich has commented on the change of leadership in the presidential administration. “It is noteworthy that this time cadre’s reshuffle has touched upon the two emblematic figures in Lukashenka’s entourage, the head of the presidential administration Viktar Shejman and his assistant Aleh Pralyaskouski. Shejman’s name is related to the abductions of political opponents of the current regime. Praleskouski was overseeing informational space, where no independent mass media were left in fact today. This reshuffle probably is done for a propagandistic effect: seemingly the leadership is cleaned from personalities,” Milinkevich believes.

According to the leader of the Belarusian opposition, it is hard to make a shrewd guess of the next positioning of officials on a political chessboard, but it is clear that such time-tested cadres as Praleskouski and especially Shejman, appointed to oversee elections, are to preserve their high positions in presidential vertical of power in any case. “The absence of new ideas in current regime is clear as well. However, the new regime, which is to come after this one, by appointing people would proceed from their professionalism and morality, and not by loyalty to some person,” Milinkevich said.

Human Rights Issues



It has become even more difficult to deal with the issues of human rights in Belarus (Photo from Viasna)
The European Union today condemned a court decision in Belarus for imposing what it called "harsh penalties" on a top Belarusian human rights group.

In a statement, the EU said Minsk must cease its campaign against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. It said it is "disappointed" that the Belarus Supreme Economic Court last month reversed an earlier decision and imposed large fines and back taxes, and threatened criminal prosecution against BHC's chairwoman and chief accountant.

The statement noted that the charges of tax evasion relate to EU aid provided under its "TACIS" program.

The EU says it believes Belarus is conducting a "politically-motivated attack" aimed at closing down one of the country's last remaining independent non-governmental organizations.

The statement also reaffirmed EU support for the work of the BHC, which it says has played an important role in promoting OSCE principles in Belarus.


From Viasna

On 4 January Siarhei Marchykau, chairman of Baranavichy branch of Belarusian People’s Front, was detained by the police in his flat. The police informed the guy they would compose a report concerning his participation in the action of solidarity with political prisoners that took place on 16 January and he would be tried for it. They referred to the action-related photo in the local press, where his face could be seen.


RIA Novosti

Belarus has great interest in continuing its relations with Russia
Russia and Belarus will sign several agreements guaranteeing equal rights for the citizens of both countries, a senior Russian diplomat said Thursday.

"During a meeting of the Supreme State Council, scheduled for the beginning of 2006, the parties will sign a number of agreements guaranteeing equal rights for the Russian and Belarus citizens," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said.

According to the diplomat, the agreements guarantee equal rights in the spheres of social security, medical assistance, taxation and choice of residence.

"We are also planning to sign an agreement establishing well-defined legal norms for the management of joint property accumulated through the formation of the unified state," Karasin said.

The diplomat added that Supreme State Council would also discuss all key aspects of bilateral relations, including issues related to the introduction of the Russian ruble as a local currency in Belarus.


From Charter '97

the chairperson of the Central Election Committee of Belarus Lidziya Yarmoshyna
“We will have two election campaigns in 2006, and we had to make a maximum time gap between them,” told the chairperson of the Central Election Committee of Belarus Lidziya Yarmoshyna in an interview to the newspaper “Zvyazda” of December 28, commenting on scheduling the elections on March 19, 2006. Yarmoshyna had not specified what the second election campaign would be, and the correspondents have not asked her. However, as far as parliamentary elections and elections to the local soviets would not take place in 2006, the only possible variant is holding a referendum on the Constitutional Act of the so-called “union state” of Russia and Belarus.

It is remarkable that two days before the interview of Lidziya Yarmoshyna, on December 26, the head of the Central Election committee of Russia Alexander Veshniakov stated that holding a referendum on the Constitutional Act of the “Union state” of Russia and Belarus in 2006 is possible, but unlikely.

“To my mind, it is possible to expect a referendum on passing the constitutional act of the “union state” of Russia and Belarus in 2006, but it is unlikely to happen,” A. Veshniakov said at a press conference in the central office of the Interfax in Moscow.

At the same time, he paid attention to the upcoming elections of the president in Belarus on March 19. “One should keep in mind that a presidential election campaign has started in Belarus,” Veshniakov said. “To combine preparation and holding a referendum with the presidential elections is unreasonable”.

He reminded that a project of the constitutional act had been studied by the Supreme state council of the “union” of Russia and Belarus. “Such Supreme State Council had been planned for November, later it was postponed till December. Now we have information that it has been postponed till January 2006,” the CEC head said.

A. Veshniakov noted that in case the session of the supreme state council of the “union” would have corrections to the draft of the Constitutional act, revision of the document would take a long time.

International News



The Gazprob building in Moscow. It is hoped that the resolution will lesson tentions between Ukraine and other CIS countries who have not been so favorable to European involvments
Russia and Ukraine struck a face-saving deal on Wednesday to end a bitter dispute over gas prices that disrupted deliveries to Europe and cast doubt on Moscow's reliability as a supplier.

The EU welcomed the five-year pact between the former Soviet republics but still held talks on energy security after the sudden reduction earlier this week of Russian deliveries through Ukrainian pipelines, which supply a quarter of Europe's needs.

Russia's state gas monopoly Gazprom cut deliveries to Ukraine on January 1, demanding a fourfold price hike and heightening tensions a year after the election of pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused in the West of using the dispute as a political tool against Ukraine just as Moscow assumes the annual presidency of the G8 industrialized nations, said the deal would guarantee gas supplies to Europe.

"This creates stable conditions for Russian gas supply to European customers for many years ahead," Putin told Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller at a meeting.

Under the deal, Ukraine will pay an average of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters for gas imports from Russia and the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan -- up from about $50 now.


But Russia was able to exploit its strategic position at the hub of the Soviet gas pipeline network to charge a premium price of $230. It will sell less gas directly to Ukraine, freeing up more for export to European markets.

"Traditionally Central Asian gas is cheaper, so there won't be any shock for the Ukrainian economy," Miller told Putin.

Yushchenko also put a positive spin on the deal, saying it would wean Ukraine off Soviet-style barter and help build a modern market economy.

"Ukraine's economy is completely ready for new market conditions," Yushchenko said in a statement.

Based on a rough calculation, the gas deal could cost Ukraine an extra $2.9 billion this year.

Importantly for the supply security of major consumers like Germany, France and Italy, the two sides agreed to increase the gas transit fees Russia pays to Ukraine, the route taken by 80 percent of Russian gas pumped to European consumers.

"We do hope the agreement will ensure ... the long-term security of supply of gas to the European Union," Martin Bartenstein, economy minister of current European Union president Austria, said after a meeting of bloc officials.

But Bartenstein said the 25-nation EU must reduce dependence on Russia and other suppliers by becoming more energy efficient, producing more from renewable sources, and investing in the electricity grid and other infrastructure.


Moscow's tough tactics reflect a new assertiveness on the part of Putin, who has presided over a strong recovery in Russia's economy since a financial crash in 1998.

But analysts in both Moscow and Kiev said Russia had acted heavy handedly, escalating a commercial dispute and rattling nerves in the West before climbing down and declaring victory.

"It is clear that Russia is stronger than Ukraine, that it owns the resources and that Ukraine has no real energy sovereignty, but Russia did not succeed in making its will felt," said independent Ukrainian analyst Oleksander Dergachev.

The United States and Europe are concerned Russia may have used gas as a political weapon to punish Yushchenko, who was swept to power in the popular "Orange Revolution" of 2004 and wants to lead his country toward NATO and EU membership.

Washington welcomed the deal. "One thing we hope emerges is the episode will stimulate longer-term efforts to increase the transparency, openness and efficiency in energy sectors of the region," said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Putin has used Gazprom, the world's largest gas company with a market value of $160 billion, to project some of the power that Moscow lost with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To that end he has enlisted foreign investors, who will soon be allowed to buy Gazprom shares -- an event which will make the gas giant the most valuable company that can be readily traded on the world's emerging markets.

Investors welcomed the deal, pushing the value of Gazprom's small London listing of American depositary shares up by 4.6 percent to $76.73. Gazprom's Russian shares were not traded due to the long New Year holiday.

Opinion from Charter '97


From the beginning, the natural gas spat has been about much more than a few billion dollars in annual energy sales.
During the past few weeks, Russia and Ukraine have been arguing over the terms of their natural gas supply contracts. Under previous arrangements -- struck in efforts by Moscow to influence the outcome of Ukraine`s presidential election in 2004 -- Russia`s state-owned monopoly Gazprom supplied Ukraine with natural gas at the rate of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters. But Russia`s preferred presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, lost the 2004 election to the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko. That loss, combined with Russia`s hopes of raising income levels in general (or, switching "to a market basis," in Gazprom-speak) prompted Moscow to demand payments of $230 per 1,000 cubic meters from Ukraine -- terms Kiev refused. Gazprom then sliced its exports to Ukraine on Jan. 1, triggering a European uproar. Because Europe also depends heavily on Russian natural gas -- with 80 percent of those supplies transiting Ukraine -- the Russian cutoff hurt Europe rather than Kiev.

On Jan. 4, Moscow and Kiev settled the matter by agreeing to a compromise five-year contract. Under terms of that deal, natural gas from the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan will be transported through Russia, making up a mix that would supply Ukraine at a rate of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. Any Russian gas fed into that mix will be sold at Gazprom`s full rate of $230.

From a strictly commercial standpoint, all now seems right with the world. The Central Asians, who previously were able to sell natural gas only to the heavily subsidized Russian market, now have gained a significant export market for their supplies; the Ukrainians have substituted a mere doubling in prices for what would have been a fourfold increase; and the Europeans have their natural gas supplies re-established.

But that is not the really interesting -- much less important -- part of what has just occurred. When the crisis first erupted, it centered on Russia`s desire to reassert influence directly in Ukraine; but as the game has played out, it has come to center on Russia`s ability to use Europe as a lever.

The Ukrainian Keystone

From the beginning, the natural gas spat has been about much more than a few (billion) dollars in annual energy sales. This squabble is over the orientation of Ukraine between West and East, and ultimately over the ability of Russia to regenerate its geopolitical fortunes.

Ukraine`s “Orange Revolution” was a seminal event in the Russian mind -- a jarring development that ranks second only to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Russians view the Soviet collapse as the day they lost their empire, and they fear that history may mark the Orange Revolution as the day that Russia degraded past the point of no return.

Viewed from any angle, Ukraine is critical to the long-term defense and survival of the Russian state. This is not about ethnic kin, although eastern Ukraine does host the largest Russian community in the world outside of Russia. Even before the Soviet era, Ukraine was integrated into the industrial and agricultural heartland of Russia; today, it not only is the transit point for Russian natural gas to Europe, but actually is a connecting point for nearly all the country`s meaningful infrastructure between East and West -- whether of the pipe, road, power or rail variety.

Politically and militarily, a Russia denied Ukraine cannot easily project power into the Northern Caucasus. Nor could Moscow reliably exert control over Belarus, since that country`s primary water transport route, the Dnieper, flows south to Ukraine, and it is nearly as well linked into Poland and the Baltics as it is to Russia proper. That geographic reality means that, should anything happen to the government of pro-Russian President Alexander Lukashenko, Minsk`s geopolitical orientation could quite easily shift to match Ukraine`s.

And of course, taking the long view, it is easy to see why the Russians are so nervous. Ukraine pushes deep into the former Soviet territory, with borders a mere 300 miles from either Volgograd or Moscow, and the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea has long been Russia`s only deep, warm-water port. There are no European armies prepared to march east now, nor are there likely to be anytime soon, but throughout history -- apart from the Soviet period -- Europe has profited from Russian weakness. Without meaningful influence over Ukraine, Russia has no reliable links to Europe, no reliable control over Belarus, a pinched supply line to the Caucasus -- where an insurgency rages -- no navy to speak of and, most importantly for a country with no natural borders, significantly less strategic depth.

Simply put, with Ukraine in its orbit, Russia maintains strategic coherence and a chance of eventually reattaining superpower status. Without Ukraine, Russia`s status as a regional power grows tenuous, and the issue of Russia`s outright disintegration leaves the realm of the ridiculous and enters the realm of the possible.

This is not about money; it is about control and survival.
Click "HERE" to read the full text


The charismatic and popular Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon has had a major stroke.
JERUSALEM - Doctors said Thursday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be kept in a medically induced coma for up to three days to prevent further damage from a massive stroke. His sons held a bedside vigil and state media broadcast mournful songs.

Hadassah Hospital's switchboard was flooded with get-well messages and the nation's top rabbis called on Israelis to rush to synagogues and pray for the 77-year-old ex-general, whom many saw as the best hope for peace with the Palestinians.

Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, tried to convey a sense of stability while serving as acting prime minister, but Sharon's dramatic downturn left Israelis fearful.

The Web site of the respected Haaretz daily quoted hospital officials as saying Sharon suffered vast brain damage.

But Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Hadassah Hospital director, sought to quash widespread rumors that the prime minister was brain-dead. Sharon's pupils were responding to light, "which means the brain is functioning," he told reporters.

"We are fighting for the life of the prime minister, with no compromise," he said. "The main treatment that the prime minister is receiving is a medically induced coma and breathing assistance. The goal of this treatment is ... to allow the brain to recover from the great trauma it suffered."

Deputy hospital director Shmuel Shapira told Army Radio early Friday that Sharon remains in serious condition. "This is a stage the requires much patience. We don't expect a tremendous turnaround. We're hoping for the best."

Dr. Zeev Feldman, a neurosurgeon at Israel's Tel Hashomer Hospital who is not involved in Sharon's treatment, said the test results appeared encouraging.

"I think this is good news. This information that the prime minister is reacting and they got reactions from him to stimulation is really a situation that can show that he is waking up after the operation," Feldman told Channel 2. "This is the first time that we have a positive indications regarding his condition."

However, other neurosurgeons not involved in Sharon's treatment said a full recovery was unlikely after such a massive stroke. Sharon aides said they assume he would not return to work."

I'm worried about the future of this country, about everything in this country," said Rafael Levy, a 42-year-old construction engineer from Tel Aviv.

Sharon underwent seven hours of surgery Thursday at Hadassah Hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He will remain sedated and on a respirator for two to three days to give him time to recover, and then he will be gradually awakened, hospital officials said. His sons, Omri and Gilad, were by his side at the neurological intensive care unit.

Sharon's collapse less than three months before March 28 elections left in limbo his moderate Kadima Party, which had appeared headed for an easy victory.

Palestinians reacted with a mixture of glee at seeing the fall of their longtime enemy and apprehension at the instability that could follow. Some Palestinian leaders worried Sharon's illness could derail their Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. "We are watching with great worry at what might happen if he is harmed," Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said.

Foreign leaders, who embraced Sharon after his unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip last year, also expressed concern.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Sharon as "a man of enormous courage," and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was praying for a miraculous recovery. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi postponed a visit to the region, and two U.S. envoys who were to arrive Thursday delayed their trip.

Two prominent rabbis went to Sharon's room on the heavily guarded seventh floor of the hospital and prayed along with his family, one of them, Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri, told Israel Radio. He added that his father, leading Jewish mystic David Batzri, held Sharon's hand to direct a prayer toward him.

"We saw the greatest doctors standing beside him and watching over him all the time and trying to treat him," Yitzhak Batzri said. "He is unconscious as everyone knows and the small happiness that we have is that we saw the family is strong, the family believes, the family is praying and hoping."

Under Israeli law, vice premier Olmert took office as acting prime minister. He held an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday — sitting beside Sharon's empty seat — and said the government would continue to function.

"This is a difficult situation," Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor, told the ministers.

He later spoke with Abbas by telephone. The Palestinian leader expressed concern for Sharon and wished him a speedy recovery, Palestinian officials said.

Attorney General Meni Mazuz announced that the Israeli election would be held as planned. Sharon was to face off against the new head of his former Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz.
(For the compte text of this article, click "HERE".


RIA Novosti

The situation in the Middle East will worsen if Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon leaves politics, Russia's chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich (National Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations) said Thursday.

"Although Sharon had a lot of enemies even in Israel, especially with the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, I believe he had a definite plan for the settlement of the situation with Palestine," Shayevich said.

He described Sharon as a prominent figure in politics who had made a significant contribution to the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sharon was hospitalized Wednesday night after a massive stroke. On Thursday he was transferred to an intensive care unit following a seven-hour surgery to stop bleeding in his brain.


From the UN news

Harvesting eggs from a sturgeon. It is hoped that farmed caviar will eventually replace “wild” harvesting and will help stop the depletion of the sturgeon population.
Geneva, 3 January 2006 – The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has announced today that it is unable to approve the 2006 export quotas for caviar and other sturgeon products until exporting countries provide more information about the sustainability of their sturgeon catch.

The 169 member countries of CITES have set strict conditions for permitting caviar exports. Countries sharing sturgeon stocks must agree amongst themselves on catch and export quotas based on scientific surveys of the stocks. They must also adopt a common management plan. With the agreement of the sturgeon range states, the rules on how to set quotas were made even more rigorous in late 2004.

The information recently provided by the sturgeon-exporting countries bordering the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea/lower Danube River, and the Heilongjiang/Amur River on the Sino-Russian border indicates that many of the sturgeon species in these shared fishing grounds are suffering serious population declines. The Secretariat is concerned that the proposed quotas, while lower than for previous years, may not fully reflect the reductions in stocks or make sufficient allowance for illegal fishing.

“Countries wishing to export sturgeon products from shared stocks must demonstrate that their proposed catch and export quotas reflect current population trends and are sustainable,” said CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers. “To do this they must also make full allowance for the amount of fish caught illegally,” he added.

Although many of the measures adopted by CITES are aimed at exporting countries, importers such as the European Union also have important obligations. They must ensure that all imports are from legal sources, and they must establish registration systems for their domestic processing and repackaging plants and rules for the labeling of repackaged caviar. Many key importing countries have still not put these measures in place.

“The CITES regime for international trade in caviar and other sturgeon products is robust and comprehensive. It is strong enough to ensure that the trade in sturgeon products is sustainable – but only if its rules are fully applied. Governments need to fully implement the measures that they have agreed to ensure that the exploitation of sturgeon stocks is commercially and environmentally sustainable over the long term,” said Mr. Wijnstekers.

The CITES Secretariat remains hopeful that the exporting countries will supply the missing data that may allow international trade to resume.

However, since the CITES system only allows sturgeon products to be exported during the year in which they are harvested and processed, as of now it is not possible to export caviar and other sturgeon products from shared stocks.

As caviar stocks continued to decline through the 1990s, the Parties to CITES decided to place all sturgeon species that remained unlisted on

its Appendix II, effective from 1 April 1998. Since then, all exports of caviar and other sturgeon products have had to comply with strict CITES provisions, including the use of permits and specific labelling requirements. To have its proposed quota approved, a government must show that trade is not detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.

In 2001, CITES responded to high levels of poaching and illegal trade in the Caspian Sea – which accounts for some 90% of world caviar – by imposing a temporary ban. Extensive discussions and stronger actions by the range states were required before the 2002 through 2005 annual quotas could be agreed.

Eager to ensure the long-term health of the sturgeon fisheries, many range states are establishing artificial hatcheries and taking measures to tackle illegal fishing. Because caviar is also a popular local delicacy in many of these countries, they must also focus

Oposition news


Alyaksandr Milinkevich is having all sorts of problems on his way to an attempt to unseat AG Lukashenka. And from personal experience, those gathering signatures for the president are not having any particular problems
In Pinsk members of initiative group of Alyaksandr Milinkevich have started collection of signatures for nominations of A. Milinkevich a candidate for presidency are detained. They are accused of violation of the Administrative Code, the Charter’97 press center was informed by the member of Milinkevich’s initiative group, former deputy of Pinsk town council Alyaksandr Auseenka.

A.Auseenka was detained for the first time on January 3 at the Central Market of Pinsk. Policemen demanded him to show his certificate of a member of the initiative group. After that they said that it could be false, and took him to a police department. In the police department Auseenka was held for about an hour, and later released.

On the same day A.Auseenka was detained by policemen again. This time policemen wanted to check the content of his document case of an initiative group member. When Auseenka refused to do that, saying that policemen had no rights to do so, they detained the oppositionist again. In the police department Auseenka was warned that a report for insubordination to policemen could be filed against him.

On January 4 Pinsk dweller came to collect signatures to Central Market again. But he was detained another time, and charged with violation of the article 143 of the Administrative Code (insanitation). For policemen a table, a chair and papers of signatures collector meant “insanitation”.

Today, on January 5, Major Hrynko had a conversation with Auseenka in a police department. He told that it is forbidden to collect signatures in the center of the town, as it allegedly hampers passers-by.

Alyaksandr Auseenka has lodged a complaint to the territorial election commission with a demand to investigate an obvious violation of electoral code by police.


Yes, it is very hard to have a small independent business in Belarus
In 2005 Belarus lost 30 thousand businessmen – this is almost one fifth of the overall number at the start of the year. Yet another twenty thousand petty businessmen are being liquidated, reports Radio Liberty.

Now Belarus has around 186 thousand registered petty businessmen, including those that have ceased their operations and are being liquidated. According to the deputy chair of the Belarusian Union of Businessmen Ryhor Rylkou, they will continue to go out of business: “In 2007 the regulation that bans the sale of perfumes will take effect. From 1 January the same 2007 the kiosks at public transport stops will be shut down. All of the vegetables sold at such points will be transferred to stationary locations organized in each block. After the introduction of 16-17 hypermarkets in the country, and another 6-7 additional hypermarkets in Minsk, there will naturally be an obstacle: the price factor”.

Also, the list of items allowed to be sold on a market can be substantially limited, says Mr. Rylkou. Imported confectionary and footwear will also be affected. Generally, officials often impose on the petty businessmen home-produced goods.

Iryna Naidovich, a reviewer of the Indyvidualny pradprymalnik newspaper, says that the number of petty businessmen has not been increasing for quite a while now, which is a fact registered even by the Ministry of Economy: “The number of businessmen is the same as when the fourth decree was adopted. They do not even expect any further growth and recommend that the trading businessmen transfer into the service sector or become incorporated".

But the number of legal entities also remains the same. An common person who does not have any connections with the authorites may not do that, says the former businessman Mikalai, who has not been able to shut down his small company for the fourth year in a row: "People typically establish connections – either in executive committees, or with some former deputies. In principles, they help each other. The private initiative of a common mortal, I believe, will not produce the result wanted by that person".


About 50 percent of the Belarusians are afraid to express their political views, according to a poll conducted by a group of independent experts, led by Prof. Oleg Manayev, last November and December.

In the survey of 1,514 people, 41 percent said that many Belarusians prefer to keep mum about their political views, while 7.2 percent noted that all citizens of the country are afraid to say what they think about politics.

The poll found only 14 percent who said that they were never afraid to express their political views.

Slightly more than 16 percent of the interviewed said that they were completely satisfied with the level of democracy in Belarus, while 37.3 percent said that they were "more satisfied than not."



From the office of the president

The president should be on the ice for his team. No fear of body checking here: The man can hold his own.
The second Christmas International Tournament of Hockey Lovers for the prize of the President of the Republic of Belarus will start in Minsk on January 5.

“Sport, mass and absorbing, is the shortest way to health. It gives man strength of mind, cheerfulness, optimism and tension and the joy of victory”, Alexander Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader expressed confidence that this tournament of hockey lovers would become a real holiday for everybody. “I am very glad to welcome here, in the Palace of Sport, outstanding hockey masters from Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, Austria and Switzerland – great hockey powers”, the head of state added.

The president emphasized that not only professionals but also hockey amateurs would appear on the hockey ring. “I am sure that it will be not only a great show but also a master class for all young hockey players”, the Belarusian leader underlined.

Alexander Lukashenko wished all participants of the tournament good luck.

A game between the team of the president of the Republic of Belarus and hockey players from Finland began after the opening ceremony.

Participating in the upcoming sports competition will be 8 teams comprising famous sportsmen of earlier times from the leading hockey countries.

Today, the Palace of Sports will be the setting for an opening ceremony of the tournament, which will be attended by the Head of the Belarusian State. After that, the Belarusians will play a match vs. the Swedish hockey team.

The winner of the competitions will be announced on January 8.