Lukashenka Meets with Putin at the Kremlin, Oil prices not to drop, Kozulin ends strike, Milinkevich wins EU award, Blogs and Sports
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Belarus and Russia Willl Be Able to Resolve Many Problematic Issues
From: The office of the president and Belta
The Supreme State Council (SSC) of the Union State took a number of important decisions at its sitting which took place on December 15 in Moscow. Specifically, it has approved the budget of the Union State for 2007, the Programme of concerted actions in the field of foreign policy of the states parties to the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State for 2006 - 2007, Provisions on Official Thanks of the SSC. The results of the implementation of the Programme for the better arrangement of external borders of the Union State were also summed up.
Before the sitting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin held bilateral talks, which lasted for about three hours.
Commenting on the results of their face-to-face meeting, the Belarusian leader said: “We intended today to omit discussing the issues on the Constitutional Act and the single currency, at which a hard but fruitful work is going on, the same was intended about some other issues which are much written about. But as a result of our difficult and long talks, we perhaps have found a thread we can lay hold on. I think that in the near future we can withdraw very many issues which were so difficult for us. For this reason, our talks took such a long time.”
The presidents of Belarus and Russia appreciate the fact that the 2007 Union State budget is being adopted before the beginning of a new fiscal year.
The SSC agenda is divided in two parts, Alexander Lukashenko told Vladimir Putin today. The most important issues, as the Belarusian leader sees it, are cooperation in foreign policy, military interaction, the Union State border development and the 2007 Union State budget.
There are some technical issues to be addressed today, he added. “Specialists will report about their progress in this area,” the Belarusian leader said.
The president has voiced confidence that the protocol issues will be discussed in an energetic manner.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has said that this SSC session is the second in 2006. Addressing Alexander Lukashenko, he added: “I am glad our contacts are regular and direct”.
The adoption of the 2007 Union State budget before the beginning of a new fiscal year, as Vladimir Putin said, is good since it shows that the financial bodies of the two states have taken on a more energetic pace.
The president of Russia has voiced confidence that this SSC meeting in Moscow will be fruitful.
Belarus ratified all documents on equal rights for Belarusians and Russians
Today, the Supreme State Council (SSC) of the Belarus-Russia Union State will hold a session in Moscow. One of the items on the agenda will be to consider the way the SSC-made decisions have been fulfilled.
Belarus has ratified all the agreements on providing equal rights for both Russians and Belarusians, which were signed during a SSC meeting on January 24, 2006, the representatives of the Belarusian delegation told BelTA. There is only one agreement which has not been ratified yet – the one about Union State property and how the relations in this sphere should be regulated.
But Russia has ratified only one agreement, namely, that on cooperation in the sphere of social security. Russia has not fulfilled due procedures in regard to other agreements concerning equal rights of the citizens of the two states.
Ministries and agencies of Belarus and Russia took steps in 2003-2005 to unify the legislation in the social sphere. The two countries continued improving their migration policy framework and developing interaction in forming a single labor market.
Kommersant: Alexander Lukashenko Left Without Dinner
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in the Kremlin yesterday. After 3 hours of talks, Lukashenko left Moscow and returned to Minsk. Belarus hoped to do away with the price of $200 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian natural gas. However, Russia-Belarus talks proved to be a failure.
Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko met in the Kremlin’s Green Hall yesterday. Putin spoke about the budget of the Union State, and about the developing military-technical cooperation between Russia and Belarus.
Lukashenko agreed that both issues are important. However, he reminded that it was necessary to discuss practical issues as well. Certainly, the only practical issue which really interested Lukashenko in those talks was the introduction of export duties on Russian oil supplied to Belarus.
The cost of this issue for Belarus is estimated at nearly $2 billion annually. Economic war for control over Beltransgaz has been glowing for several years already. Kommersant’s high-placed source in the Kremlin said that even if Russian government’s decision about imposing export duties does contradict to some bilateral agreements with Belarus, Russia will rather revoke those agreements, and not the government’s decision.
Russia pushes for paying part of the price for Russian gas by Beltransgaz’s shares, after the company is estimated by independent audit firms trusted by Moscow, and not Minsk.
On the eve of Putin-Lukashenko meeting, two issues were taken off the agenda: the constitutional act and the transition to common currency. No new suggestions on either issue have appeared, thus there was no point in discussing them.
However, the talks ended without any result. Belarusian president did not manage to bargain down the new price of Russian natural gas for Belarus. The price is $200 for 1,000 cubic meters, and not a cent less.
Moreover, he received a refusal on all other major points on the talks’ agenda. Thus, export duties on Russian oil supplied to Belarus will be neither canceled, not lowered.
However, Lukashenko could foresee such outcome of the talks. After all, it is him who does not want to give away Beltransgaz, and does not agree that the company is in fact worth less than he thinks. According to Kommersant’s high-placed sources in the Kremlin, the price would be raised to $200 anyway.
Belarusian president thus had to pretend that the talks went well, and that he had reached agreement with his Russian counterpart, an agreement which will allow them to take Moscow-Minsk relations out of that dark abyss into which they fell thanks to long-term many-lateral efforts of all interested parties.
Perhaps, if Lukashenko had not pretended the negotiations were successful, no one would be surprised upon learning that Putin-Lukashenko joint dinner got cancelled, as well as their trip to the new ice-skating complex on Khodynskoe field in Moscow, which had been planned several days before the meeting.
The only thing that did not get cancelled was the traffic jams which paralyzed half of the city, because all ways to Khodynskoe field were blocked in the range of several kilometers.
Kozulin ends hunger strike after 54 days
From: Benton Center
Alexander Kozulin ended his hunger strike Tuesday after refusing food for 54 days, his lawyer said.
Kozulin ended his hunger strike on the same day as another Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, was awarded the European Union ‘s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, for his fight for democracy in the former Soviet republic.
"This prize is, of course, his," he told the European Parliament at the award ceremony in Strasbourg, France.
"Kozulin chose life, which was already hanging by a thread," attorney Igor Rynkevich said.
Rynkevich said that Kozulin was near critical condition after having lost 88 pounds during his imprisonment.
Kozulin is imprisoned in the city of Vitebsk, 185 miles northeast of the capital of Minsk and is living in a barracks with 19 other inmates.
A US envoy raised a hunger strike staged by Belarusian opposition politician Aleksandr Kozulin at a closed-door session of the UN Security Council on December 12.
The imprisoned former presidential candidate refused food between October 20 and December 11 to protest what he called the illegal reelection of Aleksandr Lukashenko for a third term and draw the international community's attention to the situation in Belarus. In particular, Dr. Kozulin pushed for a discussion of the Belarus issue in the UN Security Council.
Speaking at the session, US envoy William Brencick told colleagues that they should keep an eye on the Belarusian government's lack of freedom of expression, Reuters reported.
In response, Russia's US Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that the issue had nothing to do with the Council's business and noted that talks on Iran's nuclear program would not be constructive after the situation in Belarus had been raised at the session. The Iran talks were subsequently called off.
The Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday lashed out at the United States for raising the issue of Aleksandr Kozulin's hunger strike at a closed-door session of the UN Security Council the day before.
While speaking at the session, US envoy William Brencick told colleagues that they should keep an eye on the Belarusian government's lack of freedom of expression, Reuters reported.
Moscow condemned the US move as an attempt "to turn the Security Council into a platform for discussing issues dictated by US home policy interests." "We believe that the Council should consider only the issues falling within its jurisdiction under the UN Charter and representing a threat to international peace and security," the statement said.
The Russian foreign office noted that the discussion of human rights issues was a prerogative of other UN organizations, in particular the Human Rights Council established earlier this year.
"Moscow is concerned that the American delegation violated the UN Security Council's existing procedures. In this context, we drew the attention of W.Burns, the US ambassador in Moscow, to the above-mentioned abnormal situation and expressed hope that the US delegation would refrain from using similar methods in its work in the UN Security Council in the future," the statement said.
A Last Vestige of Civil Society Comes Under Attack
The authorities in Belarus should immediately halt their attempts to close down the last remaining human rights organization registered in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Last week the office of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, founded in 1995, was entered by bailiffs of the Minsk Economic Court, who seized office equipment from the Minsk-based human rights group. Human Rights Watch calls on the authorities to return the confiscated equipment immediately.
In December 2005 the Supreme Economic Court Presidium reinstated an order demanding the Belarusian Helsinki Committee to pay a crippling fine for not paying taxes on a European Union grant that the Belarusian authorities, as well as EU governments, had recognized as tax-exempt.
"In its campaign to eradicate civil society, the Belarusian government has trumped up tax-evasion charges against the country's last registered human rights group," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government's seizure of office equipment is just the latest in its series of attacks to shut down the Belarusian Helsinki Committee permanently."
Belarusian court authorities entered the office of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee on December 5 and seized a computer, a printer and a fax machine in what can only be termed an effort to cause the organization to suspend its activities permanently. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee believes that this is the latest politically motivated attempt of the Belarusian government to silence it and shut down its work.
"We cannot work properly without our office equipment, but are making due with our own personal computers," said Oleg Gulak, deputy chairman of Belarusian Helsinki Committee. "Despite the government's attempt to make it impossible for us to work, we will continue as long as we are able."
Since 2004 the Belarusian Helsinki Committee has been under severe legal pressure as the government has made repeated attempts to fine it for allegedly evading tax payments on tax-exempt EU grants. In January 2004 the Taxes and Dues Ministry Inspection of the Moscow district of Minsk brought tax-evasion charges against the committee. At the same time, the Department for Financial Investigations of the Committee of State Control also opened a criminal case against Belarusian Helsinki Committee officials that was only dropped in March of this year. On June 23, 2004, the Minsk Economic Court ruled in favor of the committee, stating that the group did not have to pay taxes on grants received under the European Union's Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) Program. This verdict upheld the 1994 memorandum, agreed on by both Belarus and the EU, that deems funding provided by the TACIS program tax-exempt.
In late 2005, after charges against the Belarus Helsinki Committee had been cleared, Evgenii Smirnov, the first deputy chair of the Supreme Economic Court, submitted an official protest to the court's presidium. A year ago, on December 20, the committee was found guilty of tax-evasion and was ordered to pay more than 160 million rubles (US$75,000) in fines and back taxes.
In March 2006, in pursuance of the Supreme Economic Court's presidium ruling, the authorities audited the committee's property. In August, deputy chair Smirnov rejected an appeal that the committee had made in July. Last week, the authorities valued the property seized from the committee at 255 thousand rubles (roughly US$120), which counts towards the greater sum that the committee has been ordered to pay.
"By slapping on this outrageous fine and seizing the Belarusian Helsinki Committee's office equipment, the government has again displayed its willingness to stifle the work of human rights defenders," says Cartner.
Last year the Ministry of Justice forced the Belarusian Helsinki Committee to shut down its regional network of offices, alleging that the group violated its internal membership rules and failed to properly register a regional office. The Ministry of Justice has also reopened a case against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee seeking to officially suspend their activities on account of their alleged tax-evasion. A hearing was scheduled for November 28, 2006, but was postponed by the judge until "sometime next year," according to the committee.
EU awards Belarus opposition leader with humanitarian prize
From: CBC News
The European Union awarded its top human rights award Wednesday to the main political rival of Belarus's president, honouring opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich for his fight for democracy in the former Soviet republic.
To a standing ovation, Milinkevich received the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize in the French city of Strasbourg.
He told the chamber that dictators do not last for long and said "we have to fight for freedom and independence again … for our children, just as French, Lithuanian, Polish and British children are entitled to live in freedom."
Jailed twice in recent weeks on suspicion of minor offences, he dedicated the prize to freedom fighters.
Milinkevich became a symbol of Belarus's persecuted opposition when he ran against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in March and lost. The EU and Washington condemned what they saw to be widespread abuses in Belarus and called the polls fraudulent.
Lukashenko claimed an 83 per cent victory and Milinkevich came second in the election with only six per cent of the vote. The results triggered mass protests that were broken up by police after four days.
The Sakharov Prize comes with a €50,000 ($75,768 Cdn) cheque. Milinkevich said he would donate the funds to help Belarusians who have suffered for political ideals.
The award ceremony came as Alexander Kozulin, the other rival candidate to Lukashenko in March, ended a 53-day hunger strike in a Minsk jail, where he landed after the rallies protesting the election results.
Belarus needs over USD202 million of foreign technical aid in 2006-2010
Belarus needs over USD202 million of foreign technical aid for present and future projects in 2006-2010. The funds are required to implement 74 projects laid down by the 2006-2010 national programme for international technical co-operation. The document was approved by Council of Ministers resolution No. 1644 of December 9, 2006.
BelTA learnt from the economy ministry, which coordinates the programme, it is an indicative document, which outlines Belarus need for foreign technical aid. The programme’s primary purpose is to attract external resources for the sustainable social and economic development of the country. The programme determines main directions of the state policy in getting the foreign technical aid. The document also lists the country’s present and future need for the aid.
The projects are supposed to be funded with money of international technical aid donors. The projects will be co-funded by Belarus’ central state and local budgets, innovation funds of national state administration bodies, proprietary funds of juridical persons and citizens. The programme also provides for other funding sources, which do not contradict the country’s legislation.
The foundation of the national policy in the international technical aid field is based on the 2006-2010 national social and economic development programme, a strategy designed to guide Belarus’ social and economic development up to 2020 and other programmes. Implementing the first programme, Belarus takes part in international economic relations and the international technical co-operation.
Defining and searching for additional resources able to satisfy the country’s needs are primary tasks, which need to be accomplished to secure the sustainable social and economic development. An instruction was issued to fix negative factors such as weak market institutions and infrastructure, insufficient level of the innovation industry and to overcome the high materials consumption and energy consumption of the manufactured products.
In view of Belarus’ current potential the Council of Ministers in co-operation with donors of the international technical aid suggests creating additional conditions for transition to the innovation-based way of the sustainable social and economic development taking into account the best international practices and attracting additional resources in order to accomplish some tasks. The plan is meant to address the intellectual and physical development of people, increase real cash incomes of the population and decrease the number of poor Belarusians, improve the demographic situation. The transition to the innovation-based development is supposed to utilise the development and implementation of effective innovation and investment projects, free-of-charge handover of technologies to Belarus. Experience of other countries is studied, first of all, the experience in the services sphere, primarily the education, healthcare, culture as the basis for effective accumulation and utilisation of the human potential as well as telecommunication, information, finance, insurance and other kinds of services. The level of environmental protection is supposed to increase. A new approach to alleviating Chernobyl catastrophe problems will be used.
The tasks are supposed to be handled with the maximum possible utilisation of domestic resources, first of all, via innovative capabilities of the economy and the country’s human potential.
Ukraine intends to sign an important agreement with Belarus
Minsk and Kyiv agreed to increase supply of electricity to Belarus in 2007 by 40% comparing with 2006 up to 3.5 milliard kilowatt-hour. Valentin Velichko the emergency and plenipotentiary ambassador of Belarus in Ukraine informed.
“According to preliminary agreement, volume of supplies in 2007 will comprise 3.5 milliard kilowatt-hour at a price of 2.44 cents for one kilowatt-hour, but the price will be differential depending on supply season. The matter concerns price formation for five summer and seven winter months,” Velichko said.
At the same time the Ambassador of the Belarus noted that the agreement is not signed yet. “The agreement is likely to be signed next week in Minsk,” he added.
According to Velichko, preliminary terms of supplies are agreed on December 14 in the scope of the negotiations in Kyiv between delegation of Belarusian state concern “Belenergo” and Ukrainian company “Ukrenergo”
As a reminder, Ukraine supplied to Belarus 2.5 milliard kilowatt-hour of electricity at a price of 2.1 cent for one kilowatt-hour in 2006. In January-October 2006 Ukraine exported to Belarus 2.1 milliard kilowatt-hour.
Travels Wise Launches Belarus Travel Guide
From: Transworld News
Travels Wise, the online European Travel Destination Guide, has announced the launch of the Belarus Travel Guide. This online guide, complete with photos and useful links, gives visitors detailed information on: How to obtain a visa, how to travel to Belarus, where to stay in Minsk and Belarus, what to do in Minsk and Belarus, and much more.
Gene and Galina Emmer, the authors, describe the guide as a work of love. “We wrote the Belarus Travel Guide because we believe that there is a real lack of information available about for visitors to Belarus. Information that we found is incomplete, out of date, or written by people who do not understand or do not appreciate the country.” Galina and Gene are perhaps the ideal authors for a guide to Belarus: Galina is a Belarusian citizen and Gene is a native English speaker. With close ties to Belarus, they can see the country from both an insider’s and an outsider’s point of view.
Gene said: “I enjoy traveling to Belarus. Minsk is a beautiful city, not what most people would expect. It is lively and has a lot to offer. And as a foreigner, I am usually treated very well. In many countries I have visited, tourists are seen as a nuisance. But in Belarus, often tourists are given special treatment, since they are still rather rare. Many Belarusians look to the West with a great deal of interest and respect, and that respect is often granted to Western citizens as well.”
Galina said: “The goal of our Belarus Travel Guide is to help visitors get the most out of the country. We know that for some, travel in Belarus will be difficult. So, we have filled our travel guide with photos, information and advice that we believe will help tourists enjoy their visit.” To see the Belarus Travel Guide, click: http://www.travelswise.com/belarus.htm
Eurovision: what's next for BTRC and the three finalists [exclusive]
From: Oiko Times
The second stage of the Belarusian preselection is over. Besides the sudden change of rules due to which only the winner of televoting proceeds to the final, The Project (3rd) and Diana (4th) also added to the final selection under the decision of the jury and for unknown reason. We tried the past few days to e-mail BTRC but there was no answer anyway. What secure sources near BTRC revealed exclusively to oikotimes.com yesterday, BTRC will ask the three artists to provide one or two new songs for the next phase of the selection scheduled for January 2007.
The same sources reval to oikotimes.com that the possibilities are totally in favour of Dmitry Koldun especially now, with a clear televoting victory. Dmitry Koldun is already seeking songs from other composers and as we managed to learn, he already found at least one. The third and final phase according to esckaz.com will also be under a live show. More details expected soon.
BELARUS AMBASSADOR VISITS NAKHCHIVAN AR
Chairman of Supreme Majlis of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan Vasif Talibov has met the ambassador of Belarus to Azerbaijan Nikolay Patskevich.
Greeting the visitor, Chairman of Supreme Majlis has told, that is glad to see him in Nakhchivan. He in detail told about the nature, natural resources, economy, the institutions of science, education, public health services, culture of the Autonomous Republic, being integral part of Azerbaijan,
The Chairman has emphasized, that during 15 years the Autonomous Republic is in blockade by Armenia, that the aggressive policy of official Yerevan causes colossal damage to region.
He has noted that the Autonomous Republic keeps in contact with Baku and other regions of republic only by means of air communication and through territory of Iran. Despite of it, the ancient land of Nakhchivan develops and strengthens its economy. It has been especially underlined, that among machines and the mechanisms delivered to Nakhchivan for development of agriculture, the Belarus technical equipment prevails.
Chairman of Supreme Majlis has regarded the visit of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev taken place on 17 October current year to Belarus as a new stage in partner relations of two countries. He noted presence of ample opportunities for development of economic relations between the Autonomous Republic and Belarus.
Having thanked for warm reception, ambassador Nikolay Patskevich has reminded merits of the nationwide leader of Azerbaijan people Heydar Aliyev in development of relations between two countries. He has emphasized readiness of official Minsk for cooperation with Azerbaijan in any area.
In meeting, also focused was the issue of creation of modern conditions for joint enterprises on the base of potential of both states. As stated, in Azerbaijan, there are opportunities for wider cooperation on assembling of tractor and other agricultural machines. Necessary steps are already taken in this field, which is evidence to hopeful prospects of cooperation.
In meeting, also were focused opportunities for establishment of contacts between the Autonomous Republic and one of the five oblasts of Belarus, the cooperation in the field of transport, tourism and education.
Can Foreign Investment Pay the Gas Bill?
Russia has increased natural gas prices for Belarus and imposed duties on crude exports, sabotaging Belarus' energy balance and financial health. Minsk will attempt to rectify the situation by opening the country's industry to foreign investment. Belarus will seek to balance a Western-oriented economy with a Russia that wants to retain the country as part of its periphery -- putting Belarus in play for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russia has imposed a $24.65 per barrel duty on crude exports to Belarus. The duty, approved Dec. 12, will take effect Jan. 1. Under the countries' previous customs arrangement, there was no duty on crude exports to Belarus -- a situation Russian oil companies took advantage of by exporting oil to Belarus, then exporting that oil and products refined in Belarus to other countries. This allowed the Russian companies to pay Minsk's smaller export duties and pay no export duties to the Kremlin.
At the same time, the two countries have been negotiating the delivery of Russian natural gas to Belarus. A deal has reportedly been struck, though both parties publicly deny any progress. Beginning in 2007, Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom will charge Belarus $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas, up from the current price of $46.68. Russia will pay $4 billion for a 49 percent stake in the Belarusian energy transport network Beltransgaz, providing Belarus with some funds to offset the increased natural gas price.
The Belarusian government's original expectation was that the $4 billion not only would be sufficient to finance payments for the natural gas deliveries, but would also give Minsk the time -- approximately two years -- to look for alternative solutions. One proposal is to open the Belarusian business sector to foreign investment (retaining controlling stakes in strategic enterprises, of course). The country has several significant heavy industries, such as the production of tractors, tires, appliances and other manufacturing. European investors would like to get into the Belarusian market but have been deterred by the country's unfriendly business environment. However, Belarus does boast cheap labor and a vertically integrated industrial sector that at least somewhat facilitates cooperation. Moreover, should Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko take the step to open the country for investment, he is likely to create a better environment than the restrictive Russia.
However, that plan may not work very well now that Belarus stands to lose an additional $1.7 billion to $2 billion in tax income from export duties on Russian crude. That gives the Belarusian government significantly less time to burn through the reported $4 billion income from the sale of Beltransgaz; the natural gas price increase is estimated to cost more than $3 billion alone. That indicates that this year, Lukashenko will adopt an aggressive policy to attract foreign investment in order to prepare the country for the next year's expenses. Although Lukashenko does have a presidential slush fund, the amount in it is unknown and he cannot be counted upon to use it in order to offset the expenses.
While Belarus attempts to attract foreign investment, Russia will not stand idly by. Russia considers Belarus an integral part of its periphery, vital not only for the transportation of energy to Europe, but for geopolitical considerations -- beyond Belarus lies NATO. Russia has decided to raise energy prices for all of its near abroad, since discounts were no longer ensuring loyalty, especially from the audacious Lukashenko, who has so far survived thanks to Russian subsidies. Russian investors will vie for any enterprises put up for sale, and Lukashenko will have to balance Western and Russian ownership of assets.
Although foreign investment will help, the Belarusian budget shortfall for 2007 will be approximately $5 billion -- or 16 percent of the country's 2005 gross domestic product of almost $30 billion -- meaning that Minsk will eventually have to bow to the Kremlin's pressure and sell more assets to Moscow in order to abate future price increases. The newfound openness to foreign investment will bring Belarus out of its cocoon somewhat, but will not completely turn it away from Russia.
Gloomy prospects for Belarus economy
From: Belarus News and facts
An independent economic expert, Yaroslav Romanchuk, has predicted that the imposition of customs duties on Russian crude oil exported to Belarus will deal a deadly blow to the Belarusian government's economic policy.
The head of the Mises think tank told that the government would have to revamp its economic course as early as next March, predicting a sharp fall in GDP growth and the depreciation of the national currency.
"The only source of stability and growth will be visibly drying out, the scenario that the Belarusian authorities are afraid of most of all," he said.
The expert pointed out that petroleum products were certain to increase in price in the country, which would lead to a rise in consumer products prices. "Consumers will have to tighten their belts," he said.
At the same time, Mr. Romanchuk noted, exports of Belarusian petroleum products to the EU will decrease. According to him, the exports, which account for 40 percent of all Belarusian exports to the block, amounted to some $3.7 billion in the first six months of this year.
Mr. Romanchuk said that the economic effects of an increase in Russian crude and gas prices would be tantamount to those that Belarus faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On Tuesday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov directed that crude oil exported to Belarus should be charged an export duty of $180 per metric ton beginning January 1, the same level, which is charged on crude exports to other nations.
Mr. Fradkov said in his directive that the move was made to protect Russia's "economic interests" in connection with Belarus failing to observe an interstate agreement on sharing customs duty proceeds from exports of products made of Russian crude.
At present Russia supplies crude oil to Belarusian oil refineries without levying any customs duties.
US Congressman Supporting Dictators
From: TOL Blogs
Congressman Jeff Flake does not need an introduction. He is one of the two representatives who voted against Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006. My sources on the Capitol Hill informed that such action was because Mr. Flake strongly believes in free trade and opposes economic sanctions. Thus, since BDRA called for such, he voted against it. Well, I guess he is the epitome of capitalism, someone who cares about money above everything else.
However, there is no good story without a sequel. BBC World News reported on Friday that delegation of American representatives visited Cuba. Take a wild guess who is leading the gang! Right! Our good ol’ pal Jeff Flake! The official goal of the weekend trip is to get some cigars and other fun stuff evidence in order to support the appeal to get rid of civilian trade embargo with Cuba. Apparently, Mr. Flake has almost made that issue his career goal in the House. There could not have been a better man for the job than him. I just wonder what else in addition to the “strong belief in free trade” makes him oppose economic sanctions against dictatorships.
Number One Seed Through but Defeat for the Defending Champion in Hong Kong
From: ITTF News
Top seed in the Men�s Singles event at the Volkswagen Pro Tour Grand Finals in Hong Kong, China�s Ma Lin, came through the quarter-final stage successfully on Saturday 16th December 2006 but for the second seed, his compatriot Wang Liqin, it was defeat.
Ma Lin beat Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus in a thrilling seven games encounter whilst Wang Liqin lost to his Chinese National team colleague, Wang Hao in a contest that was determined in five games.
Success for the top seed but for the defending champion it was defeat. Germany�s Timo Boll lost in a seven games encounter to Korea�s Oh Sang Eun whilst in the one remaining quarter-final contest; Hou Yingchao defeated Chen Qi in six games in an all China duel.
�The last time I beat Timo Boll was in 2002�, reminisced Oh Sang Eun. �Since then I�ve always lost!� In Hong Kong, the Korean was in fine form and found the antidote to the fast attacking play of the German.
�I tried to attack more and not block so much�, explained Oh Sang Eun. �Whenever I had to block I tried to look for the opportunity to attack.� On several occasions, Oh Sang Eun moved from a passive role into an active role, changing from blocking to attacking play on regular occasions.
�In the sixth game I had a lead and lost that game�, said Oh Sang Eun. It seemed his chance may have gone but it was to be quite the opposite scenario. �In the seventh game I went 5-0 ahead�, continued Oh Sang Eun. �I�ve had leads against Timo before and lost, so I really made sure that I was totally focused for each point; I am really happy, for me it�s a special win.�
Success for the stylish Korean but not for Vladimir Samsonov who has a similar style of play, he lost to Ma Lin. �He won the first game easily, then I came back to win the second and third games�, explained Vladimir Samsonov. �He made mistakes but in the fourth game I hurt my foot and I lost some concentration, I�m fine now but of course I�m disappointed that I lost.�
It was defeat for Vladimir Samsonov but he had been involved in what most regarded as the best match of the tournament to date. �I made some mistakes on my service and you can�t do that against Ma Lin�, said the man from Belarus. �He is so good at service and receive but when I could get into a rally I felt I had a really good chance.
Excellent Form Continues
Meanwhile, for both Wang Hao and Hou Yingchao they continued their excellent form. �I didn�t make so many mistakes as when I�ve played Wang Liqin in the past�, said Wang Hao. �Today I played consistently and I�m very pleased with my form.�
Similarly, Hou Yingchao was in good form. �Maybe Chen Qi was tired today, matches are fifty-fifty between us�, said Hou Yingchao. �He�s just returned from the Asian Games and yesterday he had a really tough match against another defender Joo Se Hyuk and he has a slight shoulder injury; everything was in my favour today.�
Maybe but Hou Yingchao excelled. �I�m different to Joo Se Hyuk, he uses long pimples on the backhand, I use short, that means I can vary the spin more and today that was very important.�
It was important and Hou Yingchao joined his collegues Ma Lin and Wang Hao in the semis; the interloper is the Korean, Oh Sang Eun, the man who beat the defending champion, Timo Boll; arguably the man the Chinese fear most.
Grandma's winner on steroids
From: News 24
Duluth, Minnesota - Grandma's Marathon organisers disqualified 2006 women's winner Halina Karnatsevich of Belarus after she tested positive for an anabolic steroid.
Karnatsevich, 36, tested positive for a banned substance, marathon organisers said in a news release on Thursday.
The International Association of Athletics Federations website indicated the substance was stanozolol.
Karnatsevich received a two-year ban from competition and will not receive the $8 000 prize for winning the Duluth race. The new winner is Svetlana Nekhorosh, 32, of Ukraine, with a time of 2:37:33.
Scott Keenan, executive director of Grandma's Marathon, said it was the fourth time USA Track and Field had selected the race for drug testing. It was the first time an athlete tested positive.
Keenan said Karnatsevich's prize money was withheld after she failed a preliminary test after the race. All the other top finishers who were tested passed the first round of testing and have received their prize money, he said.
Keenan said race organisers will continue to encourage USA Track and Field to include Grandma's Marathon on its schedule for drug testing in the future.
"Our attitude is very simple," he said. "We encourage drug testing. We want the sport to be as clean as possible."