Foreign relations: Russia and Belarus, common customs, Belarus at US Trade show, Holy Hand returns to Russia, EurAsSec, US army asked to leave Crimea
From the Top
Belarus will never become part of Russia - President Lukashenko
From: Ria Novosti, Belta and Ros News
Russia and Belarus have been mulling the formation of a union state since they signed an agreement on April 2, 1997 on creating a common economic, customs, and political space, but negotiations have stalled recently over a number of issues, including a proposal by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to hike gas prices for Belarus.
"We do not need [to become part of Russia]," Lukashenko said at a meeting with a Russian regional governor. "Belarus is a self-sufficient country."
On April 10, Gazprom said it planned to triple gas prices for Belarus from the current level of $46.68 per 1,000 cu m - a move expected to tear a hole of around $2 billion in the Belarusian budget.
The Russian energy giant is also in talks with Beltransgaz, which owns pipelines leading to Europe - Gazprom's main customer - on taking a stake in the Belarusian state pipeline company. Control over the country's pipeline network is reportedly seen as a condition for preserving preferential prices for Belarus.
Lukashenko said in reply to the possible price hikes that there could be no talk of a union state.
But at his meeting Thursday with Altai Territory Governor Alexander Karlin, Lukashenko said Belarus remained committed to integration, even though negotiations on the union state were stumbling over some issues.
"We are not against a union state contrary to what some say," he said. "The world consists of unions today and they are the future."
“We should take efforts to advance to perfection, to explore new interaction models,” noted the Altai territory governor. He spoke in favour of building a smoother mechanism for the implementation of bilateral agreements, and in particular for ensuring effective control.
Efforts to launch the union state include talks on introducing a single ruble currency for both countries. The Russian official overseeing the union state project, Pavel Borodin, said earlier this week that the currency would be put into circulation before the end of 2006. The two countries have also adopted measures including a common visa space and a joint customs committee.
But negotiations have been advancing slowly, and Lukashenko said the common currency issue had to be spelled out in a constitutional act of the union state - a transitional constitution - to be adopted by referendum. Borodin said Monday the referendum could be held in late 2006 or early 2007.
In related news, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus ratified the Russian-Belarusian agreement providing for equal rights for Russian and Belarusian citizens in freedom of movement and free right of abode within the Union State.
Commenting on the document, Belarusian Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said that to establish a common economic, social and legal area Russia and Belarus needed to establish a common migration area.
The Minister said that citizens of the two states would not need migration cards to travel between the two countries. Also, Belarusian citizenship will be grounds for acquiring a Russian residence permit without a mandatory long-term stay in the country and obtaining a part-time residence permit. The rule will be applied to Russian citizens on Belarusian territory as well.
Belarus and Bulgaria Among Russia's "Best Friends"
From: Novonite (Bulgaria)
Bulgaria is among the top ten countries, which Russia's people say are among the best friends of their nation, according to a survey of the Russian newspaper "Vzglyad".
The survey of the "Levada" center showed that 47% of the Russian people believe that Belarus boasts the friendliest attitude towards their nation, whereas 49% pointed that Latvia is the least friendly country.
In the top ten of the friendliest countries are - Kazakhstan (33%), China (24%), Germany (22%), India (15%), Armenia (14%), Bulgaria (10%), Ukraine (10%), France (8%) and Italy (7%).
According to the survey the list with Russia's enemies includes Georgia (44%), Lithuania (42%), the US (37%), Estonia (28%), Ukraine (27%), Afghanistan (12%), Iraq (9%), Moldova (9%) and Poland (7%).
Belarus-US Relations show signs of hope
According to him, the Belarusian booth drew considerable attention of participants of the actions. Special emphasis was placed on development of cooperation in the field of investments, food, light and processing industries and petrochemical complex. The image of Belarus as a reliable business partner has been considerably enhanced in recent years, American participants underlined.
In addition to this, the foreign ministry of Belarus acknowledges a constructive approach of the United States in evaluating efforts of the Republic of Belarus in fighting trafficking in people, spokesman for the foreign ministry Andrei Popov told a briefing.
A reminder, the US Department of State has published a regular report on trafficking in persons for 2005.
“The Belarusian side believes that only by binding efforts can we counteract this evil,” Andrei Popov said. At the 60th UN General Assembly Belarus put forward an initiative to form a global partnership against slavery and trade in persons in the 21st century which is aimed to improve coordination of efforts of the international community in the sphere.
Holy hand relic returns to Russia
Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II led a service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to celebrate the relic's return.
The hand belonged to the tsars in the 18th Century, but was taken out of the country by Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1917 as she fled the revolution.
The relic has since been stored in Germany, Yugoslavia and Montenegro.
It will be on display at the cathedral in Moscow for two weeks before being taken on a tour of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
According to the Bible, St John the Baptist baptised Jesus. He is also considered a prophet by Islam.
Belarus compiles list of EU and US officials subject to entry visa restrictions
“The measures apply to corresponding officials of the Eueopean Union, United States and other countries that have officially supported the EU and US sanctions against Belarus,” Andrei Popov said.
He noted that the list includes the most odious political figures who had been repeatedly shown biased attitude towards Belarus and deliberately distort information about the political and economic situation in the country as well as persons who had attempted to interfere with the domestic affairs of this country during the presidential election and called for large-scale sanctions against it.
In line with the Belarusian acting legislation the names of personas non grata will not be revealed, spokesman for the foreign ministry of Belarus said.
Monkeying around with patients
From: Metro (Uk)
Vitebsk zoo came up with the idea after a keeper joked that he solved his problems by talking them over with the cynomolgus (long-tailed) monkeys.
Customers all claimed the ten-minute sessions helped
A 'psychological relief room', complete with a couch where people can sit and talk to the animals, has now been set up.
Zoo director Zhanetta Kochenovskaya said there had been a constant queue of customers, who all claimed the ten-minute sessions helped.
Belarus to partake in Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council sitting
The Belarusian defence ministry press service informed BelTA, at the sitting Belarus will present its view on issues related to ensuring the international and regional security. Alexander Anisimov is expected to meet with representatives of defence ministries of EAPC member-states as well as NATO military bodies to talk over development of cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the bilateral military cooperation. The sitting agenda includes fight against terrorism, overview of NATO-supervised operations and participation of partner-states in such operations.
“Belarus participation in the EAPC sitting testifies to the intention of the Republic of Belarus to develop cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the partner-states, strengthen peace and trust in the Euro-Atlantic region,” emphasised the press service.
Belarus MPs ratify protocol on Uzbekistan’s accession to EurAsEC
From: Itar Tass
Belarussian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Pugachev reminded the deputies that the documents were signed in St. Petersburg late in January, 2006.
A voting quota at the EurAsEC Integration Committee and member-states’ fees to the organization’s budget will be changed in compliance with the documents. For instance, Belarus will have 15 votes instead of 20 the country had earlier, Pugachev said.
Belarussian parliamentarians expressed an opinion that Uzbekistan’s accession to EurAsEC would boost trade and economic contacts between the member states.
Since the beginning of the year, the mutual trade between the countries of the Community, which unites Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, increased by 15 percent from the last year’s index.
IFEX MEMBERS CALL ATTENTION TO FREE EXPRESSION "HOTSPOTS"
At conferences held, respectively, in Berlin, Moscow and Edinburgh by International PEN, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the International Press Institute (IPI), thousands of news executives, editors, reporters and writers identified "hotspots" where serious violations are taking place and issued resolutions urging governments to put an end to censorship.
At International PEN's Congress in Berlin, more than 450 writers called attention to 16 countries where writers are being persecuted for exercising their right to free expression. They demanded the release of detained writers in China, Cuba, Iran, Yemen and other countries, and expressed concern over the prevalence of criminal defamation laws world-wide that are used to silence critical voices.
Plane forced down in Belarus
From: Ria Novosti
The ministry said the light plane, which was piloted by a Lithuanian citizen and carrying a 22-23-year-old Lithuanian woman, belonged to a club in Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city about 100 km (62 miles) west of the capital Vilnius.
"The plane that Belarusian air force detained carries the badge of the Kaunas air club and Lithuanian symbols," the ministry press service said.
The source also said that before detaining the plane, Belarusian air defense forces had sent emergency radio signals to the pilot but he failed to respond. Officers then asked Lithuanian air traffic controllers whether the plane had applied for an air route.
"The Lithuanian side said it had no idea about the plane," the press service said.
The low-flying intruder was registered at about 7 p.m. local time (4 p.m. GMT) Tuesday crossing Belarusian air space. A Su-25 Frogfoot interceptor scrambled and forced the airplane to land at a military air field in Lida in western Belarus near the Lithuanian border.
Azerbaijan, Belarus leaders of industrial production in CIS
From: Trend (Azerbaijan)
According to CIS Interstate statistic committee, during the abovementioned period the maximum growth of commercial production among countries of the Commonwealth was registered in Azerbaijan making 45.5%. The same rate accounted for 12.3% in Belarus. Tajikistan occupied the 3rd place with 7.2%, reports Trend.
During period under review industrial production in Russia soared at 3.5%, in Kazakhstan – 2.7%, and in Ukraine – 0.4%.
Manufacturing in Kyrgyzstan, Moldavia and Armenia declined for 9.5%, 5.9% and 2.9% accordingly.
CIS statistic committee has no information about industrial production in Georgia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Iran to Manufacture Samand in Belarus from July
From: ISNA (Iran)
Through an agreement signed between Iran Khodro Co. and Belarus, Iran's car factory is to manufacture one thousand Samand in the first year, but plans to increase this figure up to 6 thousand cars during the next three years and is to finally reach 60 thousand in the second phase.
Iran Khodro Vice President regarding this matter explained that the Azerbaijan and Belarus production lines had been established so to cover the CIS countries.
"The Azerbaijan branch is to supply Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, in addition to Georgia and Ukraine's markets and the Belarus production line will cover Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Eastern Europe's markets," he said.
Russia’s government gives green light for launch of Belarusian satellite BelKA from Baikonur
The document reads that the first Belarusian satellite will be taken into orbit by a carrier rocket RC-20 (“Dniper”). A reminder, the launch is scheduled for June 28.
The resolution of the Russian government approves the launch from Baikonur of several other telecommunication and scientific satellites of the USA, France, Italy, Russia and Columbia.
Amnesty International Starts Support Action for Jailed Belarus Opposition Activists
From: Mos News
As members of an unregistered organization called the Initiative Partnership, political activists Mikalay Astreyka, Enira Branizkaya, Alyaksandr Shalayka, and Timafey Dranchuk were preparing to monitor the presidential elections that took place in Belarus in March 2006, the Amnesty International website says.
Weeks before the elections, KGB officers raided and searched the organization’s regional offices, then detained the four activists in the capital city, Minsk, on February 21, 2006. The four have been held since then in a KGB detention centre. Authorities charged the four with acting in the name of an unregistered organization. The three men and one woman face possible maximum prison sentences of three years. If they are sentenced to prison, Amnesty International will consider them to be prisoners of conscience and will call for their immediate release.
The Belarusian authorities are increasingly employing harassment, intimidation, excessive force, mass detentions and long-term imprisonment as methods to quash any civil or political dissent. President Alyaksandr Lukashenko, whose victory in the March elections was widely criticized by international observers as being the result of a process rife with irregularities, has imposed harsh restrictions on non-governmental organizations and increased control on all forms of opposition activity in his efforts to prevent a so-called “denim revolution,” which is how the Belarus political opposition are characterizing their movement, the action’s press release adds.
HOW “UNITED” IS THE UNITED OPPOSITION IN BELARUS?
However, there are some disturbing signs that this unity, attained with great difficulty under the most adverse conditions, may be weakening. The main issue is how to maintain the momentum generated during the presidential campaign now that President Alexander Lukashenka has been firmly reconsolidated in power (the manipulation of the vote count notwithstanding). Viktar Karneenka, a member of the Political Council of the united opposition, has commented that the opposition must emerge from its "ghetto" and go to the people. It cannot, in his view, be distracted by bureaucratic issues, such as how its executive committee is supposed to function (Belarusy i rynok, May 29).
Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party, and the candidate narrowly defeated for the united leadership by Alexander Milinkevich, attended a meeting of the Political Council of the democratic forces, but refused to vote for a new two-year strategy to bring democracy to Belarus. Lyabedzka proposed instead another full-scale Congress that would presumably vote on a new leader, but his proposal was rejected by other members of the Political Council, who consider this a waste of time. Political scientist Uladzimir Matskevich maintains that the campaign "For Freedom" is little more than a play on words, lacking in concepts. The people who gathered in the square, in his view, cannot be fooled by political mottos and do not believe "either Lyabedzka or Milinkevich" (Belarusy i rynok, May 29; Narodnaya volya, May 30).
Heads of customs services of CIS, EurAsEC meeting in Minsk
From: Busines report
Council of heads of custom services of CIS states and Council of heads of custom services of Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) will be held in Minsk, Belarus, today, 7 June.
The participants will discuss issues on cooperation of customs services, unification of customs tariffs, simplification of customs control and registration of goods, crossing of border.
EurAsEC, which unites Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Russia and Uzbekistan, are discussing issues on creation of Customs Union. It is expected that the work on formation of customs union will be completed in 2006 to unify customs tariffs to 80% by 2007.
It was noted that 20 of 73 measures on creation of customs union were implemented so far.
Alexander Lukashenko declaired at the meeting that Belarus will make everything possible to speed up creation of the CIS single customs area.
“We adhere to the integration processes and we will promote its development not destruction in the post-Soviet zone. Further development of our countries’ economies and the rise in welfare of our people depends on that.”
Russia warns Kiev over Nato plans
MPs in the State Duma voted 435 to 0, with one abstention, for a resolution expressing "serious concern" over Ukrainian plans to join the alliance.
The message was sent as the parliament in Kiev was to have a vote - now delayed - on allowing in foreign troops ahead of joint manoeuvres with the US.
Nato has called on Ukraine to avoid politicising the exercise next month.
The joint exercises involving a number of Nato countries are due to start on 12 June in Crimea and 200 US marines have already arrived to help prepare facilities.
A Nato spokesman said the exercises were routine, but not organised by Nato.
Crimea Digs In Against Ukraine's Western Drift
From: LA Times
As lawmakers in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, announced Wednesday that they would need another week to try to build a coalition capable of naming a prime minister, speaker and Cabinet, more than 200 protesters marched through this historic old town on the Black Sea, vowing to oppose Yushchenko's plans to steer Ukraine toward NATO and the West and away from Russia.
"The truth is that an overwhelming majority of people residing in Crimea sympathize more with Russia than with Ukraine," said Sergei Tsekov, deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament. "I can tell you that the situation here is heated. The protests are not subsiding."
Few doubt that the anti-NATO demonstrations touched off by the arrival last month of 227 U.S. Marine reservists in preparation for a joint military exercise are motivated only in part by this region's deep-seated affinity with Russia. More important, many analysts say, is the desire of several pro-Russia parties in Ukraine to influence the outcome of the coalition talks in Kiev. Yushchenko hopes to muster a majority among his Orange Revolution allies and others to form a government.