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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Belarus, Britain mull joint projects, Repairing Chernobyl,US sanctions, Entrepreneurs, Russia, Ukraine, Polish intrigue, Boxing and the Death Star...

  • From the Top...
  • #289

    Belarus, Great Britain mull over joint projects in financial area and industry, Cecil Parkinson says

    From: BelTA
    Meeting with British businessmen
    Belarus and Great Britain are mulling over joint projects in financial and industrial areas, Cecil Parkinson, a member of the House of Lords of the British Parliament, told reporters after his meeting with 1st Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko on March 11.

    Lord Parkinson noted that the two sides have considered a number of the projects and opportunities related to industrial and financial areas. He highlighted that Belarus and Great Britain have a lot of cooperation opportunities but they need to focus on one or two concrete projects. The sides have agreed that Belarus will propose several concrete projects which can be carried out by the British side.

    “We wanted to know whether private investments were welcomed in Belarus. During the visit, we made sure that Belarus is a remarkable country where we can do business,” Lord Parkinson noted. According to him, several British companies could set up a fund to invest in projects in Belarus. Undoubtedly, British companies are interested in this and are ready to offer their ideas.

    During the visit to Minsk, Lord Parkinson had meetings in the Foreign Ministry. “We had a general discussion regarding the relations of Belarus with the USA and European Union, the cooperation between Belarus and WTO,” he said.

    Belarus-EU relations depend on independency of EU foreign policy

    The future of relations between Belarus and the EU will depend on how independent the foreign policy of the European Union will be from the USA, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting with a group of British businessmen headed by Cecil Parkinson, a member of the House of Lords of the British Parliament.

    “I don’t think Britain has any claims to Belarus in the political field. We, definitely, don’t have any towards the United Kingdom,” the head of state said. “As for the relations with the EU, I believe the European Union has the right understanding of the role of Belarus in Europe,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    “Unfortunately, the future of the relations between Belarus and the European Union does not depend solely on Europe and Belarus,” the head of state said.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, for the EU, Belarus is a very important link both in economy and politics. He reminded the guests that around 20% of gas and 40% of oil transit delivered by Russia to Europe go through Belarus. “Thus Belarus is a very important thoroughfare,” the President said.

    “Belarus has never failed Europe. And we would like to be treated in the same way,” he said.

    "The arrival of the British delegation as representatives of the European establishment is very important from the point of view of a dialogue between Belarus and the West," said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Belarus ready to discuss any cooperation projects with Great Britain, Vladimir Semashko says

    Belarus is ready to discuss any cooperation projects with Great Britain, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said during a meeting with Cecil Parkinson, a member of the House of Lords of the British Parliament, in Minsk on March 11.

    Attending the meeting are Industry Ministry of Belarus Anatoly Rusetsky, Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Tur, chief of the Belneftekhim concern Valery Kazakevich.

    “We are ready to discuss concrete projects and areas of joint work,” Vladimir Semashko said.

    According to him, two weeks after the visit the list of cooperation projects with Great Britain will have been compiled.

    In turn, Lord Cecil Parkinson said that “he is impressed with the progress Belarus has made and the people he has met”. “We have identified the areas which we would like to cooperate in and where our participation will bring benefits to your country,” he said.

    Cecil Parkinson thanked the Belarusian side for the warm welcome. “Though we have spent here just 36 hours, I have the impression we have been in Belarus for several weeks,” he added.

    Investors in Belarus are confident of Government’s guarantees

    The businessmen who arrive in Belarus to invest in the economy of the country are absolutely confident that the Government will fulfill all its obligations, Cecil Parkinson, a member of the British House of Lords, noted during his meting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

    “We are developing a favourable picture of the prospects of our cooperation,” Cecil Parkinson said. “Strong economic ties become the basis of friendly relations between countries, he said. “The more we trade, the better our relations become, the stronger is mutual understanding and confidence,” he concluded.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Repair Work to Begin at Chernobyl

    From: Moscow weekly
    Atom­stroyexport, a Russian nuclear power plant construction company, has begun work to extend the service life of the Chernobyl protective concrete ‘sarcophagus' that is meant to seal in the radiation of the damaged reactor, the company said in a press release on Tuesday.

    Atomstroyexport was awarded the contract to perform extensive repairs on the site by a state-run Ukrainian company that supervises the plant.

    Work to repair the sarcophagus will be paid for by the international Chernobyl Shelter Fund. The fund comprises 28 countries, including the G8 nations, and is run by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Develop­ment.

    In September 2007, Ukraine sig­ned a contract with France's No­varka to build a new shelter over the damaged reactor and also a deal to build a "dry storage" facility for spent nuclear fuel on the site of the plant with the U.S. company Holtec International.

    Construction of the new $1.2 billion container is due to start this spring. Project managers said it will be constructed on site and then slid over the reactor.

    Chernobyl was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident. On April 26, 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in a critical nuclear meltdown.

    Vast areas, mainly in the three then-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, were contaminated by the fallout of the explosion. More than 300,000 people were relocated after the accident. However, 5 million people still live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine classified as "contaminated" by radioactive elements.

    Estimates by international bodies as to the number of deaths caused by the accident at Cher­nobyl vary dramatically. Fifty-six people were reported to have been killed at the scene of the disaster, and another 4,000 to have died of thyroid cancer shortly afterwards. Several million more people are believed to have been exposed to different degrees of radiation.

    The disaster is thought to have released at least 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in WWII.

    Soviet authorities initially attempted to cover up both the scale of the accident and its consequences.

    Belarus to ratify agreement with Venezuela on trade and economic cooperation

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Parliament is preparing the agreement between the governments of Belarus and Venezuela on trade and economic cooperation to be ratified during the spring session. The document was supported by the permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS on March 11.

    According to Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Viktor Gaisenok, the agreement was signed in Venezuela in December 2007. “Venezuela is our strategic partner. The complementary character of the economies of the two countries offers great opportunities for building up trade and advancement of Belarusian goods to the markets of Latin America”, Viktor Gaisenok said.

    In accordance with the document, the sides give each other the most favoured national treatment in terms of trade, customs taxes and duties of any kind applied in import and export. The terms of trade cannot be less favourable than those that the parties to the agreement offer the third party in the same circumstances.

    Once the document comes into force Belarus and Venezuela will not apply prohibitive or restrictive measures in respect of trade between the two countries. To stimulate trade exchange the sides will encourage holding fairs and exhibitions.

    Answering the questions of the parliamentarians during the session, Viktor Gaisenok said that Venezuela “does not restrict its oil trade with the US because it considerably depends on food supplies from abroad (80% of the country’s needs), most of which comes from the United States”. Therefore one of the goals of the Venezuelan President is to improve and modernize the national agriculture. “To achieve that, Venezuela needs agricultural machinery, and Belarus is actively helping Venezuela with that”, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus noted.

    Belarus to ratify agreement with Venezuela on visa-free travels

    The House of Representatives of the National Assembly is preparing the Belarusian-Venezuelan agreement on abolishing visas in national passports and on abolishing visas in diplomatic, service or official passports for ratification at the spring session. The permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS approved these documents at a session on March 11.

    “The agreements were initiated by the Venezuelan side and fully correspond to our interests. Bilateral contacts are diversified and intensive. Our specialists go to Venezuela to take part in various projects and Venezuelan specialists come to Belarus,” Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Gaisenok told deputies. He also informed that the Venezuelan side has completed all national procedures necessary for ratification of these agreements.

    The agreements will promote the development of friendly relations between the two nations, the permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS said.

  • Economy...

    Real earnings of Belarusians 12.3% up in January

    From: BelTA
    In January 2008 real earnings of Belarusians grew 12.3% as against January 2007, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis of Belarus. The socio-economic development forecast for 2008 envisages a 9-10% growth of the showing.

    In 2007 real earnings of the population (incomes adjusted to the consumer price index) increased by 14.7% over 2006. In 2007, they were projected to increase by 7.5-8.5%. In 2006 real incomes of the population raised 17.3%.

    Belarus’ inflation at 0.7% in February

    In February 2008, inflation in Belarus was at the level of 0.7%, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    In January-February, the consumer price index for goods and services increased by 3.2% over December 2007. The growth of the consumer price index averaged 1.6% per month.

    A reminder, in line with the main monetary policy guidelines of Belarus for 2008, the inflation is projected within 6-8%. In 2007, it reached 12.1%, in January 2008 – 2.5%

    Belarus’ GDP 9.9% up in January-February 2008

    In January-February 2008, Belarus’ gross domestic product increased by 9.9% in comparable prices on the same period last year, the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis told BelTA.

    In line with the targets for 2008, the GDP was projected at the level 8-9%. In line with Council of Ministers’ resolution #8, GDP is prognosticated to grow by 11%.

    Over the two moths this year, the industrial products output increased by 12.9% (the annual forecast is 8-9%). In January the production of consumer goods upped by 14% (the annual forecast is 9-10%). In the period under review, the production of foodstuffs made up 115% (the forecast – 108-109%), the production of nonfoods upped by 12.5% (the forecast is 10-11%).

  • Union State...

    Belarus-Russia to sign agreement on equal terms of mass media distribution in 2008

    From: BelTA
    The first variant of the intergovernmental agreement between Belarus and Russia on mass media establishing equal rules for mass media distribution in the two countries will be prepared this year, Information Minister of Belarus Vladimir Rusakevich said in an interview with BelTA.

    The document is being prepared under the patronage of the Union State Permanent Committee. The agreement will remove the existing differences in the distribution of print and electronic mass media in Belarus and Russia. For example, the Belarus-TV satellite channel registered in the Russian media space as a mass media has a license. Yet, the issue concerning its distribution is tackled by the cable networks who sign contracts with the owners of the channels, in this case Belarus-TV. Some Russian regions do not charge distribution fees, others charge acceptable fees. But to get permit in Moscow the Russian side charges more than $40 million. Numerous talks have been held yielding no result so far. The intergovernmental agreement will help settle these issues.

    The full text of the interview will appear on the BelTA website.

    Belarusian and Russian military men to discuss joint defense planning in Minsk

    A representative delegation of the Russian Armed Forces led by Head of the Main Operations Department – Deputy Head of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General-Colonel Alexander Rukshin arrived in Belarus on March 11, BelTA learnt in the press service of the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

    During the visit, the two sides are set to discuss the issues related to the joint defense planning, the functioning of the regional group of forces of Belarus and Russia, the participation of the Russian Armed Forces in operational training of the Belarusian Armed Forces.

    The Russian delegation is expected to visit a number of military units of Belarus.

    Photo-contest “I live in Union State” is timed to Day of Unity of Peoples of Belarus and Russia

    The Permanent Committee of the Union State and the Russian News Agency RIA Novosti have announced the contest of photographs “I live in the Union State” which is timed to the Day of Unity of Peoples of Belarus and Russia.

    Any internet-user may place its photo on the site , BelTA learnt in the Permanent Committee of the Union State. Any photos which show that the Belarusians and Russians have common culture and similar national traditions can take part in the contest.

    Participants of the contest should give its first and last name and also other information (phone, e-mail or ICQ). Winners will be determined by internet users by means of on-line voting. Finalists will be awarded invitation tickets for the solemn concert dedicated to the Day of Unity of Peoples of Belarus and Russia.

    Infant mortality lowest in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is one of the three countries with the world’s lowest infant mortality among 196 countries, First Deputy Healthcare Minister of Belarus Robert Chasnoit told BelTA. He reminded, in 2007 the figure stood at 5.2 per mille.

    These are very good figures. They result from the efforts taken all the time such as re-equipment of medical facilities — from regional to national ones, training and retraining of specialists, development of medical technologies, he said. Robert Chasnoit also noted the important role the state plays in protecting motherhood and childhood.

    However, the official said, the results can be improved. Despite the good figures 2007 saw 536 babies die. According to the source, it is necessary to improve the care for babies, especially those under 1 kg.

    The goal can be achieved by new medical equipment, perfection of existing technologies as well as the development of medical genetics services. It is necessary to use the latest diagnostics methods to exclude birth defects at the very early stages, as 50% of baby deaths are related to fetal development pathologies.

    Apart from that, Robert Chasnoit is convinced, young parents should take a most responsible attitude to giving birth to a child, should lead healthy lifestyles and get consultations from necessary specialists.

  • From the international press...

    Belarusian ambassador to USA returns to Minsk

    From: Naveny
    The Belarusian ambassador to the USA, Mikhail Khvastow, has returned to Minsk, Maryya Vanshyna, spokesperson for the Belarusian foreign ministry, told BelaPAN on Monday.

    The Belarusian ministry announced this past Friday that it would recall the ambassador for "consultations" over sanctions against the Belarusian State Petrochemical Concern (Belnaftakhim).

    The announcement came after the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement with regard to the applicability of the financial sanctions imposed by the Department against Belnaftakhim on November 13, 2007 over human rights abuses.

    The Reuters news agency quoted a source close to Belarus' government as saying that the statement "allowed for a broad interpretation of a list of firms linked to Belnaftakhim. The Belarusian side viewed that as additional sanctions."
    When asked to comment on the reason for the move, Ms. Vanshyna said that it had been made "because of everything," refusing to elaborate.

    The sanctions include freezing any assets under US jurisdiction belonging to Belnaftakhim and barring US citizens from doing business with the Concern, and apply to its offices in Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia, China, and its wholly owned US subsidiary identified as Belneftekhim USA, Inc.

    The Belarusian foreign ministry recommended on Friday that US Ambassador Karen Stewart also should leave Minsk for consultations. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the US Department of State, said that the ambassador would remain in Minsk.

    US says Belarus tension a sign of sanctions' success

    From: Kiev Post
    U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart
    The United States says the Belarusian government's recall of its ambassador to Washington is a sign the former Soviet republic is feeling pressure from US sanctions.

    Despite a suggestion by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday that Washington also should recall its ambassador, the United States said Ambassador Karen Stewart will stay put for now in Minsk.

    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced the recall Friday in a protest over economic sanctions Washington imposed last year on Belarus and, individually, some of its officials. Ministry officials also told Stewart in a meeting with other ambassadors that she should go home.

    The United States said Stewart has not been formally expelled and it is reviewing the situation.

    The United States imposed sanctions last fall against Belarus' state-controlled oil-processing and chemicals company, Belneftekhim. The Treasury Department last year froze the company's assets and barred American companies from doing business with it.

    Additionally, both the United States and the European Union have imposed personal travel sanctions on authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and several other top Belarusians, members of his inner circle. Washington also is punishing Belarusian authorities with financial sanctions in response to a crackdown on opposition and free media.

    This week, the State Department issued guidance on the existing sanctions that would appear to sharpen their bite. The move appeared to provoke the response from Belarus.

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer says he believes the sanctions are working.

    "I think that the combination of rising Russian energy prices and the sanctions that we have taken have created an environment that is more likely than not to produce the kind of changes that we want to see," he told The Associated Press. "The economic pressure has reached a point where the government in Minsk may decide they are better off engaging in reform in order to have better relations with the West."

    The United States and the European Union have made clear that Lukashenko must free political prisoners and allow more democratic freedoms before sanctions can be lifted and relations normalized.

    "Our view is that the government in Minsk has left us no choice but to increase the pressure," Kramer said.

    Sole entrepreneurs’ association to obtain registration in Ukraine

    From: Naveny
    An unregistered association called For the Free Development of Enterprise plans to obtain registration in Ukraine.

    While speaking at a forum in Minsk on Tuesday, Viktar Harbachow, a leader of the organization that affiliates sole entrepreneurs, said that it had failed to obtain legal status in Belarus because “government officials don’t want to see free people.” “Our organization will be registered in Ukraine in the near future. Probably, it also will exist in other countries but not in its own country,” he said.

    Mr. Harbachow noted that the organization wanted all differences between sole entrepreneurs and the government to be settled through negotiations rather than street protests and strikes.

    The organization continues pushing for the abolition of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s edict that banned sole entrepreneurs from having workers other than three family members and for the enactment of a law governing small business. “People cannot live according to edicts and decrees issued 15 to 20 years ago. There must be a long-term law where everything is clearly specified,” he said.

    The organization also seeks an end to pressure on small business activists and participation in round-table conferences broadcast on television.

    Problems with registration at home have prompted some Belarusian NGOs to seek legal status abroad.

    An association of Belarusian Chernobyl cleanup workers was granted registration in Ukraine in late 2007.

    Malady Front, an opposition youth group, has recently been registered in the Czech Republic.

    Blood donors, Chernobyl cleanup workers, business activists meet in Minsk to discuss rights

    In a related story, The Second Social Forum, hosted by the Johannes Rau International Educational Center (IBB), brought together around 40 people, also members of local soviets and an official of the city executive committee.

    Invitations were sent to the National Assembly, the Presidential Administration and the emergency management ministry, but no representatives showed up. Representative Volha Abramava replied that she would be busy. She said that the organizers could send proposals put forward at the event to the lower chamber for consideration.

    The event was organized by a group of blood donors resident in Mahilyow, an association of Belarusian Chernobyl cleanup workers that has recently registered in Kyiv after failing to obtain a legal status from the Belarusian authorities and an unregistered association called for The Free Development of Enterprise.

    The First Social Forum was held in Minsk this past summer.

    In his opening speech, small business activist Lew Marholin expressed satisfaction that blood donors also were taking part in the second forum apart from small business activists and Chernobyl cleanup workers.

    He said that he hoped that the third such event also would see the participation of women's organizations, the elderly and other groups.

    He highlighted the importance of the forum and called for efforts to seek dialogue about social matters with government officials.

    Taxes Raised for Rebellious Individual Entrepreneurs

    From: Charter '97
    Recently in different regions of Belarus tax rate for individual entrepreneurs started to be raised.

    For instance, in Mahilyou region the regional council of deputies decided to raise the single tax for individual entrepreneurs averagely at 30%. In Minsk the fixed tax for small businessmen working at markets is to grow by 10 Euro. Experts of “Zavtra tvoej strany” discuss the reasons for that and what consequences could be.

    “There is a strange practice in Belarus to shift the responsibility on to businessmen, and it seems to me that it’s enough to overburden businessmen,” tells the head of the Analytical center Strategy Leanid Zaika. “Such an attention to a relatively small group of people (though there are more than hundred thousand of them, but they can earn their daily bread) is an absolutely stupid idea”.

    As said by the economist, 117 enterprises exist in the country that give gross production, and one individual enterprise among them sells oil products, and it tops the list of tax payers.

    “It’s a small businesses with only 12 workers, it has one table, but they pay more taxes than all other Belarusian businessmen, that is why everything what is done in this sphere is a desire to politicize the economic situation. Things are to be smoothened down for large business, and small businessmen are to be “squashed by an asphalt compactor”. It’s a great mistake of Lukashenka and his whole team,” Leanid Zaika said.

    In this way, the expert believes, the government indisposes against themselves the people who are the backbone of the economy of each country. They are business elite, talented people who wanted to be engaged in manufacturing in Belarus.

    “As a result of this practice one million of Belarusians does not want to live and work in their country, but work abroad,” the analyst states.

    “When people say about harmonization of tax burden, it is better to harmonize it at some minimal rate, in order to create a favourable business climate, as taxes are the important part of it,” Yaraslau Ramanchuk, the head of Mises research center said. “And in Belarus everybody is to match up the maximum, so that everybody would gasp with exertion, and the smallest and weakest would be eradicated, forced to withdraw from market and leave the country”.

    To his mind, after Decree 760 when hiring of helpers except for close relatives was banned, after individual entrepreneurs were offered to reregister as private unitary enterprises; since January 1 everybody would pay VAT according to one scheme and the single tax rate would grow, the class of businessmen would be wiped out. It would follow in liquidation of 30-40 thousands of individual entrepreneurs, of their working places.

    As believed by the economist, it would bring about price hike in retail trade, which would affect consumers.

    Women of Burma, Cuba, Belarus inspiring - Bush

    US President George W Bush (C) signs a proclamation honoring Women's History Month during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Bush paid tribute to women who have defied the governments of Belarus, Cuba and Burma, promising US help as they "stand up for the freedom of their people."
    US President George W. Bush has paid tribute to women who have defied the governments of Belarus, Cuba and Burma, promising US help as they "stand up for the freedom of their people".

    He honored the wife of jailed Belarus opposition leader Alexander Kozulin, Irina, who died of cancer last month, aged 48; ailing Cuban dissident Marta Beatrmz Roque Cabello; and Burma democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "Americans are inspired by the examples of these women," Mr Bush said.

    "We will continue to support their work, and the work of women across the world who stand up for the freedom of their people."

    The US president's remarks came during a White House ceremony marking Women's History Month.

    Mr Bush charged that the refusal of the Belarus government - which he has called the last dicatorship in Europe - to release Alexander Kozulin to be with his wife on her death bed was "the definition of brutality".

    "And the United States calls upon that government to release Alexander Kazulin immediately, just like they ought to release every other political prisoner in Belarus," said the US president.

    Scientists come out against construction of nuclear power plant in Belarus

    From: Naveny
    A group of prominent Belarusian scientists have decided to found a movement for a nuclear free Belarus.

    As Professor Heorhiy Lepin, an initiator of the movement who holds a doctor’s degree in engineering sciences, said in an interview with BelaPAN, nine years ago, the head of the Belarusian government set up a special commission that concluded that it would be expedient to start any nuclear power engineering work at least in the next 10 years.

    According to Dr. Lepin, the Cabinet of Ministers then adopted a moratorium that expires only on January 14, 2009. Despite this, preparations for the construction of a nuclear power plant are in full swing in the country, he said.

    “We used to believe that a nuclear plant was dangerous only in the event of an accident,” he said. “But this is wrong. Nuclear power plants permanently emit a significant amount of radioactive isotopes into the air. Within 15 years, all nuclear power plants in the world emit more radioactive isotopes than was released in the Chernobyl accident.”

    Belarusian physicists urge authorities to abandon nuclear plans

    In a related story, A group of Belarusian nuclear physicists has urged the authorities to abandon their plans for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the country.

    "The idea of building a nuclear power plant in Belarus could bring about much trouble and hard ordeals that the authorities seem to be ready to put on the shoulders of the people," Yahor Fyadzyushkin, head of the Institute of Humanitarian and Environmental Technologies under the Minsk-based International Academy of Information Technology, said at a meeting that the group held on Sunday. "Under no circumstances, we will agree that it is feasible to build the plant in Belarus."

    The scientist said that the nuclear case was not an "unavoidable necessity" for the country, pointing to the absence of economic and technical conditions for the construction.

    "Since the dispute about whether or not a nuclear power plant should be built began, nobody has ever offered any distinct data in favor of the nuclear power industry," Mr. Fyadzyushkin said.

    "Now that increasingly more nations around the world are pushing for their countries to adopt a non-nuclear status, we, representatives of science and intelligentsia, cannot stand aside," he said.

    The group, which includes people who worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, wants the government to hold a large-scale meeting to discuss the nuclear plans, and, if the plans are approved, to call a referendum on the matter.

    It also wants to set up an association that would struggle to "protect the people of Belarus from Chernobyl Hell and Nuclear Eden."

    The government wants to put the first unit of the 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in operation in 2016 and start the second one in 2018.

    The plant, estimated by government officials at $4 billion, is expected to be located in the Mahilyow region. It would generate some 15 percent of the country's energy demand

  • From Viasna...

    Police Refuse to Bring Criminal Case on Threats to Khamaida by Russian Neo-Nazis

    From: Viasna
    Pershamaiski district police department of Vitsebsk refuses to bring a criminal case on the fact of mailing threats and anti-Semitic leaflets by unknown persons to the activist of the Conservative-Christian Party Belarusian People’s Front (CCP BPF) Barys Khamaida.
    In his interview to the BelaPAN Khamaida said that on 8 January, his 60th birthday, he received a leaflet and a letter signed by ‘Vitebsk branch of the Russkoye Natsionalnoye Edinstvo (Russian National Unity). At first Khamaida decided to ignore the letter. He said that he has not applied to the state organs since 1996. He believes that since the adoption of the Constitution 1996 the laws do not work in the country.

    ‘Only because of the insistence of my friends did I write to Vitsebsk oblast prosecutor Henadz Dysko and attached to my address the RNE letter and leaflet. However, the prosecutor passed by address to the prosecutor of Pershamaiski district of Vitsebsk Vasil Yahorau. Then it got to the chair of Pershamaiski district police department of Vitsebsk Siarhei Mihaliou, who entrusted the local police inspector Aliaksandr Katulski with preparing an answer,’ Khamaida said.

    A.Katulski motivated the refusal to bring a criminal case with the absence of a corpus delicti punishable under the Criminal Code. Instead, Katulski qualified the mail threats as violation of article 9.3 and 17.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism and insult respectively).

    B.Khamaida, in his turn, believes that policemen and workers of the procuracies were to have brought a criminal case under article 130 of the Criminal Code (fomenting racial, national or religious enmity or discord), because the letter and leaflets received by him contain the formal corpus delicti.

    According to Khamaida, in the beginning of March he was also summonsed to Vitsebsk oblast KGB office in connection with holding a check-up on the order of the Prosecutor General’s office connected to the complaint of the chairman of the Union of the Belarusian Jewish public associations and communities Leanid Lepin concerning the RNE actions in Vitsebsk.

    Bear in mind that in 2007-2008 letters with threats from RNE were received by Vitsebsk activists of the CCP BPF, the editorial office of the non-state newspaper Vitebskiy kurier, the activists of Vitsebsk city office of the United Civil Party Alena Zaleskaya and the head of the literary department of the Belarusian theater Lialka Viktoryia Dashkevich. To their addresses to the police and the procuracies they received answers that RNE was not registered in Belarus.

    On 1 November 2007 in Vitsebsk two unknown persons beat 18-year-old student Aliaksandr Dziarzhautsau, son of the activist of Vitsebsk CCP BPF branch Yan Dziarzhautsau, who had received a threat letter from RNE before the incident.

  • Cultural scene...

    French trio Karpatt to give concerts in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The performances of the young Parisians are planned within the International Frankophonia Day organized by the French Embassy in Belarus.

    The musicians will give two concerts: in the Belarusian state philharmonic in Minsk on March 23, and in Grodno on March 24. The discography of the band includes songs about different stories that happen in life.

    Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Belarus Mireille Musso told BelTA that Belarusian art lovers are very familiar with the French classical music, but know little about the contemporary music and art of this country. “This is why we decided to introduce the Belarusian art lovers to something special. The aim of the programme of the International Frankophonia Day is to tell the Belarusians as much as possible about modern trends in the French art”, Mireille Musso noted. According to her, the young French musicians who will perform in Belarus have already gained an international recognition.

    The Parisian band has been touring France for four year already. Their songs incorporate jazz and waltz to create a unique spirit of the 1950s.

    French musicians Guillaume Coppola and Marc Mauillon to give concert in Belarusian Philharmonic Society

    Minsk will host a lyric performance of French musicians Guillaume Coppola and Marc Mauillon. Two young musicians will give a concert on the stage of the Great Hall of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society on March 19. Guillaume Coppola (a pianist) and Marc Mauillon (a baritone) will execute musical compositions by Camille Saint-Saens, Franz Liszt, Gabriel Faure, and Francis Poulenc. The concert will be given under the auspices of the French Embassy in Belarus, BelTA learnt in the French diplomatic mission.

    Guillaume Coppola and Marc Mauillon jointly study the wide musical repertoire from the French melodies by Camille Saint-Saens and Gabriel Faure to romances by Schubert, Schumann, Mahler and Korngold.

    The concert of the French musicians has been included in the programme of the Francophony Festival which is running in Minsk through March 25.

  • Around the region...

    Russia’s New President Makes CIS a Milestone for Foreign Policy

    From: Georgian Times
    After electing the new President of Russia, Dmytry Medvedev, whose victory was somewhat predicted, people are interested in looking into Russia’s foreign policy priority. It did not come as a surprise when, in his first official interview, Medvedev underscored CIS geopolitics and mentioned several times the importance of the area for the strategic interests of his country, including his intention to hold his first official visit to a CIS country (most likely to be Kazakhstan).

    The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was created December 8, 1991, to peacefully disband the Soviet Union and to launch a political transition background for former Soviet Republics. The CIS, a somehow semi-institutional and semi-alive organization, has survived for 14 years and the participants with various levels of integration and involvement became reluctant to be active.

    On May 8, 2005, at an informal CIS summit chaired by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin (only one member-state, Georgia, was missing), many disputable issues were raised and debated. Many member-states who are not strong pro-CIS supporters, like Ukraine, Turkmenistan, and Moldova chastised the CIS, saying it was doing nothing to forge integration and had no effective mechanism to achieve common goals.

    Other states even went so far as to demand the dissolution of the union and to arrange new basics for a new modification pattern. It was decided to make ultimate provisions in clamping down the organization and let members get rid of bureaucratic bargains and burdens. This is to be, whether it happens, the next failure of foreign policy for Putin but is to be succeeded by Medvedev.

    The CIS organization became a backyard of Russia’s geo-strategic mission to claim itself a great power, at least by getting political control over the Eurasian space, i.e. CIS. Even inside of the CIS, pro-Russian forces like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus have started to create their own integration models, like the Common Economic Space or Collective Security Agreement Organization while some other countries, less liked by the Kremlin, created a separate regional bloc in the form of GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova), with support from the USA.

    The CIS, since 1996, has been performing simple, formal, and paper-jam tasks and never has functioned as operational and active. Russia has to seek out a new institutionalize pattern where national interests can be coherently achieved. The CIS was not able to resolve any conflicts in the CIS area and create credible economic and military basics for tackling any proper problems of the member-states. However, a huge bureaucracy consumes great financial resources, 60% of which are paid off by Russia.

    Why was it created? This can be answered by looking at Russia’s geopolitical philosophy.

    Russia’s unique geopolitical position links it with most of the important regions of the eastern hemisphere, including Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, the oil-rich Middle East, resources-rich Central Asia and the vast Asia-Pacific markets.

    Such a position enables Russia to focus its foreign and trade policies on ways that increase its prestige and power. Russia sees itself as a bridge state between emerging markets, providing its own territory as a continental shortcut from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region, from Northern Europe to the Middle East and the Mediterranean (through the north-south routes and river waterways to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea). Thus, in the 21st century, more than ever before, “Eurasianism” became a version of the engagement strategy for Russia.

    Despite the fact that it has many characteristics similar to neo-Eurasianism, this geo-strategic model has one significant difference: the supporters of this approach have no political preferences towards potential allies; everything is determined by specific conditions and circumstances. The essential elements of the “new CIS” model are:

    - economic efficiency (creating the Common Eurasian Economic and Trade Zone, which was proposed by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev in 1998);

    - more efficient use of the geopolitical resources inherited by Russia from the Soviet Union through setting up a CIS political coalition or organization in the Eurasia space (perhaps a more effective Shanghai Security Organization, to subvert further intrusion of “Atlantists” into the area);

    - nuclear weapons as an important element of containment;

    - status, role and right of vote in the UN Security Council;

    - pragmatism (re-establishing relations with former allies and friends – India, Cuba, the Arab states, Vietnam, Serbia as external ones and Uzbekistan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine as internal CIS ones);

    - extended geopolitics (Russian military bases abroad);

    - maximum use of geo-economic privileges, like energy projects in the CIS area.

    It is clear that CIS as an organization will be banished and Russia will be trying to persuade its Allies to set up their own credible institutions and persuade other CIS former members, amid the new President’s effort, to regain the area as a vital geopolitical environment for the Russian Federation. This would be the real policy missions of Medvedev’s team, at least in the short-run.

    Ukraine Recognized Russia’s Origin of Gas

    From: Kommersant
    Ukraine's Naftogaz spokesman Valentyn Zemlyansky speaks during a news briefing in Kiev.
    Ukraine agreed to pay $321 per a thousand cu meters of Russia’s gas supplied in January and February without any deal clinched to the effect. The respective contract was inked March 6, but the size of supplies is yet unclear. The sources say the matter at stake could be nearly a half of 9.1 billion cu meters shipped by Gazprom. The respective negotiations begin in Moscow today.
    Under the contract that Naftogaz Deputy Board Chairman Igor Didenko and Rosukrenergo Acting Directors Dmitry Glebko and Konstantin Chuichenko inked March 6, Naftogaz will pay to Rosukrenergo $321 per a thousand cu meters of gas delivered in January and February.

    But the actual size of supplies is yet unclear. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said they are negotiating about the volume. At the same time, Kupriyanov was surprised by the given price, specifying that the monopoly wanted $314.7 per a thousand cu meters.

    Another source in Gazprom explained that the matter at stake could be at least 4 of 9.1 billion cu meters shipped to Ukraine. Another 5.1 billion cu meters will be viewed as deliveries of the Middle Asia’s gas, costing $179.5 per a thousand cu meters. As a result, the average price for Ukraine could be some $240 per a thousand cu meters in January and February.

    EU calls for clarification of Gazprom-Ukraine ties

    From: Reuters
    European Union governments called on Tuesday for Ukraine and Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research) to clarify their relations after a recent spat over debts cut energy supplies to the former Soviet republics.

    Gas experts from the EU's 27 nations also said the gas cuts to Ukraine -- which threatened supplies to the EU -- strengthened the case for the bloc to improve coordination of its energy policies.

    "The group underlined the importance and the necessity of urgent clarification of relations between Gazprom and Ukraine as far as domestic Ukrainian gas consumption and gas transit towards the EU is concerned," it said.

    Ukraine and Russia reached agreement to restore gas supplies to Ukraine last week, averting the risk of cuts in deliveries to western Europe. Moscow had reduced gas supplies to Ukraine, saying it had failed to pay all its debt for past deliveries.

    But the two sides still have to work out the difficult details of a scheme organising supplies for the rest of the year, particularly the use of intermediaries.

    "The repetition of these incidents has clearly highlighted the necessity of close cooperation between (EU) member states," the EU statement said.

    It also noted the need for "effective solidarity" within the bloc, a reflection of concerns especially among eastern European countries that bilateral deals between EU states and Russia could hurt their interests.

    Nearly 80 percent of gas imported from Russia by the EU transits via Ukraine and supplies a dozen EU Member States.

    NATO Should Protect Ukraine and Georgia

    From: Moscow Times
    The April NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, could well be dominated by debate over how the alliance can succeed in Afghanistan. But another topic, barely discussed so far, may be almost as important: whether NATO can extend its last major mission of expanding Europe's zone of security to former communist countries.

    Since NATO was created to defend the West against the Soviet Union, its greatest accomplishment may have been its role in consolidating democracy in Romania and nine other former Eastern Bloc states, then admitting them to its ranks in two successive waves in 1999 and 2004. The process paved the way for the expansion of the European Union, ended the continent's Cold War division, and ensured that liberal values would define its future. But it left out some critical places: most of the former Yugoslavia as well as the former Soviet republics of southeastern Europe.

    The Bucharest summit is set to decide whether two of the former parts of Yugoslavia -- Croatia and Macedonia -- as well as nearby Albania should be offered full membership. At the same time, the alliance owes answers to Ukraine and Georgia, both of which have formally asked NATO for a Membership Action Plan, the bureaucratic vehicle used to guide countries through military and democratic reforms. The decisions are harder than those of the past because of the greater instability of those two countries and the greater resistance of Russia to further NATO expansion. At a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels last week, Germany and France spoke up against Ukraine and Georgia, largely out of fear of offending Moscow.

    For just those reasons, the United States should push the alliance to move forward. Russia's repeated and heavy-handed maneuvers against Ukraine and Georgia in the past several years have dramatically demonstrated Moscow's ambition to destroy those countries' freedom and independence. President Vladimir Putin's recent threat to target Ukraine with nuclear weapons should have been a wake-up call for any Western government that doubted whether Ukraine needed defending.

    While the U.S. administration is clearly sympathetic to the two states, it has held back from pressing its case with the reluctant Europeans. Yet Putin surely will regard a failure by the Bucharest summit to act on Ukraine and Georgia as an admission that they are outside its sphere and an invitation to escalate his bullying. President George W. Bush, who oversaw NATO's last expansion eastward, should reinforce that legacy by insisting that the alliance reach out to these threatened democracies.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish Man Kills Wife, Sister-in-Law With Ax, Dies in Crash With Bodies in Back Seat

    From: Fox, The News and PR Inside
    Two women whose bodies were found in the back seat of a crashed car were killed by the driver of the vehicle, who died in the accident, police said Monday.

    The two women were sisters, aged between 50 and 60, and were each killed with ax blows to the head, said Krzysztof Jarosz, a spokesman for Poznan police. The 60-year-old man who had driven the car, identified as Mieczyslaw N., was the husband of one of the women, likely motivated by a "family disagreement," he said.

    According to the police investigation, the man killed the women in their respective homes Saturday night, then wrapped their bodies in plastic bags and blankets and put them in his car, Jarosz said.

    Police think that the man had deliberately killed himself after murdering the women.

    «Everything points to those people most likely having been murdered,» Jarosz said. «We don't know who killed them or where they were killed right now, but most likely the driver was moving the bodies in order to bury and hide them.

    Also found in the car were three knives, a shovel and an amount of unidentified chemical.

    On Sunday he visited another person, with whom he left some US$3,000 (euro2,000) and various documents, and drove off — then crashed into a tree on a country road near the western city of Poznan.

    Polish paper charges bishops in abuse cover-up

    From: Catholic News
    The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza charges that three bishops knew about the sexual molestation of four boys by a priest who founded a home for troubled youth in Szczecin.

    The newspaper alleges that Bishop Stanislaw Stefanek, currently bishop of Lomza, was informed of the sexual abuse in 1995. In 1996, Archbishop Marian Przykucki was also informed, the paper says.

    The accused priest was removed from his post at the home for troubled youth, but assigned to Catholic High School in the city in northwestern Poland.

    The current Archbishop of Szczecin-Kamien, Zygmunt Kaminski, finally initiated a process to address the matter.

    Global Buzz: A U.S. Scholar’s Book Shakes Up Poland

    From: WSJ
    “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz” was first published in the U.S. in mid-2006 by Polish-American historian Jan T. Gross, a Princeton professor who charges Poles with a desire to eliminate their remaining Jewish population after the end of World War II. Now a translation of “Fear” is finally on sale in Poland–and it has become the talk of the nation, prompting not only an outcry in Poland but an investigation by prosecutors into whether the book slanders the Polish nation.

    In the book, Mr. Gross argues that widespread anti-Semitism and a desire to hold onto confiscated Jewish property led to violent pogroms against Jews, such as in Kielce in 1946. He also accuses the Catholic Church, the Communist authorities and Polish intellectual elites of collaboration.

    Since the translation went on sale in January, prominent Polish politicians, historians, media commentators and even Polish-Jewish leaders have criticized the author, saying Mr. Gross has overstated and misrepresented the situation. The Archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, complained to the author’s Krakow-based publishers, Znak, that the book promotes anti-Polish and anti-Semitic sentiment and is divisive. On a promotional tour in Poland earlier this year, Mr. Gross faced cries of “lies” and “slander” at packed public appearances. “There have been so many outraged and worried voices,” says Mr. Gross. “But I also see that those who took time to read the book are more thoughtful, reflective.”

    Other prominent Poles, such as Marek Beylin, columnist for daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, have praised the book for forcing “a debate on the dark secrets of the Polish past.” Supporters say this public discussion is necessary in a society that has generally viewed itself as a victim of the Nazis and has refused to take full account of its past. Poland lost six million of its citizens in World War II, half of them Jewish, according to most estimates. Mr. Gross estimates that 200,000 out of 300,000 surviving Jews were forced to emigrate after the war due to Polish anti-Semitism, including himself ? he moved to the US in 1969.

    Until the middle of February, the book had prosecutors in Krakow considering whether to file charges against the author under a 2006 statute that makes it illegal to “publicly accuse the Polish nation of participating in Nazi or Communist crimes.” The uproar over the book appears to have boosted sales. “We thought we would sell 20,000 copies in the first three months,” said Tomasz Miedzik of Znak, the publisher. “Instead, we sold 25,000 in the first five days.”

    Crisis in Polish health care continues

    From: The News
    Protests in hospitals all over Poland continue.

    Twenty trade unions representatives are occupying a hospital in Starachowice, east-central Poland. They are protesting against the privatization of the facility, claiming that no-one from the local government consulted the decision with them.

    Head of the local government announced that he wanted to talk to the protesters but they have not received a formal invitation yet.

    Meanwhile in Bialystok in the north east, two nurses from the regional hospital, where a sit-in strike began yesterday, have now gone on a hunger strike.

    The nurses want higher salaries and are currently demanding a 1000-zloty (roughly 350 euros) net rise till the end of this year.

    Hospitals in Radom, east-central Poland, are near paralyzed. The doctors have already worked the number of hours provided by Polish law but did not sighn the so-called opt-out clause, which would enable them to work more. Therefore the doctors will not come to hospitals for duty hours.

    The hospitals' directors proposed to pay the doctor a night bonus, which is to encourage them to work longer hours. If the offer is rejected, there will be not enough surgeons, anesthetists and oncologists and some wards will have to be closed.

    Hospitals all over the country have seen similar occurrences in recent months in a continuation of disputes over pay levels and working conditions.

  • Sport...

    Yuri Romanov interview

    From: Brittih Boxing
    25-year-old Yuri Romanov of Belarus faces Jonathon Thaxton on April 4th in the Englishman's home town of Norwich.

    At stake will be the 20-2( 13) Romanov's European lightweight championship.

    Experienced scribe and BBN new boy James Slater heard from the danger man himself.

    Fighting in the UK is an experience Romanov is both used to and enjoys. Yuri has fought here a previous three times, most noticeably back in January 2003, when defeating Bobby Vanzie via eighth round RSF. As a result, Thaxton, 33-7(18) had better not feel Romanov will be at all phased due to their match-up taking place in his backyard.

    What may be of significance in the bout's outcome, however, is the considerable age advantage the visiting fighter holds. At 25, to Thaxton's 33, Romanov just might be too fresh and too hungry for Thaxton to cope with. Still, only a foolish person writes off the always ultra-fit and ready to fight boxer known as "Jono."

    Romanov is certainly not cutting any corners in training, a fact he shared with me via exclusive interview over the phone late last week. Speaking to me through his translator, Valery Kaplia, Romanov had the following answers to my questions.

    James Slater: Firstly, how has training been going for the Thaxton fight?

    Yuri Romanov: Training is going very well. I have been training up in the mountains, actually.

    J.S: Who have you been sparring with?

    Y.R: I have been having some excellent sparring, working with undefeated Russian light-welterweight Denis Shafikov - who is a southpaw like Thaxton.

    J.S: You have had some good fights in the UK before. Do you enjoy boxing over here?

    Y.R: Yes. I enjoy fighting in the UK very much. In fact, I am quite popular over there, because I regularly receive letters and autograph requests from British people.

    J.S: In your last fight here, you lost on points to Graham Earl. Do you think the decision was a fair one?

    Y.R: I feel I did enough to have been given at least a draw, but at the same time I was not at my best physically. You see, I had been out of the ring for well over one year, and was ring rusty as a result. I had not fought due to a contractual dispute with Sports Network. I do believe, though, that my fight with Earl took a toll on him, while it gave me the experience I needed to become the European champion I am now.

    J.S: What do you think of Jon Thaxton as a fighter?

    Y.R: I have the utmost respect for Thaxton. I consider him to be the very best lightweight in all of Europe - after myself.

    J.S: What type of fight do you expect on April 4th?

    Y.R: I expect Thaxton to come at me and be aggressive like he always has been in fights.

    J.S: Are there any concerns with Thaxton being a southpaw?

    Y.R: Well, I boxed the tricky Bobby Vanzie, who was a southpaw. I had no problems there. So no, I'm not concerned with the southpaw stance.

    J.S: Do you feel you are at your peak now, at age 25?

    Y.R: I feel I am improving all the time. I want to have more experience at international level, so as to be able to become a genuine world champion in the near future.

    J.S: Speaking of age, do you think Thaxton's 33 years will maybe catch up with him in the fight?

    Y.R: I don't think about that really. I know Jon Thaxton will be giving the very best of himself, like he's always done, which is why I consider this fight to be between the two best lightweights in Europe. We will decide who is the best.

    J.S: Your last three fights have all been European title fight wins, do you feel you have really been on top form recently?

    Y.R: Yes, for sure. I was in top form when I knocked then undefeated European champion Juan Carlos Diaz Melero out clean (in three rounds) right in his own backyard. I was also in excellent shape when I stopped Tontcho Tontchev (also in three rounds). My fight with Stefano Zoff (in Yuri's last fight, in October) was not my best performance. I had a bad cold going into that fight, but I still won (on points) and kept my title.

    J.S: You KO'd Diaz Melero, do you think your power will be too much for Thaxton as well?

    Y.R: I certainly feel I've got the tools to handle Thaxton. Sharpness and clean power shots will be the key to my success.

    J.S: Have you ever been down as a pro?

    Y.R: Yes. I was down in the third round against Diaz Melero, but got straight back up and then KO'd him.

    J.S: And who has given you your toughest fight?

    Y.R: I would say Diaz Melero. He was very highly ranked by both the WBA and the WBC at the time.

    J.S: Was that your best-ever win then, do you feel?

    Y.R: I feel my win over Bobby Vanzie, who was very tricky and very experienced, was my best-ever win. I had Vanzie down about six or seven times (actually five times).

    J.S: Getting back to the Thaxton fight, when will you arrive in the U.K?

    Y.R: I will arrive on April the 1st.

    J.S: Not looking too far ahead, but assuming you win, would you then like to fight for a world title?

    Y.R: Yes. I am rated number number two by the WBA, and the number one rated fighter is Paulus Moses, who my manager Philippe Fondu has a promotional contract with. Moses is set to face WBA champion Jose Alfaro, and Philippe has promised me a shot at the winner of Alfaro vs. Moses.

    J.S: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Finally, do you have a prediction for the Thaxton fight?

    Y.R: I believe I will stop Thaxton in the late rounds.

  • Endnote...

    6 Things that Resemble the Death Star

    From: Miss Cellania


    It’s a simple shape, a sphere with a concave dish set in the surface. In 1977, the shape was forever linked to the movie Star Wars and is known as the Death Star. In the movie, it was a space station as large as a natural moon that housed the “ultimate weapon”, a planet-destroying laser.


    1. Hotel Full Moon


    The Hotel Full Moon in Baku, Azerbaijan is a design from Heerim Architects of Korea, to be built on a peninsula overlooking Full Moon Bay. The luxury hotel will have 382 rooms in its 35 stories. Another hotel on the bay will be called Hotel Crescent, also with a shape to follow its name.

    That’s only the most recent example. Keep reading for others.

    2. Convention Center Near Dubai


    The RAK Convention and Exhibition Center in the new city of Ras al Khaimah, UAE looks very much like the Death Star. A project still in the concept stage from the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the design is the result of a competition. The project team is led by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who also designed the CCTV building in Beijing. The building will hold hotels, offices, restaurants, and stores as well as a convention hall. See more pictures here.

    3. Belarus National Library


    The Belarus National Library moved into a new building in 2006. It’s not spherical; the shape is a rhombicuboctahedron (try saying that three times fast). During the day, the 24 sides sparkle with glass panels. At night, they are illuminated by 4646 color-changing LEDs. The Minsk building is imposing and not without controversy. It has been referred to as the Death Star both because of the way it looks and how it was financed.

    4. AT&T Logo


    AT&T’s world globe logo was designed by Saul Bass in 1984, replacing the phone logo that had been in use for nearly 100 years. This came about because of the forced breakup of Ma Bell into seven regional “baby bells”. SBC Communications bought AT&T in 2005, and a new, slightly different logo was unveiled. The newest one hides the classic death star spot somewhat better, but some can still see the Evil Empire in the logo.

    5. Panapet


    The distinctive shape of the Death Star was around before Star Wars. It’s possible that George Lucas, or some of the other creative minds behind Star Wars owned a Panasonic R-70 transistor radio, marketed as the Panapet. Very likely, in fact, since it seemed everyone had one. They were produced in the early 70s.

    6. Mimas


    The most amazing similacrum of the Death Star is Mimas, one of the inner moons of Saturn. It has an 80-mile-wide crater named Herschel, which looks like it could easily focus a superlaser. The uncanny resemblence is coincidental, as Star Wars was made several years before the first photographs of Mimas with its crater were taken.

    If you love the shape, and don’t want to travel to Dubai, or Minsk, or Saturn, you can build your own Death Star with a Lego kit -or just watch someone else do it.