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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, May 20, 2007

New construction in Minsk, Ahmadinejad on the way, Beltranzgas deal, UN Vote, HIV, Religion, Bloggs and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #205

    The president of Belarus approves concept of construction of new business and public center and residential area Minsk City

    From: BelTA
    The relocation of Airport Minsk-1 and an aircraft repair plant beyond the boundaries of Minsk will open major urban development opportunities in the city areas where high buildings or any buildings at all were banned, Minsk’s chief architect Viktor Nikitin told media today.

    In his words, the relocation of the facilities beyond the city’s border will allow building over 3,000 square meters of homes in the Loshitsa residential area and around 500,000 square meters of apartments along the Dzerzhinsky Avenue.

    Viktor Nikitin stressed, the project is considered as part of plans for the city’s general development and the construction of the third subway line.

    The construction of a downtown and residential area Minsk City must start in 2009 right after the design work is over, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stated as he heard out a report on Minsk development from the city’s chief architect Viktor Nikitin today.

    “It is necessary to draft the projects and offer them to investors as fast as possible. The construction should start without delays”, noted Alexander Lukashenko.

    Belarus needs to keep its aircraft repair industry, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said. The Minsk development plan suggests relocating Airport Minsk-1 and Minsk Aircraft Repair Plant from out of the city.

    The head of state believes, it is vital to preserve the aircraft repair industry. To reach the goal, it is necessary to start negotiations with foreign companies, maybe the world’s largest aircraft producers, about setting up a joint venture.

    Construction work in the Belarusian capital’s new downtown and residential area called Minsk City will start in as early as 2009 in the land that will come free. That is why it is necessary to relocate the aircraft repair plant from out of Minsk within two-three years. There are plans to build a new modern enterprise. The head of state noted, the highly-qualified personnel must be preserved. “We should preserve jobs and take care of people”, said the President.

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has given an instruction to prepare projects for building a modern National Expo Centre of Belarus. The head of state drew attention to the point, when he was receiving a report on Minsk’s urban development today.

    The President envisages the new facility as a home to permanent expositions and various inconstant exhibitions.

    In his report Minsk’s chief architect Viktor Nikitin has outlined plans to build two multilevel underground parking facilities — near BelExpo exhibition hall in Yanka Kupala Street and in Oktyabrskaya Square.

    The reconstruction of Oktyabrskaya Square was also touched upon. The President believes, a careful approach is essential for considering these projects. Commercial interests cannot stand alone. Oktyabrskaya Square is primarily a recreation area. “Ideological and political aspects of the place must not be forgotten”, noted Alexander Lukashenko.

    The construction of a five-star hotel by foreign investors not far from Oktyabrskaya Square was discussed. The hotel will be a high-rise building offering modern comfortable suites to its customers. Alexander Lukashenko thinks, a larger number of such hotels in Minsk could reduce prices for hotel services.

    The President demanded impeccable maintenance of buildings both in the centre of Minsk and in the outskirts.

    Alexander Lukashenko has instructed the city mayor to put right areas adjacent to the ring road.

    Iranian President will get warm welcome in Belarus

    From: Reuters and People's daily
    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will travel to Belarus on Monday on a visit likely to generate harsh anti-American rhetoric when he meets President Alexander Lukashenko, another bitter critic of Washington.

    During the two-day visit which will take place at the invitation of his Belorussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet different Belorussian officials and the two sides will sign several cooperation agreements, Fars said.

    Lukashenko has paid several visits to Iran during his present term, with the latest one on Nov. 5-7 last year, which focused primary attention on the issues of trade and economic cooperation with Iran.

    The economic effect of the official visit by the Belorussian president to Iran in November was estimated at nearly 350 million U.S. dollars, according to Lukashenko's official website.

    Over the last few years, Iran and Belarus have been promoting bilateral economic and political relations.

    Iran believes that Tehran and Minsk have similar views on international affairs and this would be a foundation for the two countries to forge closer relations, while Belarus increasingly views Iran as a major source of oil and gas and a major market for Belorussian industrial goods.

    Belarus's involvement in the Iranian oil industry will also figure large on the agenda. Lukashenko, accused of human rights abuses in the West, has actively sought new sources of energy for its economy amid frosty relations with Russia.

    Minsk has in the past held talks with other energy-rich nations, including Libya and Venezuela, but analysts have noted negotiations mainly focused on mutual hostility towards the United States rather than economic benefits.

    Belarussian officials gave little away about the agenda.

    "The visit is planned for May 21-22. If it takes place, then of course the two presidents will meet," said Lukashenko's spokesman Pavel Lyogky. Ahmadinejad is expected to arrive at 9 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) on Monday.

    Last year, Belarus defended Iran's right to pursue its nuclear programme and rejected any notion of Western sanctions. Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said both hold close positions on world events and plan to boost economic ties.

    Lukashenko, who enjoys broad support at home, has accused Washington of trying to engineer a revolt in Belarus.

    He says his rejection of market reforms and tough line on dissent has spared his country the poverty and upheaval of other ex-Soviet states.

    But the economy is facing a serious challenge this year after Russia doubled gas prices for Belarus and imposed a duty on crude oil sales for the first time, prompting the country to say it would look for alternative sources of energy.

    Industry analysts say Belarus may find it difficult to fund large exploration projects abroad and even if the land-locked state manages to find new resources it is unlikely to reduce its heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas.

    Gazprom agrees to buy 50 pct of Belarus' Beltransgaz for 2.5 bln usd

    From: AFX News and Kommersant
    Gazprom (Nachrichten) said it has agreed to acquire 50 pct of Belarussian gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz for 2.5 bln usd.

    The shares will be paid for in four stages between 2007 and 2010. Gazprom will acquire 12.5 pct of Beltransgaz at each stage, said Gazprom.

    The deal ends a gas dispute between the two countries that came to a head late last year when Gazprom announced a steep hike in the price it charged Belarus for natural gas.

    At midnight on Dec 31, Belarus agreed to pay 100 usd per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas in 2007, a substantial increase from the subsidized 45 usd it had paid before that.

    The deal also let Gazprom purchase half of Beltransgaz, and approximately doubled the price Gazprom pays for transit rights to pump gas to European markets through Belarus' territory.

    The companies have also agreed to gradually raise the wholesale extra charge on natural gas sold by Beltransgaz. Another agreement they reached is that the state will not have privileges in managing Beltransgaz.

    Gazprom’s spokesman said on Friday morning that the agreement’s signing is postponed till a later date, approximately June 1st.

    The agreement on Russian gas supplies to Belarus signed on December 31, 2006, obligates Gazprom to supply 21.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Belarus in 2007, at the price of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. Afterwards, the price on Russian gas for Belarus will be calculated according to the formula used for European consumers.

    Nearly 45.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas will be transported thru Belarus’ territory in 2007.

    The deal underscored Europe's dependence on energy supply arrangements in the former Soviet Union over which it has little control.

    About 20 pct of Russia's gas supplies to Europe transit through Belarus.

    Milinkevich hails Belarus' defeat in race for seat on UN Human Rights Council

    From: Naviny
    Opposition politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich welcomed Thursday's failure by Belarus to gain membership in the UN Human Rights Council.

    The country was outvoted by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the second round of the vote held by the UN General Assembly to award two seats allotted for Eastern Europe. Slovenia won the other seat in the first round.

    According to Mr. Milinkevich, most of the countries that backed Belarus' rivals in fact "voted for democracy in the country" and for attracting more attention to human rights abuse in Belarus.

    "This is a very positive thing that most UN member states gave an ear to calls from the world and Belarusian pro-democracy public for refusing to vote for Belarus' bid for membership in the UN Human Rights Council," the former presidential candidate's press office quoted him as saying.

    Mr. Milinkevich stressed that Belarus was a European country and should meet basic standards in the sphere of human rights and freedoms.

    "As soon as true changes in the sphere of democracy take place in our country, all political prisoners are released, political persecution is ended, freedom of speech is guaranteed and democratic elections meeting OSCE standards are held, I will be the first to back the Belarusian government's bid to join the UN Human Rights Council," he was quoted as saying.

    At the UN, No Belarus But Much Boasting, Human Rights Hypocrisy Is Widespread

    From: Inner City Press
    Ambassadors of Sudan and Egypt in the GA before Thursday's vote
    "I came here today to vote for Belarus," Sudan's Ambassador told Inner City Press on Thursday in the hallway of the UN General Assembly. Inside the GA chamber, a vote was to be held, in which Bosnia beat out Belarus 112 to 72 for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

    Sudanese Amb. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem denounced the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said that "colonialism is coming in a new form." Afterwards an American correspondent sighed that the Bush administration has given up the moral high ground, which now allows such comments.

    While Amb. Abdalhaleem's statements were the most flamboyant -- one wag joked that he did everything but wear an "I [Heart] Belarus" t-shirt -- other countries' Ambassadors spoke similarly, against what they called hypocrisy and name-calling by the West. South Africa's Amb. Dumisani Kumalo said, "It's not for us to judge." Apparently not -- when asked about the African Group's opposition and twenty amendments to the draft declaration on the human rights of indigenous people, Amb. Kumalo said he wasn't aware and would check it out. We'll see.

    Mid-morning, as U.S. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad passed the GA entrance with two body guards, a reporter trailed after him, asking first about the U.S.'s role in getting Bosnia to enter the race, and of the barring of UN human rights expert Jorge Bustamente from two U.S. detention facilities for undocumented migrants, in Texas and New Jersey. "I am not holding a press conference," Amb. Khalilzad said with a smile. What was that, about the U.S. foregoing the Council Presidency press conference because of so much availability to the press?

    Government ready to consider waiving golden share rule at some companies, official says

    From: Naveny
    A deputy prime minister said that the Belarusian government was ready to consider waiving its "golden share" rule at some privatized companies.

    Under Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 2004 edict, the government may apply the golden share right to any enterprise formerly owned by the state regardless of its current ownership whenever it deems that the company is facing an "unfavorable socio-economic situation." In particular, the government may intervene in the company's management and install its managers.

    While talking to reporters in Minsk on May 19, Uladzimir Syamashka said that certain Belarusian petrochemical companies could sell its shares to foreign investors on a public stock exchange in an initial public offering as early as late 2007. "We don't make it secret that we're going to issue the most interesting shares in foreign markets in the near future to learn the companies' true market value," the official noted, adding that stakes of between 10 and 15 percent were to be put up for sale.

    The recent reorganization into stock companies of the Navapolatsk-based Naftan oil refinery and Palimir polymer manufacturer, the Khimvalakno artificial fiber plant in Mahilyow, and several other petrochemical enterprises has become the first step toward attracting investments in them, Mr. Syamashka said.

    The vice premier warned that the government would have a cautious attitude to the sale of stakes in the companies, recalling that the Belarusian leader had demanded that investors should have enough money and be ready to supply Belarusian petrochemical companies with raw materials and find new markets for them. "If an investor meets all these requirements, the Belarusian side is ready to sell a certain stake, of course on market conditions," he said.

    Belarus government rejects mass circumcision as HIV control measure

    From: Earth Times
    Minsk - Officials from Belarus' Ministry of Health on Friday formally rejected the idea of circumcising most men in the former Soviet republic as a means of controlling the spread of the HIV virus. "This is not something we are considering," said Mikahil Rizhma, a government spokesman, according to a Korrespondent magazine article. "In our opinion using a condom is much more effective."

    Rizhma had been responding to reports in local media of a secret Health Ministry review of studies showing chances of HIV infection fall by up to 60 per cent, if most men in the country are circumcised.

    News reports of a possible plan to mandate circumcision operations for most men had caused consternation in Belarus, as the state-run health system routinely administers flu vaccines en masse to government workers, whether they wish it or not.

    "There is no such plan," Rizhma said. "We recommend conventional means of prevention."

    Circumcision is rare in Belarus, with an estimated one per cent of men having undergone the operation.

    HIV-consciousness is low in the country, with most health officials treating the disease as an infection endangering intravenous drug users, but not the general population.

    HIV infection approaches epidemic levels neighbouring Russia and Ukraine. Belarus' government has released statistics purporting to show only a tiny portion of the Belarusian population is infected - a position considered questionable by most international health organizations.
  • Note: This story is actually not a joke. please see THIS ARTICLE article for information on how circumsision actually does have an effect upon recieviung the HIV virus.

    BELARUS : Foreign Protestants expelled for "harming national security"

    From: Al Chretien
    Following the expulsion in March of US citizen Travis Decker in retaliation for his active work with a Baptist church in the capital Minsk, the Belarusian authorities have moved to deport another foreigner on similar grounds. Polish citizen Jaroslaw Lukasik told Forum 18 News Service he must leave Belarus by 7 June, although his wife and children are Belarusian citizens. The KGB accused him of participating in "illegal religious activity by Protestant communities and gatherings of radically inclined, politicised groupings". Both Decker and Lukasik were accused of harming national security. Other Protestants, as well as Catholic priests and nuns, have already had permission to remain in Belarus curtailed. Belarus’ 2001 National Security Concept describes the activity of foreign religious organisations and missionaries as a threat. Israeli Rabbi Borukh Lamdan told Forum 18 he is still trying to get his permission to work in Bobruisk renewed.

    Jaroslaw Lukasik, a Polish citizen active in the Belarusian Pentecostal community, has told Forum 18 News Service that he must leave the country by the end of 7 June. The official reason given in the state’s notification of his deportation, he confirmed on 15 May, is "activity aimed at bringing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus in the sphere of interconfessional relations".

    The 8 May decision to annul Lukasik’s residency permit – valid since 1999 – was taken by the Citizenship and Migration Department of Myadel District (Minsk Region) on the basis of information from the KGB secret police, he told Forum 18. At Myadel Department for Interior Affairs, he explained, he was shown – but not given – the KGB’s accusations. "That I had participated in ’illegal religious activity by Protestant communities and gatherings of radically inclined, politicised groupings’."

    Lukasik, whose wife and three small children are Belarusian citizens, has already started to appeal the decision. "We don’t want them to decide the fate of a family in this way - without a court case, based upon unsubstantiated rumours," he remarked. Also speaking to Forum 18 on 15 May, Lukasik’s wife Natalya stressed that her husband has never been charged with any violation of the law while living in Belarus.

    On 17 May the Evangelical Belarus Information Centre published an appeal to the state authorities in Lukasik’s defence, signed by Sergei Tsvor, the Pentecostal Union’s bishop to Minsk and Minsk Region ; Vyacheslav Goncharenko, bishop of the Full Gospel Union and pastor of the Minsk-based New Life Church ; and 27 other Protestant pastors in Belarus. They describe Lukasik as "a Christian active in the life of evangelical churches (..) a person of high moral qualities (..) a bearer of Christian values who conducts educational work in the spheres of history and culture." The Protestant leaders also express their hope that "the principle of presumption of innocence will continue to be the foundation of Belarusian legal norms, and the accusations against Jaroslaw Lukasik will remain groundless in the absence of a court ruling".

    In a similar recent case, Travis Decker, a US citizen active in the Minsk Baptist community, was ordered to leave Belarus within 15 days of being notified of his deportation on 20 March. According to a local Protestant source, he is no longer in Belarus. Viewed by Forum 18, documents issued by the Department for Internal Affairs in Minsk’s Frunze District inform Decker of its 14 March decision to annul his stay in Belarus. One bears his signature, dated 20 March, and acknowledgment that he has been familiarised with its content.

    According to the document, "in the course of his [Decker’s] continued residence on the territory of [Frunze] District, as well as of his stay in Belarus in general (..) information was received from the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Interior Ministry of Belarus in relation to this foreign citizen concerning his relationship to activity aimed at bringing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus."

    Until his deportation, Decker had formally been engaged in the humanitarian sphere, and held a one-year visa valid until 1 October 2007.

    The country’s National Security Concept, signed by President Aleksandr Lukashenko on 17 July 2001, includes "the activisation of the activity of foreign religious organisations and missionaries to monopolise the spiritual life of society" among fundamental factors posing a threat to national security in the humanitarian sphere. It also calls for the counteraction of their "negative influence".

    On 15 February 2007 seven US citizens were deported from Belarus following a local police warning that they had been conducting illegal religious activity in the eastern city of Mogilev [Mahilyow]. A further three left voluntarily (see F18News 28 February 2007 ?article_id=922).

    Also in Mogilev Region, an Israeli rabbi based in the town of Bobruisk is still trying to get his state permission to conduct religious activity renewed, he told Forum 18 on 17 May. Permission was not renewed in September 2006 on the grounds that Rabbi Borukh Lamdan was conducting commercial activity – a charge he denies (see F18News 28 February 2007 ?article_id=922).

    In a 10 May interview with the Russian-language Jewish News Agency, the chairman of the Hassidic Union of Jewish Religious Communities of Belarus, Vladimir Malinkin, acknowledged that Rabbi Lamdan has "committed some violations of the passport regime and the authorities dropped heavy hints that he should go". Malinkin added that the local Jewish community is keen for him to stay, however, "because Borukh has done much to revitalise Jewish life in Bobruisk".

    Foreign religious workers invited by local religious communities of various confessions are increasingly being barred from Belarus (see F18News 18 October 2006 ?article_id=856). Seven Polish Catholic priests and five nuns were forced out of the country at the end of 2006, apparently because of their high levels of religious activity, including youth and alcohol rehabilitation meetings open to all.

  • Around the region...

    Concerns about media freedom growing in Russia

    From: Houston Chronicle
    Russian news: Hey, all is good out here. Noooooo problems.
    More than a half-dozen journalists with the Russian News Service, which produces reports that reach millions of radio listeners, resigned to protest the new pro-Kremlin management's policy that at least 50 percent of coverage must be positive, according to former correspondents.

    The company that owns the service, Russian Media Group, said today that no one was available to comment on the claims, which come amid growing concern about media freedom in Russia.

    In another case highlighting the concerns, the Russian Union of Journalists is protesting an order that it vacate its offices that house state media operations, including the RIA-Novosti news agency and the Russia Today satellite television channel.

    During Vladimir Putin's presidency, major Russian media have increasingly come under state control or influence. The media arm of the state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom took control of NTV television — once noted for its criticism of the Kremlin and independent reporting on the war in Chechnya — and the newspaper Izvestia.

    Analytical programs on Russia's main TV channels are increasingly infrequent and less likely to express criticism of the Kremlin.

    Artyom Khan, who left the Russian News Service in protest on May 9, told The Associated Press that seven of his colleagues also had left or submitted their resignations in the wake of the shake-up at the service, which provides news for its own station as well as others, including Russian Radio — the nation's biggest radio broadcaster, with an audience of 7.4 million daily.

    Khan said his new editors told him a report on pro-Kremlin protests outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow had a "pro-Estonian accent" and was "unprofessional." Editors refused to air material he produced on a Moscow march by the Kremlin's political foes in April, which was broken up by club-wielding riot police, he said.

    "I can't say that the new policy is anti-Western or anti-American, but it is clearly pro-Russian," Khan said. "You have to convey the line of the party of power."

    Mikhail Baklanov, the former editor-in-chief who was fired in April by the new managers, confirmed that a number of his colleagues had quit.

    "People left because there was no chance to work professionally," he said. "They weren't able to do what journalists do," he said. "They were told that the first news item must be positive and the last news must be positive, while negative news must amount to no more than 50 percent" of the report.

    The newspaper Kommersant cited the Russian News Service's general manager Vsevolod Neroznak as saying that the departure of journalists was "a usual affair ... restructuring of the company is taking place."

    The service's policy "has not changed. The delivery of the news has simply become more considered," he was quoted as saying.

    Earlier this week, the journalists' union said that it received an order from the state property agency to vacate its offices by Friday to make space for Russia Today, an English-language channel that critics see as little more than a Kremlin propaganda tool. The union said the order was dated April 18, but delivered only on Tuesday.

    The property agency "is throwing out into the street an organization with a 90-year history, counting more than 100,000 journalists in its ranks and making, we may assert, a definite contribution to the construction of a democratic society," the union said in a statement.

    "The explanation that 'freeing' the premises is necessary for widening the work of Russia Today, created to put forth to the world a positive image of our country, sounds ridiculous," the statement said.

    The international watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists decried the move.

    "The CPJ calls on the government to reconsider its actions, to stop harassing our colleagues, and to allow them to do their work freely," executive director Joel Simon said in a statement.

    Yushchenko, Solana call for soonest elections in Ukraine

    From: Itar Tass
    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and EU High Representative for the Common Security and Defense Policy Javier Solana have called for the soonest holding of parliamentary elections in Ukraine, the presidential press service said on Friday in comments on a telephone conversation.

    The interlocutors agreed that Ukraine is capable of proving its democratic maturity and find a way out of the parliamentary and political crisis unaided, the press service said.

    They also agreed that Ukraine needs the soonest parliamentary elections for the sake of sustainable economic development.

    Yushchenko told Solana about his negotiations with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and voiced concern about attempts to revise the May 4 political agreement on the soonest election.

    Polish premier's mum holds the purse-strings

    From: ME Times
    Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski revealed Thursday that he doesn't have a bank account and instead hands his salary over to his mother.

    "I still do not have a bank account," the 57-year-old conservative premier said in an interview with the weekly news magazine Wprost. "I am not joking. I keep my money in Mum's account," he said.

    Kaczynski is unmarried and lives with his mother in Warsaw. His identical twin, Lech Kaczysnki, is president of Poland. Their mother, Jadwiga Kaczynska, has previously said that Lech, who is married, telephones her twice a day.

    Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Wprost that he had chosen not to open a bank account to avoid the risk that anyone trying to manufacture a scandal might transfer funds into it and then try to discredit him.

    The Kaczynski brothers, who founded Poland's Law and Justice party, won the country's presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005 after campaigning on an anti-corruption platform.

  • Opinion...

    Kasparov Compares Putin Government To Belarus, Zimbabwe

    From: RFE/RL
    Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has compared the government of President Vladimir Putin to the dictatorships in Belarus and Zimbabwe.

    Kasparov said that while Russia might be closer to the European Union than to Africa, politically it resembles the dictatorship of Zimbabwe more than the democracies of Germany or France.

    The former world chess champion and leader of the Other Russia opposition grouping made his comment to Reuters after he and other anti-Kremlin activists were prevented from attending an opposition demonstration on May 18 in Samara, the site of an EU-Russia summit.

    Anti-Kremlin protests proceeded elsewhere in Russia, however.

    "The space for freedom is shrinking every day in Russia, and we can talk today about not only a police state but virtually about the regime that is [closer] to [Belarus] or Zimbabwe...than to democratic countries from Europe," Kasparov said.

    When Kasparov and fellow activists tried to check in to their flight, they were told that the computer system did not recognize their tickets.

    Kasparov, interviewed at the time by RFE/RL, explained what happened: "We were not allowed to fly out. Most [of the group members] had their passports and tickets taken away. This continued for almost five hours, and there was no explanation given for the first two hours. After that, they said they were gathering information about the tickets because supposedly 13 passengers [from the group] -- including correspondents from the American 'The Wall Street Journal' and the British 'The Daily Telegraph,' by the way -- [possessed] forged tickets."

    Reports say some 200 protesters took part anyway in the "March of Dissent" rally in Samara.

    And on May 19, anti-Kremlin rallies continued in the city of Chelyabinsk, about 2,100 kilometers east of the capital, Moscow. More than 100 demonstrators protested what they call President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian policies.

    In the past, such marches have been forcefully broken up by police in other cities. But one of the organizers of the Chelyabinsk March of Dissent, Oleg Stifonov, told RFE/RL the rally proceeded peacefully.

    "Some 150 people took part in the event," Stifonov said. "The slogans were standard for all Marches of Dissent -- demands for the resignation of President Putin and other social slogans. The police behaved absolutely correctly."

    The Kremlin says it does not see Other Russia as a political threat, but accuses it of seeking to destabilize Russia ahead of the next scheduled presidential election, in March 2008.

    Kasparov was briefly detained after a protest rally in Moscow last month. He says the opposition is gearing up for at least three major demonstrations in the coming weeks.

    "I think that Other Russia should be very much satisfied, because the marches will go on," Kasparov said. "We do not stop; we believe that this form of organizing mass protests worked very effectively and we are going to continue. We will have three more marches within the next three weeks in Voronezh and then a big event in St. Petersburg on June 9, and in Moscow on June 11."

    Meanwhile, amid rising concerns over Russian government interference in the media, reports today say eight journalists have resigned from the Russian News Service to protest a new policy that requires half their news to portray the government in a "positive light."

    The resignations began in April after new management was hired and the new policy was introduced. Mikhail Baklanov, who was fired as editor in chief at the news service in April, said people left because "there was no chance to work professionally." The Russian News Service provides news broadcasts to Russia's most popular radio network and millions of listeners.

  • From the blogs...

    Russia and the West; No divide, no rule

    From: Edward Lucas
    THESE are bleak and unsettling times if you believe that Russia and the West ought to be better friends. By common consent, the mood has not been so icy since Soviet days. Russia says it feels encircled by NATO expansion and proposed American missile defences, patronised on human rights and assailed by double standards. The West finds Russia's pushy foreign policy, increasingly authoritarian manner and growing grip on its energy supplies alarming.

    A summit late this week between the European Union and Russia's Vladimir Putin looks likely to agree on nothing; ex-communist countries such as Poland and Lithuania are determined to veto talks on a new partnership agreement so long as they are subject to Russian trade sanctions and other pressure. Visits earlier in the week to Moscow by the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and by Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier, produced only a half-hearted promise to cool some of the more heated rhetoric (see article).

    Doing that is no bad thing—but the worst words have come from one side only. Mr Putin recently seemed to liken America to Nazi Germany. Ms Rice merely called trends in Russia “troubling”. The American media are harsher—but, perhaps contrary to Kremlin belief, she is not to blame for that.

    The idea of Russia being tricked and humiliated by a mighty, well-organised Western camp led by a power-hungry America is preposterous. The truth is that Russia, having first scared its neighbours into NATO by its bullying behaviour, is currently outmanoeuvring a divided and indecisive West on almost every front—and especially on energy.

    Last week Mr Putin struck a crucial if provisional deal with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on routing their gas exports to Europe via Russia. Along with his recent schmoozing of Algeria and Qatar, this threatens to exacerbate Europe's energy insecurity, kyboshing the hope of importing large quantities of Central Asian gas without Russian involvement. The idea was to hook up Europe to the region's gas reserves with a new pipeline under the Caspian Sea, and then an existing one through the Caucasus and Turkey. The obstacles to the Caspian scheme are formidable; the Kremlin can offer the Turkmen and Kazakhs incentives, such as unquestioning support for their domestic policies, that the West cannot. But the existing Caucasian pipeline once looked just as unlikely; political will turned it into reality, and could still save the Caspian scheme.

    Stand your ground
    Russia can hardly be blamed for maximising the economic benefits of its energy riches and geography; every other poor, resource-rich country does the same. But that does not mean that Europe should simply acquiesce. Whatever the pipeline arrangements, it should aim for greater resilience in the face of Russian pressure. It should liberalise its own energy industries, pay for better gas storage, build more interconnecting pipes and power lines, and invest more in liquefied natural gas terminals. The deeper and more liquid Europe's energy markets are, the harder it is for an outsider to manipulate them.

    Most important of all, the West must resist Russia's attempts to pick and choose among its customers. The Kremlin seems not fully to accept that its Baltic, Balkan and central European neighbours are as independent as the countries of western Europe are. The centrepiece of Russian policy is to strike bilateral deals: with the big members of the EU, notably Germany, and with weakly governed new members such as Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria. By seeming to accept this divide-and-rule policy, the Europeans undermine themselves. That is why the German-backed gas pipeline under the Baltic, and the agreement of Hungary and others to a Russian gas pipeline through the Balkans, are so damaging.

    Russia's combination of ruthlessness, ambition and wealth is unique and scary. But it should not be intimidating. Europe should accept that a bad deal with the Kremlin is worse than no deal at all. Germany, in particular, needs to be less fixated on friendship with Russia, no matter what. But there is no need to declare a new cold war, whether over energy supplies or more generally. Europe's dependence on Russia for gas and oil is sure to continue, but need not be harmful. After all, it makes Russia dependent on Europe as its main market; talk of switching supplies to China is a pipedream in the absence of pipelines, which take both years and oodles of money to build. The way to bring more equality to the relationship of bullying supplier and anxious buyer is for Europe to stand united against Russian attempts to divide it.

    Boston Globe Blasts Condi's Limp Confrontation of Putin

    From: Boston Globe Blasts Condi's Limp Confrontation of Putin
    A reader points out that a Boston Globe editorial says Condi could have done much more on her recent visit to Russia. LR is disappointed to say that she couldn't agree more. Tsk, tsk, Condi! History is watching you!

    DURING HER visit to Russia Tuesday for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did what a diplomat ought to do: She asked for a cooling of "overheated" rhetoric. "I don't throw around terms like 'new Cold War,' " Rice noted, prudently. "It's a big, complicated relationship, but it's not one that is anything like the implacable hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union."

    There is wisdom in Rice's attempt to keep provocative oratory -- as when Putin recently seemed to compare US behavior to that of the Third Reich -- from making US-Russia relations even more strained than they already are. But as much as the Bush administration may need Russia's cooperation to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, or to counter terrorist networks, most of the stress in relations between Washington and Moscow is caused by Putin's regime. And it does no good to pass over in complete silence the rapacity, the crookedness, and the bullying of that authoritarian regime.

    Rice did meet Tuesday with selected Russian human rights activists and journalists. She used them as a sounding board to gauge popular Russian reactions to a United Nations plan that would grant postwar Kosovo a form of independence from Serbia. She was told that if the plan was implemented against the will of the Serbs, it could induce an "anti-American hysteria" in Russia.

    It is all well and good to harvest such advice from human rights defenders and independent journalists, but they desperately need more solidarity and public support than they have been receiving from the West. This failure of solidarity has been more conspicuous among governments of Western Europe than in Washington, and it has caused tension between former Soviet satellites, such as Poland and Estonia, and the Kremlin's avid energy customers in Western Europe.

    Speaking to a seminar at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian studies Tuesday, Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer for Mikhail Khodorkosvky, the imprisoned former CEO of the Yukos oil company, described the European banks, corporations, and governments doing business with the Kremlin's state-owned energy corporations as "enablers of kleptocracy." Russian journalists who have seen brave colleagues assassinated in unsolved murders and human rights activists who are treated like traitors or spies deserve a public sign of support from Rice and envoys from the democratic nations of Europe.

    True, the Soviet Union has vanished, and the Cold War is over. But if Putin's kleptocrats are allowed to have their way, their Western energy customers will become as vulnerable to the Kremlin's thuggish ways as the isolated, endangered democrats within Russia

    Kasparov, Others Preemptively Arrested Before EU-Russia Summit

    From: Publius Pundit
    Der Spiegel, in an event horrifyingly reminiscent of Soviet times, reports that more than a dozen opposition politicians were preemptively arrested on Thursday and Friday so they could not participate in "Other Russia" protests in Samara during the EU-Russia summit:

    Leading members of Other Russia were arrested at the Samara train station. Denis Bilunov, an advisor to Putin opponent Garry Kasparov, had only just arrived in the city when he was taken away, accused of carrying counterfeit money. He was only released again later on Thursday night. "They wanted to stop me from doing my work," he says. Bilunov was supposed to be preparing a meeting between Kasparov and Samara's mayor on Friday morning. Kasparov himself was detained on Friday morning at 8.30 a.m. as he was checking in for his flight. "The Moscow-Samara flight must have been have pretty empty this morning," says Julia Galamina, a spokesperson for the opposition group. In all the Moscow police prevented 13 people from traveling to Samara on Friday morning. Those arrested include Eduard Limonov, the head of the banned National Bolshevik Party. Another member of the same party was sentenced to six months in prison this week, for injuring his probation officer, according to the authorities. In 2004 he had taken part in the occupation of Russian government buildings and had been given a suspended sentence.

    Not only did Putin order the arrests, but after they were made he had the gall to declare they were unnecessary, saying of the protesters: "They don't bother me in any way, there is no reason for us to be afraid of marginal groups, especially such small groups." If you're not afraid of them, Mr. Putin, why arrest them? This is classic, through-the-looking-glass, Soviet-era gibberish. As our comment in the Democracy News column aptly states: It looks like this jackass is going to have to learn the hard way.

    At last, even the weak-kneed Europeans seem to be getting the message. In a second report, the German paper points out that Vladimir Putin's policies have so alienated Europe that it's time to talk about a divorce. German Chancellor Angel Merkel declared in Samara, right in front of Putin: "I'm saying very openly I wish that those who this afternoon want to protest and express their opinion will be able to do so. I'm somewhat concerned that people had difficulties getting here."

    Meanwhile, NATO is intervening to protect tiny Estonia from escalating cyber attacks launched by Russia in retaliation for Estonia's daring to relocate a war memorial in their own country without Russian permission. Does Russia really think it can regain "great power" prestige with pathetic moves like these? Does it really think it can fight the whole world and win?

    Priest fined for blogging

    From: TOL
    Do you remember that story with an egyptian blogger having been sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for »publishing information ruining state image and undermining ideology«? This does not yet happen in Belarus – we do not possess finances of Egypt to support security services of such quantity and such professional level as Egyptians do. Moreover, it is financially disastrous to block internet connections: we don’t have tourism money inflow as Egypt does, therefore stopping Beltelaom routers even for 1 day would mean disastrous losses for this state monopoly (read – for Lukasenka). Although KGB insists all the time that they know everything – I highly doubt that. They know more of mind intertia then of real ways of Internet monitoring.

    However, when you are engaged with a governmental structure, blogging might turn out punishable, as one of Russian Orthodox Church priests has realized. Philaret, head of the Belarusian Branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, has fined a priest having a net nickname »priestal« for blogging, Horadnia City Blog reported. Priest have been banned from services until he “realizes his guilt for publishing statements which run counter to church’s official position”. Which kinds of statement run counter to the official position is not mentioned, however just opening the blog and reading his reflexiae on Nazism and Communism makes clear that church – an ally of Lukasenka with his “victorious rhetoric” repeating every year – won’t stand them.

    Priestal writes that the German army used to behave not that bad in the beginning of the Second World War – statement which is opposing to official mithology, sorry, ideology where Soviets are on the bright side, and all the Germans stand on the black one:

    Attitude to variuos categories of occupants had been different. Germans were various. »Ours« had been a disaster for the local population. Mother used to call them »ulasaucy« (soldiers to have changed sides and associated with General Ulasau heading the Russian Liberation Army fighting on German side - ROA). She was also putting Ukrainian military regiments under this category. These had been the worst. SS-soldiers had been the next. Romans and Hungarians had also been »unpleasant«. German military regiments had been the most quiet ones. An officer who used to live at my mother’s house used to share food with her, showed his family photoes and so on. Sometimes he used to sit and ask like in the air: »Why the war? Why?«

    I remember myself. My granny used to tell me everytime I had been to their village, that in the morning Germans will come and take milk, and in the night forest soldiers – the Soviets – will artive and take the whole cow. Or vice versa. She also used to tell that it had been difficult to say who was worse. In one word, the burden of supplying the fighting parts had been falling on the civic population which suffered the most.

    »Victorous rhethoric« of Lukasenka (»We are the champions, we have f@#$%ed everyone«) suggests that Philaret can’t safely play on both sides. Shall he adhere only to the Boss of the Bosses - that would mean betraying the memory of the priests having been killed by communists. Coming completely on the side of church will mean fading loyalty to Lukasenka and thus decline in public influence and quatity of finances the church has access to.

    Minsk_by was not that active during this week. The most activity has shifted to Horadnia City Blog and S13 where the topic of city referendum persists. Thus referendum organizers want to inform majority of Horadnia residents about municipality plans to take down significant parts of old Horadnia to »solve traffic problems« and to »attract Russian investors to the city«.

    Polls show that more than 50% of Horadnia residents are not aware about municipality plans at all. Most who learned the plans about knocking down the »Novy Sviet« district dating back to the 18th century stood against such vandalism of kolkhozans in power.

    Horadnia City Blog says that should the action against vandalistic plans persist as non-political one, it had all chances to succeed. This is true mostly. It had long become a bonton to critisize »official opposition« blaming her in absence of efficiency. Global tasks put by Milinkievic have not reached their goal. Smaler ones youth puts do reach. Now there is no activity on planned destruction sites for more than a week. We are witnessing a new forces standing up – the one not connected with government or official opposition. This is the force that made city authorities listen.

    The number of times Horadnia bloggers are recalled in official city media suggests that bloggers are now playing a significant role in the city life. They are no longer commenting over a referendum – they initiate it. Like Time Warner had been purchased by AOL, online activity wakes up the real world.

  • Sport...

    World Championships Debut for Bremen Medal Winner

    From: ITTF
    Nineteen year old Alexandra Privalova possesses what must be a unique record in the sport of table tennis.

    She has a World Championships bronze medal to her credit but when she picks up her racket to compete in the Women’s Singles event at the Liebherr World Championships in Zagreb on Monday 21st May 2007, it will be the first time that she has played in a World Championships.

    We are talking table tennis, no she does not have a medal from another sport; so how is it possible?

    Bronze Medal
    Well, Alexandra Privalova was a member of the Belarus team who won the bronze medal at the Liebherr World Team Championships in Bremen in 2006.

    However, she had to sit on the bench, whilst she watched Viktoria Pavlovich, Veronika Pavlovich and Tatiana Kostromina beat Korea in a quarter-final contest that is etched indelibly in the history books of Belarussian table tennis.

    “I was so nervous”, said the young lady from Minsk. “It was so hard for our girls, I wanted to help as much as a could, I kept trying to find words of encouragement, I kept clapping whenever they won a point.”

    Sitting watching you have no control over proceedings, nevertheless, Alexandra Privalova feels she benefited from the experience. “They were so professional, it was a real pleasure to watch them play”, she continued. “It was something from which I could learn.”

    Alexandra Privalova started to play table tennis when only nine years old, currently she is studying law at the Belarussian State University being in her second year.

    “It’s difficult to combine table tennis and studying”, she explained. “I’m taking a correspondence course and the university is very helpful when I need time off for table tennis.”

    An intelligent young lady, she is of a similar style to Veronika Pavlovich. Right handed she topspins strongly from both backhand and forehand, benefiting from the fact that she is able to attend national training sessions with players of the pedigree of the Pavlovich sisters and Tatiana Kostromina.

    Furthermore, to some extent she is leading the next generation; Alena Dubkova, a defender, has impressed on the ITTF World Junior Circuit in 2007 being in particularly good form at the Tunisian Junior Open.

    The dynasty of excellence amongst female players from Belarus looks set to continue and in Zagreb Alexandra Privalova will add to her bank of experience. “I’m just pleased to be here”, she smiled. “It’s a really big honour; I’m just going to play as well as I can.”

    No doubt she will, like her compatriots she will go about her business in a professional and sporting manner. She’ll give one hundred per cent effort as she did for Belarus at the recent Liebherr European Championships in Belgrade; no-one can ask for more.

  • Belarusian Alexander Usov, Ag2R Prevoyance team of France, finished in 6th at the Second 205km Stage of Giro d’Italia.
    Two more Belarusians representing Italy’s Acqua and Sapone Andrei Kunitskiy was 66th, Bronislav Samoilov – 109th. At the First Stage of the Giro the Belarusians helped their team take up 6th position.
    The top Belarusian in the final scoreboard is Andrei Kunitskiy (29th position). Bronislav Samoilov ranks 79th place, Alexander Usov – 133rd.
    The 90th Giro d’Italia includes 21 stages of the total length of 3.442km. The race finishes on June 3 in Milan.

  • The traditional international tournament of the Grand-Prix series will open in Minsk on May 19. This year the gymnasts from 30 countries (24 last year) will compete in the event. Among them will be world-renowned Alina Kabayeva and Olga Kapranova. Belarus will be represented by many-time medalists of most prestigious events Inna Zhukova, Liubov Cherkashina, Svetlana Rudalova. According to the head coach of the national rhythmic gymnastics team of Belarus Irina Leparskaya, the tournament is a kind of rehearsal ahead of the world and European championships. Next year the Minsk tournament will acquire a higher status and will be listed in the international calendar as one of the world rhythmic gymnastics cups, Irina Leparskaya told a press conference today in Minsk. The provisional date is May 14-19, 2008.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus MFA: UN is progressively used for political ends by certain countries

    From: NLIPRB
    The recent voting has vividly shown that the United Nations Organisation is progressively used by certain countries to settle political accounts and put pressure on other countries, spokesman of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov said when asked about results of elections to the UN Human Rights Council.

    “Belarus is genuinely grateful to the UN member-states that voted for Belarus against the odds. We would like to assure our international partners that we will continue supporting the need for the UN to consider human rights on the principles of dialogue and equivalent cooperation”, noted the spokesman. “We know a great many UN member nations share this approach. Last year’s adoption of the Belarus-initiated resolution on fostering equal and mutually respectful dialogue on human rights by the General Assembly was a proof”, added Andrei Popov.