Lukashenko shakes up gov, Cement industry, Gas problems, Weapons for Chavez, Russia, Turkmenistan, Polish bus crash, Litvenenko, Iran, blogs and sport
Alexander Lukashenko set to step up control over power-wielding agencies
|In the near future the leadership of Belarus will focus on the relationships between enterprises and middlemen; the watchdog agencies have already been given the appropriate directions, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on July 23 while making personnel decisions.|
According to the press service of the President, Alexander Lukashenko issued a strictest warning to state officials against financial frauds and corruption ties with businesses.
Speaking about the post of presidential aide, Alexander Lukashenko noted, people occupying the post have to meet the strictest requirements and the requirements will grow on. Presidential aides or chief oblast inspectors are in charge of making personnel decisions and other issues relating to the development of the oblast a presidential aide is in charge of. Alexander Lukashenko noted, a presidential aide is a position to make another step along the career ladder. A grain harvesting campaign is in progress in regions of the country. It is a most important campaign, which should be accomplished properly, said the head of state.
Authorising the appointment of heads of local executive authorities, the President inquired about the state of affairs in Minsk and Mogilev oblasts and the harvesting progress.
The head of state asked those, who were present, to be genuine representatives of the President. “You’re the face of the government and that sums it up,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. The President also added, the attitude to people should be their top priority.
Today Alexander Lukashenko appointed Viktor Pilipets Aide to the President of the Republic of Belarus, Chief Inspector for the Vitebsk Oblast. The head of state also agreed to the appointment of Sergei Rovneiko as Chairman of the Grodno Oblast State Control Committee, Viktor Schetko — First Deputy Chairman of the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee, Vladimir Kravtsov — First Deputy Chairman of the Mogilev Oblast Executive Committee.
In the near future Belarus’ leadership will direct serious attention to the relations between companies and middlemen. Belarusian watchdog agencies have already been charged with the corresponding tasks
The Belarusian Head of State called Belarusian Automobile Plant /BelAZ/, which has conquered about 30% of the world market of heavy haulers, one of the key companies for the country’s economy. He praised the work of the plant managers on promoting BelAZ goods and tasked them to avoid intermediary services when purchasing component parts and exporting products. “We cannot give 20-25% of the cost of a truck to middlemen. It is a crime,” Alexander Lukashenko is confident.
Other Belarusian companies should also carry out this task. “We should sell our goods without middlemen and at optimal prices to achieve financial success,” the President said.
He stressed the importance of such companies as Dolomit and the Borisov-based plant Avtogidrouselitel for the country’s economy.
Today the Belarusian leader gave his consent to appoint Piotr Parkhomchik director general of Belarusian Automobile Plant, Vasiliy Lavnik – director general of Borisov-based plant Avtogidrouselitel, Ivan Babak – Dolomit director general.
Belarus’ President wants order in petrochemical industry
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has set Valeriy Kazakevich a task to bring order in the petrochemical industry of the country. Today Valeriy Kazakevich was appointed chairman of the Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemistry.
As BelTA was told in the Belarusian leader’s press service, when taking the decision to appoint Valeriy Kazakevich to the new post Alexander Lukashenko expressed hope that he will learn the lesson from the situation with the former leadership of the concern and will impose order on the branch.
According to the President, the situation in the oil industry of Belarus is under his personal control. “The recent processes in the branch are inadmissible,” he said.
OAO Beltransgaz has been working in difficult conditions as well. “None of the world economies can coolly react to such an energy price hike,” he explained.
Belarus will reconstruct cement industry
Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky presented the cement industry development programme for 207-2011. It is aimed at tripling the cement production in the country.
The market analysis shows that the demand for the Belarusian cement both on the domestic and foreign markets will be growing as the construction keeps on booming. While implementing construction programmes Belarus is expected to consume around 5 million tons of cement a year by 2011 and export as much. Major potential clients are Russia and Poland which consume more cement than produce.
Speaking about raw stock, Sergei Sidorsky stressed that all Belarusian cement-making companies, namely, Krichevtsementnoshifer, Belarusian Cement Plant, Krasnoselskstroimaterialy, have enough raw materials to last for decades. Thus, after modernization of the cement factories Belarus will be able to bring this industry onto a new level.
According to the Prime Minister, this year a dozen investors showed their interest in funding the large-scale project on cement industry development in Belarus. However, none of the cooperation offers were very beneficial for Belarus.
The equipment to retool the Belarusian cement plants will be bought in China. The equipment meets international quality standards and is reasonably priced.
Up to $600 million foreign loans are expected to be channeled into the project which is expected to pay off in four years. The loans will be available as early as February 2008.
Priority to be given in Belarus to facilities running on local feedstock, Alexander Lukashenko says
“That is self-evident,” the Belarusian Head of State underlined. Alexander Lukashenko demanded to take into account safety requirements when setting up joint ventures. At the same time the state should be responsible for the management of such companies.
The President will be informed how the Government plans to step up the production of cerement and other construction materials in the near future in order to satisfy domestic demand and to boost export supplies, how the companies intend to intensify energy saving measures and reduce the production price. The Belarusian Head of State also wants to know how the Government plans to boost the consumption of local resources in Belarus, what volumes and sources of financing will be used to finance investment upgrade projects.
Alexander Lukashenko slams government over cement shortages on Belarusian market
The President regretfully noted he had to deal with it after having instructed the government to do it many times. “The government’s ‘merits’ consist in your inability to give an assessment and say whether you need external investments or can do on your own upgrading the cement mills and building new ones,” said the Belarusian leader.
“Nowadays when we need to satisfy the home market demand and have no extra cement sources in sight, we have a problem. Instead of dealing with it, we start enforcing quotas, breeding various kinds of speculators,” said the President. He also noted, various attempts had been taken lately to improve the situation on the Belarusian cement market. Belarusian Cement Mill was put into operation in 1996. Later on two new furnaces were commissioned in Krasnoselsk almost doubling the national cement production. However, the existing manufacturing equipment cannot largely boost the cement output.
The head of state underscored, the government session had been necessitated by the situation witnessed on the cement market and in the construction materials industry in previous years. The cement shortages in Belarus, dwindling cement exports, the need to make construction materials cheaper require deep and all-around examination of the problem at the top level.
Belarus Asks for Time to Pay Gas Bill
From: Moscow Times and Kommersant
|Men standing near a Gazprom compressor plant in Belarus. Gazprom is buying half of Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion.|
The two sides failed to reach agreement in Moscow on Tuesday as a delegation led by Belarussian Energy Minister Alexander Ozerets asked for more time to make a $450 million payment for gas deliveries, Gazprom spokeswoman Tatyana Golubovich said Tuesday.
Gazprom is negotiating a fine for late payment, Golubovich said. Belarus missed a payment deadline Monday.
Valery Golubev, the deputy CEO leading the talks for Gazprom, is scheduled to attend a shareholders meeting of Beltransgaz, the Belarussian gas pipeline firm, in Wednesday on Minsk.
Golubev will likely be elected to Beltransgaz's supervisory council at the meeting, and "talks will continue after that," said Andrei Zhukov, a spokesman for the Belarussian Energy Ministry, Interfax reported.
Later this month, Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky may come to Moscow to negotiate a raft of issues, including the gas deal and a $1.5 billion loan Minsk is eager to secure from Moscow, an official at the Belarussian Embassy in Moscow said by telephone Tuesday.
The two main sticking points in the talks are how much time Belarus will be given to make the payment and the amount of the fine, Golubovich said.
Zhukov declined to comment on the talks but expressed hope that a compromise would be found.
Ozerets stayed for an extra day, after originally being scheduled to fly back to Minsk on Monday evening, Zhukov said by telephone, in a possible sign that the talks were tougher than Minsk expected.
At the start of this year, Gazprom raised prices for Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from the heavily subsidized previous price of $46. As part of the gas-pricing deal, Gazprom agreed to buy a 50 percent stake in Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion. Gazprom has so far paid $625 million for 12.5 percent.
The phasing out of subsidized Russian energy is putting the authoritarian regime in Belarus under greater strain, and President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday fired a series of energy officials, including the head of Beltransgaz, Dmitry Kazakov.
"No economy can so quickly digest such a sharp hike for energy resources," Lukashenko's press service quoted him as saying Monday.
Last month, Sidorsky complained at a meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that the gas price hike had contributed to a negative trade balance with Russia of $2 billion from January to April.
Some experts said, however, that Belarus could afford to pay a higher gas price but was playing for time to win concessions, including better credit terms from Moscow.
"The Belarussian authorities are charting a course toward accumulating more debt," said Yaroslav Romanchuk, head of the Mizes research center in Minsk, citing a budget surplus of 5 percent and $2 billion in Central Bank reserves. He estimated that Belarus had managed to wangle $45 billion in subsidies and concessions from Moscow over the past decade.
Sidorsky could come to Moscow next Monday, a Russian Embassy official in Minsk said, RIA-Novosti reported. Alexander Timoshenko, a spokesman for Sidorsky, said Tuesday that he was not aware of plans for such a visit.
Speaking by telephone from Minsk on Tuesday, Romanchuk speculated that Lukashenko might give Sidorsky a series of unrealistic tasks to be completed in Moscow, so that he would have a pretext to fire him.
Belarus asked for a payment extension to the end of the year without penalty. Moscow countered with the offer of a $450-500 million credit at 12.5-percent annual interest. Belarusian officials have stated that the money received from Gazprom for Beltransgaz will not be used to pay for natural gas, but will be placed in a special account in the national bank and used for development.
Because of new rules on the export of Russian oil and petroleum products, the trade imbalance between the countries rose from $390 million last year to $2 billion in the first half of this year.
Beltransgaz general director Dmitry Kazakov, who was in negotiations with Gazprom all last week, was dismissed yesterday and replaced by Vladimir Mayorov, former deputy governor of Gomel Region. Kazakov remains in negotiations with Gazprom in the capacity of chairman of the board of the company, however. A Gazprom spokesman said that negotiations went on into the night yesterday and that they were “constructive.” The spokesman said that the results of the negotiations would be made known in the immediate future.
Belarus to Sell to Venezuela Weapons for $1bln
From: Kommersant, IHT
The respective contracts are expected to be concluded by August, said Belarus’ Security Council Chief Viktor Sheiman. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has approved the contracts that were sealed earlier, Sheiman specified.
Therefore, if the deal is clinched, Belarus will emerge as the second state of the former Soviet Union (after Russia) delivering weapons to Venezuela.
Past year, Venezuela made contracts with Russia to buy armaments for the total worth of roughly $3 billion, including 100,000 Kalashnikov sub-machine guns, 24 Su-30 fighters and 53 combat helicopters. Venezuela also intends to launch Latin America’s first plant to produce Kalashnikov sub-machine guns.
Belarusian defense plants build armored vehicles and other weapons, and its military has big arsenals of Soviet-made jets and tanks.
Sheiman also said Belarus would receive lucrative contracts for oil exploration in Venezuela.
Venezuela also has purchased some US$3 billion (ˆ2.2 billion) worth of arms from Russia, including 53 military helicopters, 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 24 SU-30 Sukhoi fighter jets and other weapons. The United States has voiced concern about Venezuela's military spending.
On his recent trip to Belarus, Chavez called for a strategic partnership with the ex-Soviet nation, saying his Belarusian counterpart is a "brother-in-arms" and lamenting the pressure he said the United States was putting on Minsk and Caracas.
Viktor Sheiman: Belarus will set up three joint ventures with Venezuela by October 2007
“The main goal of the visit was to ensure practical implementation of the agreements on bilateral cooperation reached earlier,” said Viktor Sheiman. “First of all it concerns the trade-economic sphere: projects on supplying Belarusian products to Venezuela and on setting up joint ventures. In particular, by the end of October of the current year Minsk Tractor Works, Minsk Motor Plant and the production association BelAZ will found joint ventures in Venezuela.
“We also plan to sign a contract on designing and building a gas supply network in the city of Barinas where more than 200 thousand people live,” Viktor Sheiman noted.
Minsk Plant of Wheeled Carriers will export machines worth of $14.5 million to Venezuela and road building equipment – worth of $49 million. Moreover, Belarus and Venezuela will also set a joint venture to produce household appliances. The estimated cost of this project - $140 million.
According to the State Secretary of Belarus’ Security Council, in the course of the visit the sides also discussed issues relating to political cooperation, international policy and development of the regulatory framework. The Foreign Ministries of the two states held consultations on promoting bilateral relations. “Special attention was paid to the preparation for signing several interstate and intergovernmental agreements. The documents are planned to be signed in the course of the forthcoming visit of the President of Belarus to Venezuela,” Viktor Sheiman underscored.
Is Belarus to sell Russian missiles to Chaves?
From: Charter '97
|the mobile antimissile complex S-300P|
It became known of the Minsk and Karakas to sign the contract on military cooperation valued USD 1 billion from the state secretary of the security council of Belarus Viktar Sheiman. The Belarusian delegation had been working in Karakas for several days and their work resulted in concluding multibillion contracts.
According to the military experts, such large –scale project arouses doubt». I can’t actually imagine what can be sold to such amount”, the Belarusian political scientist Andrei Fiodorov told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He recalled that once after selling a batch of the MIGs to Peru Belarus got only USD 300 billion. According to Fiodorov, the weapons transfer through Belarus, primarily the Russian ones, may be meant in this connection.
However, as the Nezavisimaya Gazeta managed to find out, the mobile antimissile complex S-300P may be foreseen for the “Venezuelan deal”. At the Minsk heavy artillery movers’ works the multi-shaft carriages are manufactured. Only C-300 might be meant by Hugo Chaves when dwelling on the intention of acquiring “the stunning antimissile system with 200 km range missiles”. The cost of such system depending on the spare parts attached amounts to USD 0.8-1.2 billion.
According to the director of the Russian center of strategy analysis and technologies Ruslan Pukhov Belarus is not a final manufacturer of the majority of defense weapons that is why the output manufactured in cooperation with Russia is to be meant in this respect. “But formally it will be registered as the purely Belarusian output”, Pukhov explained to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka «Belarus is never to become a part of Russia»
From: Charter '97
“This price-hike is an unprecedented step between the two union states caused not only by the economic reasons. The Russians explain that they submit to the market laws. The market implies free competition. But we encounter the Gazprom, the Russian monopoly. Thus, it is impossible to speak either of the market or of the competition but is necessary to bare in mind the deliverer who is eager to earn minimum USD 1.5 million dollars at the moment and maybe USD 2 billion in future . I mean not only Belarus, but also Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine”, A. Lukashenka told the French journalist.
“As far as the Union of Belarus and Russia is concerned, enterprises, as well as people, should have access to energy at the same prices. All that makes a part of the agreement but Russia has destroyed this agreement .I am not aware what interests have influenced the Russia’s decision but nobody can imagine the Gazprom not to coordinate its decision with the state authorities”.
“As far as the Baltic gas pipeline is concerned it is silly. It is the same as choosing to make your way on your knees through the mud for stepping on the carpet then. Those who have invented the project definitely are not short of the money to spend. Russia does not have problems with the power sources transit through Belarus. It is cheaper than through the other countries, especially through the Baltic countries”. Lukashenka added.
“Belarus is never to become a part of Russia. The relations in the Union are to be built on the conditions of equality .We shall struggle for our sovereignty and independence”, Lukashenka declared his strong intention to protect the sovereignty and independence of the country.
First Warsaw Stock Exchange IPO Partner From Belarus
From: Mondo Visione
|Warsaw Stock Exchange|
CJSC Investment Company UNITER from Belarus was founded in 2003. UNITER is one of the major, investment advisors in Belarus, offering a wide range of services including: financial intermediary and investment funds consulting, legal and accounting support as well as market analysis.
For more information on CJSC Investment Company UNITER, please visit http://en.uniter.by/about_us/
The WSE IPO Partner Programme, launched in the autumn of 2006, is designed to ensure the support of WSE Partners – foreign brokerage houses – for WSE promotion on foreign markets. The agreements with brokerage and investment service companies are designed to attract, in a direct and indirect manner, companies established outside of Poland.
Under the agreement, WSE Partners receive a special logo which they may use in approaching prospective issuers as well as the possibility to include information on their WSE-authorised partner status in their correspondence and documents.
The current list of WSE IPO Partners include: E-Volution Capital, Altera Finance, Sokrat Capital, Millennium Capital and Concorde Capital LLP of Ukraine, Suprema Securities and Hansabank of Estonia (operating in the Baltic states and Russia), as well as Wood & Company of the Czech Republic.
Belarusian delegation headed by Vice-Premier Alexander Kosinets to visit Turkmenistan July 25-26
During the visit the Belarusian delegation is expected to meet with President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers – Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, deputy chairmen of the Council of Ministers responsible for construction, fuel and energy complex, industry, transport, culture, education, sport and tourism.
According to the source, the main goal of the visit is to discus measures aimed at boosting the trade turnover including by increasing supplies of the Belarusian agricultural and industrial equipment, products of the petrochemical and food industries to Turkmenistan and by intensifying cooperation in the fuel and energy and construction spheres.
Issues on work of the Belarusian-Turkmen commission on the trade-economic cooperation will be in the spotlight too.
The Belarusian and Turkmen government will sign an agreement on cooperation in sports and tourism, the Culture Ministry of Belarus and the Ministry of Culture and TV and Radio Broadcast of Turkmenistan will sign a cooperation agreement as well.
The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on January 21, 1993. Since then, Belarus and Turkmenistan have signed 11 agreements and treaties.
In January-May 2007 the bilateral turnover totaled $56.8 million, an increase of 14 times. Exports grew 15 times to $56.6 million, the trade surplus reached $56.4 million.
The increase in Belarusian exports in 2007 is mainly attributable to the export of Belarus-made agricultural hardware to Turkmenistan. Thus, Belarus sold 1,000 Belarus1221 tractors; 1,000 Belarus 80X tractors and spare parts to the tune of $51.8 million, as well as 1,000 ploughs to the tune of $1.9 million.
Beltransgaz holds unscheduled meeting in Minsk
A Gazprom representative will be included into the new council. Deputy Chairman of the Gazprom board of directors Valery Golubev is expected to be the Gazprom representative in the supervisory council.
Attending the meeting is Energy Minister of Belarus Alexander Ozerets. First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko is also expected to take part in the meeting.
On July 23-24 Alexander Ozerets conducted negotiations in Moscow on restructuring the Belarusian debt for Russian gas in H1 (in accordance with the Belarusian-Russian agreements, Belarus paid 55% of the cost of gas imported from Russia in H1 2007). According to the Energy Ministry, today the negotiations will be continued in Minsk.
As BelTA informed earlier following an instruction issued by the head of state, with a view to setting up a Belarusian-Russian gas transportation joint venture, on May 18, 2007 the State Property Committee of Belarus and Gazprom signed a contract for selling 50% of Beltransgaz shares for $2.5 billion to Russia. Gazprom is to pay $625 million for 12.5% of Beltransgaz shares every year between 2007 and 2010.
On June 4, 2007, Gazprom transferred $625 million for 12.5% of Beltransgaz shares to Belarus. The money was transferred to the State National Development Fund of the Republic of Belarus. On June 6, some 12,5% of Beltransgaz shares were transferred to Gazprom.
Beltransgaz delivers natural gas to domestic customers and transports gas via the country. The company operates around 7,000 km of gas pipelines, with diameter varying between 100 mm and 1400 mm, and services the Belarusian section of the Gazprom-owned transcontinental pipeline Yamal-Europe.
In a related story, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko has introduced new chairman of the Belneftekhim concern Valery Kazakevich and Director General of the Belarusian Oil Company Vladimir Zubkov to directors of branch companies, BelTA learnt in the Belneftekhim concern.
Vladimir Semashko demanded that all the planned investment programmes should be implemented the oil refinery. He stressed the importance of the programmes on modernization of oil refineries. Grodno Azot and Polymir are set to undergo large-scale retooling.
Prior to his appointment chairman of the Belneftekhim concern Valery Kazakevich was head of the Council of Ministers Office.
Belneftekhim is a state-owned concern which includes 40 companies (of them 35 are joint stock companies and five are republican unitary enterprises) with the total number of employees exceeding 120,000 people. Belneftekhim produces 30% of the total industrial output of Belarus. Its exports account for 35% of that country’s total exports.
Poland eases work restrictions for citizens from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus
New rules go into effect this Friday, slashing the cost of work visas for citizens from the three former Soviet republics from 900 zlotys (US$330; ˆ240) to 100 zlotys (US$37; ˆ27), and easing bureaucratic restrictions, the deputy minister of labor, Kazimierz Kuberski, told the news agency PAP.
Under the new rules, workers would be granted three-month work visas upon presentation of a letter from a Polish employer.
"Because of the needs of Polish economy, we decided to open our job market in all sectors," Kuberski said.
Despite a jobless rate of about 13 percent, the European Union's highest, Poland is suffering a labor shortage that comes amid a booming economy desperate for construction workers.
Today in Europe
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The labor shortage has been exacerbated by the departure of hundreds of thousands of Poles to wealthier European Union countries for higher wages since the country joined the EU in 2004.
Russia’s not your colony, says Putin
From: Times On-line
Mr Putin said that it was insulting for Britain to demand that Russia amend its constitution to extradite Andrei Lugovoy. “They are making proposals to change our constitution that are insulting for our nation and our people,” he told a rally of pro-Kremlin youth activists. “It’s their brains, not our constitution, which need to be changed.”
He added: “They forget that Britain is no longer a colonial power and that Russia was never their colony.”
Mr Putin’s comments come after last week’s tensions between Russia and Britain. The Government expelled four Russian diplomats; Mr Putin retaliated by ordering four diplomats from the British Embassy in Moscow.
Last night the Foreign and Commonwealth Office emphasised that the Government was still seeking to persuade Moscow to hand over Lugovoy. “We continue to look for a willingness from the Russian authorities to work constructively with us to bring this crime, committed in the UK, to justice in a UK court,” he said.
Mr Putin said that Britain was guilty of double standards by calling for the extradition of Mr Lugovoy, while refusing to hand over Russian dissidents, notably Boris Berezovsky, on whom an assassination attempt was made last month.
Mr Putin said: “In London, about 30 people sought by our security services are wanted for very serious crimes. They have not lifted a finger or even thought of extraditing them.”
“They do not extradite anyone hiding on their soil including those suspected of terrorism. But from other countries, including ourselves, they make impossibly high demands.”
On Monday Gordon Brown reissued his call for Russia to take “responsibility”. He said: “You cannot have people assassinated on British soil, and then discover that we wish to arrest someone who is in another country, and not be in a position to do that.”
Mr Litvinenko, a naturalised British citizen who was openly critical of Mr Putin, died in a Central London hospital on November 23 last year.
Russia puts off Bushehr NPP launch until fall 2008
From: Ria Novosti
|The Bushehr nuclear power plant|
Russia is building the $1-billion facility, Iran's first nuclear power plant, in the south of the country in accordance with a 1995 contract, and under UN supervision as Iran is under international scrutiny over its compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
"Today we can say with all certainty that it would be unrealistic to put Bushehr into operation this fall," Ivan Istomin, the head of the Energoprogress company, said dismissing a statement made earlier this month by Iran's Mahmoud Jafari, co-chairing the project, that the plant could be ready in three or four months.
"Even if Russia delivers the first portion of nuclear fuel to Bushehr tomorrow, it would be impossible to commission the facility in six months," Istomin said.
The project came under threat in February after Russia complained about shortfalls in funding. Moscow said Tehran had only covered 60% of the required funding by the fourth quarter of 2006, and had completely stopped payments in mid-January. Iran denied any funding problems and accused Russia of delays.
Istomin said his company could not assemble the key operating equipment for the plant due to the failure by third countries to supply the necessary components, and cited lack of Iran's funding as one of the reasons. "Suppliers no longer have confidence in the Bushehr project," he said.
The official said it would take six months to restore trust and agree on new supplies. "The real deadline for the physical launch of the power unit will therefore be put off until the fall of 2008," he said.
Families of Polish pilgrims killed in bus crash arrive in France
|Police overlook the scene where a coach carrying Polish pilgrims plunged down a hillside and burst into flames at Vizille near the southeastern French city of Grenoble, July 22, 2007. At least 24 died and as many seriously injured in the vehicle which crashed through a barrier after a steep hill and came to rest on the banks of the river Romanche and burst into flames.|
The bus plummeted into a ravine from a road where heavy trucks and buses are forbidden and burst into flames on Sunday, killing 26 people and seriously injuring 14. Poland's prime minister said one of those was in critical condition with a small chance of survival.
Poland lowered all flags to half-staff. Families of the victims arrived in southeastern France to learn of their relatives' fate, with psychologists and priests accompanying them.
The pilgrims had been in the French Alps to visit the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Grenoble.
In Warsaw, President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, were among the some 500 mourners who packed the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army for Mass. Twenty-six white candles were lit on the marble steps near the altar in memory of those killed.
Poland's prime minister pledged 100,000 zlotys (about US$37,000; ˆ27,000) on Monday to the family of each person either killed or injured in the crash. The money would come from a special reserve fund his office oversees.
The president declared a three-day period of national mourning early Monday after returning from France, where he met the injured along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
During a visit to the crash site, Lech Kaczynski knelt, made the sign of the cross and lit a candle for the dead. Sarkozy said he was "shattered by the scale of the tragedy," and pledged to follow the investigation into its causes "very closely."
The French government's No. 2, Jean-Louis Borloo, in charge of transport, said Monday there were 11 signs signaling the dangerousness of the road's 8-kilometer (5-mile) descent with a 12 percent gradient — banned to heavy trucks and buses without a permit.
The prefecture of the Alpine Isere region said the bus had no permit for the Laffrey pass. Investigators want to determine if the driver — who was killed in the crash — did not see or understand the signs barring the road from vehicles over 3.5 tons, or if he ignored them to avoid a 30-kilometer (18.5-mile) detour, authorities said.
A report by Poland's PAP news agency quoted a crash survivor as saying the driver yelled, "Hold onto your seats, the brakes are gone!" before the bus slammed into a guardrail and plunged down the ravine.
The crash sparked indignation among local residents, who complained the road had long been a hazard. It has been the site of several other bus accidents, including 1973 crash in which 43 pilgrims were killed, and another two years later that left 29 dead.
Remains were so charred that DNA tests were being used to identify the victims, the state prosecutor said. A manslaughter investigation has been opened, he said.
Cesar David, a local resident, said some of the passengers were thrown from the bus, but many were trapped inside.
"There was a series of small explosions," David said. "Then the bus went up in flames. We couldn't come near."
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Robert Szaniawski said in Warsaw that 50 people were on board — 47 pilgrims, two drivers and a guide. While the man behind the wheel was killed, his colleague survived. The group had left Poland on July 10 for a two-week visit to famous sanctuaries in France, Spain and Portugal.
The bus, a 2000 Scania, underwent technical checks three weeks ago in Germany and had passed said Marcin Szklarski, president of Orlando Travel, the agency that organized the pilgrimage.
The spy files tormenting Poland
Since the twins came to power there has been a series of outings
"They said you'll die in jail, you animal, and your family will starve to death, and then I agreed to work with them."
The middle-aged man blubbers almost uncontrollably as he admits on Polish prime-time TV how he was once blackmailed by the secret police into betraying his closest friends.
"They led me like a dog on a chain, and I didn't have the courage or the strength to break free," he says.
This is Stanislaw Filosek, a leader of the opposition trade union Solidarity at the giant Lenin steel mill in the southern town of Nova Huta. After the imposition of martial law in 1981, he and his friends went underground.
But their leader was uncovered by the police and jailed.
"I always suspected betrayal," says Mr Filosek's friend, Edward Novak.
Outed in the press
Earlier this year Mr Novak got permission to see his secret police file. What he discovered made his blood run cold.
The files are like dynamite and they can explode, they can ruin people's life today
Jan Molka, Solidarity activist turned informer
"It was Filosek," he says.
"A trusted friend, a regular in our house. He was being paid to inform on us. When I saw his name, I wept."
The old friends forced Mr Filosek to go public. Otherwise they say they would have outed him themselves.
It is the absence of a proper legal framework for dealing with the past that has led to a series of ugly outings.
In East Germany many informers were exposed and the majority of civil servants were purged by the West German state which stepped in to help. Poland had no such partner.
Solidarity came to power following a negotiated settlement with the communists.
Lech Walesa, Solidarity's most famous leader and former Polish president, says that although Solidarity won the 1989 elections, the ministries of the interior and defence were still in communist hands. Outing informers would have been too dangerous then.
"The communists were so strong," he adds.
"We could not start vetting people. A frontal attack on the communists would have ended tragically."
Two years ago, Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party came to power with a promise to morally cleanse the country and expose former collaborators.
Mr Walesa said Solidarity could not start vetting people
According to Wojciech Roszkowsi, a Law and Justice MEP, today people feel betrayed.
He argues that the Polish transformation was little more than a deal to divide the spoils of power unfairly between some Solidarity leaders and communists.
"The communist nomenklatura were given a chance to appropriate state assets," he says.
"The biggest fortunes were made by former military intelligence officers."
Solidarity's greatest heroes strongly deny these claims.
They in turn accuse the identical twins who now run Poland, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of unleashing a modern-day witch hunt to punish their political rivals.
The centrepiece of their moral cleansing campaign was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court this spring.
The proposed law demanded that people in positions of public responsibility fill in self-vetting forms or be sacked.
However, since the Kaczynski twins came to power there has been a series of informer outings in the popular press.
Persuaded to inform
Maciej Damiecki is a veteran comic actor. He stars in a long-running and much loved soap opera called the Vicarage (Parafia). This spring his world fell apart.
"A young man came to visit me," he recalls.
"He said he wanted to talk about my past as a communist informer. He had a copy of my secret police file with him. It was a terrible shock."
After 40 years, Mr Damiecki's dark secret was out. Splashed all over the newspaper were extracts from his file in which he allegedly denounced fellow thespians.
His story is familiar to those who once lived in a police state. He admits guilt and explains how back in the 1970s he had been caught drink-driving by the police.
"They proposed a deal and in return they'll give me back licence," he says.
"They began blackmailing me. They said I'll be fired from theatre unless I agreed to inform on my colleagues."
Because he was deemed "guilty", he was not allowed to see his own file. Finally he did obtain a copy and says that only two of the reports were written by him. The rest, he insists, were fabricated.
The secret police were known for their ability to sow misinformation. Yet ironically, today's government and its supporters seem to set great store by them.
Now the government - backed by most political parties - are calling for the files to be opened up to wider public scrutiny. But where will all this end?
Jan Molka is a Solidarity activist who turned informer.
He joined the secret police and was rapidly promoted, informing on his then Solidarity colleagues, among them the Kaczynski twins.
If the files are opened, he warns, Poland will go through "hell":
"The files are like dynamite and they can explode, they can ruin people's lives today," he says.
"People are frightened. They implicated millions."
Belarus: Sex, Lies, and YouTube
YouTube, the wildly popular website, has a new clone from an unlikely competitor. Belarus recently launched its own video-sharing site, called ITV, giving the authoritarian government the distinction of being in the vanguard of a technology trend.
But ITV isn't likely to become the free-for-all site that YouTube has become, mixing homespun videos with political content. In the first place, Belarus remains a nation where information is controlled by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime and where Internet cafes are required to track sites visited by customers. It's "high-tech totalitarian propaganda," one Belarusian journalist said of ITV.
Cost, too, is an impediment. Online connections are expensive in Belarus, making sites like YouTube too expensive for the typical Internet user. The ITV site, however, is subsidized, and telecommunication companies are offering free access to it. Officials are now hoping citizens will choose their less expensive (and more controlled) alternative for video viewing.
ITV may have a limited audience in a nation of 10 million, but YouTube has millions of visitors and has become the leading source of video sharing. The European Union, acknowledging the potential of what has been mostly an American phenomenon known as the "YouTube Effect," has launched a site.
YouTube is primarily a depository for entertaining clips, film and television show trailers, and family videos, but it is also becoming a portal for sharing political messages and satire. It is gaining prominence as mainstream media rebroadcast video clips and as users rebroadcast news programs or manipulate reports and political speeches. The Internet search engine Google paid $1.65 billion in 2006 for the consumer media company that was launched a year earlier, banking on its potential as a source of entertainment and information.
Politicians and policy-makers are starting to take YouTube seriously. In 2006, a widely watched YouTube clip filmed by foreign travelers that showed Chinese soldiers shooting Tibetan refugees spurred the U.S. ambassador to China to publicly denounce the country's treatment of refugees.
This week, candidates in the 2008 U.S. presidential election answered public questions sent in via YouTube clips in a live debate. Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister John Howard used the site to deliver a video announcement about new environmental policies and funding.
While the United States accounts still for roughly half of registered YouTube users, global traffic is increasing. And to meet regional viewers' demands, Google localized the site in several European languages in June. The launch of EUTube and the convergence of visits to the sexy film clip underscores that YouTube is still more of an entertainment site than a venue for political dialogue and information.
But just as some governments have shut down "old media" and even put bloggers out of business, they are taking action against YouTube and its more hard-hitting offerings. Turkey temporarily blocked the site because of a clip criticizing the modern republic's revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Morocco, Iran, and Thailand have also blocked the site at various times.
Belarus is taking a different route. With ITV it is stepping in to provide a censored alternative to YouTube -- in one Belarusian journalist's words, still only a "niche phenomenon."
YouTube, for now, poses little threat to countries that still like to control what the public sees and hears. The mostly English content also limits the potential market. YouTube also requires fast Internet connections, and the number of people with access to the Internet, even in the new EU states, is well behind northern and western Europe. Central Asian and Caucasian countries are even bigger laggards in Internet use, according to the 2006 UN Human Development Report. In Belarus, only about 16 percent of the population uses the Internet, meaning that ITV has a long way to go before it threatens YouTube.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen how other politicians and policy-makers react to the video-sharing sites. For now, Internet users with the money and access can escape from news, chat and blogs by viewing quirky home videos, snippets of the European sex cinema, or reruns of Belarusian news. This may not cause great shifts in policy-making, but politicians and authoritarians are both starting to take notice.
Thank Heavens for Robert Amsterdam!/Romantics Learn to Use Their Fists
From: La Russophobe
|Oleg Kozlovsky, one of the organizers of the Oborona civic youth movement in Russia, has kindly accepted an invitation from RA blogger Grigory Pasko to publish an article on this space to explain the history of his organization and its objectives.|
In the political street battles that have swept the streets of Russia’s cities, black-and-white flags with a menacing stylized fist on them are becoming an ever more frequent sight. These banners are always unfurled at the forefront, always right in the thick of things. These are my brothers-in-arms, the activists of the Russian «Oborona», who are rushing into the fray, ready to fight to defend their freedom and the truth from a power that is trampling on these ideals.
Oborona [which means “Defense” in Russian—Trans.] is made up of young romantics, current and recent college students who grew up in the brief period of liberty under Yeltsin. Unlike the majority of their peers, they did not agree to trade in their freedom for the economic well-being that to one or another degree came together with Vladimir Putin. But they are not naive idealists and dreamers any more – these romantics have learned how to use their fists. They conduct rallies, stand up to the OMON on the streets, and publish literature unavailable in Russia about non-violent resistance. The members of «Oborona» have come a long way already and have learned a great deal. But the road ahead is long.
«Oborona» appeared in 2005, when the supporters of several democratic youth organizations, their spirits kindled by the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, decided to join forces. Some of them had actually been at Kiev’s Maidan, others had seen the struggle of the Belarusian opposition against Lukashenka, still others had been following the Rose Revolution in Georgia. The «Orange» success compelled the young patriots to believe in the possibility of victory in their own country as well. They just needed to get together and work out a plan of action. And that was how what has today become the largest movement of youth for democracy independent of parties and politicians was born.
«Oborona» armed itself with the principles of non-violent resistance that had once brought Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Viktor Yushchenko to victory. Chosen as an emblem was a stylized fist, which had already gained fame in Serbia (where it was used by «Otpor»), Georgie («Kmara» had a fist in a slightly altered form), and Ukraine (where it was the symbol of the «Orange» information portal «Maidan»). We knew that this would elicit shock and rage among the governing structures, who were swearing then that “there will be no Orange Revolution in Russia”. But «Oborona» decided to throw out a challenge both to the power and to public opinion, steeped in apathy and fear.
The challenge was accepted. In the past two years, hundreds of «Oborona» activists have been arrested, dozens of its events dispersed, the police has thrown us out of its own headquarters, while employees of the FSB meet with «Oborona» members on an almost daily basis, trying to intimidate them or recruit them to their side. But the police system has not been able to cope with this small, yet cohesive and dedicated group. From a handful of Moscow students, «Oborona» has now transformed into a serious force, which both its opponents in power and opposition politicians can not ignore.
«Oborona» always emphasizes that it does not support any parties or any candidates, nor does it have any intention to come to power. Its objective, as was officially announced in February of this year, is a “non-violent and truly people’s” revolution, which will lead to the downfall of the authoritarian regime. From the opposition «Oborona» demands only one thing – that it unite and advance a single candidate for president.
«Oborona» is well-known in other post-Soviet countries, too. The Ukrainians shared their experience of the Orange Revolution with us, while the Georgians recall that this movement was one of the few that chose to speak out against Putin’s anti-Georgian campaign last year. After «Oborona» had participated in protests against the falsification of the presidential elections in Belarus, a.k.a. the Jeans Revolution, a small nucleus of this movement even appeared there, while Alexander Lukashenka called these young people “cold-blooded thugs” [otmorozki] and prohibited them entry into the country. However, the main battlefield for «Oborona» has always been, and remains, Russia.
«Oborona» was one of the first to refuse to play by the tacit rules of Russian politics: not to criticize the president personally and not to touch upon topics that are sore points for him. Then, at the beginning of the year 2005 it made no sense whatsoever for the Russian opposition, which was represented by three old parties – SPS, Yabloko and the KPRF – to set themselves directly against the Kremlin. For the party functionaries, who saw politics as horse-trading for places in the Duma, real battle with Putin seemed suicidal: after all, this would mean losing the support of the administrative resource and turning all the might of the state’s machinery of propaganda and repression against them. Therefore, the parties engaged, at best, in criticizing “individual shortcomings” or certain officials, studiously avoiding any mention of the president in a negative context. Remaining on the taboo list were the topic of Chechnya, corruption in Putin’s inner circle, and the series of terrorist acts in the autumn of 1999 that had brought him to power.
All of which meant that the hard-hitting and undiplomatic words of «Oborona» about how we’re “sick and tired” of Putin, and we’re starting to fight against the system built up by him, sounded all the more shocking. The conspiracy of silence had been broken. The indecisiveness and flip-flopping of the old democratic leaders became patently obvious and compelled them to make a clear choice as to whose side they were really on. To a large extent thanks specifically to the youth, an “extra-systemic opposition” appeared in Russia, the voices of those who did not agree began to speak out more boldly. For the first time in many years, the Kremlin’s opponents were able to set the agenda themselves. By the way, the members of «Oborona» do not particularly like to talk about their successes and achievements; we are more interested in the future.
By the way, since we are speaking about the future of Russia, «Oborona» members have the most varied notions on the subject. The majority consists of pro-Western oriented liberals who originally came from the ranks of SPS and «Yabloko», but coexisting with them in «Oborona» is everybody from conservatives to social democrats. This may seem incomprehensible in the West, but in the conditions of today’s Russia, such alliances are perfectly natural: after all, before you can choose among various doctrines, you first need to win the right to choose in the first place. This is why the situation demands a unification of the most disparate forces, and other questions get put on the back burner.
Right now, «Oborona» sees its main task as not allowing the implementation of «Operation Successor» – that is, the determination of the name of the new president personally by Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. A large-scale campaign will take off in the autumn, having as its goal to deprive the potential successor of the support of the young generation. After this, the youth will need to be mobilized for battle, this time with the Kremlin and its system – and in this manner together with the other opposition forces to attain a regime change.
This plan is as simple to describe as it is complicated to implement. Nobody has ever done anything like this in Russia till now. All reforms and changes in our country were either implemented from above and that’s where they stopped, or were associated with armed uprisings and bloodshed. «Oborona» itself is faced with a grandiose task – to attain the departure of an authoritarian regime once and for all and without a single shot being fired. «Oborona» members are dedicated and ready to do whatever it takes, but the main question is – will they have enough strength to hold out until victory? The overwhelming majority of young people continue to look upon politics with indifference or aversion, and only a few believe in the possibility that anything can be changed. And by the way, «Oborona» has shown time and again that it is capable of refuting any skeptical predictions.
Time will tell.
The World Bank Gives Russia a Big Fat "F"
From: Publius Pundit
The World Bank reviewed Russia, and 211 other countries, in six governance categories: i) Voice & Accountability, ii) Political Stability and Lack of Violence/Terrorism, iii) Government Effectiveness, iv) Regulatory Quality v) Rule of Law and vi) Control of Corruption.
In five of the six categories, all but stability, Putin's Russia received a lower score this year than it got last year. In "Rule of Law," Russia's score dipped into the bottom 20% of all countries surveyed. The significance of this result is staggering: Russia sits on the G-8 and has a veto in the United Nations Security Council, but 80% of the world's nations, four out of five surveyed, have greater respect for the institution of the law than neo-Soviet Russia does. And lets not forget that Russia has far more convictions and pending cases in the European Court for Human Rights than any other nation; it's been convicted there of political, state-sponsored murder and ordered to pay damages to victim families. To put it mildly, Russia is not qualified to hold roles in these law-based institutions.
The extent of Vladimir Putin's failure to effectively govern Russia is also quite staggering. In "Control of Corruption" and "Accountability," Russia's score dipped into the bottom quartile. In "Regulatory Quality," Russia experienced its biggest drop of any category, a massive 20% slide to approach the bottom third of all countries on the list. In "Stability," Russia experienced its only increase in score, but it still remained in the bottom quartile of all countries surveyed in that category. Its highest score is now for "Government Effectiveness," but here Russia's percentile score dropped from 41 in last year to 38 this year, rapidly approaching the bottom third in this category as well.
The conclusion? Two-thirds of the world's nations are better-governed than Russia. In many specific criteria, three-fourths. That's total, abject failure for a nation with Russia's resources, long history and level of technical sophistication.
There's little new here, only confirmation of a horrifying pattern. Russia's scores from international review entities are consistently appalling, and its World Bank scores last year were also nearly universally lower than the year before.
What's really shocking is not Putin's inability to govern, that's to be expected given his total lack of qualifications. Rather, we should be surprised that Putin continues to enjoy 70%+ public opinion polls approval even as Russia's population plummets and it becomes an isolated pariah in the community of nations due to its neo-Soviet foreign policy, all while its government fails miserably in governing the people who are lucky enough to be left alive. And even more amazing is our own inability to recognize this disaster in the making and respond appropriately.
Putin is offering Russia marginal stability (though still at a horrifyingly low level by international standards) at the cost of every other aspect of civilized society. That's exactly what Stalin offered. How can Russia avoid meeting the USSR's fate?
Iran to Join Russia/China Led Alliance?
From: New Zeal
Russia, China and Iran, India and Pakistan all allied against the US?
Time to wake up, West.
TEHRAN, July 24 (RIA Novosti) - Iran's president will take part in the August 16 summit of a security cooperation grouping dominated by China and Russia, to be held in Kyrgyzstan, a senior Iranian diplomat said Tuesday.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and China - was set up to collaborate on security-related issues, but increasingly focuses on economics and transportation. The SCO runs a joint anti-terrorism center in Shanghai and has India, Pakistan, and Iran as observers.
Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari said: "According to our information, the heads of SCO member states, the Mongolian president, and the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan will participate in the session in [Kyrgyz capital] Bishkek."
"As Iran was represented by our president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] at the last summit in Shanghai, we will try to participate in the Bishkek session to as great an extent as possible," Safari said.
Safari said he had submitted in April an application to the president of Kyrgyzstan, which currently chairs the SCO, for full-fledged participation in the organization.
"We are waiting for a decision from the SCO member countries with whose representatives we have already held serious consultations," he said.
Govortsova prevails in debut
Govortsova, an 18-year-old from Belarus, defeated Catalina Castano of Colombia 6-4, 6-2.
"When you (beat a higher-ranked player), it helps your confidence a lot," said No. 100 Govortsova after defeating No. 97 Castano. Govortsova, who played two consecutive days as a qualifier at Taube, is used to playing as many as 20 days in a row on the international circuit.
"I have been traveling since I was 10 or 11," Govortsova said. "When I'm home for more than two weeks, I want to go back out and play again."
Next is Israel's fifth ranked Shahar Peer.
In other matches, Russia's Maria Kirilenko overcame Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 3-6 7-5 6-4 in more than three hours
Alena Grishko of Belarus wins shot put silver medal at European Youth Olympic Festival
The Belarusian, who is the reigning juniour world champion, had good chances at a gold medal, the spokesman for the National Olympic Committee of Belarus, Piotr Ryabukhin, told BelTA. However, her traditional opponent from Germany outperformed her in the fifth attempt by sending the shot at 14,73 meters improving her result by 56 centimeters.
Belarusian Polina Pekhova and Gleb Panov lost their tennis singles matches. The results in the table tennis tournament are more encouraging. Anastasia Gulevich has scored two wins to advance into the main draw. The team of Anastasia Gulevich and Kirill Barabanov has registered convincing victories in the mixed circuit. They defeated the strong teams from Iceland 3:0, Poland 3:2, Spain 3:1.
Belarus finished in 13 among 30 teams in the artistic gymnastics competition. This is a good result considering it was the first time the girls performed at an international tournament. No Belarusian advanced into individual finals.
Four Belarusians made it to the finals in the athletics: Alesya Blashkevich (high jump), Daria Borisevich (1500m), Yulia Dunchenko and Alexander Potienko (400m).
Ice-hockey match with the combined team of Canada and USA
From: The office of the president
|The ice-hockey team of the President of Belarus has won a friendly match with the combined team of Canada and the USA by the score 8:5 (6:1, 2:2, 0:2). |
The second international training camp of the North American Hockey School “Northern Edge” is held in Minsk on July 16-27. It is organized by the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation. This year’s international camp has brought together more than 150 hockey players from Belarus and 13 young athletes from the USA.
Athletes Kirill Gotovets of Belarus and Eddie Shaffer of the USA were named the best young players of the match. Besides, both of them are members of the second international training camp of the North American Hockey School “Northern Edge”. Member of the team of Canada and the USA Tim Velimirovich and forward of the Minsk HC Yunost Andrei Kovalev became the best players of the Belarusian president’s team and the team of Canada and the USA respectively. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko two times assisted in the goal.
|Alexander Lukashenko playing the match|
|After the match|