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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, September 16, 2007

Village revival, Polish spies convicted, Trade Unions, Opposition news, Yuri Bashmet, Alexei Zhigalkovich, Viktor A. Zubkov, Alexander Pichushkin...

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  • #239

    Manufacturing facilities in the town of Beryoza to be revamped

    From: office of the president
    “We will not be merely ‘throwing’ money into the agricultural sector,” the Belarusian leader said. “GDP is growing in Belarus; with every passing year the state is becoming richer. Therefore, we will be providing funds for the agricultural industry. But these projects must pay back,” Alexander Lukashenko added.
    Within the next few years, the major manufacturing facilities in the town of Beryoza will be revamped. That will give a good impetus to social and economic development of the entire region. The relevant instructions have been given by the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, during his working trip to Beryoza district.

    On September 14, Alexander Lukashenko continued his working trip to Brest region. Yesterday, the Head of State paid particular attention to the questions related to upgrading agricultural companies with new resource-saving technologies, and to storing high-quality fodder; today, Alexander Lukashenko focused on the course of implementing the programme of development of small towns in Belarus and on the modernisation of manufacturing facilities in Beryoza district.

    While in the town of Beryoza, Alexander Lukashenko visited several companies which reported medium economic performance, but were essential for the town and for the district as a whole.

    Within the next 3 to 4 years the upgrading of the active manufacturing facilities in Beryoza will bring positive changes to the whole district, the President said. Specifically, over 1,000 new jobs will be created just by revamping two companies, the construction materials producer Beryozastroimaterialy and the Beryoza Silicate Products Factory. The social sector will be boosted as well.

    "It’s necessary to intensify the introduction of resource-saving technologies at agricultural companies across Belarus"

    During the working trip Alexander Lukashenko is focusing on the progress in social and economic development of Brest region, in upgrading agricultural companies and revamping their capacities.

    On September 13, the President visited the private company Molodovo-Agro which had been founded in 2002 in kolkhoz Molodovo.

    A health and fitness center has been inaugurated in the agro-town Tomashevka, Brest region
    Currently, the enterprise’s economic performance is strong, so is the level of profitability (40.5 percent in 2006). In 2006, Molodovo-Agro was the best among Belarusian agricultural companies which specialised in the production of milk and had no large cattle-breeding facilities.

    In plant growing, Molodovo-Agro gives preference to such high-yield crops as wheat and triticale.

    The company has a good track-record in applying energy-saving technologies in various areas including cattle feeding and milking. In 2006, Molodovo-Agro produced more than 6,000 tonnes of milk, with the milk yield per cow averaging 7,958 kg. In H1 2007, the company reported a 52.4 percent improvement in milk production profitability. The average salary reached Br 615,000 during the period under review.

    The state will be providing funds only for the projects that will be paying back, said Alexander Lukashenko.

    “We will not be merely ‘throwing’ money into the agricultural sector,” the Belarusian leader said. “GDP is growing in Belarus; with every passing year the state is becoming richer. Therefore, we will be providing funds for the agricultural industry. But these projects must pay back,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    The Head of State emphasised the importance of materialising all the initiatives set out in the national rural revival programme.

    ‘Polish spies’ convicted in Belarus

    From: Forbes, IHT and
    Belarus' Supreme Court convicted four army officers of treason and spying for Poland, sentencing them Friday to between seven and 10 years in prison. They could have received the death penalty.

    Vladimir Russkin was found guilty of organising espionage, while Sergei Kornilyuk, Pavel Petkevich and Viktor Bogdan were convicted of treason, Interfax said.

    The Supreme Court's military collegium found the four guilty of premeditated espionage which caused damage to Belarus' foreign security. Russkin was also found guilty of organising the collection and passing of secret information to foreign intelligence.

    All four were stripped of their military ranks, that ranged from lieutenant to major. The trial, which was conducted behind closed doors, lasted only 10 days.

    Prosecutors have said the officers transported documents across the border into Poland inside the kind of fire extinguisher motorists in Belarus are required to keep in their cars.

    When the arrests were announced in July, the deputy chief of the Belarusian KGB said Polish intelligence was eager to obtain information on Russian anti-missile defense systems in Belarus, especially long-range S-300 air defense missiles.

    The four stood silently in handcuffs as the Supreme Court's military branch read out the verdict.

    Belarusian law stipulates that treason is punishable by death; the court did not explain why they instead received prison sentences.

    The verdict, read out in court, said the four defendants were "found guilty of espionage and damaging Belarus's external security and defence capability".
    Already antagonistic relations with Warsaw have worsened over U.S. plans to deploy part of a missile defense system in Poland, a NATO and EU member.

    Belarus has a large number of ethnic Poles living in western regions, and President Alexander Lukashenko's government fears Polish security services may try and use Belarusian Poles to undermine his government.

    The story exposing a supposed network of spies was given in a program on the Belarusian national TV ONT on 15 July. It was announced that the Belarusian suspected of organizing the spy network was caught red handed while trying to pass top-secret information to the West via Poland.

    More than $31 billion to be spent on Belarus’ energy security program through 2020

    From: Naveny
    More than $31 billion is expected to be spent on Belarus’ energy security program through 2020, Uladzimir Babrow, chief of the energy ministry’s Department for Investment Development, told reporters in Minsk on Thursday.

    Over $19 billion is to be pumped into the development of the fuel and power engineering sectors, while $12 billion more will be made available for energy saving projects, he said.

    As much as $9 billion will be spent on the modernization of the country’s energy companies between 2007 and 2010, Mr. Babrow noted. “The funding target is pretty high. We largely plan to attract companies’ own funds and money accumulated in the energy ministry’s innovation funds. We will attract Belarusian and foreign bank loans,” he said.

    In a related story, the NLIPRB tells us that Belarus plans to stop applying cross subsidy schemes in the energy sector, Vladimir Bobrov, the chief of the main investment development department at the Energy Ministry, told a press conference in Minsk on September 13.

    The new wording of the Energy Security Concept of Belarus envisages the possibility of abandoning cross subsidy schemes and the practice of subsidising individual industrial companies. The concept suggests a transition to flexible tariff schemes with respect to manufacturing companies and support of the socially protected strata of the population, Vladimir Bobrov said.

    Belarus to partake in 62nd session of UN GA

    From: NLIPRB
    An official delegation of Belarus headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov will partake in the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, which will open in New York on September 18, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    One of the main areas of activity of the Belarusian delegation in New York will be the work on introducing the initiatives put forward by the Belarusian leader on recognizing variety of progressive development ways and forming the global partnership against slavery and human trafficking in the 21st century.

    A special emphasis will be placed on the issues relating to the creation of a fair world economic order by achieving the United Nations Millennium Declaration goals of building an open, fair, rule-based, predictable and nondiscriminatory multilateral trade system and of renunciation of the introduction of unilateral exterritorial economic measures of compulsion as an instrument of exerting political and economic pressure on sovereign states.

    The Belarusian side intends to promote a draft resolution of the UN General Assembly on strengthening international cooperation and coordinating efforts to study, mitigate and minimize consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe and a proposal put forward by the 2006 Minsk International Conference concerning the declaration of “Decade of revival and sustainable development of the regions suffered in the result of the Chernobyl catastrophe”.

    The amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concerning the quantitative obligations of the Republic of Belarus relating to greenhouse gas emissions meets the national interests of Belarus as well. Due to the amendment Belarus will be able to make a considerable contribution to international cooperation in preventing climate change and to take an active part in the implementation of the aforementioned protocol.

    The Belarusian delegation will continue supporting the idea of promoting constructive international cooperation in the sphere of human rights based on the equal and mutually respectful dialogue on human rights. Belarus will also continue counteracting efforts to exacerbate the confrontation when the human rights issues are considered with the UN framework.

    The Belarusian delegation will touch upon the issues relating to further reformation and improvement of the working methods applied by the leading bodies of the organisation (General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Secretariat) and the issues concerning enhancing the quality and efficiency of the UN activity at the country and regional levels, the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus informs.

    Belarus’ trade union movement stable more than ever

    From: BelTA
    Leonid Kozik
    The trade union movement in Belarus is now stable more than ever, head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) Leonid Kozik told media in Moscow. He headed the Belarusian delegation at the VI congress of the Universal Confederation of Trade Unions, which took place in the Russian capital on September 14.

    “The situation we had in Belarus 4-5 years ago, when our movement was close to collapse, is now a thing of the past,” said Leonid Kozik. In his words, over the last three years the number of members of Belarusian trade unions increased by more than one million. At present four million Belarusians are members of the trade union movement.

    Leonid Kozik underscored, the state provides major support to Belarusian trade unions, though the state is not supposed to.

    The Belarusian delegation took part in the congress along with representatives of national trade union centres of nine CIS states and 31 international industrial associations of trade unions. The forum determined major avenues efforts of the Universal Confederation of Trade Unions will follow in the next five years. In particular, the congress spoke for raising the average salaries, making minimal salaries and minimal pensions at least as large as the subsistence budget. The delegates also spoke for the need to protect rights and freedoms of trade unions and for raising the respect for trade unions.

    President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia Mikhail Shmakov was re-elected President of the Universal Confederation of Trade Unions.

    The Universal Confederation of Trade Unions unites national trade union centres of nine CIS states and 31 international industrial associations of trade unions, all in all, around 53 million people.

    Belarus presents national exposition at trade-industrial forum Armenia EXPO-2007

    From: BelTA
    Belarus presented its national exposition at the 7th regional universal trade-industrial forum Armenia EXPO-2007, which is taking place in Yerevan on September 14-17.

    As BelTA was told in the embassy of Belarus in Armenia, the exposition features video and printed information and advertisement materials as well as sample of products of the leading Belarusian exporters. A special emphasis is placed on new goods, which the indigenous manufacturers intend to promote to the Armenian market.

    The exposition comprises a wide range of light industry goods and foodstuffs made by Santa Bremor and Savushkin Produkt, Rogachev Concentrated Milk Factory, Minsk Kristall Co. and many other Belarusian companies.

    The Belarusian company Conte presented its hosiery as well. These products are extremely popular in Armenia today. Conte topped the rating list of most popular foodstuffs and consumer goods in the Armenian market. As a result the Belarusian company was given a national award of Armenia “Product of the Year”. A solemn awarding ceremony was held in Yerevan on September 8.

    Galoper Co. – a dealer of Minsk Automobile Plant, Amkodor and Smorgon Assemblies Plant - is an Armenia EXPO traditional exhibitor. The company also supplies Belarus-made farm machines to Armenia. MAZ and Amkodor trucks and machines are demonstrated in a ground in front of the exhibition centre.

    According to the source, the displays showed by the Republic of Belarus on the first day of the forum drew scrupulous attention of exhibition visitors including top officials of the Armenian ministries and departments, managers of the Armenian and foreign companies. During the forum representatives of the Belarusian companies held preliminary talks with potential customers on expanding the offering list and increasing supplies of the Belarusian products to Armenia.

    The national exposition of the Republic of Belarus was visited by Deputy Minister of Trade and Economic Development of the Republic of Armenia Ara Petrosyan.

    The exhibition forum Armenia EXPO 2007 and Belarus’ national exposition will be also visited by a delegation of representatives of the Belarusian business circles headed by Chairman of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vladimir Bobrov. The delegation will arrive in Yerevan on September 17.

    The forum Armenia EXPO 2007 was organized by the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, the Union of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs and the exhibition company LOGOS EXPO Centre. Belarus is taking part in the exhibition for the fifth time, officials of the Belarusian embassy in Yerevan noted.

    Supreme Court Rejects Suit of Initiators of Contract System Abolishment

    From: Charter '97
    The Supreme Court did not satisfy the suit of the initiative group of citizens who intended to collect signatures for abolishment of the contract system. The citizens asked the court to abolish the ruling of the Central Election Commission who refused to register them. The court confessed the groundlessness of the CEC refusal, but stated that the proposal to amend the labor legislation contradicted to the Belarusian legislation. As a result the CEC refusal to register the initiative group was left in force.

    Bear in mind, that the reason for the refusal of the Central Election Commission to register the draft laws On amendment of the Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus and On ratification of ILO Convention #158 concerning Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer was a conclusion of the Ministry of Justice that the proposed amendments contradicted to the Constitution. The ministry stated that according to the Constitution presidential decrees are superior to laws and decree #29 lets employers to use the contract system without any limitations.

    Another reason for non-registering the initiative was that the CEC allegedly found violations in the procedure of holding the constituent assembly of the initiative group. The commission stated that some of the persons, whose signatures were put in the member lists, had not attended the assembly. At the trial it was found that the mentioned persons had attended the assembly and put their signatures in the lists. Nevertheless, the court agreed with the CEC because of the alleged contradiction of the draft law on ratification of the ILO convention to the Belarusian legislation.

    Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in July-August 2007

    From: Viasna
    During the last two summer months the Belarusian authorities continued persecuting democratic activists: policemen groundlessly detained people without composing detention reports or accused them in administrative violations. Despite the summer season the Belarusian opposition continued active work and preparation to autumn actions including the European March appointed on 14 October and the Social March. Democratic activists distributed agitation materials with the aim to inform citizens about the marches. Besides, during this period the democratic circles celebrated an important date of the Belarusian history, 27 July. This day in 1990 the deputies of the Belarusian Parliament of the 12th Convocation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty.

    At first the organizers of the action dedicated to the 17th anniversary of the declaration intended to hold a rock concert in Banhalor Square. However, the authorities refused to authorize the concert because of ‘preparation of Banhalor Square to the 940th birthday of Minsk’.

    On the eve of the 27 July action, on 20-24 July the police arrested more 15 youth activists for several days. Several times more people were detained for several hours. Some of the youth activists were arrested twice.

    At the end of August a human rights organization Amnesty International condemned these official actions and called the Belarusian authorities to stop penalizing the youth activists who peacefully use their right to association and expression. Besides, the human rights activists called on the authorities to review the laws, decrees and methods for registration of non-governmental organizations, including article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, and put these normative acts in line with the international standards.

    The authorities continued non-registering the NGOs that applied for registration. On 10 July the justice department of Minsk city executive committee again refused to register Minsk city organization Young Front. The officials disliked one of the methods of the organization’s work, mass actions. As a result on 2 August the organizing committee of Young Front sued the justice department. On 23 August the public human rights association Viasna was refused registration as well.

    Instead, the Ministry of Justice reported about registration of two new public associations in July: the International public youth choir association Camertone and the public association of amateurs of downhill skiing and snowboard headed by the deputy chair of the presidential administration Natallia Piatkevich.
  • Note: For the full text of this report, please see the Viasna website

    Yuri Bashmet Second International Festival to take place in Minsk, Vitebsk, Moscow and Bonn September 17-31

    From: BelTA
    Yuri Bashmet: Indisputably the world's greatest living violist
    The festival will be opened in Minsk on September 17. A concert dedicated to Beethoven will close it in Bonn on September 31. On the whole five festival concerts will be played in Minsk and three more will be given in Moscow, Vitebsk and Bonn, artistic director of the festival Rostislav Krimer told a press conference in Minsk on September 13. According to him, all the tickets have been virtually sold out.

    The main idea of the festival is to gather world’s famous classical music stars and best young musicians so they could perform together. For example, one of the best violinists of the world Gidon Kremer will perform at an opening ceremony of the festival with young pianists Ksenia Bashmet (Russia) and Rostislav Krimer (Belarus).

    On September 21 one of the most interesting festival concerts will be played in the Belarusian capital. Famous Belarusian composer Galina Gorelova will present its composition written specially for the festival and dedicated to Yuri Bashmet. It will be performed by the state symphony orchestra “New Russia” conducted by Yuri Bashmet.

    On September 23 Yuri Bashmet and Igor Butman will present their new program “Classics Meets Jazz” in the Vitebsk Summer Amphitheater. This will be the final concert of the Belarusian part of the festival. The concert will be broadcast by TV channels. Moreover, during all festival days a special crew will be shooting a film about Yuri Bashmet and his forum.

    Alexei Zhigalkovich to present Belarus at Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2007

    From: BelTA
    Alexei Zhigalkovich
    Alexey Zhigalkovich will present Belarus at the International Junior Eurovision Song Contest scheduled for December 8, 2007 in Rotterdam (the Netherlands).

    Alexey’s song S Druzyami (With Friends) took 67 points and left far behind the second contender Nikita Zhurovich. Unanimously all the regions except Vitebsk oblast gave the young singer 12 points.

    The jury supported the winner, though, as jury chairman, People’s Artist of Belarus Vasily Rainchik confessed, “it was not a simple decision”.

    As member of the jury, honoured cultural figure of the Republic of Belarus Svetlana Statsenko said, by December the composition and the manner of the performance will be finalized.

    The concert was held in the Summer Amphitheatre in Vitebsk. The form of the concert was adjusted to the format of the Junior Eurovision Contest. Apart from the ten contenders, the concert was attended by Verka Serduchka (Ukraine), duet of Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov (Bulgaria) and participants of the previous Junior Eurovision contests – Olga Satsiuk, Egor Volchek, Kseniya Sitnik and Andrei Kunets.

    The contest has been organized by the National State Television and Radio Company of the Republic of Belarus and the Culture Ministry. The contest rules meet international requirements.

  • Around the region...

    A New Prime Minister, and More Intrigue, Arise in Russia

    From: New York Times
    Viktor A. Zubkov
    Russia’s Parliament confirmed Viktor A. Zubkov as prime minister on Friday, cementing the instant rise to Kremlin stature of a quiet confidant of President Vladimir V. Putin even as Mr. Putin added fresh uncertainty to the question of who might succeed him.

    Speaking at an annual meeting of visiting Russia experts, Mr. Putin said there were now at least five viable presidential candidates for the election next spring.

    Three are known: Mr. Zubkov and the two first deputy prime ministers — Sergei B. Ivanov and Dmitri A. Medvedev. Mr. Putin declined to share the other two names. “Currently a minimum of five people can be named who stand a real chance of running for president and getting elected,” Mr. Putin said.

    He added, “There is a real choice.”

    The surprise ascension of Mr. Zubkov, who previously led a small federal agency that investigates financial crimes, had raised questions about the field. Mr. Putin’s hint of two more candidates appeared to confuse the succession question further, leaving Kremlin watchers speculating anew about his plans.

    The group of Russia experts Mr. Putin addressed, known as the Valdai Discussion Group, gathered this year at a presidential compound on a bluff overlooking the Black Sea.

    Mr. Putin’s remarks, and the immediate reaction in the Russian news media to the idea of five serious contenders for the presidency, underscored both his supremacy in domestic Russian affairs and the nature of the competition in Russian elections.

    While any qualified candidate may seek public support to run for office, political analysts and the Kremlin’s spokesmen alike have said that any vote next year will almost certainly depend on an electorate of one: Mr. Putin.

    One senior Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with diplomatic protocol, said Mr. Putin’s assertion that there are five solid presidential candidate was perhaps best viewed as misleading. “This is designed to make it look like there will be an election,” the diplomat said. “But in the end he is going to pick.”

    In a sign that there could be further shake-ups, Mr. Putin also expressed dissatisfaction with the government that had been led until now by Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov.

    He said that members of the government had not been working as diligently as he expected, and that some of the ministers had begun to plan their lives after Mr. Putin’s expected departure next year. But he added that Mr. Fradkov made his own decision to resign Wednesday.

    “I did not push the prime minister to do this,” Mr. Putin said. “The prime minister clearly saw the mood of his collective and came to me with the proposal. I had the same sense.”

    As Mr. Putin addressed the meeting, Mr. Zubkov began work in the government, official Russian news agencies reported. At least a modest shake-up of ministers was expected.

    Mr. Zubkov, who will now manage the government in the months leading to the parliamentary elections in December, is a former collective farm manager who has been a confidant of Mr. Putin’s since at least the early 1990s when he served as Mr. Putin’s deputy in a mayoral department in St. Petersburg.

    In recent years he has led a federal agency that investigates money laundering and other crimes. Mr. Putin praised him, calling him “highly professional, decent, balanced and wise.”

    “There is no corruption around him,” Mr. Putin said.

    The Western diplomat said Mr. Zubkov had a good reputation for fighting international money laundering and for cooperating with investigators in the West in campaigns to undermine terrorist financing.

    Several analysts have suggested that Mr. Zubkov could become president and remain loyal to Mr. Putin, allowing Mr. Putin to return to office.

    Mr. Putin is barred by the Constitution from serving a third consecutive term, but would be eligible to run again in 2012, or sooner, if the next president serves an abbreviated term. He offered no clear insight to his intentions on Friday.

    “I have not decided concretely what I will do,” he said, “but I will have an influence on events.”

    Russia's "chessboard" serial killer goes on trial

    From: Reutrs
    Alexander Pichushkin, dubbed the "Chessboard Killer" by Russian media, went on trial on Friday accused of murdering 49 people, many of them by smashing their skulls with a hammer.

    The 33-year-old former supermarket porter glared at the floor of his glassed-in dock, known as "the aquarium", while prosecutors took two hours to read out details of the charges against him.

    Prosecutors described how Pichushkin killed 46 men and three women over 14 years, many with hammer blows to the head, some by throwing them off a balcony, some by drowning in a sewage pit.

    They said Pichushkin had confessed to killing as many as 63 people, first luring them into secluded parts of Moscow's sprawling Bittsevsky Park with an invitation to drink vodka in honour of his dead dog.

    Pichushkin's lawyer, Pavel Ivannikov, told the court in his opening statement that Pichushkin had already freely admitted his guilt.

    Russian media have taken to calling him the "Bittsevsky Maniac" and the "Chessboard Killer" after police found a chessboard in his apartment with 63 of 64 squares -- one for each victim -- covered with a coin.

    If convicted, he would be Russia's most prolific serial killer since Andrei Chikatilo, the "Rostov Ripper", who was convicted in 1992 and executed in 1994 for raping, butchering and in some cases cannibalising as many as 52 people.

    Pichushkin, wearing a red and blue track suit with the sleeves pushed up over his forearms and with a short growth of beard under his chin, refused to testify at the opening session in Moscow City Court until what he called some "personal issues" had been resolved.

    Ivannikov said Pichushkin wanted to transfer out of a holding cell he occupies in closely guarded isolation at Moscow's Butyrka prison to a smaller cell at a jail closer to the court.

    "He said it's more comfortable; he's done time there," Ivannikov told reporters after proceedings adjourned for the day.

    The trial, by jury, is expected to be lengthy, with testimony scheduled from at least 41 relatives of the alleged victims and another 98 witnesses. Jury trials are rare in Russia, but Pichushkin's request for one was granted.

    Polish Police Seize 120 Kg of Heroin at Border

    From: Javno
    Polish police seized nearly 120 kg of heroin hidden in a truck crossing the border from Ukraine.
    Polish police seized nearly 120 kg of heroin hidden in a truck crossing the border from Ukraine on Thursday in one of Poland's biggest drug busts.

    The drugs, estimated to be worth $9 million, were packed in nearly 270 bags and detected in a compartment beneath the cabin roof when police x-rayed the vehicle at the Hrebenne crossing in eastern Poland.

    "This is the largest such seizure on the eastern border," a police spokesman said from the nearby city of Lublin.

    The police arrested a 41-year-old Turkish driver, whose lorry was officially carrying washing machines.

    Polish Police Abandon Hunt For 'Gay Bomber'

    From: 365gay
    Polish police say they are dropping the hunt for whoever was behind a series of bombs which later turned out to be fakes that were discovered in four cities in the days leading up to the 2005 presidential election.

    The devices were discovered after anonymous phone calls to police from someone claiming to be from an organization called the Gay Power Brigade.

    Thirteen devices were found in Warsaw. Police said that the "bombs" were sophisticated and it took bomb squad experts some time to realize they were not dealing with real explosives.

    Similar dummy bombs also were discovered in train stations in Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot.

    The discoveries caused panic in the streets of all four cities.

    In a lengthy manifesto sent to Warsaw newspapers and wire services the Gay Power Brigade condemned Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, who was running for president.

    Kaczynski had weeks earlier banned Pride organizers from holding a gay pride parade. More than 2,500 people ignored the order and marched through the Polish capital anyway. (story)

    "You paralyze our life, we'll paralyze yours," the Gay Power Brigade statement said.

    The bomb scare was in part credited with Kaczynski's election.

    But as police began to investigate they discovered there was no such organization as the Gay Power Brigade, and liberals and members of Poland's LGBT community suggested the whole bomb scare was a plat by Kaczynski's Law and Justice party to gain power.

    The hoax phone calls to police were traced to a disposable cell phone. The emailed "manifesto" came from a computer at an internet cafe. A hazy picture of a man leaving the cafe was said to have been the likely perpetrator but he has never been identified.

    Over the past two years police have questioned dozens of people but have been unable to make an arrest.

    Talks with Russia on atom plant row progress:Iran

    From: Wshington POst
    The fuel is ready for Iran's first atomic power plant being built by Russia and talks with Moscow to resolve a dispute that has held up work are moving forward, Iran's foreign minister said on Saturday.

    Russian contractors have repeatedly put back the completion date for the power station at Bushehr on the Gulf, provoking tensions between Moscow and Tehran.

    Moscow blames financial problems for the delays. But many observers say Russia is stalling because it does not fully trust Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and fears an international backlash if it delivers nuclear fuel to Bushehr.

    "The nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant is ready. This fuel has been inspected and sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) inspectors," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference in Tehran.

    "We see the trend of the talks with Russia moving ahead."

    He was speaking after returning this week from Moscow where he met Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russian state atomic energy agency Rosatom, although a Russian official said they did not tackle the Bushehr plant issue during those talks.

    Mottaki said Ahmadinejad and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had discussed the issue in a recent telephone conversation, although he did not say when.

    The United States and several Western countries believe Iran is using its atomic energy program as a cover to try to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran says it only wants nuclear technology to generate power.

    Russia says Bushehr poses no threat of Iran acquiring sensitive technology, but Washington has pressed Moscow to drop the project as part of sanctions on Iran.

    Separately, Ahmadinejad held telephone talks with Saudi's King Abdullah in which they also discussed nuclear issues, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

    Ahmadinejad told the Saudi monarch Iran was "ready to provide its experience in the field of nuclear technology" to Saudi under the supervision of the IAEA.

    Iran has previously offered its skills in nuclear technology to Gulf Arab states, which have begun work on a feasibility study for a civilian atomic program.

    Three Chechen girls found dead on Poland-Ukraine border

    From: People's daily, Polish Radio and Javno
    The bodies of three teenage girls were found in the Bieszczady mountains on the Polish-Ukrainian frontier Thursday night, the PAP news agency reported Friday.

    According to the report, Polish border guards encountered an exhausted Chechen woman 20 metres (yards) from the border late on Thursday carrying a two-year-old girl who told them where to find the bodies of her other daughters and later produced their birth certificates.

    Police said the three girls had died as the family tried to cross into Poland illegally through the mountains in the border region.

    The woman has been hospitalized together with her two-year-old child. The woman said she had been wandering the mountains for four days, during which it had been cold and wet. The bodies were found at an altitude of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft).

    Statistics of the Polish Border Guard service show that only last year there were over 200 attempts of illegal crossing into Poland from Ukraine, mostly of Chechen nationals carrying Russian passports. Polish border guards stopped more than 1,500 people trying to enter the EU member country in the first half of 2007. Most were from the former Soviet Union.

    The Russian region of Chechnya has suffered more than a decade of bloodshed since a separatist rebellion broke out, although large-scale fighting has now died down.

  • From the blogs...

    Bio fuel attacks cost of bread in Poland

    From: The Beatroot
    The cost of bread, this autumn, is set to increase by 100 percent in Poland.

    Why? Because the price of grain has increased as more and more farmers are encouraged to use their land for ‘bio-fuel’ products and less for growing food.

    There is a shortage of grain. That means that the cost of grain derived products is increasing.

    Italians have been on a ‘pasta strike’ today in protest against the rising price of spaghetti, etc...

    Poles are facing a doubling in the price of bread and other products related to grain this autumn.

    And the only reason for this is because the EU is giving greater subsidies to farmers turning over their land to growing rape seed and other products that could be used for bio fuel.

    So Jo Kowalski is going to suffer from the current prejudice among middle class westerners that the Earth is going to hell and we should be all producing less – particularly emerging economies like Poland.

    So cheers the Green consensus! You are making the price of bread more expensive for many poor people of Poland in your zeal to ‘save the planet’.
  • Note: Cost of bread has also gone up in Belarus opver the last week, in some cases as much as 30%

    Once Again, Putin Spits on Democracy

    From: Publius Pundit
    In a flurry of the repulsive, neo-Soviet, cloakroom-style political activity that has come to be the norm in today's Russia, the country's dictator Vladimir Putin has summarily purged his government, taking the "resignation" of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and replacing him with Viktor Zubkov, director of the State Financial Monitoring Service -- roughly analogous to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (except that it's probably at least as corrupt as the shady companies it purports to regulate, as are the Russian markets themselves). Zubkov has close ties to Putin that date back to their involvement with the government of the city of St. Petersburg under Anatoly Sobchak. Like Fradkov, he is a virtual unknown at the highest levels of Russian politics, essentially a glorified accountant drawn out of the ranks of the tax services and lacking firm connections to any of the warring "oligarch" clans that dominate Kremlin politics. In essence, then, Putin has replaced one cipher with another.

    It's wildly ironic, of course, that Russia has just spent weeks railing against the alleged lack of qualifications of Europe's choice to head the IMF when in fact not only Fradkov and Zubkov but Putin himself were totally devoid of any credentials or qualifications to be prime minister when they received their appointments -- that is, other than slavish obedience to the "president."

    As Interfax reported, Fradkov issued a convoluted, insane-sounding statement claiming that he wished to give Putin "full freedom in making decisions" in light of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The Russian newspaper Vedomosti, that country's version of the Wall Street Journal, reported earlier in the day that Sergei Ivanov, currently First Deputy Prime Minister, was about to be elevated to the position of Prime Minister. Ivanov is widely seen as the most likely successor to Putin, and it was conventional wisdom that Putin might seek to elevate him to the post of Prime Minister in order to give him a higher profile and a smoother pathway to power. The attitude gained special credence when, meeting with Fradkov to accept his resignation, Putin had stated: "We all have to think together how to build a structure of power so that it better corresponds to the pre-election period and prepares the country for the period after the presidential election in March."

    In the event, however, it turned out that Putin felt no such compunctions. Putin's actions appear to send a clear message in advance of parliamentary elections due to occur in December that it is the presidency, not the prime ministry, that matters in Russia where power is concerned, and above all that it is he, Putin, who calls the tune the nation dances to. It is almost as if Putin specifically wanted to show that the conventional wisdom as to how he would announce his successor was wrong no matter what it was, that only his decisions matter, that nobody is safe except behind the veil of his personal "protection." In other words, Stalin would have been proud.

    Russian analysts widely believe that Putin will only hand over his authority in a nominal manner next year, to achieve technical compliance with the constitutional edict, and will return in four years -- perhaps with a longer presidential term having been secured by constitutional amendment. Stepping away from the forefront may offer Putin the chance to affect an even more far-reaching crackdown on civil liberties without being personally blamed for it, and Ivanov is just about the perfect person to carry out such a strategy.

    On the other hand, it's obviously risky to surrender the reigns of power to anyone for any period of time, much less to a strongman capable of carrying out such a crackdown. So it may be that Putin will opt for a mere figurehead, or he may ultimately choose not to leave power at all. That is not necessarily a bleak option for Russian democracy, since it would indicate Putin believes there is enough opposition to his rule that he cannot trust anyone else to resist it.

    The OSCE lets Russia off the hook

    From: Edward Lucas
    Missile? What missile?
    CALLING it a whitewash would be unfair. At least white looks clean and crisp. What the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has produced on Russia’s recent attack on Georgia is a greywash, a pile of slime and sludge that conceals the truth.

    Georgia says that on August 6th a Russian warplane fired a missile over its territory, apparently aimed at a new NATO-compatible radar station. Georgia has produced documents that seem to show the plane entering its airspace, and the remains of the missile (which failed to explode, having apparently been launched prematurely).

    Russia says the whole thing was a stunt staged by the Georgians.

    An OSCE inquiry headed by Miomir Zuzul, a former foreign minister of Croatia, compared the accounts of the incident. If it had come up with convincing reasons to believe the Russian version, and ignore the Swedish, Polish and other experts brought in by Georgia, that would have been interesting. The published version of events in ex-communist countries often conceals as much as it reveals.

    But it seems to have made no attempt to compare the evidence or assess the arguments. It came to the ringing conclusion that given the conflicting stories, it was “difficult to know what happened”. Russia was jubilant, saying that it had been exonerated by the report and renewing its propaganda attack on the Georgians.

    The next row will be about election monitoring, a particular Russian bugbear. The Kremlin has long tried to neuter the OSCE’s Warsaw-based vote-watchers, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, pronounced, aptly enough, “Oh, dear”).

    That body would be likely to give Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections in December a poor scorecard: the Kremlin has tweaked the electoral rules to hamper independent candidates and “real” opposition parties; the media is likely to favour only the pro-presidential parties and the “tame” opposition; police harassment of opposition public meetings and campaigns is already a scandal; and Russia’s history of ballot-rigging long predates Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

    To forestall this, Russia has asked the OSCE for details about election monitoring it has carried out in Western countries, such as the America and Turkey. As the answer will be “very little” the Kremlin can then smile broadly and say that the same treatment will suit it nicely.

    That is a good debating point: the difficulties that Kurdish politicians face in Turkey are shameful, as are the shortcomings of America’s electoral system (gerrymandering, campaign finance excesses, dirty tricks, astroturfing and of course the ghastly botched presidential count in Florida in 2000).

    The right response to this would be to welcome extensive monitoring of Western elections, including tough criticism of shortcomings. Russians might try to use this to make propaganda, but no matter. Good points will strengthen the case for reform. Bad ones can be discussed and rebutted.

    Unlike fascist kleptocracies masquerading as parliamentary republics, true democracies do not need to fear criticism. Such a stance will be an excellent basis for insisting for vigorous monitoring of elections in the east, where the shortcomings are hugely more serious.

    Though that would be the right tactic, it will not necessarily be an effective one. The sad truth is that Russia’s tactics within the OSCE have made that body almost useless. It works on the basis of unanimity, so a Kremlin veto can block its funding or other activities. In short: without Russian consent it cannot work. But Russia’s restrictions make its work useless—or worse than useless, as Georgia’s plight illustrates.

    Yet Russia’s victory in hobbling the OSCE is ultimately self-defeating: the main result is to give more clout to NATO. Is that what the Kremlin really wants?

    Fradkov’s Immaculate Resignation and Putin’s Zubkov Shuffle

    From: Robert Amsterdam
      “It was too early to put Putin in. Someone else had to fill the gap. I needed someone to serve as decoy.” - From Boris Yeltsin’s memoir “Midnight Diaries” (page 284) on the appointment of Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister. Putin was Yeltsin’s favored successor as early as March 1999, but in order to protect him from the attacks of his opponents, Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin to fill in as PM for the dismissed Primakov
    There’s nothing quite like a good September political surprise from the Kremlin (though it’s tough to top Yeltsin’s move on the Duma 14 years ago). Few people, perhaps not even the new premier Viktor Zubkov himself, could say they were expecting yesterday’s events.

    So what does this all mean? Does the dismissal (technically a “resignation”) of Mikhail Fradkov and the entire cabinet signal the true beginning of the election season? Has anything been revealed in regards to Putin’s choice of a successor? Does the rapid appointment of the relatively unknown Zubkov show confidence and stability? In my opinion, no, no, and no.

    First and foremost, as I have commented earlier on this blog, the very execution of Fradkov’s “immaculate resignation” was done in such a way as to invite immediate speculation that we were not getting the full story. Fradkov reasoned that he should resign in order to give the president “full freedom in…decisions on the shape and organisation of the power structure in connection with the upcoming political events.” Putin vaguely referred to “mistakes and glitches” as though Fradkov had failed to fulfill his duties. What these “mistakes” exactly were, no one seems to know – it only takes a pedestrian comparison with the resignation of the embattled Japanese PM Shinzo Abe on the same day to immediately grasp the kind of political opacity we are going to be dealing with through the succession period.

    In other words, given the paucity of good information, I don’t think that anybody can really be sure of anything of this point, yet everybody is talking. Putin’s Zubkov shuffle has been a feast of fodder for the pundits, and theories have flourished. Unlike many commentators out there, I’ll do my best to refrain from making broad sweeping statements with regard to the true political meaning of this shuffle, and just share a few ideas that occur to me.

    The case for Zubkov being a placeholder? The succession question has been debated vigorously at great length in many different forums, and it seems that everybody has their favorite horse – Viktor Zubkov is likely not one of them. With so little reliable information to draw upon, most analysts point back to the examples of both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin rising out of obscurity, so there is certainly credibility to the dark horse theory – especially a dark horse that certain elements believe will protect them from investigations down the road.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t add up that we have one puppet replacing another puppet – Fradkov was un-influential, obedient, and pliable (though some theories had already eliminated him from the succession race simply for being bald). Zubkov, by all indications, is largely similar in this respect, even if Putin is reputed to have a lot of respect for him. (It should be noted that Zubkov is not as much of a total unknown entity that many are claiming he is – although he kept a low profile, his record of performance is respected among some groups.) This does not appear to be similar to the removals of Primakov or Kasyanov, who were both dismissed as their independent political support grew.

    I also think it is far too early for Putin to tip his hand. If he learned anything from his rise up through the ranks of power, he would understand that Russian political leaders wait until the last minute possible to reveal their preferred successors, and promote decoys to attract the attacks of their opponents.

    However, some will argue that Putin enjoys a level of popularity that may allow him more maneuverability than his predecessors. Writing in the Economist, Edward Lucas seems to support the theory that the loyal Zubkov could make for a nice proxy president while Putin continues to govern as the head of Russia’s Security Council (I am only assuming Lucas wrote this article because he is fond of using the phrase “nyet faktov, tolko versii” – no facts, all theories). However I think there is far more turbulence inside the Kremlin than most are able to see, making this theory unlikely.

    The resignation of Fradkov largely appears to have been requested by one of the various competing blocs within the Kremlin. But instead of appointing a clear silovik prime minister (most agree that Zubkov is unlikely to have ever worked for the KGB), it seems possible that this selection may signal the growing influence of a new group – a group not necessarily tied the former ruling core linked to the FSB (although some think Zubkov is a plant). There have been other indications of a quiet sea change happening inside the Kremlin, including Yulia Latynina’s argument that Rosneft’s Igor Sechin is facing tough opponents (who may have blocked him from acquiring Russneft assets) as well as the recent shake up at the Prosecutor General’s office.

    All things considered, optimists may have some grounds to think that Zubkov’s appointment can be welcomed with some hope for the moment. Perhaps Zubkov will be able to carve out some autonomy from the power struggles that will begin playing out with increasing intensity, and bring some fresh thinking to a government that currently finds itself in crisis in its domestic freedoms and international relations. At the very least, on the surface, he has the resume of a pro-business corruption fighter, and he is believed to marginally more free from the mentality of paranoia and suspicion that has dominated siloviki policy. Clearly we must scrutinize his participation in the politically motivated campaigns led by the tax and anti-money laundering agencies at the behest of the government. However, there are precedents of the dark horse establishing an independent support base.

    Indeed, through his prior role as anti-money laundering czar, one must assume that Zubkov is by no stretch a weak figure. He surely has detailed knowledge of sensitive information about virtually all of the leading Russian officials who have established political power bases upon riches and influence attained via their stewardship of state-controlled energy companies. Zubkov may be a more powerful arbiter of the Kremlin’s competing clans than many are assuming him capable of.

    All in all, it is far too early and there is not enough information to make reliable predictions at this point – but what seems clear to me is that the fighting between the Kremlin’s competing groups is getting more and more intense, and Putin’s status as a hostage to these disputes makes for a powerful reminder of the most critical weaknesses of Russia’s model of sovereign democracy and the vertical of power. Attempts to conceal the considerable instability in the halls of power may have had some success to date, but the potential for the situation to spiral out of anyone’s control, including Putin’s, remains high.

  • Sport...

    Slovenia Edge Past Belarus: An early penalty from Klemen Lavric proved sufficient to overcome a resilient Belarus side that battled to the end, even after going down to ten men...

    Klemen Lavric's third minute penalty helped Slovenia edge past a Belarussian outfit that just didn't know when to quit.

    The visitors perhaps deserved an equaliser after an impressive display, but Artyom Radkov's sending-off put paid to the idea of a true late revival.

    Slovenia took the lead through Lavric after the man himself was taken down in the box by Plaskonni. The versatile MSV Duisburg ace dusted himself off to net the spot-kick.

    From there, Slovenia enjoyed a largely fruitful first half, bursting up the flanks at any given chance, but Belarus gradually came back into the game and were a match for their hosts heading into the interval.

    And after the break, they looked even better, Kalachev of FC Rostov marauding in the Slovenian half at all times.

    However, clear-cut chances were being swept away by a tireless Slovenian defence, Radkov's 70th minute sending-off proving a further obstacle to progress.

    For all Belarus' continued effort, they couldn't manage an equaliser, and thus Slovenia enjoyed their third win of the campaign.

    Slovenia 1 - 0 Belarus
    1-0 Lavric 3' (pen.)

    Slovenia: Handanovic, Ilic (Brecko 82), Jokic, Morec, Cipot, Koren, Kirm, Stevanovic (Zinko 75), Birca, Novakovic, Lavric.

    Belarus: Gaev, Tigorev, Radkov, Plaskonni, Kalachev, Stasevich, Mak.Romaschenko, A.Hleb, Kornilenko (Rodionov 47), Korytko (Kashevsky 90), Blizniuk (Filipenko 74).
    Sent off: Radkov 70

  • Endnote...

    Get to know Alexey, winner of JESC selection

    From: oiko
    Alexey Zhigalkovich wins the ticket to Rotterdam
    What is your school and what grade will you be doing next year?

    School ¹161, Minsk, 6th grade

    What are your favorite school subjects?

    Math, Art, Literature

    Do you study in a music school or studio (what is it and who is your music teacher?)

    Art Studio Nelli Duschinskaya, "Verasiata" (youth music theater), Petr Elfimov's studio

    When did you take up music?

    7 years

    How long have you been composing songs or is it your first experience?

    Starting 2005

    In what contests did you participate?

    "Golden Zecchin" (Italy, 2005, silver medal), "Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk" (2006, second place), "Constellation of Hopes" (laureate), participation in plays of State Music Theater

    What are your favorite performers or bands?

    Dima Bilan

    What are your favorite songs?

    "Never let you go", "Impossible is Possible"

    What features of character should one have in order to reach the goal?

    Persistence , diligence

    What are your other interests?

    Books, sport

    Your favorite fairy tale?

    "Falling Last-Years Snow"

    Your favorite book?

    "Harry Potter"

    Your favorite character?

    Harry Potter

    What are your favorite animation films?


    What feelings do you have, when you are on the stage?


    Is it easy to set you laughing?