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Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Belarus celebrates Christmas, Chinese business, Venezuelan oil, Entrepreneurs protest, Plays, Cults, Russia, Polish revelations and a message of hope

  • From the Top...
  • #272

    Lukashenko: Church and State pursue one mission

    From: Office of the President
    Filaret, the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, presenting an Icon of Christ the Saviour to the President of Belarus
    “We have never detached ourselves from the Church, since the State and the Church have one mission,” said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on 7 January at the Cathedral of the Holy Ghost in Minsk.

    “We have always relied on the ideas of the Church, evolved through millennia; we have, in fact, chosen [the Church] to be the main ideologist of Belarusian statehood; and we have made no mistake in doing so,” the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko emphasised that only together, by joint efforts of the state and all the denominations of Belarus, it is possible to consolidate our common home – Belarus – and give an adequate response to present-day challenges. “It is good that we live honestly and openly in our cosy and warm common home, no matter what religion we practise,” the Head of State said.

    The President thanked church hierarch Filaret for the help of the Belarusian Orthodox Church in improving the nation’s health. By way of a reminder, Alexander Lukashenko said that 2008 was declared the Year of Health. “The Year of Health is not just an appeal to take up skiing straight away or something. First of all we should revamp hospitals at all levels – district, regional, central,” the Head of State said. The equipment used in Belarusian hospitals and at feldsher-midwife stations has become badly worn-out. Therefore, this year, or, at the latest, next year, the equipment should be thoroughly upgraded. Alexander Lukashenko also pointed to the need to improve the care for the lonely elderly people.

    “This is going to be a difficult year, and we will have to spend much money in order to ensure good health of our citizens. This year's results will be assessed according to practical criteria,” he added.

    In 2007, which in Belarus was declared the Year of Child, for the first time in the past 10 years in Belarus, birth rate exceeded mortality rate, Alexander Lukashenko said. “This is great happiness. No other European state can boast such success. We must get the same result in the Year of Health,” said the President.

    In 2008, Belarus should make a major breakthrough in economy, the Head of State said. “This will be a tough year. Not because of the growing energy prices, but because we should make a breakthrough to ensure economic growth, build a foundation for improving economic wellbeing,” Alexander Lukashenko said. “This is why after the holidays one should immediately focus on one’s work so that, as a result of our labour, we and our children could live better. This year will be the pivotal year of the current five-year planning period. The tasks we are facing are very challenging, and we must fulfil them,” the President said.

    According to the Head of State, it would be easier for Belarus to increase the rate of its economic growth if it were not for the pressure exerted on this country from outside. “But it is quite natural. It is a law of competition: we are a young state that has doubled its manufacturing output and is trying to sell its products; hence the pressure, which is unjust, as a rule: the powers that be do not like to see anyone prosper besides them,” the Head of State said.

    President of Belarus awards prizes “For Spiritual Revival-2007”

    On January 8, 2008 President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko conferred prizes “For Spiritual Revival-2007” on the clergy and the personnel of the Gomel Palace and Park Ensemble.

    The Belarusian Head of State awarded Nikolai Drozdov, the Archbishop of Vitebsk and Orsha Dimitriy, Andrei Krutelev, the priest of the religious community “The congregation of the Saint Life-Giving Trinity Temple of the village of Borovlyany of the Minsk region of the Minsk Eparchy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church”, and Anna Kuzmich, the head of the department of museum archives and exposition activity of the Gomel Palace and Park Ensemble.

    “Christmas is not just a wonderful winter holiday,” the President noted. “People of culture are the people endowed with the oracular gift, the people that gather imperishable spiritual treasures, improve the world guided by the laws of good, faith, hope, love and beauty,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “We pay a tribute to the Orthodox Church which for many centuries has been making a great contribution to preservation and strengthening of unity of the Belarusian people, keeping peace and civil accord on our land,” the head of state noted.

    The President awarded special prizes to 12 masters of culture and art, journalists, art collectives, museums. Among them are chairman of the Belarusian Union of Composers Igor Luchenok, painter Nikolai Opiok, choreographer Valery Bury, staff of the STV channel. “Last year these enthusiasts made a significant contribution to the thesaurus of the national culture, in particular, they recreated the greatest relic – shrine of St. Eufrosinia of Polotsk, they made their best to preserve historic and architectural monuments, they made for us new plays, paintings and music, interesting articles and TV programmes,” the President noted.

    In addition, 18 people were awarded state prizes, grand prizes and grants of the special fund of the President of the Republic of Belarus for support of the talented youth.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus will create favorable conditions for Chinese investors, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will create the most favorable conditions for Chinese investors, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting with Governor of the People’s Bank of China Dr. Zhou Xiaochuan on January 8.

    “We have recently seen great interest from Chinese investors. We welcome Chinese investments in the Belarusian economy and will try to create the most favorable conditions for Chinese investors,” the Head of State noted.

    The President of Belarus thanked the Governor of the People’s Bank of China, the authorities of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese people “for the colossal support and help to Belarus”.

    “Every Belarusian knows and appreciates the friendship with China,” Alexander Lukashenko said and underlined that Belarus would keep the promises given during the visit of the Belarusian Head of State to China: to be a real friend and bulwark for China in Europe.

    “As for the cooperation between the central banks of the two countries, this is valuable experience and support for us,” Alexander Lukashenko underscored and reminded that the Chinese yuan had been included in the structure of international reserve assets of the Republic of Belarus.

    According to Dr. Zhou Xiaochuan, his visit will promote the development of the relations between the central banks of the two countries and the two states as a whole. The Governor of the People’s Bank of China reminded that at the end of 2007 the Chinese Prime Minister paid a visit to Belarus and, afterwards, asked to intensify the relations with Belarus in economy, trade and the investment area.

    Belarus, China will use national currencies in business transactions, Piotr Prokopovich says

    The economic agents of Belarus and China will use national currencies (Chinese yuans and Belarusian rubles) to conduct business transactions, Piotr Prokopovich, the head of the Board of the National Bank told journalists on January 8. The relevant decision will be taken by the heads of the central banks of the two countries on January 9. Governor of the People’s Bank of China Dr. Zhou Xiaochuan is on a visit to Belarus on January 8-9.

    On the whole, Piotr Prokopovich took note of promising cooperation between Belarus China. The matter concerns the banking cooperation as well as the interaction in economy, trade and the investment area, he said.

    Mr. Zhou Xiaochuan noted that Chinese banks show great interest in the banking sector of Belarus. The cooperation will be intensified by increasing mutual trade and investments between the two states.

  • Business...

    Belarusian-Venezuelan oil company expects three more oil fields

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian-Venezuelan oil extraction company expects to get another three fields to boost oil extraction volumes, BelTA learnt from representatives of Belarusian petrochemical concern Belneftekhim.

    Opened in Venezuela in December 2007, the company exploits two oil fields — Guara Este and Lago Medio. However, the new enterprise needs additional assets to reach the targeted oil volumes. “After the attachment of another three assets is over, the Belarusian-Venezuelan joint venture will be able to produce one million tonnes of oil per annum,” believes the source. The targeted oil volume can be reached approximately in 2009.

    Possible additional areas have been determined already, with specialists left to make the final decision. The new oil fields are being examined, corresponding geological and technical actions are being taken.

    In Venezuela Belarusian oilmen will use contemporary technologies to increase recoverable oil production and exploit plugged and abandoned wells to boost oil output.

    Representatives of Belneftekhim concern noted, this year’s oil extraction plan of the Belarusian-Venezuelan oil company will be put together within the next few days.

    BelTA reported earlier, the oil joint venture was set up in the State of Anzoategui on December 8. Presidents of Belarus and Venezuela Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez took part in the opening ceremony. The first oil was produced in the presence of the two heads of state.

    According to Venezuelan laws Venezuela owns 60% of the joint venture while Belarus owns 40%. The company is expected to produce 7 million tonnes of oil per annum in the future.

    Belarus-Poland trade in 2007 to exceed $2 billion, Pavel Latushko says

    The Belarusian-Polish trade-economic turnover in 2007 will exceed $2 billion, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Poland Pavel Latushko told BelTA.

    “We can forecast that taking into account the sphere of services the trade-economic turnover between Belarus and Poland in 2007 will make up $2,6 billion,” Pavel Latushko said. The diplomat underlined that trade surplus in trade between Belarus and Poland will total not less than $350 million.

    “We take note of a sustainable growth of the Belarusian exports in 2007. The growth of the Belarusian exports will make up almost 13%,” the diplomat said. According to him, the supplies of the Belarusian products have increased more than four times for the last five years.

    Pavel Latushko finds it important that technical products keeps stable position in the Belarusian exports to Poland. “Last year Belarus supplied Poland with 1,400 tractors and components to them, almost 40 BelAZ large trucks,” he said. Besides, Belarus exports MAZ buses and heavy haulers.

    Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to open its office in Beijing on January 22

    From: BelTA
    Beijing, China
    An office of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in Beijing will officially open on January 22, Gennady Chemerko, the chief of the BCCI foreign economic links department, told BelTA.

    According to him, the main goal of the Office in Beijing is to help diversify Belarusian exports to China and attract Chinese investment to Belarus. The office will also help streamline imports from the Chinese People’s Republic.

    The BCCI Office in China started functioning in September 2007. The official inauguration ceremony was delayed several times due to organisational reasons, Gennady Chemerko said. Since its founding the Office has helped organize a range of events aimed at developing business cooperation between Belarus and China. Among them were a visit of a trade and economic delegation of Minsk to the Chinese city of Changchun, the Days of the Heilongjiang province in Minsk, a visit of a delegation of the Mogilev oblast executive committee to the Chinese provinces of Jiangsu and Henan.

    The BCCI Office in Beijing plans to intensify its participation in the development of regional cooperation between Belarus and China. According to director of the Office Igor Babak, this will be useful for the development of bilateral trade and economic relations between the two countries and will help create the conditions for making the Office self-sufficient.

    This is the third office of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry abroad. The first office was opened in 2004 in Germany, the second one – in July 2007 in St. Petersburg.

    A delegation of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry headed by its chairman Vasily Romanov will fly to Beijing on January 20.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus to open arms wider to China investors: president

    From: AFP
    Zhou Xiaochuan
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko promised Monday to create more favourable conditions for Chinese investors in his country, during a meeting with the head of China's central bank.

    "The most favourable conditions will be created to bring Chinese investors into Belarus," Lukashenko was quoted by his press service as telling Zhou Xiaochuan, president of the People's Bank of China.

    "In recent times, we have felt serious interest on the part of Chinese investors towards the Belarussian economy," he told Zhou. "We will not create any problems for investors who come from China to Belarus."

    Lukashenko thanked Zhou, currently on a visit to Minsk, as well as the government and people of China for the "immense support that they have given to Belarus".

    He recalled that from last year, Chinese yuan has been part of his country's foreign reserve holdings.

    Belarus releases business leader before protest march

    From: and Naveny
    Viktar Harbachow
    Viktar Harbachow, a leader of small business owners’ association called For the Free Development of Enterprise, has had a hooliganism charge against him quashed. A Belarussian leader of an association for small businesses said on Tuesday he had been released from brief police detention after a court hearing, two days before a planned protest against a restrictive decree.

    Victor Gorbachev had been detained on Tuesday accused of being involved in a street fight, just before he was due to help organise the protest against the decree of President Alexander Lukashenko, who is accused of human rights abuses by the West.

    Mikalay Kananchuk, deputy chairperson of the Barysaw City and District Court, ruled on Tuesday that there was no evidence to support allegations against the small business activist.

    Mr. Harbachow was arrested together with his wife and son earlier in the day as they were exiting a train in Barysaw, Minsk region, and an unidentified man started pushing the teenage boy in an obvious attempt to provoke a fight. When policemen appeared at the scene the man fled. The officers grabbed the trio to bring them to the Barysaw district police department, with Mr. Harbachow taken to a medical facility for “alcohol tests.”

    Mr. Harbachow was charged with petty hooliganism under Article 17 of the Administrative Offenses Code in connection with incident.

    The decree states individuals who run small businesses must only employ close relatives or transform their holdings into larger organisations. It prompted many small businesses to go on strike as of the start of the year.

    "The detention (was) connected to Gorbachev's activities. I think several thousands of individual entrepreneurs will take part in the protest, and the authorities are afraid of it", said Anatoly Shumchenko, a leader of another business association.

    Gorbachev told Reuters the case against him had been dismissed because the court could not establish a crime had been committed.

    Shumchenko estimated about 40 percent of some 205,000 small businesses to be on strike in the former Soviet state of 10 million people.

    The entrepreneurs held a protest against the decree in December but only several dozen took part.

    Mr. Kananchuk pronounced the ruling after hearing the 13-year-old son of the small business activist.

    A different judge, Yurt Kabets, was initially appointed to try the case, but he disqualified himself, saying that he had studied together with Mr. Harbachow on a law course at Belarusian State University.

    Mr. Pakhabaw linked the detention to Mr. Harbachow’s role in an ongoing campaign against the government’s tough policy toward sole entrepreneurs.

    Mr. Harbachow planned to come to Minsk on Tuesday to discuss the campaign with other small business activists.
    Many sole entrepreneurs are currently on a two-week strike to protest Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s edict that banned them from having workers other than three family members.

    Sole entrepreneurs have been urged to gather at Kastrychnitskaya Square in downtown Minsk on January 10 to express protest against the edict.

    Year 2008 will not be easy for Belarus - Lukashenko

    From: Interfax
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the year 2008 would not be easy for Belarus and urged citizens to come down to work vigorously after New Year's holidays.

    "The year will not be easy, it will be difficult - not because prices for gas and oil will be rising, or because we will be experiencing shortages. This will be so, because the world is developing this way," Lukashenko said at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk on Monday, where a Christmas service is being conducted.

    In 2008 the republic must accomplish a serious breakthrough in economic development, he said. "This is the demand of the time," he added. The country is to fulfill difficult tasks this year, the Belarusian president said.

    "It would be easier, though, if no pressure came from the rivals," he said.

    The resentment demonstrated to the new state, which Belarus is, by other countries is easy to understand, he said, adding that this resentment breeds pressure.

    "The power players don't like smaller nations to assert their rights. One should be calm about it, however, and keep working," the Belarusian president said.

    Lukashenko said he himself had become less mindful of this pressure.

    Minsk city top official directs that pace of subway construction be increased by 25 percent

    From: Naveny
    Mikhail Pawlaw, chairman of the Minsk City Executive Committee, directed that the pace of subway construction in the Belarusian capital city be increased by 25 percent, said government news sources.

    One subway station should be put into operation every year on the average, Mr. Pawlaw said while speaking at a conference of the city government on Tuesday.

    Mr. Pawlaw noted the need to build paid guarded parking lots at the end of the subway lines to encourage drivers from outside Minsk to move around the city by subway.

    Minsk Metrapaliten (Minsk subway operator) currently operates two lines with 25 stations and 30.3 kilometers of track. It has 243 cars that daily transport about 800,000 passengers. In 2011, the city government plans to put into operation three new stations called Hrushawka, Mikhalova and Pyatrowshchyna, linking the existing Instytut Kultury station to Minsk’s Pawdnyovy Zakhad and Malinawka neighborhoods.

    In the remote future, the city government plans to build two more lines with 25 stations and increase the total length of track to 72 kilometers.

  • Cultural scene...


    From: NY Post and BelTA
    Nikolai Khalezin of the Belarus Free Theatre waves the flag in "Generation Jeans," part of the Under the Radar festival.
    IF the Public Theater has its way, many of the actors and companies in its "Under the Radar 2008" festival won't stay that way very long.

    The 12-day event kicking off tomorrow, now in its fourth year, showcases the talents of the most cutting-edge and dynamic new theater from around the country and across the globe.

    Several performers will be familiar to New York audiences, including monologists Mike Daisey - delivering the ominously titled "How Theater Failed America" - and Obie winner Dael Orlandersmith ("Yellowman," "Beauty's Daughter") with her work-in-progress "Stoop Stories."

    But most of the artists will be new or relatively new to the area, such as the Belarus Free Theatre from Belarus, a theater company that was driven underground in its home country for its outspoken politics. Its "Generation Jeans" is a semi-autobiographical tale about living under a repressive regime.

    Some of the shows will be presented at partner venues, not all of them theaters. The Back to Back Theatre, for example, will perform "small metal objects" at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, where audience members will be given headsets to listen to the drama being played out among them.

    You'll be similarly equipped at "Etiquette," presented by the Foundry Theatre and Rotozaza at Veselka, a Ukrainian diner in the East Village. This private half-hour theatrical experience is designed for two people at a time, who'll sit at a table while instructions provided via headphones will guide their conversation and actions.

    Artist panels and discussions, several of which are free, are also part of the fest, which runs through Jan. 20. For tickets - $15 for most shows.

    Borisov to hold Days of Belarusian Written Language in 2008

    The Days of the Belarusian Written Language will be held in Borisov, the Minsk oblast, on September 7, 2008. The relevant decision has been adopted by the Council of Ministers of Belarus on December 29, 2007.

    The document envisages creation of an organizational committee to prepare and hold the Days of the Belarusian Written Language. The committee will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets. The event will be financed by the Minsk oblast executive committee, the Borisov regional executive committee, national governmental bodies and other interested departments.

    The Day of the Belarusian Written Language has been celebrated in Belarus since 1994. The holiday aims to enhance the prestige of the written language as the basis of the many-century culture, strengthen its role and significance and pay tribute to the great Belarusian writers.

    The Days of the Belarusian Written Language are traditionally held in the towns that are historical centers of culture, science, literature and printing. The first Days were held in Polotsk, later, in Turov, Novogrudok, Nesvizh, Orsha, Pinsk, Zaslavl, Mstislavl, Mir, Kamenets, Postavy and Sklov.

  • Around the region...

    Christmas cheer fails to move Doomsday cult

    As Christmas celebrations continue across Russia, 35 members of a doomsday cult remain holed up in a bunker in the Penza region. They're waiting for the end of the world.

    The Twelve Days of Christmas, known in Russia as Svyatki, are the time for carnivals, games and fortune-telling. The holiday period is marked by Orthodox Christians as well as members of some other faiths.

    The centuries-old rituals are mostly observed by women who try to find out what lies ahead.

    The celebrations climax in Epiphany on January 19, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ.

    Pagan New Year

    In the Russian Republic of Mariy El, people are celebrating their local version of New Year known as Shoryk Yol.

    The feast is marked with ancient pagan rituals, including wearing masks, fortune-telling and singing traditional chants to the accompaniment of an instrument like a bagpipe.

    The name of the feast means 'sheep leg' in Russian. Legend has it that those who are lucky enough to catch a white lamb in complete darkness in a sheep-pen will have an exceptionally happy year.

    Doomsday group refuse to budge

    In one quiet rural region, the congregation’s prayers are not just for friends and loved ones. They're also for a group it's feared may not be seen again.

    The 35 members of a Doomsday cult in Penza, including four children, remain holed up in the bunker and are not planning to come out.

    They cut themselves off from the rest of society in November, to wait for the end of the world, which they believe is going to take place in May.

    Psychiatrists, priests and government officials have repeatedly tried to coax them out, but without success. They report that cult members are threatening to commit mass suicide if anyone tries to force their hands.

    Many of the sect are former members of the Russian Orthodox Church - and have described themselves as lost sheep. That's a message Father Georgie, the local priest, has been repeating to his congregation.

    “Our parish is deeply troubled because these people stepped far away from the Church. They’ve been convinced by the wrong people, who don’t have their best interests at heart. All of us prayed that god would give them guidance to find the right way,” Father Georgie says.

    It may be the season of good will, but there seems to have been no change of heart from the men and women who have locked themselves and some of their children away beneath the hills of Penza.

    Across Russia Orthodox Christians have been coming together to celebrate the birth of Christ. But the cultists remain apart, to mark what they believe will be the world’s last Christmas.

    Russia can be the first to land astronauts on Mars - academician

    From: Interfax
    Russia is technically ready for a manned flight to Mars in early 2020, Academician Lev Zelyony, the director of the Space Researches Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

    "It is prestigious and real and it is Russia's priority to land a cosmonaut on Mars. This task can be solved both economically and technically," Zelyony told Interfax-AVN.

    If one starts preparing a flight to Mars in the near future, a Russian astronaut could land on Mars in 2023-2025, the academician said.

    Russia has done more than any other country, including the United States, as far as such an expedition to Mars is concerned, he said.

    "We have a certain handicap in this race, because we have the widest experience as to manned space flights. The Mir station worked even in dark 1990-s, than the [International Space Station] ISS appeared. This means that a chain of manned flights has never been torn," Zelyony said.

    A manned expedition should include unmanned equipment, such as satellites and Mars rovers, because automatic equipment can carry out most of researches, the academician said.

    "Generally, a person proceeding from purely scientific basis may not fly either to the Moon or Mars: this is unprofitable. However, an aspiration to study new things is inherent to the nature of a human, and thanks God, this breakthrough cannot be stopped," Zelyony said.

    Poland Expects Lift on Import Ban

    From: Moscow Times
    Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk expects Russia to lift the remaining ban on imports of Polish agricultural products during his visit to Moscow in February, he said.

    Russia imposed an embargo on Polish food in 2005 but meat imports resumed in December in a gesture toward Warsaw's new government.

    "I have the right to expect that during my visit to Moscow the embargo on plant products will also be lifted," Tusk told Newsweek in an interview Monday.

    The two-year dispute added to deteriorating relations under the previous conservative government.

    Tusk has sought to improve the strained relations with Russia and Germany. One of his first actions since taking office in November was to lift Poland's objections to Moscow's efforts to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    Other issues on the agenda include Russia's objections to the U.S. plans for anti-missile defense system on Polish soil and the Nord Steam gas pipeline, which skirts Poland and the Baltic republics.

    Poland signals a shift on U.S. missile shield

    From: IHT
    Signaling a tougher position in negotiations with the United States on a European anti-ballistic missile shield, Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski says the new Warsaw government is not prepared to accept U.S. plans to deploy part of the shield in Poland until all costs and risks are considered.

    "This is an American, not a Polish project," Sikorski said in an interview published in the weekend edition of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

    The previous Polish government had consented in principle to accept parts of the U.S. shield, but no formal agreement has been signed. Now Sikorski is saying that the terms under which the shield would be deployed were unclear and that the new government wanted the risks to be explained, the financial costs to be set out and clarification on how Poland's interests would be defended if the shield were deployed on its territory.

    "We feel no threat from Iran," Sikorski said, challenging the U.S view that some of the biggest threats facing the security of Europe and the United States are from "rogue states" in the Middle East, including Iran.

    Still, Sikorski said, "if an important ally such as the United States has a request of such an important nature, we take it very seriously."

    He added: "It is not only the benefits but the risks of the system that have to be discussed fully. It cannot be that we alone carry the costs."

    There was no official response from the United States. Bogdan Klich, Poland's new defense minister, is expected to make his first official visit to Washington this month to explain his government's position.

    NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance, said Sunday that the missile defense issue was essentially a bilateral discussion between Poland, the United States and Russia.

    "NATO is happy to be a forum for discussion, and it is a useful one," said James Appathurai, a spokesman for the alliance. "But it does not substitute for the bilateral track."

    Sikorski also said he was worried that the United States could abandon the project after the American presidential election in November. In that case, Poland would nevertheless have to bear political costs, like the deterioration of relations with Russia, if it signed on to the shield prematurely.

    The deployment of the U.S. missile shield has become such a contentious issue between the United States and Russia - and indeed between Poland and Russia - that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has warned of a new arms race if Washington proceeds with deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Having accused Washington of threatening Russia's national security interests, Putin last month suspended his nation's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

    Under that treaty, one of the last major arms pacts concluded between the former Cold War foes, countries stretching from Canada across Europe to the eastern parts of Russia cut their conventional forces and agreed to on- site inspections and an elaborate system of verification and notifications. It was implemented in 1992.

    The Kremlin did not say how long it would suspend its participation. But Russian diplomats said it depended on not only what kind of concessions the United States was prepared to make concerning changes to the treaty, but also whether Poland and the Czech Republic would deploy part of the U.S. missile shield.

    The new approach on missile defense taken by Poland's new center-right coalition government, under Prime Minister Donald Tusk, reflects a different negotiating strategy from the previous nationalist-conservative government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

    Kaczynski, who was much more pro- American, had in principle agreed to deploy several interceptors on Polish territory without going into detail over the costs, the maintenance and the risks to Poland's security, according to Polish officials.

    But the former prime minister did little to allay Russia's fears about deploying the missile shield in Poland, or to drum up support in other European Union member states. He left it up to the United States to explain the issue to the Kremlin and to European governments.

    In contrast, Tusk and Sikorski, while having no illusions about Russia's new self-confidence under Putin, have nevertheless repeatedly said they want to improve relations with Russia.

    Later this month, Poland and Russia for the first time will hold direct talks in Warsaw over the missile shield. The Russian side will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kisliak.

    Sikorski, who was defense minister in the Kaczynski government, had been forced to resign early last year after criticizing, among other things, the government's handling of the missile defense negotiations. He later joined Tusk's Civic Platform party and was appointed foreign minister last month.

    Polish killer jailed after extradition

    From: BBC
    Mariusz Szpyt served time in Poland for other violent offences
    A Polish man has been jailed for life after he stabbed and hid the body of a fellow Polish national.
    Mariusz Szpyt, 24, pleaded guilty at Birmingham Crown Court to the murder of Ryszhard Sawczyk on 18 October, 2005.

    Mr Sawczyk, 32, disappeared after an incident in Rugby, Warwickshire. His body was later found in a car boot in a country lane near Taunton, Somerset.

    A nationwide search was launched to find Szpyt who had fled to Poland. He was extradited last year.

    Mr Sawczyk had been living in a house in Evans Road, Rugby, with Szpyt at the time of the incident.

    Police believe Szpyt murdered him at that time although his body was not found until later.

    Szpyt disappeared, probably driving away in Mr Sawczyk's left hand drive Golf car.

    'Long and complicated'

    The car was found abandoned in the country lane on 24 October. Mr Sawcyk's body was in the boot and a post-mortem examination revealed he died of a stab wound.

    After the hearing Det Ch Inspector Adrian McGee said the case had been long and complicated.

    "Szpyt was arrested in Poland less than six weeks after murdering Ryszard Sawczyk, as a direct result of information provided by Warwickshire Police," he said.

    Officers tried to get him back to England but had to wait for him to serve a sentence for other violent offences.

    He was sentenced to life with an order he serve a minimum of 11 years and eight months, taking into account time spent in custody in Poland and England.

  • Understatment of the week...

    Defence mechanisms: Poles want to protect themselves efficiently against criminals

    In a News article, A poll by TNS OBOP for DZIENNIK daily reveals that the majority of the Poles demands right to self-defence. As many as 64 percent of the respondents want to have a right to protect themselves efficiently when they get attacked at home and in life threatening circumstances. The daily stresses that in Poland victims who defended themselves against criminals very often face lengthy trials. The newspaper writes that the Justice Minister has already taken care of this matter.
    Editor's Note: Yea, this is somethin' new...

  • From the blogs...

    Viktar Harbachou Acquitted

    From: Viasna
    The leader of entrepreneurs Viktar Harbachou has been released from Barysau district court. ‘He is acquitted for absence of crime in the act’, told the activist of entrepreneurs’ movement Mikhail Vasilieu.

    Today a trial over the leader of the campaign For free development of entrepreneurship Viktar Harbachou has taken place in Barysau. He was charged with resistance to the police. Initially the case was to be tried by presiding judge of Barysau regional court Yury Kobets. However, Kobets refused to try the defendant referring to personal acquaintance with him. That’s why the trial was held by Judge Mikalay Kananchuk.

    Only Siarhei Mikulovich, one of the two policemen who detained the entrepreneur, witnessed against Harbachou. As said by witnesses, the policemen didn’t try to bear false witness, but told the real story. The second policeman, referring to a relative’s illness, left the town and refused to appear in the court.

    Viktar Harbachou was detained on the railway station in the morning, when he was on his way from Krupki to Barysau. When the family left the train, an unknown man started to pester V.Harbachou and his underage son, trying to start a fight. When policemen approached, the man escaped.

    A blood alcohol test was taken from Viktar Harbachou without explanation in Barysau police department. Policemen questioned Viktar Harbachou and his wife Sviatlana.

    Though Harbachou was the injured party, he became an accused. The entrepreneurs’ colleagues explain it by his active civil position. Earlier Viktar Harbachou told to the Charter’97 press-center that law-enforcers had warned him that on 8-9 January authorities would try to isolate organizers of the protest rally of market vendors which was to take place on 10 January in Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk.

    KGB Watches Foreign Trips of Belarusian Students

    From: Viasna
    Agents of the KGB are interested in foreign trips of Belarusian students. They phone activists of youth democratic movement and offer them to meet in their offices or in the street.

    Tatsina Tyshkevich, student of the Belarusian State University of Physical Culture, activist of the civil campaign Jeans – for Freedom! said to RFE/RL that a KGB agent phoned her and offered to meet:

    ‘A KGB agent phoned me and introduced himself as Vadzim Piskunou only after I asked him. He said he needed to speak with me about my trips abroad. He even offered to meet somewhere outdoors, if I had little time. I was in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine during this year. I understand the KGB agents are interested in this issue, because the main participants of such events are the youth.’

    Last May Tatsiana Tyshkevich was beaten up by riot police during dispersal of the action of protest against repeal of benefits. She was beaten again when the action of solidarity with families of missing people and political prisoners was cracked down on 16 August. Tatsiana got to hospital with brain concussion, beatings, nephritis. The girl is a second year student of the Belarusian State University of Physical Culture. She is going to be an equestrianism trainer.

    Last year Tatsiana visited Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. She said another KGB agent tried to learn information from her friend.

    ‘Recently a KGB agent phoned my friend and offered her to meet. He introduced himself as Andrei. He didn’t say his surname, but suggested to come to the staff entrance of the KGB building, where he would meet her, or to the office 17 on the second floor,’ Tatsiana said.

    Nasta Aleksandrovich, activist of the youth of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), said to RFE/RL the KGB agents tried to establish contacts with new-comers, who have recently become members of democratic youth organizations.

    ‘Different training seminars for activists of Belarusian opposition are organized. The secret services know about it. Of course, they are interested in themes and participants of the seminars. The KGB agents are looking for easy sources of information. They have such practice: search for new people and talk with them. These talks can be held in educational establishments, as it was with activists of the youth of the BPF, or at the airport. They asked about the theme of the seminar and about what they had done abroad,’ the girl said.

    There is a practice in the state universities, according to which a student must receive permission to travel abroad from the deanery. If a pupil of a school wants to go abroad, a school master should give him a similar permission. Besides, a junior isn’t allowed abroad if he has no note from his parents recorded by a notary.

    День рождения Элвиса Пресли!!!(Happy Birthday Elvis Presly!)

    From: Minsk Blog
    8 January at Club «Goodwin» (ul. Nezavisimosti, 19)
    Happy Birthday Elvis Presly!!!

    Artefact (rockabilly)
    The Toobes (revival rock’n’roll)
    The Sweet & Blooooody (garage punk, trash’n’roll)
    The Bottle Suckers (alcobilly punk’n’roll)
    Notre Dame Des Fleurs (psychedelic rock’n’roll)

    Starts at 18:00

    10000 in advance
    12000 day of the show

  • Sport...

    Belarus wins Christmas Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament

    From: BelTA
    The president playing in the 4th Christmas International Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament
    It is the third time that Belarus has won the Christmas Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the Prize of the President of the Republic of Belarus. In the final match Belarus defeated Russia 6:2 (2:0, 4:1, 0:1). Belarusian forward Andrei Astashevich scored three times, Andrei Kovalev – two times and Stepan Ponomarev – once. The bronze medal went to Ukraine who overcame Austria 8:6.

    All participants of the tournament were awarded souvenirs, most valuable players – prizes of the president’s sports club. Vitaly Koval (Belarus) was recognized best goaltender, Vladimir Tsyplakov (Belarus) – best defender, Maksim Gubarev (Russia) – best forward. The most valuable player was Belarus’ forward Andrei Astashevich who scored 14 points (9 goals + 5 passes). President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko scored 7 points (3+4).

    The audience choice award went to the team of Switzerland who lost all three matches of the tournament. Special prize instituted by the Sovietskaya Belorussia Newspaper “For Devotion and Loyalty to Ice Hockey” was presented to Austria’s Guenther Stockhammer who took part in every Christmas tournament.

    This has been the fourth Christmas Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the Prize of the President of the Republic of Belarus. Every final of the previous three tournaments featured Belarus and Russia. In 2005 and 20006 the winner was the host country (11:5 and 7:4). In 2007 Russia took revenge by defeating Belarus 4:3.

    This year Russia was represented by the ice hockey club “AvtoTrade” from Toliatti of the AvtoTrade holding company. The team was set up in 2004. The national team of Russia, which was set up on the basis of the AvtoTrade team, was a prizewinner of the world ice hockey championships among amateurs and veterans.

    A new cup has been made this year, as last year’s winner, the team of Russia represented by Gazprom team, asked to keep the prize. The cup has been made by request of the president’s sports club which has been patronizing the tournament since 2006. Among the organizers of the tournament were the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of the Republic of Belarus, Minsk City Council and the Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus.

  • Endnote...

    Belarusian leader: this year Belarus should see economic upturn

    From: BelTA
    Hope Springs Eternal: Three babies were born in Grodno in the first minutes of 2008
    This year Belarus should see an economic upturn, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said on January 7 when visiting St. Spirit Cathedral in Minsk.

    ‘This year will not be simple. Not because of the recent energy price hike. We will have to make a breakthrough to ensure an economic advance and to lay a foundation for the future economic prosperity. After the holidays we should buckle down to the work to make our life and life of our children better. This year will be deciding,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    According to the Belarusian leader, it would be easier for Belarus to build up its economic potential if not for the pressure outside. “However, this pressure is logical. This is a law of competition: we are a young state, which has doubled its production and tries to actively promote its products. That is why the pressure is exerted. Powers do not like when somebody starts thriving. Our goal is to continue doing our part,” said the President.

    “We should do everything we can to use the market environment and to protect our people through increasing their wages,” the head of state stressed.

    Belarus’ crowning achievement is that it avoided the split of its society, domination of criminal and political distemper, Alexander Lukashenko noted. “Our task is to protect the country and the nation from the distempers, which are so typical for the contemporary world,” the President underlined.