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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lukashenka visits UAE, US to put missiles in Caucasus, Yama remembered, GB, Turkmenistan, Venezuelan Socialism, Blogs and Opposition issues

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  • #183

    Belarus president, Dubai ruler discuss cooperation development prospects

    From: BelTA
    Official Visit to the United Arab Emirates
    Prospects of developing the cooperation between Belarus and Dubai were discussed today by Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko and UAE vice-president, prime minister, defence minister, ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

    BelTA reported earlier, the Belarusian leader is paying an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on March 4-6. Today Alexander Lukashenko has also held negotiations with UAE president, Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The leaders of the two countries shared opinions about possibilities of expanding the cooperation, primarily, the cooperation in trade, economy, and investments.

    The Belarusian president stressed, the country has specific investment proposals for the emirate side to consider.

    According to the Belarusian side, private investments in tourism and real estate are most promising. Hotel industry and civil engineering projects can also become prospective.

    Today members of the Belarusian delegation hold bilateral meetings with emirate counterparts and partners. Several bilateral legal documents are expected to be signed in Abu Dhabi.

    A representative of the Belarusian delegation informed BelTA, the possibility of exporting quarry machines to the UAE is being worked out. In 2007 BelAZ plans to ship eight 55-tonne rock haulers. Belarus believes the promotion of high-tech products such as optics, electronics, control and metering devices, laser and biological technologies onto the UAE market to be promising.

    There are two joint ventures with a share of the UAE capital and one foreign-owned company in Belarus.

    Belarus has concrete investment proposals for the United Arab Emirates, president of this country Alexander Lukashenko has stated today in the course of his meeting with president of the United Arab Emirates, ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

    “We are ready to do everything possible for the Emirates to work in the European region more actively”, the Belarusian head of state added, BelTA was told by spokesman for the Belarusian leader Pavel Legkiy.

    Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan confirmed readiness of the UAE to promote cooperation with Belarus. According to him, geographical remoteness of the two states is not an obstacle for fruitful cooperation.

    Belarus and the United Arab Emirates will consider the issue of launching a direct air flight between the countries. Today in Abu Dhabi the sides signed an intergovernmental agreement on air service, Belarusian foreign minister Sergei Martynov told reporters.

    According to him, the United Arab Emirates are interested in cooperating with Belarus in tourism.

    “Our nature is very attractive for tourists from the UAE, who ever more often travel to Europe for recreation, including for the winter period,” the minister said.

    Sergei Martynov and the foreign minister of the UAE discussed issues of interaction of the two countries within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement and other international organizations. The sides highlighted the importance of consistent efforts towards the creation of a multi-polar world and just world order and discussed the present-day situation in the region.

    The sides voiced in favor of intensification of contacts between Belarus and the UAE at various levels. The current visit of the Belarusian leader to the UAE will provide a significant impetus for this.

    Belarus and the United Arab Emirates have reached agreements on cooperation in the spheres of energy, petrochemistry, telecommunications, transport, aviation and infrastructure.

    “The visit has shown that we are starting more serious cooperation at a more intensive and large-scale level. This pertains to not only trade, export and import cooperation but also to the UAE serious interest to invest in Belarus,” the head of the foreign ministry said.

    Speaking about the reasons for such an interest, Sergei Martynov noted that the economic level of Belarus is high enough to guarantee significant returns on investments. “Allowing for Belarus’ geostrategic position in Europe, it is of great interest for the United Arab Emirates. The Emirate partners would like to see Belarus as a gateway to Europe,” the minister stressed.

    The leadership of the United Arab Emirates have been invited to visit Belarus within the framework of the official visit of the Belarusian head of state to the UAE.

    “The UAE president, the ruler of the emirate of Dubai, the crown prince of the emirate of Abu Dhabi have accepted the invitation with thanks. We believe in the foreseeable perspective these three officials as well as heads of several emirate ministries will visit our republic”, said Sergei Martynov.

    The minister underlined, Alexander Lukashenko’s meetings in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai were of principal importance. “The visit of the president takes place on a sufficiently solid legal base of the relations, however, not all opportunities of our countries have been exhausted”, he added.

    On March 5, president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko will hold negotiations with the UAE top officials. As BelTA was told in the presidential press service, Alexander Lukashenko will meet with president of the United Arab Emirates, ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan are planned to discuss issues on promoting bilateral cooperation, first of all in the trade and investment spheres.

    On the same day Alexander Lukashenko will meet with UAE vice-president, prime minister, defense minister, ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

    Members of the Belarusian delegation are expected to hold bilateral negotiations with counterparts and colleagues from the UAE.

    The United Arab Emirates is the main trade partner of Belarus among the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. In 2006, the mutual trade turnover exceeded $26 million; the Belarusian exports totaled $24,3 million.

    U.S. now wants missile radar in Caucasus

    From: Yahoo
    The director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said Thursday that Washington wants to base an anti-missile radar in the Caucasus, a move that could provoke a further rift with Russia.

    Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering declined to specify which country the long-range radar could be installed in, but noted that "it would be very useful for the anti-missile system."

    Speaking on a stop at NATO headquarters in Brussels, he said "we would like to place a radar in ... the Caucasus."

    The United States has said the planned defenses would not be aimed at Russia, and are intended to defend against missile attacks from countries such as Iran.

    Moscow has angrily criticized Washington's plan to locate an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland. It is likely that placing another radar in a U.S.-allied country such as Georgia or Azerbaijan would provoke further protest.

    Unlike anti-aircraft systems, anti-missile radars have very narrow beams that cannot be used to monitor large swathes of air space. They have high resolution and very long ranges, allowing them to follow objects the size of a baseball at distances of up to nearly 2,000 miles.

    Russia has warned that Poland and the Czech Republic risked being targeted by Russian missiles if they agreed to host the U.S. anti-missile bases.

    In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said the missile elements planned by Washington for Poland and the Czech Republic would become a "factor that we will have to take into account while determining our steps in the military-political sphere and military development."

    "In the modern world, security is indivisible. You can't ensure your own security if you provoke other nations' concerns about their security," Grushko said in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

    Turkmenistan to increase imports of Belarus made machinery

    As the Ashgabat correspondent of reports, a delegation of Turkmenistan led by the minister of construction and construction industry materials, Jumadurdy Kakaliyev, has completed a two day visit to Belarus. The delegation also includes Ashgabat governor Orazmyrat Esenov and Turkmenistan's Ambassador to Belarus, Ilya Veljanov.

    The Turkmen delegation visited Stroymash and Mogilevliftmash plants in Mogilev province and a number of enterprises in Minks and Gomel provinces specializing in construction, farm machinery and equipment. The delegation also got acquainted with Belarusian construction technologies and the scope of construction industry.

    According to BELTA, in an interview with local journalists Ilya Veljanov said that the Turkmen side "agreed that Belarusian machinery and equipment can compete with production of leading foreign companies, and even outdo it by certain characteristics, including servicing characteristics and price." He said Turkmenistan is interested in increasing imports of Belarusian construction services, materials, equipment and farm equipment.

    It should be noted that Turkmenistan signed several contracts with Belarusian machinery plants this year. As of now, about 9 draft agreements on cooperation in various spheres have been prepared.

    Russians Moving on Fiji?

    From: New Zeal
    I have contended for some time that last December's Fijian coup was mounted to benefit the left, particularly Mahendra Chaudhry and his crypto-communist Fiji Labour Party.

    Fiji has been a target of the Soviets/Russians for decades, as a potential base for spreading influence throughout the South Pacific.

    Mahendra Chaudhry was close to the Soviets in the '80s, as were many of his trade union/Fiji Labour Party colleagues.

    It was fear of Soviet influence and their links to the radical Fiji Labour Party, that partially motivated Sitiveni Rabuka's 1987 coup.

    Recently, Chaudhry and his party have been close to China, but it appears that the Russians are also keen to exploit the new regime.

    While NZ, Australia and the US are out of favour with Fiji's new government, apparently the Russians are welcome.

    From Radio NZ International

    Posted at 17:02 on 04 March, 2007 UTC

      Russia was represented for the first time at the presentation of a Fiji government budget when the interim finance minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, revealed his financial plans last Friday.

      Russia’s Canberra-based ambassador to the Pacific, Alexander Blokhin, attended the budget presentation in Suva.

      The Russian presence coincided with the absence from the budget of the high commissioners of Australia and New Zealand and the ambassador for the United States, although the three diplomats have traditionally been present.

      Representatives from all Asian and Pacific countries which have diplomatic offices in Fiji were present.

      Mr Blokhin said through an interpreter that Russia was interested in investing in the agricultural sector and he wanted to introduce Russian businesses to Fiji.

    I don't know why Mr Blokhin needed an interpreter, as he is an English speaker.

    Belarus' border control chief upbeat on cooperation with Finnish border guards

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Pawlowski, chairman of Belarus' State Border Troops Committee (SBTC), has expressed a high opinion of the current level of cooperation between the Belarusian and Finnish border control services.

    Mr. Pawlowski met with his Finnish counterpart, Jaakko Smolander, in the Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park near the Polish border on March 1 and 2.

    The talks yielded a memorandum setting out areas of further cooperation between the two countries' border control services. In particular, the agreement provides for joint workshops both in Belarus and Finland and the exchange of information and experts.

    While talking to reporters in Brest on March 2, General Pawlowski said that the talks focused on the use of aircraft and river boats in patrolling the border. General Pawlowski informed the Finnish counterpart about the demarcation of the state border. Mr. Smolander said that Finnish border guards were interested in Belarusian-made equipment used for detecting fake documents at border crossings.

    Under discussion also was the countries' effort to combat illegal migration and transborder crime.

    "The Belarusian-Finnish meeting was held for the fourth time, with Belarus hosting it for the second time," he said. "It was not by accident that Brest was picked as the venue, as our Finnish colleagues were interested to know how we guard the Polish border."

    Remembrance ceremony held at the Yama Pit in Minsk

    From: Babushka
    Hundreds gather at the 65th aniversary of the Yama pit on March 2nd
    Today, hundreds gathered in the rain to honor the memory of 5,000 prisoners of the Minsk ghetto who were brutally murdered by Nazis on this day 65 years ago. The ceremony was held in the Yama pit, where victims were forced to dig their own mass-grave, were shot by the Nazis and thrown into the pit. This site, where many victims were buried alive in whirlwind of extermination, is now surrounded by modern residential buildings. Mr. Leonid Levin, architect, head of the Minsk Jewish Community and Director of the Belarusian Union of Jewish Communities, along with other artists, erected a memorial in the pit in honor of the deceased.

    Erected in 1946, the monument was the first and only one in the USSR devoted to the Holocaust which displayed Yiddish writing. Remarkably, not only did the monument survive the efforts of Stalin to eradicate all traces of Jewishness, but it also became the only one in Belarus where Jews could legally gather without any interference from the government, which they did throughout the period of Communist rule.

    Today the ditch has been expanded to include a walkway and plaza, trees planted for Righteous Gentiles. There is an evocative sculpture that stands on a slope parallel to the steps leading into the pit of Yama, depicting Jews being forced down into the ravine.

    Michail Treister, Chair of the Belarusian Association of Former Jewish Ghetto and Nazi Camps Prisoners emceed the event. Among those who attended were Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, Israeli Ambassador to Belarus, Jonathan M. Moore, Counselor and Deputy Chief of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, and Latvian Ambassador to Belarus, Maira Mora. Youth members of JCC “Emuna” recited Holocaust poetry, and Rabbi Grisha Abramovich of the Progressive Community recited Av Harachamim, the prayer for martyred Jews.

    After the ceremony, diplomats, honorees, veterans, survivors, children, and Jewish community professionals lined up to place wreaths, bouquets, or even single flowers on the memorial to offer their respects to those that were lost.

    GB sends medical supplies to Chornobyl

    From: Strabane Chron
    A container with an amazing half a million pounds worth of medical supplies and other materials left Strabane last weekend destined for Chernobyl, Belarus, in the latest venture by a locally-based charity.

    The cargo, which included scanners, beds and surgical equipment, will help raise the quality of life for adults and children alike in the contaminated region, and was possible in no small part by the charity of local people and businesses.

    This is the tenth appeal by Chernobyl Children Aid North-West, over a period of around 12 years, and is the largest and most successful campaign to date.

    Led by local couple, Dominic and Diane Bradley, the 40 foot container was packed on Saturday to start its two-week journey to the Chernobyl region.

    The most expensive individual item included was a body scanner, which detects thyroid gland cancer amongst other ailments, which cost a staggering £120, 000 pounds.

    Also making the journey is a bore scope at £119,000 and a number of incubators for newborns, surgical items, and new beds for a local hospital.

    A quantity of items for new schools in the area was also packed onto the truck.

    As one of the directors of the charity, Christopher Key had the opportunity last year to experience the region for himself, and can appreciate just how much the assistance means to those who benifit from it.

    He explained, "It's a massive undertaking, and we're very proud that we're able to help. It will take around three or four weeks for the container to travel by sea, before it continues by land to its destination.

    "It's held by the Government officials there, as they're very strict, until the contents are all checked. Then, we work through the 'Cry of the Soul' charity, who help us to distribute the items to where they're most needed.

    "Dominic (Bradley) goes over there each time to make sure things go to where they're supposed to.

    "I was over there last April, and it broke my heart to see the way people over there are forced to live."

    Of course, such an appeal would simply not be possible without the support and assistance of local people, and the charity are very much grateful for the help received.

    Chris concluded, "We couldn't do this without the help of the local schools, businesses, and everyone else who has contributed to the charity in any way. They are the people who make this all possible. Every appeal we do, we have to go that bit further afield as it's not fair to expect the same people to donate or to buy tickets all the time.

    "The thing about our work is that it's very transparent - you can see clearly where every penny goes, not like putting money into a box or the likes.

    "The people over there tell us what they need, and we go and get it. That's how it works and why it's been so successful.

    "We'll be having another appeal in September, and of course we'll once again be looking for the support of the public.

    "However, we would urge people not to be leaving any clothes or other items with us until the collection later in the year.

    "Then we'll gratefully accept it, but storage is a major problem between now and then."

    'The thing about our work is that it's very transparent - you can see clearly where every penny goes, not like putting money into a box or the likes.'

    Minsk Factory to send Sparkling 1917 champagne to UK

    From: Press reliese
    The Minsk Factory of Sparkling Wines, in the Republic of Belarus, is the producer of Sparkling 1917 for its brand owner, UK-based Iron Wolf Ltd. This factory has been making sparkling wine since 1979, and by sales is one of the most successful of the former Soviet and Russian Imperial "champagne" makers.

    Sparkling 1917, is now available in the UK for the first time. Specially selected as its first product by the Iron Wolf Company it can now be bought through

    Mark Pursey, Iron Wolf Director says, "After multiple trips to the former Soviet Union we arrived at this Minsk product as offering the taste and style that we were looking for, excellent quality at a competitive price. Initial tasting in London indicated that many share our view which is why we are now proud to launch it to the British market."

    Belarussian ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, Aleksandr Mikhnevich, says "We are proud that the excellent products from the

    Minsk Factory of Sparkling Wines are now available in the UK and look forward to further mutual co-operation."

  • From around the region...

    Russia, China Boycott U.S.-hosted Talks on Asia Security, North Korea Nuclear Program

    From: MosNews
    Chris Hill
    China and Russia shunned the United States on Thursday by boycotting U.S.-hosted talks on North East Asian security issues that also focused on North Korea’s nuclear program, the Reuters news agency reported.

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill told reporters the United States did not see China and Russia’s decision not to attend the meeting as a snub. “They did not say it was for policy reasons,” he said, adding that seven other countries had been there. “The secretary has seen China and Russia throughout the week —- breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who hosted the talks.

    Attendees at the meeting, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, were the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

    North Korea was also invited but did not attend, just as they have stayed away since last November from six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions after the United States slapped financial sanctions on them.

    The six-party talks bring together China, Russia, Japan, the two Koreas and the United States.

    Thursday’s meeting, which lasted about an hour, was intended as a follow-up to similar North Asian security talks in Malaysia last July on the sidelines of an Asian regional conference. China arrived late to that meeting, saying it had been trying to get North Korea to attend.

    Hill made clear the talks held on Thursday and last July were not intended to replace the six-party process and he reiterated a call for Pyongyang to return to those discussions, saying all other participants were ready. “It is not designed to be a substitute,” he added. He said Thursday’s meeting was also aimed at showing North Korea there was broader concern about its nuclear programs and demonstrated that while Pyongyang could boycott the six-party process it could not veto other discussions.

    Countries attending the meeting were urged to implement a UN Security Council resolution passed after North Korea test-fired seven missiles into the sea in July. Member states were mandated to prevent the transfer of technology or financial resources related to Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction programs. Australia and Japan did that this week and told the meeting about the measures.

    Japan effectively froze remittances and the transfer of funds from Japan by groups suspected of links to North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction or missile programs, while Australia slapped sanctions on foreign exchange transactions involving North Korean companies in the chemical and machinery sectors, among others.

    South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, reaffirmed his government’s support for the resolution and urged the North to “refrain from any action that might aggravate the situation.”

    He gave no details but U.S. officials have expressed concerns about signs Pyongyang may be preparing an underground nuclear test.

    The United States has criticized China for not taking tough measures against North Korea. Hill said the United States was reviewing its own compliance with the UN resolution but he declined to go into details.

    Sex-abuse allegations rip Polish diocese

    From: CWS News
    In Poland, new accusations have been aired about sexual abuse of young men in the Diocese of Plock.

    The daily Rzeczpospolita charges that in Plock, diocesan officials have been aware of sexual buse by priests, and has not acted to address the problem. The diocese has not responded to the accusations.

    (The Plock diocese had been lead for the past 7 years by Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, who became the focus of a different sort of controversy after he was appointed Archbishop of Warsaw. He was forced to resign, shortly before his scheduled installation in Warsaw, in the face of accusations that he had been an informer for the secret police under the Communist regime.) A priest of the Plock diocese, quoted anonymously by Rzeczpospolita, said that the sex-abuse problems could be traced back to the 1970s, under the leadership of the late Bishop Bogdan Sikorski. At that time, the priest charged, some priests were preying on young men in the seminary; now those victims are priests, and they are repeating the offense with altar boys.

    Father Adam Boniecki, the editor of the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, argued that there is no excuse for a failure to confront sexual abuse by clerics. “What took place in the Diocese of Plock,” he said, “is a consequence of the fact that in Poland, the bishops have not established clear procedures. The experience of the Church in Ireland and the USA demonstrated the necessity of procedures on how to act in the case of an accusation of pedophilia or homosexuality against a priest. The passivity of the institutional church is now deafening. Local bishops do not have the tools and courage in order to address such problems. After all, this is not a new phenomenon about which no one knew.”

    Gazprom to build HQ Project in St Petersburg

    From: E Architect
    The intended St. Petersburg Gazprom building
    (Click photo to enlarge)
    UK-based international architectural firm RMJM has been appointed to design the new headquarters of one of the world’s largest companies – Russian gas giant Gazprom. RMJM’s winning proposal is a 396 metre high twisting, glass needle which echoes the spires across the city of St Petersburg. RMJM beat off 5 other internationally-renowned architects for the commission to develop proposals for the tower in the historic heart of the city, close to the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge and Smolny Cathedral.

    Tony Kettle, UK Managing Director of RMJM and lead architect on the project, commented: “Winning the prestigious commission to design Gazprom’s new headquarter building in St Petersburg is wonderful news for RMJM. There has been much debate and opposition to introducing a building of this height to St Petersburg, but when you consider Paris, a city with an equally precious environment, it has been made even more special by the 324 metre high Eiffel Tower.

    “I think that the quality of the tower’s design and its exclusive nature is critical here and we firmly believe that our design truly works for the city, St Petersburg is not the place to create a collection of towers like Manhattan or Paris’ La Defense. We have created something quite unique and timeless, a beautiful landmark for the city which will also set new standards for energy conservation and sustainability. Gazprom is one of the world’s most important energy companies and it is fitting that in a city of spires, this new spire should symbolise the importance of energy.”

    The inspiration for the RMJM’s design came from the concept of energy in water - the site is located on the city’s main waterway the River Neva, with the form of the building deriving its shape from the changing nature of water, ever changing light, reflections and refraction. The five-sided tower twists as it rises to delicately touch the sky.

    The announcement comes on the day that RMJM opens its first office in Moscow.

    The practice was awarded the prestigious City Palace Tower contract in the country’s capital city earlier this year as well as ongoing high-quality leisure, residential and commercial projects across Russia. These activities have raised the company’s profile and led to the decision to put down more permanent roots in Moscow. It takes the firm’s total number of offices worldwide to 11.

    Venezuela's communists resist president's push for single socialist party

    From: IHT
    Chavez and castro
    Venezuela's Communist Party affirmed Monday its commitment to the Marxist ideals espoused by President Hugo Chavez but resisted the leftist leader's proposal to disband and join a single, revolutionary party.

    Communists will not consider relinquishing their 76-year history as an independent party until the ideological foundation of the future ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, has been clearly defined, said Oscar Figueras, Secretary General of Venezuela's Communist Party, or PCV.

    "After the character of this organization is defined, the political parties will make decisions" regarding their own future, Figuera said at the party headquarters in Caracas, where portraits of communist icons Vladimir Lenin and Ho Chi Minh hang on the walls. "It cannot occur beforehand."

    Chavez has already disbanded his own party, the Fifth Republic Movement, to make way for the forthcoming political organization, which is to replace a long list of pro-Chavez parties.

    While several parties have swiftly agreed to disband before joining Chavez's new party, the Communist Party and two other pro-Chavez parties, Fatherland For All and Podemos, have been holdouts.

    A committee appointed by Chavez, including leftist leaders from several pro-government parties, is designing a basic blueprint for the new party, but no binding decisions have been made.

    "We are not going to disband," Jose Albornoz, secretary general of Fatherland For All, told local Union Radio. "We are going to wait because the ball is currently in the committee's court."

    During a meeting Sunday near the seaside town of Rio Chico, close to 1,000 communists — including union leaders, student activists and cooperative farmers — decided to join a debate about the ideological direction of Chavez's new party.

    Party members "accept President Chavez's invitation to participate in the common effort of creating a new party," said PCV president Jeronimo Carrera, 84, who was imprisoned three times for working clandestinely against the rule of Venezuela's last dictator, Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez.

    The party's red flag, bearing a hammer and sickle, flew outside an auditorium while delegates ended the weekend meeting singing Venezuela's national anthem.

    Some wore T-shirts emblazoned with pro-Chavez slogans, and party members stressed they wholeheartedly back Chavez. But an attachment to the party's traditions and ideology has made the idea of giving it up hard to swallow for many.

    Although the Communist Party is relatively small, its popularity has surged since Chavez was first elected in 1998.

    Hundreds of party members have been elected to municipal councils, nearly a dozen Communist lawmakers sit in the entirely pro-Chavez National Assembly and more young blood is constantly pumped into the movement through the Communist Youth, the party's youth wing.

    Young party leaders include David Velasquez, 28, who in January became Chavez's first Communist Party Cabinet member when he was appointed minister for popular participation and social development.

    Chavez — a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro — says Venezuela needs a single socialist party to rein in political interests and more efficiently lead his movement. Many analysts call it an effort to consolidate party control.

    Alarmed by Chavez's socialism, rich Venezuelans head to Florida

    From: GulfNews
    Miami Beach Condos
    They call it "Plan B". As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez further tightens control of the South American country's economy, wealthy Venezuelans who once thought they could live with his socialist edicts are turning to their backup plan - flight to the United States, particularly Florida.

    Venezuelans have long gobbled up condos and pre-construction deals in Florida as investments, but the latest buyers want homes where they can live and business properties that will help them earn a green card - legal residency.

    Professionals leaving

    "First the people who come are the businessmen in the highest circles, then the losing politicians, then the military and then the professionals," said Miami-based immigration attorney Oscar Levin. "You're beginning to see the [Venezuelan] professionals."

    Upper-class Venezuelans and their money flowed out of the country shortly after Chavez was first elected in 1998 and again when he quashed an unsuccessful coup against his government in 2002. Many professionals, who had held out hope that the climate would remain friendly to business, were unnerved by the latest nationalisations.

    "There is so much insecurity, political insecurity, economic insecurity," said Venezuelan Miguel Medina, a business executive who moved to Miami in August. "You don't know if a contract you signed today will be honoured by the government in the future ... This was definitely my plan B, but it was time to do the plan B."

  • Opinion...

    Russia, pumped


    From Saturday's Globe and Mail

    Given credit for the country's energy-fuelled growth, Mr. Putin and his advisers have tightened their grip on Russian society. Amid allegations of thuggery and anti-democratic tendencies, they have cowed political opposition; gained control over much of the media, and reinserted the state into the economic life of the country.

    In the oil and gas sector, they are pursuing a form of state capitalism, in which government-controlled companies will be pre-eminent, but will operate under market principles, often in partnership with multinational oil companies.

    The age of the oligarch in Russia has passed. The billionaires, who made their fortunes through dubious privatization deals in the 1990s, once controlled the largest Russian energy companies and media outlets and had enormous political clout. Now, they are scattered and diminished – in jail, in exile or in thrall to the supremely powerful and immensely popular Mr. Putin.

    The prosecution and imprisonment of former OAO Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the sale of what was once Russia's largest oil company to state-controlled firms sent a clear political message. The Putin government was firmly in control and would brook no challenge, as Mr. Khodorkovsky was said to be mounting. The strongman President was prepared to redress what many Russians regarded as the excesses of the privatization period, as he forced privately held assets to be sold off at bargain-basement prices to state-controlled companies.

    At the same time, international oil companies that had signed production-sharing agreements in the 1990s, giving them access to Russia's largest resource developments, have been pressured into yielding control to state-owned companies.

    At the end of 2006, Royal Dutch Shell and its Japanese partners sold a controlling stake in the massive Sakhalin II natural gas project to OAO Gazprom, the state-owned energy company whose chairman is Mr. Putin's deputy prime minister. Now, the French company, Total SA is facing similar pressure over its rich Kharyaga oil and gas field, as the government claims it has failed to live up to the development agreement.

    Also, the government is putting the finishing touches on a law that would restrict majority ownership in “strategic” oil and natural gas reserves, as well as mineral deposits, to state-owned companies.

    Mr. Putin has long been an advocate of state control over strategic resources. In January, 1999, just before becoming president, he submitted a thesis for an advanced degree at the St. Petersburg Institute of Mining in which he argued that state-controlled natural resources would be crucial to the country's economic development, as well as its international stature.

    At a recent press conference, he said he remains determined to use proceeds from the oil and gas sector – which represent nearly half of government revenues – to attack the vast gap between the nouveau riche and the vast majority of Russians who, he said, “are still living on very modest means indeed.”

    To Canadians, his approach evokes the 1970s when Pierre Trudeau created Petro-Canada and the National Energy Program to reduce foreign dominance of Canada's oil industry.

    Russia's national champions are Gazprom, the world's largest natural-gas producer; state-controlled OAO Rosneft, which conducted Russia's largest initial public offering last summer, raising $10.4-billion (U.S.) by selling a 13 per cent stake; and publicly held OAO LUKoil, which is Russia's largest oil company and is 20 per cent owned by U.S.-based ConocoPhillips Co.

    LUKoil has production assets, refineries and gas stations around the world, and offers the best evidence that Mr. Putin is not totally hostile to private, and even foreign capital, so long as it recognized that the state has the final say. It and Gazprom, in particular, are seen as Russia's leading candidates to compete with the likes of Exxon, Shell and China's emerging oil companies.

    Gazprom now insists that would-be partners in Russian natural gas projects allow it to buy into their operations at the other end of the pipeline. Petro-Canada is currently negotiating a joint venture with Gazprom on a liquefied natural-gas facility near St. Petersburg, but Gazprom has made it clear the price of admission is that Petrocan sell a stake in the LNG terminal it has planned for Gros Cacouna, Que..

    LUKoil, meanwhile, has more than 2,000 gasoline stations in the eastern United States, including a monopoly along the Jersey Turnpike. The Moscow-based company is also exploring and developing reserves around the world, including in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez recently ordered the expulsion of western energy majors. Last month LUKoil chief executive Vagit Alekperov accompanied Mr. Putin on a trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar where, among other things, the President mused about forming a natural-gas cartel among major producers.

    But Gazprom has run into resistance from European politicians who worry about the loss of their own strategic assets to companies with close ties to the Kremlin.

    So far, Russian firms haven't evoked in North America the kind of backlash that greeted the planned acquisition of U.S. ports by a Qatar company, or the proposed acquisition by a Chinese state-owned oil company of California-based Unocal Corp.

    Last fall, the Canadian government signalled its discomfort with major acquisitions by foreign state-owned companies, promising additional scrutiny to ensure they're in the national interest.

    And the Russian presence in North America remains modest. LUKoil has service stations, but no refinery or oilfields. Gazprom has opened a natural gas trading office in Houston, but has no real assets in North America. The test will come when a major Russian company, state-owned or not, undertakes a major U.S. acquisition.

    Meanwhile, critics in Russia accuse Mr. Putin of using the naked power of the state to centralize economic decision-making within a small group of advisers, who not only serve in his government but take prominent positions in leading state-controlled companies. The most notable example: deputy premier Dmitry Medvedev, one of Mr. Putin's two leading potential successors, who also happens to be chairman of Gazprom. His chief rival is Sergei Ivanov, whom the President recently promoted from defence minister to first deputy prime minister, putting him on par with Mr. Medvedev.

    Political opponents also worry that Mr. Putin's nationalistic policies will drive away foreign investment needed to develop the country's oil and gas reserves which, while vast, are often located in remote, inhospitable locales far from access to markets.

    Among Mr. Putin's most vociferous critics is former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was a liberalizing force in the president's first term until he resigned over the prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky.

    During an interview, Mr. Kasyanov complains in his made-for-radio baritone about the current drift of the government. Mr. Putin is squandering the oil boom, argues Mr. Kasyanov, whose office is in a new business tower atop a bustling middle-class mall, complete with food court.

    The impeccably dressed reformist politician has announced his own long-shot run at the presidency next March when Mr. Putin's second (and last, according to the Constitution) term expires. He complains, however, that he can't gain access to the Kremlin-friendly mass media, and of the “criminal” approach to politics employed by his former colleagues.

    This week, he was visited by special prosecutors investigating an alleged fraud by a former government colleague, a move seen as a veiled hint to the politician that he ought not to be too successful.

    Mr. Kasyanov takes a dim view of the Putin re-nationalization: “The major purpose is just to use oil prices to keep power. They are not issuing any reforms but are just increasing spending and making promises to keep popularity.”

    He adds that Mr. Putin and his coterie are tapping a deep-seated xenophobia among the Russian population to justify the government's heavy-handed actions in the oil and gas sector. “The Russian people believe the hungry capitalists would like to eat Russian sovereignty and Russian resources and so on,” he says.

    “There is no leadership to make people understand how modern nations interact.”
    Read the full text...

  • From the blogs...

    US to place missiles in the Caucasus

    From: Captains Quarters Blog
    The US has sent a message back to Vladiimir Putin after his eruption at Poland and the Czech Republic for considering the installation of American missile-defense infrastructure. After the Russian president's threat to start aiming medium-tange missiles at eastern Europe, the Missile Defense Agency answered by adding the Caucasus as another desired site for their system (See article above)

    It's hard to view that as anything less than a message to Putin, and the substance of that message is that we will not be cowed by the Kremlin.

    It's not as if the Russians share our security concerns anyway. Their deputy Foreign Minister told the press that "In the modern world, security is indivisible." Funny, but they didn't seem to think that when they agreed to supply Iran with nuclear power and when they stuffed billions of dollars into Saddam's pockets. They made security divisible over the last few years, especially in Southwest Asia.

    That left us with a security gap regarding Iran, who now tests missiles that have enough range to hit our allies in the Middle East as well as potentially those in eastern Europe, with the Shahab-3. They could add nuclear warheads to those missiles in six months, and we need to find a way to stop them. Since the Russians have made it much easier for them to develop the fissile material necessary for the nukes, we have to focus some of our effort on defense rather than prevention.

    Why the Caucasus? It would give a more complete encirclement of Iran with the MDS. As Putin undoubtedly sees, it would also make a better shield from Russian missiles if the need arose, and given his recent moves in Belarus, Ukraine, and internally to Russia, he's making the case that it will. The message reminds Putin that the borders of his new empire are a great deal smaller than those of the Soviets, if he chooses to take Russia down that path again.

    Belarus car market growth

    From: Belarus News and Facts
    Daewoo Matiz
    Car dealers are seeing more customers than ever. Last year, Belarusians bought more than 10,000 new cars.

    A few years ago, new car sales from dealerships were negligible. Now, they are steaming ahead. Since the end of 2005, private individuals and legal entities have had almost equal import and sales terms. Dealers and importers have had to sell new cars at $5,000-6,000 less than previously in order to remain competitive. Unsurprisingly, customers would much rather leave the paperwork and effort to dealers; they are now hurrying along to snap up cars at these new bargain prices. Lack of funds is no problem since credit is available; half of all new cars are bought using loans. People are happy to spend their spare cash on a safe, comfortable vehicle — most want a modern model with four airbags.

    Cars are also status symbols and, increasingly, families have more than one car. You can quite easy judge a driver’s income and social status by their automobile. T e Audi A8 is popular among successful businessmen, the Daewoo Matiz is a common family saloon for the upwardly mobile and those on a more modest income prefer the Dacia Logan.

    Last year, the car market entered a new, mature phase. Belarusians no longer want to waste time and money repairing a ten-year old foreign car. They’d rather take out a loan to enjoy soft seats and a fast engine. Last year, 384 moderately priced Daewoo Matiz cars were sold (for at least $5,950) — ten times more than the number sold in 2005. It makes more sense to buy a small car under guarantee than a worn out Japanese or German automobile.

    The Dacia Logan was the top seller of 2006 — 515 Belarusians bought it last year. Volkswagen, Toyota and Skoda were the next in line. However, Belarus has some way to go to catch up with its European neighbors. In 2005, 14,000 new cars were sold in Lithuania (pop: 3m). Belarusian dealers want to compete against second-hand foreign car sales. Last year, 135,000 second-hand foreign cars were brought into Belarus from abroad (excepting Russia). “The growth of new car sales is governed by three factors: economic stability, the availability of consumer credit and dealers’ reputations,” says Lyudmila Shabanova, General Director of the Belarusian Automobile Association. “Our market has become attractive to car producers. They are demanding that their representatives meet strict corporate requirements: centers should be modern and well-equipped and dealers should develop their services.”

  • Sport...

    Belarus takes the gold medal in the 4x400m Women Final at the Birmingham Indoor European Championships

    From: European Athletics
    Two outstanding performances by the Usovich sisters, firstly by Svetlana on leg three and then by her younger sibling Ilona, brought Belarus its first gold medal of the European Athletics Indoor Championships.
    In addition to having gold medals hung around their necks, the Usovich sisters and their team mates Yuliana Yuschnaka and Irina Khliustava also claimed championship and national records of 3:27.83 in the penultimate event of the Championships.

    “Before we started the race we only wanted to come first although we knew the Russians were very good,” said Belarus champion Yuschnaka, although the pre-race predictions had Russia and Great Britain fighting for the gold medals

    However, Belarus were so determined to regain their 4x400m title they won in 2002 that Yuschnaka, who is the third fastest women in Europe over two laps of the track this winter, was not even entered for the individual 400m and Ilona Usovich was the only Belarus athlete who contested that event.

    Russia’s Olesya Zykina, the individual 400m bronze medallist on Saturday, lead over the first 400m with Britain’s Emma Duck on her shoulder.

    Natalya Ivanova kept the Russians, the defending champions, in the lead until halfway through the second leg when Britain’s Nicola Sanders swept around her and built up a three metre advantage.

    “Normally I would run on the last leg, but we wanted to give the team the chance to be up there at the end. I'm really pleased with the way I ran,” said Sanders.

    However, Kim Wall couldn’t keep Britain in pole position as Svetlana Usovich, the 2005 European indoor silver medallist, took Belarus from third to first on the third leg and set up her sister who had won a similar medal 24 hours before.

    Natalya Antyukh ran a excellent last leg to chase home Ilona Usovich and claim the silver medals for Russia with 3:28.16 but losing their title wasn’t a pleasant experience.

    “After we were ahead from the first leg, we were only thinking about the gold medal. Nobody will happy with the silver medal,” said Antyukh, the 2002 European indoor 400m champion.

    Lee McConnell held off Poland’s fast-finishing Grazyna Prokopek and secured the bronze medals for the hosts in a national record of 3:28.69.

    Belarus 3:27.83
    1023 Yuschanka, Yuliana 53.16
    1016 Khliustava, Iryna 52.07
    1022 Usovich, Svetlana 52.01
    1021 Usovich, Ilona 50.59

  • Sport briefs...

  • Ilona Usovich of Belarus matched the achievement of her older sister, Svetlana, who won the silver medal in this event at the 2005 European indoors in Madrid, by running a personal best of 51.00 in the women's 400m final.

  • Pavel Lyzhyn of Belarus took silver (20.82) in the Men's shot put behind Slovakia's Mikulas Konopka's winning toss of 21 meters, 57 centimeters.

  • 3, Andrei Krauchanka, took the bronze medal in the heptathlon with 6,090. He also won the high jump competition. Roman Sebrle, Czech Republic finished first with 6,196. Aleksandr Pogorelov of Russia took the silver.

  • Yulia Leantsiuk took fourth place in the shot put with a best of 18.10.

  • 8, Natallia Safronava took 8th place in the tripple jump with a best of 13.82.

  • Delegates to a March 4 conference of the Belarusian Soccer Federation (BFF) voted unanimously to reelect Henadz Nyavyhlas, head of the Presidential Administration, as BFF chairman. There were no other candidates for the post.

  • Endnote...

      "Any head of any state can dream of such opposition. I'm telling you sincerely that I cherish it, value it, preserve it, remove dust from it to ensure that it exists and remains only in its present form." -Alexander Lukashenka

    The "Belarus question"; A meeting of the belarusian opposition in Washington is described by lobyist HJ

    From: The STORY
    L-R: Sergei Matskevich, Anatoli Lebedzko, Vintzuk Viyachorka and Sergei Kalyakin
    While I don't know what you may be expecting, the meeting was, simply put, the equilivant to a cross between a boxing match and a shit festival, pardon my language. Now, I have communicated with a few of these individuals before, but on a singular basis, and not as the whole of the group. I will be honest in stating that they are far better individually than together, but together...

    For one, they couldn't stop fighting or trying to one-up each other long enough to answer any serious questions, with Lebedko and Kalyakin taking every opportunity to bring the subject back around to Milinkevich's horrid "quest for unilateral power." Being more of a civil society development kind of person, I of course tried to bring their attention to that front and ask questions concerning NGOs, outreach in the regions, etc, and I couldn't get anywhere with them as far as any of that was concerned.

    The majority of the time they were discussing their upcoming Congress, the one Milinkevich has refused to attend and that, in my personal opinion, is only being organized to remove him from his chairmanship.

    As it was explained, 538 delegates will be allowed maximum to attend the Congress, but 78 of those already confirmed are only from Minsk, nowhere else--not exactly a good, fair representation if you ask me, and it is rather dissapointing to me coming from one whom has advocated that any real change will have to begin in the regions, where last I checked, the majority of the Belarusian people live, not just in Minsk, which is always over-represented. It was also stated that delegates are required to have the "support" of 300 signatures each to be accepted, and yet they couldn't tell me how, specifically, they can confirm such signatures?

    I know for one, that signature fraud is really an issue, not only for the government but for the opposition itself. Even signatures "collected" by Kalyakin himself were doubted as far as I know, by both government and opposition circles alike. I have always found it beyond belief that the ones whom shout the loudest for "fair elections" are no different from the government they are apparently trying to replace.

    When I finally could move them back to the issue of civil society, the finally said, after some pressing, that they would "consider" including some civil society or NGO representatives to the Congress. Viachorka--whom I actually think was the only one with serious brains or balls at the meeting--actually spoke on strategy, and the need for the UDF (United Democratic Forces) to have some sort of charter to put legal basis to their actions and plans to actually follow to increase outreach to the regions on more than just verbal bullshit. Of course, however, no sooner did he say it, than did Lebedko interrupt to continue arguing over Milinkevich.

    In fact, Lebedko stated in response to a question on Milinkevich's absence from the delegation, quote: "he [Milinkevich] is trying to establish a leadership not unlike Lukashenka's, in which all must be as foot-soldiers to his command." So, in essence, they were democratic people, and they did not force people to come, but they also didn't want someone non-democratic or whatever to come with them. Honestly, while I have come not to expect anything different from Lebedko, he still finds ways to piss me off.

    He also was giving contradictory responses to everything. Take, for example, his beloved "Congress" conversation: "...any interested citizen of the Republic of Belarus can attend the congress..." Later: "we have recieved over 700 applications to represent persons at the congress; we have accepted a good number of these so far, but taking into account that we should have 538 representatives of citizens there..." Later: "we have thought that perhaps we should also include all delegates from past congresses..." And, of course, later: "only those who can present 300 signatures in support of their representation may be present at the congress..."

    When I asked him what his thoughts were on if a civil society movement started gaining strength, without the parties, what their reaction would be or if they would move to try and include them during my after meeting he said "there is no such movement, and most likely would not be. If so, they would be with us at the Congress I think." Again, it is hard to see how "they" would be at a Congress in which civil society is not represented...

    I leaked these quotes I shared with you to some Belarusian friends of mine in NYC, where a very large Belarusian expat community is located. Radio Liberty did a call-in question program Friday while the delegation was here, in which people could call in and of course, ask questions. A few people in particular questioned Lebedko on some of the quotes I shared, and he didn't deny it, just tried to give the question to someone else, while they deflected the original intent of the question and returned to anti-Milinkevich bantor.

    Just look at their frunstrated faces, and with that, imagine their continued bickering amoungst themselves as they childed each other for allowing such quotes to exist in the first place.

    So, this long sprawling message later, the "leaders" said nothing new, only faught, and danced around every question that they did not desire to answer with either anti-Milinkevich talk or by changing the subject. In a way, from what I saw, Milinkevich was right not to join them, if for no other reason than to save himself from personal attacks for an entire week without escape.

    As for any further thoughts of mine, I will share just a few:

    Few human institutions are indispensable, and fewer still deserve to be. Leaving aside institutions of enduring religious faiths, human institutions rarely last in historical terms, and few can claim indispensability for very long at all. But certain times do require certain institutions, including purely political ones, for certain specific purposes. Except to provide opposition to power, or to exercise power itself, there is neither constitutional nor historical necessity for a political party in Belarus at all, per se. By and large, political parties represent interests--constituent interests, special interests, sometimes very selfish interests.

    To justify its existence beyond representation of interests, these opposition parties, perhaps all parties, must lay claim to popular loyalty and support by standing for and standing on principle. Standing on principle always requires conviction, and in difficult times and time of unpopularity it sometimes requires courage. A party without conviction and unwilling to demonstrate courage can make no claim on citizen commitment and loyalty and may have no real claim to exist at all.

    To justify its existence on a plane above power and politics, a party must possess a soul. If it does not, it is no more than a transient vehicle for personal ambition and the service of special interests in the never-ending and ever-elusive search for power. A political party without a soul inspires no youth, dreams no dreams, lifts no heart, offers no hope, ignites no inspiration, challenges no imagination, provides no promise of a better future.

    See, in Belarus, as everywhere, people are asking: What good is such a thing? Why support it? Why dedicate great portions of one's life to it? Why work for its candidates for office? Why give it money? Why bring others to its cause? Why place personal concerns aside in its mission? Why care at all?

    Too often in the recent past, we have succumbed to the temptation of believing that more money, more slogans, more evasion of confrontation, more sophisticated media advisers, more access to television, more courtship of lobbyists and interest groups would satisfy the emptiness in our souls--that's how it is in Washington, and if the political opposition in Belarus was taking notes, they've done a superb job themselves.

    However, such strategies were never to be. There is no political salvation down that path. All the money in the world, the cleverest media manipulators, the pollsters and focus-group experts cannot provide one thing: the soul of a party. A party, like an individual, must look within itself for its principles, for where it will draw its lines, for the boundaries of what it will and will not do.

    There simply is no technical or financial fix for lack of purpose and direction. Without the compass of principle, the party and its candidates will be pulled in a thousand incompatible and largely irrelevant directions in search of acceptance. There is no political analyst or adviser in the world who can provide a candidate's or a party's principles.

    There is no shortcut to conviction or to courage, and until the political opposition finds both, they will continue to fail, and they will not hold my support. If change is to come to Belarus, it will be some "third" movement, that arrises from well-meaning people in the country who do desire democratic changes in place of Lukashenka, but whom understand the key points of conviction and courage, and whom desire democracy, without loosing each other.
    Original Text HERE