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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Prez talks tough in Minsk, 1000-1500 attend rally, Oil spill, Somalia Attack, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Mars, Dynamo, Missiles and more…

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  • #190

    Union State formation slowed down; Belarus has no plans to blackmail Russia using her geopolitical position, president says

    From: Belta
    The formation of the Belarus-Russia Union State has slowed down in all areas, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, told reporters today during his working trip across the Minsk region.

    “We have clearly indicated our position and now the Russians have the initiative,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Belarus and Russia should eliminate problematic issues in the trade and economic sphere, he added. “These obstructions must be removed; they are all artificial,” the president added.

    Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has no intention to go to city squares to defend his ideas and impose them on Belarusian youths. My views stay the same: we will not fight for anyone and will not impose our ideas on anyone”, stressed the head of state. “It is the simplest way to fight. We should fight for youths at companies, showing what we create in these unbelievably hard conditions”.

    The president noted, the state heavily invests in manufacturing so that in the future the youth could live and raise their children in better living conditions. In his words, within the next three years the population’s demand for cheap foods will be fully satisfied.

    Speaking about the action staged by the opposition on March 25, the head of state underlined, “On the eve these people sent me letters: let’s do something here together. They were given the best places to come and hold their action. Instead of holding an organised action, they roamed the city streets, watched by ambassadors, as they needed a picture. We will deal with the views of the ambassadors. No country allows illegal actions”. Alexander Lukashenko noted, law enforcement bodies had not fallen for the opposition’s attempt to blackmail them.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes, people can decipher well the processes that are going on in the country. Such illegal actions are adequately valued by the majority of the people.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that his style from now on will be to give instructions, check how they are executed and take appropriate personnel decisions. The president also confirmed the commitment of Belarus to its socially-oriented policy. “If someone wants to have a better salary like Russian ministers and officials have, I will tell them: go to Russia. We have people’s power and socially-oriented state. There will be no oligarchs in Belarus and the power will not be oligarchial. We will pay the salary we can pay,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    Lukashenko does not intend to head the Great Russia Party.

    “With the present legislation it is impossible. In Russia there are no laws allowing a Belarusian to take part in political processes in the country. I understand it and am least of all interested in these issues. I have to head my own state”, stressed the Belarusian leader.

    The president noted, even in Belarus he had not created or headed any parties.

    Alexander Lukashenko said the information published on the Internet was news for him. “Yesterday I received a web page printout, which said somebody calls upon me to lead something. I didn’t know it was the Great Russia Party. I just didn’t look through it, as now Russia has a lot of folly and games, which are not beneficial to Belarus”, stressed the head of state.

    “Maybe, someone truly seeks a person, willing to see an alternative, but in this case it is illegal”, the president believes.

    Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko believes, restrictions on media access to officials and information are unjustified.

    The Belarusian leader said, the existence of some government resolution, which restricted mass media access to officials, was news to him. “An aide informed me yesterday, some resolution or restriction has been passed. I promise there won’t be such a thing. We needn’t do it. Or we will have a problem out of nowhere”, underlined the head of state. “What problems do we have with reporters regarding economic and other information? We need to work not with reporters, but with ministers and other big mouths in the government, who try to disclose information without knowing the state of things”.

    The president stated, “Reporters will always have the amount of information they have now. And even more than that”.

    Belarus does not intend to blackmail Russia using its geopolitical position.

    “The defensive capacity of Russia, Belarus, our common Fatherland is no subject to blackmail,” he said. Belarus will continue meeting its obligations in the sphere of defence in full, including those within the framework of a regional military group, the head of state said.

    At the same time Alexander Lukashenko has said the process of formation of the Belarus-Russia Union State has seriously slowed down.

    “Who is to blame for this? There is just one fact I would like to give. The Americans have declared their intention to deploy elements of their anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Today NATO is already on the threshold of Russia. You are aware of the decision of the US Congress concerning Ukraine. And everything America does is done for a reason. If the Americans take the decision, than Ukraine, Georgia, other republics will be in NATO. Tell me, what does our Belarus become in this case? It is a bulwark, a beachhead that has always been our joint trump card. Can Russia use it today? But we have never blackmailed Russia and never used this trump card, this lever and never will,” the head of state said.

    “I think in the near future president Putin and I will discuss these problems. We should not criticise each other for anything here. Otherwise they will tear us apart and finish us off. We will not let it happen. We will behave in a fair and decent way toward the Russians,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    “The Union State construction has slowed down in all fields. We have clearly outlined our position to the Russians. Now the Russians have the initiative. Everything depends on them. If they truly want to build our close union, we are ready to continue the construction right away. If they want to start anew, let’s do it anew. But the accumulated experience and expectations of the nations will make us settle the piled-up problems within half a year or a year and considerably advance”, said the president.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed, “logjams in our relations” are the main hindrance today. The president specified the logjams as customs issues, permissions for automobile haulers, problems with sugar shipments, arrests of Belarusian confectioneries for the benefit of Russian monopolists.

    “These logjams should be cleared. Without it, it is not worth meeting and talking about any Union construction. It is necessary to clear the superficial things and the things government agencies did when they were urged by certain Russian producers, oligarchs”, added the president.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, the trade agreement Belarus and Russia signed in Minsk recently “is designed to and should clear the logjams to enable us to go ahead with the great process of uniting our nations”.

    “Moscow is stirring: Belarusians negotiate with the European Union, contact Americans to establish relations. But why shouldn’t we talk to our western neighbour? We have a huge eastern ‘monster’ — Russia — with which we build relations, but half the trade comes from the European Union. We have economic interests there. And just like people do why can’t we have normal relations with them? It doesn’t harm Russia”, stressed the president.

    “Some are screaming that Lukashenko is a traitor and so on. Lukashenko is not the man to betray anybody. More so to betray the country, which is close to us, inhabited by people, who will always protect us, regardless of the relations with the Russian leadership”, added the Belarusian leader.

    The president noted, “If common sense prevails in Russia and Russians are willing to establish relations with us on a proper basis, we are ready for that”.


    From: Eurasian Monitor
    The sign says:
    The 89th anniversary of the formation of the Belarusian National Republic was commemorated in Minsk with the largest public anti-government demonstration since last year's Chernobyl march. Although the authorities reacted harshly and at times resorted to violence and arrests, the official response was surprisingly tentative. The regime attempted to offset the demonstration by holding alternative functions to commemorate an independent Belarus, including a concert at the National Library and the ballet "Swan Lake" at the Palace of the Republic on October Square, for which the doors opened at 11.30 am. By contrast the organizers of the demonstration, led by the leader of the United Democratic Forces, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, were understandably jubilant and buoyed particularly by the size of the gathering and support from leaders of the EU, as well as by the fact that the Lukashenka regime provided official recognition of the March 25 commemoration for the first time.

    Although the organizers, who included the leader of the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front Vintsuk Vyachorka, had declared that the action would be peaceful and non-confrontational, the Minsk City Council refused permission for the "Day of Will" to be celebrated in October Square. Instead, officials allowed a march from the Academy of Sciences (further to the east) to Bangalor Square. Milinkevich, Vyachorka, Viktar Ivashkevich, Igar Shynkaryk, and Alyaksei Lyaukovich, were invited to the council and asked to sign documents in which it was stated that any violations of civic order would be regarded as a criminal offense. Shynkaryk, a member of the United Civic Party, maintained that he and his colleagues had refused to sign these documents because of the authorities' confrontational attitude.

    The initial signs were of a possible major confrontation in the Belarusian capital. The authorities prepared with their familiar precision. On the morning of the 25th, Belarusian Internet users discovered that several websites had been shut down, including those of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Radio Liberty. Passengers on the electric train from Orsha to Minsk reported the arrests of several young people, while workers of the State Auto Inspection stopped known opposition members driving into Minsk at the entrance to the city. The sensitive October Square area, where opposition supporters established a tent city following last year's presidential elections, was placed under the jurisdiction of the notorious special forces commander Dzmitry Paulichenka while Yury Padabed, commander of riot police, gathered troops close to the state department store.

    According to one account, the center of Minsk resembled a besieged fortress. The center of the city was sealed off, with the Kupalauskaya and Kastrychnitskaya metro stations closed, and the Universalny store and McDonald's shut down "for sanitary reasons." However, no serious clashes took place. The militia prevented the marchers from entering the center of the city and dispersed them into smaller groups. The size of the gathering has been estimated at between 5,000 and 15,000, according to various reports. Most sources suggest that at least 10,000 people took part, including a high proportion of youth.

    Although the main body reached the Academy of Sciences at 1.30 pm and prepared for a sanctioned meeting, a another group was forced to assemble near the Sports Palace and forced off Avenue of the Victors near to the Moscow Cinema. A skirmish with militia took place, but many demonstrators later found their way to the Academy of Sciences. There the proceedings were opened by Vyachorka, who applauded the 50th anniversary of the European Union and read greetings from Ivonka Survilla, chair of the Belarusian Rada in exile. Anatol Lyabedzka appealed for the release of political prisoners, and several foreign politicians addressed the audience, including the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Janus Onyszkiewicz, members of the Russian Right Forces, and the Azerbaijani Musavat.

    Milinkevich was the final speaker. He thanked European politicians -- singling out German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- for their support and declared that the meeting signified the inevitability of change in Belarus and that "We will be in Europe!" About 300 people made their way to the National Library, but the concert there ended abruptly. About 70 arrests were made prior to and during the protest march and nine people have been imprisoned to date. Milinkevich needed medical treatment after a clash with militia forces, and evidently both he and Vyachorka may face charges under Criminal Code Article 342, for organization of actions that disturb the public peace, which carries a maximum sentence of up to three years' imprisonment.

    March 25 traditionally marks the beginning of a series of opposition protests that culminate on April 26, the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The events of last Sunday appear to have reinvigorated the opposition. Lukashenka has not been seen in public for over two weeks (which has led to rumors of illness), and the vicious brutality of last year failed to materialize, ostensibly because deprived of his traditionally firm support from Russia, the Belarusian president cannot afford to alienate the EU further. On the other hand, the regime has taken no steps to initiate a new dialogue in response to EU appeals, suggesting that further intense external and internal pressure will be required to bring about any significant changes to the status quo.
  • Note: Best real estimates were only 1000 to 1500 showed up. Or, about 40-60 times less than attended the concerts and state parties.

    Lukashenko back after "hockey break", set to outlive opposition

    From: RIA Novosti
    Belarus's colorful president returned to the political scene Wednesday after a short break and responded to a recent opposition rally by saying it had no chance of gaining control over the country.

    About 4,000 opposition supporters gathered in Minsk, the capital, Sunday to mark the formation of the Belarusian People's Republic in 1918, which lasted a few months until the Soviets entered the country.

    "We will not give them the country, and we will hit back at those who have the nerve to roll back the current developments," said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The opposition led by presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich protested the results of the elections in central Minsk, trying to repeat the "orange and rose revolutions" of Ukraine and Georgia. The rally was soon dispelled and Milinkevich was briefly arrested.

    The charismatic 52-year-old president, who has support in his homeland for maintaining relative stability in comparison with some other former Soviet republics, also dismissed rumors that he had a heart attack and a stroke, and said he and his family were in good health.

    "We will outlive the opposition, which is spreading rumors on the Internet that someone in my family has died or is on the deathbed," Lukashenko said, adding that he did have some health problems and was rather tired.

    "But I did not miss hockey training," he said. "And I knew everything that was happening in the country."

    Russian oil pipeline ruptures, spilling tons into river: Belarusian officials

    From: Baltic Times and Kyev Post
    Daugavpils river rescue station
    .S. tons) of diesel oil into a Belarusian river that flows into Latvia, Belarusian and Latvian officials said Monday.

    The rupture happened Friday on the Unecha-Ventspils pipeline in northern Belarus but was only announced by authorities Monday.

    Latvian authorities said the spill had been detected in the Daugava River near the border town of Kraslava. Vilis Avotins, head of Latvia's State Environmental Protection Bureau, told the Leta news agency that diesel fuel could be seen along a 20 kilometer (12 miles) stretch of the river. Efforts to prevent the spill from spreading further were being hampered by the rapid current.

    Belarusian officials said earlier that only about 15 kilometers (9 miles) of river in Belarus had been affected, but gave no further details.

    "The main spill has already been liquidated and we hope that in one to two days, we'll be able to clean up all of the affected areas," said Alexander Apatskiy, a official from Belarus' natural resources ministry.

    Pipeline owner Yugo-Zapad Transneftprodukt had no immediate comment on the spill.

    Some of the oil that had leaked into the Daugava River from a damaged pipieline in Belarus has already reached Livani.

    Latvia's State Fire and Rescue Service head Ainars Pencis told BNS that oil spill booms had been placed in the river by the city of Daugavpils, but part of the pollution still managed to go through. “It is hard to tell whether the oil products leaked beneath the booms or got through them otherwise,” Pencis said.

    Rescuers plan to collect the diesel fuel by the Plavinas hydro power plant, where Daugava's stream is slower.

    State Environment Service general director Vilis Avotins said that “the situation is worse than expected – the pollution is still coming from Belarus, and it is not reducing, quite the contrary.”

    Latvian Environment Minister Raimonds Vejonis has requested urgent information from his Belarus counterpart Leonty Khoruzhik on the real size of the pollution with the diesel fuel.

    The oil pipeline accident that happened in Belarus last Friday resulted in the pollution of the Ulla, a tributary to the Daugava. Thus some of the oil products leaked into the Daugava and reached Latvia on Monday morning.
    This is not the first case when Belarus leaks harmful substances in the Daugava.

    Belarus Blames Islamist Fighters For Friday Missile Attack; Somalia Says Downing That Killed 11 May Have Been Accident

    According to Belarus officials, Islamist fighters were responsible for the missile attack of a large Ilyushin plane in Somalia assisting African Union peacekeepers that killed 11 people onboard Friday.

    The Somali government, however, said the incident looked more like an accident than an attack by insurgents, reported Reuters.

    "The plane was shot down," Transport Ministry spokeswoman Kseniya Perestoronina said in Minsk, and was hit at an altitude of 500 feet. As Aero-News reported, the plane had just taken off from Somalia's main airport in the capital of Mogadishu.

    A Somali radio station and an Islamist website agreed with Belarus, claiming a missile hit the Russian-made Ilyushin just after takeoff from Mogadishu.

    The aircraft crashed in flames after one of its wings fell into the Indian Ocean, eyewitnesses said. Captain Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, confirmed a crash.

    If confirmed, it would be the most spectacular strike yet by rebels fighting the Somali government, their Ethiopian military allies, and the African Union (AU) force since the start of 2007.

    However, Somali Interior Minister Mohamed Mahamud Guled said it was more likely that an accident downed the plane. Guled asserted the incident had the hallmarks of a technical fault.

    "We are waiting for technical experts," he added, without specifically ruling out an attack on the plane prior to ascent.

    "The plane took off at around 5:00, and as soon as it reached 10,000 feet altitude, the pilot reported an engine problem in engine number two and said he would turn back to the airport," Guled said, contrary to what Belarus officials reported.

    An airport worker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, claimed to have seen the attack on the Russian-built plane. Another witness said he saw one of the plane's wings fall into the Indian Ocean.

    "Nobody knows what exactly has caused the crash. There are conflicting stories coming from eyewitnesses and we are investigating," Mohamud told The Associated Press on Saturday.

    Mogadishu International Airport Manager Mohmed Ahmed Siyaad said that before the plane crashed the captain contacted the control tower and said one of the engines had caught fire.

    Only one of the 11 seven crew members and four engineers initially survived the crash and was found wandering among corpses and wreckage. He later died in a hospital.

    At the crash site, a farmers' hamlet just north of Mogadishu, wreckage was strewn across an area the size of four football fields.

    "I was so scared," said Mahmud Farah, a local born in the area. "The smoke and the fire coming from the sky was overwhelming. Everyone though it was going to explode again after it crashed and so they fled the area. I am 50 years old and this is the first time I've ever been near a plane."

    The downed plane had brought a team to fix another Ilyushin lying damaged at Mogadishu airport after flying in peacekeepers. That plane caught fire on the runway in an incident the AU said was a technical fault, but Islamists said was a missile attack, according to Reuters.

    Fighters believed to be Islamists and disgruntled clan militia have been striking daily against government forces, Ethiopian troops, and a contingent of 1,200 Ugandan soldiers in the vanguard of the African Union force.

    President Ilham Aliyev receives Belarus Prime Minister

    From: APA (Azerbaijan)
    President Ilham Aliyev today received Belarus’ Prime Minister Sergey Sidorski, President’s press service told the APA. The head of state expressed satisfaction with the development of bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Belarus.

    He stressed that concrete results have already been achieved on deepening of relations between the countries during short time since his official visit to Belarus. President Ilham Aliyev expressed confidence that Belarus Prime Minister’s visit will contribute to the development of relations between the two countries.

    Sergey Sidorski said that preparations are held for the official visit of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to Azerbaijan, which he said will contribute to deepening of the bilateral relations. The Prime Minister informed Azerbaijani President about the activities for the implementation of the documents signed during President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Belarus.

    “Relationships between the countries are developing rapidly. The goods turnover between Azerbaijan and Belarus exceeded 30% in January, 2007. The fact is of great significance for the economies of our countries,” he noted.

    Sydorski stated that Belorus appraises the rate of economic development in Azerbaijan, the country that takes the first place among all post-Soviet countries for the growth rate.

    “Not only the oil and gas sector of the country, but also the industry experience rapid development. Belorus Government develops projects and agreements to be signed with Azerbaijan,” he added.

    The meeting co-chair on Azerbaijani side, Deputy Premier Yagub Eyyubov said President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Belarus last year opened a new page of cooperation between the two countries.

    Agreement envisioning social-economic cooperation between the two nations until 2015 was reached during the visit.

    He said Azerbaijan and Belarus are enjoying good relations in every sphere, Baku-Minsk flight opened in February, 2007.

    The commission co-chair on Belarus side, Chief of the Cabinet Council, Valeriy Kazakevich, said 12 enterprises are operating with Belarus capital in Azerbaijan, adding that Minsk will host the next meeting in the first half of 2008.

    At the end of the event, Azerbaijan and Belarus Prime Ministers Artur Rasizade and Sergey Sidorski signed a final protocol and a memorandum envisioning expansion of bilateral economic and commercial relations until 2015.

    Belarus: speed of spring sowing campaign increse

    From: AgroMArket
    According to Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Belarus, by March 28 the acreage under spring grains and legumes is 307.000 ha (28% of total planned sowing area).

    According to specialists' calculations, the enterprises should cover daily 10% of sowing campaign by April 1, as optimal terms for rye, wheat and other grains are approaching.

    For the moment, they feed up 880.000 ha under winter crops (71.4% of the plan). The feeding-up of the winter crops should finish by April 1.

    In addition, Ministry of Agriculture controls the import volumes of corn seeds. Only 1.270 tons (9.5%) out of necessary volume for sowing of 11.500 tons are imported.

    Venezuela will allow Belarus to tap deeper into its oil fields

    From: Indian Muslims
    Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has agreed to give Belarus an opportunity to develop more oil fields in his country than the two countries had previously agreed upon, according to the office of the State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus.

    Already now the new oil fields are furnished with good infrastructure so that it is possible to extract up to two million tons of oil per year there, the press center of the office of the state Secretary said.

    It quoted President Chavez as stating the decision on March 24 in Caracas during talks with Viktor Sheiman, the state secretary and co-chairman of the Belarusian-Venezuelan high-level commission.

    The talks ran beyond three-and-a-half-hours and witnessed the two sides discussing a wide range of issues concerning bilateral political, trade, military and military-technical co-operation.

    According to the press center, the two sides signed 22 agreements, treaties and memoranda on setting up joint ventures and manufacturing operations to assemble machinery, and on sending MTZ and MAZ equipment from Belarus to Venezuela.

    Belarus will also supply Venezuela with seismic-prospecting equipment. The two sides agreed to set up a Belarusian-Venezuelan seismic-prospecting company, SeismVenBel, signed an agreement on extending gas supply to some towns of Venezuela, and agreed that Belarusian specialists will build a residential district of 5,000 apartments in the vicinity of Caracas.

    Belarus will supply Venezuela with equipment for the construction of a brick factory with a capacity estimated at 100 million bricks per year. Another agreement concerns the creation of a joint company for the production of construction materials, concrete blocks and slabs.

    The two sides also discussed issues concerning the supplies of Belarusian agricultural produce to Venezuela and signed a memorandum for interaction in setting up a bilateral investment fund and a joint bank.

    In the course of the visit to Venezuela, Sheiman also met Venezuelan Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramires, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Defence Minister Raul Baduel, Science and Technology Minister Ector Navaro, Health Care Minister Eric Rodriguez, Education Minister Adan Chavez, Finance Minister Rafael Isea and the top-management of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

    Meanwhile, Deputy Agriculture Minister Vasily Pavlovsky, who was a member of the delegation which visited Venezuela, said Belarus will export foodstuffs, dairy and agricultural equipment to Venezuela. A relevant agreement was reached during the visit.

    Two protocols on co-operation between the ministry of agriculture and foodstuffs and the agriculture ministry of Venezuela were signed. “We agreed on the supplies of Belarusian foodstuffs to Venezuela, particularly milk and tinned dairy and meat products,” Pavlovsky added.

    He said Venezuela had been setting up a state reserve of foodstuffs and is especially interested in importing tinned stewed meat, condensed and dried milk.

    The trial lot of foodstuffs from Belarus will be tested and the results of the test will be announced by March 28. After that, specialists of the Venezuelan ministry of foodstuffs will come to Belarus to select suppliers.

    “These will be our first large food exports to Latin America,” Pavlovsky stressed. “It is still early to speak about specific figures, yet the Latin American market on the whole and Venezuelan market in particular is quite large,” he said.

    In addition, an agreement on the exchange of scientific and technical information was achieved. Venezuela would like to introduce Belarusian technologies in the area of fodder production and cattle breeding and on April 19 an agricultural delegation will come to Belarus to learn the experience of the advanced Belarusian farms.

    The Venezuelan side confirmed its readiness to buy technology, fodder- and milk-producing machines and equipment and suggested that Belarusian engineers and technologists should come to Venezuela to provide training to local specialists.

    Venezuela is also interested in sending specialists to Belarusian universities and colleges in which Venezuelan students will be enrolled this year already.

    Venezuela is also very interested in Belarusian agro towns. In the near future a group of Venezuelan constructors will come to Minsk to study the Belarusian experience in constructing and developing agro towns in rural areas.

    According to Pavlovsky, the two countries have great prospects of scientific and technical co-operation and information exchange in the area of agriculture and bio-engineered genetics.

    On April 19 a delegation from Venezuela will come to Belarus to discuss a specific list of issues on the Belarusian-Venezuelan co-operation.

    MAZ to roll out new generation of automobiles by 2010

    From: Belta
    By 2010 Minsk Automobile Plant will create a new generation of automobiles and truck trains, the company’s first deputy engineering director Alexander Grankovskiy told BelTA.

    In his words, the main efforts will be focused on designing basic and main models of the new family 6430 equipped with engines to be compliant with Euro-3 in 2007 and Euro-4 in 2008. “By 2010 the new generation will be fitted with all new parts and components: a new cab, a unified forward axle, front and rear spring suspension, newly designed chassis, modernised brakes and electric equipment as well as other novelties”, Alexander Grankovskiy said. The automobiles will be powered by modernised and upgraded power plants made by Yaroslavl and Minsk engine plants.

    To fully handle agriculture and forest industry tasks, MAZ plans to equip the new generation with more effective trailers. The entire range of the automobiles will boast a higher payload capacity.

    In line with the state scientific and technical programme Mechanical Engineering new automobile vehicles will be created. In the near future the production of a new-generation truck train with more cargo capacity and trailers for international and intercity transportation will start along with the manufacturing of a medium-capacity truck train and modern models of chip trucks.

    Bus production is paid more attention, as it is a most promising branch of the industry. By 2010 MAZ is supposed to switch to producing new-generation buses, which will follow modern design trends set by leading foreign producers, said Alexander Grankovskiy. MAZ will produce a super-low-floor urban bus with a large passenger capacity and a second-generation low-floor urban bus with the medium passenger capacity. Both the buses will meet Euro-4 and Euro-5 requirements. The company plans to expand the model range with buses 8, 12, 15, and 18 metres long, which will be able to transport from 70 to 180 passengers, with suburban buses 8 and 12 metres long with the seating capacity of 20-47 people, as well as coaches fit for 47 people and offering a four-star comfort level.

    The source added, by 2010 MAZ plans to launch the mass production of new automobile cranes based on MAZ chassis. The new make will boast the lifting capacity of 20 tonnes, with the boom-out of 18 metres and load hoisting of 21.2 metres. The company also plans to master the production of automobile cranes able to lift 25 tonnes and 36 tonnes as well as skylifts able to lift 350 kilograms up to 30 metres.

    “The reaching of the goal is directly connected with the development of automobile components in the country”, Alexander Grankovskiy noted. “In the period Belarus needs to create new power plants, steering mechanisms with hydraulic boosters for buses, medium-capacity trucks and heavy haulers. It is necessary to work on electrical equipment, in particular, on new headlights for MAZes, necessary to continue working on electronics”.

    Meanwhile, Alexander Grankovskiy stressed, there are big problems with producing the necessary petroleum products for the automobile industry. Therefore, Belarusian automobile makers believe it is necessary to work out a state programme for the petrochemical companies to start manufacturing the products the automobile industry needs. “First of all, we need paintwork materials with the drying temperature under 70C, powdery two-pot paints, tubeless tyres, arctic rubber. Therefore, the transition to the production of Euro-3, Euro-4 and in the future Euro-5 compliant automobiles should be accomplished only using quality solutions with a wide application of modern systems and the production of promising automobile components”, he concluded.

    Belarus Vows to Improve Russia Relations

    From: MSN
    President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday vowed to improve relations with Russia, Belarus' massive eastern neighbor, its strongest ally and a once stalwart economic supporter.

    Ties between Minsk and Moscow have been strained in recent months, amid a series of disputes over Russian energy supplies -- to Belarus and via Belarus to European markets. Oil supplies were disrupted in January after Belarus slapped a transit duty on Russian oil and Russia cut off supplies.

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    Belarus eventually backed down, but said that new financial arrangements with Moscow could cost the country $3.5 billion a year.

    Lukashenko warned of new economic restrictions countrywide in response.

    "We have a huge monster to the East -- Russia," Lukashenko said during a visit to a Minsk region town. But, he said he was prepared "to resolve all problems of the last half-year if the Russians wish."

    "The ball is in the Russians' court," he said.

    Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than a decade, quashing dissent and opposition groups and building a Soviet-style, centrally controlled economy that has been heavily reliant on cheap Russian energy supplies. The United States and the European Union have slapped sanctions on him and other top government officials.

    In recent months, Lukashenko and other Belarussian officials have toned down their often stridently bellicose rhetoric, and even called for new efforts to reconcile with the West.

    Lukashenko also vowed not to allow opposition parties to use the country's increasingly tenuous economic position for their own goals.

    "We will not give up the country," he said.

    Belarus ready to negotiate with foreign investors in privatization

    Belarus is ready to negotiate the participation of foreign investors in the privatization of Belarusian companies, Prime Minister Sergei Sidorskiy told the media here after Monday’s session of the Union State Cabinet.

    ”We are ready to accept any investor, who will negotiate with Belarusian companies. We will welcome Russian companies, if they wish to participate in the privatization of large Belarusian companies,” noted the prime minister.

    On the whole, he added, in previous years the Belarusian government had decided to privatize large Belarusian companies. In particular, Belarusian oil refineries are state-owned joint-stock companies.

    According to Sidorskiy, foreign investors can come to Belarus in accordance with the national Investment Code. So the legal foundation for it is ready in Belarus.

    As an example of the successful businesses of Russian companies in Belarus the prime minister cited the project to build a newsprint mill in Shklov.

    Belarus to use ABN Amro to advise on international credit ratings

    From: Reuters
    The ABN Amro Head Office
    Belarus has mandated Dutch bank ABN Amro (AAH.AS: Quote, Profile , Research) to advise on international credit ratings, which the country wants to obtain in the first half of 2007, Belarus' state news agency BelTA reported on Tuesday.

    Belarus, whose President Alexander Lukashenko is criticized in the West for oppressing political opponents and stifling the media, started talks on credit ratings in 2003 but then suspended them due to fears it would be granted a low rating.

    Talks resumed last year when the government sent requests to international ratings agencies Standard&Poor's, Moody's and Fitch.

    "The finance ministry will soon start working with the rating adviser who will contact rating agencies," the report said. "Belarus will be able to get the credit rating by the end of the first half as planned. It is possible that it will be done by two agencies."

    Minsk needs the rating to tap international capital markets.

    The country needs extra money this year following a row with its main political and economic ally, Russia, over energy prices. Russia doubled gas prices for Belarus from January.

    Belarus's economy is run along with Soviet-era command lines with the government controlling most prices and ordering companies what to produce. Foreign investments have been virtually non-existent.

    However, macroeconomic figures are good as Belarus has benefited from economic growth in neighboring Russia and Ukraine. Gross domestic product grew by about 10 percent in 2006 and inflation slowed to 7 percent last year. Growth for this year is also forecast at around 10 percent.

    Last year, ABN Amro advised Belarus on the valuation of state gas pipeline operator Beltransgas. Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile , Research) agreed to buy 50 percent in it for $2.5 billion following the valuation.

    National Bank of Belarus to keep ruble stable in 2007

    From: NLIPRB
    This year the National Bank of Belarus will secure the stability of the exchange rate of the national currency, the press service of the Belarusian head of state quoted NBB chairman of the board Piotr Prokopovich as saying during his report to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko today.

    Piotr Prokopovich informed the president, in January-February 2007 the stability of the national currency was secured. In the period the Belarusian ruble weakened against the US dollar by only 0.1%, which was significantly lower than the forecast figures.

    The NBB chairman of the board assured the head of state, the stability of the national currency will stay secured in the future. The confidence is based on the performance of the national economy in 2007. In particular, over the two months foreign currency proceeds of Belarusian companies increased by 15% in comparison with the same period of last year. In January-February 2007, the NBB increased the gold and foreign currency reserves by more than 5% and secured a foreign trade surplus of more than $100 million.

    Belarus’ payment system worked steadily in January-February. Daily transfers of Belarusian banks have been standing at some Br2.2 trillion since early this year.

  • Around the region...

    China and Russia to Survey Mars Together

    From: Moscow Times
    China and Russia will mount a joint effort to explore Mars and one of its moons in 2009, Chinese state media reported Wednesday following an agreement to boost cooperation between the ambitious space powers.

    A Russian rocket will lift a Chinese satellite and Russian exploration vehicle to survey Mars and Phobos, the innermost and biggest of the red planet's moons, the China Daily reported, citing China's National Space Administration.

    The announcement followed an agreement signed Monday in Moscow, where Chinese President Hu Jintao was visiting.

    A Chinese space official said the agreement would boost cooperation between China and Russia, both eager to expand their presence in space as the United States seeks to keep its lead.

    "It indicates the two sides have taken a key step forward to working on a large space program," the official said, China Daily reported.

    The small Chinese satellite will examine Mars while the Russian craft will land on Phobos to explore the environment and scoop up soil samples.

    Russia has much more experience than China in space exploration. But Beijing has been using its newly acquired wealth and technological muscle to break into the exclusive space club.

    In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space, after the United States and the Soviet Union.

    Russia to respond to U.S. missile shield plans in Europe

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russia will be guided by a principle of "reasonable sufficiency" in its response to U.S. missile shield plans in Europe, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper Wednesday.

    "Russia is ready to open its eyes wide to unfolding developments," Lavrov said. "We cannot stay indifferent to our partners' unwillingness to consider the problem collectively, to estimate potential threats, which have not yet materialized, and to adopt and implement joint decisions," the Russian official said.

    Washington has announced its intention to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, citing possible threats from Iran or North Korea as a reason for the program, and will soon begin consultations with these countries.

    On Wednesday, the Czech government confirmed that it will begin official talks with the U.S. on the deployment of the system on its territory. The negotiations will start as soon as possible, and will last through the end of 2007.

    Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has spoken out in support of the initiative, saying it met his country's national interests and would reinforce its defense capabilities and raise the security of the country and of Europe as a whole.

    Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said elements of the U.S. missile shield in Poland would guarantee that the country is no longer under Moscow's influence.

    Lavrov said the United States had so far failed to offer a clear explanation of its hasty unilateral efforts, which "provoke concern."

    "We will have to formulate an answer, since Russia's security should and will be ensured in any event," the Russian foreign minister said.

    Lavrov believes that the U.S. plans could erode the continent's strategic stability and damage the regime of "checks and balances" in global politics.

    Russia is also worried over the silos used for U.S. interceptors, which "dangerously copy the launch mechanisms for intercontinental ballistic missiles."

    The minister said Russia could not move aside from the issue, since the European shield will be part of a global missile defense system, whose elements have been drawing closer to Russian borders.

    "The parameters of a missile defense system in Europe are being fixed unilaterally, which affects the interests of all European countries and, of course, of Russia," the Russian minister said in an interview.

    Lavrov said U.S. plans dismissed the possibility of collective missile defense efforts in Europe, and actually brushed aside the possibility of settling proliferation issues through political and diplomatic means, a tendency reflected in talks on North Korea's nuclear program and the situation surrounding Iran.

    "An analysis of statements by U.S. officials prompts a conclusion that Washington does not wish to rely on relevant multilateral efforts involving its international partners," Lavrov said.

    "Decisions that will determine our fate and that of future European generations are being taken without our participation," Lavrov said. "A serious discussion of the issue would be appropriate and should be held now," he concluded.

    U.S. plans to deploy elements of the missile shield in Central Europe are expected to cost $1.6 billion over the next five years. The program will later be expanded to include sea-based missiles and missile tracking systems in space.

    U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Brian Green regretted Russia's refusal to accept the missile shield, but promised to inform Moscow about progress in the program and to look into opportunities for future cooperation on the issue.

    Some European Union officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have called on the U.S. to coordinate its missile defense program with NATO.

    Amnesty International slams Poland

    From: UK
    Amnesty International has joined numerous human rights groups in criticising Poland’s proposed anti-gay education legislation.

    The proposal, introduced by Poland’s Education minister Roman Giertych, has been compared to Britain’s outlawed Section 28 would prohibit "the promotion of homosexuality and other deviance” in Polish schools.

    Failure to comply could lead to dismissal, fine or imprisonment.

    Amnesty said that the measure would deprive students of right to expression, a full education, and the right to associate freely.

    “The proposal is part of a growing climate of intimidation and discrimination in Poland against lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people,” Amnesty’s statement said.

    Amnesty International is calling on the Polish authorities to:

    -ensure that all persons in Poland, including children, fully enjoy their rights to free speech, freedom from discrimination, and to seek, receive and impart information

    - prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity

    - exercise leadership to ensure that the human rights to freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression and freedom of association are actively promoted, and work to build a society where they can be enjoyed by all. In particular, officials at the highest level should publicly condemn discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people and make clear that any abuse of their human rights, whoever the victim, will not be tolerated.

    They should ensure that they do not make any public statement or order that could reasonably be interpreted as a license to discriminate or in any other way abuse the human rights of individuals because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

    - provide adequate information and support to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youths.

    Poland to ban 'men in skirts'?

    From: Free Republic
    Calls are growing in Poland for a ban on 'men in skirts' because drunken Scottish flashers have been upsetting locals.

    Agnieska Gaspar, 23, from Krakow, said: "You can't go round the corner without seeing a Scot showing off what he has under his kilt while one of his mates photographs him.

    "I saw one lying in the gutter the other day with his kilt round his waist. He was drunk, and it was freezing cold - I am surprised he did not get frostbite."

    Poland has become a major destination for UK tourists mainly attracted by the cheap beer.

    Authorities in major towns like Warsaw and Krakow have already complained about the drunken British tourists often coming for stag parties, but now they say the kilted Scots have added an extra dimension.

    In the city of Wroclaw, officials are exploring a kilt ban after being horrified by groups of drunk Scottish men who lifted their kilts to strangers.

    Local police who have born the brunt of the complaints say a kilt ban would not be possible, but have promised to crack down on the partying Scots and make sure they keep their kilts down at all times.

    A Wroclaw city council spokesman said: "So far the police have told us that there can be no ban on people wearing kilts in our town as it is an accepted form of dress and there is nothing offensive about it.

    "However, we are still looking into the matter as we have had a number of complaints from people who were confronted by drunks lifting their kilts and exposing themselves and we feel that this is not the kind of behaviour our city wants to see.

    Fears rise over killings in Ukraine

    From: Houston CFhron
    Maksim Kurochkin, Russian businessman and alleged criminal boss, also known as Max Besheny ('wild'), is seen during a court hearing on charges of extortion in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 27, 2007. After this photo was taken, an unidentified man shot Kurochkin dead during a break in the court proceedings in the courtyard of the court. No further details were immediately available
    A sniper's brazen, daylight assassination of a Russian businessman outside a courthouse fueled fears Wednesday that contract killings are again on the rise in this former Soviet republic.

    Premier Viktor Yanukovych demanded answers from Ukraine's top police chief about the slaying of Maxim Kurochkin, as opponents seized on the killing and a series of other slayings to criticize Yanukovych's government.

    Kurochkin, known as "Mad Max," was shot in the heart Tuesday evening as he stepped out of a Kiev courthouse where he was on trial for extortion. The shot apparently came from an attic window of a nearby building and seriously injured one of the officers escorting him. Witnesses said two men wearing black masks fled the scene.

    The killing was not only shocking for its bold character — Kurochkin had repeatedly pleaded with the court to free him on bail, saying his life was in danger — it was also the latest in a string of assassinations and attacks against business leaders in the country.

    Earlier this month, three other businessmen connected to Kurochkin were gunned down as they rode in a car, and another associate was shot dead last October. Separately, two businessmen were killed in the eastern city of Donetsk and one in central Ukraine last year. And four other business leaders were attacked in the western city of Lviv.

    Ukraine, like other ex-Soviet republics, saw a series of violent business disputes as property was divided up after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. But those disagreements have been largely resolved, leading some observers to suggest the new high-profile killings are linked to political instability following the 2004 Orange Revolution and last year's parliamentary elections.

    Kurochkin ran an organization that supported the pro-Russian Yanukovych during the bitter 2004 presidential campaign and subsequent Orange Revolution protests that swept his pro-Western rival, Viktor Yushchenko, to the presidency.

    Discontent among Ukrainians over the slow pace of change led to divisions among the Orange Revolution partners, causing them to lose parliamentary elections a year ago. Yanukovych's party won the most votes, and he returned to the position of prime minister.

    Yanukovych's opponents said the recent slayings showed the ineffectiveness of his government.

    "There must only be two ways out from the session court: to go free or to go to jail, but not to go the cemetery," said Viktor Baloha, Yushchenko's chief of staff.

    Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko's party said in a statement that "Ukraine has returned to the early '90s when a majority of conflicts in business were solved with the help of guns."

    Authorities denied that Kurochkin's killing reflected an increase in violence — and insisted police were doing better at solving high-profile cases.

    Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Kupyansky said there were 56 contract murders in Ukraine last year, 29 of which were solved. In 2002, there were 54, with 15 solved. In the first three months of this year, there have been 11 contract killings, four of which have been solved.

    Taras Chornovil, a lawmaker allied with Yanukovych, said it was absurd to blame the prime minister. "It's the same as blaming (President) Bush when a student opens fire" in a school in the United States, he said.

    Kurochkin, a millionaire who owned vast properties in Ukraine, was arrested in November on charges of extortion after he allegedly demanded $10,000, a one-room apartment and a plasma TV from an acquaintance, according to Ukrainian media.

    Kurochkin denied the accusations and said the case against him was fabricated.

    The businessman claimed he had survived 18 assassination attempts, including a 2004 car bombing that seriously wounded his bodyguards. Hours before Tuesday's shooting, he again asked the court to release him, but the court refused.

    Police insisted they worked to protect Kurochkin, noting that 18 policemen were in the courthouse to provide security instead of the usual three. Kupyansky said Kurochkin had not asked for special protection.

    Lithuania to create utility giant

    From: Baltic Times
    The Lithuanian government announced last week that it would merge three energy companies to form a single mega-utility capable of raising financing for, and eventually running, the proposed nuclear power plant that the country hopes to build by 2015 with its Baltic neighbors and Poland. The decision cancels plans to privatize Rytu Skirstomieji Tinklai (RST), operator of the eastern grid and one of the three companies, and signifies the renationalization of privately owned VST, which runs the western half of Lithuania’s grid.

    The government has drafted legislation on the merger, which will also include the state-owned power transmission firm, Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy).

    According to the bill, the state will retain a 51 percent stake in the merged entity, which will also be responsible for carrying out other ambitious energy projects currently on the drawing board, such as an underwater power link with Sweden and a grid connection with Poland.

    Thus the new, larger utility company will act as a “national investor” in expensive, high-profile projects essential for continued development in Lithuania’s energy industry.

    The decision is a complete reversal of a previous strategy worked out five years ago to place part of the power industry in private hands as a means to boost effectiveness and competition.

    However, in light of new developments in the European energy industry – particularly the pressing need to facilitate maximum energy security – Lithuanian leaders are now keen on creating a power-behemoth that can hold its own in infrastructure development projects worth billions of euros.

    Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas described the merger as “unique” and that the three abovementioned energy projects would require an enormous amount of finance from Lithuania alone.

    “The value of the assets of the (planned) group of companies would be in line with our future financial obligations in this international project. Lithuania may have to invest as much as around 7.5 billion litas (2.2 billion euros),” Kirkilas said.
    The prime minister said that the state’s stake in the merged company would likely add up to more than 51 percent, but that there are tentative plans to float some shares on the stock exchange.

    Regardless of the final structure, the bill will have to address stakes in RST and VST that are currently in private hands. Germany’s E.ON, one of the world’s largest investor-owned energy service providers, owns a 20.28 percent stake in RST, while VP Market, the Baltics’ largest retailer and Lithuania’s second largest taxpayer, owns 97.1 of VST via NDX Energija.

    NDX Energija chairman Zilvinas Marcinkevicius said that the company would like to participate in the future energy projects and contribute funds if the state is indeed committed to creating a modern energy system. He did not exclude selling VST back to the government.

    “We understand the interests of Lithuania. If some find us unacceptable, we may, for example, consider selling the shares in VST,” he was quoted by the Lietuvos Rytas daily as saying.

    Rimantas Milisauskas, CEO of RST, lauded the merger plans. “The idea is right. A strong consolidated company would emerge in Lithuania, capable of financing the largest projects and operating on an international scale without support from the state,” he said.

    Lithuanian Energy CEO Rymantas Juozaitis said that E.ON would be invited to join the project or sell its shares.

    The decision brings Lithuania’s power industry full circle. In 2002 VST and RST were spun off of Lithuanian Energy in order to boost competitiveness in the industry. EU law requires that energy production and distribution companies in one country be separate entities, but they may be part of the same umbrella.

    But as the government eyes a 34 percent stake in the 4 billion euro atomic power plant project, a bigger company is better.

    The state currently owns 96.59 percent of Lithuanian Energy and 71.35 percent of RST.
    For both E.ON and NDX Energija, parting with the assets will not be easy. Energy sales are a lucrative business in a growth market such as Lithuania. VST, for example, increased sales 10 percent last year to 928 million litas, while earnings soared 23 percent to 60 million litas.

    Curiously, RST earlier this month filed an application to the Vilnius Stock Exchange to have its shares transferred from the current list to the official list, which includes blue chip stocks.

    Ostensibly the move is dictated by the need to create interest in the stock – and thus prop up its price – prior to any merger so that RST will be better weighed vis-a-vis its privatized brother, VST.

    U.S. Businessman Jailed Over Visa Trip

    From: Moscow Times
    A U.S. businessman was convicted by a Georgian court Wednesday of attempting to enter the country illegally via Abkhazia while on a visa run.

    Sochi-based businessman Dale De Rosa was detained Saturday by Georgian border guards on his way from Sochi to Istanbul, Turkey, where he was due to renew his Russian visa, his wife, Natalya Nevskaya, said by telephone from Sochi on Wednesday.

    Nevskaya said her husband, originally from Santa Cruz, California, was facing up to five years in prison. He will remain in custody until his sentencing, which is expected within the next two months, she said. The court in Batumi, Adzharia, set De Rosa's bail at $1,700.

    Batumi authorities could not be reached for comment, nor could officials at the Georgian Embassy in Moscow or the Foreign Ministry in Tbilisi.

    Lindsay Henderson, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, visited De Rosa in jail in Batumi on Tuesday, Nevskaya said.

    Henderson declined to comment on the case Wednesday.

    While U.S. citizens do not need visas to enter Georgia, it is illegal to enter Georgia via the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia, which has enjoyed de facto independence from Georgia since the end of a civil war in 1993.

    Georgian authorities require all those entering any part of its territory to have Georgian border guards register their arrival with a stamp in their passports.

    De Rosa is employed as a business consultant by the Sochi-based Sfera tourist agency. Sfera issued the official invitation for De Rosa to obtain the visa, said Viktor Kivin, the head of the company.

  • Opinion...

    Will gas exporters unite in a cartel?

    From: Ria Novosti
    Khmelev) - On April 9, Doha, the capital of Qatar, will host the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries.

    Only one development is expected from the event: players on the global gas market will try to reach an agreement on setting up an international alliance like the one that unites the majority of oil exporting countries.

    But even if gas producing countries manage to create an analogue of OPEC, it is unlikely to have as much influence on the gas market in the next few years as the oil cartel has.

    The phrase "gas OPEC" comes from a comment by the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. At a meeting with Igor Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, in Tehran on January 29, he spoke of the possibility of setting up an organization to cooperate in the gas sector. "Our countries can set up an organization similar to OPEC," he said. "Russia and Iran control half of the world's natural gas reserves." Indeed, gas reserves in the Middle East amount to about 70 trillion cubic meters, and in Russia 48 trillion cu m, while the rest of the world has about 40 trillion cu m. But the Russian leadership has an ambivalent attitude toward this initiative.

    "We have not rejected the cartel proposal," said Russian President Vladimir Putin at a news conference after his visit to Qatar in February. "Whether we will set up the cartel and whether it is necessary is a subject for a separate discussion." Russian experts will attend the Gas Forum in Doha in April in order to decide whether to set up any alliances with gas producing countries, he said. But Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, when asked his opinion of the initiative, said that Russia would "consistently advocate the liberal model of trade in all energy resources." "The worst idea is a dictate, either on the part of producers or consumers," he said.

    Valery Yazev, chairman of the parliamentary committee for energy, transport and communications and head of the Russian Gas Society, supported the initiative, but not with the aim of gas producers to impose their prices on consumers, but for them to streamline the development of new fields. It would be useful for gas exporters to coordinate their shipment and pricing policies and to exchange new technologies, he said.

    The Doha forum will most probably produce another declaration of its members' intention to coordinate their efforts to develop the gas market, most experts believe. Nonetheless, even if a formal agreement on the setup of a cartel is signed, it will not have any effect. The parties have not yet agreed even on a basic framework for future agreements. There are no specific written proposals on the structure of the union.

    Still, many gas producing and exporting countries support the idea of setting up an analogue of OPEC. Among the project's proponents are Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Venezuelan Energy and Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez and the small island state of Trinidad and Tobago, a serious player on the gas market, which has not taken part in any gas forums until this year. Qatar is also willing to discuss the issue. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have not expressed their views on the proposal. The idea is vehemently opposed, however, by Norway, Canada and the Netherlands, which account for about half of the world's gas exports (230 billion cu m a year).

    Apart from the lack of agreement between gas exporting countries, there are no economic reasons for setting up a gas cartel. In order for it to effectively influence prices in the gas sector, there must be a free gas market. Unlike the oil market, which has a high share of short-term contracts, gas trade is mainly based on long-term contracts. The share of gas spot contracts is small and mainly concerns liquefied natural gas (LNG) deliveries. How is it possible to speak of regulating gas prices if all gas is sold to consumers at the production stage several years in advance?

    Today, both gas consumers and producers are tied to gas pipelines. Only the rapid development of new fields and construction of new pipelines can destabilize the situation on such a fixed market. Moreover, gas prices are linked to oil prices, which means that they cannot be controlled by the gas community and depend on the moves of OPEC.

    Gradually, however, a factor is coming to the fore that could liberate both consumers and producers from their dependence on pipelines. I am referring to the development of LNG technologies. They allow gas to be sold to a consumer in virtually any part of the world, while the amount of supply is limited only by the capacities of LNG plants. PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that LNG supplies will grow from the current 27% of total gas sales to 40% within a few years. Short-term gas contracts will become as frequent as oil spot and futures contracts. With their assistance, the market will determine gas prices according to real supply and demand. This is why Russia has not completely rejected the idea of a gas alliance.

    Russia has drafted its own proposals for a new format of closer cooperation in gas production and exports for the Doha forum, which will be attended by Iran, Qatar, Venezuela and Algeria. Notably, it intends to initiate a discussion about new possibilities in the global energy dialogue and ways to improve the market's reliability and predictability. So the setup of a gas cartel will have to be postponed - for another few years.

  • From the blogs...

    Belarusian Wikipedia Deleted

    As a result of a long dispute between supporters of the official spelling (narkamauka) and the classical spelling, Wikipemedia took the side of the former and deleted all content including users of There were over 6,000 articles.
    Currently, all the articles found in Belarusian version of the encyclopedia are so-called “stubs”, i.e. short “sketches” of future articles. Many of them are copied verbatim from other encyclopedias with a citation.

    I have contacted Wikimedia and am currently waiting for their response.

    We would appreciate everybody’s help in resolving this issue. Here’s a link to the contact information of Wikimedia.

    UPDATE 1: I have spoken to Wikimedia about one hour ago. Apparently, I was not the first person calling about the issue (thank you to all those who did!). However, they still do not have any information on the state of the old article or why the decision was made. They asked me to call back in early afternoon EST.

    UPDATE 2: I have just called them back. No information yet. Judging by the voice of the person, quite a few people have been calling them. Next checkpoint is tomorrow noon EST.

    Meanwhile, Hondurazian located the new address of Belarusian Wikipedia. It is All articles are accessible, but the database is locked.

    Russia/China Build Alliance

    From: New Zeal
    The leaders of Russia and China met in Moscow Monday to discuss the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, and cooperation within a post-Soviet security organization and in space security.

    In their joint declaration concluding the first day of the Chinese leader's three-day visit to Moscow, Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao said Iran had the right to peaceful nuclear energy if it observed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

    "Russia and China believe that Iran's nuclear problem must be resolved purely through peaceful means and negotiations," said the joint declaration.

    Russia, which is building a $1-billion nuclear power plant in southern Iran, has been following a softer stance on Iran and opposed any tighter sanctions against the country.

    At their meeting in Moscow, Putin and Hu also agreed to maintain intensive cooperation in other international affairs, including within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Russian leader said.

    "We are positive that our joint efforts will help enhance the security of Russia and China, and will promote stability in Central Asia, in the Asia-Pacific Region and in the world as a whole," Putin said after Hu announced last week the SCO was preparing for further expansion.

    Apart from Russia and China, the organization presently includes Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan and Afghanistan have observer status.

  • Sport...

    Minsk Dynamo Hockey Club wins Belarus national champion title

    From: Sport Panorama (translation)
    Yesterday in the Minsk ice palace the fifth match of a final series of the 15th open championship of Belarus' passed. It succeeded to the capital "dynamo", which now will bear honorable title - champion -2007! KERAMIN - 2 DYNAMO - 5 (0:3, 0:1, 2:1)

    Stir around the sequential Minsk derby was improbable. Of this we were convinced still the day before. The metros, buses, marshrutki - where only not estimated the chances of "dynamo" and "keramina" to the championship! Moreover argued to the hoarseness not only the fans of "whitish-blue" and "draconic", whom, it is similar, during these days even sleep in the club scarfs, but also the ladies of very solid years, at first glance very distant from the hockey.

    As everything changed after the first victory Of "keramina"! It would seem, under wardship of the edward Of zankovtsa will not miss "gold", with which narrower in the middle of Sunday opposition were ready to be subdued the fans, specialists and journalists; however, heaven knows as u "draconic" they grew after the back new wings and in one-and-a-half minutes of the second period Andrey gusov's guard it broke in two the motion of encounter. Assume that then "keraminu" into some moments accompanied the success (about which, by the way, at the poslematchevoy press conference spoke Zankovets), but, in the first place, it conveys strongest, and in the second place, assign the simple question: perhaps on the sum of four encounters "dragons" did not strum at least to one victory? We think that nevertheless they strummed. Yes even whom does not please itself the entertainment hockey, which both commands demonstrate for the elongation of entire finale?!

    KERAMIN: Kostur (Kudin, 22:10); Lyutkevich - Deniskin, Tsaregorodtsev - Mikhalev - Is insurance; Ryadinskiy (k) - Romanov, Suursoo - Liquid - Slysh; Formation - Korshunov, Sal'nikov - Shul'ga - Lozhkin; Ebert - Novitskiy.

    DYNAMO: Fatikov; Makritskiy - Zhurik, Dudik - Kurilin - Macer; P.Mikul'chik - Head, Murzin - Balmochnykh - Cams; Khmyl' (k) - The Glebs, Antonenko - Shafarenko - Skabelka; Valuy - Osipov - Demagin; Zuyev.

    Goals: Valuy (Osipov, Demagin), 13:23 (0:1). Dudik (Khmyl', Kurilin), 19:20 (0:2). Antonenko (Skabelka, P.Mikul'chik), 19:31 (0:3). Khmyl' (Glebs, Osipov), 22:10 (0:4, bol.). It is insurance (Tsaregorodtsev, Mikhalev), 42:38 (1:4). Skabelka (Antonenko, Shafarenko), 48:52 (1:5). Liquid (Suursoo, Romanov), 57:18 (2:5).

  • The Belarusian boxing team won five medals at the 24th Felix Stamm tournament. The tournament is held every year in Warsaw in tribute to the famous Polish coach who trained many world, European and Olympic champions. Bato-Munko Vankeev (51kg), Khavazhi Khatsygov (54kg) and Victor Zuyev (91kg) secured gold, Magomed Nurudinov (69kg) won silver, Alexander Apanasenka (over 91kg) returned with bronze.

  • Belarusian freestyle wrestler Sergei Borchenko (weight category — under 84 kg) has won a silver at an international tournament in Swiss Martigny. Murad Gaidarov of Belarus (74 kg) won a bronze while Alexander Karnitskiy (60 kg) came in fifth. The Belarusian women team, which consists of Marina Markevich (48 kg), Tatiana Grigoryeva (51 kg), Maria Yegorova (55 kg), Tatiana Bokhan (59 kg), Olga Khilko (63 kg), Irina Tsyrkevich (67 kg) and Vasilisa Marzalyuk (72 kg), came in fourth at the world cup in Russian Krasnoyarsk. The Belarusian team lost to the Russian one — 2:5.

  • ax Mirnyi of Belarus and Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden defeated Eric Butorac of the USA and Jamie Murray from Great Britain 7-5, 6-0 in a first-round doubles match at the Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, the USA. In the second round they will play the winner of the match Mahesh Bhupathi from India and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic vs Frantisek Cermak and Jaroslav Levinsky (the Czech Republic).

  • Endnote...

    Presidential Decrees

    From: Official Site of the President
    On March 27, the President of the Republic of Belarus signed into action Decree No 146 “On stimulating the development of industrial production in 2007.”

    The document establishes special procedures of paying a number of taxes for the organizations that overfulfill the plan targets on production growth rate and that are included in the list approved by the Council of Ministers upon coordination with the President of the Republic of Belarus.

    The taxes involved are: value added tax (except the one exacted in importing goods to the customs territory of the Republic of Belarus); profit tax, payments from users of highways, assessments to the republican fund for the support of agricultural produce manufacturers and agrarian science support.

    On March 27, the President of the Republic of Belarus also signed into action Decree No 147 under which the graduates of state institutions of higher learning and secondary special schools, including those managed by the consumers cooperative society, who have proceeded to the work assigned to them at agricultural organizations, shall be entitled, within two years after the graduation from the afore-mentioned institutions, to preferential credits for the purchase of household items (furniture, refrigerators, TV-sets, gas or electric stoves, washing machines) and goods of prime necessity (clothes, footwear, bed-clothes, plates and dishes).

    The preferential credits shall be granted by the Belarusbank Savings Bank in the amount up to 15 minimum subsistence levels (presently, the minimum of subsistence level is equal to Br 170,500) for a period up to five years.

    By his Decree No 135 of March 26, the President of the Republic of Belarus approved the National Programme of Demographic Security of the Republic of Belarus for 2007-2010. The principal aim of the Programme is to improve the demographic situation in our country.

    Also on March 26, the President of the Republic of Belarus signed into action Decree No 138 “On some issues relating to value added taxation.”

    Pursuant to the Decree, the VAT exemption on the territory of Belarus shall be applied to the turnovers of the work on construction and repair of the facilities of the housing fund and of the housing and operational services provided for natural persons by, among others, organizations carrying out maintenance of the housing fund.

    These measures have been taken with a view to preventing the rise in prices for housing and public utilities and operational services provided for natural persons, and for the works on construction and repair of the housing fund.