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Sunday, April 15, 2007

President gives interview to Belarusian press, visits Oman and India; Vasileuski, Russia to bypass BY, Protests, Berezovsky, Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel

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    President of Belarus sits for a press conference for the heads of Belarusian mass media

    From: BelTA
    The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, holds a press conference for the heads of Belarusian mass media
    Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko held a press conference for the heads of the Belarusian mass media in the National Library on Friday. The press conference was broadcast live by the first national channel of the Belarusian radio and rebroadcast later that evening.

    Heads of 29 media outlets take part in the event. What follows are most of what BelTA has to offer on the meeting.

  • Alexander Lukashenko sees no threat to stability of Belarusian society.

    ‘The Belarusian society has reached such a stage of development when nobody can undermine stability any more. People do not want to have the mess that exists along the perimeter of our borders. After all, they see what is going on and what can result from a situation when economy and social and political system of a state are destabilised,’ the president said.

    Speaking about the recent conflict with Russia, Alexander Lukashenko said the Belarusian leadership had known such a blow would land on the economy and everything had been calculated from the situation in the financial market to ensuring industrial and agricultural growth. According to the president, ‘the blow was delivered first of all to hydrocarbon supplies and we knew perfectly well how much we would have to pay for oil and gas.’

    The head of state has said he gave an instruction to the government not to interfere with economic processes during that crisis period for no harm to be done.

    "Belarus is actively engaged in a dialogue with Russia. The heads of state will have to settle complicated issues which are now being raised."

  • "Belarusian oil refineries have no oil shortage. Today our oil refiners feel no lack of oil We talk no one, including Rosneft, into providing us with oil”.

  • "Belarus is a stable and predictable partner. We will develop good partnership relations with our neighbors. We cannot behave elsewise for there is no reason for us to be unstable, unpredictable and unpromising partners for our close neighbors and other states. We will benefit only if we are stable, predictable and good partners. This is our main motto. We have to establish close friendly relations with our neighbors because one does not choose his neighbors,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The Russian Federation has been a long-standing ally of Belarus. “This is a powerful nuclear state which guaranteed us security when we gave our nuclear weapons to it. Our bilateral turnover is huge,” the president noted.

    Among other important partners of Belarus he cited countries of the CIS, EurAsEC and EU.

  • The integration of Belarus and Russia depends more on subjective factors than objective ones. The subjective factors are, first of all, attitudes of Russian politicians and the president. In his words, at a certain political moment the Belarusian carte was advantageous. The Russian leadership and the country needed it. Agreements and treaties were signed at that time. “But we never used these processes for any political campaigns, including presidential elections. We didn’t need it”, said Alexander Lukashenko. “For an overwhelming majority of Belarusians supported the government’s policy”.

    After a progressive integration phase a slowdown began and it was not Belarus’ fault, noted Alexander Lukashenko. “They started offering unacceptable options to us. It means Russia doesn’t want to follow the civilised way”, he said.

    Speaking about Russia’s demands concerning the introduction of the sole legal tender, Alexander Lukashenko noted, “One has to start building a home with the foundation, not the roof, otherwise it will have nothing to hold on to”. In his words, it is just the thing Russia suggests doing by placing the single currency before the adoption of the Constitution Act.

  • Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko will traditionally visit Chernobyl-affected areas of the country on the eve of April 26.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored, he will make the visit despite the multiple international meetings scheduled for late April. “I would like to check how my orders are executed, how people live in the Chernobyl-affected areas”, said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Asked about the possibility of the opposition and the official authorities acting together to overcome the aftermath of the Chernobyl catastrophe, Alexander Lukashenko said, he had never turned down any aid in resolving this problem.

    Yet he doubted the productiveness of the opposition’s proposals. “What will they do? Will they trample Minsk streets again during the Chernobyl rally?” The president also said he wanted the opposition to spend democracy promotion grants provided by the West on alleviating consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

  • Belarus has not managed to develop its foreign economic activity evenly.

    ‘We have not managed to establish the relations with the West like those we had and have today with Russia, Ukraine and other neighbours,’ he said. ‘Probably, it is our fault too that we do no have very good relations with the West. But it is not in Minsk where the major fault should be looked for. You are perfectly aware of what the West wants from us. In the press they say that after the conflict with Russia we began an active dialogue with the West. Nothing of the kind. As long ago as before that conflict we kept giving signals to the West and the West responded to us – we wanted to establish normal relations,’ the president said.

    The trade between Belarus and the countries of the European Union is rather big – 10% bigger than that with Russia, the head of state said. ‘Our economy, people prompt us to establishing normal relations with the West. But we will stand no lecturing from the EU,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.

  • Belarus will build a union with Russia.

    “We will build a union with Russia. If we fail, those, who will come after us, will do it. But what we have done will stay useful for ever”, stressed the head of state. He reminded, Belarus sees itself as a centre of attraction for Slavonic nations.

    Alexander Lukashenko is convinced, Belarus should not abandon friendly relations with Russia. “It took a long time to build them. We need them as much as Russia does”, noted the president. He added, “Times and peoples make us shape a future for the Union State”.

    The president noted, achievements reached during the development of the Union State such as those related to healthcare, education and travels of individuals should not be forgotten.

  • The Union with Russia is Belarus’ guarantee of sovereignty and independence.

    ‘Belarus won’t do without union relations with the Russian Federation. This is the strongest support for Belarus. So far it has been the guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Speaking about the recent conflict with the Russian Federation, the head of state said that ‘he has never wanted to slap a door, to refuse from the policy which he has been pursuing’. ‘The main thing in our relations is the kinship of the Belarusians and Russians, economic priorities,’ the Belarusian leader said.

  • Regardless tough economic situation Belarus can beat the budget revenues target in 2007.

    “Judging by the economic development in Q1 and taking into consideration last year’s performance we forecast that this year budget revenues targets will be beaten,” Alexander Lukashenko said. “Given the doubling in gas prices and situation around oil, this is a victory,” he stressed.

    The president also pointed to the stabilization of the exchange market. “The banking system has withstood the blow,” he said.

    “Let those who foretold the economic crisis cherish no illusions. Our economy will overcome. We are strongly determined to fulfill what we have planned,” the president said.

  • The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, does not intend to challenge for presidency in Russia.

    ‘I do not see my future in the context that the Russian mass media and policy-makers talk about,’ the president said.

    First, this is impossible from the standpoint of the Russian legislation, he said. Second, Alexander Lukashenko says he cannot realise ‘how to govern such enormous a country without feeling and seeing what is going on in every spot of this one-sixth part of land.’

    ‘I entertain no illusions and do not revel in authority. I am not a tsar; I am a ploughman in my post,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.

    He has stressed that as a Belarusian policy-maker the only interest he has in Russia is that Belarusian people be respected there.

  • The Belarusian policy of market reform is unshakable.

    However, there will be no mass privatization in the country, the Belarusian leader stressed. “Only the companies we cannot support will be privatized,” he specified.

    Alexander Lukashenko informed that many privatization offers were received. For example, $500 million are offered for the state shares of the third Belarusian mobile operator BeST, $300-500 are offered for Velcom. “It worth thinking about these offers, they are very beneficial,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

  • Belarus will participate in the preparation of a symmetric response to the deployment by the US of elements of its anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

  • Belarus is ready for a dialogue with the West on equal terms.

    ‘We are ready to talk to the West, to come to agreements, to make compromises,’ he said.

    The head of state has said that such a dialogue will be possible to the extent ‘to which the West will understand such position and abide by it itself.’

  • Regardless of how the Belarusian-Russian relations may evolve, Belarus has no intention of abandoning the responsibility for the Union State security.

    “Whatever our relations may be, nobody has relieved us of the responsibility for the defensive capacity of the Union State, our common fatherland. If, G-d forbid, we should die to protect our land, we will not let tanks across our territory to Moscow”, he said.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes, any speculations about the security of the Belarusian and Russian nations, the defensive ability of the Union State are inadmissible. “We have no intention to use it as a leverage to put pressure on the neighbouring state”, stressed the president.

    He also noted, since the beginning of the recent conflict with the Russian Federation Russians rejected the position of the official authorities. “I want Russians to understand we have never been the traitors some moneymakers would like us to be”, added Alexander Lukashenko.

  • Belarus has prepared calculations to charge Russia for provided services. In the near future the Belarusian government will forward corresponding proposals to the Russian side.

    “It is necessary to establish normal relations: we pay if we should, but you should pay what you owe us, too”, said the Belarusian leader.

    He stressed, “When the logjams are cleared and an agenda able to lead us out of the situation is ready, the Russian president and I will definitely find a way out”.

  • Belarus will never become a puppet state.

    The Belarusian leader said that in this process many things depend on the position of the Russian leadership. He said ‘we will not let another state to use us to settle some domestic problems. This is dishonest.’

    Speaking about the Union State, the president of Belarus spoke in favour of fair, transparent and honest bilateral relations. Alexander Lukashenko said that ‘even if you are willing to act like this, then just put it straight. Why look for some by-ways so that people in Belarus and Russia get bewildered. We need to put it honestly and straight: yes we want to solve this issue, please help us, take these steps. Then we will understand what is going on. Instead they say one thing and do something else.’

    In his opinion, the process of the Union State formation has been frozen again. “Those problems which have been created can be settled within a week if the leadership of the Russian Federation is willing to’, Alexander Lukashenko.

  • Representatives of state bodies of authority should be open for contacts with journalists.

    Every year ministers ‘should four, five, six times meet with journalists and tell them about their achievements,’ he said.

    Ministers and agencies should by no means be closed for mass media, especially for private mass media, Alexander Lukashenko believes. ‘Whatever happens they will not do harm to the authorities, but these restrictions will,’ the president said.

  • Belarus will not tolerate any goading by the European Union. “We are ready to develop relations with the European Union, but without double standards”.

    The president noted, demands of western states against Belarus had been dictated by the Belarusian opposition. “Is it a normal basis for a dialogue? The West may use the opposition’s input, but the West should act in a civilised way”, said the president. “They say the day of freedom has passed. You’d rather look at what’s going on in the western countries, how many people are arrested there. I can’t let an opposition group of 400 to disturb people in Minsk streets. There are laws to be observed. And we talk about it to Europe”.

    Alexander Lukashenko also said, “If you want to establish normal relations with us without double standards, we are ready. If you are not interested and are willing to sermonize, thanks, we know best what way we should choose. We ask nothing of you and you should not interfere with us”.

    In his words, Europe is not interested in Belarus becoming some flashpoint in the centre of Europe. “For Europe it is extremely unprofitable, first of all, due to economic reasons. Russia, other ex-USSR republics and the European Union trade a lot, and the traffic mainly goes through Belarus. Therefore, they heavily invest in building border checkpoints on our border”, noted the president. “We will be good partners for the European Union in this field”, he added.

  • Alexander Lukashenko is convinced, Belarusian driver training standards should be stepped up. The president said, a national road safety programme may be adopted.

    “Maybe it is time to step up security on the road with a programme. Only lazy people don’t have a driving licence now. We are still irresponsible about driver training. And road habits are low”.

    According to the president, “As we adopt the national demographic security programme, we cannot overlook people killed by the thousand on the road. We need to preserve people. I am just starting ‘strangling’, as people say, respected authorities that say there is nothing more they can do. But they can and they will. There is enough mess to attend to”, added the president.

  • Belarus will build a nuclear power plant on the terms which will be beneficial for it.

    Today potential co-operators push forward their terms with regard to construction of the plant, he said. ‘The Russians are putting it straight: to the point of severing relations if you do not cooperate with us,’ the president said. Some companies demand democratising mass media as a term for negotiations, and change the election legislation, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Stating his position with regard to the issue, the president said, ‘We are surrounded by such plants, so it would be better for us to have one.’ All the world is following this path. This is why everything in Belarus will be like it is in the world, he concluded.

    Alexander Lukashenko visits with sultan of Oman Qaboos Bin Said

    From: BelTA
    Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has arrived in the Sultanate of Oman. In Muscat the Belarusian head of state is expected to hold negotiations with Oman sultan Qaboos Bin Said. During the forthcoming meetings in the Omani capital attention will be focused on stepping up the bilateral cooperation, first of all, in trade and economy.

    After the negotiations Belarus and Oman are expected to sign double taxation conventions, agreements on the prevention of evasion of income tax and capital tax as well as an agreement on cooperation between the chambers of commerce and industry of the two countries.

    Muscat is the capital and the largest city of the Sultanate of Oman. It is located on the shore of the Gulf of Oman (the Indian Ocean). At present the city is a large port, which handles around 1.6 million tonnes of cargo annually.

    Muscat is believed to be one of Arabia’s most beautiful cities, which has managed to preserve its historical distinctiveness.

    On Sunday the 14th of April, Alexander Lukashenko arrived in the Sultanate of Oman on an official visit. The main negotiations are scheduled for Sunday, April 15. BelTA learnt from the presidential press service, tomorrow Alexander Lukashenko will hold negotiations with Oman sultan Qaboos Bin Said and the deputy prime minister of Oman. The sides are expected to discuss ways to step up the mutual cooperation, first of all, cooperation in trade and economy.

    The Sultanate of Oman is an absolute monarchy. The country is ruled by the sultan, who is the head of state, prime minister, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, head of the Central Bank, the foreign, defence and finance ministries.

    The Republic of Belarus and the Sultanate of Oman fruitfully cooperate within the framework of the United Nations Organisation, supporting each other. The diplomatic relations between Belarus and Oman were established on June 23, 1992.

    In September 2005 Omani businessman, member of the Economic Council of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Oman Khalil Al Khunji was appointed Honorary Consul of the Republic of Belarus to the Sultanate of Oman.

    The legal base of the cooperation is being shaped now. In 2004 the sides signed intergovernmental agreements on trade and economic cooperation and mutual protection of investments as well as memorandum on mutual understanding between foreign ministries of the two states.

    Oman is a member of the United Nations Organisation and its several specialised institutions, the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Trade Organization, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement.

    Pragmatism is the most prominent trait of Oman’s foreign policy. The economic integration of Arab states of the Gulf and promotion of regional security issues are the main foreign policy priorities of Oman.

    Oman vigorously develops relations with Great Britain, the USA and European countries.

    Since Qaboos Bin Said’s rise to power three and a half decades ago, he has managed to essentially advance Oman along the way of reform-based development. The country has a programme of economic and social reforms divided into five-year plans. Attention is focused on economy diversification, the development of the national industry and infrastructure, creation of modern agriculture.

    At present hydrocarbon raw stock accounts for 75% of Oman’s export earnings. Unlike the neighbouring states Oman has small explored reserves of oil, which are estimated at 5.7 billion barrels. The Omani leadership is heavily reliant on the development of the gas industry, as the natural gas reserves are estimated at 846.6 trillion cubic metres, enough to last for some 60 years with the present extraction rate.

    Belarus President to arrive in New Delhi April 15th

    From: Daily Inda
    President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam
    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko will arrive here on a two-day state visit tonight.

    During his visit, Lukashenko will review bilateral relations and discuss issues of international and mutual interest.

    Several bilateral agreements are expected to be signed in the areas of science and technology, agriculture and extradition. A bilateral protocol on the accession of Belarus to the WTO is also expected to be signed during the visit.

    Lukashenko will be accompanied by a high level delegation consisting of Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Martynov, Minister of Interior Vladimir Naumov, Minister of Industry Anatoly Rusetsky, Minister of Justice Viktor Golovanov, Minister of Taxation Anna Deiko, Chairman of State Military and Industrial Committee Nikolai Azamatov, Chairman of State Committee for Science and Technology Vladimir Matyushkov and National Security Advisor Victor Lukashenko.

    Lukashenko is expected to meet President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

    The focus of his discussions will be to boost scientific and technological cooperation between the two countries.

    India and Belarus are celebrating the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, after they were established in 1992. India was one of the first countries to recognise Belarus as an independent country after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Belarus has been supportive of India's candidature for a permanent seat in an expanded United Nations Security Council.

    Lukashenko had earlier paid a state visit to India in 1997.

    Denying India veto at UNSC is an insult: Belarus

    From: Hindustan Times
    The UN Security Council
    The erstwhile Soviet state of Belarus has offered to share with India laser-optical technology that is crucial for civil and defence applications, including in the guidance systems of smart weapons and missiles.

    Belarus will be setting up a laser-optical research centre in India under an agreement to be signed during the visit of its President Alexander Lukashenka to India beginning Sunday.

    India will be training Belarus personnel in Information Technology with the prospect of setting up a technology park in Minsk, 52-year-old Lukashenka said in an exclusive interview in the ornate Blakitny (blue) hall of the massive Stalin era Presidential Palace.

    "We have a huge technological potential, much more than our own requirements and we are ready to share it with India," he said.

    Lukashenka said strategic relations with nuclear powers -- India, China and Russia-- are the cornerstone of his country's foreign policy.

    "Relations with India are the pride of our foreign policy. I underscore that we are proud of our close and friendly ties with India, dating back to decades and centuries," said the Belarus strongman, dubbed as the last dictator in Europe.

    Lukashenka said Belarus backs India's candidature for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council with full veto rights.

    "In 1998, speaking from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, we had declared that in the changed world without India the mandate of Security Council is fractured to some extent," said Lukashenka responding to a question on New Delhi's bid for the permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

    "Almost ten years back we had declared that it was highly unjustified that a country with the population of over a billion, possessing high technologies and like China, a nuclear power, is not represented in the Security Council," Lukashenka said.

    He said that his nation of 10 million people, sandwiched between NATO and powerful Russia, will vote for India, whenever its candidature for the UNSC is put on vote.

    "Depriving a nuclear power like India of the right of veto or other attributes of a permanent member as enjoyed by other permanent five will be an insult to the nation," Lukashenka said.

    Lukashenka also sounded very optimistic about trilateral defence cooperation among India, Russia and Belarus. "Here we are not competitors with Russia. Moscow has involved us in several defence projects with India and more are in the pipeline," said Lukashenka, who has managed to preserve the potent military-technical complex inherited from the ex-USSR and banned the defence enterprises from churning out casseroles and spades under the so-called policy of conversion adopted by many former Soviet republics, including Russia.

    Replying to questions, Lukashenka said India must take a lead in rejuvenating the Non-Aligned Movement. "I have requests from many NAM Heads of State that I talk to India to play a more active role," he said.

    On Bolotnaya Square in Moscow Demanded Lukashenka as Russian President

    From: Charter '97
    On Bolotnaya Square in Moscow a meeting “Moscow is a Russian city” was held. Supporters of the Movement against Illegal Immigration gathered there. According to information of Internal Affairs department of Moscow, about 600 supporters of Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), “Russian Order” movement and a number of other far-right movements have taken part in it. Those present adopted a resolution “On creation of a union state and nomination of Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a candidate for presidency in Russia”.

    The meeting started with a speech of a chairman of the “Russian communities’ congress”, a deputy of the State Duma Dmitriy Rogozin, who asked to raise hands those who consider themselves Russian, and then greeted the meeting: “Hello, Russian people. Long live great Russia!” Then he said that today Russian people have two main allies, the army and the navy.” “Long live the Russian army, long live Russian navy!” he said.

    Then the leader of the DPNI Alexander Belov said that the party “Great Russia” created by the Congress of Russian communities “is to give back the fullness of power in the country snatched by oligarchs to the Russian nation”.

    “We won’t just create a party, we won’t just win the election, but be would restore the plenitude of the power in the country. Long live great Russia!” he said.

    Activists of the “Russian March-2007” have been disseminating leaflets with a call to remane Akhmad Kadyrov Street in Moscow into Pskov assault force.

    In the end of the meeting one of its organizers called upon the participants “to disband in a dignified way”.

    As we have informed, on Saturday an opposition rally “March of Dissent” was held in Moscow. During the disband of the protest rally riot policemen and policemen arrested at least 250 protesters.

    Summer biking season opens

    From: ONT
    Minsk cycling lovers had a nice ride on the 15th celebrating the beginning of bicycling season in Belarus. Over 200 cyclists participated in a group ride towards the center of the city. Many more cyclists joined in along the way. The ride was not only for professionals but also for folks who simply like to ride. The men's distance was 50 kilometers and the woman's ride was only for half this distance. The average speed for the ride was 15 kilometers and hour. Yet still, this was enough to give the riders a healthy dose of adrenalin.

    "I ride basically for the speed" said G. Litvyanski. Of Minsk who participated in the ride in full Belarusian colors, "I don't like quiet rides. The faster the machine, the more you get from it. Only the day before, several of the riders were on this same road traveling by bus.

    "This is much better", quipped one of the out of town riders, "They should have it this way all the time!"

    Police rule 2006 death of student from Belarus a suicide, but will review case again

    From: IHT
    Police in Maine have tentatively concluded that the 2006 stabbing death of a student from Belarus was a suicide, though the case will be reviewed again at the request of the governor, who was contacted by Belarus' U.S. ambassador, State Police said Friday.

    Aliaksei Vasileuski, 20, of Shchuchin, Belarus, was found dead outside a boarding house in Wells on June 20 — two days after he arrived in the United States — with a stab wound to his neck. Vasileuski, a student at the National Technical University in Belarus, was working for a food vendor at a plaza in Kennebunk.

    His death at the time prompted a formal protest from Minsk over what it said was poor security for Belarusian students in the United States.

    Maine State Police said the case was closed about a month ago and the death was ruled an apparent suicide. However, the medical examiner's office ruled that Vasileuski died of a sharp force injury to the neck, but said the manner of death was undetermined.

    Gov. John Baldacci asked state officials to review the case one last time after hearing last month from concerned Belarussian officials.

    Officials at the Belarus Embassy in Washington last year insisted that Vasileuski's death was a murder and that police should pursue the investigation more forcefully. Pavel Shidlovsky, counselor at the embassy, told the Journal Tribune daily newspaper of Biddeford that embassy officials still believe the death was a murder and were upset they had not been informed that the case was closed.

    "The governor said he shared our frustration and informed us he had contacted the commissioner's office and requested a review of the information and asked that they respond directly to the embassy," Shidlovsky said.

    Shidlovsky said there was nothing to suggest Vasileuski would commit suicide.

    He had never had psychological problems, and those who knew him at his schools and university characterized him as diligent, literate and balanced, Shidlovsky said.

    Shidlovsky said there was nothing in Vasileuski's profile to suggest he would commit suicide.

    He had never been seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist and had never had psychological problems, Shidlovsky said. Those who knew him at his schools and university characterized him as diligent, literate and balanced.

    In 2007, Belarus-Moscow oblast trade to touch $2bln

    From: NIPRB
    In 2007, Belarus and Moscow oblast of Russia are going to grow trade up to $2 billion, the vice-premier of Belarus, Andrei Kobyakov, said today when summing up a session of the working group for development and coordination of the Belarus-Moscow oblast cooperation in the town of Klin.

    According to him, the implementation of the joint program of trade-economic, sci-tech and cultural cooperation for 2004-2006 helped Belarus and Moscow oblast reach trade of $1.4 billion last year. The vice-premier said that the development of bilateral trade over the first two months this year shows that the two sides are capable of hitting $2 billion.

    Andrei Kobyakov noted that the trade turnover between Belarus and Moscow oblast is diversified. The goal is ‘to create necessary climate and develop commodity distribution networks.’ Andrei Kobyakov thanked the Moscow oblast leadership ‘for prompt response to all proposals of the Belarusian side.’

    The vice-governor of Moscow oblast, Vasiliy Gromov, said that the sides intend to cooperate in all areas of mutual interest. The Moscow oblast government is ready to create most favourable conditions for Belarusian partners.

    At the session in Klin the working group discussed the course of implementation of the joint program of trade-economic, sci-tech and cultural cooperation between Belarus and Moscow oblast for 2007-2009. The sides considered the possibilities of setting up joint manufactures, service centres, finance and industrial groups for joint projects. The agenda also included the issues related to creation of high-tech techno-parks, intensifying cooperation in agriculture, interaction in trade, small business, education, culture and sport.

    Russia Announces Plans to Build Pipeline Bypassing Belarus and Poland

    From: MosNews
    Russian Industry and Energy Ministry wants to build the second leg of a new oil pipeline to Europe bypassing Belarus and Poland in order to reduce Russia’s dependence on transit countries, the ministry’s press service said on Thursday, April 12.

    MosNews has reported of an oil and gas pricing row with Belarus, which led to suspension of Russian crude supplies to Europe in the beginning of 2007 and undermined Russia’s reputation as a reliable oil and gas exported.

    “A draft project on the construction of the second leg of the Baltic Pipeline System has been introduced to the government,” the Industry and Energy Ministry said in a statement that was quoted by RIA Novosti.

    The ministry said the proposed pipeline, which will have an annual capacity of 80 million metric tons (588 million barrels), will run from the Russian town of Unecha, near the Belarusian border, to the Primorsk terminal bordering Finland. It will be the second leg of the Baltic Pipeline System, which will pump Siberian oil from Russia to Germany across the Baltic seabed and on to the rest of Europe and the United States.

    Simon Vainshtok, head of state-owned pipeline monopoly Transneft, the project operator, earlier said that his company was technically prepared to begin the construction in April.

    “The Unecha-Primorsk pipeline leg is designed to increase the Baltic pipeline’s annual capacity, which was raised to 74 million tons (542.42 million barrels) last year, and to provide stable oil supplies to our partners in western Europe,” Vainshtok said, quoted by RIA Novosti. He added that the new pipeline would help diversify Russian energy exports.

    “We expect to reroute half of the 100 million metric tons (733 million barrels), exported through Belarus, to Primorsk,” he said.

    The new pipeline will connect Unecha with the oil terminal in the Baltic port of Primorsk though Velikie Luki, allowing Russia to stop pumping oil to Europe via the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline. It would also increase the capacity of the port at Primorsk to 150 million tons (1.1 billion barrels) per year.

    The Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline extends for almost 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) across Belarusian territory and pumps on average up to 80 million tons of Russian oil per year to Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

    Russia halted deliveries to Europe via the pipeline on Jan 7, saying Belarus was illegally tapping oil following a tit-for-tat price and tariff dispute.

    Belarus imposed a transit levy of $45 per metric ton of crude after Moscow doubled the price of natural gas and introduced a duty on oil supplies to Belarus as of Jan 1.

    The interruption in supplies affected Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and further damaged Russia’s reputation as a core energy supplier to Europe following a similar energy row with Ukraine involving natural gas this time last year.

    Russia agreed to resume supplies after receiving a Belarusian government resolution abolishing the transit levy on Europe-bound Russian oil.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said Feb 1 that the country would look for ways to reduce its dependence on transit nations for its oil and gas exports to Europe.

    Transneft vice president Sergei Grigoryev told Russia’s Kommersant daily that it could take a year and a half to put the second leg of the Baltic Pipeline System online. Industry experts estimate that the new branch would cost $2-2.5 billion, the paper said.

    Belarusian specialists ready to partake in work of Word Tourism Organization

    From: BelTA
    The Mir Castle
    Belarus hopes the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) will help it develop travel tourism so that Belarus could become a travel destination, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, said today while meeting with Francesco Frangialli, the WTO secretary general, the presidential press-service told BelTA.

    The head of state has thanked Mr Frangialli for the assistance his organization provides to Belarus.

    There are 5 thousand sites of historic, cultural and architectural significance in Belarus. 4 monuments have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Alexander Lukashenko has said many countries including some from the Persian Gulf have expressed eagerness to open travel facilities in Belarus. ‘We will encourage this. If we will also be very grateful to you for any assistance in developing our country as a tourist country,’ the president said.

    Belarus is interested to see its specialists participate in the work of the WTO if it is necessary, Alexander Lukashenko said. Tourism is important in developming the country’s economy on the whole. And Belarus has great potential in this sphere.

    Mr Frangialli described the goal of his visit as the one of getting acquainted with the tourist potential of Belarus. He stressed the necessity of promoting the position of Belarus in the World Tourist Organisation.

    Belarusian specialists are ready to take part in the work of the Word Tourism Organization.

    The head of state noted that Belarus will be grateful for assistance in its development as a popular travel destination. Alexander Lukashenko thanked Francesco Frangialli for supporting Belarus, the new member of the Word Tourism Organization.

  • Around the region...

    Protesters, Police Clash in Russia

    From: SF Gate
    Club-swinging riot police clashed Sunday with opposition supporters as an anti-Kremlin protest dispersed in Russia's second-largest city, chasing small groups of demonstrators, beating some on the ground and hauling them into police buses.

    It was not immediately clear what sparked the violence after the rally, which city authorities had authorized and took place under a heavy police presence with at least one helicopter hovering above.

    Although city authorities gave permission for the rally in a square on the edge of central St. Petersburg, they had banned plans for the demonstrators to march afterwards to the city government headquarters.

    Police trucks and helmeted officers blocked the planned march route. At the end of the 90-minute-long rally, organizers did not exhort them to conduct the banned march but suggested they go on their own to the city government building over the next few days. When the rally dispersed, most participants went to a nearby subway station, where clashes broke out.

    In one, police chased a group that included Sergei Gulyayev, a member of the city legislature who had been arrested at a protest in March. Police grabbed some members of the group and pounded them in the head with nightsticks before putting them on buses; it was not immediately known if Gulyayev was among those taken away.

    In another clash, police charged a group holding a banner professing love for the city.

    The violence came a day after clashes at a similar opposition protest in Moscow, where police detained at least 170 people, sometimes with harsh force. The protests in both cities were called to focus on complaints that Russia under President Vladimir Putin is strangling democracy ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections.

    "Yesterday, it became clear that the authorities won't be making any concessions. They have started a war on people," Eduard Limonov, head of the National Bolshevik Party, told the rally.

    "Putin and his team are sitting on sacks of gold, at the same time the country is breaking apart in all spheres," said demonstrator Sergei Niluopv, a 56-year-old teacher.

    One of the rally organizers, Olga Kurnosova, told The Associated Press that police detained her near her home a few hours before the rally.

    She said by telephone from a police station that she was held for distributing brochures about the rally, which she said was an artificial pretext because city authorities had given permission for the demonstration.

    "It's clear that the reason was to keep me away from the demonstration," she said.

    The weekend protests were part of a series of "Dissenters' Marches" called by the Other Russia umbrella group that brings together an array of opposition factions including one led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

    Kasparov was among those arrested in Moscow and was released late Saturday night after being fined $38 for disrupting public order. He did not go to St. Petersburg for the Sunday rally.

    Kurnosova, who heads the St. Petersburg branch of Kasparov's United Civil Front, had said Saturday that she expected the tough police action in Moscow to provoke a large turnout in St. Petersburg. But the crowd appeared to be less than organizers had hoped for, filling only about half of the area marked off by metal barricades for the rally.

    Putin, whose second and last term ends in 2008, has created an obedient parliament, and the government has reasserted control over major television networks, giving little air time to its critics.

    Tycoon's remarks infuriate Russia
    Exiled billionaire advocates using 'force' to overthrow Putin's government

    From: SFGate
    Exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a onetime Kremlin power broker turned fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, called in published remarks Friday for the use of "force" to change Russia's government.

    The Russian prosecutor general's office responded by opening a criminal investigation into his comments to a British newspaper, declaring in a statement on its Web site that "a call for the violent overthrow of a government is a crime in all civilized countries."

    The prosecutor's office also urged Britain to revoke the billionaire's political asylum and extradite him to Russia, where he faces fraud charges related to the 1990s business dealings that made him wealthy. Berezovsky says those charges are politically motivated.

    In audio of an interview posted on the Guardian newspaper's Web site, Berezovsky declares that advocates of democracy in Russia "need to use force to change this regime," because Putin has created an "anti-constitutional" government.

    "It means that I hope to use force to re-create a constitutional regime again," he says. "It means that I am for the Constitution, and Putin is against the Constitution."

    In his remarks, Berezovsky is quoted as saying: "It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure."

    Berezovsky later issued a statement saying he was not advocating a violent overthrow of the Russian government. He cited peaceful uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia in recent years as "good examples" of how change might come.

    Russian authorities reacted quickly to the interview in apparent hope that it might help them reach their long-sought goal of extraditing Berezovsky.

    Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of parliament, said in televised remarks that "prison is crying out for such a man."

    "His statement is a call to overthrow the current authorities in a violent way. He doesn't conceal it," Mironov said. "This is a crime punishable by law."

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in televised remarks that Moscow repeatedly has asked British authorities "to stop the situation in which Boris Berezovsky is taking advantage of political refugee status and blatantly abuses this status and commits actions which, according to British law, require his extradition."

    "We value relations of cooperation and partnership with Great Britain and certainly count on London preventing threats against Russia coming from its territory," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in televised remarks.

    In his published comments, Berezovsky implied that he was helping to finance members of Russia's political elite who disagree with Putin. The article described these people as individuals "close to the president who are conspiring to mount a palace coup."

    Scotland Yard issued a statement that it was "assessing the contents" of the Guardian article to determine whether "any offenses" might have been committed.

    The British Foreign Office also issued a statement: "We deplore any call for the violent overthrow of a sovereign state. We expect everyone living or working in or visiting the U.K., whatever their status, to obey our laws. We will look carefully at this and any future statements by Mr. Berezovsky in that light."

    Ukrainian PM says CC should be dissolved if it makes no ruling

    From: Itar Tass
    Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich said that if the Constitutional Court could not pass a judgement on the presidential decree that dismissed the parliament and called early parliamentary elections, it should be dissolved.

    “When will the Constitutional Court make its ruling? Some say that the court will meet for half a year. We will wait half a year. A year? We will wait a year. If we see that the Constitutional Court is unable to make a decision and is under the influence of a certain political force, we must then resolve to dissolve such Constitutional Court,” Yanukovich said on Saturday.

    “If politicians make such a decision, then the question of early parliamentary elections will certainly arise,” he said.

    At the same time, he believes it necessary to bring the work of the Central Election Commission in compliance with the law on the Constitutional Court.

    The prime minister also said that if the Constitutional Court proclaims the presidential decree unconstitutional, “the president will also have to face elections”.

    “A political decision will be made on extraordinary parliamentary elections and extraordinary presidential elections. We will all then go through the crucible of elections as the president said,” Yanukovich said.

    Earlier, members of the ruling coalition in the parliament urged the Prosecutor-General’s Office to look into the interference in the work of the Constitutional Court.

    The MPs appealed to the Prosecutor-General’s Office after several judges of the Constitutional Court, appointed by the president, said they had experienced pressure from some political forces.

    After that the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc issued a statement, in which it blamed Yanukovich for pressuring the judges. In addition to that, it expressed doubt that the Constitutional Court would be able to work effectively in such a situation.

    The Party of Regions regards Our Ukraine’s statement as “an attempt to justify in advance the actions they are going to take after the lawful ruling of the Constitutional Court.”

    “The actions of Our Ukraine representatives have elements of pressure exerted on the whole of the Constitutional Court,” the Party of Regions said. “We have to appeal to the court and demand the denial of the unreliable information, and, at the same time, we will appeal to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, asking it to institute criminal proceedings in connection with the circulation of an obviously incorrect report on a committed crime, because legislation envisages criminal responsibility for interference in the work of judicial bodies.”

    The Constitutional Court postponed hearings on the legitimacy of the presidential decree from April 11 to April 17. The reasons for the delay were not made public.

    On Tuesday five judges of the Constitutional Court said they were experiencing political pressure, which made it impossible for them to consider the presidential decree. The judges, appointed by the president – Yaroslav Machuzhak, Vladimir Kampo, Dmitri Lylak, Viktor Shishkin and Peter Stetsyuk – made their statement at a press conference in Kiev. They also asked for bodyguards to protect them.

    Initially it was planned that the Constitutional Court would begin hearings without delay on April 11. Judge Syuzanna Stanik was to make a report on the issue.

    Stanik asked Yushchenko to ensure the commencement of hearings on his decree calling early parliamentary elections for April 27.

    “I want to ask the president to ensure the commencement and consideration on April 17 of the case presented by 53 deputies,” Stanik said in a televised address.

    “A filthy campaign has been organised to discredit me as a returning officer in this case. The purpose of this is to prevent me as returning officer from preparing for the hearings because the work of any judge, including a Constitutional Court judge, is connected with a responsible assessment of a case,” Stanik said.

    Earlier, members of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc accused Stanik of having taken a bribe in the form of two flats in Kiev.

    On April 10, five judges of the Constitutional Court spoke of political pressure on them and said it would impossible to consider the constitutionality of the presidential decree.

    A Constitutional Court meeting is deemed valid it is attended by at least 12 judges. A decision of the Constitutional Court is deemed adopted if it was voted for by at least 10 judges.

    The Ukrainian Constitutional Court consists of 18 judges – six from the parliament, six from the president, and six from the judiciary.

    On April 12, responding to a question what he will do if the Constitutional Court finds his decree unconstitutional, President Viktor Yushchenko said, “That’s not where the emphasis has to be paced today. I am confident about that. If we truly want to get out of this situation we must look for a political compromise and a political solution. Early elections are a crucible that political forces have to go through.”

    Yushchenko believes that early parliamentary elections are the only available means in the current situation to prevent a worsening of the political crisis.

    “Any other scenario will merely exacerbate the crisis,” Yushchenko said. “We need a new mandate, we need renewed political forces. We have to be through the election purgatory once again.”

    Yushchenko argues that “the key political players, who have been through the past few months or weeks of tests will certainly derive their own conclusions, to be reflected in new lists.”

    “The presidential decree to dissolve parliament protects democracy,” Yushchenko said.

    At the same time he called on the parliamentary factions for negotiations in order to secure the opposition forces’ return to work in parliament.

    “The 200 people’s deputies (representing the opposition) must be brought back to the session hall,” the president said.

    He also urged parliamentary factions to enter into consultations to normalise the parliament’s activities.

    77 percent: Every Jew must visit Poland's death camps

    From: YNet
    As on every Holocaust Remembrance Day, this Monday morning a siren will be heard throughout the country. Yet this siren does not mark impending danger. Instead of seeking shelter, Israelis will stop their daily routine and have a minute of silence in memory of the six million Jewish victims murdered by the Nazis.

    A survey conducted for Ynet and the Gesher organization, which aims at bridging gaps between secular and religious Jews, showed that 94 percent of the Jewish Israeli public will drop whatever they are doing and stand in silence until the sound of the siren dies down.

    Who are the remaining six percent? Most are members of the ultra-Orthodox community who regard the practice as "non-Jewish" and will ignore the siren, deepening the chasm splitting the Israeli society along religious lines.

    The survey was conducted by the Mutagim research institute among a representative sample of 500 respondents, composed of Israel's adult Hebrew-speaking Jewish population.

    Question: "Will you stand up as sirens are heard on Yom Hashoah?"

    Ninety four percent of the religious and seculars participants said they intend to. A majority of the ultra-Orthodox conquered: 65 percent said they will stand, yet a considerable group (35 percent) said they will ignore it.

    Question: "Will you attend a memorial?"

    Sixty percent of participants said they will attend at least one ceremony. The religious participants are more inclined to attend (76 percent) compared to 21 percent of ultra-Orthodox participants.

    The one question everyone seem to agree on relates to the importance of visiting the Nazi death camps in Poland: 77 percent of Israelis believe it is the duty of every Jewish person (82 percent of secular participants conquered, 80 percent of traditional, 61 percent of religious and 62 percent of ultra-Orthodox). Yet, 18 percent of participants said they fear such a trip will be too traumatic.

    Students lighting candles at the Birkenau death camp (Photo: Reuters)

    Despite the above finding, only 16 percent of participants say they plan to travel to the killing fields of Poland. Thirty-nine percent

    said they have not been there yet and do not plan on doing so in the next couple of years. Thirty-two percent said they plan to visit in the near future.

    The survey demonstrated that Jewish people of all walks of life feel the need to connect to the national collective memory using ceremonies, symbols and a shared text, said Gesher's director Shoshi Becker.

    "The act of remembering together brings us closer to one another," she added.

  • Opinion...

    Political crisis puts squeeze on Ukraine
    This time, it's foes of Orange Revolution in Kiev's main plazaPresident

    From: Chicago Tribune
    Amid a sea of orange flags and banners crammed into a small downtown roundabout, Vyacheslav Kireichuk angrily jabs his finger toward Independence Square about 200 yards away. There, thousands of opponents of President Viktor Yushchenko have seized what Kireichuk regards as sacred ground -- the place where the Ukrainian democracy movement known as the Orange Revolution all began.

    They have hunkered down in canvas tents in and around the square, just as Kireichuk and thousands of other Orange revolutionaries did in the frigid winter of 2004. And they have been dancing in the plaza day after day, just as Kireichuk's compatriots did.

    The Maidan, as Ukrainians call Independence Square, "is where I stood for so many days in the snow for the sake of the revolution," Kireichuk said, spying legions of countrymen draped in the opposition's color, sky blue. "Looking over to the Maidan today, I feel as if this place has been corrupted."

    In the topsy-turvy world of Ukrainian politics, about the only thing anyone agrees on these days is that their country is in the throes of another political crisis -- the latest in a series of crises that have dogged Yushchenko's presidency ever since the Orange Revolution launched him into power.

    The latest imbroglio, however, is by far the country's worst since the revolution, pitting Yushchenko on one side against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and parliament on the other, with the country's constitution hanging in the balance.

    And for every Orange devotee like Kireichuk, you'll find a sky blue-clad loyalist of Yanukovych who says it's Yushchenko, the Orange movement's leader, who has made a mess of Ukraine's politics and economy.

    After seeing his presidential powers steadily eroded by Ukraine's Yanukovych-led legislature, Yushchenko on April 2 decided to fight back by ordering the dissolution of parliament. He said new parliamentary elections would be held May 27, just 14 months after Ukrainians elected the current parliament.

    Yushchenko and Yanukovych had been at loggerheads since Yanukovych's Party of Regions won the largest share of votes in the March 2006 parliament election. For Yushchenko, however, the last straw came with the defection of 11 lawmakers from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and from Orange ally Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc over to Yanukovych's ruling coalition.

    The defections gave Yanukovych 260 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament, drawing him closer to the 300-vote supermajority he would need to override any Yushchenko veto.

    Yanukovych and his allies have refused to abide by Yushchenko's decree and have continued to work in parliament. They also have bused thousands of Ukrainians from Yanukovych's support base in the east and south to Kiev's Independence Square to demonstrate daily against Yushchenko's decision.

    The impasse has been put in the hands of Ukraine's Constitutional Court, which is expected to begin discussing the legality of Yushchenko's decree Tuesday. The court was scheduled to begin work last week, but hearings were postponed after five of the judges complained they were being pressured by Yanukovych's allies.

    For many Ukrainians, the latest political row has left them deeply disillusioned about the value of the Orange Revolution, a milestone that was supposed to mark an end to years of post-Soviet corruption and political chicanery.

    Reeling presidency

    Instead, Ukrainians have anxiously watched as Yushchenko's presidency has reeled from one crisis to the next. Yushchenko's partnership with Tymoshenko broke down long ago. Corruption allegations have brought down other key members of Yushchenko's circle. In the March 26, 2006, parliament election that resurrected Yanukovych's place in Ukrainian politics, Yushchenko's party finished a distant third.

    "Right now, the overriding sentiment in Ukraine is one of lost opportunity," said Volodymyr Polokhalo, a Kiev-based political analyst. "After the revolution, Yushchenko had a chance to make so many changes and reforms to improve politics, the economy, the judicial system. But he didn't do it."

    So far, Yushchenko has refused to back down, though on Thursday he said he would be willing to postpone the holding of early parliament elections to ease the crisis. "This is a political crisis, and politicians must use their best skills to make sure that this conflict is resolved by political means," Yushchenko said at a news conference in Kiev. "This is the best way."

    Yanukovych says he won't agree to early parliament elections unless they are accompanied by an early presidential election, a contest Yanukovych's allies believe their leader is in an ideal position to win.

    The standoff is being eyed closely by the West, which regards Yushchenko as a pivotal ally wedged between the European Union's easternmost border and Russia. Yushchenko has been actively pursuing Ukraine's possible membership in NATO, despite strong opposition from Yanukovych and much of Ukraine's population.

    Further weakening of Yushchenko's authority in Ukraine jeopardizes the country's pro-West agenda, says Vadim Karasyov, an analyst with the Kiev-based Institute for Global Strategies.

    "This crisis is demonstrating to the West just how unstable Ukraine is right now," Karasyov said. "It suggests we haven't reached a certain level of development. No matter who comes out the winner, I'm afraid this instability will go on for many years."
    Story continues

    Poland and Auschwitz: Whose version of history should prevail at Auschwitz?

    From: Russia Journal
    COMPARED with the other horrors of Auschwitz, questions of nationality might seem secondary. But they rankle. Russia wants to describe as “Soviet citizens” the hundreds of thousands of people killed there who came from such places as eastern Poland and Lithuania. During the camp's existence, these were part of the Soviet Union. Poles find the wording infuriating: the Hitler-Stalin carve-up of eastern Europe was a crime, not a mere historical backdrop.

    Russia closed its exhibition at Auschwitz in 2003, to update it. But the Polish authorities will not let it reopen unless it changes its terminology. Russia is furious. A Russian politician, Konstantin Kosachev, accused Poland of wanting to “rewrite history”. A Russian Jewish leader called the move “blasphemous”. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former Auschwitz inmate who was also twice Poland's foreign minister, and who chairs the museum's international council, accuses Russia of “sheer arrogance”.

    Attempts to exploit Auschwitz are hardly new. Under communism, the museum there oozed Soviet propaganda, obscuring the fact that most of the million-plus murdered in the camp were Jews. Poles are twitchy when outsiders call it a “Polish death camp” and neglect to mention that it was built and run by the country's Nazi occupiers.

    A somewhat similar row is brewing in Estonia, where the government wants to move a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of Tallinn to a war cemetery. The figure of a bronze soldier is seen as a heroic liberator by many locals with Russian ancestry. But to many Estonians the “unknown rapist” symbolises only the switch between a Nazi occupation and an even more brutal Soviet one.

    Russia's relations with its former satellites are not uniformly bad: it has just signed a border treaty with Latvia and its ties with Hungary are positively chummy. But relations with Poland are icy. Last year the Poles vetoed the start of talks on a new EU-Russian co-operation agreement, because of a year-long Russian embargo on Polish meat exports, imposed seemingly out of spite. That issue is now sure to overshadow next month's EU-Russia summit.

    Yet squabbles about sausages may be patched up more easily than rows about the past. Under Vladimir Putin, the Soviet version of history has become part of Russia's own story. The idea that anyone might not have wished to be a “Soviet citizen” seems baffling and rather ungrateful. The Poles find Russian nostalgia for the Soviet empire not just baffling, but worrying.

  • From the blogs...

    Elie Wiesel - The Perils of Indifference

    From: Minstrel Boy
    Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel
    Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, members of Congress, Ambassador Holbrooke, Excellencies, friends:

    Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe's beloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald. He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. He thought there never would be again. Liberated a day earlier by American soldiers, he remembers their rage at what they saw. And even if he lives to be a very old man, he will always be grateful to them for that rage, and also for their compassion. Though he did not understand their language, their eyes told him what he needed to know -- that they, too, would remember, and bear witness.

    And now, I stand before you, Mr. President -- Commander-in-Chief of the army that freed me, and tens of thousands of others -- and I am filled with a profound and abiding gratitude to the American people. Gratitude is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being. And I am grateful to you, Hillary, or Mrs. Clinton, for what you said, and for what you are doing for children in the world, for the homeless, for the victims of injustice, the victims of destiny and society. And I thank all of you for being here.

    We are on the threshold of a new century, a new millennium. What will the legacy of this vanishing century be? How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms. These failures have cast a dark shadow over humanity: two World Wars, countless civil wars, the senseless chain of assassinations (Gandhi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Sadat, Rabin), bloodbaths in Cambodia and Algeria, India and Pakistan, Ireland and Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sarajevo and Kosovo; the inhumanity in the gulag and the tragedy of Hiroshima. And, on a different level, of course, Auschwitz and Treblinka. So much violence; so much indifference.

    What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means "no difference." A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?

    Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.

    Over there, behind the black gates of Auschwitz, the most tragic of all prisoners were the "Muselmanner," as they were called. Wrapped in their torn blankets, they would sit or lie on the ground, staring vacantly into space, unaware of who or where they were -- strangers to their surroundings. They no longer felt pain, hunger, thirst. They feared nothing. They felt nothing. They were dead and did not know it.

    Rooted in our tradition, some of us felt that to be abandoned by humanity then was not the ultimate. We felt that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one. For us to be ignored by God was a harsher punishment than to be a victim of His anger. Man can live far from God -- not outside God. God is wherever we are. Even in suffering? Even in suffering.

    In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.

    Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.

    Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.

    And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century's wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.

    In the place that I come from, society was composed of three simple categories: the killers, the victims, and the bystanders. During the darkest of times, inside the ghettoes and death camps -- and I'm glad that Mrs. Clinton mentioned that we are now commemorating that event, that period, that we are now in the Days of Remembrance -- but then, we felt abandoned, forgotten. All of us did.

    And our only miserable consolation was that we believed that Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets; that the leaders of the free world did not know what was going on behind those black gates and barbed wire; that they had no knowledge of the war against the Jews that Hitler's armies and their accomplices waged as part of the war against the Allies. If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once.

    And now we knew, we learned, we discovered that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew. And the illustrious occupant of the White House then, who was a great leader -- and I say it with some anguish and pain, because, today is exactly 54 years marking his death -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April the 12th, 1945. So he is very much present to me and to us. No doubt, he was a great leader. He mobilized the American people and the world, going into battle, bringing hundreds and thousands of valiant and brave soldiers in America to fight fascism, to fight dictatorship, to fight Hitler. And so many of the young people fell in battle. And, nevertheless, his image in Jewish history -- I must say it -- his image in Jewish history is flawed.

    The depressing tale of the St. Louis is a case in point. Sixty years ago, its human cargo -- nearly 1,000 Jews -- was turned back to Nazi Germany. And that happened after the Kristallnacht, after the first state sponsored pogrom, with hundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousands of people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which was already in the shores of the United States, was sent back. I don't understand. Roosevelt was a good man, with a heart. He understood those who needed help. Why didn't he allow these refugees to disembark? A thousand people -- in America, the great country, the greatest democracy, the most generous of all new nations in modern history. What happened? I don't understand. Why the indifference, on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims?

    But then, there were human beings who were sensitive to our tragedy. Those non-Jews, those Christians, that we call the "Righteous Gentiles," whose selfless acts of heroism saved the honor of their faith. Why were they so few? Why was there a greater effort to save SS murderers after the war than to save their victims during the war? Why did some of America's largest corporations continue to do business with Hitler's Germany until 1942? It has been suggested, and it was documented, that the Wehrmacht could not have conducted its invasion of France without oil obtained from American sources. How is one to explain their indifference?

    And yet, my friends, good things have also happened in this traumatic century: the defeat of Nazism, the collapse of communism, the rebirth of Israel on its ancestral soil, the demise of apartheid, Israel's peace treaty with Egypt, the peace accord in Ireland. And let us remember the meeting, filled with drama and emotion, between Rabin and Arafat that you, Mr. President, convened in this very place. I was here and I will never forget it.

    And then, of course, the joint decision of the United States and NATO to intervene in Kosovo and save those victims, those refugees, those who were uprooted by a man, whom I believe that because of his crimes, should be charged with crimes against humanity.

    But this time, the world was not silent. This time, we do respond. This time, we intervene.

    Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? Has the human being become less indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from our experiences? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims of ethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near and far? Is today's justified intervention in Kosovo, led by you, Mr. President, a lasting warning that never again will the deportation, the terrorization of children and their parents, be allowed anywhere in the world? Will it discourage other dictators in other lands to do the same?

    What about the children? Oh, we see them on television, we read about them in the papers, and we do so with a broken heart. Their fate is always the most tragic, inevitably. When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, their eyes. Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, their agony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence, famine.

    Some of them -- so many of them -- could be saved.

    And so, once again, I think of the young Jewish boy from the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man I have become throughout these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.

    Berezovsky Fires a Broadside

    From: La Russophobe
    On Friday, we reported that exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky had told the British newspaper The Guardian that he felt the only way the rise of a neo-Soviet state could be halted in Russia was through the use of force -- and he declared he was prepared to support that effort (giving no specifics).

    Some Russia watchers found this disturbing, since (a) Berezovsky is undoubtedly involved with organized crime and (b) the term "force" could be equated with the use of violence. We are less concerned and think that, on balance, Berezovsky's declaration was, if not a good thing, at least a necessary one. Here's why.

    To be sure, nothing good can come of armed insurrection against a Kremlin that has monpolized military force. We don't support it. It wouldn't work any more than it would have worked in Gandhi's India or Martin Luther King's America. But who seriously thinks Berezovsky is capable of prompting that? In fact, it seems even Berezovsky agrees: he immediately clarified his remarks, stating that the "force" he was referring to was a "bloodless" variety of change. To be sure, it would be far better for Russia if someone less tainted by criminal enterprise would step forward to challenge the Kremlin. But careful readers will notice that Berezovsky's critics almost never name such people, and even more rarely do they make public shows of support for them. Mention the name Garry Kasparov, for instance, and many will simply scoff. We greatly admire Garry, but even we have recently found much to criticize about his record. So far, he's established no significant traction in Russia (or even outside it).

    Someone has to publicly get in the Kremlin's face on the international stage. Someone has to show a total lack of fear and respect for the Kremlin's retaliatory capacity and its alleged legitimacy, which is an illusion. Someone has to demonstrate that the Kremlin isn't almighty or invulnerable, but rather just a bunch of cheap thugs in bad suits who can be brought to heel by a determined popular front. Who among Berezovsky's critics can say that Putin, a proud KGB spy, is any better in moral terms than Berezovsky? Nobody even knows Putin's past well enough to make that judgment.

    Fear of authority is basically a national psychosis in Russia, and dramatic action is needed to shake it off. What else but such primitive, blind fear could explain Russians voting for Boris Yeltsin's hand-picked successor when they expressed such seething contempt for his judgment? For centuries, the Kremlin has exploited Russian fear of authority to subjugate the population, so it's not surprising to see it happening again.

    No one can deny that Berezovsky has taken very considerable risks by making his statement. He's invited the Kremlin to use it as a basis to renew its plea that Britain extradite him (it's already begun doing so), and he's added to the long list of serious offenses it can charge him with if extradicted. Moreover, he's exposed himself to the risk of an assassination attempt; so many Russian dissidents have fallen that it would hardly be surprising to see him struck down as well.

    In speaking, Berezovsky has reminded the Kremlin (and the world) that it has alienated and infuriated the British government with its outrageous conduct in connection with the Litvinenko affair, which at best amounted to the stonewalling of the British investigation and at worst saw the Kremlin spreading highly dangerous radioactive toxins all over London. He's implied that Britain is so angry at Russia that it won't extradite him no matter what he says -- and he could be right. The British know perfectly well about Berezovsky's dark side, so what kind of conduct on the Kremlin's part would generate that kind of attitude?

    In short, we are very disappointed with those who are so quick to attack Berezovsky without being equally quick to openly and strongly support "better" candidates for the role of opposition leader. We are equally disappointed to see many ignore the basic facts of life in Russia, where in terms of opposition leaders beggars can rarely be choosers. Was Lenin on that much of a higher moral plane than the Tsar when he took power? Boris Yeltsin threw down the Iron Curtain, and no sooner had he done so than he faced single-digit public approval ratings and impeachment proceedings after illegally disbanding parliament and then shelling its building. Then he made Putin, a proud KGB spy, president. Vladimir Putin's regime is controlled by a dangerous clan of career spies who have shown no reluctance to horrific violence, and who have been roundly condemned by human rights groups across the globe for doing so.

    Who is a better candidate to face down Putin than Berezovsky? Grigory Yavlinsky, whose party Yabloko has summarily imploded and who is as quiet as a mouse, refusing even to take part in the Other Russia protest actions? Vladimir Ryzhkov, whose tiny party has been summarily outlawed and who, in response, has vanished from sight? Mikhail Kasyanov, who is not even on the radar screen of most Russian voters and who is hardly a fountain of memorable rhetoric? Anna Politkovskaya's successor? And who, pray tell, would that be?

    If the choice in Russia is to have Putin's rule, which threatens to destroy Russia in a cold war with the United States just as the USSR was destroyed, challenged by mafioso Berezovsky or nobody, that choice is a no-brainer. It's a sad commentary on the depths to which modern Russia has sunk, but if Berezovsky is the best they can produce then he must be the one to speak.

    If somebody else has a better message and messenger in mind, now's the time to tell the world about it. Time is running out for Russia and, say what you like about Berezovsky, he seems to be one of the few people who know it.

  • Sport...

    Belarus FA Want Arsenal Points Deduction: Arsenal to be docked points for a dispute involving Alexander Hleb

    Hleb: arguably the best midfielder in the world
    It is claimed that the Gunners have failed to compensate Hleb’s first club Dinamo Minsk after signing him from Stuttgart almost two years ago.

    The Minsk club insist they are owed around £200,000 for their part in Hleb’s development, and academy chief Valentin Domashevich said: "We still haven't received any of the money.

    "Arsenal, were supposed to transfer the money by December 27 last year, but they haven't done it.

    "I'm getting sick of talking about this. For some reason, nobody seems to doubt the sense of duty and decency of the English."

    An Arsenal spokesman said: "There's no question of us deliberately holding back payment.

    "We have had no communication whatsoever from Dinamo Minsk.

    "If they call us and supply their bank account details the money will be paid, it is as simple as that."

    Russia’s Heavyweight Champion Valuev Loses Title to Uzbekistanian Chagaev

    From: MosNews
    Uzbekistan’s Ruslan Chagaev upset the odds to outpoint defending champion Nikolai Valuev of Russia in their World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight title bout on Saturday.

    The Reuters news agency reports that two of the three judges scored the contest in favour of the challenger by 115-113 and 117-111 margins, while the third called it a 114-114 draw.

    “Today was my day. Today I was the better boxer,” Chagaev told reporters after his victory over the giant Valuev.

    Weighing in at 144.7-kg and standing 2.13-metres tall, Valuev was unable to make his physical advantage tell against the 28-year-old southpaw Chagaev in the fourth defence of his title.

    “Before the fight everybody said that Nikolai is too tall for me to have a chance. Well, I’m smaller but I have the sting,” the 1.85-metres Chagaev said after improving to 23-0-1 with 17 knockouts.

    Valuev said he had not moved enough and made many mistakes, but vowed to stage a comeback after suffering his first loss in 14 years as a professional.

    “There’s no reason for me to lie down in my grave. I am going to keep on boxing and I will be back in the ring to fight for the world title,” he said.

    The defeat also ruined the 33-year-old Valuev’s dream of surpassing Rocky Marciano’s 49-bout winning record in the division. The American remains the only world champion to retire without a loss or draw.

    Valuev, who claimed the WBA title from American John Ruiz in December 2005, had won 46 fights, 34 by knockout.

    “David slew Goliath, this is what we saw here tonight,” said Valuev’s co-promoter Don King, who was full of praise for Chagaev.

    “You saw a man who was aggressive and hungry. He fought and he fought to win,” King said, adding that he remained confident in his protege.

    “Nikolai will return.”

  • Extras...

  • JTA reports that the German Embassy in Belarus recovered a stolen memorial plaque to Jews killed in Minsk during World War II. After the plaque's disappearance on March 9, German Ambassador Martin Hecker offered a reward of 1,000 euro -- about $1,300 -- to help recover it, according to Belorussian news site Charter '97 Press Center.

    The embassy said in a statement last Friday that the plaque had been returned by a Belorussian man; no further details were available. The plaque was put up in 1992 to commemorate some 450 Jews executed by the Nazis. They had been deported from the German city of Bremen to Belarus in 1942 and confined to the Minsk ghetto.