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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Normal Belarusian news plus this anti-Semitic remark made by the president

  • From the Top...
  • #249

    Belarus is ready to boost cooperation with Japan, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is ready to boost cooperation with Japan, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with Kyodo, a Japanese news agency, on October 18.

    “Soon we will intensify activities in the Japanese direction. I believe that Japan will do the same as it is beneficial to cooperate with us and use Belarus as a foothold in the center of Europe for economic expansion to the West and other states,” the President said.

    However, it is necessary to set up a good bilateral legal base first, Alexander Lukashenko believes. “Now we have no basic agreements regulating trade-economic cooperation, investment protection. Nonetheless, the Japanese are not afraid to work in Belarus and to open joint ventures here,” the head of state said.

    The President praised the trade turnover between the two countries. “Although our turnover is not big, it has been stably growing. The upward trend is preserved this year which means that our countries have goods to trade in. In fact we compete at the international market yet our economies have found opportunities for cooperation,” Alexander Lukashenko declared.

    In 2006, the trade turnover between Belarus and Japan totaled $147 million, an increase of 2.3 times as against same time 2005. In January-August 2007 the turnover exceeded $160 million. The Belarusian exports to Japan include dry milk, integrated circuits, glass fiber, optical and measuring tools, lasers and lenses. Japan exports to Belarus cars, communications devices, photocopiers, automatic loaders, road hardware and data processing machines.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus should boost agricultural exports

    From: BelTA
    Belarus should take the advantage of the global growing demand for food in order to increase the export of agricultural products, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko during his visit to agricultural company Pershai-2003 in the Volozhin region, Minsk oblast, on October 19.

    The head of state got familiar with the progress of storing up forage in the oblast, fulfilment of his instruction to grow grain maize, the technology for harvesting this crop using domestic and foreign-made machines, the social and economic development of the region.

    The press service of the President of Belarus told BelTA, agricultural company Pershai-2003 specialises in producing milk, meat, grain, potato and sugar beet. The company has been growing grain maize on a large scale for three years already.

    All in all, the area used to cultivate grain maize in Belarus has increased from 1,400 hectares in 1992 to 38,600 hectares in 2006. The largest plantations are located in the Gomel and Minsk oblasts. Corn yield has also increased from 23.9 centners per hectare in 1992 to 39.3 centners per hectare in 2006.

    This year Belarusian agricultural companies were supposed to store up 500,000 tonnes of grain maize. According to Vice Premier Ivan Bambiza, the target set by the President has been exceeded, with the harvest expected to reach at least 600,000 tonnes. In the future the figure can be increased up to one million tonnes and more. The share of corn silage in the total forage is significant.

    The head of state noted, thanks to growing its own grain maize Belarus managed to save almost $100 million in 2007, waiving major import volumes.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed, starting next year top-priority attention should be paid to the quality of grain maize. “Corn should be taken care of seriously. This year we made the first step. High quality figures should be the next one,” he said.

    The President gave an instruction to calculate the profitability and effectiveness of producing grain maize. “To avoid errors is task number one. Everything should be calculated now and actions should be taken starting next year,” said the President. He added, it is necessary to buy more high-yield corn seeds abroad. He tasked the government with calculating one more time the real demand for corn and the capacity of the Belarusian agriculture to produce this crop.

    According to the head of state, it is important to boost the effectiveness of agribusiness operation as fast as possible. “It is necessary to reach a 10% profitability of agricultural companies without state budget subsidies,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Besides, it is necessary to extend and raise the agricultural output in Belarus now.

    Nowadays the demand for food is on the rise across the globe and Belarus should take the advantage of the situation. In particular, the demand for dairy products is high in Arab states and China. “The demand for foodstuffs will grow every year. With the present prices we can earn a lot. In particular, prices for dairy products, which we produce in sufficient amounts, are huge,” stressed the President.

    “For the first time our peasants could make good money by selling agricultural products. And we should grab this opportunity,” underscored Alexander Lukashenko.

    EC representation in Minsk to improve EU-Belarus relations

    From: BelTA
    The local presidency of the European Union in Belarus welcomes the decree, which approved the draft agreement on establishing a representative office of the European Commission in Belarus as the basis for negotiations.

    “The local presidency is convinced that the opening of a full-fledged representative office of the European Commission in Minsk will soon create an important additional channel for improving relations between the European Union and the Republic of Belarus,” the Embassy of Slovakia, the local presidency of the EU in Belarus on behalf of Portugal, told BelTA.

    BelTA reported earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky has been authorised to conduct negotiations on the draft agreement.

    In line with the document Belarus agrees to the establishment of a Representative Office of the Commission of the European Communities in the country. Belarus also recognises the juridical personality of each European Community in Belarus, including the right to sign contracts, buy and manage property to the extent necessary for its operation. In this area interests of the European Communities are represented by the Commission of the European Communities.

    On a reciprocal basis the Representative Office, its head, employees and their families are granted privileges and immunities outlined by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961. In particular, the draft agreement grants inviolability of premises, correspondence and archives, immunity from criminal jurisdiction, taxation privileges.

    The agreement will be applied on a temporary basis from the day it is signed.

    Russia backs renewal of Yamal-Europe second line construction

    From: BelTA
    Russia considers it appropriate to renew the construction of the second line of Yamal-Europe gas main, Russian PM Viktor Zubkov stated after the session of the Union State Council of Ministers.

    Viktor Zubkov noted that the project “has no serious problems. We only need a gas balance for the second line and a balance for European consumers of the Russian gas. As soon as all the issues are scrutinized, we can hold negotiations in the area”. According to Viktor Zubkov, “we will surely come to a mutually acceptable solution of the issue”. The Russian Prime Minister also underlined that Gazprom which is to buy a half of Beltransgaz shares and already pays out their cost, finds it appropriate to resume the issue.

    The cost of the construction of the second line of the Yamal-Europe gas main will make up $2.5-3 billion, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky told at a press conference after the Union State Council of Ministers’ session in Minsk October 19.

    Sergei Sidorsky reminded that during the construction of the first line of the gas pipeline the Belarusian side granted privileges on customs duties for imported equipment, on land tax and other preferences to Gazprom. Transfer stations and the management and control system were constructed with the expectation of the second line.

    Gazprom will own 50% of Beltransgaz shares and, according to Sergei Sidorsky, while creating a joint venture, it would be wrong to neglect the task of its better efficiency in the future. Bearing in mind a rise in prices for energy resources, their delivery to consumers with minimal losses becomes the most important issue. In this respect the construction of Yamal-Europe second line is the most saving and expedient project. According to the Prime Minister, the sides agreed on Belarus to present its proposals and estimates to Russia for the second time.

    In a related story, Belarus will announce a tender for a nuclear power plant construction in 2008, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told reporters.

    He noted that the Belarusian Government had drafted a clear strategy of a nuclear power plant construction and all the necessary documents were submitted for consideration of the head of state. The nuclear power plant should be constructed by 2020. Now the research is underway regarding the prospective site of the nuclear plant.

    Sergei Sidorsky noted that Belarus had received several offers from Western and Russian companies who were ready to implement the project. The Belarusian party will examine the Russian offers in detail. A tender for the nuclear power plant construction is planned to be announced in 2008.

    In turn, Russia’s Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov stressed that Russia was interested in participating in the construction.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency will examine the sites that may be used to deploy Belarus’ nuclear power plant. President of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich told media, the agreement had been reached during his meeting with the IAEA Deputy Secretary General.

    At present seismic and other kinds of work are in progress at three possible locations of the future power plant. When such sites are chosen with a sufficiently high degree of probability, the IAEA will examine the reliability of the sites and will verify conclusions made by Belarusian scientists. “I believe it will be significant aid on the part of the organisation,” said Mikhail Myasnikovich.

  • From the western press...

    Russian PM revives idea of new gas line via Belarus to Europe; Azerbaijan supports Nabucco

    From: IHT
    Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said Friday that Moscow should seriously consider building a second strand of a pipeline that carries natural gas from Russia to European Union customers via Belarus, a project seen as an alternative to a planned pipeline to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

    In another front in the competition over westbound transport routes for the rich energy resources of the former Soviet Union, Azerbaijan's energy minister said his country supports a project for a pipeline that would transport gas from the Caspian Sea region to Europe, bypassing Russia.

    In his first trip outside Russia since he took office last month, Zubkov revived the idea of building a second strand of the Yamal-Europe pipeline, a major route for the supply of gas controlled by Russian monopoly OAO Gazprom to the EU.

    "It would probably make sense to return once again to the question of building a second strand," Zubkov told reporters. The government in Belarus, which battled with Moscow late last year over a gas price increase that hurt its economy, has offered Russia incentives for reviving plans for a second strand of the pipeline.

    Gazprom has faced increased cost estimates for projects such as Nord Stream, a pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would bypass Belarus and Poland and make a second strand of Yamal-Europe unnecessary. Analysts have long argued that a second strand of Yamal-Europe would cost far less than Nord Stream.

    Zubkov, however, did not indicate whether Russia was considering a second strand as a replacement for Nord Stream, a German-Russian project that is to carry Siberian gas directly to the German market — the largest consumer of Russian gas in Europe. Construction is planned to start in 2010.

    The existing Yamal-Europe pipeline has an annual capacity of 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Gazprom supplies a quarter of the gas Europe uses, and over 20 percent of Russia's gas supplies to Europe go through Belarus.

    After the dispute with Belarus, Russian officials stressed the need to diversify energy export routes. The scrap also deepened concerns in the EU — already spooked by a similar showdown between Russia and Ukraine that briefly decreased supplies to Europe a year earlier — about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier.

    In Azerbaijan, Energy Minister Natik Aliyev said the state oil company SOCAR is in talks on the prospective Nabucco pipeline — seen as key to Europe's efforts to lessen its dependence on Russian energy — and supports the EU-backed project to pump gas from the Caspian region to Austria and onwards.

    "The Azerbaijani authorities support this project and attach great importance to it," Aliyev said at a German-Azerbaijani energy forum. Azerbaijan hopes to have 30 billion to 50 billion cubic meters of gas to export annually by 2020, he said, "but we need the appropriate infrastructure, new pipelines."

    Aliyev stressed that Azerbaijan could help ease Germany's reliance on Russian gas. German Economy Minister Michael Glos said Germany hopes Nabucco would supply Germany with 5 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

    Trade booming with Belarus: Russian PM

    From: Russia Today
    Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov has revealed that trade with Belarus increased by more than 20 per cent in the first half of the year. Mr Zubkov is on his first official visit to Minsk.

    Mr Zubkov met President Aleksandr Lukashenko before greeting his Belarusian counterpart, Sergey Sidorsky, with the upbeat trade report.

    "The volume of trade between the two countries has increased by 22% in the first half of this year, making up more than $US 15 billion. I'd like to stress that Belarusian exports are increasing rapidly; the volume is $US 5.5 billion. Russian exports to Belarus have also risen by 19.6% - which is more than $US 10 billion," Russia's Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, added.

    Mr Zubkov also noted that Russia is ready to boost oil deliveries to Belarus.

    Nevertheless, the issue that really interests Belarus - the price it pays Russia for gas - was not even on the agenda.

    Russian energy company Gazprom insists there is nothing further to discuss. The hike to $125 per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas complies with an agreement signed in January. It spells out the process leading up to 2011, when Russia expects Belarus to pay international market prices for gas.

    Both countries have only had moderate success in integrating their economies since signing the Union of Russia-Belarus agreement back in 1996.

    Although the two prime ministers say their countries have resolved many thorny issues on their way to a common economic zone, people on the streets of Minsk seem split over the benefits of a tighter union with Russia.

    Israel says comments by Belarus president were anti-Semitic

    From: IHT
    The market in Bobruisk
    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has condemned recent comments by the leader of Belarus as anti-Semitic.

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko had in a live radio broadcast on October 12 commented on the living conditions in his country's rural town of Bobruisk, which was once a major Jewish center.

    " It was frightening to go in, it was a pigsty," Lukashenko said. "It used to be largely a Jewish city; you know how Jews treat the place where they live. Look at Israel; I was there."

    Livni strongly criticized Lukashenko's remarks in a statement released Thursday.

    "The role of leadership is to fight anti-Semitism wherever it raises its ugly head, all over the world, not to encourage it!" Livni said in a statement. "Anti-Semitism is primarily an indicator of the society in which it appears and of its leaders."

    Today in Africa & Middle East
    Iran's top nuclear negotiator quitsU.S. military says 49 militants killed in IraqSyria makes changes to stem the flow of Iraqi refugees
    The Belarusian ambassador to Israel has been summoned to Foreign Ministry and will be advised of the strong condemnation, the statement said.

    Belarusia's Foreign Ministry refused Friday to comment on Israel's criticism. The Israeli Embassy in Minsk said the ambassador had not been recalled.

    Lukashenko, described by Washington as Europe's last dictator, has ruled Belarus since 1994, quashing dissent, closing down independent media and cracking down on private business. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on him and on senior members of his government.

    About 25,000 Jews now live in Belarus, a mostly Slavic nation of 10 million that was home to a substantial Jewish minority before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Some 800,000 Jews were killed in Belarus by the Nazis, and many have fled the country since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

    Belarus Jews commemorate ghetto raid

    From: JTA
    Jews in Belarus held a three-day memorial for victims of an SS raid on the Brest ghetto.

    German SS troops razed a ghetto in this town on the border with Poland in the fall of 1942, killing 26,000 of its 34,000 residents, among 50 thousand Jews killed during Germany's four- year of occupation of this westernmost republic of the then Soviet Union.

    Israel's Ambassador in Belarus, Zeev Ben-Arie, representatives of Polish Consulate General, the Byelorussian Union of Jewish Communities and other public organizations took part in the commemorations this week.

    The Brest ghetto was the largest in Byelorussia. Byelorussian Jews who managed to escape from ghettos created guerilla units and fought against the German occupation. After the war ended, the chief commander of Jewish units, Tuvia Belski, emigrated to the United States. He died in 1986 and was buried in Jerusalem.

    Also this week, 15 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery were vandalized in the Byelorussian town of Bobruysk. Anti-Semitic graffiti was painted on the gates of the cemetery along with a swastika.

    Russia-Belarus Union State budget to grow by 10% in 2008

    From: Itar Tass
    The budget of the Union State of Russia and Belarus will grow by ten percent next year, Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said on Friday.

    “Our budget will grow by no less than ten percent next year, and that growth will provide for worthy funding of our common projects,” he said.

    “Twelve joint programs have been planned for next year,” Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said.

    Zubkov lauded the mounting bilateral trade and said, “The economic cooperation is a key area of the Union State.”

    “The growing trade has a positive effect on the quality of the bilateral relations and promotes other spheres of integration,” he said.

    The Union State Council of Ministers is rather useful, Zubkov said. “Regular meetings help us resolve pressing problems and monitor the fulfillment of our decisions,” he said.

    Gennady Nevyglas to partake in opening ceremony of symbolic monument “Peace Stone from Hiroshima”

    From: BelTA
    Gennady Nevyglas, the head of the Administration of Belarus’ President, will take part in a solemn opening ceremony of a symbolic monument “Peace Stone from Hiroshima”, BelTA learnt from the presidential administration.

    On the Japanese part attending the ceremony will be chairman of the association “Peace Stone from Hiroshima” Michio Umemoto, secretary general of the organisation Kazuyuki Yoshihisa, Charge d'affaires Ad Interim of Japan to Belarus Takayuki Koike.

    The association “Peace Stone from Hiroshima” was founded in 1985 by a group of Hiroshima citizens as an independent public organisation. Its main goal is to promote peace all over the world by presenting stones from one of the pavements of the city, which was under the US nuclear bombardment in 1945, to heads of foreign states. Since its founding the association has sent such stones to the presidents of 100 countries.

    In line with the radiation safety certificate, presented by the Japanese side, the stone’s artificial radioactivity level is lower than the natural radioactivity background and is absolutely safe for people.

    Belarus has been contributing to promoting peace worldwide, Michio Umemoto, the head of the Association “Hiroshima Peace Stone”, noted during the solemn ceremony of unveiling the monument “Hiroshima Peace Stone” in the Minsk Park of Friendship between Peoples.

    Mr. Michio Umemoto noted that the Chernobyl accident hit Belarus the most. The terrible atomic bombings of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 left the town destroyed and hundreds of people injured. It is the reason why the Japanese people understand well what the Chernobyl disaster was and actively help the Belarusians.

    The head of the Association thanked the Belarusian authorities for pursuing a peaceful policy and for agreeing to accept this symbolic sign of peace as a gift from the Japanese people. He is confident that peace should be promoted worldwide and that all nations should be friends.

    The Association “Hiroshima Peace Stone” was founded by a group of the Hiroshima residents as an independent public organization. The main goal of the Association is to promote peace all over the world. The Association presents the stones from one of the Hiroshima streetways to leaders of foreign states as symbols of peace. Since the founding of the Association, the stones have been presented to the leaders of 100 countries.

  • Around the region...

    U.S. offers Russia significant new concessions to gain support for missile shield

    From: IHT
    The United States has offered significant new concessions to Russia in its drive to gain Russian support for the antiballistic missile shield the Pentagon intends to deploy in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and NATO officials.

    The offer, made last week in Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary William Gates, was formally presented Wednesday to NATO ambassadors and top Russian security officials.

    NATO diplomats said it was an important shift by the Bush administration as it seeks the endorsement of the 26-member alliance. The United States says the shield is a response to potential threats from rogue nations, principally Iran, while Russian officials have called the system a Trojan horse designed to counter Moscow's strategic rocket forces

    "I consider the U.S. proposal on missile defense as very important," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, said in an interview. "The Americans have made a substantial and fundamental offer. I sincerely hope the Russians will pick it up."

    The plan, presented to NATO by Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Lieutenant General Henry Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, contained several elements that diplomats said were part of a bigger package that would include the future status of Kosovo and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, an accord Russia has threatened to leave next month.

    U.S. officials said the offer to Russia contained three main elements:

    First, the antimissile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic would be deployed on the basis of threat. The United States and Russia would jointly decide the nature of the threat.

    "Our missile defense program is threat-based," said Fried. "If that threat went away, or more realistically was greatly attenuated then obviously we would be much freer to make programmatic adjustments. Our program with the Poles and Czechs is threat-based.

    "Russia is interested in this idea," said Fried. "It has concerns about Iran, too. This could be a beginning in defining together the threats."

    The second element would involve Russian plans to build its own shield in Gabala, Azerbaijan, which Putin announced in July at a G-8 summit meeting in Germany in response to the U.S plan. Obering said "this could be linked up to the U.S. plan through sharing data."

    "By being able to share data across those networks, even at the very preliminary level, to be able to cut radars and that type of thing, you get increased capability," Obering said. "Then, if you actually tie it to where you could get a radar data all the way through from one U.S radar, for example, or a European radar into the Russian system and vice versa, that's when you start getting this expansion of capability."

    Third, Russia would also be able to monitor what the U.S. was doing in Poland and the Czech Republic, provided both countries agreed. The plan is that Russia could send liaison officers to these countries. "We said we would be in a position to offer things with respect to our own facilities and command and control elements," Fried said.

    The linkage of the shield debate to other issues represents a big change by the Bush administration which, until now, has had a splintered policy toward Russia over Iran, Kosovo and arms negotiations.

    It involves the future status of the Serbian province of Kosovo as well as Russia's threat to suspend the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which has been a cornerstone of European security since the end of the Cold War.

    The special "troika" on Kosovo, which consists of the United States, the European Union and Russia, will deliver its final report on Dec. 10 on the outcome of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo over the province's status. Diplomats from the troika were at NATO headquarters this week to brief ambassadors on options in order to break the deadlock on possible independence for Kosovo.

    The Europeans are very reluctant to recognize Kosovo's independence without UN backing. But most EU member states, frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, may recognize independence if there is no breakthrough.

    Russia insists that independence without consensus from the UN security council would be a dangerous precedent for other regions seeking independence.

    A senior U.S. official said Friday "we are encouraged by the creativity" of the talks. "This is not a stalled process."

    Right-wing Polish party accused of anti-Semitism for campaign ad

    From: IHT
    right-wing party ran a campaign ad Monday suggesting Polish lives have been put in danger in Iraq to serve Jewish and U.S. interests, and it immediately drew accusations of anti-Semitism.

    The League of Polish Families' TV spot features footage of President Lech Kaczynski, first at a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, and then with Orthodox Jews at Israel's Western Wall, where he dons a yarmulke. The words "Our allies," are flashed across the scene. "They put us in the line of attack."

    A grim voiceover then warns: "It is our nation that is going to fall victim. Let the nation decide."

    The advertisement — issued as part of campaigning for Sunday's general election — sparked a firestorm of criticism. Jacek Kurski, a lawmaker with the governing Law and Justice party, slammed it as "a pathetic masquerade" that was "seasoned with some anti-Semitism."

    League of Polish Families leader Roman Giertych defended the spot, saying it was not anti-Semitic but insisting there is a connection between the war in Iraq and Israel.

    "One can be against the war in Iraq without being an anti-Semite," Giertych said at a news conference.

    "This ad shows the cooperation between Poland and the U.S., and Poland and Israel — we have a right to criticize it. The war in Iraq threatens our country and this is why the Polish troops should be pulled out from Iraq as soon as possible."

    But Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, noted that the sequence of images was laid out in such a way as to provoke a negative feeling about Kaczynski being at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest place.

    "You see the tanks, you feel bad, you see people being blown up, you feel bad, you see President Kaczynski at the Wall, you feel bad," he told the AP.

    "Now the question is why should someone feel bad about President Kaczynski being at the Western Wall? What is negative about the president of the country visiting a holy site?"

    Poland's "Stop War" movement, which opposes Polish involvement in Iraq, immediately distanced itself from the ad, saying it has "strong anti-Semitic connotations."

    Poland contributed combat troops to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and still has 900 soldiers stationed there.

    The League of Polish Families, which served as a coalition partner in the conservative government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski before being dismissed this summer, is fighting for its political survival.

    Most opinion polls show it with between 2 and 4 percent support — below the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

    It is not the first time the party has faced accusations of anti-Semitism.

    Giertych's father and fellow party member Maciej Giertych, a European Union lawmaker, was reprimanded early this year by the European Parliament for publishing a brochure that described the Jewish people as a "tragic community" that tends to settle "among the rich" while still choosing to live "in apartheid from the surrounding communities."

    The party is also closely linked to a youth movement, the All-Polish Youth — founded by Giertych in 1989 — which has attacked gay rights activists and used Nazi slogans and gestures.

    Maciej Giertych in November dismissed his assistant after a newspaper published a photo of her giving a straight-armed Nazi salute at an All-Polish Youth rally with a burning swastika in the background.

    Giertych in December said his party had severed all ties with the radical youth wing after the swastika burning scandal.

    Corruption tapes scandal

    From: Poland PL
    Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk has informed that Platform member Wojciech Picheta, named in a corruption scandal, has been evicted from the party.

    This follows yesterday’s publication by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, of tapes among others showing former Civic Platform deputy Beata Sawicka accepting a bribe from a Bureau officer, after telling him that she could help him buy very attractive seaside property for development. In another recording she spoke to Civic Platform deputy Wojciech Picheta. Wojciech Picheta did not deny that he had often talked to Beata Sawicka, but claims that he did not treat conversations with her seriously. Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk argued that the deputy had failed to react properly. He also said Beata Sawicka’s alleged connections within the party had been “myth-building”. Speaking for the press today, a tearful Beata Sawicka apologised to her party colleagues, said that she had been emotionally involved with the officer and made an emotional appeal to chief of the Bureau Mariusz Kaminski, saying that she was “fighting for her life”.

    Meanwhile minister coordinator for the special services Zbigniew Wasserman commented it was the first time in Polish history that a parliamentarian had been caught red-handed in this way.

    Ukraine gas explosion toll rises

    From: BBC
    Authorities in Ukraine have said 23 people were killed by a gas explosion in a block of flats in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk last Saturday.
    Deputy PM Andriy Klyuyev said the initial toll had risen after rescue workers found a further six bodies in the remains of the 10-storey building.

    Seven children died in the blast, while another 16 people were hospitalised.

    Prosecutors believe the explosion happened because valves regulating pressure in the gas pipes had worn out.

    Three employees of the local Dniprohaz gas company have been detained by the authorities pending potential negligence charges.

    However, Gazex, a Russian company which controls Dniprohaz, has protested its employees' innocence.

    "The guilty party should be determined once the results of the expert assessment have been released," a representative told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency.

    Correspondents say domestic gas explosions occur regularly in Ukraine, often caused by improper use or poorly maintained infrastructure.

    Thousands of protesters rally in call for Latvia's prime minister to resign

    From: IHT
    Thousands of protesters called on Latvia's prime minister to resign Thursday in a mounting political crisis over the government's efforts to fire the Baltic country's top anti-corruption investigator.

    Police said some 5,000 people, including leading academics, business leaders and members of the opposition gathered outside Parliament for one of the biggest political protests in Latvia since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has come under heavy criticism for his decision in September to suspend the country's top anti-corruption investigator, Aleksejs Loskutovs.

    Kalvitis has asked lawmakers to vote to permanently oust Loskutovs from the job, and said Thursday he would resign if the vote fails.

    Kalvitis' move came after an audit said the anti-corruption bureau, which is tasked with fighting corruption and fraud, had improper accounting. However, auditors said the irregularities were minor, and critics have accused Kalvitis of exaggerating the issue to disrupt the bureau's work.

    Opponents believe Kalvitis' move had political motives, because Loskutovs had been investigating alleged irregularities involving campaign contributions to Kalvitis' People's Party before last year's election.

    In Thursday's demonstration, protesters carried signs that read "Kalvitis Go Home!" and shouted calls for him to resign. As lawmakers from the four-party coalition government arrived, they were met with shouts of "traitor" and "down with Kalvitis."

    Kalvitis, who leads a four-party center-right government, has been in power since December 2004. He is the longest-serving prime minister since Latvia broke free from Soviet domination.
  • Note: According to Javno, two ministers, including the foreign minister, quit or were forced out of Latvia's government on Friday after disagreeing with Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis' sacking of the head of the country's anti-corruption bureau.
    Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, who on Thursday asked Kalvitis to reconsider the sacking of anti-corruption boss Aleksejs Loskutovs, told Reuters he had resigned on Friday. The Web site of leading daily Diena said Regional Affairs Minister Aigars Stokenbergs had been dismissed from the ruling People's Party, also losing his ministerial post. Stokenbergs had also dissented from the decision to sack Loskutovs.

  • From the blogs...

    No PCness for the President of Belarus

    From: Aliya!Step by step
    Is anyone else noticing what not only appears to be rising anti-semitism in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, but also rising acceptance of leaders and major community figures making blatantly anti-semitic statements? In Poland there is Radio Maryja and its sister television station Trwam run by the polish priest Father Rydzyk that have been spewing anti-semitic tirades and accusations. The right-wing The League of Polish Families’ party has just run an anti-semitic television ad in their bid for upcoming elections in Poland. There’s a nationalist party in the Ukraine that has published a call to boycott all kosher products claiming that the Jews are trying to destroy their national economy and to control their country. An anti-Semitic caricature of a long-nosed Jewish man counting money while sitting on a pile of skulls with a Star of David in the background can also be found on their party website. There’s a good list of others.

    Now the President of Belarus has come out with these gems on his country’s national radio broadcast regarding the poverty situation in the town of Bobruisk: “This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pigsty. Look at Israel – I was there.”
    He went on to say that the status of the city improved only after the Jews left, while simultaneously urging “Jews who have money” to return to Bobruisk.

    Anti-semitism is there, it has always been there and it is not likely to go anywhere either. It seems to me, however, that a shift has occurred in recent years. Not a shift in beliefs but rather in a sense that it is ok to express those antisemitic beliefs publicly. A dropping of the PC-ness, in other words. And that makes me very nervous.

    Presidential Anti-Semitism

    From: Jewish press blog
    The president of Belarus blamed Jews for turning a town into a "pigsty". "This was founded as a Jewish city and you know how Jews treat the place they live in," Al Lukashenko said, referring to the Belarusian city of Bobruisk. "Look at Israel, I have been there. They don't take much care of it," he said. Lukashenko is like a figure out of a Borat-sequel movie. In the photo you can see him teaching the Jews the hygienic civilized way of picking one's nose.

    You realize what this means? The president of Belarus is almost as anti-Semitic as the ex-President of the United States, Jimmy Carter!

    Belarus President Wishes He Was Hitler

    From: Adam's life
      "This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pigsty. Look at Israel – I was there." -Mustached Belarusian Leader Alexander Lukashenko.
      Paradoxically, Lukashenko added, "I call on Jews who have money to come back to Bobruisk."
    Lukashenko's anti-semitic remarks came less than ten days after vandals destroyed 15 graves at a Jewish cemetery in Bobruisk.

    Bobriusk was once a thriving city with a sizable Jewish population. Of course, that was before Hitler's armies came to town.

    According to the always reliable Wikipedia:

      Believing that German troops would not target civlians, many Jews stayed behind. Consequently, 20,000 Babruysk Jews were shot and buried in mass graves. Ghetto and labor camps were established in the southwest part of town. The conditions inside the camps were horrible and involved lack of food, lack of sanitation and perpetual abuse by the Nazi guards. Soon the Nazis began executing the Jews in the ghetto in groups of about 30. By 1943 all labor camps have been liquidated and the remaining Jews killed. The few Jews who escaped joined partisan forces in the surrounding forest and went about attacking enemy railroad lines. There is a small memorial dedicated to the memory of Babrujsk Jews killed in the Holocaust, located in the Nachlat Yitzhak cemetery, Giv'atayim, Israel, as part of the Babi Yar memorial.
    As one blogger points out, in 1999 there were just 1,360 Jews in Bobruisk out of 227,000 people, which equates to just 0.5% of the population. This .5 is somehow responsible for the downfall of the town?

    Seems to me that Nazis and Pogroms were more to blame. If anything, the LACK of Jews is the reason for Bobriusk's downfall. They once made up 60% of the population, and the city thrived. After they were killed off and driven out, the town never fully recovered.

    But apparently Lukashenko believes otherwise. Since he's been in charge, anti-Semitic brochures and books have proliferated, desecration of Jewish cemeteries is on the rise and the republic's only Jewish university has closed. He was once quoted as saying...

      "The history of Germany is a copy of the history of Belarus. Germany was raised from the ruins thanks to firm authority, and not everything connected with that well known figure, Adolf Hitler, was bad. German order evolved over the centuries and under Hitler it attained its peak."

    Turn-Turn-Turn, European Anti-Semitism keeps Returning

    From: John R. Houk
    President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is a name that should be synonymous with purveyors of hate. The Belarusian leader says this about Jews:

      "This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pigsty. Look at Israel – I was there,” (Ynetnews)
    Imagine the press coverage President Bush would receive if he said the crimes, the drugs, the squalor of Black ghettos are the fault of Black people. It would be a Mainstream Media (MSM) dream come true to spin some venom that might lead to the resignation of a sitting President for making racial slurs.

    Why have not official statements from leaders from within the European Union or individual European nations castigated Lukashenko for such obvious anti-Semitic remarks? Israel is routinely condemned for defending themselves from Islamofascist terrorists by Europeans making Israel the patsy of evil and Mohammedan-Arabs the heroes of courageous valor.

    Could it be that anti-Semitism is come full course in Europe again and it is now politically correct to blame Jews once again for financial, social and infrastructural failures within Europe? Does anyone know history enough to understand the notorious historical event known as “Kristallnacht?”

    The European cycle of anti-Semitism is rearing its demonized head once again.

    When in Doubt, Blame Jews.

    From: T’ings ‘n Times
    The Jewish Community Center in Bobruisk
    What is it with anti-Semites blaming Jews for everything bad? I mean, I don’t have very high expectations of the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, but his most recent pronouncement defies logic. In a nationally broadcast radio press conference, Lukashenko Lukashenko caused a stir after he accused Jews of turning the Belarussian city of Bobruisk into a pigsty.

      [Bobruisk] is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pigsty. Look at Israel—I was there.”
    Lukashenko’s ignorant remarks drew rightful criticism from the state of Israel, which recalled its ambassador to Belarus and harshly rebuked Belarus’s ambassador to Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had this to say in response to Lukashenko’s statement:

      The role of leaders is to fight anti-Semitism, which is raising its ugly head in various parts of the world, not encourage it. The anti-Semitism reflects first and foremost on the society in which it appears and on its leaders.”
    I guess as Lukashenko sees it, it’s easier to blame Jews for the state of one of his cities than it is to hold city authorities accountable for keeping the city clean.

    He is A Nut and an Antisemite

    From: Mican Report
    I've Been Thinking:

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held a press conference last week during which he explained the problems facing the city of Bobruisk.
    The problems, he said, were a direct result of having had Jews in the city.

    He said: "This is a Jewish town, and Jews do not look after the cities in which they live. Take Israel for example, I was there and I saw it myself."
    He said: "The status of the city improved only after the Jews left."
    And then he urged the "Jews who have money" to return to Bobruisk.

    Lukashenko is one of the biggest thugs on the planet.
    Lukashenko has been called the last dictator.
    Lukashienko gave refuge and even passports to many high level Iraqis who escaped to Belarus during the early stages of the War with Iraq.

    It is high time that the world came down hard on Alexander Lukashenko.

  • Sport...


    From: PIB
    Belarus bagged the Gold in Handball today by beating Latvia in the 4th Military World Games at the Saroornagar Indoor Stadium, Hyderabad. Latvia began the match with the first goal followed by Belarus in the first two minutes. Towards the end of the first half, Belarus overtook and was leading by 17-14. The goalkeeper captain of Belarus saved many goals for his country. In the second half, Belarus got into the top gear to score on regular basis. Siamionau Yauheni of Belarus and Edgars of Latvia were shown the red card in the dying moments of the game. The excellent team effort and outstanding performance of the goalkeeper especially made Belarus win the Finals with a score of 33-29 against Latvia Lithuania won the bronze medal.

    During the last World Military Handball championship held at Riga- Latvia, Latvia had won the gold, Lithuania the silver and Republic of Korea the Bronze.

    Earlier in the day, India was pushed to the bottom of the tally. UAE defeated India by 34-32 to push latter to 8 th position in the event. In the first half, India was leading 16-15. Indian captain INC Singh scored 9 goals. UAE fought back in the second half with Ibrahim Sanqour Qambar Mubarak scoring 10 goals leading his team to victory by 34-32.

    Lithuania beat Korea Republic 37-27 to take Bronze while Greece defeated Qatar 35-32 to take 5 th position.

    Few fans turn up in Ramat Gan as Israel beats Belarus 2-1

    From: JPost
    Just over 4,000 fans bothered to attend the international friendly at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday night, to watch Israel defeat Belarus 2-1.

    The embarrassing attendance, in a match to which entrance was free, is further proof of how much the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign has distanced the blue-and-white supporters from their national team. The television ratings of Israel's matches in this campaign have been the lowest in many years and the fans showed their discontent with the way Dror Kashtan's team has been playing once more on Wednesday, by not bothering to show up. On Friday, more than 12,000 fans attended the Under-21 team's match against Germany at Ramat Gan.

    Israel lost all hope of qualifying for the European Championships on Saturday, losing 1-0 to Croatia in Zagreb. The team is currently fourth in Group E with 17 points from 10 matches. The national team completes its qualifying campaign next month when it hosts Russia and Macedonia on November 17 and 21, respectively.

    Israel was mediocre at best on Wednesday against a Belarus team which has lost seven of its 10 Euro 2008 qualifiers to date. Betar Jerusalem midfielders Aviram Bruchian and Gal Alberman scored for the national team in the 37th and 72nd minutes, respectively, with Maksim Romashchenko leveling the score briefly with a goal in the 68th minute.

    Kashtan made two changes from the team that started against Croatia. Omer Golan and Ben Sahar replaced captain Yossi Benayoun, who returned to Liverpool, and Pini Balili, who was relegated to the substitutes bench.

    Israel, which lost 2-1 in a friendly in Belarus less than two months ago, pushed for a goal right from the kickoff and almost took the lead in the second minute after Golan released a good shot that was well saved by keeper Yuri Zhevnov. The Maccabi Petah Tikva striker came close once more eight minutes later, spinning in the box and curling a shot just right of the Belarus goal.

    The visitors, who lost 1-0 to Luxemburg on Saturday, reached their best chance of the first half in the 13th minute when Sergei Omelyanchuk blasted the ball wide of Nir Davidovitch's left post.

    Israel finally got the breakthrough in the 37th minute, thanks to some clinical finishing by Bruchian. The Betar Jerusalem player, who made his debut for the blue-and-white against Croatia, picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and elegantly slotted the ball beyond the Belarus keeper.

    The visitors seized control of the match in the second half and got a well deserved equalizer in the 68th minute. Romashchenko was at the end of a good team move and beat Liran Shtrauber with ease.

    The hosts would, however, soon regain their lead when Alberman pounced on a rebound from an Elyaniv Barda shot in the 72nd minute to score his first goal and the winner for the national team.

  • Endnote...

    The Remark

    From: The Story
    The first thing I would like to say is that despite being named as such, I am not a Lukashenka apologist. My position is and has always been that Belarus has the right to self governance, that their methods of democracy are extremely normal and natural to them (Russian politics follow exactly the same model) and that constant antagonism from the west is generally unwanted as is seen as disturbing the peace. This last not only by the regime, but also by the general population- Well, certainly by the bureaucracy. This attitude is not just a holdover from the times of the USSR; the European press has been extremely negative towards all things Belarus and there has also been constant pressure in the form of restrictions and trade sanctions placed on the country by the west. Because of this, though the current attitude is that Europe is welcome to invest money, Belarus has taken an antagonistic stance against European and American political intervention. Or in other words, Belarus may wish to wear European clothes but they are not Europe.

    This having been said, the first question that needs to be asked is: How inherently anti-Semitic was Lukashenka's remark about Bobrusk and Jews?

    The first answer is that it was incredibly anti-Semitic. It singled out Jews, described them as dirty, irresponsible people and implied that Belarus has been better off or at least more capable without them. From the Jewish perspective these are not only repetitions of ancient themes and negative stereotypes which have followed them from times of the blood libel, but to hear it from a modern, 21st century international figure is both shocking and remarkably inappropriate. And more so, hearing this at a time when Russia has been supplying uranium to Iran, the remark comes close to sounding like a declaration of war. Most probably Israel's recalling of its ambassador would have been therefore a reasonable and appropriate answer.

    But before we become hysterical, we should ask some more questions. Firstly, did Lukashenka know what he was doing by singling out the Jews, or was it simply an irresponsible slip of the tongue?

    First let's assume that the remark was intentional but that it was not intended as an insult to Jews. Taking the statement literally, we see that it is actually a call for wealthy Jews to come back and enter into an economic competition for Belarusian ownership. Currently Belarus has strong economic ties to two inherently anti-Semitic "friends": Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Mohamed Ahmadinejad in Iran. Chavez according to a speech last year wholly buys into the "Jewish circle of power" conspiracy theory and of course Ahmadinejad based his elections platform on the promise of wiping Israel off the map.

    (As an aside, one local rabbi once told me that he likes reading about Jewish conspiracy theories on the net:

    ''I go on the internet because I am bored and tired and I hate that I have no money and can't do very much. When I go to these sights I can read how I am really rich and powerful and have control over the whole world. This makes me feel much better.")

    Looking at it this way, the president's remarks could have meant that if the Jewish community is not careful, the country could go completely against Israel politically. In this situation, the president would only be inviting increased investment on the Jewish side for the purposes of equalizing the playing field and stopping these two "evil" countries from completely taking over their native homeland. If this is so, we are not speaking of anti-Semitism, but rather the creation of a situation where Lukashenka is simply playing one side against the other; Belarus coming out the benefactor in either case. This I guess would also be a standard sales methodology for the arms trade; in the gun business, friction always equals profits.

    A second avenue is to consider is whether the president was simply using plain talk?

    Though the actual percentage of genuine ethnic Belarusians is only about 25% (the death toll in the war, Stalin's re-seeding' the territory after and outward immigration primarily responsible), there is still such a thing as a Belarusian mind set. People here do have a habit of referring to others by a physical trait such as the color of their hair, or of course by their ethnicity. In the much more multi-ethnic west, this is called profiling but here it is thought of as "plain talking". When using this way of identifying each other though, there is also an additional sub question which asks if the group in question is real or strong. This particular cultural facet is shown brilliantly in the late Serei Bodrov's mafia masterpiece "Brat II". In a conversation with a Russian prostitute in Chicago, Bodrov asks why it is so wrong in America to use the word "Nigger"

      "You can't call him a nigger."

      "And who is he then?"

      "He's an American."

      "And what's the difference?"

      "Nigger, for people outside of their own kind is a bad word to use"

      "But we learned this in school a long time ago: From China comes Chinese. From Germany, Germans. From Israel, Jews. So here is a nigger."

      "To me it seems as though their strength lies in their circle. They live like animals, but they have something we long ago lost and therefore they are strong. And they can feel that this (word) makes you afraid."
    To be sure, you hear talk like this all the time here and not only about Jews but also about Ukrainians, Americans, Russians and Polaks. I have been constantly "named" here from the beginning and that name is always at the basis of how people speak to me i.e, I am the American so therefore we should talk about your cousin who lives in Arkansas, or I am a Jew so therefore I need to be asked questions about Jewish history or practice. Using this as an axiomatic cultural truth, Lukashenka's "Jewish" remark might not have specifically been anti-Semitic but rather it could simply have been a statement about the way things are: If we are speaking of Bobrusk, we are speaking of a "Jewish Town". The town was dirty before, therefore the Jews were to blame. The town is now clean which means Belarus is a good place to invest in and as long as we are talking about Bobrusk, why not ask the Jews to invest here? See how easy it is?

    But what if it was wasn't anti-Semitism, plain talk or business?

    In the opinion of one high ranking member of the local Jewish community, who insisted on only be referred to as a businessman, despite referencing Jews specifically, the president in this case was simply crowing about how beautiful the new Bobrusk was. And in fact, he thought the president was absolutely right in general with all of his comments: Belarus these days is much cleaner than Israel and Bobrusk, before getting a facelift courtesy of the state, had been a slum. The main point to him was absolutely that the president had the right to crow over the rebuilding accomplishment and that by inviting Jews who had previously run away to return to Belarus, the president was demonstrating his openness towards the Jewish nation and religion. Bobrusk by the way still has one of the larger Jewish populations in the state; there are two synagogues and at least several hundred Jews still in residence.

    He also pointed out that the country has elected several Jewish mayors which means that, right along with the natural tendency toward profiling, there would also seem to be a belief that hiring a Jew to do the job might not be such a bad idea. This is actually the case in Pinsk as Konevski, the number 2 man in the government happens to be Jewish. Konevski is proud of his heritage and once made a rather famous speech saying that though the Jewish community has only 1.5% of the population, in terms of accomplishment, it seems much, much bigger. When we first actually met in fact, his remark to me, in typical Jewish fashion, was that he was surprised that Pinsk had not heard more from me. I guess he doesn't read the English language internet.

    As for myself on this subject, well, I don't really like speaking in such general terms but frankly, the students at the new Pinsk Yeshiva have been notorious for leaving the synagogue littered with clothes, empty bottles, packages, overfull ashtrays and cigarette buts. Though supposedly a holy place, they obviously had a general disinterest except for Shabbos and holidays in the condition and cleanliness of the room. This was especially true of a room above the synagogue which in theory had been set aside for special guests. Once the students found out there was a computer with an internet connection there, that area became a veritable pigsty.

    Of course acting like pigs is not restricted locally only to the Jews; Pinsk as a whole seems to completely misunderstand that garbage needs to find its way to a proper receptacle. Almost anywhere you look you see discarded wrappers or broken glass, even where children would play or along the beaches. Even keeping people from urinating or throwing their garbage into our garden requires constant vigilance.

    So what is the answer?

    It is just as possible that the remark was much more crowing about the state's rebuilding efforts than it was about hatred or even exploitation of Jews. Bobrusk, like all of Belarus has been undergoing a facelift over the last few years and the president's presence there was in fact to commemorate this accomplishment. It is also possible that the president simply dropped into the vernacular and said something that would be taken by locals as a completely normal or even a clever business idea. However, despite "understanding" potentially where the remark was coming from I really wish he had not said what he did. The remark was crass. Of this there is no doubt. Almost all the civic centers in Belarus from the time of the Pale of Settlement until the holocaust were Jewish centers but now are not specifically because of the times before, during and after the Pale of Settlement and the holocaust. Unfortunately, no matter how much you want to believe that there is no difference between calling a Ukrainian a Banderovtsi a or a Polak a Pisheky, I think there really is a difference when speaking of Jews and the former Soviet Union. I would also seriously prefer not to believe that we are revisiting Berlin in 1932.

    I am also not sure, if it was just "business", that I personally would be willing to respond to such a challenge with my wallet. To me it sounds like a con. Maybe a Russian or a Polak could be bated into such a deal, but I personally wouldn't. To me, though I understand that Belarus is now open to "all kinds" of potential investors, I would much rather bet on a transparent and honest business plan, one that had a potential for mutual gain and had some real assurances against theft, abuse and corruption. Personally I would much rather invest in a trustworthy situation than in a circus. And quite frankly, remarks like this make me very, very, very nervous.

    So I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens next. Israel is very, very angry but it is not clear whether or not Belarus wishes to do something about that. For the sake of my own, rational fears about any sorts of steps taken towards World War III, I certainly hope they do. But regardless of actual intention or whether or not we get an apology, like it or not, the man who said what he did is the president of the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus and he gets to run things as he likes. This, for sure we all know is the case.