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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More on the "Remark", CIS integration, new satellites, UN, Russia, Polish elections, Human rights, Business, Sport, Blogs and more…

  • From the Top...
  • #250

    Belarus will remain faithful to CIS integration, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will remain faithful to the CIS integration, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said on October 23 when meeting with Sergei Lebedev, the Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee – the CIS Secretary Executive.

    According to the Belarusian Head of State, the CIS development concept and the plan of action to implement the concept, which were approved at the CIS summit in Dushanbe, allow the CIS member state focus on concrete aspects in this direction. Belarus took an active part in drawing up these documents and in approving them.

    Belarus’ President congratulated Sergei Lebedev on his appointment as Chairman of the Executive Committee – CIS Secretary Executive and noted that “this is a difficult job considering the modern-day relations between the CIS member states.”

    In turn, Sergei Lebedev noted that Belarus is one of the locomotives of the CIS integration. He added he would do everything to make the Commonwealth stronger. “For that there are historical prerequisites and traditions which our nations are bound with,” said Sergei Lebedev.

    In a related story, On October 23 President Alexander Lukashenko met with Chairman of the State Control Committee /SCC/ Zenon Lomat to receive his report.

    Zenon Lomat informed the President about the results of the work of the SCC for the nine months of 2007 and for the whole period since the Head of State visited the State Control Committee in October last year, BelTA has been told in the presidential press service. Zenon Lomat informed Alexander Lukashenko about the results of the supervision over the implementation of the President’s most important instructions.

    The issue relating to the use of land was in the centre of attention. The Committee intends to analyze thoroughly the use of every land plot and investigate every violation in this sphere. All natural and legal persons should promptly and voluntarily correct the violations of the land, forest and water protection regulations if issued a violation warrant.

    Zenon Lomat informed the President about the situation in the consumer market of the country. The Head of State instructed the official to exercise permanent control over the provision of the population with staples. Alexander Lukashenko and Zenon Lomat also discussed the issues relating to the trade in gems and jewelry in Belarus.

    The Chairman of the State Control Committee informed the Belarusian leader about the fulfillment of his other commissions connected with the socio-economic development of the country.

    The Head of State was informed about the forthcoming visit of a Chinese delegation to Minsk and a joint session of the Belarusian-Chinese commission on trade-economic cooperation, which is co-chaired by Zenon Lomat.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarusian and Russian scientists to set up new generation of satellites under Kosmos-NT programme

    From: BelTA
    The Council of Ministers of the Union State has approved the proposal to set up the Belarusian-Russian programme “Development of basic elements, production technologies and application of orbital and ground devices of the multifunctional space system” (Kosmos-NT) for 2008-2011, Director of the United Institute of Informatics Problems of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Sergei Ablameiko told the third Belarusian Space Congress on October 23.

    The main purpose of the programme is to develop advanced space technologies and to create test models of ground and orbital space devices which would have no match in the world. Belarusian and Russian scientists will also develop a test model of the unified microsatellite platform and a test model of a microsatellite of the new generation with the operation life prolonged to at least 10 years. The Union State budget will allocate RUB 1,420 million for the programme. Implementing the programme will be the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Russian Federal Space Agency and other institutions involved in space exploration.

    According to Sergei Ablameiko, Belarusian and Russian specialists will set up a multifunctional space system of the Union State. It will consist of a group of satellites of the new generation, so-called small satellites. They will be upgraded and cheaper to be launched.

    Sergei Ablameiko says that Belarusian and Russian space researchers have been constantly boosting cooperation.

    In turn, Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency Yuri Makarov noted that space exploration on one’s own had no future. “All the developed countries bind efforts in exploring outer space and creating space devices. Exchange of experience and joint research by specialists of our countries will raise efficiency of space projects and broaden opportunities of using space data by the Belarusians and Russians,” he added.

    Draft design of Belarusian satellite to be reviewed this November

    A draft design of a Belarusian artificial satellite will be reviewed in Minsk in November, Sergei Zolotoi, Director of Geoinformation Systems enterprise of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, said at the Third Belarusian Space Congress on October 23.

    He remarked, the new design uses experience accumulated when the BelKA satellite was created. Thus, the new satellite will use the previously designed special equipment and data transfer radio circuits. Twice as light as BelKA, the new satellite will be more mobile and will be able to do Earth photos more effectively. The satellite’s software will be upgraded, too. The satellite can be controlled not only from Russia, but from anywhere across the globe, explained Sergei Zolotoi.

    As the new Belarusian artificial satellite is created in Belarus, efforts will be channelled into designing a similar Russian apparatus Canopus-B. Scientists of Belarus and Russia are now considering the possibility of deploying an integrated space system of Belarus and Russia using the two satellites. Such integration could improve the quality of space information, expand space data opportunities individuals can get, and reduce the cost of space research.

    The Third Belarusian Space Congress took place at the United Information Technologies Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus on October 23. The event highlighted prospective avenues of scientific research for space exploration.

    UN Resident Representative speaks in positive terms about cooperation with Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Resident Representative of the United Nations Organisation in Belarus Cihan Sultanoglu positively evaluates cooperation between the UN and Belarus. On October 23 she told media in Minsk that the Belarusian government shows constant interest in expanding the international cooperation within the framework of the UN system. In turn, the interest meets suitable understanding and a positive response of the Organisation.

    The UN representation in the Republic of Belarus was opened in 1992 to support national efforts aimed at tackling the most important economic and social development problems, accelerating the social progress and raising living standards of individuals. Cihan Sultanoglu stressed, Belarus had done a lot in this area, which is manifested by the human development index.

    Since 1992 the number of organisations, programmes and funds of the UN system has been constantly growing in Belarus. At present eleven of them, including UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank, IMF, ILO, and UNAIDS, have their representations in Belarus. More than ten organisations — the IAEA, UNCTAD, FAO and others — support Belarus. Gratuitous grants totalled some $80 million in 1992-2007. In the future the United Nations Organisation plans to raise the funding of its programmes in Belarus.

    Cihan Sultanoglu added, in Belarus the UN efforts are applied to various spheres: the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, fight against human trafficking, illegal drugs turnover, environmental protection, energy effectiveness, protection of children’s rights, development of small and medium businesses, perfection of the social protection system, consultative aid in macroeconomic policy issues, alleviation of the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe, restoration and sustainable development of Chernobyl-affected territories, protection of refugee rights, and so on. In the future the work will continue, said the UN representative.

    UN to arrange photo competition and fashion show in Belarus during Year of Potato

    In a related story, The International Year of Potato 2008 has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly. The declaration has been triggered by Peru – the major potato producer, BelTA learnt from UN Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Belarus Ms Cihan Sultanoglu. However, the UN plans to hold a set of holiday events in Belarus as well.

    According to her, some of the events are likely to be organized jointly with Peru. One of the ideas is to publish an international potato recipe book.

    Besides, Belarus will host a photo competition and an alternative fashion show dedicated to the Potato Holiday. The Belarusian Scientific and Technical Library plans to hold a round table.

    Ms Cihan Sultanoglu noted that Belarus is one of the leading countries in potato consumption and ranks eighth in its production.

    Russia, Belarus to Jointly Oppose U.S. Missile Defense Shield in Europe

    From: Kommersant
    NATO’s extension and the plans to station components of the U.S. missile defense shield in Europe prompt Russia and Belarus to cooperate more aggressively in the military and political fields, Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced Tuesday.

    ”NATO’s extension, the plans to station missile defense system and aggravation of the situation in the Middle East confirm the need to closely coordinate our actions both in military-political and in political fields,” Serdyukov announced when opening in Moscow the joint board of defense ministries of two countries.

    Having emphasized active work that defense authorities of Russia and Belarus carry out in this direction, Serdyukov specified that this work is based on the program of actions aimed at implementing the Treaty on Creating the Union State.

    “This work is continued by considering the list of issues entered into the agenda of today’s meeting of the joint board,” the minister said, pointing out that constructive discussion of these issues would help create the system of protecting the Union State as a single area of defense.

  • More about the "Remark"...

    Bush administration slams Lukashenko

    From: JTA
    The Bush administration called on the president of Belarus to retract anti-Semitic remarks.

    "We have seen reports of President Lukashenko's disturbing and irresponsible comments," a State Department statement said. "We find them deeply offensive and call upon him to disavow these remarks. World leaders have a special responsibility to combat anti-Semitism, not perpetuate it."

    In an Oct. 12 broadcast, Alexander Lukashenko said of Bobruisk, a Belarusian port city: "This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pig sty. Look at Israel -- I was there."

    Lukashenko was apparently soliciting favorable reaction from Iran, which has increased trade with Belarus in recent months.

    A Democrat and a Republican are soliciting signatures among U.S. House of Representatives colleagues for a letter slamming the remarks.

    "Your government’s tolerance of state-sponsored anti-Semitism is well documented," says the letter to Lukashenko initiated by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, the congressional body that monitors human rights overseas, and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). "Anti-Semitic acts are only sporadically investigated and the Government allows state enterprises to freely print and distribute anti-Semitic material. Anti-Semitic acts of vandalism, intimidation and violence are on the rise. Amid this climate of anti-Semitism, your public statements are particularly dangerous."

    Belarus Jews stay calm in face of president's anti-Semitic slurs

    From: JPost
    Leonid Levin
    Despite Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's anti-Semitic slurs against the city of Bobruisk and Israel, the prevailing mood of the isolated European nation's Jewish community is one of surprising calm.

    "We are not concerned by the statement," said Dr. Yakov Basin, the first deputy chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Organizations and Communities. "What worries us are other things -- in 20 years not a single person has been punished for anti-Semitic vandalism to the cemetery, etc. The Holocaust is not recognized as a unique historical phenomenon as it is in other countries."

    Behind the scenes, Jewish community leaders in Belarus believe that Jews were not the speech's intended recipients but may have been used as a scapegoat.

    Lukashenko during a live radio broadcast on Oct. 12 said of Bobruisk, a port city in the central part of the country, "This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pig sty. Look at Israel -- I was there."

    Community leaders believe the mention of Israel was a calculated message by Lukashenko to the leadership of Iran. Since its controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Minsk in May, the two countries reportedly cemented plans for a "strategic partnership" and trade has dramatically increased between them.

    A leading communal figure who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of business reprisals in the repressed former Soviet republic, confirmed to JTA that things have changed dramatically since Belarus and Iran became partners.

    "Since Iran has linked up with Belarus, there's been a distinct anti-Israel flavor in Belarus," the leader said.

    Indeed, even as Basin had expressed confidence that Lukashenko's comments held no foreboding for his country's Jews, he indicated deep dismay with the geopolitical implications of the speech.

    "The problems with Israel could create complications on the Iran question," he said. "Belarus and Russia are both involved with Iran in a way that's almost like the Munich agreement of 1938."

    Despite the Belarusian Jewish community downplaying the statement, neither its significance nor potential impact could be ignored.

    Five days after Lukashenko spoke, 15 headstones were desecrated in an attack on the Jewish cemetery in Bobruisk, according to the Belapan news agency.

    "You know, we always talk about the difference between state anti-Semitism and popular anti-Semitism," the communal figure told JTA. "This, I think, is popular anti-Semitism. The only trouble is that it was the president expressing it and it was picked up."

    The Union of Belarusian Jewish Organizations and Communities has called a leadership meeting for Monday to discuss a unified response to the statement.

    Its president, Leonid Levin, declined to comment for JTA until after the meeting, which will include the chief rabbi of Bobruisk.

    Still, some community leaders chose not to criticize the statements made by their autocratic president and continued to minimize their significance.

    Maxim Yudin, the director of Hillel in Minsk, saw the comments as a verbal gaffe.

    "I'm 100 percent sure he didn't realize what he was saying," he said.

    Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 14 years, is widely reviled in the West for his perceived abuses of power, including the crushing of free speech and political opposition. Belarus is often referred to as "Europe's last dictatorship."

    Yudin expressed concern about the Israeli ambassador being withdrawn, saying it was more likely to affect relations between Belarus and Israel than those between the Belarus government and the Jewish community.

    "No one can say he's anti-Semitic," Yudin said. "In his 14 years as president I've never heard him say such a thing."

    Indeed, Yukashenko's lack of public anti-Semitism in the past, and the blunt nature of his comments, point not to a new crusade against Belarusian Jews but to a political calculation.

    Six days after the broadcast, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni sharply rebuked Lukashenko in the press. Israel's ambassador to Belarus, on vacation last week in Israel, was called to Jerusalem to discuss the issue last Thursday, but he was not recalled.

    "It is the responsibility of world leaders to battle anti-Semitism, which rears its ugly head in various places around the world, not promote it," Livni said. "Anti-Semitism reflects first and foremost on the community in which it appears, and on its leaders."

    PACE president suggests that Lukashenka should apologize for his “anti-semitic remarks”

    From: Naviny
    Rene van der Linden, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), suggested that Alyaksandr Lukashenka should apologize for his “anti-semitic remarks.”

    "President Lukashenka's anti-semitic remarks may verge on the absurd, but they are no less unacceptable for it", the PACE president said in a statement issued on Monday.

    While speaking to a group of Russian provincial reporters in Minsk on October 12, the Belarusian leader insisted that Jewish residents had turned Babruysk, a city of 226,000 residents in the Mahilyow region, into a “sty.” “If you were in Babruysk, you saw in what condition the city was. Entering it was a fearful experience! It was a sty! This was mainly a Jewish city. Well, you know how Jews treat the place where they’re living. Look at Israel, I’ve been there,” he said. He also called for Jews "with money" to return to live in the city.

    "The Council of Europe, as a value community, was created as the first step in a process of European integration intended to prevent the re-emergence of intolerance and extremism in Europe,” said Mr. van der Linden. “The fight against anti-semitism has been a priority of the Council of Europe since 1949 and will continue to be so for as long as the threat remains. Rejection of anti-semitism is a universal principle.”

    "President Lukashenka should reflect on this and apologise for his disgraceful words, if he is serious in his desire to move closer to the rest of Europe," Mr. van der Linden noted.

    In an interview with BelaPAN last week, Israeli Ambassador Zeev Ben Arie said that Mr. Lukashenka’s remarks were reminiscent of “the anti-Semitic myth depicting Jews as untidy, dirty, smelling people.” “There’s an impression that Babruysk was an independent Jewish place with its own budget rather than one of Belarusian cities where the responsibility and funds for its cleanup and landscaping were in the hands of authorities,” he stressed.

    The diplomat said he wished that “municipal and social services” in Belarus would one day match Israel’s level, “although the president saw untrimmed grass somewhere.”

    Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni "strongly condemned" what she called the "harsh anti-Semitic remarks."

  • Other news from the west...

    President of International Federation of Human Rights to visit Belarus next week

    From: Naviny
    Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights (IFHR), will arrive in Minsk on October 29.

    While in Belarus, Ms. Belhassen is scheduled to meet with officials representing the justice and interior ministries, as well as members of human rights groups and journalists, human rights defender Valyantsin Stefanovich told BelaPAN.

    “Unfortunately, the international human rights defender’s visit will take place at the end of the month. We originally expected her to come at the time of the European March for Freedom, but the organization of the visit was delayed. And now Souhayr Belhassen, alas, will not even manage to attend our court hearing,” Mr. Stefanovich said.

    The Supreme Court will start hearing the Vyasna human rights group’s appeal against registration denial on October 23.

    Alyaksandr Petrash, Belarus' deputy justice minister, was informed in August that Ms. Belhassen would like to meet representatives of the justice ministry during her visit to Minsk, according to the activist. “Unfortunately, we haven’t received a reply from the justice ministry so far,” he added.

    The IFHR is a federation of non-governmental human rights organizations. Its core mission is to promote respect for all the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

    In a last minute update, Naviny reports that The Supreme Court on Tuesday required the justice ministry to translate all documents in the Vyasna human rights group’s case into Belarusian.

    The court issued the order at the opening hearing of the group’s appeal against registration denial, Belapan reports.

    Speaking at the hearing, Vyasna representative Ales Byalyatski said that he was not fluent in Russian. “We filed a Belarusian-language registration application, but got a reply in Russian. We consider it to be an insult to the Belarusian language and us as its speakers,” he noted.

    Mr. Byalyatski stressed that his poor command of Russian had prevented him from examining the justice ministry’s registration denial decision in detail and preparing well for the appeal hearing.

    After a five-minute break the court ordered the ministry to translate all documents in the case into Belarusian.

    The group was meant to be the successor of the Vyasna human rights organization closed down by the Supreme Court's ruling in October 2003 on a charge of acting in violation of electoral regulations during the 2001 presidential race.

    The group applied to the justice ministry for registration on July 23. It warned the ministry that the UN Human Rights Committee had found the organization's closure to be illegal and urged the Belarusian government to grant registration to the group within three months.

    The justice ministry turned down the registration bid on August 23. The ministry explained that the organization’s charter "contains vague purposes and implies the opportunity for this non-governmental organization to act for achieving purposes that are not stated in the charter." Apart from this, it raised objections to the name of the group, which it said is identical to that of the organization closed down in 2003, and said that several founders of the group had faced administrative punishment in the past.

    Uladzimir Labkovich, a Vyasna representative, dismissed the grounds as being “absolutely not based on laws currently in force.” “The issue of Vyasna’s registration is a political rather than a legal matter, that’s why one can hardly hope that the appeal will be upheld,” he said.

    The next hearing in the case will take place on October 25.

    In a related Naviny story, A group of human rights defenders filed an application with the justice ministry on July 23 for the re-registration of the Vyasna human rights organization, human rights activist Uladzimir Labkovich told BelaPAN.

    "I'm sure that the organization's chances of being registered are pretty well zero," Mr. Labkovich noted. "We see the filing of the application as a public statement that will demonstrate that Belarus denies its citizens the right to establish non-governmental human rights organizations," Mr. Labkovich said.

    He added that he had talked to a justice ministry official who had made it quite clear that a political decision "had already been made and one just has to wait for the ministry's written reply."

    The Vyasna human rights center was outlawed by the Supreme Court's ruling in October 2003 and now seeks reinstatement.

  • Business...

    Draft law on providing support to small and medium-scale businesses should be finalized by June 2008

    From: BelTA
    A draft law on providing support to small and medium-scale businesses should be finalized by June 2008, Deputy Economy Minister of Belarus Andrei Tur said on October 23 at a meeting of the permanent commission on industry, fuel and energy complex, transport, communications and entrepreneurship of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus.

    According to Andrei Tur, the Government has set up a special working group which will decide in October-November 2007 how to finalize the document. The draft law was submitted for approval to the House of Representatives in 2005. The problem is that criteria of giving a status of subjects of small entrepreneurship to individual entrepreneurs have not been laid down yet.

    The draft law describes key measures aimed at providing support to subjects of small and medium-scale entrepreneurship. First of all, this is improvement of their legal working environment and preventing unwarranted administrative interference in their economic activity.

    Prime Minister wants export of services to grow faster

    Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky set out the task to boost exports of services and take all necessary measures to replace their imports. The export of services has been on an increase recently. However the import of services has been growing faster including that one from the CIS countries (by $79 million in January- September), Sergei Sidorsky said during a session of the Council of Ministers on October 23. According to the Prime Minister, the import of transport services should be restricted first thing.

    Over the nine months the target of achieving a foreign trade surplus has not been met, Sergei Sidorsky said. He also took note of a big deficit in trade with Russia and CIS countries in general.

    Today indigenous goods in the trading network of Belarus account for 77.3%, including foodstuffs – 85%, nonfoods – 66%. “People have to spend money on imported goods,” the Prime Minister said. Over the eight months the imports of nonfoods upped by 23%, not considering imports of cars – by 21%.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, over the nine months around Br16.7 trillion was invested in the Belarusian economy. 65% of the investments was injected into manufacturing facilities. Investments in the real economy sector came to $2.3 billion. This is good showing, Sergei Sidorsky believes.

  • Cultural scene...

    More countries to partake in cinema festival Listapad 2007

    From: BelTA
    Film-makers from 38 countries have confirmed their intention to take part in the Minsk-based international cinema festival Listapad 2007 (Fall), director of the festival Valentina Stepanova told a press conference in Minsk City Hall on October 24. Last year the festival gathered film people from 22 countries.

    The organisers have held negotiations with representatives of 50 countries. The number of participants may still increase.

    Sixty-eight famous actors and movie directors have already agreed to participate in the festival, including Donatas Banionis (Lithuania), Krzysztof Krauze (Poland), Sergei Bezrukov, Stanislav Govorukhin and Viktor Sukhorukov (Russia), Murat Ibragimbekov (Azerbaijan), Lena Einhorn (Switzerland) and others.

    The contest programme features the best movies from 19 countries, with movies from five countries presented for off-contest demonstration. Negotiations with film makers of Israel and Romania are underway for non-contest demonstration of their pictures.

    The creative programme of the festival has also expanded. Last year’s Listapad featured a contest demonstration of animation movies, which met much interest of spectators. The contest will be held this year as well. A theatre contest will be held during the festival for the seventh time. It is supposed to popularise Belarusian theatre art and actors. This year will see the first contest of documentary movies in Minsk-based mall Stolitsa.

    The Listapad 2007 will open in the Palace of the Republic on November 17. Stanislav Govorukhin’s picture Artistka has been chosen to open the festival. Special prizes of the President of the Republic of Belarus will be bestowed “For humanism and spirituality in cinema” and “For preserving and developing spiritual traditions in cinema art”.

    The organisers of the festival will hold a Russian Cinema Week, cinema days of the participating countries, a gala concert by stars of the festival “For Talented Belarus!”. Premieres and creative meetings will take place in oblast cities and regional towns of the country. Charity actions will be held in children’s homes and schools. Retrospective runs of documentary and feature films will be held to mark the 125th anniversary of the birthdays of Belarusian poets Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas. Photo exhibitions are also part of the festival’s art programme.

    The film theatre Oktyabr will be the central stage of the festival. Off-contest and retrospective movies will be showed in the National Cinema House, film theatres Tsentralnyi, Raketa, Salyut, Moskva and film theatres of oblast cities.

    Six jury panels — an international jury, a cinema press jury, a spectators’ jury, a documentary jury, a children’s cinema jury and a theatre art jury — will assess works created by the festival’s participants.

    Gold, silver and bronze awards of the festival Listapad will be presented according to viewership votes. Sixteen special prizes of the festival are supposed to be presented — “The best movie direction”, “The best male actor”, “The best female actor”, a prize of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union “For allegiance to moral ideals in cinema art” and others.

    Minsk to host children’s festival Sonechny Ptakh

    From: BelTA
    Most of the Belarusian national public associations jointly with governmental bodies will partake in preparing and holding the children’s national culture festival Sonechny Ptakh in the Minsk Palace of Children and Youth November 3-4. The issues were considered at a session of the Consultative Ethnic Council under the Plenipotentiary Representative for Religions and Nationalities, BelTA has learnt from the press service of the Plenipotentiary Representative’s Office.

    The Plenipotentiary Representative’s Office and heads of the national public associations have agreed on financial support of the events and projects of the ethnic-cultural public associations for 2007-2008, handled the contents and the structure of the Herald of the Consultative Ethnic Council for 2007, considered the participation in the national charity action Our Children and rendering support to the Ratomka specialized boarding-school.

  • Around the region...

    Russia 'chessboard killer' guilty

    From: BBC
    Alexander Pichushkin said he had killed 61 people
    A Russian shop assistant has been found guilty of 48 murders, which he once said he recorded on a chessboard.
    A Moscow jury convicted Alexander Pichushkin, known to the Russian media as the "Bittsa maniac", after four hours of deliberation.

    Most of the murders were committed over five years, in the Bittsa Park in Moscow's southern suburbs.

    Pichushkin has never denied the charges. He was also found guilty on three counts of attempted murder.

    He is due to be sentenced later this week.

    The jury found there were no mitigating circumstances, and rejected a defence request to clear him of 18 of the killings. The prosecution has requested a life sentence.

    Many Russians would like to see him executed but Russia has suspended the use of the death penalty.

    Afraid to go out

    Pichushkin began his 14-year killing spree in Moscow in 1992, and was arrested in June 2006.

    His victims were drowned in a sewer or bludgeoned to death with a hammer, investigators say.

    The BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow says people living near the park where he stalked his victims became afraid to venture out even for a walk.

    Pichushkin originally said he planned to carry out 64 killings, one for each square on a chessboard.

    But he later denied this, saying he would have carried on killing indefinitely if he had not been arrested. He puts the number of his victims at 61.

    Many were elderly men who got drunk with him, investigators say, though he also killed three women.

    The vigilance of a relative of one of the dead led to his capture.

    Before the Pichushkin case came to light, Russia's most notorious serial killer in recent times was Andrei Chikatilo, who killed 53 women and children in the southern city of Rostov. He was convicted and executed in 1994.

    Record Breakers: Another first for Russia

    From: SMH
    The first creatures to be conceived in space (in this solar system, that we know of) were born yesterday, and it was another first for Russia (which managed the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957; the first dog in space, Laika, in 1957; and the first human, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961). The mother of these babies is called Nadezhda (Hope) and she became pregnant during the flight of the bio-satellite called Foton-M bio-satellite, in late September. She is a cockroach.

    "We recently received the first batch of 33 cockroaches conceived in microgravity," announced Dmitry Atyakshin, the director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems, which is a typically mysterious Russian title for a space agency. He said the cockroaches were sealed in special containers during their circling of the Earth, and a video camera filmed them during the flight. This does not seem to have inhibited them, though the babies do look a tad different.

    "Cockroaches are born with a transparent carapace, which gradually turns into brown, and the space cockroaches went darker earlier than usual," Mr Atyakshin said. "We are pleased by the very fact that they came into being." As are we all, though we wish Russia would occasionally share its firsts.

    Big blunder of Kaczynski brothers

    From: Ria Novosti
    The Kaczynski twin tandem, Europe's most bizarre ruling alliance, broke apart last Sunday, as the Law and Justice (PiS) party led by one of the brothers, Jaroslaw, announced it was turning to opposition after suffering a defeat in parliamentary elections.

    The post of Polish prime minister is now most likely to go to Donald Tusk, a long time opponent of the Kaczynski brothers and leader of the center-right Civic Platform (PO) party, who narrowly lost the 2005 presidential election to the current president, Lech Kaczynski.

    Paradoxically, in 2005 all the opinion polls pointed to a Tusk victory, and his defeat in the presidential run-off on October 23 was entirely unexpected. Analysts investigating the anomaly afterwards came to the conclusion that most Poles were simply reluctant to admit, even anonymously, that they planned to support a national chauvinist who declared half the world Poland's enemies, Europe and Russia included. In the light of this, forecasts for last Sunday's parliamentary elections were deliberately vague.

    Yet despite such caution the pollsters were again proved wrong. The day before the vote, Civic Platform was expected to receive 5% less than Kaczynski's party, but in fact it outran PiS by 10%. The left-wing democrats led by former president Aleksander Kwasniewski came third, followed by the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Kwasniewski might even strike a deal with Tusk and negotiate a government post, and PSL is also willing to help consolidate the ruling coalition.

    There are several reasons behind Jaroslaw Kaczynski's high-profile fiasco. One of them is an unheard-of voter turnout, a record level of 55%, the highest since 1989. The Poles, especially younger voters, appear to have tired of the former Cabinet's nationalist rhetoric, which threatened to lead the country into complete political isolation.

    Polish voters probably did not mind Kaczynski's consistent criticism of Moscow. It is certainly true that few Poles are ardent admirers of Russia. But even so, the former prime minister clearly overdid it. Suffice to mention the closure of the Russian display at the Auschwitz memorial, or the censure of Aleksander Kwasniewski for his decision to visit Moscow for the 60th Anniversary of Victory over the Nazis, or the demand that the Russian government repent its errors beginning with the division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century to the Soviet invasion.

    Kaczynski did more than seek his own interpretation of "historic justice." He consistently torpedoed Russia-EU negotiations. Offended by Russia's ban on its meat imports, Poland alone voted against a strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. It also rejected any compromise on hosting the U.S. missile-defense system. A few days before the elections, Jaroslaw Kaczynski said quite openly that the U.S. 'missile shield' was designed to shoot down Russian missiles, not Iranian ones, thus indicating which nation Warsaw saw as its number one foe.

    Still, Kaczynski's anti-Russian rhetoric was not his greatest fault. He was wrong, as he was trying to build what he referred to as "a fourth republic," to list the whole of Europe as Poland's enemies. His favorite policy was to threaten the European Union with blocking major agreements. It is a miracle Angela Merkel did not have a nervous breakdown during the German presidency of the EU after overnight talks in which 26 member states tried to convince one (Poland) to sign a fundamental agreement - in fact a European constitution. Last week, participants in a EU summit in Lisbon avoided a similar scandal by an inch, as Poland again refused to sign an important document unless it was granted certain privileges.

    Kaczynski was no friend of the OSCE either. Warsaw did not even invite that organization's observers to monitor elections under the pretext that Switzerland was voting on the same day. He must have thought that Swiss democracy was in greater need of protection than the Polish model. The problem was solved at the last minute: on election day, Warsaw received a whole group of OSCE members, along with Russian CEC head Vladimir Churov. The latter came on an informal visit.

    Donald Tusk, although repeatedly blamed by the Kaczynski brothers for accepting German financing to support his party, will obviously behave in a more moderate way at EU summits. He will never make the 26 EU leaders stay up all night to reach a decision, and will hardly allow himself explicit anti-Russian rhetoric like his predecessor.

    Russia will still have to deal with the other twin until the 2010 presidential elections in Poland, as Lech Kaczynski remains president of that country. It is hard to tell now who will dominate Poland's foreign policy - the president or the prime minister.

    But Tusk will certainly try and change the explicitly pro-American policies his country is currently pursuing. First, he has pledged to pull Polish forces out of Iraq early next year. Second, Warsaw will soon adopt a softer stance in the missile-defense talks. Although the would-be cabinet leader will not be able to abandon the plan, he has promised to insist that Washington make Poland's interests a priority.

    Tusk will probably be more willing to compromise with Moscow on the extremely sensitive U.S. missile-defense issue. He probably will, given that Moscow offered some solutions for discussion.

    USA does not consider Ukraine to join NATO soon

    From: Trendz
    The Defense Minister of the USA Robert Gates considers that Ukraine’s accession to NATO is not a question of near perspective. He said that in an interview to radio “Svoboda” .

    “I think it is not a question of near perspective. There is an interest to join NATO but also significant anti-NATO opposition in Ukraine. That’s why I think it is necessary to see how events will be developed,” he said.

    He also explained why the USA considers the Russia its strategic partner. “I think we must consider Russia our strategic partner unless there are grounds to consider vice versa. In some spheres Russian plays constructive role. We must keep cooperating with Russia and try to persuade it in those issues we have divergences,” he said.

    He noted that one cant compare relations between Russia and the USA during the times of the “cold” war with those we have now.

    “There are spheres we cooperate and there is nothing like global competition and conflict,” Robert Gates added.

    Turmoil adds to Latvia's vulnerability

    From: MSNBC
    Latvia, Europe's most overheated economy, has plunged into political crisis, making it even more vulnerable to fragile global financial sentiment.

    Aigars Kalvitis, the prime minister, on Tuesday survived a vote of no-confidence but his unpopular government is expected only to stagger on until parliament approves a belt tightening budget that it will begin debating on Wednesday.

    Mr Kalvitis - a former dairy manager who after just three years in office has become the country's longest-serving premier - has lost the confidence of party bosses after bungling the dismissal of Aleksejs Loskutovs, the country's top anti-corruption investigator.

    He last week had to fly back early from the European Union summit in Lisbon after the largest demonstration since the country's independence in 1991 forced two rebel ministers from his People's party to leave the cabinet.

    Mr Kalvitis rejected calls for his own resignation on Friday, saying: "We have to take responsibility ... the coalition has decided to move ahead."

    Ironically, the political turbulence has struck just as leading economic indicators have begun to improve and the government appears to be finally getting serious about tackling macro­economic imbalances.

    Latvia, which suffered a domestic run on the currency, the lat, in February, is considered one of the economies in Europe most vulnerable to worsening ­global credit conditions.

    The tabular content relating to this article is not available to view. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience caused.

    Few lat-denominated assets are held by foreigners, making a speculative attack difficult but the size of the economic imbalances has forced the authorities to deny rumours that an adjustment of the exchange rate peg is imminent.

    A consumer boom financed by foreign banks has built up a gross external debt that reached 117 per cent of gross domestic product at the end of last year and a current account deficit that hit 11 per cent of GDP in the second quarter.

    Following an anti-inflation package in March and slower bank lending growth, the economy appears to be cooling rapidly. Property prices have been falling for half a year, while retail sales, new car registrations and monthly current account deficit figures have recently begun declining.

    "The adjustment started to happen later than it should have, therefore it will probably be more compressed and harsh than we would like to see," says Erkki Raasuke, chief executive of Hansabank, the Swedbank subsidiary that is Latvia's largest bank. "Nevertheless, we are still seeing a good orderly adjustment going on.

    "We expect a fairly quick recovery and then fairly sound growth over the coming years, though not at the rates of previous years."

    Mr Kalvitis has belatedly thrown his weight behind the anti-inflation drive by speaking out against excessive private consumption and wage demands, and moving to tighten fiscal policy. The government now expects to run a budget surplus of 0.4 per cent of GDP this year, rather than the forecast deficit of 1.4 per cent. Next year it plans a surplus of 1 per cent, followed by 1.2 per cent in 2009 and 1.5 per cent in 2010.

    Government working groups also aim to produce a battery of supply-side proposals at the end of the year, focused on improving export competitiveness, productivity and labour supply. "They have done enough," says Kenneth Orchard of Moody's rating agency, which changed its outlook to stable from positive in September but retains an A2 rating two notches above its peers. "For many years it was all talk and no action. Finally they are doing something."

    However, further reform is now in doubt because of the political turbulence, which will damage domestic and foreign confidence.

    Mr Kalvitis demanded the dismissal of Mr Loskutovs because of minor financial irregularities at the anti-­corruption office. However, most observers believe the real reason was due to the office's threat to impose a large fine on the People's party for rampant over-spending in last year's general election campaign.

    The anti-corruption office has also worried politicians by pursuing investigations into Aivars Lembergs, the powerful mayor of Ventspils, as well as a digital television scandal, in which Andris Díçle, a former People's party premier, is a witness. The fall-out from these two affairs could have wide repercussions.

    After last week's rally parliament looks unlikely to approve Mr Loskutovs' dismissal, sealing Mr Kalvitis's fate. The coalition will probably try to nominate a new premier once the budget is passed next month, though there is no obvious candidate.

    Given that trade unions are demanding higher public sector wage rises and are collecting signatures for a referendum on early elections, any successor may find staying in power as daunting a challenge as Latvia's economic woes.

  • From the blogs...

    How Kaczynski blew it

    From: The Beatroot
    Two weeks before polling day Jaroslaw Kaczynski was ahead in most opinion polls and looked like pulling off a miracle victory. And then it all went horribly wrong. What’s worse, it’s all his own fault.

    I bet when Jaroslaw went home election night he gave the cat a good kicking. Not that the cat had anything to do with the conservative’s thumping by Polish voters. Kaczynski has nobody to blame but himself.

    The crucial moment of the campaign came in the head-to-head debate with the eventual winner, Donald Tusk. Immediately after the broadcast many on this blog saw it as a significant gaff by the prime minister, and a good performance by his challenger. Mike Farris said it was the ‘political performance of Tusk’s life,’ and the first time he looked like he had the balls for a fight.

    Maybe. But though Tusk looked better, he got lucky: throughout the debate Kaczynski looked like he couldn’t care less.

    On Polish Radio this morning he admitted that it was a crucial turning point and he maybe he should have avoided the whole thing altogether. British prime ministers would have warned him – debates are there for sitting PMs to lose – challengers usually get the upper hand as they have no record to defend and so cannot look to be on the defensive. Kaczynski spent the whole debate on the back foot.

    But it finally gave Tusk some momentum and he took advantage of the gift Kaczynski had given him.

    While liberals think that Kaczynski’s arch-conservative politics was the ultimate reason for the government’s downfall, many conservatives are claiming that he failed because he was not conservative enough!

    For instance, columnist Pawel Milcarek told Polish Radio:

      'The problem was that [Law and Justice] broke a kind of an agreement with conservative opinion. The so-called Fourth Republic was supposed to be built upon the values of ‘Civilization of Life’.

      However, it turned out that when it came to the protection of life, pornography laws or coherent pro-family policy, Law and Justice contradicted its pre-election promises.

      The second thing was that they tried to replace a real reform of the state with just the appearance of it. Conservative voters just have had enough.'
    In other words, Law and Justice lost the election because they were too liberal.

    But that argument just doesn’t work. More people voted Law and Justice in this election than in the ballot two years ago, which they subsequently won. So they mobilized more supporters this time around – problem for them was that Civic Platform mobilized even more of theirs.

    Kaczynski also said this morning that he blames public television for his defeat. TVP ran a perfectly legitimate campaign to get young people out to the polling stations. In the last election only 40 percent bothered to vote at all, and the under 25 year olds were the most underrepresented back then.

    The TVP ads said: ‘Get out to vote – go change Poland.’

    Kaczynski said this morning on the radio: “The ‘go out to vote’ part was fine – but the ‘go change Poland’ thing was a clear suggestion that they should vote against the government.’

    Try as he might, the blame for his defeat must lay with Jaroslaw himself and the boorish way he has spent two years in office. Blaming public media will not change that.

    A Slice of Life

    From: An American in Belarus:
    Yes, this is a nice photo of Sovietska Plaza with the blue sky and cathedral in the background, but if you take a closer look it also reveals many interesting things about Belarusian culture.

    First, this is a Catholic church, which is a big deal considering Belarus is 82% Russian Orthodox. Grodno, my city, is very interesting because it has belonged to many different countries throughout its long history, which began in 1128. In recent times, Grodno belonged to Lithuania which used to include Poland, until it was annexed by Russia, which later became the Soviet Union. Today it is finally part of an independent country, Belarus, which means White Russia. This tug-of-war has been going on for centuries as the territory marks the division between the East and the West. As for religion, the West means Catholic and the East means Orthodox. If you travel to Eastern Belarus, you won’t find many, if any, Catholic churches. But as Grodno was recently part of Catholic Lithuania/Poland, many people are of that faith today. Also, many people have family and friends across the border, which is only about 15 km from my flat. (For a map go to “My Links”)

    Second, do you notice that the women are carrying shopping bags? They are a necessity here as most stores do not provide them, or if they do, you must pay for them. Also, many people shop at huge, open-air markets and they definitely don’t have shopping carts!

    Third, it is very common for women to walk arm-in-arm, like the women to my right in the photo. It’s a symbol of friendship and is also a great way to stay warm.

    Fourth, see the woman on the left edge of the photo? Take a look at those boots and skirt, and this was a cold, windy day. I’ll do my best to post more examples of Belarusian fashion and footwear…they really are in a class of their own!

    Fifth, in the background there is a man sitting on the bench, he is wearing a brown jacket and is just to the right of the lady in boots. I don’t know if you can see this but he is pouring himself a beer! This is also very common in Grodno and it is quite legal. In the evening you will find many groups of friends hanging out in the plazas and parks drinking beer and listening to music. The police don’t seem to care as long as they don’t see bottles of hard liquor. Also, as far as I know Belarus doesn’t have a drinking age. And if they have one, they sure don’t enforce it.

    Finally, Belarus is an extremely clean country. Aside from a few stray beer bottles, I hardly ever see any trash or leaves on the streets or smell anything yucky. I noticed the cleanliness my first morning in Minsk and found the same thing here in Grodno. I was very impressed to see people sweeping and raking leaves at the crack of dawn! I later learned that the government hires people to keep things tidy. Another interesting thing, I often see people using old-fashioned brooms made from small branches, just like a witches broom. Sometimes I can hear the scraping noises outside my flat in the early morning. Maybe I can borrow a broom for Halloween? :-

    Lukasenka in hot water over anti-Semitic comments

    From: Notes on Religion
    Belarus and Israel are in the middle of a diplomatic spat over controversial comments made recently by Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukasenka (Lukashenka) about Belarusian and Israeli Jews.

    Speaking to Russian journalists in Minsk on 12 October, Lukasenka declared,

      If you have been to Babrujsk [Babruysk], did you see what state the city is in? It was scary to walk into it, it was a pigsty. It was largely a Jewish city; you know how Jews act towards the place they live in. Take a look at Israel; I have been there, for one.... Under no circumstances do I want to hurt them, but they do not really make sure that the grass is mowed like in Moscow, among the Russians, or Belarusians. What a city it was.... We fixed it up, and we say to Israeli Jews: Come back, guys. I told them: Come back with money.
    Five days later, the Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben-Arie, protested in no uncertain terms, saying that "in these comments, one can hear echoes of a myth that I had hoped had long been buried by the history of enlightened mankind, about poorly dressed, dirty, foul smelling Jews, an anti-Semitic myth." Ben-Arie also said he hoped that "Belarusian cities would reach the level of Israel's municipal services and social services in general."

    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni accused Lukasenka of anti-Semitism, saying

      It is the responsibility of world leaders to battle anti-Semitism, which rears its ugly head in various places around the world, not promote it. Anti-Semitism reflects first and foremost on the community in which it appears, and on its leaders.
    On 18 October, the Belarusian ambassador to Israel, Ihar Liascenia (Liashchenia), issued a statement reminding Israelis that "during the last five or six centuries, Jews in our region did not feel as protected and safe anywhere as they did in the Belarusian lands.... This good attitude towards Jews, which has become traditional, persists in modern Belarus as well."

    Regarding Babrujsk, Liascenia remarked that the residents of the city,

      with the help of the state, were trying to host the republic-wide harvest festival in a decent manner. The renewed, rebuilt city of Babrujsk is, among other things, a homage to many generations of members of the Jewish community whose native city this was.
    "Belarus and anti-Semitism are mutually exclusive ideas," Liascenia concluded.

    One can't envy poor Liascenia his duty of restoring calm after Lukasenka's gaffe. After all, Lukasenka managed to squeeze three typical anti-Semitic stereotypes into one statement: that Jews are allegedly dirty, that they allegedly have no attachment to the place they live in, and that they are simultaneously rich. That Liascenia managed to turn Lukasenka's words around and portray the restoration of parts of Babrujsk as a homage to Jews is a credit to his quick thinking, or that of others in his embassy or the Belarusian foreign ministry.

    Liascenia is right on one thing. Belarus has historically been a highly tolerant place towards minorities (for instance, there were mosques in operation in Belarus centuries ago, while even in modern-day Greece and Slovenia, the very existence of mosques is a controversial issue). It remains tolerant to this day. However, as Lukasenka's words show, we Belarusians (yes, I am one) have some way to go towards living up to the image of tolerance we always congratulate ourselves with.

    A Little Filthy Lukashenko

    From: Jewcy
    Alexander Lukashenko, the wannabe despot in charge of Belarus, has fairly been described as "Europe's last dictator". Of course, like any self-respecting authoritarian these days, he is fond of the veneer of accountability, and does submit himself for re-election now and again; at the last one, in March 2006, he won well over 80% of the vote, albeit with the help of a compliant state-run media that refused to mention his opponent, Alexander Milinkevich (who coincidentally has a strange tendency to get picked up by police every few weeks, accused of everything from drunk driving to drug trafficking). With admirable frankness, Lukashenko later admitted to rigging the elections - but claimed, brilliantly, that he'd had no choice but to fiddle the numbers, because the true figure - 93.5% - was just too embarrassing.

    Lukashenko has shut down opposition newspapers, used the riot police to break up unlicensed rallies (try getting a license), and rewritten the constitution to remove term limits from the Presidency which he has now graced for 13 years. He presides over a Soviet-style command economy and a secret police that would have Vladimir Putin drooling. And he gives good megalomaniac, too; TV stations get memos advising them on approved colour schemes for their news sets, and his official website is a joy to behold ("A.G. Lukashenko is notable for his in-depth understanding of events, hard work, sense of duty, realism, fairness and fidelity to principle"). Yep, when it comes to tinpot dictatorship, ‘Lucky' Lukashenko is old school.

    He's also resolutely anti-capitalist and anti-American, which explains why he likes to seek out the company of nutballs like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and it is therefore unsurprising that a small but vocal group on the fringes of the Left are quite fond of him. Witness Jonathan "Darfur ain't that bad" Steele in the Guardian newspaper before last year's rigged election, bigging up the moustachioed strongman:

      Would you expect a European leader who has presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years, culminating in a 24% rise over the past 12 months, to be voted out of office? What if he has also cut VAT, brought down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty in the past seven years, and avoided social tensions by maintaining the fairest distribution of incomes of any country in the region?

      Of course not, you would say. In Bill Clinton's famous phrase, "it's the economy, stupid". Unless there are overriding issues of political or personal insecurity - incipient civil war, ethnic cleansing, mass arrests, pervasive crime on the streets - most people will vote according to their pocketbooks. And so it is likely to be in Belarus in nine days' time.

      Why, then, are western governments, echoed by most western media, developing a crescendo of one-sided reporting and comment on one of Europe's smallest countries?
    And so on. Even Steele doesn't go so far as to suggest that Lukashenko is a socialist's wet dream, but the message is pretty clear; my enemy's enemy is my buddy, and what's a couple of jailed opposition leaders between friends?

    Well, Lukashenko's back in the news this week, but not, sad to report, for the reasons he might have chosen. No matter; among the lunatic left, his kudos is unlikely to have been harmed too much by the unguarded comments he made to journalists last week.

      Talking to a group of Russian journalists on October 12 about the past living conditions of the southeastern town of Babruysk, Lukashenka said, "It was scary to enter, it was a pigsty. That was mainly a Jewish town -- and you know how Jews treat the place where they are living."

      "Look at Israel, I've been [there]. I really don't want to offend anyone -- but they don't care much about, say, grass being cut, like in Moscow," Lukashenka said, in comments broadcast live on national radio.

      Lukashenka also called on Jews "with money" to return to Babruysk, once a thriving Jewish center. Last year, the town, as the host of a harvest festival, received a large injection of state cash. [...]

      Valeri Karbalevitch, a political commentator at RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, said Lukashenka has made anti-Semitic statements in the past, for instance comparing dishonest oligarchs with Jews, or likening his critics to people with "hooked noses." [...] But this time, Karbalevitch said he believes that Lukashenka's comments were "simply a slip of the tongue."
    No doubt those who rushed to condemn Martin Amis for his rather unreconstructed comments about Muslims will be equally quick to decry Lukashenko's "slip of the tongue". Or maybe they'll claim that he was mistranslated; he didn't say "pigsty", he said "manger", it's all a State Department conspiracy, actually a charming fellow, blah blah blah. You know the drill. Anyway, it's not anti-Semitic to point out that the Zionists don't maintain their gardens properly. (I mean, what?)

    The fallback position will no doubt be that Lucky is more Borat than Ahmadinejad; a casual anti-Semite, not a potentially dangerous player on the world stage. (Which of us, after all, has not accidentally referred to hook-nosed Jews living in ‘pigsties' from time to time?) Well, maybe. Oh, wait, here's something interesting; a speech he gave last Thursday.

      Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko on Thursday declared his government 'willing to consider' a return of nuclear weapons to the country, and hinted a US plan to deploy missiles to Central Europe might well serve as a catalyst. Asked about his attitude towards a Washington proposal to base anti-missile missiles in East Europe, Lukashenko responded: 'Belarus would react extremely negatively.'


  • Sport...

    Murray turns on power to tame the 'Beast of Belarus'

    From: The Independant
    Britain's Andy Murray continued his fine recent form here yesterday with a slick victory over Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the second round at the St Petersburg Open.

    The 16th-ranked Murray broke the player known as the "Beast of Belarus" twice in each set to win in just 52 minutes. "It's very difficult against him because he serves well and puts a lot of pressure by coming to the net," the British No 1 said. "But today I served well and returned well, and I got in front of him early and he wasn't able to rush me."

    Mirnyi said Murray "surpassed me in all aspects today. He has neutralised my attacking game with passing shots and there were no doubts about who deserved to be winner of the match," he said.

    Earlier, the defending champion, Mario Ancic, of Croatia, defeated Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, 6-4, 6-1. After trading breaks early on, Ancic made a decisive break in the ninth game of the first set. He then won four consecutive games in the second set.

    Ancic, who has missed most of the season after injuring his shoulder in February, is finding his form. Playing for the first time since August, he has reached the quarter-finals in Stockholm and Madrid in the last two weeks.

    Meanwhile, in Basle, Roger Federer found himself in danger of a rare second successive defeat before recovering to beat Germany's Michael Berrer 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the opening round of the Swiss Indoors.

    Following his surprise loss to David Nalbandian in Sunday's Madrid Masters final, the world No 1 had seemed back to his ferocious best as he ripped through the opening set.

    But Federer then lost the second set having gone 4-0 down and in the third was helped when Berrer double-faulted at break point to fall 4-2 behind.

    "It's almost laughable that I have to explain why I lost a set," said Federer. "I'm sure I'll play better in the second round."

    Brest zubrs champions of Belarus 2007

    From: CEB
    The Brest zubrs became champions of Belarus 2007. In the ending the team from Brest with 3 victories (12:8, 10:2, 7:5) has won against a team the Sugar storm from Skidel.

    The Brest Zubrs won the Cup of Belarus for the sixth time. Two victories over one (3:5, 11:6, 15:1) in a final series up to two victories have crushed the team of Minsk. The third place gained the team Logishin wolves (Logishin).

    The final table of tournament:
    1. The Brest zubrs (Brest)
    2. Sugar storm (Skidel)
    3. Minsk (Minsk)
    4. Logishin wolves (Logishin)
    5. Politehnik (Borisov)
    6. The Brest zubrs - 2 (Brest)

  • Endnote...

    Bigotry in Belarus

    From: JPost
    Belarus is a special case even against the background of some of the more troublesome members of the former Soviet Union. Its president Alexander Lukashenko, who had been dubbed "Europe's last dictator," is notorious for his anti-Western positions. He has sought to outlaw his political opposition and nationalize much of the media. Last week he delivered a long rambling rant in which he reminded anyone who may have forgotten that he also ranks among the world's most unabashed and brazen anti-Semites.

    It wasn't a slip of the tongue that could be conveniently overlooked. In a live broadcast of a press conference he gave, Lukashenko addressed himself to the issue of shoddy conditions in the provincial city of Bobruisk. He had no doubt about where the guilt lay - with the Jews. And he kept hammering home that message. For several extraordinary minutes, the president of a European state in the 21st century took unimaginable pains to blame the city's former Jewish residents (it's now nearly empty of Jews) for its squalor, dilapidation and poor state of sanitation and repair.

    Bobruisk, Lukashenko stressed to his listeners, "is a Jewish town and Jews don't look after places in which they live. It's a fact. Take Israel for example. I was there and saw it for myself." Bottom line, Lukashenko determined that "Jews had turned Bobruisk into a pig sty." Things began to look up, he contended, "only after the Jews departed." That said, he still urged those "Jews who have money" to return to Bobruisk.

    This wasn't a one-off either. Lukashenko has a long and dishonorable history of anti-Semitic diatribes. His most noted outburst dates back to 1995, when he went to great lengths to praise Adolf Hitler, asserting that "the history of Germany is a copy of the history of Belarus. Germany was raised from ruins thanks to firm authority and not everything connected with that well-known figure Hitler was bad. German order evolved over the centuries and attained its peak under Hitler."

    Belarus today is rife with anti-Semitic incidents, including cemetery desecrations, vandalism of Holocaust memorials and attacks against Jewish community sites. Lukashenko nevertheless dismisses these, insisting that "there's no anti-Semitism in Belarus." His country is officially home to sanctioned construction over Jewish cemeteries, overt activities of neo-Nazi parties, permission for anti-Jewish demonstrations and the publication of hate books.

    Lukashenko has also bestowed the title of "Honored Figure of Culture" on his personal aide, Eduard Skobelev, who advocated using guns "to solve the Jewish problem." Lukashenko is much praised on neo-Nazi Web sites.

    In response to Lukashenko's latest assault, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni summoned Belarus's ambassador, Igor Laschenya, to hear a condemnation, and Israel's ambassador to Minsk, Ze'ev Ben-Aryeh, currently on home leave, may delay his return as an expression of protest. He accused Lukashenko of dredging up anti-Semitic canards "which portray Jews as negligent, filthy and stinking. To hear Lukashenko, Bobruisk's affairs and budgets are in Jewish hands rather than in those of the authorities." Ben-Aryeh dryly expressed the hope that "one day Bobruisk particularly and Belarus's social services in general would begin to reach the level of those in Israel."

    But this problem goes beyond Bobruisk, its long-gone Jews and Lukashenko's unquestioned bigotry. It transcends this specific calumny because such defamation is typical of what still festers in too many European minds, including in dark places like Belarus, whose population was virulently anti-Semitic for centuries and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, helping to annihilate 90% of the country's Jewish population.

    The tirade and its context ought not just concern Israel and Jews everywhere. As Livni correctly stated, "It's the responsibility of world leaders to battle anti-Semitism, which still rears its ugly head in many locations worldwide... [and] certainly not promote it," as Lukashenko avidly does.

    She was also right to note that "anti-Semitism reflects first and foremost on the community in which it appears." More than angering Israelis, it ought to provoke fury in Belarus. Until ordinary Belarussians acknowledge and deplore their nation's bleak record and until they loudly, clearly and effectively dissociate themselves from the sort of hate-mongering in which their own president engages, the shame and ignominy will be theirs as well as his.