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From the Top
Address by President of the Republic of Belarus A.G Lukashenko at Oath Taking Ceremony
From:The office of the president
Today, the will of Belarusian people expressed independently and freely in electing their President has been legally consolidated.
It is a departure point for a new stage in the development of our young sovereign state. This state has been created by us together, by all the citizens of Belarus with the help of our friends!
We have stood up for this state despite tough and brute pressure from inside and outside. We have proved once again that the Belarusian people cannot be stifled, nor can it be manipulated.
We are an independent and proud nation which knows of its own dignity and strength of mind. We have gained our right to an independent way of development through suffering throughout history.
The presidential election has been a serious trial of strength for the state and society. We have withstood this trial with honour and have convincingly demonstrated the unity of authority and people to the whole world!
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the voters for a colossal support given to the Head of State and to the strategic policy line pursued by the country. For your having no doubts about the rightfulness of our way of development, for being convinced in your choice and our common victory. It imparts force and confidence in a successful way forward.
I am addressing the words of gratitude to the leaders of brotherly Russia, of CIS countries, China, other states, political and public figures, foreign citizens, and our compatriots abroad, who have congratulated me on my election as president.
Thank you for being always side by side. Believe me, Belarusians will return the favour.
Taking the oath of loyalty to the Belarusian people, I am profoundly aware of an enormous responsibility for the destiny of this country that I have assumed. Your trust and support, dear fellow countrymen, is a great honour for me.
Lukashenko banned from entering EU
Lukashenko tops a blacklist of 31 Belarusian officials denied the right to enter the EU. The head of the State Security Committee, the justice minister, the prosecutor general, the speaker of parliament's lower house and the head of the presidential staff will also likely be included on the list, a source said.
EU foreign ministers will likely also decide on freezing the accounts of Belarusian officials abroad.
The European Union announced March 24 that it would impose sanctions against the country's leaders over the March 19 presidential election it condemned as flawed.
The EU foreign ministers are not considering imposing trade sanctions against Belarus, diplomatic sources in Luxembourg said.
Lukashenko, whom Washington has dubbed "Europe's last dictator", was reelected to a third term in the March 19 election with a massive 83% of the vote.
The Belarusian opposition denounced the elections as fraudulent, and staged a sit-in protest on central Oktyabrskaya Square in the capital, Minsk. The rally was broken up after a few days, as was a demonstration March 25 that saw hundreds arrested and, the opposition alleges, left at least one protestor dead.
Foreign election observations also condemned the elections. A delegation from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose association of former Soviet republics, said the elections had been free and fair.
Belarus hits back at EU travel ban
"The republic of Belarus is put in a position where it is necessary to take adequate measures in reply to the EU and USA. In accordance with international practice they [the measures] will affect the identical category of people," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The statement came after the European Union decided to ban Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarussian president, and 30 key ministers and officials in response to Lukashenko's landslide re-election last month, which Western monitors said was rigged.
The foreign ministry described European and US pressure on Belarus as "uncivilised". "Such actions are short-sighted and without perspective," it said.
"Today's decision showed the inability of Washington and Brussels to deal respectfully with the clear will of an independent people."
Lukashenko, 51, who has been in power since 1994, won his third term with 83% of the vote, according to official results. His nearest rival, Alexander Milinkevich, was credited with 6.1%.
But the polls were condemned as fraudulent by election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The 25-nation EU had already imposed a travel ban on six Belarus officials, not including Lukashenko himself.
The list published on Monday included Lukashenko, four senior aides, the ministers of education, information and justice, five key MPs and a number of judges, prosecutors and electoral commission officials.
A handful of Belarussian officials are already banned from the United States and Washington has indicated that it will also expand the list in the wake of the election.
Russian ambassador blasts sanctions against Belarus officials
Banning Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and other senior officials from entering the European Union is an insult to the dignity of the Belarusian people, Russia's ambassador in Minsk said Monday.
"I do not understand this measure, which produces no effect but insults the dignity of the state and its people," Alexander Surikov said.
The foreign ministers of the EU's 25 member states decided Monday to impose sanctions against Belarusian leaders over the March 19 presidential election they condemned as flawed. Lukashenko, who Washington has dubbed "Europe's last dictator," was reelected to a third term with a massive 83% of the vote and now tops a blacklist of 31 Belarusian officials denied the right to enter the EU. The head of the State Security Committee, the justice minister, the prosecutor general, the speaker of parliament's lower house and the head of the presidential staff are also included on the list.
The ambassador said contacts between the two countries' economic and parliamentary structures and ministries would continue.
"Demonstrating hostility to a man who hold this or that post has nothing to do with promoting democratic principles," Surikov said.
Belarus Asked to Share Oil Export Profits
The Russian government sent a letter to Minks demanding that Article 4 of the Customs Union of Russia and Belarus Treaty of 1995 be implemented, a source close to the Belarusian government told the Prime-TASS news agency on Monday. The article provides for sharing Belarusian export duties on oil products manufactured from the oil delivered to Belarusian refineries between budgets of the two countries.
The Russian Government and the Finance Ministry, responsible for the customs affairs, denied sending the letter yesterday. However, sources close to the authority reported that the document had been sent to the Belarusian government in late March without being made public. The Belarusian government declined to comment.
The Mozyrsky and Novopolotsky refineries, which have recently underwent a modernization, are now processing between 18 and 20 million metric tons of Russian oil, compared with 10-12 million tons in 2000 and 2001. The country is now expanding its export to Europe via Baltic ports competing with Russians there.
The claim seems to be connected with Gazprom’s intention to raise gas prices for Belarus or take over stocks of Beltransgas instead.
Belarus imported 19.2 million metric tons of oil from Russia last year, exporting 13.5 million metric tons of oil products. Export prices on oil products went up to $360 per 1 metric ton in Belarus in 2005, the growth of the oil refinery industry accounting for 40 percent in the national GDP growth. Thus, the argument may cost Belarus’ budget some $900 million or $1.1 billion.
Opinion & analysis
Gazprom to raise gas prices for Belarus from 2007
From:Igor Tomberg for RIA Novosti
The news shocked the Minsk authorities, which had said they were ready to pay a higher price but apparently did not imagine it would be so high. The price rise will tear nearly a $2 billion hole in the Belarusian budget.
According to a contract between Gazprom and Beltransgaz, the Belarusian state-owned gas company whose pipelines carry Russian gas to Europe, this year the Russian gas monopoly is to deliver 21 billion cu m of gas at 2005 prices ($46.68). In return, Minsk promised to assist Gazprom's operation in the republic, notably not to change gas transit tariffs.
First, the two states are creating a union state, Gazprom deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev, director general of Gazexport (a 100% subsidiary of Gazprom), said, explaining the non-market price. Second, Belarus is the only country where Gazprom owns the trunk gas pipeline and leases the land under it. And third, the gas holding has resumed takeover negotiations with Beltransgaz, he said. If the negotiations are successful, Gazprom will take under its control the entire Belarusian gas transportation network.
But the talks are apparently skidding because Ryazanov said a price compromise was contingent on Gazprom's involvement in the gas transportation and distribution infrastructure of consumers.
Minsk flew into a fury. Such statements "are an element of blackmail and outrageous behavior," said Stepan Pisarevich, head of the Belarusian upper house's commission on the economy, budget and finance. Price rising is an unavoidable element of discussions on the creation of a joint venture on the basis of Beltransgaz and Gazprom, he said.
Pisarevich recalled that gas prices for Belarus were stipulated in the Union State Treaty and the agreement on creating equal conditions for economic entities.
Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said almost the same. "The Belarusian government will adhere to the existing agreements on equal energy prices for the economic entities of the Union State," he said.
Gazprom has the same price policy for all former Soviet republics, company press secretary Sergei Kupriyanov said when commenting on the harsh statement by Belarusian politicians. The gas price for Belarus is based not only on the Union State Treaty, he said, but also on other documents regarding gas pricing and the creation of a JV on the basis of Beltransgaz. Kupriyanov said the JV was to be created in 2003.
But some Belarusian politicians view the situation differently. Roman Vnuchko, head of the lower house's commission on the monetary and credit policy and banking, said Gazprom exposed itself to blackmail by selling gas to Belarus at Russia's domestic prices.
"Belarus is a headache for Gazprom; it is a precedent that prevents the gas holding from raising prices for other partners," Vnuchko said.
Settling price relations with friendly Armenia was another difficulty. As if on prompting, Gazprom's top managers made their statement about leveling off prices for all consumers during the visit by the Armenian president.
Gazprom (and the state as its beneficiary) are often accused of a selective approach. Though gas prices were rapidly raised for other ex-Soviet states, Belarus continued to get the fuel at Russia's domestic prices. Therefore, the latest decision of Gazprom looks like a political win for the gas holding and the Russian authorities.
However, the level at which information is made public is also important. The holding's management is not in a position to set prices for Belarus. Politics is too closely connected with the economy in the case of Belarus. Belarussian experts claim that Vladimir Putin had once offered Alexander Lukashenko to give economic entities, both state and private ones, a free hand in solving their economic problems. Presidents should discuss purely political matters, Putin allegedly said.
This is exactly what Gazexport head Ryazanov meant: Gas prices and the issue of ownership of the gas transportation infrastructure are purely economic matters.
Gazprom will hardly triple gas prices for Belarus next year because the republican economy would not survive even a double price. The issue is to be discussed by politicians, and the results of playing the "gas card" may surprise even Gazprom. This may accelerate the merger of Belarus and Russia or transition to the common currency.
However, the current situation has again put the finger on Moscow's resolve to throw around its energy weight in foreign policy.
Igor Tomberg is a leading researcher of the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Russia’s Putin Reclaiming Dominant Role in Former Soviet Union
In Belarus, Moscow-allied strongman Alexander Lukashenko just won re-election by a landslide — at least by the official count. And President Vladimir Putin’s allies could return to government in Sunday’s Ukrainian parliamentary election, just over a year after the Orange Revolution.
Such developments set back Western hopes of a democratic tidal wave in the former Soviet sphere and could further tarnish Putin’s democratic credentials as he tries to cast himself as a statesman capable of brokering deals with Iran and Hamas.
For Putin, however, asserting dominance over Belarus and Ukraine appears to be part of his strategy to re-establish Moscow as a global player during his year of the G-8 presidency.
“Russia wants to restore its superpower status, and that includes putting these countries back into its orbit,” said Yevgeny Volk, Moscow director of the conservative U.S think tank Heritage Foundation.
“It is seeking to reclaim its influence over the former Soviet Union, and remove that of the United States and European Union,” he added.
Russia was furious at what it saw as Western encroachment on its home turf after Ukraine’s November 2004 Orange Revolution — the mass protests over election fraud that brought reformist opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to power over the Kremlin’s favored candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.
Months later, the impoverished Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan had its Tulip Revolution, becoming the third former Soviet state within 18 months to see opposition forces topple a Soviet-era leader. Georgia’s Rose Revolution started the process in 2003.
Today, however, Russia is once again on the rise as nervous authoritarian regimes from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan — where rights groups say government troops killed hundreds of civilians in a crackdown on protesters last year — build closer ties to Moscow, partly as a way to cow opposition forces.
Even in Ukraine, disillusionment at political infighting and the economic collapse that followed the Orange Revolution have brought about a political comeback for Yanukovych, whose rigged victory in the 2004 presidential election was annulled by the Supreme Court.
Enjoying strong support in the Russian-speaking east, his party is poised to win the most seats in the new parliament and earn the right to form the government, even if it will probably need to govern in an uneasy coalition with the party of the pro-Western Yushchenko.
“The West’s influence that triumphed in the color revolutions has clearly become a dead end for these nations,” said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. “In Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, people live worse, not better than before.”
By contrast, in Belarus, whose authoritarian president is shunned by Western nations as Europe’s last dictator, cheap supplies of Russian gas provide a vital lifeline to the inefficient, state-dominated economy.
Analyst Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank said on Ekho Moskvy radio that while the Kremlin sometimes had tense relations with Belarus, its greatest interest lay in preserving the status quo in Minsk.
He also said that despite loud Western criticism of the Belarus election, there was no serious attempt to help pro-democratic forces, as happened in Ukraine.
“There was a strong fight for Ukraine, but no one fought for Belarus,” Malashenko said.
Analysts agree that Russia’s trump card in the region is its immense energy resources. They ensure that despite pro-Western inclinations, both Georgia and Ukraine remain dangerously dependent on their larger neighbor.
A pipeline explosion that cut off Russian supplies to Georgia this winter left millions shivering in their homes — provoking accusations from the tiny U.S.-allied Caucasus mountain state that Russia was deliberately trying to bring it to its knees.
Ukraine meanwhile had to swallow a twofold increase in gas prices after a bitter New-Year dispute that saw Moscow turn off the gas taps.
“Russia is using strong economic levers. With the growth of oil and gas exports it has become much richer than it was in the 1990s and it is translating this economic might into political influence and power,” said Volk.
At the center of the Russian policy in the region is a determination to resist the West’s efforts to boost its influence at Russia’s expense, in what Moscow says is falsely portrayed as a bid to promote democracy.
Russia yesterday accused the United States of trying to enforce its vision of democracy on others, angrily rejecting President Bush’s criticism that the Kremlin has rolled back freedoms.
First Goat Kids With Human Genes Born in Belarus
Alexander Budevich who is also a staff member of the Belarussian Cattle Breeding Research Institute said the kids “do not show any signs of ailment or abnormal development. Yet scientists must still verify that the kids are transgenic,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
Russian genetics experts will come to the Belarussian institute on Tuesday to take samples of skin from the kid’s ear for a gene test. The test will show whether the kids are transgenic, he said.
“The probability of the appearance of transgenic animals is very small. Only two or three transgenic kids may be born to 100 goats into which human genes were transplanted,” he said.
Last May, proteins of human origin were transferred into the goats’ DNA. Woman’s lactoferrin was brought into the DNA of over 100 animals from an experimental herd belonging to the Belarus institute.
Lukashenko makes a tired and tedious impression
From: Tobias Ljungvall on Belarus
After two weeks of public absence Lukashenko finally appeared on Tuesday, shown on television in two news items as he was sitting and talking first with the departing ambassador of Kazakhstan and then with the foreign minister and the Belarusian ambassador to Poland. His announced trip to Russia, however, did not take place. And in the TV items he made a rather weak impression, adding support to the speculations that he suffered medical or perhaps psychological problems after the election three weeks ago.
Also, yesterday the delayed inauguration which was supposed to have taken place more than a week ago took place. And the TV images both from the ceremony in the Palace of the Republic and the following military parade outside on October Square still showed a definitely weaker Lukashenko than usual. His face looked worn and troubled, and judging from his movement at the military parade his marshal’s uniform into which he had slipped seemed somehow uncomfortable to him.
His address at the inauguration repeated, among other things, the rhetoric directed against the opposition and at the Western countries. “Bring order to your own homes,” he told the latter. “Belarus has a strong immune system. Your clumsy attempts to infect it with the revolutionary virus gave the opposite effect, it turned into an antidote to this ‘colour’ disease.” Considering that one of his TV appearances on Tuesday, about relations with Poland, touched on the same issues, and that his big press conference on the day after the election (before he disappeared) ended with him expressing solidarity with Saddam Hussein and the deceased Milosevic, it seems more likely to me that his obvious fixation with this theme should be having an opposite effect.
Meanwhile, the opposition candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich has made a quick tour in the EU, and has been received on the highest level similar to how he was met before the election. I am glad that Europe seems not to forget about Belarus. On the immediate agenda is a widening of the list of previously six regime functionaries banned from entering the EU. It has been reported that this list will now hold some thirty names, but the Belarusian opposition suggests a quantity rather going into the thousands or at least hundreds and have also prepared such lists itself. I hope the EU will listen.
I also hope the EU will ask other countries, notably Ukraine and some other Black Sea states as well as Turkey where the regime functionaries are likely to be going for holidays, to adopt the travel ban as well. And it would be a nice symbolic move to include at least a few Russians on the list as well. For example Vladimir Rushaylo, who headed the so-called election observation mission, and Pavel Borodin, who is secretary of the Russia-Belarus union, and both of which attended yesterday’s inauguration ceremony. But perhaps that is asking too much.
Australia completes a 5-0 whitewash of Belarus
Wayne Arthurs defeated Sergui Tarasevitch 7-6, 6-2 and Chris Guccione completed the rout with a crushing 6-1, 6-3 win over Belarussian Davis Cup rookie Alexandr Zotov.
At Pau in France, Russian Dmitry Tursunov rallied to beat Richard Gasquet of France 6-1, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-5 to send his country to the semifinals.
Tursunov, who was replacing Nikolay Davydenko, saved a break point in the fourth set and then dominated his serve against a tiring Gasquet.
"Richard had his chance to win the match with the break point," France captain Guy Forget said. "But I am proud of the way he played and I have nothing to reproach him. Tursunov was very strong."
At Zagreb in Croatia, Ivan Ljubicic put defending champion Croatia level at 2-2 with Argentina in the quarterfinals by beating David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 Sunday in the first reverse singles match. Ljubicic, Croatia's playing captain, had 33 aces and a series of winners on all sides of the court.
"I think I dominated the entire match," Ljubicic said. "I kept him guessing on my serve and I didn't let him get into it."
Australia had already wrapped up its first ever tie with Belarus by winning Friday's opening singles matches and Saturday's doubles.
Lleyton Hewitt was originally due to play Max Mirnyi in the first reverse singles but both teams agreed to substitute their No. 1 players in the shortened best-of-three sets matches.
Arthurs, who teamed up with Paul Hanley to win an epic five-set doubles match, held his nerve to win the opening set against Tarasevitch in a tiebreak, then rode his booming serve to race through the second and seal victory in 80 minutes.
Guccione was even more impressive, needing just 45 minutes to continue his meteoric rise in Australian tennis. He shot to fame by winning the deciding rubber in Australia's first-round win over Switzerland last month after Hewitt had declared himself unavailable.
On Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan gave the United States a 2-1 lead as Chile chose to rest its stars for the reverse singles.
The Bryan twins, the top-ranked doubles team in the world, beat Paul Capdeville and Adrian Garcia 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. The Bryans had expected to face Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez, who beat the American brothers en route to the Olympic doubles gold in Athens in 2004.
``We were prepared to play Gonzalez and Massu. It was a little bit of a relief to see the other guys come out,'' Bob Bryan admitted.
``We were actually pretty happy because Gonzalez and Massu beat us at the Olympics and they're a tough team and they can serve big,'' Mike said. ``So we were happy to see these guys. We jumped on them from the start, put the pressure on them and didn't give them much hope.
``We're happy with the way we played. Now we're up 2-1.''
The results: At Melbourne: Australia 5 bt Belarus 0 (Wayne Arthurs bt Serguei Tarasevitch 7-6(6), 6-2; Chris Guccione bt Alexandr Zotov 6-1, 6-3).
At Pau: France 1, Russia 3 (Richard Gasquet lost to Dimitry Tursunov 6-1, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-5; Arnaud Clement & Michael Llodra bt Dmitry Tursunov & Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(3), 5-7, 6-2).
At Zagreb: Croatia 2, Argentina 2 (Ivan Ljubicic bt David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; Ljubicic & Marin Cilic lost to David Nalbandian & Jose Acasuso 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4).
At Rancho Mirage: United States 2, Chile 1 (Bob & Mike Bryan bt Paul Capdeville & Adrian Garcia 6-1, 6-2, 6-4).