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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, January 27, 2008

Belarusian light industry, Customs Union agreements, 100 new companies, Border strike, Opposition, EU, Russia, Nukes and Sports

  • From the Top...
  • #277

    President visits the town of Zhodino

    From: Office of the president
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visiting the exhibition of products manufactured by the companies of the Bellegprom concern
    By the end of the current five-year planning period the Belarusian light industry should become one of the leading Belarusian industries, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko while visiting Svitanak, a major Belarus’ manufacturer of knitted wear, in Zhodino, Minsk region, on 25 January.

    During his visit to Svitanak, the Head of State discussed the current situation in the Belarusian light industry as a whole.

    The disintegration of the Soviet Union caused a breakdown of supplies of raw materials for Belarusian light industry companies; the latter virtually lost their sales markets, as they had no experience of working in a competitive environment. Every new year brought more problems to the light industry which faced an urgent need to upgrade its companies, to employ new energy-efficient equipment.

    The President has been paying much attention to this economy sector in recent years. In 2006-2007, the government provided financial support to the Bellegprom concern to the tune of nearly Br 80 billion. Still, the sector is struggling to tackle its financial difficulties, and the quality of its products provokes numerous complains from customers.

    In 2007, the concern met but a half of its planned socio-economic targets. Its output was 98.5 per cent as against 2006, while the forecast had been 104-105 per cent.

    One of the most serious problems is that around 80 per cent of the concern’s fixed assets are badly worn out now. It is only 50 per cent of all light industry manufacturers in Belarus that operate efficiently, while 61 per cent of their total number had stocks of unsold ready-made goods as of the end of 2007; the stocks were bigger than their average monthly output. This Belarusian concern accounts for no more than 10 per cent of all sales of light industry goods on the Belarusian market.

    President meets with members of the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church

    Alexander Lukashenko and Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Filaret
    The State and the Church should intensify their joint work aimed at solving the problems that trouble the Belarusian society, at preserving moral values and popularising a healthy lifestyle, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at today’s meeting with members of the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

    Such meetings with clergymen have become a good tradition; they are a frank discussion focused on concrete matters.

    Before the beginning of the meeting the President and the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Filaret, exchanged their opinions on a range of urgent issues relating to the collaboration between the State and the Church. Filaret informed the Head of State on the meeting that had taken place on the previous day between members of the Synod and representatives of the secular authorities, namely those representing the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Administration.

    During today’s meeting Alexander Lukashenko lauded the high level of cooperation between the State and the Belarusian Orthodox Church. “Last year was one of the most fruitful periods of our interaction in various spheres of life of the society,” he said.

    The State supported many initiatives of the Belarusian Orthodox Church; helped restore the great national relic, the shrine of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk; provided assistance in building new temples, reconstructing and renovating the temples of national significance as well as supported spiritual education projects.

    The State helps the Belarusian Orthodox Church in personnel training; local authorities are always there to accommodate requests for assistance.

    Alexander Lukashenko praised the great work the Belarusian Orthodox Church has been doing to promote civil consent and good dialogue between various denominations.

    On the whole, according to him, the State has created a good environment for normal work of all denominations that act in conformity with the law and do good to the society.

    “Religious organisations are exempt from the land tax and property tax. They enjoy lower tariffs on gas, and the Orthodox Church enjoys lower tariffs also on heating and electric energy,” the President said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan sign Customs Union agreements

    From: BelTA
    Prime Minster of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky, Prime Minister of Russia Viktor Zubkov and Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov signed nine documents in Moscow on January 25.

    The package of documents is aimed at further development of the legal-treaty base of the Customs Union of the three countries. The start to the process was given by the president of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan at the summit in Dushanbe.

    The package of documents includes the agreement on single customs-tariff regulation, export customs duties in respect to third countries, single rules of defining the country of origin of goods, on single measures of non-tariff regulation in respect to third countries, on application of special protective, anti-dumping and compensatory measures in respect to third countries. The package of documents also includes the agreement on determining the customs cost of goods produced in third countries and moved across the border of the Customs Union, on introducing customs statistics of foreign trade in goods in the Customs Union. Moreover, the Prime Ministers of the three countries signed the agreements on the principles of levying indirect taxes in export/import of goods, on providing works and services and also on coordinated policy in technical regulations of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures.

    Sergei Sidorsky to meet with Deputy Prime Minister of Turkmenistan January 28

    Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky will meet with deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Turkmenistan Khydyr Saparlyev on January 28 in Minsk, BelTA was told in the Council of Ministers’ Office.

    Khydyr Saparlyev will head a delegation of Turkmenistan which will come to Minsk to attend the first session of the intergovernmental Belarusian-Turkmenian commission for trade and economic cooperation. A Belarusian delegation will be headed by Vice-Premier Alexander Kosinets.

    The session will focus on the prospects of bilateral cooperation in machinery construction, agriculture, education and culture, sport and tourism and also the legal framework of the Belarusian-Turkmenian relations.

    Turkmenistan is ranked seventh in Belarus’ foreign trade with the CIS and sixth - in exports. In January-November 2007, bilateral trade amounted to $81.2 million, up 6.4 times over the same period last year. Belarusian exports grew 6.9 times to $80.4 million. Belarus’ major exports are tractors, trucks, spare parts, road equipment, farm machines, tyres, plastic containers, liquid pumps, combustion engines spare parts, bicycles, chemical fibres, rubber bags, foodstuffs, medicines.

    In 2007 an increase in exports was due to the contracts between Minsk Tractor Works and Turkmenobakhyzmat for delivery of Belarus-1221 and Belarus-80X tractors at the sum of $55.8 million. An increase was seen in the exports of pastry (8.7 times), tyres (13.6 times), combustion engines spare parts (126.6 times), centrifuges, aggregates to filter liquids or gas (136.3 times), farm tillage machines (7.3 times up), truck and tractor spare parts (26.3 times).

    Major imports form Turkmenistan are cotton yarn, raw hide, synthetic fabrics, wool.

    In a related story, a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council is being held in Moscow on January 25. A meeting of prime ministers of the EurAsEC member states opened the session.

    In line with the results of the session, a set of documents on forming the legal base of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan is expected to be signed. Moreover, joint documents within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Council are planned to be signed as well.

    2007 was not easy year for Belarus’ economy, Sergei Sidorsky says

    From: BelTA
    2007 was not an easy year for the economy of Belarus and other EurAsEC member states, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky said at a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council at the level of the heads of government in Moscow on January 25.

    Sergei Sidorsky said that the economic situation in Belarus was affected by the international negative trends including increasing prices for imports raw materials and farm products and also the volatile situation on the currency market. In Belarus these trends transformed into the growing trade deficit, which amounted to around $2.4 billion in 2007, and were the main sources of the inflation, which came to 12.1% last year.

    Growing energy prices, new trade cognitions necessitated addressing a whole range of issues to keep the Belarusian products competitive, Sergei Sidorsky said. In this context Belarus placed a special emphasis on the innovation development of the economy.

    Belarus manages to settle social tasks despite difficult situation in the world, Sergei Sidorsky says

    Further development of the negative tendencies in the world, first of all, possible financial crisis can put at risk some social achievements and innovation course of the economic development of Belarus, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky said when speaking at a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council in Moscow January 25.

    Sergei Sidorsky noted that some negative tendencies started showing in 2007. These were the growing prices for energy and other feed stock, volatile currency market, increasing word prices for farm products.

    Sergei Sidorsky stressed that despite the difficult situation the leadership of Belarus has managed to settle social tasks. Real incomes grew by 15% for the population in 2007 while the annual projections were 7.5-8.5%. At the end of 2007 the wages averaged $370 in equivalent. Labour pensions were indexed twice; minimum labour and social pension benefits, children’s benefits were increased four times.

    Construction of three new cement works to be launched in 2008

    From: BelTA
    In 2008, Belarus will start the construction of three new cement works, Belarusian Minister of Architecture and Construction Alexander Seleznev told a session of the Board of the Ministry.

    “By April 2010 we need to construct three new cement production lines with the capacity 1.8 million tonnes each at the existing facilities, Alexander Seleznev said. – We have already signed contracts with China for the delivery of necessary equipment. In February this year, the modernization of three companies is to be launched”.

    The Minster also said that 2008 will be rather difficult for the construction industry as the government has ramped up the socio-economic development targets for this sector of economy, for example, the target on exports of services.

    Belarus to launch more than 100 new companies in near five years

    In line with the programme of innovation development of Belarus, this country will launch more than 100 new companies in the near five years, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky noted during a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council.

    Moreover, 386 new productions are expected to be set up at operating companies and 609 industrial companies are expected to be modernized, the prime minister said.

    In 2007, Belarus launched 166 new industrial facilities.

    Strike of Polish customs complicates situation on Belarus-Poland border

    From: BelTA
    A strike of Polish customs officers has complicated the situation on the Belarusian-Polish border, BelTA was told in the press centre of the state border committee of Belarus.

    “Polish customs officers called a strike and stopped operations at the border checkpoints “Domachevo” and “Warsaw Bridge”, the committee says.

    The number of customs officers has been reduced at the border checkpoints “Peschatka” and “Kozlovichi” and the movement of transport vehicles has been very slow either side. In the morning January 25 the queue on the border in “Kozlovichi” was 150 vehicles.

    The state border committee advises Belarusian citizens against crossing the Belarusian-Polish border by car and recommends using railway transport instead. The situation at the railway border checkpoints is stable so far.

    Polish Customs leaves skeleton teams at border checkpoints

    After going on strike the Polish Customs left only one officer per border checkpoint at the Belarusian-Polish border, the press service of the State Border Committee of Belarus told BelTA.

    “The situation with people and vehicles having to cross the border is rather complicated, as every border checkpoint has only one customs officer on the Polish side,” said the source.

    According to the source, the Polish Customs caters only to tourist coaches, diplomatic transport and perishable cargoes. There are queues up to 15 km long on the Polish side of the border.

    Thanks to a timely awareness campaign there are no long queues on the Belarusian side of the border. The Belarusian border service recommends postponing all trips to Poland to all citizens until the situation is clear. BelTA has been told, when forced to get back to the home country fast, some Belarusian citizens had to leave behind goods they had bought in Poland in order to cross the border without customs examination.

  • From the international press...

    Polish customs strike halts hundreds of trucks on Ukraine and Belarus borders

    From: PR Inside
    Hundreds of trucks lined up on Poland's border with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia Saturday, as a strike by Polish customs officers stretched into its sixth day.
    Fourteen checkpoints on the border with the three ex-Soviet states have been clogged as only a handful of Polish officers showed up for work, according
    to Russia's NTV television.

    Only drivers with nothing to declare and vehicles with diplomatic plates are being allowed through, the report said.

    A 43-year old Ukrainian driver was burned alive Friday at the Krakovitz checkpoint after a short circuit sparked a fire in his truck, and a Polish driver died of cardiac arrest at the Yagodin checkpoint Wednesday after standing in line for three days, said Volodymyr Sheremet, spokesman for the western Ukrainian border unit.

    «Things are very tense here,» Sheremet said.
    At the border with the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, dozens of cargo trains have been unable to move into Poland, NTV said.

    At the Belarusian town of Brest, a major East-West cargo crossing point, only one customs booth was operating Saturday, Russia's Vesti 24 television said.
    One driver, Alexander Stroganov, was quoted as saying that trucks stretched back more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border.
    Polish custom guards started their work slowdown on Monday, demanding higher salaries. They have threatened to stop all customs inspections Monday if their demands are not met.
    The Polish government says it can only afford a third of what the customs officers are demanding.

    Belarus kills smuggled parrots over bird flu fears

    From: Reuters
    Veterinarians fearing cases of bird flu have destroyed 275 parrots brought into ex-Soviet Belarus illegally by a smuggler on a bicycle, a newspaper reported on Friday.

    Officials this week initially said the birds, crammed into cages and abandoned by a man after he was confronted by border guards, were to be handed to pet shops after health checks.

    But a lack of facilities at the border with Ukraine ultimately proved their undoing.

    "By law, we could have left the parrots in quarantine for up to three days. But tests can only be conducted in Minsk," said a veterinary service spokesman, quoted by the daily Respublika.

    "Transporting them and waiting for the result would have taken a week. We decided to take no risks. They were put to sleep and incinerated."

    Two birds were found dead after the cages were opened. The smuggler escaped back across the border.

    No cases of bird flu have been reported in Belarus, though two outbreaks have been recorded in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

    Belarus Oppositionist Granted Early Release

    From: Moscow Times
    Zmitser Dashkevich
    Belarussian opposition leader whose imprisonment was condemned by the United States and the European Union has been released two months before the end of his sentence.

    Zmitser Dashkevich, a leader of the Young Front organization, said he was released late Wednesday night. He was imprisoned in November 2006 after being convicted on charges of engaging in activities for an unregistered political organization.

    Dashkevich is one of the most prominent members of the beleaguered opposition to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. The United States, which has characterized Lukashenko as "the last dictator in Europe," has frozen some Belarussian government assets, imposed travel restrictions on some officials and threatened more sanctions if Belarus does not ease pressure on the opposition.

    Washington and Brussels had demanded Dashkevich's release. Belarussian officials declined to comment on the release.

    "Lukashenko stole more than a year of my life and for my freedom I should thank not him, but rights defenders and the U.S. and EU," Dashkevich said.

    Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, quashing dissent and opposition groups and resisting free-market reforms. He remains broadly popular, particularly outside the capital, with disparate opposition movements in the country of 10 million drawing only small crowds to infrequent rallies.

    Lukashenko says his line on dissent and policies of subsidies and social benefits have spared Belarussians the upheavals of nearby former Soviet states.

    A Belarus court jailed and fined 12 of about 2,000 activists who joined an unauthorized rally Monday that was broken up by police. The opposition movement Vyasna said the participants were handed 15-day sentences for public order offenses and fined up to $700.

    The activists were protesting new regulations that small entrepreneurs say deny them the right to hire workers outside their immediate families or oblige them to reregister and be subject to higher taxes.

    Vawkavysk businessman Yury Lyavonaw released after more than 18 months in prison

    In a related story, Yury Lyavonaw, a former director of the Nika Trans company in Vawkavysk, Hrodna region, was released on January 25 after more than 18 months in prison.

    Mr. Lyavonaw, who was sentenced to three years and five months in prison on a tax evasion charge in July 2006, was held in a medium security correctional institution in Babruysk, Mahilyow region.

    His business partner, Mikalay Awtukhovich, also a resident of Vawkavysk, was released from prison a week ago. Mr. Awtukhovich, an operator of private taxes, was sentenced to three years and six months in prison in the same trial for alleged tax evasion and illegal business activities.

    For both men, prison was replaced with “corrective labor at the place of residence,” which means that a certain amount will be deducted from their income during a certain period of time, Tsimafey Dranchuk, coordinator of the founding group for the Belarusian Committee for the Protection of Prisoners’ Rights, told BelaPAN.

    Messrs. Awtukhovich and Lyavonaw were widely believed to be prisoners of conscience.

    Mr. Awtukhovich said that he had been sent to prison because he had protested authorities’ arbitrary rule. He was arrested on October 14, 2005 and went on a hunger strike on the same day. After 74 days of the hunger strike, he was released on his own recognizance. His trial was originally scheduled to start on February 9, 2006 but he went into hiding and was captured in Minsk on April 8.

    Opposition politicians set to launch signature collection campaign for Belarus’ integration into European Union

    From: Naveny
    The campaign will begin with a publicity effort to recruit volunteers, Mikalay Statkevich, chairman of the organizing committee for refounding the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Narodnaya Hramada,” said at a news conference held at the office of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) on Thursday.

    The collection of signatures will be part of a larger campaign called European Belarus. Apart from Mr. Statkevich, the campaign is spearheaded by BPF Deputy Chairman Viktar Ivashkevich; Mikhail Marynich, an ex-minister of external economic relations; and Andrey Sannikaw, a former deputy foreign minister.

    “The second stage of the campaign will involve thousands of volunteers who are to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures to a petition addressed to the EU and its institutions to show that the Belarusians have the will to be in the family of European nations,” Mr. Statkevich said, adding that there are plans to hold a Forum of Pro-European Forces before the collection of signatures is to start.

    EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the EU external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, have said that Belarus would be welcome in the EU, Mr. Statkevich noted.

    The Belarusian government has not responded to these statements because integration into Europe would mean that Belarus has to hold free and fair elections, Mr. Statkevich said. “We should not allow a group of self-seekers to rob our people of the chance of living in a prosperous European country,” he added.

    The objectives of the campaign are to promote European values and ideals and to respond to the EU’s 12 conditions for Belarus, Mr. Ivashkevich said. “The conditions are not only for the Belarusian government but also for the Belarusian people,” he noted. “And the Belarusian people should say that they do want to be in the EU.”

    One of the conditions is to hold free, fair and transparent elections, that is why the campaign is part of preparations for this fall’s parliamentary elections with a view to creating conditions for the elections to be free and fair, Mr. Ivashkevich noted.

    “If the authorities once again choose an election farce over democratization, our people’s referendum will provide an alternative to this farce,” he said.

    Belarus calls on Europe to stop using visas as instrument of limiting interpersonal contacts

    From: Naveny
    Belarus calls on Europe to stop using visas as an instrument of limiting person-to-person contacts and take the necessary steps to ensure freedom of movement, one of the fundamental principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Andrey Papow, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said at Thursday’s briefing.

    Belarus has unilaterally decided to lower visa fees for a number of neighboring countries that joined the Schengen travel zone in December, Mr. Papow said.

    According to him, single-entry visas for citizens of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are now priced at €25, single-entry transit visas at €10 and multiple-entry one-year visas at €150. The fees for citizens of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are €60, €20 and €150, respectively. Urgent visas issued on the day of application or the following day cost an additional €25.

    Visas for citizens of other Schengen countries are priced at €65, €30 and €300, respectively. Tourist visas cost them €50.

    “The establishment of lower visa fees for the citizens of the neighboring countries that have acceded to the Schengen agreement confirms once again Belarus’ readiness for dialogue with the European Union about measures to simplify the procedure of issuing visas and lower their price,” Mr. Papow said.

    According to him, Belarus continues to issue business and visitor visas for a period of up to 30 days without a letter of invitation. Applicants for long-term visas are required to produce a minimum quantity of documents and applications are considered within five working days.

    Nine countries joined the Schengen zone on December 21, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

    Belarusian citizens now have to pay €60 to get a Schengen visa.

    Polish and Lithuanian fees have thus rose from €5 to €60, Mr. Papow said, adding that applications are now considered within 30 days instead of 10, and that the issuance procedure itself has become much more complicated.

    The EU has repeatedly said that Schengen visa fees can be reduced for Belarusians if Minsk takes steps toward democracy and human rights respect, and is formally involved in the European Neighborhood Policy.

    In particular, the Belarusian government has been urged to meet 12 conditions, which include, among others, free and fair elections, access to the media for the opposition, freedom of association, the rule of law, the release of political prisoners, and the abolition of the death penalty.

  • Cultural scene...

    Nesvizh, Mir Castles reconstruction should be sped up, Alexander Kosinets says

    From: BelTA
    The reconstruction works in the Nesvizh and Mir Castles should gather momentum, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets tasked the Culture Ministry on January 23 when analyzing the performance of the department in 2007.

    The State Investment Programme has set a deadline for the reconstruction of the objects: the alteration works in the Mir Castle will almost complete in 2008, the Nesvizh Castle will be reconstructed in 2009. There are still a lot of issues related to the construction of hotels, restaurants and other objects. The absence of business planning affects the tourism development.

    The Palace of the Republic will undergo serious reconstruction from modernization of the equipment to renewal of halls. After the reconstruction the Palace of Sports will become an object of double-purpose– to host sports and cultural events.

    Alexander Kosinets turned special attention to the necessity of refurbishing the country’s cinemas. “All the 145 cinemas will take part in the Film Festival Listopad. The figures of 2007 showed growing popularity of events held in Minsk as well as in the regions: the amount of people attending various festivals doubled over 2006 to reach 90 thousand. These extra resources can go into cultural development,” Alexander Kosinets said. Souvenir sales are also likely to bring additional funds.

    Specialized shops of the regions and the motorway service should offer such products.

    Alexander Kosinets “Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk” should undergo fundamental changes

    The international festival of arts “Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk” should undergo major changes, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets tasked the Culture Ministry on January 23 when analysing the performance of the department in 2007.

    “Every year we see one-type festival. It is necessary to change the approach to art direction and the composition of participants,” said the First Vice-Premier. A star avenue should appear in Vitebsk glorifying those, who personify culture and made a considerable contribution to the development of the festival.

    A competition of teenagers should take place within the framework of the festival apart from grown-up and children’s contests. On the whole, only stars should take part in the festival. “A concert of Toto Cutugno costs about Br600 million. Invite 5-7 such singers,” said the Vice-Premier.

    This year about Br4 billion will be spent on organizing the international festival of arts “Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk”. In 2007 the sum was Br3 billion 932 million. The proceeds totalled Br2 billion 971 million. This year’s estimated proceeds – Br2 billion 783 million - look absolutely illogical, Alexander Kosinets stressed.

  • Around the region...

    Deals add to Russia's energy empire

    From: Seattle Times
    Russia expanded its growing European energy empire Friday, signing two more deals raising fears among Western leaders that the growing dependence is giving the Kremlin a powerful geopolitical weapon.

    Announcing the signing of two agreements to construct pipeline and storage facilities in Serbia, Russian officials said the deal would make the poor Balkan nation an important hub for the distribution of Russian gas.

    Russia has been rushing to build or acquire European pipelines, storage facilities, ports and energy companies. Russia already supplies one-quarter of Europe's natural-gas and oil needs.

    Just last week, Bulgaria agreed to become a major hub for a proposed 550-mile underwater pipeline from the southern Russian coast to the Black Sea's western shore. In December, Turkmenistan signed a deal with Russia to build a pipeline that would increase shipments of gas to Russia. The U.S. has led an effort to limit its inroads — in part by planning new energy pipelines that would bypass Russian territory, but Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib, a Russian investment bank, said fast action by Russia to increase its energy deals has made it difficult for Western countries to organize the huge financial investment needed for rival pipelines.

    "The Kremlin moved much more quickly and much more decisively," Weafer said.

    Russia is the biggest exporter of natural gas, the second-largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia and has almost one-third of the world's proven natural-gas reserves. Russia also is the main conduit for oil and gas shipped from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

    In January 2006, Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine for 30 hours — shutting off 80 percent of Russian gas shipments to Europe in a pricing dispute. To settle the dispute, Ukraine was forced to double the price it paid for gas. The deal also opened the door for Gazprom to gain a foothold in Ukraine's domestic-energy industry, according to a U.S. Congressional Research Service study.

    Weafer said the Kremlin simply is applying an important lesson it learned from the end of the Cold War.

    "They're not going to become a global superpower by military means," he said. "They will only achieve that status by economic means, and that is the focus now."

    However, Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, and others said Russia's gas fields are being exhausted rapidly. There is a question whether Russia will be able to meet its customers' demands starting around 2010.

    "Where are we getting our gas from after then?" Stern said. "That's the problem."

    Nearly all nuclear fuel now delivered by Russia to Iran: report

    From: AFP
    A female Russian technician walks inside the Bushehr nuclear power plant
    Russia delivered the seventh out of eight consignments of fuel for Iran's first nuclear power plant in the Gulf port of Bushehr on Saturday, the official IRNA news agency reported.

    "The seventh load of nuclear fuel arrived at the Bushehr plant on Saturday morning," Iran's Organisation for Production and Development of Nuclear Energy said in a statement.

    The delivery brings the amount of nuclear fuel supplied by Russia so far to 77 tonnes or around 94 percent of the total order of 82 tonnes, IRNA said.

    Russia began delivering the fuel on December 17, and the final consignment is due by February according to a timetable agreed by the two sides.

    Late last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Bushehr reactor would be working at 50 percent capacity by mid-2008.

    However the Russian constructors insist that the 1,000-megawatt plant will not go on line until the end of the year.

    After delivering the first shipment of fuel, Russia said Iran no longer needed to pursue its own uranium enrichment, a message repeated by US President George W. Bush.

    But Tehran insists it has a right to enrich uranium and has defied successive UN calls to halt the controversial work, prompting two sets of UN Security Council sanctions.

    The Western powers fear that Iran could use uranium enrichment, which can also make the fissile core of an atom bomb, for military purposes. Iran denies the charges and says it only wants to meet the country's growing energy needs.

    World powers have agreed on a new set of sanctions to punish Iran for its defiance, but a scheduled meeting on Friday of the full UN Security Council to discuss the new measures has been put off to early next week.

    The new draft, agreed by the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States (P-5) and Germany, includes an outright ban on travel by officials involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programmes, according to a text obtained by AFP on Friday.

    Russia arrests internationally wanted crime boss

    From: Xinhuanet
    Russian police have arrested the suspected crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who has been wanted both by Interpol and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for years, officials said Friday.

    Mogilevich is wanted by Interpol and the FBI for running an international fraud operation that allegedly defrauded investors of 150 million dollars in the United States. He is said to have operated criminal enterprises involved in securities fraud, weapons and drug trafficking.

    Angela Kostoyeva, spokeswoman for the Russian Interior Ministry's anti-organized crime unit, said Mogilevich was arrested in Moscow for tax evasion late Wednesday.

    She said Mogilevich was detained under the alias of Sergei Schneider, adding that he has used 17 other names and holds passports from several countries.

    In 2003, the FBI described Mogilevich as having been the leader, in the mid-1990s, of "one of the strongest factions" of "the largest and most powerful Russian organized crime group" called the Solntsevskaya gang after a neighborhood on Moscow's rough outskirts.

    Truckers stuck in border jams threaten to block Warsaw

    From: AFP
    Trucks line up at a blocked main crossroad in northeastern town of Augustow
    Polish truckers, fed up with massive queues at border crossings due to a protest by customs staff, threatened Saturday to block Warsaw and other cities in the country.

    "If the government and the customs agents do not quickly agree we are ready to block Warsaw, Monday at noon (1100 GMT). Blockades in other cities could follow," the president of the Polish Association for Road Transport Employers, Boleslaw Milewski, told AFP.

    A large number of border agents have been missing from their posts for several days, taking holiday or sick-leave in a dispute over pay, and causing major queues at border crossings.

    So far two drivers have died stuck in queues, one of an apparent heart attack and the other when a fire broke out in his truck cabin.

    Queues for heavy trucks at the borders with Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad continued to grow on Saturday.

    In response, truck drivers blocked access to the Dorohusk border station along the Ukrainian border -- where the line was over 800 trucks long -- police spokesperson Renata Laszczka-Rusek told AFP.

    The crossing had been closed overnight due to a lack of customs agents, but reopened in the morning. However, the waiting time to leave Poland via this passage was still an estimated 55 hours.

    The truckers also blocked the Kuznica crossing with Belarus, causing a line of about 350 vehicles at the border post, the PAP news agency reported.

    Hundreds of trucks queued at other major crossings -- there was a line of approximately 800 trucks in Koroszczyn, on the border with Belarus, and 200 in Hrebenne on the border with Ukraine, according to the Polish media.

    "At the moment, circulation of people and goods is totally paralysed," said the Belarussian foreign ministry in a statement, cited by PAP.

    Negotiations with border agent unions started Friday afternoon, but were without result, according to the agents.

    Some agents even threatened to quit should Poland's finance ministry refuse to meet their demands.

    "Our protest movement continues," said Iwona Folta, head of the customs officials protest, early Saturday.

    The customs officials' demands include a pay rise equivalent to 420 euros (618 dollars) per month, as well as retirement benefits in line with other civil servants and stronger legal protection against corruption accusations.

    Customs procedures were tightened on December 21 along Poland's eastern border with non-EU states Ukraine, Belarus and Russian Kaliningrad after Poland was one of nine countries to join the Schengen free travel zone.

    Confronting Poland's Anti-Semitic Demons

    From: Time
    Orthodox Jews prepare to light a menorah in front of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw, Poland.
    Book launches for works of history are typically sedate, often even boring affairs, but the shouts of "Lie!" and "Slander!" from the agitated crowd suggest that the latest offering from Jan Tomasz Gross is garnering attention in circles way beyond those of academic historians. Gross has come to Warsaw's Entrepreneurship and Management Academy to promote his new book, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, and the visible police presence and the plethora of TV cameras in the jam-packed hall make clear that the topic has aroused strong emotions.

    Gross, a U.S. historian born and educated in Poland became internationally famous for his 2001 book Neighbors, chronicling the massacre of Jews in the village of Jedwabne during the Nazi occupation. That book stoked controversy in Poland because it demonstrated that the Jews of Jedwabne had been brutally murdered not by the Germans, but by local Poles. Fear, published in English in 2006 but first released in Polish just two weeks ago, takes a wider look at post-war anti-Semitism in Poland, investigating why Jews returning to their homes having survived Nazi atrocities were terrorized and sometimes murdered by Poles. Needless to say, it is not a topic with which Poland has been comfortable in dealing.

    Poland, which lost about 6 million of its citizens in the war — half of them Jewish — prides itself on being the only country in Nazi-occupied Europe that did not have a collaborator government. But Gross suggests that being a direct witness to Nazi atrocities — Jews from all over Europe were herded to concentration camps in Poland — unleashed a brutal anti-semitism in the country that had for almost nine centuries been home to one of Europe's largest Jewish communities. Gross provides extensive evidence of how many Poles chased away or killed Jewish Holocaust survivors, often out of fear that returning Jews would reclaim their property that had, during the occupation, been taken over by other Poles.

    At Entrepreneurship and Management Academy event, Gross recounted his amazement at reading the memoir of a Jewish activist traveling across post-war Poland seeking Jewish children hidden from the Nazis by Poles. "Those people who had heroically saved an innocent Jewish child begged not to have their names revealed out of fear that their social circle would find out," said Gross. "I did not understand that, and in this book I have attempted to answer that question."

    His conclusions are harsh: "A very brutal anti-semitism was widespread in Poland," he told his audience. "Many Poles agreed with the opinion that Hitler should have a monument elevated for helping Poland solve the Jewish question. That was happening not in only Poland, but in all of post-war Europe."

    Many leading Polish public figures have criticized the book, saying that Gross neglected to take into account the context of of a shattered and demoralized post-war Poland suffering the the brutal imposition of the Soviet system. The victims of the turbulent postwar years were not only Jews, but also anti-communist Poles as well as Ukrainians and Germans expelled after the post-war shifting of borders. "Let?s remind ourselves of what was going on in New Orleans after a few days of a hurricane," historian Marcin Zaremba wrote in the Polityka weekly. "In Poland, the 'hurricane' took place for five years, or even longer."

    Gross even has his critics among Polish Jews. At the Warsaw event, Feliks Tych, longtime head of the city's Jewish Historical Institute, criticized Gross for telling only part of the story, selecting the facts that suited his thesis about deeply-ingrained anti-semitism while forgetting to take into account the post-war collapse of state institutions and social control. "Gross is too much of a judge in his book but too little of an analyst," said Tych. "But after his book, it is no longer possible to escape from the question why there were killings of Jews after the war, and that is is his undeniable achievement."

    Poland's Catholic Church, blamed by Gross for doing nothing to stem the wave of post-war anti-Semitism, has lashed out at the book. The Krakow archbishop and close associate of the late Pope John Paul II, Stanislaw Dziwisz, has written a letter to the Catholic ZNAK publishing house, saying that it should not have published the book. A publishing house should "propagate historical truth," not "awake anti-Polish and anti-Semitic demons," said the archbishop. Polish prosecutors are considering charging Gross with slandering the Polish nation.

    Gross, a Princeton professor who left Poland in 1969, having been expelled from college the previous year during an anti-Semitic purge of 1968 student dissidents, has returned to confront the country of his birth with some uncomfortable truths.

    Early in the proceedings, about a dozen young people demonstratively left the room shouting "Shame!" and "Enough with slandering Poland!" Gross remained calm and quiet. "I speak about things that have been known but have not yet been put in such a clear, sharp and unambiguous way," he said. "It's difficult because we are talking about the time that has shaped our identity, who we think we are."

    Still, the fact that there was as much applause as booing from the crowd at the Entrepreneurship and Management Academy suggests that there are many in Poland ready for a more honest accounting of the past.

  • Sport...

    Belarus league expands again

    From: UEFA
    The 2008 Vysshaya Liga will have another new look with the number of top-flight teams in Belarus to be increased back to 16 after three seasons as a 14-club competition.

    Expanded league
    Last year's only relegated side, FC Minsk, have been replaced by a trio of clubs from the second division with FC Savit Mogilev, FC Granit Mikashevichi and FC Lokomotiv Minsk all promoted to the top flight. FC Belshina Bobruisk, who had begun the second-division season with a three-point deficit, were in contention for promotion until the final game of the campaign, but missed out to Lokomotiv on goal difference.

    Savit aspirations
    Savit were only founded in 2006 but have since made a meteoric rise from the third division. Owner Vitaly Nis is now focused on establishing a strong economic base as the foundation for a prosperous future at the top, saying: "[English Premier League side] Arsenal FC make several million euros from each home game. Why can't we follow their example on a smaller level? There could be up to 10,000 people attending football matches in Mogilev, as in the past. We just need a team which can raise local interest. Hopefully, it will be FC Savit and then who knows? People may be laughing now but why play if we are not determined to reach the highest level?"

    'Did their duty'
    "We weren't aiming to reach the Vysshaya Liga before the start of the season," added head coach Alexandr Sednev. "The board simply did its job, the coaching staff managed the training process and the players, the key element in this system, did their duty on the pitch." A key component in Savit's success is the prolific Vladimir Shakov, who was converted from a defender on his arrival from FC Naftan Novopolotsk two years ago and has scored 52 goals in the last two seasons. "I'm aiming to become the top goalscorer for the third successive season, although the competition will now be much higher," said the 23-year-old.

    Granit steel

    Granit are also preparing for their top-flight debut yet just like his Savit counterparts, head coach Valery Bohno is aiming high. "We'll be trying to win every match," he said. "We're not going to fight for survival. We're not going to be the whipping boys. There are a lot of quite successful teams without star players. Why shouldn't we become one of them?" While Savit and Granit are excitedly awaiting their maiden Vysshaya Liga campaigns, however, the third promoted club Lokomotiv are hoping to find more stability, having been either relegated or promoted every year since 2003.

  • Endnote...

    Zmiter Dashkevich: I’ll work actively from today

    From: Charter '97
    A former political prisoner tells in the interview to Euroradio about what helped him in prison, about the details of his release and his plans.

    – What impression do you have of your first day at large?

    – I’m glad to see my friends. It’s my greatest impression.

    – How were you released? Were there any hints that you would soon be released?

    – The hints were that I would be set free after serving the term. I can say the release was a surprise for me. I came for a questioning, but was said that I could go home...

    – Did you have information about the events in the country?

    – I was receiving many letters, I was subscribed to democratic editions. So I followed the main events.

    – What supported you during that time, helped to stand through these troubles?

    – Of course, God. And a wide campaign of public solidarity, too.

    – Do you need to repair your health?

    – No, I feel well. I’ll work actively from today.

    – Are you going to have a rest for some time?

    – No. I’ve been resting for 16 months. I will deal with the Young Front only.

    – Have you attitude towards political activity and political situation changed?

    – I can say my worldview has just hardened. The rest remains the same.

    – In your view, is it possible that other political prisoners will be released?

    – I’d like to believe. Though I take the release of Mikola Autukhovich and me as a political game, but the game which is played by the will of God and due to the public pressure upon the Lukashenka’s regime.

    – Is it possible to say it is a concession to Europe?

    – “Guarantor of the Constitution” will hardly voluntary reduce 1,5 year of prison to 1 year, as it is in my case.

    It should be reminded that youth leader Zmiter Dashkevich was suddenly released yesterday evening. He was serving his punishment in the Shklou colony for activity on behalf of unregistered organisation. Zmiter was to spend 2 more months in colony.