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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lukashenka speaks to University, Russian relations, Nukes, Economy, Business, European press, Free theatre, Nato, Polish scandal and Sport...

  • From the Top...
  • #281

    Education named lasting priority of Belarus’ social and economic development

    From: BelTA
    Visiting Belarusian State University Department of Journalism
    Education will stay a priority area of the social and economic development of Belarus, head of state Alexander Lukashenko said in his speech before students of the Belarusian State University on February 12.

    In his words, this year alone one fifth of Belarus’ consolidated budget will be channelled into education.

    The head of state underlined, over the last two years two new regional universities as well as ten facilities for higher education institutions worth over Br200 billion have been commissioned in Belarus. Every year all kinds of scholarships are increased. Starting 2008 academic title bonuses for professors and scientific workers have been considerably raised.

    The President remarked, within the next few years new educational wings and hostels for over 14,000 students will be built for Belarusian universities, with Br900 billion allocated for the purpose.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes, investments in the development of education, training of qualified specialists are the most correct and truest investments in the future of the young state.

    After congratulating the BSU on the opening of a new educational wing, the President remarked the building meets the latest European standards. Well-equipped lecture halls and a genuine TV studio will allow raising the quality of the educational process and the training standards of specialists.

    Apart from that, an educational and hotel complex has been built as well as a wing for future lawyers. The head of state remarked, according to the new approach the time of new buildings is nearing its end and the modernisation of existing buildings is beginning.

    The previous years were a complicated time of transformation, added Alexander Lukashenko. It is very important that the BSU has managed to return its status of the country’s leading educational and scientific centre, to build up its main wealth — the qualified professor corps and the highest educational standards. Now the government is interested in making the BSU prestige respected in Belarus and abroad and making other educational facilities strive to reach BSU-set standards, said the President.

    According to the head of state, he highly values meetings with people, especially sincere talks with students, as such talks allow acquiring a new view, a more systematic approach to many problems, allow finding unconventional solutions to pressing tasks.

    Alexander Lukashenko in favour of state control over mass media for public good

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes mass media should be controlled by the government for the sake of public interests. The President made the relevant statement as he met with students of the Belarusian State University on February 12.

    “Mass media wield the weapon with the most destructive power and should be controlled by the state,” stressed the President.

    “In Belarus serious mass media like the entire ideology are not privatised,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “All should be done for the sake of state interests”.

    The President underscored, one opinion is not prevalent in Belarusian mass media, there are many media, which express opinions different from the state one. Alexander Lukashenko also remarked, he does not curtail the number of reporters and is not a man to hide from mass media. “I have nothing to be afraid of. If I restrict reporters in some ways, I do it only for the sake of state interests,” he said.

    According to the President, if opposition mass media can catch the genuine mood of the nation, can write about the real state of things, their circulation will be higher than that of state-run mass media. “Show negative things, but write about positive ones as well,” said Alexander Lukashenko. He also noted, he has a totally calm attitude to what mass media write about him.

    Mass media in Belarus have influence on political decision-making

    Mass media in Belarus have an influence on political decision-making. This is a considerable force, which, in many ways, shapes the views and opinions of people, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said during a meeting with the students of Belarusian State University.

    According to him, the state will continue paying great attention and providing assistance to mass media. Mass media is the most important element of a civil society. The influence of television, press, Internet extends, virtually, to all spheres of the life of the society. Today mass media is one of the most reliable barometers of public opinion.

    According to the President, mass media need to ensure feedback between the government and people, raise problems before the government bodies. Belarus has five national TV channels including the satellite Belarus-TV channel, issues more than 200 TV and radio programmes, more than 1,200 periodicals both state-run and privately-owned. There are more than 2,5 million Internet users, with their number continually growing.

    The head of state added that with the authority and influence growing, mass media are becoming increasingly responsible before the society for providing true information. Social restorability of mass media starts with conscience of every journalist and should rely on honesty, ethics and civic duty.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus promotes dialogue with West

    Belarus is interested in a dialogue with countries of the West, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in his speech before students of the Belarusian State University on February 12.

    “Our approaches are productive to the utmost extent: we need a dialogue, not a dictate. We are very interested in cooperation with the West countries, especially the European Union,” said the head of state.

    He added, the European Union accounts for some 40% of Belarus’ export. The European Union market is the second most important market for Belarus after Russia. Economic partnership with the European Union contributes to bringing investments, modern technologies, upgrading production facilities in Belarus. On the other hands, trade with Belarus and participation in ensuring the Belarusian transit are some of the most important elements of the economic and hence social stability of Poland and the Baltic states, remarked Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President underscored, with the accession of these countries to the European Union the importance of a comprehensive dialogue with the European Union has increased. “Today even regulating slightest issues of the foreign policy and economy our neighbours have to consult centre bodies of the European Union more and more. I would like to note that we repeatedly told the Western partners about possible problems our countries may face after the extension of the Schengen zone. Moreover, unilaterally we maximally facilitated the issuance of Belarusian visas for EU citizens. We even abandoned mutuality principles and set the cost of visas for citizens of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia at €25 instead of €60. We initiated several proposals to introduce special privileged procedures for crossing the border for borderline area population and certain categories of citizens. We are doing our best to prevent the European Union border from becoming a new iron curtain only well-to-do people will be able to cross,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    According to the President, the common border envisages cooperation in other issues as well. Those are fight against transboundary crimes, joint actions meant to ensure smooth operation of the transport infrastructure, stable development of bordering regions, which are interlinked by economic, ethnical, cultural ties.

    Certain Western circles dissatisfied with Belarus’ active position in integration processes

    Belarus’ active position in integration processes in the post-Soviet space does not suit certain Western circles, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in his speech before students of the Belarusian State University on February 12.

    Meanwhile, according to the head of state, markets of ex-USSR countries are top priority for Belarus and efforts should be stepped up to hold them.

    Besides, lack of love for Belarus is caused by the country’s participation in foreign trade, exploration of new markets and promotion of cooperation with Latin America, Asia and Africa. “Who would love to have a new competitor on the markets, which are considered a zone of national interests of a country?” wondered the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko added, after the USSR collapse, as the only remaining superpower the USA has been pursuing a rigid policy aimed at building a multipolar world. Russia, India and China can counterbalance this imperial strategy in the modern world. The head of state was confident new centres of power will appear.

    Belarusian-Venezuelan relations contribute to formation of multi-polar world, President says

    The Belarusian-Venezuelan relations make a real contribution to the formation of the multi-polar world, President Alexander Lukashenko said during a meeting with the students of Belarusian State University.

    “Together we are the force even the super powers cannot afford to ignore,” he said.

    The head of state noted that Belarus is free to choose its friends-allies and does not have to seek advice of the American “wisemen”. Belarus cooperates with China, Iran, Venezuela and other states what annoys the USA.

    Belarus has launched robust cooperation with Venezuela and, speaking figuratively, “opened a window” to South America, got access to the richest oil resources, entered a new market of goods and services, stressed the President. “We have found a reliable political ally in the person of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    Belarus has no use for iron curtain

    Belarus does not use an iron curtain to wall off anything, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in his speech before students of the Belarusian State University on February 12.

    “Contrariwise, we work hard to establish cooperation with all countries. First of all, such giants as Russia, China, countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President said, Belarus’ foreign policy strategy is based on political sovereignty, economic openness and equal partnership between countries. “The golden rule of the Belarusian foreign policy is multiple vectors and interest in mutually beneficial contacts,” he stressed.

    In his words, Belarus’ stance is secure in the UNO, forums of the Non-Aligned Movement and other international organisations. “Belarus is known and respected as an outpost of peace, calmness and stability,” underscored the President. He remarked the country takes the lead in prohibiting slave trade, terrorism, armed resolution of interstate problems.

    Civil society created in Belarus, President says

    Alexander Lukashenko believes a civil society has been created in Belarus.

    “Western mass media like reproaching us for our alleged hampering of the development of the civil society. Let’s have a look at what truly is there. In the country there are over 2,000 public associations and 15 political parties. Are they not the best proof?” stressed the President of Belarus in his speech before BSU students on February 12.

    He noted, local councils of deputies, trade unions, youth, veteran and women organisations are the backbone of the Belarusian civil society. All in all, they unite over 6.5 million people. It is a huge force. But it does not manifest itself actively all the time, said Alexander Lukashenko. The need for preserving and reinforcing the unity of the Belarusian nation is the starting point in relations between the state and the civil society. Not instead but together. The principle should be the basis of their cooperation.

    According to the President, state bodies should encourage the general public to partake in the development of legal instruments that influence interests of the majority of citizens, should take into account opinions and proposals of people.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Russia manage to resolve issues caused by high energy prices

    From: BelTA
    In 2007 Belarus and Russia managed to resolve the complicated issues brought about by the rising energy prices, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus Alexander Surikov told a press conference in Minsk on February 11.

    He noted, the two countries started the last year with the transition to market relations. It led to an objective increase in energy prices. “There were offences and certain feelings. But we managed to overcome these problems,” underscored the Ambassador. He named the contract for gas supplies to Belarus in 2007 and 2008-2009 the last year’s key documents. A gas pricing formula is coming into effect in 2008. It will be a waymark for future trade relations with regard to Russian gas supplies to Belarus.

    The agreement on sharing export duties on petroleum products, which was signed in early 2007, was another important document. According to the document by 2010 Russia’s share in export duties on petroleum products will reach 85%, Belarus’ — 15%. In 2007 the Russian share stood at 70%, the Belarusian share — 30%.

    Alexander Surikov reminded, in view of the Russia-enforced export duty on oil a compensation scheme had to be developed for Belarusian oil refineries. “Eventually a formula was found and in the second half of the year a normal scheme for oil supplying and refining started working. But it was accomplished without privileges. By late 2007 problems in this area calmed down,” remarked the Ambassador.

    In his opinion, the higher energy prices have not affected Belarus’ economic growth. In 2007 Belarus’ GDP grew by over 8%.

    The intergovernmental agreement on the development of trade and economic cooperation the sides signed in March 2007 was another important step in the development of relations between Belarus and Russia. “Essentially the agreement is fulfilled, actions of the parties are synchronised, a full-fledged customs union has been created,” said Alexander Surikov. However, there are certain differences in the parties’ views on supporting agriculture. “Minor things are left but we will handle them. Everything goes smoothly, we will come to terms in this regard,” the Ambassador is convinced.

    The joint statement and the cooperation memorandum adopted during the official visit of President of Russia Vladimir Putin to Belarus in December 2007 also confirmed the intention of the two countries to reach tight integration. “All our basic agreements confirm that Belarus and Russia operate understanding the modern reality of the global economy,” stated the Ambassador.

    Belarus, Russia close to completing Union State property laws

    Belarus and Russia are completing working out the laws that regulate Union State property, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus Alexander Surikov told a press conference in Minsk on February 11.

    He noted, at present two documents out of the package of agreements necessary to form the Union property are left to sign. These are agreements on healthcare and migration. “The first document is supposed to be signed and is being prepared for ratification while the freedom of travel agreement (migration) is debated in the State Duma,” said the Ambassador.

    After the entire package of agreements between Belarus and Russia has been signed, hindrances to Union State regulations will be officially removed, stressed Alexander Surikov.

    In January 2006 Belarus and Russia signed several cooperation documents. In particular, the two countries signed a social security cooperation agreement, an agreement on equal rights of citizens of Belarus and Russia to freedom of travel, stay and residence in the Union State member-countries. Belarus and Russia also signed an agreement on regulating Union State property and an intergovernmental agreement on medical aid for Russian citizens in Belarus and medical aid for Belarusians in Russia.

    Russia to aid Belarus’ accession to WTO

    Russia will help Belarus with entering the World Trade Organisation, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus Alexander Surikov told a press conference in Minsk on February 11.

    He noted, in 2006 the two countries signed a memorandum, according to which once Russia is part of the WTO, the country undertakes to assist Belarus with all matters connected with the accession to this international organisation.

    Alexander Surikov stated, Belarus and Russia are at different stages of preparations for accession to the WTO. “Russia has made the larger part of the way while Belarus has held fewer talks so far,” explained the diplomat. “It is very much possible that Belarus and Russia will enter the WTO at different times”.

    Meanwhile, the Ambassador remarked, the process of Russia’s accession to the WTO has become obviously political. “We are being pressured, we are pushed back with regard to these or those requirements,” said Alexander Surikov.

    Belarus ready for preparation stage of nuclear station construction

    From: BelTA
    Monument at Chernobyl
    All the conditions necessary for the preparation stage of the nuclear power plant construction have been created in Belarus, Deputy Energy Minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk told a roundtable session “Nuclear power engineering for Belarus” in Minsk on February 12.

    The Nuclear Station Construction Directorate has been set up as well as a regulating body. The scientific support for the project has been ensured, pre-implementation work is in progress. Mikhail Mikhadyuk remarked, a nuclear energy utilisation bill has been worked out and will be brought in the parliament soon. Other legal instruments are in the works. Besides, there is a programme for training specialists for the nuclear energy industry. Belarus is conducting the preparation stage in an open way and in close cooperation with the IAEA, stressed the Deputy Energy Minister.

    Capabilities of Russian companies regarding the construction of nuclear power plants were presented during the roundtable session. It was noted, at present Russia is executing contracts to set up seven atomic energy units abroad. Russian companies have built two energy units in China, the construction of two units in India is close to completion, the construction of one energy unit in Iran and two energy units in Bulgaria is in progress. The
    echnologies Russia offers meet international norms and have been recognised abroad.

    According to Alexander Lokshin, Director General of Rosenergoatom concern, at present Russia uses 31 atomic energy units to generate some 17% of the country’s power output. By 2015 in line with the national atomic energy industry development programme two new atomic energy units will be built every year.

    Nuclear plant construction and satellite launch projects will boost intellectual development of Belarus

    Nuclear plant construction and satellite launch projects will become a good impetus to further intellectual development of the Belarusian state, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said during a meeting with the students of Belarusian State University.

    “Launching a satellite and construction of a nuclear plant are not ordinary things. “An intellectual breakthrough” is needed to become a space power. To train nuclear plant personnel we are, in fact, creating a separate school in science and education. Then we will be able to “sell” our knowledge, skills earning money in this way for the country. This is why we inject funds in the development of high and modern technology, the President added.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed confidence that a nuclear plant is needed to enhance Belarus’ economic and energy independence.

    Without considering energy price hike, Belarus’ trade surplus is at $1.58 billion in 2007

    From: BelTA
    Without considering energy price hike, Belarus had a foreign trade surplus in 2007 at the amount of $1.58 billion, Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko told a session of the Council of Ministers.

    Last year’s foreign economic results are ambiguous. Comparing with 2006, the deficit came to $2 billion 685.3 million, or $1 billion 140 million more. “Yet, if we do not take into account the oil and gas price spike, then we have a trade surplus of $1 billion 584 million,” the minister said. The surplus was due to the increase in trade in services ($448.6 million up) and in the trade in main groups of goods ($1 billion 134.4 million up).

    Nikolai Zaichenko said that the trade balance targets were not met by the Ministry of Architecture and Construction Belneftekhim, Bellegprom and Belgospischeprom concerns. In terms of oblasts it was only the Minsk oblast who met the target.

    “Therefore the goal to reduce the deficit of foreign trade in services and goods becomes the most important priority of the government bodies in 2008,” the minister stressed. With a view to meeting the foreign economic targets and reducing foreign trade deficit to $1.4 billion, the Government has developed a set of organisational and economic measures and plan of action in 2008 to implement the national export development programme 2006-2010.

    Belarus’ agricultural sector falls behind production growth targets, Sergei Sidorsky says

    The Belarusian agricultural branch falls behind the production growth targets. The rural revival and development programme for 2005-2010 is not implemented to the full, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorskiy told a session of the Council of Ministers on February 12.

    According to him, within the five year term the agricultural production is projected to increase by 45% including by 8.5% - in 2008. “Unfortunately, these targets are not being met,” the head of government said.

    Sergei Sidorskiy reminded that in 2005, the agrarian sector increased production by 2%, in 2006 – by 6%, in 2007 – by 4.1%.

    The Prime Minister also highlighted that in 2008, in line with the socio-economic development forecast of Belarus, the GDP is projected to increase by 8-9%. The Council of Ministers’ Resolution No 8 has established a more ambitious target of 11%. These parameters should be met including by means of increasing the agricultural output. However, this sector of the economy failed to achieve the January 2008 targets.

    According to the Prime Minister, the fall in production of agricultural products was due to the reduction of milk production though the stocks of feedstuffs are sufficient.

    Belarus’ inflation will be at 8% in 2008, Nikolai Zaichenko says

    In 2008, the Government of Belarus will keep inflation at the level of 8%, Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko told a session of the Council of Ministers on February 12.

    According to the minister, in 2008, the Government is set to reduce the inflation rate. In January 2008, the consumer price index increased by 2.5% due to the increase in tariffs for public utilities (1.66% up), fruits and vegetables (0.27% up), meats, beer, cheeses and some other foodstuffs. More than 77% of the increase in the consolidated index accounted for administered prices, 23% for free-of-control prices and tariffs.

    To keep inflation in check, the Government has approved a range of the anti-inflationary measures. In Q1 2008, the consumer price index is projected to increase by 3.7%, in Q2 –1.4%, in Q3 –0.8% and in Q4 2008 – by 1.9%.

    According to Nikolai Zaichenko, in 2007, the increase in the consumer prices was due to the increase in prices for the imported power resources. In 2008, the price growth is expected to be slower, the minister noted.

    Investment growth slows down in Belarus, Sergei Sidorsky says

    From: BelTA
    Investment growth has slowed in Belarus, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky said at a session of the Council of Ministers on February 12.

    He said that the Government is set to increase investments by 25% in 2008 over 2007 “Yet, manufacturing companies have failed so far to post high capital growth results.” This pertains, first thing, to the Belneftekhim concern and Industry Ministry who performed the investment growth plan at 89% and 67% respectively in January. This activity has not come into focus in several other ministries and agencies including the Ministry of Architecture and Construction, Bellesbumprom and Bellegprom concerns.

    “Without active innovation and investment policies we will not reach the results,” Sergei Sidorsky said. He acknowledged that in 2007 the results were high (47% more investments in January 2007 over January 2006). It is difficult to outperform the result but we need to, the Prime Minister said.

    This year housing construction target is 5.2 million square meters of housing, 500 thousand square meters up over 2007. “The country needs to boost housing construction rate, the Premier said.

    Analyzing the January results, Sergei Sidorsky criticized the work of the governors. “The oblast executive committees have failed to devise a step-by-step scheme on increasing industrial output. January was a failure in the manufacturing industries in the regions, he said. Meanwhile, the Government has passed many resolutions to ensure stable performance of the economy in the regions. But not every region managed in January.”

    The economic issues should be on radar of all miniseries and agencies including those who are not engaged in manufacturing. According to the Prime Minister, the Information Ministry needs to make more special programmes, information materials telling about the development of the business sector of the country, on attracting investment.

    The Prime Minister criticized the Foreign Ministry for the inefficient work with investors in the regions. According to him, no effective system has been elaborated to implement Decree No1 on attracting investors into small towns.

  • From the international press...

    Lukashenka defends decision to build nuclear power plant in Belarus

    From: Naveny
    The construction of a modern and reliable nuclear power plant will help supply Belarus with cheaper electric power, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said while speaking to a group of students in a new building of Belarusian State University on Tuesday, BelaPAN said.

    According to the Belarusian leader, the plant would reduce the nation’s needs for imported energy resources by about 30 percent.

    Mr. Lukashenka stressed that Belarus has an open-type economy and trades with more than 170 states throughout the world.

    It is only possible to maintain a high economic growth rate and improve people’s living standards through using energy resources more efficiently, he noted. “The economy itself makes us look for new and preserve traditional sales markets for out products and sources of raw materials for maintaining the production cycle,” he said.

    Mr. Lukashenka insisted that nuclear power generation is safe and advantageous. He cited the example of France where he said nuclear power plants supply more than 80 percent of the nation’s electricity needs. Belarus should not ignore global trends, he said, adding that many countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Russia and China, actively develop nuclear power production.

    “Our opponents try to earn political dividends by taking advantage of the radiophobia of some part of the Belarusian residents,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “They deliberately keep silent about the fact that modern nuclear power plants are manifold better than the Chernobyl plant in terms of the level of reliability. In addition, they do significantly less harm to the environment than conventional power plants.”

    The construction of the nuclear power plant, estimated at $4 billion, is expected to begin in 2009 and to be completed in 2018. The 2,000-MWt plant is supposed to supply some 15 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

    Government experts currently consider two sites for the construction of the plant, with one of them located near Bykhaw, Mahilyow region, and the other between Horki and Shklow also in the Mahilyow region, which was affected worst in Belarus by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster along with the Homyel region.

    Belarus doesn't want "Iron Curtain" with EU - Lukashenko

    From: Itar Tass
    Belarus is doing everything possible to avoid "turning the border with the European Union into a new Iron Curtain, which can be traversed only by money bags," President Alexander Lukashenko stated at the Belgosuniversitet university on Tuesday.

    "We're very interested in cooperation with countries of the West, especially the European Union, which accounts for 40 percent of Belarus' exports," Lukashenko noted.

    The republic unilaterally simplified the visa issue procedure for EU citizens. "We even gave up the principle of reciprocity and fixed the visa price at 25 euros instead of 60 for the citizens of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia," the president said.

    Mutual respect and equality should be the basis of partnership with the European Union, Lukashenko went on to say.

    He noted that several rounds of political consultations between Belarus and the EU had taken place, and that direct dialogue was taking shape in the sphere of power generation, transport and transit.

    The talks on creating a full-fledged mission of the European Union are nearing completion, according to Lukashenko.

    "We were not the initiators of the worsening of political relations with the European Union; European officials drove themselves into the corner in connection with the far-fetched themes of political prisoners and human rights," Lukashenko said.

    But Belarussian authorities met them halfway even here, having secured early release or probation for several inmates, for which the West has special sentiments.

    The president underlined that their release was not linked with the justification of the perpetrated crimes, but was explained by humane considerations. "In our relations with the West, we are the first to offer headway. It's now the European Union's turn to demonstrate its good intentions with respect to Belarus," Lukashenko said.

    Iran and Belarus to raise economic ties by 1 billion dollars

    From: ISNA
    Iran and Belarus seek to increase bilateral trade exchanges by one billion dollars a year, Belarusian minister of industries said.

    Belarusian industries and defense ministers along with a number of other political officials took part in the meeting celebrating 29th anniversary of Islamic revolution victory.

    A large number of economic projects being carried out by the two countries pave the way for expanding mutual cooperation, Belarusian minister of industries added.

    Minsk and Tehran are to boost trade transactions by 1 billion dollars per year, he said.

    The Iranian ambassador Mahmoud Fekri for his part said the history clearly shows Iranians never extorted other territories.

    Iran, one of terror victims, has always endeavored to find ways for eradication of this undesirable phenomenon in the world, he added.

    Alexander Lukashenko congratulates Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran

    On behalf of the Belarusian people and on his own behalf, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

    Alexander Lukashenko lauded the dynamic development of cooperation Belarus and Iran in all areas.

    The President of Belarus has expressed the conviction that the relationship based on friendship and partnership between the two states will help pursue joint projects for the benefit of the Belarusian and Iranian peoples.

    Russian vice premier denies political motives behind low gas price for Belarus

    From: Naveny
    The Russian first deputy prime minister has reiterated that there is no politics behind a natural gas price for Belarus, which he noted is "a little bit" lower than for other clients of Gazprom, Russia's news agency Interfax reported.

    "Europe today pays $314 for 1000 cubic meters. Lukashenka said that he does not have the money," Mr. Ivanov explained.

    The Russian vice premier was speaking at a security conference in Munich on Sunday.

    "Are gas and oil prices connected with politics? No, they are not. But we do not supply gas to anyone free of charge," he said and noted that Russian gas prices are calculated based "on a transparent market formula that everybody knows."

    Belarus continues paying the lowest price among Gazprom's clients despite the fact that it was raised almost twofold in 2007 and by a further 20 percent to $119.5 for 1000 cubic meters in the first quarter of this year.

    Five-country Nuclear Energy exhibition to open in Minsk

    From: Itar Tass
    Nuclear Energy-2008 international specialised exhibition opens here on Tuesday, with about 60 companies from five countries participating.

    The exhibition has been arranged to acquaint the Belarus general public and specialists, who will be involved in building nuclear power stations (NPS) and developing the nuclear power industry in Belarus, with the world's experience in the designing, construction and operation of NPS. The enterprises and organisations from Belarus, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Sweden will take part in the exhibition.

    A joint Russian exhibition will take up over a half of the exhibition's entire area. Products are to be displayed, in particular, by the RosEnergoAtom Company, and the AtomStrojExport private joint-stock company.

    Roundtable meetings are to be held within the framework of the exhibition on the following themes: "Atomic Power Engineering for the Republic of Belarus", "Nuclear Medicine", and "The Training of Personnel for the Nuclear Power Industry".

    Alexander Surikov, Ambassador of Russia to Belarus, told journalists on Monday that Russian companies look attentively at the situation ahead of the announcement of a tender by Belarus for the construction of an NPS. "We are waiting for the tender to be announced," he said. The Russian side is to demonstrate its resources at the exhibition.

    Belarus had decided to build a 2,000-megawatt NPS. The first power unit is to be energized in 2016 and the second one in 2018.

  • Cultural scene...

    Free Theater sets off on UK tour

    From: Naveny
    Free Theater (FT), an underground company based in Minsk, has set off on their UK tour that is to last one month.

    The company is planning to show Being Harold Pinter and Generation Jeans in London and Leeds, and conduct a one-week drama course at a drama school.

    Shortly before the departure, FT returned from the United States where it performed Generation Jeans, a one-man show featuring FT Art Director Mikalay Khalezin, at the Under the Radar Festival in New York City.

    It also premiered in Minsk Hrum, a new play based on a story by German author Dea Loher and co-directed by German director Kai Ohrem.

    FT also showed in Belarus its old plays, the first two parts of trilogy The Zone of Silence. Among the spectators were Irish and Danish theater professionals, Mark Ravenhill, one of the most controversial and successful British playwrights, and Silvia Berutti-Ronelt, coordinator of a French theater project called Trames.

    FT cooperated with foreign directors previously. Christian Benedetti, head of the French-based Alfortville theatrical studio, staged FT's Eleven Vests performance based on English playwright Edward Bond's title play whose premier in Minsk was broken up by police in August 2007.

    Soutine’s Space exhibition to open in Smilovichi February 12

    The exhibition Soutine’s Space will open in the Children’s Creativity Center of the settlement of Smilovichi, the Minsk oblast on February 12. The exhibition will be devoted to one of the bright representatives of the Art School of Paris – Belarus-native Shaim Soutine.

    The project has been organized by the National Commission for UNESCO jointly with the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.

    The works of the artists of the School of Paris (Chagall, Picasso, Modigliani, Appolliner) are displayed in the prestigious galleries and sold by auctions at record-high prices. This art trend has been followed by other Belarusian outstanding artists: Pinkhas Kremen, Mikhail Kikoin, Evgeny Zak, Lev Bakst, Oskar Meschaninov.

    Soutine’s pictures are held in the largest museums of Paris, New York, London, private collections of well-known people. According to the arts critics, this is one of the most distinctive and impressive artists of the 20th century that influenced greatly the American expressionists with his instinctive innovation techniques and creativity magic.

  • Around the region...

    Russia threatens nuclear attack on Ukraine

    From: Telegraph
    The Russian and Ukrainian leaders had just held emergency talks in the Kremlin
    Russia has threatened to target the Ukraine with nuclear warheads if the former Soviet republic joins Nato and accepts the deployment of United States anti-missile defences on its territory.

    The Russian and Ukrainian leaders had just held emergency talks in the Kremlin
    President Vladimir Putin of Russia warned Ukraine's leader Viktor Yushchenko of "retaliatory actions" should his country join the Western alliance during a joint press conference in Moscow.

    "It's frightening not just to talk about this, but even to think about, that in response to such deployment, the possibility of such deployments - and one can't theoretically exclude these deployments - that Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory," he said.

    The Russian and Ukrainian leaders had just held emergency talks in the Kremlin to avert a energy supply crisis over Kiev gas bill - a similar dispute two years ago led to power cuts across Europe.

    Mr Yushchenko responded to the Russian pressure by insisting on Ukraine's right to decide its own foreign policy while stressing that his country's constitution would not allow US military bases on its territory.

    "You understand well that everything that Ukraine does in this direction is not in any way directed at any third country, including Russia," he replied.

    "We follow the principle that any nation has the right to define its own security. Our constitution does not allow deployment by a third country or bloc on Ukrainian territory."

    Mr Putin has condemned Washington's plans to include Poland and the Czech Republic in a missile defence shield as a "new phase in the arms race".

    Russia fears the shield will threaten its national security and tip strategic military balance in Europe.

    "The goal [of the missile shield] is to neutralise our nuclear capabilities," said Mr Putin.

    "This would prompt Russia to take retaliatory action."

    Moscow has already declared that Russia will pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which came into force in 1992 and restricts the deployment of troops and tanks near sensitive European frontiers.

    Last week, John Chipman, the head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned that the "next target of Moscow's assertive revisionism "could be the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987.

    Both would be moves that would allow Russia to build a new generation of medium-range nuclear missiles capable of striking Western Europe. As relations between Russia and many of its near neighbours deteriorate, Ukraine has submitted a formal membership request to Nato, to be considered a summit of alliance leaders in the Romanian capital of Bucharest this April.

    Mr Putin has accepted an invitation to attend the meeting and Russia's parliament last month voted to stop using Soviet-built military radars in Ukraine because of Kiev's Nato ambitions.

    The prospect of Nato membership is also deeply controversial in the Ukraine, where opinion polls show that over half of the country opposes it.

    Russia has revived the long-range air patrols that were once a standard feature of the Cold War and US defence officials confirmed that a pair of Russian TU-95 Bear bombers overflew a US aircraft carrier in the western Pacific at an altitude of 2,000 feet (660 meters) over the weekend.

    Four F-18 fighters jets intercepted the Russian bombers on Saturday morning, but not before they had overflown the USS Nimitz.

    It was the second time since July 2004 that a Russian Bear bomber has overflown a US aircraft carrier.

    It was not immediately known whether the United States issued any protests with the Russians.

    Most Ukrainians against accession to NATO – public surveys

    From: Itar Tass
    Almost 60 percent of the Ukrainian population spoke against the country’s accession to NATO, the Public Opinion Fund – Ukraine centre said in its report published on Monday.

    Only 16.9 percent of respondents supported Ukraine’s joining NATO, 15 percent of those polled had no exact answer, the centre said, adding that 8.4 percent would not like to participate in a referendum on the country’s accession to the alliance.

    More than 56 percent of respondents did not approve of the Ukrainian leadership’s address to the NATO Secretary General, in which they asked for his permission for Ukraine to join the membership action plan, the centre said, adding that 24.6 percent of respondents, who have the voting power, supported that address, although they did not know the contents of the address.

    At the same time, 70 percent of the polled Ukrainians did not agree with the actions to block the parliament’s work, the centre said.

    The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) opposition demands that the speaker’s signature be withdrawn from “the letter of three” (president-premier-speaker) to the NATO Secretary General, the centre reaffirmed.

    The public opinion poll was conducted in 160 cities, towns and villages of Ukraine from January 25 to February 2. Specialists of the centre polled 2,000 residents of 18 years of age and older.

    Verkhovna Rada reduces size of Ukrainian armed forces

    In a related story, The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada has adopted a draft law, which ensures the reduction of the armed forces’ size during this year.

    According to the draft law, the armed forces will reduce by 17,000 people, including 9,000 servicemen and 8,000 civilians. As of December 30, 2008, the armed forces will have 183,000 members, including 143,000 servicemen.

    The bill was adopted as the opposition briefly unblocked the parliament activity.

    U.S. downplays Russia bomber incident

    From: Xinhua
    A Russian Tupolev TU-95 plane is photographed by the Norwegian Air Force in International waters outside the coast of Norway August 17, 2007. Twelve TU-95MC Russian strategic bombers will take part in an Arctic exercise on Monday and Tuesday including tactical launches of cruise missiles, an air force spokesman said.
    The Pentagon downplayed a Feb. 9 incident involving Russian bombers and a U.S. aircraft carrier Tuesday, saying it doesn't see the Russian action as "provocative."

    "I did not consider it to be provocative," Gary Roughead, U.S. chief of naval operations, told reporters at the Pentagon.

    On Feb. 9, several Russian bombers approached U.S. carrier Nimitz south of Japan and one of them flew over the carrier, according to the U.S. account of the incident.

    Four U.S. fighter jets took off and "escorted" Russian bombers.

    But the Russian Air Force denied any action of intrusion, saying its planes carried out tasks strictly in compliance with international regulations.

    Roughead said he has yet asked Russia for explanation, but said the incident demonstrated the fact that the Russian military is trying to re-emerge as a global force.

    He said the U.S. response in the incident is appropriate and the U.S. planes and ships were not alerted to take combat position at that time.

    The Japanese Foreign Ministry also said Russian bomber intruded its airspace in the incident, which Russia denied.

    Russia and China urge ban on space weapons

    From: Telegraph
    Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, unveiled proposals for a "treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space" at a UN conference on disarmament being held in Geneva.

    advertisementHe said the treaty "prohibits the deployment of weapons of any kind in space, and the use or threat of force against space objects".

    Mr Lavrov suggested that US military domination of space could lead to a nuclear-style arms race.

    "Weapons deployment in space by one state will inevitably result in a chain reaction," he said. "This, in turn, is fraught with a new spiral in the arms race both in space and on Earth."

    China and Russia made similar proposals on space-based weapons in 2002, shortly after President Bush withdrew the US from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

    But their efforts have assumed greater weight with worsening relations between Russia and the West and following a missile test by China in December 2006, when it destroyed an old weather satellite.

    However, the US has made clear it has no intention of surrendering its advantage in space technology, which is set to be a key component of its missile defence shield. A White House spokesman rejected the call for a treaty.

    Russia and China believe that America cannot take their co-operation for granted in attempts to reduce the threat from North Korea and Iran while forcing them to choose between giving up the space race or vastly increasing their military spending.

    Some analysts have also warned that ground-based weapons, which would not come under the treaty, could wreak havoc with the satellite-dependent US armed forces.

    Russia shuts university that displeased Putin

    From: Gardian
    The European University at St Petersburg
    The Kremlin was yesterday accused of mounting an unprecedented attack on academic freedom after one of Russia's top universities was closed.

    The European University at St Petersburg (EUSP) has been forced to suspend its teaching after officials claimed that its historic buildings were "a fire risk". On Friday a court ordered that all academic work cease, classrooms be sealed and the university's library shut.

    Academics at the EUSP said the move was politically motivated - and followed a row last year over a programme funded by the European commission to improve the monitoring of Russian elections. The university accepted a three-year, £500,000 EU grant to run a project advising Russia's political parties on matters such as how to ensure elections are not rigged.

    Last October, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, launched a vitriolic attack on the EUSP - which has close links with universities in the UK and US - accusing it of being an agent of foreign meddling.

    On January 31, the EUSP's academic council bowed to Kremlin pressure and abandoned the monitoring project.

    "It's clear [the closure] was politically motivated," Maxim Reznik, the leader of St Petersburg's opposition party, Yabloko, said. "We are observing a change in the political regime in Russia from authoritarianism to totalitarianism. What happened here is one example among many."

    He added: "This hasn't got anything to do with fire risk. The university was carrying out important work in connection with election monitoring. Now it's being punished for it."

    Putin has frequently attacked Russia's NGOs, human rights groups and reformist opposition - accusing them of being traitors and tools of the west. But the Kremlin has largely ignored the higher education sector, allowing academics relative freedom and autonomy over teaching, student selection and research - until now.

    Yesterday the EUSP's rector, Nicolai Vahtin, said he hoped the university would reopen soon. "There's obviously been a misunderstanding. We are hoping to solve this in a couple of days," he said.

    There were "no facts" to support or deny the suggestion the closure was political, he continued. "We are one of the best schools in the city and in the country. It would be a waste of talent and motivation to put us out of business."

    Asked whether the EUSP was still functioning, he said: "The administration is working. But the courts have sealed the classrooms so there are no classes."

    The university's EC-funded project was launched in February 2007. Its aim was to develop and raise the effectiveness of electoral monitoring in Russia's regions.

    Putin's United Russia party took an immediate dislike to it. Last summer a party deputy demanded an investigation, and accused the university of trying to influence the result of the country's parliamentary and presidential elections.

    Russia has been sensitive to persistent outside criticism of its electoral process, which independent observers say falls well short of international standards.

    In December, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described Russia's state Duma elections as "not fair", adding there had been "unprecedented abuse" of office by Putin.

    Last week the OSCE said its observers would boycott Russia's March 2 presidential election because of Moscow's refusal to cooperate with the monitoring process - prompting a furious Kremlin response.

  • From the Polish Scandal Sheets...

    Former Justice Minister witness in MP suicide case

    From: The News
    Zbigniew Ziobro, the former Polish Minister of Justice, is to testify today at the Public Prosecutor’s office in Lodz, central Poland, as a witness in the investigation into the suicide of Barbara Blida.

    The Democratic Left Alliance MP shot herself in April last year, when the Internal Security Agency (ABW) was searching her premises in connection with a corruption case.

    The Blida’s family attorney, Leszek Piotrowski, thinks that Ziobro might be one of the most important witness in the case.

    The investigation is to establish whether the ABW officers broke rules of search and detention during the arrest of the former MP. How was it possible for Blida to have a gun on her which the officers were unaware of.

    Blida shot herself in the toilet while a female ABW officer was supposed to guard her. The prosecutors are also investigating the legitimacy of detaining the MP.

    So far, the prosecutors interrogated, among others, former PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski, former Minister of Interior and Administration Janusz Kaczmarek and the former chief of police Konrad Kornatowski.

    Sex-offender scandal

    From: Halifax-Metro
    A violent Polish sex offender deemed too dangerous to stay in Canada has avoided deportation for eight years by refusing to sign travel documents, The Vancouver Sun has learned.

    Between 1981 and 1998, 51-year-old Jerry Bielecki built a criminal record in B.C. for rape, uttering threats, unlawful confinement, fraud and drug offences.

    During Bielecki's last sentence for the armed sexual assault of a teenager, the federal immigration minister issued a danger opinion in 2000, meaning he posed too serious a risk to remain in Canada and must be deported.

    A POLISH woman accused of murdering her partner at a Dorset caravan park concocted a string of lies to cover up her crime, a court was told.

    From: Daily Echo
    Stewart Jones, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court that police and an ambulance were called to the caravan park on October 22, 2006.

    Mr Swiader had been found in the kitchen of the caravan where he and Palkowska were living. He had fatal stab wounds to the upper body.

    Mr Jones said the couple's friends Boleslaw Jurek Morman and Maruisz Pawlak, who also lived on the site, last saw Mr Swiader at their caravan around 11pm on October 21 after he had been quarrelling with Palkowska.

    He said: "They tried to persuade Dariusz not to go back to his caravan and Ewa, but to stop with them for the night and try to sort it out in the morning. Tragically, of course, he didn't."

    Mr Jones said when the men called round at Mr Swiader and Palkowska's caravan the next morning she addressed them from the bedroom window. She refused to let them in and told them to go away as she and Mr Swiader were making up.

    When Palkowska later visited Mr Morman and Mr Pawlak's caravan, they said she ate a bowl of soup and spoke about sending money back home before admitting 'I killed Dariusz'.

    The men then went round to the caravan, where they discovered Mr Swiader 'in a pool of his own blood'. A pathologist's report later suggested he had been dead since the early hours of the morning.

    When the police and ambulance crew arrived Mr Jones said Palkowska 'played dead', acting as if unconscious and claimed she had taken an overdose. When interviewed Palkowska said a gang of three or four men, to whom her partner was in debt, had come round to the caravan at some time that night.

    She claimed the men had attacked Mr Swiader, also forcing her to handle the knife, and then doped her so she passed out.

    Mr Jones dismissed this as a 'fiction' that Palkowska had created.

    He said that, although no fingerprints could be clearly identified on the knife, Mr Swiader's blood was found on a pair of Palkowska's jogging bottoms and her blood-stained footprint was discovered on a carpet in the caravan. The trial continues.

  • From the blogs...

    Horki Authorities Prohibit Issue of New Newspapers

    From: Viasna
    Horki district executive committee did not let a member of the Belarusian People’s Front Party Eduard Brokarau to issue newspapers. Brokarau wanted to receive a license for advertisement, trade and issue of newspapers.

    In the answer to his application the chair of the executive committee Mikhail Anikeyeu wrote that three state newspapers were issued in the district and it was enough to provide the citizens with information.

    ‘They know me as an activist of the BPF Party and For Freedom! movement and a man of democratic views. Now they are fighting against democrats with all means possible. They understand that I will never write about their mythic harvests and milk yields. I will write what I see. It is one of my principles. They don’t need the truth,’ commented Eduard Brokarau to Radio Liberty.

    At present the activist issues in Horki the Uzgorak and Horatski Vybar newspapers and edits the Vybar – newspaper of Mahiliou oblast coalition of democratic forces.

    Vladimir Putin's Kremlin: A Rogue Regime

    From: Publius Pundit
    The Moscow Times reports today on the progress of a new legislative proposal in the Russian parliament, which is now formally a rubber stamp for the dictator Vladimir Putin, without one single true opposition member in the whole body.

    This new proposal, the MT states, "would force owners of web sites with more than 1,000 hits per day to register as mass media outlets."

    Publius Pundit, in other words, would qualify for restriction under this new law, if it were served from Russia. We'd suddenly become subject to massive governmental regulation, just as if George Bush became the supervisor of the Daily Kos. Putin has already crushed all opposition in parliament, taken over all national TV broadcasts, and crushed the life out of the country's print media -- to say nothing of seizing the power to appoint local government executives. But he's such a pathetic and cowardly little troll that it's not enough for him. He just can't stand the idea that some little blogger is giving him hell, even if only 1,000 people are reading it each day.

    If we were in Russia, rules would be imposed upon us, arcane and Byzantine rules nobody can understand, violations of which can be found at the drop of a hat, with heavy fines or jail terms dispensed as punishment. First the oil industry, now the Internet.

    Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov supports the measure, and its sponsor's spokesperson says: "A bill is currently being prepared and will be submitted to the State Duma before the end of June. We are not trying to control the Internet. We just want journalists to play by the rules and show responsibility for whatever they publish on the Internet."

    It's always particularly galling to hear these denials from the Kremlin, because the implication is that, if the Kremlin were seeking to strangle Internet criticism of the Kremlin, it would say so. It's an offense to the intelligence of your average turnip to suggest such a thing.

    Naturally, plenty of propaganda spilled out about how implementing such a regulation would be "impossible," so there's nothing to worry about. That's the classic Kremlin tactic. Get folks to lower their guards, then get the thing on the books without protest, just like the now-infamous Law Against Extremism. Make plenty of promises about how you'll be reasonable, and hope everybody forgets that you don't want to regulate every single blog, only those tiny few who aggressively criticize the regime and draw a wide audience. That, of course, is quite a manageable task.

    If you look to the column at the right, you can read more (in translation, from the Russian press) about how Dictator Putin is destroying the last vestige of freedom in Russia, the nation's nascent Internet resource.

    NATO's Trojan Herd

    From: New Zeal
    US commentator Jeff Nyquist on the Sandor Laborc affair

    Consider the breaking story about the new chairman of NATO’s intelligence committee, Sandor Laborc.

    As a Communist Hungarian intelligence officer he spent six years training with the KGB. He also has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    We all know that Russia complained bitterly about Hungary’s admission into NATO.

    But Russia’s complaints are purely theatrical. The former Communist countries are riddled with secret KGB-aligned structures that take their marching orders from Moscow. Therefore, it is easy to see that NATO has admitted several Trojan Horses inside its defensive perimeter.

    Russia has urged this process forward through reverse psychology. They have protested NATO expansion every step of the way. All the while, East Bloc agents were getting inside of NATO.

    It is unreasonable to think that Laborc is a democrat committed to the free market system. As a friend of Putin, as a KGB-trained spy, he is certain to pass NATO secrets to the Kremlin. Yet, NATO officials are not moving to reject Laborc’s presence as chairman of the intelligence committee.

    News reports indicate that “not a single ambassador” to NATO has protested Laborc’s sensitive posting. The meaning of this event is manifold, and will escape the attention of the vast majority of Europeans and Americans. NATO is defenseless. NATO has become stupid.
    Well said.

    Grassroots protests on enterprises

    From: Charter '97
    A grassroots meeting against closing down workshops and mass redundancy took place at the meat processing factory in Baranavichy.

    About 40 workers of canning shop have recently lost job. About 100 workers of the factory may face the same problem.

    People work only 7 to 10 days a month at the factory. They held a grassroots meeting after they had learnt about closing down of the canning shop. They fear now they will have the same destiny.

    “I am speaking on behalf of the workers of the shop. The problem of redundancy is a matter of great concern for us. They are being promised all the time everything will be all right, the shop will be reconstructed, we have progress. But they just promise, and we haven’t job. Town mayor Dzyachkouski has visited us, but he hasn’t said any news,” Volha Heniyush, one of the factory workers, said to Radio Svaboda.

    The factory was joined to the Byaroza meat processing factory, allegedly to be reconstructed and modernised. But it has lead to closing up the production and redundancy of workers, most of them women.

    “I’m brining up a child alone. I’ve earned 184 000 Belarusian rubles in January. How can I live on it? I began to work at the factory when I was 18, now I am 37. Where should I go to? I have nowhere to go. There are many of us. Workers from the killing department are in the same situation,” factory worker Ala Zaiko said.

    The collective of the factory sent written appeals to the concern, the administration of the Brest Area, the President’s Administration, but no answers have been received. Director of the Byaroza meat processing factory Uladzimir Zhukovich refused to comment on the events at the subordinated to him factory.

    Problems of the Baranavichy meat processing factory are typical for enterprises of food industry, and they have some reasons, economist Mikhas Zaleski said.

    “The first reason is enforcement, the second one is human rights. Both credit and debit debts have increased for January-September. If there is no normal bankruptcy proceeding, they begin to unite enterprises. It is liquidation in the form of link-up. The European laws provide wage payment up to 7 years. A person has no rights in case of redundancy in our country,” the economist thinks.

  • Sport...

    Belarus wins Mixed Relay silver at World Biathlon Championships in Sweden

    From: BelTA
    Belarus won a Mixed Relay silver medal at the World Biathlon Championships in Ostersund, Sweden. The Mixed Relay is the youngest of the six disciplines in biathlon. In the Mixed Relay, the two female members of the squad first run a 6km leg each, then two male teammates run their 7.5km legs.

    Liudmila Kalinchik started the race in the Belarusian team finishing in eighth. Daria Domracheva improved the result to the third position despite a fall at the start. Rustam Valiullin shot clean and was second to cross the changeover area. Sergei Novikov finished the race in second.

    Germany recorded the result of 1:12:20.5 hours to take the Mixed Relay title. The bronze medal went to Russia.

    Belarus wins bronze at world sabre cup in Budapest

    Belarus defeated Spain 45:32 in the 1/8 finals, Ukraine 45:32 in the quarters and was edged by South Korea 44:45 in the semifinals of the world sabre cup in Budapest. Belarus defeated Germany 45:29 to win the bronze medal match, BelTA was told in the Ministry of Sport and Tourism. In the individual event the top Belarusian was Dmitry Lapkes which placed 18th in the final protocol. Alexander Buikevich was 22nd.

    The next sabre cup will be hosted by Moscow on February 16-17. This weekend Belarusian fencers will take part in the world epee and foil cups in Venice and Tallinn.

    Dmitry Daschinsky placed second at World Freestyle Skiing Cup in Canada

    Dmitry Daschinsky of Belarus scored 117,92 points to place second at the World Freestyle Skiing cup in Cypress Mountain in Canada. He was 2.21 points behind the winner Steve Omischl of Canada. Anton Kushnir finished in fifth (113,72 points), Alexei Grishin - 16th (89,76).

    In the women’s event the gold medal went to Jacqui Cooper of Australia (101,85). Belarusian Alla Tsuper was 6th with 87,77 points.

    Steve Omischl is a leader of the World Cup Ratings (489 points). Then goes Belarusian Anton Kushnir (385 points). Dmitry Daschinsky ranks third (346), Alexander Grishin - 32nd (26 points).

    Alla Tsuper is into the 4th position after six world cups in the women’s ratings.
    The next world cup will be held in Japan on February 16.

  • Endnote...

    Welcome to theatreland

    Banned by the state, the Free Theatre of Belarus performs in secret locations and texts the venue to audiences. Every play could be their last.
    From: Guardian
    Drive down the main prospect of Minsk and you experience all the grand, intimidating swagger of high Soviet architecture. Tiny figures make their way along vast pavements, dwarfed by buildings that look as if they were made for giants. But pull away from the awesome display of the central route, and the roads gradually break up and decay. Within 10 minutes, you are driving along poorly lit dirt track, the housing a mess of crumbling brickwork and metal sTo me, these shacks - unnumbered and unlit - all look the same. But my hosts know what we're looking for. We stop and get out of the car. The mood, which had been chatty, suddenly changes. In silence, we are led down a muddy path to the rear of the building, where a gathering of 30 or so people are speaking in low murmurs, lit only by the ends of their cigarettes.

    After a wait in the damp night air, a door opens, and a young, cropped-haired woman ushers us into a tiny lobby. There's a piece of old carpet on the floor, a single naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. The young woman's T-shirt announces the reason for our clandestine visit: The Free Theatre of Belarus.

    We are given plastic bags to put over our muddy shoes, and led into a makeshift theatre. This is a bare space, but one that has been scrupulously prepared. The building, once a family home, has been stripped. The floorboards have been painted black, the walls painted white. There are a few benches made from planks and oil drums for the audience.

    The Free Theatre has several such venues dotted around the city. Their performances are forbidden by Belarus's restrictive regime, which controls every aspect of life in the country, in a manner that has barely changed since the days when it was part of the Soviet Union. So the Free Theatre has to keep one step ahead of the authorities: audience members are kept on a waiting list of 1,500, and alerted to a performance by text message or email, at very short notice.

    The mood tonight is tense but expectant. The predominantly young crowd includes a number of political dissidents, as well as several overseas visitors: a French documentary film-maker, a German theatre-festival programmer, a couple whose formal dress picks them out as figures from sympathetic western embassies. Although suppressed at home, the work of the Free Theatre is celebrated abroad, and part of an active underground arts movement here in Minsk.

    The risks of this secret performance are very real. Most of the actors have already lost their day jobs at state theatres; for some, this meant losing their homes. Last August, at a performance of Edward Bond's Eleven Vests, cast and audience alike (including children) were all arrested. They were held for several hours, and only released - it is suspected - because there were several foreign visitors among them.

    I have to admit, guiltily, to enjoying this feeling of fear as I wait for the performance to begin. My own playwriting career began in the mid-1990s, which makes me too young to have experienced the solidarity that an older generation of western playwrights felt for their compatriots behind the iron curtain. Coming to Minsk has allowed me to step into a peculiar time warp - and I have to keep reminding myself that this is real, not a theme park re-creation of a former time.

    As the performance begins, it quickly becomes apparent that the Free Theatre's work is of an exceptionally high standard. Tonight we're seeing the first two parts of a trilogy called Hidden Voices. The first is a piece compiled from the childhood memories of the cast, the second from interviews with "outsiders": the gay, the disabled, the mentally ill - all of whom do not "exist" in the official Belarussian culture. (The third part of the trilogy is a work in progress.)

    The actors have clearly benefited from the long, thorough training common in former Soviet countries. Most are aged under 30, and they have a stunning vocal and physical command, performing with ease and urgency material that combines both verbatim and physical theatre, as well as utilising projected video and still images of great beauty alongside pounding live music. Their young director, Vladimir Scherban, is an extraordinary talent.

    Four years ago, comfortably posted in a state theatre, Scherban directed my 1999 play Some Explicit Polaroids. The production was cancelled after just one performance, when the minister of culture denounced it as pornographic. Scherban lost his job, and his apartment was taken away from him. "So you see, Mark," he says, "you ruined my life not just once but twice." I wince, although he's smiling.

    Despite having lost his job, Scherban decided to stage Sarah Kane's 4:48 Psychosis. He teamed up with Nikolai Khalezin and his wife, Natalya Kolyada, a writer-producer team with a long history of human rights activism. ("You should see Nikolai's KGB file," says Kolyada with grim amusement.

    "A guy we tried to set up a magazine with was shown it. They've got boxes on him.") Khalezin had received a considerable advance for a play that he sent to the Moscow Arts Theatre, which was never produced. They decided to use this money to found the Free Theatre of Belarus.

    Their first production was Kane's Psychosis; since then, the company has concentrated on new Belarussian work. "The authorities say there are no playwrights in Belarus," Kolyada says, "but we've been sent hundreds of plays." The company has just published a volume of new plays that it plans to send to every state theatre and library in the country (though whether these places will stock the book is another matter). "There's a huge demand. Young people contact us all the time asking: how can I get hold of a copy?"

    As we wait for the second half of the trilogy to begin, I talk to a woman named Tatyana Leonovich. Her husband was a member of parliament during the brief period after Belarus declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, and before its transformation to a near-dictatorship following the election of Alexander Lukashenko in 1994. Leonovich's husband is serving his third jail term as a political prisoner, having made public speeches and written articles in support of free speech.

    If you've been imprisoned once, I ask, what makes you speak out again? "I've asked myself this many times," Leonovich says, "and I've come to the conclusion that some people are simply heroes. My husband is such a hero. Does this make me a Penelope, waiting for my hero to return? No. I'm not so passive. I'm a trained lawyer and I fight for him every time he is in court."

    Leonovich lost her job in a bank and her children have grown up in fear, knowing never to answer a knock at the door in case it is the authorities. As with everybody I speak to, I give her the opportunity to use a pseudonym, but she wants her real name in print. "Vaclav Havel taught us always to use our own names," Kolyada says. "That way, the authorities can see you're not frightened, and it unnerves them."

    The next day, we are driving through Minsk when Kolyada receives a call on her mobile phone. It is bad news. The Free Theatre is preparing for a visit to England, with performances in London and Leeds this month - but now two of its actors, the only members of the company still employed by state theatres, have been refused permission by their bosses to travel abroad. "This is a new development," she says. "Before, we were always allowed to travel. In fact, I got the impression they were hoping we wouldn't come back. But now this. It's such a blow."

    The company plans to perform two pieces in England: Being Harold Pinter, which intercuts some of Pinter's short plays with letters from Belarussian political prisoners; and Generation Jeans, a monologue by Nikolai Khalezin performed with a DJ, in which he asks the audience to join him in the chant "I am free". Will they still be able to present the same repertoire? "I just don't know," says Kolyada, beginning a series of frantic mobile phone calls. Finally one of the actors decides to defy her boss and come to London - making the performances here possible but endangering her job at home.

    The Free Theatre members live at a dizzying pace. "We have to," shrugs Kolyada. "We all work 20 hours a day. If we didn't, if we stopped, we'd be overwhelmed by our situation and give up. Once, at an overseas festival, an audience member who didn't know what our situation was asked, 'Why do your actors play as if this is the last performance they will ever give?' We said, 'Because it may be.'" Vladimir Scherban nods: "There's no logic to our existence, but our theatre is a noble thing, a dream."

    The company's many international supporters would agree. Tom Stoppard has proved an enthusiastic advocate, as has Mick Jagger; Harold Pinter lets the company perform his work anywhere in the world without paying royalties. "We met Pinter," says Khalezin. "He told us that Britain was

    a dictatorship, too. We listened in respectful silence and then we told him about our situation. He had to agree we had a far worse dictatorship." Khalezin laughs his habitual rich laugh and the rest of the company laugh with him.

    The Free Theatre is full of plans for the future. There's the third part of the Hidden Voices trilogy to prepare, and a plan to invite foreigners from a range of non-theatrical disciplines - macrobiologists, economists - to visit and collaborate. Are they optimistic about the future of Belarus? "With our situation," Scherban says, "these words don't apply. There is no optimism or pessimism. We are living in hell and we are doing the best we can."

    · Being Harold Pinter and Generation Jeans are at the Soho Theatre, London W1, until February 23. Box office: 0870 429 6883. For details of the Leeds performances (February 25-27), see